Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mmm, Fiber!

First things first... for my nutrition class, as you may recall I was supposed to keep a food record for four days of every single thing I ate or drank, which we then input into a computer program to analyze our diets. I discovered many things I already knew (I don't eat enough fruit, I don't eat enough fruit, I really don't eat enough fruit) and some that I didn't know (apparently I eat just the right amount of grains! I always thought I had too many). Although I have enough grain in my diet, I'm a little low on carbs (eating fruit would help this), and very low on fiber. The recommended amount of fiber for most people is probably very unattainable. They suggest 27-40g a day. I had an average of 10g a day according to my food record. In an effort to find better ways to include fiber in my diet, one great way is using more whole grains as opposed to refined starches.

It just so happens that the day we reviewed our diets in class, I came home to find a package from the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program containing two loaves of Nature's Pride bread, one 100% Whole Wheat and the other 12 Grain, each containing 3g or 2g of fiber respectively per slice. It's like the food Gods (aka Foodbuzz) had planned it that way. Now I can start incorporating more fiber by enjoying these yummy breads with my meals to start eating healthier. And they're not only healthy and arrived with perfect timing, but they're really delicious too! Thanks Foodbuzz! I'll definitely buy more of these breads in the future. They even have a Double Fiber 100% Whole Wheat Bread, which I might try!

In other news, this week in my Essentials of Dining Service class, we learned a bit about teas and wines. I already knew more than my share about tea (and probably more than our teacher as I corrected him on the proper brewing temperatures for some of the teas we were discussing), and am hoping to devote a much longer and in depth blog entry to this topic in the future. We tasted a few in class, some were familiar, while a couple were new to me. We learned a bit about wine today as well, which isn't really that new, but still interesting. It got me in the mood to have some (and we ran out of time to do tastings in class today) so I'm thinking I'm going to pour myself a big glass of vino once I'm finished writing this entry.

Okay, I think I'm done ;) Peace!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Italian Tuna Melt


First of all, my Essentials of Dining Service class is going well. Today I was chosen to be the Maitre D on our first day of actual service. It was nice to be entrusted with that responsibility right off the bat. I think I did a great job keeping an eye on things, delegating work to the servers, greeting guests, and ensuring the overall smooth running of the dining room. I've been a server before so I'm not completely unfamiliar with the inner workings of the front of the house, but I'm sure that this class will shed a lot more light on everything!

In other news, I had recently entered a recipe contest at Mezzetta Foods for the best sandwich concept using some of their products. To make a long story short, I didn't win, but I honestly feel that I should have! Just look at that picture above and read the following recipe and tell me it doesn't sound amazing. When I made it at first, I thought to myself that it was one of the best sandwiches I'd ever had, let alone made. I'll stand by that statement. It's delicious, colorful (the colors of the Italian flag, no less), and easy to make. It can't get much better than this, folks :)

Italian Tuna Melt
Serves 4

3 (5-oz) cans tuna, drained
1/3 cup MEZZETTA Home Style Cured Pitted Olives, chopped
1 stalk celery, diced
1 tablespoon MEZZETTA Non-Pareil Capers, drained
2 tablespoons MEZZETTA Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Dash of red chili flakes
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 1-lb loaf ciabatta bread, cut into four pieces and split
1/2 cup MEZZETTA Roasted Red Peppers, thinly sliced
1 tomato, thinly sliced
1 lb fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced

Put the drained tuna in a mixing bowl and add the chopped MEZZETTA Home Style Cured Pitted Olives, diced celery, MEZZETTA Non-Pareil Capers, MEZZETTA Extra Virgin Olive Oil, red wine vinegar, red chili flakes, salt and pepper, and mix to combine.

Preheat an electric Panini grill. Lay out the four bottom-halves of ciabatta bread, cut side up, and divide the tuna mixture between them. Top each with the red pepper strips, sliced tomatoes, and finally the fresh mozzarella cheese. Cover with the remaining ciabatta halves.

Once the Panini grill is hot, cook each sandwich for about 5-7 minutes or until bread is crusty and cheese has melted. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Etiquette and Manners

Please. Thank you. You're welcome.

Hopefully all of us are familiar with these statements. If you aren't, then please stop reading my blog and learn to be a nicer person. Thanks. For the rest of you (and hopefully the majority) this is a great start. I pride myself in always being courteous to people, especially when I'm dining out. Today in my first class for Essentials of Dining Service I was reminded of other forms of etiquette and learned a few new ones as well.

In this day and age, it's uncommon to have a gentleman rise up from his seat as a woman approaches their table. When asked, only one young man in the class raised his hand to agree that he follows this chivalrous example. How sad is that? Only one person? I'm sure we've all had someone hold the door open for us, but even then, a lot of people will let it just slam shut. I'm a lady and I hold the door open for people all the time. It's just part of being courteous, and it shouldn't be that difficult. I think we should all take a good, hard look at ourselves and start being nicer and more polite to people. It's as simple as offering a smile. Again, if this seems too difficult for you, stop reading and go practice smiling in the mirror. It uses less muscles than frowning, people!

There are a lot of protocols in place in a dining room that aren't always followed in shall-we-say more "mediocre" establishments. A lot of times, clueless food runners or servers will show up and name off the dishes they have to see who ordered them. This is disruptive and annoying. Really, they should know exactly who ordered what (by noting the positions of the diners ahead of time) and make the dining experience as simple for the customers as possible.

One thing that I learned about being a good customer is that you should never try to "help" the server by stacking up empty plates. I often try to "help" by doing this, but apparently it's a big no-no. Servers have a certain way that they at least should bus the dishes from a table (and they also shouldn't do this until everyone at the table has finished the current course, otherwise those who haven't might feel the need to rush to finish or just plain give up the rest of their food) and there's usually a method to it that can be disrupted if you try to "help." Note to self, don't "help" the waitstaff, just eat your food, let them do their jobs, and tip nicely :)

Monday, September 21, 2009

I <3 Dumplings


It's true. I'm a fan of dumplings, all kinds of dumplings. I'd say my favorite dumpling is my nephew's cute little face. Yes, it's a dumpling. If you've ever seen him, you'd agree. Pretty much every culture has their variation of a dumpling or turnover. While Chinese food may be most famous for it's variety of dumplings, Italians offer us ravioli, Russians have piroshki, Armenians present boreks, and so on. Today, paired up with the awesome Katie, I got to make the Polish version of dumplings/turnovers called pierogis. The filling is composed of mashed potato, cottage cheese, buttery cooked onions, egg and seasonings, while the dough uses sour cream as a big part of it's liquid element. Put these two components together, fill, seal, boil, and fry on one side and you've got yourself a yummy Polish delight!

Today was my last class for Traditional European Cuisine. I'm thrilled to have aced today's final, but will miss this class a lot. Next up is Essentials of Dining Room, which doesn't appear to be too exciting. I get to set tables and be a waitress. I've been a waitress before and don't particularly care for it. I hope it's a bit more fun than that, but I guess we'll see soon enough. Wish me luck!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

You Say Stifado, I Say Stefado


So today is my "Friday," and a glorious one at that! I had my first ever practical exam in culinary school and I got an A+ :) Those taking the practical exams each day need to prepare for four recipe possibilities and then randomly choose two of them to prepare for a grade in class. I chose Chicken Cacciatore (which I had already made once in class before with my group) and a Greek Style Beef Stew called Stifado or Stefado (hence the way clever title of this blog entry, haha). You are supposed to work alone and not even speak to your classmates. I made every effort to be super organized (what I'm pretty much known for in life) and focused and although my dishes took a bit longer to finish than I had hoped, they were both really good, the meat was fork-tender, the sauces were yummy, and I ended up with a rockin' grade!

I'd like to just share a few more words on Stefado if I may... when you look at the picture it looks almost like any typical beef stew with a dark sauce, but this one is spiked with cinnamon and a touch of cumin and then topped with crumbled Feta and baked briefly. I personally LOVE cinnamon in certain savory dishes. It's prevalent in other Greek cuisine such as Moussaka, a traditional dish of eggplant cooked with layers of cinnamon-laced meat sauce and bechamel, as well as some versions (my own included) of Bolognese sauce. Cinnamon and meat can make beautiful music together when done right, so although it might sound strange to some of you, don't knock it till you've tried it.

Chicken Cacciatore, Spaghetti Aglio e Olio, and Green Beans in Tomato Sauce
Game Hens with Sweet Sausage and Porcini over Risotto Cakes
Greek Shrimp and Porcini Risotto
Stewed Veal with Peppers, Sausage and Mushrooms, Potatoes in Parsley Sauce, and Spicy Braised Cauliflower and Potatoes

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Working On My Knife Skillz


Today in class, I peeled, trimmed and cut 6 lbs of carrots into batonnets! It was a very time-consuming task, and the only tools I had were my hands (which I miraculously didn't cut) and a chef's knife. Check out my mad skillz in the photo above :) Next time I think I would wear plastic gloves when tackling a ridiculous amount of carrots as they turned my left hand and nails yellow, and thus required several intense washings. Now I'm sure you're wondering why on Earth would I need 6 lbs of carrots in perfect matchsticks. Well, my dish to prepare today on my own was Braised Onions and Carrots. It may sound boring, but it was really delicious and easily one of my favorite dishes of the day! My awesome buddy Jenn helped me out by slicing up the onions for me, as she had a somewhat less strenuous task of quartering fennel for her dish, and I had the mother-load of carrots and onions to cut as well as 1 1/2 lbs of tomatoes to concasser. The dish was ALMOST vegetarian, but I used chicken stock in the braising liquid, and clarified butter to cook the veggies, but all you vegans/vegetarians could easily replicate this dish using oil and vegetable stock instead with similar results. Check out my sweet photos from today's class...

My gorgeous Braised Onions and Carrots--Check out that amazing color!

I'd love to bathe in a tub of this!
Getting the steam table prepared for service
Braised Short Ribs with Berrichonne Potatoes and Fried Eggplant

Bouef Bourguignon with Noodles and Braised Onions and CarrotsChicken Fricassee with Rice Pilaf and Braised Onions and Carrots
Pork Chops Normande with Stewed Peppers, Tomatoes, Squash and Onions, and Noodles
Basque Fish Stew with Braised Fennel

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Lots O' Cabbage


These past couple of days we've been cooking lots of Eastern European dishes, which are laden with various types of cabbage, everything from Braised Cabbage Rolls to Braised Red Cabbage and even Polish Noodles and Cabbage. I've gotta say, cabbage has always been kind of scary to me. I think just the knowledge of what cabbage does to your insides and the unpleasant odors it can cause (don't make me say it) after eating it have kept me out of the cabbage-loving circle. Also, the cabbage dishes that my family has prepared over the years haven't really seemed too appetizing (sorry, Mom). My views on cabbage have changed as of today. I didn't get to try the Cabbage Rolls, but I did have the Braised Red Cabbage (which I made) and the Polish Noodles with Cabbage, which was easily one of my favorite dishes of the day! I'm finally feeling the cabbage love :) In other news, today my group prepared some Lamb Shanks, which I had the pleasure of trimming of fat and silverskin. I don't know about you guys, some of you may be squeamish around raw meat, but I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE getting my hands on raw meat and cutting it up, squishing ground meats in between my fingers, etc. It makes me feel like such a carnivore, haha. The lamb shanks turned out quite well and the sauce was really beautiful! Today's photos should be a bit better as far as plating than yesterday's. We are making more of an effort to make our foods more pleasant to the eyes with creative plating ideas. Check 'em out!

Braised Lamb Shank, Braised Cabbage Roll, Stuffed Tomato, and Moselle Potato

Irish Lamb Stew with Biscuit

Old-Fashioned Beef Stew with Mashed Potatoes

Pork Chops with Knockwurst and Potatoes, Braised Red Cabbage, Polish Noodles and Cabbage

Monday, September 14, 2009

My Love Affair with Spätzle


Call it a love affair or call it a one night stand, but I was a spätzle virgin until today. I had never eaten it, made it, or even seen spätzle outside of photographs and television, but today, spätzle and I, we went all the way... and it was good. Spätzle are small boiled German dumplings tossed in melted butter and served as a side dish. You make a thick batter containing flour, eggs, milk, salt, and nutmeg and then use a spätzle maker (which looks sort of like a flat grater with wide holes, and this square frame over it where you pour the batter and then push it back and forth over the holes and hold the entire contraption over a pot of salted boiling water dropping the little dumplings into the water to boil briefly) to make the appropriate shapes. Then you shock them in cold water once they are cooked, and rewarm them by sautéing in melted butter. They are chewy and buttery, somewhat like pasta, but thicker and chewier. Spätzle is goooood. I can totally see how this can be a comfort dish in the the countries of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland where they all have variations of this dish. In other news, here are some of my quick photos from class today...

Coq au Vin with Braised Red Cabbage and Spätzle

Braised Lamb Shank with Beans, Braised Cabbage Roll, and Polish Noodles and Cabbage
Irish Lamb Stew
Old-Fashioned Beef StewPork Chops with Knockwurst and Potatoes, Braised Red Cabbage, and Stewed Cucumbers with Sour Cream & Dill
Pot Roast with Stewed Cucumbers with Sour Cream & Dill and Spätzle
Plating and garnishing dishes

Gotta love dessert donations from pastry classes ;-) Yum!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Chef of the Day

So yesterday I was chef of the day in my class. It meant that among other things, I got to plan the plating design, the garnishes, keep track of refrigerator and food temperatures, and keep an eye on everything to make sure it was all up to code. Hate to toot my own horn, but I think I did a pretty stellar job considering it was only our second day of service. I was assertive, knew exactly what I was looking for, and sent back plates to the servers when I wasn't pleased with how they looked (not enough sauce, too must pasta, etc). Just like a real chef :) Check out some haphazardly taking photographs from yesterday's service...

Spanish-Style Braised Cod and Spanish Rice

Chicken Cacciatore and Porcini Risotto

Rabbit Ragu with Pappardelle

Greek-Style Seafood Stew with Fettuccine with Vegetable Ragu

"Pork and Beans": Cataplana (Pork and Clams) with Greek Beans with Potatoes, Tomatoes, and Carrots
Rolled Veal Scallops with Spicy Braised Cauliflower and Potatoes

Although I'm enjoying the cooking and learning, and service is pretty exciting, I am absolutely not a fan of the cleaning. It's pretty insane, we have to clean the ovens and stoves every single day, hose down the floors with soapy water, rinse and squeegee, scour pots and pans, etc. It's really intensive and takes a long time. By the time class finishes, I want to just collapse. Sometimes I have another class afterward, and this exhaustion makes it quite difficult to make it to the gym on days when I completely plan on going. This isn't a joke. Although I know how to cook, these classes are very tiring. I had to get up at 5:30am yesterday and was on my feet most of the time until about 1:30pm when we finally got out of class. And as you may recall from my previous post, standing on your feet that long is bad enough, but when you're wearing shoes that give you blisters, it's Hell. In any case, I always knew I didn't want to be a chef in a restaurant. There are other things I'd love to do with my experience, but at least I'm learning very surely now what it can be like to work in a professional kitchen, and this of course is on a really small scale. I can only imagine how tough it can be out in the wild :-/ Stay tuned to see if I make it out alive!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Monkfish and Bunny Rabbits...


First and foremost, I would like to just say that my stupid culinary uniform shoes which I MUST wear every single day are giving me serious blisters and lots of pain, and I hate them. That said, we can move on to other topics of discussion... Today I got to clean and cook monkfish for the very first time! People only eat the tails of monkfish because as you can see from the photo above, the rest of it looks kind of like a goblin :) Not very meaty or appetizing, haha. In any case, it's different from the way you'd handle a regular fish so I was really excited about this process. My group made a Greek-Style Seafood Stew and a Porcini Risotto for today's service. Both came out well, although I've made risotto more times than I can count, so I tried to focus more of my energy on preparing the stew and let my group mates do a bit more of the risotto cooking. The fish itself was delicious, as was the rest of the stew. I can definitely see myself making this again (although I'd love to know where I can get myself some monkfish). Another group got to cook rabbit, and I was quite jealous as I have never cooked rabbit either and was really hoping for the chance. I'm thinking that I'm going to try making the rabbit dish on my own, some weekend soon maybe, and I'll let you all know how it goes! I did taste their dish and it was good, so one of these days I'll acquire myself some dead rabbit and start cooking ;)

Victoria's Word of the Day...
Concassée (kon-kass-SAY): Peeled, seeded, chopped tomatoes

Tomorrow I'm going to be "chef of the day." This means that in addition to our usual nightly reading, I have some extra preparation to do, and I need to arrive 20 minutes early to class. I'm really looking forward to the challenge! Tune in to find out what happens...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Braised Chicken Leg a Day...


Could keep me quite satisfied for a lengthy period of time, I think! Today in Traditional European Cuisine we finally started cooking! We ran out of time toward the end of class and needed to push the Rice Pilaf and Pork Stew onto tomorrow's menu, but the chicken legs were braised and tasted, and they were quite amazing. Braising is such an easy process without a whole lot of hands-on work required. It's made in a single pot, from stove to oven and then into your dish it goes! We could use whatever seasonings we wanted for our sauce, and my group opted to use some sage, which worked nicely and compliments poultry really well. I also got to use a chinois mousseline, which is a fancy strainer. I'm so getting one someday, haha. And check out the sauce in the picture above! Don't you just want to bathe in it? That chicken is so lucky!

Also today we made something called a cartouche, which is basically a circle of parchment paper to cover whatever is being braised in the pot before a cover is placed on it to go in the oven. It helps keep all the moisture close to the meat to help it tenderize better as it cooks. We used a simple technique of folding parchment into a square, rolling it until it looks almost like a quill and then just tearing it by hand to the radius size of our pot, unfolding and voila, it's an almost perfect circle with no scissors required!

I love fancy words that mean simple things. Here's another installment of Victoria's Word of the Day...

Singer (son-jay): to dust a pan with flour to absorb the fat (as in making a roux!)

Man, the French sure come up with cool words for random things :)

Today, I also started my Introduction to Nutrition class. As many of you may already know, I love bread, butter, cheese, pasta, and chocolate. None of these things really fall into the world of nutritious cooking. I choose happiness on my palate as opposed to a really teeny waist line, so sue me. It just tastes so good! One of our projects requires us to keep track of everything we ingest for four days and then use a computer program to determine our nutritional intake for those days, note what we're getting too much of, not enough of, etc. In theory I think this will be pretty cool to discover problems with my eating habits so maybe I can fix them... but in reality, it will probably make me feel pretty bad about myself, haha. I promptly went to the gym after class :-/

All in all, another great day livin' the dream. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The First Lesson


I've survived my first day of culinary school. My toes hurt, but otherwise I'm feeling pretty good! At first I wasn't sure if my brain had gone to mush over the past four years, but alas, I'm still as big a nerd as ever! I raised my hand a million times with answers to all kinds of questions, to the point that eventually the chef had to ask the other students to answer some questions since it would have been bad I guess to have me answer all of them. It's okay. I can share the spotlight :) Also, we have a "chef of the day" each day randomly assigned from each group, and the chef was selecting someone from my group for tomorrow. I, of course, volunteered immediately, but she suggested that I might want to wait to be "chef of the day" until one of our later class days so I can have more responsibility. I love that she could sense my desire from our very first meeting! I'm thrilled to save my "chef of the day" day until next week!

Now, a few notes on my first course: It's called Traditional European Cuisine, and I will be taking it for nine somewhat consecutive days (minus Fridays and weekends) for six hours at a time, starting VERY early in the morning. Each course focuses on two or three major cooking techniques. In this case, braising and stewing with a highlight on European cuisines and also focusing on rices and pastas. We'll be braising everything from meats and fishes to vegetables, making fresh pasta and risottos, offering up our plates for service in one of Johnson & Wales's dining rooms, and then sampling all of our own dishes in addition to those created by the other groups in the class. Although we had a demonstration on some vegetable cuts today, we will not begin cooking until tomorrow. On the menu: Braised Chicken Legs with Rice Pilaf, and Pork Stew with Risotto! Can't wait to start braising and stewing :) There's nothing like a comforting dish of braised or stewed meat on a cool autumn day...

Here's a few fun factoids I learned today...
- Searing does NOT lock in juices (so whenever you hear someone on the Food Network or elsewhere make that claim, you'll know they're a big, fat liar!). What it DOES do is add taste, texture and color to the dish.
- Hollywood lips are not the only place to find collagen. Collagen is abundant in the connective tissues of meats. The more collagen, the moister your meat will be after braising or stewing. The collagen turns to gelatin when cooked, giving these meats a really rich texture. Tough cuts and mature birds are best for braising and stewing for this very reason among others.

Victoria's Word of the Day...
Depouillage: The process of removing fat and impurities from the surface of liquid during cooking (this same process is used to clarify butter as well).

What fun, what fun! Stay tuned for more of my culinary school adventures!

**Author's Note: Although I may look like Chef Mario Batali in the above photograph, I'd like to point out that chef jackets are not the most flattering. They are puffy, shapeless, big, and WHITE. Also, this photo was taken at 6am :) Thank you, and have a nice day**

Monday, September 7, 2009

A New Chapter

Tomorrow, I'm starting over. It's been over 4 years since I last attended a college class, or really a class of any kind. I have no regrets. I'd do it again the same way if I had to. But tomorrow, I'm starting on a new path, something totally different from the film and television world in which I've spent the past 4 years slaving away. Tomorrow, I start culinary school. Yes, it's true. This morning I donned my chef's jacket and cap and attended the convocation for Johnson & Wales University. A year from now, I will be finished with the garnishing your degree program and have my associate's degree in culinary arts. This is a very exciting time for me, and I'm looking forward to sharing some of my discoveries with my readers, so please stay tuned and wish me luck!


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