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.
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
3 cups stock1/2 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.