Tag Archive | Italian cuisine

10/20/16

Not a lot of people realize this, but we’re very selective about the help we get. For example, we would gladly accept it from the teacher because he is the one who knows everything about the class and you’re the student. That’s obvious. It’s when our peers offer advice where we store a little more doubt in our hearts. Depending on our mood, it either sounds helpful or nagging. It’s all to do with your attitude around your acceptance of the extra tips.

I feel like it’s really been a while, huh? Being a culinary student, of course I’ve been cooking a lot. In fact, we just started the second round of the fall semester’s classes. I was busy with exams, so I figured I’d hold off on this update until afterwards. I’ve gotten back two out of four final grades, both A’s, so woot-woot! Although for PCB, the class is literally called “Professional Cooking BASICS”, so Chef Michael said you really had to try if you wanted to fail the class.

He’s got a point there too. Like most other classes, the biggest part of the grade is attendance and participation. As long as you go that far and try, you’ve got a great chance of passing.

My worst class was most likely Sanitation & Safety since I never really studied the material until the day before, and even then, I knew that what was probably most important was foodborne illnesses and how to avoid them. My notes on all the names was really funny. For example, for staphylococcus aureus, because “aureus” sounds basically like “Oreius” (one of the centaurs from “The Chronicles of Narnia”), my note was, “Oreius got sick from a serious staph infection.”

Also, there’s a toxin called “histamine”. In order to prevent a customer from getting sick, you need to avoid time-temperature abuse (basically, keep food out of the Temperature Danger Zone during the Time Danger Zone, which is 41°-135°F and 4 hours, respectively). Therefore avoiding time-temp abuse is an antihistamine. I know, it’s bad, but if it’s enough to remember the important stuff, then it’s good! Still, I got an A in Sani & Safety, but only because I did the extra credit I could: I wore my uniform for at least five classes and then showed Chef Christine my Food Handler’s Card (I’ll go more into detail later).

Okay, I’m going to list this stuff the way I have it here. I’ve got at least 15, but I’ll try to leave out the ones that don’t need to be said:

  1. It’s okay to cook poultry and beef on the same grill as long as poultry is cooked where poultry was last cooked as with the beef. As long as they don’t cross, they won’t contaminate. This was after my comment on how the waiters at the restaurant I went to in LA were grilling our food in front of us, but failed to switch the grates after each layer of food.
  2. There is no janitorial staff in the kitchen, mainly because the chefs have to clean up their own messes, probably. Or, at least, whomever is assigned scullery duty (in our class anyway).
  3. Is it okay to touch food with your bare hands to check status? While making pancakes, I noticed that one of my classmates would use her entire hand to check the doneness. All I could think of was, Whoa, isn’t that contaminating the food? I then asked Chef Michael if it was okay to use our bare hands to set up the food on the plate and he said it was fine. I still wasn’t sure about using it to check the doneness. Not with your entire hand anyway. Don’t you just need a finger to feel it?
  4. People are coming up with creative ideas to make this culinary fusion. One of my classmates in Culinary Arts Survey was talking about how she had the idea to basically be a private chef for clients who don’t have time to cook, but care about what they put into their bodies. The first person I thought of in my life who might want to hire me was my sister since she’s a doctor and she really is a health nut when it comes to her eating habits. She’s always on a diet, but cheats when she comes home because I always want to cook. It’s pretty funny, actually. So I figured that was a really nice idea and a good business to pursue. My personal goal was to be a private chef for families, but maybe I can add something a little extra to my résumé: expert in nutritional values. I’m not though. I mean, whenever I crave sweets, I’m motivated to go out and get it.
  5. The new classes I’m taking are Meat & Sauce Prep, with Chef Michael, and Intro to Baking & Pastry with Chef Doug (I literally just misspelled his name to “Dough” :D). Remember in this entry when I discussed this professor? Well, he doesn’t own it anymore and he hasn’t visited in years, so he doesn’t know how it’s doing, but it’s good! He’s very nice and makes baking fun, which, for a career like this, should be the case. Whenever I saw him around the building, he reminded me of John Malkovich, but since I sit in the front during class (and this may be my CSI-marathon getting to me), but the bottom half of his face looks more like Ted Danson’s. Even sounds a bit like him, but maybe with a slightly higher pitch.
  6. So the Food Handler’s Card! At least in California, you pay $9.99 after you pass the test, which consists of Safety & Sani questions. It’s really easy; you just need common sense, honestly. For example, they asked when it’s best to wear gloves. All the questions were multiple choice, so the options were, like, “After you wash your hands”, “Before you wash your hands”, “Before you put on hand sanitizer”, or “In lieu of hand washing” or something. If you think about practicality, obviously, the first answer is correct because why would you need to wash your sanitize your gloves? It wasn’t the final option either, because it’s basically a no-no to wear gloves if you’re too lazy to wash your hands. If you’ve used rubber gloves before though, your hands need to be dry in order to put them on easier. Once you’ve got the first one on, the other hand slides on more smoothly, for some reason. For the record, I got 85% on the quiz and I think you needed at least 70% to pass. As usual, I’m an average student.
  7. If you’re a student, then you probably notice how the syllabus is always so strict, but most of the time, the professors are more laid back. First of all, there’s probably the school policy over stuff like plagiarism, which is definitely prohibited and grounds for expulsion. However for cell phone use? First, there was my Knife Skills teacher who took that seriously, but I guess was more lenient. It was more like she gave up because we always used our cell phones during breakfast anyway. I mean, what’s the harm in that? It’s not really class time since she’s not officially teaching us. Not even Chefs Michael or Doug are (argh, I said “Dough” again!!!) strict about it and they have more power in the program. Although, apparently Chef Michael is NOT the head of the department–it’s Chef Jim, who I don’t personally know. In fact, the only contact he and I have had is when he offered me a bread sample from the bakery. (Ah, the perks of being in the culinary world: constant free food, although you’d think that as a culinary arts student, we’d have more time to actually eat.)
  8. Here’s a fun little exchange! So in PCB, during the class time right before the exam, we basically played a game similar to the show Chopped! I’ve never seen it, but if you’ve seen Gordon Ramsay’s MasterChef, you know that they oven have those Mystery Box Challenges. This was basically that, except we don’t get extra ingredients, not even if they were already in our boxes. So if we had eggs, we needed approval for more. One of the ingredients was “Gochujang” and, being Korean and always eating Korean food, I was like, “I KNOW THAT!!!” In fact, when Chef Michael said, “If you don’t know what Gochujang is, use your phones and look it up”, I replied a little too excitedly, “Pepper paste!” Then he smiled and said, “That’s right. Well, you’d know. It’s good, isn’t it?” I was so proud.
  9. If there’s one thing I learned through this experience in the professional kitchen, it’s that timing isn’t everything as long as you know what you’re waiting for. That’s pretty self-explanatory, isn’t it? As a professional, you just need to train yourself to recognize the texture you need to look for in your food.
  10. I also learned this in the Mystery Box Challenge: when plating noodles for the importance of presentation, use tongs to place them in a spiral. They form this little anthill, which is cute. You can also place something in the center or on the tip; some kind of garnish.
  11. I think this goes without saying, but cooking games are totally inaccurate. Even during the start of my culinary education, I’m still playing those stupid games like Restaurant Story and Bakery Story (same company, different game). I was pretty far ahead the first time I played both, but I quit, assuming that if I wanted to take it up again, it’d save since it connected to Facebook. Nope. I was stupid enough to pay a lot of money for extra coins and gems and all of that is gone now. I missed the game though, for some reason, so now knowing this, I don’t pay for anything anymore unless I know that it’ll last. Anyways, in those games, it takes just two ingredients to prep and then you just wait. Once it’s ready, you need one more ingredient and then you can serve it. However, in that game, the food spoils, I’m predicting if it’s been out the same amount of time it took to make, but not often. Well, that’s not accurate, because of the Time Danger Zone. 4 hours. The Temperature Danger Zone is where bacteria grows, which is why the fridge has to be 41°F or lower. In this case, the food spoils too easily. Just sayin’.
  12. My PCB practical final was sort of a mess. The over-easy egg was perfect, but the other six were less than perfect. I think I had two “unacceptable” grades and the rest were either adequate or pretty good. The worst grade, I think, was in the red beans. It takes, like, an hour to soak them and then there’s another step to cook it. I didn’t cook it for the sake of time, which turned out to have been a waste. My entire urgency was a waste because I still had at least an hour left of cooking time. The rest would have been perfect if I had just not rushed, which I didn’t have to do because of that extra time. SMH, huh? Still. I have an A in that class, so as long as the lesson is learned, right?
  13. If you need to take over for someone because they’re lazy, is that your loss or theirs? You get the experience, which makes your career that much richer.
  14. Dropping jewelry in food is a good comedic tool (i.e. Yolanda in Young & Hungry and Rachel Greene in FRIENDS), but not ideal for the professional kitchen.
  15. During the first day of Intro to Baking, we also discussed the difference between the professional and the laid back kitchen settings. Chef Doug (ha! I said “Doug” this time!) made an interesting comparison: it’s like symphony vs. rock band. Someone who plays in the symphony would be completely comfortable in the rock band. However, someone from the rock band wouldn’t really be comfortable in the symphony. He explained it better, but you probably get it, right? I just wanted to bring it up.
  16. Get in the habit of sifting flour. I’ve always just dumped flour into the bowl, but apparently it makes a difference when you send it through a strainer.
  17. When baking, always keep one hand clean. This is actually true for breading food as well. It only takes one hand to drown your food in flour, egg wash, and panko crumbs. It’s a lot neater when you have one hand free since you don’t need to keep your hands up like a surgeon trying to get to the nearest sink to wash off.
  18. In our kitchen, the only jewelry acceptable are wedding bands because they don’t fall off easily. Watches are okay, as long as they are worn on the jacket on the buttons. I’ve however never heard of earrings that you screw on. The girl who was almost not allowed to cook said that they DON’T come off? I thought that’d be okay, since the purpose of that rule is the risk of them falling off and into the food, contaminating the entire batch. I didn’t say anything since I figured Chef was aware of that. A few minutes later though, I saw the girl’s ears and her jewelry was off. So it’s not impossible for them to come off, but it’d be a hassle to. Still, if you want to get into this line of work, you have to get used to it.
  19. In the first 8 weeks of classes, we had to memorize culinary math: how many tsp go into a Tbsp, how many Tbsp go into a fluid ounce, etc. There’s even a so-called “phone number” that we memorize: 3, 2, 8, 2, 2, 4. That’s basically this:  As you can see, I also wrote down 16 oz = 1 pound. In other words, 16 oz = 1 lb. When you write out the latter, it looks like you have one 16 on each side of the =. To me, it does, which is how I remember how many oz go into a lb. It’s simpler for me to think that way, I guess, similarly to the “aureus/Oreius” thing. It’s one of those things that nobody else would get, even if they knew how my brain worked.
  20. So remember my mise en place idea where, if the recipe calls for adding multiple ingredients at the same time, I just put them all in one small bowl anyway? According to Chef Doug, at least with baking, that’s more of a professional way, not because it’s so advanced, but because we’re still beginners, we should add ingredients one-by-one just so we know what it should look like. I still want to limit the amount of dishes that go into the scullery, but that’s just me.
  21. Speaking of cleaning up, need to clear up multiple eggshells? Just stack them! 🙂
  22. Apparently, you can’t microwave lasagna because it explodes. That’s why on Melissa & Joey, Joe and his daughter, Dani, threw a fit when Mel said something about microwaving leftovers. (04X11: Gone Girl…I think.) I microwaved it anyway because I don’t follow rules, but it was covered. So I bend the rules.

And here is the update for my home cooking:

  1. Thursday, Oct. 6: Lasagna with a Twist (Recipe)
  2. Friday, Oct. 7: Quinoa and Rice Bowl with Kale, Kimchi and Egg (Recipe) This was actually a recipe my dad chose. I wanted me to try it and my first response when I saw the video was, “Easy…” Once we tasted it, it really was like the Korean dish “Bibimbap” (if you’ve eaten out at a Korean restaurant before, you’d probably recognize it the way it’s spelled in English). But, like I said, easy. We had extra kale, so I personally used it for leftover lasagna. I just chopped it up and garnished it like this: You can barely taste the kale, but I suppose that’s good because apparently kale is gross. I’ve never had a kale smoothie before, but the actual vegetable itself isn’t so bad.
  3. Sunday, Oct. 9: Honey Garlic Chicken (Recipe
  4. Friday (Oct. 14th) was pretty special. My sister was visiting for one night, so I wanted to show off that I actually had improved my culinary skills, so I went with Lasagna with a Twist again with another shot of Bruschetta, and as an extra for dessert, Honey Banana Muffins Here are the Honey Banana Muffins, since you haven’t seen what mine look like:  Too dry though, for some reason, so it’s better as a bread.

Well, that’s all I made. Here’s a funny thing though: what do you do when you find THIS at the store? Leave it alone, definitely, but is the entire container done for?

Here’s a nice way to end an entry after so long: so for Knife Skills, one of our last assignments was carving. We decided as a group what our set-ups would look like. Here’s ours:  And guess what I made: 

Break eggs, everyone! And remember: if you want to clean them all up in one swoop, stack the shells!

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9/25/16

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: Thermometers.jpg

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: 51HHFPR5BVL._SL300_.jpg

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!

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)

8/11/16

So you know those very brief videos they show on Facebook? It doesn’t even have to be about food–sometimes it’s a DIY instructional video–but they show a person’s hands adding ingredients and they show what that ingredient is and how much to put in. Plus, it’s sped up for the sake of time, so they last up to a minute. If you’ve been online, chances are you’ve seen something like it.

This is the second meal I’ve made the day I’ve seen one of those videos. The first one was the Bacon, Egg, and Rice Dish by Buzzfeed. (I could have made something else too, but if there was, it has obviously escaped me.)

While scrolling through Facebook this morning, I found one of those short videos making food. As I watched, I thought, Okay, should be easy. It’s called Firecracker Chicken and the page Delish posted it. If you take the time to watch it yourself, you can see how simple it looks. I mean, it really was simple to make. Nothing went wrong. In fact, both my parents said to keep this recipe. Actually, the first thing my dad said was, “It’s not bad.” Mom was the one who told me to keep the recipe.

So I did. 

Here’s what it looked like in the end: My biggest surprise was how much buffalo sauce is involved, but I think that’s less about the sauce and more because of what I substituted it with. I saw that buffalo sauce was basically hot sauce (at the store), so I used the rest of one of our hot sauces.

Which reminds me, quick tip: if you don’t know what an ingredient looks like, look it up before the trip to the store. The only ingredient I needed was buffalo sauce and I had no idea what that was and neither did my mom, which is why she said we didn’t have it. (And I know she didn’t know because she would look over the list of ingredients and tell me what substitutions to use, especially if we already had it.) In order to make the trip useful however, I bought a bottle of pink lemonade, some foil cupcake cups (which my mom asked me to buy), and a cooking magazine whose issue was the food on the show Modern Family. I’ve only seen one episode of that show, but I figured, hey, if I get into it, then I’ll have the magazine if I want to find a recipe. (Not that I don’t like the show, it’s just one of those series you don’t get into easily. For me, at least. I know it’s still a popular show.)

It took around three rounds of the full skillet to complete frying the chicken, because there was so much (I used three breasts, instead of two). Also, I cut them into smaller pieces than I should have, I’m sure. I also drowned a bunch of them at a time in the egg and sort of let them sit like that until the first batch was done frying. I’m not sure if that could’ve altered the taste, but I’m sure that’s not how the chef wanted it to go.

While coating it with cornstarch, however, I was wondering if flour would’ve just been enough. I think I’ll try that next time, just as a test, but maybe that’s more something I should research in the culinary science textbook my parents got me from Costco: “The Food Lab” by J. Kenji Lopez, which I’m actually proud to have heard about before they bought it. I was scrolling through cookbooks on the iBooks Store and there it was. Almost bought it, too, but too expensive.

So what do you think? Are the pieces too small or just right? Or perhaps too big, by any chance?

Toward the end, timing was cut down and I figured it was safe because of how small the pieces were. Dad was getting impatient, so I figured I could just bake it for 30 minutes total instead of 35 to 45 minutes.

Whatever decisions I made during this process made the dish decent enough to try again. And by “try again”, I mean to enjoy again, not attempt for a second time because the first was so bad. (Coughs) Grilled cheese.

I think those are the important points. I’ve started using the measuring cups again, but there’s still guesswork with the salt and pepper. Oil is also guesswork, since I’m using one or two turns of it in the skillet and have no clue how much that is in cups.

Oh, by the way, huge update on my culinary education, which means this is actually happening. I haven’t paid tuition yet so it’s not 100% official, but I registered for classes. I actually did it during my initial registration process, but it’s weird as opposed to when I went to college in Michigan. For this school, you have to sign up for the first half of the term AND the second half. I thought it was just the first half, so I signed up for the introductory courses I could, thinking the second half meant the second term. I didn’t know when I could go back online and finish registering as soon as I found out that we had to sign up for both sets of classes, but I went on a few days ago and finished it. I’m just glad it came through and I wasn’t too late, since classes start on the 22nd. They showed me the bill, which we’ll pay sometime in the next few days and I got my first email from a professor about what to buy in preparation for the class!

I would need a textbook and my own chef’s uniform, both of which could be found at the store. I would’ve gotten these probably today if I were still at the small college in Michigan because the campus was so small you could go from one end to the other in less than ten minutes. My driving is so iffy that I’m just going to procrastinate a little bit on that. I know I may have to pay a price in that the store will run out, but I’m a professional procrastinator. It’s a risk I am willing to take.

For the first half, I am going to take Professional Cooking Basics, Sanitation & Safety, Culinary Arts Survey, and Knife Skills. Second half will consist of Professional Meat & Sauce Preparation, and Introduction to Baking & Pastry. A lot of these classes are a FEW HOURS long, which I’m not really a big fan of, but as someone who wants to take this seriously, I don’t want that to get in the way. I mean, you’re supposed to enjoy what you want to do in life. What’s that saying? “If you enjoy your work, then you’ll never work a day in your life”? For me, cooking is fun, so those few hours will just fly by like choir used to for me in high school or theatre rehearsal in college.

Speaking of Intro to Baking though, funny story: apparently there’s a local bakery and I noticed the name of it matched my professor’s name as I was filling out my calendar (I put my professors’ names in the Notes section of the event). What my parents got from the bakery was the Beehive Cake, which looks a bit like this (I know it’s not too clear, but that’s the only image of that cake that I found online): 180s.jpg

The first thing I said was, “It’s like a cream hamburger.” Ever since I mentioned that my soon-to-be baking professor owned a bakery they enjoyed going to so much, my parents were wondering if I would be taught how to make that particular cake. Obviously, I won’t know that for sure until I take it, but it shouldn’t be too hard once I see a recipe. I’m sure I could just ask for it, or maybe they’ll give me a cookbook of what they serve at the bakery.

I think part of the bakery concentration is working at that bakery because when my parents went there, the cashier had on a shirt with the college logo on it. Considering how much effort it takes to fill up a credit, I think it’s a requirement, but maybe that student just works there. Being a recent college student, I’m thinking it’s the former.

My personal focus is on Italian cuisine and/or baking. While Italian seems really fancy, I just think that baking is cute, but really hard, because it has to be so precise. I mean, you’ve probably seen the cakes I made: Red Velvet Birthday Cake and cheesecake. They tasted good, but looked sloppy.

Well, I think that’s about it! I mentioned all the stuff I forgot yesterday. I think I got to all the points with the Firecracker Chicken. So…

Break eggs, foodies!

8/7/16

I once told you that I made a personal list of Chef Goals: crack an egg with one hand, learn how to make restaurant-level Italian food (for now, like Olive Garden, but graduating to genuine Italian cuisine). One of the points is to make the perfect grilled cheese sandwich. If you know how to make it, or at least the basics, then you’re probably thinking, Are you kidding? That’s one of the simplest recipes in the book! I’ve never made it before and that’s all I can say in my defense!

So I gave it a shot for lunch. We had whole wheat bread and cheese slices, so I figured I could use those. Well, the cheese was all moldy and we needed more butter anyway, so I had to make a trip to the store.

I didn’t realize until after I’d made it, but in the Blue Bloods Cookbook, they actually had their own recipe and how to make the tomato soup that complements it. So, sorry about that, Bridget and Wendy! Maybe next time, or once I actually make the perfect grilled cheese and am ready to step it up a notch!

The recipe I used was from The Food Network, courtesy of Jeff Mauro. It’s literally called “Classic American Grilled Cheese“, and, right now, classic is what I needed as someone who’s never made it before. Reading over it, I thought, Why was I so afraid of this? The steps are easy and the ingredients are flexible!

It really WAS easy. It just took me a couple attempts to get it right.

First attempt, I made two sandwiches: 

So the problem might be visible in both accounts. I love how the cheese melted together to become one. But that’s it. The first one was better than the second even though I intentionally used up less time for the latter. Dad ended up eating the one I was going to eat (the first), but something to do with cancer and how he’s old enough to have it…should I have taken it away? I don’t know, maybe he was hungry enough for the risk. I’m still trying to figure out the cancer thing though. Is it like lung cancer? Although, who inhales their food?

Anyways, I ended up trashing the second sandwich obviously and he told me to try it again. Before that happened, I tried to calculate the factors of the burnt bread. Should I have buttered up the pan? Although I didn’t see how that could’ve helped since both sides of the sandwich are already buttered. Was it because of the metal bowl that the chef said I should use? What does he mean by “cover it”: like a dome or squash it with the base?

Mom suggested I toast the bread and then microwave the sandwich. I rejected the idea, thinking, Okay, we’re getting further from actual GRILLED cheese sandwiches, people, because I’d made a note on Facebook about how nowadays, people don’t grill them anymore, even though it’s called “Grilled Cheese Sandwich”.

I know she’s made them before, which is why I asked her for her input and, after some deliberation in our think tank, she told me that the recipe specifically said I have to use a griddle. I asked if it mattered and she said, of course it did, because both sides still have to cook even though you eventually have to flip it anyway. We don’t have a griddle, so I used the nonstick pan again.

The metal bowl was key. For the very first sandwich, I covered it as if the bowl was a dome. Then, as I passed the 2-minute mark, I had to figure out how to take it off. I tried using the oven gloves I typically wear, but they slid too much, so I didn’t have a good grip. I then attempted to use one of the gloves and a rubber oven mitt, which helped lift one side of the bowl, but I couldn’t take it out of the pan. At this point, I set the stove temp to low, even though it might have been smarter to set the pan on a cooler stovetop, except I learned that that would not have helped.

What I ended up doing was using the spatula to lift the edge of the bowl. That was the best way, to be honest. While still using the oven glove with my left hand, I lifted the bowl with the spatula and set it aside. Once I flipped, the side was black, soooooooo yeah. I placed the dome over it again, waited till the timer reached two minutes, and then set it on a plate. I did it for the second one as well, thinking maybe it was the cooking time or the temp. I was going to cook on low, but decided it’s only two minutes, so adjusted to a maximum of two minutes instead.

Nothing. Same problem, but worse than the first. Dad ate the first one and tried to feed it to the dogs, but even they have standards.

So this time, I decided to keep everything as is: medium for at least two minutes, but used the bowl to crush the bread. That way, the heat could spread rather than stick to the bread. It didn’t really crush it actually except toward the end. The first half was marvelous. The other was mildly burnt, so I think next time, I’ll just reduce the second half’s cooking time to one minute since I did it for two minutes. When I took the metal bowl off, I didn’t even need gloves. It was still hot, but the rim of the bowl curves outward, so I could grip it using my fingers and gravity.

Here’s the finished product. That’s more like it. 🙂 This is just the good side though.

I ended up having to eat it this way (just to clarify: I’m saying it because I know some people flip the top of their sandwiches once they set them down, even for burgers where there is a clear top and bottom–I set it with the bottom down). That’s because at least my tastebuds could catch a glimpse of grilled cheese perfection before all hell breaks loose. You’re welcome, buds.

FYI, I wanted to make a “grilled/griddle” joke earlier because of the L’s and D’s, but whenever I joke, it gets awkward, so I didn’t come up with one. See? I made things even more awkward by mentioning there was supposed to be a joke. 😛

That’s all, folks! Break eggs!

P.S. I had a good few paragraphs worth of other thoughts, but, because I constantly switch from one device to another, I lost it. If I remember what I said, I’ll see if I can fit it in for the next time I make it (probably tomorrow), but till then, sorry!

P.P.S. This wasn’t in my lost notes, but I also thought about the “Grilled Cheesus” episode of Glee and then started missing Cory Monteith, who played Finn Hudson.

8/3/16

Today’s dinner was sort of a bust. My brother wanted me to make Chicken Parmesan and I figured I could use the recipe I’ve used once before. The reason why there isn’t a separate entry about that experience is because the last time I made it was before I decided on this blog. It’s weird though: I remember working on it, but I don’t recall what it looked like. I remember certain steps, but not the final product. 

This is what I was aiming for: This is sort of not what it looks like. 

In fact: It’s not my best. Not sure if it’s my very worst, but it’s pretty far down the list of recipes I want to try again. I might just go for an easier recipe next time and tackle it when I’m a better chef. The spaghetti wasn’t even right, and all that takes is literally boiling for a few minutes. As a matter of fact, you want to see how bad it got?

Here: How does that happen? Go ahead: laugh. I thought it was okay to leave it alone and it’ll just melt into the boiling water, but apparently not. Thank God my brother caught it. Mom fixed it by cutting off the bad parts with scissors. 

Anyways, here’s the recipe for Chicken Parm, so you know what I’m referring to as I make a list of my thoughts, which I haven’t done in a while: 

  1. Not much measuring again, since I have a good eye for these things (I hope). I divided the entire list of ingredients in half since 4 American servings is too much. 
  2. I used regular green olives instead of kalamata olives. Whatever “pitted” means, I didn’t do that either. 
  3. Mom wanted me to use the rest of the tomatoes we had, which I tried to equate to one single can of tomatoes. Barely made the cut. I hand-crushed them myself, but didn’t really peel. 
  4. I used two chicken breasts, which helped me decide to divide the entire thing in half after all, because we bought a huge bag of chicken breasts, which we leave in the freezer and there were two of them reserved in the fridge. 
  5. I didn’t measure the amount of cheese either. I remember as I was shopping for them though, “I prefer more mozzarella over Parmesan, except it’s not really a Chicken Parm if there is less Parm, is it?” That’s why I couldn’t help but think that the meal would only have an obsessive identity crisis. 😛

Since I wasn’t going by the book for this dish, I took more pictures of what the process looked like just to see if it looked normal and thought I could get some pointers if it doesn’t look right.

Hand-crushed tomatoes (two regular-sized and three small): 

I was wondering about the bay leaf at this point. Like, what is its purpose? 

How about this? It’s supposed to look like tomato sauce, right?  Not tomato…blob?

This made me more fond of olives though. In fact, I finished the jar later (five left). 

Oh, so before I officially sign off, I should tell you about my plan from now on. See if you can figure out my new system:  

Before getting all my ingredients together, I think it’d be easier to color code everything based on when I should add them to the dish. For example, instruction #2 states that I should add the onions, garlic, and bay leaves altogether. By having them all the same color, I can mix them all in one dish, making it easier on the person who washes them. People probably already do this, but I’m not all that bright, but I do love rainbows, especially in pastel!

I think that’s about it, so break legs!