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.

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