Saturday, July 23, 2011

Crepes and My Francophilian Fantasy

I started culinary school just about a year ago now, and my blogging frequency has gone way way down. I'd say that has more to do with lack of time than anything else (full diclosure: I blogged at work a lot). I has a little to do with a blog scare back in February, and something to do with me lazily not bringing my camera to school. I'm going to try to remedy that. We make a lot of incredible thing at school, such as these individual St. Honore Gateaux, but I rarely share them. Additionally the recipes have gotten far more complicated in a strange sort of way. I've got the basics down. Things like deep frying, braising, pastry cream and sauce making are a breeze--so easy I don't count them as part of the instructions. But they do count. Braising is simple once you get it, but it has a lot of steps, lots of places where mistakes can be made. I'll try to be better at keeping a record, if only to have a volume of recipes and my thoughts on them not stored on my bookshelf or strewn about in my school bookbag.

We worked on pate a choux dough, which is the stuff that make eclairs, meaning it's awesome. The Gateau St. Honore is a mishmash of a number of pastry elements stacked on top of and inside each other: chantilly cream (fancy for whipping cream) piped onto filled cream puffs which are glued to a puff pastry crust with caramel. It was alright. With the crepes, however, I may have found my calling card.

I first made them in eighth grade French class under the tutelage of Monsieur Srb, a plump and jolly gay man, probably the first outed man I ever met even though I had no idea of his sexual orientation or really the concept of sexual orientation back in 1997. That requires conidering that people are different than you, and thinking of someone aside from oneself is a stretch for the junior high set, or at least for 13-year-old me. Every year M. Srb would put on a mother's day brunch. Our class, nearly 100 percent teen girls, absolutely loved it. We were assigned a cubby to decorate using glitter, sequins, streamers, fancy paper of all sort and (I am not kidding here) fashion dolls dressed in a variety of French-themed costumes. We sliced up strawberries and made strawberry-whipped cream parfaits. And M. Srb had a crepe maker--a sort of upside-down saute pan that made flipping the crepes easy enough for teens. Thus crepes were solidified as quintessentially French in my Francophilian mind. When I went to Paris seven years later at the age of 20, purchasing a crepe from a cart and eating it in the Jardin des Tuileries, the park between the Louvre and the Arc de Triompe (and the Champs Elysee), was on my short list of things to do.
Another seven years later, I am realizing what a brilliant treat the crepe is. It easily straddles the savory-sweet divide and allows all combinations of items to be rolled in a thin and crisp pancake and served from a truck. If nothing works out for me with writing and culinary school, you'll find me at a farmer's market filling crepes with pork tenderloin and peach mostarda (a concoction I cooked up for class) and chocolate, pears and pastry cream.

Crepes: from On Baking yields 30 six-inch crepes
6 eggs
6 egg yolks
12 ounces water
18 ounces milk
6 ounces sugar
1 teaspoon salt
14 ounces flour
5 ounces melted butter

Whisk wet ingredients then add the sugar, salt and flour. Stir in the butter. Let sit for at least an hour before cooking.

Heat a non-stick pan on the stove, melting butter into the pan and then wiping it out just to season the first crepes. Pour one to one-and-a-half fluid ounces of batter into the hot pan, swirling the batter around immediately to coat the pan. Cook until lightly brown on one side, scrape up the edges off the crepe with a spatula, grab a corner with your finger and flip over quickly. Or, if you are deft at flipping sans spatula, give the pan a nice flick of the wrist to turn the crepe. Cook on the other side until golden brown. Remove and fill as you desire.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Old Cuban

I've been posting recipes on this blog for three years now. There are more than 300 posts and at least 200 recipes. Is there anything out there I haven't cooked? Of course, of course. In cooking and baking the possibilities are trully endless. But the last few days, right when all the summer produce is at its best, all I want to make are the old standbys. Pine nut and basil pesto, caprese salads with heirloom tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, pickles, tea cake. While my vegeteable-starch-protein class stretched me creatively, at home I am seeking the creature comforts.

Amanda and I had another potluck last night. It's her last before she moves to Portland, Ore., next weekend, and it was a great way to send her out--with great friends and great food. I didn't cook anything. Too hot. To keep cool, I thought cocktails would be a nice change from the typical beer and wine we usually serve.

I bought some fresh mint at the Old Market farmer's market, along with some dill for the pickles and some zinnias for the kitchen table. The only logical drink to go with was a mojito, fresh and cold, but also not very strong on the alcohol, which for this party, wasn't exactly what I was looking for. My friends Sarah and Matthew have shared their interest in what I would deem sophisticated cocktails. No daquiris or margaritas flavored with sweet and sour mix here. They and my friend Lindsey are partial to champagne cocktails, where the champagne adds the fizz instead of tonic water or club soda, along with a bit more depth of flavor. I first tried a salty dog topped with champagne (it's grapefruit juice and gin) at Sarah and Matthew's, and Lindsey is a big fan of the French 75, which is made with gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and champagne. I settled on an Old Cuban, I guess you could call it a variation on a mojito. It's recipe is two ounces rum, two dashes bitters, 1 ounce simple syrup made with mint leaves, one ounce lime juice and topped off with two ounces of champagne. Plus loads of ice, especially if it's more than 100 degrees where you live.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Final, Part Two

So I've been busy, and posting on the blog has taken the greatest hit until I woke up yesterday morning with a scratchy throat, which soon developed into full-blown strep. I've spent nearly the whole of this beautiful Saturday lying in bed and sleeping, lying in bed and reading, and now lying in bed and blogging. I've been cooking and baking though, plenty. My second of three final practical exams for vegetable-starch-protein was Wednesday and went wildly successfully. Chef Reichardt was impressed that I made my own mayonaisse for the Waldorf salad (I can't believe no one else made theirs), my apple and pear mostarda (a sweet and sour sauce) was the best in the class (and he claimed he had some awful mostarda), and at the end of my pork tenderloin entree he declared that I was a good cook. Incredible. I was very complimented. And then I screwed up the dessert.

It was creme caramel reversee, or more popularly flan. Maria made cute little almond florentines and a strawberry gastrique. I burned the caramel four times. Four. I would look away for 0.2 seconds only to look back at a black and nearly smoking pan of sugar. Considering that I'm a pastry student, it was a little embarassing that I had so much trouble with the dessert. In the end, the flan was creamy with a simple syrup just barely shy of a bitter burned flavor.
Pork Tenderloin or Chop: adapted from Jamie Oliver
1 loin or 2 chops
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
salt and pepper

The fennel really complemented the pork in this dish. It was so simple, yet really quite delicious. I just rubbed the outside of the loin and/or chop (I had chop to practice and loin in class), heated the oil in a saute pan on medium-high heat and pan fried the pork until it was done, leaving the loin at medium instead of cooking it all the way through and drying it out. In my opinion the tenderloin was a much better choice.

Pear and Apple Mostarda: yields 1 quart from James Peterson's Sauces
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 apples, cut into wedges
2 pears or any other combination of fruit, cut into wedges if necessary
1 teaspoon mustard seeds

This sweet-sour sauce goes well with pork. Again, it is incredibly easy. I brought the vinegar and sugar to a light boil on the stovetop and then added the apples, pears and some cherries that we had in the classroom. I left the saute pan on simmer, stirring occassionally for half an hour. Once the fruit is softened, remove it from the pan, raise the heat to high and reduce the liquid to the thickness of a sauce.

Waldorf Salad with Honey-mustard Mayonaise Dressing: serves 2
bunch of arugula
1 apple
1 stalk celery
1/4 cup walnuts
handful grapes

3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon mustard, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon white-wine vinegar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon honey

Chop the fruit and vegetables to a similar size for the salad. Set aside.

I started this by making the basic mayonaise out of James Peterson's Sauces in which I whisked the yolks, mustards and vinegar together. Then slowly poured a combination of both oils into the yolks, whisking constantly. The mayonaise will thicken up quite a bit. Just go until the oil is completely incorporated. Season with salt and pepper. Add the honey and a bit more vinegar. Taste and adjust mustard, salt, pepper, honey and vinegar to taste. You'll want to have the vinegar to water down the dressing a bit so it's easier to pour. Toss the mayo with the fruit and vegetables and plate the salads.

Creme Renversee aka Flan: from Mastering the Art of French Cooking
2 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
To make the caramel, bring the sugar and water to a boil in a sauce pan. Remove from heat once it has just barely browned. Pour into four to six oven-proof molds.

Preheat the oven to 325. In a stock pot, bring the milk to a simmer. Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, yolks and sugar. Once the milk is simmering, pour it slowly into the egg mixture while whisking. Then pour the custard into four to six bowl molds which already have a bit a caramel in them. Place the molds in a baking pan that is filled with enough water to come halfway up the custard dishes. Bake for 40 to 60 minutes, until the custard has set. Remove from oven and let cool before turning the molded custards out onto serving plates.

Friday, July 1, 2011


I haven't been posting lately. I'm in the throes of summer, which thus far has involved travelling to California, two camping trips involving climbing and a intensive five-week course entitled Vegetable-Starch-Protein Cookery. This is a great class. My chef is Deke Reichardt; he owns the Jackson Street Tavern on 11th and Jackson in the Old Market (go for the duck tacos). Class meets twice a week for seven hours and we, as a class prepare some five to 10 dishes from a set list of recipes and then everyone comes up with their own plate using only the ingredients that arrive in class on a cart.

Chef Reichardt humors me and Maria, who are the only pastry students in the class. We've made baklava, a banana and a blackberry clafoutis, mango semifreddo, rice pudding, bread pudding and pizza dough. For me, it's this great challenge to come up with something completely elaborate. Last session may have taken it all with seared scallops in a lime beurre blance over a barley pilaf with cilantro and tomato. Yeah, beurre blanc. It turns out I did learn a few things in Soups and Sauces class.

Today was day one of a three-day final exam. We were required to present a three-course meal of a wilted spinach salad, beef-short rib and caramelized onion ravioli with a muhroom cream sauce and a cherry clafoutis for dessert. There weren't any recipes, just ingredients and three hours in which to complete everything. It started out (for me at least) like a big cluster. I was assigned the second time slot and was suddenly scrambling to put things together when I didn't need. to. I screwed up the spinach salad with enough time to redo it (the first batch was overdone and inspired the gag reflex). I sauteed the spinach with olive oil and fried some proscuitto with garlic and shallots and deglazed the pan with balsamic vinegar to make a dressing with honey and warm olive oil.
The ravioli turned out so-so. It's surprisingly difficult to produce ravioli thick enough not to break but thin enough to not taste too doughy. Mine was too doughy. But the braised short ribs and caramelized onion stuffing was great. And I loved the sauce, even though it came out a bit on the salty side (I love salt). The clafoutis, of course, was fine, and I even had enough time to throw together a cherry compote sauce on the side. OK, so I did learn something in that awful Soup/Sauce class.
Clafoutis here

Wilted Spinach Salad with Honey Balsamic Dressing:
1 pound fresh spinach
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 ounce pancetta or prosciutto
3 ounces balsamic vinegar
1 ounce honey
salt and pepper

Wash spinach dry completely. Moist spinach wilted in olive oil is nasty stuff. Dice up all the veggie and meat. In a saute pan, heat the olive oil on medium. Add the spinach and toss around to coat with oil. Saute until spinach has only just barely wilted and isn't soggy and/or gross (can you tell I have a problem with warm spinach?). Remove from pan. Add the prosciutto and fry up a bit, then add the shallots and garlic. Cook until softened. Remove and pour over spinach. Deglaze the pan with the balsamic vinegar, turning the heat down and touch. Add the honey and then the olive oil and cook until warm. Season with salt and pepper. Toss vinagrette with the warm dressing being careful not to overdo it. Serve.

Basic Braised Beef Short Ribs:
4 beef short ribs
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
2 stalks carrots, coarsely chopped
bay leaf
3 cups stock
                                                                     1/2 cup red wine
                                                                      salt and pepper

So this is your simple braising formula and instructions. Millions of variations exist for you to unfold changing the vegeatables, herbs, braising liquid and deglazing liquid (the wine in this case). Braising may have been one of my greatest culinary discoveries.

Anyway, here's how it goes: Preheat the oven to 300. Heat the oil in an oven-proof pot, like a Dutch oven. Dry the meat and season it with salt and pepper. Sear the outside of the meat in the oil, rotating to get all the sides good and browned. Remove from pot. Saute the vegetables and bay leaf in the same oil. Once they have been coated with oil and softened only slightly, add the wine using a wooden spoon to lift the juicy bits from the bottom of the pan. Once the wine has reduced slightly, return the meat to the pot. Add the stock covering only half of the meat. Bring the stock to a boil. Cover the pot and pop it in the oven for an hour and a half or until the meat is fork tender (it kind of flakes away from the fork when you pierce it).

To fill ravioli, we completed this tedious process in class and then tore apart the meat and mixed it with caramelized onions that I cooked on super duper low heat for several hours (four is standard--seriously, but it's so worth it). I made a little sauce of maple syrup and water and rosemary sprigs that I filled the raviolis with. I wouldn't recommend spending the time making and filling the raviolis because it's a pain in the arse, you should pay professionals to make stuffed raviolis--it is so worth it. The sauce I made was pretty easy though.

Mushroom Cream Sauce:
1 cup beef stock
1/2 cup port wine
4 ounces mixed mushrooms
1/2 cup cream
salt and pepper

Reduce the volume of the beef stock to one fourth. Reduce the volume of the port by half. Combine and add to a saute pan. Add the mushrooms and cook for 5 to 10 minutes. Add the cream to thicken and season with salt and pepper.