Monday, August 31, 2009

Cookies and Eggs

On Tuesday we still had no fish. Chef didn't want us to start any deeply involved project, so we made cookies.

I was sitting with the Sushi Boys so I said I would work with them. Neither of them had ever made cookies before!!! Ever! "Well OK then, you guys pick. I don't care what we make, I'll just be assisting since you've never done this before." They picked peanut butter cookies.

I had them get all the equipment and ingredients ready while I filled the triple sink and assembled the dishwasher, because apparently I am the only one who does this. Now that I think about it, maybe next week I won't and see what happens.

Chef wanted 2-3 dozen cookies which is about what each recipe called for. I think we ended up with a little more than that though. I immediately fetched a balance to weigh up the flour, peanut butter and other dry ingredients. I had a little flush of joy when Chef reprimanded all of the other groups for using spring scales. Chef hates those scales. I paid attention in my first class and knew this so I always grab the balance. You know it really is not hard to do well and get a good grade if you just follow directions (this is to be a prophetic statement).

Something that really irks me about professional/institutional recipes, besides not being in metric, is that the amount types of ingredients are not specified. For example, 10 ounces of peanut butter. Is that fluid ounces or weight ounces? In my world, as an engineer, measurements are always, always specific, fl. oz. or wt. oz. There is no confusion. Chalk up another point to the metric system. You can't get grams and milliliters confused. I guess the rule is that free flowing liquids are measured out by volume and everything else is by weight. Do you know I have to constantly tell people that the first of four lines on the small measuring cup is a cup?

For our size recipe we could easily use a stand mixer, but just barely. I showed the boys little things like cracking the eggs into a separate container rather than straight into the bowl so as not to accidentally get any shells in the dough. In order to get the flour into the mixing bowl, I used a Silpat and made a funnel. It would have worked better if the Silpat was the same size as the one I have at home but it was twice as big. It worked though.

Ridges came over to see how we were doing. He cupped his hands and said they only had that much dough. What! How did that happen? He said he didn't know and just shook his head. I asked who we was working with and he said Red and RK and that RK wanted to halve the recipe. Ah. The rest of the day Chef gave RK a hard time for not making enough cookies. They were pretty cookies but they didn't even fill half a sheet pan. They were making spritz cookies piped with a pastry bag with half a maraschino cherry on top.

Since we were ready to start dropping cookies I took all of our dirty dishes into the dish washing area. MILF was in there doing dishes listening to her MP3 player. What are you doing in here, why aren't you cooking? I'm mad at my group. Really. who are you working with? She told me Hottie #2 and Mouth. I was surprised she was mad at Hottie since they often work together and have always gotten along. Not surprised about Mouth though. I've worked with Hottie #2 before and found her easy to get along with. From what I heard later, Mouth and Hottie wanted to make chocolate chip cookies and MILF didn't want to so she lost the vote 2-1 and stormed off.

The directions in our book prescribed splitting our dough into one pound halves, rolling each into a twelve inch long, slicing off one inch discs and then rolling each disk into a ball to be flattened with a fork on the baking sheet. Huh? I called Chef over. Why do we have to triple handle the dough to make dough balls when we could just scoop the balls directly from the mixing bowl. He was dumbfounded too and told us to just use an ice cream scoop. I told Sushi #2 where they were and sent him off to fetch one. He came back with two large ice cream scoops. I laughed. Dude, those will make twelve inch cookies! Weren't there any smaller scoops? He went back to look and found two tablespoon dishing scoops. They were right next to the ice cream scoops but he didn't see them.

We ended up with two and a half sheets of cookies. The guys were really impressed that they made actual cookies. I still can't believe it was there first time. Chef had us cook them at a lower temp than in the book. They came out great. I didn't try anybody else's cookies.

After all the cookies were out, everyone was just standing around. I was putting some dishes away when I saw a few people clustered around the stove and Chef with a few flats of eggs on the table. Sushi #2 told me to get three eggs, we were making omelets. I did a few more dishes then asked Chef for instruction, better to not rely on hearsay. He told me crack three eggs into a bowl, we were making omelets. I asked him if I needed milk and he said no, some people like to use it, he doesn't, but if you whip your eggs enough you won't need it. So I cracked my three eggs and gently beat them with a whisk. MILF was running around looking for Cayenne pepper. Ridges was adding salt and pepper to his. Someone else was looking for broccoli to put in his. Mouth already had hers started at the stove on the other side.


One of the few times I have ever seen Chef outright mad. It might have been the first time for every one else. Time to get dressed down. Chef went on to say how many of us aren't good at following directions (see the prophecy from above). If he says crack three eggs, that doesn't mean add stuff to them, it doesn't mean make an omelet, it means crack three eggs. If any of you have added stuff to you eggs or started cooking, throw it out. I only want to see three eggs. Many of you are going to end up working for a chef and if he tells you to do something, you do it. You just can't do what you want or flavor things they way you'd like He then went on to explain, the classic speech I have heard so many times from so many people, you all are not always going to work with someone you like. You aren't always going to like your boss. That's why I always want you working with different people, so you can learn those skills in here before you go out there. You aren't always going to agree or get along with the others in your group but you have to learn how to (pretty sure this was a reference to MILF). It was a good and well deserved rah rah speech.

At first I was pretty excited about the omelet making because I really need to improve mine but after I saw Chef's demo I saw this was not the info I was looking for. All we were doing was frying an egg, flipping it in the pan and then sliding the egg out onto a plate, cheesing the top before we folded the egg over with the edge of the pan. I've seen this technique at so many cook to order hotel breakfast buffets. I like to have some of the ingredients mixed into the egg so I always try to fold the egg over in the pan and this is where I am struggling. Mine taste great but the looks aren't always there.

Chef very clearly said to get your pan hot, then add the butter so that it melts quickly without burning then add your eggs. RK was up first and he put a pan down on the stove with the butter already in it. I just don't get this guy. He was standing right next to Chef when the instructions were given! I watched Mouth come over with her second attempt. She had to dump her first one because she had started before Chef said to. She knows everything. Her eggs stuck to the pan badly. Why? Because she already had her eggs in the pan before she set it on the stove. Again, nobody in this class listens. How hard can it be?

Once I had a physics exam in high school. Our teacher told us to read all of the instructions before starting the exam. The first instruction was put your name on the exam. The second instruction was to go to the last problem on the exam. The last problem said "turn your exam in now. Any marks on your exam other than your name will result in an F for not following directions." More than half the class failed that exam. I've never forgotten that lesson.

I did piss Mouth off though because I quite loudly asked her if she ever smiled. Oh did she glare at me. But my point was made. Chef laughed and said he had seen her smile once when she was yelling at someone.

Both Sushi #2 and Hottie #2 were timid about flipping their eggs. I rooted them on saying the secret is that you have to believe that you can flip the egg. If you don't believe in yourself you won't be able to do. "I know you can do it so just do it." Both flipped their eggs perfectly. Me? I got impatient and flipped mine before my eggs had fully set. I lost half down the burner. I ended up with a small omelet but I did get an omelet.

After we had cleaned up we were instructed to pick out a fish dish to prepare. I immediately knew what I wanted to cook. I wanted to do fish in parchment paper, poissons en papillote. I got the thumbs up from Chef and went to check on ingredients. Meanwhile a HUGE order came in and Chef went to check on that. I helped a few others with finding ingredients, giving them ideas on fish or alternatives, trying to convince MILF that the recipe she picked would not be too hard, I'd have plenty of extra time to help her. Mouth announced she was leaving. We still had an official one hour to go before class was over. Chef came back in a few minutes, asked where she was and went into a rage when he found out she had left,. He called her cell phone about five times and got even angrier that she didn't answer.

I just don't understand this crap. I wonder if we will see Mouth on Monday, though my bet is yes, she seems to have some type of in with Chef to get away with her daily behaviour.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Soup Again

On Monday we were supposed to fabricate fish, meaning butcher and prepare. I was cautiously excited about this. Most of my life I have been fishing, though not for the past ten years. Growing up my Grandpa would take me out on Lake Erie by the Crib and we would fish for perch. Strangely, I never caught any perch, I always caught Sheepshead. No complaints here, they are a much bigger fish and more fun to catch. I loved collecting the luck stones from their heads. We'd be out all day and catch hundreds of perch. I was never involved in the cleaning but the adults would fill the freezers full of fish, never filleted mind you, always pan fried.

My Grandpa would also take us trout fishing at a duck and trout club he belonged to. Every year there was a fishing derby for kids that was a madhouse but often we went on quiet weekends. Since it was a stocked pond I would often catch my limit of trout.

And my family still maintains a cottage in Angola IN where I did most of my fishing growing up. Most of what we caught in Crooked Lake were blue gills(our place is just on the other side of the point, left of the X). We had the wire baskets that we would hang off the side of the dock to keep the fish alive that we caught. I would lay face down hanging over the side of the dock and clean my catch in the lake, scaling the fish right in the water with a spoon. Friends of ours two doors down taught me how to clean my own fish.

I did a lot of fishing in South Carolina. My friends and I mostly poached on farm ponds. I always thought we had permission, but in hindsight I'm not so sure. Often when we would fish with Clarence and he would haul a flat bottom jon boat in the back of his truck that the three of us would put around the pond with an electric trolling motor. It was in SC that I learned to fillet fish. I'm sad to say that I haven't fished since I left SC. Lack of access I guess. I need to do something about that since I need to get off my butt and take my daughter fishing.

In planning for fabricating fish I took my awesome Glestain salmon slicer with me to class. Unfortunately I don't have a fillet knife. But when I got to class I learned that the fish didn't come in. Instead we would be revisiting knife skills. Chef felt walking around the past few weeks that we really needed a refresher. I could not agree more. My skills aren't the best but at least I don't stand two feet away from the table with the knife held like a hammer hacking away at my vegetables. I'm just a slow slicer.

For once I worked by myself. Which was good. I saw no reason to crowd a table with knives slinging about. I'd walk around trying to figure where to put my cuts with people who had made similar cuts. It was kind of scary to see what people were doing. Amazingly every time I told a table that cut potatoes go in water I'd get the evil eye. I joked with Ridges that his table mates had nice brown potatoes.

Chef told us that one side of the class was going to make a cream soup and the other side was to make a stock based soup. Then each side was to divide in two groups. I aligned myself with Ridges' table which included Hottie #3 and Baby Face, who I find to be a prick and a half. He did not change my opinion of him.

Ridges suggested corn chowder. Sounded good to me. I was not in the mood to be a leader that day. Since we had been chopping up onion, celery and carrots we automatically had some mirepoix. Ridges and I agreed that we would get it cooked down and then strain it out like we did with the Mulligatawny soup. Baby Face and Hottie #3 were very anti-social, which I found unusual for Hottie since she is normally quite social with me. But BF is her best friend and I suppose that was his influence upon her. Somewhere our soup morphed as they both began dicing up potatoes to go into the soup. Ridges seemed perplexed but I went along with it.

I checked on the other side. RK had a couple gallons of frozen beef stock in a large brazier that he was chipping at with a chef's knife. Dude! I told him to knock the top of the ice block off and went to fetch a lid. After he had enough of the top chipped off I put the lid on and explained the ice would melt much faster with the lid on because you create a steam bath. Come on man! He seemed perplexed but later we were washing dishes and I had to stop him from taking the dishes out of the dish washer before they went through the rinse cycle. He said the washer had stopped. I said yes but it does a rinse cycle next, pointing to the digital readout that said "RINSING." You have to wait for it to finish rinsing off the soap and sanitizer before you take them out. I'm not sure he understood me so it's no surprise he didn't understand why I put the lid on.

Next thing I knew BF and Hottie were chopping up Italian sausage. WTF? This is like no corn chowder I've every heard of. Then they wanted to roast it in beer. Huh? Roast it in beer? I have never heard of roasting sausage in beer. Boiling in beer, yes. I went to Wisconsin. We eat brats and drink Miller at 8:00 AM waiting for kickoff, but roasting? Of course they all treated me like I was the dumb ass. Of course roasting! Whatever. Oh to be 20 again.

Looking at the mirepoix, there was nothing to drain the vegetables out of. I suggested to Ridges that we add a quart of cream to the vegetables and let it simmer awhile for flavor and then we would have something to strain. So the soup came together like this: we strained the mirepoix out, added the strained cream to the 2 quarts we had simmering on the back burner, added the potatoes, added the sausage sans beer (who thinks beer and milk go together?), seasoned it all and let it simmer until the potatoes were tender.

I guess we ended up with potato and sausage soup. It was really good, though I'm not sure that the sage in the sausage really went well. I'm not sure why Hottie #3 picked that sausage. There were three other sausages in the freezer but I don't think she looked that hard. Mouth and the Sushi Boys made some kind of cream of chicken with bacon. It was pretty good too, as good as ours I would say. On the other side, Bar Code and his lap dogs made something like minestrone which I did not care for. MILF and Hottie #2's group made a vegetable beef soup that was good but the meat was too tough. They needed to braise the meat longer or better yet use a pressure cooker. MILF said that was exactly what the book called for. Good prediction on my part!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Field Trip

As an early aside, on Monday I registered, and paid I might add, for one class next quarter. My choices were Pantry, Purchasing or American Regional Cuisine. I asked if Pantry was about stocking shelves. Chef thought that was pretty funny. Pantry is all about making salads, composed salads, salad dressings, mayo and other condiments and sandwiches. Basically the cold stuff in the kitchen. Chef said WE didn't have the prerequisite math yet to take Purchasing. Oh, I have the math. I'm sure my three semesters of Calc, three semesters of Statistics and an engineering degree trump their basic math class. And if it doesn't, screw 'em, I'm not taking it. I didn't feel like taking classes Monday through Thursday 9-2 nor did I fell like attending class from 9-5 all day Wednesday and Thursday and I didn't want an evening class, so it was settled, American Regional Cuisine. RK asked what American Regional Cuisine meant. I thought it was pretty self explanatory, cooking styles from across the USA: Deep South, New England, Southwest, Tex-Mex, etc. "You mean we're going to cook those different styles?" No, we're going on field trips and padding our frequent flier miles. I might have to start drinking during the day.

Speaking of field trips, on Tuesday we took a ride down to Gwinnett GA to a food expo. We loaded up in a school van with an additional four people in a school car. While it was a nice experience to have, it really was not that thrilling of a trip.

When we got there, there was a LONG line for registration. It was quickly apparent to me that I was the only one who has ever been to any type of expo before, and I've been doing them for 20 years, both as an attendee and as a vendor. Truthfully, no matter the industry, an expo is an expo. Mayfield was in dismay, "why do we have to register, I thought we just walk in!" Dude, these things aren't free ya know. Come on! I wonder where my hip flask is? Chef, who had strangely disappeared after we got in line, showed back up with comp passes from one of his vendors. Everyone seemed shocked by this, man are we special. No we're not, I used to hand them out too to my customers. You would have thought we were a bunch of high school teenage girls getting free purses when we went through the line to get a complimentary tote bag for the swag given out (BTW, I've known that "word" for years knowing what it meant but never knowing exactly what it stood for. A quick search reveals that it apparently stands for Stuff We All Get) . I turned mine back in empty and unopened. I have twenty years of totes at home.

This expo was mainly food vendors hawking prepared foods to restaurateurs, things like Tyson chicken nuggets and chicken tenders. Brew City mozzarella sticks and black and tan onions rings. About every appetizer you've ever had was there and many of the desserts. Vienna Beef was there with there Chicago hot dogs. So on one hand it was a neat experience but on the other hand it was disappointing because 1) I/we were not there in the capacity to buy or find a great deal and 2) it kind of pops the bubble of fantasy that none of these foods that you order in a restaurant are prepared fresh.

So there's the highlight, the drive there and back was the worse part. I really thought that when I left the teeny boppers behind from my first class things would get much better, but they really haven't. It must be something about those who are drawn to the culinary world, 16 or 56, they all seem to have the same mental age and mentality. Oh how I wish I had brought headphones and could have listened to music and tuned everyone out. Poor planning on my part. On the way back I told MILF I wish I had brought my knife kit. Why? To put myself out of my memory. I'm not going to go into the inane conversations on the way up that Chico, Ridges, Bar Code and Igor were having about sex with each other or the equally inane conversations on the way down the Sushi boys and Mouth were having.

I learned that Igor and Chico are Bar Code's little lap dogs. Those two are inseparable at the hip it seams and follow BC everywhere he goes. They seem lost without him. I asked Bar Code what it was like to have his own groupies. I don't think he got it. It's like a comic version of Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle. On the way back I had the infinite pleasure of sitting next to Igor and Chico. From what I could gather, Igor convinced Hottie #2 to give him her phone number and then preceded to hit on her and ask her out via texting. It seems that she slammed him and then continued to brutally slam him the whole ride home. I immediately felt a kinship with her. She asked me if I was following along. I said yes, it was pathetic. She laughed so hard. She loves me now.

What I wouldn't give for some intellectual conversation. Outside of with my wife I really haven't had any since I left the foundry. And my wife doesn't enjoy intellectual banter, philosophical ponderings or what-if games. She's pretty pragmatic. And that's not a fault. So much for meeting people through school.

It was good to arrive home.

Monday, August 17, 2009

But I Would Do Anything For Love But I Won't Do That

Today was meat loaf for lunch, ugh! I am not a fan of meat loaf though I'm willing to eat a bite. Chef broke us into two groups of eight and said each group was to make meat loaf, a pasta dish, two vegetable dishes and a dessert. Family style southern cooking. We were cleaning out the walk in. We all had to cook, no one was allowed to direct and not cook. Bar Code and I immediately took over though I noticed he kind of deferred to me. We didn't have the strongest group: RK, Mayfield, the Sushi boys, Chico and Igor. Bar Code and I had the most experience though. I said it made no sense to have eight people making meat loaf and we should break into subgroups, three doing meat loaf, three doing the pasta and two doing the veggies and dessert. RK said he wanted in on the meat loaf since he's never made it before. Bar Code said find pick two other people. Mayfield and Sushi #1. Bar Code grabbed Chico and Igor and said they would make the starches, pasta and sweet potatoes. We had linguine and Bar Code didn't want to do Alfredo because he was sick of it. I said fine, do a pasta salad with it. Bar Code asked me about doing sweet potato fries. Fine, I don't like them but sounds good to me.

I grabbed Sushi #2 and we headed for the walk in. On our way Chef said someone had donated some pinto beans and it would be good to use them up. Good, we'll do barbecue baked beans. We didn't have much for vegetable selection but we found some yellow squash and thought about a squash casserole. Chef was very pleased, he had hoped someone would decide that. For dessert I suggested short bread dipped in chocolate ganache. Sushi liked the sound of it and it's pretty easy. Thumbs up from Chef.

Dinah and her Mom make a squash casserole and all I knew was that it was squash, soup and crackers on top. I asked Chef if we needed to make our own soup base or could we use canned? Soup? Chef said, "here's how I make squash casserole: blanch the squash, sliced onions, cheese sauce, Worcestershire , mayonnaise, Swiss cheese slices,bread crumbs." OK, we can handle that.

We got the squash sliced up. For some reason the water took forever to boil. Onions were sliced. I had an idea on how to do a cheese sauce but sent Sushi around asking. The book called for making a bechamel sauce first and I was pretty sure we weren't going that route. I confirmed that with Chef. After Sushi got back I poured a quart of heavy cream in a sauce pan, put it over medium heat and had Sushi start blending in some shredded cheddar cheese. He was doing it little bits at a time which made Chef chuckle. Finally Chef had him just dump the whole bag in. Then Chef had him fetch some Gruyere from the freezer. Up until this week I had no idea you could freeze cheese. Makes sense though, I mean it comes on frozen pizzas that way. The class knife wouldn't cut through the frozen cheese but my extra sharp knife with a thicker blade made short work of cutting a huge hunk of the Gruyere into cubes. That took a little longer to melt in and unfortunately we did burn on the bottom of the pan. I heard some whining in the dish washing area about that but strangely I had no problems getting the pan clean. Experience always wins.

When most of the cheese had melted I spiced it up with some dry mustard, ground white pepper, the Worcestershire sauce and added some mayo.

Finally our water was boiling. We blanched the squash until it was fork tender, drained then spread it out over the bottom of a hotel pan. We thought we would give the onions some extra flavor so we sauteed them in olive oil and then spread the sauteed slices over the squash. Next we poured the cheese sauce over the onions and squash. I had ground up some bread crumbs and we were spreading the bread crumbs over the top when Chef stopped us and said the bread crumbs should be mixed into the casserole. That was new to me but no problem. Into the oven it went. I t didn't take long for it to cook and the top got a nice golden brown. We pulled it out and topped the casserole with shredded mozzarella and put the pan in the warmer where the cheese would finish melting.

For the beans I made a batch of my Grandpa's barbecue sauce. This proved a little tricky because with two groups making meat loaf we were running low on ketchup. I just had enough though and the sauce tasted pretty good to me. We mixed in the can of beans and put it all into a half pan and into the oven. When the top of the beans started to brown I pulled the pan out and put it in the warmer.

We were going to make shortbread cookies dipped in chocolate but Bar Code's group finished their pasta early so they jumped on the dessert. It was interesting how every time they hit a speed bump they came running to me: "the other group is making a pasta salad!" Don't worry, just change the flavor. Barbecue and meatloaf is the theme today, try a barabcue pasta salad. There's andouille sausage in the walk-in. It might turn out good. "We don't have enough apples!" Go grab some canned apples and combine the two. I guess I'm the answer man.

Since we were done I went to get some of the dishes caught up. I enjoy running the dishwasher, and I'm pretty good at it. Earlier, Chico, who is absolutely brilliant, started the garbage disposal without looking to see if anything was in it. Immediately there's a sound of metal being ground up. I think it took him a full thirty seconds to process the information and turn the disposal off. Now an hour later, I get ready to run the disposal but I check first. Chico never bothered to remove the measuring spoons he ground up in the disposal. The bastard just turned it off and walked away!!! Unbelievable! I fished them out. They were only bent, no rough or ground edges, so I straightened them out, fished out the ring, reassembled them and ran them through the dishwasher correctly. Like I said, brilliant.

We all had to man the chaffing dishes and serve at lunch. I was shocked that nobody wanted the sweet potato fries. They are a staple down here. I thought they were actually pretty good even though it is not a food that I like. A few people tried our baked beans. I will admit they were quite different, not bad but probably not what people wanted. There was no sweetness to them and I think that turned some people off. They were also a little on the thin side. It was then that it dawned on me that my Grandpa's 50+ year old recipe is more like a buffalo wing sauce than any barbecue sauce. I guess he was ahead of his time. Sushi #2 really liked them though.

No one ate any of the barbecue pasta salad which is a shame because it was pretty good. It was on the sweet side because they put honey in it. They did cook it down too low so the sauce was about the consistency of peanut butter. Like I said, Chico is brilliant. The funny thing was the sauce almost tasted like a peanut sauce, like a satay. It was pretty good on the noodles. I liked it.

There was some green bean casserole with home made french fried onions on top. It was OK. And there was a macaroni and cheese casserole made with bow tie pasta with the soupiest cheese sauce yo ever saw. The meat loafs were meat loaf. What can I say. The desserts were awesome! There was an apple pie that Mouth made and the cherry cobbler that Bar Code made was great. I guess he switched gears at the last minute since they didn't have enough apples.

I have to say that our casserole was the best dish and I'm not saying that because we made it. It really was good. It was pretty cool that we made such a good dish working with only a concept and not a true recipe.

Tuesday was field trip day. We were going to a food show in Gwinnett.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Pastabilities

Tuesday was pasta day. Supposedly we were also making pizza but as the day progressed that fell through. As I have mentioned before, I really am not a fan of pasta. But you have to be able to cook things that other people like. Good! I was also working with two very green cooks who are eager to learn and the best way to learn is to teach. Great!

For whatever reason nearly half the class wasn't there. I just do not get the attendance issues with these people. Sushi #1 and Sushi #2 were both there so no problem for me. I've actually made pasta before many many moons ago. We actually own one of those pasta makers, looks like a toaster kind of. A gift from a previous life I think, used maybe twice. But the point is, I have done it.

I did have to slow the guys down. Let's prep everything first. By the way, Sushi #1 is the quiet one, Sushi #2 is the more outspoken one, who I think I relate to better. Our task was to create three to four servings which I knew meant about a pound of pasta. The recipe made four pounds so the math was easy. I also knew that a pound of pasta was easily made in a stand mixer which I grabbed from the cage. RK came over. Where'd you get that man? In the cage next to the other eight, you know the cage you're standing in front of? WTF?

I apologised up front if it felt like I was bossing the guys around but I felt they would get more out of it if they did most of the work and I kind of supervised. Neither had used a mixer before so I showed them how to set it up. We had a good looking dough going soon enough but like the day before, we needed to add a little more flour. We had our dough wrapped and resting well before any other group was even close to starting on their dough.

On to the sauce. I knew from my first class that tomatoes concasse meant canned tomatoes. So I grabbed a can of those while the guys sliced up onions, garlic and herbs. I let them use my knives which I had just sharpened rather than fight with dull class knives. Sushi #2 really likes my LamsonSharp chef's knife.

We got the oil hot in the pan. I explained to Sushi #2 how you look for a sheen in the oil to know when it was hot enough. I told him that we were looking for the onions to be soft and turn translucent, slightly brown but not crisp. Then I apologized for telling him something he probably already knew but he assured me I was not out of line. Then we threw the garlic in and I told him that the reason the garlic goes in late and we only saute for a minute is because we don't want the garlic to burn. If the garlic burns it will be bitter.

Again I had an idea of what I was doing because I had made a tomato based sauce in my first class. I showed the Sushi boys how to use their hands to squeeze the tomatoes out into the pan. I was also emphatic that we cook tomatoes in a stainless steel sauce pan explaining how the acid in tomatoes with react with aluminum. I could see the guys taking mental notes.

At this point our sauce is simmering and our dough is resting and our chicken is prepped. We're ahead of schedule and it's time to work on the pizzas for the Hero's luncheon. The guys prepped some veggies and Chef had me shred cheese in the Robot Coupe, a fancy industrial food processor. I thought we were all going to make pizza but I guess Chef got caught up in his element and he began cranking out about a half dozen or so pizzas by himself.

So it was time to get back to our pasta. I got the old fashion hand crank pasta roller out. I've never used one of these but I used to roll copper plate in college so how much different could it be? We started with some verbal instructions from Chef but things just weren't looking right. The dough was sticky and tearing. Chef came over and said we needed some flour on the table and showed us how to roll it down by degrees. Now it was looking like pasta, what a difference a little flour makes. We ran it through the cutter and we were making some beautiful noodles. We laid it out on the table and covered it with plastic wrap.

Finally it was time to cook the noodles and plate. I explained to the guys that for pasta we can use an aluminum pot since it brings the water to boil faster. Our recipe called for boiling the pasta in chicken stock to give it more flavor. We had a quart already. I told the guys that we needed a gallon of water per pound of pasta. So four quarts to a gallon..."wait, there's a conversion table in the book, I can look it up," says Sushi #2. No, I'm telling you, there are four quarts per gallon. I'm the only one in my class that knows units. And to think I prefer metric! So what we are going to do is do two quarts of stock and two quarts of water. I sent Sushi #2 to get more stock but he didn't seem to understand how to get it from the frozen container. So I had him chip it out with my knife and scoop it into a quart container and nuke it while I got the water. My final tip was that we always salt the water, a tablespoon or two per gallon of water. I overheard one of the guys say to the other, "man this is why we need to work with him. We've learned so much."

I let the guys check the noodles for doneness. They had never done it before but they did know how done they wanted their noodles to be. Good. So final part. We tossed the chicken in the sauce. Next drained the noodles into a pot, then tossed the noodles in butter to coat and then a spritz of lime juice. Then poured in the sauce and tossed. Finally I explained that the reason we saved the pasta water was because if we needed to thin the sauce up and want it to have some pastiness to it to stick to the noodles we could add a little of the pasta water. Since the starch from the noodles leeches out in the water it will help bring the sauce together. We added about a quarter cup.

All of the dishes were OK. The best dish was actually the salad that chef made with an awesome dressing. Ours was OK but Sushi Boys were blown away by it. Mission Accomplished.

Not sure what we are doing on Monday. Tuesday we have a field trip!!

Breaking Fast

On Monday our theme for the day was to make breakfast. I was excited at first because I have been struggling trying to master the omelet at home. Mine taste great but I'm never happy with the appearance. Unfortunately that skill was not to be learned in this class. In an effort to be sure I did something new I teamed up with Mayfield and RK to make focaccia bread. other groups made pancakes and home fries, biscuits and fried chicken. All of us were supposed to each made Hollandaise sauce and fry two eggs either sunny side up or over easy.

Since we had to wait on the bread to proof, Chef told us to start our bread first while everyone else started on their sauce. Working with Mayfield and RK is a trip. These guys are both older than me. Mayfield is overly sensitive to please Chef, classic kiss ass. RK just makes me shake my head. Both these guys make everything harder than it needs to be. Even a simple instruction like "dissolve the sugar and yeast in the water" has to be read several times aloud and then parsed down to it's "true" meaning. Both have recognized that I am more experienced so they constantly ask me questions. I'm flattered.

Chef commandeered me to weigh up ingredients for Tuesday's pizza dough since I had the balance out to weigh up the flour for the focaccia bread. I let RK and Mayfield know that I was right behind them, holler if they needed me. Come on guys, you can do this.

We were half way through RK dribbling the flour into the water with a whisk when Chef came over and explained that in Intro to Baking we would learn that any time we saw the words "straight dough" we could just throw all the ingredients into the mixer and let it run, regardless of what the recipe directions called for. So then we had a five minute discussion on how to do that. Come on guys, just dump it all in. Makes me want to stab myself in the forehead with my knife. But they mean well. They want to do it right.

We ended up having to add some additional flour to our dough. I knew it was supposed to be on the wet side but Chef said ours was too wet. But hey, flour is like that, depends on the humidity and other factors. I took it in stride but I think Mayfield was a little concerned that Chef was questioning whether or not we followed the directions correctly.

Next it was on to the Hollandaise sauce. I distanced myself a little here. We were supposed to clarify our own butter which I began but since so many people had been doing it before us, there was plenty already made so I got what I needed out of a communal container.

Mayfield wanted of know if he could make a double boiler out of an aluminum sauce pan on top of a stainless steel sauce pan. No. Use a mixing bowl. We don't have any, they're all dirty. Dude, I just ran five trays through the dishwasher. There's a whole stack of them over there. Come on man look first. Of course then I had to explain to RK what a mixing bowl was. I quietly relocated myself to another table.

Most of the class struggled with this. I saw some really badly burned butter. Some burned Hollandaise, a lot of broken Hollandaise, curdled Hollandaise and some that was just plain the wrong color. Fortunately I had the advantage of having made this my first quarter so I knew exactly what I needed to do without even reading the recipe. And this time was easier since I was making only a quarter of what I made the first time. RK asked me if his yolks were ready. No dude, you just beat them. Like this, I showed him mine, bright yellow and left ribbons when I lifted the whisk out. For whatever reason he and Mayfield decided not to try to get theirs to match mine and continue on. Their sauce ended up a strange burnt orange color and kinda chunky.

I got all of the butter whisked into mine. Nice sauce consistency. I saw many that were as thick as sour cream. Ugh! I got the nod of approval from Chef and poured mine in the communal pot. That was a sight to behold. Rather revolting I might add. Eventually the pot came to a boil and the sauce broke. Someone in their infinite wisdom had the burner turned up. I had turned it off a couple times. I guess they didn't read the book.

Finally time to do eggs. Chef was quite vocal about using CLARIFIED butter and NOT whole butter. There weren't enough non-stick pans to go around so we had to wait turns. I'm not sure how many people I had to explain that too. Meanwhile Chef has some people putting together a small service station for the staff's lunch, stuff like butter pats, coffee, not sure what else, not sure what they are eating. I went around the other side and there is RK squeezing four of the plastic cube containers of butter out into his pan. Dude, what are you doing! Buttering my pan. I just walked away. Somehow RK realized that he isn't doing it right so he comes over and spoons his half melted butter pats into the clarified butter. So now the clarified butter is all screwed up. Thanks man.

We had to flip our eggs in the pan. Sweet. I do this all the time at home. I've even mastered flipping hash browns with the pan. I watched Igor terrified to flip his eggs. Took him at least ten tries. When he finally did it we all clapped. Hottie #3 missed half her eggs on the side of the pan. Whoops. I wonder how many are underneath the burners. Ridges and I got up together. We each had perfect flips. I lucked out though. His eggs stuck for some reason to his pan mine didn't. He ended up scrambling his. I got the thumbs up from Chef, making sure that I told him the other two eggs on my plate were not my broken yolks but Hottie #2's eggs. She doesn't eat eggs let alone over easy eggs.

Breakfast was good.

Afterwards Chef told us that we were doing pasta on Tuesday and pizza for a Hero's meeting. We would be making fresh pasta. I told Sushi #2 I needed to work with someone new so I joined him and Sushi #1. They were both thrilled to have me as a partner. We flipped through the book looking for a recipe. I asked what kind of pasta they like. Both said fettuccine. I found an acini di pepe recipe in the book and suggested that we substitute the acini di pepe pasta for fettuccine. They were excited. I went into the kitchen to see what ingredients we needed to order. I found left over fried chicken that had been made for today's breakfast and said we could substitute that for the shrimp in our recipe. They were both even more excited.

I was exhausted. Class feels a lot like work at the end of the day.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Cajun Bobs

So Tuesday in class all we had to do was make our dirty rice and grill our kebabs. Easy peasy. I has asked MILF if she had taken Professionalism which was the first class I had taken, first quarter. Yes. Did you cook much? No. Ah ha! That explains a lot. I've been through all of this before. When I took Professionalism we cooked everyday, she said they maybe cooked a total of ten days. SO I know the routine for the day. Groups of two, make three to four servings, then we divide each plate up and everyone samples everything. I'm very relaxed.

Dirty rice appears to be easy. Our recipe called for chopped pork and chicken livers, sauteed and then added to cooked white rice with some chicken stock and a spice mix that was nearly the same as our Cajun spice mix. The danger here was cooking too fast.

Rather than letting MILF dive in, I suggested we prep everything first. We chopped the meats, the veggies, putting them in separate pans for separate additions. She divvied up the spices and I measured out a cup of rice. MILF has to constantly be moving. I think at times she spent more effort fetching than prepping but what can you do.

We got the rice cooking and started sauteing up the meat. We were running about an hour ahead of schedule but as I told MILF, we can hold the rice. As we got closer I told MILF it was time to skewer. I taught her the little trick of soaking the skewers in water so they don't burn. She was impressed. I learned it my first quarter in Professionalism so that is the kind of edge I have. MILF wanted to know how we were going to do this. You go first and I'll watch. Huh?

I said I like to cap the ends with meat to hold the vegetables on but there are no rules to making kebabs. Only thing is to get four pieces of meat on each one because that is what we prepped. Which goes next? Doesn't matter? How many mushrooms? Doesn't matter. Jalapeno next? Doesn't matter? How many tomatoes did you put on? Doesn't matter. I could tell that she struggled with the unstructured method here but it's good for her, most cooking really is unstructured. It's just application of basic fundamentals. Relax and enjoy.

The kebabs grilled fine, maybe a little over done. I had not planned on having to hold in the warmer so long while we waited for everyone else. I think we had one of the better dishes. MILF insisted on a piece of fruit for garnish and more stock in the rice. She likes "wet" food. Not my cup of tea, but fine, like it matters to me.

Mouth had a glazed pork chop with honey glazed carrots. The pork was excellent though I could have done without the carrots. Her wild rice had sweetness to it that I really did not like and I think it was undercooked.

Bar Code, Ridges and Hottie #3 made a seafood stuffed pork loin with twice baked potatoes and stuffed mushroom caps. Chef told them next time they stuffed such large caps make sure you cooked them first. After the first bite I understood, the caps were not cooked all the way through. Otherwise they were good. Their pork roulade was OK but their twice baked potatoes were awesome.

SloMo made a pathetic Caesar salad. No cheese, no anchovies. I didn't touch his pork since it wasn't cooked all the way through. There was another stuffed pork dish but by the time I got to the plate all the portions were gone. They did make excellent steak fries though. I can't remember the other dishes.

I have no idea what we are doing this coming week.

Friday, August 07, 2009


Several weeks ago I was watching Barefoot Contessa as I am wont to do waiting for PTI to come on and Ina Garten was making what she called Deeply Chocolate Gelato. It looked amazing. Even though I like hazelnut chocolates I thought that I would make it without and call it Double Chocolate Gelato.

I can see the difference between gelato and ice cream. Ice cream typically does not have the custard base made with egg yolks. But I'm not sure of the difference between gelato and frozen custard. We Cheeseheads LOVE our frozen custard (I miss Milwaukee).

Besides leaving out the hazelnut chocolates at the end I also opted to use up the ordinary Hershey's cocoa powder I had on hand rather than using a fancy expensive one as Ina calls out in her recipe. I also used a 3oz bar of dark chocolate rather than buying any bittersweet chocolate. It was just easier. I finely chopped and used the whole bar. The bar I bought was from Green & Black's and was 70% cocoa. Easily found at Ingles in the candy aisle. Whatever you do, do not use chips. Chips are coated with a release agent to keep them from sticking together. You don't want that in your gelato.

I found that I needed to strain the gelato twice. Once after I combined the cocoa and chocolate and again after I made the custard. I found that not all of the cocoa powder dissolved and some lumps were left behind. Maybe I only needed to strain the second time but I don't think it hurt to do it the first time. Besides I had some chocolate bar wrapper pieces I needed to strain out.

I was amazed that I didn't have any Kahlua in the house. I did have an OLD bottle of Starbucks coffee liqueur. I don't even know if they still make the stuff. I used what little I needed and threw the rest out. It wasn't Kahlua but the gelato came out great with the Starbucks.

The chilled gelato base is pretty thick. I put it in my Krups Automatic Ice-Cream Maker. This is one of those counter top units where you freeze the bowl a day in advance. Lickity split it was done, maybe 15 minutes.

The gelato was divine. It was so rich that after just six bites you have to consider that you've had enough. I think this gelato is as close to eating frozen fudge as you can get.

No Soup for You!

I enjoyed Jerry Seinfield as a stand up comedian. I'm going to admit it now that I did not watch his show. I quickly lost interest after the first season. It was just too mundane and inane for me. But I did like this particular episode.

Monday began week four and our task was to make soup with either the chicken stock or the veal stock from last week. Chef wanted us to work with different people so he assigned a few groups of two and let the others self pick. Me, I was told I was making soup by myself. Two times people said they did not have a partner and would work with me and two times Chef said no, I was working by myself. The second time he got a little angry, I think because it was obvious people were not listening to him. Off course I felt like a teacher's pet. Oh well, there are worse problems to have. Bar Code wanted to know why I was special and got to work alone. "I don't know, because Chef said so."

If anyone showed up late they were to work with me.

A few people immediately went to the Internet to look up a soup recipe. My first class Chef told us he strongly discouraged people using recipes off of the Internet, most of them don't work, so I didn't even bother looking at a computer. We have good recipes in our On Cooking book though often you have to rescale them. I'm not a soup kind of guy so the first problem was finding something I would even like. I had to move past my first few choices since they didn't use any stock and that was part of the assignment. A few others looked way too complicated. I finally settled on Mulligatawny Soup. Never heard of it. Evidently this is a popular British soup. It wasn't too complicated and I thought it might be palatable. We were supposed to make a half gallon of soup. No problem, I just doubled the recipe.

At that point Ridges came in and I told him he was working with me, we were making soup and since he was late I had already picked it. The soup is really easy, diced chicken, mirepoix (diced celery, carrots and onions), sliced mushrooms and diced apples in a chicken stock with curry powder. I found some left over grilled chicken breast in the walk-in so we didn't even have to cook any chicken. Ridges and I spent the first part of the morning just prepping all of our ingredients. We had two quarts of some nasty looking chicken stock from the previous week. I'm standing there slicing mushrooms, Ridges is next to me and I see SloMo standing at the corner of our table spooning out the fat from his chicken stock into ours. Ridges just stares at him and finally says, what are you doing? Oh is this your stock, man I'm sorry. So now our stock is looking really bad. We pull two more stocks out of the walk-in and they are both congealed nastiness. Ridges pulls the last one and it's clear. It also happens to be the one he and I made. Not sure what everyone else did wrong. So now we were back in business.

Now that everything was prepped it was time to start cooking. We sweated the mirepoix instead of sauteing it. That took a little longer. Next we added the chicken stock and spices and brought it to a boil, simmer 15 minutes. At this point Ridges and I debated about whether or not we should strain the mirepoix out. Since neither of us had ever heard of this soup we didn't know what it was supposed to look like. We finally decided yes, strain it, to let the chicken, apples and mushrooms shine.

At this point I look at the table next to the stove and it is an absolute chaotic disaster. RK and SloMo are making gumbo. RK is sauteing chicken, I think, but seems absolutely lost. SloMo is screaming stuff. They've got two pans going on the stove and two more on the table. SloMo has butter in one and is dumping flour on top of it. Chef asks what he's doing and SloMo says making gumbo. It looks like he's making cookies. Chef asks how do you make gumbo? You make a roux. That's what I'm doing SloMo retorts. How much flour and butter asks Chef. SloMo say something about 20 ounces of flour because that's what the book says (there we go again. I don't think boy wonder resized the recipe). Chef makes them dump it out and start over with oil and flour. He whisks it himself and explains to RK how in New Orleans they use oil and bake the roux in the oven to prevent it from burning, stirring occasionally. They never did get a dark roux for their gumbo.

We've got everything going well. We add the chicken, apples and mushrooms and basically just need to simmer for 15 minutes. I ask Chef when he wants to plate. He wants us ready by 11:00. We are serving a buffet line for school administrators at noon. It's 10:30 so we are going to have no problem. Chef looks at me, smiles and points to the gumbo disaster and says they won't be ready. Unfortunately Ridges and I were the only ones ready at 11:00, everyone else took all the way until noon or soon after. I have no sympathy for the others. Part of cooking is looking at the recipe, knowing what you need to do and being able to plan things out so you are ready in time. That's why I passed over a good twenty recipes when I was trying to find one. I certainly would not have attempted the gumbo with a thirty item ingredient list.

We got the buffet going and most people passed over the Mulligatawny soup. I think the name was too scary. If we had called it Chicken Curry with Mushroom I think more people would have tried it. Though curry still scares people away. The apple was good but I'm not sure people would have identified it as apple. I was impressed because apple in cooked savory dishes is something I avoid.

One group made chicken noodle. I passed on that. I also passed on the roux since I saw what went into it. The southwestern chicken tortilla soup was so so, not enough broth to really be a soup. I passed on the cream of broccoli though I heard it was good. Bar Code and MILF made borscht. Having taken Russian in high school I have had it several times. There's was OK. I've never had it chunky before but MILF swears that is how her Russian uncle served it. I also have to give credit where credit is due. Mouth showed up nearly two hours late and Chef assigned cream of mushroom soup to her. Hey wait a minute, there's no stock in that! Regardless, or irregardless as the say down here, her soup was outstanding. I ate three cups of it. It was the best soup there hands down.

After lunch we got everything cleaned up. We had recombined all of the chicken stocks, reheated and this time we were going to chill them down and freeze them. Everyone thinks we are going to get out early when Chef throws a curve ball: pick a new partner and come up with a pork dish for tomorrow. I never pick a partner. I don't care who I work with though I am hopeful I can make the rest of the year without working with Mouth, SloMo, Baby Face, Igor or Chico. MILF whips around and says you and me. Fine. Actually I'm looking forward to working with her, I like her, she's good, she's considerate and I think I can show her a few things, after all the best way to learn something is to teach something.

I tell her that we should avoid the Internet. She fetches her book and I flip to the meat section. I start with lamb explaining to her that pork is an easy substitute in any lamb dish. We've got two huge boneless loin to work with and need to make enough to serve three to four. Roast lamb, lamb chops, stuffed leg... I ask MILF what she would like to make. She says when she thinks pork she thinks Cajun. Fine. Lamb shish kebabs. Hey! I say we could do Cajun pork kebabs. MILF loves this idea. We'll do cherry tomatoes, onions, half slices of jalapeno peppers and serve it on dirty rice. See, once again the secret to success is combining ideas.

Chef gave us the thumbs up and we headed into the kitchen. We decide to make out own Cajun seasoning, there was a recipe in the book. I tried to explain to MILF that since we didn't need to make the six ounces of spice mix we could easily scale it down by substituting a tablespoon for each ounce of spice called for. The ratios would stay the same. I'm not sure if she understood me or not but that it what we did. The flavor was spot on. Next we cut our pork into chunks figuring four per skewer, tossed the meat in our Cajun blend and wrapped it up to sit over night in the walk-in.

School - Week Three

I was distracted last week with my motorcycle trip to the Guzzis in the Blue Ridge that I didn't have a chance to post about school.

On Monday we spent most of our time cutting up chickens and making a stock. I think we made hot dogs for lunch but otherwise it was not a very memorable day. Maybe the only worthwhile note was that after we had cut up our chickens, we were to go back and debone the chicken breasts. I think my buddy Ridges and I did at least a dozen each before anyone else had the first one done. Helps to have a sharp knife and ambition.

On Tuesday we re-heated our stocks to finish them and worked on prepping a luncheon for Wednesday. What's the difference between lunch and luncheon, is lunch just short for luncheon?

Ridges and I made bread, or more accurately we assisted Chef in making bread. I learned a few things here. I'm not sure I am running my dough long enough in the mixer. Chef ran it for 18 minutes. I don't use high gluten bread flour, Chef said that makes a big difference. I also don't use a bread conditioner though Chef said that the conditioner is very hard to find. Maybe King Arthur Flour sells it.

Later it came time to strain our stocks. We are supposed to strain through a china hat lined with cheesecloth. Babyface had a line behind him waiting to get some cheesecloth. I look and he's trying to cut through it with what looks like a tiny pair of nail scissors. I grab my petty knife and go up to the front of the line. "Dude, they give us knives for a reason," and slice right through it. Amazingly he gets all pissy with me, "I was trying to prove a point," he huffs at me. Don't be a dick head, you're holding everyone up. He and I are not going to get along. Of course he only seems to come to class every other day, so maybe the problem will take care of itself.

After we stained everything, Chef asked what we were going to make with the chicken. None of us knew that was the plan. Think fast. Shredded chicken to me immediately says Mexican. Ridges said chicken salad. So we did a Mexican chicken salad. I was a little pissed that three other tables decided to do chicken salad. MILF and Hottie #2 worked at our table too. They did barbecue chicken, and again , two other tables did the same thing. The most amazing thing was that we had four people working our table and we never got in each other's way.

Unfortunately since I grabbed mostly backs, we did not have a lot of meat left from our stock. I almost fell on the floor when I heard RK come over and ask Chef about saving the tails, not really meat right? Since we didn't have enough meat, Chef let us saute up a few of the chicken breasts we had boned out the day before. Ridges worked on dicing the jalapenos, green peppers, yellow peppers, green onions and cilantro while I worked the chicken. After the chicken was cooked through we added a few ladles of chicken stock to deglaze the pan and half of the diced vegetables to the skillet. This way we had more flavor but enough fresh veggies to still have a crunch and freshness.

I think hands down our dish was the best. It wasn't hard to do. I think the key is to make something simple and rather than cooking out of the book take each partner's idea and combine them into one dish. One group made shepherds pie with the chicken except there was no stew-like gravy and no peas. That's mashed potatoes on top of chicken not shepherds pie. The other two chicken salads were indistinguishable other than one was chunky and the other smooth in texture. Both could have been from the grocery. The barbecues were blah. The one voted as the "best" tasted kind of off to me. I asked about the vinegar and suggested maybe cider vinegar should have been used. Sushi #2 told me they used red wine vinegar, "because that's what the book said." And there in lies the problem. All these other groups measure everything, Ridges and I don't. I remember Chef saying in my first class, learn to eyeball everything.

Afterwards we had to cool our stocks including a huge steam pot of veal stock. SloMo and Babyface were put in charge of the veal stock. What a clusterfuck. There was steaming and scalding, spilling all over the floor, screaming and swearing. These guys are going to hurt somebody. They transferred the stock into a HUGE stock pot. At which point I said they needed to break that down into smaller containers because they won't be able to get the liquid line below the water line for cooling. Baby face snapped at me, did I know how many pots that would take? It doesn't matter, it won't work the way you're doing it. The smaller the volume the faster the heat dissipation. We have to get these cooled as fast as possible. I've got a fucking engineering degree. How many semesters of thermodynamics do you have? Dumb Ass. So another group of us start transferring from the HUGE stick pot into smaller containers. SloMo comes over with another pot full of stock and wants to fill up the ones in the ice bath. No! Smaller containers cool faster. He got all pissy with me. I had to just walk away.

Dumb ass.