Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Choose your weapon!

I thought you would be interested to see the tools I need for school.

In this first photo, left to right, top to bottom:
-Digital scale, peeler on top of scale, pastry blender, 4 pastry bags in 4 sizes plus a few disposable pastry bags
-Bench scraper, bowl scraper, balloon whisk, 2 pastry tip cleaning brushes, measuring cups, measuring spoons, pastry wheel with fluted side and plain side, cake icing comb, kitchen shears
-Channel knife, zester, 3 sizes melon ballers, set of pastry tips, set of large closed star tips, set of large plain pastry tips, Bismark 230 pastry tip (the long one), a couple random pastry tips, plastic couplers, retractable Sharpie, Instant Read thermometer, and pen

The balloon whisk is very helpful for folding in stuff. I finally found the pastry tip cleaning brushes! A channel knife makes the long curls of lemon peel that you find in your Cosmo. The Bismark 230 pastry tip is for filling stuff like eclairs or cupcakes. I've been looking for one for a while. I'm required to have the pen, Sharpie and thermometer on me at all times. Along with a small notebook, it's considered part of my uniform.

Left to right:
Honing steel, small offset spatula, medium spatula, large offset spatula, large spatula, Microplane, bird's beak paring knife (also called touree knife), paring knife, 5.5" utility knife, boning knife, 6" chef's knife, 8" chef's knife, 12" bakers knife

The spatulas will be used in cake decorating the most. The bird's beak paring knife cuts those football shaped potato thingies. The utility knife will be used most in garde manger this semester to cut things like birds out of apples. I really like the 6" chef knife when I'm cutting small things like herbs and fruit. I got the baker's knife for Christmas. I learned the hard way today that BOTH sides of the blades are sharp. One side is serrated, which I knew about. The other side is just a straight blade. I have a big gash across my palm. Oops. Better I do that now than in class and look like an idiot. The serrated side is for cutting airy things like cakes, while the straight side is for cutting dense things like pound cakes.

Yes, I like red. What of it?

Here they are all packed up and ready to go! I have to carry this to my labs. The bag is getting heavy!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

I leave you with a video from the best Christmas album ever produced.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas meme

Christmas meme
Borrowed from S over at No Tea For You.

Eggnog or hot chocolate? Hot chocolate before bed, but eggnog in my coffee. Of course, we have a local dairy, Maple View Farms, that makes an eggnog thicker than alfredo sauce. It's wicked good with Mount Gay Sugar Cane Brandy.

Does Santa wrap the presents or leave them open under the tree? No offense to anyone but I've never understood this. Wrapped!!! Santa wraps his presents!!! (In our house, Santa uses a different wrapping paper than the rest of us.)

Colored lights on a tree or white? I like white lights on a tree, otherwise I think they compete with the ornaments.

Do you hang mistletoe? Never.

When do you put your decorations up? Since I've lived on my own, I've lived with cats. Lots of cats. The one year I tried to put up a small tree, we found ornaments all over the house for weeks afterwards. I don't decorate, especially since I have my circus freak Elvis Who Eats The Un-Eatable now. My family puts the tree and decorations up after Thanksgiving.

What is your favorite holiday dish? Christmas Eve dinner is big fat steaks, twice baked potatoes, veggies, the works. So good.

Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? Every year my dad makes this big show of how we're going to open one present an hour on Christmas day. We open presents after dinner on Christmas Eve. I like it because it leaves us free to do nothing on Christmas day, or hang out, watch football, etc.

How do you decorate your Christmas tree? I have a ton ornaments, some homemade, some with significance.

Snow: love it or hate it? I LOVE SNOW!

Can you ice skate? I'm no Oksana Baiul, but I do okay.

What is your favorite holiday dessert? I can't really choose just one.

What is your favorite holiday tradition? Christmas Eve dinner is probably up there.

Candy canes: yum or yuck? I prefer the fruity flavored ones. I'm not a fan of peppermint hard candy.

Favorite Christmas show? I haven't watched a Christmas show since I was a kid. It's a Wonderful Life is one of my favorite movies and I watch it every year. I also LOVE Elf.

Wishing you all a happy holiday! See you soon!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Oprah hates me.

I had a dream the other night that Oprah taught my Safety and Sanitation class this past semester. She gave me an A. In my dream, my instructor for Basic Culinary Skills taught the other 3 classes I took. When it got to be time for Chef H to turn in my grades for those classes, he got really busy. Oprah offered to help out. At the last minute, she went through all of my grades (tests, quizzes, homework, etc) and changed my grades from As in those classes to Cs and Ds!

What do you think this means????

Friday, December 18, 2009

Oh the cuteness!!!!

Gingerbread houses that perch on the edge of your mug! Can you stand it? I am SO making these for next year's cookie swap!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I thought you'd like to see what I've been cooking up!

Orange Tropical Punch Grey Poupon Socks! Yummy!

Okay, seriously....

I knit a pair of socks and decided I hated the color. So I dyed them. With Kool Aid. In the crock pot. Neat-o, huh? They went from a Grey Poupon dijon color to a fiery reddish orange. And they smell good too! Go here if you want to read more.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The grades are in! Drum roll please!

I am, for the first time in my entire academic career, a Straight A Student. Yes, devoted readers, I am officially a nerd. No weggies please. All of my grades were posted today and I am happy to report I got an A in everything. Even Purchasing. It's a Hannukah Miracle, y'all. It feels pretty good. Truth be told, it hasn't quite sunk in yet. It will when I see my name on the President's List, I am certain. My school has a Dean's List if you make at least a 3.00 GPA in a semester. If you make a 4.00, your name goes on the President's List. Too bad that goes out after Christmas, or I'd frame it for my mother for her gift.

I went to a cooke swap tonight. I made two kinds of biscotti. One had cranberries, currants and pistachios, the other chocolate chips, walnuts and anise seed. They were thankfully a hit because I still have 2 dozen at home. I got some good cookies to bring home too! Yay!

My biscotti

The spread

I also wanted to include a link here to my photos of Montreal. At the cookie swap tonight, my friend JP went all fangirl on me (just kidding) (Hi JP!) and mentioned the photos on my blog. I use a plain ol' Kodak point and shoot digital. It's the Kodak Easy Share M883. I got it while working at my old job, employee discount and all, you see. For most of the food photos, I use the close up setting. The header photo I took at Le Marche Jean Talon in Montreal. I actually took hundreds of photos in Montreal, but posted some of the best ones on Flickr, which you can find here.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

I passed the Servsafe exam!

I just found out I got a 92. It's a high B, so I believe I can still squeeze out an A in Safety and Sanitation. I think I might actually get an A in Purchasing too! Tomorrow morning I will find out what my final grade is for Baking I. That leaves Basic Culinary Skills, which I should get by next week.

I have to go in to the kitchen tomorrow for a cleaning day for the Baking Lab. When I'm done, my semester is officially over.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Village Kabob, Raleigh

We have a new Afghan restaurant here in town. I think they've been open for a month. I stopped in today to get something to go. The service was friendly. The food was excellent! I can't wait to go back.

Mantu is a plate of onion, chickpea and meat filled dumplings with a a yogurt and meat sauce on top. It's garnished with dried mint. It's a little spicy, a little lemony, a little minty. It was very good. The portion was huge and the price was reasonable. If you are here in town, you've got to try it!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cheesecake! Cranberries!

As you may or may not know, the latest season of Top Chef is coming to an end. Some friends had a few people over for dinner last night and to watch the episode. Naturally, I brought dessert. They made grilled sandwiches with cheddar, braised pulled beef short ribs and pickled onions. YUM! I brought a cheesecake. Just a plain vanilla bean cheesecake, the way the good lord intended it, and I made a spiced cranberry jam to go on top. It was a hit.

This is the New York cheese cake from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook. It's a great book, I highly recommend it! Unfortunately, I thought I had more sugar than I did when I went to make it. It was also 7:00 AM and I had been to the grocery store one already (needed a cheap aluminum roaster for the water bath) and wasn't about to go back. Oh and it was raining like crazy. I still can't believe I ran out of sugar. I have four kinds of flour and malt syrup for pete's sake! Anyway, the recipe calls for 2 1/4 cups of granulated sugar. I used 1 1/4 cups of granulated sugar and 3/4 cup of brown sugar. It worked really well! It's not quite as snow white as the picture, but darn tasty. I also used cinnamon graham crackers as the crust. It worked really well. (Someone at the dinner thought I used teddy grahams. I like the idea of grinding up teddy bears to make cheesecake crust. I may have to try that.) Oh, I also used a half of a vanilla bean instead of the extract. The cheesecake baked for about 15 minutes longer than the book called for because my oven is a little slow.

The only problem with the recipe is that it made too much batter. I could have filled up the springform pan the whole way, but that would have been precarious to say the least. It just so happened that the left over batter filled 12 muffin cups perfectly. I baked these at 300 degrees, a little lower than the whole cake. I also didn't use a water bath. I wasn't so concerned with cracked tops like I was with the big one since I'll most likely be eating these in front of the fridge with the door open they are just for me. Next time I would cut the recipe in half.

This is the cranberry jam I made to go with it. It was the easiest thing in the world. Rinse a bag of fresh cranberries, place in large sauce pot. Add 1/2 cup of water, 2 cups powdered sugar, juice of three clementines, zest of one clementine, the left over half of vanilla bean, and a teaspoon of cinnamon. Simmer until the cranberries begin to break down and the juice thickens. It was, like, 10 minutes. For reals. Because there is a bit of cornstarch in powdered sugar, the sauce thickened quickly. Let it cool. It made about 24 ounces.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Just checking in to let you know that I'm waist deep in final exams. Yesterday, I had a final written exam for Baking I. I think I feel okay about it. It seemed easier than I expected. I also had a final practical exam for Basic Culinary Skills. I got.... a 92. In our world, a 92 is a B. As in, one point less than an A. Sigh. Hopefully it won't impact my final grade too much. Tomorrow morning I sit for the national Servsafe exam. If I pass, which I will, I'll get a certificate that says I'm not likely to kill you. With food. This Friday is the final practical exam for Baking I. With any luck, I won't draw the card with puff pastry on it. (For the record, I'm just not that lucky.) Finally on the 8th, I have my final written exam for Basic Culinary Skills.

I'll be back tomorrow with Thanksgiving and cheesecake.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Enjoy your day! I'll be back tomorrow with pictures of our feast.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Mr. Wizard meets Betty Crocker

How many of you like powered sugar donuts? Jelly filled donuts? I know I do. Boy howdy, do I. Have you ever noticed that when you bite into the donut it cools your mouth? I'd noticed this before, but never really thought much about it. I came across something interesting tonight in my reading.

But first a little background...dextrose is the dried form of glucose. Powered dextrose is also called "doughnut sugar" because it's better at coating things (like the front of my shirt) and doesn't dissolve easily. Now, onto the science!

"Dextrose crystals require a relatively large amount of energy to dissolve, because they are held together with strong bonds. When dextrose crystals are placed in the mouth, the energy needed to break the bonds and dissolve the crystals comes from the heat of the mouth. So much heat is needed that the temperature inside the mouth drops briefly, creating a cooling sensation."
-from How Baking Works by Paula Figoni

Neat, huh?

What I have been keeping from you.

Items from Baking lab, which would have been revealed here had I not gotten Swine Flu/Bird Flu/SARS/Indonesian Death Flu/whatever it was I had.

Puff pastry. From scratch. Surprisingly, it did not require ingredients such as unicorn hair, pixie dust or fairy wings. The ingredients are pretty much the same as pie dough. And it worked! It really worked!

We filled them with a mushroom stuffing. Yummy!

We also made this fruit strip thingy from the puff pastry dough. I hated it. Puff pastry with a lemon cream cheese filling with apricot halves, topped with a sugar glaze. I thought the cream cheese curdled in the time it took the thing to bake. Also the lemon zest was too overpowering with the apricots. I would never make this again. I'd use the technique, but with different ingredients.

Vanilla napoleon. Also with puff pastry. Also yummy.

Pear frangipane tartlettes. Frangipane is an almond paste.

Fresh fruit tart with vanilla pastry cream and clumpy apricot glaze.

Les croissants! Plain, ham and cheese and chocolate. Dude. So. Good.

Souffles with gruyere, dill and dijon. Fell pretty quickly due to lack of sugar to add structure.

Japonais meringue discs which became the...

...Japonais Meringue Cake.

Finally, here's what I did on the last lab of the semester. I'll spare you the graphic details. I burned my arm on the open door of the top deck oven. Ouch. It's pretty big. And ugly.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Zely+Ritz, Raleigh

I had dinner at one of my favorite restaurants a couple weeks ago with Kat and her mom. Kat loves Zely and we try to go each time she's home. Zely+Ritz is a locally owned restaurant. They work with Coon Rock Farm to source as many ingredients as possible, like produce and heritage pork. The food is amazing, the prices are reasonable and the service is great. Here's what we had for dinner:

Bartender Jay is known for his inventive cocktails. He greeted me with a this little lovely. Meet The Cardigan. It's soft and warm, just like your favorite sweater. Apple cider, pumpkin puree and moonshine, not to mention entirely too easy to drink.

Moving on, nuts and olives. If you've ever been out to dinner with me, you know I'll order this if it's on the menu. I can eat this like other people eat potato chips. Love 'em.

This was a little hard to photograph, white cheese on a white plate, however, I present the baked farmer's cheese en croute.
It was warm with a little something sweet, apples I think. Delish.

I have three words for you. Pigs. In. Pyjamas. Okay, a fourth word. Amazing. It's a Coon Rock Farm sausage en croute, housemade sauerkraut that was perfect, and a wee bit of mustard. I could have eaten 17 more of these.

Risotto with Coon Rock Farm pork shank. Serious comfort food.

So, um, if you know me, you know I have little self-control when chocolate is involved. What can I say? I'm weak. Even though the camera was on the table when dessert arrived, I forgot all about it until the end. May I present to you, what's left of the flourless chocolate cake with Mexican chili chocolate ice cream.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Chicken with Spicy Black Bean Sauce and Stir-fried Vegetables

I'm definitely feeling much better. Whatever bug I caught turned into bronchitis (free gift with purchase?) which is why I was so sick. Thankfully I'm feeling better since I'm getting on a plane at 6AM tomorrow to head to Detroit Rock City to celebrate my grandmother's 90th birthday! Ninety! Amazing! Can you imagine all of the changes she's seen in her life? It's mind-boggling, really.

As promised, here are the recipes from my class. This was SO good. I can't wait to make it again. Now, the recipe calls for chicken, but I believe this would be equally tasty with beef, pork, or shrimp. I added the sambal oelek because I was in the mood for spicy. I recommend adding sambal rather than the garlic chili version because the sambal is just chiles and nothing else. It's available in Asian markets everywhere. It'll keep forever in the fridge. Do let me know if you make this. I'd love to hear what you think.

Chicken and Snowpeas in Black Bean Sauce, 4 servings

2# (about 8 ounces each) Chicken breasts, boneless, skinless
1 Egg white
6 fl oz Chinese rice wine
2 TBSP Cornstarch
2 fl oz Soy sauce
2 tsp Granulate sugar
2 Onions, small
4 fl oz Peanut oil (or any flavorless oil)
1 TBSP Garlic, minced
2 tsp Fresh ginger, minced
3 TBSP Fermented black beans, mashed
4 oz Snow peas, fresh
To Taste (TT) Sambal Oelek

1. Slice chicken into thin strips, about 1" x 1/4".
2. Combine the egg white, one third of the wine, and 1 TBSP of cornstarch. Add chicken, refrigerate for 2 hours.
3. For the sauce, mix the soy sauce, sugar, remaining wine, and cornstarch.
4. Quarter the onions, separate the layers.
5. Stir-fry the chicken in 3 fl oz of oil. Remove and set aside.
6. If necessary, add the remaining oil and stir-fry the garlic and ginger for 30 seconds. Add the onions and mashed beans and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add the snow peas and cook for one minute.
7. Return the chicken to the pan, add the sauce mixture and stir-fry until hot and the sauce has thickened.
8. Serve immediately with rice.


-In the steps that ask you to add cornstarch to liquid, MIX WELL! Cornstarch gets lumpy when introduced to liquid. It may be helpful to use very clean fingers to break up the lumps.

-On the day we made this, we were out of Chinese rice wine in the kitchens. We used rice wine vinegar instead. I think I'd do it again. It gave this dish a nice tanginess that helped to round out the flavor. The choice is yours.

-When you remove your chicken from the marinade, pat it dry.

-I also added baby corn, which was good as well.

Stir-fried Asparagus with Shiitake Mushrooms, 4 servings

1# Asparagus
6 oz. Shiitake mushrooms
1 TBSP vegetable oil
1 TBSP sesame oil
2 tsp garlic, chopped
4 fl. oz. oyster sauce
TT crushed red chiles, optional

1. Wash the asparagus, trim the ends, and slice on the bias into 1-2" pieces.
2. Wash the mushrooms, trim off the stems, slice the caps into 1/2" slices.
3. Heat the oils in a wok or saute pan.
4. Add the garlic and stir-fry for a few seconds.
5. Add the asparagus and mushrooms and stir-fry for 1 minute.
6. Add the oyster sauce (and crushed red chiles if used) and continue to stir-fry until the asparagus is nearly tender, approximately 3 minutes.


-If you are unfamiliar with oyster sauce, it's wicked salty. I found that in step 6, it was helpful to add some chicken stock. It toned down the saltiness and the stickiness of the cooked oyster sauce. I definitely recommend it.

-Feel free to add other veggies here. I added eggplant too. Tasty!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Tag! I'm it.

Ugh. It got me. I had started three posts in the past week because I have lots to share with you. Unfortunately, it will have to wait. If you can, get the vaccine. You don't want this. I've been feeling funky since Thursday, full-on ill since Friday night. Ugh.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Tuesday, October 20th

Tuesday is my longest day on campus. Usually only a few noteworthy things happen to me. This past Tuesday was different. Here's my day, more or less.

1. Decided to take the bus to campus. Bus was taking too long. Drove instead.
2. Got back a quiz in Baking, 100%.
3. Took a quiz in baking, also 100%.
4. Breathed a sigh of relief when I learned my S&S quiz is the following week.
5. Made fantastic Chinese food in Basic Lab. I'll post recipes for you on Tuesday, too much studying to do until then. It was Chicken and Snow Peas in a spicy black bean sauce, Asparagus and Eggplant in oyster sauce and rice pilaf. We also made vichyssoise, but I was too full and have since forgotten about it.
6. Marveled at the unusually tiny class size in Basic lab. The undesirable folks have gone. Class and clean up went so well, we were out by 4:00 PM.
7. Got everyone in Basic lab class, including myself, to try frogs legs.
8. Had post-class beers with two classmates at Boylan Bridge Brewery.
9. Made plans with said classmates plus another to meet every other Thursday for dinner out or dinner in.
10. Went home and fell asleep.

Last Tuesday was a good day. The frogs legs were okay. It was hard to not picture the critter as I was eating it. It was a bit stringy, similar to catfish, didn't taste that much like chicken, in my opinion.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Green chefs

Here's an old article found my my internet-whiz mom on green chefs. This is a very influential group of chefs here, for more reasons than just their green-ness. Lantern, #7, is a small place in Chapel Hill, about 30 minutes away. They get great reviews. It's a cute place. I never think about going there though, since it's a bit far. Shame on me.

And for those of you not yet tired of hearing this...#12 is my brother's boss.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Prodigal Niece Returns

For Fall Break, I went to Minnesota to visit family I haven't seen in nearly two decades. It was a fun trip. They were kind enough to roll out the snow for me. Twice. Thanks, family. They thought I was crazy. It was really cold! When I left NC, it was in the 80s with lots of humidity. I arrive in Minneapolis and it's in the 40s with no humidity!

We went to the Mall of America, which is larger than you think it is. You know it's big, right? Yeah, well, it's bigger than that. I must say that the shoe section of the Nordstrom did not fail to deliver. I deserve a pat on the back for my restraint.

We also took a trip to the...wait for it...Spam Museum. Uh huh. There is such a thing. It was a lot of fun. It's a self-guided tour, including a short movie. They cook Spam and pass out cubed samples served on pretzel sticks. It was my first time eating Spam, which surprisingly made out of pork shoulder, the same meat my beloved BBQ is made from, and ham. It's not actually made from the same creepiness found in hotdogs. And, it's surprisingly delicious! Who knew? I brought home three cans, Hickory Smoke flavor, Spam with Bacon, and Black Pepper, which is not sold in the US.

Here are a few pictures from the Spam Museum in Austin, MN.

I found this quote particularly meaningful as a culinary student.

A friendly reminder

Folks, I LOVE getting comments from readers, especially new readers. I really do. I don't love when readers post links about how we can strike it rich online. Seriously. If you feel the need to post this stuff, get your own blog. Any such comments will be deleted. It's bad enough you've found my email inbox, right?

The only spam that gets posted here is the kind that comes in a little blue can. Cheers!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cream puffs, eclairs, and seven swans a-swimming

In our last Baking I lab, we made pate a choux (pronounced pot-uh-shoe). You know, cream puff dough. I love cream puffs. I love eclairs more. It's a chocolate thing. I can't help it. I have a problem. Don't judge me. I'm weak.

So, as luck would have it, pate a choux is ridiculously easy to make. You have everything you need on hand in your kitchen right now. Seriously. Water, butter, flour, sugar, eggs. No joke. The choux paste (as they say in the biz) that you use for cream puffs is the same stuff you use to make the cute savory ones with cheese and herbs that get served with wine. Yum!

Our lab assignment included choux paste, chocolate ganache, and pastry cream. We had to make cream puffs, eclairs and swans. Swans! So tiny! So cute! So delicious!

I had to take a picture of this handsome devil. My friend, S., made him. Isn't he perfect?

I brought home my stuff. I shared it with friends. It would be dangerous to keep all this in my kitchen. Especially since I had to "test" about five eclairs before class was over. What? They were small! Besides, I like to think of it was quality control. They would have technically been unsaleable. It's a service I provide. I'm that kind of girl.

Without further ado, my goods from the cream puff lab.

Cream puffy goodness!

Miniature eclairs!

Okay, fine. Five swans a-swimming.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Pie. It's what's for dinner. And breakfast. And lunch.

Friday's baking lab found me with a working camera battery and pie. Three pies, to be exact. We had three hours to make three pies. I was done first. No comment. Because of the instructor, a lot of people have been dropping the class. Unfortunately, it's almost all of the good people. So, I am left with people like the grandmother of 8 who forgot to put flour in her cookies and the Art Institute drop out who asked why we don't use baking soda in bread three weeks into class. Sweet. I spoke to another one of my chefs before Fall Break about this instructor. He offered to speak to the department head. Apparently, I am not the only one who has complained. The good news is that she won't be back to teach again. But I digress.

Here are my pies.

Apple pie (My illustrious instructor was kind enough to demo on MY pie how to cut the top. This was not my decision. Thus is the problem of being finished first.)

Cherry pie

Coconut cream pie

I brought home the coconut cream pie. I shared a piece with Mary Jane and have been powering through the rest. My love for pastry cream is strong. I make good pie. I make good pie crust too!

Pie crust is deceptively simple to make and homemade tastes infinitely better than store-bought. You mix a lower-gluten flour with a little sugar and a little salt. Cut in the butter. Add just enough ice cold water to bring it together. Roll. Done. You have pie. I suggest adding a little sugar to a dough to be used for savory pies as it helps in browning. It will not make the dough sweet, but it looks nicer.

I found this detailed recipe on Epicurious for pie dough. The only thing I'd do differently is to add maybe two teaspoons of granulated sugar to the flour as well, again, for color, not taste.

I don't recommend making the dough in a food processor since you have a lot less control. I really do prefer to mix and knead my doughs by hand. I find I have a better sense of when it's ready with my hands than by sight or smell. This pie crust recipe would be great for a chicken pot pie too! We've got some serious fall weather going on here. That would be great today.

I encourage you all to try pie dough soon! Report back with the results! I'd love to hear how it goes!

Speaking of going, here's what's left!

Fresh pasta, exploding blenders, and I need more practice shopping.

Since my last post, I got As on both tests, in Basic and Safety and Sanitation. I wish purchasing was going so well. Ugh. I hate the online class format. It's just basically read the book, answer questions and take a quiz. I much prefer to be lectured at by a teacher. I have a meeting with my teacher on Wednesday to discuss what I can do, review the two quizzes I bombed, and whatever else comes to mind. I'm sure I'll do just fine in Purchasing, I just need a little reassurance right now.

You'll have to use your imagination on the next part. I've been having some camera battery issues and thus, I am photo-less.

A couple weeks ago in Basic lab, we tackled soups. We made consomme, a flavorful, clarified broth. If you make a stock, it's usually a bit cloudy. To clarify it into a consomme, you add clearmeat to it and simmer. Clearmeat is a mixture of lean ground meat (the same flavor as the stock), mirepoix (carrot, celery, onion), lightly beaten egg whites, and an acid (we used a bit of tomato paste). You mix it all up raw (it's really gross), add it to cold stock, and put it on the stove. Once it comes to a boil, you turn it down to a simmer and leave it alone. The clearmeat mixture cooks and attracts impurities from the stock. It floats to the top and forms a "raft." The raft cracks naturally and acts like a filter. It's super cool! Making consomme was one technique I was most excited about learning. You end up with this crystal clear broth with a big flavor. Ours was beef. All I could think when I tasted it was that's what I want next time I'm sick. Yummy! If you try it, be sure to season the consomme with kosher salt! The iodine in other salt will make the consomme cloudy and all your hard work for not! This lab was particularly interesting because it was very apparent who the serious students were. We were the ones standing over our pots talking about how cool this process was. In the soup portion of this lab, we made a cream soup. I chose cream of mushroom. I put my hot soup in the blender, whizzed it up, then set the blender on the counter to take the lid off. I went to pick it up and the bottom of the blender stayed on the table. You know the bottom part that screws on so you can take the blades out? Yeah. Somehow came unscrewed or something while I was blending. Soup went everywhere! It was awesome. Especially since it was my lunch. Luckily, about 7 people in my class offered to share theirs with me. I should have gotten a picture of that mess. Too funny.

In Basic lab, we also made fresh pasta, the week before Fall Break. We made miniature veggie lasagnas in ramekins. CUTE! We also made ravioli and tortelini. The tortelini was so much easier than I thought it would be. We had three fillings we had to make, to be shared by our table. There were three of us at my table, the same three people from the previous week's sauce lab when we made communal tomato sauce. I made the goat cheese stuffing for the tortelini. I used goat cheese, cream cheese, garlic, shallot, mint, tarragon, basil and parsley. It was very good. If I'm not mistaken, this was the first lab we've had all year without a clarified butter sauce!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Oops, I did it again.

I got an A on my Baking midterm! Woot! ::running man dance::

I also had a knife skills practical in Basic yesterday, which I had forgotten about. I got an A on that too. We were out of potatoes, so we didn't have to do the fancy-schmancy tournee cuts that I've been working on. Bummer. There were only 3 or 4 people in that class that were actually bummed about it.

I have two more tests coming up. Tomorrow I have a test on cooking techniques and soups. On Tuesday, I have a test in Safety and Sanitation. It took so long for us to have tests the beginning of the semester. Now it seems like we're having tests every day!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Best field trip EVER!

This afternoon my Purchasing class met on location at US Foodservice. For those of you who don't know, US Foodservice is one of the largest suppliers to restaurants, hotels, and other food service institutions across the US. They also have a great reputation concerning both service and quality. I have worked with them before and without hestiation I would work with them again. Many years ago, I worked in a restaurant. We did a catering for 500 for a furniture company during the Furniture Market week. US Foodservice let us borrow a truck, a semi trailer with both refrigerated and freezer sections to be exact, to hold everything we ordered to do this catering. Our kitchen in our 88 seat restaurant didn't have the room for it all. I digress. They are all about quality and service.

We arrived before noon. I regretted skipping lunch, but hey what are you going to do? A chef consultant came to the lobby to fetch us. He led us up to a classroom and demo kitchen combo. I spied a table full of desserts and was much relieved. On the counter were three giant ribeyes. Not the juicy 10 ounce steak, the entire ribeye piece taken directly off the cow. Three of them. There were two chefs who talked to us. They were super knowlegdable. They both had tons of experience. Their current jobs are to work with new customers, review menus and suggest USFS products that would work for them. Today, they gave us a demonstration on beef quality that included a steak lunch with baked potatoes, salad, rolls, steamed broccoli and desserts. You may envy me now.

The chefs cut open a Prime ribeye, a Choice ribeye, and a Select ribeye. While the side of the cow is whole, after slaughter, the ribeye is cut along the 12th and 13th rib. It is from here that the quality of the entire cow is judged. If there is a lot of marbling, it is considered Prime, the highest quality. Less marbling, it's Choice. Even less, it's Select. You are most likely to find Choice in grocery stores. Prime beef only accounts for 2% of all beef, so it's typically reserved for high quality restaurants. Fat equals flavor. It also helps with tenderness. The Prime ribeye was fantastic. The Choice was pretty good, even though it looked to me to have less marbling than I would have expected. The Select steak was tough and lack flavor. Even without being told which was which, I could tell what I was eating. We enjoyed loaded baked potatoes, Rosemary rolls, a salad with kalamata olives, cukes and tomatoes with a creamy mustard dressing. There was fresh steamed broccoli as well. Dessert was a number of bar cookies, lemon bars, some cranberry walnut thingy and seven layer bars, which I love! Not only was it delicious, but it was completely unexpected.

After lunch, they demonstrated a can cutting. They used cans of tomatoes, all three brands they carry. They have a very specific process for a can cutting. They open the can from the bottom. They strain the tomatoes for a minimum of two minutes to remove as much juice as possible. Next, the drained tomatoes are weighed. The juice is weighed also to be sure it added up to the weight on the can. There are supposed to be a certain amount of tomatoes in each can. Oddly enough, in the highest quality can, it was short on tomatoes. They report it to the packer. So they also lay out the three grades of tomatoes side by side so they can be compared. It was interesting. Not only do they do this for new customers, but they do it regularly to check quality.

After the can cutting, we toured the warehouse. I walked through a freezer that was 63,000 square feet in size. Huge doesn't begin to describe it. We walked through the dry storage area as well. This place is massive. It's the fifth largest division of USFS in the country. They are so efficient too. They showed us the location information and that process. It was fascinating.

We each got a goodie bag with an ovenmit, thermometer, pen, pencil, and a bunch of snacks. We were quizzed also, which resulted in the awarding of more prizes. I got a travel mug, a visor and a cookbook in addition to the goodie bag. The cookbook is cool! Each year USFS asks their chef customers to submit recipes, which they publish. They ended up giving everyone a cookbook.

I really had a great time. I learned a lot. I met some really nice folks. I ate some great food! This was a valuable experience and much cooler than I expected. Two thumbs up!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Quick check in, with more excitement to come!

I just wanted to let you know that I got a perfect score on my Safety and Sanitation exam. Yup. 100% on the germ test. I've got some good stuff to share with you including the baking practical exam where everything went wrong and a field trip to a vendor. Exciting stuff, peeps.

Tune in next time! After Tuesday, I promise. I'm a little behind on studying for a test in Basic Culinary Skills. Being a straight A student is pretty cool, but I'm spending all of my time on homework.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Knowing is half the battle, or I gross you out because I care.

It turns out that my Safety and Sanitation class is more cool and exciting than I thought it would be. Of course, it helps that I have a great instructor who is passionate (srsly!) about sanitation, knows her stuff, and cares that we're learning and are comfortable with the information. I'm learning a lot in this class, probably more than my other classes. Allow me to share with you some of what I've learned.

One thing she said during the first week of class surprised me, but really it shouldn't. You're more likely to get a foodborne illness at home than from commercially prepared food. Yep. You are. And it makes sense. Professional kitchens are crazy in love with sanitizers. After dishes are washed, they are thoroughly sanitized with either a chemical or 185 degree water. It's unlikely most people do that at home. As well, foods are heated and cooled properly at home and professional cooks are cautious of The Danger Zone. Do you know what The Danger Zone is? No, silly. I'm not talking about the Kenny Loggins song from Top Gun. It the range of 41 degrees F to 135 degrees F, where bacteria flourish, thrive and are generally very, very happy. We use ice baths, ice spikes and other measures to cool foods down very quickly. Putting hot food into a refrigerator, especially at home, will generally warm up the inside if the fridge and put everything else in jeopardy. Crazy, huh?

We all know that our county has rules about cheeseburgers being cooked at least medium well, that most places ban raw (unpasteurized) dairy products, and you're not supposed to eat meat, fish and eggs that aren't cooked thoroughly. But how many of us know why?

And I know what you're thinking. I really do. Because I was thinking the same thing the first couple days of class. "Eeeeew. I'll never be able to eat again!" "OMG. My professor said diarrhea!" But here are a few things to think about.

1. Think about how many times you've eaten and NOT gotten sick. Really. I'll bet it's, like, a lot.
2. Sure, you like food. But I'll bet I can name two things you like more than food. Not vomiting. And not having diarrhea. Am I right?
3. The more you know, the more likely you are to not make your family and friends sick.

I've been studying up on what seems like a million foodborne illnesses, most of which I've never heard of. We all know the big ones, right? Botulism, salmonella, E. coli. That's just the tip of the microbial iceberg, peeps.

Listeria. I'd heard of it. I knew that something something Listeria something pregnant women something. You can get it from raw dairy products, raw meat and ready to eat foods like hotdogs and deli meat. So what's the deal with Listeria and pregnant women? If a pregnant woman gets Listeria, the symptom is...miscarriage. Damn. That's serious. In little kids, it causes sepsis, pneumonia, and meningitis. Not all foodborne illness makes you puke.

Not only do you get Botulism from dented cans, but you can get it from a baked potato that wasn't cooled right. If you're making baked potatoes ahead of time, to be reheated, for the love of all things holy, DO NOT wrap those puppies up in foil. Botulism likes that. A lot. The less oxygen, the more Botulism. Did you also know that if you don't seek medical attention, it'll kill you? There was an episode of Dr. Quincy, ME about it.

You're more likely to get E. coli from produce than from meat. Frail Voiced Vegan Girl is in this class. She thinks she's immune to foodborne illness because she doesn't consume animals. Wrong! Wasn't there an E. coli outbreak a few years ago that was traced back to green onions? It's always the green onions! And lettuce. And tomatoes. And and and.... Oh, yeah. Sprouts. That's a big one.

Clostridium perfringens gastroenteritis. Like, what? This is carried in the intestines of both animals and humans. It loves The Danger Zone (41-135F). You usually get diarrhea and severe abdominal pain. Here's the best part...commercially prepared foods are not often involved in outbreaks. Straight from my book. It's commonly linked to meat and poultry and foods containing meat and poultry, like soups and stews. Next time you make chili at home, and you get, uh, a little rumbly afterwards, it's not the beans that are bothering you.

Bacillus cereus is a bacteria that produces two different toxins. It's the toxins that make you sick. The each cause an illness. One makes you throw up. The other gives you diarrhea. You can get this from cooked rice, like fried rice and rice pudding. Milk, meat and cooked veggies can also carry this. This can be prevented by heating and cooling foods properly and holding food at the right temperature. Think cookout or church picnic. Don't let that stuff sit out for more than 4 hours.

Did you know you can get a staph infection from food? You can. Staphylococcal bacteria are carried on the body, including the nose, hair, throat and infected cuts. You can transfer the bacteria by rubbing your nose then mixing the pasta salad by hand. If the bacteria is allowed to grow, it'll produce a toxin that'll make you sick. Cooking will not destroy this toxin.

Shigella can be transferred from feces to food by people who don't wash their hands. It can also be transferred to food by flies. (Again with the cookout!) It'll give you bloody diarrhea and abdominal pain and cramps. Charming.

Norovirus and Hepatits A can be transmitted from ready-to-eat food contaminated with feces and from shellfish from contaminated waters. Hepatitis A however is a vaccine preventable disease.

Our old friend Salmonella. Yes, you can get this from chicken and eggs. Did you know that you can also get this from beef and dairy products as well as produce? The best way to prevent this is to prevent cross-contamination. Buy color coded cutting boards and be strict about it. Sanitize. Wash hands and equipment if you're in doubt. I knew someone who got this and is now horribly lactose intolerant as a result.

If you eat shellfish, you're in for a treat. Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning. Amnesiac Shellfish Poisoning. Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning. They're pretty self explanatory. This happens when bottom feeding shellfish dine on toxic algae. Cooking, freezing, etc. doesn't prevent this. This freaks me out a little. Do you have any idea how much I love mussels?

Anasakis is a parasite you get from raw or undercooked fish. It has two symptoms. A tingling in the throat. Coughing up worms. Let me give you a minute to reread that. Coughing. Up. Worms. I've actually seen this in halibut I ordered years ago in a restaurant where I worked. I didn't know what it was, but I knew I wasn't going to serve this halibut to my guests for $25 a plate. (I sent it back) They are little round, pinky-yellow worms that make you cough up more worms.

I still have a few more flash cards, but I think you get my point. Cooking at home, being vegetarian, buying organic, none of this makes you immune. Heat and cool your food correctly. Wash your hands. Cover your hair. Wash your gadgets and cutting boards thoroughly. Buy food from stores you trust. Don't buy clams from some toothless redneck selling them from the back of his rusty 1974 Ford pickup. Ask your meat and fish guy where their products come from. This helps prevent foodborne illness. Burying your head in the sand because diarrhea is icky is bad.

This class that I previously thought was going to be lame will be one of the most useful I will take in culinary school. This is really good information. I'm still nervous about my test on Tuesday, but I'm feeling better about it. If you want to do more reading on the subject, here's a link to the CDC's page.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Baking I Lab, biscuits, coffee cake, and muffins.

Last week in Baking I, we had three assignments. Our current lesson was on Quick Breads, so we made biscuits, muffins and a sour cream coffee cake.

My biscuits rose higher than anyone else's. Mine were a little saltier too. My instructor gave me high praise saying mine were better than her's.

Blueberry muffins, where the frozen blueberries sank in spite of having been dusted with flour. Still tasty anyway.

Sour cream coffee cake. My streusel topping wasn't very good. Okay, it kind of sucks. My butter was way too soft. Lesson learned.