Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"Aspic is a Clear Meat, Fish, or Poultry Jelly"

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Aspic is a clear meat, fish, or poultry jelly.  Aspic is a clear meat, fish, or poultry jelly.  Aspic is a clear meat, fish, or poultry jelly.  Try saying that ten times fast.  Last week, I started Garde Manger, which is a class entirely devoted to the production and buffet-style presentation of cold foods.  Garde Manger literally means "keeper of food to be eaten" and in the olden days was a way of preserving foods by curing, drying, smoking, etc.  In our class we are not only putting together aspic-covered platters laden with various forcemeats (a ground seasoned food product... think sausage, bologna, salami, pâté, even meatloaf or chocolate mousse are technically forcemeats), but we will be doing ice carvings as well as presenting a variety of hors d'oeuvres.

There is so much information to learn in this class, and we have been lucky enough to be allowed to come to class almost an hour early (that's 6:10 am, folks) to attend additional study sessions with our chef and also get started early on our production for the day, depending on what the agenda is.  I have honestly learned SO MUCH from this class already, and we still have four more days to go!  The hard part is taking that book smarts and critical thinking and applying it under pressure to what you are trying to do.  Sometimes you can make stupid mistakes.  We all made mistakes these couple of days, but at least we are (hopefully) wiser for it and will avoid the same mishaps when we are making platters for our practical exam these upcoming two days.  Overall, I am pleased with the way our platters looked, especially considering some of the problems various groups faced.  I honestly think everything looked fairly appetizing... until we covered it all with aspic :) But alas, that is what show work is all about and at least we are learning the proper way to do it.


Green scallop mousse atop croutons


Our salmon pâté that we made yesterday and served today on our platter


Our salmon platter (Salmon Pâté, Baked Fillet of Salmon, Garbanzo Bean Salad, Green Scallop Mousse, and Dijonnaise Sauce--not pictured)




Beef platter (Smoked Tenderloin of Beef with a Whole-Grain Mustard Crust, Beef Tenderloin and Andouille Sausage Terrine, Roasted Red Pepper Sausage, Roasted Red Bliss Potato Salad, Poppy Seed Bouchée with Red Onions and Cauliflower Marmalade, and Green Herb Mayonnaise--not pictured)

 Lobster platter (Trout Pâté, Lobster Centerpieces with Lobster Medallions, Trout Bow Tie Pasta Salad with Lump Crabmeat, Crusted Lemon Crackers with Pistachio Boursin Cheese Rolls, and Mango Salsa--not pictured) 

Pork platter (Smoked Boneless Center Cut Pork Loin Roast with El Paso Rub, Cured Pork Tenderloin in a Cinnamon Honey Crust, Pork Pâté with Broccoli Inlay, Jicama Slaw, Blue Corn Tortillas with Black Bean and Jalapeno Jack Cheese Salsa, and Dark Sweet Cherry and Ginger Sauce--not pictured) 

 Turkey platter (Stuffed Breast of Turkey, Sun-Dried Tomato Turkey Pâté, Smoked Breast of Turkey, Strawberry Waldorf Salad, Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes, and Pear and Cranberry Chutney--not pictured) 

 Veal platter (Roasted Veal Loin with Amaretto Glaze, Veal Tenderloin, Veal Bratwurst Wrapped in Caul Fat, Israeli Couscous Salad, Roasted Green Asparagus with Parsley Chili Oil, Broccoli Mousse Barquettes, and Raspberry Cream--not pictured)

 Venison platter (Veal and Ham Pie, Roasted Venison Loin with Red Pepper Mousse, Garnished with Apricots and Currants, Grilled Portobello and Roasted Plum Tomato Salad with Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette, Ham Mousse Tartlets, and Horseradish Sour Cream Sauce--not pictured)



Monday, March 22, 2010

Crème Brûlées & Strawberry Buttermilk Scones!

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Today was sadly my very last day of my Advanced Patisserie and Plated Desserts class.  It was filled with ups and downs.  I amazingly got 100 on my final exam and was told by my chef that it's been years since he recalls a student getting 100 on the exam (score!).  I went into my practical exam with a clear idea of what I wanted to create.  I had been assigned crème brûlée , and chose to spike it with some amaretto, serve it in an almond lace cookie cup, make some caramelized almond drops, pipe some chocolate onto the plate and then use it to fill sauces to demonstrate a whole mess of skills we learned in the class.  Here's where some of the downs come into play... talk about stress.

First of all we went through three batches of almond lace cookies before we had them come out large enough to bend into a cup that would whole the entire crème brûlée.  Also, I caramelized some sugar to make the almond drops, and as you may recall from the time another group had made them, they basically hang along the edge of the table supported simply by a cutting board weighing down the toothpicks.  One of my group mates "touched" the cutting board and all my almonds came crashing down.  After making some replacements, I managed to cause most of them to come crashing to the ground as well.  I came away with barely a handful of usable almonds.  Then later, when I tried to remove the toothpicks after they had cooled completely, I broke a couple more.  Then my group mate accidentally broke another couple of them.  I had only four left and three plates to serve.  I had wanted to put two on each plate, so I quickly cooked another batch of caramelized sugar.  I pulled it off the burner before it was completely caramelized because I knew the residual heat would continue to cook it.  Alas, the carry-over cooking not only brought it completely to the stage I was looking for, but then went on to BURN the entire batch of sugar even though I pulled it off early.  Yup.  I guess I wasn't meant to make more, and served only one per plate.  Maybe that's the way God intended, because I honestly think it looked great the way it turned out.

My plate was not overly cluttered in any way, I demonstrated bending cookies, piping chocolate, using that chocolate to control the sauces on my plate, along with sugar work.  None of the other groups did any sugar work today, but everyone in my group did, so I think that was pretty good.  Also considering all my mishaps with the sugar today, God knows I barely managed to get them on my plate by the end, haha.  In the end, I got a really good grade, and I managed to put together the plate I had been planning all weekend with only limited obstacles, all of which I was able to fix.



One of my group mates' plates

My other group mates' plate

Another practical exam plate: chocolate mousse in a chocolate "basket"

Molten chocolate cake with a pistachio white chocolate butterfly

This afternoon after my somewhat stressful, but awesome day in class, I decided to use some strawberries and buttermilk in my fridge to throw together a batch of fresh strawberry buttermilk scones!  I LOVE making scones.  At home I usually make them in my stand mixer, but today I really was not in the mood to drag out my heavy Kitchenaid just to make scones, and instead cut the butter into my flour mixture by hand, old-school all the way!  I used my tried and true scone recipe, and just changed the blueberries to chopped strawberries, and the heavy cream to buttermilk (I've also made the same basic recipe and used dried fruit such as raisins, dried cherries, or chopped dried peaches or apricots instead of fresh).  Everything else was the same.  This is a fairly wet dough, but if you dust it with enough flour at the end to keep it from sticking to you and everything else, it really comes out very nice.  You can also hold off on adding the last bit of liquid to see if you really need it to bring the dough together.  I add it all, though :)  In any case, these scones were a quick and tasty treat which my family will enjoy for breakfast this week.  I also like to throw some of the scones in the freezer to bake off in the future.  Whatever doesn't fit on the pan ends up in the freezer since I am too lazy to dirty another pan just to bake off a few more scones.  I think it's God's way of telling me to save some for later, since I know if I bake them all, they will ALL get eaten by someone with two days.  It's inevitable.  Scones in my house live a very short life...




Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sweet and Savory Tarts, and Some Bolognese Too!

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My sister's birthday was a week ago, and her only request was for me to make her Bolognese.  I, of course, didn't stop just at Bolognese.  I made her a three course meal!  I was inspired by the fruit strips we made in class last week, so I decided to use puff pastry to make both sweet and savory tarts, serve one as an appetizer, and one for dessert.  The Bolognese sauce I made was the same I've made before for lasagna, but this time I served it tossed with fettuccine.  Here's the full menu:

First Course
Goat Cheese and Sun-dried Tomato Tart with Fresh Basil, Tomatoes, and Basil-Walnut Pesto

Second Course

Third Course
Puff Pastry Fruit Strip with Pastry Cream, Strawberries, Kiwi, Blackberries, and a Blackberry Coulis

I was really pleased at how everything came out.  Although I docked the puff pastry (dotted with fork prongs all over), I feel like I could have docked it more to keep it from puffing as much as it did.  Next time I will officially go overboard with the docking :)

Goat Cheese and Sun-dried Tomato Tart with Fresh Basil, Tomatoes, and Basil-Walnut Pesto
Serves 6

1/2 a package (17.65 oz) puff pastry, thawed (1 sheet)
10.5 oz goat cheese, softened
10 sun-dried tomatoes
8 fresh basil leaves
2 roma tomatoes, thinly sliced
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 T. water)

Basil-Walnut Pesto:
1/4 cup walnuts
1 1/2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
2 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1 T. grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Unfold the puff pastry sheet and dock (dot with holes) using a fork, covering as much of the puff pastry as you can.  Slice the dough into thirds, using the lines of where it was folded.  Cut one third into four long strips.  Brush the two large strips lightly with egg wash, and lay the thin strips on either edge to make a border down the length.  Brush the whole thing with more egg wash and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.  Bake for about 30 minutes until completely dried out and dark golden.  Remove from the oven and let cool.

Meanwhile, add the softened goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes to a food processor and puree until smooth.  Using a spoon or a piping bag, cover the baked puff pastry with the goat cheese mixture, staying in between the borders along the length.  You may have leftover goat cheese mixture, but this can later be used to top crostini or for snacking.  Arrange basil leaves and sliced tomatoes along the length of the tart.  Slice either straight across or on the bias for serving, along with a dollop of pesto.

For the pesto, add the walnuts, basil, and garlic to a food processor and blend until smooth.  Pour the olive oil through the spout with the motor running until the mixture comes together.  Turn off the food processor, taste, season with salt and pepper, and mix in the Parmesan by hand.





Cooking the vegetable puree for the Bolognese

Browning the meat

After adding the tomatoes, milk, and wine

Nice and thick!  Ready to serve


Puff Pastry Fruit Strip with Pastry Cream, Strawberries, Kiwi, Blackberries, and a Blackberry Coulis
Serves 6

1/2 a package (17.65 oz) puff pastry, thawed (1 sheet)
Pastry cream (recipe follows)
4 strawberries, sliced
1 kiwi, halved and sliced
1/2 pint blackberries (12 blackberries, halved, the rest pureed in a food processor or blender and then strained for the coulis)
2 T. apricot jam

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Unfold the puff pastry sheet and dock (dot with holes) using a fork, covering as much of the puff pastry as you can.  Slice the dough into thirds, using the lines of where it was folded.  Cut one third into four long strips.  Brush the two large strips lightly with egg wash, and lay the thin strips on either edge to make a border down the length.  Brush the whole thing with more egg wash and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.  Bake for about 30 minutes until completely dried out and dark golden.  Remove from the oven and let cool.

Pipe the pastry cream onto the puff pastry staying in between the borders along the length (you may have extra pastry cream, but you can reserve it for another use).  Top with sliced strawberries, kiwi, and blackberry halves until the pastry cream is covered.  Heat up the apricot jam until it melts, strain out any chunks of fruit, and using a pastry brush, lightly brush the tops of the fruit with the liquefied apricot jam.  Slice either straight across or on the bias for serving, along with some of the blackberry coulis.

Pastry Cream
Makes 2 1/2 cups

2 cups milk (I use low-fat milk and it always turns out great)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
4 T. cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 T. unsalted butter

Pour the milk, vanilla extract, and salt into a heavy saucepan and heat over medium-high, bringing the milk just to under a boil, stirring occasionally so the milk doens't burn to the bottom of the pan.

Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl whisk together the eggs, sugar and cornstarch.

When the milk is ready, slowly ladle about one-third into the eggs, whisking constantly. Pour the egg mixture back into the hot milk and continue whisking over medium heat until the custard is noticeably thicker, about 2 minutes.

To check the correct thickness of the cream, dip a wooden spoon into the custard, remove it and run your finger across it. It should leave a line where your finger crossed. When the custard is thick enough, remove it from the heat and strain it into a clean bowl.

Let cool for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cut the butter into 1 T. pieces and whisk the butter into the cream, one piece at a time. To cool the cream, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and press the wrap directly onto the top of the cream. Once the cream is a little cooler, put it into the fridge to finish cooling. Pastry cream will keep in the refrigerator for 5 days.





Red Velvet Love

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Red velvet is easily one of my favorite cake flavors and colors.  They are perfect for Valentine's Day, but also for year round enjoyment.  There are varying levels of red velvetness, believe it or not.  I have made some versions that require more cocoa powder than others, giving it a more red-brown color as opposed to stark red.  The cupcakes I made this week used significantly less cocoa powder and came out bright red, super fluffy and moist, and oh so delicious!  I'm not sure whose recipe this is originally, as I've found several versions that are practically the same with the exception of a couple small differences.  The recipe I followed came from Cake Man Raven in Brooklyn, NY, although Paula Deen's recipe is essentially the same except that she uses all-purpose flour instead of cake flour.  Everything else is on par, though.  In making these cupcakes I actually ran out of cake flour after about 2 cups, and finished up with some all-purpose, so I guess I made a hybrid of both recipes, haha.  I did cut down and revise the frosting recipe though, as I find that most cake recipes call for WAY too much frosting and I never ever use it all.  I halved Cake Man Raven's recipe for the frosting, but cut down further on the butter as well and the frosting was delicious.  Here's the recipe I used...

Red Velvet Cupcakes
Makes 24 Cupcakes
Adapted from Cake Man Raven/Paula Deen

Dry Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups cake or all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cocoa powder

Wet Ingredients:
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
1 tsp white distilled vinegar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 oz red food coloring
1 tsp vanilla extract

Frosting:
8 oz cream cheese, softened (Neufchatel is fine)
4 oz (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Sift together the dry ingredients and set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add all the wet ingredients and combine on medium speed.  Slowly add the dry ingredients until completely incorporated.  Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners and divide batter between the cups.  Bake for about 22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcakes comes out clean.  Let cool at room temperature before frosting.

To make the frosting, combine softened cream cheese and softened unsalted butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Whip until soft and fluffy.  Gradually add the powdered sugar, followed by the vanilla extract.  Now you can frost your cupcakes!

Unbaked Red Velvet Cupcakes

Baked Red Velvet Cupcakes






Thursday, March 18, 2010

Strudel and Strawberries and Chocolate, Oh My!

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These past couple days in class have been fairly intense to say the least.  Yesterday we pulled fresh strudel dough.  It's something I had always wanted to do, but never really had the capability on my own in my kitchen.  We made a soft high gluten dough, which was perfect for stretching.  After covering the work benches with large tablecloths and some flour in the center, we started stretching the dough using the backs of our hands, as to not tear the dough as much as possible.


It stretched pretty quickly, starting to get thinner and thinner...


And before we knew it, we could stretch it over the entire table!  Pretty insane!


We brushed the whole thing with melted butter and then spread chopped apples, a mixture of raisins, sugar, spices, in our case the candied-spiced walnuts we had also used in our ice cream (the other groups used plain walnuts), and also in our case some crushed graham crackers (the others used breadcrumbs) to help absorb some of the extra juices the apples would release while cooking.


We then tore off the thick dough edge and lifted the tablecloth, using it to roll the strudel down the length of the table, and then finally tore off the thick dough edge at the opposite end.


We pinched off the extra dough at the ends and ripped them off, tucking the dough under the strudel to seal it.


The result was a beautiful, perfectly rolled strudel made with fresh strudel dough as opposed to the easier alternative of phyllo dough!


Brush it with melted butter and it's ready to bake :)


And here it is baked!



We made some sugar cups to serve the spice and candied walnut ice cream we had made the day before.  To do this we lightly caramelized sugar and then poured it on a silpat, covered it with another silpat, and rolled it out with a rolling pin to even out the sugar layer while it was still warm.  Once it cooled, we removed the top silpat, placed the silpat with the rolled out sugar on a sheet pan and heated it up in the oven again to soften.  We used a round cutter to cut sugar circles and then while they were warm we molded them over the backs of small brioche molds to get a nice fluted shape.  After they cooled, we used a squeeze bottle with caramel sauce to line the edges to give it a more refined look, and then served these ice cream-filled cups with our strudel.


Here we have begun plating our strudels with a swirl of caramel sauce beneath, and some candied spiced walnuts to add an extra crunch element to our dish.


The dollop of caramel sauce to the right was there to keep our lovely ice cream-filled sugar cups from sliding around the plate.  Here is our final product.  We finished the whole thing off with an apple chip stuck right into our spice and candied walnut ice cream!


Yesterday we also worked on some strawberry sorbet that we would be serving today with our molten chocolate cakes.  It was really delicious and incredibly fresh-tasting!


Today we of course made the molten chocolate cakes that would be the main element going along with our strawberry sorbet.  Since we had chosen strawberries, a perfect pairing to chocolate, we decided to work on some chocolate-covered strawberries to adorn our plates.  Instead of going the traditional route (which is awesome in its own right), we made tuxedo strawberries, which were really cute and fun to make!  We started by dipping the strawberries in melted white chocolate and allowed them to set on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.


Then we dipped either side in melted dark chocolate to create a deep "V" in the front.


Finally, we made small parchment paper piping bags and piped three buttons and a bow tie on our strawberry tuxedos to finish them off.  Be sure to cut a very fine tip on your piping bags or else you can't correctly master the detail of the bow tie.


These were so much fun to make and a great (and shockingly easy) alternative to either dipping them in plain melted chocolate, or even drizzling them with another color of chocolate (dark or milk chocolate with white chocolate drizzles, or white chocolate with dark and/or milk chocolate drizzles).


We weren't even close to done prepping all the elements for our plates.  We also made some tuile cookies shaped like forks, bent them around a ring, and then dipped the tongs in melted dark chocolate.  In addition, we brushed some flex molds with white chocolate, in which would would serve our strawberry sorbet.  We filled them with sorbet using a piping bag.  Then evened out the sorbet, refroze them to set the sorbet a little better, flipped the cup upside-down on the plate, and spooned some strawberry sauce with fresh chopped strawberries into the indentation of the cups.  And then of course there were the molten chocolate cakes.  Can't forget about those!  We piped a little chocolate mousse into them also before flipping them over onto our plates.



We dusted powdered sugar along one edge of our now-chocolate-mousse-filled molten chocolate cakes (can't have enough chocolate, right?) and then used some additional chocolate mousse to help secure our tuxedo strawberries to the side of the cakes.  The bent chocolate-dipped fork tuile cookie finished off that side of our plate.


And after adding our sorbet-filled white chocolate cups, and a touch or two of chocolate creme Anglaise and strawberry coulis, our plate was ready to serve!  Bon appetit!



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