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Day 115: 4 days left of school!

13 Dec

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
– often attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson

And, I don’t mean leave a trail of food on the floor, as I was doing today.  Still working on flipping ingredients inside the large sautee pan.  I’m excellent at flipping things out of it. Need to work more on my wrist muscles.

I like this quote, as I’m often torn as to what path I should take or even if I should take a path already laid and, instead, make a new one. Carnet is great at blazing new trails.  And, I’m really good at making sure there is still a trail to follow. Translation: often times, my role is behind the scenes making sure things are all “in order”.  But, I don’t want to do that. I want to make a mess, and then be able to clean it up. I want to experiment and invent (or re-invent). I want to believe I can do something that I’m pretty sure is crazy (for me). But, I’m nervous to do it.  Whether I can muster enough gumption to do it remains to be seen in the next 3-5 years.

But, in the short term, I have to concentrate on getting a panel of Bay Area chefs to like my final plates I present next Monday. Feeling good about my crispy skin on the Arctic Char.  Still feeling awful about the gross chickpea cake.  No problem on the grilled and braised radicchio. No problem on the romesco-ish sauce.  So, if one of the dishes I pull to make for the final is the Char, I will be happy.  It’s also a fast prep compared to some of the other dishes.

The final countdown: Tomorrow – monkfish, Wednesday – pasta, Thursday – calamari, Friday – don’t know, Monday – final exam!

Tonight’s dinner: garlic sausage from Marin Sun Farms (pasture-raised animals/meats) with horseradish mustard and red grapes, with a bottle of Moretti beer to wash it all down 🙂

Days 112, 113 and 114: Jaegerschnitzel, spaetzle, and the restaurant heats up

11 Dec

I’m bummed I didn’t take pictures, as the process of making spaetzle was really cool, if not a bit difficult for a first-timer.  Chef Udo said he would help us make a couple of German dishes for our class family meal on Wednesday.  So, he had Tomas make jaegerschnitzel and the dough for the spaetzle. Then a few of us took turns cutting the dough into the boiling water.  I think if you look up most spaetzle recipes, they will call for pushing the dough through a colander, but according to Udo that is the Swiss way, not the German way.  We used a pizza board and a cake spatula to work tiny bits of dough off the large dough ball and into the boiling water.  I have to say my arm got a work out!

Mark was sick on Thursday and Friday, so I got an extra day on saucier, which meant I made the lamb dish 2 days in a row.  On day 2, I was much faster at both prep and getting the plates out during lunch service.  So, although everyone knows repetition is the key to getting faster at things, repetition 2 days in a row was key for me – instead of waiting for another 8 days to practice lamb again (our rotation is we do 1 dish every 9 days, which equates to us practicing the dishes only 2 days each prior to the final).  Since the lamb is 99% likely to be the saucier dish on the practical exam, I am super glad I had another day of practicing all the components.  I’m feeling much more positive and relaxed about it all. And, it was more fun in the kitchen last week as we had a few days of larger numbers of patrons in the restaurant, which meant we didn’t have a lot of time to stand around and be bored before firing our dishes.

It has been a very relaxing weekend.  Igor and I ate and drank wine together on Friday night, then yesterday I spent some time working on plans for Spain and putting down a schedule to brush up on my Spanish.  I’m a bit nervous about going and just knocking on doors, as the economy in Spain isn’t exactly wonderful right now.   So far, no connections have panned out, but I’m still hopeful.  I’m hoping a smile and my energetic personality will help 😉  Only half kidding.

Tonight, I’m off to Charlie Hunter at The Independent.  I haven’t seen him in a long time, so I’m looking forward to hearing some of his new tunes!  Hoping some of those stick in my head for tomorrow’s class, as I’m usually singing some bad 80’s tune I heard on the radio on my commute down to school.

Day 111: Banana tart (round 2) and sushi with friends

7 Dec

Today, was the last day on patissier prior to the final exam.  I was on banana tart.  I am getting much faster at both making pastry shells and rolling them out, although I don’t think I’ve yet dialed in on the perfect pastry crust. Hopefully, one day I’ll get there!  Don’t have much to add about school today, other than I busted out the components of the banana tart pretty quickly and without issue.  So, hopefully, if that is one of the dishes I pull for the final, it will go smoothly then, as well.

Tonight, I went to sushi at Kiji (http://www.kijirestaurant.com/) with friends – thanks, Chris, for the introduction to a new sushi restaurant!  Sashimi always makes me happy (and it’s not just because I usually have sake with it).  There’s something so simple and elegant about a very fresh, raw piece of fish cut perfectly. Yet, in that simplicity is greatness.  Kiji did a mean poke, with a little kick of spice to it.  They also had some interesting rolls. But, I think my favorites were the hirami carpaccio and the fresh scallop.

So much more fun eating coming up!  This Friday, Mark and I are going to a bbq and bourbon place that opened up in the Mission, recently.  Then, the following weekend my “two little brothers” (Mark and Bobbie) and I are going to Calistoga and Napa to do some x-mas shopping for Bobbie’s parents – yes, wine.  Not sure what evening restaurants we’ll check out but I know on Sunday morning I’m having SolBar’s house cured smoked salmon – it is the best I have ever tasted, anywhere.  I am so in love with that salmon that every time I’ve had breakfast there, that’s what I get.  Carnet threw a birthday weekend extravaganza for me – I mean a birthday bash to put to shame all other bashes – at Solage 2 years ago, and each morning we ate at SolBar I had that salmon.  It almost brings tears to my eyes at how good it is.  Now, if the chef or pastry chef could do something about that awful bagel they make and serve with it, it might be the perfect dish.  Then, graduation night, it’s off to Sons & Daughters. I haven’t been, so I’m excited to try.  Hopefully, Carnet will be able to stay awake for an 8:45 p.m. reservation after he flies from Tokyo to San Francisco that day to arrive just in time for graduation.

Then, home for Christmas on which we usually have prime rib and ham.  I know Busaba will want me to cook after this past 6 months of learning new techniques, but anyone is hard pressed to dry age and cook a prime rib better than my husband. So, I think I’ll stay out of his domaine and come up with some complimentary sides and dessert.

Off to bed with visions of….dancing in my head.

Day 110: 2 weeks left of school and the importance of breakfast

6 Dec

I’m back on desserts for 2 days. Everything went just fine with my dessert today, save my ice cream wasn’t quite as frozen as I would have liked it to be for service.  That’s not what irritated me.  I’m not going to rant on why I’m irritated as I already “caused a commotion” (as my grandmother used to accuse me of) at school by asking why we couldn’t practice 2 different dishes simultaneously and then did a smallish rant in response to the answers that were insufficient in my opinion.  Instead, I’m going to rant about breakfast.   Yeah, breakfast! Chef Peter, Bobbie, and all the rest of you no breakfast eaters, eat it … everyday!  And, make it a healthy one. Coffee by itself does not count.

I used to be a coffee and bagel or no breakfast eater because I was too busy and I always used the excuse that I just wasn’t that hungry when I first got up.  But, when I started FCI, Carnet reasoned that if I didn’t eat before I left for school, I was going to tank and not have a chance to eat prior to lunch.  He was right.  So, his promise to me was that he’d make me a healthy breakfast every day when he was home.  He has done a fantastic job.

But, when he’s not home, I still make a healthy breakfast because it only takes 15 minutes.  Here’s how it goes….I wake up and spend 5 minutes in the shower thinking about what I can make for breakfast in under 15 minutes to ensure that I get out the door within 40 minutes of my alarm going off (often hitting the snooze button once).  Obviously, putting the coffee on takes 5 minutes.  Smoothie with yogurt and protein powder (not the gross sugary kind) – 5 minutes.   Eggs, bacon, spinach or some other greens, and tomatoes – 10-15 minutes.  I don’t ever just do a smoothie, as it’s not enough and there’s too high of a sugar ratio to protein, so I make hard boiled eggs the night before or a few days before and pair 2 of those with the smoothie.    I don’t generally do carbs in the form of bread, as I’ve learned that the wheat carbs tend to give me a high that then drops to a low. So, it’s mostly about the proteins with the vegetable and fruits (obviously fruits have carbs, as well, so that’s why I always mix the protein with it).

15 minutes max and I can have what is a complete breakfast for me.  It’s not hard at all.  Just do it.  You’ll feel better and you’ll have more energy further into the morning.

At top is one of my recent school day breakfasts.  2 eggs, scrambled; 1 roma tomato; handful of sauteed spinach; 2 slices of lamb bacon (much leaner than pork bacon) and a large piece of lettuce for extra vegies. The pickled onions were a 15 minute quick pickle the night before.  A 15 minute breakfast. Done. You’ll feel fabulous.

On another note, here’s dinner from last night (the “fridge pizza” – prosciutto, gorgonzola, pears, tomatoes, romano cheese):

 

And, slices with salad on top:

 

Off to a bread making class this evening at La Victoria Bakery in the Mission. Hope it’s good!

December 4 Sunday thoughts

4 Dec

If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

I think those three things, and creating/doing them with family and friends, are really what I live for.  Carnet and I fell in love over good food, music, and laughter.  And, without really much discussion, we both strive to bring those into our house, or wherever we are, every day.  I don’t know how many concerts we’ve been to (this year being the bummer exception of a year due his crazy traveling schedule) but we always “rock out”, as I like to say.  My favorite venue?  The Fox Theatre in Oakland. It’s gorgeous and there’s not a bad seat in the house.  My other favorite venue is our living room, in the morning when he puts on one of my favorite songs to wake up and dance to, or late night after a few glasses of wine.

I have to thank both my mom and my dad for my love of good food, laughter, and music.  Even though times were lean when I was growing up until my teens, my mom always made food special. And, we always laughed around the dinner table.  My dad who was a huge prankster, so that always brought more laughter into my life (as well as few tears when he dressed up in scary costumes and jumped on my bed).  The piano in my house was a great thing. My mom played beautifully. And, when the piano bench wasn’t being used for sitting on, she, my sister and I would take turns jumping up on the  bench with an air microphone and lip sync to whatever record was playing (yes, we had records!).   Ahhh, love those days.  I wished I would have kept playing the piano, as now I’m just a hack.   Apparently, I was thanked for my talents and then released by my piano teacher at age 10 or 11 (?) after I composed a piece of all sharps and played it at a concert.  My bad.  Then to seal my fate, my sister had to go and compose something beautifully sweet, which was so unlike her.  My husband bought me a great electric keyboard for Christmas several years back to encourage my to get back into playing and I have yet to play a piece for him because I think I’m really bad. I still like those sharps.  One day I’ll take some more lessons!

Tonight’s dinner:  Salad pizza! I have to use up a bunch of greens and random small bits of things in the fridge.  I think it will be prosciutto, gorgonzola, pears, grated romano and some greens dressed with balsamic.  That just screams for a glass of 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, but this kid is not yet healed, so I’m staying away from my favorite libation in favor of the ever healing – water.   Nonetheless, there will be laughter in my house, as our friend Chris is coming to stay this week (he’s from Canada, so he’s already funny); there will be good food; and I’m sure there will be music.

Day 109: No school today; lots of fresh ginger tea, oj/cranberry juice mix and chicken broth

3 Dec

Yesterday, I was feeling achey and I had a sniffy nose, but I was hoping it would pass.  Not so, and it got worse overnight so I stayed home from school today.  Unfortunately, our class seems to be passing around some sort of “cold.”  It’s that time of year, I know. But, I’m bummed as we’re so close to graduation. It would be great if we could all finish on a high note and have everyone confident and healthy.  Unfortunately, there’s no “make-up” in another class, because there’s not another class close enough behind us to make up the particular class we miss.   So, to make up for now only having 1 day of practice on the calamari dish before the final exam, it looks like I’ll be buying several ingredients and practicing at home!   Good thing I like calamari 🙂

So, how have I been eating today?  Minimally.  I believe when you’re sick that your body doesn’t need to work hard at digestion when it should be using all of its energy to heal what ails it.  I agree that food can be healing, but I think it has to be the “right” food and in the right quantities so as not to interfere with the healing.  My food today:  lots of fresh ginger steeped in hot water with a pinch of Potrero Hill honey (yummy local honey near me), organic orange juice mixed with unsweetened cranberry juice, a banana, and Carnet’s homemade chicken broth (thawed, as we keep quarts frozen for times like these).  No meat (just broth), low fat, lots of liquid = healing faster.  The body has to work harder to digest full cuts of proteins and fats, especially if you don’t chew them a lot before you swallow them.   I think my diet today is helping.

I am still dreaming about cooking, though, so that’s a good sign.  Looking forward to getting back in the kitchen on Monday!

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 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.

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 😉