Monday, 14 February 2011

The Restaurant Lye!

Okay, so the title isn't thaaat cool. It sounds kinda cool though. : ) The title is telling you what I will write here: about my internship, and about making lye.

Starting now, on Thursdays I am interning at the Stone TABLE restaurant. Run by someone in our church. It is high quality, without being over the top expensive. He does lunch, dinner, and caters. He doesn't do breakfast, but has a few book clubs and such that meet on a regular basis for breakfast. Right now, I am learning, and not getting paid (at this point I would feel bad if I was getting paid), my pay is learning, which I am fine with. I am not tight on money, I don't have many costs (besides a few hobbies : ) and I have opportunity to earn money on catering jobs they do.

The first day, last Thursday I arrived a few minutes after 10am, took off my coat, put on an apron, and was introduced to the staff. For the lunch crew he has 4-5 people who work, he had to let go his dinner chef last week, and he does dinner now. I washed my hands (did it about 3 dozen times while working), and peeled potatoes for mashed potatoes. After that I sliced up some turkey, and followed Matthew around, watching him and the other 2 chefs.

At 1:30pm, I left with Matthew, he had to run a commercial with a local radio station. That was kind of cool. I got to be in the room when Matthew and the broadcaster had the commercial, saw the broadcaster edit out all the uh's. : ) What you really here on the radio is NOT what is really said, just an edited version, it's all a lie. : )

We went back, finished up lunch, the crew left, after the Japanese chef gave me a Japanese plum to try. It was quite sour/bitter, not quite sure how to describe it. He said I handled it quite well, with only my face turning red. : ) It had a slight plum flavor, but was devoid of sugar! Like nothing I've had.

After they left and lunch was closed we were able to sit down and eat. I had had a small breakfast, and Matthew doesn't eat anything, just runs on coffee until about 2:30 when we had lunch. Mashed potatoes, some ham, grits (quite good, haven't had grits in a long time) and salad.

Then we prepared for dinner. In the restaurant like his, everything is preparation, having everything ready to cook, or serve, vegetables or meat. He had me using my knife skills on cutting up scallions for garnish, that was good. He also had me cut up mushrooms, and then cooking them. We started off with some olive oil (olive oil and kosher salt are stables, the olive oil keeps the flavor of the food on the tongue, the salt seasons, he likes to have the food so that you do not have to season it.), and he showed me how to flip the mushrooms. Take the frying pan (big, has to be lightweight) and shake it away from you so that the food starts to slide up out of the pan, then with a flip of the wrist bring it back in, catching the mushrooms. This coats the mushrooms, cooking them evenly, without having to stir them with something. Next we seasoned with kosher salt. The reason for kosher salt is the coarse texture, that allows you to grab it with your fingers, feel it. Next we put in some Chardonnay to add acid to it. He had me try it. Typically I don't like mushrooms, but under certain circumstances I like them. Usually when I'm cooking, like then, or when I have a lot of relatives around, like for a wedding (I have specific times in my head). I like them this way, quite good!

Next we made clarified butter. The reason for clarifying butter is so that it has a much higher smoking point. We melted 2-3 pounds of unsalted butter. For cooking it is better to have unsalted butter, so that you can adjust the seasoning your self, so that it doesn't offset the recipe. We cooked the butter for quite sometime until it browned some. We took it off the heat, and spooned off the foam (not much) some of the other solids had gone to the bottom and browned. We poured off the 'middle', the part we wanted. The foam he did not keep, but said you can save it for adding into mashed potatoes and such to add good flavor.

Then he had me cut up some other things. If you are in the restaurant business you will learn french. Because most of what is in the kitchen is called by its french name. I'm still learning it. I cut up roasted red peppers.

At around 4:30pm he had me mix up Blueberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake for breakfast, he had some group of people who come every Friday. I should have known better, but didn't put the clues together. He told me how many cups of blueberries to use for the syrup (double the amount called for), but I never heard him say he was doubling it. So, I doubled the blueberries, but nothing else. I made the whole recipe, and then realized what I had done. I really like Matthew, laid back, and said it was fine. So I got a different pan, put everything in it, the batter, than cream cheese, then blueberry syrup.

I started the second batch, assuming he would want to have two, like he had planned to do one double batch. So, I got the sugar and flour, mixed it, added the butter, cut it in. And then, I asked Matthew about something. He said that one cake would be enough. I thought on that. I then said, ooook, ummm...I had already started on the second one...again, laid back like he is, it was fine. It was 20 till 6pm (when I was going to leave, it had taken up until that time to make the first one), he said since I already had made one, it wouldn't be long to whip up the other one. So, I quickly threw together the next one, leaving everything ready to be put into the pan.

It was a wonderful day, quite fun. I dread a lot of appointments, like flute lesson, and other things I do outside the home, but, I will look forward to each Thursday! I feel quite at home in the kitchen!

And now, onto Lye and gardening.

This is a long post, but hopefully it will make up for the long silence.

I ordered from Johnny's, quite expensive, because I was ordering 250ft of agribon row cover, and 100ft of greenhouse plastic, those together, with shipping were over $120. I also ordered some pumpkin seeds, and red potatoes. I am hoping today maybe to get the agribon over one of my beds to see how it does.

I am buying onion sets and white potatoes from Lowes, and also any seeds that I need. I have most of my seed, leftover from last year, and from what I grew and saved seed from.

Lye. At church friends of ours had been saving wood ashes from their wood stove for me. I got quite a lot, 3 trash bags worth, which is about 2-3 5 gallon buckets worth.

On Saturday I rendered some ham fat, and put together it with bacon fat I had been saving. Totaling an amount of about 3 cups or so, weighing I would guess to be around 2lbs.

Today I took one of my 50gallon barrels, sawed off the top, drilled a hole, plugged it with a cork. Filled the bottom 2" with sand and rocks, added 6 inches of hay to it, then the ashes. Made a depression, packed it down some, and filled it with about 4 gallons of rain water (2 gallons from the gutter collection, and 2 from the creek).

So, we shall see what I get. I've been trying to find out EXACTLY what the pH for potassium hydroxide (wood ash lye) should be. Finally found one place that said pot. hydr. is 11pH while sodium hydroxide (commercial lye) is 13pH. So, I have pH test strips and will be checking the pH to see if I need to boil off, or run through again, to obtain higher or lower pH.

Once I have that, I will be trying to get an EXACT ratio of lye to fat. Most things are quite general: get lye strong enough for egg to float just a quarter. get lye strong enough so that it just starts to dissolve a feather when added. etc. etc. etc. WHY DON'T PEOPLE HAVE HARD FACTS??? Anyway.....I'm tired of writing for so long, and will go.

English Vintner

p.s. Here is a link to the Stone TABLE: