Fifth Week: Moist Heat Cooking and Coffee Accessories
October 7, 2002

Hasta! Pasta!

Got our quizzes back. I knew I made a couple of dumb mistakes, which resulted in me getting an 88%, but I guess that's not too bad for a first test. Let's hope it's the lowest score I get and fingers crossed I do better on the baking quiz on Wednesday.

As I mentioned last week, we are making full-course meals. Last week was poultry in various fashions, and this week was moist-heat cooking of beef and veal. Again, I didn't do a main dish -- I'm saving myself for the pork and lamb sections -- yum! But what I did impressed the hell out of me, and would you believe that Chef Directrix was impressed as well? Hey, if I hadn't been standing right there, I wouldn't have bought it either.

I made pasta. And no, I didn't rip open a box of DeCecco and pour it into boiling water with a handful of salt. I'm talking egg-in-mound-of-flour-on-counter-cranking-it-through-the-pasta-maker-and-having-it-come-out-pretty pasta. And? Mine was cracked black pepper pasta. Yup, little slivers and nuggets of black peppercorn right there inside the pasta. It was a very satisfying day. Susan was my partner, and she made a lovely spinach pasta with the flecks of dark and light green creating a nice texture to the finished fettuccini noodle. Together we made a plain egg pasta just in case people didn't want the fancy stuff.

Can I tell you that I never expected to get so much pleasure out of cranking the rested pasta dough through several gauges of the pasta machine? First, we flattened and broadened the dough. We cranked out these long, thin, wide noodles that could have been trimmed up right there and used for lasagna. As we continued to feed portions of the various doughs through the machine, we laid the finished flats in layers of floured cloth to keep them from drying out. After that was complete, we put an attachment on the pasta maker and cranked the flats out into beautifully perfect fettuccini. We boiled it in batches and served it with a Flemish beef stew Tarsis made. Chef Directrix picked up a strand of the pasta, chewed it and said, "Nice texture."

By her standards, that's like knighting me with the golden ladle!

October 9, 2002

Kiss me, I'm Danish

First things first, we had a quiz. I actually think I might have aced this one, but it's too soon to tell. It was easier, shorter, and I studied less for it. Of course it should make sense that I aced it.

After puff pastry, choux paste, pie crusts, and napoleons, Chef Passion told us that Danishes and croissants would be a breeze. Well, she does say that every week, but this time, she was more right than usual. The dough was easier to handle and control, and the only thing I was really worried about was how to make all the fancy shapes -- the bear claws, pinwheels, stars, twisty businesses, turnovers, and envelope thingies. First things first, we got our doughs in shape and managed to make our fillings while the dough was resting. I made a lemon custard -- remember my contretemps with the crème patisserie? Yeah, well, I conquered it a few weeks ago and then lost my nerve again because of what happened today. I followed every direction, measurement, blah blah blah precisecakes, but I still screwed it up. The pastry cream refused to do the volcanic "bloop bloop" boil and then, horror of horrors, the damn thing separated! I took it to Chef who attempted to bring it around with a little heavy cream defibrillator action but, alas, the stuff was DOA. However, because she's such an awesome Chef Instructor, Chef said we would do a new custard together, step by step. We did it, and the same thing happened -- it started to separate before the boil. But, we were looking for it, so as soon as it showed signs of being overly glossy, we took it off the heat and immediately water-bathed it. The addition of the lemon juice and zest helped repair even more damage because it emulsified the breaking custard. Plus, everyone knows that lemon juice (an acid) stretches coagulation of yolks. Yeah, I do! So, we saved the second pastry cream, and the first disaster wasn't my fault. Chef Passion said she was going to have a talk with the chef who wrote the recipe because it was clearly wrong. Cha-ching! The lemon custard went in the fridge to chill and solidify while I turned my attention back to the dough.

Roll. Roll. Square off. Square off. Roll. Roll. Square off. Square off. Damn dough kept snapping back because of all the activated gluten. Which is good in this case. Finally, I got it to the right size and I took my pastry wheel and nipped off the edges so it was perfectly square. Then I decided on my shapes -- bear claws, stars (which look more like pinwheels if you ask me), and envelope thingies because they looked the hardest. The dough was so excited by the yeast inside that it was rising even as we worked with it. Because of that, it didn't need to go into the proofing box before the final step of baking. I quickly applied the dorure and we all took turns popping our sheets into the convection oven. As the finished Danishes came out, we brushed them with a simple sugar glaze and drizzled a rum-almond icing over them. They were all gorgeous. I have to admit that I was particularly proud of mine, but all of them turned out incredibly well. The people who made croissants also did an amazing job. Some were filled with caramelized onions and cream cheese, or spinach, goat cheese and tons of garlic. Others had a mushroom, onion, garlic, gruyere filling and still more had ham and gruyere rolled inside. They were delicious and I packed a bunch into a very large Tupperware container I bought last week especially for that purpose. Mathra was thrilled with dinner that night. And dessert, as a matter of fact, because I brought home a selection of the Danishes as well.

October 10, 2002

Keckler's Test Kitchen

God, we had an outbreak of butter overdose this weekend. On Thursday night, Woody came over to be my guinea pig and to catch up on months of gossip. Normally, being a breakfast pastry, Danishes wouldn't be served after dinner, but they were my recipe of the week and I had to practice. As predicted, they took me the better part of the day. In between turns, I made a successful lemon custard as well as the simple sugar glaze and the rum-almond icing. The Danishes only came out so-so. I'm still getting used to my tiny oven with all it's quirks, and I managed to burn the bottoms of the Danishes that were on the lowest rack, but they still rose, had lots of layers and at the very least, the top part was very good. Only the bottom sixteenth of an inch was inedible to the normal person. Mathra, not being very normal, ate that part as well. He took a few of the good ones to our super and the rest into the math department for the secretaries.

Dessert taken care of, I turned myself to dinner. Since there's been such a lovely nip in the air with some cold rain falling, I thought a hot, velvety, spicy soup would be in order. I didn't make the stock from scratch, instead thinking I could get on very will with my cans of College Inn, so that cut down on some of the prep time. After doing a reasonable brunoise of my scallions, carrots, and celery, I started butter-wilting the diced onions in my stockpot. When the scallions, carrots, and celery (the mirepoix) simmered in their water for the appropriate amount of time, I took them off the heat and reserved them until they were needed again. Then everything started happening at once, I made the roux in the onions and added the scalded milk and stock. After all that was whisked smooth, I dumped in the grated sharp cheddar cheese, mirepoix and water, powdered mustard, and seasonings. The cheese melted, and I was just testing and adjusting the seasonings when Woody arrived. Mathra whipped out some Post Road for us and we relaxed for a bit before I finished the autumn salad of purple grapes, gorgonzola, and toasted walnuts over mixed wild greens with a pinot noir vinaigrette. I ladled the soup into our everyday china and napped a dash of cayenne across the top. It made a nice russet splash of color across the pale yellow soup with nuggets of orange and green popping up here and there. Dinner was served, and man did the smoke pour out of Woody's ears. I'm used to Mathra having a stomach and taste buds of steel and, of course, being perpetually afraid of making things too bland, so maybe I added a touch too much cayenne for Woody's taste. I'm pretty sensitive to hot and spicy and I didn't react much beyond getting a runny nose so maybe it's just a spicy soup. Anyway, despite the spice, she cleaned her plate with some warm francesi slices. And if there was even any doubt about whether or not she liked any part of my cooking that night, she asked me cater her wedding. We had *just* enough room for another beer each and some Danishes, which were another success.

So, I will definitely make the English Cheddar Chowder again, although I might get a little creative and try a few variations on the theme. Maybe replace some of the stock with beer or add a few tablespoons of sherry. I also could exchange the cayenne for paprika, and increase the mustard powder allotment. I bought whole milk in order to make the pastry cream for the lemon custard, and I used that in the soup, but next time I think I could try a milk with less butterfat.

Boy, after this weekend, I do wish I had the energy to make a consommé -- I think we could do with something delicate and calming.

Oh well, that's what Pepto-Bismol is for.

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