Easter Egg Wreath

Easter Egg Wreath: A Pinch of Glitter

Easter time is one of my favorite times of the year: it’s finally starting to get warm(er) outside, and the candy selection is the best of the entire year.  Every time I go to the store, I find an excuse to pick up another bag of easter candy ;)

While my home has an abundance of easter candy, it lacks in easter decorations.  My mother-in-law gave me a small little easter egg tree at the beginning of my marriage, and then last year, my mom got me a cute garland that has some glittered eggs on it.

But that’s it!  It doesn’t even decorate an entire room, which is sad considering how many Christmas decorations I have….

So, my goal is to increase my holiday decor by at least one thing each holiday each year.

A few months ago as I was browsing Pinterest, this darling wreath showed up in my feed.  I knew from the moment that I saw it, that I was going to make it.

As such, the idea for this wreath is definitely not my own.  All credit goes to Lisa at Wine and Glue (she has a great blog by the way, check it out!!)

I seriously could not be any happier about the way this wreath turned out!  I LOVE it, and can’t stop staring at it.

It only took me a couple of hours (total) to make this wreath, and with drying, gluing etc. was done in less than 24 hours.  The best part though: it only cost me about $5 to make!  Now that’s a steal.


If you would like to find out how to make this wreath on your own, please head on over to Wine and Glue for complete instructions!

Classic Lasagna

Classic Lasagna: A Pinch of Glitter

My senior year of high school, I really liked this boy.  We’ll call him Mike.

Mike and I hung out quite a bit, and I at least like to think that Mike liked me in return.

Every day during lunch, Mike and I would drive to his house and have a PB&J and a banana.  I got sick of having peanut butter every. single. day., but I did it because that’s what Mike did.

One day during our lunch, I jokingly (but some what seriously) asked Mike if there was any other food that he liked besides peanut butter sandwiches and bananas.  He thought about it and said “yeah.  I love lasagna.”

I had to impress Mike.  But there was one problem: I had NO idea how to make lasagna!  My mom always bought the frozen kind (which I am not a fan of).

I was talking to my friend about this, and she told me that she would be willing to teach me how to make lasagna!  I was stoked!  And the best part: we could invite Mike over after for the final product.  S.C.O.R.E.!

I was blown away at how EASY it was to make.  I always thought that lasagna was some fancy, gourmet meal that only experts could do.  Boy was I wrong.  It is seriously so simple.

When Mike came over, I think he ate half of the pan.  He said it was better than any lasagna he had ever had!  Yessssss.

[Oh, and in case you were wondering, the whole Mike thing never lasted more than a few weeks (great decision on my part...).   But, the lasagna thing did last - and I've made it many times since and still love it :)]
Classic Lasagna: A Pinch of Glitter


Classic Lasagna

Ingredients:
(**NOTE: All ingredients are approximate, and are just the amounts that I use.  If you like more meat, add more meat!  If there is too much cheese, take some away!  All ingredients can be adjusted to your liking :) **)
18 lasagna noodles
1 lb. ground meat (beef, turkey, chicken, etc. any kind will do!)
1 onion, chopped
1 jar (24 oz.) pasta sauce
8 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
16 oz. cottage cheese
15 oz. ricotta cheese
Italian seasoning

Directions:
1. Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions.
2. In a large skillet, brown ground meat and onion.  Remove from heat and stir in sauce.
3. In a large bowl, combine 6 cups of mozzarella cheese, cottage cheese, and ricotta cheese.
4. Spray two 9×13 pans with cooking spray.
5. Lay 3 lasagna noodles across the bottom of each pan so that the bottom is entirely covered.
6. Top noodles with 1/4 of the cheese mixture (spread it out the best you can).
7. Top cheese with 1/4 of the meat mixture.
8. Repeat steps 5-7 once.
9.  Place one more layer of noodles on top, and spread on a tiny bit of sauce (just enough to keep it moist).  Sprinkle each pan with 1 cup of shredded cheese.
10. Lightly sprinkle on some Italian seasoning for a pop of color.
11. Bake covered at 350 for 30 minutes.  Remove cover and bake an additional 10 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and lightly browned.
12. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.  Enjoy!

Yield: 2 9×13 pans -> 24 servings (**I like to use the second pan as a freezer meal!)

Culinary School: Bones

DAY ELEVEN:
I ended up saying home sick, still from the previous day.

DAY TWELVE:
Today we were all asked to create an appetizer for a function that would be occurring later in the day.  These appetizers had to be cold so they could be refrigerated before serving.  I know a whole bunch of different warm appetizers (that’s what happens when your family takes Superbowl Sunday very seriously), but I didn’t really know too many cold appetizers off the top of my head.  We could use anything that we could find in the kitchen to make our appetizers.  I looked around, and I really wanted to make something with some fresh veggies, and I also really liked the idea of using cream cheese.  At first I wanted to make a sort of dip for veggies, but I decided that was too boring.  I still stuck with the cream cheese and veggie idea though, and made a roasted veggie cream cheese.

I took some broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, red peppers, and onions, chopped them up, and roasted them in the oven for about half an hour.  Then, in a food processor, I put the veggies, cream cheese, and some garlic and combined everything together.  Let me tell you – this cream cheese was heavenly.  SO much better than the veggie cream cheese you can buy at the store.

I decided to put the cream cheese on some tortillas, along with some sliced turkey and some lettuce.  I rolled up the tortilla and cut it into 1-in. thick spiral wraps.

The idea was the have everything be the same thickness, to create a nice pinwheel look.  I thought that it tasted and looked great.  One of my instructors told me that the turkey was maybe too thick, but I think I still liked them as is (for both looks and taste).

IMG327

Today we also had our placement interviews.  So far all of the new students have been working together and doing the same thing so that our instructors could see what our skill level was.  However, after this we will be working on our own things and at our own level.

I was placed to start with stocks and sauces.  In all honesty, I thought that it was going to be super boring to start there – but that’s probably because I just have the average American’s view on sauces, which isn’t too elite.  And most sauces I have ever “cooked” at home have either been made from a can or a packet.

I definitely will have a lot of room to learn about this.

In the afternoon, I was sent down to the meat processing area of the school to gather some bones for my stock tomorrow.  There they had a bucket full of bones from the cows they had slaughtered and taken meat from.  The guy cut the bones into smaller pieces for us with a bone saw, and we took them back in a big bucket.  At this point I was a mixture of grossed out, excited, and curious.

DAY THIRTEEN:
Today was the day to start my beef stock.  Stock isn’t the same thing as broth that you buy from the store.  Rather, stock is made with the flavoring from the bones, while broth is the flavoring from the meat.

To make the stock, I first browned my bones in the oven.  It’s not the greatest smell in the world, and everyone kept teasing me for stinking up the kitchen.  Once they were browned, I had to transfer them to a large stockpot.  Seriously, it is not easy to carry a big pan full of bones out of the oven – at that point they’re in a nice bath of grease (and REALLY hot.  I may or may not have burned myself).

Not to mention the fact that I burned about 1/4 of my bones!  I had no idea at what point my bones were considered “browned”, so I kept cooking them.  I think one of my ovens must have been too hot, because they went from white to black (no in between), but the second oven that I used was just fine.

After browned, the bones have to then sit in a pot filled with cold water for about half an hour to be sure the particles that are only soluble in cold water have a chance to dissolve.  Then, heat up the pot and simmer overnight (with some mirepoix and a sachet as well).

I know that none of this sounds really difficult, but it’s super complicated when it’s a totally new concept – and you’re processing more than 30 lbs. of bones in one shot.  I mean, never before in my life have I placed a pan full of bones in the oven and then boiled them for many hours.  It’s weird at first.

DAY FOURTEEN:
Right as I got to school, I checked on my stock.  It looked (and smelled!) amazing!  To me, it seemed just like beef broth at this point.

I had to strain out the liquid and remove the bones and mirepoix from the pot.  This was NOT an easy task (again, the whole new concept thing).  Removing bones from a VERY hot liquid from a pot that is nearly impossible for me to reach all the way into (hey, I’m short!) makes for a difficult task.  It’s a miracle that I didn’t burn myself this time, although I came close.

Once the liquid was cooled, it became a lot thicker – kind of like a jelly.  This means that my stock was successful!

DAY FIFTEEN:
Stocks really aren’t made to be used “as is”.  In order to use it, you generally make a mother sauce from the stock, and from that mother sauce you make a small sauce – which is what is typically served.

Today I made a mother sauce from my stock: a brown sauce.  It was pretty simple – it was kind of like making the stock, but used my stock as the liquid, started with a roux, and didn’t have bones.

Today was mainly about improving my skill of making sauces.

DAY SIXTEEN:
I had to stay home today with a migraine.

DAY SEVENTEEN:
Today I was able to make TWO more stocks!  Both were from chicken bones: a white chicken stock and a brown chicken stock.

The brown chicken stock was basically identical to the beef stock that I did, except with chicken bones in place of beef bones.  The white chicken stock was just different in that the bones weren’t browned, and the mirepoix wasn’t browned or contain tomato paste.  Other than that it was also the same.

Doing the stocks today was a bit easier than before because I knew what the process was.  I just had a lot more bones than before, and two different pots to handle.

The chicken bones are supposed to simmer for 3-4 hours.   Right at the 3 hour mark, I tasted the stock, and it wasn’t very good.  It tasted like really bland chicken broth.  My instructors told me to allow it to simmer overnight.

DAY EIGHTEEN:
I got working on my chicken stock right when I arrived.  It smelled a lot better than it did the day before when I left.

Right away I put the stock pots in a cold water bath to cool.  (HUGE MISTAKE!)  It was really early for me still, so I wasn’t quite thinking yet!   Luckily, one of my instructors caught my mistake before it cooled off too much.

You see, the stock has to be strained before it cools.  The stock with gelatinize when it’s cool, and you want the bones and mirepoix out before that happens, or else it will need to be reheated.

Once my error was caught, I immediately strained and cooled the stock.  Fortunately this time it wasn’t so hot because it was allowed to cool just a bit in the water bath first, so it was easier this time because of that.

My stocks turned out a little bit cloudy, which isn’t good.  I did strain them through a cheesecloth, but I think it was old (and well used) and caused my stock to be cloudy.  During the simmering process, the chicken carcasses broke down a lot more than the beef ones did.  There was still a bit of meat on the bones, and that got cooked really well and broken up by simmering overnight.  When I strained it out, I think that some of the really small pieces of chicken still made it through the cheesecloth when it shouldn’t have.  I may just need to restrain my stocks to make them a little bit more clear.

With my chicken stock, I planned to make a veloute sauce (another mother sauce).  I didn’t have time to do all of it, but I had some time to prep for it.  The sauce calls for some mirepoix, as well as some clarified butter, so I prepped those things.

Clarified butter is simply butter that has the milk solids removed.  To do this, just melt the butter and take off the solid cloudy parts on top, leaving the clear yellow liquid.

My first attempt, I used some butter from a tub of whipped butter.  It worked, but not as well as it could have because there was A LOT of foam.  I ended up skimming off more stuff from the top than I had butter left behind.  So, I tried again with some butter from a stick, and it worked much better.

Today I also made a demi glace.  Demi glace is a secondary mother sauce, and is used to make small sauces.  All that it is, is equal portions of brown stock and brown sauce reduced by 1/2.  It was really a simple process.

DAY NINETEEN:
It was a slow day today because it’s right before spring break.  A lot of things that are made in a kitchen are for prep in anticipation of upcoming plans.  But, we obviously didn’t want to prep too much, or make very much food, since it wouldn’t save over the break.

That being said, all that I did today was my veloute sauce.  The process was nearly identical to the brown sauce.  The only differences were that the roux was left blonde (not browned), and the veggies were only sweat (not browned).  I used some of my white chicken stock to made the sauce.

The ending product smelled AMAZING, and I really can’t wait to use it to make some small sauces!  After spring break, I plan on using it to make a supreme sauce and serve it with a chicken.

Culinary School: Stir Fry and Soft-Cooked Eggs

DAY FIVE:
I arrived early and right away I was put to work making a warm potato salad.  I honestly wasn’t too excited to start off because I really don’t like potato salad.  I think it’s because of two things: I’m not a fan of cold, savory salads, and I’m definitely not a fan of mayonnaise.  I was willing to try this recipe, but still skeptical.  In the beginning of the process, one of my classmates helped me out.  They put all the ingredients in the pot that needed to be boiled while I cut the potatoes.  In the pot needed to be some vinegar.  Not just any vinegar though – white wine vinegar.  I saw this student ask one of my instructors a question, then right after grabbed the vinegar – I assumed the question was about the vinegar and didn’t question when they just brought over the “regular” distilled vinegar.  Well, it turns out that I definitely should have stopped them from doing that.  When we tasted my end product, it was super harsh because of the vinegar.  We put some sugar on it to make it better, but then it was time for me to learn my lesson!  My instructor had me get 2 little cups and taste the difference between the two vinegars.  White wine vinegar is a lot more mild and sweet – which would have been perfect for the salad.  Let me tell you: plain vinegar is DISGUSTING.  Never do it.

Then we were given the assignment to make our own dish – anything we wanted, but it had to include carrots.  The carrots were straight from the garden, so they were a bit sweeter than normal carrots.  I didn’t have as much time as everyone else because I was still working on the potato salad.  Because my time was short, and I didn’t have time to look up any inspiration, I had to just make something up.  Stir fry.  That’s the first thing that came to my mind, so I did it.

I went through the fridge and pantry and found all of the vegetables that might work.  It could have been better if I had some of the more unique veggies (like mini corn on the cobs, or water chestnuts), but I worked with what I had just fine.  I used carrots, broccoli, red peppers, sugar snap peas, zucchini, and cabbage.  I put on the veggies a spicy asian sauce that I found in the fridge, as well as some sesame seeds and red pepper flakes.

We gathered together and tasted and talked about each others carrot dishes.  Other students made: carrot cake, roasted carrots, a cold raisin and carrot salad, and a cold pasta salad with carrots.  I really (really!) liked my dish quite a bit.  A couple people said that it was a bit too spicy, but I thought it was perfect.  I also really enjoyed the roasted carrots.  The pasta dish was OK, but could have been a bit more seasoned, and the raisin and carrot salad I didn’t really like at all (that might just be me though).

The only thing that I did really wrong was that I had my timeline off.  We were asked to have the dishes done by 10:45.  At one point I heard 10:30, so I started to hurry. Well, I finished at 10:20, and the finish time really was 10:45.  I had more than 20 minutes before my dish was to be served, so I definitely missed the peak time.  Otherwise I think my dish was great.

DAY SIX:
Today we had two goals: make french bread, and make a mirepoix (a base for a soup made of carrots, celery, and onions).  The french bread we did in stages throughout the day because it had to rest multiple times.  The biggest thing that I learned from this is what dough should really feel like as opposed to the bread dough that I make at home.  I frequently make homemade bread, but my dough is always super tough compared to the dough I felt here, so that certainly needs to be fixed.  I am likely adding too much flour.

We also had to make THREE pounds of mirepoix.  Now…three pounds of veggies isn’t too much, but when you have to cut them into a small dice (1/4″ cubes), it’s a lot!  It took me a very long time to cut them all up (probably too long) because I was being a perfectionist.  My results did look really good though.  My instructor told me that I would improve and get faster over time.

DAY SEVEN:
French fries.  I hate french fries.  I think that once I became old enough to become a logical, analytical human being, and I knew what french fries actually were, I stopped liking them.  I’m definitely not a huge fan of anything that is fried.  Except maybe doughnuts, but I feel like those don’t count.  I hate biting into something and hearing/feeling the crunch when it’s fried.  Yeah, I know I’m not normal… but I feel like it’s a good thing (health wise) that I don’t like it…

Anyway, today we were given the assignment to make some french fries.  We were told the dimensions and the amount, but we weren’t told how to cook them.  I was a little worried because the only experience that I have frying something is when I helped my dad this last Super Bowl fry the chicken wings.  I really didn’t know anything.

I looked up on the internet how to do them, and I found some legit looking instructions that I thought sounded good.  They said to rinse the cut fries in cold water until the water runs clear.  Then, refrigerate for 30 minutes, fry for 6-8 minutes, refrigerate another 15 minutes, and finalize by frying another 1-2 minutes.  I tried this, and just had to shorten my refrigeration times a bit because I didn’t have an hour to make my fries.

Well, they turned out brown!  I didn’t know why since I followed the instructions!  My instructor said that it was because they were cold when I cooked them.  Um.  Hello!  That website I read was totally wrong!!  I was so irked!  Oh well.  So, I had to cut up just one more potato and try it again.  I was told to rinse them in hot water and then fry them.  This time though I was too scared of making them brown, so I didn’t cook them all the way.  They were super firm and not fry-like at all.  Failure both time!  Sheesh.

We also had to make a sauce to serve with our fries.  Well, if I were to ever actually maybe eat a fry, I would put it in ketchup if anything.  But putting ketchup in a dish isn’t legit for culinary school!  I decided to make a fancied up fry sauce – since I know that fry sauce is popular.  I mixed together some ketchup, mayonnaise, some pickle relish, and some sweet and spicy seasoning.  I don’t like fry sauce, but this sauce was GOOD!  It was definitely the favorite too, so I was proud of that!  Bad fries + good sauce.

DAY EIGHT:
Today we were given the assignment to cook some pearl onions.  We weren’t told how to do it – we had to figure out how.  I read up on it and they seemed pretty simple: first, cut off the ends of the onions, then put them in boiling water for 30 seconds.  Next, take a paring knife and take off the outside layer or two of skin.  That’s it!  That was all really simple and I didn’t have any problems at all with that part.

But honestly.  Who wants to eat their pearl onions plain!?  Maybe it’s a thing, but I’m definitely not on that bandwagon.

So I tried to make them yummier.  I found a recipe online for creamed pearl onions.  It sounded really (really) good, so I gave it a shot.  I followed the recipe to a T, but oh my goodness…it was one of the most intense dishes I have ever had.  There was too much salt, too much garlic, and too much of a flavor overload.  If I were to do this again, I would do a combination of two thing: not reduce the cream so much, and not season it as much.

Next, we were told about our “Friday Challenge” that we would be having tomorrow.  We were to prepare soft boiled eggs, fresh potato hashbrowns, toast, a garnish, and a drink.  Two identical plates were to be served at 10:45.

Sounds easy, right??  Yeah…no.

For the rest of the day we were left to practice anything we needed to for tomorrow.

I chose to just practice my eggs.  Soft boiled eggs are similar to the more well-known hard boiled eggs, but the yolk is still liquid.  Solid whites, liquid yolk.  Okay – got this.

I read online how to do it, and most websites recommended a 3 minute cooking time using a light simmer.  Test egg one: cracked upon entering the pot.  Test egg two: warm liquid everything.

I’m starting to get the idea that not everything I read online is right.  It’s just so hard to tell!!

Next egg I tried 3 minutes but with a rolling boil.  Test egg three: (warmer) liquid everything.

So then I thought that I would try 3 min 30 sec (since what I read said that a 4 minute egg would produce a more solid yolk).  Test egg four: mostly liquid, but more solid around the shell.

I was determined to get this.  Next try: a 5 minute egg.  I thought this would for sure start to hard boil it.  Test egg five: perfect!  However, I totally butchered the egg when I opened it since I didn’t think it would work!  So, test egg six: cooked perfectly and opened perfectly!  I guess five minutes was they key.

DAY NINE:
Today –> challenge day!  I was thinking about it all night last night.  The hard part about this challenge is that everything has to be done at the same time, and they are all items that can’t be cooked ahead.  I was pretty nervous.  Yeah, yeah…I do this at home all the time (it’s called cooking dinner every night), but I think it was just all the pressure I was under to perform perfectly that made me so nervous.

The very first thing that I did was create a timeline:

IMG324

I left myself 10 minutes of buffer space between finishing and serving just because I knew that something would take longer than planned and the plating time would be pushed back anyway.  I just really didn’t want to serve late!

On my timeline I listed every single thing that I needed to do – including such things as “find toaster”.  That seems silly, but when you’re new to a kitchen, you don’t have time to search for the toaster 3 minutes before serving time.  I had a lot of things that needed to be done, but not at a specific time (such as grate potatoes), so that’s what I spent the couple of hours doing before cooking time.

One of our requirements was to create a drink.  Orange juice is my favorite breakfast drink, but there weren’t any oranges available to juice.  I found some frozen OJ concentrate in the freezer later, but I figured that would be a quick way out, so I didn’t use it.  Instead, I used my favorite fruits to create a smoothie.  I found some beautiful raspberries and blackberries in the freezer, perfectly ready for a smoothie!  I could spend my summers eating just those two berries and die totally happy.  I also found some strawberries and added those in so it wouldn’t be so tart.  I blended the smoothie with those ingredients, as well as some of the yogurt we had made the previous day, some milk, and some sugar.  It turned out nearly perfect!  My instructor suggested that I make it not as thick since it went with a meal, but otherwise it was good.

I started my hash brown process pretty early.  I just shredded them by hand since there weren’t too many.  Then I rinsed them multiple times to get all the starch off.  Next I laid them out to dry a bit – no one likes soggy hashbrowns.  I then mixed the dry hashbrowns with some parmesan cheese, garlic, salt and pepper.  Come cooking time, I majorly screwed up.  First mistake = cast iron pan.  Second mistake = too much oil.  Third mistake = high heat.  The high heat on the pan, with all of the oil and the melting cheese (fourth mistake = mixing in the cheese in the beginning) created a burning mess.  I started realizing this in the middle of cooking time, and tried to keep all the burning to one side of the pan, and hasbrowns to the other.  This was probably the best thing I could have done to salvage them at this point.  They still turned out pretty soggy with oil, and with a hint of burning taste.  Oh well….lesson(s) learned.

My eggs turned out fabulous cooking wise – they were cooked just right (hallelujah!).  My mistake with the eggs comes with the creation of my timeline.  I cooked them too early, so by the time they were served they were just warm (almost cool).  I should have cooked my eggs very last.

My toast had no problems.  I just cooked it in a toaster and then cut it into strips.  The toast was the very last thing I did, because I wanted it to stay crispy, but I should have done it before the eggs.

I ended up following my timeline pretty well.  There was no single thing that took me longer like I thought, but rather, everything took me just a couple more minutes than planned, so I ended up at the correct time anyway.

My finished plate, I thought, looked really good.  The idea was to dip the toast strips into the runny yolk.  I also really liked the tomato garnish because it served not only as a garnish, but as a tasty part of the meal.

IMG320

One thing that went wrong though is that there were no spoons set at the table.  While I was doing things in the kitchen earlier, one of my classmates set the table and told us to not worry about it…so I didn’t.  Well, lesson learned a second time this week (first time was with the vinegar): double check what others do for you, or else it may not be right.  I should have checked the table settings for everything I needed, but I didn’t.

Here are some photos of my classmates dishes:

IMG321
IMG322
IMG323

The day after, my husband and I had some guest over for dinner, and I decided to make a pretty fancy dinner for it.  There were four different elements that needed to be cooked for this dinner, and all I could do was think about a timeline!  I didn’t actually draw one out, but I was definitely more conscious of the time that I have ever been before!

DAY TEN:
Today we learned how to use the broiler (it’s similar to a BBQ grill), and how to do a tournee cut.

We cut some potatoes into 1/2″ planks to grill on the broiler.  The tricky thing about the broiler for me was the hot spots/cool spots.  Some of my potatoes cooked faster than others.  Part of the exercise was to get the diamond grill marks on the potatoes.  I feel like I did pretty well with this, but could have been better.  I was on a hot spot on the grill, so I flipped my potatoes relatively fast.  If I would have been on a cooler spot, I think that my potatoes would have cooked more evenly, with better lines, even though it would take a bit longer.

IMG326

We learned a tournee cut, which is a seven sided cut that resembles a football.  We practiced this on a whole box of potatoes.

The actual cutting of this wasn’t hard to me, but what was really hard though was getting consistent sized potatoes.  I ended up with some super small ones and some pretty big ones.  I will definitely need to practice my consistency more.

Near the end of cutting my potatoes, I started feeling kind of sick to my stomach.  I thought it wasn’t too bad, and I would just endure through it, but it started getting A LOT worse.  I had to leave to go home half way through class.  Remember how I live half an hour away?  Yeah.  Today that was the longest drive of my life!  And let’s just say that I barely made it home in time.  Sorry if that was TMI.  So much for St. Patrick’s Day fun.

I hope that I will be able to go back tomorrow!  Not because I’m scared of missing something and having to make it up but I’m scared of missing something that I want/need to learn!   Wish me well!

Culinary School: The First Days

**Sorry for the long post.  Once I get my site updated in the next couple weeks, my updates from culinary school will be in a separate feed.  If you would like to follow along though, please do!**

Well, it’s the end of my first week at culinary school.  And, let me tell you, it has been one of the best weeks of my life.

DAY ONE:
I woke up an hour before I was supposed to leave (and it doesn’t take me an hour to get ready…), I was just so anxious!  I have a half hour commute to school, and of course I wanted to arrive early my first day.  I walked out the door 40 minutes before I needed to be there…and I couldn’t find my keys!!  I went back in, (panicking) and looked EVERYWHERE for them.  My husband even woke up to help me look.  Twenty minutes later, my husband asked if I was sure they weren’t in my purse.  Of course I was sure, I looked there multiple times!  He looked in there, and guess what, they were there the whole time!  I now had 20 minutes to get there.  I sped…a little..and arrived only five minutes late.  I hate being late!  Worst start to a first day of school in my LIFE!!  Anyway.  I got there and quickly settled down.  Luckily two out of four other people were later than me, so that made me feel a little better.

The first day was pretty much a huge orientation.  We talked about the class and the format etc. and I quickly became known as the person who would like to own a bakery one day.  That is true, but mostly I just love to cook anything.  If I were to make more than a hobby out of it though, I would love to have a bakery.  Who knows?  Maybe over the next few months I will change my mind.

We took a tour of the kitchen.  It was like a chef’s dream come true!  They have EVERYTHING!  A lot of times in my kitchen at home I have to be creative and use what I have if I lack a certain tool I need, but I’m certain that won’t ever happen at school.

On the first day we also had our first knife lesson.  We learned about the chef’s knife and how to cut properly with it.  We also got to learn about different sizes of cuts.  We were given some potatoes to practice cutting with – since they’re pretty simple to use.  We were asked to practice cutting a “medium dice” – or a 1/2”x1/2”x1/2” cube.  I did…okay.  I have always had a problem with cutting things evenly.  For example, my blocks of cheese at home always look lopsided (I’m pretty used to one thick and one thin sided cheese slices), and the last slice of homemade bread is always either just a top or just a bottom.  My instructor said that it’s because my wrist is weak.

I went home and was determined to cut potatoes in a perfect medium dice!  I cut about 20 potatoes, and measured each one.  I’m getting better, and my wrist is slowly getting stronger.  Let’s just say that we had diced potatoes for dinner that night…and the next.

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

DAY TWO:
Today we actually got to help out with an event.  Another student was making a Korean dish (I forgot the actual name) for a group of about 25 people.  The kitchen was at work the whole morning!  One of the main things I did today was the carrots for the dish.  At culinary school, you don’t buy a bag of pre-shredded carrots (who does anyway, they’re too expensive!), you cut them.  So for about an hour that morning I was cutting carrots and practicing my knife skills.  Carrots are a little bit harder to cut than potatoes!  A lot of mine weren’t perfect, but am I improving already and I sure had a lot of good looking carrots too!

We (as in the five new students) also had the opportunity to be involved in the actual plating and serving of the meal – on our second day!  I love that we get to see firsthand what it is like to make and serve our food to an actual customer, instead of just playing around in the kitchen all day hoping that I learn something that is applicable to the real-world.  Today my job at service-time was to serve.  I learned that you serve plates from the left, and retrieve plates from the right.  (I can’t wait to go to a fancy-pants restaurant now and see if they actually do this).

DAY THREE:
There was another event today.  This time we served Chicken Fried Steak with mashed potatoes and a veggie mix.  All of us newbies got to make the main item: the chicken fried steak.  No pressure!

We each started with an eye of round roast.  Untrimmed and in the bag.  Our first goal was to calculate the waste from our trimming.  We learned how to properly trim the roast with a boning knife to take away all of the silver skin.  Let’s just say that my instructor made it look a lot easier than it actually was.  His looked way better than mine too.  I didn’t do too bad for my first time though!  My roast had a LOT of stuff to trim off.  There was a layer about ½” thick of dermis covering one side that I had to trim before even getting to the silver skin.  In the end my waste was almost 27%, which made a roast that was AP $3.75/lb an EP price of $5.13/lb.  Like I said, room for improvement there.

We then had to cut our roast into 6 oz. portions.  My first cut was 5 oz., so I tried to make my next one bigger and got 7 oz.!  By the end of my roast though, I was able to cut them to nearly the exact size I needed.

When I told my husband yesterday that we were making this, he told me to make sure I know how to make it myself at home.  So, I was careful to always be assigned to the meat instead of doing the salads or veggies.

After we tenderized and froze the meat for about an hour, it was time to do the breading.  Some people may ask why it’s called “chicken” fried steak, when there is in fact no chicken (meat) in the steaks.  Well, we learned that it’s called that because of the egg that is used in the coating process.  Makes total sense, but I feel like it’s a little known fact.

It was next time to make some mashed potatoes – for a crowd!  The potatoes were cooked in a steam-jacketed kettle.  I had no idea that those things existed before this week.

Again, we got to plate and serve the dish.  This time I was in charge of garnish.  Simple, but necessary!

A huge goal today was to figure out the price per plate.  In all honesty, I just figured that restaurants jacked up the prices to something that would give them some profit.  Well, of course they do that, but how do they know they’re actually making a profit?  They, of course, have to know how much each plate costs them, not just how much the individual supplies cost them.

Throughout the day we gathered prices for everything from the dressing on the salad, to the milk in the potatoes.  There are SO many costs involved – and that’s just for the food!  Our homework assignment was to take those numbers and calculate a price per plate.  I came up with $3.44.  My vegetable cost ended up being waaaay small, so I’m not sure about that number.  I triple checked my calculations on that and still get the same answer.  Either I’m wrong or veggies are even cheaper than I thought they were (and I should stock up since I’m so poor!).  Come Monday we will get to discuss this as a group and find out what the real answer is.

DAY FOUR:
I arrived a bit early today and got put right to work on one of the breakfast items.  One of my instructors taught me how to cut and fold some pastry dough in a special way.  I had never seen them before, probably because there is a lack of pastry shops where I live.  It was neat to learn how to fold a flat piece of dough into something so beautiful.

Believe it or not, there was another event today.  And this time, us newbies were in charge of the entire thing.  Menu: salad, roll, pasta with alfredo sauce, chicken, mushrooms, artichokes, cauliflower, green onion and roasted red pepper garnish, and fruit tart for dessert.   We met together and discussed forming a timeline for the preparation of the event.  We clearly cannot prepare the whole thing the hour before service time, so we mapped out what needed to be done when, and who was going to do what.

I was in charge of the roasted cauliflower, green onions, and pasta.  I know that doesn’t sound too hard, but when you’re cooking for 25 other people, and you’re in a totally new environment, it can be a little intimidating.  And these 25 people are not like my husband who will eat whatever I cook, even if it’s super salty or burned.

I volunteered to do the cauliflower because on the first day we learned how to properly cut broccoli and cauliflower, but I never got the chance to practice.  I figured that this was the perfect time!  I cut it up and asked how to specifically prepare it, and my instructor said that it was up to me!  I just needed to end up with some delicious roasted cauliflower.  Now, I frequently just “make-up” stuff at home, but this time it had to be perfect (like I said…the people at this event won’t eat my mess-up food like my husband does).

I first did a practice run in a tiny pan.  I put on it: butter, sea salt, white pepper, and garlic and herb seasoning.  It tasted okay.  It definitely needed more salt and butter.  I made those changes and cooked for the crowd!  It ended up tasting absolutely delicious!!

My other assignment was pasta.  As a poor student, I frequently cook pasta at home.  However, I always cook either not enough, or too much.  I learned that the amount of pasta doubles when cooked (i.e. 2 oz. would become 4 oz., 3 oz. would become 6 oz. etc.) – so that was helpful.  And, I learned that the amount of water needed is 1 part pasta : 4 parts water.  Again, very useful info that I didn’t know before.   I was hoping there would be a magical trick to knowing how the pasta is done, and the answer to that: taste it!  That’s what I do at home, too!

Come serving time, we were all getting a little anxious.  We had all of our things ready to plate, and…we didn’t have enough sauce!!!  The sauce is not something you can just whip up in 2 minutes either.  None of us knew what to do.  My instructor saved the day and lengthened the sauce that we did have.

Overall, our meal turned out okay.  I wouldn’t pay to eat it at Olive Garden by any means, but for our first meal it wasn’t too bad.  We ended up serving way too much pasta.  We put 6 oz. on each plate (which we had planned for), but it ended up being pretty excessive.  The pasta was cooked well though!  We didn’t have enough sauce for the amount of pasta we had made, so the sauce had to be put on pretty thin.  And when I tasted it, it didn’t taste like much really.  It seems like all the sauce did was make my pasta wet.  The other elements of the dish turned out well – especially the cauliflower, salad, and dessert.

I think that next time we, as an entire group, will be able to do much better.  We will know how to plan for how much to make, and know how to fit our tasks onto a timeline.

So far my culinary school experience has been great.  I wouldn’t change my decision to do this for anything.

Follow My Culinary School Journey!

Today was the beginning of the new me.  I have decided to finally do what *I* want to do in my life and follow my dreams.

I have left behind all of the things that everyone else has told me to do, pressured me into (whether directly or indirectly), and even some of the things that I’m good at.  My heart just wasn’t set in any of those places.

My heart is in cooking.

I have been on the waiting list for culinary school for the last 3 or 4 months, and the day has finally come.

I’m a culinary arts student.  How cool is that?!  I cannot wait for this great adventure.

One day my sister and I dream of opening a bakery together.  I have no clue if that will ever come true, but I may as well be working towards my dreams, right?

Please follow along as I go on my journey as a culinary arts student.  I have to give my instructors regular “updates” of what I have learned.  I can either write up stuff for them and send it directly, or I can post it on a blog.  I have decided to use this blog as my outlet, and I hope that you will all enjoy what I have to share – whether it be what I learn, my mistakes, stories, or just an excellent day in class (it happens with food, right?!).

The journey begins!

(P.S. I am working on having my blog transferred to another host currently, so once that is all complete I will be able to better categorize this so every. single. culinary arts post doesn’t show up in my regular feed, but for now please bear with me as I get that transfer complete.)

Lemon Oatmeal Cookie Bars

Lemon Oatmeal Cookie Bars: A Pinch of Glitter

About a month ago I got in a car accident.  It wasn’t a big one by any means, so don’t worry :)  I was driving straight though my green light and a driver coming the opposite direction, turning left, didn’t see me and turned right into my car!  Luckily they just hit the back corner and dented it up a bit instead of hitting the driver side door.

So for the last month I have been in the process of getting it fixed.  What a headache!!  My car is still driveable, it just looks pretty ugly in the back corner.  I called the other driver’s insurance company and it has taken FOREVER to get things worked out with them.  Between their hours and my work schedule, we always missed each others’ phone calls.

Well, we finally got it worked out, I got the money from them that I need, and my car will (finally!) be fixed this week!!  Wohoo!!  I seriously cannot wait.

Lemon Oatmeal Cookie Bars: A Pinch of Glitter

During the long process with them, it would be a lie if I said that I never lost my patience with them.  I would have died to have one of these lemon oatmeal cookie bars during one of those times that I was being pushed to the limit by insurance companies.  These bars can take you back to your happy place.

I LOVE lemon filling, and I feel like there is just not as much of it in the world as there should be.  The donuts that have a lemon filling are probably one of my top favorites.  However, I don’t buy them often because I always get distracted by the cute ones with sprinkles :)  I feel the same about any type of lemon pie.  They’re just so good, and when I get the chance to have a slice I feel like I’m in heaven.  These bars are THAT good.

Not only are they good, they are amazingly simple.  It took me less than 5 minutes to throw them together.  The hardest part was definitely the wait while they baked and cooled.  No matter your cooking ability, I guarantee that you can make these.  And love them, too :)

Lemon Oatmeal Cookie Bars: A Pinch of Glitter

Lemon Oatmeal Cookie Bars
Ingredients:
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cups oats
1 cup butter, softened
1 can (15.75 oz.) lemon pie filling

Directions:
1. Combine brown sugar, flour, baking soda, salt and oats.
2. Combine mixture with butter using a pastry blender (or your hands!)
3. Press 2/3 of the cookie mixture into the bottom of a well-greased 9×13 pan.
4. Spread the entire can of pie filling over the bottom layer to about 1/4 in. away from the pan edges.
5. Sprinkle with remaining cookie mixture.
6. Bake at 350 for 35 to 40 minutes, or until lightly browned.
7. Allow to cool completely before cutting into bars.  Enjoy!