It is finals week at culinary school and we only have class Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Each day is filled with its own challenges, it’s own finals. Monday was a comprehensive final over Foundations I. Today, a Nutrition test and a deep cleaning of the kitchen. Tomorrow is the big day. The beanstalk I will have to climb. It includes a test over herbs and spices, a kitchen equipment identification test, a mayonnaise practical, and the final knife cut practical. It’s daunting, but doable. At least that is what I’m told.
For breakfast this morning I had a Caribbean feast courtesy of the buffet and catering class. Some new things were a part of the spread and I couldn’t wait to give them a try. I had red snapper ceviche, which is fish that is “cooked” by soaking the protein in an acid. So, ultimately, it is raw and mighty tasty. Hearts of palm salad with a sweet tabasco vinaigrette was interesting. Hearts of palm is exactly as worded, the heart of a palm tree. It is sweet and fibrous while still being soft, like a disk of meaty banana. Plantain chips and black bean hummus, curried corn pudding, and key lime mousse were ultimately my three favorites.
I also tried one delicacy that was not part of the buffet, but something my Chef presented to us: cow stomach (otherwise known as tripe). It was prepared in a stew with carrots and herbs. After witnessing the reactions of my classmates, I chose a piece on the smaller side, and I was pleasantly surprised. It was a little chewy yet tender, like spongy honeycomb. The flavor was the most unique thing. It was a little gamey mixed in with another flavor all it’s own, a flavor I couldn’t quite place. A flavor I shall simply call: cow stomach.
As mentioned before, I have a knife practical tomorrow. These aren’t anything like Rachel Ray’s leisurely knife cuts, no, no, these are hardcore geometric feats that you must crank out in 45 minutes.
I knew I needed the practiced, so I cranked some out this morning after class. The only cut I am missing is a concasse of tomato. You must boil the tomato for a second, get the skin off, separate the seeds from the flesh, then dice both of them separately.
You may be wondering how one is graded on something like this? Well, there is a nifty gadget that is traditionally used to spread tile plaster, but has been adopted by newbie knife cutters all over. The notches on the edge represent different measurements that our cuts are shoved into like a foodie puzzle board.
Now, that fancy football shaped carrot is not the easiest thing to cut. It is called a tourne and it must have 7 even sides and be 2 inches long. I was quite happy with this one, I only hope I can do as well under the pressure of tomorrow.
With all of this stress, I was in the mood for some homey deliciousness. I happened to have white beans and ham in my fridge, so I came up with this recipe for you all to try.
Pinkies Up Pork and Beans
Yields 4, 1 cup portions
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2cups navy beans, hydrated
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup diced ham
3 strips of bacon
For the Vinaigrette
1 Tbs dijon mustard
3 Tbs apple cider vinegar (or whatever you have stowed away)
6 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs parsley, chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste
1. Begin with the vinaigrette. Whisk together the mustard and vinegar, then slowly drizzle in the oil as you continuously whisk. Season with salt and pepper and parsley. Set aside.
2. Cut your bacon into small chunks and brown in a large skillet. Once browned, set aside and saute the onion and garlic until the onion in the bacon fat until the onion has become transparent. If there is not enough bacon fat or you wish to go the vegetarian route and not use bacon, just use olive oil.
3. Add in the diced ham and cook until it has heated though and it has had a chance to brown.
4. Add the hydrated beans and give it a good stir. Pour in about a half cup of the chicken stock and cover. Keep your eye on it and add a little liquid at a time until the beans are cooked to your liking. Now, I made mine from dried beans which I hydrated overnight, you are free to used the canned beans. Keep in mind that it probably will not need to cook as long in the skillet.
5. Once the beans are done cooking, pour the skillet mixture directly onto your vinaigrette and toss it all together.
Voila! Homey comfort in a bowl. I think spinach would be an excellent addition to this, but I just did not have any on hand.
Thank you all for sticking around for this long post. Enjoy your week!