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Have You Ever Dreamed of Going To Culinary School? Part 4: Reinvent Date Night

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Before cooking class, I drag Lisa to Soho for some shopping. We enter my favorite boutique and I am drawn to a cinnamon colorblock dress for her evening of debauchery. However, when the salesperson arrives, Lisa promptly asks if this comes in the size "women who eat." Horrified, I lead the way out the door. Having blown her paycheck on more important things like rent and the electric bill, she scolds me and we settle on a safe and sexy DVF from my closet. It's been a frustrating morning. I have to remember my best friend is now divorced and nothing I can say, do, beg or borrow will help ease the pain of that. If friendship is one mind and two bodies, like any true sisterhood, we share each others pain.

I board the N train and study today's lesson. I breathe a sigh of relief as I walk into the classroom, shutting the door to my problems on the outside. A Chef's kitchen is a sanctuary with strict rules. It doesn't get cluttered or messy with emotion. My nerves settle as I gather my ingredients.

The book starts today's lesson by saying, "a great chef is measured by his ability to roast a perfect chicken -- a seemingly easy task that is just the opposite." If you have ever tried to truss a chicken (act of tying it into submission) or cook the perfect roast, you know it takes skill, time and precision.

Today's dishes are mouthwateringly delicious. The rich, earthy sauce in the Chicken Chasseur (Hunter-style Chicken) and crisp, salty goodness of the Pommes Anna (Potatoes Anna) create the perfect marriage. With a meal like this, it's not your average date night.

After quartering my chicken, I begin to sauté it in clarified butter, skin side down. Once it's golden brown, I place it in the oven to bake. I wipe out my pan and sauté the mushrooms, careful not crowd them or they will rebel and refuse to brown evenly. I breathe in the delicious, woodsy mixture. I add my stock and tomato. As I bring the rich sauce to a boil, I'm reminded of Lisa's simmering romance and I glance at the clock on the wall to make sure I'm on schedule.

I layer the potato slices until the golden edges peek out from underneath. I push the masterpiece into the center of the oven and set the timer for twenty minutes

I find my twenty seconds of courage, take a deep breath, and attempt my flip and flambé.

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For more posts from Heidi Brod on culinary school, click here.

Heidi Brod and Lisa Stolov have a daily newsletter/website DishInOutBeauty.com that focuses on health and beauty from the inside out.

Excerpts inspired by the class, Serious Amateur, French Cooking, Culinary Techniques, Recipe and photos taken from International Culinary Center.

Chicken Chasseur (Sautéed Chicken Hunter-Style)
Yield: 4 Servings

For the Chicken
1 Chicken Quartered

For the Enriched Stock
17 oz brown chicken stock, veal stock, enriched with browned trimmings)
Bone trimmings, gizzards, and hearts
*You can always skip this step and buy an already prepared enriched stock but it's much richer if you go for it!
2 oz carrots, cut in mirepoix (roughly diced)
2oz onions, cut in mirepoix (roughly diced)
Bouquet garni - A sachet of herbs such as thyme, bay leaf, and parsley used to flavor cooking liquids. Can either be loosed or tied in cheesecloth with string.

For the Sauce
1 ½ oz clarified butter (render milkfat from unsalted butter by boiling and skimming), for browning
4 ½ mushrooms, émincer (slice thinly)
1 oz shallots, ciseler (finely dice)
4 T brandy
1 ¾ oz white wine
8 oz enriched stock
1 T tomato fondue or stewed tomato
1 oz butter
1t chervil finely chopped
1t tarragon, finely
Salt and pepper freshly ground to taste

For the Chicken and Enriched Stock
1. Quarter the chickens, keeping the breast intact.
2. Enrich the stock: chop the bones and trimmings from the chicken. Sauté them until browned, then add mirepoix and continue cooking the vegetables until browned. When sucs (carmelized proteins that form on the bottom of the pan during browning) have formed, remove excess fat and moisten with chicken or veal stock. Add the Bouquet garni. Cook at a low simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, strain, degrease and reduce to taste.

For the Sauce and Service
1. Before the serving, season the chicken on all sides. Sauté the chicken, skin-side down first in the clarified butter until brown.
2. When the chicken is well browned, removed it from the pan place it on an oven safe roasting platter and into a 375 degree oven to finish cooking.
3. Remove excess fat from the pan, leaving only enough for sautéing the mushrooms.
4. Heat the pan, add the sliced mushrooms, and sauté. After 2 minutes, add the shallots and sauté briefly.
5. Remove excess fat from the pan. Take the pan off the heat and add brandy. Return the pan to the heat and ignite the brandy (flamber). When the flames have died down, add the wine and reduce by half.
6. Add the stock to the mushroom mixture and continue to cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the tomato fondue or stewed tomato.
7. When the sauce is nappant (thick enough to coat back of a spoon), swirl in the butter (monter au beurre). Once the butter has been added, the sauce can't be further reduced, or it will break. It is better if the sauce is slightly over-reduced before adding the butter, since it can easily be thinned to proper consistency.
8. Add the chopped chervil and tarragon to the sauce. Adjust the seasonings and keep the sauce warm for service.

To Order
1. Remove the chicken pieces from the oven when done; cooking time is approximately 20 minutes for a 1-kg (2 ½-lb) chicken. Remove the breastbone from the chicken breast. Waiting to remove the breastbone and ribs from the meat until after cooking helps to retain the meat's shape, flavor and moisture. Moreover, since the breasts tend to cook more quickly than the thighs, exposing the thighbone and leaving the breastbone and ribs attached during cooking ensures the two will finish at the same time.
2. Cut each breast half into two even pieces on a diagonal. Cut legs into two pieces at the join and on the bias, and remove the thighbones. The chicken is now cut into eight pieces.
3. To portion; Assemble one leg piece with one breast piece. Make sure only one piece contains a bone. Serve on hot, clean plates, napped with sauce

Pommes Anna
Yield 4 Servings
1 lb, 2oz starchy potatoes
3 oz clarified butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

1. Preheat an oven to 400 degrees. Peel the potatoes, rinse and cover with water.
2. Cut the potatoes into long cylinders. Slice the potatoes 1/16 in thick. Toss the potatoes in half of the clarified butter.
3. Heat a small pan and add clarified butter to lightly coat bottom.
4. Over low heat, arrange the potatoes around the bottom of the pan overlapping slightly. Drizzle clarified butter over the bottom layer and season with salt and pepper.
5. Arrange another layer over the first. Alternate the butter and salt and pepper with the potatoes until the layering is 1 ½ inches deep. Turn up the heat to medium to briefly sear the bottom; this prevents the potatoes from sticking to the pan.
6. Cover and place in a 400 degree oven and bake for about 20 minutes. Uncover, flip over and continue to bake until golden and crisp on the outside but tender on the inside. Drain off excess butter. Cut and serve in wedges.