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Diary: October 27, 2002

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Thursday, October 24

Today was our first market basket day. I was looking forward to this day for some time, with more enthusiasm than trepidation. When we came into the demo kitchen, the following was written on the whiteboard:

½ pound flank steak

1 pound shrimp





yellow squash

baby spinach


butternut squash


potatoes: Idaho, fingerling, or small waxy white


filo dough

arborio rice

pearl barley

any cheeses



any spices/herbs, fresh or dried

wine/other alcohol

1 pint cream

10oz butter

1 pint milk

1½ pints chicken stock

1 cup demi-glace

6 eggs






Items with limited quantities were nonnegotiable. Items with no listed quantity were usable in any amount desired. We were not required to use each item listed. A three course menu, including one dessert, had to be produced by normal service time at 12:30pm. We were divided into teams of three and given a little time to decide what we wanted to make. Chris F, Kristin and I were put together on a team and immediately went to our table to talk over the ingredients.

We agreed quickly that the steak should go into our starter, and the shrimp should be the main part of the entrée. This was because of the quantities involved. We briefly considered doing a vegetarian course for the entrée, but then we decided that the vegetable quality was not likely to be strong enough to make it an appealing option. Here is the menu we ended up creating:

Grilled flank steak spinach salad with grilled vegetables

Sauteed shrimp


Fennel-tomato compote

Apple cake with cinnamon ice cream

Kristin said she wanted to make the salad, and I was enthusiastic about my fennel-tomato compote idea. Chris agreed to go work in pastry on our dessert, and we all got down to business. There was so much time on our hands that we ended up having an hour to devote to other stuff; I spent my spare time working on some croissant dough I’d started on Tuesday morning.

I’m pleased to report that everything came out beautifully, except the risotto was a little too thick and gluey from not being parcooked properly. Kristin’s salad was a serious achievement: grilled zucchini and yellow squash slices fanned on the plate, a mound of dressed spinach, and then soy-balsamic marinated steak slices fanned out over the spinach. There were a few slices of grilled portabello mushroom with the steak, and then a sprig of thyme on top for garnish. Chef Peter said her steak was perfectly cooked, and the combination was excellent. I was very proud of the compote, which was exactly as I’d hoped it would be: soft, melting, slow-cooked fennel and sweet-tart tomato cooked down together with olive oil and a splash of stock.

Some of the plates at other tables were pretty cool. Amy created a real showstopper dessert plate: apple strudel with caramel sauce, cinnamon ice cream and apple chips. The caramel was on the plate, the strudel was cut on a bias and propped up, and the chips were sticking out of the ice cream decoratively. Drew made a grape-strawberry sorbet that made me quite rueful about my strawberry allergy; the dessert was a lovely reddish-purple and was sweetly fragrant. Jonathan produced a beautiful butternut squash ravioli, and Zoe worked on a fresh herb risotto that was topped with fried sage. One team made an upmarket version of steak frites for their entrée; I think they were the only ones to serve potatoes.

I don’t think there was a single dish on any team that was terrible, and most of the combinations and plating were excellent. Everybody had a terrific time, and we can’t wait for next week’s basket. We will be doing market baskets every Thursday for the rest of the classwork phase. Next week, we go up to four courses, and then Chef Peter will cut us back to two-person teams to increase the workload for subsequent weeks.

Fennel-Tomato Compote

Onions, very thinly sliced

Olive oil

Sea salt and white pepper

Fennel, very thinly sliced

Chicken stock

Tomato concasse


Sweat down onions in plenty of olive oil. Season. When softened, add fennel. Soften fennel briefly. Add remaining ingredients and plenty of seasoning. Bring to a boil on the stove and then cover with a cartouche (parchment paper circle). Bake in a moderate oven until completely softened and melted down, about 45 minutes. Stir periodically to prevent sticking. Garnish with fennel fronds.

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Another smashing post, Rochelle. :biggrin:

Ah, what happy memories you brought back! You really get to see all the different ways your classmates think. Market baskets are the most fun I had in school. (Of course, being the pushy broad that I am, I almost always designed the menu :wink: ) We had limited quantities of all the proteins, all the veg and fruits, and the dairy products; only things like staples, stocks, wines, aromatics, and dried herbs/spices were unlimited.

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I am a brand new visitor to eGullet, and your diary entries drew my attention first. I have just caught up to 'real-time' tonight (after about 10 days of reading) and wanted to say how much I have enjoyed your entries. I have been having dreams the last few nights that I am going through what you have described; all sorts of french cooking terms whizing about my head. I am sure that how you have felt too!

Anyhow, I will have plenty of questions on your experience for you and other eGulleters, but I wanted to let you know that I think you are doing a great job and wish you luck with the rest of your schooling!


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I looked over my list as copied off the whiteboard, and you know, apples don't appear on it! :blink: Now that you mention it, I seem to recall some discussion of whether or not we could use pears, but I don't remember the outcome. It's possible that people asked Chef Peter about the apples later, and he said to go ahead. I dunno. We had originally agreed to make a lemon tart, thereby using up all of our butter in one fell swoop, but Chris suggested the apple cake later and nobody had a problem with it.

BigMac, welcome to eGullet. I'm impressed that you waded through all these entries. Please consider posting a bio so we can all get to know you. :biggrin:

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