I’m moving

Well, after much frustration with WordPress, I’ve decided to move The Southern Gourmand over to Blogspot. Stop by and have a look!
http://lechevre-thesoutherngourmand.blogspot.com/

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I’m a Certified Culinarian!

(That’s my last of culinary school when we had to do a deep clean.  I was boiling pots and pans in a cleaning solution and then fiercely scrubbing them.  I was absolutely filthy by the end of the day.)

Well, I will be once I do my internship, so by the end of August, I guess I can officially put that after my name. 

The past few months have been incredibly intense with David coming home, trying to find a job, my first internship falling through, scrambling to find a second one, and four back to back “can’t catch a break” classes.  I was in class alone for 32 hours a week, not to mention time spent getting ready to go to class, ironing for class, doing homework for class, etc.  It really consumed my entire existence and…wait for it…I made it!!

So, after a much needed weekend at the beach, I’m back to my little blog and hopefully won’t get sidetracked again.  Just for fun, here are some of our photos from Charleston.

He pretty much just puts up with me most days.

While I was there, I met with the chef where I will be doing my internship and am very excited.  They seem like a great team and I am going to try my best to bust my butt for them and not screw up too much. 

Anyway, despite not blogging much the past few months, I have been cooking up a storm.  Well, that’s actually not true.  I’ve been going through spurts of being way too slammed to even microwave something and also cooking every single day.  I wanted to get back into it with a dessert post because I haven’t had time to crunch any numbers for Budget Bites (although there are plenty of summery wallet-friendly meals headed this way, so not to worry). 

I made these one night when David needed a pick me up.  I had strawberries and puff pastry in the freezer so I threw them together to make these.  They’re really easy to do and don’t take very long, so they lend themselves to anything impromptu.  I really loved how they tasted much better than the frozen crap that they sell in the grocery store, but aren’t really any more labor-intensive. 

Strawberry Popovers

1 pint strawberries, thinly sliced

4 Tbsp sugar, divided

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed

1 Tbsp butter, melted

1 cup heavy cream

Directions

Sprinkle strawberries with half of the sugar and let them sit long enough to form juice.  

Preheat oven to 400F.  Roll puff pastry to 1/8″ thickness on a lightly floured work surface.  Cut puff pastry into 6 squares.  Place a spoonful of strawberries in the center and fold puff pastry over to enclose, crimping edges to seal.  Bake at 400 for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.  Brush with melted butter. 

Whip up 1 cup heavy cream with 2 tbsp sugar.  Serve with strawberry turnovers. 

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Culinary School: A Year in Review

Don’t laugh.  My hair cannot be contained in that tiny little hat.

As my time in culinary school winds down, I wanted to take the time to reflect on this past year.  It’s been a year of growth, both in skills and my understanding of myself, but it has also been  a year of challenges.  I realize now how much of a bubble I lived in before. 

I have gotten much more assertive this past year.  I think that you have to be if you want to work in the food industry.  A lot of the other students are fresh out of high school, and for lack of a better word, are fairly undisciplined or professional at times.  We practically live with the same people for several hours a day, all week, in a high stress environment and we’re all sleep-deprived.  Toss in a few sharp objects and a screaming chef (yes, some of them really do scream at you) and you’ve got yourself a party. 

That’s not to say that I haven’t loved it.  I really am fortunate to have had this opportunity.  I have learned so much about food, food culture, personalities, what I am capable of and what I am most certainly not capable of.  The feeling that you get when a chef compliments your food is indescribable.  And when you let one of the good ones down, you feel the weight of that, as well. 

My biggest regret is that I didn’t take photos throughout the course of the year.  Since I didn’t, I’m going to borrow a few pictures from Emily’s blog, The Front Burner , but only of me or my food. 

So, here are my top picks from this year…the good, the bad and the questionable. 

#10…Surviving my first practical.  I had never cooked a pork tenderloin and, genius that I am, I decided that it would be a good idea to do one for my first cooking grade ever.  All things considered, it turned out perfectly moist and juicy and, for the first time in culinary school, I felt like, “Ok.  I can do this.”

#9…Stabbing myself on a baguette.  In my defense, it was cut into leaves, which were very pointy. 

#8…Learning that Germans don’t have cookies, and are therefore far superior to Americans.  I would argue, but you don’t argue with a Master Pastry Chef…who happens to be German. 

#7…Seeing a 5’2″ tiny little chef throw pots and pans at us because the class was abandoning dishes in the dish pit.  Yeah.  Don’t do that.

#6…Seeing just what food is.  I’ve always had issues with veal and foie gras, but after seeing what a healthy duck liver looks like, and what foie gras looks like, I’m going to become a pesco-vegetarian (more on that later).

See for yourself.

The foie gras is on the left and the regular liver is on the right.  Part of the job description of chef is knowing where your food comes from, and there are certain responsibilities that we have as a result.  It hits home when you’re confronted with it.

If that wasn’t gross enough, here’s my partner dangling foie gras veins.  I’m beside her, rolling them into logs.  Fun.

#5…Actually churning out some decent looking desserts.  I thought that I would hate Advanced Patisserie (see #s 8 and 9 for the basis of my opinions on baking), but this was probably my favorite class in culinary school.  The chef was a fellow WoCo alum, and I absolutely adored her. 

Some of my handiwork.

(Bavarian cream with strawberry and mango coulis and chocolate straws)

(Creme brulee with vanilla shortbread cookie and caramel sauce)

(Chocolate molten lava cakes with tuile cookie and vanilla ice cream.  The cookie was higher than the cake, so the sense of scale is a little off in this photo.)

(Fruit tarts with mango coulis and spun sugar)

#4…Not catching anyone on fire during Advanced Dining Room.  We used these carts called “gueridons” that have a burner and we have to cook on them for tableside service.  When it came time to flambe, I was convinced that someone, possibly me, would end up in the ER.  I don’t have a shot of the food or the flambeing, but here’s one of me in the dining room.  I’m on the left.  The pleated, high-waisted pants circa 1988..HOT.

#3…Picture perfect grill marks on tuna and seeing Chef go back for seconds and thirds.  Also, I overheard another instructor say that the tuna was perfect.  I think that I beamed from ear to ear.  It was during Classical French (aka Death by Butter) and my class really struggled to find our footing in that one, which is a polite way of saying that we went down in flames at least half the time. 

#2…Finally making a hollandaise that didn’t break.  It came together on practical day, mercifully.  My previous attempts resembled oil slicks or scrambled eggs.

#1…Having my mornay described as “beautiful”.  First of all, I don’t think I would necessarily call cheese sauce a thing of beauty, but it was kind of this culmination of past ideas, current techniques and I felt like a chef.  And, really, wasn’t that the whole point of all of this?

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Budget Bites: Day 12

Martin Yan came to my culinary school a few weeks ago and it was so exciting!  My friend, Emily, over at The Front Burner (link in Blogroll) has a great write up and lots of photos from his 3-day extravaganza. 

At the time, I was in International Cuisine and we did a lot of the prep work for two big money dinners that Chef Yan was hosting. 

As a reward for our hard work, Chef allowed us to attend Chef Yan’s cooking demonstration.  That man is unbelievable.  He broke down a chicken in 15 seconds.  The one that I did took a good 10 minutes (and I was working fairly quickly).  He also did this neat trick where he used the flat end of his knife to crush and smear garlic, which resulted in garlic that was somewhere between a paste and minced, but which saved time chopping it. 

He had some cookbooks available for sale after the demo, so I bought one for David, knowing how much he loves Asian cuisine.  Chef Yan autographed it with, “To my beloved, sexy, caring, loving man David, who is truly amazing and has good taste in food and woman!”

This may come as a shock to some of you, but David is out of the Navy…and I am a very happy camper.  I’m not going to get into it (nothing bad, I promise), this just isn’t the outlet for it.  But my point in telling you this was to say that, since he’s home, I gave him the cookbook and we made this tangerine chicken recipe together one night. 

Now, my husband hasn’t done much cooking in his lifetime besides pressing the “start” button on the microwave.  All he needed was a little direction, though, and he was giving me a run for my money.  Not that I’m bragging, but my baby can shallow-fry with the best of em.  Here’s a photo of the man in action.  He’s wearing shades because the sun never sets on being badass (that, and the oil kept splashing and aiming for our eyes).

We both loved this recipe, but had to alter it a bit.  I knew that David would go for it because he loves Asian food like some people love their children.  I was a little more dubious, but willing to give it a shot.  Like most Asian cuisine, the goal was to achieve a balance between the tastes, in this case, spicy and sweet.  I think we hit the nail on the head with this one.  The trouble we had was finding some of the ingredients.  We were too lazy to track down an Asian grocery store, so we had to make do with what we could find on the International aisle at Harris Teeter.  Since we didn’t make the true recipe, and since I cost all of these out, the one below is what we made and not Chef Yan’s.  They’re mostly the same, he just used dried tangerine peel, dried red chiles, white pepper and sesame seeds.

Tangerine Chicken (adapted from Martin Yan’s China)

Serves 4

For the marinade

1 egg white, beaten

2 tbsp cornstarch

1 tsp rice wine

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced into strips (save money by breaking the chicken down yourself.  Here’s how)

For the sauce

1/4 cup orange juice

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp rice wine

1 tsp rice vinegar

1 tsp vegetable oil

4 tsp sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

Everything else

Vegetable oil for frying

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

1-in fresh ginger, peeled and julienned

2 green onions cut into 2-in pieces

1/2 small yellow onion, julienned

1 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 2 tsp cool water

Directions

Slice off the ends of the tangerine and supreme (here’s a how-to Citrus Supremes).  Cut the peel into long, narrow strips.  Place fruit in one bowl and peels in another and set aside.

Combine egg white, cornstarch, rice wine, salt and pepper in a medium bowl and mix until well combined.  Add the chicken and stir to coat evenly.  Let stand for 10 minutes or until the chicken reaches room temperature.

Combine the orange juice, soy sauce, rice wine, vinegar, 1 tsp vegetable oil, sugar, salt and pepper in a small bowl and stir until the sugar dissolves.

In a cast iron skillet, pour enough oil to come 2/3 of the way up the side of the chicken and heat to 350 (it shouldn’t be smoking heavily, but should have thin, barely visible wisps of smoke coming up).  Remove chicken from marinade and fry a few pieces at a time, until golden and crisp.  Once cooked, transfer chicken to a paper towel.  Reserve oil.

Place a saute pan over high heat until hot.  Add reserved oil and swirl to coat.  Add the ginger and pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add both onions and tangerine peel and saute until onions soften, about 1 minute.  Add the sauce and bring to a boil.  Add chicken and tangerine supremes and stir to coat.  If needed, add cornstarch slurry to thicken sauce, but only do so if the sauce is boiling.  If using, stir until sauce thickens. 

Transfer to bowls and serve over white rice. 

Grand Total:  $4.04 (with rice, it’s about $4.50)

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Chicken 101

I know that I’ve posted the how-to on this before, but I never took pictures on how to break down a whole chicken.  It’s one of those things that can come in handy, and can save you money, so I have a feeling that a lot of you would appreciate it. 

Ask five chefs how to do this and you’ll get five different answers.  Really, the possibilities are endless.  The method that I’m going to use is kind of a hybrid of the way that I was taught in my meat cutting class and the way that I was taught in my New World Cuisine class.  I picked the method that was easiest for me and required the least amount of muscle.  I’m a lightweight with scrawny little arms.  I can’t just hack my way through it.

1.  Place the chicken breast side up on the cutting board.

2.  Make a shallow incision on the skin between the leg and the torso to expose the muscle without cutting into it.

3.  Push down on the ankle bone until the top of the leg bone snaps out of socket. 

4.  Locate the oyster muscles (they’re on the back side of the chicken).  Using your finger, separate the oyster muscle from the bone by pushing it, being careful not to tear it.  The bone should be smooth and free of meat.

5.  Move the knife from the top of the leg down, over the bone that held the oyster muscle, coming up over the leg joint, and then back down, keeping close to the torso.

6.  Bend the leg and thigh to form a V.  Cut at the point of the V to separate the leg from the thigh. 

7.  Repeat steps 2-6 for the other leg. 

8.  Grasp the wing with one hand and lift the chicken by the wing. 

9.  Come just under the shoulder joint with the knife.

 

10.  Continue to cut, letting gravity guide the knife to separate the wing from the torso.

11.  Bend the wing into the shape of a V.  Cut between the shoulder joint and the middle joint.  Always cut between the joints.  If your knife gets stuck, you aren’t between the joints, so scoot to one side or the other and try again.

12.  Using the same procedure as step 11, separate the wing tip from the middle bone.

13.  Repeat steps 8-12 for the other side.

14.  Insert the knife into the neck cavity with the blade facing straight up.

15.  Scrape down each side of the wishbone to expose it. 

16.  Insert your fingers into the neck cavity and pull out the wishbone.

17.  Stand the chicken up on its neck with the backbone facing you.  Pull off the big sheet of fat at the bottom of the chicken.  Cut down through the ribs on each side of the spine to remove it.

(I separated the wings after this step, but you can do them before this, too. )

18.  Insert the knife tip into the top of the keel bone at a 90 degree angle.

20.  Saw through the cartilage, bringing the knife towards you, until you get to the very end of the white part, making sure not to cut into the red part.

21.  Remove your knife and grasp the chicken in both hands with the interior facing you.  Push back almost like you’re bending the chicken inside out.  The membranes around the keel bone should snap and expose it.

22.  Carefully use your fingers to break the membranes attached to the keel bone by sliding your fingers down both sides of the bone.  When the keel bone is completely exposed, pull it out.  If it doesn’t come out intact, that’s ok.  It will break about 50% of the time, so don’t be alarmed.

23.  Lay the breasts on the cutting board, skin side up.  With your hand, find the place where they join.  Place your cut there to separate them.

24.  Flip one of the breasts over.  At the narrowest part of the rib cage towards the bottom of the breast, place your knife just under the skin.  Separate the rib cage from the breast, making sure not to cut into the breast meat.

25.  If desired, remove the skin from the breast by pulling it off.  Trim off excess fat.  It should just come off when you scrape it down with your knife.

26.  Repeat steps 24 and 25 with the other breast.

Yay!  You’re done!  Here’s what you should have.

Here are all of the usable scraps (i.e. bones that you can use for stock).

And…here’s the stuff that you have to toss.

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Spring in Charlotte

It’s ok to be jealous.  Really, it’s fine.

With the exception of the whole daylight savings time thing, I really love spring.  The sunshine, the warm weather, everything in bloom…it’s just a pretty time of the year.  I wanted to find a dessert that captured spring, and I think that I might have found it. 

The Lee Brothers have a recipe for buttermilk pudding cakes in their Simple Fresh Southern book.  The cakes are these moist little perfectly portioned bites of goodness.  Pair it with some fresh whipped cream, and you, sir, have yourself a winner. 

If I’m being completely honest, I’d have to admit that the plates were my first love, and the dessert was the byproduct.  I got them at Target (http://www.target.com/Stripes-Dots-Dinnerware-Dining-Kitchen/b/ref=in_se_pagelist_btm_2?ie=UTF8&searchView=grid5&searchNodeID=13972511&searchRank=pmrank&searchPage=2&searchSize=30) and they were quite the steal.  Tres cute. 

These are best eaten on a bright, sunny day when you’re sitting outside, enjoying the fresh air and the warm weather. 

Buttermilk Pudding Cakes with Sugared Raspberries (adapted from Simple Fresh Southern by Ted and Matt Lee)

3/4 cup all-purpose flour, sifted

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

2 large eggs

3/4 cup buttermilk

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1/3 cup sugar

4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature

For the raspberries

8 oz fresh raspberries

1/4 cup sugar

Whipped cream (optional)

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 with the rack in the upper third of the oven. 

Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl. 

In another large bowl, beat the eggs until pale and creamy, then whisk in buttermilk, vanilla, sugar and butter.  Add the flour and whisk until combined and smooth.

Divide evenly among 8 standard nonstick muffin pan cups.  Bake for 9 minutes or until the side of the cake is evenly browned. 

While cakes bake, place the raspberries in a medium-sized bowl and shower with sugar.  Toss gently with your hand. 

When the cakes are done, invert them onto individual plates and top with berries and cream.

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Budget Bites: Day 11

 

As promised, we have nice weather, so my Lee Brothers culinary adventure continues.

This time, we’re heading to Louisiana for some Creole.  There was something about this that reminded me of my mom’s chili and beans.  So much so, that I felt compelled to put sour cream on it.  I’m sure that’s a sin, but it sure tasted good.  They recommend serving this over white rice or grits, and I can definitely see that working. 

What I loved about this dish was the amount of flavor that it had, but it didn’t take forever and a day to prepare.  It’s definitely week-night friendly, only taking about 30 minutes to cook. 

If you can, get quality shrimp.  I never buy shrimp from Southeast Asia.  They’re just never as fresh as what’s wild-caught around here.  In addition to that, they’re mostly farm-raised (see Martha Stewart’s article on buying meat http://www.marthastewart.com/how-to/the-ultimate-meat-buyers-guide#slide_10) and there’s a whole host of problems that are usually associated with that.  I was able to find some gorgeous Texas Brown shrimp and they were absolutely wonderful.

Easy Shrimp Creole (adapted from Simple Fresh Southern by Ted Lee and Matt Lee)

Serves 4

1 lb headless large shell-on shrimp

1 1/4 tsp Kosher salt

1 3/4 lb vine-ripened tomatoes (about 5 total)

6 oz fresh hot pork sausage, casings removed

1 large white or yellow onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 large poblano chile, seeded and diced

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1/2 tsp crushed dried red chile flakes

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

Directions

Peel and devein the shrimp and place shells in a small saucepan with about 1 cup water and 1/4 tsp salt.  Set over medium heat and simmer until reduced by half.  Strain and set aside.

While the shrimp broth simmers, core the tomatoes by setting a strainer over a medium-sized bowl and cutting the tomatoes in half crosswise, then teasing out the seeds and letting them fall into the strainer.  Tap the rim of the strainer over the bowl to remove the tomato gel that clings to the seeds.  Discard seeds and chop tomatoes.  Add chopped tomatoes to tomato gel bowl.

Place the sausage in a heavy bottomed pot set over medium-high heat.  Cook, stirring to break up the sausage with a wooden spoon, until the sausage is just browned and has rendered some fat.  Add the onion, poblano, garlic, remaining salt, pepper, paprika and chile flakes.  Cook, stirring occasionally until the onions are translucent and fragrant and peppers are soft, about 6 minutes. 

Add tomatoes to deglaze the pan, making sure to scrape up fond (aka brown bits in the bottom of the pan).  Add the broth and turn the heat to high.  Cook until tomatoes have collapsed and have turned into a stew, about 7 minutes.  Remove the pot from the heat and stir in shrimp and vinegar.  Cover and let stand for 3 minutes, or until shrimp are cooked through.

Grand Total:  $13.81

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