Buffet 101

Last Friday night was our night to shine. To spread a buffet of delicious goodies out for students to enjoy alongside their normal family dinner. And it was a lot of work! In the end, it was terrific experience for learning how to cater a small event or host a big dinner party by doing the work in batches – what freezes well, what doesn’t, what needs to be make the hour before guests arrive, etc. Everything, yes, everything had to be made from scratch – from crackers to dressings and sauces – and all the pork products we used, like bacon, were made from the original pig brought in.

Our team of six had about 15 hours of prep time over a few classes to prepare and cook a smorgasbord for 50 to 60 people. We all brought in recipes we’d like to try and Chef V, who was very open minded to doing whatever wanted, ordered all the food. We collectively decided on a Fall theme, fitting since we all wanted to use pumpkin, squash, brussel sprouts, and more to make other comforting seasonal foods. We also had to design a flow and plan for the spread, including decor and plating. (You’ll notice there were a few dishes with a not so seasonal Asian twist due to one of our teammates wanting to make his native Korean dishes.) Here are some pics from the night!

Salmon Tataki Salad with Homemade Gravlax (paper thin cuts of radish, carrots, zucchini, and cured salmon, topped with a jalapeno dressing)

Stuffed Kabocha Squash – stuffed with butternut squash, rice, and sage

Roast Leg of Pork – maple dijon glaze

Mushroom Bread Pudding (delicious beyond belief) and Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Bacon

Roasted Squash, Pickled Beet, Goat Cheese, and Arugula Salad, and Tasso Ham & Cheddar Cheese Croquetas (melt in your mouth food – it’s essentially a super thick bechamel sauce with ham and cheese added to it, and is then piped out into logs, frozen until firm, and finally breaded before frying)

Braised Pork Cheeks with Lady Apples

Homemade Bratwurst with Braised Cabbage

Pork Belly with Apple Chips and Microgreens – my least favorite for sure… it desperately needed salt (not my dish, not my salt preference, lol)

Shaved Zucchini and Asparagus Crudite with Parmesan

Pumpkin, Sage, and Ricotta Ravioli with Brown Butter – decadent, yet light and airy filling

Fried Duck Confit and Cranberry Compote Empanads with an Orange Mint Dipping Sauce and Baked Indian Curried Pumpkin Empanadas with Tzatiki

Cinnamon Ice Cream – texture was a little off, but maybe the best flavor of the night

Pumpkin Bread Pudding – an absolute go-to dessert for the rest of my life, especially with that cinnamon ice cream

Pecan Pie – made by Chef V

Fig Jam-Ricotta Torta with Almond and Basil Crumble – made by Chef V

Strawberry and Sake Gelatin – berries are not so seasonal, yes, but it was a tasty adult jello shot my teammate beautifully arranged

A few other items we made (but I sadly didn’t get pictures of) – Chestnut Soup, Oyster Chowder with Homemade Oyster Crackers, Korean Glazed Short Ribs with Stick Rice.
As of Monday, we’ve switched over to making family meal with Chef Anna while Chef V takes the other group to do their charcuterie and buffet. Chef Anna is definitely a little fire cracker – doesn’t put up with any crap but pretty entertaining nonetheless. We’re each assigned a station – protein, starch, vegetable and vegetarian item, or salad/fruit salad/stocks (the stocks go down to the main Ecole kitchen for their use each day). On our first night, we made shepard’s pie and green beans with shallots. Tonight we made red curry boneless short ribs, eggplant/zucchini/pepper curry, coconut rice with dried apricots, and kale with wild rice and garbanzo beans. Very yum!

It’s a boat load of work to cook for 150 people. It’s non-stop, hustle all night. I must have cut up about 30 peppers, 10 eggplants, and 30 zucchini, and opened 15 cans of coconut milk, let alone all the random carrots, onions, shallots, and garlic that need to be handy, plus prep for recipes for our next class. But, in a bizarre way, the business is cathartic. I am however bummed at the large burn I got on my right forearm tonight. I’ve really only burned areas that aren’t too visible (like under my arm) – so this one’s a keeper.

 

 

 

 

Not My Cup of Charcuterie

Our charcuterie buffet was tonight. This just isn’t my favorite type of food. Many people love it, many students were eating buckets of it. Just not me. Short of flavors I grew up eating (i.e. chopped liver) I’m just not a fan of pates, random pig pieces, or fatty, gelatinous textures. So, needless to say, I didn’t have much of tonights offering (except maybe the pickles, of course). I look forward to our real buffet – the big one, with very little charcuterie involved.

But before I proceed with discussing our plates, here’s that picture I was hoping to show last time. The nasty, thick black hairs growing from the pigs skin. I hope you all ate before viewing this.

Now that I’ve scarred you, let’s move on. Here are some photos from the buffet. I mistakenly deleted one photo that showed our duck confit (though you’ve seen that before) and the pork and duck rillette, a smooth and creamy pate-like spread. We also rounded out the table with a few accompanients – dill pickle spears, crostini, roasted pumpkin seeds with paprika, fig jam, and cherry chutney.

Headcheese (a gnarly collection of the tidbits from the pig head)

Foie Gras

Smoked Trout Salad (with radishes, lemon, and dill – this I liked because it reminded me of whitefish salad that us Jewish peeps enjoy)

Porchetta (a fatty, boneless, and moist roast wrapped in pork belly – oh and notice the adorable little bird my classmate made from an apple!)

Chicken Liver Mousse with Mustard and Cornichons

Country Pate (shallots, cognac, pork fat, pork tenderloin, chicken livers, pistachios, lots of spices)

Duck Ham (cooked like a deli ham)

Open Faced Cubanos (our twist – served on lard biscuits with pulled pork, ham, swiss cheese, dill pickles, and a tangy, roasted vegetable spread)

 

Here Piggy Piggy

Apologies for the massive delay in a post! My internet has been down for the past week thanks to Time Warner Cable — so, you can thank them.

For the past few classes we’ve been fastidiously breaking down the pig that arrived to our class last Wednesday. Meet Wilburette (it is a lady porker). I’ve certainly seen my share of little piggies at a petting zoo but boy was I surprised at the massive size of this animal. The head, plus half the body, was about 125 pounds. I guess I was expecting Babe to show up but apparently his much bigger, older, steroid using sister was delivered instead.

The head was pretty gross to look at – a huge snout, evil teeth, glossy dead eyes, and flopping ears. I wasn’t as intrigued as others.

Equally as vile to see were the thick, black hairs protruding everywhere. The pig did probably have the majority of its surface hair removed but left behind were the dark follicles still housing plenty more. If a tweezer had been available, I might have thrown on some gloves and started plucking away – hey, it’s a girl pig, she needs to look good, right? Though it would have taken me days to finish that job.

Here is the infamous Chef V with a saw starting to cut through the ribs. The saw is used to cut through bone and a large butchering knife is used to cut through the meat. It’s no easy task and takes a lot of strength to get through that sized pig! A few of the guys on our team helped out while I simply stood back to witness. The whole thing was butchered down to its primal cuts – ham, loin (with rack), belly w/spareribs, shoulder butt, and picnic ham.

 

For this portion of the level, our little team will have two presentations. Students from other classes will get to taste test. First, this Friday, is the charcuterie buffet. This will be small, primarily comprised of 4 or 5 items made directly from the pig – like country pate, headcheese, chicharrones (fried skin), bacon from the belly, cubano sandwiches with the ham and homemade lard biscuits, and accompaniments like homemade dill pickles.

The second presentation is our full buffet. As a team, we had to put together a spread that contains appetizers, carving stations, chafing dishes, vegetables, starches, sauces, and desserts. Some of the items will contain pork items and the rest will just be homemade dishes. We have a fall theme in mind, but of course there are a few deviations. A lot of the recipes are ones we’ve found and just want to try out, some are Chef V’s ideas, and some come from our backgrounds (i.e. one of our teammates is from Korea). So far, this is our plan — korean spare ribs with sticky rice, maple roasted ham, bratwurst with sweet and sour red cabbage, braised pork cheeks with lady apples, savory mushroom bread pudding, smoked trout, brussel sprouts with tasso ham, arugula and pickled beet salad, gravlax with pears, duck confit empanadas, homemade ravioli, curried pumpkin empanadas, chestnut soup, oyster belly chowder with bacon and homemade oyster crackers, salmon tataki salad, ham croqeutas, pork belly with apple chips, sweet potato ice cream, cinnamon ice cream, apple beignets, pumpkin bread pudding, and a strawberry-sake gelatin. I’d say this sounds pretty plentiful — and there’s only 6 of us cooking this stuff over 2 1/2 days. Yikes! The really interesting part for me, aside from new recipes, is learning how to plan in advance for a big dinner. What freezes well, how far in advance can you make or prep something, what needs to be made day of, etc. Life lessons!

Here are a few pics of what we’ve done thus far – can’t wait to take photos at each finished presentation!

Ingredients for the country pate: sauteed shallots and garlic, white wine, pink salt (nitrates), tons of herbs, pork loin, and fat. This mixture went straight into the grinder and then I had to lovingly mix it up with grinded up, cognac soaked chicken livers. Not the most appetizing photo, sorry. Clearly, I used gloves.

Braised pork cheeks. Have never tried these, only veal cheeks, I might give it a try once the full dish is made with apples and a nice braising sauce. They look meaty.

My first love. Pickles. 

Homemade fig jam – still needs to cook down further, but the smell was intoxicating! Cinnamon, fresh figs, sugar.

Foie Gras. Per Chef V, this will only be for us to sample :) She just wanted to show us how to make it. To start, you need to take the tiny little veins out, by hand, one by one. Yummm. It has an odd texture – it’s not this gooey, wet organ like you’d think. It has a unique dry texture that breaks into large chunks. Kinda like astronaut ice cream? 

Tasso ham – deliciously salty and tender. It’s a cured, richly seasoned pork shoulder.

Duck confit – need I say more? The meat is going to be picked, mixed with dried cherries, and enveloped with empanada dough. YUM.

The head itself brined for a few days and then cooked for several hours. Once that was done, a few students started picking through the head meat to put aside for the headcheese. The smell alone made me stand 15 feet away. There was just no way I could participate in that. I was gagging just looking at it.

 

After calculating the usable yield percentage, we wound up using 99.86% of the pig we got! We used everything from the skin and fat to the cheeks and trotters. We won’t count the one eyeball my classmate Mark decided to pop in his mouth. Eeeek!!! He actually ate it!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Total 180

Like my fellow classmates, I arrived at class tonight excited and happy to be there. Boy, has it been a while! And luckily for us, somebody snuck Chef her mood stabilizers and it was like a whole new instructor emerged. From the second class started, she was funny, energetic, engaging, kind, and complimentary of how hard we worked in level 3. She has tons of interesting and unique ideas and was just an overall happy person. What the heck happened??? Though she’s never really been mean to me, it was common to witness it to others, and who wants to see that? But for the first time, I really got excited that she was teaching us.

We immediately split into our two groups – seven students went with Chef Anna to the Family Meal kitchen to start prepping dinner and six of us went with Chef V for few hours of charcuterie and catering lecture. Well, not before Chef Anna yelled at another girl and me for our hair being in a ponytail versus a tight bun… really??? We’ve had our hair like this for 4 months, and now somebody says something? Oy vey.

For the next ten or twelve lessons, we’ll be 100% focused on a 250 pound little piggy and all the ways we can dice and slice him up. We’ll be butchering the pig on Wednesday and will make an array of charcuterie for a small presentation at the end of next week, including bratwursts with red cabbage and apple sauerkraut, headcheese, country pate with pickled beets, maple cured bacon, porchetta roast with orange and fennel rub, fois gras terrine with spicy fig jam, homemade pickles, and other condiments.

The big presentation we’ll have is our grand buffet on the 19th. Over the next few lessons, we’ll be picking a theme to revolve our recipes around and then cranking out a massive ton of food. Chef V originally was aiming for French-Spanish fusion, but it may stray – we’ll see. In that presentation, we’ll have to include more charcuterie, three appetizers, one carving station, three warm dishes, two vegetables, one starch, sauces, and three desserts. We’ll be designing the buffet table, from the layout of all the food, to the plating vessels, decor, and centerpieces – with a budget in mind.

During the last hour of class, we congregated in the library with Chef to throw out ideas and things we’d be interested in trying to make. It wasn’t all down the French-Spanish route, but she’s open to tweaking along the way and letting us do what we want, even if a little off.  We’ll probably at least be doing cuban sandwiches with homemade ham, homemade pickles, swiss cheese, mustard, and for a twist, served on homemade lard biscuits specked with more ham in the dough. (We have a pig, why not use the lard – and then a treadmill.) We’ll also plan on some sort of cured salmon, smoked trout, confit vegetables, a Korean spice rubbed pork rib, homemade filled ravioli, duck confit empanadas, braised pork cheeks, a maple roasted leg of pork, zucchini and asparagus pappardelle, pumpkin bread pudding, apple beignets, red wine poached pears with a lemon marscapone cream, and perhaps a chestnut soup shot. It will most certainly be a lot of work – only six of us – but so much fun! And finally, a little opportunity here and there for us to be creative. We all have to research recipes over the next few days and bring in copies of what we find to establish a final recipe plan list by the end of the week.

Las Vegas buffets ain’t got nothing on us.

And, I’m Halfway There!

This is the best feeling in the world! Finally, our class has made it through the dreaded midterm. We’re told by older students this day is the hardest of the whole program. If you ever played Super Mario Brothers circa the early 1990s, I feel like little Mario did after defeating a castle, watching it explode in the background while he holds his victorious little flag, high and mighty. Yes, there is more to the journey, but such a milestone to hit. In a nutshell, we arrived at class, took our written exam (all we had to do was write out the ingredients, amounts, and procedure for the apple tart), and quickly drew our presentation times and meals to do. I chose A2 – essentially I was the second person to present the consomme and roast chicken combination (damn that papillote and profiteroles, which is what I wanted). I wasn’t thrilled with having to present second as it’d mean I’d have to bust my ass to get things done in time, wound up feeling very rushed for the chicken presentation, and was already aware of some shortcomings to the plated dish. I should have poured on more jus, I should have broken down the chicken more carefully, and my potatoes were not crispy enough – but I can’t play shoulda, woulda, coulda forever. Sure, if I had picked a later presentation time, I would probably have had the time to perfect those items, but c’est la vie.

We presented to a panel of three recent graduates plus Chef Veronica. She was actually only there to ensure the judges were being fair in their grading. And at the end of the night, unbeknownst to us, we’d be called back in for our critique by the three judges. That’s kinda scary, huh?! Though they had a serious look on their faces as they tasted our grub, in the end they turned out to be quite compassionate and kind with their critiques. They were honest and picky, but sympathetic to our situation. I am happy to report though they liked my chicken the best of all! Score. I needed a little boost, considering other elements were far from perfect. Each of us had about a 3-5 minute chat with them and went on our merry way.

As of Monday, Level 4, we’ll be split up into two groups – charcuterie and family meal. I’ll be starting with Chef Veronica on the charcuterie team. We’ll be getting a whole pig next week, learning to butcher, and then crafting delicacies such as sausages, pate/fois gras, pancetta, prosiciutto, plus, work on the occasional themed buffet night that Level 4 hosts for the school dinner. After, I’ll switch over to family meal with Chef Anna to work on the normal dinners offered each night (a few of ours will be thai red curry braised beef ribs, shepards pie, beer battered codfish, roast pork loin with ginger, and mushroom lasagna), essentially when we learn how to cook in volume. All the while, we’ll still be continuing our education on food costing and menu planning.

I hope in this level to have many fun pictures of these new creations back on the blog! Now I shall go to bed elated that I am DONE with this insane, torturous level! High five!

Uncooked, Underdone, Raw.

Pretty much the summation of this fabulous night. Just one class sits in between this and our midterm and I totally screw up my dishes tonight. Naturally. (Maybe I’ll just pretend my food is part of that wacky, ever growing trend of raw food…)

I made sea bass baked in parchment paper (affectionately known as “en papillote”) and pots de creme with tuille cookies. Fish en papillote is a big deal at school. They love this recipe and it actually is quite tasty when done well. We’ve done it just once before in Level 2. On a heart shaped piece of parchment paper, you start by dolloping a tablespoon of mushroom duxelle (cooked down tiny diced mushrooms, shallots, butter, salt, pepper, lemon) and tomato fondue (cooked down chopped tomatoes, shallot, butter, thyme, salt, pepper), then layer on a piece of fish. On top of the fish you line up three perfectly julienned and cooked bunches of veggies – carrot, leek, celery. Finally, a sprig of thyme and splash of wine. This package gets sealed up with egg white wash, brushed with oil, and baked at 400. Here’s where something went wrong. Chef V explicitly told us to cook for 9 minutes. Well, 9 1/2 minutes later as I presented, she tore open the aromatic package to reveal raw fish. Unedible. Well, looks like 9 minutes didn’t do it. I threw it back in for a few more minutes and brought it back up. I mostly needed to let my veggies cook a bit longer and season the fish more heavily. But, it was still raw. Terrible. Thank god this wasn’t the midterm.

Next up was pots de creme aka vanilla custard. This is a pretty simple preparation – vanilla and milk tempered with sugar and eggs yolks, then baked in a water bath. This is supposed to cook for 40 minutes and be the slightest bit wiggly when its ready. I noticed at 40 minutes it was just not set — so I let it go for another 10-15 minutes. It wiggled ever so slightly as I took it out and definitely didn’t want to overcook it by letting it go more. Alongside, we made tuille – a thin, rolled sugary and buttery cookie (think: Pepperidge Farm piroulline cookies). It looked lovely speckled with vanilla, but one spoon in revealed its soupy mess. After both incidents, Chef V actually thought I may have encountered a messed up oven. It’s ultimately still my fault, but blaming it on an oven that isn’t calibrated correctly got me through the cleanup.

We discussed our midterm and actually found out what’ll be on it which was an unexpected surprise, as we can now prepare ourselves as best as possible. It’ll either be Fish en Papillote and Pate a Choux or Consomme and Roast Chicken. Yay for no apple tart! Here’s where I vent though - I don’t think it’s the most fair to give a test on a dish we’ve only had the opportunity to do once in class. I’m sick of “life isn’t fair” – I’m allowed to think some things are reasonable and others aren’t. Roast chicken and consomme for instance – both dishes we’ve done multiple times – are on the midterm, and totally fair game in my opinion. Papillote, not so much.

I’ll leave on a positive note – here’s the grilled salmon with sauteed spinach and rice pilaf and a butter sauce I made (quite nicely) last class. This photo is of my classmates who made it tonight, but you get the drift. In fact, I prepared both my salmon and dessert (lemon tart) pretty darn well. Tonight just wasn’t my night. I’m getting all the bad juices out of my system for Friday.

I’ve Clearly Got Beef with Level 3

Just four more classes to go until the midterm exam, hallelujah.

When I last posted, I reminded you that I have not gone MIA, I simply have just been repeating recipes nonstop in class, therefore it leaves me with little new and interesting to write about. Plus, I’m sure you’re also sick of me saying the same nasty things over and over about our instructor. I didn’t go to class on Friday night. I felt perfectly fine, no health scares, but frankly I needed a mental health day. Growing up, I was allowed a few of those a year, so why not treat myself to it once in a while as an adult? Also, after being violently yelled at the class before for forgetting to garnish my fish with the croutons (beautiful, crispy ones I made well in advance) – a stupid mistake, yes – I needed a time out Friday night. I was told (in a not so nice tone) I didn’t focus and should be ashamed I forgot them on the plate. Well, that fired me up and I felt inclined to speak back. “Actually Chef, I was extremely focused tonight, just as I always am. I simply made a dumb mistake and forgot to add the croutons. I won’t forget again.” I felt so empowered, until she blatantly argued with my comeback. Sigh. To say the least, I just wasn’t feeling going on Friday night. Plus, something fun came up I wanted to attend.

We had  our second mock midterm tonight. They basically set up class like we’re having the actual midterm – we start immediately after roll call, can’t set up anything in advance, make two dishes, and are assigned various presentation times throughout the night. We pick the times out of a hat – depending on luck you’ll pick the earliest or latest time to present. It actually makes quite a difference. The first person presented about 40 minutes before I did! Fingers crossed I wind up somewhere in the middle for the actual midterm. We all waited outside class with dread on our faces. It’s easy to tell the mental and emotional toll this level has had on the students. There are looks of depression and misery. It is as if they chose to design a level that purposefully sucks all of the creative juices and passion out of our soul. People wonder why they’re even here. I haven’t gotten that bad, but I do have to really force myself to go to class these days. It’s extremely hard to say that when you turn your life around, quit your job, move, and spend all of your savings on an interest you love, only to feel this way. I am confident though that those feelings will dissipate soon among our whole class.

Our recipes for the night were Poached Eggs and Beef Bourguignon. You’ve heard about these lame eggs before – poached eggs over a cooked vegetable salad and hollandaise. As per usual, my poached eggs turned out dynamite. I plated everything hot and on time. The hollandaise could have used a touch more salt, but all in all, a well received dish. Now, Beef Bourguignon is new for us. I actually was supposed to do it for the first time last Friday so I was in for a surprise of the overall execution and result for tonight. This is a delicious recipe as I’m sure you’ve heard Julia Child say once or twice before. The top blade cut of beef marinates for two days in red wine, brandy, and an assortment of other aromatics and herbs. The meat is dried, cut into cubes, and browned. Next, carrots and onions are browned, the wine marinade is reduced, and then you add flour, tomato paste, garlic, herbs, fresh chopped tomatoes, and veal stock. Bring to a boil, cover, and let it cook away in 375 oven for 1 1/2-2 hours. Meanwhile, garnishes – bacon lardons, sauteed mushrooms, pearl onions, and croutons (all of these sound familiar, no?). The meat is removed from the pot, the sauce is strained and reduced, and the meat and garniture return to meld all the flavors. We also made fresh fettuccine noodles – pretty darn easy, but having a pasta rolling machine certainly makes it do-able at home. The result? Delicious stew! In fact, she couldn’t stop eating my noodles and said the beef was perfectly tender. She said I reduced my sauce a tad too much, but I actually couldn’t even tell. It looked and tasted luscious to me! Voila the Beef Bourguignon. Well worth the effort. And yes those are heart shaped croutons we have to make, dipped in parsley.

New recipes to come over the final, remaining Level 3 lessons! Then time to wish me luck :)

“Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.”
― Julia Child

Just an Update!

The blog is not on hiatus!! The past few classes have been full of repeat recipes, so nothing too interesting to speak of. We now work in teams of two making two dishes per team, with two presentation times per night about 30 minutes apart. Lucky for me, and because of our uneven class, Chef V specifically put me by myself (“I know you can handle it, you’re doing a great job so far”) so I sucked it up and now  do double duty. It’s manageable… so far. And, on a good note, Chef has been rather non-bipolar lately – though I think I’ve managed to just be on her good side so she’s never really targeted me anyway!

On Friday, I made whipped cream filled profiteroles with chocolate sauce and an apple tart – both without a drop of sweat – and got excellent feedback! You know its really good when Chef just keeps eating what you’ve presented and isn’t just tasting. I also had my 1:1 evaluation with Chef which turned out to be extremely positive and with barely any criticism! Quite an achievement in my mind, she’s a tough cookie. Tonight was the nasty poached eggs and vegetable salad with hollandaise sauce, plus consomme. Some of the appetizers they have us do are downright gross :( I think I plated too early with the poached eggs so it wasn’t as piping hot as it should have been but the consomme was perfection. Scalding hot and lots of salt, in a good way! And, like with dessert, I snuck a peek to see Chef V continuing to slurp up my soup! On Wednesday I’ll be doing two fish dishes and on Friday two meat dishes – a new beef dish is coming, get excited to see it!

I promise, I’ll be pumping out plenty of exciting posts and pictures in Level 4 (i.e. when we get the full pig). Two and a half more weeks! Just bear with me!

Just Keep Swimming

Here’s a short and sweet post, as I have an early morning bus back to DC tomorrow! The one thing between me and a holiday weekend – FISH! Tonight was my second time at the poissonier station. I made orata – also sometimes known as dourade and is a fish used widely in Mediterranean cooking – with Sauce Americain, steamed mussels, and sauteed shrimp. It’s not a terribly complicated dish, there’s just lots of moving pieces to keep track of.

Sauce Americain begins as lobster stock – I sauteed lobster bodies (which thankfully came pre-chopped and gutted) and shrimp shells with carrots, onion, wine, brandy, tomato paste, garlic, tarragon, and water. After simmering and skimming for 45 minutes, I strained it to keep for later. Meanwhile, I steamed a handful of washed mussels with shallot and white wine, filleted my fish, and deveined/butterflied several shrimp (nobody wants to eat a poop shoot). I removed each of the mussels and reserved them in the strained mussel liquid for later, while also reserving the shells for plating. I also had to do those annoying football shaped potato cuts, this time “vapeur” which is 6cm in length. Those just get 3/4 of the way cooked in unsalted, simmering water – then finished at the last moment of plating in boiling, salted water for an extra minute or two.

Time to bring back the lobster stock. The fish filets are poached in this stock – the liquid should be about halfway up a pan smeared with butter and sprinkled with shallot. Make sure to cover with cartouche lid (cartouche lids are made from parchment paper and have a little hole in the middle to allow steam to escape) and poach for 6-7 minutes. As those were nearly cooked, I removed them since carryover cooking and a final reheat would finish it. I cooked my shrimp in a mixture of mussel liquid and lobster stock, finished off my potatoes, rewarmed my mussels, and reduced down the lobster stock with cream, plus a finish of lemon juice, parsley, and tarragon. Fish quickly rewarmed in the reduced sauce and put on plate, one potato on plate, mussels back in their shells on the plate, shrimp against fish, and a creamy lobster sauce to finish.  The sauce could have reduced and thickened a bit more but it was still pretty darn tasty. Very nicely cooked fish, as per Chef V.

I finished just on time – had over two hours (keep in mind the sauce making, filleting a whole fish, etc.). Now, I’m not so sure I”ll be able to do that on Monday when I’ll be making this again, PLUS the lemon tart. Panic can set in after the long weekend :)

Piece of Cake, er, Pie

DIY is big these days. You’ve seen those frozen yogurt places pop up where you can pour your own portion and go crazy at the toppings bar just a few feet away. People like to be in control.

Last year while I was still living in DC, I drove by a new place opening in Georgetown called Pie Sisters. While I wish them success, I am bitter. My sister and I used to talk about pies as the next big hit (cupcakes are tasty, but we need to move on). But with a twist – we thought that people would love to scoop their own pie – they choose each component and wind up with a bowlful of exactly what (and how much) they want. What a piefect treat.

1. Pick Your Crust (want top and bottom? you got it!)

  • Flaky, buttery pastry
  • Cinammon sugar lattice (yum)
  • Graham cracker/nilla wafer crust
  • Traditional oreo crust
  • Oat crumble topping

2. Fill ‘er Up – banana cream, key lime, blackberry, chocolate silk, blueberry lemon, vanilla pecan, pear and apple – you name it. Seasonal options come into play of course – warm apple pie, peppermint chocolate, summer peach and raspberry, blood orange curd, etc.

3. Top It Off

  • Warm, gooey caramel
  • Fresh whipped creams (vanilla, citrus, rum, chocolate, I could go on and on here)
  • Toasted nuts
  • Meringue
  • Ice cream – delicious, creamy, high-quality cold stuff

4. Consume. Smile. Investors? I know there are pie places out there – Dangerously Delicious in DC, Little Pie Company in NYC, but DIY?? Some people just want more crust and less filling – that’s the cruel truth. It might not wind up looking like the perfect slice, but honestly, who cares – you’ll quickly forget once you dig in.

With pie on my mind, I decided to a mini one. Salted Caramel Pretzel Pie – a recipe I found online but made some alternations, naturally. Start by crushing a baggie full of thin pretzels. Use whatever heavy tool you have around – I used a bottle of olive oil, but a wine bottle, rolling pin, or your angry fist will work.

This gets mixed with graham cracker crumbs. It’s about 1/2 cup of each.

Add a half a stick of melted butter to create a moist crumb and press into your pie pan. Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes to set.

Once that has cooled, time to fill! The first layer is salted caramel – but made in an unusual and fun way. Pour one can of sweetened condensed milk into a baking dish and sprinkle with salt (flaky sea salt is nice, but whatever you have) – cover with foil. Place that baking dish in a larger, deeper one that is filled halfway up with boiling water. This bakes at 425 degrees for 2 hours. Every 30 minutes, give it a stir and add more boiling water if what’s there has evaporated.

The second layer is good old chocolate pudding, but scratch made of course. This is the recipe I used.

Refrigerate until well chilled, top with whipped cream. Salty, sweet, creamy, sticky, crunchy – pure delight.