Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Happy Birthday Mom

To celebrate her birthday, my mom & I spent the day downtown. After a leisurely stroll through some shops, we stopped at the Relax Station for a 20-minute neck and back massage. Pure heaven.

We had a delicious lunch at the Zingerman's Roadhouse--Hawaiian Pineapple Chicken Salad and a Fried Green Tomato BLT. Then we continued our house tradition of picking up slices of cake from Zingerman's Bakehouse. Chocolate Chocolate for G, white cake with lemon and orange curd for me, and for Mom, a carrot-y cupcake with cream cheese frosting.

Monday, July 30, 2007

New Shoes

OK, so I've been wearing my chef garb for weeks now. Dull, dull, dull. I felt the need to be super girly and I think this picture says it all.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Cooking Class #9

We arrived bright and early, coffee in hand, for our final class. The chef greeted us, gave us some tips, more pep talk and told us to have fun. Our final assignments were:

Turkey stew
Sauteed salmon medallions with a pan sauce
Chicken veloute sauce
Brown sauce
Hollandaise sauce

I took my time to set up my station. This was bittersweet. I looked forward to finishing class and having my Saturdays back again, but I really enjoyed the last three weeks hanging out with a chef and tackling his challenges.

First, I made the stew. I browned the turkey, browned some vegetables and cooked them down with a touch of tomato paste and brown roux. Then I deglazed with my own homemade chicken stock (leftover from Thursday night), threw in some spices, and placed the pot into the oven.

In the meantime, I tackled both the brown sauce and the veloute sauce, using similar techniques but different stocks: veal stock for the brown sauce and chicken stock for the veloute.

Next, I seared the salmon on both sides and put it on a plate. I deglazed the pan yet again with chicken stock, then added butter and flour to thicken the sauce, and seasoned with salt and pepper. I drizzled the sauce over the salmon and sprinkled some chopped parsley on top for garnish.

Lastly, I whipped up the Hollandaise. Egg yolks, a vinegar reduction, lemon juice, butter, and salt pepper. How does anyone eat this stuff? This one, I just don't get.

When I offered my dishes to the chef for his inspection, I was both hesitant and eager. I didn't get perfect 10's on the brown sauce and the Hollandaise which didn't really surprise me. Those two sauces were the ones with which I was least familiar. My vegetables caramelized a touch too long so the brown sauce had a bitter aftertaste. The Hollandaise could have been on the burner a bit longer.

I did get perfect scores on the veloute sauce, the sauteed salmon, and the turkey stew. The chef said that my salmon was beautiful. "Picture perfect." The highlight of my day though was watching the chef taste the turkey stew. He took a spoonful, tasted it, and his eyes widened and a big smile spread across this face. "This is awesome stew." I told him that he'd never know the joy I felt watching his face as he tasted something I'd cooked.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Time for Bed

I'm zombiefied. Seven hours straight in the kitchens...must lie down...details tomorrow...

Friday, July 27, 2007

Cooking Class #8

Our mission:

Make chicken stock

Make tomato concasse (using 3 plum tomatoes)

Make bechamel sauce

Make small & medium dice, julienne, and brunoise cuts (using 2 potatoes)

The chef was back (hurray!). He gave us a pep talk and led us to the kitchens.

First step was to take care of my mise en place (everything in its place). This means basically gathering and prepping all of your ingredients and making sure you have all the tools you'll need. That way, you can just plant yourself at your station/stove and cook without interruption.

I had spent the day in my own kitchen making roux, clarified butter, and, to my later delight, tomato concasse and bechamel sauce. Once I put my stock on to simmer, I attacked the tomatoes. Another pot of water on the burner. Score an 'X' on the bottom of each tomato just to pierce the skin. Place the tomatoes in the boiling water for fifteen seconds and then place them directly in ice water to stop them from cooking. Easily peel off the skin, remove the seeds, and dice.


Next I made the bechamel sauce since it was fresh in my memory. Make a white roux, scald some milk, sweat some onions in butter. Incorporate the roux into the onions, then slowly add the milk and whisk. Bring to a boil, add a bay leaf and one clove and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Strain and season with salt, white pepper, and nutmeg.


Then I took my time and slowly diced and julienned the potatoes--I find it tricky to exactly, precisely dice and cut with straight edges. I'm more of a rustic chopper.


I planned on letting my stock simmer until 10pm (for a solid four-hour cooking time) so I helped out with dishwashing duties. Around 9pm, several students were already straining their stock and asking the chef to taste it. Around 9:30pm, the chef asked us all back into the classroom for a moment. He didn't chastize, but he wanted to tell us that there was no hurry; that practically all of the stocks he'd tasted so far were weak. "Be patient. Let your stock develop some flavor."

I was smirking because my stock was still simmering at this time. Ha!

Stocks are graded by aroma, flavor, color, body, and clarity. Around 10:20, I nervously beckoned the chef to my station. My eyes wide and hopeful, I watched him as he tasted my stock. Other than being a little cloudy, he said that it was perfect.

(p.s.-Out of a possible forty-five points, that one point for stock clarity was the only one that I missed.)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Cooking Class #7

Part One of our final. The chef was out-of-town on a business trip so non-chef administered the test. Five pages of a written exam and then identification of small and large equipment, herbs and spices.

Everyone's eyes looked glazed over by the end of the night. On to Part Two tonight...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Farmers' Market

Every Wednesday and Saturday during the summer we have a great farmers' market downtown. Because of my school schedule, I've been enjoying going to the market as many Wednesday mornings as possible. That's where I am today.

The market is in a small historic district called Kerrytown. It's my favorite little section of town. The original Zingerman's deli is here, a coffee shop, a wine shop, a crazywonderful paper store...more about that later.

Lots of squash today. Squash is not welcome at my house so I need to keep looking. Look at those beets. We had to cook them six different ways in food chemistry class last semester. When it came time to taste them, I wasn't impressed. So as usual, I'll pass on the beets.

Of course, there's great people watching too. You have your senior couples who just park, walk to their vendor and pick up a bunch of basil and some onions, and then they're off. There are the moms with strollers who walk slowly past every booth, buying cookies for the kids, veggies for dinner, flowers for the table. No hurry. You have your local chefs who stop to see what looks good for today's menus.

Me, I just like to peruse and shop and then head for a big, overstuffed chair at the coffee shop for some online time. A great way to spend a summer morning.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Suzanne Vega in-store performance

I snuck out at lunchtime to see Suzanne Vega perform a few songs at a bookstore downtown. Our local radio station partners with the bookstore to bring in some national acts. The musicians usually perform a couple of songs live for a radio broadcast and then play a few more just for the audience at the store.

Suzanne Vega just released Beauty & Crime, her first new CD in almost six years. She arrived sporting bright red lipstick that matched the color of her hair and wearing a purple knee length blouse with black leggings. Vega shared the small stage (in the cookbook section, go figure) with a bass player and a keyboardist who also played the violin.

Once introduced, Vega and her bandmates started to snap their fingers and invited the audience to join in. They opened with an a cappella version of Tom's Diner. The audience sang the choruses of da-da-DA-da-da-da-DA-da...

Vega then sang a few songs from the new CD, including my favorite, Frank & Ava, which she wrote after reading an Ava Gardner biography. The song is about a fiery, doomed relationship, inspired by Gardner and Frank Sinatra. She also sang New York is a Woman, which was a hit with the crowd.

"And she's every girl you've seen in every movie
every dame you've ever known on late night TV
in her steam and steel is the passion you feel
New York is a woman she'll make you cry
and to her you're just another guy."

Vega's voice is soft and airy, almost girlish, which works as a counterpoint to her adult, sometimes suggestive, songwriting. If you only know her because of her hit single, Luka, you're missing out.


Beauty and Crime
Songs in Red and Gray
Nine Objects of Desire

Monday, July 23, 2007


Finals are this week so I'm busy making flash cards and making sauces. So far I've made a chicken veloute sauce, red pepper coulis, and tomato sauce. I'm trying to summon the courage to make a Hollandaise sauce.

I placed little plastic cups all over my dining room table. Each cup is filled with a spice from my cupboard so I can quiz myself a couple of times a day. For some reason, I seem to stumble when I smell curry or ginger. Either my nose is too tired or my spices are old.

My next post might have to describe the bottle of wine I had to open to get through my studying.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Cooking Class #6

Yesterday's class was all review for our upcoming finals. We bombarded the chef with questions; we toured the kitchens one last time to identify all large and small equipment. For our final demonstration, the chef poached some salmon and made Hollandaise sauce.

G made some coffee for me again. He set the timer on the coffeemaker to start at 6:05am. The caffeine was much appreciated, but I wasn't impressed with my mix of cream and sugar. G is our house mixologist (aka Sir Mixalot) so I'm spoiled. He always makes the perfect cup of coffee.

My biggest problem is drinking it though. During both Saturday classes, I dribbled coffee down the front of my chef jacket. Luckily, I learned in the very first class the reason that a chef jacket can button from the left and the right: to hide any stains. Brilliant.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

otherwise occupied

Can't write a post today. I'm engrossed in the new (and final) Harry Potter book!

Friday, July 20, 2007

everyday cook

Everyday Cook is a new restaurant in town. We decided to check it out and have a fancy schmancy lunch today.

The chef/owner only serves lunch Tues.-Sat. He uses lots of local produce from the farmers' market which happens to be right downstairs from the restaurant. The most original thing about the place is that everyday the menu changes. Typically, the chef offers a soup, a couple of meat entrees, a veggie entree, and a dessert.

Here was today's menu:

Pork, Chipotle, and Blue Corn Soup

Delmonico Steak with Blue Cheese Chop House Salad

Seared Tuna with Ginger-Plum Glaze, served with Cucumber Salad and Rice

Roasted Chicken with Squash Salsa and Steamed Rice

Baked Potato Skins with Summer Vegetables and Cheese, served with a Side Salad

Roasted Pears with Vanilla Ice Cream

We chose the tuna and the steak and shared the dessert. The kitchen is open so we watched the chef sear the tuna and grill the steak. He even served the dishes himself. G & I ate every morsel and can't wait to make a return trip.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Cooking Class #5

We spent the entire class in the kitchen tonight. Chef split us up into groups and assigned tasks.

Group One - chicken stock and carrot/parsnip soup
Group Two - veal stock and ratatouille
Group Three - Caramelized mirepoix (onions, celery, carrots browned in a saute pan) and roasted red pepper soup

The chef just rattled off ingredients to us for our dishes and we had to take notes and head for the kitchen. No recipes. My group (group three) met briefly and divided tasks to attack and conquer. What a team! We chopped, we diced, we simmered. The fronts of our chef jackets were no longer a pristine white. We had arrived.

Here's what the chef told us to include in our soup; it was delicious. I'm going to try and recreate it at home and when I perfect the recipe, I will share it.

1 gallon chicken stock
2 qts. cream
roasted red peppers
5 shallots
1 bulb garlic
diced tomatoes
ground coriander, cumin, chili powder
salt & pepper
blanched cabbage (garnish)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Cooking Class #4

More magic tricks in class last night. Our homework assignment was to make a batch of chicken stock and bring it in for the chef's inspection.

Again, the chef looked at each container of stock, smelled the stock, and tasted it. Again, I was mesmerized.

"What kind of bones did you use? Did you use all chicken feet?"

"Too much water."

"You need to leave your sachet of spices in the stock longer."

"You added salt, didn't you?"

"It's too sweet. You added too many carrots."

The rest of the class was all demonstration. Chef made four of the five "mother" sauces and we tasted each one. White veloute (velvet) sauce, brown sauce, tomato sauce, and bechamel sauce. I've never seen so many people so happy. I dreamt about that veloute sauce last night.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

National Ice Cream Day

I just read that July is National Ice Cream month. Seriously. President Reagan put it into effect. According to my desk calendar, National Ice Cream DAY is tomorrow. Now I did a tiny bit of research and it looks like Sunday, July 15th was the honest-to-goodness National Ice Cream Day. But who am I to quibble when this is an excuse to stop for a cone?

So what will it be?

Sugar cone, waffle cone, or cake cone?

Mom & Pop or Ben & Jerry's?

One scoop or two?

Monday, July 16, 2007


For some reason, this poem was on my mind today. I was just recalling our honeymoon in San Francisco recently. Maybe that's what brought the poem to mind. The last time I was in the City Lights bookstore I picked up a book of poetry by e.e. cummings. I don't think I'd ever bought poetry before then. The purchase was supposed to be the beginning of my poetry phase. Well, that never really took hold, but this poem in particular has always moved me.

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence;
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me,i and
my life will shut very beautifully,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens,only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

-e.e. cummings

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Cooking Class #3

Class was all about thickening agents, stocks, and sauces. The most challenging part of the whole day was waking up at 5:30 to be at class at 7am. On a Saturday.

Our homework assignment was to make a roux. Definition of roux: a cooked mixture of flour and fat used as a thickening agent in a soup or a sauce.

So all twenty-three of us set our little plastic containers of roux in front of us for the chef's inspection. He picked up each one, looked at it, smelled it, and then...

"What kind of flour did you use?"

"Did you use clarified butter?"

"What kind of pan did you use?"

He was able to tell if vegetable oil was used in place of butter; if the butter was salted or unsalted; if the flour was stale. He might as well have been the Amazing Kreskin.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


Long before I became a foodie, I remember saying to my mom, “Why don’t they make air fresheners or candles that smell like food?" Forget hyacinth or lilac. I’m talking about cinnamon and apple dumplings with vanilla sauce.

Slowly, I started to find some candles at Christmas time: gingerbread and freshly baked cookies. Pretty soon at every mall I could stop and buy some body spray or lotion that smelled like citrus or vanilla bean. A dear friend bought me some even more exotic candles for my bridal shower, scented with olive & sage, mint & basil, grapefruit & ginger.

My longing for aromas has most likely become one of the factors that brings me to my ktichen more and more. Like one of those cartoon characters I grew up with...a wascally wabbit or a stone-aged fella smells something heavenly all of a sudden, maybe a baking pie or a brontosaurus steak on the grill. They get this dreamy look in their eyes and float along with the smell until they reach their delicious destination.

I’m writing this as the smell of caramelized onions fills my house. Who knew onions could smell so sweet? Caramelizing takes some time, but not much effort. There’s no need to babysit the pan. My favorite part is standing with my face right above the slowly browned onions as I toss in some fresh thyme (the fancy chefs are right...there’s nothing like fresh herbs) and then pour in some white wine. The onions and herbs and wine steam up and simmer together and I have a big smile on my face.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Cooking Class #2

Last night's class was mostly lecture again. We started off by talking a little about culinary history. The chef mentioned various influential chefs that we should know...Alain Ducasse, Thomas Keller, Joel Robuchon, Paul Bocuse. Um, excuse me, where are the women???

Non-chef gave us a practice quiz about the specific roles and responsibilities in the kitchen. He asked if anyone in the class spoke French and my little arm went up. Next thing I know, I'm the Go To French Pronounciation Girl. I had to pronounce the following:

saucier (so-see-ay)
garde manger (guard mon-jay)
grillardin (gree-ar-den)
poissonier (pwah-so-nee-ay)
entremetier (awn-tra-may-tee-ay)
patissier (pah-tee-see-ay)
rotisseur (ro-tee-sir)

Yes, I am positively thrilled to use my French. Ooh la la.

Lastly, we focused on knife skills. The chef demonstrated various chops and dices. Non-chef showed us a quick DVD to show us more examples. Then, before we entered the kitchen to peel and chop and dice potatoes, he made sure to tell us to be careful with our knives. In his last class, two students cut themselves badly enough to earn trips to the ER.


Thursday, July 12, 2007


Every once in a while I stroll down the mystery aisles in my local library (my home away from home). Wishful thinking. I haven't found any mystery novels to my liking in quite some time. Contemporary mystery/suspense novels tend to be too graphic or too gross or too fluffy or worse yet, too poorly written.

Recently, I stumbled upon a series of mysteries by British author Peter Lovesey. Pure happenstance. And now I've found a new detective hero: Peter Diamond.

Diamond is a detective superintendent with the local police department in Bath, England. He's a middle-aged, technophobic curmudgeon, and a darn good detective. He has little finesse and loves to make frequent stops at the chips shop.

My favorite stories have included a murder that's too close to home, a murder committed in broad daylight at a crowded beach, and the discovery of a body buried underneath the house where Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. Not only are the puzzles intriguing in each book, but the supporting characters are memorable and well drawn.

I can't help but be a little sad reading The Secret Hangman, the tenth and latest Peter Diamond mystery. What will I do when I've read the last page? I'm already craving more.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Intro to Professional Cooking Skills

Last night was my first class in an intense 3 week course at culinary school. My first reaction was...am I in the right class? A handful of people were in normal "civilian" clothes. I was already hugely uncomfortable in my chef jacket, checkered pants, and the ugliest shoes you'll ever see me wear. Sure enough, five minutes before class started, the civilians discovered they were in the wrong room. Off to bread making class they went.

The class is led by a chef and a non-chef. The chef is a cool cat. He has a good sense of humor, is straightforward, and very welcoming. The non-chef is all business. Very knowledgeable and helpful, but not what you'd call fun at a party. They told us what we can expect from the class and then gave us a thorough tour of the kitchens. The class promises to be fun and challenging and intense.

We have to read two chapters and take two online quizzes by Thursday's class. The textbook is over 1000 pages. I'm thinking of hiring someone to carry it around campus for me.

Thursday night we're in the kitchen (hats on) observing and practicing knife cuts. I think I'm going to practice on some potatoes here at home. Fine julienne, julienne, batonnet...small, medium, large dice...

One great bonus is there's almost always another class that shares its bounty. Last night we had delicious slices of just out-of-the-oven pizza.