LJ-razz, 7.24.06: Wednesday is our last day in class.

Tonight we made potato encrusted calamari with horseradish sauce, grilled artichokes with stone ground mustard sauce, and quiche lorraine (the latter two didn't last long enough for me to photograph). I cut my knife on my boning knife while I was putting my chef's knife away. The only time I ever cut myself is during cleanup.

"Our degree candidates are putting together a presentation for Chef, like an Ode to Chef, and they asked me to write something up, so here's the rough draft.


First of all, when I said that you made me nervous when you stood at our brigade station and watched me or someone next to me or someone at the end of the table cooking, it was because I didn't want you to see me make a mistake. I'm saying that I give a big damn about your opinion. I respect your experience and knowledge as a cook, and I respect your attentiveness and discriminiating eye as an educator. I'm going to bare my ego and admit that I didn't want you to see me make a mistake because I wanted you to think that I was a good cook and a good student.

If I'm a better cook and student than I was before I walked into this kitchen, it's because you're a great cook and a great teacher. If I'm not, or if I'm worse, well that's your fault, too, and you should writhe in that fact! Aw, I kid. You're really fabulous.

Secondly, I signed up for French culinary before "fun" classes like desserts or baking because I was sure that French cuisine, of all cuisines, would dissuade me from blowing wads of money on college classes. I mean, come on--French cuisine? Pretentious, frou-frou, inaccessible, overdone, expensive, complicated, time-sucking French kwee-zeen? Sacre bleu--merci, but no merci. I was sure this would snuff my fantasy of being a cook of any sort, even a home cook. My bad. I love the sauces and their loooong reductions. I love the meat that has to be cooked two ways--grilled then finished in the oven. I love the hard-to-handle and expensive funky-shaped strainers. I love the potatoes that look like little roses. I love the meticulous knife work. I even love the creme brulees that look like Lake Michigan in the dead of winter (why the hell were they soupy at the bottom?!) and I love the ovens that need three steps to turn on (stupid gas valve). It was all a LOT easier to take from someone sportin' Etnies, Hurley shirts, and a mosh-pit battle wound right alongside those Chef whites and special fireproof pants or whatever those are. So am I going away hating French cuisine? Hell, I'm ready to move to Paris. Okay, maybe the countryside down south where I can visit Spain once in awhile and lounge around the vineyards.

Third, I took a one-day dough class and learned to make laminated doughs--from croissants to strudels to danishes--from one of Emeril's former executive pastry chefs. She taught me not to fear any kind of dough and how to make some damned good pastries. And while I get a little antsy adding that roux and paranoid of breaking one of Chef Robinson's Robo Coups or ruining a simple emulsion, you're still a better chef and instructor that she was, and a lot more likable. Plus, Phooey!, I'm not a huge Emeril fan, either, so it was not a bonus to see that on her resume.

Anyway, thanks for the great, memorable, worthwhile, badass experience. You're further proof that cooking rocks, food is both fine art and essential function, and that not all chefs have to make the people who work for them cry.

Birthday stuff, not including dim sum and Cuban food I ate. =(
The Cherry Blossom Noodle Cafe is one of my new favorite restaurants. I liked my meal so much that I plan to send them a thank you card. Is that odd? I don't care. It made my birthday very awesome.
I started with an Alaska roll. It was my lunch date's first experience with sushi, and she actually really enjoyed it! No, there was no raw fish involved, but it was very different to her, and she braved it, so woot!

Although my friends who recommended the place strongly pushed the Unaju (eel and rice plate), I wanted something clean, humble, and simple, so I went with the Zarusoba--cold buckwheat noodles with green onion and dipping sauce, and fried Spanish Mackerel on the side, just like Mom used to make. It was so good--the kind of "so good" that supersedes delicious and exquisite. It was exactly what I wanted without knowing it was on the menu. Wash it down with a green tea and milk frappe, and call it a perfect day before it's even halfway through.

Lunch was so good, I skipped dinner, but I did do dessert. I'd seen friends almost every night for the previous ten nights, so the original play was to have a nice, quiet night with the dogs, a good book, and a plate of decadence. I didn't even make my own birthday dessert. It was a total break from cooking. Instead, I went to Willo Bread and Grocery and took away a slice of raspberry chocolate cake, tiramisu, and vanilla bean gelato. The gelato was my favorite, and while I only had a couple bites of the cake and tiramisu, I snarfed the gelato. Incidentally, the original plan was kicked to the curb by a broken AC, and I went to some friends' house with the dogs and hung out with them for a bit.

The Friday before my birthday was my second Wilton Course III class where we made our first fondant cakes. I made this my birthday cake. The rest of the class did the standard white box with pink bow, but while I didn't have enough time to get to creative, I wanted mine to stand out at least a little more. I did finish the bottom with a marbled blue beaded border (say that five times fast), but the only photo I have of it is even worse than the first two up top!




We also learned to make fondant roses. They take awhile to make at first, but they're easy to fall in love with. This is my first one, so it's a little rough. I almost ate it. But it was, you know, rough.

In the third class, we also learned how to make royal icing petunias, lilies, and poinsettias. We also made morning glories, but not even our teacher liked how they turned out, so I pretend they never happened.

Elaine gave me her yummy recipe. Thank you, Elaine!.
The fabulous Elaine's delicious blueberry bake recipe in a Wilton Course II pan (I plan to get my money's worth out of those suckers).

The bake is sauced!

I plated it with orange curd. I think my dinner guest that night and I both had two plates of this bake for dinner/dessert, and I plated each one differently.

Doin' the butt. Somebody had to eat it, after all, and I wanted that somebody to be me.

That orange curd was so good. I like it even better than lemon curd. It was almost like a melted creamsicle. *note to self: top off some vanilla ice cream with it

My favorite indulgence another way: salmon with hazelnuts. Mmmm. I worry that my plating attempts too often look like bugs or voodoo masks. I need to get away from that symmetry.

Here I try to get away from that symmetry. A nod to 's recent apricot-glazed pork tenderloin. This was my version using some leftover plums and leeks. I also had some spinach with orange and some Rainier cherries.

Yup, still practicing that plating thing. Thank goodness for my friend's festive Fiesta bowls!

Tuille practice with cheesecake mousse (I'll admit it--it's from a boxed mix) and blood orange sorbet. I modified my Chef-Instructor's tuille recipe to use what was at the house where I was house sitting. This was knock-me-on-my-a&* good. I need to find a recipe to make my own cheesecake mousse, though.

Tuille practice, take two. (I ate two.) I could make tuilles all day, or for a good part of one, anyway!

Stuff I threw in a pot
I hate wasting food, so as usual, I threw a bunch of random stuff and stuff I needed to use up into a pot to see if it would be edible or if it would get up and kick me in the head. This week's pantry cleaner--whole wheat macaroni, ground beef, red bell pepper, onion, crushed pepper, and some squash. I later turned it into a strata with some French bread I made in class, and I topped it off with some cheater's béchamel. Every incarnation of this pantry cleaner was good!

I've got a pan of creme brulees in the oven. We've tried across two classes to make a successful batch, and we've failed. The first time, first yours truly neglected to correctly fire the oven (first switch it on, then set the temp, THEN hit the gas valve ... what can I say--I cook with an electric oven at home!) on Brian's mix, and then we found out that the oven we were trying to use was broken so we ran out of time. The next class, the other team burned their brulee and ours ... somehow didn't turn out under Sally's care. There was a cracked crust on top and a soupy, kinda clear goo just under the crust. Brian and Sally gave each other grief about it, and then Sally and the Chef traded a few half-assed words about it:

Chef: "I've never, in twenty years of cooking, seen creme brulee that looked like that."
Sally: I was using YOUR recipe.
Chef: The other team's turned out. (almost)

Then it turned back on me and my oven mishap at the previous class. Oy. So tonight when Chef asked what dessert we should serve with our five-course final, I, of COURSE, responded, "Creme brulee." There were no (audible) protests or even grumbles. We had to repeat French Onion Soup when we botched it the first time, and if creme brulee took three tries, then it would take three. But I'll be damned if it takes more than three. I might not be in charge of it on Wednesday, maybe I'll be on the grilling station, but I'm going to do everything I can to get this dish to turn out. I've done it with other Creme Brulee recipes, and if Chef says this is the best and easiest one, then it will work. So ... pfooey! I also threw out pork tenderloin for the meat, and again, nobody protested, so I guess we're doing that along with some sort of sauce, vegetable, and starch. We're also doing an appetizer and salad, and Chef is doing a palate cleanser. I'm not quite sure which order that falls in. I guess it's on one side or the other of the entree. He's doing honeydew melon. Yum. I love honeydew melon. I'm also not sure if we'll get to eat with our guest (yey--we each get to invite someone), or if we eat after, or if we eat at all. Jen B told me she's good with anything except onions, so I'll have to make sure there aren't any red onions on her salad, since Chef likes to use those so much.

Let's see ... Monday, July 10, we finished our gravad lox and eggplant with goat cheese terrine. The lox was too salty because it had cured for a week, but it was better with cream cheese on a bagel. The terrine was really good. This was also the class where we butchered many desserts (kinda). It was the first horrible night of creme brulee and Grand Marnier souffles. The other team killed two batches. I think once was our team's fault; I think Brian was a little too rough with handling the oven doors when he put our souffles in, and it deflated theirs. Ours should've gone in with their first batch, but Brian first got shell in the whites, then we think got yolk in the whites so they wouldn't whip up for anything. It killed me, having to use up so many eggs. What's worse is we threw out all the yolks, and there's so much you can do with yolks ... like make creme brulee. Oy fucking vey--I just realized that. Our team alone went through 16 yolks, and if the other team went through that many, then that's 32 yolks. That's gallons of citrus curd or any number of custards and puddings. =\ Chef showed us how to slice the lox, and I went up after the demo to take a turn. He watched me slice, and I was trying to make paper-thin slices. He said my knife was too thick and told me to use his. It made me shiver. The very first class, he'd told us that we were never allowed to touch his knives. They're expensive and well-cared for. I didn't even like picking them up to clean under them. I made a few amazing paper-thin slices, gently put the knife down, and humbly stepped away from the board. Yes, knife quality matters. That same class, while putting my knives away, I cut my hand on my boning knife.

On Wednesday, July 12, we went to Sophie's and had such yummy food. It wasn't a mandatory field trip, especially because dinner prices started at $18/plate, but we had a nice little group there. Chef had french fries (pomme frites) and pate, which cracked me up. Fabian ordered Filet Mignon and was hilariously quiet through the meal while he savored every bite. Dan had baked brie and a glass of Viognier, which was flattering because I'd pointed it out to him on the wine list. Victoria ordered the poulet (chicken). Marla had the pork tenderloin with purple potatoes (yum, we traded bites and I liked hers better than mine). I had the canard (duck). We met the executive chef there, Chef's friend Reggie, and he gave us an amazing pep talk. It was cool because he was Filipino, and his dishes were Southeast Asian-French fusion. I got props for correctly identifying hoisin sauce with my Beaujolais sauce and for identifying a baby bok choy as one of the veggies on Marla's plate. Rad! As for my dish, I ordered the duck medium-rare, and it seemed a little overdone. I was looking forward to the risotto, but it was more like polenta--basically a baked risotto cake. It was dry and not quite crunchy--the exact opposite of what I wanted when I was looking forward to risotto. The string beans and asparagus were almost the same veggie. The carrot, however, was perfect, and in my experience, that's very rare (as in hard to find, not cooked lightly).

On Monday, July 17, we made sweet crepes with some delicious strawberry and marscapone filling, pan-seared chicken with port au poivre (pepper) sauce that I added too much pepper to and that Chef had to fix with the addition of cream, basic French bread that was fun to make (I was fussing over my danged sauce and stepped back so the others could handle the dough because I do so much at home), and mussels in white wine and garlic. I was a pouty brat about my pepper sauce, so I sulked in the wash station and did dishes, but Sally packaged up some of the crepes with sauce anglaise and raspberry sauce so I could take them home. This was the night we messed up our second turn of creme brulee.

On Wednesday, Chef had a family emergency and canceled class, so I took a late nap and rested well.

The creme brulees look good so far. I'll sugar and broil them after they've chilled for awhile. Woot!

No thanks to my old old toaster oven whose broiler seems to have kicked out, I baked the first test before it broiled until I got the bright idea to turn the toast knob to dark and push the lever down, successfully broiling almost all of the sugar before I took it out for fear of melting the custard before all the sugar got to brown. It didn't diminish that satisfying first keeeraccckkkk a single bit, though. Who's a happy camper? This dope. Chef's recipe really is awesome.


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