Sunday, December 7, 2008

Day 44

I am still in school. We have been catering and I have been catering and have had to go see family for a funeral and for the holidays. Its been busy. I have lots to share still. Don't worry.
For my 3rd day of our secret ingredient test I have been gifted with filet mignon and scallops. I had no fucking clue as to what to do with scallops. I do know how to cook them I just had no plan whatsoever. Like for meat I could do roast potatoes and a wild mushroom ragout.

I know the presentation is not amazing. Its too crowded with the ragout. And the ragout is very chunky so it spread too much. But I have to say it tasted great. The mushroom ragout starts with bacon (duh) and then sauteed onion, shitakes, dried guajillo chiles, chicken stock (to braise), and then garlic, parsley, maple syrup, and lime juice to finish. I cannot take credit for the madness. Its in the gourmet cookbook. But luckily I had made this before and remembered it. The recipe originally used ribeye but I just did it with the filet. Which unfortunately was shaped like a rubic's cube. Great. Just the kind of steak you want to try to cook medium rare. Why the fuck can't we just get normal shaped protein? That's what I want to know.

So I coated my cube with kosher salt, white pepper, minced garlic, chili powder and olive oil. And then I seared the shit out of it. Pretty much charred and burned. Of course the inside was completely raw. I finished it in the oven to medium rare. I also roasted fingerling potatoes at the same time. I presented it as "crusted" filet mignon over roast fingerling potatoes and wild mushroom ragout.

My feed back on the presentation was that I could have made the ragout fit into the dish better. It looked crowded. Uhhhh. Well, if I had responded I might have said "oh". I had no idea how this was going to plate up. Surprises all around. I was just glad he didn't say it tasted burnt as hell. I then turned to my ugly stepchild, scallops. I normally like scallops. I was just completely unprepared. So searing and pan sauce was my go to idea.

It actually looked nicer in person. I started my potato rosti style cake (that's the light brown disk) which is just julienned potatoes smushed into a teflon pan with some oil and lots of seasoning and slowly browned, then flipped. I held it in the oven where it kept crisping. I then seared my scallops and sauteed my asparagus in different pans but at the same time. At this point my classmate was cursing very loudly at her filet mignon dish. I did my best to ignore her rage against the meat and finish my dish on time. After my scallops were finished searing I moved them to a plate and started my pan sauce with shallots, white wine (to deglaze) and parsley and cream to finish. I simmered the done sauce with the scallops added back in for about 10 minutes. I flipped the scallops halfway through cooking in the sauce. Once finished I plated potato cake, sauce, asparagus, and scallops.

It did look better in person because the colors were all brown tones but not the same colors. That kind of made no sense but I tell you in person IT LOOKED BETTER!. Not sludgy. So after all that stress we then had to be scored and graded on our plates. I was sure my home spun ideas were not going to earn me top marks. I was wrong. I got 20. Out of 20. It was a huge surprise and highlight and exciting moment in my cooking school life. I love perfect scores.
Another terrible secret ingredient day tomorrow. And supposedly harder proteins than today. These were pretty easy. No carving or trimming or filleting or scaling. I don't want to scale and fillet a fish tomorrow. Let's hope its like chicken breasts or something.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Day 43

I have been doing the fam holiday thing. And it was my birthday. And my brother got engaged. So I have been doing things besides writing and studying and staying home all snuggled in. Lots of eating out, drinking and socializing.

So on day 43 we went to visit the meat distribution center that we order our meat from. They don't slaughter there. They only do small or custom cuts and supply local businesses. For example if you want to order precut filet mignon they will cut the tenderloin into the whatever ounce portion that you need. I don't care for the beef that they sell. Its feedlot and low in flavor and slightly fatty (not in a good way). But they do use natural pork and poultry. Its a start, right? So do you think we could take pictures in there? Hell no. We were not allowed photos. Not that there was anything good to see. Nothing shady or gnarly. Just a distribution plant.

So that was my day. Not very exciting. Tomorrow holds more torture in the form of the mystery ingredient time trials again. Wahhhhhh.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Day 42

So after yesterday's temper tantrum I decided to return to school better planned and organized. I did a test run of what I knew had to be coming. Pork tenderloin medallions.

Above was my first plate at home in the morning before class. I wanted to do pork with potatoes and apples but I knew we only had 2 apples left in the walk in at school and I was in the second group of students to come in. Meaning that if pork was assigned I was out of luck if others used apples. So I chose mangos. We had a few mangos and I didn't think that was going to be on anyones agenda. Except mine. So I picked up a few potatoes, mangos and defrosted some pork from my freezer and set my timer for 1 hour 45 minutes. ( I assumed that is how long we would get after our 2 hours yesterday). I wanted to try the potatoes 2 ways. One plate with pureed and one with dijon roasted.

I enjoyed eating the roasted potatoes more but in the context of the dish the puree was better. I also made a mango chutney (but I guess not the way Chef would have made it). The medallions just got seared. I finished my dish in under an hour which left me more than enough time for my second dish which I assumed would be a seafood protein. So I chose the first picture for my official plan.
So I arrive at school and see the other students still running around the kitchen and it did not look good. They were obviously feeling pressed for time and trying to drop their plates in time. If we did not drop anything we would not be scored at all. So once they finished and cleaned up I went in to hear my sentence. Pork and Shrimp. Two main courses. Two sauces. Plates do not have to be dropped at the same time. That made it easier. I went ahead with my final draft of my morning dish.
I made a few mistakes, however. While boiling my potatoes next to my chutney, I seared the shit out of the side of my chutney from the flame from the high heat burner on the potatoes. So caramelized mango chutney it became. Golden in color with flecks of brown for extra flavor. I also slightly over cooked my pork. I should have known better. It looked fine from the outside but was medium well in the center. Chef was not pleased with that.

So his other complaint on my dish was that it looked too dry. He suggested a simple ladle of seasoned demi glace around the chutney to moisten things up. He said nothing about the potatoes which were the best mashed potatoes I have ever made in my life. I assume that means he liked them too. Its funny how when you throw calorie consciousness to the wind in order to achieve maximum flavor you find the best taste. They had cream, milk, butter, and more salt than I want to actually know about. I just kept adding things (after ricing the potatoes) until they were great. Then I took them home and ate them for dinner. No guilt. Just good.
On to my little shrimps. I had this orzo recipe that I had made many times for myself and entertaining from one of Ina Garten's books. Its orzo with roasted vegetables and a lemon vinaigrette. Its great on its own and I thought it would be a lovely lunch like entree with sauteed shrimp. Now my only problem was that I needed an official sauce and I knew that a vinaigrette would not count. The salad originally called for toasted pine nuts, cheese, and chopped basil so I opted to make a pesto and call it a day. So I cut my bell peppers into lovely little diamonds (lozange cut) and roasted them with garlic and onions (I tried to make them diamonds but I felt short on time so they were not as nice as my peppers). I only had 1 hour 45 minutes. It goes fast, okay? Especially as Chef stares at you working. Probably thinking that his toddler niece can cook faster. You try it. But only if you get someone to stare at you THE WHOLE TIME. You just keep that relaxed look on your face as you scoop charred chutney out of your black pan. Call it caramelized.
So next I cooked the orzo pasta and dressed it with the lemon vinaigrette and stirred in the roasted vegetables. I covered it to keep it warm. Somewhere in the process I made a pesto in the food processor and let it sit at room temp. Lastly I seasoned my shrimp heavily and pan seared them.
I garnished with a lemon twist and basil leaves. The pesto was in little blobs around the five shrimp as you can see. I had I think 10 or so minutes leftover. I used a ring mold to help shape the pasta salad into that circle. Orzo is so slippery you cannot really expect it to hold anything up. I just nestled my shrimp in there. I loved how this turned out. I would like to serve it at a luncheon or have it outdoors on a warm summer night.
Chef liked the shrimp dish. He was pleasantly surprised at the strong flavors in the pasta (which was the lemon dressing). He expected my only sauce to be the pesto, I guess. So my total for today (due to the overcooking of the pork) was 19. Not bad, huh? The pork dress rehearsal really helped. Tomorrow we get a break from the stress to go on a class field trip to the place that supplies us with our meats for school. I'm sure you can't take pictures in there.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Day 41

So at my school they do this mystery ingredient week. It is a week of hell that you realize you paid for. Which makes it way worse. The days are shorter as the class is split up into two groups. You show up at your assigned time and are given a protein to work with, a time frame, and parameters of the dish you must make (main course, soup, sauce). You get to use your notes from class and can bring any supplemental notes you may have. You cannot bring in any ingredients. Does this sound fun? Its NOT. You spend all weekend making lists of proteins and possible ways of combining them with vegetables we may have on hand and starches and sauces... Then you get to school and you find out you have to make soup. Okay, my first day I had 2 hours to make a soup and a main course with a sauce (the protein in the main being halibut). Does it sound easy? It's so fucking NOT.

I decided to make a spicy tomato soup. With a puff pastry lid. We had frozen puff pastry in the freezer. I am not a magician. My soup starts with onion, garlic, ginger, jalepeno and some ground cumin. I added canned tomatoes and chicken stock and simmered until onions were tender. I cut out a round of pastry and put it on top. I brushed it with egg wash and baked it until the pastry was golden.

It was cool looking. I would have liked it in one of those french like bowls that have the footed bottom and curve up the sides. Not our boring school cups. It looks way too mushroomy. Still it was kinda cool. Chef did not seem impressed. He said my soup needed something, like a punch. He suggested oven drying tomatoes. Thats great if you have time, huh? I should have just creamed it. He would have gone for that more than anything else.

For the halibut I made a sauce with Chinese cooking wine, sugar, fennel seed, ginger and some soy. Added a little cornstarch to thicken and let it wait while I made a cinnamon rice pilaf (just added cinnamon stick and cumin seed to rice pilaf) and sauteed some baby patty pan squash. I pan seared my halibut and finished it in the oven. I plated my rice with a ring mold and poured my sauce around, topped with squash and placed halibut on top. My rice leaked around into my sauce.
It looked way better than this when I dropped the plate to Chef. It smooshed more because he tasted it. And cut into the fish and all. I don't think he likes asian food very much. He was not into the sauce. He also said that my rice and protein were underseasoned. Meaning not enough salt. He said to not use rice any more. NOT CREATIVE ENOUGH.

We get scored for the plates. Its a combined score totaling 20 points. We get 5 for plating/presentation, 5 for creativity, 5 for taste, and 5 for work habits. Work habits include station cleanliness, keeping raw proteins out of dangerous temps for too long, and safety. We can use whatever ingredients are in our walk in, but not other proteins (except like eggs). I felt like I was going to throw up most of the day. And the great news? Doing this all week. Except tomorrow the time gets shorter.

So my score for the day? 18

I might not come back tomorrow. It was way too stressful.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Day 40

The first recipe of the day was not what I pictured as Spanish. It was a shrimp cake that to me seemed like chinese food. I loved it. You saute a brunoise of celery, onion, red bell pepper and garlic. Add saffron to it (okay, not chinese) and chill it until cool. Mix in equal parts chopped raw shrimp. Add eggs to wet mixture and flour and water to thicken to a pancake batter. We fried them in a teflon pan and kept them warm over the stove. The smaller the pancake, the better it worked.

If you thought we were done deep frying, you were wrong. See the picture below? That is cheese, my friend. We are about to deep fry cheese. With HAM IN IT. Ridiculous? Yes.

They were over the top. And wonderful. You mix up flour, egg yolks, and milk. You whip egg whites and fold them in to the yolks. You fold in cheese (tetilla and manchego), serrano ham, grated onion. Fry, fry, fry. Eat while hot so you scald your mouth and suffer severe burns that are worth every blister. I don't have any pictures of cooked cheese balls. They do sit in your stomach a bit though. We prepped our paella next.

That's my cubed swordfish and chopped garlic. We had all our ingredients ready similar to a stir fry. First was Spanish chorizo, then chicken, then shrimp (cut into thirds), then swordfish, then vegetables (onion, red bell pepper, tomato), then "wet seafood" (calamari, clams, mussels), then garlic and saffron, then rice, then chicken stock, fumet, and clam juice. Simmer and put in oven to cook. Finish on stove top to evaporate any extra liquid.

Serve with lemon wedges and parsley. And sangria if you like day drinking like my class does. Our sangria was made from possibly the shittiest wine ever, orange juice, brandy, 7 up, and fruit with skin. Don't leave the fruit in more than half a day or the skin will leach bitterness into the death punch. Oh and you might get a headache. Enjoy.

Next week we have a terrible challenge involving secret proteins and time limits. I might puke. Why can't we just go back to France?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Day 39

So, I don't want you to worry. I still go to school every day. I just got behind in my notes and my life due to an insane week at school. You will hear about this madness soon and then you will understand why halfway through the insanity I had to go get acupuncture to keep myself from spontaneously combusting. But for today, we fry.

Did you know bread was so good deep fried? No one told me this. I thought it was just something people did at like county fairs. But in class we fried bread to go into our sopa de ajo. I had made this soup before in college because it is cheap. It has garlic, bread, cumin, paprika, saffron, beef broth, and beaten eggs. You lightly fry your garlic in olive oil to infuse it first. Then, fry your bread. Then remove all but 1 tablespoon of oil and add spices. Add beef broth and chopped up fried garlic and simmer for a few minutes. Stir in some beaten eggs and top with fried bread. Its really good. And obviously simple. Our next dish was not so simple. Its a version of "Mar y Montana" which means sea and mountain in Spanish. Its a braise of chicken breast (seasoned with cinnamon) and shrimp with tomatoes, garlic, and brandy. Its actually not complicated but has this annoying paste called picada that you add at the end to thicken and enrich the dish. The picada is almonds, hazelnuts, chocolate, and fried bread. Its not unlike nutella, but rough. You bind it in the food processor with olive oil. Its crazy how the cinnamon comes up later. I wasn't in love with the dish.

It looks like sludge, huh? Well, people liked it. People also like fried potatoes. People like me like fried potatoes. Look how pretty waffle cut chips are. We used a mandoline. Duh.

So waffle chips don't need a first fry. You just deep fry them at about 350. They are amazing in your mouth and feel light and airy. They should be immediately salted and eaten. We had to soak and dry all the potatoes first, though.

These cuts above had to be blanched in the oil at about 325-350 to cook them with no color first. Then the oil was heated to 360 and they fried until golden. We needed homemade aioli to further increase our caloric intake.

Notice the ratio of aioli to ketchup. I find that funny. So after that I had half of a coke which I don't normally drink to wash down the salty fatty starchy mess. I felt sick for like 3 hours. I don't deep fry at home. My parents never deep fried when I was growing up. So this was exciting and slightly naughty. Bad fried food! Bad!
Tomorrow when I recover I will be making paella and sangria. Just the thing to help one feel balanced again.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Day 38

It may be overdone and out of date but I still really like this presentation. Look at that martini of shellfish. In the center is a mound of Spanish cocktail sauce. I had never had this sauce but people seemed to like it. I thought it was foul. It was homemade mayo, ketchup, tomato paste, hard boiled eggs (chopped), tarragon, capers, parsley and Cognac. It was too sweet. Take out the tomato paste and ketchup and add lemon and I might come around.

We had to present all our food at the same time today. All 5 little dishes. In the picture there are two gazpacho. I still don't know why we had to make two of those.

In the above picture you can see the mushrooms with bacon in the tapas style dish. Those were just quartered sauteed mushrooms with diced bacon, garlic, white wine and parsley. I forgot to deglaze mine with white wine. So did someone else in my class. He confessed before Chef came around to taste. I didn't. Chef said they were good and didn't mention the missing wine. Lucky. We made a court bouillon for poaching our shrimp. Once cooked, we drained them and chilled them.

See the simple little gazpacho below? Its your typical blended gazpacho. But let me tell you about my silent fight with Chef over my brunoise garnish. So he gives a demo on how he wants us to cut our brunoise (fillet the pepper, julienne skin side down, cut across into tiny brunoise cubes) (peel cucumber, and cut thin slices lengthwise, turning the cucumber 1/4 each time so that once you get to the seeds you can throw them away). I was slicing my cucumber (not turning it) and cutting around the seeds and he stormed over to my station, takes my knife and loudly asks me if I had watched his demonstration. He proceeded to cut the cucumber (almost all of it) the way he wanted and walked off. Awkward silence. Note to self: cut only in manner of Chef, unless humiliation is desired. Just to spite him I didn't use any of his brunoise and re cut my own. It didn't make the embarrassing sting go away, though. But my soup looked pretty nice.

The gazpacho had marinated overnight and included roasted bell peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, celery, garlic, tomato paste, tomato juice, salt, and bread soaked in milk. Blend. Garnish with brunoise and bread cubes fried in butter. The milk part creeps me out but it kinda faded away under the garnish. Below is a monkfish dish with tomatoes and almonds. I didn't dig it. My fam and friends ate it up, though. Maybe I was just sick of my own food at this point. It got served over crostini.

We also did a scallop dish from the south of Spain. It had serrano ham, shallot, garlic, tomato sauce, and green olives. Its in the picture of all the dishes at the top. It was tasty but again I was so over my food. I guess that just happens.
Tomorrow I will have a serious stomach ache from gorging on deep fried potatoes.