Sunday, February 28, 2016

They Live!

My bees, as of today, are alive!

It is 60 degrees out and sunny so I went to check on them, finally. While there are a lot of dead bees in front of the hive this is not unexpected. They are supposed to have a big die-off over the winter and then repopulate by spring. I pulled back one insulation panel so I could see the window and, very quickly, a bunch of bees started working their way to the window and then out the door. Hopefully that didn't confuse them too much. It's going to be warm for the next 4-5 days and then cold again. There was a lot of the fondant gone but there did seem to be plenty left if they need it.

Also today I assisted in a dumpling making class at school, which was super fun. Some of my home experiences came in handy, such as when the meat grinder attachment for the Kitchen Aid needed to be set up. That, I could do. There were six different kinds of dumplings including: wontons for soup, shrimp ones, pork ones, lamb ones, soup dumplings, and rice flour ones stuffed with black sesame paste. They all tasted amazing.

When I got home I started a batch of yogurt and also worked on some of the stages for my project for school. We each have to come up with a dessert that uses an unusual fruit, herb and spice. More on that later, I'm bringing it in on Tuesday to class and I'll give a full report after. I've already made it once, last weekend, for my family, and I think it'll be well received.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Day 14: Petits Fours Demi-Sec

It's taken me a few days to have time to post about class on Tuesday. We focused on the second type of petit four: demi-sec or semi dry. These are still cookies but more cake-like. Madeleines, financiers, macarons, macaroons (they are different), and other meringue based cookies.

One of our class was absent so there were only six of us; we divided into two groups. In addition to baking the four recipes we'd made the day before that needed to rest for a day in the fridge, each team made two flavors each of macarons. Our team made lemon and coffee; the other made raspberry and pistachio. Each was filled with the appropriate flavored ganache. I piped all the coffee ones and made the ganache for it; another one of our team did the assembly. I did help pipe the lemon ones, too! The lemon ones were good but the coffee ones were sublime. Mmm.

Our class also made madeleines, pistachio financiers, raspberry financiers, various almond meringue cookies, and two different kinds of macaroons. After we finished all the assembly, we set aside more cookies for that event.  All told, in two days we set aside about 30 dozen cookies for the event. The rest were divided up amongst the crew and any extras shared with the savory students; in return they gave us steak!

That evening we had our second lecture about fruits, herbs and spices. This week was spices and we were tasked with making either cookies or ice cream with unusual spices. I made an ice cream with Aleppo peppers and toasted fenugreek. It had a nice kick in the back of the throat and the fenugreek provided a maple-y flavor. I really liked it... although some of my classmates thought it was weird, I think! Because I had my ice cream base set up quickly, I offered to and ended up making the evening's snack: baba ganoush. Eggplant was roasted and then processed with tahini, lemon juice, salt, cumin, and garlic. It was served with toasted pita bread, kalamata olives, and parsley. It was a perfect dinner to offset the cookies and ice cream.

I'm getting so spoiled with all this terrific food! So is my family. My father-in-law said he won't be satisfied with regular cookies anymore.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Day 13: Petits Fours (and Dinner)

So, I learned today that petits fours are any bite-sized pastries that can be divided into five categories. The first category is sec or dry. AKA, cookies!

Between all of us, we made 15 different kinds of cookies. Some will be baked tomorrow but most were baked today. My partner and I made checkerboard cookies, lemon sablée, damier (little sandwich cookies with apricot filling dipped halfway in chocolate) and flat orange cookies stuck together with chocolate. We also made the batter for a sesame and poppy seed tuile which we will bake tomorrow. There was a lot more piping than rolling although the checkerboard cookies, which look so cool, required a lot of steps: make the two doughs, chill them, roll them out, stack them, cut them and stack another layer, then chill again, then cut slices, assemble the checkerboards, roll out the chocolate dough to make the edges, wrap the checkerboards in chocolate dough, chill, slice and bake. Whew! They're a lot of work but totally worth it.

Also on the list were three other kinds of tuiles, Diamonds, Linzer cookies in two different flavors, pignoli florentines, and raisin cookies (with rum, of course), plus at least two other types that were prepped today and will be made tomorrow.

Here is a shot of the whole production, to give you a sense of how many we made. We set aside at least 12 dozen cookies for that event coming up in March.

When I got home, I had a lovely duck confit waiting for me. I'd gotten the recipe from that Regional French cooking class and, a few days ago, purchased 12 duck legs to confit. First they are marinated overnight in a mixture of garlic, parsley, onion, salt, pepper and bay. Yesterday they were placed in one layer in my turkey roasting pan and covered with all the duck fat I had left from all that rendering (8 pints). After cooking at 300˚F for four hours they were cooled and then divided into two dishes, covered in that fat, and stored in the fridge. Today I took the dish with seven legs, scraped off the fat, split the legs into two pieces each and then seared them in a sauté pan until they were warm. I had to do them in two batches and then kept them warm in the oven until it was time to eat. They were phenomenal.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Day 12: Custards

Today's topic was custards and Bavarians. While I'm still a little shaky on the definition of a Bavarian vs. a Bavarian Cream, I enjoyed making the custards. We made a huge batch of flan, so everyone got to work on it. These are baked in a water bath. We were taught that they're better served a day later as the caramel on the bottom becomes more of a sauce. Therefore, I have my three flans and we'll eat them in the next day or so. We also made a clafoutis (cherries baked in a custard sauce) which we ate; that was lunch.

The crowning achievement of the day was making a Ruche, or beehive cake.

The layers consisted of lemon hazelnut meringues (that gift from the past we made ourselves last week), lemon mousse, honey mousse, and Italian meringue for the top. One team made lemon curd which was made into the lemon mousse. That formed the sides and one of the layers in the cake. Our team made the honey mousse which consisted of a honey custard to which honey Italian meringue and then whipped cream was added to make the mousse. Then, while the cakes froze for a while, I made the bees with two of my classmates. First I kneaded marzipan with yellow food coloring and we shaped the bodies. Then I drizzled them with chocolate to make the stripes and we stuck almonds in for wings. My classmate who is terrific at piping finished up by making the eyes. I lined them all up for their photo op. Here is our Bee-2 Bomber Squadron...
Some others in class made the honeycomb chocolate for the sides and froze it. Then another person made the caramel which we all got a chance to drizzle into shapes. When I got to the caramel it was a little too cold so it glopped a bit. In my attempts to clean it up it serendipitously bent into a 3D structure which I liked very much.

Once everything was ready, we used Italian meringue to coat the top and pipe a beehive on the cake. Then we torched it to brown it and get the ring off. After that, we coated it with the chocolate honeycombs, added the caramel and then the bees.  We were overwhelmed with the cuteness of it all!
The evening lecture was the first of three covering fruits, herbs and spices. This was an opportunity to work with unfamiliar fruits. A panna cotta was made and we were each asked to come up with a compote, particularly using something we'd not used before. I picked pomegranate, red currant, key lime juice and apple. I added the apple for the pectin and, of course, ended up with more of a jam than a compote. However, the lime juice worked really well with the pomegranate. Chef also had us make some really terrific savory dishes; I made fried avocado with a cilantro dipping sauce and others made a risotto with strawberries. (So unexpectedly tart and tasty! And pink!)

Monday, February 15, 2016

Day 11: Jams and Jellies

Today, at least for part of the class, I was in familiar territory. Each student made a batch or two of jam and canned it. I made kiwi jam and chocolate banana spread; we also had raspberry, blackberry, quince, pear-ginger, apple-orange-rhubarb, and sour cherry jams, apricot glaze and caramel sauce. We did not use a boiling water bath, which is fine considering they are for personal consumption only and we were really just focusing on the experience of making jams with and without added pectin.

The unfamiliar part for me was making jellies. These are super-jellified sweets, coated in granulated sugar. They are very much like Turkish Delight except those are generally coated in confectioners' sugar. I made lychee flavored ones. I've never cooked with lychee. As far as I can recall, I don't think I've ever tasted a lychee before. They are somewhat intimidating. However, if you get the purée, they're not intimidating at all. They look just like any other fruit purée at that point. And they are crazy sweet, in a floral kind of way. Not as overwhelmingly floral as, say, biting on a cardamom pod (I know this from personal experience, it was 30 years ago and I still haven't forgotten) but still very fragrant.

Each student made a batch of jellies: strawberry, mango, passion fruit, mixed dark berries, apricot, pear and lychee. Half went to us and half are being saved for an event in March. The recipes requires a lot of pectin but also inverted sugar, citric acid, fruit purée, and lots of regular sugar.

Friday, February 12, 2016

My Brain is Mush


It's been a non-stop sort of week and, rather than write it all down, the best my brain could do was put the little Monopoly sweepstakes stickers from the grocery store on the playing board. Let's see if I can recap as much as possible!

Monday: snow day. I made scones, which came out rather well.

Tuesday: (Day 9) We had our class on meringues. Mostly we made French meringues, which are prepared by whipping the egg whites and then adding sugar, no heat involved (unlike Italian and Swiss meringues). We then added nut flours and more sugar of varying proportions and made many large disks of meringue to be used in cakes. In particular, a dacquoise is a cake that uses meringue layers instead of sponge cake. We made one cake and froze the rest of the meringues (6 different recipes' worth) for future cakes. I consider this a gift to our future selves. The cake we did make was a [Coffee and] Cognac Mousseline Dacquoise. We even made a special kind of Italian meringue with coffee extract to make the little decorations.

Observation: I'm getting a little better at piping.

Later that night we finished our ServeSafe course and took the exam. The test should be graded in a week or so.

Wednesday: I assisted the Regional French Cooking class again. This time it was the southwest area: Basque, Bordeaux, Limousin, and so forth. Cassoulet, chicken piperade (pepper/tomato/onion, very similar to a cacciatore), mushroom crepe gratin, salt cod turned into a brandade with potato (this one surprised me; I did not expect to like it and LOVED it instead!), clafoutis and a soufflé. I feel personally responsible for the Grand Marnier soufflé not rising as chef told me I could advise the student without her help and I had never made a soufflé before. So, clearly, I did not give her good advice. Anyhow, I am perpetually amazed at how much gets done in a few hours.

Lime Soufflés
Thursday: (Day 10) We had a make-up class since we'd had the snow day on Monday. This was dessert sauces and...soufflés. We made an excellent lime soufflé which was served with a honey lime sauce. When the soufflés came out of the oven we each took a spoon, carved a hole in the middle, and filled with the sauce. Wow. And the soufflés rose perfectly. I feel redeemed. We also made tons of crepes (dessert, chocolate, and pumpkin) and chef made a batch of ice cream from creme anglaise (which makes an excellent ice cream base). Our team made jasmine tea sauce, passion fruit coulis, and a Suzette sauce but instead of orange juice and Grand Marnier we used lime juice and tequila. The crepes, flambéed with tequila, were excellent. I got to make a Sabayon (egg yolks, simple syrup, and champagne, whipped into a foamy sauce over a double boiler) which I then spooned over fresh berries (too many! says Chef) and bruléed under the broiler.
There were other sauces, and some molten chocolate cakes that I never saw getting made let alone baked (probably because I was working on the Sabayon). Sadly they were overcooked so I opted to skip those calories. I might try them at home another time. Clean up took FOREVER. There was another class in that kitchen at 6 pm. We finished cleaning at 5:55 pm! I managed to get the train and then the bus home just in time to load the 10 year old in the car and go pick the 14 year old up at the Y. Dinner wasn't until about 8 pm.

Friday: Work. Yes, I'm still doing that! Fortunately, it was a good day and I was out at a reasonable time. I could go to the grocery store and grab some lunch for myself at my friend's restaurant before I had to get home.

Oh, and we have another quiz on Monday.

And I'm only one game piece away from winning a Big Joe Grill.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Side Benefit

As part of our requirements for school, we have to complete a minimum of three "events." The career counselor suggested assisting in some of the recreational classes, particularly covering topics we're not covering in class, so we get a wider breadth of experience. Last Wednesday I assisted for a Regional French cooking class, covering the Savoy and Dauphine regions. The students made three different entrées, fondue, a cheese soufflé, two sides, three desserts, and a duck confit that will be used this week (I'm assisting this week as well). One of the entrées was trout Grenobloise. And it was amazing.

Since fish is piscis non grata in our house, sadly, I decided to make it with chicken breasts. First I clarified 12 ounces of butter and set that aside. Then I filleted the chicken so instead of three whole breasts I had six pieces of reasonable thickness. These were seasoned with salt and pepper and set aside. I set up the rest of the mise en place: the pulp of five lemons, chopped up, capers, toasted bread crumbs (they were supposed to be like really small croutons; I had toasted some of the French bread from a previous class to preserve it so I broke that up into little pieces), parsley for garnish. When I was ready, the chicken was dredged in flour and cooked in the clarified butter, about 8 minutes or so per side. They were set onto a warm serving plate and then the rest of the butter was used to cook up the lemon and capers. Right before serving I tossed in the bread crumbs and poured it over the chicken.
Had I known that it was too strong of a lemon flavor for the ten year old, I would have just made it with fish. But that's okay. The rest of us really enjoyed it.

(And, yes. I know. It's a citrus flavored food. But for some reason, this one is okay with me. Go figure.)

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Day 8: Commercial Baking

The theme of today was baking quickly and in large quantities. To that end, we made a quick puff pastry dough, a pâte à choux recipe, lots of pastry cream, and some cookies. It was quite a production. First we made the puff pastry dough which required lots of rolling and folding to make all the layers. As it rested, we made pastry cream and the pâte à choux, and we used that to pipe little puffs onto some of the puff pastry dough (for the St. Honore and the Venus Arms at least) and baked them. My partner and I made a batch of cookies and another group made another batch. Sadly, the batch I made burnt in the oven (I was washing dishes and didn't catch them in time) and initially Chef wasn't going to have me make them again but gave me another chance, if I could "make them in 5 minutes." I think I made them in 10 minutes which, considering it was a new recipe to me, wasn't too bad. But I did feel badly about burning them!

After the cookie fiasco, we started getting the flavored pastry creams together, added whipped cream to make mousseline creams, and started filling everything. Along the way we also made fondant, hazelnut praline, writing chocolate, and extra little cream puffs because we had extra pâte à choux and creams. Finally it was time to assemble the Napoleons. One whole sheet pan of puff pastry was baked, flipped, sprinkled with sugar, baked some more, and then cooled. It was sliced into three equal pieces and then rum mousseline cream was spread in between the layers. Once it was stacked it went into the freezer to chill; otherwise the fondant for the top wouldn't set and it would be hard to cut. After freezing for a while, Chef topped it with fondant and chocolate and made the patterns in the top and then cut it into (very large) individual pastries.
The other really nice thing about today is that the savory students were making soups and shared their creations with us. We shared ours with them. Everyone was happy.

And, as promised, here's my uniform. The embroidered coats arrived today!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Day 7: Fillings

The theme of today's lesson was fillings: pie fillings and chocolate mousse.

We'd touched on fillings last week when we did the cream fillings for the tarts. Today, however, we went into them in more detail. We learned the difference between a binder and a thickener, and when they are used. We made chocolate mousse, pecan pie filling, apple pie filling, blueberry pie filling, and black currant curd. With those fillings, and with more pâte sucrée and pâte foncer, we made little apple, blueberry and pecan pies, little pies with the curd, and each of us made a Mogadore cake.

The skills involved in the cake included cutting the top and bottom off the cake layer, soaking it in raspberry syrup, fitting it into a ring, piping jam onto it, and then filling the top with the mousse. Then we had to smooth it and chill it. While it was chilling, we made the chocolate decorations for our cakes. After that, we applied the glaze, smoothed that layer, and then decorated the cakes with writing chocolate, raspberries and our chocolate decorations. It is pretty amazing tasting.
I'm quite tired!