Sunday, March 29, 2009

Keeping Me Sane

These two pictured here...these two keep me sane.
Not to get all sentimental, but Burroughs and Georgina have truly given me the friendship I need to make it through this program. Burroughs is an extreme type A personality who is always interested in new ideas and knows every gadget for the kitchen you can possibly think of. He's also known to be a bit hoity toity. Actually, Georgina and I decided his picture should probably come up if the term was googled. Georgina is spunky to the core, full of amazing ideas and despite her beauty, completely down to earth. My favorite moments with these two involve champagne, pizza and great conversation along with dancing the night away at Anna's Cantina.
In this picture they're singing "Glamorous" at Anna's. By the end of the song Georgina had changed it to "B-O-O-G,E-R, boogers man ya.." One of our Chefs from Denmark awhile back accidentally called Burroughs "Boogers" and it has kind of stuck with him. Classic.

The Class I Should Have Loved

From the very beginning of my program here I have looked forward to the Cuisines of the Mediterranean and Europe class. The reason being is at this point we're all relatively confident in the kitchen, we've been here for about a year and have seen two other classes go through the same class to get us psyched for it and who doesn't love Mediterranean cooking?
It's funny because usually my first impression of something or someone doesn't really mean anything or means the absolute opposite of what I will think once I'm comfortable with it or he or she....but this class was definitely the exception to the rule.
First impression of this good. Persian cooking, as you may know, uses the "yin-yang" approach to eating and preparing food which focuses on balancing foods in the "hot" category and "cold" category in order to form a balance for your body. We prepared the given recipes that first day, piled our plates up with this Arab cuisine, sat down to eat, filled up, cleaned up and went home. All joking aside, I had a terrible stomach ache from about 9pm that night until noon the next day. Apparently this "yin-yang" business doesn't work for me.
It didn't help that day two followed with Morocco and Tunisia, which brings in an enormous amount of spices and fruit with meat and lamb and an array of Persian influences. I quite frankly got turned off pretty quickly and then just couldn't shake it.

The class got better with Spain, France and Italy but it was still very rich, traditional food that left me feeling comatose after every class. I believe it was one of the Spanish days that everyone in my class ate way too much and all shared the same face of pain while cleaning our stations. I went up to Karl and asked if he had tried one of the items I made that day and he looked at me, leaned back, groaned, put his hand on his stomach and told me he couldn't remember and was unable to look at any more food. You'd think we would know our limits by now but it still seems the theme continues to want to try everything....

I believe this very weird picture of me describes how I felt most days.....kind of this attitude like, "welp, here we go again, I'm trying to be excited but it's just not happening." I'm holding a chanterelle mushroom next to my head so you can see how enormous it is. I used it to make a duxelle for a recipe involving fish stock and scallops...interesting. The chanterelle weighed over 11 ounces! Crazy huh?

Alright...the two recipes I want to share are below. They are both delicious and extremely unique.
Not to contradict my previous sentiments about Persian cooking, but you must have this recipe...I'm hopeful that it was not part of what gave me my stomach ache.

Cheese and Walnut Dip (Nan-O Panir-O-Gerdu)
Yield 2 portions
1/4 lb. Farmers Cheese (formed from cottage cheese...can be found in specialty cheese section)
2 c. shelled walnuts, chopped
2 T. scallions, fresh, chopped
2 T. basil, fresh, chopped
2 T. tarragon, fresh, chopped
2 T. mint, fresh, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper
juice of one lime
1/4 c. olive oil

1. In a food processor or bowl, mix the cheese, chopped nuts, scallions, fresh herbs, and garlic.
2. Add salt, pepper, lime and olive oil, mix well.
3. Transfer the mixture to a serving bowl and serve with lavash or pita bread.

*Taken from The New Food of Life: a book of Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies by Najmieh Batmanglij

This next recipe is pictured here and is common in Southern France. Dandelion greens are simply delicious with a little kick similar to arugula but not as peppery. Yum!

Dandelion Salad (Salade Amere)
40 ea. young dandelion leaves
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
2 T. red wine vinegar
salt to taste
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 ea. hard boiled egg yolk
6-12 slices stale bread crust strips for making croutons

1. Wash and dry the dandelion leaves. Wrape them in a towel and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes till they become cold and crisp.
2. Mix olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper to make the dressing. Prepare the croutons and sprinkle a little dressing on them. Pass the yolk through a sieve or grate it.
3. Place the dandelion leaves in a salad bowl, pour the dressing over them and toss with your hands. Sprinkle the egg yolk over the leaves and arrange the croutons around the edge of bowl.

*Taken from The Cuisnes of the Sun

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Not Again...

Two things I see are reoccurring in my culinary life. The first is my need to bring my fellow classmate Earl into my blogs. I don't know why but his name seems to constantly come up. Just today I was thinking maybe I shouldn't use his real name just in case he found me talking about him on my blog offensive. I'll see if anyone has strong feelings on the matter first. The second observation is I have little "breakdowns" every so often, and being that there was the potential of a serious one today, I want to ponder it.

Today in class my teammate Gutty and I were looking over what we had to prepare for the menus we were cooking tomorrow. Turned out we needed to soak some white beans and marinate some chicken. Having both in my head, I raised my hand and mixed the two together saying, "Chef, the recipe calls for me to soak the chicken we have chicken for this?" There was about a five second silence before I laughed and corrected myself saying slowly, "Marinate...we will M-A-R-I-N-A-T-E the chicken overnight." Embarrassing? No, not really...or so I thought.
We go into the kitchen and I'm frantically getting my Lamb Stuffed with Couscous ready to be braised....rubbing it, stuffing it, trussing it, searing it...oh wait, I need a pan...ahh set the oven to 325...ahh I'm losing time...the onions are burning. Typical.
I ask Gutty in my flurry what Earl was doing of the days production and Gutty said he didn't know what Earl was doing...all he knew was that Earl didn't like our group. "What?" I asked. "Well, while we were out smoking Earl told me he didn't like our group because we ask stupid questions in class."
So...I immediately realize Earl is referring to my "soak" verses "marinate" question in class and now, he's decided he doesn't like us because of it.

I'm sorry, have you never asked a stupid question in class? Does this one question earn you the right to hate us? Two words, COP OUT.

I seriously got angry. By now stuff like this should roll off my shoulders, especially coming from Earl, but no this was another story. How dare he! I was on the verge of combustion for a good 30 minutes before I started to settle down. I almost started crying, no joke. Gina patted me on the back and asked if everything was okay at one point and I could have went off on a teary rant...good thing I held back.

The best part of all this is that I had my "cake breakdown" in Baking and Pastry almost to the date a month ago. I'm not making any assumptions do the math.

Don't worry though, everything worked out in the end...Earl knew that I knew he had decided to hate me for asking questions and by the time we hit halfway of production he was asking me over to try what he was making to adjust seasonings. What would he do without me?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

"Couvrey 'n Whites"

I never stayed up too late doing homework in college, never had chest pain before a presentation and definitely never had to present a food establishment concept to a group of "potential" investors.

The CIA has changed all of this for me. The past two and a half weeks have been filled with late nights (no, not all-nighters, but 3am is "late" enough for me), coffee (of which I usually don't drink) and extreme anxiety for the presentation of the biggest assignment while here. It's interesting how priorities change when something really takes over your life. I understand now when people really can't answer my email in a day or accidentally skip a meal. It's not that hard to do when every second counts.

My concept, Couvrey 'n Whites is an establishment located in the downtown area of San Luis Obispo, CA, marketed to those between the ages of 25 and 55 who enjoy eating quality, local food. But enough stats...I won't bore you with the projected income statement, start-up costs and menu cost forms. I will just share with you my vision.

It will be a place for people to come grab a bacon waffle (house-made bacon) in the morning, a panini, soup or salad at lunch, enjoy hand-crafted bar snacks with a glass of wine or beer in the afternoon and grab a hot loaf of rosemary bread at 2.
The focal point will be a large wooden table surrounded with black saddle stools, lit by rustic chandeliers. Though there will be prepared foods I will also be selling specialty meats made in-house and local cheese. Plus, on Friday and Saturday nights I will be open into the late night for people to come, stand around the table, eat bar snacks and drink merrily together.

After all was said and done, after my chest pain went away a few hours after I presented and after I compiled all the loose papers cluttering my binder from this project to be put somewhere not to be seen for a good while, I admired my menu.

It looks official. The one on the left is the full menu and the other is the bar menu. It's on thick beautiful paper with sophisticated font. I wish I could send you one in the mail and invite you to come dine at it. Maybe some day.

Oh and to those who think the name "Couvrey 'n Whites" is completely vain, rest assured, I will be opening it with my good friend Lisa White, a graduate of the CIA's Baking and Pastry Program and a bread whiz. Get it? Couvrey, White? I know...perfect.