Thursday, November 26, 2009

What am I thankful for? (besides my wonderful family and being given the chance to pursue my dream)   I am thankful for Anne Burrell.  Thanks to her, we had a BEAUTIFUL turkey (above) and the most delicious stuffing and gravy I have ever had.  For those of you who don't know her, she is the host of "Secrets of a Restaurant Chef" on FN.. She also used to be a chef instructor at ICE.  My mom and I watched her Thanksgiving episode and decided to try out her recipes this Thanksgiving, including basting a turkey for the first time.  Boy was it worth it!  

Here's a pic of the stuffing, which was made with ciabatta bread, spicy italian sausage, apples, onion, celery, apple cider, stock, and lots of herbs:
Instead of the usual mashed potatoes, we tried a Paula Dean recipe (which is out of the ordinary because Paula really gets on my nerves and usually uses way too much butter in her recipes!)  but these mashed potatoes were fantastic!  It was a mixture of potatoes (we used yukon gold), parsnips, and rutabega mashed with cream cheese and butter.  We used an immersion blender to get it nice and creamy..mmm

Usually for our veggies, we just make plain corn and string beans.  Not this year!  My sister was in charge of the corn and spiced it up a bit by saute-ing it in olive oil and adding fresh basil and other seasonings.  We also made a maple roasted vegetable dish that I ripped out of some magazine (I think it was Gourmet mag?).  It had carrots, parsnips, butternut squash, cauliflour, and brussel sprouts.  We mixed it up with some of wegman's basting oil, salt, pepper, fresh nutmeg, a drizzle of maple syrup and a sprinkle of minced fresh ginger.  We also topped it off with some toasted pecans:

Other dishes included sweet potatoes, which my mom made and were soo good (they were baked with butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon) and my mom's usual stuffing that we stuffed inside the bird.. As much as I loved the stuffing I made, I must say that hers was pretty awesome too... When we were cleaning up, she was literally spoon feeding me some more stuffing that was stuck inside the bird... mmmmm LOVE stuffing!

For the first cocktail of the day (before all the amazing wine was opened) we had some champagne that I topped off with pomegranite seeds:

Here's a pic of our beautiful Thanksgiving table:

We ate dinner around 4.  After cleaning up the massive mess in the kitchen, my mom and I finally got to enjoy some cask wine and relax!  Then my mom and I kicked some butt  playing "guesstures" against Uncle Mike, Kim, and my Grandparents.  We had some great laughs over our great charade skills!  In the meantime, my brother helped himself to another huge plate of turkey, mashed potatoes, and noodles (all he needs is an hour to rest before he can continue eating), and my sister and dad went into a turkey/wine coma in the family room.

Finally it was time for dessert and the Giants game!  First dessert: the beautiful, magazine-worthy apple pie:

And the sad, definitely non-magazine worthy pumpkin pie:

I messed up, but it still tasted good ..I swear ;)  

I didn't take a picture of the pudding pie, but I definitely should have because my mom made it really pretty by piping on fresh whipped cream and topping it with shaved chocolate. 

Now I am tired, full, and must sleep!  Hope everybody had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Lesson 12: Saws and Cleavers

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ugh...Today was a very labor-intensive day!  I figured veal fabrication would be much like beef fabrication, which was fairly easy.  No no no, I learned it was not at all like beef.  

First of all, Chef Allen wasn't here today, so we had Chef Chris as our instructor today.  He was just a bit different from Chef Allen in both personality and teaching styles.  Chef Allen is pretty easy-going and has a more flamboyant personality and sense of humor--- Lady Gaga is always his pretend celebrity of choice that we are cooking for.. And we are always making a profit to buy more Prada merchandise.  We have gotten used to Chef Allen's rules and way of running a kitchen over the past couple weeks.  So when Chef Chris came in, it was definitely a huge reality check.  We were timed as we medium-diced our potatoes, got criticized for not bringing our peelers to class (we never peel our potatoes, just square them off), and had our dices checked over before they were added to our pot.  I was definitely a little intimidated by Chef Chris and I could tell the rest of the class was a little stiff and unsure of how comfortable they could act around our new instructor.  Throughout the rest of the class, we carefully followed Chef Chris's instructions and replied "Yes Chef!" to every single thing he said.

Pictured above is the HUGE piece of veal I had to fabricate.  And the picture shows it folded in half because it couldn't even fit on my cutting board!  The only way to cut veal chops and cut away the bone from the tenderloin was to use a saw and cleavers (yes, little ol' me was using a saw and cleaver to cut apart meat...just put that image in your head.  It's funny).  I was sweating bullets as I was trying to cut these pieces of meat perfectly.  I'll just say I had a very hard time.  I was feeling very flustered when I fell behind my other class mates and I was scared every time I had to ask Chef Chris for help.  He wasn't mean at all when I asked for help, but I seriously felt so helpless during this task and I couldn't get anything done by myself.  Even tying up the tenderloin seemed so easy to everyone else, but was an impossible task for me (thanks, Emily for helping me!!!!!)

I was happy to be done for the day.. but even cleaning up the kitchen was different with Chef Chris's rules.  But, we got it done and me, Emily, and Dana had a little photo shoot in the kitchen!

After class a bunch of us went to Limerick's across the street for a much needed beer.  It was a hard day, so we all deserved it.  I can't believe this is just the first time we all went out together.  It was nice to talk and bond after class.  It's always interesting hearing what everybody else has to say about how the class went.  Pretty much everybody agreed that Chef Chris was a little intimidating today, but we also wondered if we would be learning more and be more prepared for our careers with an instructor like Chef Chris.  Well, at least we will have multiple experiences with different chefs during our ICE education!

I'm EXHAUSTED!!  I must get my sleep so I can get started cooking tomorrow for Thanksgiving!  Uncle Mike and Kim also come tomorrow :)
My mom and I have to cook 2 types of stuffings, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, chocolate pudding pie, sweet potatoes, gravy, shrimp dip, and chop crudite tomorrow!  Busy busy day!

Lesson 11: Beef Fabrication....aka STEAK!

Monday, November 23, 2009

I really feel like we're moving along so fast in module 1!  Every day we're working with a new protein and I'm learning SO much!  We haven't been doing much cooking on our own yet..just simple techniques and recipes, but every day is seriously a new adventure!

After chopping our mirepoix and receiving a lecture from Chef about stocks and beef, we began fabricating our first cuts of beef.  First, we portioned out and trimmed strip steaks (the picture above on the right).  Next, we trimmed some flank steak.  On the left is a picture of Dana and Emily cutting and trimming (and eating) the tenderloin filet's that we had for lunch!  

While this was all going on, chicken and duck stocks were simmering away on the stoves.  The stocks smelled sooooooo good.  The next free weekend I have I definitely want to make a big batch of stock to have in.  I never realized how important it is as a medium to a dish.  And it's soo easy!  There's no real measurement or recipe involved and every stock is different.  Here's a picture of our overflowing pot of duck stock:

Finally it was time to cook!  Our previously par boiled potatoes were sauteed, and Chef showed us how to make wonderful, creamy, buttery mashed potatoes.  I saw how much butter and cream he put in... and I'll just say it was A LOT. By no means was this a healthy potato dish haha!  I was in charge of making the steaks for my table.. I heated oil in a saute pan over high heat and added our 6 oz filet's.  They cooked for 4 minutes on each side and were perfectly medium rare:

Almost time for our Monday lunch of steak and potatoes!  Here's Emily slicing up some warm French bread:

I was a very full girl on my train ride home.  Chef also whipped up French onion soup with some duck stock and sauteed onions, so I brought that home..along with some of the mashed potatoes and leftover bread!

When I got home I was put to work again!  I brined the Thanksgiving turkey.. Our turkey is HUGE--21 pounds! I made a simple brine (Anne Burrel's recipe) with celery, onion, carrots, rosemary, sage, bay leaves, garlic, water, apple cider, salt, and sugar.. it's now all set to absorb some wonderful flavors until I take it out on Wednesday :)

Special cake/ Duck recipe!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I know I promised you all the recipe for this special cake pictured above, but today me and my mom decided not to disclose this information ;)    Some recipes are meant to be kept in the family, and this happens to be one of them.  We had a wonderful time baking the cake and the custard yesterday.  I've helped my mom make this cake before and I was excited to try it again with her because I want to be able to make it for years to come and pass it on to my kids.  This recipe is my great grandmother's and is my grandfather's favorite cake!  The creamy, citrus custard that is layered in the middle is SO good.  I could eat a huge bowl of this plain.  The cake is a light sponge cake and the glaze on top is the perfect finishing touch!

We don't make this cake very often.. usually just for special occasions.  Tonight my grandparents were going out for dinner with Uncle Mario, Aunt Gail, and Aunt Lynn (my grandpa's brother, sister-in-law, and sister).  My mom had the great idea to surprise them with this cake and bring it to the restaurant ahead of time to be brought out after dinner.  My mom and I agreed that this is what cooking and baking is all about.. family, memories, and making people happy.  We knew that when they saw the cake they would be instantly reminded of their mother and her great talent in the kitchen.  We assembled the cake this morning by adding the custard layer, along with peaches to the bottom cake and topping it off with the second cake layer.  We made the glaze and drizzled it on, along with the special sprinkles my great grandmother always used.  After we finished our insane amount of grocery shopping for Thanksgiving, we dropped the cake off at the restaurant and said our prayers that they would remember to bring it to their table after dinner.

When we got home, I started preparing dinner for myself and my parents.  I wanted to make the duck breasts that I brought home from school on Friday.  I found a nice recipe on food network that had very interesting ingredients, yet I had to change a few things during the cooking process.  Here's the recipe:
4 duck breasts
salt & pepper
1 cup red wine
About 12 dried figs, stems removed, and quartered (next time I would chop them off even smaller)
About 8-10 shallots, sliced thin
1 cup chicken stock
Pinch of ground cloves
1 Tbsp. Sugar
1/2 tsp. lemon zest
1 Tbsp. olive oil

Heat the olive oil in a skillet and add the shallots.  Cook for about 10 minutes, until slightly browned.  Add the chicken stock, red wine, figs, cloves, sugar, and lemon zest.  Lower the heat and simmer for 30-45 minutes.  Increase the heat (I added a touch more chick. stock) and cook until the mixture is nice and thick.  Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Heat an oven proof skillet over medium high heat.  Season the duck breasts on both sides with salt and pepper.  Score the skin in a grid pattern.  Add the duck to the skillet, skin side down.  Cook for 6-7 minutes.  Turn the duck over and put the skillet in the oven and continue to cook for another 6-7 minutes.  

Slice the duck and serve with the fig/shallot compote.

I served the duck with roasted brussel sprouts (roasted them in a 400 degree oven with olive oil, salt and pepper) and a baked potato.  I also made some swiss chard for my mom and I (because we love our greens).  I sauteed some onions, added the chard, and poured some pumpkin beer over it.  Seasoned with salt and pepper and a little bit of nutmeg and cayenne.  Covered it and let it cook for about 10 minutes.  

I was very satisfied with the meal I made today, especially because it was the first time I made duck!  The side dishes complimented the meat well and everything was delicious!!

Thanksgiving prep weekend!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Today my mom and I did a little bit of baking, cooking, and planning for Thanksgiving.  We planned out our menu and I'm very excited for the new additions to our Thanksgiving table this year.  For our turkey, we're using Anne Burrell's recipe:    for the brine (which we'll prepare on Monday), the herb crust, and the gravy.  We are also making Anne Burrell's stuffing, along with my mom's usual stuffing recipe that we're stuffing inside the bird.  Also on the menu is mashed potatoes with parsnips and rutabega, sweet potatoes, roasted vegetables, corn, and noodles.. yuum.  We have our shopping list all set for tomorrow!

I made a delicious lunch for my mom and I before we started baking.  I wanted to practice scrambling eggs like I did in class on Tuesday, so I made scrambled eggs over asparagus.  I cut the stems off the asparagus and seasoned them with Wegman's basting oil, salt, and pepper.  I roasted them in a 400 degree oven until tender and crispy.

I made scrambled eggs for my dad too and gave him some potatoes (so I could practice medium dicing, par boiling, and sauteeing!) with chicken sausages:

 Then it was on to baking!  First we made cranberry bread.  My mom got this recipe years ago from her librarian and it's a huge hit when she makes it every fall!  Here's the recipe: (We doubled it to make 2 loaves)
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 cup butter
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp. orange peel
3/4 cup orange juice
1 1/2 cups golden raisons
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries, chopped
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350.
Mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl.  Cut the butter into the mixture until crumbly.  Add the egg, orange peel, and orange juice.  Stir until the mixture is moist.  Fold in the raisons, cranberries, and walnuts.  Spoon into a greased loaf pan and bake for about 1 hour 10 minutes.  

I love having a slice of this bread for breakfast with cream cheese spread on top!

Next, we baked my mom's famous chocolate chip cookies!  This is a secret recipe, so I can't post it!  But here's a picture:

Lesson 10: Poultry Fabrication

Friday, November 20, 2009

Today started out the same as usual, prepping our mirepoix.. We're really improving our chopping skills!   Then it was time to cut apart a chicken.  I wasn't too nervous to do this for a number of reasons:  1. It's dead  2.  There are no funky colored guts pouring out of it  3.  It doesn't smell really bad     .. Also I'm used to working with chicken meat, so not a big deal.  However, I've never cut a chicken into pieces before it has been cooked, so it was interesting to learn the correct way to cut it so that you get the perfect pieces out of it.  Above is a picture of my first chicken (we each cut 2).  We also learned how to truss a chicken, which I paid extra attention to so I can truss the Thanksgiving turkey next week!!  On our second chicken, we learned how to make a "supreme" cut, which is a semi-boneless skinless breast with part of the wing joint still connected.  I always wanted to learn how to get that cut out of a chicken, since I've had it many times in gourmet restaurants.  When we finished cutting up our chicken, we seasoned it with salt, white pepper, and fresh nutmeg and placed it on a baking sheet with some chopped onions.  White wine was added before we placed it in a 375 degree oven to roast.

While the chicken roasted, we got our potatoes cooking (same recipe that we've been making) and we started fabricating our ducks.  When I first put my duck on the cutting board, Chef told us to take out the neck bone, the giblets, and the heart.  I was confused as to how to get it out, then I lifted it upside down and was extremely surprised to see it all fall out on my cutting board!  GROSS... but less work for me.. I thought I would have to dig it out of the duck!  After working with the 2 chickens, it seemed very easy cutting up the duck.  The meat was more tender so it was easier to cut through.  We didn't have a chance to cook the duck today so we were able to bring home the pieces we got out of it.   I'll have to find a good recipe this weekend so I can cook the duck for my family!

At around 4:00 the chicken was done, the potatoes were being plated, and the bread was fresh out of the oven.  The kitchen smelled fabulous!  We finished cleaning up our stations and dug into the delicious food we prepared!  There is so much satisfaction eating a meal in which every step of the process you were a part of, from dicing the potatoes and onions to fabricating and seasoning the chicken.  What a sense of accomplishment!

Lesson 9: Shellfish!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Today was a verrrry interesting day!  The day started out as usual with an hour of chopping tons of veggies for our mirepoix.  Here's a pic of a HUGE onion I had to chop up!
Chef lectured and demonstrated how to clean and fabricate a variety of shellfish, including clams, shrimp, mussels, oysters, scallops, and LOBSTER.  Most people in the class got a squeamish look when Chef showed us how to stab the lobster, slice down the head and again down the tail.  It was finally time to grab a lobster and try it out for myself.. Here's a picture of my poor lobster on my cooking board:
Chef showed us how to calm down a lobster by petting its back... so I did this for a good 5 minutes before chopping it open.  After mentally preparing myself, I finally did it... and kept frantically asking the people around me if I was doing it right.  I knew that if you didn't do it quick enough, the lobster was suffering so I wanted to make sure I killed it right away!  I didn't want to hurt the poor thing :(     I continued fabricating the lobster by taking out the roe and the liver..while doing so, the legs were still moving!  Naturally, I screamed "ahh its moving!!!!!"..but was reassured by the rest of the group that it was dead and everything was going to be okay! I twisted the claws off and threw the head into the stock pot for our shellfish stock!  After that, i prepared the calamari by taking a squid and basically pulling it apart and de-gutting it to get the nice rings and tiny tentacles at the bottom of the squid.  This was reserved for the seafood chowder.  Next, I peeled and de-veined the shrimp, which was a peice-a-cake... I've done this before, plus they were dead and didn't have any guts :)

We spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning and shucking clams and oysters.  After the lobster was cooked, Chef demonstrated how to crack the lobster claws in the correct places to get all of the meat out for our chowder.  After the stock was strained, our huge 3 pots of seafood chowder was made.  All of our vegetables were added to the pan to sweat, then our stock was added, along with all of the seafood we prepared.  While we were waiting for our chowder to cook, we had some oysters and clam on the half shell.  Yes, it was my first time trying this.. I have to admit, I don't know what the big fuss is about this.. just tasted slimy and had no real flavor.  I'm guessing it is an acquired taste that i have yet to acquire ;)  
Finally our chowder was ready to eat!  This is "million dollar chowder" because there is sooo much fresh seafood in it.  The meat of 17 lobsters, shrimp, oysters, clams, mussels, and calamari!  It was one delicious soup!  So flavorful and creamy!  I brought a large container home.. I knew my dad and brother would love it!  My poor brother didn't get any though because my dad ate it!  He enjoyed it a lot and admitted that you can't get soup like that anywhere. I think my dad's exact words were "Take a picture of me eating the soup!!!  I want to be in your blog!!!"  So here ya go, dad! (love you)

Lesson 8: Fish fabrication, fish stock & soup

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I knew that there would be days in culinary school that I would not enjoy so much....... today was one of those days.  I felt a little anxious today knowing that I would have to filet a fish and probably take out the fish guts and get a little dirty, but I was also sorta excited to learn what to do with a whole fish.  I rarely cook fish, since I just started liking fish about a year ago... so I knew today would be an interesting experience.

The day started out with a paper cut and  a little cut on my knuckle from sharpening my knife.. plus I had a band-aid on my thumb from a cut I got over the weekend that keeps opening up.  All of the band-aids on my fingers did not make cutting up a fish that much easier.  We spent the first hour and a half of class chopping veggies and herbs for our stock and soup.  Then Chef lectured us about fish and stocks and demonstrated how to fabricate sole.  We each took a whole sole and got ready to cut out 4 filet's, take out the guts, clean out all the blood and reserve the bones and head for the fish stock.  I was doing okay with my gross, slimy fish until it came down to taking the guts out.  Let's just say it was a messy experience.  At one point, me and another girl were over the sink trying to get all the guts out, but they just weren't coming out!!!  I felt so nauseous with the overwhelming smell of fish.. I was not a happy camper. Here's a picture of the whole sole.. My hands were yucky the rest of the time so I couldn't get pictures of the other fish.

The next fish we filleted was the bass.. This one was a little easier because it was already gutted.  Then we filleted a mackerel.  This fish was very soft and buttery.  It's a sushi-grade fish so students were trying it raw with a little lemon juice.  I would have tried it if I didn't feel so sick.  Taking the filet's out of this fish was pretty easy, but taking the skin off was more difficult. Because of its buttery texture, it kept falling apart as I tried to slice off the thin layer of skin.

Finally we cleaned up our stations and learned how the fish stock was made.  Chef let a white mirepoix sweat in a large stock pot, then added chicken stock, white wine, a bouquet de garni, and the fish bones.  We strained the stock and added some of it to the our fish soup.  Our fish soup contained a ton of veggies that we chopped up in the beginning of class and fresh herbs. Here's a picture of the soup simmering (without the fish added).

We added the fish pieces at the very end (a mixture of sole and bass).  It was a delicious soup, but I just loaded up on bread today since I still wasn't feeling too good.  I brought a large container home with me though!  On the train ride home I definitely felt like I smelled like fish! AAAnd of course I was smushed in the middle of a 3 seater during the whole ride home.  I felt bad for the 2 guys sitting next to me.. They were probably wondering where the fishy smell was coming from.. ME :(

I had sauteed swish chard with beans when I came home which made me happy!  And I took a nice long shower so I no longer smell like fish :)

Tomorrow's another interesting day... shellfish!

Lesson 7: Lots o' eggs!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I am actually currently sitting in the library at ICE.. just finished class! I'm staying after with a couple of other students to help Chef Allen prepare for a dinner at the school. I figured I should take every opportunity I get to get experience with this kind of stuff!
Today went by soo fast! We did a ton of chopping skills in the beginning of class, starting with medium dicing potatos. We also diced/chopped onions, shallots, garlic, cilantro, celery, and hot peppers. He told us to mince some parsley until it looks like powder.. it took us all a while to get it to the perfected mince. He then showed us what to do with this "green wind". He wrapped it in a towel, ran it under water, and drained it until dry. It is now the perfect garnish to sprinkle over any savory dish. It is not meant to add any flavor and must be prepared in this way (as opposed to just roughly chopping it and sprinkling it). We used this parsley to garnish the rest of our dishes for the day (and I finally remembered to take pictures which I will post when I get home!)Next, we learned how to make slow cooked scrambled eggs. We tried making them in 3 different mediums (in olive oil, clarified butter, and regular butter). I liked it best in regular butter, so every time I made them, that's what I used. Clarified butter made the egg flavor stand out the most, but I didn't like it as much. Olive oil was nice, but I like the flavor of butter better. I made scrambled eggs 3 times and really overcooked them the first time..but the second and third tries were a little better. I seriously must've eaten like 6 eggs!! Egg overload! The trick to making them nice and runny is to take them off the pan when they still look raw because they will continue to cook once you plate them. Here's a pic of my 3rd try, and garnished with "green wind" of course!

We also par poiled and sauteed potatos again (the first picture).. we're becoming pros at this! Then we blanched and sauteed brocolli (again). Our feast was yet again served with warm french bread and butter..and now I am full! I'm excited to see how this dinner event goes and what we have to do to help out Chef. He said we won't have to do anything complicated and we don't even have to bring our tools or knives with us..but I like a good cooking challenge!

Lesson 6: Oil & Vinegar ..and Greens!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Well, today I think I officially convinced my class that I'm a really big nerd.  If typing up my study guide on Friday wasn't enough, today I had all of my math problems done plus the rest of the problems in the binder.. I love math, so once I finished the problems we had for homework I figured I'd just keep going and do the rest of them... ughh I'm a loser.  THEN Chef put me on the spot in class and asked what I watch on TV.. I blurted out the first thing I could think of, the show I was planning on watching tonight (actually I'm watching it right now), One Tree Hill.. probably the nerdiest show ever!!! It's my guilty pleasure TV show that I've been watching since high school and am totally addicted to even though it's sooo dumb!  I couldn't have just said Top Chef, Chopped or any other show I watch, but noooo I had to come up with the answer that makes me look like the biggest loser! 

Anyways, with that behind me we went on to taste some oils and vinegars.  We tasted some interesting oils, like pecan oil and hazelnut oil.  After that we tasted basically every type of green you can think of, then chopped up and cleaned some of them to cook.  We sauteed spinach, swiss chard, and collard greens.  We blanched and sauteed brussel sprouts, salt-wilted cabbage to make 2 different types of cole slaw, and made a dressing for our frisee greens.  The end of class is the best when we get to taste everything!  It was all very good.. except I'm not a huge fan of cole slaw.  My favorite was the collard greens.  We sauteed them with shallots and a bit of finely diced red pepper which added some great flavor!  I've never cooked collards..I was surprised to find that it was a lot like spinach or swiss chard.  I was also very surprised to find that I loved the brussel sprouts :)

I came home after school to a great meal that my mom made, peanut tofu stir-fry with spinach and mushrooms and a really good rice dish that she forgot to serve! Haha woooops!  I brought home some collards, brussel sprouts, and cole slaw for them to try and they loved it! Sounds like all I do is eat, which I do.... and I always save room for dessert! :)

Flat Out Pizza

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Tonight I was only making dinner for myself, so I made one of my favorite quick and easy, healthy meals: Flat Out Pizza!  I loove flat out wraps, especially the italian flavored and sun dried tomato wraps.  I use them to make turkey wraps and pizza.  Here's the recipe I came up with while in college, and is my ultimate favorite flat out pizza! I make a lot of the spinach topping even if I'm just making one pizza because it's great to make omelets with later on in the week!

1 package of fresh baby spinach, washed OR 1 package of frozen spinach, thawed
1 sweet onion
1 T. coconut oil
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
salt & pepper
a few grates of nutmeg
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
pecorino romano
italian seasoning
crushed red pepper
1 flat out wrap
Marinara/tomato basil sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large sautee pan, heat up the coconut oil over medium high heat.  Add the onions, salt and pepper, and saute until slightly browned and translucent.  Add the tomatoes and cook for another minute or 2.  Add the spinach and cook.  Add a little more salt and pepper, nutmeg and oregano.  

Place the wrap on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for about 8 minutes.  Top the wrap with tomato sauce, spinach/onion mixture, pecorino, gorgonzola, and italian seasoning.  Put back in the oven for another 5-10 minutes or until the cheese is melted.  Serve and enjoy with some crushed red pepper on top for heat!


This weekend I practiced my chopping skills and  medium diced the 3 potatoes I brought home.  I par boiled and sauteed them for my family to try and they were delicious!  I meant to take a picture of them but totally forgot.  I did take a picture of my knives though!
Today I was home alone with nothing to do so I decided to make the pie crusts for the apple and pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving.  I made 3 pie crusts and put them in the freezer so they're ready for when my mom and I make the pies next week. My mom and I have been making the same pie crust for years, from Mark Bittman's cookbook "How to Cook Everything".  Here's the recipe:
1 1/8 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
8 T. butter cut into small pieces (1 stick)
about 3 T ice water

Place the flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor and pulse until just combined.  Add the butter and mix until it resembles cornmeal.  While the processor is on, gradually add the water by the tablespoon until the dough forms into a ball.  Place the dough onto a floured surface and form into a disk.  Wrap in plastic wrap and freeze or refrigerate until ready to use.  The result is a buttery, flaky crust!  I could eat a whole disk of this dough's sooo good!

Lesson 5: Blanching and Par Boiling

Friday, November 13, 2009

Today was a verrry yucky day!  It's not very fun going into the city when it's rainy and windy out!  But, my day brightened up a bit when I met up with my dad before class (because he was on 27th street for the morning working on a recording for an ad) and I showed him my school and my kitchen.  It was a bit crazy on the 14th floor when I brought him up there because the morning classes were just getting out, but I was happy to show him where I go to school every day.

I had a quiz today, so after I showed my dad around I went to the library to study and eat lunch.  I'm a HUGE nerd and typed up my study guide... I got made fun of, but everybody ended up taking turns looking at my guide before the quiz.  Annnd i got a 100%! Plus the extra credit!  :)

Next, we set up our cutting boards and medium diced a few potatoes.  We also julienned a carrot, chopped a leek, and cut up some broccoli in florets.  Whenever I used to make broccoli, I would throw away the stems.  Today we just peeled the stems and chopped them up to cook with the broccoli florets.  The stems actually have a lot of flavor!

We worked in groups today and set up 2 pots of water to boil and salted them VERY generously.  I'm talking like a huge overflowing handful of salt.  We also had our potatoes in another pot and just covered them with water.  We also put a HUGE amount of salt in and brought that up to a boil.  We made the potatoes like I explained yesterday.  In the other pots of boiling water, we put in the broccoli (and carrots during the last minute), and the haricot vert that we trimmed.  We blanched the vegetables in cold water and later on sauteed them in butter.  All of the veggies were delicious and buttery! Warm french bread with butter was also put out as we had our feast of vegetables and potatoes.  Then, Chef brought us a buttercream frosted cake from one of the pastry classes!  The frosting was sooo soo good, but the cake part was a little dry.  There was also a layer of berry preserves in the center.. YUM.   We left the kitchen for the weekend with some potatoes to bring home and practice on.  I think I'll dice them up tomorrow and practice par boiling them and sauteeing them in butter.

Next week is fish and poultry fabrication....AND I will have to dispatch my very first lobster!!!  ahhhhh!

Lesson 4: CHEESE and herbs!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Today was a FUN day because we got to try lots and lots of cheese!  But first, we got to class and set up our cutting board stations and got ready for our second chopping lesson.  We were each given 3 potatoes to medium dice.  I finished a little early and was able to practice my small dice on a couple of carrots.  A pretty easy and short chopping lesson.  

As we cleaned up our stations, Chef Allen took out the cheese and all of our mouths started watering.  He told us we'd have to sit through the nutrition lecture before we were able to try the cheeses.  We reluctantly sat through an hour of nutrition, where he mostly told stories about how he can't stand vegetarians and vegans.  Then it was cheese time!  We started out with the mild cheeses, like brie and manchego.. then ended with blue and goat cheeses.  We also had 4 baguettes and french butter.  I seriously felt sick by the last cheese and was ready to go into a cheese coma.  

While we were sampling cheeses, Chef took our medium diced potatoes and showed us how to par boil and saute them.  He put them in generously salted water and let it come to a boil.  Then he drained them and immediately spread them out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  He heated up some clarified butter in a saute pan until it was extremely hot.  He put the potatoes in the pan and lowered the heat.  After flipping them a couple of times, he let them slow cook for about 20-25 minutes.  The result was a salty, buttery, crispy potato.  I can't wait to try it on my own!

Next, he took out a variety of herbs and told us what they were.  We were able to smell and taste them and tape some of them to our notebooks.  Tomorrow we have a quiz where we have to identify those same herbs.  I know herbs pretty well, so I wasn't too worried.  I taped some marjoram, cervil, and curly parsley to my notebook just in case.. since I'm not used to working with those herbs.  I'm going to start bringing my camera to class to I can try and take some pics to show you all.  One girl did that today with the cheeses and I kicked myself for not bringing my camera!  TGIF tomorrow!  I hate to say it, but I am pretty excited to have a couple of days off... traveling into the city every day is starting to get a bit tiring!

Lesson 3: Introduction to Knife Skills

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Today was a pretty exciting day because we finally got to take out our fresh knives and put them to work!  We began today's lesson with vegetable ID.  I was hoping we would get to taste the different veggies, but he basically just showed us some of the more foreign vegetables and explained what they were and how to cook with them.  

Next, we set up our cutting board stations and each grabbed a pepper, carrot, celery stalk, tomato and onion.  We got our first lesson on chopping and then small diced our first tomato.  I love chopping vegetables and have a lot of experience chopping, so I had no problem doing the small dice. We went into the harder cuts, like julienne, fine julienne, brunois, and fine brunois.  I was extremely happy to get positive feedback from Chef Allen as he complimented all my cuts and said they were "perfect" and "beautiful"  wahoooo!  

At the end of class a lady came in to talk about careers in the food industry and Chef Allen heated up some fresh bread for us to snack on :)    

That was pretty much it for the day.. tomorrow we're going to do more chopping and learn how to do a medium dice.  We're also doing cheese ID tomorrow which I'm sure will be very delicious!!

Lesson 2: Sanitation, Culinary History, and Dairy ID

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I have to admit, I was still a little bit nervous for day 2 of school.  Definitely a lot less nervous than yesterday, but I still had butterflies in my stomach.  When I got into the city  I went into whole foods and grabbed some lunch... I brought it with me to school and ate in the school library while I browsed some food magazines.  

At 12:30 I headed up to the 14th floor to suit up in my uniform and prepare for class.  I was really surprised I wasn't the first one ready, since I'm always at least 15 minutes early for EVERYTHING.  I talked to another girl before class started, whose name is also Allison.  She's from Orlando and dropped out of college because she hated business and wanted to pursue her passion.  She just moved up to Brooklyn 2 weeks ago and is still adjusting to the fast paced environment.  

Today we finally were able to go around the room and introduce ourselves.  I always hated this at Elon,  but  I really enjoyed it here because I was so curious where everyone came from and why they chose to come to culinary school.  I found that most people were just unhappy with what they were doing and decided to pursue their passion.  Ironically one boy works in the Nordstrom cafe  at the Freehold mall, where I worked since I was 16.  Another girl's brother currently goes to Elon, where I went to school!  Soo weird how out of the 14 other people in my class, there are those connections that bind us together.  

Chef Allen lectured a bit about sanitation and culinary history.   The information was a little boring and tedious and I found myself taking notes like, "Wash hands, Brush teeth, Wash hair immediately after class"... DUH!  Then we got to the good stuff.. Dairy ID.. Our first tasting!  He took out different milks and then gave us little tastings of a secret ingredient.  I immediately knew what it was based on the sour, slightly creamy taste.. buttermilk.  Some people thought it was yogurt or sour cream, but based on the consistency I knew it was buttermilk.  Chef Allen made fun of my face when I tasted it and guess that I didn't like it so much.. yuck.  Next we tasted something absolutely wonderful... sweetened condensed milk.  I could eat a whole can of this!  Kind of tastes like liquid frosting.. sweet and creamy and delicious!  He passed around a french baguette and we tasted some french butter, which didn't taste all that different from regular sweet cream, unsalted butter.   At the end of class we also had some dark chocolate covered nuts from the class next door.. delish!

We got out of class early and I was able to catch the 5:03 train home and be home for cocktail hour with my parents :)    Tomorrow is my first knife lesson which I'm PUMPED about!  The tastings tomorrow include all types of vegetables..and I happen to LOVE vegetables.. Tomorrow's definitely going to be a good day :) :)

Lesson 1: Orientation!

Monday, November 9, 2009

I survived my first day of culinary school!!!! I started getting EXTREMELY nervous last night and was very very emotional.. I was worrying if my uniform was ironed enough, if I would fit in or be really embarrassed on the first day.. I didn't really know what to expect, so I was flat out terrified.

This morning I woke up after having stressful nightmares all night about being late for class and was still really nervous. I got up super early even though I didn't have to catch the train until around 10:20. I gathered my freshly ironed uniform, my insanely heavy toolkit, and kissed my mom goodbye as I headed out the door for my first day of culinary school.

As I was on the train I started listening to music and calming down.. the nerves finally went away and I started getting excited again. I have this fear of being late for things, so I got to the school super early. I figured I should since it's the first day and I have to get my locker, knife kit, books, etc. After checking in at the registrar, I stumbled up to the 14th floor to find my locker.. I was practically falling over trying to carry all of my heavy bags. Obviously, I couldn't find my locker. I looked out in the hall with the other lockers and it wasn't then I went into the women's locker room... it wasn't there. I looked back in the hallway and back in the locker room and then down the hall.... I HAD NO IDEA WHERE MY LOCKER WAS.. I was sweating bullets and felt like such an idiot until I heard some other new students asking for help to find their lockers. So, I finally gave in and asked someone. I was directed into the women's bathroom (who knew they had even more lockers in there) and changed into my uniform. I looked into the mirror and couldn't believe that I was all suited up for my first day of culinary school.

I went into the hallway and realized I didn't know what kitchen I'm supposed to be in.. ugh I'm a mess. The director of student affairs saw me looking around confused and told me that I'll be in kitchen 1402, but it wasn't set up yet so I had to wait. In the meantime, I introduced myself to 2 other new students that wandered out in the hallway. One girl seemed really sweet and also went to college and decided to come to culinary school to pursue her (second) passion. She majored in music and is from Dallas. The other guy seemed nice too.. he's from the Bronx and decided to try out culinary school because college didn't work out for him. Around 1, we all gathered into our classroom that we will be in everyday until we graduate in May. The director of student affairs talked to us first for over 2 hours, going over the guidelines, policies, etc.... pretty boring stuff. I was waiting for them to suggest we play an icebreaker game/name game...but culinary school is no Elon. Our chef instructor, Chef Allen, continued the class by going over our curriculum for module 1 and giving us a brief tour of the class and some cleaning procedures. We got our knife kits and started putting them all into the protectors and into our cases.. I am verry scared that I will seriously hurt myself with those knives! They are very very sharp! 2 students already cut themselves today just by putting them in their cases. On Wednesday we will begin our introductory knife skills.

All in all, it was a pretty successful day. We got out of class 15 minutes early and I was able to catch the 5:26 express train back to Matawan. My mom and I just had a lovely dinner that she cooked for me; spaghetti squash with ricotta and pine nuts. I am exhausted from all the excitement today! I'm so excited to see what I have in store for me the rest of the week!

So soon!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Gah! I got my uniform today!!!   My mom and I took the train into NYC this morning and picked up my uniform. When I saw my name engraved on my brand new chef's jacket, I got the chills and reality set in.  It was a stressful day in the city catching subways and doing a lot of walking..but we had a wonderful lunch at a cafe on 33rd street and had a nice salad with a glass of wine.  I tried on my uniform as soon as I got home and screamed throughout the house "I'M READY FOR SCHOOL!! LOOK AT MEE!!!"  My mom thought i looked adorable and took a million pictures...but I think I just look like a 12 year old boy haha.  We cooked an easy dinner tonight.. grilled some rosemary balsamic marinated chicken for us and skirt steaks for my brother and dad.  I roasted some cauliflower and broccoli and made some spinach seasoned with roasted garlic, nutmeg, salt & pepper, and a touch of cayenne.  A delicious and healthy meal!   

Go Yankees!!

Pasta alla Norma

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Today my grandparents came over for dinner and it was my job to figure out a dinner to make that my grandparents would like, who are very picky and only like italian food and nothing too crazy.. and also something my dad would like, who doesn't like most vegetables or anything healthy... and something my mom would like, who doesn't eat red meat or anything that's not healthy.  Sooo, it was extremely difficult but I finally found a recipe from an old Rachael Ray mag called "End of Summer Penne alla Norma".  It's a simple tomato, eggplant pasta dish.  I figured I would get fresh homemade whole wheat pasta, satisfying my health-conscious mom and my dad and grandparents who like the softer taste of homemade pasta.  I figured I would pick out the eggplant for my dad's dish and I picked up some ready-to-bake meatballs from wegmans to add some meat to the meal for my dad and grandpa.  I also substituted parsley for the mint to mix into the ricotta.  Other than that, I followed the recipe almost exactly.. just adding some italian seasoning and crushed red pepper for extra flavor.  I ended up realizing there was wayy too much eggplant to pick out for my dad so I heated up some leftover tomato sauce to top his pasta and gave him extra meatballs, so he was happy. The meal was great.. my mom and I especially enjoyed the flavorful eggplant with the fresh tomatoes and pasta.  The ricotta made it really cream and delectable.  A fresh salad of mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, and craisons made it a perfect meal.  I would definitely make it again!  There's a little bit leftover for lunch or dinner later this week :)    I'll post a pic or 2 later of the pasta, although they didn't turn out great and I forgot to take a picture of a dish made up with the ricotta!  Here's the recipe on rachael ray's website:

Penne with shrimp and tomatoes

Monday, November 2, 2009

Tonight I didn't plan on cooking because I didn't get home until late and me and my parents had leftover pizza from last night.  While we were eating our pizza my brother called to say he was coming home to watch the yankees game.  Of course, he expects dinner when he gets here.... so it was my job to figure out something to cook for him.  Luckily, I LOVE figuring out my own recipes with whatever we have on hand.  I took out some shrimp from the freezer to defrost and checked the cabinets to see what i can add to this shrimp dish.  Here's the recipe that I came up with...and I must say it was delicious, and I'm not even a huge fan of shrimp

1/2 lb. whole wheat penne
1 15 oz. can fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1-2 cloves of garlic (chopped)
1/2 chopped onion
1 cup cleaned and de-veined shrimp
1 tsp. italian seasoning
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
salt & pepper
1/2 cup parmesan
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley

Boil a pot of water for the pasta.  Season the water generously with salt before adding the pasta and cook until al dente.  Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium high heat in a large saute pan.  Add the garlic and onion and saute until slightly browned and translucent.  Add the shrimp and cook for a couple of minutes.  Add the diced tomatoes, salt, pepper, italian seasoning, and crushed red pepper.  (Taste it to adjust seasonings).. When the pasta is done, add it to the shrimp mixture.  Depending on the thickness of the sauce, you may need to add a ladle or 2  of pasta water. I added 1 large ladle.  Stir in the parmesan and parsley.  Serve with extra parmesan and crushed red pepper on the side.

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