fundamentals of cookery: week 6 reflection

Goals: My goal this week is to stay healthy and stay on top of things. I don’t want to let my area get messy. Also, stay focused.

Expectations: After going easy last week, I expect this week to be tough. Back to being really busy and cooking a lot of things I haven’t made before. It’s always harder when it’s new recipes and cooking methods.

Reflection of Experiences:
On Friday, Chef was back so it was back to being very busy. The first thing we did was demo cutting an onion to everyone in class, which was really nerve-racking. Everyone is watching you cut, but no one can say anything, and you’ve got a knife in your hand. Being nervous and cutting is not a comfortable situation. I did not enjoy that. Working on the mayonnaise was really tiring, and my arm was about to fall off. At least it didn’t break on me today. We also cooked pasta, which was pretty easy since I cook a lot of pasta at home. I got to make bucatini though, which was a new pasta for me. I’ve read about it and have a recipe that calls for it, but I haven’t seen it in the grocery store. I was surprised how much it expanded. I can see how it would be good as a saucy pasta.

Tuesday was another busy day. We worked on ribs and Swiss-style shredded veal. The ribs had a lot of prep, but overall the recipe was pretty easy. I had some trouble with searing the veal. At least my mushrooms had a pretty good sear. The rest of the veal recipe went smoothly; I just need to watch the heat and how much oil I have when searing meat. I think I did a pretty good job of keeping my area clean today, so that was a plus. Whenever we sear, the kitchen gets really hot. It was a hot and tiring day.

On Wednesday, I was really tired, but I really enjoyed the roasting, pan gravy, and jus lie, so I felt more energized as the day went on. Initially I butterflied my pork wrong; I guess I wasn’t paying attention during that part of the demo because I was half asleep. Chef made the correct cut and it was still usable, so that was a relief. The trussing for the beef and pork went better than I thought it would. I guess practicing on the towel helped. The searing went better today; I got some decent browning and didn’t pan fry the meat today. I really enjoyed making the jus lie and pan gravy, and they tasted great with the beef and pork. We made pan gravy with the roasted chicken already, so it was easier this time, and the jus lie was similar to the pan gravy except we used a slurry. I think so far, roasting has been my favorite type of meat preparation. I like the textures of the roasted meat and getting to make a sauce from the drippings. Today was a very satisfying day.

Thursday was possibly the most hectic day so far of this class. We worked on Boeuf Bourguignon and Navarin of Lamb, two very long stew recipes. There weren’t a lot of new steps, but it was hard because there were so many different things to prep and cook with difference priorities. Sometimes it was confusing to remember which ingredients and steps were for which recipe; like they both have a roux, but one is cooked in the oven with the meat while the other one is cooked on the stove with the vegetables. It was definitely a struggle to finish everything, especially when Chef gave us a deadline on our garnishes. I wasn’t even close to finishing my vegetable cuts for the lamb, so I tried to go faster, but my cuts ended up inconsistent. It’s really hard to make accurate cuts quickly. Still, it was a good day, and at least we were all in it together, madly dashing around the kitchen.

Positive Experiences:
Making the bucatini was a positive experience. That’s a pasta I’ve wanted to try and I finally got to cook it and taste it. Also, working on the roasts was good. I got to practice searing some more, so that was good, and it was also good to practice trussing. I’ve tried recipes that said to tie up the meat, but I didn’t know how to tie it before, so the meat would end up falling out of the twine. I think my roasts will be much improved now that I’ve learned how to truss. The highlight of the week was the jus lie; the recipe went well and it tasted delicious with the roasted beef.

Humbling Moments:
On Wednesday, I prepared almost double the mirepoix we needed, probably because I was tired and not thinking that clearly. It put me a little behind, and it meant I wasted the extra mirepoix. Another reminder of the importance of staying focused. Next time I should just write it down too, because I confuse myself sometimes.

I had some trouble with vegetable cuts on Thursday. I still have trouble with celery cuts. It’s hard to flatten them and get even pieces. Chef had to correct me a few times because I forgot the proper way to do the cuts.

Of the things that I learned this week, I am best prepared to demonstrate to someone else? (list in bullet form)
-Pork ribs
-Vinaigrette
-Mayonnaise
-Roasted pork tenderloin
-Roasted beef
-Jus lie

What feedback did I receive from my instructor and how did I use the information to improve my performance?

When we were making the Swiss-style veal dish, Chef said I had too much oil and had pan fried the veal instead of searing it. The next day, when we seared the pork and beef, I paid more attention to the amount of oil and the searing went better. Those didn’t have flour though, so they were easier. When the meat has flour on it, I have a harder time telling if I have the right amount of oil because the flour is absorbing oil. Sometimes the flour starts falling off too. I also had the heat too high when I was searing the veal. I think my heat was better controlled on the pork and beef, but a couple times it got too hot for a few seconds.

fundamentals of cookery: week 5 reflection

Goals: My goal this week is to stay healthy, be focused, and keep my area clean. I didn’t feel completely well last week, so I want to make sure to manage my time, get enough rest, and be ready for the week to come.

Expectations: Next week Chef Hamada will be teaching us about seafood. I have the least experience cooking seafood, so I expect it to be challenging, and I hope to learn a lot about cooking seafood because I don’t know much now. I don’t know what his teaching style is like, so that will be a new experience too.

Reflection of Experiences:
Friday was an easier and shorter day. We worked on rice pilaf, polenta, risotto, baked potato, and prep for court bouillon. The recipes went pretty well, and I did a pretty good job of keeping my area cleaner today. I think we were all relieved to make it to the end of the week, especially with all the homework we had due today. I’ve tried making risotto before, but I think now I have a better idea of what the final texture should be like – nice and creamy. Starches overall have been less stressful and simpler. It was a nice little break.

Tuesday was another easier day. We worked on finishing our julienned onions and carrots for the court bouillon first. Chef Hamada told us to work on our grips, keeping our fingers curled, and having good posture, all good things to not forget. Then we prepared the court bouillon, which was a very simple recipe. It doesn’t taste good to drink, but I’m curious what the fish will taste like after we poach it in the court bouillon. Then, we did prep for the cioppino, and later Chef Hamada talked about how to inspect and store seafood overnight. He also prepped and cooked lobster and crab (boiled and baked). It was delicious both ways. I learned a lot about seafood storage and cooking crab and lobster today.

On Wednesday we spent most of the day working on cioppino. It was my first time working with a lot of the seafood, so I learned a lot – how to shuck oysters and clams, how to clean squid, how to sear seafood. It was messy but fun. Chef Hamada also demoed how to fillet a whole salmon, and then we poached salmon in the court bouillon we made yesterday. I thought the salmon would pick up more acidity. It stayed nice and moist though, so it tasted pretty good.

Thursday we spent the day on the snapper. It was very messy but fun eviscerating and filleting the snapper. I enjoy seeing the process of preparing food closer to its natural state; it’s more interesting to fillet a fish yourself than to just buy a fillet at the store. It also gave me a better understand of fish anatomy. I never had any idea how the gills were connected to the head and the innards. I had some trouble with not tearing the fillet, but I think I can get better if I practice. I also had some trouble removing the skin from the fillet. It was pretty easy to sear the fillet, but I messed up the brown butter sauce. I burned it the first time, so I had to remake it. The sauce tasted pretty good with the seared fillet.

Positive Experiences:
This week was seafood week, and I got to learn a lot about seafood and do a lot of prep and cooking that I have no experience with. I definitely learned a lot about what to look for in fresh seafood, how to store it properly, how to clean it, how to prepare it, and how to cook it. Scaling and eviscerating the snapper was quite fun. I wouldn’t want to do it everyday, but it was a positive experience, and I will definitely try it at home. Eating all the seafood this week was also great.

Humbling Moments:
When we were searing seafood for cioppino, my shrimp was overcooked, which was disappointing because that is the one seafood in the dish that I have more experience with. I didn’t pay attention to my heat while I was searing the shrimp, so I overcooked it. It’s a reminder that you really have to stay focused and pay attention or else bam! It’s overcooked.

Of the things that I learned this week, I am best prepared to demonstrate to someone else? (list in bullet form)

-Risotto
-Polenta
-Rice Pilaf
-Court Bouillon
-Poached Salmon
-Seared Snapper

What feedback did I receive from my instructor and how did I use the information to improve my performance?

Chef Hamada said my shrimp was overcooked or the cioppino, so on Thursday, I paid more attention to my fish and the heat so it got browned without being overcooked.



fundamentals of cookery: week 4 reflection

Goals: My goals for this week are to not get sick and not fall behind. This is still my main goal. This class is really pushing me, and I want to make it to the end. For me, a lot of it is about time management, and making sure I get enough sleep. If I don’t get enough sleep, I can’t learn as well or perform as well in class, and I also feel bad. I’m also going to work on being faster and more organized.

Expectations: Next week is poultry, and I’m sure there will be lots of challenges with cooking it properly. Chef said he might be moving us around too, so I expect that will take some getting used to. It will be different working in a station with new people. I expect it to be another hard and tiring week.

Reflection of Experiences:

Thankfully, Friday was not a crazy day. We worked on vegetables, and I’ve cooked all the vegetables we worked on so that made it seem easier. The cooking methods were all new though, so it wasn’t that easy. Overall, my vegetables came out pretty well. My cauliflower was almost overcooked, which I realized as I was sloshing it in the ice bath; I noticed the stems bending a bit, and Chef pointed out how the florets start to separate when it’s almost overcooked. My carrots Vichy needed a little more reduction, and my spinach needed a little more salt. I think I should have caught the seasoning on the spinach, but I was rushing a bit. I need to pay more attention to seasoning next time. I was tired because I didn’t get to sleep as much, so I’m glad I made it through the day and through the vegetables.

On Tuesday, I felt really tired even though I slept a lot. I think I am on the verge of getting sick. I need to get through this week. Anyway, today we made ratatouille, which was a lot of work. There was a lot of prep since there are so many vegetables in it. We also went to the herb garden to gather fresh herbs. At first my mushrooms weren’t brown enough, so Chef said to re-sear them. They came out a nice dark brown after that. I made sure to sear the other vegetables well too. The rest of the recipe went pretty well, and it tasted pretty good. Afterwards we had to deconstruct a chicken. It took me 18 minutes. The chickens were not that cold, so it was harder to work with. I still don’t like deconstructing the thigh/drumstick part. It’s hard to get the meat off the bones in that area. Later, during cleanup, we finished really fast today. Maybe it’s because we moved stations?

Wednesday was a hard day. I had a lot of trouble with things. First, it took me three tries to truss a chicken. I finally got it the third time, but it was not easy. My main problem was not making the string tight enough. Next time I have to truss, I’m going to make it as tight as I can. Then, I overcooked my roast chicken to 190 degrees, so I think it came out a little dry. The one thing that went well was the pan gravy. It had good color, consistency, and flavor. My stock was not reduced enough. I should have put it back on the stove to reduce, but I was trying to get going on the rest of the chicken we had to cook, so I never got around to it. I also had some trouble with some of my breading. I think some of the flour came off in the egg wash so there were spots that weren’t breaded. I tried to bread those pieces again, but then the breading got a little soggy. Also, for some reason I had extra chicken. I don’t know where it came from. It’s as if my chicken had three breasts. Lastly, when I pan fried the chicken breast, one side was more brown than the other, so Chef said to do it again tomorrow. At least it was cooked, juicy, and well seasoned. I guess today I had an off day. I’m just glad I made it through the day without burning myself with oil or anything like that.

Thursday was actually a really good day. After a rough day on Wednesday, I went into Thursday a lot more focused and determined to finish the deep fried chicken, pan fried chicken, and sautéed chicken tenders before class. The night before I tried to plan out in my mind how to do this efficiently so I wouldn’t run out of time. Things pretty much went as I planned, and I was able to finish cooking the chicken before class. Overall, the chicken was cooked pretty well, except my pan fried breast was missing some breading because it was one of the pieces not breaded as well from yesterday. Chef said my chicken was seasoned well; it wasn’t very pleasant tasting the flour yesterday, but I guess it paid off! Then, we worked on grilling chicken and deconstructing duck. The deconstruction was pretty similar to chicken; I think I’m finally starting to have a better feel for deconstructing chicken and duck. My grilled chicken was the disappointment of the day; the grill marks were really weak. I needed to turn the heat up more. The flavor was not bad though. Then, the roasted duck thighs and pan seared duck breast both went pretty well; I got some nice color and skin crisping on both. Finally, we worked on steaming medium grain rice, brown rice, and wild rice. Those were pretty easy. Today is the first day I successfully multi-tasked, and as a result, had time to eat! The sweet taste of success – pan seared duck breast, grilled chicken, and some white rice. I think being more focused really made a difference – I was more organized, more efficient, planned my tasks better, and overall had better execution.

Positive Experiences:

This week, Thursday was a very positive day. As I mentioned above, I did a better job of being organized and multi-tasking, so I cooked my chicken from Wednesday, got my food into the oven quicker, had more time to keep my area clean, and had time to actually eat. Even Kelly said, “Wow, today you are fast!” It felt good to be on top of things today and also to bounce back from a rough day on Wednesday.

Humbling Moments:

The whole Wednesday was kind of humbling. Except for the pan gravy, I didn’t execute well on Wednesday, as I mentioned above. I haven’t been feeling that great this week, so maybe that’s why things didn’t go well today. I wasn’t on top of things today, my station got messy, and I had more trouble than usual. It felt like most things were a struggle, which isn’t how I normally feel. Also, it definitely felt like the clock was against me today. I have to try to be more focused and organized.

Of the things that I learned this week, I am best prepared to demonstrate to someone else? (list in bullet form)

-Green/Wax Beans
-Broccoli
-Asparagus
-Truss Chicken
-Roast Chicken
-Pan Gravy
-Pan Seared Duck Breast
-Roasted Duck Thighs

What feedback did I receive from my instructor and how did I use the information to improve my performance?

For the vegetables, Chef said my carrots Vichy needed about 20 seconds more reduction, so I put it back on the heat, and it came out better. Also, he said my spinach wasn’t seasoned enough so I went back, added salt, and tasted it again. I will try to pay more attention to reduction and seasoning this week.

For the ratatouille, Chef said to re-sear my mushrooms to get them browner. That was the first one we seared, so after I re-seared them, they turned out a lot better, and I paid more attention to getting really brown bell peppers, zucchini, and eggplant. Properly seared vegetables are really important for this dish, so it was good that Chef pointed that out so I could correct it.

On Wednesday, things got crazy and my station was getting messy. Chef told me to have a pie tin for my utensils, which I should have known to do. I made sure to remember that on Thursday, and I’ll try not to forget again.

fundamentals of cookery: week 3 reflection

Goals: My goals for this week are to not get sick and not fall behind. I’m going to work on being faster and more organized.

Expectations: I expect this week to be even harder. Things are getting busier and busier. If I don’t start working faster, I’m going to fall behind. Soups sound a lot more complicated.

Reflection of Experiences:

Friday was a hard day. We worked on Espagnole and Tomato sauce. I felt like I was behind the whole day, and I didn’t even get to finish my onion cuts. I also had some trouble with my espagnole. I didn’t caramelize the vegetables enough, didn’t cook the roux well, and didn’t cook the tomato puree enough. The tomato sauce went pretty well, but I felt like time was against me, so it was kind of stressful. Even though the day had some bumps, it was still a good day. I could have come an hour earlier to finish my vegetable cuts, but I needed the sleep. I made it to Friday without getting sick, so that’s the most important thing. Today a bunch of people were missing, so the kitchen felt a little empty, and cleanup was harder. It’s hard to see people miss class. Hopefully all of us can make it through the rest of the class.

Tuesday was a “slow” day, according to Chef, but it was good for me because I had a chance to catch up. I finally finished my vegetable cuts. I think I’m getting faster, but I need more practice. Then, we worked on Hollandaise. I don’t understand who thought this sauce was a good idea. It’s hard to make, breaks spontaneously, has such specific temperature requirements, and doesn’t taste that great. If it tasted great, I would understand more I think. Maybe everyone else thinks it tastes great. Anyway, the hardest part is whisking the eggs and water over the double boiler. It’s really difficult to do that figure-8 motion. Eventually, I whipped it enough, and then my arms got a serious workout stirring the mixture as I added the clarified butter. Then, just as I finished seasoning, Chef told us to put our sauces away. I tried to keep it in a warm place, but by the time I got back to it, the bottom had cooled too much. I showed Chef, and he added some warm water to it. Amazingly, it came back to life. I guess that gives me hope that this is isn’t an impossible sauce. After that we worked on French Onion Soup. I made sure to pay attention to the caramelization step after last week’s Espagnole, and it paid off. The soup was delicious and had nice color and flavor. It’s nice to do something right and then eat it.

Wednesday was a tiring day. We worked on Cuban Black Bean Soup, Split Pea Soup, and Lentil Ragout, one right after another. I don’t feel like I fell behind today, but the whole time it felt very busy. I wanted to take a short break to drink some soup, but I didn’t want to fall behind, so I just kept going. My split pea soup was initially under-reduced and my lentil ragout was over reduced because it sat around for a while. I simmered my split pea soup longer, and I added some water to the lentil ragout; they turned out okay after those fixes. It’s tricky getting things to the right reduction. I’ve never had a lentil ragout, so that was new; it tasted pretty good. At the end of the day I was tired and hungry. I hope I can work faster on Thursday so I can enjoy a nice bowl of clam chowder.

Thursday was really busy. It’s hard to get the timing right when we’re working on three soups in one day. I was trying to start my New England Clam Chowder before finishing my consommé, but the consommé was done earlier, so I had to take care of that or else it would over-reduce. Then, for the prep, I tried to consolidate prep for common ingredients, but you also have to consider which recipe is being made first. There’s a tricky balance between getting one recipe on first and trying to prep for multiple recipes. Anyway, I was just glad that I finished my three soups in time and didn’t make any major errors. My station got pretty messy though, so I want to keep it cleaner. I don’t like having a messy station. I didn’t have much time to enjoy the clam chowder, but at least I managed to eat a few bites in between all the cooking.

Positive Experiences:

I really enjoyed making the French Onion Soup. I got really good caramelization on it, and that was nice because caramelization is something I’ve been trying to work on. I also enjoyed the smells of this soup a lot. Mostly, I really enjoyed eating it. It felt good to eat something delicious that I made.

Another positive experience was not falling behind on Wednesday. Wednesday was really busy, but I was more organized and faster in gathering and prepping everything. I made sure to check things off as I went and tried to pick up several things in one trip. I think those things helped me in not falling behind like I did last Friday. I felt more in control and less frenzied. I’m glad I made it through the day and finished the three soups.

Humbling Moments:

On Friday, my Espagnole and demi glaze didn’t come out well because I didn’t caramelize well and didn’t cook the roux well. I was bummed out about that because it wasn’t the first time we’d caramelized or cooked roux. Those steps are really important in developing the flavor and achieving the right thickness in the final product.

On Wednesday, When I took my split pea soup up, I thought it was good, but Chef didn’t even need to taste it to know it was not reduced enough. It’s a good lesson to pay more attention to the consistency and appearance of the final product, because my memory for that kind of thing is not that good. I’m going to try to take more notes about that and see if that helps.

Of the things that I learned this week, I am best prepared to demonstrate to someone else? (list in bullet form)

-French Onion Soup
-Cuban Black Bean Soup
-Lentil Ragout
-Consomme
-New England Clam Chowder
-Manhattan Clam Chowder

What feedback did I receive from my instructor and how did I use the information to improve my performance?

When we made the split pea soup and lentil ragout, Chef told me the reductions were wrong, so I had to fix them. The split pea I put back on the heat to reduce more so it would be thicker. The lentil ragout I had to add water to because it was too thick. Those changes brought them to the correct consistencies. I’ll try to remember that in the future when my reductions aren’t correct. On Thursday, my reductions seemed better, but it’s still hard to tell how much to reduce things. Chef said we can mark the pan with a pen, so next time I’ll try that. That’s especially a good idea for soups where we scrape the sides of the pan, because then the original liquid level line gets scraped away, and it can be hard to remember where it originally was.

daily reflection: french onion soup

9/7/2010

MISE EN PLACE:
Rubber mat
Cutting board
Pie Tins
Saucepot
Cheesecloth
Butcher’s twine
Pitcher with measurement lines

INGREDIENTS:
Onions
Butter
Bay leaves (in sachet)
Beef stock
Chicken stock
Vermouth, Apple Brandy, Brandy, Sherry, or vodka (alcohol)

Step 1: Figure out the amounts you need based on these ratios: 4 oz butter, 4 # sliced onion, ½ G beef stock, ½ G chicken stock, 3-4 oz alcohol. Gather, prepare and measure all your ingredients. Wash the cheesecloth, and prepare a sachet with just bay leaves. You may want to leave a longer end of twine or not cut off as much cheesecloth, so it will be easy to find in the soup at the end. If you are using base to make the stocks, measure 1.5 tsp per quart, and use a whisk to mix well. Step 2 will talk about how to slice the onions.
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Step 2: Slice the onions. First cut the onion in half, pole to pole, through the root. Next, put the onions on their flat side down and remove the root by cutting a small wedge around it.
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Position the onion so the lines are pointing at you. The plan is to cut with the grain. There are two ways to slice the onion. First, you can use all vertical cuts; place your guiding hand on the onion as normal (fingers curled, holding onion in place), and begin making 1/8” vertical cuts starting at one end of the onion. After you cut past the halfway point of the onion, you may start having trouble holding the onion steady. It may be easier to put the onion down on its other flat side (the side you have created with your cuts) and continue your 1/8” cuts. The other way of slicing the onions is to make radial cuts that all point towards the center of the onion. If you try that, place your guiding hand on the onion; make sure your fingers won’t be cut by any of the more horizontal cuts. Lean over so you can put the knife blade 1/8” from the cutting board; this is like setting up the first horizontal cut for brunoise. Make a cut towards the center of the onion, so the end result is a very thin onion wedge (skinner at the ends, thicker in the middle. Remember to cut with the grain. Make your way around the onion with all your cuts ending at the center of the onion. It might get hard towards the end, so you can just use vertical cuts at that point.
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Separate the onions into three groups of equal weight.
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Step 3: Place the butter and one group of the onions into a cold pan. Heat it over moderate heat. Let the onions sweat, and then caramelize. Keep the pan and your spatula moving constantly. Remember to keep scraping the sides of the pan as well. Keep an eye on the heat so the onions and butter don’t burn. The goal is a deep caramelization without burning. The onions should get very brown. Through this whole process, if some bits of onion are burned, remove them so they won’t ruin the soup.
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Step 4: Add the next group of onions. Keep moving the pan, scraping the sides, and stirring. Cook until this group of onions starts getting a little soft and translucent. You should see some sweating and steaming.
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Step 5: Add the last group of onions. Again, keep stirring and moving the pan; get all the new onions mixed in with the others. You don’t need to cook the third batch that long; mainly just make sure it’s all incorporated. There shouldn’t be much butter left at the bottom of the pan, because the onions should have absorbed it.
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Step 6: Take the pan OFF THE FLAME, and add the alcohol to your hot pan. Return the pot to the heat. Continue stirring, scraping, and moving the pan. You should continue cooking until a sec. You can also use your nose and smell whether there’s still a lot of alcohol being cooked off. Then, add in the sachet and the broth. Bring it to a boil, and then lower it to a simmer. Let it reduce until it loses about 1/3-1/2 its liquid. Check on the simmer level and scrape the sides periodically.
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Step 7: Remove the sachet. Taste the soup. You should mainly taste onion and some sweetness. If you still taste alcohol, you can simmer it longer and cook out more of the alcohol. If appropriate, spoon some out and enjoy. You can serve it with some cheese and french bread on the side.
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Reflection: When we started cooking the onions for the soup today, I focused on getting the caramelization right for this recipe, since last week I didn’t caramelize properly for the Espagnole. I paid more attention to the heat, stirred more vigorously, and watched the color carefully. Wow, it paid off! My onions got really good caramelization, and that carried over to the final product, which had nice color and flavor. Now I realize how important the caramelization step is. If that step goes wrong, a lot of times the final product will be seriously lacking in color and flavor. It’s hard though, because it’s really easy to cross over into burning the butter and vegetables. I’m going to keep working on getting better at caramelization. Another thing I found out is I really like French Onion Soup. I’ve had it before, but it was not as full of onion flavor. All day long, all I’ve thought about is this soup and when I can make some more to eat. It felt really good today to have good caramelization and a good final product that I enjoyed eating.