Friday, May 16, 2008

Emulsion Sauces and Hollandaise (Heart Attack Sauces)

After reviewing the Grand Sauces for a second time in two days, we set about focusing on the last and most hinky of the Mothers: Hollandaise, and its derivatives, all of which are emulsions. Emulsions are defined as sauces thickened by two liquids which under normal circumstances do not mix. Typically, one of those liquids is a fat and the other is a water-type liquid like wine, stock and, urrr, water. The water-type liquid is the 'divided phase,' which sits in the bowl, and the fat is the 'continuous phase,' which is slowly dripped into the divided phase while whipping.

Before starting with Hollandaise, everyone as individuals made mayonnaise. Rather straight forward, you take an egg yolk, a bit of mustard (two sources of the emulsifier lecithin), a pinch of salt and sugar, and a tablespoon of vinegar; then you mix it up and slowly drip in a cup of oil while whisking. The first few drops are the most important -- if they don't set into an emulsion, all the oil that follows will start pooling and 'breaking' the emulsion. About halfway through the oil, the emulsion becomes stronger and you can get the rest of the oil in pretty quickly. Once it's thick enough, add salt to taste. I've never really eaten mayo, but this stuff was surprisingly unrepulsive.

From there, we broke into teams. Late Kid (LK) was back, and even 5 minutes early today. 2LG had difficulty making her mayonnaise, and was late coming to help set up the mise en place for the four other sauces we were making, but LK and I muddled through.

First we got the Hollandaise out. LK put 9oz of butter on the fire, and I whisked 3 yolks, 1.5 floz of water and a pinch of salt in a metal prep bowl on top of a pot of boiling water and whipped till fluffy. Off the fire with a towel between the bowl and the pot, we slowly emulsified the liquid butter into the egg mix. Once it got to that thick and ribbony stage, the three of us tasted and added salt until it was ready for Chef M (who must have had a belly mightily full of eggy buttery emulsion by the end of the day!).

Next up was the Bearnaise, which is just like the Hollandaise, except instead of whisking yolks with water, you create a reduction of shallots, peppercorns, tarragon, vinegar, and white wine that when almost dry, is hit with water to cool it, strained, then whisked with eggs and then liquid butter. At the end before or during salting, you hit it with some chopped taragon leaves for some visual interest.

As I was directing LK and 2LG to get the mise, I added the white wine and vinegar (8oz/2oz) -- that was the measure for the next sauce. We required equal parts, so our Bearnaise was cock-eyed.

Beurre Blanc started with another reduction (shallots, bayleaf, peppercorn, wine, and vinegar) and after straining, skipped the eggs. Instead, a full pound of cut-up butter was melted into the reduction while whisking. After salting appropriately, this stuff tasted like a warm kitty hugging your lap and purring. The idea of dousing something with warm butter is attractive but kind of gross in practice. However, the practice of dousing something in Beurre Blanc will get you that doused-in-butter ideal.

As the other two made the vinaigrette (which we also did in Lesson 4), I remade the Bearnaise with the proper ratios. The hardest part was running around collecting the mise -- the actual cooking of these emulsion sauces went pretty quickly.

Chef M busted out the veal bacon, showed us how to poach eggs and fry bread in a pan properly (with butter, a little salt, medium temp -- and don't let it scorch), and then showed us how to assemble an Eggs Benedict-like dish with Bearnaise on top. Despite my egg being soft and runny, I didn't have nearly as many problems eating it as the scrambled eggs a few weeks ago.

All these sauces can be found in just about any traditional old-school French restaurant. On Monday, we'll be coming at infused oils and contemporary sauces.

It seems the Foie Gras ban in Chicago was recently lifted. I told Chef this morning and his face lit up, said it was the best thing he heard all week, and ran to the phone to gossip with another chef.

A few random thoughts about my uniform: The checkered pants are pretty sensible, as they cover stains and schmutz excellently. As for the whites, they have their own way of accounting for a lot of stains in their design. The apron is a large square that is folded: this allows for 4 opportunities to have a clean apron. The chef's jacket is double-breasted. This is not to disguise the large girth of a chef, but when the front gets dirty, one can unbutton it and put the dirty side on the inside. I can't help but wish all my button-down shirts were double-breasted, they'd last a lot longer.

BREAKFAST: 4:30am, good granola with good milk, .5 bowls, hunger 3/5
Woke up at 4 in anticipation of a 2:30am wakeup on Sunday.

LUNCH #1: 11:30am, Eggs Benedict a la Chef M, .75 bowl, hunger 4/5
We pan-fried French bread in butter with a little salt so it was just toasted, poached eggs in hot water with a lil' bit o' vinegar, plopped them on top of our veal bacon, then poured Bearnaise over it. I've never eaten poached eggs due to egg-repulsion, and my egg broke and the yolk ran all over the place. However, it ran into the delicious sauce and it looked way too yummy and unhealthy to not taste....and it tasted good.

LUNCH #2: 2pm, 2 slices of local pizza, 1.5 bowl, hunger 4/5
I like the slice joint on my block because usually they have very lightly cheesed slices, where red can poke through like a checkerboard. Today was a thin blanket, and suffered for it. Weird inconsistency, hopefully it won't be like that next time or I'll have to stick to homemade.

PM SNACK: 6pm, bacon/chocolate bar, hunger 4/5
As I'm making dinner, B comes in with a tiny one of these. Slightly smokey and salty, but not nearly bacony enough, with tiny bits spread sparsely through the bar. A bitter dark chocolate would of probably complemented a porky flavor better. Great idea, cute packaging, crappy execution....

DINNER: 6:30pm, Chili de Arizona with Beurre Blanc, kimchi and raw onions over pine-nut brown-rice pilaf, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5
Used up my c-school friend's chili, and poured some of today's beurre blanc over it. Oh my, it was an excellent combo. The vinnegary butteriness of the sauce was kinda like sour cream, only more complex tasting. I threw pine nuts, porcini, shallots and chives into the long grain brown rice when toasting it in good butter, and it's wide flavor profile kinda competed with the wild flavors of the rest of the dish. Still, if it were a celebrity, gossips would call it a 'hot mess'.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Derivative Sauces (Son of Mother)

Class started with a review of the Grand (a.k.a. Mother) sauces, then a new definition/equation: A Grand sauce + garnish (anything from water and stock to vegetables and aromatics to dairy and eggs = derivative, or "small" sauce.

In the old days, when the French were formalizing cooking, cooks would start as kids sweeping up and washing dishes and then, when someone broke an arm or got the plague, they'd jump in and cook. They would write down everything they were being shown on cards, and would refer to them throughout their careers. One of these chaps, named Saulnier, not only wrote them down, but published them in a book called Le Repetoire de la Cuisine. The book is simply a list of ingredients that go into every derivative sauce -- it's up to you to know the technique. Sounds like the founding father of food bloggers!

Today's assignment: to make eight derivative sauces from the mother sauces we made yesterday. All the recipes were written on index cards by each student. The only technique Chef M brought to our attention is the tempering of liaison, which is cream and egg yolk whipped together. To prevent the egg from curdling, a small amount of the hot liquid is mixed in to the liaison, then the liaison is mixed into the hot mixture, never again to be brought to a boil.

Soon the knives came out, and teams reassembled. The Late Kid was so late that he never showed up -- other students suspect he'll be forced to drop out due to too many absences. So it was just me and 2nd Language Girl (2LG) working up a tableful of mise en place ("put in place," i.e., measure and arrange all ingredients) for 8 recipes, then going for it.

There was Demi-Glace, which was simply Sauce Espagnole and brown veal stock combined in equal portion and reduced by half. Strong tasting stuff, Demi-Glace. From that, we made so-called Fortified Wine, which was a pint of Demi-Glace with shallots reduced in a few shots of port, simmered with the Demi-Glace, and finished with some butter. Not your average Thunderbird, and only slightly wine-y.

All sauces were tossed or taken home, but Chef M held aside our Sauce Mornay to make killer mac 'n' cheese (see addenda). It's dead simple to make: a quart of Bechamel, 4 ounces of Gruyere and Parm-Regiano each, salt to taste. My mac 'n' cheese involved Bechamel with cheddar, moz and monterey jack, but I think Mornay's cheese combo is much more interesting.

Some of the sauce recipes were a bit more involved; I'll skip the blow-by-blow but if you want to Google them for more info, they were: Sauce Allemande, Sauce Forestiere, Sauce Supreme, Sauce Creole, and Tomatoes Sauce Soubise.

Working as the only 2 person team with 2LG actually was surprisingly smoother than yesterday. I told her what to do, and she did it. I explained each step of every recipe, we got the simplest two on the fire. Then, after Chef M tasted and approved them, we got the next two on the fire, saving the most complex for last. Our team was the first to finish all the sauces, and got to assist with lunch and preparing lamb bacon for a future lunch.

One thing that became very apparent to me was the power of salt. Early on, Chef M stressed: salt makes everything taste better. When it's time for Chef M to taste our sauce, we give it to him completely finished -- including seasoning. Here's how it works: Once you reach nappe consistency, you add a little salt, then taste. Add more salt, and add again and again bit by bit until it tastes good without tasting salty. In this way you can notice how every teaspoon makes a distinct difference. You know it is true, but this graphic illustration on your tongue kind of makes it feel like a new piece of knowledge.

Unfortunately, I was so consumed with the sauces -- cooking them, getting them to Chef M, keeping on top of my mise, making sure 2LG was busy and cleaning pots -- that I didn't take any pictures. During this process I joked with her that we're kicking ass because Late Kid wasn't there to slow us down. She giggled and told me I will make a great chef. That felt kinda cool.

Tomorrow, the red-headed step-child of Mother Sauces, Hollandaise, and that emulsion that is to Jews what holy water is to vampires: mayonnaise.

Some classmates have already started volunteering at God's Love We Deliver, they make it sound pretty cool -- a large industrial kitchen where the chef lets culinary students do the more complex things and explain the large-scale techniques while the non-culinary volunteers back them up.

BREAKFAST: 5:30am, good yogurt with honey, raw cashews, vanilla, .5 bowl, hunger 3/5
Trying to adjust my sleep schedule for Sunday, where I will have to be up around 2:30am to get to the start line of a 100 mile bike ride in time.

LUNCH #1: 11:45am, veal-bacon BLT with mayo on french bread, 2 small slices of pizza, ramekin of sauce Mornay macaroni & cheese, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5
Really hungry after today's work. The veal bacon was pleasantly bacony and mild. The pizza was brought up from another class, and I must say, was absolutely horrible. It didn't help that it was cold, but the dough was way too thick and gummy (undercooked), the toppings were too nouveau and precious (goat cheese and anchovies? black olives, onions and gruyere? Puh-leeze!) and no attempt at balance. Chef M's mac 'n' cheese was ROCKING, though -- I've been making decadent mac 'n' cheeses for a while now, but the mornay sauce really gave it something special. I guess the stuff I make is classic American, while this was as French as it comes.

LUNCH #2: 1:30pm, battered fried shrimp, 2 shrimp shumai, a few edemame pods, small green salad, 4 bites of carrot cake, 1 bowl, hunger 4/5
Spent the afternoon with an old friend and her husband, neither of whom I see often enough. They took me to a new Japanese place around the corner of their house, I ate around a lunch special to be social.

DINNER: 7:30pm, penne with Sauce Creole and Tomato Sauce Soubise, grape fizzy lizzy, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5
Cooked up some pasta and through two of the sauces we made on them. The Soubise was a wonderfully creamy with the best essence of tomato in it, while the Sauce Creole was a little bit harsh, needed pepper or some hot spice to mask it and make it a little bit deeper. Didn't like the chunkiness of the Creole, though the recipe didn't call for straining. B snarfed ice cream while I downed a juice-sweeteded soda as my official dessert.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Grand Sauces (It's a Mother SHUT YO MOUTH!)

The four (or maybe five) grand sauces were invented by the French for the purpose of streamlining kitchen work. They can be made in huge batches, held aside in the cooler, and used to make an incredible amount of derivative sauces. Hence the nickname, 'mother sauces,' and their five inherent characteristics:
  1. A mother sauce is thickened with roux (flour and fat cooked together)
  2. A mother sauce is made in advance
  3. A mother sauce is made in large batches
  4. A mother sauce is nappe (coats the back of a metal spoon, yet still pourable)
  5. A mother sauce is used to make derivative sauces (in smaller batches)
Four mother sauces follow these strictly. The fifth, Hollandaise, follows none except the last. According to Chef M, it is debatable whether it is a mother sauce, but we would not be making it today.

Introducing the four big mama jamas!!
  • Espagnole (Brown Sauce): Brown veal stock, brown roux, mirepoix (browned carrots, onion, celery), tomato paste, herbs & aromatics. Traditionally used for roasting -- brown sauce on brown food, as a sauce should traditionally echo the meat it's served with.
  • Bechamel (White Sauce): White roux & milk, onion, clove, whole black pepper, bay leaf. Essentialy a cheap version of heavy cream.
  • Veloute (White Sauce): Blonde roux and chicken stock. Simple. More golden tan than white, really.
  • Classic Tomato Sauce: Tomato, stock, roux, mirepoix, pork bones. Not a traditional Italian 'gravy' or spaghetti sauce, more like the the smooth stuff that comes in a can of Chef Boy-R-Dee.
All of these are strained to get out the aromatics and browned vegetables. Also, roux can be lumpy; straining assures smoothness. The tomato sauce is blended as well as strained.

After chopping our mirepoix, Chef M broke us into random teams of three -- my Arizona friend went bye-bye, and I was joined by the kid who is late every single day and the woman who speaks English as a 2nd language. At first, I was annoyed -- I don't want my educational experience to be squandered on watching two others flounder. But somehow it worked: I invoked my own mother (who was an executive director most of her life AND well-respected by her staff) and started reviewing the recipes (which we inscribed on index cards) and directed our course. Late Kid actually knew what he was doing, and 2nd Language Lady was clearly competent (so long as I explained things clearly and looked her in the eye).

Before making all the mother sauces, we made Glace de Viande, which is not a mother sauce but aspires to be. This is simply brown veal stock, reduced to a syrup. Small amounts have an intense meaty flavor, and it's all gelatiny goodness. It's extremely expensive, as a gallon of stock will become less than a pint of glace. I'm definitely looking forward to making some next time I cook up some pork at home.

The next 3 hours were a blur of activity, with students piled next to each other on the burners, crowding the wash sinks, running to watch Chef M's demonstrations. Each mother sauce had its own list of ingredients, timings, and personalities. The Espagnole smelled wonderful, like a strong beef soup. The Classic Tomato was nothing like the simple spaghetti sauce I make from scratch (which is in the Italian tradition) but smelled fantastic and porky in just the right way. The white sauces were neutral, awaiting additions for their derivative sauces.

Bechamel must constantly be stirred with a whisk till in comes to simmer, or the bottom will burn and give the whole batch a bitter, slightly acrid overtone. Chef M commanded we toss our first batch and start over.

At the end of class, Chef M prepared a few cured and slow-cooked pulled pork and lamb dishes for us to try. My team got all the sauces and the glace in the ice-baths before the other teams, none of us got hurt except for a nice little burn on my thumb, the sauces looked good, and at the very end of class 2nd Language Girl asked if she could be on my team tomorrow. I know it's a little thing, but I couldn't help but think that would of given my mom a smile. Mother sauces for my mother!

We received out mid-module report cards today, I got an A- with a note to work on knife-skills. My partner got an A, so after class I moseyed up to the Chef and asked him what the minus was suggesting that needed improvement. Without looking at me, he barked, "the lobster." Fair enough. Still, part of me wants to go to this parade this weekend with a placard that says, "I wouldn't kill a lobster with my bare hands and got and A- for it!" I keed, I keed!

At yesterday's meeting with Ilsa, she gave me a packet of laxative tea and instructions on a 1-day master cleanse. During a 24-hour period I can not eat anything other than some odd liquid mixture. Hoo-boy. How am I going to fit this into my schedule?

BREAKFAST: 6:30am, organic granola, good milk, .75 bowl, hunger 4/5
The granola I get from the farmer's market makes me happy. It's barely sweet, with the sole sweetener (honey) near the end of a list of 10 or so whole grain and nut and dried fruit ingredients.

LUNCH: 11:30, 4 different meats, pulled lamb and pulled pork prepared different ways, but all tough cuts and slow cooked, french bread, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5
The lamb was off the charts lamby, but with curing was really interesting and inviting. The pulled pork was more of what you'd expect from a pile of brown shredded meat, except it wasn't smothered in sauce like some crappy BBQ places do - this stuff was all meaty flavor.

PM BIKE SNACK: 3:30pm, 2 packets peanut butter crackers, .25 bowls, hunger 4/5
These things are retarded. I should make my own cheesy crackers and smear superhippy peanut butter on them.

PM SNACK: 5pm, baby spinach salad with a small handful of corn chips, 1 bowl, hunger 4/5
Hungry after 50 mile bike ride, need to go out to a reading then dinner with B and some of her family.

PM SNACK: 5:15pm, small cup of homemade vanilla icecream, .5 bowl, hunger 4/5
After getting dressed, realized if I don't get something calorie-dense into me, gonna feel crappy at the reading, which are always tough going for me anyway...

PM SNACK: 6pm, Izzy-Esque soda, .5 bowl, hunger 4/5
This low-calorie juice and cane-sugar sweetened soda just kinda called to me as I walked out the door.

DINNER: 7pm, street falafel, 1 bowl, hunger 4/5
On the way near the reading, the good cart with the amazing lamb presented itself. Meated out, opted for the vegetarian.

EVENING SNACK: 8:30pm, 5 small shrimp dumplings, water, .5 bowl, hunger 2/5
For some unknown mysterious reason, by the time we sat down to eat at a restaurant, I just wasn't hungry....

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Basic Culinary Preparations (I Roux the Day)

Before class began, Chef M brought the veal flanks out from cold storage, where they have been curing in salt, brown sugar, and aromatics. We took them out of the hotel pans and briefly rinsed them off before laying them on drying racks and patting them down. Just a few more days to veal bacon. Other than smoking for additional flavor, I see few reasons why I won't be making my own bacon at home soon -- in fact, a friend of B's who went to another local culinary school (and gave me loads of good advice) is a fiend for her own home-bacon.

Sauce: it is not broth and it is not stock -- it is thicker. The term for its consistency is nape (pronounced nah-PAY), which is thick enough to coat the back of a metal spoon, but thin enough to pour easily. Thicker gives the illusion of having more flavor because they literally hang on your palate, unlike thinner liquids which can be washed out a lot quicker.

In the ol' days (pre-mid 18th Century), culinary thickeners came mostly from protein (gelatin from bones, blood) and fat (butter, yolks, cream), but all were expensive and unstable. Now, with the refinement of carbs, have come starches -- wheat flour, corn starch, arrowroot, rice flour, potato starch -- perfect for thickeners.

There are three basic culinary preparations to introduce the starch into a sauce: Roux (fat and flour cooked together), Beurre Marie (fat and flour kneaded together cold) and Slurry (a pure starch in powder form and liquid whisked together). Chef M explained that in restaurants, roux is used at the beginning of the cooking process and Beurre Marie is used at the end as a fixer if additional thickening is required. In that setting, it is referred to as "BM" which I thought was hilarious, but most of my fellow students didn't get it. Yes, I have the sense of humor of a 9 year old boy.

There are three inviolable rules of starch thickening:
  1. Approximately 1 tablespoon of starch will thicken one cup of liquid.

  2. Either the liquid or the starch must be hot, but not both.

  3. The mixture must be stirred until it returns to a boil.
Note that because something like a roux is only half starch, it takes 2 tbsp of Roux to thicken a cup of liquid. If both starch and liquid are cold, lumps will form on the bottom and burn. If both are hot, it will cause the mixture to boil over. It must be brought to a low boil for the chemical transformation of the starch to become a net that holds starch molecules apart that cause the thickness.

We were explained the three stages of roux, from a quick white roux through a longer blond roux to the long n' dark brown roux. The more time spent on the stove, the darker it gets, developing a nuttier, deeper flavor.

Chef M went on to discuss the mechanics and physical changes in the process of whipping eggs and cream. Whipping whites is stretching out proteins to form a net that holds air. You can add tiny amounts of acid or salt to aid whipping, and sugar can prevent overstretching the proteins, but should be added later in the process or you'll never get anywhere.

When the knives came out, we diced onions, garlic, and shallots. Chef M demonstrated Tomato Concasse -- French for rough chopped tomatoes, though it's a little bit more involved than that. First, you draw a small X through the skin of the bottom of the tomato, drop it in boiling water anywhere from 5 seconds to a minute depending on ripeness; then, once the skin comes loose by pushing a little, drop it in an ice bath till cold. Peel off skin with thumb and paring knife, then slice into quarters to scoop out all seeds. What's left, you dice. (This summer, I'm going to forgo the cans of tomatoes and go crazy with the fresh -- instead of San Marzano DOC, I'm gonna have NYC DOC tomato sauce for my pizza!)

Red peppers were put on spiders (the iron prongs that cover the burners that hold pots) and left to char, turning occasionally. Once almost fully covered with black char, they were thrown into a pot with a cover, left to steam under their own heat. At the end of class, we pulled out the cooled peppers and rubbed off the blackened soot -- but not completely, as a small amount of the brown will keep a nice charred flavor. Browner the food, deeper the flavor.

We took our rouxs and heated them up in the appropriate amount of chicken stock to watch them thicken. We also experimented with BM (he he he) and slurry, each one a simple sauce named Veloute.

To whip eggs, each person takes 4 prep bowls -- one for the yolks, one for the shells, one for the white you just cracked and one to collect the whites. You do this because if any yolk gets into the whites, it'll prevent whipping. Suffice to say, many bowls were cleaned at the end of class.

Chef M roasted racks of lamb chops for us at the end of class, dressed with nothing but kosher salt. After all the arm work through out the morning, the lamby juicy red meat was a welcome pause. It seems my bicycle-riding legs are much more developed than my whipping arms. My stand mixer's whipping attachment will be taking over from here for the time being.

I'm attending volunteer orientation at God's Love We Deliver in a few weeks. Not so enthused about the organization's name (they deliver the love of humans, not a mythological deity), but really dig their mission -- deliver food to AIDS/HIV and cancer patients who are at home and have limited means and social networks to feed themselves. I lived with my mother for the last 6 months of her life while she dealt with cancer. If I was not there to cook for her (among other things), it truly would of been a horrific situation.

BREAKFAST: 6:30am, organic cheerios with good milk, apple, 1 bowl, hunger 3/5

LUNCH #1: 11:30am, 3 lamb chops on the bone, large piece of french bread, 1.5 bowls, hunger 4/5
Chef M cooked up a few racks of chops we frenched yesterday, really good n' juicy. Not enough for a big meal, but will get me through yoga this afternoon.

LUNCH #2: 4pm, seitan, hijiki, millet, dahl, vegan chocolate chip cookie, water, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5
Organic vegan eats at the cafe of the yoga studio. Fun writing out recipes involving veal stock and pork bones while surrounded by the crunchy hippies, eating yummy crunchy hippie food.

DINNER: 7pm, 1 slice streetza, 1 bowl, hunger 3/5
I used to think pizza was like sex -- even when it's not so good, it's pretty good. Now that I'm in my 30s and have eaten more pizza than the average person (and had some unappetizing sexual encounters before meeting B....but that's a whole nuther blog!), I've lost my taste for streetza. It's just kinda lumpen and low quality. I much prefer my homemade pizza to NYC pizza, other than the 10-15 gourmet top-line joints scattered through out Gotham.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Lamb (Dan Barber's Call to Arms)

Last night in bed, right before turning the lights off, I was trying to get through the last bits of the Sunday New York Times. On the last page of the Week in Review lay this op-ed, and it caused several thoughts to rattle around my head and keep me up for an extra hour. Especially this last paragraph:
Leave our agricultural future to chefs and anyone who takes food and cooking seriously. We never bought into the “bigger is better” mantra, not because it left us too dependent on oil, but because it never produced anything really good to eat. Truly great cooking — not faddish 1.5-pound rib-eye steaks with butter sauce, but food that has evolved from the world’s thriving peasant cuisines — is based on the correspondence of good farming to a healthy environment and good nutrition. It’s never been any other way, and we should be grateful. The future belongs to the gourmet.

Holy crap! This is why I'm in culinary school. This is my call to arms.

In the morning, Chef M ran down the facts of lamb, the animal we would be fabricating today to finish our intensive section on butchering. Lambs are small animals, most served up as 1-2 year old Yearlings, never over 90 lbs an animal. The primal cuts are similar to veal, another small 4-legged cattle animal.

Before getting to play with our meat, we took large single-handled pots and put them over high heat; then, we brought 2 pounds of good quality 84%-fat butter to a boil. Both the fat and water in the butter boiled, but only the water evaporated and escaped. First big bubbles, but after a few minutes the bubbles became much smaller and denser, and milk solids started to congeal on the surface. We then poured the butter through a cheese cloth to cool. Other methods involve skimming the butter as its boiling to rid of solids, but with these larger quantities, straining through cloth was a time saver.

While we boiled the butter, Chef M showed us the proper use of our wet stones to sharpen our blades. As with the steels, the blade is applied at about a 20% angle and gently stroked across its surface from tip to bolster. The blades left little gray lines where it rubbed against the stone -- this was the actual metal removed from the blade.

The rest of the day was spent taking apart three large cuts of meat. The first was a leg of lamb, which involved butchering the top, bottom, and eye rounds as well as the shank and the little bits hanging on from the loin primal (particularly the tiny tenderloin tip and a piece of sirloin). As Chef M was describing each cut, he compared them to the muscles of the human leg -- quadriceps, glutes, etc. More than a little creepy when you think about how human physiology shares so much with all mammals.

The shoulder was a big boxy cut, with a t-shaped plate of bone running through the middle that had to be dug and scraped out with a knife. The third and final piece was a rack of ribs, on which we were shown classic preparation techniques to "french"
the bones for a crown roast. Chef M said it took him a solid 5 years to get this technique down. After a couple of minutes, the meat and fat warm up enough to make removing the membranes and meat around the bone-tips very difficult.

Time was tight and nothing was prepped to be eaten. Tomorrow, we move into sauces. Chef M promised us that our lambs and ducks and bacons of various stripes will be coming back to us later in the week to put our sauces to use.

This morning, my scale told me I'm 229. I guess c-school hasn't gotten the best of my waist-line yet. Meeting with Ilsa tomorrow, tried to get a few extra veggies in so I don't feel like a total loser. Seems last two times I've gone for the veggies, I've either fried them with bacon or doused them with clarified butter. I guess I don't make a very good hippie.

BREAKFAST: 6:30am, 2 pancakes, .75 bowls, hunger 4/5
Buttermilk puffy pillows out of the freezer, really good.

AM SNACK: 11:45am, small piece of french bread, .25 bowl, hunger 4/5

LUNCH: 12:30pm, curry ramen soup, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5
Noodle soup at Rai Rai Ken on a rainy Monday. Really hit the spot.

PM SNACK: 3:45am, vanilla ice cream, .5 bowl, hunger 4/5
Busy doing laundry and chores. Needed to make the rest of the batter before it turned, and figured better to eat dessert now than after dinner, close to sleep time.

DINNER: 6:30pm, broiled salmon fillet prepared with fresh lemon juice, sea salt, herbs de Provence, and clarified butter, blanched broccoli with shallots, garlic and clarified butter, organic kimchi, small baby spinach salad with ranch dressing, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5
Slapped together this meal on the fly when B got home from work, the fish was pretty good. Clarified butter makes everything taste awesome, unsurprisingly. The kimchi from the farmer's market was nice n' kicky.

EVENING SNACK: 7:30pm, veggie booty, 1 bowl, hunger 4/5
Weird, kinda like a sugar craving, but not for something sweet, but for a starch...

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Weekend Report (Flavorful Humanism)

Went to the farmer's market on Saturday morning, was a virtual plant & flower show. It's all very nice, but I want stuff I can eat.

Saw the documentary "Young@Heart" Saturday evening, a beautiful account of a chorus composed of old people singing punk and alternative songs. The singing was clearly keeping them motivated to simply stay alive. I think a show of old people cooking the dishes they remember from their salad days (no pun, no pun!) and their parents would be a fascinating work of culinary anthropology and, umm, flavorful humanism. I despise Coldplay, but fell hard for Fred Little and his Johnny Cash-like baritone:

I bet he has a wicked recipe for smothered pork n' onions....

BREAKFAST: 7am, good granola with good milk, 1 bowl, hunger 4/5

AM SNACK: 11am, handful of baby carrots with hummus, small handful of Frito's, .5 bowl, hunger 4/5
Forgot to put Fritos on the chili pie last night.

LUNCH: 1:15pm, vegetarian dim sum, small cup of sesame ice cream, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5
Had a few assorted small dishes, including kale wrapped in rice dough. For years, my friend Danny and I would frequent this joint, and he would order the kale and I would order the fried dough - they looked the same, but very different on the inside. Bitter vegetables, yech. This time, I tried the kale and.... didn't hate it.

DINNER: 7:30pm, yucca cracklings, 2 pieces wholewheat bread with butter, spring vegetable ravioli appetizer, coconut encrusted tempe with millet polenta and bok choy, a little portion of vegan deserts, 2.5 bowls, hunger 4/5
Went back to Broadway East with B and the HVS, again the food was outstanding and interesting. After all the meat this past week, good to have 2 vegan meals in a row.

BREAKFAST: 9:30am, 1 apple, .25 bowl, hunger 4/5

AM SNACK: 10:30am, 3 bites of apple crumble, hunger 4/5
My ever-lovin' wife B mentioned yesterday that she had some apple crumble. I asked, did you finish it? She said no, I left a piece for you. The 1-foot-square ceramic dish of apple crumble was sliced evenly into 9 pieces. After Friday's dinner, a full one third was left. I assumed that B left me a full 1/9th square. When I peeked, her idea of 'a piece' was scraps in the corner. She had eaten almost a full third of the crumble in one sitting. I promised her I'd blog about it so the WHOLE WORLD knows B eats like a naughty 9 year old boy!!

LUNCH: 1pm, assorted dinner rolls, tomato and onion with steak sauce, piece of thick cut bacon, two pieces of porterhouse steak, creamed spinach, home fries, water, half an ice cream sunday with whipped cream, 2.5 bowls, hunger 4/5
Mother's day meal with B and her mom and bro at Peter Luger's in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Totally not feeling it. The service was good, the shrimp and bacon appetizers were excellent, the beef-steak tomatoes were oddly ripe and flavorful, and the house steak sauce complemented it wonderfully. We ordered a steak for 2, which was definitely more than enough to feed the four of us with a small amount of leftovers. They only serve porterhouse steaks, and we got it medium rare, nicely red and juicy but firm in the middle. I had two slices, about 8oz, the recommended portion by the gov -- I counted about 12 normal portions in this 'steak for 2.' I took the t-bone and with my steak knife got some marrow out and sucked it down with a peace of bread, it was really tasty. The dessert was excessive, but comforting.

After spending the last week studying and listening to lectures about meat, I was distinctly underwhelmed by Peter Luger's. The house-aged steak was tender and nicely browned, but it wasn't as transcendent as the price would suggest. I suspect at some point, with some key tools, I'll be able to make a better steak at home for half the price.

DINNER: 8pm, red pepper with hummus, vegetarian chili over brown long grain rice with Guinness-marbled cheddar and crumbled Fritos, 1 bowl, hunger 2/5
Friend stopped by, whipped up a nice quick dinner. Totally not hungry, very easy to eat a small portion.