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