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Posts Tagged ‘ICE’

Our time spent on Regional Italian Cuisine blew past before I had a chance to really let it all sink in; punctuated by a “Hurricane,” Labor Day, and a lot of soaking up the last moments of summer, we’ve already moved on in the kitchen to curries, noodles and sushi. But I’d feel amiss if I didn’t spend a bit of time talking about the cuisine of one of my favorite counties and sharing our culinary education through this great country with some photos and detail.

First of all, probably the coolest thing we covered in our Tour d’Italia at ICE (that I didn’t learn in my Italian Techniques recreational class last year) was how to make our own fresh mozzarella. I know, it seems too good to be true, right? How could this much beloved food, whose creation is a mystery to most of us, actually be easy enough to make in your own home / classroom? It blew my mind how simple it really was!

You start with a pot of super salty (as in saltier than the sea) water, and bring it to a boil. You’ll also need some cheese curds, two big bowls, a ladle and a wooden spoon, and a few pairs of latex gloves lest you burn your little fingers. Add the cheese curds to a bowl, and ladle some hot water over them, until they’re just covered. Don your gloves and man your spoon! Use the spoon to massage the curds until they start to form a large, soft mass. Eventually switch from the spoon to using your hands to massage the cheese, kneading it gently until it is just soft (be careful not to over work it). Switch out the cloudy, cooling water for fresh hot water frequently.

Once the cheese is soft, the fun part kicks in. Remove the mushy cheese mass from it’s salty brine, and begin to stretch it, as  perhaps you’ve seen on TV, or if you’re a New Yorker, in Eataly. Stretch and fold the mass a few times until you are back to having a small ball. Place it in your bowl, switch out the cooling brine for hot water, and repeat this process two more times. Once you’ve done that, you’re basically done! Just form your cheese into one, two, or three small balls, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate in a container of left-over brine until you’re ready to use. That took, what, five minutes? Sweet.

We used the fresh motz to make some truly delicious and super simple sandwiches, also known as Mozzarella en Carozza or “Mozzarella in a Carriage” (cute, eh?). It’s as simple as layering the cheese along with some fresh tomato and basil in between two slices of Italian bread, dipping in egg, then breadcrumb, and frying in hot olive oil until golden brown and crisp on both sides. Think of this as an upscale version of Mozzarella sticks!
Excellent dipped in marinara and enjoyed until a food coma sets in.

   

And then, of course, there was pasta. Everything from fresh, hand-rolled tortellini and ravioli stuffed with butternut squash and pine nuts, to stiff, hearty semolina bucatini tossed in a savory tomato-ricotta sauce was fair game. We kneaded, rolled, and sliced more fettucine than I care to recall, though it’s a source of personal pride to say I’ve now mastered both an old-school hand-cranked pasta machine, and the rolling-it-out by hand technique.

 

 

 

The resulting butternut squash ravioli in a sage-brown butter sauce (my cure for all life problems) was to-die-for. Simple, exquisite, delicioso!

And so, over the course of five days, we gave life to these indulgent plates of flour and egg, cheese and olive oil…

Warning: Do not proceed on an empty stomach. 

Hand-cut fettucini with pesto, green beans, potatoes and Parmigiano-Reggiano

Rigatoni with mini cauliflower florets and sweet Italian sausage 

Sicilian salad of slivered fennel, red onion and orange with olive oil and red wine vinegar

Eggplant and Pine nut Caponata with Bruschette

Potato Gnocchi with a Fresh Cherry Tomato and Thyme Sauce

Acqua Pazza – Also known as Red Snapper in “Crazy Water”

Crispy Eggplant Fritters with Parmigiano-Reggiano and a Zesty Yogurt Dipping Sauce

Hand-cut Fettuccine with a Sundried Tomato Pinenut Pesto, topped with Parmigiano-Reggiano

And, last but not least, hand-cut Pappardelle with a rich Wild Boar Ragu

Anyone who reads my blog regularly probably knows this already, but it’s worth mentioning again that I’m a huge fan of Italian cuisine. If anything, our few days spent exploring the varied and delicious cuisines of Italy only reaffirmed my love for this country’s food, while imparting in me a great knowledge for the lesser known specialties and regional dishes. While perhaps it wasn’t all new information, it was certainly one of the most enjoyable and fun-filled sections of culinary school to date – here’s hoping for more to come :-)

Keep an eye out for a recap of our Culinary Silk Road and see how ICE does Asian fare with dishes from India, Thailand, China and Japan – coming up soon!

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In the past few lessons we’ve wrapped up our “travels” through some of the most delicious regions in France, just in time to depart to the homeland of my heritage – Italy! But before we can dive headfirst into some fabulous Italiano cuisine, there were a few essential regional French dishes that deserve some accolades.

I’m pleased to report that with regional French cooking demystified and behind us, I can reflect that cooking authentic French food is not particularly complex or difficult – rather, it’s just plain time-consuming, and it may require you to Google the names of some lesser known ingredients. But I feel pretty confident in saying that thorough organizational and time management skills might actually trump culinary prowess when it comes to cooking French food.

When I last checked in, we were dousing our bubbling pots with heavy cream and calvados as we explored the cuisine of Normandy and Brittany – the wet, coastal regions of Northern France. In the past few lessons, we’ve taken a turn south and mastered dishes that most Americans more readily associate with French cuisine: classics like Cassoulet, Duck Confit, Salade Lyonnaisse and Boeuf Bourguignon (Happy 99th Birthday, Julia Child!). These are the dishes that prove that the French have known for some time what they’re doing; each one was full of complex flavor, moist and succulent, and capitalized on fresh ingredients local to its region of origin.

We started in the Midi region of France. Years ago, before modernizations in food transport and storage made fresh ingredients readily available in many areas, the harsh winters of the Midi region led its inhabitants to create dishes that capitalized on non-perishable ingredients that could be prepared during the more bountiful months and stored through the winter. Ingredients like duck confit, which was (and still can be) stored in the fat it’s cooked in for weeks; garlic sausage; navy beans; salt-cured ham hocks. Enter, Cassoulet.

Before last week, the extent of my knowledge on Cassoulet centered on hearing about Anthony Bourdain’s obsession and my own father rave about how delicious the one he enjoyed on his trip to France was. I’d heard whisperings that it was extremely complex, and yet we were going to make it in a day! Nay, four hours! Thanks to Chef, who cooked our duck confit ahead of time for us, we were  able to pull it off. Since cassoulet was such a mystery to me, here’s a bit of an explanation. The building blocks for a cassoulet are as follows: navy beans, simmered until tender in a broth of water, ham hock and onion; lamb seared and stewed in wine, veal stock and tomato concasse; duck confit; garlic sausage; and sautéed pork tenderloin. The beans are layered with the meat (three layers of beans, two of meat), and the whole thing is doused with the stewing liquid, topped with duck fat, breadcrumbs and parsley, and baked in the oven until crispy and bubbling. The resulting casserole is full of rich, warm layers of flavors that have melded together and enhanced each other, diversity of textures, and earthy undertones from the garlic, onion and beans. For someone who rarely eats food this heavy, I have no problem admitting that this was flat-out one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted.

While we used some of the duck confit for the Cassoulet, we reserved a few legs and crisped them up in a hot sauté pan full of duck fat to top this salad of Watercress, Red Cabbage and Candied Walnuts. The biggest lesson we learned from this dish? Always make hundreds of some extra candied walnuts. Or hide them. ‘Cause man, do those things disappear in a busy kitchen.

One of the coolest dishes from the Midi region we learned to make was Pommes a la Sarladaise. “Sarladaise” technically translates to “Duck Fat,” but we cooked these potatoes in clarified butter because, well, there was definitely enough duck fat going on elsewhere (re: confit, cassoulet). It still came out delicious, crisp and caramelized – not to mention, beautiful. Check out the flower petal-like pattern!

But what exactly is going on here? Well, after you wash and peel your potatoes, slice them very thinly on a mandolin. Also, peel and slice some truffles. Yep, black truffles. No big deal. (Seriously, it’s very cool that we get to work with truffles. And now we know where that tuition money is going :) ) Then, in a hot saute pan with some warmed clarified butter, begin to layer the potatoes, starting in the center and layering outwards. For every two layers of potato, you add a layer of truffles and some salt and pepper until you have a mound that peeks over the rim of the pan. Pop it in the oven, baked it for 20-25 minutes, flip it once, and as soon as it’s golden brown and cooked through, it’s ready.

As one of my classmates put it, this dish is pretty sexy. The slivers of black truffle take what would be a fairly basic potato dish, and kick it up a notch!

In the last night of French cooking, we took on some more classics – dishes you are likely to see in any bistro, like Salade Lyonnaisse and Boeuf Bourguignon. The Salade Lyonnaise, a frisee salad topped with lardons, handmade croutons and poached egg, tossed in a warm red wine vinaigrette, was a personal favorite. Call me crazy, but egg yolk to me is the perfect creamy pairing for greens – it’s like nature’s salad dressing! How beautiful is that?

Alongside the salad we served a dish whose French name translates to “Brains of the Silk Weaver.” Um, what? This name sort of stopped me dead in my tracks. I immediately assumed we were going to be dealing with some sort of obscure organ meat or, dare I say, brains?

Maybe admitting this removes all my credibility as a foodie, but I really don’t like offal. I just like to stick with what works, like the tenderloin, for example. Luckily, this dish’s name was based solely on the visual description of the farmer’s cheese that was the central ingredient of this dish. We whipped the cheese up with some minced shallots, herbs, salt and pepper, and were left with a spread that I’d liken to Boursin – but better. We schmeared it on some olive-oil toasted crostini and chowed down – these were a huge crowd pleaser, and there were barely any left by the end of class.

This next dish is what my classmates and I would refer to as “Wow-zah!” Since I can’t technically tell you exactly what’s in that (proprietary curriculum knowledge, etc.), I will give you a brief overview of all that goes into this little gratin dish of seafood paradise. Whole shrimp (head on, if you like), sautéed and then added to a creamy garlicky mushroom sauce. Once that is laid down in the gratin dish, a glaze is made by combining a seafood velouté (one of the mother sauces, this time made with a shrimp stock), whipped heavy cream and hollandaise sauce (FYI – a sauce made from hollandaise and whipped cream is called a Chantilly sauce). The glaze is poured over the shrimp…

And the whole thing goes under the broiler for a couple of minutes. The result?

A gorgeous shrimp gratin! I thought it was amazing how the top looked like a bubbling layer of cheese, and yet there was no cheese anywhere in the topping at all! Cooking really is such an interesting science.

Finally, the grand finale of the evening and our journey into regional French cooking, the very appropriate Boeuf Bourguignon. Every time I hear this dish mentioned, I remember that scene from Julia and Juliet where Amy Adams’ character struggles to recreate one of Julia Child’s most revered dishes. But honestly? Boeuf Bourguignon epitomizes my claim from earlier – a dish that, if you prioritize and plan properly, is fairly straightforward to make and really shouldn’t scare you! Just keep your eyes on the prize – that amazingly luscious and tangy burgundy wine sauce – which makes the entire dish worth it. Did I mention it’s topped with bacon, caramelized mushrooms and glazed onions? Mmmmhmmm.  Bon Appetit!

And so, with that, we bid France Adeiu! It’s been a wonderful couple of weeks through the countryside, and though we’ve enjoyed the pork, the duck, the bacon, and the cream, we’re moving along to Italia for some fresh pasta, light, fresh sauces, and a taste of the Mediterranean.  Until then, arrivederci!

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I just got back from seeing El Bulli, the raved about (both positively and negatively) documentary on what is arguably the world’s best restaurant. My thoughts on the film were mixed (clearly my feelings about food and cooking diverge far and wide from those of Ferran Adria), but my mind is still stuck in a world of beautiful plates and artistic food design. Whoever said you can’t play with your food clearly has never seen what they come up with at El Bulli.

Our last days of “Restaurant Cooking,” or the very intense menu-style of cooking we’d been practicing at ICE, came to an end last week, and I took the opportunity to play with some different varieties of plating of my own.

Timbale of Roasted Vegetables and Goat Cheese with Micro Greens, Parmesan Tuile, and Beet Juice Vinaigrette.

I had fun with this one.

We also made a simple dish: Magret stuffed with Fois Gras and Spinach, with Polenta Cakes and Cipollini Onions.

Finally, a Torneado of Beef over Bean Saute and Potato-Garlic Cakes. Very simple and completely delicious.

The next night, Chef Robert was away for a family reunion, so he found us a substitute teacher, and man did he do right by us. Tuesday night was our first night in regional cooking, and we started in the north of France with the cuisine of Normandy and Brittany. Chef R recruited a personal friend of his – a chef – who was actually born, raised, and trained in classical technique in Brittany!! No one could have been more equipped to teach us this class, and with a jovial and entertaining personality to boot, our evening in Northern France was lovely and delicious.

The two stand out dishes of the evening were very rich; Northern France is notorious for producing tons of butter and heavy cream, and the cuisine reflects it. We started with a Homard a l’Americaine with Riz en Couronne. Translation? A rich, saffron-perfumed Lobster stew served in a ring of rice pilaf. I literally could not stop eating this soup – and definitely recommend looking into this recipe for a great winter dish.

Not to mention, it’s sort of show stopper:

I had the pleasure of making a sumptuous pork dish that I will surely be recreating come fall: Cotes de Porc Normande. Northern France may not produce a lot of wine, but they are famous for their apple orchards, and subsequently, their production of Calvados – French Apple Brandy. Calvados is the secret ingredient in this insane meal – well, that and a ton of heavy cream. I can’t keep it all to myself, so essentially here’s how it works:

Get some pork chops. Sear them up until well browned on both sides in some oil in a hot pan. Remove them, and add some butter to the pan. When the butter is just starting to brown, toss in rings of apple and saute them until they’re golden brown and caramelized on both sides. Then, lay the seared chops in a casserole, sprinkle with bread crumbs and layer with the apples. Back at your pan, deglaze with calvados and reduce until nearly dry, then add heavy cream. As soon as the cream starts to boil, pour it over the pork chops and throw the whole thing in the oven. Bake for about 15 minutes, and then proceed to dive headfirst into one of the most autumnal, earthy, satisfying meals you’ve ever had.

It may not be El Bulli, but it works for me :) 

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The Rush

At the very end of the last lesson of Module 2, Chef Anna left our sweaty, scrappy, practical-surviving class with an ominous message:

The next five lessons are going to be the hardest nights of your life. That’s no BS. Prepare yourselves.”

We all stared at her for a moment, dumbfounded, as she slowly nodded. But then she let out her signature bark of a laugh, popped a cork, and we all smiled. We drank champagne, and later she told us that after the fifth lesson of Module 3, the world would re-right itself and things would go back to normal in our kitchen classroom – challenging and enjoyable, minus the break-neck pace and scary intensity.

It’s hard to believe that will ever be true after the first two lessons of Mod 3.

Sunday night was our first class with our new instructor; after four  months with Chef Anna, we bid her farewell in order to learn from and work under a new chef. Most of us had a sneaking suspicion that this chef’s primary role would be to whip us into shape – and, as I realized when our new chef instructed me to stomp animatedly on his foot to demonstrate the difference between his standard regulation steel-toed shoes and my far less adequate brand new Crocs – we were right.

The past three nights we have staggered out of the doors of the kitchen soaked in sweat, coated in remnants of everything from Fois Gras to Sweetbreads to Blood Orange juice; mushroom gills and caul fat lodged under our fingernails, comis caps pushed back on our beading foreheads yet somehow still in place, chef coats buttoned all the way up to our flushed necks. But. But. I finally get what chefs mean when they talk about “The Rush.” And the best part is – this is only the beginning.

The challenge of the first five nights of Mod 3, unbeknownst to us when we finished Mod 2 and couldn’t see further than the two-week vacation in our path, is the practice of prepping, cooking, and plating to near-perfection a full dinner menu for two people, in real-time. That means that class starts at six PM, lecture ends somewhere in the ballpark of 6:30 to 7, and we are required to plate our appetizer at eight, first entrée at eight-thirty, and second entrée at nine. As unseasoned culinary students, we pull this off with nowhere near the savvy or style of Top Chef contestants, but still, the tension and urgency in our classroom rides akin to that of a QuickFire challenge.

Sunday night, we started things off on a very doable note: Ahi Tuna Carpaccio with Micro-Greens, Radish Sprouts, Oil-Bloomed Capers and a Spicy Horseradish Aioli. The tuna was more fragile than a hot crepe, and it was all I could do not to tear it as it stubbornly stuck to my fingers, the plastic wrap, and generally everything but the plate. After a few minutes of struggling, finally, success…

Continuing our seafood theme, up next were a duo of Seared Sea Scallops, Braised Cabbage Chiffonade with Lardons, Parsnip Sauce and Miniature Pommes Frites. This was crazy-good and I could literally drink that parsnip sauce out of a mug. I know what you’re thinking – of course there was butter in it! Does anyone drink anything besides butter-laden sauces out of mugs anymore? Come on…

We ended Night 1 under pressure, but strong, with the bizarrely named “Sautéed Halibut and Warm Vinaigrette.” For the record, our class spent the first ten minutes of class trying to identify what exactly about this dish actually constituted a vinaigrette. We concluded that the name was a farce. Our new Chef rationalized that if it were summer, perhaps you would put this on a menu as a “Vinaigrette” to highlight the spring vegetables and light flavors, which are far more seasonal than a “Vegetable stew.” Either way, it was totally delicious and rocked the house. I’ll be making this one again.

Sautéed Halibut with Warm Citrus Vegetables: White and Green Asparagus, Turned Artichokes, Tomato Confit and Fennel.

Night one was hard, no question about it, but the general mood leaving the classroom Sunday night was positive, upbeat, and excited.

Night two was a different story.

Chef had toyed with the notion of cutting the Arctic Char from our Monday night menu. Perhaps he thought, like I did, that something about mixing Fois Gras, Sweetbread, Quail, Culinary students and Mondays was just asking for trouble. But then, he changed his mind. A Chef’s prerogative, I guess.

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of working with such delicacies as Fois Gras and Sweetbreads, let me lift the veil of mystery for you. Fois Gras is essentially the overgrown liver of force-fed ducks, making it high in fat and politically incorrect undertones. It’s really exploded in popularity lately, but that doesn’t mean it’s become any less of a pain to prep. Fois Gras is loaded with tons of tiny, thread-like veins, which mostly still contain blood and need to be removed with tweezers before cooking. Ideally, this is done without mangling the two lobes of the liver. As Chef Anna would have said, “don’t go digging for gold.” In my own words, it’s a pain in the you-know-what.

Meanwhile, Sweetbreads are the thymus gland of veal (more politically incorrect-ness) which need to be soaked in milk, blanched off, removed of their membrane, and broken up into “nuggets” before they can be cooked.

Plus four pounds of mushrooms that had to be brushed free of sticky, stubborn dirt by hand. Plus venison.

Optimism, my friends. Optimism.

We were really moving along quite nicely – at one point around 7:45 there was even a lull that perhaps gave way to false overconfidence – and were able to put up the appetizer, seared Arctic char over mixed greens with citrus vinaigrette, blood orange supremes, herbes fines oil and candied blood orange zest, with little problem. We even allowed ourselves a short break to dig into the dish and enjoy a bit of dinner before turning to our entrees.

From there, things got hellish as we attempted to stuff baby quail with sweetbread “marmalade” while searing off our venison. There was one point where the bunch of us stood with saggy sheets of caul fat, some more than others clumsily wrapping their birds up like presents, more bow-tying than trussing with kitchen twine. I looked up in the midst of this process, realizing that I personally had zero clue whether my venison was on the stove or in the oven; my brain had shot off in various different directions with no intention of allowing me to keep up. I was simultaneously clocking how long the mushroom gratin had been in the salamander, locating my venison and approximating its doneness; stuffing, wrapping and trussing my quail, and trying to remember where the chestnut compound butter was. This is what chefs do.

In the end though, we survived. The quail came up at 9:10, rather than 8:30, and no, Chef was not pleased. But the cranberry sauce was thick and syrupy, the quail moist and succulent, and the overall effect dramatic. Perhaps the most startling and abstract food photo I’ve taken, Pan-Roasted Quail stuffed with Sweetbread Marmalade; Fois Gras Bread Pudding; Macerated cranberry pan sauce.

The venison, amazingly, came out cooked to medium-rare perfection (I was pleased, as red-meat is one of my greatest challenges) and Chef’s greatest criticism was that I should have left the sauce to the side. We served the venison and its chestnut-red wine pan sauce alongside a four-mushroom and potato gratin and sweet-potato-pine-nut puree, an earthy, satisfying and strongly autumnal combination. But because we plated this dish nearly forty minutes past deadline, there wasn’t even a moment to snap a photo.

And so we dragged our bodies from the kitchen a good thirty minutes past ten, pondering inwardly and aloud how we could possibly prevent such madness from ensuing again, and how long before we could unwind with a beer in hand. Some questions are more easily answered than others…

Stay tuned for Mod 3, night 3 later this week!

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After a nearly two-week long break from culinary classes, during which there was much catching up on sleep, fun in the sun, summery cocktails and helping the boyfriend with one big interstate move, I was finally back in the kitchens of ICE last night for our final class of Module 2. It feels completely surreal to wake up one July morning and realize Culinary School is one-third over, and we all have over four hefty months of experience under our belts. A lot has changed for most of us in the past few months – some have become avid volunteers in the culinary world, some have bridged the gap from classroom to professional kitchen, I’ve changed my mind, and changed it back again about what I want to do with my life post-ICE. Oh yes, and we’ve all become much stronger cooks.

Monday night saw quite the send-off as our last night cooking under the direction of Chef Anna. Starting next week, we’ll be receiving instruction from a new chef-essor, one who I have a feeling will make it his mission to whip us into shape. The fact is, while culinary school has up to this point definitely been work, and even extremely hard work at times, Chef Anna has inspired such fun, creativity, and a warm social atmosphere in our kitchen that any fears I had of learning from a screaming head chef vanished during my first few weeks at ICE. While I’m definitely looking forward to our next Chef being challenging and raising the bar for our cuisine and technique, I can only hope that he or she lives up to Chef Anna’s unique and charismatic methods of teaching.

So back to class. “Sandwich Night” is fairly mythological at ICE. Months ago, in my wine class, I heard whisperings of it from other students who were in Mod 2, who wistfully recalled the sheer deliciousness of the evening’s haul. And when I noticed the majority of ICE’s staff meandering past our classroom a bit more often than usual last night, it was clear that “Sandwich Night’s” allure reached far beyond the confines of the kitchen-classroom. One whisper of “Croque-Monsieur,” and they flocked like moths to the flame.

The prep work was easily divided – there were about ten sandwiches, and nine of us, so nearly everyone got the opportunity to exclusively work on their recipe and perfect its flavor and presentation. The result…

Well, it was downright glorious.

The Tea Sandwiches, like this Egg Salad on Pumpernickle bite, were definitely my favorite. The perfect bite-sized portions and the ideal balance of a creamy, savory filling with the hearty dark bread led to me downing about five of these at once!

Also phenomenal were the curried chicken salad baguette bites! This was a light, refreshing spin on chicken salad that married the smoky, exotic flavors of curry with the light, cool essence of chicken salad, sealing the deal with crunchy bits of cashew. I’ll definitely be making this for my next summertime picnic…

You may have noticed that a few little stow-aways were sprinkled in there – Smoked Salmon and Chive Creme Fraiche Canapés! Chef dug deep into her Fine Dining repertoire of knowledge and taught us how to make smoked salmon roses to jazz up the canapés. Almost to beautiful to eat (…almost…).

The other canapés were also delicious – the open-faced Shrimp Brochette, for example: blissfully sautéed shrimp on a crispy slice of baguette with an herb compound butter and julienne radish.

There were also some rich, almost-too-heavy-for-summer-months hot sandwiches; a croque monsieur stuffed with bechamel that in and of itself was able to convey the sumptuous stigma of French cuisine. While I know eating one would lead to an inevitable stomach ache, I couldn’t bear seeing these get tossed out, so I boxed one up and brought it home with me.

One of my Israeli classmates, Corey, whipped up steaming hot reubens stuffed with homemade sauerkraut – by far the BEST reuben I’ve ever tasted.

Oh – and there were also chicken burgers with swiss cheese …

And grilled Salmon BLTs. No big deal… 

The biggest surprise of the night was far and away the Deviled Ham Tea Sandwiches. When re-writing the recipe onto note cards before class, I noticed the recipe called for chunked boiled ham pureed in a food processor with mustard, mayo, and cayenne pepper. The idea of pureed boiled ham was, in a word, revolting, and I immediately volunteered to prep a different dish when this was up for grabs. Later, when it came time to sample, my ever-enthusiastic classmate Leigh Ann who had made these sandwiches begged me to try one. So I did, and as I should have suspected, I was way off base. The flavor of the ham filling was reminiscent of a hot dog, albeit spicier, with the white bread mimicking the bun. Just goes to show you, never judge a recipe by its… cover.

After all this, my instruction under Chef Anna comes to a final end tonight with hardest challenge we have been faced with as Culinary students thus far: The Timed Practical. We have 1 hour and fifteen minutes to prep, cook, and provide service for a New York Strip Steak with shallot pan sauce, crispy garlic-herb potatoes and sautéed green beans. My immediate reaction is that this will be more than enough time; my second instinct is to not get cocky! Here’s to a successful run tonight, and more exciting adventures in Mods 3 – 5!

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The name of this dish alone is enough to inspire an appetite. Totally classic, some-might-call retro throw-back comfort food, appropriate any time of year, as comfortable along side burgers and dogs, straight off the grill under the blazing summer sun as it is on a chilly winter evening, soaking up the run-off juice from supper’s pot roast. Baked potatoes are as familiar and common as side-dishes come, and yet there is nothing run-of-the-mill about this starchy, satisfying spin on the classic spud that we whipped up in class this week.

Chef let us venture off the beaten path for this one. With baked potatoes fairly straightforward to prepare, and nothing at all exciting about the recipe we were provided with, she procured for us a variety of extra ingredients and let us do whatever we liked with them in order to build the baked potato of our dreams. At one point she actually slapped a one-pound package of fresh bacon into my hand, winked at me, and said, “Use the whole thing.”

Aren’t potatoes the best? They can be rich, hot and creamy, cool and hearty, crisp, salty, vinegary… But they’ve gotten such a bad rap lately for being a super starchy, almost passe and nutritionally average vegetable. In a world where antioxidant rich, high fiber and high protien veggies seem to get all the attention and affection, what’s a poor potato-lover to do?

All good things in moderation, my friends.

I think you can see where this is going. But by the way, if plain old white potatoes aren’t a mainstay in your diet (they’re definitely not one in mine, despite my love for them), why not let yourself go for an evening with this indulgent side-dish? And here’s a thought! If you do want to “healthen” it up a bit, why not make it with a sweet potato? Take it even further and use your favorite cheese and other condiments to add a little melt and crunch to your potato base.

Great… now I’m totally fantasizing about how phenominal this would be if you used a sweet potato and stuffed with a little goat cheese, cinnamon and chopped pecan!

Like so many of my favorite recipes that I share, this one is more about understanding the process so that you can customize it with whatever foods you have on hand or flavors you prefer! The following recipe is absolutely a guideline to remixing any potato with whatever condiments, cheeses, nuts, or whatever your heart desires.

Twice-Baked Cheesy Bacon Potatoes- Yields 4 stuffed potatoes

From my own experimentation

Ingredients:

  • 4 large Idaho potatoes
  • 1/2 pound of bacon
  • 1 cup of shredded gruyere
  • 1 1/2 cups of broccoli florets
  • 8 ounces of heavy cream
  • 3 Tbsp of rendered bacon fat (from bacon above; you can also use butter)
  • 1/4 cup of minced chives (for garnish)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Canola oil

Method:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Wash your potatoes well, scrubbing to remove excess dirt, and dry them. Coat them well with canola oil and prick each potato with fork in a few spots. Place them on a sheet pan and roast in the oven for about an hour, or until you can easily insert a knife into a potato. Remove and let potatoes cool on a cooling rack.

While the potatoes are roasting, prepare your mix-ins. In this case, bacon and broccoli need to be prepped. Start with the bacon: Stack the strips of bacon in reasonable groupings; slice once long-ways down the middle, and then cut shortways so you are left with “lardons” or small cubes of bacon. Add the lardons to a large saute pan, and set over a medium-high flame. Cook bacon until crispy, removing the excess fat from the pan occassionally (reserve this bacon fat for later). Once bacon is crisp, remove from heat and reserve.

To prepare the broccoli, bring a small saucepan of water to a boil, and blanch the broccoli in boiling water in batches for about 2 to 3 minutes, or until the broccoli is cooked through. Shock in ice water. Once broccoli is cooled, separate stems from florets. Mince the stems and reserve. Set the florets aside as well.

Once potatoes have cooled, use a small knife to cut a 1/4 inch thick sliver off of the top of the potato. If desired, you can scrape the potato flesh out of this piece and reserve. Then, using a teaspoon and being very gentle, hold the remaining potato in your hand and scoop the starchy flesh out the potato skin. Reserve this ‘mashed’ potato and set skin aside. Repeat with all four potatoes. Pass the mashed potato through a ricer or foodmill, and stir in the minced broccoli stems.

Meanwhile, mix the heavy cream with 3 tablespoons of your reserved bacon fat and heat in a small saucepan. Once hot, add to the potato mixture, adding just a little at a time until the potatoes are smooth and creamy (how much you need will depend on how moist your potatoes were to start with). Season with salt and pepper, and any other seasonings or aromatics desired (roasted garlic, anyone?).

Now comes the assembly. In the hollow potato skin, layer your broccoli florets, bacon bits, and shredded gruyere cheese. Then, using either a spoon, or if you want to get fancy (we did), a pastry bag with a fluted tip, fill the potato skins tightly with the mashed potato mixture. Feel free to get creative with the shapes and designs you can make with the pastry tip!!

Once your skins are full, top your stuffed potatoes with cheese if desired, and crank your oven up to 400. Pop these back in for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Then grab a fork and knife, and dig right in!!

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Getting ICED

Hey friends!

A very happy Wednesday to all you out there in cyberspace. Today’s post is just a quick update about a few minor changes to the blog. Those who stop by occassionally may not even notice these modifications, but for those who read more regularly, I wanted to make sure these changes were explained.

First, let me back up. For the past couple of months, I’ve been recounting and sharing my journey through culinary school at the Institute of Culinary Education here on my blog. It’s been an amazing journey so far, in which my skills as a cook (and breadth of experiences as an individual) have grown immensely. Perhaps more importantly, it’s been a delight to share pictures, stories, and some recipes with you all as a sort of “peak behind closed doors” at ICE.

But, as I probably should have considered, those doors are kept closed to non-students for a reason. I was recently contacted by the school and while they were extremely supportive of my blog and in favor of me sharing my experiences and photographs of classes at ICE with you all, they brought to my attention that their recipes are proprietary to the curriculum and property of the school. In plain English, they asked me to kindly stop posting them all on the Internet.

So now I feel kind of dumb :-/ While this rule wasn’t apparent to me from the get go, it does make a lot of sense. Part of ICE’s value add to their true-blue, tuition paying students is the classic technique that they teach through, well, their recipes! And as a food-blogger, I consider it my responsibility to anyone who reads my blog to be completely transparent and honest when it comes to any changes to the status-quo or backlogged posts I’ve written.

That being said, nearly everything about the blog will stay the same. I’ll still be sharing the occassional pictures, stories and general lessons learned from my classes at ICE with you. I’ll still focus on showing photos of specific dishes we make – the greatest difference will be that all recipes I direct you to will now be based off of public knowledge (i.e. Internet recipes available to the general public), or developed in my own kitchen. I have also replaced the handful of ICE recipes I posted in the past with ones that were similar in ingredients, technique and results, but from publicly available Internet sources. Please note that I have only chosen replacement recipes that I feel confident will yield equally successful results.

And so far as recipes from my own pint-sized New York City kitchen, or reviews of the myriad of foodie havens I visit, the only thing I plan on changing is the stories, along with increasingly engaging writing and photographs. Beyond informing others about all the random culinary knowledge I encounter, this blog has always been a tool for my own growth and learning, and it will continue to be one :)  

Thanks for reading!

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