Archive | August 2016

8/30/16

Today is my busiest day of the week–Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, I only have a single class each while Tuesdays I have two lecture classes a couple hours after the first. I considered going back home last week, but during the drive back to school (which my mom did since I had car trouble, so no need to worry about parking), the middle school also gets out and since none of them drive yet, their parents have to pick them up. I figured I could use this time to update Chef’s Delight even though I have a quiz tomorrow night over stuff I wouldn’t ace if I took it at this very moment, but it’s not like I have just a little bit to talk about. This is cooking school, so there’s a lot to cover, even with the list of lessons or thoughts I made.

Still, my priorities venture elsewhere in this lonely habitat of cyberspace. It’s difficult though–since my parents are still out of town, I had to leave the dogs home and it’s for the entire day this time. They’re big boys, so I know they’ll be fine. We’ve done that before when visiting relatives a couple hours away, so they can survive. (Probably sit around, napping all day.) I left them with two bowls full of food and a large bowl of water. They have plenty of room to run around and play in the kitchen, and their bathroom crate is right in the corner and they know to go there (for the most part). I also left the lights on in order to keep a sense that they’re not alone. I should probably devote at least an hour of studying though, so I’ll try to make this quick with the stuff I do have written down:

When I look for recipes either on Facebook or the Food Network app, I realize I either have or should start to find something that can cater (no pun intended) to my specific needs as a culinary arts student when I make food for the family. If I need to practice chopping methods, salad might be the way to go. Not only do I have to be a better recipe hunter, but I also need to think about what I still need to learn while I have people who can teach me in the professional setting.

One small thing that I noticed while chopping in Knife Skills was how long my nails were. The way they determine if it’s short enough is if you look at your palms; if you can see the nails over your fingertips, then they’re too long. For me, when I’m cutting and using my non-dominant hand in the claw position (pretend you’re holding an egg), my nails feel like they dig into the food and that’s not exactly comfortable. That’s why I cut them a few days ago–it just feels more sanitary that way too, because scrubbing your hands for 20 seconds doesn’t guarantee you get every little piece of dirt out from under those nails.

If you’re a reader who either studies everything I say or at least skims through my entries, then you’ll be familiar with one of my biggest questions in cooking: when you have to cut a recipe in half, is time also affected? For example, if I have to cook 2 cups chicken broth, but want to cut that down by half, obviously I’d have to cook just 1 cup, but would it take as long? That’s a really stupid example because the obvious answer is, yes, it would take less time to cook, but you get the idea, right? If a recipe says to bake three chicken parmesans, does that heat affect all three with the same amount of heat as if I’d bake one? There, that’s a better example: would I have to punch in a shorter time for just one chicken instead of all three? The official answer was “yes, but not always.” It depends on the ingredients, temperature, and I think even what tools/appliances I use.

This morning, I also came up with a new study technique that probably won’t catch on: spending each night at the awkward stage when you’re already in bed, but waiting to fall asleep…flipping through the material you need to know. Not skimming, but actually reading and processing all the information–soaking it all in repeatedly everyday so you gain more retention. I’ve heard that the brain either is a muscle or it’s like a muscle; you need to exercise it everyday so it can get stronger.

I have a quiz early tomorrow morning, so that doesn’t do me much good at this point, but it’s a theory. I take photos of everything I think I need to know from the textbook–diagrams, tables, photos, side definitions, etc.–and so I just have to swipe left when I’m done with the page. (Anyone else think of Tinder just now, because of the “swipe left” thing? I’ve only used it once, but don’t have it anymore, but because of that app, the only thing that my generation at least, applies the act of swiping left to that social network. Sorry. Sidetrack.)

Anyways, then, on weekends at around the same time you’ve been looking over the material, quiz yourself on what you remember. Then, if you need to look at it again, it’s right there.

I also made Key Lime Pie last night. I’d gotten home from class and was like, “I’m probably set for dinner”–which was rice, steak, and salad–“so if I want to make something, it should probably be dessert. I want cake. Or at least pie.” So I flipped through the Tasty app (which needs improvements), the Food Network app, NY Times Cooking app, even some new ones I just signed up for called Kitchenbowl and Yum-Yum. I wanted something delicious yet simple. I aimed for what was easier because I’d already spent a good hour on it and I was starving.

 

I tried following the recipe exactly, but I feel like there was too much graham cracker involved. I remember from last time I made a pie crust using these exact same crackers, but they didn’t use the entire box, but the recipe told me to. That’s why I added the top garnish, and that was about half of what was left of the crust and I wanted to use as much as I could.

The butter also seemed scarce. Also, tip: butter pops in the microwave so make sure to cover it. I didn’t think it was too important even though that wasn’t the first time I’ve microwaved butter. Oh, I still have yet to clean the kitchen… Tomorrow after class. Maybe. I hope.

Anyway, you see how the crust didn’t stick together very well? Otherwise, it was good though! That’s what matters, right? And apparently there’s a difference between lime juice and key lime juice. We had two bottles of lime juice so I just substituted with that and, honestly, it tastes exactly the same. I think. My tastebuds aren’t quite trained enough to be able to distinguish that.

Speaking of training your tastebuds, in this morning’s class, one of the activities is to taste basically an entire pallet of all five or six flavors. (The sixth one is oleogram or something, which is the oily, rancid taste.) Through experience, I learned that often times, you can correct something if it’s too bland by adding something to literally spice it up a notch. This may have been obvious, but it goes deeper than that: the lesson was to try something else besides salt to un-bland a dish. I can’t tell you any more since I left my notes in my locker at the culinary building across the street and my memory sucks. I’ll fill you in next time, if I remember, but like I said: my memory sucks.

Back on track, the next point on my list was the PCB quiz I told you about (probably): it took about ten minutes total and we went over the answers after we turned them in. I got 10/10 and two of them were guesses! Although I don’t suppose they were guesses, since they were mostly multiple choice, but he was very flexible on the answers: if it was multiple choice and one of the answers was very close in theory, he accepted both.

The questions were really easy too and only like two of them covered sanitation while, like, four covered weights/measurements, which are both what he said they were on. The rest of the questions were about cooking eggs. One of the questions was literally “list three types of eggs we learned to cook in class.” I’m just like, “Take your pick.” Just list all the basic breakfasts where the egg is the main ingredient and you’ve got your answers right there.

One question that I’m still kicking myself for missing was one of the extra credits. There were two, and one of them was a measurement one that was like “how many oz. in a pound?” I recalled the number 32 somewhere so I took my chances and wrote that down. Turned out to be 16. I feel like that’s close, considering you just have to double to get my answer.

The big question that really got me described how to cook something. We had to answer with what the dish was. I knew that it was clarified butter, but for some reason, I can never think of the word “clarified”. I knew it started with a “c”, but I couldn’t picture what it was called: “Chlorinated?” “Colonized?” “Classified?” My brain was even convinced it was “Solidified”… I mean, at least it was an extra credit question, so I didn’t get any points off for leaving it blank. Maybe I should’ve written down “butter” with an underscore right before it, just to imply that I knew what it was, but couldn’t think of the word. Then I’d at least get .5 extra credit.

I also wondered why some classes were at least five hours long and others were two or two-and-a-half. It took actually attending all of my classes that first week, to realize that the regular-lengthed classes are– how is “-lengthed” not a word?–are actually straightforward lectures. No kitchen work is done because it’s just like any other class that involves an actual classroom with pen and paper. The stinkin’ long ones involve cooking and it takes a lot of time to cook and clean. For us, we have to devote at least half an hour to cleaning up the kitchen, even with everyone working together.

And final point even though I know I have lots of other things to say: so right now is around the same time where I felt really overwhelmed last week about everything happening at once. I was depressed and unsure if this was what I wanted to do and even considered dropping everything. Of course, I didn’t do that because smart, sane me said, “Wait a few more days and you’ll be over it. Soon, waking up at 6AM won’t be such a big deal to you. You just jumped into real life too quickly.” So fortunately, that’s all it was. I do get excited when working in the kitchen, especially with my classmates, who help out a lot. As long as this is the main feeling and it lasts all day, that’s fine.

I know there’s a lot more to say on that, but we’re down to one hour left and I should look over the material for tomorrow’s quiz. Not that I have anything on my person to study over, but that’s why some dude invented the Internet!

We cook everyday now and we’ve gotten more into how the kitchen works on a regular day, but I’m still making mistakes, which I know is fine since it’s school: we’re there to make mistakes and learn from them. I’ll see if I can list each one and talk about it next time too.

Till then, break an egg!

For the record, all this took, like, two hours, which surprises me. It feels like only an hour has passed.

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8/28/16

Sure, I make the perfect steak meal when my parents are out of town, so they miss the whole thing! The green beans were crunchy yet juicy, which is how I like it, and the steak was the perfect level of medium-rare. All it took was skipping the steaming step for the vegetables (they were prewashed, so I figured it was okay to jump in) and I just flipped the meat when I thought it was ready. I read in The Food Lab that the number of times you flip the meat matters, and that one turn was better than repetition.

I don’t have much time because I have a quiz tomorrow morning, so here it is: 

I learned that when you set up the plate, presentation is part of the art of cooking, so you even have to be deliberate on which side of the meat will be showing. We went over this in the egg portion of the lab: always show the side of the food that looks prettier. I also tried to practice the veggie 50, meat/grains 25 plate setting, in case that wasn’t evident enough.

Today was also laundry day and when I shoved my coat in the wash, I forgot that I had four pens hooked onto it… Only two bled out (somehow even though they all came out closed and intact): the pink and black. The pink ink came out real easily and it was only evident in my coat, so I just needed to wash that and my cap once more and they came out fine. I had to spray stuff onto the black-and-white checkered pants and white apron. Now, the pants, I’m not too worried about because not even they care how it looks as long as the stains aren’t too visible and we don’t use our pants to cook, since their priority is sanitation and presentation. The apron was the biggest problem, but fortunately the stains are on one side, and with the way we put it on, we fold it in half and then tie it around our waist, so it creates a double-layer. I just need to show the better layer. I might eventually have to go to the store for another apron. That is, unless someone out there has a suggestion on how to get it out, I am very open to your ideas.

I left the pens in the laundry room, so watch me forget them and go to class without a writing utensil again. You know what? I’ll just put a couple more pens in my backpack, just in case.

Well, gotta go! Break an egg!

8/27/16

Previously on Chef’s Delight: I have the house to myself for about a week, so that means I’m in charge of my own food. In turn, that also means that there will probably be more entries, or at least more paragraphs in these entries. That would make me excited, except I’m also back in school, which starts early in the day for four days straight, meaning I won’t be devoting my nighttimes to these updates, hence dedicating all weekday updates to Fridays, which is my day off.

For lunch, I just had ramen noodles. I wanted to make something for dinner, but I didn’t know what I was in the mood for, yet at the same time, didn’t know what I just felt like cooking. I combed through the videos on Facebook, but I just found mostly the same things since I didn’t want to go to the beginning of each page, trying to find something appetizing and worth trying out. I tried the cooking apps on my phone, but nothing really stuck to my interests.

That’s when I decided that maybe steak was an option. We don’t have it in our fridge, so I would have had to go out and buy it. That’s when I said, “Screw it, there’s still a whole raw chicken breast left from yesterday, so I’ll just eat that like a steak with a side of rice and the leftover salad.” It was a variation of last night’s dinner, which was just a chicken salad (it was very simple, so not worth discussing).

I didn’t want to fry it this time because I always end up burning the top and bottom, waiting for the internal temperature to turn 160°F. Instead, I looked up how to bake a single chicken breast and most of them said 30 minutes at 400°. Looking at that one chicken piece, I didn’t want it to be dull, so I added some lemon juice directly to the pan and then after inserting the meat, sprayed a little bit on top. Then, I added some cilantro (which one of my Facebook friends was complaining about yesterday for some reason?) in each corner of the dish. I covered it with plastic wrap and let it marinate for about 15 minutes (until the oven finished preheating) and then baked for half an hour.

(Are you supposed to cover it with foil when you bake it though? I didn’t even think to, but I see them do it all the time in the videos. How significant is it in this process?)

Toward the end, the only portion of the cheese that burned was the outline of the chicken, which was completely white and maybe very slightly uncooked. Like a teeny tinge of pink was still visible. When I looked at the meat thermometer, it said, like, 161°F or something, so I figured it was close enough, since the safe number is 160° or 165°, right?

Isn’t she a beaut? I know that on a balanced plate, veggies are supposed to take up half the plate while the grains and protein each take up their own quarter, but who’s counting?

Again, the chicken was total improv. I used garlic salt on the chicken before putting it in the oven because I freaking love it, especially more than regular salt.

As far as the lemon juice goes, I’m predicting that I added approximately a tablespoon of it total maybe? I’m a horrible guesser when it comes to volume. For the cheese, I can safely say that I used up 1/2 cup. I just wanted enough to completely coat the entire chicken breast.

Well, that was dinner! Quick and sweet. Speaking of sweet, when I had the cucumber with the Fuji apple salad dressing (courtesy of Panera Bread), I couldn’t help but notice that it tasted like a green apple-flavored lollipop. It was just that first taste though, so it was probably the dressing, but I specifically tasted the lollipop, not just some other apple-related food.

Anywho, break an egg!

8/26/16: Culinary School

Welcome back! Since I just got into cooking school and that means I’ve been cooking, of course I have a lot to update you on. The problem with that is classes start as early as 7:00 AM and since I love my sleep, I have to devote at least eight hours. So because I would probably need at least an hour to get ready and get to the place, that means my alarm is set for six o’clock. The last time I had to wake up that early was high school. I mean, college classes started as early as 8:30 when I went in Michigan, which I thought was bad enough. All I had to do was wake up at 8:00 and went out the door by 8:20 since I could just walk to class from my dorm.

Because classes start so early for me (7:30 Mondays and Tuesdays; 7:00 Wednesdays and Thursdays), I decided to update you every Friday, especially for this first week, since the outside world sort of hit me so suddenly after an entire year of nothingness at home. In fact, on Tuesday, I felt so overwhelmed about it that I considered dropping altogether. I had an internal panic attack to the point where I texted my best friend and a guy friend who understands this feeling, just to get some comfort–an assurance that this was normal because I was jumping into an actual life so soon. Of course, they told me all this and I felt better knowing that my assumptions were correct: that this was just a mood because I was being hit with all this responsibility at once.

I think on Wednesday, I just told myself that even if I end up deciding not to go into cooking as a career after all–well, I need to eat too, so I’ll know how to prepare my own dishes professionally. Well, even if cooking isn’t my ultimate dream, I still love to do it and I’m apparently good at it even though I’m still learning, and I think documenting as much as I can is really helping, thanks to my passion for writing.

On the very first day, I had Professional Cooking Basics with Chef Michael. He’s an older gentleman, but he’s been cooking almost his whole life, so he has a lot to teach us. When we first stepped into the kitchen to cook, it was eggs. A whole lotta eggs. We needed to make sunny side up, over-easy, scrambled, omelet, and poached eggs. Before this class, I could at least make the first three. I’d never made the latter two however. I’ve seen all of them done before, of course, but it’s different when you’re the one actually doing it.

I chose to keep them all in one plate for the sake of dishwashing (which takes place in a room called the “scullery”, which is called that because it’s just what the Navy called it and the name stuck…according to Chef Michael anyway). I haven’t had a job in the scullery so far, but since our little kitchen teams (of six people) switch off cleanup duties each day, I haven’t personally gotten a job in there. That’s why I only know how to leave dishes there unless they are knives. The rule is to never leave a knife unattended in the scullery, especially under bubbly water, so if we need to wash a knife, we have to do it ourselves.

On the day I felt down, which was only the second day in, I was annoyed by everyone. I didn’t show it or anything–I tried to be polite and open, and all that. The only thing I could mentally ask them was, How could you be so happy being here? Why don’t you feel the way I do about this? Are you really excited to be here?

Well, that feeling fortunately died down soon for me. It took a day or two, but hopefully the same thing won’t happen during Week 2, because I’m not sure I can survive seven more weeks of this. I know I just need the time to get past the bad mood each time, but there’s only so much that one person can take.

You know, it’s funny in a twisted way: I was miserable those two days, but that’s about all I can say about it. During the lectures, I was thinking of what to say for this entry once I finally had the opportunity to allow everything to pour out, but now…nothing. I suppose that’s a good sign. It might mean that I haven’t felt that way most recently, so I forgot what else needs to be said about it.

Anyway, a lot of more culinary thoughts came to mind during each session in the kitchen, like “how do the home cooks on Master Chef know what to make after receiving an impromptu dish?” There was one episode where everyone was supposed to make lemon meringue pie and I replied, “Well…I’m out. I wouldn’t know where to begin.” At the time, I still thought that the “meringue” part was just whipped cream, but no–it was just heavily beaten egg whites. I’d always thought that they get the recipes the night before to study with, which makes sense if you want to keep the show flowing well. I suppose that could still be the case, but I don’t see a lot of those chefs being good actors. Then again, it’s a reality show–some of it is scripted.

Also, in a professional kitchen, is just one chef in charge of the entire dish or are there specific stations devoted to separate tasks? I know that’s probably something I’ll learn toward the end of this semester, but it’s sort of something I’d like to know now so I have a better idea of what to expect. I suppose I could try to get back in touch with the personal chef I’ve been meaning to have coffee with, but she hasn’t responded to my previous email.

So in summation of what I learned in Week One: Monday was PCB with Chef Michael and it was mostly class orientation stuff and then a tour of the kitchens and scullery. We didn’t walk into the baking scullery since they have their own and we don’t work with baking, since that’s a completely separate class. Then we went over egg introductions and he showed us how to make these types: over-easy, sunnyside up, scrambled, omelet, poached, and hard-boiled. The latter two were done altogether in our groups since they involved one large pot (per group, I mean). I couldn’t take a photo since no phones were allowed in the entire first floor where the kitchen is and rules are rules for a reason. In this case, not only is it a distraction, but smartphones have way more bacteria than toilet seats. I actually saw the BuzzFeed video where a college professor swabbed both surfaces and the side of the petri dish which housed the iPhone’s germs…ew. They were basically having their own party. Here’s the video if you’re in the mood to be grossed out enough to never want to touch your phone again (or at least swab it clean every night with sanitizer): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67S4SBuYQEw

So that’s why no phones in the kitchen! You’re supposed to wash your hands whenever you can: after you touch your face or hair, between separate tasks, even between similar foods, especially raw meat. Not only is it disgusting, but it’s a serious health hazard and we watched that video on Tuesday actually, for a different class (appropriately, it was Sanitation & Safety class) and that was the day I had my minor freak-out. Part of the reason was because my personal hygiene is already poor enough to the point where I’m wondering, what if my laziness gets to me and I get someone sick? It didn’t help that in that S&S class, the professor also shared a recent article about a chef at an Indian restaurant who never told anybody else that he switched to peanut oil and a customer specifically said “no peanuts” in his order because he was deathly allergic. I’m sure you can see where this is going, so now the chef has to spend four years (I think) in prison for that one fatality. I make mistakes like that all the time and fortunately it has never cost a life or gotten anyone sick. I know my own mind though: I’ll get lazy in letting someone know I made a little change or I don’t read the ingredients on the label of a new ingredient I want to try. In fact, I’m so forgetful that I’ll gather all this information, but never connect the dots and serve a customer something specifically said they were allergic to.

This is a lot of what I panicked about when I texted my mental blowout to my friends during break. I mean, I’ve calmed down about it since then, of course. I actually put on my Advice Columnist’s shoes and told myself to look at the big picture: if I start these germaphobic habits now and train myself to pay closer attention to the ingredients on the label, then I shouldn’t worry at all. It’ll become second nature once I step into an actual professional kitchen.

Speaking of “germaphobe”, I actually wrote that down in the Sanitation/Safety handout they passed out at PCB: they listed all the steps for a complete handwashing technique and I wrote, “Basically, think like a germaphobe.” That’s basically what you have to do, right? You want to avoid contamination at all cost, and the only way to do that is have that obsessive cleaning mentality.

The good thing about the S&S information is it’s pretty much identical between all the classes, so the quizzes over that should be a piece of cake…which I will probably learn how to properly bake in about eight weeks when I start Intro to Baking :P.

To be honest, I’ve reverted back to my old studying habits: skimming the night before. That’s mainly because I don’t want to spend a whole lot of time at night reading when the professors already assume you haven’t read it for that day anyway. I would rather devote my weekend to catching up when I’ve had a breather and can really focus and retain all the information. Let’s just hope I’m right because if not and I actually do have to read each chapter thoroughly, then…jeez…I’ve gotta man up.

Oh, by the way, you remember that highlighting technique I just started? I just highlight all the ingredients that can go into one bowl so I take up less space in the kitchen during prep time and cleanup time. Well, that’s called Mise en Place, which is French for “everything in its place”. Actually, I think what it actually means in culinary terms is setting out each ingredient with the right measurements beforehand, not the putting-it-altogether part.

Which takes me to the other thing I wanted mention about cooking professionally since both of these thoughts have been on my mind ever since I stepped into their kitchen. I never considered how similar it was to surgery. Obviously there’s never any death (for the most part), but you have to scrub in once you get to the kitchen, for a certain period of time longer than normal (in this case the soapy portion takes at least 20 seconds). There’s a lot more science involved than you think–for example, if there’s an unintended grease fire in a pot or pan on the stove, don’t panic and add water to it. Because it’s grease, it’ll just make it even worse and cause an explosion inside the contained area. Instead, try covering it with a metal top first. Then use salt because that apparently cools the temperature (which I found weird since they add salt on the streets during winter if it gets icy…maybe salt is some kind of neutralizer).

Even if you’re not confident enough to do all that, don’t sweat it (no pun intended); someone else will jump in. When cases of emergency like that happen in a professional kitchen, you find that your coworkers will help any way they can (according to the Orientation I had to attend). If there’s a fire or something breaks, other people will help out, which is awesome, since being in the kitchen is like being part of a team.

Also, in S&S, I’m a little less frightened of the class now that I know that A) the professor is so laidback that she admits that she would be singing in order to loosen up the class; and B) the actual quizzes don’t even affect our grade. It is just a review, and I’m not sure if this is her or the class I have right after, which takes place in the exact same classroom, but the professor will correct something on the quiz or homework sheet if it is apparent that we are actually trying. I forget which class this is for since both professors are women and both of these classes are lectures, not labs (kitchen sessions).

I think that other class though, Culinary Arts Survey, is going to be the most fun even though it doesn’t involve any actual cooking. It’s more of an informational class, involving history and how food affects different societies and cultures… During our first class, we learned about the importance of local vs. organic. Basically, we have to support our local farmers by buying their food because they get all the money you pay them. With that money, they can grow better products. It’s sort of a way to give back to the farming community. That’s why one of our writing assignments is to visit a farmer’s market and create a paper with no minimum or maximum limit about our experience there. We don’t have to buy anything, but ask questions and learn more about how this food is grown and prepared or what dishes it would be best used for.

There is also an extra-credit option of any food movie or documentary and writing a critique and describing what we learned. There is a complete list of options somewhere (she didn’t mention where), but I’m considering Julie & Julia. I mean, I’ve already seen it so many times because I relate to Julie Powell so well (obviously you’re aware, if you’re reading this–my very own chef’s blog about my personal cooking experience). I’m just not sure if it’d be any use to critique something I’ve seen numerous times.

I’ve never seen “Ratatouille”, so that’s another option. I really want to though. Now that I have enough money to live carefree again. (I have the house to myself for a week and whenever I do, I only get excited to get singing time because I always forget that whenever my parents go out of town for a few days or more, I get paid to watch the house and dogsit.)

So I think that’s basically all I can say about my experience with Culinary School so far. Then again, there’s probably a lot more I’ve been meaning to bring up, but I’ll remember right after I click “Publish”. Okay, if I do miss a crucial bit of information, I’ll make an actual note of it rather than a mental one, and mention it in next Friday’s entry. Or tonight’s or tomorrow’s. I’m on my own for meals, so I have to survive, which means more cooking updates.

Break an egg! Or in the case of our PCB class, break lots and lots of eggs till you’re all egged out, but get each cooking technique right!

P.S. It didn’t help that at the beginning of Sanitation & Safety, the professor said on her PowerPoint: “Pay attention. Someone’s life may depend on it.”

P.P.S. Now I’m starting to remember tidbits I forgot to mention before: I’m already starting to correct things around the kitchen and teaching my own mother what I learned. For instance: the white vinegar we should be using for cooking is dry white wine vinegar, not distilled, and I know that we use distilled for cooking because I specifically suggested white wine, but Mom said we have distilled, which is fine for cooking. Apparently, it’s not because in order to make distilled vinegar, they use wood or petroleum, neither of which are something you’d want to eat. Also, I taught her the correct way to hold a knife, and that bamboo cutting boards are one of the worst to use. I specifically remember my Knife Skills professor, Chef Mary, saying, “Nonono. Just…no” when someone asked if bamboo boards were good. They’re too weak or something, as evidenced by the broken bamboo board that we have, which is the only wooden board in the house and it actually says “Tropical Bamboo” or something as the label. I remember when I first read that after that lecture, I was like, “Huh…I guess we need a new cutting board.” See? I’m learning and passing on the education to my family, since they were just raised to know this kitchen information–they never got a formal education on it. They just did it. #TheMoreYouKnow

8/21/16

Culinary school starts tomorrow at 7:30AM. I’m a little nervous, but I might be confusing it with excitement. I forgot how much reading was involved in college–mostly because back when I was getting my BA, I may have skipped the reading assignments and allowed other people to be part of the discussion, which is why I was so quiet all the time… I’m aware of the fact that I’ll be doing more reading and memorizing at the beginning though, because we don’t even get to be working hands-on until next semester. 

Some of these classes are more than three hours long, which makes me wonder what if I need snacks? It just occurred to me that since we’ll be cooking, we might be making our own lunches… Maybe. I don’t know how it works yet. 

I also want to spend some time giving myself a tour of the campus even though I plan on being there for less than a year. I tend to use my free time in the piano rooms, so I specifically want to walk through the music/theatre buildings. Actually, they could be the same building, which shows you how little I know about the geography. 

You know what’s funny though? Last time I took classes at a community college, it was when I was in high school, taking American Sign Language and the piano rooms were placed oddly in front of a classroom. I mean, it could have been used mostly as a music classroom, but I just found it weird, but convenient to be placed directly in front of the only classroom I had to be in for that school. I could literally wait till the last minute to enter the classroom.

Anyways, I’m still trying to figure out the kinks. For example, I need specific shoes in the kitchen and I’ve seen professional chefs on TV, so I have an idea how they’re supposed to look. All the syllabi say the exact same thing: black, closed-toe shoes with heels. The problem is, all I have are “character shoes”, but we’re supposed to be prepared to stand for five hours, so I don’t want the heels to be high enough for me to go out on a date in. (I laugh internally at that since I never go out, let alone on a date.)

Also, I know that we all get lockers at the beginning of the year and we’re supposed to keep our stuff inside during class, but what do I do for the first day? Supposedly, we get our assigned lockers then. I don’t know, but I’d better get reading. It’s 9:30PM and I have about three chapters to read and I already have a hard enough time retaining information without TV as background noise. 

Break an egg!

8/18/16

I attempted a double today. Since it was just me, I woke up with lunch as my first meal (I wake up late), which was leftover chicken. I made fresh rice to complement it, but that’s nothing new. Growing up in a completely Asian family, you learn how to do it when you’re young.

Okay, so I didn’t technically wake up at noon; I just got out of bed then. I suppose I woke up at around 9AM? 10AM? Off to a good start, for someone who’s about to start school at 7:30 in the morning, eh?

What I tend to do is flip through my phone, first thing in the morning. Today, I was going through the short cooking videos on Facebook. I went to my usual pages: Tasty, Proper Tasty, Nourish by Tastemade, Food Envy, etc. I even went to the Tasty iPhone app, which isn’t as good, but they have…a lot of recipes, and I only say “a lot” because you can tell that there’s more. I know that I had just visited their Facebook page, but I only went because I figured there was probably an old recipe in my Favorites column in case I felt like trying it out now.

Since it was just going to be me and I have no job and school starts on Monday (I’ll tell you about that next time!), I spent my entire Thursday looking for recipes for dinner and dessert. For dinner, I wanted to go with Proper Tasty’s “Pull-Apart Cheesy Pesto Bread“. I know it’s probably an appetizer or a side, but it was just me and I wanted to try it! Plus, I LOVE PESTO!!!

Then for dessert, I finally wanted to try that Oreo cream puff that I’d seen once before, but forgot if I ever shared the link, so I shared it on Facebook again just in case I missed it or was just too lazy to scroll down. I found it on the Tasty app though: Cookies & Cream Puffs. Oh, and when they list Oreos in the ingredients, they just call it “Chocolate Sandwich Cookies”. When I wrote down the recipe so I could do my usual highlighting of ingredients I can combine during prep, I literally said, “chocolate sandwich cookies (Oreos…they’re called Oreos).” I know they probably couldn’t say it for legal purposes, but just thought a little sass would get you laughing!

I wanted to focus on the dessert first, so I could chill it and it’d be ready by the time I finished dinner. That was a pretty good plan, I think. I went to the grocery store and got everything I needed for both recipes. Well, almost. We ran out of cornstarch, so I knew I had to get it today. Except right when I got to the car, I realized I’d forgotten it. Now, I definitely could have waltzed right back into the store to grab it, but it was sort of too much trouble.

You see, at the entrance, there are always people asking for money for certain things, like charity, a children’s sports team, raising awareness for something. Not the beggars though; they camp out at the perpendicular entrance of the entire shopping complex. Today, it was a couple of young men from the halfway house near my neighborhood. They needed money for…something about kids having a music program.

Usually, I never want to donate money because I don’t have an allowance anymore since my parents are pushing me to get a job. And, plus, I grew up practically in love with music. In high school, I wanted to be a singer. In college, the dream was to be on Broadway. I’m all for their cause. I just wanted to get my things, so I said I didn’t have cash on me and he said that was all right, but I should think about it. So I did my thing inside the store and I was hesitant on leaving the same way since I knew they would still be there. Again, I apologized, but then changed my mind last-minute, remembering I actually did have some cash. While I was digging out my wallet, he said he liked my purse and that his sister had a very similar one. He’d said that just one dollar would have been enough support, but I gave him all the cash I had, which was just $4. I mean, it wasn’t much of a loss for me since I was never going to use that cash anyway, but it still feels good providing those people a second chance at sharpening their artistic tools.

But anyways, back to the current dream: I ended up just going straight home because I saw that you could just substitute cornstarch with flour. Apparently, you just need 3x more flour or 3 extra cups or something like that. I figured, maybe I’ll combine it with corn meal and everything will be okay…

I didn’t use the corn meal. In fact, let’s list everything that went horribly wrong for the dessert portion only:

  1. I think I was supposed to combine the egg yolks, half & half, sugar, and cornstarch (aka flour, apparently) WHILE heating it at low. I made a note to highlight them separately, but I completely forgot, so I combined them all beforehand.
  2. I knew I was supposed to whisk constantly, but stopped to read the directions so there were lumps EVERYWHERE.
  3. The mixture had already mostly thickened by the time I added the cookie cream, so add that to the lumps and you got a hot mess.
  4. And speaking of “hot mess”, the pot turned brown at the bottom. I don’t know if it was because of the heat or the fact that it’s a very old pot, but I just thought I’d make a note of that.
  5. The cream mixture didn’t look anything like the video. It didn’t look like pudding. It looked and tasted more like grits. I tasted it a few times, but thought it was really weird that it didn’t taste sweet even though I specifically ordered “Double Stuf Oreos”.
  6. I forgot to “remove from heat” and thought that came AFTER the four eggs, so basically I ended up with a poop-colored piece of clay with white and yellow specks all over.
  7. I have no idea how to make a piping bag, so I tried making a small hole in the corner of a Ziploc bag. We have the tip, but it didn’t really work. Sticking with the poop analogy, it was like trying to push out a–okay, you probably get the picture already. So instead, I just tried rolling it up myself. It was…hot.

Here it was pre-baking.

Post-ba–OH GOD, I MESSED UP BAD, YOU GUYS! I MESSED UP REAL BAD!!

So take a look at the list of what went wrong there and can you tell me what could have made these puffs…puff? I regretfully threw out the entire thing. I’m definitely not happy about that, but garbage day is tomorrow morning and I didn’t want my parents to come home knowing I’d wasted so much time, money, and ingredients on a failed experiment.

The good one was dinner, so I at least had that to eat tonight. There’s no official recipe written down online except the Proper Tasty comment on the video, which I screenshot: 

There’s something therapeutic about kneading. I don’t know if it’s because it’s fun or you’re just mentally massaging yourself or something, but you can knead all day long and it’s like all your problems are gone. I don’t know, maybe that’s just me and I’m crazy, in which case I would need actual therapy.

The first time I was waiting for it to rise, it didn’t really expand as much as I’d hoped, but the second time was more obvious. I think that was because the rolls were smaller, so the changes looked more drastic.

Fortunately, I have half a bottle of pesto left, which is how much was required for one attempt at this. I can make it again tomorrow truly as a side dish this time, and maybe I can make a classic spaghetti and meat sauce or something. Italian cuisine level: Olive Garden.

Also, I looked up the difference between all-purpose flour and bread flour and my source says that they are very similar, but bread flour has a “greater content” than all-purpose…? I mean…does it matter though? We needed flour so I got our usual all-purpose, so why is the bread flour important? I mean, I get that it’s in order to make bread, but is that really necessary? I always use all-purpose flour for bread anyway, so… I digress.

Does anyone know what “cling film” is? I just used regular plastic film, but I suppose it was clingy. I mean, it stuck onto everything pretty well, like the unwanted ex-girlfriend who’s grown too attached. (Hehe, get it? Because it’s “clingy”?)

The only real issue I had was with the cheese. I don’t think I’ve ever had a dish where the cheese bubbled like it was supposed to. I mean, I could have, but it’s obviously not important enough for me to remember. Last time we had a cheese issue that seemed to jump straight to burning (not that it burned this time), it was the pizza I tried to make from The Blue Bloods Cookbook. It turned out that the pie was just too close to the top of the oven, so we had to set it on the bottom rack.

Or perhaps I just missed the bubbling. I set the timer to the minimum, so I doubt I skipped it, but maybe the bubbling was just for a couple minutes. I think I added a little too much mozzarella cheese though, but I wanted to finish off the bag we had which was a little more than half a cup, I believe.

My parents arrived about an hour after I finished dinner, so I cleaned up the kitchen and washed the dishes (which didn’t seem like a lot, to be honest, even though I tackled two meals in one day). Mom tried one, but Dad took like seven or eight. When he was tasting the first one, he told me it was “meh”, but when I offered him some more on a plate, he immediately said yes. Then, he grabbed a few more pieces to eat upstairs in his office and said, “What? It’s a waste.” That’s sort of an inside joke now, since my mom has (or at least had) a habit of finishing off someone else’s plate, so she’d say, “What? It’s such a waste!”

If I did the math correctly, I had about nine: five during dinner and four leftovers; Mom had one; and there was a total of 18 pieces. That means that Dad shared the other eight rolls with the dogs. Hehe, he liked my cooking this time.

Right before the second rise: 
After it rose, I was like, “OMG, it worked!”

When I might have overdone it with the cheese:

All done!

The “Omnomnom” stage:

So obviously, there were some good moments, and a lot of horrible mistakes I made… I guess that about evens it up and since the good part came last, I’m satisfied with the results. We can just forget the Oreo debacle never happened and start anew tomorrow! Just like the Grilled Cheese thing: I’m not going to stop until I get it right.

Break six eggs! But when you add in the four, take the chocolate mixture off the heat first and then apply them one by one!

8/16/16

I was watching the short cooking clips on Facebook for a chicken recipe similar to the Firecracker Chicken. When they got to the flour step, they placed all the flour into a Ziploc bag and dumped all the chicken pieces and coated them using that. I feel so stupid having struggled with the tongs! I mean, I feel dumb, but at the same time, grateful that I found a solution because that’s what I’m here for: to learn. 

For today’s recipe, it doesn’t really require the bag, but it’s “Here’s dinner tonight… Stuffed Chicken Parmesan”. Okay, that’s not the official title, but that’s what it says on the BuzzFeed Tasty website. We can just call it “Stuffed Chicken Parmesan” for short though ;).

I went over the video several times and didn’t think about how to make that first step work. The people who own those hands on these videos make it look so easy, so I figured it would work out the way they did it. It wasn’t too horrific, but not too perfect either. It turns out you’re supposed to make the slit higher than you’d think. At least, I did. I think you’re supposed to make that slit visible from above, or else it’s weak. I didn’t get to do the Ziploc bag thing because these were whole pieces, so I got to get my hands dirty. 

I was going to use string cheese instead of mozzarella, but then I saw we still had, like, 1.5 cups of mozzarella cheese in the fridge, so I used an entire cup of that. We also have leftover Parmesan even though my mom told me to use the abundance of packets of Parmesan cheese we had from pizza deliveries, which had piled up over time. I spent about five to ten minutes separating these packets from the red pepper flakes packets. 

The pile isn’t too big, but that’s still a lot, since we just collected them all. I didn’t use any of them today though. Maybe next time though. 

Here it is pre-baking.

This is how the green beans turned out.

The chicken is all done.

The finished product.

I was worried about the chicken even though I left it in hot water for ample time, but you can’t often be too sure as you’re cooking it, if you’ve been cooking it long enough.

To be completely frank, it wasn’t too appetizing, but my parents thought it was good. Of course, being my parents, they either want to lie and say it’s good for my feelings, or lie and say it’s bad, yet still tell their friends and close relatives it’s delicious. That’s so confusing, right? Haha.

I think the taste has more to do with the sauce, not to toot my own horn. As you probably saw from the second photo, I bought the sauce, so maybe the issue was the brand? Just didn’t really click with me or my tastebuds. I’ll be sure to try out the brand next to Hunt’s. You hear that, future self? NOT Hunt’s tomato sauce next time, just to see where that goes. 

While shopping for the sauce and fresh herb today (just so you know that the sauce was fresh), they were out of basil, so Mom helped me make a decision about it. She suggested I go with my olfactory senses. She kept smelling all the herbs to see which would be best. I picked out a bouquet of herbs that looked the closest to basil, in my opinion, so I went with cilantro. That’s when Mom said that Dad hates cilantro. So I put it back, but then she changed her mind and told me to try it out anyway to see if he noticed. 

He did. In fact, the first thing he asked was why there was so much cilantro. Like, he specifically said cilantro. The issue wasn’t that I used it, but the amount on the chicken. There was a little gut feeling that told me it might’ve been too much as I was sprinkling it all over, but it looked fine, so I just went with it. 

As the chicken was baking, I’d just remembered I had to add a side, so I cooked some green beans. Didn’t use the recipe this time, but I just predicted the ingredients and then had my mom taste test it. She said it was salty, but advised me not to do anything else about it. I used oyster sauce (which is the star), a bit of warm water, and sugar. I think there’s more to it based on what I remember from the Rachael Ray recipe, but I didn’t want to rely on the recipe at all, hence the taste test. (Update: As I was hunting for the website so I could link it, I took a gander at the list of ingredients. As far as what goes in, I was pretty much dead on. It was just the amount that differed, mainly because I was guessing.)

Might have added too much garlic though. Because of the sauce, it was always clumped together at the center. I wanted to add the equivalent of two or three cloves and, as I’ve said before, I typically use a teaspoon as my go-to measuring device when I want to add garlic that has already been minced: one teaspoon per clove. I know that’s probably not accurate, but I just go with it. This math is definitely incorrect, but this time, to get two or three, I used a tablespoon. Again, probably not accurate, but I’ll find another solution next time, if I don’t have already minced garlic around. 

I realize that some people have a thing about their food touching other food, so I would probably use a plate with separators, in that case, but other than that, it’s pretty good. Again: there was something off about the sauce, in my opinion, which is why I would go with another brand next time. That was my personal experience, but I expected it to come from my parents’ lips too, but Mom said it was good. 

Before I officially sign off, I finally ate the ice cream from Coldstone tonight. I usually get strawberry with gummi bears–I have since I was a little kid. Okay, lying, since I was, like, 18. But look at the little baby bear I got! Isn’t it so cute? I thought it’d be half the entire bear, but no, it’s just a mini! Hello, deformed bear! Omnomnom!  

Break an egg!  (Although now that I’m using up eggs for almost every recipe, maybe I can just sign off with breaking however many eggs for that day. In that case, break SIX eggs! :P)