Friday, September 24, 2010

Welcome Fall!

I've been at Biaggi's for close to two months now and think I'm doing all right. They've cross-trained me on sauces already in addition to being their evening pantry cook. I hope to learn all of the stations before too long, even if it's just well enough to pitch in during a rush. I'm making friends among the cooks and servers (tolerating the rest) and Davenport is starting to feel like home.

About three weeks ago I got a new cookbook especially written for small-scale cakes, which I've had a lot of fun using lately. It was perfect to get so soon after moving because somehow in the moving process nearly all of my cake pans had gone missing, and all I had was my 8" square pan which I hardly ever used. The day it arrived was my mom's birthday so I got to initiate it by making her birthday cake from one of the recipes. It's been a real treat to have because living alone I don't have a lot of help killing off cakes and I like to bake a lot this time of year (I just don't like being up to my elbows in increasingly stale leftover cake!) I hadn't done much cake baking from scratch, so this has really gotten me going on it. I've even made my own icing!

Today I adapted a recipe for genoise to incorporate pumpkin to celebrate the first day of fall. I substituted the pumpkin for the butter in the recipe. I just unmolded it, so once I have it iced and ready to serve we'll see how that turned out! I plan to fill it with apricot jam and cut it into petit fours. I'm a sucker for those, they're so cute! My new book even has a recipe for poured fondant icing, so I'm up to giving it a try.

I used the rest of the pumpkin to make a few loaves of pumpkin bread, I love pumpkin bread, for me it marks the beginning of the season. It fills the apartment with such wonderful smells and it's put me in such a good mood today. I'm seeing Ethan and his family today so I'll bring at least one of the loaves down with me. A good time should be had by all.

Friday, July 30, 2010

New job!

I just had my last night at Champps, and I'm happy to say that I ended on a good note. Tomorrow I'm moving to Davenport to start work at Biaggi's, a rather prominent Italian restaurant. I'm just amazed at how fast everything's changed. I'm glad to be done at Champps, I didn't really feel like I was going anywhere with them, and the chef at Biaggi's made it sound like he wants to cross-train me on multiple stations. I'd love that, to be able to jump in wherever I'm needed.

My parents moved to Dubuque in May, and since then I've been giving my mom a few cooking lessons. I've taught her to make crepes and omelettes, chicken stock, and some basic cuts. Hopefully, we'll be able to continue with these even after I've moved. It's not too far away, so I'm sure we'll still be able to get together and cook.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Back at it

I can hardly believe it's been this long since my last entry. I went through kind of a dry spell, inspiration-wise, and haven't really felt up to writing for a while. Hopefully that's over and I'll be on more regularly.

For several weeks, one of my fellow station workers was out sick, so I'd had to put in a lot of double and night shifts to cover for him. That could be one of the reasons I hadn't written much during those months. Now summer is creeping ever closer, and our weekends are packed and busy again, we've been doing more weddings as well. I survived the major springtime holidays, both the Easter and Mother's Day buffets, both of which saw over 1000 reservations! It was a lot of people to cook for and serve, but with everyone there doing what they were supposed to, we all got through it in one piece. It was great for business but a relief to get it over with.

On a more personal note, in March I was given a free week's trial on a dating site, and through that have begun a relationship with a really nice guy named Ethan. He's my age, we have similar interests, he even gets along with my cat! It's been such a relief and a joy to finally have someone to cook for! The first few dates we had we ate out. Then the first night I had him over to my apartment I prepared a 3 course dinner. I realized then that I'd been dying to show someone what I can do! Appetizers were sweet potato agnolotte with a parmesan cream sauce, brown butter and fried sage leaves. I'd made that a few times in school so I was confident in my pasta making skills, and it's one of my favorites. Main course was marinaded Thai lime beef skewers, served with roasted carrots and onions and black truffled mashed potatoes. He'd told me before that he loves onions, and I thought roasted was definitely the way to go. I even did a little plate presentation, positioning the skewers in a V shape, the potatoes in the middle and topped with the veggies. It was all so moist and flavorful it didn't even need an additional sauce! Dessert was dark chocolate-hazelnut petit fours, served simply with a light snowfall of powdered sugar and a drizzle of chocolate sauce. He seemed to really enjoy each course, remarking "This isn't helping my diet, you know!" It was fun to have someone enjoy my cooking, I've really missed that living by myself. I remember that night there was a pretty severe thunderstorm, and as it got closer to dinner time I was worried that I'd lose power. I finished up all of my dishes a bit earlier than I ordinarily would have, just in case, and put them in the oven on the lowest setting, just to keep everything warm until he got there. Luckily, we didn't have any power outages, but better safe than sorry! That night after dinner we watched the second X-Files movie. We're both fans but I hadn't seen the second one yet, so he bought me the dvd. It was all right, the shippy bits made it worthwhile, and the gag reel was hilarious. Nothing like watching trained professionals sliding around on ice, stumbling through their lines as the set falls apart, and having to stop mid-scene as planes take off in the background.

About a week after that, I invited him over again, this time seeking the advice of a local chef that I'd met at a holiday wine-tasting party. Chef Donna asked me what the plan was, I told her "He's bringing 'Dr Strangelove' and then we're watching 'African Queen'." We'd come to an agreement that we'd trade off in showing each other our favorite movies. She lit up and said "Do something African, something to tie in!" "Like that 'Dinner & A Movie' show!" My older sister's advice had been to scale it back, something a bit less formal than our first dinner date. "Do guy-food, but try to bring it up a bit." I mentioned this suggestion to Chef Donna and she thought that would be good, too. Finger food, something you can eat and watch a movie at the same time. Sliders, maybe." Then I got the idea to whip up some harissa sauce and mix it into the ground beef. I had made harissa a few years ago for a cooking competition (that went hideously wrong, the less said about that the better) so I felt like this would be a good chance to revisit those recipes to redeem myself. I made harissa sliders with deep-fried buttermilk eggplant. It all turned out nicely. Ethan had never had eggplant before, but deep-fried anything is hard to screw up. I'd made 8 sliders, correctly thinking that should be enough for both of us, and it was only then that he told me that he really likes spicy food. Good thing! These sure packed a punch! I'd hand-ground the chilis myself and everything. Dessert was profiteroles, I figured we'd need something cold after all that hot stuff, so cream puffs with ice cream seemed the way to go. It was pretty simple to make, I could do it ahead of time, and it looked like I'd been in the kitchen all day. It was a pleasant surprise that we both liked each other's movies. I think we'd both be willing to watch them together again sometime. "African Queen" in particular is a perfect example of a couch-cuddling movie!

I can't say enough how happy I am to have someone to cook for, and we've seemed to hit it off! We've been seeing each other every week (sometimes more) for about two months now, and he's agreed to be my date at my cousin's wedding next Saturday. Perfect opportunity for him to meet the whole family! I even made it to his place once (he lives about two hours away) and made my "famous" Poulet Francine: braised chicken breasts, stuffed with dried apricots, garlic and herbs, with chocolate cream pie for dessert. One of the first things I found out about him was his list of favorite desserts, and I've put that knowledge to good use! Then he showed off his kitchen prowess by whipping up his mom's recipe for corn and macaroni casserole. Sure, we're not on the same level in our cooking abilities, but he definitely seems eager to learn. It doesn't matter to me that he's not a foodie, I like him the way he is. It's cool to have a willing student though. That night we watched "The Dark Knight" (which I'd mysteriously hadn't seen yet, it was excellent!) and my pick "A Song is Born". Nothing follows up a rather violent movie like a Samuel Goldwyn musical! I knew that Ethan was a fan of big band jazz, and this movie featured a lot of performances by the big names of the day: Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, and Tommy Dorsey just to name a few. It's funny how we have such glaringly different movie collections, we so easily find ones that the other will like! He's coming up for my birthday next week, that day there's a free to the public wine-tasting party going on at the foodie shop close to my place. They host them once every month and I've been to a few of them. They're always a good time so I'm looking forward to it!

At work, I just had a rough couple of days, a few silly mistakes ended up with me getting a lecture in the chef's office along the lines of "what are we going to do with you?" Then, just when I was feeling like maybe I wasn't cut out to be a line cook and starting to consider running away to join the circus, I had an excellent shift yesterday, stayed late, and was farewelled with a sincere "thank you" from the chef :-) All is not lost! Tonight I'm the saute guy's backup; on the weekends it gets pretty insane so they need all the help they can get! It'll be my third time doing that and I think it's one of those things that gets better each time you do it. It'll be busy, but it should go fine.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

2010, off to a good start!

It's not even two weeks into the new year, but things couldn't be more different. I've been getting better hours lately, cruising at a steady 34 per week, and it feels like things are going a lot more smoothly. A few of my less-desireable, time-consuming tasks (and similar ones of other stations) have been delegated to the prep cooks, leaving me free to get more done in the time I'm given. I've worked for Champps for 6 months now, and looking back I can easily say that each month has been different. In the jobs I do, the employees I work with, in the feel of the place. In the last six months, we've seen people come and go, assignments change, feast and famine side by side. And I've stuck with it through it all. At times I'm surprised that I'm still here, with all that's been going on.

Fortunately, I was able to hang on, and now it seems that better days are ahead. We've been busier, I've even put in some double-shifts, and I think the other people on salad station and I have come to an agreement to leave the station in better shape than we have in the past. Sometimes I've come in to find that the station hadn't been restocked or cleaned up very well, so now we're all trying to be more conscientious of people who share our stations. I can understand if things get busy, we run out of stuff, it happens. But it doesn't take long to fill up what you can and leave it in somewhat decent shape. Or find someone who isn't busy and say "Hey, could you help me portion out chicken" or something. We've gotten a better feeling of teamwork, and I think that really shows and helps everything run smoothly. It seems that each day when I get home from work, I feel like things have gone really well, almost like I hadn't worked at all rather that I had enjoyed a nice leisurely day in the kitchen. Even when things got hectic, I can stay cool, accept help that's offered, and work cleanly and efficiently. Since time management was a failing of mine back at school, learning to do several things at once is important. I'm looking back at how I was when I started, and where I am now, and I definitely see improvement.

For the past few days after work, I've been treating myself to making my favorite Thai peanut chicken pizza, having finally bought my first bottle of sriracha sauce (hot stuff, crucial ingredient in the peanut sauce). I haven't made pizza dough since my internship, so it's nice getting back into it. It's pretty inexpensive to make, takes little more time than it takes for the oven to preheat, and is so much better than storebought or delivery. To celebrate my reintroduction to pizza-making joy, I bought my very first pizza stone today at the mall. I'm sure I'll notice a huge difference in crust quality versus my sheet pans I've been using. If anybody's reading this, what are some of your favorite pizza recipes?