Archive | November, 2011

Day 106: poissonnier, arctic char, and some more practical advice on fish

30 Nov

Today, I moved to poissonnier and made the arctic char dish, for 7 customers to be exact. Arctic char is such a beautiful looking fish.  Unfortunately, our recipe pairs it with a chickpea cake that tastes like complete ____ and a radicchio that’s just not tasty.  Granted, it was my first day making the dish so one needs to consider that there is likely some error in my execution, but the reality is that every person in our class hates the chickpea cake.  The cake tastes dirty, the texture if gummy, it’s not attractive in appearance, and it’s just not a good pairing for the lovely char.  I would never dare speak for our chefs, but I have a good idea that they aren’t disagreeing with me here, at least not in whole.

On a brighter note, I want to share Chef Peter’s very practical “trick” for helping fish and sticky items not stick to a pan (this is for regular pans, not nonstick pans).  Yes, the obvious is that you need to get your pan really hot, the oil needs to be hot, and you need to leave your protein alone for a bit until it gets to a point where it wants unstick itself in the pan prior to you flipping it. But, Chef Peter also reminded me of something he learned.  “Season” your pan, in a sense.  Put it on heat, pour in some oil and a couple tablespoons of salt, and let it sit over medium heat for a few minutes. Then, take a dish towel and rub the salt and oil in the bottom of the pan. Then, wipe it all out, and start your searing process as you would normally  i.e. heat your pan, then throw in your oil, wait until it’s hot, then put in your protein to sear it.  When I did that, the skin got crispy and brown on my char (without having to cheat and use flour) and it stayed intact.  Thanks, Chef.

Changing gears, one condiment I love is salsa. I think salsas are super versatile. They pep up any meal. For me, they can go on breakfast, lunch or dinner; they can be sweet or savory or both; they can be spicy or not.  But, the best ones are fresh.  When I was in Hawaii, we made a breakfast salsa to go with our egg, bacon and opah lettuce wrap.  Here’s the super simple salsa, followed by the recipe:

Papaya, pineapple, tomato salsa:

Ingredients:

1/2 of a papaya, small dice

2 rings of fresh pineapple, small dice

1 teaspoon of minced red onion

1 roma tomato, seeded and small dice

2 tablespoons cilantro, minced

juice of 1 lime

salt to taste

red chili flakes or fresh chili finely minced, to taste

Directions: Mix altogether in a bowl and serve immediately.  This salsa doesn’t really keep as it starts to break down, so make only as much as you’re going to eat in one sitting.

And, the breakfast wrap:

Mmmmm, I’m craving breakfast now.

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Days 103, 104 and 105, plus a trip home to Hawaii and Thanksgiving on the beach

29 Nov

The last two days prior to Thanksgiving break, I was on saucier, which meant doing short ribs and racks of lamb.  I don’t know what happened to me on Wednesday but I could not cook a rack of lamb to save my life.  What makes that ridiculous is that, generally, the one meat I’ve had the most experience cooking and I usually always get right – medium rare – without thinking about it is rack of lamb.  Guess my mind was elsewhere… like going home to Hawaii.

Thanksgiving Thursday in Hawaii was perfect. It was just Carnet and me on the beach for 6 hours. We brought snacks, then ate fresh opah and three kinds of poke: taco, ahi and salmon (yes, I know, salmon don’t live anywhere near Hawaii, my bad).   Carnet and I just needed to be.  And we were. And it was perfect.

Then, we had another great day on Friday.  The sunset at top is one of several pics Friday night at our favorite beach, Kaimana.  We would have sat there for hours, likely, if I hadn’t said I was hungry and mentioned a new Honolulu restaurant, SALT, I wanted to try.  They have their own charcutier, so I was anxious to try.  Honestly, I didn’t think the charcuterie was all that great, even compared to the charcuterie our class made with Chef Ryan in Level 4.  The pickles were all one note – and sweet. Problematic for me.  And, some of the charcuterie seemed “amateurish” as Carnet put it.  But, they did do a mean Neiman Ranch burger with tallegio and red onion marmalade and a dangerous “SALT martini”, an ingredient of which is my new favorite spirit as of 2 years ago – Elderflower.  And, it was a great pleasure to spend several hours with some of our best friends, Pete and Carol, and their daughter.  You know when it’s just easy?  It’s just easy to be with Pete and Carol, like you’ve known them in another life.

And, then, just when I thought the weekend couldn’t get any better, we had Thanksgiving on Saturday with Shannon and Fred and 12 others at their house.

We had dueling turkeys – one brined overnight, the other not -, two kinds of stuffing, creamy pearl onions, haricot verts with bacon and mushrooms, sweet potato casserole, garlic smashed potatoes, boozy cranberry sauce, pumpkin cheesecake, apple pie, a whole luxurious pupu plate full of smoked ahi appetizers with olives and stuffed piquillo peppers, pumpkin rolls (I baked!), and I can’t remember what else since we started the day with fresh squeezed orange juice mimosas.   Shannon and Fred are awesome. They never miss a chance to throw a raucous dinner party at their house in which inevitably there are exploding chestnuts (my bad), exploding corks breaking through ceiling lights (Sean’s bad), Carnet taking a nap at 8:00 p.m. on his favorite couch, and so many booze bottles that we temporarily broke the recycling container.   Fun doesn’t even begin to describe Thanksgiving Saturday. Thanks, S and F – you two are the bomb!  That night was also spectacular, even with a bit of rain. Check out the views from their house.

But, I digress.  The purpose of this blog is about food, so below is a pumpkin dinner roll recipe I have been making for years, but only once a year on Thanksgiving since I don’t have a lot of confidence in my baking skills.   If you try this recipe, please keep in mind that it might look as though it’s not going to “work”, meaning it will look way too sticky to rise or be anything but a mess.  But, persevere.  It will work.

Pumpkin roll recipe:

Ingredients:

2, .25 oz. packages of dry, fast acting yeast

1/4 c. brown sugar

1  1/2 c. water (if it’s hotter than 110 degrees F, your yeast won’t work, so either use a thermometer or take warm tap water)

1 cup canned pumpkin

1/2 c. melted unsalted butter, but not hot

1 tablespoon salt

8 cups flour, plus more for the work surface

Directions:

1) Stir the 2 packages of active dry yeast into the 1 1/2 cups of warm water plus the brown sugar.  Make sure it bubbles; that is how you’ll know the yeast is working. The sugar will help activate the yeast.

2)  In another bowl, stir the pumpkin and butter until fully incorporated.  Then, add in the yeast/sugar/water mixture.

3) In a separate bowl, mix the salt and flour.  Then, slowly incorporate the dry mixture into the wet mixture until it forms a loose ball.  I use the term “ball” here loosely, as this dough is sticky.  You’ll want to work it a bit to develop the gluten and to make sure there is no flour left on the outside. If it’s too sticky, you can add a bit more flour, but if you add too much, your buns will not be as moist.

4) Put the dough ball in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place out of a drafty area and preferably somewhere slightly warm (not hot). Let it rise for about 30-45 minutes. It doesn’t need to double in size here, but it needs to rise some.

5) Then, working pretty quickly, tear off enough dough to form a 1 1/2 inch ball. You’ll need a bit of flour on a surface and on your hands to form it into a ball.  Continue to do this with all the dough. You’ll likely have around 25-30 rolls when completed.  Space them out on parchment paper covered cookie sheets and let rise until 1 1/2-2 times original size.  Again, it doesn’t need to absolutely double in size, but is should rise some.  The rest of the rising will occur in the oven when it’s hot and the bun steams.

6) Bake at 375 degrees F for approximately 15-20 minutes, until the tops of the buns are golden. If you take them out early, the insides will be gooey, so don’t be tempted. Or, if you need to try, take one out and pull it apart and see how moist it is still inside.  If you want extra butteryness on the roll, during the last 5 minutes of baking, you can brush melted butter over the tops of the rolls.

Happy eating!

Day 102: More dessert and bumbling through a new menu

22 Nov

There’s no argument that I’m not the most patient person in the world.  But, I was losing my patience today and I think it could have been avoided.   I appreciate that the-powers-that-be at FCI decided to have our class try a new menu and apparently a more complicated one (I appreciate the confidence in our class!), but I really believe no one tested the recipes as written prior to giving them to us, and if they did, the recipes are just not very good.  As one of my fellow students said today, “If you’re going to give us a harder menu, at least give us a good one.”  My sentiments exactly.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m always up for a challenge, especially in the kitchen.  But, being a former teacher, I never gave my students very limited time to try to perfect – for their final exam – something that I hadn’t even tried myself and something that I’m still very much working on into their practice days.   When I have only 2 days to perfect each dish prior to the final exam, I don’t expect the instructors to still be changing the menu 2 days into that practice – and not be happy with all of it.

So, FCI, do your students a favor: experiment with your recipes and make sure to clearly articulate how you want them done BEFORE giving us the recipes so you’re not cutting into the students’ practice time.  It’s great if your idea was to allow us creativity in changing the recipes (I don’t think that’s true in the restaurant level, however), but we also know that we have limited time to get the recipes excellent.

Okay, now onto happier thoughts.  I made a really easy chocolate ganache that you can use for garnishing or as a sauce.  Use a really good dark chocolate or bittersweet chocolate for this.  The recipe is super simple:  Bring 12 oz. of cream to a boil and pour it over 8 oz. of chocolate cut into chunks.  Stir until all the chocolate is incorporated into the cream, so you have a semi-thick sauce.  Cool it over an ice bath.  If you need to thin it out, simply add in a little more cream (cold is totally fine), and stir.  You can add vanilla to it, cayenne or any ground chili to it, or just about any other flavoring if you want to add another  dimension to the ganache.  We use the ganache to garnish the side of the plate for the banana-chocolate tart (see above).  But, the sauce can be used over bananas, ice cream, tarts, etc.

I also liked Chef Peter’s white dessert sauce (I’m not sure what he called it). It is also simple: sour cream, creme fraiche, and sugar.  I’m not really sure of the proportions of each, but I think you can get it right if you start with a little sour cream, a little creme fraiche and a couple tablespoons of sugar, whip that up until all is incorporated and then adjust the taste (meaning more or less of any of the ingredients).  It’s a nice tangy sauce that’s heavier than whipped cream, and if you want to use 2 or 3 sauces on something, this sauce is a nice compliment to the sweeter sauces like caramel or chocolate.

Day 101: 19 days left of school and what I’ve learned in a nutshell

19 Nov

For many years in my life, I never stopped to smell the roses.  Everything was about forward momentum and running with that momentum: full speed ahead, no regrets, little reflection.  Over the past couple of years, especially, I’ve really wanted time to slow down as I know it’s speeding up and that’s the joke on all of us. I’ve wanted to make time to reflect, and I’ve wanted to make time to just be.  Why do I want these things? I think it’s because I realize life is precious and short, and that I haven’t figured it all out yet.  Going to culinary school was about the same things that I’m always about:  trying new things that get me excited about life and trying to be the best at them.  But, this school and cooking journey has been about a lot more than that.

Even though time did not slow down and in fact I know Father Time sped up over the last 6 months just to piss me off, this journey has been a lot about reflection and just about “being” some nights.  Like Thursday night, for instance.  I was in my kitchen, all by myself, making dinner for myself and thinking about how fun it was to be able to do this. I don’t know that I’ve ever known contentment or that I would admit it if I did because that word always seemed synonymous with complacency for me.  And, I never want to be complacent.

But, I was content and full of happiness to be doing what I was doing in the moment – not looking forward or backward, just feeling confident and almost effortless at what I was doing, and enjoying the simple pleasure of making delicious food. What a luxury!

So, after just “being”, I decided to reflect about what I’ve learned over the past 6 months.  There are sooo many things that I can think of, but I’m going to write the first 10 things that came to mind.  They are not all the most important, nor are they in any particular order.  I just want to write them down because some are so simple I can’t believe I had to go to culinary school to learn them. Some are not directly related to what I learned at school but rather what I learned about myself during this past 6 months.

1) Every kitchen – home or professional – needs a chinois (fine strainer).  I don’t know how I ever made refined sauces without them.  They’re not that expensive. Get one.

2) If I’m going to be a professional chef, I need to find an exercise regime that compliments that.  As an example, I have weak wrists and I have some neck issues. So, I need to be committed to developing strength in my wrists, hands and forearms, and I really need to do yoga (frick!).  As Carnet knows, I hate yoga.  It’s painful and I’m not into someone talking in a groovy, calming voice as if I’m about to throw a fit if they spoke normally. But, stretching and maintaining a great posture is super important if you’re going to be on your feet all day and leaning over something most of that time. And, the reality is, the sun salutations are a great way to keep your posture and your muscles in great shape. Ughh.

3) You need a good partner in the kitchen and one in your life if you’re going to be a successful restaurant chef.  If I ever open a restaurant, I will be looking for that amazing chef de cuisine.  That person will need to be a rock star in the kitchen just as I plan to run a rock star restaurant.  And, being an amazing chef/restaurateur takes enormous amounts of time, so who helps you at home and in your personal life?  Your amazing partner, of course.  I’ve got that. Thanks, Carnet!

4)  The chef instructors at FCI are among the finest you’ll find anywhere and if I had my choice of any school, I’d choose FCI again.  A good friend once said to me, “Those who do, can. Those who can’t, teach.”  I knew he meant that as a compliment because he told me that when I quit teaching to go do something else.  But, I never really believed that was true. I was a lawyer before I was a teacher, and that’s exactly why I got the opportunity to teach – because I knew my stuff.   The FCI instructors know their stuff and most of them are incredible at imparting that knowledge – not just in “book” instructional ways, but through stories, anecdotes, and by throwing out the book (and recipes) sometimes in favor of what really works.  I’m impressed and I will use them as life long resources.  Thanks, guys!

5) Culinary school is so much more fun if you throw yourself into making friends with the other students with whom you work most closely.  As cheesy as this sounds, I know a few of my culinary friends will be my friends far into the future.  We text about the good food we make at home, we send pictures of the same, we talk about staging and externing and the awesome and painful things that come along with doing those, we help each other in the kitchen, we don’t compete (at least not yet), we go to drinks, we critique restaurants we visit either together or separately, and we check in with each other to see how one another is doing.  It’s like family, but only better.  Kidding, kind of.  I feel so lucky to have met the people in my class.  It has been a blast. Tomas’ hilarious singing gets me laughing every day.  I will always seek out a Tomas in the kitchen from now on 🙂  Laughing is super important, especially when under stress. It puts things in perspective.

6) Sharpen your knives!  I can’t believe I ever worked with dull knives.  Yes, it’s true – a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one.  I’m embarrassed to stay I still don’t have a professional knife sharpener, only a steel.  But, at least I do the steel and it makes such a difference.

7) Lucky  #7 is similar to lucky #3, but it’s an ode to my partner.  I could not have done any of this without you.  Thank you a million times for encouraging me, supporting me, pushing me, critiquing my food harshly even though you know I want smack you when you do, and for loving me.  You are amazing. MFMMMA!

8) The Vita-Prep is essential home kitchen equipment for any chef who thinks she’s serious.  There are so many expensive and crazy gadgets out there, but  VitaMix, Vita-Prep is the best blender you’ll ever buy, and hopefully you’ll only need to buy one (unlike some $30-50 blenders that don’t blend very well and that have broken on me within the first year).  It has industrial power and is super fast. I sound like an infomercial.  If you have the money, just do it.

9)  Cook in as many different kitchens as you can under chefs who share, share share. Simple enough, right? I think there are a lot of brilliant chefs out there, but I want to work with and for the ones who say, “you should take every one of my recipes” and then teach you how to make them (yes they are out there and I’ve worked for a few).   I will work damn hard for those chefs any day.  Old school ways teach humility, sure, but I’m not content to sit back and patiently wait for someone to take an interest in teaching me while I prep and work on garde manger for years in one place.  I want to jump right in, learn as much as I can, and keep pushing forward.  The chefs who help with that are confident in what they do, are passionate enough to share, and they understand that it helps the profession overall if they partake in turning out more artful, skilled chefs who in turn help them bring more nobility to the profession (nobility meaning grandeur and magnificence).

10) Cooking is about “endless reinvention”, one of several guiding principals and words that Daniel Humm and Will Guidara from Eleven Madison Park (http://www.elevenmadisonpark.com/) use as inspiration.  I like these two words a lot and not just because they were used to describe Miles Davis who was one of the greatest jazz minds ever.  To me, it is the essence of what great chefs should strive to do – constantly reinvent themselves, their food, their restaurants. I hope to constantly push the limits of my creativity with food and making people happy eating my food. I hope to never find a limit to my creativity.  Endless reinvention.

Speaking of Daniel Humm and Will Guidara, they are even more impressive when you hear them speak together, like several of us from FCI did last night.  These guys are true complimentary partners in every sense of the word and they get it.  Will mentioned that one of the secrets to their winning formula is giving all of their employees a true sense of ownership of the business, which I learned when starting and working for start-ups.  It’s good to see that restaurateurs and amazing chefs are now thinking that way, as well.   Can’t wait to see what these two guys continue to do in the future!   Oh, and if you want a really beautiful recipe book in which they promised all recipes have been tested and re-tested, buy their cookbook.  I did and I’m already thinking about what recipes I’m going to make from it (and likely change a bit) tonight.

Day 100: Last day of Level 5, a new menu tomorrow, and stuffed pork leg for dinner

18 Nov

Today was our last day of level 5. Since David was gone, I was officially sous chef as well as 1 of 2 on dessert.  Thankfully, I had Ian’s pork and mushroom ravioli in the fridge from the day before for the “scoobie snack”, and all I had to do was make a mushroom broth for the amuse bouche.  Bobbie and I are on dessert for the first couple of days of the new menu and so we tried to prep for tomorrow’s new desserts while feeding restaurant goers who came in for the old menu.   We prepped the dough for the apple baba and we made a chestnut ice cream.  I don’t like the chestnut ice cream; the pureed chestnuts in a can are kind of gross and don’t really taste like chestnuts.  Bobbie thought it tasted like refried beans.  Hmmmm. Next time, I might take the long way: roast fresh chestnuts, puree them, and then add them into the base for the ice cream (yes, impractical, but chestnuts are in season now…chestnuts roasting on an open fire…).

Tonight, I had to use up the boneless pork leg parts in our fridge at home, so I decided to stuff them, roll them, sear them and then braise them.  I’ll explain my recipe and then show the pictures.

First, I pounded out the boneless pork leg parts.  My meat came in 2 small parts, which were perfect for 2-3 people.  Then, I stuffed them with chopped fresh spinach, grated pecorino, and golden raisins. I probably should’ve added some nuts to the stuffing for textural contrast but I forgot until the pork was all tied. Next time!  Then, I rolled them up, tied them, seared them in olive oil on all sides, and then took them out of the pan. In the searing pan, I added chopped onions and garlic.  Then, I added some way too strong oregano, and then deglazed with about 1 1/2 cups of sauvignon blanc. I reduced that a bit and added 1 small can of whole peeled organic tomatoes (the 14 oz. can, not the 22 oz. one).  I brought that to a boil, added some red chili flakes and salt, and then put the pork bundles back in the braising liquid on low simmer.  I simmered the small bundles for approximately 45 minutes, basting them every once in while.  After that,  I strained the liquid because the oregano was killing me it was so strong, then added in more tomato, a bit of sugar (my dirty little secret when canned tomatoes are too acidic) and reduced it a bit to make a nicer jus. I sliced the stuffed pork bundles; jus’d them up; chopped some more fresh spinach for the top; and had a lentil, feta, parsley and lemon salad as a side dish.  Yum!

If I could do it over, I’d braise the pork about 15-20 minutes less. The pork was very cooked and it didn’t need to be that done. The dish was still great, especially with the contrast of sweet and salty from the golden raisin and pecorino stuffing. But, it would have been excellent had I not overcooked it.

Here’s the sequence of pictures:

Stuffing the pork:

Rolled up:

Tied:

In the braising liquid:

Finally, the finished product:

One of the things that we started to do in our kitchen – that I love – is to use different color cutting boards for different prep ingredients. We use the blue cutting board for fruits and vegies and we use the red cutting board for meat only. Even though we throw the cutting boards in the dishwasher at the end of the night, using different colors still makes me feel better about preventing cross contamination, since it’s not always practical to send the boards through the dishwasher when prepping several different things in a row and hand washing them in between. It’s pretty easy to find different color boards out there today.  And, if you’re a freak like me about not cross-contaminating things, this is very simple thing to do.

Happy and safe eating!

Day 99: Last day on rabbit and osso buco – yeah!

17 Nov

Tomorrow, I get to play sous chef again and start prepping for a new menu.  I’ll be glad to get away from the rabbit and osso buco.

Tonight, it’s another “all in” dinner night, in an attempt to use the last of last week’s CSA box: romanesco (the green cauliflower looking thing in the picture at top); purple cauliflower; yellow carrots; rutabaga; sweet potatoes; and celery.  We have celery coming out of our ears.  Celery is really great for stocks and soups, but I’m so over trying to use it in everything just to use it.  If I have one complaint about Mariquita Farms, it’s that they go really heavy on the large bundles of celery and cauliflower week after week.  These are pretty boring vegetables for me to work with.  But, alas, they will make a delicious roasted vegetable medley with garlic and olive oil.

I’ve also been marinating lamb shoulder chops in some dijon, lemon, fresh tarragon that was also in my vegetable box, garlic, salt, pepper, and olive oil at room temp for about an hour.  I’m going to pan sear those in my cast iron pan a few minutes on each side and then finish them in the oven, if needed.  Here they are marinating.

I love marinating lamb in herbs, mustard, onion, salt, pepper and olive oil, as well.  It’s really super quick and very tasty.

I’m not sure how I feel about leaving my lamb out at room temp for that long, since I’m such a bacteria-phobe. My knowledge about “storing temperatures” for raw foods makes me cringe at what I’m doing, but then I’ve also read many recipes that call for marinating at room temp IF  you need to marinate something quickly (1 hour or less) vs. several hours to overnight.  I’m hoping my lemon juice will not only help to tenderize my meat, but to act as an anti-bacterial.  We’ll see later 🙂  So, I’m off to get the chops on the hot pan before I gross myself out.

One last comment, I’m pairing my roasted root vegetables and lamb with a 2007 Valduero Crianza, which is an Italian red table wine.  It’s very drinkable right out of the gate, with or without food. I really like this red. If you’re into Robert Parker ratings, it has a 90/100.  And, the price point isn’t horrible: around $25/bottle, depending upon where you buy it.

Days 97 and 98: The end of Level 5 and more good dining out

16 Nov

I can’t believe there are less than 5 weeks left of school.  Yikes! Where did this 6 months go?  I knew it would go fast, but please.  This flew.

I’m not ready to be done.  No doubt there’s a big bad (good) world of chefs and restaurants I’m looking forward to learning from in 2012, but I’m just not ready to be done with the formal instruction.  I know I’m a goofball for loving school so much.  But, I have always loved school.  And, I’m even more of a goofball because now I’m attached to different instructors and my classmates and I know I’m going to be sad when I don’t see them anymore.  Yes, I’m a super geek.  But, I have to give FCI, the instructors and my class, especially, the props for making it such a fantastic time (even on the days when I want to smack somebody with a pan – a small one, of course).

Okay, enough of the waxing nostalgic before there’s even time for nostalgia.  Onto food….

First, I’m flattered that people read my blog and mimic the recipes I post, even when the recipes aren’t mine.  Last night my dad made the lemon curd with berries and chantilly. It looked beautiful. Way to go, Papa!

Speaking of mimicking, I want to be able to mimic La Quercia’s prosciutto. It is die for.  Bobbie, Mark and I had a small plate of it last night at Locanda.  It was so “clean”, with beautiful fat (which, if you know me, sounds totally ridiculous coming from the “no fat” girl).  Definitely, the best I’ve tasted.   We also had a smoked white fish, horseradish and dill pizzeta and some deep fried olives – both decent but nothing I need to eat again.   We noticed that all 3 line cooks in the open kitchen space consistently kept towels in their left hands, handled the pans with their left hands, and used their right hands for plating and saucing.  Can’t wait to get to that point. I’m still a two hander at this point which = too slow.

After Locanda, we went to Serpentine, which is one of my favorite restaurants to go for dinner, just whenever. I love the ambiance and decor – warehousey, with vaulted ceilings and lots of wood and steel, with a wall of brick and windows.  Simple, rustic, yet modern and not a bunch of frills.  And, the food is consistency delicious. We started out with the homemade pickles, which were excellent.  We also had some oysters from British Columbia and some sweetbreads with a celery root puree and roasted artichokes.  That probably seems like a weird mix of starters, but it worked.  And, I can’t believe I’m going to post this, but the sweetbreads were the highlight. It was all about the sauce and the artichokes, of course. But, the sweetbreads were expertly prepared  – pillowy with a nice crunch on the outside.

We moved onto the Prather Ranch burger with gruyere, the duck, and the hanger steak.  All delicious, and yes, when I go out with Bobbie and Mark, I’m a HUGE meat eater.  But, I figured the red wine counter acts that, right?  😉  Not really, so tonight, it’s salad night for dinner!  Speaking of, I need to get pickling my watermelon radishes which are the size of my fist.  And, I need to start reading the Spain and Portugal Michelin Guide to see what restaurants I’m going to bug to see if they’ll let me play in their kitchens next year.   So, short blog post tonight.  Happy Eating!

Days 95 and 96: More dessert and a trip to Love Apple Farms

13 Nov

What a fun tour of Love Apple Farms on Thursday (see http://www.growbetterveggies.com/)!  FCI put together a special tour for our class of 9 with the owner of the farm and Chef David Kinch, who is also a dean of FCI. We spent about an hour touring the gardens and picking and eating fresh vegetables.  Then, we went to their “classroom” and nibbled on several different herbs, some cheeses they made at the farm, and their hard cider.  I love the concept of farm to table and I do agree that the food tastes incredible. It has to; it’s at its freshest. It would be so awesome if everyone could eat that way, instead of just the wealthy and those who own farms.

There were some fascinating herbs that I had never tasted before.  Like this one: Huacaty.

It smells like an herb I used to smell in Berkeley – ha!

I also really liked the quilquina, which tastes like a strong cilantro and is really fragrant.

The salad burnet was great and would be lovely in an herb salad.

The yarrow was also tasty and has an interesting history as an herbal medicine, the parts of the herb being used for different purposes – everything from clotting blood (the leaves) to treating phlegm to being used as a pain reliever and fever reducer.

We use the flower of the borage (in my hand of the picture featured at top) at Commonwealth to decorate different salads, and it’s gorgeous.

We also tasted a myriad of vegetables and being a vegetable fan I was surprised I hadn’t tasted a few, like this one: malabar spinach.

I love spinach, but I didn’t really love this spinach. The leaves had a consistency of okra when I ate them: gooey and slimy. In my eating world, gooey and slimy should never be adjectives used to describe vegetables, so when that happens, I usually avoid that vegetable. It was also kind of bitter. Not a fan.

The farm was incredibly lovely:

It makes me miss growing up in MN and Iowa, in MN when I used to work with my dad at Cal’s market (Cal had a farm and we worked at his vegetable market where everything was picked that day and brought to the market early in the morning) and in Iowa where my cousins and I would spend summers at my grandparents’ corn farm.

Switching gears, one of the recipes I made as patissier last week was a lemon curd, or custard, that we put in a tart shell and then did a few other things to it. I don’t love all the particular components of that dessert, but the lemon curd is the bomb. You could make your own tart shell, fill it with the curd and then top the curd with berries. Or, you could use it as a “pudding” in a dessert glass and top it with whipped cream for something really simple and homey. If you love lemons, this is the recipe for you – and it’s easy. I think it would be amazing with Meyer lemons, as you really get the lemon flavor in this recipe. Here’s the recipe with a few of my changes:

Lemon Curd, Yield 8 servings:

Ingredients:
2 eggs
4.5 oz sugar
zest of 1 lemon
4.5 oz fresh lemon juice
3.75 oz butter, cubed
5 to 7 oz sour cream, drained (I’ll explain why I didn’t include an exact amount here)

Directions:

1) Heat 2 inches of water in a sauce pan
2) In a medium stainless steel bowl (do not use aluminum here, as it will react with the acid in the lemons), combine the eggs and the sugar with a wire whisk and whisk until the mixture becomes light yellow/verging on white
3) Add the zest and lemon juice and then add the cubed butter
4) Put the bowl over the sauce pan that has the hot water in it on the stove
5) Turn the flame down to very low and cook the mixture, stirring almost constantly, until it turns a bit thick. The end result of the whole recipe is to make a custard, or curd, looking mixture, so when it’s over the heat, it needs to start to thicken before you take it off the heat, as you’re going to add in sour cream after it’s cool, which will make the mix less thick. This process will take roughly 5-10 minutes of stirring over the water bath
6) Strain the lemon curd through a fine sieve and cool over an ice bath. You want to cool this immediately and then refrigerate until right before you’re going to use it
7) Right before service, whisk some sour cream gently into the curd. I didn’t use the exact amount called for in the recipe, as it depends on how lemony you want the dessert and the texture and color you’re going for.  Eyeball it somewhere between 5-7 ounces of sour cream. The sour cream may need a little help breaking up in the curd and becoming smooth, so keep working at it until it’s smooth. This should only take 1 minute or so. Serve in a tart shell or a cold custard glass, top with whipped cream and berries.

Day 94 – Desserts and a CSA box dinner

10 Nov

Aside from almost breaking the $5000 ice cream machine, today was a successful day! I made vanilla ice cream, which was delicious. The secret in the recipe is adding creme fraiche after the custard has cooled and right before you put it in the ice cream machine. It gave it a really nice mouth feel and a little tartness to cut the sweetness of the sugar. I think most ice creams have way too much sugar. And, this is saying something from a woman who is nearly addicted to sugar. I must be getting wiser in my old age 😉  I know that’s partly what makes it good, but I always think if you use quality and fresh ingredients, you don’t need to hide them with loads of sugar, salt, etc.

Speaking of using fresh, quality ingredients… I was wondering what I was going to make for dinner tonight. I had so many different vegetables from our CSA box last week that we needed to use up. So, I took a cue from my husband, the “leaf to stem, all in” kind of cook, and made a vegetable “stir-fry”, pictured at top. I think the purple cauliflower, along with the sweet potatoes (from the CSA box today, which means uber fresh), and the greens is a definite winning combo.

So, here’s a quick and tasty way to use up all those aging vegetables in your fridge…Decide which should be in the pan first. Always go for the ingredients that take longest to cook, of course, but do it AFTER you season the pan with some onion and peppers. You’re looking to build flavor and that can’t happen if you throw everything in at once. I always use a wok on high when I do stir fries, as I think it keeps the vegetables at their best; they cook quickly without losing their beautiful crunch and vitamins and minerals (I don’t do vegetables the “French way” – yuck). After the onions, red bell peppers and red jalapeno, I added the diced sweet potato. I let that sit for a few minutes while I was dealing with my other dish (a lamb taco dish), mainly because it needed some time to cook. Next, I added garlic and the green beans.

I used to season the pan with both garlic and onions in the first round, but the garlic tended to burn, so I’ve learned to throw it in later, although you run the risk of it staying a bit “raw” if you don’t get a lot of heat on it or for a very long time. After the beans and garlic, I added the purple cauliflower, and lastly I threw in the romanesco greens that I cut off the head of the romanesco the other day.  That’s the “leaf to stem” part of Carnet’s cooking.  5 or so minutes into this layering, I went for the sauce. My sauce wasn’t really a sauce, but more of a light coating of flavors.  Here’s what I used:  a bit of kosher salt, 1/4 c. of wheat free tamari (soy sauce), a couple of tablespoons of rice wine vinegar, 1/2 of a lemon, and 3 tablespoons of my favorite hot sauce – The Pepper Plant original.  Here are the brands I like (no, I don’t get any endorsement money for these):

We discovered The Pepper Plant hot sauces on a trip with some of our best friends. We were in search of breakfast and we found this little cafe off the beaten path in Sonoma, I believe. I can’t remember the name of the cafe because it wasn’t anything special, but they had this hot sauce at the table. We love it so much, along with their chipotle and habanero sauces. The sauces don’t have a lot of crap in them and they are all sensational on eggs – transformative really.

I digressed from school today, but there’s not really much to tell.  It was a slow day in the restaurant, which was good for me, as I needed to try to understand how to make the several components to my dessert, and I needed time to perfect one. I had to boil my sugar-honey-lemon-water mixture 3 times in order to get the right consistency and color for the pulled sugar component. But, finally, I got it and my sugar tuiles turned out well.  Tomas, it’s your turn to burn your fingers tomorrow!

A thanks to Ian and Rachelle for walking me through different steps of different components due to recipe changes or no written recipe to follow, and thanks Chef Peter for getting me back on track with my blogging nightly 😉

Day 93 – Chef Peter’s back!

9 Nov

It was fun having Chef Peter back in the kitchen and also expediting. He has a ton of stories from his time in restaurant kitchens. Not preachy; just life lessons. I like that way of teaching.

Tomorrow I move onto patissier with Tomas – that should be fun. I get to pull some sugar, make some ice cream, make some caramel and make some caramel date souffle-type cakes (pictured, above). Then, the following day, I’ll make a lemon custard tart, almond brittle and candied pineapple (I actually think candied pineapple is disgusting because why would you take a perfectly delightful fruit and heap a mound of sugar on top of it?). I’m excited to be on patissier for 4 days, as desserts and pastries are not my strength, mostly due to the need for precision measurements and/or baking time.

Since I don’t love either the rabbit or the osso buco recipe, I’ll post a recipe that I made for my dad and Maren when I visited several weeks back, which I do love (and so did they!). It was a prawn and lamb kebab, which is an unusual riff on surf and turf that I had a few doubts would work. But, it was delicious! My dad and I love lamb and we love prawns, and this was a dynamite combo. I’ll also post a fried green tomato recipe for the last of the tomatoes that people are picking from their gardens right now. I paired the kebabs and tomatoes with 3 dipping sauces: a smooth chimichurri sauce and a harissa sauce for the kebabs, and a sour cream chipotle sauce for the tomatoes.

Here is a pic of the 3 dipping sauces:

My kebab pictures don’t really do the dish justice, but you’ll get the idea of how they’re suppose to look from the pics. I’d post a really cute picture of my dad and Maren but I’m not sure they want to be plastered on the internet 😉

The first pic is of the raw kebabs after I mixed all ingredients and right before they hit the grill. The second pic is the finished product with a harissa sauce and fried green tomatoes on the plate.

Prawn and lamb kebab: (Credit for the basis of this recipe goes to Bon Appetite magazine and Silvena Rowe, a chef in London at Quince, but of course I changed some things)

Ingredients:
1 lb. ground lamb
1 lb. prawns or large shrimp, chopped into small pieces no more than 1/8-1/4 inch
1 tsp kosher salt
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro
1 tsp. cumin
1-2 tsp. dried Aleppo Pepper flakes (you can use other red chili flakes, but I love Aleppo since it has a citrus and light smokey elements to it)
fresh black pepper, to taste
olive oil to rub on outside of kebabs prior to grilling
skewers

Directions:

1) Soak skewers in cold water for about an hour, if using wood or bamboo skewers (skip step if using metal)
2) Gently combine all food ingredients in a bowl until thoroughly mixed.
3) Place about 2 tablespoons of lamb-prawn mixture in your hand and roll into a 2″ long oval (or oval-ish). You want it to hold it’s shape around a skewer.
4) Slide skewer into center of oval and gently press the lamb-prawn mixture to the skewer.
5) Repeat steps 3 and 4 until all ingredients are on skewers
6) Brush all skewers with olive oil on all sides and grill on medium-high, turning until brown on all sides and meat is just cooked through. The chopped prawns will cook faster, so if you like your lamb med-rare, do a test skewer and see how long it takes.
7) Serve with Harissa sauce (recipe below) and/or Chimichurri sauce.

Harissa sauce (credit for the basis of this recipe goes to Tyler Florence and the Food Network, but I changed a few things, according to my taste):

Ingredients:

2 red bell peppers
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted
1 tablespoon coriander seeds, toasted
1 teaspoon caraway seeds, toasted
1 garlic clove
1-2 Thai red chilies or other red, spicy chili, seeded
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 lemon, juiced

Directions:

Roast the red peppers either over an open flame on underneath the broiler until charred on all sides. Wrap in plastic wrap or a plastic bag and allow to sit for 10 minutes. When they have cooled enough to handle, peel or scrape the charred skin off peppers.

Toast the cumin, coriander and caraway in a small skillet over low heat until fragrant. Then grind to a powder in spice mill or a clean coffee grinder. Put the peppers into a food processor along with the spices, garlic, chiles, salt, olive oil, and lemon juice and pulse to a puree.

Fried Green tomatoes:

Ingredients:

Green tomatoes, cut in slices about 1/8 inch thick
Dry spices: garlic powder, cayenne, paprika, salt and pepper
3 breading bowls, 1 for each ingredient: 1) panko, 2) all purpose flour mixed with the dry spices noted above, 3) 3 eggs, beat.

Directions:
1) In a pan big enough to hold 4 slices of breaded tomatoes without touching each other, add enough vegetable oil (canola is probably best or any oil that has a high smoke point) so that you can “deep fry” the tomatoes. Bring it 350 degrees Fahrenheit (if you don’t have a candy thermometer, you’ll need to guess. On my dad’s electric stove it was at medium-medium high on the gauge. Don’t let the oil smoke- that indicates it’s way too high).
2) Dip the tomato slices first in the flour/dry spice mix and completely cover on all sides.
3) Next dip the floured tomatoes in the eggs and completely cover.
4) For the final dip, cover the floured and egg’d tomatoes in the panko crumbs.
5) Fry until golden brown on each side. You’ll need to flip them after 1-2 minutes. If your tomatoes take longer than that to start to turn golden, your oil is too low. If they immediately start to brown, the oil is too hot. You may need to do a test run with 1 or 2 tomato slices if you don’t have a candy thermometer to tell you the temp of your oil.
6) Serve with your favorite dipping sauce. Ours was an olive oil mayo mixed with dried chipotle pepper, dried ancho chili powder, a squeeze of lemon and lemon zest from 1/2 of a lemon.

I won’t post a chimichurri sauce recipe, as it’s different every time I make it and it would be too hard for me to give exact quantities. This one is really all about your taste. But, the basics are: use 3 fresh herbs (I like mint, basil and flat leaf parsley, but you could throw in cilantro as one of them), add in some acid (either red wine vinegar or lemon), add in some red or white onion, salt, pepper, 1 garlic clove, some olive oil, and pulse if you want it chunky or puree if you want it smooth. Go easy on the acid to start with, as you can always add more. It’s sort of like a pesto without the nuts or cheese, which makes this a great vegan condiment.

Enjoy!