Friday, September 25, 2009

Five Alive

It is becoming more and more obvious that this course seeks to teach students not only how to cook, but also how to live (and I mean this in a very non-totalitarian-regime sort of way). There is a huge emphasis on minimizing waste, from turning out lights when we leave a room, to scraping every pot with a spatula before sending it to the sink, and everything in between. Our headmistress admits that it is very hard to make a profit in food, and everyday waste is the difference between a profitable business and a bankrupt one (I don't think they have TARP funds for specialty foods stores...). She cores strawberries with such technique that only the smallest cone of stem is extracted, leaving any red fruit for use in the dish. She candies the rinds left over from juicing a lemon. She always has a stock pot ready to throw in scraps of carrots or thyme. And anything that is not recycled for human use goes to the hens and the compost heap. If there were a Clean Plate Club in Ireland, she would be its founding mother. Growing up with a waste-adverse dad, who has been known to drink leftover cereal milk just to prove a point, I quite like this environment.

Yesterday's lesson plan assigned me the task of creating loganberry (similar to raspberry) jam and a chorizo and tomato pasta sauce. I am proud to report that the jam came off without a hitch (I even have a picture to prove it!)! Though jam is something I never would have attempted on my own, I can confidently say that I will never buy jam again! Raspberry jam in particular is so easy (if I can do it, anyone can) and so much more delicious than anything you can find in any store. Trick #1: the faster the whole cooking process, the better the jam. Therefore, heat the sugar in the oven before you add it to the raspberries. This allows the sugar to dissolve more easily and more quickly in the berries. Trick #2: do not let the mixture boil until all the sugar has dissolved. Remember making jello as a kid, and not waiting for the gelatin to dissolve before adding the cold water? This is the same principle (I think? At least that's how I am going to look at it). Depending on the pectin levels in the fruit (pectin is what makes the jam "set"), you will boil it for 5-10 minutes and pour into jars immediately.

Et voila! Fresh jam for breakfast every day next week! Now all my friends know what their Christmas presents will be this year!

For the afternoon demonstration, while our teacher described the process of cooking and extracting meat from a crab, a half dozen live crabs, caught that day, crawled all over the counter in front of him. He cooked them by the Humane Society Approved method of immersing the creatures in cold water and slowly bringing them to a boil. Animal Lovers and Crab Eaters alike will agree to this practice, for not only is it better for Mr. Crabs, but also it results in less 'tense' meat. He advised that crabs should always be alive (or just dead) when you cook them, and that they should feel heavy when you buy them (more weight, more meat).

We also learned the art of the roux (both gluten-full and gluten free), tomato puree (for soups and sauces), white soda bread (another easy breezy dish you should try...picture below!), and various crab-centered dishes like a crab and coriander tart and crab cakes.

Some health tips for today:

- Muhammad said that black onion seeds (or Nigella seeds) can cure anything except death. Sprinkle them on salads, over toast, or in tea, and see if he was right!

- Another healing herb is pomfrey (like Mmd. Pomfrey, the infirmary nurse at Hogwarts) - try some pomfrey tea

- Rosemary tea is said to be good for the memory (if you can remember to buy some at the store)...


  1. This is so much fun to read and relish all the wisdom you are daily acquiring. It can't be easy to put it all on paper at the end of a long day. I hope it motivates you to keep it all up knowing how much one loves to receive it. Your mama, again.

  2. I don't know what's the big deal about these crab tricks, Binny. I could have taught you all this for free, having worked summers in Bikini Bottom at The Krusty Crab. - Sketchy Grandpa

  3. Me likee left-over cereal milk. Supersize me with the stuff!! - Sketch Grandpa (Founder, Clean Plate Club USA)

  4. And, Binny, by the way, I don't know what's so special about that pic of the white soda bread. The "B-Boys" (John, Joe, and Phil) have been "baking" things like those for years, in all kinds of colors and flavors. - Sketchy Grandpa