Weeks Eight & Nine: I Need a Stomach Pump
October 28, 2002

Love Lamb and Prosper

Lamb is the reason why I could never be a vegetarian. I love the chops, the kabob, the legs, the stew -- all of it. In fact, it's also the only gravy made from meat juices I like. When we divided up recipes, my hand shot in the air for the Gigot Persillade. Susan and I got to work together on this huge leg of lamb that easily weighed in at ten pounds. Although, we aren't completely sure what the exact weight was since we didn't weigh it until after Chef Directrix had "trimmed" the bone (removed the hip socket) and we had removed the fat and fell, but Chef Directrix thought it was a good guess. Point is, the thing was large and in charge.

Fell is odd stuff. It's thick, waxy, slightly smelly and used to make lanolin lotion. Back in the old country, during ye old times, people spread lanolin on their chests and covered themselves with sheepskin to ward off colds -- who knows, they might still do that somewhere in Minnesota -- which must have given people (who already didn't wash much) a really ripe odor. It took us for-freaking-ever to remove all the fat and fell -- several hours, in fact -- after which, we took the monster downstairs and weighed it out. It came to six-and-a-half pounds. The weight of the leg after the fat and fell are removed is very important because it determines the cooking time: twelve minutes per pound.

This was a pretty easy dish to make, since most of the work came in removing the fell, fat, and bone. We heisted the lamb onto a sheet pan and popped it in a 400 degree oven. Earlier I had mixed up the persillade of garlic, rosemary, thyme, chervil, marjoram, parsley, savory, and breadcrumbs, but it didn't come into play until the gigot was almost done. When it was twenty minutes away from being finished, we pulled it out, brushed it with Dijon mustard, patted on the persillade, and drizzled melted butter over the whole leg.

Then we waited.

And waited.

We kept jabbing it with our two thermometers to test its doneness, but the temp kept fluctuating in various places. Finally we just hauled it out and Chef Directrix sliced it up. It was definitely well-done in places, but closer to the bone it was pink, red and juicy -- exactly the way I like it. It was delicious. Even while we cleaned dishes later, I kept snatching pieces crusted with the persillade.

Other dishes made that day were: Finte Costolettine di Agnello al Finocchio (Fake lamb cutlets with fennel), which was spiced ground lamb shaped into chops (cutlets), breaded, and pan-fried. They were incredibly delicious, and the crushed fennel seeds really brought out the flavor of the lamb. I will make that dish again and again.

The Middle Eastern Kibbeh Naye was only okay -- I think I will try it at home but I wasn't particularly wild about it in class. Maybe it was the bulgar, I don't know. Ditto for the Abbacchio Brodettato (baby lamb in egg and lemon sauce), which was basically lamb stew with a lemon-egg sauce. It just didn't grab me -- not much flavor except in the sauce but again, I would try this at home to see what I could do with it. A side dish of eggplant flans was presented, and while I am incredibly repulsed by the squishy-snotty texture of flan, these were really tasty with the Gigot Persillade.

Dessert was a Egyptian pastry called Konafa. It was made from Kataifi pastry -- shredded phyllo dough -- lemon juice, sugar, cornstarch, rose water, and half-and-half. It was really delicate and had such an exotic flavor, I really want to try it at home if I can find the pastry.

October 30, 2002

Infinite Brioche in Infinite Combinations

I don't know if I can ever make brioche at home. It was really good, but it was just so heavy -- it sat like a kilo of rocks in all of our stomachs at the end of the day. The first dish out was Day Lewis' brie-encased brioche, and it was so delicious that if I ever brioche at home, it will be to make this. Day Lewis served his brioched brie with apple slices and a strawberry mayonnaise that he invented himself. Chef Passion explained how we could fill the brie with fruit, preserves, or nuts before encasing it in the brioche dough so that when you cut into it, the hot brie or camembert oozes out, pulling the filling along with its molten flow. I want to use my homemade orange-cranberry sauce for that purpose since I usually top hot brie with it around the holidays.

Flapper and I worked on Saucisson en Croute together and we did indeed "take it to the next level." Instead of being satisfied with encasing the knockwurst in the brioche, we rolled the sausage in coarse Dijon, grated cheeses (gruyere and parmesan), and caramelized onions that had been dried in the oven. They were certainly tasty, but by the time I got my leftovers home, all I could handle was pulling out the sausage and eating it sans brioche. Other brioche was made -- citrus twists, two kinds of pizza, marignans, a strudel -- but honestly, it cramps my stomach to recall them. Although, I do recall that Jonny's citrus twists were particularly exquisite.

November 4, 2002

Gone Fishin'

We got our quizzed back from the week before, I got a 90%. Annoyed by that score, yes I am.

It was hard to tell who among our class was actually looking forward to this class since no one really beat anyone else to a pulp to get certain dish assignments. I was holding out for the Halibut Fillets in a Potato and Horseradish Crust, but when nobody raised their hand to make Wine Court Bouillon, I sacrificed my preference. For the good of the class, I gave up my first choice.

Actually, I did it because I noted the night before that it's included on the list of master recipes we have to memorize for the practicums. It's a general poaching medium for most fish and it was really easy to make, so I made short work of it and set it aside for the salmon steak poachers. For one reason or another, a bunch of side dishes hadn't been assigned to anyone, and because I was set on changing my opinion of the bland little legume, I took on the Lima Bean Puree. First thing to do was boil the limas for ten minutes in order to get them to the level of mushiness needed in order to puree them. Pretty easy as long as you don't have someone who fancies himself a Ringer turning off your flame way before ten minutes were up because, without even reading the recipe, he decided your lima beans were done. Without naming names, I asked Chef Directrix if the recipe was in fact wrong when it told me to boil for ten minutes. She tested the beans and opined that if they were being served as is, they were done enough, but since they were going to be pulverized, they weren't even close to desired softness. Hah! What really pissed me off is that Ringer didn't even ask before turning the flame off -- he just did it. Buttmunch. Satisfyingly enough, at the end of the day, Chef Directrix made a point of saying that the lima beans had to be boiled for the full ten minutes for the dish to be as successful as I made it. Hah! Hah! The beans were pureed with sautéed onions and heavy cream. Butter, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, and seasonings were added as the beans were gently reheated on the stove. You know what? They weren't half bad. I mean, people liked them and I didn't gag when I tried them. So, that's something.

The third recipe I took on of that day was rice with dill. This was interesting to prepare, because, without heeding the liquid:water ratio as you would with a pilaf or a risotto, you just throw the rice into lots of boiling water and simmer for almost twenty minutes. "Like pasta," Chef Directrix told me. After it's drained and rinsed clear, the rice is put into a baking dish with butter and seasoning and oven-dried for twenty minutes. I fluffed occasionally with two forks and seasoned with chopped, fresh dill right before serving.

Of all the fish prepared, the halibut encased in a horseradish-potato crust was my favorite. It could be because halibut is quickly becoming my favorite fish, or it could be because Strawberry Shortcake and Manitoba made it and Strawberry Shortcake's stuff usually comes out really well. The salmon steaks that were poached in my wine court bouillon and served with a watercress sauce tasted pretty good except the sauce seemed a bit overly fishy in taste. I think it had something to do with the fish fumet they used, but I'm not entirely certain what the story is there. Not being a fan of fish stew or catfish, I decided not to try the Catfish Étouffée and I only had the minutest sliver of the Herb-Stuffed Bass in Lettuce Casing that was roasted whole in the oven. Chef Directrix actually discovered a portion of the digestive tract that Roach and Tarsis didn't remove from the bass. Yummy.

Aside from the salmon steak people using a scoopful of it, no one else seemed to need my dill rice as part of their fish presentation. Same went for Twinkie's Leeks with Sweet Red Pepper and Mushrooms, so we combined the two and made our own colorful presentation. The star of the day was clearly the Fresh Pineapple Pie. Oh. My. God. It was unbelievable. I'll admit, I was skeptical of how hot pineapple would be at first, but this was a stupendous pie. Among other things, the filling has fresh pineapple, crushed canned pineapple, vodka, brown sugar and breadcrumbs in it and I haven't tasted its equivalent ever. The pie was served with vanilla bean ice cream and a more perfect accompaniment could never be found.

November 6, 2002

Phyllo Facts

We had a quiz and a progress report session with Chef Passion. Chef Jan told me I got 100% on my quiz -- that makes two in a row, baby! -- and also told me how she thought I was doing. It was all good, with only one thing that really made me giggle: she told me I was very intense. What else is new? I am a Scorpio and born worrywart, after all. Among other nice things, she told me I was very careful, exacting, hardworking, extremely energetic, didn't run with scissors, and worked well with others. The only thing she thinks I should work on is developing my visual sense. She wants me to look at more magazines and books and think harder about taking everything To The Next Level.

The actual baking part of the day was interesting as well. Some of us made strudel dough while the rest of us learned how to work with already prepared phyllo dough. The key? Tons of clarified, melted butter on every layer. I made Beggars' Purses with a Mushroom Filling. After softening the shallots and mushrooms, adding chopped tomatoes and heavy cream, I dropped in some sherry and let it evaporate. There was no other flavoring in the recipe besides chopped tarragon, salt, and pepper but I still felt it need something so I added a squeeze of lemon and grated in some fresh nutmeg. The nutmeg provided a nice depth and the lemon juice brightened the taste considerably. I'm not a big fan of heavy cream so next time I think I'll just do what I do at home: soften some Boursin with the mushroom mixture, omit the tarragon and keep the nutmeg and lemon.

The phyllo purses were made by cutting the dough into squares, buttering four sheets, spooning in a bit of the filling, and scrunching and pinching the phyllo together to shape it. Once I did two or three, it was pretty easy. They baked off well, too.

Since Manitoba helped me with my Beggars' Purses, I helped her with her Floyers, or Custard Hornes. They were shaped more like egg rolls, though. I'm not sure why Chef had us do them that way, but they looked very cute. The floyers were filled with a farina custard cream, and once baked, were drizzled with a clove and cinnamon infused sugar syrup.

In between preps, Manitoba and I helped Strawberry Shortcake "stretch" her strudel dough. This was a trip. Four of us stood around a floured table and rested the dough on top of our flour-drenched knuckles. At Chef's command, we lifted the dough up and passed it along our knuckles while walking around the table in a circle. Sounds like some sort of Wiccan fertility ritual, doesn't it? It was amazing how little motion was needed to stretch this dough to the point where you could literally read a newspaper through it. When other classmates did it to Flapper's strudel, I took pictures of the ring-around-the-doughsie to commemorate the event.

Over Christmas break, I'm going to be scanning in all my photos and posting them here. By the end of the graduation, I have to have a presentation portfolio with all my dishes, so it will be good practice.

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