Posts Tagged ‘friday night dinner’
On Thursday, December 25, my FND team began preparations for our Friday Night Dinner at The Natural Gourmet Institute. We arrived in Kitchen 3 at 4:30 p.m. and had a huddle. We needed to prep the various components of the appetizer, main, and dessert courses. The main entrée, a Peruvian causa, alone involved 4 separate elements.
Causa is a Peruvian potato cake with several different layers. Traditionally, this dish would have layers of meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, or other combinations, but always, there a potato layer. For our version, we had 4 layers: purple potatoes, cauliflower and almond, pureed fava beans, and seasoned tempeh.
Everything that needed to be done was written on the board. We then broke up into teams and divvied up the tasks. As expected, it fell to me to prepare the potatoes for the causa. I’d been responsible for that layer all along, so it made sense that I took ownership of it during FND prep.
We had prepared the entire dinner for 10 people a couple of times, but this time, we were making it for 100 people. Boiling and milling 4 lbs. of potatoes is one thing; boiling and milling 40 pounds is another. I filled three huge pots with purple potatoes and because the potatoes were all different sizes, they cooked at different rates. I tried grouping similar sizes in each pot, but still some potatoes cooked faster than other within the same pot. This meant that I had to skewer test and scoop out potatoes at intervals. Which was just as well because there was no way that I would have been able to pick up and drain these commercial-sized pots of boiling potatoes! If I had tried, it would have been a disaster of monstrous proportions. And I probably would have landed in the burn unit.
It took hours to peel and mill all of these potatoes, even when one of my classmates stepped in to help me peel. My arms got an incredible workout. After several hours, I needed a break and asked one of my other classmates—who was actually on the other FND team, but was there to help us out—took over the milling for about an hour.
When I was finally done milling, the other elements for the causa were just about ready, too. But we had issues with the other elements. We had started out with a lima bean puree but at some point, we switched to fava beans (I’m still not quite sure why). To our dismay, the fava bean puree was not as green as the lima bean puree had been, probably because we didn’t have enough parsley, and the minced rosemary that had been added to it was too overpowering. Fortunately, we had enough color on the plate to compensate for the bean puree’s dullness, and the rosemary flavor was tempered when the puree was combined with the other elements. To ensure that all the elements worked together, we took scoops of each layer and placed them in a bowl to taste. (We learned to do that after the last run-through because, as we discovered, each element on its own may have been perfect, but together with other elements, it may have not have been quite right, and vice versa.) We continually adjusted until we felt everything worked, except that the cauliflower remained a little crumbly.
Elyse, who had made the bean puree and was disappointed, wanted to cut out the puree and just do three layers, but I knew that this was a bad idea. We had tried the recipe 3 times using 4 layers and it might have been disastrous to use just 3, because the cauliflower was too crumbly and it needed the puree to adhere it to the causa. With tout the bean puree, it would have been a mess.
We layered 6 full-size hotel pans with the 4 elements and wrapped them up. The next day, we inverted them onto sheet pans and began cutting the portions. This was not as easy as it sounds. We had to make sure that all the portions were the same size in both width and height. We tried cutting straight down, with a sawing motion, with knives with teeth, knives with no teeth, dental floss, and bench scrapers. Despite our best efforts, we wound up with a lot of oddly shaped pieces. Fortunately, we had a lot to spare to make up for the discards.
The next problem to solve was how to serve them. We had settled on squares but now we went back to triangles, which we had abandoned during our last run-through because we felt that triangles would be too unstable. Then, as we cut the squares into triangles and tried to move them to sheet pans, we saw how fragile they were. Through a couple of hours of trial and error, we discovered that the pieces stayed together a little better if we put them on the sheet pans and heated them upside down—that is, with the almond side down. It seemed to compact that layer just enough that we could handle them. Of course, had we known we were going to do this, we would have layered the 4 elements in reverse order.
The next day was a flurry of activity in K3 as we began preparation for service. I took it upon myself to start assigning stations for everyone on the line. Then, it was time for service. We all took our positions and began plating. Would you be surprised if I told you that we had a little bit of a rough time plating the causa?
We fiddled and fudged with a couple, trying to get a feel for the pieces. We finally worked it out that I would lay down one piece and Elyse, across from me, would lay down the other piece, the triangle that would stand up. At that point, things started moving. We got those causas plated and moved them down the line for the rest of the components.
We hit a bump in road, though. We had marked certain sheet trays to keep for the” house” (i.e., for ourselves), as they were the least pretty of the batch, the ones that had crumbled or that were oddly cut. Somehow or other, a couple of these trays got pulled out before the “good” ones. When we realized the error, we popped the good ones in the oven, but the plating came to standstill while we waited for the good ones to heat up. Chef B told us that we needed to get more plates out and so we had no choice but to pull the scruffy ones together and do the best we could with them. Finally, the good ones were hot, and just when we had pulled them from the ovens, Chef B said, “Stop.” We were done. All the guests had been served. And we all groaned with a great big old “Damn it” in our voices.
In the end, it was okay because no out in the dining rooms knew the difference. All they saw was a beautifully arranged meal bursting with color and form and texture, and when they tasted it, regardless of how it looked, it was rich with complex flavors.
We also took some time to decorate the classrooms with garland, lights, and flowers. My classmate, Angie, sewed table runners and made tassels for the menus, Elyse took charge of the decorations, and I created the menu. There was a lot to be done and tensions had run pretty high as everyone struggled to make time to work on FND while still carrying on their daily lives. But we pulled it all together and we had one hell of dinner.
My brother and sister-in-law were there, as well as numerous friends and acquaintances, and I was so happy to see them all there. With the exception of one person, everyone enjoyed the dinner very much. Success!
I won’t lie. It was a bitch to plate those causas, but I am very proud of my team. We created a great meal and pulled it off despite bumps along the way. As we walked out into the dining rooms for our bows, we all held our heads high for a job well done.
For some fabulous photos of the prep and dinner by my classmate Elyse’s husband, David Prince, click HERE.
And for some less than spectacular, but still nice photos by me, click HERE.
By the way, the meal was entirely vegan and gluten free. The menu is below, as well as a recipe for Quinoa Croquettes, which got raves.
Thanks to Chef Barbara, the students of CTP 197W, the kitchens assistants, and all the guests who helped make our Friday Night Dinner a memorable night.
Buttercup Squash Soup
Quinoa Croquettes with
Pumpkin Seed-Almond Dip
Escarole with Garlic & Lemon Dressing,
Botija Olives, and Caramelized Pearl Onions
Salsa Verde and Smoky Tomato Sauce
Tamarind Ice Cream
Saffron Poached Seckel Pear
Yield: 10 two-ounce servings
¾ cup quinoa (combination of red and white), rinsed well
1 1/8 cup water
2 medium parsnips, large dice (¾ cup)
1/2 onion, medium dice (½ cup)
2 cloves garlic, fine mince
1 tablespoon EVOO
½ cup cooked lima beans (1/4 cup unsoaked)
¼ bunch parsley, fine chopped (1/6 cup)
2 scallions, thin slice
1/4 cup sunflower seeds, lightly toasted and coarse chopped
1/2 teaspoon oregano
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ lime, juiced
1 teaspoon sea salt
Oil for frying
- Cook quinoa with water. Cool.
- Cook parsnips until very soft.
- Sauté onion and garlic in EVOO until soft.
- Blend together parsnips, lima beans, parsley, scallions, sunflower seeds, oregano, cumin, lime juice and salt to form a paste.
- In a large bowl gently stir quinoa and onions and garlic together with paste mixture. Quinoa may be fragile so do not over mix.
- Form into 2 ounce croquettes. Pan fry in oil.
PHOTO: David Prince
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.
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.
Recently, I had to do my first Friday Night Dinner at the Natural Gourmet Institute. For those of you who don’t know what that is, the school opens up on Fridays to the public as a restaurant. Guests get a prix fixe meal of an appetizer, entree, and dessert, and the menu changes every week. The students sometimes plan the menu (which, at some point, we all must do), but usually it’s the designated chef’s menu that the students must execute.
So, I got there early and I was waiting in the common area for someone to tell me what to do. A little Japanese woman came up to me and asked, “You’re here for the Friday Night Dinner, right?” I said yes. She said, “I am the chef for the dinner. I am Hideyo.” Okay, so now I’ve met my chef. I was a little concerned at this point about being able to follow her directions because she had a really thick accent. But I took it in stride. I’ll be fine, I told myself.
Then she said, “I heard you are a good student, so I’m putting you in charge of the pastry.” My first thought was that my class hadn’t done pastry yet. Wouldn’t she want to find out first if I’ve been trained in that art? She said the dessert for the night would be a cake. Then I thought, okay, I’m no stranger to baking, I can handle this.
“I want you to look at the recipe and read it.” She handed me a stack of recipes and turned to the cake page, saying, “You are the master of this cake.” All righty. She indicated that there was a lot to do and that it would require a lot of time.Three other people were going to help me with it. That meant it was complicated. But, fine, I’m no stranger to complicated either. I can handle this. Then she stated, “This cake is the most important part of my menu.”
Great. No pressure on me.
I looked at the recipe…and my stomach lurched. I had never seen a recipe written like this in my entire life. Instructions for the preparations and assembly were on two different pages and you had to flip back and forth between the two pages. On the second page, the 5 different elements were in these boxes all over the page: a gluten-free cake, raspberry puree, raspberry cream, chocolate-avocado cream, and glaze. There was nothing consecutive or sequential about this recipe. And to make things worse, everything was in grams. Those of you outside the U.S. will think nothing of this—you weigh your ingredients all the time. But most Americans do not and it’s not something I’m used to. Now I’m starting to freak out a little. But I think, I know my way around a kitchen. I will get a hold of this recipe and master it. Here’s the thing, though. When you’re trying to control the execution of a recipe, and the people who are working with you don’t know that they should be deferring to you and would not defer to anyone but their chef anyway, you’re going to have a problem.
And I did. I completely lost control of the damn thing. No one was communicating and we kept overlapping steps. The real problem, though, was that every one of us was completely confused about this recipe. There was so much confusion and chaos in the kitchen, I was trying to pull everyone’s efforts together, and there was no communication, but what there was…was a screw-up. Oh, how I screwed up!
I had to make applesauce by roasting and pureeing apples. Then I had to weigh out 600 grams. Except that I forgot to weigh it and used the entire batch, mixing in other ingredients. When the chef found out, she asked me, “Did you weigh the applesauce?” I said no, and she asked, “Why?” I had no answer. If could have crawled under the table, I would have. I had failed my chef and wanted to cry. She began doing these mathematical calculations, mixed in other stuff for the cake batter, and separated the batches. I had no clue how she figured out how much of each ingredient to use, but she made it work.
The next day, she showed me how I had to cut it. Three cakes had to be sliced with excruciating precision. And I was allowed to use the knife only once. When I sliced, I handed it over to someone else, who put it in a pan of hot water, cleaned it, and wiped it try. Meanwhile, I sliced with another knife. So we had these two knives rotating. It took an hour to cut these perfect little triangles. Once we were on the plating line, executing the chef’s vision of each course, I picked up those chocolate-covered rectangles very gingerly and placed them on the plates just so. Once I passed each plate to the the next person, it was out of my hands. I was like a mamma bird sending off her chick into flight. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera so I only got a crappy camera phone shot, and before the cake was plated.
The entire experience was traumatic and I think I’m scarred for life. But in the end, she shook my hand, patted me on the back, and said, “Good job.” (She was tougher than her size would suggest—I thought my lung would collapse from that pat.) Despite the major faux pas and my inexperience in a professional kitchen, I think I did well overall. Most of all, it was exhilarating. There was an adrenaline rush about it all. It was damn hard work but I really enjoyed it. Mind you, it confirmed for me that I don’t want to be a restaurant chef, but I think a part of me will forevermore crave that high.
~ Appetizer ~
Red cabbage and red grapefruit terrine
Beets and potatoes with tahini sauce
Broccoli rabe in Japanese mustard sauce
~ Entree ~
Tofu carpaccio with watermelon radishes
Green pea falafels
Steamed quinoa with bamboo shoots and spring vegetables
Raw kale and avocado salad
~ Dessert ~
Raspberry almond chocolate cake
Hojicha ice cream
We did stocks this week at the Natural Gourmet Institute, which is a basic class of all culinary schools because stocks are the basis of soups, stews, and even some sauces. We made a few different stocks, including a brown vegetable stock, curry stock, shiitake mushroom stock, a few other vegetable stocks, and a fumet, which is just a fancy French name for fish stock.
Tomorrow, it’s sauces. Woohoo!
As if being the second oldest student in class weren’t bad enough, I had to go and tweak my back. We were lifting our tables onto blocks–which we have to do when we’re ready to prep food–and I lifted, stupidly, with my back. The table was heavier than I’d anticipated because we’d already put cutting boards on them. Plus, I was set a little back from the table because of the block at my feet, so I was in an awkward position. Anyway, lift…and ouch! It’s been bothering me a little since. I just hope I didn’t do any permanent damage. I have to keep up with these youngsters.
My Friday Night Dinner shift begins in a couple of weeks. I’m half calm about it and half nervous. I know my way around a kitchen but I’m always so worried about doing things right sometimes that I get nervous and end up screwing up. I realized something else, too. Instead of doing things the way my instinct tells me to do it, I do it the way I think they want us to do it. After all, they’re going to assess us on how well we do things the way they taught us how to do them. But it turns out that my instinct was the right way. What makes me go in the other direction? This seems to be a microcosm of my entire life. Instead of following my instinct, I overthink things, and then wish I’d listened to my instinct. Hindsight is 20/20 but it’s also pretty damn infuriating.