August 29, 2011


The day before PCR opened we ran a mock service, in which all of the menu items were plated and photographed, then served to the third semester students (because they're running the front of the house - serving and bussing and otherwise interacting with the customers). The entrees came out looking rather professional and I couldn't help but be proud. So without further ado:

Mushroom Pate Crostini

The Amuse Station's first creation: Mushroom Pate Crostini with Creme Fraiche and Chives. The amuse is served as a free appetizer to all PCR guests, and it changes on a daily basis. So for the first day of service it was this, but after that we had Thai Beef Salad in Wonton Cups, then Grilled Zucchini-Wrapped Prosciutto with Gruyere and Capers.

Oyster Shrimp and Andouille Sausage Po-Boy

Sandwich Station: Oyster, Shrimp and Andouille Sausage Po-Boy with Remoulade Sauce and Side of Fries. The oysters and shrimp are battered with cornmeal with cajun seasoning and fried. The remoulade sauce is a fancy tartar sauce. And the fries I have since nixed because they were coming out stiff and hard to chew - we replaced them with potato wedges. So customers can chose from potato wedges, side salad, or fruit salad as their side, and sometimes we have specials like macaroni salad.

Turkey Avocado Sandwich

Also Sandwich Sandwich Station: Turkey Avocado Sandwich on Whole Grain Bread with Fruit Salad and Pickle Spear. Pretty straight forward. Someone remarked that the pickle spear looked somewhat phallic. That was my (unintentional) doing.

Roasted Vegetable Sandwich

Also Sandwich Station: Roasted Vegetable Sandwich on Ciabatta Bread with Balsamic Vinaigrette and Side Salad. Also pretty straight forward. The roasted veggies are a mix: eggplant, zucchini/squash, tomatoes, onions, red bell peppers.

Poached Pear Salad

Salad Station: Poached Pear Salad with Black Forest Ham, Bleu Cheese, Roasted Figs, Glazed Walnuts and Roasted Shallot Vinaigrette. I contributed to this dish by poaching the pears, which I had experience with from pastry side last semester. These pears were slightly different though as they were poached whole, with less sugar and lemon + star anise + cinnamon + cloves for flavoring. Easily my favorite salad for all the sweet savoryness of it.

Shrimp Louis Salad

Also Salad Station: Shrimp Louis Salad with Bay Shrimp, Cucumber, Tomato, Hardboiled Egg, Asparagus, Poached Mushroom and Assorted Greens. The louis sauce involved brandy (or, alternatively, cognac), which was a little scandalous. Anyway, I thought this salad looked like a little "forest of delight", especially with the scalloping done on the mushroom and the lemon peel (can't wait to learn that type of detail work).

Heirloom Tomato Salad

Also Salad Station: Heirloom Tomato Salad with Basil, Fresh Mozzerella and Mixed Herbs. You can't go wrong with this salad. I've done this salad at home many times with regular tomatoes, and it's not any inferior as long as the tomatoes are ripe. I want to try the parmesan chip next time though - can you believe it's made just by baking some shredded parmesan and olive oil? Crazy.

Beef Medallions

Entree Station: Sauteed Beef Medallions with Three Peppercorn Sauce, Mashed Potatoes and Root Vegetable Batonnets. Here's where the beef medallions went! In the future we should shape the beef so it's more medallion-like, but the dish is so delicious that the non-medallion-ness of the beef is easily overlooked. The root vegetables we used were parsnips, carrots and kohlrabi (which taste like the insides of broccoli stems). Oh and the gravy is to die for.

Sautee of Lamb

Also Entree Station: Sautee of Lamb with Artichokes, Oven Dried Tomatoes, Mushroom Pilaf Croquette and Grilled Squash Medley. Here's where the lamb cubes went! The oven dried tomatoes are bomb with their concentrated tomato flavor, kind of a cross between fresh tomatoes and sundried tomatoes. And I made the mushroom pilaf croquette so there'll probably be an entry about that in the future. And the grilled squash medley is eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash.

Chicken Paillard

Also Entree Station: Chicken Paillard with Mashed Potatoes, Ratatouille and Jus Lie. Here's where the chicken pieces went! The jus lie is a slightly thickened jus - I can't wait to make that and demi glace (gravies for the previous two entrees) - after all, I really wanted to get into sauces when I was thinking about culinary school, and that hasn't changed.

Grilled Portabella Steak

Also Entree Station: Grilled Portabella Steak with Whole Grains Pilaf and Roasted Baby Vegetables. For a while this dish was just vegetarian because there was butter in the pilaf, but it soon became vegan because we substituted olive oil. For baby vegetables we have carrot, zucchini, turnip, beet and pattypan squash.

And lastly there was a vegetarian entree: a Pasta Primavera - Fettucine with Bechamel and Broccoli, Asparagus, Red Bell Pepper and Portabella Mushroom. This entree changes out every week or so.

And besides all of this we also have specials that rotate daily (or really more like every two days). More on that later!

August 25, 2011

some light butchering

To be perfectly honest, I had my doubts about this semester. I was afraid it would be just like how last semester ended, a constant uphill battle against tiredness, dissipating passion, and social mistrust. But instead it's been amazing.

All of the second semester students (the combination of savory, pastry, and nightlab students) are divided into three rotations - main kitchen (campus cafeteria) with Chef Hammerich, meat lab with Chef Oakley, or Pierre Coste Room (on-campus fine dining restaurant) with Chef Ogden. I was assigned to the PCR with thirteen others, the majority of whom I've never worked with before.

One of the first things we did was to pick station assignments. To name them briefly there's amuse (appetizer), sandwich, salad, entremetier (vegetables for entrees), grill + sautee (hot line), and then soup and starches as support for the main kitchen. When it came time for me to pick, most of the stations were already taken so I just chose Student Chef - to start out the same way I started out last semester.

Besides coming early to set-up equipment and otherwise fetch/order materials, I also have the special task of doing all the butchering for the entrees. It's light butchering though, since I only have to cut meat into small portions - no bones and little blood, if any. I do have heavy butchering to look forward to, since we learn the bulk of cooking in this semester, and meat is an important part of that (hence the meat lab rotation!).

Note: This is also a warning to the squeamish, as I will be posting pictures of dead animal parts and people cutting into them.

beef medallion portions

The first thing I had to cut up was beef for beef medallions. Fairly easy, basically just slicing and trying to get each medallion to come out to 2.5 ounces. Two medallions make for a 5-ounce lunch portion.

cubing lamb

Next up was lamb - cubed for a sautee/stew. These were cut on the same board because they're both red meat, but the lamb was done after the beef because the lamb has a distinct smell which we didn't want to cross over to the beef. This was also pretty easy, just had to make sure the sinew bits were cleaned off (since they can get chewy/tough when cooked).

flattening chicken breast

Last was chicken breast for chicken paillard (aka scaloppini). The chicken was done on a different board due to its contaminatory nature (there's a reason you never order chicken medium rare). I measured them out to 6-ounce portions, and pounded them thin with a mallet. The pieces I had gotten from the meat lab were pretty thin already, so I didn't have to do much pounding. The next day they were thicker - actual breasts - and I butterflied them (slicing the thickness in half almost all the way and splaying it open) before pounding.

butterflied chicken breast

It looks like a heart!

The next post will show the dishes that these meats ended up going into, but till then I leave you a picture of my cohorts in meat lab. They're serious over there.

butchering chicken

August 3, 2011

being off the grid

I have to admit, I spent much of the summer breaking from culinary school and this blog, but in my defense I've been pretty busy. Aside from the ongoing hostessing gig I've also been interning with Off the Grid, the local food truck collective.

While most of my job relates to behind-the-scenes machinations - event planning, vendor coordination and the like - I sometimes get out to the markets and taste the food I read and write about! Last month we held a special spicy theme night called "Hot Food / Cold Nights" and I did a tasting and a write-up here.

If you're in the San Francisco Bay Area, I urge you to sign up for the newsletter or look at the facebook event postings (both of which I've been writing) and come out to one of the almost-daily markets to sample some mobile but local food.

And for any curry lovers, I planned the "Don't Worry, Eat Curry!" theme night taking place this Saturday - details here.

Happy eating everyone!


And here's the curry night event recap.

jam session

Alright, so we didn't get together and guitar-strum our way to any sweet tunes, but the Five Star Club (culinary student club on campus) did organize an afternoon jam workshop with the legendary professor and veteran jam-maker, Ms. Barbara Haimes.

First we were led through a cooked-fruit jam demo involving apricots (although any ripe fleshy fruit of your choice would work). The fruit was cut up into small pieces (the smaller the pieces, the more texturally consistent to mush the jam will be) and cooked over medium heat. No flavoring was added since the fruit was ripe enough, but this is of course up to individual taste.

cooked fruit

In technical terms, the fruit was cooked till softball sugar stage (~240° F), which made intuitive sense to me after pastry class because that's the temperature where cooked sugar syrup will coalesce into a soft ball if you drop it into cold water (which is the same consistency you want your jam to be). Ms. Haimes being the expert she is, could tell the doneness of cooking just by observing the foaming and bubbling and then testing by spoon (letting some of the liquid drip off a spoon and watching the viscosity).

After cooking, the jam was scooped/funneled into sterilized jam jars (ideally along with the noyaux, or inside of the pit, which imparts flavor although it cannot be eaten because it contains trace amounts of cyanide) and sealed.

Then we moved onto making freezer jam because it was logistically easier for everyone to participate.

ripe strawberries

To make freezer jam, first find the ripest (and/or most organic) fruit you can. This is why summer is a good time to jam, as it allows you to taste the ripe sweetness of summer fruits later on, even in the dead of winter. We used fresh-picked strawberries.

mashing strawberries

Clean and cut the fruit into pieces, then mash them to a pulp. A potato masher works well for this.

sugaring strawberries

Sugar and sour the berries to your taste. The goal is to simply enhance/complement the ripe fruit's flavor, not to cover or overpower. Here somebody used organic cane sugar and lemon juice, although others did more exotic combinations such as honey and balsamic vinegar.

adding pectin

Then add pectin, which is the gelling agent that solidifies the mash into a more solid jam-like consistency. Pectin packets can be purchased in any supermarket, though pectin can also be made at home with green apples, as it is naturally found in certain fruit skins. We used Sure-Gell (grocery store-bought) and Pomona's Universal Pectin (which is a little more difficult to use but is free from preservatives and other pesky ingredients). The Sure-Gell was mixed over the stove but Pomona's required a food processor to blend and the addition of calcium water for activation.

containering jam

The mash and pectin mixture was stirred until some gelling started to take place, then everything was scooped/funneled into containers. Jam funnels are different from regular funnels in that the opening is a lot wider.

Everyone got to take a few containers home. The jam had to sit out for 24 hours in order to fully gel, but after that one could either keep it in the refrigerator for 2 weeks or in the freezer (hence the name of freezer jam) for up to a year.

french toast with strawberry jam

I kept mine in the fridge and promptly served it over French toast the day after it gelled up. Mmm-mmm-mmm!