Wednesday, February 27, 2008


The last Hurrah, this is it, the best food I have ever cooked, paired with the best wine available. Truffles.... What more to say?

As a big final cook-off for Llew... he did truffles! We got 21 people total together from ENE (and a few outsiders) for 5 courses (plus two amuse bouche and a palette cleanser) with 6 accompanying wines.

First was Llew ordering the $620 worth, 1 pound, of snap frozen French black winter truffles.

Plus the slicer.

Preparation and pre-cooking (notice the shorts...).

First amouse bouche was a cranberry and raspberry 'caviar'. While the rest of the meal was traditional french, we needed to start with molecular cuisine, and let Llew play with his chemistry set (Calcium carbonate and sodium alginate to be exact).

Matt makes it go 'pop' on the tongue. Huh.

David says, "Interesting".

Heidi and David watch with intrigue as Noemi makes the fake caviar.

I say, "Cheers!"

Heidi says, "Hmmm".

We cleared the living room of couches and furniture and hired 2 8-foot tables. We borrowed the necessary chairs and did fit the 21 people in! Plenty of room actually.

With Llew at the head of the table to describe everything (and smiles from Teri and Kamyar).

After the amuse bouche of caviar and a cream of asparagus soup, served with proscecco, the first actual course was onions... well actually sweet onions, baked in salt (yes of the road kind that is used to de-ice in the winter here), scooped out, and filled with a cheese bechamel sauce, fried onion carvings, a raw egg yolk, thyme, truffle, more cheese sauce and a final scattering of cheese to finish. The inspiration came from Bender, a great Aussie chef :)

with more truffle sliced over the top of course.

Plating, plating, plating. Alex! Sauce NOW!

The second course was de-boned chicken stuffed with turnip greens and mushrooms, served with asparagus, roast Brussels sprouts, and a white wine beurre blanc sauce.

Between every course was the clean-up crew. We actually had enough plates, cutlery and glasses - nearly all borrowed - to do it all, but it was very necessary to clean up as we went, otherwise the end would have been baaaaaaaaad!

The third course was pasta. But not just any pasta, fresh pasta hand made that day by Atossa (her first time!) with powdered dried porcini mushrooms throughout the fresh pasta. It was tossed in butter, olive oil, garlic, red chili flakes, and topped with grated Parmesan cheese, chives and of course, truffle...

Nadia going hard with the parmesan.

After this was a pallet cleanser; cucumber and meyer lemon sherbert. Simply take a whole cucumber, peeled and deseeded, blitz in a food processor, add an equal volume of sugar syrup, the zest and juice of two meyer lemons and blitz for a minute or so. Then add a tablespoon of yogurt (to get the sherbert buzz on the tongue). Allow to freeze in a glass dish in the freezer then scrape with a fork.

More plating... The fourth course was beef. But (of course) not just any beef, but a french classic, Tournedos Rossini. Basically a fillet steak, wrapped in bacon, placed on a fried bread round, topped with a slice of fois gras, truffles and perigueux sauce. We served this with roast veg... delicious :)

The fifth and final course was a simple custard tart flavored with a truffle infused honey. This was made in a cake tin for extra depth, and served with a stewed rhubarb and blackberries sauce...

All having fun - and lots of wine.

The final treat was that everyone went home with truffle-infused oil.

Llew had a ball describing everything. He got a huge round of applause for it all. Yay.

In the end we went though 8 truffles, 17 bottles of wine, 17 sticks of butter, 2.5 litres of cream, 4.5 dozen eggs, 3 chickens, 21 onions, 21 steaks, 21 slices of fois gras, 105 plates, 84 wine glasses, umpteen dozen pieces of cutlery. All for 21 very full, happy people.

Monday, February 18, 2008

10 reasons why good mentoring of students is like stuffing sausages

I was going to post this on the food blog, but I figured that it was more to do with education than food, although some funny metaphores here...

Reading through my food blogs, I came across this post on The Daily Gullet and just had to repost. Make sure you head over to see the original!

I attended a training last fall at which we were asked to share an object representing something important about mentoring, our focus for the week. I suspect that few in the workshop had difficulty coming up with their tape measures, baby photos, and flower pots, but I usually find this sort of assignment challenging, preferring simple denotations to forced connotations.

On the drive home, I rolled down the windows, sensing that the air was turning slightly crisp and cool. I savored that harbinger of autumn in New England, when my thoughts turn to braises, stews and charcuterie. After a summer of keeping the oven off in my non-air-conditioned kitchen, I dreamed of daubes, considered new curries, and generally jonesed for the promise of meat to come.

And then I realized that I had a perfect metaphor for mentoring: my 5 lb. vertical sausage stuffer from Grizzly Industrial, Inc. The next day, I lugged the apparatus to the training, hiding it behind a door for fear of ridicule. When my turn arrived, I hauled it out and clunked it down dramatically on the center table. "Good mentoring is like a sausage stuffer," I said, "for at least ten reasons:

One. When you make sausages, everything -- utensils, machine, meat, fat -- has to be properly cool. If you've got warm meat, you can't make sausage, so don't try. Heat will prevent for a good bind.

Two. It takes two people to make a sausage stuffer work. [Note: That's not entirely true, or at least it's idiosyncratic to my situation. My sausage stuffer is mounted to a free-floating piece of particle board and not to a countertop, and thus someone has to hold the thing still while the other person cranks away. But, hey, cut me some slack. It was overnight homework and I was trying to get to a round number.]

Three. Contrary to popular belief, you do want to know what ingredients are in a sausage. What goes in determines what goes out. Reflecting on the stuff makes the product much better.

Four. To fix a sausage that isn't working, you tweak it slightly; small changes can have big results. Trying to fix everything at once with bold gestures is doomed to fail.

Five. You don't find out whether your sausages are good while you're stuffing them. The proof is in the blood pudding. When you apply heat, good sausages bind unlike elements; bad sausages break and separate.

Six. The sausage stuffer takes something messy and encapsulates it, bringing order where there was chaos.

Seven. You never know everything that there is to know about sausage making. Hubris is your enemy, humility your friend. Ask around and make friends with experts.

Eight. You will never perfect your sausages. The greatest charcutiers in the world stress the impossibility of perfection. Forget about it. There are too many factors beyond your control. Strive for making them as good as you can make 'em.

Nine. The only sane approach to sausage-making is to take the developmental long view. After all, this isn't Plato's cave in which you're hanging the links; it's your unfinished basement. Since you can't get perfection, you want improvement each time.

Ten. Despite all efforts to the contrary, sometimes your sausage turns out really lousy. Flavor dissipates; binds break; good mold flees and bad mold flowers. When sausages go awry, don't wring your hands. Just do the best you can to figure out what happened, toss 'em, and take another crack. I mean, it's just sausage.

It makes me think about what other food inspired analogies can be applied to educational systems...

Thursday, February 7, 2008

More Georgia and conference

Nadia and Robin put the bird feeder up on purpose but didn't expect the squirrels.

Jasmine and Penske love it though.

Then a little trip to this very special tree.

Sunday brunch (yes we got up late) was at the Last Resort which was great and we actually went back for dinner on Monday with some people from the conference.

Speaking of the conference, this was during our "play" session.

One last funny was this snowman made from an ice shaver (not cold enough for snow to settle in Athens) that we had to remove from the freezer to make room for the pie crust.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Georgia - pre conference fun

We left for Georgia amidst a snow storm. We walked 20 minutes in the pouring snow with 6 inches on the ground.

It took 2.5 hours to get to Indy airport but we were still in plenty of time. Flew into Atlanta at 4pm and Nadia picked us up. We went to an amazing farmers' market in Atlanta and spent over an hour finding fresh meat, fish and vegetables. Then an hour drive back to Athens to meet Robin and start cooking (and drinking).

Of course we met the 'children', Penske the cat and Jasmine the dog.

Llew cooked fish the first night with a wonderful fish stock sauce.

Jasmine only gets carrots. (Bit chubby!)

Saturday we had the whole day of fun. Nadia and Robin took us out for some authentic southern experiences. First stop - boiled peanuts just down the road.

Then downtown.

The "pride" of Athens military is the double barrelled cannon. It was supposed to shoot 2 balls conntected by a chain to mow down the opposition. The problem was getting the 2 balls firing at the same time!

This is the monument to the Olympic flame that came through on its way to Atlanta.

This is not a real man-hole, it is where they put the Christmas tree right where I was standing in the last photo.

General street view. Very warm ~70F (20C).

The University of Georgia has the bulldawg as its mascot and the town has really embraced it. Athens with UGA is a lot like greater Lafayette and Purdue. Athens is about 1.5 hours from Atlanta like Lafayette is 1 hour 10 from Indy.

Lunch time! We had to have BBQ. Weaver D's is famous for being the starting place for REM and Weaver D himself always said, "Automatic for the People". The place is bright but small and had great food.

Then we walked around UGA's northern campus starting at the famous gate.

There is a bell that anyone can ring. Must be crazy for the neighbours!

Another thing we had to sample was sweet iced tea. It is great! Although we did realise we were doing the very typical American thing of walking around with huge cups. Seems everyone does it.
We walked down to the stadium. Football is big here too.

Then home to relax. It was even warm enough to "hang out" on the back deck.

That night Llew (helped by Robin and Nadia) made an amuse bouche of asparagus soup and duck 2 ways - breast on asparagus with blackberry sauce and leg confit on roast potatoes and zuchini with a duck stock reduction.

Dessert was blood orange pie with whipped cream of course with home made pastry. We took down a few vanilla pods and they were put to good use.

Then came the drinking and fun and games. Dominos. We played until 3am! Had way too much to drink. Hey, don't have to do anything tomorrow morning. Just got to get to the conference by 5pm.