Monday, December 20, 2010

Keep on, keepin on

Exams are finally over, so I can breathe easy now. It's been a tough couple of weeks trying to keep up with all the studying, the pressures of the practical exams and the butchering practical. I have to be honest, I didn't score where I wanted to be for some of the exams and I am somewhat disappointed. I made some mistakes in my cooking practical which cost me some points and an A. No, I am not fine with a B -- but I know where the mistakes were made and I have to be sure not make them again.

Our butchering practical was quick and easy -- so I thought! We had to draw out of a "hat" the protein we would fabricate. Our options were: round fish, flat fish, chicken or rabbit. Fortunately, the rabbit did not come in and that was taken out of the mix. I have only fabricated one rabbit, so I did not feel as confident as I do with the fish and chicken. So, of course, I drew chicken. I felt really good about it -- my boneless skinless breasts looked fantastic and I even deboned the thigh quite well. But I ran over on time -- by one measly minute!! Another "B" it is -- ah, bugger!! Chef also said I had a lot of meat on the top cuts of the wings -- I didn't think too much yield was a bad thing, but whatever. I thought it was perfect.

I did MUCH better on my baking practical with a 93!! I did slightly overcook my pumpkin muffins, and my danish dough was slightly dense, but my French apple tart and scones were perfect!! YAY!! Considering that was the first time I have made scones, that was fabulous! We work in groups at school, so I somehow managed to not be a part of the scone making. Not on purpose, of course, but I at least watched them be made and they are actually really easy. I made chocolate chip orange scones. They looked and tasted fabulous!

As for the written exams, my baking exam was super short -- only 25 questions! That was a nice surprise, but I am glad I still studied as much as I did. Next semester is going to be more advanced and we need to understand the science of baking on a different level. I am extremely excited to take this class -- and I hear the instructor is tough, but a great pastry chef.

My cooking exam was longer, but again, I studied enough and think I will get an A. Unfortunately, I need at 94 on the exam to get an A in the class and I am guessing I probably scored more along the lines of a 90. I am tempted to email Chef to find out, but then again, what can I do about it now? I know what I can do next semester -- and that is push myself to the next level. I know I am capable of it -- I just have to execute!

During break, which is about 4 weeks, I am going to practice. Practice, practice, practice. Chef says people aren't just born with the talent -- it takes practice. If you find that you are not good at something, keep doing it until you are good at it. So that is what I will do!

Bon Appetit!

Thursday, December 9, 2010


I just got home from my black box practical exam and I am ready for a nap! Before I soak up some zzzzz's I have to tell you all about it -- yes, I know you've been anticipating this, right?

What is a black box you ask? Have you ever seen the show Chopped? It's very similar -- except there is no competition but yourself.

4 mystery ingredients
3 hours
2 bowls of soup
2 entree plates - protein with gravy, vegetable, and a starch

You MUST plate on time - no earlier, no later - you have a 60 second leeway either way.

We have 30 minutes to come up with a menu, on the 2nd hour we must have the soup plated, and the 3rd hour we plate the entree.

At 8:50 I started prepping my station: cutting board, sharpening knives, and cookbooks ready to go. At promptly 9:00 am, Chef comes to my station and pulls out my "black box"....

sweet potatos

Ok, I can do this. I started looking around in the reach-in and YES! there are apples! I decide to make the curried carrot apple soup we made for our buffet dinner. I've made it 3 times, so I should be great with this.

Now, for the rest. I decide to cut the pork into boneless chops and saute them. I will then make a pan gravy for my sauce out of the fond and incorporate the leeks. For the vegetable, I think sauteed zuccini and summer squash with some fresh herbs would be great. Starch -- well, yes I am a little crazy.........I decided to make sweet potato pierogi!

I started by getting the veggies cut up for the soup and then the sweet potatoes. I put some vegetable oil in a pan and sauteed the curry for a few minutes and added the carrots, apples, and onions with a little chicken stock. Then I boiled the sweet potatos and put them on an ice bath to cool. I gathered some basil and put it in vegetable oil for the pork to marinade in.

After the carrots and apples were cooked, I pureed them using an emursion blender. I then added the remaining chicken stock and moved it back to the stove. Once that was heated back up, I added some salt and pepper to taste.

I didn't want to start anything because I was about to plate the soup. I opted to get a few things ready to go, so that when I returned to my station I could quickly start working on the pierogi.

Soup bowls out of the oven, ladle the soup -- and I notice it has thickened up! UGH! Too late to do anything about that, so I proceeded to add the creme fraise for my garnish. Yea, well that melted right into the soup! Backup plan on hand -- I added some fresh chopped parsley.

I brought the soups over to the grading station, where Chef was waiting. Yes, he noticed that the soup was a bit thick, and also said my parsley was just under uniformly cut. I thought to myself -- "oh boy, he's going to be grading us pretty hard!"

Back to my station I proceed to get my mise en place in order for the pierogi. The dough doesn't take very long, but it is supposed to rest for 10 minutes. I don't think I let it go the whole time, my dough was slightly thick and I had a hard time rolling it with the wooden rolling pin. (I normally use a heavy marble one and I forgot to bring it with me!) I made smaller pierogi than normal because it was a starch -- not an entree portion.

Onto the pork chops. I grate the lemon peel and add it to the bread crumbs along with some parsley. I bread the chops and put them in the pan -- which was too hot -- and they browned too fast. UGH! Good thing I had 7 more chops cut from the pork! Now I am behind and I know it. I freaking out at this point, but I get the pierogi boiled and soaking in butter. I have the zuccini and squash chopped and ready to go. I decide I have to do everything at once or I won't make it to plate. So, I have the second set of chops, the veggies and the pierogi all going at the same time. I start plating the pierogi and the veggies. I set the pork on another plate and get moving on the pan gravy -- look at the clock and I have 5 minutes!! Oh no!! I grab some flower and make a roux with some of the clarified butter I have from the pierogi. I drained the oil from the pan, threw in some leeks, poured in some chicken stock, and last -- but not least the roux. I turned up the heat to reduce the sauce and it quickly thickened up. (THANK GOODNESS!!)

I honestly don't know if I was on time or not -- at that point I knew I only had about 1 minute. I put some gravy on the plates and placed the chops in the center and thought (screw the garnish-who has time?). It was so intense, but a big rush!!

It's time for Chef to critique: his piece of pork was a little tough (should have given him my piece!!) but he said the flavors of lemon and basil come through nicely. He thought the gravy was "ok" but I didn't blame him -- it was not what I intended to do. My zuccini were slightly over peppered, but uniformly cut, and my pierogi -- a little too doughy. (I thought they were FANTASTIC!!)

All my classmates were so impressed that I had made the pierogi and they all wanted to try them! Too bad our peers don't grade us, because they all liked them! They also liked my pork chops and gravy too! :) YAY! So happy!

Now it's time for a nap and then a glass of wine. I have earned it today......


Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Today I am working on my final practical exam packet for my baking class. I am looking back on all the things I have learned this semester and thinking that I have really not posted enough to let everyone in on what I am doing. I haven't taken enough photos, told enough stories, or shared enough thoughts.

I have to say that with 22 hours of school plus another 10 or so of homework -- not to mention the countless hours of cooking and baking at home -- gives me little time to share the excitement.

Now that things are winding down a bit -- we have no more reading assignments, yay! -- I can spend a few minutes sharing my thoughts. I will start with baking, since it's fresh on my mind.

A small list of what I learned about baking that I didn't know or thought I knew:

  • Baking is a science -- measurements should be exact, substitutions should be made carefully
  • Baking takes practice -- sometimes you don't get it right the first time and that's ok because that is how you learn
  • Using a mixer - the whip attachment should mainly be used for whipping egg whites or whipping cream - it's used to incorporate air. Use the paddle attachment when making cookies, brownies, or cakes.
  • Bake until done does not always mean the amount of time on the recipe you are using.
  • All flour is not created equal: the amount of protein in flour can have a great impact on the product you are baking. Cake flour has a low protein percentage, where all-purpose has a high protein percentage.
  • Regarding biscuits: don't twist the cutters, it inhibits rise; place close together on pan to have taller biscuits.
  • Yeast breads are a lot of work, totally fun, and I wish I had my own proof box at home -- although I can always use my laundry room.
  • The temperature of the water you use with yeast is more important than I thought; salt kills yeast
  • I love puff pastry
  • There is a reason you refrigerate cookie dough, so if the recipe calls for it - you probably should do it
  • Apricot glaze is what makes a lot of pastries and tarts really shiny
  • Eclairs are not donuts; eclairs are yummy; churros are deep fried eclair paste
  • Baklava will always be my favorite application of phyllo dough
  • Croissants can take several days to make because of the large content of butter that is rolled in; you literally have to refrigerate up to an hour between rolling to keep the butter the same temp as the dough.
  • Heat your pans before putting the popover batter into them -- this will help them rise almost 2x the size without heating pans.
  • Mise en place is essential -- measure out your ingredients first, be sure you have all the equipment you need handy, preheat your oven, have your fillings prepared beforehand.

And this is only a small part of my experience in baking! When I first started culinary school, I had a small vision of what I wanted to do with my career. Now that I have made it through my first semester, my vision starts to become clearer. I didn't realize how much I would enjoy baking! I must somehow incorporate this into my business plan.....

Tonight we will be taste testing the baklava I made on Monday, making chocolate mousse and chocolate pot de creme! Monday we start our individual practical exams where I will be making the following: French apple tart, danishes (probably apple), pumpkin muffins, and cream scones. It will take us 2 class sessions to complete our recipes and we are going to be graded on quality, presentation, and of course: taste. I can't wait!