Savoriesnsweets’ Blog

Archive for April 2009

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When I first started pondering becoming a chef, I envisioned myself as a chef much like this image, working on sweet, delectable treats.  The first time I enrolled in culinary school, about 6 years ago,  I don’t remember if I picked the pastry or the culinary arts program, but I do remember that I decided not to go down that road so that I could go to dental school.  After being miserable for a year, I left dental school and then did some more soul searching about what I should do. I thought about culinary school again, but for some reason, I didn’t think I could do it.  I then decided to try my hand at teaching.  There were a lot of pros at the time, but after trying it for a few years, I ultimately grew to resent my job and so, I quit.  All the while, I was still an avid cook & baker.  Well, more of a baker.  I looked forward to different events at school so that I could bake and I’d make bread and other treats at home.  This time, I quit my job and enrolled in culinary school and didn’t look back.

Now that I’m well into my culinary journey, I do wonder why I didn’t enroll in the pastry program.  Not that I regret doing culinary-I’m learning an amazing amount of stuff and I’m loving it!  But, I do ultimately love to bake.  Really, I’m afraid if I do what I truly love for my job, I’d get sick of it as it becomes something I HAVE to do instead of something I want to do.  Also, the culinary programs offer a little bit of everything, so I’ll get a more well-rounded education.

I’ve been pondering this more lately since my chef instructor found out I baked a lot.  Then I started bringing some of my treats into class.  It really meant a lot to me when she said she thought I have a talent for baking.  She also called me “the queen of baking”!  She happily devoured 2 whoopie pies!  I’m eager for the pastry mod but for now, I’m very happy learning how to properly make soups and sauces, how to fry, and roast and ultimately, how to function in a professional kitchen.  I do hope to work in a restaurant with active savory and sweet kitchens so I can get my hands into both!

For now I’ll focus on making my delectable treats at home.  Here are some of my latest creations, Whoopie Pies, from the Joy of Baking.  I was inspired to make these after I read the New York Times article about them.

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As a culinary student, I’ve had the opportunity to take part in various different demos offered by the school.  Earlier this week, I attended the Spring Lam Primer and it was AMAZING!   Chef Rudi Weid demonstrated how to break down a lamb from it’s whole state into it’s primal and sub-primal cuts.  The different cuts of meat were then cooked and we got to sample it.  It was delicious and amazing to see how the entire animal was butchered in about 2 hours.  I took a lot of photos since I was so mesmerized and I really wanted to be able to learn from this experience!  The photos may not be the best since I was sitting in the back and I ended up taking a lot of pictures via the mirror that hangs over the counter of the demo kitchen.

The whole lamb before fabrication.

The whole lamb before fabrication.

The chef was now removing the lamb's hind quarters.

The chef was now removing the lamb's hind quarters.

Sawing through the spine to remove the hind quarders entirely.

Sawing through the spine to remove the hind quarders entirely.

Removed hind quarters

Removed hind quarters

Removed rear legs of the lamb.

Removed rear legs of the lamb.

Trimming & fabricating the lamb leg.

Trimming & fabricating the lamb leg.

While doing this, he was trimming the fat and removing connective tissue. He also removed the different glands that are present in the legs that give lamb meat its gamey odor.  These are present in both legs, so it’s important to find them and trim them out.

Finished lamb leg, trimmed, trussed and ready to cook!

Finished lamb leg, trimmed, trussed and ready to cook!

Cutting off the foreshanks.

Cutting off the foreshanks.

Cutting the lamb breast.

Cutting the lamb breast.

The foreshank and some of the breast meat, trussed and ready for braising.

The foreshank and some of the breast meat, trussed and ready for braising.

The mid-section of the lamb--the full racks.

The mid-section of the lamb--the full racks.

Detaching the racks from the neck & shoulder portion.

Detaching the racks from the neck & shoulder portion.

Here chef was explaining how he was going to fabricate the racks, cutting out the chine bone.

Here chef was explaining how he was going to fabricate the racks, cutting out the chine bone.

Removing the chine.

Removing the chine.

Split Racks

Split Racks

Split racks

Split racks

Lamb chops

Lamb chops

Rack of lamb and chops

Rack of lamb and chops

More lamb chops...ready to cook!

More lamb chops...ready to cook!

Working on the shoulders & neck.

Working on the shoulders & neck.

At this point, all the other cuts of meat were being cooked and the kitchen smelled delicious!  Chef was also explaining how the shoulders and neck are very tough meat cuts and how they’re also very cheap.  So, if you braise these cuts they can make a nice, inexpensive meal.

This was all the trim from the lamb.  Basically, this was all the tissue of the lamb that could not be used.  There is unfortunately, a lot of waste.

This was all the trim from the lamb. Basically, this was all the tissue of the lamb that could not be used. There is unfortunately, a lot of waste.

This portion of the demo was basically a Q&A where people were asking about the different ways the different cuts could be cooked.  Then we got to sample some of the delectable meat!  I was much more interested in sampling the food, so I didn’t take any shots of the spread.  It was delicious though!

Ok, so I’m a day late. But I did start writing this post when it was still 4-20.  A few years ago, this date held no significance for me.  Then I went into a graduate program where a LOT of people knew of it and observed it.  And they observed it in the usual way, with lots of herb-infused refreshments.

I didn’t think much of it today, until I went to class.  My instructor reminded us of the holiday and why it’s important.  She is clearly for the legalization of marijuana.  I don’t think it’s such a bad idea either, since I think there are many more things that are legal that are much worse for all of us.  She was also clearly eager to get out early since she began to survey the class at one point to see when everyone thought we’d be finished.

Now, today was deep frying day so there was a lot to prepare and a lot of oil to heat up and wait for recovering, among other tasks.  Of course, our school did not have fryers, so we had to fill up soup pots with lots of oil and use a thermometer.  We also ended up dividing a lot of the work.  Some of the people in my team and I worked on the cod fish for the fish & chips and the oysters for the fried oysters.  We worked on breaking down chicken for southern fried chicken as a team.  And whoever wasn’t working on proteins was working on the accompanying sauces.  This resulted in a very efficient and streamlined team work in the kitchen.  Unfortunately it also resulted in some people working specifically on one or two tasks instead of doing a little bit of everything.  I know it’s more realistic to have different people working on different tasks, but for educational purposes, it would be nice if we all did a bit of everything, if only to learn.

We finished about an hour and a half earlier.  I’m sure part of my instructors’ motivation was to observe the holiday.  And that’s OK.  I just hope it doesnt’ become a regular thing because I need all the practice I can get in every aspect of kitchen work.

And what did I do with my extra time this evening?  I make red velvet cupcakes! 🙂  I used this recipe and it was a nice way to end a frying marathon.  Many thanks to PinchMySalt for this delicious and easy recipe!

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Red Velvet Cupcakes

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With a new mod comes new culinary challenges, new techniques to learn and a new instructor. So far, knife skills remain a big challenge.  I’ve realized I have issues with my knife maintenance.  I had the new chef show me how to sharpen and hone.  I even bought a new stone, only to be told that I got ripped off.  However, I do think it’s getting better.  I also think that if I can’t get it very sharp, I’ll take it to a shop and have it sharpened.  I know…I know….we’re not supposed to do this, we’re supposed to know how to sharpen our knives ourselves.  But there is a point where I suspect I’m doing more harm than good, so I just may cave.

Now the fire is another challenge.  During the last mod we really only cooked soups and sauces.  We didn’t have to be too careful with the heat since these were all things that were brought to a simmer.  In this mod, I unfortunately always manage to over cook any meat I make.  I either slightly burn it, like when I pan-fry,  or make things very, VERY well done, like steaks.  Strangely enough, I can cook the lamb and pork nicely.  This is probably the result of years of cooking at home for people who think charred, over-cooked meat is actually good.  (No one in my family will eat meat with any trace of pink in it.)  I still need to work on my medium dice, but I also need to work on making a nice medium rare steak.

At this point, we’re focusing on dry-heat cooking methods.  I don’t quite understand why sautéing, pan-frying and deep-frying are considered dry heat methods, but they are.  (Maybe because of the lack of water?? Does anybody know?)  We’ve cooked a variety of things and they’ve all been fairly yummy. One thing I noticed is that chef told us the recipe for crab cakes we were using was good, but that hers were better.  I miss how our old instructor would give us HIS recipes for things that he used in his restaurants.  Yes, she gave us her recipe for the potato pancakes, but I’d love to be able to make delicious crab cakes!

Speaking of instructors, I do notice a lot of differences between our old instructor and our new one. Our mod 1 instructor was very much the consummate professional chef as well as pedagogue rolled into one.  Since I was a high school teacher, I do recognize a lot of the techniques he used to ensure we not only learned about the professional kitchen, but that we also were getting a good educational experience.  He was structured,  super professional, serious, used objectives and keywords and always modeled the tasks we were expected to perform.  He was very stern and it was a challenge to get him to even smile.  He also led us all to believe he was a much harder grader than he really was.  I was never able to really do that effectively; I suspect my students always knew I was giving them extra credit or extra chances when they probably didn’t deserve it.

Our new instructor is also clearly VERY knowledgeable, capable and a master of kitchen efficiency.  She manages her own restaurant kitchen while teaching and having some semblance of a personal life.  She’s also a very odd character. On the first day, she tells us how much she hates dirty dishes and clutter, so we’re to clean all our dishes and utensils as we go.  She’s also told us about how she’s had a problem with swearing in the kitchen so severe that a swear jar was started and she regularly owed money.  Of course, she says we should not do this, but she has, on occasion sworn in class.  She’s also made several funny jokes.  Now, we’re all adults and the jokes were funny, but I never had a class where the instructor was allowed to make jokes with sexual innuendo or swearing without some form of disciplinary action. (yes, even in college) One minute, she is yelling to tell us how she hates dirty dishes, how she hates when people don’t use common sense, and the next minute, she’s calling us all her “lovies”, her “babies”.  She also allows us to drink coffee and to eat in class, while our previous instructor did not allow any of that. She is absolutely the crazy artist that one thinks about when one thinks of a great chef.

Her lack of structure is a big contract from the previous instructor, however I do believe she is providing us with a more realistic feel of what it is like to be in a hectic, restaurant kitchen.  Yesterday was the first day where there was consistent chaos.  Many people in the class were unclear about what to mise en place and what recipes we were to work on first.  After yelling for a few minutes once she realized that everyone was confused, we all figured it out and got our groove back.  She also posted a new cleaning schedule with a new feature: a sous chef.  This student was to ensure that all the cleaning jobs in the kitchen were completed effectively .  Of course I found it odd that she picked the student with the worst attendance record, but I wonder if she’s hoping that the additional responsibility would be incentive for him.

Next week, we start to deep fry and I suspect there will be even more adventures in the kitchen.

Now that my exams are over and I’ve got a few days off, I’m able to relax a bit.  I slept in, read a bit, watched some tv, worked on some knitting and of course, tried some new baking recipes!

The first thing I worked on were these puff pastry rolls.  Well, I don’t know if they’re really rolls or not, but I did roll the pastry so I’ll call them that.  I used a recipe I found here.  I made two varieites of these treats:  one with guava paste and one with blackberry preserves. The challenge with these was figuring out the right amount of filling to use.  My first attempt were over-filled.  I also cut them too thin, so I got a bit of a mess.

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They were still tasty, but messy and I know they weren’t done right.  I tried again with the blackberry preserves starting with a thin layer.

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Then I brushed them with egg wash and put them in the oven.

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They were still messy, but not as bad.  I tried again with the guava paste. And I think I finally got it!

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I managed to get that pretty heart like shape of jam within the lovely puff pastry!

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These were fnished with a healthy sprinkly of powered sugar.

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I also made some rainbow cookies.  I used a recipe from Smitten Kitchen.  The really challenging part was layering the cakes.  When I tried to put one cake on top of the other, the cake broke.  I couldn’t transfer it effectively.  I just pieced it together and covered it with the preserves.  Even if they weren’t put together as well as they should have been, these were definitely much better than any version I’ve had from a store or bakery!  This is definitely worth a try!  Here’s some shots of my final product.

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This was definitely a great way to start my mini-break from school! 🙂

This week we had our Mod One exams.  We had a written exam, which covered a lot of the theory we learned,  and a practical exam where we had to actually perform certain tasks.  Last week chef reviewed for the written and the test was EXACTLY the same as what we reviewed.  So here’s a run-down of what we were tested on.

Part I:  Define the following keywords.

Pincage: To caramelize shells of shellfish and tomatoes in fat to deepen color and flavor.  Allowing the tomatoes to cook out reduces the excessive acidity or bitterness that may affect the final sauce.

Monter au Beurre:  To finish or mound a sauce with butter as a final liason.  This is done over low heat while whisking pieces of butter in vigorously to create an emulsion.

Sachet d’epice:  A sack of spices consisting of a bay leaf, parsley stems, thyme and peppercorns.  Sometimes, this also includes a garlic clove.   These are all tied in a cheese cloth and used to add flavor to stocks and sauces.

Mirepoix: Aromatic vegetables, onion, carrots and celery used to flavor stocks, soups, stews and sauces.  The ratio by weight is 2 part onion, 1 part celery, and one part carrot.  Sometimes, parsnip is used intead of carrot to creat a white mirepoix.

Beurre Manie: An uncooked paste of whole butter and flour mixed together.  The paste is made by working equal parts ofbutter and flour together so that the butter encases each grain of flour.  It is used to thicken and flavor soups, stews and sauces and is often used at the last minute, unlike a roux.  Also called kneaded butter.

Nappe:  The ability of a liquid to “coat the back of a spoon”.  Medium nappe is ideal for sauces.

Garnish (for soups): Small, bite-sized pieces of food fully cooked and served either hot or cold, depending on the soup.

Roux: A mixture of clarified butter and flour.  The mixture is the consistency of wet sand.  It can be cooked to varying degrees of doneness, yielding pale/white roux, blonde roux or brown roux.  Pale roux are used for milk or cream sauces such as bechamel.  A blonde roux is cooked a bit longer than a pale roux and is used for stock based sauces, such as veloute.  A brown roux is cooked longest, until it has achieved a rich dark color and a nutty aroma.  This is used as the base for  sauce espagnol.  If adding a liquid to a hot roux, the liquid must be cold and gradually whisked in to incorporate. Once incorporated, it must simmer for 20 minutes, to remove any starchy flavor.

Trussing: Tying a whole poultry bird or meat in order to  maintain shape and ensure uniform cooking.

Supreme of Chicken: Boneless chicken breast with or without skin and with the first wing joint Frenched.

Part II:  Explain the method of preparation of the following.  (Answer 8 of 10.)

Chicken Stock: Blanch the chicken bones, if desired.  Drain and rinse.  Combine the chicken bones and cold water.  Bring stock to a boil over low heat and reduce to a simmer.  Simmer stock for 4 hours and add mirepoix and sachet d’epices.  Simmer an additional hour.  Be sure to skim the stock to remove any impurities during simmering.  Strain, cool and store.

Blanching Bones for White Stock:  On the exam, I left this one blank!  Anyone know why this is important?  I sure didn’t remember!

Cream of Broccoli Soup: Make a blonde roux with clarified butter and flour.  When roux reaches blonde stage, add chicken stock to make a veloute sauce which will become the base of the soup.  Bring veloute to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer.  Add 1 T salt.  Continue to simmer veloute while preparing vegetables.  As soon as onion, celery, leeks and broccoli stems are prepped, sweat them in a sauciere pot until soft and translucent.  Add the cooked vegetables to the veloute and continue to simmer soup base.  Blanch the broccoli flowers for 1 minute in boiling, salted water.  Shock in ice water to stop cooking.  Drain and reserve.  When the vegetables are fork tender, strain them out of the soup and place in a blender with the broccoli flowers.  Add enough hot chicken stock to blender to cover the vegetables by 1 inch of liquid.  Blend for 4 minutes to ensure a smooth puree.  Place the puree into the veloute and add heavy cream.  Simmer for 2-3 minutes and adjust seasinong and consistency.

Chicken Consomme: Make the raft by combining grond chicken, mirepoix, herbs white wine vinegar and salt.  Beat egg whites until foamy.  Add them to the meat mixture and mix thoroughly.  Add 1 qt of chocken stock to temper the raft.  Mix thoroughly.  Stire the tempered stock into the remaining 4 qts and blend.  Bring to a simmer.  When the raft starts to congeal, stop stirring and allow stock to simmer.  Allow raft to finish rising.  Reduce heat when raft has congealed.  Poke a hole in the center of the raft with the spoon handle.  This will allow raft to baste itself while it is simmering.  Simmer for 1-2 hours.  Strain through a chinois, lined with 3-4 layers of dampened cheese cloth.  Adjust seasoning and serve immediately.

Bechamel–>  Mornay:  To make a bechamel sauce, make a white roux with clarified butter and flour.  Add milk.  Add onion pique (a quarter onion studded with 4 cloves and a bay leaf) and simmer for 30 min.

To make mornay sauce, simmer bechamel and remove from heat.  Add gruyere and parmesan cheese.  Whisk until smooth and season with salt and pepper.

Chicken Veloute–>Allemande Sauce:  To make veloute, make a blonde roux with flour and clarified butter.  Add cold chicken stock gradually.  Simmer 30 min.  Strain and adjust seasoning.

To make Allemande sauce, sweat shallots and mushrooms in butter.  Add chicken veloute.  Simmer. Strain.  Combine egg yolks and heavy cream and temper liason into the sauce.  Season with salt & pepper.

Demi Glace–> Port Wine Reduction Variation: To make demi-glace, start with equal volumes of brown veal stock and sauce espagnol.  Reduce the veal stock by 1/2.  Add sauce espagnol.  Return to a simmer and reduce to 1 qt.  Skim as necessary.  Strain, cool and store.

To make a wine reduction variation, combine shallots, wine and reduce.  Wines can be dry sherry or port wine, madeira or brandy.  Add demi glace and simmer.  Whisk in the butter.  Strain.  Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

Hollandaise–> Mousseline Sauce:  To make hollandaise, combine egg yolks, water and lemon juice and combine over a water bath until yolks are thickened and pale yellow.  Whisk in clarified butter.  Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

To make mousseline sauce, whip unsweetend heavy cream and fold into cooled hollandaise sauce.

Beurre Blanc–> Beurre Rouge: Combine shallots, white wine, white wine vinegar, bay leaf and peppercorns in a  sauce pan.  Reduce to 80% of the original amount.  Whisk in butter over low heat.  Strain and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

To make beurre rouge, follow the same procedure but use red wine and red wine vinegar.

Clarified Butter:  I left this one blank too since I was done.

Overall, I think I did OK on the written exam.

The practial consisted of three different tasks:

  1. medium dice potato (for 10 points)
  2. making mayonnaise (for 40 points)
  3. making cream of broccoli soup (for 50 points)

I’ve had difficulty with my knife skills since day 1!  Unfortunately, my potatoes were still rather uneven and I only got about 10 little cubes out of two whole potatoes.  I really have to work on my knife skills.  My mayo and soup were both delicious so I felt like I redeemed myself.

Even though it was hectic and stressful, I think I did fairly well.  At the end of class, chef bid us adeiu and almost brough us to tears with all his nice words and well wishes.  I learned a tremendous amount from Chef Ted and I’m glad we’ll see him again in Mod 3.

lordsavemeAfter several intense classes on sauces, we have reached the end of the first of the six modules of culinary school.  While I thought things started off nice and slowly, they picked up very fast!  Knife skills, butchering and sauces are all challenging!  Next week, I will really feel like a student since we have our written and final practical exams.

True to form, I left everything to the last minute.  I did make a review sheet of the concepts/ideas/terms chef wanted us to know for the written, but it’s not complete.  I should get to that sooner rather than later, since the written is tomorrow.

As for the practical, there are three things I will have to do:  chop medium dice potatoes, make mayonnaise, and make cream of broccoli soup.  I did make my recipe cards, but so far, I’ve only made the mayo.  That was fine.  I still should try to make the soup, even if I am using store-bought items, like chicken stock, to make it.  And I should really, really get to the chopping!  That’s been the worst for me since I’ve had difficulty keeping my knife straight enough to make straight edges or even to ensure I’m maintaining 90 degree angles.  I also have had the misfortune of regularly cutting myself.

My waterstone is soaking as I write this, so that I’ll be sure to have super sharp knives.  I’m also about to go to the market so I can spend my Sunday night making some soup.  I only hope I can recreate my successes in my classroom kitchen and get a high score on my exam!  Pray for me!