Archive for March, 2011
A friend and I were eating in a Japanese restaurant in the West Village this evening and we had a table by a window. The windows in this place are floor to ceiling, so it makes for great people watching. Anyway, this van pulls up to the curb and a family piles out and enters the restaurant, evidently to get some dinner to take out.
As we’re sitting there, my friend says, “You know, at this angle and with this light, it looks like the chef is cooking in that van.” I turned around and she was right! The reflection of the chef on the window was positioned in such a way that it did indeed look like he was cooking in the van. We were entertained by this for quite a while. The picture doesn’t do the illusion justice.
What kinds of tests do they give you at culinary school? Well, there are the written tests, such as sanitation regulations and naming the parts of a knife. Then there are the practicals, which involve actually preparing stuff. One of our practicals will be poaching pears.
A couple of weeks ago, I practiced poaching a pear. Everything went well until the very end, when I was making a juice reduction sauce. What happened? Let’s just say that there’s a very fine line between juice and burnt caramel. I walked away from the stove for one damn minute and when I went back, my juice had started to burn and I had caramel. That is not what I wanted. I went into a deep, deep, deep depression over this. Here I am, spending thousands of dollars on culinary school, and I couldn’t even poach a damn pear!
I’ve cooked all types of cuisines, made so many different things, from simple hors d’oeuvres to elaborate meals. I’ve made things that took days to prepare, like the Swedish sandwich cake called Smörgåstårta. But I’m not going to be tested on Smörgåstårta! I’ve cooked Thanksgiving dinner for 20, had dinner parties, holiday gatherings, barbecues, cooked for other people as a personal chef and I’m going to be done in by a freaking poached pear??!!!
Today was seitan day in class at the Natural Gourmet Institute. We learned how to make seitan from scratch, which is not as complicated as I would have thought, but it is messy and time-consuming. It’s basically a six-hour process. Whole-wheat flour and high-gluten flour get combined with water and kneaded, just like bread, then soaked and kneaded under water.
Then the seitan is broken up into pieces and boiled in a braising liquid for a couple of hours. (The braising liquid is a bunch of ingredients, such as shoyu and spices, to give the seitan some flavor.)
We made two kinds of stews, two kinds of kabobs—including an Indian-style kabob with a red sauce and mango couli—burgers, sandwiches, and a bordalaise. It truly was a vegetarian delight. Behold my crappy camera-phone pictures!
Hi, all. This past week at school we had bean and grain practicum, as well as the Biochemistry of Fats and Oils. That was exactly what it sounds like—a science class. We learned about carbon chains, hydrogen atoms, and double bonds. What does any of that have to do with cooking? Well, that all lead into the construction of fatty acids and what makes them saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated, and what causes a fatty acid to become a trans fat (hydrogenation). Science was never one of my best subjects, so my brain hurt a little bit from all this information. But I can sleep at night now that I know the molecular structure of a trans fatty acid. J
Anyway, a couple of weeks back, a classmate brought in a batch of homemade kombucha, which generated interest in some of the other students. Another classmate got really excited because she’d found a source to get an organic kombucha starter culture (called a “Scoby” and also referred to as a “mushroom” or “mother”) for a really good price. Most starters will run from about $20 to $50. Local Harvest has them for $12.95 each, including shipping. If you’re not up to making your own, it’s also available commercially.
For those of you who don’t know what kombucha is, it’s a “living” beverage made by fermenting tea with sugar and a starter culture. Seedsofhealth.co.uk describes the flavor as “something between sparkling apple cider and champagne.” It’s been around for centuries and is believed to originate in either East Asia or Russia. It’s known to have many beneficial health properties, and two things that it’s considered particularly good in fighting are cancer and candida. Some people have touted kombucha as a miracle beverage.
Once you have your kombucha, you can drink it straight or use it in recipes. Here’s one for Kombucha Banana Strawberry Smoothie, courtesy of DrinkHealthyDrinks.com.
Kombucha Banana Strawberry Smoothie Recipe
- 10 ounces orange juice
- 4 ounces Kombucha tea.
- One piece of fresh Kombucha colony (sized to palate)
- 5-6 large fresh strawberries
- 1-2 large banana
Blend all ingredients at high speed in your blender until smooth.
For more detailed information about the history and health benefits of kombucha or how to make your own, go to
Okay, I’m a day late, but I was inspired to write this post by Grilled Cheese Invitational, which took place yesterday (3/23/11) in Los Angeles. I don’t know why I haven’t done this before because grilled cheese is a staple food for me. There have been times when I was practically living off of them.
It’s believed that the first grilled cheese, as we know it today, was invented in the 1920s. Why? Think about it. That’s about the time when sliced bread hit the market. It quickly became a go-to food, even by the military, because it was easy and economical to make. (The whole tomato-soup-as-accompaniment thing is a whole different story.)
I love grilled cheese because it’s easy, yes, economical, yes, delicious, yes, but it’s convenient as well. You can keep the necessary items—two, basically: bread and cheese—on hand over a long period of time. And you can gussy up a grilled cheese in a million different ways with whatever else you have on hand. Below is a fairly simple yet tantalized version. Grilled cheese truly is the best thing since sliced bread.
MizChef’s Grilled Cheese
2 slices whole-grain bread
¼ oz. cheddar cheese, shredded
Two slices medium tomato
1 tsp flavored mustard of your choice
Toast the bread. Spread the cheese on one slice of toast and place in a broiler. (This is where a countertop broiler comes in handy.) Broil or toast until the cheese melts and remove. Place the tomato slices and a piece of romaine lettuce on the cheese. Spread the mustard on the other slice of bread and close up the sandwich with it.
Makes 1 tasty sandwich.
Copyright © Roberta Roberti. All rights reserved. You are free to re-post this recipe, as long as you attribute it to the author and provide a link back to this page.
March is National Peanut Month. I love peanuts because they’re a great snack, packed with protein, and easy to eat, they’re portable and they taste good. They’re also fun to cook with. Peanuts are a big component of Southeast Asian and African cuisines, as well as South American food. I don’t know about you, but I practically live on peanut butter. I had an interesting version of peanuts while in the South: fried peanuts. (I didn’t say it was healthy, I just said interesting.) Here’s my take on Uncle Bud’s Deep-Fried Peanuts (scroll down): Muffuletts, Beignets and Throwed Rolls
Here’s a great recipe for Spicy Senegalese Sweet Potato & Peanut Soup, available at the National Peanut Board and developed by the Culinary Institute of America.
Spicy Senegalese Sweet Potato & Peanut Soup
- 1 Tbsp peanut oil
- 2 cups onion, peeled, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1½ Tbsp ginger, chopped
- ½-1 jalapeno pepper
- 3 cups sweet potato, peeled, diced
- ½ cup peanut flour
- 1½ quart chicken stock
- 1 Tbsp brown sugar
- 1 Tbsp roasted peanuts, chopped
- Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over
medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic,
ginger and jalapeno, saute 2 minutes
until translucent. Add the sweet
potato, cook for 15 minutes, add
peanut flour, stir to coat.
2. Add the chicken stock and bring to
a simmer. Simmer 30 minutes or
until the vegetables are tender.
3. Transfer the vegetables to a blender
and puree until smooth. Strain if
desired. Adjust the seasoning with
brown sugar, salt and pepper.
4. Garnish with toasted peanuts.
Makes: 2 quarts
Hey, folks! Came across Food Reference, a great site that lists events related to food and drink around the world, provides food-related quotes, and just fun info about food.
Coming up in the next few days, for example, is the 3rd international Fair of Food, Drinks, and Innovative Gastronomy in Croatia, in conjunction with the 16th annual Fair of Wine and Equipment for Viniculture, also in Zagreb? Or how about the Craft Brewers Conference and Expo in San Francisco? The National Barbecue Association is meeting in Greenville, SC this year. And the New Orleans Roadfood Festival is coming up this weekend.
Point is, there is ALWAYS something foodish going on. So check out Food Reference to see if anything’s in your neck of the woods.
From March 21st to 31st, 2011, you have the chance to try out that restaurant you’ve been wanting to go to. During this week, you can get a 3-course prix fixe meals—$20.11 for lunch, $25 for dinner
(plus taxes, tips, and drinks, of course). The biggest problem will be choosing from the long list of participating restaurants throughout Kings County. Check them out below.
So I just read this story about a woman on an airplane who was so not happy about the meal she was served that she threw it at the flight attendant.
The woman who threw the tray AND the food is apparently a vegetarian. Yikes. Word of advice: if you don’t like the meal, probably best not to throw it at a flight attendant. Especially in the world we live in now. And maybe she should try a little meditation or something…