Archive for November, 2011
The pressure is on at school, The Natural Gourmet Institute, to get our Friday Night Dinner together. We’ve done our meal run-through and have the menu set, the purchase requisition has been submitted, and we’re good to go.
We are now dealing with other issues: the physical menu, decorations, music, etc. The problem here is that we all want an attractive, welcoming, elegant atmosphere for our dinner, but our budget is only $75. Our ideas for the decor, from the kind of paper for the menus to fabric for table runners to lights and branches to put on the walls, far exceed that $75 limit. Most of us are willing to put in a few bucks to help cover the costs but no one can afford to put in very much.
We all want the best possible everything but, unfortunately, we’ve had to rethink all the elements and try to come as close to “best” as possible without going over budget (or too far over). The paper is not going to be as nice (damn, but paper is expensive), the runners are going to be narrower and not as nice perhaps, and the walls may only get lights if we can’t get cheap-enough twigs.
I am personally working on the menus and I’ve been searching for the right kind of paper. I finally decided that I have to settle on Staples paper because it’s the cheapest I can get. Even go the Staples route, my total for both kinds of paper that I need is about $30. My stomach turns over when I think that there are only three weeks left to our Friday Night Dinner and I still have to pull this stuff together.
Meanwhile, I’m studying as much as I can because my final exam is this coming Saturday. I made a commitment to my internship person (I don’t know how else to refer to her), Fran Costigan, to test out some recipes for her, and I’m getting anxious that I won’t be able to get everything done. And suffice it to say that my mother is not pleased that I will not be having Sunday lunch with her and my father for most of December and January. I explained to her that I work all week, I’m in class all day Saturday (and Wednesday nights), and Sundays are the only days I have to do my hands-on internship hours. She accepts it, but she doesn’t like it.
As I write this, I am remembering that I have a take-home exam to do, due on Wednesday (it’s now Monday). The heat is on and I’m feeling it. No wonder I have a cold–my immune system is probably crying right now. After all this is over, I’m going to need some serious downtime. Many people have done it, of course, but I’m not 20 years old, I’m…well, I’m not 20.
Hope you’re all recovering nicely from Thanksgiving. I hope you come back for more of my exciting tale of going back to school in midlife. (Hey, if the Golden Girls were a hit, there’s some hope here.)
Happy Monday, everyone.
Well, now that another Thanksgiving has come and gone, many of us are left with the serious question of what to do with all those leftovers. Personally, I just eat it the way it is for days. But others want to use their leftovers in different and creative ways. So, here are some ideas to use up all that delicious stuffing you’re stuck with. These will work with any kind of bread or cornbread stuffing. Other kinds of stuffing (rice or other grains) may or may not work, depending on the recipe and what you add.
I’d love to hear from you and find out what you made.
15 Things to do With Leftover Stuffing:
- Stuffed Peppers
- Turkey casserole
- Dumplings for soup, stew, or chili
- Vegetable pie (using the stuffing as the bottom layer)
- Stuffing cakes (flatten into a patty and pan fry; serve with leftover cranberry sauce or gravy)
- Turkey sandwich with stuffing
- Stuffed artichokes
- Stuffed chicken breasts
- Vegetable calzone
- Vegetarian meatballs
- Rice balls
- Vegetable sauté
- Meatloaf or Veggie Meatloaf
- Veggie burgers
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
- 4 cups prepared turkey stuffing
- 2 cups cooked cut up or sliced turkey
- 1 3/4 to 2 cups prepared turkey gravy
- 1/3 cup jellied or whole cranberry sauce, cubed
Butter bottom and sides of 2-quart baking dish. Arrange half of the stuffing in bottom of dish. Add half of the turkey then half of the gravy. Repeat layers. Top with cubes of cranberry sauce. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes.
Hi, all. I spent the better part of the morning today helping to hand out turkey dinners–with gravy, potatoes, stuffing, yams, apple juice, and canned veggies)–to needy people in the community of Elmhurst, Queens. This is something that my place of business does every year and it fell to me to organize all the families who were on the list to receive the dinners.
It was kind of frustrating because in order to have everything go smoothly, I required the cooperation of my co-workers, and that didn’t happen. It’s not that they were being deliberately uncooperative, but they just sort of did their own thing without checking with me.
Anyway, in the end, the important thing was that 75 families are going to have a decent Thanksgiving meal this year. And it made me realize that Thanksgiving is only 2 days away! So, if you’re still looking for some good recipes, here are some that will make your Turkey Day feast one to remember. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. May you have a happy, healthy one and, if you’re traveling, get to your destination safely.
Today is National Homemade Bread Day. Making homemade bread is a beautiful thing and I often wish I had more time to do it. I thoroughly enjoyed the bread-baking class at the Natural Gourmet Institute and the students made some gorgeous loaves. Check out the photos HERE. You can also get the recipe for Whole Wheat Poppyseed Bread there, too (seen in photo on the right).
And because the holidays are coming up, here’s a recipe for Braided Challah Bread, courtesy of Bread-recipe.com.
Braided Challah Bread
2 (1/4-ounce) packages active dry yeast or 5 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water (105°F to 115°F / 40°C to 45°C) – divided use
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 tablespoons corn oil
3 large eggs – divided use
4 3/4 cups all-purpose or bread flour – divided use
3 tablespoons poppy or sesame seeds
- In a small bowl, combine yeast, 1/2 cup warm water and sugar. Leave it in a warm place for 5 minutes.
- Beat the rest of warm water with salt, corn oil, 2 eggs, yeast and 2 1/2 cups flour in a separate bowl. Beat often for 5 minutes or until elastic. Stir in 2-1/4 cups more flour gradually, working flour into dough thoroughly.
- Turn flour onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic. In a greased bowl, put dough and turn to coat the top. Use a plastic wrap to cover and leave it to rise in a warm place for an hour or until doubled.
- Prepare 2 cookie sheets and grease with oil.
- Deflate dough and knead for 1 minute. Divide into 6 portions and roll each one into equal 15-inches long. Make 2 braids using 3 strands for each. Cover with a dish towel and leave it to rise for 45 minutes or until doubled.
- Prepare the oven to 375 degrees F preheat settings.
- Whisk the egg and brush it over the loaves in an upward motion. Sprinkle top with seeds and bake for 35 minutes. Loosely cover with foil if it appears to brown too fast. Cool over wire racks when done.
- Makes 2 loaves.
Spas used to be thought of as “fat camps,” where people who were of a jolly size would go to slim down and get healthy. Sometimes “spa” was euphemism for mental institution (of course, well-to-do people went to spas; everyone else went to the “nut farm”). Today, the word “spa” connotes something completely different. They are places where people go to indulge themselves, to pamper themselves, to make them feel human again. Or better than human.
However, spas do still have weight-loss and wellness programs. Those are the spas where people go to for several days or even weeks. They are usually luxurious resorts (or part of luxurious resorts) that are designed to make guests feel as if they have won the lottery and taken a jet to another world (I guess for some lucky people, it’s just another weekend getaway).
And, of course, cuisine is a huge part of that. Back in the day, spa meals were low fat, low calories, low sodium, low flavor, low appeal, low satisfaction. I can just imagine how much cheating went on when all one got for dinner was a bowl of clear broth, a plate of alfalfa sprouts with half a celery stick, and a prune for dessert. Okay, I’m exaggerating. But not by much. Today, spas aim to not only get people healthy and teach them the ways of healthy eating, but also to sate hunger and please all the senses.
It’s also a lucrative career path for chefs, because health consciousness (is that the right term?) is growing exponentially. So, the Natural Gourmet Institute includes spa cuisine in the curriculum. Here’s what we made in class the other day.
Yellow Squash Soup
Garden Bouquet Salad
Roasted Garlic Dressing
Minnesota Wild Rice Salad
Fish en Papillote
Mushroom Consommé (with and without clarification)
Vegetable Polenta Napoleons
Phyllo Tart with Fresh Berries (one with tofu cream, one with yogurt cream)
Fruit Skewers with Chocolate Sauce
I made the zucchini soup and phyllo pastries with tofu cream.
This was one of the most time-consuming menus we’ve had to make so far, because each dish had several separate components. For example, the zucchini soup required getting the vegetable stock ready (although we had homemade stock available, it was frozen, so it had to be simmered in a pot), cooking the vegetables, pureeing the soup in batches, and making an herb puree to blend into it. Not really that complicated, but when you’re trying to make a multi-step pastry at the same time, it becomes a little bit of a challenge. One of my classmates sampled the soup and said that it just tasted like vegetable mush to her, but I think it was really the texture that gave her that impression. The recipe called for 6 tablespoons rolled oats to be added to the soup as a thickener, which gave it viscosity that could very well remind some of baby food. In fact, that’s exactly how someone else described it. However, I thought it tasted pretty good and others thought so, too. I poured it into a white bowl and garnished it with a basil leaf and a leek knot.
The tofu cream for the pastries really took a chunk of my time. It required blanching the tofu, processing it with other ingredients, cooking agar (which takes a while), making a kuzu slurry and adding it the agar, then adding that to the tofu. Tofu is a tough thing to make into a tasty cream, so there was a lot of adjustment, and then it had to set.
We were to present our plates at 3:00. At around 2, I started to panic because the soup was taking a lot longer than I’d expected. I’d made the tofu cream but I had not yet even started with the phyllo dough, which can be a painstaking process, depending on how cooperative the phyllo is. Luckily, I only had to layer 3 sheets and cut them into squares. The instructor took over that part, so that by the time they were ready to go into the oven, I was free from the soup and could continue the process.
One of my classmates, Angie, was doing the other version of phyllo pastries (with the yogurt cream) and almost burned hers (but she pulled them out just in time before crossing that line). So I watched my phyllo in the oven like a hawk and they came out perfectly. Luckily, Angie has such an artistic way and an eye for beautiful design, so her pastries came out gorgeous. She also did the fruit skewers with chocolate sauce and her presentation was fabulous. (She makes clothing for a living, so what else could I expect?)
The seeming simplicity of the final products was deceiving. A lot of work went into those dishes. But I think the class did an awesome job. Everything was delicious. But I didn’t expect anything less.
On November 1, I was fortunate enough to attend the Día de los Muertos Fiesta at the James Beard House. Día los Muertos means Day of the Dead, and it is a holiday that originated in Mexico to honor loved ones who have died. It is connected to the Catholic holidays of All Souls’ Day and All Saints’ Day, and is most characterized by the use of “sugar skulls”—beautifully decorated edible skulls. This has become a tradition of Día de los Muertos artwork, which is often stunning in its use of color and geometric patterns. Food is a big part of the holiday, as it is offered to the dead, as well as the living in a lavish feast.
There were 6 passed hors d’oeuvres at the cocktail reception. At dinner, there were 5 entrees, and a few desserts. So, the good thing is that they give you your money’s worth and even if you don’t like everything on the menu, you will surely find at least a few things that would satisfy your palate. Plus, they usually serve a different wine, beer, or other beverage with each course.
By the same token, it’s not a cheap dinner, and it behooves one to try and enjoy as much of it as possible. At the risk of sounding judgmental, from the couple of times I had dinner there, I can say that the clientele is usually well heeled. But there are those, like me, who would not be able to pull together, or justify, the money needed for a meal at James Beard regularly, but who, once in a while, want and need to indulge themselves with a fabulous culinary experience in a place that is legendary in the food world.
The cost for dinners vary, but usually they are well over $100 for both members and non-members. I was able to eat there the first time because I was there as a journalist (and, therefore, it was free) and this time because I have a student membership, which gains me entry at a still-steep $55.
I found myself eating things that I would not have normally eaten. Aside from the fact that I was a vegetarian for so many years, there are certain meats that I never liked so never ate in the first place. But I was going to get my money’s worth. And, on a non-monetary level, I don’t get many opportunities to experience haute cuisine, so when I do, I try everything—just because. So here’s my assessment of this great meal.
Slow-Roasted Goat Tlacoyos with Watercress and Goat Cheese Crema. I didn’t even know this was goat. It wasn’t goaty. It was tender and coated in a delicious sauce and was made beautiful by a fluff of microgreens, giving it freshness and lightening up the richness of the meat.
Blue Corn Sopes with Refried Black Beans, Corn–Tomatillo Salsa, and Cotija Cheese. There’s such an earthy quality about blue corn that really makes you feel like you’re partaking of something ancient and revered. It’s always a nice counterbalance to black beans and spicy salsa. This was a vegetarian’s Mexican dream.
Red Chile Sopes with Coconut–Habanero Shrimp and Cured Red Onions. I’m not crazy about seafood, but I gave this one a go. It had a spicy-sweet flavor that was complex and covered any sea flavors that don’t usually appeal to me. The coconut-chile sauce was mildly reminiscent of Southeast Asian dishes, but it had its own Latin twist.
Octopus Alambres with Poblano Peppers, Pearl Onions, and Lemon Vinaigrette. I couldn’t bring myself to try this one.
Oaxacan Cheese Albóndigas with Anchoberry Barbecue Sauce. These were meatballs skewers, and I thought they were beef at first. I found out they were lamb. I don’t eat lamb because a) they’re too cute and b) it’s too gamey. I was stunned to find that I actually liked them. They were tender and the barbecue sauce was so sweet and delicious that I was tempted to eat more. But I refrained. I just couldn’t do it.
Calabasa Soup with Toasted Chile Pepitas, Piloncillo, and Canella. This soup was FABULOUS. They served this in tall shot glasses with the pepitas sitting on top. The calabasa was sweet and smooth and had just the right amount of seasoning. Then that little crunch at the end as you toss it back is so satisfying. I had 3 of those.
Hiramasa Ceviche with Kiwi, Lime Sorbet, and Melon Vinaigrette. I’m not crazy about fish and anyone who knows me knows that sushi/shashimi and I are not bosom buddies. But I tried a piece and I must say, it was quite good. Light and not fishy at all. The kiwi, lime, and melon all gave it such a light, fresh taste, the fish almost seemed like a slice of fruit. This was accompanied by a cucumber margarita, which was also refreshing while having a definite margarita flavor.
Chicken Tostada with Avocado, Sea Urchin Crema, and Salsa Borracha. This was an interesting interpretation of a tostada. The chicken was tender and flavorful but made almost buttery by the slices of avocado that were wrapped around it. The “tostada” was a crispy ribbon holding up the other elements. It was playful and creative.
Chile Meco Relleno: Pork, Black Currant, Pine Nut, Almond, and Green
Olive–Stuffed Meco Chile. As expected, this dish was somewhat spicy, but not unbearably so. Meco chiles were stuffed with shredded pork, which was extremely tender. The almonds had a sweet coating and were a least crisp contrast to the almost creamy stuffing.
Seared Striped Bass with Smoked Bacon–Black Bean Broth, Poblano Peppers, and Güero Chilies. I hate to say it, but the sea bass, as beautiful as it looked, was a bit dry and bland. This is not just me saying this; several of my table mates said it as well. This was probably the only dish that disappointed, but only by a little.
Braised Pork Belly with Calabaza Tamale, Nopales–Pomegranate Salad, Fried
Cheese, and Mole Negro. The tamale was so incredibly delicious. They made it easy to eat by bundling the corn husks into candy shapes (tied at the ends) with an opening on the top. The calabaza was perfectly seasoned and had a sweet-spicy profile. The Nopales–Pomegranate Salad on top was an interesting use of nopales, and the fried cheese came in the surprising form of little croutons. Pork belly is another thing I would never have eaten (just the name alone turns me off), but, going with the flow, I tried it. It practically melted in my mouth. What can I say?
Dessert Duo: Dulce de Leche Budino and Plantain–Cinnamon Napoleon. The budino. Wow. This dessert, a parfait of cream and dulce de leche, was outrageous. It was creamy, smooth, and sweet without being cloying. There were little crunchy things on top and when they brought all the chefs out at the end, someone asked about what the little crunchy things were. The chef who made them said that they were duck cracklings, baked with sugar and vinegar and sweetened with Stevia. I was floored. The crunchies were sweet and almost maple-y. The Napolean was delicious, too, but next to the budino, it paled.
Chefs’ Collaborative Dessert:
Plantain-Crusted Chocolate–Mulato Chile Truffles
Pecan Shortbread Cookies with Powdered Sugar
Miniature Pan de Muerto with Tangerine Marmalade
Of all these, my favorite was the pecan shortbread cookies. It was just these little one-bit morsels that was crumbly, nutty, and tender. The other desserts held their own, though. The pan de muerto was a little dry but the flavor of rosewater was delicate rather than overpowering.
Coffee service included a selection of teas, which were brought to the table in this beautiful wood box, and the selection made me feel like a kid trying to choose a toy. I finally settled on Organic African Nectar, fruity and floral.
And, so, with a round of applause for the chefs, a few nice-to-meet-yous to my table mates, I left the James Beard House and headed home, full, sated, and inspired.
For information on the James Beard House and to check out their schedule of events, click HERE.
On this day, November 5, 1986, the James Beard House opened in New York City. James Beard was a chef, author, cooking TV show host in the 19402) and a culinary educator, bent on introducing the world to the joys of cooking. He died in in 1985 at the age of 82. A year later, many of his friends, including Julia Child, turned his home into a public space for culinary events and the James Beard Foundation was founded. JBF gives scholarships (of which I am a recipient) and James Beard Awards, given in many categories, such as Best New Restaurant, Best Cookbook, Best Food Writing, etc. In the culinary world, receiving a JB award is like winning an Oscar.
The townhouse in the West Village is an interesting space. You go down a few steps and to the right is the reception room/shop. To the right of that is a passage that leads to the kitchen, which then leads out to an atrium-like back room, with glass ceiling and a glass outer wall that looks out into the lovely sitting garden.
That back room was obviously an extension because the inside wall looks like the outside of a house: painted brick half wall, pipes, trellis-style wood on the upper wall. In that room, there is a staircase that leads up to the dining room. There are a set of stairs that lead up when you first walk into the house, too, but I don’t know where exactly that leads, since I’ve never been up there.
Although it is now a public space and the main office of a foundation, it still looks like a home. Many of the original furnishings and touches remain and you can almost picture James Beard sitting there in front of his fireplace, or browsing his incredible library of books.
Events at JB House give talents chefs a chance to show off their skills. Sometimes the dinners are a showcase for a particular chef/restaurant; sometimes the meals are collaboration from different chefs from different restaurants. But the chefs’ dishes are built around a theme. I was there the other day for a Día de los Muertos Fiesta event, a brilliant dinner composed of numerous dishes that left me not only full and satisfied, but lifted and inspired. I’ll be telling you about that in another blog.
I’m very grateful to the James Beard Foundation for choosing me as a scholarship recipient and for being instrumental in making the culinary arts a respected and enviable profession and pastime.
For more information about James Beard, visit the James Beard Foundation site.
Last week, my Friday Night Dinner group at the Natural Gourmet Institute did our first FND run-through. The appetizer, entrée, and dessert teams went about their tasks. My team is the entree team and we experienced two glitches.
Our menu is Peruvian and the main part of the entire meal is a Peruvian causa, which is a multi-layered pie. There are 4 layers and each one was, and will be, prepared by a different person. What this meant was that the level of seasoning was individual; that is, we really didn’t know would these elements taste when they came together. The result was that the causa was salty. Each person salted their layer to peak flavor; unfortunately, when assembled, the seasoning was overdone.
The other issue was plating. We really struggled with it. When we first tried it, we assembled the causa in a terrine mold. This time, we assembled it in a half hotel pan because we decided to make squares from which we would make triangles for a more interesting plating. We also decided that the potato layer in the terrine mold was too much, so we used half. But in a half hotel pan, the dimensions were a completely different thing. We needed to go back to the original amount of potatoes. However, the squares were huge and even the individual triangles were huge.
Outside of the kitchen in the “dining area” sat the judging panel, made up of several school instructors. We had to plate and serve by 3:00. While the appetizer group got their plates together and served, and the dessert people were well on their way to finishing their plating, we in the entrée group continued to shift, move, turn, flip, and play with the causa. When we finally decided on a position, we had to decide on how to plate the rest of the components. We finally got our plates out and I really sweated the judges’ opinions.
After the instructors were done, we made plates for ourselves and sat around the table to go over the menu with our FND chef. For the most part, everything went over well, but there were a few items that we needed to test again, including the causa. I knew this already, since there were so many things that we needed to iron out. But even if it had come out perfect, I would’ve wanted to test it again because it is the centerpiece of the menu, the star of the show, and it needs to be excellent. I breathed a sigh of relief, though, when she said that the instructors really liked the presentation.
We will be testing the causa and certain things out again in a couple of weeks. I really hope we nail it this time.