Monday, March 27, 2006

May Cause Burning and/or Redness

I saw this scary movie poster over the weekend…

She’s being attacked by Cayenne peppers? Ouch – that may irritate her skin. Terrifying!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Booooo - Spotted Pig

Dear Hostess at the Spotted Pig,

You are my new archenemy. Do you remember me from last night? I was there with my brother and my mom? You said it would be a 45 minute wait. We sat at the bar. We had a beer (or two). We checked in with you an hour later, and you told us it would be another two hours. TWO MORE HOURS!

We reminded you politely that you had initially suggested a 45 minute wait. You denied it vehemently. You pointed to some people in the corner of the bar and claimed that they arrived at 5:30. But you said 45 minutes, and now you were saying two more hours, for a total of three hours? Is that what you were saying? And you were also saying that you had never said 45 minutes in the first instance, but rather had said two hours and perhaps we misheard you. Because sometimes 45 minutes sounds just like two hours if you’re mumbling or, um, if your head is up your ass while you’re speaking, or something like that.

We were sitting seven feet away from you at the bar. Would it have been so hard to mention to us that there had been some cataclysmic change of plan and that we had best eat those Tic Tacs in our purses to stave off the gnawing hunger, cause it was going to be a while? Did you think we would just be, like, ok with this? That we wouldn’t notice that you were lying through your teeth and you had somehow screwed up royally on your little list of people waiting for tables?

Your food is good (especially those tasty little gnudi), but not THAT good.

Also, your ass looked huge in that peasant skirt. Just thought you’d like to know.


Your New Nemesis, the Raisinhater

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Breakfast of Champions

If you are a superfantabulous movie star in NY, here's your breakfast.

Yep, an omelet station. The omelet chef is somewhere inside that silver truck warming up, but if Meryl Streep were to stop by and require an omelet he’d be right there on the sidewalk whisking and flipping. Actually, Meryl Streep probably has an omelet fetcher who does the pickup and delivery – you rarely see superfantabulous movie stars hanging around the omelet station. Here’s a closeup at a very weird angle.

I walk past an omelet station a few times a week on my way to school. Sometimes there are big towers of muffins and pastries on the table too, along with carafes of coffee and tea in various flavors and states of caffination. I don’t normally have a criminal bent, but I often have to put my hands deep in my pockets to keep from snagging a muffin or a handful of cheese and making a run for it. There’s just something about stealing from the stars that doesn’t register on my moral compass. So if you don’t hear from me for a week or so, I’ve probably been arrested and am sitting in the big house nibbling on a handful of green peppers and cheese, or a chocolate chip corn muffin.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Roux - I'm Not Afraid of You (anymore)

I made a roux! You accomplished chefs out there may be snickering into your napkins. “Oh, I make roux every day, ha ha, it is no challenge!”

I was intimidated by roux, with the constant admonitions against burning and the stirring requirements and whatnot. But I had a bunch of andouille sausage, some peppers, red beans, onions and rice, and I figured I could create some sort of quickie gumbolaya beans and rice-ish mishmash. In the past, my Cajun mishmash has been watery and excessively tomatoey; this time I wanted a soupy gravy full of tasty bits that could be served over rice. It had to be a roux!

I should also mention that this week is soup and sauce week at culinary school, and I wanted to have a little practice before facing on the spot rouxmaking.

I melted 4 T butter in a saucepan and added 4T flour (roux is typically made with equal parts fat and flour). I stirred. And stirred.

They are right about the burning – you need to keep on stirring that roux or it will turn nasty in a flash. Even if you’re doing it right it will develop the smell of burnt popcorn. Be not afraid though, this stinkyness is normal.

Finally I got my peanut butter colored roux…

I added it to onions, garlic and peppers (pre-sweated) and a bunch of cold chicken stock. (As we just learned in school, you need to add hot roux to cold stuff, or cold roux to hot stuff – if both are hot the whole magical process doesn’t work.) I tossed in the beans, sliced andouille sausage, and a random mix of spices (oregano, parsley, cayenne, granulated onion and garlic, paprika, white pepper and a little chili powder), brought it to a boil, and then simmered while the white rice cooked for about 25 minutes.

I served it mixed with white rice. The result – quickie Cajun Sausage Mishmash. It wasn't beautiful, but it was delicious!

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Hot Brown

Yesterday I found myself in Lexington, Virginia. Not much changes in a place like Lexington. The old Harris Teeter grocery is now a Kroger (actually, I believe it was originally a Kroger anyway, before it became Harris Teeter), the bookstore changed it’s name and got a new cat (gray, short hair), and a bunch of new chain restaurants popped up on the outskirts of town to accommodate the tourists who don’t know any better than to eat at the Applebee’s.

It’s hard for me to go back to Lexington. I lived there for seven years and I feel like I knew EVERYBODY in town. It’s strange to walk around and have people give me that look, like “we know you, right? Did you used to live here?” That’s why I always go to The Palms.

I probably spent two of my seven years in Lexington at The Palms. When I wasn’t waitressing I was sitting at a booth with my friends, eating long lunches that more often than not slipped quickly to evenings with pitcher after pitcher of beer. At The Palms, they remember my name, they hug me, they know I want a Hot Brown with potato kurls and an extra side of ranch dressing.

Roast beef, mozzarella, onions, hot peppers, ranch dressing, bacon, lettuce and tomato on a toasted sub roll. The Palms didn’t invent the Hot Brown, but their version is all I know, and it’s my sandwich nirvana. Other people have grandma’s chicken soup, mom’s special meat loaf, dad’s roast beef – for me, a Hot Brown tastes like home.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Vegetarians – Avert Your Eyes!

In class right now we’re learning to fabricate (butcher) meat. Today I cut up a whole rabbit! (Really, vegetarians should not be reading this.) The other day I went to a lamb class, where a master butcher cut up an entire lamb

into many cookable pieces.

Then we dined on an enormous lamb feast. I didn’t really think I’d have a big problem with the concept of butchering, I’ve always been very comfortable with the fact that the meat I eat comes from whole animals. What I find most interesting about the process is learning about the many cuts of meat I tend to avoid, just because I didn’t know what to do with them. The tougher pieces (typically from the shoulder of the animal, and other parts that get a lot of exercise) need to be cooked on low heat for a loooooong time to soften up the muscle. These cuts are often the most flavorful (and least expensive!), perfect for feeding a crowd.

I have to miss poultry butchering class this Friday, so I’ll need to practice on chickens at home. By the end of the weekend I’m hoping to be able to bone an entire chicken without reducing it to chicken paste – I’ll post pictures of the process. For the vegetarians out there, perhaps I will also slice up some tofu into attractive shapes?

Sunday, March 05, 2006

No Cooking, Some Learning

I haven’t been doing much blogging about culinary school because the first two weeks have been, uh, pretty unblogworthy. As you would expect, they don’t just hand you a knife and demand a perfect hollandaise – there is much to be learned before you even set foot in the kitchen. We learned vegetable and fruit identification (I can spot a horned melon a mile away), basic nutrition, equipment identification, and food safety. Tomorrow is our first quiz – herb identification (we’re allowed to nibble) and restaurant food safety practices (terrifying how much can go wrong).

Our Chef/Instructor has a STRONG preference for organic foods, grass-fed free range meats, and natural ingredients (no high fructose corn syrup). Part of each day is spent discussing how eating industrially produced meats and artificial ingredients will rot us on the inside. He supports his positions with newspaper and magazine articles, and the facts are actually pretty terrifying. Soooo, JF and I are going to be trying a little harder to eat locally, avoid scary meat laced with antibiotics, and stick to products with ingredients we recognize. The only drawback is the cost, so I guess we’ll be eating a lot of organic rice and beans.

I’m off to Whole Foods to review my fresh herbs for tomorrow’s quiz. After the quiz we begin meat fabrication (butchering) – hopefully they let us take some for homework!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


Last night I made Manti, from the March 2006 issue of Saveur (page 20). Magically delicious! These little Turkish lamb-filled dumplings topped with yogurt sauce took a loooong time to assemble but were well worth the effort.

First, I made the dough by mixing together 2 eggs, 1 2/3 cup flour, 1 tsp salt, and ¼ cup water. I stirred and then I kneaded. For 10 minutes. I am not an accomplished kneader and those 10 minutes seemed hours. At first, the dough was crumbly and unappealing; not all of the flour mixed in during the stirring process. After the eons of kneading, though, the flour mixed in, the dough became a little stretchy, and I panicked a little less. I cut the dough into four equal balls to rest for 30 minutes.

Next, I made the filling. I combined ½ lb. ground lamb, 1 small onion, finely chopped, 2 T chopped parsley, and ½ tsp each of salt and pepper. Easy.

Then, the rolling commenced. The recipe directed me to roll one of the four dough balls into an 11” by 11” square, trimming off any uneven edges. This was the best I could manage after A LOT of rolling.

Then, as instructed, I cut the “square” into 1” by 1” pieces. Sort of.

I placed 1/8 tsp of lamb on each square. (1/8 tsp is a trickily small amount of lamb to work with, by the way.) The recipe instructs: “Fold 2 opposite corners toward the middle of the square, leaving a bit of filling exposed. Fold 2 other opposite corners toward the middle. Pinch all 4 corners together to secure dumpling, leaving about 1/4 “ of the filling exposed and poking out.” This makes no sense, although it does seem to accurately describe the dumplings pictured in the Saveur photo. They are somehow magically sealed on the sides and open on top. I couldn’t master this technique, so mine looked like little envelopes.

I baked them at 400 degrees for 30 minutes in a buttered dish, meanwhile bringing 4 cups of stock to a boil. I pulled them out, dumped in the stock, covered them with foil, and put them back in for another 30 minutes. The recipe calls for some extensive chicken stock making procedure involving clove and cinnamon and a whole bunch of skinless chicken pieces. I skipped this entirely and used regular old chicken broth, to no noticeable detriment.

During this time, I made a yogurt topping of 2 cloves garlic, crushed with salt, mixed into 2 cups strained Greek yogurt (Fage, full fat). I sliced some mint, and I pulled out my packet of Urfa chili flakes, purchased that afternoon at Kalustyan’s on 29th and Lexington. I browned about 4 T butter for 10 minutes in a pan on medium heat.

When the dumplings came out of the oven, most of the broth had been absorbed. They looked like this.

I scooped them into a bowl and topped them with brown butter, Urfa flakes, and mint.

And then tons of yogurt sauce.

I wasn’t expecting much from Manti, mostly because it was so far out of my realm of experience. It was fantastic. The butter was almost sweet, the yogurt was tangy, and the dumplings were really really good, despite their not-so-perfect appearance. I’m already wondering when to make this dish again – I can't get the taste out of my head.