Monday, September 14, 2009

"I do" and the perfect roux

The good news: I'm finally back to the savory side of the kitchen.

The bad news? It's been a rocky start...

September not only brought impending rain and delish fall produce but also the start of my fourth and final course in culinary school: Chef Pro III.

After three trimesters surrounding technique, garde manger, international cuisine, flavors and pastry, the last course fuses together all aspects for students to perfect.

Our first class was a Chef Test based solely on technique. This is were my rocky road hands were shaking during knife skills, my French onion soup tasted nothing like its original and I was nervous as hell the entire 5 hours.

Knife drill: 5 minutes to brunoise a carrot (, small dice an onion and julienne a potato.

Sounds easy right? Wrong! You try making perfect 90 degree cuts in 5 minutes (which feels like 2) with minimal waste and perfect uniformity! (not to mention shaking hands and a scary head chef staring at your cutting board)

We were then required to make a traditional French Onion soup focusing on caramelizing and deglazing techniques. My flavor was fine (thyme, Sherry wine, beef stock, baguette crouton, gruyere) but my onions weren't caramelized enough...I really just ran out of time.

Also while making the soup, we had 45 seconds to make an omelette with no brown from the pan without a spatula. Doing this properly relies on a hot, non-stick pan, clarified butter and quick wrist movement to keep the omelette moving and turning over itself.

Although my omelette was finished within 45 seconds and contained no brown spots, it fell apart into two pieces at the end. Apparently, my wrist action was a bit brisk. I presented my omelette declaring it "scrambled eggs!" with a smile.

Part III included making the perfect roux (white, blonde or brown), hand whipping cream, searing a pork loin and making a pan sauce and finally, mastering a traditional eggs benedict with a poached egg and hollandaise.

I decided to tackle the benedict first because it had the most moving parts. Finally! I had a successful dish! The final product was an over easy egg, crispy browned English muffin and perfectly pale Hollandaise that wasn't overly acidic.

My roux was next...half clarified butter and flour (by weight). I cooked the flour down with the butter until I developed a blonde roux. The roux was successful- butter cooked out, proper texture...ready to make some gravy!

For the cream, I happily whisked away thanking my newly completed pastry course that allowed me to whip the perfect cream. Powdered sugar and vanilla? Yes, please!

Finally, the pork and pan sauce. I seasoned the pork with kosher salt, pepper then seared it until golden brown on both sides. While the pork continued cooking in the oven, I made a pan sauce with the crispy brown remnants of deliciousness, brown sugar, white wine, rosemary, thyme, garlic and lemon zest. Voila!

Week two of Chef Pro III concentrated on Recipe Development. After learning the "do's" and "dont's" of recipe writing, we were assigned a protein and specific recipe audience or magazine to appeal to. I was assigned bone-in pork chops or pork loin (I went with the loin) and had to appeal to a magazine concentrating mostly on teaching their readers the technical aspects of cooking. Visual appeal was equally important.

We then had an hour to execute, test and write our recipe. My recipe was:

Pan-Seared Pork Loin, Dried Cranberry and Shallot Pan Sauce with Herbed Polenta

My focus was on searing and deglazing techniques. My initial recipe was a bit of a disaster after I burned the crap out of my finger (damn you, convection oven), had to plate with my left hand and forgot to pan-fry my polenta to crisp it up. Regardless, I thought my flavors were pretty good overall.

After our first run, we drew from a basket and recreated another student's recipe. Although all the recipes looked delicious, I was gunning for a simpler one to save my finger. Prayer granted- I drew shrimp. A delicious shrimp dish I might add: prosciutto-wrapped shrimp crostini with a roasted jalapeno/red pepper pesto. Yum!

Later that week, I was fortunate to be a bridesmaid in one of my best friend's wedding. After a fun night on a Lake Austin party boat with fajitas, beer and fun, we spent the next evening in the gorgeous wedding complete with antique pink flowers, latte colored cocktail dresses and sparkly shoes. The reception was upscale Southern fare- braised brisket, airline chicken, grilled veggies, baked mac and cheese and Tito's Vodka- but, of course.

Back in Fort Worth, I came home to a dinner surprise from my boyfriend- one of the most delicious meals I've had in a while. After popping open a bottle of champagne, dinner was served:

Ratatouille-Stuffed Pork Tenderloin with Habanero

Homemade Potato Gnocchi with an Acorn Squash Cream Sauce and Nutmeg

The gnocchi was airy and heavenly. The hint of habanero in the ratatouille was really interesting with the pork and a hint of fresh mint smoothed the bold flavors. I'm a lucky girl.

Later in the week, I was a able to try Grady's Restaurant with Ms. Fort Worth Foodie. After sipping our cocktails of choice...dirty Grey Goose martini for me, Maker's Mark and 7 for her, we split the quail tostadas with a grilled corn salsa. No complaints from me.

For dinner, both of us had a weird craving for grease so we went for the chicken fried steak with scallion mashed potatoes and glazed carrots. Despite the potatoes and carrots not being hot, the steak was tender, crispy, piping hot and delicious. I would return to Grady's but only on a busier weekend evening. The locale was dead and the restaurant was freezing cold. At least I had my dirty martini to warm me up...

Finally, I am so excited that the Fall Issue of Fort Worth Foodie is out! This issue concentrates on local flavors and what eateries and vendors make Fort Worth, Fort Worth. For this issue, I wrote an article on Louise Lamensdorf from Bistro Louise surrounding her culinary studies and travels. Pick up an issue and support your local foodies!


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