Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Whew!  Tonite… was a good nite in the kitchen!  :)  We're wrapping up our worldwide excursion into cereal grains.  Tonite was Cereal Grains of the Americas, which included Central and South America (read: Mexico, the Caribbean).

We each made our own tortillas (man, just HOW could I screw up such a simple task!).  I managed to get only about four corn tortillas made, and I struggled with the dough for my flour tortillas until I just finally ran out of patience.  Garrrr!!!

Anyway, it didn't matter 'cause by the time we were all served, I ended up eating MUCH more than I should have!  Below is a delicious quinoa salad made by Group 3:

A colorful, flavorful quinoa salad

My team made this freakin' delicious item called Dunkanoo (sounds like something you'd get at the Dunkin Donuts!).  This is basically grated fresh corn mixed with happy good things like brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, coconut milk, golden raisins and cornmeal.  We made a mash of that and stuffed banana leaves with it, then popped these li'l packages in the steamer…

Unwrap the banana leaf to find the delicious goodness inside...

They needed to cool first so the mixture would congeal together all nice-like.  And when they did…  whoa.  Tender, sweet/savory goodness.  Sigh… I love this class!

We've made some more straightforward things, too, while exploring cereal grains, such as your basic risotto and a pretty dang tasty stuffed bell pepper called, believe it or not, Etli Biber Dolmasi

Your basic, average, everyday risotto...

Fancy name for stuffed peppers!

Tomorrow we start a three-day run of Noodles and Dough, starting with Southeast Asia (pad thai, potstickers), then continuing on to Europe and North Africa (pierogies!), and ending up back in the Americas (TAMALES!).

Did I mention that I love this class?

Peace out.  Namaste.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Best Damn Indian Lamb Stew – EVER!!!

That’s right, foodies!  Tonite was the first nite of our Cuisine Across Cultures class at LCB, and we got off to… an auspicious start!

This class is ingredient-oriented, rather than culture-oriented.  What this means is that, each night we focus on a particular ingredient and visit how different cultures will use that ingredient in their cuisine.  Tonight was easy: rice.  We did a Spanish Paella, a Chinese Yangzhou Chau Fan, and an Indian Gosht Pulao.

Cheryl stir-fries while Ron preps paella

We broke into groups of about four and covered each recipe.  Our team made the Chinese stir-fry, which was really pretty easy.  We made a delicious marinade of soy sauce, rice wine, oyster sauce, sesame oil, salt and sugar.  I broke down some pork into small bite-sized chunks and we marinated that for about half an hour.  We then roasted those on a pan in the oven to save time stir-frying it later.  We got the wok goin’, then did the ginger, garlic, soy sauce, shrimp, then the pork, rice and scallions on top.

Our super-delicious pork & shrimp stir-fry

Another group did the paella, which definitely scored high points with both our chef instructors and the rest of the class.  The star of the night, though, was definitely the Gosht Pulao, which is a braised lamb stew.

Yes, it really is the best dang Indian lamb stew EVER!!!

It may not look like much, but this stuff was freakin’ DELICIOUS!  The lamb was diced and marinated in such spices as cumin, cayenne and turmeric.  The group then got some ghee heated in a large, heavy-bottomed sauté pan and toasted a whole cinnamon stick, some cardamom pods and cloves.  They then added in sliced onions, garlic and ginger.  I walked past and Mark grabbed my shoulder, beckoning me over.  I just stuck my face over the pan and breathed deeply…  sigh!

Next they added in some coriander, nutmeg and black pepper, topping it all off with some diced tomato and a few bay leaves.  In went a quart of water and the marinated lamb, and they covered and simmered that mixture for a good hour until the lamb was nice and tender and the flavors were well infused.

They finally topped it off with a big ol’ pile of basmati rice and let that simmer just enough for the rice to cook through.  They served it… and the whole class just about fell over!  We were beside ourselves.  We’d all had the other items already and were feeling pretty full.  But it seems we saved the best for last and we cleaned that whole pan of stew in ten minutes flat.

This is going to be an awesome class.  Tomorrow night we’re making sushi!  Later on we’ll make arepas, pad thai, and pierogies!  Tamales, fried cassava chips, tapioca cake, a lamb tagine, sake no miso, falafel, hummus, duck confit, mole, jerk…!  And we’re making some crazy stuff I never heard of like Gaeng Ped Hoi Mang Phu, Smodampete Nypoteter, Aloo Partha, and Bang Bang Ji Si…  ?!?!

I’m tellin’ ya, this class alone is worth the price of admission…  peace out, and Namaste.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

My Dinner at Chataigne

The saying basically goes that eating a meal at a culinary school’s café is like getting a free haircut from the students at the local beauty school.  I want to be offended by that comment (I mean, c’mon!  This is the last ‘class’ taught before our externship… we oughtta be better than that by now!).  But if my dinner at Chataigne was any indication, I’m gonna have a pretty tough time with that argument.

Chataigne, which means, um, a sweet chestnut (?!), is the student-run café here at Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago.  They’re open for breakfast from 8am to 9am, lunch is from noon to 1pm, and dinner service starts between 7:30pm and 8pm.  I’m stuck working the dreaded day job, so I take classes at night, which leaves me no time whatsoever to sample the school’s restaurant.  Luckily, both our evening instructors (one for Hospitality Management and the other for Psych) are fans of the idea of taking their students to the café for ‘class.’  Our psyche instructor met us there at 7:30 last Thursday evening for dinner.

We were impressed with the ambience and the service, although the food delivery itself was quite slow.  Our five-course meal took a bit over an hour and a half to finish.  Since there was only one other group in the restaurant that evening, bringing the total patrons to around twenty, it shouldn’t have taken that long.

We were started off with an amuse bouche of a duck breast canapé, coated in sweet onions and draped across a crostini.  The onions were cloyingly sweet and made the whole thing rather heavy-handed.  The fact that the crostini was hard as a brick didn’t help.  Next came an under-seasoned chilled potato and roasted garlic soup.  The soup had potential, but being chilled meant they needed to be pretty liberal with the seasoning, and it just didn’t quite come together.

The second course, though, was the star of the show as far as we were concerned.  Below is the ricotta salata and summer squash strudel with tomato coulis (forgive the nastiness of the pics, I was using a cheap camera phone in a pretty dim restaurant!).

The combination of sweet, almost tart ricotta salata, savory summer squash and tangy tomato coulis was a knockout.  This is one we could’ve certainly had second helpings of.  Third course was a mixed green salad with bacon and apple.

The combination of flavors was good, and the vinaigrette was perfect.  This set the stage for our main course, which was a choice between spice-rubbed pork tenderloin with eggplant jam, pommes anna and carrot puree, or sautéed sablefish with an herb salsa verde and panzanella salad.

I wanted to try them both, but settled on the pork tenderloin, which I thought was a little overdone.  The eggplant jam and carrot puree were both decent accompaniments, though the pommes anna was a bit on the mild side.  Overall the dish was solid enough.  The folks who had the sablefish said it was good, not over- or under-done.  But they were tré disappointed in the panzanella salad.  I took a bite: it was like a weak, flavorless salsa mixed with soggy bread cubes.

Our last course was a choice of desserts, and I had the coconut rice pudding with a raspberry coulis.  Good thing that coulis was there ‘cause the rice pudding, I’m afraid, left an awful lot to be desired.

Would we go there again?  Absolutely, and not just because it was “free” (there’s a “suggested donation” for students of the school).  From what we’re told, the menu changes all the time as the students are experimenting with different styles of cuisine.  We should get at least one more chance to go to Chataigne in the next couple of weeks when our other instructor plans on taking us, and maybe we’ll have to “miss” class one of these nights to try it out yet again.

Overall it was a decent experience, and as a student whose restaurant rotation starts about four months from now (Gasp!  Is it nearly that time already?), it was a good introduction to what will be expected of us down the road

Here is a link to the Urbanspoon restaurant review page:

Châtaigne on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 24, 2010

Hors d’Oeuvres – Catering & Buffets, Week 1


Don’t get me wrong: I did enjoy both the ‘Food, History & Culture’ and ‘Nutrition’ classes. Dice and Ashlee were both fun instructors, and I’d definitely take courses taught by them again. The material was interesting enough, but what ticked me off is how some of the students were really disrespectful of them. Yeah yeah, I know, “we’re here to cook!” Whatever. We’re here to learn. But while I enjoyed these classes, I’m glad we’re finally back in the kitchen.

So here we are, in Chef Bruno’s Catering and Buffets class. I could tell within the first few days I’m going to love this class. We do work as teams, not individuals. I don’t have to stress about completing all elements of a single dish by myself. Instead, we work out as a team who’ll do which elements, and then we get to it, pulling everything together in the end for the final presentation.

The class is broken up into units, or sections, with each one building on an element or type of catering or buffet management until the final week, where we pull all these pieces together into The Grand Buffet. So this week we started out easy: hors d’oeuvres.

So here’s Chef Bruno demo’ing the Duck Breast Canapé. OMG, this was freakin’ delicious! The idea is to prep and sear a duck breast (drrooooooollllll!!!!!), then allow it to cool. Then we took a Pullman loaf and cut uniform squares, toasting them lightly. We supréme’d mandarin oranges, then sliced those wedges in half so we had a better-fitting piece of orange for the canapé. Finally we took some pistachios, soaked them for a while to loosen the skins, then shelled them. We chopped ‘em up nice and fine, then began the assembly.

The trick with hors d’oeuvres is symmetry and consistency: each piece should feel balanced not only visually, but in taste as well. For our team’s canapés, we made a delicious orange-rosemary butter to spread on our toasted croutons. We then placed an orange slice in one corner, some chopped pistachios in another, then a thin folded slice of seared duck breast in the middle. The result: freakin’ delicious.

Each week will get harder, with more items on the menu of greater complexity, requiring more prep and much better time management. The fun of it is the teamwork required. No one person will ever be responsible for one thing entirely, but we’ll each divvy up tasks and pull it all together for the final show. Once I have the pics from our final presentation (I forgot my camera that nite!), I’ll post the menu and the corresponding items.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Or, How Kim Kardashian Convinced Me to Eat Salad

May the gods bless the Internet! A friend of mine in L.A. turned me on to this Carl’s Jr. commercial featuring the leggy supermodel Padma who hosts Top Chef (no, not the Asian one, the Indian one). Since we don’t seem to have any Carl’s Jr.s here in Chicago (a crying shame, for sure), I went online to Ye Olde YouTube to check this out.

Oh, oh my! Watching Padma enjoy that Western Bacon Six Dollar Burger was quite a thing to behold. Something about leggy supermodels and messy fast food just makes me want to ditch my diet and hop a plane out west to the nearest Carl’s Jr. franchise. But scrolling down the search page I came across yet another leggy supermodel hocking their menu: Kim Kardashian.

Forty-eight stunned seconds later, I was a convert. Like a religious experience, the mere thought of ingesting that burger seemed distasteful, nay, disgusting. No, salads are where it’s at. Definitely. Like a Carl’s Jr. Cranberry Apple Walnut Chicken Salad. Now where’s my wallet?

They say that sex sells, and the guys over at the Mendelsohn|Zien, the ad agency behind the spot, completely get that. They did not only Kim’s and Padma’s commercials, but a Paris Hilton one as well (I won’t bother). These ads have obviously created quite a stir in the media. Tim Winter, the president of the Parents Television Council, says it’s like “using soft-core porn to market their hamburgers.” I say let ‘em, Tim!

The most obvious element of all of these spots is the juxtaposition of delicious ingredients with delicious bodies. A lot of care and attention is paid to each and every camera angle. The lighting is perfect in every shot, and they will shoot take after take to achieve the perfect mise-en-scène, or movement of elements within the scene. As Kim takes a bite of apple, for example, the vinaigrette (no doubt thickened a little bit with corn starch) drapes ever-so-sensuously over her lower lip. This one shot was done over and over again to get it just right, as shown in the behind-the-scenes clip that accompanies the director’s cut version of the ad (yes, a TV-MA, online-only, director’s cut version of a food ad… what IS our world coming to? Sigh…!).

Another common element to these ads is the models’ patter, um, I mean, enlightening stories. These little voice-over vignettes are supposed to make us see them as real women who enjoy fast food just as much as the rest of us slobs. But when they enjoy it, boy do they ENJOY it! Their descriptions, taken word-for-word, are not all that suggestive in and of themselves. This actually lends an air of innocence to what we’re seeing on the screen. The idea that the sensual enjoyment of all those calories is really just a carefree act of junk food-ingesting frivolity gives one a sense of glee when passing through the drive thru on the way home to load up on carbs, calories and cholesterol.

The music behind the patter is simple, beat-heavy but not fast, like hip-hop, R&B, or the like. It of course isn’t too distracting, consisting mainly of an uncomplicated melody with simple harmony. The main musical phrase is essentially looped over and over, creating a simple rhythm within the thirty or so seconds that sticks with the viewer when finished. When combined with the voiceover and, of course, the visuals, the music adds to the spot’s sensual impact, bringing back to mind the image of chipotle Caesar dressing dripping down Kim’s ample cleavage each and every time one later hears that song on the radio (and that knowing look on her face when it happens! Ohhhhhh!).

“Who says salads can’t be hot” is the tagline for these ads, of which Kim’s done three. Kim goes on to say in the video promo, “Salads are sexy. When you’re eating something that tastes good and you know is good for you, that’s sexy. That’s hot.” Right, Kim. That Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad with blue cheese dressing clocks in at 760 calories (according to the Carl’s Jr. website’s nutrition calculator). Oh, and Padma? You just scarfed down 1020 calories with that burger, including 480 from fat and a nice, heart-stopping 2,520 mg of sodium. Ya want fries with that?

I’m ever grateful to my friend for turning me on to these ads. I do miss living out west, and while I didn’t frequent Carl’s Jr. as much as I should have (more of a Jack in the Box fan, myself), I’ll wholeheartedly admit these ads DID make me want a burger… I mean, a salad. Let’s face it, hot women enjoying food ratchets up the hormones. The chemical receptors are stimulated, and while you’re salivating like some scientist’s dog, they show you images of food. THEIR food. A SIX-DOLLAR burger, mind you. Oh, wait, you don’t mind anymore, because all that salivating is now associated with their food. The very same food you’re about to spend your six dollars on. Yes, I’ll admit it…. SUCKER.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Quick Recipe: Tandoori Chicken

Scouring the Internet I found plenty of different forms of Tandoori spice, so I’m convinced that everyone sort of has their own and therefore I’m free to figure one out for myself.

So I decided to roast a chicken the other night and wanted to Tandoori it. Michael Ruhlman has a great rant on the ‘convenience food’ thing, in particular pre-roasted chickens (you know, the kind you pick up from the grocery story on the way home from work). And speaking of America’s growing inability to cook for themselves, read this astounding article from The New York Times. It truly blew my mind.

I’ve tried this before but on boneless, skinless chicken breasts that I baked, and it didn’t turn out so well. I’ve adjusted the proportions a bit, and I think I’m getting closer, plus I’m trying it on a whole roaster. So here’s the mixture:

  • Curry powder
  • Cumin
  • Coriander
  • Turmeric
  • Smoked paprika
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Minced garlic
  • Grated ginger
  • Salt & pepper
  • Peanut oil

(I wanted to add some cardamom, but do you know how freakin’ expensive cardamom is?! Yeah, it’s $16 for one of those little 2 oz bottles, sheesh!)

I used a tablespoon of each of the dry spices, except for the cumin, of which I used only a half-tablespoon. I also used only about a teaspoon of salt and just a pinch of pepper. I minced up four garlic cloves and about ½” of ginger root (with the skin off).

I then added about ½ cup of peanut oil and stirred it all together. I placed the chicken in a large stainless steel bowl and coated it with the spice mixture. I then covered the whole thing and put it in the fridge for about two hours before cooking it (stuffing about five cloves of garlic and two handfuls of a combination of fresh rosemary, thyme and sage inside the cavity just before putting it in the oven).

The bird looked beautiful, and it tasted great, too. I made some basmati rice using chicken stock instead of water, and I steamed some mixed veg to go with it.

I’m still working out the balance of spices. The cayenne certainly gives it the kick it needs, and reducing the cumin was a good move, too. I think I need to increase the curry powder and coriander, ‘cause I’m getting a good combination of flavor there. And I should just break down and get that $16 bottle of cardamom, just to try it out and see what it does.

A'ight, Happy Sunday, peace out, and Namaste.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Producing Palmier, Pithivier and Paris Brest with Puff Pastry and Pâte à Choux…

Reminds me of a certain Sesame Street sketch…

Anyway, it was French Pastry week for us at LCB… those of us who even made it to class, that is! I have to admit, it probably wasn’t a good idea to come to class sick, but I didn’t want to miss any more days and so decided to just tough my way through it. Problem is, I think I took out half the class with me…

Yeah, either I spread it ‘round or folks were gettin’ sick anyway, but we’ve had a bit of an attendance problem these last couple of weeks. Needless to say, those of us who got our sorry asses to class made… PASTRY!

We started by making some base doughs: blitz puff pastry and pâte à choux. Then we made a few kinds of pastry cream for filling, such as a vanilla cream, praline diplomat and crème Chantilly.

Production wasn’t exactly hard, just time-consuming, and since Val and I were both running on almost-empty (thanks for the cough drops, Val!), we had a bit of trouble keeping up. We basically prepped all our doughs the day before, and we baked off the basic shapes of the pâte à choux into puffs, éclairs and Paris Brest (which are bicycle tire-shaped wheels piped with a star tip). These cooled and went into a bag for the next day, along with the base pastry cream for our fillings later.

Below we have Val verifying the proper consistency of the pâte à choux using the ill-named yet ever-popular “Snot Test”…

So the next day, we finished the fillings by either adding butter & vanilla or almond paste to each half of the pastry cream. We also made whipped cream, or crème Chantilly (since we threw some vanilla in it). These fillings went into the various shapes we had made the night before:

We used the puff pastry to make a funky, round, um… pastry ravioli (!) called a pithivier… except time ran out and I didn’t get to mine. Bummer, ‘cause it’s on our two-day practical tomorrow and Tuesday! We were also supposed to make palmiers, which looked like they’d’ve been tasty. But, alas, another one bites the dust…

And finally we have cheese straws. Pretty simple: take some puff pastry, roll it out, sprinkle on a mixture of delicious parmiggiano Wisconsiano, some cayenne and some paprika, chill it, cut it into strips, twist ‘em up a little as you lay ‘em down on a parchment-lined pan, then bake ‘em…

I mixed the cheese mixture into the dough itself instead of just sprinkling it on top, which I wish I could say was an intentional thing. Nevertheless, they were pretty tasty.

So, practical time is upon us again, and here’s what’s on the board for Monday-Tuesday:
  • Apple pie
  • Pear-almond tart
  • A 6” pithivier
  • Six Paris Brest
  • Six éclairs
I’m pretty confident in most of the above, except for the pithivier (since I never got to it before, it’ll be the first time I’m attempting it now). But I’ve got all the notes, we can take Monday to prep almost everything we can, so Tuesday will just be a quick assembly day.

Now if I could just kick this dang cough…