Archive for May, 2010

May 31, 2010

The 5 Day Chef

Boy am I the happiest kind of TIRED you can be.  Thank you for your comments, emails, words of encouragement, and even your wildly high expectations of me (i.e. – suggesting I try out for “Top Chef”).  I’d like to take this opportunity to remind those of you expecting greatness that I attended culinary school for 5 DAYS.

I did learn some great tips and tricks I can apply to my home cooking, like how to make pasta from scratch; the best way to “skim” stocks (use a skimmer – I get to buy a gadget – woo hoo!); and even how to cut a mango.  Mostly it was confidence building – I knew a lot of the techniques covered, but learned how to do them better and why.  But I also learned that having restaurant-quality, “mac daddy” equipment sure does help.  I’ve never seen a big pot of water boil so fast and as unhealthy as it is, it’s pretty awesome to use a fryolater machine.

Looks like my kitchen at home

Each day we began class at 7am sharp (I got to sleep in until 6 after the first day!) with a lecture.  Topics included techniques like knife cuts, roasting, grilling, pan-frying, sauteing and deep-frying.  Then we went over the “production assignments” for each team, meaning the recipes we had to cook using the methods covered in class.  After a short coffee and holy-crap-that-is-the-best chocolate banana muffin/lemon poppyseed cake/strawberry scone-ever break (the latter courtesy of those pesky pastry students), we cooked our little hearts out for 3 – 4 hours straight.  Here are some of my team’s results:

I made the goat cheese croquettes on the left, the pasta, helped with the green beans, and provided moral support for cooking that tasty 40 clove chicken pictured.

In addition to the platters, each team had to prepare a “demo plate” of their completed meals for discussion and critique after lunch.  So we cooked, ate each other’s cooking (along with the freaking pastry student’s extra desserts from class), and then talked about what worked and what didn’t.

The demo plate for the platter above

The last day we cooked from our own production plan.  We were given a “market basket” list and the assignment to create a complete meal, including soup, from the ingredients.  Appropriately enough, our ingredients were Spanish and begged to be made into paella and tapas!  So my team trudged off to the library to peruse the biggest cookbook collection next to the one at the Library of Congress.  And guess who my little soup angel was?  Jose Andres, of course!  Jose, Amy T. (a work buddy) and I go way back.  We are trying as hard as we can (along with our friend, Lisa, who missed the Jose sighting/fawning) to become family at Jaleo, the delicious tapas restaurant near our office downtown.  His cold tomato soup was delightful, and he inspired our peppers stuffed with goat cheese and patatas bravas – fried potatoes in romesco sauce.

Tomato Soup for 14

Our Spanish demo plate

Can you tell I had fun?  It was all I hoped it would be and more.  I’ll start saving my pennies for the next class, as soon as we get back from Spain.  (I hear the Euro is weak and it may be a good time to shop…)  I do hope to post updates from Spain, and fortunately for you they won’t be this long!  Here are a few more photos of the cooking part of my adventure.  Adios!

One of our stations

A fellow team at work

A small part of our typical lunch buffet. The staff started popping their heads into the kitchen around noon each day, especially after they realized we weren't terrible cooks.

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May 25, 2010

CILT Program – Chef In Lots of Training

Oh my goodness am I having fun!  This program is EXACTLY what I hoped it would be – lots of learning and hard work.  And that’s just the eating part!  It’s an embarrassment of riches here, and my only mistake was taking this course right before bathing suit season.  You can start the day off with a full breakfast of you’d like, then you eat a huge lunch that includes desserts that the pastry students made in their classes (we share the same building, unfortunately), and at night we’re making our way through 3 course dinners at the CIA’s amazing restaurants on campus.  It’s almost too much to take.  (I can hear the violins, I know.)

Thyme Terrace - all the streets on campus are named after herbs. Cute!

This next section is for my mom, Lyn Satisky, and Anne Sherman who I know are just teeming with questions:

  1. There are 13 people in the class
  2. There are only 1 or 2 annoying people in the class so far, and neither are in my cooking group (thank goodness)
  3. Yes, they divided us up into 4 groups and we cook together in the same group all week
  4. Yes, I get to do plenty – just today I made macaroni and cheese from scratch, assisted a teammate with the salad, and plated our “demo” plate to be evaluated by the chef
  5. No, the chef isn’t like Gordon Ramsey – he’s quite nice and happy to provide guidance and help
  6. I get to bring all the recipes home
  7. Yes, I’ll cook for you, but don’t expect greatness – it’s just one week!
  8. The best part is dirtying tons of dishes without having to wash them myself (yes – just like at home, Adam)
  9. Fun fact/observation: the campus used to house a Jesuit school, and the dining hall reminds all of us of the Hogwarts dining hall in the Harry Potter series

And now for the photo I promised of me in my “whites” and toque.  I took this in the mirror in my hotel room, so it’s pretty goofy.  I haven’t had time to ask one of my classmates to take one, so I’ll try to get another soon.

Yesterday we spent the day learning knife skills and cuts and got to smell and taste a lot of new and exotic sauces and condiments.  (Needless to say, we all shied away from tasting the fish paste.)  Today we learned about high-heat cooking, and then were let loose in the kitchen where we cooked our hearts out for three hours straight.  We essentially cooked each other lunch, and got to taste each team’s dishes.  Tomorrow it’s grilling and I’ve called the lamb dish my team was assigned – wish me luck!

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May 25, 2010

For David (and the other non-believers)

My co-workers, and especially my boss, give me a hard time because I’m not exactly the early bird in the office.  Mind you, they’re former bank staffers and one is an Air Force retiree…and I came from an ad agency.  9am at an agency is dawn; for my colleagues it’s lunch time.  So they got a big kick out of my start time for culinary boot camp on Monday – 6am.  In their defense, my family was chuckling some too.  So to them I present the proof: this is the time I LEFT my hotel room yesterday.

Departure time

Nothing bad happened, except I lost the keys to my rental car sometime during the day yesterday.  I also forgot a bag I checked at dinner –  which I realized right as we pulled into the hotel parking lot, and had to go all the way back to the restaurant.  The good news: the keys turned up this morning, and the poor classmate who’s staying at my hotel and chauffeured me around last night is still speaking to me.  I think sleeping in until 6 helped.

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May 23, 2010

I Stayed at a Holiday Inn Express Last Night

After a great 24 (almost) hours in NYC, I’m here in the beautiful Hudson River Valley. The train ride along the river was lovely and relaxing, and I spent most of the evening exploring and getting settled.

I found a great local restaurant that had seating overlooking the kitchen, and got to watch my soft shell crabs cooked to order. After this week I’ll be able to give them some pointers…because I’m staying at a Holiday Inn Express and all.

I could get used to views like this.

May 23, 2010

Requirements

Springtime rooftop access is my new NYC requirement – shared with best buddies of course.

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May 22, 2010

Eat, Pray I Don’t Gain Too Much Weight, Love

Today is the day!  I’m staring my six-week “AARP Renewal” adventure of cooking, eating, drinking, traveling, eating, spending time with family and friends, and eating some more.

I’m mostly excited with a dash of overwhelmed.  Honestly, I’m just feeling plain lucky – though I worked hard for this privilege and completely deserve it!  So thank you for thanking me, AARP.

Speaking of thanks, I have the best co-workers ever.  They took me out for a bon voyage lunch yesterday which you’d think was wonderful enough, but it wasn’t for them.  Check out my cute new apron, one of many thoughtful and useful gifts for all my travels.  David even parted with that bottle of Spanish Rioja eventually, though it did involve some prying of fingers.  (Jeanne is on the left, and Julie insisted on taking the photo!)

Yes, we dress alike as much as possible because it promotes team spirit.

I’ll be in NYC with the U of R crew tonight, and then I’m off to Hyde Park, NY via Poughkeepsie tomorrow.  Wheeeee!

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May 18, 2010

Foundation + Summer Tomato Pasta

I love food. I love to cook it, eat it, talk about eating it, read about cooking it…you get the idea. I don’t like to read about other people eating because I often get too jealous and want to go to Tuscany/Singapore/India and eat the bolognese, street food, dal, etc. they’re sampling too. It makes reading Saveur both heavenly and torturous at the same time.

I don’t know when my food obsession started, but I do remember when I decided to really learn how to cook. It was the summer between my junior and senior year of college, and I was living on my own for the first time (as much as one can in a house with five other people and one bathroom which is a whole other story that shouldn’t be told while discussing food). And let me tell you, I was an AWFUL cook. Some things turned out fine, but I wasn’t very good about following recipes carefully. I didn’t have the experience using my own instincts to make up for the lack of focus yet. My boyfriend at the time later admitted that he had to make lots of trips to Wendy’s on the way home from the dinners I cooked that summer. I know this because he exclaimed one time, “Wow! This is really…GOOD!” in a way that left no doubt that there was a time my cooking wasn’t.

Now cooking is my outlet for creativity, and a way for me to relax. I like it almost as much as perusing the farmer’s market (almost any farmer’s market is my favorite place on earth). I love the height of the summer, when the berries are ending and the peaches are just starting and it takes all my willpower not to buy a whole 17 pounds to make cobbler and pie and sauces and… Years ago, I used to “punish” myself for buying way too much produce and letting it rot by skipping a week at the market. I practice much better self-control now, and having a husband happy to eat what I make helps too.

Here’s my favorite you-have-to-go-to-the-farmer’s-market-to-make-it “recipe.” As I mentioned, I don’t do recipes well, so this isn’t exact. An eccentric Greek scientist told me how to make this over the phone while we were waiting for others to join us for a conference call at work. I never talked to him again, but I’ve often thought about trying to find him and thank him, and I imagine passing it along is a way of doing just that.

He said to take a few big, ripe, juicy tomatoes (they MUST be farm or home-grown summer tomatoes) and cook up a pot of pasta – be sure to salt the cooking water (and I think penne, or shells work better with this than noodles, but it’s a preference thing). While the pasta is cooking, put a few hunks of soft-ish cheese that melts easily such as feta or mozzarella into the serving bowls. When the pasta is ready, divide it among the bowls, and grate those big, juicy tomatoes on a box grater (the largest holes work best) right over the bowls, discarding the skin once you’ve grated down to it. The tomato comes out of the grater in a thick, pulpy consistency, and the pasta melts the cheese and warms the tomato so you get a nice fresh sauce. Just add some salt and pepper to taste and you’re done. Adjust the cheese amounts to your liking too – I bet it would even work without it. I may try to add a little splash of good balsamic vinegar when I make it this summer, but only a little because the best part is that fresh tomato taste. Is it July yet???

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