The Garde Manger Brigade

Garde Manger is nearly half over, and I now feel like I can refer to my classmates collectively as a brigade rather than individually as classmates.  My chef works us, and he works us hard.  He's not afraid to yell at us which is a change from previous classes.  Production is I-N-T-E-N-S-E.  I fall asleep at night with, "Come on people!  Let's move!" ringing in my ears.  We work furiously for 7 hours (that's 6:10 a.m. until 1:00 p.m.) to put together pates, terrines, smoked meats, canapes, salads, sauces, and aspic-covered trays.  And my group (if you can even call it that) consists of me and one other person.  That's right.  2 people. Most groups have 3 so we have been at a disadvantage since the first day of production.  My class is encouraged to work collectively as a unit rather than as individuals which is unique.  We are constantly asking others for a an extra hand or for instruction on how to do something.

Our assignments for the class are focused on clusters or recipes rather than individual recipe assignments that we've received in previous classes.  For 2 days, each group works on one platter.  Day one: cook the proteins.  Day two: sauce, salad, garnish and platter decoration.  My group's first assignment was the turkey platter: smoked breast of turkey, stuffed breast of turkey, sun-dried tomato, turkey pate, strawberry waldorf salad, stuffed cherry tomatoes, and a pear and cranberry chutney.  Keep in mind that all of this is served cold, even the smoked turkey and stuffed turkey.  Oh, and they're brushed with aspic, the savory jelly that I mentioned in a previous post.  If I were to eat from a buffet, the aspic-covered items still would not be my first choice, but I have developed more of an appreciation for them through this class.  I won't lie though.  Even while eating from my class' buffet today I still scraped the aspic off of the slices of pate before I tasted them.

Culinary Escapades on the Cape

If you had asked me a year ago what I thought my first year of culinary school would be like, I never would have said, "It'll be full of opportunities to meet and work with celebrity chefs."  Let's recap the last 5 months: prep work with Chef Marcus Samuelsson, assisting Chef Ben Ford at Mohegan Sun Winefest, meeting Robert Irvine, seeing Bobby Flay, and the newest: Top Chef winner Michael Voltaggio.  Yes, thanks to Johnson & Wales, I was able to volunteer at the Annual Great Chefs of America Dinner at the Chatham Bars Inn.  The event benefited the March of Dimes and featured a 6 course meal put on by distinguished chefs from varying ends of the country.  Oh yeah, and the resort sat on one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen. 

Most JWU students (including myself) worked the front of the house which I actually enjoyed.  Whereas most of my service experience has been in the classroom, it was nice to practice my wine pours, marking with silverware, napkin folds, etc. without being graded and penalized for every wrong move.  Most people don't realize the time that goes into just the basic dining room set up for an event like this.  We began work around 1:30 and worked until 6:15 setting up a mere 184 place settings.  And that was with a team of around 20 people.  We polished well over 1000 pieces of flatware, around 1200 wine glasses, and 200 water glasses.  We folded and refolded napkins, placed silverware, carefully measuring place settings, arranged wine glasses, and tweaked flower arrangements.  The result?  For a bunch of culmsy, inexperienced students, I was quite impressed with what the staff of the resort was able to get out of us.

Once the event began, I had my first real experience working front of the house for a major event.  We were exposed to the chaos of running in and out of the kitchen, the friendly requests of the amicable guests and the demands of those who were not-so-polite.  Each JWU student was paired with one staff member to take care of 20 guests (2 tables of 10) each of whom had 6 wine glasses, 1 water glass, and multiple sets of silverware which had to be cleared and reset.  And did I mention the 6 courses?  Granted it was a set menu, but that was still a lot of running back and forth to the kitchen since the entire menu was hand-served (as opposed to trays.)  And seeing as we had access to the kitchen, we also had access to the leftovers.  For pictures, check out my newest photo album, "Adventures on the Cape".  All of the food is there as well as additional photos.  Skate wing, nettles, truffles, cheddar grit cakes, squab lollipops, and pineapple carpaccio.  Yes, yes yes!  Now that's a way to spend a weekend.

Oh and I mentioned Michael Voltaggio.  Sadly, he had a bit of an ego but was gracious enough to take pictures with almost all of us, so I'm not complaining. 


I scream! You scream! We all scream for...aspic??

After 9 days of pastry bliss, I completed my Advanced Patisserie and Plated Desserts Class. Yesterday was the day of my final written exam and my practical. Though most of our classwork had been done in groups, our practical grades were based on individual organization, sanitation and our final plated product. My group was assigned chocolate mousse as our practical dish, and we were able to make the mousse as a group. Any additional garnishes, cookies, sugar work or chocolate piping had to be done individually. And the plating was entirely individual. Each of us had to assemble 3 plates of our plating design.

I put a fair amount of thought into my plate over the weekend, and although it didn't turn out the way I had pictured it, given the time we had to put it together I was happy with it. I wish I had more pictures to show my work along the way, but it was practical day so my priority wasn't exactly photography. What you see in the picture below, is a chocolate bowl with a white chocolate drizzle, a twisted tuile cookie (I made that name up) and an almond lace cone with whipped cream. The design on the plate is piped in chocolate and filled with a strawberry coulis.

There are more pictures of some of my classmates' desserts in my "Moving on Up: Sophomore Labs" album which I have linked in the right margin.

As I mentioned above, today I began Garde Manger, a course which focuses on salads, cold appetizers, pate, and any other cold buffet or cold food products. Most of these food items must be covered with aspic before plating. If you're not familiar with aspic, it's a "savory jelly used for garde-manger applications and is produced primarily from meat, fish, or vegetables." Sound a little unappetizing? It does to me too. Garde-Manger used to be for preserving food, and now it is the art of presenting food. However, it's going to take a lot of very artful presentation to make savory jelly covered pate sound, look or taste appetizing to me. I really am trying to be excited but it's hard to look forward to pate when I've been snacking on fruit tarts and chocolate covered tuille cookies for the last 2 weeks. Hopefully my mind will be changed during the next couple of days when we start production.


Oodles of Strudel!

Today was another culinary first for me.  In class we made traditional strudel from scratch, start to finish, which included stretching our own strudel dough!  Until today, I had only used puff pastry or phyllo dough to make strudel, but neither has the same delicate, flaky crust that traditional strudel dough yields.

Whereas quickbreads such as biscuits or banana bread can be overmixed, there is no such thing when it comes to strudel.  We mixed our dough today for 12 minutes on medium to high speed.  The goal was to develop the gluten strands in the dough so that a medium sized ball of dough could be stretched from this:

to this:

Keep in mind that we allowed the dough to rest for about an hour before we attempted to stretch it.  After it rested, we stretched it until it was paper thin.  Notice in the picture above, you can see the blue table cloth through the strudel in some places.  In order to stretch it this thin without tearing it, we used only the backs of our hands and slowly stretched in out to cover the table.  If you try to stretch the dough with your palms facing upward, you risk puncturing the dough with your fingertips.

Once the dough was stretched thin, we brushed the entire exposed surface of the dough with melted butter.  Then, we gathered our filling ingredients.  One commonly made mistake with sweet strudel is the preparation of the filling in advance.  If you combine the sugar and fruit in advance, the fruit will begin to macerate and break down.  The water that is pulled out of the fruit will end up in your strudel making it soggy which is no good.  Instead, we mixed our sugar, spices, nuts and raisins in a separate bowl.  We sprinkled the mixture over the chopped fresh fruit just before rolling it up.  In class, we also sprinkled bread crumbs over the fruit to absorb any excess moisture that baked out of the fruit.

Finally, we rolled it up using the table cloth.  If you try to roll the dough, around the fruit with your hands, you risk tearing it, and it tends to roll up unevenly.  We pulled the table cloth towards us as we rolled so we didn't have to move down the table to continue rolling it.

After one final coat of melted butter, we transferred our strudel to the oven and baked it at 400 degrees until the crust was flaky and golden brown.  We sliced it and dusted the entire strudel with powdered sugar before pulling any slices off the cutting board.  Here was my group's finished product before we transferred the slices to a plate.

We also had an edible cup with homemade maple walnut ice cream that was placed on the plate, but it wasn't added until just before it was served in the dining room.  Therefore, I don't have a picture of the plate with the ice cream.  We plated our apple walnut strudel with cinnamon chantilly cream, a caramlized sugar spiral, caramel sauce and creme Anglaise.  I tasted some right out of the oven and it was delicious!


Cheesecake on a Plate or Plated Cheesecake?

While I enjoy baking about as much as I do cooking, I don't really consider myself a baker.  However, I've learned so much in the last week and a half on how to turn a slice of cake on a plate into a plated dessert.  By adding simple garnishes, it's easy to take this:

And turn it into this:

First off, our cheesecake.  While it looks alright in these pictures, it had some serious doctor work done before it made it to this point.  Our group attempted to make a caramel cheesecake with a caramel swirl.  We were given a plain NY style cheesecake recipe to work with and tweek as we wanted.  As most cheesecake recipes go, we creamed the cream cheese and sugar together until smooth and creamy, slowly added the eggs until incorporated, added some vanilla and caramel and heavy cream.  That part was a success.  Where we went wrong was the caramel swirl.  What makes a cheesecake hold together is the protein coagulation of the eggs.  As the custard mixture bakes, the eggs coagulate and stiffen the custard mixture so that it's a sliceable cake rather than a cheesecake-flavored soup.  Well, our group put all of our energy into the excitement and thought of a caramel cheesecake rather than into the science behind the cheesecake.  Therefore, we forgot to add any egg into our caramel swirl.  Once our cheesecake was baked, our beautifully marbeled caramel swirl, looked something like a 7.0 on the richter scale.  Each of our marbeled swirls had turned into a canyon in the oven.  We thought, "Great.  What on earth are we going to do with this when we have to plate it?"

Ah ha moment:  "Let's make it a turtle cheesecake!  We'll cover the top in chocolate, caramel, and almonds."  And honestly, who doesn't want their cheesecake covered in chocolate and caramel.

Newly learned trick: I've only made cheesecake a few times, but one thing I've never done is make it in a cake pan.  I've always used springform, but thanks to Chef Wollenberg, I now know how to neatly remove a cheesecake from a cake pan.

1.) Bake and cool the cheesecake in the pan.
2.) Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and freeze overnight.
3.) Remove the frozen cheesecake from the freezer and allow the sides to warm slightly at room temp (or if you're impatient like me, just rub your hands on the sides of the pan and use the heat of your palms to thaw the sides of the cheesecake.)  The cheesecake should still be frozen at this point!
4.) Run a paring knife around the rim of the cheesecake to free the sides from the pan. 
5.)  This step sounds crazy but just trust me.  Place the cheesecake on an eye of the stove on medium-high heat for a few seconds.  This will soften the butter or oil in the crust so it will easily come off of the bottom of the pan.
6.)  Place a sheet of plastic wrap on the counter and flip the pan over on top of it.  Tap the bottom of the pan with your hand until the cheesecake falls upside down onto the plastic wrap. 
7.)  Place a serving tray or cardboard cake round on top of the crust (which should be facing upward) and wrap the plastic wrap around the plate. 
8.)  Flip the plate over, remove the plastic wrap and voila!

Now for the plating.  The picture above shows my group's sliced cheesecake with a drizzle of caramel sauce on the plate, an almond lace cookie cup, whipped cream and candied almonds.  Almond lace is so versatile and looks awesome on the plate.  It's simple to make and will keep in the freezer for weeks if not a couple of months.

Almond Lace:
3 oz pastry flour (AP will work if you don't have pastry flour on hand)
3 oz granulated sugar
3 oz softened unsalted butter
3 1/2 oz corn syrup
3 oz blanched almonds, sliced and/or crushed

Using a paddle, blend flour, sugar and butter together until well combined.  Add corn syrup.  Blend in nuts.  The more finely crushed the nuts are, the less "lacy" the appearance of the final product.

Roll the dough into logs, 1-inch in diameter, and keep in the freezer until needed for use.  When needed, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, cut off slices of the dough and roll it into balls.  Place the balls several inches apart on either a silpat or a parchment paper lined baking sheet.  The amount of dough used per cookie depends on how big you want the resulting cookies to be.  Bake until completely golden brown.  This batch was baked an additional minute or two after this because the centers were not yet brown enough.

Once they are browned, remove from the oven and allow to cool only slightly.  You want to work with them while they are still pliable.  Shape the warm cookies around the bottoms of ramekins, around rolling pins or even cut out shapes using cookie cutters.

Once the cookies are cooled, the shape will hold and you have beautiful, crunchy garnishes to add to your desserts!  You can even dip the cooled cookies in chocoloate for another added effect. 

Finally, the candied almonds.  I was a little timid when it came to working with sugar before this class because in past experiences, I've either burned it, not cooked it enough, or seeded it on accident so that it stayed lumpy even at high temperatures. 

Sugar syrup production is easy and can be used as the base for a nice homemade caramel sauce.  Heat desired amount of sugar with enough water to cover the sugar in a saucepot over medium heat.  DO NOT STIR.   The sugar will all eventually dissolve, and will caramelize equally.  As sugar mixture boils, the water will evaporate out, and you will notice that the bubbles begin to rise and fall more slowly.  Once the evaporation stops, keep a close watch on the pot because once the water is gone, the sugar will begin to caramelize.  Allow the sugar to cook until a light caramel color is achieved.  The sugar will continue to caramelize for a minute off the heat so don't cook until it's the desired caramel color.  Prepare the almonds, by lightly twisting a toothpick into each almond just until it sticks inside the almond like this:

Place a sturdy cutting board or sheet tray along the edge of the counter and place some parchment or wax paper on the floor below the cutting board.  Dip each almond into the caramelized sugar, allow some to drip back into the pot, and then wedge the toothpick between the cutting board and the counter so that the almond is suspended over the parchment like this:

As the sugar drips off, it will harden creating beautiful candied almond garnishes.  Once the sugar has cooled, simply twist the toothpicks out, and use the garnishes on your next plated dessert.

La Chaine Des Rotisseurs

On Sunday, March 14, Johnson and Wales played host to the Rhode Island chapter of Les Chaine Des Rotisseurs for their Annual Induction Dinner, and around 60 culinary and pastry students, myself included, volunteered to serve and assist with the event.  For those who don't know, Les Chaine is "an international gastronomic society founded in 1950 in Paris to revive the traditions of the royal guild of goose roasters chartered in 1248. The ChaĆ®ne is dedicated to bringing together those who share a mutual interest in cuisine, wine, and fine dining in a spirit of camaraderie." 

No formality was spared throughout the evening.  White-gloved greeters waited patiently at each set of double doors throughout the building, opening them in synchronicity when guests arrived at the entrance as well as either of the two dining rooms utilized for the event.  Additionally, each of the 7 courses served after the passed hors d'oeuvres were served from silver trays by synchronized servers with white gloves. 

Around 60 of the "Who's Who" of food in Rhode Island were present for the event which began around 3:30 in the afternoon and concluded at 9:00 p.m.  Guests were greeted with curbside valet service at the atrium entrance to the newly opened Center for Culinary Excellence.  Students in white gloves and service uniforms swiftly swept through the crowds carrying trays with flutes of champagne, glasses of wine, and delicious hors d'oeuvres.  Sadly, it was somewhat  inappropriate to break out a camera during the event so I hardly have any pictures.  Some of my friends took a couple of the set-up, but that's all I've got.

To give you an idea of the caliber of the cuisine, the passed Hors d'oeuvres menu consisted of the following:

Vienna Sausage of Rabbit, cranberry, garlic confit

Piquillo Peppers, golden raisins, pine nuts, focaccia, "Humoldt Fog" aged balsamic

"Bagel and Lox" bagel chip, lemon chive cream cheese, shaved smoked salmon

"Potatoes and Caviar" Fingerling chips, traditional accompaniment

"Asparagus Salad" white anchovy, roasted cippolini onion

Crispy Ruben ball, spicy mustard

Guests were gathered around cocktail tables like the one picture above for around an hour sipping champagne and snacking on bite-size explosions of flavor at 3:30 in the afternoon.  After a quick tour of the building and the ceremony which inducted Johnson and Wales' own T.J. Delle Donne, the director of culinary events here on the Providence Campus, guests were escorted upstairs to the main dining room for a 7 course meal, excluding the Intermezzo Course. 

I was able to help Chef De Cuisine Matt Jaffe with some of his prep work over the course of the weekend, and the menu really was awesome. 

Shaved fennel, blood orange, micro purple shiso

Yellow tail, pineapple, lime, candied ginger, micro mint
(Each serving of this course was served on an individual ice brick.)

Foie gras brulee, vanilla poached grapes, macadamia nut tuile
(Each serving was baked and served in a carefully cut egg shell and the grapes were individually peeled. Ridiculous.)

Consumme of wild mushrooms, agnolotti of Narragansett Creamy ricotta

Pan roasted wild striped bass, cripsy chorizo, garlic potato puree, manilla clams, herbs

Lemon grass-strawberry sorbet
(Some of my friends got to taste this and they said it was incredible!  By the time I heard that the chef was giving out samples, it was all gone.)

Boneless Colorado lamb saddle, sweet pea, baby carrots, mint, fennel

Chocolate Mango Custard Cake with Mango Creme Chiboust
with Honey Braised Mango and Bitter Caramel Sauce
Petit Fours
(Wow is all I have to say.  And luckily for the students, most of the guests were full by this point so we were able to taste.  Since a lot of us hadn't eaten all day, we made dinner out of all of the dessert leftovers.

The picture above was taken before the plates were complete, but you can see the mango creme chiboust (sort of like a fluffy, mango mousse) resting on top of the flourless chocolate cake.  Chef Welling really did an incredible job with the desserts.

And in addition to what you see above, each guest also had the plate below to share with one other person.  The plate included two raspberry macaroons (the pinkish cookies on the right and left), several chocolate truffles (in the center) and two small pine nut tarts (not the correct French name for them, but that's what I called them.)  I must have eaten my weight in those pine nut tarts.  The nuts were coated in a caramelized sugar mixture that wasn't as soft as a pecan pie, but not as hard as candied sugar either.  They had just the right amount of crunch, and were so flavorful.  I had never seen pine nuts used as the focus of a dessert before, but wow does it work.


Eat dessert first.

After two trimesters of sleeping in and staying up late, I set my alarm clock for 5:45 am and decided to take morning labs for my last trimester of the school year.  As of last Monday, my classes begin each morning at 7:00 am which means that if I'm not in bed by 10:30, I'm a walking zombie which can be dangerous since I deal with knives on a daily basis. 

Another change: I'm officially a sophomore.  Expectations are a little greater and the courses touch on more advanced techniques.  For example, my current class is Advanced Patisserie and Plated Desserts.  Whereas, we focused on basic quickbreads, laminated doughs, and cookies in my first baking class, this course encourages us to visualize the plated dessert from the beginning and plan out each element of the plate. For each dessert we are required to have a main element, sauce, crunch element and a garnish if appropriate.  And while all of us produce the same main element, each group individually decides on the flavoring elements, infusions, and liquors which are used to add interest.  Everything we make is delicious and it doesn't look too bad on the plate either.  Another plus: we get to snack on chocolate, cookies, custards and fresh fruit all morning.  I'm certainly not complaining!

We steer clear of yeasted doughs in this class and instead focus on dairy-based creams, decorative cookie garnishes and a la minute desserts.  Thus far we've covered mousse, Bavarian cream, pastry cream, almond lace cookies, tuile cookies, poached fruits, and baked custards (i.e. cheesecakes, flan, and creme brulee).  The desserts we plate are served in the dining rooms, so it is essential that we put some time into conceptualizing our plate designs before we begin.  The elements are very simple, but when they are put together, the plates look really nice.  Here's a sampling of the plates we've put together thus far, and the class is only half over!

My group's Chocolate Mousse lightened with Meringue
served in an almond lace cup
with creme Anglaise, blackberry cherry coulis, and raspberry coulis

Another group's red wine poached pear in a tuile cup
served with a spiced red wine reduction and a chocolate garnish

My group's red wine poached pear
served with a spiced honey red wine reduction,
gingerbread cake with cinnamon chantilly cream
and a raspberry tuile cookie

Another group's cinnamon baked apple served in
an almond lace cup with a tuile cookie leaf,
chantilly cream, and caramelized sugar

My friend Amanda working on our cinnamon vanilla Bavarian cream
complete with chocolate curls, fresh raspberries,
a chocolate dipped tuile spoon, chocolate garnish, chocolate drizzle
and raspberry sauce

Our finished plate

Another group's Orange flavored bavarian cream
served on a shredded filo nest with candied orange rind,
a sweetened mango puree, raspberry coulis and a chocolate garnish

My group's plate from today:
fresh fruit tart in a short dough cookie crust with vanilla pastry cream
served with mango chantilly cream, blackberry raspberry sauce,
and a chocolate drizzle


"Spring" Break

Golden sunlight streaming down on white sand beaches.  Frothy waves crashing on beaches.  That's what spring break has meant to me in the past.  This year?  Not quite.  For the past week and a half I've been exploring the northeast and taking a break from the kitchen to some extent.  I went to New York City for the first few days, and if any of you watched the weather channel, you might have noticed that the city was hammered by snow.

As an Alabama girl who has felt cheated by this sorry excuse for a New England winter, the snow storm in New York was beautiful and a perfect end to the winter season.  While there, I went to a Mexican restaurant, Rosa Mexicano, a more upscale Mexican restaurant that was recommended to me by a friend.  I had some delicious stuffed poblano peppers filled with rice, raisins, pine nuts and herbs, topped off with fresh, creamy goat cheese.  And for an appetizer, I ordered one of my favorites, guacamole.  At this restaurant, they actually prepare the guacamole tableside.  I watched carefully, taking notes of the ingredients.  Nothing out of the ordinary for guacamole: cilantro, jalapeno, avocados (yum!), white onion, tomato and a little salt, but I swear that this was some of the best guacamole I've ever tasted.  And this picture does not begin to do it justice. 

After New York, I ventured up to Vermont for a few days on a road trip with a friend from Johnson and Wales.  For 3 days, I was surrounded by this: 
We spent the days skiing, shopping, hot tubbing, sledding and enjoying playing in the snow.  During my time in Stowe, Waterbury, and the surrounding areas, I decided that I want to live in Vermont.  Between the maple syurp, delicious cheeses, and apple orchards, I could not stop buying food products.  I came home with quite a collection.  Maple apple butters, fresh cinnamon apple sauce, apple peanut butter, maple walnut candies, maple stone ground wheat crackers, aged cheddar cheeses, and so much more.  Remember how I said that I forget that I live alone?  Point proven once again.