Thursday, December 3, 2009

75 Alive

I got in early this morning to get started on my three-tiered walnut cake. In my humble opinion, three tiers are always better than two. Maybe its the math-lover-loser in me, analyzing the optimal ratio of frosting surface area to cake volume. Or maybe it's just my sweet tooth's love of frosting. Either way, three cheers for three tiers.

The cake was relatively straightforward, save the "American" frosting that went on top. I hadn't seen or heard of this frosting before, but it was basically a marshmallow fluff type of mixture spread atop the cake (typical- the French get a glamorous Tarte Tatin to their name, and we're pinned with Marshmallow Fluff). To make the frosting, whisk egg whites until they're stiff, pour boiling sugar-water on top, and then continue whisking with the bowl over a low heat source. You're essentially "cooking" the white peaks to a semi-marshmallow status. When it gets to the right gooey thickness, you have about 30 seconds to get it spread over the cake before it sets. It's like disassembling a bomb, only more urgent.

I also made a warm salad with seared beef medallions, horseradish cream, tarragon dressing, and French fried onions sprinkled on top. It was a man's salad, to be sure. Beef, onion rings, horseradish... and a few shreds of lettuce.

On another note, I'm no onion ring aficionado, but if/when you make them at home, slice the onions thinly! I hate when you bite into an onion ring, and your teeth cannot cut through the soggy, rubbery, thick onion, and you end up pulling the whole slimy thing out of its crispy case in one bite. I'm always the one awkwardly slurping limp onion rings in the corner. It's humiliating. They should be crisp and thin.

Finally, I got started on some more croissant dough, which I'll finish tomorrow. If I'm feeling a little wild (who knows?), maybe I'll try my hand at some pain au chocolat using the same dough. Buckle your seatbelts, and stay tuned.

Our afternoon demonstration began with a presentation and tasting of wines from Sicily. Two fellow students are invested in this region and had 5 wines flown in for us to try. Each wine was made solely with native Sicilian grapes. If you'd like to experiment with a new wine, check out the up-&-coming Etna region. Grown in lava on the active Etna volcano, the vines develop a crisp mineral taste not normally found in wines from such a warm climate. It's really unique.

After the glasses were cleared, the lovely Rachel Allen (Ireland's favorite cook!) took the stage to make spring rolls (both Chinese and Vietnamese), smoked salmon "timbales" (little rounds of salmon pate wrapped in smoked salmon), Pork en Croute (stuffed pork loin wrapped in puff pastry), Lentils du Puy (traditional French green lentils), stuffed portobello mushrooms, Gratin Dauphinoise (potato gratin with garlic and milk), and coffee and chocolate ice cream (with various ways to serve them).

Thursday's Tips:

- Try serving coffee ice cream leveled in little espresso cups and topped with whipped cream. You can call them "cappuccino ice creams".

- Lentils du Puy (green lentils) go really well with pork, duck, or goose.

- Whenever you see "duxelle" on a menu (like duxelle stuffing), expect onions, mushrooms, and ham.

- When something is "en croute", it is wrapped in a pastry crust.

- When chopping chives, they should be dry so you get perfect tiny cylindrical circles that don't stick together. Chopping chives well is a great way to turn heads on your first day at a job (if you're a cook, that is. Don't try showing finely chopped chives to your desk head or managing director).

- You can freeze smoked salmon. Wrap it well!

- When carving slices from a smoked salmon fillet, they should be really thin.

- Portobello Mushrooms are excellent receptacles to fill with any number of flavor combinations. Try goat's cheese, pesto, fresh herbs and grated Parmesan, etc.

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