Archive for August, 2011
Well, apparently, mine suck. I went to a practice knife skills class last night and I had to face the tough fact that I’m rusty. I haven’t julienned, or brunoised, or matchsticked in months and it showed! I told the instructor, “I don’t know how I passed my knife skills test.” She just kind of looked at me with an unnerving expression, like, “Yeah, I don’t either.”
All the other students there were about to take their knife skills exam the next day. At this stage of the game, months after my knife skills exam, I should be slicing and dicing like a ginsu chef! Thank god I’m not going to be tested on knife skills again. I don’t think I’d pass this time.
But, really, I’m trying not to be too hard on myself. After all, I simply haven’t had time to practice. I have a full-time job, go to school part time, I have to put in extra hours for school requirements, I have a writing career, I have to blog, twitter, and facebook to keep my name in circulation because I have a cookbook to sell and myself to sell to future employers and publishers for my second cookbook… Let’s not forget laundry, food shopping, cleaning, etc. A personal life? What’s that?
Do you think that’s enough to do? Every week, I have a long list of things I need to do and I never get through half of it. Everything requires so much and it’s just too much for one person. So, I’m sorry if I haven’t had time to practice making perfectly formed 1/8 x 1/8 x 2 1/2-inch julienne carrots. I apologize if I don’t waste my potatoes making perfect litttle useless 1/8 x 1/8 x 1/8-inch brunoise. I’m passionate about food, I’m excited to be in culinary school, and I have big dreams about what I’m going to do with my degree, but there’s also something called reality and we all live in it (well, most of us). There are things we need to deal with and things that have to be pushed to the back burner. With luck, we learn to rotate the pots on the burners so that everything gets cooked. But it takes some juggling skills and some patience. I’m trying to acquire both. And I hope people will understand.
Hurricane Irene resulted in some unprecedented moves by the city of New York. The Mayor’s office ordered mandatory evacuations of certain areas, like Battery Park City and Coney Island, and they suspended public transportation. The only times I can remember that mass transit was suspended was during major snowstorms (because trains couldn’t pass on the tracks), during the blackout that darkened the entire Eastern Seaboard in 2003 (I can’t remember if they also suspended it during the big blackout of 1977–I imagine they did, since the trains run on electricity), and for a couple of days after September 11.
In the end, Irene turned out to be a humbled woman by the time she got to New York (hmm, seems to be the way it goes), and damage here was not as bad as it could have been, although certain areas were flooded.
School was cancelled on Saturday because of the transit situation, which was a relief for me. I definitely wasn’t going to go because once the system shut down at noon, I would have had no way to get back home. And to make up the classes would have been a pain in the butt for me. It would have meant having to squeeze additional classes into an already packed and exhausting week for me a couple of times down the road. I was going to go to an additional knife skills class on Monday night, but the transit situation is going to be iffy and I’ll have to skip that, too.
As of this writing, New England is still dealing with Irene, but I hope everyone makes it through unscathed. Stay safe, everyone.
This week at the Natural Gourmet Institute, we had wheat-free baking. Wheat allergies/sensitivities seem to be a growing issue around the world; consequently, wheat-free products are part of a booming industry, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to wane anytime soon.
I personally know people who are affected by wheat sensitivities and I have been experimenting with different grains and flours for a while now. I probably would be doing it anyway because I just love using different products in my cooking, but it was nice to learn more about wheat-free baking in an official forum.
We had different flours at our disposal, such as chick pea, white rice, potato and tapioca starch, sorghum, and arrowroot, and we also made flour out of almonds. We made cookies, cakes, macaroons, scones, and tartlets.
I personally made currant scones with chick pea flour, aka garbanzo flour, bean flour, besan, and gram flour. This type of flour is very popular in Italy, but is essential in Indian cuisine. So, it can easily be found in any Italian or Indian market, and probably well-stocked supermarkets these days. A traditional dish in Italian cuisine that utilizes chick pea flour is panelle, which are blocks of chick pea flour mixture, baked or fried, and eaten with sauces or in a sandwich with ricotta and grated cheese. In fact, I have a recipe for it in my cookbook, What, No Meat?
Right now, though, I’m going to share with you the recipe for Currant Scones with chick pea flour. Enjoy!
Wheat-Free Currant Scones
Copyright © Natural Gourmet Institute
Yield: 10 tiny scones
1 cup garbanzo flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 Tb maple crystals
2 Tb cold butter*
2 Tb + 2 tsp cream
1 Tb orange or lemon zest
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and maple crystals.
3. Cut butter into dry mix to form coarse crumbs.
4. In another bowl, beat eggs, cream, zest, and currants together.
5. Add wet to dry until just combined.
6. Fold out onto table and form a semi-flattened log.
7. Cut log into triangles and bake on parchment for 10 minutes.
8. Serve warm.
*If found that 2 Tb of butter was not enough. The dough was dry and I had to more than double the amount of butter until it was moist enough. When the butter is cut into the dry ingredients, it should stick together lightly when you pinch a little between your fingers. If it looks dry and “flour-y” instead of like coarse crumbs, add more butter, a tablespoon at a time, until it’s the right consistency.
Introducing the first beer just for women…Chick Beer!
On the home page of the new Chick Beer, it states:
What makes it appealing for women? The makers say that the lady-loving qualities are:
- 97 calories and 3.5 carbs per bottle
- A softer, smoother, less bitter taste
- Lightly carbonated, “for less of that bloaty feeling”
Brewed in Wisconsin, Chick Beer’s distribution is limited, but they will be expanding their territory.
Chick Beer had also pledged to donate 5% of its net profits to charities that” further women’s interests,” domestically and internationally.
I can’t wait to try some.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of Alice Water’s landmark restaurant, Chez Panisse. Located in Berkeley, California, Ms. Waters and her friends opened up the European-inspired bistro in 1971 on the premise that organically grown, local, seasonal products was the only way to eat. The first menu was: Pate en croute, canard aux olives, plum tart, café.The cost for this gourmet meal? $3.95.
The restaurant was way ahead of its time and Ms. Waters was, and is, at the forefront of a food revolution. Today, many restaurants—and home cooks—are chanting the same mantra. In 2007, Resaturant Magazine gave Alice Waters their Lifetime Achievement Award, and named her one of the most influential figures in American cooking over the past 50 years.
In honor of Chez Panisse’s ruby anniversary, an entire weekend of merry-making is planned, from August 26 to 28.
The dinners will be prepared and served on Saturday, August 27, 2011, in private homes throughout the Bay Area in support of the Edible Schoolyard project, which Alice Waters is involved with (click HERE for details on the project).
Happy Anniversary, Chez Panisse, and congratulations, Alice Waters, for daring to bring to America the concept of organic, fresh, and local cuisine. Brava!
Today was our pastry exam at the Natural Gourmet Institute. We had to make Apple Galettes. I think everyone did pretty well. Although she didn’t give us our scores, the instructor said that everyone got in the 90s).
I almost screwed mine up by forgetting to put my assembled galette in the refrigerator for 15 minutes before putting it in the oven. The instructor saw me do it, too. But I caught myself a few seconds later and moved it to the refrigerator. I made sure to tell the teacher. I don’t know if she’s going to take points off or not, just for forgetting. I hope not.
We also began discussing our Friday Night Dinner, which is the class’s final project in December. There’s was quite a bit of dissension among the students about what our theme should be, but most were leaning toward a Winter Harvest/Holiday menu. I personally would like to do Peruvian. I’m putting together a sample menu for them to look at, and then the jury will deliberate.
Here’s a photo of my exam end product (minus a piece for the instructor to taste). This was made with a vegan crust (as opposed to a standard butter crust). To see the recipe, click HERE.
This is probably the most exciting post I’ve ever made—for me, anyway. I received a letter last week informing me that I am a recipient of a James Beard Scholarship!! I wanted to hold off announcing it until it was a done deal (they have to confirm my enrollment in school, probably want to look at my transcript to make sure I’m not some momo who will waste their money, etc.), but I just couldn’t hold it in any longer.
I was really knocked off my feet when I saw the letter. I can’t imagine how many people applied and I consider myself very fortunate to have been selected. The prize will go toward my tuition, which will help me tremendously. Things have been tight me for quite some time and choosing to go to school this year, when my salary is at the lowest it’s been in more than 10 years and the economy is what it is, was a real risk and leap of faith for me. So this money is like a gift.
For those of you who are not familiar with JBF, it is a non-profit organization that promotes and supports everything in the culinary world. Their mission is: To celebrate, nurture, and preserve America’s diverse culinary heritage and future. Each year, JBF gives out awards in many categories (for example, Cookbook of the Year, Best New Restaurant, Outstanding Pastry Chef). These awards are the Oscars of the food world. To receive a James Beard Award is one of the best things to happen to someone in the food industry, whether that person is a chef, a writer, or a TV personality. If you’re a chef, having an event at the James Beard House in NYC is akin to being a musician playing at Carnegie Hall. I had the pleasure of going to the James Beard House once and it was a great experience. JBF offers much more. For more information on the James Beard Foundation, click HERE.
I am extremely humbled, proud, and excited to get this scholarship. Thank you, James Beard Foundation, for helping me achieve my goals, and a big “thank you” to the JBF donors, without whom these scholarships would not be available to students who need them.
Class was back in session last night at the Natural Gourmet Institute after a two-week break. We had A la Carte 2. As with A la Carte 1, the object of the class was to work our way around three stations to make three different entrees. The idea is to get a feel for what it’s like working at different stations in a restaurant.
The three entrees were Pan-Roasted Chicken with Mushroom Sauce, with mashed potatoes and grilled zucchini and yellow squash; pan-seared Tempeh with Curried Coconut Sauce and Grilled Pineapple Chutney, with black rice; and Quick Tofu Teriyaki (stir fry), with basmati rice.
We broke up into three groups and each group did the mis en place for one station. Then
we all rotated and worked each station. And we continued rotating until we ran out of food and time. When we completed each dish, we presented it to the instructor for evaluation. Overall, I did well, with the exception of a few issues with my sauces (the mushroom sauce needed to reduce a little more; there was too much coconut-curry sauce for the tempeh; my second round of stir fry needed a little more sauce).
Everything was delicious. The mushroom sauce was incredibly flavorful, as was the coconut curry sauce (although I’m not a huge fan of curry). My favorite overall dish was the Tofu Teriyaki, and if I took only one thing away from this class, it’s that I’ve finally learned how to make a good stir fry. When I’ve made stir fries in the past, the flavor always seemed flat, and whenever I’ve added tofu, it always broke up into crumbles, which then dispersed throughout the vegetables, creating a very unappetizing dish. I now know that there are two elements to a good stir fry: 1) a sauce and 2) marinating and cooking the tofu before putting it into the stir fry.
When I say “sauce,” I don’t mean sesame seed oil or shoyu (although those went in the stir fry, too). I’m talking about a brown sauce made by combing the tofu marinade with some kuzu to thicken it. It gave the vegetables a more complex flavor and depth that just shoyu and sesame seed oil alone don’t. As for the tofu, that was marinated, cubed, and pan fried until golden brown.
The first A la Carte class was a little hectic for me because I was flustered. This time, I was more at ease and was able to enjoy the process more. And best of all, I have leftovers. Today for lunch, I had some that delicious stir fry. And because I was so happy with it, I’m sharing the recipe. Enjoy.
Quick Tofu Teriyaki
Copyright © Natural Gourmet Institute (with modifications)
Yield: 4 servings
4 cloves garlic, minced
Juice from 1/4 cup peeled, grated ginger
2 tbsp maple syrup
1/2 tbsp shoyu
1 tbsp umeboshi paste
1/2 cup apple juice
1 lb firm or extra firm tofu, pressed
1/4 – 1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tbsp kuzu
1/4 cup vegetable oil
cup julienned red pepper
1 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 cup julienned carrot
1 cup sliced celery
1/4 cup shoyu
2 tbsp toasted sesame seed oil
1/2 cup sliced scallions
1. In blender, combine first 6 ingredients with 1/2 cup water. Blend until smooth.
2. Slice tofu into 4 slabs of equal thickness.
3. in a medium saucepan, combine tofu with marinade. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.
4. Drain tofu (reserving marinade) and blot iwth paper towels to absorb excess moisture.
5. In medium skillet, heat oi land pan fry tofu over medium-high heat until golden on both sides.
6. After tofu is cooked, drain any excess oil out of pan and place tofu in warm oven.
7. Place marinade in blender with kuzu and process until smooth.
8. To cook 2 servings at a time: In a wok or pan, heat 2 tbsp of the vegetable oil; add half the red pepper, half the onion, half the carrot, and half the celery. Stir fry until vegetables start to brown. Add half the cubed tofu, half the shoyu shoyu, and a tbsp of sesame seed oil. Repeat with remaining ingredients.
9. Serve over rice. Garnish with scallions.
Need to know how long you can keep fresh okra, or whether you can freeze it? Have a piece of Arctic char that you can’t cook right away.
I wanted to share with you all this site I found the other day that tells you how long you can keep food, and whether you should/can keep something refrigerated, in the pantry, and/or frozen. It’s called Still Tasty: Your Ultimate Shelf Life Guide. Although I haven’t gone through the entire directory of foods to see how comprehensive it is, it looks pretty extensive. Always handy to have a quick, easy reference like that, right? Hope it helps you out in the kitchen.