Tourne´, Tour-yes!

The tourne´ cut and I are in the midst of a compromise. I have committed to practice until my little fingers cramp, and the tourne ´will at least behave during my final in four weeks, so I do not embarrass myself.  Above is my first attempt on some zucchini before it was demoed in class. Ignore that bold bottom one, he’s in a time out for not cooperating. We have done about an hour’s worth of knife cuts each day, sometimes less. An hour of knife time to me is like 5 1/2 minutes. Before I know it, it’s time to start cleaning up, and all I have to show is a piece of zucchini the size of a large olive, with pointy ends (no good!), and a bowl full of whittled potato scraps. God it’s fun.

Last night sealed the deal that I must conquer the tourne´. It has been the only cut that has entered my dreams. It was as if I was running in a mouse wheel, except the wheel was my hand, curve-cutting an endless potato (like opening up a peanut butter jar). It was potato purgatory, and I must get to tourne ´heaven.

My cooking has been limited at home, except for a stir-fry, sausage sandwiches, and the above sautéed shallot and cheese scrambled eggs with garlic-sautéed zucchini, bacon, and toast, which was by all means fabulous, especially after getting home close to midnight. I leave at 5 in the evening, get home at 10:30 at night, and sleep from 8 in the morning until 2 or 3 in the afternoon, which might sound weird, but it is my favorite sleeping schedule. I’ve tried others, and it’s just the one for me. Needless to say, baking will not be happening during the week, along with anything else that takes longer than 20 minutes to prepare.  Tonight I ate the weight of my head in steak. Things like steak let me spend an extra half hour with Jim, and when I only see him for a couple of hours a day, a half hour is precious. I do miss cooking every night, but for a while it will be quicker, but still quality meals. And maybe some Taco Bell before I finish my sanitation class and can no longer stomach to eat there. I will miss you Mexican pizza. You too taco supreme.

A Girl and Her Kismet

Actual fortunes from actual New Year's Day.

 

The first week of the new year has been precious enough to last me through the rest of it. The years of living in a money pit (while a great movie with Tom Hanks and Shelley Long, not mine, thank goodness), overdrafting weekly, locking ourselves out of the house three times in one month, having the bus pass us by after a long, cold, rainy night, hearing about countless others vacations and new cars, while we have to remind ourselves that walking to the store gives us exercise, deciding if we need cat litter or flour and sugar, are behind us. They aren’t necessarily not in front of us also, but for now, the world doesn’t seem to be single-handedly against us. We still have that litter/ flour decision to make, but I’ve adapted.

We started the new year out with lobster, and oven crisp potato chips, and a game of dominoes that some gin may have impeded on. I made my first brioche (I know, really? First?), and baked for 100 the day before culinary school started. It was a strangely therapeutic beginning to an otherwise nervous situation.

My first week of school has passed, but will never be true history. I will never forget Chef saying, “cattywapus”, or drying my first metal bowl with my new classmate. I realize even though we are all in this class together, we are all experiencing things in a completely different way. Some people don’t come from the obsessive world of food, reading blogs, books, and food sites all day. Some people don’t know what Vichyssoise is. And that is fine by me. In a pre-Le Cordon Bleu-world I may have judged that lack of knowledge. Not because I know everything, but because if I know it, everyone else must. Right? Wrong! Cooking is a never-ending learning process, and that tends to scare me sometimes. I am having a favorite reading light shined on what I know, which is more than I realize. I feel I am getting more out of class because of what I already know, be it books or chefs mentioned, not knife cuts, and food-borne illnesses. You pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down? Embrace and acknowledge the things you know, don’t deprecate them, but realize you and everyone else can’t know everything. It’s like when you think of all the books you would like to read, and then think of how many books you can realistically read, given you live a normal life span. Scary! Overwhelming. On average you will only have four couches in your lifetime. Maybe less!

I am coming to grips with not knowing everything, and for those who know me personally, they know what a challenge that is for me. I can learn what makes me comfortable, and happy, and keeps me alive. And then a little more. And with you all as my witnesses, buy as many couches as I can financially afford, to appreciate for the rest of my time as a couch-sitting-human.

 

I am highlighting the sauce here, we all know what lobster looks like. Hopefully 🙂 If you don't already have this book, go get James Patterson's book Sauces (2008 edition) Go!

Slice potato, brush with olive oil, season before and after cooking, *390 until brown and crisp. 10-15 min.

Okay, don’t be scared, but below is dipping butter. Don’t think, just eat it. I finely chopped and added: a sprig of Rosemary, a small handful of fresh Oregano, and 2 cloves of garlic, added a pinch of crushed red pepper and nutmeg, salt and pepper into some butter and melted it over low heat while the potato slices were cooking. You can strain out the herbs, but why? I like a friendly slap of flavor once in a while.

“I have no faith in human perfectibility. I think that human exertion will have no appreciable effect upon humanity. Man is now only more active – not more happy – nor more wise, than he was 6000 years ago.”
— Edgar Allan Poe

“You Can Never Be Overdressed or Overeducated.”

-Oscar Wilde

Day 4 of school starts tomorrow, and I chuckle silently to myself thinking a few days ago I was bummed I wasn’t going to be able to blog on any kind of regular schedule. Not like I blog often anyway, but still. Suddenly brushing my teeth, going to the bathroom, and showering all at the same time doesn’t seem like such a terrible idea. Okay it’s not that bad. I have never been so blithe, thankful, agog, and just all around in such a joyous whirlwind of emotion as I am right now.

Unlike me, I wasn’t full of butterflies and worry, even the night before school. I was supposed to start in November, but the class wasn’t full, so the anticipation had dwindled over the months to nearly nothing.

I was excited, don’t get me wrong, it just hadn’t sunk in yet that I would be attempting to cut a turnip the size of kosher salt in two days. Turnip attempted, and I live to cut another day. I knew knife work would be most challenging for me. I love to eat detail, but am not a fan of producing it on such a minute level. I’ll cook the chili, you serve me carrots in the shapes of peas. (Yeah, I got that tool, and I can’t wait to use it. I am super nerd.) The thought of some undeserving tool slurping up the brunoise I just spent giving figurative birth to, is too much to handle.  I am sure my opinion will be changing on that very soon. I will learn to serve you, tools.  The amount of care and work that goes into good food is prodigious. Enjoy every moment of your food.

I was anticipating defeat on day two, revived on day three. I have a feeling the whole year will go like this. Forget about being bad at something, I hate being mediocre at anything.  Well, anything I am interested in. Let’s just say if it turned out I wasn’t a good NASCAR driver, I would be none too upset. I would like everything to come naturally to me. I was hoping for hope that my knife skills would be born on that foreign cutting board. All sword and stony, but, alas. I did well, but it is so challenging, which I love as long as I can keep improving.

I was blessed with a chef who couldn’t be more perfect for me. Sense of humor, and a great teacher, not a pompous ass. Everyone in the class is kind, dissimilar, and friendly, except for a few bags of course. Such is life.

Between keeping wrinkle-free, cat hair-free, basically everything-free, catching 2 buses, an hour and a half each way, with my 30lb tool kit, bag of books, learning French, sanitation, history, and a ton of other cool stuff, seeing Jim for only a couple of  hours before he has to go to bed, comforting my lonely cat, reading, and remembering my name, I have no idea when laundry will get done, when I will communicate with friends again, cook besides on the weekend, or just watch TV or listen to music. I know, I know, poor me. I don’t mean to sound all complainy. People are doing this while working, having kids, and other life responsibilities. Almost inconceivable to me. I vent because, well, you are the only people who understand. Jim has met me every night at my bus stop at school, cooked dinner, did the dishes, fed the cat, and listen to me talk about knife cuts with a genuinely interested ear. I could ask for nothing more. Except a car. But seriously, Jim rules.  He wants to make me flash cards 🙂

I know I will get into a groove, and things will settle down. Or they will get crazy worse. Either way I will have the time of my life, because as Chef said, “you will get what you put in”. And I’m all in.

“Mayonnaise: One of the Sauces Which Serve the French in Place of a State Religion.”

-Ambrose Bierce

I hope the holidays have been treating you all well, and you got some needed rest and relaxation. I hope you talked and laughed and hugged the ones you love. I’ve been eating and drinking and not blogging. Bad me. Culinary school starts on Monday, so I expect to be blogging my little learning heart out. I can’t wait to get all my kitchen swag, and start learning about food-borne illnesses for six weeks. Should be great for my OCD recovering self. Seriously, there was a point where my own mother couldn’t use my toothbrush, or deodorant  if such an emergency arose.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day usually fly by with lots of my time spent in the kitchen. Not to say I don’t enjoy every managed minute of it, but this year instead of cooking on the days leading up to the holiday, we ordered pizza, went out for dinner, and opted to have dinner on Thursday night so I could enjoy the long weekend. It worked out swimmingly with plenty of choice bites, time for kisses, board games, and bad-Christmas-movie watching. No rushing to the store for last-minute forgotten ingredients, just blankets and time well spent. So no fancy pants this year, but don’t worry, I made up for it on New Year’s Eve with a night to rule all nights. Dressed to the nines, on my love’s arm, calamari, a whole loaf of bread, duck confit and Negroni’s at Cafe Campagne, and fried apple pie with vanilla ice cream, chocolate Ovaltine cake with ice cream, champagne and Gimlets at Palace Kitchen to ring in the new year. Oh, and Tom Douglas stopped in to check on the night’s success. It was perfectly unpacked so it felt like we were with family.  Entering the new year with compliments, smiles, and holding hands. A great end to a night and a year.

 

Potato sausage, roasted fingerlings, and red cabbage

Shallot caper mayo, garlic mustard mayo, curry mayo

For a quick way to add lots of flavors to the meal, I made three different flavored mayos for the fingerling potatoes. I used prepared mayonnaise, but these would be even better with some homemade mayonnaise. No time for egg yolks Dr. Jones!

Mustard Mayonnaise

1 tsp. of mustard per 1/4 of mayo (I used garlic mustard, but Dijon, or beer mustard would be great too)

Combine mustard and mayonnaise.

Shallot Caper Mayonnaise

1 tbls. capers, rinsed and chopped

1 small shallot, sautéed until soft in some olive oil

1/2 tbls. finely chopped parsley

pinch of salt

freshly ground white pepper

tiny squeeze of lemon (optional)

Combine all ingredients.

Curry Mayonnaise

1/2 tbls. curry powder

1/2 tbls. olive oil

1/4 cup mayonnaise

a heaping tbls. sour cream or yogurt

Gently cook curry powder in oil for 1 minute

Combine all ingredients.

These would be great on veggies, steak, chicken, pretty much anything on which mayonnaise would be good. And that is basically everything. I have heard this nasty rumor that there are actually mayonnaise haters out there. I would not like to meet any of these mayonnaise misanthropes.

Turn that nose back down, kielbasa with ketchup and hot horseradish is tasty.

"If more of us valued food and cheer above hoarded gold, it would be a much merrier world." - J.R.R. Tolkien

Ruby Port Blue Cheese Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes with blue cheese, Port, and onions

As I sulked in blizzard envy, I cooked my way through holiday homesickness. I made these potatoes on what was supposed to be a roast chicken dinner night, then I craved beef. I made chicken the next night, and these potatoes went well with both of them. Their flavor improved the next day. Great to make ahead. Hope you all had a wonderful holiday!

Blue Cheese, Port, and Onion Mashed Potatoes

serves 4-6

2lbs Yukon golds or russet potatoes, cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks, peeled if desired

1/2 cup heavy cream

6 tbls. unsalted butter

1 tsp. fresh lemon thyme, chopped

1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1/4 tsp. freshly ground white pepper

3 ounces Danish Blue cheese, or other mild blue cheese, none of that pre-crumbled mess

1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced

1 tbls. butter

1 tbls. olive oil

salt

1/3 cup of ruby port

A lovely local Port

Place potatoes in cold water and bring to a boil. Add a few generous pinches of salt. Gently boil until tender, about 25 minutes.

Add chopped thyme to cream, and bring to a boil. Keep warm.

While potatoes are boiling, pre-heat a large saute pan over medium-low heat. Add 1 tbls. butter and 1 tbls. olive oil. Add sliced onion, and saute for 20 minutes. Add Port and saute for another five minutes.

When potatoes are done, add cheese, butter, cream mixture, and salt and pepper to taste. Mash as desired with mixer, or hand masher. Stir in onions.

Roasted Chicken Breast with Green Beans with Black Forest Ham

Marinated Sirloin Medallion with Carrots

Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree. In the eyes of children, they are all 30 feet tall.

I am sorry to have to break the news to all of you that you will not be enjoying the perfect tree this year, because it is currently sitting in my living room. It’s vibrant-green, Turkish, and neither overwhelming nor underwhelming. I like to call it not-a-pain-in-the-ass-to-decorate-chic. I am one of those crazies who wraps each branch with lights. It smells not just of that perfect Christmas pine, but of your favorite baked good, a crackling fire, hot chocolate, and the cool outside. It’s umami in tree form.

Tree is up, shopping is started, house is decorated, and baking has been going on for a week! This is way ahead of schedule for me. Although I work well under time restraints, I decided to try to get at least some things done ahead of time this year. Granted my cards aren’t sent out, and the tree is up but not decorated. I did however buy a mini-stocking for my cat. Priorities people, priorities. Tonight we will decorate the tree, listen to some John Waters and Dean Martin Christmas cd’s, drink and be merry. Hope you all have a wonderful weekend before the holiday, and bake something for cake’s sake! It’s what baby Jesus would want.

These sweet ricotta pastries would be great with almond extract, or even lemon. Add chocolate chips or candied fruit. They are very adaptable. Make them your own.

Sweet Ricotta Pastries

In many Italian-American bakeries, these cross-topped pies are tucked among cannoli, biscotti, and pignoli cookies. In this homemade version, pasta frolla (a tender, short crust) is filled with a creamy orange-scented ricotta custard. Served with hot espresso, these little pastries are a wonderful way to end a big family meal.

Make filling:
Bring milk and zest to a simmer in a small heavy saucepan, then remove from heat. Whisk together yolk, sugar, cornstarch, and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Whisk in milk, then transfer mixture to saucepan.

Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly, and boil 1 minute. Stir in vanilla, then transfer to a clean bowl and chill custard, its surface covered with parchment paper (to prevent a skin from forming), until cold, at least 1 hour. Discard zest.

Pulse ricotta in a food processor until smooth. Whisk into custard. Stir in orange-flower water and citron. Chill until ready to use.

Prepare pastry while custard chills:
Pulse flour, sugar, and salt in cleaned food processor until combined. Add butter and zest and pulse until mixture resembles a coarse meal with some roughly pea-size butter lumps. Add yolks and water and pulse until just incorporated and dough begins to form large clumps.

Turn out dough onto a work surface and divide into 4 portions. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather dough together, using a pastry or bench scraper if you have one, and form into a ball.

Generously butter muffin cups and top of pan. Press 2 tablespoon dough over bottom and up side of each muffin cup in an even layer with well-floured fingers. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, roll out remaining dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper into a 9-inch round (about 1/8 inch thick) and transfer to a baking sheet, discarding top sheet of paper. Cut 12 (1/2-inch-wide) strips, then cut in half crosswise to make 24 strips total. Chill until ready to use.

Assemble and Bake pastries:
Spoon a scant 2 tablespoons filling into each muffin cup and smooth, then crisscross 2 strips on top of filling, trimming to fit. Brush pastry cross with egg wash. Bake until filling is puffed and starting to crack and edges are golden, 25 to 30 minutes.

Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes. Invert a rack on top of pan, then flip pan and remove. Turn pastries right side up and cool completely.

Cooks’ notes: •Dough, in muffin cups and in strips on baking sheet, can be chilled, covered with plastic wrap, up to 1 day.
•Pastries can be made 4 days ahead and chilled in an airtight container. Bring to room temperature before serving.



What’s In The House

Since the holidays are near, and this month has been a bit of a money nightmare, (Jim accidentally stepped on my glasses the night before Thanksgiving, resulting in an unexpected chunk of money taking a leave of absence from our bank account), I haven’t been able to splurge on ingredients. I don’t compromise on quality when I need to spend less, I just opt for some fish instead of a more expensive cut of meat, 3 days of drinking instead of 5. I’ve made a magic dessert with some Cream of Wheat before. No matter what’s in the house, I will make the best of it. No Ramen in this house. Anymore.

But some good does come out of spending less on groceries.  I smoke less, drink less, eat healthier, and realize what a luxury meat is. I appreciate how blessed I am to have food, and great food at that. The next two meals are about making something wonderful with a little less. Oh, and if roasted cauliflower isn’t already one of your best food friends, be prepared for a new half of a necklace.

It was Jim’s birthday, and we were low on money, so going out was not an option that night. I hate when I can’t go all out for his birthday dinner, but we usually have a week of celebrating, so don’t feel too bad for him. We opted for wine and snuggling, which meant I didn’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen away from the birthday boy. I grabbed all the veggies I had, a dwindling package of bacon, and a carton of broth. I was determined to make something to make him smile, and soup always has that effect on people. I put on my chopping hat, and got to work.

Vegetable Soup (with a little bacon, of course!)

Saute bacon, remove then chop, chop veggies (I used carrots, celery, onion, shallot, garlic, purple cabbage, and potato.) Saute veggies, add stock, season (I used dried marjoram and thyme, fresh Rosemary, and salt and pepper), simmer for 50 minutes. Add a squirt of lemon juice or balsamic vinegar, and a sprinkle of chopped parsley. Garnish with a sautéed slice of turnip and rutabaga, and a sprig of rosemary, (Add some Rosemary to some olive oil, saute turnip and rutabaga until browned. Add the olive oil to the soup too), and the crisp crumbled bacon.

Biscuits show love. Throw some together while the soup is simmering.

Cheddar Cheese Biscuits

  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, melted
  • 3 3/4 cups bread flour
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2 1/2 cups (packed) coarsely grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese (about 12 ounces)
  • 1 3/4 cups buttermilk
  • Preheat oven to 425°F. Brush 12 large (1-cup) muffin cups with some of melted butter; reserve remaining butter for brushing on baked biscuits. Using on/off turns, mix next 4 ingredients in processor. Add 1/2 cup cubed chilled butter. Using on/off turns, process until coarse meal forms. Transfer to large bowl. Add cheese; toss to combine. Add buttermilk and stir just to blend (batter will be sticky). Divide among prepared muffin cups, about 1/2 cup for each.

    Bake biscuits until golden brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Brush tops with remaining melted butter. Cool 5 to 10 minutes, then remove biscuits from pan and transfer to rack to cool slightly. Serve warm.

    from Bon Appetit

    Roasted Vegetables with Cheese Omelet

    1-inch florets cauliflower

    2-inch carrots pieces

    olive oil

    salt /pepper

    sprinkle of sugar

    Pre-heat oven to 450*

    Toss veggies with oil, salt, pepper, and sugar. Roast for 30-35 minutes, stirring once.

    Serve with a cheddar cheese/Parmigiano Reggiano omelet.

    Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.  ~Theodore Roosevelt