Cooking with Jason

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

#1, Twice

All that studying for Monday's wine test paid off. Oh sure, people laughed at me when I showed up with my 2" stack of notecards, but they weren't laughing when we got our scores back. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I took the test (40 questions, multiple choice) and didn't find it very challenging. I then went back through, as I always do on tests (every now and then you find something), and sure enough found a question I had misread. I changed the answer and handed in the test. Professor Weiss went off to grade them after everyone was done, returned to the room, and started handing them back so he could go over the answers and people could make sure their test was graded correctly. He's handing them out, calling out names. No sign of my test. Barrett says, "He must have lost yours." Instead, he hands out the last test, looks up at me and says, "You aced it. 100%. You don't need it back." Only perfect score, I might add.

Today there was a lottery to determine what restaurants you'll work in before graduation. Everyone works in the St. Andrew's kitchen (healthy cooking) and the Caterina kitchen (Italian), but after that there are two paths:

St. Andrew's (FOH) --> American Bounty (BOH) --> American Bounty (FOH) --> Graduation


Caterina (FOH) --> Escoffier (BOH) --> Escoffier (FOH) --> Graduation

"FOH" means "Front of the House," or working as a server. "BOH" means "Back of the House," or working in the kitchen. Add to this that you could be either AM or PM, so there are four possible restaurant paths.

The proccess is simple -- stand in line at the registrar's office, and when it's your turn, you take a folded piece of paper out of a bowl. The paper has a number on it, from 1 to 100, and that's your lottery number. You mark down wether you want AM or PM, then which track you want, and then (in the case that you don't get your top choice) whether AM/PM or the restaurant track is more important to you. As you might imagine, they fill from the top (#1) and make their way down, going until things get full.

As I was standing in line today (I was in the middle of the pack), people would come out of the office either pleased ("I got 24!") or displeased ("I got 96."). It's worth noting that while there are 100 numbers, there are only about 50 of us vying for these spots. It's a small group. Anyway, I got up near the front of the line. The two guys in front of me drew 83 and 96. Ouch. I looked at the bowl and saw the paper I wanted, only to have the woman who was running this show stir them around a bit before I picked. Fortunately my lucky paper was on the outer edge and wasn't disturbed by her stirring.

You can probably tell where this is going -- I picked the paper, unfolded it, and it had a big "1" in the upper left-hand corner. I probably should have sold the thing to the highest bidder, but instead I marked AM, St. Andrew's/American Bounty track. It wasn't really neccessary that I mark down my back-up, but I did so anyway (AM, please). I had a good feeling about the lottery for some reason, but it was still pretty cool to unfold the paper and see that "1."

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Wine Blues

I feel compelled to note that I've just stayed up until 12:30am -- on a Saturday -- to study for Monday's test in Wine. I have a stack of notecards that measures, conservatively, one-and-a-half inches tall. And this is just for the first test, covering how wine is made, wine and food pairing, the US, Canada, and the Southern Hemisphere. We haven't even gotten to the tough stuff, like France and Italy, where they don't label their wines by grape but by place. And of course those place names are in, you guessed it, French and Italian respectively.

I did manage to pull an A- in Mediterranean, which was a mild upset given how I felt about the class and that it was another "the chef doesn't give out A's; everyone gets a B" situation. Of course, they said the same thing about fish, and we all know how that turned out.

Fall Goodness

I don't generally do much in the way of recipes here at CwJ, but I concocted a few things recently that have worked out really well. One dish in particular, the first one below, is one I'll definitely be doing for Thanksgiving.

Roasted Squash with Bacon and Apples

6 slices bacon, cut into 1" squares
1 onion, cut ~1/2" dice
1 apple, cut ~1/2" dice
1 acorn squash, peeled, seeded and cut ~3/4" dice
salt and pepper to taste
maple syrup, as needed

Preheat the oven to 400*.

In a saute pan, render the bacon over medium heat (in other words, cook it but don't get it crispy). Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve. Saute the onion in the bacon fat until soft. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve. Turn the heat up a bit, add the apple, and let the pieces sit there until they start to brown (if you leave the heat down, they'll get soft before they caramelize). Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve. Add the squash and cook until it browns a bit. It should still be firm.

Place the squash and reserved bacon/onions/apples into a greased baking dish, toss it all together to combine, season with salt and pepper, and place in the oven. Cook until the squash is almost done, 10-12 minutes or so. Remove from the oven and drizzle several tablespoons maple syrup over the top. Return to the oven and cook until the squash is soft enough for your liking.

Another option you have -- and this is what I did -- is to cook everything in a cast-iron (or other oven-safe) pan. This way, I left the squash in the pan, added the reserved items, and then put the whole thing in the oven rather than using a baking dish. One less thing to wash this way. Oh, and I didn't have any on hand, but sage would be a nice addition.

Pork Tenderloin with Apples and Calvados

1 pork tenderloin, ~1#
oil, as needed (canola, vegetable; not extra virgin olive oil)
salt and pepper, as needed
1 apple, cut ~1/2" dice
1/4 C Calvados (apple brandy)
1/2 C chicken stock
1/4 C apple cider
2 TB butter

Preheat the oven to 400*. In the oven, place a cookie sheet lined with foil, and on top of this place a rack of some sort (roasting rack, cooling rack, whatever you've got).

Get a saute pan, large enough to hold the tenderloin, screaming hot. Season the tenderloin liberally on all sides with salt and pepper, grease it up with some oil and place it in the pan. Sear well on all sides, then transfer to the rack in the oven.

Pour any excess fat out of the pan, add the apples and let them caramelize. Reserve. Deglaze the pan with Calvados (please be careful pouring alcohol if you're using a gas burner!), scraping the good stuff off the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Let this cook until nearly dry, then add the stock and cider. Simmer while the pork finishes cooking.

Check the pork after ten minutes or so. You're looking for something in the 145* range for internal temperature (that's still slightly pink, which I know scares people with pork, but it's cool). When you get there, remove from the oven and cover loosely with foil. Let it rest for a good five minutes before slicing, or you'll be sorry.

While the pork is resting, finish the sauce -- simmer until it's a nice sauce consistency, then remove from the heat and stir in the butter. Keep that butter moving so the sauce emulsifies and isn't greasy. Season to taste. Slice the pork into thin medalions, and serve with the apples and the sauce.

Now, if I were being really snobby about things and I wanted to serve these two items together, I'd take the apples out of the squash dish in order to not have two items with apples on the same plate.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

European Vacation

To address the question posed in the comments of my previous post -- no, Cuisines of Europe and the Mediterranean is not one of my favorite classes. I've always felt that it would be, but it just hasn't worked out that way.

For starters, my group is so small (ten) that we only serve three or four entrees each day instead of the normal five. Two people are on each entree station, one person is sous chef, and one or two people are on what I guess would call the finger food station -- "mezze" for the Middle East, "tapas" for Spain, and pizza for Italy. So right off the bat, we're not getting to experience one or two preparations. This would be something like showing up at a restaurant you've really been wanting to try, only to have your server inform you that 40% of the menu isn't available. Now, don't get me wrong, we've put out good food every day of the block so far. Most days things are excellent, in fact. But I can't help but feel we're missing out on a good chunk of the learning experience. It doesn't help that we had an attendance problem the first week (not once did we have all ten students in class), so chef had to trim the menu back in places.

Here's a quick rundown of what we're covering. The first three days cover four areas you probably don't think of when you think of the Mediterranean: the Maghreb (northern Africa), the Arab Levant (Syria, Jordan, Jerusalem, Saudi Arabia, Iraq), Iran/Persia, and Turkey. I thought that was a bit weird myself, but hey, they do touch the Mediterrean (well, most of them do). After that, we had three days of Spain. I think Spain is going to be one of the next big things... tapas and "small plates" restaurants are popping up all over the place, and there's a generation of high-end Spanish chefs who are just getting noticed in the US. Friday, we finished three days of Italy. Monday we start three days of France, and the last two days of the block cover central and northern Europe.

Here's what we've done so far. There's an asterisk by dishes I was involved in. If it seems like I haven't done much in places (like Spain) it's because I've also been sous chef and on tapas as well.

Middle East
*Marinated, Grilled Swordfish Skewers
*Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemons and Couscous
( I know there was a third dish here, but it escapes me at the moment and I can't find my schedule)

*Grilled Lamb Chops with Chorizo, Potatoes, and Watercress Salad
Braised Oxtail, Chickpeas with Morcilla (blood sausage)
Serrano-wrapped Trout with Artichokes, Fava Beans, Arugula, and Sherry Vinegar Sauce
Fabada (white bean, chorizo, and morcilla stew)

Ricotta and Spinach Tortelli (kind of like ravioli), in Sage Brown Butter with Walnuts
Capellini with Mussels and Shrimp
*Gnocchi with Duck Ragu
*Risotto with Sausage and Mushrooms

The best thing, by far, I've been involved in was the Gnocchi with Duck Ragu. This was already one of my favorite dishes on campus, so I was really excited when the schedule came out and I saw I'd be on that station for two days. It's nothing fancy in terms of cooking techniques, but man, is it good. Light, melt-in-your-mouth potato gnocchi with shredded duck meat (from duck legs which have braised for hours and are falling-apart tender), plus a sauce made by reducing the braising liquid with veal stock and then finishing with a chunk of butter. Yum.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Baking in Review

Sorry for the lack of posting activity lately... things have been pretty busy between school, home, and a new job (more on that later). In any event, I finished up my three weeks of baking and have moved on to Cuisines of Europe and the Mediterranean, as you already know if you've checked the sidebar recently.

Baking wound up being one of my very favorite classes, and Chef Higgins is now in my all-time top three chefs here at school (joining Chefs Vanoli and Kanner). Extremely knowledgable, a great teacher, and an all-around good guy to boot. I wish I could take the block over again, both to work on different projects than I did the first time and to learn more from him.

Here's a quick list of things I made after those first three days: puff pastry, chocolate mousse, edible almond cookie bowls, cottage cheese and dill soft rolls, baguettes, donuts, palmiers, apple turnovers, chocolate croissants, marshmallows (rolled in graham cracker crumbs and dipped in chocolate, for a sort of one-bit s'more), pastry cream, bialys, and Italian buttercream. I also frosted a cake (and did a darned fine job, if I do say so myself), tempered chocolate, and learned to make roses out of marzipan.

Moving on, I also started working for the hospitality office here at school as a student tour guide. The pay is awful, but the hours are very flexible. Most of the tours are bus groups of senior citizens who come from such exotic locations such as Buffalo or Rochester, have lunch and then take a tour, or take a tour and then have dinner. We also do daily public tours (your $5 fee goes to a general scholarship fund), prospective student tours, new student tours, new parent tours, and so on.

The most exciting news of the day, however, is that I'm taking on big business. Oh yes. Stay tuned.