Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Third day of Lunch Cookery, third day in my new group with Stella and Earl, third day's the doosy. I call our dish today the silent hoagie because, well, I worked in complete silence for about 3 hours apart from the small amount of interaction I had with Stella on her way to and from the meat slicer. Earl and I, working within two feet of one another, didn't say a word the entire time.
I came into the kitchen to find a Hidden Valley Ranch packet sitting on Earl's cutting board and when I asked what it was for he said he wanted to season our "gaufrette potatoes" with them. Puzzled, I said I would rather make some sort of spice mixture up ourselves since we're in school and I want to learn how to do it. He said there was no way to make this specific "sour cream" spice mixture and that the packet would have to do. I asked if he thought Chef would be okay with it since it didn't seem like something he would condone. "Chef told me in class it was fine," Earl told me, annoyed. With that I took the packet to Chef just to be sure it was okay for us to use a packet like that for our seasoning. Chef said he didn't think Earl was talking about a packet like that and suggested we make two batches, setting aside the one we made from scratch to be plated and served. As I told Earl this Chef came over and reiterated what he had just told me. Once Chef left our station Earl started walking out of the suite and right as he passed me mumbled, "Thanks Vanessa." Feeling like he was taking this a little too seriously I approached him and told him I wasn't trying to stifle his ideas but rather wanted to learn how to do it and be creative with the dish. He cocked his head towards mine while keeping his eyes fixed on cleaning potatoes and said sternly, "I don't want to talk to you, I have NOTHING to say to you." From there he completely ignored me. I tried to ask him something about the mandolin and received a harsh cold shoulder. He wouldn't even look at me throughout the whole day! I felt like he made me out to be the wicked witch from the west or something. Am I really that bad?
I thought he would get better in time but as we left to go home I didn't even see him and we still hadn't spoken. True Earl is 48, came directly from the war in Iraq to the CIA and has an interesting temper. By the end of the day the entire class had heard of his silent treatment either from him or me since I had to talk to other teams about my dish and have them taste things I was making since Earl wouldn't have any part in it.
The hoagie turned out well despite the silence and I hope we'll be back on a positive, communicative track tomorrow. It's crazy over here.
One group made Portobello Mushroom Stroganoff that was to die for and I must give you the recipe.
PORTOBELLO MUSHROOM STROGANOFF
yield: 8 portions
1 lb. portobello mushrooms, chopped into chunks, gills removed
1 T. olive oil
1 onion, sm. dice
1/2 oz garlic, chopped (about a tablespoon or so)
1 T. brandy
1 c. veal or any other stock (chicken, vegetable...)
1/4 c. creme fraiche (can sub sour cream)
1/4 bu. italian parsley, chopped
1/2 lemon juiced and zested
1. In med. sized braising pan brown mushrooms and onions in olive oil (cook for awhile...you want the mushroom juices to reduce, making a nice rich mouth feel)
2. Add the garlic and deglaze with the brandy. Add the veal stock and reduce to nape consistency (coats back of spoon and line stays when finger runs through)
3. Finish with creme fraiche, lemon zest, parsley, salt and pepper
***serve over your favorite pasta!
The women who works in the marketing department at the CIA said she's worked there for 14 years and this was her favorite dish she's ever had!
Despite my not so great day in the kitchen, my spirits were lifted after class when I helped Georgina and Burroughs make pizza dough for their veggie calzones for tomorrow. We went downstairs to put the dough on our cart and found a whole pig. I got a great picture of Burroughs, as you can see, and had a REALLY good laugh out of it.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Before I become completely removed from all things Asian in the CIA kitchen I want to touch a little bit on my favorite country in the region, Japan. I cannot even explain my excitement the two days we learned and prepared food for Japan. I believe it was I who made Chef take away a Korean day to be sure we had two in Japan since we had to miss a day for a field trip. Everyone agreed in unison. I also chose the topic "Japanese Manners and Customs" for my report/presentation in this class so I was able to learn a whole lot these past couple weeks.
A few small facts from my presentation:
- when entering a household you must remove your shoes and wear "slippers" provided by the
host/hostess. furthermore, if going to the restroom you must slip into "restroom slippers" to
- during a meal "toilet talk," burping, and blowing of noses is not appreciated. burping and
slurping are only accepted in noodle houses. it is also expected you finish every last grain of
rice on your plate and that you put your table setting back the way you found it.
- if you're going to Japan and you want to spot a geisha (as you should) you're most likely to
see them in the district of Kyoto.
On to the culinary goodness. Japan is all about showcasing the freshness and splendor of the actual taste in a food. I think they have a good balance of healthy and fried foods along with a definite knack for making things delicious. My group prepared Inari sushi, which I have never previously paid any attention to before this class. We learned that the brown casing on the sushi is actually fried tofu from a can (pictured above). It is traditional to stuff the Inari with only sushi rice but we decided to also add in sauteed carrots, mushrooms, onions and pickled ginger to make it a little more interesting. They were good but after one I had had enough. The tofu itself is sweet and reminds me a little of baklava with its wet texture and honey flavor. I also learned that sushi rice isn't just short grained, steamed rice but actually a very serious preparation and takes years to master in Japan. Once steamed the rice is "fluffed" with Japanese rice vinegar, sugar and salt (8 c. short grain rice, 8 c. water, 3/4 c. vinegar, 6 T. sugar, 2 T. salt)
My favorite thing I prepared was the Miso Soup. I never knew how easy it was and at the end of the day I was mighty proud of how good it tasted.
2 gallons Ishiban Dashi ***
1 oz. wakame seaweed (this stuff is so great...it looks like dried black tea and then it becomes a beautiful basket of green when soaked in water)
2 c. Miso (paste)
32 oz. bean curd, sm. dice (firm tofu)
4 scallions, thinly sliced on bias
1. soak and drain wakame. trim tough parts and chop remaining
2. temper miso into hot dashi
3. bring to a low simmer, do NOT boil
4. add tofu, wakame and scallions and serve!
NOTE- after time the wakame turns brown so wait till the last minute to add it
***Ichiban Dashi is the "Japanese chicken broth" used as a base for most soups. the recipe...
- 3 gal. cold water
- 3 each Kombu (sea kelp), 3-in. square
- 8 oz. dried Bonito flakes
1. wipe sand from kombu, being careful not to wipe away any dried salt
2. add kombu to cold water, turn flame to medium, heat to simmer and remove kombu.
3. add bonito flakes and turn off heat allowing to steep 5 minutes. skim and strain.
Bonito flakes are dried fish flakes coming mainly from skipjack tuna that are dried, fermented and smoked. There is a special machine called Katsuobushi kezuriki that flakes the pieces off the hard fish.
I also made an Udon Noodle Pot (pictured above) and used Ichiban Dashi, once again, as my base and simply added the rest of the ingredients and brought up to a simmer. The noodles I had to cook beforehand and I also blanched the carrots to make sure they were cooked through along with sauteing the chicken pieces. The rest of the ingredients were thrown in at the end and cooked together just before serving. These included shrimp, Napa Cabbage, spinach and shiitake mushrooms. So simple, delicious and oh so nutritious.
Japan is the first country in Asia I want to visit and I will be sure to do it in the spring during cherry blossom season so I can attend a Hanami (cherry blossom festival). They are the unofficial national flower of Japan and one of my favorites of all time.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Today marks our third to last day cooking Asian food for the entire time at the CIA. I thought it would be a sad thing to think about, but after three weeks or fish sauce, dried shrimp paste and cardamom (okay I know a lot of people LOVE it, but it's not my favorite spice) I can say I've had enough. It's not done yet, however, as I have one more day in the grand country of India as well as our "Iron Chef" cooking practical on Friday. I'm paired with a girl named Brittany in my class for that and our cuisine is Vietnamese. We choose out of a hat tomorrow what ingredients we will have to work with to make an appetizer, soup/salad and main dish. I think it will be a good challenge.
On to more of what you can learn from my wonderful mistakes in the kitchen of India. Today my group prepared Tandoori Cornish Hens, Basmati Rice Pilaf, Bondas and a cilantro-yogurt dipping sauce. A Bonda is a deep-fried potato ball that gets its bright yellow color from turmeric, as many Indian dishes do. My teammate Daniel boiled the potatoes for me and after they were drained and dried I went and mashed them with a whisk, not paying any attention to the fact they were unpeeled. Once they were completely mashed and ready to be added to the rest of the mixture Daniel looked into my bowl and said, "I think you were supposed to take the skins off first." I looked back and said, "HUH? Why wouldn't you have peeled them BEFORE you boiled them?" "Well, the recipe says to boil them first and then peel," he told me as I ran over to my recipe to find he was absolutely right. Awesome, way to read the fine print Vanessa. Daniel said to just roll with it and not tell the Chef, hoping she wouldn't notice and Georgina told me that we should probably boil some more potatoes. I thought, hey, why not just keep the skins and make it a rustic sort of Bonda. Why not? I love potato skins...don't they in India? I'm sure they're prepared both ways. I took my reasoning to the Chef and showed her my mashed potatoes with skins. She looked at me with HUGE eyes and told me that, "in India they NEVER leave the potato skin on in a dish like this!" I tried to reason a bit more playing the rustic card but she wouldn't have it. She said if Chef Ken (another Chef who teaches Asia who is in the kitchen during our class) saw those potato skins in there he would have a heart attack. Sooo... instead of boiling them all over again as I suggested she told me, "NO, I want you to pick out all the skins," as if that was an easy task as the potatoes steamed with heat and the skins were spread throughout 4 pounds of potato. This whole situation reminds me of elementary school when I told my principal the orange peels (orange peels relates to potato skins) I was throwing on the ground were compost when she reprimanded me for littering. She also caught me later calling her Mrs. Chatterbox. Gosh I was sassy back then.
Regardless, I did it, as you can see in my picture. I wasn't able to remove all the skins but enough so as Chef put it, "no one will choke on a skin." Who chokes on a potato skin the size of a quarter?
Despite the setback the Bondas turned out beautifully and we presented them cut open so we could serve three halves instead of two balls....two balls never looks good on a plate (that little piece of advice is free of charge). The recipe is kind of long so I don't really want to include it but if you're interested in making some email me and I'll shoot you the recipe. They're pretty easy to make and are delicious with the cilantro dipping sauce, which, I can also send if you wish.
One more lesson...in India, when preparing Tandoori Chicken (pictured marinating above) they use Red Dye 40 to produce that incredible red color on the meat. It's crazy really. Someone came up to me during service today and asked what gave it such a vibrant color and I had to tell them the truth that yes, it's made with the same thing red candy is made with. It's authentic though, and that's all that matters!
...okay wait, I'm writing this the next day, after day two of India and I found out that though they may use red dye 40 in America for tandoori they use another coloring in India that is not exactly the same. Didn't want to mislead you.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
This past Friday Chef Brenda took my class on a field trip to China Town in San Francisco and the Sake Factory in Berkeley. The highlight of the day had to have been a tea shop we went to that had an enormous selection of loose teas. We received a great introduction to the company and making of tea by on of the owners, pictured to the right, who also gave us a "two round" tea tasting of one of Chef Brenda's favorite Oolong varietals. It was really fun and the tea was wonderful. I definitely want to return to taste more and buy some for home. The man giving us the tasting (forgot his name) told us the Red Lantern (http://www.redlanternrwc.com/) in Redwood City is going to have a tea tasting with the Red Blossom Tea Company's teas, which is a great foot in the door for them. He spoke a lot on how restaurants need to be more aware of the importance of quality in tea as they are on wine and food. The tea seems expensive when buying in bulk but when he broke it down per pot it was very reasonable and comparable to a regular tea bag. I personally think it's worth it as his teas were better than any bagged tea I've had. He gave a few points that I found helpful such as only allowing tea to steep for 2-4 minutes, never steeping in boiling water as it turns bitter and kills the natural flavor, and that loose tea should be kept from sunlight. He also said you can reuse loose leaf tea and that the "second round" is usually better than the first because the leaves have had a chance to fully open. The one picture I took of all the tea canisters is only a third to half of what is available in the store. I believe he said he has 80 to 100 tea varietals available. The website for this place is www.redblossomtea.com and the address is 831 Grant Avenue, SF. You should go!
I've been in my Cuisines of Asia class now for two weeks with one remaining and have learned quite a lot in such a short period of time. I'm going to write this post only on China, despite the study of Korea, Japan and Vietnam we just finished, as I think it will be better if the countries were broken up a little bit.
China is typically thought of of the culinary base of the other surrounding Asian countries. We began our class studying that cuisine and it's interesting how their influence is prevalent in all the others. China has four areas that have drastically different cuisines. These being the north (Peking or Mandarin cuisine), the south (Canton cuisine), the west (Szechwan cuisine) and lastly the East (Shanghai cuisine). Each region has a unique something making it special and separate. Here's a quick overview:
North- wheat flour is a staple, has Mongolian influence of hot pot and BBQ, Peking duck
South- dim sum (see picture) , least greasy of all regional foods, known to eat anything that flies and swims
*** dim sum means "pointing to the heart"
East- red lacquer cooking (see picture), lots of fish, famous for "sizzling rice"
***this region is the coolest in my opinion.
West- grow tons of rice, tea and peppers (Szechwan peppercorns), tea smoking
***Szechwan peppercorns are also called fagara and are known to be numbing to the tongue
While cooking Chinese cuisine there were a few things that surprised me. One was how the meat is prepared for many of their dishes. They use something called velveting which means using both cornstarch and egg whites to coat a raw protein before deep frying it in order to give it a more shiny exterior. Along with this, many of their meats are deep fried before being stir-fried. I thought it was bad enough how much oil is used in stir-frying and then I saw that most of the recipes called for us to first deep fry shrimp, pork, beef and so on to cook it before adding it to the stir-fry.
The most alarming recipe was an American-Chinese one everyone loves. It's the famous Honey Walnut Prawns. You'll never guess the secret ingredient. Here is the recipe...
1 lb. prawns, shelled and de-veined
1 T. rock salt
1 beaten egg
1 t. cornstarch
1/8 t. white pepper
12 whole walnut halves (boiled to loosen skin)
simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water heated until sugar is dissolved)
2 T. sesame seeds
for the SAUCE-
2 T sweetened condensed milk*
1/2 c. mayonnaise
1 t. honey
1/2 t. lime juice
*this, to me, is the secret ingredient. Who'd have thought this recipe had sweetened condensed milk?!? crazy!
1. rub salt into prawns, let rest 5 min. Rinse, dry. Add cornstarch and egg white, let marinate 1/2 hour.
2. Mix walnuts with simple syrup to coat, toss with sesame seeds and lay out on oiled pan. Deep fry walnuts till crispy.
3. Mix sauce ingredients on low heat, adding ingredient in order as written above. Don't boil.
4. Dredge shrimp lightly in cornstarch and deep fry until shrimp just done. Mix immediately with warm sauce and garnish with walnuts.
Okay, seriously, this could be the most fattening recipe ever...but oh so delicious and worth it. Well, once in awhile.
On the second day of China my group made dim sum called Taro Balls (great name huh?). It consisted of a ground pork mixture filling surrounded by taro root mashed with Crisco, water and cornstarch. The balls were hard to make and Georgina and I had a little bit of a hard time making them look like footballs, as Chef Brenda desired. At one point in the beginning of making the balls Chef came over to our tray of them and yelled, "Who made that!?!," pointing at the last ball I had formed. I looked down, saw that it was my ball and said, "uh, me Chef," trying not to laugh. She was all, "that's HUGE!." I was able to make them small and more desirable looking but overall they looked really gross. I mean, a football shaped purplish dough with ground brown filling...they all looked like little turds to my classmates and I.
My favorite dish made during China has to be Wonton Soup. Chef Brenda made it special and it was amazing. I need to make it at home soon.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Before beginning culinary school at the Culinary Institute of America I had this lofty idea of an elaborate blog that I would tend to every day so family and friends could see what I was learning and feel like they were part of my experience. Now, six months into the program it seems I took that little gem of an idea and threw it to the back burner without any remorse. I don't know why now is the time, but I want to give this blog thing a shot and see how it goes. I will talk about school and all things related to food hoping it can give you a little bit of an idea of what it's like living amongst some of nations most intense foodies. Oh and foodies they are....and I admit, I'm slowly becoming one.
After six months I finally feel like I'm in the groove of things on campus and know enough people here to feel like it's home...or maybe it just feels like a temporary home.
I go to school with the same 14 people every single day. We used to have 16 but one dropped out early on from not appreciating all of the "in classroom" time we had and the other dropped out after Skills II... if you're interested in the story ask me another time. It's kind of a good one.
I also live with students from school in an off-campus housing unit, 4 of those students being in my class. By this point we're like family with all the normal ups and downs. You can't live with them and you can't live without them. It's funny really. I remember thinking four months ago that we had reached this family place but now, looking back, it blows my mind how much all of our relationships have changed from being around one another so much. It's weird how much we see each other.
So about this family...yes, I've had arguments and yes even when I really really don't want to deal with someone I still have to go to class with them for eight hours and work with them in the kitchen. This isn't the most challenging part of my experience but I would say it's up there in the top five reasons my time here has been the most challenging time of my life. We have some very unique personalities in my class and the dynamic between us all is quite interesting.
My school-day is supposed to be from 2-8pm, which it was, in the beginning, before we entered the kitchen. Now I get to school around noon and usually don't get out of there before 9pm. Lately I've been working with various chefs before school and have needed to be there between 7 and 8am. Shoo dang that takes a toll on you. I do like it though. It's funny because I always think I can push myself to the limit, work and go to school and not get much sleep and start drinking espresso to keep myself awake. Then all of a sudden I notice my body fighting me. Just the other day I felt sick all class, went home, collapsed onto my bed, was out by 10:15, called in sick to work at 7:30 the next morning and was completely comatose until 11:30am. I felt like my body was screaming, "give me rest!!!! I'm gonna make you REALLY sick if you don't do this for me." So, now I feel great after sleeping almost 12 hours on a regular school night. Who does that anyway?
Just to be a little more specific about my day.....
When I say 12-9 what I really mean is I get to school by 12, eat lunch, chat a bit with everyone, go to the computer lab and print homework and whatever else I need, go and talk to the chef or anyone else I need to see, grab my class' mail to distribute, make sure I have all my recipe cards done and begin thinking of getting into the kitchen setting up my station and gathering mise en place (a phrase for ingredients and supplies for a given recipe) for the day between 1 and 1:30. By 2 everyone should be set in the kitchen with produce and meat brought up from receiving downstairs. Our knives should be set out and sharpened and we should have a game plan of what we're doing that day. We go into the classroom at this point and have lecture, usually lasting until 3:30 at which point we return to the kitchen and start our daily production. By 6:30 we need to have a "demo plate" for our chef and to present to the rest of the school to showcase what we will be serving that night and at 7 we begin taking orders and busting out dishes for other students and faculty. We're in groups of three in the kitchen that we're not able to choose and that we're either lucky to have or "stuck with" for the entire three week class we're in. It's a rush. I'm pretty much exhausted every night and though I think of fun things early in the day to do after class each night I usually abandon them by the time I get back to the lodge because all I want to do is sit down and not talk for awhile.
So that's my life in a strange strand of paragraphs. It's a brief overview but I hope it gives some sort of picture for you. I don't know why I decided to begin my blog with such detail. I just felt like those who I haven't spoken with much about school would need a little background to understand what I'm talking about for the rest of my posts.
So now that the boring stuff is out of the way...
here we go!