March 25, 2012

patacone pita

Last day of A La Minute Vegetarian, wanted to use up all the pitas. So I found this Latin inspired recipe.

frying bananas

Sadly the plantains I ordered came in green and didn't ripen as expected, so I ended up using bananas. They were sweeter, but provided good contrast to the savory components. One customer actually came up to me after her meal and asked how I prepared them since she loved the sweetness and saved them for last to eat, almost like a dessert. I told her I just fried them and crumbled some feta cheese on top.

pita special mise-en-place

Besides the portabello mushrooms that the recipe called for, I also added caramelized onion.

patacone pita special

And instead of mixing the arugula into everything, I just dressed it (olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt & pepper) and topped that with sliced avocado like a side salad. Made it delicious and pretty.

falafel three ways

Day 4 of A La Minute Vegetarian I decided to take on falafel, that vegetarian standby of the Mediterranean/Middle Eastern world. While traveling through those regions I had always opted for the meaty kebab instead - I actually never quite understood the appeal of falafel, personally likening it to fried dough with vegetable bits. Like a ball of fiber. Not exciting. But I think I wanted to change my mind and making them from scratch definitely helped.

falafel ingredients

I went off this recipe. Mashed all the chickpeas with my hands - was pleasantly surprised to find that the flat part of my fists were shaped just like one of those potato masher tools.

mixing falafel ingredients

The onion, parsley and garlic were food processed into a paste before they were mixed in - but for some reason the onion taste was really overpowering and I ended up starting everything over. Didn't have time to food process again so the end result was more rustic.

mixing falafel ingredients 2

Also didn't have breadcrumbs so I substituted panko.

falafel balls

Here's the result of the batter shaped into balls - I realize they're just like vegetarian meatballs.

yogurt side

For the sides I did what the recipe suggested for cucumber yogurt, except I added tomatoes and fresh dill.

I wanted more sides though, taking some inspiration from Liba's falafel truck since she provides so many sides with her falafel. I ended up doing sweet gherkins & onions (in pickle juice) as one side and lettuce and carrot ribbons in tahini dressing as another.

falafel special

These also sold pretty fast, deep-fried falafel balls with freshly grilled pita. I ate the sample, and the falafel balls were really tasty with the cumin and various spices. Would make again.

March 24, 2012

grilled veggie stack

Day 3 of A La Minute Vegetarian and I'd moved on from stuffing vegetables to stacking them.

I was inspired by this recipe, but wanted to do more vegetables and make it Italian with tomato/basil/mozzarella.

Even though the station is called A La Minute and required cooking things to order, I pre-cooked everything so I would only have to assemble to order (basically cutting down my stress). So this meant that all the vegetables were marinated days in advance and then broiled the day before.

grilling eggplant

On the day of, I just heated the cooked veggies on the griddle and melted cheese between them. Here I have eggplant topped with mozzarella topped with portabello mushroom.

grilled vegetable stack 1

That formed the base layer, along with some leftover jambalaya, grilled zucchini and squash.

grilled vegetable stack 2

The next layer consisted of marinara sauce, grilled onion and more eggplant.

grilled vegetable stack 3

This was finished off with mozzarella, basil and cherry tomato. Mr. P called this my best special yet. I definitely could have sold way more plates than I did, but I was content with the amount of food I prepped so I just left it at that. Still had other things to worry about...

cheesy grits-stuffed tomatoes

Day 2 of A La Minute Vegetarian and I had another stuffed vegetable special. Instead of bell pepper I decided to do tomatoes, stuffed with cheesy grits. Basically this recipe. I thought I would do a spin-off of grilled cheese, since grilled cheese sometimes involves tomatoes, I thought about how this had cheese and tomato and I could serve toast on the side.

tomatoes & cheesy grits

While I was scooping the seeds out of the tomatoes, I looked at the soupy innards gathering in the box marked for discard... and thought about tomato soup. More specifically, gazpacho - or cold tomato soup. I thought it'd be nice to use both the outside and inside of the tomato, the outside being used for a hot dish and the inside for a cold dish.

gazpacho ingredients

I used this recipe but omitted the liquid ingredients at the end (tobasco/worchestershire/tomato juice). All the solid stuff went into the robocoup and was food processed directly into gazpacho. All the veggie bits were strained out so the gazpacho would look nicer.


When time came I stuffed the tomatoes (which had done some time in the oven to soften up), then put them under the broiler to get a little char. These I garnished with some chopped parsley.

cheesy grits-filled tomatoes

As promised, these came served with buttered toast, a side of greens, and the cup of gazpacho.

cheesy grits-filled tomato special

Everything went together, although I thought the grits were a little garlicky. Nevermind though, sold out again :)

jambalaya-stuffed bell pepper

After Latin Quarter I moved to the Cafeteria hot line, otherwise the most grueling station consisting entirely of slopping and plopping food and getting slopped and plopped on by an endless stream of customers. It was a relief when that week was finally up and I rotated to my last station on the Cafeteria/Latin Quarter side: A La Minute Vegetarian.

Although a relief, ALM Veg was one of the culinarily-demanding positions that required coming up with a special every day. With no class time to prep, this already meant squeezing in time before/between/after classes, but lucky for me, it also happened to be Iron Chef competition week. And having lost last year, I was not going to go down without a fight. So I literally spent all of my free time in the kitchen (both at school and at home). And I basically powerwalked everywhere with anxiety knotting my stomach.

Thankfully I had researched some recipe ideas before the week came upon me, which meant that I already knew what I was making every single day of the week. Which took some stress off and enabled me to do some prep in advance.

So I decided to start off the week with a stuffed bell pepper. Rustic, hearty, not overcomplicated. A search on yielded this recipe. While looking at the italian-style rice stuffing I thought, why not do vegetarian jambalaya? I love jambalaya (and cajun food in general), so why not make the rice stuffing spicier and more interesting? So I went ahead with this recipe for the stuffing.

vegetarian jambalaya

Everything was a snap to chop up, then a quick stir-fry before I added rice and water and baked the dish like a casserole in the oven (foil on, 350F, about an hour). As for the bell peppers, I just chopped them in half and hand-scooped the seediness out, then roasted them (cut side down) in the oven so they would soften up and be nicer to eat.

jambalaya-stuffed pepper

The rice stuffing went in the bell pepper, and I garnished the tops with crumbled feta cheese and a parsley leaf. Unfortunately Mr. P came by and told me that the portion was too small. I didn't have anything else prepared and didn't want to add greens because there was already so much green on the plate. That's when I looked to the cafeteria hot line and saw that one of the vegetable sides for the day was corn. Nice yellow color, and it was sauteed with bits of bell pepper. The perfect complement.

jambalaya-stuffed pepper special

This was how my special was displayed. Unlike the hot line, I got a customer maybe one every couple minutes (as opposed to one every couple seconds). I was afraid the 18 servings I prepared wouldn't sell out, so I prepared little sample cups for people to try.

jambalaya-stuffed pepper samples

I have to say, it was nerve-wracking to put these out there and have people take one, eat it and walk away. "Did it not taste good???" was the fear. But on the flip side I was overjoyed to have a few people eat the sample and then order the dish after, because it was instant validation. And in the end I sold out!

I couldn't sell the display, since it's food sitting out, so I got to eat it. Pretty tasty, though I'd cook the rice a little longer next time (a little al dente). But maybe people liked it that way. You never know what other people prefer!

March 11, 2012

french onion sandwich bites

In Garde Manger my team rotated to the last of the stations: open-face sandwiches.

I decided to go solo this time and turn the classic French onion soup into a sandwich. This required breaking down the components of the soup and using the elements in a slightly different way. Bread, cheese, onion, broth.

french onion mise

I'd decided to bake a baguette with gruyère. But I didn't use the school recipe from first semester, opting instead for a more complicated one from the Tartine Bread book. It didn't work out so well because I was loosely following the instructions, and with something like bread you just can't do that.

So then I cheated and stole one of the baguettes made by the first semester bread station. Cut that into slices on the bias, and topped each slice with caramelized onions (deglazed with white wine) and shredded fontina cheese.

french onion sandwiches

I put them under the broiler for a few minutes to melt the cheese, then spooned broth (veal stock simmered with spices and thickened with cornstarch) over. I was very pleased with the results. Very simple and very delicious.

french onion sandwich bite

latin quarter specials

In the Latin Quarter I was chosen to be manager for a week. I'm glad that I was chosen for the position partway into the semester because this meant that I had a chance to rotate through different positions and really know how everything worked before I had to manage others in doing the same things. It certainly made the job easier, and made me feel like there was a point in being manager. Not only was I able to offer pointers to others, it also allowed me to jump in whenever somebody was missing or needed a break.

Here are some of the specials we ran that week -

Allen's flank steak with chimichurri sauce, accompanied by fried plantains, rice and beans:

flank steak to-go

Julius's shredded beef and chorizo nachos:

chorizo nachos

Tishara's grilled chicken torta, stuffed with avocado, cheese, lettuce and tomato and accompanied by a side of sour creamed plantains:

chicken torta

Julius's fried mahi salad, with papaya relish, cucumber, avocado and dill dressing:

fish salad

So delicious!

mexican green chile sausage

In Garde Manger my team rotated to sausage station, we split off to make different sausages. John, Julius and I decided on Mexican green chile sausage from the CIA Garde Manger book. While Julius cubed pork butt and John gathered spices, I roasted jalepeños and chopped canned green chiles (since we didn't have any fresh ones):

chile & jalapeño

Besides the regular salt, oregano, basil, cumin, garlic - we also added tinted curing mix (salt and sodium nitrite) since we wanted the smoked version and that was the recipe modification listed in the book. TCM is used as a preservative in sausage-making, presumably this sausage only need it because smoking means keeping it in the temperature danger zone for a prolonged period of time and the nitrites would keep bacteria from developing.

casing & spices

Once the three of us had all of our ingredients together, we put everything through the grinder.

grinding meat

The sausage casing had to be soaked in water to soften, and so we could unwind all the knots.

unwinding casing

Then the casing was put onto the thin nozzle of the sausage machine:

prepping casing

Once all the ground meat was pushed through the nozzle into the casing, we got to tying the sausage into sections. Some of the sections burst because of the pressure.

tying sausage

Then we hung the sausage up in the walk-in. Chef said he would smoke it for us.

hanging sausage

But we cooked off some of the burst parts to taste and the sausage came out way too salty. I double checked the recipe to make sure I didn't fudge any measurements, but I did do it right. It's the combination of salt AND tinted curing mix that put the saltiness level way over the edge, so maybe it should be one or the other (and the recipe should be changed). We'll see after the sausage is smoked, maybe the ensuing smokiness will detract/distract from the over-salty taste...

macarons with marshmallow middles

In Advanced Baking we moved onto confections, and we had our choice of what to make: marshmallows, fruit jellies, caramels, hard candies, etc. Half the class opted for marshmallows - to distinguish ourselves, Marianne and I opted to sandwich ours between French macarons and forgo the usual layer of jam.

Marshmallows are one of those things that are readily available in the grocery store so you never really think about making it. For me, those are the things that are most fascinating to make, the ones you take for granted (ex: mayonnaise, peanut butter, most condiments really). The freshly made versions also end up tasting better, not just because the ingredients are fresh there are no additives/preservatives but also because you can customize the flavor!

To make marshmallows I had to soak sheets of gelatin - which start out like sheets of thin plastic but become soft and rubbery once it sits in water:

gelatin sheets

This bloomed gelatin sheets are then whipped into italian meringue (sugar water cooked to 240F softball stage and poured into egg whites whipped to medium peaks):

gelatin to meringue

Then I added flavoring (rose water) and food coloring (pink) to customize the marshmallows. We were a little limited with flavoring since they had to be in essential oil form (and not, for example, fruit puree form), since otherwise it would change the consistency of the marshmallow.

food coloring

Here's the finished product on sheet tray. It had to sit a bit in order to firm up. And to prevent it from sticking, we oiled parchment paper and put it both beneath the marshmallow layer and on top.


Meanwhile Marianne set to work with the French macarons. Here she is piping them the batter (with a little green food coloring added):

piping macarons

They had to sit out and develop a skin on top before they were baked. See them rising?

baking macarons

Then came time to assemble. We cut the marshmallow into ridged circles (for the macaron sandwiches) and hearts (just for fun), which were then rolled in a half cornstarch half powdered sugar mixture. Other groups cut theirs into even funner shapes like octopus for example.

cutting marshmallows

The circle shaped ones were sandwiched between the macarons:

sandwiching marshmallows

Mine before I ate it :)

macaron marshmallow sandwich

I really liked the contrasting textures, the crispy/chewy macaron exterior with the soft marshmallow interior. Apparently one of the dishwasher ladies liked them too, because she asked Chef to buy a whole box to take home. First time anyone has ever purchased my treats!