Chèvre and Fruit-Filled Puff Pastry by Anne Livingston

This week, I was telling my friend Heather about a fun recipe idea, and we had a misunderstanding about what I was describing.  But then we both decided that what she thought I meant, a chèvre-filled pastry, had potential for crazy deliciousness.  So, why not? I went ahead and made our miscommunicated recipe, and delivered it to her doorstep.   It was a winner at her house, hands down.  The added bonus? It’s so easy compared to how impressive it might appear.  These filled pastries would make a welcome addition to brunch, afternoon tea, or a potluck.      

Chèvre and Fruit-Filled Puff Pastry

Ingredients:

  • 1 package frozen puff pastry
  • 2/3 cup fresh chèvre
  • 1/3 cup red fruit jelly (I used Bon Maman’s Redcurrant Jelly)
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. water

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°.
  2. Remove puff pastry from the package and unfold it. Lay it on the worktable to thaw for 45 minutes. 
  3. Slice the pieces into a total of 18 squares (the natural folds of the puff pastry dough will create natural lines to create 2 sets of 9 squares).
  4. For 9 of the pieces, spoon about 1 T chèvre in the middle of each square, then top the chèvre with about a tsp. of the jelly and a few cranberries. 
  5. Brush a bit of water around a square, top it with an undecorated square, and seal it shut with your fingers.  You can also crimp the edges with a fork or crimper.  Repeat for all 9 pastries.
  6. Crack the egg into a small bowl and whisk it with 1 tsp. water.  Brush this egg wash on all the pastries and place them on a parchment-lined sheet pan.
  7. Bake until browned and cooked through, about 20 minutes.  Serve hot or at room temperature.

Winter Jeweled Meringues by Anne Livingston


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These crisp and bright cookies are simple to make.  My friend’s grandma calls these “forgotten cookies,” because in dry climates, you can throw them into a pre-warmed oven, turn the oven off, and forget about them overnight.  This is Seattle, however, so a wee bit of remembering is necessary after a couple of hours in a low oven in order to dry them to a perfect crunch.   Decorating the cookies with toasted nuts and zesty dried fruits makes a wintertime treat that tastes fantastic with tea.  They taste best on the day they are made, but they keep fairly well for about a week.


Ingredients:

  • 3 eggs
  • ¾ cup superfine sugar (you can make this by whizzing sugar in a food processor for 1 minute)
  • ½ tsp cream of tartar
  • Dash of salt
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  •  2 T each of assorted nuts and dried fruits, (such as hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, dried sour cherries, dried cranberries, candied ginger, and candied citrus peel)

Instructions:

  1. Separate refrigerator-cold eggs, setting aside the egg yolks in the fridge for another use, and letting the egg whites sit at room temperature while working on the rest of the preparations. 
  2. Line two cookie sheets with parchment. Preheat oven to 200°.
  3. Chop the dried fruits into about 1/4 inch pieces, keeping them separate if you want to arrange the "jewels," or mixing them together in a bowl if you plan on sprinkling them randomly. 
  4. If using hazelnuts, toast them in a skillet over medium heat for 3-5 minutes, moving the nuts constantly in the pan, until the toasted aroma wafts from the pan.  Watch carefully to avoid burning the hazelnuts.  Pour the nuts onto an unfolded dishtowel, then gather them together in the towel into a bundle, twisting at the top.  Then squeeze and twist the towel's contents  to rub and coax the hazelnut skins off.   Open the towel, and dust off the nuts.  Chop them until they are about the same size as the fruits. 
  5. If using pumpkin seeds, leave them whole.
  6. To make meringue:
  7. Using a hand mixer or a stand mixer, whip egg whites with cream of tartar and salt on medium-high speed, until they reach the soft peak stage, about 3 minutes. 
  8. Still whipping at medium-high, begin adding the sugar, a slow spoonful at a time, until all the sugar is incorporated into the whites. 
  9. Continue to whip egg whites until they reach the stiff peak stage.  You can determine this if you lift the beater whisk out of the bowl and turn it upside-down, and the egg whites stand straight up. 
  10. Add the cardamom and briefly whip it into the egg whites.
  11. Drop the meringue by the teaspoonful onto the cookie sheets, briefly swirling them smooth and into round cookie shapes.  Placement can be close together, because the cookies will not spread.  
  12. Either carefully arrange or randomly scatter the fruits and nuts all over the cookies to your liking.
  13. Put the cookie sheets into the oven, and bake for 2 hours, moving the cookie sheets to trade positions on the oven shelves after an hour.  At this point, after cooling a cookie and testing for crispness, you can turn the oven off and leave them on their cookie sheets for hours (or days!).  They can also be stored in an airtight container. If they become less crisp, they can be re-dried a bit in a 200° oven for 10 minutes, or until crispness is restored.


Easy Sexy Garlic Quinoa by Anne

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If you're an avid quinoa lover, you might know how it's almost nutritionally perfect--a vegetarian source of complete protein.  In ancient times the Incas regarded quinoa to be sacred, using it as an offering to the sun god, Inti.  Some Incans even worshipped quinoa itself.  So I sure do feel like an a-hole when I get bored eating it.

This is more of an idea than a recipe, but it blows my mind every time.   My 5 year old kid even loves it, and that's saying something.  When I eat this luscious, full-bodied version of quinoa, there is no boredom, only love.  Make it even better by adding some minced veggies, fried egg, or even leftovers to have some fried-rice-style goodness.

Ingredients (amounts vary depending on your taste. Don't be shy with that garlic) :

  • Quinoa
  • Olive oil
  • Garlic
  • Water
  • Salt

Directions:

  1. Cook up a batch of quinoa (or use leftovers).  
  2. Warm some olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  
  3. Briefly cook several cloves of minced garlic in the pan until the seductive aroma of garlic fills the room (no more than 15 seconds--DO NOT LET IT BROWN).  
  4. Immediately dump in the quinoa.   Pour in a few tablespoons of water or stock to avoid scorching, and stir completely.  Adding a small amount of water is very important and adds a surprising feeling of luxury to the texture.  
  5. Allow water to evaporate and soak in, about 1 minute.  
  6. Sprinkle with Maldon's sea salt (or other flaky salt).  
  7. Enjoy thoroughly.  Thank ancient Andean peoples.

Love Notes to Culinary School by Anne

I've had almost a year post-graduation to reflect on my experience of culinary school, and it's almost been enough time to clear the weird post-school haze out of my brain. There was so much focus, angst, passion, apathy, tomfoolery, testosterone, and Sriracha sauce behind the scenes.   Soon I hope to share useful or interesting info and ideas from school that I learned along the way but was too harried to sit down and jot out, let alone photograph.

But meanwhile, for today, here are a few pictures.  I've had the joy of being "allowed" around campus with my camera.  I hoped to give a sense of what life is like at Seattle Culinary Academy when people are in the zone.  It's a great school--in my opinion, the best one around here.   I love the fact that we didn't just learn traditional French cookery, although that was one component.  Where else in the world would I have an intense, high speed opportunity to learn about and cook different cuisines around the world, from Japanese to Oaxacan to Middle Eastern?

Then, of course, there was the sustainability component.  At school they had classes on sustainability in the world of food.  This focus ranged from farm to restaurant to policy-building.  The classes--and the instructors' passion--were key to the quality of the program, in my opinion.  They were inspiring and motivating.  There were farm visits, growing our own greens in the campus greenhouse, and practicing nose-to-tail butchery (using the whole animal).

We learned fundamentals, such as making a good stock, sauces, and how to season properly.

bakeshop.spreading
bakeshop.spreading

I know less of the pastry side of things because the program is separated so that you select culinary or pastry for your focus.  I did have several rotations in the bakeshop (or as the culinary students called, it, Bakation. It really does have a balmy, dreamy vibe in there).  However, my friends in the program liked it as well.  It's just a completely different experience, the two programs-within-a-program.

One thing that impressed me about the chef instructors is their desire to see us succeed beyond the program.  In other words, if people needed a job they would definitely look to the instructors, who would help them find leads using their own connections in the industry.  They weren't just great teachers, they were mentors.  People sort of gravitated towards their favorites.  One of mine is pictured below, preparing for a modernist cuisine lesson.

It wasn't my favorite part of the program, but we also did "Front of House" training (i.e., serving the guests/customers in the two restaurants the school runs).  I used to wait tables, and how in the heck did I do it?  I must have changed.  Some people really do an amazing job of it, making it look effortless--they appear gracious, friendly, and thoughtful.  I only hope that I appeared that way, but inside I felt awkward, physically uncomfortable, and grumpy.  There is a real psychic toll that it takes, and I don't even know why.  Guests would be perfectly nice, and yet by the end of the shift I would be gasping to get out of my uniform like it was made out of lead.  Anyway, I have a true respect for waiters that I only thought I had before.  In my opinion, being in the kitchen was better, but front of house workers can make or break a restaurant.

One of my favorite parts of school, that I wish I could keep doing forever, was experimenting and recipe developing.  What a fun job it would be to create new, delicious dishes out of a given palate of flavors.   It would be a bonus if I could do this with healthy, sustainably grown, beautiful food.  I've had a little bit of a chance to do that out of school for my various jobs, so that feeds me, so to speak. 

The Tin Table by Anne

This weekend is special for my friend Hallie Kuperman.  She owns the Century Ballroom, and Friday kicks off  The Century's 15th anniversary party, which this year will be a weekend-long celebration. You are invited.  Have you ever seen this place?  It's upstairs in the Oddfellows Hall on Capitol Hill.  Shiny wood, swirling dancers, vintage details...it is a timeless place that sends music out of the open windows and into the world, intriguing passersby outside.  Those inside feel lucky to be there. In fact, I remember dancing at The Century's first anniversary party--how can it already be 14 year ago?--and thinking how amazing it was to be part of such a magical place.  I still do.  A few years ago Hallie extended that magic right across the hall by creating the restaurant The Tin Table.  It's named after a giant tin fire door they found inside a wall during remodeling.  It now proudly welcomes guests into the heart of the dining room, repurposed as a majestic table.  I love that they reclaimed this treasure that was stuck, hidden behind walls, and they brought it out into the open for people to sit at and celebrate around.

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IMG_7891

Recently Hallie asked me to take some shots of The Tin Table's latest menu for their website.   Chef Travis Chase has such a natural and elegant style!  He just makes it all look effortless.

Chick Pea Fritters.  Honey Yogurt, Frisée, Cucumber, Chive Oil,  Preserved Lemon

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IMG_7929

Sturgeon. Shaved Fennel, Red Onion, Red Pepper, Scallion, Harissa Vinaigrette

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IMG_7908

Braised Beef Short Rib.  Creamy Parsnip Purée, Braised Greens, Rapini, Smoked Port Reduction

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IMG_7975

Cassoulet . Pork Belly, Lamb Leg, Flageolet Beans, Herb Brioche Crumbs

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IMG_7954

 Warm Pear Tart. Cream Cheese Crust, Pears, Praline Ice Cream, Goat Caramel

If you come out to The Tin Table, I hope you enjoy one of these beautiful dishes.  Or maybe try the egg noodle tagliatelle with rabbit ragu and black trumpet mushrooms.  It's the soul-feeding kind of dish that makes you feel like your dearest one lovingly prepared it for you after a long day.  Especially if your dearest one has a sense of elegance, style, and beautifully balanced flavors.

Whether you come out this weekend to dance and drink a toast to the Century, or you visit another day to sample some of Chef Travis' creations, I think you'll find yourself deliciously transported into a place that could be your second (fabulous) home.

Making Sole Meunière by Anne

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sole.meuniere

Filet of Sole Meunière

Fat, buttery snowflakes are plopping on the front yard, and I'm not even glad.  Why?  Because I want to go to school tomorrow--to have the opportunity to make braised sweetbreads.  As in, cow's thymus gland.  I didn't think I'd be excited about it, but today I put them into water to soak overnight, and once I had my hands on them, I was very intrigued by their complete oddity.  My classmate told me today that getting the membranes off is a pain in the neck.  The curiosity has taken over.  What will it be like?  Also, how will it taste after braising a couple hours in a sauce?

Today I cooked up some Filet of Sole Meunière at school (24 times).  You can look up the recipe for this just about anywhere, but I'd like to share with you some of the techniques, guidelines, and tricks taught to me by Chef KG and also by Steve, a 5th Quarter who was helping in the kitchen today.

Sole Meunière is a simple and intensely tasty way to eat your butter.  It's fried in butter, then served with a lemony butter sauce.

Heat your pan over medium-high to high heat, without adding fat yet.  Sprinkle your fish with salt and pepper.

After the pan is hot (no need to use a non-stick if you do this right), add clarified butter.  As you let the butter heat up, dredge the fish in flour.  Only do this at the last minute or the flour will get gummy.

The fish is then fried in the hot clarified butter, on both sides. Using clarified butter for this is great because it has a higher smoke point.  Your fish is so thin that you'll want to use high heat to get a nice, crusty finish on each side before that sucker is all cooked through.  It only takes a couple of minutes.

It's a delicate fish.  Flip once.  Start with presentation side down (flesh side, not skin side--even if the skin is off) on the pan.

After removing the sole and arranging it on your serving plate, you add some (not-clarified) butter to the pan and brown it, making "beurre noisette."  Noisette means hazelnut.  The milk solids in butter become brown and nutty in appearance and aroma.

After you finish browning your butter--hence adding more complex flavors to the sauce you're building in the pan, you add some lemon juice.

Here's a trick Steve taught me today with that lemon juice.  Tilt the pan over your heat so that all the butter is at the bottom.  Add the lemon juice from the top, so it runs down the super-hot pan to finally reach the butter at the bottom.  By doing this, you reduce the lemon juice briefly, in its trip down.  I have no idea how much reduction you get by doing that, but it sure is fun.

After the lemon juice, add chopped parsley to your sauce.  Quickly swirl, then pour over the fish on the plate(s).  Garnish with lemon slices and more parsley (if desired).

Lots of Hustle by Anne

2.1.11.phad thai
2.1.11.phad thai

 I was doing so well with a weekly update of school.   Then the last four weeks happened.   It's been hard to reflect this quarter.  My days at school have gone something like: "Then we made this thing.  Then we made this other thing. Then we did that.  Then we did another thing." Go, go, go, a go-go. No wonder I'm so dang tired right now.  There's been a big heaping of hustle-your-bustle this quarter.  I really get what people meant about 2nd Quarter showing you what you're really made of.  Yep.  I definitely am seeing the stuff I'm made of.   Just not a lot of time to think about it.

One of my classmates has been cooking in commercial kitchens for 15 years, since he was 16.  Another was the head of a kitchen for many many years.   They are not as challenged as the rest of us.  But as for the rest of us... whew.

In order, the four last weeks' stations were:

1. Sous Chef (My partner and I did the leading thing for the rest of the class that week)

2. Breakfast/Asian Station (Two days of making breakfast-for-lunch, then two days for making the assigned Asian dishes)

3. Butchery (We fabricated meats needed by our classmates for their dishes, plus we make our own entrée for Student Lunch)

4. Sushi/Stocks, Sauces & Soups (Two days of sushi, one day of stocks & sauces, then one day in the Bistro kitchen making soup for the actual Public At Large)

These were intense weeks.  Sous Chef was alright, actually.  I activated my inner Sixth Grade Teacher and got organized.  It felt like a successful week, and I received good feedback from people about how the kitchen was "run."

Even so, it was exhausting.  At times I had some misanthropic feelings, especially towards folks who acted ungracious when we served them lunch.  There were not many of them, but they sucked.  As they say, the only people complaining about student lunch are the people who are not making student lunch.

I didn't complain last quarter, and I sure as hell will not complain in quarters to come.  On principle.  Even if they serve me crap-on-a-plate.  I'll just eat salad.  I've seen it from the front lines: people are doing their best.

Breakfast and Asian Station were fun but took longer than I would have expected.  My favorite parts of that week were making phad thai with an industrial wok (the dish pictured above was my practice run of that dish), and the shirred eggs and "overnight" waffles with yeast.  A pastry student from the program asked me for the recipe for the waffles.  Waffle awesomeness!

Butchery was a station that I expected to love but then didn't.  I left school every day feeling frustrated and raw.  I liked the actual butchery part, but I think there were some ways that the station was set up that weren't conducive to our learning.  Here's some meat!  Go! 

Even so, I had some good experiences that week. My partner and I deboned chickens while still intact (remember when Chef showed us earlier in the quarter? Now we can do it, too!!)  and made a "ballotine" by rolling it with a stuffing, cinnamon-roll-style, then serving it with a Madeira sauce.  I also got to make a smoked pork roast that I deboned myself.  In the near future I need to continue to work on chicken fabrication, because our end-of-quarter knife competency will be cutting up chickens in different ways, in a certain number of minutes.

This week my sushi rotation went well, although slow.  Anyone in the sushi station has to decide: perfect and beautiful sushi, or get 'er out there?  I, and the helpers that were assigned to me, tried to make mostly beautiful sushi.   So I wouldn't call us early.  Anyway, I'm glad we got it out without Chef KG saying, "Where's the sushi?"  (Which he will do, if you're too, too late).  One thing I felt proud of in this station was my mis en place (how all my ingredients were set up before I got started).  Things were organized and neat.  This felt good, especially with a project that has so many ingredients.  Also especially because my mis en place outside of school is more like "Holy crap, where's the baking soda?!?"

Soup station yesterday was a wonderful moment in time.  I was in the 3rd Quarter kitchen, and it was one of the most relaxed days I've had in the kitchen so far.   There wasn't much to do, and everyone was relatively chilled out.  After making some salmon chowder and cleaning & steaming some mussels, I had a chance to taste eight or nine dishes from the 5th quarter "COD (Chef of the Day)" project.  This was inspiring and fascinating.  3 students' menus were being presented that day, so plate after beautiful plate was being sent back to the kitchen for Chef Vicky to grade.

After she finished tasting and rating a plate, she would put it on the counter, which happened to be at my station, for the students to try.  People would come over with spoons to taste, reflect, and react.  I was ladling up stock into containers to freeze, so I just went through a soothing process of taste, ladle, reflect, taste, ladle,  reflect.  Having the time to ponder on  different flavor combinations was so different from the rest of this action-packed quarter.  It felt collegial, magical.  Everyone passing by was interested and had a different, personal reaction to what they tried.

It was also cool to listen to the chefs' reactions.  The beets gratin from an Eastern Bloc menu, which I particularly loved, were also exciting to Chef Vicky.  She pointed out that the crisp part at the bottom was particularly delicious.  A few minutes later I passed through Chef KG's (our) kitchen and saw the same dish sitting there at a table.  I commented to Chef KG that I loved that gratin, and he said, "Yeah.  A little overcooked,though."  Really?  I went to taste it again, from the dish in his kitchen, and sure enough, that plate's gratin had a little tougher consistency than the one in 3rd quarter kitchen.  I wonder what happened to make the two gratins turn out so differently.  I also wonder what it will be like in just a few quarters when I'm making my own COD project.

There have been some other glimmers of excitement and culinary inspiration:  Yesterday morning Chef KG showed us some fun cuts and garnishes, including making cherry blossoms (and plum blossoms) from carrots, and carving a ball inside a cage with a potato.  Who cares if you never cook with that potato? It is so dang cool.  I will definitely carve another one and take a pic for your amusement.

Also, there's a tapas competition coming up at school.  The two winners will then go to Spain to compete with people around the world with their tapas.  I'm going to submit some ideas to Chef Karen (which is what we're supposed to do to see if we qualify for the next round).  So my mind is constantly mumbling to itself about flavor ideas right now.  It's a good feeling.

Anyway, I'm tired.  I feel compelled, for posterity's sake, to record what I "produced" in these last 16 school days:

Breakfast:

  • Shirred eggs with gruyere and cayenne
  • Eggs Benedict with shaved ham
  • Omelets with shallots, mushrooms, and fresh thyme
  • Eggs over easy
  • Light & fluffy pancakes
  • Overnight waffles (with yeast)
  • Hash browns
  • Sausage

Asian Station

  • Tenshin Don (Rice bowl with crab omelet, peas, and sauce)
  • Phad Thai

Butchery

  • Chicken Ballotine with Madeira Sauce
  • Smoked Pork Shoulder
  • Roasted Chicken au Jus Lié

Sushi

  • Nigiri:
    • Ebi (shrimp)
    • Atsuyaki Tamago (omelet)
    • Unagi (freshwater eel)
    • Hosomaki (small rolls with nori on outside of roll):
      • Kampyo (dried, rehydrated gourd) roll
      • Tekuwan (pickled daikon radish) roll
      • Kappa Maki (cucumber roll)
      • California roll
      • Futomaki ("Fat" roll with tamago, kampyo, spinach, mushroom, and denbu--pink fish flakes)

Stocks and Sauces:

  • Espagnole sauce
  • Brown roux
  • Halibut fumet

Soups

  • Salmon chowder

Gifts by Anne

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IMG_9761

The picture above--of my daughter and me enjoying a creation that took patience and several days to create, has nothing to do with the cooking I've been doing this week.  That picture would be a blur. Second Quarter's Practicum--our main class--is called "Quantity Cooking."  As I've said before, we're cooking for all the culinary students at our school.  Before knowing anything about the school, I assumed it would be more like banquet-style--creating enormous vats of food and spooning portions from chafing dishes over sterno flames.  This is not the case.

Instead, if you're making entrées, you need to time it so that you churn out several at a time, because the students come at anytime between 11 and 12:30.  Is there a regularity to their arrival?  Not really.  It's all based on what's going on in that class's reality that day.  Sometimes they come in for lunch in waves, and other times they trickle in like a leaky faucet.  Sometimes we have too many plates available to be picked up, sometimes not enough.

This makes it more of a challenge to feed them fresh, hot food.  You should see how quickly a plate of perfect pasta can dry out under the lamp.

Swedish Meatballs were a perfect first-day item to serve.  Now there's some banquet food.  If I had to, I could have cooked them all at the same time and served them in a hotel pan over the course of an  hour and a half, no problem.  The Mediterranean-Style Quinoa Wraps were also a great make-ahead, and they seemed to go fast, too.

The Fusilli with Italian Sausage, Roasted Tomatos and Braising Greens? Not as easy, because there was last-minute sautéeing involved.  The Salmon en Papillote was another toughie.  Sharing ovens with other people can get tricky, especially with fish.  Especially if people change the oven temp for their own dish--while your fish is cooking in there--and you don't know it.  Especially if your papillote (parchment envelope) is the size of the Goodyear Blimp and your portion of salmon is just shy of 4 ounces.  Note: if you make that recipe, make sure you make an envelope that is proportioned to the fillings, otherwise it will dry out (or leak)!

Anyway, not a single dish I made ended up tasting as good as when I make it at home.  Big surprise!  Actually, it was a big surprise.  But the other big surprise is the positive feedback I got for dishes anyway.   People liked each of those menu items, and took the time to tell me so.   I had to battle with myself to keep from blurting, "Really?!" or "It's usually waaaay better."   A few times, with some of my friends, I did admit that it's usually better when I make it at home.

BUT!

Julia Child's wisdom, to never apologize for your cooking, is great advice.   At bare minimum, you diminish their enjoyment of the food by criticizing it.   So most of the time, when someone said they liked my (dry, but on-other-occasions tender and juicy) salmon, I would try to just smile and say, "Thank you."  Because just as my food was a (hastily wrapped) gift to them, their kind words were a gift to me.  So I should just take the valentine and smile.

Today's the last day I'm on the "student entree" rotation, which means the food I'll cook for the rest of the quarter will usually be recipes assigned to me, rather than ones I bring myself.  Today I'll have another chance to be gracious and grateful.  My goal today? No apologies or explanations.  Only thanks.

Watch out for Flying Eggs by Anne

eggs
eggs

This morning before class started, my classmate turned around and warned us, "The substitute teacher today is supposed to be really strict, you guys.  He used to teach here."  We straightened up and tried to contain ourselves a little better.  We'd been noisy and laughing up until then. When class started, though, and the substitute started talking, it became clear that this guy was quite funny, himself.  Also, chatty.  The powerpoint slide from the lesson plan was cued up for "eggs - sunny side up", but somehow he started telling us about this enormous (hot-tub sized!) antique cast-iron pot in his collection--for picnics needing a lot of corn on the cob. 

There were plenty other tidbits, too.  He talked about a severe boss he had a long time ago (in the 60's) who would throw his tray of lunch down the hall if it was cooked incorrectly.  So basically this chef/substitute was telling us jokes, and they were funny, but we were caught up on the idea that he was supposed to be this hard-nosed guy.  On his end, he must have been thinking of us, "Geez, tough crowd!" It took awhile for us to loosen up, and we were also wondering a bit if we would learn the lesson plan for eggs.  

Class was nearing an end, and he had a hard-cooked egg and a raw egg in each hand.  "How can you tell when an egg is cooked on the inside or not?" he asked us.

 I answered something about rolling the two eggs, and the less wobbly one was cooked. Then he demonstrated the spinning trick.  If you spin a cooked egg, it really spins.  The raw egg sort of peters out after a few go 'rounds.  I commented, "Wow, that works a lot better than my idea.  Less likely for eggs to break." 

"What?" he asked.

"I said, it's less likely for the egg to break-"

And that's when he threw the egg at me.

I think he was tossing it to me to scare the crap out of me, which he did. But his throw was a bit short, so it hit the floor on the far side of the table where I sat.  It smashed on the floor and people shrieked and laughed with surprise.  It was so funny, but I'm also slightly confused.  Was that part of the lesson plan? Has he pulled that trick for years, each year, for each class? Or was he feeling especially jolly and egg-tossy today? Anyway, he's subbing for us again tomorrow and I'll have my catcher's mitt ready this time.

Tonight I practiced an upcoming task that awaits me in second quarter kitchen in a few weeks: Eggs Benedict.   Happily, they were a great success.   My husband commented, "This sauce tastes light and airy! What's the main ingredient in it besides butter?"  Mmmm....not much.  Oh, and lemon and egg yolks. Completely delectable and equally unphotographable.  Trust me, you don't want to see the quick shots I took before dinner.  It will probably be on my to-do list now: photographing hollandaise sauce without making it look absurdly viscous and gross.

But!  If you find yourself making Eggs Benedict, I've got a wine pairing idea for you:  Rioja!  If you're a big red wine fan and wish to have it with every meal possible, go with Rioja for your Eggs Benedict dinner.  Wine stewards and pairing books will tell you about some amazing whites and also some bubblies that will pair amazingly with this dish, but Spain is nothing if not a ham-obsessed country.  They also love their eggs, baby.  Bold rioja tastes so good with the big, bright flavors of the ham and hollandaise.  The egg is a gentle balance and the toasted muffin adds mildly sweet crunch.

Well, it's been an eggy day, and tomorrow promises more of the same with omelette practice.  Can't wait to see what the teacher throws at us this time--literally.

Pots, Wraps, and Chix by Anne

mediterranean quinoaThis week began with a bang: The banging of pots, that is.  Although our class begins production this week and cooks for the rest of the culinary and pastry students, my own rotation this week is not even in the kitchen, it's in the dish pit. This is a great thing, though. I have an enthusiastic, almost unnatural love of the dish pit.   It's a big, fast, messy game to me to get the dishes cleaned.  The faster, the better.  I always think of dishwashers (in restaurants) as the drummers of the place.  Not subtle mellow jazz drummers, though.  More like that wacky Animal on the Muppet Show.  At least the dishwashers I like.  The ones that yell, "Bring it on!" and pace around their soapy domains like caged tigers.  So this week I embrace my inner muppet drummer, I guess you could say.  LET'S GO!

Meanwhile, next week my partner and I have "Student Entree" as our station, which means we're coming up with menu items to serve.  This is one of the creativity portions of the quarter.  Anyway, one of the days I'm assigned to do a vegetarian dish.  Looking through a couple cookbooks for inspiration, I saw a recipe entitled "Mediterranean Quinoa."  This both inspired me and led me on a real culinary wild goose chase.

The actual recipe didn't excite me, but suddenly Mediterranean Quinoa was the only thing on earth, apparently, that would do for the menu.  Sometimes I get stuck on an idea and can't let it go.  So I made quinoa and made it into a salad:  artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, mint, red bell peppers, onion, feta cheese, lemon juice, olive oil, you know. All the good things in life.    However, as a quinoa salad it fell flat.  Actually, it fell quite sharp--as in, tart, bright, and no depth.

To bring full, round flavors I added garbanzo beans, and then to make it more creamy I made some tzatziki, thanks to the great recipe provided by Kristen.  I tasted all this together, and it still just was wrong, wrong wrong.  Too much goo and not enough crunch.  Then it occurred to me: why not make this into a sandwich, or better yet, a wrap?  1/4 cup of tzatziki plus a cup of the quinoa salad, topped with lettuce and onions and wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla.  Hot dang!  We have a great vegetarian item for next week.

This whole figuring-out process caused me lots of angst, I have to say.  You know when you wake up in the morning and then are filled with dread because you remembered that last night you: wrecked your car, lost that important letter, said something hideously stupid at a party?  Well, I had that dread when I was in the midst of working on the quinoa salad situation.  Usually it's not so dire, but I suppose it is homework, after all. And I'm a good little student.  A quinoa-wrappin' kind of student.  What a huge relief to get that figured out.  Once the recipe is really, really finalized I'll post it.

Today Chef KG showed us some snazzy ways to fabricate (as in, cut up) chicken.  We made various types of boneless chicken breast ("airline" and "supreme" and "frenched"), and we also learned how to remove the bone from a chicken leg.  For the grand finale, Chef showed us how to de-bone a chicken...without taking it apart.  Can you believe it?

By the end of the demo, he had a large, chicken-meat rectangle, free of bones.  I was stunned by how easy he made it look.  With this meat slab, you can smooth it over with a filling and roll it up into a ballantine--when you slice the roll up, you get a spiral of chicken that includes both dark meat and light meat, as well as the filling.  So dreamy! I can't believe that I'm going to be making those chicken rectangles...and soon.  Better get crackin' (bones.  Sorry, vegetarians.  But I have a great wrap for you).

Why a Rice Cooker Is Smarter than Me by Anne

riceIIOne time last quarter I turned the rice cooker off at 15 or 20 minutes, because I was following some instructions in a recipe packet.  When I opened the lid, guess what?  Rice soup.  I turned the cooker back on, panicked that I had “re-set” the rice cooker and was afraid that it wouldn’t stop by itself before making rice crust.  However, it did stop, at the perfect time.  How does this work?

I learned today from Chef KG how a rice cooker is so smart.  Inside the cooker itself, right under where you put the bowl insert (where the rice goes), there is a flat disk that makes contact with the bottom of the bowl insert.  It senses the temperature of the insert itself.  When water is heated, it can only reach a certain temperature before it starts to boil, hence keeping the temperature at a level 212˚.  The boiling water keeps the temperature of the insert constant, as well. 

As the water begins to both evaporate and soak into the rice, there is no longer any water to keep the insert at around 212˚, so it starts to heat up.  The sensor notices this and switches from “cook” to “warm.”  Brilliant!  Much more brilliant than me, the packet-reading instruction follower.

Another tidbit I learned today:  Shiitake mushrooms--are silly.  Yes, that’s like saying salsa sauce.  Shiitake means “shii mushroom.”   This is the department of redundancy department ordering a pound of shii mushroom mushrooms, please, for the department. 

Tidbits taken care of now, I want to reflect on this, the first day of second quarter.  First I’m really seeing how we were coddled last quarter.  It was important to do that.  We needed to focus on knife skills.  We needed to get a sense of what the school was all about.  We needed to pass sanitation and math classes.  Now we’re really getting down to it.  No more Mr. Nice Chefs--although our main teacher, Chef KG, is wonderful.  He’ll push us to greatness with tough love, I hope, but he’s also really funny and personable. 

Second quarter’s first day brings a rumbling of approaching new experiences.  Makes me think of the roaring-train sound that Oklahoma tornadoes make when they’re heading your direction.  Throughout the day they told us everything we’ll be doing in the next 12 weeks.  It’s a lot to process.  Of course, once we get started, it will be one day at a time.  Nothing beyond what any of us can do. 

Even though I’m sure of my work ethic and my proudly earned organization skills, even though I think I know how to “hustle” in the kitchen fairly well, let’s face it.  I am nervous!  At least I’ve got these smarty-pants rice cookers on my side.

Shrimp Beignets, Take One by Anne

shrimp.beignets "Looks good--what are these?" I asked, as usual, at Student Lunch a few weeks ago.  Of course they looked good--they were deep fried.  Anyway, turns out they were "tempura" vegetables with a beignet batter.   They were light, crisp, faintly sweet, and insanely compelling to eat.  I was sitting across the table from Chris, a 2nd quarter student, who had his plate piled high with them.  "Aren't these awesome?" I said to him--though with my mouth full, it was more like, "Ammt veev awffm?" 

"I made 'em!" he said.  Chris cooks at Barking Frog in Woodinville, and making beignet batter is one of his regular tasks.  Since it was near the end of school, he whipped this out, one of his default recipes.  Personally, I'm looking at it as a secret weapon.  I continued to rave about them, but he was pretty humble.  He complained that they had too much baking soda in them.  I can only imagine what they taste like when they are perfect. 

Anyway, they've been on my mind, so I looked up "Barking Frog Beignets" to see what they actually use the batter for.  Apparently they serve crab beignets, with an herbed crab concoction hidden inside.  Sounds dreamy! 

Today I picked up some shrimp at the store and decided to take the plunge for dinner tonight.   I'll call this round a pleasant first stab at seafood beignets--definitely no award-winner.  My batter was simple, with flour, salt, sugar, baking soda, and sparkling water.  In other words, not a beignet.  From what I have read in the last hour, this is definitely not a traditional beignet recipe.  Sometimes you've just gotta slap it up there and see what happens.  I will say, though, that my family gobbled them up. 

In case you haven't already sneaked off to Wikipedia,  I'll sum up: beignets are basically french doughnuts.  It's a term that refers to fried dough or batter. It can be made with yeasty batter or a basic Pâte à choux (butter, eggs, flour, and water).  Definitely not the recipe I was using.

Looks like I'll be heading over to Barking Frog soon to taste savory beignets again.  Or asking Chris for some beignet words of wisdom.  Or both.  If you've got a good beignet recipe at your house, I'd love to hear about it.

Culinary School First Quarter Impressions by Anne

shallots Culinary school has been like a blistering teenage crush.  I'm driving home either yelling "Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!" for something I did, or singing joyfully to a cheesy song at the top of my lungs.  There's lots of angst.  Learning sure can be uncomfortable.  And there's lots of longing: thinking, writing, and reading about food can be an exercise in melancholy.  When will I get a chance to try cooking all the delicacies from Chef Gregg's lectures?  When will I fly across the country or the world to try that restaurant? 

I even got that longing on one of the first days when Chef Gregg asked us to go around the room and say our favorite comfort food.  A room full of strangers revealed what satisfied their souls the most.  Suddenly, we knew each other better--and were yearning for ice cream, or a bowl of noodles, or a Greek salad.

Actually, culinary school is also like a reality TV show.  Our class has distinct representatives from different walks of life and ages.   Each person seems ripe for a one- or two-word nickname, based on our backgrounds and idiosyncracies.   Guess who I am: Mom.  Do I love that? Not really.  But I get it. 

Our differences do make for some interesting interactions.   Some people have "found" each other and formed alliances, and others can't bear each other.  There was a serious "No you didn't!" moment with two women who came close to taking it outside over something tiny--because they apparently dislike each other so much. 

With the amount of gossip that mills through the school, you just know that the near-catfight story got told over and over for weeks.  Seems like people are constantly talking about each other.  Nothing is private.  We're all completely nosy.  "What's that?  What are you eating? Can I taste it?  What did you get on the  sanitation quiz?  What did they say?  Are they coming?  Did they pass?"  Everyone's into each other's business. 

To add to the reality TV vibe, there's the turmoil caused by attrition.  The loss of some of our classmates due to life changes, or, more painfully, flunking, really hurts.  We had become like a wacky family, and now people are getting voted off the island.   We started with 28 and have lost nine people since.  This is typical in the program, I hear.  We'll end up with about half the number of students as when we started, apparently.  Since we lost seven of the people on the last day of fall quarter, there's no telling what it will be like next quarter with the remaining 19.

I do know that second quarter will be a hit-the-ground-running situation.  We're in charge of making lunch for all the culinary students, so the theme of the quarter is "quantity cooking."  Really, it will be "quantity cooking for a tough crowd."  As everyone is developing their palates, they're quick to criticize what they eat.  Myself, I liked the food fine, but I was always critiquing it. 

I remember three distinct times that I was really excited by the food I ate at Student Lunch.  Two of the times I went to find out who was responsible so that I could give them my compliments. Next quarter I will aspire to do that well (even if nobody comes to find me and rave about the food).

We'll rotate through stations each week (such as entree, starch/veg, butchery, sushi, breakfast, etc.).  We will sometimes be assigned dishes and other times need to supply our own recipes.  So, during this winter break I've been collecting recipes that are easily prepared for large groups.  Hello, Swedish Meatballs

There's the temptation to get creative, but being fussy is not the nature of quantity cooking.  My friend and I were lamenting this, being foodies, but there's going to be lots to learn about techniques behind creating food in large quantities while still making it taste great.  Anyway, I'm looking forward to this challenge.  My inner Italian grandma is pleased as punch.  Mangia, mangia!  Let's go make big vats of sauce!

All in all these first three months have been intense, tiring, and fascinating. Even at its most exhausting, though, I didn't want to be anywhere else.   I wish I could get paid to go to culinary school.  That's how I feel right now, anyway, after one quarter, right at the end of our restful winter vacation.  However, after many years of being a student and a teacher, I've never looked forward to going back to school as much as I am looking forward to it now.  That's gotta say something.

Befriending Herbs & Spices by Anne

IMG_8962The most fun assignment, ever, has me immersing my nose in the scent of basil tonight.  We're assigned about 40 herbs and spices to observe, smell, and taste.  Then we describe, in table format, each of these attributes for each herb and spice.  Having heard about this assignment before starting the culinary program, I knew I'd be looking forward to it.  However, I was unprepared for the intensity each herb and spice would present as I became more intimately acquainted with them.  Want to try it?  Go to your cupboard and put a large of pinch of basil in a small bowl.  Stick your nose in there.  What do you smell?  What words come to mind?  Are you surprised at all?  I was.  I don't even want to ruin it for you right now by planting ideas in your head, so if you feel like telling me what you smell (and taste!), please do!  I'd love to compare notes with you.  I felt like I knew basil so well, and yet I felt tonight like I was really smelling it for the first time, knowing that I would need to describe it.  And who takes a pinch of dried herbs and puts it in her mouth to eat, straight?  It's just a different experience.

We were given several weeks to do this assignment, and I'm glad, because more than three or four of these experiences at one time can be overwhelming to the nose and palate.   

 The other day I decided to observe allspice during the same session as cloves, since the scent of allspice was reminding me so much of cloves.  Check that out!  If you have them both in your cupboard, wouldn't it be fun to smell (and taste) the differences between the two, side by side?

I also did oregano and marjoram together, since they're related yet so different.  Also, did you know that mace comes from the shell of nutmeg (and hence tastes a lot like it)? I did not know that before this assignment.

All in all, I feel like the assignment caused me to feel closer with each herb and spice in the chart, as if they were once acquaintances and now they're good friends.  We've been through something together, and I've taken time to really get to know them a little better.  Now I feel more inclined to include each of these in my dishes, just like you're more likely to trust your friend to help you rather than someone you just met.   Hey, fennel, can you help me out with some heavy lifting on this dish's flavor?  I know you're good at it.  Thanks, buddy.

The Whole Tomato by Anne

tomatoes.stockThe less food I waste, the better I feel -- it's more economical, and it is better for The World At Large.  Saving energy by buying less.  It's so difficult, though!  It takes strength of will, organization, and some ingenuity to keep yourself from buying too much.  Whole corporations are built to strategize how to get us consumers to purchase more food.  Those tricks sure work on me.   What a weird problem we have in this country--so many of us have so much food we don't know what to do with ourselves, or it. I'm by no means an expert conserver-of-foods, but it gets better the more I work at it.  Someday I will be the proud owner of a fridge with no science projects lurking in the crisper.  At the moment, though, I've still got things like the tired lime wedges, some mopey moldy strawberries, and the leftover oatmeal that "could" become fodder for future pancakes.

So, here we are, at the end of fresh tomatoes for the year.  On one of the last warm days of fall, I celebrated with a round of gazpacho.  The heirloom tomatoes from Billy's Gardens at the farmers' market were way redder and readier than my own garden's, so I bought a bunch of seconds and got to it.   As I blanched and peeled the tomatoes, though, I started thinking about the tomato tops and skins.  They were beautiful and gemlike, in their various colors. Sure, they would go into compost, but what if I could do something with them?

This time, I put them into a vegetable stock to see what would happen. I used chopped carrots, celery, onion (including the toughest-yet-edible outer shell of a red onion), thyme sprigs, and yes, the tomato tops and skins.  The tomato flavor definitely dominated the stock, probably because there were so many of them, but maybe sometimes that's okay, depending on the stock's purpose.  I could use the stock in a tomato based soup, for example, or maybe in a pasta dish or risotto that had lots of related flavors. 

At any rate, it felt good to use the whole thing, and the leftover cooked parts will compost all the quicker. 

Last week in school our teacher taught us about making proper stocks, using the best part of fine ingredients.  He said, "If you want to make garbage stock, then make stock with scraps."  That really made me think.  It's a good point, especially for a restaurant.  Meanwhile, back here at the house, I'll go with the modified philosophy of, If I would eat it anyway (and I usually do eat tomato skins), then it's good enough for a home stock. 

Next I'm going to try to make tomato-skin powder.  Apparently you take your just-peeled tomato skins and either put them in a food dehydrator or a low-heat oven until they are dry and crumbly.  Then grind them up with a spice or coffee grinder.  I've never had this powder before, but it sounds like it would look and taste wonderful.  Tell you later if there's anything to report on that.

tomatoes.green.to.red

Unprocessed October Guest Post by Anne

cherry tomato duo You may have read one of my recent posts talking about joining up for an "Unprocessed October," organized by the intrepid Andrew Wilder over at Eating Rules.  I've committed to a month of unprocessed foods and have written a guest post on his site for today.  Check it out!  If you were wondering, here is Andrew's working definition of "unprocessed.

 Also, he told me yesterday that this project has made the LA Times and the NY Times!  Very exciting!

Would you like to take the challenge?

Culinary School, Week I by Anne

IMG_8577 It sure feels surreal to step on the speedy river raft of a Life Dream.  When you fantasize about something for so many years--decades, even--it's weird to start experiencing the real-life details that accompany the dream.  Fluorescent lights.  Combination locks.  Attendance.

The first week of culinary school was a heaping platter of details.  We survived a four-day onslaught of information about the school's program and individual instructor expectations.  Being in a cohort-style group, the 26 of us managed not to get lost by more or less shuffling around together from place to place. 

Seattle Culinary Academy's program itself is brilliantly organized, and it runs like a well-oiled machine.  The whole system must have taken years to perfect.   I wish I could draw you a diagram of how it all works--it's that cool.  Anyway, as first-quarter students, we'll rotate through many experiences during these next weeks, both in our own kitchen and those of the more advanced students. 

Some days I'll be in our 1st quarter kitchen doing prep for SCA student lunches, other days I'll be in the galley washing pots, and others I'll bus tables in the school's two restaurants (for which the more advanced students cook).  On other rotation days, I'll visit the advanced students' kitchens, and they'll give me something innocuous to do while I observe them in action, making me both useful and able to absorb what's to come. 

The teachers themselves seem amazing, too.  I'll likely be telling more about them as the weeks and quarters pass.  Chef Gregg Shiosaki, the one who teaches us the bulk of our first quarter theory and practicum, comes from a well-rounded professional background and obviously holds high standards for himself and us.  I reckon this is the kind of chef you want teaching the new lot--a teacher that people want to work hard for.  On the first or second day he told us that we should walk with purpose and pride when we are in the kitchen.  When we cook, we hold ourselves accountable, and we present what we have prepared with pride, not carelessness. 

Here's something I liked from his knife demonstration yesterday.  It's about onion slices versus julienned onions (example pictured above).   During the demonstration Chef Gregg was showing us sliced and julienned onions. To explain the different cuts, I'll pretend the onion's a globe, with north and south poles.  If half an onion lies north/south on a cutting board, flat side down, then onion slices are cut through the "lines of latitude," east to west, basically making half onion rings.  Julienned onions are cut north to south, like lines of longitude, or time zones.  Julienned onions require angled cutting near the cutting board to create consistent shapes.  In the picture above, the slices are on the left and the juliennes are on the right. 

So, why do we care about the difference between slices and julienne cuts for onions?  When you cut slices, you have cut against the grain of the onion, which makes them easier to break down easily in soups, and also makes them easier to eat in salads; julienned onions, since they are sliced along the fiber lines,  would be more stringy and less easy to eat raw in salad.  Sometimes you want your onions to retain their form in certain cooked dishes, though, such as a stir fry.  So juliennes are better for that. 

On some level I must have known all of this and how the onion fibers affect different cut types.  It's common sense, right?  Chef Gregg reminds us to use our common sense quite a bit.  Still, though, this small fact has filled me with geeky glee today.  It's the sort of "Ah ha!" that I've been hoping will fill my next 7 quarters.

What to Do with Leftover Pork Chops by Anne

bbq pork sandwich For me, this new month of October is so full of awesomeness that I don't even know what to do with myself.  First of all, tomorrow is my first day of culinary school.  I am giddy with excitement and might be up late tonight.  After years of teaching school, I forgot what it's like to be on the student end of the business, having no idea of what is in store for me.  It's a wild feeling, like sitting on a surfboard anticipating a really gorgeous and gnarly wave.

The other excitement in October is the Opportunity To Be A Better Person. With Unprocessed October we get to eat healthier, greener, and probably cheaper.  I've made a good menu.   And by good, I also mean that I took seasonality into account, along with keeping everything as local as possible. 

Wow.  I am (and probably you are) wondering: when school starts, am I going to be able to be this intentional anymore?  That's one of the great things about Seattle Culinary Academy, though.  Their mission includes sustainable practices.  These people walk their talk.  So hopefully, it will be a breeze to walk right alongside them and feed the family well in the meantime!  This is what I'm hoping for, and I'll definitely keep you posted.  Green, healthy, frugal, busy?  What has to give? Does anything?

One sustainable practice, of course, is to avoid wasting food.  Here's where the leftover pork chops come in.  On Friday I tried a new recipe for spice-crusted pork chops that had an intriguing-sounding combination of spices.  I will not share this recipe with you, because it was, in a word, gross.  Did the recipe writer even taste this dish? Ever?   It reminded me of a potluck, where you put too many different flavors on your plate, and, while chatting and plate-balancing, you accidentally take a bite of several people's contributions at once.  Hmm.  I detect notes of kitchen sink.

Meanwhile, though, I had a couple pounds of good pork that had been cooked and crusted within this gross-kitchen-sink combo.  What to do? 

Sunday night I tackled the problem with pork fried rice.  I trimmed the outer layer off the pork, sliced it thinly, and sauteed it on high heat with onions, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, mixed veggies and a batch of cooked rice.  At the end, I added a couple of beaten eggs and stirred them in, frying everything some more.  The secret to good fried rice is to not stir too much.  The crusty bits are mighty fine, especially after you add the egg. 

After dinner I realized that I had not used all the pork.  "Are you kidding me?" I asked the tupperware dish.  Tupperware does not kid.  Having used all my big containers to freeze items for Unprocessed October, I had split the large pork chops in two small, unfunny containers. 

So, tonight I trimmed the pork outsides again, rinsed them off, and really shredded them up.  I threw the bits in a slow cooker and added my mom's barbeque sauce.  With a few hours of cooking, a Tall Grass Bakery baguette, and salad greens from our garden, suddenly we were living large and not eating gross leftovers. 

So.  What to do with leftover porkchops?  In a nutshell, cover the previous flavors with strong elements like soy sauce and barbeque sauce.  Feel grateful and don't waste stuff.

Plan a Healthy Menu for Your Busy Life by Anne

Put fluffy greens to one side in your make-ahead salads

 

I hear it’s wise to start a new, hectic stage of life—such as going back to school—by paring down other parts of your life and doing less.  Wise, shmize. Culinary school starts in a week, so hey! Time to start another new project.  Why not accept a fellow food blogger’s challenge for October, during which I eat no processed foods?  Sure!   Check out Andrew’s site to see more about his inspiring idea and his working definition of unprocessed foods.

Anyway, having thrown wisdom to the wind with the busy life and the projects, I believe eating healthy is possible during busy times, especially with a good plan.  Although I’m not a natural planner, through trial and error I’ve developed a good menu-planning method.  If you’re also considering an “Unprocessed October” or any health-centered focus, but you feel too busy to fit it in, check out the following tactic for having your life and eating right, too. 

How to Make a Menu Plan

Step  1: Make an idea bank

This tool, though it took a little time to create, is essential to successful and fast menu planning for me.  Without it, I stare into space blankly and doodle in the margins.  It’s a lot like Potluck Amnesia and it’s not pretty.  An idea bank is key.

In your idea bank, list all of your “keepers”: tried-and true-recipes and meals that people in your household enjoy.  Include a range from really easy to more challenging meals.  If it’s a recipe you don’t have memorized, write the location (and page number, if needed) of the recipe to save time later.  You can plan to make other dishes besides your keepers, but remembering what you know in the first place saves you oodles of time.

Categorize: I separate the dishes by main protein source: fish, beans, beef, etc. because I want to make sure that there is at least one “vegetarian” and one or two “fish” days per week in our carnivorous household.   I also have a category with non-specific protein, called General Ideas.  This category includes pizza, sandwiches, Indian curries, etc., to remind myself to include those, too.  Finally, I have a category called Side Dishes, which also comes in handy.    

Step 2: Pre-prepare your calendar

Do this for a week or month and consider your real life.  Using Google Calendar is really helpful, if it's up your (family's) alley.  We've liked it.

Weird days: Fill in dates that would affect your mealtime(s), such visitors, meetings, etc. and make sure your meal reflects these unusual days. 

Find the open days: Mentally identify less-busy days for more involved dishes, for grocery shopping, or to do some make-ahead prep.  For example, if you’re trying to incorporate more salad into your meals, on a Sunday you can chop a bunch of carrots, or wash and crisp your greens so they’ll be ready to go for the next couple of days (I’m not above a bag-o-greens, though). 

Also on those less-busy days, plan to make double recipes and freeze one for a busier night a few weeks later.

Step 3: Plan your meals in a logical order

...with ingredient efficiency in mind.  For example, Monday, roasted chicken.  Tuesday, chicken enchiladas (using leftover chicken from night before.  I’ll make those enchiladas after dinner on Monday, because that’s an easier night for me).  

As you start to fill in days, include “leftover nights.”  Menus look so appealing with different meals every night, but in reality this can’t work if you don’t plan for buffer/reality nights when you have to catch up with your leftovers.  Wasting food is depressing, expensive, and generally bad for your karma.  I have been there too many times. It hurts.

Group a couple meals in a row that you won’t mind eating together as leftovers.  You can get creative with it: We’ll have dahl (Indian lentil soup) on a Friday, then fish tacos on a Saturday.  Though completely different cuisines, they have a distinct common flavor—cumin.  So Sunday on leftover night I’ll make a batch of roasted cauliflower with cumin to go with the leftovers.

If the idea of leftovers gets too boring for you, such as a dauntingly large pot of stew, you can freeze what you didn’t eat and put it back in your menu plan(!) for 2 or 3 weeks in the future so it doesn’t get lost in the freezer and become an ice-crystal science project to clean later.  Google calendar is great for future-frozen-meal-remembering.

Step 5: Put the plan into action

As you start living out the reality of your menu, you may encounter the whole life-getting-in-the-way-of-your-plans thing.  Just skip that meal day(s) and put it somewhere else in your calendar.   I always make digital calendars so I can shuffle, shift, and adjust with the tides of life activity.

Will a sort-of watertight menu plan help us eat unprocessed food this October?  I'm hoping it will.  If something doesn't work, I'll change it.  I'll keep you posted about the triumphs, flops, and adjustments.  Either way, by the end of it I'll have something that "works" because that will be what happened. I’ll probably use the after-the-fact menu as a launching pad for next year’s Unprocessed October.   Talk about a healthy time saver.

IFBC Part III - What Would Penny Think of this Pic? by Anne

Penny De Los Santos, a phenomenal photographer for magazines such as Saveur and National Geographic, sent me into engrossed contemplation about my photography these past couple of weeks since the International Food Bloggers Conference. And I’m not alone.  Dana Treat

Her presentation on food photography moved us to tears, shouts of laughter, and a standing ovation at IFBC. When I sat there, inundated with her stunning images and her passionate wisdom, I felt helpless with a heart swelling out of its shell—enough to break that shell. The tips and gems of her philosophy about photography were simple, perfect, and true, and they hit me at just the right time. It was food for the soul.

I would like to share another batch of pictures from the conference, imagining what Penny might think or say.

First, I loved her reminder about a picture telling a story. Surely I have heard this tip before, but Penny’s pictures illustrated this storytelling in a deep way, further helping me to get inside this idea. Even if my story is simple, it helps to involve the viewer in what she’s seeing. For this reason, although I made several compositions of the gemlike beer glasses below, my favorite is the one that has a hand in it. I am really in love with that hand.

zbeer

Penny also suggested that photographers give food some space—some room to read what is happening. Here, I did it:

Theo Chocolates

Here, I didn’t:

Grapefruit

In this picture above I made a shot of something that you, the viewer, may or may not even understand, but I couldn’t help myself. This grapefruit peel, striped with light and riddled with texture, called to me. I don’t know how I could have given it space while still being inside the pitcher, unless it was in a series of photos showing the final Sherry cocktail, the “Fino Sling,” being poured here:

Making a Fino Sling

I think it turns out that I love hands. And stuff being poured.

Anyway, Penny says to find the light, and then make a picture. I'm all over that.  I found some light in that pitcher of grapefruit peels, and if I hadn’t been ravenously hungry after a long afternoon of panel discussions, I might have taken more time with this picture story.

In her presentation, Penny also encouraged us to stretch ourselves by concentrating on different compositions. You know you are in a rut if you keep taking the same kinds of pictures over and over again, at the same angle, at the same distance.  

She also encouraged us to give ourselves assignments and take at least one picture (such as a “journal” picture) every day. I love this—it’s so true that the more we produce, the more we grow. I like how she told us to trust our instincts. To listen. To make pictures (not take them). And to be open. This one is really hitting me right now. Being open. Speaking of an artist being open, check this guy out.

Flamenco Guitarist for Secret Sherry Society Cocktail Party

Is he open? Is he serene or is he distant?  From my perspective I felt like a giant wall thicker than those bricks between me and him when I took this picture. What do you see? When I first saw him, he seemed to be ignoring all of us, his audience, when he played.  Maybe it was a soulful thing. For some reason, I find this picture compelling in its closed-off quality. He’s a handsome dude, but it just adds to the discomfort. What do you think?

Look at this guy, now.

Mike Dash, owner of Rolling Fire Pizza

He’s also looking off into the distance, doing his creating thing, like the guitarist. But he looks more serene and open to me. He has spaciousness in his demeanor, but the other guy doesn’t. Was it the shot I took? Was it their own spirits at that moment or even all the time? Hard to say because photos are so elusive. They are simultaneously a single moment and forever. Beautiful photographs me feel happy and lonely all at once for this reason.

It just occurred to me that I find (m)aking pictures of people and food to be weirdly similar. Once I get into working on a shot with, say, an apple, it doesn’t take long before that piece of fruit becomes like a person for me—complete with a personality and a presence and a history. The big difference is time: many foods—but not all foods—are more patient than people. So I have time with an apple, to find its side that says the most about its soul. We don’t always get that chance with a person on the street. All the more reason why I admire Penny’s work. She really seems to be plugged into the world with gusto, and you can tell by her pictures.

Anyway, I feel so grateful to Penny de los Santos for bringing me into a new place of openness with myself and others as I create pictures right now. It seems like I’m getting back to making pictures of people again, after a fairly long hiatus from portraits, and I think this change will actually help my food photography. And I think it means that my heart is growing and my eyes are opening. After her talk I even had the courage to find a candid laughing moment of Penny in all her vibrant power. 

Penny de los Santos

Thank you, Penny.