Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Chocolate Caramels and Sculptures

Last Friday night, my practical class made tiny chocolates filled with caramel.  We had our favorite, Chef Walter, so everything was enjoyable and serene.  I decided to make my caramel salty but on the first try I added so much salt that it tasted like ocean water, so I remade it and the caramel was parfait (according to Chef).  It was really fun learning how to make hard chocolates with a liquid center.  It involved a lot of very precise tempering and delicately layering chocolate into molds.
We got more chocolate experience yesterday when we made our first chocolate sculptures.  Most of Superior Pastry is sugar sculpting and chocolate sculpting.  We each had to temper an entire kilo of dark chocolate and keep it at working temperature for about an hour, which was no small feat.  Our chef for that practical (not Walter) said, "It is not good, but not one of your usually catastrophes."  Hooray for small compliments?  
In good news, the lady at the dry cleaning told me that my French had improved noticeably in the past few weeks and then later, I scolded a French lady IN FRENCH for cutting in line at La Poste.  I wasn't sure if I said everything right but then everyone else in like clapped and booed her to the back of the line.  It was magical.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Ethiopian Dinner: Take One

On Saturday night, some friends and I decided to try Ethiopian cuisine.  A few members of our group had tried it, but I never had.  We ventured to Entoto, the only Ethiopian restaurant mentioned in the Zagat guide to Parisian dining.  The food was delicious and came out on a giant platter.  It was a mixture of stewed meats, bean pastes and chutneys, piled onto a layer of "injera" the Ethiopian bread which was sort of a combination of a savory crepe and a think crumpet.  There was no silverware and the point is to eat everything with your hands, using the injera as a scoop/shovel.  It was quite a mess but very fun.  Our only complaint was that the portions were fairly small for the amount we ordered and the service was lacking.  I have heard that at other places, the food comes in unlimited portions and is replenished whenever you run out of one thing or another.  We are planning to try another Ethiopian place this week, perhaps tonight.  Stay tuned...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Ze Kitchen Gallerie

Last Monday, Katherine and I decided we had waited long enough to try Ze Kitchen Gallerie, the Michelin-starred Asian-French fusion eatery near my apartment.  Our friend who is doing her stage there made a reservation for us and we were ready to go.  We went all out, getting the Discovery Menu.  At first I was nervous since we had no idea what we would be getting, but I found that I liked the element of surprise.  Since there is a panoramic window from the kitchen to the dining room, the chef would watch our reactions to each dish.  Everything was perfect, but my favorite course was probably the wasabi-white chocolate dessert.  The wasabi meringue was as light as air and the ice cream had the perfect harmony of white chocolate and wasabi.  I also loved the first course, which was the best octopus I've ever tasted, served with a shrimp quenelle (a football shaped "dumpling" that French chefs form out of pretty much anything) and a light, tangy sauce.  After dinner we even got the honor of touring the kitchen; amazing but the winding stairs to the basement kitchen are definitely hard to manage in high heels!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Back to School

Going back for a three class day after a long weekend was a little tough, but we all survived.  The practical was actually pretty fun and Chef gave us a lot of freedom.  In demo, all of the veggies were boiled, which made the entire dish basically a huge plate of boiled meat and vegetables.  The dish was beef poached in bouillon and served with a horseradish sauce; the garnishes were celeriac shaped like a marrow bone and stuffed with marrow, green and white asparagus, sauteed wild mushrooms and turned rutabaga and turned zucchini.  The main challenge was basically fitting all of these things on a plate without making it look gross.  I decided to make a raft out of alternating colors of asparagus and then focused everything around that.  Chef liked the presentation but said that the steak was a little rare, "even for a Frenchman" and that the horseradish sauce was too spicy.  I think I was so excited about using horseradish that I went overboard, forgetting that French people generally avoid any spice at all. 

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Highlights From A Busy Week

This week was short but packed.  I was assistant for both pastry and cuisine classes.  Assistants have the responsibility of getting all of the ingredients to class before every practical and then storing extras after the practical and making sure the kitchen is left clean.  The problem is, the class inevitably uses more of one ingredient or another and you end up running to the basement whenever anyone needs an extra egg.  Not to mention that the chef in the basement is a particular breed of cranky native to France.  Mess with his system and you will surely regret it.
On the upside, we made a lot of great dishes this week.  In pastry we made a cold plated restaurant dessert consisting made up of cold lemon cream and raspberry foam.  We served them in verrines (tall shot glasses) and topped them with raspberries and a caramelized sugar wafer.  No one wanted to cart these home, so we all left them on the table in the common area, where they were demolished within an hour.
My favorite thing in cuisine this week was a squab breast with foie gras, wrapped in cabbage.  There was also a chicken mousse inside the cabbage, as well as a thick slice of black truffle.  We served this treat with a mix of wild mushrooms in a thin pastry cup.  We made a fairly straightforward jus and for extra presentation fun I made a red wine reduction.  Unfortunately, the dishwasher came into the kitchen and decided to throw away my reduction and my sauteed wild mushrooms, so I had to borrow the garnish from a friend and start my sauce again.  I guess I've learned to keep a more watchful eye on what I make.  

Friday, April 10, 2009

Visit to Vanves Market

I had read about the flea market at Porte de Vanves in a few books, so last weekend, I jumped on a bus and headed down there with a more seasoned shopper who offered to show me the ropes.  The market was amazing, we found great older art, books and even a lot of antique cookware.  Some areas were obviously illegal, set up on sheets and ready to mobilize whenever they saw the police and other areas housed more credible vendors.  I was so overwhelmed by everything there that I didn't buy much (this is usually not my problem when shopping) so I will have to return, armed with some patience and an espresso.

Friday, April 3, 2009

A Chocolate Pistachio Macaroon Cake and Lamb Tenderloin

After being here in Paris since August, I am burnt out on eating macaroons, but still love making them.  In Wednesday's pastry class, we got to make a giant macaroon cake, filled with chocolate mousse and pistachio pastry cream.  I may be sick of eating macaroons, but I don't think I will ever tire of chocolate mousse.  It was delicious.  After assembling and decorating our cakes, we got to spray them with the chocolate gun, which is pretty much a paint gun, but filled with chocolate instead of paint.  I thought the cakes looked nicer before, but using the chocolate spray gun is always fun.  
Yesterday in cuisine, we made lamb tenderloin, covered in an herb paste, then wrapped in warka dough, which is a lot like filo dough.  We breaded and deep fried garlic, and made a vegetable tian that looked exactly like the dish at the end of the movie Ratatouille.  
After class, Katherine and I walked 2 miles from Concorde to the Marais so we could treat ourselves to Myberry, the most wonderful frozen yogurt in Paris, although not as great as NYC's Yogurtland.  Imagine our disappointment when it was closed!  Our only consolation was the gelato from Amorino, the Parisian chain of  tasty gelaterias.