Days 46 and 47 – Monday and Tuesday, Fresh Pasta Heaven

Although I started this blog as a way to keep my family and friends updated on what’s going on at culinary school, there was a little part of me hoping that I was the first one with the idea. Wrong! There are several people out there who documented the school part of their culinary training up to or beyond graduation. One of them is Blue Artichoke. I’ve only just started reading her blog archives, but it’s been very interesting…’specially since she’s followed it up with what’s happened to some of the other students since they all graduated.

FRESH PASTA

I’ve combined day 46 and 47 because it was really one big session that was broken down into two days. The lecture and demonstration took five hours on Monday and then Tuesday we spent the entire five hours on our production (remember that it’s usually two hours for lecture/demo, two and a half hours of student production, and 30 a minute cleanup). Since it’s fresh pasta, you have to factor in the time it takes for the pasta dough to relax and then all the folding and rolling, and rolling, and more rolling. This is one of those foods that takes a lot of time to do, but is worth every moment.

The three basic pastas that we made were Basic Egg Pasta, Spinach Pasta and Tomato Pasta. The spinach pasta was a brighter green than the dried kind you find at the grocery store, and of course it tasted much better too; while the tomato pasta was a pain to work with.

Egg Pasta

Using the egg pasta, Chef EL made Egg Bow Tie Pasta with Basil Pesto. I usually don’t care for bow tie pasta since the center part doesn’t like to cook the whole way through without making the ends of it soggy, but that’s not a problem when you make it fresh. Everyone kept getting back in line for tasting until it was gone…very, very good stuff. Too bad this was a demo only recipe. The recipe that we ended up using was Papardelle Putanesca (or as we were calling it – Hooker Pasta). The origin of the name isn’t clear, but it’s attributed to being a favorite recipe of the ‘working girl’ in Italy back who-knows-when and was quick to make – or “rough and ready” as one person put it. Personally I think it has more to do with the pungent odor of this dish. It uses capers, anchovies, kalamata olives and garlic. Gross. Capers are nothing but little snot-balls that have been pickled in brine and Listerine for 5 to 6 years…not something that I want to put in my food. Neither my partner or I were very enthusiastic about this dish and didn’t score well because we didn’t get the taste correct. It’s difficult to adjust the flavors of something that you don’t want to put in your mouth. The pasta part was kinda cool. Papardelle is a thin strip of pasta that’s about an inch wide and a foot long. It works well with heavy sauces like Putanesca Sauce.

Spinach Pasta

We made Spinach Fettuccine Alfredo with the spinach pasta. Once you have the pasta rolled out into sheets, it doesn’t take long before you have Fettuccine Alfredo. Dump four parts cream to one part butter in a pan and reduce by half. Remove from heat and add one and a half parts parmesan cheese and stir until it melts. Adjust seasonings. After tasting this, I won’t be buying the bottled crap anymore. (Snarkyboy likes a certain bottled brand, but I hate it because it tastes as though there’s more flour in it than parmesan. Now we won’t have to argue about it.) The pasta part is even quicker: run pasta sheet through the fettuccine cutter and toss into boiling water for 60 seconds. Drain and toss into the alfredo sauce and serve. We made extra so we could snack on it while making everything else. This was my favorite for the day.

All the Rest

We had to make six ravioli and six tortellinis with all three pastas (2 egg, 2 tomato, 2 spinach). After watching Chef EL cut all of these out with a knife (she missplaced her round cutters), I went out and bought a 12 piece set of round cutters from the school store. That saved us a lot of time later. Raviolis are pretty basic, but I really enjoyed making the tortellinis. We were allowed to make any sauce we wanted, but we couldn’t use the same sauce for both. We used a Brown Butter and Sage sauce for the raviolis (pretty good) and Aglio e olio for the tortellinis (even better when using panko bread crumbs to help it coat the pasta). I’m planning on making the tortellini with aglio e olio this weekend for my husband. It’s not only tasty, but it’s also fun to say.

And now a note about my new partner for this week. I don’t know much about Angelfish, other than she’s kinda quiet. We worked well together on Tuesday and I’m looking forward to the rest of this week. And Modams? I saw him standing off to the side yesterday staring into space waving his hands in the air all around him… don’t know what it was about and I’m not asking.

Day 45 – Saturday, My Final Day with Hellboy (not Ron Perlman)

Yes, I am a Ron Perlman fan, but that has nothing to do with today. Sadly, I had to go to class on a Saturday. With the accelerated program–any time we have a Monday off as a holiday–we have to attend school on the following Saturday to make up for it. At least it’s better than staying home and mowing the lawn…wait, that’s only when I have a decent partner to work with…I think that I’d rather be out in the heat with a lawnmower after all.

Chef D started the lecture off with saying that the partner switching was going very well. When I shook my head “no”, he said that I should only be rolling my eyes and not going overboard with the head-shaking in front of everyone. The only reason he said that out loud was because Modams hadn’t shown up yet. Before I could relax about not having to deal with him – he showed up. Damn it.

We started off with Tomatoes Provencal. The tomato they gave us was mushy, so I went out and picked up a new one to use. While I was making the batter for the Onion Rings and the Vegetable Fritters (each has to chill for 30 minutes before using), Modams decided to take over the Tomatoes Provencal. I tried to stop him, but he wouldn’t listen…then he complained when I didn’t stop him from screwing it up. Am I supposed to watch EVERY SINGLE THING he does? If I did that, I not only wouldn’t get my share finished, but I’d go insane. Anyway, we had to use the old crappy tomato because once again, he wasn’t paying attention when they demonstrated how to cut the friggin’ tomato. When he asked me if I thought it was ready, and I said yes, he put it back into the oven and we got dinged on our score because it was over-cooked. Why the hell is he asking me ANYTHING if he won’t listen?

I destroyed the batter for the veggie fritters with help from Modams, but I really should have been paying better attention to the fact that he can’t take notes and that I need to double-check his work. He prepped 13 ounces of milk when we only needed 5, so I just tossed it all in without measuring it first. Then he tells me that he thought we were supposed to add milk to the beer, instead of using beer to REPLACE the milk in the onion ring recipe… again with the “not paying attention when Chef EL tells us something during the demo.” WHAT THE F*CK IS HE DOING WHEN WE’RE SUPPOSED TO BE TAKING NOTES!??! I had to start the friggin’ veggie batter all over again.

He fried up the onion rings (he’d better not screw that up since he does that for a living) and we got a perfect score. Chef D said that our batter was very light and crispy and that they were the best he’d tasted all day. Cool beans.

Today we had a pop quiz and had to make Asparagus Mousseline. Although we knew in advance what we would be making – we only had a demo on the asparagus a few days early, and no demonstration on the Sauce Mousseline (hollandaise with whipped cream). I let Modams handle the sauce (since my hollandaise sucks), while I took care of the asparagus (I was already blanching all the veggies for the fritters anyway). He messed up the mousseline but I can’t complain about that since I probably would have done the same thing myself. But I wouldn’t have forgotten how to do a liaison when adding the whipped cream to the sauce (I guess he didn’t take notes on that one either, and he certainly didn’t listen when I reminded him about it right before he messed it up). And then he put the sauce BACK on the heat, which turned the whipped cream into a liquid and ruined the sauce. I don’t think he even realizes what he did, and I’m tired of correcting him. The final problem was both our fault because I forgot to put it under the salamander to brown, and of course his notes never mentioned it to begin with anyway. Oh well.

While he was working on the sauce, I went ahead and put the vegetable fritters together and fried them. Normally, anything with cauliflower in it is nasty, but these were PERFECT. Although they fried up in funky shapes – we got a 20. Chef D said, “I don’t know what you did to the batter *snarkygurl*, but it’s very good.” (*like I’m going to put my real name in there*) Yes!!!! Making light batter is something I picked up from my Dad. I may be learning the proper way to cook in school, but both of my parents taught me little tricks that have given me an advantage in class. And thankfully, they’re both excited to have me teach them what I’ve learned. Some students in my class have family members who can’t understand why they want to become Chefs, so I’m very lucky to have a famliy who is happy about what I’m doing.

Today is finally over and although Monday is a full demo day – we’ll still be assigned our new partners. I’m looking forward to that.

Day 44 – Friday, Wishing I could Pan-Fry the Head of my Partner

Two more days to go. Modams is STILL asking questions about things that the instructor over-emphasizes just a few minutes before (and I think this is supposed to be for his benefit to begin with), and you can tell that the instructors are getting tired of it. I’m not sure whether I want to laugh or start screaming, but it’s happening 1 to 3 times every single day.

After being shown how to cut and present the roasted garlic for our first deadline – Modams cut it upside-down (don’t know how he managed that) and then screwed up the presentation, totally destroying an easy 20. And that was just the beginning of today’s little piece of hell.

We decided that instead of one doing the cooking and the other doing the prep-work, we’d each take different dishes and then work on the last one together. In theory it should have worked – but I forgot that I’m dealing with a strange alien mind. I started the Pan-fried Eggplant with Tomato Sauce while he destroyed the Roasted Garlic. He then decided that he should be the one working on the pan-frying the eggplant, so I moved on to the Spinach Timbales (which are much better than they sound). Every few minutes he’d be calling me over to help him with something that should have been a one-person job – and that meant that I had to keep putting the timbales down and running over. So the timbales went into the oven too late for them to finish by their deadline and even though the flavor was there – they were woefully undercooked. He screwed up cooking the eggplant, but Chef D said my tomato sauce was perfect. At least I got something good out of it. The only other good thing about today was how tasty pan-fried eggplants can be…definately NOT the bitterly nasty and soggy dish I grew up with.

We finished with the Vegetable Strudels, which I had already prepped. He was all stressed and yelling about my not assisting him while he was doing something that only one person could do anyway… it’s like he needs someone there to hold his hand constantly. I’m surprised that it came out as well as it did, since he mangled that poor strudel while wrapping it (once again forgetting that we were shown the CORRECT way to do it). I’m not sure I can make it through tomorrow.

Day 43 – Thursday, Boiling, Braising and Trying Not to Strangle my Partner

My annoyance with Modams has moved up to dislike and I was actually entertaining thoughts of how nice it would be if he accidentally ran face-first into one of the big sauté pans…good thing I’m a nice person and wouldn’t help that idea along in any way….

I’m not going to talk about today much since I’m still really pissed off about it. We made Cauliflower Au Gratin (yuck), Carrots Vichy (bland), Braised Red Cabbage (smelly and disgusting), Ratatouille (edible), and Green Beans Basquaise (not bad for green beans). We were late in presenting a few things and we had an argument. I don’t like him and that’s enough about today.

Day 42 – Wednesday, Understanding Veggies (A Demo)

I know I’m several days behind in my culinary school blogging, but I needed some time to cool off before posting. Waiting helped a little, but not enough. Anyway, on to Wednesday.

Today was demonstration only, so I didn’t have to deal with Pothead today. (And speaking of Pothead…I’m worried about using that name without any evidence, so I’m changing it to Modams.) The first thing we learned was how to properly prepare eggplant, which means slicing and salting it to help remove excess water and bitterness. To my surprise, it not only worked, but it tasted pretty good by the time Chef EL made aglio olio for it and added some cheese before broiling. It looks as though we’ll be using eggplant in the upcoming days, so this is important to know.

Next was asparagus. We learned what to look for in purchasing asparagus and what to not accept from vendors and suppliers. Instead of just blanching and shocking it like Chef Carter did, Chef EL finished it off by sauteing it in butter long enough to re-heat it. I have GOT to go out and pick some up at the grocery store soon. We were warned at this time that we’ll have a pop quiz on Saturday that deals with asparagus and that they won’t be showing us how to do it.

We also learned the two methods for roasting peppers and what type of food each method worked best with: Oven roasting has better color and is used with light meats dishes such as chicken and fish. Flame roasting has a better flavor and is used with heavy roasted meats dishes.

Back on Day 29, I mentioned that the artichokes were bland. Today, they were great! This time they were cooked for a shorter period and we used the rest of the aglio olio as a dipping sauce. As good as they were, I still think they’re too much trouble to deal with and would rather buy the frozen artichoke hearts.

To show us how to properly saute spinach, Chef EL made a dish that she learned from her father. I’m not a big spinach fan, but this is something I’ll be making a lot at home. Saute minced shallots in some butter and a little salt. Add the spinach (you need 1 pound of spinach for 3 to 4 servings) and saute until it’s all cooked. You’ll need to keep turning the spinach to make sure that all of it is covered in butter and cooking evenly. Sprinkle up to a tablespoon of flour into the spinach and stir it all in. Remove from heat and add 2 tablespoons to 1/4 of a cup of creme fraiche to the spinach (more if you like it real creamy) and mix it all in. Serve. It’s fantastic.

The last thing we learned about today was exotic mushrooms. They had a crate full of all kinds: White Clamshells, Hen-in-the-Woods, Blue Foot, Shitake, and one that no one could identify. Over all, they tasted pretty much the same, with the one exception of Hen-in-the-woods. When someone talks about mushrooms having a “meaty” flavor – this must be what they were talking about. The hen’s have a grilled steak kind of flavor and with my next paycheck, I’m going to see if I can hunt some down at Central Market. This was my favorite veggie for the entire day.