American Regional- Deep South

Sunday, April 24, 2011

We had Friday off this week because of Easter, so American Regional had a shortened menu since we only had one day. We were exploring the Deep South this week and the menu included items such as Watermelon and Watercress Salad, Southern Fried Chicken and Cream Gravy, Fried Green Tomatoes, Slow Cooked Greens, Shrimp Perloo, Vidalia Onion Tart (Can we say YUM???), Peanut Brittle, and Peach Cobbler. There were four groups and each group was to prepare half the menu, with every group making fried chicken.

No one's fried chicken came out perfectly because either the oil was too hot, in some cases, or not hot enough in others. When the oil was too hot, the outside got too dark and the inside wasn't cooked through. In the opposite circumstance, the inside was finished before the outside crisped up and it got very greasy. We didn't use the deep fryer because it would have destroyed the oil, and instead used pans on the stove. This was the difficulty in keeping the oil at the proper temperature. We should have used a candy thermometer to temp the oil before frying.

I, personally, prepared the Peach Cobbler. I'm from Ohio and the Northern version of peach cobbler is much different than the Southern version we prepared. In the Northern version, the peaches are layered in the bottom of a pan after being tossed with sugar, cinnamon, and flour and then topped with a sticky, almost biscuit-like dough that is dropped by spoonfuls on top. In the Southern version, we prepared a pie crust for the top and the bottom that was to be filled with the peach mixture.

Since this was the only dish I was assigned, I decided to make the most of it and make it fabulous. I made individual "pies" and then simmered the rest of the peaches until they were extremely soft. I melted some white chocolate, rum, and heavy cream over a double boiler and then pureed it with the peaches. I strained it through a chinois to make a sauce and added a little lemon juice to round out the flavors. I plated this sauce and then chilled them until time to plate the cobbler so there would be a contrast in temperatures. I made a flavored, very thick whipped cream and piped into mounds and froze them with a small heart of pie dough in the center to place on top of the piping hot cobbler so it would melt over the top. I simmered some additional peaches in a simple syrup and arranged them on top of the plated sauce, placed the hot cobbler on top after dipping the top of it in the peach simple syrup for a shine and extra moisture, and then topped it off with the whipped cream mound. It. Was. Delicious! I'm not a huge peach fan but I could have eaten several of these. Apparently so could everyone else because several of my classmates were disappointed because they didn't even get one bite. I would definitely call that a success.

Easter Cake

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Here is a cutie patootie Easter cake that was ordered from me. I love baking in exchange for free babysitting! It's such a win-win situation!!

Stuffed Chiles, Anyone??

This week in Latin Cuisine, we were still in Mexico. Don't worry. It was the last week there. We move on to South America next week. I have thoroughly enjoyed our time (and our food!!) from this country, though.

This week I prepared the Stuffed Chile Rellenos, or Chiles in Nogada Walnut Sauce. As I researched, I discovered the difference between the two names is basically that Stuffed Chile Rellenos usually just use cheese and possibly onions where the recipe I prepared today called for onions, fruit (apples, dried peaches, and raisins), nuts, and ground pork but no cheese. I, again, have not been a fan of chiles in the past. I've always been put off by the worry that they would be too spicy for me. I think this comes from an incident when I was very young at a Walmart. My sisters were supposed to keep me entertained at the "food court" of this particular Walmart, and they got some Nachos with Jalepenos. They fed me one. My mouth about fell off my face and I cried inconsolably, from what I can remember. I think this is where my aversion to chiles in the past has come from.

I knew going into this quarter, however, that there would be no getting around eating chiles. I would have to face this "fear" head on. This was one reason I asked right off the bat this morning to prepare the Stuffed Chiles. After roasting the chiles, I wrapped them in plastic wrap and let them sit for a bit to loosen the skin. Then I peeled them, cut off the tops, and stuffed them. After sticking toothpicks in them to keep the lids back on, I dipped them in flour, then an egg white tempura batter, and then into the fryer they went. Once they were a light brown, out they came and they were sprinkled with salt.

The Walnut Sauce that is served with them is simply walnuts, milk, cream, bread, and queso fresco (a deliciously salty, crumbly cheese) all pureed together. Holy. Moly. This was an absolutely tasty sauce that I'm sure I will incorporate into other dishes. The saltiness of the outside of the chiles, the slightly spicy flavor of the chile, and the tartness of the fruit inside the chile was rounded out perfectly by the mellow, creamy flavor of the Walnut Sauce. I ate a chile and a half.

I have adored the food so far this quarter. Let's see what week 4 holds!

American Regional, New England

Saturday, April 16, 2011

This was a very different week in American Regional. Thursday we were preparing to serve 60 people on Friday food from the New England region of America. A local high school was bringing their culinary club/class to the Art Institute to view the school, come to our class and see a demo from Chef, "help" us out a little, and see if any of them were interested in becoming future students at AI. I didn't get very good pictures because everything happened so quickly with the students there and we didn't actually plate anything, as it was all in hotel pans for the buffet.

Usually each group is assigned one "menu" to prepared which includes an appetizer, salad, soup, entree, sides, and dessert, or any combination of these items. This week, however, our groups were assigned a category instead of a menu. My group was assigned the entrees. The entrees this week were New England Boiled Dinner (AKA Corned Beef and Cabbage) and a Turkey Roulade served with a cranberry sauce, a horseradish sauce, and stuffing with gravy.

We had to multiply each recipe by 12 to make enough for everyone, except the turkey roulades. The reason for this was that Chef wanted each group to learn how to debone a turkey and create the roulades. Our job, as the entree group, was to cook off all the finished roulades. We began, after multiplying out the recipes, by creating a time line of what needed to get done Thursday and Friday and what order we needed to do it in. Chef, I believe, tried to split all the "seniors" up among the groups so each group had one member that is further along in their schooling. I completely understand this approach, and don't disagree. We all had our own "burdens to bear" because of this method, though.

My burden was a guy who has extreme sanitation issues on the opposite end of the spectrum from my OCD-ness. All through Thursday, my tablemate and I were trying to nicely remind the third member of all the rules and regulations that he was breaking, and eventually we had to go to Chef to speak with him about the issue. It is completely unsanitary to dip fingers into a dish, lick your fingers and keep cooking, and then stick said fingers BACK into the food that we are about to serve to guests. That's what disposable tasting spoons are for. It is unsanitary to place veggies on a cutting board, whether or not they are still in their bag, that has just had raw turkey on it. It is completely unacceptable to go get towels from the dirty towel bag because you cannot find any clean ones. These are just a few of the issues we were having.

In any case, we were able to make our way through. We prepared both sauces on Thursday since they could be held easily and were to be served cold. We got the corned beef on to simmer for a couple of hours Thursday so we could just finish it off with the veggies on Friday. We prepped all the veggies to be cooked for Friday and labeled them for easy use. We got all the parsley chopped and held for garnish the next day. We prepped everything for the roulade, including the forcemeat to go in the center, so we just needed to assemble, truss, and cook off Friday morning.

Friday we came in and we had done a wonderful job of getting everything done the day before that needed to be done. We put our corned beef back on and brought it to a simmer and added the veggies. Then we pulled the beef only off, and put it in a hotel pan with some juices to slowly finish cooking in the oven to be extremely tender by the time the guests showed up. We finished the roulade and gathered the other groups roulades to cook off. We prepped and made the stuffing and the gravy. We were ready.

The high schoolers showed up and watched the demo from Chef on how to de-bone a turkey, create a farce, and roll up the roulade and truss it.

Then they were split into groups to "help" us finish everything off. Our group helped slice the corned beef and roulades and put them into hotel pans for service on the buffet line.

Finished turkey roulades, waiting to be sliced-

The inside of the turkey roulade-

Corned Beef sprinkled with parsley on top of turnips, potatoes, cabbage, and broth-

Most of them seemed really excited to be there and very willing to jump in and get their hands dirty. It was fun to see their enthusiasm and it was an interesting change of pace "catering" this event.

Mexico- week 2

Let's just start this week out by saying that this is, aside from Pastry and Baking, one of my favorite classes. It's probably tied with Classical at this point on my list of favorite classes. The food is absolutely delicious and it isn't a class in which you have to run around like a chicken with it's head cut off to get everything done. This means, to me, that I have more of an opportunity to really experience the dishes, new ingredients (mostly chiles), and cooking.

This week we were still in Mexico. I made Pico de Gallo to go with the Yucatan style steamed turkey, Churros, and Mexican Hot Chocolate. One thing that happened this week was that the turkeys all too a little longer to cook than planned so everyone else had everything ready and then it had to sit for over half and hour while waiting on the turkeys. This definitely affected the consistency of some items.

I've made Pico before at home, so this wasn't too much of a challenge. I did need a little more lime juice and salt, though, in my final seasonings. The Yucatan style turkey was amazing. We ate it in fresh corn tortillas with Mexican white rice, a delectable salsa one of the table mates made out of his own repertoire, pico, and grated gruyere cheese. Some people also ate pickled onions with theirs, and we also had a cactus topping that was available but I didn't really enjoy the flavors of that dish.

The churros were a little bit of a challenge. I've made churros before with no problems. This recipe seemed to produce "stickier" churros. The outside fried up nicely, but the inside never fully dried out as much as it was supposed to. I made the dough and piped lines onto a sheet pan and popped them in the freezer to set up enough to cut into smaller lengths to drop into the fryer. I set the fryer on 350 degrees and gave it ample time to heat up (2 hours!). I tested a tiny length of the first churro and the oil didn't seem hot enough. Chef turned it up all the way to 400 and we gave it a little longer to heat up again. My second churro began bubbling immediately, but was still extremely tacky in the middle when it was golden on the outside. Another table was having the same problems, so we decided to try and fry them twice. This seemed to help and my last batch finally seemed to cook enough that the inside was just SLIGHTLY tacky, and by placing them in a 200 degree oven to hold, managed to get them dried out enough to be delicious, although not quite as crispy as we would have liked due to the holding.

To go with the churros, I made a Mexican chocolate dipping sauce. I've never eaten Mexican chocolate before, and I was missing out!!!! I love the spicy cinnamon flavor, and I even like the grainier texture. I could have just sat there and eaten a whole bar of the chocolate. I made a basic ganache by melting the chocolate in a double boiler with a little butter and heavy cream. The texture of the Mexican chocolate made a stickier ganache instead of a smooth and creamy ganache than "normal" chocolate does. I then whipped some heavy cream and folded a little of the chocolate mixture into it to make a topping for the dipping and hot chocolate. The hot chocolate was simply milk, vanilla beans, and Mexican chocolate all melted together. It was thick and delightfully rich, and I stirred a little into my coffee to make an amazing late morning pick me up. The whipped cream melted almost as soon as it hit both items I piped it onto, so the presentation pictures are a little...rustic...but that's the food's style anyways.

I was able to take leftovers home to Marc and he thoroughly enjoyed it, as well. I am finding that as I eat more and more spicy foods in my classes that my palette is slowly becoming more accustomed to higher heat. I am able to tolerate spicier foods without having to guzzle huge amounts to cool my mouth off. I didn't think that would ever happen!

Next week is our last week in Mexico. I am anticipating more delightful foods, especially since we will be making GUACAMOLE, which is one of my favorites!

American Regional, week 1

Friday, April 8, 2011

American Regional is a two day class in which we explore the, fairly obviously, different regions of American Cuisine. American Cuisine is completely unoriginal, as it has been molded from the various settlers that originally inhabited this country. That being said, unoriginal does not, in any sense, mean that the food isn’t absolutely delicious. I enjoy the fact that our country’s cuisine is as much a melting pot as our inhabitants.

This week we were focusing on the Mid-Atlantic region. This region includes Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., Virginia, New York, and West Virginia. Since yesterday was the first class and we had less time to cook because of going over the syllabus, we specifically focused on the usage of crab. We prepared Crab Soup with Crab Puffs, Maryland Crab Cakes, Sauteed Soft Shell Crab with Fennel Salad, potato croquettes and roasted spaghetti squash.

I, specifically, made the crab puffs and prepped the soup, as well as adding the final seasonings to the soup. The Crab Puffs were basically a pate a choux with crab and cheese mixed in. They turned out well and puffed up nicely. The only thing that I can say negative about them was that since we used canned crab, we had to pick through it and get all the bits of shell out. Someone else at the table performed this task for the group, and I should have gone through the quantity I was using myself to double check. There were definitely a few bits of shell left in the crab and I bit down pretty hard on a piece with a tooth that has already been bothering me and it hurt. Badly. Other than that, the crab puffs were a delightful experience.

The crab soup was alright. I liked the flavor of the broth in the final soup, but I really didn’t enjoy the texture of the crab in the soup. Again, we used canned crab and it was just kind of stringy and weird. I wouldn’t have minded a bowl of the broth with the crab puffs floating in it, perhaps, but the overall soup wasn’t something I would create at home.

Maryland Crab Cakes are a little larger, are pan seared (NOT fried), and have almost no breading. The Southern version, however, has an extremely high ratio of breading and is usually fried. Everyone in class used too much breading, apparently. Either way, the crab cakes that our group made were absolutely divine. Especially with the sour cream tartar sauce that was prepared to go with it.

Today, Friday, we prepared a large quantity of items. Half the class prepared one menu while the other half prepared a second menu. My team, specifically, prepared braised short ribs, chicken and dumplings, sautéed shaker style turkey cutlets, vichyssoise, cucumber and tomato salad, red swiss chard and spinach sauté, spoon bread, and ginger cake.

I made the turkey cutlets, spoon bread, and ginger cake. I started off by getting the ginger cake in the oven since it needed to bake almost 2 hours. After that I got the spoon bread prepared and let it sit so it would come out of the oven almost exactly at service time. I gave myself and extra 15 minutes bake time so if it was taking a little longer (as tends to happen sometimes with people always opening and closing the oven), I wouldn’t be screwed. The spoon bread was actually a very loose, cornbread based soufflé. It is still very moist, almost wet, when it comes out of the oven and it is actually spooned onto the plate and eaten with a spoon. Hence, SPOON bread. Once the cornmeal is mixed with simmering half and half and has cooled slightly, you beat in egg yolks and then fold in whipped egg whites. I served this underneath the turkey cutlets which only needed about 15 minutes actual cook time.

The turkey cutlets tasted fantastic with the sauce and spoon bread, but were not prepared completely correctly. While I was getting the spoon bread ready, a teammate was at a holding point in their work. They asked if they could help, and I said that they could prep the turkey items if they wanted to. I have decided that from now on, I just always need to do my own work completely. I’ve been trying to work as a team in the way of helping prep other dishes and allowing other to help me, but I am not satisfied with the results. The turkey was not pounded out thin enough and therefore the dish wasn’t exactly correct. I ended up having to braise the cutlets after sautéing them because they were too thick. Again, it still tasted amazing, but it was not as the recipe specified.

At one point I had a little extra time, so I decided to do what I do. In addition to the warm cranberries that were supposed to be served with the ginger cake, I made a delightful lemon sauce and also a cinnamon and ginger flavored whipped cream to go with it. I strained the cranberries through a chinois to make a sauce, and used the actual berry mush underneath the cake. The plating could use a little tweaking, but the flavors were delectable.

One of the things I am enjoying so far in this class is that, since the majority of the class are “newbies” right out of Skills, I can really see how far I have come since I was in that position. I can feel that I have grown in both my palette, knowledge, skills, and plating techniques.

New Quarter

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Well, today began my 6th quarter here at AI Jax. I am scheduled for Latin, Food and Beverage Operations, and American Regional this quarter. I already have all my Mexico recipe cards typed and my first week of American Regional, as well. I couldn't help it. I like to get ahead on things to make it less stressful later.

I got all my stuff ready last night. I got my toolbox reorganized, packed up all my books, notecards, etc, and laid out my clothes. I got up and had my coffee and left with plenty of time. I get to school thinking, "Awesome! I'm 10 minutes early. I can grab a great table and get set up..." and then I walk into the lab and think, "Crap." The schedule said 6:30AM but labs never ACTUALLY start at 6:30! They always, ALWAYS have started at 7! So, half hour late, new teacher, augh!!!

The class gets underway and it's a very small (only 10 people!), very quiet, very calm class. I love it. Chef Heidi is OCD about being clean and organized. I love it! It's not so crazy that you can't experience the ingredients. I LOVE IT! We even finished cleaning at 10:45 and got to leave! I had to stick around for my next class, but hey! I get to do my blog now! Did I mention I love it?

I made a Chicken, Corn, and Lime Soup today, as well as corn tortillas. The soup was fairly easy to prepare. I was a little hesitant about how spicy it would be since it had two jalepenos in it, but it didn't have the seeds so I figured it wouldn't be too bad. It was actually very delicious, not too spicy, and a very flavorful soup! It literally took less than 20 minutes cook time. I really enjoyed the sour notes from the limes and the sweet from the corn, plus the little punch at the end of the jalepeno. I cut one of the tortillas I had made into strips and fried them up to garnish the soup with.

The tortillas I had a little more trouble with. I must have mismeasured something, probably the water, because when I mixed the masa harina (basically fine cornmeal) with the salted water, it was still a loose, not quite batterlike consistency. I incorporated more masa into the mixture until it was more dry and able to be formed into balls. Then I rolled the balls in more masa and pressed them between deli paper in the tortilla press. This enabled me to flip them directly from the paper into the skillet and then gently peel the paper back so they didn't fall apart like they would have if I tried to pick them up individually with my hands/spatula. Once they cooked, they were a good texture. I experimented with brushing them with a little oil before cooking, too, and I actually liked how that turned out better. It made them a little softer, and since I was topping them with Mole and Rice, I liked being able to roll it up like a soft taco.

The Mole was delicious. I didn't prepare it, and I had never had it before, but it was really good! I, surprisingly, wouldn't have minded a smidge more of a kick, but other than that, the meat was tender and the flavors melded really well. So far, Mexican cuisine has been healthy! I am definitely enjoying that aspect already.

The only really unhealthy thing on the menu was Flan. This Flan was odd. It called for ground almonds which gave it a very odd texture. We discovered that all the almonds sank to the bottom, though, and just ate the top part which was delicious.

Overall, I think it will be a great class and I am excited to learn more and cook more Latin food at home.

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