Sunday, April 26, 2009

Lesson 7: Lessons Learned

I had this post all written up and ready to go many weeks ago; however I have been preoccupied with work, family, and all sorts of stuff that has kept me away from both posting anything and working through the next meal.

I hope to get back on track with the next meal quickly.

Here is my list of Lessons Learned from Menu 7:

1. Chicken is a family-friendly, budget conscious, and in for this menu, an excellent substitute for Guinea Hen.
2. Don't buy cheap pastry bags, they aren't worth the price.
3. When cooking puff pastry, use your own oven.
4. I should let my nephew do all of the technical work (pastry work) so that I don't mess it up.
5. Cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen wasn't as bad as I expected, the oven may be a different temperature, but I didn't have to clean up! (sometimes there are trade-offs that are worth it!)
6. Cook with family, it is a good thing!
7. Cook this main dish again for a family meal! I suggest you do the same!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Lesson 7: Cooking and Eating

Final Plating

This is the first time that I have cooked anything from the book in another kitchen. It didn't throw me off as much as I had expected, but did have one very nice benefit...I wasn't as worried about all of the clean-up because I knew I didn't have to wake up to the kitchen a mess. 

It worked out really well cooking in my sister's kitchen and working with my nephew to cook this meal. I think and hope that he had a good time as well cooking with me.

Together we worked through the prep work on the Guinea Hen and Chicken, while I prepared the birds, he worked on some of the vegetables. Because we were cooking for more than 6, we prepared two separate dishes, one with each bird. This was also necessary because the chicken was so much larger than the guinea hen, and because I figured the flavors would be noticeably different.

There were lots of vegetables to prepare with onions, carrots and cabbage. I do really like the flavor and texture differences that appear when you cook onions at different temperatures for different amounts of time. It amazes me how different the flavor can be. In this dish, the onions were cooked very low, making them very creamy in texture and with a distinct flavor.

The cabbage also got special treatment by boiling and then cooking with all fo the other veggies. Then the chicken was added after being partially cooked in the oven. Liquid was added to the entire pot, along with the sausage, and cooking continued until everything was ready to eat.

As we cleared out the oven, my nephew worked to make the puff pastry dough. He did a great job of making dough that looked very good. 

Puff Pastry Dough

We loaded it into the pastry bag and I tried to pipe a few out onto the baking sheet. I managed to pipe two nice rounds out before breaking the cheap pastry bag. See the picture below.

You can see my handywork here

I turned over the technical work to my nephew who was able to finish piping the entire baking sheet without breaking the second bag.

My nephew's pan (much better than mine)

We cooked the puff pastry per directions, while also making the cheese filling. The directions specifically said not to open the oven for the first 15 min and then cook at a lower temperature for 10min or until done. After the first 15min the puff pastry was brown and overdone. This was sad because if cooked correctly I think the puff pastry would be easy to make and really good. I am going to blame cooking in an unfamiliar oven for this and hope that I can make them again in my own oven.

Again we filled the pastry bag and I started piping the cheese filling into the puff pastries. I managed to pipe 2 puff pastries full until I broke the cheap bag again. We solved this issue by using my first idea, using a ziploc bag as a pastry bag. My nephew poked holes in the pastries and I filled with the cheese filling from the make-shift pastry bag.

The puff pastries were good when hot, but the filling cooled very quickly and the exterior was definitely overcooked. The kids really liked these because they were bite size and crunchy.

When the main dish was done we took apart the guinea hen and chickens and plated all of the food. With the kids, we took the meat off of the bones and gave them lots of veggies. 

Guinea Hen, Sausage, Veggies, and Choux Puffs

I thought the dish was really great! The cabbage and other vegetables were very flavorful, and the guinea hen and chicken were fantastic. I wasn't overly excited about the sausage that I chose, and I would have been just as happy without it. I did think that chicken was a really great subsitute and would make this an affordable meal for a family dinner.

After all of the plates were cleaned up, we get ready for dessert. I would call dessert a mixed bag, not completely successful, but interesting enough in flavor that it might be worth a second attempt.

I had made the dessert the night before and chilled it so it would set up. Making the Creme Anglaise wasn't a big deal, adding in the gelatin, strawberries and heavy whipping cream went fine, and before going into the fridge, I tasted a bit. It reminded me of the frothy strawberry flavored drinks from Orange Julius that we used to get at the mall when I was a kid. I like the flavor, but found it strikingly out of place. I knew the final texture would be very different from those drinks as well.

As I took the dessert out of the mold, or bowl that I had used, it spread out over the entire plate like a squished UFO. 

Strawberry Bavarian Cream (UFO)

I don't know if it was the shape I used, or that the gelatin hadn't set as firmly as I expected, or maybe a combination of both. The kids sure didn't mind having dessert that wasn't as firm as I had excpected, and to me there was a suprisingly positive response. The taste was again like a strawberry Orange Julius and the texture was more like yogurt. It wasn't as sweet as some of the other desserts, and I think would make a nice addition to a summer meal with fruit to go with it.

I would give this a so so on the complete execution of the meal, as well as a so so on the full meal, however I really enjoyed cooking with my nephew and spending time with my sister and her family. I would definitely make the main course again, substituting chicken as a family meal-flavorful, hearty and really not that technically difficult.

More to come in Lessons Learned.