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If you’ve been following my posts or Facebook page, you know that I’ve become a *huge* fan of The Farm Cooking School. Maybe it’s because every week I get to help prepare and eat a gourmet lunch. But I think it’s because they’re teaching me the foundations of how to really cook. Skills that I’ll use for the rest of my life.

This week’s class was about roasting. Sure, roasting, I thought. Toss something in the oven. Let it cook until it smells good. Voila! Well, maybe not…

Let’s look at the menu:

  • Salt-roasted beet salad with citrus and pistachios
  • Whole-roasted cauliflower with caper vinaigrette
  • Wheat beer roast chicken
  • Creme caramel

Are you hungry yet?

I have to admit that I’m a huge fan of roasted beets. In fact, hardly a week goes by when I don’t roast another batch of beets. So when Ian told us that salt roasting them is easier and takes them to another level, well, I was in! And after tasting the results, I was doubly in. The resultant salad was delicious! So delicious that Evy thought that this might have been her favorite item of the class thus far.

Beautiful and delicious

Beautiful and delicious

Who would think that roasting root vegetables (or fish!) in a mound of salt mixed with egg whites would be so simple yet take an ingredient up a notch? Well, that’s why we’re taking these classes. Techniques like salt-roasting were something I’d neither tried nor appreciated before. But with a few minutes of hands on teaching, I learned a great roasting method that I’m sure I’ll use frequently. Time to buy that 20lb bag of kosher salt!

The whole-roasted cauliflower taught us another great lesson. If you’ve prepared cauliflower before, you’ve probably done the same thing as me – took a paring knife and sliced off the florets. Some time later, and maybe bleeding, you have a big bowl of cauliflower parts that you toss with olive oil and some flavoring, then roast. It works well and tastes good, but skipping the time consuming step sounded good to me!

Lookin' good!

Lookin’ good!

The lessons from these two dishes were great – simple preparation can be as good as, or better than, complex ones. Not only that but the dish is just prettier than a bowl of florets. Well, actually, this photo reminds me of zombie brains, but it really was pretty!

The next dish was the roasted chicken. A staple of most families. But I never learned to do it quite like this. This was a near-perfect chicken. Made by first timers (with a little handholding from Chef Knauer). What a difference from the chicken I normally make.

That's a chicken we'd all be proud to serve

That’s a chicken we’d all be proud to serve

There were a number of valuable lessons in making this chicken – the method of seasoning. The making of the gravy. The importance of resting. It made me want to come home and practice making it again.

Finally, we finished with a classic dessert – creme caramel. I’d never made this before, so I was fascinated by the process to make the caramel sauce. When I’ve made candy, it always involved bringing a sugar solution up to a very specific temperature. In this case, it was quite different. Ian taught us how to caramelize the sugar quickly by sight. Oh, and the resultant creme caramel came out perfectly.

Carefully! pour the molten sugar into the ramekins

Carefully! pour the molten sugar into the ramekins

As with other classes, some of the most valuable lessons came from discussions we had in passing. For example, I use fresh vanilla beans in my ice creams. These beans are very expensive. Today I learned (ugh!!!) that I’ve only been getting half the use out of the beans that I could have. It’s things like this that you just don’t learn by reading a cookbook and that make the class so valuable to me.

In fact, these classes are so useful that I’ve signed up for more. I’m starting Mexican cooking and will be taking other classes as time permits. Learning has never been so much fun and delicious!