September 28, 2006

A Quickie and Some Questions

A few things before I hit the sack in preparation of my 6:30 am shift with catering.

1) There is all ready a handful of people in my classes who have seemingly dropped out by Week #5. I know that this sounds cruel, but thank goodness. My small collection of school friends are taking bets to see who makes it and who does not. So far, we've been pretty accurate. There are far too many people in my cooking lab classes. This came to a head (for me) last week when there were almost 30 people running around the kitchen with knives and hot pans, most of them having no idea what they are doing. I am still amazed that no one got seriously hurt.

2) Is this really the last week in September? Hard to believe. Also, Halloween is right around the corner. My mom gave me this silly apron made to look like a witch's bottom half, pointy shoes, striped stockings and all. Unfortunately for my mom but fortunate for me, I don't have to wear my chef's uniform on Tuesdays nor is the apron to dress code. By the by, do you have your costume yet?

3) I haven't been sleeping at all. This is causing me some concern. Any suggestions for sleep remedies? Please?

4) The partner's family and I will be in NYC right after X-mas. I've never visited before and am super excited. Please send along lots of cool things to do and see while we are there. I am certainly going to go to the Guggenheim but besides that I'm pretty open.

5) Must be awake at 5 am tomorrow. Going to fall asleep in someone's breakfast. Test that I have no desire to study for or even care about....

September 24, 2006

Caramelized Onion Challah

Challah is a traditional egg bread in the European Jewish tradition. It is typically eaten at the meal marking the beginning of the Sabbath, the day of rest, and sometimes at other celebrations. It usually braided to symbolize unity and on Rosh Hashannah it is braided and made into a circle to recall the cycle of the year. Traditionally, challah should not be cut with a knife because it is seen as a form of violence or if it is the Sabbath, work on what ought to be the day of rest. Instead, it is passed around the table family-style, so everyone can grab a chunk. On Rosh Hashannah, it can also be dipped into honey, like apples, to symbolize a sweet new year. This is as I know it though. Each Jewish cultural group, of which there are many, has its own traditions and explanations

Caramelized Onion Challah by Jan Weimer

10 TB chicken fat (schmaltz) or butter
4 cups diced onions
2 1/4 tsp dried yeast
3 TB sugar
2 cups warm water, divided
2 TB kosher (of course) salt
3 large eggs, room temp
4 cups unbleached flour
4 cups bread flour
1 large egg, blended with 1 TB water

Melt 2 TB schmaltz (or butter) in a large pan with a lid over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cover and cook until very soft, about 30 minutes. Uncover and cook until brown, about 25 minutes, stirring frequently. Set aside and cool completely.

Melt 8 TB scmaltz (or butter) and cool to 110F.

Place yeast and sugar in bowl of mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add 1/2 cup of water and mix until yeast is dissolved. Gently mix in remaining 1 1/2 cups water, salt and cooled fat (or butter). Mix in 3 eggs, one at a time. Add flour, one cup at a time, beating well after each addition and scrap down sides of bowl.

Change to dough hook and knead 20 minutes of until dough is very smooth. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand one to two minutes. Place in a very large oiled bowl (trust me) and cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a cool place to rise until doubled, about 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

If you don't have a mixer, not a problem. Follow the instructions using a large bowl and a wooden spoon. It takes a considerably larger amount of elbow grease, but dare I say it, your self-satisfaction will also increase accordingly.

Punch dough down and turn out on a lightly floured surface. Knead in onions. They are full of trickery and will try to escape but after a few turns, they will bend to your will and incorporate into the dough. Try to make sure that they are evenly scattered throughout. Transfer dough to a very large (no seriously, you will thank me later) clean plastic bag, leaving room for the dough to expand and refrigerate overnight.

Grease a 12" springform pan and line with parchment paper. Heavily flour work surface.

Using floured hands, divide dough into three equal pieces. Flatter each piece into a rectangle and roll each into a four-foot long cylinder. Dough will resist and shrink back to its original size a few times. If it does this, wait a few minutes to let it rest and try again. This may happen a few times. Pinch cylinders together at one end and braid loosely, pinching ends together. Starting at the finished end, coil braid into a circle that will fit your pan. Brush end with egg mixture and press into braid. Transfer to prepared pan and cover with a bath towel. Let rise until doubled and very light, about 2 to 2-1/2 hours.

Place baking stone (or if you don't have one, baking sheet) in the oven. Preheat oven to 375F. Brush bread with egg mixture. Try to do this as evenly as possible. The glaze gilds the bread and when it comes out of the oven, it's very easy to see which parts didn't get the egg wash. Place bread in pan atop the stone (or sheet). Bake 20 minutes. Gently remove bread from pan (careful, this part is tricky). Brush again with the egg wash. Return bread to oven and bake 50 to 55 more minutes or until challah is well browned. If you have a thermometer handy the internal temperature of the bread will be 200F. Cool bread on a wire rack.

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September 20, 2006

Rosh Hashannah and Fall Celebration Dinner

Rosh Hashannah (Head of the Year) begins on Friday, the 22, this year. Rosh Hashannah also marks for me the beginning of fall. I love this time of year, not only does it include my two most favorite holidays, Thanksgiving and Halloween, but it is the world's last burst of energy before it goes to sleep for winter. I've always felt that fall is a much more reasonable time to begin a new year. People go back to school, the season is changing and we are embracing the riches that earth has to give us. It makes way more sense to me than starting over in the middle of winter. My pagan friends will tell you that the new year in winter marks welcoming the return of the sun. Reading about fall is making me very excited particularly when it is that eloquent.

A tradition for Rosh Hashannah is to eat apples with honey for a sweet new year. One is also encouraged to combine the sweet with savory for the same reason. I like including typical autumn fare to celebrate the harvest. Without further ado, here is my menu plan for my Autumnal appreciation meal:

Caramelized Onion Challah (recipe soon here)
Apples and Honey
Three Beet Caviar with Endive and Goat Cheese, from Local Flavors
Poulet au Normandy, from Chez Panisse Fruit
Chard with Lemon Oil, from Zuni Cafe
Flageolet Gratin (really cannellini beans because flageolets are bloody
expensive) from Sunday Suppers at Lucques
Buckwheat-Walnut Cake with Poached Apples and Caramel Sauce
adapted from Ripe for Dessert

P.S Other celebrations are also in order for the engagement of my Hebrew school partner in crime, A, and his lovely fiance, P. And for my brand spanking new cousin A and her newly minted parents G and E. I'm so happy for all of you, I could just burst!

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September 17, 2006

3 Down, 13 to Go

Sorry I've been M.I.A. for a bit. I kept on waiting to get a good chunk of time to do an update but one never came. I don't know when I'll get another chance so this one is a doozy. I also forgot how much studying is actually involved in being a student and frankly it feels a bit odd to trudge out to a coffee shop with text books and index cards. I'm sure that I'll get used to it soon.

All ready my sanitation class is making me a bit gun shy about eating out. A cohort of mine invited me to a fundraiser for her dance group and I was wary about eating the food they had for sale after spending the afternoon yesterday studying foodborne pathogens. I believe that this will only get worse before it gets better.

We finally got to cook this week, instead of the continuous chopping of vegetables that we did last week. I made a roasted chicken, mashed potatoes and ratatouille in my "hot foods" class and a baguette and some rolls in my baking class. We also made pizza dough to use for next week. Honestly, everything was pretty bland and I wasn't the only person to think so. We were supposed to make it exactly as the Chef told us so I didn't even try to fiddle around with spices, herbs and the like. It was fun to actually cook but I've roasted a chicken before. Though, goddess help them, there were a few who hadn't.

I'm doing pretty well on learning people's names. I see almost everyone a few days a week. That helps a lot, so do the names everyone has embroidered on their chef jackets. My favorite part so far about school is seeing people from school out and about in town. S.B. is a fairly small city and its inevitable to bump into someone you know most time. At the Farmer's Market yesterday, I saw a fellow student and at the bakery we go to for breakfast we saw a couple that we met at a party a month ago.

Next week is Rosh Hashannah (Jewish New Year) and we're having a dinner party to celebrate that and the changing of the seasons, so I'll give some info about what we're making soon. 'Til then.


September 06, 2006

We're Going to Need a Bigger Boat

Well, that didn't last long. Between my birthday, starting school and a dear friend (a.k.a. la Gaucha Guapa) leaving me in charge of her cookbooks while she spends the year in Uruguay (she actually trusts me to give them back), my collection has expanded. Did you know that one of the best parts about going to culinary school is that when I buy a cookbook, it's now called a text book or "research"? I knew this whole school thing was a good idea. Also, a special thanks goes out to N who gifted me with a generous B_____'s card so I could do more research. Sunday Suppers at Lucques just might convert me back to a more omnivorous diet.

I did successfully make my list of what I wanted to try from all of my books. That list is, uh, 36 pages long(!) and still growing. It's categorized into courses and I briefly thought about indexing it based on seasons and main ingredients but I fear that project would finally push me over the edge. The upshot to all this is that I'm trying a lot more new recipes, 18 in the last month or so. Broadening my repertoire could also be considered a form of research. I'm studying for school, not fooling around in the kitchen, a very important distinction.

September 01, 2006

Martha Stewart Is Still A Dirty Liar: Fig Tart with Cream Cheese Filling

I've mentioned before how I love Martha's Dessert book but that it is filled with inconsistencies, "missing" directions and flat-out lies. My theory is that it's because she doesn't want anybody to be able to re-create "her" recipes. That she can't stand the fact that anybody could be as "perfect" as her. Or it could just be that her editing and writing staff for this particular book wasn't paying enough attention. (FYI It's cheaply made too, the binding on mine has cracked and about a quarter of the pages are loose)

Either way, I love the imagery in this book but have resigned myself to the fact that if I make anything out of it, my product will look nothing like hers, and could also possibly be a horrible cosmetic disaster, as my Devil's food cake was, but still taste good.

On Wednesday, I decided to celebrate my first day off by making the partner a nice dinner because he's been particularly supportive and wonderful while I'm going through the transition of returning to school. I hit upon this for dessert, because C loves figs, but always objects when I try to do anything more with them than slice into quarters. I'm not a fan of super-sweet desserts but it wasn't as sweet as I would like, probably because the fruit wasn't as ripe as it ought to have been. I think as the recipe was written, it's more like a composed fruit and cheese course than anything else. If I make it again, I'll add a bit more sugar to the filling.

Fig Tart with Cream Cheese Filling, adapted from Martha Stewart's Desserts


6 TB unsalted butter, room temp
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
2 tsp orange peel, grated finely
1 cup AP flour
1/3 cup cornmeal (I used really coarse meal and didn't enjoy the extra crunchy grit, you might)
1/2 tsp salt

4 oz cream cheese, room temp
1/2 cup creme fraiche
1 1/2 TB powdered sugar (or more, see above)
2 tsp vanilla paste or extract
2 tsp orange juice
2 tsp orange peel, grated finely
2 tsp orange blossom water, or more to taste
1 pint black or purple figs, perfectly ripe, stemmed and quartered
1/4 cup fig or currant jam (I used currant)
2 TB port, or red wine


In the bowl of an electric mixer, or food processor, cream butter and 1/2 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Add yolks and 2 tsp peel and mix until just combined.

In a large bowl, whisk flour, corn meal and salt.

Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix until dough just barely comes together. Flatten dough into a disk and wrap with plastic. Chill until firm enough to handle, about 1/2 hour.

Butter a 4"x14" rectangular tart pan (I actually bought a kitchen gadget just for this one recipe, I'm relatively certain that you could use a standard sized tart pan and the proportions would still work out). Remove the cornmeal dough from the fridge and roll out between two sheets of plastic wrap (or two silicone liners, if you have them) to a 1/8" thickness (You will probably have a ton of dough left over, I did. I made mini-tarts out of it). Very carefully, transfer the rolled out dough to the pan. It will most likely tear. Not a problem, since it isn't traditionally flaky tart dough, you can patch it together easily. Press dough into the pan, making sure that the edges are flush with the pan sides. Chill 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350F. Prick the dough all over with a fork to prevent bubbles. Here was my fatal mistake. It is also important to line the dough with foil and fill with pie weights, or dried beans that you don't ever plan on eating (I have a bag of pintos for this purpose). Martha did not include this in her instructions ands the sides of my tart crust sunk to the center. She is a liar or at least an omitter! Bake your weighed crust for about 15 minutes, or until set. Then remove the weights (or beans) and foil and cook for another 3-5 minutes, or until crust is slightly golden. Remove from oven and let cool on a baking rack. When cool, free from the oppression of tart jail, or remove sides and transfer to a serving "platter". If you have one oddly shaped enough for the rectangular tart. I used a cutting board.

Meanwhile, beat cream cheese until smooth. Add creme fraiche, vanilla, orange peel, juice and 1 tsp blossom water. Mix until well combined. Cover and chill 30 minutes.

When the crust is cool, fill with the cream cheese mixture. Arrange the figs on top, pressing slightly into the filling.

In a small pan, combine jam and port/wine. Heat over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Stir frequently. Reduce heat and let simmer until mixture is thick and syrupy, about 2 minutes. Let cool slightly and whisk in 1 tsp of orange blossom water. Brush glaze over the figs. Serve, finally.

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