Monday, April 21, 2008

Minestrone madness

Pictured above: minestrone soup and New England clam chowder, two of the three soups my partner and I made in class today, the one not pictured being Wisconsin beer cheddar soup (tastes better than it sounds, I promise). I must say, today was a fantastic contrast to how terribly I felt last Monday in the kitchen. Though we weren't doing anything we hadn't done before, as our first project ever was soup, I feel like I'm finally starting to pull away from the recipes and listen to instinct. How something looks or feels is becoming more important and apparent to me than ever before, even in contrast to mere weeks ago.

A perfect example: We did cream of tomato soup three weeks ago, and the original recipe calls for far too much chicken broth and makes a very thin and unappetizing soup. Because I wasn't paying attention, I just did what the recipe said and our soup, of course, turned out to be much too watery. Thankfully we had extra roux leftover and were able to save the soup from total tomato disaster. The roux thickened up nicely, but we could have avoided having to add the extra roux had I just been watching when I added the stock. Anybody would have seen it was way too thin.

Today, I was determined to make our soups shine. In the past three days, we've tasted the same three soups every day, but each day tastes totally different as made by different teams. Two out of three times the minestrone soup was bland, flavorless, and basically tasted like vegetable water. The original recipe for minestrone, like the cream of tomato, also calls for far too much stock, which was the main problem with the previous versions of the soup. My partner also smartly suggested using vegetable stock instead of chicken stock, as minestrone is essentially a vegetable soup and the veg stock really highlights the sweet, garden-y qualities of the veggies in use.

After sweating the small-diced vegetables, I deglazed the minestrone vegetables in white wine, which the original recipe did not call for but I thought would be a great kick in sweetness and acidity. We added the veg stock and let it simmer, meanwhile working on seasoning the other soups. We used a nice, extra-sharp white cheddar and Red Stripe beer for the beer cheese soup, and my clam-chowder-disliking partner and I reached a happy medium for size of clams and consistency of chowder. My partner ended up liking the clam chowder so much, she took some home. I call that a victory for all clam-chowder lovers out there.

I think today was the best overall of the last four days of production in the kitchen. I felt the most prepared, having written out a prep list last night and read and re-read the recipes. Our mise en place was well-prepped, we paced ourselves well and we cleaned as we worked, so by the time the soups were done, we only had to wash our soup pots and serving utensils (as opposed to a pile of bowls, pie pans, cutting boards and whatever else we may have dirtied up in the process).

Tomorrow is day one of what is basically our two-day midterm exams, though my chef instructor hesitates to use the word "exam" or anything test-related, for fear of giving us the willies. I admit to having a few butterflies in the tummy, but I think it's just a matter of having the confidence to kick some butt. Wish me luck!


LadyConcierge said...

I had dinner there last night and Chef Randall was nice enough to give us a tour. Looks like a great place to learn and good small classes. The stocks smelled heavenly. So did the freshly baked bread.

Ingrid said...

I'm really happy with OCI. When I start Term 3 I'll let PortlandFood know so you can come in for lunch one day while I'm in the kitchen!