Thursday, May 6, 2010

A dream job

When I returned to school this afternoon after spending the day cooking with Chef Dorette Snover and six students, one of my advisees asked me how it went and what we made.  This young man loves to cook, too.  After I told him a bit about the day, he looked at me and said "Just think, you get paid to do this."  He is so right.  Do I have the dream job or what? 
For the fourth year, my school has supported a two-day cooking seminar at C'est si Bon! cooking school.  I offered it to eighth graders only this year.  They had to get their teachers' approval and apply for one of the spots.  Today was day one.
We arrived at C'est si Bon! around 9:00 am.
Spring in North Carolina is incredibly beautiful.  Rhododendrons, the purple flowers, are one of my favorites.  The county where I was born and raised, Mitchell, is famous for its June Rhododendron Festival.  They even used to crown a queen.  Maybe they still do.  The bushes bloom here in early May. 
Dorette's husband, Rich, gave the kids a tour of the garden in back of the cooking school.  We returned to it later to pick salad greens and herbs.
After getting acquainted, Dorette gave a lesson on chopping onions.  Seems like a simple enough task, but I always hated chopping onions until Dorette gave me my first lesson.  Slice off the non-root end, slice the onion in half, slicing through the root end.  Take off the outer, brown skin.  Lay the half down flat.  With a sharp knife, make vertical cuts toward the root end, but not all the way to the root.  Then make horizontal cuts, maybe two or three.  Then slice.  Make extra cuts as you get to the root end so that your pieces are relatively uniform.  This is obviously easier to demonstrate than to describe.  And maybe everyone except me is in on the secret!  The students were impressed.
The girls divided themselves into two "teams" and set about their work.  We explained the importance of cleaning up after themselves, keeping their work stations neat, composting every possible scrap, and we set a goal-- seated with the first course at noon.   I am always quick to point out that Dorette is the chef, I am the assistant.  Today's great revelation-- my confidence level has tremendously improved.  I do not feel quite so awkward in the kitchen or in Dorette's presence.  Go me!
Here is what was in store for today--

The cauliflower soup was our first course.  The cauliflower and potatoes were cooked just right-- a bit of a crunch left, not mushy at all.  From this...
to this...
Chives were added, as well as a slice of garlic and olive oil topped toast.  And a dollop of crème fraîche.  This would make a wonderful dinner soup all by itself.
The second course was ham and cheese crêpes made from buckwheat flour.  Most people are familiar with dessert crêpes.  Main dish crêpes are so good and there are so many ways to fill them.  There is a little crêperie in Chantilly, France with the most wonderful spinach crêpes...  I digress.
Once again, herbs from Dorette's garden are visible in the filling.  She emphasizes the importance of fresh ingredients and what a difference they make in the taste of dishes.  I have become such a believer.  It is how I grew up... we always had a garden and both sets of my grandparents had gardens.  We ate what came from the garden and canned what was left over for the winter months.
Our next course was a beet root salad.  I'd never seen orange beets.  They are so colorful.
They were boiled, peeled and sliced for the salads.  Salad greens were picked, washed and arranged on plates.  The beets, now yellow, were added.  Goat cheese was placed on top of the beets and then vinaigrette was drizzled over it all.  (This was my favorite dish!)
Adding arugula gave it an interesting taste.
By this time, the girls were getting full.  We are used to eating in about 20 minutes in our classrooms.  Taking 1 1/2 - 2 hours for lunch is an unheard of luxury in American schools.
But, wonder of wonders, they bounced right back and made an amazing recovery just in time for dessert!  A Far Breton had been mixed up and baked in the oven.  We used blackberries, cooking them down a bit.
We had some left over after adding it to the cake batter and used it to top our cake, along with a bit of crème fraîche.
I really love blackberries and perhaps was a bit greedy...  Moi?  Une petite gourmande?  Guilty as charged.
We drank several pitchers of water flavored with lemon balm picked from the garden.  The temperature hit 90 today and the water was perfect.
It was a delicious day.  And I get to do it again tomorrow...  and yes, I do get paid to do this.
Stay tuned for day two.

Far Breton
(from the C'est si Bon! kitchen)

A far is a custardy pudding cake, similar to a clafouti but with a dense, smooth, flan-like texture.  This is the signature pastry of Brittany, served for breakfast as well as dessert.

8 servings

2 cups whole milk
3 large eggs
1/2 c. sugar
5 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
3/4 c. all-purpose flour

1 c. fruit-- prunes, blackberries, cherries, for example
1/2 c. water
1/4 c. armagnac or other brandy

powdered sugar
crème fraîche, optional

Combine milk, eggs, 1/2 cup sugar, butter, vanilla and salt.  Blend in mixer, with a whisk or in a blender for 1 mnute.  Add flour and blend until smooth.  Cover and chill for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.
Combine fruit and 1/2 cup water in small heavy saucepan.  Cook over medium heat until fruit is softened and water has almost evaporated, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.  Turn off heat.  Pour brandy over fruit.  Using a long match, ignite the brandy.  Let flames burn off, shaking pan occasionally.  Transfer fruit to small bowl.  Cool completely.  (Can be made 1 day ahead.  Cover and let stand at room temperature.)
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375F.  Butter an 8-inch cake pan with 2-inch high sides.  Line bottom with parchment paper.  Butter the paper.  Dust pan with flour, shaking out excess.  Place pan on baking sheet.
Reblend batter until smooth.  Pour into prepared pan. Drop fruit into batter, distributing evenly.  Bake cake on baking sheet until sides are puffed and brown and knife inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour.  Cool cake completely in pan on rack.
Place piece of parchment paper on flat plate.  Sift powdered sugar onto paper.  Run knife around cake in pan to loosen.  Invert pan onto paper, releasing cake.  Remove pan.  Peel off paper.  Place serving plate over cake and invert.  Dust top of cake with additional powdered sugar.  Extra fruit and/or crème fraîche may be added.

Bon appétit, C'est si Bon and my chefs!

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