Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Packing Predicament

Cue Elton John.

I am traveling tonight on a plane.  I can see the red tail lights heading for Spaaaaaiiiiin, oh and I can my children waving goodbye.

Technically, I do not leave until tomorrow...but it's so early, it might as well be the night before.  And obviously, I can't really see the tail lights because I'm inside the plane...and I can't really see my children waving goodbye - but I can if I imagine it!

Hm.  Huh.  Well.

The Boeing 767 I will be on tomorrow touches down in Madrid early Saturday morning.  And while I'm terribly excited to travel overseas, I must first complete what some call "packing".  I find there are two schools of thought here:

1. The MicroPacker: This is a word that describes someone who starts the packing process by making a list...a very detailed list (or maybe even multiple lists).  Then, with suitcases laying off to the side, they lay everything out in neat little compartmentalized piles and double-check everything off the list before fastidiously putting in into their suitcases.

This resembles my husband.

2. The HastyPacker: You can probably guess where this is going.  This person (maybe) gets their luggage out of storage the day before (or even the day of, depending) his/her flight and begins to throw items into it haphazardly.  Naturally, many things are forgotten but this person figures they have enough to get through or, worst case scenario, they can pick some things at the duty-free airport.

This does not resemble me.  I know, you all must have thought I was leading you there.  But no, I probably settle somewhere in the middle.  I'm a hybrid.  I get good gas mileage.  I do make lists of what I'm packing and where it's going, but I do not really start this process until a day or two before I go.  For me, it's all about the laundry - I feel I truly cannot begin the packing process until I know ALL my laundry is done.  And that includes ALL my underwear, because it's ALL going with me.

Okay, so I'm going to Spain.  The Iberian Peninsula...surrounded on nearly all sides by the ocean.  Of course I'm taking my swimsuit!!  But as I'm sitting there last night, folding my swimsuit, it occurs to me that if I'm taking a suit, I must have a beach towel.  And from there, I wonder if I also ought to bring my beach bag?  And then I begin to hyperventilate, slightly, because I only get 50 pounds!

Now.  I could leave my beach towel at home, with full intent to buy one in Spain.  However, suppose I don't come across a store close to the beach that sells them?  Or, what if the shops are far enough removed from the beach area that I can't go back to buy one?

You see how this could carry on, yes?  My mind will turn over every possible question and become to agitated that finally, I need to grab the nearest bottle of wine and have a glass to calm my nerves.

In fact...that sounds pretty good right now...erm, oh...it's not quite seven in the morning.  Boo.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Salt...Sodium...Spectacular Seasoning of Summer!

If I raise a few dietary eyebrows here, I apologize.  I am not being paid by Big Salt to advertise.  However, let's face facts and acknowledge that salt is elemental and essential to the entire human race.

Even at the expense of libeling my mother's sacred potato salad recipe.

I begged my mother, about a decade and a half ago, for her recipe.  Potato salad can be a laborious dish to make, and so I knew that whenever she did make it, it was for a special occasion...probably to welcome my new fiancé (and later husband) into the family. 

Or to apologize for the family.  Whatever.  It's irrelevant.

And she laboriously copied it down for me onto a notecard (long before email here, folks) and I lovingly placed in my personal cookbook.  Where many years would pass until I'd pull that card out and make it myself.

And now that I think about it...I do not recall the last time I made it.  In fact, I cannot recall with any amount of certainty that I ever have made it.  Even after I begged her for the recipe.

Well, there.  One of my secrets is out of the bag.  Luckily, my mom does not read this blog.  I don't think she does, anyway.  Don't any of you here put her wise.  Ignorance is bliss!

I can now gladly say, though, I do know the last (and first, as it were) time I made her Creamy Potato Salad.  Last night, and it was consumed today.


 The recipe itself is good.  Combine 2 stalks celery, 1 medium green pepper, 1/3 of a onion (all chopped) with 1 tablespoon of vinegar, 2 teaspoons of mustard (I used dry), 1 teaspoon of salt (not enough), 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper, and 1 1/4 cup of mayonnaise (my mom's old school, though, she specified 'salad dressing').

Then, cut up 6 medium potatoes, and cook until al dente.  Hard-boil 6 eggs and chop.  Mix potatoes and eggs into dressing, and toss (or fold) together until all potatoes are coated.  Let sit six hours or overnight (which I did).

However, I simply can't let well enough alone.  I upped the amount of pepper and it was just right.  I also went with more salt, but it wasn't enough...next time I'd go with a whole tablespoon.  The vinegar was pretty detectable, almost too much so, and so next time I'd change that to a 1/2 tablespoon.  You can also probably tell by the above picture that I added dill weed, which definitely is a keeper.

I think I will need to continue playing with this recipe.  It's good, but it definitely could be better, you know?  Kinda of reminds me of being an adult in general...things seemed really, really good when you're a kid...but then you grow up, and it changes.  Or you've changed.  Or the potatoes have changed.  Hard to say.



Saturday, June 15, 2013

Knocked Down A Peg

I suppose it was going to happen at some point.

I've been cheffing solo (okay, with a sous-chef every now and then) for about two and a half months now...and honestly, things have been going really well.  I mean, really well.  I've gotten the hang of ordering food, got my contacts in place at the local supermarkets, the sense of timing is better, my planning skills are being honed...etc.  I've (and we've, on occasion) received adulations for my meals, and in general, the boss and my colleagues have been pleased.

So, how to explain tonight?  I'd grown complacent, maybe?  Whatever it was, tonight's Wine and Burger was the single most dissatisfying culinary experience in my life (so far).  However, the silver lining - the self-reflection that will ensue makes for these things not to happen again.

My burgers weren't cooking like I wanted them.  Depending on what the "theme" night is, I season/prepare and form my own patties...and I'm suspecting the slow/uneven cooking of said burgers was because of that.  I knew I should have used this:

But I didn't.  And I scorched a lot more burgers than I would have liked to.

Second, my sweet potato fries came out soggy.  Damnit.  I didn't want soggy, I wanted crispy.  I reckon I'll make my way to the Internets in search of an explanation and solution.  Or, I might just ask my teachers...they may know.  Third, I ran out of fries...which is like, the kiss of death in foodservice.  Thankfully, I was down to the last two guests, and they were more than happy with a quick, on-the-spot Caesar salad in place of the fries.

Fourth, the manager informed me there would only be four staff workers, but there were five...so one employee did not get a burger.  Or they split the burgers.  I don't know.  I just don't like having enough food to feed everyone, but this time it wasn't a lapse on my part (the sweet potato shortage was, though, I'll own).

Just an off night, really.  Nothing terribly major.  My boss was shocked to hear me speak negatively about the evening...which makes me wonder if they have expectations of me at all, or if I'm just too demanding of myself?

So, anyway.  Lessons learned: Know your grill.  Buy a bag of Ore-Ida sweet potato fries to pop in the oven, just in case.  And hey, a bag of salad in the fridge wouldn't hurt either, as a Plan B of sorts.  And - lower the limit to the number of guests who can attend (from 40 to 34)...then, there'll always be enough food for the guests and the staff.

Moving on - Father's Day dinner tomorrow!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The One Time I Wished I Had a Smartphone

Then...I would post really cool pictures all day long of things I am doing in my bakery classes.  Alas, since I do not own one, I'll just post a list here...these are items I've done in the last two weeks

Sourdough bread
White bread
Pumpernickel bread
Rye bread
French/Italian/Vienna breads
Soft rolls
Danishes
Brioche
Cinnamon rolls
Soft pretzels
Pita breads

So, yeah, it's going pretty well!  Lots of dough work and much of doing baked goods is "feeling".  Times to knead or bake aren't necessarily approximate.  In that way, baking is very similar to cooking. 

Next week, donuts, muffins, and other quick breads.  Bring on the carbs!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Catch My Breath (Not By Kelly Clarkson)

I wish today's pop singers wouldn't use cliché phrases in their songs, because it looks like I'm copying them when I use it as my blog post title!

A new school term began for me just after Memorial Day, and let me just say, the change of pace was desperately needed.

Much of the foodservice we do in line cooking, last-minute, á point preparation.  Much of that is reactive, as unexpected things (although they should be expected) are thrown at us often.  We have been involved in some events through the school that are proactive: catering, scheduled events and such, but more often that that, we're reacting to whatever our chefs want us to do.

Those of us who crave intellectual stimulation and academics in our workplaces have been hardly able to formulate coherent thought about food, much less have good conversations about it.

Until this new term.  The way the program is laid out, students in my track (roughly 15 of us) are taking a two-term break from the chef side (the high-profile, but breakneck, side) and moving into bakery.  Our baking classes (a lab and lecture) started about a week and a half ago.

What a different world.

We move slower in the bakery...and that is not a bad thing!  Our first two weeks was spent on bread-making, and we had the time whilst we waited for dough to mix and rest and proof to talk about the process, the results, etc.  The bakery is a great place to be for those who are self-motivated, but I'm beginning to see that there are both pros and cons to the chef side and bakery side...something I hope to discuss here at some point.

When I started this program, I really had no idea what I wanted to do.  I still don't (sort of, although the picture is coming together), but I thought I'd gravitate more towards bakery because of my experience with bread.  While I like the steady, sure pace of bakery, I find myself missing the frenetic, got-to-be-sharp-always pace of the hot kitchen.  I also suspect that as we move more into cake decorating and the "fancy" stuff...I might like bakery less!  (Not that I don't like it, but I'm not very good at it.)