Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Dumping Cupcake

I just had to share this.

It's one of the most original tattoos I've seen. Not entirely sure why you would want to get a cupcake sitting on the toilet, but I suppose stranger things have happened. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Atlantis Paradise Island

Last night I learned about a place called the Atlantis Paradise Island located in the Bahamas. A resort and waterpark that holds one of the most expensive hotel suites in the world.

This is the Royal Towers building. See that bridge that connects the two? That's a hotel room that costs $25,000...a night.

There are six buildings on the island for accomodations, a casino, the waterpark, scuba diving, Dolphin Cay, a marine habitat, golf, bars, and even a pottery studio and library in case anybody ever decides to go there and not spend all their time outdoors in paradise.

Jean-Georges, Nobu, and Bobby Flay all have restaurants there. Jean-Georges is one of the biggest restaurants in NYC, and working there is one of the most well-known pastry chefs right now, Johnny Iuzzini. I've never tried his desserts so I don't know if it's because he's really that amazing or if it's only because he's incredibly gorgeous, or maybe a mixture of both. Even Jacques Torres approves of his food though, so his looks could have nothing to do with it. All I'm sayin is, working at a Jean-Georges restaurant would be an incredible oppurtunity...but any of the restaurants on the island would be as well.

It would have to be something to work towards, unless you're aiming for one of the lower positions in the kitchen. Right now they're hiring for a chef de cuisine at one of the restaurants and it requires a minimum of a 4-year degree, five years experience at a 5-star hotel or restaurant, extensive experience in high-volume banqueting, and international exposure. You couldn't simply pick up your culinary degree and expect to be hired.

It does look amazing though...maybe one day I'll make a visit to see if it would ever be the type of place I'd want to work at.

So it looks like I got the job! Yay for me! But that means I may not be posting much on this...because apparently when I'm unemployed and have a lot of time on my hands I do things like make food blogs, however, with school and work we shall see how that goes.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Thai Eggplants (and truffles)

In a recent drive near Chinatown, I could not help myself but to yell out "Pull over! Pull over!" while yanking on my boyfriend's shirt when I saw a huge Asian market. Obviously you would expect this near Chinatown, but for whatever reason I had yet to make my way to one around here.

I love Asian markets. They're always full of some of the strangest things you'll ever see in a food market - furry and pointy fruits, tons of jarred shrimp and squid, strange smelly items that you can't quite identify. Foods that have been lost in translation - what exactly are "chemical eggs," and what exactly is in "flavor juice?" If durian is making a presence, count on a rotting garbage odor to permeate the fresh produce section. Meats that are ambiguous in their packaging. There were two identical packages of beef testicles - one labeled "Beef Testicles" and the other labeled "Beef Balls." Cue Beavis and Butthead-style laughter. 

This particular Asian market was also a fish market, with huge tanks of live tilapia, live catfish (REALLY big catfish, with quite a few dead on the didn't exactly give me confidence in their products), live crabs, and even a large box of live frogs. I hope one day, just for the sake of amusement, someone knocks the box of frogs over and they escape - now that's entertainment better than 75% of what's on prime time TV. They even had bags of frozen crickets...and cockroaches wrapped in sets of four! This was the first time I'd seen it, and it's somehow fascinating and gross at the same time. And I'm terribly disappointed that I didn't have my camera.
Next time I go I'll be a little more adventurous, but this time I played it safe. Various types of vermicelli noodles, a mango, a few cans of coconut milk, and some Thai eggplants (for something new) made their way home with me.

The Thai eggplants weren't as exciting as I'd hoped, but they sure are pretty little things. A little bit of a cucumber taste. I made a curry with them but it was hard to get their flavor out that way - so I'll roast the rest in the oven to see how good they can be on their own. Inside, they're full of little seeds, and on the outside they have gorgeous green markings with a tiny little husk on the top, kind of like a tomatillo.

On another note, I'm worried about my career based on the fact that I recently tried black truffles and found them to be...well...kind of gross. Feel free to give me a good punch. Chefs go on and on about truffles - how could I dislike them? Well, honestly, I don't like mushrooms either and that might have something to do with it. In Scott Ian's Food Coma article about truffles, he describes them thusly:

"When an angel poops, it poops truffles...I was at Providence here in LA and chef Michael Cimarusti invited us into the kitchen and he pulled out a plastic container with what had to be a pound of the good shit. He told me to hold the container to my nose and open the lid. The intensity of the smell that rushed out was the sheer power of the earth. It smelled like ancient forests. It smelled like what food must have tasted like before chemicals, what the air smelled like before we polluted it. It smelled like what I've always imagined The Shire (dork) to smell like. It awakened a primeval feeling of a connection to the land that I've never felt before. All that from just smelling them. Eating them is all that and more as the power of the earth is released into your bloodstream and the euphoria takes over. What I'm sayin' is, they getcha high. And once you've had them, you have to have them again. I've never smoked crack or meth or any of that fun stuff...truffles man, that's my thing. No hangover, no tweaking and you don't lose your teeth."

It's one of the best descriptions of a food I've come across. But really? Other than their value, why are they so sought after when they kind of taste like dirt? Is it an elitist thing, like people that brag about eating caviar even though it's really just salty and kinda rank? Or am I just a complete fucktard for not liking them or caviar?

Maybe Hopefully they'll grow on me.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Somehow I had forgotten how heavenly these little cookies are. The simplest thing to make (provided you have some kind of mixer), and just a few ingredients make a lovely, melt-in-your-mouth delectable treat. Not to mention only about 30 calories a cookie and hardly any fat! At some point I'd like to try them with Splenda to see how well they come out...then you'd REALLY be eating a light dessert.

Ultrafine sugar is best if you have it, simply because it dissolves easiest. Or some meringues are made by heating up the egg whites and sugar together over a double boiler till the sugar dissolves, resolving that issue(and the issue of salmonella). Make sure your bowl is completely clean and dry, and egg whites that are room temperature provide better volume than cold ones.

You can pipe these into little shapes, or pipe them into circles to provide a base for something else (berries, ice cream, etc). I just wanted to eat them, which led me to hastily dropping them onto a cookie sheet with a teaspoon(and that works fine too).

King Arthur Flour's Meringues
  • 2 large eggwhites
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • pinch of cream of tartar
  • dash of salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • extra sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 200F. In a large bowl, combine the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt. Beat until soft peaks form, then gradually add the sugar, continuing to beat until the mixture is stiff and glossy. Add the vanilla extract at the end.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil, shiny side up. Drop the meringue by large teaspoonfuls onto the paper and sprinkle each meringue with a bit of sugar. Bake for 1 1/2 hours. Turn off the heat and leave the meringues in the oven until they're completely cool, 3 hours or more(no worries - they're worth it!). These are good to make in the evening; they can be left in the oven, with the heat turned off, overnight. Store them in an airtight container to keep them crisp.

You can add your favorite flavored extract to mix it up a little - almond would be good. Or, try folding in 1/2 cup of mini chocolate chips or shaved chocolate before baking.

For cocoa meringues, sift together 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar and 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder. Use 1/4 cup of granulated sugar while beating the egg whites and fold in the cocoa mixture and vanilla extract before baking.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


The Frenchies were on to something with these. Light, unleavened pancake things that can be filledwith sweet or savory fillings of any kind. I've been on a bit of a crepe kick since reading about one that Michael Symon did at Lola - a corn crepe batter with red and green bell peppers and scallions in it, with a duck confit filling, topped with cheese and his own barbeque sauce. Now damn that sounds good!

There are a couple different ways of making them. You can use just a regular saute pan with a tiny bit of fat in it - or some people use these handy crepe makers:

You pour a little batter onto it, spread it around like in the picture, flip it, fill it, and serve it. I've had them made this way and personally, I think they come out overcooked and dry. But maybe it was just the guy that made it. There's also another kind of crepe maker, that works as a reverse saute pan:

Dip what looks to be the bottom of a saute pan into the batter, let it sit for about ten seconds, and voila! Peel off a fresh crepe.

When it's made with buckwheat flour instead of wheat flour with a savory filling, according to both Culinaria France and Wikipedia, it becomes a "galette." But I thought a galette was a pastry, filled with fruit with the edges just barely coming up? Like this thing here?

Well, apparently I'm wrong. It's both. A galette can be the crepe made with buckwheat flour with a savory filling or various types of flat, round, or freeform crusty cakes.
Crepes Suzette are probably the most widely known. The story goes that it was the favorite dish of King Edward VII, the British king. At the turn of the century it was usual to spend winter on the Cote d'Azur. The Prince of Wales, who was a great admirer of France, invited Suzette, a pretty French woman who he was courting, to eat with him. When the crepes were brought to the table for dessert, the orange liqueur next to it was set on fire by mistake. With great presence of mind the chef served the crepes, folded twice, as a new creation. The prince was enraptured and christened the flambeed egg pancake with the name of his charming companion.

Crepe batter should be smooth, so a blender is a good tool for making it, but a whisk will suffice. It should also rest for a couple hours in the fridge, then let it get back to room temperature before you start cookin'. The resting process allows the gluten to relax as well as expand and absorb moisture, so you won't get tough crepes. The end result will give you a lovely light and thin crepe. Teflon is usually not exactly my favorite thing, but from what I hear they work well for this.

King Arthur Flour's Parisian Street Vendor Crepes
  • 2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 tsp vanilla (only add this if you're making a sweet crepe)
If you're not throwing it all into a blender, follow their method:
In a mixing bowl, combine the flour and salt. In another, smaller bowl, beat together the milk and eggs. Make a well in the flour mixture and pour in about half the liquid mixture. Blend well, then add the remaining liquid and stir until fairly smooth. Stir in the butter. Cover and let sit for at least one hour.
Heat your pan until it's medium-hot. Wipe the bottom of the ban with a bit of butter (a paper towel works well). Pour a scant 1/3 cup of batter into the bottom of the pan, pick it up, and swirl it so the batter covers the bottom of the pan. Cook until the bottom begins to brown and you can slide a spatula under the crepe. (Or, you can just flip it like a pancake!) Cook briefly on the other side and place on a warm plate.

This recipe makes a LOT of crepe batter (of course it is just my boyfriend and I) - I would suggest cutting it in half unless you've got a big family or company. If you're making a big batch, you can toss them onto a sheet tray in a low oven (around 200F) to keep them warm till serving. I used some of my leftover batter the next day and it worked just fine. Keep in mind, you can play around a little bit with the recipe - add a little cinnamon to the batter for that apple filling, or substitute beer instead of milk for your braised pork and cheese filling.

The filling: The French love their Nutella. They have reason's delicious. Try spreading some Nutella onto the crepe, add some sliced banana, and hit it with a little sift of powdered sugar before enjoying. Add berries and yogurt. Make a sauce to go along with it. Whatever you like.

I mixed some ricotta cheese (about 1 1/2 cups) with the juice of a lemon, and added powdered sugar till it tasted sweet enough, plus about 1/2 a teaspoon of vanilla. I used this and strawberry yogurt as my filling. Success!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sticky Toffee Pudding

I made sticky toffee pudding last night. I figure if I end up with this job and the chef wants to make it, I should at least have made it and eaten it once.

There were two things wrong with this endeavor: for one, I can't find a recipe in any of my cookbooks that I trust. And for another, I've never eaten it...meaning I have nothing to compare it to and don't know how good it really is.

In any case, I made it, and since I'm too lazy to look for my cake pan I grabbed the bundt pan in easy reach (shame on me). I also made a toffee sauce to go with it, and because I didn't use a recipe I don't have one to post. Again, shame on me! Not using a recipe is the biggest baking taboo. But I think it's pretty good anyway...I put brown sugar in a pot with a little water, let it caramelize, and added some light cream. The consistency isn't as good as when I do that with regular granulated sugar. Next time I'll actually use a recipe but it works for now.

I decided to go with a recipe from Food Network. In the end, I had a nice, moist cake, and a way to eat dates and actually enjoy them!

Next time, I'm also going to try adding a little rum to the sauce. Also some lightly whipped cream would go well - and I'd like to try folding Bailey's caramel into it. I also evidently need some white would look much better! Next time, folks.
The recipe:
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 cup pitted dates (I actually had a box of chopped, pitted dates, which made my life much easier)
  • 1 1/4 cups boiling water
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 10-inch round or square baking dish. Sift the flour and baking powder onto a sheet of waxed paper. Chop the dates fine. Place in a small bowl and add the boiling water and baking soda; set aside. In a bowl of electric mixer beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla; beat until blended. Gradually beat in the flour mixture. Add the date mixture to the batter and fold until blended with a rubber spatula. Pour into the prepared baking dish. Bake until pudding is set and firm on top, about 35 minutes. Remove from oven to a wire rack and cool.

This is a traditional recipe, but it's a cake that you can easily mess around with the flavors - instead of dates add dried cranberries or blueberries. Like it? Add it!

The Interview: Part Two

This term, Thursdays start for me with pastry production from 6am to 11, a break till noon, followed by "Intro to Cooking Techniques" - a classroom class taught by one of my favorite chefs at the school. Not only do we get out of class an hour early, he even makes us mac and cheese. Straight up, nothing fancy, nothing added to it. Basic bechamel with cheddar mixed in with elbow macaroni and parmesan on top that provides a lovely crust upon baking. Delicious.

I came home for a quick change and headed straight to the Blockley for my interview with the chef, Ross Esner.  I navigated my way around the back of the building, where two men making chitchat told me I was in the right spot (a sign in the front had informed anyone trying to get to the Blockley to go around back, without mentioning where it was in relation to the Korean restaurant that's also around back). The first people I come to are two of the men I originally interviewed with, in a small office to the left. They're going over what no doubt is stacks of applications and resumes. I swallow my nerves, yet again, throw a big smile and say hi. They look up and see me, saying hi back, and Nick the tall one even says, "I told you we'd put in a good word for you." They send me off to the main room where the chef is giving people walkthroughs.

I see no one other than a middle-aged Mexican man filling out an application by the bar, wearing jeans, sneakers, and a letterman jacket. It looks to be a waiting game, just as before. Fortunately for me though, a few minutes later two more people join us - the first guy I actually know. He worked at Distrito with me, where I spent a total of about two weeks before being laid off back in October, and also goes to The Restaurant School. He immediately heads over to talk to me, and we share our knowledge on this new restaurant, the chef, and the menu. It's not only calming, but passes the time. Frank has a habit of giving me his number, despite knowing that I live with my boyfriend. He gives it to me again, "in case you change your mind," and I laugh and tuck it into my purse pocket.

The other job hopeful that came in behind Frank was another guy that looked to be in his mid-twenties, good looking with a plaid shirt, jeans, and some of the strangest shoes I'd ever seen on a man. Finally, the chef appears with a few other candidates, and it's easy to indicate which one is the chef. Not by attire, no - he's wearing dusty boots, jeans, and a denim jacket - but the other three men all seem to have that hope and desperation that seems to emanate from people going into an establishment looking for a job. He finishes talking to them individually to go over their resumes, and tells us he'll take us all on a walkthrough.

It starts off in what is to going to be a small kitchen, back behind the stage, in charge of the food for the bar area. He also explains that there will be an AM crew that comes in and bangs out the prep - breaks down proteins, etc. Night crew will have a small list of responsibilities. Typical set up so far. Then he leads us through a hidden walkway into the restaurant next door. Here is an open kitchen, where the menu will be much more seasonal with higher prices, and more focus on the service. The bar will have more of a set menu - sandwiches, salads, wings - but all done well. As Chef Ross says, "The food's gonna kick ass." He finishes explaining his plans, and takes us full circle back to the bar, where he takes us aside individually.  I'm very thankful that Frank is here - his presence and being able to talk to someone while I wait has given me far less time to build up nervousness.

"Tell me about yourself. Why do you want to cook?" Esner has an oddly shaped nose, scraggly dark hair, and a sense of comfort and confidence about himself.
"Well," I say, scratching my head, "I fell in love with food a couple of years back. I worked at a coffeeshop owned by an Indian family and the owner made a lot of things from scratch. We did soups every day, and baked, and it was the first time I really started getting into it. I played around at home a lot with food. Eventually, I changed my decision to go to school in Memphis for sound engineering to follow this instead."
"The live music will be good for you then," he says. "Why did you change your mind?"
"I was a band geek in high school. I thought I could kind of play off of that, but in the end I realized that this was something I really thought I could be better at."

He nods and thinks. 

"Well, as for me, I'm involved with a couple places already. I closed up Django, a small BYOB, a few months back after having it 3, 4 years." He tells me about the place not turning a profit - something he partly believes was because of not selling alcohol - and how hard it was seeing everyone else get a paycheck but himself. Eventually he couldn't do it anymore.

He then asks me what days I can't work, and what my comfort level is. I tell him I'm a bit nervous about grill - I've never worked a grill station, and I'd be more comfortable on saute. Somehow I also say that I'm fine grilling a whole fish, and I'm not entirely sure how that happened. But the most exciting part, the part that made me call and squeal to one of my friends on my way home, was when he told me he'd be happy to have me take over the pastry area of the menu and put my stamp on it. He says there are some things he definitely wants to do - bread pudding, sticky toffee pudding, baked alaska, and apple cobbler. All simple, all tasty things that people won't be put off by. (Well that's not completely true - people are generally freaked out by baked alaska if they don't know how easy it really is.) No problem, I think. Some ideas have already popped into my head while we speak.

He writes the days I'm available onto my resume, as well as "pastry" at the very top. 

"I'll e-mail you the menu and be in touch." I can't help my smile at this point, shake his hand once more and thank him.

I leave the soon-to-be-restaurant with a quick wave to Frank and a bounce in my step.

The Interview: Part One

This past Sunday I went to an open interview at a restaurant that's opening mid-March. It's called The Blockley Pourhouse, and I found them in an ad on craigslist, stating that they're hiring all positions front and back of the house.

I really didn't think much of it - I've had an extremely hard time finding a decent job, and passed it off as another I probably won't get. But I went to the open interview anyway, and before I knew it, my nerves were setting in. This has been a problem for me in the past. Before I started work at my first real restaurant, I could barely eat for about three days. I did what I could to calm myself - took the car where I can feel confident in my own little bubble, where I can listen to whatever music I like, however loud I like. I thought of all the experience I have - a 3.9 GPA in culinary school that I'm attending, management at a pizza place, sous chef at a fine dining French restaurant where I butchered tenderloin, stripsteak, and removed silverskin from lamb. I learned to fillet Dover sole, though I never got to be great at it, and probably couldn't do it if you asked me to right now. I covered all the appetizers, like crab imperial, stuffed shrimp, smoked salmon with toast, and escargot. I learned a little bit about sauces, though not much relatively speaking. It was the first time I tasted mornay, beurre blanc, and tournedo. The front of the house was one of the most terribly adorned places I had ever seen: the seventy-year old woman owner's doll collection was scattered about, and her presence was further enhanced by massive amounts of doilies. We served our specialty items on gaudy purple and gold plates, like the lamb.

But despite all of this, I think of my weaknesses as I drive to the intersection of 38th and Chestnut. By the time I walk into the building bearing the outdated sign of "Koko Bongo," the business that failed, I'm shaking. The entire building is completely gutted - the walls are all different colors from pink to blue to white, there are giant eight-foot sheets of plywood laying about, while loose nails appear on the floor every here and there. Straight ahead is what looks to be the set up of a stage, and the first thing I reach upon walking in is the giant bar: it looks to be thirty feet long. Standing at the end nearest the door are two girls that look to be around my age, and when I walk closer, I see they're filling out applications taken from a stack laying on the bar. Down at the other end of the bar, sitting at a small fold-out table are three men. In front of the table is a single chair, where another girl about my age is being interviewed. I figure because I have my resume, the application would be obsolete, but as they dismissed the girl from the interview one of the men walked toward me and told me to go ahead and fill one out anyway. His light brown hair is short on top, and he holds a beard that gives him a vague Amish look (pointed out by one of the others during my interview). I hate filling out applications.
The next two girls go one by one to the table at the end of the bar, chasing front of the house jobs. The men are blatantly flirting with both of them. I overhear snatches of the conversations, and they both sound a bit ditzy - someone you could easily imagine saying, "I love The Hills!" or "I can't believe I have to miss the Lady Gaga concert." But they could be good candidates to serve food and booze to people that come in and get shitty.

After standing around for what feels like hours, it's my turn. The man on the left is tall with dark brown hair. The one in the middle looks like he could be a linebacker - but has a very gentle smile. And the bearded man on the right turns out to be the one in charge of the music and booking for the place. They are all young, and seem full of excited ambition. Despite my nervousness, I do a good job at swallowing it and throwing big smiles, acting confident and extremely interested in everything they have to say. They ask me if I would rather serve or cook, and I say for now maybe serving. I didn't tell them that this is because the money is better, and I don't want to get stuck making crappy bar food like potato skins and wings. But by the end of the interview, when I was informed that Chef Ross Esner, former chef of Django (the food of which is the second picture shown), would be the head chef here and there was an actual casual dining restaurant next to this large "fun room," they tell me in so many words that I would be working in the back of the house if anything. I'm fine with this - no - I'm great. In fact, I'd felt a little guilty saying I'd rather serve. A funny thing was that they actually spoke a good bit more than I did - it seemed like I could hardly get a word in. They were young and ambitious indeed. I left feeling like I'd at least gotten a little word in about myself.

The very next day Chef Ross calls me and leaves a message saying he would love for me to come by and set something up. As soon as I get a hold of him, he tells me that Thursday he's holding interviews and to come by then.

To be continued...