Sunday, December 4, 2011

I'm back!

For those few of you who actually read this,  school is done, except for a few classes in the next few months.  I've started my externship, finally, after having two places fall through.  I'm about a month behind my classmates, but since I'm working full time, it shouldn't be hard for me to catch up and I will definitely be done before graduation in June.  There's a reason that people start out in restaurants when they're 20 - it's grueling work!

I'm working as a prep cook in the restaurant.  It's just like it sounds - prepping for that evening's service or a banquet.  I chop potatoes and celery, peel onions (150 pounds of them in 2 days!), carrots and tomatoes and clean and debeard mussels.  There's more to it than that, but I'm the low man on the totem pole, so I get to do a lot of the most grunt work.  As I start to learn the ropes, I will be making stock, soups, roast beef and the like, in addition to the chopping tasks.

I still have all fingers attached, although all of the onion and tomato peeling have left the tips of my fingers very sore.  I also have the customary blister on my right index finger from chopping so much.  Eventually it will callous over.

Today is Sunday, so it's pretty slow for the prep cooks.  There were two of us on, so we got things done pretty quickly and then we were sent home.  Nice to have the time back, but, unlike my salary-paying job, if I don't work, I don't get paid.  My biggest job of the day was to pass about 30 pounds of cooked potatoes through the tami (it's like a huge fine-mesh strainer) and make mashed potatoes.  In addition to the callouses, I'm going to have huge forearms if I do that a lot.

The people who I work with are nice, for the most part.  Many don't speak much English, which makes it difficult at times to communicate, especially when I have a "why" question, but it'll work out.  As I didn't have a day off between leaving my old job and starting this one, I've now worked 7 days in a row and have 3 more to go before having 2 days off.

Do I like it?  Well, it's ok.  I knew that restaurant work wouldn't be my dream job, but I think I'll learn a lot that will take me in other fields.

Stay tuned - I'll try to keep you up to date on my adventures.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A more normal week

I think this week should be more normal than last week - it was hard going to school Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.  I like having that Friday break, it's needed.

Last night was a cold dish appetizer night.  We started out with a carrot and fennel salad with a champagne vinaigrette.  My chef is starting to really talk to us about different textures in dishes - smooth, crunchy, etc.  So, what I thought would be an easy salad of julienned carrots and fennel was not so easy.  We started out cooking some carrots in butter and then pureeing them with some champagne to make a smooth puree.  This was laid on the bottom of the dish and topped with julienned fennel that had been mixed with the champagne vinaigrette.  On top of the fennel was fried carrot strips - just plain julienned carrots that were deep fried.  Scattered around the dish was some fennel brittle - just hard caramel with fennel seeds added.  It was good.

We also made steak tartare - raw ground beef served with an egg on top.  It's supposed to be a raw egg yolk, but we poached ours.  We also had a parmesan tuile on the side and a little arugula salad to go with it.  When I went for my interview with the school, this was what I had for lunch.  It's not bad - not as bad as you think.  I wouldn't eat it all the time, but it was tasty.  We started with a top butt of meat and chopped our own finely.

Friday, July 8, 2011

An odd week

It's been an odd week at school.  We had off on Saturday and Monday for the 4th of July holiday, so we came back to school on Wednesday and then Thursday we had the second session of our wine-tasting class.  Tonight (Friday) we have a make up class for missing Monday but we are doing a taste sensation class with the head chef from school, no producing anything.  I have no idea what taste sensation entails, but I'll let you know - I guess it has to do with the sweet, salty, bitter, sour, etc. sensations.  Tomorrow is a big cook day (7 items!).  I'll be ready for some sleep when it's all said and done.

On Wednesday, our cook night this week, we made a cold cucumber and mint soup.  It was refreshing, but a little too "cucumber-y" for me.  I like cucumbers, but it was a bit much.  It had cucumber, mint, garlic, anise seeds and some sherry vinegar and yogurt all blended in the blender until smooth.  We had seeded the cucumber and mixed the seeds with some chives for the topping - interesting.

We also did paella.  Yum!  How can you go wrong with chicken, onions, chorizo, peppers, tomatoes, shrimp, mussels and peas?  Add the rice and some saffron in and it's a little bit of heaven on a plate.  Best part?  Lots of ingredients, but only one pot!  Sorry I didn't get a picture, because it was pretty all there in the paella pan with some fancy lemon wedges on the top.

I'm starting to look at places to do my externship - looking at some higher end hotels around the area.  Praying something comes of one of them.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

A short break

Tonight was our last night of class until next Wednesday.  Can't say I'm really disappointed, it'll be nice to have the break.  They gave us Saturday off and then Monday, of course, is the 4th of July.  We do have to make up Monday's class, so I will be in school Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday next week.  That's ok, though.

Our last night before the break was also a break.  We had a Master of Wine come in tonight and do a wine explanation and wine tasting with us.  It's the first of 3 times he will be with us, the last time being a food and wine pairing where we will cook (I think) and then pair it with the wines.  There are only 21 Masters of Wine in the US and he is one of them - he's so interesting.

We were done early, so we cooked and ate some duck confit and had some bread to go with it.  Then we had 1:1's with the chef if we wanted them.  I talked to him about my externship and I think I'm going to look at hotels to extern at, rather than a restaurant.  Since I've worked in corporate America for so long, it seemed like a natural transition for me.  The chef was agreeable to that - he said this area has a lot of really big name chefs in hotels here.  So now the fun starts - looking for a job!

Have a great 4th of July, everyone!  I'll try and get some pictures up of things I cook this weekend.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Duck Gizzards

I'm back!  I'm in my second week of Phase 2 of my classes.  What does this mean?  We're building on the techniques that we learned in Phase 1, making our dishes more refined and elegant and continuing to learn. My Phase 1 exam was challenging (putting it mildly), so it'll be interesting to see what Phase 2 holds.

Also, I have to start looking for an interviewing for externships.  My original plan was to do hotels - a little more structured, but the more I think about it the more I realize that I will never learn in a hotel what I will learn in a fine dining place.  Even if I don't do restaurant after graduation, the experience will be invaluable.  So, I'm sort of starting from scratch, researching chefs, restaurants, etc.  It's been a long time since I applied for a job and having to do a whole new resume highlighting my culinary "experience" was interesting.  Luckily I have my personal chef stuff, although even that is pretty slim.

So, what does this have to do with the title of my post?  Nothing much.  However, in starting to think like restaurant chefs, we are starting to think about using everything in the restaurant - it's called utilization.  So, last week we butchered down ducklings, taking out the offals, the liver, gizzards, etc.  Don't throw them out - they can be used.  The original application that we made was seared duck breast with a sweet and sour sauce.  I think I've mentioned before that I'm not really a fan of duck.  It was ok - a bit chewy for my liking.

Last night then, we did utilization - we made a frisee salad using duck livers and gizzards that had been confited.  To confit is to cook something in it's own fat, so if you're in a French restaurant and get duck confit, you are getting a duck that has been submerged and cooked for several hours in the oven in it's own fat.  A delicacy, I guess.  We cooked the livers and gizzards in duck fat last night and then served them on a salad of frisee, watercress and radishes.  It's then served with a warm vinaigrette.  Not as bad as I thought, but I'd never order it in a restaurant (not that I've even seen it).

I'm sorry I didn't get a picture, but we were rushed at service time, so I didn't think about it.

Til next time!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

First stretch is almost done

I'm in my final week of Phase 1 of my classes.  Now the fun really begins!!  Class will get harder, I need to start looking for, applying for and interviewing for externships.  How can I look when I'm not really sure what I want to be when I grow up??  The externship advisor talked to us last night and gave us a list of restaurants in the area that we can look at - it's about 12 pages of single-spaced places!  Wow, who knew?

I've been forgetting to take pictures of the dishes that we've made, but I did have a couple from a few weeks ago that I haven't put on.

The first dish we made was braised rabbit.  Yes, you read that right.  Rabbit!  We had to butcher them down, and you really could tell they were rabbits.  A little creepy, but I guess it's really no different than butchering down a chicken.  That's what I told myself.

So, we used the legs for the braise with mushrooms, tomatoes and stock.  It was ok - as I've said before, I wouldn't order it in a restaurant.  We served it on top of polenta.


Along with the rabbit, we also made "brain cake".  Ha!  Not really - it's called Charlotte Royale - made with jelly roll and bavarian cream.  It's done in a bowl, so it's kind of a fun presentation, but it does look like brain cake.  What do you think?



Some non-class pictures coming soon.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Another banquet

On Saturday, we had to make appetizers for a party that the school was having on Sunday.  The school has two locations - one is mainly professional classes (like I'm taking) and the other, the original location, holds mostly recreational classes.  The original location is in an old house-type building and has been under renovation for the past year (it needed it).  They finally opened and wanted to have a grand re-opening party.  So, we made appetizers for them to serve at the open house the next day.

My table made grilled zucchini roulades with goat cheese topped with a balsamic reduction.  A bit of work, but very tasty.

Things made by the other tables included asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, shrimp cocktail and deviled eggs topped with Bombay chicken curry (these were really good!).

      

The reason we have them plated for service is we were supposed to serve about 30 prospective students that Saturday.  They were coming in for an open house to learn more about the professional programs.  Only about 4 people showed up, so we had a feast after they left.  

Coming up?  Rabbit!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A few fish dishes

Hello!  As always, I've been missing in action.  I was going to do a summary of the past few weeks, but we've done some interesting things, so I'll divide the posts up, so you don't get bored reading everything at once.

I'll start with the few days after I left off - which was May 18, I think.
That evening we start off making chocolate truffles.  These are incredibly easy to make - 2 ingredients:  heavy cream and chocolate.  You melt the chocolate with the cream and then chill until you can scoop it and then roll it in cocoa powder, coconut, nuts, whatever you want.  I'm not sure what happened to mine, but they never set up, just big blobs of chocolate.  I've made them before and they are always fine.  The weird thing is I make things at school and can't do it, but I make them at home and they turn out great!  I guess it's the pressure of school (or lack thereof at home) that screws things up.  Anyway, my table mate's turned out good, so this is what they should look like


That night, we also made gumbo - chicken, shrimp, okra, the whole nine yards.  Along with the gumbo we made "dirty rice".  This is similar to the rice pilaf that we make (a lot), but the dirty rice also has chicken livers in.  I tried it and really, really did not like it.  You know me, I'll eat most anything, but I couldn't get around that texture.  


The next night, we did a warm calamari salad.  We roasted red peppers, sauteed the calamari and made a vinaigrette to put over the top.  It's a warm salad.  It was ok - not sure I'd order it, but if you like calamari, you'd enjoy this salad.  The problem with sauteeing calamari is that it can become rubbery very quickly, so you need to watch it carefully.  It's a pretty salad, though, with lots of color in it (which you can't tell from the picture)


Along with the calamari salad, we made potato crusted salmon.  You take salmon filets, wrap them in thinly sliced potatoes and sear them until the crust is brown.  It's quite a bit of work, but really, really tasty.  Underneath is a beurre rouge sauce - butter and red wine reduced down.  We also did braised leeks to lay the fish on - we've made those several times and I love them.  This was a really nice dish, but would be an expensive one in a restaurant because of the effort.


More to come soon - hope you are having an exceptional weekend!



Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Fish and Pork & Beans

Sorry I'm behind again!  I'm going to combine the rest of last week's classes, so then I should be almost caught up.

On Thursday, we had our pork butchering demonstration - the chef had a full pork loin which he then butchered down into roasts, medallions, etc.  Luckily, we don't need to learn the muscles, joints, etc. on the animals - we just need to know the primal cuts and where they come from.  Science has not really ever been my thing, especially anatomy, so if we had to learn all of the muscles and stuff, I would fail out quickly.

After the demo, we set about cooking, but not the pork.  We did fish instead because it's quicker.  We started out with fried eggplant - pretty standard, eggplant, breaded and then pan fried until golden.  I liked it much better than I thought I would.

We then deboned some rockfish and put it in parchment paper along with olive oil, caramelized onions, zucchini and fennel.  The parchment is then sealed around the fish, creating a pocket.  Put in the oven, where it steams the fish.  Once it came out, we made a sauce of tomatoes, black olives, olive oil, saffron and basil, which was served over the fish.  I'm not a big fan of olives or chunk tomatoes, like that, but it had good flavor - very Mediterranean.

Sorry for the picture - I forgot to take it until I was halfway through eating.


On Saturday, we started out making baguettes again - this time we added sourdough starter for some flavor.  I have trouble rolling out my baguettes - they taste ok, but they are ugly.  Also, because I tend to roll so much, they don't rise quite as much.  Practice needed.

We then did one of my favorite desserts - carrot cake.  It was a pretty traditional cake - carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.  We added walnuts to the cake, which I happen to like.  I like that bit of crunch in the cake.  When my table made ours, we added a little too much shredded carrot to our cake, so we called it "healthy".  It was really tasty.  We added a small can of crushed pineapple to the recipe, which made it very moist.


We then used our pork from Thursday night to make pork and beans - yep, you read that right.  However, these weren't just any pork and beans - the pork was seared (with bacon, I might add) and then we made a braise.  While the pork was braising for a few hours, we cooked our beans with some flavor.  The beans had soaked for 2 days before we started cooking them.  When the pork was tender, we combined the pork and the beans for a stew.  It was delicious! (again, ate before taking pictures).


Finally, to go with our pork and beans, we made cornbread - southern cornbread with sugar.  Ours came out really well, which we then topped with butter while warm.  Delicious!  I would definitely make pork and beans and cornbread for guests!




Saturday, May 14, 2011

Ravioli

Hi Family and Friends - I didn't think I was so far behind in my posts, but I am, so I'll probably do a few posts to catch you up on this week.

I posted what we did on Monday (fish fingers - still yummy).  Wednesday started out with us making dessert.  We do dessert first a lot of times because (1) you can hold it (usually) and (2) you could need time to let it set up.  This was the case with the panna cotta we made.  If you've never had panna cotta, think of milky jello.  I know, sounds gross, and I didn't really care for it, but a lot of people in my class liked it.  You do add gelatin to help it set.  We infused ours with orange zest.  It wasn't bad, but I'm glad to see there are some desserts that I can just pass on.  With my sweet tooth, that's not easy to find!

I think I mentioned the edible tulip cups that we made the other day for our chocolate mousse to sit in.  The little thing on top of these are almond tuiles.  Same concept - it's really just an almond cookie that's shaped after it comes out of the oven.  

With dessert, we did one of my favorite dishes - ravioli!  We just did a ricotta one tonight - made the pasta and shaped it and then filled with a ricotta/parmesan/basil filling.  My only problem was that my pasta dough was pretty sticky, so when we tried to pull it out of the ravioli plates, it stuck.  We got enough usable ravioli at our table, though.  We topped it with a brown butter and tomato cream sauce, which was outstanding.  I was planning on making it again tonight, but I'm too full from today's meal to think about eating anything else.


Finally, we did gazpacho - cold soup with tomato, cucumber, cilantro, peppers, onions, tabasco - pretty standard.  We topped it with some brioche croutons.  Cold soup is not my thing, but it was tasty - would be a good summer starter, in just small amounts.  



Tomorrow, I'm teaching a kids cooking class for a birthday party.  There will be seven 11-year olds there.  Wish me luck!  We are doing chicken bobs (ground chicken meatballs, rolled in potato chips on a stick - Molly?), lasagna roll ups and chocolate dipped treats.  We are dipping, pretzels, oreos, marshmallows, graham crackers and rice krispie treats (only because I want to make RK treats).

Have a great weekend, everyone!  I'll try to update again tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Fish Fingers (or Goujonettes if you want to be fancy)

Last night we made another French classic:  fish and chips.

The fish was cod, which we sliced into "fingers".  It was then just seasoned, breaded and deep fried.  Along with the fish, we made pommes frites (French fries).  We've done pommes frites before, but as far as I'm concerned, we could do them every night!  They are so good.  Here's a little tip that my tablemate of the week told me (and we did it last night):  when you salt your fries, add a pinch of sugar to the salt.  Brings out the saltiness and gives them a little something.  Think kettle corn.

Along with the deep fried items, we also made corn fritters.  These are pretty much corn pancakes, made with cornmeal, flour, corn, jalepenos and scallions.  Ours ended up being pretty dense, we added too much flour to them.  They are tasty, though, when done right.  These weren't deep fried, just pan-fried in oil.  The sauce on the side is remoulade sauce - mayo (that we made) with pickles, capers, shallots, lemon, tarragon, chives and parsley.

Because we needed something sweet after that, we made raisin cookies with two different glazes.  Standard cookies and half were topped with apricot glaze and half were topped with a rum glaze.  I think I was a little heavy handed on the rum, but they were tasty.

Sorry, I forgot to take a picture of the cookies.  I actually forgot to take a picture when we plated, so I recreated with our leftovers.  Good thing I hadn't eaten all my pommes frites before I took the picture!

Can't remember what we're doing tomorrow night, but Thursday, we're watching the butchering of a pig (or at least half a pig).  I see bacon in my future.

Veal

Later last week we "studied" veal.  The head chef of the school came in on Thursday with part of a veal (it weighed about 55 pounds) and showed us how to butcher it.  Apparently butchering is becoming a lost art - there are not many true butchers around anymore.  Do you have a butcher near you?  I don't know of one, but would like to research that and find a good one.  We use a lot (and I mean a lot) of veal stock at school and veal bones are the only way to make good veal stock.  You almost have to go to a farm to get them.

Anyway, onto what we cooked...  After watching the butcher demo, we took the top round of the veal and sliced it into thin slices, called scallopini.  We pounded the slices out (looks bigger and you get more even cooking because it's pounded to an even size all around) and then breaded and pan fried them.  On top is a brown butter sage sauce.

To the side are glazed carrots.  The last time we made glazed carrots, we had to tournee them (the 7-sided cuts).  You know how much I love doing that, so I was not feeling the love on the carrots.  He surprises us with cutting them in "oblique" cuts - basically just on the diagonal.  Yay!  Much easier. 

Also to the side are Pommes Anna.  I've always seen Pommes Anna where the thinly-sliced potatoes are shaped in a dome-like shape.  These were different - just shaped in a ring and then pan fried to crispy.  Came out tasting like potato chips.  They were good, how can you go wrong with homemade potato chips?  They were not what I'd expect with veal scallopini, though.



On Saturday, we used the bottom round of the veal (it's tougher cut of meat) and made braised veal.  This is done much the same way as boeuf bourginon or coq au vin.  We are starting to see commonalities among the dishes - the techniques are the same, just subbing different ingredients.  Light bulb!!  The veal was good, but there was an addition of orange zest in the sauce, which not many in my class liked.  It was subtle, but not subtle enough.  We made our infamous rice pilaf to go alongside.



Also on Saturday, we made baguettes.  We started out making them in the Kitchen Aids, but chef nixed that - all done by hand.  It wasn't too bad.  Mine was a little denser than I liked, but it was good to soak up the sauce in the veal.  I really like making bread, so I need to practice this more.  Anyone need a baguette?  Each recipe makes about 3 loaves, even I can't eat that much.


Also on Saturday, we revisited chocolate mousse.  Actually, we didn't revisit, it was a completely new recipe.  Our last recipe had us whipping egg whites and then folding them into the chocolate batter.  This one used all of the egg and was very dense and rich.  We also used a pretty high cocoa content in the chocolate, so it was somewhat bitter (the higher the cocoa percentage, the more bitter the chocolate - 60% is a good bittersweet).  We piped the mousse into edible tulip cups that we made.  Make the batter, form it in a template, bake it and when it comes out of the oven, you immediately put it over a champagne flute to form it.  Fun!  They are thin and fragile to work with, but a very fun idea.  That's raspberry coulis underneath.



Up next - fish and chips (another classic French dish :))

Monday, May 9, 2011

Last week

Sorry for being MIA last week - whew, it was a busy week and I had no time to upload pictures or post anything.  5 weeks left in Phase 1 and then a week long break.  I can't wait!  I'm enjoying my time, but not having any downtime is wearing on me.

On Monday we made potato gnocchi.  If you've never had gnocchi, it's basically pasta, but made with potatoes instead of flour.  Blah!  Would much prefer pasta to gnocchi, although ours was a bit starchy, which may have had something to do with why I didn't like it.  It's fun to make, though and I may try it again.  We made a tomato sauce with fennel to go along with it.  It was made with both fennel and toasted fennel seeds.  Different - a bit of anise flavor to go with it.  Of course, we added a splash of Pernod to the sauce to round it out (Pernod is anise flavored liquor).  We also made a quick salad of frisee (bitter), with roasted red peppers and a vinaigrette.  The frisee was too bitter for me, but I ate the peppers.  For dessert, we made jam cookies - sandwich cookies with jam (or chocolate ganache) inside.  The top of the cookie is cut out, so you can see what's in the middle.  Sorry, I forgot to take pictures that night.

On Wednesday, we had a guest speaker, so we had a relatively easy night.  Our guest speaker was the woman from the school who does the placement for the externships.  Nothing really new, just to start to get us thinking about where we'd like to extern.  I still have no idea.  As scared as I am of working in a restaurant, I think it'll be the best training.  Hotel is another option, but could be overnight hours.  At any place, I think it'll be a lot of hours for very little pay.  Really scary to think about.

Anyway, that night we did a whole roasted chicken.  We stuffed the chicken with vegetables and lemon wedges, salt and pepper.  We then browned the whole outside in a skillet before putting it in the oven to finish cooking.  After butchering the chicken, we put the carcass and vegetables back in the skillet with some chicken stock for an au jus.

With the chicken we did mashed potatoes made with garlic confit.  The raw garlic is covered with oil and put in the oven until tender.  You can then use the garlic-infused oil or the garlic cloves.  We used the oil, which was ok, but I'd prefer using butter instead.  The flavor seemed a little funky.

We also did asparagus - nothing big - cooked, shocked then sauteed with salt and pepper.

I'm doing a separate post for Thursday and Saturday - veal days. 

Have a good week, everyone!





Saturday, April 30, 2011

Tests are done!

My second set of tests are done!  Sorry I don't have any pictures to post, but you've seen everything we made today.  I did take the day off work yesterday and practiced everything and I'm so glad I did.  I was really nervous this morning.

My morning started about an hour later than normal with our theory (written) test.  The class was divided in two and half took the theory part first and half took the practical (cooking) part first.  We had 3 hours to finish the test.  It took us about 40 minutes.  Then, we weren't able to start our practical until the other class got done, so we went out to breakfast between tests.

At noon started our practical and we had 3 hours to complete everything.  The menu was hot leek and potato soup, chicken breast with the madeira mushroom sauce, "hash browned" potatoes (called Pommes Darphin in French) and the nasty floating islands.

The biggest challenge is getting everything prepared (mis en place) before you actually start cooking - making sure you have enough pans, whisks, spoons, all your ingredients, etc.  While you can certainly go get more if you need it, you want to be as prepared as possible.  I did ok with that, but did forget some things, which caused a little damage to some dishes.

I was really nervous for some reason throughout the exam, even though I had done everything a few times before.  Completely screwed up my creme anglaise for the floating islands, but asked chef how I could recover and he helped me with that.  Points off, but not as many as if I had made it completely screwed up and hadn't asked for help.

So, how did I do?  My soup and floating islands came out very well.  My potatoes were overcooked, so a little bitter and my chicken was a little overdone, too.  My sauce had reduced too much, so was too thick.  I knew how to fix it and tried, but was afraid of ruining all the seasoning.  I felt ok when I was done, knew what I had done wrong, knew how to fix it.




I'm now off to have dinner at a French bistro with a friend of mine.  I didn't eat my meal today, so haven't eaten anything since early this morning.  I'm going to feast!  I'm so looking forward to someone else cooking!  The chef at this restaurant graduated from the school I'm going to.  I'm going to try and meet her and maybe put a bug in her ear about an externship there.  3 miles from my house?  Sweet!!

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Test week

We have tests coming up on Satuday - both theory (written) and practical.  I thought with the test, we'd take it a bit easier this week, revisiting things we've made and that could possibly be on the test.  Monday was a good example of that, but last night, wow, it was crazy!  More on that in the next post.

Please know that the pictures I take are with my phone in not the best lighting, so I know they are not the best looking pictures, but you get the idea of what I'm making.

Our entree on Monday was seared scallops over leek fondue.  The scallops were pretty straightforward - seasoning and oil and then add some butter to the pan when they are searing.  Love scallops - could have eaten a lot more than the three shown.  The leek fondue was basically braised leeks.  Great side dish and really good with the sort of salty scallops. 

We started out with leek and potato soup.  This will most likely be on the test, either hot or cold (which is vichyssoise).  A good easy soup - tastes just like the title, both leeks and potatoes.  We have this heavy duty blender at the school which is what we puree our soups in.  They are about $400-$500, but wow, do they do an amazing job of pureeing!  Finish the soup with some cream and you're all set.

Finally, we made brownies.  Pretty straightforward, but they were good, not cloyingly sweet.  The one does look like it has a bite out of it, because I forgot to take the picture before chef came and tasted.  He just broke the piece off, but it does look like a perfect bite though.

Happy Thursday, everyone!  I'll post more about my overwhelming adventure last night.  I think I'm still sweating from it!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Duck two ways

We made duck a couple times last week.  I'm not really a big fan of duck - it's too rich for me, but in small portions, it's not bad.  Wednesday night we made Duck a l'orange - duck in orange sauce.  The sauce starts by making caramel and then adding vinegar to it.  The fumes when you add the vinegar were really intense, you need to step back or your nostrils will get cleaned out!  The sauce is finished with orange juice.  We then seared the duck breast and served the sauce on top.  Yes, that is fat on top of the duck slices below.  It's seared, so crisy, but like I said, too rich for me.

Alongside the duck, we made French Peas - peas with onions, lettuce and bacon.  We cooked ours just a bit too long, but the flavor was very good.  I would make this again because I love peas. 

Finally, we made dough and rolled it out in tarts for a zucchini and tomato tart.  I was rushed with mine and didn't put enough tomatoes and zucchini in, and it reduces down, so I was a little short.  For my palate, I could have used more Parmesan on it, too.  There was Parmesan underneath the vegetables, too, but still not enough.  There's never too much cheese in my mind.


On Saturday, we made duck confit.  Do you know what duck confit is?  It's duck braised in duck fat.  Basically, you take the duck legs, completely submerged them in liquid duck fat and put it in the oven for about 3 hours until tender.  Then you sear the leg to get it crispy.  It was not as bad as I thought it would be, but I won't be ordering it anytime soon.

Alongside the duck, we made braised cabbage and apples.  This is a sort of sweet and sour cabbage dish.  I thought it was good, much better than I thought it would be.


We also made Gran Marnier souffles.  Mine fell a bit because it had sat for just a bit too long before I took the picture.  Souffles are weird to me.  Pretty, but they are very eggy-tasting.  It would not be my first dessert choice, although I guess it's rare to find them on a menu because they have to be made to order and there are a few steps to getting them made, none of which can be done ahead of time.  Eggy though it was, it didn't stop me from eating almost the entire thing.


Finally, we made foccacia.  Had I known how easy it is to make, I would have been making it years ago.  Of course, it's probably good that I didn't know how easy it was to make.  Great bread for soup or an appetizer.  Yum!


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Class interrupted

I'm interrupting my normal school menu to show you the beautiful brioche I made last weekend.  I made two loaves and one little round brioche (the typical way to make them).  I sliced this, cut rounds out of the slices and made mini BLTs to take to church on Sunday for the volunteers.  I love this dough.


Mini BLTs are a great appetizer, by the way, if you're looking for something a little different.  You can use any bread, doesn't have to be brioche.  Fry up some bacon and break into small pieces, cut up some cherry tomatoes and lettuce and put them all together.  I weighted mine with a plate, instead of putting a toothpick through them, just because I was transporting them.  They were fun - a little time consuming, but fun.  Sorry I don't have a picture of the BLTs.

Here's another view:

Monday, April 25, 2011

MIA

Sorry I’ve been missing in action for the past week. Things are a bit too crazy! I do have updates and even pictures, but I don’t have the pictures with me, so I’ll do the update and post the pictures when I have them.

Last Monday we did a bluefish with white wine sauce on top of julienned carrots and leeks. Bluefish is a firmer fish, with kind of a fishy taste to it. Not my favorite, but it wasn’t bad. I did like the Chablis sauce served over the fish. It had a lot of flavor to it and was good with the vegetables. On the side of the bluefish, we did a sauté of spinach and garlic and couscous. For dessert we did chocolate mousse. Unfortunately, we overstirred the egg whites into the mousse, so, it ended up very chocolatey and dense. Mousse is supposed to be very light, but ours was very fudgy. It was still good, but a real chocolate overload!
Here's the mousse:

and the bluefish with couscous and sauteed spinach



On Wednesday, we did a 180 of Monday’s menu – flank steak on the grill with a Bordeaux sauce. The sauce was made with bacon, mushrooms, red wine and herbs. Yum! I bought a flank steak on Friday to repeat the menu, but I didn’t get a chance to cook it over the weekend. Hopefully next weekend! Too bad I don’t have a grill, I would love to do it on a grill rather than the grill pan, but the sauce is really what makes the meal, so I’m ok with the grill pan. With the steak, we did a potato dish with thinly sliced potatoes and caramelized onions, cooked until tender. I love caramelized onions and thought these were good. Chef thought our flavors were good, but our potatoes weren’t cooked enough. Practice item! Finally, for dessert we made a coconut macaroon. Simple recipe and for not liking coconut, they were surprisingly good! I was going to make them over the weekend, but the stores were out of coconut! (Easter and Passover must have had everyone baking with coconut).

Since I can’t remember much of what we did on Thursday or Saturday – all the days are running together, I will stop and repost tomorrow with pictures.
Happy Monday, everyone!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Picture Saturday

I finally remembered to bring my camera (or at least my phone) into class so I could snap some pictures of what we had made.

We started out the day making Naan, the Indian flatbread.  We made half using these onion seeds and half without.  The onion seeds did not taste good to me or to most people in the class, I think.  The Naan turned out well, although chef said it was a little flat.  This comes from rolling the dough rather than shaping it (think pizza dough).  All of us ate at one long table today and our Naan got rave reviews from the other students, so I was happy about that.


Along with the Naan, we also made the classic French dish, Chicken Curry.  Ha!  I don't know if I've said, but when we write our daily menus, we have to write our recipe titles in French.  There wasn't even a translation for Chicken Curry, we just wrote it "Chicken Curry".  In any case, it was very good.  Ours ended up not being very spicy and a little darker than it should have been, but it tasted very good, I thought.  We had a bit of a problem because our sauce had reduced way too much and by that point, it's hard to add more liquid without diluting the spices in the dish.  And, you don't want to just add more spices because they don't really get cooked into the dish.  Brian, my teammate had a great idea to add the spices to extra chicken stock and cook it down a bit and then add it into the dish.  Worked great, we just needed a little more heat in the dish.

Alongside the curry, we made basmati rice with many of the same spices and also some saffron.  

I really enjoyed this meal and have all the ingredients to make the chicken curry for dinner tonight (and lunches this week).



Finally, we made apple beignets.  When I think of beignets, I think of the classics at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans.  These were nothing like that.  Basically, ours were battered apple rings that we deep fried, more like an apple fritter of sorts.  The batter is interesting, made with yeast, beer and whipped egg whites, among other things.  When they come out of the fryer, you sprinkle them with cinnamon sugar.  Good, but weird.  As you can see, we made our beignets square - trying to stand out.



I have to work on my paper on cinnamon, which is due tomorrow.  In two weeks, we have our second set of exams (both practical and theory).  Hoping for the best.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Risotto!

We made risotto last night. What’s not to love about risotto? It’s starchy, like pasta and you add a good amount of cheese in it, along with other goodies if you want. The only thing is it takes about 20 minutes of almost constant stirring, so it’s a little labor intensive, but so worth it in the end. We added sautéed mushrooms in ours, along with Parmesan cheese and butter. Nice and creamy. Mine was a little undercooked, so had a bit too much bite to it. I will be practicing this one again this weekend! The only problem with practicing it is it doesn’t hold or reheat well, so to make a batch, I might have to waste some. I’m really adverse to wasting cooked food!

Along with the risotto, we made tomato soup. I have a really good tomato soup recipe that I make at home. I didn’t think the one we made last night was as good, but it was good. He said we needed to add a few more onions to the mix to round out the flavor, but it was good. Just not as good as mine.

For dessert, we made Linzer Tart. This is a classic dessert of pastry filled with raspberry jam and then topped with a lattice crust top. This was a new dough that we worked with. The problem that we have in the time that we have is that doughs and things cannot chill properly. In a restaurant (or at home), it would be much easier because you can take the time to chill things like they need to. When we can only chill for about 20 minutes (instead of at least an hour), it makes the doughs harder to work with. But, ours came out pretty well. However! when we make our tarts, we use small tart pans and we don’t use the bottom round in the pans (it really helps the tart bottom to brown better). So, we place the tart pans on a baking sheet lined with parchment and then fill our dough on the sheet. Well, we were a little behind last night, pulling our tarts out of the oven just before service. I went to transfer mine from the baking sheet to the plate and what happens? The whole tart fell through the bottom of the tart pan right onto the table! At least it wasn’t the floor! I got a spatula and scooped it onto the plate. The shape of the tart around the rim held, so I put that on the plate and put the guts inside. Chef’s comment? That’s a hard dough to work with! Uh, yeah, especially when you make a stupid move and try to move a bottomless tart pan without something to support it.

Tonight’s menu is a mystery. By the way, I'm going to start bringing my camera to class to take pictures of our finished dishes, so you can see something rather than just reading the drabble. Happy Thursday, everyone!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Another fish and more

Our menu on Monday was not difficult, but was time consuming.

We started out making “American Pie Dough”. We’ve made several doughs now, and this is just a variation on others that we’ve made. The others we have made are all butter, but this one had Crisco, along with butter, in it. It definitely makes for a flakier crust, although I’m not sure it’s so much flaky, as it is crumbly. It was hard to work with and did crumble when we removed it from the tart pans.

While the dough was chilling, we made lemon curd. I’ve made lemon curd at home before, but this was a bigger quantity than I’ve made. The recipe calls for 2 cups of lemon juice and yep, we do squeeze our own lemons. I would guess at least 30 lemons were used. Squeezing lemons is not a fun thing to do when your fingers have microcuts on them (or hangnails). A tip is to microwave the lemon for about 15 seconds before cutting them open to get the most juice out of them. I think rolling them on your cutting board firmly before cutting them does the same thing, which is what I generally do. I knew the curd would take a long time to make – you have to heat the mixture until thick, stirring constantly. It takes a good 15 or 20 minutes to do this. So, while I squeezed lemons and made the curd, my table partner did pretty much everything else.

Our first course was vichyssoise, cold leek and potato soup. We made the hot version a few weeks ago, which I liked much better. I’m not a big fan of cold soup, it always seems like a surprise to me when I taste it, even when I know it’s cold.

Our main course was tilapia with brown butter almond sauce on top. We’ve made similar sauce for other fish entrees, but I liked the addition of the toasted almonds in this one. Someone in the class had made rice pilaf to go alongside.

The lemon curd and pie dough was used to make lemon meringue tarts. Once you have the components, all you need to do is make the meringue and then use the torch to get it brown. The class experimented with how much sugar to add to the egg whites and also used granulated or confectioners sugar to see any differences. We used half granulated and half confectioners at my table. It was a bit sweet, but ok. I liked the lemon curd and tart shell together, could leave the meringue.

I like my table partner that I have this week. He’s the same person who I worked with on the open house last month. We work well together, which always makes me feel better.

I have a “term paper” due on Monday on Cinnamon. We were all assigned a spice to research and that’s the one I got. I haven’t done research much since college, when you had to go to the library and look at a bunch of books (after taking a nap in the carrel, of course). It’s much easier now that we have that thing called the Internet! But, it’s a full paper, bibliography and everything and then we have to give a 5 minute presentation in class about it. Yahoo.

Have a good Wednesday, everyone! I think we are making risotto tonight. My stirring arm is becoming very strong.

Monday, April 11, 2011

In a (long) nutshell

I missed posting some days last week, mostly because I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about much that we turned out. It’s not that it wasn’t good, it’s just not my preference.

So, here’s a little recap of last week:

Wednesday we started with pound cake because that required the longest cooking time. I usually think of pound cake as pretty dense, but this one was nice and light. Maybe it was because everything was started at room temperature or warm, but I would use this recipe again (topped with strawberries and whipped cream, of course).

Our first course was puree of carrot soup. The pureed vegetable soups are all exactly the same, just the different main vegetable. I like carrots and even cooked carrots, so I did like the soup, but it wasn’t one that made me want more than a bowl. I was thinking it would be pretty to have the carrot soup with the pea soup swirled around the center or the outer rim of the bowl for a little contrasting color. In my kitchen someday…

We also made ham and cheese omelettes. Nothing too exciting, although the final plating has the omelette rolled, almost like a burrito, instead of just folded over. One of my omelettes got a bit too done, but was salvageable. They were good – tasted like an omelette.

To go with the omelettes, we had glazed potatoes. These were just regular potatoes, with just a little tournee on them and then roasted with butter and chicken stock to make the glaze. They were good – I prefer hash browns with my eggs.

On Thursday our menu was cream of asparagus soup, trout (that we had to dehead and filet), gnocchis Roman-style and chocolate chip cookies. The trout was served with a browned butter and lemon and caper sauce. The gnocchis are interesting – it’s almost like polenta, but you use semolina flour instead of cornmeal. Then you put it in a pan and let it set. Once set, you top with a tomato-mushroom sauce and bake it until brown. I think that would have been a good side to Wednesday’s omelettes. The chocolate chip cookies were nothing great. All this money spent on school and they show us how to make mediocre chocolate chip cookies. My usual recipe (the one from the New York Times) is much better. Again, when I have my own kitchen…

On Saturday, we made a variation of the asparagus soup. This one had less cream in it and I liked it much better. The asparagus flavor really came through.

The main course was pork medallions served with a reduced stock and sage sauce over the top. Served alongside was ratatouille. This is a good dish to make to practice your knife cuts, since all the vegetables have to be the same size. I like ratatouille, although I’m not sure I’d order it out. Next time I see it on a menu, I’m going to order it to see how the knife skills are!

For dessert we made a pear tart with puff pastry. I think I wrote how we did the pear tarts last week. These use the same filling ingredients (almond cream and poached pears), but it’s encased in puff pastry. It’s a pretty presentation. I liked the tarts last week better.

We spent an hour with the head chef in our beef class, learning different cuts, etc. I think veal comes next, followed by lamb.

Afterwards, we met individually with the head chef (he’s the owner/founder of the school) to talk about grades, attendance, complaints, etc. All is good in that area for me.

As we were meeting individually, the class was watching the chef demo a dessert called “Floating Islands”. This is puffs of soft meringue floating on crème anglaise and then topped with spun sugar. If you didn’t know, crème anglaise is French Vanilla ice cream that has been melted down. Conversely, if you make French Vanilla ice cream, you start with crème anglaise. My partner and I curdled our first attempt at crème anglaise (sweet scrambled eggs, anyone?), so we made it again and it ended up tasting like sweetened condensed milk. An item to practice.

We also did our first attempt at spun sugar. You make caramel and then basically let it drip from a fork, while you pull it. Again, an item to practice…

So, there you have it in a long nutshell. Nothing too exciting, but all good techniques that I will need to know.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Favorite

I have to say, though an odd combination, last night’s menu has been one of my favorites so far. I’ve really liked a lot of what we’ve made, but last night’s menu was one that I would order out.

We started the night by de-fatting chicken necks and backs because we are learning how to make chicken stock. I think we did 80 pounds of chicken, which ends up in an 80 gallon, or bigger, container. Every night when we come into class, that container is going with either chicken stock or veal stock being made. The stock we use is really good, no canned or boxed can compare, but it takes quite a bit of time to make and you need a lot of chicken or veal bones.

After that, we returned to the classroom and watched Chef Frank (our instructor) demonstrate our menu for the evening. He usually does the demo and we taste and then we recreate what he has done.

The first item was cleaning and cooking artichokes. What a pain in the neck that is! The artichokes were cooked in a broth of water, lemons and spices. Once cooked, you finish cleaning them, cut the hearts out and we used them in a simple salad with greens, artichokes, mushrooms, which had been cooked with the artichokes, so they were sort of marinated and a vinaigrette. Good? Yes. Worth the work? The jury is still out.

The next thing we did was Les Moules – mussels. Yum! I love mussels and will typically order them if they are on the menu somewhere. First we had to debeard the mussels and go through them for the dead ones. Once that was done, they were steamed in a white wine broth with shallots and garlic and olive oil. We also made diced tomatoes and onions on the side, sauteed them and then added them to the bouillon after the mussels had steamed to finish the broth. The mussels were really meaty and good, although just a bit gritty. The broth turned out fantastic. I would make these at home or for company, if I knew they ate mussels.

The last item on the menu was – wait for it – French fries! Cut potatoes into strips, and fry them twice. Top with salt and parsley. Wow, they were good. Almost makes me want to go get a fryer, but easily done on the stove with a thermometer.

At the end of the night, we completed the ingredients for the chicken stock. It simmers for about 8 hours and then is strained to remove all the solids. When the solids are removed, you can’t lift the bag out of the garbage, it’s too heavy. We end up with about 6-8 gallons of stock from everything that is put in.

Tonight is a night off and he didn’t give us our menu for tomorrow, so it’s a surprise.

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Another good Saturday

I've said this before - Saturdays are nice and a little more relaxed. Today was the same. We usually have service around 12:30 or so and then we are instructed by the head chef of the school on meats - different cuts, how they are served, etc. Sometimes it's hard to stay awake, but it's really informative, and information I will definitely use. He wasn't there today, so we were back in the kitchen for a bit this afternoon.

Today's menu was a lovely vegetable soup, along with coq au vin and an apple tart and tourneed potatoes (the 7 sided ones - I'm getting better at them, considering how many times we've made them!). We work in tables of 2 or 3. My table today had 3 of us and we worked very well together. We each took one of the items and were responsible for that one, although we helped each other out, tasted everything as we went along, so that it all came together. I've never been one to taste as I'm cook, but I'm realizing how important it is - that's how you get the proper seasoning. So, I encourage you to taste as you go. You won't be sorry!

My main responsibility was for the vegetable soup. The hardest part was dicing (same size!!) all of the vegetables - turnips, leeks, carrots, celery, potatoes and then adding cabbage, green beans (or we used peas instead) and some bacon. Once everything was diced, you started with the bacon, just to get the flavor going, add all the vegetables, the chicken stock and then let it simmer until the vegetables are done. I love the cream soups, but this was so nice and tasty. It's more of a winter soup because of the types of vegetables, but easily adaptable to summer. While I would make the soup again, I did get a blister on my finger from chopping all of those diced vegetables!

My classmate, Joan, did the coq au vin. We've made it before and I really like it (we "revisited" it). It's a chicken stew with a good amount of red wine added. You finish it with sauteed mushrooms, pearl onions and bacon. It's French cooking - you get butter, cream, eggs and bacon in almost every dish. The chicken is braised in the oven with the red wine and chicken stock (and vegetables) for a good amount of time until the chicken is done and the sauce has reduced. I liked it so much, I'm going to make it again tomorrow.

Another classmate, Samantha, did the apple tart - Tart Tatin. You make caramel, lay the apple wedges in it and then top with dough and put it in the oven until the dough is done. When it's done, you flip it onto a plate, so it's basically upside down apple tart because the crust is on the bottom. We used puffed pastry for our dough because we had it in the freezer. It was very good, but I would have included cinnamon in the recipe. Apparently, the French don't like cinnamon too much, which is why we didn't include it. It would have also been wonderful with some cinnamon whipped cream or cinnamon ice cream.

In the afternoon, we made the rest of our Madeleine cookies with our dough from the other night. They were so good that I came home tonight and made the dough for them. It's chilling now and I'll bake them off in the morning and take them to church to hand out. Can't keep that kind of thing laying around here, I'd eat them all!

Like I said, a good day. Tomorrow I'm going to make the coq au vin and am also going to make shrimp ravioli. Next week is stock week at school - learning how to make chicken stock and veal stock.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

I'm still full!

Last night’s menu included shrimp ravioli with a cream sauce and Madeleines for dessert. I am still full just thinking about it.

We started with the Madeleines. I’m sure you’ve seen them if you’ve ever been in Starbucks, they are those cookies that are shaped like shells. If you’ve never had one, they are sort of a cakey cookie, but they are baked in that shell pan (Madeleine pan) until golden. You make the dough and chill it, so it forms better in the mold, which is why we started with them. When they had baked, we put a lemon glaze on them. You can also dip them in chocolate, or make the cookie a different flavor by adding different extracts. They are very pretty, although a bit of work to get them in and out of the pans.

Then we worked on our sauce for the pasta. It ended up being a very flavorful alfredo-like sauce. While the sauce was cooking we rolled our pasta out and filled it with the shrimp filling to make the ravioli. Once the ravioli had been cooked, we added them to the sauce to cover. Both components were very good, but I would have liked the sauce better over plain pasta and a lighter sauce over the ravioli. I do need to practice my ravioli making, also. While good, they came out a bit too thin. Really bummed that I’m going to have to make shrimp ravioli again this weekend to practice. I can experiment with different sauces. May make some cheese ravioli, too and stick them in the freezer.

Tonight we get our tests back, both our written test and our scores from our practical exam, which we took last week. He said we all did well, so I’m anxious to see that. Also, we were all assigned a spice that we have to do research on and a 1,000-word paper. I have to research “cinnamon”. Do you think I should post pictures of Robert and Chris eating snickerdoodles, which are made with cinnamon?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A classic

Last night’s menu was Boeuf Bourguignon served with mashed potatoes and a pear tart.

When you think of French cooking, Boeuf Bourguignon generally comes to a lot of people’s minds. I think it was one of Julia Child’s classic recipes. It’s really just beef stew with copious amount of red wine in the sauce and then braised for hours to make the beef tender and the sauce bold. It was outstanding! We served ours over mashed potatoes with copious amounts of butter included. I think there was more butter in the potatoes than there was wine in the beef sauce. I’m not a huge mashed potato fan, but, I have to say, they were GOOD and served with the beef gravy, I couldn’t think of a much better meal. Egg noodles are traditionally served on the side of the beef, but we didn’t have time to make pasta last night, so we did the potatoes instead.

Because that wasn’t enough, we also made a pear tart. Sweet dough for the crust, topped with an almond filling and then poached pears on top. The filling makes a little soufflé up around the top of the pears. So good! I may have to experiment with different seasonal fruits – can see using blueberries or raspberries or peaches. I’m sort of drooling thinking about it. I was thinking last night that a little amaretto whipped cream on top would compliment the almond filling and would complete the dish. It was a fun night, although a little rushed, because the beef takes so long to cook, but the results were worth it.

Wednesday’s menu right now looks to be shrimp filled ravioli and Madeline’s. He said he might throw in a salad for us, too. Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Saturdays

Saturdays are usually a little easier at school because we have 8 hours instead of 4, like during the week. It doesn’t mean we’re any less busy, but we do have a little more time, usually, to get things done. This past Saturday was pretty easy because we had already made two of the items before (the chef calls this “revisiting”). One thing I like about this class is it includes baking, too, so I feel like I will be well-rounded in my culinary skills when I finish, but I will also be a little rounder, because I have such a sweet tooth, I tend to eat the desserts, as evidenced by the two strawberry tarts that I ate over the weekend! At least they were eaten 24 hours apart.

Saturday started out with making a white veal stew (Blanquette De Veau Aux Champignon in French if you are wondering). I would compare it to a stroganoff, although you finish it with heavy cream, instead of sour cream. We used veal in class, but I made it on Sunday, too and used stew meat. It was just as good. What I liked about it compared to stroganoff was that you caramelize the mushrooms and the pearl onions separately, so while there are more pans, you have a lot of flavor in the finished dish.

We also made a potato-leek soup. We served ours hot, but if it were cold, it would be vichyssoise. These cream soups are incredibly easy to make, basically cooking the vegetables, blending to puree, returning to heat and adding some cream and seasonings. Probably good that I didn’t know about this before as I love soup and I shouldn’t eat too many cream soups. On top of the soup, we served a mélange of julienned leeks, carrots and celery, which had been wilted in butter. A nice first course.

In between that, we made a Pate Sucre, a sweet dough that is the crust to the strawberry tarts. We’ve made this before and I love this dough – it’s really forgiving and you can patch it up when it gets in the pan if it needs to be. To me it tastes a little bit like a sugar cookie. Once baked, the tarts are filled with pastry cream and topped with fresh strawberries and an apricot glaze.

After eating some of the soup and the stew, I couldn’t eat the tarts, so I did bring them home, although we’re not supposed to take food off campus, and had one Saturday night and one Sunday night.

There is a woman at work going through chemotherapy, and I’ve been hired by my group to cook for her. She’s requested just a few meals at a time, so I made a few meals for her yesterday, as part of my personal chef business. I did macaroni and cheese with a side of roasted green beans, a Dijon crusted pork tenderloin with a side of butternut squash with fresh sage and the veal stew, using the beef stew meat instead of the veal. I got a chance to practice the stew, which is nice and I made enough so I could put some in my freezer for lunches this week.

A new week starts. Word is that we are doing boeuf bourguignon tonight – the classic beef stew with red wine. Someone sent me pictures from our open house last week, so I’ll get those posted on here so you can see what we did. Lots of good food. Have a good week, everyone!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Fileting a fish

Last night in class, we deboned (boned?) a flounder. It's a flat fish, so easy to feel the bones and there are no (or few) pin bones to pull out. I did ok - need practice, but it was the first time I've even seen it done. We lightly pan-fried the filets and topped it with a brown butter, lemon and parsley sauce and then topped that with demi-glace (really reduced veal stock).

Alongside the fish, we served duchess potatoes. These are basically twice baked potatoes, but piped with a star tip instead of refilling the shell and then baked off again. Good, but tasted like twice baked potatoes.

We also make English Pea Soup. I love peas, so I really enjoyed this. You add bacon flavoring to the soup, so it's a bit smoky along with the bright pea taste. It's a thick soup and mine ended up a bit too thick, but it was enjoyable and filling. Just need a little cup of it as a starter.

Nice to have an evening at home - have a little school work to do, but I'm home and can get to bed early. Expecting snow on Sunday - ugh! Guess it will be a good day to stay home and cook.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

My first exam

I had my first practical, hands-on test last night. I was nervous going into it, even though I knew most of the items we would be preparing and had stayed home on Tuesday to practice.

When I got to the exam, we were told to prepare the items that we knew about, but also we had to do vinaigrette, which was not surprising, and also various cuts of vegetables. Cut size is important to ensure even cooking. I’ve heard of chefs coming through with a ruler to make sure they are all exact sizes. Luckily, I did not have that! We had to cut both carrots and celery in the 3 different sizes that he requested.
The other items on the test were: cream puffs (both the dough and the cream filling), hollandaise sauce, rice pilaf, boiled potatoes that have to be cut in a certain way called tournee (like a football with 7 sides). They should end up looking like this (mine only slightly did, a definite practice item for me). I’m not sure what the purpose of doing this is, other than looking pretty.

picture from eGullet.com

Like I said, I was nervous going into the test and I’m not sure my nerves ever went completely away until he tasted everything. There were a few things I did wrong, but he said they were fixable, so while I got points off, all was not lost. My worst thing was the cream puffs. I knew when I was piping them that they would not puff well, but at that point, I couldn’t fix them. He told me how to alleviate that problem in the future, so I’ll be making those again – people are going to get sick of me making cream puffs!

The highlight of the night was my rice pilaf. He tasted it and said it was the best one he had tasted all night. There’s a process to it (not just dumping rice and water into a pan and boiling it), but you also have to make sure you have the seasonings right. I guess I did – yay!

So, tonight is back to regular class where we will be learning new recipes, new techniques. I’m beginning to feel a little more confident in class that I can really do this!

The very odd thing about all of this is how many personal chef and teaching classes I’m getting asked to do! Where were all these people when I wasn’t gone from my house 18 hours a day??

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I conquered Hollandaise!

I stayed home from work today to practice for my practical exam tomorrow. We are making rice pilaf, tournered potatoes (tourner means that you have to cut the potato into 7 sides, looking like a football), cream puffs (the dough and the cream) and hollandaise sauce. The few times that I've made hollandaise, it has always broken or separated and after one failed attempt today, I finally got it right! Yay! Hopefully I will be able to do the same tomorrow night for my test.

In addition to making all my exam items, I also made some Thin Mint strudels - Thin Mints crumbs mixed with cream cheese and put inside of puff pastry. I had made puff pastry over the weekend, so I wanted to experiment with it. Well, it puffed alright! I think I didn't roll it out thin enough, but it made me laugh when I pulled them out of the oven.


There were one of two good looking ones, and I'm sure they taste good.








Sunday, March 20, 2011

Time Flies

Wow, has it really been 6 weeks since I posted last? I've decided I need to take more pictures (or any pictures!) of the things I make at home (usually reproduced from class). I have this nice camera, I need to remember to use it.

Class is going well, although it's overwhelming. Home cooking and cooking professionally are two very different things. I'm feeling a little better in class, but I still get a little bit of a nervous stomach every class day. My classmates are good, we are all in the same boat and feel just as overwhelmed. I'm glad it's not just me!

This past Saturday, the school had an open house for prospective students and also we could invite friends and family. There were about 150 people there and we made about 2,300 appetizers to feed them. I was paired with my classmate, Brian. He's young and works in a restaurant, so he's kind of used to the pace of the kitchen. He was a lot of fun to work with. The two of us were tasked with making three different items:
1) shrimp cocktail (shrimp cooked in a court bouillon of water, salt, lemon, pickling spices, white wine and white wine vinegar) with house made cocktail sauce;
2) Blue cheese spread canapes - blue cheese spread garnished with red grapes (quartered) and toasted slivered almonds. The blue cheese spread was on toasted brioche that we had made last week.
If you like blue cheese, pair it with red grapes, the salty and burst of sweet from the grapes is a wonderful combination.
3) Roasted pork belly confit with an apicius sauce. If you've never had pork belly, we've deemed it bacon's better cousin and you should try it. We skewered thick cuts of pork belly confit (essentially bacon), that we seared off and then topped with a raisin, apricot chutney (the apicius sauce). People loved them and they were the first item to go (even before the shrimp cocktail). The salty pork belly with the sweetness of the chutney was so good.

Other than that, I'm learning a ton in school - we've made everything from chocolate tarts to coq au vin to eggs benedict and we have a long way to go. My first practical exam is on Wednesday, where we will have to cook three items for the chef to taste - chef selects what we are going to make. We are graded on taste and presentation. A little nervous about it, but I can only do what I can do. I'm taking Tuesday off of work to practice.

I'll get some pictures up soon. Brian took some of all the platters that were made on Saturday, so you can see the spread. We had good reviews, but I'm hoping we haven't set the bar too high for ourselves!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Welcome!

There are so many food-related blogs out there, it's hard to keep up with all of them. With my time about to become very precious, I thought this might be a good way to keep up with family and friends, to let them know what's going on with me. I'll try to post pictures when I can.

Today is Super Bowl Sunday. Go Packers!