White on white

This week saw the conclusion of Skills II which ended yesterday with each of us being assigned a menu along with the written final of course.

However, on the previous day we were given pretty free reign.  I had to make a lamb stew, a pizza and our table had to prepare a chicken.  That was pretty much all the guidance.  The lamb stew came out really quite well, seasoned with cumin, coriander powder, garnished with fresh cilantro and thickened with okra.  This dish was especially popular with the Hispanics in the class. 

Chef made the sauce for all of us to use for our pizzas.  I caramelized some onions, roasted a red pepper and roasted some garlic (far too late into the class to be of any use).  In addition to the onions and peppers I used goat cheese.  I have to admit this was the first time I’ve ever made a pizza.  Aside from being way too thick and therefore a little raw in the middle in addition to being misshapened, it turned out pretty well, something I’m making for dinner tonight actually.

We ended up simply roasting with various spices which the folks at the table later used on their pizza.  Nothing too crazy, but there was other stuff to get done.

Moving on to the final yesterday, the menu I was assigned was potato soup, blanquette de veau, rice pilaf and sauteed mushrooms – not really the most colorful of meals.  We were encouraged to be creative, using anything available to us to garnish or even incorporate into the meal.

Since the veal takes roughly two hours of simmering to make tender enough to be edible, I focused on this right away.  Once I got it on and simmering away I turned my attention to the potato soup, perhaps not the fairest dish for me to do since I’ve made it many times before, most recently last Sunday.  I’ve found the trick to potato soup is to boil the shit out of the potatoes until they’re falling apart in just enough stock to cover them.  This way you don’t have to worry about a soup that’s too runny, you just adjust the consistency with stock and cream later.

While in the middle of boiling the potatoes I cleaned up my mushrooms and realized that there were no chives available to garnish the soup with.  After asking the Chef if he could procure some I attained a rare moment of clarity in which I realized that instead of garnishing the soup with plain old chopped up chive, I should also garnish with chive oil as well.  Genius!  So that’s what I ended up doing which turned out to be a great decision, though I forgot to blanch the chives which resulted in the the oil not being as green as it otherwise could have been.  Oh well, you live and learn.  (Note – the bubbles in the photo of the soup are there because I started to eat it before I realized I wanted to take the photograph.)

I presented the soup and then turned my attention to the veal and sides.  I admit it was pretty difficult to rethink or do something creative with these dishes, after all it’s meat over rice with mushrooms on the side. 

For the mushrooms I sauteed them, removed them from the pan, added some minced shallot and thyme to sweat then deglazed with brandy, added some stock, reduced, added the mushrooms, mounted with butter and seasoned.  These were perhaps slightly overcooked and a little overseasoned (it was around this time that I burned my tongue while tasting).

I ended up being pretty proud of this dish.  I think the flavors went pretty well, the bright flavor of the mushrooms contrasted fairly well with the veal.  For the plating I didn’t want to have huge piles of any single item.  I placed the rice in the center, the veal atop that, sauced all of that then placed the mushrooms in a scattered ring around the rice (much as the photograph reveals).

So another class comes to a close.  This one was more productive than the others to date.  I gained more confidence, was exposed to a few things I’d never made before and started to feel more comfortable when thinking creatively about dishes.

Next up – Garde Manger II which I believe includes ice sculpture and more emphasis on presentation.

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