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Culinary Arts Project

Mock Final Exam – Day 63

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • On a gas stove, if you want to heat something but only ever so slightly, you can just use the pilot light flame.
  • When flambéing, take the pan off the stove, add the brandy, then put the pan back on the stove tilting the pan so the flame just catches the brandy. Badaboom!
  • In a restaurant, err on the under-cooked side if you have to. The customer can always send it back and you can cook it some more. If you over-cook it, you’re toast. On an exam at a culinary school however, err on the over-cooked side.
  • Even if the whole class chips in (including the Chefs), this is no guarantee of winning the Powerball.

Today was a “mock” final, warming us up for the Level 4 practical exam. While the details aren’t yet clear about the real final, today we walked in and picked a number out of a box. I picked B2. This meant that I had to present my consommé at 12.50 and pork at 1.30. In the actual final I believe we also pick out a piece of paper that has the meals we have to cook, but we’ve all only practiced two so far this level, so those are the ones we did today.

Me, my four plates and a teapot of consomme
Me, my four plates and a teapot of consomme
Alton checking the time - something we will did 100 times today
Alton checking the time – something we all did 100 times today

To be honest, it was a tiny bit anticlimactic. Most of us knew what we were doing, and just proceeded to go about doing it. To simulate the final exam, at EXACTLY 12.50, I plomped down FOUR plates with vegetables and a teapot of consommé in front of the ‘judges’. The chef asked me to pour one plate, leave it with him, and take the rest away. That was it. Then I was off to prepare the pork dish. By the third day of preparing the same dish, it left a fair amount of ‘down’ time. Joe had finished all his prep 2 hours early, so he was bored silly. I was more confident today, but nothing worked out perfectly. My consommé was a bit weak and under-salted, my ‘taillage’ was uneven, my pork wasn’t hot enough, and my sauce could have been a bit stronger. After we were all done and the kitchen was cleaned, Chef Dominique gathered us all to take a picture to help him remember our names, and then he and Chef Joe publically told us each what we did right and wrong. It was a bit depressing – I think only one or two of us nailed everything perfectly.

Every time I look up, Joe is flambeeing something
Every time I look up, Joe is flambeeing something
Gerardo plating the pork
Gerardo plating the pork
Luis, about to cut into his tart
Luis, about to cut into his tart

I can tell my personal standards have risen though. For the consommé, for example, there are four vegetables that are incorporated into the dish (carrots, turnips, peas, beans). Each one of these is cooked separately, and then shocked in ice at the exact point of doneness. I would say that the “perfect” doneness is within a 20 second window, and different for each. I felt I got them all perfectly cooked today. I don’t think I would had ever paid that much attention to individually making sure each vegetable was perfect in its own right. I also noticed on the apple tarts, people are getting perfect at just browning part of the edge of apple on the covering. Spencer, who is across from me on the station, nailed that today.

Spencer and a 'nailed' apple tart
Spencer and a ‘nailed’ apple tart

Next we flip flop. For the next three days I will be doing the apple tart and the skate, and vice versa. We have a written exam tomorrow on “garde manger”, which covers things like consommés, salad nicoise, and other “garde manger” station food items. Time to write out my skate and apple tart recipe cards, and get studying. I am also volunteering at a James Beard Foundation event tomorrow night, so it’s going to be a long day.

Thanks to Frank for sending me the video clip.

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Culinary Arts Project

The Stars Look Very Different Today – Day 62

Stopping at David Bowie’s apartment/vigil again this morning definitely set a different mood for the day for me, and either way there was definitely a different vibe in the kitchen today – “everything was under control”. We had all done our dishes yesterday and today was going to be different!

Consomme plates "before" pouring in the consomme, which we had to do in front of the chef/customer
My consomme plates “before” pouring in the consomme, which we had to do in front of the chef/customer
Gerardo, pouring his consomme for Chef Joe
Gerardo, pouring his consomme for Chef Joe

For me I was in a “Zen” like state. I collected my ingredients in one or two trips (rather than 10 yesterday), I knew what I was doing, I had all the right tools and pans ready to go, I knew what 12 mistakes I wasn’t going to repeat, and my head was clear. Also, I was on team #4 today, which added an extra 20min to the preparation time.

I had my consommé clarifying no problem, I ‘taillaged’ my vegetables properly (not like yesterday), my sauce Espagnole had browned and “singer” vegetables no problem, I flambéed my pork chops calmly, I fried my potatoes promptly after I julienned them so they didn’t oxidize, I seasoned my consommé with salt 5 times till it was perfect (I even took a sample over to Rachel and had her give her approval). Throughout the process I was cleaning my station, organizing my mise cups, and sanitizing my cutting board. I felt pretty good.

Our presentation times on the white board
Our presentation times on the white board
Nina whipping up a Chantilly for the apple tart
Nina whipping up a Chantilly for her apple tart

Speaking of cleaning, I have to admit I’m having a slightly passive-aggressive fight with the guy who washes the dishes. While the past dishwashers were fine to take dirty dishes, this guy insists that every dish is fully rinsed and will definitely not wash your cutting board or any other unauthorized items. It’s a bit annoying so I’ve been giving him ‘mostly clean’ dishes just to see if he will take them – usually I loose this battle. Oh well.

I guess humility is good thing. I got an “excellent work” on my consommé and taillage, but I was quickly brought back down to planet earth with my pork dish – despite “cooking a ‘d’ and plating a ‘b”, my careful attention to this presentation detail resulted in the pork being plated the wrong way, and also my potato dauphin was over-salted and moist. The “cooking a d” refers to the shape of the pork chop in the pan and means the bone is sticking up on the right and the meat is on the bottom left. This is your first sear (presentation side down). When you put it on the plate it is a “b” shape – i.e. the bone is on the left and the meat is on the bottom right. I screwed it up because the bone curved differently and….well….enough with the excuses…I screwed it up. But my pork was perfectly cooked (internal temp 145F), and the sauce was so good I had to bring some home.

Chef Dominic and our "plates of shame".
Chef Dominique and our “plates of shame”.
An "excellent" consomme
An “excellent” consomme
Regina approaching the evaluation station
Regina approaching the evaluation station

When presenting my plates to Chef Dominique, he asked if he could keep one of my plates. I said yes, of course. It turns out this was for the “plates of shame” display. He kept examples of good and bad plates to show us all how to improve. My plate was used as an example of an improperly plated pork, as well as a moist potato dauphin. Ugh.

I met with Gina (career services) after class to figure out the best externship fit, and we decided on 3 Michelin star “Jean Georges”, so we fired off a letter to them – fingers crossed. Meanwhile I got a volunteer position at a James Beard event for this Friday which I’m excited about.

Tomorrow is a mock exam where we do all our dishes under exam conditions. I think most of us are feeling pretty good about our dishes – that is if we can wake up from all the shots at the Toad Hall tonight.

Categories
Culinary Arts Project

Level 4: Under Pressure – Day 61

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • Serve a pork chop ‘bone on the left’, so the customer can cut into it from the right.
  • When frying a pork chop, fry the presentation side first – the first sear gets the best color.
  • When frying a fillet, also fry the presentation side down first – in the case of a fish, the presentation side is the fillet side that was close to the bone, not close to the skin.

Today was the first day of Level 4, and it was AMAZING. Crazy, hectic, but AMAZING. We were divided into 4 teams, and then half of each team had to create a chicken consommé plus a pork chop with green peppercorn sauce, while the other half had to fry a skate grenobloise (brown butter with lemon, capers, and parsley) plus bake an apple tart.

Vitor filleting his skate
Vitor filleting his skate
Joe flambeeing the pork sauce
Joe flambeeing the pork sauce

I was on team #1 and had to do the consommé and pork dish. Team #1 had slightly more pressure because we had to plate first. At exactly 12.45 we had to be in front of chef Joe or chef Dominique with our two consommé plates, and at exactly 1.25 we had to be back with our pork dishes. 5 4 3 2 1…GO!!!!!!

For the apple tart crew, they knew what they had to do… make the dough and fast. I tried to not let any panic set in, because it wasn’t as clear what to do first. Ok, the consommé has to clarify for an hour so that’s the priority. I don’t know if anyone remembers the post about ‘the raft’, but ‘the raft’ is back. We take 3 liters of marmite (a chicken stock which has been browned with burnt onions) and clarify it with a raft. A raft? That’s right, a raft composed of julienned carrots/leek greens/celery, egg whites and ground turkey is added to the marmite, and after an hour has clarified the consommé. I actually got that part going pretty well, though no ‘clarifying appeared to be happening’, but I felt under control. (see main pic for ‘the raft’).

Ground Control Erik and his pork dishes
Ground Control Erik and his pork dishes
Pablo's had to write the Espagnole recipe on his arm
Pablo had to write the Espagnole recipe on his arm

What next? The peppercorn sauce needs a sauce Espagnole, which has to be made and reduced for 30-50min so that’s next. Grab my pork, cut out the weird little bones, manchonnéed the rib bone, and start roasting the bones till brown. Now the panic started to set in. I hadn’t brought the recipe for the Espagnole, and chef ran through it fast in the demo, so I only had rough notes. Now I started making mistakes. 12 in total for the day. Once the bones were brown, I added the veal stock, forgetting to brown the vegetables first, forgetting to cook the tomato paste, and forgetting to ‘singer’ (flour). Oh well, swirled some flour in a bit of veal stock and just throw it all in. Grabbed the peppercorns (“Those aren’t peppercorns, those are capers – Joe points out”). Ouch. Ok, its finally on a simmer. Panic growing. Now I have to prepare the ‘taillage’ of vegetables for the consommé (these are the finely cut carrots, turnips, beans, and peas). Last time we made consommé we cut them into paysanne slices, so I did that, but no, we were supposed to macedoine (cube) them. Darn, and there are no more carrots. Oh well.

Chef Joe critiqueing Joanne's tart
Chef Joe critiqueing Joanne’s tart
Chef Pascal talk tart with Spencer
Chef Pascal talks tart with Spencer

Anyway the panic kept growing, and while I got the consommé plated on time (“not enough salt”, “wrong taillage”), I did reach a point of total panic/paralysis during the pork preparation. We’re not supposed to communicate Station to Station, but Erik came to my rescue pulling me out of it. He acted as Ground Control to my Major Tom so to speak. I owe you big time. I got the pork plated 2 minutes late (but on the wrong side), and done medium rare, but it did taste amazing. Apparently only one of us got the consommé perfect (Rachel), and only one of us got the pork dish perfect.

I’m really liking this level. I like the pressure, the food is back to that amazing tasting food I was hoping to experience. Quite frankly, I thought that every day of culinary school was going to be like this. We all do the same dishes for the next three days to improve speed and accuracy. Hopefully I can get my mistake count down to 0.

Flower outside David Bowie's apartment
Flowers outside David Bowie’s apartment

Bicycling home, there was a crowd gathered outside a building three blocks from the school. It was David Bowie’s apartment. So sad.

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Culinary Arts Project

Ashes to Ashes: Level 3 is Dust – Day 60

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • Use Ghee (browned clarified butter) in your Indian dishes rather than butter. It adds a whole new dimension of nuttiness and even sweetness.
  • Apparently the best curry is in London. Curry Powder is a British invention to mimic the “Indian colony’s cuisine” whose key ingredients are turmeric, coriander, cumin, mustard, and chili. Curry can also refer to many types of dishes… and to confuse things even further, there is actually an unrelated curry plant whose leaves are used in Indian cuisine, though curry powder rarely is – they use the founding spices.
  • Truffles (which are an underground fungus, not a mushroom) are so expensive because they are very difficult to cultivate as they need specific surrounding nut trees and brush which is hard to mimic.

Today was the last day of Level 3, and while culinary school is flying by too fast, I’m kinda glad to see the back of this Level. We prepared Indian influenced food in ‘family meal’, while the other half of the class did the ‘action stations’ we did on Friday.

Meagan workin' the basmati
Meagan workin’ the basmati
Samosas - today's popular dish
Samosas – today’s popular dish

Meagan and I did a Basmati Rice dish. In true Indian fashion, all spices were heated in the frying pan to ‘open them up’ before incorporating them into the rice. We had a tough time getting the rice to taste amazing. We added more spices, more lemon juice, more oil. We never got it quite magical, but Meagan made up a yogurt sauce which tasted pretty good and saved the dish. I asked Chef if we could add some butter – he said no butter, but maybe ghee. Ghee (pronounced with a hard ‘g’), is clarified butter that is then browned to ‘noisette’ consistency and is very common in Indian dishes. I wished we had had time to include it in our rice. Linda used it in her lentil dish and it tasted great. She made the ghee, and then fried various seeds, cumin and onions in it. It really is a secret magical ingredient.

Terrence and Regina rollin' the Pappardelle - and getting to use Black Truffles!!!
Terrence and Regina rollin’ the Pappardelle – and getting to use Black Truffles!!!
Dalal checking Tinder
Dalal checking Tinder  🙂

The popular dish of the day was Joe & Jess’s samosas which they served up with a pomegranate chutney. They had lots of potato/curry stuffing left over, so when the samosa’s ran out on the line, I just started offering it as potato curry and it went just as fast. Other highlights included Alton’s Avial, which is a kinda vegetable coconut turmeric stew.

I was bit jealous of Terence and Regina today. They were on the Alfredo station (the one I was on Friday). Head Chef Candy, you remember, the chef who came up and critiqued our Alfredo on Friday, said “Who is making the Alfredo today – it tastes so good?”. Hmmphf. Well, Terence is talented in the kitchen, so I don’t mind being number 2 to him, but it turns out that Chef John let them use black truffle in their dish, which they incorporated when reducing the cream. Black Truffles!!!!!!!

The 'new guy' Gabriel, who was with us for two days making up some classes
The ‘new guy’ Gabriel, who was with us for two days making up some classes
The gang prepping carrots for tomorrow
The gang prepping carrots for tomorrow

We got our Level 4 books today. Level 4 is focused on repeating complicated dishes for several days to be able to master them and get our speed up. It’s apparently, ‘pure chaos’. I’m looking forward to it!

RIP David Bowie. Thanks for all those great songs!

My level 4 book - let the chaos begin!
My level 4 book – let the chaos begin!
Categories
Culinary Arts Project

ACTION STATIONS – Day 59

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • Add the butter to the boiled cream ‘off’ the heat in an alfredo, to avoid the butter breaking.
  • A restaurant trick is to use Grana Padano ‘in’ the sauce, and then top the pasta with Parmigiano. ‘Parm’ is over twice the price of Padano.
  • When rolling pasta, you should be able to see the ‘shadow of your hand’ through it, for a noodle, and you should be able to see ‘the outline of your fingernails’ for a ravioli (thinner).

Today it was action stations in the kitchen. Rather than just selecting food from the line, diners can order at the window, and we had to deliver that dish within a minute or two. We had 4 actions stations: stir fry rice, fresh pappardelle alfredo, fusilli with sausage and rabe, and penne. I was on the ‘alfredo’ station with Jess and Linda.

During a panic!!!!!!!
During a panic!!!!!!!
Fresh pappardelle ready for the water
Fresh pappardelle ready for the boil

We had to get started early, because we were making the pasta fresh, so Jess and I started rolling out the pasta through the pasta machines early. We made sheets about 5in wide and 12in long, which Linda rolled up and cut into pappardelle strips (think wide fettuccine). We used all-purpose flour to keep the pasta from sticking to itself while rolling it out, but as soon as the planks were made we used semolina flour to keep it from sticking. The semolina will fall off when cooking. Meanwhile we had the cream reducing with the ‘cheese rind sachet’. The steps to alfredo are not complicated: sauté the cream in one pan, at the time the cream starts to thicken, add the pasta to boiling salted water, then take the cream off heat and add the butter till melted, add the pasta (about 1-2min in the water) to the cream, s&p, grated cheese, swirl, use a double-tine to twist the pappardelle and lift onto plate. Unfortunately, on our first attempt we put the butter and cheese in to early so they separated – those plates were sitting by when the head chef of the school came by – “your butter’s separated” ..ouch…..luckily I had just completed one properly and showed her asking “is this one ok?”…..”that’s good!”…..phew.

Flames from the stir fry station
Flames from the stir fry station
Gerardo in action
Gerardo in action

The rice stir fry rice station had by far the most demand and by far the most stress. There was lots of shouting, and flames, and running dishes…. it lived up to the name “Action Station”.

We had our share of stress, but for the most part kept ahead of the orders. In these low-carb days I thought for sure we would have some of our butter-cream-cheese-pasta left over, but no. It all went. It’s hard to beat the taste of those ingredients Chef Ben pointed out.

Dalal and Pablo at the Tilt Skillet
Dalal and Pablo at the Tilt Skillet
Gina talking to us about externships
Gina talking to us about externships

We are cooking Indian food on Monday, which is exciting, because we are getting to learn a bit more about the spices. Apparently all the spices we’re getting on Monday are whole, we have to roast them first and then manually grind them – to get a much better flavor.

Gina and Dave from career services came by and spent an hour discussing our ‘externship’ – the 200 hours we are going to spend in a kitchen of a NYC restaurant. Alton and Spencer already have theirs lined up, the rest of us have to get hustling. Apparently there is a real shortage of kitchen staff in NYC at the moment so it’s not going to be too much of a problem finding one – but finding the right one? I was slightly disappointed that there isn’t currently a test kitchen externship available – I was starting to be keen about doing that instead of a restaurant. Oh well. Time to get to work.

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Culinary Arts Project

CHARCUTERIE BUFFET, and then getting ready for Action Stations – Day 57

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • Hang the rinds of your cheese in your cream when reducing it for an Alfredo sauce – gives it additional flavor.
  • Use “00” flour to make your pasta slightly stronger but silkier.
  • Throw some Semolina flour in your pasta dough and the pasta will ‘grab’ the sauce slightly better.

Today we finally got to display all the charcuterie products our 3 teams have been working on for the past three weeks. We each had 18 dishes to display, 10 of which had to be cooked/reheated. I didn’t think it was really going to take us two hours to set it all up, but it turns out when Chef John looked at our team and said “You’d better get cutting”, he was right.

ICC staff sampling our display. (Note the CD cover strategically placed in view).
ICC staff sampling our display. (Note the CD cover strategically placed in view).
Spencer and Gerardo 'cubeing'.
Spencer and Gerardo ‘cubeing’.

We had mapped things out on paper before, and had pre-written all Joanne’s place cards, so it seemed a relatively simple thing to put everything in place….NOT. Suddenly we had smoked salmon to slice, smoked tuna to fillet, head cheese and venison terrine to cube, lemons to slice, capers and dill to find, heat lamps to plug in, white linen tablecloths to put out. Spencer and Gerardo assumed cooking duties, so they had all the sausages to cook and slice as well as dishes to reheat. Spencer asked me to reheat to bread, so I put our bread sheetpan in the oven, and promptly forgot about it. Burnt brioche anyone? Luckily I wasn’t in charge of the focaccia, so we had that as a backup.

Despite all the panic, all three teams did an incredible job. Kudos go out to Joe’s team for an excellent display in the tightest of spaces. The Innovative award goes out to Megan’s team for the Whole Food’s brown paper bag rustic look, and our team got top marks for its use of the heat lamp.

Some nice layouts
Some nice layouts – Megan’s Team (#3)
Some nice layouts
Some nice layouts – Joe’s Team (#1)
Our team (#2)
Our team (#2)

We had all decided to make many of the selections bite-size skewered by toothpicks, and I think this made people more willing to try all the various dishes. We were out of the smoked salmon and most of the hot sausages pretty quickly, but people had bites of almost everything, including the head cheese! Looking out at the amazing displays , I was pretty proud of our group – almost as proud as on “Chicken Your Way” day. It was especially nice for me because my classical piano CD was playing in the background.

Congrats to everyone!

No rest for the wicked though. No sooner had we finished than we had to worry about tomorrow – ACTION STATIONS! This is where we cook to order. Jess, Linda and I are on the pasta station. We prepared the pasta dough (00 flour, semolina flour, eggs, olive oil) this afternoon and are going to roll it out fresh tomorrow and serve a Pappardelle Alfredo to order. We pre-grated a crateful of Grana Padano in advance, so hopefully people are going to order it – saving the rinds in a cheese cloth ‘sachet’ to hang in the cream while we reduce the cream in half giving it added flavor. We are doing the basic classic Alfredo (with just cheese, butter, cream, s&p). Pappardelle is like a wide Fettucine. Grana Padano is a slightly smoother tasting Parmigiano. Hopefully we’ll be able to hit that creamy magic – a perfectly executed Alfredo Sauce.

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Culinary Arts Project

Pig’s Eared Julienned, Planning the Buffet – Day 56

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • Fill an egg carton with hickory, set it on fire, and put it the oven with your chicken, to get an incredible smoky flavour. (Maybe not try this one at home).

Thanks Joanne so much for having filled in yesterday. Great job. And doubly thank you for this morning’s pre-exam flash card quiz – that rehearsal definitely got me 20 points on the exam.

Spencer arranging cards, planning out our display
Spencer arranging cards, planning out our display
Chef Ben lights an egg carton on fire - for the smoker
Chef Ben lights an egg carton on fire – for the smoker

Today was finishing up anything we hadn’t already got ready for tomorrow’s buffet. We have 19 different items in our buffet, so that is pretty impressive. The last piece to prepare today was finalizing the head cheese. First we were told to “julienne the ears”. This seemed such a weird sentence – for the past two months, we’ve been julienning all sorts of vegetables (mostly carrots), but the thought of applying this technique to a pig’s ear just seemed weird. We also diced all the meat that had been removed from the brined pig’s head, simmered it in the brine with various spices, then added jardiniered carrots and cornichons, and stuffed it all into a terrine. We had so much left over we made a second terrine (though we’ve been told we’re going to be lucky that anyone takes a bite from even the first terrine).

Vitor working on the BBQ chicken
Vitor working on the BBQ chicken
A seared scallop plate shows up from heaven
A seared scallop plate shows up from heaven

We also wrote out our display cards, and did a whole bunch organizing, so that tomorrow we can hit the kitchen running. 10 of the 19 dishes are hot (or cooked), so there’s quite a bit to do tomorrow. We decided we’re going to try and cook and sauté as much as possible, so that people will be more likely to take some of the food. To that point, Joe cooked up candied bacon and caramelized nuts – if those two items don’t get eaten, I don’t know what will. Joanne had a good idea to have music, so guess who’s classical piano CD we’re going to play? That’s right, my Fermata CD (click to listen) is going to get a public airing in New York!

Vitor and Miyako cooked up some incredibly tasting BBQ chicken today in family meal (secret ingredient – molasses!). At one point I looked over and Chef Ben was lighting an egg carton filled with stuff on fire? What the….. ? It turns out the ‘stuff’ was hickory, and he put this in the bottom of the oven to ‘smoke’ the chicken. The kitchen smelled amazing.

One of the hidden benefits of culinary school is that every-so-often, amazing food shows up out of nowhere – today it was a seared scallop plate that the catering department was testing out.

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Culinary Arts Project

Zen and the Art of Doing Dishes – Oh, and Brining a Pig’s Head – Day 54

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • The FDA recommends washing dishes at an uncomfortable 110 degrees to get rid of harmful bacteria. The hot water from the average ‘hot’ faucet is 110F. I can’t imagine being able to clean dishes in 100% hot water from the hot faucet. Ouch!!!!
  • Never order a fish special on Monday – this is guaranteed to be fish that is nearing its expiry date. Fish can be delivered any day but Sunday, generally it is delivered on Tuesday and Friday – so those are the days to eat seafood at a restaurant.
  • Brioche dough is kneaded when it ‘forms a window’. This is when you stretch the dough, and it doesn’t tear but thins out so you can almost see through it.

Sometimes I just want to do dishes! Sometimes there’s a certain enjoyment in being by yourself, the master of your own domain, knowing what you have to do and how to do it. I didn’t sleep very well last night, so I was very tired, and it was hard to concentrate on the multitude of things we had to get done today…. so every time we had finished using a machine, I grabbed it, volunteered to clean it, walked over to the big sink, and quietly went about cleaning it, in an almost Zen-like state.

Trouts, reading for the drying room
Trouts, ready for the drying room
Chef John demonstrates a 'dough window'
Chef John demonstrates a ‘dough window’

However, a Zen-like state was NOT the state for the majority of the day. We had pig-heads and feet to inject with brine (we’re making head cheese tomorrow), a venison terrine to cook, a wild boar sausage to stuff, our salmon en croute to preserve with aspic, 5 ‘trouts’ to clean and brine, three new breads to prepare (including a foccacio and a brioche), and a dried chorizo recipe to ‘mise-out’ for tomorrow. This meant using grinders, mixers, dough mixers, and lots of other implements…. So lots of cleaning to do as well!!!!

Stewart monitoring the boar sausage
Stewart monitoring the boar sausage
Regina and the Sauce Puttanesca
Regina and the Sauce Puttanesca

We have our charcuterie ‘buffet’ at the end of the week where we display all the items we have made for the school to come and taste, so we have only two more days to finish all of our items. I can’t say it’s the same pressure you feel when cooking ‘family meal’ for the school which has to be ready by 11.50am, but there is some pressure. My team is discussing how to get people to eat more of the charcuterie…because…. while it all looks delicious, apparently not that much gets eaten. I’ve come up with an idea where we’ll make everything very bit sized, with toothpicks for easy tasting, and also have the alcoholic flavoring (e.g. sauternes, brandy, sherry, madeira, etc…) that was used in the preparation as part of the presentation, and see if people can taste the flavor.

The taste highlight from the family meal was the Puttanesca Sauce on the pasta. Apparently this means “Prostitute’s Sauce” in Italian, and is so referred because, historically, it was hastily prepared for the husband by the wife who had just got home herself from her ‘distractions’. There isn’t the 3-5 hour simmering time required. Tasted good to me.

Tomorrow we have to take the pig’s head apart. Should be ‘interesting’.

Happy New Year’s everyone.

Categories
Culinary Arts Project

There’s Scallops In Them There Sausages – Day 53

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • Ice is used a lot in the kitchen – when we’re readying meat, it is always held in containers over ice. When we poached the fish sausages, as soon as they had reached the correct internal temperature of 145F, we immediately put them in ice to stop the cooking and to get the food out of the danger zone. This is a real pain when you’ve just made 50L of stock. You have to get it out of the danger zone quickly which requires putting it in ice, and putting a container of ice in the stock as well. Of course the ice melts quickly, so there’s lots of ice shovelling on stock day.
  • The food temperature danger zone is 41F-135F. Food cannot stay in this temperature zone for very long or bacteria starts to grow uncontrollably. Fridges are kept at 35F. The fridges at our school sound an alarm if they hit 41F.
  • We also use ice when grinding meat. Once the meat has gone through the grinder, we some ice in the grinder and this pushes the remainder of the meat out.

When I see sausages hanging at the deli counter, I rarely know for sure what’s in them, but I can be sure that it wasn’t fish….until today!

Today, we made several fish charcuterie preparations. The weirdest one was the seafood sausage, which involved making a mousseline of hake fish, scallops, Old Bay spice (my standby). Into this ‘mousse’ is folded shrimp, salmon, scallops, and tarragon and stuffed into hog casings and poached. While it looks like a sausage, it definitely tastes like a fish mousse.

Salmon Pate en Croute under construction
Salmon Pate en Croute under construction
Joanne doing the construction
Joanne doing the construction

We also prepared a Salmon Paté en Croute. This was a bit more normal looking. We made a mousseline of salmon, shrimp and Old Bay. This was put into a dough-lined terrine, then layered with strips of salmon, more mousseline, and then covered with dough. This was then baked in a steam oven. Unfortunately we all overcooked our terrines, and some of them came out wonky looking.

Stewart and Jess with our newly smoked Chorizo
Stewart and Jess with our newly smoked Chorizo
Hot dogs, ready for poaching
Hot dogs, ready for poaching

We also continued to move along other charcuterie projects. We poached the hot dogs we made yesterday and steamed the chorizo which had been hanging overnight. If you’re going to smoke a sausage, it helps to hang it out in the cool air for a day where it will develop a ‘pellicule’. This is a slightly sticky outer coating, which the smoke literally gets caught in, trapping that wonderful flavor. We also cured venison and wild boar, for a terrine to be constructed Monday. Boars are basically wild pigs. When pigs were domesticated, some escaped and these turned back into the feral state. Ironically, ‘wild’ board is actually now farm grown. In fact, you can’t buy any wild meat for consumption. If you’re a hunter, you can kill and eat wild meat, but you’re not allowed to re-sell it. All ‘wild’ meat is actually farmed.

Miyako stuffing the Chayote
Miyako stuffing the Chayote

The family meal gang was 4 minutes late in getting their stations done, which was a first. The food tasted great. I particularly liked Rachel’s corn salsa, and Miyako’s stuffed Chayote.

We’re off till next week, so everyone have a great great New Year’s, and speak to you in 2016.

Categories
Culinary Arts Project

Hot Dogs – Charcuterie’s most complex sausage yet…who knew? – Day 52

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • Italian Sausage is flavoured with fennel – take the meat out of the casing, fry it up with more crushed fennel, chile peppers, lemon, white wine and oregano. Tada – you have one of my favourite non-tomato pasta sauces.
  • Spice Secret – Pimenton (which is a Spanish Paprika) – use both the hot and sweet types to give a real spicy taste to meat. This is where the famed ‘chorizo’ taste comes from.
  • When dividing a sausage into ‘links’ – you squish the sausage at each link end, twist the link 7 times one way, then, as long as the desired firmness is achieved, you twist the next link 7 times the other way, etc….

Today certainly was a surprise. We made chorizo, and garlic sausages, but who would have guess that the good ‘ol hot dog was going to be the most complex to make. To begin with, there were 17 ingredients, and second: the emulsification.

Alton, Megan and Joe stuff sausages.....
Alton, Megan and Joe stuff sausages…..
....so are Gerardo and Spencer
….as do Gerardo and Spencer

Sausages are divided into three main types: a) straight, b) emulsified, and c) fermented. Emulsified basically means that it is primarily all one homogenous texture because the meat and fat (and other ingredients) have been perfectly emulsified, like in a hot dog. This is easier said than done. The beef is put through the grindr separately from the pork fatback (these are the two main meat ingredients) and then again through increasingly smaller grinds. Then the beef is transferred to a mixer and crushed ice is added to start the emulsification. The seasoning is added as well (sugar, cayenne, Spanish paprika, white and black pepper, white and pink salt, coriander, smoke powder, nutmeg)…. and next the ‘chemicals’. Now these ‘chemicals’ are all naturally occurring, but still…they sound like chemicals: phosphate (to retain moisture), ascorbic acid (a slight anti-septic and acidic profile), dextrose (simple sugar, adds a hint of sweetness), and milk powder (acts as a binder), and lastly the fatback. All these ingredients are mixed for about 20 minutes until it all comes together into a paste-like goop, that is exactly that fleshy hot dog color of pink. Who knew that that weird color was its natural color. We then passed it into sheep’s intestine casing. We fried up a little bit to test the seasoning, and it really tasted quite good.

The hot dog mise en place
The hot dog mise en place

The highlight of the day taste-wise was definitely the chorizo. This is ground pork and fatback, but the magic ingredient is pimenton (smoked Spanish paprika). The Spanish are as picky about their pimenton as the French are about their wines. The Spanish have a whole “Appelation Controlée” equivalent for pimenton. We used both the sweet (dulce) and hot (Picante). One of the early ‘aha’ taste moments for me was in Level 1 when we baked an egg in heavy reduced cream, on a base of chorizo. It was soooo good. I’m looking forward to making that again with this homemade chorizo.

Vitor and buckwheat
Vitor and his buckwheat pasta
The boys tossing the german potato salad
The boys tossing the german potato salad

Congrats to the family meal gang. Gina from corporate came up and gathered them around to tell them how exceptional it was. Chef Ben was under a bit of pressure to deliver today because the food theme was German, and Master Chef Mark Bauer was a German food connoisseur and was eating family meal today. They clearly delivered. Even before Gina’s accolade, I had told them I thought the food today was amazing, particularly Rachel’s onion-cranberry marmalade and Vitor’s buckwheat pasta.

Tomorrow, we continue preparing for our charcuterie buffet by starting a Salmon Paté en Croute. I’m going to get a cramp writing out that recipe card, it’s three pages long!