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2 Breads-One to make now!

January 18, 2015
Popovers are easy, impressive and  delicious. I predict  a mini-popover trend! #mykitchen

Popovers are easy, impressive and eggy- so very delicious. I predict a mini-popover trend! #mykitchen

4 hour baguette bread. Looks amazing! Tastes young, bready, not great. Maybe half beer half water would help?

4 hour baguette bread. Looks amazing! Tastes young, bready, not great. Maybe half beer half water would help? Sad. These were so easy I hope to tweak it and make them better soon. BUT but for now.

The winner of this “bread off”  is: (click play)

Steamy Dreamy Dashi

January 8, 2015



First try in kitchen window.

It’s the easiest cooking liquid ever. It’s tasty and briny-earthy. It’s not pretty but considering the process it’s one of those miracles that make me love cooking. Lush and simple. It’s liquid umani- not vegetarian, but not too intense. Dried skipper-jack shavings (bonito) and seaweed (kombu) broth. It’s a new flavor profile around here so it must be eased into the menu. With so many health benefits and the easy peasy intensity adjustments (just add water) it’s worth a close look. There are vegetarian versions with seaweed and dried mushroom broth. Easy. Believe me, it’s on the list!

Yesterday, it was cold outside and the broth made it warm and soupy inside. The steamy kitchen intensified the unfamiliar smell of the ocean in the house. The process went over quite well with the canine crew. They apparently already knew about bonito! I am fascinated with these ingredients, so curious to taste them!

Here’s what you do: Wipe the dry seaweed gently with a damp cloth. Bring some filtered water in a stock pot and soak the seaweed for a few hours at room temperature. Remove scum from the surface as it forms. After a while, bring the water and sea veg to a boil. Immediately remove from the heat and remove kombu. Reserve seaweed. Skim any scum. It tastes like it sounds.

soak some seaweed.

soak some seaweed. remove those bubbles with a spoon or a paper towel.

Bring the skimmed seaweed broth up to a simmer and add the bonito flakes. Stir to incorporate them. When the bonito comes to a boil reduce to a simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow fish to steep for 15 minutes. Remove any scum that forms on the surface. Pour broth thru a fine sieve lined with cheese cloth. Don’t squeeze the bonito. Tie the cheese cloth into a bundle. Use your bundle to make a second batch with the cheese cloth “tea bag” of bonito and the same seaweed from the first soak. The second soak is delicate and light. I can’t imagine a better go-to broth than this. It comes together quickly and is much more than the sum of its parts. Keep it in the fridge a few days. Freeze your leftovers. One day you might need magic in a hurry!
I am trying to think what I can’t do with it!!

Bonito flakes. You’re going to need more than you think.

Bonito flakes. You’re going to need more than you think.


Dogs haz bonito too please?


skimming and straining are easy tasks that make the magic


Second soak on the left- first soak on the right.


First, Make dashi.

January 5, 2015



UPDATE: Everybody Knows

November 11, 2014

It’s as if he’s here:

Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody have got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died
Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody want a box of chocolates
And a long stem rose, everybody knows.   -L.Cohen


A Fine Kettle of Fish! (bones)

August 17, 2014


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.

bechamel sauce

Béchamel sauce

Cauliflower Gratin


Product Knowledge day




Rhubarb Faces!

abi beet

Abigail’s first beet!




Hydroponic Lettuces


Basil for days!


Robert Irvine levitates!


Chef Sartory in his garden


Tabouli shadows


Sartory Selfie #2




Rainbows and Unicorns

June 8, 2014

It’s (not) all rainbows and unicorns at the CIA- even if the sign says so!

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.

Here are a few photographs from the last few weeks:

A lovely day on campus

A lovely day on campus


Lentil soup with fresh made croutons.

potato and leek soup

potato and leek soup

knife skills before

knife skills before

knife skills after

knife skills after

The Raft!

The Raft!

Chef Jerry Reed the kitchens manager. One of the nicest people there!

Chef Jerry Reed the kitchens manager. One of the nicest people here!

An amazing "family meal"

An amazing “family meal”

it was Japanese cuisine day for the family meal. (I dont eat sushi so I had a GREEN plate!)

it was Japanese cuisine day for the family meal. (I don’t eat sushi so I had a GREEN plate!)


a totally unrelated pic of Lilybelle in her new palazzo pants. ❤

Darla Cooks- At the CIA!

May 13, 2014



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!

This is Chef Sartory talking about the Century Egg. smelly! (I declined a sample!)

This is Chef Sartory talking about the Century Egg. By his face you can see how it smells! (I declined a sample!)

Spanish food for lunch. (yes, the lunches are amazing!)

Spanish food for lunch. (yes, the lunches are amazing!)

More lunch!

More lunch!

We had a fire drill on the same day we had a yarn bombing! IRONY!

We had a fire drill on the same day we had a yarn bombing! IRONY!

Chef Sartory and undoubtedly his first "selfie" ;-)

Chef Sartory and undoubtedly his first “selfie” 😉

Some of my awesome classmates!

Some of my awesome classmates!


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