Sunday, December 4, 2011
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Some non-class pictures coming soon.
Monday, May 30, 2011
My table made grilled zucchini roulades with goat cheese topped with a balsamic reduction. A bit of work, but very tasty.
Sunday, May 29, 2011
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
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
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.
Saturday, May 14, 2011
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!
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
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.
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
Saturday, April 30, 2011
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
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Monday, April 25, 2011
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:
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
Thursday, April 14, 2011
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Thursday, March 24, 2011
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.
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??