Right foot forward…

I had my last class for this year…this year…

I still have to tell myself that it has been a little over a year since I started this blog…a little over a year since I started to cook professionally and here I am…a little over a year later.

But, it wasn’t very long since I started to teach the group of kids at the Thrive house to cook.  And it wasn’t very long that I had learned how awesome it is to cook for those who truly appreciate your presence and your food.  I love those kids and this past Monday was my last class with them for 2009. Lets go through the past weeks of cooking.

Week 1- Introduction – 4 girls gave them a questionnaire, introduced myself, felt uncomfortable, continuous giggling.  One girl stated that she watched Lydia Bastianich on PBS, “Lydia’s Kitchen is my favorite show along with Cooks Kitchen”.  This got me so excited for the rest of the classes….

Week 2- Turkey meatballs and a home-made marinara sauce, Green Salad with carrots and red onions and a balsamic vin.  Taught the kids the ratio of avinaigrette…an acid…an oil…seasoning (salt pepper).  Taught the students to taste as they go, and let them season the all the food.  Taught them to salt their pasta water that “it should taste like the sea”, taught them to chiffonade basil leaves.  Let them roll the balls, brown the meatballs, they minced and diced and sliced and the meal was a complete success.  Cleanup was a bummer for the coordinators.

week 3- Smoked Turkey and kale soup.   Found out that There was NO BUDGET for the classes.  Went to the SF Foodbank for the first time to pick out ingredients for the class that morning; Cabbage, potatoes, onions, kale, daikon, garlic, carrots, apples.  That day boiled some water with the turkey wings 3 hours, added some chicken stock for more richness, roughly chopped the daikon and put it in the broth for extra warmth and body, 5:00 set up whiteboard with list of ingredients.  Desert?  Yes.  Apple Crumble? Yes ! Apple crumble it is.  taught the kids to slice, chop, dice, and grate.  Took out the turkey wings cooled them and let them strip off the meat to put back into the soup.  Sliced some apples, brown sugar and cinnamon flour and butter and a bit o salt 30 minutes for desert & 30-40 minutes of simmering the soup, some cheesy garlic bread and yes, dinner was served.  Timing?  Still not so good. Out of class at about 8:00.

Weel 4 – Still had the leftover turkey in a tube from the foodbank.  Hmm....still had potatoes…hmmmokay well lets do mashed potatoes and turkey gravy. OH AND BISCUITS! 3 weeks of turkey so far what to do next.  Taught the kids to boil potatoes, mash potatoes, season,  and how to make them creamy and delicious.  Next, saute meat with onions and garlic and some sausage taken out of it’s casing.  Carrots, celery, onions, bell peppers, cornstarch (other ingredients…I know I am forgetting a few)…soon changed to a variation of Shepherd’s pie with buttery flakey biscuits on top.  NO TIME!! took the biscuit dough off the pie, but luckily had 14 mini biscuits already cooking.  Oh no! Oven temp went down…Oh no! pans were too large for the oven!  With some last minute improvisation and yes, dinner was finally done.  Kids ended up leaving at around 8:30.  I don’t remember making a desert for this class.

Week 5: Sloppy Joe’s with an apple and carrot coleslaw! This recipe is in a previous post titled “A MESSAGE TO YOU…)  This was also a great hit with the kids, even the ones that thought that they would never eat this type of coleslaw.  Desert: Candied pecans (with butter and brown sugar and cinnamon with a little bit of nutmeg), Vanilla ice-cream and warmed peaches. The kids were really loud so no one ended up having desert.  This class nearly gave me a heart attack.

week 6: TACO MONDAY- Cumin Citrus and Soy marinated flank steak tacos with fresh guacamole and salsa fresca, fresh shucked corn saute with garlic and butter, and black beans.  Dinner was done in exactly 1/2 an hour. Taught them to; sear, chop, cut, julliene, squeeze, toss, mash, how to use a bundt pan cake to shave corn, why tortillas should be warmed and kept in a towel, how by using some of the same basic ingredients such as onions, garlic, salt, pepper, lime juice, and cilantro can become guacamole or salsa, also showed them how easy it is to have fresh corn taste so good with just garlic, butter, salt and pepper. Best class yet.  I felt so invigorated after this class.

Week 7- Taleya brought in a shrimp fried rice recipe from her grandmother.  With some suggestions from the program coördinator Thuy, the class would consist of Shrimp fried rice, with a Chinese inspired cabbage salad with wonton crisps, and strawberry shortcake for desert with fresh whipped cream. Some peas, carrots, corn, garlic, onion, butter, soy sauce, cilantro, champagne vinegar, green onions, pepper, chinese sausage, cabbage, wonton chips, peanut butter (for the cabbage salad) and yes OHHH yes dinner was right on time!! The kids got home at 7:30.  And cleanup was a breeeeeze.

One of my most memorable moments was when a young girl named Tatiana came up to me and told me “I like you…”.  “So why do you like me?”  I replied “because your nice”  “well what didn’t you like about the other teacher”  “she was mean”….  Can I mention she also played the kids world music?  I doubt you can connect with young kids now a days with drowning sounds of world music from the Putamayo series when they have Lady Gaga or Jay Z on their Ipods. Another memorable moment had to be when Joanna exclaimed at the table “YO, this is HELLA GOOD.”  I also get so excited when the kids go for 2nds and thirds.

And Oh yes…feel good song of the day:

Piece O’ Cake

Photo by Daniel Dent

Wedding cakes.  Never did I ever think that I would be the go to person when it comes to wedding cakes, but so far I’ve been lucky enough to experience what its like be able to sweeten up two couples weddings.   My first attempt came about in May of 2009 when a statuesque blonde with bands of tattoos asked me to make her wedding cupcakes.  70 cupcakes, and a 4 tiered cake and a broken KitchenAid later the first special occasion cake was introduced to the world. The cake would be a fluffy Meyer Lemon cake with a lemon and orange blossom glaze slathered with whipped cream and garnished with slices of strawberries and candied kumquat.  FIRST TIME!  With some excellent help from my good friend Danielle, my roommate’s KitchenAid Appliance, and tips from my Pastry Chef Jen along with some last-minute necessities I was off for a bit of an adventure!

Danielle Patrice Arazaga - pastry assistant extraordinaire!

Armed and ready with butter, flour, sugar, eggs, honey, and garnishes within 3 hours I was able to whip out those lovely delicate cakes.  But of course something had to happen.  Dee (Danielle) dropped the kitchen aid on the LAST batch!  Whew I thought, it’s okay because that was the last batch, but what about the frosting??? Mixer = Broken. Fell to its death. “Ohhh no I don’t have the money to pay for another kitchen aid” said Dee. “STOP! We’ll worry about that later”.  With two whisk, A sunny San Francisco day, a back yard and some stairs we began to whisk the honeyed whipped cream into the light and airy frosting.  The cake came out beautifully for a Spring Wedding! And of course delicious!

Second came about early June 2009. A couple overheard that I did a wedding cake and they asked me if I would want to do theirs? Suuurree I thought…later  I received an email from the grooms mother asking me to make a grooms cake.  With some handy-dandy research tools I was able to find out that a groom’s cake was a very southern tradition.   Usually a very decadent or whimsical cake that is used to represent the groom.

Karl and Halo had a beautiful wedding on their family’s ranch July 4th 2009.  Needless to say there were insufficient modern-day tools to help me with this one.  I baked the vanilla cakes a day ahead and was able to pack everything in neat little containers so that the next day all I would need to do was assemble the 5 tiered cake.  The cake would consist of Vanilla cake, with layers of whipped cream, strawberries and a milk and honey concoction.  The outer would be slathered with whipped cream, bits of pecan praline, and shavings of chocolate.  IT WAS A SUCCESS!!! But of course mishaps occurred.

Photo by Daniel Dent

No…absolutely no kitchen aid, no whisk, and no bowls present at the ranch.  The local convenience store, and grocery store had only 2 1/2 pint containers of whipping cream.  We had to drive 30-45 minutes away to two different locations to buy 10 1/2 pint containers of heavy

whipping cream.  Daniel who was also photographing the wedding ended up also being my knight in shining armor and my driver.  The local breakfast joint/lunch and dinner spot was kind enough to let me borrow a giant whisk and a very large bowl to whisk the cream, a bowl that Paul Bunion must have used himself.  Assembling the cake was easssssssssy.  4- 8 inch round tiers of cake moistened with a milk and honey syrup (which I found was a symbol of long-lasting love in Persian culture), slices of fresh strawberries,  hand whipped honey cream and a top-tier about 5 inches in circumference was the cherry on top.  assembled 1.5 hours ahead of schedule I went off to take a shower and ready myself for the wedding.

Photo by Daniel Dent

Y’all better head back to the house I think something’s happened to the cake!!” So with whipped cream still in my hair,  my eyes bulged, and I took a gulp.   WHAT COULD HAVE HAPPENED!!!   I ran into the house.  It felt like I had just walked into a bad hospital scene.  All the nurses inside just bowed their heads down in silence as I walked through the archaic kitchen, walking through the sea of women in the kitchen to see my patient on its side 1/2 the body torn.  The tiny fridge which held the large cake was pretty much at room temp.    I faintly opened the refrigerator door only to find that half the cake had disastrously plunged to its sweet death.  WHAT WAS I TO DO? the chocolate shavings the praline, the cake!!! THE CAKE!!!  The electricity on the ranch was not up to par with modern-day standards. Daniel who by now was running around like a mad man shooting odds and ends of the wedding came to my side and offered me a suggestion as I went completely numb from shock.  1 hour till the wedding, no working oven, no supplies, no extra ANYTHING!

Photo by Daniel Dent

“JUSTICE LEAGUE” said Daniel “Lets just…do this…and that…and we’ll…and then…VOILA” the HALL OF JUSTICE was born.  Karl the groom wanted a cake that would show his love for comic books, so he presented me with a few Justice League characters in the form of Lego figurines.  This was to be the whimsical and decorative element of the cake.  The tippy top of the cake was salvaged from the wreck.  Somehow we jimmied the two leftover portions of the cake together.  I can’t really explain how we did it but we d

id.  With all the separate components now becoming one as the frosting suddenly the HALL OF JUSTICE appeared! No one was the wiser.  The cake was better than the original and in fact matched perfectly what a grooms cake was all about.

“Are you the young woman who made the cake?”  asked the grooms mother.  An angelic woman of magnificent grace and beauty. “Yes…but I have to admit the cake didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to so I won’t charge you anything for it.”  I braced her with what had happened, held her warm hand and led her into the kitchen.  Her eyes lit up and she seemed completely shocked.  I almost had to lift up her lower jaw from the floor!

She loved it, and she didn’t understand what was wrong with it in the first place! It was such a long SIGHHHHHHHHHHHHH of relief.

Both occasions I learned how important it is to roll with the punches and with downs always there is an upside to things. Nothin’ beats a little positive thinking, quick thinking and ingenuity.  Nothing beats teamwork.

And a little song:

Alexander McQueeeeeeeeeeeeen

I was inspired to draw a connection with the recent Spring/ Summer 2010 Alexander McQueen runway.

sp-about-mainimageHE IS AMAZING.  His conceptual response to fashion and the runway is major with it’s Avante Garde staging as an installation.   Going through his archival of runway shows I find myself saying over and over again “WOW” or “Oh my GOD!” even “WOWIE” was proclaimed.   Each show is  a meeting of massive multi dimensional morphing! Pure visual imagery and pleasure.  MY GOAL is to go through each runway show and create a multi faceted menu:

Just read the didactics from Fall/Winter 08: “

Based on the British Empire, the Queens of England, the Duke of Wellington, toy soldiers and punk princesses, this fashion fairy tale is dominated by an ancient tulle-wrapped tree referencing the work of the artist, Christo. For the first half of the show our heroine is dressed in beautiful rags: nipped waisted jackets, Victorian-line dresses with S-bend corseted tops, textured, hand-knitted mohair and washed tweeds all in dark or neutral colours lend a make-do-and-mend feel to the proceedings. It isn’t long, though, before our Princess meets her Prince Charming, at which point she descends from her treetop habitat and finds all the riches of the world at her disposal. Her clothing duly explodes into colour and references everything from the wardrobe of the young Princess Elizabeth –crimson velvet New Look dresses, ermine wraps and a bastardised Union Jack print – to the palaces of the Maharajas – a draped, predominantly empire-line silhouette finished with paper-flat embroidered slippers, each pair bespoke and created to complement its own outfit.”

Brilliant!  Is there a possibility that food and the runway can go hand in hand?  Of course!  The dark into bright juxtaposition of layers and layers evolves and just conjures up so many ideas that I could play with.  But with my food knowledge being only so modest what will I conjure up?  His details and his thoughtful selection of staging is just so inspiring.  The other day at work someone offered me a taste of Vietnamese yogurt to which I replied “It tastes like Hello Kitty…Theres that artificial sweetness” . I often times will taste and see food, which is why I have to close my eyes from other distractions and to focus on my palate…

In this link is McQueen’s 2010 line titled PLATO”S ATLANTIS I find playful inspiration sparking up inside me again. Haunting and awe inspiring, it revives my imagination so that it doesn’t relocate to a less creative space…and that BUILDUP!

YUMM.  This futuristic, reptilian, aquatic and hedonistic, fetish bound concept of this particular line sparked a vision of what I would be able to do with food.  Most the time food at its purist form is the most attractive and this connection with wildly exotic can conjure up rich stews, pastas, bountiful and beautiful greens layers of flavor, seafood game meats…It’s beautiful really, it evokes a playful passion that imparts the same attraction when viewed, and surely enough thats relevant with food.

Spellbound. WOW

VIETALIAN

I fell in love with Italian cuisine when my father used to take me to this small family owned and operated restaurant in our hometown.  Now granted I didn’t venture far from home at the time so my experience with Italian food was very limited. A saucy and tangy tomato sauce topped with 2 large and moist meatballs. Yum yum yum…

I endlessly watched Lydia Bastianich when I was growing up with all those old and classic PBS cooking series.  I love love loved making pasta at home for my brothers, and experimented constantly with different ways to wrap flavor around and through strands of pasta.  I dreamed of studying Italian food with an old Italian grandmother.

One day I discovered risotto and I slowly expanded my repertoire.  What I definitely like about this recipe is its warm and rich characteristics.  The root vegetables lends a wonderful sweetness and the butter and parmesan add another level of flavor and richness. I wanted to marry the idea of Italian and Vietnamese cooking.  So on a cold and foggy San Francisco summer I decided to make an Aborio Rice Porridge.   In Vietnamese we call it a Chao…Here is the rough recipe.

Root Vegetable Chao

For the Stock:

1/2 Left Over Roasted chicken
1 Large yellow Onion
1 cup stalks of celery
1 cup  carrots
1 cup rutabagas
1 cup turnips
a good size rind of parmesan Cheese
olive oil, Salt & Pepper,
1 1/2  cup Aborio Rice
4 cloves Garlic
The rest of the reserved Root Vegetables.
4  cups Chicken stock
1/2  cup White wine
1 T Marjoram
4 T butter
olive oil, Salt & Pepper,
Garnish-Cilantro, Scallions, limes.

Directions:

Season chicken well and roast bones/scraps with salt and pepper, roast on high.

Dice: Onions, Carrots, rutabaga, turnip and celery (reserve 1/2 of each for later).  Smash your Cloves Garlic.

Saute onions (sweat) add 2 cloves smashed garlic, add the diced rutabaga and carrots and add your rough minced marjoram as well as butter.

Add stock and a bit of water, now add the roasted chicken, and parm rind.   Deglaze the pan with white wine to release the drippings add all the goodness to the stock pot.  Season with salt.  Simmer for 1-2 hours.  Deeper flavors will form when you simmer for longer.

When the hour has past, and flavors have started to mingle, in a soup pot heat your olive oil,  Add the 4 cloves of smashed garlic infuse the pan with garlic oil, now add the Aborio rice coat well with oil  add a bit of oil and toast lightly.  Add your vegetable medley that was saved from earlier and continue to stir cook till onions are slightly transluscent.

Photo by Daniel Dent

While that rice is toasting  begin to strain your stock.  Remove your chicken pieces and cool.

Add a good heaping amount of stock to your toasted (not burnt) Aborio rice.  You want to add about triple the amount of water at once and let simmer. Remember you want a porridge not a risotto so add all liquids at once, but more stock can be added as the process thickens.   I think it’s s

o pretty with those sweet root vegetables floating with the Aborio rice.  Add more stock depending on how brothy you would like your porridge.

Season well with salt and pepper.  When chicken bones are cooled pick apart the meat, and leave some ski

n for a nice richness. Add scraps of meat into the porridge.  Stir and let simmer for another 30 minutes. Total give for take an hour or an hour plus+. What about those large chunks of garlic?  By this time they have melted and can be smashed down some more to give the porridge a bit of a buttery soft & savory richness. It just adds to the all around wonderful quality of the dish.

By this time the broth has becomes rich and glutenous but still slightly brothy.  Garnish with chopped cilantro, green onions, and a wedge of lime.

Hounds tooth…

I didn’t mind it tonight…the climma’ klamma’ of the kitchen.   It was a mellow night compared to last night’s wreckage.  The other night I had my first mentally challenging night.  I worked furiously and to no avail.  On the line by myself, with various mishaps.  Clearly it didn’t detour me.  I’ve been fortunate to come across some reliable and successful kitchens with patience.

Tonight I spoke with one of my sous,and as a student at UC Santa Cruz a professor told him, “When reading becomes a chore it’s time to move on.”  So that’s how he ended up in a kitchen…Santa Cruz…New York…Chicago…and San Francisco.

I’ve heard horror stories.  For cooking, to become a chore.  A haphazard mundane task.    So far, a pastry chef puncturing the nerve in her arm with a sharp German pairing knife (her right hand),  someone walking off the oven line in the middle of a busy dinner rush, slamming s hand in the walk-in then getting sent to the hospital also in the middle of a busy dinner rush, cases of ringworm, fingers getting sliced on the meat slicer, and this my friend is only the beginning of the cuts and scaring.  The other night a fire loomed just 3 doors down from the restaurant.  As the fire trucks came blaring down the street and the smell of plastic and burnt embers filling the air,   through the lights and sirens we kept working.   Mentors have even told me they heard a head cook screaming in the bathroom bloody murder in the middle of a hectic shift because of a kidney stones.

One night after a shift, a couple of us got together for a nightcap, and over a 40 oz and a glass of wine i heard a cook softly proclaim, “I just want to cook”.  Simple. His eyes nearly welled up.  It was the first time that I came across someone who feels that there is much more to cooking than just heat and chaos, the no frills. It is about nurturing a twisted instinct in us all to feed others, and to do it well.  I’ve always wanted to do that.

Maybe it was growing up in a bakery.  Maybe it was watching my mother cook. Maybe it was trying to cook for my brothers when my mother wasn’t home from a long work day.  Maybe it was that one time I made homemade pastries for my fifth grade class (Chinese crackers chocolate and butterscotch chips), or the other time I had to make my twist on egg rolls for an Sophomore English class;the topic, food from your culture (ground beef sautéed w/mushrooms, onions and garlic, along some spices rolled in won-ton wrappers).  I remember thinking, these kids definitely won’t like the grisly noodles and black mushrooms in my mothers egg rolls, so I’ll Americanize it!

In one of my first posts, I had mentioned that I carried my knives in a fancy bag. I no longer carry my knives in my calf skin Marc Jacobs bag.  I no longer feel the need really to get such material possessions when now I can’t even afford to think about such extravagances, even before, they were just window shopping dreams.  I can however think of foie grois, truffles, black-footed chickens, various charcuteries, cook books, a lovely dinner at Chez Panisse.

I now carry my knives in a fold-able black, hounds tooth lined knife bag.  In it I carry 2, 8 inch knives, one western one Japanese, a serrated knife, a 6 inch Japanese vegetable knife, a Japanese pairing knife, a small mandolin, measuring spoons, an ergonomic peeler, Sharpees, Neosporin, and a board scraper.   It’s exciting.  I find comfort in holding onto my knives… my toolkit.  Sometimes admitting that I throw in some chap stick, an eyebrow manicure kit, and even blush and a brush.  I see my hands aging and my bruises and scrapes becoming more common.

Maybe I am exaggerating, after all we all tend to become our worst critics clearly hoping that growth and maturing will develop.   It all pays off.   When you can learn someone new each day, and so far I’ve learned various techniques to cooking meats, pastas, and vegetables, various prep shortcuts, and most importantly appreciating what is immediately in front of you.  Focus and determination, just when you think your about to burst, you remember your ability to breathe.  The kitchen has revived my sense of self. The kitchen has also shown me how to keep up a sense of cool, and a bit of awareness and confidence.

Travel…ohhh travel is on my mind.  I have to admit I haven’t been able to travel much but I find it important for cooks to venture out to new territory, and to explore and cultivate their palate.  To be able to get inspiration from other restaurants and cooks.   To gain momentum by  gathering new ideas and ingredients from farms and purveyors but, to also be able to experience authentic regional cuisine.   Paris is currently on my mind…

I get choked up.

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It’s the start of a New Year.  Excitement is in the air and so is change and I am looking forward to new endeavors.  With that being said, I am letting go of a $1200 studio apartment.  I am finding it harder and harder committing to such a  heavy workload with such little pay.  I am going to go full force at this in hopes of learning more, without the stress and burdens that rain on me financially…we all know the kitchen is stressful enough.

So…Roommates.  Everyone knows what a task it is to find a room.  Particularly daunting is the thought of having somewhat crazy psychotic or worst a hippie vegan with staunch political views that won’t let me cook in the kitchen with animal products.  Those people exists.  Those people also wouldn’t want me as a roommate.  Roommate postings can range from sane to completely outrageous.  Vegans not wanting to share pots and pans, roommates wanting Taco TUESDAYS, must like this must like that must not do this must not do that.  It gets too much.  Viewings take on another rabid spirit.  When opening a door into a new apartment, there is sometimes that scary screeches from a soundtrack of a horror movie.   Think Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO. I don’t want to live with Normal Bates.   Then again it’s San Francisco I also don’t want to live with a Cheech Marin who will wreak of Nag Champa and patchouli.

I will miss my large and new kitchen.  I will miss the oven, where I have created shortbread, and cakes, and roasts, and toasts when I lacked a toaster.

On to a new journey.  More twists more turns.

The other week I cried.  I snorted and blubbered through a moist towel.  I sighed and breathed and got choked up.  I was watching Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. I don’t obsess over many things, or many humans, but I can sometimes obsess over food.  While watching the episode on Spain, I had a bit of an intense reaction to the beautiful philosophy that a culture had on food.  The innovation the soft beauty that was present in each family story.  Adhering to their roots…their culture, and transforming culinary traditions to create new ones.

It got me to thinking. I wanted to travel.  I yearned to.  I ache to.  I want to taste and savour the splendid tastes and aromas of regional cuisine.  I’ve gone on interviews with various chefs and talked about food, and when asked, “WHY?…do you pursue this…do you want this…what is it about food that you like…”

I’ve stated before that I can get pretty emotional with food, as well with art. But I was not expecting it to suddenly overwhelm me when I was watching the show. It evokes so much emotion in me.  A wonderful spirit.  Maybe it’s my fathers spirit lighting new hope within me ,when at times I thought all there was to this world was making my mother happy, and making money.

I couldn’t stop crying.  It wasn’t sadness, maybe it was envy maybe it was jealousy.  I wasn’t there to smell the wood burning, I wasn’t there to taste the seasonal farm fresh ingredients, overwhelmed with the sights and sounds of a different country.  The aromas, the language the sun all tied in a bundle around my heart.  Squeeeezing it sooo tight, that I really thought that my heart was about to burst.

It was just so beautiful.  And I want to experience that.  I love love love that.  The excitement the passion, and the tactile and sensory experiences.

I am exciting about this years change.  With $1200 of rent away…with getting my deposit back.  I am ready to move with no excuses.  With no looking back, no regret.  To be able to travel, catch that bug that my friends talk about.  Focus on expanding my palate with travel.  I can’t wait.  It will be a bit till I am able to save up for my culinary journeys, but it’s definitely going to happen.

I hail a toast to 2009 and beyond.  May the wine be bountiful and aromas be bright and warm.