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


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


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.