Sunday, November 22, 2009

I'll Julienne You, You Fuzzy Little Foreigner

Chef knife? Serrated knife? Ninja star? What, oh what, is the right tool? I'd really like to know. Solution? L'Academie de Cuisine's Basic Knife Skills class. (This class is held monthly, and sells out frequently, so reserve your spot early). What an eye-opener. I don't pretend to know the first thing about correct form or whatever. However, during the demonstration part of the class, I saw many of my "techniques" kindly explained as, "What not to do." Oh. Whoops.

ONIONS (recreated for your viewing pleasure)
I felt pretty confident on my onions, thanks to some detailed diagrams in one of my cookbooks. I knew that one cuts an onion in half lengthwise, cuts off the bottom and slices down from the root, about as far apart as you want your chop. Then slice the onion crosswise and you get lovely, little cubes. Thank you, Good Housingkeeping for preventing me from looking like a complete ass on onions.


I didn't really learn anything about carrots, other than when cutting up round veggies (what veggies aren't round?) cut a little off one side to create a flat side on which the veggie can rest. With a flat side, your veggie isn't rolling all over the place, forcing you to chase it with your free hand and your knife. There is always a chance that a wily veggie may hightail it out of there, leaving only your fingers and knife to duke it out amongst themselves.

Here's a memo from the Land of the Obvious. Rather than try to cut out the tops and seeds, pumpkin-style, cut down the sides. Slice the pepper down from the stem to the tip into 4 or 5 long chunks, then slice into strips. This lesson is generally helpful for all different kinds of peppers, especially when you're trying to avoid touching too many spicy chili seeds.

This was just cool. I am constantly putting minced garlic in sauces and dressings. I mince as finely as I can, but I am always a little worried that one of my guests will get a chunk of raw garlic to bite down on. Because I have an irrational hatred of the garlic press, this little trick made my day. (Yes, I lead a simple life). Mince the garlic a finely as you can; squish and pull the garlic with the flat of your knife, a little bit at a time, continuing to squish and pull the garlic from right to left across your cutting board. Voila! Garlic Paste. So Obvious. (However, does not photograph well).

Finally, I picked up this handy trick for slicing basil. I usually stack up a bunch of basil leaves, largest to smallest, and attempt to slice vertically from the tip to stem. However, if you take your little stack of leaves, roll them up, and slice across your little basil rollie, presto! sexy, basil slices. Who would have thought?

I also learned to de-bone a chicken, but it is a little too complicated to recreate here. It was wicked cool. These are just a few of the things we learned. And we got to make lunch!

My table partners were both chatty and friendly; we easily talked in small groups about our favorite kinds of cooking styles and interests. It was a little like begin in science lab on the first day of sophomore year. You have to share your space and tools, but you don't want to encroach or be grabby. After the demonstration part of the class, we were set free to wreak havoc on our own platters of unsuspecting veggies, which we turned into a stir fry. Our stir fry came out well, although I may have been a little generous with the chili oil. As we have all learned, when it comes to the spicy, I am wicked heavy handed. I even tried to hold back a bit this time, but I was so proud of my brunoise jalapeno (which, I learned, it was you call julienne strips if you dice them into cubes), that I dumped the whole thing in there. Sue me.

Despite the fact that I was exceedingly nervous about cooking in front of a room full of strangers (not among, mind you, but in front of, because in my mind all eyes are on me, right? Why else would I have started a blog?), I really enjoyed this class. Even if you are a little farther along in your culinary training, I am sure you'll enjoy yourself and learn something, too!

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