Thursday, July 31, 2008

The People

The nicknames...well, due to the number of people I have to name and not knowing them all that well, they're lacking in creativity.
Let's start at my table:
Irish: she's around 50, very recent transplant from North Carolina - apparently she just signed a separation agreement with her husband and she packed up her house and moved to Chicago right before the program started. She has two kids (in their 20s) and is extraordinarily generous and nice to everyone. Plus, she's hilarious. And we're all benefitting from the alimony her ceo ex is paying...
Tennessee: she just graduated from UofI with a marketing degree - she will start her position with General Mills in March, in their bakery goods sales division. She eventually wants to open her own bakery. She and Irish carpool together, and are very close.
T.: he quit his business position in order to attend this program. He really wants to work in a kitchen when he's done. He's about 30, I think? Really really nice. And gets it - he's a really good cook.
Russia: She's not really Russian, it's just a nickname Chef K gave her. She is taking a semester off from college in New York to attend this program. She wants to be a food writer. She and T are really good buddies.
Rico: She immigrated from Puerto Rico when she was a kid, but has this really cool trace of an accent. Rico is in a very happy year-long relationship with her girlfriend, and they're the ones that took us to the club last week. She's an assistant manager at Starbucks near the Tribune offices, and wants to work in bar's restaurant when she's done.
Nemo: Man, I love this guy. He's 25, but we graduated the same year. He does web design for my favorite newspaper. His dad owned a Chinese restaurant, but is retired now. He may want to do a career change, but maybe not. He told me last night he's looking forward to me going back to work full-time so I can join his world of exhaustion.

Other people I like:
Shorty: This is the girl who just graduated from high school. Feisty. She is struggling under Chef B - she does not take lightly to people treating her with disrespect. She has a really interesting background - she is half Mexican and half Japanese, and she does speak Spanish, but she told me she wasn't welcomed by the Hispanic community growing up. Her fiance is currently on his externship, and she wants to work in an Italian restaurant.
Master: I swear this woman has had every job possible, and I think she's just over 30. She's very generous - she brought all the girls mini-whisks at the end of the first session. She has two very young children, and made extra pasta to take home to her husband. She wants to open her own restaurant, so she takes lots of notes and video on the kitchen process.

Okay, that's enough description for now. The rest are either people I don't know much about or I am not a big fan of. I can't decide if I want to describe the people I don't like yet, or just wait until they actually end up playing a role... I'll wait for now.

Other Poultry

Last night was duck and turkey. Basically the same procedure of removing the meat from the bone, but this time we also had to leave the drumette attached to the carcass. Duck is really slippery because it is so high in fat. There seemed to be a lot of people leaving their tables to clean their hands and get stuff out of the first aid kit.
We didn't cook again today - Chef B is still blaming us, but honestly, if he had skipped over that 15 minute part of his lecture when he went on and on about how in order to make foie gras one is force feeding the duck and ground chicken like chicken mcnuggets include everything but the beak and feet and oh hey class why don't you go ahead and look up on youtube the kfc video with sir roger moore... I don't have an issue with him being a vegetarian - hey, I used to be a vegan - but can you get on your soapbox either before or after class, Chef B, because I'd much rather learn how to debone a bird and get out 15 minutes early than watch you enjoy listening to yourself talk...
We also trussed a turkey breast today. It's similar to trussing a roast, meaning you loop around the meat until there's nothing left to loop around, and then you go underneath to line through the loops. A picture would probably be helpful, but such gross hands and time pressure. Plus I go home smelling of meat, no matter how much I wash with soap, so I don't really feel like making my camera smell...
We did get out 10 minutes early today, but the other class was long gone... although I am starting to wonder just how much they are actually learning in there, because we are getting a lot of practice.

Lessons learned:
Duck is really red/dark inside - the carcass starts to look like a rabbit after awhile. Pull tight on the trussing, because it shouldn't be loose.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Chicken, Day 2

More cutting of chicken today. Chef B. was slightly less of a dick today, but then pulls the lovely move of telling the other class we'll wash their stock dishes, and then yells at us when it takes us until exactly 11:45 to finish clean-up. And the other class? They were out at 11:00. How do we keep getting the sticklers for the time?
No photos, because my hands just get so gross and we're really time-pressed. He makes his demos much longer than they need to be, then gives us a short amount of time to imitate him.
We got to sample rubbed chicken, brined chicken, and compound-butter roasted chicken that we made today. They were okay. I'm not the hugest chicken fan, but I guess I liked the brined one the best.
I managed to pull out two wishbones today without breaking them, and popped out the wing from the drumette on two birds with the knuckle also, so yay! That probably doesn't mean that much to you unless you've done it, but that meant I didn't have to chop at it with my nails, which is really hard.

A funny/odd thing happened at the beginning of class... Like I've described before, people kind of settled into "tables" in the last class, but this room is much smaller, so we had to condense a little. Most people are generally at the same table, although I moved to the be with the group I went out with on Friday because they had extra space. And when I got there today, Whiskey (from the front table) had set up his stuff on that table so that the only way someone else could be there was to be within inches of him (did he really think he as going to get an 8-foot expanse of table to himself? I don't know exactly what he was thinking when he set up his stuff). Anyway, I was told by the people of my table to just put my stuff down, so I did. Right next to Whiskey. When I came back from the first demo, I realized his stuff was gone - weird. I mean, it was fine, he could stay at our table - I spent the first week working at the same table as him - I just needed him to move over a little. I don't know why he moved - we did make room for T. because he walked in late, or maybe he heard me mumbling about how much space he seemed to want for himself, but, whatever, the table was mostly back to normal.
It's kind of funny though - it's like how in a college classroom, even the lecture halls, even when there aren't assigned seats, most people sit in the same seat. But then you've always got those one or two people who don't, and they always mess up someone on the day they move. But you can't complain or tell them to move, because they're not assigned spots...
Anyway, there's this one older woman, she's really nice but really quiet and I'm not sure how well she speaks English, and she's always at a different table. Which means someone else loses their spot for the day. Yesterday was T.'s good buddy, New York. When she walked in, T wasn't there yet, and we had no spots at the time, so she ended up at a different table because the older woman had taken an extra spot. Ha. Confusing. And silly of course. But it kind of sucks being separated, because we've established a rhythm of helping each other.

Lesson learned:
Brining keeps the chicken moist because of osmosis and cells then trying to balance the equilibrium outside and inside the chicken. Or something like that.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

New Class, New Teacher

First the good news: I got A's in both my classes! Woohoo!
Now on to my new class: Meat Fabrication. My new teacher, Chef B, well, he's a real dick. Stereotypical egotistical chef who screams at students under the mistaken belief that people actually learn that way...
So you may be reading a lot of venting over the next 14 days. Thank goodness it's a 14-day class rather than 15.
Anyway, he yells a lot. Tells us he loves "knocking chips off shoulders" right off the bat. Here's a thought, how about you actually give students a chance before you assuming we're going to challenge your authority? I mean, it's just a thought. And how about you figure out that yelling at people doesn't make them perform their best, but instead only makes them do it well enough that it won't bring you over to their station to scream at them?
Oh, and keep in mind, it is "meat fabrication" so you will be seeing raw meat, if I do manage to take photos - that involves a lot of extra hand washing so I can pick up my camera - I may not always do that.
Here's what we did today: trussed a chicken (cool, mine got selected to be one of the five that we're roasting tomorrow), "spatchcocked" another one, and then lastly, removed the thighs and breasts of another one.
Here's the trussed chicken:
He taught us a "triple x" method - I could show you if you asked, but I don't know if I can describe it all that well. Here's what the book says:
"Place the chicken breast up with the neck end toward you. Tuck the first joint of the wings behind the back. Press the legs forward and down against the body. Pass the center of a length of twine under the hip bone just ahead of the tail. Bring the twine up and across the ends of the legs. Pass the twine under the ends of the legs as shown and pull tight. Bring the ends of the twine twoard the neck end of the bird. Pull firmly on the twine while pressing on the breast portion. Tie the twine tightly. The stub of the neck holds the twine in place, preventing it from slipping behind the back."
Here's a cut one: Actually, I realized that is really gross looking. So, I'm not going to post it.
By the way, that wishbone is not easy to get out in one piece. I don't know how you're supposed to get it out without tearing apart the breast. I probably would if I had an instructor that was actually interested in answering questions instead of shouting at you for not already knowing how to do it...
Ha. Serious issues with this guy. This should be interesting.

Lessons learned:
Probably best to keep your mouth shut when Chef B is telling you that cold water doesn't stop bleeding, only pressure does. Ha. Well, gee, Chef, thanks so much for telling me, I mean, don't bother asking if I've been CPR certified on and off for the last 10 years, but really wow I am learning so much under you. And resist the urge to point out that as a psychologist it is your opinion that he could stand to see someone for his obvious anger issues, and as a school psychologist, that he could stand to do a little research into the best teaching methods. Gonna have to control that urge for the next three weeks. We'll see how well that works.
Updated 8/3/08 - I bought a chicken and trussed it myself at home, and then roasted it with a brining solution that I just guessimated the ingredients (I think Nemo accidentally kept my recipe when he borrowed my notes) - it turned out pretty good, and I was proud of myself, having never made a whole chicken all by myself before!

Saturday, July 26, 2008


Two finals Friday - Sanitation and Culinary Skills I.
Here's the thing: I have never been good at studying. oh, I know exactly how I should set up the environment, and different techniques because of my training, but I am not very good at applying them to myself. I'm just not very motivated to study. Kind of ever.
Anyway. Sanitation was 90 questions for state certification. There were some things that had probably been in the book, that I never bothered to read past the first day... But I felt like I knew most of what was on the test.
Culinary - 36 questions. T/F, Fill-in-the-blank, Short answer, and slightly longer answer. Ha. There were so many things I had no idea. Luckily, one of the students had taken the test earlier in the day and was kind enough to share that we had to know the different parts of an egg - or I wouldn't have gotten any of those points. I guessed on some things, and found out later they were right. I might have managed to pull off a B. That's fine with me - Tennessee said it was only worth 5% of the grade.

Then the practical: 2 French omelets, 1 over easy, 1 poached, and fettucine.
Look, I did it! I actually managed to correctly make the egg dishes!! Yay me! Doesn't it look pretty?

My second, when I flipped it, all the uncooked center fell onto the tabletop, which was a lot easier for me to clean than getting it off the plate before I presented it to Chef K...

I forgot to take photos of the other eggs. My over easy was good, but it took two tries - the first yolk cracked badly when I flipped it, so I tried again. Similar thing happened, but not as bad, but time was up. I asked Chef why it happened, and he says I flipped the egg too high. I think I do that because I'm afraid the egg will miss my pan and drop on the stove.

My first poached egg - wow, that was really weird. My water turned a very strange dark grey! Chef couldn't explain it, but I told him I thought it was a bad egg and asked for two extra minutes. I got marked down on the second one because I didn't cut off the strings, but I was out of time. Oh well. I'm glad I learned how to make this - it's really good on an English muffin and pretty easy. I don't care if mine at home have the stringiness...

It must have been a slightly off night for me in terms of completion, because my fettucine erred at the last minute too. My dough was perfectly rolled out, but when I went to cut it into fettucine, because I did it by myself instead of getting help like I done for about four others, it stretched in the machine and got too thin. So ten minutes before it was due, I had to put it back through the machine from the beginning. Which I probably rushed through, and apparently should have gone to level 7 instead of stopping at 6, because Chef said the error was that it was too thick. One more run through would have fixed that.

A group of us went out to a drag show after class - it was really fun! Although there was a really mean one who harassed me because I was sitting in the front row and didn't tip him/her. Wrong move, buddy - as a psychologist, I cannot reinforce negative behavior that way! But I was told that she's been doing this for 40 years, and that's just how she is - she chooses one customer each show to treat that way. More hilariously, Nemo was loved by the singers! He was sung directly to, asked what his name was, and told how cute he was... can't say any of us disagree, he is a cutie, and since he's so laidback, he handled it really well. And Irish is so generous - she covered the required first two rounds for everyone!

Lessons learned:
Sometimes, quitting for a time period is the best option - I think the break on egg day helped. Because, look, once I was calm, I was able to cook properly!

Hope everyone had a great weekend!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Extra Day

Today was a free-for-all because we have an extra day - normally this course is 14 days, but ours was 15 just because of how the holidays fall in the future. Here's a photo of both cohorts. Look for the tiny Korean with the tall hat in the front - That's Chef K - so cute! And that's me in my awesome outfit three to the right. I don't think it would be possible to pick me out if I didn't tell you that. [updated, 7-31-08: I had to take down the photo because my new teacher reiterated the school's policy that we cannot have photos of our teachers - not that I'm profiting from this website, but should I decide to sell my story as an expose on the corporation and make millions of dollars...]
This is all the food we made:

As you can see, it covered everything - fried chicken, most kinds of potato, pizza, steak, guacamole, fajitas, pasta, I don't even know what else. Except definitely none of it was healthy, and besides the guac, nothing green or close to healthy.
Sadly, the rice my team made didn't make it - it just didn't cook properly. Something about how the acid from the tomatoes means more water was needed, but he didn't tell us that until after... Oh well, so much was thrown out anyway, it didn't really matter that our's didn't make it. Except for being disappointing that it didn't work - and my seasoning was really good. Another time. That would have been a healthy dish.
Irish, Tennessee and I all agree we ended up in the better cohort - I'm sure the other people are fine, but they just seem...a little boring? And some of them - whoa, in the dish room, there were a couple to whom I had to bite my tongue because I felt they were a little rude and know-it-all. Thank you, I do know how to soak a pan - if you had been here a couple minutes ago, you would have seen me dump it already, hence why I am now scrubbing it. As if I have never touched a burned dish before. Go "help" someone else. Ha. Don't cross me, people!
Finals tomorrow in Sanitation and Culinary Skills I. In Sanitation, the test doesn't count toward the grade, just state licensing, which I don't really care if I get. CS I, it's written and a practical for pasta and eggs. I may be in trouble for the written - this time we have to write out the definitions instead of just the word. Guess I'm spending my day studying tomorrow.
Lessons learned:
Pay attention to lecture when Chef explains how acids impact cooking starch. Turns out it matters.
Culinary school is real work, people! It's not just how you can perform on the dishes, there are papers and homework and quizzes and tests... um, when am I going to do that when I'm working?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Forgot to Mention!

So I forgot to say last week - because I caught up all in one night - but this is how loved Chef K is: after only knowing him one and a half weeks, the class threw him a surprise party for his birthday within 24 hours notice. He had told us the day before that it was his birthday the next day (30), and within 30 minutes, Irish had quietly organized that she was going to make meringue pie and other people were going to bring in cupcakes and cake. Tennessee (just graduated UofI, will work for General Mills in their bakery sales department), was going to buy balloons.
He was so surprised and touched the next day! I'm pretty sure he blushed, but it's hard to tell since we're all red all the time from the stoves... He had brought in some cakes from the baking classes to share with us, but he also sampled the ones our class had brought.
He told us one day that he has won an award for being best teacher, but he wasn't there to receive the award because no one told him he was going to get it. I'm not surprised he won - I'm pretty sure my cohort will nominate him as well. People have already stated that they want to lobby to get him again for Culinary Skills II, but he doesn't think it will happen since he's already taught us - he'll probably get the other cohort that runs alongside us. We are totally the more fun class - there's only maybe 3 girls in that one, and they don't seem like they're as much fun... Ha! I may be a bit biased.
I'd post a photo of his awesomeness, but, again, no permission to blog and also, he specifically requests that we don't take photos of him. Part of the contract.

I may do a post on who all these people are, using only nicknames of course. That way you'll actually follow along. Anybody want me to do that?

Egg Failures

I kind of had a breakdown in class last night. Only a minor one though - I think only this girl at the back table really saw it. And she only saw it because she was standing right next to me at the stove and told me "it'll be okay, it's only eggs," to which of course I burst into tears...

Backing up: I have a lot of trouble cooking eggs. It seems so easy, but I just can't get it right. All we had to do was make 2 over easy, 1 over hard, 1 boiled, 1 French omelette, 1 American omelette, and 1 poached.
I started with the boiled, which is 5 minutes at boiling, 10 min off the heat, then 5 in cold water. During that, I managed to throw away about 5 eggs as I tried to make a French omelette and over easy eggs. I can flip the egg in the pan okay (tip to the edge, then flip wrist), but I kept browning the bottom, and over easy have to have no color.
That was where I kept screwing up - I have a lot of trouble controlling the heat on these stoves, so things were browning when they were supposed to have no color. They are really high heat even when you think it's low, and then with the vent fan and air conditioning blowing, sometimes they go out or your's is being heated by the one next to you...
I should take a picture of the kitchen, but all the stoves are on one side, and we have about 20 students, so it gets really crowded.

Over Easy: Crack an egg in a bowl, then slide into lightly buttered nonstick pan. Allow to set slightly, then slide the pan to make sure the egg still moves off the bottom. When set, flip. Allow the other side to set (just about 30 sec), then take out. Yolk should be runny.
Over Hard: Same as over easy to start, then crack yolk and flip. Allow to brown, and can flip one more time. I didn't actually make this. If I can do the over easy, I'm assuming I can make the over easy. This may be a very wrong assumption. Yolk should be set.
French Omelette: Whip two eggs with fork in bowl until can lift fork and a stream drops from the fork. Pour into a buttered nonstick pan. Allow to set slightly, then stir with bottom of fork (kind of like scrambled) in the center to get top to the bottom to cook. Leave alone. Take on and off the heat. Then gently tri-fold, starting at one side then the other. Put plate over pan, and flip onto plate. Should be slightly runny in the center, but tightly folded. Okay, I just could not get this. Mine kept getting color on the bottom, which is why I had the breakdown after my second try (which was after my two tries on the over easy, one boiled, and one poached). Irish helped me because she's made a lot of omelettes, but it still wasn't good enough to show Chef - it browned also. But I think I understand the process.
American Omelette: Whip three eggs. Similar method to above, but it's okay for it to brown. Place filling on top when egg is set, then fold in two. Ummm I never even tried this. I don't really like omelettes - and I was really starting to feel ill from the smell of eggs at this point.
Poached: Chef helped me to figure this one out. I think there are things I am either missing when he says them in lecture/demo, or he doesn't say's possibly both. Bring to boil water and 2 T of vinegar, and a little bit of salt. Swirl the water with a large spoon, then drop egg into the center swirl (again, having cracked it into a little bowl). Leave it alone! Mine looked like cool little satchels or purses, or even a jellyfish. But it worked! Even the one I made after Chef told me to do one by myself.
Simmered in Shell: The second one I tried to make apparently was cracked, because when I went back to check on it, the white had leaked out and was puffing around the shell...

That's when I completely gave up for the night. Sometimes, it's just not one's day. So I spent most of classtime socializing. Nemo had an emergency at his job, so I lost my pancake partner, which, at that point of the night, I really didn't care anymore - like I said, I felt kind of ill. I tried some of Irish's, but they were a little too blueberry for me. Syrup sure does taste good when you rarely have it, though - made from scratch, of course.
Chef told me I should keep trying, because the French is going to be on the final, but I told him (not bitterly) that I'm really okay failing one practical - he just chuckled, and said he knows I don't want to work in a kitchen, but I should really know how to do this. So I promised to practice at home. We'll see if I have time.
Clearly, I'm using nicknames, because I haven't asked permission to use people's names. Besides, I love nicknames.

Lessons learned:
Take a break when you need it. But that's the psych lesson.
Hard boiled is not called "hard boiled" anymore - it's "simmered in shell." I couldn't tell if Chef K was kidding, but he said they don't use that term anymore because it's considered too violent. But I asked him a lot of questions, and I think he was telling me he wasn't kidding.
Vinegar is used when making poached eggs to keep the whites white and quickly coagulate the protein.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Fresh Pasta!

Okay, if you have never had fresh pasta, I suggest you get your butt to a restaurant that makes it, and order that dish. It. Is. Phenomenal. But it has to say "fresh pasta" on the menu, otherwise it's commercially made. I don't know how I'm going to go back to eating my boxed stuff. Not that hard to make either, you just need to buy a pasta maker, which Chef K. says is only about $30.
That is fusilli ("butterfly"), angel hair, tagitelle, and ravioli.

I'm so tired! I went in to work today for just a couple hours and it kind of drained me - and then I ran (okay, I napped for 30 as well). How am I going to do this once I actually am working full time??

Anyway. Making pasta is pretty easy. It's semolina flour and bread flour. Make a well for egg and olive oil. Start stirring gently at the egg, slowly pulling in the flour. Once it sticks to the fork, you can take over with your hands. Fold in quarter-inch turns, adding flour to help with stickiness (only bread flour). Do this until done. Nope, sorry, can't describe "done" - not hard, not soft, just Done. Then you turn it through the pasta maker until it comes out thin enough to see your fingers. Dry. Keep drying. Keep drying again. Then turn it through the shaper for whichever kind you want. Ravioli you obviously do your own cutting. I didn't take a photo, but I also made tortelloni with the next batch. I really liked those. They're fancy! I took home a second batch of formed pasta, par boiled (partially cooked), to freeze and make later. I'll need to come up with a good sauce...
The ravioli is filled with 1) the roasted sweet apricot squast and 2) ricotta cheese, parsley, and salt. No, not together. The next batch I made had the ricotta cheese. So those will need different sauces - the former is supposed to be made with butter and sage, the latter with...probably a red sauce. Or olive oil.
I showed Chef how to make manti - Turkish dish - and he wants me to bring in some, but I just don't have time to make it before Friday. Sad. Friday is our last day with him.

We didn't have the quiz today either, and he said we're not going to. Man, he's so great!

Lessons learned:
Any chef after Chef K. is going to seem sucky - he's so awesome! And he doesn't need to marry a Korean, I asked... Takers?
Oh, cooking lesson? Be patient with the drying process - the second batch I waited almost 25 minutes and Chef K said it turned out really well. And buy a pasta maker - this was great! I'm definitely putting it on my list.

Grains/Vegetable Practical

I think I got 18/20. I don't really pay attention because I tend to be more focused on eating.
There were no green beans, so we made the sauteed spinach instead, which I really like.
We also made the risotto. He said mine was al dente, but I still don't like it, so I just threw it out. Chef K. says it's an acquired taste and I don't like it because I like the pilaf so much (ha. see below).
And we also made ratatouille. Mine was underdone. I don't know why. I think it was the eggplant, but he wasn't specific. I just couldn't get it right this time. Oh well. That's what learning is.
Here's another picture of the Riz au Pilaf. Because I'm totally obsessed with it. Seriously. Make it. It's awesome. If you need more detailed instructions, let me know. I'm happy to share.
We had a lot of time to spare for this practical. It went 9:00 Pilaf 10:00 Risotto 10:30 Spinach 11:00 Ratatouille. And we started at 8:00! Once I had cut all the vegetables for the Ratatouille while my Pilaf was cooking, I just kind of stood there. Chatting, of course, but I was restless. It wasn't Chef's fault - he was trying to give us plenty of time for the Risotto. Oh, but I did talk to Chef about how he was a food scientist for a week - he recommended I put my resume on Monster after I complete the program. He said corporations are always looking on there. So, I can do that, and if I get the chance to change my career....hey, I'd think about it!
We were supposed to have a quiz on Vocab 4 (types of cooking), but he moved it to tomorrow. Which was good, because I hadn't studied. I've kind of lost my interest in studying for anything. I figure I'll learn those terms as we use them...
Lessons learned:
Point out that people cut in line in front of you, and that's why your dish is not as warm as it should be. And, fine chopping parsley can be your best friend. Look how pretty it makes a dish!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Day 10 - Grains

I love rice - my mom has always made really good rice. It made the house smell wonderful before dinnertime. When I get to breads class, you'll see how much I love carbs - we are all like that in my family.
The food:
Riz au Pilaf
Sweat onions, then stir to coat medium or long grain rice in butter. Add water, and bring to boil. Then we placed it in the oven (covered). It can easily be done on the stovetop, but this gave us additional space to work. I kind of forgot about it, but luckily looked at my watch at just over 20 minutes, and it hadn't burned. This was the most perfect dish of rice I've ever had, even though Chef said it was just overdone. He said it was perfectly seasoned, and then I told him I had forgotten the thyme - whoops! But he hadn't noticed, so it's all okay... Don't forget to let the rice sit for 5 minutes, then fluff with fork.

It's important to use arborio rice for this dish. I don't really like risotto - there are too many competing flavors, and I happen to like my rice just lightly flavored. Anyway, we flavored it with bacon, white wine, red pepper (from the night before), and mushrooms. Risotto requires a lot of attention - constant stirring to reduce the liquid - only adding one or two ladelfuls of chicken stock at a time until the rice is cooked. That might be parmesan on the top. This will also be on the practical.

Mixed Grain Salad
Chef cooked all the grains for us ahead of time (pearl barley, wild rice, and bulgur wheat). Then cook bacon, shallots, and mushrooms with 2-3 T of grains (each) and red wine vinegar. You can cut down on the bitterness of the vinegar by adding sugar. As I've said, I don't like the taste of vinegar, so I used this step. Chef said it was the perfect balance, and I ended up liking this.

We had an option to earn extra credit by making Tuscan Bean Soup, but I've made this before at home and I didn't really feel like cutting up the vegetables. It was Friday night - I wanted to relax a little bit.

Lessons learned:
Pay attention to your watch! We don't use timers, so we have to learn not to lose track of things while we're cooking other dishes.
And again with the excessive "ditched" dishes! This really bothers me. I know people are worried about getting their dishes done in time, but we always end up just standing around for at least 15 minutes before break, so it's not like they couldn't wash their pots instead of saying "hot pot hot pot" and just putting it on the counter next to the dishwashing station for some unsuspecting person to touch and burn their hand...That's just mean, people!

So, as an aside, I have developed an appreciation for the value of text messaging. I used to hate it. But lately I've been messaging with someone - a boy of course, is it ever not about a boy? And I totally get how fun it is. Unfortunately, I just realized today that the reason my box fills up is because I only pay for 200 messages a month - something I have never before reached. the past week, I think I have managed to double that. At 10 cents a message...this is going to be an expensive cell phone bill! I think I'll call tomorrow and upgrade to unlimited. I'm hesitant to do this because that's $15 more a month and I don't even really know how long this boy is going to be around. But if I can maybe get them to apply it retroactively (which I'm pretty sure they won't, which is understandable), it would be nice. And if he's gone next month...well, that's just a phone call to downgrade. Oh dating - a heart attack waiting to happen in my life.

Day 9 - More Vegetable Goodness!

Due to the excessive heat, and the inconsistent air conditioning in the kitchens, Chef has been kind enough to move us between open kitchens for class so we aren't sweating more than necessary. Which is much appreciated, since being in front of the stoves, grills, and deep fryer is hot enough.
I also switched tables today - I decided I couldn't really handle some of the competitiveness at the other table I was at. I mean, they're all nice people but they rush rush rush and it gets to me - I feel very pressured, and I realized I was rushing when I did not need to. Plus one of the guys at that table is a little too loud for me - nice guy, but I don't feel like dealing with it. So I switched tables, which was easy to do since we were in a new kitchen and the tables were all different. Now I'm with a group that is more relaxed and more interested in sharing - we get each oils, salt, and vegetables to share rather a "to each his own" mentality I felt at the other table. One of the girls is just out of high school, and when she was asking what I do, she said she had thought the second she saw me, "why is the social worker here?" Ha. The other person there is a boy nicknamed "Nemo" by the high schooler, because his name is close to that. I convinced him to start parking on the same street as me so I have someone to walk down the alley with me after class. We don't get out until midnight, and the school butts up against a housing project that has not yet been completely torn down. I don't feel unsafe, but it is summer and hot out, so it's better to have someone with me.
Anyway, the food:
We made a lot today, but two went into the oven, so they really didn't need that much attention.

Les Epinards Sautes (Sauteed Spinach)
I love spinach. This was realy simple: olive oil, spinach on high heat for about 15 seconds, and salt. That's it! But so good. See, cooking is so easy - I don't know why people avoid it!

Awesome movie. I need to buy it. Awesome dish - so colorful! Small dices of onion, green pepper, zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, tomato, and garlic. Cook the eggplant first (after onion of course) because it takes the longest. Chef described the winter version as mushier, and the spring version as tender. I went for the spring version, but since I forgot to add the peppers until I added the squash, it was a little too crispy. But still really good. This will be on our practical Monday.

Baked Acorn Squash
Cut an acorn squash in half, spoon out the seeds, and fill with butter, brown sugar, and salt. Then bake. It becomes really soft and sweet. This will become the filling for our ravioli on pasta day.

Legumes Grillees
This was just to practice grilling technique. I didn't enjoy this - the hottest part is at the back, and since I'm not tall, I felt like I was burning up my arm to turn the food. We were trying to get the criss-cross impression (quadrillage). I screwed up my first one, so I just threw it out without showing it to Chef, and tried again. That time I did better. I didn't eat these because we were then supposed to make a marinade using balsamic vinegar, but I don't really like how that tastes. It was only a couple pieces so I didn't feel bad throwing it out.
And no pictures on these:
Roasted Garlic
Cut off the top, pour on olive oil, wrap in aluminum foil. Stick in an oven until soft. When done, push out of the skin. This would go in a dish for the next night.
Roasted Red Pepper
Place the pepper directly on the stove, turn it on high. Burn every part to a crisp, making sure no ash develops - that means it is overdone. Then place in a plastic bag and tie; the steam will make the skin easy to come off. Any remaining black can be scraped off with the back of the knife. These went into the risotto on grain day.
Lessons Learned:
There's no need to rush - Chef gives plenty of time to complete the dishes. And grills are hot, so being really nice to guys who have longer arms is important because they will then turn your food for you. And allow the garlic to cool before trying to squeeze it out - you'll burn your fingers otherwise!

Knife Cuts Practical

Let's see if I remember all the cuts we did:

I'm describing them the order they are on the baking sheet.

Onion: Medium dice Large dice Small dice Emincer (fine slice)
Tomato: Concasse (rough chop)
Muschroom: Fine chop Julienne
Lettuce: Chiffonade (this is one of my favorite cuts)
Celery: honestly cannot remember what this is called
Potato: Large dice Julienne Small dice Bruinoisse (tiny dice) Batonnet
Carrot: Bruinoisse Rondelles Small dice Medium dice Large dice Julienne Batonnet
Orange: Supreme

I think Chef might have either been tired or playing favorites, because my cuts were definitely not as even as he gave me points for - I wasn't in the mood for details tonight, which obviously made the practical a little irritating to me. My juliennes and batonnets were definitely not even on all sides - they kind of splayed out at the bottom. Oh well. I'll take the points!
But the Supreme...that I love. I am glad I learned this, not just because it allowed me to eat really tasty oranges every night we worked on it. Basically, you cut off all the rind and pith, so you end up with a clean round orange. Then you gently cut out individual segments, which are presented to the customers. I should have taken a picture of how the remaining orange stands up on it's own, but I definitely stuffed it in my mouth as soon as Chef graded me. Apparently people pay a lot of money just for those little segments.

Lessons learned:
All that money we pay as customers for those tiny cuts - they're really not that hard to learn. But, hey, if you want to pay me to cut your oranges, I'll happily do it for you! The potato and carrots? No thanks, they're too irritating.

Day 8 - Vegetables Begin. Excellent.

I really liked what we learned today. My parents, whom I love, tend to overcook their vegetables. Which, growing up, I didn't know was overcooked and still loved vegetables. But once I started to cook on my own, I realized how truly amazing vegetables can be once they are cooked properly. So I was really looking forward to this day. It didn't disappoint.
Sauteed Mushrooms with Brandy
This was really really good. And involved fire! I had never done this before, and it's actually really easy. You just get one side of the pan really really hot and then pour the alcohol in. And then it just lights up! I always thought you had to tilt it into the flame, but that's not necessary. Chef said I did a nice job on browning the mushrooms - they had a nice golden color.

Carottes Glacees
This was too sugary for me, but I don't have much of a sweet tooth. I had to keep putting it back onto the flame to get the liquid to reduce - this has always been really difficult to me. It just never seems like the liquid reduces in the time it is supposed to. But he said my final product was the correct consistency.The glaze is just butter and honey.

Haricots Verts Provencals
These turned out the just right tenderness. Just blanch the beans, and create a simple dressing of tomatoes, shallot, garlic and olive oil. When I was just cooking for myself at home, I always skipped the blanching step (stopping cooking in ice water) - it seemed like a waste of water and adding another dish I had to wash. But now I totally get why it's important. Someday, when I have a real kitchen again, I will definitely use this step!

We also made Les Petits Pois a la Francaise - which was perfect because I love peas! It's pretty heavy on the butter though, it being a la Francaise (French-style = butter and pork). You swear pearl onions and bacon, add peas and water for about 3 minutes, take off the heat and add lettuce, parsley, tarragon, and salt. Then you 'monter aubeurre' to finish - which means add a pat of butter at the very end. To make it healthier, Chef said you can use vegetable oil (and much less) and turkey bacon - although I imagine it would not taste nearly as good.

We start out class with about an hour-long lecture about the day's topic and then demonstration on how to cook each of the dishes. So by the time I finish my first one, I am starving! That's why at least one photo tends to be missing - I've gobbled up most of the dish by the time I remember my camera in my pocket...

Lessons learned:
I think this was the day I was kitchen manager - basically you assign the different tables duties (dishes, tabletops, and floors). Well, I assigned my group dishes because I prefer that job, but unfortunately did not see the four-foot stack awaiting me. Anyway, when I got back to my table, the tabletop people had not cleaned it, and my towel had disappeared. I know I sounded angry when I (loudly) asked why it had not been cleaned and had anyone seen my towel? But really, I wasn't - I was really tired and just wanted my towel back. And everyone else was just standing around doing absolutely nothing. They didn't do their jobs. Which will be a recurring theme in "Lessons Learned." And nobody fessed up to taking my towel. Oh well, I replaced it with a colorful one from Target that no one will be able to claim is theirs.


The next day we did stocks: Fond de Veau (Veal), Fond de Volaille (Chicken), Fumet de Poisson (Fish), and Fond de Legumes (Vegetable).

The first two take two days because they take so long to cook. There's a lot of straining involved. Honestly, I was a little tired those days, so I spent more time socializing than paying attention to the process. I live in a studio with a small kitchen - the sink is the tiniest thing I have ever seen - so I didn't really feel motivated to learn about the straining and venting. I should have because it's important to learn, but I just wasn't feeling it.

Lessons learned:
Veal hurts my stomach. Oh, kitchen lesson? Some people are really competitive in the kitchen.
And Chef is single. And really cute. And Korean. Anybody want to be connected?

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Adventure Begins...

It's pretty simple, really. I love being a psychologist, but I needed something outside of work since I get out at 3 pm. So, naturally, I take on the totally insane idea of attending culinary school Monday through Friday nights, from 6-11:45. Awesome. Once work starts up again in August, I should be a barrel of fun to be around!
One week in, I am so far glad I made this decision. I'm in a state sanitation class, which seems to make some people terrified of food, but kind of like the documentary about McDonald's or the book Fast Food Nation, it just doesn't bother me. I will still leave the classroom hungry. I'm also taking Introduction to Culinary Skills, which is basically a knife skills class, and basic introduction to simple foods.
This week, we learned how to cook potatoes in many different ways. We had our first practical Friday - I didn't plan properly for the timing of the dishes, which had to be served hot - I was ready way too early.
Pommes Tournees au Vapeur - Boiled Potatoes with Parsley
Make little potato balls with a melon baller. Boil. Season. Really not that interesting, but apparently people will pay lots of money for small things!

Pommes Duchess - Duchesse Potatoes
These require piping, which I have never done before, and found really difficult to control. Luckily, Chef K. decided last-minute to not have them as part of the practical, because I would not have done well.

Pommes Croquettes
These I wish had included on the practical, because I did really well on them. They tasted fantastic. Imagine mozzarella sticks, only with potato instead. We used the same food-milled potatoes from the Puree.

Gratin Dauphinois - Potatoes au Gratin
I was pretty surprised with how much I liked these, considering they use heavy cream. The lesson here, I think, is both learning to layer evenly and how to brown and cook evenly without burning the bottom. Apparently, they looked so good that a tablemate accidentally ate mine instead of his...

Pommes Roties - Herb Roasted Potatoes

I thought these looked overdone, but Chef K liked them, and they did taste pretty good the next day for lunch after staying up until 7:30...but that's a story of another day. Take new potatoes (generally smaller) and quarter. Cover with olive oil, and stick in the oven.

Pommes Purees (aka Mashed Potatoes)

We also made these, and I really liked my final product - the seasoning was right on. But I forgot to take a photo because I was so hungry and I had been licking my plating spoon...

Pommes Rissolees
I had trouble with these. You have to cut the five even sides into each potato half. That is really hard. And then I couldn't get them to brown properly. And while I was trying to brown them, Chef K. discovered the 3-foot high stack of unwashed dishes (not mine - I swear! I follow the mantra of clean as you go) and made everyone go to the dish room and fix it. Which I was glad he did, becaue it really irritates me when people dump and's unfair to everyone else.
Lessons learned:

They don't give cooking times in their recipes. "Until done." And the ovens don't come with windows since they're professional ranges, so it'll be a lot of guessing and checking until we get more practice.

Also, a Sharpie is your best friend - otherwise, people steal your food.