Saturday, May 31, 2014

From the Department of It's Funny Cuz It's True: A Simple Guide to Launching a Hipster Restaurant

Courtesy of The Poke. Some of my personal favorites:
  • Serve your drinks in jars for absolutely no reason.
  • Coffee! Just go nuts! You need to sell at least 419 different variations of coffee.
  • Overprice everything. Call it artisan, or organic, or something.
  • Open your restaurant in a really shitty part of town. But state that it's "up and coming" and say something about gentrification.
I also like the suggestions about a pretentious name for your hipster restaurant. A few years ago someone opened "The Writer and The Coffee" in a strip mall on the corner of Sunset and Highland in Hollywood. It didn't last long - it hit the Los Angeles Health Department's Restaurant Closure list and ceased to exist shortly thereafter. Maybe they didn't have enough variations of coffee.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

What we learned in culinary school this week - Week 19 (Part 2)

After the big wine tasting, which everyone enjoyed, we spent the rest of the week on the cuisines of Spain and Mexico.

Believe it or, pigs are big in Spain. Ham is all over the place. Tapas are a snack for early evening, after siesta but before dinner, which is around 10pm. Tapas originated in Catalonia and Andalusia, but are now consumed all over Spain.

Sangria is cheap or leftover wine which the Spanish mix with all sorts of things, including fruit, 7-Up, fortified wines and liquor).

Croquetas de Jamon Serranco
(Serrano Ham Croquettes)

Albondigas (Meatballs)

Almejas con Chorizo
(Clams with Chorizo)

Shrimp and Clam Paella


And more churros!

Corn (masa) is a major ingredient in Mexican cooking. Their corn is different than what we grow here - there's is not as sweet and starchy. Buying tortillas in Mexico is like buying baguettes in France: fresh, daily and consumed in large amounts. Masa is also used to make tamales, a celebratory Christmas dish. Tamales, once cooked, can be reheated and even frozen.

Chiles are actually a fruit. They can grow anywhere and are good for beginner gardeners. In general, the physically smaller the chile, the hotter it is. Larger = milder. The inside of the stems and seeds are the hottest parts.

We made tons of food today, including Chile Rellenos, corn and flour tortillas, guacamole and salsa, Chicken with Mole, tacos, tamales and even dessert (Tres Leches (Three Milk) Cake.

Look at all these beautiful ingredients (ignore
the pens, please).

Carne Asada.

Chips and Guac.


Tres Leches Cake.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

What we learned in culinary school this week: Week 19 (Part 1)

Wine tasting this week! Then Spain and Mexico. Then a three day weekend.

Monday was Introduction to Wine and Tuesday was Wine and Food, both taught be JB Severin of The Wine House in West L.A.

Introduction to Wine
Champagne: To uncork you twist the bottle (unlike my usual struggles to free the cork). The pressure inside the bottle will "walk" the cork out of the bottle. Also, if your champagne is fizzing, it's not quite cold enough. Champagne is a geographic designation - it must come from Champagne, France to legally use the designation (more about that here). They also have a very particular method of producing Champagne that must be adhered to. Otherwise, the correct term is sparkling wine.

Wine: When pouring wine, never fill a wine glass higher than its widest point. This exposes the maximum surface to air. Grapes are ideal for making wine due to their high percentage of liquid, but anything that sugar ferments can be used, including plums, berries and honey.

The deciding factors in which wine to serve are what food you're serving it with and whether or not the taste appeals to you.

Weather is a huge factor in the outcome of the grape harvest. Rain at the time of picking is the kiss of death, because when it rains, grapes dump their sugar into the plants vines. A bad year for wine is almost always the result of rain.

That whole sniffing the cork thing? It should smell like cork and wine. Seriously.
You also want to check that the branding on the cork matches that of the bottle.

Hold your wine glass by the stem so that body heat from your hands doesn't effect the wine. Make a visual inspection of the wine. One of the things JB had us do was to see if we could read our handouts through the wine. There is almost no Pinot Noir that you can't read through.

Swirl the glass (this aerates the wine and helps get the fruit component to come out) then sniff it by tilting the glass up to your face and put your nose into the glass. The glass should make contact with your face around the bridge of your nose/between brows (depending on the size of the glass) and the area between your nose and lips. Take short sniffs, like a dog.

The aroma of a wine is the primary fruit smell of what the wine was made from. The bouquet is the smell after the wine making process where other things (like additional sugar) may have been added. A well-made wine will have both aroma and bouquet. With red wines, if you can't smell the aroma, it needs to oxygenate ("breathe") and this can take any number of hours.

Per JB, the negative connotations long attributed to the use of screw-caps on wine bottles (that it is inferior wine) is long gone. Because cork is grown in a forest, it's exposed to organic materials and critters and therefore requires a chlorine wash before use. Chile, Argentina and New Zealand are emerging wine producing countries and a lot of their bottling plants are set up for screw-caps. In fact, the growing use of screw-caps is enabling cork forests to regenerate. Champage, however, must have corks.

For storage, the ideal is 58-60 degrees in total darkness with no movement. Don't store in the fridge - the cold numbs the wine and after a couple of weeks it never recovers. If you don't have access to a wine cellar, and interior closet (with no direct sunlight) with the bottles on the floor (because heat rises) works. My brother is a big wine buff and stores his this way.

To chill, put the wine bottle in a ice bucket with ice and water. The ideal temperatures are 40-45 degrees for champagne, 48-52 for white wine and 64-68 (not "room temperature") for reds. The higher quality wine you have, the more this is important. If you're serving a lower quality white, serving it colder (say, Two Buck Chuck out of the fridge) helps mask the inferior smell.

JB actually had good things to say about boxed wine. It can keep for as much as two months. Just buy a good quality wine. The spigot shut-off and the interior collapsing bags keeps air from getting in to the wine. He also doesn't recommend buying a wine simply based on a numerical score, in fact described it as absurd. It's one person's/publication's opinion. When a customer in his store asks for a wine recommendation, the first question is, "What is it going with?".

Wines sampled: 
NV Lanson 'Black Label' Brut Champagne
About $40/bottle.
2013 Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc
New Zealand wine. About $13/bottle. I became a big fan of NZ wines this week.
2012 William Hill 'North Coast' Chardonnay
California wine. About $15/bottle
2012 Schloss Gobelsburg Riesling 'Gobelsburger'
Austrian wine. About $17/bottle
2011 Byron 'SMV' Pinot Noir
California wine. About $19/bottle
2012 Torbreck 'Woodcutters' Shiraz
Australian wine. About $19/bottle
2001 Vina Santurnia Rioja Gran Reserva
Spanish wine. About $27/bottle

Wine and Food
We went over a lot of different wines and spirits (dessert wines, aperitifs, fortified wines, sake) but the main point of today's class was to demonstrate how different types of food can affect how a wine tastes, and therefore whether or not it should be served with a particular dish.

As JB emphasized yesterday, the first question asked when choosing a wine is what food it will be paired with. A good place to start is that opposites attract - if the food is hot or salty, a sweeter wine is best. If the food is high in fat, go for a more dry wine.

Even a restaurant might not always have a great wine list. JB singled out a current critical darling restaurant near the school as having great food but a poor wine list. If you really know your wine and would rather not be at the mercy of the restaurant, he recommends paying the corkage fee and bringing your own.

Today's wine selections:
2009 Domaine Carneros Burt Carneros
Napa wine.
2013 Borgo M Pinot Grigio
Italian wine. About $10/bottle.
2012 Cambria 'Katherine's' Chardonnay
California wine.
2011 Kauer Oberdiebacher Furstenberg Riesling Kabinett
German wine.
2011 Selvapiana Chianti Rufina
From Chianti/Rufina region (Italy).
2012 Twenty Bench Cabernet Sauvignon
Napa wine.
NV Fonseca Vintage Character Port 'Bin 27'
Portuguese wine.

Today's food selections (Chef and her assistant cooked for us):
1. Cheeses - Chevre, Brie, Stilton
2. Seared Ahi with Ginger
3. Pasta with Tomato, Olive, Capers & Spicy Peppers
4. Braised Short Ribs with Mashed Potatoes
5. Almond Cake with Strawberries & Lavender

Getting fuzzy...

It was a trip seeing how the same wine can taste different depending on what you just took a bite of.

Next up: Spain and Mexico!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

A few words of wisdom for a Thursday afternoon

Via Sun Gazing and Lessons Learned in Life on FB
Sun Gazing again. I really wish this philosophy was more prevalent these days.
Sun Gazing with the hat trick.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Tips for caramelizing onions

From Bon Appetit: Caramelized Onions Common Mistakes - And How To Avoid Them. Worth reading just for the hilarious tweet from their editor in chief.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

What we learned in culinary school this week: Week 18

We wrapped up baking with Cookies and Candy on Monday, but guess what? Out sick again. My classmates didn't seem particularly taken with the stuff they made, but I think I'm more into the baking aspect of cooking than a lot of them. I actually took a candy making class at the school a while back (and made marshmallows and caramel), so I don't feel like I missed a lot, plus we'll cover this a lot more when I'm in the Full-Time Baking and Pastry Program.

Starting Tuesday, we embarked on ethnic food studies, starting with Asian food. Tuesday was Chinese, Wednesday was Japanese and Korean, and Thursday was Southeast Asian. I love Asian food, so this was a treat.

Friday we did Gastropub. We prepped a variety of dishes, then were supposed to get beer from Smog City Brewery in Torrance. Unfortunately I started to feel sick to my stomach while cooking, so I left early and missed the beer. Really sick of being sick. I went for the longest time without missing a single day, was really hoping to keep that streak for the whole program.

We went over various types of soy sauces, tofu, noodles and rice, plus a truckload of other uniquely Asian ingredients. In China (other than the north) rice is the focal point of meals. Small portions of meat and vegetables are added. BTW, always rinse your rice before cooking it.

We were advised not to spend big bucks on a wok. Just not necessary. They're about $15 at Asian markets.

Rice vinegar and rice wine vinegar are the same thing. Sake is an alcoholic rice wine. Like cooking with wine, use the good sake for drinking and the lesser quality sake for cooking.

In Asian society, they often don't differentiate between breakfast, lunch and dinner the way we do in the west. A classmate who had visited Vietnam said she had Pho (beef noodles) for breakfast every day.

Let's look at some food!

Beef Chow Fun. I'd never had it before and it
was absolutely delicious. I've been missing out.

Bok Choy with Mushrooms.

Fried rice.

Fried rice, up close and personal.


Galbi Beef Short Ribs.

Miso Soup.

Stir Fried Cellophane Noodles.

Rolling sushi.


Yellowtail Teriyaki.

Thai Coconut Vegetable Soup.

I LOVE Pad Thai!

Yellow Curry Chicken.

Coconut Ice Cream.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Is it possible for food to be too delicious?

Via io9: How "Hyperpalatable" Foods Could Turn You Into A Food Addict.

Given that we naturally respond favorably to salty, fatty and sweet tastes, the idea makes sense. This is also the first time I've heard the term "hyperpalatable", but I think I'll be using it in the future.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Six weeks

I looked at the calendar and realized I have only six weeks left in culinary school. I knew it would go fast, but it was so easy to ignore while time was flying by. My classmates and I are going to be a reluctant group of graduates.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

What we learned in culinary school this week: Week 17 (Part 2)


There are two main types of cakes: Butter, which uses a chemical leavening agent (baking soda or baking powder) and sponge, which is leavened with eggs. We also went over different types of flour, which I won't bore you with, as well as frostings and vanilla and vanilla extracts. Did you know the vanilla bean is the second most expensive bean in the world? Only saffron is pricier. To make vanilla extract, the beans are soaked in alcohol for about a month. The highest quality vanilla extract is 35% alcohol or less. Bourbon, Madagascar and Tahitian are the best.

When making cakes from scratch, your eggs should always be room temperature. If you can't wait, put them in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes and this will bring them to room temp.

Never fill a cake pan more than 3/4 of the way. Also, if your cake domes, it means your oven is too hot. However, you can just cut the top off to even it out.

Cake recipes can usually also be used for cupcakes as well, but test it to make sure.

And yes, the toothpick test works!

Enough of that. Pictures!

Buttercream cake:

Carrot Cake:

Chocolate Cake:

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake:

Frosting demo:

Getting it this smooth is a lot harder than it looks.