Culinary Boot Camp


Whenever I tell people that I have a food blog, the follow up question is usually, “oh, what do you like to cook?” And for as many times as I’ve gotten that question, I still don’t have a good answer.  I usually stammer something out–sometimes I say the thing I cooked last, sometimes I admit that I really don’t know how to cook, but I can read, so I just follow recipes–but truth be told, I don’t actually like to cook anything in particular.  I don’t have a go-to recipe (I rarely make anything more than once) and I’m more the type of person to read about something and want to make it rather than having the ingredients at hand and deciding what to create from there.  And then there’s the whole Type A personality that has already been discussed , which makes baking much more soothing to my already [slightly] frantic mind.

Not being one to ease into things gradually, I decided to remedy my lack of cooking fundamentals by taking an intensive culinary course at Kendall College.  We should pause here to discuss the fact that anything related to boot camp, drills or authority in general is not something that usually appeals to me (although I did consider joining the JAG corps after law school until I learned that even lawyers in the Army have to go to basic training).  My report card from band camp one summer said, “Heather has a distinct problem with authority.” I wanted to frame it; my family was mortified (and query why 12 year old kids need report cards at camp?!?).  Anyhoo.  I was a little nervous that we were going to be forced to do push ups if we couldn’t dice an onion in less than 30 seconds, but I thought that it was the best way to get a working knowledge of the basics so I could [hopefully] be left to my own devices in the kitchen.

I’m going to tell you to sign up immediately for this class. Don’t wait to finish reading this post–I’ll still be here when you get back.  We started the first of two days (with fabulous Chef/Instructor Heidi) learning about different types of knives and how to hold them to make the most of our chopping efforts.  We started with chives and worked our way up to jalepenos (with time for onions, shallots, carrots, potatoes and leeks).  I consider that part a success since I still have all ten fingers.  From there we moved on to learning how to cut up a whole chicken (which is seriously cost effective and not the least bit icky like I imagined. Note: icky is a technical kitchen term).  The carcass, legs and thighs, along with most of our chopped veggies, went into huge pots to make our chicken stock, which would become the base for our cream of broccoli soup and minestone.  Day 1 ended with making creme brulee and me basically crawling home after standing for 6 hours.

Day 2 started with a salt, spice and herb lesson (most valuable: kosher salt can be used for cooking and baking. Who knew? Sea salt is a finisher; regular table salt can overpower the other flavors.  Also, you can dry fresh herbs in the oven to have on hand or chop them up and roll them in to butter for a yummy bread, pasta or fish topping. Oh! And freshly grated cinnamon smells like Red Hots and nothing like the kind found in the jars.  That last one is a personal observation).   We moved on to braised pork shoulder that had marinated in a happy wine bath overnight and then we seared and put in a 300 degree oven for 5 hours.  We got to eat our roasted pork loin with rosemary and wrapped in pancetta for lunch, followed by our creme brulee from the previous day.  We also made beef stir-fry, chicken piccata and tiramisu.

But the thing that made me happiest was the duck breast with a balsamic cherry sauce.  Duck is one of the things I love most in the world, and I had no idea that it was something that I could make at home.  And now?? Now I feel as though I could have duck at every meal (and I would if I could).  We seared the duck breast for about 10 minutes and then put it in the oven to finish cooking.  I missed out on the making of the sauce (we worked in teams of 4 and I was busy making the potatoes cooked in duck fat–yes you read that right), but trust me when I tell you it could make your eyes roll back in your head.  I don’t know that I’ve had a more perfect bite of food that I’ve actually had a hand in making than the duck, cherry, potato combo.  You’ll note there are no pictures of it, because I was too busy eating.  Um, promise to take some next time I make it.  Which will be tonight…and tomorrow night…and the night after….

Seared Duck Breast with Balsamic Cherry Sauce (courtesy of Kendall College)

  • 4 duck breasts, 6 ounces each
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons minced shallots
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cups rich duck or chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 tablespoon cold butter
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Sauce: Set a 10 inch saute pan over medium-high heat and add the olive oil.  Once the oil is hot, about 30 seconds, add the shallots, garlic and cherries.  Cook until the garlic is fragrant and the shallots begin to caramelize, about 1 minute.  Deglaze the pan with the vinegar and continue to cook until it is almost completely reduced, about 2 minutes. Add the stock and chopped rosemary.  Bring the sauce to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes, or until the sauce is think enough to coat the back of a spoon.  Remove from the heat, swirl the cold butter into the sauce and season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Duck Breasts: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Score the duck breasts on the fatty side using a sharp knife, cutting about 1/8-inch into the skin in a cross hatch pattern.  Heat a 12-inch saute pan over medium-low heat.  Season the duck breasts evenly on both sides with the salt and pepper, and place–skin side down–in the hot skillet.  Cook the breast untill the skin is crispy and most of the fat has rendered, about 10-12 minutes.  Pour off the fat from the pan.  Turn the breast over, and place in the hot oven for 10 minutes.  Remove from the oven (thermometer should read 150-160 degrees), allow to rest for 3 minutes, and slice each breast into 12 slices.

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2 Responses to Culinary Boot Camp

  1. Pingback: Peppermint Patty Brownies « Pestle Mortar

  2. Pingback: Tiramisu–A Variation « Pestle Mortar

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