Final thoughts on ‘Introduction to the Culinary Arts’ at the Lorton Workhouse

Remember that thing where I was posting about cooking class every week? Yeah, I’m bad at that.

There are a few things I want to note, though:

  • Consider it recommended. I learned a lot and had fun– and there’s not much more I would ask for.
  • Chef Kathleen Linton apparently Googles her own name, so I imagine she’ll find this 😉
  • If you are considering this, and have taken classes at fancier places (like Culinaerie), you might be thrown off by the equipment and space situation. If you aren’t comfortable cooking with portable electric griddles and burners, on plastic folding tables, this might not be the place for you.
  • or, perhaps it is! Being able to deal with limited resources and a fluid situation is at least as important as, say, being able to chop an onion without bleeding.
  • or, perhaps it will be. It seems like the Workhouse really wants to invest in the culinary program, and Chef Kathleen hinted that she may be getting a real kitchen soon.
  • Knife skills aren’t actually emphasized that much. You’ll learn how to hold a knife and cut, but not so much about the fancier things, like how to julienne vegetables or turn a potato
  • on the other hand, you will chiffonade the hell out of all sorts of leafy things.
  • you will make fantastic food– seriously, some of the best things I’ve eaten were at our 9pm dinners at the end of class.
  • The menu’s can be pretty intimidating, until it sinks in that the work gets divided among the class.
  • the flip side is that you won’t work on every dish– this can be a letdown.
  • perhaps the most telling thing of all: this was supposed to be a 6-week class. After the 6th class, we were given the option to continue another six weeks (paying the full price again). Everyone in class opted to take the second session.

If you’re interested, you can sign up at workhousearts.org.

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Caramel #foodfail

so close.

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That’s supposed to be the salted Caramel from, well, Salted. We’re pretty sure my mistake was that instead of heavy cream, I used a substitution that has been otherwise dependable: three parts milk to one part butter. I confirmed the bad-idea-ness with chef Kathleen last night in cooking class.

Instead of mixing, the butter floated to the top while the mixture was cooling. It almost tastes kind like an inside-out Goetze’s caramel cream‘ until the butter taste hits you. It’s a bad scene.

Strange Gels

There are two things in the kitchen that I’ve been looking for a way to use (actually, there are many– but here’s two):

  • Cherry-balsamic vinegar
  • Agar

The first we bought from Olio, with a gift certificate from my sister. The latter was acquired through a shady exchange with Matt. I won’t say much, but chickens were involved.

On a long drive home from Lancaster, PA, I decided that I would try combining them. A chewy cherry-balsamic candy sounded at least interesting. I did a little reading up on Agar, and learned that combining a solution with 2% Agar (by weight) should produce a stiff gel.

The ingredients for this first attempt:

  • 90g
  • 55g water
  • 1.25 tsp agar
  • 30g sugar

(this doesn’t represent any sort of plan– just keeping track of stuff as I added it)

I mixed everything up, heated it on the stovetop until it started boiling, and poured it into a small bowl.

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After it cooled, it only took a little bit of work with a knife to loosen it enough to fall out, a little like canned cranberry sauce, but more solid:

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It wasn’t any more appetizing-looking in person. I cut it into small pieces, and tried a little.

It was… OK. The first thing you taste is the fruit, followed by a little bit of acidic, vinegar bite. I didn’t love the texture (kind of grainy). It also wasn’t entirely dry. I thought I might fix that with a dusting of powdered sugar, but it didn’t really help. The sugar had turned into  sticky soup by the next morning.

After drying on paper towels for a few hours, they were less wet and sticky, and I was still basically happy with the taste.

If I try this again, I’d experiment with:

  • More agar
  • no (or less) water
  • hard candy

 

Sourdough

I considered making this post a compilation of series of failures that led to this, my first good loaf of sourdough bread.

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It’s simply not that interesting a story– the first loaf was bland because I didn’t add enough salt. On my second attempt, I overcompensated and made it far too salty.

The third? Good. Maybe not great, but it was certainly something I actually enjoyed eating.

For the one that worked, I mostly used the Sourdough (dutch oven method) instructions and ratios in Michael Ruhlman’s Bread baking Basics,  (1 part starter, 1 part water, 2 parts flour) with some modifications:

  • Ruhlman has you proof the loaf in the dutch oven, eventually putting the whole thing in the oven. I preheated the pot with the rest of the oven.
  • To make that work, I used a nice Cooks Illustrated tip where you proof on a sheet of parchment, which you can then use as a sling to move the dough into the hot pot.

After that, it was about a half-hour in the oven (at 425) with the lid on, and another half hour with the lid off.