Saturday, July 26, 2008

Italian Regional Cuisine: Middle (Haze)

After last night's rec class and sleeping on a bellyful of steak, marrow, and ice cream, waking up was not easy to do. Considered not going to school, but decided against it -- it's Friday, people will be absent, it'll be quieter.

Alas, a quarter of the class was absent and there were no less than 9 recipes to charge through. Unfocused, I didn't even read through the recipes. First off, Dora the Explorer comes up to me and asks me to make the bolognese sauce -- the one recipe that everyone will want to take home. Up to this point, she has not asked for a recipe and we've given her the simple veg side dishes (all of which she's screwed up), so it was hard to say no....I asked Chef K if we could do a double recipe, and she said there was enough stuff in class for each team to do a quadruple. So I told Dora to do a single, while I went ahead and did a triple.

Not being good at measuring, Dora made a huge amount of shredded mirepoix in the robocoup. Chef K called her on it, then came to me to give me the extra. I said no thanks, I'll make my own. Chef K gave me a quizzical look and I said in a low voice, "to be honest, I don't eat anything that Dora makes. She works dirty, and has said in the past that she doesn't care." And that was that.

Class was really quiet, to the point of weirdness. The bolognese was pretty straightforward -- cook the hell out of the mirepoix, cook the hell out of veal, pork, and beef ground, deglaze with white wine, add stock and aromatics (basil, thyme, parsley in a sachet), simmer as long as possible. Dirty Dave and I decided to add a bit of heat, and I threw in some cumin, coriander and red pepper flakes in a spice grinder. Right before serving, added heavy cream to mellow the whole mess out.

Made another batch of pasta, experimented with rolling the hell out of it in the pasta machine. The more I worked it, the stiffer it got, until it actually crumbled and could not be worked anymore. Kinda cool, but not what you want to eat. Indeed, the final pasta came out a bit tough.

Was kinda unaware of everything going on cooking-wise, was just too tired. Dirty Dave made a beautiful roast pork with a pomegranate sauce that tasted even better than it looked. The others got out prosciutto-wrapped red mullets, fried mushrooms in olive oil and vinegar, braised artichokes and a white bean soup. Chef made a delicious zucchini cake frosted in a cream cheese concoction.

One more day of Italy, then off to Asia.

Ate weirdly today, as there was no formal meal. Grazed on some hummus stuff at B's cousin's house, then we went for a drink at the Boat Basin Cafe and grazed on way too much fried food.

BREAKFAST: 6:30am, smoothie, 1 bowl, hunger 4/5
Kiwi, cherries, ginger, banana. Ginger gave it an interesting kick.

AM TASTINGS: 10:30am, fresh pasta with bolognese roast pork with pomegranate sauce, zucchini cake, 1.5 bowl, hunger 4/5

LUNCH: 1:30pm, hummus, whole wheat pita, 2 tiny falafel balls, health salad, 1 bowl, hunger 3/5

DINNER: 5:30pm, popcorn shrimp, onion rings, 1 beer, 1 bowl, hunger 3/5
At the Boat Basin Cafe, nothing good on the menu, ate the shrimp in memory of my mom, as this was the kind of shrimp she was used to -- tiny, breaded and out of the freezer bag.

EVENING DRUGGING: 9:30pm, 2 tumms
Dinner was not ideal.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Italian Regional Cuisine: Northeast (Pasta in Reverse)

Class started with a lecture about yesterday's region as well as today, then we got down to it. The menu included minestrone milanese (the classic soup), Polenta con Sugo de Porri (sausage and polenta), Fritto Misto de Mare (fried bits o' seafood), Polpette Fritte (meatballs with raisins and pinenuts), Fagiolini con L'Orore di Vaniglia (marinated string beans with vanilla), and Zucchini in Scapece (fried zucchini with mint and vinegar). Dirty Dave and Chef Jr took the meatballs, Dora the Explorer was set off to explore with the beans and zucchini, Speedy did the sausage polenta and the fried seafood, and I went after the soup.

The soup called for fresh pasta, so I made fettuccine. Speedy juiced beets yesterday, so Chef K instructed me to make my gluten n' yolk heavy pasta again with the beet for color. I admit, it was a really good feeling to have my own thang specifically requested by Chef K. I suggested to her that such a pretty pasta would be wasted all chopped up in a dark colored soup like minestrone. So we talked, and she called up for a short stack of ingredients -- heavy cream, walnuts, pears, pear brandy. We had tallegio on hand.

She gave me instructions without amounts: reduce the cream, add cheese, make napé. Slice pears thin, with skin on, sauté in butter to slightly brown, flambé with brandy. Toast walnuts in oven. Add them all together, serve with beet pasta. She demoed for me how to plate a nice pasta -- take a serving fork, twist around the fork, then deposit the circular mound on plate, sauce around it, and garnish. This pasta was surprisingly good, with the funky cheese and the mildly sweet pears really amping each other. The beet pasta did not taste beety at all, though it's slightly sweet edge didn't hurt this recipe. It was like pasta in reverse: pale sauce and red pasta. I can't wait to serve this kind of dish to B -- it's pasta and sauce, sure, but it so.....not boring!

The minestrone was pretty straight forward. Sweat pancetta and onions in olive oil, then sweat celery and little flat squares of carrot for a solid 15 minutes. Add stock, little flat squares of potato, a large sachet of herbs (parsley, thyme, basil, garlic) and chicken stock, season. After 10 minutes, throw in diced zucchini. At the end, finish with little squares of fresh pasta and hit it with salt and grated Parmesan. Hearty and satisfying and flavorful, not life changing.

I tried the minestrone of Stalker Kowalski's group, and it was much more flavorful than mine. A few students said mine needed more salt, which may have been the case, but the flavor profile was just too different. Maybe they browned their mirepoix for more flavor?

Class ended with a tasting of three different kinds of prociutto, a parma, a san danielle, and a cutello. The first was sharp and familiar, the cutello oddly mild and vaguely sweet, and the san danielle absolutely delicious, balanced in its sharp and sweet and meaty notes. Of course, that one is the most expensive...

Tomorrow, we head south to the Central Region.

Assisted in a 'French Steakhouse' recreational class this evening, made some fun dishes leading a group of civilians. We made a great dish of blanched and shocked stringbeans mixed with sautéed mushrooms and shallots and whole toasted hazelnuts (gotta make a vegan version for the HVS), oysters on the halfshell (everyone was so fascinated by how to shuck 'em), and a grilled hanger steak with decadent bourdelaise (sweat shallots in butter, add red wine, reduce by half, add equal amount of veal stock, reduce until thick, finish with bits of bone marrow).

BREAKFAST: 6:30am, good granola with good milk, .5 bowl, hunger 3/5
Really missed this granola, picked up 3 packs from the farmer's market before yogacize.

AM TASTINGS: 11am, beet pasta with pears, walnuts and cream sauce, 2 fried shrimpos, half a meat ball, a few spoonfuls of sausage and polenta, a few spoonfuls of minestrone soup, 1 bowl, hunger 4/5

PM SNACK: 2:30pm, green salad, mint chip ice cream, 1 bowl, hunger 4/5

DINNER: 9:30pm, hanger steak, bourdelaise & marrow sauce, string beans and mushrooms with hazelnuts, pommes anna, 4 profiteroles, water, 1.5 bowls, hunger 4/5

EVENING WATERING: quart of 11:30pm, lightly bubbled seltzer

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Italian Regional Cuisine: Northwest (Pasta Wowee!)

Today's menu consisted of Sfogliata de Radicchio (bitter greens and olives sautéed and baked on a puff pastry), Riso al Gorgonzola (Blue Cheese Risotto), Calamari Ripieni de Gamberi (Grilled Squid stuffed with shrimp), Costolette alla Valdostana (breaded veal chop stuffed with fontina cheese), Ragu de Cinghiala (Wild Boar Ragu with papadelle pasta), and Cipolline Agro Dolce (sweet and sour onions). Chef K lectured a bit about today's work, then we took a quiz (for which we got the questions for yesterday).

Dirty Dave and Chef Jr were absent today, so it was on Speedy, Dora the Explorer, and myself to tackle the work. Dora took the squid and the radicchio puff pastry, Speedy made the ragu and the veal chops, and I did the pasta, the risotto, and the onions.

The sweet and sour onions was a simple, pretty recipe. Blanche and shock the little onions and peel. Combine sugar, red wine vinegar, a few sage leaves, extra virgin olive oil, and salt in a gratin dish (it looked trippy, dude) then bake to caramelize the sugar. The were held to room temperature and I'm embarrassed to say that I forgot to taste them.

Pasta dough has to rest, so I made the dough next. I went off the reservation and made it from memory of the recipe I use from Batalli's cook book. Yesterday, Chef K had me make pasta with AP flour, 2 whole eggs, and olive oil. Today I grabbed the same amount of high-gluten bread flour, added 4 egg yolks to the 2 eggs, and cut the oil. Though yesterday she claimed too much kneading would make it tough, I went nuts kneading it. The dough did feel tough, but it felt right to me.

While that rested, I moved on to the risotto. Funny thing with risotto, there are a million different kinds of risotto, but the base is always the same. Sweat aromatics in butter (shallots here), sauté the rice, deglaze with booze (white wine here), then stir in liquid in small amounts until absorbed (chicken stock, here). Once I got it to the right tenderness, blended in a a sauce consisting of Gorgonzola melted in heavy cream. Through in some whole butter and salt, and Bob's your uncle.

I made this in advance of service time, and held it on the stove. When I went to serve, it had turned to glue so I hit it with more chicken stock and and loosened nicely....but maybe too much. Chef K tasted it and said it was good, but something in her face told me she had reservations. When pressed, she said it wasn't as creamy as it should be; then I told her what I had done to revive and warm it. She suggested next time, hit it with warm heavy cream instead of stock. Point taken.

I rolled out the pasta, it had an attractive yellow sheen that set it apart from the other pastas in the class. Chef K demo'd how to cut into the wide papadelle strips by hand -- loosely roll the sheets into tubes and delicately cut across without mushing it down, easy peasy. Boiled it for 90 seconds, hit it with Speedy's ragu immediately. Chef K really liked it, and I explained to her what I did. She was surprised that it wasn't tough. The ragu was good, but Dirty Kim's was better -- sorry, Speedy!

I avoided Dora's dishes all together for health reasons, but I sampled them from other groups, all pretty weird but yummy. The veal chops were extremely decadent -- breaded huge chops on the bone with oozy smelly cheese when you cut into it.

Tomorrow we shuffle off to the Northeast of Italy.

Yoga kicked my ass this evening, between the sweating, the people putting their ankles behind their butts, and generally getting hungrier and thirstier over the 90 minutes. Body did feel invigorated after, though. Kinda wish I ate some sort of lunch, but I just wasn't hungry during the afternoon, particularly working with the hospital-like food at God's Love.

BREAKFAST: 6:30am, organic chex with the good milk, .5 bowl, hunger 3/5

AM TASTINGS: 11am, hand cut papadelle with wild boar risotto, a few spoonfuls of risotto, a few bites of fontina-stuffed veal chop, a fistful of pastry class' cookies, water, 2 bowl

DINNER: 8pm, vegan chocolate chip cookie, quinoa, hijiki and tempeh with tahini sauce, cup of dahl, apple fizzy lizzy, water, 1.5 bowl

EVENING WATERING: 10pm, quart of water

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Pasta and Gnocchi (Pasta Fneh)

Today began with an extended lecture about Italian cuisine, accentuating the localized nature of each area's specialties. Parmigiano Reggiano is an unpasteurized, partially skimmed cow's milk cheese that is only produced in the provinces of Parma and Reggio, etc etc. A traditional Italian meal will feature a pasta alone for a starter, not as an entrée or a side dish. And today we made pasta.

The menu included lasagna, but Chef K struck it down as being not very good. That left two dishes: butternut squash ravioli and gnocchi. In addition, we made a simple basil pesto and fettuccine from the ravioli dough.

The class dough was made of all-purpose flour, whole eggs, olive oil. The dough-recipe I use at home (using the same equipment) involves high-gluten bread flour and lots of egg yolks. Usually, I do about ten minutes of kneading before resting; Chef K insisted we stop kneading once the dough came together.

When I've made pasta at home, I've found that more that the dough ran through the rollers, the more tender the pasta -- the work developed the gluten into long strands. Chef K called for minimal running through the machine, with minimal folding of the dough. So I was surprised that the pasta actually came out pretty damn good. I wonder if it's the technique or all the egg yolks that made the biggest difference.

We also made gnocchi, which turned out to be a lot less intimidating than I had feared. Bake a couple of potatoes, peel them, rice them, mix with a small amount of flour, egg yolk, nutmeg and salt. Shape into a tube, cut into 1 inch pieces, shape with a fork. Boil until they float.

A simple pesto with basil, olive oil, toasted pine nuts, garlic, parm-reg, salt and pepper was made in a blender, and other students prepared a number of simple sauces to dress the pasta. Some one made an overly sweet butternut squash filling, and we played around with some forms to make different shapes of raviolis.

Over all, an uninspiring day where most of the food came out just ok. My gnocchi was grainy and oddly tough (from overworking the dough, I suspect). I look forward to taking another crack at it at home and getting it right.

Tomorrow, we start in the north west region of Italy.


Not enough sleep last night, due to late movie with Ms. Yana. Must sleeeeep.

BREAKFAST: 6:30am, smoothie, 1 bowl, hunger 3/5
Blueberries, grapes, banana, yogurt, milk, flax, ice, delicious.

AM TASTINGS: 10:30am, fettuccine with pesto, gnocchi in cream sauce, squash ravioli with tomato sauce, 1.5 bowl, hunger 4/5

PM SNACK: 4:30pm, chocolate gelato, .5 bowl, hunger 4/5
Tired, need a jolt of energy to go out and...see my nutritionist. -sigh-

DINNER: 7:30pm, large green salad with tomato and lime hazelnut vinaigrette, 2 uncured hot dogs with kimchi, 1 ear boiled corn and organic sea salt potato chips, 1 kristall, 1.5 bowls, hunger 4/5
Not a normal dogs n' chips kind of guy, but it was the kind of meal my dad would cook during the summer when I was a kid. At least this was the healthier version.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Regional Cuisine: Burgundy (I luv dem shrimpos)

Was tempted to skip school today and just enjoy the weather on a bike, but figured if the quiz is tomorrow, it would be too much drama to skip the review day. I guess others had the same idea, because no one was absent today. Low and behold, Chef K was absent today and Chef Mi filled in.

Chef Mi is a stout older fellow who works high up in administration who had a lot of quiet nervous energy -- I suspect he used to be a chef instructor years ago, but has been riding a desk for at least a decade. Nice enough, but he seemed tentative in interacting with the students.

There was no lecture, Chef Mi reviewed the recipes and off we went. On the menu: Beef Bourguignon (Braised Beef with Red Wine Sauce), Gratin de Queues d'Ecrevisses (Gratin of Shrimp), Cervelle de Canut (Brains-of-the-Silk Weaver) (!!!), and Salade Lyonnaise (Salad of Braised Lion....I keed, I keed! Endangered wild cat food still TK).

Both the Salad and the "brains" (farmer's cheese with herbs) could be done later and whenever, so Speedy and Chef Jr. took the beef while Dirty Dave and I went after the gratin. As Dora the Explorer needed to do something, I punted and said that the beef needed more hands. I just didn't want to deal.

The shrimp gratin was a big, sprawling dish. We started with making shrimp stock, which consisted of simmering fish stock, shrimp heads and shells, mirepoix, garlic, peppercorns, thyme, parsley, tomato paste and bayleaf for about 45 minutes, then straining. With this stock, we made Shrimp Veloute, which is simply mixing in roux (cooked butter and flour) to thicken the stock.

The shrimps were big and fully intact, and pulling off their big heads resulted in a gush of blood and green 'taco' all over the cutting boards -- kinda cool, kinda gross like the lobsters. Butterflying them and removing the poop-vein was revelatory -- the shrimp I've de-veined at home were smaller and less obvious.

As DD removed the shrimp from the pan, butter, I made Hollandaise sauce: Whisk egg yolk and a bit of water over a hot water bath until the consistency of whipped cream; then whisk in clarified butter; then saute minced shiitake mushrooms until soft. Add tomato concasse (minced tomatoes, minus the skins and seeds), then deglaze with Mard de Bourgogne, a sweet-smelling brandy of the Burgundy region. Throw in heavy cream and reduce. Add shrimp veloute plus minced parsley. Toss shrimp back in to rewarm. The whole mess was put into a gratin dis, then topped with 'Glacage Royale' -- hollandaise, shrimp veloute, and freshly-made whipped cream folded together in about equal portions. Throw in beneath the salamander (broiler) for a few seconds, then serve.

During the course of the day, Dora showed off her lack of comprehension of what was going on around her and her lack of respect for the food she was making. When making croutons, she was ripping the bread rather than cutting into squares, when making poached eggs she added a full pint of vinegar to the water when a tablespoon was the appropriate amount, as she made vinaigrette she rubbed her nose with her fingers and then stuck them in the stuff to taste. Suffice to say, I did not eat anything she worked on -- the Salade Lyonaise and the Beef (I did sample other groups, though).

As DD & I were in the shrimp, I quickly made the Brains-of-the-Silk Weaver -- farmer's cheese is one of B's favorite foods, and I didn't want to risk Dora getting her hands in it. The 'brains' is basically just an herb-infused big-curd cheese. We started with a bunch of farmer's cheese in a bowl, then thoroughly mixed in small amounts of all the following, all finely minced: chives, parsley, tarragon, shallots, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Once that was mixed through, I hit it with a little heavy cream to make it smoother and more spreadable. I don't like this kind of cheese, but I have to admit, it was pretty tasty and fresh tasting.

Tomorrow, we enter Italy.

The scale said 224 this morning, a two pound increase from the previous two weeks. Stupid scale.

Before returning to school for a knife demo, I made a big green salad then decided to go the whole way and make dressing, too. Through hazelnut oil, apple cider vinegar, a squeeze of a whole lime, salt and a couple small cloves of finely minced garlic. Taaaasty!

My mom always considered shrimp to be a treat, and took some sort of pleasure in referring to them as 'shrimpoes'. We'd have those tiny breaded frozen ones out of the box, and they were good enough. I wish I could go to her apartment and blow her mind with the shimpoes we made today.

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

AM TASTINGS: 10:30am, shrimp souffle with about 5 big honking shraaamps, one small bite of beef bourginon, 1 croute with "brains", a few small bites of chocolate cake-stuff, 1 bowl, hunger 4/5
Pastry class sent up 5 plates of fancy desserts, but for the first time ever, they were strictly mediocre. They all centered around a little chocolate bundt cake that were all dry, not very sweet and not very chocolatey.

PM SNACK: 12:30, Gus extra dry ginger ale, .5 bowl, hunger 4/5
In honor of the HVS. Tasted really good, with a nice gingery linger.

DUNCH: 4pm, large green salad with hazelnut vinaigrette, roasted broccoli with onion, mushroom, panko and cheddar, 2 servings of chocolate gelato, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5
The gelato was so good and appealing, I had to have it a 2nd time -- usually industrial food will trick out their product with all sorts of chemicals and refined junk to evoke that reaction, while my 5-ingredient gelato did it on it's own! (Coco powder, whole milk, cornstarch, pinch o' salt, dash o' vanilla) Technically ice milk, not ice cream.

SNINNER: 8pm, falafel sandwich, 1.5 bowls, hunger 4/5
Didn't intend to eat this much, but was a huge cheap portion -- the demographics of this joint must of been poor hungry NYU students.

EVENING WATERING: 11:45pm, quart of water