Saturday, October 17, 2009

Post Le Cordon Bleu Days

I have been regretfully lackadaisical in posting on this blog and I apologize to those of you who follow me. Since my last posting I have graduated Summa Cum Laude from the Texas Culinary Academy, Le Cordon Bleu and launched my personal chef business. I have been not only busy with that enterprise...I became engaged to be married! That's right folks, I finally found "The One" and will wed sometime next year. So this is a true "new beginning" for me in more ways than one!

My future hubby lives in Washington, DC. I was lucky enough to visit his fair city in July and I fell in LOVE with DC. It is a beautiful city with countless museums (which I love) and wonderful restaurants (which I ADORE) and friendly neighborhood haunts (where I plan to spent many more evenings). Needless to say, I was in my element.

My fiance's neighborhood, Capitol Hill, is an old and quaint section of town situated near the US Capitol building and the national mall. Capitol Hill is populated by charming bistros and countless row houses. As a former realtor, I found the architecture not only delightful but fascinating. While walking down the streets of Capitol Hill I stumbled across countless precious gardens; pristine, postage-stamp sized little nuggets of perfection. With the Metro (subway) situated mere minutes from his front door, I began my exploration in earnest.

After a mini tutorial of the Metro, I spread my tourist wings and flew solo through the miles of the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian is an amazing compilation of our nations treasures and historically important artifacts that left me breathless. I took innumerable photos and had a lovely time. I stood agape in front of Julia Child's kitchen for more than a moment.

If you have never been to DC I highly recommend a visit. Not only is it our Nation's Capital, it has a plethora of activities to keep you entertained and occupied. Washington will not only educate you, it will fill you with awe. I found my deeply entrenched patriotism bubbling up to the surface time and time again.

Eastern Market was one of my favorite places. My fiance lives two blocks from this font of culinary wonderment. Within this "farmers" market lies many fabulous ingredients waiting to be whipped into a masterpiece. I found everything from soft-shell crabs to eel fresh off the boat! The weekends bring artisans of every flavor. If you are lucky enough to visit this remarkable market during the weekend, bring your checkbook. The artisans that fill Eastern Market's outdoor stalls every weekend will supply original surpises for every person expecting a one of a kind gift chosen specifically for them.

I spent two days wandering the countless halls of the National Gallery, my mouth agape and my camera at the ready. At every turn I found myself scampering (yes, scampering......I can still scamper) towards paintings by every master that I had studied ever so diligently in college. (Ok, for those of you who know me, YES....I admit...........some of them I recognized from playing "Masterpiece" as a child.) Either way, I was enthralled and entranced. Monet, Manet, Rembrandt,.......the list goes on and on. I would still be standing there staring if my fiance hadn't jolted me back to reality with the temptation of a very fine lunch.

Very fine indeed did I find our foray to Legal Seafood. Besides being a minimalists dream of a restaurant, I found the food and service to be exemplary. My Lobster Roll was scrumptious and the nibbles I partook of my fiance's Clam Roll were off the charts. I guess being land-locked for my entire life made this experience most excellent.

Another little gem I was lucky to experience was Cava Mezze. Situated two blocks (yes, everything is two blocks from our apartment) away on 8th Street; this greek gem will make you yell "Opa". My lamb was perfectly medium rare and the harissa just about killed me it was so hot. It was a lovely and romantic end to the best trip I ever took.

Bottom line, my friends, is Washington, DC is THE BOMB! If we decide to live there I will be a happy little clam. In the meantime, I will be cooking away and plotting and planning how I can make YOUR next to-do an event to remember. I still work at Breed & Company in Westlake Hills when I'm not promoting my new business or cooking for my clients. So if you find yourself in Westlake stop by for a chat! I will keep you abreast of any breaking news!

Bon Appetit, mes amis!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The long and WINEY road............

I've never fancied myself a connoisseur of wine. I always LOVED wine. But, loving and UNDERSTANDING wine are two completely different animals. Having had a long relationship with wine, I thought that I knew at least a little bit about it. However, since enrolling in culinary school I find that I have barely nudged the tip of the wine iceberg. I am currently the apprentice to a true wine afficianado...a Court Master Certified Sommelier with a vast knowledge and the willingness to teach me!

All wine drinkers have a little knowledge about wine. They know what they like and dislike. Most people think a wine tasting just means to sip it and decide whether or not they care for the flavor. It goes much deeper than that!

There are different philosophies regarding tasting wines. Most people, even non-wine drinkers, think that when tasting wine all they must do is swirl the glass, sniff the wine and then take a taste. The Court of Master Sommeliers has it's own way of evaluating different wines and it boils down to deductive reasoning. The ability to assess a wine in a blind taste test is a learned procedure. It takes years for a person to become adept enough at it to actually be considered an expert. It all goes back to sensory memory.

When tasting wines even your environment plays a role, it must be conducive to tasting. You need bright halogen or white light (not incandescent), low noise levels (soft music is acceptable) and NO scents whatsoever (no cooking smells, no perfumes and no candles burning). You will need a white tablecloth or white paper to use as a background for your visual deductions, and a notepad or tasting sheet. The glasses should be clean, free of etchings and scratches (no Waterford here folks!) and be of a basic Bordeaux shape.

The four main criteria in a deductive tasting procedure are sight, nose, palatte, and conclusions. Sight is where you will gain information about a wine's age and condition. The clarity will tell you if the wine is filtered or unfiltered. The brightness or capacity for the wine to reflect light will indicate it's level of acidity (brighter is more acidic). The color and/or hue is the clue to the wine's age, storage conditions and variety. Whites and blushes grow darker with age while reds will grow more transluscent with age as pigments and tannins in reds precipitate out as sediment. The color variance is the difference between the center of the wine and the edge. For example, a garnet center with an orange edge may indicate some age to the wine. A thicker, watery edge usually indicates a higher alcohol content. Lastly, you must visually determine the wine's "legs". The "legs" are how the wine runs down the side of the glass after swirling and is an indication of viscosity. Thicker and slow moving legs indicates higher sugar content which translates to higher alcohol. Thinner legs indicates low alcohol and higher acidity.

The next step in properly tasting a wine is it's nose. Smell accounts for 85% of taste. If you find this surprising then do a little experiment. Try eating or tasting something while you hold your nose closed. You can barely TASTE it! The best technique for smelling wine should be several short sniffs versus one long hoover. Each sniff allows your cilia to pick up different characteristics in the wine. Also, you must swirl the wine in the glass to expose it to oxygen. By allowing the wine to breathe you will activate the aromatic elements. The most interesting thing to me about the differing aromas found in wine is the fact that they will mimic other smells and this can give you a direction to go when trying to figure out what wine you are drinking. For example, an earthiness would be more aligned with an Old World wine (ie. French, German, Spanish or Italian). A fruitier or floral scent without any minerality would be indicative of a New World wine. The amount of oak you smell and what that oak imparts can be a clue as to the wines origin as well. I could wax poetic for days about the many different nuances found in the scent of wine. The chart at the left is all of the smells associated with wine. You can see that there are over 80 different smells! Each giving you a clue as to the source of the wine. The following link gives you an idea of the many different scents found in wine. I plan to purchase this kit to further my wine expertise!

After sniffing the wine you must confirm what you have smelled. Wine should taste like it smells if it is produced properly. Focus on how the wine changes as it travels over your palatte. Is it sweet or dry? How does it "sit" in your mouth? Is it light and dancing over your tongue? If so, it indicates lower alcohol content. If it has more body then it probably has more alcohol. Are the tannins making you want to lick your teeth and pucker up? Grape tannins would cause this. Wood tannins are experienced on the back of your tongue and feel like having a piece of velvet rubbed over your tongue. Try not to confuse tannins with acidity. If the taste of the wine activates your salivary glands it is more acidic. How does the wine finish? A long finish, taste remaining for a long time, indicates a higher quality of wine. Length of finish is directly related to the quality of production of the wine. Also, you can identify Old World wines by their acidity level, earthiness and a balanced level of wood as opposed to New World in your face woodiness. An overall balanced flavor is suggestive of an Old World wine having less punch than it's New World counterpart. The acidity and alcohol level are a very good indicator of the climate where the grapes were grown. As grapes ripen in the heat, the grape acids will convert to sugars. Grapes ripen more slowly in a cooler climate and grapes can be harvested before all the acid has converted to sugar. These grapes will produce a wine lower in alcohol because of the low sugar content of the grape and will have more acid (a good example is a German Riesling). A hot climate tends to produce a sweeter grape and, therefore, more alcohol content. You would end up with a full bodied wine such as a Zinfandel or a Syrah.

The final step in identifying a wine in a blind taste test is to be familiar with your benchmarks. This can only be achieved through repetitive tasting. With experience you will eventually know that Syrahs impart black currant, smoke, granite, pepper and chocolate. Cabernet Francs would have a distinctive green bell pepper smell. Sauvignon Blancs from the Loire Valley in France would smell of hay or a green grassy smell (cut grass). The scent of grapefruit and asparagus would be designative of a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand's Marlborough region. Think of all the areas of the world where wine is produced (it's a lengthy list!) and compare the climate of the area with external forces (such as laws negating irrigation in France, Italy, Spain and Germany). All of these conditions will lead you to your final conclusions.

My advice to anyone hoping to become a true wine connoissuer is to go to as many wine tastings as you can. Ask questions! Don't be shy about it. With experience comes ability. I must say that my ongoing romance with wine will continue to flourish and I hope to one day become the expert that I THOUGHT I was! My new found knowledge only makes me fall more in love with everything about wine. I must say cheers to my Chef Instructor and until next time....bottoms up!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

You Light Up My Life...or lessons in flambe....

Fine dining establishments are not just about amazing food and impeccable service. They are about hospitality and entertainment. A person can go to a fabulous restaurant and have a wonderful meal with great service but without the added bonus of an attentive staff and some "WOW" factor, it's still just a good meal. Entertaining the guests is rarely the responsibility of the chef. They leave that up to the guests themselves or the servers in some cases. But, if you find yourself in a restaurant that offers tableside service - I must recommend that you take them up on it! There is nothing quite like having a chef roll a gueridon alongside your table and prepare a decadent dessert or flaming coffee right in front of you. For those of you who have yet to experience such a delight I will enlighten (and hopefully entertain) you with the experience by proxy.

At Ventana, the fine dining restaurant located at the Texas Culinary Academy - Le Cordon Bleu, you can experience this first hand. It may be your first time seeing such a show. It may ALSO be the student chefs first time performing! Tonight I was fortunate enough to have several tables who ordered the Bananas Foster. Needless to say, the diners "dominoed" after my first service. I heard alot of, "I'll have what SHE'S having". So out rolled the gueridon (that is the rolling cart with a burner on it) time and time again.

My first service was for a table of two and one of the diners was a former student. As I rolled out the gueridon I must admit my nerves were definitely twitching! I felt ALL the diners turn their attention towards me as I entered the dining room. They KNEW something special was at hand. I'll never know if it was just curiosity that had them turning in their chairs to stare at me or if they were hoping to see a horrible accident.

I had already prepared my quenelles of ice cream and had them in the freezer awaiting my nod to my back waiter to fetch them for service. I had my mise en place all brandy in a decanter, banana, sugar and knife at the ready. As I began to prepare the dessert I saw both of my chef instructors sidle up behind me and in front of me (one of whom was doing his best to intimidate me with furtive glances at me and my sautoir). The other students stopped what they were doing to watch as well. I was determined to perform flawlessly.

In order to provide tableside service perfectly one MUST obey certain rules. Rule #1: Never touch the food with your bare hands. Rule #2: Cook clean! Rule #3: Don't burn it. Rule #4: Don't just stand there cooking, serious as a judge...interact with your guests. Rule #5: Plate the dessert beautifully. Rule #6 (most important): Don't blow up the restaurant. I wasn't worried about Rules 1-5...I was concerned about Rule #6 and the unspoken Rule #7: Don't singe off your own eyebrows or a nearby guest's hair.

As I got further and further into creating my masterpiece I did start to have fun with it AND with my diners. My nerves began to abate and I got into a certain special rhythm. I was nearing the end of my performance and realized...Oh, my God! I'm about to set this pan of boiling hot melted sugar and butter on fire! Please, don't let me blow up the restaurant! I must admit I did flinch a little as I tilted the brandy soaked bananas toward the flame. As I lit it I heard a gasp from nearby diners with a few "oohs and ahs" thrown in for good measure. Or maybe that was me. In either case, I surreptitiously nodded to my back waiter who dashed to the freezer and emerged with my perfect quenelles. I must admit, time stood still as I frantically stirred the bananas in their decadent sauce waiting for the flames to diminish and finally extinquish themselves. This mind-numbingly LONG flame-out was orchestrated by a sychronized sigh of relief from nearby diners as they realized nobody was about to die.

Upon plating my PERFECT dessert I experienced an anticlimactic sense of relief. It was over and I just wanted to DO IT AGAIN! So, for those of you who are impressed with such a's the lowdown. It's EASY! So easy that I'm almost embarrassed to tell you how to do it. However, being the forthright near-chef that I proclaim myself to be, the recipe follows...

Bananas Foster

1 banana, peeled and sliced 1/2" to 3/4" thick on the bias
2 oz. butter
3 T. brown sugar
2 oz. Myers Rum
2 scoops or quenelles of vanilla ice cream

The following instructions are for near-chefs who want a good grade. For those of you doing this at home, just slice up the banana. Place banana on cutting board and cut off both ends. Discard both ends into hidden trash receptacle out of guests view. Choke up on the knife using your finger to keep you from cutting the flesh of the banana...score the banana on two sides. Stick fork into peel and roll the peel away from the banana and discard covertly. Using fork and spoon loosen the other half of the peel from the banana flesh. Slice banana on the bias. Turn burner on high. Add brown sugar. When the sugar begins to melt around the edges add butter, lower heat and stir together with sugar. Once incorporated, slide banana into your hand without touching the flesh. Spoon banana into pan and using a fork saute on both sides for a few seconds. Push all contents of pan to one side (closest to you) and pull pan halfway off heat. Turn flame back to high and count to ten (now would be a good time for a prayer). In one swift motion, pull pan away from heat, pour brandy into pan on the empty side (not over the contents), bring it back to the flame and FLAME ON! Stir until flames die and then spoon over ice cream.

I certainly hope that my disclosure of this seemingly EASY dessert does not negate your ordering bananas foster in the future. The anticipation of someone bursting into flames is worth at LEAST 15 bucks! Just cook fearlessly and enjoy!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

An amazing Mystery Basket!

For those of you following my blog, I apologize for neglecting to update prior to now. However, I have been ridiculously busy with school, work and life in general. So, without further ado, here's the lowdown on an amazing night.

Last night was my final exam in my last class at the Texas Culinary Academy - Le Cordon Bleu. We were required to prepare a three course meal from ingredients in a "mystery basket". It was the epitome of intimidating. For those of you who have seen Food Network's "Chopped" you know what "mystery basket" means. Here's the explanation for those of you who don't.

We are given ingredients that MUST be used in the preparation of a three course meal. The dinner must include an appetizer, an entree (which includes a protein, a starch, a vegetable and a sauce) and dessert. We are given full use of the kitchen pantry (which is fairly limited) and only the vegetables, fruits and garnishes put in the "basket". In this case the basket included 3 proteins: scallops, chicken and NY Strip. Vegetables and other ingredients included Romaine lettuce, spinach, red and green bell peppers, potatoes, onions, shallots, mushrooms, garlic, zucchini, lemons, limes, and capers. The pantry had most dairy products (i.e. milk, cream, mozzarella cheese etc.) and standard kitchen spices and staples such as flour and sugar. We drew lots to discover which protein we were allowed to use. Thankfully, I pulled chicken from "THE TOQUE OF DESTINY"...our chef's idea of a lottery. We had specific start and presentation times that were strictly enforced.

I chose to prepare a Cesar Salad with fresh croutons, Chicken Piccata with fresh egg pasta and a lemon caper cream sauce (delicious) served beside a Vegetable Napoleon and a Pate a Choux Swan with Lemon Cream and candied mint and rose petals. We started cooking at 6:30pm and I had to present at 9:40pm. This may SOUND like plenty of time but remember...we made EVERYTHING from scratch. My dishes included a fresh pasta and a Pate a Choux (which is a type of cream puff pastry dough). Both are time consuming and require a certain amount of time to "rest" the dough before final preparation.

I began with the pasta so as to leave ample time to "rest" the dough. I moved on to the Pate a Choux swan, salad and candied mint and rose petals. When I finished those items I checked the clock and it was 9:25pm! I hadn't even gotten my chicken out of the walk-in cooler! In the final 15 minutes I pulled a rabbit out of my hat (metophorically) and butchered my chicken, rolled out my pasta, prepared the sauce and plated just in the nick of time!

I have to say that all I remember was mostly a blur of action but a fine finish. My chef instructor, Chef Earnie Beasley, thought it was "refined and elegant". Very "la, ti, da, indeed".

The following are my recipes which I think would be a perfect meal for any elegant dinner party.

Cesar Salad- the secret is the dressing and the croutons

1/2 head Romaine lettuce, washed, dried and chilled
1 clove garlic, pasted
2 anchovy fillets, pasted
6 oz. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 egg yolk
1/2 lemon
2 T. grated parmesan cheese
1 t. dijon mustard
1 T. red wine vinegar
Salt as needed
Pepper as needed
water as needed
1 dash of Worcestershire (if you like it)

Paste the garlic and anchovy fillets with a chef's knife or mortar and pestle. In a large stainless steel bowl whisk egg yolk to Sabayon consistency (whisk until pale yellow in color and the consistency of cream). Add a little water to keep it to proper consistency. Add in rest of ingredients except olive oil. Add the first 2 oz. of olive oil slowly while whisking constantly to emulsify. Once the first 2 oz. are emulsified you can add the rest quicker but continuous whisking is important. Dress the Romaine (I do it with my hands). Plate with croutons and fresh parmesan cheese. Yields 2 servings.

Fresh Croutons (thank God I didn't have to bake the bread!)

1/2 French Baguette
1/2 c. Olive Oil
1 garlic clove, whole
Salt as needed

Heat olive oil in sauteuse pan (skillet) with garlic clove to infuse the oil. Cut baguette into crouton size pieces (I like them 3/4" square). Drop them in the oil (it should be pretty hot but not smokin') Saute until brown (20-45 seconds). Be sure to turn the croutons so they are evenly browned. Remove from oil with a spider or tongs. Drain on paper towels and season with salt immediately.

Fresh Egg Pasta

4 oz. Semoline Flour
4 oz. AP Flour (all purpose)
2 whole eggs
Extra Virgin Olive oil as needed
Salt as needed
AP Flour as needed

On a clean dry surface sift together Semolina, a couple of pinches of salt and AP flour. Hollow out the middle and crack 2 eggs into the flour. Mix together with hands until blended adding a little water and olive oil as needed. Knead dough until the glutens begin to form. You can tell it's happening when you push a finger in the dough and it springs back. I generally knead the dough 5-8 minutes at least! It's worth the elbow grease. Wrap in plastic wrap and rest in fridge at least 30 minutes. Roll out with a rolling pin and cut or better yet, use a a pasta machine. Drop in salted, boiling water (use copious amounts of salt in the water) and cook until al dente (about 3 minutes). Toss with butter and parsley then toss again with sauce of choice and serve immediately. Yields approximately 2 entree size portions. This can be used to make ravioli, fettuccini, spaghetti...pretty standard stuff. Very tender and delicious.

Chicken Piccata w/ Lemon Caper Cream Sauce (YUM)

2 chicken breasts, pounded and cut into 4 pieces
panko bread crumbs
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 c. heavy cream, heated
1/4 c. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 c. White Wine (I prefer to use wine I like to drink)
3 T. capers
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 shallot, minced
juice of 1 lemon
zest of 1 lemon
salt as needed
pepper as needed
AP flour as needed
1 T. butter

Heat E.V.O.O. in sauteuse pan. Pound chicken breast to 1/4" (scallopini thickness). Dredge in seasoned (with salt and pepper) AP flour, then egg, then Panko breadcrumbs. Saute chicken in E.V.O.O. until golden brown and delicious (GBD). Remove and drain on paper towels. Throw in garlic and shallot and sweat in same pan. Add lemon juice and lemon zest. Deglaze with wine and reduce to demi-sec (by 1/2 at least). Add warm cream (must be warm or your sauce will break). Reduce over medium heat until sauce coats the back of a spoon. Season to taste and add capers. Monte au buerre (turn off heat and add butter at last minute constantly agitating so as not to break your sauce). Toss with favorite pasta or you CAN put chicken back in sauce if you's a prettier presentation if you just sauce the pasta and place the chicken on top of pasta. Garnish with crispy capers (just saute capers in a little hot E.V.O.O. until crispy) and parsley. DELISH! Yields approximately 4 entrees.

Vegetable Napoleon

1 red bell pepper, filleted
1 green bell pepper, filleted
1 Portobello mushroom, gills and stem removed
1 zucchini, sliced 1/4" thick stem to stern
basil, chiffonade
Extra Virgin Olive Oil as needed
Mozzarella Cheese, 2 1/4" thick slices
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot minced
Salt as needed
Pepper as needed

Marinate peppers and zucchini in garlic, shallot and E.V.O.O. at least 30 minutes (be sure to season). Marinate mushroom in garlic, shallot and E.V.O.O. but NO SALT (the salt will make the shroom tough). Grill veggies on medium heat until you get nice grill marks on both sides. Cut into pieces that are the same size that will stack neatly. It should look kind of like lasagna. Stack in following order: 1 piece (3x3" is best) red bell pepper, zucchini, green bell pepper, mushroom, mozz. cheese, some basil and a drizzle of E.V.O.O. Repeat. Bake at 350 degrees until GBD. Cut in 1/2 and plate so you can see the pretty layers. Yields 1 napoleon.

Pate a Choux Swan W/ candied mint and rose petals

10 oz. water
4 oz. butter
1 t. sugar
1 t. salt
6 oz. bread flour
6-8 oz. whole eggs

Heat butter, water, sugar and salt until hard simmer. Add flour all at once. Stirring constantly over medium-high heat cook until a "carpet" forms on the bottom of the pan. The "carpet" looks like a film of flour on the bottom of the pan. You can see it when you scrape the bottom of the pan with your wooden spoon or spatula. You don't want any color on the dough at this point. Remove and place in stand mixer. Mix with paddle attachment until steam dissipates. Add eggs one at a time until dough drips from paddle in a "v". You don't want it too wet. Put in piping bag with a large star tip and pipe thick on one end and taper off to the "tail" on a parchment paper lined sheet pan. It should kinda look like a swan body. Carefully eggwash swan with a pastry brush. Bake at 375 degrees until GBD. The swan body should feel and sound hollow. Pipe on separate sheet pan (I use a Silpat) the number "2". This will form the swan head and neck. Using a paring knife, slightly form a beak on the head. Bake at 300 degrees until GBD. Using a serrated knife, cut top off of swan about a third of the way down (careful! swan is delicate) then cut the portion you remove from the top in half. This forms the wings. This recipe yields about 6-9 swans depending on size.

Lemon Cream Filling

1 1/2 c. Heavy Whipping Cream
Confectioner's Sugar to taste
Pinch of Salt
zest of 1 lemon
juice of lemon to taste

In a stand mixer (or by hand if your more ambitous than I) whip cream until foamy. Adding a little sugar at a time whip on high until stiff peaks form. Add lemon zest and juice to taste. Pipe into swan body. Stick wings and neck into cream... VOILA...a yummy swan dessert! Don't forget to garnish with a little powdered sugar and your candied mint and rose petals!

Candied Mint and Candied Rose Petals

Fresh mint
Freshly picked roses (red is prettiest - you can use any edible flower but I find roses to be the tastiest and most lovely)
1 egg white, slightly beaten
granulated sugar

Using your fingers, dab a little egg white on mint and rose petals. Sprinkle with sugar and stick in a warm place. In about 20 minutes you'll have candied mint and rose petals! A beautiful garnish!

This is a fairly time consuming meal but well worth the effort. You will impress your guests and hopefully get a great grade!!!!!!!!!!

Thanks for following my blog. I will try to be more diligent in posting future updates.

If you're checking this...muah, TBO....

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Hudson's on the Bend-My Dream Externship!

I was very anxious to begin my search for an externship to fulfill my culinary school graduation requirements. Part of my worry was the fact that I have little restaurant experience other than working for my father in his steakhouse 25 years ago. Even though I have done well in school, I was still very apprehensive to begin my search. Of utmost importance to me was that I extern at a restaurant considered to be one of the best. I am building my resume and to fulfill my goals, I felt I needed an externship where I could not only learn the business but further develop my skills to carry me through to the next level of expertise.

I had a short list of restaurants where I felt I could get the knowledge I needed. My top choices were Hudson's on the Bend, Zoot, Wink, Chez Nous, Louie's 106 and Jeffrey's. I decided to go to the top first. Little did I know that I would be in the kitchen of Hudson's on the Bend less than 2 weeks later!

I worked a "stage" (pronounced stahj) which is a free shift where you work in the kitchen in order to learn. I had the time of my life! Hudson's on the Bend is considered to be one of the best restaurants in the country and I didn't expect them to let me NEAR the kitchen. But, Executive Chef Robert Rhodes and Chef de Cuisine Kelly Casey were warm, welcoming and willing instructors. I was responsible for the special appetizer which was a venison carpaccio with micro greens served on a salt lick (that's right...a block of salt!) and helped to prepare and plate the desserts and salads. I cannot wait to go back and continue to work beside some of the best chefs around.

If you are interested in one of the best meals this side of New York City, I suggest you give Hudson's on the Bend a try. Their fare is upscale in a downhome environment. The game will make any Texan feel at home and includes venison, quail, pheasant, duck, rabbit, wild boar, ostrich, and rattlesnake which are smoked in the rock smokehouse or grilled over pecan wood. Seafood is also regularly featured. Hudson's creative sauces accent the food and leave you begging for more.

I begin my externship in earnest May 18th. I am honored to be allowed to learn from the very best chefs around and will keep you posted on my progress!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Emergence of Women in the Culinary Arts

A woman's place is in the kitchen. Unless that kitchen is a restaurant. Women have had a long hard road to being recognized as chefs or even allowed to work in the culinary industry. Traditionally, women have been responsible for making simple meals in the home, but not often was "cuisine" applied to female cookery.

In hunter-gatherer societies, before the advent of agriculture, women's importance in providing food was revered. Like in later societies, women stayed home or at the camp more often than men, but they spent their days gathering nutritious, calorie-dense foods to sustain the family. The men did go out to hunt and snare, but a kill was not an everyday event. Since most of the food ancient hunter-hatherers ate was gathered, not hunted, the female was recognized as the main food supplier in many ways. Many hunter-gatherer peoples, such as American Indians, treated women with equal respect as men for this reason.

As agriculture dominated Europe, most nomadic people in that area were settled by the early middle ages. Feudal agriculture begat specialization, meaning a few people could provide food for everyone, enabling others to do different jobs, like make clothes or work with metal. Women began staying home to raise children and cook meals, while men worked hard in the fields. The middle and upper classes followed this trend of keeping the women at home, despite the fact that middle and upper class women were often fairly sharp minded, and even shrewd enough to run their own businesses. The only business most of the would ever run was the business of looking after servants. Servants would do the bulk of food shopping, cooking and cleaning. The ways in which agriculture redefined society made women out of touch with their food, thereby out of touch with their necessary role as food supplier and family nourisher. They essentially lost their place in the food chain.

In the 18th Century Louis XV opposed the idea that women could cook. He loved fine foods and would only trust his menu to males, whom he belived to be superior in every way. This attitude upset one of Louis' mistresses, Madam de Barry, so she invited him to a supper made by the best "cuisiniere" (female cook) in France. Louis was delighted by the fare and asked, "who is this new cuisinier of yours? He must join the Royal household." Madame du Barry replied "It is not a cusinier but a cuisiniere and I demand a worthy recompense both of her and Your Majesty. I cannot cannot accept less than a Cordon Blue for her." At this point the Cordon Bleu was an honor bestowed upon anyone who excelled in their field, but ususally applied to cookery. Sadly, the cheeky mistress went to the guillotine in 1793, but fortunately her ideas about women as great chefs did not die with her. In 1895, a cuisiniere named Marthe Distel began publishing a newsletter under the title Le Cordon Bleu ou Nouvelle Cuisiniere Bourgeouise. She began offering cooking classes in the same year, and the school of Le Cordon Bleu was born----to a woman.

Famed chef Julia Child attended the Cordon Bleu in Paris in 1948. She penned several cookbooks, hosted a popular PBS television series and went on to form her own cooking school L'ecole de Trois Gourmandes Julia was later the first woman inducted into the Culinary Institute Hall of Fame. She was really the first Female celebrity chef. A little known fact about Julia was that she worked for the OSS during WWII as a spy in Ceylon.

The prosperity of post WW2 America made for what seemed like a happy life for the new breed of suburban housewife. Labor saving devices such as toasters, blenders and self-cleaning ovens turned the kitchen into a world of technological wonders, and the icebox cut down on daily trips to the food markets. Women began to enjoy their time in the kitchen and in the home and began devising their own recipies influenced by all the new prepared food products and wacky kitchen gadgets around them. Soon the age of Jello salads and microwaved eggs was upon us. Unfortunately, the kind of cookery perpetrated by the mid-century housewife did not contribute much to the culinary arts. In fact many of the trends in food from that prosperous era let to excessive beef consumption, fat consumption, and consumption in general. They many not have had a positive impact on cuisine back then, but women of the 1950's certainly did a lot to shape the way Americans would eat food for the rest of the 20th century.

The Feminist Movement of the 1970's did a lot to put some women back where they belong---that is in a commercial kitchen. By 1971, amid all this turmoil, chef Alice Waters opened her own restaurant, Chez Panisse, in Berkeley and became one of the first hugely successful female restauranteurs. She abolished the kitchen heirarchy that had been inherited from old Frenchmen, and encouraged a collaborative atmosphere at the restaurant.

Chefs now hold more intrigue for the American public than ever before, as evidenced by a rise in restaurant revenues and the phenomenal success of food-related media. However, a quick, online image search of the word "chef" still results in a dozen curlicue-mustached tubby cartoon men.

Compared to fifty or even 20 years ago, the success of women chefs today is staggering. However, there are still obstacles for aspiring women even now. According to a recent poll, 91% of all executive chefs in the US are men. The fact that male chefs are currently in power means they will continue to hire more male chefs, who will presumably cook like them. Once a woman gets her foot in the kitchen door, she must tiptoe to avoid the wrath of her male co-workers, who are all working toward higher position. If she works her way up to executive chef she will be paid, on average, 20% less than the man she replaces. As of February of this year, there were 2,134 certified excutive chefs in the US and only 92 of them are women. Now there are female chefs at all levels of the profession, and increasingly, these chefs are working to make a difference. First Lady Laura Bush even hired the first female Executive Chef at the White House. Being a female chef gives you another public relations facet. Also, women now have several good organizations devised solely for women. Les Dames d'Escoffier is one good example.

Women today must focus on their culinary skills and not let anyone stand in their way. There are good chefs and bad chefs, some are men and some are women. If we focus on being the best and nothing else not only will we succeed, but our businesses or employers will get the most out of us.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sachertorte...the litigious cake!

Baking was intimidating to me prior to beginning my patisserie and baking class. As a future chef, I am used to being free to change recipes at the drop of a hat. Adding or subtracting spices and changing ingredients is part of the creativity and art of a chef. However, a PASTRY chef follows the same age old recipes that have been in existence for hundreds of years.

Pastry chefs are very particular about the procedures used in making their fabulous delicacies. A good example of the proprietary nature of a pastry chef is the tale of the Sachertorte. The cake was invented by Franz Sacher in 1832 for Klemens Wenzel von Metternich in Vienna, Austria. Sacher was a 16 year old in his 2nd year of apprenticeship when he first made this now famous chocolate cake. The cake consists of two layers of dense, not overly sweet chocolate cake (traditionally a sponge cake) with a thin layer of apricot jam in the middle and dark chocolate icing on the top and sides. It is traditionally served with whipped cream without any sugar in it as most Viennese consider the Sachertorte too "dry" to be eaten on its own.

The trademark for the "Original Sachertorte" was registered by the Hotel Sacher, which was built in 1876 by the son of Franz Sacher. The recipe is a well-kept secret. Until 1965, Hotel Sacher was involved in a long legal battle with the pastry shop Demel, who had also produced a cake called the "Original Sachertorte." Numerous tales have circulated to explain how Demel came by the recipe. The ongoing battle over the recipe boiled down to whether or not apricot jam should be used and how. The cake at Demel is now called "Demels Sachertorte" and differs from the "Original" in that there is no layer of apricot jam in the middle of the cake, but directly underneath the chocolate cover, covering the entire cake.

Even now, the Sachertorte is a copyright protected recipe.

I find the differences between Culinary Chefs and Pastry Chefs to be more a battle of the wills than anything else and count my lucky stars that I am NOT a pastry chef! However, I too suffer from what most people have...a weakness for sweets. So, for those of you who love chocolate like I's the recipe as close as anyone can guess without a court order...

Sacher Sponge (cake)
9 oz. butter
7.5 oz. Sugar
8 oz. Egg Yolks
12 oz. Egg Whites
4 oz. Sugar
2.5 oz. Cake Flour
2.5 oz. Cocoa
3.5 oz. Blanched Almond Meal

Sift together Cake flour and cocoa. Mix in almond meal by hand. Add butter to mixing bowl and cream the butter with your Kitchenaid Mixer. You can use a regular hand mixer or if you are really into it, by hand (I recommend the mixer). Add 7.5 oz. of sugar and mix on low until blended. Add half the egg yolks and mix. Scrap down sides of mixer when needed. Add the remaining egg yolks and mix. Transfer to large bowl and retain. Make meringue with 12 oz. of egg whites and 4 oz. of sugar. Mix on high until you have stiff, large peaks. Fold meringue into the butter and egg mixture. Gently mix by folding and pour into cake pan. Bake 35 to 45 minutes until springy to touch in center of cake. Cool cake and cut into two equal layers. Set aside and make chocolate ganache...

Chocolate Ganache

12 oz. heavy cream
1 lb. bittersweet chocolate

Melt chocolate in double boiler. Add 12 oz of heated heavy cream and fold together. Chill.
Prepare cake for icing...spread apricot jam on the tops of middle layer. Ice both layers with Ganache retaining enough chocolate ganache to pipe decorations on the top of the cake. Stack layers. Ice entire cake with Ganache. Make it as smooth as you possibly can. Rest for 15 minutes. In the mean time make Sacher glaze...

Sacher Glaze

6 oz. heavy cream
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate
2 oz. of butter

Melt chocolate in double boiler. Add 6 oz. of heavy cream and mix. Finish with 2 oz. of butter (it will melt into glaze). Pour glaze over entire cake (on a rack). You want it to look poured not spread.

Let rest 5 minutes before you pipe any decorations you may want on the top. It's worth the hard work people!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sauteed Breast of Duck with Blackberry Gastrique


1 Duck Breast, skin on
1 tsp Shallot, ciseler
3 oz Fresh Whole Blackberries
1 oz. Whole Butter
3 oz. Granulated Sugar
3 oz. Red Wine Vinegar
4 oz. Veal Demiglace
As needed Kosher Salt
As needed Black Pepper

Prepare the gastrique by lightly caramelizing the sugar in a sauce pan. Add the vinegar and simmer until the crystallized sugar softens and is incorporated into the syrup. Reserve the gastrique base. Reserve a couple of the blackberries for garnish and puree the rest. Score the skin of the duck breast - take care to not cut into the flesh. Season the duck breast with salt and pepper and carefully place the duck skin side down in a cold pan then turn heat on medium to render and crisp the fatty skin. Baste the duck occasionally with its own fat, cooking slowly enough to cook the breast to the desired doneness. I recommend medium rare. (Duck, unlike chicken, CAN be served medium rare). Remove the duck from the pan and reserve warm. Add the shallot to the pan and saute for 30 seconds. Add the demiglace, the blackberry puree and a small amount of the gastrique base. Simmer to a light nape consistency and strain. Add the whole beries to the sauce and adjust the flavor of the sauce with the salt, pepper and additional gastrique. Slice the breast, sauce the duck, and serve immediately.

The First introduction

This is the first entry into my new blog! I hope you find it as informative and entertaining as I find culinary school. I have been attending the Texas Culinary Academy - Le Cordon Bleu since November and am loving every minute! The school offers so much information and hands-on training that it could make a girl's head spin.

I am enrolled in the culinary arts certificate program and am learning EVERYTHING a good chef will need for a great foundation. I am in the accelerated program and attend class Monday through Friday from 5:30-11pm. Each of the different classes are in three week blocks. The classes begin with a three week sanitation course which ends with a vast amount of knowledge and a lot of hand washing. Nothing like seeing the results of poor sanitation and food prep to make you listen and learn! That class is followed by Basic Cookery. After the first three weeks they throw you in the deep end and you're in the labs!

The labs are where the fun begins! My first lab class was The Fundamentals of Culinary Arts. We learned how to make all the mother sauces, compound sauces, stocks, soups and some of the 100 ways to prepare an egg. Interestingly enough, the chef's toque (the tall hat) has 100 pleats in it, each representing a different way to cook an egg! Chef Steven Loiacono, of Bellagio fame, was a fascinating instructor and I soaked up as much knowledge from him as I could!

The next class I took was Principles of Meat, Poultry and Fish. That's when the photos began! Learning to plate is as important as the taste. Each chef has his own techniques and the artful display of your food is one of the more interesting aspects of cooking. I was in awe of the talent displayed by my chef instructor, Chef Becky Fischer. She has an impressive resume (including Hudson's on the Bend) and has an encylopedic knowledge of cooking! It's wonderful to learn from the best!

I have just begun the Patisserie and Baking class. I was nervous to start since I've never considered myself a baker. Oddly enough, I can't get enough of it! I know I will complete this class with the knowledge I will need if my Pastry Chef ever walks out!

The one thing that I have learned that I hold dear...cook with your heart! I hope you enjoy my photos and please try some of the recipes!