Archive | September, 2011

Day 58 – Bass en papillote, an Italian-style dinner, and purple cauliflower

22 Sep

As mentioned yesterday, I cooked fish en papillote (parchment paper) today. Anne got the salmon and Rachelle and I got the striped bass for our fishes. I wish we would have had the chance to fillet this sea bass that Level 5 got today:

Nonetheless, our dishes were spectacular with salmon and striped bass and this is one of my favorite dishes we have made so far in the program. We made it on Day 12, as well, and circled around to make it as practice for our midterm. See Days 10 and 12 in this blog for the recipe components: tomato fondue, mushroom duxelles, the vegetable garnishes and the fish.

The picture above at top is how it should look after it’s opened at the table. The following two pictures are stages of cooking: the first is after it is baked in a 450 degree F oven for 9 minutes – the paper should be a bit brown and puffed up, and the second is after the fish is first put in parchment paper prior to it going in the oven.

This was my lunch. And, my dinner was a leftover + what’s-in-my-CSA-box-that-I can-throw-in-a-pan dinner. It was quite healthy, super easy, and delicious. It would be good over quinoa or pasta, but I ate it straight, no starch.

I first carmelized some onions and some red and yellow peppers from last week’s CSA box. I followed those with some tomatoes from today’s box, and threw in some old mushrooms, roasted chicken I made on Sunday, cured black olives, capers, fresh spinach, dried and ground New Mexico chile, some vegie stock, a little salt, and a couple splashes of balsamic. I stewed that all for 10 minutes after I carmelized the onions and peppers, and added fresh basil after I took it off the heat. Simple, fresh, ultra healthy (no butter allowed or needed; olive oil is the key here), and tasty.

Here’s what I found in my CSA box today. Love the purple cauliflower. The strawberries are still ridiculously good. Life is grande.

Ahhh, now I can chill and watch some bad t.v. prior to studying just a bit for tomorrow’s mid-term. Then, off to bed by 10, hopefully.

Days 56 and 57 – I smell chocolate

21 Sep

For the past 2 days, I have been smelling chocolate while we cook. It’s most definitely from the pastry folks in the pastry program and today it got the better of me. I begged Chef Tomm to include chocolate chip cookies in my menu of salad nicoise and thick cut pork chops with greenpeppercorn sauce and pommes darphin. From the picture above, it’s obvious he said yes! So, in the middle of our cooking, Rachelle and I made a double batch of cookies. And, our class had cookies and milk. Yeah, so fun!

And, after another stage at Commonwealth tonight (I love Chef Ian – he is so knowledgeable and a really good guy), I came home to eat part of my leftovers from what I made today, along with gorgeous tomatoes from our CSA box. I LOVE tomato season in California. These were soooo sweet. Here’s my snack:

And, paired with a terrific Shiraz, this was a great ending to a great day (along with watching Harry Connick Jr. sing. I’m a sucker for a southern accent, his big band style and voice, and his pedigree – being born to two lawyers). For $19, this 2004 Shiraz from Victoria is out of this world. I highly recommend it:

So, we’re at T minus 2 days for our mid-term. I learned today that some of the points for our midterm grade will come from how clean our chef’s whites stay while we’re cooking that day. I better do darn well on the food itself, as I’m a disaster when it comes to keeping my clothes clean in the kitchen. I’ve always had that problem; I love to wear what I eat. I try really hard to stay clean, but I swear the little kitchen gremlins throw stuff all over me when I’m not looking. Or, maybe it’s just one of my “two little brothers” in class – Bobbie or Mark.

Tomorrow, my menu is bass in parchment paper with mushroom duxelles and tomato compote, and pot de creme (baked custard) with “cigars” (tuiles). Since it’s unlikely I’ll blog tomorrow night, I’m posting the pot de creme recipe tonight. It’s delicious, as the base is creme anglais (vanilla cream), which is the base for both the fruit tart we’ve made and our vanilla ice cream. The creme anglais is a very versatile item to have in your cooking repetoire.

Here’s the pot de creme recipe:

Ingredients for creme anglais custard: 1) 14 oz milk, 2) 4 egg yolks, 3) 70 grams sugar, and 4) 1/2 vanilla bean split and beans scraped into custard base.

Ingredients for Tuile batter: 1) 190 grams butter, 2) 190 g sugar, 3) 5 egg whites, and 4) 110 g flour.

Directions for making custard: 1) Bring milk and vanilla to a boil in a saucepan, 2) beat 4 eggs yolks with sugar in a separate bowl until well incorporated and the mixture is light yellow, 3) Pour hot milk-vanilla mix into egg-sugar mix and stir, 4) Bring a pot of hot water to boil, 5) Fill porcelain ramekins with the custard you just made and put a tinfoil lid on each one separately, 6) put the pots de creme in a deep rectangular pan lined with parchment paper and pour the hot water until it it halfway up the pots de creme, 7) Bake in 325 degree F oven approximately 35-40 minutes, or until the surface of the custard no longer shakes when moved back and forth, 8) Remove pots de creme when done and chill. This is a cold dessert, so it should be well chilled prior to serving.

Directions for making Tuiles: 1) Melt butter and combine with sugar, 2) Add egg whites one by one, stirring well after each addition without whipping air into the batter, 3) Sift flour and stir into butter mixture, 4) chill until cold, 5) on a pan lined with parchment paper or a silpat mat, paint batter with a spatula over 4 circle stencils (take a round measuring cup and trace it onto a piece of cardboard, then cut a square about an inch on each side of the circle and cut out the circle inside it, so you have a circle stencil), 5) Remove stencils so you’re left with 4 perfect circles of batter and bake at 350 degrees F until golden – 4-5 minutes; be sure to rotate the pan in the oven about 2-3 minutes after you put them in, so the tuiles brown evenly. These bake really quickly – like in 4-5 minutes, since the batter is really thin, so make sure to watch them carefully, 6) Immediately remove, roll onto something cylindrical to form a cigar-like cooke-cracker. Think of it looking like a pirouline (for a picture, go to And, that’s it. Serve the pots de creme with tuiles.

Days 53, 54, 55, coffee roasting and two stages

18 Sep

The latter half of this week was a bit of a blur. Our friend Matthew was in town, so we had some late nights (and great food and wine, of course). Also what added to the late nights were that I staged (essentially, interned/worked for free) in two different fabulous San Francisco restaurants: Commonwealth and Quince. I staged on Thursday at Commonwealth from 3:30 to 11:30 p.m. and I staged at Quince yesterday from 11:00 a.m. until 11:30 p.m. (yep, 12.5 hours). The stages were awesome experiences and I learned how two very different kitchens are set up (both very efficiently for their spaces) as well as how the pass (where the executive chef or chef de cuisine calls out the orders) runs in a small v. a larger kitchen.

At Commonwealth, I assisted Adam on the garde manger station (cold apps) as well as with desserts. I got to work with liquid nitrogen, which was very cool (no pun intended). Chef Ian is pretty mellow, yet meticulous – two great qualities in a chef. He was also very encouraging and told me more than once to jump in and that I couldn’t screw up anything too badly (which, I don’t really believe, but that was nice). I am excited to go back and do more this week!

At Quince, I got to do a lot more prep since I arrived 6 hours prior to dinner service starting. With Sous Chef Tony, I de-boned small hen thighs and grated and grated and grated half of a very large parmesan wheel (great upper body workout). With the Poissonier (fish station chef) Jillian (Gillian – sp?), I worked with lobster and spot prawns, and helped finish the lobster stock. I learned how to shell lobster much faster than I had done in the past – scissors are your friend, here. And, I worked with the robo coupe, which is my next big kitchen purchase. It’s a commercial grade food processor. It ground the lobster shells and bodies with no problem and it was pretty fast. Finally, at service time, I worked with another culinary student, Michael, on the amuse buse and cold apps station. From 10-11:30 p.m. we worked on breaking down the stations and cleaning everything, and they were not done when I left. Wow, does it take an army and a lot of elbow grease to thoroughly clean that kitchen at the end of the night. I was very impressed with all the staff.

Going back to last week, I was off coffee for 5 days and I had planned to stay off of it, since it doesn’t agree with my stomach lately. But, then Chef Tomm demonstrated how to roast raw coffee beans (pictured above, although they look like peanuts in my picture) and I fell off the wagon. Bummer. I’ll try again soon. Anyways, I had never seen raw beans roasted on the stove in a saute pan. He did a dark roast, which suits my palette, and we drank it on Friday a.m.

Here is Chef Tomm at different stages of roasting – light on the left and medium on the right (then my phone malfunctioned and stopped taking pictures for some reason):

Last week, I also made pasta for the third time in my life. I didn’t know if it was going to turn out well, but Chef Ray from the New York FCI said it was very good – yeah! I learned that you really, really have to work the dough, folding it over on itself with each turn, for at least 10 minutes prior to letting it rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour. If you don’t work it, it won’t be elastic enough and smooth enough when it is rolled through the pasta machine. Fresh pasta is soooo delicious. It was at times like that when I was bummed that Carnet is committed to the paleo diet (and I am trying to be, other than at school and a few cheater days at home, which means I haven’t really been that committed yet. damn you carbs, why do you taste so good?).

This coming week, we’re ramping up for our mid-term on Thursday. I’m a bit nervous about a few of the potential dishes that I could be asked to prepare (which I won’t know until that day), but I’m hoping that our practice on timing to-date will serve me well. Friends, keep your fingers crossed for me and send me good cooking vibes on Thursday!

Days 50, 51 and 52 – More Sous Vide, BLTs (at home) and creme puffs!

13 Sep

Days 50 and 51 were last Thursday and Friday. It was pretty much more of the same as we’d been doing in Level III – 2 dishes a day under time pressure, plus a second day of Sous Vide thrown in on Friday. On the Day 2 of Sous Vide, we tasted our short ribs that had been in the immersion cooker for 48 hours, as well as a pork loin. Can you tell which pork loin was seared and which was sous vide?

You can tell that the one on the right is sous vide because it is evenly cooked on all sides. When you sear meat (the one on the left), it’s much harder to make sure that it’s evenly seared on all sides. The texture of the sous vide pork was lovely. Again, I thought it was more “moist”, although this could be an illusion. But, it tasted “meatier” or “porkier” which I didn’t love, as it was a little medium rare for my palette. I do love pork these days (which is natural, as my nickname implies).

Staying with the pork theme, on Thursday night I made pork belly BLTs with marinated onions, spicy cucumbers, miso-mayo, and heirloom tomatoes. Here are a few of the ingredients and the main attraction:

The pork belly that was sugar-salt brined for 24 hours was grilled on both sides and it was delicious. But, my favorite part of any sandwich is usually marinated onions. I love this very quick and easy recipe for marinated onions: 1) thinly slice a med-large onion of your choice (red, yellow, or “sweet” – I used sweet in this recipe as I had them on hand), 2) Pour about 2/3 cup of white vinegar + 1/3 cup of water in a small saucepan, 3) Add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of salt and a little less sugar than the salt you added, 3) throw in your sliced onions, a teaspoon of Tellicherry peppercorns and a star anise – the star anise is key here, 4) Bring to a boil, turn the heat off and let sit 10 minutes. 5) Strain onions out of liquid, cool and they are ready to use! You’ll have to play around with the salt/sugar content, depending upon the number of onions and the amount of vinegar you use, but these rough proportions should do as a starting point. As Ian said, some good crusty bread, a hard cheese, some grain mustard and marinated onions (red, in his case) make a great snack.

Today, Anne and I were on pastries. So, we made apple tarts and profiteroles (pictured at top). I think the creme puffs with chocolate sauce are always a good dessert to serve at a dinner party because everything can be made ahead. The hard part if knowing when your pate a choux (dough for puffs) is dry enough inside so that it won’t be soggy when you fill it with chantilly or ice cream. It will be a bit soggy, of course, but it should hold the filling well enough so that the puff doesn’t collapse or sog out right away.

Here’s the recipe for the creme puff dough: Yield: 36, quarter size puffs

Ingredients: 1) 250 grams (8 oz) water, 2) 110 grams (3.25 oz) butter, cut in small cubes, 3) pinch of salt and pinch of sugar, 4) 140 g all purpose flour, 5) 4-5 eggs, 6) egg wash for top of puffs.

Directions: 1) Put the water, butter, salt and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil, 2) As soon as it boils, take it off the heat and dump in all the flour all at once. 3) Place the pan back over medium heat and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon for about 30 seconds-1 minute until the mixture forms a mass and does not stick to the pan. Keep stirring until this happens and the dough starts to “dry” out a bit. 4) Remove pan from heat and transfer mixture to clean bowl, 5) Crack eggs, 1 at a time, and fully incorporate into the dough before adding the next egg. You may not need all eggs. You want to stop adding eggs when the mixture forms ribbons when you lift it out with a spatula. The other way to check is to draw a line in the mixture in the bottom of the bowl and you want the canal you drew with your finger to fill in slowly. If it fills in too fast, you’ve added too many eggs. If the channel stays put and does not fill in at all or if the batter sticks solidly on the spatula without ribboning back into the bowl, you need to add the 5th egg. 6) Pipe out quarter size dollops onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet and brush with egg wash, 7) Bake in a 400 degrees F oven. 8) Check after 10-15 minutes; the puffs are done when they puff up, are golden brown and when you don’t hear crackling when you put the puffs next to your ear to listen. If you hear crackling, then it’s still trying to dry out the water. You want the puffs to be very dry in the middle. An even better way to check if they’re done is to slice one open and touch the inside with your finger. It needs to be really dry inside. If they’re almost done, turn the oven down to 200 or 250 and let them sit in there for another 5-10 minutes. You don’t want them to be too brown, so make sure your oven it not too hot, but you want them to be dried out.

Then, cool the puffs, slice off the top third of each to make a “hat”, fill with your favorite cream (ice or whipped), and serve with chocolate sauce.

Here’s the recipe for the chocolate sauce we made (it was delicious): 1) Bring the following ingredients to a boil: 125 g (4 oz) of milk, 60 grams (2 oz) heavy cream, 15 grams (1/2 oz) butter, and 65 grams sugar. As soon as all that boils and the sugar dissolves, take it off the heat and pour it over 150 grams (5 oz) of bittersweet chocolate and stir until all the chocolate is dissolved and it’s now a shiny, sauce. You can reheat on the stove prior to service. If it gets too thick, add a touch more cream while it’s on the heat to thin it out.

Happy Eating!

Days 48 and 49 – More time pressure in the kitchen and some delights at home

9 Sep

So, I don’t really have any “new” shots of food from school, as we’ve been rotating many of the items I’ve already posted pictures of in the past. This feature picture is Branzino with a sauce Americain. Sauce Americain is made by sauteeing lobster shells & legs, and shrimp shells; adding carrots, onions, and garlic; then, flambe-ing with brandy and white wine; and simmering for about an hour until flavors are fully developed. The sauce is strained & reduced, cream is added and the seasoning is adjusted (salt and a squeeze of lemon to brighten it up). The sauce in the picture should be a bit thicker.

At any rate, tomorrow, we add a few new dishes in the repetoire: 1) boeuf bourguignon with fresh egg noodles, and 2) profiteroles. Anne and I are partnering on the chicken and beef, which might be a bit of a challenge, considering we have about an hour less tomorrow in which to accomplish everything (since tomorrow is also Day 2 of Sous Vide) AND beef bourguignon should really be started the night before. But, who isn’t up for a challenge? We’ll see tomorrow after class. To give us our best chance, Anne and I are each going to come up with our own “order of operations” tonight and we’re going to compare notes tomorrow before start, so we don’t get the “OOPS” comment – “order of operations, stupid!” – if we’re late in delivering near-flawless food to Chef Tomm at the exact time.

In addition to trying to become faster and more efficient at juggling multiple dishes, I’m trying hard at being neat and clean in the kitchen, even though it wouldn’t appear so by looking at my chef jacket at the end of each day. I still can’t get over using almost every tool in my arsenal. Here’s a picture that made Tomas laugh. And, it makes me laugh, too, except that I need to get better with less tools and less space, as I’m pretty sure I’m not going to have the luxury of laying all my tools out in a restaurant kitchen.

Okay, onto some more tasty food at home. I was a bit tired after our fun weekend in Honolulu, so Carnet got stuck with dinner on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. This was his beautiful and marvelously tasty creation on Tuesday night:

He made shrimp curry over cauliflower “rice”. He’s trying hard to stay on the paleo diet as much as possible, but clearly I blow it. But, last night, this was a great paleo meal. His cauliflower rice was to die for and I didn’t miss jasmine rice at all, hard to believe. His quick recipe for cauliflower rice (for those who are trying to stay away from carbs): Take the whole cauliflower head except for the leaves and put it in a food processor – yes everything but the leaves, 2) pulse until it looks like a grain, 3) saute some onions and garlic in a saute pan, 4) throw in the cauliflower “rice”, 5) add a bit of chicken stock, salt if your chicken stock is not already salted (taste before you add the salt), and whatever spices you’d like, and 6) simmer about 5 minutes or so. This is a very quick dish. Think about it like cooking fried rice, since the rice is already cooked, it’s not going to take long for it get done; you just need to jazz it up a bit with some spices. Since he made curry, he didn’t put too much spice it in, but it could be a side dish all on it’s own.

These are cute little cauliflowers we got in our CSA basket. They had a lovely light orange color to them.

Tonight, I’m back on dinner. We’re having BLTs, but no ordinary BLTs. Last night I started marinating (curing, really, with a salt and sugar rub) some pork belly. I’m modifying the pork belly ssam recipe in David Chang’s “Momofuku” book. I love that cookbook because I love his story; he seems genuinely honest about his mistakes as well as good fortune, and he swears a lot which I get a kick out of because I have that problem sometimes 😉 So, our BLTs will be made with pork belly, heirloom tomatoes, a miso mayo dressing with cucumbers, and some quick vinegar marinated sweet onions, all wrapped in lettuce leaves. Nope, no bread/carbs. However, I did take home some of the lemon tart I made today, which I am going to rip into after dinner. I just can’t stay away from desserts. I think it’s a genetic thing – it’s the “Must Have Sugar” gene. I’m going to use the fact that I got a 97% on my ServSafe exam as an excuse to eat more sugar. Oh happy day.

Day 47 and Sous Vide with Chef Jeremy

8 Sep

Yesterday was day 1 of Sous Vide, which means “under pressure” in French. Can you tell which steak was seared in a pan and put in the oven and which one was sous vide and then seared on the outside for a quick minute afterwards? Each of the steaks and pieces on the right in the above pictures was cooked sous vide; the ones on the left were seared in a pan on high heat and then put in the oven until medium rare. Anne and I enjoyed the sous vide steak more and Bobbie and Mark enjoyed the “cave man” style steak (seared on very high heat in a pan) more. The sous vide steak was softer in the middle and was more moist, we thought. The inside was a different texture, but I liked it. The sous vide prep was a raw steak (no seasoning) vacuum packed in the chamber sealer and then cooked sous vide at 125 degrees F for 26 minutes, then taken out and seared in a hot pan for about 1 minute on each side. Here’s the chamber sealer and one of the sous vide machines that our ribs went into:

We also tried eggs sous vide at 146 degrees F for several minutes. They were like a sunny side up egg, but looked poached and both the whites and yolks melted as they hit the tongue. Weird. I don’t love runny eggs that much unless there’s something like a great bread to sop it up with, so that wasn’t my thing. Here are the eggies:

One other item Chef Jeremy showed us was how to chamber seal and sous vide creme anglais. Instead of cooking it over a bain marie and tempered, everything is put in a blender and then in a bag to vacuum seal. Then, it’s “cooked” at 179 degrees F until it was done (can’t remember how many minutes). I think the point of that was to show us how a liquid could be transformed sous vide and also to make sure we knew that you had to be very careful to not put too much liquid in the bags to be sealed, lest you wreck the chamber sealer machine if liquid gets sucked into the motor. Here are a few pics of the creme anglais demo:

Going back… thanks, Carnet for the guest post. It wasn’t my best dinner party to date (Carnet gives me too much credit, here), but it was darn good. I seem to recall Carnet’s 40th birthday at Shannon and Fred’s was quite a tasty Mexican blowout. But, for French-inspired cuisine, Sunday’s dinner was pretty lovely. I’d do the corn soup again in a heart beat, and true to the French form, I strained both the corn soup and avocado soups, so they were both very silky and made the texture contrasts of the trout and chives in the corn soup and the tomatoes in the avocado soup, pretty nice. I don’t have exact recipes for either soup, as I winged it along the way for both…tasting and adding more liquid until I got the right consistency of each, but here’s a general recipe you can use for the corn soup:

Roast corn kernels from 6 ears of corn in the oven at 425 degrees F, in olive oil, salt and pepper, until a bit golden, but they still have some crunch to them (maybe 5-10 minutes?). Put corn in a food processor with some shallots and a bit of onion that you sauteed in a pan for a few minutes, along with some vegetable stock (or chicken stock will work, but I had organic vegie stock on hand, so that’s what I used), a couple of splashes of heavy cream (maybe more), 1-2 tablespoons of marscapone cheese (because I had it and it was a good thickener) and just a small squirt of lemon to balance the very sweet, sweet corn that I had. If you have excellent corn, this soup is going to be beautifully sweet! Then, adjust seasoning; you may need more salt or more liquid, but don’t make it too soupy at this point, as when you strain it, it will be pretty thin if you use too much liquid. Then, strain through a fine strainer until it’s velvety. Refrigerate until ready to serve in cold cups or bowls. Right before service, top with smoked trout and chives. The trout will sink to the bottom, so be sure to tell your guests to dive down for a surprise. The avocado soup was a similar prep, but obviously I didn’t cook the avocados. Additionally, I added lime juice and a hit of cayenne to the avocado, so that it had a very slight acidic component to balance the sweetness of the corn soup.

Sunday Night Dinner Party

6 Sep

Thanks Rach for letting me drop in again to talk about food, love, and life.  When we started this whole culinary school journey Rachel and I had a couple long discussions about what we both expected from this experience.  As many of our friends have known for many years, we both love to cook… for me it’s a way to drink beers and just forget about my day to day business activities.  I normally get a pretty good buzz going when I cook and my creative juices flow.. sometimes a great meal is put together, other times we end up going out for food.  Either way, the kitchen is my zen garden and I freestyle cook like no other.  For Rachel it was always a bit more serious.  She would think about her menu for a couple of days, read through her cookbooks, adjust depending on what ingredients are fresh at the market and present the food as a complete story… with an intro, body, and tasty ending.

So when Rach decided to go to FCI, it was not something done lightly.  This was a long drawn out process with multiple visits to the FCI in New York, tons of research about the culinary school experience she was looking for, and how it would fit into our lives.  We had several aborted starts and stops along the way with work, Sprout, and other distractions along the way.  It was not until the acquisition of Sprout was well underway, did we finally bite the bullet, drop a deposit down at FCI and thus started the Saltyapron adventure.  For those of you who know Rachel, if she’s going to do something it is going to be done as perfectly as she can do it.  The first two months of school were not what she planned… the Sprout acquisition took much longer than expected and between school during the day and reviewing legal docs at night, it was a frustrating time not being able to jump in with both feet.

I digress… back to my discussion about expectations.  When school started, we talked and tried to figure out what Rachel was really expecting from FCI.  Was she going to work for a world class chef?  Was she going to open her own food truck?  Restaurant?  Catering?   I broke it down quite simply.  There were no expectations.  At the end of the program, if she wanted to become a professional salsa dancer and never step into a commercial kitchen again, that was fine with me.  The only expectation is to have a great time in the program, have fun, refine skills in the kitchen, and figure out if this is what she wants to do as a career.

So where does this guest post take us.. it was a long set up say that this weekend I finally saw Rachel take what she’s learning at FCI and transform it into a fun dinner party.  No expectations, but damn… great food.  I have always known that Rachel loves cooking food and feeding people.  But this weekend, I saw her transform from a recreational cook into the beginnings of a professional chef.  It’s probably hard to realize how much you are learning when you spend everyday in the kitchen, but for those of us who get to watch and taste the food being cooked, it’s pretty obvious.

Our Sunday dinner started not on Sunday, but on Friday.  Rachel landed from SF and was already talking about a couple ideas she had for dinner.  It was going to be a fresh fish (Halibut?) with a pan asian flair.  She was tired of cooking French food (opps.. can I say that on her blog?) and wanted something different.  Like all great chefs, she brought back fresh Tomatoes from our Mariquita Farms CSA box along with a couple avocados.  Ok.. a bit random to be carrying fresh produce with you, but maybe that’s what FCI grads do.  Who knows.  Anyways, by Sat afternoon her well planned menu completely changed.  She could not find the fish she was looking for, but did find fresh corn.  Corn?  Great chefs should cook with ingredients that are available locally.  So the menu was that.. what she found at the market.

We started with a cold soup duo.  Roasted corn with smoked trout paired with an avocado taster.  Perfect for opening up our pallet.  The next course was a beet salad with friend goat cheese that Shannon made.  Then we dove into lamb chops that were paired with a lovely fig sauce.  From what I can remember the figs were soaked in a port, shallot, coffee, thyme, vegetable stock concoction that was cooked down into a lovely sauce.  Then to finish up the meal we had a homemade lemon tart that was a chance for Rachel to practice for one of her tests this week.  The meal was paired with a couple bottles of Pinots and a French table wine.

The best part was watching Rachel’s complete mastery of Shannon’s kitchen.  Never was there a hesitation as she cooked, drank wine and talked to everyone.  I’m dreaming of the day I get to sit in Chez Hampig at the chef’s table and watch her direct her team.  That’s gonna be awesome!  As long as I get a key to the wine cellar 😉

Here are some pics I shot of pre dinner cooking.  Hope they make your mouth water as much as writing this blog post has made mine.  Thanks for reading!

– Click on each pic to see a full size version.  These are the pre cooking shots of the fig sauce, making the lemon tart, cooking the lamb, and final products the soup duo, beet salad, and of course sunset at Shannon and Fred’s house.


Days 42-46 and a quick flight home

6 Sep

I have been woefully remiss in posting this past week, so this is going to be a long post. I’m going to start out with a recipe of my new favorite dessert (of the week) – the lemon tart. The filling in this tart is fabulous, as it contains about 4-5 fresh lemons! I’m still having trouble with the tart crust recipes – both the pate brisee and the pate sablee. I haven’t loved how either has turned out in my San Francisco kitchen or Shannon’s kitchen in Hawaii. And, on Thursday at school, I ended up with holes in the tart dough because I rolled it too thinly. So, if you find a crust you’ve made for years that you love, I suggest going with one of those. I also think a pine nut crust or an almond flour crust would be excellent with the lemon filling and I think I’ll try that next time I make it. But, the recipe below contains the FCI sweet tart dough. All in all it’s a very easy recipe with a lot of bang for the buck.

Lemon Tart recipe:

Filling Ingredients: 1) 150 grams fresh squeezed lemon juice (juice of 4-5 med/large lemons), 2) 5 eggs, 3) 200 grams (7 oz) granulated sugar, 4) 150 grams (5 oz) heavy cream, 5) powdered sugar for topping at the end.

Pate sablee (sweet tart dough): 1) 150 grams (5 oz) butter, softened, 2) 90 grams (3 oz) powdered sugar, 3) pinch of salt, 4) 2 egg yolks, 5) 255 grams (9 oz) flour, 6) 1-2 Tablespoons ice water, as needed.

Directions for pie shell:

1) First, if you’re working in Hawaii or in a warm climate, work quickly and try to work on marble or some other surface that will keep the dough somewhat cold when you roll it out, 2) In a bowl, cream the butter, sugar, salt until light and fluffy, 3) Beat both eggs yolks together until fairly well mixed, then add one at a time to the butter/sugar mix, 4) Add flour all at once and mix only until just combined. If dough it too dry and crumbly, add 1 Tablespoon of water at a time until the ball of the dough can be formed, but is not too sticky. 5) Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold.

Again, try to work quickly here so the dough doesn’t get overworked.

Directions for filling: While the tart dough is chilling, make the pie filling.

1) Wash the lemons and zest two of them. Then, juice 4-5 lemons and add the zest to the juice. 2) In a different bowl, beat the eggs and then add the sugar until mix is smooth and well blended, 3) Add the heavy cream to the egg mixture and mix until thoroughly incorporated, but don’t whisk too much, as you don’t want there to be a lot of bubbles that form (those will stay on top of the tart as you bake it and it won’t look as nice), 4) Add in the lemon juice & zest, and stir until all well combined (this should not be in an aluminum bowl, as the acid will react with the aluminum), 5) Refrigerate until after you blind bake the tart shell.

Directions for blind baking tart shell:
1) Remove dough from the refrigerator and if it’s too hard, leave it on the counter for a minute until it can be rolled out. A dough too cold will crack when you’re trying to roll it out and you’ll end up overworking the gluten if you have to keep working it too long to get it to do what you want it to do. 2) On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to about ¼-1/8 in thick – however you like it, and until it’s at least 1 inch greater all the way around in diameter than the 8-9” tart ring. 3) Butter the tart ring and then place the dough inside it, pressing it firmly against all sides. If there are holes, use the extra dough to patch them up. 4) Rest the dough in the tart ring back in the fridge for 10-15 minutes. The point of this is to try to prevent shrinkage when baking. 5) Remove rested dough, line it with foil or parchment paper and fill with beans or something heavy, and blind bake it for 15 minutes at 350 degrees F. 6) Check at 10 minutes or so to see if it’s getting golden. You want it to be slightly golden before you fill it, as the pie filling will only take about 30 minutes to bake and you want the crust to be nearly done and flaky before you put the very wet filling inside it. 7) Once the blind baking is finished, turn the oven down to 300, pour the lemon filling inside the shell and bake approximately 30 minutes until set and the crust is golden brown. You may need to remove the sides of the tart shell halfway through to get even browning on the sides.

This tart is best served at room temperature. To dress it, sift some powdered sugar over it; or whip some heavy cream, throw in a bit of marscapone and a tablespoon of honey, and top it with the whipped cream/marscapone/honey and a side of raspberries.

So, back to my week. Level III is all about timed tests every day. We have a mystery basket from which each of us has to make an amuse bouche, and then we make two other dishes (one is a joint dish with two other partners). Here’s a picture of one amuse last week – bass with curry and what I’m calling the Italian flag (I got overzealous trying to put a lot of color in it). 

Last week I bombed grandmother’s chicken and screwed up the lemon tart on day one of the new food round. I hate the grand-mere’s chicken recipe in the book, as does every other student. We all agreed that we could get the crispy skin the recipe is intending by either doing it beer can chicken style or roasting and basting the whole bird in the oven. And, we all agreed that this time intensive recipe is nothing we’d ever put on our restaurant menus as we can think of several much better recipes that take much less time. At any rate, thankfully I’ll only be responsible for part of that dish one more time this coming week.

The other recipes last week (and for two more days this coming week) included branzino in a sauce americain, which is a lobster and shrimp based sauce, and a warm, composed vegetable salad topped with a poached egg and hollandaise.

Chef Tomm is doing a great job helping us “save” things like hollandaise sauce when it breaks and consommé, when the necessary raft doesn’t form. It’s fabulous learning the tricks of how to save dishes, as it’s likely one of these two will be on the midterm exam and it’s also likely one of us will screw it up trying to get the timing of everything else to be the same. Again, there’s no substitute for doing and screwing it up, and also for the hands on instruction of how to do it. This is one of the things I love about school.

Okay, onto how I was feeling about last week. I love that we’re being asked to step up our game and to learn the timing issues of plating 4 identical plates of each dish we make. I don’t like that I drew #9, which means I’m the last person to present my sequence of dishes. I’d rather be first, or near first, as I think I’m best and focus more under pressure. Having too much time has meant that I “think” I can move more slowly at first but then at the end it’s a mad rush anyway. I think it’s harder to get the timing right and I also think there’s likely a higher expectation of perfection if you go last. This Friday, we’ll draw numbers again and I hope I’m in the first group to go. We’ll also add two new dishes to the mix: beef bourguignon and cream puffs filled with chantilly. Then, the final week prior to our midterm, we add 7 new dishes to the repertoire. Things are heating up!

And, they certainly did this past weekend. I was so glad to get to go home, jump in the ocean and get a few hours of BT (beach time, in my world). Carnet’s going to do a guest post about our Saturday night dinner with Shannon, Fred, Pete, Carol and Igor. I’m hoping he posts the picture I took of him asleep at the table with everyone’s name placards slyly placed all over him 😉 Yes, it was 11:30 p.m., and many delicious wines had been flowing for hours by that point. I was very excited about the way all the food turned out. And, Shannon is always the BEST host, as well as fellow cook in the kitchen (her goat cheese and heart shaped beet salad was to die for). I am so incredibly lucky to have such supportive people in my life and those who share the same zest for cooking and eating.

And, I want to thank all of the foodies who read my blog posts consistently and for those who have posted such kind words of encouragement. You don’t have any idea how much it means to me! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

This time at school is going by too fast. Soon, I have to get my butt in gear and figure out what’s next. I hope by the end of next week I have a staging gig and that I have a plan for after graduation. I have so many ideas but I have to do so much research yet to figure out what is the best, first direction to take.

If you’re a chef in Italy or Spain doing really cool things, I’ll give you 6 months of my time for free in your kitchen. Just give me a ring!

Below are a bunch of pictures from last week to give you a bit more of a flavor for what goes on in our school kitchen. Chef Tomm made us a “treat” one day – duck fat popcorn and kettle corn – yummmmm. He also showed us how to pull noodles. Some of the dishes we made last week are also below. These are not all mine, so I’ll have to thank Mark and Rachelle, my station partners for 6 days, for these.