Sunday, January 31, 2010

Friday 1/29/10 – Potatoes

You say po-tay-to, I say po-tah-to…let’s call the whole thing off!

As potatoes are a classic, wonderful starchy side dish, and sometimes main dish, we learned roughly eight different ways to easily prepare potatoes….and then we ate them all. By the end of class, we all had the tell-tale fried film on our teeth and our stomachs were rumbling, in a bad way. And then, the minute I walk in the door to our apartment, ready to relax for the weekend, the first thing I see is….A POTATO!! I just couldn’t get away from them! I felt like they were everywhere – on the carpet, in the bathroom, on Steve’s face, crawling on my arms. I just could not escape the tuber.

Those French and their language, my goodness gracious. We made pommes dauphinois, pommes dauphin and pommes darphin. Please tell me how I’m supposed to learn the different between the three. We also made fantastic French fries, which are confusingly not called French fries in France, they are Pommes Pont-Neuf, or Pommes Frites, depending on the size. Regardless, they were delicious, and chef made some fantastic home-made ketchup for dipping. Apparently the key to a great deep fried potato is to blanch them in boiling water for about 3-4 minutes (again, depending on size); this ensures the middle is nice and cooked before you fry the outside. We also filled pastry bags with mashed potatoes and an egg binding mixture and piped them out into fun shapes and then baked in the oven…like buttah! This is not something I would do for an ordinary dinner, but I could see these being fun appetizers at a party! Tawk amongst yahselves.


I pulled this dinner out of thin air the other day after getting an idea from Bon Appétit magazine. If you’ve never heard of quinoa (pronounced keen-wa), you should definitely try it! It’s a grain-like seed, and is a very easy and quick substitute for rice. It’s also packed full of protein, and makes a yummy side dish that can be mixed with almost anything.


Serves 2, but very easy to double for a family

You will need:


-2 center-cut bone-in pork chops

-3 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves pulled off of stems

-1/2 tablespoon of kosher salt

-1 teaspoon black pepper

-1 tablespoon olive oil

-2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil

-1/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth


-5 mid-sized button mushrooms, washed, peeled and quartered

-1 shallot, sliced or diced

-1 cup quinoa

-4 leaves of fresh sage, finely chopped

-1 bay leaf

-2 cups water

-1/4 cup red wine vinegar (or white wine vinegar)

-1/2 cup red wine (whatever you have hanging around will do – if using white wine vinegar make sure you use white wine)

-2 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 325˚F.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Once melted, add the shallots and mushrooms and cook until moist and soft, but without creating color. If the pan gets too dry, add more butter. Once the shallots and mushrooms are ready, add the red wine vinegar and the red wine to the pan, along with the bay leaf, and stir. Bring this to a boil and cook, stirring every 5 minutes or so, until reduced by 90% (the pan will be almost dry).

Meanwhile, heat a stainless steel oven-safe sauté pan (VERY important that it’s oven-safe!). Mix the thyme, black pepper and salt with a tablespoon of olive oil to make a rough paste, and rub both sides of each pork chop with the mixture. Once the pan is screaming hot, add 2 tablespoons of canola or vegetable oil (don’t use olive oil, it will burn at such a high heat) and sear each side of the chops for about 2 minutes. Pour in the broth, and put the whole thing in the oven. The pork chops will be done when the internal temperature registers 145˚F, or about 12 minutes.

Once the mushrooms and shallot mixture has reduced, remove the bay leaf and add the quinoa, water and sage and stir well. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer. Once all the water has cooked out (about 15 minutes), remove from heat and stir.

Serve the pork chops on a bed of quinoa with your favorite green vegetable or salad. Yum!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Wednesday 1/27/10 – Tournage

Class was boring. I apologize, but I have nothing to say.

Pish posh, I always have something to say! Tournage, tournage, tournage. I just really don’t know how to describe it. In french it literally means “to turn”, and the results of tournage are vegetables cut into 7-sided footballs of varying lengths, from 2-9 centimeters…so maybe I DO know how to describe it. Regardless, they’re pains in the butts, and a classic example of how detailed and meticulous les French are. We spent hours cutting potatoes, turnips and carrots into perfect shapes, then cooked each in different ways for a final plate.

The big news is that we switched station partners! It was a huge shock, really turned our little worlds upside down. D and I had gotten into a routine and were working well together…perhaps that’s why chef decided to scramble everyone! I was moved to the station at the front of the class and will now be working with Chad. He’s really nice (and I’m not just saying that because he washed my tools…..) and I think I’ll definitely learn a lot from him (I’m saying that because he washed my tools). Chad made us look smart when he suggested I preheat our oven to get it started, and 10 minutes later when chef asked who had preheated their ovens we were the only team…thanks Chad!

I started at the bank today. Back to the ‘ole grind, ridin’ the rails, burning’ the candle at both ends. It was a typical first day, but I am amazed at how different this opportunity will be from a previous job. Back then, I was a miserable shell of a human soul, trying to find a way off of that sinking ship. In this office, with these kind, professional people, I can see myself having enough motivation for a job well done, yet when the clock strikes I’m heading home (or to class). No more late nights, unpaid overtime and unrecognized talent! The best part is that the project is over at the end of March, so I don’t have to worry about long-term – it’ll be over before I know it!

Being down on Wall Street, I couldn’t help but think of a story my friend Rachel told me. She once passed a homeless man on the street who was carrying an invisible briefcase and was holding his hand up to his head like a make-shift cell phone, screaming, “I said sell!! BUY BUY BUY!” I want my money with whatever investment firm he thought he worked for.


Making your own butter is easy! Ok, pull your jaw off the floor and grab a carton of heavy cream.

You will need a stand mixer, unless you want your arm to fall off. Pour the heavy cream in the mixing bowl, and whisk at medium-high. After about 20 minutes the cream will turn into beautiful thick foam. (This can be sugared and used to top your favorite dessert!) Let it continue at medium-high for another 15 minutes or so, and it will suddenly turn into a pale yellow solid stuck to your whisk (this is your butter) and a thick milk in the bottom (this is buttermilk…save to make amazing Saturday morning buttermilk pancakes a la Lindsey.) Squeeze your solid butter in a paper towel to release the remaining liquid. Store in an airtight container in refrigerator (length TBD, I’ll keep you posted!)

To summarize: Pour cream, turn on mixer, relax on couch, eat butter.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

January 25th, 2010 – Salads

We got our official test scores back. Chef rescinded his comment that “Real chefs get a B+,” but that’s ok because I GOT AN A+!! I’m still not sure how, but I studied pretty hard and am quite proud of myself. I don’t know how much it actually counts, because this is a curriculum where obviously cooking ability counts more than vocabulary, but nevertheless it’s still important to know the concepts and terms. Yahoo!

Steve and I don’t eat in a lot of fancy restaurants….ever. For obvious reasons: (1) it’s expensive and (2) we both love to cook. So my idea of a nice salad is a heap of romaine lettuce tossed with red onions, avocado, feta cheese and some oil and red wine vinegar (courtesy of my in-laws, the Blazeks). Before I started night classes, we ate that salad at least 5 nights a week. Apparently the French have a different definition of salad in mind.

We started with a Macedoine de Legumes, which is basically a handful of green beans, carrots and beets cut into macedoine, or small cubes, mixed with peas. All are cooked in boiling water and mixed with a nice, light handmade mayonnaise (see previous post). Then, using decoratively cut cucumbers, the mixture is formed on the plate with a sort of tall, round cookie cutter and topped with goat cheese. Finally, we removed the cookie cutter and topped the whole thing with a small piece of Gravlax, the salmon we cured last week. Beautiful and surprisingly delicious! I could charge $17 for that at the restaurant around the corner but, seeing as Steve is currently supporting our household I’ll just make it for him (but send him the bill later.)

We also made the classic Salade Nicoise, a ridiculous plate of strategically placed cut and cooked vegetables. If I paid close to $20 for a salad at a nice restaurant and that’s what they brought me…..problems. It’s so exciting, though, to be able to use our creativity to make a beautiful and delicious dish. While there are some specific ways and processes to do things in cooking, plating the food is a fun way the chef can use a personal touch. Finally, we seared our duck confit, which has been hanging out in its own fat for about a week now, and served it (to ourselves) with a bitter salad tossed with a Dijon mustard vinaigrette. I also snagged another duck leg, along with a nice vat of duck fat, to bring home and cook for Steve. I was lucky enough, too, to snatch up some leftover foie gras from the Level 2 students, but passed on the blood sausage. What a fascinating school I go to, where these international delicacies are just floating around for anyone to grab and cook how they please. I can only imagine what was going through the mind of the person sitting next to me on the subway! “Oh these? Just duck fat and liver, no big deal. Sorry about the smell, the next stop is mine.”

Sunday, January 24, 2010

January 22nd, 2010 - Emulsified Sauces

So the first test was ok. I say ok, because I’ve now learned that water is not the same as cold water, and I have now memorized the derivates of béchamel. I did pretty well, don’t know my exact score yet but Chef Phil said that real chefs get a B+. So I’m feeling better about my mediocrity.

We made emulsified sauces in class, which include mayonnaise, hollandaise and béarnaise, the naise-s I guess. It takes a lot of manpower, pure upper arm muscle, to whip these babies into place and by the end of class I was hurting. That’s pretty sad, but I’m alright with admitting it. I may or may not get winded walking up the subway stairs. Whipping egg yolks for 4 minutes left my muscles on fire and my spirit feeling used.

Warm emulsified sauces require the use of a bain-marie, or a sort of home-made double boiler. On our industrial stoves we boil the water, turn the flame off, cover the pot with a hand towel and place our working bowls on top and begin the frantic whipping. With the stove’s pilot lights being dangerously close to our hand towels, it became commonplace, every 10 minutes or so, for half the class to start yelling “SOMETHING’S BURNING!” followed by a distant response, “IT’S ME, I’VE GOT IT.” Little brushfires were popping up around the kitchen, small wisps of smoke floating up from makeshift bain-maries, followed by frantic smothering and the smell of singed cotton. While it’s embarrassing to catch your station on fire, I feel worse for Chef, who had to taste spoonfuls of 24 different mayonnaises, and then 24 different hollandaises, plus another 24 béarnaises. Yuck. I felt like I should get him some shaved turkey on wheat and charge him $5.49.

At the end of the night, we rewarded ourselves with a yummy orange-liquor dessert, which involved pouring a sugary hand-whipped concoction on top of 6 perfect slices of orange, and then flaming the whole thing under the broiler. Due to a sliigghhtt oversight by D and I, we had to abandon our efforts and start from scratch, 15 minutes into the operation. Assistant Chef Cheyenne had already brought the ingredients down to the basement storeroom, and as the reality set in that we no longer had any ingredients to work with, the scene was unfolding before our eyes like some sort of war documentary. “Grab the Grand Marnier…get down!!” “Thereeee’s noooo tiiimmeee!!!” Near me, an orange peel explodes and I am dodging puddles of egg whites. I look down, and there is a crimson Grenadine stain slowly forming on my stark white uniform...I yell, “It’s too late!!!” Alas, we weren’t ready to give up, so we had to scrounge up some orphaned oranges and frantically juice them, use scraps of sugar and forget the whole liquor part entirely. We were so fast and precise that, considering we were very far behind the other groups, still managed to get our dessert in the broiler just in time! Victory tastes good.


Peeling your own tomatoes is easy and economical! Start with a pot of boiling water and a bowl of ice water. Using a paring knife, carefully core out the top stem, removing the small cone-like shape. Then, make a small ‘X’ on the opposite end of the tomato. Drop the tomato in the boiling water - after about 15 seconds, you will notice that the ‘X’ you created is starting to peel away, and the skin looks loose. Scoop it out and immediately drop it into the bowl of ice water. Don’t leave it in there too long, though! You can then take the tomato out and the skin will practically fall off for you, leaving a beautiful red flesh, ready to be sliced and thrown into your favorite dish.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

January 20th, 2010 – Preservation Methods

Good news! Remember that test that I killed myself studying for? Permanently engraving the French names for all of the kitchen gadgets and the basic processes onto the inner folds of my brain, spending hours memorizing tedious recipes and cooking them mentally over and over? Well………..the test is on Friday. Oops! Guess I was a little ahead of myself.

In class, we learned the basic processes of preservation, such as dehydration, curing and brining, pasteurization and pickling, among many many others. We prepared a duck confit, which we’ll begin to cook on Friday, and also dry cured a huge salmon (called Gravlax) and cooked several vegetables a la Grecque, which is basically the stereotypical way of saying that it’s cooked with olive oil, an acid (wine and/or lemon juice) and several herbs, served hot or cold. The vegetables can last a good amount of time in the refrigerator because the acid inhibits bacterial growth and the olive oil prevents oxidation. Our cauliflower (or choux-fleur) were inedible. Literally inedible. The look on Assistant Chef Ryan’s face as he tasted them was priceless. We were very time crunched, running around the kitchen trying to plate our vegetables, that we forgot Rule #1 in Chef Club: Don’t talk about Chef Club. Oh wait. Rule #2: Always taste your food first before presenting. I don’t think he’ll ever eat another choux-fleur ever again. You’re welcome broccoli industry.

I’ve been very fortunate to have had some crazy and amazing experiences since moving to New York City two years ago. I also get myself into some unbelievable situations, but that's mainly due to my awkwardness and complete ignorance of what is appropriate in social situations. It’s hard not to experience ridiculous things every day in this city, where screaming homeless men, racing sirens and dog excrement on the sidewalk don’t even make me turn my head anymore. I’ve worked on Madison Avenue, loitered at the famous Tiffany & Co., lived next door to the projects, sighted celebrities and movies being filmed in my neighborhood and have even been thisclose to being invited to lunch at SoHo House. And now, I can add a short career on Wall Street to my resume! Starting next week, I will be temping at a large banking institution, doing what I assume will be some sort of data management and/or executive assisting. They are willing to work around my school schedule, and the project only lasts until March 30th so I’ll be able to decide if I want to continue temping or focus more on school. I had to venture downtown today to start the process, since I can’t work in the building until I have been screened. Apparently they have their own branch of security, and boy did they swarm on me when I strolled in there, oblivious to the big armed men blocking the door because I was busy admiring the beautiful cast iron work in the lobby. Luckily I don’t look very threatening so I was escorted through the building, and should be able to start work soon! I’m excited to start earning money again, because Lord knows we need it, but I’m nervous about the work-school-life balance. I’m going to be EXTREMELY busy over the next few months! Good busy, though, and busy equals money. I’ve been busy before, but I have a feeling this will be ten times more fun.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

January 18th, 2010 – School Closed!

I would like to request a moment of silence for a fallen establishment, a hero among mere mortal restaurants. This particular establishment cradled me through myriad hard city times, a friend to me when no one else was, a shoulder to cry on and an ear to hear my woes. It provided me with pseudo-nutritious goodness, a burrito here and nachos there. They told me it was no good for me, but I never abandoned it! Through the years we became better acquainted, me holding its processed-cheese and wilting lettuce hands from the time we were introduced to its final lonely moments yesterday. I am sad to announce that the only known Taco Bell on the Upper East Side, a close block away from my apartment……has closed.

Shocking as it is, we must all grieve and move on. Perhaps the sketchy Cuban restaurant downstairs will make me a Crunchwrap Supreme.

Since class was cancelled in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I’ve decided it might be fun to show you the tools of the trade that I reference often – my school-issued “tool kit.”

Trussing needle, spatula, wooden floon (flat spoon), serving spoons, pastry whisk (with pastry tips inside),
thermometer, spreader, fish spatula (obviously not used due to the sticker still stuck), tongs

Balloon whisk, mini pepper mill, peeler #1, pastry cutter (?), kitchen shears and ladle

(Left - Clockwise) Mellon baller, peeler #2, channel peeler, fish tweezers, measuring spoons, pastry brush,
parer, knifey, filet knife, fork
(Right) Slicey, bread knife, chef's knife, knife straightener

Time to study for our first test! I guess this was the reason I was supposed to learn those French terms; do you think Chef will accept an approximate English translation??

Monday, January 18, 2010

January 15th, 2010: Day 5 – Soups

I finally learned how to make a good soup from scratch. I’d kind of rather buy a can of Campbell’s, but I learned nevertheless. We used our stocks (aren’t they getting old by now??) to make French Onion, Split Pea and a yummy Consommé with vegetables.

Consommé is kind of like a joke. You read the recipe, consider the steps, and then decide you’d rather poke a hole in your eye with a fork instead of doing this. Apparently I’ll be doing many of them in class – YAY!! (…) It involves taking a stock and “purifying” it with ground beef, egg whites, some sort of acidic vegetable (tomatoes or tomato paste) and vegetables that are meticulously cut into thin juliennes, which you slowly combine by hand, ladle by ladle, to make sure the eggs don’t curdle. Then you simmer it until it makes a disgusting “raft” on top (this really isn’t a joke!) of grey, boiled meat, egg whites and a nest of vegetables. AND THEN you siphon the clear liquid from a hole in the middle of this “raft” through cheesecloth, and then reheat it so that it’s boiling hot and throw it into a warmed bowl with another handful of blanched meticulously cut vegetables. PHEW! Chef said he usually tests the clarity of the consommé by placing a penny at the bottom of the bowl to make sure he can read the date. I mean, you can’t write this stuff, it’s ridiculous. God I love the French. Remind me of that in 8 months, though.

The Split Pea and French Onion soups were amazing, and not too hard to make! I even got to take home some leftovers, which reheated VERY nicely. On the subway home Friday night, quarts of leftovers in hand and juggling our tool kits, D and I were understandably annoyed when a group of very drunk people got in our car and stood right next to us. “Wheereee’d ya get ya soup, ladies???” Uh oh, I might seem sweet but I can throw down, especially on the subway (easy exit). “Um, we made it…” D replied. “Hmm…ya must be studennnttss at FCI??” This was getting weird. “Yes, we are. Level 1, we made soup today.” Turns out, they’re Level 1 students too, only the daytime kids! They’re kind of like our more sophisticated, French-ier counterparts, as they attend classes Monday through Friday from 9am to 3pm and finish the program in 6 months (as opposed to my 3-day-a-week 9 months). They are much farther ahead in the course than we are (a point they didn’t try to hide) and have become extremely close with their fellow classmates since they leave school at 3pm – leaving a little more time to be social. Drunk-spittle-in-the-face aside, it was great to get to know some fellow FCI-ers. As always, D left me in the train with them for the remaining 70 blocks home….there’s only so many times one can answer “Wait, who’sss yoourrr Chef againnnn??”

At my mother’s request, I’ve posted the French Onion and Split Pea recipes below. They’re wonderful for a cold winter day – enjoy!



Serves 4

You will need:

-2.5 oz butter

-1 lb, 5 oz (about 2 medium) onions, sliced thin

-1 tbsp all-purpose flour

-1 garlic clove, chopped

-1/2 cup sherry

-1 quart chicken stock or beef stock

-7 oz gruyere cheese (about a cup)

Heat the butter in a large stock pot. When hot, add onions and cook over medium heat for 20-30 minutes, or until soft and caramelized. If the bottom starts burning, add a few tablespoons of stock. Season lightly with salt and dust with the flour. It is important that the onions be browned, or the soup will lack richness.

Add garlic and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the sherry and reduce by half.

Add the hot stock, bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

When ready to serve, pour into a bowl and place a toasted baguette piece on top and cover with the grated cheese. Broil until the cheese is melted and top is browned.


Serves 4

You will need:

-12 oz split green peas

-1.5 oz slab of bacon, cut into lardons (approximately small legos)

-2/3 oz butter

-1 leek, white part only, cut thinly

-1 carrot, roughly diced

-1.5 large onion, diced

-1.5 quarts water

-1 garlic clove

-bouquet garni (bay leaf, parsley stem, peppercorns, thyme wrapped and tied in cheesecloth)

-1/4 cup heavy cream

Remove all broken pieces and debris from split peas. Thoroughly wash in cold water and drain.

Cook bacon in butter in a large stockpot until their fat is rendered but not brown. Add remaining butter, leeks, carrots and onions and sweat them until soft but not colored. Add the peas and stir to coat. Add the water, garlic and bouquet garni. Bring to simmer and cook for about 45 minutes, skimming often.

Remove the bouquet garni and let the soup cool. This is very very important, because you will be placing it in a blender. PLEASE NOTE that you should not fill a blender with hot liquid because the pressure will make it explode, and you will end up with terrible burns on your face. If you cannot let it cool, only fill the blender ¼ full and blend the soup in batches. If you can, pass through a wide-hole strainer after blending to remove any clumps.

Place back into the stockpot and add the cream, bringing to a boil. Taste and adjust. If it seems a little bland, salt salt salt!!

Serve soup in a hot bowl garnished with croutons and a sprig of chervil or parsley. I also like to place a pinch of fresh parmesan in the middle.

Friday, January 15, 2010

January 13th, 2010: Day 4 – Sauces

During sauce day, we were able to utilize the fruits of our labor from stocks day to create some of the classic French sauces. We whipped up a Sauce espagnole, a port sauce, a white wine sauce and a Sauce Chateaubriand aux champignons, among many others. Growing up with one of my favorite comfort foods, a tuna casserole made with mom’s “white sauce,” I had sort of a prior knowledge of how to make a good roux. It helped, but it will still take me weeks and weeks of practice to learn the ridiculous number of sauces and derivatives. I am definitely regretting not taking high school French. I was so France-ignorant prior to joining FCI that I thought every sentence should end with “mon Cherie!”

Boringness aside, OMG I DID MY FIRST FLAMBE!!! It was amazing, and I didn’t even burn off any eyebrows! Definitely not something I would do in our small apartment kitchen, as the flame would lick the top of our cabinets and we probably wouldn’t get our deposit back, but in our industrial school kitchens it was very fun.

I finally got the results back from my school-required medical tests. I’m perfectly healthy, so I can joke about it now, but the experience was a little ridiculous. I was sent to the 8th floor of a midtown office building, on a block similar to the ones you see on Dateline or 20/20 when they do the child labor raids. I think I was the only person there who spoke English, which surprised me because I could have sworn I was in New York City. I really don’t mean to be rude, but the technician who drew my blood’s eyesight wasn’t prime. Ok, he was horribly cross-eyed. He stabbed the air a few times before finally reaching vein, and after informing him that I am allergic to Bandaids, please don’t place one on my skin, he approached my bleeding arm with none other than a Bandaid. So I informed him again that I am allergic to Bandaids, and he said something along the lines of “Don’t worry it only needs to be on for a few hours.” No thank you, not sure if I mentioned this or not but I’m allergic to Bandaids. The track mark he left looked more like the path US Airways flight 1549 took into the Hudson River, more of a gradual landing through the superficial layers of my skin than a clean stab into the source of blood. I then received an archaic TB test, takin’ me right on back to the good ‘ole year 1872. I was actually surprised when no one called the soothsayer to read my freckles. I should have known it would be sketchy when I was asked to pay with cash, and was the only patient not receiving a drug test. It’s ok mom and dad, I’m fine. Just make sure you tune in to tonight’s 20/20, I think you can see me in the background.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

January 11th, 2010: Day 3 - Stocks

Imagine this:

Me, apron pulled up to my chest, feet shoulder-width apart with a 5-lb cleaver in my hand. I am chopping, letting the cleaver fall with a grim ‘thud’ as parts of flesh and blood spray out simultaneously in front of me. All of a sudden, I begin to chop ferociously and much faster, my eyes become bloodshot and I let out a single cackle to the full moon. Pieces of vein and muscle are dripping down as they hit my face, my hands are trembling with adrenaline and I’m staring what used to be an attached fish head in the eyes as I scream “DIE!!!!” Chef-Instructor Phil slowly approaches from behind, grabs the knife on my backswing and tackles me from the waist, careful not to look me directly in the eyes…

Ok, so that might not be EXACTLY how it happened, but Day 3 was stock day! The veal and beef bones arrived in neatly packed frozen boxes, ready for us to brew up some delicious
fond de veau brun and marmite. As you can assume, we were responsible for cutting our own fish carcasses, and were given stacks and stacks of chicken bones and meat to simmer as much as our little hearts would desire! At the end of the day, the marmite and fond de veau brun were in the 50-liter stock pot, where they would rest overnight, and the chicken stock, vegetable stock and fumet (fish stock) were perfectly brewed and strained. My station mate's hand towel also had a large dusty burn hole smack-dab in the middle, but hey, fires schmires.

Stock is the basis for French cooking. With it, you can create the classic delicious sauces, soups, glazes and the classic derivatives, among many others. We’ll be using the stocks we’ve created to make six different sauces in the next class, and the class after that we’ll be venturing into soups! Now we’re getting practical…

While things might seem a little mundane now, and you might be saying “But Jackie, you can buy a can of chicken stock at the store,” or you might be thinking “Wow, this girl is afraid of cutting turnips??” it’s important to note that we’ve really started from the beginning here. A good cook must have the basics down perfectly. Although I don’t plan to go into the restaurant business, like most of my classmates, knowing how to make a stock from scratch and reduce it into a perfect
sauce espagnole is one of those things that will distinguish me in the future, and make me an amazing French cook! (Let’s hope.) I also know for a fact that things will be getting tres interessante (that may or may not be Spanish) because I’m currently reading a memoir by a former FCI graduate titled “Under the Table.” Although she’s incredibly pretentious and negative, I would have burned the book a long time ago if she didn’t walk her readers through the exact program in which I am currently enrolled! Her writing style aside, it’s fascinating to be reading this book, which serves as a sort of crystal ball into my future. Her experience was apparently not the best. But I love every minute of it, and I’m here to stay!

*This is one of Steve’s favorite meals, but he only gets it on special occasions (or when I’m bored). It’s originally Rachael Ray's, but I’ve tinkered with it to suit our tastes and budget.

Serves 2 (+ a lucky someone's lunch the following day)
You will need:
-3/4 lb. lean ground beef
-1 cup crushed tortilla chips
-1/3 cup milk
-1/3 cup grated Parmesan
-1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
-1/4 cup green onions, chopped
-1 egg

-1/4 cup ketchup
-2 tbsp honey
-1 small can Adobo peppers (you will only use the sauce)
-1 tbsp lime juice

Preheat oven to 500˚.

Combine chips, milk, cheese, cilantro, onion and egg. Add ground beef, tossing with hands. Shape into small, tight oval loaves (approximately 6).

Mix glaze ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

In a skillet, sear loaves in olive oil, approximately 2 minutes on each side. Transfer to greased cookie sheet and brush with glaze. Roast in the broiler for about 12 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 155˚.

Serve with roasted tomatoes, baked or mashed potatoes and green beans tossed with olive oil, lemon juice and salt.


Monday, January 11, 2010

January 8th, 2010: Day 2

Day Two of culinary school has come and gone, and I’m feeling a little better already! Despite pushing my travel time to the last minute and having to sprint up 3 flights of steep stairs with full winter gear and a 15-lb pack of knives (yes, I understand that’s not the safest) I was right on time and ready to go.

Today’s lecture was about government regulations and food handling safety in the kitchen. Basically, as Chef Tim eloquently phrased it, how not to kill your patrons (or your husband). The lecture made me want to grow my own vegetables (on my fire escape??) and breed my own cows (again…fire escape??)…you would not believe the horror stories associated with mass-produced food and their processing facilities. Let’s just say Upton Sinclair wasn’t too far off in “The Jungle.” There are 80 million cases of reported food-borne illnesses a year; that’s only the reported cases. Boringness aside, it’s really really gross. I’m not a fan of organic food, I think it’s over priced and unnecessary, but it really makes you wonder. A cow can be slaughtered and processed (and eaten by us) if it passes the “Poke ‘n Sniff” test by an FDA inspector…and if it can kind of walk itself to its own death and has 4 legs and 1 tail. Even my cat would pass that test….due to the fact that there are no regulations for body fat percentage or how many minutes the seismograph registers after the “poke” portion of the test. The “sniff” would be questionable too. But the point is that she could pass…but only if there were kibble at the top of the plank.

Glamour Shot

In homage to my favorite SNL character Mary Katherine Gallagher, my feelings would best be expressed in a monologue from the made-for-TV movie “Getting Cooked,” in which I will be playing the part of Oscar-winning actor Stanley Tucci:

“Salmonella….listeria….VIBRIO! What’s growing in your kitchen??? 80% of U.S. chickens will make you sick if not cooked properly. Scombroid poisoning, ciguatera poisoning…cook your fish and clean your leeks! Shigella , Norovirus and Hepatitis A; think next time you eat out. Ammonia in your chopped beef!

I know she would be proud.

Now that trichinosis has been basically bred out of the U.S. pork industry, it is safe to eat your pork after being cooked to a temperature of only 145 degrees, leaving it slightly pink.

Day 3 starts soon, so it’s off to study my stocks!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

January 6th, 2010: Day 1

Numero uno. D-Day. The Resurrection.

This was it – my first day as a student at The French Culinary Institute in New York City. I have to admit, it felt really good. I was nervous as crap, but it felt really good. Finally, I was in the kitchen, slicing and dicing and learning my trade from a world-class chef. While looking back on the scene in my mind, I had a cutting board full of perfectly measured and executed carrot mirepoix and the angels were gathering over my station to sing their songs of joy for this prodigy child – it’s important to note that the reality was that it was HARD, harder than I ever imagined….and I seriously don’t know sh*#. The look on my face, I can only assume, was one of complete blankness and fear. Fear for my present situation, fear for the future of my butchered turnip a l'etuvee a.k.a. my reputation and fear because I was literally afraid of cutting turnips. If one wants to become one of the world class chefs, how can one be afraid of cutting turnips?

All in all, it was an amazing first day. It felt like the first day of high school - you come out of 8th grade as the top dog, the master of algebra with the tight group of friends, the head of the school. (Well, that wasn’t my personal experience but I assume that’s what being cool feels like.) Then you enter high school….and it’s back to the bottom for you. Suddenly you’re face-down in a hallway trash can with your underwear pulled over your head while someone yells “Jackie Smacky!”, praying that you could just go back to middle school and wondering how you’re ever going to scratch your way to the top in this new, cruel world. In the comforts of my home kitchen, I’m The Man (read: Woman). I know my tools, where they’re located and I’m creative and confident, ready to take on any challenge. Yet in this new industrial environment I was second-guessing everything. I even asked my dear new station mate, Dorothy, which way to peel a carrot. Seriously. I’m not kidding.

I know that my confidence will grow, and that my technique will be honed and pretty soon I’ll be shredding an onion in under a minute. But for now, it’s into the unknown. And that’s the best part: unending opportunity.