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.

More tourneed potatoes, clarified butter sauces, and cow-eating cows.

I've got a couple riveting photos of knife cuts for you. I can tell you're excited. In the beginning of each Basic Culinary Skills lab, we practice our knife cuts for an hour or so. Here are mine for the past two weeks. Last week, Chef pulled each of us aside to review what's on our plates, what we're doing right and what we need to keep practicing. He told me that mine was above average work and that I needed to work on consistency.

clockwise from the plastic dish: tournee potatoes, supreme orange, brunoise onion, julienne carrot, rondelle carrot

clockwise from the plastic dish: tournee and batonette potato, bias cut carrot, minced garlic, minced parsley, diced red pepper, chiffonade spinach

Last week in BCS lab, we clarified butter and made Hollandaise. I don't have any pictures of that because Hollandaise is just yellow. Tasty, but not too exciting. We were also treated to an Italian Buffet by another class. It was good. There was a rolled eggplant, ham and cheese thingy that was right tasty as well as a braised cut of beef, maybe an oxtail?, that was magnificent. We're well fed, even if it is pounds and pounds of clarified butter.

In Baking Lab last week, we had a timed practical as well as three assignments to bake. The timed practical was 3 pounds of dough that we had to shape into baguettes and knotted rolls in 20 minutes. We could have an extra 5 minutes, but for every minute we went over, we lost one point off our grade. I'm pretty fast and even I was sweating the time limit. The dough was previously made and refrigerated. It wasn't allowed to warm up as much as it should which made it difficult to work with. The part of the dough that makes this bread, rather than a cake or scone, for example, is gluten which is a protein. Like all proteins, it becomes quite firm when chilled. Bread dough can be refrigerated, but it needs to be given ample time to warm up and relax or the dough will just tear. That's what was happening with this dough. I started to roll out a baguette, but it wasn't cooperating with me. I set the dough down and moved on to my rolls. They were only 2 ounce portions and could be warmed by handling. In the end, I finished in 20 and a half minutes. Someone in my class was annoyed when I finished first and actually said out loud , "oh god" with obvious disgust. (I've recently learned it was Frail Voiced Vegan Girl, but I'll get to that later.) I also received the highest score of 99 points, losing one point for going over the 20 minutes.

We had a big test in BCS. I got an A. We had two quizzes in Baking I. I got As on both. Somewhere in there I had my first test in Safety and Sanitation too. I got an A. Next week, I have a big test in Baking I and a big test in Safety and Sanitation. I'm going to be scarce this week because I have to memorize the names, foods linked, symptoms and prevention measures for EVERY foodborne illness. Do you have any idea how many there are? I'm feeling a little overwhelmed. As a former foreign language major, I can memorize stuff like nobody's business. There's just so much to know, it's almost ridiculous.

Alright, Frail Voice Vegan Girl. Yes, PeeWee, I have one too. Sadly, she's in all of my classes. Even Purchasing. While there isn't anyone who doesn't respect her choice to be vegan, the fact that she's so ridiculously misinformed about that choice has made her the laughing stock of class. We were talking about E. coli yesterday in S&S. The instructor was going over how you get it, which is from both ground meat and produce. Frail Voice Vegan Girl speaks up, but in a barely audible voice, "Is that from when the cows are standing around in their own filth and then they start to eat other cows?" Like, what? Personally, I was too shocked to laugh. Others were not. She got this angry look on her face and said, "They eat other cows." For those of you who are perhaps not familiar with cows, let me enlighten you. They don't have the anatomy to eat other cows, or any meat for that matter. They lack the teeth needed to eat meat, they have multiple stomachs to help them digest the fibrous plant material they do eat, and there is documentation to support that feeding meat to cattle will make them die. Like I said, it's not her dietary choices, it her gross misinformation. She got really angry two weeks ago when the instructor told us that tofu and fake meat products were potentially hazardous foods. She raised her hand. "Does that get into tofu from the slaughter houses?" If anyone can tell me who produces tofu in a slaughter house, I'd be grateful. She kept going on in that class about slaughter houses. Ah, good times. Good times. Oh, I forgot to add that I knew it was her that was audibly annoyed when I finished the baking practical first, because yesterday in BCS she was audibly annoyed when I answered yes when Chef asked if he spelled a French word correctly. She's my new BFF.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

I don't want to have to break up with Butter.

Last week in Basic Culinary Skills, we made the three roux-thickened mother sauces. These would be Bechamel, a milk based sauce, Veloute, a stock based sauce, and Espagnole, a brown sauce. There are two more mother sauces, Hollandaise and Tomato, and are called Mother Sauces because from these five relatively simple sauces, you can make a gazillion other sauces. What to make Fettuccine Alfredo, mac'n'cheese, or Pasta Primavera? You're starting with Bechamel. Gravy? Chicken Pot Pie? That would be Veloute, pronounced as vell-oo-tay by the way. You get the picture. They are pretty easy to make, generally speaking. The quality you get out of the sauce really depends on the quality of ingredients you put in them.

oh look! white sauce in a pot!

Not very exciting, I tells ya. I forgot to take pictures of the other two.

And here's my plate of practice veggies for the week:

My tourneed potatoes look better because I sprung for the fancy-schmancy bird beak paring knife. It helps a lot. I really want to practice this knife cut as much as possible. We have tryouts for teams each semester for competitions. I just found out about this semester's try outs, but alas, they are at the same time as my baking lab. Next semester, I hope!

Speaking of baking lab, I present you cinnamony goodness.

quality control, you see.

Brioche, a super buttery, eggy French bread. I won't tell you how much butter went into this.

Speaking of butter...I cut my finger this week. In baking lab. On butter. I hang my head in shame. It wouldn't stop bleeding. It took three bandaids at tourniquet strength to make it stop. Butter. I cut my finger while cutting butter. So embarrassing.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Bitty Cakes, Raleigh

Last month, my Williams-Sonoma Hookup told me about an upcoming class at the store with Kim Hammer of Bitty Cakes here in Raleigh. Naturally, I didn't put it in my calendar which these days is a guarantee I'll miss it. I got a text from this friend at 6:58, "you coming to class?" Oops. I forgot. "When does it start," I ask, hoping he says 7:30. "Now-ish. 7:00. " Dag. I was a little late, of course this makes everyone stop and look at me and I hate being the center of attention, so it was extra embarrassing. Awesome.

The class was great. Kim is a delightful, warm, friendly woman. She is very knowlegable about baking and a lot of fun to listen to. We had chocolate zucchini cupcakes and peach cobbler cupcakes. We got recipes. We had cupcakes with icing and warm cupcakes with ice cream. I think I actually had a sugar buzz when I left. She was also gracious enough to talk to me about how she started this business. I've been thinking a small baking business would be a good way to earn some extra money while I'm in school.

She demonstrated the recipes she gave us, including the one for cream cheese frosting. I love cream cheese frosting. When she was done, she asked if anyone wanted to lick the paddle. Everyone was looking around like they were too polite and civilized to do such a thing even though we all know they do it in the own home. Not me. I raised my hand. Her cream cheese frosting is that good. And for the record, I used my finger. There was no actual licking involved.

I have those prune plums which I am going to substitute in her peach cobbler cake recipe. It's got cinnamon and allspice which might be good with the plums.

If you're in the Raleigh area and in need of cupcakes, get yourself a Bittycake. You won't regret it.

I forgot to give this post a title. Sorry.

There are no stupid questions, only stupid people.

In week three of culinary school, I think it's safe to say there are some stupid questions. For example, "why do you use yeast in bread and baking powder and soda in biscuits and other things?" You, dear reader, may not know the answer to this question. My classmates, however, should have read chapters 2 and 5 through 9 in Professional Baking by Wayne Gisslen and possible a little bit of How Baking Works by Paula Figoni. I assure you, the answer to this question is there. What is disturbing is when the instructor is unable to answer this question. She went on and on about creating flavor with the yeast, which is largely incorrect. Unfortunately my advisor and program head is not actually teaching this class anymore. She has a teaching assistant running the show. She is an elderly woman who calls herself a "retired chef" even though she graduated from Wake Tech two years ago. As a babysitter for 35 wide-eyed culinary students, most of whom will wash out by December, she is perfect for the job. As a culinary instructor required to explain the science of baking to a few in the class with a broad and comprehensive food knowledge and a drive and passion to be the best they can be, she is less than adequate. We were talking about chemical leaveners yesterday. Someone named vinegar as an acid with which the chemical leaveners would react. She wasn't so sure this was correct. The student mentioned red velvet cake. The instructor said, "Well, that probably has other things like baking powder in it." I'd had enough by this point. I spoke up. "No, actually it only has baking soda which is mixed with the vinegar. It's a very old Southern recipe, created before the invention of the double acting baking powders we have today. So it was leavened with what was available at the time." Another student, C., spoke up as well. "The vinegar reacts with the cocoa powder which turns the cake red." The instructor looked dumbfounded. In her thick Southern accent, she said, "Well, how about that. I didn't know that about red velvet cake." (Red velvet cake is a Southern Institution, by the way.) This woman was my TA for Baking Lab on Friday too. She was shocked when she saw me kneading my dough the right way, without instruction. She really is a nice lady and she likes me, which is good. I'll just have to study my book really well and take what she says in class with a grain of salt. It just bothers me that I'm not sure she has the basic knowledge needed to teach a Baking I class. Everyone keeps going on and on about the awards she's won for her cake decorating. That's all well and good, but it has nothing to do with baking. Maybe she ought to teach the cake decorating class instead. I had a good chat with C. after class. She's really cool and is one of the motivated second year students. She gets it. I like her.

I don't want a story, just your dirty dishes.

At the end of class, we are all expected to clean up. Somehow, I always seem to be in the dish pit. I am okay with this. I know how to wash dishes in both the three sinks and the commercial dishwasher and I can do it faster than most everyone else. I keep trying to explain to people that anything that doesn't need to be scrubbed can be run through the dishwasher. They don't get it. Twenty times in a row I hear, "um, Meg, can this go over here?" "Where do you want me to put this?" "I don't think this came clean in the sinks, should I bring it over here?" This tells me that they have never worked in a restaurant. Even if you've waited tables, you understand how the Dish Pit works. If not, the El Salvadorians will be happy to show you the first time. After that, you'll learn not to interfere with The System. "Just set it over there with the rest of the dishes," I say over and over. The chefs repeat over and over, "if it doesn't have to be scrubbed, send it to the dishwasher."

I keep finding knives in the dish area. This is bad. Kitchen knives are big and sharp. They will cut you. They are also expensive. You don't want someone else handling your knives because they will either be damaged or stolen.

I am beginning to think we need a common sense test before acceptance into the program.

But, wait! there's more!

We had our first sauce making lab yesterday. I made Bechamel, a white sauce, Veloute, a stock based sauce, and Espagnole, a brown sauce that a little more complicated. Chef said mine were excellent. We also had to clarify 2 pounds of butter. I let mine go too long and made clarified brown butter. I was not the only one, thankfully. I also poked my left index finger with the point of my chef's knife. Luckily, I was not the first to shed blood in class. It was just small prick of my finger and I can barely see it today.