Sunday, April 18, 2010

I'll Always Be... a California Girl

My time in California was like a vacation, but I definitely had to do a little bit of work. I'd packed up everything I owned 5 years ago the first time I moved, and put it into storage. It was time to take it out and decide it if it was all worth keeping! I think I reduced it by 2/3, giving away and throwing away a lot of what I no longer needed/wanted. It felt good, but it took me a long time! I finally got all my photos in some semblance of order and organized everything else. Whew!

And what else did I get to do? Well, I went surfing a handful of times with some old friends and my dad. It felt sooo good to get back in the water, even if it was a little chilly. Here's a shot from San-O:

I had the chance to go up and spend some time with my aunts, cousins, and uncle. It was a quick but nice getaway, and they are so much fun!
My Maid n' Matron of Honor threw me a bridal shower as well! It was a bit early, but I wouldn't be back in California before the wedding, so the timing was perfect. I loved having the opportunity to be able to celebrate with the women in my life, like my aunts, mom, and good friends!

Check out these cuuuuute centerpieces my crafty momma made!
My lovely MOHs!
Me and my mom :)
Since I had so much time on my hands, I decided to take advantage and get a couple of do-it-yourself (DIY) projects done for our wedding. One of them was our invitations. We decided that purchasing a kit was easier and cheaper, so I got everything printed out and ready to be addressed, which I'll do in a few months. I feel so relieved that that is done!

I made these cute glass bead tacks to hold the escort cards at our reception using tacks, scrapbook paper, glue, and glass beads. It was easy and fun! Plus we can re-use them after the wedding.

The cake topped I purchased did not look like me (and yes, it is hard to find an interracial cake topper couple out there that looks like me and K!) so I decided to just make her blonde! After a few coats of paint and some glossy spray, I am satisfied with the results. AND these are salt and pepper shakers, so we can use them after! The cardboard letters were painted "patina" and will go on the cake table. I'm excited!
Lastly, by random fortune, I had the opportunity to meet up and have breakfast with some of my good girlfriends from college, in California! We are all from here, and a few of us moved back and some were just visiting. It was fun!!!

Saturday, April 17, 2010


Has it really been that long since my last post?

Well, I still have a few snapshots to share from my Roadtrip USA with my mom. We made it home safely, with no major mishaps or breakdowns, and we didn't kill each other (haha!). We made some great memories together after 8 days on the road! And we got her home in time to celebrate 30 years of marriage with my dad, yay!

Here we go:
Testing out the claim that "White Castle is the best" - NOT! My tastebuds have ruled that In-N-Out still takes 1st place.

One of my favorite things about visiting new places is the chance to try local foods/drinks. Here in Galena, IL, my mom and I stopped in at a restaurant that attempted to serve only local things. We both gave the Galena Beer a try - tasty!
Our super cute B&B in Galena, IL. Loved it! The hosts were nice with a good mix of not being too overbearing, but not too cold. It had a lot of character and we got great sleep!
No trip to the midwest is complete with a stop at Cracker Barrel. Omaha, Nebraska.
Boredom in Kansas. I'd picked up some Bubble Tape and went to work.
What is in central Kansas, you ask? Not much.
Well, this deserted little town holds the worlds largest ball o' sisal twine. It smelled funny.
After staying in Dodge City, KS, we quickly left (it seemed sketchy) and headed west!
Colorado brought more snow and I had to navigate my way safely through two mountain passes which weren't exactly clear of snow. Then we came upon this lovely flock of sheep. Nice!
A few more rounds through the mountain passes (so beautiful!)...
And we made it safely to our B&B - a comfy warm lodge where we each had our own rooms and fireplaces! I loved this - so warm!
Pagosa Springs, CO. WHAT A VIEW!
We had a short stay in Flagstaff, AZ and then continued on west for the last leg of our trip. This sign never looked so good!
And this landmark truly welcomed us home! :)

Monday, March 8, 2010

Putting NY Far Behind Me

Although we are still seeing a lot of snow on the ground, the scenery is changing and it is nice to be away from New York, finally! We've driven over a thousand miles but have taken our time and had a lot of fun already.

We left Gettysburg early on Sunday morning and headed through the rest of Pennsylvania, taking a route through Cleveland, Ohio and along Lake Erie:
We stopped at a random family restaurant in a small town called Lorain. The advertised special was Lake Erie Perch Dinner, so I figured I should give it a go! It was actually delicious - hand breaded, too! Then we had hours and hours to go through Ohio and Indiana to get to Chicago, Illinois.
My mom and I met up with some friends for dinner at The Grand Lux Cafe - it was soo good! Great company as well. After a good night's sleep, we started our morning off with a walk to the beach (what these people call the beach!) on Lake Michigan. Lakeshore Drive parallels the shore here and it was full of traffic. It was a super foggy day so we couldn't see much of the lake.
We stopped for breakfast at The Corner Bakery and hit the streets looking for fun shops on our way to Sears Tower. Unfortunately, it was too foggy. The elevator attendant advised us that we would be unable to see anything, so we passed up the $15 trip to the top and kept walking. Too bad - they've got a new glass "ledge" you can step out on and look down to see the street beneath your feet. Freaky!

Next up was what everyone refers to as "The Bean", a piece of local art. It is SO COOL! I was glad that there weren't too many people around checking it out as well so we could get some good pictures.

Along the way we stopped into some chocolate shops (of course!!!). One of my chefs had recommended that I check out Vosges Chocolates since their headquarters are located in Chicago. We didn't get to the headquarters, but we were able to see another location. We picked up one of their famous bacon bars and a box of other assorted chocolates.

I'd never heard of Fannie Mae chocolates and my mom informed me that it is the equivalent of See's Candies, so we went in and had a look, and exited with some more chocolate! I was like a happy kid in a candy store, literally! It was mostly cool to see the chocolates and know that I knew how to make them. Fannie Mae is known for Mint Meltaways and Pixies so we made sure to get a few of those.

Our last stop was Sarah's Candies, which I just had to see based on a recommendation from my future mother-in-law. It was cute and I checked out her portfolio of cakes. Quality stuff! I think she's only 30 years old too and has a thriving business.

The afternoon was full with a little bit of White Castle (not as good as In-N-Out!), a short tour of the neighborhood where my mom grew up, and more driving to our next destination!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

And Here We Go!

One of the things I have been wanting to do since I became an adult was a cross-country road trip. There was something exciting to me about driving from one end of the country to another and "seeing it all". When I was younger, we took quite a few roadtrips as a family - the more memorable ones being to Oregon and also Colorado. Kids these days may see being trapped in a car without their favorite video game system or internet readily available as a fate worse than death. In those days I think we loved it and loved seeing the scenery change. Yes, we did have our Gameboys, but those 4-doubleA batteries would only last so long!

Now I have the chance to do such a trip and am taking full advantage! I may never have this opportunity or time again! My mom is coming with me and I am so excited to see it all.

We left NY, cut quickly through the Dirty Jersey (as my school friends refer to it!) and into Pennsylvania - a new state to check off for me! It was exactly as I pictured it - two lane highways and LOTS of farms. Unfortunately this time of year is not that picturesque.

Here's a few pictures of the sights we took in when we stopped:

The Crayola Factory in Easton, PA
Gettysburg National Military Park
one of the thousands of monuments there
Pennsylvania Sunset

Friday, March 5, 2010

Finally - It Came!

I had been anticipating this day for two years, and finally, it came!!!

My graduation was SO awesome!!! I graduated from a university two years ago and mine today was nothing like it - so much better and more personal, especially since it was less than 70 students. By pure luck, my seat was on the end of the front row closest to the podium, and our guest speaker was Emeril Lagasse! It was the best front row seat imaginable. I remember watching his shows when I was younger so it was cool to actually see him in person. He shook all of our hands after we received our cordons (medals basically instead of a diploma for the ceremony) and said congratulations.

I also received two awards!!! I earned the highest GPA in my graduating class and was the only person to get high honors (over a 3.75), so I received an award for that. I also received an award for excellent performance in the management classes. I was so amazed and proud of myself!!! I'm glad that my parents were here to support me as well.
Then at our luncheon afterwards, a few friends and I approached Emeril to take a quick picture with him and not bother him too much. While we were taking the picture, he started asking us all what our plans were, starting with me. I told him that I was moving back home, and that I had applied somewhere where I saw he is doing a food show at next month! He told me to contact his chef organizer (who was there) about coming to assist him!!!!! Even if I don't get a job out of it or even work alongside Emeril, it will still be an amazing experience, so I got a business card out of that!
What a truly amazing day! I am so proud of myself and my accomplishments here. It once seemed like going to culinary school was lightyears away. Then, it felt as though my time here would never end. Now, I am ready to go out into the world, and bake my mark!!!

Thanks to all of you who have supported me along the way - whether it be directly or indirectly. I know I didn't do it alone! And most of all, I thank and praise God for bringing me through and giving me the strength!

Time to celebrate!!!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Tastings 1 & 2

Hello again! I've been busy here, getting packed and resting up. This class has got me tired out at the end of the day! Last week I rotated from the morning shift to the afternoon shift and it makes the day seem a little bit longer.

In addition to working the afternoon shift, I also have to attend a lecture given by our instructor for an hour before class. She explained that we would be tasting different items every day. At first I thought that it was going to be a lot of useless information. Yes, I know about tea, coffee, wine, etc. But it has proven to be interesting!

On Thursday, we had a coffee tasting. I am in no way a fan of coffee, unless it is paired with milk and laced with tons of chocolate... aka: mocha! It was hard for me to keep a straight face while tasting the cafe's coffees. She also had us describe the smells and tastes of each cup... "Hmm... tastes like... coffee?" wouldn't pass for an answer. Darn!

First we learned about the decaffeination process - something I had never considered. This happens during the "green" state of the beans - beofre they have been washed and roasted. There are three ways to do this. The first is by the use of chemicals, which is damaging. It is the least expensive and also the least efficient, as 5-15% of the caffeine can remain on the bean. The second way to decaffeinate is by the "natural" process - the beans are steamed to remove the outer shell. It is the most cost effective method and removes 95-97% of caffeine. The third method is the CO2 method which is patented. Basically, the caffeine molecules are removed and replaced with CO2. It is the most expensive, but also the most effective.

We also learned about roasting. Roasting = flavor, and each batch of coffee beans can be roasted to an individual level and blend to get different intensities. We briefly touched on grinding and brewing and then had our tasting. We tasted automatic drip regular and decaff, which I found to have a smoky flavor. The brand our cafe uses is Green Mountain Coffee, which has coffees from many pricepoints available and is a great quality, mainstream company.

Then we tasted press pot regular and decaff. I had never seen press pot coffee before this class and was interested to see how it worked. This coffee tends to have a smoother flavor because the natural oils of the beans remain in the coffee instead of being filtered out through a paper filter. The beans we use for this come from Counter Culture, an artisan company based on the East Coast that is committed to organic and sustainable coffee. The regular press pot coffee came from Sidamo, Ethiopia and the decaff came from Jagong, Sumatra. So cool! I also got to try my first espresso. I cannot see how people drink that stuff straight up! We had to take it like a shot and it was just not pleasant at all.

On Friday we had a tea tasting, and I was very much looking forward to this because I am becoming a bigger fan of tea as I get older. Our cafe also has a really good selection of teas from Harney & Sons. We tasted:

-White Vanilla Grapefruit
-Sencha Green
-Jasmine Green
-Pomegranate Oolong
-English Breakfast
-Earl Grey
-Black Current
-African Autumn Red
-Chamomile Tisane
-Valentines Tea (black)

All teas come from the same tea plant, they just differ based on the harvest time and processing. The four types of tea are white, green, black, and oolong. White is made from the bud of the tea leaf and is packed with antioxidants. Green comes from the mature green tea leaf and it is believed that if you drink it regularly, it will help stave off plaque from your teeth! Too bad green tea is not one of my favorites! Oolong comes from the fully mature green tea leaf that goes through partial fermentation, allowing some tannins to develop but rendering it still palatable. Black tea is made from the fully mature green tea leaf that has been fully fermented. The tannins in black tea are extremely high, making it very astringent. The British soften these tannins with fat (milk) and Americans tend to brew it strong and cut the tannins with an acid (lemon wedges).

We learned about tisanes as well - this is not tea, but is a botanical infusion made without tea leaves. It can come from dried flowers, fruit rinds, spices, herbs, etc and is typically caffeine free.

Of the ones we tasted, my favorite by far was the Jasmine Green. I was surprised because I typically stay away from green tea, but this one smelled soooooo good!!! It smelled like jasmine but not too perfume-y and tasted clean and sweet. I like teas that are sweet enough to not need any sugar or milk added. I believe that they should be enjoyed in their purest form. This jasmine green took me straight back to the summers of my youth - when the air was permeated with jasmine that would waft through my bedroom windows at night. So lovely!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Feeling Refreshed

A three day weekend and a new class always helps to lift my spirits a little bit. The extra rest helps me to refocus and it's nice to get out of the old routine and into a new one!

Since I'm moving out in a few weeks, I thought my day off would be a good time to start going through my belongings here and decide what to keep and what to chuck!

Here's where I started:
The pile on the left is to toss and the pile on the right is to keep. Wowee! Those are all papers from my time here at school - about two years' worth! It's mostly recipes, some lecture notes, and a TON of information that I hope will prove to be valuable in the future. As much as I like to think I have a photographic memory, there are things I forget. It will be nice to have something to look back through when I need new ideas or if I've forgotten how to do a certain technique.

I felt refreshed after I'd packed up most of my desk and lightened my load by throwing some unnecessary items out. This is only the first phase of lightening my load. I've got about 25 office filing boxes full of "stuff" waiting for me in California. I'm looking forward to sifting out the important things from the junk, organizing like items, and condensing my life. There is just something so refreshing about organizing! :) (but only when it's my stuff - not the attic or garage, M&D!)

We're getting more snow (finally). This has felt more like a brown winter than a white one!

Taking out the trash with my classmate in the snow. Too bad I'd zipped off my hood the other day and forgot to re-attach it. My head was wet by the time we got back inside!

I like it when trees look like this!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Maybe I Should Try...

and grocery shopping could be more fun?? :)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

3 Years --- And more to come!!!

Today is our 3 year dating anniversary! And while it is sad and hard to be away from each other, I am so grateful to have K in my life who is truly an amazing person! He has been supportive of me and my dreams to go to culinary school since our first date, three years ago! The letters and text messages he sends me often remind me how much he cares about me, and I look forward daily to the phonecalls and voicemails I get as well! I am so ready for our time apart to be over, but I am thankful and realize how much of a blessing this long distance has been for our relationship. It has strengthened us and grown our love daily. I wouldn't wish it on anyone, and I wouldn't ever want to do it again, but I do see the good that has come out of it!

I love you honey! Can't wait to make it official on 10-9-10!!!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Three Weeks to Go!

Wow, I can hardly believe it myself! My last class started today. The class ahead of me had their graduation and I kept thinking to myself, "Next time, it will be my turn!" I will be the one celebrating and moving out! (I have been suuuper jealous of all the people moving out every three weeks!)

Back of the house in the cafe was so killer! I managed to make it through the class only burning one thing! Whew! That whole day was bad and some say I was jinxed by Chef M because he had said it was a miracle I hadn't burned anything. Earlier this week, I had to train the person who would be taking my spot (ahhh!!!). When Chef M and I had sat down before to go over my evaluation, he brought up an interesting point. The actual bake is not something that can be taught in a book, or done with just a timer. So it was definitely interesting trying to teach someone else what to look for when baking our products.

Also this week, I had to spend about 6 hours doing cross-training for the last class (front of the house: aka customer service) in addition to my regular class hours. It was awful! I had to change my sleep schedule yet again, and I was just exhausted.

Today was Day 1, and it was a graduation day, so we all knew it was going to be hectic! We had a sort of orientation with the instructor back in December to go over some things and she said the one word that would describe our Day 1 would be "inhumane". I laughed to myself and thought that we were a good group, we could handle anything!

Ha. Ha. Ha. We totally got rocked this morning! Setting up was easy. My station is "tray up". I will coordinate all orders before they go out to the customer. The way the cafe operations are set up is a little funky in my opinion and nothing I have ever seen before. I worked behind the counter at a restaurant for three years, and I did all the coffee drinks, to-go orders, and general packaging and customer service. The cafe here on campus is the busiest of any restaurant, and there actually IS enough work to do to have each job be its own station. We have two students who bag up and plate all desserts and venoisserie (pastries, danish, cookies, etc). We have a barista and also a cold beverage student. There is one person who does the savory station expediting (they coordinate the hot food), and then there are several dining room attendants.

The first thing I have to do is go down to our school's storeroom to pick up the food order for the cafe. It was the most massive thing I have ever seen! On a huge cart. Just me and the cart. Yay! It took me over an hour to get things inventoried and put away, then I had a little bit of time to get my station organized before the doors opened.

In about half an hour, we totally got rocked. I had about 30 tickets laid out on the counter, the barista was 15 deep in hot beverages, and the slow guy on cold bev decided to polish glasses instead of give me a hand. It was out of control! Customers were getting upset because it was taking 15 minutes to get a coffee, and of course I am the one who gets to take the brunt of all their complaints! We sorted everything out, yet still kept getting rush after rush. I think the flaw in this system is that the cashiers take orders faster than we can fill them (customers come in, order and pay first, then sit down or wait for to-go's). I don't think this is a good system, but it works okay.

At the end of our very long day with no breaks :( we had a short meeting and our instructor said we did a great job! No one froze up or broke down, we just kept going! She said that she is pretty certain that we made our sales goal of the day. The deal was that if we made $10,000 on our first day, we wouldn't have to take the final! I'm pretty sure it's in the bag seeing as we were busy all day long!

Day 1 is the hardest and I am so glad it is overwith! We got slammed and now we know what to do to prevent mistakes and get through rough patches. It's not going to be a walk in the park, but I can tell you that I am rounding the bases and running hard to make it to the finish line!!!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Womanning the Oven

My class is more like a job. I am constantly reminding myself to never take an overnight job like this - the hours are horrendous and it's hard to have any sort of normal life. I have finally gotten some sort of sleeping pattern going though, which is great. I'd be a wreck without sleep. My strategy is to take a nap for a few hours after class, wake up and get some food, hang out for a bit, and then sleep a few hours before class. When I wake up, I'm a little disoriented, but at least I'm rested enough to get through my work/class.

My job is baking and finishing. It's cool because I am really getting good at working an oven. Sure, each part of the baking process is important, but the finishing can make or break the product too! I am learning that not all ovens are created equal. I am in charge of two convection ovens. The idea behind the convection oven is that it has fans which help to evenly circulate heat around the oven. It also doesn't need to be as hot as a traditional oven and cooks a little faster. Traditional ovens (like gas or electric) have hot spots (and some may argue that there is "natural" convection - air currents inside traditional ovens). Convection ovens are "supposed to" eliminate hot spots with forced air currents. However, I have found this to be quite untrue.

The ovens I work with tend to cook items on the bottom racks quicker. Also the side closer to the door gets color faster. The edges cook faster than the middle. So it is a constant battle of rotating and reducing fan speeds to get items like muffins to all be the same color. I'm learning how to place things in the oven. For example, I bake three trays of muffins off at the same time - one each of bran, banana, and corn. Chef M doesn't like the corn muffins to have too much color (which is such a shame because it gives it an amazing crunchy outer layer!!) so those get put on the top rack. The bran is super moist, so I usually stick it on the bottom rack and the banana goes in the middle.

The bottom oven has the steam feature, and this is where I bake all the laminated doughs (alternated layers of dough and butter rolled and folded together). I do croissants, pain au chocolat, apple danish, banana danish, monkey danish, and a meyer lemon danish. The steam coagulates the starches in the dough, making it crusty. Then once the danish get a little bit of color (browning), I pull the vent open in the oven. This dries the starches and gives it a beautiful shiny finish.

One interesting thing that I have learned from culinary school is to not use a timer. Some of you may think that is scary, and it would be for me if I were running off doing something in another room. The good thing is that my station is right next to the oven, which has clear doors, so I can peek in and check on the product whenever I want. It would be a hassle to have to keep setting the timer for one minute more, or thirty seconds more, etc. It's done when it's done. And that is really the skill that I am learning - to know when it's done.

Every day, Chef M comes in at 5:30 am on the dot! Like clockwork, very predictable. The head baker (a paid employee) reminds us to clean up our stations and make everything presentable. It's a pain to have to stop and do this, but I think it shows respect to the chef and it's always a good idea to work cleanly. He'll come in and say hello to everyone, check his e-mails, and then he'll head straight to my speed racks. He pulls out every single sheet tray and looks over the finished products. It is crazy nervewracking! But it is great because of course I want to get better. It is a challenge to always be consistent and that is what a good baker should strive for, I think. The other day, Chef M asked me, "Are you nervous when I do this?" to which I answered, "Yes, of course, Chef!" He said I had no reason to be nervous; I was doing a great job. What a relief!

I can see how my job in a real bakery would be important. If each person was responsible for baking off their own products, it would be a mess! An oven coordinator is a great idea. So far I haven't burned or dropped anything! I think my mind is wired to multi-task and I feel really comfortable with what I'm doing . . . womanning the ovens. Now if only I could get them to bake evenly, all my baking dreams would come true!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Happy Birthday Momma!!!

It's a big year for our family - lots of events coming up and big milestones to celebrate as well!

Today is my momma's extra special birthday (wink wink!). I wish I was there to spend it with her, bake her a cake, and just laughlaughlaugh!!! But instead, this blog-love, a phonecall, and some flowers will have to do.

Love you Momma! Happy Birthday!

A NYC Get-Together

I had the fun opportunity to get together with some fellow brides-to-be this past Saturday in the city. The thing we all have in common: we're getting married in October! It has been so much fun to plan virtually with these other brides, get their input and compare where we are on our various checklists for the big day. The online web board is hosted by a large company that has a national magazine. The gal in charge of the online operations lives in NY, so she stopped by to say hi and organized this fun day for us. There was also a professional photographer on hand as well as a videographer. We were all interviewed for the website's online tv channel. This was a get-together for all the October brides in the tri-state area, so we had girls come from New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey.

Our get-together started off at The Plaza Hotel, home of some of the swankiest weddings out there! (Also seen in the movie Bride Wars) I would never even be able to afford the $600 stay in a tiny room for one night! Sheesh! We got a brief tour of the wedding areas (super gorgeous!) and then the retail section of the hotel, which was also super pricey. They have two bridal salons there as well. One is from a designer based in Milan. He comes in twice a month to custom-make dresses for brides, and he uses some special loom to weave the fabric that Leonardo da Vinci made and only he has access to... yeah. Big bucks! We were treated to a cup of tea and some petit fours from the hotel's little cafe, Dremel. I checked out their pastry case and wasn't really impressed. For what they were charging, I could have done better!

After our interviews, photos, tea, and chatting, we headed uptown a couple blocks to Flute, a champagne bar/lounge. Ultra swanky! And what a great idea. In addition to a full selection of all kinds of champagne, they also served appetizers and a few desserts. It was comfy, dark, and warm from the chilly outdoors! We celebrated our upcoming weddings with a champagne toast and some food. We even had a few wedding cake samples brought in for us from a bakery! After we chatted it up some more, we called it a night and then parted ways! It was my second get-together with these girls and my last, seeing as I will be moving from the tri-state area in about five weeks! Eep!

It was a GREAT experience and it was nice to be treated to a good time, as well as turning some virtual acquaintances into real friends. How cool! Here are some pictures:

Petit Fours from Dremel

Swanky wedding gown from uber-expensive Milan designer!

The infamous ring shot

enjoying our tea from Dremel

Trying on some lip moisturizer in the ridiculously expensive makeup retail area of The Plaza

New friends!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Runnin' on E

This week has just been killer! And it's not even done yet!!!

In addition to my current class, final, and projects, I've had to start cross-training for my next class, which officially starts on Friday.

The next class is referred to as Back-Of-House (BOH) Cafe Operations. The Apple Pie Bakery Cafe is the last stop for all baking and pastry students for the last six weeks before graduation. Three weeks are spent in the BOH and the last three are spent as FOH (front) or servers. Personally, I do not find these next classes particularly valuable as I have worked in a few bakeries before and have been a server. Plus we are not getting paid to work! Free labor! The food cost and packaging costs the cafe racks up are also ridiculously unrealistic, but the food sells here because of our school name. It's good, just expensive and labor intensive.

We've got a few stations in the BOH and we sort of got to pick which one we wanted. Of course, not everyone would get their first choice. There is a Breads, Pastry, and Savory station, each divided into smaller individual stations. You do your own duties with no partner (yes!) and get through the day quickly.

My first choice was to work on the breads station, and I got put on the "baking and finishing" station within the breads department. Sounded good on paper, except for the hours. 12am to 8am or until we're finished? I am going to seriously have to work on my sleeping schedule!!

Today and tomorrow we have to cross-train so that we are completely prepared for Day 1 on Friday (it's a production kitchen, and they don't want to lose money on mistakes, so they work us to the bone!). Not fun (or fair!) when you still have to go to class afterwards from 7-130pm!

Yesterday I tried in vain to get a good afternoon's sleep in preparation. I fell asleep for probably an hour and a half, and then spent another four hours trying to get some shuteye to no avail. I just could not fall asleep!! I gave up and somehow made it through my day today (no doubt thanks to many prayers! thanks!!!) - 13 hours of "class time". Wow. And tomorrow I get to do it all over again! Hopefully my tiredness will carry over because right now it feels like I'm running on E.

My station will be a busy one that may take some time to get the hang of. I am in charge of two convection ovens, so all the other stations deliver their product to me, I set it up on sheet pans, glaze or eggwash it if necessary, and organize some kind of oven schedule to get everything baked correctly. Each item has its own specifics - temperature... does it get steamed? Does it need to get vented? Does the temperature get dropped? How will I tell when it's done??? A lot of unknowns and guesswork to be sure. The gal that trained me did an okay job, and I guess we'll see what happens tomorrow. After some of the products come out, I've got to garnish or glaze or finish them in different ways. Today I baked off all kinds of cookies, danish, pastries, brioche, croissants, and cinnamon rolls. It is a lot of product! Hope I don't burn something.

Clearly the key to success at this station is going to be a good night's.... I mean afternoon's rest!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Gettin' Judged

My partner and I gettin' judged by a panel 0' chefs!

Today was "Mystery Basket" day in our class. Chef D has done this exercise for only a few of his classes. He will pick an exotic fruit that is in season, let us do a little research, and then we have one day to come up with a plated dessert. It's pretty intense - a fruit that none of us have ever heard of and we're expected to produce something delicious! Well, at this point in our education, it is totally doable, and I was surprised at what our class came up with. This exercise really opened my mind and I'm excited for opportunities like this in the future!!

The "Mystery" Fruit
Chico Sapote. Sapodilla. There are several other names, but this is a fruit with a skin like a potato, a smell like a pumpkin, and a taste like sweet brown sugar and rootbeer. So interesting! It grows in warm climates like Mexico, South America, Florida, and was recently introduced to the Philippines.

The fruit has a yellow-orangish soft flesh and 4-5 large black seeds. The seeds can wreck havoc on your insides if ya eat a few, and they have a small, lethal hook that will catch in your throat. Stay away!

Chico sapote doesn't ripen until it's picked. At that point, it is rock hard! At this state, the fruit is very astringent, and actually contains a gummy substance referred to as chicle. It is from this fruit that chewing gum originated! The Mayans chewed it in private, and as time passed, it became common in Mexico. A Mexican president was chewing on it while waiting passage into the USA at Staten Island in New York when a Thomas Adams noticed it, procured some, and created the first commercially sold chewing gum. Today's chewing gum does not contain any chicle.

Here's the fruit raw. We all got a taste when it first arrived in our bakeshop fresh from Southern Florida.

My partner and I decided on pairing the chico sapote with a variety of flavors and wound up doing Creme Catalana in four flavors. Creme Catalana is Spain's version of creme brulee (and the Catalans claim to be the inventors, but who really knows). We made a base using egg yolks, sugar, heavy cream, the puree of the chico sapote, then paired it with dark chocolate, strawberry, blood orange, and pecans. The strawberry was by far my favorite! We made all the flavorings just subtle enough so that the chico sapote would still be "heard" in the dessert.

I wanted to put the creme in those asian noodle spoons, but I couldn't find any in our dishrooms here at school, so we opted to use mini ramekins. When we tried to brulee the top, the granulated sugar just melted into the creme, leaving us burning the creme black. Undesirable! We decided to go with an invert sugar piece called "bubble sugar" to use as decor instead, a modern twist on the dessert. The green stripe under the ramekins is a banana leaf cut to size.

Chef D thought it would be great to have a panel of chefs "judge" our desserts and give us some criticism. This turned out to be such a wonderful experience! We had the Dean of the baking and pastry department and two of our past chefs (Chef H and Chef S). They were great judges.

Even though their criticism wouldn't affect our grade, it was still nerve-wracking! Would they like it? Hate it? Put it down? I was worried that it would come off as too elementary, but I was stoked that we had put out four different flavor combos that were really interesting.

Finally, it was our turn. We set a dessert in front of each chef and explained what we'd made, then went away for a little bit to let them judge things on their own. Chef D was taking pictures of everything, and his camera died so I let him use mine. He was like a crazy paparazzi! Taking pictures of everyone's desserts and reactions. He is going to send the pictures to the company in Florida where he got the chico sapote, our school newspaper and alumni newsletter. Pretty cool!

Chef S. really getting into his critique about what we could improve on.

The Dean listening and Chef H offering some suggestions.
They loved it!!! The Dean said he immediately wanted something to dip into the creme, like cake, a cookie, or fresh fruit. Chef H said he immediately thought of fondue. They all loved the flavors. Chef S thought we could have added a few more elements to the creme. They offered suggestions of things I hadn't even thought of!

It was a great exercise, and all the guest judges encouraged my partner and I to expand on this idea and take it to the next level! I am definitely keeping this in mind for the future.
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