What’s next.

I took a nap on the couch.  I woke up to my nimble and softly fragrant mother holding my hand.  Her skin is the color of porcelain, and she smells like candied ginger, and mandarins with a bit of baby powder.  She nuzzles my hand.  “Something is different.”  she says in Vietnamese and walks away.  I vacationed (if you call it that) for a brief weekend at my mother’s home last year in April.

It was a simple and honest forward…Before I told my mother that I started to cook full-time,  she tried to steer me clear from the wonders of the kitchen.  Especially the heat of cooking.  I remember having chores like picking herbs but when it came to being close to the heat, flames and blood and guts of the kitchen my mom would shoo me away from the moving images that I snuck in as a child.  Oh how I loved to taste the finished result of my mother’s  proper cooking and seasoning.

So now what? What after all this hoopla of pursuing my passion…what now?   Right now I am still on the line.  I don’t know whats next…there are no grandiose ideas of becoming a celebrity chef.  I just want to cook.  And that I am…

I have so far experienced some ailments, but nothing too alarming.  The stress, the tense, the anxiety, but then again there is a wee bit of calmness there.  Even when all the wheels are spinning and the plates clammering and ringing like bells, its that constant momentum that excites and actually alerts me.  Even though my feet ache, my calves get tight,sore wrists, my shoulders hard and tense sometimes even a bit of numbness…repetition repetition… I still just go. Sometimes I want to scream, my forehead wrinkles with focus, the look of distress is well a mélange of emotion.  That formation of the furrowed forehead is an aching and need to release an immense amount of  intensity! I only feel the sigh of relief when items become plated properly. Then WHOOOOOOOOOOOSH its released. But, you see I also gain so much.  I told a co-worker the one thing that I have learned is that in the kitchen “I have learned that each and everyday you lose patience but you also gain patience”. Pat myself on my back…it’s so true.  Stamina, strength, resilience…and learning to breathe.

Sure I don’t know what’s next.  Day by day I say.  I just focus on my daily tasks, whatever it consists of for that day.  I can’t alarm myself with other worries because we all have to pay our dues.  I’m still there though.

So when I finally proclaimed to my mother (I actually whispered it to her) that I have been a full-time cook for a while now, “UH OH” I thought here it comes.   She does this thing ever since I could remember where we makes a ticking sound with her tongue where the quick inhalations of breath and the momentum of her tongue click to form a sound.  click click click click click…. a very classic 5 clicks then an “Oh God no”.  It’s her classic sound of disappointment.  “I knew it..” she said, “Mom knows when something is wrong and new with you, your hands they seem to have aged and have hardened.”  What a relief…finally she knew. 

She felt the slight callous forming where the base of my blade meets the shaft that meets my forefinger and thumb.  She saw the burn marks, and noticed my dry hands. Moms know.  “Are you still cooking?”  She will normally call me up to ask me along with, have I grown out my hair, do I eat fried food or too much butter, have you eaten anything?  Same answers,  Yes…No…yes/no, yes/no. My answers to your questions are simple, my thoughts to her questions are a bit more complicated.  The aftermath of a conversation is usually an exhalation of relief because the questions have stopped.

When my mother finally became a guest at the restaurant where I cook, she walked in with an air of unfamiliarity that quickly turned to sweet wonder.  I think it relieved her to see that I wasn’t just in a kitchen filled with pirates and rag tag scallywags,  I think it comforted her to see that it was a busy and bustling restaurant that was well oiled and beautiful with an open kitchen.  I think it made her proud to eat the food, to taste the quality, it’s cleanliness as well as it’s execution, and most importantly it gave her a piece of mind knowing that her daughter is surviving still in this city pursuing what she loves.  And as hard as it is some days, I just have to tell myself that well, you enjoy it.

So what’s next?  Gosh…like I know. Lets just welcome and champion whatever happens next! Whatever the next step or chapter will be!  I can no longer be fearful…Come on let’s go…

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:

A Message to you

Wack wack wack slice slice slice pound roll boil bake.

I’ve taken on a new task and it has reintroduced fresh new inspiration into my life.

For the past 4 weeks I have been volunteering my time and have been giving cooking lessons as well as providing a hearty and delicious meal at a local non-profit. Most the kids are middle school aged and I was almost intimidated by the thought of them saying “EW…WHATS THIS” or even worst not connecting with them and feeling completely outta tuned with today’s youth.    I have to tell you the best thing that I have heard in ages must have come out of a 13 year olds mouth …“YO THIS IS HELLLA GOOD.”  Other comments such as “I like you better than the other cooking teacher…she was mean.”  Not to mention I think she also cooked them bland food.  It feels really good to connect with these youth, and I also vowed NEVER to play cheesy world music while cooking with them.  It also helps that we can talk about Rihanna and Jay Z as well as how to Julienne, chiffonade, slice, dice, bake, boil, roast etc…

In this post  I have included a video of Sting’s daughter singing a lovely tune that accompanies me in the kitchen, as well as a quick version of my sloppy joes.  Of course if I made this for adults and had a better budget the list of the ingredients would be a little more complex but not much!  Including Orange juice and lemon zest for the coleslaw with cilantro and I would use a beer or a wine to help with additional flavor to the sloppy joe concoction. And yes, hey call me MS. TINA

I made this dish before using a cast iron skillet and carmelized the onions also using some smoked salt, and a nice hearty wine (or was it beer?) I think I also added a bit of orange juice or pineapple juice.  SO enjoy this one for today.

This is today’s recipe.  I have 1.5 hours to prep, cook, clean, instruct, and sit down and have a meal with the kids!  I also have to use what we find at the San Francisco Foodbank, the programs Pantry but also some money comes out of the program directors generous pocket.

This is a quick ingredient gathering/list that I emailed to the program director!

Apple & Cabbage Coleslaw

3 Apples 4 carrots 1 cabbage mayonnaise 1 Green Onion 3 tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar 1/2 Teaspoon Coriander or Cumin

Salt and pepper to taste

Apples:  Cut into slivers (please ask Ms. Tina)

Cabbage: Finely Julliened (Please ask Tina)

Green Onions : cuts into rounds.

Sauce: Add all other ingredients together but please ask and make sure all ingredients are present before you start to make the sauce.

Sloppy Joes – Keep in mind you might have some of these Items in the house

Hamburger Buns – enough for surprise guests and attendees.

Ground beef

1 Yellow Onion

2 carrots

1 red bell pepper

4 cloves garlic

1/2 cup Brown sugar

1 can chopped stewed tomatoes

1 can tomato paste ( I think you have this at the house)

1/4 cup Apple Cider Vinegar ( I think you have this at the house)

(as for spices I can work with what you have in your spice kitchen) So Dont worry about buying any of these I am just listing this for myself.)

Cumin, Coriander, bay leaves, Cloves, Thyme

If there is time for dessert then Lets buy some Vanilla IC. It would be VERY VERY easy.

Dessert?  Warmed Peaches with Vanilla IC.

I love it!! I love working with limited ingredients and making something delicious and comforting.  The past 4 (going on 5) classes were great! They were a bit hectic and many many surprise elements were thrown in, like having no time or the oven was at the wrong temp, extra kids to feed.  Most these meals become impromptu cooking lessons with the kids having some of the most awesome skills and initiative and having some of the greatest palates to boot! Fresh turkey meatballs with homemade marinara accompanied by a salad of fresh greens, to Shepherd’s Pie with fresh made buttery biscuits, to Smoked turkey legs with winter vegetable soup and a cinnamon apple crumble.   Today its Sloppy Joes!  I hope to put up pictures of the evenings. So until then …<3

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.