Getting Saucy in Week Two

Week two has started and we have begun to cook!

So far this week we’ve cooked some stocks and sauces. Stocks are essentially water simmered with vegetables and aromatic herbs and spices. For those so inclined, stocks may also include animal bones and other parts. The water is imparted with flavor and the resulting stock is used to make soups, sauces, or in other cooking applications.

Below: Chef Rosa shows us three completed stocks of varying colors, which come from the ways the stocks were prepared and/or the ingredients used.

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Below: Chef Rosa demonstrates assembling a sachet of herbs for a stock. This image is from the demo portion of our day. Each day is divided into two parts, a demonstration (“demo”) half and a lab half. The lab half is where we cook and the demo half is mostly observing.

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Below: I decided to try making a stock at home to complement a potato soup I made, so I simmered 2 quarts of water with leeks, onion, and garlic. Here’s the stock cooling in an ice bath.

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Below: Chef Alex doing a quick demo before our lab on sauces. After the introduction to a lab session, the instructor turns us loose on our recipe(s) for that lab session, walking around and providing guidance as needed.

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Below: Mmm…some minced onion sauteing nicely.

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Below: Team dashi slicing mushrooms.

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Below: The mushroom jus was one of my favorites from the sauces lab day (Tuesday) – rich with tender and earthy mushrooms. The foundation of this was the good mushroom stock made the day prior.

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Below: A terrific salsa verde (parsley and walnut, in this case) and roasted red pepper coulis. Both had colorful and enticing presentations.

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Below: Dishes pile up in the kitchen. We take turns doing the dishes, but everyone in the kitchen is responsible for various aspects of cleanup after a lab session.

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Below: A tasting after the demonstration on sauces. Chef Rosa prepared several sauces including bechamel and hollandaise for tasting. Sauces were a bit of a bummer for me because they typically contain either butter (dairy) or wheat (gluten), both of which seem to give me trouble. Nevertheless, Chef Rosa showed us versions without dairy and I’m optimistic about learning more about gluten-free sauce options. 

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Below: Just for fun, a lovely and delicious chocolate made by my classmate Kim Gallogly.

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Day Two

Day two at The Natural Epicurean. I passed my ServSafe test — okay, I didn’t get the results back, but I’m confident. 🙂

The day started with tying up the food handling class, then we took our test. Pretty straightforward. I’m really enjoying getting to know my fellow classmates, and I feel like I’m starting to make some good connections. We’re about to break the class into two groups, which is kind of a bummer since some cool people will not be in my group. Hopefully, it won’t impair my ability to get to know everyone well, since all of the students seem to be pretty awesome.

I doubt I’ll be able to blog every day, but I’ll post when I have interesting stuff. Or, it will be interested to me, at least. 🙂

Knife Test

Tomorrow we start Knife Skills, so I thought I would try one of my new knives. I made a Waldorf Salad, which required a semi-fine julienne of apples with chopped celery, and chopped some vegetables to roast. The salad turned out great; the roasted vegetables, meh. I have a bit to learn about roasting veggies.

As for the knife, it’s a Mercer and a lot sharper than my current knife, a Calphalon. It’s a good deal lighter than my knife, as well:

  • Calphalon = 299g
  • Mercer = 250g

According to Amazon.com, the Mercer lists for about twice as much cost as the Calphalon. It would seem that The Natural Epicurean has good taste in knives!

Below: My school-supplied Mercer 8″ chef knife.

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Career Change: How Did I Get Here?

Today is February 16th, 2012, and tomorow I will begin a natural/vegetarian/healing foods culinary program at The Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts, here in Austin, TX. I find myself on the doorstep of leaving my 10-year career in human resources, reflecting on how I arrived at this amazing turning point in my life…

Early Signs

As a child, I loved to watch cooking shows on public TV. The sounds, the physicality, and the vitality were very attractive. Chefs were always very excited about their work and the pleasure it could bring them and their guests.

My mom got me my first cookbook when I was fairly young. It had a plastic set of measuring spoons which I still use today. I had some cooking successes, and many failures.

Below: These spoons have been used in my kitchens for the past 20 years or so.

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