Thursday, December 31, 2009

A New Year


2009 has been an interesting year... I started this blog, had many ups and downs on the employment front (join the club, I know), am now studying culinary arts at Johnson & Wales, did some incredible world traveling this summer, and met some amazing people who have touched my life and I hope they will be in it forever.

As this year comes to an end, I hope that next year will bring success in my new chosen field of work, along with contentment and happiness in general. I hope that all of my readers will find the same contentment in their lives, will continue to cook and love life, and will maybe keep at least one New Year's resolution ;) I'm hoping to do the same, haha. It's never easy when one of them every year is to lose weight, and a few weeks in you find yourself sneaking chocolate cake. It also doesn't help when you're in culinary school and eating is a part of your education, but I'm going to try and make it work!

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you will continue to come back next year. It's sure to be a good one ;)


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Baklava, Bourma, and Kadayef


Just about every year at Christmastime, my mom and many of my other Armenian relatives make tons and tons of baklava assortments to gift to bosses, co-workers, friends, family, neighbors, etc. It's a time consuming process, which is why they usually wait until the holiday season to make the extra effort.

I recently helped my mom put together these delicious sweets, and am so excited to share the experience with my readers! Thanks, Mom!


I'm including recipes for traditional Baklava (layers of phyllo dough, with a walnut-cinnamon-sugar filling, and soaked in clove-infused simple syrup), Bourma Baklava (a rolled variation of traditional baklava, with the same ingredients, but different assembly), and Kadayef (a pastry using shredded phyllo dough--or kadayef--with a creamy ricotta cheese filling, also soaked in clove-infused simple syrup).


I would put these treats in that same order for level of difficulty. The Baklava is definitely the most complex to make, followed by the Bourma Baklava, and finally the Kadayef which is incredibly easy!


The all share basic components in common, whether in the form of phyllo dough sheets or shredded phyllo (kadayef), and either a nut/cinnamon/sugar filling, or simply whipped ricotta. The syrups are identical.

I love all three variations. They may be a lot of work to make all in one sitting, but with the help of an extra pair of hands, or spacing them out over more than one day of baking will definitely simplify this tedious process. Hope you all enjoy!

*Note* Photos have been updated as of March 2015!

Makes about 5 dozen baklava

2 (1 pound) packages phyllo dough (approximately 14-by-18-inch)
12 ounces (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, melted and clarified

8 ounces finely chopped walnuts
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

4 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
10 whole cloves

Grease a half sheet pan (12-by-17-inches) and set aside. Prepare the filling by mixing together the walnuts, sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.

Open one package of phyllo dough and lay it out on the table covered with a cloth when not using it. Place two sheets in the bottom of the pan and fold over the excess. Lightly brush/blot with melted clarified butter. Add another two sheets, this time folding the excess on the opposite side. Again, blot with butter and continue like this until the entire pound of dough has been arranged in the pan.

Spread the filling evenly over the dough. Open the second package of phyllo and continue as above, brushing every two sheets with butter, until you reach the last 5 or so layers, and then brush between each layer. For the last couple of sheets of phyllo, fold the overhang underneath so it is invisible from the surface.

Cut diamonds with a very sharp knife by cutting lengthwise into eighths, and then start at one corner with the diagonals until you make diamond shapes with the whole pan. Spoon the remaining hot clarified butter evenly over the top, using the back of the spoon to gently spread the butter, if needed, without disturbing the top layer of phyllo.

Bake at 350 degrees F for about 45 to 55 minutes until nice and golden brown. Meanwhile, prepare the syrup by dissolving the sugar in the water over high heat. Bring to a boil then add the lemon juice and cloves, lower the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. Set aside.

When the baklava is completely cool, and the syrup is warm, but not too hot (about 160 to 165 degrees), ladle the syrup over the pan of baklava and let it soak in until mostly absorbed. There will still be some syrup left in the pan, but most of it should soak into the dough. Use a sharp knife and go over all the previous cuts, making sure the baklava is cut all the way through before serving, Store at room temperature.

Bourma Baklava
Makes about 40 center-cut pieces

1 (1 pound) package phyllo dough (approximately 14-by-18-inches)
12 ounces (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, melted and clarified

12 ounces finely chopped walnuts
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

4 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
10 whole cloves

1/4-inch diameter dowel

Grease a half sheet pan (12-by-17-inch) and set aside. Prepare the filling by mixing together the walnuts, sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.

Open the package of phyllo dough and lay it out on the table covered with a cloth when not using it. Take one sheet of dough at a time and fold it in half width-wise (like a book). Brush/blot lightly with butter, sprinkle about 1 1/2 tablespoons of filling over most of the dough, leaving about 2 inches free at the top edge. Fold 1 inch over at the bottom and place the dowel here. Roll up from this end, finishing at the filling-free end.

Set the seam side down. Push the two ends together toward the center using both hands, giving the dough a crinkled look. Remove the dowel and place the bourma on the greased sheet. Repeat with the rest of the dough and then brush the tops of all of them liberally with melted clarified butter. Cut off the ends of each bourma and then cut the center part in half, creating two bourma baklava per roll with the trimmings on either side.

Bake at 350 degrees F for about 35 minutes until nice and golden brown. Meanwhile, prepare the syrup by dissolving the sugar in the water over high heat. Bring to a boil then add the lemon juice and cloves, lower the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. Set aside.

When the bourma baklava is completely cool, and the syrup is warm, but not too hot (about 160 to 165 degrees), ladle the syrup over the pan and let it soak in until mostly absorbed. There will still be some syrup left in the pan, but most of it should soak into the dough. Use a sharp knife and go over all the previous cuts, making sure the bourma baklava is cut all the way through before serving. Store at room temperature.


Makes about 24 to 30 (2-inch) pieces

1 pound shredded kadayef dough (aka shredded phyllo dough or shredded pastry dough)
8 ounces (1 cup) unsalted butter, melted and clarified

1 pound ricotta cheese, lightly whipped

2 cups sugar
3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
5 whole cloves

In a large bowl combine the kadayef dough with the melted butter and mix with your hands to coat thoroughly. Spread half the dough in a 8-by-12-inch or 9-by-13-inch baking pan or dish (the larger pan will yield slightly thinner pieces--I used a 10-by-12-inch pan), pressing down lightly. Spread the filling over the surface and then top with the rest of the buttery dough, pressing down firmly.

Bake at 400 degrees F until golden brown, about 25 to 35 minutes. Remove from oven and cut into 2-to-2 1/2-inch squares. Meanwhile, prepare the syrup by dissolving the sugar in the water over high heat. Bring to a boil then add the lemon juice and cloves, lower the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. Set aside.

When the kadayef is completely cool, and the syrup is warm, but not too hot (about 160 to 165 degrees), ladle the syrup over the pan and let it soak in until mostly absorbed. There will still be some syrup left in the pan, but most of it should soak into the dough. Store at room temperature.

*Variation* To make a nut filling, combine 8 ounces finely chopped walnuts, 2 tablespoons sugar, and 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon. Follow the recipe as directed, substituting this nut filling for the ricotta.

Sunday, December 13, 2009



I love quiche! It's one of my favorite French bistro dishes and also one of my favorite brunch staples. You can fill a quiche with pretty much anything you like, the sky is the limit. I recently made four quiches for a brunch birthday party for my nephew. I baked two at a time in the oven, and made two of each kind. Depending on the dish you use, the amount of egg filling in this recipe may be too much, but you can use your judgment. I have a deep-dish pie dish which holds a lot of filling (you can easily add another cup of liquid to the custard mixture to fill a deeper crust, say 3 eggs, 1 cup of cream and 1-1 1/2 cups whole milk will work just fine per quiche), but on this particular day I used a regular pie dish and three French-style tart dishes with fluted edges in order to keep all four about the same size. You could use a metal tart pan as well I'm sure, although it would be slightly more shallow than using pie dishes. I know a lot of classic French quiche recipes actually do use a tart pan so it's pretty common. Alternatively, you can easily make mini quiches for hors d'oeuvres by cutting the rolled out pie dough into circles with a cutter (3 1/2 inches works best for a standard muffin pan), lightly pressing the circles into a muffin pan and filling them with whatever you like (a recipe for one large quiche should fill about 15 muffin cups with enough dough and plenty of filling). Some quiche recipes don't even require you to blind bake the crust, just fill it raw. I've tried it both ways and have had good results in either case, so it's really hard to mess this up! It's easy! Just follow the basic steps and you'll prepare a luscious quiche before you know it.

Mediterranean Veggie Quiche Filling

Mediterranean Veggie Quiche

Quiche Lorraine Filling

Quiche Lorraine

Mini Quiches with Sun-dried Tomato, Spinach, and Gruyere Cheese

Mediterranean Vegetable Quiche OR Quiche Lorraine
Makes 2 Quiches (or 30 Mini Quiches)

*Note, these measurements are best for traditional pie dishes, but if you are using a deep dish pie dish, you can increase the amount of milk to better fill the crust with the custard

2 flaky pie crusts (see below)
6 eggs
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
Salt and pepper

For Mediterranean Filling (for 2 quiches):
1 cup chopped Kalamata olives
1 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1 9-oz package frozen chopped spinach, heated in the microwave according to package directions, then squeezed dry
1 4-oz log herbed goat cheese, crumbled

For Quiche Lorraine Filling (for 2 quiches):
8-10 slices smoked bacon, chopped and then fried until crisp
2 cups shredded gruyere cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Whisk the eggs, heavy cream, whole milk, and salt and pepper in a bowl.

Distribute chosen fillings evenly into both blind baked pie crusts, finishing with the cheese. Pour custard mixture over the filling until it just reaches the top of the crust without spilling over. You may have leftover custard depending on the depth of your pie dishes.

Bake quiches for 45-55 minutes or until slightly puffed and golden brown and no longer jiggles when lightly shaken. A knife inserted into the center should come out clean, although it may look wet. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature, cut into wedges.

Flaky Pie Crust
Makes 2 9-inch or 10-inch pie crusts

1 tsp. salt
2/3 cup very cold water
3 cups + 2 T. all-purpose flour
1 cup + 5 T. unsalted butter, very cold and cut into small cubes

In a small bowl add the salt to the water and stir to dissolve. Keep cold in the refrigerator.

In a food processor, put the flour in the work bowl and add the small butter cubes, scattering all over. Pulse briefly until the mixture forms large crumbs and some of the butter is still the size of peas. Add the water-salt mixture and pulse for several seconds until the dough begins to come together in a ball. You should still be able to see some butter chunks.

On a lightly floured surface, divide the dough into two equal balls and shape each ball into a disk 1 inch thick. Wrap well in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours or up to overnight (this dough can now be frozen in a freezer bag and then defrosted in the refrigerator the day before it is to be used).

Place the chilled dough on a floured surface and roll out 1/8 inch thick, lifting and rotating the dough to make sure it doesn't stick, and working quickly to ensure the dough stays as cold as possible. Add more flour to the board as needed.

Roll the dough circle gently over the rolling pin and then gently unroll the circle over the pie dish, easing it into the bottom and sides, and pressing gently into place. Avoid stretching the dough, as it will shrink back when baking. Trim the dough edges with a sharp knife and flute or crimp the edges if you prefer. Repeat with the other dough.

Chill the crust 30 minutes to an hour in the fridge before baking. This ensures the flakiest crust.

To blind bake the crust, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line the shell with parchment paper and fill with pie weights (or dry beans or rice if you don't have weights). Bake until the surface looks dry and pale, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the weights and paper and return the pie crust to the oven and bake a few minutes longer until it is just cooked but still fairly pale.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Lamb Chop's Play Along


Do you remember Lamb Chop's Play-Along, that awesome children's program with the sock puppet? I loved that show! Lamb Chop was just so cute, haha. I'm not really going anywhere with this. It's just a random memory that was ignited yesterday when we Frenched racks of lamb in class. I know it's a morbid connection, but have you come to expect anything less from me?

So, Frenching racks of lamb does not in any way involve making out with them, but instead refers to scraping the meat off the ribs in order to have a much more elegant product. It is a tedious process, especially for someone like myself who had never done it before, but the finished result is really quite nice. Our chef also broke down an entire lamb carcass, which was pretty interesting, and I later helped bone out the shoulder which was difficult and time consuming considering I had no idea what I was doing, but when I finally managed to remove the huge bone, I felt like I had just won an Olympic medal! It was pretty intense. The bone I removed was part of the shoulder blade with a working shoulder joint and part of the upper arm bone, so I was able to use it to "wave" at my classmates (who must all think I'm nuts, haha).

Also, today we had the first of four parts to our practical exam, which involved trussing a chicken, then removing the string and breaking down the chicken into parts--wings, legs, and then removing the breasts from the bone. I don't know my official grade, but I think I did pretty well. I feel confident that I can break down many a chicken in my life from this point on.

Finally, I have some pretty cool news to share! I would like to point out that Mission: Food has been quoted in a press release for Nature's Pride bread! It's especially exciting since they only chose three blogs to publish quotes from :) I was really thrilled when they asked if they could quote me in their press release, and I love that people in general seem to really enjoy the things I have to share in my blog. I know I don't update as often as some other bloggers do, but I hope that what I have to offer my readers makes visiting my blog worthwhile. Thanks again, everyone!

Monday, December 7, 2009

This Little Piggy Went to Market...


Oink, oink! Do you think it's morbid to name the animal you're cutting apart? I think it adds some fun to meat cutting. I never did before this class, but after breaking down all those chickens last week, it just seemed fitting to personalize the experience. Today my class broke down full pork loins, which are HUGE in case you've never seen one intact before. I named my pig Truffles after one of my many pig stuffed animals. I imagined that it failed at its job to sniff out those ever luxurious mushrooms and had, as punishment, been slaughtered and was now laying across my bench, in all of it's dead glory, hahaha. I never said I wasn't morbid. Today I removed Truffles' tenderloin, followed by removing his sirloin end (deboning it), removing his shoulder blade end and cutting it into country-style spareribs. Then I removed the rib from the remaining loin. I felt so accomplished once I was done. I had just taken apart a giant pork loin on my very first attempt! Isn't culinary school grand? Tomorrow we move onto lamb! Baaaahhhhhhh!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Beef: It's What's For Dinner!


This past week, I started the one class at Johnson & Wales I was looking forward to the most: The Skills of Meatcutting. Yeah, I know that seems unusual, most people don't seem to like that class at all, but I know there's more to it than standing in a refrigerator and cutting up dead animals. First of all, I'm very lucky to be taking this class with easily the best chef to take it with, Chef Vaillancourt. He sleeps and breathes meat, officially making him my idol :) He knows everything there is to know about meat. You can show him a cube of meat and he can tell you exactly which cut it came from! Unreal!

Anyway, this class is less about learning how to be a meat cutter (9 days would never be enough to master such skills) but more about the theory behind it, and the identification and uses of all the cuts. We started out breaking down chickens (many many chickens) and learned how to separate the wings, legs, and then remove the breasts from the bone. We have also been learning about all the parts of a cow. It's broken down into 8 primal cuts (round, sirloin, short loin, flank, rib, chuck, brisket, and short plate) and almost all of those are then broken down into sub-primal cuts and then finally into portion cuts in some cases. It's really interesting to me because it's one thing I never knew too much about to begin with. I mean, I knew generally what parts of the cow some cuts were from, but never in great detail. Also, not only did we learn the basics behind where they are from, what type of grain they have and the uses of the cuts, but our amazing chef has demoed breaking down just about every primal cut so we can see exactly how the sub-primal cuts and portion cuts can be derived from it. Now when I order a particular steak from a restaurant, or walk into the supermarket and peruse the meat section, I will actually know where my meat is coming from (in theory if they aren't liars, and some people are), and be able to tell the difference between different qualities of meat as advertised.

Did you know that Prime Rib is a misnomer? I'll admit, some rib is Prime, but not everything advertised as Prime Rib is actually Prime Rib. Prime is a grade of quality, while rib is a primal cut of beef. If the rib in question is of Prime grade it can be called Prime Rib. However, if the beef is graded Choice or Select, then it's not actually Prime Rib, it is however PRIMAL Rib because that is the cut. So when you see someone advertising Prime Rib and then pointing out it is a Choice cut of meat, you know they are big fat liars (or morons).

Next week we will learn about lamb, pork and veal, I believe. Should be an interesting time :)

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Dim Sum Experience


It's no secret that I love dumplings. I recently purchased a gorgeous cookbook (Dim Sum: The Art of Chinese Tea Lunch) focusing completely on dim sum, from dumplings to veggies, pancakes to sweets. It uses lovely illustrations by the author herself in place of photographs, and actually makes the book seem like more of a personal journal of family recipes as opposed to an overly processed cookbook that has obviously been handed down through many levels of publishing hierarchy before finally turning up in bookstores. I can't explain it, but it just seems almost like Ellen Leong Blonder speaks directly to me through her recipes, diagrams, and exquisitely painted renditions of tasty dim sum staples. It also gives a lovely glimpse into the world of Asian teas to pair perfectly in this traditional "tea lunch" experience. Anyone who knows me knows that I take cookbook selecting very seriously. I own over 100 but each and every one that I have purchased myself has been analyzed for hours (ie me reviewing it and many similar books in the comfort of my neighborhood bookstore) before I've selected the chosen few. I'm a perfectionist in every aspect of life, and picking cookbooks is definitely no exception :)

With that said, I made dim sum for the very first time yesterday! It was no easy feat. Partway through, I actually considered giving up and just ordering Chinese food, my mouth was drooling and the dumplings just wouldn't form themselves fast enough to satisfy me. Instead of choosing to simply "make dumplings" I decided to "make dim sum" which is entirely another thing. I selected three different dumpling recipes to make as well as another dim sum staple: scallion pancakes. Between making three different fillings, doughs for all four, and finally assembling each and every product by hand--rolling out the tiny blobs of dough, filling them, shaping them into ugly masses that I was somewhat ashamed to serve, being the perfectionist I am--I was grateful to have my sister manning the stove and cooking them off as I prepped them. Otherwise we would have never eaten! I think the dumplings seemed less ugly once they were cooked, although some of the steamed ones stuck to the steamer. I probably should have lightly oiled it since I wasn't using the oiled-cake-pan-method Blonder mentioned in the book.

As soon as dumplings were cooked off, we kept them warm in a 200 degree oven (even the steamed ones as there were so many and we needed to cook them in batches). As the cook, I ate last, frying up the last of the scallion pancakes in a now-abandoned kitchen while my sister and brother-in-law enjoyed hot dumplings in front of the tv. My plate of dim sum was more room temperature than anything. The few just-cooked dumplings I tried were amazing, but as the heat escaped, some of the flavor seemed to as well. My reheated dumplings today were reminiscent of the first ones I tried, but with yesterday's hunger came a desperation to eat regardless of the temperature of the food, and yet they managed to satisfy as only food that is the result of hours of slaving can manage to do.

I made pork potstickers first... I found that the cabbage in the filling didn't really wilt as it was supposed to and remained in pretty big pieces which made it hard to fill such tiny dumplings. Next time I might chop the cabbage more than shred/slice it, but otherwise, the flavors were good with notes of spicy ginger bursting in your mouth as you bite into it. I adapted the three-mushroom steamed dumplings and made it with two mushrooms instead, using fresh shiitakes and creminis. I also couldn't find wheat starch so I used flour dough instead. These dumplings were tasty, but a few stuck to the steamer, and they tasted MUCH better hot than room temperature. My pork and shrimp siu mai were perhaps the easiest and tastiest. Forming these dumplings were a lot easier than mastering the "potsticker pleat" if you will. Also the filling had great texture, with chunks of shrimp and diced water chestnuts giving it a surprising balance of crunch against the ground pork. The scallion pancakes were my finale, and I rushed through them and forgot to lightly salt them before closing them up, but they still tasted fine, especially with the dipping sauce. I also deliberately left out the shortening. I'm against using hydrogenated fats and this recipe will not change that fact.

All in all, I think my dim sum experience was a success! It took hours longer than I expected, but with careful planning next time, and prepping parts in advance, I think my next foray into the dum sum arts will be even better. I may even try and enjoy each dim sum dish as a separate course in order to enjoy them all hot as soon as they're cooked... prep them all and then cook off each one, and actually eat it while the next one cooks. Doesn't sound like a bad plan. I have loads of filling left over for the three dumplings I made (that's my one complaint about the recipes, they make a lot more filling than seems required for the amount of dough specified), so I froze the fillings and will use them next time I want to cook off some dim sum. It will certainly save a lot of work!

Mushroom Filling

Pork and Shrimp Siu Mai Filling

Pork and Cabbage Filling for Potstickers

Reject-Looking Potstickers :)

Pork Potstickers

Steamed Mushroom Dumplings

Pork and Shrimp Siu Mai (raw)

Scallion Pancakes (before frying)

An Array of Dim Sum a la Victoria :)

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review. I purchased the book myself. My opinions are always my own.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Victoria is Bad

So, I'm completely aware of the fact that I dropped off the face of the Earth after Stocks, Sauces, and Soups. I promise, Chef Robotham didn't kill me. After S, S, & S, I began and completed Intro to Baking and Pastry and even got my final grades for the term already (4 A+'s and 2 A's... you can't win 'em all, I guess, haha). In my baking class we prepared everything from biscuits, muffins, angel food cakes, pies, croissants, danishes, cookies, sticky buns, cinnamon buns, eclairs, baguettes, soft dinner rolls, and challah. I have a bit of experience with amateur baking, so the cookies, muffins, etc were a bit less exciting to me, but what I really enjoyed the most was laminating dough for the croissants and danishes as well as shaping the breads, everything from the baguettes to the lovely braided challah! Here are a few pics...

Angel Food Cake

Biscuits, Baguette, and Muffins

Braiding Challah

My Gorgeous Challah!

Laminating Dough for Croissants and Danishes

Cross-Section of Laminated Dough... Check Out the Layers of Butter and Dough!



Making Sticky Buns
Sticky Buns, Mmmm!

Moving on to cooking in my non-school life... Thanksgiving was a couple days ago. We celebrated it at my sister's house this year, and I definitely helped out with several dishes. I made two desserts, some mini angel food cakes drizzled with chocolate ganache and a pumpkin banana mousse tart. I also made the garlic mashed potatoes, worked on some cranberry sauce, sauteed green beans with garlic, and whipped up some homemade turkey gravy from the pan drippings (using the oh so wonderful calculation for making a medium viscosity sauce, 11.5% roux to liquid, and equal parts fat to flour for the roux).

Also, for the first time ever believe it or not, last night I made eggplant parmesan. I've made chicken parm about a billion times, but never eggplant and considering that it's one of my favorites, I think it was about time! There isn't much of a recipe, but I will share what I did... I peeled and sliced up two large eggplants, salted them to release some of the bitter water, then dried them off, used the standard breading procedure of seasoned flour, seasoned eggs, and then some Italian bread crumbs. I lightly fried them up in olive oil to get them nice and browned and cooked through. Meanwhile I used a couple large cans of crushed tomatoes to make the sauce. Next time I'd do three cans to make sure I have enough for the pasta too (we ended up using jarred sauce to serve the pasta). I started the sauce with some chopped garlic in olive oil, added the tomatoes, salt, pepper, dried oregano, and basil and just let it simmer while I worked on the eggplant. Finally, I layered an 11X13" pan with sauce, eggplant, more sauce, shredded mozzarella, and so on for three total layers. On the very top I also added some parmesan to the mozzarella and then baked it at 350 for about 20-25 minutes until the cheese was nice and bubbly! Here are some photos from Thanksgiving as well as last night's dinner :)

Mini Angel Food Cakes

My Brother-in-Law's Amazing Turkey!

Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Cranberry Sauce, and Stuffing

My Plate of Yummies :)

Eggplant Parmesan with Whole-Wheat Linguine


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