Friday, March 05, 2010

Weapons of Choice

I posted this today over on Chef Talk but though I would also add it here. I will try to remember to add some pictures.


My previous career was in metal casting and I have a BS in metallurgical engineering. My perspective on knives may be a little different than everyone else's since I approach it from a metal and engineering view rather than a culinary view. Probably not right but some things I just can't shake.

In my opinion, a forged knife is hands down the best knife, ignoring brands, styles, size, etc. Of the forged knives I am a big fan of pattern welded steel often erroneously referred to as Damascus steel. Forging gives a knife wonderful strength, elasticity and crystal alignment that can't be done by stamping. The advantage of a pattern welded knife is that two or more different metals are forged together. At a microscopic level this gives a serrated edge with wonderful sharpness that in a sense re-sharpens itself as the edge wears since the different metals wear at different rates. My third favorite knife and quickly becoming my number one favorite is the sintered powder metal knife. Like the pattern welded knife it creates a microscopic serrated edge as it wears so it is brilliantly sharp. The fact that it is sintered allows for the use of some higher tech metals that are not available any other way.

I am opposed to buying a knife kit as I believe in buying the best knife for the job that is in my budget. My first knife was a Lamson-Sharp 10" Chef's Knife. GREAT knife. My only regret is that is isn't longer, but I didn't know that at the time. It's forged and made in the US. It didn't really come into its own until I began sharpening it myself with my two sided water stone and put a slightly narrower angle of edge on it. I use this knife every day in school and at home.

My second knife was a
Nenohi Nenox G-Type Petty 5.9" (15cm) as I wanted to try one of the Japanese knives. This is a PM made knife and has an edge that boggles my mind. Some days I use this knife more than my chef's knife because it cuts so well and feels so good I don't want to put it down. This Japanese knife is a little harder to sharpen but once you get your technique down, it isn't a problem. One thing I learned from both of these knives is that sharpening them yourself will give you a better, sharper edge that lasts longer than what you got out of the box.

Third knife wa
s a Ittosai Stain-Resistant Layered Steel Santoku 6.4" (16.5cm) as I wanted to try this new to me style and it was a pattern welded knife I could afford. Great knife but not as good as the other two. I really have not bonded well with this style but if I want to cut thin slices of onion, tomato or potatoes, this is a good one to use. But it normally stays at home rather than at school. Sharpness and edge retention is in between the Lamson and the Nenohi.

Next knife was a Glestain salmon slicer. I rarely use or require this knife but when I do, there is nothing better. Very sharp out of the box and I have not sharpened it yet. I am a little nervous about sharpening a 12" blade. Not sure as a culinary student when or if you would need to purchase one of these, definitely not at my school. It was a celebratory reward for myself.

Last knife I bought was a Misono Hankotsu for ripping up chickens. This was my first venture into single sided Japanese knives. This is a very heavy and menacing looking knife. Makes me feel like I should join the French Foreign Legion. While the edge out of the box is sharp, it isn't very good. It is not consistently sharp along the length of the edge. As before I think that sharpening this knife myself will get the maximum performance out of it. I just have not done it yet. I have to watch my DVD on sharpening first since I have never sharpened a single sided knife before.

For honing I use an F.Dick flat multi cut steel and highly recommend it. I don't do the razzle dazzle knife honing routine that every cook does. I think it is BS. I slowly pull the knife, at the proper angle, along the full length of the knife across the steel. After each pass I feel for a burr with my fingernail. If the burr moves to the other side then I hone that side. If I don't feel a burr on either side I don't bother honing the knife. I can usually hone a knife with three or four slow passes, though a knife that was used hard may need a few more. I hone them in the morning and then forget about it.

My recommendation for a first time purchase is to buy a good but not great nor cheap chef's knife, middle of the road. In my opinion, hands down, the Japanese steel is superior. But there is nothing wrong with the other's either. I highly recommend Lamson Sharp. Wustoff and Henckels are good too, but I would be sure they are forged. I have not been impressed with Dexter. Messermeister is better than Dexter. Regardless, this is a learning knife to learn technique, beat on, mess up sharpening, break the tips, etc. You won't be out much. Even an old Chicago knife is a good starter. Stay away from the cheap stamped Chinese crap. I don't like metal handles like Global but I think that is more of an individual preference, they are good knives. Buy a good steel and learn to use it. Buy at least a two sided stone and learn to use it, especially correct edge angle. I don't like oil at all but that is probably a personal preference. Do not ever ever ever rely on or use one of those pull sharpeners like fishermen use or an electric sharpener. Nothing will ruin your knife faster.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

I'm going fish fish, fish fish, fish fish fishing again...

After we finished with our tribute to Eire, Chef gathered class around to tell us that the next day we had someone coming in to talk to us about a trip to Italy in September. One of the other schools in the area goes every two years or so and Chef is tired of us being the orphaned step-child and wants to start having us have the same opportunity to go. There would be some sightseeing and and also some cooking school. Sounds awesome even though I don't like Italian food. For the others it would definitely be good resume padding. Mayfield kept interrupting with a bunch of question, how much? When? What is the program? Where? Finally I had to interrupt. "You know, I bet that is what the guy is going to tell you tomorrow." I'm so smart. Bunch of undisciplined, attention challenged, disrespectful people.

Afterward it was time for our Nutrition class. I had set out a piece of salmon last week but then school was cancelled and it had sat for a week in the walk in. I threw it out and started over. I did learn that the vacuum sealed fish is supposed to be thawed out unwrapped, not in the vacuum sealed package. Something about the meat gassing off.

I had not done fish yet for this class, and we all should eat more fish, so I checked with my client and it turns out she LOVES salmon. That settled it, barbecued salmon. I have not had barbecued salmon before but my niece raves about it. It is one of three foods she will eat. She was very disappointed when she came to visit and we took her to Herb's to experience true southe'n BBQ that salmon was not an option. I think it is a Midwest thing.

I received mixed advice on how to grill the salmon. Chef said he sears the outside and finishes it off in the oven. I did indeed use this technique. Another instructor told me to soak the salmon in milk, but of course that was not an option for my client. I didn't bother making a barbecue sauce from scratch. I heard once that 75% of all restaurants use Cattlemen's sauce as their own or as a base to make their own. I used some Bull's Eye that we had but added Worcestershire, honey and apple cider vinegar. I lightly marinated the filet for maybe a half hour before throwing it on the grill. I basted it a few times. I tried very hard not to over cook it but it zoomed past 145°F so fast after I had pulled it, even though I pulled it early. I wasn't too worried because I believe that most people are used to eating overcooked salmon as restaurants play it safe.

I combined a presentation and a vegetable by placing the salmon on a bed of roasted vegetables. I had intended to use yellow squash, egg plant and zucchini but discovered at the last minute that all of the yellow squash had been used up that morning. I subbed red bell pepper instead. Tossed everything in olive oil, grilled them then finished off the vegetables in the pan with the fish in the oven. I cut the veggies into strips after they were cooked. I have a very sharp knife so that was not hard to do. Because my client wanted her plate to go, I was not worried about losing heat or any of the food being cold.

For dessert I went as basic as I could get, an ounce each of fresh blueberries, strawberries and blackberries layered into a parfait with vanilla soy yogurt. I put a pinch of raw sugar on top just for effect. Wendy City loved it so much she wanted the recipe. Take that Sandra Lee!

I named my menu the Superfoods because it was loaded in nutrients.

My compadres were making oatmeal burgers. I have a reputation in my class for being a pure carnivore. It isn't true, I do like vegetables. Even more so fruit. But I have a reputation to maintain no matter how false, and it is a fun reputation to have. Most people thought I wouldn't make the oatmeal burgers because of my anti-veggie reputation. Not so. Chef said the times he has had them they tasted just like a real hamburger. My client does not, will not, eat red meat. There was no way, no how, I was serving her a food that is like red meat. You should never make your client vomit because of your food. I had to argue this point with Mayfield. He said there was no red meat in the burger so what was the problem. Sometimes it just is not worth arguing.

Unfortunately Chef couldn't find a third of the vegan ingredients for the oatmeal burgers so they had to make some substitutions. New Girl almost vomited I think after she tasted one. I had a big piece and the flavor really was not bad. The texture was awful though. Just a nasty mush. Baby food has better body than these burgers. I had planned on making a black bean burger this week, but after tasting these I changed my mind. I LOVE LOVE LOVE Morningstar Farms (formerly Worthington Foods as in Worthington OH, my hometown) spicy black bean burgers, but they are made with textured vegetable protein (TVP). Without TVP I had my doubts of making a successful black bean burger. Today I noticed that in my recipes I have a black bean burger recipe that I have made, I just forgot. Looking at my notes today, I see I commented on the texture and mush mouth feel of the burger.

I watched everybody plate up. I feel good working with Tennessee. He was making an orange sorbet and wanted something green to garnish it with. Naturally we didn't have any mint. My brain went to working and I came up with using some zest from a lime. He liked my idea, made me feel good. Mayfield on the other hand did not like my questioning his plate. Yes, your oatmeal burger is healthy and nutritious, but serving two of them isn't really a healthy concept. Can we say portion control? RK was looking for some A1 sauce for his. Blech! I never use that stuff. He asked if my Bull's Eye barbecue sauce was the same. My eyes glazed over. Then I noticed a half sheet of what looked like under cooked potato wedges. I called out, "what kind of chips are these?" I thought they might be jicama chips or yucca chips which is something I wanted to do. "Thems is just baked taters," RK replies. Yeah? Your pre-diabetic client is going to love those. If only she knew that RK NEVER EVER washes his hands. I don't eat anything he cooks.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Éireann Go Brách

In college I always wanted to have an Erin Go Bra-less party, girls got in free if they weren't wearing a bra, with proof of course. Sadly, never happened.

On Monday we cooked once again for the local travel club. We had no idea what they were meeting about but it was close enough to March we decided to have St. Patrick's Day as our theme. If I had known ahead of time I would have brought my Irish cookbook, if I could find it. I said we should do a beef stew, shepherds pie, fish and chips and shortbread cookies. All of that got nixed except for the shortbread. Thanks TOM. Chef wanted more ideas. I said bangers and mash which isn't really Irish but close enough to count I think, I've had it at several authentic Irish Pubs. TOM pushed for a dish called Toad in the Hole. TOM explained that it is an Australian dish of a bed of mashed potatoes with the sausages sticking up so they look like toad heads poking out of a hole. While I realize that as a penal colony many Irish were shipped off to Australia, that doesn't make it an Irish dish. Turns out it's and English dish though I suppose it is popular in Ireland, made with Yorkshire pudding batter not mashed potatoes and the sausages lay down instead of poke out. I'm not surprised I am learning that TOM is all bluster, though I think the sausages sticking out would have been a clever touch.

So in the end we had corned beef and cabbage. Even though my heritage is Irish and German I do not eat corned beef and cabbage or sauerkraut for that matter. Blech! Chef did override TOM and added back the shepherds pie. Pizza Girl and The Kid made roasted vegetables, turnips, beets, potatoes, rutabagas and carrots. Slo Mo wore himself out making roasted potatoes. Chico and RK made soda bread. Hotties #2 and #3 made the shortbread. Tennessee, who was in our class as a make up day, I think worked on the potatoes, I'm not sure. New Girl and Sushi Boy 1 made apple cake. MILF chose me to be her partner to make bread pudding.

Except she didn't show up so I was on my own. We had a recipe for New Orleans bourbon bread pudding but we wanted to substitute the bourbon with Bailey's. But Chef did not get any Bailey's so I used a coffee extract. We were supposed to cook for 120 people. They had me sharing a chafing dish with the apple cake but that made no sense because the apple cake was going to be plated, so I got to use full pans. That was excellent because we have a shortage of half pans. What I did not know was that we were doing a double buffet line so I needed a full pan on both sides. This is the downside to things that are decided on Thursday when I am not there. Good thing I made three pans.

Pizza Girl had given the recipe to MILF so I asked PG if she could get me a copy. "Sure, after I finish with this butter." Tennessee wa standing next to me watching her pack a round tablespoon with butter and then scoop in out into a tub. His eyes nearly popped out of his head. I just shook my head and gave him a big Cheshire Cat grin. It's one thing if you scale a recipe for something like cookies and it requires 17 tablespoons of butter; baking is pretty exact with little forgiveness and you need to measure it out. It's another thing if the butter is for roasting vegetables, just round to three sticks! And she's done with school this quarter, she should know better!

I checked in on Sushi 2 and the toads. He was working with Igor and they were wrapping kielbasa in bacon and baking them. The sausages came out of the oven black. They so screwed up this recipe because they never thought about how they were going to serve the dish. They had baked the toad in the hole in full pans but were serving in a round chafer. So they spooned it all out into a round dish. Then they decided the sausages were too big so they cut them in half. In my opinion they were still three times too big. The batter/pudding stuff was nasty. The whole dish looked more like a pile of black dildos in vanilla cake than anything else.

Back on my side Chico and RK are arguing about their soda bread. Neither of these cats ever wash their hands so I wasn't eating any of this. Chico used a wooden skewer to test to see if the bread was done and pulled the pans out. RK had a fit because the recipe said it needed to bake for an hour and needed 25 more minutes of cooking. Back and forth. Chico walked off and RK cut a few slices of bread and then put them all back into the oven. They're both idiots. Later when Chico and Tennessee were slicing up the bread for service I told Chico that next time he could use his thermometer to check to see if his bread was done. HUH? He looked at me like I he was stoned and I had just flipped on the lights. When your thermometer reads 200°F, your bread is done. Like I'm the stupid one.

Earlier I had helped The Kid peel carrots for their roast vegetables. I use my petty knife. It is crazy sharp and I can peel a carrot faster than they can with a peeler. I just have to be careful to not go too deep or I'm hacking up the carrot. I can do it with potatoes too but it isn't as easy with the round shape. I was waiting for the HUGE mixing bowl that we usually use for salads. They were using it to toss their vegetables together before roasting and they were taking their sweet old time. I NEEDED that bowl because it is the only one big enough to do three pans of bread pudding. The Kid tells me that as soon as they finish these carrots I can have the bowl. I grab my knife and take over the cutting board. I asked how he wanted the carrots cut. Half rounds. It's funny that even though they seem to have learned that even sized pieces cook evenly they have not learned that as the carrot tapers down the piece has to be cut larger in order to maintain the same mass. I start in on the carrots and I'm cutting three to four carrots for every one that The Kid is cutting. Come on man, I might be twice your age but you only have one quarter of school left. You've got to have better knife skills than that!

After I get my three pans into the oven I see New Girl and Sushi 1 looking worried; their cake is not complete. Apparently after they had it in the oven a few minutes and were cleaning up they found their baking soda and realized they had forgot to put it in. So they pulled out the cake which was flowing over onto the oven deck and dumped it into a bowl to try to start over and salvage it. They weren't using an extender rack which was also a mistake. We don't use cake pans like you would at home, we have a rack that fits in the full sheet to make the cake sides. This is how the pros do it. They got everything mixed together and back in the oven, this time with the extender, but it was too late the cake just never cooked right. There was some discussion that they had also forgotten the milk. I would have scrapped the whole thing but they spooned the cake into a bowl and served it anyway. We had Toad in the Hole and Cake in a Bowl. Actually it tasted a lot like bread pudding and would have been good with ice cream on top.

I saw Mayfield's and TOM's shepherds pie. I am somewhat of a shepherds pie connoisseur. If I go to an Irish restaurant/pub I'm getting either shepherds pie or fish and chips or both. This was not shepherds pie. They made a bed of seasoned ground beef and onions and topped it with mashed potatoes and cheese. No peas. No carrots. And the meat should be in a sauce, almost like a beef stew. This was not right. Since I gave up beef for lent I did not try it but the mashed potatoes were awesome.

I had two pans of bread pudding out and ready to serve at 11:59. I still don't understand why the rest of them can't do that. Because we had two of each I said I needed a partner to help serve since MILF was not there. Hottie #2 asked why. Because I can't serve both sides at the same time by myself. Duh! She was serving the green shortbread cookies next to me. They were nasty. Remember we were supposed to serve for 120? About half way through all the people we ran out of cabbage, then corned beef and then shepherds pie. We did not run out of vegetables, potatoes, the nasty cookies and of course my bread pudding, because I had three pans, not just one. Dumb asses. Part of the reason is portion sizes. We are supposed to serve about a three ounce portion. My classmates have not learned that yet. People were getting half plates of cabbage, three 3 inch pieces of sausage, etc.

I am pleased to say that my bread pudding was a hit. I had many rave reviews and some people broke the rules and came back for seconds. I was even getting positive comments the next day with the left overs.

Sláinte mhaith!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Field Trip!

Last week on Tuesday we finally got to go to Nori Nori in Atlanta. This trip had been cancelled several times but we were finally going. Bus leaves at 8:30. And at 8:30 there were six of us. Out of eighteen. We were picking up the Sushi Boys and Mouth along the way at Ingle's. We should have picked up RK too but Chef said RK had told him he was not going because he had an interview. Yeah right. New Girl and Pizza Girl were going to meet us there because they live closer to Atlanta than they do here. We were five miles out from school and Chef's phone rang. It was Slo Mo asking where were we. Chef let him off the hook and said he could meet us at Ingle's where we were picking up the Sushi Boys. Of course that meant we were going to have to wait for him since he was now 10 minutes behind us. What an ass. And why does Chef keep coddling him! He's never going to learn.

Mouth was a no show, as to be expected. Slo Mo had Chico with him. Now the Three Amigos were complete since Igor was already sitting in the back of the van. I told him it was his lucky day since both of his girlfriends showed up, he might get laid today. Thank God I remembered my earphones this trip. I covered my head and slept most of the way.

We arrived an hour early. Nori Nori doesn't open until 11:45AM. With time to kill, Chef took us to a bakery a "friend" of his owns, Alon's Bakery and Market. Alon was impressive as soon as he walked into the room. Towering. Alon came over from Israel and opened this place up. His store is HUGE and MY kind of place. I loved every square inch it. The fresh breads, the gelati bar, the meat counter, the deli, the confections and pastries, the wine and cheese. It was all incredible. It's the reason you leave a small town like ours.

Bar Code bought a beautiful focaccia loaf. I bought some Gruyere and walnut crisps after I had tried one of the crackers in the store and nearly fainted they were so good. I also cried though when I got home and opened the bag to find them all crushed into crumbs. The idiots Larry, Darryl and Darryl made one pass through the store and spent the rest of the time smoking outside. What a waste. Their small town brains could have learned so much inside. I don't get why they are in this program.

Finally it was time to go to Nori Nori. New Girl and Pizza Girl were there waiting for us. Bar Code led his posse of lap dogs, The Kid, Tweedledee, Tweedledum, and Tweedledumber next door to the Italian restaurant. Remember, Bar Code doesn't do Chinese food. That pissed me off. If you go on a field trip you don't get to do your own side trips. I can't believe Chef allowed that. It further cemented to me that these are not team players. I don't want them on my team, even if I like Bar Code.

I was the only one who had been to Nori Nori before. I had been bragging about the place and you should have seen everyone's eyes bug out when they walked inside. It was even more impressive than all of my hype. The restaurant is a buffet and is the size of (though not quality of) a Golden Corral. MILF was the last one to finish and everyone at her table made a big deal about how much she ate. But then Hottie #2 said they never saw what I ate. She just ate slow. I had finally called it quits and MILF was still up at the buffet. I told Chef that we needed to leave soon or I was going to be hungry again in a few minutes.

Here is my first trip to the buffet. I pretty much stuck to only sushi with meat (fish) in it. I try to avoid the ones with cream cheese as I have a texture issue with those. I probably passed over an equal number of rolls as what I had on my plate, there are that many to choose from, all made fresh right there behind the buffet line. The soup is crab soup. You have the option of adding items to the soup like tempura fried shrimp, sea weed, noodles and I forget what else. I took mine straight up. The skewer in the middle is rib eye. The skewer in the back is barbecued octopus that was unreal.

For my second plate I began to move away from the rolls and into what I believe is called gunkan and ended with nigirisushi. The third piece clockwise from twelve o'clock with the silvery sliver falling off was pickled mackerel and was out of this world. And I LOVE anything with roe in or on it. Right or wrong, I don't use any sauces or condiments with my sushi. The ring in the center of the plate is for a small bowl for your shrimp sauce, soy sauce, wasabi, or what have you. If I have say six of the same kind I will eat a few with wasabi or a few with soy sauce but in general I don't like to mask the natural flavor of my food. Since I was only eating one piece of each style/kind, I didn't use any sauces. I'm the same way with steak, just give me some salt and keep your A1.

For my third trip, I snagged another rib eye skewer, they were soooo good, and then moved onto the salad bar. This is a sampling of maybe a third of what they offer. I have no idea what I was eating but they were all good. The funky looking black one at four o'clock was the best and I have no clue what it was. Started with an 'H,' I think.

For my fourth trip to the buffet I left the salads behind and hit the hot bar. On the scallop shell is something like a crab cake that was called Seafood Dynamite. It made my eyes roll back it was that good, better than any crab cake. The shrimp skewer has a cream cheese like filling that I didn't know about when I picked it up. The head was tasty but the filling was so so. I can't remember which of those piles is the beef teriyaki, but it was out of this world. Enough to inspire me to marinate some steaks at home this past weekend. Again this is about a third of what they had up on the buffet. I skipped all of the fish dishes. My understanding is that for the dinner buffet they also have crab legs, a carving station and a few other big dishes that they don't have on the lunch buffet.

Finally, dessert. I did get most of all the desserts but still left maybe a quarter behind. I like the fact that all of the desserts are bite sized allowing you to sample so many. The little cup was some type of berry yogurt. The napoleon/fruit tart at the bottom of the plate was the best of the bunch. They also have green tea soft serve ice cream which I did not get but every one else raved about.

All that for...drum roll please.... sixteen bucks! (I drank water). I think dinner is $24. It's more on the weekends but I think the buffet is bigger on the weekends. The under 12 kids' prices are clever. Pricing is by height, less than 3 feet is free, under 4 feet is 1/5 price, and under 5 feet is half price.

After lunch there was so much nagging to go to the oft talked about Asian Market that Chef finally conceded, even though we were only going to have about ten minutes. The Asian Market is in Chamblee which is locally known as Chambodia because of the high Asian population density there. The area used to have a high Hispanic population density which is still evident in the demographics at the market. I guess the market used to be called Hong Kong Supermarket but now is called Atlanta Farmers Market. I wish I had taken some pictures and they don't have a website.

The market was about a third the size of the Dekalb Farmers Market which is my gold standard and Nirvana for me. This market was great though. Unfortunately it would take me ten minutes to enjoy just one side of each aisle so I just made a circle around the whole market. Produce was unreal both in quality and selection. And prices were half of what we pay here at the grocery. The meats were neat. They had packages of fish heads. Sounds strange but all I could think of was how cool it would be to be able to buy one package and be able to go home and make a fresh fish stock. Not something I can do at Ingle's.

I have never seen offal from any animal other than chicken and cows. I saw packages of pork hearts and livers. Duck livers. Man I wanted to try everyone I saw. There were different "cuts" of pigs' feet. I've seen chicken feet before in markets but I had never seen boneless chicken and duck feet before. Don't know how they are used, but I want too.

And there was goat. I love goat. Ever since I had it at Taste of Chicago from an African stand selling a dish called zil zil made with goat instead of beef. Live bullfrogs were $5.99/pound. I really don't know what you do with those. There was so much to see and learn here, unless of course you were Igor, Chico and Slo Mo who preferred to stand in a circle outside smoking.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

It's the Year of the Tiger.

Last week we did our banquet a day early and our theme was Chinese New Year. Once again, me picking the theme. "Chinese food" was suggested, which is a cuisine. I suggested "Chinese New Year," which is a theme. Subtle I know.

Immediately I knew what I was going to make, Hot and Sour Soup. I got tired years ago of not being able to find a good soup when we lived in Bainbridge. Not a single good Chinese restaurant there. To be fair, they aren't any better here.

For some reason our class has shifted from making 6-8 items which we can do well to making 16-18 items which we can't even do half assed. Soup is simple, but I took my time so I didn't get roped into helping out someone with poor planning. My only problem was the chicken stock I had expected to be there from the Principals class never got made. So I had to use chicken base, and it was my downfall. I HATE using bases. I make a mean soup, and it hit all the right notes, except chicken base is so high in salt that the soup was too salty to eat. Really pissed me off. In hindsight maybe I should have poured half of it out and replaced with water and hoped the cooking would have been long enough to not taste watery. I left the pork out so that there was a meatless option, though as I type this I wonder where chicken base falls in the view of the meatless world.

Once again the rest of the class wasn't ready until quarter after noon. This time I said screw it and stood at my station waiting for everyone to come out with their dishes instead of helping. At some point you have to stop being a crutch and let people struggle to walk on their own.

RK made egg rolls, how typical, a Chinese burrito. They were lacking on filling but were pretty. Mouth made little egg rolls and called them spring rolls. I pissed her off because she was the sixth person to ask me where food was supposed to be stationed. It's Chinese buffet, it doesn't matter! Hottie #3 made Peking? Duck, well duck at least. It seemed a little burned to me. Bar Code made crab rangoons, They were pretty neat because he baked them rather than deep frying. They were one of the better dishes served. He disappointed me though because he refused to eat anything we made because he doesn't eat Chinese food. That's an issue and an attidude problem if you me.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

OMG! Not Vegetarian!

Yesterday morning I went out to start the cars, I don't scrape windows, haven't in 15 years. Cars these days come with a built in function called "heat" and have "defroster" settings. Some even have front and rear defrosters. Amazing technology. I could be lazy and buy a remote starter, but it isn't that difficult for me, as long as I don't fall down the steps. Anyway, I went out yesterday morning to start the cars and it was snowing hard. So I went inside to check to see if there was any notice regarding school and there was an email saying school was not closed. Fine. I would appreciate some consistency though. Last time it snowed on a Thursday and on Monday we didn't have school. This time we got about two inches on Friday and had small snow squalls on Saturday and Sunday and it was snowing now. Not a problem for me, I've driven through far worse on a routine basis in Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. But just be consistent.

I got to school a little early. Blue skies. Unbelievable. I think there were 8 of us out of 18. Hottie # 2 called in saying she couldn't get out of her driveway. BS. But what really pissed me off was the school president announced that anyone who missed yesterday was not to be counted absent. So what's the point of being open? It seems the school is in a quandary with snow days, make up days, and staff suffering through furloughs but being asked to work for the make days. And somehow the attendance is tied to state funding and they don't want to risk losing any. It was 45 degrees when I left school yesterday afternoon. And even then people were saying they couldn't get out of their driveways. B-S.

Last night we had a dusting of snow, blue skies at 9:00AM and right now and school was cancelled for "inclement weather." WTF!

At least I will be home for the start of curling!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Last week's nutrition class was a little more difficult because we were not allowed a grocery list. We had to work with what was already in the kitchen. That meant that just because something was in stock when I left on Tuesday, didn't mean that it would be there when I got back to class on the following Monday.

I always try to have three parts to my meals, soup and salad and dessert, salad and entree and dessert, salad and entree and side, etc. I figured I could do a veggie wrap. I would take one of my extreme high fiber tortilla shells from home. I would make hummus and use it instead of mayo and hope for the best on a variety of vegetables.

Trying to figure out a dessert was a little more difficult. I finally decided to go with oatmeal raisin cookies since I knew there would be oatmeal at school. But I was going to have to do some modifications. The classic Quaker Oats recipe called for butter and I couldn't risk using butter for someone with a milk allergy. I searched some vegan recipes for ideas but many of them called for items I knew I wouldn't have access to like apple sauce.

The other obstacle to overcome was the recipe yield was 48 cookies. I need one cookie. I needed to try to reduce the batch size down. My goal was to make a 50g cookie and a four cookie batch. The scientist in me kicked into over drive. The Friday before my class I settled into experiment mode.

Batch Number One was the classic recipe scaled to a yield of four. It worked! Batch Number Two was my attempt at replacing the butter with canola oil. It worked! But then I did my nutrition calculations and decided I needed to get some calories out. With batch Number Three I attempted that by replacing the white sugar with Splenda. The cookies worked again! But I still needed to get rid of more calories. For the last batch I pulled out all stops. In addition to using oil and Splenda, I replaced part of the brown sugar with honey. I also replaced the egg content with egg white. And I upped the oats and reduced the flour to try to pick up a tad more fiber. They took a little bit longer to cook and the cookies had to be flattened with a spatula because they did not spread out. But they did bake.

All of the cookies were made with dried cherries because I couldn't find my raisins. From now on, I'm using cherries. I thought they were SOOOOO much better. For my class I was planning on using dried cranberries because I knew for sure they were in stock. Of course the unadulterated cookie was the best. My wife preferred the cookie with oil substituted for butter though. It had a softer texture. The cookie with Splenda and oil was almost indistinguishable from the one with oil and sugar. The final cookie with all of my changes was not bad. No, it wasn't as good as the previous three but it was still a good tasting cookie. If you had nothing to compare it to and had one fresh, you would come away thinking it was a good but not memorable cookie. Better than many of the nutriloaf cookies available.

I was excited because I achieved my two goals, make a small batch of cookies and a healthier version that still tasted good. In the end I was able to reduce the calories from 211 to 156 and the fat grams from 9g to 6g per cookie. Unfortunately I was only able to increase the fiber content from 1.5g to 1.7g per cookie. Still, it was a noble effort.

I had no idea what to do for the third component for my meal but I kind of had this idea of soup and sandwich that kept popping into my head. I wanted to make a Russian fresh mushroom soup because I was sure that I had fresh mushrooms to work with. But the recipe calls for milk. Ugh. This will only work if I have soy milk and even if I have that, can you make a good tasting soup with soy milk? I decided that I would wing the third part and wait until I got to school and see what I had.

There was soy milk!

For the soup, I halved the batch. It's a stone simple soup made with milk, fresh mushrooms, potatoes and a little barley. Instead of sauteing the mushrooms in butter, I tried with a tiny bit of olive oil. It did not work as well and I ended up overcooking the soup trying to get the mushrooms and potatoes soft. By overcooking I mean that the soup was much thicker than I have made in the past, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, I like thick soups. Of course the thickness could be related to using soy milk instead of real milk. Dunno. It tasted fine though.

I LOVE hummus. Just plain ordinary hummus. I don't need any of those fancy flavors like roasted pepper hummus. I can OD on hummus, and have. If you buy your hummus, stop. It is so damned simple to make and probably better for you than buying pre-made. I made a small batch and spread it on my wrap instead of mayo because if you are like me, you need something moist in your sandwich. I didn't know until later how many calories are in hummus. My nice thick layer of hummus skyrocketed my nutritious wrap to over 600 calories! A little less than if I had given her a Whopper from Burger King!!! If I had known that at the time I would have given her soup and HALF a sandwich, which probably would have been smart regardless. At least the fats from my hummus are far healthier than those in a Whopper. I did send the fiber content into the stratosphere with this meal.

For the veggies, I used a peeler to make thin strips of cucumber, carrot and bell pepper. I added a large leaf of romaine and for whatever reason decided to throw on some bits of broccoli florets. I kind of regret that last one. To take it over the edge, I chopped up some sun dried tomatoes and sprinkled them over the middle. The whole thing rolled well, looked good and had the color that Chef wanted.

Except Chef wasn't there. New Chef liked what I was doing though. I hope I impressed him. He really liked my cookie and was very impressed with the thought process and effort I put into making them. Wendy City wanted her meal to go. I didn't think it was as good as the week before. The broccoli was really bothering me.

Speaking of effort. Mouth came in, pulled three items out of the walk-in that we had left over from lunch, put it on the plate, declared she was done and went home. Is that cooking? I didn't know we were doing Semi-homemade with Sara Lee.

In the end, my client didn't really care for the cookie, but hey, I tried. She did however love the soup and sandwich and appreciated all of my efforts.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Who Dat!

First week of banquet we did a Chili Cook Off. Week Two was An Afternoon in Paris. Week Three was Super Bowl Party. I have no idea what day that was.

Planning was a joke. It took two and a half hours to come up with a menu, it should have taken thirty minutes. Basically we were doing bar food. Some of the ideas were off the wall. Seven layer bean dip. Tasty. Maybe you have it at your Super Bowl Party at your house. You don't get it at a bar. At least not the bars I go to. Slo Mo was indignant on his ideas. Both Bar Code and I were nonplussed. Dude, you aren't even old enough to know what bar food is! He's 19. BC and I both have 19 years of experience on him. Dumb ass.

As we were doing the grocery list, RK asks me, "you know what stuff is the absolute BEST! What's that stuff that comes in a can, got the peppers and onions?" "Ro-Tel?" says I. YEAH. There aint nothing better than that stuff, with that cheese stuff, what's it called. "Velveeta?" says I. YEAH! "I'm going to put that on the list, let's see 4 cans of Ro-Tel and that cheese, how do you spell it?" It took every bit of self control not to tell him to sound it out. He still spelled it wrong, v-e-l-v-e-t-t-a. I told him, there is no way Chef is going to get that for you. That's not cooking! That's dumping out a can and adding fake cheese. Now maybe if you made your own cheese sauce, but not Velveeta.

Another group wanted to make a dipping sauce for meatballs with grape jelly and chili paste. I don't care how great it tastes, that's not a culinary art! I just want to beat my head against a wall sometimes.

I drew Sloppy Joes. The recipe in the book calls for veal shanks but I was going to use the teres major once again. I ask Chef how much meat and put eight pounds down on the grocery list. Slo Mo looks at the list and says, oh good beef is on there. I tell him write down how much he needs. "You gonna use all that?" Yes. Write down what you need. "You touch any of my meat I'll cut your fuckin' hands off!" I tell him. Chef just laughs. That bastard is always doing that kind of thing and then when you go to grab your ingredients, they're gone.

I have a reputation of being a walking talking carnivore with an aversion to vegetables. That's not actually true but I enjoy maintaining the image. I joked with Chef that this recipe was awesome, no vegetables! Chef asked how it was possible to make Sloppy Joes without vegetables. "I don't know but the recipe called for straining the vegetables out." Really a loose meat sandwich than a Sloppy Joe. I did strain out the vegetables but left a few in, a paltry few.

I don't know what happened in the kitchen but it was like the first day of cooking all over again. I was the ONLY one out by Noon. It was pathetic. Slo Mo never even got his jalapeno poppers out. Chafing dishes weren't lit. I don't think any other food was out until quarter after. Pathetic. I met my goal though.

Wouldn't you know it, Chef bought Ro-Tel and Velveeta for that idiot. And RK couldn't even make it right. For someone who LOVES it, he should know to drain the Ro-Tel. It was more of a soup than a dip.

Not a lot of Sloppy Joe fans came though. It tasted good though. Oh well.

Moroccan Medley

After our Afternoon in Paris, I have my nutrition class. Days have blended together now but I believe that we had a planning session for our nutrition class. Or maybe we cooked, I don't remember. I do know that I had asked Chef what our focus for our meal should be and Chef said Mediterranean Diet. Personally I am undecided if the Mediterranean Diet is all that yet. Is it for real or is it a fad? Probably somewhere in between but for sure it is the latest diet craze and frenzy.

Rather than just make something up like the others in my class do, I decided to do Moroccan. I try to make all of my Nutrition meals as three courses. For this one I wanted to do a soup and salad and a dessert. Most of my class is just serving a single salad, or in the case of RK a single empanada/burrito.

In addition to the nutrition summary that I have been providing my client, I started giving her copies of the recipes in case she likes what she eats. I scaled them for two. This puts me exponentially above and beyond my classmates.

The salad was a savory sweet potato salad served at room temperature. The soup was a chickpea and lentil soup with just a little bit of chicken. And for dessert I made a light fruit salad tossed in orange juice and honey. Of all of the food I have cooked in all of my classes, I am most proud of this one.

I was disappointed that afterward Chef said we need to work on our plating, he wants to see more color. He also said we need to focus on portion sizes. Surely he wasn't talking to me?

PS. I got a rave review from my client!

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

An Afternoon in Paris

As I mentioned before, the theme for our first banquet was Paris. It seems that this was begrudgingly chosen. Oh well. Chef assigned people to dishes. He didn't call out my name so that meant I was on set up. I was just getting started when The Old Man came out and said I was working with him.

I had never seen The Old Man (TOM) before so of course I had never worked with him. He said we were making Boeuf Bourguignon. Sweet! I did not know that since my name was not called though I had suggested that when we were planning. I had brought my Julia Child with me so I was prepared. Since I had just made this at home this was not going to be that hard. I gave my book to TOM while I got prepped.

TOM started scaling the recipe and was running into problems because some of the amounts seemed excessive. Chef pulled me aside and showed me the meat we were going to use. Our class consumes a lot of teres major. I would not say this is a "new" cut of meat but it isn't something you see in the stores. It's a small shoulder muscle on the cow. It is quite tender and flavorful and if cut right you can fake a filet mignon easily with it. It seems impossible to over cook it too. You have to prep it though by removing the silver skin which I find to be a PITA. Give me rib eye any day! For some reason Chef can get it fairly cheap so we use a lot of it. We did have to explain to MILF why there were only two cuts per cow. She must have been lost in a daze.

The first step to this recipe is to render slivers of bacon. TOM was upset that I just chopped the bacon up with out weighing it. IT DOESN'T MATTER. While the bacon does get added back into the stew, the primary reason for this step is to brown the beef in the bacon fat. Unfortunately, our bacon got burned beyond usage. I had set it in a pan on the grill which was not being used. I came back later and the grill was on high and my bacon was in the pan burning black. I don't know who turned it on. It's possible that I accidentally bumped the knob with my fat ass, I don't know. But I was pissed. The bacon never made it into the Boef Bourguignon. Shhhhh, don't tell TOM, he never knew.

I bring the meat out and TOM and I start to prepping it. We chunk it up and I start to throw it in the biggest brazier I can find and then get the other half of the meat. TOM stops me and asks how much meat do we have, did I weigh it? Huh? We need to weigh it so we have our proportions right. Come on, man! This is nothing more than French stew. OK fine. I guess 15 pounds, he says better than twenty. I get a balance and it weighs in at 22 pounds. I start browning the meat while he begins chopping up the vegetables. We've got too much meat and I can't find another large brazier so I take two smaller ones and have three going at the same time.

I figure it's best to avoid TOM so I pretty much keep to watching the meat. TOM chops up the vegetables and asks my opinion on the quantity. IT'S FINE! At this point TOM is getting upset that we don't have the garlic in or any of the other spices and we only have an hour and a half left. IT'LL BE OK. Damn! I take the carrots and onions and start browning them. I grab the red wine and TOM tells me to use just a little. He says that Port is pretty strong stuff. Good to know. See you can learn something from anyone.

I turn around at this point and see TOM crushing bay leaves up. Huh? Dude, what are you doing? You can't crush those up! He says, "yes you can. If anyone asks, we'll just say the lawn got mowed today." Huh? You're going to put those in a sachet right? No. I look pleadingly at Chef. Now he asks what the hell TOM is doing. Chef scolds TOM explaining you can do that with fresh bay leaves but with dried you'll kill someone as they choke to death on one. Count how many you put in and take that same number out. Whew! My trust is TOM is now gone.

Sadly I'm forgetting a lot now, but all went well. The stew was phenomenal, maybe a little too salty but that was TOM's doing. And we forgot the mushrooms. Oh well.

Here is the Coq au Vin, which was my suggestion, made by Bar Code. Potatoes Lyonnaise, which were awful, made by Slo Mo, and a really bad version of crepes made by Hottie #3 and RK.

And here is the Boef Bourguignon!!!

Personal Chef 101

Time is moving so fast I'm losing track of where I am and what I need to post.

My Nutrition class is basically Personal Chef 101.

Here is my first class effort:

Roasted Pepper and Olive Salad

Pan Seared Chicken Breast on Couscous with Green Beans and Cinnamon Gelato

I was pleased with the dish and I received a rave review from my client. It has somewhat of a Greek theme with the the olives, couscous and chicken. I'm not so sure that the couscous is actually couscous. Chef said it was but then Chef ordered a new case it it doesn't look like this stuff, but again, my client liked it, whatever it was. The chicken was seasoned with cracked pepper, cumin and turmeric. The "couscous" was tossed with onion, peppers and tomato. The green beans were seasoned with nutmeg. The gelato is not a true gelato since no custard is used. Cornstarch is used as a thickener instead. I also had to use soy milk because my client has a milk allergy. The taste was good but the texture was off. I would say it was closer to pudding than ice cream. It reminded me a lot of tapioca pudding. All in all I was pleased with my first effort. In looking at the picture, I could have done a little better on my plating.

We did this meal after cooking in the morning for our banquet class. That meant I was cooking or washing dishes from 8:30 to 4:30 with a break from 12:00 to 1:00 to serve food and eat. My ass was dragging. My feet and legs hurt so bad. I could feel myself move slower and s-l-o-w-e-r and slooooooowwwwweeeeerrrrr. I once saw a Red Wings hockey game that went to six overtimes. By the sixth period it looked like they were skating on slush instead of ice they were moving so slow due to fatigue. That is exactly how I felt.

Looking around the class, my buddy Tennessee was attempting to wing it with no prior plan. Fried prosciutto in a pesto cream sauce on homemade pasta. Kudos for home made pasta rather than processed and refined stuff, but not really a healthy meal overall. And damn that prosciutto was salty! Took me hours to get the taste out of my mouth.

Good ol' RK took three hours to make empanadas. They were the size of of a Hostess cherry pie, if not bigger. Granted they had a savory filling with rice and olives and raisins, but they were deep fried and HUGE! That was his entire plate too. He made eight, we're serving one. Some people just don't get it.

She's My Cherry Pie...

Growing up I never liked birthday cake. Now if I do have a birthday cake, I want it to be chocolate chocolate chip, which is my favorite cake. But that said, I'm still not a cake fan. I'll take pie every time. Cold pie mind you. When I was a kid my Grandmother always made me a cherry pie for my birthday. It even had birthday candles on it. So for my birthday this year, my wife made me a cherry pie. Rose helped too. Those large vent holes are from her fingers.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

And It's Magically Nutritious

As I said, I'm taking two classes this quarter. In the afternoon I have my Nutritional Food and Menu Development class. Basically this is Personal Chef 101. As usual, the class started off slowly and spiraled down from there.

While our chili was cooking, I purchased my book for class in the school bookstore. Chef told me to buy the In Good Taste book. I cocked my head and said OK. I had noticed that everyone else had a book titled Nutrition for Foodservice and Culinary Professionals. In the book store the In Good Taste book was labeled as "required" and the Nutrition book was labeled as "recommended." Very good. Halfway through class Chef asks who has their book and a few start whining about how they don't. At that point I hold up my copy and ask, "I thought we were using this one?" Yes. Then the fireworks started. Whine, whine, whine. You told us to get the other book. Whine, whine, whine. WTF, you people can't read? (more on that later).

The issue apparently is the cost of the books. They are almost $100 in the book store. You can go online and buy a new one for half that and a used one for a tenth. For me, the class was that day and I needed the book so I bought it. I don't mean to sound like a snob, but I don't care how much the books cost. When I was in college and books were listed and ASSIGNED it was your responsibility to read the assignements BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY. That meant, buy, borrow, photocopy, rent, whatever (we didn't have online sources back then, heck, we only had one bookstore, you bent over and took it). These guys are holding up the whole class because they don't want to shell out more than $5 for a used book plus $4.95 in shipping. Grow up dammit. That's like me not showing up to work because I don't have the money to buy steel toe boots. Find a way!

So any way, our modus operandi for this class is to pick someone in the school and cook a meal for them every Tuesday (or Monday if conflicts arise). We are to interview our client about their dietary needs. Cool. I can do that.

Holy shit! First we had to have a ten minute debate, explanation and just mental tripping over what a "meal" is. If you ever criticized Bill Clinton for asking the definition of the word "is" then you can shut up now since I just witnessed ten people, culinary art students, future chefs, asking for the definition of a "meal" and a "plate". Thank God my knives were locked up in a locker.

We also have to keep a notebook with our meal planning and nutritional data. It will be graded and I quote "I want you guys to put some effort into this quarter." You want me to keep a notebook? A lab notebook? Thank you Lord! This plays to my metallurgical engineering strengths.

Small scale cooking with a scientific approach? Now we are in my realm. New Girl is a former med-student so I think she and I will be the ones that shine in this class.

Not knowing a single person in the school I asked Chef for help. He recommended the receptionist, Wendy City. She's pissed me off in the past, but maybe some good food is the key to getting on her good side. She was agreeable to me cooking for her. I learned she's Type II, has a milk allergy, a shellfish allergy, does not eat red meat or catfish. Good, a challenge. I'm Type II also, so I won't need any research there, that part will be easy. Seven years of diabetic nutrition classes and I think I have that aspect down cold.

I came back told Chef and he was pleased. Now for the meal plan. I was thinking a salad, chicken and vegetable and a small dessert to cleanse the palate. I understand why Chef wanted us to use the In Good Taste book, it's a cookbook, the other is a text book, no recipes. First thing I find is a Roasted Pepper and Olive Salad. It uses kalamata olives so I immediately think Greek. I find a recipe for Pan Seared Chicken Served on Couscous and Green Beans. Perfect. To finish, a pseuso-ice cream made with skim milk, yogurt and ricotta. Yogurt just screams Greek.

I'm all set, I figure up my calorie count, proteins, and carbs based on the nutrition info given for each recipe. Looking good, about 700 calories. I start making my grocery list. Dammit, she's got a milk allergy. A ha! Cinnamon Gelato! Maybe I can substitute soy milk for the milk and get it to freeze? Chef says it's worth a try. Sweet! I'm ready to go and work out my details at home.

At that point Mayfield asks Chef about serving some of last quarter's Stollen as a dessert. What? For those that don't know, Stollen is the better tasting rich uncle of fruit cake. Chef frowns, "what are you talking about?" "The stollen bread we made. That stuff is so gooood. It'd be a great dessert Chef," says Mayfield. Yeah, like a piece half inch by half inch! Chef told him, "you have to remember what class you're in. This is NUTRITION."

Friday, January 22, 2010

Two A Days

Back when I was single, rebounding and lean(er) and mean I used to work out twice a day at the gym, once around 11:00 AM and again around 11:00 PM. I don't know if I ever felt better. This quarter at school I am taking two classes on Mondays and Tuesdays. I have Banquet from 8:30-1:30 and then I have Nutrition from 2:00-5:30. It's a long day for someone who hasn't worked regular hours in ten years.

Tuesday we finally resumed classes after a week off for snow days and MLK on Monday. I was there early as usual. Bar Code came over and told me that Chef had to drop Slo Mo. Really?!? Yep, he missed all last week. He was sitting in jail. Sweeeeet! "That makes my year!" I told him.

I asked BC why he was setting up the buffet line. I mean surely we can't be doing a buffet, we haven't even had class yet. "We're doing a chili cook off," Bar Code told me. Well damn, if I had known that I would have brought one of my recipes from home. Oh well, I'll just join somebody else and ride their coattails.

The class began to fill in, slowly. Chef was apparently at the grocery getting chili supplies. New Chef was mingling with us. I can see he's getting antsy as we're not in the kitchen yet and it's 9:15. I don't know if he hears me but I tell him this group does not do well without leadership. Finally a few of us head into the kitchen and the rest slowly follow.

On my way in RK stops me and asks if I am in a group yet. Damn. Deep breath. No I don't. "Well why don't you and me team up. I got this recipe that I used at home a couple times and it's pretty good." Fine, no problem, I'll meet you in the kitchen. Sushi Boys are in this class too and and look lost so I tell them to join in with us, kind of dilute my time with RK.

Sushi Boys and RK head into the kitchen, I wash up and start filling the sinks and assembling the dishwasher. At this point Chef comes in and herds everyone out. We all sit down. Class has begun. Sign in, brief, ever so brief review of rules. Chef wants to do some neat banquets this quarter and wants us to put more effort into it. Come up with some themes. Find out what is involved in an Italian Wedding, or a Greek Wedding, or a Clam Bake. Mouth wants to do a wedding cake with birds that fly out of it. Nasty! Who wants bird shit in their cake? Salmonella Surprise Cake. She says it's an Italian Wedding thing. Chef says he's never ever seen that happen, but she can do a wedding cake if she wants.

Monday we have a big luncheon for the Travel Club and we need to think of what we want to do. I ask where there are going or what they are discussing. Chef says Valentines Day, "so what pops into your mind when I day that?" I say Paris. He looks at me confused. I say Valentines Day = romance and Paris is the city of romance. We could do an Evening in Paris, serve French food. No one seems to like the idea.

What's this! Slo Mo is here. Chef tells him he had to drop him and he needs to go to the office to be reinstated. Son-of-a-bitch! He's going to let that fucker back in! No lesson learned here. Damn it! Slo Mo's not allowed in the kitchen though, too much liability risk if he cuts himself or something since Slo Mo is now officially not a student. Thank God!

Chef says we are doing a chili cook off competition. Pair up in twos and each pair will be assigned a number. Sweet! I tell Chef I want to do Cincinnati Chili. Fine, who's your partner. I point next to him and say, "I want New Girl." I look over my shoulder at RK, sorry Bud, if this is a competition I want to win. Doh!!!!!!!!!!!! Bar Code is laughing his ass off. I didn't intend for that to come out sounding mean, but at the same time, I don't really care if he took it that way. It was true.

So after Chef goes on a long dissertation on not using the Internet for recipes and to use books, especially those in the school library, I tell New Girl we're going to look on the Internet because I know the library won't have a cookbook with Cincy Chili in it and I don't have my recipe with me. I couldn't remember the link for the recipe I wanted (Pleasant Hill Chili by the way). I found one that looked like it would work and away we went.

New Girl is not so new. She's a transfer from Chattahoochee because the two classes she needs to finish, Banquet and Nutrition, aren't offered this quarter and she wants to finish NOW. I think she is originally from here, her mom lives here so New Girl just comes up on Sunday and goes back home on Wednesday. In talking with her, her program sounds much more intensive than ours and she knows a lot more than us. It also sounds like all of her instructors took Gordon Ramsay as their role model and New Girl is grateful to be here.

We've got about a two hours now to serve since Chef led us back out late. No problem, not like chili is hard. Everyone else is in a panic but what's my mantra? Everything is Zen. I tell New Girl I want to prep every thing first. I'm looking around and everyone is weighing and measuring. Whatever. We need two pounds of ground beef. I take whatever the Sushi boys have left over after they are done weighing. Close enough. I set New Girl on chopping while I gathered the spices and start the meat cooking. We're simmering away in thirty minutes and have nothing but time to kill. I start in on the dishes, per usual and let New Girl meet some people.

WTF! I just don't get it. Slo Mo is in the kitchen making bread pudding. I guess he's just not allowed near a knife? I'm a rule follower. I might not always like the rules, but I follow them. And I enforce rules when it is my place to do so. So this just pisses me off to no end.

Bar Code and The Kid's chili looks like salsa. Hottie #2 and Hottie #3's vegetarian chili looks like I don't know what but it isn't chili, maybe stir fry. Broccoli in chili? RK's asking Chef questions about his recipe. I thought this was a recipe he's used at home before? He doesn't know what he's doing? MILF asks me to taste her chili; she thinks it is missing something. It is. I ask what she has in it and suggest another teaspoon of chili powder. She comes back later and says that was it. Chef hears her and knocks us both down a rung. "This is a competition, we DO NOT help each other." No problem. One needs to establish the rules and expectations ahead of time, but now I know. Mayfield is trembling. RK asks to taste Mayfield's chili and when he starts to offer a "friendly" suggestion, Mayfield shuts him up. Then RK asks what does "banquet" mean? You have got to be kidding me!

Show time. New Girl and I drew slot #1, which is good. This is a self serve line, which upsets me because now I have to explain how to build a 3-Way Cincinnati Chili. Chef snaps at us for all sitting down, but we've never done a self serve line before so none of us knew or understood we were still supposed to man our stations. Live and learn. Bar Code has slot #2 and we have some friendly banter selling our chili as people come through the line since they will all be voting for the best chili. Our chili is spot on. I know. I used to eat a lot of Hard Times Chili and we had just eaten at Skyline two weeks ago. Oh yeah, and I'm from Ohio too. The color was an amazing burnt burgundy color (I need to start taking pictures of the food we cook) and you could smell the sweet spiciness of the cloves and cinnamon. New Girl liked it even though she had never had Cincy style before. And I soon realized that was a problem. Neither had anyone else. I watched people skip the noodles. I watched them put the noodles in their sample cup and then put someone else's chili on top. One woman complained that we didn't put olive oil on the noodles. WTF! This isn't Italian food. One woman skipped the sampler cup and loaded her plate UP! She loves Cincinnati Chili, her mom used to make it every week. She gave ours a thumbs up, second only to her mom's. I told New Girl that if we came in less than second place, I was going to be mad.

We got to eat last. RK's chili was gone so I didn't get to taste his. Bar Code's was good but his beans were not done. Same problem we had last quarter with baked beans. We need a pressure cooker. MILF's steak chili was ok, the meat was good. The veggie "chili" was ok, would have been great with some chicken chunks, a la chicken stir fry. My vote for the best would have been Sushi Boys. Votes were tallied and.... drum roll please.... we came in third. Damn it! I don't know who came in second, it might have been Sushi Boys. First place and winners of a cookbook went to Hotties #2 and #3 with their Vegetarian Chili. All I can do is shake my head.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Anything Is Pastable at Home

Yesterday I played with some new toys I got for Christmas. Trying to figure out what to do for dinner I decided on an old family standard, Beef Stroganoff. I had thawed out a chuck roast over the weekend to use because dinner fell through. At the time I had trimmed all the fat off (which I saved to render down) and de-boned it and then just put it back in the fridge.

I already had a couple of bags of egg noodles in the pantry. My family only uses the No Yolks brand, I don't know why, but that is what my Mom always used. Good enough reason for me. I haven't liked alternatives that I have tried. I also prefer their short dumpling noodle to the extra wide one. But yesterday I decided to break out my new toys. My in-laws spoiled me with their over indulgence and gave me pasta attachments for my stand mixer!!!

I've made pasta before in school. It's not hard. Like making homemade yogurt, I don't think making your own pasta is economically any better, probably not even healthier, but it is fun, their is a sense of satisfaction and I am really into this concept of knowing what is going into the food I eat. By making my own pasta I control that.

Here's my ball of pasta dough made with semolina flour. The dough knife was also a Christmas gift.

Rolling the dough out after it had rested.

Cutting the wide noodles for the beef stroganoff.

I was making the noodles early in the afternoon so I let them just semi-dry out on the counter.

Here is my pile of finished noodles. I found they were easiest to cut to length after they were mostly dry. I just used the dough knife as a chopper.

I was debating on whether or not to grind the meat or not. Since I already had the stand mixer out (not like it is ever put away) I decided to slap the meat grinder on where the pasta attachments had been and grind away. Home ground meat is always superior to store bought and this is a case where controlling the food that goes in is important.

The meal was great! The noodles were better than I would have thought. As in my class, I find that homemade noodles don't cook quite as tender as store bought, but they were still very good. I also think they held the sauce better.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What Have You Been Doing With Your Life?

"Uh... professional killer."

"Oh! Good for you, it's a growth industry."

(One of the greatest, funniest, most under appreciated movies of all time).

I can't believe I went a whole quarter without posting. I'm sorry if anyone out there was looking forward to my school exploits. I guess I was really busy though I can't tell you at what. You know how it is. There's so much to cover that I guess at this point I should just summarize and move on.

Last quarter was American Cuisine. Sadly that had to be defined for RK. I'm not sure which word he didn't understand. I missed the first two classes because I was working in Alabama but hit the ground running the second week. Pizza Girl had the first week, her assignment was New England. I made the Boston baked beans for her except neither she nor I realized her recipe called for cooking the beans for 6-8 hours. Needless to say they came out way underdone, down right inedible. Live and learn.

In week 2 or 3 I think, I sliced my finger open and needed five stitches. It was Karma really. Early in the morning I was joshing with Tennessee, making fun of others knife skills, particularly RK. Later in the day I was talking to MILF while chopping parsley. I was looking to the side talking to her and when I looked back I realized my finger was not supposed to be under my knife. Too late. That of course prevented a lot of blogging.

Tennessee and I were assigned Mid Atlantic. We were to go week 4. I spent almost all of my free time prepping for that. I traded T the report writing and PowerPoint presentation for physical labor and dealing with the "workforce." It turned out to be a good move on my part. T is a short timer and one of two in our class who actually works in a kitchen. He has a lot of experience and was great to work with. We were the first group to not use a straight line buffet table and to decorate the table, a trend that continued. We truly raised the bar to another level.

Our menu.

My mantra in the kitchen is Everything's Zen. I lost my cool once during our week though. Slow Mo was supposed to make the potato chips. Well actually Slow Mo was supposed to make salad dressings but he kept bailing and disappearing. I got mad and put him on potato chips. Then he disappeared again. So I grabbed Scooter, who doesn't have a full deck, and put him with Igor to make the potato chips. I came back into the kitchen after checking on the buffet table at least twice and no chips were being made. When I asked why I got four different excuses. At that point I started slamming the table with my hand, "I don't care just make the fucking potato chip!" T lost it later when we needed people out serving and Igor and Slow Mo were frying the chips along with at least two other people. "Guys, how many people does it take to make potato chips! Get out there!"

I'm not sure which week it was but one week I snapped and went after Slow Mo. We were working the buffet and he kept disappearing. I was trying, struggling, to work three stations. He popped back in and Igor asked where he had been. At the same time the two of them are constantly touching each other, slapping and kicking like kids. In Slow Mo's typical Vanilla Ice voice, "I was taking a shit mannnnn. You don't believe me, you can go in there and smelllll it." This was while we were serving. I turned around and said, "Why don't you two go back in the kitchen and pump each other. On second thought, just leave. Get out of here if you aren't going to be professional." I grabbed Slow Mo by the back of the neck and marched him straight into the kitchen. We didn't see him the rest of the day. At the end of class he sat and sulked during the presentation. I heard that on the following Monday the whole class lit into him. Ever since that day, he got into it with someone in class. I guess I was the enabler that empowered people to stand up to him. I apologized to Chef for my behavior, if I was out of line, but he smiled and said Slow Mo had it coming.

Those are the highlights I think for the class. Sorry, I'm sure it would have been more entertaining week to week, there's a lot that I have forgotten and am passing over. Truthfully the class peaked with T and my week. No one else put forth the effort that we put in. I'm really hoping some people drop. Baby Face did get canned. Chef told Slow Mo to not come back and take plumbing, but I know he will be back. Chef did lay down the law on the final day after Super Clean up. NO MORE CELL PHONES IN CLASS!!! Yeah!!! These guys are constantly texting, surfing and listening to music and not paying attention. He says he is going to start enforcing the attendance policy, we'll see but I know a handful of people will not be receiving grades for last quarter for too many misses. But unfortunately they have the option to make up the classes instead of failing. Kind of toothless if you ask me. We do have to start wearing our neckerchiefs. I'm not crazy about that but will gladly trade it for the no cell phone policy.

Oh wait, one last nugget. One week Chico comes out to refill the soup. I made the soup and put it in a container in the warmer that was easy to handle with a larger potful behind it. Chico transfers the large pot to a pitcher and then brings both the pitcher and the pot out to the buffet table to refill the chafing dish. Huh? He pours the soup from the pitcher in first and then part of the pot into the chafing dish. Then he sets the pot of soup, dripping down the side, on the WHITE LINEN table cloth and looks at the rest of us and asks "what should I do with this?" Me, being a smart ass replies, "Oh, just leave it there." AND HE DOES!!!! What a dumb ass.

In the mean time, I haven't done a lot of cooking at home, but I did make a few dishes that are noteworthy. Ham braised in Madeira, boeuf à la bourguignonne, and fruit cake, waffles, banana bread, and turkey hash for example. Rose and I made a lot of cookies together. I want to discuss cooking with kids more. I just need to find some time.

The winter quarter of classes started yesterday but classes were canceled due to "inclement weather." I'm not sure why, it snowed last Thursday and everything was clear. Classes were again cancelled for today. So I have not started my Banquet or Nutrition classes yet. Monday is a holiday and the school is closed so we will see what next Tuesday brings.

And that's where I am. I think.