Sunday, April 25, 2010

Horror Story of Breakfast Cookery

Greetings Friends!

Let's talk failures, whadya say?

Back in culinary school, I performed the worst in the baking class and the breakfast cookery class; baking because it requires the accurate measuring of each ingredient-for which I have no patience. The other reason? I was a pitiful baker, even before I had a passion for cooking. I had tried breads- hard as rocks; a thin crust pizza that had the crust of a deep dish pizza, watery fruit pies, etc., etc. Why, just last week at work I was asked to bake who knows how many dozens of coconut macaroons-you know those moist and plump cookies? Yeah, mine didn't have those characteristics. In fact they were flat as pancakes. Delicious none the less, but turned out to be more of a coconut crisp.

Okay so in the second class, the dreaded breakfast cookery I was a failure for a variety of reasons. Perhaps it was that we had to show up to class at 3 am. Maybe because I was a Nervous Nelly about egg cookery. Or perhaps it was because the Chef was a very militant Lesbian (Hear me: I have no issues with gay people, some of my favorite friends are gay, I am just PETRIFIED of militant Lesbians!), one who had a reputation- she was known to make students do push ups if they called her "Ma'am" and sent home students if they were ill -prepared for class. She expected us to arrive with all home work (of course), tools (no brainer), recipes written out (why wouldn't I bring my recipes?), a station layout/map (helpful), an equipment list (again, sure, helpful), and a description of the criteria of each food item to be made at our station (a little bit crazy), and everyone else's station(are you out of your mind?). If you got sent home not only were YOU screwed, so was your partner and everyone else in the class because they were expected to jump in and help the one person station. Hence, why she wanted us all to be aware of every one's station. This woman terrified me.

Everyday, we entered the kitchen running. We had some time to prep for our stations, then off to lecture for an hour. Back in the kitchen at full sprint prepping in order to be prepared at 6:30 to serve breakfast for 500 or so students and faculty.

Each day, I came to class with what dignity and confidence I could scrape together, hoping that this day would be the day I got it all right. I was sorely disappointed most days. I would trip, fall and lose any sense of my ability over and over again. Now to be fair to myself, we all struggled in this class, but some more so than others (me). Broken Hollandaise on Day One, burned hash Day Two, Day Three fruit smoothies where you couldn't discern what fruit was used, undercooked eggs, overcooked eggs, the list goes on and on.

The class was only seven days, so I knew my humiliation and torture would end eventually. And in the end, I developed a fear and aversion to breakfast cookery, but I also have a lot of great stories. The day I am now going to share with you, is the best of these stories. On this day, I was prepared to be successful because I was partnered up with my best bud Paul. The night before we poured over every detail of our station. We worked on our game plans and felt solid. We knew that we could communicate well and hell, we were on the meat and potatoes station. How the hell could we F that up?

Ha, ha, ha.

The day started like every other day, my confidence high, a little less than yesterday's, but still, this was going to be my day! I had my game plan in hand that I had gone over and over, set up my station, ran about the kitchen collecting my mise en place, did the prep I could before we had to go out for lecture. I began filling up the steam tables with water on the line where Paul and I would be keeping our bacon and hash browns hot while we served the students. Next, I ran to the oven to check on my potatoes and then we all went to lecture. Even though this was the day everything was going to turn out perfectly, more than half -way through lecture I decided to check on things in the kitchen to make sure nothing we were preparing for our station was amiss. I walked in the kitchen door to find the front part flooded...I had forgotten to turn off the water to the steam tables.

I felt as though I had been kicked in the stomach. I wanted to melt into the water and disappear down the drain. I wanted to sob and call out for my Mommy. I wanted to curl up in the fetal position and rock back and forth.

But, I knew none of those things were going to get rid of the 3 inches of water collecting on the ground. I quickly pulled myself together, ran and got the ever useful squeegee and began pushing the water towards the drains...luckily for me all industrial kitchens have drains in the floors. Unluckily for me, the drains were a bit sluggish, hence the growing sea at my feet. I worked so vigorously I soon broke out in a sweat. Just as I was finishing up, lecture was over and my fellow students poured back into the kitchen. Some asked why the floor was damp, I just ran back to my station gulped down the tears and continued my prep. I was beating myself for forgetting to turn off the water, but kissing myself for getting it all cleaned up before our Chef had seen yet another of my follies. Boy was I THRILLED to get that day over with.

Alas, things never really got better for me in that class. Each day was yet another nightmare. But at the end of Day Seven, I knew I had passed and clicked my heels as I left the Kitchen From Hell.

Oh, but the story doesn't end there. Years later when my bud Paul and I were reminiscing about our horrors of culinary school, the steam table incident of course came up. We laughed and laughed, because Now it is funny. I told Paul how relieved I had been that Chef had never found out about the Flood. Then all of a sudden Paul frowned and said, "You know what? I just remembered something! That day when you ran into the kitchen Chef looked at Andrew and asked, 'Did she JUST realize she left the water running?'"

The bitch knew the whole time. Do you believe that?

So, now you know. Needless to say, I wouldn't describe culinary school as a confidence building experience. My ego was scarred for a long time after that class. And though I enjoy beating myself up and breaking myself down, when it came time to choose a place to go for my internship, where do you think I choose? Yup, a breakfast place on Nantucket. Everyday I made Hollandaise from scratch, poached, fried, scrambled eggs, worked the griddle, and made waffles. But I became a Breakfast -making machine! I redeemed myself after my horrible experience in my Breakfast Cookery class. And to this day it is one of my favorite meals.

(So Chatty Cathy, when are you going to fork over the recipes??)

Let's talk Scrambled Eggs. I know, what could be simplier than that? What could I possibly share with you about scrambled eggs? Well, prepare to be AMAZED.

I am not talking the rubbery, dried out, brown eggs you get at a diner. I am speaking of lovely slow cooked, pale yellow, creamy, tender egg curds. Why not served over crusty french bread topped with salty prosciutto? Now we are talking. M.F.K Fisher said that the best scrambled eggs should be made in a double boiler, constantly stirred with a wooden spoon for 30 minutes. Escoffier added bits of cold butter to his uncooked scrambled eggs, because as they cook the eggs are basted with the slow melting butter. To make them even more decadent, why not a bit of heavy whipping cream?

How about fried or poached eggs over steamed asparagus topped with Hollandaise?

Eggs fried in bacon fat is a staple at my parents' house, served with cheesy grits, and tomatoes tossed with a bit of garlic, cilantro and drizzled with olive oil, mmmm.

Eggs should always be cooked over low to medium-low heat. Over high, the proteins immediately seize up and makes rubbery eggs. Low heat=tender eggs.

Also, keep in mind that the residual heat in the eggs means they will continue to cook after they are taken off the heat. Because of that, I always under cook my eggs. And, please, please please! Love your food-serve your eggs hot, don't let them sit! I hate cold eggs, it's such a pet peeve of mine. And even more importantly, when cooking anything: if you are going to go through the process of heating your food, why, oh why would you serve hot food on a cold plate? Hmm?

I know I have been away for too long, but I am going to write three times a week, at least. And as always, I take suggestions!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Blood Oranges, good idea in the head, not so good in the salad

Hello, hello. Today, I spent another productive day in the Soka kitchen. Saturday is a slow day, so I was free to focus on prepping salads for the week. Seeing I over prepare, I had done my research on all the veggies and fruits in season in Spring I made a list of ten or so salads...(Thank you CIA, "Preparation is Everything")

I made my classic Fennel, Orange and Feta salad but substituted Blood Oranges. Yeah, no. Since the juice is pink, it turned the fennel and the feta pink, not really the look I was going for. So, for the future, if you use Blood Oranges with lighter colored ingredients, be prepared for a little color change! But I must say it was delicious.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Men move along,nothing to see here: Part Dos

Total hormone over load today...Some tense minutes in the kitchen then cried when Chef said I was doing a great job...had to run out of the kitchen before anyone saw my girly self Scampi recipe tonight, check me tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

It's Been Too Long!

I feel as though I have abandoned my child at the side of the road. For years I have wanted to be a food writer and just when I started to get an audience for my writing, I drop you all!
Well it is not as though I don't have a reason. (Double negative?)
And what could be the reason?
Work. Yes, work. This whole working thing is kicking my tush! You know, the whole, two days on two days off! It is the worst.

I know. I must be joking.
But I hate to say it: I'm not. I am done after two days. It is silly. It is ridiculous. But after eight hours on my feet, I start to glaze over. My knuckles ache from gripping on to my knife all day. My back and shoulders hurt from being hunched over my table constantly. I have athlete's foot because my feet spend hours in my soggy, sweaty Crocs. The kitchen smell has reentered my life (imagine the smell of vomit, yup, that's it). I come home reeking of it.

And this is not exciting work. What I do is not like what you see on TV. I am talking cutting melons, Romaine lettuce, slicing tomatoes....And not just a few. I cut three different kinds of melons, ten of each...the process alone dulls my newly sharpen knife. Not just two or three Romaine heads, but try twenty or thirty. My father still doesn't understand how exhaustive this work is. He sees my Mother and I, laughing and smiling when we cook together- a far cry from working in an all male, Spanish speaking kitchen, cooking for 400 people with time restraints, egos and yelling Chefs and Sous Chefs.

But luckily for me, I am beginning to train in the front of the house which means I spend most of my day interacting with the clients. Yes, the students of Soka Uni, yup making smoothies, and coffee drinks....have I ever mentioned I have two degrees? So it could be easily said that I may be just a tiny bit, underemployed. Oh, but my friends, I am not complaining, merely stating the obvious. In this day and age, I am THRILLED with my job. But I love it. The students are super friendly and easy to joke with. My superiors are fun and approachable. Plus, less time in the kitchen = less vomit smell. And, I don't even break out in a sweat!

This isn't really where I imagined myself at 30. But, I realized tonight, what I pictured doesn't matter any more. Because it doesn't exist. I am here and I have to make the most of it. It doesn't matter where I am now, but where I am going. And I can finally say, I am moving forward. This is not something I could have said six months ago. With that said, enough about me, let's talk food!

Okay, I hope that this was worth the weeks that have gone by. Probably not, but it was a surprising discovery for me.

As I have written before, I try and make things on the "healthier side". Which isn't really fun, but, go with me here. I love mayo. I love to dip my fries in mayo. I would dip most foods in mayo if given the choice, because it is delicious. With that said, do you think this gal would even eat Light mayo? NO! My thought is, if I am going to eat mayo, I am going all the way.
I want to eat every single calorie and gram of fat that is in that gob of decadence!
Well, I was quite surprised when one day at work I tried to recreate my mother's well loved potato salad with Kraft Light Mayo....I didn't notice a difference. Yes it was mixed with potatoes, Dijon mustard, radishes, red onions, cucumbers and hard boiled eggs but I didn't really notice a flavor or texture change.
So, once again, I come before you and I say I am converted! I was wrong, just about homemade mayo, just about shopping at farmer's markets and yet another, the old Light mayo. So give it a try, see how it goes and let me know what you think!
And I have been told by a dear friend, that I need to revisit Shrimp Scampi...seeing that he gave it to me as an "assignment" I will comply and come to you tomorrow with a new improved Scampi recipe with lots of butter and good stuff! I wish you all well!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Lima Beans

Hello my friends. Yes I took a few days off, but I am back.
So Suz and I were remembering what a brat I was as a child. She recalled, with a scowl on her face, the Halloween I refused to wear a costume to kindergarten. And what do you think I did when I arrived to find all the other students dressed up, ready for the Halloween parade? I started crying because I was the only one sans a costume. Then there was the time when it was pony riding day, and while all the other kids couldn't wait for their turn on the pony, I refused to get on it. We have pictures of me that day, dressed in an adorable cowgirl outfit, on top of the pony, with a pout on my face. I wasn't going to enjoy it just because my Mom wanted me too!
These bratty memories also take me back to the dinner table. My Mother wanted us to be good eaters (to my detriment many porky years later, I love almost everything!) and try at least one bite of everything on our plates. Even if I did decide that I liked broccoli, I wouldn't let Her know that. Like any child I didn't want to fill up with meat loaf and mashed potatoes, I wanted dessert!
And this brings me to one food that to this day I refuse to eat. Now, it is not so much trying to defy my Mother. But instead because I don't enjoy eating it, hence not worth the calories: Succotash. Yup, corn and lima beans. I love corn, but limas? They are mealy and make my mouth dry. Ick!
But then, we came across Lima bean puree....oh my, this is good stuff. You know why? Three words: garlic, butter and cream,three things that make almost anything better. I recently made this for a dinner party and the responses were the same as how I felt, I hate lima beans but love this puree! So even if you are a skeptic, give it a try and let me know if this recipe changes your mind about lima beans.
Simmer 1 pound bag of frozen lima beans with 1 cup chicken broth (or enough to cover), minced garlic, with a lid and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. In a food processor or using an immersion blender, puree limas with cooking liquid, garlic, butter and heavy cream until smooth. Puree less for a rougher, more rustic texture, or if you want it super smooth push puree through a sieve. Season with salt, pepper and adjust texture with more chicken broth or cream.
This recipe can be made a few days ahead (making it a great choice for a dinner party). When you reheat it, you may need to thin it with more heavy cream. Now, are lima beans your new favorite?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A message for the Ladies

Guys, move along, nothing for you to see here.

I am PMSing. Oh Ladies, it's the usual symptoms, crying at anything, loss of concentration at the wheel, my hatred of anything male (if I could shoot venom with my eyes, I would), sleeplessness..the list goes on and on. The one thing that brought joy to my day today, of course, was food. Hmmm, there is nothing better to quench your salt craving than ham wrapped around a quartered Bubbies pickle. (please, if you haven't had these pickles, you MUST give them a try!) Yes the down side is the water retention, but that is inevitable, is it not?

A Lovely Lunch

Yesterday I prepared lunch for some friends, in exchange for some advice and help with this blogging thing. I am not going to try to make myself out to be savvier than I am. After about 5 minutes of tech talk, my eyes glazed over and I went to my happy place: A green hillside covered in red and purple flowers. Butterflies fluttering about in the cool breeze, blue sky with big puffy, fluffy clouds...I forced myself back to reality to focus. When I arrived, I realized as I viewed other food blogs on my friend's lap top, my blog layout sucks! How amateur is it that my pictures are taken with my camera phone? Who do I think I am? I am not nearly as cool as I thought.

I quickly switched gears and was pleased with what I had prepared because my friends' enjoyment of the meal, matches the amount of help I am going to need...A lot!

Prosciutto and Plugra butter sandwiches on French Baguette, Fresh (frozen) Pea soup and Avocado and Blood Orange salad.

The sandwich and salad are pretty straight forward. If you cannot find Plugra butter, use any European unsalted sweet butter as it has a higher fat content and is divine! I used red leaf lettuce from our local organic farm and dressed the greens with olive oil, blood orange juice and a bit of lemon juice, salt and pepper.

But the soup stole the show!
Saute 1 cup diced onions and 2 teaspoons minced garlic in 2 Tablespoon butter in a medium pot. Cook them until translucent. Then add 1 1/2 pounds frozen sweet peas and enough chicken broth just to cover them. Over high heat bring to a simmer then reduce heat to medium low. Cook just until the peas are tender, maybe 10 minutes or so. You don't want to over cook this soup because then it will turn that unappealing brown green color. Turn off the heat and let your soup cool a bit. During this time set up a blender. Carefully pour your soup with 1/4 cup heavy cream into the blender and puree until smooth. At this time, you can add some chopped mint, chervil or Italian parsley. Season with salt, pepper and if you wish, a bit of nutmeg, about 1/4 teaspoon. For me the trick with seasoning savory dishes with nutmeg is you want to add just enough so you taste something, but not so much that you can discern what it is! If you are serving right away, return to your pot and reheat, or if serving later cool and store in the fridge.

Some garnishes that would be nice are, crumbled bacon, caramelized shallots, a dollop of creme fraiche or a fried sage leaf.
This soup is delicious hot or cold. Enjoy!