Friday, May 9, 2008

Brown Veal Stock, Pork and Rabbit (Boston Butt, uh huh huh huh)

There is no doubt about it: pork is delicious. After being vegan/vegetarian for several years, it was the smell of frying bacon in a diner that seduced me back to porcine foods. Since then, I've developed my palate enough to be repulsed by over-salted industrial factory-raised bacon, and taught myself to sear a pork tenderloin medallion properly. As a Jew who grew up with very little pork in the home, it is the "other white meat" that stands as one of the pillars of my food-love.

According to Chef M, the pig is a great animal because it's easy to raise, will eat anything, and its meat and products are so versatile it's not unusual to get a 95% yield (use 95% of the animal) as opposed to the 30% yield of a cow. For example, beef fat melts at such a high temp that when ground into sausage, it can taste like little lardy bits. On the other hand, pork fat melts at body temperature. You can literally take a pig, grind it up with some spices, and--poof--you got good sausage. Pigs used to be 50/50 meat/fat, but through diet and breeding, today's pigs are about 70/30 meat/fat, making them fit well into today's nutritional scheme. Trichinosis (a disease associated with undercooked pork) is not really an issue in farm-raised pork, as the disease is picked up from diet. Wild pig, however, should always be cooked to over 160 degrees to kill bugs and other viruses.

Of course, the pig is unpopular because of what it eats: everything. There are stories throughout history of a farmer's child going to feed the pig, falling into the slop trough, and being eaten alive by the pigs. It's not for nothing that they're neither treif (unkosher) nor hallal.

A pig can grow to over 1,000 lbs but the kill weight is around 250. As with other animals, factory farming has made pork poisonous to our health and our environment. Pigs are packed into small pens, up to their knees in poo, shot full of antibiotics and sick most of the time. Their poo is put into huge plastic-lined collect pools that destroy the environment, whereas it could potentially be denatured and spread out as fertilizer -- but that would take more that looking beyond the profits at the end of the week. Chef M name-checked some outfits that do pork the right way. These brands are environmentally friendly and raise pigs healthfully and humanely: Nehman Ranch, Applegate Farms, and Berkshire Pork.

When the knives came out, the time-pressure was on. Our first task was to cut up mirepoix for veal stock. Up to this point, when we chopped celery, carrots, and onion, we could take our time to dice nicely. Now we were rushing to get the veg into large pots (in a little oil and salt) to get some browning and carmelization going. I found myself dicing, but when realizing time was short, simply rough-chopped to get things in the pot. In mirepoix, it's all cooked down, so things like trimmings can go in the pot -- it's all going to turn to mush and be strained anyway. While we were chopping, we put veal bones from yesterday in the oven to brown. During the course of class while we butchered and at one point we added tomato paste to the mirepoix to brown further. Then the roasted bones and the mirepoix were put in a huge pot and covered with cold water to be brought to a boil before being set to simmer for 24 hours or so.

First up was an entire intact pork loin, which was basically very similar to the beef loin we worked our way through, only smaller. Indeed, as time went on, the fat would get a bit slippery and coat our gloved hands, unlike the turkey-meat-like beef fat.

While thirds of a loin were distributed to each student, Chef M allowed me to finish fabricating his whole loin. Once I got the fat off, it looked like the pieces of loin I find in the market, only pre-cut into medallions.

Yesterday Chef M made an important point which I think he may not of stressed strongly enough. Any cook can take an expensive cut like a pork tenderloin and make it taste fantastic. It takes a chef to take a cheap tough-cut and make it fantastic -- and, most important to any restaurant, profitable.

Then out hopped the rabbits. I haven't eaten much rabbit in my life because it simply isn't offered. The rabbit is cool because it's just like a cow or a pig -- the skeletal structure and the meat muscles are all there, just tiny. Unlike the small parts we worked on before, this time we got the whole animal. If we had a whole cow, we'd need huge table saws and hatchets -- the rabbit only required a paring knife and scissors for the bones.

Butchering is a tough job that require both a strong and steady hand. I'm looking forward to going to the old-fashioned butcher in a city-owned market space by my home soon and hitting him up to see if he has any grass-fed grass-finished organic product.

After class, hit up the farmer's market in Union Square to pick up apples for dessert for tonight's dinner party with a colleague from school and his wife. Yoga was kind of annoying today: The substitute teacher played bad music loud enough to obscure her voice, and went over by a full 30 minutes to go through a greatest-hits of positions I can't do yet.

BREAKFAST: 6:30am, 2 buttermilk pancakes, .5 bowl, hunger 4/5
Using the new pancake mix I made with the scale, I finished the buttermilk before it went bad. I'm not quite sure why, but these were the fluffiest, lightest pancakes I ever made. A little bit chewy, but like big pancakey pillows. Put 4 in the freezer.

AM TASTING: 11:30am, 2 small pieces of baby back ribs, half of a mini eclair, small piece of French bread .5 bowl, hunger 4/5
After hacking pork sides apart today, Chef M chose to roast baby back ribs in the oven, painted with a rub of vinegar, sugar, salt, and a few spices. Due to limited class time, he couldn't slow cook it at a lower temp, and the meat was a little tough, but still tasty. Pastry class sent up a small plate of mini-treats. That was cruel -- we should send them a handful of mini fillet mignons next week.

LUNCH: 12:30pm, pad thai, water, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5
Went to a so-called Vietnamese joint at 13th and University, whose menu was really Pan-Asian. It was raining, I needed to sit. Got a HUGE plate of under-dressed pad thai for $7 including tax. I literally left over 1/3 of the food, it was just too much. I guess this place makes money by massive turnover, as their putting a ton of poorly prepared food on a plate at a very small price.

PM SNACK: 5pm, handful of carrots and cucumber with homemade hummus, .25 bowl, hunger 4/5
In school, we toss the odd-shaped slivers of veg we chop into a 'trim bucket' to be used for stock or whatever. As I'm not making stock at home soon, my mouth became my trim bucket.

DINNER: 7:30pm, crudites with hummus & olive oil, 4 slices of homemade pizza, homemade vanilla ice cream and homemade apple crumble, 1 glass wine, 2 glasses seltzer, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5
It's nice when a dinner you make more or less goes the way you hope. Making pizza dough with a scale is the only way to go -- the dough balls came out of the fridge from proofing over night looking like I busted them out of a pizzeria. We started with battonets of celery, carrot, cucumber and red pepper with some homemade but standard issue hummus and nice green flavorful olive oil with some pine nuts. The parade of pizzas started with a simple bufalla moz margarita. The dough, after resting for a couple of hours, became very stretchy and was almost translucent in the middle when I laid it on the stone. It was too thin for about 1/3 of the interior to retain it's structure when pulled out. The second pie added organic pancetta, portobellos, cippolinis, and garlic. The salty pig fat really helped meld the vegetables to the pie, and this time I made sure the dough was consistent. Nicely browned on the bottom, it was airy but chewy, just right. The third pie involved my guest's chili (he's from Arizona, chili is his thing) as the sauce and Guinness-marbled cheddar. Came out better than I thought -- the black goo of the beer and the orange of the cheese melded into the strong flavor of the chili perfectly, and the pizza dough acted as a perfect dish for this hot yumminess. The fourth and final pie replaced the cheese with a truffled goat cheese and white onions, though in my opinion the goat cheese overwhelmed even the bold chili. Dessert was some French vanilla ice cream straight out of the maker and apple crumble, whose crust was greatly improved with 2 extra tablespoons of butter.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Veal (Beef Horror 2: Electric Boogaloo)

If yesterday was a horror show, today was the sequel: the same story, only bumped up a notch. A veal cow is a baby bovine under 200 lbs and 4 months old. However, what we eat in restaurants is not actually true veal -- it is calf, which is defined as below 400 lbs and up to one year old. True veal is milky white, while calf is whitish-pink, similar to pork. Early on, Chef M told us that unethical restaurants will serve pork and call it veal. Typically, after the hammering, breading, and saucing, they are very hard to distinguish visually and taste-wise .

To keep the meat tender and pale, the calf is prevented from exercising and fed a liquid diet. Grading, from Prime and Choice down to Utility and Cull, is voluntary and based mostly on the amount of fat marbling, more being better.

Chef M discussed the primal cuts of the veal corpus, making a point to illustrate the cheap, tougher pieces, which naturally get more exercise just from standing and breathing (fore and hind shanks, shoulder, round) and the more expensive tender pieces like the tenderloin, a muscle whose main purpose is to protect the kidney rather than actually do anything active.

Chef M told us a story about how a restaurant he worked in made a Veal Milanese from slices of veal loin, a tender and expensive cut. He would order a primal cut of veal called TBS (Top round, Bottom Round, hind Shank, basically the whole rear leg) With proper butchering and braising, this cut of veal was equally tender to the loin, similar in visual appeal, and had more flavor to boot. Additionally, the TBS was $7/lb, while the loin was $12/lb. The Veal Milanese was still $35 a plate, and the description on the menu was till truthful -- it was not called Veal Loin Milanese, it was simply Veal Milanese. It is this kind of creativity, according to Chef M, that makes a good Executive Chef get a good bonus.

Another place for a chef to express creativity is in offal -- very cheap (i.e., tongue, testicles, ears, intestine, lungs, heart, etc.) utility meats that the public doesn't like, but a good chef can get around that squeamishness. When I was taken to Mario Batali's restaurant, Babbo, for my birthday (by the HVS no less!), I ate both beef-cheek ravioli and tripe parmigiana -- and I liked it. Foie gras (liver), sweet breads (glands), and oxtail (cow tail) are all really cheap, really yummy, and takes a clever chef to get them down your throat. Speaking from experience, they are unusually tasty once you get over the fussiness we've been accustomed to.

Some discussion of what's in the food media followed, like the hype around the on-line reservation system of Momofuku, and some gloating over the strife at another culinary school.

Then, out came the knives; first, we cleaned a flank steak that we didn't get to yesterday. This lower belly cut would be where bacon is on a pig, and is notable for its well-defined straight grain. My father used to grill flank on the hibachi in the back yard when I was a kid, smothered in bottled BBQ sauce. I kinda wish he was there with me to look over my shoulder as I was cleaning the fat and silverskin off the meat.

Silverskin: the shiny silverish membrane between fat and muscle. Made of collagen, it is essentially gristle and unpleasant to chew, and must be removed with a long narrow blade while minimally cutting into the meat. Finding the balance between cutting the silverskin and cutting the meat is very tricky, definitely a butchering skill that I need to develop.

Then we got a half-loin of veal, with the kidney still intact. We first removed the kidney and then carved away a lot of the turkey-meat-like fat that protected the kidney. From there we removed the spine bone (with two long ribs attached), separated the loin from the tenderloin from the flank, and further trimmed off other muscles like the chain (a muscle between the spine and loin), the hanger (a tougher piece that lays closer to the back of the kidney) and the sirloin (which is in back of the loin, and is another primal all-together, but lays a little over). After cleaning the loin thoroughly of excess fat and all silverskin, we practiced trussing up the loin as a roast before chopping it down into medallions and hammered-out butterflies and scallopini. Oddly enough, to cut the scallopini was exactly the same as cutting the gravlox yesterday, thinly at a long angle.

After helping measure out ingredients for a cure, including sodium nitrate, Chef M put some veal flank in the mixture of salt, sugar, nitrate and aromatic herbs so we can have veal bacon one morning next week.

As I say in the column to the left, I am not a shill. However, I have to say here that if anyone reading this is considering culinary school but can not afford it or have the time, the second-best thing (other than working in a restaurant) is Alton Brown. He has a show on the Food Network called Good Eats, which takes a more formal and scientific look at cooking -- not just the hows, but the whys. I've been reading his first cook book, which is not organized by recipe, but by cooking method, and more importantly, the fundamentals of these methods. He's a bit of a major dork, but a lot of the content of C-School is buried in his shows and books.

I'm cooking for a fellow student and his wife tomorrow night. He's from Arizona and is a bit obsessive about chili and as a New Yorker; I'm obsessive about pizza, of course. He's whipping up some chili, and I'm gonna experiment with some chili pies topped with truffled goat cheese, a cheddar marbled with Guinness and, yep, Fritos. Food-porny pics in the addenda tomorrow!

I stopped by the Broadway Panhandler to pick up a culinary scale, as my homemade pizza dough has been a bit iffy up to this point. This time, everything will be measured by weight instead of volume to get some real precision. Thanks to Mike, who made some divine pizza in his house for B and me a few weeks ago, who strongly recommended the scale.

I planned to go to yoga after class today, but felt tired and pleasantly burnt from the 60 mile bike ride yesterday. Gonna aim to do a lot of prep work today for tomorrow's dinner, so I can get my downward facin' dog-on tomorrow.

BREAKFAST: 6:30, good yogurt with raw cashews, honey, vanilla, .5 bowls, hunger 3/5

AM SNACK: 10am, small piece of french bread, hunger 4/5

LUNCH: 11:30am, piece of veal loin and a couple thing slices of flank steak, country-style mashed potatoes, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5
Made the potatoes for the class again. Used literally a fistful and a half of salt.

PM SNACK: 1:30pm, large piece of organic chocolate babka, .75 bowl, hunger 3/5
After collecting ingredients at Wholefoods, got home and indulged myself purposefully in this sweet. Really enjoyed it, too. Typically I would put off desert to dinner, but I want to sleep well.

DINNER: 7:45pm, Brocolli with bacon, onions & garlic, butter, a pinch o' salt n' pepper, topped with toasted panko crumbs and diced talegio cheese, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5
Ilsa has stressed that I need to eat more vegetables, and my original intent was to do just that. After learning the basics of blanching and shocking, I briefly boiled then dumped the broc in an ice bath. I got a little carried away in the saute pan, throwing in a couple of chopped up pieces of good organic non-nitrate bacon from the farmers market with some diced onion and minced garlic, sweating all together to a translucent glow. Threw in a pat of butter with the broc right behind it, reheating the veg then tossing the crumbs over it. Once on plate, placed the cheese on it and had Rufus sit for a portrait with the dish. I tasted....good, though I overcooked the broccoli by a smidge, I think I was to simmer for a minute, not boil...

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Beef (Chicken Poo, Corn n' Drugs)

The morning started off well. The 8am start-time attracts two kinds of students: those who are psyched to be there and those whose commutes force them in then. Today, I stopped by Kossar's Bagels and Bialys on the way to class and bought a dozen bagels. When Chef M came in just after 7:30, he took out the gravlox we set to cure on Friday and ordered up some cream cheese and tomatoes. In case you forgot, the large side of raw salmon was buried in a slurry of kosher salt, sugar, black peppercorns, cilantro and tequila. Chef showed me how to slice the fish, which was a bit of a trip -- I've watched the mongers at Russ & Daughters slice fish for me countless times, and they do it so artfully and efficiently. Dragging the santoku knife along the fish was surprisingly difficult to control to get the nice long, thin fillets. The fish itself was delicious, though the tequila gave it a weird margarita overtone that would probably appeal more to an alcoholic out for brunch than a NYC-raised Jew like myself. Regardless, the flavor of the salty fish was great against the fresh bagel. And a great way to start the day.

The lecture portion of the day was a bit of a horror story. Chef M is more than aware of the questionable state of the American food supply, particularly when it comes to animal product. The majority of beef in the US comes from factory farms, where the animals are pumped full of hormones and antibiotics, fed an unnatural diet of corn and chicken poop (the chicken themselves having been fed a lot of otherwise unusable cow trim), and are slaughtered by a minimally-regulated industry with the highest accident rate in the world. The USDA supposedly inspects cows before and after slaughter, but they are underfunded and politically hobbled.

Chef mentioned sanitation in the slaughtering of beef. On the kill floor, the animal will be herded into a pen and a bolt will be shot into its head. This is supposed to kill it instantly. Seconds later, a caliper will pick it up and cut it in half and remove the head and guts. If the animal moves its head and the bolt does NOT kill it instantly, it'll wiggle when picked up and cut in half, almost guaranteeing the cut goes through its digestive tract and spreading e-coli through out the meat.

Speaking of meat, a steer (castrated male cow, the ones we eat) takes 3 years to come to kill weight when fed a natural diet, but only 18 months when fed drugs and corn. At 1500 pounds, after removing the head, skin, guts and bones, literally two thirds of the animal is trim. This used to be fed to the cows, but cannibal cows developed mad cow disease. Now it's fed to chickens, whose poo is....denatured and fed to cows! All this so we can eat $1 burgers at McDonald's three meals a day.

After thoroughly discouraging me on the idea of ever eating meat again, we discussed dry aging (controlled rotting in a dry room to tenderize the meat) and the different cuts from the different parts of the animal. Many distributors pack meat in vacuum sealed bags, and allow it to age in the meat's juices ("wet aging"), but Chef M is of the opinion that this does nothing to tenderize or add flavor to the meat.

We chopped up some mirepoix (onion, celery, carrots) for duck stock using the roasted bones from yesterday, then the fatty slabs of beef came at us. We each got a third of a short loin and first practiced trussing it, then trimming the copious thick fat which coats this cut. The fat was solid, white, and almost looked like processed turkey meat as we carved it off.

Once we got enough fat off, we sliced it into individual portions then we went to work on a different side of beef, tenderloins. Again slicing off a whole lot of fat, removing excess muscles that didn't go with the portions we were aiming to cut (filet mignon, chateau briand and tenderloin tip.) One piece we butterflied, put in plastic, and hammered it flat.

After clean-up, Chef M grilled enough meat over charcoal for everyone, and the grim lecture of the morning dissipated -- we were hungry, and those steaks smelled good. He also brought out the duck comfit we set up yesterday, and it tasted extremely....ducky. And juicy. I took some of the whole garlic cloves out of it and spread it on a bit of french bread....fatty ducky roasted garlic is easily one of the most delicious bread spreads ever.

It has occurred to me that we're not really cooking yet -- we're still in the fundamentals of cutting down meat and vegetables to prepare them for cooking. I guess one must crawl before he walks, and I'm aiming for an extended sprint by the time school is over.

Mother's Day is Sunday, and B's mom wants to go to.... a steak house. Oy.

Got a flyer to try out for "Top Chef." I've only watched the show once and it was over-the-top ridiculous with a bunch of repulsive egoists. Maybe I should try to watch it before I spend a morning on line at a cattle call. Hmmm, cattle call. Think they'll feed me some chicken poo?

BREAKFAST #1: 6:30am, banana, hunger 3/5

BREAKFAST #2: 2 halves of a bagel with class-made gravlox and tomato slice, 1 bowl, hunger 4/5
Skipped the cream cheese

LUNCH: 11:30, 1 piece grilled tenderloin steak, 1 piece grilled sirloin steak, bite of duck comfit, piece of french bread with roasted garlic in duck fat, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5

PM SNACK: 4pm, small handful of nuts, 1.5 packages of peanut butter cracker sandwiches, .25 bowl, hunger 4/5
Bicycle snack, overlooking the Hudson River and Tapanzee Bridge from Tallman Mountain State Park

DINNER: 6pm, mushroom tofu soup, white rice, kimchee, assorted pickles, water, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5
Dined at the Soft Tofu Restaurant in Fort Lee again, avoided the meat as I had enough of that in the morning!

EVENING SNACK: 9:15pm, organic chex with good milk, .5 bowl, hunger 4/5
Kinda craving sweets...huh, can't remember last time I ate a sweet....too tired to review blog....

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Poultry (Chicken Bondage)

I haven't eaten much chicken in recent years. It kind of tastes boring and neutral, and more often than not is overcooked. While a lot of people's default meat-choice is chicken, I'll always go for either pork or an interesting vegetarian option. However, in the classroom of culinary school, you don't choose from a menu. Today was our introduction to poultry.

In the lecture, Chef M said that inspection of all poultry by the USDA before and after butchering is "mandatory," but because the millions of birds dispatched by only a handful of very large corporations, chances of the chicken on your plate having actually been inspected by a government representative is slim to none. Unlike grading for beef, chicken-grading is not only voluntary, but based solely on appearance (bruising, tears), not on quality or safety.

We reviewed chicken types, from tiny baby Poussins (known in the U.S. as 'Cornish Game Hens' -- I guess 'baby chicken' would be T.M.I. for some folk) to big old Hens, whose egg-laying careers are behind them, leaving their tough meat best suited for stew and pet food.

Turkeys and ducks crossed our radar. Most duck served is the Long Island (Peking) duck, but for foie gras, this one is bred with a Muscovy duck to make a Moulard duck (French for 'mule'). The Moulard is sterile, and when fed by a tube until it has gout, produces a huge fatty liver and a huge thick fatty breast and leg. Geese are actually the preferred animal in France to make foie gras, but are a protected species in the U.S.

The knives came out, some time was spent chopping and dicing vegetables and potatoes, and then every one was given a chicken. Cold, pale, headless, plucked. Unlike yesterday's lobster in which the butchering and gutting was done in-house, Federal and NYC sanitation codes prevented us from doing the same to the chiken. I almost wished we could so I could feel more connected with this thing that we were going to eat in a few hours. That is, only if we used a knife or a tool to kill the chicken -- killing a chicken with my bare hands would of been a bit much.

Our first task was to truss the chicken to make it fit for roasting (trussing the bird helps create an even density throughout for even cooking). Oddly enough, after cutting off the wings and putting it into bondage, it somehow looked more like the idea of "chicken."

After untrussing, we removed the thighs and backbone, then removed the breasts with the wing bone attached (but rib cage removed.) Using the paring knife, meat around the wing bone was stripped away for a formal 'Frenched' look. Using the heal of the chef's knife, I cut off the knobby end of the bone. Watching the bone bleed, after a relatively bloodless session, made me queasy for a split second.

Fabricate one bird, you fabricated them all. We broke down ducks, in the same style of the chickens. The ducks were larger, the bones more substantial, and the meat darker and redder. Unlike the chickens, the ducks came with all the organs and neck stuffed in the body cavity.

During clean-up, the Chef chose me to make the mashed potatoes to accompany the chicken and duck he was roasting in the convection ovens. (He had a huge pot of potato trimmings we chopped up earlier already on boil.) He set me to melt a pound of butter with a pint of heavy cream while he demonstrated the curing of duck to make Duck Confit for tomorrow. While I was digging around for a fork to see if the potatoes were tender, the cream and butter quickly boiled over and Chef ran over and turned it off. The burners we're using are a LOT hotter than the burners I'm used to at home. I felt a bit stupid, a bit studenty -- I will not turn my back on a high-flamed pot again.

The birds were seasoned simply with salt and olive oil, and the skin got a little crispy. Since it was still on the bone, the flesh was cooked but still moist. The duck was a little tougher, and a had a stronger, gamier flavor.

There was a young woman auditing the class today. A few fellow students and I chatted with her during the class, and shared the roast birds and mashed potatoes. I audited a couple of schools myself before making a choice, and when I got in there and spoke to the professors at each, they all said basically the same thing -- either school will give you a fine culinary education, it's what you put in that'll determine what you get out. At the end of class, I slipped her a note with the address of this blog and whispered, "Check this out, it's a secret here!"

Foodcandy featured CSC on their front page! Hi! Please feel free to post to comments with questions or, uh, your comments.

The food today in class was tasty, but not the healthiest. Nothing was organic, the potatoes were nutritionally void, and did I mention there were no vegetables? I balanced it a bit later with a nice falafel platter and some baby carrots, but still. I guess if I'm going to be uptight about it, I should of gone here for school.

BREAKFAST: 6:30am, small bowl of good yogurt with vanilla, raw cashews and local honey, organic banana, .75 bowl, hunger 2/5

AM SNACK: 11am, small piece of french bread, hunger 4/5
Just so hungry!

LUNCH #1: 11:30am, roast chicken breast, roast duck breast, country style mashed potatoes, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5

LUNCH #2: 4pm, falafel platter, water, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5

DINNER: 7pm, baby carrots, small piece of raw-milk talegio, 1 piece superhippy bread with the good butter, quart of water, 1 bowl, hunger 4/5
Could of eaten more, but just too tired. Got to bed at 9pm.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Shellfish/Shellfish Stock (Woody Allen Redux)

I thought now that I got through my revulsion for eggs, nothing could stop me from doing the sketchiest things with food. I was wrong.

The morning started out pleasantly enough, with a lecture about the types of shellfish we eat: crustaceans like shrimp and lobster with their exoskeletons, bivalves like clams and oysters, the univalve like sea urchin.

The knives came out and we practiced dicing the same vegetable mix as on Friday to add to our soup -- in fact, other than the proteins, this would be the same soup. Then we worked our way into the seafood. Large 16-20 count fresh shrimp were distributed, and easily fabricated. I've been cleaning and deshelling shrimp at home for a year now. I always left the little end of the tail on, which would have to be eaten around, picked up with the hands and set aside. Why? I assumed it was just the correct way to do it, like if the tail didn't stay on, the shrimp wouldn't cook right. According to Chef M, it's purely presentation and quite inconvenient for eating. Never shall I leave the tail on my shrimp again.

A live lobster was given to each student. Chef M demonstrated how to dispatch and fabricate the crustacean. First, hold the body and the tail with firm hands and twist until the tail pops off. Quickly tear off the two big claws. Reach into the body cavity and clear out the 'guacamole,' and if you find an egg sac, hold that aside.

I took a lobster, and its many arms and 2 big claws (restrained in rubber bands) moved about. I felt a little queasy. I picked it up, put my hands around the appropriate spots, and started to twist....and it JUMPED and started flailing, and I dropped in on the cutting board. I felt like Woody Allen in Annie Hall, when he attempts to drop a lobster in a pot of boiling water and drops it on the floor instead...then hops on to the chair, hoping the lobster will just crawl its way out of the house and back to the sea.

I felt the tail start to come off, but when I got such a strong reaction from the lobster, I could not continue. I know rationally that dispatching the animal yourself is morally upstanding -- if you're going to eat animals and animal products, the closer your connection with its life and death means you're going to be eating more healthfully. Less steps, less processing, and less corporate finagling between you and your food is a wonderful thing. And yet, when I was called upon to butcher this brainless sea-bug, my fight-or-more-likely-flight response kicked into high gear. I tried to take a picture and just fumbled with my phone. I felt a little dizzy, very nauseous, and my mind raced. If I work in a restaurant and am asked to prep 20 lobsters, I can't claim that I'm too delicate for such work!

After a quick 3-minute boil, we cracked open the lobster claws, knuckles, and tails and extracted the meat. I watched as the Chef deposited the lobster shells into the pan for browning before deglazing for the stock pot. The legs were still moving. I know it's an involuntary nervous system reaction, but the queasy feeling came back. (Deglazing, by the way, is when you add a liquid to a pan where you were browning something -- the cool liquid hitting the hot pan will loosen the 'fond', the yummy brown bits that would otherwise stick to the bottom of the pan.)

Squid was actually a lot harder to look at than the lobster, but its lack of movement was comforting; if we were in Korean culinary school and it was a live squid, I surely would of freaked the f*#k out. But after coming off the lobster, pulling apart a squid was kid's play. The tubular head contained a weird quill, and chopping the eye from the tentacles allowed me to squeeze and pop the beak out. I started to relax, I got my nerve back. As I worked away at taking apart the squid, I started to think, "How will I regain my honor in class?" Though B won't be happy about it, I'm going to have to get some lobsters and dispatch them at home.

Mussels just needed a cleaning -- they would open in the cooking. Oysters look like large old corroded clams, and take some work to get a knife in to pry open. Theres a lot of liquid and boogery meat in those shells. Clams are smaller and neater looking, and a lot more work to open, unless their dead, then they're loose and need to be thrown away.

I weighed 230 pounds this morning, up another pound despite riding hard on the 5 boro bike ride yesterday -- I DID eat a lot too: a lot out, even more in. Just because I feel I'm being virtuous doesn't actually mean I'm losing weight.

BREAKFAST: 6:30am, banana, .25 bowl, hunger 2/5
Tired, grumpy. Stupid scale.
AM SNACK: 9am, small piece of french bread, hunger 4/5
As I'm chewing on this, I'm thinking, hmmm, this super refined white bread is kind of like snacking on sweets -- after such a nothing breakfast, this can't be helping my weight.

LUNCH: 1pm, pint of shellfish soup, 1 homemade pizza, quart of water, 2.5 bowls, hunger 4/5
Despite the existential angst, the soup was fantastic. You could taste the freshness in the shrimp, scallops, clams and, yes, the lobster. Shared my quart o' soup with my father-in-law, that was satisfying.

DINNER #1: 6:30pm, samosas, sesame noodles, curry sauce, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5
At work into the evening, a quick meal from Green Symphony

DINNER #2: 7:45pm, shrimp tempura, small green salad, 1.5 bowls, hunger 4/5
Food on the company dime, really didn't need it but needed to be sociable.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Weekend Report (Chemistry Set in a Can)

In Ironman, the big cartoon action movie that opened up this weekend, the super-rich, super-genius, super-fit main character is seen scarfing Burger King burgers and "New York" pizza before he becomes a good guy. After he sees the light, we see him drinking an icky green "health" shake.

My father-in-law stayed with us over the weekend. I made some KICK-ASS pancakes from scratch, using my mix and replacing milk with buttermilk, and it made all the difference. I've had so-called buttermilk pancakes from a store-bought mix where you just add water, but the flavor and mouth feel that real buttermilk gives, it's quite intense.

Following my FIL's lead, we pretty much followed the Evil Ironman diet on Saturday, with Chinese in Chinatown for lunch, and a nice buffalla moz pizza ordered in for dinner.

Sunday was a wackadoo eating day. I woke up at 6, snarfed 2 pancakes out of the freezer and a large cup of homemade ice cream, then road out into the fog and did the 5 Boro Bike Tour through the city. Ate a baggie of pretzels here, a few bananas there. Near the end they were giving out all sorts of new-fangled power drinks, including this horrible-looking Snapple thing that had just about as much sugar and calories as soda, but with a chemistry set thrown in.

Speaking of chemistry sets, I did drink a low-calorie sports drink called FRS. Here is the ingredients list:

Water, White Grape Juice Concentrate, Orange Juice Concentrate, Inulin, Citric
Acid, Natural Orange Flavors, Quercetin, Ascorbic Acid, Gum Arabic, Locust Bean
Gum, Green Tea Extract, Alpha Tocopheryl Acetate (Vit E), Sucralose, Caffeine,
Niacinamide (B3), Natural Lemon Flavor, Beta Carotene (for color), Pyridoxine
Hydrochloride (B6), Thiamin Hydrochloride (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Cyanocobalamin
Ten percent juice, about half a cup of coffee's worth of caffeine. Tasted very sweet and strangely oily. Inulin is a plant byproduct that is subtly sweet and has about 25% the calories of sugar, and has a minimal impact on blood sugar (see wiki) Is this the Gatorade replacement I've been looking for, or just an overpriced chemistry kit in a can?

Filleted a wild-caught red-snapper Sunday night as practice and broiled the fillets in butter and Herbes de Provence. $13 worth of fish got me two very skimpy fillets, which tells me that either Wholefoods is wildly overpriced or I really need to practice more.