Archive | August, 2011

Days 40 and 41 – Level III start

28 Aug

Okay, so we didn’t drink this champagne at school. It was at the start of our Wednesday night celebration. If you can find this champagne, I highly recommend buying it. In a world where champagne has become so commercialized and additive’d, thanks in great part to the U.S. palette and the CA sparkling wine producers, this champagne is a true gem. According to Chris at Bambino, it’s done in the “old style”, natural way in Champagne and it’s affordable compared to many others of its caliber. It was a knockout.

The last two bottles of the night we had were Italian reds, both incredible. The Dorigo hails from the eastern hills of Fruili, in Italy’s northeastern wine region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. The last wine of the evening (before the dessert wines) was Paolo Bea Pagliaro Secco, Sagrantino di Montefalco. Grown around the town of Montefalco is the native black grape Sagrantino, and the wine is required to be at least 95% Sagrantino and aged for 30 months. This is a dynamite and complex red. Pictures of both bottles are below.

Okay, I digress. Thursday was the start of Level III, which is cooking every day, under time pressure, and adding dishes to the time pressure, all in anticipation of the midterm at the end of the Level III in which an outside panel of chefs rates our midterm meals that each student produces individually. It’s pass or fail and it has to be nearly perfect in both presentation and taste. Some serious pressure.

So, Day 1 of Level 3, each of us to had to execute 1 1/2 dishes at different intervals; Day 2 it was 2 1/2 dishes. Day 3 (Monday), it will be 2 1/2 dishes, and likely in less time. On Day 1, I filleted two trout, made 4 dishes of crispy skin trout with a grenobloise and potato cocottes, plus Anne, Ian and I collaborated on an apple tart. On Day 2 (Friday), I made 4 amuse bouches of seared scallops atop a brown butter/lemon sauce, and topped with macedoines of yellow and red/purple heirloom tomatoes in olive oil, lemon, salt, pepper and parsley. I forgot to take pictures because I was in a hurry. Then, I made 4 dishes of thick cut pork chops and pommes anna, and we all collaborated on the beef consomme. Pictured below are my pork chops, up close and the 4 dishes that have to be served simultaneously, as well as Ian’s apple tart pics.

Tomorrow (Monday), I’ll make another 4 plates of amuse bouche from a “mystery box”, 4 apple tarts, and we’ll collaborate on the trout (which I’ll fillet). I hope we get fish again in the mystery box, as that’s where my strength lies. Tonight, I’m cooking the pork chops and an apple tart for Carnet and Igor, as my pork chops were not perfect and my sauce looked kind of like barf, I’ll admit. I added too much cream and took away the richness and beautiful color of the veal-green peppercorn sauce. So, tonight, I plan to make it better! But, I’ll pair it with a fennel, zucchini and ricotta salata salad as the first course, as the peppercorn sauce for the pork is pretty rich (but of course, it’s French!).

And, because I love taking pictures of food, here’s what Carnet and I made last night: seared halibut, with some greens and lemon wedges.

We were in need of some lighter fare, following another big night of food. Friday was date night with Carnet at Benu. We’ve been trying to go for months, but due to his schedule, we couldn’t make it happen until last night. The decor was very smart – they actually had carpeting on the floor and that did a lot to “soften” the noise level. Bravo on that front. Also, Bravo on the service. In fact, that might be the best service we’ve received anywhere. Our main server even took me back in to see the kitchen, which had an amazing design. I’m not going to post my review of the food here; if anyone’s interested, I’ll be happy to talk to you about it.

To finish off our dinner last night, we ate a few pieces of my new favorite chocolate – Madecasse’s pink pepper and citrus bar from Madagascar. The story is that two Peace Corps volunteers fell in love with Madagascar and decided to source chocolate from there. Nice story. Wonder if it’s true or just great marketing that I fell for? At any rate, this hippie thinks the chocolate is delicious 😉

Days 37, 38 and 39 – End of Level II

25 Aug

Thanks for the guest post on Sunday, Carnet! We are both so busy I didn’t even get a real flavor of what it was like in Bangalore until I read the post. I am now craving Indian food. But, not enough to pass up Bar Bambino this evening for a celebratory dinner with Brian and Meg.

So, what has been going on at FCI for the past 3 days? Monday was “Flounder My Way” day. No, that gorgeous picture a top is not my fish – I wish. I decided I’d do a very “French” meal, so I made a good beurre blanc with mushrooms atop the poached flounder, all over my version of pommes anna, with sides of stuffed vegetables and a little vegie bundle:


Below was Ian’s flounder – lovely plating and original creation, for sure. To be fair, Chef Peter tried some before I took the picture, so we had to “rebuild” the plate a bit for the photo op.

Then, after school, Ian, Anne, Bobbie, Mark and I worked at an event catered by G. Danko until 11:30 p.m. Wish I could say more but we all signed hefty NDAs. It was an experience, for sure. Glad wine day was Tuesday!

So, Tuesday at 8:00 a.m., we started off tasting 6 wines. I am positive I have never been wine tasting at that hour before (although MN 2 summers ago with Al, Maren, Carnet and a few friends in a limo, was close to that hour). But, with a little hit of coffee, then a little hit of wine, then a little hit of water, then some tea….I’m sure my palette was perfect – ha! Our teacher for the day was Laurie Lindrup. She was charismatic, very knowledgeable, and passionate about wine – 3 things you want in someone teaching you about wine. So, it was great to learn from her. If you didn’t enjoy wine before that, I believe you would after. I would like to learn more from her, so I might go bug her.

We did some experimentation with wine and food pairings to determine what wines worked best with salty, sweet, buttery, spicy, asparagus, anchovy-olive tapenade, etc. and how the food changed the characteristics of the wines. This was the best part. I didn’t know asparagus could really change the dynamic of different wines. I learned a lot and it was quite fun. The only critique I have on the day is that we either needed to learn more on wine to fill up more time or we needed to do something else, as there were quite a few breaks that we didn’t need and some killing time that I would have liked to use either for studying or for cooking.

Today was end of Level II day, so that meant 3 tests: 1) written comprehensive test, 2) ServSafe test, and 3) practical test. I am happy with the results of the written comprehensive and the practical component, other than my lame chantilly creme piping skills. Honestly, I am terrible at piping rosettes and eclairs. I’m going to buy a CostCo sized jar of mayo and spend some time learning from Rachelle, who promised to show my how to make them prettier. Finally, I felt comfortable on my chicken quartering skills. It wasn’t “perfect”, but it was very decent and I didn’t take forever to do it. The flat fish we filleted was frozen so, unfortunately I had a bit of trouble with it, at first. But, all in all, it was a successful day. And, the BEST part was lunch.

Chefs Bruno and Rogers put together a magnificent charcuterie lunch, with the assistance of the class ahead of us. Here are the fantastic five flanked by Chef Bruno on the left and Chef Rogers on the right.

The lunch included different fish terrines, cured fishes, lovely sauces, fresh baked breads, all types of charcuterie, fresh fruits and vegetables, cheeses…. it was fabulous. Here was my piggy lunch plate:

And, here are more pictures of this gorgeous and spectacular lunch (including the featured picture of Chef Rogers’ fish, at top):

Thanks, everyone! You made my day. I cannot wait until we get to do that. Dad, you’ll be asking me to help you with the pig roasts after that 😉

Guest Post: Live to Eat

22 Aug

Greetings SaltyApron readers.  I’m sneaking in for a quick guest post while Rachel is practicing how to filet a Flounder for a big week at FCI.  Wed is big test at school and she’s in focus mode.  I wonder if she’ll even notice I posted on her blog 🙂  My theme for this post is our love for food has no boundaries.  I was in Bangalore, India the past two weeks for work and even though it was a grueling schedule, we always found a way to find good food each evening.  I have realized that no matter how tough work can be, the expectation of a good meal always puts a smile on my face.  Food is partially about nutrition, but following my Grandfather’s philosophy on life… we don’t eat to live, but rather we live to eat.

  The trip started with first making sure we had a good supply of proper spirits for our two week trip.  As you can see from the picture on the left, I choose two bottles of single malt scotch as my after dinner drink of choice.  Unfortunately instead of a glass of scotch neat, it was scotch and laptop 😦

We stayed at the Matthan hotel in Bangalore and the highlight of the hotel was the morning breakfast buffet.  I believe that a solid breakfast is the best way to start a day.  Lots of protein and green veggies.  I ended up eating a variety of stuff for breakfast each day.  Sometimes it was more of a Western meal consisting of a four egg omelette (only two yolks), a plateful of steamed broccoli,  sautéed zucchini,  and boiled green beans.  I threw on a couple slices of smoked salmon and topped it all off with papaya and pineapple.

Other mornings, it was a full on Indian breakfast with Dal, Dosa, Uppadam, and an assortment of other dishes.  Yum!  Either way it was a great way to start the day as often times I would miss lunch.

In India, most people are vegetarians due to their caste.  There are deities for every animal in India except the cat from what I have been told.  The cow is sacred and many folks in my company started missing their beef steak.  Needless to say, finding a NY steak in India was nearly impossible.  As you can see from this picture, the cow is truly sacred and they basically can walk anywhere they want without regard to traffic as no cars are willing to even get near them.

Our office was in a large technology park and there was a huge lunch area that reminded me of the lunch room in the TV show Outsourced.  There were tons of local food stalls and the price was right.. barely $2 for a yummy local dish.

The great thing about food in India is that you realize there are so many regional cuisines that we are never exposed to in the States.  Most “Indian” restaurants you find tend to serve Northern Indian food it seems (Tandoori), while in SF there is a big new push of Southern Indian restaurants (Dosa).  One of my favorite meals was Goan food (mainly seafood).  The great thing about local food in India is their use of spices.. everything is so full of flavor, that you end up not eating that much as your senses become full before your stomach gets engorged.  I have been on a Paleo eating plan in the States, but I decided while in India, I would dive into the many types of Roti, Naan, and other breads.  I even ate with my right hand which seemed to make the food that much more tasty.

When walking around town, it was great to see that in order to get food, you needed to visit the source.  I saw mutton being bled (didn’t take a pic as Rachel would have hated seeing it).  Here’s a picture of where you can get your very freshly killed chicken and bring home for supper.  It would be great if more folks in America had a chance to see how their food is either grown, raised or killed.  It might make people willing to spend more on pasture raised beef, chicken or eggs.  It’s time to educated folks that chicken nuggets are NOT natural!

Finally.. food is everywhere.  It was great to see folks on the street selling cooked food, fresh vegetables, meat, most anything someone would need to make a meal.  There were very few supermarkets and those are for sure intended for the “elite” class.  India is not much different than what I saw traveling through most of Southeast Asia.  The only place I have found to even be close to this feel in the States is Mission St. here in San Francisco, where you still see the avocado guy on the corner by my office.

Anyways, long post, so I’ll wrap things up.  Living to eat makes everything else simple.  Only we can control what we put in our bodies and choosing to eat scrumptious food that makes you smile puts everything else in perspective.  So here’s to hoping that you are having a wonderful meal where you are and for some toasting a fine glass of vino.  I can smell Rachel’s founder cooking in the kitchen, so I better get ready for dinner.  Yumm. I am an lucky man.  I’m gonna eat well for a very long time 😉 Or at least until we are old and gray.

One last thing… I just ate Rachel’s Flounder that she’s practicing for tomorrow’s class.  Beurre Blanc sauce with mushrooms over Flounder, a veggie packet, and green beans.  Yum!!!

Rachel’s comment is that she needs to edit something else.  We both felt the green beans were too much, but it’s going to be in her basket tomorrow.  Hopefully she’ll get the smaller French Haricot Vert so it won’t be so overwhelming on the plate.

Saturday, August 20 – Thoughts on my life and cooking

20 Aug

Up until this point, I haven’t had much time for reflection on 7 weeks of culinary school, so I thought I’d take a moment – more for me, than anyone else – to put down some thoughts while I’m enjoying a quick salmon lunch I made for myself (pictured, above).

My life seems to be at a frenetic pace. Up until last week, I had what was really a full time job, an enormous amount of stress that went with it, and school M-F, with reading, recipe review, and supposed “practice” every night. It was definitely doable as I did indeed do it all (well, maybe not really the “practice” part as much as I should have), except that I cracked a few times and didn’t do it all with grace or graciousness. I cracked on my husband, I cracked on the lawyers with whom I was working and those on the other side of the deal, and I cracked on myself, asking myself questions like: “what am I doing?”, “what was I thinking trying to change careers at this stage in my life?”, “am I insane for thinking that one day I can have my own restaurant, and the energy to run it AND be the executive chef?”

So, what am I doing? I’m combining two things I love to do – cooking and going to school. I’m treating myself to a grand adventure and doing something I’m passionate about and have been passionate about for as long as I remember.

What was I thinking trying to change careers at this stage in my life? Well, how old would you be if you didn’t know your birthdate? I think I’d be in my late 20s. I have enough wisdom to know what I don’t want do and I have enough zest for life and learning that I find the energy to keep trying everything I want to try. And, unfortunately, life is short, which has become all too real for me in the last few years, so I’ve gotta go for it!

Finally, am I insane for thinking that one day I can have my own restaurant, and have the energy to run it AND be the executive chef? Most likely, but then aren’t all amazing chefs who want to do that and actually do it? I know the strikes against me: age, time to master different cuisines and techniques, lack of experience in restaurant kitchens, lack of capital, the economy, and the fact that a staggering amount of what could-be-great-restaurants and great restaurants indeed fail. But, I also know my advantages: I’m smart, I’m driven, I have a lot of business experience, I have a lot of “life experiences” that can translate into knowing what people want and how to give it to them, I have an incredible partner in life, friends and family cheering me on, and I know enough law to keep myself out of trouble 😉

Carnet keeps telling me to not put so much pressure on myself, as this is a journey of exploration. It is and through this exploration, I could go in a hundred different directions. But, I have this problem of putting a ton of pressure on myself to have to know what to do next and to be the best at it. Also, I’m hung up on this idea of opening a fabulous, small restaurant in Honolulu which would cater to the non-transient population which would equate to serving exceptional food (not the crap that plagues so much of Waikiki). But, who knows, maybe I’ll be a food writer (doesn’t everyone think they can write?), maybe I’ll go back to my original idea of several years ago (a food truck) although it seems like I’m a little late for that in Honolulu, maybe I’ll work in fabulous kitchens in Spain and/or Italy, maybe I’ll do pop-up restaurants, or maybe….

But, for now, I’m going to make some “paleo” sides for the bbq brisket I made (started marinating last night and finished today after several hours on low heat) and plan to serve to Carnet as a late lunch when he arrives from Dubai in about an hour.

And, yes, I’ll read my ServSafe book.

Days 35 and 36 – Cheese and Pasta – yes!

20 Aug

So, I probably shouldn’t have said, “This is the best day ever!” before we actually made anything. But, I was hungry that morning and cheese tasting could not have come at a better time. Above, Chef Tomm is slicing different goat, sheep, and cow’s milk cheeses for our tasting pleasure. Prior to that, we tasted goat, sheep and cow’s milk yogurts and milks. I am always partial to goat, so it was no surprise that the soft goat cheese (not the chevre) was one of my favorites. I also love a good “blue” so the roquefort was delicious. Additionally, we had some lovely fruit and a baguette to round out the experience, enhance and compliment the flavors of the cheese, and make for an all around lovely first 2 hours of the day.

I guess I was so enamored of cheese day that I forgot to take pictures of the risotto and the bolognese sauce Mark and I made. Oh well. The mushroom risotto was ridiculously rich, but I got dinged for undersalting. Not a surprise. Rachelle even tried to save me and tell me it was undersalted, but I held my ground and didn’t win any points for it. Thanks for looking out for me, Rachelle!

Rachelle also took it upon herself to taste all the rest of my items today, during pasta day, to make sure they were adequately salted. Chef Rogers from New York FCI taught us today, on a very fun pasta-making day! We made gnocchi, an egg pasta dough we used for our ricotta-herb filled raviolis, and spinach pasta for our lasagna. Tomas was my partner, so it’s always a great and amusing day when that happens, as that boy is funny!

Again, I forgot to take pictures of our finished dishes. But, here’s the half-eaten ravioli dish with homemade red sauce underneath.

Our pasta dough was a bit “thick” even though we ran it through the pasta machine as directed. So, maybe we’ll press down harder around the edges next time and make sure we don’t have air in with the filling.

Chef Rogers showed us how to cut pasta on the chitarra and how to make dual-colored pasta, with chlorophyll in one pasta dough to give it a green hugh and lobster roe in another, that once cooked turns from green to orange-ish (both pictured, below).

Carnet is coming back to SF tomorrow, so we’ll be back on our minimal gluten and dairy diet. So glad I got pasta and cheese days in before that 😉

This weekend is ServSafe study weekend in anticipation of the test we all need to pass next week. As Bobbie put it, “It’ll be me, my servsafe book and a bottle of red on the couch.” That’s where I’m going right now.

Gary Danko, I’m hoping you have a spot for me in your kitchen! I’m working your event next Monday night.

Day 34 – Student’s choice – yippee!

18 Aug

Chef Tomm gave each of us a chance to create two courses of our own choosing using at least 2 of the 3 proteins he picked: ahi tuna, calamari and shrimp/prawns (differing sizes). He went around and labeled our stations with “A-1”, “A-2” and so on. I set up at A-1 prior to the labeling event. As soon as he started labeling, I knew what was going on. That meant that I had the least amount of time to prepare and present my dishes, as I was going first. To be fair, he did ask the class if they wanted to draw numbers out of the hat, and of course everyone said no except for me because no one wanted to be first. So, he settled it with a good old fashioned game of paper-scissor-rock, which I lost. So, I was first!

The great thing about this exercise was that it was not nearly as hard as “Chopped”, as I had about 2 hours to prepare the two courses and we had what I thought were easy proteins (at least for me) with which to work. Plus, Chef Tomm let us raid the pantry, so we were not limited to what other ingredients we could use to build our plates (other than what was in the pantry, of course). And, two hours was fine. In my mind, I think those who had more time (say 3 hours) would be expected to produce better dishes.

My theme was Pac-rim/Thai. Not French, I know, but I’m missing home, my husband and my mother-in-law, so this was an homage to them. My first dish (pictured above) was a calamari and prawn ceviche, with a light coconut-pineapple juice-lime juice-orange juice base. I really liked all 3 citruses together (my husband taught me that). The challenge was how to get the ceviche “cooked” in the one hour I had from concept to plating the appetizer. Thanks for the hint, Chef Tomm. Yes, blanching the prawns whole for a couple of seconds in hot water to start the cooking process works. I didn’t blanch the calamari, as I didn’t want it to seize up and it turned out that was a good call. That sitting in the acid-base for an hour was fine. A few small pieces of my shrimp were not quite “done”, but overall, I thought it was a successful appetizer.

Onto the main course: Coriander and white peppercorn crusted and seared ahi tuna, sliced and put over coconut rice, all topped with a green curry sauce and served with a cold, quick-pickled cucumber salad on the side to cut the “heat” of the green curry sauce.

Yep, I threw my whole coriander, kosher salt and whole white peppercorns in the mortar and pestle, as I had seen done in Thailand lots of times. I didn’t know if that combo would be enough on the outside of the tuna, but it was actually really good and it seared quite nicely on the tuna.

Here’s the final pic:

I also wasn’t sure if the ahi was going to stand up to the curry sauce, but I had to try. The curry sauce was great, if I do say so myself. I was worried, at first, since my husband is the expert Thai cook in the family. Yes, Carnet, I did place the coconut oil in the hot pan first and worked the curry paste into it, as you do 😉 Thank goodness the pantry had kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce, coconut milk, ginger and garlic. That made everything a whole lot easier!

And, today, the Thai gods were with me. It turned out very decent. My two biggest mistakes on the plate? 1) My confetti of lime zest should not have been on the rim of the plate, as that’s where customers grab the plate, and 2) there was too much rice as compared to tuna (ratio of protein to starch was off). Overall, I’m happy with my performance and I quickly realized that 2 hours is a whole lot of time when you have quick-cooking proteins and a stocked pantry (I even had time to make 2 batches of rice, as I didn’t like the way my first batch of coconut rice was cooking).

This was a super fun day for me. Next Thursday, we move to level three, where we will be preparing family meals for the entire school everyday. So, that will be more time-pressured and a chance to perfect certain techniques.

Update…Just in…Victor made a sweet “mock” newsletter about our Chopped day. Victor, you are awesome! Check it out, as it has pictures of all of our dishes and commentary:

FCI Seasonal Challenge copyreduced

Day 33 – Nutrition II

17 Aug

The grapefruit, fennel, artichoke, watercress and walnut salad was delicious. The grapefruit vinaigrette was so nice and light, especially due to the sweetness of the fresh grapefruits we worked with today. Here’s the recipe (it’s really simple): 1-2 Tablespoons walnut oil, 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons fresh grapefruit juice you reserved after cutting your grapefruit into nice slices (supremes), salt, pepper, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to brighten it up a bit. You can play with the ratios here, as Bobbie and I did, to our taste.

We also made falafel that Tomas dressed with my tahini-garlic-lemon-olive oil sauce, shown here:

This recipe was also super simple to make. I would have added some spice, such as cayenne, to the falafel mixture before deep frying the balls (yes, deep frying isn’t exactly “nutritious”, but if you use the right oil and don’t fry at too high or too low of a temp, it isn’t all that bad for you once in a while), as I think that’s always a nice kicker inside falafel. Or, on top of the tahini sauce, I would add sriracha – same concept to give it some heat.

Finally, we made a funky spaghetti squash dish with a puttanesca-esque “sauce.” I’ll be honest, it was just weird. And, I wasn’t the only one who thought so. I was hoping this was going to be a lovely tribute day to vegetarians, but this dish was not very good (and, it wasn’t the execution, as ours tasted like Chef Tomm’s). First of all, the anchovy just didn’t work with the spaghetti squash, on top of the capers, nicoise olives, sundried tomatoes, basil, cheese, and regular tomatoes. I love all of those ingredients, and I love some of them together in other dishes. But, this recipe needs an overhaul and was a weak addition to the homage to vegetables day.

FCI, may I be so bold as to suggest you take a look at some of your recipes on the nutrition days? As a former vegetarian, I could give you several different recipes that would be much better tasting; equally, if not more, nutritious; just as easy to prepare as the spaghetti squash and falafel recipes; and that would excite vegetarians or people wanting a vegetarian option. With all of the health conscious people and vegetarians eating out these days, surely the curriculum could use some updating so that soon-to-be-chefs have a better understanding of how to put out exceptional vegetarian and healthy options when a patron asks for one. You have a nutrition expert and amazing chef at school – Chef Tim – and I’m sure he has some fabulous recipes that should be included in the curriculum in the future.

Nonetheless, it was a colorful dish:

I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s “chef’s choice” day. I’m imagining it’s going to be like the t.v. show “Chopped”, where Chef Tomm will give us a few main proteins to work with and then we have access to the pantry to come up with some tasty and beautiful dishes in a certain amount of time. Please, no offal!

Day 32 – Nutrition (and bacon?)

16 Aug

Today was the first of two days on nutrition. Really, nutritious French food? I guess it depends on your definition of nutritious. The recipe we made today indeed had no butter in it, but it had huge bacon lardons in it (as seen in the picture above), and the bacon was cooked in with the lentils, as well. The lentils were delicious.

For me, the recipe was a chance to clean another whole fish and to pan fry the fillets to try get a crispy skin on one side. It was pretty successful. The recipe itself had too many components, I think. I’m not sure the curry on the fish went with the horseradish-mustard-apple dressing around the sides of the plate and the lentils underneath. Just too much going on. Nonetheless, it was good practice!

Tomorrow is Nutrition #2 with a few more recipes to execute. I have to ask why on some days we only do one recipe and we have all kinds of time to do something else (and I wish that we would), when the next day we’re going way too fast to execute properly, as we need to get through 4 recipes? Wouldn’t it make more sense to do 2 recipes on each day?

Anyway, short blog post today. I have to study the SafeServ book for the test next week. And, I need to sleep. Today was rough; I had a migraine that started last night and continued until about 4:30 p.m. today. Thank you Tomas and Bobbie for working with me today; it helped a lot! Looking forward to feeling good in the kitchen tomorrow 🙂

Day 32 – Crepes and Banana Fritters

14 Aug

Friday was crepe day! For all the things I have made in my life, never have I made crepes. There are so many crepe eateries in San Francisco that if I want one – and a good one – there are places to go. I think the best part of making them was trying to flip them in the pan without throwing them everywhere or folding them over on themselves. The batters were really simple, and the key was to let them rest in the refrigerator for a bit before making the crepes.

We made crepes suzette, with oranges, orange zest, orange liquere and way too much butter, of course (picture at top). Then, we made buckwheat crepes filled with smoked ham, onions, mushrooms, and gruyere, below:

The buckwheat crepes were delicious and the filling was super rich. This was my favorite dish of the day.

Class got a little slow after this. We made a cinnamon sauce for our banana fritters, which were banana slices dipped in a beer batter and double-deep fried. The point of the double deep fry was to crisp them up. This dish was very mediocre. The cinnamon dipping sauce was good only because Ian jazzed it up a bit from the original recipe. 5 of us agreed on that, so I was not alone in my assessment. Here’s a snapshot of the class watching Chef Tomm doing his second round of deep frying:

And, the final product:

As for recipes, I have been woefully derelict in posting. So, today, I’m going to post two of my favorites from “dessert week”: The chocolate mousse and the fruit tart.

If you want a super simple, yet impressively tasty dessert, the Chocolate Mousse is it. This recipes serves 4.

Ingredients: 1) 150 g (5 oz) of bittersweet chocolate. You definitely want to use a bittersweet chocolate or a dark chocolate here and not something like a milk chocolate. The better quality the chocolate, the better tasting the mousse. 2) 13 oz. heavy cream, 3) 3 egg whites, 4) 1 oz sugar.

Directions: 1) Chop chocolate into chunks and place it in a bowl. Either melt in a double-boiler, or make a double boiler with a pot of boiling water underneath a stainless steel bowl in which you place the chocolate. The object here is that the boiling water should never touch the bottom of the bowl on top; you simply want to slowly melt the chocolate, not cook it, otherwise it will separate, 2) Stir chocolate gently until completely melted and then turn off the heat, but leave the bowl over the water to the chocolate warm and melted, 3) In a different bowl, beat the heavy cream until it forms stiff peaks. Make sure you start out with very cold cream, so don’t bring it out of the refrigerator until you’re ready to beat it. 4) Put whipped cream in refrigerator until ready to fold into the mousse later.

4) In a third bowl, whip the egg whites. When they start to form some soft peaks, add in the sugar and continue to whip until they fully form soft peaks (not stiff peaks). Be careful not to overwhip. They should not be stiff and dry, otherwise your mousse will be too stiff and dry. 5) Fold 1/4 of the chocolate gently into the egg whites and give it a few turns. Then, continue to gently fold the remaining chocolate in. The object here is to not overwork the mousse, so things should be “gently” done, and only until just incorporated. 6) Just before the whites are almost fully incorporated, fold in the whipped cream. 7) Cover and refrigerate one hour or until completely set. Serve with fresh strawberries or another summer fruit that you like with chocolate. I think this rich dessert also goes well with tangerines or oranges.

The fruit tart is actually called “Puff Pastry Fruit Strip“. We made the puff pastry dough in class, but for the home chef, I would suggest buying puff pastry in the frozen section of the grocery store. It was great to make it and to see how it turned out (and it was delicious), but it’s a lot of work for a dinner party, as you need to make several “turns”, and let the dough rest in between to get a light, flaky crust that will rise properly in the oven. And, who has that kind of time, unless it’s your business and you are against buying it pre-made? If you really want to make it, check out Jacques Pepin making it at . The recipe actually is for sweetbreads stuffed into puff pastry, but he shows how to make the puff pastry dough 1 minute into the video. You’ll see just how much butter is involved 😉

This dessert will be more time consuming than the chocolate mousse, so the plan of action should be to make the pastry cream, first, as that needs to be refrigerated until very cold. Then, deal with the store bought, frozen puff pastry. Be sure to read the directions on the frozen puff pastry, as you might need to thaw it. Also, you’ll want to read the directions for how long it suggests to bake it so that it’s ready to work with right after your pastry cream is set. Then, the last prep is to slice up all the fruit you want to use, as you can do this when the puff pastry dough is baking and while the pastry cream is refrigerating. Or, if you’re going to prepare as much as you can prior to dinner, prepare the pastry cream, first. You can keep this in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it several hours later. Then, cut up the fruit, so all you’re left with is really baking the puff pastry and assembling. Here’s a picture to help guide what it can look like (although use whatever fruit and design on top you’d like):

Ingredients for Pastry Cream: 1) 17 oz milk, 2) 1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped, or 1/4 vanilla extract, 3) 4 egg yolks, 4) 75 g granulated sugar, 5) 20 g each of flour and cornstarch, sifted together. Other ingredients for the tart: 1) Apricot glaze (apricot jelly mixed with a bit of water and heated on the stove; you’ll use this after the tart comes out of the oven to glaze the top and make it shiny), 2) assorted, sliced fruit to cover the entire top of the tart.

Directions for Pastry Cream: 1) Bring milk to a boil with the vanilla bean, 2) Work the egg yolks and sugar together in another bowl until mix is very pale yellow, 3) Add the sifted cornstarch and flour mix to the sugar-yolk mix. Stir to remove lumps. 4) Pour some of the boiling milk into the mix while stirring. Make sure to pour slowly and to add only a little, otherwise you’ll scramble the eggs. This is called tempering. Then, add the rest of the milk in a slow stream, all the while stirring until everything is incorporated. 5) Put the entire mix back on the stove over medium heat and bring to a boil. Turn down to low and cook for 3 minutes after it has boiled. It should be a bit thick, but with no lumps. If there are lumps, take it off the heat and beat with a whisk for another minute to get rid of the lumps. 6) Cool over an ice bath for a few minutes, and then when slightly cooled, dump mix onto a piece of plastic wrap and fold the plastic wrap all over the pastry creme so it’s completely covered into about a 1 inch thick cream. Refrigerate until it’s very cold.

Directions for Puff Pastry: 1) Roll out dough according to package instructions, into a rectangular shape about 6 inches x 20 inches, 2) From each side of the rolled pastry, cut a strip measuring 1/2 inch wide, so you’ll have 2 of the same size borders. You only need two borders, as you’ll cut the tart for your guests so that it only has 2 borders. 3) Place the two strips on the long sides of the tart and press gently to hold in place. Use a paring knife to make angular impressions into the borders for decorations, but don’t cut deep into the dough. 4) Brush the whole top with an egg wash, 5) Put the tart dough into a preheated 350-375 degrees F oven. Put a cooling rack directly on top of the dough to hold it down so that when it rises, it rises evenly and doesn’t fall over on one side. 6) Bake until the tart is nicely browned, probably 30-40 minutes.

Directions for the finish: When the puff pastry dough is slightly cooled, top it inside the borders with the pastry cream, and then arrange the fruit on top of the pastry cream. Finish with the apricot glaze across the whole top.

Day 31 – “The bomb” (yes, pate a bombe)…more sweets

12 Aug

This is a picture of my very own Genoise: whole egg foam cake with a coffee-buttercream. I’d like to say the few flaws on it are due to the jostling and car ride home, but honestly, it’s my lack of precision cake-decorating skills. However, overall, I’m pretty psyched it turned out looking as good as it did and that it tasted yummy, as well. So, where does the bombe come in? It’s the base of the buttercream filling and frosting. You have to boil water and sugar until it reaches a “softball” or “bombe” stage – 234-240 degrees F. Then, you temper that in the 6 egg yolks and a bunch of butter (yep, about 1 1/2 pounds) at the end. It’s a pretty simple recipe if you don’t add the butter into the egg yolk-bombe mixture when the mix is still hot. If the mixture is too hot, the buttercream deflates into an oozing mess, instead of turning into a lighter, fluffier buttercream. I think we almost nailed it.

The inside looks like this:

We cut the cake into 3 rounds, dipped each round into a coffee liqueur and simple syrup mixture, and then smeared each round with the coffee-buttercream mixture. There’s no sugar or butter in this cake at all 😉  The cake is going to the gym with me tonight. They will either curse my name or be happy to be eating something so decadent. Not sure which.

Although I’m all sweeted-out, I do love the puff pastry/creme anglaise/fruit tart we each made.  Mark, we did it!  After 3 tries, we made a puff pastry that worked. Puff pastry should not be that complicated, but apparently we made it so.  At any rate, this is my finished tart:

I can’t wait for Monday’s nutrition lesson. Hopefully, my stomach will get a chance to rest for at least one day from all the saturated fat and sugar!