Friday, May 23, 2008

Sauté and Pan Sauce (Bad Meat Meets Good Sauce)

Today marked the second module of our 6-module education, again with Chef M. He started by giving a stern warning about how he'll be increasing his monitoring of sanitation and safety, as our kitchen is about to become increasingly hectic. I was reminded of the stern warning my elementary school teacher gave on the first day of the 5th grade, while we were lined up in the hallway, about to enter our new classroom for the first time -- we had it easy in 4th grade, we were told; but now we're really going to have to work hard...and make superior macaroni-art photo frames. Or something.

Sauté is defined as a high-heat, dry-cooking method using a small amount of fat to cook a tender cut of meat. Pretty much all sea food other than cephalapods fall into this category. This preparation is done in a heavy-bottom pan on the stove top (unless the meat is thick, in which the meat and pan can be placed in an oven to finish.) While sautéed dishes are popular on the restaurant menu, they can be a bit of a nightmare in the kitchen. Sautéed food is lightening quick, involves the more expensive cuts, and makes it easy to to ruin many dollars fast. A line cook's sauté station must be organized and everything close on-hand in order to reach the proper state of doneness (rare, medium rare, medium, medium well, well-done.)

The proper pan for sauté is either a sauteuse (a sauté pan with rounded sides) or a sautoir (straight sides.) Chef says the sautoir is more for pan-frying; the straight sides have less surface area and collect moisture that drips back into the food (the purpose of sauté being the elimination of moisture.) Correct size is key: the pan should be filled, but items should not touch one other. Too much space will cause the fond (the yummy caramelized bits on the bottom of the pan) to burn.

There is no hard and fast definition of "high heat". It depends on the thickness of the meat, the type of fat used and its smoke point, the coating of the meat, the personality of the stove, etc. etc -- in other words, something that is learned only by feel and experience.

For class purposes, all red-meat is to be cooked medium rare, all poultry to be cooked well-done, and all pork to be cooked medium to medium well.

The purpose of a pan sauce is to recapture all the flavor that would otherwise be lost to the pan and add moisture back to the finished dish.

Then, we broke into teams. RH, SH, and I prepared our mise -- shallots finely diced, pans of chicken (huge and full of hormones), and steaks (chuck steaks, tough and cheap, good for practice); red and white wine in squeeze bottles; one pan of salt and another with butter; clarified butter, chicken stock. and veal stock kept on the stove hot.

The metal table was pulled close to the oven, so we could cook and only turn around half way to reach our mise. We started with chicken. First, heat the pan to make sure it's dry. Add enough clarified butter to cover the bottom, make sure it's hot and wavy. Salt the meat, then place in pan, south to north to allow the splatter to head towards the back splash. Do not move meat, allow to form fond. When the cooked color crawls up over the sides of the meat, time to turn over. Both sides should cook the for approximately same time, with no line of pink on the side. If there is, it needs to be finished in the oven.

Take meat out and place onto a rack to rest -- if it's not on a rack, it'll sit in its own juices and get mushy. Add a few spoonfuls of shallots in the pan and soften. If there is not enough fat in the pan from the chicken, add clarified butter. Soften, then deglaze with a few squirts of white wine. Reduce by half, then add a few ladles of chicken stock, and reduce to nappé (thick enough to coat the back of a metal spoon). Season to taste with salt, then plate. Straining the sauce will give a more formal appearance; save the sauce for possibility of burning a few bits of fond. Never sauce over the meat, always around and/or below it.

The steak is a similar method, except red wine and veal stock are used, the meat has a lot more fat in it, and cooks a lot quicker. These simple pan sauces were surprisingly delicious, which drives the point home of how important good stock is to this cooking. Someday, I may have to ask a butcher if he'll sell me a bag of bones, and then I can practice making my own stock, followed by ice baths and rearranging the freezer. The cuts of meat we used were crap, but if I were to get a top-shelf cut, making this at home, then wowing the pants off of anyone (well, my wife) would be pretty cut and dried.

After the break, more sauté and more involved pan sauces....

I participated in a City Harvest Volunteer Training session in midtown this evening. The specific program, called Operation Frontline, sets up series of classes in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods at schools, community centers, and the like. Run by three volunteers each -- a class manager, a nutritionist, and a chef -- the session gave us a basic appreciation of the hows and whys of healthy food are taught to kids, teens, underage moms, parents, and adults. Of the 15 people in the session, a solid half had nutritional educations or careers, one was an actual chef in the NYC school system, and 4 others had culinary degrees AND nutritional backgrounds. A little bell in my brain rang -- hmmmm, nutritional education. I should quiz Ilsa on her educational experience.

Speaking of my nutritionist Ilsa, today I began my 24 hour master cleanse -- no food for 24 hours except for a cup of laxative tea (a concoction of 14 oz water, 2tbsp fresh lemon juice, 2tbsp maple syrup, and a pinch of cayenne) before bedtime. My cynical side thinks this is a bunch of hooey, but my curious side wants to see if there is anything to it. I guess that curious side is going to land me in a cult some day!

If any readers out there have any experiences with this method, please chime in!

BREAKFAST: 6:30am, small bowl of granola with good milk, banana, .5 bowl, hunger 4/5

10:45, sautéed chuck steak in pan sauce, 1/4 of a chicken breast in pan sauce, 1 bowl, hunger 4/5
Chuck is shoulder, not a tender cut of meat. The sauce helped make it delicious, but after that and the few bites of the (definitely not organic) chicken breast, felt a little queasy.

4:30pm, seiten, millet, hijiki and tahini sauce, water, 1.5 bowl, hunger 4/5
Lunch at the studio cafe with the HVS after a yoga session. Needed some balance after the morning meat festival

12am, cup of 'smooth move' hot herbal tea
Tasted too much like licorice.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Practical Exam (Grade Grub)

The test, above. My food, below.

Today was the practical exam for the end of the first module: 2.5 hours to present a bowl of cream of broccoli soup, twelve pieces of evenly diced potatoes, and a small cup of mayonnaise. No talking, no help from the chef, all work done solo, people starting in staggered, 5-minute increments. It was pretty peaceful and low stress (for me, anyway).

We had to present within an assigned 2-minute window, or it was points off. I hit my mark, but failed to reheat my soup all the way -- the first time my team made this soup, it wasn't green enough because of over-cooking. This time I spent extra time simmering at a lower temp to preserve the green color, and let it cool because, well, cream of broc only takes 90 minutes.

I got a 97 out of 100: 1 point off for the lower temp of the soup, 1 point off for a slightly nutty overtone (see below) from cooking my roux a little beyond blond, and a point off because my dice wasn't all perfect 90-degree angles. (Personally, I liked the slightly nutty over-tone, but my honor would have been questioned if I tried to grade-grub that point back.)

Testing behind us, tomorrow we'll be introduced to the dark art of sauté...

This evening, I went to an orientation at God's Love We Deliver. There were about 15 others, everyone seemed a bit timid, and I was the only culinary student in the bunch. After some words and a video, we took a tour of the kitchen, which was pretty well appointed, and staffed almost completely by volunteers. Indeed, there will be opportunities to really sharpen my knife skills (no pun! no pun!). Now, I must wait for someone there to call to set up a time for a shift.

BREAKFAST: 6am, good yogurt with vanilla, nuts, honey, banana, .5 bowl, hunger 4/5

LUNCH: 12:30pm, 4 mixed boiled perogies, link of kielbasa, stuffed cabbage, bigos, 3 bowls, hunger 4/5
Felt a bit down after the exam, kicking myself for missing those details. I took myself to Little Poland and ordered a big combo. The perogies (spinach, potato, kasha, kraut) were 2x larger than I remember, the stuffed cabbage (full of rice and meat) and something they called bigos, clearly a dish made from scraps: sauer kraut, chunks of tough brisket, sauted slices of kielbasa and soft veg, all vinegary. Felt full and tired after, so went home to nap with B, who is home sick from work.

DINNER: 8:30pm, school-made gazpacho, small amount of tomatillo salsa and 5 salt-free saltines, 1 bowl, hunger 3/5

9pm, boca burger on whole wheat with homemade organic mayo, .5 bowl, hunger 4/5
Still hungry, used the mayo I made last night as practice. Funny, never liked mayo, and I still don't, but I sort of understand why people like it now.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Soups (Lobster Back Atcha)

This morning's exam was for the first hour, and those of us who completed it early congregated in the library next door to compare notes and chill. At nine, Chef M gave a very brief lecture about a few kinds of soup -- particularly bisque (puréed and strained shells) and flambée techniques (drop liquor into a hot pot, face-out and away from the flame...or risk a trip to the burn unit).

We broke into teams to tackle Gazpacho, Onion Soup Gratiné, and Lobster Bisque. First up was putting 1.5 lbs of onions on the fire with some butter to thoroughly caramelize into a brown/black stringy paste for a solid 45 minutes.

The Gazpacho was easy, no cooking involved, just assembling the raw veggies in a pot to be puréed, then adding some crustless bread to purée some more to thicken. Cilantro and jalapeno gave it a nice kick.

Once that was set up, the lobsters came out. Fortunately, neither RH or SH had any queasiness dispatching the lobsters with the twisting-apart method that Chef M requested we use. I noticed that these lobsters did not move much as my team killed them -- perhaps they were well-chilled, or just not very alive. Once dispatched, we removed the tails and claws, which we then held aside for garnish. Once we removed the guts and broke the remaining shells down to small pieces, they were then put in a large pot to simmer with mirepoix for a while, until a nice, crusty fond developed on the bottom of the pan.

Tomato paste, rice, and paprika were added, and a shot of brandy was tossed in to deglaze, but unfortunately did not burst into flames. Fish stock was added, simmered 45 minutes, puréed and strained, finished with cream and garnished with par-cooked lobster meat, which finished cooking in the soup. And yeah, it tasted damn good. I have a quart in the freezer, and it contains the meat of 1 entire lobster.

Finally the onions were completely caramelized, and a shot of liquor was thrown in to release the fond from the bottom of the pan. Veal stock was added and simmered, salted then put into small metal cups and topped with slices of bread I toasted in clarified butter in a pan. That was topped with grated Gruyère and put under the broiler. Again, a quart of this soup (sans cheese and bread) came home with me.

SH and RH had an easy rapore with me today, though I felt a bit bad about asking them to dispatch the lobsters -- we all should have participated in this unattractive task, but I felt my gorge rising as I stared at the lobsters when they came out.

Tomorrow is no lesson at all, but a practical exam. Everyone will be cooking solo tomorrow: 12 pieces of perfectly diced potato, a 4oz cup of mayonnaise, and a presentation-worthy bowl of cream of broccoli soup.

I got to school almost an hour and a half before class started to study, but forgot to bring my lock and cable. After quickly returning home, I was still 40 minutes early. The test was a little disappointing -- 10 short answers, 10 short essays, but were given 4 alternate questions for the first part for the ones you didn't know, and given 3 alternate short essays if you couldn't answer 8 of the 10. I'm gonna feel a little silly if I don't get a near perfect score.

BREAKFAST: 5:30am, organic cornflakes with the good milk, .5 bowl, hunger 3/5
Rufus (whoops, I mean Anonymous Cat) kept walking on my head this morning, so I was up at 4pm to study a bit. After riding back and forth, wish I ate a bit more.

AM TASTING: 11:30am, small onion soup gratiné, .25 bowl, hunger 4/5
Deep rich onion and veal broth flavor, sent over the top by the clarified-butter-toasted slice of bread and melted/browned Gruyere.

LUNCH: 2pm, several slices of bread with tomato sauce, assorted appetizers including calamari, prosciutto, mussel and hard cheese, 2 small slices of pizza, water, 1.5 bowls, hunger 4/5
Went way uptown to a new fancy pizza/pasta place to celebrate the new Ph.D. of B's friend. The restaurant has only been open a month, and clearly does not have its act together. The waiter asked me for the name of the pizza I ordered, as he claimed not to know the menu yet (I asked for the Buffala mozzarella pizza -- there is only one buffala moz pizza on the menu and it is called the "Buffala") Water was not presented till mid-meal, the pizzas came a full 10 minutes before others of our party's entrées, and worst of all, the cheese on my pie tasted slightly soured, and I could not eat it. Is my palate-refinement going to work against me?!

PM SNACK: 4:40pm, chocolate soy ice cream, 2 cream filled local organic donuts, 1 bowl, hunger 4/5
I was snacking on a reasonable bowl of soy ice cream when B trolloped in and laid 2 very rich donuts on me, which had to be snarfed immediately.

DINNER: 7:15pm, split pea soup, small amount of corn chips, water, 1 bowl, hunger 3/5

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Soups (Raft: The Culinary Waste Treatment Plant)

Soup is traditionally the opening of a meal. In a restaurant, this will be a customer's first impression. It's an excellent place to use trim; most soups are simmered, strained and/or puréed. The main ingredient in a soup-base is water -- it does not get much more profitable than charging ten bucks for a bowl of flavored hot water.

Broth is defined as a liquid made by simmering vegetables, bone, and meat to extract flavor. Specifically, a consommé is a crystal clear highly seasoned broth made by the method of clarification. This method requires one to build what is called a "raft" (see picture above). Basically, a mush of egg whites, tomato product, ground meat, and mirepoix is boiled in stock until it congeals into the ugliest pale meatloaf you've ever seen. At this point, you leave it alone and let the lump sit on top of the simmering stock. In this way, the raft acts as a filter, sucking up all the impurities in the stock, while imparting the flavors of its ingredients. When straining, the goal is not to break the smog-monster-looking raft, or your consommé will turn cloudy.

Cream soup is defined as a velvety sooth soup which takes its name and color from the main ingredient. It is always thickened with roux and is always puréed and strained. It should have the final thickness of heavy cream.

Purée soup is one that's thickened by starchy vegetable; it's not roux and therefore is not strained, and turns out slightly thicker than heavy cream.

Finally, a soup garnish must relate to the soup, fit on a spoon, and should be hot on a hot soup and cold on a cold soup.

Then the knives came out:

Chef M broke us up into new work groups. I was paired with two guys I haven't had much interaction with, as they are quiet. They're both pretty passive, and to be on the PC tip, I'll call them RH (Round Head) and SH (Square Head). As we started our knife skills, neither of them were talking, just chopping -- if we were going to get through our three recipes (Chicken Consomme, Cream of Broccoli, and Purée of Split Pea), the three of us would have to coordinate. So I said, "OK, fine members of Team 5, let's figure out what we're doing next" and for the next 4 hours I became the defacto leader, telling RH and SH what do, coordinating our mise collection, sorting our pots, deciding what we were doing next, and approaching Chef M for his opinion on our productions as we went through.

First up was the Cream of Broccoli, which will also be the centerpiece of the practical exam we will be taking on Thursday. It's a little bit involved, as it takes making a velouté (mother sauce) first before making the soup base, and blanching and shocking evenly cut florets for garnish.

Second up was the Consommé, whose raft just looked nasty. As we're stirring, the egg whites start to turn into ugly little strings. At this point we stopped stirring as the eggs congealed and all the pale boiled meat, boiled vegetables, and scum formed a big floating patty. After simmering for a couple of hours, we carefully ladled out the golden clear consommé, which would make any Jewish mom proud to make chicken soup with.

Unfortunately, what was left in the pot looked freshly thrown up. Chef M told me a story about how he used to work at a restaurant where they would take spent raft and brown it before serving it with rice for Family Meal, the meal served to the staff before service. I imagine with enough spices and browning, it could be decent...

Third up was purée of split pea, which began with rendering lamb bacon and a load of garlic -- you know something is going to be good when you start with bacon and garlic. After adding stock and split peas to simmer (to tenderize the peas), the entire pot was puréed with an immersion blender; then we finished it with salt, and more lamb bacon, as a garnish. Our team was first to finish on all three of our soups, and with the exception of the broccoli (tasted great but not green enough due to overcooking, garnish included), Chef M was highly complimentary.

After clean up, Chef spent some time reviewing key points for the written exam tomorrow. Tonight, I shall cram in facts like the butt of a pig is actually its shoulder. Mmmm, pig butt. In addition, we're doing lobster bisque -- I assume I'll be having my second confrontation with the bare-handed slaughter of sea-bugs...

Looking forward to the end of the week when I take orientations at City Harvest and God's Love. Real experience outside of the classroom! Over lunch, B mentioned her friend who now runs a very well reputed contemporary gourmet pizza restaurant in Brooklyn -- perhaps this is where I would like to extern? I don't know if I want to run a pizza place when I grow up (guffaw!), but to help turn out some of the best pizza in NYC, how fantastic would that be?

BREAKFAST: 6:30am, farmer's market granola with the good milk, .5 bowl, hunger 4/5

LUNCH: 12:15pm, Panzanella Salad, gnocchi with pork sausage, water, 1.5 bowls, hunger 4/5
Went to lunch after class to a joint near B's office, with a shmancy Italian menu. They got a whole mess of stuff wrong. First, the Panzanella salad was on the menu as consisting of tomatoes, fried bread and cucumber. What we got had almost no tomatoes, absolutely no cucumbers, a mess of micro greens, radishes and small crouton-like squares of greasy bread, not the big cubes of lightly toasted-with-oil chunks I had come to expect elsewhere. And mealy white beans -- I know you get these in Northern Italian cooking, but it just felt jarring. And my gnocchi with pork sausage was a special not on the menu, described as smoked and with medium flavor, with little tomato. What I got was indeed gnocchi with pork sausage, with quite a mild flavor, and a brown sauce that had hunks of stringy dried braised meat and full sprigs of thyme, woody stalk and all. The branch and the tough meat chunklets were simmered in the sauce for flavor, but were never strained out. (Tough dry bits of meat among soft fatty sausage is NOT a good or interesting contrast.) This is the first restaurant meal that after having it, I thought, "Damn, I could cook this meal better than the shmoe in the kitchen." Chef M would have not been amused.

PM SNACK: 3pm, a few small cubes of dark chocolate, hunger 4/5

PM SNACK: 4pm, overflowing ramekin of chocolate soy ice cream with dark chocolate chunks and salted freshly roasted cashews, .5 bowl, hunger 4/5
Wanted to make a dessert for B, who is feeling under the weather, and skipped the sweets yesterday. Unlike the 4 or 5 times I made this, this time I tasted the batter as I blended it and adjusted the amount of maple syrup and sea salt until it tasted right.

There is another century ride to Montauk on June 21st. Contemplating doing something I never did before - the 145 mile route. The idea makes me excited and squirmy at the same time, just like when I was contemplating c-school.

Looks like my schedule will allow me a 24 hour fast beginning after lunch Friday and ending for dinner Saturday. Will I hallucinate? Will I die? Will the laxative tea make me poo out a raft?

For those who care, here is the recipe, which I cribbed off the internet ages ago but now just do from sense memory. You need a blender, a double boiler and an ice cream maker (I use an ice cream attachment for the stand mixer.
  • 1 brick of SILKEN tofu (non-silken doesn't make the batter as smooth)
  • 1 cup of UNSWEETENED soy milk (less crap in the soy milk the better, making it easier to control the sweetness over all)
  • 3/4 cup of maple syrup (or honey if you don't care if it's vegan -- just make sure it's a fluid sweetener, as we're not cooking it, and cane sugar would be gritty)
  • 8oz unsweetened dark chocolate
  • Pinch of salt to taste
  • dash of vanilla to taste
  • Cocoa powder to taste
  • Up to 1 cup of mix-ins to taste, in small pieces, chilled.
Melt chocolate in double boiler. While melting, puree tofu, soy milk and syrup in blender. While blending, add melted chocolate (if it's not blending, the chocolate will solidify and create yukky chocolate powder in the batter.) Blend until no specks of chocolate can be seen. Add salt and vanilla. Taste. Add more syrup if not sweet enough. Add cocoa powder for a more chocolaty punch. Refrigerate 10-20 minutes to thicken. Put in ice cream maker according to it's directions. In the last minute in the machine, add whatever mix-ins you like -- make sure they are cold.

DINNER: 8:30pm, puree of spit pea soup, spinach salad with homemade vinaigrette, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5
The lamb bacon pureed and garnished in the soup was both bacony and lamby, like a good lamb kabob. Really delicious, could be served in a high end restaurant no doubt.

Reheated the consommé with sliced carrots, onions and fresh pasta, with a few drops of basil oil for B, she freaked out because she said it was the best chicken soup ever. Huh. I hope she's not saying that just because she's my wifey...

Monday, May 19, 2008

Contemporary Sauces (Two UFOs landed on my grill pan!!)

I took the train to school today because my commuter bike is in the shop, but the long ride yesterday made me not miss it. Being a bit spacey is not a good thing when working in a team, not to mention the heat of the stove and the fire licking the sides of all your pots.

Contemporary sauces are basically updates versions of the Mother Sauces. Typically, they are quick to make, require no simmering, are not thickened by roux and are more delicate and lighter than the older sauces. Definitions: Coulis is a thick puree of fruit or vegetable; chutney is a combination of sweet, sour, and spicy; relish is sweet; and salsa, defined in Spanish as "sauce", is actually a mixture of raw vegetables.

One sauce made today was jus de Veau lie, which means "Juice of Veal, Thickened" -- mmmmm, thick veal juice! It is essential veal- stock thickened by arrowroot slurry. We made two simple infused oils. One was cold infused -- blanched and shocked a large amount of basil, pureed it in a blender with olive oil, added more oil then let it sit to steep. Once strained, it had the most incredible emerald color, and smelled like you'd want a bouquet to. The other was heat-infused -- cooked briefly on the stove top, then left to cool. Involving orange zest and hot spices, it was no one's idea of tasty in our group.

LK was early to class today, and 2LG spoke up a little more. She has two daughters (one is 20 years old!) and lives in Jamaica. We made our way through the three recipes above, as well as Mango Chutney, Corn, and Red Pepper Relish, a Citrus Juice reduction (yuck! Is that what yuppies ate in the 80s?), Roasted Tomato Coulis, and Tomatillo Salsa.

The last two turned me on. The Coulis was deseeded plum tomatoes, olive oil, whole garlic cloves, thyme sprigs, and a little sugar baked in a gratin dish until soft, then passed through a food mill. The final product looked like smooth tomato sauce, but had a much broader, open flavor profile, like a big friendly American grin. The Tomatillos salsa found us grilling the tomatillos, onion, and jalapenos (see pic), before chopping them up and throwing them together with olive oil, cider vinegar, and a little sugar and salt. Weird, I'd never had it but loved it from the first properly salted bite.

LK and 2LG work well together, today they interacted a little bit more with each other and not just me. It's weird being a team leader, and near the end of the day, LK called me "Captain". I think he was being affectionate, maybe a little obnoxious, but it made me wonder if I'm acting like a putz in keeping our ship on the straight and narrow. Ah, the insecurities I could divulge here, but will spare you all the psychobabble. I'm tired from yesterday.

Tomorrow, into the soup.

When the scale read 226 this morning, my first thought was, "Oh, it's just lost water weight due to the ride yesterday," and my second thought was, "Damn, Ilsa, HVS and B are all going to yell at me for being so dismissive." If I'm still at this weight next week, I'll admit it's not just water weight. But right now, I'm gonna bakes some brownies, cookies, lard-pie, and a bucket of this...

Woke up surprisingly un-sore, just tired from not enough sleep. Since I road with a friend, I kept at his slower pace for most of the trip. It was a good ride, but looking forward to the next century where I can really blow myself out.

Looking forward to volunteer orientation at God's Love this Thursday, and I may have a training/orientation for teaching about cooking and nutrition at City Harvest this Friday. I suspect these opportunities are going to help me decide what I want to do after school more than school itself...

BREAKFAST: 6:30am, good yogurt with honey, vanilla and raw nuts, .5 bowl, hunger 3/5

PM WATERING: Noon, Quart of Water
So thirsty from class, a little dehydrated from yesterday.

LUNCH: Pizza with prociutto, eggplant, olives, shitakes and fresh moz, a handful of chips with roasted tomato couil, basil oil and tomatillo salsa, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5
Went out to Williamsburg to Fornino to have some excellent high-end pizza, where you can taste the coal char on the bottom of the pie. Before that, I sat outside with my friend E and tasted the day's creations with some corn chips.

PM SNACK: 4:30pm, lemon muffin with good butter, pint of water, .25 bowl, hunger 4/5
If I accept the lemon muffin not as a muffin at all, but call it a scone....than it's great! I melted a bit of the good butter on it in the microwave and it tasted pretty good.

DINNER: 7:30pm, broiled shrimp with herbs de provence over tomatillo salsa and tortilla chips, spinach salad with homemade vinaigrette, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5
Wetted the defrosted-by-sink shrimp with olive oil and put them under the high broiler for 3 minutes, came out surprisingly good.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Weekend Report (Let's Get Ready to Mmmmmake Mmmmmuffins!!!!)

I've made this recipe for lemon muffins three times, each to great success. I modified the recipe by replacing the flour with whole wheat pastry flour, and used brown sugar with extra lemon zest on top for a slightly crunchy caramelized bite. But this time I tried what I did for the pizza dough: measure the ingredients by weight instead of volume. (This is the most accurate way to measure flour, which tends to be dense or airy or "foofy," making volume-measurement inaccurate.) Two cups is 16oz, a full pound. My pastry flour, kept in the back of the freezer, was pushed down and really clumpy and dense, but by weighing, it didn't matter....

Instead of a batter, it became a dough when I folded in the wet with the dry (you fold instead of mix to prevent creating gluten, which will make the muffins tough). Surprisingly, the muffins DID rise in the oven, but were extremely dense and dry. Failure. Being that this recipe worked before, my only guess is that the recipe-author not measured by weight, and ended up using a lot less flour.

AM SNACK: 3am, homemade powerbar, .25 bowl, hunger 3/5
Woke up at 2am after 5 hours sleep, just psyched to be up, take apart and clean my bicycle, then bake muffins. I'm sure I look totally bonkers from the outside.

BREAKFAST: 5:45am, 3 leaden lemon muffins, .75 bowl, hunger 4/5

LUNCH: 11:30pm, spinach salad with homemade vinaigrette, 2 pancakes, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5
All the salad from the farmers market, except the carrots. Pancakes out of the freezer. Mmmm, buttermilk....

PM SNACK: 2pm, vegan chocolate chip cookie, 1/4 pint of vegan chocolate hazelnut gelato, 1 bowl, hunger 4/5
A movie afternoon with the HVS. The weird cashew-cream gelato was shockingly good, like what Tofutti should taste like if it wasn't mainly flavored by emulsifiers and chemicals.

DINNER: 6:45pm, pheasant sausage in mushroom demi-glace over fresh pasta, 2.5 bowls, hunger 4/5
Sausage was pre-cooked, too mild a flavor, and the fat in it tasted a bit too chunky - will not make that mistake again. Cut time on the pasta by letting the dough hook knead it in the mixer, made the final product a bit tougher than I like. I made an espagnole sauce before the movie, burned my mirepoix once and started over. Didn't have tomato paste, gotta get one of those fancy tubes so I can have small amounts on hand. After the movie, simmered it with an equal amount of veal/beef stock and reduced by half, threw in mushrooms and shallots. The stock was out of a carton, ok but nothing like the good stock we made in class. Got the sauce to nappe consistency, hit it with sea salt, but the flavor was just ok. Definitely would not serve this in a restaurant (or let Chef sample it,) but hey, it's my first mother and derivative sauce at home!

Ate more than usual, need that carbo-load for the 100 mile bike ride tomorrow...

Today was a blur. I woke at 3am, had a half a dense lemon muffin, pedalled over to Penn Station and hopped a train with all the other people in spandex to Babylon, and road 100 miles to Montauk. It was a great day, and got to ride with a friend.

At the rest stops, kind of mindless shovelled in the food. At Penn Station, had a monstrous (easily 5x the size of my muffins) baked good and a slice of cake. At the first rest stop 20 miles in, snarfed some good food, including spinach pie with hummus, corn chips, baklava, a tiny piece of cheese cake and cookies. 50 miles in, people had already eaten all the good food and was left with fruit and cake. 70 miles in was a free ice cream truck, so had a cone and a few chocolates, but wasn't very hungry. At the end of the ride, had to rush to make the train and skipped the dinner on offer. On the sleepy train ride home, stuffed in half a bagel and a banana nut Odwalla bar, kinda gross. Back at Penn, had a couple of slices of pizza, definitely hit the spot.