Sunday, September 30, 2007

Good Eats

Lunch by the front window
Yogurt with flaxseed meal, honey, a white peach, and a whole wheat peanut butter cookie from the Bread Basket table at the Public Market. I dunked chunks of the latter two into the yogurt. *shrug* I often torture my food so diabolically. *cue Vincent Price laugh from the end of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video.
Flaxseed--great for Omega 3 fatty acids, which help lower total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol. It may also help lower blood pressure and triglyceride. Some studies show it helps prevent your platelets from sticking. Flaxseed also contains lingan, which may play a role in helping prevent cancer. Mix it in yogurt, and it gives the yogurt a fuller, more substantial texture. I call it dessert! Honey, while woefully high in calories, helps increase antioxidant levels. All this nutrition info is really just a ploy to make me feel better about the big, delicious, partly crispy, partly chewy, moist cookie. Whole wheat, dangit!

Dinner at my desk
Modified (and by "modified," I mean improvised) mapo tofu with brown rice.
mapo tofu

Dessert by post
Books came in the mail yesterday! I'm currently reading The Cook's Canon: 101 Classic Recipes Everyone Should Know by Raymond Sokolov, but that's an at-home book, so one of the new books will be an on-the-go and down-time-at-the-office book.
books from the club Read more!

Phoenix's farmers' market

It's nice to go somewhere where people smile at you when you look at them. And not in that "nice clown outfit" smile--a sincere "hey, nice to see you" smile. The Downtown Phoenix Public Market is to me what Cheers was to Norm. This is only the third time I've gone (three weeks in a row), and people are recognizing me and remembering my name. I guess that's what happens when you see people doing something they honestly love. I can't see how all those farmers and artisans would be out there otherwise. Most of them drive a long, long way, very early in the morning, carting up all their goods and setting up their displays before the market opens up at 8 a.m. As someone who's habitually slept in until 10 or 12 on Saturdays, rolling out of bed and into a computer desk chair or the couch, I call their actions downright heroic. I guess if they can brave all that work, the least they can do is smile at you, entice you in with genuine friendliness to talk to them, ask about their goods, take a sample, and maybe buy something.

I really love that there's no hard selling there. For weeks, I've talked to the women cheesemakers from Rainbow Valley Nursery about their cheese and desert succulents. They always offer up a cheese sample, answer all my questions, and add all kinds of interesting info. And they never shove tubs of brilliant kalamata cheese spread at my face, saying, "You've tasted this one three weeks in a row! Buy some, already!"

Where do you put your farmer's market? In the middle of a growing desert metropolitan city?
Downtown Phoenix Public Market

I'll confess that, as a homebody, I pretty much hole up during weekends, venturing out for only the bare necessities. Downtown Phoenix is downright lovely on Saturday morning, though. It's an easy drive all the way in, and it only takes about 15 minutes to get there. There's no traffic or angsty commuters--just blue skies, the city skyscape. And there, surrounded by all the construction, boxed in by one-way streets, in what's usually an asphalt parking lot, is the Public Market. You park on a recently graded and gravel-paved lot or across the street in a paved lot. And if you're me and realize that soon, other early risers will arrive to grab breakfast and sit to eat, you make a beeline for Nina's.

Chorizo burrito with incredibly fresh salsa verde
Nana's chorizo burrito and salsa verde at the Public Market

Nina's offers pozole and egg souffles, tamales, and even egg souffles, but I'm a breakfast burrito addict, especially when it's dressed up in nice, fresh salsa. Of course salsa flavors should blend and work together, but it's still nice when you can taste identifiable ingredients. I taste the cilantro, tomatillos, and lime. It's also not a watery mess like a lot of tomato-bases salsa end up being when the colander-challenged make it--it flows like syrup. Hooray for tomatillo pectin! So until I've fully fulfilled my hankering for chorizo burritos and salsa verde, that's my "the usual," as Nina now knows. Their pozole must be great, though, judging from the many people I've seen order it, even a few weeks ago when the morning temperatures were still in the 90s (although the market puts up shades, so it doesn't feel nearly as hot as it actually is).

After breakfast, I take a general walkthrough to see what's there. I usually bring only $20 to spend, which is enough to buy breakfast and all the produce I need for at least a week. The market does have credit card access, too. Basically, you go to vendors, select what you want, and have them hold it in exchange for a blue slip. This blue slip is like a tab on which you can list info for several vendors. On the slip, the vendors write who they are, what you bought, and how much you should be charged. When you're done, you take the blue slip to the information booth, and they run your card for each amount on the slip and give you a receipt for each vendor. You go back to the vendors and exchange the receipt for your selections. Easy peasy! My first week there, it allowed me to buy some fresh dates from the 80-year-old Art and his wife. (He actually turned 80 that day! Their spread is humble--just zip-log bags of three different date varieties, but when you go up and they generously offer that you try one of each, you can see some palatial beginnings within the fruits.)

One of my regular stops is also the market's largest produce vendor.

One Windmill Farm
One Windmill Farm's produce at the Public Market

They offer the widest example of what you can grow in the desert, all year long. Believe me, coming from California's lush and fertile coastline to the desert, I didn't have high hopes for locally grown, organic produce. I shied away from the supermarkets' unnaturally shiny fruit and suspiciously plump, lush produce. It took me only 13 years to learn better.

apples at the public market

nectarines at the Public Market

tomatoes at the Public Market

One Windmill Farm's bagged herbs at the Public Market

Obviously, my neighbors have long been savvy to Arizona's options.

One Windmill's line to the farm's fast, efficient, and friendly cashiers
a line!

You can enjoy the view of the Westward Ho while you're in line
the Downtown Phoenix Public Market

I'll admit, I chuckled when I first saw the market from the parking lot. My hometown's farmers' markets are sprawling. It was only when I'd seen what vendors had to offer that I put my foot in my mouth (luckily, also organic). The first two weeks were great. This weekend, though, the market had grown! Several vendors take the summer months off, but as the temperatures drop, they're returning. Cindy, the market's incredibly energetic executive director, told me that they'd be expanding the market outward a bit to accommodate everyone. (Incidentally, they're also going to be open on weekdays so that people who are downtown during the week can check it out, and expanding into a building adjacent to the lot next spring after its current tenants' lease runs out.)

One of my favorite returners is Dos Arbolitos--two men and a whole load of herbs! I met them last week and talked at great length about my shady condo patio and my total lack of luck with herbs. One of them suggested a mint plant. I had no money at the time, so I told them I'd be back the following week. This week, they remembered me, and I bought one of the plants on the left in the photo--the chocolate mint. I was tempted to drive home with my nose in the bag.

Herbs: chocolate mint, sage, and Something Purple ...
herb plants at the public market

Another favorite and frequent stop is Crooked Sky Farms, which tends to have entirely different produce from One Windmill Farms.

peppers at the public market

eggplant varieties at the Phoenix Market

In-shell pistachios, which seem to grow like nuts in Arizona! (har har)
unshelled pistachios

So yes, I'm now addicted to the Public Market. It's one of the highlights of my weekend--pure leisure. It's rare these days to be around so many people and not feel a little tense or chaotic or under the pressure of some less-than-dire intent. This place is a breath of fresh air under Phoenix's smoggy skies.

Reasons Why I Love Public Market Produce

1. It's no more expensive than supermarket produce, and in some cases, you save money. I see this mostly in herbs, where packages contain more than I need and cost more than I wish I had to pay. I usually buy a bag or three of herbs from One Windmill Farm, which sells a good amount in $1 or $2 bags, and larger for some. Even if you're on food stamps, you can shop at the Public Market, which accepts them.

2. It's fresh. One of the first things I learned about in culinary school was the "life cycle" of picked produce. It's picked, stored, transported, stored, shelved, sold, stored, then used. Produce's natural nutrients are dying off that entire time, as soon as it's picked. Its whole chemistry changes, from its sugars to its cell structure. You can taste the difference. And since it's fresh, it can also last longer if you cant' use it up right away.

3. It's organic. I can't eat a lot of non-organic, supermarket veggies raw. Most times when I eat at one of those all-you-can-eat salad buffets or most restaurants' salad entrees unless it's just a few bites from a dinner salad. I throw up (honestly--it makes me that ill, and I'm immediately sick). My body's always been sensitive and in tune with what goes into it, and I feel it most with raw food. Why? Because most of these veggies have been "treated"--badly. Part of mass-produced produce's life cycle often involves chemicals that retard (preservatives and waxes) some aspects of produce's natural tendencies, and speed (ripening agents) other aspects up. And that's all after using all sorts of unnatural fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides on the stuff out in the field. It may not be certifiably unhealthy, staying within the EPA's "acceptable risk" measurements, but if your system is like mine, it's downright poisonous. And organic also means that it's better for the ecosystem--no crazy chemicals seeping into water tables or irreversibly damaging what was once healthy soil.

4. It's in-season. Generally, in-season produce tastes better, and sometimes, it's more nutritious. And even in supermarkets, they're cheaper than their hothouse counterparts.

5. And what one might consider a sentimental point. A good friend instantly quelled my notion that there aren't enough resources in the world to support its current population by saying that we do indeed have the resources--they're just not managed well. He didn't have to say more. Every time I go to the supermarket, I see the produce section piled with produce that won't sell. It arrives in bad shape, or it's picked through so no one wants it. It's disturbing to think that all that produce is written off and tossed. Some of it is donated to organizations like Waste Not, which delivers it to community centers that help feed the homeless and hungry. Most of it goes to the dumpster. It sucks when you learn that millions of children, about 20% of all children, in the U.S. suffer from "absolute hunger," "extreme hunger," or "some level of hunger." The waste is alarming and sad. I don't see that kind of waste in that quantity at the Public Market. Most vendors sell it til it's gone because they don't generate more than they can sell. And some of them sell food to local schools through "farm-to-school" programs, so it's having a great affect where it matters most.

Additional Resources:
EATING WELL; Is Organic Food Provably Better? from the New York Times
Better Nutrition from Vegetables in Season from the Food & Fertilizer Technology Center
Too many hungry children in this land of plenty from People's Weekly World
Center on Hunger and Poverty at Tuft's University
Read more!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Everything below this post comes from old blogs

I wanted to compile all my food posts into one blog, so I transported all my LiveJournal and MySpace food posts into this blog. The original posting dates are in the title.

I want to catch up on blogging about my Commercial Baking class adventures. I have a lot of photos from that, but that's for another day. Um ... I'll come back when these brioche are ready to come out of the oven. =D

Read more!

LJ-razz, 9.24.07: No rest this weekend, but much awesome-ness

On Saturday morning, I got up just after 7, chatted with Hun for a bit, then headed to the Public Market. I bought the fixings for ratatouille (yes, like the movie, and yes, like the dish), some nice herbs, some nice pears for the week's snacks, and a jar of pickles (swoon). I bought more wonderful wheat cookies and another breakfast burrito with salsa verde. Most of the vendors Mario introduced me to remembered me, and I talked to the new (returning, actually, now that it’s cooling down) vendors who weren’t there last weekend. Then I found Mario, and we headed to Grayhawk for more produce for the Equinox Feast. Grayhawk sells to restaurants and grocery stores, but they sell to Mario since they know he’s a local chef. We picked up a crate of corn, a carton of edible orchids, and 3 pounds (!) of spring mix. Then, we stopped by my place so he could get a tour, then stopped by the new Essence Café in Tempe to pick up a beverage and mid-morning snack, Fry’s and Food City for more general ingredients, and went back to his place to start prepping. The feast itself was amazing, but Mario feasts always are.


-Sitting in Mario’s new hanging chairs under his olive tree.
-Mario’s garden, all sorts of herbs, and the rows of corn.
-The 15-minute rainstorm, which peaked with sheets of rain, an honest autumn downpour.
- Gorgeous weather to be outside.
-The menu: curried pumpkin with fried tofu, served in the shell; beef stew; roasted pork that melted in my mouth, the best pork I’ve ever had; all sorts of different, fresh mushrooms); antipasti, complete with fresh mozzarella knots—one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen him make, and really, the only time I’ve ever seen cheese made in real life—he said he learned the method while working at a pizza place where they really did make everything by hand; three kinds of tapenade; spinach dip; rambutans (which are gnarly looking, but taste a bit like lychees, and everyone was excited to try something new); apples; grapes; flat bread; rice; a variety of roasted eggplants (some were small, yellow eggplants, which I’d never seen before, and even doubted were eggplants until I noticed their familiar stems and started preparing them); a variety of roasted potatoes (even purple ones, which taste just like red or other low-starch potatoes); roasted corn (I haven’t had fresh corn on the cob in a really long time and have been avoiding it since it’s so carby, but I had an ear, and it was amazing); salad with orchids; more fruits and crackers. I was there all day, helping Mario cooking, and even after I sat down, Mario was bringing out food I had no idea he had in the works. I’m a little mad at myself that I missed the final preparations on the pork—I saw it all the way up until he took it out of the oven, but how he finished it and made the sauce was a mystery.
-Food City. It’s not pricey, and it’s not "scary" like some people claim. I saw a lot of produce I don’t see at the regular supermarkets, and it’s a lot more affordable. The fresh cheese section was great—true Mexican cheeses, and not a shred of yellow in sight. At one point while browsing, I picked up a bag and squealed in delight, turning to show Mario and to tell him I could restuff my pillows or hollow them out to make a seat: giant marshmallows, the size of my fist! Soft pink and white. Mario was ecstatic, and he bought a bag so we could roast them over the fire. They took a long time, but it was hilarious to watch.
-The transformation. I’m always surprised at how quickly Mario’s backyard moves from just a yard with plastic tables set up, to a place with feeling and ambience and mystery. At the last minute, the tablecloths were whipped out, candles were lit, beautiful jugs of water were set down, and the beautiful plates of Mario’s food came as people sat down after visiting the buffet spread. Sometimes, I get upset because he pays for these feasts out of his own pocket, which is pretty empty, and puts so much time and work into it, but he loves it, and everyone loves it. He’s an awesome example of how to make eating an experience instead of just a bland, boring thing to do, a few times a day. He’s careful about shopping around, so he gets quite a bang for his buck. Then he turns his humble ingredients into food that the people he invites rarely get to enjoy. There are so many transformations that occur throughout the day, and I enjoy them all.

The new Chez Mario is nicer than the last, that’s for sure. His kitchen is bigger, so it’s easier for us both and for others to move around in it. Even though, it’s already full and getting a bit crazy. He expanded his pantry into the big living/dining room. We spent part of the day shifting still-packed pantry boxes from that room to his bedroom, just in case the brief storm decided to revisit. The yard is huge, with a nice brick-floored patio, and Mario had a kitchen and serving space all set by the time I got there. After dicing more than a dozen onions, peeling and grating garlic and galangal (ginger’s milder, sweeter cousin), and hollowing and working with a giant pumpkin, my hands still smell like autumn—warm, earthy, and pungent.

I stayed later than I’d intended, but I was surrounded by friends who I usually only see at Mario’s these days. Conversation was awesome. Food was amazing. It was all awesome and amazing.

Sunday was rad in a different way—Sheka’s surprise party/barbecue (almost). A small, laughing, happy group of people, nonstop old-school video games (Nintendo and Super NES), and baked chicken. =) And, of course, ice cream cake with orange frosting. Woooot! Today is Sheka’s official birthday and party. Happy birthday, my friend! Much love! Read more!

LJ-razz, 9.17.07: Downtown Phoenix Public Market

Last week, I started waking up ten minutes earlier before work so I could have a more leisurely breakfast (e.g., no hurrying to clean up exploded oatmeal before running out the door). I was happily astounded when I woke up at the same time on Saturday even though I’d stayed up late the night before to finish a baking order. Since I was up early, I decided to go to the Downtown Phoenix Public Market (Farmer’s Market), since Mario had been raving about it since it started up back in February 2005. It was much more awesome that I’d imagined. It’s a small setup, and I was able to walk through the whole before vendors officially started selling at 8. People were already lined up to start filling their baskets. The produce looked delicious and healthy, contrary to what I’d heard about some reports describing organic veggies. It was a pretty good spread, too—all sorts of squash, onions, potatoes, beans, herbs, apples, pears, melons, mammoth okra, radishes, bok choy, garlic, peppers, and various eggplant. Everyone I talked to was eager to talk about what they had.

-Breakfast burrito. Sandwiches are my favorite food, and burritos are just Mexican sandwiches. I especially love breakfast burritos, and Nina’s had chorizo burritos. While the burrito itself was tasty, the salsa verde made it even better. I could’ve drunk it, it was so fresh. I think a lot of people who are used to Americanized Mexican food might’ve been freaked at its thicker texture, but this was authentic stuff, made with fresh tomatillos.

-Mario. Since Mario told me about the market, I was hoping to see him there. I called him at 8, and he said he’d be there around 9. I didn’t find him until it was almost 10 (he’d suffered a disaster surrounding his gallon-bottle of water during his long bike ride in). Even though I’d been around the market a few times, he gave me a special Mario tour and introduced me to all the vendors. Another reason I wanted to see him was to give him the third cookie (see below).

-Fresh dates. My god. They’re full of calories and carbs, but I couldn’t pass up a bag of Art’s Dates. The only other dates I’d had were always oversweet and too chewy, like a big raisin. These melted in my mouth and tasted almost like caramel. I’m not sure, but I think they’re Zahidi dates—smaller than Dejools, but the same blonde color. For some reason, Art and Laverne, the old couple selling them, wrote “Mike Dates” on the bag, but I can’t find any reference to them online. Saturday was also Art’s 82nd birthday. He must be pretty dedicated to his dates to be there on a hot day on his birthday. I chopped some up and added them to my curry, and they lent some of their sweet, dreamy flavor to it. Yum. Mario bought a bag or dark dates, and I expect to see them in some shape or form at Saturday’s Equinox dinner.

-Fresh pickles. When I was a kid, my dad would grow cucumbers and make his own pickles. I remember sharing pickles with him all the time. He’d make a special jar that wasn’t loaded with the super-hot Filipino sili peppers. I remember loving them. When I went to college, I didn’t have pickles for awhile. The next time I had one, probably in some burger joint or sandwich shop, I was disappointed, and every bite of pickle I had since didn’t alleviate the disappointed. I decided my tastes had changed as I’d gotten older. Saturday’s pickle proved me otherwise. The bread and butter pickles from Cotton Candy Farm were amazing. You could actually guess that they were made from cucumbers.

-Cookies. I didn’t think I’d find food that didn’t use white flour and sugar, but I found Raimondo’s, an Italian food stand that specialized in low-carb offerings, using mostly veggies in its dishes and whole wheat in its bread, and I found Bread Basket Bakery, which offers a lot of whole wheat selections and which doesn’t use any oil, fat, dairy, or preservatives. They had a lot of whole wheat cookies, and I settled on a three-pack of white chocolate chip macademia nut. They were awesome. Tasting good is one thing, but I like my cookies to have crispy, crunchy edges, but soft, chewy middles with a healthy bite. You usually have to have a good balance of baking soda and baking powder to get just the right effect, and these cookies were full effect. I didn’t want to scarf down all three (I ate two while I was listening to the featured musician, enjoying being outside and people-watching), so I scarfed two and saved the last for Mario.

-Manageable herbs. I love to use fresh herbs. I tried to grow some on my patio, but there just isn’t enough light. Some perished after I overwatered them, and the rest succumbed to darkness. *sigh* The supermarkets have herbs, but in large quantities that I can never use up, and for a lot of money. I found a vendor who sells smaller quantities for cheap. I bought a small bunch of parsley, and it’s almost all gone after I added some to an herb omelet, and more to my curried acorn squash. It was nice and fresh, too!

Other highlights were the fresh cheese (mmm, kalamata olive cheese spread—excellent) and the lithops (I described a blooming lithop to Mario as buttcheeks farting a Gerbera daisy … not the classiest description, but not so far off.).

The farmers told me that November is the peak of Arizona’s fall harvest, so I’m looking forward to going back to seeing what they have. If I can manage, I’d love to g back every Saturday! They’re expanding into a regular market geared toward selling local, organic food, and to holding the market on Saturday and Sunday. They’ve come a long way in just over two years! Good for them!

On a related note, if any of you watch "Endless Feast" on PBS or its sister channel, CreateTV, they aired a special on Friday showcasing Arizona's local, organic farmers, and it was another reason I wanted to check out the market--all of the vendors from the show sell at the Market! Read more!

LJ-razz, 9.4.07: We now return you to our regular scheduled programming

Homecoming cookies for my star

In which I use yummy vanilla bean to improve my small-batch shortbread recipe

Thanksgiving in September

In which I braised lamb in a port reduction sauce, steamed and sauteed some baby summer squash, and made polenta in some of the braising liquid with Hun’s help (not pictured, carrot cake with chocolate frosting, which works better than you might think) Read more!

LJ-razz, 8.23.07: Table for Four

I had my first dinner party in my new condo last night, not counting my birthday party, which was really an all-day food fest. I can really only sit four to six comfortably, which I think is a great number. We had a great time. The simple and humble menu was roast chicken (and of course my smoke detector went off a few times until I fashioned a little gas mask for it), stuffing, sauteed broccoli, and cake and ice cream.

Here's Chicken on the serving platter, just before I carved her. She's the one waving "hello":

Here's Cake, waiting to be dressed in a swirl of frosting:

Here's Cake in her simplest smock.
Personally, I prefer her in the nude,
but of course she feels better in public this way:
Read more!

LJ-razz, 7.24.07: chocolate chip cookies for two, a few, or just you

The cookies I put in my birthday goodie bags came from the recipe off the back of a bag of Guittard chocolate chips. My theory is if you’re going to make chocolate chip anything, then use decent chocolate. I altered the recipe a wee bit to my taste, knowing the butter and sugars will flatten and crisp a cookie. I used enough of each to make crispy edges, but still leave the middles chewy. If you want the recipe, I recommend you go buy a bag of Guittard semi-sweet chocolate chips, and that way, you won’t use the cheap crap to ruin a really good cookie recipe. If you really don’t care, then go here. It makes about 6 dozen small cookies, which is a lot unless you’re baking for a bake sale, or stuffing 35 birthday party goodie bags.

Instead, I offer 35 bites of cookie. This could be 5 or 6 big cookies, or 13-15 little ones, depending on how you like to orchestrate your gluttony/exercise your willpower. It’s a good way to have fresh-baked cookies without having 3 or 4 dozen of them. I modified this from Debby Maugans Nakos’ Small-Batch Baking. Her recipe makes flat, chewy cookies … and I mean flat like a coaster. Unless your oven temperature is right on and you watch them carefully, you can easily turn a batch of her cookies into a sheet of sweet tar.

Preheat the oven to 350.

Cream 3 tablespoons of room temperature butter, a scant ¼-cup of brown sugar, a tablespoon of white sugar, and a half-teaspoon of vanilla extract together. Then beat an egg really well (or use egg substitute, which seems a tad less ridiculous) and add 1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon to the creamed ingredients.

In a separate bowl, combine ¼-cup and 3 tablespoons of AP flour, 1/8-teaspoon of baking soda, and 1/8-teaspoon of salt. Add the combination to the creamed ingredients, mixing well.

Stir in a half-cup of chocolate chips.

Drop by the rounded teaspoon, two inches apart, on a baking sheet (I don’t grease mine; there’s already enough butter in the dough. I also don't use an actual teaspoon to measure drops--I just use a spatula and scrape it onto the sheet, eyeballing it.). Bake until done, which in my world is when the edges are golden and the centers are pale, but don’t look raw.

Wait a couple of minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool. Or not, if you're really hungry.

Tips: Most measuring spoon sets don’t include a 1/8 measure (also known as “a pinch”). Here, especially with the baking soda, if you’re forced to do some sort of acrobatic move using the standard ¼ teaspoon measure, then aim for too little baking soda instead of too much. Dear vegan friends--just use the appropriate vegan substitutes, and it should work out just fine. =)

And, for those of you who wanted this one, too, here's the white chocolate raspberry cheesecake on almond cream cake cups, in three parts, with sub-parts, with an affectionate nod toward my baking chef-instructor, Chef Colley:

Okay, to make the Almond Cream (the cake base), you need almond paste. Some higher-end stores might have it in their baking section, but most just have disgusting marzipan, which contains glucose and preservatives and all sorts of nasty stuff.

Almond Paste

8 ounces almonds, blanched and very finely ground (grind them twice)
8 ounces powdered sugar
1 egg white, room temperature

Combine the almond flour (ground almonds) and powdered sugar, and toss into a mixer, then add the egg white. Mix all this up until you have a smooth paste.

The almond cream cake is often used as a tart filling, and I did use it as a base to my apple "tart" that was also at my party. I halved this recipe. The almond paste recipe above will give you enough for this recipe.

Almond Cream (cake)
1 lb almond paste
1 lb sugar
1 lb butter, softened
8 eggs, room temperature
1/4 lb cake flour, sifted

Prehat the oven to 350 and spray your cups if you're making cupcakes. Soften the almond paste in the mixer, then cream in the butter until they're both mixed together really well. Add the sugar and mix til combined. Then add the eggs, one at a time, making sure each egg is incorporated before adding the next, scraping down the bowl each time. Add the sifted cake flour, and mix til smooth. Bake at 350 until firm and golden brown. The batter will have risen in the cups, then fallen again--that's fine, it's supposed to. Let the cakes cool before topping off with you cheesecake filling.

You mix the raspberry coulis into the cheesecake batter. You can use any flavor, fruit, etc. You can cheat and use preserves. ;)

Raspberry Coulis
2 1/2 cups fresh raspberries
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste
1 pint chocolate sorbet
Fresh raspberries, for garnish

Puree raspberries with sugar and lemon juice in a blender or food processor. Pour mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl, pressing on solids.
Scoop sorbet into individual serving bowls and top with coulis. Garnish with a few fresh raspberries.
Coulis keeps 3 days, covered and chilled.

California Cheese Cake
1 1/2 lbs cream cheese, room temperature (use good stuff--Philadelphia)
1/2 lb powdered sugar
1 egg, room temperature
3/4 oz gelatine
3 pts whipping cream
1 1/2 oz liquor (optional)

I used 2/3 this recipe. Heh. Soften the cream cheese in the mixer. In a separate bowl, combine the sugar with the gelatine granules. If you're using sheets of gelatine, soften the gelatine in water first. Add this sugar/gelatine mix and everything else to the bowl and mix until you have a smooth, pourable batter. Slowly mix in your coulis or fruit or preserves until it's laced through the way you want. Some chopped white chocolate mixed in would've been a nice touch, but I already had my glaze going, and I ran out of white chocolate. Make sure you don't fill the cups to the top, or you won't have room for you white chocolate glaze. Place the cups in the fridge for 2 or 3 hours or overnight until set.

White chocolate glaze

17 ounces chopped good quality white chocolate
8 fluid ounces whipping cream
1 or 2 tablespoons butter (optional--I didn't use any)

I used half this recipe. Make sure you use real white chocolate--bars, not chips. You want something that has cocoa butter in it, so be sure you check ingredients. Finely chop the white chocolate and put it in a stainless steel or glass bowl. Heat the cream to just before boiling, then add it to the chopped chocolate. Stir until all the chocolate is melted. If it isn't all melted, you can put the metal bowl over a bain marie (a pot of simmering water) or nuke the glass bowl in the microwave for thirty seconds until it's all melted. Let it cool slightly (the longer it cools, the thicker it gets, which is what happened to the chocolate glaze over my peanut butter mousse cups ... *sigh*). Top off your cups and place a fresh raspberry on top, then place the cups in the fridge so the chocolate can set.

Yum! Read more!

LJ-razz, 7.22.07: three pictures (though there's only one here, of my desserts from this year's birthday potluck)

I made cupdesserts--chocolate cake with peanut butter filling, chocolate ganache, and chocolate-dipped peanuts, and almond cream cake with white chocolate rasperry cheesecake filling, white chocolate ganache, and fresh raspberries.
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LJ-razz, 3.4.07: Spring-cleaning update

I miss making the foodie posts, but my camera broke over the summer, and the pictures I take with my cell phone are pretty sad. Commercial Baking is awesome this semester. My Chef-Instructor is an instructor and cafe/banquet director at Metro Tech, a local vocational high school, and he's incredible. I love that he's worked at some high-end restaurants, but now teaches at a school that has a great reputation for turning out some wonderful food. He's English and makes a mean scone and cracks us up all night. My office had its annual bake sale to benefit research to fight Crohn's Disease and Colitis, and I brought dozens of danish I'd made the night before in class. Woot! Read more!

LJ-razz, 1.26.07: an update, woot!

Ok, let's see ...

My catered lunch this past Sunday was a success! My co-worker was very happy and told me the ladies all loved the food. Rad! The lady who's hosting next month's meeting asked me to cater that lunch, too! It would be nice and funny if I ended up doing all of them, though I doubt it. One of the member owns Changing Hands Bookstore, so I doubt I'd cater her lunch because she probably gets stuff done by Wildflower Market.

I started Commercial Baking a couple Wednesday's ago, and last Wednesday, we made a whole lot of different breads. It was so much fun, and my lab partner, who I had Classical Desserts with last semester, is a hoot. We're the perfect tragic match because she's allergic to gluten, whey, and dairy, and I'm watching carbs. While the rest of the class rammed bread down their gullets, we ate a few pinches and studied our well-developed gluten strands. Uh-huh. My chef-instructor is English, and I love his sense of humor. I wish I hadn't had to drop Garde Manger, but maybe I can pick it up this summer. Read more!

LJ-razz, 10.18.06

Top Chef, Season Two, starts tonight, and I’m excited to see it and have vowed to stop everything to watch it.

School Briefs:
1. I thought I’d get a B at best on my Principles and Skills for Professional Cooking midterm; I studied hard and got the highest grade in the class. I also got the privilege to help cook for weekend and evening events that the college hosts … did I mention that I’ve been busy?
2. Classical Desserts has been a disaster, and almost every class, I botch one of the recipes and have to restart them. I’m not required to restart them—I just do and always end up with something that Chef V is happy with. She asked me if I’d be on the school’s pastry team that will compete at the Scottsdale Culinary Festival’s Best Dessert competition. She likes the way I plate my dishes and helped run the class when I was designated sous chef. I’d been hoping to be on the school’s savory team, but I lost contact with Chef B, and since Chef V asked, I’m … totally exhilarated.
3. Chef V will be on a documentary on the Food Network sometime I guess early next year. Rad! I think it will be that show with Giada De Laurentis where she goes behind the scenes to scope out party catering, but I don’t know, and Chef V wasn’t sure, either.
4. Chef S, my Principles chef-instructor, let me take home the leftover fresh clams from Monday night’s seafood section. Last night, I made clams in red sauce to go over brown rice, and it so rocked the yummies.
5. This past weekend’s baking experiment was chocolate chip banana bread with toffee bits—a little on the moist side (too much water), but good flavor!
6. I’ve also been able to help Christy with her cakes and baking, and that’s been such a good time! I’m so glad I met her. She makes such amazing cakes.

Most of these were taken after I’d brought them home, so they don’t look as good as they did before the crumbly ride home, and if they’re in the styro containers, they weren’t the plated versions I showed Chef V.

Dessert sauces—we made crème anglais, chocolate sauce, and raspberry coulis, then baked up some cupcakes and practiced plating with sauces. I did two plates—this one and one with a Nouveau flower off the side, which Chef V really liked, but then I went nuts and drizzled chocolate all over the cupcakes, taking away from my flower, and then my flower’s sauces bled together. Heh …

Puff pastry was a rough time. My class partner, Julie B, and I were both having a bad day, and there were only two of us. Groups are supposed to be trios, but we’re often doubles, and that’s been a problem, but somehow, we always pull it off. This class’ mishaps including my having to make the Napoleon dough over three times, with Julie B dropping one of the baked products. We were slow to go with these apple turnovers, but we were the only group that didn’t end up burning theirs. Burning will become a recurring theme here for my classmates. Luckily, I’m a hawk when it comes to watching the clock. Heh.

Our Napoleon. Julie did the patterns on top. I wanted to go crazy and skew the lines, but I think she did fine.

Pecan tart. Crazy day—we had to make three kinds of tarts in four hours. That’s a load of dough. Some groups didn’t finish their pecan tarts. We were the only ones to decorate ours with the dough cut-outs. I’ve made a version of this with just leaves everywhere, but that was on a pie, and I thought it would be too crust-y on a shallow tart.

Lemon meringue tarts. Almost every group burned theirs, but I was anal retentive about pressing my shells, so I was behind in putting my tray in the oven and took mine out along with everyone else. Phew! The meringue is boiled meringue. Chef “borrowed” Julie B to make the meringue, so for a chunk of the class, it was just me and Sue working on our tarts, but we rocked the section, regardless! Sue is amazing, and I’m glad we were able to take her into our group when our original partner took some sort of extended leave of absence. She’s been in the program for awhile and is a great baker, so she’s great to work with. =)

Tahitian vanilla cheese tart. Julie B did an awesome job with the filling here! It was so good. I need to remake this soon. The whole class had issues with our tart dough. I did the dough and shells for our group, so I was paranoid about it. We were only supposed to freeze the dough for twenty minutes, and I was the first to take dough out of the freezer after I realized how long it had been. I let mine thaw a bit in the walk-in for ten minutes then on our table for another ten. It was a little stiff when I started rolling it out. Then I realized that nobody else had taken their dough out of the freezer so I yelled out a warning. For the next half hour, all you could hear was the sound of people pounding on their dough with rolling pins, trying to soften it up.

Chocolate sponge and raspberry filling roulade, Cakes 1. This tied for roughest day with puff pastry day. Everyone had to make their own roulade, but we stood at the tables in our group. The first process was to make chocolate syrup to stir into the chocolate sponge cake, and it took me three tries. It was as simple as messing up and starting over right away, either. I’d make the syrup, set it aside for ten minutes to cool while I’d make the rest of the batter, look at the syrup, and see that it had turned to chocolate clay. I did this twice before I finally got it done, and by then I had the rest of the batter made (which I’d had to restart once because I’d underwhipped my yolks the first time and couldn’t put them back in the mixer), so I had to speed-cool the third chocolate batch in a big ice bath. Eep! I wish I’d had a raspberry or strawberry to fan out and garnish here, but someone hogged the few berries we had. =\

Opera Torte with marzipan, chocolate ganache, and espresso filling, Cakes 2. This was the tastiest, yet most labor-intensive, dish yet. Julie B and I were a duo again, but we still had to make three cakes. Woot! I suggested that we split up and make the separate layers instead of trying to team up for each filling, and it worked out really well. I made the cake layers, which was awesome because it was my first genoise, and I’d been wanting to try a genoise for a long time. Luckily, we had hazelnut flour so I didn’t have to worry about it. I’ll have to look for hazelnut flour or just buy whole nuts so I can make genoise at home. I then worked on the espresso reduction to soak the cake with while Julie worked on the filling base and ganache. We each rolled out marzipan and got the pieces the right size to layer. We had to freeze each section as we built the torte up, so we were able to clean as we went, and we ended up doing a lot of the general class dishes while we waited for sections to freeze. I’m glad I’ve had so much cake-frosting experience, and I was able to turn out two cakes while Julie B (also a Wilton decorator—yay!) worked on hers. I gave Julie B the better of the two cakes to feed to her co-workers, and when Chef V saw it, she said it looked really beautiful. =) Yey yey yey!!! The cake in the picture here is squishy because I deli-wrapped it, and it got a bit melty during the drive home. It was still really tasty, though. =)

I have a big, scary test on Saturday as I try to earn my Certification in Food Service Safety and Sanitation. We have to get 75% right, or 60 out of 80 questions, and the test will include 10 secret pilot questions on top of the 80. I’ve been studying as we’ve gone along (a three-week class every Saturday morning), but the material is intense. Regardless, I frigging LOVE it and everything I’ve learned in the other two classes, as well. I’m having such a good time! The only problem is I’m working elbow-to-elbow for 4 to 5 hours, two nights a week (and for three weeks this month, every Saturday morning). Aside from the aforementioned from Fact 2 above, I’ve really valued my personal and private space outside of class. This further affects my social life.

Follow-up: Chef Mraz, my Food Service Safety and Sanitation chef-instructor, ended up subbing the last few Classical Desserts sessions, and she asked me how I felt about my test results. I got a 97%! She said she'd figured, then said a whole bunch of other complimentary things that were pretty cool and humbling and kind. Anyway, now that I'm certified, you can hire me to manage your kitchen! Read more!

LJ-razz, 8.25.06: classes

I think the two new classes will be a challenge, but I'm looking forward to it.

American Regional was cancelled, so I won't be studying with Chef B this semester after all. I picked up Principles & Skills for Professional Cooking with Chef S, instead. Chef S is so laid back and takes time to patiently explain everything, which is a divergence from Chef B's methods--it was a little quicker, and in a lot of ways, we had to self-start. Chef B is teaching this same course at a different time; I wonder how he's approaching it. This class will be part lecture and part lab. I hope I don't space out during lectures. It sounds like Chef S will be doing a lot of cooking for us, doing demos, and I wonder how much cooking we'll actually get to do. We're working on knife skills on Monday, so that should be interesting. Chef S did a knife demo for us, and he's got some knife skills (as Napoleon Dynamite would say). Apparently, Chef S has done sugar work and will be doing a full class on sugar technique, which is really really really exciting.

Classical Desserts seems really hectic. Chef V already told us that if we haven't taken the regular baking section (which I haven't), then we'll be struggling to keep up for the remainder of the class. Chef V dismissed those who have taken the first course and the rest of us stayed to learn how to set up a mise-en-place and measure flour with a counterbalance scale. If this is "keeping up," I should be just fine. I think I'll see a lot fewer people in the second class, though. Chef V predicted that 25% of us would drop, and some of my classmates were already grumbling about the amount of work involved. Just wait til we actually start cooking and they find out that half our time in the kitchen will be spent washing dishes. Heh. Chef V also offered us contact info for a local patissier who's looking for pastry students to work under him in his pastry shop. He apparently works with the best caterer in the state at a high-end resort. I doubt he'd be willing to take someone in during the weekends, but maybe it's worth pursuing, especially if it's a paying gig. To be honest, I'd rather help Christy at her cake shop. It's a loyalty thing ... Anyway, Chef V will be teaching us how to work with chocolate, and our final is going to be a gingerbread house. That's awesome. I keep thinking about the pastry chef who rebuilt Fallingwater out of gingerbread for a pastry competition. I wonder if my model-building experience will come in handy. I bet well-made gingerbread isn't too far off from chipboard and foam core.

Since American Regional was cancelled, my Saturdays opened up, so I signed up for October's Certification in Food Service Safety and Sanitation. It's only three Saturdays, so it shouldn't be too much. I'm actually looking forward to it, since the volunteer food handler's card I had expired a couple of months ago. Read more!

LJ-razz, 8.17.06: Summer Hoo Ha, revisited

I've averaged four hours of sleep each night this week!

Last night's French Cuisine Final rehash went well, I think. The menu was almost identical to the actual thing:
Summer Hoo Ha, Revisited

First Course: Brie En Croute
Almond-dusted Brie in flaky pastry, drizzled with honey, and served with strawberry coulis

Bouquet of field greens garnished with crab and mango accompanied by tarragon vinaigrette

Herb-dipped pork tenderloin with jus lie served with Anna potatoes and vegetable mėlange

Palate Cleanser
Chilled melon with port wine reduction

Grande Finale: Crėme Brulėe
Slow-baked custard with caramelized sugar, almond tuille, and strawberry garnish

The only recipes I needed to follow where for the vinaigrette and the brulee. The Brie and palate cleanser I remembered from class. The coulis and tuille I tweaked. I was busy building the other courses in class, so I didn't see how the crab and mango "chutney," tenderloin, jus lie, or Anna potatoes were prepared, so I winged them all, and they seemed to come out okay. The original menu's melange was mostly squash, but I wanted a little more crunch, so I did broccoli, cauliflower, and baby carrots, instead. Plus, the Anna potatoes were just a little crisp, and I like when my other veggetables aren't softer than my starch. I had an awesome time! I'd never had these particular four people together in a group, so it was nice to have them all together. I wish I'd been able to tighten up my timing a little, but with only one oven (as opposed to four), and two hands (as opposed to 22), I think I did all right. Good thing there were only four people (instead of 18). My guests took photos that I can send to my mom (thanks guests, especially Nikki, who brought the camera). I'm sad that my camera konked out, but I put it through a lot of wear and tear.

Then I ran into Geoff online because he'd played hookie from work, and we "hung out" for a handful of hours, which made the whole night perfect. Read more!

LJ-razz, 7.26.06: Dana responds; class final

I know it's not much, but it's a whole lot to me:
Dana Cowin responds!

What a spectacular email. Thanks so much for taking the time to write. I loved your Letterman-like list.
Best, Dana

As for class, I was so enraptured by what we were doing that I didn't photograph any of our dishes. I didn't give Jen my camera to photograph the dishes. It's kind of a bummer, but we cooked so well tonight that I don't care. I'm still a little glowy from it.

I do have our menu, and I won't change the spelling of anything. I like Chef's title for the dinner:

A Mid Summer's Who Ha

First Course
Brie Encroute almond dusted Brie wrapped in a flaky pastry and drizzled w/honey

The Greens
A bouquet of field greens bound with hot house cucumber and garnished w/lump crab and mango accompanied by tarragon vinaigrette

Herb crusted pork tenderloin w/a burgundy jus lie served w/Anna potatoes and mėlange of vegetables

The Palate Cleanser
A Trio of chilled melon w/port wine reduction

The Grande Finale
Students' Choice Crėme Brulėe slow baked custard w/caramelized sugar and summer berry garnish

I was the first one to class, having left work at 2, two hours early, to get there by three. I beat Chef there. That's kinda embarrassing. Anyway, I walked in and Chef had me make the port wine reduction. We started joking around about my late-night Crėme Brulėe and he had me make those, too. RAD! Then he had me ball the melons to finish off the palate cleanser. After that, I helped make the Brie Encroute and then The Greens. It doesn't bother me at all that the only dish I didn't have a hand in was the Entrėe. We had so much fun! Jen B said she liked all the food. All of us students got to sit with our guest after we served The Greens, and after that, we'd go between sitting and eating with them and cooking and plating in the kitchen. After the entrėe, we each read our odes to Chef. Dylan was so cute and nervous introducing our odes. I told him to just do it. Since mine was the longest by far, even after editing, I went last. Everyone told me it was totally appropriate, and that was so cool, too. It made Chef and my classmates left, and that's all that really matters. I sat between Jen and Travis' Aunt Nadine and kept introducing her as my sister. Our whole table kept cracking up. I was so giddy and goofy, I couldn't stop laughing. I hope the other tables don't think I'm absolutely nuts. I really felt ten years younger.

Anyway, while we were doing our last cleanup, we were all a little melancholy, but giddy and hyper, too. Victoria and Dan gave me a hug, and I'll see everyone else again once school starts up. I chatted with Fabian for awhile after class and we promised to go back to Sophie's for dinner sometime. I think everyone's a little anxious to see how our fall classes go. Chef admitted that we were an exceptional class, especially for a summer group, because we were so easy. It makes me nervous about my two classes this fall.

An added bonus for tonight: I got my transcript evaluation back. From the looks of it, the only non-culinary class I have to take is a business class. Maybe I'll take accounting principles so I can finally understand what I edit. Har Har! My transcript doesn't show my AP English credits. Hopefully those things are still worth something in this day and age. I'll try to see an academic advisor at the college next week.

Anyway, my head is pounding a little. I've got a load of laundry in, I want to do some baking, and I need to clean house. All for now! Read more!

LJ-razz, 7.26.06: can't sleep

My final is tomorrow night. A five-course meal! I'm using two hours of comp time so I can leave work early and get to school so I can help with prep work. I feel like I should review the recipes, especially because I'm not quite sure which ones Chef will throw at us. He gave us a pop quiz on Monday, and while it was the same quiz he gave us for our midterm, I didn't feel prepared for it. I don't remember if I listed the correct ingredients for a bouquet garni. My brain is friend, and a lot of it is because of sleep deprivation, and the fact that I'm still up isn't helping. It's nice that I get to push my wakeup time to 7 now that I'm right up the street from work. Anyway, I sent Chef an e-mail last night after I told him that I got his Creme Brulee recipe to work, and he replied, "Snap, Way to go!" That just goes to show I have no earthly way to predict what his reaction to anything at all will be. Read more!

LJ-razz, 7.24.06: Wednesday is our last day in class.

Tonight we made potato encrusted calamari with horseradish sauce, grilled artichokes with stone ground mustard sauce, and quiche lorraine (the latter two didn't last long enough for me to photograph). I cut my knife on my boning knife while I was putting my chef's knife away. The only time I ever cut myself is during cleanup.

"Our degree candidates are putting together a presentation for Chef, like an Ode to Chef, and they asked me to write something up, so here's the rough draft.


First of all, when I said that you made me nervous when you stood at our brigade station and watched me or someone next to me or someone at the end of the table cooking, it was because I didn't want you to see me make a mistake. I'm saying that I give a big damn about your opinion. I respect your experience and knowledge as a cook, and I respect your attentiveness and discriminiating eye as an educator. I'm going to bare my ego and admit that I didn't want you to see me make a mistake because I wanted you to think that I was a good cook and a good student.

If I'm a better cook and student than I was before I walked into this kitchen, it's because you're a great cook and a great teacher. If I'm not, or if I'm worse, well that's your fault, too, and you should writhe in that fact! Aw, I kid. You're really fabulous.

Secondly, I signed up for French culinary before "fun" classes like desserts or baking because I was sure that French cuisine, of all cuisines, would dissuade me from blowing wads of money on college classes. I mean, come on--French cuisine? Pretentious, frou-frou, inaccessible, overdone, expensive, complicated, time-sucking French kwee-zeen? Sacre bleu--merci, but no merci. I was sure this would snuff my fantasy of being a cook of any sort, even a home cook. My bad. I love the sauces and their loooong reductions. I love the meat that has to be cooked two ways--grilled then finished in the oven. I love the hard-to-handle and expensive funky-shaped strainers. I love the potatoes that look like little roses. I love the meticulous knife work. I even love the creme brulees that look like Lake Michigan in the dead of winter (why the hell were they soupy at the bottom?!) and I love the ovens that need three steps to turn on (stupid gas valve). It was all a LOT easier to take from someone sportin' Etnies, Hurley shirts, and a mosh-pit battle wound right alongside those Chef whites and special fireproof pants or whatever those are. So am I going away hating French cuisine? Hell, I'm ready to move to Paris. Okay, maybe the countryside down south where I can visit Spain once in awhile and lounge around the vineyards.

Third, I took a one-day dough class and learned to make laminated doughs--from croissants to strudels to danishes--from one of Emeril's former executive pastry chefs. She taught me not to fear any kind of dough and how to make some damned good pastries. And while I get a little antsy adding that roux and paranoid of breaking one of Chef Robinson's Robo Coups or ruining a simple emulsion, you're still a better chef and instructor that she was, and a lot more likable. Plus, Phooey!, I'm not a huge Emeril fan, either, so it was not a bonus to see that on her resume.

Anyway, thanks for the great, memorable, worthwhile, badass experience. You're further proof that cooking rocks, food is both fine art and essential function, and that not all chefs have to make the people who work for them cry.

Birthday stuff, not including dim sum and Cuban food I ate. =(
The Cherry Blossom Noodle Cafe is one of my new favorite restaurants. I liked my meal so much that I plan to send them a thank you card. Is that odd? I don't care. It made my birthday very awesome.
I started with an Alaska roll. It was my lunch date's first experience with sushi, and she actually really enjoyed it! No, there was no raw fish involved, but it was very different to her, and she braved it, so woot!

Although my friends who recommended the place strongly pushed the Unaju (eel and rice plate), I wanted something clean, humble, and simple, so I went with the Zarusoba--cold buckwheat noodles with green onion and dipping sauce, and fried Spanish Mackerel on the side, just like Mom used to make. It was so good--the kind of "so good" that supersedes delicious and exquisite. It was exactly what I wanted without knowing it was on the menu. Wash it down with a green tea and milk frappe, and call it a perfect day before it's even halfway through.

Lunch was so good, I skipped dinner, but I did do dessert. I'd seen friends almost every night for the previous ten nights, so the original play was to have a nice, quiet night with the dogs, a good book, and a plate of decadence. I didn't even make my own birthday dessert. It was a total break from cooking. Instead, I went to Willo Bread and Grocery and took away a slice of raspberry chocolate cake, tiramisu, and vanilla bean gelato. The gelato was my favorite, and while I only had a couple bites of the cake and tiramisu, I snarfed the gelato. Incidentally, the original plan was kicked to the curb by a broken AC, and I went to some friends' house with the dogs and hung out with them for a bit.

The Friday before my birthday was my second Wilton Course III class where we made our first fondant cakes. I made this my birthday cake. The rest of the class did the standard white box with pink bow, but while I didn't have enough time to get to creative, I wanted mine to stand out at least a little more. I did finish the bottom with a marbled blue beaded border (say that five times fast), but the only photo I have of it is even worse than the first two up top!

We also learned to make fondant roses. They take awhile to make at first, but they're easy to fall in love with. This is my first one, so it's a little rough. I almost ate it. But it was, you know, rough.

In the third class, we also learned how to make royal icing petunias, lilies, and poinsettias. We also made morning glories, but not even our teacher liked how they turned out, so I pretend they never happened.

Elaine gave me her yummy recipe. Thank you, Elaine!.
The fabulous Elaine's delicious blueberry bake recipe in a Wilton Course II pan (I plan to get my money's worth out of those suckers).

The bake is sauced!

I plated it with orange curd. I think my dinner guest that night and I both had two plates of this bake for dinner/dessert, and I plated each one differently.

Doin' the butt. Somebody had to eat it, after all, and I wanted that somebody to be me.

That orange curd was so good. I like it even better than lemon curd. It was almost like a melted creamsicle. *note to self: top off some vanilla ice cream with it

My favorite indulgence another way: salmon with hazelnuts. Mmmm. I worry that my plating attempts too often look like bugs or voodoo masks. I need to get away from that symmetry.

Here I try to get away from that symmetry. A nod to 's recent apricot-glazed pork tenderloin. This was my version using some leftover plums and leeks. I also had some spinach with orange and some Rainier cherries.

Yup, still practicing that plating thing. Thank goodness for my friend's festive Fiesta bowls!

Tuille practice with cheesecake mousse (I'll admit it--it's from a boxed mix) and blood orange sorbet. I modified my Chef-Instructor's tuille recipe to use what was at the house where I was house sitting. This was knock-me-on-my-a&* good. I need to find a recipe to make my own cheesecake mousse, though.

Tuille practice, take two. (I ate two.) I could make tuilles all day, or for a good part of one, anyway!

Stuff I threw in a pot
I hate wasting food, so as usual, I threw a bunch of random stuff and stuff I needed to use up into a pot to see if it would be edible or if it would get up and kick me in the head. This week's pantry cleaner--whole wheat macaroni, ground beef, red bell pepper, onion, crushed pepper, and some squash. I later turned it into a strata with some French bread I made in class, and I topped it off with some cheater's béchamel. Every incarnation of this pantry cleaner was good!

I've got a pan of creme brulees in the oven. We've tried across two classes to make a successful batch, and we've failed. The first time, first yours truly neglected to correctly fire the oven (first switch it on, then set the temp, THEN hit the gas valve ... what can I say--I cook with an electric oven at home!) on Brian's mix, and then we found out that the oven we were trying to use was broken so we ran out of time. The next class, the other team burned their brulee and ours ... somehow didn't turn out under Sally's care. There was a cracked crust on top and a soupy, kinda clear goo just under the crust. Brian and Sally gave each other grief about it, and then Sally and the Chef traded a few half-assed words about it:

Chef: "I've never, in twenty years of cooking, seen creme brulee that looked like that."
Sally: I was using YOUR recipe.
Chef: The other team's turned out. (almost)

Then it turned back on me and my oven mishap at the previous class. Oy. So tonight when Chef asked what dessert we should serve with our five-course final, I, of COURSE, responded, "Creme brulee." There were no (audible) protests or even grumbles. We had to repeat French Onion Soup when we botched it the first time, and if creme brulee took three tries, then it would take three. But I'll be damned if it takes more than three. I might not be in charge of it on Wednesday, maybe I'll be on the grilling station, but I'm going to do everything I can to get this dish to turn out. I've done it with other Creme Brulee recipes, and if Chef says this is the best and easiest one, then it will work. So ... pfooey! I also threw out pork tenderloin for the meat, and again, nobody protested, so I guess we're doing that along with some sort of sauce, vegetable, and starch. We're also doing an appetizer and salad, and Chef is doing a palate cleanser. I'm not quite sure which order that falls in. I guess it's on one side or the other of the entree. He's doing honeydew melon. Yum. I love honeydew melon. I'm also not sure if we'll get to eat with our guest (yey--we each get to invite someone), or if we eat after, or if we eat at all. Jen B told me she's good with anything except onions, so I'll have to make sure there aren't any red onions on her salad, since Chef likes to use those so much.

Let's see ... Monday, July 10, we finished our gravad lox and eggplant with goat cheese terrine. The lox was too salty because it had cured for a week, but it was better with cream cheese on a bagel. The terrine was really good. This was also the class where we butchered many desserts (kinda). It was the first horrible night of creme brulee and Grand Marnier souffles. The other team killed two batches. I think once was our team's fault; I think Brian was a little too rough with handling the oven doors when he put our souffles in, and it deflated theirs. Ours should've gone in with their first batch, but Brian first got shell in the whites, then we think got yolk in the whites so they wouldn't whip up for anything. It killed me, having to use up so many eggs. What's worse is we threw out all the yolks, and there's so much you can do with yolks ... like make creme brulee. Oy fucking vey--I just realized that. Our team alone went through 16 yolks, and if the other team went through that many, then that's 32 yolks. That's gallons of citrus curd or any number of custards and puddings. =\ Chef showed us how to slice the lox, and I went up after the demo to take a turn. He watched me slice, and I was trying to make paper-thin slices. He said my knife was too thick and told me to use his. It made me shiver. The very first class, he'd told us that we were never allowed to touch his knives. They're expensive and well-cared for. I didn't even like picking them up to clean under them. I made a few amazing paper-thin slices, gently put the knife down, and humbly stepped away from the board. Yes, knife quality matters. That same class, while putting my knives away, I cut my hand on my boning knife.

On Wednesday, July 12, we went to Sophie's and had such yummy food. It wasn't a mandatory field trip, especially because dinner prices started at $18/plate, but we had a nice little group there. Chef had french fries (pomme frites) and pate, which cracked me up. Fabian ordered Filet Mignon and was hilariously quiet through the meal while he savored every bite. Dan had baked brie and a glass of Viognier, which was flattering because I'd pointed it out to him on the wine list. Victoria ordered the poulet (chicken). Marla had the pork tenderloin with purple potatoes (yum, we traded bites and I liked hers better than mine). I had the canard (duck). We met the executive chef there, Chef's friend Reggie, and he gave us an amazing pep talk. It was cool because he was Filipino, and his dishes were Southeast Asian-French fusion. I got props for correctly identifying hoisin sauce with my Beaujolais sauce and for identifying a baby bok choy as one of the veggies on Marla's plate. Rad! As for my dish, I ordered the duck medium-rare, and it seemed a little overdone. I was looking forward to the risotto, but it was more like polenta--basically a baked risotto cake. It was dry and not quite crunchy--the exact opposite of what I wanted when I was looking forward to risotto. The string beans and asparagus were almost the same veggie. The carrot, however, was perfect, and in my experience, that's very rare (as in hard to find, not cooked lightly).

On Monday, July 17, we made sweet crepes with some delicious strawberry and marscapone filling, pan-seared chicken with port au poivre (pepper) sauce that I added too much pepper to and that Chef had to fix with the addition of cream, basic French bread that was fun to make (I was fussing over my danged sauce and stepped back so the others could handle the dough because I do so much at home), and mussels in white wine and garlic. I was a pouty brat about my pepper sauce, so I sulked in the wash station and did dishes, but Sally packaged up some of the crepes with sauce anglaise and raspberry sauce so I could take them home. This was the night we messed up our second turn of creme brulee.

On Wednesday, Chef had a family emergency and canceled class, so I took a late nap and rested well.

The creme brulees look good so far. I'll sugar and broil them after they've chilled for awhile. Woot!

No thanks to my old old toaster oven whose broiler seems to have kicked out, I baked the first test before it broiled until I got the bright idea to turn the toast knob to dark and push the lever down, successfully broiling almost all of the sugar before I took it out for fear of melting the custard before all the sugar got to brown. It didn't diminish that satisfying first keeeraccckkkk a single bit, though. Who's a happy camper? This dope. Chef's recipe really is awesome. Read more!