Culinary School Week 9: Salads, Dressings, ServSafe Exam, and Thanksgiving Break. Whew!

Greetings again. This was a short week due to the Thanksgiving break, but a LOT went on in those 3 days.

On Monday we got our quiz #3 back.  I have been doing pretty well on all the written tests. On most of them I miss a maximum of 3 questions, and it’s almost always something stupid.  One of those “I knew that” situations, but I either just had a brain fart, a misfiring neuron, or missed a unit conversion or something like that. Oh well.

We also had lecture on salads and dressings. Dressings break down to 3 types:

  • Oil and Vinegar (emulsions)
  • Mayo based (thickened)
  • Cooked (not all that common)

We’d made mayo and oil and vinegar dressings before in class when we were studying sauces and emulsions, but now we got to revisit this.

One thing that I’m weak on and that Chef Sakai emphasizes from the beginning is presentation, to make something look good on the plate.  While we aren’t really graded on this (at least not yet), he will comment on this if it looks really bad or odd. This is definitely something I need to work on.

WP_20141125_002Anyway, there are a lot to say about all sorts of salads: Green, veggie, pasta, fruit, etc. Most of the people reading this have probably eaten various salads so I won’t go into huge detail here.

On Tuesday, we spent the day in the kitchen and learned how to prep lettuce and other salad stuff in quantity. As with everything else in the kitchen, there are many ways to do this. Chef Sakai advocates cutting the lettuce then WP_20141125_004cleaning it. The smaller pieces are easier to handle, and the salad spinner can do a better job of taking the water out. We used the “industrial” sized salad spinner, as you can see in the accompanying photos.

He also made a Caesar salad, a classic that I’ve had MANY times, and have made many times as well, although not recently. The basic ingredients are garlic, anchovies (mashed into a paste to add umami and salt, but not necessarily a fish taste), olive oil, lemon juice and an egg. Classically, a coddled egg is used (an egg placed in hot water to (theoretically) kill salmonella), but you can use a pasteurized egg, or just wing it with a regular one and hope none of your guests have weak immune systems. 🙂

WP_20141125_009What was I talking about? Oh yea, Caesar dressing. You then whisk everything together to make an emulsion, and toss that with chopped romaine lettuce and croutons. If you are ever in Seattle, El Gaucho makes this tableside, and it is something Teresa and I always order.

We then split into groups and were told to make “a salad”. This late in the semester everyone actually knows something, and we are starting to get the “too many cooks” syndrome on these types of things. The salad dressing was too salty, which is the opposite of what Chef Sakai normally says. (By now, this has become a running joke with everyone, that his standard criticism is that “it needs more salt”). It also looked funny, as we tried to be “creative” with the green portion of a leek. While technically edible (which all garnishes should be), it really wasn’t, as we didn’t cook it.

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WP_20141125_017Chef Sakai then proceeded to show us up by taking several of the leaves, blanching them, laying them out, and cutting them in a circle using a ring mold. Just shows you what years of experience will do vs our fledgling attempts at artistry.

After this, we all had to clean up and get into the classroom to take the ServSafe Food Protection Manager Certification Exam. I mentioned this class, but haven’t really blogged about it, as it is straight lecture. The class meets once a week on Tuesdays, and was just prep for this test. While the test is sponsored by the National Restaurant Association (which I humorously call “The Other NRA”) passing it was 52% of our grade for college academics. Less than 50% is a failing grade, so you HAVE to pass to pass the class. Skipping ahead a couple of weeks, I did pass with a 95%. I guess I did pretty well. I know of 1 or 2 other people that probably got at least this score, but amazingly 5 people or so failed, and will have to take it again. So in addition to the other festivities of the Tgiving weekend, I did a final pass of studying for this test. It was a LOT of memorization, which is hard for me, so I worked at it.

Back to cooking. On Wednesday we talked about appetizers in class, specifically canapes, which are hand held, single bite bits of goodness with a base, a main ingredient, and a garnish. Actually, I misused the word appetizer. The little hand held foods you eat at a buffet or cocktail parties are canapes, and an appetizer is a multi-bite dish that you have as a prelude to a whole meal, generally eaten sitting down. A bit of detail I did not know. My Community College edumecation is paying off in spades!

WP_20141126_004We went into the kitchen and made vegetable plates and a couple of dips, along with sliced bread. In general, we made the veggie pieces too small, and by just cutting them at an angle, we could increase the surface to hold dip, and make them look more interesting. Again, too many cooks, and not enough experience.  At this, we broke for 4 days.

That brings us to Thanksgiving. While I made a nice Spathcocked Turkey along with Duchesse Potatoes that we made in class, I was running around like a crazy person and didn’t really take any pictures, but I can describe what I did.

Spatchcocking is a technique where you remove the backbone of the poultry, sort of “break” the sternum bone, and flatten the bird out. This has numerous advantages, the chief one being it cooks faster. I have done this numerous times with chickens, but never thought to do this with a turkey. It is great when grilling, as the chicken will (mostly) cook at the same rate, since everything is sort of the same thickness.

I got the recipe out of Bon Appetit here.

WP_20141127_003Oh, and it was my birthday the next Saturday. My Canadian mother and sister-in-law brought down the favorite celebration treat, an Italian version of a St. Honore Cake. The one they get is from Fratelli’s Bakery on Commercial Drive in Vancouver, BC. It is pretty nummy, and was in fact the cake Teresa and I had at our wedding.  I want to be able to make this cake they way they do there (the French version is different), a goal for when I take baking.

Another week comes to an end, and we are down to the short strokes here. Finals are around the corner. Stay tuned.

 

 


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