Believe me, school has never been this good to me! Yes, I went to a school, but I am not going to school *Phew!* It was great, I won a coveted seat at the final exam tasting of the 3rd semester culinary students of the culinary division of Nashville Tech. I got to take some of the the students' final exams, and I had no stress for taking the exams. It was a piece of cake for me. Seriously it was my pleasure to partake in the offerings on this evening.
As I got there, there was a table set up in a meeting/classroom with a lovely chocolate center piece. The chocolate sleigh had an intricate design drawn with chocolate on the site. It was filled with painted white chocolate boxes adorned with white chocolate poinsettia leaves, and white chocolate ribbons. The center piece was an exercise from the dessert class, and place on the table for our visual pleasure. If you look closely at this edible centerpiece, you may see that someone has already broken off the front of the sleigh as a taste test.
There were other non-cooking classes, final projects, and exams going on during this culinary final exam, and there were a few students mulling around sniffing and wondering what smelled so good. Think back (or for some, think now) to your starving school years. For my college years, when any adult would come visit, and offer a free meal, it was like winning the lottery for me. To be a student at Nashville Tech while working hard and having to smell the delicious food must have been really tough. I don't think that I could go back to school, it is way too hard for me. The only way I can go back is to do is the way I did it this night, and that is to taste tasty treats.
To start, there was a simple salad of greens, black beans, cheese and a yogurt dressing. The dressing was fantastic. It was low fat yogurt, cilantro, lemon, lime and a dash of honey. I can make that. There was just enough citrus, and a lot of cilantro, which I like. I love cilantro in many things, like this dressing, or even simply steamed over fish. I heard that there are some people who have a gene that makes them perceive the cilantro flavor as floral soap instead of a fresh aromatic herb. I am thankfully not one of the soap people.
One of the main courses, cooked by Brandon from N.O.L.A, was a meatloaf and potato dish. The meatloaf had no egg in it, to my surprise, as it was flavorful, moist, tender without it. I asked Brandon what his ingredient list was, and it included two cuts of beef, one with more fat than the other, and two types of sausage. One sausage he said was regular breakfast sausage, can you believe that? He confirmed there was no garlic, but he considered it, then thought there were so many other ingredients in it, that garlic would just be too confusing. The other flavorings and other sausage made this meatloaf quite flavorful all the way through, and garlic was not necessary. The sauce involved with this dish was a meaty tangy sauce. I asked him what went in it, and of course it is beef roast drippings and veal stock reduction. OK, the last time I attempted a veal stock reduction was... oh, yes that was never, and the last time I made a roast with enough pan drippings was years ago. There is no hope to make this at home. So, I pressed Brandon to find out where he works when he is not at school, so I could get some more of this sauce and meatloaf. Sadly, I don't think that I can unless I buy a catered affair to fill a function room. Hmmm, $30/head, 100 people, tax, tip, room rental, bar rental, staff wages ... ok, maybe that is a bit excessive to get more really great meatloaf.
The next main dish was made by Fran, and was inspired by Northern California. It was a tilapia with a butter, white wine, and raisin sauce over a rice pilaf. The pilaf had garlic, onion, chicken stock, and white wine in it. I learned something today. I asked what made a pilaf a pilaf instead of just another rice dish. Pilaf is a process, like risotto is a process. Pilaf involves stove top toasting the rice in oil with onion and garlic, then flaming with white wine, then adding the chicken stock to cook the rice like normal. This rice was quite yummy with the fish on top of it, and the fish sauce and raisins that dripped down into it. The raisins were not too sweet, and the rice flavor was not too strong, so the combination of slightly sweet and slightly savory were a perfect match. The pilaf was a nice representation of what a real pilaf tastes like. I am guilty of making the prepackaged "pilaf" brands from Near East, Zataran, and Rice-a-Roni. All of them have the same manufactured flavor (made in New Jersey at the flavor center) that is what has become associated with pilaf. That boxed flavor has some glutamate molecules in it to make it addicting, the aroma is completely manufactured to be garlicky (but is not at all what fresh garlic smells like), and those flavor and aroma attributes do not occur in nature. It was my pleasure to taste what a real pilaf tastes like, it is definitely more delicate and subtle than those boxed ones, and it felt good to eat real ingredients that do occur in nature.
The veggie side made by Fran was also inspired by Northern California. She made simple fresh veggies with roasted garlic and white wine. The method for this volume of veggies she made was to sautee the veggies on the stove top, and then put them onto a baking pan and put them in a low oven until we were ready to be served. They were good, and perfectly done. The veggies were cooked, but not soggy or floppy, and still were just al dente, the way I like them. I think the time in the oven helped the veggies become the way I like them. I pressed Fran for how she made this dish because I have problems with my stove top veggies, sometimes they burn, sometimes they are not cooked all the way, sometimes I drown them in wine or water. There was even one occasion that I made sauteed green beans that were burnt on the outside and some were completely uncook on the inside. I know, burnt and raw at the same time, how? For whatever it is worth, it never occurred to me that I could move stir fried or sauteed veggies into an oven to finish the cooking. Next time I make veggies like this, I will start them on the stove top, and then put them in the oven on low while I cook my other dishes.
As a sweet ending, Tracy made a bread pudding for us. The bread pudding possibly had some fat and sugar grams in it with a quart of cream, over a dozen eggs, a couple cups of sugar and choco chips. It was was a Sweet Home Alabama recipe from Tracy's Mama. Tracy's Mama is from a small little town in Alabama, and when Tracy was a kid, the only place to eat was at Tracy's Mama's home cooking restaurant. Tracy's Mama is one of those Southern women who just seemed to be born with the country soul to make Southern comfort foods. Tracy learned this sweet dessert from her Mama at an early age, and carried on with it today.
This whole trip back to school was exciting and yummy. I will be vying for a seat next year and partake again. It was the best final exam I ever had. So, in the meantime, all I have left are my memories of this meal, and to look forward to cooking demonstrations from the Nashville Tech Culinary Division on TV! Yuppers, I was told that on Nashville Public Access TV, they will be showing Spring Semester cooking classes. I got Tracy's email, and I am gonna keep emailing her to find out when the cooking classes are coming up for me to watch. Ya know, FoodTV has moved away from cooking classes like Juila and Kerr, and moved to more fluff shows. I miss those cooking shows, and I don't watch any FoodTV anymore. Now, I can get my fix of cooking shows right here in Nashville. Well, I'll be!
Labels: Nashville Eats