One of the problems with culinary school when I was a student, and I’m sure this is still the case, is that most of the classes are jam packed. I might even call it “oversold.” You’re fighting for space, equipment, oven racks, cooler shelves, the teacher’s attention and frankly, not everyone plays nice. Not having a lot of practical real-world experience at that point, I didn’t see this for what it was: foreshadowing. I wish I could’ve sent a message to my future self: get used to it. Pastry stations are tiny in the real world, typically crammed into forgotten corners and we are constantly finagling oven space, moving things around in the walk-in and we really shouldn’t be surprised when our perfectly glazed cakes gets smushed by careless prep cooks. But back then, coming from a well stocked home kitchen where I typically worked alone, I liked my space. Princess.
My friend Tiffany was my partner in crime in those days. We worked office jobs (a.k.a. “the real world”) then sprinted out the doors to zip across the city for a 6pm class several times a week. Juggling both worlds was a challenge and we busted our asses for a full year. Given our schedules, we were continually thinking of ways to make it work better, easier. One lunch hour, while struggling with the schedule for the next term, she proposed a controversial idea involving a very early morning class. Twice a week for 6 weeks or once a week for 12 weeks? But that weekly class was on a Sunday morning. I needed convincing.
Tiffany gave her best sales pitch. You see, she explained, it’s Cake Decorating and that’s a rather intensive course. 30+ people had already signed up for the Tuesday/Thursday evening class but only a handful were in the Sunday morning class. Really, less than 5 people. Sure, the Sunday class is 12 weeks instead of 6 but think of the space! The personal attention! The extra days to practice and get our homework done! She had a point. Cake decorating was detail work and our final project was a 3-tier wedding cake with gum paste flowers. Just the thought of turning out sugar sweet peas overnight gave me an ulcer. Better to stretch it out over the week, she reasoned, with lots of time for do-overs. The kicker, however, was a 7:30 am start. Egad. That’s rough.
The space factor alone had me convinced – so we registered. Turns out those extra days came in handy– I needed all the practice I could get. I also think the atmosphere in that room was the best I had encountered. We were a small group – only 7 of us – and we spent most of the time laughing, offering rather vocal unsolicited opinions and support. We looked out for each other, pitched in to gather ingredients and help with prep and made sure there was plenty of space in the cooler so nothing was squashed. We competed good-naturedly and pitched in when one of us fell behind or lost confidence. I loved it. I wish all my classes had been like that.
Every Sunday morning, without fail, our instructor Chef Karen took pity upon us and made breakfast. Since I usually showed up exhausted or with some degree of a hangover, I particularly appreciated this gesture. Early on she made roasted garlic potatoes which we requested every week. They were delicious and we loved her for it.
I never gave much thought to roasted potatoes, that is, until I watched Chef Karen. In between forming gum paste roses that looked a lot like deformed cabbages and piping muppet characters out of royal icing, I watched. Hot oven, enough olive oil to coat and plenty of salt and pepper. Then … and this was my a-ha moment – she added finely chopped garlic at the very end and back in the oven for just a minute or two to cook off the raw taste. Ooooh. So simple, so obvious and no burnt garlic. If my hands weren’t covered in buttercream I would have smacked my forehead.
Fast forward to the present. I was in Trader Joe’s a few weeks ago and stumbled upon a bag of teeny Yukon Gold potatoes. Gardner’s would scoff and call them “seed” potatoes and they’re right, but I was suckered. I thought they were darling. So I threw them into the cart then tossed them onto the kitchen counter at home. There they sat, neglected for a while.
The other night, zipping through the kitchen, the yellow mesh bag caught my eye. Oh yeah, the mini taters – I should deal with those. Roasting them whole was the only way to go and it was time to pay homage to those cake decorating potatoes. It couldn’t be easier. Onto a foil lined sheet pan for easy clean-up then a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper and into a 400°F oven. While those are going, finely chop several cloves of garlic – as many as you like. Halfway through give the potatoes a toss, then back in the oven. When they’re tender throughout and lightly browned, add the chopped garlic and stir to evenly distribute, then back in the oven. Now here’s where you need to pay attention: a minute or two and the garlic will lose it’s sharp edge. But if you’re good and watch closely, you can hit that sweet spot when the garlic toasts and browns and develops a delicious nutty flavor. But even 30 seconds past that point and it will burn beyond acceptable and turn acrid and awful. So watch carefully.
In that class, I made exactly one perfect – and I mean perfect – gum paste rose. After 3 attempts and 5 hours I decided roses weren’t my thing and concentrated on other easier flowers. I never would have thought I’d come out of a cake decorating class learning how to roast potatoes but I did. Money well spent.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: 5 FINGERLINGS UP. Ha! OK, that made me laugh. Pull this recipe out when you’re tired, maybe a little worn out and want something easy, tasty, comforting. I ate this, and only this, for dinner the other night and was terrifically happy. It’d be an awesome side with your Easter lamb. In fact, it’d be an awesome accompaniment to anything. So go roast these babies up.
GARLIC ROASTED POTATOES
1 ½ pounds new potatoes (red or Yukon Gold), washed, cut in half or quarters if large
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, finely minced (optional)
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
- Preheat oven to 400°F and line a sheet pan with foil.
- Place the potatoes on the prepared sheet pan in a single layer and drizzle with the olive oil, a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper; toss to coat.
- Roast for 20 minutes, remove from the oven and give a stir. (Add the rosemary at this point if using.)
- Return the potatoes to the oven and continue to roast until cooked through and browned – about 15-20 more minutes.
- Remove from the oven, add the garlic and give a good stir to evenly distribute.
- Roast for another 2 minutes until fragrant and lightly browned – not burnt!