Monday, November 30, 2009

Seventy 2

Twas a rather hectic Monday! Some prankster left the windows open all weekend, so the kitchen felt like an igloo on Pluto, only colder. "French Trimming" a rack of lamb is significantly more difficult when you cannot feel your fingers! I could see my breath until about 11 AM, when the ovens mercifully began to warm the place up.

When you're preparing a rack of lamb, get the bones crystal clean of any membrane. Also, be aware of the fat to meat ratio, and trim accordingly. Some fat is good, because it adds flavor, and renders juices over the meat to keep it nice and succulent. Too much fat, however, and only some of it will render out during the cooking time. You'll end up with mushy, non-rendered fat surrounding the eye of the loin. You can try to remedy this by searing the loin on a hot pan in the oven, fat side down. But then, of course, you risk overcooking your meat. Practice makes perfect! Let's just say, judging from my lamb, that I could use some more practice...

Heading into afternoon demonstration, I was delighted to realize that Monday was Pasta Day! We watched our headmistress make pappardelle, cannelloni, cappelletti, tortellini, ravioli, and lasagna, as well as a number of homemade sauces like ragu, alfredo, and sage butter. For dessert, she made tira misu, panna cotta, and three different tarts (lemon, date, and chocolate & pear). The pasta was incredible. I highly recommend trying it for yourself. All you need is all-purpose-flour, a little salt, some beaten egg, and some water. You want to mix this into a really firm, dry dough, because it will soften with kneading and rolling. It is perfectly possible to roll pasta with a rolling pin, so don't worry if you don't have a fancy machine!

After class, we had an evening "olive oil tasting" with samples from all over the globe. It was such a treat to taste and compare the flavors of so many delicious oils! Unfortunately, good olive oil comes with a price tag. That being said, if you can afford it, afford it- it makes a huge difference.

I finished my day with dinner at our headmistress's house! She served prosecco, hors d'oeuvres, dinner, cheese, and dessert to all the students (READ: overachievers) who had helped out "extra-curricularly" throughout the course. Since I had volunteered at the farmer's market in Week One, I scored a coveted invite. What a treat!

Monday's Tips:

- Store olive oil out of the direct sunlight.

- When adding milk or cream to a soup that you have flavored with alcohol (eg. wine), be careful it does not curdle. The wine-based sauce should be reduced, with any alcohol boiled off. Also, the milk should be boiling hot. Whisk it in and hope for the best!

- I have mentioned her before, but Marcella Hazan's cookbooks are fantastic for anyone interested in Italian food.

- There is no point in using "cooking Brandy" or other "cooking" liquors. You'll need to use three times as much, and you still won't get the proper flavor. Use a smaller amount of the real deal.

- Always whisk egg whites just before you need them. They deflate quickly, so you cannot whisk them ahead of time.

- Panna cotta is made with cream, sugar, vanilla, and gelatin. Make sure you use good ingredients, because there are not many of them! Your panna cotta is only as good as the cream you use.

- When cooking, use all five senses. Obviously, sight, smell, taste and touch come into play. But don't forget about your sense of hearing! When something (say, for example, ragu) reduces in a saucepan, it will start to sound different when it gets dry. Listen! You'll save a number of things from burning if you develop this sense in the kitchen.

- Try serving Medjool dates with Manchego cheese after dinner. It's a delicious

- Our headmistress' adage "don't live on this" roughly translates to "this will make you a fat cow". In her words, "don't live on" fettuccine alfredo or panna cotta.

- Tasty pasta relies on starting with good quality eggs. Use free range if at all possible! The other ones don't produce the same result (and for Pete's sake, if you're going to go to all that trouble, you deserve a good result!).

- When making any type of stuffed pasta (ravioli, tortellini, or cappelletti), make sure there are no air bubbles in the pockets of filling. Air bubbles cause the pasta to burst when you cook it.

- It is really easy to overcook homemade pasta. Babysit the saucepan!

- Olives picked off the tree are very bitter to taste. They must be soaked and cured before they taste like olives as we know them.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Day 71

Not much to report on this quiet Sunday. Happy Advent! The countdown to Christmas begins. You'll all be relieved to know that my cheese is doing well. He had a "salt water bath" the other day to wash off some of the mold he's taken on. A little mold is fine, even desirable, for the flavor, but too much is just showing off. No one likes a cocky cheese.

Coming back from a long walk this afternoon, I was lucky enough to catch the sunset. Tomorrow, week 11 begins!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Simply Seventy

Saturday! With plenty of time to kill, this loser organized ALL her recipes to a freakish degree (I'm beginning to feel more and more like Monica over here). I also spent time tucking into Andrew Jefford's Wine Course. For anyone even slightly interested in wine, I highly recommend this book. Although interesting, I wasn't reading it simply for pleasure. This Wednesday we have our wine exam. A bottle of Champagne and a case of wine will be divvied up among the top scorers. Let the games begin.

Again, if you don't give a hoot about wine, don't worry about finishing this post! But here are some interesting tips I picked up from my reading:

- Tannins come from tree bark and leaves, and are tasted most noticeably in tea and wine. High tannin levels give a structured, "clinging" texture on your tongue, teeth, and gums. Interestingly enough, this sensation becomes less abrupt and in-your-face when you add protein to the equation. So, that is the rationale behind pairing a full-bodied red wine with some steak, or pouring milk in your heavily steeped Earl Grey.

- In the mid nineteenth century, American vines brought to Europe carried with them a root-eating insect virus called Phylloxera. This pesky bug, to which American vine roots were immune, laid the smack-down on the roots of European vines. It was sort of like the Black Plague for vines. Luckily, desperate wine growers eventually figured out that they could graft their ancient European vine trunks onto new American (and immune) roots. Thus, American vine roots saved European wine as we know it. U.S.A! U.S.A!

- Many consider Chateau Petrus (a Merlot) the greatest red wine. It is certainly one of the world's most expensive!

- The roots of old vines can grow up to 50-65 feet underground!

- The French word "terroir" is a sort of umbrella term used to describe all the natural elements that affect the grape vines: the soil, the climate, the altitude, etc.

And, finally, some Grape Variety "Buzz Words":

- Chardonnay: vanilla (from the oaked barrels), oak, lemon/lime, melon, butter, cream

- Sauvignon Blanc: grass, leaves, nettles, gooseberry, minerals (in cooler climates), stone

- Riesling: minerals, slate, flowers, apples, grape, grapefruit, citrus peel, peach, acidity

- Cabernet Sauvignon: sturdy, tannic, blackcurrant, "big-boned"

- Merlot: plum, black cherry, blackberry, chocolate (when aged in oak barrels)

- Syrah/Shiraz: pepper, cherry, blackberry, smoke

- Pinot Noir: a light wine, raspberry, plum, floral, balanced acidity and tannins, "graceful"

Friday, November 27, 2009

Day 69

brioche and white yeast bread, respectively

Black Friday. I awoke thankful that I wasn't in line at Toys R' Us, elbowing hundreds of other over-eager Christmas shoppers ('tis the season!). I got my onions for the French Onion soup in the saucepan straight away, so that they could gradually darken throughout the morning. The recipe called for 3 pounds of finely sliced onions, and half the kitchen made the soup. Let's just say everyone was really "emotional" during the preparation stage!

I also made white yeast bread, finished my brioche, and labored through the orange mousse (it's not exactly a whip-up-'n-go recipe). But, it was worth the effort. Light, creamy, and possible to prepare ahead of time- make it the morning of a dinner party and pop it into the fridge!

Then we were off to the afternoon demonstration, where Rory showed us how to make mussel soup, Moules Provencale, roast rack of lamb, onion sauce, a gratin of potato and mushroom, Cucumber Neapolitana, and Pommes Dauphine. For dessert, he made various types of flavored meringues, some sandwiched together with whipped cream to form a layered cake, and others rolled up with whipped cream to make a "Meringue Roulade" (see below!).

To translate some of those cryptic titles, Moules Provencale is a mussel dish. You cook the mussels, open them to the "half shell", and then stuff them with herbed garlic butter and breadcrumbs. You can brown them under a grill right before serving (there's a picture below). Cucumber Neapolitana is a stewed onion, cucumber, and tomato side dish (it's cream based). Pommes Dauphine is a heart-attack delight. Whoever Dauphine was, she really liked her potatoes rich! It's mashed potatoes mixed with choux pastry (basically, eggs and butter), rolled into balls, and deep fried (seriously).

Friday Tips:

- Before you cook mussels, check to make sure they are all tightly shut. If you notice one is open, tap in on the counter and it should close. If it doesn't close within a short period of time (say, 20 seconds), the mussel inside is dead, and you should not cook it. There is no grey area with shellfish, the general rule of thumb being "if in doubt, throw it out". Here in the land of no waste, that expression turns heads.

- When you buy mussels, they should have a faint and pleasant smell of the sea, not an overpowering fish bait smell.

- Some people recommend that you soak mussels overnight in a bucket with oatmeal sprinkled into it. This "feeds" the mussels before you cook them, plumping them up (like Hansel and Gretel). But, Rory finds that this artificial plumping ruins the flavor.

- Rory removes the mussel's "beard" (the string of hairs that connected a mussel to a rock, a buoy, or, God forbid, the hull of your boat) after cooking, rather than before ("I'd prefer to be scalped when I'm dead").

- Save your mussel cooking liquid (also known as "mussel juice"... no, Arod, not that type of mussel juice). Like duck fat and chicken carcasses, it is incredibly valuable! If you could turn flavor into gold, these things could make you a millionaire three times over. You can reduce the liquid until its flavor is where you want it (not too bland, not too salty), and then save it to add to fish soup, relevant sauces, etc.

- Rest rack of lamb after cooking for 10-40 minutes in a low oven (so it keeps warm). If juices are pouring out onto your cutting board while carving it, it could have rested longer (better luck next time!).

- As always, when making meringues, the egg white & sugar mixture should be whipped to the point where you could hold the bowl upside down over your boss' head and not be worried.

- The rack of lamb is the most expensive cut of the lamb.

- Whip egg whites in a squeaky clean and dry bowl. Any residue of oil or detergent or whatnot will deflate them.

- A "French Trimmed" rack of lamb is the cut that has the eye of the loin with the ribs still attached. The bones must be neatly cleaned of any fat or membrane. You can roast a French Trimmed rack whole, and then easily carve portions of chops for your guests at the table. The chops will look like lollipops, with the rib as the handle and the eye of the loin as the "sucker".

- When roasting a rack of lamb, you might want to wrap the protruding, bare bones with a layer of tin foil to keep them from burning. It's nice precaution, from a presentation angle.

- Rory takes croutons seriously. He heats the perfect tiny cubes in a pan, tossed in clarified butter, not in the oven and certainly not deep fried. You have to stir them with constant vigilance ("nothing else happens in life when you are cooking croutons!"), lest they overcook on one side.

- When melting chocolate or dissolving gelatin (or raising children), don't stir it impatiently. Let it do its own thing. It will come around.

- Be really careful when reheating any soup that you have thickened with flour (flour + butter = roux, used to thicken sauces, soups, etc). They are much more likely to burn. Also, once reheated, don't leave it boiling away or it will curdle. If it does curdle, a blender can sometimes bring it back.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


HAPPY THANKSGIVING! Unfortunately, this island does not celebrate our time-honored tradition of eating oneself into a food coma. But, you can bet that yours truly was "giving thanks" all day long, albeit without turkey and stuffing. I got in to make white soda bread (to which I added sugar and chocolate chunks... you only live once!), and french fries, peperonata (stewed peppers) and tapenade (olive paste) to go with my seared tuna steaks. I also got started on brioche dough, which has to sit overnight in the fridge.

The morning was a breeze, with plenty of time for tea and chocolate soda bread breaks! We coasted into the afternoon demonstration, where our headmistress walked us through French onion soup, classic fish & chips ("with the volume turned up", as Barefoot says), scampi (traditionally made with lobster, although we used prawns), "mushy peas" (a British dish served with fish and chips- basically pureed peas), more squid dishes, tangerine mousse, white chocolate mousse, and chocolate mousse.

When making French onion soup, don't add the stock, in the words of William Prescott, until you see the whites of their eyes. To put it slightly less dorkily, hold your nerve with the onions. You want them to get really, Really, Really dark in the pan before adding the stock to make the soup. You'll get the best results if you simmer the onion slices on a very low heat for a couple of hours, stirring occasionally. This is a nice alternative to the quicker higher heat option, where you have to babysit the pan lest the onions burn.

After our demonstration, we had our final wine lecture before our wine exam next week. We went over Champagne (while enjoying a glass!), and then looked at the up and coming Canadian wine regions. One of our fellow students is from British Columbia, and has a particular connection to that region's very own Mission Hill Winery. We tasted a Mission Hill Syrah, a Pinot Gris, and their famous Icewine.

Icewine is made by harvesting the grapes after the first frost. You are supposed to pick the grapes before 10 AM, because the temperature cannot go over -8 degrees Celsius (17.6 degrees Fahrenheit) throughout the whole process. The grapes must be pressed when frozen, so that the alcohol, which thaws faster than water, comes out in a concentrated liquid, leaving the icy water shards behind. This entirely natural process (they don't use refrigeration) takes three times the amount of grapes used to make normal wine, so icewine is generally quite expensive. Mission Hill won the "Best Icewine in the World" award last fall (not too shabby!). As far as sweet wines go, it was absolutely delicious. If you feel like treating yourself (and paying for it!), try ordering an icewine!

After class, we went out to a delicious Thanksgiving (and birthday!) dinner at the FarmGate in Midleton. I had tagliatelli with poached salmon, paired with a delicious Sauvignon Blanc from the Rueda region in Spain (I think).

Thanksgiving Tips:

- Valrhona and Callebaut are excellent brands of chocolate.

- We get caviar from the roe of Sturgeons, a type of fish.

- Scale a fish near the sink, or on a piece of newspaper. It's a messy job. Use the blunt side of your knife to scrape them off.

- There are lots of different ways to "bread" a fillet, aside from the standard breadcrumbs. Try Japanese Panko crumbs or even couscous. With the latter, you'll need to get it slightly hydrated before using, so cook the couscous halfway (until it has absorbed 1/2 the water). Drain, and it's ready to coat your fillet!

- My sister Frances, currently living in Sydney, recently made mashed sweet potatoes with orange juice and ginger. It sounds delicious! Give it a whirl.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Day Sixty Seven

This morning, we hit the ground running with a brief lesson on biscotti, the celebrated "biscuit of the week". These twice-baked slices of sweetened "bread" come in all sizes and can keep for months (no joke, just ask my sister Kate). They're best enjoyed with a glass of Vin Santo (a Tuscan dessert wine) or a hot cup of tea.

Then we moved onto our cheese category of the week, the motley French cheese crew. As you can probably imagine, this family of cheeses is as diverse as the Jolie-Pitt's, only much more interesting. They will either be fermier, i.e. made on a farm, or laitier, from a commercial factory. If it's made with our old friend, raw milk, you'll see fermier au lait cru on the label. Some common varieties include:

- Saint-Maure, a full-flavored chevre (goats cheese) of a cylindrical shape. The signature straw that runs through the middle lets you know its fermier.

- Valencay, a more subtle goat flavored chevre, shaped like a pyramid with its top chopped off. Its surface is almost always coated in "cendre", or ashes (this puts it in the chevre cendre subcategory).

- Crottin, small little rounds of chevre, so named, I am not making this up, because of their resemblance to animal dung (crottin means just that in French)! Crottin de Chavignol, a well known chevre, falls into this crappy category (pardon my french).

- Fleur du Maquis, a Corsican raw sheep's milk (or ewe's milk) cheese, so named because its rind is coated with pine needles and other debris from the "undergrowth" (maquis means undergrowth in French). Freshly made in the summer, it practically bursts from its rind. As it matures, it gets firmer.

- Morbier, a semi-firm cows milk cheese, with a signature line of ash down the center of the wheel. The ash separates where the cheesemaker layered first the morning's milk and then the evening's milk into the cheese molds.

The list goes on and on, but it was time to move on to the morning's Canape (or "finger food") demonstration! Canape have really blown up over the last five years as our obsession with bite-sized morsels has skyrocketed. Now, pretty much everything under the sun could be turned into tiny treats. It's a fun way to entertain guests, especially if you choose items that can be prepared ahead of time!

We made marinated feta, sun dried tomato, and olive skewers, anchovy and sesame seed straws (made with puff pastry), tiny smoked salmon and dill sandwiches, Thai curry served in Chinese porcelain spoons, tiny yorkshire puddings with roast beef and horseradish sauce, spicy Indian meatballs, chicken satay with peanut sauce, various ways to serve quail eggs, and tartlets filled with different cheese & chutney combinations. It was quite a day to show off one's presentation skills! With canape, let your imagination run wild. For instance, this past summer, our neighbor hosted a dinner party and served mini croque monsieurs as an hors d'oeuvre! Memorably delicious!

After a delicious lunch (as usual), we headed into the afternoon demonstration, which focused on the art of making sushi! One thing is for sure, you do not have to train for five years under a sushi master in Japan to be able to make delicious sushi at home. Before the class, the exact words from my mouth to another student were "I would always just order my sushi in". After the demonstration, I am a homemade sushi convert, and am eager to throw a sushi making party! It is easy, fun, delicious, and healthy. A great Girls Night In activity.

Wednesday's tips:

- Wild salmon, when smoked, is not as greasy as smoked farm salmon.

- Check out Eric Treuille's cookbook, Canapes for some good ideas.

- Pomegranates are in season!

- Soak satay sticks (AKA shish kabob skewers) in water for half an hour before you use them to cook meat. They'll get saturated, and will be less likely to burn.

- We use Mani Olive Oil from the Mani Peninsula in Southern Greece. Whatever oil you choose to use, make it a good one!

- In general, Hass avocados (with the rough-textured dark brown skin) have the best flavor.

- Check out the Food Section in each Saturday's Financial Times.

- Cut flowers can be quite expensive. When entertaining this Christmas season, think outside the box for decorative arrangement ideas! Rory showed us how you can take long stalks of Ruby Chard, put them in a tall clear glass vase, and there you have a unique bouquet! Use them a couple days later in Ruby Chard soup.

- Sashimi is raw fish. Sushi refers to the specific type of rice, which is prepared in a specific way. Therefore, if you do not like raw fish, you can still make authentic sushi as long as you use the right rice and prepare it properly.

- Sushi, by definition, needs to be made with sushi rice. Buy "No. 1 Extra Fancy" brand. For some unexplained reason, technically it should only touch wooden surfaces (so lay it on a wooden tray, and stir with a wooden spoon).

- When buying Japanese products like miso or dashi powder, generally the ones without any English on the packet are the most authentic, and probably the best.

- When buying fish for sushi, let your fishmonger know that you are planning to eat it raw. Ask him if he has any type of fish fresh enough to use for sushi. If no, use smoked fish, cooked crab, cooked shrimp, and other non-raw fillings.

- The fridge kills sushi. Make it and eat it fresh.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Route 66

This morning I got in early to roll out my croissant dough once more before shaping it into crescents. Like puff pastry, you want to fold it over and over to create lots of thin layers (within reason, don't go bananas- too many and it will puff up and topple over). I also prepared a loaf of granary bread, which is made with a grainy, hearty, malty tasting "Granary" flour. Finally, I made a "Moroccan Snake" dessert (an almond mixture rolled up with filo pastry, twisted into "snakes" and wrapped into a coil) and pan-seared squid with garlic and parsley butter.

The squid is a pretty incredible creature. When you disembowel it (for lack of a less gruesome verb), you pull out a clear, feather-shaped length of cartilage that could easily double as a quill (seriously- it looks like a clear, plastic feather quill that you would get with a cheap William Shakespeare Halloween costume). Together with the ink sacs from under the squid's eyes, you could put together a pretty creepy alternative to the age-old fountain pen Christmas present. Just a suggestion.

The "Morrocan Snake" was fine, though a little tedious. Filo pastry is incredibly delicate but definately worth the hassel. Try experimenting! You can wrap brie with it for a baked brie cheese plate, or make filo pastry parcels filled with goats cheese to put on a green salad, or whatever your little heart desires. Make sure you paint each layer with melted butter.

For our afternoon demonstration, we watched Rory make a couple different chicken liver salads, seared tuna with various sauces (including Moroccan chermoula), homemade pasta!, a Tarte Francaise, vol au vents, croissants, and pain au chocolat. It was as if he knew I had just returned from Paris, craving the recipes for all the treats in the bakery windows!

Pain au chocolat is made with the same dough as croissants, so feel free to make both variations the morning you bake them off. You make vol au vents by baking small shapes (usually rounds) of puff pastry. They puff up in the oven, so that when you remove them, you can cut off the "hats" and hollow them out into little containers. You fill them with a layer of creme patisserie and neatly arranged fruit. A Tarte Francaise is a puff pastry recepticle filled with rows of glazed fruit (no creme patisserie).

We made pasta today, impressively (READ: foolishly) without a machine! You just make the dough, rest it for half an hour, and roll it with a rolling pin as thin as you can muster. Alternatively, you can purchase an attachment to your Kitchenaid that rolls pasta into flats for you. There are other attachments to cut it into tagliatelli or pappardelle or whatnot. This past Labor Day weekend at a friend's house in Virginia, we had a pasta making party one night. Everyone stood around the kitchen island with glasses of wine and balls of dough. It was so much fun and so delicious! However, I definitely do not recommend this "party idea" if you don't have the machine!

Get your tips:

- When a recipe calls for pastry to be rolled out to a certain demension, draw out a border of this dimension in the flour on your rolling surface. This will give you a guideline.

- "00" Flour is the best flour for making pasta. If not, use Baker's flour.

- A clothes drying wrack works perfectly for drying your thinly rolled flats of pasta. You want them to get slightly leathery before cutting them into strips.

- Tuna is in trouble. Particularly the coveted bluefin and yellowfin tuna. The school has to show us how to cook it, but it is incredibly over fished.

- There is a reason Tuna is so popular: it is high in omega, has no pin bones when you're filleting it, and has a great meaty texture.

- When you're roasting red peppers, roast them whole, allow to cool and then remove the skin. Open them to remove the seeds, but do NOT run them under the tap to rinse out the seeds. This will wash away a lot of the flavor.

- When cooking chicken livers, cut them in half horizontally if they are too thick. This will ensure a nice, even cook. If you try to cook the thick ones whole, they'll get crusty on the outside before they're cooked on the inside (remember, though disguised, this is still chicken; it needs to be cooked through).

- Zucchinis continue to cook when you remove them from the heat. Bare this in mind.

- With a Tarte Francaise, you want a decent fruit to pastry ratio. The fruit slices should be tightly packed in, "not thrown in from a distance" (-Rory).

- Tuna should be cooked rare (basically still raw in the center). It is best juicy, not dry. Beware, it will continue to cook when you take it off the heat! Unlike steak, you do not need to rest it. Straight to the table!

- Fresh pasta cooks in a remarkably short period of time. Test it after 60 to 90 seconds- it may be done!

- Never cook more than a single layer of chicken livers in a pan at one time.

- Once you fill vol au vents with creme patisserie, they have a very short shelf life. You should really eat them within the half hour to get the textured effect of the crispy pastry coupled with smooth cream.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sixty Five and counting...

Maybe it was the hamburgers, maybe it was the rumored possibility of contraband Heinz Ketchup at lunch, and maybe it was just this week's group in Kitchen 3, but this Monday morning, everyone was in fine form. I set out to make onion and thyme beef burgers (which were topped with ginger mushrooms), thick wedge fries, and glazed carrots with cumin seeds. Inspired by this weekend, I also got started on dough for croissants (its similar to making puff pastry, only you add yeast and milk in addition to the truckload of butter).

Pretty much everything went just fine, with no major mishaps to report. Come lunchtime, someone did indeed manage to smuggle in some good ol' Heinz. Not organic, not homemade, totally delicious.

For our afternoon demonstration, Rory walked us through two grilled squid dishes, madras curry with different accompaniments (including mint and apple chutney, tamarind and banana chutney, raita, and hot chilli sauce), three different Indian breads (naan, poori, and chapatis), pears poached in saffron syrup, stuffed prunes with rosewater cream, and various filo pastry desserts.

You'll be shocked to hear that we DO NOT make our own filo pastry! After recipes for things like homemade vanilla extract, homemade yogurt, and homemade vinegar, I was half expecting Rory to start rolling out paper thin sheets of filo as well! But, no, he opened the store bought box, just like the rest of us!

Monday's Tips:

- When serving curry, include some type of fruit as an optional additive, such as chopped mango, sliced banana, diced apple, grapes, etc.

- Turmeric is said to combat arthritis

- You can buy filo pastry fresh or frozen. Try not to handle it much, and get it into your freezer as quickly as possible once home from the grocery store. Don't bash it around in your freezer, or else it will crack.

- When using filo pastry, take out one sheet to work with and keep the rest covered with a damp tea towel.

- The smaller the squid, generally the more tender the meat. Today, we worked with a rather large squid ("So, if this were a quarter of the size, I'd be four times happier" -Rory).

- With squid, you either want to cook it really quickly or really slowly. Anywhere in between and it will be quite tough.

- Squid ink (that's right!) can be used in pasta, sauces, risottos, etc.

- Again, when working with a braised meat dish (like curries, stews, etc), since it is cooked in liquid, any fat left on the meat going into the oven will still be there when you take it out. Keep this in mind when trimming your meat!

- Curry doesn't have to be piping hot when served. You can allow it to cool slightly, and the flavors get more interesting.

- Used in one of the chutneys we made today, tamarind is a fruit from a tree native of South America. The fruit's paste is astringent and refreshing.

various accompaniments to go with curry

Sunday, November 22, 2009

64 Days...

It's hard to complain when you wake up Sunday morning with the sun streaming through two French doors that open onto a patio above a quiet Parisian street. I could get used to this! We all enjoyed a top-notch brunch at home, complete with fresh croissants, pain au chocolat, other pastries I cannot pronounce, various baguettes, jams, orange marmalade, different types of thick, crystallized honey, slow cooked scrambled eggs, clementines, homemade apple puree, stewed rhubarb, coconut macaroons, apple juice, orange juice, and coffee.

I love how you can walk downstairs to a local baker and pick up bags of baked masterpieces in minutes! I took some mental notes on all the different pastry variations, and memorized the coconut macaroon recipe. I'll try to recreate that brunch someday!

Within the blink of an eye, I had to reluctantly head back to the airport. With any luck, I'll be back. You can be sure of that.

Sixty Three

Saturday morning, one saintly housemate drove me to the Cork Airport for the morning showing of To Catch a Plane: Part II. The flight went swimmingly, and I arrived at Charles de Gaulle ready for an all too brief 24 hour Parisian extravaganza. One of my beautiful hostesses, Camille, picked me up and casually chatted as we drove around the Arc de Triumph en route to her apartment. I, on the other hand, practically had my nose pressed against the window! What a city! It had been a long time since my last visit as a distinctly brace-faced teenager, with a palette that glanced longingly at the Parisian McDonald's and shivered at my frog-leg-ordering Grandmother across the table! The joke's on me.

After dropping off the luggage and catching up on their beautiful terrace, we headed to meet up with Camille's sister Amalia. And, luckily enough, it was time for my second favorite thing (after breakfast) each day, lunch! My hostesses took me to Eric Kayser's boulangerie down the street. It was all I could do not to whip out my camera and start taking pictures of the food display! I was a kid in a candy store. A huge selection of breads covered one wall, and a display window ran along another, filled with quiche, sweet and savory tarts, tiny dessert tartlets, cakes, pastries and everything in between! After painful deliberation, I got a piece of an artichoke quiche, followed by a "mi-cuit au chocolat" (AKA a mini chocolate cake with warm molten chocolate inside), followed by a cappuccino. It was a taste of heaven.

Then we strolled towards the Seine, crossed over to the Tuileries Gardens, walked through the Place du Carrousel, circled around to the back side of the Louvre, and back across the river towards Notre Dame. The buildings only seemed to get more beautiful as twilight set in! Again, what a city! For dinner, Amalia and Camille organized a large group of us to eat at Chez Justine in the "Oberkampf" neighborhood. I had salmon tartar with gratin potatoes and a sharply dressed green salad. And, of course, plenty of baguette to go around! After a few glasses of wine, my high school French unfortunately introduced itself to the table. Other than that car wreck, it was a delightful evening!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Sixty Two...

Happy Friday! I was up with the dawn for herb duty, and down to the greenhouse with another sleepy student! After divvying up a tray of freshly cut herbs to each kitchen (we are so spoiled here!), I was off to make Consomme Royale, ciabatta, and Grand Marnier Souffle.

Consomme Royale is consomme (the really clear broth soup) with a garnish-esque sprinkle of tiny diced bits of custard (it sort of has a miso soup w/ tofu effect). If you're interested, Consomme Brunoise is a consomme with tiny diced vegetables, while Consomme Julienne is a consomme with really thin julienne strips of vegetables. A minor, insignificant morsel of knowledge, from me to you.

The consomme was fun, albeit time consuming, to make. You basically simmer beef broth in a saucepan with tiny diced vegetables and bits of beef (that have been painstakingly stripped of any fat). The point is eventually to extract the clear, flavor-enhanced broth from the pan. To do this, there's a trick: invite egg whites to the party! They act as a sort of filter, floating any impurities in the stock and all the diced ingredients to the top, forming an egg-whity-vegetably-and-meaty-crust. Then, you just gently ladle out what is underneath! All your laboriously diced vegetables and meat bits are left behind.

My souffle turned out just fine, thank you very much. And I did NOT have a copper bowl for my egg whites. So, it is definitely a luxury, not a necessity (don't tell Santa that).

I did not make it to the afternoon demonstration because I had to catch a plane to Paris! I was sad to miss the lecture, though, because A) Rory was teaching and B) we were making hamburgers (!). As it turns out, "catching a plane to Paris" is easier said than done. A few budget-airline-fine-print-Non-EU-passport-issues later, and let's just say, if you happened to be in the Cork Airport around 4:30 PM on Friday, you might have noticed a hysterical American shamelessly blubbering in the corner, (symbolically) playing solitaire on her iPod (and symbolically losing) while waiting for a bus back to school.

But, never fear! Life, surprise surprise, goes on! I rescheduled a flight for the next morning, and got to bed early. A demain!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Day 61!

Another day, another sourdough loaf (I swear this is the last time I'll talk about it). To keep me on my toes, this morning's batch of dough had over-risen throughout the night. One of the boules had an enormous bubble coming up out of it. A classmate astutely remarked that it looked like "one of the seven dwarfs" (specifically, Dopey; more specifically, Dopey's hat). His observation was spot on. But, have no fear! I was advised to knocked it back, reshaped it, and let it rise again. If you don't want to have the same problem, let it rise more slowly overnight in the fridge!

I also made sacristans (AKA pastry straws) with my chilled puff pastry dough (both sugar & almond and Parmesan & thyme ones), seared spice crusted salmon, leeks with yellow peppers and marjoram, and Indian Paneer bread. I got the chance to start a "biga" for ciabatta as well. A "biga" is basically a starter for ciabatta. Unlike sourdough starters, you add yeast to a biga. Because of this, it takes less time to get "bubbly" (only 12-24 hours), so I'll be able to make ciabatta tomorrow.

One note from this morning: when working with puff pastry, it often looks done before it is actually done. Hold your nerve and keep it in the oven longer than you think. You want it to be nice and crispy, not doughy!

We began our afternoon demonstration with a brief wine tasting session given by a woman from the Domaine des Graves d'Ardonneau vineyard in Bordeaux, France. We tasted a white Bordeaux made with sauvignon blanc grapes, and a red Bordeaux made with merlot and cabernet sauvignon grapes. Most people think red wine when they think Bordeaux, but don't forget about the white wines from this region! They are delicious, and often a great value for your money.

We also had a quick visit from our headmistress' nephew, "Cully", of Cully & Sully (, a high-quality, pre-packaged foods business that has grown exponentially since its inception five years ago. Winner of the Global SIAL d'Or "Best New Food Product" (the first time in history an Irish product has won this award), these young, hardworking entrepreneurs already have universities around the country using their business model as a case study in the classroom! So, money can be made in food!

Then, it was on to the real business at hand: the afternoon's menu! We watched our headmistress joint a duck (and use every bit of it), make beef consomme (a crystal clear beef broth soup), and whip up two different hot, flourless, dessert souffles (one lemon and one Grand Marnier).

I-Cannot-Believe-It's-Already-Thursday's Tips:

- Buying a whole duck is expensive. So, make the most of it! Save the liver for pate, the gizzards for "Salade de Gesiers", the carcass for stock, and the meat for any dish you please! Any scraps of meat left on the carcass after you've removed the breast, the wings, and the legs can be saved for Duck Rillette (sort of like a coarse, shredded duck pate). Also, do not throw away the fat! It is incredibly valuable. Render it down and store it in jam jars. Use it for roasting vegetables, cooking meat, confit de canard, etc (it keeps for months). Our headmistress joked that you can use the feathers for a pillow and the down for a very pungent duvet!

- If you like, brown a carcass in the oven before using it to make stock. This will add a depth of flavor to your stock.

- Brown meat in a frying pan, and then transfer it to a casserole (AKA a Le Creuset). The heat required to brown meat can damage your precious Le Creuset!

- Jerusalem Artichokes and Dandelion Leaves are extremely high in inulin, which promotes the growth of good bacteria in your stomach.

- The EU (specifically the European Food Safety Authority) recently rejected all 180 of the health improving claims made by probiotic yogurt brands.

- You can live your life without ever owning a copper mixing bowl, but it really does make a difference when whisking egg whites. You get a finer, more stable foam (which really contributes to a successful souffle). Clean your copper bowl by sprinkling salt into it and rubbing it with a lemon rind. Don't use detergent on copper!

- To pan-grill a duck breast (AKA "Magret de Canard"), put the breast fat/skin side down on a cold pan, then turn on the heat to cook. If you put it on a hot pan, it will sear. You want to render out the fat, not seal it in.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Scrumtrulescent Sixty

Today we sat down for session two of Blathnaid Bergin's "Cooking for Pleasure and Profit: The Business of Making Food Pay". I have to say, she really knows her stuff! She runs a kitchen like a Five-Star General organizes a military assault. Every tiny aspect of the business is put into a system, processed, and spat out with militaristic precision. My German blood really took a shine to this approach!

We went over writing a standard recipe (so that an Average Joe, on his first day on the job, could produce the same apple tart that the ye olde veteran in the corner has been making for years), costing food (everything from a pinch of salt or a drizzle of olive oil is factored into the cost of a dish), portion control, scrutinizing waste, and the importance of management, Management, Management! She suggested a weekly or daily "running of the numbers" to see how your business is faring (McDonald's gets statistics every hour!).

In the end, running a successful food business is about as easy as planning D-Day. This is not to say it cannot be done. You just have to be the right man (or freakishly organized robot) for the job. The perfect candidate has a hard-nosed business sense coupled with a strong creative gene. It helps if the person's a little crazy, too (like inexplicably quitting her secure employment in New York and moving to Ireland to go to cooking school).

Some interesting insights from today's seminar:

- The average restaurant makes 3-6% in returns. Fast food restaurants make around 7-8%. So, unless you are going to start the next McDonald's, maybe put your money in Treasury Bills!

- The kitchen is the engine room of any food business - spend your money there first! No one will see the lovely mosaic on the wall if you cannot open your doors because your oven won't turn on.

- McDonald's has a totally standardized way of producing food. Each Big Mac or McNugget is weighed to a T. They even have calibrated "guns" distributing exact portions of sauce (these guns get reset every morning to guarantee accuracy). This ensures a consistent product, and allows the McDonald's Lieutenants (AKA accountants) to know exactly how much the franchise spends on the ingredients in each item. If you want a successful food business (or any business, for that matter), take a page out of McDonald's book!

- The person who deals with the suppliers & deliveries at the back door of your kitchen should be trustworthy and extremely capable. So many restaurants stick the village simpleton back there to sign the order form and lug the supplies into storage. There is a lot of room for mistakes (and fraud) at this crucial step.

- Replace your black garbage bags with clear ones. Then you'll be able to see (and hopefully regulate) the waste going into them.

- On this same vein, have a clear plastic container at each prep chef's workstation for him to throw away his trash. You'll get a good idea of who is throwing away what!

- Never underestimate the negative effects of a staff member with "a face as long as a wedding weekend" (-Blathnaid) walking around your store and serving your customers.

- Interestingly enough, McDonald's has recently withdrawn from operating in Iceland. Icelanders, in the midst of financial crisis, have almost entirely switched to buying inexpensive, local ingredients from local suppliers. McDonald's, shipping in their ingredients, could not compete with these local prices.

- The dishwasher in any restaurant will have the best idea of which food items are consistently coming back into the kitchen uneaten or unfinished. They should be trained (and feel comfortable!) to approach the head chef and manager with this valuable information.

- Keep records of everything! (Excel follows you wherever you go...)

- Everything in your cold room or dry-store area should be covered, labeled, dated, and signed.

- In order to have a prayer at generating profit, your food should cost, on average, only 30% of what you are actually charging for it.

Before I go, finally a sourdough success! Born November 18th at 9:10 AM; 1 lb, 10 oz. Both the mother and the child are doing well.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Day 59

This morning I got in early to make brown soda bread and to check in on my Lazy-with-a-capital-L sourdough. Much to my dismay, the boules STILL hadn't risen (the little brats)! And what's worse (I know what you're thinking, how can it possibly get worse?!), it. had. formed. a. SKIN. Quelle horreur! Contemplating a sourdough massacre, I sought the advice of our headmistress' husband, an expert bread maker, who was fortuitously in the kitchen. After some prodding, he noted that it was still "alive" (phew!), but I needed to paint it with olive oil to keep the skin from hardening. Then we found a black garbage bag and put the boules into it. No, no: not to throw them away (although I was ready to). Rather, the bag creates a nice warm atmosphere for the bread to "prove" (rise) in. We put the bag in a warm corner, and I went back to playing the waiting game...

Unlike the cheeky sourdough, the brown soda bread bended to my will and went into the oven pronto. After that was out of the way, I focused on the Italian Beef Stew. We had the most delicious beef to work with (from a cow born and reared on the farm). Trim any fat or grizzle off the chunks of meat. No one wants a mouthful of chewy fat in their succulent beef stew! I also made a celeriac and apple puree (a delicious and zingy dish- great with game!), puff "cardiac arrest" pastry, and steamed potatoes.

For the afternoon demonstration, Rachel Allen (our headmistress' daughter-in-law and Ireland's favorite cook) showed us how to make ciabatta, seafood chowder, pumpkin soup, various types of pan-grilled fish, lentil and chili "risotto" (named because of the method we cooked it, not because there was risotto in the dish), confit de canard, leeks with yellow peppers and marjoram, gateau pithivier, jalousie, and sacristains.

For anyone who shares my lack of French cuisine knowledge, here are some definitions:

- Confit de canard, or duck confit, is an old French way of preserving duck meat. You basically stew the meat and then store it covered in fat, which acts as a preservative. You can also have pork confit, chicken leg confit, pheasant confit - it works best with meat still on the bone. Originally used to preserve game throughout the winter, now we make and eat it for fun.

- Gateau Pithivier is a French traditional tart made with puff pastry (both as the base and the lid) and filled with an almond mixture. I am sure you could make it with other fillings as well, but hey, what do I know?

- Jalousie is another French way to use up puff pastry. It is basically a fancy word for a puff pastry sleeping bag filled with anything you wish (almond paste, apricot jam, apple puree, cheese, etc).

- Sacristains are twisted thin strips of puff pastry. They can be sweet (sprinkled with sugar, almond nibs, etc) or savory (parmesan and cayenne pepper, gruyere and thyme, etc).

Now, some tips from today!

- Allspice is the same thing as pimenta, which is the same thing as jamaica pepper

- When making anything with puff pastry, make sure it's really cold before you blast it with heat in the oven. You might want to put it in the fridge for 10 minutes before baking.

- Do not egg-wash the edges of puff pastry, or you will seal them and they won't puff properly.

- Parmesan goes really well with a pinch of cayenne pepper. Try it on bubbling cheese toast, cheese sticks, or in a cheese souffle.

- When puff pastry is cooked, its best to cut through it with a bread knife (AKA a serrated knife).

- John Dory (AKA St. Pierre, so named because it has the "thumbprint of St. Peter" on its cheek) is a deliciously favored flat fish. Try it with a ginger or orange sauce. Be careful when you're filleting it- it has some pretty serious spikes!

- Lentils are a good source of protein

- When pan-grilling fish, you should cook the "presentation side" of the fillet first. For example, if you want to serve it skin side up, cook the skin side first. If you want to serve it flesh side up, cook the flesh side first. This is because you always get a better pan grilled look on the first side you grill.

- The thicker the piece of fish, the lower you should turn down the heat under your grill pan to cook the second side of the fillet. In other words, when you flip the fillet (to cook the other side), turn down the burner significantly if it's a thick salmon fillet. Otherwise, it will burn before it cooks through. If you're pan-grilling something thin like lemon sole, you don't have to turn down the heat as much for the second side, because it will not take long to cook through.

Just for a parting laugh, check out the results of my first Ballymaloe sourdough loaf. After 72 hours of waiting, I burned it baking tonight. Wah wahn...