A few years ago I was lucky enough to take a weekend cooking course at L'Academie de Cuisine (the Recreational School, of course!). The information I learned was so helpful that I thought I'd pass it along!
The course was a Primary Skills Weekend; here's the description:
"Join Susan Watterson for an overview of a wide variety of cooking skills, techniques, and products. This intensive, hands-on weekend class will cover proper techniques for handling and preparing stocks, sauces, meats, poultry, fish and shellfish. Knife skills, various cooking techniques, and classic & contemporary food preparations will be addressed."
I can't fully express how wonderful this course turned out to be. The instructor was top-notch, funny, and incredibly helpful. At least 10 times a day, I learned something that was worth the cost of the course by itself. I'll try to make a list of those things here, so as to share the "wealth" of the course (I'm sure some of this is already known to most of you, but it was news to me!):
1) When sauteeing, use a high heat, no olive oil (the smoke point is too low for the necessary high heat), and DON'T MESS WITH THE FOOD. Put it in the pan, and let it be. When you can move it without leaving any meat behind, it has formed a nice seal and you can turn it over.
2) Tongs are really great for sauteeing, and other kitchen stuff.
3) Marinades aren't one-size-fits-all: for a tender meat, use a low acid marinade. For a tough meat, use a high-acid marinade. Sounds obvious, but it never occured to me before!
4) Chicken fat doesn't give chicken stock flavor - chicken fat gives it fat. Collagen from the bones gives it flavor.
5) You can't carmelize food with a non-stick pan.
6) Mushrooms are sponges. Don't wash them to clean them - they'll absorb the water. Just brush them with a cloth (unless they're really filthy).
7) When cooking meat to temperature (aiming for a specifc done-ness), the meat has to rest for at least 1/3 of the cooking time. So if you cook a steak for 12 minutes to get it to 145 degrees (medium), let it rest at least 4 minutes before cutting into it.
8) Don't forget that foods keep cooking even after you take them off of the heat. So if you want the steak to end up at 145 degrees, take it off the heat a little before it reaches 145.
9) Trichinosis dies at 137 degrees. Stop overcooking pork.
10) Don't try to tenderize a tough cut by pounding it. Use a good marinade, cut across the grain, and make sure not to overcook.
Not bad, eh?