Brie with that whine?

This morning I’m down with a jammed Achilles tendon and worried about work today. While I’m not afraid to ask for help if I need it, everyone is busy doing other work and getting ready for service.

My current job, doing appetizers for the 15th floor concierge and the restaurant buffet, puts me outside the line cook structure. It gives me a lot of freedom and lets me play with food in an intense way, but I have to deliver two apps, 200 pieces total, by our deadline and the line cooks count on me to get it done so they don’t have to screw with it.

(Yeah, the number keeps going up and so does the attrition rate. I was making chicken and brie empanadas, dropping four at a time into the basket and then frying them off while I went around the corner to assemble four more. So I’d come back to pull the basket, and there’d be … three. This went on for like, an hour. Couldn’t catch the guy who was wolfing them down.

(When I made crab and corn fritters last week, I had to make 35 extra just because they were disappearing inside the kitchen. OKAY, IT’S A COMPLIMENT, BUT JEEZ.)

Enough talk. Minus the repeats, here’s last week’s effort:

Cheddar Wrap — Cheddar tortilla filled with pulled chicken, sauteed mushroom stems, house cheese mix and black bean salsa, dressed with mustard vinaigrette. Cut each tortilla into four wraps.

Ricotta Tartine — Split baguette into two sides, coat interior with orange marmelade cut with allspice. Mix roasted pine nuts with dried cranberries and ricotta. Spread mix on marmelade, put in 350 oven for 5 minutes, cut baguettes into 1-inch pieces.

Hummus Mushrooms — Fill mushroom caps with hummus, place sauteed small-dice mixed bell peppers on hummus, top with dab of goat cheese. Broil briefly to warm and color goat cheese.

Smoked Chicken Empanadas — Cut empanadas in half, spread halves with egg wash. Fill one with smoked chicken, shredded cheddar, crushed almonds and sour cream to bind. Place other half on top, crimp edges and deep fry.

Apple Cheddar Crostini — Grate half a dozen peeled Granny Smith apples, mix with three cups of grated cheddar, mayo, honey and Dijon. Add pepper to taste. Spread on 2-inch toasted rye rounds,  broil to warm.

Asparagus Rolls — Remove crusts from a loaf of white bread and roll pieces flat. Top with a 3-1 mix of cream cheese and Bleu cheese. Place lightly cooked asparagus spear at edge of bread slice and roll up. Drench in melted butter, roll in black sesame seeds and bake for 10 minutes in 400 oven. Cut each roll into three pieces.

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A week’s worth

This is my first seven days of appetizers, with rough directions.

Black Bean Torte — Mash cooked black beans with minced jalapenoes. Spread mix on a tortilla, add another tortilla, spread mix and go up 3 to 4 layers. Put in 350-degree oven for 20 minutes until golden brown, cut in 8 slices.

Shredded Beef Breadsticks — Butter and bake French breadsticks (about 1-inch diameter) until browned. Cut in 3 or 4 sections, hollow out with paring knife. Stuff with shredded roast beef tossed with horseradish, and top with cheddar cheese. Sear sticks cheese-side down until sealed.

Fish Croquettes — Break up several pounds of leftover cooked fish. Mix with 1 egg per pound of fish and capers, parsley and Old Bay. Make small balls, dust with flour, roll in egg wash and coat with panko. Deep fry until golden.

Eggplant Tartine — Split baguette into two sides, coat interior with hummus. Chop grilled eggplant and sun-dried tomatoes with arugula or frisee, toss with oil and vinegar, salt and pepper. Spread mix on hummus, top with crumbled bleu cheese and put under broiler briefly to soften cheese.

Roma BLTs — Roast Roma tomatoes until slightly soft to the touch, about 25 minutes in a 350 oven. Cut off stem end, scoop out interior and stuff with several small frisee leaves. Place chopped cherry tomatoes on frisee, spoon pesto mayonnaise on top and sprinkle with minced cooked bacon.

Arancini — Make small balls of leftover risotto, push thumb into center, insert a wad of Brie, close ball. Dust with flour, roll in egg wash and coat with panko. Deep fry until golden.

Crostini — Slice baguette on the bias into 1/4 inch pieces. Spray with butter or olive oil and toast in 350 oven for 10 minutes or until crunchy. Top with smoked chicken, brie and julienne red peppers.

Smoked Catfish Burritos — Fill tortillas with cabbage, roasted corn salsa and sliced smoked catfish, roll into burrito shape and cut in thirds.

Stuffed Mushrooms — Stem mushrooms, saute stems and spinach, mix with minced cooked bacon and stuff mixture into mushroom caps.

Quesadillas — Mix shredded cheddar and cream cheese about 3 to 1. Spread on half of a tortilla, top with cooked chicken pieces, fold over and grill or saute. Cut into 8 pieces.

Cherry Tomato Frittatas — Mix eggs with ricotta and parmesan. Saute, adding roasted cherry tomatoes and carmelized onions. Once set on top, finish in 350 oven and slice into 8 pieces.

Deadlines

It was early in the shift, and Sous Chef and I were talking and chopping. He was curious about my background, so I told him a bit about life at The Paper-News (that’s what my daughter called it when she was little, and I’ve always liked the name). He brought up the similarity of deadline work with cooking and journalism, and he was right both ways. The first is what everyone thinks of with deadlines: getting a task done by XX o’clock. No leeway, no excuses, no calling in sick, just get it done. Very similar in both occupations.

The other is the floating deadline, getting something done as quickly as possible without cutting corners. Getting the food out in timely fashion, getting the story written and published as soon as possible. Working faster than other people. It’s the acquired skill that occasionally makes you laugh at your own anxieties.

Over the summer, I had the floating deadline at the Patio Grill. Now I have the firm deadline with appetizers — I have three hours to make two appetizers, 100 pieces each.

It’s always a horse race, but some days the horse goes lame. On Thursday, for instance, I flunked meat grinding. I started with 20 pounds of beef scraps and only got about five pounds of ground meat before the inner bits of the grinder overheated. That heat transfers to the beef, and it comes out in a partially cooked grey smear. Yucch.

As my wife will tell you, I am totally incompetent with machines. That’s as in using machines. Actually fixing a machine — lawn tractor, car, computer — is way beyond my abilities. But in a crunch, WTF. I shut down the grinder, took it apart, hauled the pieces over to Dish, cleaned them, put it all back together and started again.  Two minutes later, smear. Took it apart etc. On the way back to the grinder, I stopped and asked one of the line cooks what to do.  “You need ice,” he said. “Put a couple pieces in every minute or so to keep it cool.”

That worked eventually, but by the time I was ready to make meatballs I’d lost 90 minutes … and I’d done nothing about the other app in my head, the smoked catfish taco.  Okay, meatballs first. I went to dry storage for basil, oregano and granulated garlic, grabbed parmesan from the cooler and picked up an onion. I chopped the onion down, threw it on the meat and added the spices. There is no teaspoon this, 1/2 tablespoon that … almost all measurement is by sight. I added salt and pepper and started squishing the ground meat.

The week before, I’d found I could make meatballs with both hands, which really came in handy now. I cranked out two sheet pans of golf-ball size apps in about 15 minutes (yeah, I clocked myself), and thought about the catfish tacoes while I was doing it.

The major chunk of work involved would be the roasted corn salsa. I’d done that a lot over the summer, and I thought I could make it in half an hour. As soon as I finished the meatballs, I put them in the oven and walked quickly to the produce cooler for six ears of corn, a green pepper, cilantro, a jalapeno and a tomato. No cilantro. Fine, I picked up some parsley from the banquet prep table, already chopped. No jalapenoes. Okay, went back to dry storage and got crushed red pepper flakes.

I stripped the corn, rolled it in olive oil and put in on the grill, sending flames four feet high. Exec Sous Chef ran over and had me pull the corn off before the fire suppression system kicked in. Oops. I’d never seen that happen, so I didn’t know it could. He had me rinse some of the olive oil off and put the corn back on. Which was cool, but the five minutes I’d gained by not chopping the cilantro and the jalapeno was lost to the false start at the grill. Damn.

With about an hour to go, I had the salsa made and I was marking the tortillas on the grill. Usually it’s just a presentation factor — people like food with grill marks — but with tortillas, putting them on the grill both softens the bread and makes a nice pocket when they’re folded in half.

When I first thought of making a taco appetizer, I had in mind a small tortilla, about 4 inches across. We didn’t have any. We had 8-inch tortillas, way big for an hors d’oeuvre. I was standing next to Banquet Chef at the grill, and asked him how he’d cut it. Four pieces, he said.

So I had the elements: tortillas, corn salsa, shredded cabbage and a dozen smoked catfish fillets that I’d cut into 1/4-inch strips. Forty minutes to go.  I pulled the meatballs out, tossed them in a demi-glace that Banquet had left over from lunch, and put them aside to start assembling the tacoes. Thirty-six minutes to go.

Dinner apps go two places, out to the restaurant and up to the Towers concierge on the 15th floor, where people are paying $450 a night for a room. So a hotel pan full of appetizers had better look … appetizing.

These didn’t, I realized after about 10 minutes. They looked okay cut into triangles, but in the pan they jumbled together.  With the quesadillas I’d done a few days before, the melted cheese bound the layers together. Nothing kept these together. I had a service pan half-full of what looked like garbage. Twenty-five minutes to deadline.

What? What to do? How to make this work as individual pieces that people would want to pick up and eat? Toothpicks? Stuck somehow through a triangle maybe 3/16ths of an inch thick. No.

No, not smoked catfish tacoes. Smoked catfish burritos. Well, sorta burritos. Nothing the National Burrito Council would support, but a burrito shape would save my bacon. And my catfish. Ta-Da!!!!

So I grabbed a tortilla off the pile, slammed some cabbage into it and a handful of corn salsa, laid in three strips of catfish, rolled it, stuck it with three toothpicks and cut it into three pretty little wraps. Three down, 97 to go in the next 19 minutes.

Chieko stopped by to ask how soon the appetizers would be ready. I didn’t answer so she walked away. She came back and asked again, and said she was ready to take out to the restaurant. The fact that they weren’t ready didn’t seem to be relevant. I pulled in my focus and pushed food into the tortilla, rolled it, stuck it, cut it and panned it, then reached for the next tortilla. Chieko asked if she was making me nervous.

Matthew the server stopped by to tell me a pizza recipe I’d asked him for about three hours ago. I managed to nod while he rattled it off and told me about his vacation. I estimate nodding took about 4.8% of my energy, or roughly 3 seconds per burrito.

Kumba stopped by and asked if I needed anything. Yes, I said, I need toothpicks in all those meatballs. “All of them?” she said. Yup. “All right, my friend,” she said. It was already past her quitting time. I would never have asked her to stay, but since she asked me …

With 8 minutes to go and about 30 pieces left to do, Exec Chef stopped by and told me to put the pan in the over for 5 minutes so the apps go out hot. Yes, chef. So it was actually 3 minutes to go.

Exec Chef has this theory that people can work as fast as they need to to beat the clock. I have this theory that I only learn by doing something a hundred times. Those two theories fused in that moment and my hands were a blur, my knife flew, my brain pushed and the pan filled up with the last of the small toothpicked burritos. I stuck ’em in the oven, cleaned up my station and pulled ’em out.

Right on time.

Cheesetopia

As a public service, here’s Jeff Katcher’s cheesy letter from Camp Hill:

Cheesetopia News

October 2, 2008 Edition

Hello everyone,

In this edition of Cheesetopia News, I’ll tell you about Stichelton, a fantastic raw-milk version of the celebrated English cheese, Stilton; present our specials running this week and next; announce an early closing this Friday; and answer our question of the week.

Stichelton-Ye Olde Stilton

Following a Listeria scare in 1989, the last maker of raw-milk Stilton in England switched to using pasteurized milk. While pasteurization does eliminate undesirable microorganisms in milk, it also kills off good bacteria and inactivates enzymes that contribute to the complex and lively flavor profile of an artisanal cheese. Nonetheless, by dint of long experience, a few dairies were able to continue turning out Stilton cheeses of good quality.

A few years ago, Joe Schneider, an American expatriate cheesemaker and Neal’s Yard Dairy, a renowned British cheese seller and exporter, joined forces to revive traditional farmhouse, raw-milk Stilton. The recipe and technique have been continuously tweaked and improved based on comments from shops and their customers, as well as the cheesemaker’s personal assessment. The result, while still a work in progress, is a masterpiece, one that retains all of the meaty essence of a Stilton, but has the inimitable buttery texture, sweet flavor and astonishingly long finish that only a raw-milk cheese can deliver.

Why isn’t it called Stilton? Well, Stilton is the only Protected Denomination of Origin (PDO) cheese in the UK. When earlier production of raw-milk Stilton ceased, the PDO standard was revised and now specifies that Stilton must be made from pasteurized milk. So the new raw-milk cheese needed to have a different name. “Stichelton” was selected, because it is the ancient name for the village of Stilton.

We have brought in a small amount of Stichelton. (If customers like it, we’ll try to get more.) It’s not inexpensive, but we think that the phenomenal quality more than justifies the price. If you love Stilton, you owe it to yourself to taste this superlative version. As with Stilton, a port or other sweet wine makes a perfect companion. A hearty ale might do the trick, too.

Finally, we also have some Stilton from Colston Bassett, generally acknowledged to be the best of the seven current producers of Stilton, and one of only two to hand ladle the curd, which yields a more even, creamier texture. Our supply comes from a wheel that was hand selected by Neal’s Yard Dairy for its exceptional condition. Stop in, compare the Stilton and Stichelton, and see which one you prefer.

Our Current Specials Running Through Saturday, October 11

Cucina Antica Pasta Sauces -These superior pasta sauces are made from imported San Marzano tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil. The natural sweetness of the tomatoes eliminates the need for added sugar, so these healthful sauces have fewer calories than run-of-the-mill supermarket brands and much more flavor! All come in family-size 25 oz. jars. Choose from:

Tomato Basil-Versatile: use as is or add meat, mushrooms or anything else you like.

Puttanesca-Give zest to your pasta with Italian olives and capers.

La Vodka-A little cream, a little cheese, a lot of panache, but no vodka (darn!)

Arrabbiata-If you like your sauce spicy (but not too spicy), this one’s for you.

Marinara-Redolent of garlic, as a great marinara sauce should be!

Tomato basil, arrabbiata and marinara sauces regularly $9.95. On sale for $8.25. Save $1.70! Puttanesca and La Vodka sauces regularly $10.75. On sale for $8.95. Save $1.80!

Our imported Rustichella d’Abruzzo pastas are perfect under your sauce. Their shape and rough surface, created by extruding the pasta through bronze dies, really grab hold of sauce, and their flavor is far superior to anything you can get at the supermarket. Select from eight varieties.

Two Enticing Italian Cheeses on Special

Aged Provolone-Several customers have told me that they’ve been unable to find aged, extra sharp Provolone in this area. Well, we have it here at Cheesetopia! Our Provolone “Vantia” is imported from Italy and is perfect for shaving over salads or just enjoying on its own. On sale for $12.50 a lb.  Save $2.45 a lb.!

Pecorino Crotonese-Italy is famous for its pecorino, or sheep’s milk cheeses. (“Pecora” is the Italian word for sheep.) While Pecorino Romano is perhaps the best known in the US and is widely used to grate over pasta, there are many other illustrious pecorinos from different regions of Italy. The recipe for Pecorino Crotonese originated in Calabria, although the cheese is now made mostly in Rome and its environs. It is much less salty than Pecorino Romano, with an alluring flavor that is earthy and a bit reminiscent of sun-dried tomatoes. On sale for $13.95 a lb.  Save $3.00a lb.!

Question of the Week

Q: How are blue cheeses made?

A: The veins in a blue cheese are caused by a Penicillium mold (Penicillium Roqueforti or, less often, Penicillium Glaucum). The mold is related to, but different from, the one from which Penicillin is derived.

The mold spores are introduced near the start of cheesemaking-usually to the milk before the curds are formed-but the mold needs oxygen to develop. Once the cheeses are shaped and have begun to age, they are “needled, ” i.e., deeply pierced all over to create air channels that enable the growth of the mold. Depending on the closeness of the holes and the density of the paste, there may be more or less molding in different blue cheeses. While we call this category of cheeses “blue,” the actual color may appear bluish gray, green, or even purplish.

I am sometimes asked if someone who is allergic to Penicillin can eat blue cheeses. The answer is generally yes, since there are few, if any, documented cases of people who claim to be allergic to Penicillin having a negative reaction to blue cheeses. (Still, you should follow the advice of your doctor if you have any concerns.)

There is a common misconception that “blue cheese” is a single entity. In reality, there are many kinds of blue cheeses. They exhibit a range of strengths and consistencies, from mild and creamy to strong, crumbly and spicy. If you’ve been put off by a strong-tasting blue cheese, try a milder one. You may just find one to your liking!

Do you have a question regarding cheese or a specialty food you would like answered? Email me at jeffkatcher@comcast.net.

Until next time, may the cheese be with you!

Jeff Katcher

Owner, Cheesetopia

Cheesetopia

2201 Market Street (rear of building)

Camp Hill, PA 17011

Tel: 717-901-5999

Apps

Eggplant Tartine

Eggplant Tartine

A week or so ago Sous Chef told me to come up with a fondue and two new apps every day. So I did and sous chef said “Good. Give me 75 pieces by five o’clock.”

HFS. He dished the fondue, but the apps were all mine. Three hours to make black bean torte miniatures and little baguettes stuffed with shredded corned beef and cheddar. HFS. The beans were stone dry and i had to do them in the steamer. And instead of corn tortillas we had a metric ton of empenadas, which are somewhere between puff pastry and flatbread. Interesting.

As for the corned beef, nada. We had flatiron steaks left over from lunch. I shredded the shit out of them on the Hobart and mixed that with horseradish. it worked.

Since then, I’ve done fish croquettes, mushroom caps stuffed with bacon and spinach, quesadillas, smoked catfish tacos and beaucoup other apps — and — the best so far, eggplant tartines: Open-face baguettes smothered in hummus covered with a grilled eggplant, sun-dried tomato and frisee mix tossed with oli and sherry vinegar, then topped with bleu cheese. I cut them in one-inch pieces. Spec-freaking-tacular. Everyone who tasted it loved it, and it looked good.