Tag Archive | NY Times Cooking

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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8/30/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Till then, break an egg!

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

5/31/16

So…what’s up, guys? I know it’s been a couple weeks and I apologize. I did cook a few times over this hiatus and I took photos at the time, but never got around to updating the entries. I figure it’s better late than never, right? Since I still have the photos of the dishes I made, my next entry will just sum up what I remember from making each of them.

You know, I never noticed how creative you have to be in order to get into the cooking business. You don’t want to be cooking the exact same thing every single time–you want variety (despite what I made today). Not only that, but it also has to look good on the plate. If you’re missing an ingredient and don’t have time to look for it at the store, you need to improvise. Just wanted to point that out.

Today, I made steak, mashed potatoes, and green beans. My favorite dish. And I think I’ve gotten it down. Mostly. I still had to refer to the recipes a few times, but I didn’t measure any of the ingredients. Never used any of the measuring tools and they all turned out perfectly. Just sayin’. Just sayin’. 😉

No, there were still a few flaws. I was mostly worried about the steak. I still can’t quite cook it to pro-level, and by that, I mean make the top and bottom less crunchy. I think I slightly burned mine. Just a teensy bit. My dad bought me a book (that I’d actually read about when looking for cookbooks) about how to cook using science and I went over the steak portion. Apparently, it is a big deal how often you flip the steak. I didn’t really care about the details; just which way was better: flip once or multiple times. Answer: once. I only flip it a couple times anyway. I try to cook it on one side for a few minutes and hope that it’s halfway done and then flip, to try to get the other half. Then, I poke a hole in it to measure the temp. If it’s not ready, I flip it because it was, I don’t know, bleeding, and I wanted to cook that portion.

IMG_3194 So here’s the usual photo. I know it looks the same as the other times I’ve made it, but I thought I’d show you anyway. Usually, I’d add more green beans, but to be truthful, I guessed on the portions. Each ingredient. My mom said that they were all made perfectly this time (that steak is still iffy to my standards though) and, tasting each of them myself, I know they just taste the same as my previous attempts.

The biggest question I had is really how to fry steak perfectly. I know it’s typically grilled, but in our family, the men do the grilling. Since I can’t do that myself, I just use the pan. I think my biggest issue is the oil. I feel like that’s always the culprit whenever I cook meat. The more oil there is, the more it explodes and burns me (which is why I always put on long-sleeved sweaters now). I added a lot of oil–don’t know how much, but all I can say is there was about a half-inch depth in the pan, which doesn’t say much because the circumference of the pan I used could differ from yours. Although perhaps that doesn’t matter, because I only used a bigger pan to cook three steaks at once. If you’re just cooking one piece, then you can add enough oil for one pan?

When I made the mashed potatoes (which were first), I just added the rest of the butter that we had, which I’m guessing was 2 tbsp. Then, I added a bit of the milk and, after I mixed it in with the mashed potatoes, I knew I needed more moisture, so added the rest of the milk. I think we had enough. I can’t tell you how much, specifically. All I can say is I used the rest of the milk. (Shrugs.)

Before placing the steak on the pan, I washed the meat (of course), but also dried them. I especially dried them, too. Maybe that’s why it seemed more successful this time. I also just added salt, rather than salt AND pepper. I also put the salt on the steak more easily, I think. I carefully (not slowly) dumped one layer of the salt all over the surface of the meat using the dotted portion of the cap.

As I said before, I only used the recipe as a reference, but the recipes I looked at were, as usual, Rachael Ray’s green bean recipe; only used the Blue Bloods Cookbook recipe to look at that table of inside temperatures, since my brother likes it rare and I’ve never cooked it rare before; and The NY Times Cooking classic mashed potatoes.

I believe that’s about it. At least, I hope it is. I want to get to that update.

Oh, also, when I told my mom that I just guessed at all the ingredients, she told me that with more practice, you get better at your judgment of portion. When you look at the recipe, you can visualize how it tastes as you go over each step.

I will add one last reminder though: garlic salt with mashed potatoes. Perfection. Add it to taste.

5/11/16

Our family’s favorite meal is from a place called Sweet T’s. Every time we order takeout, we eat the same thing: Fried Chicken Dinner with mashed potatoes and fried vegetables on the side. Today, I wanted to make exactly that, in case I didn’t have to drive all the way there. (They don’t even get cell reception. I mean, what kind of savages live that way? I’m kidding. Sometimes, it’s good to unplug for a couple hours.)

This is the Fried Chicken Dinner, which is what I tried to replicate. I used Paula Deen’s recipe for Southern Fried Chicken, which was easy to follow. Just not easy to eat, which is sort of the most important step of the meal.

Paula Deen, who- or whatever told you that one cup of salt was good enough for the very first layer of this chicken was DEAD WRONG. That is too much salt, even for all those pieces of chicken, and the smallest chicken I could find weighed double what you said to get. Not only that, but when I added the salt, I didn’t even use an entire cup. I used what was left of the kosher salt we had, which took up about 75% of the measuring cup. As a matter of fact, my parents and I opted to take off the crust and just eat the chicken.

One of the biggest reasons why I even chose this particular recipe was because, not only was it simple to make, but it got five stars with 881 reviews. (Well, by the time I’m through with her, 882 reviews.) I didn’t read through all of them, but almost every single review on the first page had five stars. Every one except the one star that complained about the salt. I suppose I should’ve taken that as a hint, so that’s the biggest lesson I learned tonight: if there are reviews available for the recipe you are using, do your research and READ. THEM. ALL. While you are one person, and your taste buds and opinions differ from everyone else’s, chances are you’ll still find someone who has similar tastes. Find them and then cry together about the horrors of the salty fried chicken. (Just not over the chicken. There’s enough salt as it is.)

As far as those five-star reviewers go, my mom says that they probably knew just by looking at the ingredients that one cup didn’t seem right, so they made the appropriate reductions for a more successful outcome. That’s probably what I should’ve done: once I saw how much salt was in the bowl, I thought, Is she sure this is right? It does seem extreme. Oh well. It’s only one layer of salt. Plus, it’s Paula Deen. She’s famous. Yeah, fame doesn’t matter. I’m never trusting you again, Paula Deen. You use your abundance of salt to shield you from the demons who told you that one cup was a safe amount to coat the first layer of your chicken with. (I’ve been binge-watching Supernatural so when I think of salt, I think “demons”.)

Except that’s all part of cooking, isn’t it? Experimentation? See what works and what doesn’t? As I said in this post, it’s hardly ever going to be perfect the first time you try a recipe. For example, I learned that what doesn’t work is putting that much salt (or faith, apparently) into Paula Deen’s Southern Fried Chicken.

I think I can see where she thought we needed that much salt though: because it’s used to coat the chicken. Except salt isn’t the only part of that mixture. There’s also pepper and garlic powder, so why not just have more of one of those ingredients? I’m going to try adding more garlic powder next time because I didn’t taste any of it, and I’m pretty sure I would’ve rather tasted a little more garlic if it meant having a little less salt.

I suppose now is the time for the usual List of Thoughts during this painfully…briny process:

  1. Mashed potatoes were first because they were easiest, I’d already made them once before, and I could keep them stored in a warm place. I mean…I didn’t…but I could have.
  2. Holy crap, I have to take apart the entire chicken myself? Here’s the guide I used that wasn’t completely helpful to me: http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Cut-a-Chicken/
  3. Never mind, got Mommy to help. And she taught me how to use a meat cleaver! Sort of. She took over after I couldn’t quite get it. Guess she was too afraid I’d accidentally chop off a finger. I wanted to use it like a hatchet though, you know? Swinging it from above my head, but then I was too afraid that I’d miss. How do people line that up so perfectly? Just by practicing? Ain’t nobody got time for that. Actually, unless you’re heading into a career of culinary arts…I think practice is all you’ve got time for.
  4. I felt as if setting aside the mixtures of ingredients in separate bowls was easier for some reason. I think it was because it was nice not having to worry about using the entire thing to cook with. Instead, they were set out the way a factory would organize each station: “Quick. 1, 2, 3. Done. 1, 2, 3. Done. Easy.”
  5. “Add enough hot sauce so the egg mixture is bright orange.” I sort of had a problem with this step. Your bright orange is different from my bright orange, Paula. Plus, there are still many different shades of bright orange. Should it be more yellow or orangy? What if I add too much red? Just add another egg? Am I overthinking this? Perhaps. But am I wrong? I hope not.
  6. I initially thought I had a good system going when I was dunking the chicken into each bowl: drop, drown, flip, drown. Then, it became: drop, flip, flip. After that, I just said, “Screw it. Drown the entire piece.”
  7. Stupid question: what is dark meat?
  8. I also looked up tips on how to fry chicken and I found it pretty resourceful: http://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/common-mistakes/article/fried-chicken-common-mistakes
  9. Actually frying the stuff, I was surprised didn’t burn me as much as it typically takes me to fry vegetables. Although in the middle of it, there was this huge bomb that detonated at the center of the pan and honestly, I had to pause for a minute because I was in shock.
  10. I was also a little concerned with the skin during the frying process. I know that whenever they are professionally made, they rarely have skin peeling off, and I was wondering how they do that. If they screw it up, do they somehow fix it? You see the one at the top left corner? The skin peeled off just a little a bit from the tongs. Yeah, how would I fix that? Just leave it as is? Use a bandaid? What?
  11. Toward the last half hour of my cooking time, I ended up handing the green bean duties to my mom since I was still dunking the raw meat at that point. It wasn’t a huge deal since she already has her own recipe for making them anyway. I literally just told her to make it her way, which isn’t that far from the one I use (which is technically Rachael Ray’s recipe).

So what have we learned today, class? Don’t trust the chef as much as you think; if you can, rely on the reviewers, because there’s bound to be someone online who shares similar feelings with you. I read the one-star review, which was the only complaint I read, about the salt and I couldn’t help but think, “Dude, I’m with you 100%. I totally get how you feel. How we’re the only ones on the first page of the review results who feel this way, I don’t know, but good for you!”

In case you wanted to see how everything turned out: Of course, it looks better than it tastes. Trust me. But that was dinner. Although he hated how salty it was, I think my dad ate the most chicken. Then again, it probably seemed that way because he fed it to the dogs too. His, anyway. (That’s why that Chihuahua so fat, but I have more self-control. And like Joey Tribbiani says, “Joey doesn’t share food!” Except it’s my name obviously, not “Joey”.)

I’m going to try this again, but with 1/4 cup of salt. Instead, I’ll use more garlic powder in the house seasoning. See where that gets me.

And as I was making the mashed potatoes, I couldn’t help but think of the “Mother’s Day” episode of Blue Bloods. Obviously, that’s one of my biggest TV obsessions–and you, Jamie Reagan (Will Estes), are not helping–as of October 21st. (Yes, I memorized the date because what attracted me first was Will’s birthday shared with my Broadway husband, Aaron Tveit.)

Anyways, I think of that one dinner scene because the niece, Nicky, got to make “the world-famous Frank Reagan Mother’s Day Mash. I don’t know, I just liked that she got to help out with Mother’s Day dinner, I guess. Oh, how do I remember this episode? I may have bought it on iTunes because of the fight that Jamie gets into with his older brother…

5/9/16

Writing this amateur chef’s blog, you can probably tell it’s similar to the film based on a true story, “Julie & Julia”. Although it has been out for seven years now, I can tell you the premise to save you from researching yourself: a woman who makes a living off of talking to survivors or family members of those lost on 9/11 in her cubicle leans toward cooking for the sake of her blog, which she started to maintain her sanity. Her goal is to go through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days, just so she can finish something important in her life. If you’ve seen this film, you probably understand the similarities between this woman and myself, only I’m not setting any limits to myself. I’m just making what I want, when I want.

Well today, I finally made something by Julia Child. Sort of. I still think I did it wrong. See for yourself: 

It’s just the sauce, but how does it look? I used a fruit blender instead of a food processor and, somehow I think that’s why it looked like a smoothie…or is it supposed to look like that? The texture didn’t worry me so much as the color. It was so…pink…like watermelon smoothie. Well, because of this, I was especially irritated yesterday while making dinner. I just felt like nothing was going right, so while the sauce simmered for an hour, I went to the grocery store to buy backup sauce, but I obviously didn’t end up using it.

The spaghetti is a separate recipe and that didn’t go so perfectly either. I think it was stress, which is weird because I’ve made spaghetti before. Not these exact recipes, but they’re not too different from what I’ve worked with. There’s not much that you can do to spaghetti to ruin it. Except leave it undercooked. The recipe said to stop boiling when the noodles are almost ready, but not quite (still chalky in the middle). I figured, we’ll just go along with that since it’ll still cook with the oil. I tried. I really did. In fact, the highlight of this whole experience was using a pair of tongs to mix the noodles. I think of it as flipping them so the oil and vegetables could imbed themselves into the spaghetti.

This dish was supposed to go with artichokes, which my parents really want me to make because they want to learn how to eat it? I was too frustrated just by the pasta, so I’m like, “No. Artichokes aren’t happening tonight. Deal with it.”

The sauce was also the first time I’d used a “bouquet” of greens. It was supposed to stay in the pot with the sauce so I guess it was supposed to be a like filter or a teabag. Just add all the vegetables into the filter and tie up both ends and just…throw it in?

Instead of orange peel, I went with lemon zest.

By the end, it just wasn’t right. I don’t know what it was, but there were a lot of things off with it. Maybe I’ll try again when I gain more experience. I guess I just wasn’t ready for you, Julia.

4/26/16

Today I made tomato bisque from a NY Times Cooking recipe called “Tomato Bisque with Fresh Goat Cheese”. I chose it because it was the easiest one that I found. Of course, “easiest” doesn’t always mean that it actually is easy. There a few questions that I would like to address:

  1. Is the top of the saucepan supposed to be on when you’re leaving it to simmer for half an hour?
  2. Did it have to be “Italian plum tomatoes”? The can I found was the Signature Kitchens Crushed Tomatoes in Rich Purée. It was the only “crushed tomato” option I could find, but I think it worked.
  3. Our family is strongly against goat cheese, so I looked up what I could substitute for it, which was cream cheese–I could use the exact same amount. Then, my source said that if I wanted to maintain a similar texture, I just add a little bit of plain yogurt.
  4. Are they sure that you’re supposed to put it on medium-high heat? The first three ingredients burned very quickly and it didn’t take me long to add the other ingredients this time. In fact, they told me to wait 1-2 minutes. Well, within half a minute, it started to burn.
  5. I think there’s too much salt. My dad, whom I was making this for, watched me prep the salt and he literally pointed out that it was too much. I was only following the recipe though. Is there something I could add to it to save it, do you think?
  6. The bread is good though. Okay, I bought it from Safeway, but it’s good.

I think the recipe itself is fine, just needs a few tweaks. Step one would be to reduce the amount of salt. 1 tbsp. is way too much. I think I’ll just add 1 tsp, and if it’s not enough, I can always add more.

On the plus side, I used a blender for the first time! You can imagine how much of a blast the puppies had, hearing it work.

I’m reading the reviews on here and they’re mostly positive. How? Are they not tasting the extra salt? Did I misread the amount?

Wait…I think I did get the wrong tomatoes after all. Apparently, you need more in order to get the equivalent amount of plum tomatoes, according to one reviewer. Damn substitutions due to convenience.

So here’s what it looks like on the website: 01CHEESE4-articleLarge.jpg

And here’s what I made: IMG_2766.JPG

4/24/16

Whenever I watch Hell’s Kitchen, there’s always an episode where Chef Gordon Ramsay says something about a risotto. I even memorized how he pronounces it with his British accent: “Ri-ZOT-toe”. (You said it out loud, didn’t you? Make sure you got the accent down, too. It’s pretty fun, right?) Since then, I’ve always wanted to try it. Looking at the finished product on TV, I saw that it was some kind of porridge made from rice.

Making it though, I was surprised that it was less about the rice and more about getting it to soak. How do you do that? Chicken broth. Lots and lots of chicken broth.

So here’s what I was supposed to make: 

And here’s what came out: IMG_2743

Here’s a link to the recipe for the Fresh Herb Risotto, if you’d like to follow along:

  1. Note to self: if you have less of a major ingredient, also add less of the other major ingredients. Just so it doesn’t look too…much.
  2. This time, I set out each ingredient in little bowls beforehand, so that was good. That’s when I realized that when you’re cooking, the thing that takes the most amount of time is probably preparing the ingredients.
  3. I tried to plan out which pots I needed to make this risotto, but I knew that I was only guessing on how much of each part there would be, even if the serving size was two. For example, I put the chicken broth in a big pot and the onions in a smaller one. Little did I know that I needed to slowly add the broth into the other pot with the onions as soon as it had even more ingredients. So instead, I had to improv. Being a theatre major, I was good at that. Case in point: that very moment. I took out a large pan–a rondeau, it’s apparently called?–and put the onions in there instead. Then, I proceeded with the recipe.
  4. The serving size was originally four, but since it was just me tonight, I cut each ingredient down by half, which made the fractions fun. No, really. I gained back some fraction multiplication skills. “2/3 times 1/2 equals 2/6, AKA 1/3”. (I know, you’d think I’d realize that myself through logic alone, but I don’t math very well.)
  5. Does the rice have to be cooked already? I was assuming so, but it was never specified in the ingredients, so I was stuck wondering until I added the rice into the mixture. My assumption was correct: risotto involves cooked rice.
  6. Our garlic cloves were already minced so I had to guess there too. I just assumed that one garlic clove equaled 1 tsp. Also, when you’re reading the instructions, make sure to read every single word and understand it. That way, when the list of ingredients states 4 garlic cloves, but the first time you use them says you need just one clove, you will actually add one clove. I read the instructions beforehand and actually made a mental note when I read “remaining three cloves of garlic” in Step 3. I forgot, so once I came across that step, I thought, Aaaaaaand I finally screwed up. Instead, I added two more tsp. of minced garlic into the pot. I don’t think it made any difference though. I didn’t taste the garlic.
  7. Stirring the rice was kind of fun though. Because of the broth (I think), when it stuck to the pan, it was really easy to detach. Plus, the chicken stock was absorbed by the rice so quickly that I had fun adding even more broth.
  8. The green leaves I used were basil and parsley and we ran out of both bottles. We had extras, except the ones I used up actually said “fresh leaves” on the labels, but I didn’t use the others. I still feel as though the amount I had was too much. It tasted like seaweed, which is good, because seaweed paper is a delicious side for a Korean meal. I’m just not sure if I liked it for the risotto.
  9. How does one cut up lemon skin in order to make “zest”? What I did was peel some of the skin off with a potato peeler, and then chop it up. And, you know, I feel that although there was less of this ingredient, it was probably the flavor that stood out the most. Besides salt.
  10. Oh, and as I was peeling the lemon skin, I thought to myself, Wanna know what’d be totally fun right about now? Breaking skin. (Sarcastically, of course.)

When I first decided to make this, I wanted to be all “The Fault in Our Stars” and taste the goodness of the risotto that Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters ate in Amsterdam. I even had fizzy white wine, which is close enough to champagne (although I decided not to drink it because I was planning on going for a walk later, which didn’t happen anyway). The Dutch risotto was not as…what’s the word? Green. Not that specific risotto anyway.

As I was washing the dishes, this thought occurred to me: every time I made something, my mom was always surprised by how much of an ingredient it required to make the recipe. It was weird because I figured she’d understand–she’s the one who cooks dinner every day (or at least she was). Instead, she kept encouraging me to just cut each ingredient down to half, but you probably know me by now (at least after reading point number four of this entry): I don’t math very well. Plus, as evidenced in point number six, my memory ain’t so hot either.

Like right now. I was going to make a really good point with that thought process as I was washing dishes, but it has completely escaped my mind. Meh, hopefully it’ll get back to me before I click “Publish”.

At the very beginning, one of the first things it says is “make sure that it is well seasoned”. All I did was add 3.5 cups of chicken stock into the pan. What is there to season? How do I know what it’s supposed to taste like? Can someone please tell me why that direction is there? I mean, when it’s written in Step 4, I get it–the dish is almost done and at that point, you perfect the taste. But what is the chicken broth supposed to taste like when literally all it’s doing is just simmering? I don’t know…

Oh, after adding the notes about the lemon skin, I finally remembered: so why does…aaaaand I lost it again.

Wait, I got it! And it turns out it had nothing to do with the dishwashing daydream! So when you’re looking at specific ingredients, you try to get exactly what they say and how much. Then, you try to read the instructions thoroughly and see if you can replicate what they did. But when something goes wrong, do you find yourself pointing fingers at yourself, or is there a tendency to blame something else? For example, the rice I used was the batch that we already had–extras from last night’s dinner. That’s the only rice we really have, especially the one that was already cooked, so I figured I might as well use it. The list says, however, to use “arborio or carnaroli rice”, specifically. Was that a factor? Did I really need that type of rice?

Having double the minced garlic was probably a factor too.

Or double the lemon zest. (I was so preoccupied with lemon peeling that I wasn’t aware that it was only supposed to fit into half a tsp.)

Too much green.

Got carried away with the salt.

So how do we know what exactly went wrong? The only way to look back and see what could’ve went wrong is by memory, but I suppose that’s why we practice. When we fail, we shouldn’t just give up. We try it again, like I said with the science experiment analogy; we make appropriate adjustments and see if this time was any better. I suppose that’s what they mean when something is (or isn’t) an exact science: you can’t always get it right, but you can certainly up your amount of attempts till you get it right.

Out of 47 ratings though, and two reviews (both very positive), this dish has an average of five stars, so apparently I’m the only one with issues.

Oh wait…maybe the leaves were supposed to be literally fresh, not from-a-bottle-that-says-“fresh”…

P.S. For lunch, I tried making the breakfast sandwich the way my school did it (hey, I usually wake up at 10, so at that point, lunch is breakfast). I think it was egg, ham, and cheese (from bottom to top). The texture was different, I think, because I didn’t cook the ham. I still feel as if something was missing though. I will figure it out. In the meantime, I wasn’t going to share this, but since I already took the picture…: IMG_2737