Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Return to Sur la Table, Part 2

As it came up on June, I realized that I had a personal leave day that I hadn't used and I would lose if I didn't take it before the end of the month. I tried to take it when my friend Melinda was in town, but her plans changed and I didn't want to waste it by hanging around my house. Not that I don't have plenty to do around my house, but I wanted to really enjoy the day. So, when I saw a class called "Celebrating Julia Child" that Vanessa DiSteffano was teaching on a Friday at Sur la Table, I thought it would be an excellent way to spend part of the day. Even better, I called my friend Susan Ellison who loved the idea of going with me.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Julia's birth. Like many people, I remember her early shows on public television and the skewering she got from Dan Aykroyd on Saturday Night Live. Merle Streep got her distinctive voice down pat for Julie & Julia a few years ago. While classic French technique was not part of my culinary self-training, that movie did inspire me to give it a try when Bon Appetit did an August article about Julia and the movie, with some of her classic recipes. I bought a copy of Julia's famous tome, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, when I started rebuilding my cookbook collection after our fire. (I find it somewhat intimidating, but incredibly informative.)

My first step in learning classic French technique was to take two knife skills classes at Sur la Table (I sent my husband and son to one as well, and Michael has great knife skills because of it.) I don't do a lot of French cooking and we don't eat at many French restaurants, but I have to admit I'm always impressed by the food.

The menu for "Celebrating Julia Child" was Bouillabaisse with Clams, Mussels and Fresh Salt-Water Fish; Puff Pastry Tart of Heirloom Tomatoes, Eggplant, Caramelized Leeks and Gruyere Cheese; Cognac Flamed Breast of Duckling a l'Orange; and Grand Marnier Soufflé. Vanessa arranged the class so that we all got to work on each dish on the menu. (This is not always the case at Sur la Table. Depending on the menu, participants may only work on one or two of the dishes.)
Susan Ellison with our two team mates for "Celebrating Julia Child."
Our working group consisted of Susan and me and a pair of good friends who were spending the day together for fun like we were.  Susan is British and is a lot more competent in the kitchen than she sometimes lets on, but I think she favors baking over cooking, much as my son does.
Bouillabaisse simmering in the pot.
Bouillabaisse ready to be eaten.
 The bouillabaisse came together so quickly, I forgot to take photographs of the stew in process. Basically, the aromatics were chopped and cooked, liquid was added, the fish was cleaned and added, and a few minutes later, we ate.
Mise en place for the vegetable tart.
 The vegetable tart was a lot more steps. The puff pastry shell needed to be blind baked. 
Prepping the thawed puff pastry.
Blind-baked puff pastry cooling.
The vegetables and cheese needed preparation.
Sauteed leeks.
Cooking the eggplant with the leeks.
Filling the tart.

A layer of goat cheese.

The tomato layer.
Adding sardines prior to baking.
The garnish needed a special cut.
A chiffonade of fresh basil to be added to the finished tart.
The finished tart.
All done!
And then it was on to the duck breast. I love duck. I felt very lucky to have it for two of the memorable meals I ate in Chicago earlier this year when I went to see my sister. Since it is not something Len likes, I'm unlikely to make it at home. It was much less intimidating learning how to do it at the class. And rendered duck fat is like making gold.
Prepared duck breasts, fat side down to start.
When they easily release, flip them once. Look at all that lovely fat. Think of sauteed potatoes.
The duck breasts were sliced and combined on one platter.
Vanessa prepares the sauce for the duck breast.
Flambeing the sauce.
Finishing the duck.
The other potentially intimidating aspect of this menu is the souffle. My big souffle production is usually limited to the sweet potato souffle I make for Thanksgiving, which isn't that hard and I don't give too much thought to it falling. The Grand Marnier Souffle was actually quite easy. My usual concern is the incorporation of everything without deflating the lovely egg-whites, but we definitely got through it.
Souffle batter.
Filling the baking ramekins.
This is one of the classes that ran late, because, of course, you must eat your results before leaving. We used to be able to take left-overs home, but the City started making noise and the company became concerned about food safety if students didn't properly store the food properly in transit. So we had a very nice lunch.
Our buffet.
Sur la Table is offering several other Celebrating Julia cooking classes over the next few months (it is actually a recurring theme) with different menus. Check out their on-line cooking class listings to find one near you. Taking a class at my local Sur la Table also means that I get a discount coupon which can be used for a week when shopping in the store. In California, it usually just covers our sales tax, but I'm happy to have it. I picked up a couple of nice goodies for my kitchen, including a 2 gallon drink dispenser with a blue-glass lid and some more pieces of Le Creuset which were already on sale (adding to my savings.)

Michael wants to take a class with me that focuses on preserving. He particularly wants to learn how to make jams and jellies. There's a class coming up at the end of next month which should be perfect, but I'm waiting to see what's available when the September and October schedules are posted to see what kind of seasonal fruit they'll be doing. That way, we might be able to start working on Christmas baskets. Bon appetit!

A Return to Sur la Table, Part 1

Thanks to my friend Vanessa diSteffano, who has been a teacher at Sur la Table for a number of years, I've enjoyed quite a few classes at the Farmer's Market location in Los Angeles. Sadly, Vanessa left the store to return to her work as a pastry chef at a newly-opened restaurant called Duplex on Third, near Cedars-Sinai. Before she left, I managed to catch two of her classes in June.

The first class was a lesson in making ricotta, mozzarella, and burrata cheeses.  I could not believe how easy it was to make fresh ricotta and I can't believe that it has taken me this long to learn. It is simply a matter of cleaning your tools thoroughly, heating some milk, adding salt and buttermilk, stirring and straining. Voila! Ricotta.

Fresh ricotta forming curds.
Drained ricotta. Just add a little cream.
Mozzarella is a bit more complicated, because it involves rennet, curd cutting, and stretching with reheating.
The mozzarella cooks while the ricotta cools.

Draining cooked mozzarella curds.

Mozzarella curds before shaping.
Vanessa salts the cooking curds.
Mozzarella curds have been shaped into a block. The creamy ricotta rests before stuffing the kneaded and stretched mozzarella.
We made burrata by stretching the mozzarella and stuffing it with ricotta mixed with cream. The mozzarella balls needed to be reheated to remain pliable.
Vanessa carefully reheats the mozzarella, which has been shaped into balls.
Tying the stretched and stuffed mozzarella into a pouch.
Finished burrata: mozzarella stuffed with creamy ricotta.

We then prepared glazed apricots to serve with the burrata as a kind of crostini. It was fairly easy to do.      
Mise en place for the glazed apricots.
After the apricots were mixed with orange juice and vanilla, they were laid out on a pan.
The apricots were generously sprinkled with brown sugar.
A torch was used to brulee the apricots.
The bruleed apricots on top of the burrata and toast was delicious. The creamy ricotta served with salted honey was even better.

The class easily fit into the two hour time-slot. It does seem a bit wasteful to use so much milk to make so much cheese, but the results are definitely worth it.

Vanessa recommended a book from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company  called  Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll. You can buy a kit for basic cheesemaking from them, or from, or (if you are very lucky) from a local cheese supply shop. It happens that there is a home cheese/wine/beer making shop tucked away just off Ventura Boulevard in Woodland Hills where I was able to find the book, vegetarian rennet, and other supplies right after I took the class. The book contains instructions for making aged cheeses as well as fresh cheeses. Even though I have a wine cellar, which would be an excellent location for aging cheese, the worry about contamination is a bit much for me to deal with. But I have no doubt I'll try my hand at some more fresh cheese really soon.

Next up, I'll write about the other class I took, based on Julia Child's work.