October 6, 2011

Healthy Snacks to Keep at Work

For lunch this afternoon I had a delicious soup that I made for dinner last night (I’ll be sharing the recipe later in the week). I really enjoyed it and it left me full, but I am craving something sweet.

I’ve noticed that after both lunch and dinner I absolutely am dying for something a little sour or a piece of chocolate to satisfy my sweet tooth.

I always have a host of snacks at my desk, because we tend to receive a lot of samples here at the magazine but, as I look around, nothing is just right. Here’s a list of my favorite healthy snacks to keep at my desk or in the fridge here at work.

1. Cheese. My favorite is Laughing Cow’s Mini Babybel Light. They keep for such a long time in the fridge and they don’t taste “diet-y” at all.

2. All-Natural Peanut Butter. I don’t really have a favorite brand, but I love the chunky kind. This is also one of the few things I’ll never buy the diet version of–diet peanut butter just tastes so weird to me. I especially like to fill my spoon with half honey (they have little packs of honey here in the office) and half peanut butter.

3. Oatmeal. I’ve only recently gotten into oatmeal, and the Maple and Brown Sugar instant oatmeal from Trader Joe’s is definitely a new favorite.

4. Cereal. I never really loved cereal either. I always thought it didn’t fill me up and wasn’t tasty enough to waste too many calories on. A few weeks ago, I received a box of Kashi’s Cinnamon Harvest cereal through work and it is so good. I finally cracked it open early last week, and I’ve had a bowl almost every day.

5. Tea. When I really don’t want any added calories but I want to have something sweet, I have a cup of tea instead. My recent favorite has to be Yogi Lemon Ginger with a packet of splenda for a little extra sweetness. I also like Tazo’s Passion tea.

6. Hummus. I have always liked Sabra’s hummus, but I decided to try their chipotle flavor one day while walking through the grocery store (I love all things spicy–especially chipotle flavored!), and it is so good. I love to have a spoonful of this as a snack. On days when I’m lucky enough to get some good grape tomatoes from the farmer’s market, I mix the two together.

7. Dark chocolate covered cranberries. I absolutely love the dark chocolate covered cranberries from Trader Joe’s. They are like a much better version of raisinets.

What are your favorite things to snack on at work or throughout the day?

*Note: all of these opinions are my own. I did not receive any samples for review other than the cereal which came to me through work, but I really do love them!*


October 5, 2011

Emulsified Sauces

During last night’s class we focused on emulsified sauces (sauces that don’t bind together unless you bind them with a protein such as egg–kind of like how salad dressing separates unless you add mustard or something).

Just as we were about to get started making our five emulsified sauces (mayonnaise, hollandaise,  bearnaise, buerre blanc, and sabayon) the first alarm went off. Now, you’d think the fire alarm at a culinary school would readily alert you that there is something potentially dangerous going on but, instead, it’s a pathetic little beeping noise. Anyway, we all paraded out of the classroom and down four flights of stairs onto Broadway (arguably one of the busier streets in Manhattan) in our uniforms. It was literally a sea of white. Needless to say, I now know what it feels like to be an animal at the zoo. There were dozens of people stopping and taking our picture–some people even pulled over in their cars to photograph us. It was all very weird really. Luckily, it was just a drill and we were able to return to work only about 5-10 minutes later.

I was nervous about last night’s class, because emulsified sauces can be tricky at first. They are delicate and can break (not bind together) if they get too hot, too cold, ingredients are added to quickly, and more. We made two of the sauces (the mayo and the hollandaise) by ourselves and then we made the other three in teams. I was with my semi-usual partner, Ron, again. I really enjoy working with him, because we seem to work well together, but I also really enjoy his company.





However, today was our first failure together! Our bearnaise sauce was coming together just fine and then, at the very last second, it just broke. Ron said it looked like yellow vomit. He was pretty much spot on. boo hoo. At least Chef was nice about this particular failure. He said that it was a good learning experience and that it seemed like we added too much oil and that we should have just stopped when it looked nice and thick. But, to make matters worse, we then messed up the buerre blanc–even though Chef said that was the easiest of them all and the hardest to mess up. Secretly, I think it would have been fine, but our assistant chef turned up the heat and the butter bubbled a bit. I think it got too hot after she turned it up, but I guess it was my job to monitor and it and turn it down if I thought she had made the heat too high. Oh well. The good news: The class was short on time due to the fire drill, so we somehow got away with not showing this dish to Chef.

The last sauce we made together, the sabayon, actually turned out deliciously. We made the prettiest little arrangement before plating it for chef, and he really liked both the taste and the visual appeal of our dish. It was a great way to end the night. I actually liked the sauce so much that while I was across the room, I spotted Ron going to throw away the sabayon and I literally ran over demanding he save the sauce so we could take it home. It was a weird instinctive reaction, but it was very funny and had us laughing pretty hard.

Sweet Sabayon

Sweet Sabayon

Tomorrow night we have our first test, so I’m going to spend the majority of my night locked in my room studying. It’s on eight chapters and I really just don’t know what to expect!

October 3, 2011

Fall Comfort Food: Sauces and Homemade Macaroni and Cheese

Saturday seems like an eternity ago….

I was really tired going into Saturday’s class from a late night, not to mention my ankle was swollen to about 3x its normal size after a few spills. Needless to say, a Saturday night class seemed daunting.

Saturday was sauce day, so we worked on the 5 French mother sauces (named this because they are the basic sauces from which many other sauces can be derived). I got to work with a guy that has quickly become one of my better friends at school. I was glad that we worked pretty well together too.

We managed most of our sauces with little criticism from Chef, but had a harsh wakeup call when we went to make our white wine sauce. The sauce requires a decent amount of heavy cream, but there was little more than a drop left by the time we gathered our ingredients together. This was our second-to-last recipe of the night, and Chef seemed a bit less patient by this point. He basically said there was nothing he could do about the fact that there was no heavy cream left. Instead of pouring out some of the mixture to make it a bit equal to the amount of cream we had (why didn’t we think of this at the time!!), we just made do with the small amount of cream we had, but it just wasn’t enough and our sauce was far from what it should have been. Oh well! I guess we are still learning, and everything isn’t going to come out perfectly every time.

Bechamel Sauce


Besides my aching foot and the unsuccessful white wine sauce, class was pretty fun and very filling. One of the more advanced levels was hosting a charcuterie buffet—I didn’t love the stuff, but it was great to try a lot of different things made by others in the program. We also made homemade macaroni and cheese with the béchamel (creamy butter and milk sauce basically) AND we had the normal family dinner which consisted of sundried tomato and mozzarella risotto, carrots, pork, and more. Now you see why it’s hard to stay skinny and be a chef!?

Charcuterie Plate

Blurry Charcuterie Plate

Homemade Macaroni and Cheese
Inspired by a recipe Chef served us at FCI
Serves 8

16 ounces elbow/penne pasta

4 cups bechamel (recipe below)

4 cups sharp cheddar, shredded

1/2 cup breadcrumbs, toasted (recipe below)

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Cook pasta according to package directions and prepare bechamel sauce.

2. While bechamel thickens, prepare toasted breadcrumbs.

3. Place pasta in casserole dish and cover with bechamel. Stir in cheese and sprinkle with breadcrumbs.

4. Bake for 30 minutes.

Adapted from FCI textbook
Yields approximately 4 cups

3 T butter

4 T flour

1 liter milk

salt, to taste

cayenne pepper, to taste (optional)

nutmeg, to taste (optional)

1. Melt butter over high heat. Gradually whisk in flour, careful not to let butter or flour brown (This makes what is called a roux and it is a thickening agent for your sauce). Whisk until mixture is frothy.

2. Add milk and bring to a boil (a rolling boil is imperative to cook out flour taste and help sauce thicken). Turn heat down and simmer mixture for 10-15 minutes, until thickened.

3. Add salt, cayenne pepper, and nutmeg.

Toasted Breadcrumbs
Yields 1/2 cup

1/2 cup Italian breadcrumbs

2 T butter

1. Melt butter and stir in breadcrumbs over medium heat stirring constantly (to prevent breadcrumbs from burning) until toasted to a dark golden.

Homemade Macaroni and Cheese With Bechamel

Recreated the mac and cheese with bechamel for my family

 *Note: I didn’t price out any of this recipe because I didn’t plan on sharing it, but since it requires very few ingredients, it’s very inexpensive and easy to make. 

September 30, 2011

Stock Making

Well… good news and bad news. The good news is I finally got a classmate to snap a photo of me in my uniform. The bad news? There are no words for how it makes me look, so I’ll save that for the end.

Last night’s class wasn’t that eventful, because we were learning the process of making stock. We learned about and made the four different types of stock: brown, white, fish, and vegetable. It was a lot of vegetable chopping and waiting around, with a little bit of chopping slimy, bloody fish carcasses. yummy.

cutting up the fish carcass
It was pretty gross, but not as gross as I thought it would be. Maybe because all the guts were already taken out? It was way harder to chop through the fish bones than I would have imagined. I had to really lean on my chef’s knife with all my weight to cut through the thicker portion of the fish at the top. The thinner parts could be chopped into small pieces with scissors. I probably shouldn’t admit this because it makes me sound like a real sicko, but it was kind of fun cutting the poor thing into pieces. I’m weird, I know.

Anyway, the chicken stock, the fish stock, and the vegetable stocks were all done by the time we left class because they take much less time to cook. The marmite (a white beef stock colored brown by simmering blackened onion halves in it) and the veal stock (made brown with roasted baby cow bones–poor little thing) take a lot more time, and actually have to simmer overnight so someone else is straining and labeling those for us today. Here’s a picture of my partner and my fish stock:

Fish Stock
I’m planning on making ratatouille for dinner tonight to practice that recipe (plus, it was so good!). At the end of the level we are all going to have to cook a few dishes, so I have to make sure that I can recreate the dish on my own. I think it’ll be easier to do that as I go, rather than make a million dishes the week before the practical exam. I’ll share the recipe and some photos on Monday.

And now I’ll leave you with the most attractive photo of me that has ever been taken. My mom said it brought tears to her eyes (she tried to convince me they were happy/proud tears but I know they were really from fright).

September 28, 2011

Tournage and Lamb’s Tongue

Week two of classes started last night with tournage. Now, tournage sounds pretty, but it’s anything but in the beginning. Tournage is the classic French technique for shaping and turning vegetables into a seven-sided “football-like” shape. There are five different sizes: the bouquetière, 3 cm; the cocette, 5 cm; the vapeur, 6 cm;  the château, 7.5 cm; and the fondant, 8-9 cmBasically, it’s miserable. Did I already say that?

Chef warned us on Saturday night that last night’s class would be frustrating, but I didn’t quite understand how frustrating. Each duo had to turn two potatoes, two carrots, and two turnips into at least 10-12 cocettes from each type of vegetable. During his demo, Chef made it seem so easy. I actually fooled myself into thinking it was no big deal. Wrong.

I got the first step down pretty quickly, cut the vegetable down to a triangle of the approximate size and then cut off the points with a slightly curved knife stroke. But then I was totally lost! Chef had said to then curve the ends of the flat sides since nature had already done some of the work for you. It had made so much sense watching him but, as I stood there at my own station potato in hand, I thought…uhhh, what? I pretty much stared blankly at this little nub of a vegetable for awhile and then just started hacking away. Some of them were so embarrassingly bad that I snuck them into the scrap pile to hide them from view. Others, seemed to be surprisingly close to what I was supposed to achieve.

With zero consistency, it took a lot of extra effort to get the amount of veggies we needed (and my hand was basically stuck the way you are supposed to hold the knife for this technique) but we eventually got enough that we deemed somewhat presentable. Guess everyone I know will be eating a lot of carrots, turnips, and potatoes until I get the hang of tournage…

We practiced our a l’anglaise cooking techniques on the turnips we turned and by adding a step in which we let the pot brown (kind of like what I did with the carrots when I wasn’t supposed to…), we learned a new technique called a brun. We cooked pearl onions a brun. We also practiced the l’etuvee technique we learned on green beans and peas. Are you following? Because my head was spinning. I feel like each class we are being asked to do more and more steps, which is good because it means we are advancing, but my head was spinning!

Anyway, we also took the choke out of an artichoke and cooked it in a special solution that helps it keep its pretty green color instead of oxidize and, with the potatoes, we made pommes rissoles. Pommes Rissoles are basically a fried potato (sorry French chefs!) that has way too many steps–first boil the potatoes, drain, let air dry, saute in a lot of oil until browned, put in the oven for 15 minutes, then put a heap of butter and salt on top, and put back in the oven for another few minutes. Really?!  They were SO good though.

Once all of this was done, we arranged it into a platter called “garniture bouquetiere” (I do not know how to pronounce this–perhaps I should learn).  It’s basically an intricately arranged side platter of vegetables that takes a lot of time to construct (then again, maybe I’m just slow still?), but looks pretty. You put the prepped, choked and cooked artichoke in the center of the plate and then use it as a basket to hold peas. You then place the pearl onions and turned carrots, potatoes, and turnips artfully around the plate and sprinkle with parlsey.

At the end of class our assistant chef, who had been prepping something else for another level of students during part of the class, offered the bounty to us. We all eagerly ran up thinking FREE FOOD! (not that we don’t get enough already) only to find out it was lamb tongue for level 2’s organ meat day. Yes, lamb tongue. I wrapped it in a paper towel and brought it home for a very unsuspecting friend. He threw it in the garbage. I guess I’ll not only be cooking but also eating that not too long from now.

Note: I ALWAYS forget to take pictures in class. My camera is on me during every class, so I am really going to try harder. I think right now I am still so overwhelmed and trying to get things done and served to Chef quickly! I’m also planning on doing some of my own recipes/redoing some recipes from school for the blog on Mondays, Tuesday, and Thursdays when I don’t have any stories from class. We’ll see if I can find the time…

September 26, 2011

Chef Likes My Palate

Saturday’s class was very fun and exciting—despite missing a few fun social events. I started the day off with a few friends at a popular beer garden here in NYC for a friend’s birthday, but kept things calm so I wouldn’t cut my hand off the first night of real recipe making.

We got a quick demo from Chef and then we were turned loose to make our own ratatouille. Chef likes us to work with different people each night, so that we can get to know all of our classmates and learn what it’s like to work with a variety of different people. Tonight I happened to be paired with a classmate that I first met at a meet and greet the school had for us the night before orientation. We couldn’t be more different, but we got along nicely and worked well together.

I’d never made ratatouille before and, to be honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever really ordered it anywhere either? Either way, between the two of us, we executed the recipe without any major fiascos. At one point, I thought the veggies had gotten stuck to the bottom of the pan, but I gave it a quick stir and turned down the heat a bit and things were fine. Thank god. It really can be quite stressful with everyone running around the kitchen grabbing ingredients, chef yelling that said ingredients are now all over the floor and that we are messy. I can only imagine what it’s going to be like when we get into the complicated stuff—this is supposed to be the easy part!

Chef liked our ratatouille, even though I thought there was a bit of liquid running from it that made the appearance of the plate not-so-pretty. His opinion matters more than mine right now, but I guess I’m a bit critical of my own work. Who isn’t?

Our second dish was a roasted beet, goat cheese timbale with apple and vinaigrette. Basically, it’s chopped beets topped with a layer of seasoned goat cheese and garnished with frisee salad dressed with an apple shallot vinaigrette.  I LOVE BEETS, I LOVE GOAT CHEESE, and I LOVE VINEGAR so I was really excited for this dish. Right up my alley.  Anyway, this dish required more precise cuts, but it was much simpler to prepare.


Beet and Goat Cheese Timbale with Apple and Vinaigrette

When we brought this dish to chef, he said he enjoyed it and that it was plated nicely but he did suggest having more beets with the amount of goat cheese we used—the ratio should be more long the lines of 80 to 20. He also said the bite from the vinegar was a bit strong—something he likes but that French chefs would be opposed to. But then came the ultimate compliment. Chef told us we did a very nice job with our recipes and that he “liked our palates.” I have to admit, I’m kind of hanging on to that one for now, even though I know he might hate my dish or my palate tomorrow night!

September 23, 2011

The Sick Girl in Sanitation Class

In class last night we spent most of the lesson learning about kitchen sanitation and personal hygiene. It’s not necessarily engaging information but, I have to admit, it’s obviously very important to know the information—especially if you’ll be serving the public.

Actually, it kind of made me really paranoid about the practices of the establishments of places that I visit. Shigella (food poisoning from eating something that has somehow come into contact with human you know what) or salmonella (bacteria from mishandled poultry products)? Noo thank you.

If I wasn’t already obsessive about washing my hands, this lesson definitely made me even more of a hand-washing maniac. You might even catch me scoping out the employees at anywhere I frequent. Yikes.

Unfortunately the two nights spent out until 5:30 a.m. last weekend changing season has definitely caught up with me, and I’m feeling pretty under the weather this week. Kind of ironic—the sick girl sitting in the kitchen at school during the sanitation lesson that told us not to be in the kitchen or handle food when you have any kind of illness. Oops. With such a strict attendance policy and so much being taught at each class I just really don’t think it’s smart to miss if you can help it….

After class I managed to fight the fatigue and went out for a drink with three of my new classmates. Even in class I can tell that people are starting to warm up to each other and socialize a bit more, but it was really nice to get to know a few people out of the kitchen.

I have a lot of prep work to do before Saturday’s class (reading and practicing knife skills), but I’m really excited for the lesson. We’ll be making our first dishes: vegetable ragout and a beet and goat cheese salad.  Hopefully I can take a few pictures of the result!

September 21, 2011

I Burned the Carrots

My first day of culinary school is officially behind me.

When I first got to school yesterday I exchanged my uniform – the XS was a bit snug and, considering there is sure to be a lot of food involved, I thought I should have at least a little bit of wiggle room. We were then paraded to our assigned lockers and instructed to change for class (you’re never allowed to wear your uniform to class – basically it’s against health code to sit on a grimy subway and then cook up a dirty delicious meal).

My locker is the smallest little box you ever did see on the bottom row. I basically have to lay down on the floor to even open the thing. oh well. Changing into my chef uniform wasn’t as easy as you might think. Who knew you wrap the apron tie around your back but then tie it in the front? And how am I supposed to know how to tie a neckerchief? Thank goodness our Chef Instructor patiently demonstrated for me and the other clueless ones in the bunch.

I’ll spare you all the boring details, but we started the lecture with sanitation/hygiene and a tour of the kitchen/overview of equipment. Once upon a time I thought a pan was a pan. Boy was I wrong. I learned a lot and, even though it seems to basic, it’s gonna take some studying and experience to remember which is the sautoir and which is the russe, and so on. My head is spinning from trying to soak in all foreign (literally, considering a good portion of the vocabulary is French) information.

But now for the fun part: Chef  instructed us to open our knife kits to go over what goodies were waiting inside. He demonstrated a few different french cuts (check out this sampling from About.com for an idea of what we were doing). Even though I nearly sliced my hand off more than a few times, I somehow escaped unscathed and my cuts were much better than I would have imagined. I think?

Guess I was getting a little ahead of myself because next thing I know, I’m burning the carrots. Well, not quite burning, but definitely doing exactly what Chef told us not to do. After we chopped our veggies, we learned two classic ways to cook vegetables: a l’anglaise (ahead of time in highly salted boiling water and then shocked in a bath of ice water) and l’etuvee (cooking in water, butter, and salt until the liquid evaporates and leaves you with a nice, buttery glaze).

We cooked the turnips we had chopped a l’anglaise, which was not as troublesome – though Chef did suggest our turnips should have been cooked more. Before we cooked the carrots l’etuvee Chef said “watch very carefully and don’t let the pot brown.” Easy enough. Not so fast. I thought I was watching very carefully, but all of the sudden I looked under the parchment paper lid and it was very brown. Oops.

Chef showed us how to stop the damage, but there really isn’t a real fix for this. Once the pot browns, those poor, poor carrots will never be bright orange – like everyone else’s.

I guess I’ll be eating a lot of carrots and turnips this week. I took a few of each home to practice, practice, practice.

September 20, 2011

Big News: The French Culinary Institute

I’m excited to share some big news with anyone who might happen to be reading along: Today is my first day of culinary school at the French Culinary Institute.

I’ve been interested in attending culinary school ever since I completed my undergraduate degree, but it never really seemed like the right time. As a graduate of business but an aspiring journalist, I made the decision to get my master’s in journalism so that I could pursue a career in magazine writing. After I finished my graduate degree in Chicago, I moved to London for a few months to get some work experience at a prominent news agency before moving back to NYC to work at a women’s magazine. After working for a few months, and really enjoying the food content our magazine has, I started secretly looking into culinary school again. Coincidently, I was out to dinner with my family around the same time and, after ordering ink squid pasta with clams, my grandma said something along the lines of “you have such interesting taste, you should go to culinary school.” Really?

That was about all the motivation I needed to dive head first into intense research. I went to open houses for two schools here in NYC, audited a class, and talked to a few of the editors here at the magazine I work for.  Next thing I knew, I was at orientation receiving my uniform and meeting my new classmates.

I’ll be working while I attend school, so I’ll be at work Monday to Friday and in school Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday nights (yes, Saturday nights)! I know I’m gearing up for a busy year, but I couldn’t be more excited about it, and I’m really looking forward to sharing all of my culinary school adventures with you. I hope you’ll read along. 🙂

August 5, 2011

Carrot-Pineapple Smoothie

Yesterday I thought I’d have a nice, healthy breakfast so I made a carrot pineapple smoothie from Real Simple that I’ve wanted to try.

So, even though it’s very hard for me to wake up any more than 30 minutes before work starts, I got up early and made myself breakfast.

Carrot-Pineapple Smoothie
(adapted from Real Simple)

makes 1 serving

¼ cup chopped carrot
½ banana
¾ cup frozen pineapple chunks
1/3 cup pineapple juice
(1/2 cup ice optional)

It’s super easy. Ready?

Blend all ingredients until smooth.

Blend all ingredients

I didn’t add the ice, because I took my smoothie to work and I thought the ice would melt and dilute my smoothie by the time I sat down to enjoy it.

Carrot-Pineapple Smoothie

Anyway, because my work is a guaranteed diet-ruiner (I make up words…), my healthy breakfast turned into a…healthy breakfast with a not-so-healthy side dish (apple cider doughnut) and my weekly dose of People mag.

Carrot-Pineapple Smoothie, Apple Cider Doughnut and People mag

Today… I ate two more doughnuts. They were stale, but I still ate two (and a bagel). Now that’s embarrassing.

Carrots: $0.11
Banana: $0.19
Pineapple chunks: $0.30
Pineapple juice: $0.15

Price per serving: $0.75