Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thankful

Hope everyone had a happy thanksgiving. I am so filled with thanks for all of the wonderful things in my life.

My family, my friends, my health, the opportunity to follow my dream, italy in six(!) weeks, the abundance of food that I get to eat, work with, and make for those around me... Hope your heart is as full as mine is!  Unfortunately, my body is almost just as full as my heart is. I am just about  ready for another detox!

This thanksgiving, I was in charge of desserts... pretty dumb since I am certainly not a pastry chef! I did, however, manage to pull it off somehow!

Dessert consisted of a variety of goodies...... besides mom's pies, there was an apple tarte tatin, chocolate covered strawberries, a chocolate trifle, pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, and pistacchio and cranberry biscotti.

I am happy (and relieved) to report that everything was a big hit! The biscotti came out surprisingly delish and would be perfect for a Christmas party. Here is the recipe! Enjoy :)

Holiday Biscotti
Courtesy of Giada DiLaurentiis

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup pistachios, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup dried cranberries
12 ounces good-quality white chocolate, chopped
Red and green sugar crystals, for garnish


Directions
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Line a heavy large baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk the flour and baking powder in a medium bowl to blend. Using an electric mixer, beat the sugar, butter, lemon zest, and salt in a large bowl to blend. Beat in the eggs 1 at a time. Add the flour mixture and beat just until blended. Stir in the pistachios and cranberries.
  • Form the dough into a 13-inch long, 3-inch wide log on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until light golden, about 40 minutes. Cool for 30 minutes.
  • Place the log on the cutting board. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut the log on a diagonal into 1/2 to 3/4-inch-thick slices. Arrange the biscotti, cut side down, on the baking sheet. Bake the biscotti until they are pale golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer the biscotti to a rack and cool completely.
  • Stir the chocolate in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water until the chocolate melts. Dip half of the biscotti into the melted chocolate. Gently shake off the excess chocolate. Place the biscotti on the baking sheet for the chocolate to set. Sprinkle with the sugar crystals. Refrigerate until the chocolate is firm, about 35 minutes.

 

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Chop Chop

Tonight, I finally got a chance to catch up on some of the TV shows I missed last week..... And I saw this scene from Grey's Anatomy.  Cut to the 40 second mark- I know I have said it before, but this is my greatest fear on almost a daily basis lately!  Note to self: Concentrate while playing with knives!



Culinary School Medley

Here are some random shots from my first couple of weeks of culinary school. Even though these pictures were taken a short time ago, it seems like it has been much longer, since we are moving at such an intense pace. It has been so great so far and I am learning so much. I am so glad to be on this journey!


Octopus before....




During......




And After!




Involtini di Cavolo (Stuffed Cabbage)




Zuppa di Ceci (Chickpea Soup)




Tuna Tartare with Quail Egg



Stirring Zuppa di Farro....




Carpaccio




Orchiette.... Little Ears





Making Ravioli....




Getting them uniform and perfect takes practice!




Pasta with Oregano and Tuna





Linguine With Clams





Pizza Bianca con Rucola (White Pizza with Arugula)



Breadsticks


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pasta Princess

Making fresh pasta has been a revelation for me. I never knew how easy is was!

A few eggs, a little olive oil, a bit of salt and some flour.....and voila! 

If you want to be fancy, you can mix in some blanched, pureed spinach to make it a beautiful green color and even more flavorful.







Knead it, form a ball, and let rest.

After it rests, roll it out and cut into the shape of your choice, then boil it up.

Throw in a pan with a little butter, sage, and a couple of ladles of your pasta cooking liquid.....







and you have a fresh, cheap, delicous dinner..... without much effort at all. Plus, your friends will be soooo impressed if you whip up a batch of this right before their eyes!


Fresh Pasta Dough

Ingredients

4 eggs
150 grams 00 flour
150 grams Semolina flour
10 grams salt
1 tsp olive oil


Procedure

  • Beat Eggs in a bowl and add olive oil


  • Sift the flour and salt into a pile on your countertop


  • Make a well in the center of the pile and slowly pour the eggs in, incorporating with your fork as you go


  • When all of the eggs are combined with the flour, form the dough into a ball


  • Knead it for about 5 minutes to develop the gluten


  • Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for at least 30 minutes


  • Roll out to desired thinness with a pasta machine or a rolling pin


  • For fettucine, cut into 1/4'' strips


  • Cook immediately in heavily salted, boiling water









Enjoy!!!


Restaurant Review: Las Chicas Locas, NYC

Last month, the girls and I headed out on a rainy Saturday night to celebrate my birthday. We threw on our tiniest black outfits, prayed our hair did not frizz, and made our way to Chelsea for drinks and dinner. We chose Las Chicas Locas. Mostly because we loved the name :)

None of us had ever been there before and we were surprised to find that:
a) it is located in a Sheraton hotel
b) it is very tiny. I think there were about 5 tables total, but it looks much larger on the website
and
c) they lost our reservation, which was made two weeks in advance and confirmed the day before.

Although our reservation was lost, they did accomodate us very quickly and the service was excellent. The waitress and manager both kept checking in on us, the busboy made me a rose out of a napkin, and everyone was very attentive and professional.

The Rose


The food was not quite as impressive as the service. We started with some guacamole, and it was served in a small, white vessel. Compared to other upscale Mexican restaurants, like Dos Caminos, where their guac is made to order and served in much larger portions, this little cup just looked sad. For $12, I thought the portion was way too small, and I can't really comment on the flavor since I was just able to scrape one little bite up after everyone else took a chip-ful.

The cocktails were also on the small size.  As you know, that is a big black check mark in my book. I'm a lush, what can I say? Everyone enjoyed their margaritas and sangria, though.

Mmmmmmargarita


Next, we ordered salads. The gazpacho salad, made of avocado, tomato, cucumber, and onion was my favorite. The texture was great and the vinegarette served with it was really flavorful.

Gazpacho Salad

For our main courses, L and I ordered tacos, and unfortunately both dishes were a bit off. My fish tacos looked great, but tasted bland.  L had to send back her beef tacos because they were so dry that they made her choke. The waitress was really nice about replacing them with another entree, but by that point, I think L had lost her appetite. The other girls did enjoy their choices, with the Salmon Sinaloa being a favorite.

Fish Tacos

For dessert, the churros were sugary, doughy, and delicious. No complaints there!

I had an amazing birthday and the best time with my friends at dinner, but I think Las Chicas Locas needs to work out the kinks before I would recommend them to anyone else.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Talking Turkey




Hard to believe, but Thanksgiving is almost upon us. Scary! Where does the time go?

Anyway, I am in charge of desserts this year. I need to wow the crowd! Do you have any favorite recipes to share?

Miss Potato Head



Potato Cocottes will be the death of me. I swear. They will. They certainly will be the reason I do not ace my practical exam tomorrow.

They are evil little 7-sided, football-shaped thingys we are supposed to carve our potatoes into with a paring knife. Yes, I said thingys.

The knife strokes are supposed to be long.....smooth.......strong......fluid.

Mine are short....crooked......nervous.....angular.

Seriously, I think a 7 year old could do a better job at these freaking things than I can.  I try to keep my motions smooth, but the potato has a hard spot I can't slide the knife through.....or I almost cut a finger off.....or I cut too deep or too shallow..... the stars are just not aligning for me and my project from hell  cocottes.

They tell you to trace an egg with your knife, to envision the egg hiding in that big potato....I do, but mine do not come out oval, they come out much more.....rustic. Yes, I like that word. Rustic.

I have mastered things much harder than this.  I have to psyche myself up! I can do this! I have a potato sculptor hiding inside of me. The potato can be anything I want it to be. A lovely little 7-sided, football-shaped thingy? No problem!

Are you buying that? Me either :(

Off to practice some more!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Restaurant Review: Babbo, NYC



Last Monday night, I headed to Babbo. My date and I were both in very good moods as we excitedly floated in to the restaurant. The service was top-notch. From the hostess to the coat-check attendant to the waiter, I was impressed. And as my friend's know, I am not easy to impress :)

I had heard mixed reviews on Babbo, so I was not sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. Although PETA activists may not be once they read the array of animals I consumed at dinner.

It was also really cool to see a lot of the culinary techniques and Italian terms that we have been learning about at school on the menu. I felt very smart every time my date asked "what is that?" :)

There was an amuse bouche of Bruschetta, then Blood Orange Cosmopolitans all around. Not too sweet and nice and strong. The Perfect Cocktail. Plus they were only $12. In NYC, the land of the $20 martini, that is a bargain! The waiter was also able to suggest a great wine for dinner, without any pretense or attitude.

As an antipasti, we ordered the Salumi Platter, which consisted of a lamb prosciutto and a sopressatta. All of the salty meats were sweet and tender and melt-in-your-mouth delish.

For our primi course, I got the Goose Liver Ravioli and my date ordered the Pappardelle Bolognese. The sauce on the ravioli is a thick, syrupy balsamic brown-butter glaze. It was sweet, but not cloying and provided a nice balance to the liver. I kind of wish I ordered the Beef Cheek Ravioli because I have heard so many good things about it, but there is always next time. The Pappardelle had a thick, meat ragu that was nicely seasoned. Just like Mama used to make!

By the time secondi came around, I was getting really full, so I shared my date's Duck with Rainbow Chard, Pancetta, and Beet Vinegarette. Moist, tender, flavorful, perfect.  But, I controlled myself because I knew my favorite course was next.

Dessert.....you know how much I love dessert.  I wanted everything on the menu. The Warm Apple Crostata with Gelato was sweet and tart and hot and cold and the perfect end to a pretty great meal.

I loved Babbo! I will definitely be back for that Beef Cheek Ravioli.... and more dessert!

Monday, November 9, 2009

I'm so cheesy

During week two of culinary school, we had one of my favorite lessons...... Cheesemaking. Yeah, I  am a nerd, I know, but I thought this was sooooo cool.

First we made Ricotta and then Mozzerella. The results were amazing! I really was pretty impressed with myself that day (not to worry, the culinary school gods have since knocked me off my cheesy pedestal).

Anyway, I came across this article on Chow.com that gives a step-by-step guide on how to make your own fresh Mutz and here is the recipe we used in class for Ricotta. Give it a try!

RICOTTA CHEESE
Ingredients:
1 liter milk
1/4 tsp citric acid
Salt
Cream

Procedure:
Heat milk
Add citric acid
Let come to about 185 degrees (simmer, do not boil)
Let sit for about 10 min, the curd and whey will separate
Ladel the curd into a colander lined with cheesecloth
Strain through cheesecloth and let cheesecloth hang to let the rest of the liquid drain out
Add cream and salt to taste

Pack your knives and go!



If you think you have what it takes to be the the next Top Chef, enter to be a contestent on the show!!!!  They are casting for season 7. Click here for more info! Good luck :)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Knife Skills


I don't mean to neglect my little blog here, but culinary school has been keeping me quite busy. I wanted to recap you on all the fabulous things I have been learning.

 

Here's some of our week one work. Practice, practice, practice!




We started with an intensive Knife Skills class. I  learned the proper way to hold a knife, who knew i was doing it wrong all these years?!? I also spent lots and lots of time cutting carrots, celery and leeks into julienne, or jardinere, or macedoine.

I learned how much I dislike turning regular old potatoes into 7-sided football-shaped things called cocottes and I got my apron dirty making plenty of tomato concasse.



How to prepare tomato concasse



It was not exactly fun, but it did help me start to refine my skill set and learn to do things properly. I have been practing every night and I am becoming more precise as the days go on!

Stay tuned for recaps of weeks two and three- inculding making my own cheese, antipasti, sauces, fresh pasta, and more!!!!


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Great Gift Ideas

If you have not checked out Solutions.com, you should. They have great ideas for hostess gifts and entertaining.

Like this cupcake tray



This serving platter for hor d'oeuvres or small bites




Or this personalized baking dish





There are a lot of other innovative products on this site. It's perfect for the holidays or if you just want some unique things for your home. Take a look if you get a chance!

Candyland




Fitting into your skinny jeans is overrated.


Butterfingers, Snickers, M&M's, are Peanut Butter cups are just too delicous. Nothing makes you feel like a kid again like Halloween candy does. Sweet, gooey, creamy, sugary goodness. 

After you put the costumes away and empty out the candy bowls and plastic pumpkins full of loot, here are some ideas for your leftovers from Serious Eats.  Of course, another option is to continuously scarf it down straight from the wrapper.....but reinvention is way more fun!

1. Peanut Butter Crunch Milkshake
Add a Butterfinger bar to three scoops of ice cream and 1 cup of ice cold milk. Blend on high and serve with a straw and a spoon.

2. Snickers Smoothie
Chop up a Snickers bar and place into blender with 1 banana and 1 cup vanilla yogurt. Add 1 cup ice cold water and blend until smooth.

3. Hot Chocolate Peanut Butter Toast
Place a Reese's peanut butter cup on a slice of white bread and heat in toaster oven for 3 minutes. Spread with knife and enjoy.

4. Poached Pears with Chocolate Peanut Caramel Sauce
Peel and slice two pears and poach in sugar water, then remove from liquid. Roughly chop 8 Goldenberg's Peanut Chews and place in a small saucepan with 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Heat over low flame and stir until the chocolate and caramel melts and the peanuts are free-floating. Allow to cool slightly and pour sauce over pears while still warm.

5. Eggs on a Snowy Log
Wash and trim some celery stalks into 4 inch "logs." Fill with cream cheese and top with Peanut M&Ms for a healthy (sort of) snack.

Missing in Action

The past two weeks have been absolutely CRAZY. The beginning of culinary school, trying to learn a new language, my birthday, moving back to NYC, Halloween..... I have not had a minute to breathe! My brain and my body are on complete overload. It is all good stuff though- this is what I have been waiting for and I am finally in the midst of it. Very exciting :) More to come shortly!!!