February 2011


Between hacking up a lung (yes, I’m sick), finishing a major project for my catering class, and keeping up with my comrades in WI who are fighting to maintain their rights to collectively bargain in the state (more here), I’ve fallen just a bit behind on my blogging.

In my last post, I promised some tantalizing descriptions of my snow day baking projects (was that already 2 weeks ago?!) and a run down of my French Bistro cuisine class.  Since then, the weather has taken a dramatic turn – it’s 47 degrees right now (!) – and I’ve had another French Bistro class as well as a Mexican cuisine class.

So, rather than write a novella about the last couple of weeks, I offer a pictorial. Enjoy!

Snow Days!

snowy balcony

This is the view of my balcony after the first major snow fall. I thought about building a snowman out there, but never got around to it. Too busy baking!

And a bicycle buried in the snow.

bike

Someone is feeling some love for the bicycle.

Who doesn’t love apples, and nuts, and cake!?

apple nut muffin cake

I made a yummy, nutty apple cake. So simple, yet so comforting. It was perfect with a hot toddy and a fire in the fireplace!

I had a lovely pumpkin from my CSA that had been sitting around the house for weeks, so I finally broke it down with my brand new shiny cleaver, and roasted it.  Now I have pumpkin puree that I have to do something with.  At the time, ideas weren’t exactly flowing. So, when at a loss for inspiration, consult the Facebook.

roasted pumpkin

My roasted pumpkin, now pureed and waiting for me to use.

I also made Devilish shortcakes (yes, chocolate), courtesy of Dorie Greenspan, and Roasted Banana Ice Cream inspired by David Lebovitz.  I added rum to my ice cream, which of course, made it even better.

Then I made somethin’ for dinner.  Can’t remember now what it was, but I’m sure it was delicious.

French Bistro, circa 2 weeks ago.

When planning to entertain, always begin by making your dessert.  You can bang it out, shove it in the oven, and get on with prepping the rest of your dishes.

In a recent class, we made another tart – this time pear. Honestly, we cooked the pears too long. They weren’t supposed to caramelize, but we pretended that’s exactly what we wanted to do, and it was scrumptious!

pear tart

Pear tart. nom nom.

Jen worked with Rick and I that night, because her partner Amy was ill. Jen can really bust out a hand-whipped cream.  You go girl!

Jen with whipped cream

Jen, what are you going to do with that whipped cream? Wait. I don't think I want to know the answer to that question.

Actually, Jen did a beautiful job piping the cream on the sides of this weird dessert. It’s a decorated meringue cookie, ice cream in the middle, and whipped cream piped up the sides.  Basically, a fancy French ice cream sandwich.

ice cream sandwich

Our fancy French ice cream sandwich. Dollops of raspberry puree around the perimeter.

We made a comforting and decadent meat pie, similar to a shepard’s pie.

meat pie

Our meat pie, with a ring of sauteed mushrooms.

And finally, we were required to plate some charcuterie, which we left to the king of presentation, Rick.

Rick

That's Rick, getting ready to carefully plate his sausage.

And the finished product.

charcuterie plate

The item in the foreground is a bread stuffed with forcemeat. Its an advanced technique that we have not learned.

Mexican Cuisine

Last week, we made some seriously delicious food, including carnitas, barbacoa, pozole, and some puffy tortilla thing which I’m forgetting the name of right now – I think sopas?

green pozole

This is a green pozole. Starts with a rich pork stock. Then add the green mole, which has a base of pepitas or pumpkin seeds.

Here’s the barbacoa.  It’s beef or lamb covered in a dried chile paste, and wrapped in banana leaves. It’s steamed in the leaves until tender.

barbacoa

The reveal. Those are avocado leaves that you see on top of the meat.

Here they are:  carnitas. The heaven of Mexican food.

carnitas

Carnitas. So easy. Marinate pork shoulder in salt and lime juice for a couple of hours. Put the pork shoulder in a pan of lard with sliced oranges, simmer until pork is completely tender.

I brought some of this home for my husband Randy.  He loved it, and asked the next day, “What was that? It was so good!”  I responded, “It’s fatty meat fried in meat fat.”  HA!

Obviously, it’s to be enjoyed in moderation.

Here’s  me and classmate Elizabeth Tager, aka “Tager.”  I’m holding what’s basically a version of Mexican koolaid. We steeped hibiscus petals in water, then added a ton ‘o sugar.  Our Chef makes sangria at his restaurant with it, but I think it would be terrific with gin and lime on ice.  A perfect summer cocktail.

me and Tager

Me and "Tager" enjoying our Mexican Koolaid.

Finally, here are the puffy thingies:

puffed tortillas

These are basically sweetened tortillas fried in oil until puffed. Dust with cinnamon sugar and chow down.

French bistro last week

Asparagus was the theme of the day in French bistro last week.  Chef Coutrieux is a big fan of peeling asparagus to achieve the perfect texture when cooked.  After having it peeled and unpeeled, I have to agree with him, but honestly, if I’m in a pinch for time, I still won’t peel.

asparagus with puff pastry

Asparagus with puff pastry and a beurre blanc. Beurre blanc is a butter sauce.

Asparagus soup, made with trimmings from asparagus. We’re big believers in wasting as little as possible.

asparagus soup

Asparagus soup with little heart designs in honor of Valentine's Day. Awwww.

The hearts are actually really simple to do.  Just dollop your creme fraiche or whatever creamy thing you have for garnish, and run your knife through it to create the indentation.

We also made a veal with a white sauce, or veloute. Veloute is made with stock, roux, cream.  This is definitely not my kind of dish, but very classical French bistro cuisine.

Veal de Blanquette

The dish is called veal de blanquette, which is literally veal covered in a blanket. Tranditional garnish includes pearl onions and mushrooms.

This dessert is called a “clafouti.”  It’s basically a crepe batter made without the butter, and baked in the oven until puffed and set.  I’ve made clafouti before, but included the butter, and I like it better that way.  Everything is better with butter!

The classic clafouti is made with cherries, often soaked in liqueur, like kirsch.  We didn’t have cherries, so I sauteed some apples and fired it with calvados (apple brandy)  instead.

clafouti

Apple clafouti. When you make it with cherries or another dark fruit, you can see it sticking up through the batter. It makes for a pretty and rustic presentation.

Finally, here’s Amy, another classmate, checking out the competition.

amy

Every cooking team sets out their plates at the end of the evening to compare presentation and taste one another's dishes. The chef always has a few words of explanation for us as well.

There you go. The last couple of weeks in photographs.  Hopefully I’ll be back in high gear and over this cold soon.

Until then, Bon appétit!

I promised to reveal the  name of my fictional catering company, so here she is:

Logo and tagline for my fictional catering company

I don’t have any fancy schmancy illustration software, so that’s why it looks so crummy.  The colors are actually much nicer than they appear, and the tagline, because you probably can’t read it says, “Garden fresh gourmet cuisine for all of your entertainment needs.”  It’s also supposed to be on 1 line, but like I said, I have limited tools to work with, so this is the best you’re going to get on my blog.

Here’s the description, still a draft:

Fresh Harvest Catering aims to create memorable experiences for events and parties serving up to 50 guests. Our menus are tailored specifically to our clients’ needs.  Our company embraces green and sustainable entertaining and agricultural practices. We source 95% of our ingredients from local and/or organic farmers and artisanal suppliers in Wisconsin and Illinois, and we use high quality recycled products in our business. We let the ingredients be the star of the show with our focus on simply prepared, beautiful and delicious food. We can create the perfect experience for our clients and their guests, whether it’s a fun and casual backyard barbeque, a whimsical birthday party for a friend, a glamorous holiday cocktail party, or an elegant fundraising reception.

This is all a work in progress. The tagline might change slightly, and I plan to tighten up the description as well as my bio, but I landed on something that is pretty close to what feels right to me.

Not that it matters, because honestly, the more I read and learn about running a catering business, the less interested I am in doing it.

Holy helluva a lot of work!

Naming the company and coming up with a concept is  just one tiny part of the project that we have to do.  In addition, I must put together a proposal for an event with 50 guests. That includes a cover letter, a budget, a menu, and even financial statements.

There’s a fall event around here called the Tour de Farms, which was conceived by local chef Dave Swanson through his company Braise RSA. It’s a bike tour, during which participants bike to different farms, meet the farmers, get a taste of the harvest, and end the day with a meal featuring local foods.

I’m going to borrow the concept for my project, and cater the post-ride party for participants. I think it will be the perfect party.

If you have any suggestions for dishes, please share!

Holy Mole!

Last week in my Cuisines of Mexico class, we got to tackle mole.  I was surprised that Chef Carlos wanted us to try other recipes that night too, which seemed a bit optimistic, but I shouldn’t have questioned him. We actually made several dishes that evening.

Now the mole we made wasn’t really a true mole, which has upwards of 25-30 ingredients. This one was a “quickie” mole. Why do I put  “quickie” in quotes? Because this still ain’t a midweek meal project. It required several steps, but it’s a great starter recipe that yielded a really tasty sauce.

Quickie Mole Poblano

If you’re in Milwaukee, you can get all of these ingredients (and so much more!) at El Rey.

4 ancho peppers
4 mulato peppers
4 guajillo peppers
4 pasilla peppers
3 roma tomatoes
1 onion, large dice
6 garlic cloves
4 oz blanched almonds
1 sweet plantain, large dice
4 oz blanched peanuts
1 oz sesame seeds
1 slice white bread
2 tortillas
1 tablet mexican chocolate, chopped
8 oz lard (we didn’t have any in the kitchen so we used cooking oil)
Chicken stock (I go over how to make stock here)

In dry skillet, char onions, tomatoes, and garlic.  Get ’em blacker than you think they should be. You won’t regret it.

Seed, devein, and fry chiles in lard or oil in small batches. Soak fried chiles in hot water for 10-15 minutes. Puree in blender with stock until very smooth. Strain.

Fry plantain and set aside.

Fry tortillas and bread until golden brown and set aside.

Fry almonds, peanuts and sesame seeds until golden brown. (Do sesame seeds separately – they’ll go much faster than the peanuts and almonds). Set aside.

(You can do all this frying in the same skillet. No need to change out the lard or oil).

Blend plantains, tortillas, bread, nuts and seeds together with the charred tomato, onion and garlic.  Strain.

Fry chile paste over med-high heat for 5-7 minutes. Add the nut-tomato paste and fry for 20 minutes, stirring constantly.  Add the mexican chocolate and about 2 quarts chicken stock.

Simmer for 2 hours. Adjust seasoning and serve over chicken. nom nom.

In addition to mole, we made arroz Mexicano, calabacitas con crema, chiles en nogada.

I really didn’t think I would like chiles en nogada, because it’s a sweeter dish, but surprisingly, I loved it.

The linked recipe is extremely close to how we made it in class, but if you want to amp it up, include these steps:

After peeling the skin off the poblanos, pickle them briefly – 15 minutes tops – before stuffing them with the filling.  It’s not a strong pickle. This is the mixture we used:

4 oz salt
4 oz brown sugar
pinch of thyme
pinch of marjoram
1 bay leaf
1/2 oz red wine vinegar

Actually, it’s more like a brine, but anyway, it just amps up the flavor of the peppers a bit.

Also, when you make the sauce, toast your walnuts before blending them.

Finally, in class we added a touch of vanilla, cinnamon, honey, and a bit of the adobo sauce from the can of chipotles in adobe.

So good.

The tragic thing about last week’s class is I forgot to take any photos!

I apologize for the wall of text today.

Next time:  Last week’s French Bistro menu and snow day projects!

Until then, Bon Appetit!