The title of this post is somewhat deceptive, as my first semester winds down at the Culinary Institute of America I’m really having a great time. As I mentioned in my previous post there are some challenges, but I’m happy to report that in spite of my lifelong fear of “all things math”, classes are going quite well! As of today I’m sitting on a solid B in Culinary Math with high hopes of turning that into a real life A!! (after the final exam is graded) Of course there are lots of numbers and tons of studying to do for the final, but between my “team of tutors” and my collection of lucky pencils things look pretty rosy on the old culinary math horizon.
We have learned quite a bit in the kitchen since the last time I’ve posted. We continue to practice the classic sauces and “small sauces.” One that I have found the most fun to work with and of course the most challenging is hollandaise. While I don’t like the flavor by itself it does transform food into amazing delicious creations. Ohhh! And taking Béchamel into Mornay might be my favorite. There’s something about cheese…
There was also pasta day. I’ve made fresh pasta at home a few times but making it “the CIA way” always takes things to a better, more refined level. I adore learning the details- the small and sometimes large pieces I’m missing. I am (almost) always pleased with the results. The pasta was delicious! We ate a little at school, and I took the remainder home for dinner. YUMMMMM! It’s not all cooking in the kitchen-there are days when we spend a few hours on “product knowledge.” In the first semester this is learning all about produce; how to select it and what it ‘s uses are. Chef Sartory gathers us all around a huge farm table and we taste as he talks about each product and their varieties. It’s interesting to see how different students who have not seen or tasted some of the produce get excited (sometimes not so excited) to try what’s new to them, rhubarb (raw) offered a few particularly hilarious moments!
There were a couple of breaks from all of the studying and books, we took field trips! One of the most beautiful places that we visited was Bluebonnet Hydroponic Farms. We met with the owner David Anderson, “the gentleman farmer” and he took us on a tour of all of their greenhouses. If you’ve ever bought fresh live basil in the South it was probably from Bluebonnet Farms. They have an amazing operation growing basil, lettuce, micro greens. You can see in the photographs I shot there how incredible it is. I’ve never seen so much basil in one place! And you can’t even imagine the fragrance!
We also went to Sysco food services of Central Texas. Sysco is the distributing company for food and dry goods used by many commercial kitchens. It’s a massive operation. The New Braunfels, Texas location is the largest distribution center in the corporation. It was quite interesting; there were robots in HUGE warehouses, a couple of test kitchens, and I got to meet Robert Irvine of the food network! He’s much taller than I expected! ;-) We also visited Chef Sartory’s personal garden. It was wonderful to see how so much food can be grown in a small space and yield enough to feed several families. Urban gardening truly is the future of “eating local.”
I continue to practice my knife skills and a found the perfect at-home dish for doing so, TABOULI! I love the stuff and it’s all about the chopping. If prepared correctly it’s essentially a parsley salad with a little bit of wheat bulgur. I love the fragrant “green-ness” of the prep work. I usually sneak several bites as it all comes together. (no surprise there!) It’s delicious.
The last couple of weeks remaining are all about finishing up projects and reviewing for finals. It’s a little stressful, but I think our class will do quite well. The majority of my fellow students take the days quite seriously and we are all ready to see how this first semester ends. It’s been challenging and fun and often times filled with laughter. Mostly, it’s been an amazing experience. I anticipate next semester will be just as thrilling.
Hello dear readers! Things are really busy around here, there certainly is plenty to blog about, but I’ve found in my new adventure in culinary arts school brings me more ideas than time. My enthusiastic proclamation last month that I would “see you next week” might have been a little optimistic. I will get here as often as I can and share with you what’s going on, at least once a month, maybe more often if only to share a photograph or two.
The first month has been quite intense. Culinary math is my biggest challenge, as well as knife skills. I think there’s something in my brain that does not like EXACT precision. I don’t mean precision within a recipe but I mean linear precision. Such as math and such as cutting multiple onions or potatoes into exactly the same size shape specified. I find this extremely difficult. There are a couple of reasons why. I’m sure part of it has to do with my hands and wrist injuries. I don’t think I am able to hold the knife exactly as I need to. The other piece is just simply my personality. I am a free flowing take it as you go kind of gal. And precise knife cuts are not free-flowing. They are expected to be exact. Of course I know I’ll get better with practice and I do practice. (Thank goodness for the knife skills tutoring that is available once a week in the library.) I have a couple of more weeks before the midterm so hopefully I will get better. So far my cuts have been graded as a “B” but that’s not good enough for me- I want them to be graded as perfect.
Culinary math understanding has come a little faster due to receiving tutoring three times a week. One of my my math tutors is a very nice guy who is probably almost young enough to be my grandson (!) But he is kind and smart and extremely helpful. I call him “the math ninja” because his teaching sneaks up on me later when I least expect it and need it the most. It is such a relief to have someone helping because trust me friends, word problems are just as challenging even when they’re about food and subjects you love!
Of course we are cooking. We started off with broths and stocks, they are different you know. I didn’t really know the difference, I just thought that they were one product called two different things. Stocks are made with bones and broths are deeper flavored because of the addition of meat to the cooking process. I’ve been making chicken broth for a couple of years now at home and freezing it. I love using it in all of my recipes instead of buying commercial broth. I know now that I got a nice result doing it “my way” at home, but my method of putting everything in at the same time and letting it simmer all day is simply unnecessary. Good broth can be made in just a few hours, putting aromatics and the mirepoix in pot the last hour or so of cooking time is the way to go. We’ve learned how to clarify stock or broth (Also known as consommé) by using a raft- not the kind that you get at the sporting goods store but the kind that is made from raw ground meat and raw eggs. It’s an amazing process to watch as you put a big gloppy mess into the cloudy broth and then shortly while simmering the raft (the raw meat and eggs) begins to form and float on top – underneath is an incredibly clear beautiful consommé.We have also started making thickened soups such as potato leek, lentil, and now cream soups and volute.
Each day builds on the one before it and each week the time that we are given to complete our knife skills tray is shortened and intensified. The chef’s and instructor’s expectations of us grow with each day. I find that my own expectations for myself also grow each day. This truly is an opportunity of a lifetime for me. While living in a new city without my husband and creating a lifestyle that works for my education is a challenge I find every day to be rewarding. I wake up excited to see what’s in store, and I go to bed each night pleased with the person that I am becoming.
This is it friends! This is the post that reveals the most amazing adventure but I have embarked upon. Darla Cooks has gone to an entirely new level –I am now “Darla Magee culinary student” at the Culinary Institute of America. The Culinary Institute of America is known worldwide as the finest cooking school there is. With campuses in New York, Napa Valley, Singapore and San Antonio. I made my application to the CIA over a year and a half ago, and was accepted at that time. However, I had some yoga injuries that I needed to clean up. I spent that time having shoulder surgery and surgery on both wrists. Once I recovered and rehabbed (hopefully) the hunt for a place to live began. I was fortunate enough to find a very cute little three-bedroom house that is close to campus for myself and the dogs. My darling husband is of course still in Houston working very hard to make this happen. And friends, this is happening!
What’s it like? Week one I would say was quite easy. The hardest thing was learning how to wake up early enough. My day begins at the school at 7 AM, of course I’m up two hours earlier managing the dogs making breakfast and waking up. Once I’m there all about learning. We start the days off in the classroom most days learning about food, food safety, culinary math, gastronomy and theory. Thursdays and Fridays we spend all day in the kitchen learning how to cook, learning how to cut and how to clean. The curriculum is intense. The chef teachers are intense. And their expectations are very high for work in the classroom as well as work in the kitchen. In a nutshell – this is a very serious school. We spent most of the first week learning where things are and learning who everyone is. We also received our uniforms which are the typical white chef’s jacket with our name on it (no beautiful CIA logo yet, you only get to wear that once you graduate) checkered chef pants and a toque. There are neckerchiefs that we have to wear as well side towels and aprons to complete the look. We also received a very nice knife and hand tools kit! (sharp!)
Just to set the tone immediately, were given special projects to do (three), that to be presented in front of the class within a group. This is in addition to the regular coursework. The regular course work is very intense. Homework is assigned every night in each subject. (As well as ironing your uniform. There are no slouches here!!) As these posts continue throughout the next two years I hope to update you each week with what’s happening or share a funny story. I don’t really have a funny story this week; I did get a very clear message from our culinary fundamentals chef albeit nonverbal that he was less than pleased with the condition of my cutting board. When he came over to inspect the first days vegetable prep for mirepoix he didn’t say anything really, but he did grunt once and sighed heavily twice while he was picking the parsley from the onions and the onions from the potatoes while organizing the board the way he wanted it. Needless to say, day two’s cutting board was much cleaner and more organized. Not only that my cuts improved greatly. This week we made stocks and broths (they are not the same!) and learned the techniques and ratios appropriate for them. My days of making “a little of this and a little of that” chicken stock are over. At the CIA we learn there is a right way to do everything, and we are to strive to do so- each and every time! What a wonderful discipline!
With that said, I’ve got to get on the homework but here are some photographs from week one. See you next week!
Man oh man! It’s been a while since I’ve been here, even longer since I shared a recipe with y’all. There’s a lot going on in Darla-Land right now. (AKA Dar La-La land) I cannot even begin to tell you about it- so I won’t. I’ll tell you later, in another post when everything seems more real to me. For now, I want to talk about dogs. Of course! Of course, I want to talk about dogs because dogs are what I’ve been doing. I know I said I wasn’t going talk about what’s going on and I’m not, but I will tell you all four of them are a big part of it.
With that said, this needs to be said, “dogs need stuff to do when we are gone.”
Three of my guys are just under one year old- trust me…
What do experienced dog owners say? “Get a Kong! Get a Kong!” I think most dog owners are familiar with the big hollow red rubber toy known as KONG. For every dog I’ve ever wanted to make happy I have bought a Kong. I’ve always heard how great they were and how much dogs loved them. The idea is to fill it full of nice things that the dog will like and it will keep the dog entertained and out of trouble for hours. Indeed, if I smeared peanut butter on it and put some treats in it– it would keep my dog occupied for as long as it took them to eat the treats and lick the peanut butter. The longest it ever took? 10 minutes. And that’s an exaggeration! So the Kong became another toy that rolled under the couch no one bothered to retrieve because after 10 minutes it was a “tasteless rubber thing.” Great. $10. Wasted.
(cue the angel chorus)
And then a miracle happened. (Have you noticed that the theme in many of my blog posts are about miraculous food revelations?) While surfing the Interwebs I came across a discussion regarding this exact KONG issue. Someone mentioned if you freeze the big rubber plug with the good stuff in it it will last much longer.
Fill and FREEZE?
OH! OF-FRIGGIN-COURSE! GENIUS!
Friends, if you love a dog and you own a Kong go get it out from underneath the couch and throw it in the top rack of the dishwasher. While it’s washing make these:
2 large bananas
1/2 cup non-fat plain yogurt Greek or regular
1/4 cup sunflower seed butter (or any other nut butter your dog prefers
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of cinnamon
1 small apple, or berries or other dog approved fruits
frozen carrots or your dog’s favorite vegetables
your choice of dog treats (the number and size of which will depend on the size of your Kong toy)
Mash one of the bananas and put it into a medium-size bowl. Add the yogurt, sunflower seed butter, the vanilla extract and cinnamon. Mix this with a fork or whisk until it’s smooth. You might need to add a little warm water to bring it to the consistency of a thick milkshake. Set aside.
Slice the remaining banana. Wash the apple and chop it into appropriate size pieces for your Kong treat.
**Notice here that your big rubber Kong has a large hole in one end and a small hole in the other end. We need to plug the small hole so your wonderful banana mixture doesn’t run out.***
Take a piece of apple and smash it into the small hole from the outside. You’re actually creating a plug inside the Kong. Once you’ve smashed some of the apple into the small hole and plugged the hole (look and make certain it is plugged) toss that left over smashed piece of apple into the big hole of your Kong.
Add some banana slices, more apple pieces some berries or some sliced frozen carrots- whatever fruit and veggies your dogs like. I like to break up a few of the hypoallergenic dog treat from the vet and stick them in there. Sometimes I put some kibble inside, you could also use dry cereal if your dog is not allergic. If you feed raw you could use pieces of raw meat or your fancy frozen raw food. I think you get the idea, whatever your dog likes as treats stuff them in there! You don’t want to pack them too tight because the next step is very important.
Once you have your Kong toy stuffed with goodies you need to spoon the banana-yogurt- nut butter mixture inside. To do this successfully you need to stand it on its end with the small side down. (Please remember to plug the toy before you began to fill it with the liquid.) I stress this point because I know someone who happened upon this very important point in the R&D department for this very blog) If you’re making only one Kong you can stand it inside of a glass or coffee cup to fill and freeze. I’m usually making several at once so I have a few days worth to hand out so I stand mine a few at a time in a loaf pan or a shallow bowl. It is important to make sure that the toy does not fall over.
Use a spoon and fill the Kong with the delicious banana liquid mixture.
Here’s the key, stick it in the freezer. Yep. That’s it! Freeze that thing! I freeze mine overnight but probably three or four hours would be plenty. Once it’s frozen it lasts forever. Your dog will lick this and stick his tongue in there to get out the frozen deliciousness for a very long time. You will be happy because you can do things like shop, or bathe or read! It is a glorious quiet miracle waiting in the freezer!
More than likely you’re going to have leftover banana mixture as well as leftover chopped up fruit. PERFECT! Use the leftovers to make a few frozen tart treats. I have a heart-shaped silicone baking pan that I picked up at Target last year for a dollar at Valentine’s Day. I used this silicone tray to make my little frozen tart dog treats and it worked perfectly. Here’s what I did:
Tarts of Ice
Place the chopped up apples, berries, carrots, kibble, sliced bananas or peaches and dog treats you had left over in a silicone cupcake mold, a muffin tin or a regular ice-cube tray. The more items you use the less liquid you will need. Also keep in mind if you use too many extras your tarts won’t hold up to chewing as long. It’s the ice – the liquid – that soaks into the fruit as well as the kibble and then freezes that makes these treats long-lasting.
Add enough warm water to the banana yogurt sunflower seed butter mixture you have left over in the bowl to fill as many ice-cube molds as you intend to use. You can always add a little bit more yogurt or sunflower seed butter or water if you need to. You’re going to do this simply by sight not by measurement. Mine is usually pretty dilute. Your dog is going to love this.
Pour the liquid over the fruits leaving a quarter-inch space at the top of the mould. Place these in the freezer until frozen solid. Once they’re frozen pop them out of the mould by running warm water along the bottom if necessary and store them in a Ziploc bag in your freezer. I find these smaller treats fun for any time OUTSIDE or on an easily cleaned surface such as my kitchen floor. I only give my guys the big Queen Kong toy treats if I’m crating them or if I need them occupied for a couple of hours while I’m working at home.
Have fun making these beautiful delicious treats and Kongs for your babies AND feel better about having a little alone time.
As I’ve mentioned before, I cook a lot of chicken for dinner. My friend Lana teases me about it constantly, she says every time she calls I’m cooking chicken. That’s probably true. Sometimes I like to mix it up and do a little spatchcocked chicken in the oven. Spatchcocking is just as easy as it is fun to say it. Spatchcock! Spatchcock! Spatchcock! tee hee! All this is an easy way to roast chicken that helps it to cook faster. Basically you just take your poultry shears and cut the backbone out of a whole chicken. Once the backbone is out push down on the chicken to break the breastbone. Because more of the surface of the chicken is in contact with the hot pan it allows the chicken to cook more evenly and quicker.
And then there’s this: I went to my local neighborhood butcher for this chicken. It was labeled “smart chicken”, I didn’t ask what that meant because I didn’t see it on the label until I got home. When I chose it, it was not weighed and labeled. Does anyone out there have a clue what a smart chicken is? My first thought is that this chicken is not too smart, he sitting in my kitchen!
Spatchcocked- Somewhat- Smart- Roast Chicken
Preheat the oven to 425°
Take a whole chicken- using your poultry shears cut on each side of the spine and remove the backbone.
Press down on the breastbone to flatten the chicken.
Brush the chicken with ghee or oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and the spices of your choice. For this recipe I used fines herbs. (Finely chopped herbs, specifically parsley, chives, tarragon, and thyme, mixed together. I also peeled a couple of large potatoes and cut them into several spears, brushing them with ghee, treating them the same way with the spices).
Place the chicken in an appropriately sized braising pan and arrange the potatoes around- it put the lid on and cook at 425° for 45 minutes or so.
Carefully remove the lid and place the chicken back in the oven for another 30 minutes or more/ less depending on how big the chicken is.
Use your thermometer to bring the chicken to the proper temperature, check both of the thigh and the breast. If the chicken is cooking faster than it is browning- increase the heat of the oven to broil and allow the chicken to sit underneath the broiler for a couple of minutes to crisp the skin. (Keep an eye on it! You can overcook here very quickly) YUMMM! Easy chicken.
This is the barbecue of my childhood. I don’t recall the first time I ever had grilled meat. I must have been in my teens. We didn’t grill. Maybe when we went camping once, but we weren’t campers either. But I digress, THIS is pure home-cooking barbecue. Those are country-style pork ribs (barbecued) and mashed taters with the skins on. (That’s right I said tater. You might know them as potatoes, but I’ve eaten just as many taters as I have potatoes… the taters are always good, I’ve had potatoes that were not.)
There’s not really a recipe, I want you to do this just like you remember Mama doing back in Tennessee.
Get out the biggest rimmed baking sheet that you have and line it with foil. Put the ribs on the pan, salt them, pepper them, sprinkle them with garlic powder, onion powder, and black pepper. Chop an onion and put it on top of the ribs. Cover this tightly with foil and put it in a 350° oven. After 30 minutes turn it down to 325°. In about an hour take off the foil and flip the ribs. Put them back in the oven uncovered at 350°. Check on them every 15 minutes or so to make sure the pan hasn’t gone dry. If it does, add a little hot water into the pan. Only an eighth of a cup or so. After another 30 minutes or so top them with the barbecue sauce of your choice and put them back in the oven at 400 until they’re syrupy and the sauce is sticky.
The mashed potatoes are just as easy of course. Take about eight small white or yellow potatoes and quarter them. Put them in enough water to cover, add a teaspoon of salt and boil. After you can easily stick a fork through them, drain the potatoes, add a half a stick of butter and mash them by hand with a potato masher. Add about a quarter cup of heavy cream and mash them a little bit more. Salt and black pepper to taste. We’re pretty fancy in my house these days so we had raw sugar snap peas by the bowlful while we were waiting for this to cook. Mama would’ve made green beans, or if it was Sunday fried okra, or fried green tomatoes. BUT This is an easy meal for any night of the week and tastes great tomorrow too! Enjoy!