Greece, Russia/Eastern Europe & Italy



Tuesday saw Joe & I suffering yet again to get everything completed, but we made it.

It had never occurred to me to ever make gyros from scratch (including pita).  I’m glad we did as they were much better than anything I’ve ever had.  I also jazzed up the tzatziki sauce with cumin which the chef liked – for some reason our recipe didn’t call for it to be included.

The other noteworthy item from Tuesday was Kalamarakia Yemista – squid stuffed with rice, raisins and pine nuts and topped with a tomato type sauce and the tentacles.  Wrap the tray in foil and bake for 15 or so minutes.  This was both easy and delicious.

The only problem with this day was that at the end of class with minutes to spare I felt like an artist with every color of paint in the world staring at a blank canvas with no ideas.  Consequently the plating was pretty lame.

Russia –  what a bitch

Yesterday the chef’s evil streak came forth when she assigned groups of four both menus:

  1. Blini plate – caviar tasting
  2. Chicken Kiev
  3. Borscht
  4. Salmon Coulibiac with Lemon Veloute
  5. Russian cole slaw
  6. Cucumber salad
  7. Goulash soup
  8. Pierogi
  9. Golabki
  10. Kolachky

My group of four was the only one to present every dish (only one other group presented the Kolachky – a type of cookie made with yeast) and we were the only ones to turn in the caviar/blini plate (though it was admittedly not the prettiest caviar plate I’ve ever seen).

The cookies surprisingly came out pretty good despite not letting them rise because there was no time.  I was in charge of the borscht and the salads.  Later I ended up being in charge of the cookies and half the caviar plate because no one else had started working on them.  If you want to know the secret to a rich borscht I’ll tell you now:  Forget about it while simmering on the stove top until there’s nearly no liquid stock left, repeat this step one more time and finally redeem yourself by adding more stock at the end and turning the heat off.  This redeemed me from my head up the ass moment the day before where I forgot about a pot of sugar, water and lemon simmering away.  When it occurred to me to check it later I knew it was beyond hope before I even saw it.  Only the quick thinking of saying “Hey Justin, you gonna use all that?” saved me on that one.

North vs South 

And just like in the Civil War, the North won.  Unfortunately I was fighting for the South today.

After an hour or so lecture on the history of cuisine in Italy the chef divided the kitchen – the front half cooking the northern Italian menu and her “boys in the back” cooking the southern menu.

At first I was kind of pissed about it because I thought the menu was better for the north – osso bucco, polenta cakes, risotto.  But then I realized I already know how to make those things.  The southern menu consisted of things I’d never made or worked with like octopus or didn’t know how to make, like canellone.

What this class wasn’t though was challenging, seeing as there were eight people to make four items we weren’t exactly stretched for time.  And yet deep in my heart I feared that we wouldn’t finish in time.

I volunteered to make the Insalata di Frutti di Mare with a guy I hadn’t worked with since Skill I.  The salad consists of shrimp, octopus, squid, clams, various julienned vegetables (red onion, carrot, celery & red pepper), various chopped herbs (oregano, basil, parsley), white wine vinegar, olive oil, S&P & lemon juice.  I set about julienning everything while Garza prep’d the seafood.  Somehow I ended up finishing before him so I ended up helping him slice up the squid and finish the shrimp.  We cooked everything up, tossed it all in a bowl and let marinate for as long as we could.

After that there wasn’t a whole lot to do as the other six people had everything else pretty much under control.  Was the chef just feeling sorry for us for yesterday.

So with nothing else left to do I helped roll the cannelone which were stuffed with shrimp and leeks that were cooked in shrimp stock.  And then I helped Joe roll up his panzarotti (similar to deep fried ravioli or pierogi).

The moment of truth finally came after the chef tasted all the courses.  The good news was that our salad was her favorite dish of all.  The bad news is that we ended up losing the overall by 4-2. 

Miscellaneous items:

Here’s an interesting piece in the NY Times about celebretiy chefs by Frank Bruni.

And finally, if you’re one of those people who keep doing google searches looking for how to tie a cravat (or “culinary neckerchief” and you end up on this site you will find nothing here.  Do what I did – ask someone to show you or check your orientation packet.


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