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Culinary Arts Project

Family Meal Craziness and a Jacques Torres Buche – Day 41

TODAY’S TIDBITS (Also see Jacques’ below)

  • If you rip basil ‘along the grain’, then you can do it a long time before service, because it doesn’t tarnish. If you rip it against the grain, it will wilt quickly.
  • Fry Rainbow Chard stems separately from the leaves – unless you want to overcook the leaves and undercook the stems.
  • Pasta water should be salted, but not too much, as the pasta absorbs the equivalent of its weight in water (and salt). You should use much more salted water for vegetables because they really don’t absorb that much of the cooking water.

Today was the first day of “family meal”. In restaurants, family meal is the meal that the staff eat. At our school, it’s the meal EVERYBODY eats – all 200 of us. I was theoretically in charge of one of the main dishes (chicken parmesan) so I got to the kitchen an hour early this morning just to get ahead of the game. Of course, the reality was that we just all did what Chef Ben told us to do, but soon we’re going to be fully responsible for getting that food ready for 200.

Stewart manning the tilt-fryer
Stewart manning the tilt-fryer

Stewart and Alton, on the bread line
Stewart and Alton, on the bread line

It didn’t take long for reality to set it. I walked in with my “prep list” prepared with tasks all assigned to people on my team. Chef Ben politely said that because today was our first day, just do what he tells us. “See those sixty eggs over there? Crack ‘em for the chicken battering…. And the race was off… soon we were prepping for 200 chicken parmesans. After flour-egg-bread crumbing the chicken, it was my job to man the ‘tilt-fryer’ and shallow-fry all the parmesan, which then got some parmesan, and a second cooking in the oven, covered with fried herbs, sauces and on to a serving plate. When the frying was done, I hopped ‘on the line’ and started to serve the chicken. This was the first time I actually looked up and lo-and-behold there were 5 other courses generated by our class (2 pastas, some chard, a salad, etc…).
The charcuterie crew
The charcuterie crew

Putting the 'parmesan' in chicken parmesan
Putting the ‘parmesan’ in chicken parmesan

I was amazed how much we had all got done. When the lunch rush was over, I thought, ok, it’s over for today, we can relax a bit….but no….after a 20min break, we had to start the prep for tomorrow – hangar steak for 200….so it was time to put our butchering skills to work, and off we went. At 2.45pm we have to stop at whatever stage we’re at because we have to have the kitchen clean by 3pm. We got accolades that our family meal was really good, so that was cool! Personally I thought we could have done a better job on the chicken – next time!
Jacques getting ready to 'roulade' his genoise
Jacques getting ready to ‘roulade’ his genoise

Buche de Noel - Torres style
Buche de Noel – Torres style

But the day didn’t end there. Famed chocolatier Jacques Torres was giving a demo after school which I really didn’t want to miss. Jacques ‘Mr. Chocolate’ is one of the top pastry chefs in the world, did a long stint at Le Cirque, is a dean of the school, and now owns 7 chocolate shops around town. He gave a demo on making a Buche de Noel, which brought back memories of our family Christmas, because we’d have one every so often. This was a rolled genoise (infused with sugar and rum), with chocolate pastry cream on the inside and coffee buttercream on the outside. The amazing thing about his demo was that all the techniques we had just learned, he was doing them…. He even did the “dipping your fingers in the boiling sugar to test it” thing. I asked several questions, of course.

  • JACQUES TIDBITS
    When you cool a cake, flip it over onto the cooling rack, but leave the parchment paper on for the cooling. This gives you a moister cake.
  • Use Belgian chocolate.
  • Generally avoid using yolks when making buttercream, it’s heavy enough, so using only egg whites makes a much lighter cream.
  • Cover your piped meringue shapes with a damp towel to softly curve the top, and remove the “pipeing Hershey’s kiss top”
  • Bring eggs to room temp by putting them in tepid water – saves time.
  • When whipping a meringue, don’t keep the speed on full all the way till the end, or you’ll lose some volume.
  • Use a slice of your ‘buche’ on top to construct a branch cut formation.
  • Use cornstarch in your crème patissiere rather than flour – it gives a better consistency and taste.

It was quite a day: from fry cooking to asking Jacques Torres what type of liqueur works best with chocolate….what a day!
ps: The answer was a bit boring: rum, and grand marnier.

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Culinary Arts Project

Level 2 Practical & Written Exams: Quarter a Chicken, Fillet a Fish and show me some Crème Anglaise Love – Day 40

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • When the vanilla bean seeds are floating in mid-suspension – your crème anglaise is done (also when the foam has disappeared and the it passes the ‘nappant’ spoon test)
  • To feed 200 people, you need about 1 gallon of dressing, 2 gallons of sauce, 10 lbs of polenta, 20 lbs of pasta, and about 40 lbs of chicken. I’ll be a little more scientific about this after getting into the swing of ‘family meal’.

Today we had our practical AND our written exam for Level two. While we knew what was going to be on our practical, an informal poll of my classmates revealed we really didn’t practice that much for it. The practical exam was to 1) quarter a chicken, 2) fillet a flat fish into 4 fillets, 3) produce a crème anglaise to the correct consistency, 4) whip a crème Chantilly and then pipe the crème into 12 eclaires and 12 rosettes. We each set up our mise en place where our names were pre-written in black marker. I was teamed up with Erik who I hadn’t worked with before, but he works in a kitchen and so before I got my knives out he already had all the things we needed for each of our evaluations, which was my first sign that things were going to be ok.
photo 3 (48)

My flounder post-fillet
My flounder post-fillet

First We got chicken in a bowl over ice, and waited for the ‘go’ signal…. Chef John said you have 15min,’go’. I manchone’d the two wings, then removed the wish bone (which came out in one piece for the first time), then scored the cross on the breast, cut the leg skin, wrenched out the leg bone (this is where I screwed up, I accidentally broke some of the rib bones while doing this) but successfully preserved the ‘oyster’, manchone’d the legs and ‘revealed’ the thigh bone, then cut out the neck, cut out the breasts, halved the chicken, popped the keel bone and cartilage, trimmed the excess skin, put the 4 ‘quarters’ on a plate with my id badge, cleaned my cutting board and left the room. Once we were all done and Chef John examined each one of our stations, we re-entered the room, grabbed a flatfish (flounder?), and filleted it. I was a bit more confident on this one – I cut the fins off with scissors, scored down the back and across the tail, removed the head, then filleted off the two back pieces, flipped the fish over, scored down the back (suddenly I remembered that I hadn’t de-scaled any excess scales, so I did that), then fillet the two thinner back sides. My filleting wasn’t too bad, but it definitely wasn’t perfect. I know that the examiners often look at the remains of the fish to assess the quality of the filleting, so I rubbed any excess flesh of the bones to make it look like I had done an amazing job in the filleting.
Erik gives the thumbs up post=piping.
Erik gives the thumbs up post-piping.

Miyaio - piping perfection
Miyako – piping perfection

The last step was to de-skin the fillet and trim any excess skin, which turned out to be surprisingly easy. Cleaned the board, lay down my id badge, plated the fillets, exited, and waited to be evaluated. Once Chef J gave us the sign we all entered back into the room, and it was time for the crème Anglaise. This, I was super nervous about, because in the past two attempts I had curdled the crème. Crème Anglaise is basically a custard sauce, where whisked yolks and sugar are combined with boiled milk (and vanilla bean), and heated until thickened. But this is a very sensitive exercise. 160F is where the eggs starts to thicken, but 180F is where they coagulate so you have to keep in it in between. All this is done by eye (no thermometer). Anyway, by carefully taking the pot off and on the heat, and copying what Erik was doing I think I nailed it. ID badge back on the board and out of the kitchen while Chef J assessed the taste and the consistency of our crème. Then we were back to make a Crème Chantilly (whipped cream with sugar and vanilla), and then piped the cream into 12 éclair shapes and 12 rosette shapes. I’ve gotten the ‘magic’ in whipping, so the cream ‘peaked up’ pretty quickly and I can pipe pretty well, so this went smoothly. We then had a quick lunch break, and then our written exam.
Jeff John carefully evaluating the taste of a creme anglaise
Jeff John carefully evaluating the taste of a creme anglaise

I had a problem studying last night, I just didn’t have any more energy to study everything as in-depth as I wanted. As it turned out, I did pretty well on the exam…. There was a certain irony on question I screwed up…. here we are in a fancy-dancy culinary school and the one question I messed up on was how long do you boil an egg for soft and medium. (And only Erik will know the double irony on why I got those wrong).
The most exciting part of the day was definitely when our next instructor (Chef Ben) took us through the methodology for family meal which is what we’re doing in Level 3. “Family Meal” is meal the staff in a restaurant eat… in larger restaurants, there is actually a chef dedicated to cooking the family meal. At ICC, family meal means we are cooking lunch for everyone at the school. I can’t wait. We basically have from 9.30am till about 11.15 to prepare a cook lunch for 200 people….and not just any 200 people…200 culinary students and chefs!!!!!! so it has to be good. To add to the stress, my name was listed as the first on the list which means I am Chef-de-Partie for the main Chicken Parmesan meal…I’m not sure I’m going to be able to sleep tonight because I really don’t have any idea what I’m doing…nevertheless I’m going to get there early and figure it all out.
After the day was done, I grabbed a baguette, and many of us went out for a celebratory beer (or calvados), and then finished the evening at a crazy-good Italian restaurant (Da Umberto). I think I can remember committing to playing piano to a show that is going to be produced by Joanne, and sung my Megan…but that might just be the Calvados. Congrats to everyone….we passed Level 2 yeahhhhh, now onto Level 3.

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Culinary Arts Project

Wine Day: 6 Whites, 5 Reds and 8000 Years of Human History – Day 39

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • When uncorking the bottle, always try to face the label to the guest for the whole process.
  • Salt, acid, fat, and protein in food all lower the acidic and tannin taste of wine. Sweetness increases the tannin taste as does spicy food, which also increases the alcohol taste.
  • Olive oil also contains tannins – so if you whip your olive oil too much it starts to taste bitter because you are exposing its tannins.
  • New World wines are generally higher in alcohol, lower in acidity, bolder in flavor and oak, than their Old World comparables.

Today was all about wine. Chef Scott introduced us to the basics of wine making, the basics of taste and wine tasting, cooking with wine, how wines and foods interact, and then tasting a variety of whites and reds. The big aha moment for me was the interaction between foods and wines.

Dalal capturing an essence
Dalal capturing an essence

Erik delivering the goods
Erik delivering the goods

I had given some but not a lot of credence to ‘wine pairings’, and really never realized how dramatically food can change the taste of wine. Old Word (European) winemakers are very much concerned with how their wines taste when combined with food, while New World winemakers are more concerned about how wine tastes by itself. As an example, we tasted an ‘acidy’ French Sauvignon Blanc then Chef Scott had us put a bit of butter, salt and lemon on a spoon, gulp it (it tasted amazing btw), and then taste the wine again. A totally different and much better taste. The lemon-butter-salt had cancelled all the harsher flavors and left a really great tasting wine. The reverse happens as well – for instance a sweet dessert wine will cancel the sweetness of a dessert and let the other dessert flavors seem much stronger. Flavors don’t enhance they cancel themselves. Perhaps as a rough general rule – if you’re picking up a bottle of wine just to drink, pick up a new world wine, if it’s to go with food then pick up a European. Of all the wine we tasted, the Australian Shiraz was my favorite – probably because I only really started to taste wine while living there, and wine is…after all….an acquired taste. Yes Shiraz and Syrah are the same grape – originally called Syrah from France, but now grown all over the world under both the Syrah and Shiraz name. It’s also a grape that can survive harsher environments so it replanted well. There were what was called THE BIG 6 grapes (Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon), but it’s now called THE BIG 6 + 1 – the new one being Syrah, which now outsells several of the big 6.
The spoon of butter, salt and lemon, which tastes AMAZING even on its own
The spoon of butter, salt and lemon, which tastes AMAZING even on its own

Chef Scott shows us how to properly open a bottle of wine
Chef Scott shows us how to properly open a bottle of wine

We learnt lots of little tidbits, which I know most wine aficionados already know, but are always interesting to repeat. The ‘red’ in red wine comes from the skin of the grape, so if you take the skin off, you can make white wine (and Champagne) from red grapes – Champagne is 20% Pinot Noir. Don’t smell the cork, the reason the cork is presented is so that you can confirm the authenticity of winery as written on the cork and that the bottle hasn’t been opened – you see, you can’t replace the cork the same way once the bottle has been opened. Dom Perignon was a monk who was instrumental in helping invent Champagne. Two things happened when Nicole Clicquot’s husband died – she inherited a champagne business and she became a ‘veuve’ (French for ‘widower’). Nicole invented several processes which improved her champagne, hence the famous Champagne: Veuve Clicquot.
Chef Scott also amazingly summarized the role of wine in 8000 years of human history in about 15 minutes. I wish I could do as good a job summarizing all we learnt about wine into a quick blog post, but unfortunately, with wine…unfortunately….you really have to taste it.
Tomorrow we have our written exam and our practical exam (creme anglaise, pipeing, quartering a chicken and filleting a flounder)…. so enough about wine, off to study….well, ok, one more glass!
PS: If you’re ever in an Italian restaurant, and your considering….[sung]: A bottle of white, a bottle of red, perhaps a bottle of rosé instead….. Chef S recommends Arnot-Roberts rosé at $25.

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Culinary Arts Project

“CHICKEN OUR WAY” – Day 38

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • Put a little brown sugar in your chicken deep-fry batter – wow, amazing! (courtesy of Rachel)
  • Deeply brown your chicken bones and trimming and add them to your sauce before straining – this adds a massive dimension to the taste.
  • Slice your chicken breast rather than serving whole – it looks better, and allows more chicken to be covered in that wonderful sauce.

WE DID IT OUR WAY!!!! Today was “chicken your way” day, which means we each had to prepare chicken in whatever way we wanted, within the set of a given ingredients, and according to a recipe we had written and pre-submitted. With the risk of being boring, I’m going to list the ingredients so you can see what you might have come up with: 1 whole chicken, green beans, carrots, zucchini, tomatoes, mushrooms, parsley, thyme, bay leaf, garlic, shallots, onions, rice, potatoes, cream, white wine, chicken stock, veal stock, v. oil, o. oil, butter, flour, s&p. Let me know what you’d do.

Dalal reducing her sauce
Dalal reducing her sauce

Joanne 'italianing' it up
Joanne ‘italianing’ it up

There were 5 minute time slots written on the board, starting at 12:05pm. I first put my name by the 12:30 timeslot, but then figured it was going to be 10 o’clock when I started cooking….how much time did I really need…. so I erased my name and put it up at the first time slot at 12:05 (right beside Joe’s). After a quick reminder demo of how to quarter a chicken by Chef J, the timer started. I really still haven’t got the full hang of quartering a chicken properly, but most of the steps are starting to come a bit more easily. My dish was a sautéed chicken with a mushroom wine sauce, smashed potatoes and Julia Child’s green beans provencale. I was sharing my station with Dalal and we worked very well together – though technically we were doing our dishes separately there was a lot of “do you need a spoon”, “let me get the cheese cloth”, “I’ll get the butter”, etc.. which was fantastic. For the first 30min my heart was totally pounding, but the panic faded into an unexpected calm… by the time I had my chicken quartered and my vegetables prepared and sauces reducing…well…now what do I do?…I still have 90min before I have to present….so I was actually trying to slow things down a bit….I want to get my chicken going, but I really don’t want to have it ready before my presenting time.
Chicken my way!
Chicken my way!

Nina, post paramedics
Nina, post paramedics

For those interested here were my execution steps in order: quarter the chicken and cool in fridge, prepare two bouquet garnis, start reducing the veal stock, peel 10 garlic cloves, brown the trimmings/bones and add to the stock, blanch my beans and then ice, emonder and concasser the tomatoes, sweat onions with bouquet garni and garlic, put the tomatoes over the onions, boil the potatoes with garlic and thyme, sautee the chicken, then butter and baste it with thyme & garlic and put in the oven for 20min, reduce a quart of cream in half, add beans to the tomatoes and let simmer, brown the mushrooms in the sauté pan then add wine and reduce and then add the strained veal stock and reduce, take the chicken out and rest, drain the potatoes and add the reduced cream with more garlic and butter and parsley and then smash them.
Vitor, the master 'roulader' at work
Vitor, the master ‘roulader’ at work

Megan and her vol-au-vents!
Megan and her vol-au-vents!

I still had 20min before presentation time, so I kept looking over at Joe who had to present at the same time, I decided that when he started plating I would start. At 7 minutes prior he started, so I did too – a pad of butter in the sauce, a pad of butter on the beans, a quick coating of butter on the chicken, plates out of the oven – potatoes on the dish then the beans, chicken, topped with the mushroom reduction sauce, and a little parsley, two towels around the plates and up to the front just behind Joe. The chefs said “wow, the first two dishes on time, impressive”.
I was over the moon having executed everything well, but was brought down to earth pretty quickly –the food got great marks for taste, but I had put too much food on the plate, the sauce was a tad too reduced, the beans needed more salt, and I left the rib bones in on the breasts… still, I felt pretty proud.
What do Chef A and Chef J think of Joe's dish?
What do Chef A and Chef J think of Joe’s dish?

But I felt even more proud when I saw what the whole class produced – I almost cried looking at all the dishes and the amazing creativity, realizing how far we had all come. Special mention goes out to Nina who cut herself pretty badly to the point that the ambulance crew came, but she eventually picked herself back up and finished her dish – and also to Vitor and Megan who blew us away with those incredible dishes (a roulade and a vol-au-vent). Congrats to all, we made it!!!!!
This was definitely the highlight of Level 2. Chef J had us each describe our dish, and our personal highlight & lowlight of the dish, and then he gave his critique. I learnt more in that one hour than in weeks of reading textbooks.
Monday is wines and spirits – ugh…..the day before our final exam and they’re getting us drunk, oy vey!

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Culinary Arts Project

Pasta Day: Gnocchi, Ravioli and Lasagna – Day 37

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • Don’t put oil in your pasta boiling water – it really has no effect, and can prevent the sauce from sticking to the pasta.
  • Taste your pasta boiling water – most people don’t taste the water, but the saltiness is important.
  • Make sure to press all the air out of your ravioli’s before sealing, or they’ll explode during boiling.
  • Roll the pasta through the pasta ‘squisher machine’ twice at each setting, because the gluten springs back after the first pressing.
  • Don’t bother using the “well method” for making pasta dough, use a bowl – you won’t loose any ingredients, it’s faster and the cleanup is quicker.

Kneading green pasta dough
Kneading green pasta dough

Today we made our own pasta – the dish of the day was definitely the ravioli. We made the pasta with just flour, egg, and a hint of olive oil (one white pasta, and one ‘enriched’ with a spinach puree to make it nice and green). I had forgotten that pasta requires 10min of kneading, which got a bit ‘carpal-syndroming’.
The pasta (dough) was then rolled through the pasta maker at increasingly thin settings until we had nice thin planks for ravioli. We then took yesterday’s ricotta, added chives, parsley, thyme, nutmeg, egg yolk, and used this as the stuffing. So, EVERY element of this was from SCRATCH including the cheese!!!!! No more Chef Boyardee! The ravioli was delicious standalone, but then Chef Jeff showed us how to use a bit of the boiling water and melted butter to make a real nice sauce for them. Stupefacente!!!!!!
Ravioli before......
Ravioli before……

.....and after
…..and after

We also made gnocchi. I’m not a huge gnocchi fan, but this tasted quite good. We started by baking potatoes, over salt and aluminum foil. Apparently the salt is to lift the potatoes off the pan, and the aluminum is to protect the pan. We then took the baked potatoes, peeled them (ouch, hot), food-milled them, added flour, s&p, nutmeg, parmesan, and created a dough, rolled the gnocchi out, boiled them and served over the tomato sauce we made yesterday. It was pretty good. We forgot to add a little butter just before getting assessed so they looked a little matte. Rob Punzo, I’m gunnin’ for you at our next cookoff!!!!!
Tonight is a bit hectic. Most of us went to an after-hours butchery lesson (we have our practical on Tuesday where we have to quarter a chicken and fillet a fish, as well as make crème anglaise and do some pipeing)… and I am AWFUL at butchery, so I need the practice. The chicken quartering seems to be coming along, but both the chicken and the fish continue to look like I took an axe to them.
Butchery class - flounder before......
Butchery class – flounder before……

.....and after
…..and after

Tonight we also have to put together a menu (thank you Ray for the graphic design on that), and put together a recipe for a chicken dinner, as well as make a picture of the final product, and recipe cards. Hopefully I’ll be done before tomorrow starts, ugh!
PS from Cheff Jeff: “Don’t be a clown riding a mini-bicycle – use the right sized bowl for the task.”
The menu had to have 4 items in each categories, from dishes we've cooked in class
The menu had to have 4 items in each category, taken from dishes we’ve cooked in class

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Culinary Arts Project

Cheese Day: Little Miss Muffet and her Curds and Whey – Day 36

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • It takes 10 pounds of milk to make 1 pound of cheese – so no more whining about the price of cheese.
  • A top from an opened can be used as a ‘diffuser’ by placing it between a pot and a flattop burner to prevent burning – particularly useful if you are simmering something that has heavier pieces that will sink to the bottom of the pot and burn.
  • If the health department shows up to your restaurant, immediately put the can-opener in the dishwasher. It’s guaranteed to be dirty, and you can just tell the inspector you were in the process of cleaning it.

Chef Jeff stretching his curds!
Chef Jeff stretching his curds!

Stewart spooning out the curds into the cheesecloth
Stewart spooning out the curds into the cheesecloth

CHEESE DAY: NOW I know what Little Miss Muffet was actually eating when the spider sat down beside her as she ate her Curds and Whey. Today was cheese day, so we tasted all sorts of cheese and actually made some Ricotta. To be honest, the whole “milk – sour cream – butter – cheese” thing and how they all interrelate has always been a bit of a mystery to me, but it all came into focus today. We took a pot of milk, heated it up, added a ¼ cup of lemon juice and some salt, took it off the heat and let it sit. Sure enough the milk started to split into its two component parts: Curd (solid) and Whey (liquid). We took the solid curd, and sat them on a cheese cloth (it’s the first time I’ve actually used ‘cheese’cloth for cheese). After about an hour of sitting/draining we had Ricotta cheese! It was that simple!
Mozzarella balls we kneaded into shape
Mozzarella balls we kneaded into shape

The cheddar cheese we all know isn’t that far from this. The curd is just taken and pressed down on itself (a process called cheddaring), aged, and voila – cheddar. Now, of course there thousands of variations to making cheese, but it is all based on this simple principle. “Whey” had really been a waste product of the cheese making process, but the fitness revolution has changed all that. Now cheese makers can get a pretty penny for their whey, which is sold as “Whey Protein” at a local fitness store near you.
We then went through an exercise of making mozzarellas, by taking pre-made curd, putting it in hot water where it gradually became the consistency of soft playdough, which we kneaded/molded into big Mozzarella balls. We are going to use both of these cheeses in pasta dishes tomorrow.
Getting ready to "cheese taste"
Getting ready to “cheese taste”

A can lid being used as an 'diffuser'
A can lid being used as a ‘diffuser’

We also did an interesting cheese tasting exercise. It started with tasting cow’s milk, goat’s milk, and sheep’s milk. Then a yogurt from each, a soft cheese from each, and increasingly aged and stronger cheeses, ending up with Roquefort. I liked the strong Roquefort the best. As humans age, the average 60yo will have lost half of their taste buds, so its no wonder we older folk like the stronger cheeses, while some of the yungin’s in the class could hardly bring themselves to smell the Roquefort, let alone taste it. Prior to the tasting, we were told to finish any drinks, so as not to interfere with the tasting, but several of us were thinking a nice glass of wine would be nice.
Tomorrow is pasta day, so we also pre-made a meat sauce and a tomato sauce, but I’m going to talk about those tomorrow.

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Culinary Arts Project

Wild Striped Bass with 5 Types of Mushrooms, and an Endive Salad – Day 35

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • When sautéing mushrooms in butter, throw in a sprig of thyme and a clove of crushed garlic before the mushrooms. This adds one more element to the flavor. For an added punch, add finely diced shallots near the end of browning.
  • Use your fish spatula to rest your fish after cooking – saves on a dish.
  • While beef is called beef anywhere in the world, fish have a multitude of names depending on what part of the world you’re in. Patagonia Toothfish is the real name for ‘Chilean Seabass’ – but would you really ever order a toothfish for diner?

We walked into the kitchen to be greeted by a GIANT bass. I’m used to those little basses (sp?) that we manage to catch off the dock – not this almost tuna-like fish monster. Chef Jeff showed us the orange tag proving it was wild, and then how to fillet it, which was like filleting the tiny fish we had done prior, but yielded enough for the whole class.

Before......
Before……

...and after
…and after

Today’s theme was ‘seasonality’ so everything on our dishes was supposed to be fresh and in season. Our main dish, the bass served over 5 different mushrooms was reasonably easy to execute. The recipe said to sauté each type of mushroom separately to get them perfectly. Chef J did them all in together. My job was to do the mushrooms and Dalal (my partner today) did the delicious sauce (port, sherry, demi-glace reduced down to a syrop). We each did our own bass. I didn’t do a great job on the mushrooms but learnt a few tricks along the way. Cooking the bass was pretty simple (marinade in oil and 5-spice, sauté in oil and butter with thyme and garlic in the pan, oven for 10min, and then a quick butter baste). This was served over the mushrooms and sauce. (Never put the sauce or the mushrooms over the fish – you want to see the nicely seared skin).
Dalal micro-chopping chives
Dalal micro-chopping chives

Endive Salad - note the overlapping-on-the-rim mistake
Endive Salad – note the overlapping-on-the-rim mistake

The other dish was an endive-pear-watercress-pear-beet salad with vinaigrette and Roquefort cheese. I’ve made a similar dish for years. Joe suggested putting the cheese in the vinaigrette which tasted great. We got dinged a bit because our endives were overlapping the rim of the plate. [As an aside, Chef Bauer made a vegetable medley the other day, and suggested using cream cheese rather than cream as a binding agent, and it tasted amazing]. The pace in the classroom has been somewhat slower recently which is a bit disappointing –but tomorrow is cheese day, which I’m very much looking forward to – might have to take a lactaid pill in the morning….
The fish resting on our spatulas - saves on cleaning a cooling rack
The fish resting on our spatulas – saves on cleaning a cooling rack

Oh and the bread class is back, so I grabbed one of those delicious freshly baked baguettes!

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Culinary Arts Project

Spaghetti Squash, Falafels and an Oil Fire – Day 34

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • Consider putting a bit of ground flaxseed at the bottom of a fruit tart – this adds a unique sweetness as an added dimension
  • When cutting a large object with a knife (e.g. squash, water melon), cover the back of the knife tip with a hand towel and push down. You get a nice slice, and no danger of cuts.
  • Gout can be caused from the byproducts of excess protein metabolism – so, all you ‘Atkinsers’ out there – make sure to get enough non-protein calories for your energy needs.

After the 4 day Thanksgiving break, it felt good to get back into the kitchen, though today was a slower-than-usual pace. We made 2 interesting salads and falafels. The most interesting taste of the day was the spaghetti squash salad. We roasted half of this ‘normal on the outside’ looking squash in the oven for 30mins, and then scooped it out. I couldn’t figure out where the spaghetti was going to come from, but sure enough when you start to scoop out the pulp, it comes out like spaghetti. This was mixed with sweated shallots, tomato pulp, sundried tomatoes, anchovy, nicoise olives and capers. These last two ingredients gave it a real pop.

Thinly sliced artichokes and fennel, with a citronette and grapefruit supremes
Thinly sliced artichokes and fennel, with a citronette and grapefruit supremes

Spaghetti squash salad - a pasta alternative?
Spaghetti squash salad – a pasta alternative?

This was served with falafels. I’ve never been a huge falafel fan – Nina ground the chickpeas, garlic, cilantro, parsley, lemon juice and baking soda, shaped them into quenelles, and deep fried them. I think next time, I’d up the ante on the cumin and garlic to make them stand out a bit more.
We also prepared a ‘different’ tasting salad, using ‘mandolined’ artichokes and fennel, with watercress and a ‘citronette’. A citronette is a vinaigrette, but instead of using vinegar you use a citric juice – in this case grapefruit. This was served with grapefruit ‘supremes’ – we’re sure getting a workout on making supremes, it seems like they are in everything recently. Raw fennel is bitter, but very thinly sliced and served with an acid it had a much milder taste. I liked the look of this dish, more than the taste.
Smoothies for everyone
Smoothies for everyone

Flashpoint of olive oil!!!!
Flashpoint of olive oil!!!!

We had our second lecture on nutrition with Chef Bauer, which was brought to life with a demonstration of oil flashpoints. We also all perked up when he made smoothies for us. Interesting ingredients were flaxseed, fennel, cardamom, ginger, and the usual fruits and vegetables.
I’m getting quite nervous about “Chicken Your Way”. This Friday, we have to design and prepare a chicken dish “our way”, drawing from a finite list of ingredients. Some people are asking about making doughs, roulades, and requesting all these fancy machines. This has got me panicked a bit, I was going to make a nice butter basted, pan/oven sautéed quartered chicken, with a wine mushroom sauce, served with scalloped potatoes (with Julia Child garlic tomatoes), and green beans. I may have to ‘amp it up’ a bit.
Ajax – R.I.P.

Off to study, we have an exam tomorrow.

Categories
Culinary Arts Project

Striped Bass & Lentils, some unique flavors, and a Nutrition Primer – Day 33

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • A dab of butter is often added to a sauce prior to serving (monter au beurre) – however, if you brown the butter first and then add it, the sauce will taste “oh my goodness!”
  • Never put your rolling pin in water, it will eventually warp
  • In France, you start culinary school at 14, and go for 6 years. This means by 20 you are really exceptional at your craft….providing you picked the right craft when you were 14.

Today we only prepared one dish – Striped Bass & Lentils. We had to fillet the bass, for which I definitely need practice, my filets looked liked butchered shreds of fish. Miyako’s (my partner today) had much cleaner lines.

Our bass, post-filleting
Our bass, post-filleting

Miyako sauteeing the bass
Miyako sauteeing the bass

This dish was definitely one of the more unique tasting so far. As is the pattern, cooking the ‘protein’ was the easy part. The fillets were dried, s&p, the skin scored diagonally, rubbed with curry, and pan fried skin side down in canola oil till the flesh is almost all cooked, then a quick over-easy, and onto the drying rack. The difficulty lay once again in the accompaniment. The fish was laid on a lentil bed (which was cooked in chicken stock), with garlic, macedoined (cubed) carrots, onions, celery, tomatoes, green beans, bacon lardons. On the plate we drizzled an ‘african’ vinaigrette which was a vinaigrette, flavoured with cumin and horseradish. Sprinkled around were chopped mint and dill, diced apples, those darn pearl onions again, and julienned radishes. Lots of ingredients – 28 in total. Our counter was surprisingly uncluttered, certainly considering I only got an 8.5 for organization of workspace on my last assessment. Anyhow, all these elements worked really well together and generated a unique flavor. We got a thumbs-up for our dish, except I browned the bacon lardons a bit too much.
Chef Mark, sporting the "Master Chef" badge
Chef Mark, sporting the “Master Chef” badge

stewartbass
Stewart sporting his master bass badge

We had Chef Mark today who has the Master Class Chef’s badge on his sleeve, so, even though I mentioned that onions “a blonde” meant “with a slight color”, he countered “no, only a glaze”…so we made sure our onions had no color. He also made us a unique ginger-carrot-blue cheese soup. Also, Chef April made us some delicious tiramisu with the lady fingers we made the other day, which was served with our vanilla ice cream. Needless to say, we ate well today. We also had a brief primer on nutrition covering amino acids, lipids, polysaccharides, phytochemicals – I had flashbacks of the MCAT!
Joe brought us all chopsticks today - thanks Joe!
Joe brought us all chopsticks today – thanks Joe!

It’s thanksgiving weekend starting tomorrow, so today was the last school day this week. I bought some fresh vegetables and turkey parts at the Union Square farmer’s market, so I’m all ready to cook up a feast. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!!
Sad note: I was late for class for the first time – our dog Ajax wasn’t able to stand up this morning so we ran him to the vet this morning prior to class. He’s spending the night at the dog hospital. He’s not doing so well.
Ajax
Ajax – R.I.P.

Categories
Culinary Arts Project

Crepe Suzette, Banana Beer Fritters, and a Bande De Fruits – Day 32

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • Don’t egg-wash the sides of puff pastry, this will hinder the layers puffing out
  • Put puff pastry in the fridge/freezer and then straight into the oven – the freezer helps seals the crust, and holds in the steam better, making for a bigger “puff”.
  • Use a pastry brush to wipe the flour off the dough when rolling it out.

Me and my crepes
Me and my crepes

Nina flambeeing crepes suzettes
Nina flambeeing crepes suzettes

Today we made crepes!!! A quick demo of making the batter (milk, flour, eggs and sugar), which we added in beure noisette (browned butter) – not yet sure why the butter needs to be browned). And then it was flipping crepes using the non-stick pans. Nina made the Suzettes, I made crepes stuffed with a delicious gryere, mushroom, cream sauce).
Miyako and Emma and their Bandes de Fruits
Miyako and Emma and their Bandes de Fruits

Erik guarding the beer
Erik guarding the beer

Before we say goodbye to desserts, we made deep fried banana fritters. (Don’t often think of these as French Cuisine). The batter was equal parts flour and beer, with some sugar, salt, egg and baking powder. We dipped banana parts into this, then into hot oil, and topped with a light sprinkle of powdered sugar, served over a chocolate sauce. I’m not a big deep-fry fan, but these were great.
And as a final goodbye to pastry week, we finished with a Bande de Tarte au Fruit. This was a strip of puff pastry, blind baked to ‘puff up’ the sides, then layered with a crème lègere (that we literally whipped up: pastry cream diluted with whipped cream), and topped with cut fruit. Out of all the desserts I’ve brought home, this one won the prize.
 
Goodbye to dessert week
Goodbye to dessert week

Tomorrow’s class focuses on nutrition, with striped bass on lentils. This is quite a step away from our recent sugar-overdose week.