Thursday, January 29, 2009

Cream puffs, Tarts and a Special New Coat

Making the Tart Beausejour

I'm completely exhausted. My legs, knees, and feet ache from long hours of standing at work and school. My shoulders and arms ache from lifting, mixing and kneading. I haven't been to the gym in over a week. My bedtime fluctuates almost as much as the New England weather. It feels very much like when I was in college, except I'm no longer able to keep up like a 20 year old.

When I was still working the 9-5 daily corporate grind not so long ago, I always felt tired, no matter how much or how little I did. I struggled to get out of bed in the morning, and "I don't want to go to work", became my mantra. At work I couldn't stay focused. Let's just say, I was not happy.

My point is, I'm probably more physically exhausted and more sleep deprived from working part time and going to school, then I was just 6 weeks ago working 40 hours a week, but I'm happier than ever. This is what happens when you are doing what you love. Exhaustion becomes nothing (and coffee and red bull become your new best friends). Whereas I would have been irritable after only having 5 hours of sleep and going into the office, I just feel tired and slightly fuzzy until I have my coffee these days. Maybe all the sugar consumption has something to do with it. I'm feeling pretty content.

This week at school we delved into Pate a choux. I won't go into too much detail since I've posted on this in the past when I took the recreational class. It was interesting however to learn there are different methods to how/when to mix the flour and at what temperature to mix the eggs. My classmates and I had fun piping the puffs and eclairs onto the baking sheets and mixing the pastry cream.
Puffs cooling from the oven

I did make a new item with Pate a choux, and that was the Paris-Brest. Intended to represent a bicycle wheel, the Pate a Choux paste is piped into a circle and then sprinkled with slivered almonds. Once it is baked and cooled, it is filled with a generous serving of a praline pastry cream mousseline.

One thing I learned this week was the importance of tempering liquid ingredients before mixing them if they are not the same temperature. I poured melted chocolate, still warm from the stove, into a mixing bowl of mixing pastry cream. Immediately tiny bits of chocolate confetti spread through the cream. Ooops! Nothing a kitchen torch won't fix thankfully, and not something I'm likely to forget anytime soon.

Tuesday night's class was focused on tarts. We made 4 different tarts, using two different pastry crusts and lots of fruit and almond cream filling. With 4 different tarts to complete and multiple components to make for each, my classmates and myself dove in and worked together on most of the items. I decided I wanted to work on the Tart Beausejour, a tart with a Pate Sucree crust. The rich, sweet crust was the base for a filling of caramelized apples tucked into a almond cream.

Chef Delphin asked me what tart I thought was going to be my favorite. I said the Tart Beausejour. know I say I love a lot of things, but I do love apple desserts. Often if faced with a choice of a chocolate dessert and a simple apple crisp, the apple crisp will when, hands down. That is saying a lot, cause I love chocolate too.

The apples in this tart are cooked in a buttery caramel sauce, till softened and coated, and then doused with a healthy dose of Calvados. Then they are drained and the syrup is reserved for glazing the tarts once they are baked. The baked tart smells of apples and buttery caramel with a hint of lingering Calvados. The soft apples, almond cream and tender Pate Sucree render a melt-in-your-mouth pastry.
Apples cooking in Caramel Sauce
Ready for the oven
Tart Beausejour

Our seminar was canceled this evening due to wonderful New England winter weather. I hoped to update my blog, do some reading and get to bed a little early for once. Now this post has turned into a short novel and it is past midnight. So just one last note.

Our class was interrupted by an announcement that our chef coats were ready for us to pick up. My class hurried down the maze of stairs to the basement to collect our bright white coats, and quickly tore them from the plastic wrappings and put them on. We were like 5 year olds on Christmas morning; all giddy and excited over our presents. I was very pleased to see that Ted held to his promise and correctly spelled my name. I've never been a fan of wearing uniforms myself, but there is something special about putting this coat on and setting to work about the kitchen. Maybe I'm just young and naive in the cooking world, but I hope this feeling never goes away.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Happy New Year


Chinese New Year that is. My friend Hong hosted a wonderful dumpling making party to co-celebrate the New Year and his birthday. I have never made dumplings before, but I've eaten plenty. I turned out to be a quick study in dumpling folding, and filled this plate quickly.

Hong made a lucky dumpling. It was explained to me that a coin is wrapped in one of the dumplings and then the dumpling is added to the others. Whoever gets that dumpling is supposed to have a lucky year. I joked that my year has already been lucky, so I wouldn't be needing that dumpling. (The girl who found the lucky dumpling last year apparently found a nice new boyfriend two months later).

Hong demonstrating dumpling making

I was just remembering to save room for dessert when I helped myself to another dumpling, telling myself it was going to be my last one. I managed to pick it up with my chopsticks and take a bite. I returned the uneaten portion to my plate while I joined in the conversation around the table. I just happened to glance down at the half eaten dumpling and notice a glimmer of metallic. I had found the lucky dumpling. I guess it really is my luck year.
The quarter from the lucky dumpling

Fried Dumplings

Of course I also provided the dessert for the festive occasion. Hong had requested something with fruit and I know he loves anything almond, so I suggested a Frangipane Tart. This gave me an oppurtunity to try a Pear and Almond version. The pears were poached in a sugar syrup and then sliced thinly before being placed into the almond cream. The pastry crust turned out nice and flaky.
Pear and Frangipane Tart

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Love of Pavlova

Fresh Berry Pavlova

I've admired Pavlova's from afar. I found a recipe for this one in one of my cookbooks. I always thought it looked really pretty and wanted to try it. Some of my girlfriends planned a girls' night this week, and of course I offered to bring dessert. The catch was I had to bring something sort of healthy. I was thinking of something fruit based and the Pavlova popped into my head.

This dessert is surprisingly simple to prepare. It is built on a base of meringue, topped with fresh whipped cream, and then fresh berries or fruit of your choice. It looks very elegant and the taste is sublime. My girlfriends were quite impressed.

I'm already thinking of variations, maybe a strawberry topped one with a dusting of chocolate shavings. Or I could add some cacao powder to the meringue to make a chocolate base. The possibilities are limitless, and I'm going to have to explore them further.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Learning and Tasting

Rum Savarin with Apricot Passion Fruit Glaze

It's been another busy week of working at the store and going to school. I made a lot of bread this week, and learned a lot. The Rum Savarin was from Tuesday's class. The Savarin is an enriched bread. It starts out like many breads with water, flour and yeast, but then eggs, sugar and butter are added to the mix to make a sticky glossy dough/batter that has to be pipped into the tiny savarin molds for baking. Once it has been baked and cooled, the Savarin gets dunked into a tub of Rum simple syrup (Kirsch and other liquers can be used also). Not just dunked, but dunked and held under till every crumb is saturated with the intoxicating syrup. Then it gets brushed in glaze and decorated with bilious mounds of fresh Chantilly creme and garnished with fruit. We were out of stawberries, and I thought some fresh orange segments would pair well with the rum flavor.

Monday we also baked bread. I made an Olive loaf. The recipe was originally olive and red pepper bread, but I omitted the red peppers from my loaf because they do not agree with me. I also made a cinnamon raisin Benoiton. Both breads turned our with breatiful colored, tender crust, and nice soft crumb. The Olive bread played a great role in the tomato, fresh mozzeralla and pesto sandwich I made for lunch yesterday. The Benoiton is great toasted with some butter. I'm think of using some of it to make french toast this weekend. Sometime soon, I need to eat some vegetables.

Olive bread

The highlight of my week was Wednesday night: our weekly seminar. This week was Chocolate. The class was taught by a great History PhD candidate from Boston University. I learned a lot about the history of chocolate. However my first question and concern when starting class that evening was: "Are we going to get to taste some chocolate tonight". I love hands on learning. We did get to taste chocolate and it was amazing the things I discovered.

Our first tasting was of 4 different chocolate bars all produced by E. Guittard. They all contained 65% cacao, but each bar was produced from beans that grew in different parts of the world. One from Madagascar, one from Columbia, one from Ecuador, and the fourth from Venezuela. As we tasted one piece to the next, I was surprised by the noticable flavor nuances of each bar. Columbia and Ecuador were my favorite.

The next part of the tasting was tasting bars with different amounts of cacao. First taste was of a 99% cacao bar. It was interesting. Kind of chalky at first in your mouth, almost a little bitter because of the expectation of seeing the chocolate and thinking it be sweet. The aftertaste it left in the mouth though, was very pleasant and intensely chocolate. Then we tried 85%, 72%, 65% and 58%. From this test, I discovered that 72% cacao was my preference. Just intensely chocolate enough without an overwhelming sweetness.

Finally, we tasted some more exoctic boutique chocolate bars. I have seen the Vosges brand bars before (actually paid a ridiculous price for the Gianduja bar at Whole Foods last week, hoping I could use it to recreate one of the quick bread recipes from Day 1 at school) and was intrigued by the flavor combinations. These are combinations you don't usually associate with chocolate, like Wasabi, ginger and black sesame. Its flavor is amazing and reminiscent of sushi, which sounds odd, but I love them both; chocolate and sushi. We also tried the Naga bar, which contains coconut flakes and curry powder. It had a smokey sweetness to it and was also wonderful.

I've always loved chocolate, but after this class I have a new appreciation for it. I'll definitely be trying more of it soon and really thinking about the flavors. Later in my school program there will be more learning about chocolate, but this is when we will get our hands dirty and start to make wonderful things out of it. I can't wait.

This week's breads:

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Kindness of Strangers

I made it through my two days of work followed directly by 8 hours of school. Today was tough, especially since I was running behind this morning and had to leave my apartment without having my morning coffee. Work was good. I had a great conversation with a customer about my culinary goals.

I got to school a little early as usual. The morning class was finishing and packing up their goods. As I was going to get changed into my school uniform, one of the school staff members approached me with a folded paper in her hand. She said to me, "this is definitely a first for one of our students", and handed me the folded paper.

It was a letter from a gentleman in New Jersey. He had seen my interview on Good Morning America. He shared with me that his brother had once owned a restaurant in MA, and his sister baked the pies for the restaurant. He said he makes really good popovers too. He was moved by my story and wanted to make a donation to help me out. As I unfolded the rest of the letter, I realized enclosed was a personal check written to me for $50. I was astounded and completely touched by this gesture.

It was a beautiful reminder of how blessed am I, and how kind people really are. Thank you, thank you so much to this kind man, and to all my friends, family, and those of you I may not even know. Thank you for believing in me, supporting me, (and for reading my blog). It's one thing to have finally found your calling in life. It's another thing to have so many people backing you in your decision to answer that call.

I'm off to bed now. Check back tomorrow afternoon for class updates and photos.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

French Dinner

Haddock with Lemon Butter Caper Sauce

Gateau de Crepes a la Florentine

I am exhausted. My body is struggling to adjust to my new schedule, which is really a lack of schedule. Some mornings I'm up early and at work, standing for up to 8 hours. Others I'm trying to sleep in because I was in class till 12:30 AM. And I'm busy like never before.

Believe it or not, I haven't cooked very much. I'm baking in school, and then eating simple lunches and dinners to fight weight gain that can be a hazard of my occupation. I'm also busy reading Julia Child's book, "My Life in France", and she describes in such detail the food that she eats and cooks. It makes me hungry. All week I've just wanted some time to cook a nice meal and use my new crepe pan.

I invited Leah and Hong to join me last evening after I got off work to cook a "French dinner". I received a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking for Christmas and have barely cracked it open. Leah and I leafed through the recipes looking for ideas. We settled on a white fish is a lemon butter caper sauce, (a little improvised and not really a recipe from the book) and the Gateau de Crepes a la Florentine, or Mound of French Pancakes Filled with Cream Cheese, Spinach and Mushrooms.

It was quite the undertaking. Leah and Hong cooked up the crepes while I prepared the fish. The crepes turned out beautiful and we set a few aside to have with jam and Nutella, while we finished the crepe gateau extrodinaire. Although quite labor intensive, it was amazingly rich and delicious and worth all the effort. I had a reheated slice for breakfast this morning and I think it tasted even better (if possible) after resting overnight. My photos don't do the gateau justice.

Leah making crepes

Leah's lovely crepes

My fish dish

On a side note: I suffered my first cut from my chefs knife last night. I'm a little embarrassed. I used that knife to skin the fillets of Haddock, and beautifully minced up the shallots for the gateau. It wasn't until I went to brush the pieces of minced shallot from the blade, that I got careless and brushed at a bad angle, and sliced a thin flap of skin from the inside of my index finger on my left hand. Wow that knife is sharp, and shallot juice in a cut stings! Thankfully it was minor, only bled a little and a little rubbing alcohol and bandage fixed it right up.

This coming week I'm working a lot, and of course more school. My posting may be a little delayed due to working and going to school on both Monday and Tuesday. (More sleep deprivation here I come. This was a lot easier when I was 20). I also hope to continue trying recipes from my new cook book along with trying some baking on my own at home. Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

No rest for the pastry student

Pineapple Upside-down Bars

No more school till next Monday, but that doesn't mean I'm done baking. I have several things I plan on working on this weekend, when I am not busy selling at Sur La Table. The Pineapple bars I actually made Monday morning to help settle my nerves before going to school. They are an adaptation of a Chocolate Raspberry bar recipe my sister Maria gave me. She had made the bars when I was visiting for Christmas and they were highly addictive. I really liked that the crust has chopped pecans in it. I adjusted the recipe slightly more by replacing half of the all purpose flour with a whole wheat white flour and some almond meal. I used fresh Pineapple, brown sugar and butter to make the filling. I confess these are just as addictive as the chocolate raspberry version. I think the basic crust recipe could be used with many types of fillings and I plan to explore it further in the future.

On another note, Knife skills class was last night. We had a short lecture about knives, followed by a sharpening and steeling demo, and then broke into groups to go practice the cuts discussed at the beginning of the session. We also got to select our chefs knife. Contrary to the advice of one instructor to "choose the largest knife", I selected the 8" wide. It just felt the most comfortable in my hand.

Then in to the kitchen, where ironically (if you heard my comment in my interview about lemonade and lemon meringue pie) the first item to fall victim to my new keenly sharpened knife was a lemon. It was almost poetic. From there we chopped potatoes, carrots, and squash. We almost made it through the onion demonstration, when one of the students cut her finger tip.
I told her later, as our eyes were stinging from the onions on our chopping boards, that we were crying for her poor finger. She was definitely a little knife shy the rest of the evening. She even said, "This is why I am taking pastry, I didn't want to have to cut anything". Oops.

We made it through garlic, and as I was making the garlic paste with the edge of my knife, I was thinking of the warm bread from the night before and thinking how good this paste would be on that bread. I might have to make some at home. Last but not least we cut up oranges. I kinda wish we had done lemons last, it might have lessened the smell of garlic and onions, that is still lingering on my finger tips this morning. Yes, I still have all ten of my fingertips. I think I did quite well in Knife class.

Next week we continue our exploration of bread baking, and I believe our seminar covers chocolate. Mmmm chocolate.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Day 2: Bread

French Baguette

I was very much looking forward to my second day of school. Maybe even more than my first day. I was ready to really jump into the lesson and not worry about having a camera crew following my every move. Day 2 was our first day of yeast breads. I grew up making a lot of bread with my mother. She will tell you the story of when I was very young, my grandmother asked me what the first step to making bread was, and I replied, "you wash you hands". So naturally my fist step last night after putting my apron and student cap on, was to wash my hands. And good thing too, once you see how I was instructed to mix the dough. No electronics were used in the production of the bread last night.

Yeast breads have always been a challenge to me. The require a lot of patience.... but the reward is great. We had several recipes to choose from. I took on the French bread and the Baguettes. We also made pizza dough so we would have some dinner to eat while we worked through the bread making process. Last night's class was rather laid back due to the hurry up and wait nature of making bread. Our instructor informed us that there are not likely to be many classes like this going forward, so we took advantage of it and enjoyed some food and wine while working with our bread.

The breads turned out beautiful and delicious. I left class with my arms full of warm, yeasty scented loaves of bread. I made a stop on my way home, and when getting back into my car, I was greated with the heavenly smell of the fresh baked bread. Probably the best my car has ever smelled. I'm going out today to get some brie and maybe some ham, and I'll be all set for lunch.

Tonight is the 3 hour seminar class. We are covering knife skills. Lets hope no one looses a finger. Then it's back to work at Sur La Table for the weekend and maybe practicing some of the recipes I learned this week before returning to school again next Monday. Have I mentioned I'm really enjoying myself?

Here are the photos from last night:

Good Morning America

In case you missed it, here is my debut on national television: A Blessing in Disguise. I'll be posting my photos from last nights class soon.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

First Day of School

Sweet Barley Scones

Hazelnut Tea Cake

Blueberry Muffins with Lemon Zest

Think back to your first day of school. It's such and important day, you must have the right outfit, the right shoes, the right back pack, hair must be flawless and by all means make sure you have a cool lunch box if you carry your lunch to school. Then there is the worry of who will be your teacher, what other kids will be in your class and what time is recess? Starting culinary school solves most of those nerve-racking problems for you. You have a uniform: black shoes, black and white chefs pants, chefs coat. The hair, it doesn't matter because you wear your student cap. Lunch: you'll be eating the tasty fruits of your classroom labors. Instead of a cool lunch box, you get something much more fierce: a knife bag and student kit to transport the new tools of your trade. The teachers and the other students are there because they are interested in teaching/learning the same things you are. And who needs recess when you get to play in a kitchen all day?

I arrived for my first day with all the above mentioned items and a tv camera crew. What a way to make an impression on your first day. Let me back up here. My friend Kate, who I worked with at my previous job, has been sending me job postings from Craigslist since the day I got laid off. Most are culinary related, some are just odd ball ways of earning a little extra money. I greatly appreciate her concerns for my financial well being. The latest posting from Craigslist was posted by an associate at ABC looking for people to who had been laid off and were changing their lives for the better, to interview for Good Morning America. I responded to the post, figuring, hey why not?, and received a fast response. They liked my story and wanted to interview me and follow me to school. Be sure to watch Good Morning America tomorrow morning at 8am to hear what I had to say about being laid off from work and starting culinary school.

Back to school:
Our first lesson was on quick breads, biscuits and muffins. I chose 4 recipes to tackle for the 6 hour lab. I sadly only got through 3 by the end of the night. Between answering questions for my interview and repeating tasks for the camera crew, I got a little flustered and slowed down. It's great to be in a big kitchen with access to such a range of equipment and ingredients, but overwhelming learning where everything is. This is where my desire for perfectionism gets the best of me. I had to remind myself that it is my first day, there are going to be mistakes and that it will get better as I become more familiar with my new kitchen.

The 3 recipes that I completed turned out good. I'm sitting here in my bathrobe enjoying a sweet barley scone. The texture is nice, crumbly but soft, not too dry as scone can often be. Not overly barley flavored, and just a hint of sweetness from the small portion of sugar the recipe called for. The muffins were also very tender and light. The Hazelnut Tea Cake however has to be my favorite, even though it was the one recipe I had the most trouble with. Ingredients include almond paste, almond flour and Gianduja. Once the cake was done baking and cooled, I dressed it with an apricot glaze.

I had never heard of Gianduja before, but once it was defined for me I knew I liked it before I even tried it. Gianduja is chocolate with about 50% hazelnut paste. It comes in a bar form but is soft and easily broken into pieces. It's flavor is very similar to Nutella, but I almost think I prefer it to Nutella now. This might be a good excuse to buy some of both and have a taste test.

After a very busy day of interviewing, taking notes, baking and washing dishes, I left the school at about 12:45 AM. I was exhausted. I think it may take a while for my body to adjust to this schedule. I struggled up the stairs to my apartment with my student kit, knife bag and three boxes of pastries from my class. My roommate was very excited to see the food, I was very excited to see my bed. Culinary school is not going to be a piece of cake, but its rewards are going to be very sweet. Day 2 commences in 3 hours.....

Monday, January 12, 2009

New, uh tools.

I made it through 4 days at Sur La Table and then I broke down.....and spent some money.

A few weeks ago when making the snowflake cake, I snapped the handle of my cheap spatula in half while folding egg whites into a butter cake mix. Just this week I have been begging my friend Hong to cook for me. (He is an amazing cook, need I say more?) We came to a deal: I have to make crepes for him and he will cook his secret recipe pork dish for me. So I needed to buy a few things.

Nice new 800 degree resistant silicon spatulas (red), a crepe pan and a few other odds and ends that were already on clearance. With my generous employee discount, the grand total came to just over $34.oo. Not bad considering the crepe pan originally sells for almost that alone. I spend more than that on a sushi dinner.

This purchase and starting school tomorrow should hold me over for a while. Besides next week in my seminar class I get a shiny new Wusthof chefs knife to go with the others that came in my student kit. I think I'm in love.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Afternoon Delight

Despite the late night last night and not having to work today, I was not going to let the day go to waste. My roommate and I went to Belmont to a great cafe called Vicki Lee's to have lunch. I ordered a tuna and avocado melt and she had a grilled steak with carmelized onions, roasted tomatoes and blue cheese sauce. Both sandwiches were generously sized and cut in half, we decided to swap halves and each enjoy a half of tuna and a half of steak.

I still can't decide which one I liked best. I was leery of the blue cheese sauce on the steak. I like blue cheese, but sometimes it can be over powering. Not to fear, the sauce was just perfect, light and subtle, just enough to balance the sweetness of the onions and tomatoes. The tuna wasn't heavy on mayo or any spice, but had a nice ratio of petite diced red onions and avocado to tuna. It was topped with fontina cheese, very mild tasting, and grilled panini style. There were many choices on the menu I would have liked to try including a cuban sandwich and a chicken piccata sandwich on a warm baguette with lemon aioli. I think I'm going to have to go back.

Now you may wonder why if I am unemployed and heading into poor student status again, why on earth am I treating myself to nice meals out? I'm doing research of course! I have compiled a list of cafes in the Boston area that I plan to visit and taste their wares. I want to see what my competition is, or who might be a good possible future employer. Plus it feeds not only my tummy, but also my idea bank. So far I have visited The Biscuit in Somerville, Pie Bakery and Cafe in Newton and Vicki Lee's in Belmont. So far Vicki Lee's has been my favorite. Not only were the sandwiches exceptional, but she had a case full of beautiful and delicious looking European style pastries. This is my kinda place, modern and chic, and a sophisticated but accessible menu. I will fill you in on my other cafe visits as I continue my "research".

When my roommate and I returned home, I was ready for a nap. I debated the amount of time I had till going meet some friends for happy hour. I ruled out a nap, made a fresh pot of coffee and started to mix up a batch of chocolate French Macarons with raspberry chocolate buttercream filling.
French Macarons differ from the American known macaroon, in that they are more of a meringue cookie made with egg whites, sugar and almond flour. They are light and airy, with a crisp outer shell and a melt away center. In other words: wonderful. I first experienced them at LA Burdicks in Harvard square where they are sold under the alias: Luxembourgers. I was conducting an imformal tour of the Harvard and MIT campuses for a few friends one summer and we stopped at Burdicks for a treat. Two of my friends were from France, and one mentioned that Burdicks had macarons. I was confused; I love coconut macaroons and I searched the pastry case over looking for macaroons, but did not see any. It was then explained to me that they were "French macarons". I tried them and was hooked.

If you want to see how popular this lovely little cookies are and the range of inventiveness the French take with them just visit the Laduree or Pierre Herme websites. I'm not sure why they haven't taken over in the United States yet. I may just have to start my own little French Macaron Revolution.

Baby Cake for Mom

My sister Maria informed me that Mom would like a baby cake with roses; red or pink would do. Tonight I came home and was struck with an idea. I should have been in bed, um hours ago, but hey I don't have to work tomorrow, so I got straight to work on the next baby cake.

In true daughterly fashion, I stayed up past my bedtime and didn't follow my mother's wishes, but I think she will be pleased with the results. Here is my Calla Lily cake. I covered this one completely in fondant and the flowers and leaves are made of fondant too. I don't think this one is going to be eaten, too much fondant and not really enough buttercream beneath it to make is taste better. Believe it or not, baby cakes have been harder to cover completely in frosting than say an 8" cake. The fondant was kind of a short cut for me tonight.

I'm off to bed now.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Employed...sort of

When I was still working for EH Publishing, I often worked a second job to make ends meet. One place I had considered applying to on numerous occassions was Sur La Table. French for, "On the table", it is a fantastic cookware and anything cooking & baking related store. I go into this store and get lost for hours, and usually end up wanting to spend a lot of money. This place makes the wheels turn in my head and inspires my culinary creativity.

One of my first thoughts after being laid off was, well if all else fails, maybe I can get a job at Sur La Table. I called the store to inquire about job openings right away. The store manager answered the phone, and I explained my situation and asked if they needed any help. He responded, "can you start today?". I guess they were a little short handed. I did not start that day since I was leaving for my trip to Ohio and would be gone a week, but promised to be in touch. As soon as I got back from Ohio, I stopped by and was pretty much hired on the spot and told I could be in charge of the bakeware section. Hmm that just so happens to be one of my favorites.

Today was my first day. It was tough going back to work after having 3 weeks of doing what I want with no set schedule. It was also a good thing, yesterday I was starting to feel a little isolated and missing human interaction. Retail is always tough. You're on your feet for long hours, the varied schedule can be a challenge, and well the pay.... Overall it was a pretty good day for a first day. Although I couldn't readily locate some items in the store for customers, I was able to discuss cast iron skillets, help a lady pick out dishware for a dinner party, and sing the praises of my Bialetti Mukka to another coffee customer. The customers were engaging. Kind of reminded me of what I used to say about working for Godiva, "you rarely get angry or difficult customers, chocolate just makes everyone happy". Appears to be a similar mind set amoung customers at Sur La Table.

I'm going to have to be careful however, with a generous employee discount and so much culinary inspiration each day, it's going to be hard not to spend large portions of my pay check in this store. Oooh but now I can get those red silicon spatulas I need.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Baby Cake for Maria

I received good reviews about the Van Gogh cake. My sister Maria asked me to make a sunflower cake for her. So the next cake in my baby cakes series is for her. Same yellow cake as Elizabeth's, but with all almond buttercream and the flower is made from fondant. I won't be eating this one for you because my roommate has asked for it, but maybe she will let me have a few bites.

I still have about 4 undecorated baby cakes. Feel free to send me ideas, or let me know if you want me to create a baby cake for you. It may be hard to tell from the photo, but the reason I call them baby cakes, is because they are small 2" diameter cakes that stand only about 3" tall, and are just enough for one person, or possibly for two to share. I love miniature desserts.

On Another note: Orientation tonight was great. A lot of the students are coming from similar situations; not happy with their current job or have been laid off, have always loved cooking and figured now was the time to change. I'm excited to be around so many people who are just as passionate about food as I am, that they are ready to make it their life.

AND my patience paid off. I got to bring my books, uniform and student kit home with me tonight. Probably 3olbs plus of stuff total. There will be pictures posted soon. I'm ready to get started.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The BIG announcement!

It's been an anxious few weeks since I lost my job. I've been rushing about trying to get all necessary admissions materials turned in to the CSCA, along with hoping and praying I could get a loan to pay for tuition. Yesterday I turned in my final materials, got fitted for my uniform, and went over the student kits and books I will be receiving for class. I felt like the kid who was allowed to peer into the candy store and then dragged away with no treat. Since my loan was still in limbo approval mode, I did not get to take anything home. I wanted to start reading the textbooks and start absorbing as much knowledge as I can before classes start. (I was always in trouble in elementary school for reading ahead, somethings never change). I thought how awful it would be to have come this far and then be denied financing.

I think the stress and excitement got to me. I arrived home, had a quick lunch and retired for a nap. I woke later to check my phone for missed calls and discovered a voicemail from the school. I nervously dialed my voicemail. Held my breath, crossed my fingers and listend to my 1 message. My loan was approved! Instead of excitedly dancing and jumping up and down, I let out a big sigh, high fived my roommate, and in true Jenni fashion, started wondering what I've got myself in to.

Tonight I go to orientation. I'm hoping now I can take my student kit and textbooks home, and give them the go ahead to embroider my name on my chef coat. Next Monday is my first class. 37 weeks of two 8 hour lab classes and 3 hour seminars all focused on the fine art of pastry (and other culinary skills). Somebody pinch me.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Baby Cake inspired by Van Gogh

This one is for my sister Elizabeth. Hope you don't mind I ate it for you. I didn't think it would make it to Ohio and still be tasty. I know you like Van Gogh's painting of the Almond trees in bloom. This cake was inspired by that print Catherine and I bought for you at the museum in Amsterdam. It's a little yellow cake with a layer of Almond buttercream in the middle, covered in buttercream with white fondant flowers. Oh, and it tasted good. I'll make one for you the next time I'm home, I promise. :-)

More baby cakes to come....

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy New Year Apple Gallette

My friend Leah shares my passion for cooking. She is the person who first told me about the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, she introduced me to LA Burdick's chocolate shop in Harvard Square, and got me hooked on Asahi sushi in Brighton. She always lends a hand in my kitchen during my parties, and we often get together just to cook for each other and share recipes. It was her copy of Julie and Julia that I read and started to really love Julia Child. Once when I was sick, she appeared on my doorstep with a small tub of curried lentil soup she had made. God Bless Her! I could go on and on. In other words, Leah is my gourmet soul mate.

During one of our evenings of cooking together (I believe we were trying a calzone recipe from this great vegetarian cookbook she has) she brought along an apple gallette she made for our dessert. It was beautiful; nice, golden, buttery crust folded and pleated around a mosaic of translucent apples. I whipped up some heavy cream with a touch of Baileys, but this tart needed no accompaniments. I swear to this day that it was the best apple gallette ever. The crust was perfect, flaky and tender. The apple's natural sweetness was just enough. I was in heaven.

Ever since that night, I have been trying to recreate Leah's masterpiece. She has shared her recipe, given me tips, and even made another gallette for my last dinner party. Well I'm still working on it, but last nights attempt got rave reviews. No whipped cream this time, but I did dress it with a bit of the ginger caramel sauce I had made previously for the chocolate covered pears.

Happy New Year to all. I'm looking forward to great things in 2009......big news is hopefully right around the corner. Stay tuned. :-)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Home for the Holidays

When I called my parents to tell them about being laid off from my job, one of the first things they said was, "Great, now you can come home for Christmas!". For those of you who may think I have a weird sense of humor at times, at least I get it honest. I took my family up on their offer and went home for Christmas.

I hadn't been feeling much in the Christmas spirit this year. When my brother informed me that is was Mom's job to bring the dessert for Christmas dinner at his house, I could think of only one thing: Buckeyes! Buckeyes have been a holiday staple in my family for years. We used to make them a week or so in advance and Mom would hide them in the freezer or somewhere. We wouldn't see them again till Christmas eve, no matter how hard we searched for her hiding place.

Christmas morning I decided I wanted to make buckeyes. Mom provided the peanut butter, butter, powdered sugar and chocolate chips. We rolled the peanut butter mixture into balls and then melted the chocolate chips in her double boiler. (I think this may have to be my next purchase) The results? Well the buckeyes didn't last long, they never do, and it felt a little more like Christmas to me.