February 15th, 2010

Soup, Snow and Strangers

Last Saturday it was a little tough to get to class. It was a day after The Great Snowmaggedon of 2010. We got 12 inches of snow in Dallas, which I learned later is the most snow we’ve had in over a hundred years. It was bewildering and exciting and damned cold. I know you Northerners/Europeans/polar bears chuckle at how a foot of snow renders us Southerners helpless and giddy at the same time, but haters to the left please. We had us a good time.


Anyway, it snowed on Thursday and Friday but by the time Saturday rolled around, the magical white stuff had started to melt a little. I woke up on Saturday full of loathing for myself. I was coming down with a sore throat and the thought of driving 20-something miles through this strange Texan winter wonderland early on a weekend seemed ludicrous. I called myself crazy for embarking on this silly personal project but I finally convinced myself to go, and despite feeling really tired, really cold, and a little sick, I was really happy I did.

There was a guy hanging around on the corner where I was waiting to cross the street to get to class. He didn’t seem in any hurry to get anywhere although he seemed unnaturally happy to be out and about so early on a cold Saturday morning. He saw my houndstooth pants and my knife kit and asked loudly, “You going to culinary school?”

“Er, yes…”

“I was in that industry for years! Food industry, man. Learned all the mother sauces and everything. Great times, great times!”

By this time the light had turned and I had to cross the street. All I could think to say was, “Wow, great!” before walking on. I waved goodbye to him and as I got to the other side, he yelled at me, “Stick with it! You won’t regret it!”

It’s odd but that stranger really helped get me through the day.

It also helped that we were doing soups that day. Five soups, to be exact. Perfect for a cold day.



French onion

Cream of Broccoli

Split Pea (we actually used lentils since there were no peas)

Consomme (no picture because it was a pain in the ass to make so I didn’t have time to snap a pic)

All of these were good but I’ll share my favorite with you: the French Onion Soup. After making this, I was really perplexed as to why this soup in particular has a stigma of being really difficult to make when really it’s not. It takes a while to cook, sure, and it uses up an unreal amount of onions, but other than that it’s not the most complicated thing. Try it out if you are a French Onion Soup fan. It’s pretty excellent.

2 Tbsp butter
1 1/4 lb onions, sliced thin
4 1/2 cups beef stock
salt and pepper
1.5 oz sherry
French bread
Freshly grated Gruyere or Swiss cheese

1. Heat butter in a stockpot over moderate heat. Add onions and cook until golden. Stir occasionally. This will take about 20-30 minutes. Be patient, this is where the flavors build. Keep an eye on it though, you don’t want it to burn.
2. Add stock and bring to a boil. Simmer until onions are tender and flavors have blended, another 20 minutes.
3. Season with salt and pepper. Add the sherry.
4. Keep soup hot until you are just about to serve it.
5. Cut the bread into slices of 3/8 inches, enough to cover the top of a ramekin or small soup bowl.
6. Toast slices in the oven under the broiler.
7. For each portion, fill an individual ramekin with hot soup. Place 1 or 2 slices of the toast on top and cover with cheese. Pass under the broiler until the cheese is bubbling and lightly browned. Serve immediately.

February 13th, 2010

Superbowl Foodfest

So this is probably a bit of a late post but gimme a break… preparing all that food for our little Superbowl party was biting off way more than I could chew. But chew we did, and I gotta say I was pretty happy with most of the food.

I don’t have a whole lot of experience feeding a dozen or so people so I went hunting around on the internetz for some inspiration. There are a ton of amazing food bloggers out there and so it felt like I got a bit of help in planning out what to make.


Chopping for Vegetarian Gumbo. This recipe wasn’t really all that great… wasn’t too happy with it at all, so I’m not going to bother linking the site to you. If you do happen to search for it and it asks for vegetarian sausage, let me save you some grief right now and tell you that it does not exist. The guy at the meat counter will just give you a dirty look and banish you to the frozen foods aisle, where you will find  other vegetarian “meat,” but definitely NOT sausage.

Can you tell where my shirt is from? Bonus cookie if you can.*


Seven Layer Dip… More like 5 layers really. I forgot to make the guacamole. D’oh. I also didn’t want to put shredded lettuce on it. I borrowed this recipe from a member of Allrecipes.com. Here it is.

Jalapeno poppers. These suckers were more labor-intensive than anticipated. Cut in half, seed (the seeds go flying EVERYWHERE), stuff with cream cheese then stick some bacon. Sounds simple but it took me close to an hour to prep. Guh. But it was a huge hit. Here’s the recipe, from one of my favorite food bloggers, Pioneer Woman. She takes beautiful pictures, makes amazing yet simple food and she has a great story (city girl turned ranch wife). Go check out her stuff. Be warned though, her website is picture-heavy so it is not friendly to slow internet connection.

Adobo-glazed wings. Now I probably broke a Superbowl Rule of some sort by not deep-frying these babies but I just did not want to deal with a vat of oil and my house smelling like a KFC. I had Boyfriend grill them instead and I gotta say I think that actually added a lot of wonderful flavor. So I’m not apologizin’ to nobody. For the glaze, I turned to another Filipino food blogger, Burnt Lumpia, a genuinely funny guy with some really incredible recipes. Here you go.

And finally, the piece de resistance. Brisket. Oh wow. This had so much flavor in it that it made my head swim. I pulled this from Smitten Kitchen, who has AH-mazing recipes. I have yet to be disappointed with anything on that site. Her recipe is a slow-cooker recipe but I just cooked mine in the oven for about 3 1/2 hours and it was perfect. Either way you go, you have got a real winner with this one. Here it is.

We had a few other munchies but these are the highlights. Unfortunately we forgot to take pictures of the desserts, all of which were prepared by my sister Nikki. Cupcakes, Oreo truffles, chocolate chip cookies… oh my! She totally saved my ass since I had no time at all to make dessert myself, and what is a big gathering without fattening sweets? She remains reigning Dessert Queen at our house. I’ll make sure to talk her into doing a guest post eventually.

Hope you guys had a fun Superbowl Sunday too! Unless the Cowboys are playing, I don’t really care who wins (come on Cowboys, stop breaking my heart). I do tend to root for the underdog, though, and during this Superbowl, it seemed like everyone who came over had the same idea. So congratulations Saints! Sounds like Mardi Gras is going to be a long affair this year!

*No cookies actually awarded


February 12th, 2010

Definitely Not Too Cool for School

This spring I signed up for a cooking class at a local community college. Not just a one-night cooking class where you learn to make risotto for Valentine’s dinner… it’s an honest to goodness, uniform-wearing, knife-kit-having, basic food prep class. So far it has been exhilarating and exhausting. It’s only on Saturdays since it’s quite a drive from where I work and live. That means that it’s an extra-long class… almost 6 hours actually.

The first two sessions were lecture. We talked about history, safety and sanitation. There is a class entirely devoted only to Safety and Sanitation and I will have to take that class later on, before I can move on to more advanced cooking. We also learned how to convert recipes, menu structures and touched a little bit on food costing and pricing. Those first two Saturdays were spent in the classroom and there was a feeling of general anxiousness to get into the kitchen. Last Saturday we finally got the chance… and it was FUN.

The prof started off by outlining the plan for the day. Ratatouille, rice, fried chicken strips, french fries, chicken broth, clarified butter. Woof. It sounds like a lot (and it is) but we were divided into groups and the prof also decided that we would throw everyone’s ratatouille ingredients into one giant pot, and that he would take care of the rice for the most part.

He started off by showing us how to chop and julienne veggies. The ratatouille is the first recipe we work with because it provides a lot of practice for knife skills. Onions, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, herbs… chop chop chop. We also got a lesson on how to hold a knife properly, which is pretty uncomfortable at first but gives you complete control over your knife. We got even more knife practice by putting together a mirepoix, which is a combination of diced onions, celery and carrots. This is the foundation for a lot of classic cuisine so we’ll be seeing a  lot of this over the course of the semester.

This is how you hold a knife: Last three fingers wrapped around the handle, index finger and thumb squeezing the blade.

From then, it was a bit of a blur. One teammate took care of the broth (chicken bones into a pot of cold water and let simmer for a long time, then add mirepoix and herbs). We worked together on sautéing the veggies for the ratatouille, and we put a pound of butter (!!) into a pot to get clarified butter. Cut up some potatoes for fries. Cut up some chicken breast, season with salt and pepper, dump into flour, then egg wash, then bread crumbs.

In the middle of all this controlled chaos, we also had to make sure to wash our pots and pans. It’s better to wash as you go rather than waiting till the end so that you have a clean station at all times and so that team assigned to sink duty would not go on a murderous, greasy rampage.

By midday we were all starving. Good thing the fries and the chicken were scheduled for the deep fryer in time for lunch. The ratatouille and rice were done shortly after that and we all scarfed most of it down. The food itself was pretty simple but there is nothing like eating a hot meal after hours of hard work to make that meal. After that, we put together everyone’s clarified butter into a bin so that we could use it over the semester. We also strained everyone’s chicken broth into a giant bucket for later use. Prof had also roasted some mirepoix and beef bones in the oven so that we can have some beef broth to work with.

After that, each team was assigned a cleaning assignment. Sanitizing surfaces, cleaning the floor, sink duty, dish room duty. Needless to say this is the least fun part of the class but I’m glad we get to do it too. It instills a lot of discipline to keep the workplace clean and also to be held accountable for all the equipment that’s used.

I’d like to share pictures of all this craziness with you guys but honestly there’s not a lot of time to do anything BUT work while we’re in the kitchen. I’ll sneak in what I can but no promises!

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