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.

meatless monday: mmm mmm mushrooms!

Risotto is one of the meals Manfriend requests on a regular basis.  I usually have no objections, but when this summer revealed itself to be an unwavering sweltering soul-crushing eternal heat wave, creamy warm risotto wasn’t exactly what I wanted to eat. Or stand over, stirring diligently.

At the first whisper of cooler weather…”can we have risotto?”  I had some mushrooms that needed a home so in to the pot they went and dinner was born. Until…

Until I decided not to get my handy step stool ( judge me. do it) to get something from a high shelf, I just reeeeeached up as high as I could. I teetered on my tip toes and leaned a bit to the side and CRASH. My acrobatics knocked the handle of  the pot containing my nicely sauteing mushrooms and the whole lot tumbled to the floor. Your honor, Exhibit A:

This meal quickly would have headed into a monday meltdown had i not saved some of the mushrooms, intending to use them in omelets.  Manfriend assured me, despite my insistence, that I was not actually an idiot and complete failure, and back to the cutting board i went.

So, how do you actually make this stuff? For a basic risotto, you only need a few items: onions of some kind (shallots are best), arborio rice, warm liquid (chicken or veggie stock), and, well, that’s it! From there, you can make it your own. The process is also very simple, it just requires a little bit of time (about 30 minutes, unless you’re cooking for 12) and some upper arm endurance.  We’re going to walk through the whole thing together nice and easy.  I’ll list the quantities I used, but you can adjust them to your taste.

First, heat 3-4 cups of your liquid over low heat so it’s just barely simmering. Barely.  Melt some butter or oil in another pot over medium heat.  Add 1/2 c. onions and cook until starting to soften (don’t let them get brown. If they start to brown, turn your heat down).  Once the onions are on their way, add some flavor!  I added healthy dashes of rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper, and my mushrooms (for round 2 there was only a scant cup) here so they could cook and release all their flavors into the rice as it all cooked together.

Now, add your rice. No liquid.  (1 cup will serve about 4 people).  Let the rice toast with the onions, etc until it juuuuust starts to turn the slightest shade of tan.  Toasting the rice before you cook it in liquid seals in the starch and helps make your final product nice and creamy.

NOW you add your liquid–sloooowly.  I use a 1-cup measure, dipping it into my simmering broth, which pulls up about 3/4 c. at a time.  What you’re going to do here, is add one ladle of broth and stir stir stir the rice until the liquid is completely absorbed.  This will happen very quickly at first then more slowly as it gets more and more cooked.  If you want to add wine (which is lovely in this), that should be the first liquid you introduce into your rice to maximize flavor and give it time for the booze to cook out.  Once the liquid is absorbed, add another ladle. Stir until absorbed. Wash, rinse, repeat.  A standard ratio is 3 cups of liquid to 1 cup of rice.  l usually use up ending a little more, so I start out with plenty of liquid at the outset so I’m not panicked at the end trying to warm up last-minute water. (Adding cold water halts the cooking process. bad. very bad).

about when you should add some more juice.

A note on stirring: purists say you need to stir this constantly as it cooks. Not fast and furious–but constantly. I’ve made it like that, and I’ve also made it where you’re doing more than one thing at once and maybe only stir it every couple minutes. Both turned out great.  You definitely can’t walk away from it for 10 minutes, but letting it do its thing, giving it a nice stir every so often is just. fine.

When is it done? The only way to know is to TASTE IT! It’s going to start looking all creamy, but I bet in that first bite you’ll find the center of the rice is still a little hard.  Keep tasting every few minutes, and it’s done when you like the texture.  Maybe you want it al dente, maybe you want it a little more cooked and super creamy. Whatever blows your skirt up.

And now, the best step: serve it up! As do most dishes in the DTMS household, we top ours with some grated parmesan. You could add chopped nuts, fresh herbs, anything you desire.

Ta-da! Total comfort food. The mushrooms (well, the ones that survived) added a deep, earthy layer of flavor. Perfect for warming you up from the chilly fall winds.

And look Ma, no recipe! If you actually got through this whole thing, you saw that strict rules and measurements really have no part in risotto-making. You have to make it your own!

mary had a little lamb

I’ve waxed lyrical about what a great cook Auntie K is.  Well, full disclosure: her first name is Mary. And this is a Lamb Stew. Ba-dum-dum.

Anyways, this is one well-travelled recipe.  And probably one of my all-time favorite meals.  Athenian Lamb Stew has been our Christmas Eve dinner of choice for…wow is it 10 years?  Auntie K, Unkie J and the Grandparents have been dining on this since…well probably before I was born.  It all started in a quaint little cottage in humble Falls Church, VA.  I came out to the DC Area and Auntie and Unkie promptly packed up shop and headed for California (love you too, guys).  We tracked them down in dreary Sonoma, CA and continued the tradition.  And now in Chicago, the pots still simmer on Dec. 24.

Countless smiles and belly-aching laughs have been shared over this stew.  There’s a reason it’s stuck around–its GOOD. Tender, tasty, and fills your tummy and your soul. To be honest, I have NO idea where it came from.  The original I can recall is a printed sheet from back when Prodigy was the internet service of choice.

I know you’re all thinking, “enough with this sentimental crap! when are you sticking your arm up a chicken’s be-hind again?”  Patience, grasshopper. While you’re practicing this virtue, MAKE THE STEW.

Athenian Lamb Stew

Ingredients

  • 1 med-large onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • 2 lbs. lean lamb shoulder or leg, cubed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 28-oz can crushed italian-style tomatoes (Progresso is the brand of choice)
  • 1/2 c. red wine
  • 1-2 c. green beans
  • 1 stick cinnamon

Method

  • Pop the bubbly
  • Enslave Grandma to cube the lamb

full disclosure: those instructions were not included in the original.

  • Prep your veg-a-veg

  • Ok NOW we’re ready: Saute onion, garlic, basil, and lamb in olive oil until onion is tender. Season with salt and pepper.

action shot! into the pot, little ones!

  • Continue cooking until the lamb is lightly browned.
  • Add tomatoes and wine, cook 10 minutes.

what, oh what, to do with 10 minutes and a mostly-full bottle of red wine...

  • Add green beans and cinnamon stick.

  • Cover and cook over low heat 1-1.5 hours, until lamb is very tender.

well hell-O my pretties!

  • Serve with lemon rice.

if you put your stew next to your rice instead of on top, i will judge you.

Wow, you’re thinking to yourself, Lemon Rice sounds good. I wonder how they do that?

WONDER NO MORE.

Lemon Rice

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 c. rice
  • 1/4-1/3 c. onion, chopped
  • juice of one lemon plus enough water to make 2 cups
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon chicken bullion crystals
  • pepper

Method

  • Saute onions in oil until translucent but not brown (medium heat is best)
  • Add rice, water, bullion, oregano, pepper
  • Bring to boil, cover, turn down to simmer
  • Cook 20-25 minutes.