Category Archives: Background and General Food Thoughts

International Culinary Center – Level 6 Working at L’Ecole

Chocolate-Pear Cake with Bourbon Ice CreamPatissier – Chocolate-Pear Cake with Bourbon Ice Cream, Bourbon Jelly, and Cocoa Meringue

There’s just a little bit over a week left in Level 6 at the International Culinary Center.  Actually, I have just two more classes, and then the last day is when we take our final exam.  In Level 5, we started working in the kitchen at L’Ecole, the restaurant run by the school, preparing meals paid for and eaten by the general public.  I’ve fumbled quite a bit in both of these levels, but I’ve also learned a tremendous amount, and not just about restaurant cooking.

Patissier – Pumpkin Soufflé with Eggnog Sauce

Before the beginning of this level (as with Level 5) we were given pages of recipes that we’d be making during the class.  We were also given photos of what each of the completed dishes should look like before they are delivered to the tables.  As I mentioned in my previous post, each plate is given a once-over by our supervising chef before it leaves the kitchen.  The expediting chef (who relays orders from the waitstaff to the cooks) also double-checks them and wipes them clean of any stray sauce stains before they head out to the dining room.  To say there’s a little bit of pressure, even for us a students, to get it exactly perfect would be understating it just a little.

Poissonier – Scallops stuffed with Crayfish-Shrimp Mousseline on a bed of Sautéed Leeks and Sunchoke Purée

There’s the additional component for us in Level 6, as we rotate through the different stations as part of our lessons, that these recipes are the ones that we’ll be called upon to reproduce in our final exam at the end of the level.  Next week, we’ll be drawing slips of paper to see which two of the eight dishes that we’ve been making these past few weeks will be the ones that we have to prepare as we’ve been taught to do and to present before a panel of judges, who are chefs and will be our new peers in the culinary industry.  So the learning process at this stage is even more intense.  It is about honing technique and really absorbing all the information from our previous classes as well as the tips the instructors have been trying to instill in us as a culinary second nature.

Poissonier – Grilled Swordfish with Stir-fried Vegetables, Coconut Risotto Cake, and Ginger Beurre Blanc

This course level, I started off in Garde Manager (appetizers) and worked my way around through Poissonier (fish), Saucier (meat), and am finishing up in Patissier (pastry), which was were I started out in Level 5.  At each stage I feel like I’m really getting better with some aspects of this work, but I’m definitely still messing up on others.  Getting my speed up in this environment is still difficult for me.  I feel like (and I’m sure my instructors would concur) that I still second-guess my abilities and over-think the process.  I’ve been told that with time and with more experience working in kitchens this gets better.

Garde Manger – Fettuccine with Arugula Pesto, Shrimp, and Preserved Lemon

I’m still in awe of how much goes into working in a restaurant kitchen: the drive, the stamina, the reflexes, the massive expenditure of energy.  I keep being reminded of how everyone who has been in the industry for a while talks about how this work is “really a young person’s job.”  Seeing my much-younger classmates (truly, as most were born after I’d finished college) seemingly breeze through prep tasks and service without so much as breaking a sweat or becoming flustered, ever, I can’t help but agree with that assessment.  I watch our chef-instructors who just seem to handle pulling these dishes together as though it was just like breathing.  Sometimes, I feel more like a guppy gasping for air, as I work alongside them and some of my more talented classmates.

Garde Manger – Porcini Consommé with Butternut Squash, Seared Squab Breast, and Sage

At the same time, this experience, as part of the structure of a larger culinary education program, does help to tie together a lot of the various aspects of what we’ve been doing these past few months.  The dishes that we’ve been making build upon lessons that we had as far back as the beginning of the program.  The overall concepts and techniques and standards are reinforced every night we are in the kitchen.  My hope, now, is that I can remember all of what I’ve learned and reproduce these dishes to the standard to pass my final exam.

Buon appetito!

Bloggers’ Tribute to Sandy Hook Elementary Shooting Victims

NationalBloggingDayofRemembrance_zpsfcb06e06

This post is difficult to write.  I should have a happy, playful theme for today, as it is the Seventh Anniversary of my starting off as a food blogger.  Interestingly, too, it is also four months away from my anticipated completion date for culinary school, opening up a new chapter in my life as a food industry professional (at least, that’s what I’m hoping).  I had a post lined up for Friday about how one of the joys of the holiday season is getting together and feeding your friends and loved ones and then a recipe included for a Southern party favorite, Ham Biscuits. Then, the AP alerts flashed on my iPhone.  They wouldn’t stop.

When I looked down at them and saw what had happened in Newtown, CT, not far from where I live in New York City, I did something I never normally do during the daytime.  I turned on the television.  After the instantaneous incredulity of the news wore off, I started to cry, like so many others, my heart just torn apart.  These are all our kids, even if we aren’t their biological parents.  We are the proud aunties and uncles, the babysitters, the family friends, the godparents.  For those of us who are the elder children, these are our younger siblings, the ones we are supposed to take care of and protect fiercely against bullies and bad people.  No one is supposed to hurt them, much less take them away from us like that.

This past weekend in the city, I saw lots of children with their parents, shopping for the holidays and running their usual errands.  Nothing really seemed usual about it, though, the sadness just hung in the air.  A mom cradled her school-aged son on the subway, stroking his cheek and tossling his hair.  A father held his tiny daughter’s hand just a little bit tighter as she toddled alongside him walking through the neighborhood.  A mother strolling with her three children alongside Central Park kept her arms wrapped around all of them at the same time as best she could, pulling them close to her.

I’ve tried to sit down and write something about this for a few days now, but I haven’t been able to find the right words to express how I feel about what happened, much less the words to talk about food.  So many others are able to do this better than I.  Most of my nieces and nephews are elementary or pre-school age, with the exception of a couple of them.  I wish I could gather them all up and give them a big hug to let them know that it will all be o.k., that this is not normal, and that they do not have to live in fear that something like this will happen to them, especially not when they go to school.

Reflections on Big Summer Potluck 2012 – BSP3

BSP 3 ProgramBig Summer Potluck 2012

I’ve been dawdling a little bit all day, trying to write this post.  It’s not that the topic is exactly difficult or challenging but that I’m not quite sure how to put all of my thoughts together after spending a fantastic weekend in the country in Pennsylvania at Big Summer Potluck.  This was my first year attending this food blogger gathering, which I’d followed on Twitter last year, reading about how much fun everyone was having and the special bonds that seemed to develop between attendees that carried over well after everyone went back home.

Tangerine KitchenAid stand mixer as flower pot

My mind is still processing all of the inputs that it was given in just a few short days. In looking at my photos from the weekend, I think that the tagline from the program is the key take-away: Food, Inspiration, and, above all, Community. Here is an all-too-brief look at how these things came together to create a special experience unlike any other conference or activity that I’ve taken part in since I started taking part in the food blogging world.

Food

Chef Max Hansen tending to the pig in the smoker

What else would a food blogger weekend be without some incredible edibles?  From the Friday night fried chicken fest hosted by the Andersons at their lovely home to the final morsel of breakfast scoffed down at the end of the weekend, we ate lots of delicious dishes, catered by Max Hansen Caterer and provided by our sponsors along with bowls of coleslaws, noodles, salads, and even some chutneys and pickles supplied by fellow attendees as part of the spirit of the potluck.

Waffles & Ham with Tart Cherries in Brandy & Spiced Syrup

I contributed my No-Mayonnaise Carrot Salad for the pig roast on Saturday night, and my Tart Cherries in Brandy and Spiced Syrup made their way on to the waffles and sliced ham that were part of Sunday morning’s farewell buffet.

Triple Chocolate Brownies by Chef Dennis

One of my favorite desserts of the weekend, and there were plenty of sweet things to try, were these Triple Chocolate Brownies by Chef Dennis, whom I’ve gotten to know through Google+.  It was so nice to have a chance to meet him in person this weekend.  His website is a treasure trove of fantastic, easy recipes as well as tidbits about how to be a better participant in the food blogging community.

Inspiration

A star on the farm

Speakers gave us tips about how to write better and how to organize and formulate our ideas as well as just how to be better observers of the world around us.  Brooke Burton-Lüttmann spoke to us about creating “mindfulness” and about becoming more in the moment, aware of what is taking place as we go through our daily lives, which can often get very cluttered and busy.  She said that we should take some time to reflect on where we are right now, where we were when we first had the idea for our blogs, and where we would like to go.  As someone who has written a website for going on seven years, this really resonated with me, especially as I figure out the next chapter of my life personally and professionally.

Molly O’Neill

Molly O’Neill shared some jewels from the treasure trove of her food writing career.  “This is a life-long sport,” she said, encouraging us to dig in there and set ourselves up to be in the game for a while.  “We’re all works in progress,” she added, “The key is to nurture life and live a life that allows you joy, growth.”  Looking around the top floor of the re-configured barn where we were meeting, she confided in us that she “couldn’t function without a strong peer group,” some of whom might be in the room right there with us.

View at Silver Buttons Farm

From one of our hosts, Pam Anderson, we heard more about the craft of writing good recipes.  She walked us through her methodology as a professional recipe tester, habits that also translate to putting together posts on her website, Three Many Cooks.  As she said, if we have a food blog, “We are first and foremost test cooks.”  Get other tastebuds’ opinions was one helpful hint, as everyone has a different idea of what works and what doesn’t.  Test a few different variables in each recipe, adding more or less flour, using a different type of chocolate, etc. to see if you really do have the right combination for the flavors for which you are looking.  These are among the skills to develop well in order to create your own style and way of coming up with recipes.

Community

Getting set up outside where it was cooler

At any conference or retreat, it is mostly about the people you meet first and foremost.  It was wonderful to get to know a whole batch of new folks who are also lovers of good food and cooking, including a bunch of people from the New York City area whom I’ve never crossed paths with before.  Then, there was also the opportunity to have some real time to talk to friends I have made at other conferences and events.  Relaxing in the country allowed us all to take time to chat, rather than running off to the next activity or meeting as is usually the case in our frantic, over-booked lives.

Table setting on the farm

I have to give a special “Thank You” to the fabulous Betty Ann (aka @Mango_Queen) and Elpi of Asian in America magazine, who let me hitch rides with them all weekend, as I needed to carpool having arrived there originally via bus.  This gave us some extra time to catch up on each others’ lives and to compare notes about writing about food.  We met last year at Eat, Write, Retreat, and it is always a pleasure to see them at other conferences to hear about their latest news.  I feel very privileged that they are part of my personal community of fellow bloggers.

Pam Anderson whipping up waffle batter

Big hugs and many, many thanks to Pam, Maggy, Erika, and all the other volunteers for a fantastic and fun weekend filled with lots of laughter, fantastic food, plenty of sangria, and energizing discussions, not to mention a few spells of rain, a Bluegrass band, ketchup chips I never got to try, and an impromptu Patsy Cline rendition by The Diva That Ate New York.  I’ve got my Sharpie at the ready to block off the weekend for next year’s Big Summer Potluck!

Buon appetito!

Eat, Write, Retreat 2012 Conference Recap

For a few months now, you’ve seen this graphic in the sidebar of the front page of this site.  This past weekend, it was finally here, the second annual Eat, Write, Retreat conference in Washington, DC!  Last year, I had found this gathering of food bloggers, writers, PR folks, brands, and others involved in the culinary media industry to be eye-opening and inspirational.  This year, I walked away with my head and my heart full of all the wonderful things I had learned and the amazing people that I had met during a few short days.


Monica Bhide

I will not fall for Monica’s joke at conference next year; I will not fall for Monica’s joke at conference next year; I will not fall for Monica’s joke at conference next year! 

Having really enjoyed her presentation last year, I was eager to see what valuable insights Monica would have for us.  For me, she pried open those creaky wheels in my brain that have gotten stuck in terms of my writing and this website and made me shine a light on why I started doing this in the first place.  What is the driver?  What is the motivation?  Why me?  In our group exercise, we had to turn to the person next to us and come up with One Word – ONE – that describes our websites.  Try this.  It isn’t as easy as it sounds to distill the essence of what you do, what makes you passionate, in just One Word.

I’m still mulling over my word – GUIDE.  Kathy Hester of Healthy Slow Cooking was my partner for this exercise.  For her, it means that I try to help people discover resources, recipes, things going on in the food-oriented space around them.  I like to encourage folks to learn more about their culinary environment through visiting area markets, eating locally-grown seasonal produce, and enjoying food festivals, so I guess in a way I do see this website and the information that I try to communicate through it as a guide to exploring all of these activities.  Let me know.  What do you think?  Does it fit?

Andy Schloss

Andy Schloss of Chef Salt spoke to us more about the business side of food writing and blogging.  For the most part this site has been a hobby for me, an extension of my longtime interest in food, travel, and the recipes I’ve collected along the way.  On the other hand, I would welcome the opportunity to be able to support myself doing what I love.  Andy’s words of wisdom are that, at this point, you need to build several lines of business in order to survive in the culinary world.  Ads on websites are only a small part of this.  Teaching, affiliates, consulting, recipe development, brand spokespersonship, writing, and other avenues are also necessary to generate enough revenue to be self-sustaining.

Styling Carrots

Food Styling Prop Table (see carrots in background)

One of my favorite parts of the conference from last year was back as well.  We had a hands-on food styling and food photography workshop with Lisa Cherkasky and Renee Comet.  Lisa and Renee took several photos, let us see how lighting and angles have an impact on the final shot, and showed us how they do post-production editing using Lightroom.  They then let us get our own hands in the mix working with beans, carrots, watermelon, and other food props trying to create tantalizing pictures.  I don’t use any extra props in my own photos other than to try to avoid glares on the food and the plate and trying to capture those extra drops of goodness that might drip down the sides of an assembled dish, so it was fascinating to me to see how the pros do it.

Green Juice Shooters (apple, spinach, parsley)

Aside from the opportunity to sharpen our skills and to pick up new ideas for our website, we, of course, had a chance to eat during the conference.  One of our lunches was at Elizabeth’s Gone Raw in Northwest, Washington, DC.  For us, they prepared a special Organic, Raw-Vegan Menu, which we were told takes a week to come together.  Before you turn away, just look at these photos and tell me that some of these dishes don’t look just amazing.  We were told that Elizabeth was inspired to embark on a raw-vegan diet after being diagnosed with breast cancer.  She has been able to heal her body through food.

Lunch plate at Elizabeth’s Gone Raw

Kale chips with spicy coating; vegan “sushi” made with shredded jicama and wasabi sauce; red pepper hummus; a “cracker” made of nut flour; and a cashew mousse “pastry boat” with shaved fennel, red onion, spinach, and truffle oil

Mock “Millionaires Shortbread”

The hit of this lunch was probably the cashew mousse creation, which was creamy and soul-satisfying with the earthy aroma of truffles and delicate anise tones from the shaved fennel.  The “pastry boat” was made from nuts and held everything together with a hearty, crunchy backnote.  While we were munching away, Casey Benedict, one of the conference organizers, interviewed Michael Natkin about his new book Herbivoracious, based upon his exploration of vegetarian cuisine on his own blog.  Then, we all flocked to the table again to enjoy some more of this delicious food.

Guinness Beef Stew

Dinner that evening was what one person termed the antidote to our healthy lunch.  We headed over to AGAINN, a contemporary gastro-pub in Washington, DC that works to source ingredients from local farms as well as organically.  This was hearty pub food at its best, with some of my favorites on the menu including Bangers & Mash with caramelized onions and this dark, rich Guinness Beef Stew.  We even had little jars of Banoffee Pie for dessert, which were gobbled up before I could even get a photo of them.

12-year old Scotch Whisky by The Balvenie

Part of that evening was also spent tasting scotch whisky from The Balvenie.  We were able to sample the 12-year and the 15-year varieties.  The smooth, caramel-like liquid slid down my throat with a slight burn, leaving a warming sensation in my stomach.  I’ve never been a whisky drinker, much as I try, but I can appreciate the care and craft that goes into making these beverages.

Barboursville Cabernet Franc (opening night dinner)

This is a conference that keeps you on your toes, literally in the case of the square dancing exertions from the opening night gathering; tests all your senses between the food, workshops, and exercises; and builds strong bonds among its participants.  What is unique among conferences is that it is a smaller event where bloggers, brands, and media folks interact and get to know each other over several days of exchanging ideas, personal cooking stories, and points of view about what is going on in the culinary world.  We leave the conference with new friends, re-energized spirits, and lots of great new tools to try out in our kitchens, courtesy sponsors like Oxo and Calphalon.  I can’t wait to see what the program will be like in 2013!

Buon appetito!

Here’s some post from the other attendees from this year’s conference, too:

52 Kitchen Adventures

(a)Musing Foodie

Comet Photo

Cooking By Design

Canadian Coupon Mom

Cupcakes for Breakfast

Em-i-lis

Food Musings

I’ll Have What She’s Having

Maroc Mama

My Halal Kitchen

Penny Pinching Epicure

Sarafina’s Kitchen

The Wicked Noodle

The Experimental Gourmand now on Gojee.com

UPDATE: Due to the editorial changes that took place at Gojee.com in 2013, I decided to remove my recipes from their website, as my content no longer fit with their website’s mission.

For those who follow me on Facebook and Twitter, you’ve already seen my exciting news, but I wanted to share this with everyone who drops by this site, too.  Thursday, I announced that I’ve published some of my recipes on Gojee.com, a site that lets you search for dishes to make based upon entering the ingredients you have in your cupboard.  For those who are based in the New York City area, you can also link your Gojee.com account to a D’Agostino loyalty card to make this an even better way to maximize those grocery-store dollars.  Hopefully, this service will be available for other stores’ cards soon.

Here’s what I’ve uploaded to the site so far:

 

Quinoa with Broccoli – super simple to whip up for a quick weeknight dinner or for lunch

 

 

 

 

 

Salad with Balsamic Vinegar-Fig Reductionfull of greens and goodness, this is a unique way to use up that bottle of balsamic vinegar that’s been lurking the bottom of your kitchen cupboards

 

 

 

No-Mayonnaise Carrot Salad – light, refreshing, and with a hint of smokiness from the cumin-scented dressing, this is a perfect salad for summertime picnics or barbecues

 

 

 

 

Seared Scallops with Parsley Salad and Bacon – this dish was the hit of a luncheon that I hosted for some friends.  The original post also walks you through a step-by-step tutorial on cooking scallops

 

 

 

 

Smoked Salmon Hash – I’ve reposted this recipe several times in round-ups for entertaining, holidays, and brunch.  It is super easy to make and is so delicious

 

 

 

I hope that you go to Gojee.com and check out the recipes from the amazing food writers who are listed there.  I’m honored to be in such great company and am looking forward to posting many more great meal ideas on their site.  One word about my profile picture on the site, it was taken by my friend Kim Elphinstone.  I had brought him a half a batch his favorite cookies, Chocolate Chip with Sea Salt, for his time and photographic skills.  After several hours of shooting, I was ready for a snack so I started to dive into them.  Turned out that they were the perfect prop!  (Yes, I did eat that cookie when we were done.)

Buon appetito!

Clearing Out Your Parents’ Kitchen

With the new year, there’s the feeling of needing to clear out the clutter and have a fresh start.  The same goes for getting the kitchen in order to begin everything on a good note.  Of course, I’d like to say that I did that for myself, especially when I opened up the freezer today and saw all the things I’ve crammed into the slots in the door, remnants of various cooking projects.  Nope, instead, I tackled my parent’s fridge, cupboards, and downstairs freezer unit when I was in Virginia during the holidays.

I’m not even sure that I know what “Corned Beef Broth” is!

My excuse is that my parents really do need to get a new computer and set up wi-fi, which would keep me occupied with my laptop and all the work that I’d planned to do when I was at their house during the Christmas weekend.  Waiting for pages to load on their creaky desktop (an antique by modern standards) is worse than watching paint dry or timing the races of the centipedes that invade the basement, so I end up searching for other things to do to keep busy while waiting for the other members of my family to show up so that I have nieces and nephews to play with.

If the writing on the label has worn off…

To be clear, I did sort of have my dad’s permission when I did this.  At least, he kind of supervised me.  I would say things like, “Really, you will use this frozen buttermilk that has been here for four years?”  “Well, now that you mention it, probably not,” he’d reply.  I also like to throw words in there such as “food poisoning” and remind him that he now has grandchildren to consider when hanging on to old food.  By contrast, he feels I’m too hung up on things like expiry dates, which he thinks companies just put there to make you buy more goods.

When was allspice 69 cents?  Made in Baltimore, yeah it’s way over 15 years old.

The real reason behind all of this cleaning and reorganization is actually a very sad one.  My mom suffered a series of strokes a little over two years ago.  She is now fed via a tube in her stomach and can’t really talk anymore.  She has round-the-clock care and is confined to a bed, although she is at home where we can all see her and try to interact with her.  My father has gone back to his bachelor eating patterns: toast and omelet for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, grilled chicken and salad for dinner, with the occasional can of soup thrown in there for a bit of variety.

If it had mold on it or had reached its expiry date, it got tossed out.

When I visit them, I’m usually the one who fixes dinner, which was also one of my chores when I was in high school.  One of my younger sisters told me a few years ago that her main memory of me from that time before I left for college was that of me preparing the evening meal almost every day.  I don’t recall that, but I do know that I learned to make large batches of lots of things to feed everyone, which became a challenge when I moved out on my own.  All my recipes were scaled for a family of 8!

O.K., this really hurt to throw away the wine…and this wasn’t even all of it.

So, I do consider the kitchen as part of my domain when I am back home for a visit.  I take pleasure in planning menus that everyone in the family will enjoy eating, no small challenge with a group as large as ours.  It also gives me a chance to pull out cards from my mother’s recipe box and attempt to decipher her instructions.  When I’m there, I like to give my dad a break from his usual menu rotation so I fix things like the big pan of lasagna or a large batch of spaghetti and meatballs which make enough to feed the assembled crowd and give him some leftovers.

That Giant Food logo is pretty old.

My mom had been an adventurous cook, something I think she passed on to her children.  It’s no wonder, then, that I found a vial of rose water, a jar of saffron, and a canister of tandoori spice shoved in the back of one of the cabinets.  She was always trying out new cuisines and flavors which, although the dishes weren’t always winners, I have come to admire.  From her, I learned about the basics as well as the thrill of trying something new, whether or not the results came out exactly right.  She knew how to make hearty, filling meals to satisfy a passel of hungry kids.

Does that say “1998” or “2008”?

I guess this extra care, as intrusive as it can be, is part of the rite of transition when we start to look after our parents, but I certainly wasn’t ready for it when it happened.  About four extra bags of trash later, my father had had enough of my little cleaning project and forbade me from pulling anything else out of the food storage units in the house.  I think he might have been afraid that I was going to declare that his beer had “expired” as a way of explaining the extra empty bottles that appeared when my brother and I were left to our own devices when he’d already gone to bed.  At the same time I’m really glad that I don’t have to second-guess the last time the oatmeal was refreshed.

Does anyone want a cup of tea?

Buon appetito!