Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Day 12

So I have to say that I am slightly disappointed in my knife wielding carcass splitting experience. Only because the closest we got to a carcass today was a rack of lamb. That's like barely a carcass. Like barbie goes to cooking school sized carcass. Everything else we worked with was cryovac packaged. So the lamb part went like this: Chef opened a package of two racks of lamb from New Zealand. For the first one he cut the meat off the bones (like a tenderloin, but not) and sliced noisettes from half and left the rest whole (like a tenderloin). For the 2nd rack he cut off two double chops (meaning 2 bones sticking out) and left the rest of the rack whole. So then he heated up 4 saute pans on super high heat with a little oil in all of the pans. He seasoned the lamb very well with kosher salt and finely ground white pepper. In to the pans went the four cuts. Once seared he pulled the noisettes off heat. The tenderloin, chops and rack all went in to the oven at about 425 to finish to medium rare. He checked them all and one by one pulled them out to rest (the rack took longest). He carved them up and had us taste them to see how the difference the amount of surface area seared had affected the flavor.

Why my picture is sideways I have no fucking clue. Please cran your neck accordingly.

So on to pork. We took pork tenderloins out of a plastic package and trimmed them of silver skin and excess fat (not much) We then portioned them into 3 oz medallions for searing.

This special picture is rotated too. Fun with technology. So to sear these little piggy parts we seasoned them, browned them and finished them in the oven. Not difficult. I enjoyed it as I enjoy cooking in general but I wanted more today. Lets crust and deglaze and make pan sauce. But instead we had pork tenderloin medallions.

Lucky you, this picture is not jacked up. Okay so I don't mind pork tenderloin but I don't like medium well meat. Which when all your class doesn't quite seem to be concerned with temperature makes for a mediocre lunch. We ate them with Dijon mustard. I can at least say that mine were not overcooked. After lunch we moved on to the beef tenderloin. Once again in plastic with big usda stamps on it. Like the usda has any cred with me. I read food politics by Marion Nestle and am now completely cynical and totally over the usda. Do your research, and vote with your dollars. Okay back to the beef. I didn't like the feel of mine. It weighed 7 pounds before any trimming or cleaning. The fat was grainy and stiff and the meat was almost watery. Maybe all tenderloins vary, I don't know. So our job was to take off the chain (a fatty, sinewy piece on the side of the tenderloin) and then take off the silver skin and then scrape of the excess outside fat. I started with 114 oz of meat and once cleaned and trimmed had about 84 oz of "sellable" fillet. I did get about 8 oz of usable trimmings though. I might make tacos. What else do you do with small fillet scraps. Once done the tenderloins were packed up and refrigerated for later use. I think we are using them or some of them tomorrow.

Hopefully tomorrow we will be deboning something and not just scraping down grisly plastic packaged meat. Is all restaurant meat this gnarly? I am beginning to suspect so.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Day 11

Believe it or not, its the third week already. Last week was weird with the serve safe one day and wine class another. It feels like we barely cooked. Except when I remember that I tasted more sauces based on butter than I knew existed. Wine class today was the same agenda as last week. We talked more about different wine regions around the world and then tasted a bunch. So today we had a sauvignon blanc from Napa, CA, an albarino from rias baixas, Spain, a pinot grigio from veneto, Italy, a viognier from south Australia, and a Riesling from CA. So those were the whites. I liked the sauv blanc and the albarino. If you haven't tasted one before, you should give it a whirl. Its very easy to drink and has some great floral notes, yet is still dry with medium to full body. For reds we started with a chianti classico (surprise! I actually liked it), a ribera del duero, spain, an easy drinking malbec from mendoza, and a zinfandel by Bogle in CA. I have a hard time enjoying tasting these big reds. They are really overwhelming in my mouth. Maybe that just means I need to practice drinking them more. I should get a good chance this week as we are beginning meat fabrication tomorrow. I can't wait. I have always wanted to learn how to fillet things and debone. Very mysterious techniques that I think are part secret ritual that regular home cooks don't get to learn. I plan on penetrating this secret circle tomorrow. Yes, I know that sounded really dirty, sor.

DAY 12 - I find out secrets involving carcass and knives!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Day 10

So we tasted wine today. We had a basic lecture which was long but informative and comprehensive. Then we tasted. We had a rose from Tavel, France, a chardonnay from Burgundy and a chardonnay from Sonoma, California, a Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara, California, a cote du rhone and lastly a bordeaux from Lalande de Pomerol. I didn't really like drinking either of the last two as they sort of blew my tastebuds off. Chef assured me that I would feel very different about them if I was eating some large portion of animal flesh. Unfortunately all I had was a crust of bread. It was a fun day, though. I did miss cooking at the stove, but a day of wine education was certainly not bad. I ended up going to dinner with chef, his wife, and some other couple that they had worked with. The evening ended with us drinking cocktails and having sort of a dance off. I haven't quiet figured out how things escalated to that but I had a fantastic time.
Monday's agenda: Wine Day #2

Day 9

So after throwing out half my fridge in fear of contracting one of the many foodborne illnesses that I learned about yesterday...Today I made sauce all day. It was fantastic. We made tomato concasse to start. This is just tomatoes and shallots with a pinch of tomato paste, sugar, bouquet garni, and salt and pepper.

Do not be tricked by the simplicity of this sauce. It is more than tasty and I will show you what I learned you can do with it. You just simmer these little ingredients up until pretty much all the water is evaporated. The test, as chef said, is to part the tomatoes with your spoon like Moses did the red sea. No liquid should scoot into the cleared walkway.

Let my people go! The mixture then can be adjusted for seasoning and used for garnishing and plating as well as in other sauces.

Look at that cuteness. Precious.

This one is ready for action, right? A piece of grilled swordfish and hey aren't I fancy? I love this stuff. Not for the plating but I liked how it tasted. I hadn't eaten breakfast this morning so I had to eat like half of mine before packing the rest up to freeze. Next we made beurre blanc 4 different ways. I don't really like beurre blanc. It doesn't do anything for me. I like the tang of the reduction but otherwise, meh. The basics are this: reduce, whisk in butter, strain. See, you can do it too!. I reduced equal parts wine and wine vinegar with shallots, peppercorns, and thyme until it was a syrup. Then pull it partially off heat and whisk in lots of butter, bit by bit, until it is smooth and shiny and then strain if desired. Maybe I just need the right protein to enjoy it with. This is one of the reductions before the butter was added.

This was the version from the CIA cookbook (culinary institute of America). It varied from the classic version with the addition of lemon juice and zest. After the butter orgy we started the hollandaise derivatives: Bearnaise (tarragon reduction), Choron (bearnaise + tomato concasse), Paloise (mint reduction), Foyot (bearnaise + beef glace), and mousseline (lemon + whipped cream). I have never seen so much saturated fat in one kitchen in my life. They were all delicious. I was assigned the original bearnaise and I have to say it rocked pretty hard. I love the shallots that taste like wine and the tarragon and the fluffy butter hollandaise base. You should make bearnaise, too. I had never heard of some of the other variations (like choron) but they were all really good. One of the highlights of the day (other than tasting all of these buttery sauces) was when a smug classmate (a dude) couldn't whip the cream to medium peaks for the mousseline cause his wittle arm got tired. Chef asked me to take over for him. He made some lame sounding excuses for his pussyness and I whipped that shit up. It was awesome especially because he worked for a very high end hotel around here and reminds us quite often of how they do things there. Why do I get so much satisfaction from kicking his ass in matters of whipping heavy cream?

Big wine day tomorrow! I can't wait to see everyone start to get tipsy.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Day 8

It was not a normal day of class at school. We had a guest instructor and took our servesafe exam. I don't know if these exist in other states but here its a test that makes sure you know not to spit in your salad before you serve it. Its mostly common sense. You cannot floss your teeth and then fillet some fish. Stuff like that. It might have been one of the most boring days I have had in a long while. I am pretty sure I passed. But you never know. Just because I say it was boring I might have to retake it because I forgot how you can get scromboid poisoning. Its a scantron type test that you have to wait a few weeks for to get results, real SAT style. It was not exciting. Tomorrow might be, however, because we are making beurre blanc and 5 variations on hollandaise. Who brought the English muffins?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Day 7

Isn't day seven supposed to be a day of rest? Not at cooking school. Today was mother sauce day. I made bechamel, tomato, hollandaise, and veloute. You should make them all too. They are not difficult and could greatly improve your meal. Bechamel is necessary because it is the base for mac'n'cheese. If that's not important to you then you should stop reading because you obviously don't get it. Bechamel is onion, butter, flour, milk, nutmeg, salt and pepper. You sweat onion in butter, add flour to make roux, add milk to correct consistency and then season and strain. I have made this a few times due to the book Le Cordon Bleu at Home (many misadventures) and I enjoy it on pretty much everything. If I can get it together I might make biscuits and slop my leftover sauce on top. SOS style, baby.
I made tomato sauce next. Simple 30 minute tomato sauce: onion, garlic, basil chiffonade, tomatoes and salt and pepper. Don't tell me you don't know that one already.
Hollandaise was a life changing experience today. Chef demoed the sauce first and then we tasted his and then made our own. His sauce was for sure the best hollandaise I have ever tasted. YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW. It was fluffy. I swear, fluffy. It was like lemon pillows and you forgot you were eating a heart transplant.

Yes, we ate it with baguette. Sweet buttery pillows of the gods. This changed all prospective on brunch. To make it we first made the sabayon by whisking egg yolks and water over a double boiler. Once fluffy we mixed in an unholy amount of clarified butter. Then seasoned with lemon juice, salt, and cayenne. Try to eat it moderately, let me know how that works out.

Next we made a veloute. This is a sauce based on chicken or fish stock. You sweat a small amount of mirepoix and add your stock of choice. Then after 20 minutes of simmer you thicken it with cold chopped roux.

Roux's your daddy? It thickens and then you season it and strain it. Then you wish you had something to put it over. Or you just eat sauce with spoons like we did all day.

Tomorrow: Serve Safe Certification!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Day 6

Its crazy how 2 days away from school can make you feel out of touch. We got a lot of pots going today. We started with a simple vegetable stock. We filled a pot that would hold a small person with vegetable trimmings of all sorts (after sauteing mirepoix) and water and simmered for abotu 4 hours. Drain, chill, done. We also made a sauce espagnole. Beef trimmings were sauteed until very dark and then mirepoix and tomato paste were added and sauteed. Brown stock was added to that and simmered for 2 hours. After the simmer, roux was added to thicken and then the whole brown mess was drained and chilled to used for demi glace later this week.

So next was potato leek soup. I have made this at home a few times but never using a mirepoix first. We used a white mirepoix (no carrot) and sweated it before adding leeks, potatoes, bouquet garni, and chicken stock.

After simmering until the potatoes were just tender, we added cream and simmered 10 minutes more. Then into the blender and strained to desired thickness. Below is the thickness I desired.

I thought, as well as some of my classmates that it was slightly oversalted. Then chef walks over to taste it and proceeds to add at least 2 tablespoons more of salt. It didn't make it taste salty. I still don't get it. It just tasted stronger. This seasoning thing is taking me longer than I expected to figure out.
One thing I didn't do to embarass myself today: Not one, but two of my classmates attempted to puree their bouquet garni along with their soup. As you can imagine string + blender = bad news. I can't tell you how happy I am that it was not me.
Then we made a court bouillon. A poaching liquid used for fish, and seafood. Ours had water, white wine, white vinegar, and the rest of what you see here.

We combined all ingredients and simmered for 20 minutes. I plan on using mine to poach some shrimp later this week and possibly make a homemade remoulade sauce to go with them. Smug and smug I say!

So those were today's major activities. I am glad to be moving on to sauces and away from soups. I think I would be appreciating the soups more if it wasn't still in the mid eighties everyday. I forgot to mention the tourneed carrots. Yes we took the most annoying vegetable to cut and tried to cut it into near impossible football like shapes. I don't care for football or carving hard vegetables into football shapes. And I am pretty sure after a while you would get carpel tunnel.

Up tomorrow: Mother sauces motherf***er!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Day 5

Okay, so I get that I might not post Friday's happenings until Sunday. It was for a lot of reasons though. One, I went straight over to a friend's house. Two, we had to drink a bottle of wine at her pool. Three, I was beat. So beat, in fact, that over the course of the weekend I have not stayed up past 10:30 pm. This is by far the worst side effect of my new routine. On day 5, however, we made lobster bisque. It started with a demo by chef on how to murder a lobster. I said a prayer and then proceeded to murder my own lobster by stabbing it through the head. Wow. I had never killed an animal before and it was intense. I almost held the knife like in the horror movies until chef came over and humiliated me before class so I could remember not to do it like that. I was real focused on taking the life of an animal. It didn't do anything weird like scream but I still felt real responsible for ending its life so that I could make soup. It was good soup.

So you take your chopped up lobster, and saute it until browned, add veg, and saute until brown also, season both, of course. Add tomatoes and fumet (fish stock), tomato paste, and lobster paste. Below is just a glorious shot of a just slain lobster, milady.

So then you simmer all above mentioned ingredients for about an hour. Then you add some cream for another 10 minutes.

I can't lie. I love this picture for its random lobster claw sticking out of the pot. So sorry, Sebastian. Once simmered and creamed, we strained the stock and returned it to heat to add the roux. It thickened, we reseasoned, and we grubbed. It was pretty great. Then we tried to cut potatoes and zucchini into ridiculously small pieces that were "turned". To my chef that means you carve a shape with 6 or 7 sides shaped like a small barrel.

Chef demoed a few and his are on the right of my cutting board. Yep, those are them all smug and real nice looking next to my boats. I guess this will take some work. What's up for next week?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Day 4

We started making brown stock today. Roasted bones, added veg (mirepoix) and tomato paste.

Very exciting. Not really but I did like the smell. Here is a close up, don't wet yourself.

So after this little party was toasty we drained off some of the fat for safety before moving the sheet pan. Please note that the draining part what with the sheet pan BENDING did not feel safe at all. But I lived. I was pretty sure that the man who stands next to me and was helping me carry it was going to send me to the ER but he did not end up disfiguring me. Yes, I am grateful too. So we then just let it cool down and chilled it til tomorrow. Big beef brown stock day. TGI bbbsday. Then we made soup. Broccoli soup, actually.

See my cute little bouquet garni in the corner? Its so cute and little and tidy. Okay the string is a little sloppy. I'll do better tomorrow. I started my soup with pommace oil and a sweat of white mirepoix (leek, onion, celery). I then added broccoli, bouquet garni, and chicken stock. It simmered, and before it was done I added a touch of cream. I pureed that shit up in a vita mix and then simmered again and added roux for thickening. I chinoised (I'm sure that's a word) and reseasoned. It was boring. Great texture, good flavor but boring. The ones I liked best thickened at the beginning with flour or potato and then discarded extra liquid when pureeing to adjust thickness. Damn. I was grumpy about it for a solid hour or so. I did enjoy taking it to go, though.

Then we started working on fancy cuts again. This time on potato. So same routine as yesterday but on a much softer vegetable. Much easier. Next on to segmenting citrus. I have done this before and I have to say that the first time I did it I was amazed at the beautiful little shiny juicy pockets. Today I still enjoyed it but it wasn't like the first time. Is it ever?

Up tomorrow: I will murder a lobster to make a delicious bisque. Dessert, anyone?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Day 3

That my friends is a roux.

So we had very little lecture today. Almost all WORK! YEA! This is what I really enjoy. My classmates and I set up and began our first roux. Well, our first roux at school with a pro french man watching over our shoulder. I wish I could tell you that it was advanced and very professional. But not so much. Just 1 to 1 fat and flour. Heat fat. Add flour. Stir and simmer at least 3 min. Take off heat when desired color is reached. Meh. Now fish stock (fumet)- Thats way more exciting. Especially the part where you hack up the skeleton of an 80 pound halibut with a cleaver bigger than your head. I loved it. Felt real primitive like. So, after the hacking you just set up your mirepoix and then begin sweating the bones. Ratio of bones to mirepoix is 2/3 to 1/3. Let bones sweat and then add mirepoix. Sweat and then deglaze with white wine. Add water and bouquet garni and simmer for about 45 min. You must skim and degrease all the while. Chef said you have to treat the stock like you are making love to it. Would that be tender and sweet or rough and sweaty? My guess is the former. After the lovefest we worked very seriously on fancy cuts. These were done on a carrot. Have you tried cutting carrots into booger sized pieces? It fucking sucks. At first. My first carrots were mangled and awful and I was really concerned as I thought I was okay with knives. It was rough. By the end my bicep was tired and I was seeing double orange booger cubes. They were dancing around and laughing at me. Okay no but it was classic when I was stuck as to how to make one of the cuts and I look up at the girl in front of me and she was just staring at the carrot as well, waiting for it to tell her what to do next. She looked up and we just laughed at ourselves. Duuuuhhhhhhh.

I am assigned trash duty this week so I schlepped the bags and boxes out and that was day 3.

So my embarrasing moment of the day was at lunch. I brought my lunch and ate it with everyone else and used one of the forks from the school. I was finished and placed my tupperware back in my bag absentmindedly with the school fork. Chef asked me if I had brought that fork with me to school? I was immediately flustered and was like "no, I just didn't think". He sort of laughed? and then I was like, great he thinks I want old forks. I really can't do that again.
Tomorrow? A broccoli soup.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Day 2

We had another day of mostly lecture. Chef led us through spices, peppercorns, salts (I had never heard of curing salt-with nitrites added to it), cooking fats, and produce. I get REAL excited about produce so I was very chatty during that part of our class. I then felt insecure and annoying and was sure I might just be asked to never talk again during lecture. Its paranoid. I know. I'm trying to get over it. So then chef lectured about mirepoix and its variations, roux, and how to clarify butter (low heat, skim, ladle off pure butter, discard solids). He then moved on to stocks and the many variations of brown, chicken, veg and fish stocks. He explained demi glace and sauce espagnole. Then we got to move. The energy in the room picked up as we set up our stations for the first time. We laid out our knives and waited at the ready for our first hands on lesson. Then chef proceeded to chop an onion into pieces smaller than I have ever seen. They were like onion mist I tell you. I'm not kidding. Mine finished smaller than I started so I guess that is progress. I will need to practice cutting so fine. I like the french word he used for mincing: cisele. After our short knife lesson we clarified butter. Simple task that smelled nice. I always wondered how much butter you got after you removed the solids. We lost about 40 percent of the weight. Our last task was to make a quick slurry of cornstarch and water to the consistency of heavy cream. It was strange. The mixture went from seized and stiff to watery. I had to adjust it a good deal to work out the texture. By the time I finished I had a slurry big enough for the world's largest pot of soup. Meh. I can't wait to do more actual work, though. I am of course scared and intimidated too (what if I have no creativity and make paste everyday?). "What if" is a terrible game to play in one's head and I know better. I assume its just going to take time to adjust to a very regular routine and find a groove in it. I did make a kick ass green veg curry and Thai chicken thighs tonight for dinner. The chicken takes a short marinade in chile powder, brown sugar, fish sauce, garlic, and cilantro. Sounds real random but once sauteed tastes fantastic.

Due up tomorrow: Roux, Fish Fumet (stock), and more knife skills

Monday, September 15, 2008


The first day of school came so quick. What with a weekend in vegas to get me focused. Nothing like vegas to balance you out. Real sober-like. But not to worry. I was ready and not hungover this morning in my freshly ironed uniform. My husband sweetly made me a fried egg for breakfast and a cup of tea. I didn't expect fireworks today at school and we there weren't any. We had lecture all day on topics of safety and sanitation, conversions and kitchens. It wasn't boring but it was a little tedious by the end of our day. I will be thankful to chop onions tomorrow.
My classmates' personalities are unfolding and I have been watching people with interest. Only 2 of our class are there for enjoyment, the rest are there to shift careers. I was suprised by how many were taking that leap and at their varied ages and previous job experience; military, marketing, sales, and psychology to mention a few.
So its time to talk about the 2 times I was embarrased enough to get bright red cheeks and feel tongue tied. First it was when my notebook slid off the shelf and slid onto the floor. I know it sounds real simple and not important but I really don't like to make any sort of scene on like the first day of school/work/relationship/date. You get it. So then a few minutes later my shitty pen lid fell off and slid onto the same place on the floor and the chef said "Jennifer is dropping things all over the place". Great. I am the girl who drops stuff. The next moment was when he was talking about our suppliers for the school who deliver our varied produce, meats, and supplies. I asked if the meat supplier also provided offal. He looks at me like I might just be speaking an extinct dialect. He says "What? I have never heard of that word before. What is it?" I looked around the class and repeated myself "Offal?" Several of the class nodded and repeated. That was sort of a relief. He then said "I have not heard of this word". I am not sure how I feel about the fact that he had not known this word. Did other students not talk or inquire about it? Is it not a strong culinary trend? Maybe he just didn't understand me (He is French) (and has an accent). I did feel stupid, though. So in short, I hope I didn't come across as weird and clumsy. One or the other is forgivable, but both...yeesh. This could be a daily feature: what embarrassing moment did I have today?
Oh, and I did find out that chef has sort of bad breath.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Back to School...

So I have to submit an essay of 1 to 2 pages to my chef before I start school on Monday. It is supposed to be about me and where I'm coming from. I've been procrastinating for a month. Its real long I think. But I like it. I might go back and change stuff before I send it this weekend. Hope he likes to read. Here it is:

I, Jennifer, was born and raised here in Orange County. It was an imaginative and outdoor upbringing filled with sunshine, laughter, and exploration. I certainly leaned towards the arts as a young girl, baking pies for the fair in lieu of kicking soccer balls (or getting them kicked at me). Some of my favorite things to do were to raise and show rabbits, go to summer camp, and dance with my friends. I begged my parents to take me to actual dance lessons until finally they caved, allowing an inflexible 12 year old to jump headfirst into what would be a torrid love affair spanning the next 15 years.
I danced at all times possible. Class and movement and music and training were the most important things. I attended an all-girl catholic high school where I had to put in serious hours as well, leaving little time to get in trouble. This was a good thing. I followed my love to UCI and began there to understand what foundation really meant. I had passion, joy, and style, but soft foundation. With an intense and rigorous schedule juggling rehearsals, academics, dance technique classes, and teaching my own classes I felt alive and competent. I was learning and teaching, giving and taking. I finished school early, ahead of my peers, and backpacked through Europe for my last semester. It was there that I seriously fell in love with food. I incredulously asked “All of this bread gets made BY HAND?” and “People like cheese THIS STINKY?” Wine pairings, serious seasonality, and cult food obsessions were not part of my daily life. These things were new and fascinating. I loved them all and the artisans who made them. It would be some time before I came back to think about these questions again. But happily, I did. I left for New York City the morning after I graduated UCI.
New York ages you faster than you expect. Possibly dog years fast. I was there for about 2 years and might as well just have lived for 14 anywhere else. I danced, auditioned, waited tables and learned how to layer clothes for cold weather (the last one is more important than one might think if you are from southern California and your idea of warm shoes are closed toe). I found myself looking to connect with friends over meals and outings and ended up spending time with my fellow restaurant staff friends more than I expected as the dancer friends didn’t eat. We would spend a few weeks searching out the “best of” any number of foods including pizza, steak, and margaritas (if you eat chips with margaritas it is considered a food group). A few of us decided to make thanksgiving dinner together. We used memory for recipes and an ironing board for counter space. Bob Marley played and we improvised. It was creative and wonderful. One of the best times I had ever had in the kitchen, even though we had no roasting rack and jacked up our bird on piles of silverware. All of these wonderful tastes and even my desire to take cooking classes were not enough for me to leave my leotards and work in a kitchen. I didn’t know you could change paths that way. I did know that you could move to San Francisco, closer to family, and still dance.
I don’t know if it is because of the cloud of culinary smug that sits over San Francisco or not, but those outdoor markets just suck you in. Next thing I knew I was sourcing ingredients all over the bay area in between ballet and my modern dance class. It was green and lush and full of food energy. My new lover, food, was moving in to my studio apartment with great gusto. I googled recipes and watched the food network. It was magical courtship. I ate at House of Nanking and Chez Panisse in the same weekend. Napa Valley was only an hour away. My head was spinning with this new found fascination and I was tiring of teaching at the dance studio there for little pay. I was offered a job here in so cal by the studio that I first danced at. I moved the next month.
It took me five years to build the training company that I just left. If I could have been in culinary school while doing so, I don’t know that I would have. Maybe the two lovers would not have gotten along. Maybe they would not have minded sharing my time. But I am loyal and devoted and even felt dance being edged out by food and cooking in these past few years. I felt frustrated that I had to prepare choreography and design costumes instead of poach salmon or dissect chickens. My favorite project was Le Cordon Bleu at Home, a cookbook I am still determined to cook every recipe from. I kept a journal of these endeavors and love to look back at the ambitious menus that can take a few days from start to finish. I didn’t mind the wait or work so I went to work for a natural foods grocery store in my spare time. I said I wanted to learn how to cook and then was hired as part of the marketing team. I would help with catering projects, perform cooking demonstrations, create recipes to feature new products and serve special diet needs, and then of course all of the other things you have to do in marketing that I wasn’t as interested in. I was so lucky to have those 2 years to learn about ingredients and producers. It put me in touch with environmental issues and food chain dynamics. It was like a mini food/earth school.
After leaving the foods store, (they wanted my time to be theirs, and I did not want to leave teaching yet), I slowly began researching schools. I did not consider this school first as I had never really heard of it. The more looking I did the more I found out about my own food foundations. I never gave notice to the small seasonal changes that I did grow up with in my home in Orange County; the abundance of zucchini in summer, as well as tomatoes, herbs and plums. Tangerines, first strawberries, and year round lemons, both eureka and meyer. Some of my first memorable restaurant meals including swordfish at Chez Panisse at about 10 years old (“Does the fish REALLY have a sword?”) and sizzling rice soup at a local Chinese place. Magical things happen in those kitchens, I was sure of it. Food had been with me before I had realized I was in love. Like some sort of romantic comedy with the silent best friend. A few months in Europe at 22 just blew my mind open to it. I am ready to dive headfirst into this continuing adventure. I can’t wait to be a student again and I am so grateful that I am able to attend school. I hope to bring my passion, joy, and style to the kitchen.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Mild Anxiety

So starting culinary school is similar to starting regular schools in that you need a few supplies. Like notebooks and sharpies. However, at my school they give you some of the supplies. Like the biggest cookbook I have ever held. And some really sharp looking knives in a super smug case. I will officially piss off all friends and family by showing up at parties and such with said knife case. They also give you uniforms. I haven't picked mine up yet but I might today. I will not be altering it. Unless I lose like 20 pounds. Which you never know might happen out of nowhere maybe...not. School does give you a list of recommended reading. I have read many of the titles including the best food writing, and michael ruhlman, and the french laundry and heat. But I have not read Kitchen Spanish: A Quick Phrase Guide of Kitchen and Culinary. I find that funny. Not that spanish is unnecessary (as here in socal I use it everyday) but that the school recommends it as reading. I imagine like a high school textbook dialogue but in kitchen settings.
"Hola, me llamo Paco"
"Hola Paco, por favor dame el cuchara"
I have a feeling it won't be so entertaining. So in between reading up and gathering the few supplies I am left to clean up my house and have mild anxiety. I have no idea where this will lead and I am really tired of hearing myself say that to people. The anxiety will pass, I am sure. I hope it takes with it my mild obsessings on where I will end up when its all done. In between musings I spent the weekend camping and cooking food outdoors with just fire and some basics. I whipped up some random yet tasty potato pancakes that I recommend to any camper or thrifty cook. I used leftover baked potatoes and mashed them up with eggs, greek yogurt, sauteed onion, raw green onion, grill seasoning, and salt. I pan fried them in a small amount of olive oil and butter and topped them with more greek yogurt. My husband, the smug eagle scout, said that I would have earned my cooking badge at scout camp. I was really excited about that.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Just another day

If you don't have a job and haven't started school yet then a three day weekend is just your average day. It really takes the juice out of a holiday. Especially one that involves laying around, swimming, eating and drinking. Meh. I did manage to do all of those things well and cook a few solid meals. We watched the usc game with friends and made Ina Garten's chicken ceasar sandwiches and heirloom tomato salad with blue cheese dressing. Tomatoes from farmer dave in placentia cannot be beat. Sorry mom. They are gorgeous and grown without chemicals. Love him. So sandwiches were great. Salad was outrageously summery good. If you haven't cooked any of her (barefoot contessa) recipes you need to. They are solid, easy, and generally delicious. I love how they translate to entertaining. Easy to present and make ahead. The sandwich is roast chicken breast, sundried tomatoes, arugula, ceasar spread (like a dressing), parmesan cheese, and toasted ciabatta. Tomatoes are simply sliced and drizzled with blue cheese dressing. Her recipe obviously includes cheese, mayo and heavy cream. The cream is just to make sure it's good. And it was. You could half the dressing recipe though for sure.

If you are sitting around your house trying to find things to occupy you other than cleaning you could try making pickles. I have not yet figured it out. I keep making different takes on the kind that don't require the canning process as I don't have canning salt or special lids. Today I am making a daikon, carrot, cucumber pickle with ginger. I like the colors, I like ginger. By late afternoon we will see how this all comes together.

I also made shortbread this weekend. I used the ina garten recipe since it seemed simplest and I didn't feel like chopping and toasting nuts between laying around, playing wii, and drinking beers. Shortbread is so easy. I think I would like a ginger shortbread variation. Or a pinenut rosemary one. I need that recipe for the one at Pizzeria Mozza. That shit is tight. Mine were larger than I liked. I would make them way smaller next time. The thickness made them seem more cakey less cookiey. They were a lovely white sand color with pretty fluted edges though. I plan on eating one with tea later.