Saturday, January 30, 2010

Feral Feastin'

We stopped at The Big Cheese again yesterday to stock up for a cheese and "O Brother, Where Art Thou" party. But the big find was a splendid new book (only $4!) - Gourmet Cooking for Free, by Bradford Angier (1970).

Within its pages are recipes for things I can only dream about eating - animals and plants that most people haven't even seen, let alone munched on. Beaverburgers anyone?

I'll have to acquire some serious hunting skills to tackle many of these dishes:
Woodcock with cream
Roast coon
Porcupine liver
Pheasant hash
Beavertail soup
Fricasseed lynx
Crow with rice
Grouse alone can be broiled, creamed, roasted, and spitted. Oh yum! (and I mean it)

Here is one recipe to give you a taste:

Older Squirrels
... Or, particularly if you have a brace of squirrels that are among the elders of their clan, cut them into pieces. Brown these in 3 tablespoons of butter in an uncovered, large, heavy frypan.
Meanwhile, dice 1/2 dozen slices of bacon and bronze these in another pan, tipping the accumulating fat to one side so the bits can tan more deeply. Then add a diced onion, 1/4 diced green pepper, and a cup of chopped fresh mushrooms. Saute to a rich brown. Season to taste with salt, paprika, and freshly ground black pepper.
Cascade all this over the sizzling portions of squirrel. Add 3 tablespoons of flour mixed smoothly with a cup of dry sherry. Cover and simmer about an hour or until a sharp fork inserts and withdraws from a test piece of meat without binding, by which time it will whet the most jaded appetite. Serve with bountiful mashed potatoes.

I know what I'm eating for lunch tomorrow. I just have to remember to pick up a couple elderly squirrels on my way back from the Stop & Shop.

It's a real shame what's happened to cookbooks these days - they're just so tame.

A Picture

A sweet photo of Gorg, to warm your day.

It's 10 degrees where I am...

Day 3

What a bad person I am - reneging my blogger duties. I'll try to remedy that this weekend!

Thursday was finally what I would call a "good" day for our team. Not all perfect, but I walked away from class feeling optimistic for once (versus the feeling of wanting to run far, far away from Hyde Park).

We got our demo plate up precisely at 10:25, sold most of our plates in the 30 minutes of service, and were complimented by Chef ("I overheard a lady in the dining room telling her friend how delicious her mujadra was"). Yay!

I apologize for not really commenting on the food until this point - my general state of fear and nervousness, sleep deprivation and lack of appetite the first two days hardly made me want to rhapsodize about the food.

But obviously, my education and love are for food. And we're making some pretty tasty food.

I thought our dish, mujadra, was boring at first. Lentils and rice, on a pita? Carbs, carbs, and more carbs. But how delicious it is! The rice and lentils are cooked in flavorful vegetable stock, infused with lots of ginger and garlic, some chilies and allspice, onions and olive oil. The pita is soft and warm, and mounded with this mixture. Then a layer of caramelized onions, super sweet. The whole thing is topped off with a dollop of thick garlicky yogurt and spicy harissa. Mediterranean soul food at its best.

The lamb stew is another of my favorites. The vegetables vary each day - turnips, carrots, zucchini, winter squash, and others - but it's always thickened by the chickpeas that cook in the liquid. The stew is served on a bed of couscous - real couscous - ones that are first soaked, then steamed, not once or twice but three times, over top the simmering lamb. Between each round of steaming, the couscous are rubbed together by hand to separate and aerate the grains. This method (versus dumping boiling water over them and letting them drown and suffocate) produces couscous that are exceptionally fragrant, tender and light. Raisins soaked in rose water add a sweet touch to the dish.

Of the mezze, the manti are magically delicious. The ground lamb inside is mixed with lots of cooked minced onion, parsley, and mint. After cooking, the dumplings are given a quick saute with lots of butter infused with fresh mint and sage and cayenne, then served with more garlic yogurt. So good!

I wish the Bisteeya team's phyllo dough had cooperated better, because they weren't able to serve their dish every day. A real shame, I think. Bisteeya is a sweet-savory pie, made in Morocco for special occasions. When cooking for a wedding, traditionally the most valuable ingredients are put to use - pigeon, eggs, nuts, saffron, and sweet spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Our class used chicken, but it was otherwise unchanged - crisp phyllo crust with a sweet custardy middle, braised shredded chicken, toasted almonds and walnuts, warm spices and butter. The top is dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon.

After class on Thursday I spent five hours studying and prepping for the next day and completing a take-home quiz. That left me with precisely one hour of down time. I haven't looked forward to a weekend this much in a long time!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Day 2; Need Some Comfort Food

Nothing comforts like the bliss of a Townhouse cracker topped with chips of good cold butter. The cracker - crisp, buttery, and addictive; the even butterier butter - cold, slowly melting and salty. Comfort food at its most basic - at least to me. And I sure do need me some comfort food tonight!!

Class certainly wasn't worse than yesterday, but we still have a long way to go. Actually, Chef told us that among her past classes, ours showed the highest rate of improvement between Day 1 and 2. I'll take that as a compliment (they're sparse these days!), but I wonder how much worse our Day 1 was than all the others....

Once again I felt helpless, doing pitas all morning and not being able to assist Paul. But we almost were ready on time, which means we got to do a demo with Chef and have a fighting chance for a grade higher than an F. Plus, the kitchen stayed open the full half hour for service and all the food was really tasty.

I would say it can only keep getting better, but that's not true. Tonight I need to study for a quiz, research the dishes, revise my time lines and game plan, and miraculously get three times faster at everything I do - we have a monumental amount of prep tomorrow.

Pass the butter ... please!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Day One of Meds

Oh, stupid me. I spoke way too soon about Meds being simpler than I thought.

We were behind before we even walked in the kitchen, and it only got worse.

But first, an explanation.

Days 1 through 4 focus on the Middle East. There are six main dishes on this menu, with two students per dish. Another student is sous-chef (they keep everyone on task, informed, etc, and expedite during service), and another is tournant (doing extra jobs, prep, etc). The remaining five students worked on the mezze - hummus, baba ghanoush (eggplant dip), cacik (cucumber-yogurt salad), tabouleh (bulgar wheat salad), falafel, dolmas, msoura (carrot salad), and manti (delicious lamb dumplings).

The main dishes were: shrimp chelow (sauteed shrimp in a spiced sauce with Persian rice pilaf), chicken tagine, Bisteeya (chicken pie), mujadra (rustic brown rice and lentils with caramelized onions), kilic sis (grilled marinated hamachi skewers), and a lamb and pumpkin stew. All the dishes were served with rice pilaf or couscous, swiss chard, and accompanying sauces such as harissa.

Paul and I were on the vegetarian dish - mujadra. It's a peasant dish made throughout the Middle East. Rice and lentils, cooked perfectly, then seasoned and topped with caramelized onions. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, first we had to make a vegetable stock to cook the rice and lentils in, before anything else. Chard had to be washed, dried, stemmed and torn, and later sauteed to order. Lebneh (thick yogurt with olive oil and garlic) was mixed. Pita dough was made, and after rising was divided, weighed, preshaped, then rolled. The bread was baked in a 550 degree deck oven. Lima beans had to be soaked, then peeled one-by-one for frying later. Nothing difficult in the least, but getting it all done in 90 minutes with only two square feet of work space per person? A little trickier. In fact, no one was ready for demo at 10:30 - NO ONE!!! - and family meal (our lunch) simply didn't happen. The doors opened and students started ordering, and Chef hadn't even tasted our food or showed us a plating demo! Not good. In fact, the most popular dishes/teams got swamped within five minutes, and Chef closed the doors right after. As a class, we had only sold 33 plates, a pathetic third of what should have been. Two teams couldn't serve because they weren't ready in time, or their food wasn't right.

And no one kept up on their dirty dishes or cleaned the kitchen fast enough. But tomorrow should hopefully be a little better, since we all know the layout of the kitchen (walking into a new kitchen blind on the first day is bad enough), we know our dishes and have a better grasp of the timing and how things are done, and we'll be more mentally prepared. Then again, Chef has been known to mix it up a little by randomly switching everyone to a new dish....
Not tomorrow, please!

Today there were 19 in our class. We'll see about tomorrow.
Oh, and 16 out of 19 failed for the day.

Monday, January 25, 2010


Well, tomorrow is the start of Cuisines of Europe and the Mediterranean. Like everyone at school, I will hereafter refer to it simply as "Meds" - which makes no sense to me but is a whole lot less of a mouthful.

I've had to do a daunting amount of studying and planning prior to Day 1, and I'm a little worried. I keep reminding myself that this isn't Meadowood, and take a deep breath and calm down. But the multitudes of prep lists, ingredient and equipment lists, timelines and study questions and station diagrams is enough to make me want to go back to Baking. Of course I always worry too much, and everything will be just fine. Although, maybe I shouldn't say that just yet...

In other news, Keith and James and I drove down to Rockland (almost New Jersey) to witness an amazing commercial bakery, one that simply hands you plastic gloves and a paper bag and sets you loose on the production floor to bag bagels right off the conveyor belts. I abstained - it's much too soon after Baking - but it was pretty tempting. I've never seen so many types of breads, so many carts and baskets of bagels and loaves and pastries, so cheap by the pound!

And then we went to an awesome kosher deli, where we all devoured hot corned beef and pastrami on rye with coleslaw and Russian dressing, and many dill pickles on the side. You can't beat that.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


Iris is my first and favorite cow, and the sweetheart of our cow family. Actually, right now she is the only bovine on our property. But I plan to remedy that this summer....

We bought her in June 2003 when I had just turned 14, from the Wechslers of Samish Bay Cheese.

She gave birth to Mo that January, but had such an atrocious time calving that we never bred her back. This would be enough for most dairy farmers to send a cow straight to slaughter, but I kept milking her for another four years. And after that, she raised a calf.

A cow needs to be milked every twelve hours, every single day. That first year I woke up at five-something each morning to milk her before school. And come 6 PM, no matter where I was, I would have to rush home to milk again. Every single day! Such is the life of a milk maid - slave to the cow.

(winter coat)

After the first year I met Charlene, who was willing to milk Iris in exchange for milk. This made our lives so much easier! All through high school Charlene milked every school morning, while I did the evening milkings. Eventually I switched to once-a-day milking, which made things even simpler, although it also meant less milk. So of course, I turned around and bought another cow (Lil), and we were right back to that 12-hour schedule!

Other cows and steers have come and gone, but Iris still roams the pastures of Fort Bantam. She is now milk-free and retired, but currently living the good life and enjoying a midlife career change - horse baby sitter.

I have to say - Lil's milk was mighty fine, and raw milk from other farms is quite tasty - but nothing will ever come close to Iris's milk - creamy and sweet and luscious - simply incomparable.

And isn't she cute?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Goodbye Baking and Pastry...

The end of Baking and Pastry, and a sad day. Well, not horribly sad, but it was definitely the end of a very good thing and I will miss Chef Knaster.

Here's what I've been up to the last several days:

Wednesday, I was on bread team, so I made whole wheat pitas. It's actually a very simple bread - just combine and mix/knead the flours, water, yeast, salt and a touch of sugar and olive oil. Let the dough proof for an hour, then shape and bake. Actually, the shaping was a bit involved, owing to the fact that each of the 35 pitas were first rolled into a seamless ball, then flattened and partially rolled, then rolled out to a nine-inch circle. I slid them off the wood peels and into a 500 degree oven. They're done in just four minutes - puffed into a sphere, slightly brown on the bottom, delicious. I mixed up a huge batch of hummus and it made a fine lunch.

Thursday I made Armagnac Prune and Walnut Galettes - rustic tarts made with a flaky butter pastry, a layer of sweet walnut filling, and topped with prunes rehydrated in Armagnac and vanilla syrup. Life doesn't get much better than a slice of this tart, served warm from the oven with a dollop of creme fraiche. Thanks for the recipe, Chris!

In preparation for today's pizza, I brought in five quarts of fresh raw milk to class and made real mozzarella. Illegal cheese...! It's true; you can't buy fresh, milky mozzarella like this anywhere in the country. Italy, yes. But it's sad how most people don't know what mozzarella should taste like - all they know is the rubbery, plastic-tasting mass one finds in the grocery store. Mmmm! Plastic and rubber! For the pizza today we also had to use cheese curd mozzarella because I just couldn't make enough from the five quarts. I thought it might actually be good, but no. Sure, it melts. But it has no flavor, and is way too chewy. The handmade one tasted like fresh, sweet milk, and oozed rich cream when bitten.

I must say, though - the Italian stuff is even better. I experienced Mozzarella di bufala for the first (and only, regretfully) time in Florence about five years ago. What I make at home has the ability to transport me back to that sunny piazza where we devoured a whole ball of the luxurious cheese with perfect tomatoes and basil and olive oil, and slurped down handmade goat cheese tortelloni with shaved truffles. I must go back. Though I wouldn't say no to buying and milking my own water buffalo....

Back to the pizza. It was very good, though our ovens just aren't hot enough to produce the ideal crust. Better go to Italy or Stroll-Inn (McKees Rocks, Pittsburgh) for the really good stuff!

I worked with Kendall and Amanda today for our chocolate truffles. We made two types: Port (enlisting the use of a half bottle of port, reduced to a syrup), and Bourbon and Coke. We used Coke syrup in place of glucose, and added a healthy dose of Makers Mark, albeit over Chef's recommended 10% of the chocolate's weight - try 20-25% !!! Pretty awesome, I must say. They were visually stunning too, since I used colored cocoa butters to pattern the molds - purple swirls for the port truffles, red and gold splatters for the Bourbon and Cokes. I ate way too many.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Junebug the Filly

Sorry I'm not writing anything tonight. Our B&P final is tomorrow and it's somehow really late already.

But here is a video of our filly, Junebug, to tide you over.
My family just weaned her from her mom (Cheerio). She is in with a visiting friend (Lucy) and my Iris. Junebug is the little fuzzy one.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Cooking Lessons

I'm sure every home cook, at some time or another, wants a particular meal to be just a little more special. Perhaps they use some spiffy new ingredient, or fancy china. Maybe they decide to actually make it look pretty on the plate. Too difficult? Perhaps they should reach for a pair of tweezers and stick a couple bright flowers on top. That would make it real fine!

Come on. I know everyone is guilty of this at one point or another. Your fingers are just too big and stupid to make those blossoms look surreal enough without the special metallic touch of the tweezers.

I'm guilty of it myself.

Actually, I really am.

I worked at The Restaurant at Meadowood this summer under Chef Christopher Kostow. Chef Kostow himself is quoted in this fine article by The New York Times.

And plating with tweezers isn't that foolish - they're downright crucial at times in a restaurant like this.

Just keep the tweezers out of your home kitchen....

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

When in Doubt, Talk About Cats...

I'm surprised it took so long for this subject to arise, but here it is - my cat!

This is Gorgo.
aka Gorg, or The Gorg

Cats don't get much better than this fine specimen.


I do not like him in a box...

I do not like him on the rocks...

I do not like him with a paunch...

I do not like it here or there...

I do not like it anywhere...

...and so he needs to quit the kibble.

Just kidding! I love his stomach just how it is.

Please note: these are all photos taken back home. I do not have any cats with me at the CIA. I regret this painfully.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Other Part of My Day

i.e. the part not spent procuring New York's finest dairy products - was devoted to making yummy graham cracker bars - a base of handmade graham cracker, then milk chocolate and peanut butter, all topped with marshmallow. I'll cut them into squares tomorrow after I brûlée the marshmallow, then enrobe them in dark chocolate. Mmm - a one-bite peanut butter s'more...

After class I went for a walk 'n run through the woods. It was a fine, clear day - sweatshirt weather. I managed to find some deer and watch them for a while before they ever noticed me (the wind shifted). I consider this a great accomplishment, because I usually only spot them once they start bounding away from me with their huge white tails flopping back and forth.

The miniature daffodils sitting next to my laptop - bought only two days ago - have grown two inches and are suddenly blossoming all over the place. Every time I stick my nose over there I think it's spring, and then I see the snowflakes and Christmas lights I (still) have strung around my desk, and I get really confused. Daffodils in January in New York? At least it's spring in my mind.

Please Read - Important...

Today, something very important happened.

I ate a piece of cheese that ranks in my Top 5 Cheeses, ever.

Imagine the best sheep milk cheese you have ever had - the kind that's well-aged, nutty, caramely and rich - such as Ossau-Iraty. This was a Manchego, however, which isn't usually known to be that good. But it was, and so much better even then. It could be attributed to Yuval Sterer's expert aging - he buys young, promising cheeses, then tends them for many years in his warehouse (he's got some nine year old Fiscalini Cheddar...).

Whatever it was, this was one heck of a cheese. And the rind had gone all soft and funky and amazingly tasted like black truffles. We could have sworn the cheese was aged on a bed of them.

Oh, and we also snatched up a whole (mid-size/2.2 pound) Brie - for $5. Cheese party tomorrow!

We made it out to the farm for our weekly dose of raw milk - 4.5 gallons for us, friends, and making cheese. They were out of eggs, though.

All in all, a great day, dairy-wise.
We'll be back, Mr. Sterer!

The Big Cheese
402 Main Street
Rosendale, NY 12472
(845) 658-7175

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday Snow and Ricotta

Well, not the most exciting day, but we did get some snow and sleet. And I had been hoping winter was over! Bummer.

Actually, the weather was bad enough that we couldn't make it out to the farm for fresh milk. We'll go tomorrow.

I did go for a walk in the snow, and saw the herd of 14 deer. They're a lively bunch.

In my fridge I had a gallon of raw milk that turned (someone hadn't properly washed the bottles). So, when life gives you sour milk - make ricotta! And it was delicious. I made ricotta gnudi for dinner - little pasta-less dumplings (hence the "gnudi" or "naked") of fresh ricotta and grated aged goat cheese, just barely held together with an egg or two and some gluten-free flour mix. We ate them with browned butter and sauteed dice of local butternut squash. I would have liked to serve it with currants and pinenuts (a la Lark), but a college budget doesn't really allow for $20 per pound nuts!

Sorry that's it for tonight. Back to the bakeshop tomorrow!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Farm & Food Hopping

We kicked off our Saturday of farm & food hopping at 10:30 AM with a drive up to the Red Hook Winter market, housed in the Elmendorph Inn. The Inn is a tiny old building, but they sure pack a lot in the four rooms. Although today was an exceptionally warm day (it went up to the mid-40's!), it's nice to be able to look at and sample the vendors' wares in indoor comfort. Here's an idea of what you can buy: any of 20 or so varieties of apples, fresh cider and cider donuts, raw honey, currant juice and preserves, wine, parsnips and carrots and daikon radish, homemade ravioli, grassfed beef and lamb, naturally raised chickens and pork, cheese, Hudson Valley Fresh milk, fun-sized butternut squash, wool and yarn, candies and granola, and even more that doesn't come to mind right now.

After some coffee, we continued on to Pleasant Valley. Actually, I think we probably went to Pheasant Valley, considering that our next stop was Quattro's Game and Poultry Farm. Here the Quattrociocchi family has been raising fine birds (chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys and pheasants) and venison for over 50 years. We all agreed that their farm store is what every store aspires to be: first-rate butcher shop and grocery in one half of the store, gun shop in the other. Our Jeep was all alone in the long row of pickup trucks. Inside, two large freezers were like gold mines for meat fiends. We found whole chickens and livers, breakfast sausage and lamb shanks and whole pheasants, turkeys and geese, a jumbled profusion of carcasses and parts. Love it!

The three of us managed to spend over $80 on meat - a dry-aged steak for Jason, a pint o' livers for future pâté, a fresh chicken for tomorrow (killed just Thursday), a whole Pekin duck, some nice slab bacon, a pound of made-just-today truly hot Italian pork sausage, and a smoked venison sausage for snacking on the road. That poor sausage didn't make it too far! Pretty awesome stuff, I must say. Everyone should go to Quattro's - I know we'll be back.

Next was Sprout Creek Farm, home to absurdly cute Jersey calves and delicious cheese. We sampled cheese, bought cheese, and ate cheese all the way home. Sprout Creek also makes some amazing ice cream. We sat outside at the picnic table while it was 40 degrees and dug into our quart of Rocky Road and watched the calves frolic. I, being the cow lover, allowed the calves to slobber all over my hands. I wouldn't mind living here.

Our final stop was Adams Fairacre Farms. Jason described it as the Wal-Mart of the organic world, but I disagree. There is nothing remotely Wal-Mart-ish about it, except maybe the fact that you can find everything you'll ever need here. You can't buy locally made real whey ricotta or pork tongues or bay laurel trees at Wal-Mart though, can you? Nope.

Anyway, we all decided to never shop at Stop & Shop again. Nothing against S&S, but Adams meets our needs just a little better: a marvelous cheese display, affordable produce; a selection of butters numbering in the teens (even German!), a well-stocked plant nursery, and foie gras, should we ever need a fix. I also like how the selection of flower and vegetable seeds is far more vast than that of any garden center I've ever encountered.

We came home after that, and I glanced at the clock. It was almost five and the sun was setting fast and I was desperately in need of exercise. So of course I changed and jogged out into the woods for a quick run. It's a different world out there when the humans all go home. I heard a lot of weird animal noises - maybe coons? and I saw a pair of owls - honestly I couldn't identify them because it was too dark - but they were quite large and had small or no "ears". They swooped out of their respective trees and up the path, escorting me to the edge of the woods where they took off into the night.

I sat on the top of the hill, looking out at the whole FDR property spread out before me. From the woods to the left I could hear the birds bedding down for the night. The sun had already set, but the pink blush was slow to fade. The moon was only a tiny crescent high above in the clear sky. For a moment I smelled summer. Not a flash in my mind of what's to come, but the actual green grass and fresh air and warm leaves and life of East coast summers. It was uncanny. Normally it is so frigid all winter that I can't smell anything.

Then I was suddenly all cold and shivery, so I ran back down the highway to school.

Naturally, we had a lot of food to cook for dinner. We munched on cheese and finished our quart of ice cream while I made a very flavorful red lentil soup with lots of onions and some apples, plenty of garam masala and butter. To a salad of lettuce and beet greens we added sauteed red peppers and beet stems, butter-roasted cippolini onions, the hot Italian sausage and plenty of the grated goat cheese. I drizzled mine with spicy sausage drippings. I wish I could eat like this every day.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Too much food...

The onslaught of delicious, buttery, lardy, sugary, carbolicious treats has gotten a bit out of hand lately. Bagels start coming out of the oven at about 9:30 or 10, and I make a point of being there. I eat them toasted, with lots of butter and cream cheese. (There is no other way.)

Then the croissants arrive, as beautiful and buttery as any in France. Then the baklava, the struedels (apple as well as mushroom), cheese danishes and ice cream (mmm, graham cracker), cookies and opera torte, and YES - real cannoli!

I look forward to a brief two-day reprieve from eating!

Yesterday I had a salad for lunch and steamed broccoli for dinner. Today was much the same - salad and then yogurt and fruit. Health food chasers - that's what I call it.

Only one more week of Baking and Pastry, though. I know I'll miss this gluttony some day.

Tomorrow I'll be farm-hopping around the Hudson Valley - first to the farmer's market, then a gamebird farm, sheep ranch, and Sprout Creek Farm, makers of fine Jersey milk cheeses. Stay tuned for an exciting report!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

I Believe in Bacon

It's a lucky thing that I haven't suffocated yet. A tray of cinnamon rolls sits on my dresser, beckoning to me. The tray is covered in plastic and I keep pressing my nose into it to inhale the heavenly scent of butter, cinnamon, sweet yeasty dough and vanilla and smoky bacon and brown sugar. BACON?!?!?! Since when does bacon belong in cinnamon rolls? As of today, it does!

Natalie and I first heard of the idea from The Swinery, but decided to take matters into our own hands after being unable to obtain any over winter break. Chef K gave us a recipe for the best sweet dough imaginable (recipe to come soon). We used a half pound of butter and a half pound of rendered bacon fat in the dough, and maple sugar in place of white. We rolled it out and brushed it liberally with more bacon fat and butter, then spread it thick with dark brown sugar and cinnamon and 1 1/2 pounds of cooked bacon pieces. Upon exiting the oven, the rolls were slathered with a simple brown sugar - butter glaze.

It's stupid how good they are.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Too Cold and No Kittens

I was feeling all morose and angry that it was, once again, a cold day. What a surprise. It's been very cold here for quite a while, and I want spring to come sooner. It's times like these when I wish I could be back in Napa Valley (not in the kitchen, though...maybe some day I'll get up the courage to tell that story), where it was constantly 80-90 degrees and I wore flip flops every day. Grrrr.

Luckily a friend called just then and asked if I needed anything at Target, since they were going. Nothing at Target, but I sure needed to escape the school for a couple hours. We shopped at Target, wandered the mall briefly, looked for kittens at Petco (and upon finding none, lamented the fact that there isn't a K-Mart/Kitten-Mart closer to Hyde Park). We looked for an ice cream maker (and couldn't find any under $50). Yes, we want to make ice cream in January in New York. Especially tangerine. It's just what culinary students do.

Using the blitz puff dough from yesterday, I made tarte tatin in class today. Sugar and butter are melted in a pan (preferably cast iron, but we didn't have any in the bake shop), then apple halves (peeled and the core scooped out) are packed into the pan. They cook over medium heat for quite a while, until the sugar caramelizes and the apples start to slump down and become one with the sticky, buttery goodness below. A round of puff pastry is placed over the top of the apples, and the whole thing goes into the oven. The pastry puffs and becomes golden brown, the apples completely tender. The tarte is then flipped over (apples on top now) - and this is very important - eaten warm with gobs of whipped cream or creme fraiche.

Today's pretzel dough tasted exactly the same as yesterday's, so it seems like the butter is purely optional. But today's were far better anyway, because they were stuffed. Some we crammed with sauteed mushrooms and goat cheese, others went the sweet route with rum soaked raisins and cream cheese and a glaze of butter and cinnamon sugar. Both vanished within 15 minutes.

I didn't really eat lunch, so I had to make do with a couple hot stuffed pretzels and a slice of tarte tatin with more whipped sour cream than anyone else in class was brave enough to slap on their piece. The fools!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Earlier, I couldn't tell whether I was trying to force myself to go on a walk or stay inside. On one hand, I hiked about 4.5 miles through snow yesterday and my legs are really tired. But it was nice and clear and sunny, and (according to my computer) in the mid-30's! I compromised and went for a 3.5 mile road walk. It sure didn't feel like 34 degrees, though! The wind started up and the temperature dropped rapidly as the sun went down.

Today was a fun one for me - I made pretzels! Chewy, salty pretzels that we scarfed down with lots of mustard. I accidentally left out the butter in the recipe (a half pound), but they didn't suffer in the least. Maybe I discovered the trick to perfect soft pretzels (though generally, leaving any butter out of a recipe is about the worst thing I could do, ever).

I had forgotten just how good a banana cream pie could be when I had a bite of one in class today. All it takes is sliced bananas, pastry cream, and tons of whipped cream, but it's magic.
There was also a really delicious chocolate-banana cake, comprised of devil's food cake, caramelized bananas, a layer of thick chocolate-banana cream, all spackled with chocolate mousse.

We started preparing various laminated doughs for use tomorrow. These are doughs that are rolled out, inlaid with a thick sheet of cold butter, folded, rolled out, folded, etc, to produce several hundred to one thousand layers. The butter melts in the oven and produces steam, which puffs the layers of dough apart and results in really flaky, buttery pastries. Croissant dough uses yeast and less butter, puff pastry uses more butter but no yeast, and blitz puff dough is a shortcut method for making puff pastry that can be used for tart shells, tarte tatin, etc. All are delicious. In my opinion, nothing beats a warm croissant, torn apart and slathered with that divine substance, butter.

Here is the recipe for the chocolate sponge cake from yesterday. I've halved the recipe. It's a very resilient cake, so it would be perfect for rolling up for a chocolate cake roll. Just fill with whipped chocolate ganache or chocolate mousse, then frost the outside with whipped cream. Yum!

I would like to play around with the recipe and see if I could reduce the sugar by at least half, maybe adding coconut or almond flour in its place.

Flourless Chocolate Sponge

8 ea. egg whites

8 oz sugar

8 ea. yolks

2.5 oz Dutched cocoa

pinch salt

1.5 tsp vanilla

Whip the whites and sugar until stiff peaks form.

Stir the yolks, and drizzle into the whites while the mixer is on low speed. Add the vanilla and salt. Sift the cocoa into the eggs while folding together.

Pour into a sheet tray with sides (line the bottom with parchment).

Bake at 325*, until puffed and it springs back when lightly pressed. If using for a cake roll, dust the top with cocoa powder and lay a clean kitchen towel over it (while still hot/warm and pliable). Carefully roll it up and let it cool like that. Once it's cool, you can take out the towel and it will hold its shape.

Monday, January 11, 2010


It was an astonishing six degrees as I walked to breakfast this morning at 5:50 AM. Very painful. But it's nice to be able to take a whole hour to eat breakfast, say 'hi' to my friends, and wake up.

We covered the "foaming method" in class today, a category that includes sponge cakes, ladyfingers, and meringues. I made a super-tasty chocolate sponge cake, which I topped with a blend of hazelnut butter, hazelnut praline paste, white chocolate, and paillette feuilletine (dehydrated crepe flakes, which have little taste but give what Chef K calls "the edible glass shards" effect in your mouth. I've always been intrigued by the idea of being able to chew glass). The whole thing was then spread with a thick layer of chocolate mousse enhanced with Frangelico.

After class I headed out with my camera to the FDR estate.

The house

The woods

The Ice Pond waterfall

Tower of the Icicles

A 207 year old grave

Ice bubbles

A fox footprint

Cattails by the beaver pond

The Nest - Photos

Making Rope

The Fort

and friends

looking over the cliff

the view

the entrance

view from above

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Well, we didn't build a stone wall for our fort today - forgot that all the rocks are firmly frozen to the ground right now. But we did put a stick wall in for now. All that remains is to cover the whole thing with a layer of leaves thick enough to keep out the rain and wind.

The four of us - "Partners in Cream" - drove out to the farm again. We had trouble tracking down enough bottles for all the orders, so my friends are going to make the trip again tomorrow for the remainder. I bought a gallon.

Sorry this is so brief! But I have to wake up at 5:20 tomorrow for class. More later - and photos!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Nest

The weekend! Most students spend theirs sleeping in late and then partying. I, on the other hand, spent about 3 1/2 hours outside on this 20 degree, breezy day - walking to the grocery store (for butter and cheese, bananas, onions, and cream) and building our fort. We've christened it "The Nest". The roof and the largest wall are all covered with sticks. Tomorrow we will finish it by building a rock wall on the opposite side and covering everything with small twigs and leaves. The open side looks out on to the Hudson River - a stunning sight from any viewpoint, but simply breaktaking when seen from our lair. The woods are absolutely silent, save for the occasional squawk of a raven or the powerful cracking of ice sheets in the river below. Everything is frosted with snow.

But it is far too cold to enjoy the view for long. It will be nice in the spring and summer when it's warm enough to be able to sit for an hour and watch the sun set (perfectly framed by the large window).

The perfect remedy for today's activities was a hot shower and delicious dinner. Using my family's homegrown grassfed beef, my friends and I made meatballs (ground beef, sauteed onions, eggs, oatmeal, salt and nutmeg), with boiled potatoes and cream gravy, and broccoli on the side. Nothing beats a hearty meal made with beef this good. Yes, I think I'll take a day of fort-building and meatball-eating over a college party any day!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Of Mice and Pastries

A little mouse died outside today, while I was warm and cozy inside and playing with chocolate and pastries. I followed his tracks in the fresh snow as he scurried from one old log to a decaying stump hollow. Blood dropped alongside the minuscule paw prints, dripping profusely at the entrance to the mousy den. I'm not positive that he died, but a fair amount of blood was lost from such a small critter. Let's hope he made a fox or coon happy (and full)! Poor mouse.

Today was an exceedingly easy day in Baking. I finished some chocolate raspberry tarts that were made yesterday. The shortbread crust was already filled with a raspberry and dark chocolate filling, and left to set up overnight in the fridge. I thinned some chocolate glaze out with raspberry liqueur and lacquered the tarts. Soft ganache was whipped (like cream) until it was airy and delightful. I placed a quenelle of this on each tart - and decorated the top of each with a chocolate spiral, a white/dark chocolate marbled square (from yesterday's demo) and a raspberry. They were beautiful to look at, and even better to eat!

Also of note today: fabulous foccacia smothered in sauteed onions and apples, bacon and goat cheese. A comparison of biscuits: one batch with Crisco, two with butter, one of those with buttermilk, the other with half-and-half cream. Butter-buttermilk wins hands down. Also, one of the best flourless chocolate cakes I've ever had, with a most intriguing texture - somehow dense and chocolatey and potent, yet almost disappearing the second it enters your mouth (the happy result of an error in mixing). Oh, and yesterday's eclairs were pretty wonderful - crisp pate a choux shell, luscious pastry cream, topped with thick ganache (ganache is a simple combination of heavy cream (most typical) and chocolate, made thick for truffle centers, thin for delicate glazing and whipping). One of the bread doughs wouldn't rise for some reason, so naturally we salvaged it by rolling little balls and deep frying them! Even better, this was a cornmeal, cheddar, and jalapeno dough. Hot and crisp and sprinkled with salt, they were the perfect morning snack.

Later today we worked on the fort for several more hours. It is coming along impressively in spite of the all the snow we are working in (got another 2-3 inches today). I was snapping branches too close to a very sharp, face-level branch and came away with an awesome gash on my cheek. Tomorrow's Saturday, so we can work on it even longer!

The Chocolate Demo

Chocolate must be "tempered" for decorative work so that it sets up glossy and crisp; otherwise it would set but not be very firm, and would look dull and streaky. Chef K melted two bowls of chocolate, one dark and one white. It is melted at about 110 degrees. Unmelted chocolate pieces are added and stirred in (off the heat) until the temperature drops to the ideal zone (86-90 degrees). The goal is to end up with the chocolate at the correct temperature just as the last couple pieces melt in. These final pieces are the "seeds" that carry the proper crystalline structure. They start a chain reaction of crystalization throughout the bowl - the rest of the chocolate copies and multiplies the fine crystal pattern, so when the chocolate cools enough, it sets up as it should - with a perfectly smooth, ultrafine crystal structure. If the chocolate were not tempered properly, the whole batch would form any old size and pattern of crystals upon cooling. And then the chocolate wouldn't look pretty! But it would be just fine for re-tempering or eating.

Working on a marble slab, Chef demonstrated chocolate decorations. For white and dark chocolate "cigarettes", he spread a really thin layer of white chocolate on the surface, then drew a toothed pastry comb over to remove all but parallel lines of white chocolate. He let it set up for a minute, then spread a very thin layer of dark chocolate over the whole thing. When it was just firm enough, he used a bench scraper to cut in and scrape up perfect curls of striped chocolate.
This photo demonstrates the concept much better than my description!
Chocolate Cigarettes (unknown photo)

Chef then made glossy colored chocolate squares by spreading chocolate on printed acetate sheets, and chocolate spirals. These he made by spreading chocolate on long rectangular acetate sheets, using the toothed pastry comb to strip away chocolate, leaving 1/8 inch lines of chocolate. He rolled the acetate sheet and let the chocolate set. When peeled off, it looked a lot like what's on this cake (unknown photo, cake, etc).
Chocolate ribbon spirals

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Unfortunately this post will have to be a short one. I'm tired from getting up at 5:15 every morning, and starving because I haven't eaten since lunch, nine hours ago. We only get two meal swipes a day, and with AM classes I naturally use them for breakfast and lunch. Which means I have to scrounge for dinner. Tonight I drank a pint of raw milk and ate an apple, which doesn't quite do it for me (especially after a 2 1/2 hour trek through the woods that involved lugging rocks and huge branches to build a fort). Hopefully my friends and I will finish it within the next few days.

Check back tomorrow for details on today's chocolate demo!
(Today in class I made Semolina loaves, and filled and glazed eclairs)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Wilds of New York

The woods are teeming with animals that we never see. But as I walk through the snowy woods I keep my eyes trained on the ground, looking for the tracks of these invisible animals. With practice I can visualize the proceedings of the woods.

Squirrels abound, hopping every possible direction, up trees and across logs, to their stashes of nuts and under the snow. The woods appear to be more populated with deer than most towns are with people. They mostly stroll, traveling in groups of up to fourteen. Sometimes they drag their hooves as they mosey along. The bucks' hoof prints are almost twice as large as some of the does. This is one of the few animals I actually see. Today I counted 20.
All the deer convene at one spot in an open field. Here they have moved aside the snow to reach the bare dirt, which they lick to get minerals, much like my cows do at home. As I followed a herd of thirteen the wind shifted and I was able to inhale their scent. It was a nice reminder of home, as they smell just like clean cows in an open field.

Foxes are everywhere. They prefer to follow the nice clear trails rather than travel through brush, and frequently walk along the ridges of rock outcroppings to get a better view.
The raccoons mostly stay by the water, with the beaver pond being their favorite spot. They show their contempt for those beavers by urinating on top of the lodge. Today I saw where one walked along an icy log and slipped, almost falling but managing to pull himself back up despite his large gut. I could clearly see the front-paw prints (much like small human hands) grabbing at the snow, the extended arms and the expanse of flattened snow where his belly flopped.
A couple days later a squirrel capered across the same log, and then a small fox.
Tiny juncos bounce across the surface of the snow, scarcely leaving a mark. If I'm lucky, I'll see turkey tracks, and on a great day, I'll spot them for real. They dig through the snow and leaves to get to the dirt below. I assume they're feasting on bugs, roots and seeds.

I still wish I could see all these creatures, but when it's snowy and tracks cover the ground, the invisible show they put on is almost as good.

A Lesson in Bread

Day 2 of Baking and Pastry

Our breads and pastries are analyzed each day by Chef K and the class. Chef sets one of each item on the table, and we gather around. First he dissects the breads, scrutinizing the color, the crumb structure and texture, the taste and appearance. The breads today were quite good - the crusty French rolls more flavorful than yesterdays, the soft rolls almost perfect, the semolina loaves properly crusty but needing a bit more salt and a healthy dip in some good olive oil.
Then the cookies and fig bars. Delicious. The chocolate torts had fallen because the eggs were over-whipped. The coconut flans were made interesting by using palm sugar and jaggery for the caramel. My creme brulee was just right, but the recipe made them far too sweet for my taste (just about everything we make is too sweet for me, so I just take a nibble). Yes, we have to taste everything!


To produce the perfect loaf of bread is to master yeast.
With the ideal combination of time, temperature, and ingredients, the yeast convert just enough starch into sugars to provide for a nicely browned crust, plenty of yeasty, bready aroma, and the supple, elastic yet tender crumb structure that signify an extraordinary loaf. Too much warmth or time, and the yeast grow too exuberantly, exhausting their supply of food. The fermentation shifts from one that digests the starch and produces carbon dioxide and alcohol to one that digests the sugar and produces acetic and lactic acid (desirable in just a small quantity for tangy sourdough breads). The result in an overly sour bread with no external caramelization (a dull, pale crust), and crumbly, tough innards. How sad.
Then there are the little details, such as having the proper humidity while the dough is proofing. Too dry, and the loaf will develop a tough skin and won't rise enough while baking. Or if the dough (for rolls in particular) doesn't proof enough, the bottom of the roll will be round instead of flat. Even the scoring of a loaf influences the final bread. The right cuts on the top of the loaf ensure that the bread rises to its full potential without being lopsided. I never knew bread was so temperamental before!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Back to School ... and baking cookies!

Day 1 of Baking and Pastry

Not the most exciting of days, mostly owing to the fact that I'm still catching up from my flight here and I'm in a daze. I made carrot cake cookies with cream cheese frosting today in class. Just think! a college where we make cookies, eat cookies, bake bread, eat bread, brownies, and more cookies, all day, everyday! Being Day 1 we didn't cover a whole lot of information, but I look forward to learning more about breads in the coming classes.

After class (done for the day at 1:30 PM - how nice!), Natalie and some other friends and I drove out to our favorite New York farm for fresh raw milk. We've made it a habit to go every weekend now, but Sunday was just too far away. I bought a gallon, which will no doubt be gone by Saturday. I could live off the stuff - especially when it's as good as this farm's. Freshly milked from happy cows, 6% butterfat... yum!
By the time we got back on this side of the river, it was far too late to go to the natural foods store (for staples such as almond butter, butter, yogurt, cheese, and fruit).

Tomorrow's another day!

Monday, January 4, 2010

First Post

With this post, I am successfully meeting my first New Year's Resolution - to start a blog. Now I just need to write ....

I am back in my dorm in Hyde Park, NY, at the Culinary Institute of America. Tomorrow is the first day of classes after winter break, and I will be starting the three week class of "Baking and Pastry Skills [for Culinary Arts students]".

Check back here tomorrow for details!

Happy New Year!