Wednesday, June 7, 2006

No longer the NKOTB

As I stepped off the subway today, I noticed someone in a business suit and sneakers carrying an awkwardly shaped bright orange toolbox and a knife kit slung over her shoulder. She walked up to the station agent and asked for directions to Broadway and Grand. It was then that I interjected and said to her she seemed like she was walking to the FCI and that she could follow me. Later on, in the locker room, I overheard chatter about taillage and tournage. Looks like there's a brand new crop of Level 1 students that just started. Though we're far from being veterans at the school, it's nice to feel like we're no longer the bottom rung of the ladder.

Day 3 of Level 2 went well. It was our third and last day on Saucier. Our mishaps in the last lesson were a blow to the ego, so I'm glad to be rotating out of it and into Patissier (Pastry) next. I thought we would be a full team, but we were only three members today. Our fourth still wasn't 100% so he decided to take another day off after his trip to the hospital last week, but everything ran smoothly nonetheless. For sure, it was a hell of a lot better than last Friday.

The first recipe we did was a repeat from Day 1: Poulet Saute a l'Estragon (Sauteed Chicken and Tarragon Sauce) and the second was Cote de Porc au Sauce Poivre Vert (Pork Chop and Green Peppercorn Sauce). As soon as we got to class, the three of us took inventory of our bins, collected everything we needed from the walk-in and the main kitchen, and started off the enriched stocks for the two sauces we would be doing that night since they were the most time-consuming steps.

It was our third day of substitute Chefs and we're still a little unsure of who our permanent Chef will be. Unlike the first two, our Chef today we'd had many times before and the class seems to have really warmed up to him and his Dali-esque moustache, which he told us he grooms with wax to get it to up-curl. Chef came up to us and asked us what our timelines for the night would look like; we told him we would be doing the sauces first, then working on the sides, and finishing each of the meats closer to the plating times since they took only about 20 minutes to cook. He gave us a thumbs up and we got to it.

We worked and communicated really well together, plus we're becoming more and more familiar with where everything is now. Our first dish was finished right about on time and most of the prep for our second dish was done before the dinner break. After dinner, we practically had nothing more that we could do before the plating so instead of just standing around doing nothing, we asked Chef if we could just plate early and he was fine with it.

For the most part, our plates were OK, Chef had a couple criticisms like how we put too much garnish on the chicken plates that it overshadowed the main ingredient. We loved the sauces that we made, one was a veal-based tarragon sauce and the other was a pork espagnole sauce. They were both full of flavor and richness and had nice viscosity. Our one bad screw-up was that we overlooked the thickness of one of the pork chops and it came out very underdone - a huge mistake in a production kitchen and something to keep wary of next time around.

Overall, the first week of Saucier was a little disappointing and definitely a learning experience. There's a lot of constructive criticisms to inherit for the next go round with the station five weeks from now, but for the time being I'm looking foward to the Patissier station for the next 3 classes.

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

A Strawberry and Rhubarb Cookie?

I made some tart dough (pate sucree) the other day. I rolled it out onto a mini-tart pan and put it back into the refrigerator to rest.

After letting it rest overnight it became a really solid raw tart shell. It was solid enough that I wondered what would happen if I baked the shell without the tart mold. I filled it with some strawberry compote, topped it with rhubarb, and put it in the oven.

I guess it was so well-rested it decided to fall flat after 5 minutes and I was left with strawberry and rhubarb cookies.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Civic Duty

Two nights ago I made a trek to the Upper West Side for a dinner party at my friend Mary's apartment. The dinner was to be attended by myself, Katherine, and Brenda. I met them, if you could believe it, while I served on a Grand Jury. It has been over 3 months since we parted ways and voted to indict our last defendant and Mary was gracious enough to invite us over so we could reminisce about all those crazy New York City criminals.

Katherine on the left, Brenda on the right

Serving on a Grand Jury was an eye-opening and enriching experience. Besides the fact that I didn't have to go into the office for 20 days, I learned a tremendous amount about the US justice system and met a number of fascinating people along the way. The jurors that I served with came from all different walks of life - from a taxi cab driver, to a painter, to an art dealer. The ones that sat adjacent to me were Mary: a talented and well-travelled singer songwriter, Katherine: an expert masseuse that works for a posh hotel along Central Park, and Brenda: a bi-continental flight attendant who divides her time between living in New York, Paris, and wherever other amazing city her job takes her. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Macaroon part Deux

Shuna from Eggbeater reminded me that Thomas Keller is not a pastry chef. That fact never really occurred to me when I decided to use the recipe from the Bouchon cookbook. In my continuing attempt to make the perfect, or at the very least edible, macaroon, I've dumped the Bouchon recipe for one that was tried and tested at least seven times by someone who I'm sure is a Pastry Chef, David Lebovitz.

My first batch followed the recipe to the tee, including a 15-18 minute baking time, but the macaroons turned out overcooked and more like merengue crisps. When I took a bite into one of them, they cracked and splintered like a light bulb. 

I cut the baking time in half to 9-10 minutes for the second batch and they turned out much softer. I was pleased with the results. But the story ends the same as the first. These macaroons tricked me. An hour after they cooled, they got super-chewy like the Bouchon ones. At least they rose with a smooth domed top and had "feet." I think maybe I over beat the egg whites, I'm not too sure. If anyone has an idea how to make the inside less chewy, please let me know. 

I've run out of patience for today. The quest continues.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Did Somebody Say... Cheeeeese?

Besides the peeling off string segments of "mozzarella", sprinkling "parmesan" on pasta from that all too familiar green cardboard canister, or squirting "cheez" from an aerosol can directly into my mouth, I never really ate cheese growing up. Needless to say, my experience with "cheese," or at least with food products that claim the name, have been limited and rather unrefined. It wasn't until recent years that I finally discovered an appreciation for cheese - real, authentic, cultured cheese that I can describe without having to use double-qoutes. 

My voyage of cheese appreciation began with baby steps. It was in my second year of college in a campy theme restaurant that I had my first taste of brie, a wheel of it, baked in pastry dough and topped with an apple chutney. Baby steps continued with occasional noshing on gouda and fresh mozzarella and ventures into the cheese section of the dairy aisles, though staying mostly on the area gentler on the nose.

Stinky and aged cheeses would take a back seat to mild and fresh cheeses until two years ago, when I moved to New York. With cheese shops like Murray's and East Village Cheese, cheesy fast-food joints like Grilled Cheese NYC, and a slew of casual and fine dining restaurants that have entire sections of their menus dedicated to cheese and cheese flights, it's hard to avoid becoming a turophileliving in New York.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

13 hours and 19 minutes of Star Wars

I spent all day yesterday, 13 hours and 19 minutes to be exact, in the good company of friends and food, watching all six episodes of Star Wars in sequential order. How I survived, I'll never know, but the marathon was fueled with omelets, green curry chicken, Sapporo, PINCH pizza, Starbucks coffee, and nachos.

What better way to spend one of the warmest and most unseasonable NYC winter days than indoors and on a couch. Read a more detailed play by play from Francis at The Pop Culture Manifesto.

PINCH - Pizza By The Inch
416 Park Ave South
Btwn E28th and E29th St
Phone: 212-656-5222
SliceNY review

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Two-Buck Chuck moves in to Union Square

There has been plenty of speculation and whispering, even grabbing sneak peaks of raw unfinished space on the empty storefront on East 14th street between Third and Fourth Avenue, but the Times finally confirmed on Wednesday that Trader Joe's will be opening its first Manhattan location in Union Square in 3 months time.

Get your granny carts ready for cases of cheap wine and affordable gourmet and organic food products. The doors should open by the time Spring rears its head.

The Making of a Macaroon

This is the sad story of my first attempt at making macaroons. Until today, I've had a certain level of confidence that I could execute recipes from Thomas Keller's Bouchon Cookbook with satisfactory results. But alas, the French Macaroon has shot all of it down, reassuring my decision of enrolling in the culinary over the pastry program at the FCI. 

It wasn't until I read in a food blog, that one of the 7 things that the author wanted to do before they died was to learn how to make a good macaroon, that I had the first inkling that making a macaroon could possibly be difficult. Come on! How hard could it be, I thought? It looks simple enough.