Saturday, January 30, 2010

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!

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