Terrines! Part One.

How long has it been since you’ve had aspic? (Have you ever?)

Introducing aspics and terrines to the modern age is entertaining. Watching first-time aspic eaters take a stab at trying meat-flavored jello is enlightening–and entertaining– to say the least. No longer are neon raspberry and lemon jello boxes the be-all-end-all of cooking with gelatin. Instead, wibbly-wobbly molds of liquid meat towers take the center stage of classic cuisine.

“The best place to get these recipes and a good feel for them,” my chef informed us, “is in garage-sale copies of old Betty Crocker cookbooks. Women’s positions were based on how well their aspics turned out. It was precise! It was an art! It was something used to impress the husband’s boss at a dinner party. And nowadays, it’s old-school.”

I, personally, was thrilled to try my hand at aspics and terrines. They’re so fancy and old fashioned and they make me feel like Samantha from Bewitched trying to impress Larry and Lousie Tate. Without the magic, of course.

Terrines, galantines and aspics were to be our homework topics. With explicit directions to study terrine technique before the next day, we left class with notebooks full of Terrine How-To and DIY Galantine information.

My Terrine Team (Team Terrine? Terream?) didn’t take these words to heart. I received several text messages this morning from my group: “Not feeling very well,” and “Do you have a copy of the recipes for today?”

If anything is going to cause a sinking feeling approaching a difficult lab day, texts like these will do it.

“Yes,” I typed back. “I have the recipes.” I’d even gone so far as to watch Julie & Julia for the sole sake of the Aspic Scene, where Amy Adams pitches an adorable fit over the un-gelled aspic in her refrigerator.

(Also, I needed an excuse to watch Julie and Julia, but that’s beside the point.)

When my team met up before class, we designated who would do what. Our menu included a rabbit terrine, a mushroom terrine and an heirloom tomato aspic. Simple enough, mostly needing time to set or cook. I wasn’t concerned.

Perhaps I should have been.

Terrine Day went downhill fast. The rest of the class was a mess. Every few seconds–amid the shouts of, “WHO HAS THE DUCK FAT?” and “Someone’s rabbit tenderloins are burning over here!”–someone would make the mistake of shaking an un-set aspic or opening an oven, slowing down the cooking process. We didn’t finish in the allotted time.

“EVERYONE!” the chef yelled as one girl ran to the dish room to dry her tears (yes, tears, over an aspic that won’t set are apparently common), “Silence! Put your terrines away! We are now a full day behind. We’ll complete this lab tomorrow. I am shocked none of you came prepared.”

I looked at the faces of my classmates around me. Not a single one of them had raised their hand when asked if they had made aspics or terrines before. This was a first time for everyone, something that didn’t happen often in my group of little culinary geniuses.

Isn’t that what culinary school is about? I mean, it’s great when things work out as planned and everyone can drive home with a leg of lamb in their front seat, but it’s even better when things go horribly awry because that is the best possible way to learn. It’s a mess (and sometimes a very ugly one–pureed meat and mushrooms isn’t very appealing when raw. Or cooked, for that matter!) But it goes to show not everyone is perfect. We are all still learning.

And when are we ever going to get the chance to make (or break) fancy buffet terrines ever again? They’re not exactly popular these days, although their rarity means they can be sold for hefty price.

No, today was a train wreck of pureed chicken and wobbly tomato juice. But it was one heck of an interesting class, if not one I’d necessarily like to repeat.

Hopefully tomorrow the aspics and terrines will be beautifully set, the way a 50′s Housewife would be proud of, and I can post some pictures of the accomplishment. Of course, if things go horribly awry, the pictures will be far funnier for me to post on the internet, so perhaps tomorrow you’ll all get to laugh at the way my food turns out.

Either way, it’s going to be an adventure. Stay tuned.

 

Dinner Party Memories

A single, bright yellow egg yolk, still runny and perfectly smooth. A gentle pinwheel of smoked haddock. A creamy, slightly sweet, steaming hot broth.

Set against the eggshell white background of a beautiful soup, offset by two perfectly tourneed potatoes, garnished with some mustard seeds and a vibrant parsley leaf, this dish could have easily just slid through the doors of a high-end eatery like Per Se or Alinea.

Instead, it is placed in front of me under the careful eye of my culinary buddy, who we will refer to hereafter as Biker Bill, as I sit at his dining room table in an offset Orlando suburb. Instead of a posh, glittering five-star restaurant, the man-cave feel of the room is an unusual and charming juxtaposition.

“Tell me what you think,” Biker Bill says. “And be honest.”

I take a bite. The smoked haddock is perfect, flaking under my spoon as I dive into the gorgeous artwork that is my dinner.

“Bill,” I say. “This is delicious.”

The table full of culinary students (read: meal guinea pigs) chimes in with praise and agreement. Biker Bill explains the dish to us as we eat, using his hands to illustrate every movement, from stirring to garnishing. Expressive, he doesn’t even realize he’s doing it.

This is arguably one of the best possible reasons to love culinary school. My classmates are literal geniuses. I look at their food, their knowledge and their passion and it just fills me with pride and excitement. They’re so talented.

Occasionally we all get together for dinner parties where bottles of wine litter the table and we usually end up playing poker. (Which I am terrible at, but I’m learning how to pull off a fedora like a champ. Also, I’m underage, so I drink sweet tea out of a wine glass to feel fancy.)

Tonight’s dinner party was based on competition meals, which Biker Bill and our other talented classmate (henceforth referred to as ‘Mr. G’) are perfecting in preparation for the state competition in mid September.

Our second course involved handmade orzo, beautifully offset by a tricolored brunoise of pepper, next to a moist and flavorful piece of chicken and stunning, slightly translucent pearl onions. We ate and marveled and drank our respective pairings (I recall a local blueberry wine on the table, a very sweet red, a blended pinot noir and Mountain Dew.)

Dessert was provided by our most talented group baker, a dear friend with something close to a serious obsession with Girhardelli chocolate. A chocolate tart with pecans and crumbled amaretto cookies, cut into picture-perfect wedges of course, finished the night. We sat around and talked about everything from our chefs to our classes to our various kitchen jobs.

And can I just say that tart was probably one of the best things I’ve ever eaten? You could sit there and say, “Erin, I need you to kidnap the President’s daughter, okay?” and I would just sit there and agree with you because seriously, this tart has the power to melt minds.

I don’t think I can ever truly express how cool it is to be surrounded by talented people who invite me into their homes just to feed me.

“Can I just take a second to appreciate this?” one dinner party guest called out as we sat around the table. All the girls, four of us in total, were chatting and giggling over drinks while the men cooked. “The men are in the kitchen and the girls are sitting at the table drinking wine. Welcome to 2014!”

What can I say? This education extends off campus. The more I learn about these wonderful culinary artists, the more sure I become that this is the best industry I could have ever entered.

The people and the moments are just as sweet and memorable as a tasting course at a five-star restaurant, and really… who could ask for more?

My Words Are On The Internet

I’ve shared my love of feminist rants, right?

And my love of Hello Giggles, home of positivity and empowerment, I know I’ve mentioned on here before as one of my top five favorite websites ever.

Well, who wants to hear fun news? If you raised your hand, here it is: one of my essays– 6 Things I Learned Working In A Restaurant Kitchen– has been published on their site. (Yay!) And because I became a shameless self-advertiser as of about five seconds ago, here‘s the link if you’d like to check it out.

Photo found on astoldbyme.net

Photo found on astoldbyme.net

There. That’s my fun news of the day. You can now use my name and Zooey Deschanel’s in the same sentence. As in, Did you know that Erin got an article on that website Zooey Deschanel is involved in?

If I had a cupcake, I’d light a candle and celebrate. As it is, maybe I’ll just have a lot of tea in a fancy mug and watch New Girl.

The Perks and Perils of Navigating Goodwill

There is a trick to finding treasure among thrift. Being a broke college kid sometimes forces you into becoming a Thrift Store Expert Extraordinaire, and I have had plenty of experience recently.

There are some people in my family who will not, under any circumstance, buy used stuff.

Then there are those (who taught me well) that imparted me with the wisdom of finding great stuff at garage sales and thrift stores. (Hence the tradition on one side of my family of labeling Christmas presents “Garage Sale Gift” and “Regular Gift.”)

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Why shop thrift? Because it’s cheap. Also because its fun. But if you think shopping for expensive new stuff is fun and you’d rather do that, by all means, be my guest.

There are a few basic tools that aid in the treasure hunt of a dusty Goodwill.  First of all, invest in a bottle of hand sanitizer, because you never know who had their grubby mitts all over that Walkman. The strangest people haunt thrift stores, people whose backgrounds and life stories are anyone’s guess. That’s not to say these folks are in any way of questionable background (although that can sometimes be the case) but rather to say its better to be safe than sorry when handling pre-used items.

Another thing to carry with you: ones and fives. You can spend all day browsing a store, picking up and putting down various unusual items, but at the end of the day, sometimes a .99 tchotchke is all you want to take home. Loose change and small bills come in handy.

And, for students, this is useful: bring your student ID! They give 10% off at Goodwill. (Discounts on cheap stuff? A college student’s dream.)

When walking into a thrift store, don’t expect to find anything you’re looking for in particular. Thrift store specialty items are reclusive creatures and will retreat at the first sign of a chase. Instead, walk in with an open mind and let them come to you.

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In my opinion, there is no better place to find books than a thrift store. They come in varying editions and conditions, and more than once I’ve found an unopened copy of a favorite classic. (I found a pristine copy of Catch 22 and nearly burst into a jig. It’s my all-time favorite and it was BRAND NEW for .99, which made my day.) Plus, unlike an organized book store, these books come in a mismatched selection of hardbacks, soft covers, fiction and non-fiction alongside a lot of Bibles that look like they were stolen from hotel room drawers. It may force you to bypass your favorite genre and find a new adventure waiting between the covers of an intriguing novel outside your comfort zone.

Also, you can find a plethora of cookbooks. I’ve found a few that turned out to be signed.

(Once, I found a guidebook to Wyoming and nearly paid the .99 just for the novelty of it, but I figured after living there for 18 years, I could write my own guidebook and let it pass.)

Other great finds can be spotted in the dinnerware area. Obviously this takes a lot of common sense–does it look gross? Is it not in good condition? Pass.

But, if you’re lucky, you can find some real gems. Thrift stores are great for finding unusual glasses and coffee mugs. I have a thing for mismatched kitchen utensils, so my cupboards are full of unique champagne glasses and tumblers. I always buy matching sets of glasses and never buy matching coffee mugs or teacups. I like the variety.

Sometimes there are quality pots, pans or sheet trays that look like unwanted wedding gifts to be found. My example: a cherry red fondue pot, unused. Two bucks. I bought it on the spot.

Pinterest is a goldmine of upcycling ideas, so if you see something that catches your eye and you don’t know what to do with it, I can guarantee an internet tutorial is probably floating around somewhere.

Picture found on blog.makezine.com

Picture found on blog.makezine.com

My favorite Pinterest tip (*cough cough cheap and easy*)  is to find a cool figurine or statuette, spray paint it a solid color and use it as a decorative piece. It looks very modern and fancy when painted white, but you can do whatever you want. You can dip it in gold sparkles. It costs you .99, just donate it back to Goodwill if you’re not overly fond of it.

Anyway, the key is to have an open mind and some good old fashioned imagination. You never know what you’ll find at Goodwill! (A signed copy of the Little Mermaid, perhaps? Thanks, Jodi Benson!) 20140509_134025