Halloween is officially upon us now that that first number in the title bumped up to a 10. Now that I, the youngest of the immediate family, am all grown up, there are no children in the household (that is, unless you count the two dogs who we think of as our babies). That is why Halloween is no big deal to us anymore. We still pass out candy in a certain period of time and used to be that house who passed out pretzels. I was never really devoted to Halloween either. In fact, I was so lazy that I got a Harry Potter costume one Halloween in high school, and then used that same exact outfit about four consecutive years after as Ginny Weasley. (Why Ginny, specifically? That’s my name!) Because of my glasses, sometimes I went as their kid, pre-Deathly Hallows when we actually found out who their children were.
Because I love to bake so much, I’m considering maybe doing something, but since we live in a neighborhood surrounded by younger families, I’d probably end up making too little of whatever I end up deciding. Not only that, but if the parents decide it’s not safe to eat something that an adult made from scratch, they won’t give it to their kids. (I mean, the parents might eat it themselves though…I would, if it were my kid.)
Still, some parents are trustworthy and actually grateful for gestures like this, so I want to bake cookies. I’m thinking sugar cookies, but I’m not very good at pastry decorating. My cursive might be font-like, but not when I’m using a piping bag. Also, if I end up committing to this at the end of the month, I should probably stick to something simple if I want to keep it nice and personal. Chocolate is a safe way to go, but chocolate chip seems too cliché. I mean, I know that’s a crowd favorite, but I can get a little more creative than that. Just something to think about.
I didn’t make anything this weekend since I went to LA with my parents. My relationship with LA is really funny. Before I found this knack for cooking, my dream was to become this famous actress/singer/writer. I used to fangirl whenever we went, because that’s where all the celebrities live and work. Like any teenager, my dream was to become famous and then marry someone famous (one of the multiple celeb crushes I have would be ideal).
Because of the dogs, I couldn’t go to LA the past several times, which wasn’t a huge sacrifice for me. I hate long car trips nowadays and my grandma lives at a retirement home in LA, so visiting her once a month is the only time that Dad gets to see his mother. I went this time because LA is where I get my haircuts, apparently, because we go to a guy who personally knows our family.
In the professional kitchen, you’re supposed to wear your hair in a bun, if you can, under your hat. That way, there are no loose hairs that can fall into the food. Braids are okay in some classes, but the official policy is you need to wear it in a bun. I could never do buns correctly because they would always end up loose and weak, because I would use hair ties. If I didn’t feel like wrapping the entire band around the actual bun, I would make a bun myself by tying it the usual way and then stopping the final loop halfway through the ponytail.
That’s ridiculous though, and since I’ve always wanted to try hair as short as a man’s, I decided to experiment. Since I have so much hair and it’s very thick and naturally curly, both Mom and the hairstylist warned me that it might not look as good as the photo I showed them of Anne Hathaway post-Les Mis filming. I was aware of the possible repercussions, but wanted to go forward anyway, just to experiment. He was still unsure, but went forward anyway knowing that he warned me enough not to be held responsible for whatever the end result would be.
I wasn’t in love with it, but at the same time, was relieved that I finally got rid of that ponytail (which we are donating). I’m learning to accept it though, even if it doesn’t look exactly like Anne Hathaway’s post-Les Mis look. Instead, I think it looks more like the haircut that Yunjin Kim had in Mistresses, which I actually like, since she looks SO much like my own mother.
At this point, while I’d point to something else next time, I’m glad that I don’t have to worry about that bun for several months. However though…I did just buy a brand-new hair curler and wanted to learn how to use it before getting rid of all that hair… Oh well. That’s the beauty of hair–the silver lining for everybody who has had a bad haircut–it grows back.
I still have yet to update you on notes I came up with last week and, since I have just a couple hours before my next class, I’d better get to it:
Firstly, for some reason, last week I sort of had a mini-freakout. I don’t know where it came from, but it was like I felt like I couldn’t get through it. I don’t usually have moments like that since I’m more of a “one-step-at-a-time” kind of person, which is why I’m confused. A part of me says it’s no big deal, that it was just my mind playing tricks on me. The other (I assume the one that told me I wasn’t going to make it) said that I might have a serious problem and should just shut down now. It’s not a question of if the path I’m going down is right. In fact, my parents say my food is getting better because of my classes.
I don’t know, man. I’m just glad is over though. Once I started cooking though, I repeated to myself, “One step at a time.” Quick steps, but one at a time is the point.
Second, according to the PCB professor, only one person bombed the quiz and I expected it to be me, but when I got mine back, it said I had four points off from the actual quiz, but then got them back because I got four extra credit points. So yeah, that one bombed quiz was obviously not mine, thankfully. You could imagine how relieved I was.
During Knife Skills, I knew I needed to cut my nails again already and I like growing them out. Obviously, I can’t in the kitchen, but I sort of came up with my own compromise: cut my non-dominant hand’s nails short whenever I can, but keep the dominant hand’s nails short (up to the school’s standards anyway). That way the non-dominant nails don’t dig into the food I’m trying to cut, as I think I’ve mentioned the first time I talked about cutting nails for the kitchen.
Ahaha, this one is a big one: so in Knife Skills, all we do is cut. So one morning, I decide to put on lotion for some reason. I feel like looking pretty and since I can’t put on makeup (both in the kitchen and just in general), lotion is probably the way to go there. Well, there’s no way for me have known this at the time, but we were dicing onions that day… For me, at least, whenever I have on lotion, I have to be careful for it not to get into my eyes or else I get tears. Lotion + Onions = Sobbing. I actually had to step back and rub my eyes on my apron (they advise us not to wipe our hands on our aprons, which is why that wasn’t a bad idea). So note to self: unless you’re a baker, don’t put on lotion at the beginning of a cooking day.
I thought of a new chef goal during Knife Skills too: successfully dicing tomatoes. They’re always so juicy and when we first worked with tomatoes, they talked about how to avoid the juice, but I’ve diced tomatoes to no avail. I use my chef’s knife and hand to scoop up the excess juice from the board, but that’s not even the issue. There’s still so much left inside the actual fruit, but you don’t want to completely crush it, so it’s like…what, do I need to spend more time wringing it out?
When I was in LA, the night before my dramatic haircut, we went out to a typical Korean restaurant where they cooked the meat in front of us. It wasn’t a hibachi. First of all, that’s Japanese, and secondly, it wasn’t a show. I’ve bore witness to this process pre-culinary journey, but obviously, now that I know what they’re doing, I can’t help but itch to jump in and take over, you know? Well, the servers did a fine job, obviously. It’s their job, they have to do it right.
I learned something new while observing them though: because it was done on a grill at the center of the table, when they came back to move the meat around, they didn’t flip it first. Instead, that switched both ends of the first side before flipping it and it didn’t take long for me to figure out why: because it’s a grill, the entire heat source isn’t the same temperature. By switching sides, it allows the first side to even out. I felt a sense of pride, figuring that out myself, hehe.
I found one flaw in the way they do things though: they switch grills after a couple of layers of meat, but really what they should have done was switch off after every layer. I know it’s time-consuming and maybe they considered this, but with beef, you don’t know what diseases it carries and I’ve learned from Sanitation & Safety that heat doesn’t destroy all bacterias.
Oh, and, I just thought of this right now, they used the same pair of tongs for each raw meat. I suppose I could file an informal complaint, but at the same time, they could be aware of these things, but choose not to. On the other hand, diseases.
For that exact same class, I’m supposed to go out to a restaurant and observe how the kitchen works, and report back to my professor as extra credit. I’m wondering if this could count, even if we’re not actually in the kitchen. I’ll ask. That’s my next class anyway.
And now for this week’s blog update points, or at least halfway. I still have four more classes before the week is over. I came up with a few points though, so since I have time, I may as well.
- Steaming does NOT mean boiling. I specifically mean for vegetables, especially green beans, when I use them as sides to mashed potatoes and steak or something. In fact, the official definition for steaming food is “ONLY in contact with the steam emanating from the pot of boiling water”. What I’ve been doing is boiling them directly in the water, mainly because it saves me from an extra portion of the pot to wash. I may stick to boiling for that reason though. Just wanted to clarify that because I literally thought there was no difference.
- Something that might get you thinking, “Are you on something?” is why potatoes feel so soapy when you peel and chop them. I only just noticed this when we were chopping them in Knife Skills during our first timed assessment. That’s why I thought that someone in class just didn’t wash them correctly. Now that I’ve started noticing it at home though, I think it’s just foam from the potato. It makes it slippery though, so be careful cutting.
The following two points I learned today in class: 1. If you accidentally moved someone else’s burner (adjusted the temp), the official policy is, if you’re unsure what degree it was on, don’t just guess. Turn it off and call over whosever it was and have them readjust it. 2. If the math gets too hard, switch to an easier unit. For example, one of my group mates and I had to figure out how to divide 1 pound plus 8 oz by 3 because we had to divide the entire recipe by 3. Well, since 16 oz go into a pound, the original amount is actually 1.5 pounds of white stock. Divide by 3 and that’s half a pound of the stock.
As far as personal cooking goes, I didn’t get to do anything over the weekend, considering we were in LA, but I’m hoping sharing what I noticed from the restaurant makes up for that gap. I did, however, make something yesterday because I wanted to replicate what I had learned in class. The recipe calls for a certain kind of fish, en papillote (which I know sounds really fancy, but only because it’s French. It literally translates to “in paper”). However, we ended up using Pacific Lingcod. Because the grocery store I go to doesn’t have that, I ended up substituting with a fillet of Alaskan Cod. (That’s right, right? The label said “Cod Alaskan Fillet Prev. Froz.” I assume the last part is “previously frozen” since it was, well, previously frozen.)
This recipe involves quite a bit of origami, which is fun! You have to use parchment paper to completely cover the fish and let it bake.
The sides I used were green beans (to practice actual steaming) and mashed potatoes (which would’ve made dinner the second time I made it yesterday).
Here it is pre-baked. I wanted to show how I folded it into itself at the bottom there in order to keep it together. I’m not sure how Chef Michael finished the folding process, but I figured at the end with that last flap, fold it onto one of the previous pockets. I used the second-to-last pocket because it was the closest one in order to make it perfectly stable. I don’t think there’s an official recipe for the way we did it, but I followed that: 350°F for about 10 minutes. Then, unsure if how raw it still was, I left it in the oven as the actual oven cooled down, so it would get the residual heat.
The only flaw was the fish was too small. I got one single strip and divided it into good portions that I thought were even as far as filling went. Both Mom and Dad complained that there wasn’t enough. So that’s a good note for next time: when the guy in the fish section of the market asks if one is enough for me, ask for three.
I just got out of PCB and made two dishes myself: the mashed potatoes again, in order to make it a side to the Hungarian Goulash. I noticed as I was making it that it looked a lot like Kimchi Stew, which is a family favorite. I actually did a presentation on it in Culinary Arts Survey. We had to find a foreign dish and talk about its history and how it affected the culinary world today. I think I’ll get into that tomorrow after Knife Skills since that ends at noon and I have a full day today, hence I’m hanging out in the library every Tuesday for two hours.
Anyways, putting together goulash was easy and I think I did it all by myself. If not, then I had help here and there by my teammates. The biggest factor in cooking stew (especially beef bourguignon) is patience. For this recipe (which was not Julia Child’s) had us (actually, someone else in my group) to bake it for 2.5 hours, so we had to get that one started first if we wanted to have it ready by 11:45, which is when we take a lunch break.
I also had a helping hand with the risotto (Gordon Ramsay’s favorite dish!), mainly from the one time I actually tried it. The idea with making risotto is you gradually add the stock and that’s what adds the sponginess to the rice. Well, that’s a common misconception at least, that it’s important to go little by little, but you can add the entire stock all at once and it’ll taste just the same. There’s a longer waiting period, but it’s the same exact process anyway. The stock evaporates or something, so you still end up with a risotto.
This one, however, stuck into the plate after about half an hour of sitting out. The person who was going to take ours in a bag actually hung it upside down and the risotto just stayed put. Didn’t make much sense to me because it was still mushy, but maybe it was just super sticky.
I don’t usually post dishes that we made as a class, but since I made both parts of the dish myself, I figured it was safe. I think usually, the side of mashed potatoes comes in a separate plate, but because I’m so used to combining stew with rice in the same bowl, that’s what I did here. Chef Michael said it was a perfect combination and that it looked beautiful. So…ha!
Dad wants to try it though and since the leftovers I’m taking home will get cold and I was planning on eating them for dinner before my last class, I decided I’ll just try it again this weekend so he can get a chance to taste it.
Also, one of the joys of being in a culinary environment is that most of the time, everybody’s small talk involves stories about food. When I was packing up for the library earlier, I heard two strangers talk about pastries and their personal experience with it. Then again, that may stem from questions like “what class do you have?” or “what did you make in this class today?”
Well, that’s about it. If there’s anything I forgot, you know I’ll post it in my next entry.
Break an egg, folks!
Update: So I just completed today’s Sanitation & Safety class and a brief conversation ensued between my professor and myself when I asked if I could talk about when the waiters cooked our meat in front of us as the extra credit outside kitchen observation assignment. Firstly, she said it was okay and she was actually interested in what I wanted to say. I can’t remember exactly the order of meats that went down, but she says it’s not as big a deal if the tongs go between poultries or beefs. That’s why I’m trying to remember what they specifically cooked because sometimes I think they first cooked pig meat first and then moved onto beef, which they did switch the grill for. However, they still cooked two layers of meat between switches, so I’m not 100% sure if they’re still in the clear.