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!

meatless monday

In case you haven’t heard, we eat too much meat. It’s bad for us, it’s bad for them, it’s bad for the planet. Meatless Monday started in 2003 and to say the least–it’s caught on.  Countless schools, celebrities, and companies are adopting the meat-free Monday.

I try to be cognizant of the amount of meat I consume, but I could absolutely be better.  So, let’s do this together.  I’ll post a meat-free recipe every Monday, something anyone could reasonably prepare on a weeknight, so you can get your act together too (i’m not judging, promise).

So here we go! I made this linguine a week or so ago. I love creative pesto interpretations, and this one worked out wonderfully. Beautiful end-of-season tomatoes and the almonds add a great little bit of bulk to the sauce. This is a great warm, cozy dinner as the weather turns colder, but won’t put you in a food coma or give you a gut. Winner!

Linguine with Tomato-Almond Pesto
from smitten kitchen, adapted from Gourmet

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup slivered almonds
  • 1 large handful fresh basil leaves
  • 1 to 2 large garlic cloves
  • Several sprinkles of sea salt
  • 6 ripe plum tomatoes, quartered
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino or Parmesan
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 pound linguine

Method

  • In a large skillet, sauté the almonds in a little olive oil until toasted. Let cool, then blend them in a food processor or blender until they are in coarse pieces. (“The size of orzo,” the original recipe suggests.) Scoop them out of the processor and set them aside.
  • Put the basil, garlic and a few pinches of sea salt into the food processor and chop. Add the almonds back to the food processor (keeping them separate will keep them from getting too finely chopped as you get the basil and garlic to the right texture) with the tomatoes, cheese and olive oil and whirl briefly. Season it with freshly ground black pepper.
  • Cook your linguine until it is al dente and could use another minute of cooking time. Reserve one cup of pasta cooking water and drain the rest. Immediately toss the hot linguine with the pesto and mix quickly so that it drinks the sauce up a bit. Add more pasta water if needed.

p.s. how cute is the little text! yea, you’re thinking “christ that is so 2005.” WHATEVER.