Archive for the ‘classes’ Category
We had our next to last class at the Natural Gourmet Institute—Indian cuisine. It was an amazing feast filled with beautiful, deeply flavored dishes.
First, we had the usual lecture to introduce us to the cuisine of India and how it varies from region to region, and we were introduced to some of the common elements, seasonings, and utensils of Indian cooking. Indian cuisine has evolved over thousands of years and influenced by many cultures that passed through the country.
The most common seasonings used are black mustard seeds, chiles, cumin, cardamom, fennel, coriander, turmeric, coriander, and fenugreek. Common herbs are cilantro, kaffir lime leaves, curry leaves, and mint.
The nice thing about Indian food is that it’s great for vegetarians. Thanks to Buddhism, Hinduism, and Janism, vegetarianism is commonplace throughout the country and anywhere one goes in India, a vegetarian will always find plenty to eat.
India has a very distinct flavor profile—complex flavors and lots of spices—but it is similar to other countries in that the use of spices and heat levels vary from region to region. The more south you go, the hotter the food, which is the same way it is in Italy, the U.S., and many other countries. That’s because the more south you go, the hotter it is and eating spicy foods make you sweat, which cools you off. See, it all makes sense.
For the class, we concentrated on Moghul (or Mughlai) cuisine, which is the upscale Northern Indian cuisine that is most commonly found in Indian restaurants in the Western world. The Moghul Empire in India was extremely influential in many areas. This is from Cuisinenet.com:
The Moghuls were Persian Muslim princes, descended from both Genghis Khan and Tamburlaine, and nothing they did was anything less than glorious. They built the lavish and ambitious palace fortresses, mosques, and tombs that have become emblematic of the country, the most famous example of which is the Taj Mahal, the tomb built by Shah Jahan to honor his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. At its height, the Moghul dynasty was known for its cultured tolerance, even enthusiastic support of and participation in, local customs, arts, and religions.
This lavishness extended to food as well, and to this day, Northern Indian cuisine reigns as the standard Indian cuisine.
So, we spent the next few hours cooking dal, vegetable biriyani, golden cabbage, vegetable curry, spiced spinach and mushrooms, spiced chickpeas, sambaar, dosai, masala dosais filling, raisin tamarind sauce, pakoras, mint relish, cucumber raita, cilantro-onion relish, chicken tandoori, chapati, almond milk fudge, firni, chai tea, and mango punch.
I made the cucumber raita and cilantro-onion relish and tried my hand at a dosa, which is like a crepe. It’s filled with various ingredients, or it’s rolled up and used much like we would use bread. Learning to make dosai is a tricky thing—you have to make the batter the right consistency, then spread it in a pan with a ladle-like spoon (they have a special utensil just to do this) to the proper thickness, then flip it over. In between dosas, we greased the pan with an onion half dipped in oil for extra flavor.
I think my favorite dish of the day was the spiced chickpeas.
And because it’s one of the easiest Indian dishes to make, I’m offering you the recipe below. Enjoy!
Note: If you don’t have a pressure cooker, you can cook the chickpeas in a pot. If you don’t want to make chickpeas from scratch, use two 15- or 16-oz. cans.
Copyright ©Jenny Matthau/NGI
2 cups chickpeas, soaked and drained
6 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded* and chopped
6 tbsp coconut oil
2 onions, cut into small dice
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp turmeric
1 large pinch cayenne
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
½ cup bean liquid
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 bunch cilantro, minced
- Rinse chickpeas thoroughly and place in pressure cooker with 2 inches of water to cover. Bring to full pressure, lower heat and cook for 30 minutes or until very soft. Reserve bean liquid.
- Fry onion in oil until soft.
- Add garlic and spices. Cook a few more minutes
- Add tomatoes, tomato juice and salt. Cook for 5 minutes.
- Add chickpeas and bean liquid. Simmer, covered for 15 minutes.
- Remove cover and cook on medium flame until thickened, if too thin.
- Remove from heat. Stir in lemon juice and cilantro.
* Press seeds through a sieve and reserve the juice; discard seeds.
My practical exam for the Chef Training Program at the Natural Gourmet Institute is finally over. After stressing about it for weeks and really stressing for days and spending hours plating last Sunday (although I wish I’d done it more than that), it’s behind me.
The exam was taken on 2 separate days by the 2 Friday Night Dinner groups. My group (B) was up first because group A was gearing up for its Friday Night Dinner. We had to create an entrée incorporating 5 elements: bean, grain, green, sauce, and garnish. My plate was—
Grilled Portobello Steak
Grilled Sweet Potatoes with Cilantro-Lime Dressing
Cracked Chickpea Salad
Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
Lime zest curls for garnish
I did okay, but to be honest, my score was a huge disappointment. It wasn’t a bad score, but it wasn’t what I was hoping for. The instructor complimented my dish in many ways, but I got points off for numerous things. Here’s the rundown:
Bean: He really loved the chickpea salad. It was “sophisticated” with just the right amount of seasonings and heat. Not to little, not too much.
Green: The kale was chewy and not very edible. He said it was the nature of the kale they’d been getting at the school lately—tough. It lent itself more to a moist heat method of cooking, rather than the way I had prepared it, which was to sauté it in garlic and oil. I knew it was chewy, but I didn’t think it was that bad.
Grain: He loved the way the polenta looked. It was vibrant, and he could tell that I’d thrown the herbs in towards the end because it retained their fresh look. But it needed to cook a little more. I’m used to using a finely ground cornmeal, like my mother uses, and that’s what I practiced with. I should have been more aware of the fact that the school uses coarsely ground cornmeal as polenta. However, upon research, I learned that most people will call for” cornmeal” or “coarsely ground cornmeal” for polenta recipes. Yet, one of my classmates, who was born and spent part of her life in Italy, said that she was used to the finely ground kind as well. Anyway, I was a little thrown off by the coarse grind, but I stopped the cooking when I thought it was done. My instructor apparently did not agree.
Sauce: The sauce went well with the mushroom but there wasn’t enough of it. He had to scrape together what I had put on the plate to accompany one bite of mushroom. To plate that dish again, he said, pool some underneath the mushrooms and just hint at the sauce on top.
Garnish: No comment. I took this as neither good nor bad.
Plating: He was glad to see that I’d used techniques taught at the school, such as the fanning of the mushroom and sweet potatoes. However, he felt that there was conflicting movement on the plate. The school teaches students to plate food in some kind of geometrical movement, upward and outward or circular. The elements on my plate were “competing against each other.”
The dish needed more acidity. I put a cilantro-lime dressing on the sweet potatoes, which should have taken care of the acidity. But since my dressing came out better at home than at school and because the jalapeno was strong, I didn’t want to put too much, so maybe he didn’t really pick up on the lime.
It needed more crunch. I put raw bell peppers in the chickpea salad, as well as walnuts. I asked him if he hadn’t picked up on them. He said he hadn’t.
Overall, though, he said that my dish was something he would enjoy if he had it in a restaurant. Considering that he used to be a chef at Le Bernadin in New York, that’s a great compliment.
It was rather heartbreaking to learn that at least 4 other people (out of 8 ) had received higher scores than me, and I got the feeling that out of a class of 15, the majority will have gotten higher scores than me.
In the end, no one will ask me what I got on my practical exam, but I will know what I got. I will always know that, despite my years of experience cooking, I received a less than stellar score.
But I have to shake off the baggage that this is putting on me and move on. I have to remind myself that not every day will be a red-letter day. Not everything I do will turn out the results I want.
And that’s okay. A score is just a number, not the measure of my worth or a mark of my capabilities. It’s not the individual brush strokes that count but the entire painting. This is a personal demon of mine, one that taunts me at every opportunity it gets. It’s time I kicked it to the curb.
Besides, if the chefs on Iron Chef, Chopped, and all those other chef competition shows have to deal with blows to their creations–not to mention their egos–then I guess I have to, too.
We’ve been in the thick of the food and wellness portion of our program at the Natural
Gourmet Institute. I don’t know whether other cooking schools have anything like this, but I don’t think so. This is what sets NGI apart from other schools: Its focus on health-supportive cooking. And part of that is understanding various diets and lifestyle programs/principles (for lack of a better way of putting it), such as Macrobiotics and Aryuveda.
We’ve also learned about food and healing for specific illnesses, such as heart disease and cancer, and for keeping the immune system strong, and a couple of weeks ago, we had a cleanse and detox class. This class discussed the digestive system, specifically the kidneys, liver, and colon, and how to cleanse toxins from them.
This week, we had another detox class, except that this time it was “living foods”—i.e., raw foods. We prepared and ate numerous dishes that were completely raw, and it was surprisingly filling and satisfying. We had:
Filbert Sweet Milk
Mixed Nut and Vegetable Pate
Squash-Sea Vegetable Salad
Summer Squash with Pesto
Sweet Potato Pie with Cashew Nut Cream
Raw Chocolate Brownie
We started the meal with a shot of wheatgrass-apple juice. When they hear “wheatgrass,” most people think of 1970s hippies living in communes and subsisting on alfalfa sprouts and brown rice. But wheatgrass has so many health benefits, such as helping acne and skin problems, reducing inflammation, and aiding digestion. Its shining quality is that it contains chlorophyll. In fact, wheatgrass is the best living source of chlorophyll, and the health benefits are extensive.
Wheatgrass does not exactly make people go “Mmm, mmm!” but when combined with freshly juiced apples, as we had it, it’s actually quite tasty. We also had homemade kefir, which I can’t honestly say I was crazy about. It had a funky, bad-cheese flavor to it. But some people like that, and to those who do, more power to you.
Personally, I would never be able to survive on a raw foods diet (not happily, anyway). I need hot foods, especially in winter. Can you imagine going home at the end of a dark, dreary, freezing winter day and having all cold, raw foods? As delicious as they might be, I would not feel satisfied. In fact, when I got home after class, I had the urge to have a bowl of hot soup. Which I did. And I was happy.
But a raw food diet is a great way to detox, particularly if you’ve gone through a heavy eating period, or a “bad-food” period. On a temporary basis, it wouldn’t be so bad. If you’re interested in giving it a try, here’s a simple recipe for Cinnamon Beets to try. Adjust the seasonings until it’s to your liking. Enjoy.
Adapted from Dining in the Raw: cooking with “the Buff” by Rita Romano
Makes 4 servings
2 medium beets, peeled
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon tahini
Juice form 1 orange
1 ½ tablespoons Nama shoyu*
splash lemon juice
- Make long strands of “angel hair” by putting beets through a spriralizer. [If you don’t have one of these, just grate the beets using the large holes of a box grater.]
- Blend cinnamon, tahini, orange juice, and shoyu, along with ginger juice, lemon juice and salt to taste. Pour dressing over beets. Let sit 1 hour and drain well before serving.
Note: For a different taste, substitute one teaspoon chives for the cinnamon and add one teaspoon dry mustard.
*Nama shoyu is unpasteurized shoyu, available in health food stores.
Phew! This morning I took my final written exam. I think I did pretty well, but I know I didn’t get everything right. There were so many questions that were not on the study guide they gave us, and I studied all this stuff (based on the guide) that was nowhere to be seen on the exam. It was a little frustrating, but I think I did well enough regardless.
I can’t believe it’s over. Well, that part of it, anyway. This week, I have to take my practical exam. That will involve making a gourmet entrée that includes a grain, a bean, a green, a sauce, and a garnish. Those five elements must be there. And it must be a dish that follows the Chinese Five-Phase Theory (a complicated theory of food selection and preparation that involves the five elements of earth, fire, water, wood, and metal). It has to look appetizing, it has to be plated in an appealing way, the elements have to complement each other, it has to be balanced, and, above all, it has to taste good.
The good part is that they told us ahead of time what will be available to us, so we don’t have to go in there cold and improvise on the spot. I wish I had time to test and retest until I got it right, but with everything going on, I haven’t been able to. I have only one chance to test and plate my entrée and that’s tomorrow. And the only reason I have that time is because my internship person cancelled our meeting for tomorrow. I cooked my greens and made my sauce yesterday, figuring that if I made my meal piece by piece, I could just put it all together one night to plan my plating. Now, I’ll be able to make everything else and plate it tomorrow.
I have a take-home exam to do this week, and in a couple of weeks we have another practical exam that does involve improve, but that one will be done in teams, I think. At least that’s the way the other improve classes have worked. And that will be it. Classes end in a month and then I’ll continue with my internship until I’ve accumulated the required 100 hours. Then I will have a culinary degree.
I was sick this past week and it’s no wonder. This is just way too much stuff going on for a person my age. But I’m much better and I’m hoping that I get through the month.
Thanks for checking in. I’ll be back soon.
The pressure is on at school, The Natural Gourmet Institute, to get our Friday Night Dinner together. We’ve done our meal run-through and have the menu set, the purchase requisition has been submitted, and we’re good to go.
We are now dealing with other issues: the physical menu, decorations, music, etc. The problem here is that we all want an attractive, welcoming, elegant atmosphere for our dinner, but our budget is only $75. Our ideas for the decor, from the kind of paper for the menus to fabric for table runners to lights and branches to put on the walls, far exceed that $75 limit. Most of us are willing to put in a few bucks to help cover the costs but no one can afford to put in very much.
We all want the best possible everything but, unfortunately, we’ve had to rethink all the elements and try to come as close to “best” as possible without going over budget (or too far over). The paper is not going to be as nice (damn, but paper is expensive), the runners are going to be narrower and not as nice perhaps, and the walls may only get lights if we can’t get cheap-enough twigs.
I am personally working on the menus and I’ve been searching for the right kind of paper. I finally decided that I have to settle on Staples paper because it’s the cheapest I can get. Even go the Staples route, my total for both kinds of paper that I need is about $30. My stomach turns over when I think that there are only three weeks left to our Friday Night Dinner and I still have to pull this stuff together.
Meanwhile, I’m studying as much as I can because my final exam is this coming Saturday. I made a commitment to my internship person (I don’t know how else to refer to her), Fran Costigan, to test out some recipes for her, and I’m getting anxious that I won’t be able to get everything done. And suffice it to say that my mother is not pleased that I will not be having Sunday lunch with her and my father for most of December and January. I explained to her that I work all week, I’m in class all day Saturday (and Wednesday nights), and Sundays are the only days I have to do my hands-on internship hours. She accepts it, but she doesn’t like it.
As I write this, I am remembering that I have a take-home exam to do, due on Wednesday (it’s now Monday). The heat is on and I’m feeling it. No wonder I have a cold–my immune system is probably crying right now. After all this is over, I’m going to need some serious downtime. Many people have done it, of course, but I’m not 20 years old, I’m…well, I’m not 20.
Hope you’re all recovering nicely from Thanksgiving. I hope you come back for more of my exciting tale of going back to school in midlife. (Hey, if the Golden Girls were a hit, there’s some hope here.)
Happy Monday, everyone.
I love buffets. You can choose exactly what you want and, sometimes, how much of it. And buffets are very much a social affair. You have to get in line with a bunch of other people, which encourages verbal interaction (“Oo, doesn’t that look good?” “Hey, what’s that?” “I had that earlier. It’s delicious!”), and often share tables with others. And no one goes to a buffet by themselves.
Buffets are also fun for the cook. Over the years, I’ve hosted many parties and they were often buffets. Buffets allowed me to cook multiple dishes and try out all kinds of new things. In fact, they were the perfect vehicles for testing out recipes for my cookbooks. I could put out 10 seemingly disparate dishes across the table and guests could try what they wanted and leave what they didn’t.
It also made things easier for me in terms of serving. I just put everything out and that was that. I might have to refresh some things or make some last-minute preparations in the kitchen, but for the most part, once everything was on the table, I could sit and enjoy my friends while they enjoyed my food.
So, my class at the Natural Gourmet Institute had their mandatory buffet and it was great! Family and friends of the students gathered to enjoy the various offerings and from all accounts, they had an excellent meal.
We received a menu that we had to follow, but we improvised here and there. We got a huge box of figs and one of my classmates roasted them and sprinkled parmigiano over them. We added that to our dessert menu. I was in charge of the Apple Oat Crumble, which we piled into martini glasses, and I placed a fig in each one, which not only looked beautiful but it elevated a simple, rustic dessert to something more gourmet.
But, of course, it wasn’t all strawberries and cream. Some things posed challenges, such as preparing a whole poached salmon for service, which required carefully scraping this gray layer just below the skin without ripping the fish. And, once again, I knocked something over, eliciting a solid curse from me. The same dishwashers who had witnessed my crêpe batter disaster saw this, too. I’m sure they have labeled me the year’s biggest klutz.
Anyway, here’s my class’s menu. I also made the quinoa salad, so below is the basic recipe with my modifications. It’s incredibly easy to make but the results are so good.
All the photos in this blog are by my classmate, Barbara Vadnais (thanks, Babs). The thing that looks like a mummy is the salmon, which we wrapped in cheesecloth to flip it over after it had been poached.
CTP 197 Buffet Menu
Cream of Mushroom Soup
Whole Poached Norwegian Salmon
Cucumber Citrus Salsa
Lemon Dill Mayonnaise
Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic
Vegan Caesar Salad with homemade croutons
Red Lentil Pâté
Hashed Brussels Sprouts with Carrots and Poppy Seeds
Oatmeal Dulse Crackers
Apple Oat Crumble with Pomegranate Reduction
Roasted Figs with Parmigiano
1 cup quinoa
1 ¾ cups boiling water
¼ to ½ tsp salt
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped
2 tablespoons basil, parsley, thyme, or other herbs of your choice
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Wash and toast quinoa in a small saucepan. Over high heat, stirring constantly, until it smells nutty and browns lightly (5-7 minutes).
- Remove quinoa from heat. Add boiling water and salt. Bring back to a boil, stirring. Lower heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes or until quinoa is cooked and all liquid is absorbed.
- Fluff with a fork and add tarragon and other herbs before serving.
- Add olive oil, a little at a time, just until quinoa is moistened. Adjust seasoning as needed.Yield: 6 servings
On September 24, my class at the Natural Gourmet Institute had its brunch—our first opportunity to cook a la carte in real time. Friends and family were invited to come to the school and enjoy the students’ offerings and see what things they’ve learned. Guests ordered off a menu and we students worked in the kitchen to give them the best brunch we could muster up. (See our menu below.)
It was a busy day, which began at 9:15. We had an hour overview of the recipes and how things would work. Then we began prepping. We chopped, measured, assessed components, and discussed presentation. Sometime in the afternoon, we got a 20-minute break, which allowed me to run out for a cup of coffee. Mind you, we’re in uniform when we’re cooking and we’re not allowed to go outside in our uniforms. This means that running out for a cup of coffee requires changing into my street clothes, going out, coming back, and changing back into my uniform. Normally, when we have an intense day with little time for lunch, I don’t bother. Even when we have a full hour I sometimes don’t bother because it’s a pain in the neck to do all of that. But on that day, I so needed a cup of coffee (which, having just learned in our Kitchen Pharmacy class, causes fatigue, seemed counter-intuitive, but it was no time for logic). As soon as I got back, I had just enough time to change and we had to go back into the kitchen.
I was on the crêpe station. I made Moroccan-style chickpea crêpes with mango sauce. The batter was made with chickpea flour and the filling was coconut-curry chickpeas and spinach. I cooked fresh chickpeas, then sautéed them with onion, curry powder, coconut milk, spinach, and a few other ingredients. That simmered until it was thick and flavorful. And it was really good. I wasn’t sure I’d be crazy about it because coconut curry is not my first choice of flavor profile. But when I tasted it, it was really good!
My first crêpe was questionable, but by the second one, I had it under control. It was unfortunate that not many people ordered the crêpes—I was looking forward to improving my technique with each one. But the students enjoyed the leftovers and the dishwashers got to have a taste, too.The mango sauce was more of a challenge than it should have been. The first couple of mangoes I was given were rotten. The instructor got me two more mangoes, but they were not quite ripe. That meant that the flavor needed some boosting. I tried adding different things, from apple juice to lemon juice to, finally, coconut sugar. I finally got it to a good flavor and consistency. Although I don’t think it was as good as it would’ve been if the mangoes had been ripe.
When the time came to start desserts, the Crêpes Suzettes turned out to be quite popular,so I stepped in to help with those. Again, my first one was questionable, but each one got a little better. What remained the same was that the other two students making the Crêpes Suzettes did a much better job than I did. I think I added too much Grand Marnier to a couple of them, if the flames in the pan were any indication. But, overall, I don’t think I did too badly for someone making them for the first time.
I also experienced a moment of adrenaline-driven disaster. Well, not a disaster, really. It was more of a little trip-up. I had poured my batter in two small pitchers, to make it easy to pour. When I made my first chickpea crêpe, I turned to the prep table behind me to plate it and proceeded to knock over one of the little pitchers of batter. It went over and the batter went right into the garbage pail. I let out a firm “son of a bitch” and finished my crêpe plate. I guess if my batter had to spill, it was lucky that it went directly into the garbage.
It was also an opportunity for students to meet each other’s loved ones. We met husbands, parents, grandparents, and friends. It was nice to see these people who my fellow students have been talking about for months!
At the end, we were exhausted but, I think, exhilarated at our first real meal service. It’s getting better and better. Next event: Buffet.
(Photos by Elyse Prince)
CTP 197W Brunch Menu
Salad (choice of)
Spinach Salad, Crisped Shiitake Mushrooms, Pickled Red Onions with a Sherry Vinaigrette
Mixed Greens, Roasted Beets and Walnuts with a Creamy Horseradish Dressing and herbed Goat Cheese on Toast
Omelets with Choice Filling of:
Tofu Scramble with Pine Nuts, Tomatoes, Onions, Garlic, and Spices
Belgian Waffles topped with Fresh Fruit and Whipped Cream
Moroccan Style Chickpea Crêpe with Mango Sauce
Tempeh Reuben on Housemade Spelt Bread with Sauerkraut, Pickles, Tomatoes, Avocado and Russian Dressing
Chocolate Pudding with Optional Whipped Cream
Crêpes Suzette with whipped Cream
Some people think that bread is the enemy, when in fact it is a staple of much of the world’s diet and without it, many people would starve. A few fairly inexpensive ingredients come together to form a filling, comforting food that goes a long way. And it’s been made for thousands of years from many different grains, from spelt to millet to teff. Bread has held serious significance throughout history, from being payment to soldiers and rent to landlords, to being symbols of abundance. The Bible refers to bread as the staff of life, and the words “bread” and “dough” are slang words for money. Some of our language is based on the importance of bread. The word lord is derived from the Old English word hlaford, meaning “master of the house and keeper of the bread.” Lady comes from hlaefdigge, “kneader of the dough.” Until the 19th century, Germans called their employers brotherr, “bread master.” And the convenience of presliced Wonder bread, available after World War I, was so spectacular to U.S. housewives that the expression “the best thing since sliced bread” became part of our vernacular.
Let me tell you, my class pulled off some beautiful loaves. There were bagels, challah, spelt, olive bread, and others. I made a whole wheat poppy seed loaf (see recipe below). Most of us started with a sponge, which is a mixture of flour, water, and yeast that rises for about 30-45 minutes, and again for about 20-30 minutes. The rest of the ingredients get incorporated into that, which makes for a flavorful and texturally pleasing bread.
My loaf rose like a dream and baked even better. Because it was a whole wheat loaf, I wasn’t expecting it to come out as good as it did, but it had a nice, nutty flavor without being too whole-wheaty (that’s because I used a little white bread flour). Per my instructor’s suggestion, I added some lemon zest and it really made the flavor pop. I added additional poppy seeds and pumpkin seeds on top and it was beautiful, too.
Bread is my weakness—I absolutely love it and can eat it endlessly. Or so I thought, because after tasting 10 or 12 different loaves, I’d had enough. All I thought I would want for the next week was salad. It’s how I felt after grain class—like one big walking, bloated, glutinous blob. But unlike grain class, I was ready to eat bread again the very next day.
The instructor practically swooned over my loaves, which made me extremely proud. It was as if the rising of my bread mirrored the rising of my pride. Okay, that’s corny, but it’s true. I’m slowly finding myself in culinary school. I’m not saying that I’m the best culinary student ever (because I know I’m not) or that I will be the next Cat Cora (only in my fantasies), but there’s a side to myself that’s been waiting to come out. Yes, I’ve been a personal chef and that was rewarding, and yes, I have a cookbook published, so cooking is not new to me. But there’s something about going through a formal program and excelling at it that validates what you’re doing. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that my French knife skills suck, so where technique is concerned, I still have a way to go. But there’s a side to cooking that goes beyond technique; it’s the heart and soul that you put into your cooking that really makes it shine. Your technique can be flawless, but if there’s no “you” in your cooking, you’ve failed. People will “ooo” and “ahh” over beautiful food, but eating it will get boring if it’s not satisfying to both the palate and the soul. I’m not the most technically proficient cook in the world, but I think my cooking has heart and soul and a lot of “me.”
I’m confronting some personal demons in culinary school and, as one person I know would put it, I’m taking them out for a beer. I’m opening up a dialogue with my demons and trying to figure out why they’re still hanging around me. And, hopefully, I’ll be able to kick them out of my head.
All this from bread?
Whole Wheat Poppyseed Bread
1 1/2 tbsp dry yeast
2 cups warm water
1/4 cup rice syrup
1 cup unbleached white bread flour
4 – 5 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp sea salt
1/3 cup poppy seeds
1-2 tbsp lemon zest (opt)
1-2 tb poppy seeds and/or pumpkin seeds
1. Preheat oven to 375 F. In large bowl, combine yeast, water, rice syrup, 1 cup of the bread flour, and 1 cup whole wheat flour and stir until thick like batter. cover sponge with plastic and set aside in a warm, draft-free place for 30-45 minutes.
2. Add oil, salt, poppy seeds, and just enough of remaining floru to creat a dough that pulls away from sides of bowl.
3. Knead on talbe for about 10-15 mintues or until smooth.
4. place dough in alrge, clean, lightly oil bowl and cover with clean damp cloth. Proof in warm palce 20-30 minutes or until doubled in size.
5. Prepare bread pans or sheet pans iwth parchment.
6. Gently punch down dough. Let rise again about 15 minutes. Cut dough into two or 4 equally sized balls; shape as desired. Cover with damp cloth and let rise another 15-30 minutes.
7. Bake approximately 30-30 minutes or until golden and firm to touch.
This week, my class at the Natural Gourmet Institute began our recipe testing on our entrees for Friday Night Dinner. My team (group B) has decided on Peruvian. We were originally going with a winter harvest theme, since our dinner night is so close to the holidays. I had been thinking Peruvian all along but everyone seemed so into the harvest theme that I didn’t say anything in the initial planning class. Then, afterward, I casually mentioned my idea, and everyone really got into it. So I’m pleased that the team liked my idea; however, if it ends up sucking, I will feel so responsible. But I think we’re going to rock Friday Night Dinner. For our first recipe test, we did a pretty awesome job.
Our menu so far consists of causa as the main entrée. Causa is a Peruvian potato pie with layers of different ingredients and topped with the ever-present black olives and egg slices. I created a version for my next cookbook and offered it to the class. We modified it to suit the class requirements and everyone’s tastes. And, of course, no eggs on top, since the meal has to be totally vegan. On the side, we’re having a couple sauces—one green, one red—sauteed greens, and curly sweet potato strings for garnish.
After much debate and discussion about form, we finally decided to try a terrine mold. We layered each element (more on that later) and flipped it over. There are some things we need to tweak, but overall, the dish was pretty and delicious.
We haven’t settled on an appetizer or dessert yet. I’m a little disappointed that no one
really wanted to go with my dessert suggestion of Suspiro de Limeña, woman’s (from Lima) sigh, a traditional Peruvian dessert parfait made with dulce de leche and whipped cream. It’s a beautiful dessert and unique. And traditional. But we’ll work it out.
I’m sure we’ll come up with a great menu.
This past Friday, I did my second Friday Night Dinner shift at the Natural Gourmet Institute. It was a lot more mellow than the last one I did, which was quite an experience (you can read about it HERE). On Thursday, I cleaned and prepped what seemed like an endless supply of mushrooms. We had portobellos, chanterelles, oyster, and cremini mushrooms. All of them were beautiful specimens. The oyster mushrooms were so huge, they were twice the size of my hand (see photos). By the time I was done cleaning and slicing, my fingernails were brown. Four days later, I’m still trying to get the brown out.
The kitchen was kind of chaotic and I think the students whose FND it was found themselves a little overwhelmed, which I can see happening. It is a dizzying situation when you’re trying to get everything prepared at the same time and get everything plated and ready to hit the pass in a smooth progression. In a really small kitchen, there are about 15 students, the teacher, 2 dishwashers, and, during service, servers coming in and out. It’s hot, it’s crowded, and it’s crazy.