Week 4 of Culinary Arts School – Spooning does not work for an Executive Chef!

Monday, Day 16: Written Quiz on all material, Roast Chicken, Jus Lie a L’Estragon, Pommes de Terre Anna, Roasted Seasonal Squash

7:30 AM – You seal your sauté pan with a little bit of rice bran oil that’s been heated up to a smoke point. Throw the oil away, it’s not usable after that, it even contains carcinogens.

– So, how do you seal your sauté pan when your fire alarms are very sensitive like mine are? (I meant to be funny, everyone seemed tired from the weekend and my alarms at home are truly very sensitive.)

– I don’t know! I’m not teaching Home Cooking, this is a professional program!

9:30 AM – Do you guys want to be here? I don’t know what you’ve been doing this weekend but you all just hang around here without paying attention.

10:45 AM – Hi, how are you? Good that I see you, I wanted to ask you a question. Did you look at your grades lately? Yes, I have. Why? Do you need tutoring maybe? Because that is possible you know, we offer that to students and it makes a difference. Oh, well, I don’t know if I need tutoring… Last time I checked my grades it looks like I’ve got a lot of A’s. Do you think I need tutoring?  Oh, really? I must have gotten you confused with someone else! Sorry about that! Haha. But my average doesn’t reflect that yet – I started 3 days later then the rest as you well know, and those days are on 0 but do count towards my average. I’ve sent an e-mail to get it fixed. Ohhhhh, that’s maybe why I thought you needed tutoring. Oh, you’ll be fine once you make-up for those three days! Haha! Make-up for those three days? What do you mean? You need to see the ‘grading advisor’, she will tell you everything about it and when you can make up.

12:00 PM – If you fail to be ready for service on time in the future, we will not have a tasting! I will cancel service! You were all lame today! Do you want to be here? Do you enjoy what you are doing? What happened? I saw some of you going out for bagels and coffee and taking extended breaks. And then service is late half an hour! What’s wrong with you guys? If you’re here thinking that I’m cooking lunch for you, you are wrong, this is a very expensive lunch. You need to get your game going. I’m not interested in what you do this afternoon, but I want you tomorrow to be ready, present and alert! You are only as good as your last performance and today was a disaster!

Tuesday, Day 17: Cutlet de Volaille aux Champignones, Mushroom Stock, Allemande Sauce, Pommes de Terre Lyonnaise, Sautéed Spinach, Fricassee de Poulet a L’Ancienne, Carottes a la Vichy, Riz Pilaw and Brine for chicken for the next day.

I’m in charge of the Fricassee today, together with another class mate. I took a big pot from the fridge with chicken stock and was just about to start ladling some in a smaller pot as I needed it for my recipe. The Chef from next kitchen happened to pass by at that exact moment and he had some consommé over which I could use for the recipe instead of stock! The fricassee came out delicious! I must be a food geek because I was truly happy that I had consommé for the fricassee and was very impatient to taste how it would come out! Yum!

11:30 AM – What a difference with yesterday! Night and Day! Service was on time, you payed attention, you participated, you were here, you were present!

Wednesday, Day 18: Spicy Fried Chicken Tenders, Chipoltle Dipping Sauce, Pan Fried Chicken, Pan Gravy, Mashed Potatoes, Seasonal Grilled Vegetables

Chipoltle is spelled with an L after the O. C-H-I-P-O-L-T-L-E not Chipotle!

Somebody else measured the milk for my recipe and I have a sneaky suspicion it was not the right amount as I had to run back to the cooler twice to get more milk, scald it and thin the potatoes. It took me about 20 minutes to get them to the right consistency and flavor and the Chef asked me what I was doing to those poor potatoes as he saw me stirring them for the last 20 minutes. They tasted good though!

The grading advisor understood that it is a pity I did not know I had to make up for the first three days and will address this subject during the staff meeting this Friday.

The funny thing is that the first three days are: 1) Introduction: to the school, to the Chef, to your classmates, tell something about yourself, expectations both ways, you know, that kind of stuff. 2) ServSafe Manager lectures so that you can sit for the ServSafe Manager exam on Day 4. I did sit for the exam on Day 4 and I am happy to report that I passed! Yay! I have a very nice certificate that says that I am now ServSafe Manager certified and it is good for the next 5 years! Nice one to have in the food industry. It’s a bit strange to have to make-up for days where ServSafe Manager will be on the planning with me already being certified. Besides, it will be a pain! I will have to leave home like usual at 5:30AM in the morning and after my class I would have to join the afternoon class for another 5 hours. I’ll be home at 8PM! With a 2 year toddler and a husband that is away every other week and sometimes two weeks in a row, it won’t be easy. I will do it of course but I will be grumpy, I promise!

– You made that food at home? (I was showing pictures to the Front Office Coordinator). Sent me those pictures, I’ll post them on our FaceBook page!

Thursday, Day 19: Deep Fried Potatoes, Apricot Bourbon Grilled Chicken, Tempura Vegetables, Seasonal Mixed Green Salad

I’m standing in front of the stove, gently stirring in the Apricot Bourbon Sauce very little and very weak corn-starch slurry to thicken it a bit. The flavor was good, the consistency could be better as Chef noticed after tasting it. So, I’m adding a little corn-starch slurry like the Chef said and I’m daydreaming while stirring the sauce with a spoon!

I hear a loud voice behind me and heavy fast steps.

– No, no, no! What are you doing?

I turn around startled, the Chef is right next to me and grabs the spoon I was stirring the corn starch slurry in the sauce from my hand. With the greatest urgency he shows me in one hand the spoon up in the air and in the other hand up in the air a whisk!

– This is a SPOON! And this is a WHISK! You WHISK the corn starch slurry into the sauce! What happens otherwise? It goes to the bottom of the pan as a rock! And when does the corn starch thicken the sauce? I’m asking YOU: WHEN DOES THE SAUCE BEGIN TO THICKEN?

– When it’s reached boiling point Chef! (me answering the question while the Chef is whisking the sauce like life was depending on it splashing sauce on the stove). I’m sorry Chef, I should’ve known better! Thank you for showing me Chef!

Friday, Day 20: Knife skills practical, Seasonal Mixed Green Salad, Filet de Bouef Richelieu, Entrecôte a la Bernaise, Pommes de Terre Frites en Allumette

The practical for today is one carrot cut in as much julienne as you can cut in 10 minutes. I did the whole carrot and separated what seemed better julienne for the Chef to evaluate. The rest I just wanted to show for the quantity and could also join in the salad. Chef was pleased, he said my yield was good and complimented me again on my mis-en-place.

I’m walking from the cooler to my workstation with herbs that need to be chopped in my hand. One of my team mates has taken my workstation and the one next to me and is writing the recipe for a Marinade for Monday down. “Excuse me, I need my workstation, could you please move your notebook on the next one. I have to chop those herbs on my cutting board”. He looks at me like I’ve offended him. Does not move and slowly tells me “I will. One second. Ok?” I don’t get it. Have I said something wrong? His own workstation is just across from mine and is free.

The Bernaise sauce was really good and tasty! And it’s so easy to make! I only assisted with the mis en place, my team mate made it as he wanted to practice the hollandaise again. Now that I know how to make a proper Hollandaise which is the base for the Bernaise sauce, I’m sure I’ll make it more often.

Chef chit chats with me about the weather, it’s going to snow tomorrow he says. I tell him that I was planning to serve my dish that I’m making for the scholarship video competition outside. He says that in Colorado the weather changes quickly and it might be sunny on Sunday.

I have an appointment with the Chef at the end of the class today to show him pictures of how my parmigianno reggianno frico’s turned out after he advised me on how to put together the dish for the video competition. They are a bit too big for the serving plate. I’m sure he’ll give me a better idea on what to do with them so that I can still keep them in the dish.

Well, it was kind of a mixed week. Some nice things and little successes, but also a few bummers and annoyances.  The fricassee came out really nicely, the Bernaise sauce was very tasty and almost perfect in consistency and I loved the Entrecôte, it’s one of my favorites! Not a fan of the deep fried stuff though. We had an extensive discussion in class about fried foods, nutrition values and health issues related.

I’m glad we did better the rest of the week in comparison to Monday which was a complete disaster! But we recovered, job well done to everyone in my class, by Friday we were stars again!

Chef ended the week on a good note

“You are only as good as your last performance! Last Friday you were rock stars too, like today, but you all know how Monday went! Unless you remain focused and humble and keep the pace up you will not do well on any day. I hope you know that I am here to teach you and although I might seem hard on you at times, it is only ‘tough-love’, I want you to learn and I want you to be the best you can be!”

And that is the end of week 4!

I am looking forward to week 5! I’m thinking that after week 5 it’s only one more week with this Chef and then we’ll move on to another module and another Chef. I will be a bit sad to leave this Chef and also of course enthusiast to meet the next Chef.

But first things first, on to next week – Beef week! The sirloin has been set in marinade last Friday, it will be nice and tender and juicy and ready for Boeuf Bourgeoning on Monday!

A tout alors! 

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Week 3 of Culinary Arts School – Team Chef and potato week!

This week I am Team Chef! Yay! It means I have to be at school at least half an hour before class starts and considering I usually leave the house at 5.30 am this means I will have to leave the house in the morning at 5 am. Yes, I will have to wake up shortly after 4 am. I think it is a good experience and I actually enjoy bossing people around from time to time! Just kidding!

Being Team Chef has nothing to do with bossing people around. It has to do with organization skills, keeping an eye on the time, assigning all tasks to the team members and making sure everybody knows what they are expected to do that day. Setting up the workstations for everyone, ensuring the products for the day are in the coolers, setting up everything the Chef needs for demo’s. Then during production you need to make sure that things are done timely and nothing is forgotten. A lot of coordination and time tracking. It’s basically like Project Management.

So, here we go! What’s on the menu for this week?

Monday, Day 11: Written quiz on all lecture material, recipes and products used so far. Consommé  Consommé a la Brunoise, Shrimp Bisque, Vichyssoise

Tuesday, Day 12: Puree de Pommes de Terre, Pommes de Terre Duchesse, Gratin de Pommes de Terre a la Dauphinoise, Pommes de Terre Chateau, Potato Salad

Wednesday, Day 13: Basil Pesto Sauce, Fresh Pasta Dough and Fresh Fetucinni, Grilled Polenta, Creamy Polenta,

Thursday, Day 14: Rice Pilaf, Risotto, Quinoa, Black Beans Salad,

Friday, Day 15: Court Bouillon, Poached Chicken Breast with Tarragon Sauce, Classic Rice Pilaf Du Jour. Hollandaise practical test

As you can see, a lot of the names of the dishes we are going to make are in French! As a side effect of the Culinary Arts Program, at the end of the program I will be able to effortlessly read a French menu and really know what it is and probably also how it’s made.

The focus this week is on potatoes, grains and legumes.

All dishes that start with “Pommes de Terre”, are potato dishes. “Pommes de Terre” is French for “Apples of the Earth” aka potatoes. Mashed, gratin, salad, you name it.

You might think that mashed potatoes are easy peazy nice and breezy, but for me it was another light bulb, because I’ve never done them how an experienced Chef does. I learned again how to make mashed potatoes, using the recipe and technique taught in the Culinary Arts Program.

The potatoes are boiled in salted water. Always start in cold water, do not add your potatoes to boiling water! Try them with the tip of a knife to determine if they are boiled enough, the knife should slide in and out without resistance. Drain them and allow them to air dry a little. Mash them using a food mill! This kitchen tool is on my ‘want to have’ kitchen tools. It gives your mashed potatoes the best structure possible, exactly right, and your arm won’t hurt afterwards from beating up your potatoes in a pan with a masher. Then add to it scalded milk and room temperature butter. Lots of butter compared to what I was doing before when I was adding just a few table spoons. To give you an idea, for 6 lbs of potatoes we used 4 oz of scalded milk and 6 oz of butter, cubed and at room temperature. 6 oz is about 18 table spoons compared to the 2 or 3 I was adding before. What I was doing before was also to mash the potatoes together with the milk and butter. Now I will definitely never do that again, first you run your potatoes through the food mill. The challenge is to find one! I went to my favorite shop in town that has lots of kitchen gadgets and they do not sell it. If anyone knows where I can buy a food mill on-line preferably, your tip is much appreciated.

As we learned last week how to make stocks and sauces and this week in the first three days we learned about potatoes, grains and legumes, we were ready to move on to chicken!

By Friday we did our first composed entree! Poached chicken with Tarragon sauce, Rice Pilaf and Green Asparagus with Hollandaise sauce which we had plenty of as at the beginning of the day we had a practical on it. Oh my! I was so proud and satisfied with myself that I’ve learned so much in a week! And a very important thing, my team members did not kill me and I even got a few compliments on the way I played my Team Chef role. A relieved sigh that it all went well and I’ve survived my 3rd week with ease.

Time goes by really fast. It truly does, the world totally fades away when I’m cooking, I am 100% involved and focused on what I’m doing and I love it!

Till next time, chicken week is next!

Bon chance!

Spaghetti with ground beef tomato sauce

I’ve made tomato sauce for pasta before but I was always left a bit unsatisfied with the flavor. I felt it needed something else and tried out different herbs and seasonings to give it a richer taste and less acidic tomato taste but a more round full taste of tomatoes.

Finally I’ve found two ingredients that give it exactly the taste I was looking for. Salted pork and consommé or brown stock! Those ingredients make a world of a difference to your tomato sauce, try it out and let me know what you think.

This is what you need for the tomato sauce base:

– 1 qt of canned tomatoes or fresh tomatoes
– 1.5 lb mirepoix (celery, carrot, onion, cut up in small dices)
– a sachet (10 parsley stems, 3 thyme stems and leaves, 3 bay leafs, 3 crushed garlic cloves, a few crushed black peppercorns)
– 4 oz salted pork, small dice

Ingredients for spagetti ground beef and tomato sauce

Ingredients for spagetti ground beef and tomato sauce

First you render the salted pork in a pot. Don’t add any oil or other fat to it. The salted pork is fat already and will give you enough liquid fat that you can use later for the ground beef.

When the salted pork is golden brown in color, pour off some of the fat, leave only a few tablespoons of fat with the golden brown salted pork.
Add the mirepoix and sauté until light brown.
Add the tomatoes, the sachet and a cup of consommé or brown stock to thin it out.
Bring to boil, lower heat and simmer for up to two hours.

Sauce to simmer

Tomato sauce – bring to a simmer

In the meantime, in a sauté pan brown the ground beef. If you like it, instead of using oil, you can render more salt pork after it’s been cut in small cubes and render the ground beef together.

For the spagetti, bring a large amount of water and salt to boil. Add a bit of olive oil to the water if you like. Boil the pasta al dente. Taste one spagetti string to determine if it’s boiled.
Drain and fluff making sure spagetti doesn’t stick to itself.

Tomato sauce, ground beef, spagetti

Boil spagetti, render ground beef, simmer tomato sauce

Blend your tomato sauce after you’ve discarded the parsley stems and the bay leaves. You can use a food mill if you have one or an electric stick hand blender.

Add the rendered ground beef to the tomato sauce. Stir well.

Serve: first some spagetti and on top the tomato and rendered beef sauce.

Spagetti with ground beef and tomato sauce

Spagetti with ground beef and tomato sauce

Bon appétit!

Mastering the Art of French Cooking with Les Enfants Terrible cooking group – 1st Dinner

A good way to learn more about cooking and enjoy more cooking is to get a few like minded people together and rotate ‘the chef’ every month.

I’ve put together a small group of people like that and named it “Les enfants terribles”. This is in honor of Julia Child’s saying “in cooking you’ve got to have an ‘what the hell’ attitude”. Her saying makes me giggle and think about naughty children. Also it gives me hope and enthusiasm and brings the fun back right away when I’m disappointed with a dish that I’ve spent hours on. Hence the French naming of my cooking group – a bit fun and a bit rebellious that we dare venturing on the territory of a Master!

The idea is that ‘the chef’ prepares a three course dinner, using recipes from Julia Child’s book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
I will not repeat the recipes here as they are in Julia Child’s book. This part of the blog is more about the experience.

To set the example and because it is my own initiative to form a group like this, I’ve hosted the first dinner in our home. I’ve spent the whole day in the kitchen but was very pleased with the result.

Menu

Consommé à la brunoise
Caneton à la orange
Mousse à la orange

I wanted to make Confit du Canard at first. It takes a couple of days to make though and I didn’t have that much time suddenly. It is still on the planning, maybe next time that I’m ‘the chef’ I’ll have more time on my hands.

For this dinner, I had fresh French baguette bread on the table and Beurre à la Maître du Hôtel, which is nothing else but some good old butter whipped with a little sea salt and fresh chopped parsley. I like having bread and butter on the table to munch on before the first course arrives at the table.

The first course, Consommé à la Brunoise, was a big success. My husband was at the dinner table and he is a very honest critique giver. He loved it! And I sighed in relief! It takes a very long time to make consommé. First you make a chicken stock! Yes, from scratch!!! It takes about 4 hours to make the chicken stock. That is the base for the consommé next to slightly whipped egg whites, a bit of lemon juice and ground chicken and aromatics. It needs to simmer for another two hours. In the end, it is worth it.
This ‘double broth’ as I like to call it, is very rich in flavor and very pretty to look at. You can add to it whatever garnish you like. I’ve added to mine carrots, celery and onions cut brunoise (very small dice 1/8″), fresh green onion cut oblique (oval diagonal thin slices) and fresh parsley chopped fine.

Consomme a la Brunoise

Consomme a la Brunoise

Caneton à la Orange is a roasted duckling with orange sauce. The duckling is roasted in a 425F oven, in a roasting pan, on a bed of mirepoix (rough chopped onions, carrots, celery). The cavity of the duckling is seasoned with salt and pepper and filled with julienne cut orange peel after it has simmered in a little water for 15 minutes. This gives the duckling some orange flavor from the inside too.
For the sauce you add the remaining of the before simmered orange peel to a hot mahogany brown mixture of red wine vinegar, sugar, Madeira wine, and arrow root flour slurry. All this needs to simmer for a couple of minutes. The sauce is finished, while the duckling rests, with the liquor that you get from deglazing the roasting pan and more Madeira to taste.

Caneton a la Orange

Caneton a la Orange

As the duckling and orange sauce are the stars of the show and are very rich in flavor, I served as sides simple creamy mashed potatoes and haricots verts, which are thin French green beans, blanched and then sautéed in a bit of butter with sea salt and fresh parsley.

And finally the dessert. Mousse à la Orange!
This is an orange mouse made with eggs, orange juice, orange peel grated, sugar of course, whipped cream and orange liqueur. I used a bit of Cointreau. I thought it looked very pretty presented in the orange skins. The dessert takes little time to make but needs to stay in the freezer for at least a couple of hours before serving.

Mousse a la Orange

Mousse a la Orange

My own interpretation of the recipes will be posted at a later time, one by one, with the correct reference to the page in Julia Child’s book.

Au revoir mes enfants terribles!

Macaroons

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They say that macaroons are best left to professionals. They are pretty finicky to make and it’s difficult to get the right texture, crunchy on the outside and soft and a little gooey on the inside.

Despite all the warnings, my friend C and I decided we would give it a try.
Like Julia Child once said, “Incooking you’ve got to have an ‘what the hell’ attitude”.

We found quite a few recipes on the web. We settled for one that called for:
6 egg whites
250 grams of almond flower
125 grams of confectioners sugar

Those ingredients were just for the basic macaroon.
You can add to it cocoa powder to make chocolate macaroons, lemon juice and coloring for lemon macaroons, all kinds of colors to get them green, blue, purple. Whatever you wish.

The macaroons ‘dough’ is pretty simple. You beat the egg whites to hard peaks together with two spoons of granulated sugar, then fold in gradually the sifted almond flower mixed with the confectioners sugar and cocoa if you’re making chocolate macaroons.
Folding the almond flour mix into the egg whites is a gentler way to incorporate the ingredients together.
You should get a pretty gooey batch of runny ‘dough’ that feels a bit tough to mix.

If you are making colored macaroons, add the color to the egg whites after you’ve whisked them to hard peaks.

Now, on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and using a pastry bag filled with the gooey ‘dough’, make little discs, the size of a quarter, by pushing the dough in one spot. You don’t need to move the tip of the pastry bag. Hold the tip of the pastry bag close to the parchment paper, push out a little dough and lift the pastry bag tip. The discs kind of form themselves. Keep enough room in between the next one and the next one. They will spread out a little – give them the room to do so and not join each other.

When you’re done, grab the line sheet pan, lift it up in the air about a foot high and let it fall on the counter. Use a bit of force. Do this 5 to 10 times. This is necessary to get air bubbles out of the dough.

Let them sit out for a good 10 minutes to rest.

In the meantime you can start another line sheet pan and fill it with small macaroon discs.

Your oven should be at 325F.
The macaroons should be cooked in 10 to 15 minutes.
This is also a bit tricky. Some ovens will do the job at 300F too. The time is not exact either. Ours went best at 12 minutes and 325F.
Try out the first batch and adjust temperature and or time.
You have to play a bit with baking them at first.

Another tip: if your first batch is too airy – the macaroon forms an empty bubble on top, it looks nice on the outside but if you push your finger on the top it is just a thin layer and an empty bubble, adjust your dough consistency by adding a bit more almond flour to the next batch. Smashing the line sheet pan harder will also help.

Bake your macaroons one line sheet pan a time. If you do more then one, they will not bake the same.

As for the filling – it’s up to you.
If you don’t have the time to make butter creams or chocolate ganache, you can use some good quality heavy rich jam. Raspberry jam or jelly goes pretty well with all tastes of macaroons and colors.

Remember: the first time you make macaroons – play with them. Adjust temperature, time and dough consistency. Macaroons behave different because of all kinds of factors that are very specific. For example, if you live at high altitude, the baking time and temperature will be different than the recipe of Cordon Bleu’s in France macaroons.

Have fun with them!
It’s such a great feeling when you’ve got them right! And then you will get them right time and time after again.

My friend C and I made chocolate macaroons filled with chocolate ganache, raspberry macaroons filled with a butter cream with fresh raspberries and lemon macaroons filled with a thick lemon custard.
Both our favorites were the lemon macaroons! They were perfect in consistency and flavor.

I would love to hear how yours turned out if you venture into making them!

Good luck!

Butter beans salad: simple, quick, nutritious

Butter beans salad

Butter beans salad

This salad can be put together in 5 minutes and can be eaten alone, with some bread and butter or as part of a vegan meal accompanied by quinoa or brown rice.

You will need:
Butter beans – canned, drain the liquid, remove any film like outer shells that separate from the beans.
Red onion – sliced or cubed
Fresh parsley – two table spoons chopped
Salt and black pepper – to taste
Olive oil extra virgin – a few table spoons
White wine vinegar or balsamic – a few table spoons

Toss all ingredients together, gently, watching not to crush the butter beans.

Taste and adjust seasoning to your taste, add more salt, pepper, olive oil, white wine vinegar.

Bon appétit!

Week 2 of Culinary Arts School – The mother sauces and my “knifey”

As a wannabe chef, one of the things I should be able to do in my sleep if anyone would ask me, would be to list the 5 mother sauces: Bechamel, Velouté, Espagnole, Tomato sauce and Hollandaise. In week 2 of Culinary Arts we made them all. ‘Yummie’ is a word that comes to mind.

The Culinary Arts Program starts you off with a good solid basis. If you master the 5 mother sauces, then you can let your imagination loose and add ingredients to them transforming them into a variety and broad repertoire of sauces.

We learned the ‘mother sauces’, made many mistakes as there are quite a few tricks in there , and learned from them. Now I hope that practice will bring mastery to one… someday…

Stocks are another thing that I now understand so much better. How to make a good white stock, brown stock and consommé.

For an experienced chef those are a breeze to make. For beginners like me there are so many light bulbs switching on every day that I could probably light up an entire football stadium with them.

I try to practice at home as much as I can. I found a new love in my chef’s knife! It’s a treasure! The rest of the knives at home are going into a major depression soon as I’ve neglected them totally. I don’t want to cut or chop anything anymore without my chef’s knife. It makes life in the kitchen more pleasant then ever. A word of advice to all of you wannabe chefs out there. If there is anything you want to spent money on, that will make a life of a difference and lasts almost maybe a life long, invest in a good chef’s knife! It does not compare to a normal kitchen knife and you will understand once and for all how miserable life was without a chef’s knife once you know and feel a chef’s knife work.

My ‘knifey’ and I are inseperable in the kitchen. I’m coming up with ideas for dinner lately where there is some chopping and cutting involved so that I can do the classic cuts that I’ve learned in week 2: julienne, brunoise, fine julienne, fine brunois, batonette, small dice, medium dice, large dice. I’m practicing chifonadde as well as I love fine cut leaves in salads or as garnishes and with a good knife it is really easy to do.

Time flies by in the kitchen at the School of Culinary Arts. I blink twice and it’s almost the end of the day. It’s fascinating how the world fades away and all you have in your mind are production lists, recipes, mis en place, cooking times, temperatures and watching the clock with the only purpose of getting your recipe ready on time for service. Service is a great part of the day. We, the students sit down at the table and eat the food we made. Critique is important, what is good and what needs improvement. How can you get the same result next time if your dish came out perfect or how can you improve it to make it better next time.

It’s fast paced for sure, tons of information coming at you, deadlines every day and there are written tests and practicals too!

I remember a while ago that I came across an article that was titled ‘surviving Culinary Arts School’. I smiled with a pinch of sarcasm not knowing that it is reality. Culinary Arts School is intense! There’s a lot coming your way and it is up to you what you do with it. You have to work hard if you want to learn to be a chef. You get out of it as much as you put in it. And you really need to keep up with the pace and prepare every day, pay attention, try to understand as much as possible, memorize basic recipes, learn to work towards deadlines, follow instructions, give instructions sometimes, work individually and in a team, and I can go on with this list.

I believe that the key is to have fun! I am convinced that you should like cooking a lot and be interested in food 100% otherwise you won’t be able to enjoy it.

Personally, I love it! If you know me, you know that I’m a night owl and waking up early was never my favorite thing to do. I am amazed with myself that I wake up at the most ungodly hours with ease and that I’m ready to go, enthusiast, motivated and curious like a child to experience new things in the kitchen. I love cooking! I love learning about food! I love practicing what I’ve learned! I love everything about it! Except… Oh well, that will be another post! 🙂 But probably not any time soon as there’s not much to not like at the moment.

I wish that you enjoy what you do as much as I enjoy my Culinary Arts Program so far. And I hope that my enthusiasm, passion, motivation and drive will not fade with time and will be the constant that keeps me going and adding to my joy.

So, to round this one up, remember to invest in a good chef’s knife, learn about the 5 mother sauces, basic stock recipes and classic cuts. And most important of all: have fun, enjoy it!

Time flies when you’re having fun. Before you know it, you will be graduating. But we’ve been warned, no diploma unless you can still recite with passion the 5 mother sauces 🙂

Bechamel, Velouté, Tomato sauce and Hollandaise!

And Espagnole!!! Espagnole, Espagnole, Espagnole! Of course I knew it! Oh Gosh, I hope this does not happen at the moment supreme! 🙂

Bon appétit, bon chance, bon soir e en bien tout!

Delicious sangria without alcohol

Sangria without alcohol

Sangria without alcohol

I found this recipe of non-alcoholic sangria a while ago and gave it a try.
I adjusted it a bit to my taste and it turned out delicious, I highly recommend it for any occasion!
It is festive, refreshing, rich in flavor and packed with vitamins and antioxidants. Plus it will not give you a headache and you can drink as much as you’d like!

I hope you will enjoy it!

The ingredients: 2 cups of water, 2 bags of black tea, two cinnamon sticks, 4 to 6 tbs brown sugar, 1 large orange, 1 lemon, 1 lime, 1 apple, a 500 ml bottle of pomegranate juice, a 1 liter bottle of sparkling water.

Kitchen and serving ware: a small pan to hold 2 cups of water, a spoon to stir, a cutting board, a knife, a large 2.5 liter pitcher, a spoon with a long handle to stir in the pitcher, large wine glasses and spoons to serve the sangria in.

– In the small pan bring to boil two cups of water. Add two bags of black tea, two cinnamon sticks, 4 to 6 tbs brown sugar to make a sweet hot tea. Boil all the ingredients together for a few minutes and give it a few stirs with a spoon. Discard the tea bags but not the cinnamon sticks. Let it cool off.

Black tea with brown sugar and cinnamon

Black tea with brown sugar and cinnamon

– Cut 1 large orange, 1 lemon, 1 lime, 1 apple in slices or dice, whatever you prefer.

Orange, apple, lime, lemon

Orange, apple, lime, lemon

– In the pitcher add the fruit and pour the sweet tea and the 500 milliliter of pomegranate juice.
Mix well with a spoon with a long handle and set aside in the fridge for a couple of hours before serving or even overnight. This will allow all flavors to develop richness and mix beautifully together.

Sangria without alcohol

Sangria without alcohol

– Right before serving add the chilled sparkling water in the pitcher.
Give it a good stir to mix well so that the sangria is evenly diluted.
Taste and add more sugar if you would like it sweeter.

– Serve in large wine glasses with a spoon to scoop out and enjoy the fruit.

The original recipe is here:
http://www.yummly.com/recipes/sangria-without-alcohol

Week 1 of Culinary Arts School – Try to do better, even a tiny bit, it is still better!

“All beginnings are difficult.”

This is a phrase that comes to mind when I think about my first day in the Culinary Arts Program. I’m not sure the author of that quote meant it for a situation like mine, I find it applied to me to some extent.

I started 3 days later in the program, with the approval of the admissions office, due to long before made family engagements. The communication back and forth with the school, up until I started, was nothing but excellent! Still, I missed some important information and I’ve failed to make a good impression the first day. I was barely on time in class as I went to the building I visited when I shadowed a class, not knowing I was supposed to be in another building. The Chef was more than kind to walk me to the corner of the street and point me in the right direction to get to class. Almost out of breath, I sat down and The Chef that instructs this block handed me the ServSafe exam that was scheduled for the morning and accepted my passport as form of identification. I did not have a student id card yet. I looked around to the other students that were concentrating on their exams and admired their student uniforms which I was not wearing and still had to pick up. Needless to say I felt out-of-place and was impatient to visit the admin office after the exam to pick up my uniform, id card, books and knife kit. On top of all that, I made a mistake that I should’ve known not to, after all it was one of the topics in the ServSafe Manager study book: Do Not Wear Nail Polish! Which I was! A bright red color, very fancy, that stays on for weeks without chipping and needs 10 minutes of soaking in acetone to remove. You are not supposed to wear nail polish if you work with food. And even the week before going into the kitchen and being in a classroom, you should confirm to all expectations and standards. 

This School of Culinary Arts is not just a school. It is a school that sets high standards, expects the best of its students and is willing to work with you closely to meet those high standards. The high standards are in everything, from culinary knowledge and skills to the very details of presenting yourself perfectly. The high standards were one of the main reasons I chose to enroll here and not anywhere else. 

Luckily for me I was at least ready for the exam. I’m crossing my fingers and hope that I’ve prepared well enough to pass. There were some tough and tricky questions in there and I felt a little lost at the questions that involved identifying the right temperatures for keeping food safe. Being European, it is the Celsius system that is in my blood. After having lived only for 4 months in the States as of now, the Fahrenheit system is far away from being a second nature. I made a note to go back on those chapters and try to memorize the right temperatures in Fahrenheit, even if it comes down to literally memorizing numbers. Knowing your temperatures is crucial in the world of food safety.

Last word on this paragraph that is mostly about making a not so good impression, is one of advice to you: PREPARE!!! Get all the information you need well in advance, know which questions to ask to prevent you miss information, know where you need to be on your first day, get the name of your instructor, inform about expectations, pick up your stuff in advance if that is possible at all. Prepare, prepare, prepare! Did I mention prepare?

Although the start was a bit difficult for me personally, I’ve learned a lot in the two days that I’ve attended last week. The Chef gave us tons of instruction, knowledge, information and good advice.

Besides taking the exam for the ServSafe Manager certification, going through career development lecturing and getting to meet my new class mates and The Chef that will teach for the next 6 weeks, there were a couple of quotes and words of wisdom incorporated in the lectures that made an impression on me.

My favorite advice of the week was:  “Try to do just a little bit better tomorrow than you did today!”

The idea is that if you are self conscious and keep reflecting on what you can do better and try with even the littlest thing that might seem small and humble, to do just a little tiny bit better, you will keep growing, learning and eventually becoming better. There is always room to do better. Always! And I read somewhere else that if you do that, success will follow!

I love this one! It is so encouraging, motivating, full of hope and kind of forgiving and empowering. It is a statement of endless possibility, you can always do better, there is always room for doing better and being better.

Those words are dear to me and very familiar. Once upon a time, in my very first job in corporate life, about some 15 years ago, I had a wonderful boss that mentored me. I felt great respect and appreciation for him and his teachings and I do to the day. I remember a session on team building where every participant was asked to summarize themselves and their beliefs in a short phrase. His phrase was: “Everyday is an opportunity to be a better version of myself”. That stuck with me for years and I’ve put it into practice many times. It is easy to see why my Chef’s words of wisdom and advice to the class stuck with me again. Those are great words to live up to, I am grateful that I’ve been reminded of them.

My mantra for next week: “Do a little better today than you did yesterday”.

Bon Chance 🙂

$10.000 scholarship – will you please be mine?

Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts – 40 weeks, 5 days a week, from 7am to 1pm!

Those are a lot of hours of cooking. I actually did the math, geek that I am: 1200 hours! 1200 hours from which about 20% will be theory classes and the rest of 80% is hands on cooking. There will be all kinds of techniques to be learned, many dishes to prepare, a couple of weeks of baking and also 3 weeks of Farm-to-Table experience.

I’m very excited about that and I’m hoping to learn more than I learned during my summer vacations at my grandparents farm. It seems like ages ago, and somehow it is, it’s about 20 something years later that I remember my last summer vacation on the farm. But still those memories where even the scents are imprinted in them are there.

Right now, because I am missing the first days of school due to a previous important engagement, I am studying upfront the book of ServSafe Manager. It is a lot of logical ‘I knew that’ information in the book and I’m going through it pretty fast. Thanks God for that as I’m discovering that I’ve lost my appetite for studying dry science books at my age. Hands on, practical, logical, very interest and passion focused is completely fine. But no more Chemistry and Physics for me at the moment please.

I’m excited and nervous to start the Program at the same time.

It felt like coming home the few times that I visited the school, talked to the study advisors, shadowed a class. At the same time I’m nervous and a little insecurity is popping in from time to time. Am I passionate enough, am I good enough, will I perform well enough, what if I’ll produce only mediocre results and disappoint myself? Who knows? I might. But I also might be just brilliant and perform to levels that I never dreamed of and astonish myself of the hidden talents I might seem to have. Let’s hope for something at least in the middle if not exactly the last mentioned.

It is a journey and I’m sure it will be hard at times but I’m also confident that I will enjoy it to the max. You are welcome to cheer along with my successes and kick my butt when I fail. A little pat on the shoulder and comforting ‘Keep going, it will be ok!’ would be nicer though.

But, we are nowhere near needing comfort yet, we are in the beginning.

The sweet beginning of a dream that brings with it the thirst for learning new things, making new discoveries and enjoying them, curiosity, motivation, enthusiasm, energy, joy!

All new beginnings are so fresh and promissing, almost like a newborn or an empty canvas. The possibilities are endless and limitless. You can go as far as your imagination takes you and as far as you have the courage to go.

And speaking about courage, I feel courageous!

There is a competition soon at my new School of Culinary Arts.

Prospective students can sent in a short video where they show how to cook a chosen dish and present it. I am usually shy of those things but it seems that the ‘why not’ question prevails. Why not? Why not compete too? There is a $10.000 scholarship to be won towards tuition. How great is that? I think it’s wonderful and I’m almost doing a little happy dance thinking I could have so much fun cooking a dish and presenting it in a video. With a little help that is!

It doesn’t have to be a Master Chef dish, after all I am just starting a program of Culinary Arts.

How about a little fun and you join me. Help me with inspiration and tips?

I would appreciate every bit of constructive input. From dishes that would show a few not too complicated cooking techniques, to cooking the dish itself, to plating, to tips on lighting on the video and if I should have a soft background music to go with it or not! I would also welcome technical tips on software programs that I could use to edit a video.

Here is the video that won last year!

Join in the fun and share your wisdom with me!