Wednesday, February 16, 2011

[Heart] Sausage

Once again, I'm holding out on recipes on your guys.  Sorry about that.  I just wanted to say that (well made) homemade sausage is AMAZING. 

 Meat Grinding

Today we made sausage with Jamie Bissonnette, chef/owner of Boston's Toro and Coppa, both fantastic restaurants in the South End.  My sister Ali and I had a great dinner at Coppa in January, and I haven't been to Toro yet, but it has been highly recommended to me by multiple sources. The only reason I haven't been yet is because I hear the lines are out the door, and it's too cold right now to wait!

  Cleaning the casing.  I think these were pig intestines?

Jamie showed us how to make a bunch of different meaty things, with each group tackling 2 different projects.  Of all the thing that we made, my favorites were the Italian-style pork sausage and the Southeast Asian-influenced chicken and pork sausage patties.  Other dishes included a chicken liver mousse, salt cod fritters, Merguez, which is a Spanish/north African lamb and pork sausage, and Rillette an interesting cooked pork and vegetable spread, which truthfully I found a little bizarre.  The process was actually far less gross than I was expecting (at least I can guarantee that our sausages do not contain any suspect animal parts), and the taste and texture, particularly of the Italian sausage, was beyond compare.  

Squeezing out the sausage

Anyway, I'm not giving you recipes for 2 reasons:  1) I don't actually have them.  We just kind of winged everything (and by we, I mean, Jamie told us how to wing it, and we did what he said, and 2) I'm pretty sure that you don't have the equipment that needed (meat grinder, sausage stuffer), or access to the supplies (multiple pounds of meat, intestines for casings, etc.)  Sadly, I don't think I'll be able to recreate this lesson, at least on the scale that we did it, at home for the aforementioned reasons, but I'm glad I got to try it once!

 Surveying our creations.  In the foreground are the chicken 
sausage patties, then the Italian sausage, casserole full of Rillette, 
bread with chicken liver mousse, duck leg confit, and the Spanish/
North African Merguez sausages all the way at the end!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

My Hero(s)

I have recipes to share with you, but no time to do it right now!  I will get back to the food part of the food blog soon, I promise!
I just wanted to share (read: brag) that tonight I got to meet my food hero, Mark Bittman, IN PERSON.  We shook hands, and then I gushed foolishly, all the while blushing madly, about how much I like him and how influential his writing has been to my whole approach to food.  It was exciting.  Except that I forgot to bring one of his books to have him sign.  Alas.  

Listening to him lecture on food sustainability and the environmental and personal health benefits of plant based diets was particularly timely because today in class we were discussing sustainability and vegetables with Michael Leviton, a well respected chef in the Boston area whose restaurant, Lumiere, (which I have not had the chance to eat at--yet!) really emphasizes local and sustainably raised produce.  It's on the late side, so I won't wax poetic right now, but it was interesting to hear about local (Boston/New England) food sustainability from someone who spends so much time thinking about, researching, and supporting local sustainable farming and agriculture.

In other news, we've reached a point in the semester, rather quickly, when we've had enough different instructors telling us their own (often conflicting!) view points, to the point now where it's hard to know what to think!  Chef John warned us this would happen, and so it has... Yesterday one chef declared "grass fed beef is crap!" or something to that effect, whereas today we taste tested grass fed and good quality Whole Foods (but not specifically grass fed) beef, both pieces cooked identically and completely unseasoned, and across the board everyone preferred the grass go figure.  And then the discussion on whether or not to truss your roast chicken went on so long I nearly missed Mark!  What I'm quickly discovering is that while it's great to have a lot of different, talented, respected, opinionated instructors---I will probably never be 100% certain what the "right way" to do anything is, be it chop garlic or roast a chicken.  Oh well.  With any luck I will feel confident enough in my skills at some point that I can make the rules!

So that's the cooking school update for now.  Tomorrow, after class, NYC for Dorie Greenspan's CookieBar, a pop up shop that she's doing this week.  Sooo excited!  And then when I get back I will finally post about Dorie's World Peace cookies, which are ammmmmazing.  You will not be disappointed.  (I would have written about them sooner, except my family ate them all before I had time for pics--yeah, that's how good they are!)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Best. Day. Ever. (Part 2)

So, after we ate ourselves silly on eggs, there was the wine and cheese pairing/tasting part of class.  I know, you're already jealous.

The lineup

We sampled 5 wines and cheese pairs, all French, and all paired based on the notion of "terroir." Loosely translated as "a sense of place," terroir denotes the idea that the shared geography, geology, climate, and farming techniques of agricultural regions give the wine and food produced unique, shared characteristics.  More simply, as we say in English "what grows together goes together."  The five cheeses represented five different areas of France, and the wines with which they were paired we from the same region, and complemented their flavors superbly.

Though I've been aware of the concept of food and wine pairing, I never taken it seriously.  Occasionally I'll notice if something tastes really good together (when I cause that to happen, it's always just a lucky coincidence).  More often I will notice that a wine that I enjoy before dinner will take on a harsh or astringent taste with food, probably due to exceptionally bad pairing on my part.  The first time I actually had a restaurant meal with wine pairings was just a few weeks ago, and I kept marveling at how good everything was together, particularly because all the the wines for the meal were things that I would have never chosen on my own.  With this recent experience in mind, I was very excited to sample two things that I love (wine & cheese), paired!

We started with a simple Chevre log paired with Sancerre.  The bottle we drank was Henri Bourgeois Les Bonnes Bouches 2009.  Both the wine and the cheese were from the Loire region of France.  The chevre was creamy and slightly tangy, while the wine was very light and fruity.  We started by taking a bit of the cheese in our mouths, and letting it melt on our tongues a bit, really tasting it but not swallowing it.  Then we took a sip of wine, and let the flavors mix in our mouths, tasting how the cheese and the wine complement each other.

 Serious wine & cheese contemplating underway...

Next we sampled L'Explorateur cheese with a White Burgundy, which are produced in adjacent regions (the former from the Ile-de-France region, the latter from Burgundy, as you may have guessed).  L'Explorateur is a triple-cream cheese, which means it's about 75% butterfat, and thus is out of this world creamy, smooth, and delicious.  We spread the L'Explorateur on Stoned Wheat Thin crackers--there was some logic for this, but unfortunately I can't remember what is is, other than that it tasted good.  Likewise, I can't remember what the wine was like, other than I wrote in my notes "quite good."  The wine was Olivier Leflaive Bourgogne Blanc Les Setilles 2008.  Just so I don't sound totally clueless, I googled it, and found this review from one wine vendor: "A very fresh and intensely floral nose also reflects hints of lemon-lime and earth, both of which can also be found on the nicely rich and round flavors that are not only intense and delicious but also deliver better than average complexity."  So that's a little bit more descriptive than my "quite good" note...

Third was Epoisse, with a red Burgundy.  Epoisse, for those non-tyrophiles out there (that's my new word, it means "one who loves cheese"), is one of those fantastically stinky cheeses--not quite in Limburger territory, but not far off.  When it's quite ripe it literally runs and oozes when you cut into it; ours was a few weeks shy of completely ripe, so it was a bit more manageable stinkiness-wise, and a bit firmer in the center, although still creamy.  You don't eat the orange rind, whose color comes from the Burgundy wine with which its washed.  However, the inside pairs well with sweet-tart dried cherries.  We took a bite of cheese and cherry, and let the flavors sit in our mouths while we swished our Burgundy wine around--amazing.  While I appreciated Epoisse before, this way of tasting it has increased my enjoyment so much more!  (Probably helped too that the cheese was not quite as over-ripe as my dad likes to serve it!)  The Burgundy that we tried was Domaine Fribourg Closerie Des Alisiers Bourgogne Hautes-Cotes de Nuits 2009.  I liked this wine okay, but I think if I ever recreated this tasting, I'd find a different Bourgogne.

Fourth was Emmentaler with Cotes du Rhone.  Emmentaler, the original Swiss Cheese, is a firm, mild cheese, with the subtlest spicy aftertaste, as well as a faint nuttiness, which we enhanced by eating it with walnuts.  As someone who likes slightly stronger cheeses, I found the Emmentaler to be a little dull, but I can appreciate how it fit into the cheese tasting due to its flavor and texture.  And, with the wine, Clos du Mont-Olivet Cotes du Rhone Monteil-la-Levade 2008, and the walnut, it certainly took on more interest than it had on its own.  The wine was a beautiful dark red, and while I can't remember how it tasted, I didn't write anything bad in my margins, so it must have been okay!

Finally, my favorite wine (Sauternes!), with my least favorite cheese (Roquefort...).  But add some pear, and hot damn, I actually found something new to like!  For me it was the most eye opening pairing, since I am a huge Sauternes fan (chalk it up to my insatiable sweet tooth), but generally not a fan of blue cheeses (too potent and moldy tasting).  However, with the sweet, creamy Bosc pear slice, and the honey-like sweetness of the wine, the pungency of the Roquefort was nicely tempered.  I don't think I'm going to be putting it on everything, but I see that in the right situation it can be quite enjoyable.  Oh, and for those who don't know, Sauternes is a very sweet, often expensive, fortified dessert wine.  Most people find it painfully sweet, but not this girl.  We tried Castelnau de Suduirant 2003, a "deuxieme vin," (the Chateau's 2nd tier bottle) but still pretty tasty.  Roquefort and Sauternes both hail from Bordeaux, making them a good pairing in this terroir exercise, and this particular bottle wasn't too expensive for a Sauternes, but for generally more pocket book friendly alternative, Chef John suggests an Orange Muscat, such as Quady Essensia Orange Muscat. 

The damage.

Finally, we experimented by tasting wines and cheeses that weren't meant to go together, just to understand how a good pairing and a bad pairing can really change your experience with certain wines and foods.  I tried the Sauternes with the Chevre, and while I love both things on their own, together they were kinda funky, not gonna lie...  I also tried the Sancerre, my next favorite wine of the group, with the Epoisse--again, a little bit off.  Then I just snacked on the dried cherries, because they were so good!  The takeaway from this lesson is that a) Cheese is good.  b) Wine is good.  c) Together they can be fantastic, or weird, depending, so pair well!  If you are lucky enough to live in Boston, check out Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge or the South End--the cheeses there are fantastic and the staff is beyond knowledgeable.  For further reading from Chef John, check out his feature of having a wine and cheese tasting on his website.

And again, I've rambled on too long, so I must be off to do my reading for tomorrow!

Best. Day. Ever. (Part 1)

Today was, as you might have guessed, the best day ever.  Sorry, I've been kind of slacking on the keeping you updated on what I'm doing in culinary school thing.  Truthfully, I'm usually exhausted at the end of the day, and then I have to do homework, and posting just takes me so long that I haven't been keeping up.  But today was so fantastic that I can't keep it to myself. 

So what did we do today?, you're probably wondering.

Answer: Eggs, Cheese, & Dairy.  Happy days.  I will just have to look back on this and remember today when we get to butchering, which will not be the best day.

So we started out by making sweet souffles (as opposed to savory).  Students chose between a Grand Marnier souffle or chocolate; I chose chocolate (obvi).  

 Before the oven

As a seasoned savory souffle maker, I found the process quite straight forward, but I will have to experiment and adapt the recipe a bit before I post it because its written in "cooking school" quantities--i.e., more than you would ever make at home.  However, both the chocolate souffle and Grand Marnier Souffle were great, particularly the Grand Marnier, as it turned out (I think the chocolate souffle needs more chocolate...or at least that's one chocoholic's opinion!)

 My baby coming out of the oven

Digging in

Next: Eggs.  First we watched Chef John demonstrate about eight different ways to prepare eggs, all beautiful and delicious. 

Chef John shows us how it's done

The most interesting to me were shirred eggs, which were eggs cracked into a ramekin filled with pieces of thinly sliced meat (I think it was ham?), dobbed with (lots of) butter, then baked until the eggs were adequately set.  There was so much going on while he was demonstrating that I don't know exactly how long or what temperature, but if I had to guess I'd say about 8 minutes at 375 or 400?  I will have to get back to you on the details of this.  

Shirred Eggs

He also did an individual leek, goat cheese and pesto frittata, which was awesome, and demonstrated both French and American style omelets, which are actually quite different.

 French omelet with sour cream and caviar (left); American "Denver" omelet (right)

The most interesting thing besides the shirred eggs was a French style dessert omelet, which was just your basic French omelet (I can't do it justice here, you really just need to see someone doing it, but basically you start out in a pan over medium heat, add 2 beaten eggs, then move them around with a spatula almost like you're scrambling the egg, then , when it's mostly set, you leave it alone (except a little bit of jiggling to make sure it isn't sticking or browning), until it's totally set, then you fold one third over, and as you slide it out of the pan you fold the other third over, so the top is nice and smooth.  So once John made a perfect French omelet he filled it with apricot jam before folding it, and sprinkled it with confectioner's sugar, then he took a hot metal skewer (that he had stuck in the gas burner for a minute) and seared three diagonal lines through the sugar.  Beautiful and delicious!  It had never occurred to me to do a sweet omelet, but it was delish :)  

Sweet apricot filled omelet

 The egg dishes multiply faster than bunnies

After John whipped out all these beautiful egg dishes, we set to perfecting our own eggs.  After three takes I produced one decent French omelet, and I also practiced my scrambled eggs (although to be honest, I think I'm already pretty good at those--they are my fave), and then I practiced my over easies, including flipping them with just (several) flick(s) of my wrist.  Here's what I can tell you about flipping eggs using just your wrist: "Don't be afraid!" (in your best Julia Child voice).  And do it over the sink, just in case you miss (but "never apologize!").  My first one I did over too high heat, and it got too crispy and brown, but my second one was quite pretty.  The biggest take away lessons from all of this egg frying/scrambling/omeleting/frittata-ing?  

A sampling of my egg dishes: Over medium, scrambled, and 3 attempts 
at French omelets, getting progressively better from right to left

1. Use the right size pan.  (We were doing all of these individually, in 6 or 7-inch pans, like you would at an upscale restaurant). 

2. Make sure the pan is ridiculously non-stick and/or well seasoned

3. Only cook over moderate heat--browning isn't ideal, except for some American-style omelets

4. Clarified butter.  And lots of it.  (See pic of John, above.  That measuring cup of yellow stuff--butter.)  Clarified butter is regular butter without the milk solids.  To make it you can either melt a hunk of butter gently, then let the milk solids (the white part), sink to the bottom, then skim off from the top.  The part you want to use is the very clear and pure yellow part.  It is ideal for eggs because it doesn't brown or smoke, so it's forgiving if you overheat your pan, and all that jazz.  You can make your own by melting like, a pound of butter then letting the white parts sink and skimming off the yellow part (we go through it like water in cooking class, so we're making our own, often).  Alternatively, you can find in ethnic markets and better supermarkets as ghee, aka, Indian clarified butter.

Ooh, and I poached the most beautiful egg ever, and made it into an egg Benedict sandwich, which was fantastic.  If you are like the old me (before I learned how to poach eggs), you probably don't like poaching eggs, because they get all runny and weird in the water.  But, I found out how to do it well, and I have to say, my first egg was even prettier than Chef John's. So, here are the tricks:

Egg Benedict.  I was so excited I bit into it before I took the picture. 
Sorry.  That black thing on top is a truffle.  Seriously fancy here, people.

1. For every quart of poaching water, you add 1/4 cup of white vinegar.  This sounds like a lot, but it's not, and it's crucial, (you won't even taste it--promise).  DON'T put any salt in your water, it will make the whites run.

2. If you're not using the poached eggs right away, have a bowl of iced salted water set up.  When your eggs are doing cooking, transfer them into the cold water, which will stop the cooking and keep then moist.

3. Pre-crack your eggs into a teacup or other small vessel and use it to slip the egg into the water.  This way it will go in as one whole blob, and you'll avoid having too much "spread" of the whites.

4. Use extremely fresh Grade A eggs--these are the firmest--again, less spread.

5.  Use poaching water that is simmering, just on the verge of a boil.  Barely simmering water isn't quite hot enough, and boiling water will disrupt the eggs.

6. Timing--Most people like eggs poached between 2 1/2 and 3 minutes.  If you are poaching multiple eggs in the same pot, add 10 seconds per egg for each one in the pot (ex., if you're poaching 4 "2 1/2" minute eggs, total cooking time should be about 3 minutes, because you add 10 seconds for each additional egg).  Being the yolk-hating weirdo that I am, I prefer my egg poached closer to 5 minutes, but if you follow the first guidelines--vinegar in the water, proper simmering temp, and pre-cracking your eggs--no matter how long you cook them, they should come out well. 

If your whites do end up spreading a lot, it's totally acceptable to trim up the whites to make them look prettier--or not, whatevs.  I won't judge if you like to quantity over looks.  

So, yeah, that's a lot about eggs.  I probably ate at least half a dozen today.  Good thing I don't have a cholesterol problem (yet).  Hopefully a few of these tricks will help you next time you need to cook an egg, and when I get some more specifics on the souffles, you will be the first to know, I promise!

Stay tuned for part 2 of BEST DAY EVER: Wine and Cheese pairing.  Heaven!