Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A day in India

My wife Chris makes a great curry dish.  It's a creamed curry chicken with broccoli served over rice.  It has just enough curry to be flavorful.  I can't say that for Indian food.
India is a strange country.  They worship cows, so they don't eat beef.  The country is predominately Muslim, so pork is out.  Vegetable dishes are the order of the day.  And they use quite a few spices besides curry in their vegetable dishes.  I made Aloo Gobi today.  It's a potato and cauliflower dish that is slow cooked on the stove.  I cut the potatoes about a 1 1/2" dice.  About the same size of florets for the cauliflower.  Then the spices are added.  First you saute grated ginger and turmeric powder in some oil to make a paste.  Turmeric is more for the color than any flavor it may impart.  Add the potatoes and cauliflower.  Then you add black pepper, cayenne pepper and garam masala.  Garam masala is sort of a mixture of spices that is as individual to Indians as a finger print is to humans.  It is the predominate oder of India.  Added at the end are peas, more minced ginger and its garnished with cilantro.  It's unbelievably spicy.  I would cut down the cayenne to an 1/8 tsp instead of the 1 tsp in the recipe.

We also made a vegetable curry with taro. That's right, the root used for making Poi. It has coconut milk, carrots, eggplant and fried tofu.  It also has cayenne, and yellow curry paste. Man was that spicy.  I made the mistake of tasting it and it was fire hot, it burned my tongue, which made me gasp which made me inhale the sauce, which made me cry and sneeze at the same time.    Have your heard the expression, Sh*t or go blind?  I did both!

I'm sticking to that flavorful curry dish Chris makes.

Axis Bold as Shrimp Toast (a Jimi Hendrix reference)

Monday was another day spent in the far east exploring root vegetables of that region.  We made a Lotus Salad with the Lotus root.  This root is sort of a cross between jicama and a potato and is the root of the Lotus Flower. The national flower of both India and Viet Nam, its starchy and less sweet than jicama.  Chef sliced it very thin and deep fried it like a chip.  Then served a portion raw with a dressing of cider vinegar, salt, sugar, sliced green onion, minced ginger, a pinch of white pepper and sesame oil.   I liked the salad better than the chips.

I made Chicken Teriyaki and rice.  We also had something I had never heard of before, Shrimp Toast. No, it's not tiny pieces of fried bread.  A shrimp paste is made and spread on sliced baguettes cut on the bias and then deep fried.  Really good.  We rounded out our menu with a vegetable stir fry and a tempura sweet potato fry.

Chef said my teriyaki was too sweet, I disagreed and then he said that I should never salt the asian rice.  I thought it tasted great.  I'm getting bolder in my short time left in class.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

It's a small world after all!

Since announcing I was going to Italy for my externship, I received an email from Bill Baccus,  a good friend of the family.  Bill and my brother Jim are very good friends from back in their post high school days, and I have become close to Bill and his family over the last few decades.  Anyway, Bill knows this couple whom he met in Temecula.  They decided since their kids are away in college and business was slow, they would move to Italy for a year.  Hey, doesn't everyone do that.   Denise and Steve have moved to Spoleto, Italy which is about an hour and a bit from Casperia, where I'll be staying.  Bill told them about me, Denise emailed me, I responded and today we had my very first Skype conversation with Steve and Denise. What great people they are and they have extended to Chris and me their home when Chris comes to Casperia in February.  If nothing more than just to get our bearings while in Italy.

So my thanks to Bill, Denise and Steve and whoever is pulling strings from above for continually making this better and better.  (Thanks Mom)

I Hope that song isn't echoing in your head... It's a small, small world!

Denise and Steve have a blog site as well that talks about their stay in Spoleto. You should check it out.  haerr.blogspot.com


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Italian Country Cooking

After announcing I would be going to Italy, I have had a few requests regarding information on the school I'll be attending. If you go to italiancountrycooking.com, there you will see what I will be experiencing in January and February.  I would love to invite everyone to Casperia, but the apt I'm staying in has only 200 Sq Ft. And that's in two stories.  There is a Bread & Breakfast place not too far away.  So if you want to come, please feel free.


Friday, November 26, 2010

The Pursuit goes International

After hemming and hawing for weeks about going overseas for my externship, I have completed the paperwork to go to overseas for six weeks.  When I first started school overseas externships were explained.  Had to have a passport, (got one, check) had to have a 3.5 GPA, (got a 3.92, check) and had to arrange transportation.  My first thought was France.  What other place would you go if you're enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu.  Then a classmate said he wanted to go to Italy.  That sounded more fun.  So I was talking to one of the chefs about that when another chef said that they were opening up externships for New Zealand.  Whoa!!  Travel to a place where English is the first language, maybe stay as long as 4 months, maybe move there, maybe, maybe, maybe.  Then I wrote my cover letter and explained my situation, accomplishments, age, dreams, etc, etc.  That age thing killed it.  Seems you can't be older than 55 to gain a student or work visa in New Zealand.   Hey, I wish we kept our immigration rules for coming into the USA as tough as NZ does.

So where am I going?  Casperia, Italy.  It's a school called Italian Country Cooking and it is located in a small village about 1 hour east of Rome.  In the dead of winter, I'll be learning all about using local ingredients, living in a 200 square foot apt and butchering the Italian language.  And hopefully some Italian meats.

I may have said this before, but this just keeps getting better and better!

Road Kill or Butterfly This!

It was a great Thanksgiving Day at our house.  Erin along with good friends Bill, Darlene, Eric and Timmy came over for some turkey and football.  I tried for days to find an ingredient that is used to make a Ballontine.  You may remember I made these with a boneless leg/thigh from a chicken.  It was stuffed and rolled with an item called, Caul Fat.  My plan was to butterfly turkey breasts, stuff them with a mushroom and sausage stuffing and serve Medallions of Turkey Breast Ballontine.  Seems the only way to purchase caul fat is in 10 pound bunches.  At $55 for 10 lbs, I changed the menu.

I butterflied the whole turkey and placed stuffing under the skin and then smoked it.  I can't take credit for the idea, that came from Bon Appetit magazine, however, it came out really good.  I had to laugh at the look of my turkey.  It looked like I found it after it had been run over on Bellflower Blvd.  Without the tire tracks!

Erin made great sides and four delicious pies.  Without a doubt one of the best Pecan Pies ever made and two Pumpkin Chiffon pies.

I guess the great thing about all of this is I never, ever would have attempted something like this before Le Cordon Bleu.  I have my lovely wife Chris to thank for allowing me to pursue this cockeyed passion and my chefs for giving me some skills.  

I hope your Thanksgiving day was one spent with family and friends as well.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Poverty Food

It's Tuesday and it was Fine Dining, poverty style.  What do I mean, you ask?  Cultures that don't have grains as a staple, use root vegetables.  Potatoes mostly.  Cold climate regions where simple dishes are put together with root vegetables, left over meats and salt dried fish.  First up was Gnocchi.  I love gnocchi.  Potato dumpling or pasta?  You can call it either way.  Fairly simple to make, easy to season and cooks up in minutes.

Then we made Borscht.  Made with beets, cabbage, leeks, onions and we throw in some brisket. That's the left over meat I mentioned earlier.  The broth is veal stock with sugar and red wine vinegar.  It needs to have a sweet and tart taste. Topped with a dollop of sour cream, it was very good.  And red!  We added a bit too much sour cream, as the picture points out.  If we had stirred it in the borscht, we would have had pink borscht instead of red borscht.  I like saying borscht.

I made Bolinhos de Bacalao.  A Portuguese dish of riced potato with onion, garlic, cilantro, parsley, some cayenne and completed with Salt Cod.  Salt cod is interesting as it is cod fish that is preserved with salt and can be kept for years.  It comes hard, then you let it sit in water to hydrate.  I just simmered it in water that just covered the fish until it softened and got flaky.  Then you put all the ingredients together and make balls.   Cod balls!  Covered in panko crumbs and deep fried.  I made an aioli for the dipping and they were excellent.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Creeping up on Crepes

Monday starts a short week for us, as it is for most people being that this is Thanksgiving week.  We made individual crepes.  Never really made crepes before.  It is a little more entailed than I thought, but once you get the hang of if, they go very fast.  The key is letting the flour, eggs, milk and a pinch of salt come together and then add about an ounce of browned butter.  The next key is letting this mixture rest for 30 minutes to allow the flour to be completely absorbed by the liquid.  The next key is to swirl the batter in your pan so that it's evenly distributed in the pan.  The last key is no color on the crepe is allowed. You can stuff it or top it with anything.  We used macerated strawberries and whipped cream.  Yum!  Lots of keys here for a crepe.

I made for the group Sopa (soup) de (with) lima (limes).  It's a chicken soup with roasted poblano chiles, roasted tomatoes, onions and lime.  It takes an hour and 30 minutes to make. You have to reduce the stock and you cook the chicken in the soup.  Mine was ok, needed to be reduced more.  Chef told me it needs to be a clear, fortified soup.  The flavor was good, but not fortified enough.  Our group also made pizza with homemade dough, vegetable egg rolls and spinach fettucini with shrimp.  Working with 3 men, we should have been done on time.  We weren't.  We were last and missed our window by 5 minutes.  Chef got on us for that.  "Even the older women are beating you guys," he said.  Ouch!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Up and Adam

Really, it is up and at 'em.  But my sister always thought it was Adam.  Hey sis!

Anyway, I made the trek to school today and attended the 6 AM class instead of my usual 10 AM class.  Not many folks on the freeway at 4:30.  The drunks are either home or in jail and the commuters are not quite on their way to work.  At least not from Long Beach.  The trip took less than 30 minutes from LB to Hollywood.  The early morning class or as it's referred to the "A Class" only has 11 students and one Chef.  My class has 21.  So the attention to detail is better by the Chef, the fighting for fire space is non-existent and there is no line at the dish station.  And, we got to sit down, eat our food in a normal sit down manner and still got the kitchen cleaned and out by 9:35.  My class is lucky to eat anything, unless it's on the sly and we usually are 10 to 20 minutes late in getting out.  It just that wake time that is a bit bothersome.

We made Tamales, Empanadas and Sopas.  I see why the little old Mexican ladies make the tamales.  It's hard, and tedious.  But I got the hang of it and got really quick.  I think it is better to spend the $10 to $15 bucks for a dozen.   One of the students made a killer salsa verde and I made guacamole.  Another student made lemonade that one of the girls said tasted like "ASS".  He didn't put quite enough sugar in it.  We all laughed and he was a good sport about it.  Just went back and made some more...with more sugar.

All in all a good day for me.  And Adam!


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Yes Masa!

Wow! It's Thursday night and I've missed two days of blogging.   Wednesday, I stayed late after school to help out on a bake sale for the Iron Toque Club.  I joined this club to help out some friends and it is suppose to look good on a resume.  Hey, it's an after school thing. I never did after school things when I was in school before.  Anyway, I made Chili.  About 4 gallons of it.  We sold it for $2.50 for 6 ounces.  That came with cheese, onions, sour cream and garnished with Cilantro.  Hot sauce was optional.  That's 512 ounces divided by 6 equals 82 servings at $2.50 comes to just under $180 bucks for the club.  Not bad!  Less expenses.
I got rave reviews for my chili from 4 Chefs and all the students except one. He said it needed more salt.  Bastard!

We made Thai food on Wednesday. See photo:

I made the noodles on the upper right and the pork dish on the lower left.  The dishes included Wor Tip or Pot Stickers, Fresh Shrimp Rolls from Vietnam, Phat Thai the center dish, Fried Rice Sticks Singapore style. Jar Jiang Mian, my pork dish and Soba Noodles, also my dish.  The ladies brought the place mats, fan and leaf.  We got very high marks, and it was delicious.

Today, one of our team mates didn't make it to school and we had to really scramble.  Making Spatzle, a pasta, sort of egg batter, sort of tear drop thingy that you put thru a perforated pan into boiling water and then saute in butter.  Tasted good, but it took me two tries to make it.  Two couscous salads with different types of couscous.  Pierogi, which is a German dish with potatoes and cabbage put into a dough and deep fried.  Germans have the worse sounding food. Spatzle, Pierogi?  We finished it off with homemade Fettucine Alfredo and Baklava.  My head is still spinning.

Tomorrow, it's Tamales, Empanadas and Pupusas, or Americas Masa day.

Who's your masa now?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Glad to be out of the Middle East

We completed our trek through spice land, better known as the Middle East.  So many spices, so little time.  Wouldn't you know it, after using cumin, cayenne, tumeric, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves. ginger, nutmeg, corriander and basmati rice in my Lamb Gosht Pulao, my dish need SALT!  Salt brings all these together.  I knew that too.

Today we are doing American grains; tortillas (flour and corn), corn bread, Arepas, and Grits.  With Cheese!  To round it off, a little guacamole and salsa.

And what day wouldn't be complete without a little Jambalaya!

Rolaids, anybody?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Across Cultures at Light Speed

Monday we take on North Africa, the Middle East, Turkey and Pakistan.  First Lebanon, where we are making Tabbouleh, a Bulgur wheat and Herb Salad.  Then to Turkey to make Pilav.  That's rice pilaf with currants and pine nuts.  On to Morocco to re-make Harsha, a simple flat bread made with semolina flour, butter and milk.  This time I use warm milk to make sure the yeast blooms.  Then on to Pakistan where we are making a very complicated lamb dish called, Gosht Pulao.  Many herbs and spices, Basmati rice which has to soak for an hour and marinated lamb which also needs to marinate for an hour.  All in a two and one half hour class. Oh, and a Matzoh dish that I cannot find a recipe for.  I believe that its located in Israel.  The dish, not the recipe.

I never wanted to spend too much time in the Middle East anyway.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Nothing So Cool!

While at school last week, these rolled onto the walkway between our class room and Arc-Light Cinema for a showing.  In case you're not sure what they are, we have a 1968 Ford Mustang Fastback and a 1968 Dodge Charger R/T.  If they look familiar, then this should clear up any confusion.

Bullitt had probably the quintessential car chase scene in a movie during the 1960's and forever gave us a green VW Bug shown being passed about 5 times during that scene.  
(note photo on poster, lower left with the black Charger airborne passing said VW)
What does this have to do with cooking?  


But it's so cool.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Ichigo Daifuku?

You may ask yourself, what the hell kind of title is that for a blog posting.  Well grasshopper, since we are still in Japan, I will tell you.

Ichigo Daifuku is a very common dessert in Japan.  It has become a popular dessert here as well.  Sweet bean paste wrapped around ice cream and then wrapped in rice dough call "mochi".  Ours were wrapped around strawberries.  We should have split one open for presentation.

I made a main course dish called Pearl Balls.   Doesn't quite have the same ring, does it?
Ground pork balls with egg, a cornstarch slurry, chestnuts, ginger, scallions, soy sauce, sherry, sugar, salt and then coated in rice and then steamed.  Dim Sum comes to mind.  Nice plate!  Needs a dipping sauce, but it doesn't call for one.  Chef said, no!  Yes Chef.

Just so you understand, in Cuisines Across Cultures, we work as teams now.  We collaborate on some dishes and work on others by ourselves.  But, we do have to present them all together.  It's fun and more pressure.  Not only pleasing the Chef, but not letting down teammates.

Ichigo Daifuku for everyone as we killed this one.

If you knew Sushi, like I knew....

We traveled to Japan or Asia actually to take on Sushi.  Interesting fun facts.
Sushi originated in China, not Japan.  Sushi equates to seasoned rice.  Sticky rice uses rice vinegar, sugar and of course salt to help it become sticky and slightly sweet.  Hamaki or hand rolls did originate in Japan after WWII.  To make a Maki roll a tool called Makizu is used. That's the bamboo roll used to shape the rolls. The suffix (su or zu) refers to an item being a tool, hence Makizu.  The fish used in sushi was actually a preserving method.  This was accomplished by placing the fish in rice, covering completely and stacking subsequent fish and rice.  After three months, they would replace the rice (I would hope so) and re-stack the fish. Nigri is a single order of two pieces of fish and rice.  Nori is the kelp used in the Maki or Hamaki (hand roll).  All fun facts.

So we made Maki rolls, Nigri and because they ran out of Nori, I didn't get to make my Hamaki.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Lamb, the other dark meat!

Well, we never made it to the Caribbean.  The Jerk sauce just didn't get made. No Jerk sauce, no Jerk Pork.  The Cajon Shrimp from Louisiana was a big hit.  I got the sniffles and when you have the sniffles taste profiles are hard to determine.  Guess what, it needed more salt!  It was cooked to perfection and I'll take that.

Then it was off to Morocco and Tangine Lamb served with Harsha flat bread.  The lamb was great.  We work as teams in this class, and I had nothing to do with the Lamb except doing the mize en place for it.  I made the Harsha flat bread.  It's a yeast bread and I didn't allow the yeast to bloom by letting sit in warm milk.  Nowhere in the recipe did it say use warm milk.  If I was from Morocco, I would have nailed this one.  So the bread was just OK.

Then we did a Lamb Biryani that has twenty-three, that's 23 ingredients.  Its lamb cooked with basmati rice, apricots, potatoes, saffron, cinnamon sticks and 17 other things that I won't go into.  Google it!  It  looks like rice and lamb, because that's what it is.  Served family style, so you just pile it on a plate and we put some fine (fee-ney) herbs on top. Fine herbs are a french invention of Chervil, Chives, Tarragon and Parsley.  Finely minced.  Chef like it.  I thought it looked disgusting.  You be the judge as pictures accompany this blog issue.

Oh, and no trip to Thailand for the Curry Rice either.  But we did do a French omelet with fine herbs.  We made more herbs that we needed, so waste not, they went on the Biryani Lamb.   No pics.  You've seen one omelet, you've seen them all.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Cuisines Across Cultures

We met our new chef instructor today, Chef Romero.  He is a no nonsense chef and he made no bones about how very, very busy we are going to be for the next six weeks.  Our first day we made, Roast Leg of Lamb, butterflied and marinated with olive oil, garlic, rosemary, lemon zest with salt and pepper.  We also roasted a whole chicken with a compound butter.  And, made a Lomi Lomi Salmon salad.  That was after a cursory explanation of what was expected of us, grading and uniform policy, yada, yada, yada.  Then a demo on how to butterfly a leg of lamb and trussing a chicken.  Then we started production at 11:50 and had to be done by 1:15.   Luckily, we were in teams so it wasn't as dramatic as I make it out.  But we were cooking right out the gate.

Tomorrow, here is what we are making and miseing for:
A curry rice salad with shrimp - 10 ingredients
Harsha, a Moroccan flat bread - 8 ingredients
Lamb Tangine - 12 ingredients
Jerk Marinade for Pork - 13 ingredients
Cajun Spiced Shrimp - not sure because we haven't seen the recipe yet!

So we travel southeast to Louisiana, then down to the Caribbean, across the Atlantic to Morocco and then off to Thailand.  Across cultures and halfway across the world.

All in two hours.  This just keeps getting better and better.

Giving Back

Sunday I volunteered for an event called Alex's Lemonade Stand.  Alex was a child who had  contracted brain cancer.  She raised money to help pay the doctors who helped her by selling lemonade.  The first time, she presented a check to her doctors for $8.50.  Her last check presented just before she died at the tender age of 8 years old was $18,000 dollars.  This has been picked up across the nation by chefs and the food industry.  Locally, celebrity chef Suzanne Goins brought in twenty of the top chefs in the country to participate in this years event.

Chefs giving back of their time, their food and their talent was very evident yesterday as many of the nations top chefs were there donating all of the above for the cause of finding a cure for brain cancer.  I'm not sure how much was money was raised for this event.  I do know that a magnum bottle of wine, signed by all the chefs was auctioned for $2000.  That was the least amount spent on any auction item.  The highest amount paid was $38,000 for a home cooking event by one of the chefs.

I ask that you check out Alex's Lemonade Stand on-line.  You don't have to donate, but see how one extraordinary little girl made and is still making a difference.  If you want to donate, that's OK too.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Fight On - USG?

Patissier and Baking have come to a crashing conclusion.  I got a B on my final written exam.  I received 93 points on my three desserts out of a possible 100.  So all in all not too bad.  Therefore I earned an A in the class.  My current GPA is 3.92 - My grade in cake decorating is well below that.

Did I tell you cake decorating is not my strong point?  After struggling to make the frosting yesterday, my frosting today came out great.  But, a Celebration Cake has to have a celebratory message on the cake.  I gave you three guesses as to what message I might use.  It wasn't Happy Birthday or Bon Voyage.  No, I went the college rah rah route.  Being a USC football fanatic I placed their "Fight On" motto on the cake. (So Dumb)  Javier, my 19 year old classmate asked, "what's USG?"

Anyway, I didn't bring home the Chocolate Tart I made.  I gave it to a Foundations II class to enjoy.  The Souffles do not travel well at all.  But, I was bound and determined to bring home this sorry ass cake.   So I boxed it up in the only box I could find (too big) and taped it up and made a handle.  I was riding down the escalator to the Red Line train and the handle broke and the box went tumbling down the escalator, end over end landing upside down. Sigh!  Lucky for me, a trash can was at the bottom of the escalator and that's where it's sitting right now.  When you see the cake, you'll agree it ended up in a deserving place.

Let them eat Cake!

Tuesday, my plan was to complete six items in preparation for the final presentation today on the Celebration Cake.  Buttercream frosting isn't hard to make.  It is important to follow the correct procedure in making Buttercream.  I didn't and no manner of trying to fix the initial mistake worked.  So 30 minutes before production was to stop, I gave up on the fix.  We make an Italian Meringue that is slowly incorporated into whipped egg whites.  You need to cool the meringue before adding the 1 pound of butter and emulsified shortening.  I didn't!  I made butter cottage cheese.  It looked as bad as it sounds.

So today, I need to make the frosting again.  Place a crumb coat on the cake and chill the cake and then frost the cake, decorate the cake and put a celebratory greeting on the cake.

I'll give you three guesses what that greeting might be.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Our last three days in Pastry began with the written final.  I know I missed some of the product ID's.  Almond meal, missed that one, I put down bread crumbs.  Sea Salt, missed that one. Wrote down Kosher salt. I also missed Bread hook.  That's an attachment for mixers that we use to make bread.  I called it a hook.  That's a bonehead mistake. I guess they all are bonehead mistakes come to think of it.

Then it was on to the pastry practical.  I made the Buttercream cake, Short Dough or Pate Sucree and I made my Creme Anglaise.  Today I will be very busy,  I need to bake the Pate Sucree shell, cool it, make the Chocolate Ganache filling, cool it and then present it.  I also have to make my Buttercream frosting, cut my cake in half, and put a crumb coat on the cake.  Make a Chocolate Souffle and present that with the Creme Anglaise.  Two presentations and step two in completing my Celebration Cake.

These are fun! Even for celebrating boneheads.