Saturday, December 15, 2012

Soldiering On

You know how there are those certain events in your life in which, when they happen, you know you change in a little, tiny, nearly imperceptible way?

The news of the shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut is one of those events for me.  My heart hurts desperately for every single one of those families that will not have their little ones with them at Christmas.

I can't even think of how to reconcile the shooter's actions with what I've believed to be true in this world.  I used to think there were some things that were sacred...that nobody, no matter how sick, would knowingly shoot people in a mall or a church or a school... or any place little kids were.  All of that has been shattered...where are the safe places now?

Every day I understand this world less and less...and I know I'm not meant to.  Things unfold as they should.  But I wonder how I go on from here.  Is it disrespectful to those who've died if I say I want to turn off my computer, internet, the news...and bake gingerbread cookies?  A sweet potato cheesecake?  That I want to try making crepes?

These are things I would have liked to post about here...but somehow it feels like I'm burying my head in the sand.  So, we just carry on.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Better Late Than Not At Any Time

Well, aren't I a bit dilatory?  I could offer a hundred excuses on why I've not posted for a few weeks, but I won't waste your time.  I just haven't posted here...that's all.

What's new:

I'm still enrolled in culinary arts school.  I've just finished the third week of the second term.  My 4.0 GPA first term was enough to land me on the President's List, and I'm motivated to keep that streak alive.

Second term looks like this:

Garde Manger
Cold Food Principles
Culinary Nutrition
Food Service Lab 2
Introduction to Business

The classical culinary arts definition of the French phrase "Garde Manger" is something along the lines of "food produced in the cold kitchen".  This broad interpretation includes: salads, salad dressings, cold sauces and soups, sandwiches, charcuterie (cold meats), condiments, pickled and marinated foods, vegetables, fruits, cheeses, pates and terrines.

So yeah, the first six weeks of this class has been and will be productive.  Every day I and my classmates are preparing a recipe out of our textbooks.  The first week was vegetables, and I tackled:

Roasted Garlic Crostini
Stir-fried Asparagus and Shiitake Mushrooms
Brussel Sprouts in Pecan Butter
Butternut Squash Puree
(As you can see, none of these dishes were "cold" dishes...per the definition of Garde Manger, but alas...)

Week two was Salads and Salad dressings: Chantilly sauce, Orange and Pineapple Salad with Boiled Dressing, Endive, Apple, and Gorgonzola Salad, and Mango Chicken Chutney Salad.

Next week is Hors d'oeuvres, and I've got Rumaki!

I can't say I'm learning a lot (although some, mostly from mine and my classmates' mistakes), but it's great that the first two and a half hours every morning fly by because we're doing something!

Culinary Nutrition is the class that is blowing my mind right now.  I've done my share of reading about food and health: Gary Taubes, Marion Nestle, Michael Pollan, etc. etc.  But the pure straight up fact and science behind nutrition (and our messed-up choices) really amaze me...and I hope to share my insights soon.  Our instructor had us do this fabulously visual lab on the sugar, sodium, and fat found in ordinary food.  Sometime I will duplicate it and post about it's too awesome not to. 

Hm.  Yeah...well.  I think my holiday eating will look a little different this year.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

My Thanksgiving, in Pictures

So, with a whole eight weeks of culinary school under my belt, I felt totally qualified to volunteer to host the in-laws for Thanksgiving dinner.  However, shortly after I committed us to the job, I was working on my mise en place.  The menu (or at least what I was providing) was completed within a couple of weeks, and I used the remaining time to "test" out the recipes on my family (they were willing participants).

The turkey, the centerpiece, the piece de was I going to do it?  Enter NPR (National Public Radio).  I happened to be driving to or from school when I heard Alton Brown being interviewed about dos and don'ts of Turkey Preparation (don't - stuff your turkey or baste it).  He mentioned brining as a method of preparation, and right there is when I knew I wanted to try THAT for my turkey.  Then, he talked about 'spatchcocking', and that sounded less appealing (the concept, that is...the word itself is actually very appealing to say).  

After that initial exposure, I began to see brining all over the my daily recipe inbox, on the Google, etc.  I'd planned to go with a straight up sea salt and water brine when I found this at a organic food grocery some days ago. 

Courtesy of Urban Accents and Gateway Market, Des Moines, IA

Read instructions on container label.  Execute said instructions.  Done.  This here is how Mr. Turkey looked this morning at 8 am.  I took the liberty of covering him up with a little olive oil and poultry rub before bunging him in the oven.  The only thing I regret here is that I did not get a picture of the bird after it came out...because I was so awed by its perfect appearance.  It truly looked like a bird you'd see on the cover of Family Circle or similar.  And my in-laws crowed with compliments about its juiciness.

We're sorry we had to eat you, Mr. Turkey, but we're kinda not.  You were delicious.

I'd tried this recipe out on my family a couple weeks before the Big Day.  Earning rave reviews, I decided to do this Green Bean Casserole Stuffed Mushroom recipe because a.) the family liked it; b.) I love mushrooms; c.) it's a departure from the typical cream of mushroom soup laden dish common to Thanksgiving tables everywhere.

Here's the cauliflower au gratin.  Gotta represent the white vegetable.  I used yellow cauliflower the first time I tested this recipe, and it was amazing!  And of course, in my intent to duplicate the dish for the Big Day, I couldn't find the yellow.  White only.  However, I would love to try making this again, maybe with some of that frozen cauliflower-broccoli mix?  Honestly, I'd do this dish in lieu of mashed potatoes...but, my in-laws are old-school people, so potatoes were on the menu!

And this guy here is the stuffing.  My mother-in-law was quite nervous, because, let's face it, this is not your traditional sage and bread stuffing.  This here's a sausage and cabbage combo, courtesy of the folks at Taste of Home.  It scored high marks with the family, but I knew there was room for improvement.  More bread cubes, for example.  When I prepared this dish in advance yesterday, I made my own tweaks, like: I used half white cabbage, half red cabbage (although my father-in-law said he liked the red cabbage, I didn't like how the color faded and bled out).  I threw in some oysters and a Maiitake mushroom for fun.  And definitely, this stuffing recipe is a keeper.  However, the next time I make it, I'll use way less sausage.

Items I don't have personal pictures of and it's too bad because they were cool:

My cranberry upside down cake and the endive-goat cheese-fig bites.  To my in-laws' credit, most of them tried the bites (even though they'd never had any of the ingredients before).  The cake competed with an apple and cherry pie in the dessert category...thus, suffice it to say we have plenty of that left.  :) 

So that you have visual, I thank Williams-Sonoma and for their photos of these dishes.

I admit, I now feel a little lost now that I don't have a major menu to plan and prepare for.  How long till Christmas?

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Month of Thankfulness...Food-Related and Otherwise

I just picked up, and have begun browsing, Alice Waters's The Art of Simple Food, and for the first time ever, I'm looking at these recipes (by an accomplished, well-known, chef) and I'm thinking, Hey, I can do these!

Well, the truth be told, I could do the recipes before...but now I feel like I'm beginning to understand the logic behind them.  They do not daunt me, is what I mean.

So, last night, I'm regaling my husband with tales of fava bean puree and kale and butternut squash soup before bedtime.  I'm also discussing (quite animatedly) the cauliflower gratin we had for supper.  To his credit, he is nodding and acknowledging my comments and suggestions, albeit with the sluggish energy of someone who's ready for bed.  :)

And there's what I'm thankful for: a partner who is a.) willing to try any foodstuff I throw under his nose and b.) not so wrapped up in his own chaotic little world.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Same Song...Second Verse?

First of all, one million spacebucks to the person who can tell me exactly what the difference is between the FDA and the USDA.

About a year and a half ago, the USDA discarded the oft-revamped Food Pyramid and replaced it with this guy...

As if the previous pyramid didn't confuzzle us enough with its distorted, convoluted rainbow-ray configuration, I would say the USDA's latest effort does a fair job at it as well.  And actually, I think I might feel insulted with the above diagram...while on the surface, it looks like a cute, colorful shape-sort puzzle...but as I ponder the wedge-shaped pieces, I realize, I have no idea what the pieces mean.  I. Don't. Understand.

And that realization leads to other, scarier ones about government agencies.  But I digress.
This MyPlate graphic here indicates that I should eat a large wedge shape full of vegetables every day, followed by a slightly smaller wedge shape of grains...and I dunno, a quick eyeball seems to conclude that I can have the same wedge-size of fruit and protein every day too.  Oh, and there's a cute little blue circle on the side that indicates I get a cute little blue circle's worth of dairy every day as well.  But, judging by the circle and its placement, it appears the government wants me to drink my dairy requirement.

Oh, where do I begin with the questions?

1. Firstly, what size of plate are we supposed to be using to form our wedges?  I mean, the difference between a 8" and 10" plate could be the difference between an extra asparagus spear (and thus, the difference between life and death).

2. Am I doomed to a life without cheese?  Or, I am supposed to melt it and drink it?

3. I know that peanut butter is high in protein.  So, let's say I want to fill my purple wedge with Skippy Extra Crunchy.  Because, you know, that's pretty much what the diagram indicates.  But what about the saturated fats?  Aren't those what clog my arteries and cause massive heart attacks?  But...but...but...

4. What if I'm eating a casserole?  Where does that fit in on the diagram?  I mean, MyPlate is pretty exclusive, and I'm nervous that if a Protein crossed in Vegetable territory, there would be gang wars of devastating proportions.  And where the hell do I put the Cream of Mushroom Soup (that acts as the binder)?  Dairy?  I'm drinking it?

5. No mention of fats on this schematic.  No EVOO.  What's Rachael Ray going to say?

I think I'll stop there.  As I search the Internet, it's obvious other people have problems with this diagram as they provide their own interpretations, for better or worse.  For example...

This guy here makes mention of fats, sodium, and sugar.  And exercise.  We also get more specifics, like 4.5 oz of whole grains a day (but no examples of what those grains might be).  The most guidance comes in the veggie column, compensating for the poor fruit recommendation that follows it.  The protein column sort of addresses my peanut butter question...but my plate size question, my dairy beverage question, and my casserole question go unanswered.

And then here's this guy, courtesy of the nutrition folks at Harvard.  The blue circle is now called 'Water'...and Dairy has a brief cameo within Water's description.  I personally get a kick out of the dig aimed at tuber-lovers in the Vegetable section ("Potatoes and french fries don't count").  This diagram might treat exercise the most maturely of all the pictographs I found - 'Stay active'.  Yeah, that's about all that needs to be said about that.

There's a significant amount of fine print on this one, and for good reason.  Each section on this poster includes tips on how to more easily include this items into your diet.  Some are old-hat ("top cereal with berries or diced fruit") and some are sort of less so ("add barley, bulgar, or quinoa to soups and stews").  But still...

And look at our friend Dairy...look at his bullet points!  One of the four subpoints talks about dairy beverages, the other focus more on dairy and food!  And now, finally, at the end of it all...I feel as if I sort of have the answer to the casserole question. 

But now, I have more, why is the government making healthy eating so damn complicated?  I feel like I've just played an exhausting game of nutritional Tetris, where more is at stake than going to the next level.  My health, present and future, hangs in the balance.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Improvisational Cornbread

With the weather turning colder, chili is one of my family's favorite dishes.  Personally, I can eat it all year round, I can eat it sitting on the ground, I can eat it with a fox, I can eat it on a box...

Wait.  I'm going all Seussical.  Let me bring you back to the topic at hand:

Chili + my husband's Improvisational Cornbread = The Hallelujah Chorus

But...strangely enough, the week's menu did not call for chili, nor cornbread, this week.

Tonight's dinner was supposed to be Corn Casserole.  Brent was in charge of making it.  I'd left a note, pointing him to the specific recipe in the cookbook...because he gets very anxious if there's no recipe to follow.  But my mise en place was most certainly not en place today...but my husband manage to make it work anyway.  He is evolving!

The Corn Casserole I'd planned originally called for two boxes of Jiffy cornbread mix and a can of yellow corn.  I had neither in the pantry.  Oops.

So, Brent modified the recipe on the back of a can of cornmeal...and created a beautiful, moist, corn-licious, cornbread...and here's how it went down.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup sugar
4 tsps baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 stick butter, melted
1 (16 oz) can cream-style corn

He mixed everything together, poured it into a 9 x 13 inch pan, baked it at 350 for 45 minutes.

And this is what happened...

A golden, corn-laden square of heaven
And then, in the best interest of time, we quickly procured two ready-to-eat cans of chili (would have been homemade if there had been time).  Some chopped onions, sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, and cut carrot sticks...AND THAT WAS DINNER.

And it was SO blanking good!

That was my husband who made it, people.  My husband did that.  Deviating from the recipe made him very uncomfortable, but he prevailed in spite of it!

He's the man!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Tools Rule!

It is very likely that I have an illness.  An addiction illness.  An addiction illness that compels me to get cookbooks every time I am near a place that sells or loans books.

Even THOUGH, I have more than enough cookbooks on my shelves already...and there MORE than enough recipes in those cookbooks to keep me occupied three meals a day/seven days a week/fifty-two weeks of the rest of my life.  When I bought my first cookbook (not received as a wedding gift), a conversation with my husband went like this:

Me (with fervent excitement): Hey, look at this!  I got a new cookbook today!  Whee!

Him (with equal excitement): Great!  You'll make lots of amazing food with that!

But years later...

Me: (with fervent excitement): Hey, I got a neeeeeeeew cookbook today!  Whee!

Him:  Er.  Yes.  Okay.

But I don't let him stomp on my parade.  It makes me happy and it's less expensive and damaging than an addiction to methamphetamines.  So I carry on.

Imagine how happy I am these days with the advent of the Internet, because I now have access to millions more recipes online.  Free!  With pictures!  Somebody catch me whilst I swoon!

I've had success with recipes at and  Yesterday, however, I came across two websites that might surpass all recipe websites and cookbooks. is an organizational site that looks very similar to Pinterest, except exclusive to food.  When I reviewed my pantry inventory, the standout ingredient (thanks to Costco) was farfalle pasta.  Seventy-nine recipes turned up when I searched 'farfalle' at Punchfork.  And not a whole lot of cream soup-type casseroles, either.  These recipes come across as a bit more upscale (although, not pretentious, I think), containing items like porcini mushrooms, salmon, spring peas, pistachios, etc.  The only drawback is that many of these recipes are concerned about taste and look, primarily, with nutrition coming in third.  But, you know, everything in moderation... is the second neat little site I came across on the Internets.  While the look of Punchfork is much more alluring, initially....Yummly might be the diamond in the rough.  Entering 'farfalle' into the search engine garners 501 recipes, and the variety is nice (Farfalle and Tuna Casserole next to Farfalle with Mascarpone, Asparagus, and Hazelnuts).  Nutritional information is available as well.  But, here's the gem: look at the left-hand side...nearly twelve filters that will pare down the 501, all to the searcher's particular taste.  When I changed the 'Savory' bar to 'Really Like' and the 'Sweet' bar to 'Really Dislike' and clicked the 'Vegetarian' box, the 501 was whittled down to thirteen.  And when I clicked the 'Cholesterol' bar down to less than 16mg per serving and the 'Main Dish' bar - that number dropped to two. 

It may be too early to predict and it certainly pangs me to say it...but maybe the days of buying cookbooks are over.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Mise En Place

French for "everything in its place".  Or as a colleague of mine says... "todo en su lugar".

"Mise en place" is the pre-preparation activity that goes on before the actual baking, cooking, or assembling.  You know, before you make cookies, you get out the flour, the sugar, the butter, the eggs, the chips, etc?  That way, you're not running around the kitchen, grabbing things willy-nilly from the fridge or pantry as you're trying to bake.

This concept of having everything in its place before beginning any kitchen project has been oft-reinforced at school.  And's starting to seep into my behaviors in my home kitchen.  As it should be, right?

But...that's not all.  I'm also enrolled in a Safety and Sanitation course...and much of that info is now rolling around in my mind as I prepare food.  Gads!

This morning, I was preparing a Pizza Casserole Take and Bake dish for a New Mom friend of mine.  Two months ago, I would have slapped the thing together, with not much thought to any of the above notions.  But, today...well, let me break it down for you.

Pizza Casserole

Mise en place then: Boil water for the noodles. Begin browning hamburger.  Remember the onions.  Begin haphazardly chopping onions to throw in with the cooking meat.  Get out cans of pizza sauce and open.  Get noodles out of pantry.  As totally cooked ground beef sits in skillet on stove (cooling), get out mushrooms, open, drain.  Get cheese from fridge.  Get out pan and spray with Pam.  Mix all items together in large bowl and spread in pan.

Mise en place now: Measure out dry noodles, and set water boiling for the noodles.  Get out and open cans of pizza sauce.  Open and drain mushrooms.  Open and unpackage Canadian bacon slices.  Get out mozzarella cheese from freezer. Small dice onions and put in skillet at same time as ground beef.  Get pan out and spray with Pam.  Empty sauce, mushrooms, spices into large metal bowl.  Drain beef and empty into bowl.  Drain noodles and empty into bowl.  Mix and spread in pan.

Honestly, as you read through my mise en place, you might not see much of a difference.  You'll probably notice that I got everything out and prepared everything (dicing, opening, etc.) before I even began cooking and assembling the dish.  I notice, however, that the process was much less helter-skelter than ever.  Much smoother, quicker, more efficient. And I dig it.

Also, earlier in the week, during a lecture on knife care, my instructor mentioned something about running a sink of hot, soapy water for doing dishes as she made a meal.  She described washing as she went, and having little to no dishes to clean up when she was done.  This also, she claimed, was part of her mise en place...simple, efficient ways to cut out unnecessary minutes in food preparation.  So...I did it too.  Washed dishes as I went.  Pretty liberating stuff, I can tell you!

And then, one point, I'd just stirred the boiling noodles with a wooden spoon, and I placed the utensil in the spoon rest on the stovetop.  But, then, a thought occurred to me, I may have just cross-contaminated that spoon!  The spoon rest is caked with all kinds of who-knows-what cooking residue...probably a veritable breeding ground for pathogens.  So, I discarded my old spoon and got a new one.  Two months ago, I would not have thought twice about that.

Knowledge is power.  GI Joe taught me that, and culinary school makes me implement it!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Mastering Mushrooms

If nothing else, our instructors are precise about the size of our cuts...for example,

a large dice must be 3/4" x 3/4" x 3/4"
a medium dice must be 1/2" x 1/2" x 1/2"
a small dice must be 1/4" x 1/4" x 1/4"
a brunoise must be 1/8" x 1/8" x 1/8"
a fine brunoise must be 1/16" x 1/16" x 1/16"

and one teacher in particular is able to eyeball whether our large dices are too small and our fine brunoise is too big.

For me, someone who is spatially impaired, this detail to measurement is difficult to visualize.  So, I created a handy-dandy little measuring card to fit in my chef coat pocket...AND I laminated it.  Ha!

Eventually, I will get the mental picture of what a 3/4" cube looks like.  My larger problem? Fluting/turning a mushroom.  Our instructor demonstrated it, quickly, in class one day, and it was beautiful.  The rest of us tried it, and ended up hacking up our poor fungi to death.

With a vengeance I purchased a box of whole button mushrooms.  Mission: to better my turning technique.

This photo comprises my first few tries:

A few minutes, youtube video viewings, and mushrooms later:

And finally, a corner has been turned (har har - pun intended).  Not perfect by any means, but my technique is definitely getting better.  The tell tale spiral is definitely more discernible.

My New French Vocabulary

So.  Three weeks of culinary arts school done.  My French vocabulary is way expanding.  In addition to the names of the many, many French chefs who contributed to modern food services...there are many, many French terms in regards to knife skills. I've practiced these particular skills...and many, many more...(pictures courtesy of Google Images...mostly Wikipedia)

Chiffonade: French for 'to turn into rag-like strips'

A batonnet cut (on left): French for 'little stick'.  That's a small dice on the right.

Tourneed potatoes and mushrooms: French for 'to turn'

The beginning of a tomato concasse: French for 'to crush or grind'

Es tres bien! 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Service Don'ts

For one of my classes, we're reading Lessons in Service, which is a guide (of sorts) to excellent restaurant service.  The book revolves around Charlie Trotter's restaurant in Chicago.

I'm two chapters in, and the primary lessons so far are treat people like they're royalty, treat others how you want to be treated, and in the restaurant world, sweat the small stuff.

I'm surprised at how easily the students spit these words out to the instructor, but I wonder if they even know what they're saying.  Honestly, how can I treat my customers like royalty if I really don't know what royalty is treated like?  Also, it's hard to visualize how to treat others based on how I want to be treated...everyone has different thresholds for that.  Personally, I don't want someone being rude to me, but I don't think that necessarily translates into good service.  There's something about servers anticipating my needs and wants, and getting me to have a good time.

This is a question I will continue to ponder, but in the meantime, let me begin to elaborate on what good service isn't.  It's really very interesting...I've been in culinary school a whole two weeks, and already I'm starting to pick up on so many things in the industry I've never noticed before.

On Friday, we ate lunch at a P.F. Chang's.  The hostess was a nice-looking young lady, but she didn't smile when we came in.  She seemed indifferent, bothered maybe, to the fact that we were there.  She then darted off without telling us where she was going, and did not come back for three or four minutes (to put together a table for our party of five, I presume).  We were brought menus, drink orders were taken, as was an appetizer.  Then we were informed that our server would be with us shortly (so...this person wasn't our server??).

We waited five, maybe ten, minutes before we were helped again.  Our appetizer had arrived and we were halfway through it before anyone came back...and it actually was the gal who'd taken our drink and appetizer order (you know, our non-server server).  She took our order, and that was then the last we'd seen of her.  We were waited on for the rest of the meal by a man...I guess the guy who was supposed to be our original server?

The food was good.  The ambiance was nice.  The service?  Meh.  I'm not really in a rush to eat there again.  It would have been great to be more warmly welcomed into the restaurant, and it would have great to have been served in a timely and more efficient manner.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Plain Truth

After two weeks of culinary arts school, here's what I know:

The chipping around I do in my kitchen and write about here is nothing like being in a professional workplace.

My emotions have run the gamut these last several days.  I've been exhilarated, discouraged, distressed, exhausted...and I've second-guessed myself a lot.  I've been asking a lot of questions and doing a lot of self-reflecting.

And it's all been wonderful.  I'm being challenged and I'm meeting some amazingly inspiring people.

Tonight, though, might be the turning moment.  About eight of my classmates (and myself) stayed to help with a function the older Culinary students were putting on.  We started around four-thirty, and I and another student were given Crab-and-Tarragon scone duty.  Then, around six, we went out front to the "party" and manned the hors d'oeuvres station.  There, two other students and myself smiled and answered questions about the food.

It was a blast.  Collaborating with classmates, helping out, working with food, feeding and pleasing people, networking...

It is exactly that sublime feeling I've been looking for!

For the days ahead when I'm tired, worn out, burnt out...tonight will be my beacon, my dream, my impetus for continuing.  I think I'm finally starting to feel in my bones that I could do great things!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

No Doubt About It...

This culinary school thing will, by far, be the most challenging thing I've ever done.

Truly, I'm about to have my mettle tested.  You know, see the stuff I'm made of.  Find out my quality.  And all those other heroistic cliches you've seen in pop culture.

Yesterday, the head of our program brought in foie gras for us to try (no apologies, animal rights activists).  He said he wanted us to expand our palates, try new things, expand our horizons.

And frankly, it was delicious.  Rich and savory, I was still tasting it ten minutes later.

Which brings me to my own, limited food experience.  I don't really mean eating-wise...I mean, I'll try anything new any day of the week.  But I'm beginning to understand that I am definitely lacking culture...and that I must have it in my life to feel whole.  And by culture, I don't mean Lays potato chips dipped in cottage cheese (which is that example that one student used to support his claim that "I love trying all kinds of crazy stuff").

 I consider myself a decent cook, but I am about to have my limits, not to mention my skills, pushed to their boundaries.  Am I ready for that?  I would like to think I have the humility to accept with grace any criticism about my kitchen skills (which I've been practicing much longer than many of the other students).  And I know they will be criticized, and I will have to change or get left behind.  I'm going to have to work harder than I ever have in my life, and I will be swallowing a lot of pride to get where I'd imagined myself being.

I'm definitely outside of my comfort zone.  But, if it means trying more things like foie gras, or working in Spain for six weeks, or feeling awesome after missing only two out of 34 on a math test (a subject area I have not thought about for a long time)...then I think I'm ready for the challenge.

Like a friend of mine reminds me, the (amazing, life-changing) journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  And I can't help like feeling this is the best thing I've done for myself in a long time.

Monday, August 27, 2012

First Day of School

I slept poorly.

I left my house, only to return five minutes because I'd forgotten important parts of my uniform.

I've been wandering about campus since nine, attending various orientations, checking out various clubs, eating a free lunch, and whiling away the hours until my two o'clock class.

And all I can keep thinking right now is can class please, pretty please, just start?  And I sure don't remember thinking that on my first day of classes at Iowa State, way back in the good ol' fall of 1993.  In fact, I don't really remember paying for my tuition at ISU (which of course I must have, how else would they have given me a degree?)...but I certainly know I am paying that bill now.

And that will make all the difference, I suspect.

Not that I didn't appreciate my college education back then.  I did.  Sort of.  It got me a job.  The job got me money.  The money allowed me to start a family, buy a house, etc.  But one day, I dunno, the money wasn't enough.  The job wasn't enough. I am back at Culinary Arts school in a local community college.

And four hours into this whole thing, I can't stop thinking this is SO weird.  To be jockeying for space with all these young people.  Will I be able to compete?  What makes me more special than any of these other culinary students?  Can I do this while I continue to manage my house, family, and job?

And it is on a day like today that I remember the title of this blog here:

To thine own food.

Friday, August 24, 2012


A little bit of a departure today from food.  Quelle surprise, I know, but with my culinary arts classes starting next week...I figure from here on out, you'll be hearing more than you want about food and whatnot.

So, today...something different.  My kitchen (and maybe even your kitchen too).   My kitchen equals my happy place.

However, after my kids leave for school in the morning, that happy place looks something like this:

Not a happy place

Breakfast detritus
Not that my kitchen is filthy, but it's distressing.  It looks messier and more cluttered than it really is.  The number of open cabinet doors (not to mention the lazy susan in the corner) are appalling, because the jumble of colors, shapes, and features of the items inside cuts up the neat streamline of the brown wood's continuity.  Likewise with the neutral countertops - chaos explodes all over the place as items that Don't Belong are strewn all along the beige Formica landscape.

But, in these Days of Our Lives, time is short, and who wants to spend it rearranging and cleaning their kitchens?  I mean, seriously, do I want "Kept an Immaculate Kitchen" engraved on my tombstone when I pass into the Great Beyond?  No.

But, the kitchen is the heart of the house.  Or maybe the stomach.  Anyway, it's a place where my family spends a lot of time...and it's important.

So.  Three minutes.  Give yourself three minutes everyday to do these four or five steps, and your kitchen transforms into a place you can reasonably tolerate.  Until you find the time and energy to really clean it.

1.  Put away all major "out of place" items.  These are items like breakfast cereal, milk, butter, jelly, etc. that actually have another primary residence (pantry, top of fridge, inside the fridge).

2.  Close all cupboard doors (pantry, closets, etc).  Shove things around inside to get the door to fully close, if needed.

3. Pile dishes neatly into sink - to be loaded into dishwasher later (by oldest child, or similar).

4. Give countertops a quick swipe with washcloth or damp paper towel.

5. For Eat-In Kitchen Only: push all chairs in at the table.  Seriously.  You will be amazed at how much this makes a difference.

Yeah, you'll notice there's Stuff still on my counters.  And yeah, some of that will remain there for awhile (i.e. the plastic tub of water bottles - hello soccer season!).  But the difference between the two sets of photos is now this place, right above here, is somewhere I can move around in without wanting to tear out my eyes out (the way I feel when laying eyes upon the chaotic clutter in the first two pictures).

I can devote three minutes every morning for that kind of peace of mind.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Honoring a Great

If she were still alive today, she'd be 100 years old.

Happy Birthday, Julia Child!

As I begin (in less than two weeks) this journey into the Culinary Arts, I've named her my inspiration.  Because...I did some research and found out that she attended cooking school in Paris sometime in 1949 or 1950...which places her...

...right around the age of 37 or 38.

Holy vache.  I myself am around that same age.  She did exactly what I am doing now.  And look at what she did!

Also, she's famously quoted, and a couple of them strike at the heart of the matter.

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” 


 I know now who my hero is.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

My First Bento

Bento.  Not Barbie.

We are in our ninth year of school-starting preparations here.  School clothes and supply shopping, setting alarm clocks, resetting normal know, all that jazz.

But, here's what different.  The kiddos aren't the only ones heading back to school.  Their mama's going too...back to college!  And she's had to do her own fair bit of school supply shopping herself.

And that includes a new lunchbox.  While I am quite partial to the classic metal lunch box, I decided to go with something a bit cuter and more...well, portioned.

Enter Bento Box.  (mine purchased at  Bento is traditionally Japanese, and is usually a single-portion home-made meal carefully allocated into neat little serving sizes.  This pic, courtesy of Wikipedia, shows a typical bento. 

Depending on who you ask, obesity is either a.) out of hand,  b.) all the school's fault, c.) all the parents' fault, d.) b and c, e.) irrelevant, considering what's happening between Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson.

What does obesity have to do with my new lunchbox?  Not much, except Americans are combatting the obesity problem by developing lunchboxes that will effectively portion their lunchtime foods for them.  Because we simply can't be trusted to eat an appropriate amount of food, I guess.

Well.  Call me untrustworthy and ignorant, then.  But, I'm a sucker for anything black and pink...and I also like lunchboxes...and, I really did need a new one.  And heaven knows, I probably need all the help I can get portioning out my food.


One of the large containers holds cherry tomatoes (because vegetables are our friends, people), and the other holds sea salt crackers and Brie cheese (protein, carbs, and French culture, people).  About eight grapes were crammed into the top left box, and I actually did not use the lower right two boxes (the smaller one would hold what? one-two Hershey's kisses or fifty mini chocolate chips?).

I'm pretty excited.  It's neat and compartmentalized and definitely appeals to my sense of order and aesthetics.  A sweet insulated sleeve also accompanies the bento box, as well as some sterling silver flatware (definitely Oneida quality, at the very least).

I assume that this lunchbox will make me pretty popular on campus, and I wouldn't be surprised if I am nominated Homecoming Queen this fall.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Happy Birthday, Harry!

Harry Potter is 32 years old today.  Huzzah!

With seven books, eight movies, numerous video and computer games, and the juggernaut that is known as licensed merchandise, the odds of someone having no clue who Harry Potter is are roughly the same as the ones that I will ever meet Matt Damon.

My guess is that anyone in the world who says they've never heard of Harry Potter is lying...because for some reason, it's cool to admit it.  What a delusional world they live in...

A few weeks' ago, when I was obligated to read a couple of crummy (nicest word I can muster) books called The Marriage Plot and Fifty Shades of Grey...I turned to the Harry Potter series to help clear out the literary ickies.  And just like a Lay's potato chip, I couldn't have just one.  I reread the whole series in less than a month...and while I was at it, I watched all the movies for good measure too.

With that kind of obsession under my belt, it's no shocker that I know today is Harry's birthday.  And while I'm itching to make all kinds of Harry Potter (British, actually) goodies to celebrate the big day, ultimately, I must limit myself to what's available here in the US, and what, really, I have the time and energy to do.  Because even though it's the birthday of The Boy Who Lived (aka The Chosen One), it's still a bread-baking day for Yours Truly (aka Mom Who Provides Nourishment for Her Family).

Thus, Yorkshire puddings, Shepherd's pie, steak-and-kidney, kippers, and treacle tarts were put on hold.  Instead, I opted for Rock Cakes (Mrs. Weasley's recipe) and Pumpkin Pasties.  The links here will take you to the websites I used for reference.

So here you're looking at the rank-and-file of Dumbledore's Pumpkin Pasty Army before I marched them into my oven (upon which I'd cast the Incendio spell).  You'll notice the picture is (deliberately) too far away for you to note the five or six soldiers there that look pretty beat up.  I was just getting the hang of using my new ravioli/dumpling makers...that's why a few of them look burst.

Baking the Army (see below pic) brings out their flaws quite obviously.  But, they still taste good.  I feel like I'm joining Harry, Luna, Neville, and others on the Hogwarts Express (where the cart lady is selling nothing but sugary fruit, no veg, nothing).

And here's the Rock Cakes, which I, when  first reading Harry Potter, thought were some funnily named teatime mishap concocted by Rubeus Hagrid.  But no, upon further research, Rock Cakes are actually a real British food, especially popular at teatimes.  They don't sound overly appetizing...I mean, the "rock" bit throws me off.  But, honestly, they're easy to make, and tasty little buggers to boot.

Makes me wish I were British.  Sometimes.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Dessert...As Mother Nature Intended

Two overripe, frozen bananas
food processor/blender 

I know, I know.  Those of you with more savvy than I are castigating me from afar...I am WAY behind the Yonanas craze...because I'm JUST NOW discovering the amazingly custardy and waaay healthfully simple dessert that is the result of the above equation.

Here's what happened.  After doing inventory yesterday, I discovered a half-dozen bananas that were very, very brown and in need of feeling useful.  Naturally, in cases like these, my first thoughts go to banana-flavored baked goods.  So, I put together a loaf of banana bread.  But, two lonely fruits still remained after that was done.  A search on the internet turned up this recipe for One-Ingredient Ice Cream.

Oh, color me intrigued.

Step #1: Place two overripe bananas (which I just happened to have!) in freezer for one to two hours.

Step #2: Remove partially frozen bananas, place in processor, and hit On button.  Scrape down once or twice to reduce chunkage.

Step #3: Eat.

What you're looking at is a bowl of awesomeness.
I think I will, thanks.  And I will probably make this over and over again.

Honestly, with a recipe like this, I won't feel bad about buying a near-ton of bananas when they're on sale ever again.  I certainly don't see myself tiring of this creamy, custardish, cool treat anytime soon.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Summer On A Plate

No excuses.  I've been back from vacation for a couple of days...and I'm just now getting my kitchen bearings back on.

Our family vacation food plan consisted of meals in restaurants, gas station snacks, and processed cooler-ready foods (okay, there was a bag of apples in the trunk somewhere).  Naturally, upon arriving home, I feel the desperate need to one, eat more healthy, and two, prepare my own food.

And so, that's what yesterday was all about.  And...don't forget: it's summer.  I do believe my kitchen ministrations put together a light, but formidable, summer meal.

Here's what you're looking at: BLTs and Quinoa Garden Salad.

The traditional BLTs have undergone a slight modification, partly because of what's in my fridge and partly because our family is on an avocado binge at present.

Instead of bread, whole-wheat, low-carb tortillas act as the sandwich material. A light layer of mayo holds together the pre-cooked turkey bacon, leaf lettuce, avocado and tomato (fresh from garden if you can manage!) slices.  Eat like tacos.

There was a nearly-depleted bag of quinoa in my pantry, and a cup of that (cooked), with a cup of diced tomatoes and diced cucumbers, a half-cup of diced red onions and diced cheddar cheese, along with two generous tablespoons of homemade Italiano Vinaigrette (olive oil, red wine vinegar, minced garlic, Italian seasoning, cayenne, and sugar) constitutes this lovely, colorful, light, and healthy salad...perfect for a day where temperatures hovered in the 100s.

And because dinner was so light, dessert was a little less so.  Homemade pound cake, topped with sliced, fresh Georgia peaches, and drizzled with chocolate syrup.  This being my first attempt at a baking pound cake, I am amazed I waited so long to try it.  It might possibly be the easier dessert I've ever made.

But...maybe that's a different post for a different time, yes?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Republican Chex Mix

Just so you all know, I am registered Independent. 

But, I've just finished reading Walter Scheib's White House Chef...and the one recipe in that whole memoir/cookbook that I feel I could confidently make (and find the ingredients for) was for something called "Tex-Mex Chex".  According to Mr. Scheib, President GW Bush requested this snack frequently...even traveled with bags of it.  Personally, I like the addition of the pumpkin seeds and pistachios, not to mention the added Texas heat.

And honor of our nation's birthday tomorrow and the impending presidential election...I give you the newly-renamed...

Republican Chex Mix

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

1 1/2 cups of each: Wheat, Rice, and Corn Chex cereal
3/4 cups pumpkin seeds and pistachios (note: original recipe calls for unsalted nuts, but I couldn't find any - so I left out the pinch of salt)
1 cup pretzel sticks

Combine these in large bowl.  Set aside.

3 Tbsp. butter, melted and cooled
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 Tbsp of each: Tabasco and a favorite hot sauce (go with one of these for less heat)
Heaping 1/4 tsp each: cumin, oregano, and garlic powder

Combine in smaller bowl, pour over dry mixture, and toss or gently stir until all is coated.  Spread out on two baking sheets.  Bake for 15 minutes, then stir mix gently.  Repeat twice (total cooking time: 45 minutes).  Store in airtight container.

God Bless America!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

New Twist on a Summer Classic

Why does summertime make me think of potato salad?

Eh, no matter. love of the mayo-based concoction has waned in recent years.  I don't know why - maybe I'm getting older.  Or getting fatter.  Or maybe I just don't like mayonnaise much anymore (except on sandwiches).  Whatever the reason, I usually bypass the heavy, creamy salads...and that includes potato salad.

Until today.  For your pleasure, I present a new take on a old favorite.

3 to 4 cups of peeled potatoes, cut into 3/4" dice

Bring water and potatoes to a boil in a medium saucepan for 5 to 8 minutes, until potatoes are tender, but not mushy.  Drain water from potatoes and lay the cooked veg out on a cookie sheet.

1 cup peas (fresh or frozen)

Bring peas and salted water to a boil for 4 to 8 minutes (peas will be tender).  Put 1/3 cup of the cooked peas into a large bowl and mash thoroughly.  Whisk in the following ingredients:

3 Tbsp olive oil
2 1/2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp dried dill (2 tsp fresh)
1/4 tsp salt

Add in remaining peas and potatoes; toss gently.  I added some chopped scallions to the top, because I needed to get rid of them, but hard-boiled eggs would work well too.  Cover the salad and refrigerate until ready to serve.  Double check taste before serving and correct with additional salt, pepper, and/or vinegar.

And voila! 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Let Them Eat (Cup)Cake!

It's good to know, in these difficult tween-age times, that the apple fritter doesn't fall too far from the tree.

My daughter is eleven...and that means every day brings something different.  Every hour, for that matter.  Sometimes she's sweet and kind and beautiful, and sometimes she can be the opposite.

Last night, though, she was looking through this book, A Baker's Field Guide to Cupcakes, which I'd checked out from the library (not so much because I wish to actually create the cupcakes, but because I like looking at the elaborate pictures and dream of a day when I can masterfully work with fondant and edible plastic).  And she then asks me: Mom, can I make the Crumb Cake cupcakes?  She further presses her case: We have all the ingredients. 

Of course I will let her.

Thankfully, the recipe wasn't too complicated.  She made the crumb topping first, then the cupcake batter, and I assisted only at the end, pouring the batter into the muffin tins (and this was more to expedite the process than anything...dinner was almost ready).  And of course, they were delicious...

...especially reheated...the next morning...with a cup of coffee...

Okay, so the bottom half of the cupcake is a little blurry.  This does not affect its taste.

I admit, my kitchen was not immaculate when my daughter was finished.  There was flour everywhere, crumb topping strewn across the floor, and my Breville was in dire need of a wipe down.   There are some things worth sacrificing!

For your culinary pleasure...

Crumb Cake Cupcakes (makes 18 cupcakes)

For the streusel:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter/margarine, melted
2/3 cup sugar (or substitute)
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. vanilla
Pinch salt
1 1/4 all-purpose flour
(Feel free to cut this in half...we covered the cupcake as you see above and had plenty of the topping leftover...but if you're a streusel fanatic...)

Combine melted butter, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, salt.  Add flour until mixture "clumps" when squeezed with fingers.  Set aside.

For the cupcakes:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
Pinch salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter/margarine, at room temp, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar (or substitute)
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp almond extract
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
Optional: fruit or nuts (totaling 1 1/2 cups)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line muffin tins with paper cups.  Whisk flour, baking powder and soda, and salt to aerate.  Set aside.

Beat butter in mixer until creamy (two minutes), and add sugar gradually.  Beat three minutes, scraping sides down once or twice.  Beat in extracts.  Beat in one egg at a time, scraping down after each time.  Add flour in four additions, alternating with the sour cream.  Begin and end with flour, stopping when only a few streaks of flour show.  Fold in fruit/nuts, if using.

Divide batter evenly in cupcake liners, top with streusel.  Bake about 22 minutes (although check earlier if you've not used fruit or nuts).  Cool pans for five minutes, then remove to wire racks for further cooling.

Thank you, Kirby.

Friday, June 8, 2012

God Save the Queen!

With Chocolate-Chip Scones! 

A scone is classified as a bread, but to me, they seem more of a biscuit...which a bread too.  Scones originated in Scotland and southern England...and they are not to be confused, according to Wikipedia, with tea cakes and currant buns.  But, stupid me, I can hardly resist clicking the lateral links there at Wikipedia, and after reading entries for both tea cakes and currant buns, I can't be anything BUT confused.

Anyway, back to scones.  As you know, the Summer Olympics are being held in London this year.  And the Queen's Diamond Jubilee was celebrated this year too.  In commemoration, then, with two events that I am largely disinvolved with - it's scone time!

I happened to have an extra half-bag of chocolate chips sitting around, and that's why I chose to add them.  However, I've also got in a request from my daughter to make scones again, this time with frozen blueberries (also available to me at present).  The book I lifted the recipe from, Mom's Big Book of Baking, also has a recipe for Oatmeal Scones, which would make a nice match with a fruit jam, I think.

Chocolate-Chip Scones (courtesy of Lauren Chattman in the book linked above)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, chilled

Cut the butter into small cubes and place in freezer for additional chill.

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

In a mixer, combine the dry ingredients and add in the chilled butter.  Mix on low speed until mixture looks like coarse meal.  For me and my Breville, this took about four minutes.  Then, stir in:

1 cup of chocolate chips
3/4 nuts (Note: I didn't have nuts, so I used oatmeal - it worked well!)

Then, stir in until JUST moistened:

2 large, slightly beaten eggs
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla 

The book says to lightly flour a working surface to roll out and cut the dough...but I found "moderately flour" worked better for me, since the dough is pretty sticky.  Divide the dough in half, and pat each half into a six-inch circle.  Cut each circle into six wedges and place on a cookie sheet a half-inch apart.  Note: I lined my sheet with parchment paper, but the next time I make these, I think I'll try simply greasing my sheets.  I like a golden-brown bottom on my baked goods, which I didn't get with the paper.  

Sprinkle a mixture of 2 Tbsp sugar and 1/4 tsp cinnamon on top of the scones.  Or don''s optional.  I'll probably try some turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw) next time I make these.

Bake until golden, about 15-18 minutes. 

Eat these yummy things with tea, coffee, milk, jam, clotted know, whatever you've got sitting around. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Favorite Dairy Product?

This is a tough question.  It's similar to asking the epic question: Favorite wizard - Gandalf or Dumbledore?

For me, though, it's: Favorite Dairy Product- Cheese or Yogurt?

And while I love the versatility of yogurt as a breakfast food and a baking ingredient, I must, in the end, opt for cheese.  For the endless variety.

But here's what is a little sad to me: that for us Americans, cheese is SO limited.  I know I was fully grown before I knew that "fresh" mozzarella was not that semi-dried, shredded, bagged stuff produced by Kraft, et al.  And I know I was inexcusably old when I discovered Parmesan cheese's natural form.

I know.  I know.  Please pick your jaws up off the floor now.  It's shocking, but not surprising, I think.  As a child, we ate such exotic, foreign foods like tacos and La Choy chow mein.  I cannot imagine my mom buying a block of Gouda...and I cannot imagine my dad being willing to try it.  I don't intend to libel my parents - that's just the way it was.  They were more concerned about affording decent food and a warm shelter for us, as opposed to opening the world of foreign cheeses to us.  God Bless Them.

But, since my husband and I are easily able to meet the first two needs (and others), why not branch into foreign cheese?  Why ask why?  Just do it.  (Genius advertising jingles!)

The last couple of days, I've taken a few pages from the French manual of eating, and served a plate of fruit and cheese to my family before the "main dish" (also known as "leftovers").  My local grocery store carried these three guys:

Camembert from France (cow's milk)

Gruyere from Switzerland (cow's milk)

Manchego from Spain (sheep's milk)

As it turns out, true connoisseurs eat the rind on the Camembert (cah mem beh).  However, our family (neophytes) liked the taste better without.  The cheese itself seemed bland and flavorless to me, but perhaps that would be called mild?  I don't know the exact terminology yet.

Next up was the Gruyere, and the smell and flavor could not be any more different.  The Camb is soft, the Gruy is hard.  The Camb is mild, the Gruy is not.  The Camb has a slight grass smell, the Gruy is quite pungent.  This was actually my and my husband's favorite choice.

The kids, on the other hand, unanimously chose the Manchego as their favorite this round.  Milder-tasting than the Gruyere, the Manchego did have more personality than the Camembert.   I can see why they favored it.

In short, a great time and a great culinary experiment.  We definitely will be trying new cheeses.  The weirder, the our motto this summer!

But, a disclaimer: it can get expensive.  Foreign cheeses cost more money than Kraft Singles.  Just so you know.  Also, the French don't eat a whole block of Brie in one sitting, and neither did we.  That's just common sense.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Chocolate? Wine? Yes, Please!

I like chocolate. I like wine. It was only a matter of time until I would put the two together.

Red Wine Cupcakes (recipe courtesy of the ladies at We Are Not Martha)

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

5 oz. chocolate chips

1/2 cup boiling water (two to three minutes in microwave)

Combine these three until chips are completely melted. Set aside.

2 sticks butter, room temperature

1 1/2 C sugar

4 eggs

Cream the first two, and add one egg at a time, beating in completely.

1 1/4 C flour

1 1/2 t baking powder

1 t salt

Combine these dry ingredients and mix into egg mixture.

3/4 C red wine (I went with a local favorite)

Alternate melted chocolate and wine into flour-egg mixture. When all in combined, fill muffin cups to near full and bake for 20-27 minutes at 350 degrees. Let cupcakes cool slightly and remove to wire rack. lieu of the cream cheese frosting recipe posted at the website, I opted for a simpler one.

Red Wine Frosting

Beat together: 2 cups powdered sugar, 1/2 cup (one stick) softened butter, 1 tsp vanilla, 1/4 cup red wine. Frost cupcakes when they are cool.

And voila!

Additional notes: I used cake flour for the first time, and when I baked the first batch for 20 minutes, they seemed very underdone (sunken tops). The next went for 23 minutes, and the same thing occurred (to a lesser extent). The last batch cooked for 27 minutes, and that seemed to be the right amount of time. I don't know for sure if it was the cake flour usage or that the recipe's cook time was off. I should probably make these again to find out for sure (using all-purpose).

The garnishes were a spur of the moment thing. I had leftover maraschino cherries in the fridge, and I let them drain overnight in the fridge. However, this morning, the frosting had hardened (chilling in the fridge), and putting the cherries on top proved to be an exercise in futility. Enter the flamingo mini-skewers. Just laying there in my random kitchen gadget drawer!

My family (children included) did taste-test these. Yes, I know there is a full cup of wine in this recipe. Nobody got drunk. These aren't cupcakes I'd make for around the house - I'm taking them to a family gathering. Mostly adults. The kids get Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies - from a "Be Food" March post.

Friday, May 25, 2012

I Am Not Infallible

Infallible = incapable of being wrong or making mistakes

Some time ago, I procured a recipe for Lemon Lemon Cake from a friend.  I finally got the ambition last week to make it.  I just today have the courage to blog about the experience.

Only two things went wrong, really...but they were massive.  First (and the most dastardly), I attempted to remove the cake from the pan...pretty much immediately after it came out of the oven, which is why it looks like such:

The other (most minor) infraction occurred before this, as the cake was baking. As  I prepared the glaze (powdered sugar and lemon juice), I was struck by a bolt of inspiration (later: 'bolt of stupidity').  Adding a box of cherry-lemonade jello powder to the glaze woulf render a little extra flavor and color.  WRONG.  I wound up with a gritty mess.  Imagine mixing sand with water - that's the kind of texture I'm talking about.

So yeah, all-around epic failure here.  However, in the days since, I've done some nice Banana-Oatmeal cookies and a lovely strawberry crisp.  Perhaps I shall gain my self-confidence back soon...otherwise, I'm not going to last long in culinary school, am I?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Food Stagnation

May is nuts.

With four kids in soccer - dinnertimes vary every night.  Sometimes we're eating at 4 pm, and sometimes we're eating at nearly 8 pm.  So, to maintain my sanity, I'm keeping mealtimes pretty simple.  Sandwiches, pasta, frozen pizzas, crockpot dishes, etc.  And I'm falling back on my easy dishes: chili, sloppy joes, etc.

So I apologize - with the exception of my pie crust adventures, things are rather unexciting right now. a shameless plug unrelated to food, I've been tackling my five-month-old To Do list.  And as of today, the novel I wrote in 2009 (My Father's Daughter) is finally available as an Ebook here at Smashwords.  Yay!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Suppose We Try...Pie?

Pie crusts scare me.  So do big fancy wedding cakes with spun sugar and fondant...

But, anyway, back to pie crust.  I dunno, it's hard to explain...I mean, it's just butter, flour, and difficult can that be?  But pie crusts are cagey...that's what.  Too much handling, kneading, and they don't turn out right.

About twice in my whole life, I've interacted with pie pastry - the store-bought kind.  Today, though, I felt empowered enough to try my own.

1/2 c. butter (entire stick)
1 1/4 c. flour
1/4 c. ice-cold water

Cut butter into flour (I used the paddle attachment on my mixer) until mixture looks like coarse meal.  Gradually trickle in the water, until clumps of dough form.  The less you handle the dough, the better.  Roll into a ball and press out into a six-inch circle.

At this point, the dough needs to be chilled in the fridge for at least an hour.  Beyond that, it can be chucked into the freezer for a later use, or rolled out on a floured surface to fit into a 9 inch pie pan (which is what I chose to do).

Then, five cups of fresh blueberries, 2/3 c. of sugar, and 1/4 tsp of nutmeg are mixed together, along with a premixed combination of three tbsp of cornstarch and 2.5 tbsp of water.  The fruit sits for 15 minutes (for sugar to dissolve).  The fruit goes into the pie shell.  Then, the crumb topping:

1/2 c. butter (entire stick), melted
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1 1/2 c. flour

Mix it all up, and crumble it on top of the fruit.  Brush crust edge with beaten egg yolk.  And so, when I do all that, this is what it looks like:

The concoction bakes at 400 degrees for 45 minutes.  And looks like this:

At this point, it looks decent, right?  Nothing weird or strangely out of place, right?  After cooling it on the rack and in the fridge for a few hours, I finally cut into it, and...

And now you see my dilemma.  It definitely tasted like a pie....but it really didn't look the way I wanted it to.  I was hoping it would look more...well, "pie-like".  It didn't set up at all - too much liquid.

The bummer?  I don't have an accurate assessment of my First Pie Crust Ever (too soggy).  I suppose that means I'll have to try again.

So.  To avoid this catastrophe in the future, I will cook the fruit before I fill the pie shell.  You know, cook off the moisture and whatnot.

I shall not let this minor speed bump slow me down!!!

Friday, May 11, 2012

The New Journey Begins...

My iGoogle page has a fun countdown widget, and I've found myself using it frequently.  While I try not to live and die by the countdown, I like having the visual of time passing.

This past Monday, I took the next step on the path of major change.  I registered for my fall term classes at the local community college.  About two months ago, I'd been accepted in the school's culinary arts program, and a few days ago, I was able to secure the courses I need for the first term.

I'm 37 years old, and I feel a bit as if I'm starting all over again.  When I chose to go into education nearly fifteen years ago, I did think my choices (at that time) were limited.  And while I don't regret being in the classroom for the last decade+, I'm excited NOW at the prospect of choosing a career again - this time, with my eyes open.

Everyone wants to know if I'm going to be a if that's the only avenue open to an AAS in Culinary Arts.  I don't know the end game yet, I only know I've just begun.

Luckily, my Bachelor's degree knocked out two classes for fall term (a computer essentials and culture class).  I'm enrolled for eight credits, which I think is a nice number for a old dog like myself.  :)  Without further ado, here's my course load for this coming fall:

Safety and Sanitation: This course introduces the basic principles of safety and sanitation and their relationship to the foodservice industry. Topics include the sanitation challenge, the flow of food through the operation, clean and sanitary facilities and equipment, accident prevention and crisis management and sanitation management.

Food Service Technology: This course offers a broad overview of the food service industry with emphasis placed upon sanitation and safety, terminology, equipment, structure of the recipe, mise en place and basic principles of cooking. The student should become aware of what a foodservice career offers and what a successful foodservice career involves.

Culinary Skills (lab): This course will instruct students in basic culinary skills. Students will become familiar with the safe operation of food processing equipment, develop hand skills and practice proper sanitation techniques. Development of good work habits and effective use of time and work space will be emphasized.

Food Service Lab I: This course allows the student to learn the value of customer service along with the importance of portion control and suggestive selling techniques while applying sanitation and safety practices in a simulated work environment.

Math Principles: This course will use relevant math problems to provide the student with knowledge used in the foodservice industry. The student will develop math skills in solving problems using whole numbers, fractions, decimals, percents and measurement formulas.

Let the next 107 days come apace!   (Well, sort of....let's have a good, leisurely summer first.)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Jello Cookies

On a whim, I tried a recipe for "Jello Cookies", found in The Sensible Cook's 52 Weeks of Healthy Cooking.  Well, not really on a whim...I had a wayward box of blueberry jello hidden in the back of my pantry that really needed to be used.

...and was I super-surprised!  Easy and tasty.  I've made them several times since, experimenting with different flavors of Jell-O (think about how many batches are possible!).  My eleven-year-old daughter can actually make these by herself, without any assistance from me.  Now, that's a testament!

2/3 cup butter
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 pkg (3 oz) of sugar-free Jell-O mix
1 egg white
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 3/4 cups flour

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Beat butter and sugar until well-blended.  Stir in baking powder, jello, egg white, and vanilla.  Gradually add in flour until blended.  Dough will be soft.

Shape dough into a two-inch balls (I use a small cookie scoop), and place on ungreased cookie sheet.  Flatten slightly with the bottom of a glass.

Bake for 10-12 minutes until edges are just starting to brown.  Remove to a cooling rack.

These little guys right here are Cherry-Lemonade flavored!