Pasta, Meringue, Dacquaise and a Freak Out
This week I got hit with a dose of reality: I have three weeks of school left. Three?! Seriously, where did the time go? These next couple of weeks are going to be crunch time for me and a little crazy. In just three weeks time I will be sitting for my final exam that covers everything that I learned over the 16-week program as well as turning in a professional portfolio complete with pictures of everything I made. I also have two more quizzes, a project to turn in and present on and the most of my worries - the practicum. From day one, there is much buzz about the practicum. In the middle of Chef teaching a new technique, he'll pause, look up at the class and say in an ominous and serious tone, "This will definitely be on the practicum". So what is the practicum anyway? I'll go into class and be asked to pick a card that will contain a couple of items that I'll then be asked to make. There will only be measurements and ingredients written on the card, no techniques. I'll then be asked to write the techniques down before heading to the kitchen to get cooking, making what will then be presented to a panel of chefs. No pressure, right?
Whew. Before I have a minor little freak out, let's talk about what happened this week at school, shall we? On Monday, the focus was on my dear, close friend pasta. I could muse on and on about the beauty of a fresh bowl of pasta, it's one of my favorites. I love chasing pasta around on a plate with my fork, soaking up all of the flavors and the way its subtly soft texture feels on my tongue. As much as I love to eat pasta, I also love to make it. I find it so therapeutic to flip on some music and kneed some pasta dough before rolling it out and shaping it. Sure, it's a little bit of work but the payoff is totally worth it. Fresh pasta also freezes beautifully so once you go through all that effort, you can keep it on hand for a busy night. Just pull it from the freezer and dump it into a large pot of boiling and heavily salted water for a couple of minutes (fresh pasta cooks way faster than that boxed up dried stuff) and make a quick sauce to coat the noodles - dinner in about 10 minutes.
In school, I was charged with making a rabbit ragu, which is rabbit that's been braised in a low (325 degree) oven for about an hour until the meat has soaked up all of the flavors of the sweet carrots, onions, celery, mushrooms and wine along with herbs and spices and it becomes tender. We then poured this rusticly hearty sauce over thin, wide, fresh papperdelle pasta. I loved the way all of the flavors came together and usually I can spot something that I'd change or do differently after I make a dish but in this case, I thought things were spot on, quite an accomplishing feeling!
On Tuesday, it was all about meringue and dacquoise (a meringue that has nuts, traditionally almonds, in it). I've always liked meringue and the way it just gradually fades away in your mouth. I've made lemon meringue pie before but have never been able to get my meringue as fluffy as I'd like it to be. Turns out the trick is to add the sugar one TBS at a time and to beat it for an extended period of time. In the past I had always done it by hand and my recipes instructed that I add the sugar by halves instead of gradually. A mixer is also definitely needed for a nice fluffy meringue. In class, I practiced my skills by making a Raspberry Almond Dacquaise, which is a almond studded meringue that I piped into squares and then stacked, layering in a raspberry-brandy whipped cream, which was light and refreshing and perfect for spring.
Next week? Game week (no not like Monopoly or Truth or Dare, like Buffalo, Boar and Venison) and Gelatins and Bavarians on Tuesday. Until then, I'll be running around like a chicken with my head cut off. Wish me luck!
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