WARNING: The following post is rated “R” for graphic images of a slaughtered farm animal.
This Halloween we received an unexpected treat: a whole hog. No joke. The animal was wheeled into the kitchen on a cart – à la patient in ER – plopped on the table, and promptly cut up into pieces. It was strange, seeing that whole animal there…It looked plastic and lifeless – obviously lifeless, the thing was dead, but what I mean is it appeared as if it had never ever been a walking, snorting thing.
Anyhow, despite the photos you’ll see below, butchering was not a cruel, self-indulging experiment but a necessary learning experience. As a matter of fact, I wish we had something to cut up every day. I mean, haven’t you ever found yourself at the supermarket staring blankly at shrink-wrapped hunks of meat with names that are utterly meaningless and misleading? For instance, did you know that pork butt isn’t the pig’s rear at all but a portion of its shoulder? I bet you didn’t, but now you’ve been enlightened.
Enough small talk – you may proceed to the ghoulish gallery:
Some children dream of becoming astronauts. Others aspire to being ballerinas. I had loftier ambitions: to de-bone a chicken. When I began culinary school I thought – wrongly – that removing every single bone from a chicken while leaving it whole would be part of Basic Cookery 101. Crestfallen, I set my book aside and came to the conclusion that de-boning was perhaps an art reserved only for the most masterful of chefs, a process that was only known to a small, exclusive circle. I had resigned myself to live in a world where only bony chickens were served.
And then, one day, the rain cloud that loomed over my bowed head parted and a ray of sunshine broke through: my beloved chef instructor announced that he was going to teach us the coveted procedure. If anything, this one bit of learning has made culinary school worth it.
Doesn’t it look grand?
I also made whole-wheat dinner rolls…one of my Thanksgiving trial runs.
Hooray! It’s fall, at long last! It’s been unseasonably and uncomfortably warm around these parts but last night the fever finally broke and gave way to a gloriously crisp, gusty evening. I love fall. It makes me think of spiced apple cider, fresh baked cookies, and Charlie Brown. But I love it most of all because in just a few short weeks I can start playing Christmas carols and nothing puts me in a better mood than carols – but more on that later.
Speaking of holidays, Thanksgiving is fast approaching, and even though I am not American, it’s been a part of my calendar for years now. As such, preparing the menu for said evening is a portentous event in and of itself. Everyone’s appetite needs to be satiated, everyone’s palate engaged, and of course, all of the staple Turkey Day items represented at the table. In recent years we’ve been moving away from The Bird, though, because let’s face facts: even when properly cooked, turkey is nothing but a Brobdingnagian chicken that serves as nothing but a bed for gravy. Pilgrims, fresh off the Mayflower in 1621, were, I believe, responsible for the McDonald’s super-size me mentality. In short, why do we need Big Bird when there are a variety of daintier, more flavorful versions of poultry that would serve just as well? I am proposing little Cornish hens this year – I shall report back on how the suggestion is greeted.
Also, in deciding to push turkey aside, we’ve been able to welcome large roasts of beef and lamb to the Thanksgiving table, and both have been wildly successful. Big celebratory banquets are the only times you can indulge in these bigger cuts because they are expensive and yield too much for two or three people to eat. I’d like to revisit rib roast this November – succulent, rich, meaty. Need I say more?
Please check in during the coming weeks – I’ll be doing a few Thanksgiving item trial runs.
I made an apple tart on Thursday and I felt a whole lot better about everything. Apple tarts are very soothing. They should change that well-known saying to “An apple tart a day keeps the doctor way.” Also, I’ve been interning at a catering company and worked my first event on Saturday night – all went smoothly and I have thus regained some confidence. Perfect timing, too, as I was swimming much too close to the deep end.
In other news, some of my classmates’ true colors have begun to shine through and they are not very flattering hues. Stereotypical tempestuous chefs in the making! Beware! Part of today’s assignment was to make fresh noodles certain pasta machines weren’t cooperating. One guy took this inanimate object’s offense quite personally and he became quite violent with it. One second the thing was attached to the counter and the next it was on the floor while its crank was in the hand of the raging perpetrator. Dismembered kitchen appliances. Oh the horror!
Speaking of horrors… The fish du jour was flounder and there were a couple extra leftover at the end of class so my partner was charged with filleting one of them. I was standing by and the gutting was going on as normal when all of a sudden a rather outsized “gut” was pulled out. It was quite unusual – larger than an egg sac and firmer. Filled with morbid curiosity, I asked my partner to “Just cut the thing open! Let’s see what’s inside!” It was the fish’s final repast! It was an actual whole fish inside the flounder! Like a man condemned to death, it had devoured one last meal! It was grotesque, now that I think about it. Too bad I didn’t have my camera today. I would have loved to share the gore with you.
Yes, dear readers, I have forsaken you. Few and far between though you are, I have left you hanging. The truth is, I’ve been in a rut. I’ve been cranky, tired, and every other day or so, having mini-breakdowns over this, my latest career move. My brain shorts out, my palms get sweaty, and I go into panic-attack mode. What possessed me to leave my – in the eyes of many, enviable, I should note – job and take out an absurdly large loan to become a cook? A COOK? I have no answer for this. Maybe I got a hunger pang and mistook it for a gut feeling. Next time you get a gut feeling, please, have a sandwich or a Snickers and rethink whatever it is you were convinced about doing. Decisions are made much more rationally on a full stomach.
Despite everything, however, I continue to cook. On Saturday I made gnocchi (from scratch!) with brown butter, sage, and toasted hazelnuts. Also, pork tenderloin stuffed with wine-poached pears and cranberries, bacon, and mushrooms with a plum glaze.
And on Sunday I made strawberry cornmeal muffins.
Our culinary curriculum allowed us a few days of pastry and I loved it oh-so-much. Various times I caught myself staring distractedly at the doughs and creams we whipped up wondering, “Did I make the right decision by going culinary rather than pastry?” Don’t think I’m flaky — no pun intended! — it’s just that pastry is a very methodical art and I find the exactness of the process incredibly soothing and gratifying.
We made pâte feuilletée, numerous sweet and savory soufflés, fritters, mousse, cream puffs… Admittedly, I overindulged and was craving lamb shank and ribeye on soufflé day, but still, pastry was glorious. Here are a few photos of what I made:
Oh. My. God. I am tired. Exhausted. Fatigued. Cansadísima.
I started an internship – or “stage,” if we are to utilize the correct mot français– on Thursday night, at a chichi French eatery. Having been treated to a special birthday lunch there by the mister, it was my first choice when it came time to apply for an internship. It is magnifique! The food is très délicieux! A splendid treat for the eyes and palate! And of course, working there is nothing at all like dining there.
There is no chef, nor sous-chef, there at the moment, the former having departed to start his own chichi place and the latter – not sure, but the point is he’s not there anymore. In a way, this is good because I’ll probably get to do more than peel potatoes. Even with no one at the helm the menu remains intact and the dishes continue to amaze and delight but at the same time, the disorder is perceptible, even to a novice.
I decided to do a double-shift on Saturday, which meant a 16-hour day. It was too much, but my reasoning was that I should be there early to do some prep work and stay late to experience the dinner rush. Now I see that my reasoning was folly, but now I feel like I can’t back out. I don’t like to be that person who says “I’m tired, I can’t do this.” So I have to suck it up, right? I can do it, right? Right?
I made crêpes Suzette and beignets aux pommes (apple fritters) today and they scrumdiddilyumptuous!
I’ve been absent for a few days, but with good reason! I had several tests in the span of a few days and I needed to study. But now I am back and eager to share what I’ve been eating – errr, I mean, preparing. Since the lobster episode, we’ve made a number of tasty meals at school – suprême de caneton sautée et cuisse braisée à l’orange (sautéed duck breast with braised duck legs and orange sauce), poulet sauté chasseur (sautéed chicken, hunter style), poulet rôti grand-mère (roasted chicken, grandmother style), contre-filet grillé / sauce choron (grilled strip with a béarnaise-like sauce), to name a few.
It’s been a veritable smorgasbord of meats and butter, and yes my friends, potatoes once more! I’ve been trying to eat small portions, but regardless of the efforts, I confess: I eat all day long. The most piggy of my days was the day we had the contre-filet with the sauce choron…and fries. I had, aside from the steak, eaten a grilled chicken preparation earlier in the day. It was delicious and I ate a full plate. In an attempt at daintiness, I vowed not to eat the steak, but failed miserably. I ate the whole steak. And the potatoes.
Now for the kicker: When I got home that afternoon, my mister, in an attempt at satiating my constant craving for read meat, had a piece of skirt steak waiting. I sighed, gulped, and quickly reviewed my options. Rather than politely declining to eat meat, or anything else for that matter, I decided to not be a sissy and do the right thing: MAKE BEARNAISE FOR THE STEAK.
Admittedly, I had been making up excuses not to attempt to make the beastly béarnaise after the previous debacle, but this was my chance to redeem myself.
And I did! I successfully made the sauce. Encore you say? We’ll see…
High Heels & Frijoles
I have a 10-year-old brother who owns a guinea pig named Diego. I met Diego for the first time a month or so ago when I went to visit and it was an interesting encounter. I saw Diego peek out from the little plastic castle in which he spends most of his time and I cooed, “Ohhh, how cute.” I was overcome with warm, fuzzy feelings. And just as I was experiencing these pleasant emotions, Diego crept out of his cage. He was a little bit like a bunny. And a lot like a rat. Remember Wuzzles? They were these cartoon animals that were two animals in one…like Eleroo (elephant / kangaroo)… So I guess a guinea pig would be like a burat (bunny/rat) or a runny (rat/bunny)… Even now when I think about it I’m confused. Do I love Diego and his kind? Are they meant to be cuddly pets or pests that should be exterminated? In any case, the more relevant question to this discussion is: SHOULD GUINEA PIGS BE EATEN?
My little brother was appalled when I told him some cultures are rather fond of guinea pigs – as food.
High Heels & Frijoles
It was Miss Scarlet, in the kitchen, with a knife.
I exaggerate. It was a lot less fraught than I’m making it out to be. But a live creature was in fact sacrificed and I wielded the weapon: Homarus americanus, aka, lobster. Did I feel bad? I’m sorry to admit that I did not feel an ounce of pity for the thing. I dug in the knife and that was that. Even now I’m thinking back to the moment and I got nothin’. Zip. Zero. Nada.
Anyway, the lobster cooking process was quite the production. I won’t even get into it because it’s ridiculous. It was also ridiculously delicious, but seriously, this is not something you want to try at home. Especially if stabbing something is too dastardly a deed for you to stomach.
Does shucking clams and oysters also count as murder? Because I did some of that, too. I’m a serial killer…
By the way, whomever was the first person to decide you could eat bivalve mollusks must have been famished because it was labor-intense work to pry those little suckers open. I managed a few blue points and two clams and decided that, like homarus up there, they’re better eaten in the comfort of a restaurant. Let someone else do the grunt work I say.
High Heels & Frijoles