Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Techniques of Fine Cooking: Entry 3 (Starring Braised Celery!)

The Menu

Mussels Steamed in White Wine or Thai Mussels with Red Curry

YUM. I love mussels and I especially love mussels that come with bread and lots of juice for dipping bread in. This is why I was only able to eat 1/3 of my main plate of food. I don't think I've ever made mussels and this is a huge shame because they are super easy and super yummy -- mostly I think I'm afraid of purchasing any food that is given to me while still alive. The instructor claims that I can make mussel salad out of the left over mussels tomorrow night, which I think might be a trap to kill me off before I ask him another nit-picky question about the difference between Italian and American pine nuts or clarification on the meaning of the word insipid or annoy him with my insistance that everything must be photographed (Also: The mussels were from PEI -- something at least one of my readers will be happy about).

Braised Lamb Shanks with Juniper Berries and Rosemary

Yum again! this recipe truly illustrated the beauty of braising and gives me new ways to use my beautiful new(ish) Le Crueset dutch oven. Call it laziness but I love any meat that fall off of the bone. This is also a nice use for juniper berries, which (in addition to American pine nuts) grow wild near my home town. The instructor said that juniper berries also work well with game (Mom and Dad: Pay attention! you have game and juniper berries! I expect both to be featured in my next welcome home meal. Also: I am now demanding welcome home meals.).

Braised Leeks/Celery/Endive

My group was lucky enough to get assigned the awesome celery in this little exercise in squeezing all the crunchy fun out of vegetables. The instructor didn't do much to sell this situation -- he immediately offered us the option of choosing what mussel variety we wanted to make (we took the standard French variety) as advanced payment for suffering through the celery pain. Because I am a task master who doesn't really trust other people to get shit done most of the celery pain was felt by me (this is probably fair. I should learn to count on people, anyone wanna do some trust falls with me after Mathletes?). So I spent TWO HOURS making soggy celery. Amazingly this dish includes both bacon and booze and yet still fails to be anything but bland. I forced everyone on my team (and Kajal) to eat it and like it *shakes fist.* Most claimed that it was surprisingly "not that bad."

Incidentally: Braised Leeks? kind of awesome. (notably more awesome than the endive which is especially shocking since we coated the endive in cheese).

Warm Lentil Salad

My team didn't participate in making this salad so I feel no qualms about dissing it. The instructor warned us during prep that the salad had a tendency to be a bit bland and that we should taste it at the end and add more vinegar or even some hot sauce to improve the flavor -- I suspect this wasn't done.

Belgian Endive Salad with Shallot Vinaigrette

Were you wondering what I was doing in the 30mins when I was not working on "Celery Does Not Make a Good Side Dish Unless it is Smothered in Peanut Butter"? I was julienning an INSANE amount of endive! Despite the ridiculous amount of time spent chopping this the salad was pretty yummy even though it was just endive with salad dressing. The crunchy bitterness of the envide was a great contrast to the otherwise soft and homey meal.

Chocolate Mousse

Each of the three teams made a variation on this recipe, we added amaretto, one team added kahlua and the third team added kirsch. This recipe expertly illustrated the theory of relativity. Had I been served any of these desserts alone I would have happily licked the bowl clean (chocolate + cream + liquor? Who can complain?) but having all three to taste made it clear that all mousse is not created equal. While I thought the flavor of our amaretto chocolate mousse to be the best the texture was notably grainy and stiff -- we had obviously over whipped the cream or over folded when combining chocolate and cream. The kahlua version was amazingly light and smooth -- clearly one of the teams had a lot less anger to work out. I didn't actually take part in much of the mousse making (See: celery is awesome when cooked for 2 hours) so I obviously cannot be blamed for the cream and/or chocolate abuse. I'm going to try to come up with an excuse (it's March 28th! time for mousse!) to make chocolate mousse at home later this week in an effort to combine perfect texture and taste.

1. Cooking is kind of zen. I have a really hard time shutting off my mind and just being. I realized last night that I can get into a bit of a cooking groove where I am not using up 20% of my mind thinking about work or obsessing over what I wore yesterday or making lists of things to do over the weekend. My therapist is going to throw me a party when I mention this.

2. You may not know this but I am a big fan of efficiency -- the amount of time I spend thinking about ways to speed up my commute or multitask while getting ready for work ("If i could just combine putting on my socks with brushing my teeth I could sleep for 5 more minutes!") is truly shocking. This little personality flaw serves me well when it comes to pretending I'm a chef!

3. Cooking is DIRTY! Overheard while in cooking class: "Oh wait, the tip slipped out."And then there's that picture on the left (that's Joey of "hot gay boy" fame.).

For more cooking goodness see Kajal's blog here.


themikestand said...

I just have to say that my enjoyment (via blog and pictures) is worth every penny of the eleventy-hundred dollars you paid for this course.

alia said...

what he said. ;)

also, we would be happy to help you celebrate March 28th day. (and hey, isn't it always March 28th in our hearts?)


themikestand said...

Hold it. What's March 28th day? Does it involve drinking?