Archive for the ‘Culinary School’ Category

RULES/PLAYERS: (See previous entry)


  • Striped Bass
  • Stone Fruit (plums, peaches, nectarines, apricots)
  • Poussin (a small fowl)
  • Nuts (any kind)
  • Eggplant


  • Appetizer: Thai-style coconut soup with Poussin, eggplant, and scallions garnished with fried basil leaves
  • Entree: Grilled stripe bass topped with macerated red plums and port wine reduction sauce served over Israeli couscous in a mint-pistachio pesto sauce 


When we were given the ingredients my partner and I scratched our heads for a minute… what a strange combination of foods right?  After running through many possibilities we were both excited about our final menu.  The appetizer was my partner’s vision and the entree was mine.  Both were beautifully plated and got great reviews from students and the chef.  The grilled striped bass was actually quite a healthy dish in the end.  It was not low in fat (there was a generous amount of mint-pistachio pesto on the couscous) but it was healthy fat since I used extra virgin olive oil and the fish provides omega 3 fatty acids.  I loved how all of the flavors went together.  Logically mint goes with stone fruit… and from there it followed that I would make a mint pesto.  The delicate flavors of mint, couscous, and stone fruits were the perfect compliment to the flaky, white striped bass.  Plus the colors were beautiful on a plate… deep red plums, white fish with crispy brown grilled marks, bright green pesto and burgundy port reduction.  Matt and I enjoyed the leftovers for dinner that night and there were clean plates all around.  I’m actually liking this “market basket” challenge.  We all thought the chef was crazy when she said we would.

Next is our final practical exam!  The rules will be a little different from above.  We will work alone, having two hours to produce one plated entree.  There will only be one mystery ingredient and it will be a protein.  Wish me luck!


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The rules:

  1. You must use all 5 ingredients given at least once (among two dishes).
  2. Additional food items allowed are those in the “pantry”.  The only special requests that can be made are for kitchen equipment.
  3. Create an appetizer and an entree.
  4. Write your appetizer and entree on the board before you begin cooking.
  5. Have your appetizer plated and on the front table two hours after the challenge begins.
  6. Have your entree plated and on the front table 20 minutes after the appetizer.

The players:

A class of 14 students must draw numbers from a hat to determine partners.

The Mystery Foods Revealed:

  • Scallops
  • Tomatoes
  • Corn
  • Asparagus
  • Bacon

The Results:

Here is what we made:

Appetizer: Quinoa Salad with Roasted Corn, Tomatoes, Nicoise Olives and Herbs in a Lemon Vinaigrette

Entree:Seared Scallops served over Grilled Asparagus wrapped in Bacon with Balsamic Reduction and Citrus Reduction sauces.

Me and my teammate did great!  We were inspired my the seasonal ingredients and developed a menu we were both excited about.  Quinoa is a new, chic, whole grain that is easily transformed into a refreshing summer salad.  Our entree was liked by many of our classmates… specifically the duo of sauces.  The balsamic sauce was a deep maroon color and the citrus reduction a bright yellow-orange.  I brushed them on the plate in two long strokes (with a pastry brush), side-by side and at a diagonal across the plate.  On top of the sauces, angled the opposite way (to make a cross) I plated the asparagus wrapped in bacon.  On top of the asparagus I laid the seared scallops.  The plated looked colorful, the food looked appetizing, and you could dip a bite of your food in either one, or both, of the sauces on the plate.

I admit to being intimidated by this challenge at first, but in the end is was about showcasing our creative talent.  We even impressed each other with our dishes.  Looks like we may have actually learned something along the way.  The time limit was more than enough and the whole class finished on time (plus or minus 5 minutes).  I also found that instead of the ingredients limiting me and my partner… they actually helped us and drove the menu.  This made the menu planning go by more quickly.  I brought home the remainder of the quinoa salad and Matt and I enjoyed it with a few meals over the weekend.

Now today we have another one of these challenges with new foods and new partners… hopefully it will go just as smoothly.

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Busy Busy

I have been very very busy lately to say the least.  School is nearing its end, I have six weeks left, and therefore I am busy making arrangements for my internship.  At the same time I have two other jobs to occupy my time.  One of these jobs maybe ending at the beginning of July and I hope to get back on a more regular schedule of posting.

School is going well and this week is our last week of pastry and baking.  In addition to all that I have posted previously we have made croissants, ice cream, sorbet, layered cakes, chocolate ganache, chocolate truffles, tuiles, meringues, creme anglaise, custard, panna cotta, and much more!  The conclusion has been reached that most every bakery dessert is either very high in fat, very high in sugar, or both.  No healthy insight to be given.  If you are on a diet and cannot have just one bite – stay away!

Please check back in July and hopefully I will be able to relay some of my favorite summertime recipes (like burgers, wraps, and salads).

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This stuff is fun.  I actually enjoyed preparing the yeast breads this week in class.  Likely because most of my favorite baked goods are derived from yeast doughs.  These include the great French baguette, crusty Italian bread, NYC bagels, pizza dough, and the wide variety of artisan loaves.  Yum!

I have tried in the past to make bread.  The final product was hard, dense, and certainly not something I thought was very pleasurable to eat.  It was very nice to have a professional demonstrate the techniques – and give tips along the way.  Seeing the process was important for me.

We made our dough by hand.  One mistake we were told that most people make with yeast doughs is rough handling during the kneading process.  Dough is kneaded to create gluten strands.  The best way to do that is to the stretch and fold the dough.  Use the base of your hands to push the dough away from you with mild force to stretch the dough.  Next fold to dough back toward you and then turn a quarter turn to the right.  Back to the first move of stretching.  This is how we learned.  It took only about 5 minutes to finish kneading a double batch of semolina dough.  The best way does not involve pounding, smacking around, or flipping the dough.  Rough handling is not necessary and not how to create gluten strands efficiently.

How do you know when the dough is done?  Our chef says by touch.  It should feel smooth and soft on the exterior, but still will have firmness to it.  Like a baby’s butt.  Another way to tell is to ball the dough on a work surface and using two fingers gently push into the dough quickly.  The dough should spring back.  This indicates that adequate gluten has formed.

I think this trick to kneading is a very important part of making good dough.  Second to that would be the fermentation.  This is where the yeast creates its by-products that include gas and flavor.  The longer ferment (especially a pre-ferment over night in the fridge) the better the flavor of the final product.  In order for the yeast to do its work, it must be revived from its dormant state.  This takes being stirred into a liquid at about 100-110 degrees F before being added to the dry ingredients.  Best way to tell the proper temperature for your yeast?  Use your finger.  When you stick your finger into the liquid it should feel totally neutral.  Not hotter and not cooler.

I am only an amatuer and have no good recipes to share yet.  It is unfortunate that I have discovered bread making as we embark on warmer weather.  In a tiny NYC aparment with one window, a hot oven in the summertime can be brutal.  When I am brave enough to endure the heat and find a good bread recipe I will certainly share.  I will make one comment about fresh bread right out of the oven – it is heavenly (and worth all the work!).


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Everyone in NY knows that New York City bagels are the best around.  We have all heard a theory it is the water in NY that make them good.  I can now confirm this possibility.  Water contributes to flavor in the bagels since it is a key component of the dough.  They are also poached in water briefly before baking.  And all water is not created equal.  Depending on where you are or what you buy, water you drink may be treated, chlorinated, from a well, from a natural spring, from glaciers, or from the mountains.  They have different compounds added by man and/or minerals present from the ground.  All of these things can contribute to flavor development in a dough.  As a general rule – you should never use water for dough or baking that you wouldn’t drink.


“Everything”  and seasame bagels

Our bagels we made in class were not wimpy Lender’s bagels.  But real, 5 oz, large, dense, chewy, NYC bagels.  What made them authentic?  We followed a traditional NY bagel recipe and used the tap water in preparing and poaching the bagels.  Delicious!  Especially fresh out of the oven.  Warm, golden on the outside and white densely packed on the inside.  They were perfectly soft and chewy without being dry (like a day old or frozen bagel can be).  They tasted authentic.  We made them using a kitchen aid mixer and they took only about 1 hour from scratch to finished product.  If you have never had a fresh bagel in NY – I highly recommend you try one next time you are here.  Lender’s frozen bagels?  Not the same.

Nutrition Facts: One NYC Bagel (5 oz)

  • Calories: 360
  • Total Fat: 2 grams
  • Cholesterol: O mg
  • Sodium: 625 mg
  • Carbs: 70 grams
  • Fiber: 5 grams
  • Protein: 15 grams

The Good: Like all bread products made with enriched flour, bagels are a good source of folate, thiamin, iron and selenium.  They are low in fat and cholesterol (that is – before butter, cream cheese, or other toppings are added).

The Bad: Bagels are high in carbohydrates and diabetics or those on carb-controlled diets should watch portion sizes.  Bagels are also high in sodium.


Recommendations: Bagels can fit into most diets safely.  I have even had some really delicious whole grain bagels.  While the NYC bagel is 5 ounces – and therefore high in carbohydrates and sodium – most bagels bought at the grocery store are only about 3 ounces.  A 3 ounce bagel in lower in carbs and sodium because of the portion size.  The thing to watch is bagel toppings.  Alone the bagel is benign.  Unfortunately bagels are vessels for saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, sugar, and lots of calories.  Try low-fat toppings like a slice of reduced fat cheese and tomato.  Low-fat cream cheese or jelly can cut back on fat and calories.  You can make a pizza bagel with low-fat mozzarella, basil leaves and a tablespoon of marinara sauce.  Bagel sandwiches can be healthy if you choose lean cuts of meat, fresh lettuce and tomato, and mustard (hold the mayo).

These are just a few healthy ways to enjoy a bagel.  The next time you are in NYC – you can consider indulging in a 5 oz NY bagel with a flavored cream cheese.  My favorite combinations are whole wheat with raisin walnut cream cheese, everything with vegetable cream cheese, and cinnamon raisin with plain whiped cream cheese.  Buyer beware – extra time at the gym may be necessary.


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Puff Pastry

Apple Tart

Wow – what can’t you do with this stuff?  Today in class we made a variety of treats – sweet and savory – with puff pastry dough.  Everything was very delicious.  But how can you go wrong with a dough made from equal parts butter and flour?  I gathered from my earlier culinary classes that the French are masters of finding ways to incorporate butter into anything and everything.  This tops it all.  Somehow they figured out how to fold a large two pound cube of butter into a two pound mass of dough.  Then they figured out how to roll and fold it in such a way to create over 700 layers of flour and butter in the final dough.  Pastry chefs love this stuff.  They have created a large variety of treats from puff pastry dough.  Many decorative treats on display bakeries I have seen here in NY are made from this dough.

We attempted about nine different ones today.  We cut shapes out of the dough and sprinkled them with cinnamin sugar before baking.  We made long twists of dough with parmesan cheese and and herbs sprinkled on.  We cut circles and layered them on top of each other with sweet filling in between.  We braiding long cuts of dough to create the treat pictured below.   The most elaborate, and delicious creation was the apple pastry pictured above and below.

Apple Tart2


My pet peeve about this stuff is the amount of time it takes to make.  It took an entire class, four hours, last week to make the dough.  Seems to me like a lot of work.  The big pay-off was today.  I would not recommend anyone attempt to make this dough at home without demonstration or full assistance from a professional.  It is tricky and easy to botch if you do not know what you are doing.  Even if you do, like my class, many doughs break, tear, or become misshapen beyond use.  Very frustrating after hours of work.  If I ever use puff pastry in the future – it will most likely be from the freezer section of my grocery store.

Nutrition Facts 1 oz of puff pastry

  • Calories: 154
  • Total Fat: 11 grams
  • Total Carbs: 13 grams
  • Protein: 2 grams

The Good: Tasty and has many uses.  It provides a small amount of B vitamins from the enriched flour.  Butter provides vitamin A, E, D and K (all of the fat soluble vitamins) – but you have to consume a large amount of butter (and therefore many many calories) to get these vitamins in a significant quantity.

The Bad: Very high in fat and calories.  If homemade – it is saturated fat from butter with cholesterol.  If it is store-bought, it maybe a margarine and therefore lower in cholesterol and saturated fat, but still high in total fat.  It provides very little nutrition and can easily contribute to weight gain and cholesterol.

Recommendations:  This is a true indulgence.  Not meant for regular consumption, or in large quantities.  Enjoy it on special occasions in moderation.  The frozen dough is the most convenient.  Fresh homemade dough tastes better, so try ordering your treats from a good bakery to experience puff pastry in all of its glory.

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Kiwi Tart

These past two days in school we have been preparing pie shells, pastry shells, pastry cream, frangipane, and various fruits.  This is hard stuff!  There are so many little tricks to know about the dough.  Proper handling, resting, mixing, docking, blind baking, and more.  Ingredients for the creams and frangipanes have to be mixed in just the right order, at just the right speed to get just the right consistency.  All this careful preparation took up so much time.  Days!  There aren’t many things you eat for dinner that take days to make. 


Strawberry Tart

Large Tart

But here is my problem – after all that work dessert is not a meal.  Dessert does not give me the same feeling that eating a nice meal can.  A meal is nourishment.  You feel good after a meal.  It can provide nutrients, energy and protein that your body needs.  On the other hand you have dessert.  Nobody needs dessert.  You may feel good eating dessert, but you usually feel bad afterward.  It is not very nourishing.  Typical desserts provide tons of sugar and fat – which contribute to extra calories at the end of the day.

Don’t get me wrong – I do enjoy dessert now and again.  But I find learning to cook much more interesting and practical than learning pastry and desserts.   Maybe I will change my mind as the time passes.  There are a few things I am very interested in learning.  I would love to learn how to make a perfect baguette, breakfast muffins and pizza dough.  More pratical baking applications.  I’ll keep you posted.


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