Thursday, November 24, 2005

Cookin No. 35 - First Snow Flake On My Tongue and Thanksgiving Dinner

Butternut Squash Salad

Last night, or rather this morning, as I was leaving my friend Chris’ home from a lovely evening of making sweet potato gratin, good conversation and an invigorating game of Halo, I stepped outside to stand in the middle of the first snow fall. What a lovely surprise to see white flakes falling from the sky, and as usual when it snows, it felt like the whole world was silent. I stood outside for a little while, just taking it all in, realizing that the winter is really here. Then I ran around catching snowflakes in my mouth, and making plans with Chris about our annual snowball battle. This year I shall crush her with a mighty force that the heads of her ancestors will roll and crack like dried peanuts! It will be a battle that will go down in history, oh yes, and after we will share the ceremonial cup of hot chocolate.

So after our usual battle taunts I headed home. It was beautiful driving home, every time I drove under a street lamp, the snowflakes were lit up and perfect. The ground was covered in a white dusting. I can’t wait for some real snow. I’m not a big skiing person, but I appreciate curling up on cold days with a cup of tea and watching the world outside. Sometimes I like to walk in the snow, and just take it all in, a white outline around everything, the limbs of trees, its just beautiful.

Aside from the first snow, today was also thanksgiving, and we had a bit feast at my parent’s house. My brother, his wife and his in-laws came to join us. I woke up early and headed over to my parent’s house to start cooking at 9:00 am. It is such a pleasure to cook with my father, sometimes it feels like we read each others minds, because when I need something, he’s right next to me with the item I need, and vice versa. This was also a good opportunity for me to show off a little. Even though I have only been in school for three months, I have learned such a wealth of knowledge, and my skills have really improved. I kind of wanted to show everyone what I am capable of so far, and its only going to get better. There is always room for improvement, and I don’t think I will ever reach the point of perfection, in fact I hope I don’t. Because it’s not fun to be perfect, I enjoy making mistakes, and learning how to fix them. Like the pumpkin bisque soup that we started with. I got the recipe out of the Culinary Institute’s text book, which is my textbook for school, and following the recipe exactly was disastrous. The liquid that was the soup was not a bisque, its was really thin, and you couldn’t taste the pumpkin. The original recipe called for 5 ounces of pumpkin flesh, I ended up cutting up the whole pumpkin and putting it in, and even then the chicken stock was still too overpowering. I also ended up putting in a corn starch slurry to thicken the soup. In the end all turned out well, but there is room for a lot of improvement. Next time I will probably use more pumpkin, less chicken stock and more water, potatoes to create a natural thickness, and some cream. But that is for next time.

In the spirit of not wasting anything, I roasted the pumpkin seeds and used them as a garnish for the soup, along with some fresh chopped parsley. The plate presentation was very nice; unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of one. Oh well, I hope you get the idea.

So the menu this evening was:

Pumpkin Bisque soup

Butternut squash salad with spinach, crazens (cranberries that are raisins without the singing and dancing), and walnut encrusted goat cheese.

Lasagna bolinase

Brine roasted turkey breast
Apple orange cranberry sauce
Stuffing muffins
Brusslesprouts with apple wood bacon and chestnuts
Ginger ale glazed carrots
String beans almandine

Cherry pie
Pecan Pie
Ice Cream
Coffee and tea

Stuffin Muffins

Ginger Ale Carrots

It was a lovely feast. Although for a while I was a little anti-social, because when I get in the groove of cookin I don’t really want to talk to people. I am lost in my little world of wonderful smells and tastes, and it’s hard to pull me away. Only when all is out on the table and the work is done, can I really relax.

This dinner took us a little over three hours to get threw, but that’s the way I love to feast. I want to take my time, and savor each taste. Each course should be a separate entity, so that it can be fully enjoyed. And there should be time for drinking and conversation. You shouldn’t leave the table so stuffed that you feel like the bird that was just in the oven. You should be relaxed and full, but not uncomfortable. Eating should be a joy, not something that causes you to run to the bathroom with stomach cramps. The food takes a journey, starting with the taste buds in the mouth, then finds its way down to your stomach, where you stomach should take part of the same pleasures that the mouth has just experienced. The food should sit there, and take its time to be processed, just like the time it took to be prepared.

The company at a dinner party is also important. I usually enjoy 3 or 4 people at my dinner parties, because small groups tend to mingle together better than a large group. In large groups there are usually many conversations, and a bit of fighting to be heard so that after a while everything is so loud that you can barely hear the person you are speaking to. In small groups, the conversations are usually things that the whole table participates in. The entire evening is a shared experience, and more intimate. But I did enjoy the large party that took place this evening. Two families of intellects gathered together, and conversation was good. And even better, two families comprised of people who enjoy food gathered at our table. Such a lovely thing to experience, for me at least, because food is the base of a good dinner, and if you don’t enjoy the food, then you better hope the wine is good.

I have recently been thinking about my dream kitchen. Many people like open airy kitchens, with tons of wonderful gadgets. But I prefer smaller kitchens. My dream kitchen would have a clay tile floor, so that in the summer it will be cold and nice to cook barefoot, and in the winter, warm from the oven’s heat. There will be a large open window that looks out over a garden, or a wide sea view that goes on and on, or looking out in the street filled with people going about their business, or even a beautiful lush forest. If the window looks out over a garden, it should be large enough for me to open and pluck a sprig of an herb at my leisure. After that I would like lots of shelves, no cabinets, I want to see where everything is, the only things that should be hidden from view are the cleaning products and garbage bags. My stove will be a deep black gas stove, with an electric oven, it will be an island surrounded by counters. My pots and pans cast-iron, aluminum, and copper. My knives will be displayed on a magnetic strip running along a wall next to the stove, over my largest counter space. And of course counter space; I will require lots of it. The sink will be wide with a high spout. The colors will be copper and maroons, with some sage colored trim. Appropriate colors for all seasons. This is my dream kitchen, I think it would be quite lovely to cook in.

Aside from dinner parties and all that jazzy stuff, I have started skill development 1. My teacher Chef Scott is a very abrupt and energetic man. You really couldn’t stand in his presence for more than 10 minutes without being infected by his enthusiasm and puritan ideals. Because I am a purist myself I can completely understand and appreciate this kind of thinking. He started out the first day of class by talking about how method, technique and attitude are the most important tools to a cook. Then we went into the kitchen and started to work on our knife skills. We had to cut an onion, two stalks of celery, a carrot, and a turnip, into different cuts. It took me about and hour to do all of that, and then on the second day when we went into the kitchen, we had to do pretty much the same thing, and I improved over night greatly, along with the rest of my class. It only took me twenty minutes to do all the cuts. What a great sense of pride I felt. I know that nothing I did was perfect, but to improve like that felt so wonderful. And the best part was that the other people in my class improved like that too.

I can’t wait until Monday, we do some more cuts, and then start to talk about soups and stocks. Soon I will learn all of the mother sauces. This is technically my first cooking class in school so far. Yes, I did some cooking, but that was just because we were learning about the products that we were working with, not because we were learning theories and all that jazzy stuff. So its will be good to build my repertoire.

Anywho, until next time my friends, Bon Appetite.


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