On Cooking

Studying at Le Cordon Bleu Paris

Cooking is one of my life long passions. I find that it feeds both my artistic soul as well as my scientific interests. The art of cooking, in creating a masterpiece that is both visually and gastronomically appealing is a thrill. At the same time, one cannot be completely successful in the kitchen if the scientific aspect of cooking is not understood. The way leaveners are activated, the smoke point of oils, the way flour can be overworked to develop too much gluten, the point at which whipping cream becomes butter, all these things and many more must be understood and practiced in order to produce the best quality meal as possible.

My passion for cooking first came to me from my mother. She was a home economics teacher and a fabulous cook. At age 7, my family moved overseas to Tripoli, Libya, where my parents taught in the American school. Living in a place where there are no “fast food” establishments or even a pizzeria, my mother was left with the daunting task of having to prepare all of our meals. I loved watching her in the kitchen, the way she improvised when certain ingredients were not readily available to us in the stores or when she just didn’t have it in the house. My mother saw recipes as a starting point from which to launch her creativity, a suggestion of how to prepare the dish that she would then make her own. On the occasions when we would travel outside of Libya and go to delicious restaurants, she would study the meals we had, try to determine all the ingredients, so she could recreate them once we were home and couldn’t return to the establishment easily to have the dish again. Our shopping trips would always include the exciting adventure of trying to find items like oven proof bowls to make French Onion Soup or heatproof glasses to recreate Irish Coffee. I know it was an extra burden on my mom to cook ALL the time for us, but she made it fun and delicious. And best of all, she taught me how to cook so I could help her – a task that I loved to do and have all my life. I wasn’t so crazy about the cleaning up part, but you have to take the good with the bad. Thank goodness for dishwashers!

One of the best things about growing up overseas was my exposure to so many different types of cuisine. I can remember my first taste of wienerschnitzel in Germany, the first time I tried Calamari in Greece (I thought they were onion rings), and the first time I sipped French Onion Soup in Paris. These experiences helped to shape my palette and my appreciation of all types of food and preparation methods. It was a priceless education, which I feel lucky to have had.

The great thing about this passion is that I never stop learning more about it. Through college as a Food and Hotel major I learned to hone my technique and about cooking for large groups of people. As a breakfast Chef in a restaurant in college I learned the pace of a professional kitchen and getting orders out timely, hot, and delicious. I’ve had side businesses such as catering and cake decorating and through it all I learn more and more. I’ve been inspired by teachers, my friends, meals I’ve had, professional Chefs and TV personalities like Ina Garten, Tyler Florence and the infamous Julia Child.

The all time pursuit of my dreams has been this trip to Paris and taking classes at Le Cordon Bleu. I have learned so much in the past 5 weeks that I can’t even put it into words. I definitely want to return for more. Not only have the classes been a learning experience but the restaurants, cafes, patisseries, and the boulangeries of Paris have inspired and educated me. It has been so exciting to see the items that we learn to cook in class in the pastry shops and I always think to myself, I can make that now!

Cooking is a personal thing for each person. Some people I’ve met find it difficult, some find it a chore or task that must be done on a daily basis, others see it as a hobby or a profession. Whatever cooking means to you, I hope you can find the joy in it, whether you think you’re good at it or not. I have a friend who LOVES to sing. She’s not very good at it and she knows it’s not her strong suit. She always apologetic about singing around me but I don’t care that she’s not a very good singer. I love to see the joy on her face and the happiness it brings her when she sings. Learning to cook can bring the same joy to a person and it’s my goal on this blog to help you learn how to cook and to have a good time at it!

In honor of National Chocolate Covered Peanut day, let’s make something easy and Delish!

Chocolate Covered Peanuts

1 bag of Chocolate Chips (12 oz)

1 bag of Butterscotch Chips (6 oz)

1 heaping tablespoon peanut butter (creamy or chunky – it’s your creative choice)

1 pound Peanuts (or cashews, almonds, whatever you like)

Pour Chocolate and Butterscotch chips into a heat proof bowl. Melt chips either in microwave or over a double boiler. When chocolate mixture is completely melted, remove from heat and stir in the peanut butter and the nuts. Spoon out chocolate covered nuts onto waxed paper or parchment paper. Let cool till set and hardened. Enjoy!

A bientôt mes amis!

Making French Macaron

The days results...

So… One of the classes I was most looking forward to taking when coming to Paris was a class on making French Macaron. They can be tricky to make so I wanted to learn all the secrets and tricks from the Professionals! Imagine my disappointment when I learned that the class being offered at Le Cordon Bleu was full. I wanted to cry! I’ve been on the waiting list for 4 weeks now but all the same I had to do something about it!

Some of the students at Le Cordon Bleu mentioned to me that there are many other cooking schools in Paris (duh – I should have thought of that!) and they may offer the same course. So a few quick Google searches and Voila! I found an alternative. My first choice was Alain Ducasse who is a major Chef here in Paris. He offers cooking courses through his culinary empire but… the classes at his school are only offered in French. – Merde! My French isn’t good enough for that yet…

Next, I found La Cuisine Paris! Their school is located in the Marais right near my friend’s apartment. They have a macaron class AND they had an opening!! What a BLAST I had in this class! It was taught in English only to my surprise, could be that only English-speaking students signed up. Our teacher, Chef Jenny, is an accomplished Pastry Chef who is American and did her training in Boston. She married a Frenchman and is now living in Paris. She has worked in many fabulous pastry shops here in Paris – including the famous Ladurée, known throughout Paris for the “best” macaron. She is such a good teacher, funny and personable, she had great stories for us, as well as fantastic tips and techniques.

The other students in the class ranged from college students studying in Paris to tourists, as well as residents of Paris new and old. We all seemed to click together and the atmosphere in the class was just fantastic.

We made two flavors; milk chocolate passion fruit and white chocolate raspberry. YUM! We worked in groups to prepare the ingredients. My group had the Milk Chocolate Passion Fruit filling so we set out to make it. As soon as the passion fruit puree started heating up, the room was filled with its delicious aroma and everyone started commenting on how good it smelled. We poured the boiling passion fruit mixture over the milk chocolate chunks to melt it and then added pieces of butter as we whisked it all into submission. Filling two pastry bags with our result, we tied them off and put them in the fridge to cool and set.

We used the Italian meringue method to make our macaron, which means you pour boiling hot sugar syrup into egg whites that are mixing in the stand mixer. You could do this by hand as well but it’s a little challenging. The glossy whipped meringue is then folded into a paste made of ground almonds, powdered sugar, egg whites (unbeaten) and coloring. This is a tricky stage because if you over mix it and deflate the egg whites, the cookies will spread too much when you pipe them out so you have to be very patient.

Our batter came out perfectly under the guiding eyes of our teacher. She showed it to the other half of the class saying, “this is the perfect consistency for your batter.” We all high fived each other in our group…

Piping out the cookies into perfectly shaped and even disks is another challenge. Once they are backed and cooled two of these pillowy cookies will sandwich a delicious filling so there has to be a perfect match for sandwiching. After some practice, we got it down. We even made some heart shaped cookies as Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. You’ll see in the pictures that we even combined the two different colored batters to make bull’s eye macaron.

Baking the shells is the final tricky step. If you undercook them, they deflate and are so sticky that it’s impossible to get off the parchment paper. If you over bake them, they crack and fall apart. Thankfully with our expert Chef’s guidance, our shells came out perfectly and the last step of letting them cool to fill them was under way.

French Macaron are a bit tricky to make but the results are heavenly and worth the effort.

Now one of the biggest secrets of French Macaron making is that you shouldn’t eat them right away. They should be refrigerated for at lease 24 hours to develop their flavor and texture. You can eat them right away but they will be dry and not as delicious. My 24 hours is almost up and I can’t wait to dive into them tonight!!

So even though I was disappointed in not being able to take the class at Le Cordon Bleu, it still all worked out in the end. I had a fantastic learning experience, some awesome macaron to take home with me, I made some new friends, and I had an experience at a different cooking school here in Paris – ce magnifique!

Bon Appetite mes amis!

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