Pots, Wraps, and Chix / by Anne

mediterranean quinoaThis week began with a bang: The banging of pots, that is.  Although our class begins production this week and cooks for the rest of the culinary and pastry students, my own rotation this week is not even in the kitchen, it's in the dish pit. This is a great thing, though. I have an enthusiastic, almost unnatural love of the dish pit.   It's a big, fast, messy game to me to get the dishes cleaned.  The faster, the better.  I always think of dishwashers (in restaurants) as the drummers of the place.  Not subtle mellow jazz drummers, though.  More like that wacky Animal on the Muppet Show.  At least the dishwashers I like.  The ones that yell, "Bring it on!" and pace around their soapy domains like caged tigers.  So this week I embrace my inner muppet drummer, I guess you could say.  LET'S GO!

Meanwhile, next week my partner and I have "Student Entree" as our station, which means we're coming up with menu items to serve.  This is one of the creativity portions of the quarter.  Anyway, one of the days I'm assigned to do a vegetarian dish.  Looking through a couple cookbooks for inspiration, I saw a recipe entitled "Mediterranean Quinoa."  This both inspired me and led me on a real culinary wild goose chase.

The actual recipe didn't excite me, but suddenly Mediterranean Quinoa was the only thing on earth, apparently, that would do for the menu.  Sometimes I get stuck on an idea and can't let it go.  So I made quinoa and made it into a salad:  artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, mint, red bell peppers, onion, feta cheese, lemon juice, olive oil, you know. All the good things in life.    However, as a quinoa salad it fell flat.  Actually, it fell quite sharp--as in, tart, bright, and no depth.

To bring full, round flavors I added garbanzo beans, and then to make it more creamy I made some tzatziki, thanks to the great recipe provided by Kristen.  I tasted all this together, and it still just was wrong, wrong wrong.  Too much goo and not enough crunch.  Then it occurred to me: why not make this into a sandwich, or better yet, a wrap?  1/4 cup of tzatziki plus a cup of the quinoa salad, topped with lettuce and onions and wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla.  Hot dang!  We have a great vegetarian item for next week.

This whole figuring-out process caused me lots of angst, I have to say.  You know when you wake up in the morning and then are filled with dread because you remembered that last night you: wrecked your car, lost that important letter, said something hideously stupid at a party?  Well, I had that dread when I was in the midst of working on the quinoa salad situation.  Usually it's not so dire, but I suppose it is homework, after all. And I'm a good little student.  A quinoa-wrappin' kind of student.  What a huge relief to get that figured out.  Once the recipe is really, really finalized I'll post it.

Today Chef KG showed us some snazzy ways to fabricate (as in, cut up) chicken.  We made various types of boneless chicken breast ("airline" and "supreme" and "frenched"), and we also learned how to remove the bone from a chicken leg.  For the grand finale, Chef showed us how to de-bone a chicken...without taking it apart.  Can you believe it?

By the end of the demo, he had a large, chicken-meat rectangle, free of bones.  I was stunned by how easy he made it look.  With this meat slab, you can smooth it over with a filling and roll it up into a ballantine--when you slice the roll up, you get a spiral of chicken that includes both dark meat and light meat, as well as the filling.  So dreamy! I can't believe that I'm going to be making those chicken rectangles...and soon.  Better get crackin' (bones.  Sorry, vegetarians.  But I have a great wrap for you).