Thursday, March 27, 2014

Fourth Day of Class

Kitchen Measurements print by Betty Turbo for Bake & Destroy, available on Etsy

I am now officially halfway done with my Kitchen Skills class. I had a really great time in class yesterday. First thing, we got our tests back and I was surprised I got a 99%. I was really expecting something in the low 80s. So I guess she gives lots of homework and challenging tests, but is pretty lenient about grading, and generous with the extra credit, so maybe it evens out a bit. There were some answers I gave that I wouldn't have let someone get away with, hah! So anyway, that was a little boost of confidence and the rest of the lecture was fun...all about herbs and spices. Then we went into the kitchen and paired up in groups to work with a variety of herbs and veggies. Each pair made a herb butter, which we used to melt over noodles. Our herb was dill and it was really good, although I don't know about hot dill buttered noodles (would be good on taters though!) We each also made a simple tomato sauce, ours had marjoram, which I had never used before. Each student had to make a few tourner cut potatoes, which is one of the more complex cuts of the classic knife skills we are learning. It's like a little 7 sided football. I did ok, but I need some practice with that one. The potatoes were all roasted with more herbs and they were delicious! My partner and I made salsa as well, and one of the other groups made pesto (which I couldn't eat because of the pine nuts, boo) and another group made an herb marinade for grilled chicken and the last team made saffron rice.

Measuring Conversions Notebook but the Happy Pencil Shoppe on Etsy

At the end of class, we sampled everything, which was much fun to taste all the different flavors. We also tasted a few fresh herbs that we didn't use in class, just to be able to identify them. My partner and I worked really well together, even though we were a little slow. We were slow, but accurate and organized while being laid back, which suits me well. There was some friction within the pair working in front of us, so I think we were both silently grateful to be working well as a team. We signed up for a two hour shift in the bakery together for our required practical hours. I think I do need to work on stepping up my pace a bit and being more assertive when it comes to things like squeezing in on the range to get my foods cooking. I don't like being pushy or bossy, but I am going to have to push a bit more to get my work done too. I am getting more comfortable with finding things in the kitchen, which is very helpful.

One of two banners I designed and ordered to take advantage of a big banner sale. One day I will use it to set up a table and sell baked goods! One day...

Last week's homework was hard for me, with the recipe conversions. It reminded me of doing story problems in grade school, which I always struggled with. I think I am getting the hang of it, though. The biggest challenge for me is remembering the measurement equivalents, because we have to switch back and forth. So I am trying to look at a lot of charts and diagrams to help me remember. I found a lot of cute illustrations on Pinterest and Etsy that are very pleasing to my eyes, like the two prints shown above. I am inspired to do some similar artwork on ceramic mugs and plates, I think that would make a fun table setting! And maybe it would help me memorize how many teaspoons are in a cup, etc.

This is the other banner I got on sale. I really love them both and have been slowly accumulating other packaging and display ideas and materials for that one day...

So, speaking of painting on ceramics and being creative, I haven't been doing much along those lines lately. Not with ceramics or with cookies, either. I have been doing the clay work I need to do for orders and for the website, but I just haven't had much time for new designs moving in the direction I want to go. I need to work harder on that. I am going to make it a goal to decorate some cookies this week (baked them this morning!) and to do the ceramic painting tests that I have been putting off. I would really like to at least sketch more. I have a lot of ideas, but not enough time, as usual. Balancing all the things is always so challenging!


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Third Day of Class

Geez, I am almost halfway through this knife skills class now. What an intensive 7 weeks! I have been kind of surprised at the work load for this 2 credit class, but it's been a while since I have been in college and back then I had different life concerns, so maybe it's just my perspective now. I had a busy week before class... I had a bead show over the weekend that I hadn't prepared for until just a few days before the show. And I also dug in and got my taxes organized and ready to be done. So, with all of that going on, I was able to do the bare minimum of my reading and homework, but I didn't do any review or studying for the test we had yesterday. I was unprepared, unfortunately. And I am not used to putting my thinking cap on at 7:30 am so I had a little anxiety and my brain just shut down on some of the test questions... Stuff that I KNOW too, which is frustrating. Oh well. It's not all about tests, and I know what our Chef expects and is looking for, so next time I will do better. The lecture was frustrating as well. It was all about recipe conversions and I found myself confronted with fractions and decimals that I vaguely remember from grade school, haha. I better brush up on my math now too.

Fortunately, after the classroom frustrations, we headed to the kitchen and I had a great time! It was intense and a little stressful, but I found myself pretty calm and organized. We chopped, sliced, and diced a variety of veggies and fruit. And did some other basics like hard boiling eggs and clarifying butter. We also grilled up some onion brule and made tomato concassee, which involves quickly blanching a tomato, shocking it in ice water, and removing the peel. It was pretty cool. So we multi tasked, working on several things at a time, always coming back to our cutting boards to continue practicing our knife cuts. It was fast paced, but I kept up, stayed concentrated on my work, and didn't get frustrated. I am getting used to my super sharp knives and am noticing the difference when I use dull ones at home. And I haven't cut or nicked myself yet (knock on wood!). I am loving learning all these new kitchen skills and the most challenging parts are for me are finding everything in the school kitchen, learning how things work, and working with other people with so many different personalities. I am feeling good about it overall, and that overshadows the challenges of the classroom.

I haven't been doing much baking this week. All the other stuff took over. I have been sketching and collecting ideas on Pinterest, though, so I am keeping inspired. I also got a couple of bakery books, including Momofuku Milk Bar by Christina Tosi. I chose her as the influential chef to write about for my class. She seems really fun and playful and I am looking forward to cooking from her book. I will probably start with one of her bakery's signature cookies, the Compost Cookie, which she shows us how to make in this video:



Friday, March 14, 2014

Second Day of Class

My Kitchen Skills class is going pretty well. It's a little more work than I expected, at least in terms of book work, but I am enjoying that part as well. The frustrating part of school has not been the classes, but the weather! My first class missed two days out of seven. And this week's class was on the day of another snowstorm. When they didn't cancel school that morning, I got myself all packed up, left early, and braved the icky freeway at 6:30 am to make it to class an a hour later. I got there just on time, after the grueling walk up the hill in the cold, wet darkness, and we had our class lecture, even though less than half of the class was there. We made it to the kitchen and the moment I had been anticipating for the last few months had arrived! After peeling our carrots and potatoes, our Chef was going over dicing and julienne cuts, and the announcement came that school was closed at 11, so we had to clean up and leave immediately. So frustrating! The kitchen, which had another class and lunch prep going on, burst into chaos as everyone tried to finish their cooking and get their foods stored and dishes cleaned. We were all very disappointed. I took my potato and carrots home and got to practice there, but it wasn't the same. Ah well, we have plenty of time... I am just not so patient when I am super excited to dig in and get to work.

I think I was even more disappointed to have learned that we were actually going to cook in class and eat it for lunch, and now that had to be cancelled too. Grilled cheese sammiches! I had to go home hungry in a snowstorm. I had grilled cheeses for the next two days at home, because that craving (and denial) struck me so hard. Hehe!
I have been working on my own in the kitchen at home a bit lately. I have been enjoying using my new class knives, cutting up lots of veggies and potatoes, making Epic Salads and doing some of the veggie side dishes. I have been trying new foods, too. Jason made corned beef and cabbage last week and we both enjoyed it. I am challenging myself to try new things, especially foods I have always thought I didn't like (such as cabbage) and I am finding my tastes are changing and growing. I don't know if that is from being open minded or something that happens as one ages, but for whatever reason it is happening, I am appreciating it. I was once a much more selective eater, so having more variety is exciting and fun!

And in the pastry department, I have been doing a little work at home too. I have been working on variations of this yummy lemon cookie that works really well for decorating. I have been making small batches to see how the recipe variations bake up, and working more with royal icing flavors and colors. I think I am getting close to having a good, sellable product with these! The icing is made with raspberry or strawberry powders, which I grind myself from freeze dried fruit. I had a little problem with the last batch of raspberry icing rippling when it dried, but I think the reason was that I added too much water to make the flood icing. I usually don't add enough, so the application is too thick and doesn't spread the way I want it to, so I was being aware of that when I was making the flood consistency and I added more water than usual. Now I know what too much water in icing does! It's a delicate balance. They turned out great though, very tasty and cute as a button! It's amazing what a little detail like a pair of wide-spread eyeballs with a shiny dot and pink cheeks can do to make something super kawaii cute! These little sunshine cookies are like raspberry and strawberry lemonade. I think they will be great for summer...a bit of wishful thinking on my part, as I impatiently wait for this winter of hell to be over, so I can get to work on the good stuff!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

First Day of Kitchen Class

I slept surprisingly well last night, despite doing to bed with butterflies in my belly. I kept telling myself it was silly to be anxious, but... it's just what happens.  I woke up to the 6am alarm, which interrupted my dreams about fondant and sprinkles. That's SO early for me!  I am clearly going to have to start getting up a bit earlier throughout the week to better prepare myself for these one-day-a-week early mornings. I was sleepy and clumsy, but I got my coffee and all my stuff together and made it to school in plenty of time. 

Class was a lot of fun! The Chef was the same one that spoke at the orientation I attended in December, and I really liked her, so I wanted to take my first skills class with her. She seems to have a great attitude, is very friendly and helpful, and really put the class at ease.  She is all about having a community spirit in the kitchen, and we spent some time in class getting to know one another, which was very welcoming.  My class is almost entirely women, which is apparently unusual, according to her.  It's a diverse group, though, of all different cultures and study interests.  Very exciting!

The syllabus is pretty full for a 7 week class.  I am so glad I am only taking the one class. It will keep me very busy with all of my other work, but I am eager to squeeze it all in.  In addition to our hands-on kitchen time in class, we also have textbook reading homework (our book is On Cooking: A Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals (5th Edition) ) We also have to put in 2 hours of college kitchen time, helping to prep for one of the restaurants or events, setting up one of the dining areas, or working the bakery shop. I will probably try to work the bakery shop, as that interests me most. 

We also have a paper to write about a chef of our choosing. Next week I have to bring in three choices (so the instructor can limit everyone who wants to choose Emeril, hehe).  I actually don't know a whole lot of chefs other than the real famous ones, but I am starting to look for someone who appeals to me.  I am kind of focused on finding a female pastry chef whose work inspires me. Karen Portaleo and Kaysie Lackey are two that I have found so far that look promising.

Class finished early after a tour of the kitchens and a stop at the library for an orientation, and I was happy to come home and take a nap.  I had a pounding headache (that early morning and lack of caffeine catching up with me?) but I managed to whip up a few new royal icing experiments for cookies later this week. I was definitely feeling inspired after today!