Pro Series Class 4: Vegetables

This post is part of a 9-part series related to my completion of the Pro Series 1 professional culinary arts course at The Culinary Center of Kansas City with Chef Richard McPeake. This course changed my cooking world! An introductory post can be found here.

It has been over one week since our vegetables class and I still want more of the Drunken Mushrooms dish we made! Vegetable class was actually one of my favorite so far, in part because I really do like vegetables. (My Mom is so proud right now….) As always, we ate what we cooked. All that came home with me was a tiny box of ratatouille. Baby liked that.

We discussed classification of different types of vegetables, cooking methods for vegetables, and the best ways to prepare each based on its classification and color. I’ll spare you the veggie details, and instead just post the stunning photos of our work, and my aha moments.

Our Dishes:

Winter Ratatouille

Sauteed Green Beans with Grape Tomatoes and Sweet Red Onion

Glazed Baby Carrots

Perfect Creamed Spinach

Drunken Mushrooms

Everything we prepared (as usual) is the classic French method, with the exception of the Sprite we threw into our carrots. The creamed spinach was a particular treat, since “creamed spinach” served in restaurants is often just wilted spinach with bechamel on top. The word on the street is that Julia Child loved this spinach version, with just a touch of nutmeg, and ordered it when visiting Plaza III (not the KC location…I’ll have to ask Chef for a refresher on that story). My favorite dish was the mushrooms, followed closely by the carrots.

Class ended on a high note, as our team (Table 3) got a shout out for having the “best” for two of five dishes — the ratatouille and the green beans. Chef said the ratatouille was perfect because the uniform size of the vegetable cuts allowed the mixture to cook evenly. (Guess who did a bunch of chopping and got our little team to agree on a cut size!!!) And the green beans just plain rocked, courtesy of my teammate Kathran’s skillful sauteeing. When I relayed this news to Brandon after I arrived home, he asked, “Is it supposed to be competitive?” And I said, “Well it is now!”

Things I wish I had known:

*Adding salt at the beginning of cooking drains vegetables of their juices, and thus some of their nutrients. This also happens with canned vegetables. As Chef Richard put it, to get the most nutrients out canned vegetables, “throw away the vegetables and drink the water.” I don’t like canned anyway…fresh or frozen for me!

*Don’t cover green vegetables when you cook them. Just like the result when you overcook them, they will go from Those Look Fantastic Green to If You Make Me Eat That I’ll Throw Up Green.

*I know that to prepare asparagus, you bend the stalk and let it snap where it may to remove the tougher, woodier end. But Chef suggested we bend one, then use it as a guide to chop the rest. He just saved me ten minutes every time I prep asparagus.

*Blanching green veggies really is worth it…both for looks and flavor. To blanche green beans, for example, add them to boiling water just a minute or two until the green color is bright and consistent across the bean. Then remove to an ice bath to stop the cooking, or they will lose the color.

*Unless you are simply trying to support organic farms in general, buy organic produce only when you plan on consuming the outside of the produce.

*Although many chefs say to simply brush your mushrooms off with a dry paper towel, Chef says go ahead and wash your fresh mushrooms and let them dry on a towel stem-side down. Don’t let them soak or you will waterlog the poor little guys.