Saturday, December 26, 2009

More Chef Dan quotes from culinary school's 2nd term

(Note: All cited quotations are from Chef Dan Fluharty, instructor for Culinary Foundations II afternoon session, for the term that ran Nov. 9, 2009 to Dec. 18, 2009.)

To err is human; to opine is divine
"Making mistakes on your part is important. You'll need a second opinion on what you cook. That will be me."
-- In his introduction on the first day of class, Nov. 9, 2009 

Worth the sacrifice
"I would go there and eat the nasty food just to watch the show. They served the eggs over-greazy. That is, over easy."
-- Relating why a certain San Francisco greasy spoon restaurant was his favorite; it was the performance the cooks put on preparing breakfast 

In other words: 'No'
"Flaming alcohols are for show."
-- Response to a student asking if he wanted us to flame the brandy when putting it into a sauté. 

Don't green for sake of green
"Don't put a garnish on the plate just to have one. The garnish should tell a story. That means it should be a component of what's in the dish."
-- Response to a student asking if a plated soup could have color added to it with a sprig of parsely 

In emergency, break out couscous
"Couscous is your emergency, go-to starch. If you don't have any idea what starch you're going to serve, couscous is the answer."
-- Explaining that couscous, when mixed with hot chicken stock, can be ready to serve in 10 minutes

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Prepping for a culinary holiday: Organization is a must

Among the many skills that the chefs at the California Culinary Academy teach their students is a key and primary one: organization. "Plan your work, and wrk your plan," Chef Dan Fluharty says repeatedly when we have a deadline cooking assignment.

Making and carrying out a plan, in writing, is a must. And I find myself doing the same at home now, not just leaving to chance that the beans will be done on time or the meat will thaw. There's a regimen, and if that sounds too anal for you, you may just have to go hungry!

Seriously, culinary school has not only given me the beginning-level tools to work in a restaurant kitchen, it has taught me good meal combinations, what can be cooked or partly cooked in advance and how to store it appropriately. Getting organized, starting with the mise en place, is the key to success in the home kitchen and on the hot line in any restaurant.

Tonight's dinner will be a simple potato and leek soup, and Friday's holiday meal will be the aforementioned traditional Mexican fare -- highlighted by home-made tamales. For all of it, I have a plan and the ingredients all laid out. Tha's the mise en place.

Tune in later this week to read how it all has gone.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Fancy eats for the holiday? No, tradition rules the day

My vastly improved culinary skills notwithstanding, we will stick to tradition for our main Christmas meal. That means home-made tamales (no mean culinary feat in and of themselves); hours-long, pot-simmered beans; spiced-up rice; two kinds of enchiladas, gorditas dipped in red chile sauce and rolled with cheese.

With two terms of culinary school behind me, I have the ability to put together at least the basics of a classic French-inspired meal. But I'm not even tempted. When it comes to the holidays, we want the food we grew up with, the food that nourished not only our bodies but our spirits, food made with loving hands in the traditional way.

Don't ask for recipes. As in many culinary traditions, these are hand-me-down methods, developed over generations of a handful of this, a dash of that, enough kneading of the masa until it feels right, somehow just knowing that it is cooked enough or that the chile has the right consistency.

Cooking this food transports me mentally and emotionally back in time, to the kitchens of my mom and tias, where no pair of hands was idle and no one -- even the most distant of drop-in cousins -- went hungry.

Feliz Navidad y Prospero Año Nuevo.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Back at the cutting board, with terrific sous chef

Don't forget to practice your culinary skills during the holidays.

The admonition from Chef Dan Fluharty came across as a command as much as a reminder. Either way, it was good to have in mind.

Having departed the city immediately after the last day of Culinary Foundations II final exam for a brief trip to Tucson, I hadn't had a chance to put the command/reminder into action. That is until Monday night at the home of my most gracious brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Marco and Thelma Ruiz.

They turned over their kitchen -- and their daughter Luna B. Ruiz -- to me for the evening. Luna as sous chef and yours truly as chef de cuisine cooked up a small storm. We roasted a chicken. We made a sauté of green beans and red bell peppers. We made pommes duchesse, the fancy piped potato that is a beautiful addition to any plate. We concocted a sauce nateur from the chicken pan drippings.

Twelve-year-old Luna was by my side the entire time, taking it all in and pitching in on every task. She absorbed the information like a sponge, even taking written notes on some of the French terminology. It was a joy to work with her, and it was a joy to cook good food in a confident manner for beloved family members.

The Ruiz family clearly enjoyed the evening's repast, dazzled by my still novice but growing-better-by-the-day culinary skills.

Chef Dan, one practice session down, many more to come.

Monday, December 21, 2009

De los manos de mi suegra: tamales and other goodies

Don't spread the masa too thin; don 't spread the masa too thick. Put two olives in each, not one. Squeeze the meat to get out the caldo -- broth or liquid -- before putting it into the tamal.

Expertise, advice, instruction, guidance all flowed freely at Sunday's tamalada in the kitchen of my suegra, Ramona Martinez. A small but focused and ambitious group of us turned out 14 dozen plus of the delicious beauties in a little more than two hours.

That is, after Ramona stoked us with a home-made breakfast of huevos rancheros, followed by a dose of sobrina Luna B. Ruiz's made-from-scratch banana and walnut pancakes.

The making of tamales for the holidays is a tradition of long standing in families of Mejicano descent. The tamale-making is the focal point, but the reconnection and renewal of family ties become the important byproducts of the day.

We mixed not only the masa with the manteca (corn meal with fat) to make the foundation for the tamales. We mixed the catch-up conversations of recently missed meals together with the richness of the busy lives we all live, sometimes farther away from one another than we like to be. And that becomes a renewed foundation upon which the structure and ever-changing dynamic of the family rests.

We walked away feeling rejuvenated in many ways: with family, with culture and with panzas full of good food and anticipating more.

(Photos, from the top: bagged dozens of tamales awaiting the freezer or cooking; my suegra's hands expertly spreading masa on an hoja (corn husk); beauteous masa blenders Hilda Oropeza (my wife) and Luna B. Ruiz nearly up to their elbows in the basic tamale ingredient; the all-important masa floating in a glass of water. When a small ball of masa floats, it has been mixed and kneaded properly and the masa is ready; when the ball sinks, more mixing is necessary.)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

12 weeks of discovery, and it's still a mystery

"We're having Brussels sprouts," doesn't exactly whet the appetite or pique the interest of many people. Yet the idea that Brussels sprouts can -- and more important should -- be part of a culinary repertoire is now in my reality. That includes that they can be cooked in a prescribed manner to achieve flavor and contribute to a well-rounded plate.

Getting to know the Brussels sprout serves as an apt embodiment of my culinary school experience. The strong smelling member of the cabbage family was to me as unapproachable as the complexities of classic French cooking were just three months ago.

In three months -- 12 weeks, to be exact -- my mind, my hands, my palate and most of all my spirit have entered a transformation in which they are moving toward an inexact and still mystical end. Chef Tony Marano of the California Culinary Academy makes the case for pursuit of the mystery being a lifelong joy.

Before, I was a fair cook, with good knowledge of the kitchen and more than basic ingredients. I could braise a short rib and capture the pan juices for a delicious sauce, create a baanced tomato sauce and pasta, even turn out a molé with complex layering of flavors.

Now, I can do those and so much more, with a peak at the mystery behind each. It's what some call chemistry. It seems more sorcery to me. As Chef Tony says: "We use the word magic to explain what we don't yet understand."

For example, I don't understand the magic of how something as minimally attractive and, frankly, odoriferous as the Brussels sprout can be transformed into a tasty, flavorful morsel. Yet, I know how to transform it.

Twelve weeks of culinary school -- and now a reflective break before plunging in again -- have helped me to get a small glimpse at the magic. Understanding? Maybe never. But the pursuit of it has my full attention.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas season also means 'tamalada' season

The tamalada is a tradition as old as -- well, as old as corn. And that's pretty old, considering the experts believe that corn was domesticated at least 5,600 years ago in what are now southern Mexico and Central America.

The tamalada, or tamale-making party, most likely originated out of necessity to secure a food supply during the times when corn and other products weren't available. Corn kernels were dried and treated, then ground to a flour. Mixed with water and other liquids, the corn flour became a dough from which many things were and are made. Tortillas, tamales and enchiladas are but the most obvious and recognizable.

Now, the tamalada is both tradition and celebration, in that it brings families and groups of like-minded people together to prepare food, refresh and rejuvenate relationships and celebrate the season.

Thus it is so that the long-standing -- yet recently dormant -- Oropeza-Martinez family tamalada will be on Sunday at the house of my suegra, Ramona Martinez. Three daughters, three sons-in-law and at least a couple of grandchildren are expected to take part.

A full report on the tamalada will be posted soon.

Fulfilling end to a fine term in culinary school

Overcooking was the theme of the final day of culinary competency exams at the California Culinary Academy on Friday. Chef Dan Fluharty called several students on it, both for their pork chops and their veal scaloppini. He subtracted two points for my overcooking a veal scaloppini.

Now, lest one misunderstand: We're not talking about food that's charred beyond recognition. Overcooking is a matter of seconds and a degree or two, especially when dealing with these cuts. One of my two small pieces of veal was cooked right -- very slightly pink in the center -- while the other was cooked a few seconds over. That may have occurred in the keeping-it-warm phase while I plated other items or in the final saucing, that is dipping the veal into the heated sauce marsala just before plating.

Most aspects of the final exam went well. Chef scored my grilled pork chop as perfectly cooked. I lost two points on my sauce chasseur, one for it was a bit thin and one for it being a bit underseasoned. Thirty-eight points on the plate, out of a possible 40.

The veal cooking cost me two points, and undercooked Brussells sprouts cost me two more points. My pommes duchesse -- mashed, then elegantly piped, then browned potatoes -- turned out nearly perfect. For the plate, I earned 36 of a possible 40 points.

From a strategic viewpoint, it was a great success. I followed my plans for all meals in both days, and I plated highly flavorful meals on schedule, in fact ahead of schedule.  I made a tactical mistake here and there, but nothing that made an item inedible or even the least distasteful.

All in all, it was a good conclusion to the six-week term in Culinary Foundations II. The four plates I prepared for the final exam garnered a collective 91.3% of the possible points. I'll take it!

(Photo shows remnants of the grilled pork chop-risotto-broccoli plagte, after Chef sampled and judged.)

Culinary school quotes of the week, Week 12

Global warming comes to one oven
"He had a very large carbon footprint today with that plate."
-- Chef Dan Fluharty on a student in another class whose roasted chicken cooked until it was charred carbony black.

Caught a fish this big
"I ended up with anchovy fillets."
-- Culinary student Rob Park (right) on his first experience filleting a fish, a nine-inch flounder from which we were supposed to get four 4-inch fillets. 

Revenge of the blob
"Was it napér (pronounced nap-ay)? No, it was glopér (pronounced glop-ay)."
-- Chef Dan Fluharty describing the sauce supréme made by most students. Napér is the French term for desired sauce consistency, to coat the back of a spoon. 

A short love affair
"Remember I told you I liked this stove yesterday? I don't like it today."
-- Culinary student John Briggs, using a new stove top for Part One of the cooking competency final exam 

Flourescent food
"You don't want it to glow in the dark."
-- Chef Dan Fluharty, warning against using more than a pinch of saffron in the liquid going into risotto Milanese.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Chicken slightly overdone? I beg to differ

Chicken roasted just so, accompanied by roasted root vegetables, a flavorful pan sauce, browned small potatoes and roasted mushrooms for garnish. Ah, culinary perfection.

Hold on there, rotisserie boy!

Chef Dan Fluharty didn't think so, calling my roasted chicken "just slightly overcooked." But Chef, I protested, it's moist, it's succulent, it's ... It's 2 points off, Chef concluded.

And another 2 points off for the thin sauce. All right, that's true; my sauce nateur just didn't have it today. Too thin, too buttery. I could blame it on the frozen demi-glace we had to use. But I won't.

Chef did very much like my vegetables and potatoes (yes, potato is a veggie, but in Culinary World, we count it as a starch). They were roasted just right.

Thirty-six points out of 40 for the roasted chicken plating.

Another 36 for my poached salmon, which he also called overcooked, deducting 2 points. It had a touch of pink inside, but ah, well. He very much liked the rice pilaf and was as happy with my beurre blanc as I was. The turned zucchini pieces ("turned" refers to the knife cut on them) were tender but a couple of pieces got just a little too brown; 2 points off.

All in all, a good first day of the cooking competency final exam. We complete the six-week term on Friday, when I will prep, cook and plate a grilled pork chop with risotto and broccoli and a veal scaloppini with pommes duchesse and a marsala wine sauce.

I made a duxelle -- minced, dried sauté of fresh mushrooms in butter, onion and a splash of red wine -- to prepare a compound butter. If it tastes good upon unwrapping Friday, I will use a piece for garnish atop my pork chop.

Menu No. 4: veal scaloppini

The fourth and last plate for the Culinary Foundations II competency final exam, to be prepped, cooked and plated on Friday, will be veal scaloppini, with a marsala wine sauce, sauté of greens beans or brussels sprouts, pommes duchesse and a garnish.

The veal presents a dichotomy in handling and preparation. It's a small cut of meat that must be treated carefully. That is, seemingly, except at the beginning, when it must be pounded with the spike side of a meat hammer (left) to tenderize it, then with the blunt side to tenderize further and flatten uniformly for cooking. But even those actions must be done so as not to break the fiber of the meat entirely.

Even before that, one must prep the ingredients for the marsala wine sauce -- diced shallot, sliced mushrooms and fresh thyme -- and have on hand butter, the marsala wine and demi-glace (highly concentrated veal stock).

When those are ready, the sauté is heated, the butter melted in the hot pan and the veal lightly floured before going into the sauté for a couple of minutes on each side. The desired effect is a little browning before removing the veal from the heat to make the sauce. When the sauce is nearly finished, the veal goes back in for a few seconds before it and the sauce are plated.

Whether it's green beans or brussels sprouts, they are cooked similarly: blanched in salt water, shocked in ice water, followed by sauté in rendered bacon fat with julienne of red bell pepper and diced onion.

Pommes duchesse take the most prep, starting with making what in essence are mashed potatoes, adding cream, butter and seasonings, then putting the concoction in a pastry bag for piping into elegant little "cakes" that then are baked until golden brown (right). The keys are no lumps and the right color and crust on the finished potato.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Chef relents, but we still gotta cook

We were taken by surprise Tuesday in Culinary Foundations II to find out that we wouldn't know which of four dishes we would be required to cook on the first day of our competency final exam Thursday.

Chef Dan Fluharty relented today, telling us our assignments. For me and four classmates, Thursday means prepping, cooking and plating roasted chicken and poached salmon. The other five in class will make grilled pork chops and veal scaloppini. On Friday, we will switch around.

Going into the all-important exam, it's good to know what we will have to do. It allows last-minute adjustments and tweaking of prep and cooking plans and a final revew of the steps needed to get Thursday's two entrees, complete with side dishes, to Chef within the allotted two hours.

Let the cooking begin.

Menu No. 3: grilled pork chop

Continuing the rundown of menus for the Culinary Foundations II competency final exam, which will be Thursday and Friday. Grilled pork chop is the third main dish, to be accompanied by a choice of vegetable ("whatever is in the box," Chef said), risotto Milanese, sauce chasseur and a garnish.

The pork chop must be seasoned and grilled with appropriate grill marks (as in photo at left), and cooked to moist, with a minimal amount of pink inside. The quality of the chop's cooking will count for 10 points out of 40 total for the dish. "You only get one chop; you can't do it over," Chef Dan Fluharty warned us. "It will be five points off if it's overdone; zero if it's raw."

My vegetable will be broccoli florets, assuming they are available. I will trim to small florets, blanch in salt water, shock in ice water, finish in a butter sauté. If broccoli isn't available, I will do orange- and sugar-glazed carrots.

Risotto is cooked with chicken stock and must be brought to creaminess, including a small dollop of cream and grated Parmesan cheese to finish.

Sauce chasseur is made with butter, shallots, mushrooms, a sherry or white wine reduction, demi-glace, tomato concasséand seasonings.

My garnish likely will be a thick slice of compound butter, made with herbs and mushrooms.

Coming Thursday wll be a rundown of the final menu item: veal scaloppini.

Cramming for exams? No, for everything else

Learning the culinary arts will last a lifetime, say the chefs who are our teachers at the California Culinary Academy. If so, why does it seem that they are trying to cram it in all into this one week?

Culinary Foundations II class is in its waning days; the written final exam will be today; cooking competency exams will be Thursday and Friday.

Yet on Monday and Tuesday, Chef Dan Fluharty was still pushing new dishes and techniques. On Monday he demonstrated, and put us to work practicing, two stuffed poultry dishes. On Tuesday, he demonstrated and again put us to work making a braised duck leg and fillet of sole. Both were appropriately challenging, the fillet especially so, because each of us started with a whole fish from which to exract the fillets.

Neither duck leg nor fillet of sole will be on the competency final exams. But several of the side dishes that we made will be, so we got to practice making rich, creamy risotto, rice pilaf, sauté of broccoli, turned zucchini, beurre blanc for the fish and a rich pan sauce for the duck.

Any and all cooking practice serves to improve our knife skills, our attenton to the details of the stove top and the oven -- temperature control, that is. It also improves our organizational skills and efficiencies, all headed toward the plating and service.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The rules of engagement, culinary school style

Monkey wrench, curve ball, change of plans, the old switcheroo.

Or, maybe we should look at it as the surprise introduction of a new menu.

Call it what you will, but we students in Culinary Foundations II heard today what our lives will be like for the next three days, and it's interestingly different than what we expected, not to mention even more challenging.

First, on Wednesday, we will get a 50-question written final exam, rather than the 25-question exam we had been anticipating. Fair enough, I say. The written side of this is something that I for one am comfortable with.

Then comes the more challenging aspects of our final exams: the actual cooking on Thursday and Friday. We were looking forward to cooking two fully plated meals each day and have been working on our mise en place and production plans in anticipation.

Chef Dan Fluharty (above) revealed today, almost as an afterthought, that half of us will do one set of menus on Thursday, and half will do the other. Then on Friday, we will switch. We will not know until Thursday who will be doing what.

We all had expected to do roasted chicken and poached salmon on Thursday, and grilled pork chop and veal scaloppini on Friday. Now we will need to be prepared for all on Thursday.

Additionally, Chef said, we will work four people to a station for the exams, rather than the two to a station we have been enjoying. That means more competition for prep space and stove burners and more crowded conditions overall.

As my wife would say: Breathe.

It will all be fine. Even if it isn't, b y day's end Friday, it will all be over.

Menu No. 2: poached salmon

Part 1 of the Culinary Foundations II competency final exam on Thursday will conclude with preparation of poached salmon. The complete dish will include a 4-ounce piece of salmon fillet, rice pilaf, sautéed zucchini, beurre blanc (butter sauce) and garnish.

Preparation of the poaching liquid, called a court bouillon, is the first step in getting the salmon just right. The liquid is one-half gallon of water, 1 cup dry white wine, 2 ounces of white wine vinegar, 1 cup mirepoix (diced onion, carrot, celery), herbs and spices and a bit of fresh lemon juice. These ingredients enhance flavor and cooking, including coagulation of proteins in the fish.

The salmon goes into the simmering liquid for no more than 6-8 minutes. The key is to cook it to moistness, leaving it slightly pink in the center.

Rice pilaf is cooked using a long-grain rice that has been coated in hot oil to opaqueness before chicken stock is added for a 15-20-minute simmer. It should be flaky and a bit moist, but not wet, and flavored with herbs added at the beginning of cooking.

The zucchini should be cooked to tenderness but not mushy, accompanied by crushed tomatoes, herbs and seasoning. Chef Dan Fluharty showed us a method using canned crushed tomatoes. I hope to use fresh roma tomatoes that I will blanch, concassé and dice before putting them in the pot.

Beurre blanc is a rich butter sauce made with shallots sweated in a reduction of white wine and white wine vinegar, thickened with introduction of cold butter bits at a time until an emulsion forms. Vigorous and simultaneous shaking of the sauté and stirring of the ingredients is required to create the emulsion.

(Photo: my practice poached salmon dish from last week.)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Yummy! Can't wait to eat some 'debris'-filled chicken

Chef Dan Fluharty introduced us to Ballotine de Poulet Grandmère in class today. That's chicken subjected to, as Chef so succinctly put it, being "stuffed, rolled, tied, seared, braised, cut and served."

Let's go back to Step 1. "What do we make it from?" Chef asked, and then answered his own question: "Debris -- things that are left over."

Not really. We made stuffing of small diced carrots, shallot and celery, 1 beaten egg, bread crumbs, a little oil, salt and pepper. That went into a boned chicken leg and thigh, which was rolled, skin side up, tied and put in a sauté for browning. A sauce is built around the browning chicken before it goes into the oven for 35-40 minutes of braising. You can see the finished product -- rolled and stuffed chicken sliced down the middle, sauce and aromatics -- above right.

We also made Stuffed Chicken Breast Doria, using "forcemeat," a ground combination of chicken, spinach, cream, shallot, egg white, herbs and bread crumbs.  the stuffing was piped into a pocket cut into the chicken breast. The concoction was rolled, wrapped in cooking-grade plastic wrap and aluminum foil and poached in a 180-degree simmer. We also made a white sauce, sauce supreme, to accompany it. Result, including a "crowned" tomato garnish, is at left.

Menu No. 1: roasted chicken

The final exam in Culinary Foundations II will begin with roasted chicken. Here's the menu and some of the details for how this plate should come together on Thursday:

* Roasted whole chicken, with root vegetables, turned potatoes, sauce nateur and garnish.

For roasted chicken: Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Season chicken inside and out and truss with butcher's twine Lightly butter the exterior, place on an aluminum foil collar to elevate in roasting pan. Roast 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 F., and roast for up to one hour, to an internal temperature of 160-165 F.

For potatoes, other vegetables: Tourné 3-5 red potatoes to prep for roasting. Prep root vegetables for roasting: rutabaga, carrot, parsnip, turnip.

When chicken is done, remove and rest it for 15 minutes while roasting potato and vegetables. Degrease roasting pan and make sauce nateur: put mirepoix (onion, carrot, celery) into chicken drippings to brown, deglaze with white wine, add chicken stock and demi-glace, finish with butter.

Carve chicken and pair one leg-thigh with half breast, set atop roasted vegetables. Pour sauce over chicken, add garnish. Serve.

(Photo shows a practice roasted chicken before carving and plating.)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Heat is on: culinary school final exams

Time to pull on the big boy pants -- checkered chef's style.

Hone knives on the steel.

Check stove burners and fire up the oven.

Se habla culinario. Solamente culinario por este semana.

We students in Culinary Foundations II have our menus for the final exam, cooking four fully plated meals over two days. Here's the rundown:

Thursday's first plate: Roasted chicken, braised root vegetables, turned potatoes, sauce nateur from the roast pan drippings and garnish.
Thursday's second plate (photo at left): Poached salmon, rice pilaf, squash and tomatoes, beurre blanc (butter sauce) and garnish.

Friday's first plate: Brined and grilled pork chop, polenta, braised fennel and apples, sauce chasseur made from scratch and garnish.

Friday's second plate: Veal scaloppini, risotto with saffron, sauté of turned zucchini and broccoli florets, marsala wine sauce from veal pan drippings and garnish.

Practice sessions begin tonight with poached salmon.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Culinary school quotes of the week, Week 11

A motto to live by
"It makes cheap and cheerful quickly."
-- Chef Dan Fluharty (right), describing the benefits of preparing and serving polenta.

Enough already
"I had more than my share of fried stuff today. I'm through with fried."
-- Culinary student Fontaine McFadden after "Fryday" in the classroom kitchen, where, basically, if it wasn't moving, we battered it and fried it. Oh, and ate a good bit of it. 

Dare you to mess this up
"This is probably one of the most stupid-proof sauces we have."
-- Chef Dan Fluharty describing a soy-ginger sauce used with tempura-battered fish. 

Aromatherapy culinary style
"It makes your house smell good."
-- Culinary student John Briggs, touting one benefit of braising. 

Cooking: glamorous? No, glabrous
"You can always tell a good sauté cook or a good grill cook: no hair on the forearms."
-- Chef Dan Fluharty, moments after pulling his singed arm away from the stove top when cooking veal scaloppini.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Final tasks practiced; more practice in the offing

Two five-course meals -- one led by a grilled pork chop, the other by sauté of veal scaloppini -- will be required of us on the second day of our two-day final exam in Culinary Foundations II next week.

Chef Dan Fluharty demonstrated preparation of the protein for both and vegetable for one in class today. We then we set about to prepare the full plate for practice over two hours.

In that time, I plated both meals with a fair level of success. I do need more work, on the veal dish most especially, but also on plate presentation overall. That work will begin this weekend, not only for these two dishes, but for the two that must be plated on the first day of the final next Thursday -- roasted chicken and poached salmon.

Look for the complete rundown on the menu for the two days' dishes in the blog this weekend.

(Photo shows my pork chop dish and accompaniments waiting to be plated. Top center, the service plate warming; top right, pork chop being kept warm; lower center, braised fennel and apple in final stages of cooking; left, sauce chasseur just before straining.)

Turns out calabacitas con tomates is French!

Chef Dan Fluharty introduced a new vegetable dish in Culinary Foundations II class on Thursday, to accompany our poached salmon and rice pilaf dish.

Squash and tomatoes provençal, Chef called it. As he described the ingredients and the way to make the dish, it seemed very familiar.

It's what I call calabacitas con tomates -- literally little squash with tomatoes. My mom made it often, and I have made it most of my life. Squash is another of those foods of New World origin, cultivated throughout what are now both North and South America by indigenous people long before Europeans came. In fact, the word "squash" comes from a Native American word for it.

Here's how I make this tasty side dish: Heat a half-cup of chicken stock or water in a sauce pot. Add diced half of an onion and 1 clove of minced garlic, followed by 4 peeled, seeded and chopped roma tomatoes (Chef Dan's recipe called for crushed tomatoes). Add herbs -- thyme, tarragon, marjoram. If the herbs are dry, add them in the beginning; if fresh, add toward the end of cooking. The zucchini and/or yellow summer squash are cut in half-inch-thick rounds, and they go in last, because they cook quickly. Salt and pepper to taste. Cook until most liquid is gone. Cover with grated Monterey Jack cheese to serve.

Deconstruction: pork tamales to tacos, enchiladas

Corn is the foundation of Mexican food.

Whether that corn is roasted on the cob or, in its more common form in Mexican cuisine, dried, milled and turned into masa harina, or corn flour, it is the basis for a vast array of dishes.

That's why I used Mexican food for "The Plate," a research project for culinary school. The assignment in Culinary Foundations II class was to write a paper describing a plate of food and then describing how it could be deconstructed and rebuilt using different cooking techniques and coming up with a different plate.

The idea is to instill in us the ability to think creatively when building menus and learning to use food products in different ways.

I started with pork and red chile tamales and whole pinto beans. I ended with tacos de carnitas, Sonoran enchiladas dipped in red chile sauce and refritos, or refried beans.

The key was corn, more specifically masa harina, the milled corn flour used to make tamales, tortillas and enchiladas. Instead of preparing the masa for spreading onto corn husks and then filled with meat for steaming as tamales, I proposed preparing the masa for making into corn tortillas to be used for tacos and flat enchiladas to be fried and dipped into red chile sauce.

In the original manifestation, the cooking techniques included braising the pork, sauté for elements of the chile sauce, steaming for completing the tamales and poaching for the beans.

For the new plate, the techniques included roasting the pork, roasting for elements of the chile sauce, sauté for making the tortillas, (deep) frying for the enchiladas and a combination of poaching and sauté for the beans.

I will turn in the research paper today. Then will come the true challenge -- actually making the two plates -- tamales and whole beans; tascos, enchiladas and refritos -- from scratch. We don't have to demonstrate that for class, but I plan to do it just for the practice of it.

Same products -- corn, pork, chiles, beans -- but different meals, different tastes and flavors.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Life is one deadline after another

Today's cooking exercise in Culinary Foundations II came as close to feeling like my days as a newspaper editor as anything I have experienced since leaving that career 17 months ago.

Deadline loomed, as the pieces came together. Nothing was quite finished, yet everything was well in the works. The key factor was putting it all together in a complementary way -- as a story, a headline and a photo would complement one another on the front page of the newspaper, all the while making sure words were spelled correctly and everything fit.

In this instance, it was keeping the poached salmon warm so I could finish the beurre blanc, check the seasoning on the rice pilaf and spoon the squash and tomato provençal onto the plate. Oh, and make sure the plate was warm.

It worked, all coming together in a furious two minutes. The adrenaline rush was very familiar. And there was a great deal of satisfaction in having completed it with accurate flavoring and saucing and attractive plating.

(Photo shows, clockwise from top: rice pilaf; squash and tomato provençal; poached salmon with beurre blanc.)

Food presentation: 'art and theater'

Why such an emphasis on plating, that is, how food appears on the plate? my friend Catharine asked. She noted that not only do I mention it frequently in this blog, but she hears more about it now than in the past.

As Catharine poetically put it: " ... it seems to me that presentation has moved food from merely an art to art and theater."

My response was that in classic French cuisine, plate appearance has been an important element for a long time as part of the appeal to all five senses. "Professional Cooking," our main textbook in school, by Wayne Gisslen, includes a whole chapter on this topic, "Food Presentation and Garnish." Here are the first two paragraphs from that chapter:
   We eat for enjoyment as well as for nutrition and sustenance. Cooking is not just a trade but an art that appeals to our sense of taste, smell and sight.
   "The eye eats first" is a well-known saying. Our first impressions of a plate of food set our expectations. The sight of food stimulates our appetites, starts our digestive juices flowing, and makes us eager to dig in. Our meal becomes exciting and stimulating.
At the California Culinary Academy, plate appearance usually counts for 20 percent of the grade on any give project and overall in the cooking, pastry and baking classes. In cooking classes, that includes whether the plate is warm. If it is not warm, Chef will deduct one point.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Hold your tempura; hold it 'til it's icy cold

Fried foods don't rank very high on my list of ingesta. Nevertheless, the technique of frying is one of the seven in the classical French repertoire and therefore part of the curriculum for Culinary Foundations II.

Thus, as Chef Dan Fluharty likes to call it, today was Fryday. We fried zucchini, we fried potatoes, we fried onion rings, we even fried shrimp and fish and mushrooms. By frying, I mean to say that we used the classic French approach, which is what we Americans would call deep frying. What we call frying, in a pan on the stove top with a little oil, the French call sauté.

Chef Dan demonstrated the technique with two batters, a beer-based and a tempura. The tempura to me was the easier to make, and it was lighter on the fish and shrimp for which I used it.

Tempura is made from corn starch, rice flour, pastry flour, a frothed egg white and cold, icy cold, water. Even once it is made to the right consistency, it must be kept cold. I kept the bowl mine was in sitting in an ice-water bath, even when coating the fish and butterflied shrimp.

The results were tasty, to the limited extent I care to taste fried foods.

Thursday we move on to poaching salmon and fully plating a meal, as we will be expected to do for the final competency practical next week.

(Photo shows my Fryday production. Clockwise from upper left: shrimp tempura, French fries, culinary student Alfie Regadio's siracha-based sauce for the fries, cod tempura with Alfie's tartar sauce, beer-batter zucchini, beer-batter onion rings.)

Construct a meal; for fun, deconstruct it

Assemble a list of ingredients and give to each of a half-dozen good cooks, and you will get a half-dozen different results. Each will use a different approach, different cooking techniques and different presentations.

Assemble a list of ingredients for one cook and ask for a specific, traditional preparation. Then, ask for a new preparation using the same fundamental ingredients but prepared, cooked and presented differently.

That's called deconstruction, and it is used as an exercise for cooks and chefs to instill thinking along with the creativity that they ought to bring to the prep table. In Culinary Foundations II, we must do a hypothetical deconstruction -- that is, write a paper on how we would do it -- in a project that Chef Dan Fluharty calls "The Plate." The project deadline is Friday.

I have selected a classic dish from my cultural heritage for presentation and then deconstruction -- red chile tamales. It's a propitious time, because they are traditionally made at the holidays in Mexican and Mexican-American homes. My mom and my tias made them by the tens of dozens for Christmas and New Year's Day, and I plan to do the same this year.

How will I deconstruct them? Doing so requires going back to the basic ingredients that make up a tamal. Starting with the basics, I will build a new menu. The results will be posted here by the end of the week, so please come back to take a look.

(Photo credit:

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Is tomorrow Wednesday? No, it's Fryday

"Tomorrow is Fryday -- not Friday -- but Fryday. We will do all kinds of fried things, including tempura."

Chef Dan Fluharty made the announcement both at the beginning and the end of class today. We will fry shrimp, fish, potatoes and other deliciousness.

Fryday. Not the healthiest concept, but a necessary one to learn in the realm of culinary arts.

I shall approach it with the same curiosity and intent that I have every other aspect of cookery to which I have been exposed at the California Culinary Academy.

Culinary competence, confidence trump comfort

Am I getting comfortable with my skill level in culinary school? Hardly. Am I beginning to feel a bit of  competence and confidence? Yes.

That was very much in evidence today. The finished product, which is what matters in the culinary world, was successful in Culinary Foundations II class. It was our first full plated meal -- protein, vegetable, starch, sauce, garnish.

Forget for the moment the feel-good philosophizing about the journey and not the destination being the goal. The destination in culinary arts is most definitely the goal. It feels good and gives one a sense of competence to put a well-cooked, attractively plated and highly flavorful dish in front of someone. And the confidence of having done it right comes at the moment of plating, similar to when -- excuse the sports metaphor -- Barry Bonds swung the bat and knew, he just knew, that it was a home run. I knew when putting my roasted chicken on the plate today that it was a winner.

Roasting a whole chicken, potatoes and other root vegetables and making an accompanying sauce was the order of the day. Chef Dan Fluharty, as is his custom, demonstrated the techniques for the first hour or so, and then sent us to our respective cooking stations to create something similar.

We each trussed a chicken and put it in to roast. Then we prepared potatoes tourné, the fancy French cut to shape them as small and elegant footballs, and other root vegetables -- rutabaga, parsnip, carrot and turnip. Each was cut differently for roasting, for presentation and knife-skills practice.

The outcome for me was chicken done just right, vegetables that were cooked well and a sauce -- oh my, a sauce -- that did just what a sauce should do: elevate every other element of the meal. Importantly, Chef Dan agreed.

It was a living, breathing, highly edible example of both the competence I have built and the confidence I am beginning to feel in my culinary skills.

(Photos: Above right: Whole chicken, foreground, and root vegetables, background, awaiting preparation at my cooking station. Lower left: roasted chicken, just out of the oven.)

Monday, December 07, 2009

'Restaurant pace' comes to culinary school

The beginning of Week 11 in culinary school brought us to what Chef Dan Fluharty called "restaurant pace," meaning we are working by the day now at the pace and intensity we would be in a real restaurant kitchen.

Could have fooled me; I though we had hit that pace at least a week ago, if not farther back.

Today's pace was swift, but it didn't seem unreasonable or chaotic. In two hours of cooking time, we did mise en place and the cooking for three braised dishes -- a beef stew, chicken fricasée and red cabbage. Plus we made puff pastries, although they were from pre-rolled dough and not from scratch.

"It's braising day," Chef announced at the beginning of class. "It's one of the hardest days in the whole curriculum. Why? Timing and the long time it takes to cook."

Indeed, braising is a lengthy process because it involves slow, low heat cooking, designed to turn tough pieces of meat and poultry tender and draw out their flavors. "It's cooking that is as slow as you can get it," Chef Dan said.

The slowness is worthwhile. The flavors cajoled from meats in braising hit the top of the umami chart. Other students seemed to agree.

Chef Dan's remark that, "It couldn't be a better time of year to do braising, because it's colder than the dickens outside," inferred to me that braising focuses at least in part on what we would call comfort foods.

Not to mention that, if I do say so myself, I consider braising to be in my sweet spot when it comes to cooking. I have done it often, and it's my favorite culinary technique.

Evidence comes in the beef stew and chicken fricasée that I brought home from school today: There wasn't any left over.

Julia Child's influence hits home, yet again

Chef Dan Fluharty will tell you that he does things his own way.

Chef says his potatoes tourné tend to "look like Fred Flintstone carved them," instead of the perfect seven-sided pieces prescribed in classic French cooking.

He says his ciseler of an onion is the "German method, not French."

And Chef Dan sometimes will add a dash of cream when it's not called for (pommes duchesse) or rescue a broken sauce with a little water.

Yet, his movements, his teaching and, most important, his results, bring us back to the basic and classic outcomes.

Could it be that this chef of lengthy experience both in restaurant and classroom kitchens, was influenced by the dame of French cooking in America? Yes, is the decided answer.

"I was in eighth grade, I believe, and I was a latch-key kid. You know, I had my own key to let myself in. I would get home about 2:45 each afternoon and turn on television. Julia Child came on at 3 o'clock. I would sit there and eat my cookies and watch her. She made an impression that stayed with me for many years."

Up until right now, I would say.

Chef's recollection came last week as he taught us how to make the classic French omelet. His memory was prompted by my remarking that he had called to mind Julia Child's program in which she showed how to make the French omelet, dropping two beaten eggs into a pan and shaking until the omelet took its shape and she plated it. Sixty seconds of perfect technique resulting in a perfect omelet.

Julia's influence continues on for me. In this manifestation, Chef Dan Fluharty's passion and his considerable skills are the vehicles.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Meat and potatoes? No, protein and starches

We all have heard someone referred to as a "meat and potatoes" person, or of "eating our greens." In the culinary world, the talk is different. "Meat and potatoes" is "protein and starch"; "greens" are "vegetables."

Add a sauce and a garnish to make up the five components encompassing a typical service for a restaurant meal.

It is to that end we are headed in Culinary Foundations II. The last two days of class -- Dec. 17 and 18 -- for the final competency exam, we will prepare four plates, each with those five components. Look for the full rundown of the menus in a blog posting in the next few days.

To get us prepared, Chef Dan Fluharty will take us through a week of practice beginning Monday on the seven classic French cooking techniques. They are braising (Monday); roasting (Tuesday); frying (Wednesday); poaching and poëler (Thursday); grilling and sauté (Friday).

My Sunday cooking plans already included making braised short ribs, sauté of green beans, wild rice and a brown sauce from the braising liquid. I will pay especially close attention to proper technique in preparing them.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Egg on my face ... and everywhere else

Egg day dawned bright and prospects were good going into the kitchen Friday in Culinary Foundations II class. Then clouds began gathering -- clouds of too much browning, over-cooked and poorly folded omelets, pan too hot, not hot enough, too sticky, too oily.

"If you want to make an omelet, you must be willing to break a few eggs," Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin once said.

We culinary students wish it were just "a few eggs."

Instead, to make perfect French omelets, by Chef Dan Fluharty;'s standards, we had to break many an egg.

When thinking omelet, one must disabuse himself of the image of a good old-fashioned veggie and cheese omelet or of the offerings at IHOP and the Denny's Grand Slam or anything approximating them. As we should know by now having been steeped in French culinary standards for 10 weeks, the omelet is the height of delicacy, perfect in constitution, shape and presentation.

"We will learn to cook the French omelet," Chef Dan had said earlier in the week. "Why French? Because this is a French culinary school, (affiliated with) the Cordon Bleu."

Learn we did. Well, sort of. A half-dozen tries into the process, I presented Chef with my latest effort, a somewhat sadly shaped mass of yellow.

"It has good texture, good color," Chef allowed. "What about this shape? You want something more shaped by the contour of the pan, like this." He put his hands on it and began shaping it to his liking.

"This isn't for a grade, is it?" he asked.

"Well, Chef," I stammered. "Uh, no." I then hurried off to try another.

Eventually, Chef joined me at my stove top, showed me two straight times how, even lent me his magic spatula (certainly, that was the key to it all!). My next two efforts were disastrous, and with time running out on the day's exercise, I finally plated one that led Chef to show me mercy: "That's better. A little brown. I'll call that an 8." Eight, meaning out of a possible 10 points. Most generous. I took it and moved on to egg poaching.

Nothing like going from the frying pan to the near boiling water.

Culinary school quotes of the week, Week 10

Call my lawyer
"You don't want egg shells in your pasta. What's that going to do? Probably get you into small claims court."
-- Chef Dan Fluharty (right, with pasta) as he pulled a small piece of shell from the mix in a pasta-making demo.

Call 911
"I had a knife emergency."
-- Culinary student Aline Brown explaining why her pommes duchesse overcooked. She dropped her chef's knife, bending its point and having to work it back to sharpness. All the while, her potatoes were in the oven, getting browner and browner ... 

Call the seasoning police
" It was 'just' beans and rice. But it goes to show you the importance of good seasoning."
-- Chef Dan Fluharty revealing that in another class, students neglected proper seasoning because they thought the food was too basic for it.

Call an audible
"I'm sticking with aioli. Hollandaise is too much pressure."

-- Culinary student John Briggs (left) after I said I would make hollandaise sauce to go with my artichoke for our competency exam. Despite making hollandaise successfully in practice, I decided at the last minute to go with the relatively easier-to-make aioli.
Call the doctor
"Lola's pans had butcher twine wrapped tightly around the handles. The dishwashers knew never to wash those pans or Lola would come apply those pans to the sides of their heads."
-- Chef Dan Fluharty on how a breakfast cook he knew cared for her egg pans, seasoning with salt, a little oil, a little heat and a lot of towel massaging rather than applying soap and water.

Friday, December 04, 2009

The shallot: a celestial beauty

Consider the shallot.

This small, unobtrusive, sometimes hard-to-find aromatic may well be the Pluto of the culinary solar system. We know it's there, yet we accord it little respect, often ignoring it completely. We prefer the bigger, stronger Jupiter-like onion. Or, we're drawn to the shrouded mystery of the leek: Like Venus, we surmise, something amazing must lurk beneath all that layering.

Yet it is the shallot that provides a sweet balance to a sauté, a delicate flavor to a sauce, a quiet complement to a simmering soup. Just as Pluto provides a delicate balance to the solar system, complementing rather than competing with the bigger orbs. It is small but significant, celestially speaking.

A shallot brought me to a small but significant moment of awareness Thursday as I completed my culinary school competency exam on vegetables and starches. Behind schedule, I was rushing to get green beans and red peppers into a sauté. The bacon fat was rendered, and next came the shallot. But in my haste, I had neglected to dice a shallot.

When I began culinary school just 10 weeks ago, dicing a shallot would have been a show stopper. I would have wrestled with cutting it open, removing the papery skin and figuring out a way to slice into the small object without slicing into a digit. The entire operation might take five minutes.

But now, in a seemingly magical transformation, I do it with ease. On Thursday, without pausing, I grabbed a shallot, sliced it open, peeled off the skin and fine diced the 2-inch beauty with a 9-inch chef's knife, all in 30 seconds. Into the sauté went the diced shallot, and I completed my dish with minutes to spare.

The episode was an emblem of my culinary progress, a small but significant moment with a small but significant shallot. Kind of like that small rock way out there in the solar system -- Pluto. Small, yes. Yet it has its significance.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Here's why they call it rice peel-off

Twenty minutes into today's competency exam on cooking starches and vegetables, we were startled to attention by a loud BOOM! emanating from the stove top where two fellow students were busily working.

The lid on culinary student Rob Park's rice pilaf had blown off in a buildup of steam from the very tight fit. Residue from the little explosion hit the top of the hood vent under which Rob was cooking. Later in cleanup, we had to peel it off.

Other than that, fortunately, little damage was done, and no one was hurt. We all returned to the cooking challenge.

And a challenge it was. I finished with just three minutes to spare, presenting my final plate -- green bean sauté and julienned red bell peppers -- to Chef Dan Fluharty for grading. It got 9 of a possible 10 points, as did each of three other plates: my own rice pilaf (no explosions preceded the presentation), carrots glazed in orange juice, artichoke presented with aioli sauce.

Falling short of the mark was my problem child for the day, pommes duchesse. The elegant little potato mounds, piped from a pastry bag and then roasted to a golden brown, suffered in texture and doneness. It was my second batch of the day; I had started over when my first batch of spuds was undercooked, something I didn't realize until I had added egg, salt and butter and began trying to mash them with my whisk. Seven points was my score.

Nevertheless, the experience of having to start over and still making deadline was something I needed. And making the potatoes twice, plus the side dish of aioli sauce (hand-made mayonnaise infused with roasted garlic) made a total of seven dishes prepped in the two hours.

No bad for this rookie chef.

(Photo: my rice pilaf, unexploded stage.)

Taking stock ... no, that's making stock

Wednesday's session in Culinary Foundations II was about as real as it gets when it comes to simulating restaurant kitchen work.

Besides the final practice run for today's five-dish vegetable and sauce competency exam, two of us had to start and mind a big pot of chicken stock. We did so under the watchful eyes of Chefs Dan Fluharty and David Isenberg.

Into the huge pot we dumped 75 pounds of chicken bones (photo at left) for a pre-heat and rinse to get impurities out. Then we emptied and discarded the water, refilled and added 15 pounds of mirepoix -- coarsely chopped onions, carrots and celery. Fellow culinary student Alfie Regadio prepped the herbs for inclusion once the temperature came up to simmer. He also did one pass of dégraisser and ecumer -- degrease and skim -- to remove excess fat and foam from the simmering stock. The night class would finish the stock, we were told.

Amid it all -- mostly getting the stock started and occasionally eying its progress -- we did our prep and cooking work on vegetables and starches.

If my artichokes (photo at right, with hollandaise sauce), rice pilaf and pommes duchesse turn out today as they did in Wednesday's practice, I will be happy.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Learning (not) to boil water

A final practice session today for the big competency exam in vegetables and starches led me to conclude that, largely, we students in Culinary Foundations II class are being taught not to boil water.

At one point in the two-hour session, I had five sauce pots on the stove, four with water and one with chicken stock, all related to the five dishes I was preparing. As they perked, simmered and bubbled, it occurred to me that my key task at that moment was NOT to let any of them boil.

Slow warming, sure. Simmer, fine. Bubble a bit, OK. But hard, rolling boil -- NO!

As Chef Dan Fluharty and others explain, a hard boil knocks the food around and damages it, cooks it too fast in many instances and unevenly in others.

One can recall foods that were over-cooked because they were plunged into boiling water. They came out mushy, flavorless and even discolored.

The practical exam will show if we can cook veggies -- artichoke, carrots and green beans -- and starches -- potatoes and rice -- so they are solid and intact with good shape and crispness, flavorful and of good color.

In short, we must show that we have learned not to boil water.

(Photo shows my pots NOT boiling.)

Culinary chaos: bringing organization to the table

"Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it’s not all mixed up." So said A.A. Milne, English author and creator of Winnie-the-Pooh.

Milne may as well have been a chef, for his words ring true in the kitchen. For while creativity may be the soul of culinary arts, its heart is organization.

Chef Dan Fluharty talks about "planning your work and working your plan" in Culinary Foundations II class when we prepare for the multiple tasks that must be done -- some seemingly four or five at a time -- to get a meal to plating in a restaurant kitchen.

The third brain of wonder at the spirituality of it all can't be stimulated without the left brain getting everything organized to allow the right brain to get creative.

To teach us, Chef Dan has stepped up the pace and the pressure each week to simulate the real situation in restaurant kitchens as much as possible. This week, we must prepare, cook and plate five dishes in two hours. It may sound simple, but it isn't, because each dish involves a half-dozen or more steps, and they must be done in the right sequence and done right, period, for the food to turn out.

I use a typed matrix grid for mise en place -- the gathering and preparation of the basics for all the dishes I will cook. This allows me to coordinate common items in different dishes. For example, four of this week's dishes call for whole butter in varying amounts. Rather than going to the reach-in fridge four times, I will go once and divvy the portions as indicated on my grid.

I also create a flow chart that tells me what to do first, second, etc. Items that need to cook the longest go first -- potatoes and rice, for example. I estimate the amount of time each step will take, thus allowing me to multi-task by putting one thing on to cook while prepping something else.

Thursday's vegetable and starch practical exam, in which we will make five dishes, will involve more than two dozen ingredients. My plan shows a 15-step process that is designed to get me to final plating on the last item at the 1-hour and 35-minute mark. That leaves margin for error, even redoing a whole dish if something goes wrong.

Tune in later in the week to find out how it has gone.

(Photo shows Chef Dan in full multi-tasking mode as he demos a dish for his Culinary Foundations II class.)

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Starch week continues: Pasta, pasta, pasta

Spud Monday gave way to pasta Tuesday in Culinary Foundations II, as we made pasta -- literally.

Chef Dan Fluharty demonstrated (at right) making pasta dough from the basics -- eggs and bread flour -- and then finished it it into several kinds of pasta. Included were half-inch wide ribbon pasta known as pappardella and raviolis stuffed with a ricotta cheese and spinach filling.

Every class member made a five-egg, three-cup-of-flour ball of dough (left), kneading it in preparation for turning it into various kinds of pasta in Wednesday's class. We also worked on the stuffings and on a pesto sauce, very similar to one I have made at home on many occasions.