Sunday, December 5, 2010

I Need More Hours in My Day.... but what else is new?

More and more, culinary school is taking over our lives leading us to forgo pastimes we enjoyed in the past in order to make more time to ...... sleep. Early mornings filled with very cold floors or spending the day in warm kitchens with aromas of bubbling stocks or bakery ovens finishing off quiches or focaccia or other projects have virtually captured our waking moments.... our off hours are a mix of eating something quick, sleeping or just finding the time to be able to sit down.

I knew that getting back into my old cooking routing would take a while, not having forgotten that the prime qualification for working in a restaurant are strong legs to support your standing ALL the time and if you're lucky to be able to take a break, you'd sit and sometimes regret being able to do that because getting up just brought home the point again..... sore legs, sore feet. Comfortable, well cushioned shoes are worth their weight in gold and having gel insoles is amazing! But this time, four years after selling our last restaurant time has caught up with me and I still need more time to get used to marathon standing sessions while keeping the pace of a busy commercial kitchen.

Yes, I am sore and tired. All the time, but the old saying: "feel the burn" or "no pain no gain" or any of those other inanities don't really bring home ANY point. Maybe when I felt the pain I could look forward to loosing pounds or sculpting a leg I'd be more into it, but now it just feels like "Ouch!.... I know some day I won't notice it at all..... someday, but today it's very much my companion. Oh well.... such is life.

This week there will be no weekend wind down, we're still working on the Pizza competition for Thursday but we've submitted recipes and I can count on having all my ingredients supplied which is good. We also volunteered (this is a big deal in the culinary world so you get to work alongside Certified Master and Executive Chefs who ordinarily wouldn't let you touch their flour or onions) for a couple of events: "The Wine Tasting Le Cordon Bleu 2010" and the "Baking & Liquor Experience" where we prepped and set up the events while assisting the head Chefs with their planned menu items. For the Wine Tasting it was mostly serving and decanting work plus a cheese tray (yummy smoked Gouda, Parmigiano Reggiano, Camembert, red grapes) and a selection of wines and Champagne.... for the Baking and Liquor Experience we had to make Focaccia and a selection of Quiches since it wouldn't be good to have people leave the school "under the influence" after all the wine and Champagne plus the liquors they made. We also demoed the making of Limoncello, Apple Infused Brandy, Sangria, Faux Irish Cream and Kahlua.

We also filled in the time hand-making Gourmet Dog Biscuits. Yep, for doggies Xmas stockings and made with all natural ingredients you'd want to eat. Whole wheat flour, cornmeal, lots of bacon and turkey sausage and some bacon fat..... the thick, firm dough was a challenge to roll out and cut with very nice dog bone cookie cutters and while they were baking, the aroma of bacon made everyone hungry but since everyone was busy sampling the selection of quiches we made (bacon, mushroom, spinach / leek and chives / mushroom / sausage and spinach / sausage and mushroom) all finished with a great aged Gruyere..... it only added to the "ambiance"....the quiches were very nice, tasty and smooth.

Focaccia was Rosemary and Lavender Herb. Also very nice, fluffy and comforting, but here at home we made 4 small quiches and focaccias with more of a selection to suit our tastes: Classic Quiche Lorraine, Sun Dried Tomato and Ham, Spinach and Leek, Goat Cheese and Kalamata Olives and our focaccia was Rosemary, Goat Cheese with bitter greens and grapes, caramelized onions and olives, tomato, capers and thyme..... the aromas are heavenly! Plus with a salad on the side makes for a wonderful supper and it didn't take long at all.

So for today I'll include a Quiche and Focaccia recipe you can try and I hope you do. They're both easy to make and give enormous rewards. Oh and yes, real men do eat quiche!......Mmmmm

Rosemary Focaccia.- Lovely flavors are infused into this wonderful bread which, depending on the additions can become a meal or a side....

1 package active dry yeast
5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour plus additional for kneading
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (or more)
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

Stir together 1 2/3 cups lukewarm (105 to 115F) water and yeast in bowl of mixer and let stand until creamy, about 5 minutes. Add 5 cups flour, 1/4 cup oil, and 2 1/2 teaspoons table salt and beat with paddle attachment at medium speed until a dough forms. Replace paddle with dough hook and knead dough at high speed until soft, smooth, and sticky, 3 to 4 minutes.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead in 1 to 2 tablespoons more flour. Knead dough 1 minute (it will still be slightly sticky), then transfer to a lightly oiled bowl and turn dough to coat with oil. Let rise, covered with plastic wrap, at warm room temperature, until doubled in bulk, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Press dough evenly into a generously oiled 15- by 10- by 1-inch baking pan. Let dough rise, covered completely with a kitchen towel, until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 425F. Stir together rosemary and remaining 3 tablespoons oil. Make shallow indentations all over dough with your fingertips, then brush with rosemary oil, letting it pool in indentations. Sprinkle sea salt evenly over focaccia and bake in middle of oven until golden, 20 to 25 minutes.

Immediately invert a rack over pan and flip focaccia onto rack, then turn right side up. Serve warm or at room temperature.
NOTE: You can also make this by hand, kneading the dough until it comes to a good consistency and use any cookie sheet or baking pan, although something with a slight lip would help, but remember this can be a free form bread so don't worry and go ahead and use what you've got.

Bacon and Cheese Easy Quiche.- One of the easiest and nicest "clear out the fridge" dishes you can make, plus can be for guests, breakfast, candlelit supper or instead of pizza....

4 large eggs
¾ cup of heavy cream
¾ cup of milk
½ cup of grated cheese (Swiss, Gruyere but you can use any melting cheese)
¾ cup of bacon, chopped
1 cup onion, chopped (or use caramelized)
1 teaspoon parsley, chopped (or your favorite herb)
1 large pie shell

Lightly beat the eggs in a bowl. Add the cream, milk, cheese, bacon, onion and parsley. Mix gently to retain the air, preferably with a whisk. Pour into the pie shell.

Quiche Crust.- This dough is called "pâte brisée" in French (pronounce "pat breezay"). It is the base for all quiche and pie recipes. If you take the time to make your own crust, your quiche will taste a million times better (at least!) than if you buy it ready-to-use. The ingredients below are enough to make 2 thin crusts so make two flavors.

1 and 3/4 cups, unbleached, all-purpose
1 stick unsalted butter
1 egg
1 teaspoon of crème fraîche (or sour cream if you can't find it)
1/2 teaspoon of salt.

The base ingredients are the flour, salt and butter. The egg and crème fraîche are here to help them stick together (plus the egg will give the crust a nice golden color). But you can use a basic pie crust recipe you like too.

First sift the flour over a large bowl and add the salt. Cut the butter in tiny cubes. Incorporate the butter to the flour with your finger tips or fork(you can use a food processor if you like) The dough will feel like coarse sand grains between your fingers. Push the flour and butter mix on the sides of the bowl, digging a hole in the center. Break the egg and pour it in the hole in middle of the bowl. Beat it a little with a fork then use a wooden spoon to incorporate the flour little by little. Add the crème fraîche or sour cream and mix again until the dough is homogeneous. (Alternatively, or if the dough is still dry, pour a few drops of water and knead.) Use your hands to knead the dough and form two balls of the same weight. Place the balls of dough in plastic wrap and let them rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour before using or freezing. Let the dough warm up a little before rolling it out.

If you have a quiche pan or a pie pan.... but I've also used a spring form pan which allowed me to add more filling ingredients, but use what you've got.

Bake at 320 F for 35-40 minutes or until the shell is cooked. If the top is getting golden too soon, put a sheet of foil over the top for the first half hour or so and take off for 10 min so it will get nice and golden brown and won't burn. If your pan is deeper, allow more cooking time and the foil is mandatory, ok? Keep watching it since depth will determine the time in the oven.

Another day and even though it's Sunday I need to go to the laundromat to get clean Chef's coats for school, UGH! I hate the laundromat but whatever, must be done or we'll never pass review, our coats must be spotless! I also need to go to the market but fear I won't have enough time for everything or we won't get any time to just rest before taking on another heavy week, so might need to split the marketing throughout the week.... we'll do what we have to do and get more flexible, our bodies will tell us if it's too much.

Best to all, hope you try these recipes and let me know how yours turned out. Stay warm and safe and we'll talk soon......

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