Archive | November 2012

The Three Sisters

Chef K introduced us to the notion of the Three Sisters today, which I for one had never heard of.  (No, it’s not the Holy Trinity, which is cajun mirepoix and consists of equal parts onion, celery, and green bell pepper.  Contrast traditional French mirepoix, which is 2 parts onion, one part celery, and one part carrot.)  The Three Sisters commonly refers to green beans, corn, and squash, and is derived from the staple veggies of Native American origin.  The three vegetables are considered “sisters” because they help each other grow, and are thus frequently planted alongside one another as companion crops.  The cornstalks provide the structure for the green beans to climb (since they grow upwards), the green beans provide the corn and squash with nitrogen, and the squash leaves cover a large-enough surface area to block out enough sunlight and prevent weeds from growing around the corn.  Kinda sweet.

We touched on the topic of the Three Sisters because we cooked up some green beans in class.  In case anyone else was curious, green beans take about 4 minutes to cook in boiling water.  Contrast haricots verts (French beans), which take only about 30 seconds.  As with most veggies, they should be immediately shocked in an ice bath after boiling to stop the cooking process and preserve their bright green color.  (Photo courtesy of


Fruit Garnishes

Today we learned about cooking and garnishing using fruits and vegetables.  Most of the carvings were too fancy for me to ever realistically attempt unless I was to one day work a garde manger station in the kitchen, but the “two-knife puzzle lemon” garnish was pretty quick and easy:

Instructions:  Place the lemon on the cutting board, lengthwise, with the pointy side facing you.  Use a larger knife and slice through the lemon horizontally and away from you, without going all the way through.  Leave the larger knife in place (i.e., stuck in the lemon), with the blade pointing away from you.  Then, place a smaller knife perpendicular to the larger knife, with the point only up to the middle of the lemon, and slide downward until you hit the larger knife blade.  Remove the smaller knife.  Roll the lemon over so that the larger knife (which is still stuck in the lemon) now has its blade facing you (notice how in the third photo the knife is facing the opposite direction from the first two photos).  Use the smaller knife to make the exact same cut as you did before.  The lemon should then come apart in two pieces, just like a puzzle.

Obviously works for limes too.  Another neat trick for carrots:  After peeling the carrot, cut off the ends so you have a relatively evenly-circumferenced cylinder to work with.  Using a larger chef’s knife (or, if you have it, a Chinese cleaver — since the blade is completely flat rather than curved as on a Western/Japanese knife), slice a small groove into one side of the cylinder.  Turn 90 degrees, repeat, and then twice more.  You’ll end up with a cylinder carrot that has 4 small grooves, such that when you slice it into coins, you get small flowers, like so:

Aside from cooking and carving techniques, Chef K walked us through some basic fruit and veggie knowledge so we’d be able to tell the difference between Anjou/Bosc/Asian/Bartlett pears, etc.  Perhaps it’s because Chef K was in a creative mood, but class today was freaking disaster, with people yelling out about how grapefruit bits look like the Incredible Hulk’s sperm and absolutely no one paying any attention.  Most of class went like this:
Chef K:  Let’s talk about melons.
Class:  Hahahaha.
Chef K:  No really, let’s talk about melons.  What melons are there besides watermelons, honeydews, and cantaloupe?
Biker:  Watermelon!
Chef K:  Again, what melons are there BESIDES watermelons, honeydews, and cantaloupe?
Army Girl: Honeydew!
Chef K (looking like he’s about to kill himself):  Let’s move on to citrus.

Lobster Bisque!

Why the exclamation point?  Why not?  It is lobster bisque after all!  (The best of which, I must say, is still to be had at Ray’s the Steaks in Arlington Virginia.  Just in case any of you there near there.)

*Warning:  You will not be the first person to be turned off from lobster bisque for life after you see how it is made.  Let’s just say the shells are involved.  If you can’t stomach that, then don’t read further.

First, get some lobster bodies.  That’s right, bodies — as in, where all the yummy guts are.  Brown the bodies whole in some oil for about 5-10 min.  Remove the bodies, and saute up some lobster meat (we used prawns for practice) in the same pot for about 2 min, remove and refrigerate.

Replace the bodies, still whole, in the pot and add mirepoix plus a chopped leek.  (Americans use only the white part, which is bizarre to me since one of the best Chinese breakfast items is a pan-fried dumpling filled with the GREEN parts of the leek, but it’s up to you.)  Add any raw lobster shells (such as the shells from the meat that you just sauteed), tomato paste, brandy/cognac, white wine, and then enough stock (canned clam juice works just fine and is a heck of a lot easier than homemade fish stock) to just cover the mixture.  Throw in a sachet, a bit of salt, and a touch of cayenne.  Bring to a boil, lower heat, and then let simmer for 20 min.

After 20 min have passed and the soup has boiled down a bit, ladle out the mixture a bit at a time into a Vitamix.  (If you only have a blender, which is not quite as powerful, then chop the lobster bodies into smaller pieces before mixing.)  Pulverize everything, and then strain through a chinois into a clean pot so the un-pulverized bits are filtered out.  (Yes, this is the part where people wrinkle their noses and say, “What?  You eat the shells?  Ew I’m never eating bisque again.”  Yes, you eat the shells, though if they’re pulverized thoroughly you shouldn’t know you’re eating shells.)  If the chinois catches a lot of lobster gunk, feel free to run some water through that chinois again and directly into the pot to get as much liquid as possible for your soup.

Place the soup back on the stove and bring to a boil.  Add long-grain rice — it is the use of rice as a thickening agent that defines something as a traditional French bisque — and lower the heat, simmering under the rice is cooked.  Once the rice is cooked, add a bit of cream to thicken, and if still not thick enough, you can add a slurry (flour+water mixture) or beurre manie (flour+butter bits, uncooked) to get it to the right consistency.  Garnish with some chopped chervil and the previously-cooked bits of lobster and serve.  This photo at the bottom is of the soup I made today in class.

Homemade lobster bisque is great, I must say, and really impresses your guests.  (Note, however, that this recipe at least is quite fishy-tasting, so if that’s not your thing, then this may not be the best choice of soups for you.  The one that Chef K made in class was so fishy that I just had to make an inappropriate joke about it, which I will not post here.)

The Dangers of Cover Letters

Yesterday Career Services stopped in to lecture us for an hour about how to craft a proper resume and cover letter.  As with prior career service sessions, this one also made me want to roll my eyes (“Make sure to list ‘Perfect Attendance’ as a bullet point on your resume if you’ve attended every class in culinary school . . .”).  My favorite was when we were each given a sample cover letter “which [we] could base [our] letters off of,” and there at the end was a glaring typo (which I of course did not point out):

Of course, following the session my classmates were all a-twitter worrying about what they’d do with themselves after culinary school was over.  Sweetie promptly announced that she wanted to get a telemarketing job.  I heartily encouraged her to do so.  UAA (Under-achieving Asian) looked down at the materials from Career Services, worried, and then looked up at me and asked if I’d ever had a resume.  When I told him I had, he said, “Oh right, you were a lawyer.  Does that mean you have a bachelor’s degree already?”  Yoga Girl interjected and told him I’d gone to Harvard Law School, so yes, that means I had graduated from college first, and UAA responded, “Did you have to get a 2400 on your SAT to go to law school?”  I explained to him that when I took the SAT, the max score was only 1600, and no way did I get that (I barely broke the 1200s).  UAA balked.  “Shut up!  There was a time when the SAT had only 1600 points?  Ha, that must’ve been so long ago.”  Yes, medieval times, evidently.

Chicken Facial

Sound gross?  It WAS gross.  This morning I had the not-so-pleasant task of cleaning out the school’s largest stock tank.  And when I say “tank,” I mean tank — this thing was taller than me.  The 6am class had made a giant batch of chicken stock (to be used by all the students) and, since we were using their stock, it was only fair that we clean out the tank.  By the time I got to it, the stock had been drained and was sitting in huge ice bath to cool.  What was left in the tank was 60+ chicken carcasses and the remnants of God only knows how many onions, ribs of celery, carrots, and mushrooms.  The only way to scoop that stuff out and directly into a compost trash bin (pictured here to provide scale) was by using a giant chinois, and since it was still steaming hot, I got faceful after faceful of aromatic but still nasty chicken steam as I leaned almost my entire upper body in there to scoop the stuff out.  I actually had to attend a public hearing at City Hall immediately after class; hopefully the people there only inched away from me because I looked like such a scary and intimidating lawyer, and not because I reeked.


Vito & Nick’s Egg Pizza

Been a while since I posted some delicious food photos.  Last weekend, my friend Pikachu and her husband Nevs took a break from turkey last weekend and stopped into Vito & Nick’s, the famous thin-crust pizzeria on Chicago’s South Side, to enjoy their famous egg pizza.  (They added fried pepperoni because . . . well you really never need a reason to add fried pepperoni, do you?)

Cool Ranch Doritos Consomme

A friend brought this video to my attention.  I thought it was just supposed to be funny, but apparently it’s a serious consomme that the chef uses as a clear base for Southwestern-style soups: