Oink Oink

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

This week in Art Culinaire, we did something a little different. We had 2 suckling pigs that Chef showed us how to butcher, and then we each chose parts of the pig and researched recipes to prepare out of those parts. We were to use as much of the pig as possible so the waste of the pig would be minimal...basically we used everything but the snout and skull and brains...the cheeks and ears were used.

I chose to prepare ribs. I also knew I wanted to make some crispy pig ears. At work, they prepared crispy pig ears just last weekend, and they were delicious on a Crispy Pork Taco, and I knew others wouldn't be as inclined to take those floppy little bits of pig. We had free range of the storeroom, so we also browsed through there on day 1 to get some ideas of what we had available to use in our dishes.

I love the process of coming up with a new recipe or dish or plate. My brain turns this way and that, running through all the possible variations of items and also the possible preparations. It's like a complicated math problem, except there are no "right" answers. The possibilities are, literally, endless. I had some ideas of what components I wanted to include, but was open to my mind being changed. I had some beautiful asparagus at home that I really wanted to include for height. From there, I headed to The Flavor Bible to see what goes well with asparagus.

Inspiration struck when I had taken a time out from schoolwork to hang out with Marc. All of a sudden I sat straight up with an, "I KNOW!!! Give me my notebook!!!!!" This is one of my favorite things. That "Ah-hah!!!" moment when something comes to you. It's goosebump inducing sometimes. I decided on a potato and leek tart to go on the side with the crispy pig ears on top.

Once I had all my components, I went and found recipes (some from my collection, some from online) to go with my ideas. I had a bbq sauce recipe already, and I pulled the potato leek tart recipe from online. Mashed potatoes and asparagus don't even need recipes, although I caught myself just in time and remembered to peel the potatoes. At home, Marc likes the mashed potatoes with the peels, and I'm so used to leaving them on, I almost forgot to take them off.

Another thing I love is seeing my sketches come to life. What starts as scribbles on paper (and trust me, they are scribbles. As artistic as I can be, I scribble my platings usually since I am the only one that is going to need to "read" them.) translates onto a plate and sometimes it looks exactly as it did in my mind, and sometimes it changes slightly to accommodate variables. This plate came to life wonderfully, in my opinion.

Week 6

Saturday, August 20, 2011

This week I was only able to attend class on Thursday (see previous post). I made Bananas Foster with spiced walnuts and tostones. I was not the only one in the class that wasn't enamored with the recipe that we were given. We decided to sort of follow the basic compilation of elements for the plate, but we definitely changed quite a bit of it.

I decided to make my "French Cakes" instead of the basic French Toast that the recipe called for. French Cakes are my own creation of a very egg-y pancake batter spiked with Saigon Cinnamon that the bread is dipped into instead of just the egg and milk mixture that French Toast usually calls for. This means my batter contains flour and baking powder and puffs up a little bit when cooked. We were using French Bread instead of regular bread for this recipe, so I cut it into squares and dipped it in the batter and cooked it off.

I also made my own spiced walnuts, loosely following the recipe for spiced pecans we make at work, but altering it a little because I like a little more of a cinnamon sugary texture to the outside of my spiced nuts. *insert joke here*

I made several shapes of tostones (fried plantains). I small diced some, made some "french fry" shaped pieces, and also made some long, thin pieces. These all gave a nice crunchy, salty element to the plate.

Then we had the flambeed bananas. I chose to make a separate caramel sauce in addition to the sauce that comes with flambeed bananas. I wanted to garnish the plate with the thick caramel, and then use the banana sauce on top of the French cakes.

I took a piece of banana and hollowed out the top with a melon baller. I added bacardi 151 and lit it just before "service" so it added a cool element to the presentation. The blue flame doesn't show up well in photos, though. I plated two versions, a large and a small. On the big plated version, I also bruleed the outside of the banana for a crunchy factor.

I LOVE how these came out. I like the small plate better, I think, just because it's a little more sophisticated.


It seems I am having to choose more and more between family and my grade. It seems every time I turn around, I'm having to choose. The stress level around here is off the charts. Marc is working literally almost every waking moment. I am either working, doing homework, housework, trying to spend quality time with the kids, or at school literally almost every waking moment. Neither of us have a second to ourselves, much less together, just to RELAX. Four more months. Four. More. Months.

This week, I got a card in the mail letting me know who Harmony's teacher is and that orientation was Friday at 1:45. Marc let me know he had to work. I had to make a choice. Class or meeting Harmony's teacher and making sure Harmony knew where her class was and getting her ready for school to start Monday. Family won out. I have now missed THREE classes this quarter, and AI just cracked down and they are no longer offering make up labs. Each class missed is approximately half of a letter grade. So I am down to a mid B. So much for my 4.0GPA. This is very hurtful to me. I've busted my ass and worked so hard to get and keep that 4.0 and now it's gone. I kind of flipped out the other night with Marc. Not ON Marc, just near him. He had just informed me that he had to work Friday and I started to try to convince him that he indeed did NOT have to work Friday, but after about two sentences I realized the effort was futile. I know he didn't WANT to work Friday. I know he would much RATHER be with the kids. So I stopped. He asked me not to be mad at him. That's when I flipped out.

I told him I am not mad at HIM. I'm mad at the situation. I'm mad that we are both SO BUSY ALL the time. I'm mad that this quarter should be the easiest and most fun quarter and it isn't. I'm mad that I've worked so hard for my 4.0 and it's GONE. I'm mad that the kids are with sitters so much. I'm mad about so much more, but it just goes on and on and on. I finished venting and crying and we just sat there. Then I felt better. We are together. We are working together to make things better for our family, it's just really hard right now. We will make it through, though, and in the big scheme of things, these months will be but a blip.

These lyrics have kind of been my theme since the beginning, but now more than ever. Please ignore the fact that it's Miley Cyrus. haha

"The struggles I'm facing
The chances I'm taking
Sometimes might knock me down
But no, I'm not breaking

I may not know it
But these are the moments that
I'm gonna remember most, yeah
Just gotta keep going
And I, I got to be strong
Just keep pushing on

'Cause there's always gonna be another mountain
I'm always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be a uphill battle
Sometimes I'm gonna have to lose

Ain't about how fast I get there
Ain't about what's waiting on the other side
It's the climb"

week 5

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Thursday I prepared the Peach Tres Leches cake. A woman made a tres leches for Chef CJ's baby shower, and it was phenomenal. It happened to be the first time I had ever had it. I know!!!! Crazy. Then we ran a special recently with a tres leches. So I was very excited to actually make it myself. I switched it up a little and brought in pineapple and blueberries to go with it, and flambeed the pineapple with some brown sugar butter. The caramel sauce that resulted was to die for all by itself. I macerated the peaches and berries with spices and vanilla bean. I was very happy with how this turned out.

Friday I chose to prepare the savory crepes with a ricotta and spinach filling. It was to be served with a tomato sauce, and the combination of flavors made me think of a lasagna. This inspired me to make the crepes and cut out circles to fit in ramekins so I could make mini lasagna appetizers with crepes substituted for the noodles. I fried up some shallots, thyme, and basil for garnish, along with roasting some cherry tomatoes with herbs. I added a couple things to a portion of the cheese mixture and made it into balls which I coated in seasoned flour and fried as a garnish, as well. I adored these. Apparently everyone else did, too, because the four I made were gone very quickly. I couldn't decide on one presentation so I did two.

Week 4

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I chose the Reconstructed Lemon Egg by Michel Richard to tackle on Day 1 of Week 4. Basically, the original version uses an egg topper to take the top off an egg, and then you fill it with meringue and lemon curd so it looks like a...well, a reconstructed egg.

I, of course, have to be different. I made a version for the adults and a version for the kids, just for fun. For the adult version, I chose to cut the egg in half lengthwise instead of to take the top off. I wanted it to look more like a deviled egg, although some said it turned out more like the inside of a Cadbury egg. Either way, I like how it turned out. The flavor was delicious, too, and it was nice to have such a small portion so it wasn't so full of guilt.

The kid version is more of an Easter theme. I dyed the eggs after I cut the tops off, and then used a special tool Chef has to make "Easter grass" out of pears. I think it turned out cute. None of my eggs were left at the end of class, as they were all eaten. Quickly.

Day 2 of week 4 I forgot to bring the memory card for the camera so I didn't get photos, unfortunately. I made ricotta and artichoke "dumplings" that went with a bed of arugula. I then shaved some artichoke hearts and fried them for some artichoke chip garnish. I definitely need more practice with the artichokes. The first batch I didn't cook long enough and they came out very tough. The second batch came out better, but I think I need more practice in trimming them, for sure, as I had to pull more leaves off even after they were cooked.

Then the artichokes were diced and mixed with ricotta and parmesan and an egg...sort of like a lasagna/stuffed shell mixture. Then they were made into quenelles and frozen, rolled in a seasoned flour mixture, and fried. Oh. My. Goodness. Those little bites were absolutely amazing. I definitely want to make those again.

As much as I am enjoying this class, I am so, so, so, sooooo ready to be graduated from school and able to spend a little more time with my kids. I hate, hate, HATE not seeing them very much, and I know it's about to get worse once Harmony starts back to school. I hate not being able to make sure my kids are eating healthy, because I know they aren't eating the way I want when they are not at home. I hate not being able to give them consistent discipline, because right now they have three sets of rules...one at home and one for each of the sitters. I know it's confusing for them and frustrating for Marc and I. I need our family to be a functioning unit, but right now that isn't exactly how it is. Something needs to give, but there isn't a single thing that CAN right now. Four more months. Gotta make it through FOUR more months. Then we are SO having a party to celebrate.

Art Culinaire, week 3

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

I've found that I enjoy creating the one or two bite course that is the amuse bouche. Dessert is still my number one favorite dish to create, but the amuse bouche is definitely my second favorite.

Thursday I prepared a Gorgonzola Stuffed Fig with Prosciutto. The recipe called for wrapping the fig with the prosciutto and roasting it, but I chose to create a rose out of it instead. I cut circles out of the prosciutto and made the rose in the same way you make a rose out of gum paste. I secured the bottom of the rose with wooden skewers and deep fried it. The petals fell open a bit as it fried, and I love how it turned out. I placed the rose in the center of the fig, which I cut partially into three segments to be the "leaves." I love the presentation, but wasn't too fond of the flavor. Gorgonzola is just not my favorite cheese. Combine that with the Balsamic Vinegar Reduction and it's just a combination that made my tastebuds go, "Blech!"

Friday, however, I prepared a Chile Chocolate Sorbet. I took an orange and removed all the insides of it, cut a decorative edge, and then simmered the shell in the chiles and simple syrup before I added the cocoa powder to the mixture. I froze the shell, then, so the container would keep the sorbet nice and chilled. We didn't have Chile Chocolate, so we added some cayenne to the mixture to give it that kick. I also chose to add cinnamon and ground cloves to mine which gave it an added depth of flavor. I had no idea a sorbet, which doesn't include a single drop of cream or butter, could come out so incredibly rich and decadent.

As a garnich, I made my "famous" sugar cookies in several shapes so I could choose what I liked the best and decided to go with the leaves. I LOVE how this presentation came out!!

Harmony's Birthday!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I know, I know. I didn't post last week, but I have a valid excuse. I didn't go to class.

Thursday OR Friday.

*gasps of disbelief here*

I decided that being with my family was MORE important than going to school. And for the first time I hardly felt guilty. My daughter was turning 6 years old, and our schedules are so busy that the best time for the party was on Friday at 10AM. My husband's mother was going to be coming in Thursday around noon, and my brother in law was coming in Thursday evening around 7PM. I figured I could bake the cake Wednesday night, work on the cake Thursday and then go to class, and then finish Thursday night if I needed to. I probably could have handled JUST that and had things go as planned but, as usual, I just HAVE to make things challenging for myself. Marc's other brother was supposed to be coming up sometime Friday, and his birthday was the day before Harmony's, so I wanted to make him a cake, too. I also had a guest coming who is on a dairy and gluten free diet, so I wanted to provide her with a treat, too.

So, three cakes. Before leaving for class at 1:45. Right.

I decided on a flourless chocolate cake for the gluten/dairy free guest. This is best warm out of the oven, in my opinion, so I decided to wait and bake that off Friday right before the party. I baked Harmony's cake's, filled, and dirty iced them Wednesday night. I made the fondant and cut the base, covered and stacked, and added all final touches to Harmony's cakes Thursday morning. I finished around 1PM. Marc's mother got in fairly early, so she helped entertain the kiddos. Marc asked me to stay home from school, and I had so much to do that I finally, after several suggestions of doing so, stayed home from class. I made and baked Nick's cake Thursday night, then wrapped and put them in the fridge to keep until I was ready for them. When I learned that Nick would be in Friday evening, I decided to finish the cake the next night.

Friday morning I made the flourless chocolate cake. I substituted unsweetened, all natural applesauce for the butter in the recipe. It only required chocolate, sugar, applesauce, and eggs. It turned out wonderfully. I baked four of them in ramekins so she could just have her own dessert. I unfortunately didn't get a photo of these. :(

Harmony LOVES dinosaurs, and she has really been wanting the Ned the Brachiosaurus car for her Dinosaur Train toy she got for Christmas. Dinosaur Train is a show on PBS, for those of you unaware. I keep getting people without young children commenting on my photos on facebook going, "Cute cake, but why dinosaurs and trains? I don't get it." This video explains the premise of the show in a rockin' intro song. haha

So I used her toy train and tracks to surround the cake and added a gift of Ned the Brachiosaurus to the train as a surprise. The cake itself was the scenery from the show, places they visit, with the train station at the base of the cake. There is a volcano in the show, along with the "Big Pond" and a waterfall.

The interior of the cake was two flavors. The bottom layer was alternating layers of devil's food cake with graham cracker swirls, milk chocolate cake, and a layer of melted marshmallows mixed with graham cracker crumbs with mini marshmallows sandwiched between. The top tier was, upon Harmony's request, a mint chocolate cake with peppermint buttercream. It was SO. GOOD. A new favorite of mine, for sure. Here is a picture of the interior of the cake.

I also made her a birthday shirt with a brachiosaurus and a number 6 on it. She picked out the shirt that she wanted it made from. I decided to add a bow to the dinosaur and I LOVE how it came out!!! This was a HUGE week for Harmony, too. Grandma Carleen and Uncle Chris coming in, she lost her first tooth Thursday night, too, AND she finally saved up enough money by doing chores around the house and with her birthday money, to buy this GIANT T-rex she saw at Big Air when we went a few weeks ago. It was $39.99. That's alot of money for a little kid to save up!!! We were so stinkin' proud of her, and she was extremely proud of herself, too. Here she is, in her birthday shirt, lost tooth, with her T-rex.

This girl...this girl is my world. She is why I am doing what I am doing and why I am the person I am today. I love giving her a day where everything is for HER. She is such a wonderful kid and she follows the rules and is polite and SO sweet, I love being able to give her a day where she can eat as much sugar as she wants and can be spoiled by all the people that love her.

Friday evening, we went to Nipper's for dinner. Then the boys went fishing and Marc's mom hung out with me while I finished Nick's cake...moments before he got there. Haha. I was SO tired and worn out and just OVER cake decorating by that time of day that this isn't my best work on the top. Plus I used the last bit of powdered sugar I had and ran super low on icing with no time or energy to procure more. Marc's brother ADORE'S Wicked, so in honor of that I iced and filled the cake with lime green buttercream with a "Wicked" top. A long time ago I saw a cake that was rainbow layers inside and I immediately wanted to make that cake for Nick. I love how it came out, and he was completely surprised and thrilled.

So that is why I missed class Thursday and Friday. In the end, family is much more important than a grade.

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