So Much For Level 4

You know what? I just realized that all this time I've been so busy ranting about marshmallow fluff and saying goodbye to summer and neglecting to post recipes, I haven't told you a thing about level 4 at school. Not one thing! I haven't told you about the amazing smorgasbord of a buffet my classmates and I put on for the other students, featuring a whole suckling pig, numerous dishes involving fresh figs,

and banana split cupcakes.

You didn't hear about the week I spent at the "family meal" station, frantically cooking lunch for 300 people a day and trying not to pass out. You didn't even hear about the days I spent at the "production" station, butchering everything from whole striped bass and halibut to pork racks and beef shoulder and rabbit. And, of course, my fingers.

...Yeah. Apparently, production is where fingers go to die. Or, at least, to be slightly mangled.

Anyway, it's really a shame you didn't hear about any of that. And wouldn't you know it? Level 4 ended yesterday, so I guess you're out of luck. Sigh. It would have been fun to tell you about how awful it was to prepare the salad for family meal, chopping and washing and drying 80 (!) pounds (!) of lettuce that no one ate anyway, or how I've grown enormous biceps (total lie) from lifting huge vats of chicken stock in production, or about the day that I learned that one guy in my class had never heard of matzoh balls. Never heard of matzoh balls?! Oy.

Don't those things sound like fun things to hear about? Too bad. I'm definitely not going to tell you about how Tina, Nadine and Rodney named their British-themed buffet (bangers n' mash! fish n' chips! sticky toffee pudding!) "King Hungry VIII,"

or how the stainless steel bowl we used to make coleslaw in family meal was roughly the size of a small swimming pool. Yeah, I think I'll keep that to myself. I mean, maybe someday I'll tell you about how I learned to clean and fillet fresh sardines (tiniest. bones. worst. smell.), or the lesson we got on how to make and cure our own salami, but for now, you're just going to have to wait.

Sorry. Here, have some chicken.

Simple Roast Chicken
Adapted from Ina Garten

I think it's important for everyone to have a solid recipe for roast chicken. It's a fairly simple and easy dish, but when it comes out of the oven, looking gorgeous with its crispy golden skin and wafting deliciousness to the heavens, your guests will think you're a regular Julia Child. With fall's chill in the air and a side of cous cous and roasted veggies, it doesn't get much better than this. It's also delicious eaten cold for lunch, stuffed into a sandwich or shredded into your favorite recipe for chicken salad. The possibilities are endless, so what are you waiting for? Get roasting, Julia.

  • 1 whole chicken
  • 2 yellow onions
  • 2 Tbsp butter, at room temperature
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 piece butcher's twine or string
For pan jus:
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • salt
  • pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Thickly slice the onions and arrange them on the bottom of a roasting pan. Remove the little goody bag inside the chicken containing the giblets, liver, neck and heart, and discard or use to make chicken stock. After trimming the chicken of any excess fat, rinse the chicken inside and out, and pat it dry with paper towels. Liberally salt and pepper the chicken, both inside and out. Stuff the cavity with the lemon halves, thyme, garlic, and bay leaf. Rub the outside of the chicken with butter, and sprinkle again with salt and pepper. Place the chicken on the bed of onions in the roasting pan. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine and tuck the wings under the body of the chicken.

Roast the chicken for 1 1/2 hours, or until a thermometer inserted in the thigh reads at least 145 degrees and the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and thigh.

Remove the chicken to a platter and cover with aluminum foil. Carefully, place the roasting pan with the onions on the stovetop over medium high heat. Deglaze the pan with the white wine, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen the flavorful brown bits. Once the wine has reduced by half, add the chicken stock, and simmer for about 5 minutes, until slightly reduced. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Slice the chicken and serve immediately with the onions and pan jus.

Makes 1 whole roast chicken.


Summer in a Jar

It seems I owe you a recipe. I didn't mean to be so slack about posting one, but I couldn't very well give you the recipe for, um... spoonfuls of peanut butter and marshmallow fluff straight from the jar. Which has sort of been what I've been calling dinner lately. Yeah that's right, I said marshmallow fluff. ...What?

Alright, it's embarassing. I mean, I'm supposed to be a chef! And all I can come up with for dinner is a spoonful (or, ahem, seven) of Skippy and highly-processed marshmallow cream? I feel like a sheep in chef's clothing. But between my exhausting endeavors at school (yesterday I peeled and chopped ohhhhh, about 40 pounds of beets), my new internship at Liddabit Sweets, and the the fact that it's now officially dark when I wake up at 6 a.m. (talk about depressing!), come dinnertime it's all I can do to unscrew the lid of peanut butter and lift the damn spoon.

Fortunately, others I know are not so delinquent when it comes to dinner these days. My Aunt Maggie, for example... thank goodness for her. A graduate of chef school herself (she went to Le Cordon Bleu after college), Aunt Mag (also known as Aunt Babe - she's the youngest child in my Dad's family) is undeterred by the 6 a.m. darkness that's been settling like a thick veil over what's left of summertime. When the light of summer fades, Maggie knows better than to take solace in a jar of fluff. She makes tomato sauce.

Aunt Maggie's Summer Tomato Sauce
Adapted from Real Simple Magazine

Instead of moping over summer's end, Maggie puts summer in a jar, in the form of this tomato sauce, and freezes it. Voilà! The taste of summer, all year round.

Maggie's tomato sauce parties are famous - she and her friends use 75 (!) pounds (!) of tomatoes - but she was nice enough to give me the proportions for an individual batch. That said, feel free to double, triple, even quadruple the recipe - trust me, this stuff will make you forget all about the impending chill of fall... and the jar of fluff in the cabinet.

  • 8-10 ripe tomatoes
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced or chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/3 cup chopped basil

Bring a pot of water to boil. Score an "X" in each tomato with a paring knife, and drop them in the boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove the tomatoes and immediately place them in a bowl of ice water. Then, peel the skins off each tomato. Cut tomatoes in half, and squeeze out as many seeds as possible. Next, chop the tomatoes coarsely.

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft, and then add the garlic and cook for a few more minutes, until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, salt and pepper, and simmer, covered, for one and a half hours. Turn off the heat and stir in the basil.

Serve immediately (over pasta! On a pizza! Straight up with a loaf of bread!) or portion into plastic containers and freeze.

Makes about a quart of tomato sauce.


So Long, Summer

So I know it's Labor Day, the day that officially puts the kibosh on summer, and I suppose that's just fine by me (I like sweaters, boots, cider and squash just as much as the next person, you see), but can someone please explain to me why, when I stopped in my local drugstore this weekend, I was met not by your usual September stock of back-to-school Hannah Montana/Jonas Brothers notebooks and pencils and pens, but rather by a hoard of witches hats and plastic orange pumpkins and shelves upon shelves of Halloween candy?

...Halloween candy! On September seventh! I mean, I'm not usually one to turn down a peanut butter cup (pumpkin-shaped or otherwise), but come on! Halloween candy on Labor Day is just downright ridiculous. Honestly, what's the big rush? These days it seems like we only get about a week of real fall weather anyway (thanks, global warming), so why try and whisk us all into an orange and black, pointy-hatted, chocolate-stained frenzy during the first week of September?

Just simmer down there, people. Slo-o-o-wly eat the last of your fragrant yellow peaches and juicy heirloom tomatoes - there's really no need to hurry. Savor the last few bites of summer, because pretty soon, it's on to buttery squash and sweet, tart apples and, apparently, miniature Snickers bars shaped like ghosts. Which, incidentally, are delicious. For now, though, I think I'll take my sweet time saying so long to a wonderful summer.

Goodbye, summer! Thanks for everything. See you in a few.


Rabbit Rabbit

Well, it's the first of September. Which, as you may or may not know, means two things. Number one: I am officially 25 years old. Number two: I survived the first real milestone of my culinary education - the midterm.

Whew! What a week. A quarter century followed by a quartered chicken. Or it would have been, if I'd been assigned the roast chicken for the midterm. I actually ended up getting the skate à la grenobloise (skate fillet with croutons, capers, lemon, and brown butter) and the apple tart. Which meant that, after a short written exam, I had three hours to: fillet a whole skate (if you've never done this, let me suggest right now that you don't. Skate is pretty delicious - it tastes almost exactly like scallops, minus the awkward texture - but it's covered in slime and spikes and, overall, not a fun fish to have to break down. Especially under a time crunch. I'm just saying); make a batch of buttery croutons; turn four potatoes into twelve perfect little cocottes and then boil them until tender; brown the skate fillets in clarified butter; throw together a quick brown butter sauce with lemon and capers; mix up a batch of pâte sucrée; roll it out; fill it with apple compote and perfectly sliced apples; bake and cool the apple tart; glaze it; slice it; whip up a batch of soft, pillowy chantilly (whipped cream); plate both dishes and have them out at 1:06 and 1:48, respectively. And breathe.

The good news is I think I passed. So I live to see the level 4 kitchens! And another day at 25. Yeesh. I suppose it's a nice, solid, round number. I think I'll stick with it for awhile... at least a year, anyway.

Tarte Aux Pommes (Apple Tart)

Here you go - a classic apple tart. Very french, and very delicious. The best part? I will not be timing you.

Ingredients: For the Dough:
  • 1 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 7 tablespoons butter, very cold, cut into small pieces
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1.5 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 egg mixed with 2 teaspoons water
For the Apple Compote:
  • 3 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored, cut into medium-sized chunks
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons water
For the Apple Topping:
  • 2-3 Golden Delicious apples
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 3 tablespoons apricot jelly
  • 2 tablespoons water

First, make the dough. Sift together the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl. Mix the cold, cubed butter into the dry ingredients using two forks or clean fingertips, until the butter is incorporated and the mixture has a sandy texture. Form a well in the butter-flour mixture and add the egg/water mixture into the well.

Begin to combine the liquid into the flour-butter mixture, being careful not to overwork the dough (overworked dough leads to tough, heavy crust). If the dough seems too dry (if it's too flaky and won't stick together), add a few drops of ice-water (only a few small drops at a time!) until it comes together.

Gather the dough, form it into a flat disc, and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the compote. Put the Granny Smiths, sugar, water, and lemon juice in a sauté pan over medium-low heat, and cook slowly under a parchment paper lid, until the apples are soft and have exuded their juices. Remove the parchment and cook the apples until most of the liquid has evaporated. Place compote in a bowl and chill immediately in the refrigerator or freezer.

Preheat the oven to 425ºF. When the dough is thoroughly rested and chilled, roll it out on a floured surface and gently press it into an 8-inch tart pan. Spread the cold apple compote in an even layer on the bottom of the pastry shell.

Peel the Golden Delicious apples, cut them in half, and core them. Slice the apples in very thin slices horizontally, and arrange them decoratively on top of the apple compote, making sure to place the slices very close together (the apples will shrink in the oven, so be generous with the little slices and be sure to overlap them on top of each other).

Brush or pour the melted butter over the tart, and bake it in the 425º oven for 10 minutes. Lower the heat to 350ºF and bake for an additional 50-60 minutes. When it's ready, the apples should be soft and brown on the edges, and the pastry should be golden brown. Once the tart is finished, mix the apricot jelly and water together and heat on the stovetop until runny. Brush the apricot glaze over the warm tart, and let the tart cool before slicing.

Serve with a dollop of whipped cream or some cool vanilla ice cream.

Serves 8.