a christmas story (6 weeks late)

Smack-dab in the middle of our Beverage class was winter break.  Great timing, huh? Our 9-day class took the better part of 4 weeks to complete. Everything ended nicely at thanksgiving, and this term wraps up cleanly in 2 weeks (ack!) just in time for spring break, so I guess it can’t all work perfectly.

The last day of class before break was a university-wide deep clean, so we all spent a few hours scrubbing coolers, wiping down coffee machines, and organizing bottles and were sent on our way. A couple mimosas at a friend’s house and I was off to the great land of MILWAUKEE.

I have the fantastic ability to fall asleep absolutely anywhere, so as soon as my butt hit that seat I was out cold.  I wake up, expecting the beverage trolley to be rolling down the aisle, and wait. that’s concrete outside the window. We haven’t left yet. It’s been an hour. I have a connection in 60 minutes. In Atlanta–that’s 90 minutes from here. We finally take off, the pilot mumbles something about rain. We touch down in ATL as my connection is leaving. Cue mental rolodex: do i know anyone in a-town? Negative. Crap.

We get off the plane and I frantically ask the gate agent, “Did the milwaukee flight leave already?” (its now 20 minutes past scheduled departure) He points down the terminal and says one word: “GO!” I get (sprint) 3 gate down and I see another agent jumping up and down yelling “MILWAUKEE” and giving me the air-traffic-control TURN RIGHT arms. There are now 2 or 3 other women who also came sprinting into the gate and we breathlessly board the plane.  My seatmate says “Charlotte?” “Yep.” [flatly] “They held the plane for you guys.” [glare] Merry christmas to you too, wench.

I notice a guy in army fatigues from my first flight board right behind us (not the slightest bit out of breath) and the pilot comes on the intercom “We are pleased to welcome Private-Captain-So-and-So aboard, he is returning home to Wisconsin after his 1st tour in Iraq.” So THAT is why they held the plane. God bless the armed services. Seatmate X is now applauding so hard her whole body is vibrating. Wench.

This flight goes swimmingly (I’m asleep for most of it), and 24 hours later all is forgotten in favor of champagne and ornaments

t’was a lovely holiday, indeed.

tuesday quickie

Quick trip…quick post.

After such a great thanksgiving break, it was extra hard to dive back deep down below the mason-dixon. I was missing my city and my people baaaaaaaad. Manfriend came to the rescue and whisked me back up to dc in mid-december. We hit Fruit Bad on H Street, a place I’ve been dying to try forever. And was it ever worth the wait. Enter: the pig latin.

oh yes. i’m still talking about it not the next day–but the next month.

saturday morning brought a reunion with a favorite pasttime: brunch with liscious! ted’s bulletin for eggs, bacon, bubbles, and house-made maple bacon poptarts.

A happy coincidence with this visit was it coincided with Slow Motion’s no-way-i’m-3-years-from-30 birthday celebration! She can sniff our a surprise from 5 miles away, so this was a covert operation and I declare it a success she only had half an inkling something was up. 🙂

surprise!”]An absolutely amazing night of good bbq, great friends, and awesome live music was the perfect way to end the weekend.

it’s 5’o clock…always.

After Nutrition class, something I’m really interested in and passionate about came Principles of Beverage Service, something I….know very well.

We spent two weeks learning how to carefully pour, mix, and serve cocktails. We spent many hours practicing pouring shots, mixed drinks, and martinis. Our practical required us to choose 8 drinks out of a hat and prepare them in a mere 20 minutes.

I should note this class began less than 1 week after the last Panthers home game, where I prepared roughly 8-10 drinks for rabid football fans between the times of  12:00pm and 12:01pm.

Aside from the mixology portion (where I should note, I got a 99. One point off for filling a martini too full. Seriously? Any real customer would give me extra credit for that.), we learned tons about how practically every spirit is made and consumed.

Our professor was fantastic–super passionate about not only the material, but about making it fun to learn.  I was constantly surprised at the different activities and games she came up with to help us understand the material. We created our own wineries, did quick fire-style cocktail challenges, and created dramatic presentations on different categories of drinks.

polynesian presentation: you put the lime in the coconut.

 

So all of those delicious cocktails at the top weren’t actually potable. Think just for a second about precisely how much liability would be involved in turning 20 or more 18-year-old college freshman loose in a completely stocked bar. Right. So we used water and food coloring. The juices were real though, so if kids wanted to get all hopped up on cranberry juice and sour mix, no problem.

That’s not to say there weren’t plenty of opportunities to taste–we used sip sticks to taste every liquor we talked about, did a beer tasting, and the infamous 8am wine tasting:

Most of the students had already done this activity in Dining Room, so this time we were given a plate full of food items like mint leaves, siracha, potato chips, lemon, goat cheese, and grapes to play with layering flavors and pairing them with the wines. It was a really interesting exercise, and almost more interesting was hearing the different things people liked that I never could have dreamed of wanting to eat (honey and milk chocolate with riesling? someone get the EMTs on call for when we all go into diabetic shock).

One of the questions I get most frequently is, “what do you do with ALL that food?” I think I’ve mentioned before that much of it does get eaten by students. And what can get donated, does. But there is a lot of pushing unwanted food on other students. Every classroom gets at least 1 tray of cookies or cake every day. Sometimes we just can’t eat it.  Sometimes, there is a better use.

happy 19th birthday!

 

nutritious and delicious

Thanksgiving break marked the end of our first term of classes.  5 labs down, 10 to go. First up after turkey day: Nutrition and Sensory Analysis. The timing couldn’t have been better, huh? I was really looking forward to this class–I knew the instructor and knew we had very similar views on food.

What a new term also means is new classmates.  A group of about 8 of us “big kids” from our first session got together and all registered for the same classes, which meant about 12 new faces.  The first couple weeks were a little rough. I quickly named a group member “Wonder Boy,” and not as a term of endearment. We’ve all settled in though, and get along pretty well.  But it is VERY exciting to see old friendly faces in the halls.

So let’s get to the good stuff–the food! Each day before service we went down the whole line and each group had to explain why each of their dishes were “nutritious and delicious.”  Not surprisingly, i LOVED all the food in this class. A fellow health nut and I talked so excitedly about how much better we felt after class each day–we had more energy, were in better moods,  and life just seemed a little brighter.  After the land of cream sauces and mushy meat, it was like discovering the promised land.

upper left: shrimp spring rolls with rice noodles and fresh mint
lower left: banana nut bread (barf)
center: buckwheat pancakes! deeeeelicious
upper right: vegan tofu chocolate pudding with raspberry coulis. deeeeesgusting.
(i try to like tofu. i really do. but i just don’t. i don’t hate it like i hate bananas, so that’s something)
lower right: spaghetti squash with tempeh bolognese. tempeh is another meat substitute made of fermented soy beans. infinitely better than tofu.

 here’s a couple shots of the full lot of daily production (well, actually each of these are only about half of it):

two of my accomplishments: brocco-flower cheddar soup and smoothies (blueberry-banana and strawberry-raspberry-peach)

   

hands-down one of my favorite things i’ve made to date: falafel!

wonder boy made the tzatziki. took him approximately 2 hours.

 and the crowning glory after two weeks of very little meat, cheese, or fat:

bacon cheddar sliders with caramelized onions and chipotle mayo on fresh-baked rolls. the southern carnivorous males were in HEAVEN.

For our final, we had to take a recipe and modify it to pretty strict nutritional requirements.  I took a sautéed salmon with a beurre rouge sauce (read: 2 sticks of butter with some red wine) and turned it into:

Ancho Chile Salmon with Clementine Reduction

(after being tasted and graded. A+!)

I marinated the salmon in fresh clementine juice, clementine zest, ancho chile powder, brown sugar, salt, and pepper. 30 minutes later, they got baked at 375 until cooked through, about 12 minutes.  The brown sugar and the sugars in the juice caramelize on the outside of the fish, and the higher heat allow it to cook quickly and not dry out. Meanwhile, I reduced the exact same mixture as the marinade over medium heat until slightly syrupy. Drizzle that over the fish, top it with some toasted panko breadcrumbs and BAM (he’s a jwu alumnus, ps)!

Nutritious and delicious.

per usual

Aw crap. So much for that quick follow-up with a Thanksgiving post. Well, lucky for you here it is in January now that we’re all in the post-holiday slump! Some remaining holiday cheer!

First night back in the district in 2.5 months–

Manfriend and I dine in the same establishment as the First Lady. For the second time in 3 years. What are the odds? The secret service agent had the courtesy to say “welcome home” as he was halfway up my thigh looking for concealed weapons. It was GREAT to be home.

The annual sh*tshaw thanksgiving was full of friendly faces and fantastic food! Our lovely hosts gave me a huge hug and said something like “hiitssonicetoseeyouCOME LOOK AT THE TURKEY.” I did nothing other than comfort the cooks– the bird came out amazingly delicious. I was tasked with dessert, per usual. I made the requisite pumpkin cheesecake, per usual.  I also threw out some pastry skills and made a chocolate cream pie. Then I forgot to take pictures, per usual. Here’s a couple stolen from Smash:

The mound of whipped cream hiding behind the tupperware is the pie, the orange squares are the cheesecake. I have a future in descriptive food writing, no?

The very next day all my favorite people came out to celebrate me turning another year of twenty-fun!

And then Manfriend and I were sent off to Delaware in style by Slow Motion, Liscious, and J-Bear with gigantic beers, ridiculous cocktails, and a little QT with tiny symbol of the season.

best. face. ever.

off we went to the First State where I took zero pictures. per ususal.  hope everyone else had a lovely thanksgiving (6 weeks ago) too!

SO–my one and only new years resolution (wait what happened to christmas? hold on) is to be much more on top of this here piece of the interwebs. with that, i’ll leave you, to return again soon (SOON!) with new class updates and an xmas recap.

 

mushy meat

Aaaaand here we are. Another month has passed.  But it’s the holiday season, so I have an excuse, right? RIGHT? Let’s jump right in, I know internet bandwidth is at a premium today.

When we last spoke, I had just started “Essentials of Dining Room.” I got to wear makeup and awesome pants that came up to about my 4th rib. We learned how to carry trays, greet tables, serve from the right, and stand against the wall talking about your customers without them realizing (kidding! that was extra credit). 20% of my final grade was based on my ability to open a bottle of wine.

It’s ok. i’ll wait while you go clean up that beverage you just spit all over the screen from laughing so hard.

Everyone back? So, yes. On the last day we had “server olympics” and it was determined that i could open a bottle faster than anyone else. Shocking.  Someone asked me, “so exactly how long have you been working in restaurants?”  (the impact that has on the speed with which I can access vino, I think is negligible.) I had to think about it–the answer is almost TEN YEARS. holy HELL. long story short: i got an A.

Putting those chef whites back on after 2 weeks was a great feeling (nothing makes a 5am wake-up easier than elastic-band pants).  After nearly a DECADE in the front of the restaurant, that first face-melting blast from an open oven was a welcome reminder of how much i love being in the kitchen.

Traditional European Cuisine had me a little worried we’d only be eating saurkraut and mushy vegetables.  There was a fair amount of pickled and boiled items, but  there was also osso bucco, samosas, short ribs, and rabbit. Our chef took the really interesting approach of making every day a study in how old world and new world foods and techniques have co-mingled over the last several centuries. Can you imagine Italian food without tomatoes? Well good thing someone discovered Mexico.  Irish Stew without potatoes? God bless America.

First few days: Thomas Jefferson’s Chicken Catticatore  (wa-hoo-wa!), yankee pot roast with colcannon and carrot/parsnip puree (or, how to save over-boiled vegetables), guinness beef stew, lamb shanks, and…..cookies?

So the traditional europeans love their low-and-slow techniques. that leaves eager culinary students with lots of idle time.  Chef encouraged us to use whatever we could find and make whatever we desired. If it worked, great, if it didn’t well, let’s figure out why.  One of the most fun things we did (and best ways to use up idle time) was make pasta!

Here are a few of my favorite things my group made: pork pozole , osso bucco with risotto (spacing look funny on that writing? i’ll give you 2 guesses who fixed the spelling error. and your second guess doesn’t count), and spinach with golden raisins and pine nuts.

Osso bucco is traditionally topped with a gremolata (lemon zest, parsley, garlic)–that top center picture is a tasting we did of the veal with and without the gremolata.  The way the citrus and herby notes changed the flavor of the meat in your mouth was amazing. I love sh*t like that.

After a week straight of stewed beef, braised chicken, and creamy carbs, we had to step it up.  A group member who shall remain nameless muttered over our reducing sauce, “if i never see mushy meat again it will be too soon.”

Enter (counter-clockwise from top-left): autumnally-themed individual stews, butternut squash pasta for dayyyyys, grilled pizza and stuffed mushrooms, and my idle-hands creations–guacamole with fresh tortilla chips (why avocados were in the european cuisine fridge I still don’t know), roasted poblano fettucini, and apple crisp with gingersnap crust (we asked for 6 apples, they sent 6 pounds).

For my practical, I had to make a braciole (pronounced bra-shole…naturally), a butterflied flank steak stuffed with spinach, garlic, and parmesean, rolled up, and braised. I served it with citrus-sauteed squash and a sauce from the reduced braising liquid. There is no picture because nothing could adequately capture perfection (or I forgot)–that’s right, i got a 100! Maybe the fact that it was my birthday helped me grab those last few points. I like to think it was the excellently-seared meat.

And just like that, we were done! First quarter: complete.  Looking back, it felt like it absolutely flew by, but thinking about everything I’ve learned makes my head spin.

We had a great looong break for Thanksgiving–quick and dirty recap coming–and we’ll be back in the kitchen bright and early tomorrow. Here’s whats on the docket for the next few months:

  • Nutrition and Sensory Analysis (SO necessary right after the land of meat and potatoes)
  • Principles of Beverage Service (where I believe I will be judged on my ability to drink a martini. just give me the A right now.)
  • Skills of Meatcutting
  • Purchasing and Product Identification
  • Fundamentals of Food Service Production
  • Introduction to Menu Planning and Cost Controls

Ready

Set

GO!

bechamel and boogaloo

Wow so the promise for no more monster posts sure fell through. since we last spoke, i’ve been through 2 more sections–Stocks, Sauces, and Soups and New World Cuisine.  Yesterday was the first day of Introduction to Dining Room–I get to wear my hair down and makeup (yay!) but also have to wear the dreaded Cintas uniform pants. Atleast these bad boys aren’t 100% polyester like my last encounter with uniforms.

I think everyone in my class feel like we’re starting to hit our stride.  Much like any restaurant I’ve worked in, everyone finds their groove.  You may not be best friends with each person, but you find a way to work as a group to get things done.  Rumor has it the professors have been talking about us–rumor has it we’re the rockstars. We’re smart, fast, and look out for each other. I mean, really, who’s surprised. 😉

I have zero pictures from Soups, Stocks and Sauces.  Bechamel and hollandaise do not photograph well. The class was amazing though–the professor was great and we focused a ton on knife skills and cooking techniques.  It was the perfect warm-up to New World Cuisine, where we were thrown Day 1 into producing massive amounts of food.  I can’t imagine starting in a production class with having to learn the fundamentals as you go.

Pictures seem to be the fan favorites around here, so let’s break down the rest that way.

Steam table shots–all the hot food we made each day went into this here steam table. On another table were salads and the carving station.  There were 5 groups, and everyone made anywhere from 2-5 dishes a day.  so. much. food. some of it was standard roasting or blanching of vegetables, rice pilaf, french fries, and some of it was fun things like fried green tomatoes with shrimp remoulade (lower left corner), grilled ribeyes with homemade steak sauce (lower right, sauce made by yours truly), and oyster po’boys (no picture. they didn’t last long.).


Here are some close ups of the dishes I made with my own two hands:

top row (left to right): buttermilk-soaked fried okra (slimy little buggers), herb roasted carrots and parsnips, quinoa with roasted peppers.

middle: herb-seasoned french fries, jicama and orange salad, grilled shrimp, corn, and black bean salad

bottom: grilled pineapple salsa with habaneros, adobo chicken wings, peruvian chicken salad.

And the best part–action shots! each day a different class came to eat all the delicious things slaved over for hours (literally) and we served them.  Scooping rice, slicing prime rib, assembling tacos, whatever was needed. I was excused from this task for most of the class thanks to the awesome hacking cough and persistent sniffles that came to hang out for the last couple weeks.

top: steam table calm before the storm

left column: turkey roulade with chorizo stuffing, prime rib.

right column: steak fajitas and pork loin

bottom: fish tacos!

center: culinary geniuses–sliders topped with mashed potatoes, grilled shrimp, and onion rings (part of the special reserve tasting menu known as family meal)

It was a TON of work, and a TON of fun.  Finally working to produce food for people who were counting on you, and having them compliment it was a great experience, and only the beginning.  Reflecting on the last 9 days today with some friends, we all felt a renewed sense of purpose. It was hot and stressful and exhausting. And we want more.  Never once have I resented my 6:30am commute, even when I worked until midnight the night before.  How many people can say that?

Enough with the mushy stuff–Thursday we started Essentials of Dining Room. I’m spending the next two weeks learning to be a server…right. We had to fill out an index card with our front of house experience. Mine took 2.  I was long ago pegged by my classmates as a strong personality (shocking, i know) and today the teenagers were awed by my ability to carry a tray with 4 (empty) entrée plates down a hallway.

Everyone was in a pretty goofy mood after the stress of finals the day before, which led to my group creating the following team name, logo, and slogan.

Yes, that’s crayon. Crayola crayon. You’ve just been SERVED.

where’s my hugger?!

SHEW. Yesterday was the last day of Baking and Pastry, which meant final exam time.

We had 4 hours to make whole wheat dinner rolls, pate a choux, buttermilk biscuits, cookies, and pastry cream. the pate a choux was piped into cream puffs, which we had to fill (with our pastry cream) and dip in chocolate ganache (which also had to be made). Oh and after scrubbing the kitchen from top to bottom, then we got to take the written exam. woof.

Despite the stress of the last day, the second week was a lot of fun!

There was pie

apple! it's hard to see, but there's a cute little apple cut out on the top that Poppa Bear made

There was cake

vanilla sponge with raspberry filling, american buttercream, and oreo crunchies

[sidenote: if you’ve got a thing for sisyphean tasks, you would be an EXCELLENT cake froster.]

There was quiche..ohhh was there quiche

carmelized onion, canadian bacon, sharp cheddar. and that's MY perfectly fluted pie crust thankyouverymuch

Eclairs and Cream Puff and Profiteroles, oh my!

profiteroles: filled w/ (hand-whipped) whipped cream. eclairs and puffs are filled with pastry cream and dipped in chocolate.

Sweet rolls (think parker house):

And on the 7th (ok 8th) day, God rested. And He created pizza. And it was good.

cheese and pepperoni

spinach and mushroom

Really good.

It was a little sad to say goodbye to our chef, who had an amazing balance of high expectations and understanding patience, but there was no time for dilly-dallying.  At 6:45am this morning, we were off to the races with Stocks, Sauces, and Soups!

Our professor is an ex-Marine with a thick Boston accent (and demeanor). It’s a lot to take before the sun comes up.  But he’s fiercely passionate about food and education–and it shows. He’s doing his PhD dissertation on the issue of the sub-par math skills of today’s youth and how it impacts their performance in professional kitchens. After my altercation with Baby Bear, all I can say is ROCK. ON.

So before class ended at 1pm today, i was known as “the hugger.” If you know me, you know I have the amazing capability to be completely devoid of all emotion. So, this was a change.

Chef asks the class, “who eats granola?” Silence. “I eat granola, chef.” “Perfect. There’s always one tree hugger in every class. You are now my Compost Queen.”

Christ.

“You are in charge of the compost buckets. Make sure there’s no trash in the compost or compost in the trash.”

Cue giggles and jeering.

“And if there is, you get to dump it on the freshly washed floor and let your classmates sort it out. And re-wash the floors.”

Silence. I giggle.

So then we made stock. I’ll spare you pictures of boiled chicken carcases and beef bones. But man it smelled good. We’re cleaning up and I’m untangling stacked chairs in the hallway (…teenagers) and all of a sudden Chef is in the window screaming–SCREAMING–“WHERE’S MY HUGGER??!?!” Time to take the compost out. Perfectly sorted, might I add.

Then I treated myself to an exciting sale item at the grocery store:

WHO NEEDS A HUG?

still standing

well friends, i survived week 1! even though it felt like month 1…i didn’t think it was possible for 4 days to feel so long.

class starts at 7am–which means be sitting in your seat by 6:45 in your perfectly ironed uniform.  exhibit a: not ironed.

also incorrect: use of makeup and lack of awesome beanie-style hat.

this means i’m out the door at 6:30 and up at 5:45 to shower, eat, iron, and do some final reviewing for the quizzes we have every.single.day.

lecture from 7-8:30 on what we’re going to be doing that day. “break” means sprint to the bathroom before there’s a huge line then rush back to get started on the next 4 hours: production.

day 1: whole wheat rolls. ingredients all carefully measured on an old-school balance scale.

note: fresh yeast is not an appetizing smell at 8am. the final product? YES.

day 2: biscuits, baguettes, banana bread. mix croissant dough

yea i couldn't wait.

day 3: laminate (fold lots and lots of expensive european butter into) croissant dough, cinnamon rolls

not pictured: dunking my hand into a giant tub of icing and drizzling on top.

day 4: form and bake croissants, make pie crusts, and MORE wheat rolls

i didn’t get a picture of my pie crust, but let me tell you, i KILLED it (thanks mom!). we’re baking the bad boys off tomorrow, so i’ll be sure to get a picture then.

the class of  30ish is divided into groups of 3 or 4 students that we make all the products with.  usually we make one large batch of dough (we measure butter in pounds, people) and divide it for everyone to form their own rolls or whatnot.  We taste the final products and the leftovers are either given to dining room classes or donated (yea social conscience!).

i’m in a group with three 18-year-olds. they are all very nice. they are all still teenagers. it’s a little bit like goldilocks and the three bears: one talks wayyyy too much, one does wayyyy too little, and the third falls nicely in the middle. Poppa Bear and Momma Bear have the hots for each other. they think i don’t know.

at the end of day 3 (after also working 2 late nights in the restaurant), I asked Baby Bear, who had not moved from our work table in atleast 90 minutes, to find and measure some liquid. Eons later, she returns and asks how much we need. Look at the recipe, we’re doing half, figure it out. She fake-glances at it and says “I can’t do math.” I look at her, look at the recipe, and say very slowly, “Half of ten is five. We need 5 ounces.” She looks at me like “finally” and I snap. “This is not going to fly. You need a calculator or work on your times tables or something. There’s no excuse for this.”

Poppa Bear and Momma Bear stop in their tracks for a second and I feel terrible. I apologize (but really people HALF OF TEN) and we finish up our day.  The next day, she definitely moved a little bit faster. And I helped her fix her pie crust and she was very proud of herself.

In other news, in lecture we were discussing how cheap maple syrup is actually flavored high fructose corn syrup and some other biddy shouts out “did you know aunt gemima was a real PERSON? she just died….she was REAL.”  A guy about my age mutters, “yea, she’s buried right next to mrs. butterworth.”

here. we. go.