Eggciting Times with Cookology Essentials

The egg is an unsung hero, working backstage to give you some of your favourite foods – whisking into your cookie doughs, folding into cake batters, binding flour together for a developed pasta dough. By itself, it does some pretty amazing things, too – fluffing up into pillowy scrambled eggs; setting into firm hardboiled eggs; transforming into the iconic sunny side up eggs, winking on a plate of toast and bacon. But what other magic can it do? A few weeks ago, we gathered in Parkes Hall’s kitchen for the second Cookology-run Food Essentials class of the quarter to find out by learning to make simple dishes.

We first learned to make eggs Benedict, the reigning king of brunch dishes. We learned how to not only poach the perfect egg (pssst: stirring the water helps wrap the egg whites around the yolk) but also make the accompanying Hollandaise sauce, one of the five “mother sauces” in French cuisine. We whisked egg yolks and butter together over a double-boiler into a warm, rich emulsion and spooned it over a toasted English muffin stacked with bacon and poached egg for the finished dish.

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We then ate our delicious creations…with gusto.

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Once we finished eating, we moved on to another way to make eggs: Japanese steamed eggs. We mixed eggs, water, and salt in ramekins and steamed the eggs to a delicate tofu-like consistency. They were finished with a splash of soy sauce and a sprinkle of chopped scallions.

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Its lightness made for a refreshing contrast to the luxurious eggs Benedict and a pleasant end to the class.

The following week, we returned to the kitchen for a second class in eggs, this time not as the star of the dish but as a crucial building block of two desserts, creme brûlée and coconut macaroons. For the creme brûlée, we tempered a blend of egg yolks and sugar into scalded heavy cream and had fun choosing what flavoured extracts to include – classic vanilla, almond, or a combination of both! The mixture was poured into ramekins sitting in a hot water bath.

As the creme brûlée was cooking in the oven, we turned our attention to the leftover egg whites. We whisked them with a pinch of salt and a spoonful of sugar into a thick foam, added lemon zest for a touch of extra flavour, and folded in shredded coconut. We then shaped the moistened coconut into balls on baking sheets and baked them until the edges were toasted a golden-brown.

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The lemon subtly brightened the macaroons’ flavour…and paired nicely with melted chocolate.

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The creme brûlées weren’t forgotten! (How could anyone forget?) Once we’d eaten our fill of macaroons, we waited for the creme brûlées to cool before spreading an even layer of sugar on top. We proceeded to learn to wield blowtorches to put the “brûlée” in “creme brûlée” – caramelizing the sugar into the amber-coloured goodness that’s essential to any good creme brulee. We were delighted to break into the desserts with their spoons, first cracking the caramelized tops and then scooping into the creamy custard.

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Poached eggs, sauce, custard, foam – we learned in these two Essentials classes that there’s much more to eggs than just sunny side up and cookies. (And with this new knowledge in hand, we now know how to impress people. A fancy brunch dish or a classic French dessert? No problem.)

A Dinner at ‘Amoureux’

In lieu of Valentine’s Day, Cookology members launched a romantic on-campus popup restaurant sponsored by Northwestern Dining. Student chefs and hosts alike spent months perfecting the dishes and setting the atmosphere for a warm dinner. After several grueling and exciting nights of preparation, we arrived at the kitchen ready to run our service!

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The weather was blisteringly cold, but our guests trekked through the snow and down the stairs to Amoureux. The hosts greeted them at the entrance of the restaurant, taking their coats and politely bringing them to their seats in a transformed Willard Dining Hall.

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With the room dimmed and tables laced with gorgeous red petals and flickering tea lights, Cookology served the first course: an amuse-bouche of french onion foam, goat cheese chive profiterole, and watermelon gazpacho.

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Guests could witness the sense of urgency in the open kitchen as the chefs plated the upcoming appetizer: scallops with morel sauce and lemon verbena on a bed of pebbles (for that seaside nostalgic kick).

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The savory scents of a beef Wellington was next to leave the kitchen. Charred carrots and red wine reduction surrounded the pink beef en croute atop a generous amount of buttery potato puree.

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The Wellington was followed shortly by crisp, golden poached pears with strawberry ice cream and macerated blueberries.

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…And what better way to end a dinner than with little bites of heaven? These Grand Marnier canelés went out to tables filled with conversation and laughter.

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It was quite a sight to see couples, friends, and family all enjoying a cozy dinner together! On behalf of everyone in Cookology, we want to thank you for choosing to spend your special day in Restaurant Amoureux!

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Modern is ‘In’ with the New Year

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Last quarter’s Basics left Cookology members with a desire to discover the present culinary world―rife with techniques pioneered by beloved chefs like Thomas Keller and the molecular gastronomical gurus of our day such as Heston Blumenthal and Grant Achatz.

Inspired by the chefs’ modern signature dishes, the Cookology members put together a sous-vide and basic spherification food lab this past Thursday.

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The night started off with a short introduction about the wonders of sous-vide cooking. We then split up our group into different teams, each team packing their salmon fillets and chicken breasts with a variety of ingredient and sear conditions. Taste and texture tests later determined our preferred goodies to bag with the fish and chicken.

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To explore basic spherification, the members created cucumber mint caviar and butternut squash soup one-biters. The faces of our tasters betrayed their surprise at the literal explosion of flavors in their mouths. (Not to mention the direct spherification process brought uncanny visual satisfaction to everyone in the room.)

Amusement aside, our Modernist Food Labs will continue the rest of this quarter, and the Essentials classes will begin this coming Monday. Stay tuned, folks!

Ending Meal Madness with a “Bang!”

Since our last update about the student cooking competition Meal Madness, the Cookology team moved onto the semi-finals! Their entry was a composed rutabaga cardamom soup captured in an upside-down shot glass and surrounded by croutons, pickled apples, edible flowers, and grated nutmeg. The presentation is a homage to Grant Achatz’s style when he was leading Trio in Evanston, now Quince.

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The Cookology team next advanced to the final round of Meal Madness held in the student center of Northwestern University. The team took out the big guns, i.e., an immersion circulator, and worked to prepare a teriyaki-glazed salmon with wasabi cream, beetroot puree, and apple salad; all the while, providing samples to over 80 students that dropped by to watch the competition.

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We are very happy to announce that in an exciting and long final round, the Cookology team is the victor of Meal Madness 2014! We want to thank Northwestern Dining for this great opportunity that they have provided Northwestern students not only to express their culinary creativity, but also to work with the beloved chefs and staff that have been supporting the campus. Cookology had an amazing time!

To learn more about the Cookology members that competed in Meal Madness and what makes them so passionate about food, be sure to check out this interview conducted by Northwestern Dining.

Introducing Fish & Chicken: The Two Simple Essentials

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During this past Thursday’s Food Lab, Cookology members spent their evenings recreating Chef Brian Huston’s ribollita and learning how to cook the perfect salmon and chicken breast! We finally reached our class on proteins and were thrilled to see that our members were as excited about it as we were!

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Cookology execs tried a different organization of Food Lab this time around: we set up a ribollita station and a protein station, and members were split into two teams and switched stations at the halfway point. Members at the ribollita station learned about knife maintenance and the ideal knives/cutting boards, while those at the protein station discovered the importance of temperatures, timing, and herb flavorings.

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Overall, this new organization went more smoothly than we had imagined! We were very happy to hear that our fellow chefs were walking away having learned new skills and facts (as well as to share a hearty staff meal together)!

Boltwood’s Hearty Ribollita and Savory Pickled Zucchinis

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Chef Brian Huston from Boltwood came in this past Thursday to teach our members how to make a wonderful ribollita (Tuscan bread soup) and pickled zucchinis with mustard seeds and turmeric. It was our first time using the demonstration kitchen so graciously provided by Whole Foods; the vastness and practicality of the space itself, as well as the organizational work put in by Whole Foods staff, made our evening go all the more smoothly!

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Cookology members crowded around Chef Brian as he prepped and cooked the ingredients for his dishes, listening to his rigorous yet often humorous account of his culinary roots and career. We were thrilled to learn about the five-course dinners he cooked for his friends (*and past love interests*) shockingly using only one pot when he was in college! His experiences working with Charlie Trotter, and in the famed Blackbird and Publican in Chicago kept us on the edge of our seats — humoring, scaring, and inspiring us all at once!

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We cannot thank Boltwood and Whole Foods Evanston enough for helping us put this demonstration together! Our members had a great time and will be dropping by Boltwood to catch a dinner in the near future!

Experiments with Gnocchi and Soufflé

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Food Laboratory: a time of open kitchen space when Cookology members can experiment with various ingredients to put a special twist on standard dishes. For our first food lab of the quarter, Cookology execs demonstrated knife safety, a simple gnocchi, and a chocolate soufflé to help build basic and technical skills in the kitchen.

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The air was filled with the smell of fried gnocchi and vegetables, as well as the sound of our members fearlessly beating meringue to stiff peaks by hand. (We were extremely amazed at their insistence upon doing so despite the availability of electric mixers. Now that’s dedication!)

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The creativity showcased that night was absolutely brilliant! Three-course meals came out from each team, and every smoothie, gnocchi combination, and soufflé flavor was different from the next! After a long evening of hard work, we all tasted the dishes and ate a well-deserved staff meal of roasted chicken and salad. We couldn’t have asked for a better food lab to start off our year!

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