It’s hard to believe the half-way mark of the intermediate course I’m taking at the Le Cordon Bleu Dusit in Bangkok, Thailand is almost here!
Here’s what we made during classes 13-15 in week 4:
- Cassoulet: traditional white bean stew
- Lamb shank braised with rosemary and glazed with honey, and couscous with dried fruit
- Rack of lamb with basil crust and ratatouille
Desserts made by our Chef
- Apricot and muscat tart with almonds
- Tulip cookie with lemon sauce
- Frozen nougat with strawberry coulis
Here’s what I learned in week 4:
- I have made several bean stews in my day, but never attempted to completely cook one within 2-1/2 hours. I’m not sure it can be done, as this is one dish that needs plenty of time to render the beans soft and is usually better the second day. We were told the beans had been soaked for three days before our class; I usually soak mine just overnight. I often use a crockpot or slow cooker for at least 6 hours. Apparently our cooking test was not about the cooking of the beans, but about the making of the sauce and the layering of all the meat components. Unlike my version, we used plenty of goose fat, bacon, duck confit and two kinds of house-made sausages (all of these were prepared for us by the cooks in the school’s prep kitchen).
- I received good marks all around on my stew but it was not ready to eat (in my opinion) for another 2 hours of cooking at home. My only complaint is as far as presentation, “family style” serving is never as pretty when compared to individual plating. Not surprisingly, given the list of ingredients used, it was the best stew I’ve ever made, regardless of how it was served!
- This week our Chef actually apologized that we would not be using butter in any of the recipes! We were told the people who live in Provence and Southern France use olive oil exclusively in their recipes.
- As with the Cassoulet, I have never made Braised Lamb Shanks in less than 5 or 6 hours. Our Chef was quite dismayed when I had asked if we could cook the shanks in the amount of time given. His response was, “Yes, of course! Why do you American’s give me such grief? You tend to like your lamb much too soft for us. The meat should be cooked firm just like this recipe and the shank should stand up on the plate! It’s perfect!”
- I will admit, I stand corrected — at the end of the day, the lamb shanks tasted pretty darn good! And I surprised myself with the technique of making the bone stand straight up on the plate. (The meat was still a little firm for our taste, but nonetheless we cleaned our plates and sopped up every bit of sauce and were quite happy about it, thank you!)
- I ended the week on a most disappointing note, even disastrous. It was a personal low for me (as well our Chef) as almost the entire class did poorly on preparing and butchering a rack of lamb, and most people were so late that the Chef had to taste our dishes from the pots on the stove rather than on a presentation plate. It really should not have been that difficult. Challenging, yes. Our Chef was quite taken aback and told us as a group that this was his most disappointing time in the kitchen in several years at the school! Apparently, we have much to atone for and can only hope to cook better next time.
- The most important lesson I have learned is that, just like in school, copying other people’s work may not be wise or helpful, as who’s to say if they really know what they are doing and you don’t. It’s best to follow your own instincts. When you see people in class heaping on inches of breadcrumbs on top of a dish, when the Chef said to, “sprinkle or dust the top with breadcrumbs,” this will probably not end well. Placing hot meat in a cold pan and then continuing the baking process, (rather than keeping the meat in a hot pan and placing the whole thing in the oven), will also probably not give the best results.
Mary Hathaway, owner of Dinner Diva, has been a personal chef since 2002. She cooks regularly for clients who have special dietary needs, value healthy cooking by using organic products where possible and those who want healthy family meals but have no time to cook. Whether it’s a dinner for 4, a holiday party for 20, or a set of meals for the week, all of the recipes are customized to her client’s needs or lifestyle. Go to Dinner-Diva.com for more info.