Archive | February 2013

“It’s Like Cupping Your Breast…”

QCheese Briocheuote of the day, that’s for sure (by Chef D).  To be fair, shaping brioche does involve a gentle, rounding motion with a cupped hand, but that’s certainly not how I expected the chef to describe it.  (In case anyone is alarmed, you should know that Chef D came by my station and made the remark very quietly and coyly, and only in response to some equally inappropriate joke I’d made to her earlier.)  And, while we’re on the subject, who cups their own breasts?

BaguettesInspired, I decided to shave a bit of cheese on my now nicely-rounded breast brioches.  Delish.  Also depicted, some not-so-attractive but still yummy baguettes.  (Word to the wise:  Baguettes are impossible to make well, I’ve decided.  I will never attempt again.)

The Take-out Boxes

This is the single best part of Baking & Patisserie:

P and B takeout box

That’s right.  Almost every single day, we end up taking one of these home, filled with all sorts of ridiculously high-calorie goodies.  Unlike culinary classes, where we are typically tasked with cooking only a single portion of lamb chops or what not, in baking class we bake things by the dozen.  (Who ever heard of baking a single croissant?)  And you gotta do something with all those baked goods.  My neighbors are loving me right now.  My waistline is not.  Never thought I’d say it, but after only one week, both A and I are getting so sick of carbs that we actually had a salad yesterday.  (Most of you know my moral opposition to rabbit food.)

Still, it’s definitely fun.  Pictured here:  Pecan Sticky Buns from Thomas Keller’s latest Bouchon cookbook.  You don’t wanna know how much butter is in here.

Sticky Buns

Baking & Patisserie

Last week we started a new class segment:  Baking & Patisserie.  We began with focaccia (before and after photos).

Focaccia 1Focaccia 2

Compared to Culinary Foundations III, this is a (welcome) vacation.  Chef D, our chef instructor, is a nut — in all the good ways.  Like all the B&P chef instructors at our school, save one, Chef D is female, and is far more laid-back than one would expect from a class where “one quarter of a teaspoon” means EXACTLY ONE FREAKING QUARTER OF A TEASPOON.  (Actually, in B&P we don’t even use cup, tablespoon, or teaspoon measurements.  Rather, everything is “scaled out,” i.e., weighed out, to precise weight ounces or grams, e.g., “536 grams brown sugar.”)  Chef D also has a great, albeit bizarre, sense of humor, and is one of those people who just says strange things that make you laugh because you don’t quite know how else to react.  She’s great in this specific setting; if I had to work with her extensively, though, she’d probably drive me crazy.

So what’s different in this class?  Gone are the timed plates.  Gone are the lectures.  Gone are the exams.  (I might actually be tempted to say “Gone is the learning,” but I suppose we learn a little bit.  For example, in 6 days of classes I’ve learned that baking soda makes things spread out horizontally, while baking powder makes things rise vertically.  It’s rocket science.)  In come the microwaves (for melting butter), the deck ovens, and the giant marble slabs for mixing and carving chocolate.  At the start of each class, Chef D tells us what she wants us to bake over the next two days, gives us the recipes, and then we make it in teams while she flounces around (can’t remember the last time I could wholeheartedly use the term “flounce,” but that’s what she does) happily throwing handfuls of flour in our mixing bowls and shouting at us to quit over-mixing.  She’s kind of like a fairy godmother of baking, always coming up behind us with random chocolate bits or frozen blueberries and insisting we “get creative.”

Since this class is a vacation, and we learn only by doing, this’ll probably be one of my last class-related blog entries that contains more than 100 words.  It’ll just be photo after photo of slightly-lopsided baked goods, chocolates, and candies.  Not too bad, I hope 🙂

The Luce Competition: Semi-Final Round

I have been rather unabashedly plugging the Luce competition on Facebook lately (at the equally unabashed request of Luce and its PR firm), so please forgive me if you’ve already heard this and seen the photo.  But yes, this past Tuesday I made the final round of the Luce Culinary Clash competition with this plate:

Luce Final Plate

To refresh, being one of the Final 4 means that, on Sunday, March 17th, I will actually get to “take over” — that’s certainly just a figure of speech, God forbid I’m actually at the helm of a Michelin-starred kitchen for even 5 minutes — Luce, which will serve my 3-course Spring prix fixe menu to the public for that night only.  Other perks include a full-day tour of several Sonoma wineries this coming Sunday with the restaurant’s wine director — and a film crew, this is, at bottom, a big PR stunt — to determine suitable wine pairings for each of my 3 courses.  Ultimate winner of the final 4 will get to accompany Luce’s Exec Chef, Dan Corey, to the 2013 Aspen Food & Wine Festival.   Pretty exciting stuff!

So, as a quick recap to this past Tuesday’s semi-final round:  Each of the semifinalists was given a single day’s notice that, the next afternoon, we’d have an hour and a half to cook our main course for Exec Chef Corey.  While I’m generally confident about menu conception, I’m not so confident about my substantive cooking skills, so I didn’t go into this semi-final with much expectation.  (By way of reminder, my main course was grilled squab served with a blood orange gastrique, creamy polenta, and sauteed wild ramps.)  I practiced the squab and the gastrique that evening — neither of which turned out great — and solicited suggestions on plating via FB (thanks everyone!), but that’s about it.

Tuesday afternoon, competition begins promptly at 1.  The girl at the next station whips out a pressure cooker, a pasta machine, and all sorts of fancy tools that I barely recognize, and I think, “What the F am I doing here?”  My biggest problem was the gastrique, which I had to get to the exact consistency to still be liquid enough to plate, but be viscous enough to plate beautifully using a squeeze bottle.  (Gastrique, being built on caramelized sugar, easily cools into hard candy if you don’t keep it at the perfect temperature.)  Happily, I found some veal demiglace in the kitchen that brought it all together, and, luckily, every single element actually worked out perfectly — the polenta stayed creamy, I didn’t overcook the squab, the scallions (ramps were not available) stayed green.  It was just one of those days.

1 minute to Judges’ Table, and the other 3 contestants from my school (students from other schools were competing as well) had already finished.  Bulbs flashed — like I said, it’s a PR stunt, particularly since Luce is housed in the Hotel Intercontinental — and the many student and chef instructor spectators were silent as they all watched me try to get my sauce on the plate.  My third droplet got smeared as I moved my sleeve over the plate, and you could hear an audible “ohhhhhhhhh” in the room.  Really quite stressful.  Wiped that off and cleared the last two droplets just as time ran out.Luce Brennan entryLuce Kendall entryLuce Nina entry

Depicted here were the other entries that day:  1) Grilled waloo with zucchini and tomato something or other, 2) Rabbit canelloni and grilled quail with blue cauliflower on a spring pea puree (that’s right, as if making pasta from scratch wasn’t trouble enough, she also did TWO proteins; super ambitious), and 3) Braised lamb with some kind of yogurt sauce.

Luce gradingJudges pondered for about an hour before announcing that the grilled wahoo and my squab won.  I must say, it was a good sign when Chef Corey — obviously the main judge of the bunch — almost finished off my plate when he first tasted it, leaving almost nothing left for the other judges.  So it must have been pretty good.

Fun stuff.  Honestly did NOT expect to make it to Finals, but here I am!  Now I just have to get people to come eat in the restaurant on March 17th 🙂

Year of the Snake

This past weekend was Chinese New Year.  And Chinese people like to eat.  A lot.

Chinese New Year feast

I made everything depicted here, and really noticed for the first time since I started culinary school that I am much improved as a cook.  Not only did I actually bother with things like garnishes, but also I fired my last dish just as our third (of 16) guests walked in, which meant that I actually got to fully enjoy our own party.  Nice.

Dishes (left to right): Scallop and shrimp potstickers, rice cakes with shredded pork and napa cabbage, Chinese broccoli with roasted shiitake mushrooms, sauteed lettuce with preserved scallop, 3-cup cuttlefish, sauteed shrimp, steamed pomfret, drunken chicken, braised pork ribs, thin-sliced pork belly with garlic sauce, and pickled spicy cucumber.

Rabbit

This particular post required a super obvious title so as to pre-empt certain of my readers from inadvertently reading this post, as there are definitely a few people (my classmates included) who have a problem butchering and eating Thumper.  Personally, I don’t have an issue with it, and have eaten rabbit on several occasions in the past, but I don’t do it anymore because I promised a close friend and bunny parent that I wouldn’t, and also because I don’t really think I’m giving up much since rabbit is basically just slightly more flavorful chicken in my view.  Rabbit Tenderloin

Still, we had to cover it in school as part of our Game Meat Lab, so here it was.  First, the cooked images, which are a bit more pleasant.  Plate 1:  Rabbit tenderloin with a mushroom cream sauce, unintentionally burnt glazed celery, savory bread pudding, and a bad-ass (if I do say so myself) mushroom stamp with a Satanic star in the middle.  Rabbit LegPlate 2:  Rabbit leg with some other cream sauce, carrot pasta (a little sadistic), and sauteed snow peas with red peppers.  (Each of the tenderloin and leg had been rolled up and trussed the day before, hence the shape.)  The carrot pasta — as with any freshly made pasta — was awesome.  I’m sure the rabbit would have loved it.

Rabbit CarcassAnd since I know everyone’s at least a little curious about the whole rabbit carcass, here it is.  There were still little bits of soft bunny hair stuck in the crevices; even my soul-less heartstrings felt a little tug when I cut that thing up.

Anesthetists Make the Best Lamb Chop Frenchers

Been a little delinquent with posting lately, sorry!  Somehow school, plus my various other random ventures here and there, have gotten away from me a bit, and we’re already at the very end of Butchery (last day and Cooking Final is tomorrow).  But here’s what we learned on lamb.

Lamb Chart

A couple interesting facts:  Unlike beef, where the ratio of bad fat (Omega 6) to good fat (Omega 3) is 2:1, lamb is the exact opposite — 1:2.  So while it’s still red meat, it’s a helluva lot better than beef.  Lamb is generally classified as less than one year old (split into Baby Lamb — 2 to 3 months, Spring Lamb (Springer) — 6-8 months, and Fall Lamb (Yearling) — 8-12 months; older than that and it’s typically classified as Mutton.  The U.S. is oddly both an importer and exporter of lamb, and since U.S. lamb has the strongest flavor, it is generally the most expensive as compared with lamb from Australia (medium flavored, medium priced) and New Zealnd (mildest flavor, cheapest).Lamb Threading

Quick trick for frenching lamb chops, or frenching (i.e., cleaning all meat and cartilage clean off the bone) any meat for that matter.  Chef A taught us to use kitchen twine and basically twist it around the bone and pull tightly in an upwards motion, in the opposite direction of the meat.  Gets the bone super clean and takes about 2 seconds.  Having learned that Chef A had this special talent, I of course requested that he thread my eyebrows after class.

Lamb KebabsOur Lab assignment for lamb was probably the most delicious of any dish yet.  Plate 1, Free-for-all.  (I did lamb kebabs with raita, roasted tomatoes, and rice pilaf.  FYI, apparently it’s a common trick in the industry to “pretend” skewer lamb; lots of restaurants cook the kebabs first and only thereafter place them on skewers to reheat.  Just too hard to keep the skewers from catching fire — unless they’re metal — during the cooking process.)  Plate 2, Lamb Chops with ratatouille and fried polenta.  (And no, we didn’t do a layered ratatouille a la Disney; that’s just Thomas Keller’s doing as the consultant for the film.  We did it the inelegant, “normal” way . . . it is a peasant dish after all.)  SO DELICIOUS that it warranted a giant picture:

Lamb Chops

Now that I’m more comfortable with them, A and I will be making lamb chops at home a lot more going forward.  Easiest way to cook them is the way we did it in class, sear the whole rack (Trader Joe’s sells them for about $12 and includes about 5-6 chops) in a hot pan for 4-5 min each side, then stick it in the oven for another 15 min or so — it’s a surprisingly dense piece of meat — until the internal temp reaches about 132 for medium rare (it’ll rise another 3-4 degrees on residual heat after you take it out.)  Adding a little dijon mustard on the outsides (not the bottom, though, since it’ll burn) when you put it in the oven gives it particularly great flavor.