Friday, July 29, 2011

Brussels and Spaetzel and Butternut Squash, Oh My!

We had lots to do tonight, and I was late with both my plates. But I am still really happy with my dishes. Well mostly. I started off in a funk because my classmate was kind enough to bring me my cutting board, but he sort of threw it on the table and it smashed my finger. I felt nauseous from the pain for a good while, and it was difficult to concentrate on Chef Dan's demo. But he had me laughing in no time, and then it was quickly time to get cooking! 
We had some amazing ingredients tonight....butternut squash, hazelnuts, Brussel sprouts, veal cutlets, and some very beautiful racks of lamb. I started on the items that took the longest to cook, as we had to roast the butternut squash, and puree it with a russet potato. And who knew that you can roast hazelnuts and then roll them in a wet towel to take the bitter tasting shells off?! Those were a nice snack! But they were actually used in a breadcrumb mixture for the rack of lamb. Delicious! And I have never made Brussel sprouts before, so I was excited to make those, and was even more excited when I tasted them. Yum! And chef was very pleased too. Yay!

And the one thing I was even more excited to make was the Spaetzel! I think Chef Dan is brilliant for suggesting we make Spaetzel instead of the Potato Anna (again).  I think the Spaetzel is my favorite thing I have made in culinary school thus far. It was just different and fun to make. And you can do so much with it. Chef Dan gave us creative freedom to come up with our own additions to the Spaetzel, as it's basically just a plain 'ole noodle, but with the right additions, its delicious and fun to eat. He did suggest we do caramelized onions to add to it, but I did not like that idea. I asked what he thought of a browned butter sauce, and he basically said No, he didn't want "burnt butter". Ok, so I was worried about that. But I did do a very lightly browned butter sauce with garlic and chopped mushrooms, and he liked it! Whew! 

Now, my rack of lamb had an unfortunate evening. It basically didn't cook. I coated it beautifully with our hazelnut and mustard breadcrumb mixture, and left it in the oven for what I thought would be plenty of time - which made me late for plating, because I thought better late than serve undercooked lamb. But she was still pretty much raw. And everyone else seemed to have the same issue with theirs, so that made me feel somewhat better. 

And there was a lot of other little things going on, we made a Veal Cordon Bleu in which we pounded out veal cutlets, lightly coated with mustard, added a layer of ham and gruyere cheese, then rolled it up like a little burrito (or cigar as Chef Dan was demonstrating!), coated it with breadcrumbs, quickly fried it, then finished it in the oven. Whew! And then my Mushroom Supreme Sauce came out pretty darn Supreme! It was definitely one of my better sauces. Or at least my favorite in flavor, maybe because it's one of the few sauces that isn't so rich with veal stock, and it has mushrooms - my favorite. All in all tonight was a great night of cooking, but it came with some sad news. We learned that our favorite Chef Dan will be leaving the school after our class ends in just two more weeks. I feel fortunate to have him as our chef, and hope that he is happy to have us as his very last class at CCA.

Plate 1 - Roasted Rack of Lamb with Demi Glaze, Brussel Sprouts and Butternut Squash Potato Puree. Plate 2 - Veal Cordon Bleu with Mushroom Sauce Supreme, Garlic Mushroom Spaetzel, and Brussel Sprouts and Carrots. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Braising the Perfect Risotto

There seemed to be an odd energy in the kitchen tonight, until we got into our own groove of cooking. Or maybe it was just me, because I felt a little lost in some of the aspects of our dishes, even though Chef Dan gave us a perfectly understandable demonstration. Maybe it was all the braising. 

Tonight was all about braising.  Or "braiser" in French. It is one of the 7 primary les cuissons, or cooking techniques, used in French cooking. Essentially it is to cook in a small amount of liquid, but you typically want to add some color by searing it first. And we had all kinds of things to braise. Veal, Lamb, Veggies, Risotto. Ah, yes, the Risotto! If there is one thing I should be ecstatic about, it's that chef said that MY risotto was, well, perfectly cooked. But the joy was overshadowed by my overly oily Lamb Provencal Sauce. I would have had two perfect dishes if it weren't for all that fat in the sauce. Stupid fat. Think, perfect risotto, perfect risotto!!! Ok, that's better.

As we were cooking our risotto's, I hear chef walking around saying, "It's not fried rice. If you hear it frying, it's fried rice!"

And tomorrow is our mid term test. It will be 50 questions on all of the powerpoint slides we have been reviewing on lecture days. Cuts of beef, classifications of chicken, turkey, fish, types of fat, muscle, etc. So that being said, I need to study. Au revoir!

Plate 1 - Lamb Shank Provencal and Sauce, Risotto Milanese, Braised Seasonal Veggies. Plate 2 - Blanquette De Veau (White Veal Stew). Enjoy!

Friday, July 22, 2011

"Little Meats" Tacos of Inspiration

Last night Chef Dan had us cracking up at his antics and quirky moves. I mean I was in tears laughing! We had a great discussion on plating and timeliness. Chef told us that we really need to work on our timing, and that normally with the younger students he can more easily put them in a corner and they will react. But since we are an older group, that doesn't really work. We each have our own ways of doing things, and usually have something to say about anything. And he went on to do a pretty hilarious imitation of us. Chef Dan is an inspiration. He makes me want to work harder and do better, while having a really fun time doing it.

Tonight was a cooking night and we made a lot of little fun things. On the menu was, drum roll please....Carnitas!!! Carnitas literally means "Little Meats". And there was nothing "little" about the flavor of these babies. Chef Dan pretty much made them for us, since they take about 4 hours to fully cook, he put the seasonings and braising liquid together last night, and we simply finished them tonight. And since we had somewhat of a simple night, chef showed us how to do some neat little garnishes to add to our plates. He showed us how to make fried basil leaves, an onion brulee ( a blackened onion that you fan out on the plate), and he showed us how to make those fancy little football shapes that you see on shows like Top Chef, called Quenelles. 

And tonight I finally got a perfect score on a dish, on my grilled rib eye. Yay!!! I would have gotten a perfect score on my Carnitas dish too if I had only added more salt to the salsa. Bummer. But that's what cooking is, it's about the details. 

Plate 1 - Grilled Rib Eye Club Steak with Maitre d Hotel Butter and Marchand Du Vin Sauce,  Roasted Potato Slices and Seasonal Vegetables. Plate 2 - Pork Carnitas with Black Beans, Salsa Cruda and Avocado Quenelle. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Bunnies and Sweetbreads

How is it that the class vegetarian, (me), was the only one who actually knew what sweetbreads are? All my classmates thought we had to make a soup to accompany some "tasty bread that is sweet", (giggle!). I don't know where I ever learned about sweetbreads, but I certainly knew that it isn't made from flour. 

Last night chef gave us our recipes of what we were to cook for tonight, on the menu was sweetbreads with a port wine sauce, a green salad, and we were to come up with our own soup to accompany the sweetbreads and salad. And for second course, we made rabbit two ways, with carrot pasta and a mustard sauce, and veggies. 

So that meant that there was going to be some kind of butchery of a poor wittle wabbit. And yes, there was. A whole rabbit. I've never seen a rabbit so up close and personal. They are odd looking creatures, very lean. Mine did not have much meat on it, so I wonder why in the world do people eat them. Poor little guys.

Back to the menu, for the soup, originally I wanted to make an asparagus soup, but I couldn't find any asparagus, so that became a cream of mushroom. It wasn't my best. But my port wine sauce was gorgeous! I definitely burned the sweetbreads, and chef kind of made fun of me, so we had a laugh about it! Or at least I did. And my second course came out fine, but again, not my best. I was rushed for time. The rabbit was cooked fine, well seasoned, but I did forget to slice the rabbit breast (duh!). My mustard sauce was a bit thick, I should have added a bit-o-water to thin it out, but again....time. 

And for anyone wondering what the heck sweetbreads actually are.....well, they are an offal (organ) meat. Yummy, huh?!? They come from either the neck or pancreas of usually a calf, cow, or lamb. And people eat them. Odd little people! Nobody really knows where the name "sweetbreads" originated. The best we could come up with was due to their sweet flavor, and they are usually served breaded, and/or that they have a bready texture. I cooked mine in two ways tonight, I farined (lightly floured) the filets, and then I breaded the nuggets and pan fried both. We also par-cooked them last night in a poaching liquid, so they did not need much tonight.  I wasn't very interested in tasting the sweetbreads, although I really probably should have. But I did taste the rabbit, and, I hate to say it, but it tastes just like chicken, only leaner.

Plate 1 - Sweetbreads Filet and Nuggets with a Port Wine Sauce, Cream of Mushroom Soup, and Mixed Green Salad with Housemade Vinaigrette. Plate 2 - Braised Rabbit Leg and Stuffed Breast, with Carrot Fettucini in a Mustard Sauce, and Side Veggies. Enjoy!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Liver Lyonnaise and Beef with Blue Cheese Mornay

That's right, we had to make liver tonight. Calves liver. And chef made me taste it. He was very kind about it, he pulled a garbage can next to me, and wrapped the liver in the Lyonnaise (caramelized) onion, and said "here, I want you to taste it, you don't have to eat it, just spit it out". So I stared back at him, and considered my options. I could either be a complete baby and simply refuse, or I could suck it up and taste the damn liver. So I tasted the damn liver. Yeah, it's gross, ok spit it out. There, done! Moving on.....

Tonight's dishes were fairly simple, nothing too tricky or difficult. But we were all late in serving our dishes, because chef wrote the table numbers and serving times differently on the board, so we all got our times wrong. He understood, (even saying that he kind of knew it would confuse us), so he did not dock us any points for being late. But that just meant we got a late start on cleaning, and got home late.

I was very pleased with how my dishes turned out. I got my highest score yet on tonight's beef tenderloin dish. My liver was just a touch over done, and the reason chef wanted me to taste it was so that I could taste how it was slightly bitter. The more you cook liver it will have a bitter taste, so it is usually cooked slightly more rare. (My liver was still bleeding out in the pan so I wanted to cook that out. oh well). The best part of tonight was that we got to fry up some shoestring french fries. Yum!

So tonight's complete dishes were as follows: Plate 1 - Calves Liver Lyonnaise, with Sauteed Haricot Verts and Shoestring French Fries. Plate 2 - Bacon Wrapped Beef Tenderloin with Mushroom Madeira Sauce, Blue Cheese Potato Dauphinoise, and Sauteed Artichoke Hearts Gratinee. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Duck, Duck, Turkey!

I love the nights that we get to cook in class. But, wow, tonight kicked my butt, and I am pooped! But it was fun and I am definitely happy with how my dishes turned out. It's poultry week, so as we did chicken the other night, we are now on to duck and turkey. 

Last night we prepped our mise for tonight's dishes, and we learned that our ducks did not arrive, (seems to be a common theme lately). So we were not able to butcher the whole duck last night (yay!). But that just means we have to do it tomorrow (boo!). So tonight we had pre-cut duck breasts, and we will use our own butchered ducks on Monday for a Duck Confit. Which actually works out well because the duck will get to marinate over the weekend. 

If you are not familiar with Duck Confit, it means that the duck is cooked in it's own fat. And it's usually the duck leg. I am curious to see how this goes. We have cooked a duck breast with using some additional duck fat, (we had this big container full of pure duck fat, it was nasty!), so we are somewhat familiar.

Ok enough about the duck fat. Tonight, our two poultry dishes were: Plate 1 - Turkey Scaloppine, with Pan Sauce, Potato Croquettes, and Mixed Green Salad with a Mustard Vinaigrette. And Plate 2 - Pan Seared Duck Breast with Rice Pilaf and Bigarade Sauce. 

I really enjoyed a few aspects of both these dishes, first the Turkey Pan Sauce called for shitake mushrooms, yum! And those potato croquettes....basically fried mashed potatoes, um, yes please!!!! And on the duck dish, we incorporated white rice and mirepoix with wild rice (thanks to Chef Dan for making us the wild rice), and that Bigarade sauce was kind of awesome. It is started out as a Gastrique (a reduction of sugar and vinegar), and then we added veal stock (which should have been demi but I did not have enough time to reduce the stock down enough to be a demi), and then added some orange juice and zest, and voila - Bigarade Sauce. A sweet and sour yummy goodness.

Also, tonight we had a nice little surprise in store for us.....I had once overheard a chef instructor talking to a student about the "Perfect Attendance" pin and recognition. And I have since kind of wondered about what that was, because I have had perfect attendance thus far. Well tonight I learned what that was. About 10 minutes into our cooking, one of the chef instructors walked into our kitchen and asked us all for our attention. I took my pan of oil off the heat and set that aside. The chef went on to say that every 12 weeks they like to recognize those students who have had perfect attendance, and also those students who have held a GPA of 3.5 or higher. So tonight I was honored with not only the Perfect Attendance pin, but also the Academic pin. Yay for me!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Tuesday Two-Ways Chicken

Back in February before I signed up for culinary school, I took a tour of the school I am in now, and I remember walking into a kitchen classroom that was in attendance and thinking that would be the ONE class that was going to kick my butt. Well, tonight, I realized that I am in that class now! I remember the whiteboard with the serving times, and the little table that chef sits at where we serve him our dishes. I remember watching a student serve his plate to his chef instructor, and how flustered and hurried he was. And I remember watching the teamwork in action, and the give and take from the chef. And thinking how difficult that was going to be, and that it seemed so very far away. But I am there now, and it's not as difficult as I thought it would be. I still have a bit of nervousness around the whole "serving time" thing, but that's really it. I almost feel like I am forgetting something, because I keep thinking that I should be more concerned, or that this should be more difficult. But I am glad that I am not struggling with this new class....well, at least for now!

Tonight went really pretty well. We made two dishes, chicken two-ways. Last night we did all the butchery of the whole chicken, so tonight we had our Airline chicken breast, and a boneless and skinless breast prepped and ready to go. We still had a ton of work to do with all of the sides, sauces, and garnishes. But everything came together beautifully, and I could have only done better by 1/2 point by adding more salt. And I made the chef laugh, which is nice that we are getting a bit more familiar with each other. So tonight we had: Plate 1 - Chicken Ballotine Grandmer with pan sauce, mashed potatoes and sauteed veggies. Plate 2 - Grilled Chicken with Massor Dal, and Fruit Salsa. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Friday Mussels, and Sole of a New Chef

It's Friday, oh wait, it's now actually Saturday morning. But it finally feels like Friday to me, with the short holiday week, today never felt like Friday, until tonight when I got home from class, and was able to unwind from an intense night of school with a glass of wine. Tonight's class was intense for two reasons. One, it was the first night of this new class in which we were to produce two complete dishes in under two hours. In fact, we have an alloted time in which we are to serve our plates to chef. Anything over the span of the 5 minute allotment and we are docked points. That's a protein, vegetable, starch, sauce, and garnish for each plate. Second, we have a new chef instructor! As of last night (not much warning there!), we got word that our now former chef instructor was being pulled from our class in order to tend to another class because another chef instructor's wife went into labor, and that chef apparently did not notify the school that he was planning on taking the next 5 weeks off.

So lucky us! Just as we had gotten used to, and comfortable with our last chef, we get a culinary curveball and thrown a new chef. I'm not actually complaining here, as it is the name of any game. But walking in to class tonight, I had no idea what to expect. Culinary school is a funny thing. There's a lot of ego going around, and being a woman in the mix can be intimidating. But that's not what bothers me, it's more about me and making sure that I am able to do my best. Being a woman, I am a planner. And so I don't necessarily like walking into the unknown. But it happens, and it happened tonight. I arrived to class early, and before I know it, this new chef, who has not introduced himself, is fluttering about the kitchen almost yelling and barking at us. I was not happy. I decide to just do what I need to do, and before I know it, the mood has lifted and chef is now bouncing around and laughing and making odd little jokes. So by the end of the class, I think I like him. I think we will learn a lot from him. I think he is going to certainly keep us in check, keep us learning, and laughing, and of course make our lives a living you know what for the next 5 weeks, but I am looking forward to it!

Tonight we made the following: Plate 1 - Fillet of Sole with Lemon Beurre Blanc, Farrotto with Parmesan, and Tomato Provencal. Plate 2 - Steamed Mussels over homemade Fettucini. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Beef Stew, and what's that smell...

Tonight was the second class of Culinary Foundations III at CCA. We are in a new kitchen, which btw I have to say again, ( I already told my chef and classmates), that I do not like this kitchen. It is set up oddly, does not have a good flow, and what was that smell in the walk-in?!? It just lingers in your nostrils, not nice! 

But it was a darn easy night, and we got to leave early. Any night that we get to leave when there is still light outside is just awesome. But it will likely never happen again so we gladly took it. It was a relaxed night because all we had to make was a stew. And since we already made a lamb stew twice (once was for our final), making tonight's beef stew was a walk in the park. We were originally supposed to make something different, but somehow our ingredients order got mixed up so we were left with stew. We also had to make a veal stock though, so at least there was that. Ok, here is tonight's dish: Beef Stew with Cocotte Potatoes. Enjoy!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Getting Started, and Happy Fourth!

I’ve had this idea for some time now....starting this blog to document my journey through culinary school, and the other kitchens I find myself in these days. So here it is, my blog. As I sit here on my couch on this gorgeous Fourth of July evening, listening to the nearby fireworks, I thought today was the perfect day to get started! Tomorrow, I start a new class at CCA, Culinary Foundations III. I’m a bit nervous about the class. I know it’s going to be difficult, and I can already hear Chef telling us all to “work faster”. uggggh! But I am also excited, and looking forward to getting back in to the kitchen (we’ve been on summer break for the past week and a half). The break has been nice, REALLY nice, and it was definitely needed. It was really great to get caught up with most of my friends and family, as I hardly ever get to see any of them with my school schedule. But I am definitely ready to get back, even if it means I have to wear those darn uniforms!