Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Last night was day two of our two-week section on pastry. The French Culinary Institute believes that culinary students should have at least a background in pastry, and I couldn’t agree more. Take Top Chef as a prime example. Every season at least one, if not two, competitors get sent home for the ill-advised action of taking on a dessert course. We culinary students need to earn our chops in the fine art of dessert-making.
I have an insatiable sweet tooth and while it usually craves chocolate, I am happy to oblige it with a couple of weeks of pastry crèmes, tarts, ice creams, mousses, soufflés, puff pastry and crepes. Unfortunately, I can feel my pants tightening just from writing that list. That, in conjunction with the aftereffects of a serious sugar high in class last night, left me craving something good for my body this morning (when I say serious sugar high I mean serious. By the end of class, no one could stop laughing long enough to listen to the instructor, and after I got home at 11:30 pm, it still took me two hours to be able to go to sleep).
Luckily, in addition to the many food magazines I read, I also have subscriptions to a number of health and fitness publications. Someone who loves to eat as much as I do needs all the help she can get making sure she does not need to buy a new wardrobe every few months. These blueberry pancakes are from Health Magazine’s September issue and a part of their new CarbLovers Diet. I am not someone who has ever in her life been able to stick to a diet (please see previous comment about loving to eat and did I mention I am in culinary school?). However, I do love to take some of the best, healthy recipes from publications like Health, Cooking Light, Family Circle and others, and incorporate them into my cooking routine to bring balance back to my meals. These blueberry pancakes are delicious and easy to make, a combination that should earn them a repeat appearance in your cooking repertoire. At least, if like me, you need a healthy addition to your diet every now and then.
Blueberry Oat Pancakes with Agave-Sweetened Yogurt
Adapted from Health Magazine
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese
2 large eggs
1 t vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)
1 cup blueberries
3/4 cup 0% Fage (or other low or non-fat Greek yogurt)
1 T agave (or maple syrup as the original recipe calls for)
Combine first four ingredients (through vanilla) in a blender and process just until smooth (if you take it too far as I did with my first batch the pancakes will turn out gummy). Place the batter in a medium bowl and stir in the blueberries. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat and coat with cooking spray. Spoon a few tablespoons of batter per pancake into the pan. Cook until golden, about three minutes per side. Combine the yogurt and the agave or maple syrup and serve with the pancakes.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Tabbouleh is a go-to dish when cleaning out the vegetable bin which I seem to be doing a lot these days. I am still learning to adjust my shopping list to more appropriate levels for someone who is in culinary school. Three nights a week I get fed at school and I bring home leftovers of all the foods I prepare during class. There is a surplus of food in my fridge and sometimes I forget to purchase less when I head out to the store.
Even if you don’t need to clean out the veg bin, tabbouleh is a great dish to have on hand. It keeps well, and even gets better as the flavors meld together over the course of a day or two. I snack on it throughout the day and if you need a quick side for dinner, it is always great to have this sitting in the fridge waiting for you. Love those time savers.
Tabbouleh is traditionally made with bulgar wheat, which is what I used here, but I often use couscous, wild rice, wheat berries or basically any grain (or pasta in the case of couscous) that I have on hand. Traditional vegetables include tomatoes and spring onions with a healthy does (usually an entire bunch) of chopped parsley, but since I use this salad as a dumping ground for leftover vegetables, I do not always stick to the traditional and neither should you. In this rendition I use tomatoes, cucumbers and shallots, but in the past my tabboulehs have also included zucchini, eggplant (cooked), celery, squash and so on. The only real guidelines you should follow are to chop the vegetables small - I usually aim for a similar size to the grain I am using – and to use lots and lots of parsley.
1 cup bulgar or other desired grain or pasta
3 roma tomatoes
1 small shallot
1 bunch parsley
Juice from 1 lemon
Olive oil to taste (start with 3 T and add from there)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Cook the bulgar or other grain according to package directions. Spread the cooked grains out on a parchment paper lined baking sheet to cool quickly. While the grains are cooking, chop the cucumber, tomatoes and shallot finely. Sprinkle the vegetables with salt and pepper and set aside. Chop the parsley finely, rocking your knife back and forth through the herb to make quick work of the bunch. Once the bulgar has cooled, combine it with the vegetables, parsley and lemon juice. Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil. You want the salad to seem moist, but not oily. If necessary, add more olive oil. Taste and add more salt and pepper to your liking. The salad is ready right away, but gets even better after some time in the refrigerator.
Thursday, September 9, 2010
There are years that ask questions and years that answer. So says the text on the card I received from my parents today for my 30th birthday. According to my mother, I am in one of those years that answers.
At the moment, I still feel as though as I am asking a lot of questions. Where will this year of culinary school take me? Where will I be working? At the end of this year will I get to stay in New York or head back to Los Angeles? Or somewhere else?
At least one question has been answered. Will I ever go to culinary school? Yes. In fact, I am doing that at this very moment. Every now and then I have to stop and remind myself that I am, in fact, doing that very thing. I have been putting this dream together for years and it is so easy to forget that I am finally here living it.
I feel particularly grateful today. It is 1:30 in the morning and I am up late riding the adrenaline of a day that included the 30th anniversary of my birth and the practical and written finals for level one of culinary school. As we were waiting in the hall at school for our exam to begin, a man walked by and asked if there was a final going on. I glanced up and realized that Jacques Pepin was standing in front of me wishing our class good luck. “Cook from the gut,” were his final words as he continued down the hall after graciously posing for pictures with some of my classmates.
Chef Pepin is a dean at FCI, but it’s not as though the man is there every day roaming the halls. It was, without a doubt, a celebrity sighting. I had already decided it was very apropos that I should spend the night of my 30th birthday chopping vegetables during the level 1 final, but Chef Pepin provided the icing on the cake for a notable evening.
There is a bit more icing in my life right now as I lay in bed eating the slice of devil’s food cake I picked up on my way home from school tonight. Final or no final, a girl has got to have cake on her birthday. Lest you start thinking I eat cake every night, I am including the recipe for one of my more common evening snacks.
By the time we finish with school and I catch the subway home, it is usually at least 11:30 pm. To help myself wind down from a busy and late night in the kitchen, I make a quick snack of pears on rye toast with ricotta and agave nectar. The pears and rye feel judicious after an evening that inevitably includes a butter-enriched something and the ricotta and agave sufficiently satisfy my sweet tooth to spare me yet another visit to Billy’s Bakery and a subsequent trip to the gym.
If you are not a fan of the combination of savory and sweet, you can leave out the salt and cracked pepper, but I think it would be a mistake. The more pepper the better and make sure it is freshly ground. It is the perfect offset to the creamy ricotta and sweet agave.
Pear and Ricotta on Rye Toast
1 large slice of rye bread
1/2 small pear
1/3 cup fresh ricotta
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Agave nectar for drizzling
Toast the rye bread. Slice the pear thinly and place the slices on the rye bread. Spread the ricotta over the pear and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle the agave nectar over everything.
Thursday, September 2, 2010
It turns out that if you like to cook, you have a secret weapon when it comes to making friends in a new city. People like to eat and if you happen to throw say, an ice cream party, and have a bunch of people over to your house and feed them, people will like you for letting them eat good food for free.
I didn’t plan my ice cream party as a ploy to make friends, but in hindsight, it wouldn’t have been such a bad idea. It was meant to be a housewarming party, but really any party, at its base, is just a chance to get together with friends, strengthen relationships and hopefully make some new ones. I think the ice cream succeeded in bringing everyone together which, by the way, is what I love about food and cooking
I made a couple of my favorite frozen treats that you can find on Apples and Butter (lemon thyme sorbet, olive oil gelato and apple pie frozen yogurt) and one new recipe courtesy of Saveur Magazine. If you have made it even just a few pages into the current issue of Saveur (The Greece Issue) then you probably noticed the article on the ice-pop that changed a town in Mexico. We were not changing the social makeup of any town or creating a popsicle diaspora at our party, but the unexpected flavors (at least for American palates) of sweet mango and ancho chile powder did manage to start a few conversations. In other words, they served as the perfect icebreaker.
If you like the idea of salty and sweet combinations, then this combination of spicy and sweet won’t be too much of a reach for you. If it seems a little daunting, cut back on the amount of ancho chile powder so that the spiciness is more of an aftertaste. I will be making these again exactly as Saveur suggests. I think the recipe is perfect as is.
Mango-Chile Ice Pops
1 cup store-bought mango juice or nectar
1/4 cup sugar
2 t fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup water
1 t ancho chile powder
I large mango, peeled, seeded and diced
Heat mango juice, sugar, lemon juice and water in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Chill mixture in the refrigerator. Stir in the ancho chile powder and mango chunks. Transfer mixture into popsicle molds of your choice and freeze until solid.