Goal: Induce Blasphemous Praise of Roasted Chicken

Okay hellions, I have not mastered the roasted bird yet. Oh sure, I can put some seasonings on (and in) the bird and roast it and it tastes alright (if I don't give two craps about how to get dinner on the table as long as it gets there somehow). But I've never ever made a bird that made the chicken eater say "ohhhhh damn!!!" I have said "yum, good chicken" but I'm looking for the "Oh, Damn! This is is Good!" or "God Dammit! This is the BEST chicken I've EVER had!" or the ultimate blasphemous compliment: "Jesus' Muuuutha!! .......Woooooo Lorrrrrd!!! Oh HELL Yeah! Mmmmmmmmmmmm....."

Of course, as with anything, a self mastered cook goes for the gold, the reaction that goes something like this:

Lesson 8: Chef Knives: Everything You Wanted to Know

Of all the equipaje in your damn kitchen, you really should make your most thoughtful investment in your chef knife. It took me a couple of months to figure out the importance, care, use and maintenance of this very important tool.

At first, I just wanted to know what knife was the best. I bent the ear of knowledgeable sales associates in Kitchen Kapers and in Williams Sonoma. Both experiences were very good and they both offered to let me "test drive" the knives. Well, in order to test drive, you need to know how to drive. So, in order to keep myself from looking like a damn idiot, I went home and watched a few youtube videos (luckily there are a great number of excellent instructional videos out there, so go explore!) on how to hold and use a chef knife. After watching more than one (it's ALWAYS good to see different perspectives on the same subject), I test drove with my own cheap chef knife that I had been using for years. What an experience! It's amazing how much more control and efficiency you have with your knife when you use it properly. You have to try it. Here's a great youtube video on How to Hold Your Chef Knife

However, when I held it properly and chopped a few onions with it, it didn't take long for me to notice that


Emotional Cherries in a Cobbler

It's the middle of the summer. And friggin Hades has laid down his blanket of oppressive heat on our heads. If you look out my window tomorrow morning, you'll see my burnt lawn and those invisible flames that distort the view of my neighbor's house. Also, cherries are in season. Heck, don't you think it's time we fire up the oven in the kitchen of my damnation? It's not quite hot enough, let's sear our faces in the inferno of hell's fury!

And in addition to this blazing heat wave we've been having, well, let's just say, life has thrown us a few damn pits, hasn't it? Screw the "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade" cheery bullcrap saying. It's up to you if you want to put on a sunny smile while getting kicked in the hooch by this stinkin economy or whatever else ails ya. That's not how I roll. I don't have a damn job yet and there shall be no sunny damn lemonade in this hellish kitchen. So here's my saying:

Lesson 7: What the Flatulence?

It is a socially accepted fact that boys have problems with gas and girls don't. Really, girls don't. Ever. I'm a girl. I don't become flatulent. Accept it as truth, or else I will have to kill you.

It is also true that farting has become a sport for many boys, especially the teenage variety and quite more so, the old man variety. In fact, I think all boys have an arsenal of tools ranging from the humble match to the brazen gas torch with which to create the ultimate in human methane fires. I know, you know, we all know... as, at one point, at some sort of summer camp along the way, we witnessed the laughter and explosions near the woods with certain nervousness of the start of a forest fire. Oh, the boys. How they love to fart anywhere and everywhere. Woe to the girl who must enter the car of the boy who has trapped the aroma of his consumed and released amusements. Even if the girl is the Mommy and the boy is a giggling little 4 year old. I call this experience "Pandora's Vehicle." I knew I'd have fun with the post, what with my inherited juvenile sense of humor. I'm sure, if I didn't have to get to the food preparation part that is relevant to a cooking blog, I could regale you with many a story of boys I have known and other boys my girlfriends know... and even stories that have become legends in the annals of the flatulence tales among my crowd of friends. I'm sure you, being fan of my page, and reading as far as you have, you probably have a few tales of your own to share. (I'd love to hear them in the comments section if you're brave). So, we are all familiar with the issue.

While some boys are proud of their musical toots, I know there are many gentleman out there who would rather avoid the beans and save themselves undue humiliation in front of the ladies that, as you remember, never ever have flatulence problems.

It's a shame really, to have so many people avoid the beans, especially

Food Study: Beans

Hello Readers,

Thank you so much for your patience as I have taken time to get my pain managed. Now, that I'm back in the kitchen, and a little broke due to all the price increases that have been going on (yikes! you noticed too, huh?), I thought our food study for the next month or so should be beans!

I purchased two bags of beans last weekend. One 2 lb. bag of black beans and one 2 lb. bag of Great Northern White Beans. Total cost: $2.35. Yes, my darlings, even a .45 cent bag o' beans is essentially a thing of the past. But still, when you can fill a whole stock pot full of food for under 3 bucks (and feel at least 10 people with that), that is NOT BAD!

As you probably experience in your own home, the trick is getting your family on board with both the idea of having beans for dinner and actually eating them. Not everyone is a fan. So this presents a dual challenge: make it cheap and make it good enough to win them over! I have a feeling this is going to take some serious experimentation and study of flavors but with enough research I'm always optimistic that even the most cantankerous among us can be converted. Today is Thursday and I have already made Black Bean Burgers one night and Black Bean Tacos (using the leftover burgers) on the following night. Right now, I'm simmering a pot of Great Northern Whites in chicken broth with a bay leaf, garlic and onion powder and salt. Heck, I might throw some of my favorite frozen turkey sausage in there in a minute.

Now, beans are very popular in soup format but I can tell you right now, soup also does not fly around here (though I myself love soup). If it does end up being a soup, it has be hearty and thick like chili. So, what I can do is make white chicken chili out of it. The problem is, when you look at ingredients for white chicken chili, they are fairly hard on the budget. Chicken is about $7-9 dollars a package now, you'll need sour cream and cheese. So... before you know it, we'll be missing the whole point of frugality and simplicity with the beans. I think what I'd like to do, is puree them so that it is a thick soup, add some garlicky sauteed spinach for color and texture and a little cream, maybe some parmesan too. Kind of like a thick and hearty, very filling escarole. I'll puree the bits of sausage right along with it so that it adds a delicious smoky and meaty flavor. And then serve with some nice crusty Italian Bread that I know I can get for $2.

Tomorrow, I shall post the outcome of this experiment and if it won over the picky people in the household. Pictures and recipes to follow of course. :) If not, I'm sure there is an inexpensive way to make white chicken chili, maybe with canned chicken packed in water (no preservatives) for $2.00? If you have other ideas, please feel free to post your comments below. Or on my Facebook Page.

Thanks so much for studying with me! :)

Oh and here's the recipe for the Black Bean Burgers:


Prepare 16 oz bag of dried black beans according to package directions. If you have a day job, you might want to do the overnight soak and then cook them in the crock pot all day with a little sausage.

Or - use 3 cans of black beans.

In a food processor or use a pastry knife, chop up beans and add the following. (I eyeballed the ingredients so this is my best guess. Taste mixture before adding eggs).

1 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1-2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp - 1/4 cup taco sauce
1/4 cup yellow mustard
1/3 cup ketchup
1 cup plain bread crumbs
2 eggs

Mix all together with a fork, except eggs, and taste. Adjust seasoning if needed. Add eggs. If mixture is too wet, add more bread crumbs. It should be a stiff consistency. Heat a little oil in a skillet on medium (slightly high). Shape the patties relatively thin (they won't shrink like meat does). Note: if patties are too thick, it will take too long to get the inside cooked and they will burn on the outside.

Cook 3-5 minutes on each side. Drain on paper towels and serve. Makes about 10 burgers.

You can also broil these about 3-5 minutes on each side.

Note that if you omit the eggs, these will be prone to falling apart in the skillet so you'll have to be extra gentle when flipping. But I made a few of these egg free and they were still very good. They taste a little more like falafel that way but a very good falafel patty. :)

Lesson 6: What in the World is Going on in the Kitchen?

On the LineOkay students, if you want to work in a professional kitchen one day, or you are just reading this out of curiosity, then you need to know about the Kitchen Brigade.

Most of you know about the Executive Chef and the Sous Chef. The executive, as you all may have gathered, is the big nuts boy (or girl), the one running the whole show back there. If they are any good at what they do, they will be more like Chef Gordon Ramsay and less like wimpy Gomer Pyle. From my years as a Trainer, I learned that when it came to students, familiarity does indeed breed contempt. The more I'd try to befriend them, the less they would respect me. The same holds true if you are indecisive. I learned the hard way that you gotta walk in with all your peacock feathers spread out and show your confidence. It really helps to actually be confident and that comes from really knowing what you're talking about.

Lettuce Eating Gone Hog Wild!!

For ONE freaking day, it has stopped raining and the springtime sun has bestowed its grace upon us. Thank God! I'm praying for drought this summer. We are so soaked up here that we're almost waddling and paddling. Before you know, we won't even speak English...we'll just QUACK and have dunk offs.

Anyway, food, let's talk about food. You know I've been all up in my kitchen with the pig and the green stuff. I had myself a ball at Trader Joe's the other day and went nuts with the produce and picked up some bacon. If there is ever a way to be more one with the earth, it is to eat your way through it. Nothing says "Spring" like stuffing your mouth full of baby greens coated lightly with the sweet brilliance of fresh honey mustard and crushing it all with your molars.

I know too that I look pretty effing ridiculous eating like that. But really,

Dead Sexy Pate a Choux

The proper way to say this is "Paht ah Zsu!!" There, now don't you feel French? I'm feeling more and more "French" as I go through culinary history, food techniques and even having a little fun working on french pastries during a recent class I took at Kitchen Kapers. It's all about food with the French and expressing life and moods through what you make. You can apply any feeling to food, as long you always add love.

And speaking of love, nothing is as passionately creamy as a little St. Honore' cake. Made with a circle of puff pastry, pate a choux piped around the edge, baked, filled with vanilla pastry cream and then topped with whipped cream and optional additions of cherries and spun sugar, this is the food that your love should go to the trouble of making to win your heart. The french pastry is dead sexy

My Grandma's Easy Chuck Roast Recipe

This is something that my Grandma Ada made for us every time we would visit to her cozy home in Park Hill, Oklahoma. Surrounded by endless trees, roses, blackberry bushes, dirt roads and a sunset vista of rolling hills and cattle farms, it brings back warm memories of love and comfort. You use the beef juices to make a delicious gravy. I highly recommend making a side of mashed potatoes and my Grandma's extra sweet corn to go with it (see note about corn at bottom).

Ingredients:

3-4 pound chuck roast
Salt
Pepper
Flour
Unsalted Butter
2-3 Tbsp Cold Coffee

I like to start making this at 12 noon for dinner at 5 or 6. It's a great Sunday dinner plan.

You Know You're a Foodie When...

I have been a terrible blogger this past week. I'm generally on my computer all day long and all night long, with short breaks in between to play referee between my son and the dog. But I have indeed been damn busy!

Firstly, I was successful in make 5 quarts of white beef stock! Woohoo! See the picture to the left? Not so appetizing, huh? Well, it's not supposed to be right now. While it was simmering, it smelled faintly of beef and onions. You are not supposed to add salt during simmering either because you are to add it later when you are making your sauces from it. So, when I tasted it, it was pretty bland. But again, after storage in the freezer, one is to defrost it and make a reduction mixed with a pale roux and other delicious aromatics/seasonings to bring out the fine flavor. Was it worth the trouble? Well, if it turns out to make a ridiculously fantastic veloute and bechamel, then I would say so.

Also you all know how I feel about factory processed broths. They are high in CRAP. Meaning, they all kinds of

Preparing To Make My First White Stock

All of my culinary textbooks start with preparing a few different kinds of stocks. As a chef, one needs to learn to do this and develop an understanding of the "mother" sauces that is used in grande, classic and some nouvelle cuisines. A good homemade stock is the base of the mother sauces and has many applications for adding silky, velvety texture and flavor to your dishes.

So I have purchased a 12 quart stock pot complete with the steam and immersion baskets as these will come in handy for straining. The other items I (and you if you are following) will need to aquire:

8-12 Large Glass Canning Jars, caps and lids (run through the dishwasher one time)
Cheesecloth
Twine
2 Bricks
1 bag of Ice
Large Ladle
16 lbs. beef bones (or combination beef and veal)
1 lb. onion, chopped large chunks
1/2 lb. parsnip, chopped large chunks
1/2 lb. celery, chopped large chunks
dried thyme and bay leaf for bouquet garni

(Note: the simmering is going to take 8-10 hours. The mirepoix  (veggies) need to be chopped large because of the long simmering time).

I will let you know how the acquisition of 16 lbs. of beef bones is a success.

Lesson 5: A Mad Crazy Boss!

Ma GastronomieMy eyes have read the words and discovered the early 20th century equivalent to Gordon Ramsay: Fernand Point! The guy was the ultimate perfectionist. It is no wonder he is one of the most famous chefs who ever lived. While he may have been a total pain in the ass to work for, the man had a serious relationship with his food. He was the first one to assert that one could spend his whole life learning how to fry an egg perfectly.

He started out in a train station kitchen with his parents and they recognized early on that he was more than a mere cook. They helped nurture Fernand's interest and opened a new restaurant just for him. Fernand excelled and eventually opened his own restaurant with his lovely wife. The restaurant was called La Pyramide.

Really, the thing to note about Fernand was the way he thought about food. He believed in high quality ingredients and eventually established a relationship with top merchants and suppliers. His daily menu would change based on what was the highest quality food available. He charged a flat price (instead of a la carte) and created the "whole dining experience" for guests. He was a stickler for details. He got up at 4:30 every morning and worked until 11pm every night. No detail of the kitchen or dining room was too insignificant to overlook...even the dust on the curtains. He was very strict about the number of guests that could be served at once: only 50. Even if the Queen of England herself was guest number 51, she would not be allowed in.

Fernand also rejected the kitchen brigade established by Careme and Escoffier. While Escoffier simplified Careme with cuisine and kitchen staff, Fernand went further to simplify all that Escoffier taught.

Now, I haven't studied Careme and Escoffier and Fernand in depth to understand all the details that were simplified but I can tell you that what all three of these men have in common is that they made cuisine their own. They broke rules. (Hannah Glasse of Colonial America also rejected standard French cooking rules). Fernand Point believed one should make cuisine their very own, studying and using the pallette of basic food rules to deliver creativity and personality in your food. There are a lot of wonderful quotes by Fernand, which gives more of a look into his character, my favorite being, "If the divine creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony."

I think this quote speaks to the foodie and future chef in all of us. Also, be a rule breaker! Do to food what YOU love to do with it. Who knows, someone may even write a book about you.

Now, off on a mission to get a copy of Ma Gastronomie and make it a part of my teriyaki stained cookbook shelf.

To learn more about Fernand Point, I recommend reading this Fernand Point Biography and this Historic Chefs: Fernand Point

Lesson 4: Native American and Colonial Cuisine

The Art Of Cookery, Made Plain And Easy (1788)Ah, where to begin on the subject of Cuisines in my own words? Well, to start, I'm just going to say that before there was "cuisine" there was just basic survival cuisine. Native Americans cooked with campfires, just like you see in those survival movies and shows. Often using stones to throw in a pot of water to bring it to boiling temperature and then using that hot water to cook root vegetables. And pretty much everything else was put directly on a fire. Thought they did seem to invent clay cooking pots that could withstand the heat of fire and made cooking a little more of art beyond mere fire roasting. Some Native Americans created adobe clam-shelled type ovens in the ground. I think the origination of Boston Baked Beans was done in one of these ground ovens. The recipe:

A Comforting Helping of Grits

Grits, done well, are creamy, warm, buttery, salty and good. It is warm and filling. Just what a soul needs to get through the day. I know it's not the most popular menu item for many. When grits are done poorly, not even Pastor Silvertongue of the Church of Grits can extend high praise to a bowl of reconstituted sandpaper. Grits should prepared low and slow, just like the back of the package says. But make sure you add plenty of salt and butter. The finished result should be a hybrid of smooth risotto to firm polenta.  A good spoonful of grits is like a tiny mound of corn flavored molecule shaped pasta. Though it is not pasta, it actually comes from a lye-processed corn called hominy. A harder type of corn whose husks must be removed in order for the corn to be edible. Kind of similar to how life has to beat the stubborn rind off of us to see the truth of who we are and give ourselves permission to expand our authenticity and give it to the world.

I'll be headed to grits country this weekend.  I'll be giving hugs and taking moments to say my forever good bye to a very important person. Later on, I'll be stopping to smell the culinary roses. In this case, it will be a bowl of humble grits with sad butter and tearful salt; warm, dense and restorative.

Monday, it will be time to get back on the ball and keep the momentum going with our culinary studies. Thanks again for your comments, well wishes and patience.

With Love,
Michelle

Mourning The Loss of a Wonderful Man

This is supposed to be a food blog but I haven't been able to write about food for a while. Monday, I learned that a sweetheart of a friend throughout my school years - and later a boyfriend in the spring/summer of '94 - has passed. http://www.tributes.com/show/Fredric--Morriss-87977512

Though I lost touch with him, it was nice to reconnect with him on Facebook this past year. I was able to say hello to him and tell him how proud I was of his accomplishments as a professor of photography. Pictures of him and his girlfriend are so loving and beautiful, they looked like a perfect match - so in love and happy. That was Toby, optimistic and full of life and love. I was so immensely happy for him. It was nice to see him on his motorcycle, going on camping trips, taking pictures and having fun. Pictures of his Mom and Dad reminded me of many a school trip for which they chaperoned and later hosted parties for us teens by their big beautiful log cabin. He and his Dad and brother made spectacular camp fires. They played music and we all danced and talked and laughed under the stars and around the glow of the fire. His parents were there for all of us and loved Toby with all their hearts. Toby was a reflection of his gentle and loving parents. I truly cannot fathom the pain they must be feeling right now. My heart truly breaks for them.

My own profound sadness has caught me off guard. I haven't seen him in 15 years and wasn't expecting

I'm Canning the Deadlines

While I certainly enjoyed Julie Powell's ambition and tenacity in real life and as demonstrated in the movie Julie & Julia, where she tackled all the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year, the deadline kept her going and motivated but is proving to have the opposite effect on me. It is causing me to feel overwhelmed and less motivated and perhaps guilty of letting myself and others down for not making more significant progress within my weekly time frames.

I realize now that the curriculum will have to evolve as we go along and that the time line I originally established is way too ambitious. You'll have to forgive me though, I don't have access to

I had a whole bunch of carrots, so I...

Cut them!! Really, I should be delving into my least favorite part of any schooling, and that is the math part, like recipe conversions. But I decided that the huge bag of carrots in my fridge needed to be cut up before they found certain doom in my compost.

But first, I sharpened my knife. The nice man at Kitchen Kapers recommended a basic two stage Chef's Choice sharpener and I am pretty darn happy with it. (Those people are so nice in there! You really oughtta go talk to them and tell them I said hey. They are like my best buds now. )

So, I sharpened like a mad woman. And it probably was a very mad attempt because I never sharpened my knives before. (Gasp!!) <-- I know! Crazy, huh? What an amazing thing indeed to have a knife that is actually sharp. Even sharp enough to cut up the butternut squash that I realized was bad after I cut it. But hey, it was fun to cut it. Girl meets knife = fun! Then, I attempted to do a 1-inch carrot dice cut. It was much harder than I thought but I'm supposing it's okay for a first try. I imagine if a seasoned chef were standing in my kitchen, he/she would be frowning and chastising me, telling me exactly what I'm doing wrong and offer some tricks. But I may be able to find some tricks via youtube and see if I can recreate the stern teacher/guilty student experience. But I was up really late last night dicing carrots for fun and now I feel like either drinking a cappuccino or taking a nap. Nonetheless, I thought I'd share a picture of what I have done so far. These carrots are now in my freezer. So, how did I do bosses? (I definitely need to work on uniformity for sure). Also, got any ideas for cubed carrot recipes?

About Your Butt

If your hands have been anywhere near your butt...really, anywhere near your butt (including your ear) or near anyone else's butt or anywhere where butts have been or you have to prostitute yourself at night to get through this recession, please, dear god, WASH YOUR HANDS LIKE YOU WILL BE PERFORMING SURGERY. I'm serious, I'm going to get on my knees in front of you right now and beg and offer you whatever you want in exchange for your improved hygiene.

We are disgusting creatures. Poop is everywhere. Especially in bathrooms. Little tiny microscopic poops fly out of toilets and land on everything. And if your hands have even just unzipped your front fly and all you did was flush and open the door, you have everyone else's poop on your hands. I REPEAT: YOU HAVE OTHER PEOPLE'S POOP ON YOUR HANDS!!

My texts told me so. So I need you to believe me on this. Also, when I was a waitress, one of my many employers decided to call us all in and show us a video that demonstrated all the microscopic poo we deal with. The video was very graphic, so much so, that I just can't go into it. You have to go read The Pantsless Chef blog because that guy is going through actual culinary school and he shares one day where they use a UV light to show what is left on their hands after washing them. http://pantsless-chef.blogspot.com/2010/02/school-day-1-eww.html Besides that, it is just an awesome blog.

As for our butts, all I have to say is, Thank God our bodies are designed to deal with some level of microscopic poo. But really, truly, some of it is disease carrying toxic stuff. And I think we can both agree, that poo is not something we want to consume, even at microscopic levels.

So, if you are going to be preparing food for me, here is what you do, and I don't care if you went to the bathroom or you didn't, just do it:
1. Get the water as hot as you can stand it At least high fever temp, like 100 degrees.
2. Get a generous amount of soap to make a lather, act like you are going to shave or something
3. Wash your fingers and in between, and then wash like a doctor, up to your wrists and lower forearms. Use a nailbrush too. (I admit, I need to get a nailbrush as most of us don't use one, but really, we should).
4.  Wash long enough to sing Twinkle Little Star (not fast, just normal speed) - if you have some impatient ninny standing behind you, waiting to wash their hands, just tell them that you are going to be preparing their food - that oughtta stop their huffing and eye rolling.
5. DON'T TOUCH THE FAUCET AGAIN! That's just stupid. Think about it, you touched it with poop all over your hands (and so has everyone else), use a paper towel to turn off the water. If the owner of the bathroom has totally screwed you out of paper towels, then turn it off with your elbow or use your shirt - just not the fingers that will be preparing my food.
6. DON'T TOUCH THE DOOR HANDLE ON YOUR WAY OUT EITHER! Use a paper towel to open the door or stick your hand up in your sleeve and use your sleeved hand to open the door (your sleeve won't be chopping carrots so I'm not too worried about your sleeve having germs on it).

Okay, so have I made myself clear? You or someone else, is a loose hooker and just used the bathroom. It is full of disease. Yes, you should be scared. For you all scare me with your lackadaisical hand-rinsing ways and night-time activities. And if you come out of the bathroom w/out ever going near the sink, I'm sorry, we can't be friends and you will never hear from me again. People butts are gross.

What the CRAP?!?!

I am so damn tired of reading history lessons. When can I start chopping my fingers off?! Sigh...

I'm getting really good and ticked off about the impending snowpocalypse IV. Otherwise known as the snowicane, snownado or snowtasrophe. I say SNOW-CRAP! I'm done. And not doing anything with my chef knife is just annoying me that much more. Before you know it, cabin fever will morph into pure distilled madness and I'll be out there straddling a snow mound, beating and screaming "WHY?! Won't you JUST go AWAY?!" I may even roll onto my back and kick in the air while turning my head side to side in a whiny delirium. I'm due to tap into my inner toddler anyway. Life has been kickin my arse lately and it's easy to sit here on my couch and sulk, surrounded by textbooks and unfolded laundry. This is why I need to get to the doing and say to hizz-hell with the reading for now.

When I'm sitting on a beach, in the warming sun, smiling and enjoying every minute of frying my paranormal white skin to lobster shell color, THAT will be the time to read. 

"But Michelle!" you may exclaim, "I thought you were going to go by the book? And follow a very specific schedule?" To which I say to you, you were right, I was going to. But I'm making my own rules, dammit! And this snow is making me nuts! Plus, I think the last week has been pretty boring for you readers. If I was a reader, reading my blog for laughs, a serious history lesson on a medieval chef would serve as an excellent substitute for Ambien.

And why go through all the trouble of re-writing history? Jeeez, I'm not doing all that work again. I'd much rather you read Wikipedia and let's get on with it. This is my own damn kitchen and I'm okay with skipping the sitting-around-on-our-arses part, especially when we are already reaching our limits with cabin fever.

So stay tuned my friends, we're gonna get to the gettin. Because I can't take it anymore! Ahhhhhhh!!!

I PASS the Test !! Time to Eat a Few of my Favorite Things.

Man, I am sooooo good to myself that I'm about to pass myself! Okay, are you ready? Here it goes!

I PASS!!! Woohoo!! And so does my friend Toni! You GO Girl! I'm still waiting on the rest of you to take the test. That is, if you want to. :)


So, why am I passing myself on my own test? Because spending an entire weekend writing essays and creating tests pretty much shoved the information completely into each cell of my brain! I could probably be interviewed on The History Channel right now on Careme and Escoffier. Does this mean I'll forget? Hmmm, let me see. That's a big probably. Maybe not immediately, but next year, when I'm fiddling with 100 ways to skin an artichoke, I won't know Careme from a hole in a gourd. As with most educational courses, it will be interesting to see what bits my mind will hang onto. Nevertheless, I am the student AND the teacher and I pass myself! (I promise I will video my future failures to prove that I'm honest.)

So, after cramming in everything from Friday to Monday, I'm effing exhausted. I decided to relax and in thinking of my retail therapy mood, all that came to mind was hot Italian meat. I don't know if it was the rainy day and my body wanted some salt but I headed to mini-Italy (aka Italian Croce Market) on Rt 70 in Cherry Hill. Plus, I've been thinking about Tarallis too, ever since my Italian friend introduced me to them last year. They are hard bread sticks made out of a white wine batter with fennel seeds tossed in. The flavor is delicious and it is a fairly low cal snack. I'm sure they would be delicious with a hummus or some sort of peppery cream dip. But I like them plain for now.

Being from the Midwest, I'm often surprised at how cliche' New Jersey can be sometimes. This market was just like a set from a movie. I wondered around the little place, scratching my head and looking in awe at the cured meats in the case, the fresh cheeses, plastic bags of freshly made pasta with prices handwritten on the bag with a sharpie. It was so Italian Grandpa in there that I really felt like I stepped out of America and into Little Italy. The shop had clearly been around for a while. Italian flags were hanging on the walls, the Italian channel was on in the kitchen area and the owner/manager was speaking Italian over the phone. I have found a dedicated and true Italian market which is run by someone who really is Italian. I say this because you'd be surprised how many pizzerias here are run by Latinos (not that there's anything wrong with that) but it just doesn't seem to me that Italian food is their thing; I would think chayotes, chipotles and cactus would be their thing. So, it's nice to go into a place that is a little more authentic from ceiling to floor. An enchanted little market it is, with nestled corners to explore and discover fresh baked lace cookies, biscotti, nougats, ladyfingers, and cinnamon cannoli shells; and another corner with large brown bags full of  round and oval loaves of fresh baked bread. Tiny toasted sesame seeds, cornmeal and crumbs were scattered in around the area as a testament of patrons paying a visit and grabbing their daily share.

I eyeballed the ginormous tubes of cured meats in the case and put in my order for Pancetta and Sweet Soppressatta. While I was standing and waiting, I noticed a board ad for the Trump Taj Mahal featuring some Italian Opera Singers that will be performing soon. Another patron walked in and the owner clearly knew him. Their conversation began with a friendly and familiar tone. As the owner portioned out the first aluminum container of some sort of hot pasta meal, he said "What else ya having today boss? You alright with lunch? What about dinner?" The exchange was just like a scene from one of a multitude of movies shot in New York City. I sometimes don't feel like I've lived here for 15 years. I get the little country girl giggles and feel like I'm in the movies. I'm a little more used to some good ol' boys catching catfish with their bare hands, frying it and serving it up with baked beans on a paper plate and handing me a big plastic cup filled all the way up with freshly brewed and sweetened iced tea. And then exclaiming "Boy I tell you whut! That's some good eatin right there!" Which, of course, I totally agree. There is something extra familiar and comfortable about the foods, language and people of your childhood and as long as I live in New Jersey, it will always feel a little bit exotic and glamorous in some way. "Wow! Just like in the movies!" As my dorkish self will sometimes say.

I do try to embrace regional cuisine and realize that it's good where it is for a reason. I learned my lesson when I tried to make stuffed shells for my relatives in Oklahoma. I was so anxious to share with them a recipe I had perfected. But I didn't think about the fact that ricotta cheese factories are not around the corner out there and I was hard pressed to find a container of ricotta larger than 8 oz or for less than $6 for said small container. By the same token, I gave up on trying to find a decent blackberry cobbler in New Jersey. As a child, I used to fill 5 gallon buckets full of blackberries that grew wild in my grandmother's front yard. But if I go to a New Jersey store to get fresh blackberries, it's $6 for a handful. It just irks the hell out of me since I remember those 5 gallon buckets of free berries and my grandma churning out 10 cobblers for everyone to take home with a bounty leftover and waiting to made into jams. What's worse is that I remember how soft, ripe and sweet those blackberries were. It's pretty hard to reconcile spending $6 for handful of hard, sour, under-ripe blackberries here. Therefore, I have come to accept that it is tradition, culture and environment that makes the food from its place of origin more prolific and flavorful. This why my current favorites are of the the cured meats, eggplant, zucchini, soft cheese and crusty winter bread families. My body has been cold, the air has been damp from snow and rain. Crusty bread with oily, chewy, salty Italian meat just goes. When I go back home to visit my family for 4th of July, the wide grassy fields, lakes, hot sun, endless horizons and dry air will no doubt have me craving a juicy hot and authentically smoked bbq beef brisket with crust, slathered in my favorite succulent sweet Head Country barbecue sauce; cool crunchy coleslaw on the side and blackberry cobbler with home-made ice cream for dessert. I can't wait. 

Back to studying now. But just thought I'd share a few of my (regional) favorite things. :)

Week 1 Test on The History of the Restaurant and Fathers of Professional Cooking

Here is your first test! If you want to take this test, email your answers to me and I will let you know if you passed! Good Luck!

Week 1 Test: The History of the Restaurant and Fathers of Professional Cooking

1. Escoffier studied a new food preparation technique while he worked as an army chef. What was the technique?

Week 1 Lesson 3: The Emperor of Chefs: Escoffier

Georges-Auguste Escoffier makes me think of watching all those Titanic documentaries on the History Channel. He wasn't on the Titanic, but that was the time and kind of people he was working with. Visions are in my head of ladies wearing big hats and umbrellas just for the sun (okay, Kate Winslet in the movie Titanic) and men in suits wearing pocket watches, sporting fancy mustaches, smoking cigars and drinking the finest single malt scotch they could afford (the men Leonardo Di Caprio's folksy character despised).  God, the Celine Dion's song "My Heart Will Go On" is running through my head now. But you get where I'm going with this.

I kinda think those people hopped on the Titanic to go stay at the Ritz-Carlton in London to meet Escoffier, or just sample his dishes. Was the Titanic going to London? Crap, I can't remember. But we're talking about Escoffier, so we'll figure that out later.

The man knocked everyone's socks off with his cooking and style and mastering the art of french haute cuisine. But what he is noted for doing,

Week 1 Lesson 2: The Grand Daddy of Chefs - Marie-Antonin Careme

If you haven't read about Mr. Marie-Antonin (Antonin) Careme, you really should. What an amazing character. His poor parents, suffering financially during the height of the French Revolution, and dealing with 25 kids (yikes!) put Careme on the streets to make his own way in the world when he was about 10 years old. He knocked on the door of achophouse and worked as a kitchen boy in exchange for room and board.

He picked up some skills there and then worked in a patisserie called Bailly's and then eventually opened his own pastry shop. This is where he started to do some wicked things that Parisians had never seen before, like making the Egyptian pyramid with pastry, sugar and marzipan. He really loved modeling his pastries after great architectural structures and displaying them in the window of his shop. That is where he really started his niche with elaborate centerpieces called pieces montees. If the paparrazzi existed at the time, this is when they would have started stalking Careme. He became famous for those things and was essentially the first

Week 1 Test! Monday Morning!

This past week has been nuts for me personally but I'm determined if you are. Keep your eyes peeled like onions for more lessons this weekend. We're testing ourselves on Week 1 Monday Morning. How exciting! Are you READY?

I'll be ordering Domino's, Phuc Long's Thai or whatever the hell else I can afford because I need to

Fish Smells

I took an awesome cooking class yesterday at Kitchen Kapers. I am terrible with fish and I just wanted to see it in action. What I learned yesterday is that it just doesn't take that long to cook and I've been overcooking the hell out of my fish. I got some answers about checking temperature with my digital thermometer: 135 degrees for salmon. But be sure to find the best temperature for the type of fish you are cooking as it can vary. I will have to find this list and share.

While I was taking my class, and discovering more about the fabulousness of salmon, a discussion came up about fish smell and

It's Story Time!

I know you are all anxious to see me french a rack of lamb so you can provide some harsh critique but if you are also learning with me then you know we have about two weeks worth of reading. This week and next week. And might I add, this week is almost over! So, it's time to read the history lessons on the restaurant, of cuisines (from grand to nouvelle), and what are the kitchen and dining brigades. I'll find a way to test myself this weekend. And hopefully figure out a way to test you too. 

I wrote the cute history lesson in my own words last night, but then I was also up til 3 am and my house is in serious neglect and friends are starting to think I'm going off the deep end here. But when I throw myself into something, I totally go for it. I'm going to be off keyboard for a day or two here while I get my act together. Let me know what you find online and we'll compare notes. We'll be tested on:

1. The History of The Restaurant
2. Careme and Escoffier (two famous french chefs)
3. Grande Cuisine, Classic Cuisine, Nouvelle, etc.
4. The Kitchen Brigade and The Dining Brigade

Now, get crackin!!

With Love,
Michelle

A Serious Reminder of Why Tuition isn't always "Good" Debt

I just want to direct you to an article I saw on Yahoo News today about a woman who is so strapped with tuition-based debt that she is unable to buy a home, a car and has to put off getting married and having children because her credit is so damaged by this burden. Here is the story: http://finance.yahoo.com/college-education/article/108846/the-555000-student-loan-burden?mod=edu-continuing_education

This is something that I have never understood about our world. Please, someone, tell me why

Week 1 Lesson 1: History of the Restaurant: What Ha Ha Happened Was..

There was this guy named Boulanger in France who owned an inn or tavern or whatever you want to call it. And he decided that he was going to sell some sheep's feet with cream sauce that he made himself to his guests. This was at the very beginning of the french revolution. It was a time when tavern owners weren't allowed to sell things they made themselves to their guests. Tavern owners could only buy prepared meat from government certified meat guilds or veggies from approved garde manger guilds, and the list goes on with regards to bread guilds, cake guilds, etc. These tavern owners may have bought just one thing because it is all they could afford, perhaps whatever the meat guild had prepared that day, so guests just got pig's tongue for dinner that night. Those guests would have been out of their right minds to even think they could order something they actually liked.

As more and more of the commoners were starting to get  pissed off about being poor while aristocrats were blowing tax money on bedazzled hats (gee, isn't it funny how history repeats itself?), people like Boulanger were growing a set and doing things like

Like a 17 Year Old Buying Beer Without Getting Carded

Well, well, well. Look at ME! Am I the biggest cheeser you ever saw? hehehe. Hey, am I supposed to wear white? My book didn't tell me I couldn't wear black. I don't know if only graduated black belt chefs are supposed to be the only ones to wear black uniforms but since I make my own rules and I look terrible in white, it's black baby! And I ain't going back! I am as excited as ever to learn how to be a chef all donned up in my ultra cute poofy hat and an overlord style chef jacket.

I have to tell you that I felt pretty damn sneaky when I was at the uniform store. I felt like I wasn't supposed to be there. I was nervous that they were going to ask me what school I was going to or what restaurant I was working in. But alas they did not and I felt like I was seventeen, scoring some Mad Dog, Vodka and Mixers for my friends for a party down by the lake (ahem...Mom and Dad, if you're reading this, I never did that), without getting carded or taken to juvie jail.  So, to sum up the purchase, I have one word for you: SCORE!! Hat: $4.99 Jacket: $14.99

Of course, I did NOT get the jacket embroidered with any kind of "My Own Damn Kitchen" logo. But I do know a girl who knows a girl who may be able to embroider it in the middle of the night in a dark alley somewhere but for now, I was happy just to get out of there without being reported to the authorities. And by the way, I did get the requisite checkered pants too but I am not showing you pictures of my checkered arse right now. 

Now, as your lead student, leading you blindly into the world of chaos, fire, injury and disaster, I invite you to go forth and boldly outfit yourself for the adventure. Wear a hat that keeps your hair out of my food and something to keep your arms from getting burned (trust  me, it happens, I did this two weeks ago when flipping a cake and have the scar to prove it). You can also wear an apron and a doo-rag. Or cook naked with just an apron around your bits. I don't care, just keep your dog damn hair out of my food. Really, I don't like scalp salad. I mean it, no hair in or around my food. I will shave your head if I have to. Bald heads are sexy anyway. Your hair in my food is not sexy and the texture is unwelcome. Have I made my point? I'm just sayin.

With Love,
Michelle

Delicious Buttermilk Biscuits

Ohhh yeah...

Sink your teeth into this soft cloud of a biscuit. Let the crumbs melt on your tongue with gentle hints of butter and cream. Go ahead, break it open and spread some smooth warm butter on it and maybe some sticky sweet marmalade. You don't need anyone on Valentine's Day. Just this biscuit. Pair it with the choco-like velvety coffee you just made from your french press. Or have these in a basket, ready to serve alongside a perfect roast beef dinner with savory brown gravy atop mashed potatoes and accompanied by brown sugar glazed carrots. These biscuits will delight and amaze your senses.

If we were on a deserted island and you were my love and someone rescued you and not me, (I don't know why they would do that because that would be extremely rude, but if it happened) they better leave some of these biscuits in your stead.

Courtesy of Gold Medal Flour, here is a recipe for Extraordinarily Easy and Amazin Buttermilk Biscuits:

It's Time to Start! This is Our Curriculum! Are You READY?!

I am so excited! Cutting block and knife sharpener is purchased. Chef Jacket shall be acquired this weekend. Thus, on Monday, February 15th, we will begin our first textbook lesson in The Culinary Institute of Our Own Damn Kitchens! I sure hope you are as excited as I am. And I hope you know that yes, I am taking this very seriously. Weaklings, drop out now! Here we go!

At the end of each lesson, I will issue a test. When we start getting into our recipes, I will expect to see photos and videos proving what you can do. You may want to create your blog for this purpose or use a website that I will find (and provide a link) for when you submit them. And of course, as the blind leading the blind, I will provide my photos and videos as my proof to you and you all can grade me. Students teaching themselves and each other! Hey, we are all adults. Just don't whack off my thumb with a knife and we'll all be friends. This will be so much fun! Are you READY?! It's time!!

Our curriculum:

How to Make a Delicious Pasta e Fagioli

Here is a recipe where we can start thinking about balancing various types of flavors. Or practice balancing flavors/textures in a different kind of soup that you love. I love Pasta e Fagioli. It has a nice beefy flavor and is very satisfying. The balance of flavors involves carrots and tomato paste to add subtle sweetness. Beef, broth, seasoning, onions and garlic add salty and savory. Green peppers provide depth and a very subtle smoky touch (mushrooms can also add depth and rich flavor). Worcestershire Sauce adds the required acidity (and a little more sweet) to cut through the richness of the soup and balance it a little (you can also try wine or a little balsamic vinegar). Beans and pasta add texture and bite. You can omit the beans if you hate them. Experiment and have fun. I hope you like it!

Simple and Delicious Pasta e Fagioli ..

Excellent Culinary Books for Our Studies

Snowpocalypse III is outside my window and while I should be making hummus and dinner, I decided to splurge on some books. The OnCooking Text I purchased was very nice; it is organized in a format that is similar to other cooking textbooks and offers excellent guidance on all of the culinary subjects and we can utilize this text immediately. However, in many instances, I wanted more information, explanations and illustrations. So the addition of a few more references will be very beneficial to our own damn kitchen library. One of the things I learned in my days as a technical and soft skills trainer is that it is best

The Hard Truth About Flour

You may find this interesting. After doing some reading online last night, I discovered that there is a very distinct difference in the AP (all-purpose) white flour that is available in the north vs. the AP white flour available in the south. Apparently, due to our cool climate, our flours here in the north are made from hard winter wheat and creates a higher protein content which translates to more gluten formation and harder biscuits, breads and crusts.

The flour that is produced in the south is made from soft winter wheat that does better in warmer climates. It has a lower protein content, produces less gluten and therefore creates a more tender biscuit, quick bread or cake.

This lesson was very eye-opening for me, as it explains SO much about the trouble I've had with

The Greasy Pimp in my Kitchen

Yes, that greasy gangsta in my kitchen that goes by two names: "Crisco" and "Shortnin' " and sometimes, for the crass among us, just plain old "Grease"; I just can't get rid of him. Everytime I think I can stop using that hydrogenated blob of fat, he just looks at me and says "You OWE me! I been sittin up in here, ALL this time! Just waiting to get my greasy self in your biscuits!" To which I respond, "Go into my damn biscuit recipe and make it tender. You happy now?"

You may be asking yourself, "Michelle, girlfriend, where is all this grease hate coming from? And why are you talking to your Crisco?"

Blizzards n' Biscuits

The snowpocalypse is upon us and what better way to spend the day by fixing my site, which I have done (woohoo!), and figuring out how to make biscuits good enough to make people come shovel the snow out of my driveway to get one.

I have a real problem with using vegetable shortening in anything. That crapola is just

Please Forgive My Dumb Ass

Since my damn book isn't here yet, I thought I'd try out some really fun and funky templates to make my blog site really cool. I envisioned a black background, some food pics, food splatters, knives, fire and pics of me and my besties in our chef outfits working in the kitchen. But in the process of trying to make stuff look cool, I have totally botched up my blog. I can fix the layout and look for the most part but the posts are coming up as duplicate.

If you get continued multiple duplicate posts from me, please ignore while I straighten things out.

Basic Knife Skills

Thanks to my good friend Toni for finding and supplying this video.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1NR0uNNs5Y
It definitely does not hurt to practice these cutting techniques while we wait for our books and officially start of our self led journey in our kitchens.

Though I'm sure you've all done this before. Practice the following, using the correct knife hold and cutting motion:

Grrrr....I'm still waiting on my culinary textbook!!

I am so excited about getting started on setting up curriculum and working with my friends on the basics of chefdom, but I'm waiting on this dog damn book!! Where the hell is it? I want it!! If I knew it was going to take this long,

How to Make a Sinful French Press Coffee

Seriously, I need to be smacked, spanked, slapped and all of the above. I have made delicious coffee, consistently now, for about four or five mornings in a row and I really can't believe I'm the one that created cup after glorious cup.

It is truly (wait, I have to sip, close my eyes, and pause for dramatic effect) delicious liquid velvet bliss; dark, sensuous, beautiful and oooo la la! It is a reminder that a simple thing, like coffee, when obsessively perfected to bring out its best character, is definitely worth the effort. Once you fuss over the small details, you will memorize best techniques and thus making French Press coffee every day will become a simple task.

So, here is how you do it:

Oh My Freakin God! I made good coffee!

I suprised myself! Seriously, I was completely convinced that I was a total retard with regards to making coffee.

Actually, I'm officially a coffee geek, nerd or goober, because I read about 10 articles and actually watched a youtube video of this guy making french press coffee set to sinister and then sleezy music. The music will make you laugh and the guy is funny the way he

It's Time to Order Our First Book!

While I work on the coffee issues, I have spent the last two days evaluating which Culinary Arts Textbooks that would be best to start our studies and practices. I have found one that I think would provide a good, basic start to our education and cover everything from Equipment and Soup Stocks to Pastries and Plate Presentation. If you are following along, please acquire "On Cooking: A Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals (3rd Edition)."
On Cooking: A Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals (3rd Edition)
On Cooking: A Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals (3rd Edition)

Coffee, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?

Before doing anything, I totally need to figure out what's up with my horrendous coffee making skills. I had a Senseo machine for a while, and that was great because I didn't have to think about it and could just feed my caffeine addiction. Sadly, I wore the damn thing out and Senseo machines are no longer on the market (at least where I shop). I could get a Keurig or Tassimo and buy the little pre-measured coffee cups but really, where would be

Lofty Goals, Rules and My Last Apology for Cussing.

Girls and Gents, there is SO much to do! (I'm already overwhelmed!) But I think we are going to have a BLAST in our itsy bitsy tiny ass kitchens. I've created some initial objectives, thoughts and rules about the establishment of this institute.

What's important to note is that while I do like to be funny, I am also very serious about

Why The Culinary Institute of My Own Damn Kitchen?

You probably already know the answer to the title: Because I wanna be a chef and these culinary schools around here are too expensive for me!
I'd love to go back to my original career (as a corporate trainer teaching people how to use the company's proprietary software). I loved it and I did well with it and there is nothing that feels better than excelling in a career. But the recession has decided that this career choice is now a very low demand career choice. And thus, like many, I am found in the predicament of having to

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