Friday, May 30, 2014

Updates: First Cookie Sale, Back to School, Fruit Carving

Woohoo time has gotten away from me! So much has happened, culinary-wise, since I last wrote a little over a month ago. I will do a quick run down of all the happenings since then...

It was Easter in my last post and I made all those adorable bunny cookies.  They were greatly enjoyed by family and friends. I was really pleased with how the bunnies turned out, so I wanted to make a few more in a variation, so I made the cute woodland cookies above. I used espresso powder, cinnamon, and cocoa for the coloring, and they turned out great!
The next cookie making adventure was a big one!  I decided to set up my shop for one day at Rust Belt Market. It was the day before Mother's Day, so I thought that was a good opportunity to test out the market and make my first cookie sales. I made three batches of cookies, and they were well received, especially this colorful tattoo heart design
I sold all of that design, actually! And I sold a good amount of pottery that day, too, some in Mother's Day themes that matched the cookies.  I learned a lot from this sales day and I have a better idea of how many cookies and how many different designs make sense for selling in one day (at least at this type of venue at this time of year). And that gave me some ideas about the kind of pottery I can make that will work best with the cookies. It was a very informative and fun day!
Also in the last month, I started my Cookery class, which is halfway done now. It has been an intense whirlwind! This is a continuation of learning basic cooking and kitchen techniques as a well rounded part of the Pastry program. I have been learning a ton! It is sometimes frustrating because I am likely the least experienced cook in the class, as everyone else either works in the industry or has cooked for their families for many years. I do my best to keep up, and I am trying lots of new food and learning all sorts of classic recipes. Sometimes I do question what the heck I am doing in the kitchen roasting and sauteing meats, when I just want to be decorating cakes and cookies, but I try to remind myself that this is important to the next steps and to not be so hard on myself. It is fun and challenging and exhausting all at the same time.
In this class, we are actually feeding people other than just our own class, which is quite a thrill.  It's great to see people enjoying what we have made as a class. Other students and staff come to the kitchen for lunch after every cooking session, and we are pushed to get things done well, on time, and with a nice presentation. I have been so consumed with concentrating on getting food cooked properly and on time that I have not really been able to work much on the presentation part for my dishes during class. I assisted in a wine tasting event where we made almost 300 of the small plates above. Seared scallop with cauliflower puree, beet sauce, micro greens and asparagus. I really enjoyed plating these up, but it was a really fast paced, high pressure challenge for me. Even though I was really nervous about this job, I really enjoyed it in retrospect and I am curious about working like this in the future... with small plates and fresh ingredients, artfully presented.
 One of the things that I did early in the class was work as an assistant for my chef's fruit carving class! When I first heard about this class last semester, I was super interested in taking it and seriously considering it, but it was not at the school and not a credit class, so I couldn't justify the expense. I was really excited when he asked for volunteers to assist for practical hours, so I asked to attend for the full day. I felt like it was a bargain... I got to listen in on the class for free, PLUS I got my practical hours...score! I even got some hands-on time when the class was focused on their own carvings and I carved the cantaloupe above. I was pleased with it and felt like I picked up some of the techniques pretty naturally. I have ALWAYS wanted to try this!
Chef Doug with the finished fruit carving sculpture that we did in class. See where he used my cantaloupe near the top? He did the rest of the carvings, which were gorgeous! The rest of the students seemed to enjoy themselves and did well, too. So much fun! When I got home, I immediately bought myself a set of tools, but they are rather specialized and pricey, so I gave myself a $50 budget and just got some basics. They were not at all as fancy as the tools that the students had, or Chef's fancy silver retractable Thai double edged knife that I borrowed to carve my melon in class, but it's a start.
This week in class, I struggled a bit with chicken and fish, and was having some of those doubtful feelings again. Chef Doug gave me the gift of the beautiful silver Thai knife that I loved in class to thank me for helping him all day, which was super encouraging and put me back on track with a good attitude again. I carved an apple the next morning, and I am going to look for something fun to carve this weekend when we go to Eastern Market tomorrow morning!

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...

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!