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Anything and everything you want to know about cooking (and also eating).

The reason I decided to attend culinary school

The reason I decided to attend culinary school is not because I want to be a chef.

I attribute my decision largely instead, to my hunger.

Both literally and metaphorically, my hunger for food is what brought me on this grand adventure to our nation’s capitol. I love to eat, there’s no denying that. I’m hungry almost 100% of the time. But there is so much more to food than the temporary silencing of a growling stomach, and it’s this “more” that I hunger for the most.

I hunger for the sound of pots and pans clanking, and for the smell of butter and onions sizzling on the stove. I hunger for more knowledge about the things we eat and the ways we cook them, and for the gathering of people around a table to enjoy a meal.

Food is one of the few things in this world that has the power to bring people together. If there is one thing culinary school has taught me, it is that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m now a master at cutting a brunoise of carrot, turning a potato into a tournée, trussing a chicken and making the perfect hollandaise. I can even make a bowl of melted chocolate into a beautiful work of art (as if a bowl of chocolate isn’t beautiful already). But the most powerful lesson I’ve learned has nothing to do with the preparation of food at all. Cooking, I’ve realized, isn’t so much about the food itself, but more about the people for whom and with you do it.

These past four months have been without a doubt the most physically, mentally and emotionally challenging months of my entire life. Culinary school is hard enough. Doing it in a city 600 miles away from all of your family and friends adds another dimension of difficulty. No matter how much you try to explain this experience, no one can ever fully grasp it unless they’ve been through it themselves. However despite it all, I wouldn’t trade my time here for anything.

Every single day, I thank God that He made me hungry for the “more” of food and that He sent me here to be surrounded by people who are consumed by this same hunger. “This is the power of gathering: it inspires us, delightfully, to be more hopeful, more joyful, more thoughtful: in a word, more alive.” -Alice Waters

The reason I decided to attend culinary school is not because I want to be a chef.

It’s because I’m hungry.

grits, peaches and sweet tea

Folding and unfolding can mean one of two things, one: it’s laundry day, or two: you’re packing. Seeing that the first choice is just plain dismal, let’s go with option two. Packing (and unpacking) can also mean one of two things, one: you’re traveling, or two: you’re going home. Both, while equally satisfying, are almost polar opposites on the spectrum of excitement. Traveling ensues going new places and trying new things, the thrill of the unknown making your heart beat faster. Going home can be just as fun; it offers a warm comfort like no other place in the world can give you, steadying your heartbeat to a calming rhythm. 

I’ve done a lot of traveling this summer. I have taken every form of public transportation ever invented. I rode a helicopter to a glacier, hiked on it, and drank the fresh water that ran down it. I zip-lined across the Alaskan rainforest, amidst redwoods half as tall as the Space Needle. I ate Alaskan salmon and king crab, Seattle dungeness crab, St. Louis style ribs, and Florida Gulf seafood, all in the places for which they are famous. I took a peek into corporate America at a professional conference, and ate BBQ (mentioned above) in a suit. I came face to face with an elephant, a hippo and a sea lion in the same day. I climbed a 12 story building, rode a ferris wheel on top of the roof, and then proceeded to slide down ten of the stories up which I climbed. I visited (and ascended) the two tallest man-made monuments in the United States. I helped put on an event through my internship for the company at which I one day hope to work. I kayaked in the Gulf of Mexico, fishing pole in hand, and caught a Spanish Mackerel that I then made for dinner. It’s been a whirlwind of a summer, and it isn’t even over yet. 

I’ve always loved the thrills of traveling, but traveling always meant I had to come back to reality, to home. Home was boring and predictable, nothing like the excitement of rainforests and glaciers. Over the years though, I’ve learned that coming home has its own sort of thrill. While it does mean almost dying from the humidity that only somewhere below the gnat line can offer, it also means that after all of that going, I get to be embraced by the comfort of family, a broken couch, my own table, and the food I’ve eaten my whole life. Compared to hiking on a glacier that seems pretty mundane, I know. But no matter how much folding and unfolding, packing and unpacking, I will do in my life, that mundanity and comfort of grits, peaches and sweet tea will always be there to welcome me home.

 

French food is good for the soul

It’s that time of year again: the sun is out, the corn is knee high, and I’ve got nothing on my to-do list except a pile of books and an endless list of new recipes to try. Summer (and the end of the school year) always comes more quickly than it did the time before, but I swear this year just jumped right up and slapped me in the face. Don’t get me wrong, summer is my favorite time of year, and I’m glad it is here. The fact that I’m done with three years of college however, isn’t such a welcoming thought. I’ve got one more year (well maybe one and a half if I decide to go for a victory lap) to make my mark at the University of Georgia. I just got here, how can it be almost over? May’s arrival this year made everything a little more surreal than it has in the past- lots of my friends graduated, I officially became a senior, and my roommate went back home for the summer (which means I have to be a big girl and live on my own). This month has marked the end of a lot of good memories, but it has opened a chapter for many more to come. This summer I’m staying in Athens to continue my internship of a lifetime- working with Rebecca Lang, a contributing editor for Southern Living and a cookbook author, to write and promote a cookbook. In between me pinching myself that I’m actually getting to do that, I’m going to be tutoring a high school girl in Spanish, trying new recipes everyday (and of course writing about them here), and reading books on my porch (because I can, not because my professor is making me). But first, my parents and my family from Connecticut are going on a cruise to Alaska. Yeah, still can’t believe that one is happening either. But anyway, the cruise lasts a week, and since Mother’s Day and both of my parent’s birthdays are coming up, I’ll be away from Athens for about three weeks. While I should be packing and cleaning, I found myself pulling out a recipe for ratatouille I’ve been wanting to try for a while. I justified it by saying I was cleaning out my fridge of all of my perishables (aka my endless supply of veggies I always have on hand). I chopped the onions and minced the garlic, softened them in a little olive oil, and emptied the entire contents of my refrigerator’s crisper drawer onto the cutting board. After pulling out a tomato from the pantry, slicing and dicing it, zucchini, bell pepper, squash and eggplant, I simmered everything with salt, black pepper and basil. In a little less than 15 minutes, I was out on the string-lit porch with my ratatouille and a tall Olivia Pope glass of Shiraz. Somewhere between the wine, John Mellencamp in the background, and my plate of summer vegetables, I realized that ratatouille is good for a lot more than helping you clean out your fridge. It warms the soul. I looked back on a year of many firsts, tons of laughs, a few tears, but most of all, a whole lot of joy. And with that, I enjoyed my last bites of my little French bistro cuisine- another year of college behind me and a whole summer of new adventures ready to be taken on.

 

Ratatouille

1/4 Vidalia onion

2 cloves garlic

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 can diced tomatoes (no salt added)

1 eggplant

1 zucchini

1 yellow squash

1 orange bell pepper (or any color)

1 large plum tomato

1 tsp sea salt (or to taste)

1 tsp black pepper (or to taste)

2 tsp dried basil (or 1 Tbsp fresh, finely chopped)

Mince the garlic and chop the onions, then soften in a skillet with the olive oil. Add the can of tomatoes, then slice or dice (roughly chop) the remaining veggies and add to the skillet. Simmer on medium heat for about 10-15 minutes, or until soft. Serve topped with freshly shaved parmesan cheese. 

 

 

 

 

A cure for cabin fever

As Winter Storm Pax is continuing to show its wrath in Athens and in the majority of the Southeastern United States, I’ve suddenly been handed a LOT of extra time. Snow and ice are covering the roads completely, so classes at UGA have been cancelled yesterday, today, and tomorrow (no word on Friday yet). PRAISE HIM FROM WHOM ALL BLESSINGS FLOW, cause I ain’t afraid of a little cabin fever. With all this time stuck at home, no schoolwork in sight, and while we’re still blessed to have power, I decided to whip out some cookbooks and give some tricky recipes a go. The first thing on my list was to finally use the pasta maker I got for Christmas. I’ve wanted a pasta maker for longer than I can remember, so naturally when I opened the shiny stainless steel Fante’s wooden crank machine I fell in love. And today once I set everything up, I fell in love again.

If you know anything about my love for food, you know that I would gladly eat pasta 4 days a week and be perfectly content with my life (the other three would be saved for fried chicken, of course). Pasta is such a versatile dish; it’s a blank canvas that screams to be painted. And it can be painted with every color under the Tuscan sun (see what I did there). The foundation of a good pasta dish is a good noodle, and the secret to a good noodle is all in the dough. So with Dean Martin playing in the background and the Olympics on the TV, here’s what I did with my snow day:

 Fresh Pasta Dough

  •  2 c semolina flour
  • 1/2 c + 2 Tbsp. water
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 tsp. salt

1. Assemble all ingredients and equipment.

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A few tips on assembly:

  • Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper to prevent sticking, use clothespins to hold down the corners of the paper on the pan.
  • If possible, set up your pasta machine on a corner of your counter. This makes it accessible from two sides instead of just one, and will make your life 10x easier.

2. Place flour in a mound on lined jelly roll pan. Make a well in the surface.

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3. Add water, salt and oil.

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4. Using a fork, gently start to work flour from the side of the well into the liquid mixture. Continue until dough becomes sticky and difficult to work with the fork.

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5. Knead by hand to make a rough looking dough.  Let dough rest 10 minutes.

A few tips on kneading:

  • Push the down down and back with both hands
  • Fold the dough from the back to the front
  • Rotate 90 degrees and repeat

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6. Knead dough until most of the flour is used and dough is smooth and elastic; about 10 minutes.

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7. Unpin parchment paper and wrap around dough, securing with one clothespin. Set aside to rest 30 minutes.

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8. Divide the dough into 4 sections.

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9. Flatten one section with hands to about an inch in thickness, place other sections in Ziploc bag to prevent drying out.

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10. Set your pasta machine to the widest setting (1) and flatten the dough, running it through setting twice. Set the flattener setting one notch smaller and run the dough through twice again. Continue narrowing your machine, running the dough through once at each setting, until the dough is as thin as possible. You may need to cut the dough to make it shorter and more manageable.

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11. Once the first section of dough is completely flattened and thinned, you are ready to cut your pasta. Hold the dough into the cutter and crank it through all the way. After finishing one section, move on to the others. (I attached instructions on how to use a pasta maker at the bottom of this post that are really helpful).

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12. Allow noodles to dry at least 15 minutes before cooking. I used a clothes drying rack to dry my pasta on, but you can use almost anything!

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A little info on semolina flour: Semolina flour is high protein flour made from durum wheat. When making pasta, it is very important to use a high protein flour to avoid mushy noodles. All purpose flour is featured in many pasta recipes you find online, but I strongly recommend using semolina. I know it might be a little harder to find, but it’s definitely worth it. If you do have to use another type of flour, use the highest protein content you can find.

How to Use a Pasta Maker

Serving up a plate of home

The food in the South is as important as food anywhere because it defines a person’s culture.” -Fannie Flagg

Over the weekend I watched the movie Fried Green Tomatoes for the umpteenth time, and, for the umpteenth time, I got a huge craving for fried green tomatoes. Not only those, but a whole plate of good ole Southern cooking. I’ve traveled all over the world and tasted countless dishes from many different cultures, and what do I crave more than anything? The food from my own back yard. There seriously isn’t much I wouldn’t do for a plate of fried okra, mashed potatoes, creamed corn, collard greens, and fried chicken. Add a glass of sweet tea and some corn bread to the mix, and you will have to shoot me before you can get your hands on my little piece of heaven. There is something to be said for Southern cuisine. For me, it’s home. Comfort food at its finest. When you eat a plate of Southern food, you’re not just having a meal. You’re being transported through centuries of age old family recipes and traditions, being treated to the finest example of Southern hospitality, and all the while soothing your soul. Food critics from around the world relentlessly disregard Southern dishes and cast them aside as unequal competitors against “haute” cuisine. But who’s to say a plate of an impossible-to-pronounce French creation has any more prestige than my fried green tomatoes? In fact, which really has more character: a recipe learned in a French culinary school, or a recipe passed down between grandmothers and granddaughters over hundreds of years? Now, that’s not to say French families and Italian families and Japanese families aren’t the same as the ones from the American Southeast. We’ve all passed down recipes and traditions, engraved them in our hearts, prepared them in our kitchens, and served them up on a plate since the beginning of time. THAT is what makes Southern food so special for me, and what makes your home’s cuisine so special for you. It’s our culture and our home, where no one can take away our plate of fried green tomatoes.

4 Tips to Cooking Lighter Even a College Student Can Do…and reasons why they work.

Plain Greek yogurt is now your substitute for sour cream in all situations.

Not only do they taste virtually the exact same, but they have similar texture, protein, vitamin and mineral content…the yogurt just has less calories and less fat per serving. So ask yourself again why you’re still using sour cream. You really have no excuse. Greek yogurt is just as versatile as sour cream; it can be used in baking, for dips, sauces, and everything in between. The important thing to remember about replacing sour cream for yogurt in baking is that the yogurt has less fat which means you might need to add a little more oil or butter to your recipe to keep your product tender. By no means is the yogurt going to make your end product tough, you might not even be able to tell a difference in most situations! However if your taste buds are extremely picky, go ahead and add a few tablespoons of extra butter. The calories and fat of the added butter still won’t equal the calories and fat of the sour cream. So next time you go to the grocery store for sour cream, don’t. Head to the yogurt aisle instead.

Could I have a side of salt with that please?

It’s almost impossible to find something without a TON of sodium in it in this day and time. However with this added sodium and the recent health kick of Americans, many canned goods and processed items are beginning to feature “lower sodium” or “no salt added” versions of their products. Buy these whenever possible. Sometimes you might have to pay a few cents extra, but its becoming more and more common for brands to offer lower sodium versions now, thus making it cheaper to buy the less salty alternative. I always think it’s better to add my own salt to my dish, not let the processor do it for me.This way I can control my sodium intake, and save room for these calories at dessert. On that note, I prefer sea salt over table salt because of the coarser texture and less processing. Always purchased iodized sea salt, because salt is one of the main sources of iodine we receive.

Olive oil is called Italian butter for a reason.

When I’m sautéing, broiling, stir-frying, or basically doing anything except baking sweet dishes nowadays, I use olive oil instead of butter. Butter is a saturated fat that is higher in calories than olive oil, a monounsaturated fat. Saturated fats can lead to heart disease whereas monounsaturated fats are “good” fatty acids that can actually help your heart in moderation. I’m not saying to replace the butter in your pound cake with olive oil, but whenever possible, try using olive oil instead. But caution: olive oil (or butter really) is not good for deep frying. Olive oil (especially extra virgin) has a low smoke point because it has not been processed, and therefore it should not be used to deep fry.

Fresh/frozen is cheaper than canned, and better for you too.

I always try to buy fresh or frozen produce over the canned stuff when I can. Don’t get me wrong, I stock up on the canned foods in the winter and for when I’m in a time crunch. But when veggies are in season I almost always buy fresh. Canned products have a lot of added sodium (even when you buy the lower sodium versions) and since they have been partially cooked and are stored in water, they have lost a lot of their water-soluble nutrients. If you’re cooking for one, like I usually do, its cheaper to buy fresh than canned because you can choose your own portions. Frozen is good too because you can buy larger quantities and continue to store what you don’t use. When considering nutrient content, frozen is actually better than fresh because it was picked at peak ripeness and quickly frozen. It has had the least amount of water contact (fresh veggies get the scheduled hourly “rain storm” in the grocery store), and the more water contact, the less nutrients the product will have. That being said, since the frozen produce will have ice crystals on it, it will have a somewhat mushier texture because the crystals will cause the cell walls to break in the veggie/fruit. So it’s up to you to decide and compromise over convenience, texture, and nutrient content. No matter what you decide, a vegetable is a vegetable so it is good for you regardless.

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