April 12, 2012

vegetable carvings

And another lighthearted activity in Garde Manger - vegetable/fruit carving!

This is Chef Oakley's carving kit. You can get it online here, although Chef got it at a trade show for much much cheaper.

carving kit

So first somebody called for Chef to do a Christmas tree. We were very intrigued as we watched Chef slice a pineapple.

carving pineapple

And... it was much simpler than we had imagined, haha.

christmas tree!

Then Chef walked us through cucumber netting - kind of difficult to describe in words, even though I took pictures of the process. It involves putting the cucumber on a stick, cutting slices so they're equal with the parallel side and alternating with the perpendicular side, and then cutting around the cucumber taking the top layer off...

cucumber netting

Then came tomato roses. Chef showed us two ways, one by slicing off the peel in a continuous spiral, then winding it up into a rose.

tomato rose #1

The other is slicing a tomato in half, then into slices (that look like half circles), then wrapping those slices around each other until you have a rose.

tomato rose #2

Then he did carrot flowers. Different flowers are formed by different techniques - you can slice the carrot into circles and cut the petals out of the circle, or you can hold the carrot like a pencil and cut down into the tip (not fully) four times around and pop the tip off.

carrot flowers

Then there were more whimsical things like the tomato basket (cut the two sides out, then hollowing the basket part, then making the basket edge jagged).

tomato basket

And then the cucumber basket (same technique, but with strips edged into the cucumber peel), and then the carrot corn. It's kind of funny to try to make one thing look like another (makes me think about cakes shaped like other things, which is what this book is all about).

cucumber basket and carrot corn

Then there were radish flowers - I attempted this one and mine is the one on the very right (the cuts are not as well done!).

radish flowers

Here somebody stuck a radish flower into a turnip tulip that Chef made.

turnip tulip

Then the most difficult one was carving a watermelon radish into a rose. I found this especially beautiful because of the naturally-occurring color gradation in the radish.

watermelon radish rose

Of course I chose to attempt this most difficult carving, and my attempt #1 (on the left) was very atrocious. My cuts were very straight down and made it impossible to get any height variation in the petals.

attempt #1 and 2

Attempt #2 (on the right) was much better. I was so excited about it I went around showing everybody, never minding that I had just spent over an hour of my life carving two radishes.

Such is what makes craft - time, and a lot (a lot) of practice.

spaghetti & meatballs

A friend and former roommate of mine, Daniel, is currently studying abroad in Japan for a year. Before he left we had a goodbye dinner, and when I'd asked him what he wanted to eat he had said Italian. And because my sister had just procured me a pasta maker from freecycle, I thought it would be a great idea to make spaghetti and meatballs from scratch.

I consulted this and this "best meatball ever" recipes from allrecipes.com, and came up with my own amalgamated version:

half pound ground beef
half pound ground pork
about a cup of breadcrumbs (made by tearing stale bread into small pieces)
3/4 cup parmesean cheese
diced half an onion
minced 3 cloves garlic
1 egg
dash of milk
two dashes of olive oil
spices (italian seasoning, cayenne, salt and pepper)

All of this I kneaded in a bowl and formed into balls. The great thing about making meatballs (and other types of filling) is that it doesn't have to be exact, you can taste and adjust. And by taste I don't mean stick raw meat into your mouth - I pinch off a small piece and microwave it about 30 seconds, then taste. It's how my mom used to do with Chinese dumpling filling :)


Meanwhile, Daniel took the pasta dough I made and put it through the pasta machine.

The first turn was to make the dough flat.

fresh pasta turn 1

The second turn was to make the dough smooth (I was very impressed, the dough strip was very even and smooth.)

fresh pasta turn 2

The third and last turn was to make the dough strip into strands.

fresh pasta turn 3

Look! Fresh spaghetti waterfall!


Although we'd wanted just spaghetti, after having some trouble with the dough not going through we switched to the fettuccine setting, and that was much better.

The meatballs were baked in the oven at 350F until they were browned and the edges were starting to get crisp. The pasta was cooked and I warmed up sauce that I'd made in a large batch some time ago and frozen.

spaghetti set-up

Together it was mmm mmm delicious.

spaghetti & meatballs

The only thing was that the noodles were on the chewy side, and I think it's because the dough didn't have time to rest between turns and dry at the end. The gluten in the dough must've been too worked up and springy, hence the chewiness. I was too hungry to wait though. Story of my life!

mousse cake

In Advanced Baking we've been preoccupied with making mousse cakes. Since the class only meets once a week, what would usually be a multi-day affair became a multi-week affair for us.

mousse cake display

Since we were making fancy mousse cakes, we started off first with the decorative sponge (the ring of cake with designs on the side).

The pattern design was made with something called pâte à cigarette batter. Powdered sugar, butter, egg whites, all purpose flour (4 oz each), and some pink food coloring (to reflect the guava layer in the middle of the cake).

pâte à cigarette

Marianne and I decided to be cute and use the polka dot template. We basically spread the batter over the template and scraped the surface clean, then lifted the template up so the pattern remained. Then we spread a layer of joconde sponge cake batter over the pattern and baked until just golden.

pâte à cigarette polka dots

Then we moved onto the cake middle, which was to be guava gelée. You can make gelée out of any fruit - it's basically fruit puree with gelatin, or fruit jelly.

guava gelée

Once the decorative sponge had cooled, we cut it into strips and lined a spring form pan (cake pan whose bottom can be released from the sides) with acetate tape (hard, clear plastic).

lined cake pan

Next to the acetate went the decorative sponge strip. On the bottom went half of a white cake layer. The cake was soaked with passionfruit simple syrup, in keeping with our theme of tropical fruits.

bottom cake layer

Once this was done and we had all the rest of the cake materials in place, we made the mousse. The mousse is made last because you want the assembly to go fast so the mousse can set. We did mango mousse, which was 16 oz mango puree cooked with 5 oz sugar, plus 6 bloomed gelatin sheets (or 7.5 tsp gelatin powder), then cooled and incorporated with 2 cups of whipped heavy cream.

mixing mousse

Poured the mousse over the bottom cake layer, then added the guava gelée layer (which broke a little as we transferred it).

guava gelee layer

Over that went another cake layer...

middle cake layer

And more mousse to finish.

filling mousse

The mousse cakes went into the freezer to set (would be refrigerated if you were to use it the next day). Then came the decorating part.

We added passionfruit simple syrup to mirror glaze, which comes from a bucket and bridges the gap between solid and liquid. As such, we could spread it over the cake, and it would stay in place with shiny glory.

passionfruit mirror glaze

Originally we were going to use real passionfruit seeds to garnish, but unfortunately no passionfruit came in with the produce order. I decided to scoop out little balls of mango instead.

mango ball garnishes

Marianne arranged the mango balls in a flower shape, and then I cut "leaves" out of the green mango peel. To prevent the cake from looking too sparse we colored some pearl sugar with pink food coloring and I placed the sugar crystals in curved lines around the cake using acetate tape as a guide.

mango mousse cake

Besides our pretty mousse cake, check out our classmates' cakes (click on "<-- Newer" to view cakes individually). All of our mousse cakes were displayed nicely, then cut and served up to taste. I think by the end, we were all mousse-caked out. mousse cake cut

This was our cake after a slice was cut out of it. Perfect layers, but doesn't it look strangely enough like a ham sandwich?!

April 8, 2012

mozzarella pulling

Another lighthearted activity we did was pulling mozzarella.

We started with a giant block of mozzarella curd that Chef had purchased.

mozzarella curd

This was cut into cubes and submerged in hot (140-150F) water until the curds melted and started seeping through the collander.

heating curd

The heated curd was transferred to a cutting board, where we got our gloved hands on it.

heated curd

First we pulled mozzarella into balls by squeezing with one hand and pinching with the other. It was ideal not to pull/work the cheese too much or it would become too tough (just like dough).

pulling mozzarella

As soon as the balls were formed we dropped them into a salty ice bath (made with special flaked salt, especially good for flavoring cheese because of its fine texture) for the cheese to set.

mozzarella ice bath

I swear, my first bite of the mozzarella I fished out took me all the way back to elementary school and how I discovered string cheese for the first time. It was that good. (And way better than how string cheese tastes to me now.)

Chef also demonstrated how to roll up the cheese into a log, then tying them off with string to form balls that way (much like sausage).

tying mozzarella balls

Additionally we could roll mozzarella into logs with fillings inside. We tried prosciutto and spicy coppa and asparagus pesto.

rolling mozzarella

When these logs were cut into slices they formed cheese roulades. Mmm mm delicious.

melon carving sculpture

Having finished all of the garde manger stations, we moved on to more lighthearted activities.

During one session we observed Chef carving different melons and assembling all the resulting pieces into a sculpture. This was a step up from the carvings he showed us in meat lab last semester.

First he started with etching fish shapes all around the circumference of a watermelon.

carving watermelon

The top and bottom ends of the watermelon conveniently opened up into flower pieces.

opening melon

The fish shapes he took and carved details into them - fins and tails and scales.

cutting fish

At the end he stuck a peppercorn in for an eye.

watermelon fishie

Then he carved a clam shape out of a cantaloupe.

cantaloupe clam

This was stacked on top other pieces of melon. And then he mounted the watermelon fishies onto kebab skewers (several skewers for each fish to support the weight) and disguised the skewers by sliding scallion stems onto them.

fruit carving sculpture

And voila, an "under the sea" theme sculpture made entirely out of melons. He even added some fennel fronds as pretend seaweed.

April 7, 2012

marshmallow bunnies!

In honor of Easter, and in preparation for a dinner tomorrow night, I decided to attempt marshmallows at home. And not just any marshmallows. Bunny-shaped ones. In other words, I was trying to recreate peeps.

After work I stopped by Daiso, the premiere $1.50 cute Japanese goods store. They had a bunny cookie cutter in just the right size.

At home, I cooked 8 oz of sugar (a little more than a cup) with 2.5 oz of water (roughly 1/3 cup) to softball stage - didn't have my thermometer handy so I couldn't tell if it actually got to 240F, so I just guessed.

Then I streamed the sugar syrup into the kitchenaid, which had been beating 2 egg whites to medium peaks. To this I added 4.5 sheets of gelatin (equivalent to 5.5 teaspoons of gelatin powder), which I had bloomed in water. (To see pictures of this process, check out the time I made marshmallows at school).

Then I added just a bit of vanilla extract for flavor, and poured the mixture into a casserole dish lined with oiled parchment paper. I spread the mixture around evenly, then laid another piece of oiled parchment paper on top.

While waiting for the marshmallow to set, I measured out four dishes of sugar, 1 oz (~2 tablespoons) each. To each dish I added only one drop of food coloring, and stirred the sugar with the back of a spoon until the color dispersed.

colored sugar

Once the marshmallow set I cut out bunny shapes, keeping the mold cutter in a dish of hot water between cuts.

bunny mold

Each piece was rolled in colored sugar and arranged on the plate.

marshmallow bunnies

Once I had enough of each color I combined all of the sugars into one plate. I just happened to have some bunnies left over so I rolled those around in the multicolored pixie-stick-like mixture and got some multicolored bunnies.

multicolored bunnies

If I had more time (and some flavored extracts) I would definitely make each color a different flavor. The vanilla isn't bad, the colors just make you expect different.

Although I was afraid the sugar wasn't hot enough and that the marshmallow mixture seemed too soft before it set, the marshmallows did set up well and tasted very soft and perhaps extra fluffy. Guess eyeballing can work in some cases.

Happy Easter everyone!