Thursday, October 29, 2009

Banging out a buffet

The class reconvened with four students to present a buffet for the parent-teacher conferences. When I arrived, I took the chicken stock out and scooped off the hard layer of fat to find chicken jello -- just what you want. This is some triple-strength stuff, and will go a long way when we cook grains next week. I rendered the fat in a saute pan and put it away.

The mac n' cheese just got warmed in the oven and presented in the hotel pans, no fuss no muss. The brownies were a little over-cooked, so I had them trimmed of their edges -- voila, every piece is a center piece. Put on a shiny silver plastic tray and sprinkled with powdered sugar, it looked just as good as any fancy catering outfit. Salads were put out from yesterday, but yesterday's vinaigrette was rushed and not very good, so I had the students do it again.


Yield: 2 cups
Red wine vinegar 4 oz
Dijon mustard 1 tsp
Olive oil 12 oz
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Sugar to taste
1. Combine vinegar and mustard in an anchored bowl.
2. Whisk in oil gradually.
3. Season with salt, pepper and sugar.

This time, I had them season it correctly -- meaning, a lot more than just a pinch. We tasted and tasted, and eventually the right sugar and salt balance made the flavor explode. At first it just tasted like oil, then suddenly....vinaigrette.

We received two 3-foot hero rolls; a lot of prep went into breaking down all the vegetables to go into the sandwiches -- tomatoes, onions, iceberg lettuce, etc. We took romaine leaves and made a bed for the sandwiches and, when one student suggested hard boiled eggs as a garnish, we knocked those out, too. We made mayo again -- always good practice.


Yield: 2 ½ cups mayonnaise
Egg 1 each
Egg yolk 1 each
Salt ½ tsp
Ground pepper ¼ tsp
Olive oil ½ cup
Vegetable oil 1 ½ cups
Lemon juice 2 to 3 tsp
Chopped fresh herbs ¼ cup
(Parsley, chives, dill, etc.)
1. Place egg, egg yolk, salt, and pepper in an anchored mixing bowl. Whisk until blended
2. Whisking constantly, drizzle in the oils, gradually increasing the amount added as the sauce thickens
3. As soon as the sauce is very thick, thin with 2 teaspoons of lemon juice, followed by the remaining oil.
4. Add herbs, whisk to combine.
5. Taste. Add more lemon juice, if necessary. Season to taste.

It was fun talking about sandwich theory, it's something you kind of forget after c-school. Rather than get anal and give a sandwich recipe, we talked more of method...


Four elements: bread, filling, spread, garnish
  • Bread: Open or closed. The base is the only element compulsory.
  • Spread: fat-based spreads applied directly to the bread provides barrier to keep bread from getting soggy
  • Filling: Focus of sandwich – hot or cold, substantial or minimal. Determines other elements of sandwich.
  • Garnish: Should compliment or contrast the filling. Either on sandwich or as a side garnish.
I showed them all the meats we had and discussed them: turkey, roast beef, Genoa salami, and prosciutto. We tasted and discussed each, and I gave a quick anatomy lesson about the leg of a pig (where prosciutto comes from), versus the belly (bacon). The ideas of balance, over-stuffed versus minimal meat, and spreads as a cohesive element that brings a sandwich together both physically and flavor wise were covered. Could not forget to show how to lay meat, with a fold to add spring and air rather than just stacks of flat stuff.

We did the sandwiches last; we were done with half of them when the crowds started to file in. The supervisor had to run out and get more bread (the sandwiches were very popular!), and we had enough fillings to keep going. It was nice to see the kids under a bit of production pressure, and pull through.

Next week, some rice dish, another grain, and using that jellied stock...yum.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cooking in Quantity

I really don't know what this poster in the school cafeteria was about. My supervisor didn't know, either. Something tells me I really don't want to know. Yum-o, I say. Yum. O.

The syllabus was all about stock and sauces, but we also needed to cook for PTA parent-teacher conferences tomorrow. Rather than be capped at 3 hours, we took 4 and a half to get it all done.

We started with a short lecture about mother sauces and the danger zone. The danger zone is 60 through 140 degrees -- the zone where bacteria will grow and multiply if given the three elements it needs: protein for food, moisture for environment, and low acidity. Stock has all three.

Bechamel, veloute, espagnol, tomato, hollandaise -- today we were making bechamel -- warm milk thickened with a roux. Roux is equal parts fat and flour, whisked while cooked to turn it into a paste. The darker it goes, the bigger flavor it'll have. This would be the base of our Mac n' Cheese....


Yield: 30 servings
Elbow macaroni 5 lbs
Butter 1 ½ cups
Flour 1 ½ cups
Whole milk 1 ¼ gallon
Salt & pepper to taste
Worcestershire sauce to taste
Cheddar, cubed 1 ½ lb
Mozzarella, cubed 1 ½ lb
Monterrey jack, cubed 1 ½ lb
1. Preheat oven to 350˚. Warm milk, but do not boil. Grease 4 large hotel pans. Bring enough salted water to a boil. Add pasta, cook until very al dente – 2 minutes shorter than package suggestion.
2. Melt butter and stir in flour to make a roux. Whisk in warm milk a ladle at a time to make white sauce. BTB RTS. Salt and pepper to taste.
3. Remove sauce from heat, stir in three cheeses. Combine with pasta and stir well. Pour into baking dishes.
4. Bake 45-60 minutes, or until top is desired crispiness. Rest 20 minutes before serving.

I had the kids taste the cheese sauce before and after adding salt and Worcestershire, really bringing home the importance of NEVER forgetting seasoning.

This was my own recipe -- the syllabus had a horrible recipe involving mustard powder. The teacher who lead this program the last two cycles stopped by and ate with us, and confided that the first time she taught this program, she stuck closely to the syllabus and all the kids pretty much were grossed out by the mac n' cheese. This recipe is pretty solid, except this was the first time I was using the ovens in this kitchen -- they ran hot, and they ran uneven. The final product was a little over-done, but still very edible, very rich and decadent, if not as loose as I would of liked.

Before class, I got chicken stock on the fire. We just had too much to do and this is a 4 hour affair, and I got whole chickens that had to be broken down without fuss or drama.


Yield: 1 gallon

Chicken bones 8 lbs
Cold water 1 gallon
Salt 2 tsp
Mire poix, medium dice 1 lb
Sachet d’Epices 1 each

1. Rinse bones, place in stockpot, add water and salt.
3. Simmer 2-3 hours
4. Add mire poix and sachet, continue to simmer 1 more hour, skimming scum as necessary
5. Strain. Use immediately (degrease by skimming if necessary) or rapidly cool and store for later use.

The mac n' cheese was done in one huge batch broken into three hotel pans. Once into the oven, I demoed the brownie recipe. One kid asked why we didn't use a double-boiler to melt the chocolate -- an excellent question. Because we were melting it with butter, it was protected by the water content in that fat. As long as we didn't boil it, we were safe over an open flame.


Yield: 12 servings
Butter 1 cup
Unsweetened chocolate 4 oz
White cane sugar 2 cup
Eggs 4 each
Vanilla extract* 1 tsp
Salt ½ tsp
1. Preheat oven to 350˚. Grease a 9x13 baking pan
2. In a 3-quart saucepan, met butter and chocolate over low heat, stirring constantly until fully melted and incorporated.
3. Remove for heat, stir in sugar. Allow to cool slightly.
4. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each.
5. Add vanilla and salt, stir well.
6. Fold in flour, mix minimally. Spread batter into pan.
7. Bake 30-35 minutes. Brownies are done when toothpick is inserted into center and comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack.

*Can be replaced by scrapings of 1/2 vanilla bean

Since there is only four burners that are accessible at once, we broke into four teams and they made the brownies, with me looking over and giving guidance as we went. Soon enough, five trays of brownies joined the mac n' cheese in the oven.

Two students took on the Caesar Salad, and four students got to work on the green salad. The Caesar was pretty straight forward. First step was making the croutons...


Yield: 1 lb
White bread 1 lb
Butter, melted 4 oz, or as needed
Salt 1 tsp, or as needed
Black pepper, ground ½ tsp (optional), or as needed
1. Remove the crust from the bread if desired. Slice and cube the bread into desired size. If bread is fresh, dry out cubes in over for 5 minutes before continuing.
2. Toss the bread, fat and season together on a sheet or hotel pan.
3. Bake at 450˚ until lightly golden, 8 to 10 minutes

The great thing about this was that it was super simple, and the end result was INSANELY better than the crap you buy in a box, industrial croutons that are designed to be shelf-stable forever and taste like weird chemicals. The student who I was directing to flip and stir the croutons said she really did not like croutons. I picked one up and put it in her mouth by hand, and I could see the lights turn on in her eyes. THIS is why we cook from scratch and not buy a box. Sure, it's cheaper, but the real reason is that it is so much better. Rather than an industrial interpretation of what a crouton is, here she had the REAL thing for the first time, just as they were made when they were invented. True dat. Hollah.


Yield: 10 appetizer servings
Romaine lettuce, chopped 1 lb
Croutons 12 oz
Sliced chicken breast 25 oz

Garlic. minced 1 tsp
Anchovy fillets 5
Salt ¾ tsp, or as needed
Black pepper, ground ½ tsp
Egg yolks 2
Lemon juice 2oz
Olive oil 10 floz
Parmesan, finely grated 6 oz, or as needed
1. Separate romaine leaved. Clean and dry thoroughly. Tear or cut into pieces. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
2. Prepare croutons and hold at room temperature until ready to serve
3. To prepare dressing, mash together garlic, anchovies, salt and pepper in a bowl to form a relatively smooth paste. Add egg and lemon juice and blend well. Gradually add olive oil, whisking as it is added to form a thick emulsion. Stir in Parmesan. Adjust with salt and pepper as necessary.
4. Pan-sear chicken right before service. Slice when rested.
5. For each serving, combine 2 oz greens with 1 floz dressing, tossing gently until evenly coated. Garnish with a few croutons. Top with 2.5 oz sliced chicken.

The dressing's key is to mash the anchovies and garlic until it is homogeneous (a word I had to define for my student, which was cute!) before making the emulsion. Because of a student allergic to seafood, we had to serve the salad with the dressing on the side.

The other four got to work on the tossed salad for the meeting tomorrow. A lot of knife skills involved here, and I demoed how I wanted each element. I had them peel the celery, just like my wife likes....


Yield: 20 servings
Boston lettuce, chopped 3 head
Romaine lettuce, chopped 3 head
Carrots, peeled, rounds 2 lb
Cucumbers, peeled, sliced, quartered 4 each
Red onion, diced 2 each
Red peppers, diced 2 each
Celery, peeled, sliced 1 head
Simple red wine vinaigrette 2 cup
1. Toss all vegetables together in a large bowl.
2. When ready to serve, pour vinaigrette over, toss, serve immediately

We made the vinaigrette almost as an afterthought, and the student muffed it, with too little seasoning....


Yield: 2 cups
Red wine vinegar 4 oz
Dijon mustard 1 tsp
Olive oil 2 lb
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Sugar to taste
1. Combine vinegar and mustard in an anchored bowl.
2. Whisk in oil gradually.
3. Season with salt, pepper and sugar.

We didn't have time to muck around with it, but will remake it tomorrow when we prep for the event.

The class ended with the four burners given over to saute pans. I demoed how to butterfly a chicken breast by cutting it length wise but leaving the two halves attached, so it could be opened like a book. Uncut, the cutlets would be too thick to cook all the way through and would have to be finished in the oven, which we just did not have time for.


Yield: 1 serving
Chicken breast, boneless, skinless 1 each
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Vegetable oil ½ floz
1. Season chicken cutlet with salt and pepper
2. Heat sauté pan over medium-high heat, then add oil
3. Saute cutlet for 2-3 minutes per side or until done.
4. Rest ½ the time of cooking before serving or slicing.

The magic moment is when you turn the meat over and everyone sees the browning. A typical home cook will keep on moving the meat and no browning happens. It's a sexy "ooo" moment. Every one cooked at least one breast, and another student sliced the meat, to which I had to hold her up as to not cut unrested meat.

I dashed out a bit of whipped cream to go with the brownies as the kids cleaned up.


Yield: 16 servings
Heavy cream 1 cup
Vanilla extract* 1 tsp
Confectioners sugar 1 tbsp
1. In a large bowl or mixer with whip attachment, whip cream until stiff peaks are just about to form.
2. Beat in vanilla and sugar until peaks form. Make sure not to over beat, cream will then become lumpy and butter-like.

*Can be replaced by scrapings of 1/2 vanilla bean

We sat, ate with the supervisor and last year's teacher, and everyone seemed pretty happy with the food. I didn't like the over-doneness of the baked goods, but in the end, every one dug it so I didn't want to disrespect the student's efforts. Just because I'm hard on my own cooking doesn't mean I should be a spoilsport. Tomorrow we reconvene to make sandwiches, dress the salad, reheat the baked goods, plate the food and try to impress the parents...