Friday, June 13, 2008

Steaming, Poaching (Mmmmmuscles!)

While I was out, Chef M announced that today would be his last day, as he has a family matter he must attend to. That's a big drag, he was the kind of teacher you actually want to please and meet his standards.

We began with a short lecture about steaming, a wet method in which food is cooked by immersion in hot-water vapor; and poaching, which is a combination of braising and steaming -- the item is half submerged in hot flavorful liquid, then covered to capture the steam.

It is a fast method, and a lot of the class was dedicated to fabricating the fishes, assembling the mise, cleaning and debearding the clams and muscles, making the marinades and a 'fondue' (chopped leeks softened in butter with a little orange zest). I was on a new team, with two peeps I've worked with before (Speedy and Square Head), and one new member, who is super competent, young, and is already working in restaurants. Let's call him Chef Junior.

Day was pretty smooth with S and SH fabricating most of the fish, and CJ and I compiling the mise. I took over the clams and muscles, including the cheesy toasts that accompanied the clams.

The salmon was kind of neat, after making into pieces of fillet, they were topped with various julienned vegetables and aromatics, then put into a little folded parchment paper bag, "en papillote." After cooking, the paper is all puffed up and brown and when you cut it open, a blast of yummy steam comes our and smells up your surroundings.

The fillets of sole were rolled into 'paupiettes,' laid in a sauté pan on their sides and wrapped pin parchment, with the final sauce a heavy cream reduction.

My mussels and clams went pretty quick and came out pretty good, with the liquor of the bivalves adding a sea-flavor to the butter wine they steamed open in.

Next week, more poaching.

Feel a thousand times better today, I definitely did the right thing by taking yesterday off, or today would of been hell, or worse. Off to Shelter Island to celebrate B's b-day! Happy Birthday, B!

BREAKFAST: 6:30am, good yogurt with honey, vanilla, raw cashews, .75 bowl, hunger 3/5

11am, 5 clams, steamed sole and sticky rice, spear of asparagus, several very buttery cheesy toasts, 1.5 bowls, hunger 4/5

PM SNACK: 12:45pm, boylan's grape soda, hunger 4/5

PM SNACK: 1:30pm, homemade powerbar and peanut butter, .25 bowl, hunger 4/5

DINNER: 5pm, shrimp parmigiana with spaghetti, creme brulee, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5
Laughably bad food on the water in the North Fork, though very unlaughably expensive.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sick (Ratatouille)

I woke up at 5:30 this morning, as I still needed to write my recipe cards. I hit the hay around 11 last night, minutes after M, M's boyfriend and E split. Totally wiped. When I woke up, I felt shaky and my voice raspy. I hoped by just getting going (and a few spoonfuls of soothingly delicious ice cream), I'd snap to. Left on my bicycle a little after 7 as usual, and about 5 minutes later found myself struggling to pedal on a flat, empty street. It was pleasantly cool but I was a sweaty mess, and my head was pounding.

So I turned around and went home. I hate missing school, but if I were to force it, I suspect I'd get much sicker tomorrow and miss even more school, miss the weekend with B, and make other students sick. Still, I feel a little bit like a rat for leaving N, St and Sb in the lurch. I know N can rise to the occasion, if he took the time to write up his recipe cards.

I do feel good that I wore myself down by cooking and rocking hard in three different kitchens yesterday -- in the end, it was a lot of work, but I really enjoyed the day. Right before I plated the risotto yesterday, I had some blanched asparagus tips to garnish the dish for some visual interest. On a whim, I through them in the hot fry oil and deep fried them for 30 seconds, it added a nice tasty snap to an already unctuous dish. Satisfying.

In honor of yesterday's stews, I watched 'Ratatouille' on cable, silly movie but fun to see the little bon mots of culinary knowlege thrown around.

Watched a bit too much TV today, mostly the Food Network and Top Chef reruns, and saw this commercial:

Is it me, or does the clip of the woman in the last few seconds look like she's about to attempt something extremely pornographic with that sandwich?! Sick day, indeed.

BREAKFAST: 6am, granola with good milk, 2 spoonfuls of ice cream, 1 bowl, hunger 4/5

AM SNACK: 11:30am, 3 scoops of ice cream, 1 bowl, hunger 4/5

PM SNACK: 2pm, homemade power bar with good peanut butter, .5 bowl, hunger 4/5

PM SNACK: 3:30pm, asparagus risotto, .75 bowl, hunger 4/5
A little gluey, but the flavors really melded the 2nd day. A tad salty, but very asparagussy!

PM SNACK: 5pm, 1 scoop of icecream, .25 bowl, hunger 4/5
Hey, I'm sick, and it feels soooo good going down.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Stewing (Cheekalicious)

Today's lecture was simply a few notes about the recipes before we started stewing. Stewing is simply braising, though with small pieces of meat or veg, fully covered in liquid rather than half way.

Yesterday's beef cheeks came out of the refrigerator and back in the oven to braise for another 3 hours, then the team set about assembling the mise for Coq Au Vin (chicken stewed in red win), Banquette de Veau (veal stew), Provencale Lamb Stew, Ratatouille and egg noodles.

Not much to report here. One thing that Chef has underlined in the last few days is that the difference between a professional cook and a home cook is that a professional knows when a recipe is right or wrong -- a home cook just blindly follows a crappy recipe over a cliff then doesn't understand why the food comes out craptastic. As professionals, our #2 responsibility is to know the recipe. In fact, Chef implies that we should not be referring to our recipe cards (which we write up ourselves, copied out of our xeroxed lesson plans) but commit them to memory. This would be apt advice if we were in a restaurant cranking out the same dishes 50 times a night, 6 nights a week. Our #1 responsibility, however, is to know and follow the method.

Particularly, when a recipe breaks from method, the cook has to make a judgement call, based on knowing why the method does what it does. Some of our braising recipes called to deglaze the mire poix with a wine then 'reduce by half'. The method is to reduce a sec (reduce to dry and syrupy). The reason to reduce a sec is to concentrate the flavor of the wine -- what is being reduced is water alone. The moisture content can be added in the step of adding the braising liquid, which in turns means even more flavor.

Another example is a recipe that calls to sweat the mirepoix, despite the fact it is not a white-colored recipe. The point of sweating mirepoix is to keep in pale colored, so to keep with later ingredients like clear chicken stock and clear white wine. To brown and caramelize the mirepoix will make for bigger, better flavor, and if it's not going to muddle the color, there is no reason not to in a braise.

In short, a balance of being able to follow directions and being able to be an independent thinker is key to cookery, as it is to being a fully functional member of a healthy society, I suppose. But I'm over-reaching in a typically bloggy way, I guess, he he.

N, St and Sp worked well together, though Sp's enthusiasm effected his focus, and I had to snap at him a little to get him in line. St had to be asked on a semi-regular basis what he was doing, and every other time he'd answer, "Nothin'. What do you want me to do?" Grrrrr. N, however, has his stuff together and set out on assembling the complicated bits without any oversight, no problem.

Like braises, stews do not really appeal to me, and did not appreciate the saucey stringiness of the chicken, lamb or veal. The Ratatouille, vegetable stew with a tomatoey base, was ok but unexciting. We cooked up egg noodles (from dry noodles) which was as simple as you'd expect it to be, but then we took the long-cooked beef cheeks, shredded them with a couple of forks, and mixed them into the buttered noodles. Each little shred of beef cheek was, yes, a little stringy, but so flavorful that it would just fill the mouth with pleasant beefiness and tanginess that danced around the noodles. No joke, those cheeks.

Tomorrow, we continue stewin'.

Today was a long day. My close friend E has a friend, M, who is mulling a career change into some aspect of the local food movement. So even though we haven't met, tonight we planned to cook a meal for E and M's boyfriend. I woke up early because I was exhausted when I got home last night, and just went to bed. I had to make the batter for tonight's ice cream (which must be cooled fully after cooking the half and half and the yolks), and still had to write my recipe cards. The tiny amount of chocolate I ate (taken in little gift bags from the JB Awards) hit me hard and helped me get through the morning.

After class, I took my fellow classmate Dirty Kim on the back of my tandem down to God's Love We Deliver, where we boxed marble cake, depanned a ton of baked fish, chopped crates of bok choi and cubed a barrel of jimica. From there, I rode over to the Union Square farmer's market to scour the market with M. It was fun chatting with someone I've never met before about what we were looking at, our motivations for being there, etc. The red cipolini onions looked intense, and -poof-, that was our roasted veg side dish. The rhubarb was in season, and -poof- a nice amuse bouche after dinner in the form of rhubarb soup, which I saw demoed at a workshop at school. We got some organic grass-fed beef steaks, popped into Wholefoods to get some stock, and we made our way back to my kitchen.

I set M up peeling and mandolining potatoes, prepping asparagus, and pretty much showing everything that was set up and why. Oddly enough, I found myself repeating a lot of what I've learned in school (and wrote about here), surprising myself with how much was coming back to me as I acted on it. Once E was over, I showed them how to trim silverskin and seam the meat, which they really seemed to get off on. The rhubarb soup got on the fire first, since it had to chill to be served. Really easy, it was 4 and half cup of water boiled with a half pound of sugar for about 5 minutes, then the rhubarb (peeled, cut in 2 inch pieces) was dropped in and boiled till completely disintegrated into strings. A teaspoon of vanilla, then into the fridge till cold. Hit it was a tiny pinch of salt at the end.

The french fries were a bit frustrating, and I think it was because of the uncalibrated thermometer. The first fry bath took literally 30 minutes till the bubbles slowed and the temp started rising. I walked away to do other things, and when I came back the thermometer broke into the oil -- the temp got so high, it exploded. I quickly cycled off to the market for new oil and a new thermometer, so we'd be ready for the final fry bath right before dinner.

I sauteed the steaks, testing them with my fingers for doneness, rested them appropriately while I made the pan sauce. However, them came out closer to rare than the medium rare I wanted -- my pan was a little too hot and the meat a little thicker than anticipated. Between salting the meat and throwing salt into the sauce without tasting it, it was was horribly briney tasting. So I didn't bother reducing to nappe, and spooned only a little over the meat. However, the maitre d'hotel butter I made in the beginning of the session went on top nicely.

I think I learned that sea salt definitely acts differently than kosher salt, delivering a much more intense salty blast of flavor due to it's smaller grain. I must be careful of that in the future. I also learned that upping the fat content in the ice cream (I used more cream than half and half rather than equal parts because that's what I had on hand) allows the mix to take on more air in the churning machine, making for a lighter, fluffier ice cream, but with a less intense flavor. Next time I do a higher-fat version, I'm going to up the extract and the sugar a little.

AM SNACK: 4:30am, 6 tiny pieces of organic chocolate, hunger 2/5

BREAKFAST: 7am, banana, hunger 3/5
As I was leaving, I hugged B and she brought it to my attention that my stomach was growling, so I shoved this banana down.

AM TASTING: 11am, bite of veal stew, bite of lamb stew, bite of coq au vin, bowl of beefcheeks on egg noodles, 1.5 bowl, hunger 4/5

PM SNACK: 2:45pm, piece of marble cake, .5 bowl, hunger 4/5
On break at God's Love We Deliver. Wanted it to be better, but it just wasn't very good. When you have to make literally a ton of cake, corners have to be cut, I guess.

DINNER: 8:30pm, asparagus risotto, sauteed rib steak with roasted red cipolini onion and home made fries, rhubarb soup, french vanilla ice cream, 1 glass prosecco, water, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Braising (Cheeky Cheeky)

Is there nothing prettier than a 10 lb roll of bacon? Wives excluded, of course.

Before the lecture, we had to get the osso buco in the oven. In addition to Natasha and Stoney, someone I'll call Speedy joined the group -- he talks fast and is really enthusiastic, and once underway, started refering to our group as 'the dream team'. Osso buco ("hollow bone") is a slice of the cow shank, as it has a marrow bone surrounded by meat, and is quite tough and full of collagen that needs to be broken down. We browned the hell out of it; carmelized the mirepoix; reduced wine to dry; threw in the stock, meat, and ; then set it into the oven to cook, covered.

The brief lecture revierwed the full one-pot braising method, and Chef M showed us how to cut a circular piece of parchment paper to place between the pot and the cover as a method of retaining heat and moisture in the pot.

Beef cheeks, another very tough cut of meat, was similar in method to the osso buco, except that at the end of class, we iced the whole braise (and will finish cooking it tomorrow). Endives were halved, wrapped in bacon; after braising, they were put under the broiler to give the bacon a little crunch. The fennel was braised in rendered bacon fat and olive oil, and the meaty chunks of bacon at the end were a highlight of the dish. Torward the end of class, we put a whole snapper (minus scales, guts, and sharp fins) in a marinade, started a braising liquid with olives and capers, and only took 30 minutes in the oven. Technically this is poaching, according to Chef M, though the method is similar -- fish just is not a very tough meat.

While things were braising away, for knife skills we tourned potatoes. This is taking a tall eighth of a potato with your left forefinger on top and right thumb on bottom, and pulling a short curved torne knife down the side in a curve, turning after each slice, until you have a neat 7-sided barrel shape. Chef M can do it and make it look ridiculously easy, for the rest of us it's a bit out of our grasps.

Braising, bobbing -- protein is halfway in the liquid. Tomorrow is stewing, swimming -- small pieces fully submersed.


Nicked my left thumb and bled over a few endive, burned my righ thumb grabbing a pot out of the oven with a towel. Ran it under cold water and put a burn cream on it, still ouchy. Not quite enough sleep last night, made me all thumbs.

After class, attended an early afternoon demo called, "Kaiseki: The High Art of the Japanese Meal." Kaiseki is a formal menu of a starter, appetizer, raw dish, grilled dish, soup & rice. The chef made it look easy, but I know enough now to see the tremendous amount of precision on display. The chef was one of the few women in the world to become a full-on sushi chef in Japan, nothing to sneeze at.

Met with Ilsa this evening, she busted my chops a bit about eating too little (and causing sugar cravings) and assigned me to make some interesting calorie-and-nutritionally dense smoothies for breakfast, looking forward to making something awesome. I picked up some grapes and cherries at Whole Foods, with a banana, the good yogurt, the good milk, wheat germ, a dash of honey, maybe some ice, some almond extract, it'll be unstoppable. Looked at soy powder in Whole Foods but it had a zillion multi-vitamin chemicals in it that kinda turned me off. I'm already taking a dirt pill a day, don't need duplications.

BREAKFAST: 6:30am, granola with good milk, banana, 1 bowl, hunger 4/5

AM TASTINGS: 11am, one bite of osso buco with lots of sauce and french bread, 5 slices of bacon pulled from the braised endive, several bacon lardons from the fennel, 2 bites of napoleon, 1 bowl, hunger 4/5
Braised meat is unpleasantly stringy and braised veg are unpleasantly mushy.

PM TASTING: 2-3pm, grilled branzino with basil paste and radish pickle, sauted sirloin over sticky rice with sesame radish pickle, seaweed-fishcake soup, asparagus cake, water, 1 bowl, hunger 4/5
Tiny tastes at the Kaiseki demo. Simple broad flavors presented beautfully, really taking advantage of the freshness of color and taste of the ingredients.

DINNER: 7:30pm, chana sag with rice and nan, 1 lamb samosa, onion baji, 1/2 a beer, water, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5
I was really hungry, but by the time the entrée came, could only eat half, was really full. Got to be the hot weater.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Weekend Report (Extra Lips, Hold the Buttholes, Please)

On Sunday, B & I attended the James Beard Awards a Lincoln Center. That morning, I joined a classmate in getting on line at 9:30am for the 11am sale of student tickets. We were first on line, and it's fortunate -- they only had 50 student tickets for sale, each person could buy 2, and there were more than 25 peeps on that line by 11am. Student tickets were $50 a pop, which sounds like a lot, but being that a full-priced ticket is $500 and includes an all-you-can-eat-and-booze gourmet buffet, it's actually quite a deal. And I got to walk my lady down a red carpet, something a dude should do for his wifey at least once in a while. I searched Flickr for some porny food shots of some of the stuff I ate, but only found red-carpet shots....with me right in the background! I'd post them here, except I'm anonymous, remember?

Oddly enough, our student tickets put us in a box very close to the stage with an excellent view of he proceedings. Three hours long, it was a bit of a snooze fest punctuated by some sincerely beautiful clips of old-school American restaurants and their owners, and some interesting speeches from writers and humanitarians, and the Godfather of French cooking, Jaques Pepin.

Once over, I rocketed out of the gate with an appetite to seriously eat, and was handily defeated by waaaay too much good food everywhere. So this is how rich people eat. More details below.

On Saturday, I got in spandex and on the bike and threw my yoga mat on my back and made it up Central Park to practice yoga with the HVS, where she was doing an outdoor class. It was nice and refreshing to stretch out in the park, and made me look forward to seeing the effect of a yoga class right before a formal ride. Rode home, picked up my friend E and we did a loop around the waterfront of Brooklyn, spending some time on the beach in the Rockaways. We ate at Nathan's in Coney Island -- not much of an ass-meat eater anymore, but that stuff just tastes right. Not the greatest bike food, though.

On Monday, I slept in for the first time in a long time, waking up at 8:30am, not hungry at all. The scale says I'm 224 for a third week in a row, grrr. I almost want it to say I'm heavier to motivate me to do something more aggressive. I shaved off my beard yesterday, and the deep slope from my chin to my neck is a reminder why losing a few more pounds wouldn't hurt.

Recently subscribed to a journal called Meat Paper and got the first issue. Really interesting articles about urban farmers, pork in Israel, the magic of food-styling meat for the camera, as well as some....odder bits.

BREAKFAST: 6:30am, granola with skim milk, .5 bowl, hunger 3/5
Out of the good milk, used some of the grass-fed, organic skim milk that B got at Fairway last week (it's homogenized and pasteurized, so it can keep for a month, instead of the week the good milk gets.) It had a creepy bluish tinge, and tasted and felt similar to water in my mouth. More importantly, the granola which I usually love kind of tasted...bland. The granola is pretty low-salt, but eating it with this milk without the fat to kinda louden the flavor, it just tasted a bit dead and sawdusty. Huh.

AM SNACK: 11:30am, homemade powerbar, .25 bowl, hunger 4/5
On bike ride.

LUNCH #1: 12:00pm, 1 hotdog with kraut and onions, a handful of cheesefries, water, 1 bowl, hunger 4/5
When E asked me what I wanted at Nathan's while we were in Coney Island on our bikes, I said one hotdog, extra lips, hold the buttholes. Hotdogs are nasty things when you think about it, but it's a traditional Brooklyn food in a traditional Brooklyn place, so no harm in a small indulgence. However, the toxic yellow goo called 'cheeze' on the fries...

LUNCH #2: 3pm, onion bagel with lettuce, tomato, onion and butter, small packet of sunchips, 1 bowl, hunger 4/5
At the Bay-Gull store in Broadchannel.

PM SNACK: 5:15pm, small cup of homemade chocolate soy icecream, .25 cup, hunger 4/5
It would of been more if B hadn't eaten the entire container except this sliver.

DINNER: 8pm, rigatoni with meatballs, bruschetta, bread, 1 beer, water, 2.5 bowls, hunger 4/5
With B and her friends in Tribeca. Pasta sauce horribly sweet, too hungry to pass it up, though.

BREAKFAST: 7am, carrot and celery sticks with hummus, piece of edamer cheese, water, .5 bowl, hunger 4/5

AM SNACK: 10am, literally 1 bite of good donut, hunger 3/5
In line for student tickets for the James Beard awards, started talking to some students from the C.I.A., all young n' chirpy and psyched to be there (they travelled down from Poughkeepsie to get on line.) I couldn't help but share 2 of the best donuts in NYC with them.

AM SNACK: 12 noon, Boylan's Grape Soda, .5 bowl, hunger 4/5
This grape soda is the soda of my youth. Sweetened by cane sugar, the grape flavor has absolutely nothing to do with what a grape tastes like, but a very interesting idea of what "grape" is. I suspect this flavor is what turned me off most fruit to this day -- the fake thing just tastes so good. Makes me think I should force myself to eat more fruit and retrain myself, as I'm not 10 years old anymore.

LUNCH: 1pm, home made pizza, water, hunger 4/5
Had two pieces of dough that rose for a second day in the fridge. There was a farmer's market on my street, very small, but they had a cheese-monger who was selling artisenal low-moisture mozzarella, so I picked up a bit. Through a can of tomatos in the blender with olive oil, garlic, salt, sugar, balsamic and a dash of herb to create a fresh raw sauce, and prepped some garlic slices, basil and baby tomatoes for topping. The second day of rising made all the difference, the flavor of the dough was perfectly yeasty, puffed up nicely on the edges, and took on char in all the right places.

PM SNACK: 4pm, homemade power bar, .25 bowl, hunger 4/5
Napped for a couple of hours before heading out to the James Beard Awards

PM SNACK: 6:30pm, caramels, .25 bowl, hunger 4/5
The award's sponsor, Lexus, gave away really gourmet boxes of caramels before the awards, which was clever, as you need something to get a few thousand hungry wealth people through 3 hours of awards. They had me fill out a survey on how I felt about the Lexus brand, which I can sum up as thus: I'd rather be on a bike than a yuppie land boat.

DINNER: 8:30pm - 10:30pm, James Beard Awards Buffet, 3 bowls, hunger 4/5 at the beginning, 1/5 by the end
The lobby, balcony and entrance floor of Avery Fischer Hall in Lincoln Center was set up as a huge gourmet buffet, and once the ceremonies were over, we hit the food as hard as possible. It was quite easy to eat more than $50 worth of food. I can't recount everything I sampled, but a few stand out above the other. Easily the best were one table that was doing duck sliders and lamb sliders, two meats I've only come to appreciate since starting c-school. There was a hazelnut pork terrine that looked like slabs of marbled and squared poo that not many people were eating, but tasted fantastic. Small rounds of fresh pasta in a nutty, woodsy walnut pesto just screamed. One table which had the longest wait was corn masa tamales topped with a fragrant lima bean salad and chopped grilled and cured pork, absolutely gob-smacking. Green & Black had a tasting table of organic chocolate, where I greedily tried each one of their flavors without fully cleansing my mouth before the next bite. Soft shell crab on an avocado couli, a few different cheese tables with all sorts of handcrafted goodies, rhubarb gelato with strawberry compote, buffalo empanadas, amazing smoked cod chowder, razor clam butter soup YUMM, avocado sherbet. There was free flowing champagne, wine and mixed drinks, but all the food kinds of locked me down. I could name the stuff I DIDN'T eat because I was too full by the end. I kinda wanted to hang out, but my stomach demanded me to leave.

LUNCH: 1pm, rigatoni with sun dried tomatoes and shallots in olive oil and white wine reduction, topped with fresh moz and parm, 2 bowls, water, hunger 4/5
Slept in, just not hungry after last night's feast. Just through in what I had on hand, turned out ok -- sun dried tomatoes are an overpowering flavor, next time I cook with them I'll be a bit more conservative.

DINNER: 7pm, grilled jumbo tiger shrimp marinated in butter and garlic, roasted broccoli in panko, boiled corn on the cob, large green salad with olive oil and vinegar, half pint of cashew-cream gelato, water, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5
It's not so bad spending most of the days indoors in a stupidly hot day when you can cook fun food. It was a bummer, however, when B came in while I was eating, and freaked out about all the smoke and excess heat in the apartment. I was enjoying my food too much to notice.