Friday, August 27, 2010

The Joys of Cooking Class

Whew! It has been an exhausting  yet fun adventure in class the last couple of weeks. I stopped cutting myself so much and started burning myself a lot. Hopefully eventually I won't even notice these things because my skin will just toughen  up.

We went through a serious heat wave this week which brought our class room/kitchen up to almost 100 degrees while we were cooking. I had to wash my face every time I washed my hands to keep from dripping sweat into my soup. I turned as red as a turnip and felt like I must be going through menopause.

I also got in at least 3 fights with my classmates over random, stupid stuff. I'm sure the heat and activity in the kitchen raised our stress levels quite a bit. But after a few days it has seemed to calm down and we're on a smooth road to heaven.

Seriously, twice this week I have enjoyed an incredibly rich afternoon snack of a freshly made shrimp bisque. Three times I've had a delicious clam chowder and two other times I had a freshly baked French onion soup. On the count of three, let's all say, "YUM!"

Before we got into soups we were doing a bunch of sauces. The first day I became completely nauseous from all the butter I ingested through having to taste my sauces. They were absolutely delicious but the combination, without food, was pretty deadly. One day I made a Bearnaise sauce, which is a rich small sauce made from Hollandaise; a mornay sauce that had parmegiano reggiano, Gruyere (like Swiss) cheese and lots of cream and butter; AND a beurre blanc which is basicually pure white butter in reduced white wine and shallots. I made all three in the same day two days in a row. Although it was a bit tough in class, I have to admit, bringing this stuff home and pouring it over white fish, asparagus and rice was awesome!

In my attempt to broaden my culinary experiences, when I eat out (which isn't often lately, on my student budget) I have been trying to choose new and exciting things that I think would be fun to eat as well as write about. I have begun to see that sharing these experiences with others in a visual fashion is extremely difficult. The phenomena that occurs when the food arrives to the table has almost hypnotic qualities and, not matter how hard I try to remind myself or get others to remind me, I ALWAYS forget to take pictures until after I've eaten half the dish.

The same phenomena occurs in my cooking class. I get finished making something, and am so excited after having my chef instructor grade it, I simply dig into it and then store the leftovers away for my mom. She's taken to texting me several times mid-class to remind me to take pics and send them to her. Sigh.

Anyway.... today ends the adventure of soups and sauces. I got a 56 out of 60 grade on the soups I did today: Clam Chowder (below), French Onion Soup (below) and a beef/veal Consomme.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Butternut Squash

Butternut squash, sometimes referred to as butternut pumpkin, is a type of winter squash that has a sweet flavor and texture similar to that of a pumpkin. It has a long, cylindrical, bell-like shape with a thick outer shell that ranges from yellow to caramel-tan. It can grow up to 8-12 inches long and 3-5 inches at its widest point. The outer-shell is hard and there is a stem growing out of the top. The inside is orange and fleshy and similar to that of a pumpkin, with seeds in the middle. It grows on the vine and the more it is ripened the deeper the orange color and the stronger and sometimes sweeter the flavor.

The most popular version of butternut squash used in the United States today, originates from Stow, Massachusetts on a farm that is now known as the Butternut Farm Golf Club. It was created by a man named Charles A. Leggett in the mid 1940’s. There were 2 common squashes in use at that time – the gooseneck squash, which was difficult to transport due to being long and gangly, and the Hubbard squash which was quite large. Leggett wanted a simple squash that was smaller and easier to transport for sales. He tried out several different strains of squash until he got one he liked and then he developed the first official acre crops of butternut squash in the US.

Leggett’s squash was highly praised for its smooth buttery skin and its nutty flavor and that is how it was eventually dubbed butternut squash.

According to several sources, including Wikipedia, the origin of that general family of squash originates around Mexico, and its cousin, the pumpkin, is from South America. Use of similar squashes apparently date back to around 3000 BC, when they were used by Indian tribes throughout Central and South America.

Butternut squash can be prepared in many different ways including being roasted, puréed, mashed, baked, boiled, simmered, sautéed, and made into pies, casseroles, breads or muffins. It is often served as a dessert, with some sort of syrup, nuts and so on. Similar to the pumpkin, in addition to being a good dessert, it is also a great vegetable side-dish or main dish. I’ve eaten this squash in a curry sauce with tofu, or baked right in its shell with a little seasoning.

One of my favorite recipes using this exotic vegetable is as follows:

Butternut Squash Ravioli

• Cook Time: 10 min

• Yield: 4 appetizer servings


• 9 tablespoons butter

• 3 tablespoons minced shallots

• 1 cup roasted butternut squash puree

• Salt

• Freshly ground white pepper

• 3 tablespoons heavy cream

• 3 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus 2 ounces

• Pinch nutmeg

• 1 recipe pasta dough, rolled out into wide ribbons, about 1/4-inch thick

• 12 fresh sage leaves

• 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley leaves


In a large sauté pan, over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Add shallots and sauté for 1 minute. Add squash puree and cook until the mixture is slightly dry, about 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in cream and continue to cook for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in 3 tablespoons cheese and nutmeg, to taste. Season with salt and pepper. Cool completely.

Cut the pasta ribbons into 3-inch squares. Place 2 teaspoons of the filling in the center of each pasta square. Bring 1 corner of the square to the other, forming a triangle and seal the pasta completely. Add the pasta to a pot of boiling salted water. Cook until al dente, about 2 to 3 minutes or until the pasta floats and is pale in color.

Remove the pasta from the water and drain well. Season the pasta with salt and pepper.

In a large sauté pan, melt the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter. Add the sage to the butter and continue to cook until the butter starts to brown. Remove from the heat.

Place some of the pasta in the center of each serving plate. Spoon the butter sauce over the pasta. Sprinkle the 2 ounces of cheese over each plate and garnish with parsley.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Culinary School Update

I'm just starting my 3rd 6-week term. So far I've completed Cooking Foundations 1, Food Safety and Sanitation, College Success, Hospitality Math, Food Science and Computer Software classes with straight A's and a 4.0 gpa. Hallelujah!

Today was my second day of Foundations 2, 4 hours straight of cooking, and it is pretty awesome. We're starting to get into the meat of things. In the past two days I have personally made my own fish stock, chicken stock, browned veal bones and browned mirepoix, and reviewed all my basic cuts. I feel like I'm on the way to really becoming a skilled culinarist. :)~

I also just landed a work study job in the Student Services area and I'm super excited about it. But it means I'll be at school from 9-5+. Yee ha!

If you're just browsing here, definitely take a look at my pizza competition post. I really need some ideas because our submissions will be needed shortly. I have compiled a list of general pizza likes and dislikes and I'm considering surveying it out.... but I need more ideas.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Weekend Dieting Blues

By Saturday I had lost a whopping 6 pounds from when I first started dieting and weighing myself, 2 weeks ago. That's pretty cool.

By Sunday I had lost a little bit of my edge. Feeling a little lonely and somewhat down on myself, I spend the day hanging with my moms, relaxing and having fun. We spend the afternoon outside of the grocery store, buying scratchers, winning a few dollars here and there, collecting the money and buying more scratchers. I don't know how much we spent but I think just a few dollars kept us going for a couple hours. We finally had to stop and relocate to a different store because the scratcher machine got jammed.

Before relocating, we stopped at Noah's Bagels to have lunch. We had chicken wraps on whole wheat tortillas which seemed like a really good idea until moms looked them up on the WW points counter and found out they were worth 12 points each. Well, I also found out that the Caesar dressing on my wrap was a trigger for sweet cravings and I just could not avoid pickup a batch of sweet cream cheese bagel poppers. Despite the name, I don't think there is much cream cheese involved. It was basically plain bagel holes drenched in white butter cream frosting. Can you say yum?!

After devouring my bagel poppers with the assistance of mother dearest, she decides that she didn't have enough and orders a batch of cinnamon and sugar bagel poppers. No explanation needed there. Those were gone in less than 15 minutes.

We relocated to our local convenience market for further scratching joy. And as I'm inside the store for the 3rd time trading in a winning ticket for a couple more scratchers, my mom decides she's going to check out the ice cream/frozen  yogurt shop that just opened next door.

4 scoops and 2 cookies later, we retire to our car, stuffed, satisfied and yet defeated.... I checked the scale and I was down a pound from yesterday. Can't wait for my Sunday disaster to catch up with me.

But the great thing about Monday, among a lack of great things about Monday, is that we can start all over again. Yay!

Does anyone else have experiences like this to share?

Thursday, August 12, 2010


According to Garfield, a diet is just DIE with a T.

I often find myself feeling a little too chubby for comfort. I've tried the whole, "I'm big and I'm beautiful and I love myself!" approach, but the truth is, I'd really much rather be without the extra fat. Not that I'm going for a size 0. But at least let's clear up the unnecessary fat folds, right?

There are many products that boast the ability to lose weight rapidly. I've never found these to really work. I've tried Xanadine and other similar diet pills and got massive headaches from the caffeine. I've tried the green tea pills and sometimes it feels like their working, but really they are influenced by diet and exercise anyway so is it just a placebo?

The best diet that ever worked for me was the First Personal Diet, which I think you can find online. The heaviest I ever got was about 209 and I was a size 18. I had heard a lot about this diet and I decided to try it. I had to go to a clinic and get blood tested and then I got my own personal daily "menu" of sorts. I had to weigh and portion every single thing that I ate. There were almost  no simple carbs in the diet. Mostly just protein and vegetables. The bonuses were a serving of fruit, 6 crackers a day, and as much diet soda as I wanted. I spent most of my time drinking the must natural diet sodas I could find and they kept me pretty full. I didn't really do any exercise specifically. And after about 3 months, I got down to a size 10. Sweeeet!

As good as that was, I ended up going on a business trip for several months and the eating-style was no longer conducive to my lifestyle. Sigh.

That was about 2 years ago and I am no a struggling size 12/14, weighing in at 197. I don't pay attention much to the weight because I actually have a high amount of muscle mass, but I definitely don't want to be over 200 and I'd really like to get down to a size 6 or 8.

I read the book Skinny Bitch which actually was a bit of an inspiration to at least eat more healthy. The writers of that book would want you to go completely vegan, and they have some good points, but that's not 100% real to me right now.

Again, I'm looking for something that really fits my lifestyle.

So, as of 2 weeks ago (197 lb and a size 12/14) I decided to go on a basically nutritional, under 2000 calories per day, diet. So far, I basically have cut out extreme junk food, and have limited my processed foods. This means more fresh fruits and vegetables and basic proteins. As far as eating too much, this actually has never been a problem for me. I can pile up my plate but I generally stop eating when I'm no longer hungry, and I usually can't really snack or eat unless I am hungry. So that's pretty much a lifesaver as I know many people struggle with that alone.

So good-bye cookies and cake!

Hello, celery sticks!

After the first week, I started to feel hungry a lot more often. Spending my entire day in class hungry was a bit rough. I started bringing cut up vegetables but it was really hard. Often I would find myself bursting into tears for absolutely no reason. I've managed to balance it out now and I think I've adjusted (knock on wood). I'm sure I was driving everyone crazy....

Today is my last day of math and computer classes. Next week I start a class that is all cooking, 4 hours per day. Yay....could be dieting hell in a French cooking school. :)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Fun for Free (or Very Little Money)

 I've noticed that, unless I motivate myself to get out and do things, I spend a lot of time doing pretty much nothing. When you are a poor, starving, artist, student there isn't a lot to do with no money. But I've been managing to make the most out of it recently. Thought I would share.

If you are in the unfortunate position of not having one of those fancy laptops that can download all the movies from the net, you might want to check out your local library. I have found I can check out up to 10 DVDs at a time. And not just movies. This past weekend I had an awesome trip watching several episodes of Anthony Bordain's "No Reservations," where he travels the world and tries interesting new things. As a student chef, and a terribly picky eater, I find him very inspiring.

Last week I joined a soccer team that I found on Craigslist of all places. Everyone met each other for the first time on Sunday morning, 5 minutes before our first game. Although it was quite exhausting, it was super fun. I forgot how much fun it can be to slide in the dirt and scrape your knees. Chasing around athletic boys in shorts was just a bonus.

My mother took me to a noodle restaurant which was pretty interesting. Despite the fact that the food came unreasonably fast and was pretty unrecognizable, it was a relatively decent experience. I had a noodle bowl with chicken and shrimp on it (sounds pretty normal) and then this weird dessert with bright green jelly noodles, white bean paste, red tapioca balls and coconut milk. Hmmmmm....makes you hungry, doesn't it?

Lastly, I went riding around for a couple of  hours in my friend's bright yellow convertible. Driving outside the city (San Francisco) where it was wet and rainy, into the bright sun was awesome. I never realized what a cloud of doom I live in.

Don't forget to check out the pizza competition contest! I need your ideas and you can win a prize! (See earlier blog.)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Burmese Eating Experience

I promised myself that once I began learning how to be a chef, I would have to open my culinary horizons and try things I may not have been willing to try before. I have always been a somewhat picky eater. And yet, growing up in Los Angeles, I am familiar with many different cultures and their foods.

Living in San Francisco, it is not surprising that many people are familiar with Chinese, Thai, Indian and Italian foods. There are many cultures here. Despite that fact, there are a few obscure types of food, particularly Asian, that I haven't personally become familiar with.

One of my very best friends, "Fred," is from Burma (now known as Myanmar - just don't tell the Burmese they are now called Myanmarese). I had the great honor of being treated by him to a fascinating array of Burmese treats. I speak highly of it now, but I have to admit that the experience itself did not appeal to my American side.

The first time I ate out with Fred, it was after 1am on Saturday night. Instead of the typical 24-hour Mel's Diner visit, we ended up at an Asian hot spot where it appeared that most of my village's Chinese population had gathered for a culinary feast. Although, not on the menu during the day, at this time they had all sorts of fascinating items such as chicken's feet and tripe.

To Fred's surprise, I ordered a grilled cheese sandwich. "Really,?!" he exclaimed. "A sandwich with just bread and cheese?!!"

I assured him that this was a common American treat, but he didn't believe that anyone could enjoy such a thing. While I had been mildly shocked at the idea that someone would eat duck hearts like they were candy, I had never really thought what a grilled cheese sandwich could seem like to someone who wasn't American.

Anyway, the Burmese restaurant we went to was absolutely darling and my mother adored the decor. Fred ordered for us and the dishes that came were unlike anything I had ever seen. I really wish I had thought to take pictures first, but we were well into eating before I thought of it. I have to admit, there weren't many leftovers.

We started with a cute salad that looked like shredded cabbage and walnuts. I bit into one of the walnuts and found out it was actually a dried bean. That's something I haven't experienced before. Overall, the salad was kind of nice. Fred said it was a common dish that his mother would make when he was back home.

The dishes that followed included a fish curry that was delicious and spicy, and something with various body parts of a pig that I didn't touch but my mother seemed to really like.

My favorite part was the desserts, again like nothing I had ever experienced. There was this fried Burmese sweet thing with coconut and sesame. Yum. And a weird jelly pudding that was to die for. Again, I wish I had thought to take photos before they were devoured. Now I know.

So...if you are interested in a new culinary experience and you live in the bay area, there's a great little restaurant at Mission and John Daly Blvd., in Daly City. Otherwise, try googling it. I'd be curious to find out what parts of the US have Burmese restaurants. Let me know what you try...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Best Pizza Competition!!!

A little birdie has informed me that the school will soon be having a pizza scholarship competition. If this is anything like the picnic competition (see earlier blog post), we will first be required to submit a recipe for our pizza and the best recipes will be chosen as finalists.

I have some ideas that I will not be giving away just I do not want anyone to steal them. But I could use some more.

What is your favorite pizza toppings, crust-style, recipe for pizza, etc. If you can give me an idea that I use and win with...I will award you a super duper prize!!!