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I attended another cooking class today, this time on Braises & Stews at Whole Food’s Salud Cooking School. It was an aggressive menu for a three hour class: Braised Short Ribs, Beef Stew, Pot Roast with Vegetables, Lamb Ragu and Creamy Polenta. There were nine students in class and we were split up into three groups of three.

Now, when I hear “get into groups” I immediately want to run screaming after four years of struggling through mostly useless group projects in business school with a bunch of slackers. Then I reminded myself that everyone is this class because they WANT to be there. This group would not be a headache. It would be like the Capstone dream team (Sasha and Suzanne rock, btw) except we’re all doing something we enjoy. So I relaxed, and rightfully so. My teammates Lori and Cheryl were on it.

This class involved a lot of chopping, which is fine because I got to use my new knife skills (from my knife skills class last Wednesday, blog post is forthcoming). Chef Antonio told us when it comes to tough cuts of meat, “Low and slow is the way to go.” We repeated the same procedure for all our dishes (except the polenta): brown the meat (put it in your hot oiled pan and leave it until it comes off easily – if you move your meat around it won’t brown); remove the meat and deglaze your pan with wine and/or stock; add meat and veggies back to the pan and continue heating over low heat for hours. According to Chef Antonio, you can’t overcook any of this. That statement was cheered by several students.

The Buffeast Line

We used some lovely Le Creuset Dutch Ovens and All-Clad Stockpots for everything. It was nice to see that some of the choices I’ve been making for my own kitchen are being used in quality kitchens like Whole Foods and the Viking Cooking School. Gives a girl some reassurance! I really like the Le Creuset stuff because it can go from stove top to oven and the enamel makes it rather non-stick and easy to clean up. Not that I had to worry about cleaning up today….weeee!

The final dish we made while our braises and stews were bubbling away is polenta. I’d never made polenta before but I knew that it’s a dish that takes a lot of stirring. Turns out I heard correctly. Luckily with three team members we could trade off stirring the polenta. First we brought chicken broth and cream to a boil, then stirred in the polenta. When it was nice and thick, we stirred in grated fontina and parmesan cheeses and a bit of freshly ground nutmeg. I have to say, it was worth the work. The polenta was absolutely delicious.

Clockwise from bottom left: pot roast with veggies, lamb ragout, green salad, braised beef short ribs. Center: cheesy creamy polenta!

All of our dishes turned out nicely. Each team of three made all the dishes, so we had a TON of food. I was wondering what football team we were feeding when all the dishes were pulled out and lined up for the buffeast. While everything was very good, my favorite was the lamb dish, suprisingly. It was tender (even though everything could have easily cooked for another two hours and been even better) and flavorful and different. You don’t see lamb just anywhere. The beef stew was my second favorite although when I make it it won’t be as sweet; this recipe called for sugar and red currant jelly. I might just do the jelly (unique) and skip the white sugar. Or skip them both, who needs more sugar in their diet?

Beef Stew

In summary, it was a wonderful class and well worth the time and money. Now that I’ve been to this one and a few classes at Viking I can make some comparisons and contrasts. At Viking I think it’s a little bit more individual attention and you get a 10% discount on store items the day of your class, which is nice (I picked up this Lemon Squeezer last time, works soooo much better than my other crappy one from Publix). The instruction is very good and they have a wide variety of classes and a lot of classes. I also know they make their own stock because I cut up stuff that went into it 🙂 I have three more classes at Viking coming up in the next several months which I am very excited about!

Even with all of Viking’s perks and the very nice two different venues to work in, I feel like I preferred the Salud environment. The class was a little less expensive, it’s closer to my house (always a bonus), and they are using Whole Foods ingredients which means mostly organic which is important to me and better quality meats. Also we were able to take home leftovers, which is something that I was really disappointed with at the Viking classes. (What are they doing with the leftovers? Hopefully they go to a homeless shelter…) It will be interesting to see how my Le Cordon Bleu classes (coming up in March and April) compare.

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