Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Got Carrots?

Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Candied Carrot Peel
There was a someone-special-in-my-life-birthday this past weekend, (my little brother), which gave me the perfect opportunity to do some birthday-time baking. Yay! My brother and I have, on more than one occasion, discussed our love for carrot cake. I think we were both surprised to learn that it was each our favorite dessert. Well, if we absolutely had to pick just one, anyway!

So there really was no question on what to bake for him. But in all honesty, I was hesitant because I had never made carrot cake before. What?! Yes, it's true. I quickly turned to my trusty google search bar and did a little online recipe hunting. My fear immediately dispersed and I realized that carrot cake cupcakes were going to be perfectly manageable. And even better, I had almost all of the ingredients in my pantry, just waiting to be made into perfect little cupcakes.

I decided on the recipe that I found here, at A Sweet Pea Chef. I liked the simplicity of her recipe, the use of brown sugar, and ginger. Carrots and ginger are a wonderful match. I did have a few simple adjustments of my own, adding about two drops of vanilla extract, and golden raisins to the mix. I also grated my carrots more finely as I prefer that over the thicker strips of carrot. And I really wanted a fun garnish for these. So I peeled an additional carrot, using my potato peeler, and made very short peels that were 1" and under, and candied them. I took 2 cups of white sugar, 1 cup of water, brought that to a low boil, added the carrot peels, and let simmer for about an hour. I then strained out the liquid, and laid the candied peels onto parchment paper, and let sit out for about 2 hours to cool and harden. What fun! And they came out pretty PRETTY! Oh, and the cakes were delicious too. I will definitely be making these again....
After baking the carrot cake cupcakes, I had some carrots still left in my fridge, sitting in the veggie tray next to a few bunches of broccoli. I decided to make a soup, because I just love soup. Can I say that again? I love soup. I don't know why. What is the big deal about soup?? Well, it's warm, and it's delicious. It's filling, and it is generally healthy. Ok, I guess that answers my question. But I know, it is still just soup....

Broccoli soup with Cream and Croutons

So I made soup. A broccoli soup, with carrot too. And crisped up some croutons from a mini french baguette. I began first by making my own veggie stock. It's one of my new favorite things. I keep most of my veggie choppings from the week and save them in one bag. And when I need stock, I throw it all in a pot, along with some aromatics such as fresh thyme, sage, bay leaf, and black peppercorns. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil, let simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, and strain. And there, we have our very own veggie stock.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Leisurely Lunch at Technique Restaurant, CCA

Today, my bestie and I made a quick drive over the bridge and in to the city for lunch at the Technique restaurant located inside the California Culinary Academy.  It is managed by the chef instructors, and all of the cooking and plating is done completely by the students, (with some help by the instructors of course!). The restaurant was unfortunately not a part of my curriculum, so I did not have the opportunity to work at the restaurant during my time at CCA. And from what I hear, the restaurant will not be around for too much longer, as the school is no longer offering the class in the new curriculum. What a shame! I think the restaurant should be an experience that every culinary student should, well, experience.

As we arrived at the restaurant, we were immediately greeted with a warm and genuine smile from Beth, the floor manager. She took us to our table, and we were promptly welcomed by our student waiter, Ryan. We had water on the table in a matter of a minute, and house made bread with oil and balsamic shortly followed. I was impressed with the timeliness and organization. And because the chef knew we were coming in for lunch today, we found this sweet surprise in our menus....

Our drinks came out shortly after being ordered, and my hot tea pot was refilled twice with hot water, (much appreciated on this cold and rainy day). I wasn't thrilled to see that there was not a vegetarian option on the menu, but I didn't give it a second thought as I knew the chef would be happy to make me a special veggie plate. And for just $10 for a three course meal, I would have been happy with just soup and salad.

I had the soup, a special veggie plate, and the chocolate mousse. My friend had the beet salad, salmon, and chocolate mousse. I thoroughly enjoyed the hot tomato soup on this rainy day, and my friend loved her beet salad (she usually orders it wherever we go!). And then our entrees came out. I was so pleased to see a plate piled nicely with an assortment of colors and textures. And then I took my first bite, the quinoa cake was the most flavorful quinoa I have ever tasted. I think there was a fennel sauce, with sauteed asparagus and arugula, ciopollini's, pickled onions, roasted tomato, and arugula micro greens. We both cleaned our plates. Our chocolate mousse was a generous serving in a wine glass, and was pure chocolately-airy-goodness!

After lunch, we decided to drive over to the Ferry Building, to tour the artisanal shops and enjoy a glass of wine. We both appreciated the smell and colors of all the fresh produce, the perfectly packaged handcrafted chocolates, fresh baked breads, blocks of smelly cheese, oh, and let's not forget the "Salty Pig Parts", as one of the vendors signs read. It was pure culinary delight!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

With Just Fat and Flour, Life Goes On...

How often do we think about the use of all of our 5 senses when cooking and eating? Think about it, most people are mainly concerned with taste, the flavor of the food they are cooking and/or eating. Some people will think about both smell and taste. But how many of us consider our other senses just as important? How our food feels to the touch, how it sounds when we bite down on it, and how it looks. I think those senses are just as important as the first two.

I have always justified my picky palate as having do with my "issue with texture". I do have a love-hate relationship with food when it comes to texture. That is one of the main reasons that I am a mostly-vegetarian. Something can absolutely taste fantastic, but if it does not look appetizing, or has an unappealing texture to me, I will wish not to continue eating it. The sound of food is sometimes overshadowed, or non-existent. But there are certain foods that immediately come to mind, such as oysters are not appetizing to me simply by the way they sound when being eaten, or slurped out of their shell. Asparagus, if cooked right, have a very appetizing sound of a crisp crunch to the bite.

I got to thinking about all of this after watching a movie recently. The movie is called Perfect Sense. It's main stars are portrayed as a chef and a scientist who fall in love amid the worldwide spread of a disease that slowly robs people of their senses, one by one. The chef is forced to deal with life, and life as a chef, at first with no sense of smell. The next sense to go is taste. And the chef learns to adapt his cuisine to focus on texture and sound. Fascinating. He is not willing to give up on the joys of life and simply provide his diners with just fat and flour. With this onset of human devastation, life goes on.

And so without giving away too much of the movie, though you can probably imagine what happens next, the chef is ultimately reduced to the very basics of life and cooking - fat and flour. But life does go on....

Friday, January 13, 2012

TGI Friday, the 13th!?!

Today is Friday the 13th. I am not a superstitious person, so it doesn't mean much to me, other than it's FRIDAY. But I did have a little scare that began sometime in the middle of the night last night....I won't go into the details but it had to do with my dog, her recent vaccinations, some unworldly smells and substances coming her from tiny body, repeated visits to the shower to hose her off, a visit to the vet, and a thorough cleaning of my apartment, she now seems to be fine. Wasn't that fun?!?

Moving on. I was inspired to do some writing today after a really interesting chat with a former classmate, a very cool cat of whom I value his opinion. He reminded me of a few important things that I have lost sight of somewhere along my culinary journey. He reminded me of what some of my original ideas, goals, and plans were as I was just starting my culinary education. And he reminded me why I even began this whole blogging thing, too. And that even if it''s just me, myself, and I, (oh, and my auntie and grandma) reading this thing, that I should still keep it up because in his opinion, I have a decent writing style all my own, and who knows what could come of it.

So as I sit here waiting for my rice pilaf to cook on the stove, I thought I would do some writing today....

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Goodbye 2011, Hello 2012!!

So I am way behind in my writings here, and a lot has happened since my last update. On December 16, 2011, I graduated from the California Culinary Academy, with a perfect 4.0 gpa. I completed my externship at Station 1 on December 15, with a very nice and positive review from chef Ryan. I had a decently fun time working at the restaurant, and I certainly learned some valuable lessons. And I am looking forward to going back to the restaurant to enjoy a beautiful meal soon. To share with you some of my work from my time there, here are two pics of the dishes that I plated each night during service...

Beet Salad
Mixed Green Salad
After I left the restaurant, I quickly needed to focus my attention to my upcoming move. My lease was about to be expire on December 31, and with the holidays also right around the corner, I had a lot to get done! And to my surprise, and huge relief, I found a great apartment in Alameda. I was excited to get settled in to the new place and get to know my new surroundings. I had some wonderful helpers that helped me move the masses of boxes, the ginormous bed, and couch that had to be taken apart in order to fit through the doorway( thanks guys, I couldn't have done it without you!). Once we got everything moved in to the new place, and somewhat made into a liveable space, it was time for Christmas.

This year, I wanted to do some baking. I thought I would break in the new kitchen with baking off some Christmas cookies....looking back, that probably wasn't the best way to test out the oven. But now I know, the oven runs hot! And I can not leave anything on top of the stove, especially plastic, because they will melt! I also have about a third less counter space in this place as I did in my last place, so trying to bake multiple cookies, and also make some dinner at the same time, was really not a great idea. The losses of the evening were: a melted pepper grinder, burned cherry sauce, burned saffron rice, one batch of burned macaroon cookies, and an apartment filled with smoke. The wins: two good batches of yummy chocolate orange macaroons, peppermint meringue cookies, and the knowledge of what not to do in my new tiny overheated kitchen. But, after a few glasses of Bailey's martini's, all was right with the world again.....

Chocolate Orange Macaroons, and Peppermint Meringues
And now that the school is all done, I am mostly settled in to my new apartment, and the holidays are over with, I gotta get in to gear and figure out what my next step is....till then, Happy New Year!