Monday, December 5, 2011

Outstanding at Station 1

Tonight I was given the opportunity to assist the Station 1 chefs at on offsite event called Outstanding In The Field, located at Pie Ranch, in Pescadero. It was a great night of fabulous food, wonderful people, on a beautiful farm setting.  The simple and organic dining room was set for 150 people inside the barn, with white lights strung across the barn ceiling, and bins of farm grown pumpkins linger along the back wall....just gorgeous....

Service started out with hors d'oeuvres, which I was told was about a mile up the road from the barn and make-shift kitchen area. So I hung out down the road and waited for chef, and had a very interesting chat with Marc, who works for Outstanding In The Field. He had a great story to tell about his travels with what he calls his team of "Culinary Gypsies", as they mostly travel together in the "Outstanding" bus, from town to town.

After the hors d'oeuvres were served and enjoyed, the guests came back down the road to enjoy some wine, and wait for their next plate, which was the seasonal appropriate Beet Salad. Head Chef Ryan got a good start on plating, which I got a shot of here....(but somehow did not get a shot of the finished plate)

The next plate was the wildly popular browned butter corn bread with sauteed chanterelle's and black garlic. I loved the plate because I just love corn bread, and my all time favorite food is mushrooms. So, to combine the two, to me is simply divine. Even though this dish would have been my favorite, I think we were all surprised to hear that people were requesting another serving of the dish. We must have plated up another 5 or so chanterelle dishes!

The entree course was what chef referred to as the "Pork Mountain". It was a sautee of butter bean and escarole, topped with house made pork sausage, and medallions of pork shoulder and pork loin. It literally was a pork mountain, topped with chervil and edible flowers (I don't recall the name of the flowers, but they were quite tasty themselves)....

Dessert by Chef Clara was a Pine Needle Panna Cotta with Smoked Bacon Caramel, and Pine Nut Cocoa Nib Crumble. I was not witness to much of Chef Clara's work on her dish, as by this time the temperature dropped dramatically and those of us who weren't busy plating, were hovered around the fire that was slowly dying in the grill.

As the meal winded down, we were asked to enter the barn to make an appearance to the dining guests, and we were thrilled to feel the warmth of the heat lamps, and then to see the smiles on peoples faces. They applauded the chefs, and were given the opportunity to ask a few questions. Of course, there were questions of the newly famous corn bread and chanterelle dish. People wanted the recipe to Ryan's Grandmother's Corn Bread, which should soon be posted on their Facebook page (hint, hint, Ryan!).... and people also asked about the black garlic on the dish, in how that was prepared. Even I hadn't known this, but they were fermented, (not roasted as I had assumed). It was quite fantastic to see that dish become the favorite, because we had been working on obtaining, cleaning, drying, and cooking those chanterelle's all week. What seemed to be the behind the scenes star in the kitchen, became the star of the meal.

And last but certainly not least, the chefs of Station 1....Ryan, Clara, Alex, Mike and Andrew....

Friday, November 11, 2011

Week 1 at Station 1: My Culinary Externship

Well I am happy to announce that I have survived my first week as a culinary extern at an amazing little restaurant called Station 1, in Woodside, CA. If you don't know about Station 1, and you are in any way interested in food, you should get to know them. I hadn't heard about them until a former classmate told me that I should look at them for my externship, because he thought their food sounded like a good fit for me. They are all about operating sustainably, using only local organic ingredients, with a dynamic menu and a warm and inviting atmosphere. 

Upon my first call to the restaurant, I was able to speak with head chef, Ryan Harris. He welcomed my call, and that is when I learned that he too is a graduate of CCA. Meant to be??? Maybe!!  He invited me to the restaurant for a brief introduction, and after a quick tour of the kitchen and a nice chat with chef, I was immediately impressed with the kitchen and just simply had a good feeling about it. Chef Ryan invited me back to do a stage on the following Saturday night, which just happened to be their one year anniversary event. 

I was definitely nervous about the idea of working in such a kitchen, but I was confident that once I got there, that all would be right with the world. And it was. Everyone there at Station I, from the owners, the chefs, and all the staff, are kind and welcoming, and almost always with a smile on their faces. People are happy to be there, and so was I. 

It was a fun night, filled with all sorts of beautiful foods whizzing about, watching the wait staff flutter in and out of the kitchen and back out to the dining room, and watching the five amazing chefs produce some truly beautiful plates. Chef Ryan took the time to chat with me and help me to understand some of their ingredients, and some of their cooking processes. He offered that I taste many of the foods, which I was pretty excited about....even the sweetbreads. Which were absolutely delicious, btw! I was excitedly impressed with the use of modern techniques that chef Ryan is so excellent at. And it really shows in his food. Creative but not overdone. 

After surviving my stage, I was welcomed back to the restaurant to extern for the next 6 weeks. Yay! I didn't totally make a fool of myself! Whew! I was relieved, excited, and then the nervous started to creep in....

But, again, it didn't last long. As soon as I got back into the kitchen, I felt, mostly, at ease. It is comforting to me that chef Ryan actually cares that I learn a lot during my time there. He takes the time to point things out to me, show me around, help me out. I don't feel like a burden hanging around the kitchen. And I was pleasantly surprised that chef had me plating at the garde manger station on my first night! And so it has been, each night this week, I get to assist with the prepping of foods, setting up for service, and plating at the garde manger station. And just tonight, I received a very nice compliment from one of the owners, in that my pear plate was "really nice".  Awesome! 

So in case you couldn't tell, I am very excited and feel very lucky to have been welcomed in to the kitchen there at Station 1. And I am looking forward to the next five weeks!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Last Dance at CCA

Gingered Carrot Latkes with Apple Jalapeno Salsa
So it is here, our very last night of class at the California Culinary Academy. Tonight was bittersweet, with many mixed emotions. I am excited and definitely feeling that it is time to move on. But I will certainly miss the school, walking the hallways, the chef instructors and students. There is a positive energy to the place, and I will miss all of it....maybe except for the dish pit in our last class...I really hated that dish pit!

These last few nights were focused on our final competencies, written final, and preparing for our final dishes. We had a competency on tournes, rice pilaf, and a sauce competency on the makings of a hollandaise sauce, beurre blanc, and a demi-based sauce. I had to go back through my notes to remember how each was made, since I haven't made them in some time now. 

We had 30 minutes to complete the three sauces. When chef called time, we all quickly got to work. I started my demi based sauce first, Sauce Robert. And that came together beautifully. I then got to work on my beurre blanc, using a technique taught to us by our former chef Dan, it is much easier than the traditional whisking method. However, I let my sauce get too hot, and it broke. Bummer! By this time, I realized I only had 8 minutes left! So I quickly started my hollandaise sauce, and I whipped that together with no problem....which was kind of a miracle because hollandaise is NOT an easy sauce to make. Once that was done, I quickly started a new beurre blanc, using this time an even newer technique in which I didn't use cubes of butter, but rather used a half pound of butter and simply stirred that around in the pan. The sauce was really coming together wonderfully, but I ran out of time, and had to pull it before it was really thick enough. I did get two points off, one point for my hollandaise not having enough lemon (I disagreed), and one point for my beurre blanc not being thick enough (agreed). So overall I was happy with my sauces, and with my grade. And then it was time to get back to work on preparing for our finals dishes...
Grilled Tofu with Thai Peanut Ginger Sauce and Cucumber Pineapple Salad
African Ginger Cake with Ginger Ice Cream and Caramel Sauce
Our finals dishes was to consist of a three course meal, all using one main ingredient, and each dish was to be centered around a particular cultural region. We were able to chose our main ingredient, and what cultures to focus on. I chose ginger as my main ingredient. I just love ginger, and how it adds a lovely hot and sweet kick to most any dish. After some research and talking with other chefs, I finally decided on my menu. My first course appetizer was to be a Jewish dish of gingered carrot latkes, with an apple jalapeno salsa, and a sour cream dill sauce. My second course entree was a Thai dish of marinated and grilled tofu, with a Thai peanut ginger sauce, and fresh cucumber pineapple salad. And my third course dessert was an African dish of African ginger cake, with ginger ice cream and homemade caramel sauce. 

We had two and a half hours to complete our three course menu, so we had more than enough time to cook off each plate and present them to chef. My menu was simple enough so there were no surprises. The only thing I could have done better was to add some additional flavor to the fresh cucumber and pineapple salad on my entree plate, and to have baked a better version of the African ginger cake, as it came out a little tough. I think I over mixed the dough. And I did get one point off for one of my carrot latkes not being quite hot enough. But overall, chef liked my menu, the creativity in each dish, the flavors and textures. So I was happy. It was a good and fun way to end our time in culinary school. We each shared a shot of sake and said our farewells. 

Next week we are due to start a 6 week externship program, in which we are to complete about 30 hours per week, for a total of 180 hours. I feel incredibly lucky and am very excited to have been selected for my externship at a great little restaurant in Woodside called Station 1. And I am looking forward to many new experiences there!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Order Up!

Goat Cheese and Walnut Salad
Green Pea Soup with Mint Cream
Spaghettini Puttanesca
Peppered Halibut with Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Parsley Sauce
Strawberry Shortcake
Tonight was restaurant simulation night, where we were to produce a 5 course menu as if we were working in a restaurant. We were paired up in teams of two, and were given plenty of time to prep all of the ingredients for each dish. Chef would tell us when to fire up each dish as if they were being ordered in a restaurant. So we wanted to be sure we had as much prepped ahead of time as possible, so that the customer is not waiting too long for their food to arrive. This was an exercise in speed, organization, and is designed to give us a taste of what it is like to work the line in a restaurant. The dishes were all fairly simple, so basic techniques were applied. We were able to put our own spin on each dish, so it was most interesting to me to see how each teams dishes came out slightly different in look, taste, and texture.

My partner and I worked well together, and things were smooth sailing until he got a pretty nasty sugar burn on his finger. So while he was incapacitated for bit, I was doing double duty. But he was a trooper and soon got back to work. All of our dishes came out as planned, on time, hot, and tasty. We were both pleased with our efforts and gave each other the kitchen handshake on a job well done!

Our menu tonight started with the first course of Goat Cheese and Walnut Salad, second course was Green Pea Soup with Mint Cream, third course was Spaghettini Puttanesca, fourth course was Peppered Halibut with Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Parsley Sauce, fifth course a Strawberry Shortcake. Cheers!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Mole Has Landed...

Mole Negro in the making....

I know it’s been way too long since I last posted (I hang my head in shame).....But, but, but....well truth is that I have many excuses, but none that you really care about. It’s just that these past few weeks have been flying by directly over my head like the Blue Angels do every time that my birthday comes around. Oh yeah, I have one really good reason, it was my birthday!! I turned 35 this year. Enough said.....
Getting back to culinary school.... Well folks, we are down to the wire, and I am in the last two weeks home stretch. Next Thursday will be my very last day in class, I can barely believe it myself. It has been quite the roller coaster ride these past 9 months. It has been an amazing learning experience. Scary, fun, intense, stressful, blissful, eye-opening, are just a few words that come to mind. 

So let's start from the most recent recipes. And since there are so many dishes we have made as a class, I will only share the dishes that I made myself. This week we have been learning about, and making, Mole! I was very excited to learn about mole, (I think to the dismay of many of my classmates!).  But I was excited because mole is of my cultural heritage, and a good mole sauce can be an amazing culinary experience. Making mole was a pretty amazing culinary experience as well! It is quite labor intensive when you consider all of the ingredients that can go in to most any mole sauce. However, it is all very simple enough once you understand the process. I made a Mole Negro sauce with pork, which consisted of a variety of dried chiles, toasted seeds and nuts, tomatillo's and green tomatoes, plantains, and a variety of spices, Mexican chocolate, pureed raisins, and some tahini. The pork came out beautifully fork tender, and I had a few bites more than my vegetarian self should have had!

Vanilla Chiffon Cake with Chocolate Buttercream and Toblerone topping
As a side note, I made the above Vanilla Chiffon Cake with a Chocolate Buttercream Frosting for one of my best friends' 40th birthday. Thanks to the help of Chef Richard, and my good note taking skills, it came out tasty and beautiful!

Sordampete Nypoteter

Here, I basically made potatoes in a butter dill sauce. A Norwegian dish by the name of Sordampete Nypoteter. Or as chef called them, "little balls of goodness". And that they were! Buttery herbally potatoes. And for the Halloween spirit, one of my classmates made his very own Jack Skellington potato...What's this! What's this!!

One night I made fava bean falafels. I spent almost the entire class messing with these falafels! The recipe called for fava beans, rather than the usual chickpea. So I was having a pretty darned time getting the consistency we needed. I fried up a few test falafels, and the centers were not cooking properly, but the outside was done. So I was getting burned crusts in order for the center to be cooked. So I had to add more chickpea flour to the mixture, which made the falafel more and more dense. But in the end I did find the right consistency to where I was able to get the centers cooked just enough and not burn the outer crusts. They were just a little too dense.....dumb fava bean falafels! Next time I will stick with the chickpeas!

Tok Dahl with Basmati Rice
Here we have Tok Dahl with basmati rice. Not much to really say about it, as it is just cooked lentils and a handful of spices. But boy were those some spicy lentils!

Asian Cabbage Slaw
This Asian Cabbage Slaw with Edamame was an extra dish that was a collective team effort, with some knife skills help from chef Steve, and the edamame from a classmate. Most nights, our menu is lacking in some sort of vegetable or greens, so chef usually asks me to make a salad. Chef helped by chopping the cabbage and radishes, I sliced up some snow peas and made a dressing, threw on some black sesame seeds, and voila, we had this beautiful and very tasty salad!

My Birthday Carrot Cake
Let me just state that I can not claim this gorgeous carrot cake as my own, unfortunately! This beauty was a birthday cake baked by my former chef Richard. A HUGE thanks to chef Richard for making me such a stunning and incredibly tasty cake. It was very special and I managed to save a few of the adorable little mascarpone pumpkins with the clove stems :)

A visit from Chef Martin Yan
One evening we got to attend a talk and demo from Chef Martin Yan. It was really great to hear him talk about his experiences, offer some advice, and tips on knife skills. It was inspiring watching him work, his knife skills are impressive!

Crepe Suzette
I saw Crepes on the menu a few weeks ago, and decided I need to make them! I have never made crepes before, so was excited to see how they are done. I quickly made the crepe batter and let is rest a bit, and then I got to work on some fillings. Chef suggested I make the popular Crepe Suzette, and other than that, I could do whatever I wanted with them. I decided to make a savory crepe, with sauteed mushrooms, garlic, spinach and cheese. And another filling that I could not decide whether it was savory or sweet. The filling was yummy good! It was a lemony ricotta with fresh mint. I have a hard time calling ricotta a "sweet", since it is afterall cheese. But we decided it was in the sweet (versus savory) category. And lastly I made the Crepe Suzettes, the entire time I was folding over the crepes into triangle shapes and flambaying them in brandy, I couldn't help but feel like Coleman the butler in the movie Trading Places, preparing the Crepe Suzette dessert for Winthorpe and his girl. Ha!!! 

And here we have Empanadas. Again, I was excited to make empanadas, as I had never made them before. I started off by making the dough, which I was quite proud of. I think my dough making skills has greatly improved in the past few weeks, as I have been making a lot of different types of doughs. Even chef came by and complimented me on the dough, with a "nice dough". It was beautiful, and I rolled it out beautifully. It was a work of art. But then came the filling. I followed the recipe, knowing it wasn't going to be too great, but I am of the opinion that you start first with the traditional and the basics, and once you have that down, then you begin to make it your own. So I did the "traditional" recipe, and I was not impressed. It was a ground beef filling, not very flavorful, so I added some capers to it to just give it some kick. That helped, but they still needed something extra. The best part was the dough!

Baklava is a hard dessert to get right. I have tried it at home once before, and it really didn't turn out right. It was a sticky gooey mess. So when I saw Baklava on our menu, I jumped at the chance to do it again, so that I could get it RIGHT! I struggled a bit with the phyllo dough, as it is so hot in the kitchen, and you really have to keep the phyllo dough cool and damp. I even went into the empty kitchen next door so that I could spread out and concentrate. Our recipe only called for about 8-10 layers of phyllo and nut filling, as we only had about 45 minutes of baking time. Normally a baklava will have double the layers and take twice as long to bake. I assembled my baby baklava, and got her in the oven. I thought I managed to do everything just right, but she came out a little too crispy. I honestly think it has to do with the shorter number of layers as it just didn't seem it had the chance to get the right balance of crispness and chewiness as a great baklava should have.

Swan Princess
And here is me, with my Swam Princess headset. One of the students in the class before us left this foil swan headband thingy at my station, so I had to try it on!

So that about gets us all caught up, for now....

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

From Europe to the Middle East to South America in One Week

The past few nights in class we have been learning about cereal grains from across the globe. Specifically Europe and the Middle East. We learned the differences between winter wheat, and spring wheats. It's one of those common sense things that you just never really think about. Winter wheats are planted in the summer and harvested in winter, are a harder wheat, have a higher gluten content, and are more rich in protein. Whereas spring wheats are planted in the winter and harvested in the spring, and are a softer wheat with less protein. Therefore winter wheats are best for bread, and spring wheats are best for baking and pastries.

We also learned about, and made, Paella!! A traditional Spanish dish, there are many ways to make Paella. But it most always consists of the "sofrito", the Spanish mirepoix, made of onion, garlic and parsley.

Grabhar Biabhog
We made a few Irish dishes, one was a dessert called Grabhar Biabhog. It is a rhubarb crumble type of dessert. I added strawberries to the mixture for any added flavor. Very yummy!

I also made a broccoli salad with a homemade French dressing. The salad was simple, but I was most happy to learn how to make French dressing. Again, it's one of those things that you don't really think about. I have always liked French dressing, and now I know how to make it!

Moving on to the cereal grains of the Fertile Crescent... I was happy because I enjoy grains of this region. On the menu was a rice pilaf with currants and pine nuts (the way I usually make it at home), pita bread, gosht pulao (lamb stew), grilled vegatables, and baba ganoush.

The menu was fairly simple for the night, and I ended up making some very interesting pita bread, and the grilled veggies. I was quite embarrassed about my pita breads....everything was coming together fine, and I was working on them across three different kitchens. The proofing box was in a kitchen down the hall, my station was in our kitchen, and an available working oven was in yet another kitchen. So I think between all the running around, and working on my vegetable dish, I forgot one major component to the makings of actual pita bread....I forgot to roll them out before I baked them!! Doh! So they came out to be pita dinner rolls! Tasty though! And I conveniently forgot to get a picture of the pita rolls....bummer!

Grilled Vegetables

Gosht Pulao

Tonight we worked our way down to Central America and Southern Mexico. On the menu was tortillas! Oh yeah! One of my favorite foods since childhood. My grandma used to make fresh tortilla's every morning. I remember she would be in the kitchen before the sun came up, rolling out tortilla's. And I could never get enough of grandma's tortilla's. The ones we made in class tonight were not "grandma's tortilla's", but nonetheless they were fresh and handmade tortilla's, and they were delish!

Ecuadorian Quinoa and Peanut Soup

One of my classmates made a very tasty soup called Ecuadorian Quinoa and Peanut Soup. I will definitely be making that at home soon, it was healthy and delicious, a warm cozy soup perfect for fall and winter.

I made Arepas for the first time. Arepas are a latin dish, similar to a tortilla, but made of masa or arepa flour, and are thicker and smaller than a tortilla. They can be topped or cut open and filled with any number of things. The dough was certainly tricky to work with. But I got the hang of it after my first batch. They were just like making that first batch of pancakes, where you need the skillet to be seasoned and at the exact temperature for them to come out just right. For my arepas dish, I made a ground beef mixture with bell pepper, onion, tomato....very, very yum!!

We also had a number of other items on the menu tonight: guacamole, salsa, cheesy grits, corn bread, corn pudding, and a huge batch of chicken and andouille gumbo.... tonight's meal was my very favorite so far!
Chef Steven drizzling warm honey butter on our skillet corn bread

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Start of the Last Class: Cuisines Across Cultures

So here we are, in the first week of my very last class at CCA. Cuisines Across Cultures. We have a new chef, but one we have worked under before in Culinary Foundations II, Chef Steven Moore. We also have a few new students. This week has been interesting. The first night of class was a complete mess, the second night was slightly less messy, the third was manageable, and tonight we started to have some fun. Which was refreshing because this is our last class of culinary school after all! And this class is supposed to be fun.

The structure of this class is quite different from any other. There is a set menu for each night, and as the name implies, we are focusing on a variety of cuisines that spans the globe. Also, we are not cooking each dish individually, we are cooking each dish collectively. So we get to decide as a team who does what.....although I usually decide first on what I want to do and pretty much tell the others that I am doing that! But I usually take the vegetable dish so no one has complained so far! (Thanks guys!!) And then, when everything is ready, we serve all of the food family style, and sit down (or stand) and enjoy the food and break bread together, as friends do. Which is great because that gives us an opportunity to discuss the food, and ask our classmates how they did certain things, how long they cooked the chicken, or what that particular spice is.

So all of the pictures you will see from this class are not going to always be made by just me, but by myself and my classmates. However, since our class is pretty small, so far we have actually been making each dish mostly on our own. But it sure is nice to know that you have your classmates to help fill in any gaps!

So let's take a look at what we have done so far this week.... Our day 1 menu was a roasted leg of lamb with fleur de sel, salt crusted salmon, and salt and pepper prawns. I added some roasted potatoes and mixed green salad with a lemon-honey vinaigrette dressing to the mix.

Mixed Green Salad
Salt Crusted Salmon
Roasted Leg of Lamb with Roasted Potatoes

Salt and Pepper Prawns
Our Day 2 menu consisted of Muligatawny Soup, Flat Bread with Za'atar, Lamb Tagine with Couscous, and Okra Pakoras. Everything turned our fantastic. I made the flatbread with the za'atar topping, which allowed me to use a mortar and pestel for the first time... fun!
Flatbread with Za'atar
Lamb Tagine with Couscous
Fried Okra and Cauliflower
Day 3 menu was sushi! 
We learned about grains, and chef made a large batch of slightly undercooked sushi rice :) 

And then we each made sushi. Here was my  
attempt at sushi rolls...they sure are pretty!

Day 4 menu was first to individually make our own batch of fried rice (yum!), and of course I made my vegetarian, thank you very much!  I also made the Yellow Split Pea with Curried Vegetables and Spiced Rice dish....very tasty! 
Fried Rice
Yellow Spilt Pea and Curried Vegetables, with Spiced Rice

We also enjoyed some Pearl Fried Pork Balls, Chicken Teriyaki, and Ichigo Daifuku....