There’s a lot to cover, especially from the smaller lessons I’ve learned in class, so I’ve decided to post weekly every Friday or Saturday. No worries: I have a little notebook that I carry around, which I’ve started using as a planner (something called a bullet journal?), since cell phones aren’t allowed in any of my classes. It wasn’t that big a sacrifice for me since I love to write, especially in cursive (except that isn’t the font I am using for this personal datebook for some reason).
Well, thanks to my bullet journal, I have just been notified that I have a quiz tomorrow. No big deal, but I should still devote some time to brushing up on a few things since then. I also have to catch up on reading Julie & Julia, which I’ve chosen for my culinary history class. The paper on it is due next week, so hopefully I can immerse myself into it long enough before the irrelevant parts get to me. (No seriously, the first thing she talks about is her struggles to get pregnant, so I’m thinking, Honey, I feel for you, I really do. I love babies just as much as the next maternal soul, but the only eggs I want you to talk about is how to properly cook them as you’ve learned it. I don’t need to know how you got your sexual education from a French sex dictionary, because the only connection that has to your story is the French.)
Anyways, I have an entire section of the bullet journal to the “Blog Update”, so I guess I’ll start from the first point: about a week ago, probably on Monday, we were in the kitchen and as usual, everyone was hustling and minding their own business, asking to borrow certain tools or ingredients in order to do our tasks. In the middle of all the chaos, I was at the stoves and since the kitchen was so big, all the stoves are connected side-by-side (although according to them, they didn’t come they way, just arranged them like such). Then, behind each stove is an extra burner, I guess to keep food warm, but it has its own dial so you can set the heat. There was one chef on each side of me and the one on my left was finished with his stove portion of the dish, so he moved on.
The next person to use that stove pointed out that a plastic measuring cup had melted on the back burner. It basically looked like the Titanic, the way the spout was sticking out. Everyone wanted to know who was guilty and, while I knew exactly who the culprit was, I didn’t want to say anything since that person is human and it happens. I knew they probably felt badly enough about it, or at least humiliated even though nobody knows their identity. But I do know the man or woman responsible, so if he or she reads this by any chance, just know, “I know who you are and I gotta say, don’t worry. Your secret’s safe with me.”
Second point: in Knife Skills class, I told you about that adorable grandma who’s been teaching us. That class is always the same, especially at this point: cutting. Chopping, dicing, slicing. I mean, what else do you expect? The first few days of class, the homework was to read and then literally every lesson after that says, “Practice and Perfect” with a quiz or timed assessment here and there.
Well, we were chopping carrots into diamonds and during the demo, she joked, “Ladies, you might want to look into the size because this is one karat.” She said something like that so I had to include that moment. Not that it’s so funny now…or original even, but I felt as if it was something to note. I’m sure it would’ve been a better execution if I had the time to revise it.
Three: dumplings = pasta. That’s pretty clear-cut and dry. I had no idea that dumplings were considered pasta, but apparently, they are.
Fourth note: go get your meat thermometer. If you don’t have one or just don’t feel like digging it out, Google Image search. You know what? Just look at this one:
This is the exact one I have. You see the hexagon? Apparently, if you slide the clip to the other side, the hexagon (not the clip, the actual hole) is free. That’s so you can slide the thermometer through the hole and on the other side of the dial is another hexagon, which fits perfectly into the one on the clip, causing them to click perfectly and stay together. #TheMoreYouKnow
Next: thermometer calibration! The dial can easily be manipulated, which is why it’s always important to calibrate before and after you use it. The Safety & Sanitation professor was so clever. She wanted us to twist the dial and then said, “Oh no! But you completely ruined the calibration! Here’s what you do…” I told you: clever.
So here’s what you do: since our class is in an actual classroom, we didn’t have access to boiling water, so we used the ice method instead. She basically gave us ice water and then all we had to do was stick it into the cup and set the dial to 32°F. Looking back at my notes on it, I specifically said, “I held it so the needle ‘pointed North’ and dragged the gauge so the needle pointed at 32°F.” That is essentially what you want. 32 to be “North”, like on a geographic compass.
Sixth point is sort of gross, but on Thursday’s Knife Skills class, we actually got to do something more than just cut. We had to chop roasted red bell peppers and we had to roast them ourselves on the stoves or the grill, which was a challenge, but I pushed through it. As always, I was the last one to use them and the last one to finish with them.
The roasting process is completely finished by the time the entire vegetable is black. That’s when you take it back to your station and tear off the burnt skin. I have to tell you though: once the skin is off and it looks all pink…it seriously looks like a tongue.
Speaking of disgusting things, this wasn’t actually on my list, but since I apparently never mentioned it before, I’ll tell you now. So, kids, you might want to look away because this is more for adult humor. I realize that makes you want to read along even more, but if you have any self-control, I advise you to skip the next paragraph.
In Knife Skills, the professor had a tip–I should NOT call it that and you’ll learn really soon why–it was a valuable piece of information. There. She says that if we chop off both ends of a cucumber and rub together the meat that was once connected, it lets out this foamy, white stuff (and that’s apparently the acid being released). And, I mean…the way you rub them together is okay, but think about it: you’re rubbing the tip of a very…interestingly-shaped object…in order to get white juice to…come out… Yeah, I know, it’s pretty gross and probably something you’ll never do to a cucumber, if you never knew about it before. Hey, maybe that’s why they call it a cuCU–never mind.
Okay, it’s safe to read from hereon out, kids. Point #7, I briefly mentioned earlier in this post: Julie & Julia, I expected to be 100% about cooking. Julie Powell’s experience in the project which she devoted a whole year of her life to, making every single recipe in Julia Child’s cookbook. I love the movie and, as expected, thanks to Nora Ephron (may she rest in peace), the film focused on the cooking. Because of this, you expect the book to do the same. Now, I know that the film is an adaptation of the book, which means whatever flaws were in the book were corrected in the film. That’s why I prefer the movie over the book, which isn’t something you would often say about book-to-film adaptations.
I’ve only read the first few chapters, but more than half of what I’ve read so far has only been about Julie Powell’s personal life, which makes me think that it’d fit more as a therapeutic journal. I mean, seriously, she described her sexual educational experience by flipping through this sex dictionary, which was in French. That just makes me wonder, Were her parents okay with her publishing that? It’s way too personal for me to be comfortable with. Just get to the parts that involve food and, if you need a filler, don’t talk about your–or even worse, your parents’–sex life. Not only is it any of our business, but we don’t want to know.
And that makes me question whether or not to move forward. But it’s for a grade, so I have to buck up and push through for just one more week. If not, I’ll just copy and paste what I just said about it and maybe that’ll be my review. I mean, when she talks about food and how obsessed with Julia Child she is and her personal relationship with this cookbook, yes I want to know that personal stuff. Just not certain other personal aspects of your life.
Point number eight: the strict cell phone policy. The official policy for the program is we are only allowed to use our cell phones upstairs during breaks. The kitchen we use for my classes so far is on the first floor. The head of the department teaches Professional Cooking Basics and on the very first day, he said that he could spot a cell phone in a pocket from a mile away. In fact, he actually said that if we’d stood up at that moment, he’d be able to tell who had a phone in their pocket. Policy dictates that we keep our phones in our locker and on silent.
The only professor who’s really uptight about this is the Knife Skills grandma (and I don’t mean “grandma” in a rude way–she really does look exactly like my grandma so I feel endearing calling her that. Here, of course, not in public). In fact, everyday she writes on the whiteboard and the first thing she writes is “Quiet!” (because our class has a habit of talking loudly about anything but the cooking) and “No cell phones in classroom!” Still, most of us take out our cell phones, at least during breakfast break (which we devote about 30 minutes of our class period to).
The thing is, we can at least use our phones during breaks, which is basically a pause in the class, right? Grandma isn’t so lenient about it, even during breakfast. I mean, we still take them out, but I suppose less nowadays because she takes note and marks us down. She only just notified us of this on Thursday, so I know I was marked down a couple times. I’m not too worried about my grade though. I feel as if the only way to truly fail the class is from the precision cuts. She’s slightly more strict about that, of course. I could think it’s perfect, but then she checks it on my ruler and it’s too small.
Speaking of the whole “Quiet!” thing, also on Thursday, she wrote down a little more than that on the board. She then added, “Or go home!” The head of the department actually interrupted our class and then talked to us about how the lack of talking about anything but the food shows more respect for the teacher. I’ve been itching to shut up the two guys in my group who are so talkative and just want to make conversation, but the three of us are quiet and try to focus on the precision cuts. The problem with me whenever I confront someone is something always goes wrong and we end up laughing at something I said, which is why I never confront. I just keep quiet and take it.
As much as I hate that it got to the point where the PCB instructor came in (especially since he’s a tall, old, white guy with clear authority while she is a petite Asian lady whose vocal strength matches her small stature), it seemed to have worked, since class was a lot quieter the rest of the day and that’s what matters. He pointed out that the more we talk, the less precise the cuts would be for the people around us. Honestly, I remember Grandma mentioning that a couple weeks ago, but obviously nobody listened. I don’t want to be the person whose first thought is always racism whenever there is an imbalance in the system, but I can’t help but think that that’s a small part of why her words didn’t impact the class, but did when those same exact words came out of his mouth. If it was a racist thing, it certainly was unintentional, since the biggest factor in why he would have more of an impact on the class is because he is of higher authority, not because of his skin color. Also, she has a pretty thick accent, so it’s sometimes difficult to understand her, but how many times does a woman have to say the word “quiet” or write it on the whiteboard in all caps before it sinks in? I mean, she’s the one who learned English as the second language, not us.
Anyways, that wasn’t even the note. There’s a rule in the kitchen–although I’m not sure if it’s in the general culinary world, but it should be–where, if it gets too loud in the kitchen, we do a thing called “Quiet Kitchen”, which we practiced that day. Basically, it’s where “the only talk around the kitchen that should be happening is if it pertains to the task at hand.” Simple for some of us since that’s all limit ourselves to anyway, not as easy for others. The discussion about Quiet Kitchen though was one of those “come to Jesus” talks as my college voice teacher calls them, which is apparently what a lot of other people call them too, but that’s when it really stuck with me. (I’ve had many “come to Jesus” talks, but never placed a name to them till college when it was obvious I hadn’t been practicing my singing.)
10: Since I’m gone all morning, the dogs get lonely even though my mom stays behind. Still, because my personal dog, Coco, has long nails (which reminds me, I should set up a grooming appointment for him), when he scratches me… I don’t know, man, they’re like for life. I had to wear gloves in the kitchen because hot water hurts the broken skin and I figured that since I was in Knife Skills, some of the juices (i.e. peppers or oranges) would sting. Like. A lot.
Point number 11: Remember in the movie “The Incredibles”? They have a Leftover Day, which is pretty self-explanatory. Well, knowing what I know now about how fresh a food should be in order to eat it…is that really a good idea? I was thinking they were eating leftovers from the entire week, but now that I think about it, finishing off week-old meals? Maybe for the past couple days, I could see. And, honestly, it’s a really good idea. For example, today was my own leftover day. I’m on an awesome streak of amazing dishes (the past two nights anyway…Mom cooked tonight so I could catch up on schoolwork and the blog). I’ll get to what I made in just a second because I have one more point to get to.
There’s an adorable children’s cookbook out there by Rachael Ray. There are cartoon versions of her making the dishes and they have fun names. It was probably in middle school when I got mine, not that I was into cooking. I didn’t start cooking until after college. Before then it was just ramen noodles or boiling water. Actually, that was for the ramen noodles. I had no real interest in cooking; just attracted to the colors, really. I never used it, so I threw it out, especially as I grew older because those were kiddie recipes. The only thing I remember is the Chicken Cacciatore, which she renamed “catch-a-tory”, so the kids could pronounce it. That’s literally all I remember.
Let me see if I can track down that book though. It shouldn’t be hard to find. I mean, how many children’s cookbooks could Rachael Ray have published since then? (Watch there be an entire library devoted to recipes specifically for kids.) Aha! Cooking Rocks! Rachael Ray 30-Minute Meals for Kids. And it’s $4 on ThriftBooks! Whatever that is. Here’s the cover:
It’s pretty cute, right? Well, I was so inspired that one night, I wanted to be like, “Ooh, I can be a chef, too!” I had this plan to set up menus and I’d cook whatever they’d want. Of course, I was unprepared for any of that: not just with what ingredients to get, but five separate dishes for one little girl? Let alone the mise en place or the amount of time it’d take to actually make? As cute as that experience was (or lack thereof), I now choose what I get to make with mere suggestions from my parents.
I made…(let me check my awesome bullet journal since I started a list of “Dishes Made” now)…Lemon Chicken on Thursday, Pesto Cavatappi on Friday, and Succulent Chicken Parmesan w/ Bruschetta on Saturday.
Here’s the entry for the last time I made Lemon Chicken, courtesy of The Food Network’s Rachael Ray. I skimmed over this in preparation for this attempt. I made sure to add vinegar this time because of that Dad had said. I did not, however, add broccoli this time, like I wanted, but noted for next time. Sort of. If I actually read this entry first. As you can see, I added a little side salad there. Went with cherry tomatoes this time, but no recipe. I keep forgetting that this recipe tends to be too sweet. I know that’s from the lemon curd, which is store-bought. I mean, I suppose I could experiment with just half the jar rather than the whole thing, but I’m not sure if that’d mean I would need more water in order to have more chicken coating.
Friday was the Pesto Cavatappi. Mom’s best friend from high school stayed the night and I wanted to make her something good. I’d made this dish quite a few times now, so I knew the drill. Everyone said it was delicious and, while I know taste is something you must experience, judge for yourself. How does it look? Okay?
I know I’ve made it several times before, but I don’t have the experience documented here for some reason, even when I look up “Pesto Cavatappi”. Well, here’s the recipe for it anyway. It turns out I needed a little more pesto. I thought one jar was enough because that’s how much I’d previously used, but I suppose those recipes were cut in half. Oh well. It’s pesto. I think that’s more for the taste, not the way it’s cooked.
Don’t mean to toot my own horn, but I’d say the following dish was even better, mainly because I tackled two recipes at the same time. The timing is what I’m most proud of, especially since neither of them took too much anyway. I used two recipes from a site called Yummly.
First was the Bruschetta. The first time I’d ever seen or heard of this dish was when I was in a choir conference in Europe. We had toured Vienna, Salzburg and Prague. In fact, I distinctly remember visiting the chapel where they filmed the wedding scene in “The Sound of Music”–which isn’t where Maria and Captan von Trapp actually got married–and stopping by a restaurant directly in front of it and taking note of a rather handsome waiter and then posing for a picture with him. Apparently, other girls were itching for a photo with him and I was the first one.
This was in Vienna, I believe, and we were having dinner with our chaperones and choir directors. I remember overhearing a conversation taking place between our director and one of the altos and we were looking at the menu, which was still given to us even though our dishes were already chosen for us. He asked the alto, “Have you ever tried bruschetta? It’s delicious.”
So that was the first time the idea of bruschetta came to be, in my life. After that, I’d only seen them in other restaurants, but I’d never tried them. Yesterday, I was watching “Julie & Julia” for the hundredth time and decided, “Hey, why not try bruschetta?” It was one of the very first scenes where they’re talking about what Julie could write a blog about. That husband was REALLY into that bruschetta.
I didn’t expect bruschetta to be so hard–I mean, I was aware that that’s part of the meal, the toughness of the skin–but when Mom texted me that it was really good, I asked her if it was too hard and she said no. So I shrugged and said, “Okay, another successful dinner!”
Since Dad got home earlier than usual, I had to get started as soon as I got home from the store. Because the chicken needed more baking time than the bread, I decided to start with that first. (Plus, the oven temperature for the chicken was slightly lower than the bread so it was perfect since I didn’t have to worry about any cooling down period.) I didn’t really measure the panko since we had a little left. However much there was, it was the perfect amount. I mean, really, perfect. The scraps were, like, a pinch.
Also, this must be my Blue Bloods/Jamie Reagan-obsessed brain talking, but does anybody else (who watches the show anyway) think of “Janko” when they see or hear the word “panko”? I mean, it makes sense, since they’re just one letter off, but that damn name. Have I mentioned this before?
Sorry. Veered slightly off track there.
While the Succulent Chicken Parmesan was baking (the best way to cook meat, in my opinion, because my chicken always tends to be messy, dry, and burnt when I try to fry it), I got started on the Bruschetta. I was going to get basil leaves, but at the same time, didn’t really feel like it, and I knew we had fresh greens, so I took my chances. We didn’t have it at home, so instead I had an option to use cilantro or Italian parsley. I asked for Mom’s opinion and she said that for a basil substitution, she’d go with the parsley.
Bruschetta is surprisingly simple. The only ingredients you worry about is the vegetable mixture and you can mix it by hand. I thought that spooning them onto the baked bread slices would’ve also been a challenge, but you’re free to drop as many pieces as you’d like and there would still be enough leftovers to top off some pasta for the next day, which is what I did, mainly because the recipe says I have the freedom to.
Something I was wondering was which side of the bread to put the vegetable mixture on: the oily side that faces the foil or the clean side? I put it on the clean side or else the bottom would just be dry.
The bruschetta mixture took a little longer than expected, so I had to take out the chicken once it was done and then put it back in the oven after the bread was finished baking. Only while the oven was cooling down, hoping that whatever residual heat there was, was still enough to keep the chicken warm.
Janko Panko-coated chicken
Pre-baked bread slices. I was afraid of it not fitting onto the entire sheet, but it was actually perfect! Don’t you love it when that happens? When you rely solely on gut instinct and it turns out to be a happy ending?
The entire tray of bruschetta pre-serving.
And best of all: plating.
Unfortunately, the chicken did cool down, but that’s because nobody came to the dinner table in time. In fact, I had to take Dad’s plate upstairs to him because he wasn’t coming down and I didn’t want him to eat cold chicken.
Because there were four pieces of chicken and only three of us, there was one left, which was refrigerated and I ate for breakfast this morning. Since it was breakfast and I didn’t have my phone on me, and was also too lazy to get back upstairs, I ate it without taking a photo. It was too late anyway; by the time I realized it, I’d already taken a bite out.
I can describe it as best I can though: There was the chicken parmesan (half-breast), a few pieces of bruschetta, and some of the leftover pesto cavatappi. I sprinkled mozzarella all over the pesto and then microwaved it. This really helped with the bruschetta. It may be customary to eat hard, but I like my bread soft. The recipe for the bruschetta also suggests to use leftovers for pasta topping, which I did on the cavatappi.
This was my lunch, which got me thinking about that Leftover Day from “The Incredibles”. I figured maybe I can cook on the weekends and eat leftovers on Sundays. That way I can do my writing on Sundays and not have to worry about new updates. Plus, I will have time during the week to focus on school.
But I suppose there’s only one day where I absolutely can’t cook. Since I get out in the early afternoons the other three schooldays, there’s no reason for me not to cook. The weekend thing is a definite plan though since I’ll actually have the energy to prep and execute.
For dinner, instead of eating what Mom made, I wanted to finish off the leftovers, so even more pesto cavatappi for me. (I’m gonna be morbidly obese by…there’s no end if this is gonna be my career.)
Break an egg!
P.S. If the culinary school stuff tends to be boring, I can definitely leave it out. I figured there was some wisdom I could share with you, but since I do talk a lot, I don’t want to be boring about it. Let me know, if you can! 🙂
P.P.S. I usually read over this, but it’s so long and I have to get to bed, like, now if I want to get to class by 7:30AM. Hope you understand!