Sunday, April 20, 2014

Last Day of Class

Last week was busy with school stuff! On Tuesday, I worked my required 2 practical hours in the school's bakery retail counter. It was hectic, but lots of fun. I enjoyed helping the regulars come in and order their baked goods and then head off to lunch while we packed up their purchases. There were all sorts of breads, cookies, cakes, pies, and other pastries for sale. Everything looked really delicious and professional and the prices were super affordable. I came home with a cinnamon coffee cake anda couple of cookies and a French bread that I used to make pizzas with for dinner! Yum! It was really encouraging to see such brisk sales and support for the culinary school!

The next day I had my last class. I had the final quiz and then we went into the kitchen for our knife skills practical exam. It took a few hours, lots of prep and cutting. My final spread is shown at the top. There are medium and small diced potatoes and some batonets and tournet footballs. We had one potato to use for all of those cuts. The carrots are julienned, made into brunoise, and oblique cuts. There is half of a diced onion and fine julienned leek. We made a couple of cloves of garlic into paste, cut some spinach into chiffonade, and finely chopped a bunch of parsley. We used just a little bit of heat to concassee two tomatoes and fire roast a red pepper, which we then seeded and cut into large pieces. Finally, we each made a bouquet garni bundle, all tied up. I presented my cuts and talked about them with my Chef, she pointed out the parts I did well and gave me good feedback on how to improve. She told me she was giving me an A in the class, yay!

After all of that cutting and cleaning up, we helped one of the other chefs prep a little for our student lunch. I will have Chef Doug for my cookery class this summer, so it was good to chat with him a little bit. He created the carved apple swan in the picture above. Here is a video he did for the local news where he shows how to make it. I am really excited about this aspect of culinary...fancy fruit and veggie carving is something I have always wanted to learn! I really enjoy doing just the basic cuts so far, so doing more decorative work is really exciting!

Also this week, I made a batch of bunny cookies! It's Easter today and I had two family events planned for the weekend, so I decided to make a full batch of cookies and work on repetition and consistency with two dozen bunnies. I also timed the whole process. I was very pleased with how they turned out! Consistent as a group, yet each has it's own subtle differences. I added a few little royal icing flower transfers that I made during my Wilton classes and it kind of opened my mind up to possibilities for using transfers in the future. In particular, I want to make up a bunch of little eyeballs. Because of the thickness of the eyes on top of the icing, they take forever to harden up, and I had a few get smooshed  as I packed them up to take to dinner later in the evening, even though they had a few hours to dry. I think it will help to have them premade, so I can just "glue" them on with a bit of icing and maybe add the shiny spot. I will be curious to go back and make some of the flowers that I learned a few months ago, now that I have had some more experience with icing.

So now I have a couple of weeks off until my next class starts. In that time, I plan to keep making cookies, apply for fall shows and get my bakery display and packaging ready, work on ceramics to go with the baked goods, and keep up with my other ceramic work. I am really pleased at my progress with the two classes I have taken and am excited to keep working!


Friday, April 11, 2014

Sixth Day of Class plus more Cute Cookies

Wow, I only have one more kitchen skills class left! It really flew by. This week we made individual minestrone soup batches. This was the first time we worked individually on a recipe, and it was a good culmination of all the skills we learned over the past six weeks. We each made our own soup, but we still helped each other out and split ingredients as needed. I think it was an exercise in working as a kitchen team, everyone working on their own thing, yet together. I think we did well as a class. But I think if we could have planned better if it had been more clear that it was a team building exercise. For example, we could have pooled the pasta cooking and then measured out portions of cooked pasta instead of each person cooking a tiny amount for their soup. That just seems silly. But like I said, it was a little hard to tell if the emphasis was on the team or on each person completing all their own tasks. And some of the pasta in the individual soups was undercooked, so I guess it is a good individual lesson.
The other thing that was not quite clear until midway through was that we were encouraged to make our soups unique. We were all given the same recipe, but then our Chef came out with extra ingredients and said we could use them. Only the more experienced cooks in class really ran with that, adding okra and spices. And it sort of felt like we were criticized for not adding our own creative twist during the review afterwards, so that seemed a little unfair, because when we started it seemed like the focus was on consistency and showcasing the technical skills we learned. Nevertheless, we did well and were generally praised for our soups from The Chef and the class. It was a good wrap up of our lessons.
I am feeling pretty good about the end of class next week. There is the last test on fruits, veggies, and herbs/spices, which I feel pretty confident about. Also, we do a casual presentation of our chef biography paper, which I finished to my liking and turned in. And we have a knife skills practical test which I think I am ready to do well. Oh, and I have to work in the school's bakery shop for two hours next week, and I am actually kind of excited about that.
We didn't have a lecture as much as a review, plus we watched this video of Thomas Keller doing a Ted Talk. It was pretty inspiring. A lot of it was about how many people are involved in a fine restaurant, way more than you see or think about as a customer. It was a celebration of all the people who make a restaurant a success and a great way to see all the different kinds of jobs there are in culinary. The emphasis was on being part of a team, which was good to hear from such a well known Chef. And that teamwork aspect seems to be the focus that our class Chef takes in preparing us for the kitchen, so I can see why she showed us this video. I have been thinking about this concept a lot lately. My work for the last ten-plus years has been so solitary. While I have been part of things that have been semi-collaborative in nature, like my time at the Rust Belt Market, I have pretty much worked alone, doing all the aspects of my business myself. Perhaps some of my burn-out from that has been in part a desire for more collaboration and teamwork. I wonder how I might fit in with a more co-operative work environment.

In non-class news, last week I made another batch of cookies to bring to our friends. They were graham cracker cookies with royal icing colored entirely from natural ingredients. I used cocoa, strawberry, raspberry, orange, green tea, and corn for color. I was really happy with the decorating and the cookies tasted great! The dough was very hard to work with, though. This week, I tried a different recipe for graham and the dough was wonderful to work with, but the cookies were not as tasty. They were bland and grainy from the whole wheat graham flour. So, the next batch will be a combination of the two recipes. I am learning a lot from baking different recipes and adjusting them. I will clearly benefit from a baking science class so I can have a better understanding of what is happening in the bakery process, so I am looking forward to that...perhaps in the fall. This week, I will make more Eastery cookies to take to the various family dinners that we will be attending. Yum!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Fifth Day of Class plus New Cookies!

 Hey! I did what I said I wanted to do last week!  I made and decorated a batch of cookies. I am really pleased with the way these turned out. I love the bunnies in particular. Pretty stinking cute, I must say. I am working on a cute carrot to match with my next batch of cookies.
I can really see a theme with these two! I love the happy toast and egg! I need a bacon cookie now.  And I think making a cinnamon tinted icing for the crust of the bread would be good. I want to do a whole tray of cute foods like this.

These were also cute and fun but I think the candies look like fish.  The orange one reminds me of Ponyo. Not a terrible thing, but not a candy. I feel like I am doing well with finding a voice in my icing illustrations. I just gotta keep at it!
I am still enjoying doing the swirly doodles on cookies too.
My take on easter eggs. I really find myself liking eastery, springtime imagery lately. Eggs and bunnies and flowers.  Of course I have my own twist on them. Seasonal designs are really important in retail, I have found, but I have always struggled with doing holiday themes (except for Halloween) so I am trying to do it when it inspires me. I think seasonal themes would be in even greater demand with something like decorated cookies, so it's something I am keeping in mind.

And I even made a drawing on a cup this week, like I said I would! I used something new for drawing, which I don't think will hold up as a decorating medium, but it was good to get back into drawing on ceramics. It may have even helped me on my test this week...

Yesterday's test was a bit of a challenge, like I thought it would be, but I think I did ok. Memorizing the stupid measurement equivalents is what is so hard for me, and converting measurements from one form to another. I am sure it will sink in eventually.

Lecture and lab were all about vegetables. I wasn't feeling so great, but I did my work as best I could, and tried to keep up with my partner, who was very fast and frantic. I think I helped keep us organized and doing things properly and kept at a good pace, except at the end when I spilled a big pile of coarse pepper on the broccoli I was sauteing. OOPS! I managed to wash it off and fix it. By the end of class we had many vegetables cooked, between our three groups.  Three types of roasted squash, some cabbage and collard greens that I have never tried before, fried okra and eggplant and zucchini, and sauteed beans and peas. Everything was pretty tasty, I had a small bite of everything. I liked the savoy cabbage that I made, but I didn't like the brussels sprouts we made.  I think they were overcooked. Anyway, it was a good class. Only two more left! I have some knife skills to practice for the knife practical test at the end, and this week I need to start my paper on Christina Tosi. Lots to do still...