I have been toying with the idea of taking some cooking classes, but each time I come close the price tag brings me up short. I asked two chef friends of mine whether they thought school was worth it for someone who does not want to be a professional chef and just wants to learn more and improve. Both gave me the same advice: skip school, spend the money on groceries and experiment at home.
So this past Saturday marked the first in what I hope will be a series of dinners during which I buy a lot of food and cook it for friends. It ended up being a 3 day affair: Friday I went to the farmer’s market, looked up recipes, ruminated about which things to puree and which things to glaze, whether to make soup, what kind of wine to get; Saturday I cleaned, prepped, cooked and served; and Sunday I cleaned and made stock with the leftovers.
- Celeriac, potato and leek soup
- Individual roast Poussin with sage and lemon
- Glazed carrots and parsnips
- Brussel sprouts with pork belly lardons
- Smoked Berkshire blue cheese & sliced Bosc pears
And we drank white Burgundy, red Burgundy and a Semillon from Argentina for dessert.
On Friday I went to the market at Blue Hill Stone Barns and stocked up on 6 little poussins (baby chickens), carrots, parsnips, celeriac, onions, leeks and pears.
For help in the kitchen I enlisted one of the aforementioned chef friends, Sam, and his Vita-Mix blender (an item now on my Christmas list).
I took as loose guidance a potato-leek soup recipe from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters.
- 5 medium sized Yukon Golds (or other yellow potato), peeled and sliced
- 1 medium celeriac, peeled and sliced
- 2 leeks, halved lengthwise and coarsely chopped
- 3 Tbs. butter
- 1 quart chicken stock
- 1 clove garlic, sliced
- 1 bay leaf
- a few springs of fresh thyme
- salt & pepper
- some pork fat
- 1 cup white wine
Melt the butter in a large pot, add bay leaf, thyme, salt, pepper and the leeks. Cook for a few minutes, then add the potatoes and celeriac. Cook a few minutes more then add 1 cup white wine (I used the bottle I was drinking, which was from Sicily). 15 or so minutes later add the chicken stock, simmering all the while. Since we were sauteing pork belly anyway, we threw in a little pork fat along the way as well. When the vegetables are soft, but not totally falling apart (about 30 minutes), remove from heat and blend. With the Vita-Mix, we put in about three cups of solids and liquid at a time, pureed, then “mounted it” (technical term, seriously) by adding a bit of olive oil or pork fat (a few tablespoons).
We finished each bowl with a little drizzle of olive oil.
Drawing on an Epicurious recipe, I tied up the legs of the little chickens and stuffed butter and thyme under the skin. We then roasted them at 375° for about an hour. They didn’t get quite as brown and crispy as I might have liked – noted for the next time round as a “development area”….
To finish it off, Sam drizzled each one with a little “jus” (super concentrated chicken stock) on the plate.
For the Brussels sprouts, we trimmed and cut them in half, then cooked them cut side down with a little bit of olive oil in a saute pan until brown and crispy. Before dinner we tossed with some browned pork belly and stuck them in the oven for about 10 minutes.
Since the carrots where small anyway, and so fresh, I just scrubbed them down (no peeling) and cut off the tops and any scrawny bits. Then I cut the parsnips up into batons of commensurate size. We cooked them separately in saute pans with a bit of chicken broth, a big pat of butter, a thyme sprig and salt. Usually, Sam said, he would cook them under a parchment paper cut out with a whole in the middle. Since I didn’t have any parchment paper we improvised with various pot lids. After cooking we set them aside until a few minutes before dinner when we threw some more butter and stock in a pan, emulsified it, tossed the veggies in it and put in the serving dish.
Et voilà, dinner is served: