Sixth Week: Dry Heat Cooking and Bread
October 14, 2002

Steak is a dish best served cold

Fall finally drags its lazy ass up to Boston and greets me by belting me a good one right in the sinuses. Yep, I hab a code. Snotty, stuffy, whiny, and crabby is how my Sunday began and ended. I was supposed to be studying for my sanitation exam but it's hard to know listeria from cigura when you're seriously concerned that, with that last sneeze, you blew out the chunk of brain that actually knew which was a toxin and which was a food borne illness that has now triggered a major recall of Wampler products.

Bolstered by Claritin-D, an indifferent night's sleep, and several hot lashings of coffee, I walked my eleven blocks just so I could annoy my fellow classmates with incessant sniffing every three-point-five minutes. I know they're all thinking, "Why don't you just blow your nose already?" But, see, my nose just doesn't blow. When I try, nothing of significance comes out and my eardrums open and close several times in protest. So, it's actually pretty pointless.

Once we were in the kitchen, moving around, getting stuff started, my nostrils cleared up and I felt much better. Today, with dry heat cookery being the lesson, we were going to pan-broil and pan-fry several pounds of sirloin strip and serve them, sliced on the bias, with four different sauces. Dry heat cookery really doesn't take that long so Jonny and I completed our mis-en-place for our Morvandeau sauce, grabbed our two steaks, restocked Kitchen B's supplies (we were both on Kitchen Management that day) and wandered around to help others. We frenched some green beans and watched Manitoba "turn" several pounds of potatoes -- what a waste of time and energy both those processes are. Granted, when they've been evenly cooked to russet and gold in their clarified butter, turned potatoes come out looking quite delectable and would do any plate proud, but whittling a normal-sized baking potato down 1/8 its size with the seven equal sides is just murderous. I saw Bobby Flay demo it and comment how much he loathed doing bowl after inspected bowl of them at CIA. Chef Directrix also expressed no great love for the process but figured we should learn it. Whoever came up with "seven" as the number of the sides much have been some sort of Biblical freak. Some of the baking potatoes were melon-balled, blanched and also cooked in clarified butter to make pommes chateau. Chef wanted both kinds made so we could see which we liked better. I liked them both, but Chef is not a fan of the blanching-before-cooking process, so she prefers the turned potatoes, which are just called pommes de terre.

We had a soup ahead of time, which probably would have been really delicious if I had any tastebuds to taste it with. But I don't. It was a vegetable soup based on a carrot, tomato, potato purée with orzo, Parmesan Reggiano, and green peas. It finishes with a nice autumnal orange color, so it's definitely an attractive addition to the seasonal table.

Jonny and I were going to make pan-broiled steak Morvandeau. Pan-broiling is simple -- it's just searing the meat in no or minimal fat (usually canola oil) for about two to three minutes per side or until the meat comes easily away from the pan. Two of the steak au poivre were encrusted with black peppercorns and pan-fried -- which is dry heat cooking with 1/8-inch amount of oil in the pan -- and the other two steak au poivre -- which were not encrusted with peppercorns but had green peppercorns added to their sauce -- were pan-broiled in a dry pan. Our steak Morvandeau had a tiny bit of oil drizzled in, drained out, and then the pan was wiped clean with paper toweling. That way, we got to see three different ways of doing the dry heat cooking in a pan. The two kinds of steak au poivre called for flambé, so the overhead fans were turned off for safety's sake, but there's a ton of smoke coming off these hot Le Cruset pans -- fat added or not -- and the smoke detectors went off. The school is directly across the street from a fire station, and I'm thinking those guys must be used to our false alarms, because nobody took any interest in us whatsoever.

Now, I like my red meat pretty bloody but one of our steaks was still purple and squishy in the middle even after the prescribed cooking and resting times. Jonny took emergency action by taking that stubborn piece over to the higher-heat stove (we were using the demo, electric stove, which tends not to get as hot) as I sautéed the shallots in butter and deglazed the pan with Dijon mustard dissolved in white wine. At the very end, I had to mount the butter or monter la beurre. Which just means adding some butter to the warm (not hot) sauce and whisking it in as a thickener. In my humble opinion, when all said and done and all the sliced steaks were presented with the four different sauces, our sauce was the clear winner for those with the discerningest of discerning pallet.

However, for some reason, everyone's timing was way off and the steaks were done before the potatoes had finished and there was mass chaos and Chef was not happy with us at all. Our seasonings were good (except for the salad dressing that she pronounced to be bland) but our timing sucked. Our steaks were cold, the popovers were room temperature instead of warm, and the frenched beans were a tad overdone and khaki-colored. Ran off to join the army? Luckily, the popovers came with a chilled garlic butter and that, combined with the horseradish in the green bean sauce, and all the steak sauces, made for some pretty sit-up-an-take-notice flavors. I still thought everything tasted pretty wonderful. But that might be because I could only taste the most strong of flavors today.

October 16th, 2002

"A loaf of bread," the Walrus said, "is chiefly what we need."

And that's chiefly what we made.

We got our quizzes back from last week, and I'm psyched to report that I got a modest 100%. It was an easy baking day -- we made about thirteen different breads. I begged to do the rosemary olive, but since only one biga had been made ahead of time, mine was going to be a bit of an experiment.

Usually, the biga has to rise for three hours and we only gave mine about an hour before adding it to the dough. The recipe called for one-third cup of coarsely chopped olives and two tablespoons of rosemary. In the end, we all agreed that neither measurement was enough. Next time, I'm going for double the rosemary and triple the olives. I worked with Tarsis, who used the prepared biga. She fashioned her dough into a crown made up of lots of smaller rolls. It came out pretty nice. I put my dough into two loaf pans and cut slashes in the tops. Chef Passion taste-tested mine and Tarsis' to determine whether the one-hour biga differed much from the prepared three-hour biga. She was pleased and interested to note that she couldn't detect any variation in taste, texture, or look. I was pleased as well since we had so much bread, I got to bring whole loaf (still warm) home to Mathra.

Much like Danish Day, we didn't bother too much with presentation when everything was finished. Instead, we grouped stuff together in big baskets -- like a bakery. Everything came out very well, we had a cheese bread made with gruyere and another made with cheddar. The cheese breads were both divided up into three long rolls, dipped in poppy seeds, sesame seeds, or grated cheese and then braided together. Manitoba and Strawberry Shortcake got confused with the braiding, but luckily -- having had my hair yanked, er, braided every morning for ten years -- I was on hand to help out. Both breads really came out quite nicely. One of the two boys in the class made some cinnamon-sugar bagels and some onion bagels and prepared a compound cream cheese with chives to go along with it. Pretzels appeared golden-brown and twisted with a mustard dipping sauce. There was a soft herb bread that was sweet and buttercup-yellow on the inside, and a gorgeous knotted challah with an orange compound butter.

It was a successful and relatively relaxing day, and there's just something so soothing about having bread baking in the oven -- especially when the weather outside is sharp and wet as it has been in Boston. I made French Onion Soup with thyme and stilton and served slices of my olive-rosemary loaf with it. Over the course of the weekend, Mathra and I successfully finished off the rest of it with a compound butter (garlic and thyme) and a compound cream cheese (scallion and black pepper).

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