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Posts Tagged ‘cheese’

Sooooo much to catch up on! Feeling a little overwhelmed here and have been putting this off for longer than is acceptable.

First off some updates with school, after my practical exam on Monday, I’ll officially be done with level 2. After kicking level 1’s ass, each week has gotten increasingly difficult, although I haven’t had as many depressing, frustrating, flustered days as I had at the start of school.

I know I haven’t written much, if anything, about level 2 so here’s a quick recap:

This past month the focus has been on pastry and nutrition with a few other random lessons thrown in (offal, cheese, pasta, etc.). Pastry threw me for a loop in the beginning since I never bake and hate the idea of having to measure every little thing out. The other thing that bugs me about pastry is the fact that unless you are an experienced baker, most of the time you won’t know if you did anything wrong until the very end. With cooking, you can almost always adjust the flavor and consistency along the way. With pastry? No such luck. Game over. Start again. Do not pass, “go.”

Cheese day was a trip. We began by making ricotta, but out of whole milk instead of whey. Ricotta means, “recooked,” as in the whey was cooked once to separate it from the curds (presumably to make some other cheese) and then cooked once more to turn it into ricotta. To the milk we added a half tsp. of ascorbic acid and a tsp. of salt. A little cooking, a lot of stirring, a bit of straining, and an hour or more of hanging/draining. After that was some mozzarella pulling, which consisted of cutting up mozzarella curds, sprinkling them liberally with salt, and pouring simmering water on them. Once they’ve melted a bit from the water, you dunk your gloved, iced hands in and start mashing the curd chunks together. Once they’ve homogenized, the pulling begins, similar to…taffy, I imagine. The pulling develops that stringy texture that’s so lovely in mozzarella. It becomes shiny and smooth and then you form it into the familiar ball shape (you can also braid it if you so choose).

In the afternoon we did an extensive cheese tasting of cow’s, goat’s, and sheep’s milk cheeses that included Boerenkaas Gouda, Stilton, Ossau Raty, Pierre Robert, and Casinca. They ranged from LOVED IT (Stilton and Gouda) to meh (Idiazabel) to a polite no, thanks (Hoja Santa, Pierre Robert). We began with tasting whole milk from each animal. Then moved on to yogurts for each. After that the cheeses were tasted from freshest (fresh goat and feta) to most pungent (Persille and Stilton). It was an incredible afternoon (not counting hearing one of my bone headed classmates tell the instructors he really preferred Kraft Singles to most of these).

So about that practical tomorrow. A lot of people have been asking me about the grading system of school so I’ll lay it all out now.

For each level (each month is a level with 6 levels in all), you receive a grade. This grade is based on the written quizzes, performance evaluations, practical exam, and written final exam within that level. They’re all weighted differently. The written quizzes are exactly what they sound like, written two page tests every week or so with simple questions such as “Bechamel + (blank) = Sauce Mornay” (answer: gruyere cheese) and “Define gluten” (answer: an elasticity formed when the protein in flour comes in contact with liquid and is worked) mixed with slightly more complicated questions asking for procedures and recipes, like how to make a pate a choux, the dough used to make cream puffs and eclairs, or how to make hollandaise.

There are two performance evaluations per level (so far, anyway) and this is where the chef instructors grade you on 20 different criteria in the kitchen like “respecful towards instructors,” “works in a clean and hygienic manner,” “multitasks well,” and “presents well seasoned food.”

The practical for level 1 was astonishingly simple, involving a lot of chopping and dicing and boiling some carrots. This time around things get a bit…dicier (HA!). I have to say the rise in difficulty is a little abrupt and disconcerting. We go from slicing onions to filleting a trout, quartering a chicken, making mayonnaise, and carving some more potatoes (remember those footballs I mentioned awhile back?). Quite a leap away from boiling carrots.

The written final exam is just a cumulative test of everything we’ve learned this level.

Okay, off to practice quartering some chickens. Wish me BON CHANCE!

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Artisanal
2 Park Avenue (entrance on 32nd Street)
(212) 725-8585

This review is going to end on a negative note, but I actually do like Artisanal very much. It’s not exactly a beacon of innovation, but it does the classics very well…most of the time.

I dined there recently for a friend’s birthday and it was largely an enjoyable experience. The company was lovely and the food was tasty. The server was knowledgeable and everyone left full, happy, and sleepy, all the hallmarks of a good meal as far as I’m concerned.

In case you don’t know, Artisanal’s angle is cheese and lots of it. They have their own temperature and humidity controlled caves and refrigerators to age and store the over 60 varieties of cheese that they offer. Scanning the cheese menu can be a tad overwhelming if you want to try something new. (If you don’t, there’ll undoubtedly be something on the menu to suite your tastes.) Where to start?

The menu is divided into the different types of milk from which the cheeses come: sheep, goat, and cow. Under each cheese name is a brief description that is informative, but not really helpful, descriptions such as “earthy and deep” or “delicate and milky.” That all sounds delicious to me, so now what?

We consulted our waitress and since we were a large party she recommended the cheese, meat, and fruit platter that includes six different types of cheeses ranging from mild to stronger, prosciutto, soppressata, speck, dried fig and nut spread, grapes, and sliced apples. Among the cheeses were a Robiola made of cow and sheep’s milk, a Bleu d’Auverge, a Pecorino with truffles, and the rest I’ve forgotten. They were all delicious, but the Pecorino was mind blowing. The combination of the intense truffles and the cheesy, aged Pecorino took me right back to my time in Florence where I ate an inordinate amount of truffles with cheese/cream. I impolitely polished it off.

We also began with a basket of their gougeres, golf ball sized puffy cheese pastries made of Gruyere. One could easily pop a dozen of them without blinking, they’re so airy and light, nutty and salty.

As for the main entrees, the chicken cooked under a brick was absolutely phenomenal. A crispy, brown crust without a hint of fat underneath enrobes juicy meat. It’s served atop a pile of creamy mashed potatoes and a medley of vegetables, a singularly outstanding dish.

The steak frites is always a safe and savory bet. I consider the frites impressive in a city full of impressive frites.

I had the small “Artisanal Blend” fondue as my main. It was…a mistake. I failed to heed my sister’s warning that the fondue was too “wine-y” and “flavorless.” But there had been so much hype surrounding their fondue and their specialty is cheese and, and they’re French and, and I really, REALLY wanted to eat some good fondue. So I ordered the small one (for 1-3 people) which comes with cubes of bread and also ordered a side of kielbasa to dip. It was, well, wine-y and flavorless. I managed to choke down quite a bit, as an act of defiance, really. I was hellbent on ordering the fondue and GOSH DARN IT I was going to eat most of it! Matt tasted some. “Wow,” he said, “that is wine-y…um, it’s actually kind of gross.” I nodded slowly, as if considering his opinion, when, of course, I knew it was true and agreed.

I ended the meal with the cheesecake. Its pecan praline shortbread crust is out of this world. The cheese itself is light and fluffy without being cloyingly sweet. It’s served dotted with pralines and a swirl of caramel sauce. I’ve already decided to buy a whole one for Thanksgiving this year.

All in all, I’d recommend anyone going there, anyone who loves cheese, has a decently full wallet, and who isn’t hellbent on eating fondue.

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Yesterday’s visit to the Greenmarket (aka farmer’s market) in Union Square yielded some interesting finds. The Greenmarket is actually located in various areas in all boroughs of NYC, but the Union Square location is one of the biggest and is open Wednesday – Saturday.

As ashamed as I am to admit it, I haven’t visited this market in a long time, probably 6 or 7 months, maybe even more, even though I’m in the Union Square area very often. Anyway, I hope this informative post detailing my trip will more than make up for that embarassing fact.

It’s obvious that the produce crops this year, in this area of the country, are being affected by the unseasonably warm weather. I believe this accounts for the horrendous apple crops. I had to scour four different orchards’ stands before I could find two, count ’em TWO, decent apples. My fingers ached after all that picky selecting. Aside from the crappy crops, this is due, in part, to my effective, yet sometimes painful, method of choosing crisp, fresh apples which is to squeeze each apple very tightly with my thumb and forefinger. If your fingers make an indentation (you’ll feel it), then skip that apple, it’s mealy and mushy. If your fingers don’t make a dent and the apple looks good otherwise (no worm holes, not a lot of bruises), grab up that apple. This is how I came to find my TWO delicious honeycrisps (which are already gone)…I suppose I can say they were worth the effort, but it was disheartening that it took so much energy and time right in the middle of Apple Season to find a couple of sweet, crisp apples.

Perhaps also due to the unseasonably warm weather there were a lot of tomatoes and corn still selling, although it made me uneasy to see them in the middle of October. The weather does not seem to have affected the crop of gourds this year, however, as there were plenty of nice looking pumpkins and squashes. But I didn’t buy any, so who knows? Maybe they just looked good.

Here are some notable things I saw (and/or bought):

  1. Edible nasturtiums in beautifully bright reds, oranges, and yellows. I’ve never personally used edible flowers, but for a special occasion there are few things that would wow your guests more. $5/pint
  2. Sunflower greens. I had never seen or eaten these before and was told they are eaten raw, so I tried one. They taste like a more “green” tasting uncooked bean sprout. They look like peashoot greens but with a thicker white stalk. I’m convinced these would be delicious sauteed with garlic and Thai fish sauce, despite what the seller told me about eating them raw. $6/quarter lb
  3. Martin’s Pretzels from Pennsylvania (where else?), a farmer’s market staple. A jawbreakingly crunchy, salty treat, I had to grab up a 1/2 lb of “brokens” (um, broken pieces of pretzels, instead of whole ones, in case you couldn’t figure that one out). I wanted to purchase some whole wheat pretzels too, but unfortunately they were out of those. They also sell unsalted pretzels. $2.50/half lb (Broken, salted)
  4. Honey crisp apples from Caradonna Farms, as mentioned earlier. $2/lb
  5. Oyster, cremini, portabello, and shiitake mushrooms from the Bulich Mushroom Company. When I returned after one round of scouting the entire market out, all that was left were the oyster mushrooms. They were firm and exuded a beautiful bluish gray hue. I had to grab them up (esp. since they are so expensive at Citarella or Eli’s, I considered these a bargain), although I still haven’t decided what to do with them yet. I’ll probably sautee them with some olive oil, garlic and salt, then toss them with some pasta, and Parmiggiano, keep it simple. I wouldn’t wanna overwhelm the delicate flavor of the oysters. $7/lb (I bought half a lb and it filled up half of a brown paper bag)
  6. Sourdough half loaf and cranberry scone from the Rock Hill Bakehouse. According to their signs, they were rated as some of the best sourdough available in the city. I’m not sure about that, but it was delicious. Rock Hill’s selection of baked goods is vast and smelled wonderful, so that is what initially drew me in. Among their spread, they have cinnamon raisin bread, onion loaves, 7-grain loaves, currant and cranberry scones, and various cookies. I bought the scone for my sister, who enjoyed it immensely, praising its moistness and its circular shape (“I hate it when they make them triangular! They’re always dry! Blech! This is good though…round…moist…mmm…”). $3/sourdough half loaf, $3/cranberry scone
  7. Dutch Farmstead and “Womanchego” cheeses from Cato Corner Farm. I tasted the Dutch Farmstead first. It had a really nice smooth texture, but the taste was a little too mild for me. I opted for the “Womanchego” (as much as I detest the corny name), which was a bit sharper and firmer. It wasn’t very manchego-like to me (tasted more like a cross between Swiss and Edam, in texture and flavor), but tasty none the less and ended up going very well with the sourdough. $17.99/lb (pricey, yes)
  8. Southwestern chipotle goat cheese from Lynnhaven Goat Milk Cheeses. They sell all types of flavored goat cheeses in ~3 inch logs from black pepper to rosemary garlic. Their cheese is what great young goat cheese should be: mild, creamy, but not too creamy, tart, and fresh. The rosemary garlic was delicious, but I decided to go with the Southwestern chipotle for its unique flavoring. Good garlicky goat cheese is easy to find, but goat cheese flavored with cumin, chipotle, and garlic? Not so common. Some may find it too salty, but I love salt, so… $5/log, $12/sampler box of 3 flavors (Rosemary garlic, black pepper, and plain)

Among the other stands that I saw, but did not take any particular notes on, were one selling game (ducks, pheasants, chickens), one selling seafood (fish, scallops, shrimp), one specializing in lamb (sausage and dyed wool), another selling maple syrup and maple candy, one specializing in buffalo meat, one selling concord grapes and juice, and another selling jams and jellies.

A few tips to consider before you go to the Greenmarket:

  • When you get there, make one round just to see what’s being offered, where, and for how much, so you can plan your purchases accordingly. You don’t want to buy 3 lbs of tomatoes at the first stand you get to and then stumble upon riper, more luscious tomatoes at the last stand you walk by.
  • Go early. I went at 3pm and a lot of stuff was gone/the selection was dwindling.
  • Try to plan to cook that night. There were a lot more things I wanted to buy, but couldn’t because I had mandatory dinner plans and didn’t want any produce going bad before I got a chance to use it.
  • Be patient about choosing your produce. Just because you’re picking it up at the market doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best quality.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask to sample things, esp. cheeses or unique produce (like when I asked to try the sunflower greens).
  • GO! If you love food half as much as I do, you will adore the experience of shopping at this market, despite its being crowded and hectic.

Happy food shopping!

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