Food Buzz


Friday, February 26, 2010

Small dice, large dice, pont neuf, oh my!

For any of you culinary people out there, you know that my title for this post refers to slicing and dicing - specially named cuts in the culinary world.  Last night we practiced small dice, medium dice, brunois, pont neuf, batonnet, and julienne cuts on onions, garlic, carrots, potatoes.  Pictures of all of these cuts can be found here.  they really are beautiful when you get them right... which will take me LOTS of practice!

We also learned about the chiffonade cut. This cut is typicaly done with basil. This cut required rolling the leaves like a cigar then making thinly sliced cuts along the length of the "cigar" resulting in thin shreds that look pretty and can be used as a garnish, in soups and sauces, etc.  I've actually done this cut before but I just love it and wanted to share. Here is a great "step by step" for doing the chiffonade cut if you want to try it at home.  You can try this cut on any leafy herbs (basil and mint!) and lettuces.

We carmelized onions to be used in an egg, spicy sausage and carmelized onion scramble (dinner!), and made a delicious, garlicy pesto by hand, using a mortar and pestle.  We made deep fried potatoes and used the pesto to make a flavored mayonnaise for dipping those fries.  All in all, another somewhat unhealthy night of cooking but great skills were learned.  I learned the importance of holding your knife and your fingers in such a way when slicing that minimizes the chances of cutting yourself.  Also, just how difficult it is to make a "perfect" slice or cut. 

Our basil pesto recipe is as follows:

1/8 tsp salt
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 T shredded parmesan cheese
1 T pignoli (pine) nuts
1 T olive oil
1-2 T basil (chiffonade)

In a mortar, put salt and garlic and pound until garlic looks wet.  Add nuts and pound until paste-like.  Add basil and pound until basil has been chopped up fine.  Add cheese and pound in until mixed.  Finally stir in olive oil until well mixed. 

You can make larger batches of this recipe to use on bruschetta, pasta, on chicken, salmon, turkey sandwiches, etc.  This is a universal saiuce and can be used in many ways.  You can also substitute walnuts instead of pignoli nuts if you prefer.

Chow for now! :)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I'm about to gain some serious weight....

Class was really fantastic tonight because we finally got to COOK!  Last week we were split up into teams of four, or in our (Team 3's) case, five chefs.   Typically an executive chef, sous-chef, prep cook and dishwasher makes up a team.  Each team gets an oven, a microwave, a prep table and we all share the various kitchen tools and supplies.  Tonight was OBVIOUSLY our first night in the kitchen. I didn't see anyone running with knives but it was definitely a free for all.    I really had no idea how well our team would work together (four woman, one man, age range 18 to 50-something, many different ethnicities and backgrounds) but I was very proud of our outcome. I felt like we all put a ton of work in and did a nice job together.  It can be hard to give up control in the kitchen so this is a new goal for me
In each class going forward, Chef Debbie will lecture a bit, set up a demo and then send us in to the kitchen to fend for ourselves.  Each team gets a total score of up to 5 points based on certain criteria set for each dish we make.  Although she didn't tell us, I am 99% sure we got all 5 points.  We rocked. go back to the beginning of class.... today's lesson was quickbreads.  Chef showed us how to prepare an amazing coffee cake layered with apples and cinnamon.  Then she gave us a bunch of recipes - went over each one and sent each team on their way with one recipe to create for a grade. Our team got the "Country Biscuits" recipe.  I think they tasted good, but I would probably add more green onion.  For all the pretty colors and textures, there wasn't the punch of flavor I would have expected.

Country Biscuits

2.5 lbs of all purpose (AP) flour
3/4 oz salt
2 oz sugar
2 oz baking powder
14 oz unsalted butter, cold, 1/4 in dice
24 oz whole milk
3/4 c cheddar cheese, sharp, grated
2T green onion, thinly sliced
1T dried thyme [our team used dill as the kitchen was out of thyme]
  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees 
  • Sift the dry ingredients together making sure they are evenly blended 
  • Combine the butter with teh dry ingredients, cheese, onions and thyme. The mixture should look  mealy; do not overmix. 
  • Add milk and stir until mixture is just holding together. 
  • Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surfacel knead until it forms one mass, approximately 5-6 kneadings.  If dough is too dry, add milk as needed until the dough holds together. 
  • Roll out the dough to a thickness of 1/2 in.  Cut with a floured bscuit cutter and place the biscuits on a parchment lined sheet pan. 
  • Bake until tops are light brown, sides are almost white and the interiors are still moist (approx 10-15 minutes).  Cool and eat!
At the end of class we all got to sample each team's product: blueberry muffins, lemon poppy seed muffins, cream scones and apple sour cream coffee cake.  I may be biased but I think our biscuits came out close to the top when comparing every one of the quickbreads to it.  This is a feat for me because I am NOT a baker.  I guess this is what teamwork is all about!

Team 3's biscuits - came out pretty good - what do you think?

In class we also talked a bit about Chino Farm (or Chino Nojo)  Here's a review.  This farm supplies some of the most amazing west coast restaurants with their produce (Alice Waters' Chez Panisse for one).  Chef nearly drooled when telling the class about the experience so now I want to go visit.  It's not to far down in Rancho Santa Fe.  Anyone up for a road trip?!

My bed is caling out to me.   Chow for now!  :)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Shrimp and lemongrass soup

I just made a really delicious Thai dish called Tom Yum Goong (shrimp and lemongrass soup).  I got the recipe from Quick and Easy Thai by Nancie McDermott.  You can also find the recipe online here.  The hardest thing about making this dish was finding lemongrass!  I also substituted regular ginger for the galangal and omitted the wild lime leaves. I went to three grocery stores before heading to Whole Foods and finding some pretty sad looking lemongrass at a whopping $2.49 per stalk!  So I only used one stalk and added more ginger to provide some punch to the flavor of the soup.  It definitely had a kick to it! 

I paired the soup with a Zaca Mesa viognier purchased this past summer on a wine tasting trip with Marcy and Kathy.  The subtle sweetness of the wine really balances the heat from the jalapeno and chili paste. If you ever head up to the Santa Ynez valley I highly recommend this winery - their wines are quite tasty and their outdoor seating area is so pretty (see below)

Does anyone in the LA area have any favorite ethnic markets that they would like to share with me?  My every day grocery store continues to fail me (I recently had to go to a number of grocery stores before I was able to find Chorizo sausage!  That is shocking to me). 

Anyway - off to clean some dishes....

Chow for now! :)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Outstanding in the Field

Class tonight was short as Chef Debbie was sick with a cold and needed to go home and sleep (she works a full day at Glendale HS followed by 5-10 pm with us college students two nights a week - she had to be exhausted!!)

However, we did go over some safety hints...  For instance it's an old wives tale and a VERY WRONG old wives tale that you put butter on a burn.  Please don't ever put butter on a burn.  Cold water only.  And don't pop a blister if it forms.  It's there for a reason.  Also my favorite hint - if you are in a heated argument with another chef - please put any instruments (especially sharp ones) down before continuing...

We handed in our homework from Tuesday: "tell me about your most memorable restaurant experience."  I talked to Chef after class about mine.

It was June of 2009, just shortly after I was laid off from my job and I was getting ready for around 5 weeks of travels to San Francisco, Half Moon Bay, Boston, Western MA and CT.  I figured I should try and see everyone I can because who knew when I'd be able to afford to travel again!

The weekend in Half Moon Bay was a great kick off to my adventures in travel.  My sister Jenn, her husband, Nat and I decided to drive up to Northern Cal to try out an Outstanding in the Field  event. It is truly an amazing organization - I hope you will click on the link and check it out.  Every year around the first day of spring they send out to their followers, and post to their website a schedule of their "roving farm dinners."  Their mission (taken directly from their website) is: "to re-connect diners to the land and the origins of their food, and to honor the local farmers and food artisans who create it."  That is it in a nutshell and oh, what an experience!!

The photo behind my blog name at top was taken at the event.  So you can see just how amazing the location was.  Chef Mourad Lahlou of Aziza in San Francisco, cooked his delicious Moroccan food using mostly BBQ grills set up under tents.  For Northern California it was actually pretty warm so I commend the waitstaff and the "back of the house" for doing such a great job in such warm weather.  We sampled local wine and fresh fish and delicious, freshly picked cherries.  The menu is shown below:

We had a great time with a bunch of people we hadn't met before and some of us at the tables even ate the eyes of the whole grilled rock fish!  Not I! Some food pics are below.  I truly hope I can do this again this year.  It's so important to eat locally and understand where your food comes from.  If you can find one of these events in your neighborhood I HIGHLY recommend attending.  It's expensive but SO worth it. 
Chow for now!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

two for two!

I made it through all my first day jitters and was able to add not one, but both of my classes at GCC today!!

This morning's class was a nutrition course which will probably be pretty good.  The professor has a strong science background so it may be a great deal of "triglycerides" and chemical makeup of food but I think it will really help to know the science behind the food that we eat.  It will give me more knowledge to share with clients, especially those with special diets.  I think the professor has very strong feelings about nutrition...could make for some great debates about vegan vs Atkins vs diet pills!

After my morning class, I took Murphy for a run at the dog park because I knew that he would otherwise sneer at me after spending a total of 11 hours out of the house this morning and this evening.  He had his fun, met a few cute bitches and we headed back home.

Tonight I attended my first Beginning Food Prep course with a professor that I hope I can some day call my foodie friend.  She is going to be a hoot to attend class with (good thing, it's 5 hours a night, two nights a week - I better like her!).  We covered an array of topics tonight from butter (very important ingredient!), measurement conversion (16 Tbls = 1 c) to Michelin restaurants to food inspirations (Noel Robuchon, Julia Child - "Bon Appetit!", the entire Food Channel family) to bucket lists!  She is fun, funny and inspiring and I think she will be  a tough critic and will whip us all in to shape. 

When I have completed this course I should be able to execute all the basic knife cuts, prepare different stocks, prepare the five mother sauces, describe and demonstrate broiling, grilling, baking, sauteing, deep frying, poaching, boiling, braising, etc. plus a ton more. 

I will also have to demonstrate the cutting up of a chicken into 8 pieces.  It brings me back to frog dissection in HS biology.  But will be WAY more fun (and way more tasty!)!!

I am also really excited about our mid-semester field trip - not sure where we are going but if it is food related - I AM IN!

Tomorrow I have to pick up some more school supplies - notecards for all the definitions I'm going to need to memorize, a binder and dividers for all the handouts from Prep class and I will need to source out some inexpensive used textbooks.

Also a tidbit for those in the LA area - Eagle Rock Italian Bakery & Deli makes really delicious cookies - you should stop by if you are in the area.

Chow for now. :)

Monday, February 15, 2010

school of life

I decided to get this blog going as a result of big time pressure from family, friends and fellow bloggers (thanks Ellen!). I'd like to spread my culinary knowledge as I take cooking and nutrition classes and start my personal chef business!

Up until today, my food-related education came from the "school of life:" reading lots of cook books , watching Ina, Bobby and Giada on The Food Channel to the extent where they invaded my dreams, and taking an occasional Hip Cooks class in LA.

Tomorrow, I begin a new food adventure when I start classes in the culinary program at Glendale Community College. I am picturing my first day to be similar to the first day of school when I was 13... i'll wear a new outfit, hope that someone nice talks to me, and pray I don't answer incorrectly when a teacher asks me a question! Attending classes with students half my age...should add a whole other layer of craziness!

I was unable to formally register for classes, as all were full by the time I was able to login and register online. Lucky for me I had a great meeting with the director of the Culinary department. He was convinced I'd be able to get into the classes that I'd like just by meeting with each of the three professors a few minutes before each class begins. We shall see. I plan on taking a production/skills course (part lecture, part kitchen work - learning how to wield a knife, and braise, saute and roast just about anything), a nutrition course (to help me cook for LA-based dieters of all kinds) and a food safety and sanitation course (to prove to all that I will not leave raw chicken breast out of the fridge for 8 hours).

I went to Target today to buy a 5 subject notebook and some pens. My stomach has butterflies already. Wish me luck!