duck salad

i took french in high school.  i then promptly flitted off to madrid, SPAIN for a semester in college, where all that french was not so helpful (except for that one day when our 65-year-old señora had a friend-of-a-friend come stay at the apartment and he only spoke french, so she spoke to me and i “spoke” to him. something about a lightbulb.)

well, mom and dad, my french came in quite helpful in this second go-round in higher education. Classical French Cuisine is the class that gets all the culinary kids shakin’ in their boots. The chef is hard, the material is hard, it’s a lot of work.  QUELLE SUPRISE. it’s the foundation of modern cuisine.

first day–chef is jovial, cracks some bad jokes, makes no mistake we understand his immense qualifications, and lays out the course in very clear terms. i can do this.  different from every other class, each student is solely responsible for one specific dish. it’s a traditional french brigade kitchen, so you do have a loose “team,” but you need to come in every day prepared  and ready to rock–solo.

each day started with lecture. we learned lots of important things about the history of french cuisine.

quite smartly, chef connected everything to a story–the person a dish was named after, a region, culinary lore–which not only made it fun, but being the queen of pneumonic devices, made it infinitely easier to digest the large amount of material.

then, we cooked. on the first day, i made a very distinguished pommes puree. mashed potatoes. which was perfect, because on that particular day i had the bubonic plague. but after i came back from my brush with death, I got to make some delicious venison (bambi) with a peppercorn cream sauce and the only thing i took a terrible picture of–thon provoncale (tuna with olives, tomatoes, and herbs)

that would be a ring of basil oil (most of which ended up on my apron), ratatouille wrapped in a zucchini slice, and grilled tuna topped with olive tapanade

 i had to grill the tuna then flash it to order. seems like a good idea, except that tuna is easy to overcook and overcooked tuna is BAD. so, i used my exceptional poke-it-with-your-finger-and-hope-for-the-best skills, tasted a couple, and said a prayer. After service, the every-charming teacher from the dining room came in, and asked for a tuna for her to eat. huh, she must have thought it looked good.

“this is the first time i’ve had tuna in here that wasn’t GREY!” was what more than a few kids remarked to me. yea!

so each morning even before lecture, we had a quiz on the material from the day before.  10 french words–define them. go. After day 4 or 5, there were an awkward few moments at the end of class where chef called me and another classmate over and asked us a series of strange questions about our assigned recipes for the next few days. we thought we were in trouble. chef comes over and declares, “2 students have gotten 100% on all their quizzes, so I did a tiebreaker, and KAREN, you’re the winner of this beautiful and distinguished Johnson and Wales University baseball hat!” hell yea! (i imagine you understand my excitement was not for the actual hat, but the recognition).

After the requisite jeering from my fellow classmates, a friend who is as southern as they come, comes up to me and says “what did you get for #9? i’d never even seen that word before!”  I said, “oh it’s finely diced mushrooms” She looks at me with sheer confusion and says “but I studied the duck salad with mushrooms, what is this?”

duxelles. pronounced duck-SELL.

something about a lightbulb.

ch-ch-ch-changes [radio edit remix]

thank you all for the amazing outpouring of love on facebook, twitter, and the colloquial communication like email, text, and phone calls!

it is TRUE. i graduated from culinary school! (still 2 class recaps to come–check back on tuesday!)

turns out they think i’m pretty smart.

it was a little dicey as to whether or not we were actually allowed to participate in the ceremony, but at the last minute, zachary daquiri and i were able to score some sweet threads and crash the party!

then manfriend whisked me away for something we haven’t had in many many moons–a vacation! we spent a fantastic week in savannah, ga and charleston, sc and now [literally, right now. thank you scheduled posts!] we’re moving me BACK to my beloved DC! we’re cohabitating (for shame!) only a few blocks from where i’ll be doing my internship at my favorite kitchen in the city.

stars, please align.

charlotte has been good to me and culinary school was an incredible experience that bestowed on me un-be-lieveable friendships. but, it’s time to go home.

sugar britches

one day in international, i made curried shrimp. it was delicious and there is not photographic evidence of it.  there was, however, evidence all over my pants. I managed to get curry powder….everywhere. Including my hind quarters, and it wasn’t long before the nickname Curry A$$ was born.

after advanced dining room, we went to advanced patisserie (because i’m soooo advanced now), where on day 1 we made all kinds of fruit coulis. I made a delightful cherry coulis. and got it on my pants. enter Coulis A$$.  not nearly as catchy.  BUT i actually have pictures of what my hard work and soiled britches produced (props to our chef who required pictures of every plate in our final project).

our chef was awesome. cool, calm, and collected (as most pastry chefs are) and not afraid to beat into the teenagers’ heads the importance of taking care of your body in this industry–with both food and exercise.  only healthy snacks were allowed during lecture (i’m continually shocked by the amount of soda, cookies, and fast food consumed for breakfast here) and we all had to tell her what we do to keep ourselves fit.  Ironic in a lab full of cream, butter, and sugar, but that made it all the more necessary.

So–the treats! We worked in groups the first few days, with one person directing the plate design, then the last days we worked together for production, but plated our own desserts.  All these (well, the decent looking ones) went to the Advanced Dining Room for lunch service.

chocolate mousse with a tuile cookie, chocolate piping, and assorted fruit coulis

almond financier with red-wine poached pineapple, chocolate straw, lace spiral, and piping/sauces. (my plate design–chef said best of the day!)

lemon basil bavarian cream on a phyllo nest

fresh fruit tart with coconut cream

pear tatin with lace cookie (that awkward open space on the right side of the cookie is for ice cream). first dessert plated totally on my own!

lemon-scented cheesecake on a chocolate cookie with fresh raspberries and a sugar spire (sugar work is now my sworn enemy).

hand-pulled apple strudel with a cookie cup for ice cream and demerits for the fresh fruit because it didn’t go with the fall flavors of the strudel. whoops!

and my final! chocolate lava cake with (now tremendously melted) raspberry swirl ice cream. also imagine a beautiful piece of chocolate placed right through those delicately cut holes in the lace cookie. rough day, but i still made an A!

 

you’re international, so international

After a quick little jaunt over to Asheville to visit my cuzzzzins and reunite with Mad Dog, I came back and BAM! I was a sophomore [for normal students they do 2 terms of labs and 1 term of academics their first year, then 1 set of labs and 2 academics their second year. cuz i can already read and write rull good, they don't make me take no real classes or nothin'].

So! Being a sophomore means you get new uniforms which is AMAZING because you no longer have to do laundry halfway through the week and you rock the light blue collar on your coat which allows you to look at the little freshman with nothing but the utmost distain. But it also means they force me to take another pair of the most god awful work shoes ever. Those bad boys are going right to goodwill. danskos4life.

First class: International Cuisine

This was a huge change of pace right off the bat–it’s a service-centered class, which means we produce the food for the freshman dining room (remember when I was graded on opening a bottle of wine? that class). We got our first taste of dealing with ticket times, working a line, plating, all that good stuff. It wasn’t 100% authentic–the food was all prepared in advance, kept hot in a steam table, then just plated to order. But it was the perfect way to ease into things.

Each day of class we were “in” a different region of the world: Japan, Thailand, Spain, Greece and Turkey, Americas, Africa. We started off with lecture, covering a loooong list of terms and discussing the culinary history of the region and how imperialism, wars, and other major world events impacted the food people ate around the world (hint: spain made their mark allllll over the place).

The food was great–and diverse for sure. A new term means new classmates, so there were a few hiccups along the way (the paella–my love!–was a disaster) but by and large everything was tasty.

japan: miso soup (duh)

phillipines: lumpia and mandu (think wontons and spring rolls)

phillipines again: pansit (stir-fried noodles with shrimp and sausage)

in filipino culture, noodles are usually served on birthdays to symbolize long life. therefore, it’s super extra bad luck to cut or in any way shorten the noodles. that’s news you can use.

Americas: Bass with Mole Pepin (pumpkin seed mole)

awwww yea the crowning glory: ethiopian sample platter

you got your beef tibs, chicken doro wat, greens and veggies…heaven. we made our own injera (that brown spongey pancake thing on the bottom) and ohhh man it was awesome.  injera is usually made with teff flour (a grain, and gluten free!) and is fermented like sourdough, but we took a wee shortcut and used club soda and lemon juice to mimic the flavor and texture. i’m an injera fanatic and i thought this stuff was down right tasty.

pretty sweet jams, huh?

from here, we went to Advanced Dining Room [cue law and order DUN DUN]. It was all fancy-like, with french brigade style service. I won’t bore you with the details because it was absolutely terrible (and I already had experience with this style of service). It did make me infinitely more appreciative of just how fantastic all my instructors had been…this far. I’m a 27-year-old woman with a college degree and nearly 10 years of restaurant experience and I was treated like a 4 year old.  And she LIKED me. The hardest part was watching other students get berated for things there was no way in heaven they would ever know the answer to.  In a strange twist of fate, this brought out my compassionate side for these struggling individuals and it became a greater learning opportunity for me to quietly teach them things hiding in the dish room that our professor would rather screech and insult them over.

[end rant]

and then we walked through the seven levels of the candy cane forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops, and landed in advanced patisserie!

the good, the bad, and the ugly

The last lab of my “freshman” year (my spring term is what regular students do in their second year) was Fundamentals of Food Service Production (FFP for short). I didn’t know very much about the class going in…other than I had some not-so-great french toast from there way back in September.

FFP focuses on the mastery of three skills:  savory baking, shallow fry, and saute.  We made SO. MUCH. FOOD. and had SO. MUCH. FUN. Our chef was an ex-military who had spent considerable time in D.C. and loved to swap stories and encouraged us to take these skills and punch it up a bit.

exhibit a: savory baking (good!)

breakfast burritos. with scratch-made enchilada sauce simmered until it was extra delicious.

the most amazingly delicious breakfast burritos i've ever tasted. ever. ever ever ever.

exhibit b:  shallow fry (good!)

risotto cakes. have you ever seen someone so happy to be standing over hot, popping fat?

look at that mug!

exhibit c: saute

oh wait i have no pictures of this because I was too busy scorching off my eyebrows.  (bad)

BUT–after cooking off 3 flats of eggs (flat=50 eggs) and working 3 or more flaming pans at the same time, I walked out of this class really feeling like I could COOK.

roasted tomatoes stuffed with mushroom duxelles, topped with mornay (cheese) sauce

 

note the lone, sad green vegetable in the corner.

 

oh! we also made sauces. lots of sauces.

 

baby quiche! smuggled a couple of these bad boys out and sold them on the black market (or fed them to manfriend)

 

slidersssssssssssssss

chef: "do something with these potatoes!" me: "you got it."

 

next time he said that to me…

i stuffed them with cheddar, bacon, and scallions and topped them with fried onions. oops!

 

and then one day,

a pastry class brought us baked alaska made with candied bacon ice cream.

“So you must eat really well, huh” is something I hear often.  Not to blow off all the glitter and magic, but this is what “eating well” looks like in culinary school:

nom nom....or something.

it’s all really tasty, but it sure ain’t glamorous.  (uglyyyy)

All right!  Now I’m only 3 classes behind. I  contracted a lively strain of the bubonic plague this week, so I’ll try and get us up to real time while i’m on the mend. over and out.

 

boop boop

Alright lets get to the good stuff. [cute old school tivo "boop boop" fast forward noise].

Christmas was delightful. Saw the g-parents, they’re looking spritely as always.  Skype’d Auntie K and Unkie J and the pups. Also spritely all around. Got into trouble with the sista in chi-town. Jet-setted back to the east coast to ring in 2012 with Manfriend and had a fantastic little jaunt in the city of Brotherly Love with the Inventor of the Flameless Candle and his blushing new bride.

Back in the Queen City, we rounded out our Beverage lab with individual presentations on various spirits. I drew, in a fantastic twist of service industry fate, Grand Marnier.  I opened my presentation with this (it really hits its stride around 0:40).

Next up: Skills of Meat Cutting. Where you actually spend 5 hours in a meat locker. A 40-degree meat locker. The only class where people are dyyyying to do the dishes (hot water). This was definitely the hardest class I’ve had. For some reason, I just couldn’t grasp all the different cuts of meat and how they related to the anatomy. We had to know poultry, beef, pork, veal, and game. The actual skill of deboning a cut of meat I mastered no problem. But this?

name every muscle and bone. ready, GO.

This was HARD. Luckily, the chef was awesome.  We’re two peas in a pod when it comes to food philosophy–he has “eat” and “local” tattooed on his wrists, and ended every lecture with 10-15 minutes of yoga-inspired stretching before we headed into the arctic. He expected a lot, and gave a lot. And by gave, I mean gave us chicken cracklin’s and pork ribs rubbed with the most amazing dry rub ever.

In the middle of this, Liscious, Sparkles, and sista Leenie came to visit! We drank WAY too much wine, had WAY too much fun, and I impressed/horrified them with my fantastic butchering skills while prepping the Sunday night chickie.

After Meat Cutting, we went to Purchasing and Product Identification, known among the collegians as “Store Room.” You learn to identify product by filling every single purchase order for every single lab in the massive store room in the basement. Well, my group filled the req’s (short for requisition) while the 18-year-olds lounged around and thought about picking up a carrot.

This chef was a great cook–but also a math mind.  We learned how to cost out individual recipes and also how to analyze a menu and pick out which items are making you good money, and which ones need to be fixed.  There was a 10-minute lecture that involved words like “dog” “star” and “plow” that was hands-down one of the most educational experiences I’ve had in a LONG time.    He also had no patience for idiots or sloths, so we got along quite well.

Ahh so many words! so few pictures! what shall we do??

BOOM. carnitas from scratch. actually prepared in my very own kitchen. with quick-pickled red onions, radishes, and jalapeno.

Hop and jiggle

These truths I hold to be self evident:

1. Birthdays always need sprinkles
2. Birthdays on holidays call for a special level of celebratory creativity
3. The final term of any degree necessitates jello shots
4. old college traditions and new culinary educations can lead to wonderful things

I present: birthday cake and Bellini jello shots, presented in (food safe!) Easter eggs. Happy birthday Katie, and happy Easter everyone! Hope everyone celebrates in a way that makes you smile.
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I’m alive!

There’s a massive post that’s about 90% written bound to hit your inboxes any day now, but for now, something you haven’t seen in a while: a recipe! Quick Black Bean Hummus 1. Whirl 2 cloves of garlic in a food processor. 2. Add 1 can of drained black beans. Whirl those too. 3. Add … Continue reading