Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Happy birthday, Molly!

Yesterday was my older sister's 30th birthday, so I wanted to make her something special. After flipping througha few books for inspiration, I found one that didn't require a trip to the store, was pretty user-friendly, and would look pretty spiffy. It has 4 alternating layers of chocolate and vanilla spongecake, with a ribbon of strawberry bavarian cream in the middle of it all, topped with dallops of whipped cream, cherries, and dark chocolate curls. It looked and tasted very good, just the thing to make her birthday special. Money's still a little tight, so I haven't gotten her an actual present yet, but I feel better about it having done something for her at least. My hours have started to get better at work, so things will even out soon. I'm very happy with how the cake turned out, it looked just like the picture in the book :-)

Saturday is my Grandma's birthday, and we're combining it with our extended family Christmas in Wisconsin. I've been recruited to bring a dessert; luckily, I got that cookbook for Christmas that should give me some ideas of something special to make. I haven't seen this week's schedule yet, I'll find out tomorrow, so I'm hoping for an evening shift. If nothing else, I can either ask the chef to switch me or just ask one of the other people on my station to swap shifts with me. It's not like I'd be asking for the whole day off, just part of it, and I'll be available after 4. Or maybe I'll get lucky and that's what I'll be down for anyway! That would simplify things.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Merry Christmas! (a little late)

Last night I drove home to my parents' house for our family Christmas. It had to wait a few days because of the freezing rain. It was definitely worth the wait! I got off work a little after 3, getting me home at 6 just in time for Christmas dinner! I wish I'd gotten home earlier to help, but Mom and I will have today to do some baking together, that should be fun. We always talk about getting together to cook together, so hopefully today's the day.

Anyway, last night was awesome, the big one for me was a stoneware Le Crueset covered roasting pan, it's beautiful cobalt blue, I had them save it behind the counter for me months in advance (yeah, it wasn't a surprise, but that's fine with me). I also got a nice new Cuisinart waffle iron, some coffee from Ka'u, a big book about herbs, Nigella Lawson's "How to be a Domestic Goddess", the first season of "The French Chef" on dvd, new dish towels and pot holders, a ladle (my old one was inevitably sucked into one of those pesky black holes that devour things when you move to a new place), some new shirts, and all the episodes of Star Trek with Q in them! This morning I made waffles with my new waffle iron and I was very pleased with it It's been a good Christmas :-) I can't wait to get baking with my mom, we have a few things on our to-do list in that regard. I'll definitely post about the results

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Fortune favors those who dare

On Monday night I wasn't in the best of moods. I was getting hungry but nothing that I had on hand sounded like what I wanted, I was lazy and generally grouchy. I knew what I was hungry for, I had a craving for Chinese takeout but I didn't want to make a special shopping trip when I'd settled in for the night. After pondering this for several minutes, I thought...I have a turkey fillet in the freezer that I need to use up...I have a wok, and I've done stovetop deep-frying at school a few times...I could make my own sweet and sour turkey, it should be pretty close to chicken. I just hoped that I wouldn't cause a grease fire and burn the house down. Finally, I got up the courage to give it a try. If teenagers at KFC can do it, why can't I? I put a few scoops of regular shortening in the bottom of my wok, which has a handy clip-on rack to put fried foods on once they're finished, started heating it up, and was happy to see it melting without a smokey mess! I thawed and cut up my turkey fillet, and after a standard breading procedure I dipped the first pieces in the hot fat. They turned golden brown, and cooked all the way through, I was almost beside myself with amazement! I threw the rest in, turning them over and draining the done ones, and made some rice and veggies to go with it. Dousing each piece in sweet and sour sauce, I sat down with my prize, feeling very self-sufficient and clever. As I was finishing up, the possibilities dawned on me. I can deep fry at home! Without burning the house down! What's the next thing any sane person would make after such an important discovery?

The next day I had off, so I awoke with one purpose in mind: I'm going to make doughnuts. I had a pretty simple sounding recipe in my Larousse Gastronomique, I had everything on hand, and I was ready to go! I halved the recipe since it was just for me, I didn't want to subject anyone else to my experimental cooking at this stage, so in a short while I had a bowl of yeast dough rising in my barely-on oven. I remembered when I was a kid I'd read the "Little House" books and I knew that in one they mentioned something about making doughnuts with a twist so they flip themselves. Well, either my dough was too heavy or I didn't have enough hot fat, but they didn't flip themselves. Oh well, I'd tried. I flipped them over with two spoons, careful not to spray grease all over the place, and figured it's not bad for a first try. I ended up making six, some were cinnamon twists, and some were the regular round with a hole in the middle. I made a basic powdered sugar icing with almond extract and drizzled it all over them. While they weren't exactly what you'd get at Krispy Kreme, I figured it was all right for a beginner. Next time I'd make the full batch, that might have thrown something off, I might also try kneading it a little longer. Oh well, you live and you learn.

Another cool thing that happened on Tuesday is that I found an ad in the paper, for experienced baristas. I called them up and set up a time to interview the next day. They're a small business that's looking to expand into another location, so the lady interviewing me was interested to hear that I have a degree in management as well as some experience in the field. They didn't promise anything, but just that they'd call me back on Friday either way. I like my job at Champps, but they're just not giving me enough hours to stay afloat. The chef has encouraged all of us to start looking for other jobs. It's too bad, but business has still been slow, and I'm lucky at this point to get more than 20 hours a week. Plus, I have a few years of barista experience, it would be nice to get back to my roots, as it were. I'll never stop pursuing a real restaurant career, though. Once people can afford to eat what I want to cook, I'll be able to find a job at a more upscale affair. Until then, I'll do what I can.

Tonight, I was trying to figure out what to do with the leftover turkey that I didn't cook on Monday. I only ended up using half of it. Then I was laying in bed thinking, and the idea for turkey sausage came into my head somehow. After reading up on it, I figured I could do it, so I went to the store tonight for some extra fat to cut into it and I was off to a good start. After finely mincing the meat and fat, I tossed it together with salt, pepper, allspice, poultry seasoning, caraway seeds (just a bit, they're a bit strong for me) and tarragon. I oiled my saute pan and threw it in, it turned out to be very good! Then I found I had some cranberries, and decided to make a cranberry chutney, which is pretty much the same as cranberry sauce only it's made with vinegar, brown sugar, and some extra spices. Now that I have those both made, once it gets closer to supper time I'm going to make turkey sausage crepes with cranberry chutney. Now how does that sound?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Keeping warm

Yesterday morning we got our first real snowfall, so I had to get out the door extra early to get to work on time. I was in such a rush that I didn't have time to have breakfast. When I got to work, I got a good start, I was cutting and portioning my chicken for the day, when one of the cooks, Juan, started throwing a bunch of veggies in a pot. I didn't even know what else was in it, he even cracked a few eggs into the pot and whisking them around. I asked him what it was, he said "egg soup". Since we didn't have anything like that on the menu, I was curious what he was up to. Then, just before opening, he told us that it was ready, to start dishing up, he'd made that soup for us! I was so happy, especially since I missed breakfast that morning. It was very spicy but I liked it. It had chipoltle and jalapeno peppers in it, so it had plenty of heat for a cold day! He claimed that it was a good hangover cure, but David and I both figured that it could be a good preventative measure against colds and flu, too. We were surprisingly busy for the lunch hour, considering the inclement weather, but I was able to keep up. After the lunch rush was over, I had a few little things to do before heading home, one of which was to make candied pecans. They smelled so good as I boiled them, it made me think in holiday cliches. Then I coated them in powdered sugar and dunked them in the deep-fryer. I wonder if I could do the same thing at home, only roasting them in the oven. That would be a treat!

I have the day off, thankfully. It's been steadily snowing all day today, they're talking about it reaching blizzard conditions tonight! I did some grocery shopping yesterday after work so I wouldn't need to go outside, watching it come down like this makes me especially glad I did. Not to mention being extremely grateful that my younger sister gave me her entire sweater wardrobe before moving out to California this summer. I can stay warm all winter and not wear the same three sweaters over and over. After work yesterday I picked up a few things at the store in case I decide to make beef stew for supper. It certainly seems like the right sort of day for it. That sounds good right about now. Hmm, tempt me!

So here I am, sitting at the computer with my hot chocolate, watching Everyday Italian, and enjoying a winter day indoors. Hope everyone stays safe and warm this winter! I'm ready for it!

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Beaujolais Nouveau is here!

While everyone else in the country camped out for a midnight screening of the latest "Twilight" movie, I was getting off of work and heading to the wine department of the local grocery store with one thing on my mind...I went up to the man working that department and asked, unable to conceal my excitement, "Excuse me, but has the Beaujolais Nouveau arrived?"

It's really quite nice, I like it a lot better than last year's actually. There's a certain brightness to it, a very pleasant fruitiness that doesn't come off as too sweet as some previous Beaujolais have done. They say that this year's press is the best they've had in 50 years. I'd definitely recommend buying it. I had mentioned it to a few people at work before I was able to get out and buy mine, and told them that I'd toured that region in France this past summer. The connection makes it even more fun, to think that I had been where the grapes were grown, it's pretty cool.

I had the day off today so I had a little fun with my Pepperidge Farm puff pastry. One of my favorite things to make with this dough is finger food. Just wrap up some tasty morsels into a little bundle, and that's what I did today. I had a package of little frozen scallops, which I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with when I bought them. I cut some of the puff pastry into squares and placed a thin slice of butter on each one. Onto that, I spooned on some finely minced celery, onion, and garlic. Four (thawed) scallops went on top of that, salt and pepper, and they were ready to wrap. They turned out to be very good! Simple yet tasty, which is just what I was going for. I still have plenty of dough left over, and with the holidays coming up I'll certainly find a use for it all. I might make napoleons with it, or make individual tartlet shells, that's what I love about puff pastry, it's so versitile!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Adventure always awaits!

This week I had the great opportunity to go to a holiday wine-tasting party hosted by Hy-Vee catering. It was a fun night, just the thing to get me out of the house! I dressed up a bit, even put on some makeup and was ready for a night on the town. Although it took a few extra turns to find the right building, the falling dusk and half-finished road construction were not exactly aiding my quest, I was parked in front just as people were starting to arrive. All of us were given a glass that we would be allowed to keep at the end of the night, and once I got up to the ballroom level, I hung up my coat and was given a map of the ballroom. Each table was listed, showing who was there to show off their wares, as well as a list of the wines they had to sample. A perfect way to remember which wines I'd taste throughout the evening and make future notes of what to buy the next time I go out shopping. I was happy to see that Glazer's Distributors were represented (although not by Joe and Jason, the Glazer's representatives that I'd met on previous occasions). I started off the evening with Hub City Brewery's Olde Brown Porter, which is surprisingly sweet. Same goes for their Oatmeal Stout, which pleasantly reminded me of Guinness. I'm Irish, after all ;-) After cleansing my palate I moved on to sample some lovely reds. Layer Cake Shiraz was the first wine I tried, it definitely lived up to its name. It has many flavors which unfold as it's sipped, as though delving through decending layers. Another that I sampled from the same table was called Inkberry, a mix of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. The color was a deep dark shade of red-violet, very warm, just enough bite to the finish. One downfall that shiraz can be guilty of is its bitterness, but it was perfectly balanced by the cabernet. Well, at this point I've had a bit to drink, now it was time to scope out the finger food. At a nearby carving table, servers were making roast porkloin mini-sandwiches, which fortunately complimented my early-evening selections. Remembering a promise I'd made to a friend, my next wine selection was a pinot noir, which I drank in her honor.

I meandered around the room, nibbling whatever looked good, they had single portions of fettuccini alfredo, sushi, even a dessert table. It was all laid out in festive array, looking cheerful but not garishly so. At the next table, I sampled my first ever sauvignon blanc. It was quite citrus-heavy, and while I can see why some people would be drawn to it, it became rather cloying as I kept sipping. I was glad to finish with it and have some Red Muscat, which was something I'd never even heard of until that night. Back to the reds for me, it was sweet yet not overpowering. The next table had a selection of cheeses, bread, and dipping oils. These people sure know how to put together an elegant affair. There was a roasted pepper fontina of which I was particularly fond. What a treat! A mix of salty and sweet, so creamy yet sharp. I'll have to find out where to buy that, I bet it would be a hit at family Christmas in Wisconsin! That's half the fun of going, it gives me ideas for future culinary adventures. I mingled around, talked to a few of the chefs there, even accidentally ran into one of my readers! I was talking to a woman standing next to me, engaging in wine-humor ("This Merlot reminds me of my ex" "What, bitter anf fruity?") when I handed her one of my business cards and she said "I've read you!" so that was pretty cool! Yay for being recognized! At another table, I tried a wine that the representative billed as similar to a Beaujolais, which got me thinking, I wonder how this year's Beaujolais will be? I'll find out shortly!

On to more food, a spicy seafood dip with shrimp and crab and cream cheese, very tasty! Along with the requisite crab-stuffed mushroom caps, I had my heart's content of seafood. I wasn't shy about going back for more, either! Of course, I don't think anyone was. The last table was serving egg nog, it wouldn't be a holiday-themed party without it. Nice and rich!

As I was leaving, I was given a reusable wine tote to use the next time I go shopping, along with a few coupons and a shot glass! So, after sitting in the lobby for a while, sipping water as I waited for my head to clear a bit, I headed home. I'm so glad I got to go, and I'll definitely keep my ear to the ground for similar events in the future.

Today I got a nice piece of mail, a coupon for Pepperidge Farm puff pastry dough! I have tomorrow off so I'll definitely pick some up and play around with it. This should be fun! I'll definitely report on my doings :-)

Monday, November 9, 2009

High times, hard times

I've started sending out applications again, hoping for some part-time hours to fill in the gaping holes in my schedule. We've had a few good busy days at work this week, so maybe if it continues then they'll put more hours up on the board. The trouble is, it's not just Champps. Several restaurants and hotels in town have been suffering lately. There just isn't a steady flow of business that we can count on. They say that the recession has nearly run its course, and things will normal out again soon. I'm hopeful of that. I'm used to living cheaply, so I'm still okay. If I have to I can always cut my cable. That won't be a huge loss, there's never anything on anyway. I can't wait for things to turn around, though, that'll be nice.

It makes such a difference in the attiudes of my coworkers. This quiet period has been making us rather despondant. When we get a busy patch it's like we all come back to life, we're excited, moving around, happy to have a stream of tickets come chirping in. We had a nice lunch rush today; when the grill and saute station start getting orders in, I start bouncing on the balls of my feet, my eyes on my printer, waiting for my turn, anxious to dive in. It's always a satisfying feeling to take on a bunch of orders at once.

So we've had a few days of good business, and as a result I've picked up a few hours on Saturday and Sunday, I'm thankful of that, so maybe this will lead into more across the board. I will not lose hope. I started the day off in good spirits, chopping my lettuce while humming the finale of Les Miserables, just playing it in my head still gives me chills :-) There was an air of activity at last, things to do, preparations to make. I had my station ready and waiting in good time, my mise en place laid out, I even snatched some extra towels from the linen closet (they always disappear the second you turn your back!) After the lunch rush I was able to restock and clean up and finish my prep list to be out the door on time. As much as I enjoy staying late to pick up the odd extra hour or two, I don't want to just hang back when everything's done. I've had a good couple of days in a row, and I have tomorrow off. Time to tidy up, do the laundry, and read my cookbooks. On Wednesday before work, I'm taking my grandpa out to lunch, he served in India during World War II and always likes taking part in Veteran's Day festivities.

My day was made even better this afternoon when I checked my mail and found a package from a dear friend of mine, she'd sent me some cds of a mutual favorite singer, Catatonia. Not many people in the US have heard of them, but they take up a good portion of my iPod. Good stuff.

Friday, November 6, 2009

When the well runs dry

Since Halloween, this past week has been really slow. I'm not sure what's causing this sudden downturn in customers, we were doing just fine up until recently, but it's resulted in a lot of our hours getting cut. I've been sent home early just about every day this week, and getting completely cut out from the second half of what was supposed to be a double shift. Everyone's getting this, right up to the management. I hope things start turning around, but in the meantime I'll start looking for more work because I can't live on 25 hours a week. Luckily, my rent is paid, all of my bills are up to date, so I'm good for another month. By then, business will be back on track with the holidays, that's the upside of working in a restaurant with an adjoining hotel. I have to keep telling myself that this is just a temporary setback. Things will get better, we just have to dig our heels in, tighten the belt, and hold on. I also have to remind myself of how fortunate I am, compared to many people in the world. I have a roof over my head, gas in the car, food in the pantry, and my cat in my lap. I'm good at living within my means, I don't need much to be happy.

Last night we were busy for about an hour or so, if we can start getting some healthy rushes like that again then it will make all the difference. What puzzles me is that in the past few days they've hired a few new cooks and a dishwasher. If we're not doing that great at the moment, why would they build up the staff now?

When I was hired at Champps, the chef really talked up how busy they typically are, how much money they pull down per night on the average, so while it's possible that he was exaggerating somewhat to impress me, I'm assuming that this recent slump is not characteristic of the business. Things are bound to improve. We have a few parties booked this week, so that's a good sign. One of them is a wedding, so that's good money. I'm only scheduled to work until 8, but when I'm on the banquet side, 12-8 could easily mean 12-midnight. That would be great if I could get some hours that way. I'll even stay and wash dishes if they'd let me, or get prep done for the next day, whatever they could hand me. Cross your fingers for me!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Success with Honor

Well, after a trying night on Saturday, the Powers that Be arranged a respite for me. On Sunday morning I got in bright and early (yay four hours of sleep!) and had my station prepped, stocked, and ready for action! It's funny, I don't consider myself a morning person, but I much prefer the morning shifts than evening ones. Since I was so far ahead, I could actually take it pretty easy. I even had time for a cup of coffee beforehand. The lunch hour went smoothly, we were a well-oiled machine, and the previous night's meltdown was completely forgotten. At the end of my shift, I had my station cleaned up and restocked and ready for the evening crew well ahead of schedule. I was feeling good about things and no longer questioned my place in the kitchen. As a good end to the day, the chef told me that he'd just booked a party for Tuesday, which I was scheduled to have off, but would I like to pick up a few more hours this week? Hell yeah!

Monday, I was scheduled to work on the cold prep station. That's where all of the dessert prep, dressings, and various salsas are made. Again, the fates smiled on me, and when I got my list for the day I found that I didn't need to make any of my least favorite things. It's not that any of these recipes are hard, but some of them like the corn and black bean salsa (which is really good, by the way), are really messy and they take longer to make. I get along really well with the hot prep guy, Ray. He's a good guy to work with, he has a good attitude and is always happy at his work. We share ingredients freely between stations, so it's a real team effort. We both had a pretty easy going day of it, talking while we work, having a good time. A few days previously, I'd locked my keys in my car and he had tried to help me get it open. He didn't quite make it, but hey, he tried so I give him credit there. I got my pork loin seasoned and potatoes cut up and ready for the next day's party, and was out the door to enjoy the sunshine.

Today, I got to sleep in a bit, because I wasn't needed in until 9. When I got there, I took stock of what needed to get done for the party and got cracking. After conferring and confirming with one of the kitchen managers, I was ready to roll. It was a pretty small party, but it felt cool to be heading this one. The pork loins were already in the oven, I had already cut my potatoes so all I had to do there was steam, season, and roast them, and after that it was just the vegetable. Bang, bang, bang. I had it all done so that when my supervisor got there, all he had to do was walk around and sip his Red Bull. I felt good to have it all in hand, and for him to see that I could handle it. I had the plates and covers counted out and in the warmer, everything was ready for showtime. Plating went well, and I even got a taste. The new schedule came up for the week ahead. It seems I've proven myself to the chef, and he's giving me more hours, plus I got paid today. Life's pretty good, and I can't think of anywhere I'd rather be at the moment.

Then, as a topper for the perfect day, I faced down one of my fears. There was a hornet the size of my thumb buzzing around in my living room. After some general cowering, I opened the window, and for 20 minutes I tried unsuccessfully trying to coax it out. Finally, I summoned my courage and vanquished the interloper! Ha!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Do unto others

Sounds simple, right? But it irritates me that so few people bother treating their fellow man like a human being. I would've had a decent night at work, if a few people could've been less deliberately unpleasant. Now, I'm not saying that everyone should be all fake smiles and sunshine, being overly nice to a sickening degree, but the least we can do towards each other is act human! Why is it acceptable to cultivate such a poisonous work environment? I can't ask a question without getting a smart aleck remark, I can't make one little mistake without being branded the villiage idiot. Is this what it's like wherever I'd go? I didn't spend two years in culinary school to mop floors for sarcastic jerks. I became a cook because I love to cook and I love to learn about food. With people like these around me, it makes me wonder if I'm really cut out for this. I can't play their game, by their rules. I don't know how to think and act like that. When I say something, or ask a question, I'm being sincere, am I crazy to expect an honest answer to an honest question? Or to expect that maybe someone might listen to what I have to say? Or am I missing something?

Please tell me that there are people left in this world who aren't hateful towards each other. People who can pull together and work for a common goal. Is that crazy? When I started culinary school, and I told people my dreams and goals in the field, they warned me that I'd get broken for being an idealist. I guess they were right.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Keeping up

When I first discovered my love for cooking and serving people, my desire was to always give people something more than what they expect. But what are we supposed to do as people's expectations keep getting higher? People are becoming more and more 'entitled' than ever before, which makes it difficult to keep up. What used to impress yesterday is now expected today, and will soon barely suffice. Is the future of our industry to cater to the customers' every whim? How soon will it be that giving it our all will no longer be enough? In my time in the food service industry, I've come across so many people who seem intent that they be above being pleased. To me, that attitude is the epitome of ingratitude and put-on snobbery. I can understand when customers have a justifiable complaint or suggestion, but we've all seen them get pretty riduculous! I wish people could just be reasonable, is that so much for me to ask?

Strangely enough, this rant doesn't come after a bad day at work, I've been having good days lately in fact. This is just my little soapbox social commentary. Christmas is coming up, so this will see a huge influx of customers. I remember when I worked in a cafe in a mall around this time of year, people's attitudes would plunge lower than the wind chill. Let's all try to be civil to each other this year, shall we? Like I said, I don't mind giving customers what they want, but it really helps if they appreciate the effort we put in. That's all I want, really.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Tis an ill wind that blows no minds

It was one of those cold, windy days today. Since I didn't have to work, and in the absence of usual visual cues to wake up, I slept until noon. I talked myself out of feeling guilty for sleeping half the day away, and decided to make up for my slothful ways--and warm up the house at the same time! Popping a school uniform jacket over my flannel pjs, I started up a batch of pumpkin bread. This recipe has a special place in my heart as the first one I learned in home ec back in the 8th grade. Perfect for a brisk fall day like this, when I need something warm and homey. Soon, the pans were in the oven and the whole apartment started to smell good. The recipe makes two loaves, more than I could finish by myself, so I wrapped one up and brought it to my grandparents.

They really appreciated the visit and the treat. They're so cute, very easy to please. They aren't up to doing much these days, so getting the odd visitor now and then really brightens their day. When she was younger, my grandma used to bake a lot for my mom and her brothers and sisters, but she hasn't for a very long time. Amid the stereotypical achetype of the doting grandmother at the stove, I've never even seen her cook before. She certainly enjoys the fruits of my labors, though! Maybe, at this point, that's enough for both of us. I love performing for an audience, no matter how small. Knowing that they enjoy it and appreciate the times I bring treats I've whipped up, that's a perfect reward for a cook. If something I enjoy doing anyway makes someone else happy, that's all I ask for.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Attempts, valiant and vain

The other day, I was going through my kitchen drawers, taking stock of what I have versus what I've lost in the move. By some great fortune, I found my candy thermometer! I had just been flipping through my Halloween cookbook and read a recipe for pumpkin fudge. It sounded good so after a quick jaunt to the store, I had everything I needed to get started. I followed the instructions (I thought) to the letter, and soon I had a bubbling pot of orange goo ready to turn into yummy treats. I took it off the heat, stirred in the butter, and waited for it to cool before the final mix and panning. As the hours passed and the pot remained molten-lava hot, and was taking on the consistency of cement, I figured something had gone awry, the word crystallized sprung readily to mind. Growling to myself the whole time, I poured the mess into the pan anyway, figuring it'll be easier to throw away when it's hardened rather than dumping culinary napalm in the garbage or down the sink. I tried, I failed. But I'll try again.

I've been getting better at my various positions at work. When I first started working salads, my initial prep (chopping heads of lettuce for the day) took me two hours. The past few times, it's only taken 45 minutes, and that's to chop, clean, spin, and tray up several pounds of lettuce. My speed has been improving, as well as my multitasking. I can face a sudden slew of tickets that would've had me from a month ago run screaming into the night. And now, I've been made their primary day salad station person! Hard work pays off!

...as does getting along with my coworkers. There was one who at first didn't like me, distinctly. His name is Jos`e and he had very little patience with "la gringa". Then we worked together one night, he was on saute, right next to the salads, and we just started talking. Food, life in general, condensed backstories, that kind of thing. It totally turned it around. I even gave him one of my favorite recipes, written from memory on the back of a ticket, and we've gotten along great ever since.

I'm visiting my parents today, and my mom just told me about an hour ago that she's in the mood to try some new recipes. We've spent a fun evening going through a few cookbooks together, picking out ones that have potential to go over well. We've found several that sound like something she could do. I can't wait to hear if she enjoys it as much as I do! I love spreading the love of food. She already loves food, but I think the actual cooking part leaves her a bit intimidated. I'm glad she's trying to break out of her comfort levels and try something new.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

It's amazing...

How just a little appreciation can turn a whole day around. I was having a perfectly wretched morning, everyone seemed to be yelling at me and I just couldn't go fast enough to keep up. I was ready to throw in the towel and look for something else, seriously. I don't get it when people have to act like such jerks so much of the time, just to be mean to someone for its own sake, it's like being back in high school, and that can really get me down. Like, I can't say or do anything right around them without them making some sarcastic remark. Then on the way out, the chef said to me "Good job today, Katie", and I felt better. Like, maybe I can do this again for another day. It doesn't take much to give someone the strength to not give up. It's a delicate balance, how much can we take, and how much do we need in return. It helps out a lot when other people seem to think I'm doing okay. Just to know that I'm appreciated. Hey, I keep showing up, don't I? I might not get through my task sheet in record time, but I stay till the job's complete, I don't give up.


I got done with my second half of work, which went so much better than the first half! We just had a party of 40 people, we had everything set up and ready to go in record time, so we all got to go home early. Chef John was in good spirits, my urge to slap people silly was considerably lower, it was a good end to the day.

I have an evening shift tomorrow, which are always nice because I get to sleep in! I might have time to get some baking in or put something together to have ready for supper when I get home. One of our night managers just quit, so I wonder what it'll be like with whoever they stick in in his place. I hope everything goes all right. I bet we'll be busy, which will be good, the time will go by faster. I've been doing all right on the line, I feel more comfortable up there than in the back doing prep. John seems to think I'm more suited to it, too. That's always good to get a vote of confidence.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Happy Halloween!! Wait, I'm early?

Okay, good news, the perceived pumpkin famine which threatened my holiday baking rituals is over! Pumpkin for everybody! I've whipped out my Halloween cookbook and I'm not afraid to use it! Now where to begin...I have the day off today and I'm in the mood to cook (imagine that). Another thing I'm going to try out today is a new recipe for pastry dough. It's supposed to be foolproof and it sounds really good. I found it in an e-newsletter I subscribe to, it's always fun to get a new recipe to experiment with, and this is a great way to find them! I love it when they come with pictures :-)

On Sunday, my mom and I finally got to see "Julie & Julia", I've been waiting to see that for a month and I finally got to see it. It was worth the wait! I'd just read the book earlier this summer, and I'm happy to say that the movie did the book justice, a rare feat! As many critics also say, I enjoyed the parts focussing on Julia. As a culinarian, it was fun to watch her journey through French cooking. I must say, that throughout the movie, everyone's "food-gasm" face was totally spot-on. It made me remember some of those moments I've had in the kitchen or dining room, where words fail and all is well.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

End of Summer

The days grow short and cool, and winter looms before us once more. It's officially my favorite time of year. With the coming of autumn, people return to the kitchen for warmth and company, to reminice on seasons past, and to prepare foods to warm the body and spirit. I was doing my grocery shopping the other day when I saw a notice posted on one of the shelves: there was a bad crop of pumpkins this year, so we all must suffer for it. Those with the money to can buy the expensive organic canned pumpkin, but the rest of us must do without. That's one of my favorite things to cook in the fall and winter, normally reasonbly priced as well as versitile, but unless there's a late harvest of them this year I may have to go without. Maybe I can substitute sweet potatoes or acorn squash. With the right seasonings it could work. I've always loved this time of year, even the smell of the heater in my car makes me think of it.

I've been at my job at Champps for over a month now, and I think I'm getting along all right. One of my co-workers is off on maternity leave, so my duties have changed slightly to fit. I had been on the line for the past few weeks, on the salad station, now I'm back to preparing soups and sauces, plus the odd banqueting gig on the weekends. Still the hours are good and the tasks are enjoyable. For the most part. Last Saturday I had a bit of an accident, and hit my thumb really hard on the vegetable dicer. I'm only lucky that I didn't cut it against the blades, that would've really hurt! But with this device, even the handle can do some damage. I cut myself pretty deeply with it and ended up fainting! I was surprised that I reacted that way, I've never fainted at the sight of blood before, it's never bothered me. I think it was caused by a mix of being overtired and underfed, plus being scared that I was hurt worse than I was. Anyway, to make a long story short (too late) I woke up in the chef's office, feeling very disoriented and none too sure what had happened. It was all okay, though, I rested up for about 20 minutes, got my bearings back, and went back to work. Luckily, it was a split shift that day, so I only had to work till 2 to get a break, before coming back at 5 and working till 10. I was glad to get a little time off.

Over the next few days after the incident, I took a little ribbing from my coworkers, but apart from that, nothing noteworthy went on after that. This will be a short week for me since I needed time off to be maid of honor at a friend's wedding. Hopefully, my hours will pick up after the blessed event.

I've had little time for cooking for pleasure this month, with the new job and occasional double-shifts, but one thing I was pleased to have made was Oeufs a la Bourgigngoin. I'd sampled it in a restaurant in France, as an alternate vegetarian entree for one of my classmates (which she was good enough to share!) and from that moment I wanted to find the recipe for it. With my veritable library of cookbooks, I knew I must have it somewhere. There it was, in good old faithful Julia's "Mastering" Volume 1. I'll definitely be making it again soon, it was very easy and good!

I'm very glad to be back in a town large enough to have grocery stores that suit my needs. Too long have I lived in small towns where there's nothing besides the bare essentials. My first shopping trip resulted in discovering an ample supply of bone marrow! I can make enough bordelaise sauce to keep me happy all through the winter! And the wine departments--I found a bottle of chardonnay that I'd had on my class trip to France, I'm saving that for a special occasion. And the cheese counter, it's delightful! I'm glad to be back in civilized country :-)

It also occurs to me, that two years ago today I started culinary school at Indian Hills. The things that happened between then and now just amazes me :-) Thanks to all who helped me along the way: my parents, Chef Gordon, Mark, Mary, BJ, and everyone else. I hope I keep in touch with you all and have great stories to share along the way.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Back in the workforce!

After months of fruitless searching, I finally got a job last month in my hometown of Dubuque, Iowa. Ever since I moved away when I was 9, I always wanted to get back to civilization, and here I am! It's a nice sized town, plenty of restaurants and businesses to keep me happy. Another good thing about moving back here is that I'm close by to my grandparents in case they need anything.

Work is off to a good start, I'm making friends among the ranks, and the chef tells me that I'm doing a good job. I've been placed on the salad station on the line, it sure gets busy during the lunch rush! I haven't seen it during dinner hours, but I will next week! It seemed hard at first, but after a few days it's becoming second nature to me. There are just so many different salads to remember. One day, Chef John was on the other side of the line, and he kept shouting out questions to me about the different recipes, and I was able to keep up, while making completely different ones! If I get backed up, the guy on saute is there to help me, so it's good to have someone there if I get a lot of tickets at once. Still, I'm learning a lot about working the line. It's hard work, but it can be fun, too. There's a feel to it when it gets hectic, I think I'll do just fine. On weekends I get put on the banquet side of things. The restaurant is connected to a hotel, so we have weddings booked up for the next few months. Last night was just 100 people, but we've had parties much larger than that, with prep to do for other events first thing in the morning, so working at the Bridge View Center was good preparation for that sort of thing! My first day there I was working a wedding, I remember feeling homesick for my old group at Bridge View, but I'm learning how this bunch does things. I already feel like I'm part of the team. I'm glad I took four years of Spanish in high school, most of the crew are Mexicans, and not all of them speak English. I remember some, enough to convey what's important "!Ayudame, por favor!" (help me please) "?Tiene usted un boligrafo que podria a usar?" (do you have a pen I could use?) Stuff like that. I'm sure it'll get better with time and practice.

Another thing I've gotten to do at work is make the many different soups and sauces that they use on the line. As with everything, it gets easier with practice. Two weeks ago, I was down to work that station, and had about 12 things to do on hot/cold prep. I felt like I barely got it all done in time! Then, the next week, I had probably the same size of list (and some of the same items) and I got it done with time to spare! Chef John walked by my station and asked me "What's left to do?" "Four batches of the white queso, then just sweep up." "Damn!" he replied, he must've been impressed :-)

I was lucky enough to find an apartment close to work. It's just a 5-minute drive, if I hit the stoplights just right. I'm on a street that's just one block removed from the main drag, it's nice to be in the heart of town (within walking distance from Village Inn!) Moving in was kind of rough, I needed to rally the troops. My parents, and my aunt and uncle all pitched in to get me squared away. It was obvious from initial inspection that the previous tenants didn't get their deposit back! They'd left quite a mess in the kitchen to clean up before it could be anything close to liveable. But after lots of time and effort, it's now a place I can call home. I even got my cat back! I'm not sure if he likes it, he's used to living at my parents' house, that's where he lived while I was in school. Their place is much larger and has a yard. He'll adjust, I'm sure.

So things are off to a good start, and I hope they continue going this way. When I was about to graduate, I was worried about making it in a real restaurant. Now I'm a real line cook! It says so on my timecard and everything, I feel like I can definitely do this!

Monday, July 6, 2009

How I've spent my summer

It's been far too long between posts, it's not always easy to get the time to sit down and write when I want to. A lot has happened in the past few months: graduation, my class trip to France, and a seemingly endless job-hunt. First, the France trip:

On May 26, I woke up bright and early to head down to Cedar Rapids to catch my first flight. I got there good and early, and all of us from Indian Hills had time to get acquainted with the Kirkwood students. Just when I was getting impatient, it was time to go through security to the first gate. I'd packed my carryon well, with books and treats and a change of clothes, so I felt prepared for anything. I was really excited, this was my first trip out of the country! After saving up and working and breaking into my emergency Flee the Country fund, I was able to go on a trip of a lifetime! Even the mundane things like waiting for the plane had me so wound up I could hardly focus.

Our first flight was a puddle-jumper to Chicago, my group just about filled the whole plane. It was a very small craft, and I felt sorry for people who were taller than me, having to scrunch down to avoid a blow to the head. It took no time at all, barely enough time to make any headway in the book I was reading. We landed in Chicago and had a long layover there. A bunch of us took turns using Adam's phone, to call our families and let them know the trip was going well so far. We got lunch at Chile's, to celebrate the trip I splurged and got a margarita, and after that we were free to wander off on our own, as long as everyone got to the gate on time.

I looked at some of the airport bookstores, not really intending to buy anything, but just to kill time. After a few hours, we all were getting rather bored, and ready for the next part of the trip to start, so we found our gate and took our seats to wait. I put on my iPod on which I'd downloaded French lessons for the trip. When it was finally time to board, I was eager to get back up in the air.

As I've said before, I'd never made a cross-Atlantic flight before, I knew it would be long, and I wasn't looking forward to experiencing jet-lag. I'd resolved that I'd try to sleep for most of the flight so my clock wouldn't be thrown too far off. After dinner was served and cleared (not bad, all things considered), I tried to watch a movie on the monitor on the back of the seat in front of me. After a few attempts, and eventual loss of interest, I tried to sleep. Now, the seats in coach are not exactly designed for comfort. I kept shifting around, trying to get situated, but either my body or mind would not settle. Finally, I turned on my iPod and nested myself as best as I could. Somewhere between Phantom of the Opera and Pink Floyd I actually got some sleep. Fortunately, morning came, and so did the coffee cart, so I was ready to fuel up for another day.

May 27: We landed at Heathrow, looked for our point of departure, and took off! Up and down and across we ran through the city of an airport, and when we finally got down to the right level to catch the bus to our terminal, I realized I'd lost my passport! After a few seconds of incoherent screeching and sci-fi based swearing, I realized it must've fallen out of my pocket on the plane! Chef Gordon ran back up with me to the British Airways desk and explained the situation. In actuality, it didn't take very long for them to find it and return it to me, but it seemed to take forever, especially since I was afraid of either being left there or sent home! Sent home, at the beginning of the journey, before getting to see or do anything! That was not going to happen! Fortunately, I got my passport and ID back within half an hour of noticing either were missing. The downside was that by the time I got them back, Chef Gordon and I had already missed our flight and now had to wait till 3:45 for the next flight out. I was so grateful that he stayed with me. I would have been able to cope, but it's nice when one is stranded, that one has a friend along. It was a pretty good day, all things considered. I got to see the jumping fountains outside the airport, visit several shops, buy real Cadbury's chocolate and a small bottle of black truffle infused vodka, and just get down with my mall-rat self. Wasting hours at a time in a mall-like setting is still one of my favorite passtimes! We stopped for some lunch at a pub-like establishment and got to experience some of the local fare. I was still a little woozy from residual anxiety and the flight, otherwise I might have dared order the haggis. But I wasn't feeling quite that adventurous yet. Bangers and Mash, always a good decision :-)

Eventually, we found a place next to a flight board to take a quick nap. The frustrating part about Heathrow is that nobody knows their gate number until boarding time is practically upon them. Boarding was supposed to be at 3:30, and neither of us even knew what gate we should be heading to until about 3:00! In a massive place like Heathrow, I was worried about finding the gate on time, but as it turns out, it was actually quite close to where we were sitting. We got on board and were in Lyon before I knew it. We got our bags without any trouble, they were transferred to our new flight that morning when we missed our first one, and when we stepped through the doors, we were met by our guide Chef Michel. The evening traffic was quite thick, so it took a while to get to the hotel, and we actually had to bump back our reservation times at the restaurant we were going to, to give Chef Gordon and I a chance to clean up from our trip. Dinner was incredible: they started us out with champagne and a piece of foie gras as big as a deck of cards! If seen some at the shop at Heathrow where I bought my truffled vodka, and had wanted to buy some then, I was happy I waited! I'm not sure if anyone in my class likes it as much as I do, I know I helped someone else finish theirs. I wish I could've gotten a menu of what we had that night. For our main entree we had roundsteak in butter, it was divine! They kept filling our wineglasses, bringing out more food, everyone was just so happy to be there, that in the end we'd all made it in all right, it was one of the best meals I've ever had.

On May 28, I woke up, got dressed for the first time in my new chef's jacket, and went downstairs for breakfast. I love French breakfasts! There was brioche, and Nutella, and pain au chocolat, that's a great way to start any morning Once we all loaded up into the bus, we drove out to visit the Institut Paul Bocuse. I had been afraid Chef Gordon and I had missed out on that while we were stranded at Heathrow, but all we missed was a bus tour of the city. It would've been nice to see, but of all things I could've missed, I'm willing to take that loss. We were given a guided tour of the whole facility, the old castle as well as the new addition. I've never seen such beautiful rooms! We watched two cooking demos, I even got one of the chef's autograph! He had been on the winning team for this year's Pastry Wold Cup, and I'd heard of him already. I was happy that we were also given the recipes for what we saw them make. We had lunch there in the student restaurant, and had a very nice meal, and we'd be back to the Restaurant Saisons that night for dinner. After a flight of little appetizers, there was veal and polenta, a few different kinds of cheese, and an elaborate dessert consisting of cake, sorbet, berries, and pistachios. It was all very good, and I got to have my picture taken with the chef.

The next day, we headed to the covered market. We stopped for "breakfast" first off at a rather cozy eatery. First course was thickly sliced sausage, gratinned in a creamy sauce and dashed with green herbs. This was followed by a grilled steak and fried potatoes, also very good. It was a bit strange at first to have wine with breakfast, but after the initial surprise was over, we figured why not? There was even raspberry tart and ice cream for dessert. I think I could get used to this! I'd resigned myself to the fact that I was going to get fat, so why not enjoy it? Chef Michel then insisted that we finish our breakfast off with a shot of brandy (I think that's what it was, I'm not altogether sure). I shouldn't have done that. Enough said.

We then got to visit the rest of the market, we stayed together rather well. There were charcuteries, and chocolateries and fromageries and all kinds of specialized shops that you just don't see in the States. I could tell that food is much more important to these people, the time and care and craft that goes into it really shows.

After that, we visited a chocolatier that does everything there on site, right down to roasting and grinding the cocoa beans! They were even separated into sacks according to which country they came from. It reminded me a bit of the coffee shop I used to work at, we never mixed beans from other countries together. We'd roasted our beans on site, too, so that was a familiar thing to see. It's pretty much the same process. I was feeling wealthy, and in need of a treat, so at the end ouf the tour, I bought two of the tiny pretty cakes from the window. I didn't know what was in them, and I didn't care, they were both good though.

We had a quick tour of one of Paul Bocuse's restaurants, it was really awesome, like visiting a shrine! Then, to our surprise, an entire wall came alive in music and motion like something out of "It's a Small World" and we heard our own national anthem blast loudly into the room. For an encore, it could also play "Macnamara's Band". It served to dissapate any austerity in the area. It was a really neat place to visit, that I stood in that room where one of the culinary greats might tread.

Then we went to the village of Perouges, whose medieval architecture is well-preserved and quaint. We had frog's legs for lunch, a new favorite food for some, an old favorite for others! It was there that I first experienced fromage blanc, which is creamy and sour like yogurt, and is served with sugar and cream. The fromage blanc is so thick that you could hold a spoon of it upside down over someone's head and it wouldn't fall. At the end of the lunch, Chef Michel held a shaving-basin up to Jon, acting like he was going to shave him with fromage blanc or something, but then dropped thick cream into his mouth. A few got it on video, but I can only guess what titles it would appear under.

I found several gifts for people at one of the shops there. I found a little china doll for my grandma, it had reddish hair and a green dress, so I thought it was cute to find such an Irish doll in a French shop. I also found a dishtowel that came with a recipe for my mom. I'd asked her earlier in the month what she wanted for Mother's Day, and she said she needed a new kitchen towel, so I found her one here a little late! For me to buy a souvenier, it helps if it actually serves some useful purpose. The recipe was for a local specialty dessert, which we'd just had for lunch, and the directions on the card are so cute and old-world, like something from another time.
We were on our own that night for supper, but I didn't need anything, I felt like I'd done nothing but eat all day.

On Saturday, our first stop in the Beaujolais region was at an artisinal Huilerie, or oil mill. Their slogan is "One fruit, one oil", meaning nothing extra gets added in, just the pure essence of whatever olives or nuts are used. I bought a small bottle of hazelnut oil, I would've loved to buy more, but I had to make my money hold out another couple of days. From there, we went to a winery, whose entry looked like an old-fashioned train station. There was a museum, and a kind of creepy animatronic show, an educational video about different wines of the area, finished off with a *very* tasteful 3-D movie about winemaking :-) Seriously, it was kind of cute. Toursity, but cute. Lunch was another splendid affair, probably light by French standards. The pat`e was delightful! After lunch, I bought a bottle of wine in the adjoining store.

That afternoon we went toured the Hotel Dieu, a 500 year old hospital famous for serving wine to its patients. The architecture was amazing, with so many tall towers and spires pointing up all around, and the paintings on the ceilings. To think that it's stood for over 500 years is hard to grasp. Here, if a building is around for 20 years it gets knocked down and turned into a parking lot. Or they turn it into a nostalgia piece, as though a 50 year old building should be some kind of novelty.

For dinner, we went to a lovely restaurant called Loiseau des Vignes. Another excuse to get dressed up :-) I'm just glad that my dress was so forgiving, after being in a suitcase for so long, it came out without a single crease! Long live polyester! The amuse bouche was a small dish of the smoothest gazpacho I've ever had. It's normally served very chunky, almost like a salsa, but this was so fine I couldn't detect any texture at all. This was followed by a crab salad stacked in between savory tuilles, with a corn relish accompaniment. It was so good and so pretty and light, it just melted away. The entree was a supreme of pigeon! I'd never had pigeon before, it was served medium-rare like a duck, it was very good! The cheese course was goat cheese rolled in parsley and served with a balsamic vinegar reduction. We got to choose our desserts, I had something with a lot of chocolate! Some kind of mousse with a crisp shell, creme anglaise, and a chocolate hazelnut wafer. It was all very good!

On Sunday we visited the Grotte d'Oselle, caves with a long twisty path, and bats! I felt bad for Jon, who's claustrophobic, and Keegan, who is very tall. Squeezing into tight places isn't fun for either of these guys. The remains of prehistoric cave bears are on display near the end of the path.

Then we had a cooking demo with Master Chef Jean-Francois Maire, we all helped out either with prepping, stirring, or plating, and he was a pretty nice guy. We had asparagus with crab sauce, chicken with morels and the creamiest mashed potatoes I've ever had, and chocolate cupcakes with cherries and vanilla ice cream.

After lunch, we went on to visit the salt mines, it was pretty neat, I got my picture taken looking like I'm toiling away in the mines. Our tour guide led us to an underground fountain that dripped out water that was 30% salt. She told us all to take a taste on our fingers, so Chef Gordon drank a whole handful of salt-water :-)

That night we ate at the hotel, it was kind of nice to be in a more casual atmosphere after all the fancier meals we've had during our stay. I didn't even change out of my street clothes and had diet coke for the first time since I'd arrived.

Monday, June 1st, we visited two fromageries. One small-scale, one large-scale, and we all learned a new favorite kind of cheese, comte! We had a 12-month old and an 18-month old comte with bread and white wine, it was very good. It kind of reminded me a little of parmesan, a little of Swiss, in that it was delicate and salty and creamy. I wish I could find it here sometime.

For lunch, we had a local specialty: boiled potatoes with melted cheese on top. Who needs more than that? With ham, onions and pickles, it was a perfect lunch. From there we went to a smokehouse to see the way cured meats are supposed to be made! There I bought my dad some bacon, I thought he'd like that since it was smoke-cured, old-fashioned, and about as close to the source as you can get.

The best part of the day was getting to go to a farm, and taking a long carriage-ride over the grounds. We climbed a high hill and got to look over the edge, and the view was simply breathtaking. We had supper at the farm house, a simple vegetable soup of carrots, potatoes, and leeks. It was very snug and welcoming, the kind of atmosphere that set us all at ease.

June 2nd, after visiting an absinthe distillery and having a tasting of Jura wines, we had a remarkable dinner at Restauran Lea, a Michelin Star restaurant that decidedly earns the distinction! The appetizers, while I can't exactly remember what they were, were very good. It was something unexpected, one was some kind of spinach custard and the other was something with chicken I believe. The next course was a mousse of chicken stomach with a sumptuous crayfish sauce. All was beautifully plated, and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The entree was a local luxury, poularde de Bresse chicken with morel mushrooms. I wish I hadn't been so full by that point, or I would've eaten more! For the cheese course I had fromage blanc, which was so rich and smooth, I want to find a place around here that I can find it here! Dessert was vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce, orange-laced brioche and wafer cookies. It was a once-in-a-lifetime dinner, it hardly seems fair that the all the best meals I'll have in my life are happening within days of each other, and I know I'll never eat that well again (until I learn to make it myself!)

On the 3rd, our last real day of the trip, we visited a farm where poulet Bresse are bred. Their breeding follows exact specifications for it to have that prestigious label attatched to it. I knew that the AOC covered wine and cheese, but I never realized that chickens would fall in as well. It makes sense, now that I've thought of it, but it was something new to think about. We drove from there to Cerdon for lunch, we had a salad with pickled onions and gherkins and delicious pate. We went to a nearby copper mill where we got to see many copper items shaped and formed and ready to sell. I bought a 1.5 qt copper saucepan that I plan to treasure for years to come. That night we were on our own for dinner, but as before, I didn't really feel the need for anything.

Throughout the trip, I got to know the Kirkwood students, learned to play a new card game with the group, shopped, and enjoyed the varying scenery along our course.

The trip back was exciting, too. We got to the airport in Lyon a few hours early, which was good, because it took a very long time for them to get our boarding passes straight. I couldn't believe how hard it was for them to get that in order. You'd think that all of us having our passports, IDs, and numbers in order, it would be a snap for them to print out our boarding passes. Not so. Oh well. When we landed in Heathrow, we started breaking up. I visited a duty free shop and had a free sample of 12-year-old Scotch, which I've never had before but it's very good! After we regrouped at a TGI Friday's, we soon realized that one of the Kirkwood girls, Danielle, had lost her passport! Unfortunately, she wasn't as lucky as I was, I don't think she ever found hers. However, she was able to get in touch with the American Embassy, and they were able to rig up enough paperwork and so forth that would send her along easily enough. Again, yay for the efficiency at work! After another long flight (with a short nap), we landed in Chicago where I was praying that the customs officers wouldn't open my suitcase. Fortunately, they didn't, and everything made it though unbroken and untampered. As it was, going through security was enough of a hassle, that even though I hadn't gotten held up in customs I barely made it to the gate on time. I was running along at a full gallop, completely out of breath, feeling like I was about to die, when I made it onto the plane! I was so happy to be heading home. It was a great time, I saw and learned a lot, but it was great to be back. More about my summer in upcoming posts :-) I won't be as long, I promise.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Vito's Cafe

Tonight, I was in Highland Heights, KY, visiting my sister and brother-in-law. Molly, my sister, is performing in an opera scenes performance tomorrow, and so tonight, she and her husband took my mother and me to a very nice Italian restaurant for dinner. The appetizer, and I use the term loosely, was their infamous Wheel of Parmesean. Fettuccini, tossed in butter and cream, turned into a bowl made of a giant wheel of cheese! I had to force myself to slow down or I would've eaten it all in about 5 seconds! It was rich and buttery and just so good! It was prepared tableside by the owner of the restaurant, too. I spoke to him briefly, and dropped off a resume. He was a very gracious host, his food philosophy seemed to be on par with my own. Food is an art form, , one of the most savorable incarnations I can think of. For my main course, since I simply couldn't resist the temptation once presented to me, I had osso bucco. Tender, velvetty veal shanks in a smooth moat of herbed polenta. I've had polenta before that isn't very flavorful, not exactly bland, but still nothing to sing about. This, on every level, was a meal to sing about! As I scooped out the marrow from the bones with the tiny fork they provided, my sister asked "So, is it good?" I replied with a sultry sigh, "I think I need a cigarette." It was a mouthful of creamy, meaty goodness that simply cannot be adequately described in words.

In accompaniment to our lovely meal, the wait staff and some invited guests would come to the center of the dining room and sing. We were treated to musical theater staples (my guilty pleasures included delighting in selections from West Side Story and Man of La Mancha) and opera. Molly performed an aria from Rigoletto called "Caro Nome". It was so delightful, I could see her light up from the inside, she truly sparkled in her true medium. She sings the way I cook, the way I write, as though the act in itsself is its own reward.

Tonight we celebrated my birthday and graduation, as well as my sister's upcoming performance, so we made such a wonderful night of it. This was such a lovely dining experience on all fronts, it will be one I will remember for years to come.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I'm not dead!

Okay, I know I've been off the blog scene for over a month, I can't believe how the time has just flown by. My internship is almost over! I've really enjoyed it, but I've been kind of homesick for school and my class. That includes teachers, too, Chef! It's a difficult transition, I'm not quite a student anymore, and I'm not technically in the real workforce yet, I'm kind of in-between. That's always a rather iffy place to be in life. I had a mild bout of depression during this period, just feeling lost and confused and wondering what's going to happen next. Plus, right after I was getting used to my classmates and everyone at Indian Hills I had to move! Moving in general always gets me down, but I came back from it. I wasn't sleeping well, I had no appetite, I went a month without even feeling up to writing. It's helped to call my friends and hear about their internships, looking forward to graduation and our trip to France. I've been feeling better lately, sleeping and eating normally again, and I was actually singing in the car again on the way to my job interview. It took a while to get out of that "bad patch", but I'm feeling normal (save the jokes, I can hear them from all the way over here!)

I've really enjoyed certain aspects of my internship, others could have been better. The owner of La Dolce Vita, Jim McCaffrey, is totally awesome. He's passionate about food, good service, keeping up with what the people want, all that fun stuff. His enthusiasm bouys me up when things aren't going so well. His son, Conor, is a decent guy, but impatient. Rather than have me do something and learn, he'd rather just do it himself because it's faster. I've been told not to take his attitude personally, he's just a tricky person to work with sometimes. Another cook, Mike, can be the same way sometimes. I was assigned to work with him on grill and saute my first week there. He was a bit more open teacher, he wasn't in such a rush, but he can be a real downer. He comes off as someone who's been broken on the wheel of life far too soon, very downtrodden. He hardly ever even speaks above a low mutter. There's another cook we all call Chile, probably because he's Mexican, who makes up for the other two guys. He's always a good guy to work with, we exchange barbs with each other, and there's mutual respect between us. He keeps things from getting too boring anyway. Then there's Fawn, the owner's stepdaughter, we work together a lot on the pizza assembly line. It can get really hectic when the tickets come flying in, but we get them all out in about a minute! My first night on that line, I balked a little at the sudden rush, but my old training from working as a fitting room girl at Kohls came to my rescue and I thought "It's just another Z-rack to blitz, we can do this" and we did, no sweat.

One really fun thing I get to do on Thursday mornings is bake bread with Jim. That's a riot, let me tell you! We're both such bread geeks it's not even funny. To date we've done baguettes, French rolls, ciabatta, and focaccia. This has all just started while I've been there. We'd talked a few times before I came on that he was toying with the idea of doing bread, and so I helped get that going! A few businesses in town have even gotten accounts with him to sell his bread to them! And he's the one asking me questions! It's weird to be teaching an adult how to do something, but I guess shouldn't think of myself as a kid anymore, since I'm almost 30. I love the smell of yeast, I could get high off of it, especially in a large-scale operation like what we're doing at work! I think Jim does, too, it's nice having someone around who gets the same pleasures from things that I do. We're both like a couple of kids: "Is the oven temperature right yet? Has the dough risen enough? How about now??" This week, Jim's gone, so I'll be baking with Fawn for my last baking day. She came along last week to watch and help out and get a feel for what we get up to when it's just the bread geeks running the kitchen. She didn't get scared away, I'll take that as a good thing!

Today I had a job interview at a nice restaurant up in Rochester, MN. The chef who interviewed struck me as a good guy to work for; although he stressed that there weren't any entry-level positions open, he encouraged me to look at some of the hotels in town and told me he'd keep my resume on file in case something appropriate opens up. I wore my dress uniform, I always like an occasion to whip that out. I think I look good in it, and I feel very professional. I've mailed out a few resumes to other businesses that have been advertising for help, so hopefully I'll hear back from someone who will hire me.

Next week is graduation, and a little over a week after that is our class trip to France! I've been getting French lessons on my iPod, so hopefully I'll learn enough basic phrases to get by. It's not only respectful and polite to do when visiting another country, it's fun! I like drawing the similarities between French and Spanish (I took four years of Spanish in high school, this is helping to bring some of it back), and just the fun of learning a new language is rewarding. In my family, I come from a long line of language-buffs. My grandpa was a cryptographer in WW2, so my code writing/breaking skills have some basis in heredity. He was primarily stationed in India. You know who else was with Intelligence, based in India during the war? Julia Child! I doubt the two ever crossed paths though, he was in Delhi and she was elsewhere, so not good chances. Still kind of cool though.

Okay, it's past midnight, so I'd better sign off and get some sleep. I'm back in action though, and it's good to be back!

Monday, March 23, 2009

The bridge is crossed, now stand and watch it burn...

I just took my Certified Culinarian exam, and passed with an 89%! I made a few stupid mistakes, which I chalk up to being in a hurry and kind of nervous. I don't really do well on tests! Wednesday I hand in my final project for Culinary Entreprenuership, I think I'll do fine with that, I've had lots of practice in these sort of things over the past 2 years. I'm just glad to have the CC test over with, that was my main focus of worry.

On Saturday my family and I went out for dinner at the restaurant where I'll be interning. I had salmon pizza, with cream cheese sauce, capers, and dill. It was very good! It was the first time in a long time that I've had something that was genuinely new! I'd never even heard of it before, and now I think I have a new favorite!

I've been toying with the idea of doing a "senior exhibition", in the form of a formal dinner for a few select guests. I've been thinking of the people and product I'll need, planning out the menu, all that fun stuff. It'll be like in "Babette's Feast" :-)

I feel sad about leaving my classmates for the last time. There's always been a "see you tomorrow" feel to things, now we don't know if we'll ever see each other again! Oh well, the culinary world is kind of like being in the mob, we all know each other, we'll hear from each other eventually. I'm ready for the next step. I won't say I'm not afraid, I'd be foolish not to be, but I think I'm as prepared as I can be. The rest of my education will have to take place in industry. I can't wait to see what happens next.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Countdown to my internship...

I've been away for a while, now to catch up! First of all, our pre-graduation dinner was a good time had by all. A few of my classmates and a few underclassmen met up in the lab, we each made something of our own and it was really fun dinner. I made poulet au porto, chicken in a creamy port sauce with mushrooms. Adam made banana poundcake with raspberries, Astred made acorn squash with sauteed artichokes and candied walnuts, Andreanna made some kind of pasta with alfredo sauce...I don't remember everything else, but it all came together really well and we all had a good time together. I even wore a dress when we were ready to sit down and eat! I think it must have been strange for my classmates to see me "as a girl", too bad no one had a camera!

Then we had a long weekend between terms, so I went home since I hadn't seen my parents since Christmas. When I got home, I took stock of the refrigerator and whipped out the cookbook I'd given my mother. They had leftover pork roast from the night before, so after a trip to Fareway I was ready to turn it into a pork ragout. I had onions, carrots, Pinot Noir, it all came together delightfully. When my parents got home from work, I had supper all ready for them, it was fun to surprise them with a treat. The next night I made my now-signature Chicken Wellington, this time with my Mom's help. She sauteed the onion and mushroom duxelle filling while I rolled out the puff pastry and seasoned the chicken. It's always fun to have someone else in the kitchen, to make it a team effort. They have a nice, big kitchen so it was just right! Normally my Dad doesn't eat "fancy" foods, he claims to just stick to meat and potatoes, but I've gotten him to eat my creations and he's admitted to liking them. I haven't forced anything too outlandish on him, nor will I, I know where the boundries lie. Not everyone's going to like everything, I accept that.

Last week, a couple of classmates and I did some real-estate shopping for our final restaurant project. Students in their seventh term have to go through the motions of creating a restaurant from the ground up. We have to find an empty building, figure in costs of rennovations, all of the equipment and products that we'd need for opening day. It's a fun idea, especially since Chef Gordon, my teacher, is seriously considering opening a student-run restaurant like the larger culinary schools have. It would really be cool if we could help with the planning of it, to leave something behind as our legacy. We found a really promising spot, the owner would love to turn it into a restaurant, so I think he might help us out with our final goal. Wish us luck!

Another thing seventh term students get to do is take our CC exams, to become Certified Culinarians upon graduation. That will look nice on a resume, and it'll help hone my cuts. I can fabricate a chicken in my sleep, but it's those darn vegetable cuts that flummox me to no end! Carrots are round! They want to stay round! Oh well, I'll get a handle on it before the test, I'm pretty sure I'll pass.

I've been getting some more hours at work lately, we just lost a cook, so the chef told me to expect to step it up. The last few gigs we've done haven't been too difficult, concessions for a home expo, but it seemed that no matter how many times we told the serving staff to alert us before they run completely out of something, we were always the last to know. Sigh. That's life.

I hope that when I graduate and become a full-time cook, I'll still be able to keep up with my writing. Both mediums are important to my self-expression, I honestly couldn't choose between them. They make me crazy, they keep me sane. Does that make sense? I've even considered becoming a food writer. That would be fun, going to different restaurants and write about them, to combine the two would be the most delightful dance for me.

Three weeks till my internship! I can't wait!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Once more, with feeling!

We're down to one term left, so tonight a few of my classmates and I are going to meet up in the lab and have a pre-graduation dinner. We're all going to make something and eat in the Studio, where we've served our board dinners and international cuisine luncheons, only tonight we'll be the guests as well as the "staff". This should be fun! I'm thinking of making a jazzed up roast chicken recipe I found in my Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It's served with a mushroom-cream-port sauce, it sounded really good in the book. We still have a pot of chicken stock in the walk-in, we can make some kind of soup from that, Adam will probably be in charge of making dessert, and I'm not sure what everyone else is making, or precisely who all is coming, but it should be a good night anyway. I'll be sure to post about how it goes. It's the end of the term, we need to celebrate with something better than what the cafeteria sends out, this definitely calls for a sense of occasion. I might even wear my little black dress ;-) Hopefully, it cheers me up a little, I've been feeling kind of depressed today. Must be end-of-term blues.

I ran into Housing today to see if I can get a reduced rate on my room and board next term since I'm only going to be around for half of it, and luckily they told me I'll get a refund at the end of the term. Good enough for me. It would be silly to have to pay for a room while I don't live there. I sold back a couple of my textbooks and got some pocket money for them, but I'm keeping my wine book, I don't see that becoming obsolete any time soon. I took two certification tests today from the NRAEF and passed them both, so that should look good on my resume. Now I just have to wait for final grades to be calculated.

Last night I was on the instant messanger with one of my friends when I noticed that "frolick" (as in, prancing and scampering around like woodland animals in a Disney movie) looks and sounds an awful lot like "froelich" (German for happy, as far as I know), I was strangely amused by this, it was one of those weird lightbulb moments. Anyway, that doesn't have anything to do with anything.

I'm so glad I got my projects done on time, and that I did so well. I wasn't too worried about my grade, I figured I did a decent job, but it's a relief to be done. Now I can relax and read, maybe get some writing done, it's nice not having homework.

I was going to head home tonight since we have a long weekend, but the weather report looked a bit chancey, I didn't want to tempt fate when they're calling for 40mph winds with possible flurries. I'll get an early start tomorrow and beat my parents home. I might even have supper ready for them when they get done with work. That would be fun. I got my mom a cookbook and a new knife for Christmas this year, I might get inspired! That reminds me, bring the sharpener with me. I cleaned out my table drawer today, and my locker, it's like pounding nails into my own coffin. Each "last" thing I do is going to make it one step closer to the day I head out on my own. I hope to stay in touch with some of them. I hate goodbyes. "Never say goodbye, because goodbye means leaving and leaving means forgetting."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The end is near...?

Tomorrow is the last day of 6th term. Our final projects are handed in, we've done our last dinner, and some of us have begun clearing out our tables. It's all gone by so fast. After tomorrow, we start going our separate ways as some of the class begins their internships and the rest of us begin training for our CC tests. It's hard to believe we're all about to break apart, possibly never to see each other again. I've known these people for almost 2 years, it'll be strange not to see them every day after we graduate. I just hope I can hold it together for graduation, I can be overly sensitive, and this is going to be the real-world equivalent to the finale of "Mary Tyler Moore".

I wish I could stay, I can't wait to leave. I think it's normal to feel that way though. I feel good about what I've done here with my time, I just know there's so much more out there to learn, that can't be done in the classroom. Maybe my hesitancy comes from the fact that I tried the "real world" already, and got burned. I couldn't stand it if the same thing happened again. I have no love for Ottumwa in particular, but as usual when it's time to move, I'll miss the "idea of home." I can only hope that there are good things in store for me out there.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


I haven't posted in the past few weeks, yet it feels like it couldn't possibly be that long since my last post. Time has conspired against me to go by so fast! I've finally gotten some hours at work, after very long dry period, so that contributed to it. It's good to get back to work once in a while, especially when things run smoothly. We even got so ahead of ourselves that we were reallocated to inventory duty! Even that wasn't so bad, though. The times we put our work down for a few minutes to make lunch, stick in a Poison cd, it's the simple things in life that make it worthwhile. Things get kind of crazy, we can get behind, but it all turns out well enough in the end.

Last week my class visited Tassel Ridge Winery just outside of Oskaloosa, that was a really fun field trip. I had a lot of questions about growing wine grapes in Iowa. Tassel Ridge was opened just under three years ago, in March of 2006. Every year that they've been in operation, their production has been steadily growing. While some of their wines boast 100% of their juices come from local grapes, they still rely on some product brought in from California for other wines. We got a brief tutorial of the basic varietals of wine grapes, some of which was a repeat from Fine Dining class and my own "personal research" ;-) I learned that for the first three years of growing grape vines, you're not supposed to let it produce fruit, in order to ensure strong branches and healthy vines. Once it produces fruit, all of the nutrients the plant draws in go to the grapes instead of fortifying the rest of it. By limiting production, it significantly increases quality in the final product. I could go on for much longer about the things I learned at the winery, but I have other things to write about.

Last Friday we held the annual ACF Scholarship Awards Dinner, which I helped serve. I came early to help make sure the kitchen was clean and in good order, then I started setting up the dining room. The awards recipients were all paired up with a chef to prepare a course of the dinner. Some of my classmates helped out in the kitchen, but any time I popped my head in it felt like if I jumped in I would be in the way. The kitchen at Bridge View is large, but we had it filled to its bursting point. I was content just to peek in and watch for a few minutes between dining room inspections. Before the dinner itself there was a cocktail hour, with passed hors d' oeuvres and sparkling wine. That part was fun, meeting and greeting our guests, popping champagne corks, it all had such a sense of occasion to it. When everyone trickled into the dining room and sat down, the dinner began, and I finally got an accurate head count to send back to the kitchen. I'll have to find out if anyone took pictures from the dinner, everything was so beautifully plated that nothing I could say to describe it would do it justice. They varied from simplistic to extravagant, each chef and student assistant fully used this rare opportunity to pull out all the stops.

My instructor, Chef Gordon, gave us all a scare that night when he left abruptly after cocktail hour. We were assured that he was all right and merely "needed rest". When he wasn't in class on Monday, I was getting worried about him, especially when the word was that he was seeing a doctor in Des Moines. Thankfully, he returned to class yesterday, much to our collective relief. He just needs to start taking better care of himself and quit smoking. Turns out it's bad for you ;-)

Today in class, I mentioned that I'd seen an "event" posted on facebook about an "End of the World" party scheduled for Dec 21, 2012, the supposed date of Judgement Day. I said I might go, but I wasn't really serious about it, and likened it to what I predict to be the biggest Star Trek party in history scheduled for April 5, 2063 (First Contact Day: that's supposedly when Earth makes contact with Vulcans for the first time. It's a Trekkie holiday. I'll be there in Montana with the rest of the Trekkies!) when my doom-and-gloom classmate staunchly affirmed that none of us will be around to see that, 50 years after the end of the world. I don't go in for all that Mayan calender stuff. They say that hindsight is 20-20, and you can put a spin on any of these "predictions" to make it match up to what you want it to. It's too easily manipulated. Besides, if we're all going to die in three years, what's the point of finishing this degree? What's the point of anyone planning a future when the universe is going to implode in a few short years? If I thought for one minute that that was true, I'd kill myself. As I said in class today, the best form of getting revenge on people is by outliving them! Now, my belief, when it comes to the whole 2012 theory, is that maybe the Earth may simply change hands to the next civilization. All civilizations die out eventually, and every revolution carries the seeds of its own destruction. It's much more plausible, so I don't think we're facing the end of all creation in my lifetime. Besides, if the world ended and I died with it, I wouldn't have a chance at being sent back, and I don't think I got it quite right yet! When and if the torch must be passed, hopefully we can leave something worthwhile behind.
See you in Montana on First Contact Day, I'll bring the treats!

I finally got my blinis to turn out satisfactorily this week, and I made eggplant caviar and roasted red peppers to top it with, I think Chef Gordon came up with a nice plate presentation for it, and it tastes great! I'll go lighter on the garlic with tomorrow's batch, it's easy to get carried away. I love the sharp, clean smell of garlic! As is usual in the lab, we had an impromptu picnic when Ross made a batch of tasty barbecue pork kabobs. I ate too much in the lab to want anything for actual lunch! With my eating habits, I'm surprised I haven't needed to invest in bigger pants since I began this program!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Out with the old, in with the new

This term has gone by so fast, we're already preparing for our final luncheon in International Cuisine. One last chance for all of us to show them what we've got. This time around, we're going to do an entire meal of appetizers, each representing a different country or cooking style. I'm doing another Thomas Keller recipe, Blinis with Eggplant Caviar and Roasted Red Peppers. I mixed up the batter for the blinis yesterday but I couldn't get it to the right consistency. Whenever I tried to fry some on the stove, the bottom burned before the middle was done. I tried every variation of adjusting the temperature, I tried thinning it out with more cream, adding another egg; finally I wrapped it up and put it in the fridge to relax. Better luck tomorrow. Other dishes will include Mini-Quiche Lorraine, Spanikopita, Beef Empanadas, Strawberry Rugalach, and Prior's famous buffalo chicken.

Another neat thing that happened yesterday was that we had several high school students come visit our department. I think we made a good impression, but they were kind of shy! We all sat together in the demo lab, Chef Gordon told them about the program, and some of us students gave our own testimony as well. It's really cool to connect with kids at this level, although none of them were very talkative, I enjoyed seeing so many people at once who are interested in cooking. Sure, they didn't know any of the famous chefs that Gordon expects any kitchen geek to know, but I didn't either until recently. Like me, they are here because they love to cook. We all express and embody that differently. I hope that some of the students I met yesterday end up in our program. We need to grow!

Tomorrow night I'm helping out at a food and wine pairing party in the demo lab, which I did last week as well. I've volunteered to do a demonstration of my Mini Chicken Wellingtons, they're easy and elegant at the same time, so they'll be a good crowd-pleaser. Last week was fun, I got to work with a few underclassmen to help plate, and I even got to take home some leftovers--always a good end to the day!

Next week we're going to Tassel Ridge Winery, I'm looking forward to it! Until I started school here, I didn't even know that there were any wineries in Iowa, I'd always assumed that all the US had were in California and Oregon. It'll definitely be a learning experience. The last field trip we went on to Honey Creek Resorts was really interesting. It's the only resort in the state, it has beautiful grounds, an impressive restaurant, and an indoor waterpark! They told us about what's going to be available once winter relinquishes its icy grip: an 18-hole golf course, docks for boating and fishing, maybe even horses! I could take up several pages describing the place in detail, but to save me the time, I've posted the website on the left-hand side of my blog. A couple of my classmates have even arranged internships there already. Maybe I'll just have to go "visit" them...

Today Chef David Jensen came to give us a demonstration of ice-carving. He showed us his tools of the trade and then carved a marlin out of a 300-lb block of ice! I'll post some pictures as soon as I can! We even got to see him save it when he accidentally chopped off the fish's tail, he just poured on some water and froze it back together. He's been in the ice-carving business for nearly 30 years, and his portfolio shows it! It was really cool to have him come over to show his stuff, and not just because it got us out of taking a test today ;-)

Chef Jensen also works as a chef in a hospital, and he told us about the many ways that that unsuspecting facet of the industry is changing. As far as I remember, hospital food wasn't anything to get excited about, but it sounds like lots of places are making improvements with their selection. It actually got me thinking of maybe working in one someday. It would be kind of cool if I ended up working at the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics, since I've "enjoyed" a couple of stays there in the past. With their health plan, I could get a heart check-up without paying through the nose. Not a bad gig. In a weird way, it would feel like coming home. I still remember the smell of the place.

The rest of our day was devoted to detail-cleaning the kitchen. I'm proud to say that the grill is cleaner than it's been since we've gotten it. A couple of us doused it in degreaser, scrubbed it until the back of it shone. Then we took the grates off and ran it through the dishwasher. I hope it won't rust.

I got another pleasant surprise this week while looking through the French Laundry cookbook. I found Thomas Keller's plating picture of his "Peas and Carrots" and it looked pretty close to the plate presentation I'd used with for our Contemporary American dinner earlier this month. The only difference was that he used pea shoots and all I had was arugula, but I'm sure that if for whatever reason, the French Laundry might one day be fresh out of pea shoots, he would agree that arugula does just as well.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

All is right with my world

I spent the first part of the morning doing two things: fabricate a tray of cornish game hens and try to keep warm! For some reason, the hoods over the stoves were blowing in freezing cold air, we could all see our breath! But I figured I've worked in worse conditions, and I might work in worse ones in the future, so I rolled my sleeves back down and fired up the grill to warm up the room. After the hens were done, Chef told me to just "do something with them for an appetizer", whatever I wanted, my discretion. I had a pretty good idea what I wanted to do, we had a cambro of chopped mushrooms, so I made a duxelle, sauteed with onions and butter. I cut the breasts in half and topped each one with some of the duxelle, and wrapped it in puff pastry. Mini chicken Wellingtons, served on a pool of the same carrot-ginger emulsion from a few nights ago. It was a good combination, Chef seemed to be pleased with it, too. I should have made more!

After lunch, we came back to the lab (still in igloo), and were given similar instructions as this morning: make something out of all this chicken. This time, I froze up. I couldn't find something that sounded good, or that we had the product for, or wasn't too similar to something we've made recently. After much thought, I finally came up with something that's pretty basic, but that I've never made and always wanted to: chicken carbonara. It only took a minute to gather together the ingredients, and only a glance at the recipe, and I was rolling! I put some leg quarters in a roasting pan, drizzled on some olive oil and tri-mix, and threw them in the oven for a few minutes. Meanwhile, I got the pasta water boiling and the eggs and cream whisked together. I plated it up for a picture, sprinkled it with basil chiffonade, and arranged some leg quarters with it. By the time I had it ready, though, my class had been eating all day, so I'd ended up making way too much. It was then my sad duty to take it home to my dorm :-) I love my major!

I also got my deposit in for the trip to France, so I felt good about getting that done. It makes it feel that much closer. In recent weeks, I've ceased to dread the future and just figure I'll roll with it. Everything is starting to seem like it's falling into place. I'll probably intern at the new Italian restaurant in Decorah (my mom even said if I don't get enough hours there to satisfy my requirements, she could find a few jobs for me as a "personal chef" for a few "private parties" Translation: cooking for her and her work friends. I suggested a "Take This Job and Shove It" party. Ha! Thanks, Mom ). My classwork isn't nearly as daunting as it seemed at first, I have one project done and two to go. I'll be able to get them done with no trouble.

I had an idea a couple nights ago that my classmates and I should meet up in the lab some night and have a pre-graduation party sometime before the term is over. Once this term wraps up, we start going our different ways. If we all got together and each made a course, whether it was a signature dish of ours or something we've discovered and wanted to try out, it could be a lot of fun. I hope we can do something like that. I ran the idea by a few classmates, and Chef Gordon, and they all seem to be on board, so that would be a good last hurrah for us.

On a very non-culinary related note, I just downloaded my first mp3. I found a song I liked on a youtube video and just...wanted it. I'd never considered it before, I was happy to either just rip my existing cds onto the computer and copy them onto my little mp3 player, or to have friends send me music files to augment my library. I actually felt little bratty, just "I like this song, I want it, click, mine!" It's funny how technology is. I have the smallest player on the market, a 2G, but 10 years ago if I wanted to have 400 songs to take with me on a car trip, I would've had to pack a whole suitcase of cds. Now it's more than common for people to carry a couple thousand tracks in their pocket at any given time. That goes beyond anything I would imagine needing. A downside to the mp3 "culture" is that it ruins already perfectly laid-out albums, by concentrating on selling songs as singles. Two albums that I couldn't imagine breaking up are the Beatles "Abbey Road" (especially the B side, they all flow into each other seamlessly, truly a thing of beauty) and Pink Floyd "Dark Side of the Moon". I'm sure there are many more, but those are two of my favorites to listen to all the way through. They were crafted to go together!

Tomorrow's the field trip, I hope the weather is clear. I can't wait!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

First week back, very eventful!

This afternoon my class hosted a luncheon for 25 invited guests. We've been preparing all week, no easy feat on the first week back from break! I think we were all a little rusty after being off duty for so long. Still, once we got back into the rhythm, things started to straighten out and our movements became more natural and purposeful. I made the appetizers: Lobster Crepes with a Ginger-Carrot Emulsion, served with an arugula chiffonade in a shallot-balsamic dressing. It was bright and colorful and very tasty. The recipe is Thomas Keller's "Peas and Carrots", and I'd love to make this again. One of the guests even asked for the recipe and asked me how I did it! I'm not always the best at talking to people, but when I'm familiar with the subject I'm much more comfortable, so I didn't even feel on the spot. The recipe looks a little intimidating at first glance, but when you have a few days to prepare it, it can easily be broken up into separate parts. On the first day I boiled the lobsters, chopped up the meat, and began making the lobster glaze which would act as a powerful flavoring agent when mixed into the rest of the filling. I boiled down about 2 gallons of lobster stock to about a cup. Now, in my opinion, that would be fit even just for dipping bread into! The part that pleases me about it most is that when most people cook lobster, at least at home, they just throw the shells away! Gone, without ever realizing their full potential! I love making stocks for that very reason, it's like being in on a secret. It's a relatively inexpensive product with infinite possibilities. The next few days were devoted to mixing the lobster meat with ricotta cheese and lobster glaze, trying to figure out how to make a reduction of carrot juice thicken up (the secret? diced potato simmered in the juice, whipped with an immersion blender! Who'da thought?) and making the crepes. Each thing by itsself isn't difficult at all, so sometimes you can't just look at the whole picture at once, sometimes it's better to break it down into it's root components and go from there. Suddenly, anything seems much more do-able!

The kitchen is a great environment to learn things about myself. For example, today a classmate was making uncalled-for rude implications at me, but never actually coming out and *saying* it, he just kept trailing off without finishing a sentence. That's just his way sometimes and we've all dealt with it in each of our own ways. Today, though, I called him on it, demanding that he has something to say, to come out and say it to my face like a man. I actually stood up for myself, and it felt good. Normally if someone or something bothers me I just pretend it doesn't; not a very efficient coping strategy, I know. I felt the strength to fight my own little good fight today because I knew that I didn't have to take his attitude.

Next week, my class is going on a trip to a new resort that just opened in September. It's called Honey Creek Resorts, outside of Centerville, and it sounds like a really nice place. The food-and-beverage director and head chef came to our campus to talk to us about it, and in the end inviting us all over for a tour of the facilities! I can't wait to see it, it sounds like they've already captured major attention. They seemed like decent people to work for, too, they know how to take care of their employees.

I know that in the restaurant industry, most places can't afford to pay much, but that doesn't really matter to me as much as knowing that I'm noticed and appreciated for the work I put in. You would be amazed the wonder a sincere "thank-you" does when crew morale is low. For the boss to take five seconds to say "You're doing a fine job" can mean a lot. Places I've worked have had ways of showing appreciation, whether it was buying us lunch, or letting us pick the music we play while working. Ah, memories!