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.