Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Contemporary Cakes at the CIA

By student blogger Morgan

My final cakes class at the CIA was yet another mouth watering experience with plenty of photo ops to share with you. In this class you will find no butter cream, fondant or gumpaste as in Confectionery Arts. Instead, we learned how to make a different type of cake frequently used in upscale restaurants to celebrate a guest's special occasion: the entremet.  An entremet (meaning 'between meals' in French) is a type of mousse cake that is built in a metal ring and contains layers of multiple different textures and flavors encased by an exterior mousse. It is garnished with the purpose of serving it whole to a person or party, who may then slice it up and share it (...orrrr not). For the first six days of Contemporary Cakes with Chef Rossomondo the students create six different entremets, culminating in a project in which they get to design one completely on their own. 

Entremets are one of a kind in the cake world because of the different textures and flavors you can incorporate. Because the cake is built using a metal cake ring, it lends itself to be filled with anything from a crunchy cookie to a soft creameux. You can layer the same flavor in many different ways (cookie, cake, mousse, etc.), or blend a mixture of flavors and mediums for an entirely new effect. The entremet pictured below has a spicy gingersnap cookie on the bottom, a blueberry jam, an almond cake and a marscarpone mousse on the exterior. The colored band is a decor sponge cake that we 'camouflaged' using brightly dyed cake batter, and there is a raspberry glaze on the top to finish. Each student garnishes every entremet to their own liking using different decor pieces also created in the class out of meringue, chocolate, sugar and dehydrated fruits.

The next one was definitely a class favorite and is modeled after the flavor profile of the popular Take 5. It has a chocolate cookie crust followed by a chocolate pretzel crunch, a caramel cremeux (like a soft and creamy mousse), chopped peanuts, a chocolate flour-less cake and a peanut butter mousse. Then the whole thing is en-robed with caramel glaze and garnished with chocolate.

Entremets come in all shapes and sizes like this buche de noel mold. The ends are sliced off to reveal the gorgeous layers inside of sugar cookie, blueberry jam, citrus chiffon cake, blueberry compote, basil mousse and lemon mousse. This one is also glazed with a raspberry glaze and garnished with sugar decor items.

My personal favorite: the Modern Carrot Cake. From bottom to top is a hazelnut cookie crust, raspberry jam, carrot cake, strawberry gelee (almost like a jelly), and cream cheese exterior mousse. To finish this cake I sprayed a hot glaze of white chocolate (dyed orange using cocoa butter) onto the frozen cake using a paint spray gun. The warm chocolate sets instantly when it makes contact with the frozen cake and creates a velvety, slightly crunchy texture. It's garnished with chocolate and dried, candied orange slices.

Here's a sampling of my class' individual entremet project cakes. We had free reign over the shape, decor, flavor and concept of our cakes.

The second part of the class is production to cater the graduation buffet on the last day of each block. As a class we created a frozen dessert, three different petit gateaux, three dry petit four items, and two different types of pops. We then displayed our desserts on the trays below and decorated dummy cakes to pass around to the guests at the buffet. 

Chocolate praline, blueberry coconut and caramel mousse petit gateaux alongside baked puff pastry rolled in butter and vanilla sugar.

Dulce de leche filled bi-color French macarons. 

 Two of my classmates displaying their pops they passed around on decorated dummy cakes. The pops were white chocolate dipped cheesecake and a take on lemon meringue pie.

This class had a little bit of everything and touched on many different techniques we've learned in the past as well as a few new. It is very similar to the class we took in the same bakeshop prior to externship, Individual Production Pastries, in the sense that it is a step up in pace from most classes and you are turning out beautiful and tasty products. It was so much fun to be a part of graduation and see the guests' reaction to the desserts we had worked so hard on!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Favorite Meals at the CIA

by student blogger Emilio

One of the many things that makes The Culinary Institute of America unique is the meals students eat on a daily basis. A typical college or university has one or more dining halls where food is prepared and is served, usually in a buffet style. Here, students in their production classes actually cook and plate the food each student and staff member eats. This allows the perfect avenue for students in class to practice preparing food for actual “customers” while reducing waste since the other students have to eat anyways. What took me a little longer to realize is that since each production class only lasts three weeks, every three weeks the menus reset. So if you are attentive enough, each block you could eat your favorites from each kitchen, or continue trying new dishes! Some of my personal favorites meals:

Fideua de Mariscos, Cuisines of the Mediterranean

Fideua de Mariscos - it smelled so good I starting
eating before taking a picture.
A delicious noodle dish from the Valencian Community in Spain. Very similar to paella, another Spanish dish but with noodles instead of rice. Different seafood including calamari, shrimp, other shellfish, as well as chorizo all cook together with thin noodles gives this dish both a variety of textures and flavors that work great together. Not at all a pretentious dish but yet so scrumptious. It also helps that all the entrées served for the Spanish cuisine days come with a plate of tapas (a wide variety of appetizers, or snacks, in Spanish cuisine).

Turkey Stew, Modern Banquets (Buffet)

Some classmates of mine and myself eating at Modern Banquets.
So much food!

Modern Banquets as a whole might be my favorite “kitchen” to get food from. Modern Banquets is unique because the format is different. In the other production kitchens, you tell the Chef (or student who is taking orders) what you would like to eat and then either swipe your ID or some of the Chefs/student will swipe your card for you (colloquially known as “using a swipe” or “swiping”). You receive your plate of food and depending on the kitchen a soup, salad and/or other snacks (I’ve seen everything from a plate of tapas to fried pig ears to ceviche) and you go on your merry way to eat either in Farquharson Hall, the dining room downstairs, etc. Modern Banquet has two formats actually – plated and buffet. I can only elaborate on the buffet format since it’s the only one of the two I have experienced. The students cook the food in the kitchen down the hall but then it is kept hot in a special dining room using chafing dishes. A select number of the students then serve you the food that you want. I’ve been known to eat here (lunch and dinner) for several consecutive days, which can add to the testament of how delicious it is. The days they have turkey stew they also (usually) have a delicious salad with blue cheese and bacon lardons as wells as minestrone soup, roasted pork loin, Brussels sprouts and cabbage. They also have desserts there; I’ve even had ice cream before!

Pork Schnitzel w/ Spätzle and brocolli rabe
Pork Schnitzel with spätzle, High-Production Cookery (K-16)

Schnitzel and spätzle are both foods that I love, so when I saw them for the first time together on the “menu board” at K-16, I was ecstatic. The crisp pork pairs wonderfully with the soft buttery spätzle and is my favorite dish from K-16.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Maple Syrup Production at the CIA

By student blogger Morgan

Maple syrup season closed up shop here in the Hudson Valley a few weeks ago and this year we were particularly sad to see it go. As an educational side project, Chocolate and Confections Chef Peter Greweling captained a small team of students to tap 15 maple trees on campus. He started a micro maple syrup factory in his bakeshop and turned the sap gathered into our very own CIA variety maple syrup.

The trees were located behind the lodges and townhouses on campus and we tapped them back when there was still snow on the ground. The ideal conditions for collecting sap are when the nights are below freezing but the days are above. The very first day we collected sap we got almost 70 gallons from 15 trees, but towards the end of the season the amount of sap the trees produced slowly tapered off.

At the beginning of the season the sap was crystal clear right out of the tree and had a relatively low sugar content. As the days got warmer and the trees produced less syrup, it turned a darker color and had a thicker consistency with a higher sugar content, resulting in a startlingly different color and flavor in the final syrup.

During class, we slowly reduced the sap in large steam kettles, which created something of a maple syrup sauna (we didn't hate it...). During the boiling stage Chef measured the sugar content of the sap using a refractometer to determine when enough of the water had been removed to qualify it as syrup. It takes roughly 45 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup.

The results were divine and such a departure from any "maple syrup" I had previously experienced. At the end of the season we ended up with three different varieties harvested from the same trees but at different times. Each of the syrups below were boiled down to the same exact sugar content but have different consistencies, colors and flavors. 

From left to right these are samples of the syrup rendered from the syrup harvest latest in the season to earliest in the season.

Chef Greweling would eventually love to create a class of its own right dedicated to the history and production of maple syrup. Next year he hopes to include even more trees on campus and indenture (...I mean enlist...) even more students to collect and boil the sap. The plan is to make enough syrup to hopefully sell it in Apple Pie Bakery and Cafe so that you can take home your very own jar of maple syrup with the CIA terroir.

Having the opportunity to help out with this special project was one of the high lights of my semester and absolutely a rare experience for this Virginia girl. Actually producing an ingredient that we use everyday  from tree to jug gives you a new appreciation and understanding that is hard to accomplish by anything less. I hope the project continues and grows year after year! 

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Elephant in the Room

Excerpted from La Papillote. By Gareth Alonso

Being utterly surrounded by food and food culture here at The Culinary Institute of America, I always try to retain every scrap of knowledge I can just walking through these halls. I often overhear the names of many restaurants that are located here in the Hudson Valley. I also take the recommendations of chefs in high regard. I have heard the name ‘Elephant’ mentioned on more than one occasion. I knew that I had to go. The last mention of this restaurant was in Cuisines of the Mediterranean. It was in regards to the topic of finding good tapas close by. Even more reason for the trek.

            Elephant is located near the end of Wall Street in the once happening but still relevant city of Kingston. Walking in we were welcomed with a warmly lit dining room. Looking around it looked like an after theater type of crowd enjoying a few drinks and a few small plates. It had sort of a dive bar for foodies feel to it and the staff and customers were both friendly.

            When ordering food at Elephant there are many options. There is a chalkboard menu that has selections of charcuterie and cheeses. There is a typical menu that has options under the headings of “para picar,” “toastas” and “raciones.” In addition to this, there is also a daily special menu handed out upon being seated. With all these possibilities we decided we would order some drinks and peruse the menus a little bit longer to really hammer out the details. We sipped on refreshing sangria, as well as  traditional cider that one might find in Spain. It was much different than a cider that one would enjoy here in the States. It has a scent similar to olive water but the taste was still fruity and it went down smoothly. After going over the menus a bit longer it had been decided. The list of tapas included chorizo, chocolate, jamon, and manchego from the tostas menu; tacos al pastor from the raciones section; grilled  asparagus with lamb bacon, anchovy bocata, and blood sausage with pureed potatoes from the daily special menu and lomo iberico and the pate de casa from the charcuterie menu. Phew! There were three of us dining that night, a perfect number from ordering and sharing all of these tapas.

            While we sat there and waited for our plates to begin arriving, it almost felt as if we were in the theater waiting for the show to begin and the curtain to rise. Once they started coming and being placed at the table, it was just as hard to decide where to start as it was to decide on our order. All the small plates that we dined on and shared that night were absolutely fantastic and packed with flavor.

            After our massive feast, I began thinking more about how the Elephant fits into the majority of eateries I have been to [in the Hudson Valley]. Elephant could definitely be a place to go when famished and will satiate the largest of appetites. However, that would be missing the point. Elephant fits more into the midafternoon snack, or after dinner drinks and nosh for those looking for a little bit more. All the plates are small, no matter what part of the menu you order from. Tapas means small plates. The prices of the small plates range from three to four dollars for a side of olives or Marcona Almonds, to between eight and thirteen dollars for the more elaborate and composed tapas.

            Elephant does a fantastic job of showcasing all the regions of Spain. From the manchego found in Mancha, the Euskadi influences found smattered throughout the menu, and the eastern Spanish regions (where there is a French influence to the Spanish cooking), it is all there. This is a restaurant that could easily thrive in a more cosmopolitan setting such as Manhattan, but luckily we are fortunate enough to have such a sophisticated eatery so close to campus. It is a perfect stopping point to recharge and relieve those hunger pangs that tend to arise on day trips out, or to just have a relaxing cocktail and some small plates at the end of a stress-filled week. 

You can read the complete article on page 6 of the newspaper’s April 11th online version.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Scholarship Opportunities

by Student Blogger Stephanie Kirkland... 
Scholarship opportunities are rampant. I know this. I know there are scholarship and grant dollars to be had, ready for the taking. And it’s not like I’m not doing anything about it, believe me I’ve applied myself.
So many people I know are either putting themselves through school, have tons of loans already taken out, or really desperate for some stress relief when it comes to anything financial aid.
Recently, I turned in a scholarship application in hopes of taking some of that stress off of myself. Long story short, I didn’t get it. Whether it had to do with any grievance with my GPA, or essay attached with the application I don’t know. Even though I’m trying to get my foot in the door, I just haven’t had the best luck. However, with the new Financial Aid Times updated for the next few months’ worth of scholarships, I am driven to apply myself even more.
I am taking all precautions this time. In all three I intend on applying, they ask for a summary of my short term (1-5 years) and long term (5-10 years) goals. That’s a loaded question, and one that perhaps I haven’t addressed fully in the past. In addition, a resume is to be attached, with another essay varying from a critique of the last restaurant I have been to, to which class during my whole program has been the most beneficial. 
I am prepared to be peer reviewed, ask for advice in getting my truest point across, and anything else that may help in the process. Keep your fingers crossed for me; I could be getting a mere $16,000 cut off the chopping block for my last semester. I have always thought, and certainly have worked hard on insuring that my writing skills are solid. The way I write I have believed has been able to express the essence of who I am, and what I try to say. But, never have I been in a position where this writing has been regarded with such a high price tag. Those few pieces of paper that I intend on turning in, in near perfect condition, are the only things a scholarship reviewer clearly knows about me. There are only so many things a computer screen can say about grades, or attendance – surely not the only things that matter! In any case, my determination this time around is as strong as ever, considering the cost.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What's New? Mar-pril Block

By student blogger Morgan

Another busy block has come and gone here at the CIA and this one saw some noticeable changes in the weather and amount of outdoor activities available. What's new this block is Spring!

-The Hudson River is completely ice free, as opposed to how it looked last block.

-Campus has started to green and bloom, drawing many more students outside to enjoy the nice weather. Every day I've noticed the campus getting more active; students play softball, soccer, go for a jog or simply relax on a blanket on one of our multiple grassy areas.

-The RA's and ResLife have held multiple fun events this block including a Pixar movie night with free food (what other college has a full baked potato bar and hand spun cotton candy at their movie nights?), an Easter egg hunt with the top prize being a laptop (!) and a free grilled cheese and tomato soup lunch to celebrate National Grilled Cheese Day. Every block the RA's work super hard to put together events for their residents, and now they're even organizing weekly meet and greets to get to know us even better. The lodge staff hosts a milk and homemade cookies night every Sunday!

-We had SGA elections this block and a new batch of students were elected to represent the student body

-We also had a Special Projects Day (SPD) this block which is a day off from normal classes, but each Chef assigns some type of project due like a report on a lecture or current event in the food industry. I went to two of the three lectures scheduled that week: No Farms, No Food and a discussion with CIA grad Charlie Palmer and his restaurant designer, Adam Tihany about opening a restaurant:

No Farms No Food was a viewing of a blurb-worthy documentary called The First Season in which a camera crew followed around a young family in their first season of organic dairy farming. It was followed by a panel discussion with the couple from the documentary, a 4th generation dairy farmer of Cabot Dairy products, Josh and Brent Beekman (The Fabulous Beekman Boys: winners of the Amazing Race and NY goat farmers), and a representative from Hudson Valley Fresh dairy products. They are joining together with American Farmland Trust to slow the definitely worth the hour of your time that it would take to watch the documentary, plus more perusing the website www.farmland.org. 

As always, this is just a sampling of what's going on around here through my eyes and there are many, many more fun clubs and events happening on a daily basis.

Battle wounds

by student blogger Emilio

I am now past the half-way point of my Fundamentals class and have managed to get through unscathed apart from a few minor nicks here and there. That is until yesterday.

Ironically, out of all of the days in Fundamentals I have had up-to this point, I probably used my knife the least yesterday. We were making fresh fettuccine and ravioli and apart from a little slicing and chopping for the sauces (a tomato and cream sauce with oyster, shiitake and crimini mushrooms for the fettuccine and a brown butter, sage and walnut sauce for the ravioli – they were both as delicious as they sound) and the mushroom and ricotta filling for the ravioli, my knives were mostly put away and my hands focused on mixing, kneading and rolling out the dough. 

Wrapped cut, courtesy of the health room
At the end of the production portion of the class, I was cleaning my recently sharpened chef knife when a classmate of mine asked me a question. In the 1.5 seconds it took me to look up and respond I felt it bite into the tip of my index finger. “Pouring” would be an accurate verb to describe the blood coming out of the cut. Generally speaking I have a pretty high tolerance for pain so I just put a couple of band-aids on followed by a finger cot and then a glove and got back to cleaning. Being almost done with cleaning the kitchen, I was more worried about finishing as much as possible before going to dinner. About 25 minutes later, getting ready to take our dinner break I realized that the finger cot was actually ballooning with blood. It took quite a few paper towels to clean up the mess I made.

Anyways, after class I went to the medical room to get it cleaned and wrapped up and the very nice nurse who took care of it said it was a close call on whether I needed stitches but thankfully she decided some “steri-stips” would work, keeping my record of stitches down to zero.

So now the moral of the story. We use knives everyday. We strive to keep our knives as sharp as possible. A sharper knife is actually safer since a dull knife is harder to control and more likely to slip – I don’t think I would have agreed yesterday, but it is true! Even though we are in school learning how to cook and eventually be chefs, we are constantly working in dangerous situations. Whether it is a razor-sharp knife, a steam kettle of simmering stock or a 450˚F oven there are always ways to hurt yourself. Some people will say it is too dangerous or that it isn’t appropriate to put young (and older) students in this scenarios but wouldn’t you rather learn how to deal with these things in a more controlled environment, where you have someone that is going to bandage your cut or burn? I definitely would. The point is that you can’t, and shouldn’t, be afraid of getting hurt – mistakes happen. At some point while you are here (and probably more than once) you will accidently cut or burn yourself. Someone else might even inadvertently burn you. Don’t let this dissuade you. But you have to always be on your toes. Always focused. There is a fine line between a mistake and incompetence.

Genetically Modified Life

By Student Blogger Stephanie Kirkland…

I went to a lecture recently that featured Jeffery Smith, a consumer activist, and author of two books on genetically engineered foods. It was enlightening, to say the least. As I have become more and more aware of the role that genetically engineered foods play in an average diet, it was essential for my growth in the subject to attend.

Of all that was shared, and discussed some main points of interest stood out to me including distribution of food, Food and Drug Administration policy, DNA alteration, and core crops, among others.

He shared with us these numbers: 20% of people in the world are in need of food, while a whopping 33% of food in the world is wasted. The point of this alarming figure was to enforce the idea that there is not a lack of food, but a lack of equitable distribution of food.
Mr. Smith also relayed to us the stages and damages to which GMO and synthetic additives can lead to. The first effect, being actual changes in DNA where unexpected genes are switched on and off. Because of these DNA changes, alterations in RNA can also be affected including proteins and natural composition of genes.

Bt-toxin production is the second effect wherein it is super-concentrated in crops, in particular corn, which pokes holes in human cells causing blood-damage, as well as loss of red blood cells. This even passes to unborn fetus’ which deters brain function, in the womb. Bt-toxin continues to function through digestion and the digestive track and may be transformed into living pesticides. The third effect is with more herbicide use, the more residues on crops that become herbicide tolerant. He went on to inform us that the main industrial herbicide, Roundup, changes at a molecular level; destroys beneficial organisms, dismantles plant defenses, and promotes pathogenic organisms. A perfect storm of weakness and sickness.

At this point of the lecture, my breath slowed as I was becoming more and more aware of every detail and stage of a plant, animal, and humans life that is affected by such things. The manipulation and alteration that is made is in no way beneficial to us and our bodies, but to industry and their pockets. And here I am, stuck. I think of myself now, as a young, informed, aware culinarian and I am still wondering how I can go about avoiding any and all derivatives of genetically modified products and if that is even a realistic goal. My whole lifestyle is in need of a shift in another direction if so. But would also require lengthy research and anxiety when considering the following: primary Roundup-ready, core crops include soy, corn, alfalfa, canola, and cotton; this includes products such as cottonseed oil, alfalfa (hay), and many zucchini and yellow squashes. We eat the weak and sick plants and animals, in turn making us weak and sick.

Mr. Smith showed us an experiment conducted on rats over a period of two years that were fed exclusively genetically modified soy. By the 3rd generation, they were unable to conceive, and had many abscesses on their bodies which led to a verdict that it was inhumane for them to sustain a life with tumors over half of the size of their body weight on them. This led to a conversation about the preference of animals, when given a choice between the genetically modified feed and non-gm feed – they avoid it altogether! Currently, he went on to express, there are no human clinical trials of genetically modified foods and approvals are based only on assumptions.

As he finished his lecture, he asked the crowd in a show of hands of which of us were going to be pro-active about not only following a non-GMO diet and lifestyle, but expressing our concern to others. The number of hands that shot up were innumerable as I too, rose my weary, and past-GMO ignorant hand and heart.