Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Yankee Doodle Dinner

Team 2 took us back to New England with their menu yesterday. And, it involved that damned quinoa stuff again. Quinoa must be the Native American equivalent of big joke on stupid invading Pilgrims..."Hey Squanto, see if you can get them to eat this birdseed. Tell them that it's good for them and tasty, too!! Don't tell them that it's pigeon food!"

This most recent hideous incarnation was a cold salad with citrus, apples, and honey, and guess what? It's still freakin' birdseed. The only way I've had it where it nominally resembled foodstuff was the pilaf from a couple of classes ago, and that's all because of the chicken stock, onion, thyme, and bay leaf. The quinoa had nothing to do with it. Of course, it will be just my luck that quinoa is the wonder weightloss food, and I'll be eating it for the rest of my life...with ketchup on it.

Speaking of weighty matters, I am pretty pleased to note that I hit blackjack on the weight loss thing yesterday. It was pretty satisfying to see the scales register a big 21-pound loss. But, you know the only pair of pants that I can really tell it in is those damned ugly polyester hellcloth leg coverings I have to wear to school...and I abso-freakin-lutely refuse to purchase another pair of butt-ugly pants until they are falling from my body. It just offends what little fashion sensibility I have to have actually paid money for these things. Shudder.

Back to the food, because that's really what this goofy blog is all about...

I was assigned Clams Casino and Apple-Cider Pork Chops. I was kind of excited about doing the pork chops, because they called for brining in the recipe. Me, you, and everyone else who watches the Food Network has seen Alton Brown wax and wane on the wonders of brining meat, especially pork. And in an odd twist, I had actually gotten some pork chops for dinner this week for which I was planning a brining experiment. Given that we only had roughly 2.5 hours to actually to perform the day's cooking, these babies weren't going to be brined too long. I wasn't too worried about this, because a recipe I found from Good Eats has directions for a 2-hour brining...which is the one I'm going to do this evening for dinner.

Using my mad skills (and more importantly, the stuff I remembered from reading the Good Eats recipe!), I replaced the water with ice when I made the brine in class so it would cool faster, and I could get the pork immersed sooner. Chef Regional comes by as I'm taking the brining mixture off the stove to tell me that he usually does that, and I think I got a few brownie points by mentioning that is what I have done.

The brine was pretty simple--4 cups water, 2 cups apple cider, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup kosher salt, a diced apple, a diced onion, a diced carrot, and a diced stalk of celery, along with 4 bay leaves and about 10 black peppercorns. You combine all the ingredients and bring to a boil. Cool, then immerse your meat and refrigerate for 2-3 hours. I replaced 2 cups water with 1 pounds of ice, which I added after it came off the stove. I also immersed the brine in an ice bath and stuck it in the refrigerator while I prepped the chops. I had a pork loin that I cut into medallions and pounded a little bit to flatten before I put them in the brine.

The first thing you notice when you go to cook these chops is that they will caramelize pretty quickly, which can be kind of disconcerting and make you afraid that you are going to burn them. Take your saute pan and put just enough olive oil to coat the bottom and get it hot. After the first sear, turn down the pan and let them cook at a lower heat. You could also grill them, which is what I'm planning to do with tonight's dinner.

The Clams Casino are basically clams with butter that has bacon in it, broiled with a little piece of bacon on top--clams and bacon, bacon and clams--what's not to love? I had to make this casino butter, which is essentially butter with bacon bits and minced onions and minced red and green peppers. You take a bit of this butter, put it on top of the clam meat in the shell and top it with a tiny square of par cooked bacon and run them under the broiler for a couple of minutes. Loverly.

We also had a split-pea soup with ham, a fish dish with a mushroom sauce (bonne femme or something like that), green beans almondine, and zucchini slippers. Fancy name for a zucchini boat stuffed with cheese and vegetables. I'm all for that stuffing with cheese thing. Potato Latkes were also on the menu...you know, those thin potato pancakes that are the hallmark of Hannukah celebrations and Jewish delis everywhere? The ones that look a lot like like hashbrown cakes? You know, these? With the apple sauce?

Let's just say that someone (who's name rhymes with Dimmer), had some technical difficulty with the potato pancakes, and we got potato latke hockey pucks instead. Granted, I have my fair share of kitchen frack ups, but the issue here is that Team 2 was in charge of the day's class and had given directions on how the latkes should be done, down to the cooking of a sample that would be brought to them to check for seasoning. Dim assured them that she had it under control and proceeded to cook all the pancakes at once, without doing the sample. Needless to say, they were underseasoned and undercooked in the middle, because they were the size of hockey pucks, literally. (What? you thought I was kidding about that? I never kid about fried potatoes!)

I know Chef Regional told Team 2 to keep an eye on her (not in so many words, but many, many hints), because he did the same thing for me during our session last week. And, I had to argue with her about how to cook the damn Brussels sprouts, because she wanted to "cook them like we do at work," and not how I, the person in charge, wanted her to cook them. Grrr...you aren't at work--you are at school and under someone else's thumb and direction. Evidently, she had the same sort of argument with the baking teacher as well, and kept insisting that she had done something correctly, because "that's how we do it at work." He shot back with a riff on why was she there if she wasn't going to do it any other way than how it was done at her work. Which is kinda funny, because all along, she's said that the folks at her work *strongly* encouraged her to go to culinary school. Hard to tell if the joke's on them or us, isn't it? I mean, after all, the baking teacher is a master pastry chef...you know, one of a HANDFUL in the whole country, and it couldn't possibly be that his way might be the better way, now could it? Sheesh.


Kim said...

Congratulations on the weight loss. I am down 15 pounds, but none of my clothes are showing it yet.

What is Quinoa? I have never heard of it.

Linna said...

Hooray for Alton Brown! My favorite guy on the Food Network. Alton is full of wonderful tips. (I also get a lot of good info from the message board on the Good Eats Fan Page web site.)

Life is better with bacon. We had BLTs for dinner last night. I had been waiting for my home-grown tomatoes to get ripe. (I planted them late because of our long vacation in May.) I finally decided that I was never going to get a big, ripe tomato from our garden because the critters have been eating them before they could ripen. (Squirrels or chipmunks.) So I found some semi-decent store tomatoes and we feasted on bacon.

This menu sounded a lot more interesting over-all than a lot of menus your class has made. I was laughing at the potato hockey pucks. Been there! I've learned to make my potato pancakes (once a year) really thin or you get the raw-potato-raw-onion taste.