My birthday week – week 2 of culinary school.

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Last week was a very busy week.  Not only was it my week 2 of my academic culinary career, it was also the week I turned 30.

Since it was my birthday week, I was very fortunate to have been taken out to my favorite Downtown LA restaurants, and to receive a rich and beautiful red velvet cake made by my sister, Riva.

On my birthday, Peyman took me to Water Grill- a wonderful restaurant that serves up some of the freshest seafood in Los Angeles.  They also have an amazing wine list –  they even won an excellence award from Wine Spectator magazine.  We started off our memorable meal with a glass of Pinot Noir and a red Zinfandel, then we devoured the oyster sampler.

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I loved the presentation, with each oyster in it’s original shell – some looked manufactured even, like Ariel’s bikini top in the little Mermaid.  The 3 sauces that were served along with the oysters were mouthwatering…I’m salivating as I type this.  My favorite was the champagne sauce.

After the oysters, we asked for the waiter’s salad recommendation.  He easily convinced us to order a lovely green salad with apricots and bread crisps.  It was beautiful and delicious!IMG_9168

For our main courses, Peyman ordered and loved the Chilean Sea Bass, and I ordered the swordfish, which was excellent.  My swordfish was cooked perfectly, with mini beets on the side with a sweet potato puree that I found to be very nice and surprising.

Swordfish

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We finished our meal with a scrumptious dessert that consisted of a cheesecake, vanilla bean ice cream (I think it was vanilla), fresh fruit and a delightful guava glaze sauce.  It was so good. Between the cheesecake and the ice cream were fine pieces of cheesecake crust, which added great texture and another element of surprise, along with the guava sauce.  This was paired with the recommended dessert wine.  Not sure what it was, but it was sweet, and very satisfying.  Peyman sang the birthday song to me.  It was a lovely meal.  I was a happy 30 year old!

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The next day, Riva and the twins invited me over for a surprise.  They made me beautiful birthday cards and a red velvet cake that I’ve been wanting to try – Bobby Flay’s recipe from his show, “Throwdown”.  He beat the legendary Cake Man Ray with this recipe.  It was good, but I still love the red velvet cake from Lisa Bon Appetite and Every Bundt Cakes.  I am so lucky to have such a loving, caring, and sweet sister that loves to bake and buy baked goodies to share with me!IMG_9218

On Saturday, my friends arrived from Northern California, Orange County, Pasadena, and Santa Monica to celebrate my big 3-0.  We went to my favorite sushi restaurant in Downtown, Izayoi.IMG_9207IMG_9206

I, of course, ordered my favorite green salad with the magical, feel good salad dressing.  Can someone figure out what’s in the dressing?  I love it!  I want to eat it everyday!  I also order my typical yellow tail sushi varieties.  I don’t enjoy tuna as much anymore and I’m allergic to shrimp.  This yellow tail is fantastic!  We paired our Japanese fare with sake, pitchers of Kirin, and I had a Sopporo.  I was happy to hear that everyone enjoyed their meal, well maybe not everyone… Rosy ordered a very authentic Japanese dish that is unusual and strange to outsiders – she ordered sweet potato with a raw egg sauce… when she was moving it around in the bowl, she didn’t make it look very appetizing.  Who knows, she may have liked it.  Like I said, besides Rosy, everyone thought the restaurant was a hit.

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After dinner, we headed over to the mysterious and “exclusive” club, the Doheny, where cameras and cell phones (texting ok) are prohibited.  We met a few folks at the Doheny from school, Bryan Hustle Bowens (the DJ) and Brian (formerly known as Bob).  We danced to House, Deep House, Techno – electronic music.  It was a great time!  Aside from eating delicious food and spending time with all those I value most, I love dancing with this group of girlfriends…we all have interesting styles and everyone’s a great dancer!

As for drinks at the Doheny, I stuck to those with vodka since I don’t get hangovers with vodka.  I forgot the unusual names of the drinks…when I ordered my drinks, all I said was, “I want the best drink you can make with vodka”.  They were very good, sometimes a bit too sweet, and very strong.  After my 3rd drink, I couldn’t believe I couldn’t dance anymore.  My balance was off!

Although I couldn’t continue my love for dance on Saturday night, I was so happy to share delicious food and memories with those I value highly and love very much.  I am thankful and very blessed for all the goodness in my life.  Thank you, God!

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I am going to be a chef!

Greetings, I’m back! IMG_8948

My life has changed so much since last Monday.  As you know, I started culinary school last Monday.

I wanted to share my experiences at culinary school from day one, but I seemed to have kept running out of time.  As of today, I am very happy.  School is awesome – I have wonderful feedback from my chef instructors.

Finally, here’s what’s been going on with culinary school.  First, let me mention that I’m in an accelerated Le Cordon Bleu program, so my days are jam-packed and very fast-paced.  I chose to take the A schedule – the morning schedule, so that I can still hold a job after school.  This means I start school at 6am, 5 days a week.  My chef instructors want us to arrive early, so I wake up by 4:30am and I’m at school by 5:30am.    Adjusting my sleeping schedule has been tough though…I’m not adjusting.  I can’t seem to get to bed before 11pm- in my life right now, there’s so much to do and so little time!  That said, I don’t get much sleep anymore.  When I moan and groan about it to my sisters, they each have their own version of, “Welcome to my world.  With kids, you’re lucky to get a wink of sleep”.  That always makes me feel better, and makes me want to hold off on having any kiddies any time soon :P (by the way, my sister Mimi, had her 3rd baby this morning! Congrats, Mim!).  I love my nephews as if they were my own kids, so as for now, that’s good enough for me.

Sleep has no effect on my performance at school, really.  By the time I get to school, I am so pumped up with adrenaline that little sleep or no sleep doesn’t phase me.  After school is another story – my eyes start to roll back so I try to take a 15 minute power naps.

Although I don’t sleep anymore and I have to wear a uniform that requires me to look androgynous, I really love what I’m learning!  Before I go on though, I want to talk about my uniform.  It’s a big change in my wardrobe.  I must arrive at school in full uniform, dressed in my checkered chef’s pants, chef’s jacket, handkerchief tied around my neck, black or white socks, and my huge, size 10, steel-toed, non-slip, combat boot-looking shoes.  My hair must be tucked in completely (no ponytail showing) under my chef hat, I have to cut down my nails, can’t wear nail polish or makeup, but I wear eyeliner and lip gloss anyway ;) .  Once we start cooking, I have wear a long apron, tied at the waist, and have a few dish towels tucked into my apron.  I walk into school with my knife kit too.  It has a bunch of cool knives and other chef tools.  I hope to never forget any of my tools or uniform pieces mentioned above- that would be a nightmare.  The school’s pretty strict.  If I forget my hat, I will be banned from class until I am in full uniform.

I pack extra uniforms in my trunk.  If I were to miss 10 minutes of class time, I’d miss out on a lot of info –  they don’t waste time!  We work straight through and stand throughout the class.  It took about a week to get used to my heavy shoes.  Last week, after class, I’d have to lift my legs to get circulation.  My legs hurt so much – I can’t believe how big my shoes are!  I feel like Frankenstein when I wear them.  Ok, that’s enough about my uniform, back to food… :)

At Le Cordon Bleu, we learn French technique.  Why French?  They say if you know how to cook in a French kitchen, you can survive cooking in any kitchen throughout the world.

My first lesson was to learn how to hold a knife, then knife cuts.  I have to learn the French terms for all things food, and I have to memorize all the dimensions of the many knife cuts.

If you’re curious, the proper way to hold a knife is to choke up on the blade of the knife, with your thumb on one side of the blade and your index finger on the other. If you’re a righty, your right thumb is on the left side of the blade and your pointer is on the right side of the blade.   Also, claw your opposite hand to avoid cutting off your fingers and use your left hand to give you even more control as you cut.  The left side of the blade should be resting on your left middle finger, which acts as a guide.   If you’re a righty, remember to tuck your thumb in, right behind the middle finger.  If this doesn’t make sense, I’ll have a video on this someday.  During the first 3 days of class, I kid you not, about 10 students cut themselves.

Glazed Carrots - learned how to blanch and glaze!

Glazed Carrots - oblique cuts. I learned how to blanch and glaze!

Good knife cuts in the culinary world are worth a lot of money.  During the Chef’s demo Thursday, he said, “keep in mind presentation and why you want uniformly cut pieces.  People will notice the beauty in your food, in this example, ratatouille – the sizes are uniform and they will pay more money for the extra care.  The presentation and the flavor is an experience that you create for them.”  Below, you will see how I put the dish together.  I was rushed to prepare this dish so my eggplant isn’t uniformly cut…and there’s a tomato that was supposed to be tomato concasse – chopped (oops!)- this was my practice run!  Peyman liked this dish when I made it for him last week, and when I was tested on it last Friday, at the end of class, my chef intructor told me, “Yvonne – your ratatouille was the best thing I ate today.”  Mind you, we have about 32 students in my class and last Friday we were tested on 3 dishes.  I was really happy to receive such postive feedback!  Last week’s experiences really inspired me to continue pursuing a career as a chef.

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Macedoine cuts - 1/4" x 1/4 " x 1/4"

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My Ratatouile

My Ratatouile

I’ve cooked a lot of things in class already, and I’m amazed by the flavors I can put together now.  I’m so happy because this is what I went to school for!  I made the most beautifully-tasting and -looking risotto last Thursday.  I wish I took pictures but I didn’t get a chance – I needed to serve it hot.  The chef tasted it and asked if I ever made it before.  I told him,  “only the kind from Trader Joe’s”, and he said it was really good and that I never cooked risotto before if it was the Trader Joe’s kind.  After presenting my plate, I took a couple bites, then my classmates scarfed it down.  I love the flavors of the foods I make.  I would love to eat my dishes, but stop myself.  I never used as much butter in my life and should stick to just tasting my food, not eating the whole plate.

After we have lecture and watch chef demos, students are supposed to replicate what the chefs did.  We then present our dishes to the chef instructor and we get feedback.  So far, I’ve received more positive feedback.  Chef likes how I flavor and season most of my dishes- I still need to work on adding more or less salt to my potatoes and rice, steaming my potatoes/carrots through, and being more consistent with my knife cuts.  It’s tough work, especially when there are strict deadlines for plates.

My first 3 days were tough.  More and more, during production, my classmates around my station relied on my notes and what I told them.  Why?  They weren’t good note takers.  As a result, last Wednesday I performed terribly – I couldn’t finish one dish on time because I lost focus and was distracted with, “Yvonne, do I add butter?”, “Yvonne, how do I cook this?”  I made it clear that I was annoyed and fed up with them and moved stations on Thursday.  So far, so good!  My station mates are pretty awesome.  We all mesh really well and I’m much happier!   The group that I left, however, told me I was ‘messed up” for ditching them.  I told them it was for the best and no hard feelings.

Now, let me talk about homework.  Yes, homework.  Some of you were surprised to hear that I have homework at culinary school.  Mostly, homework is comprised of lots of reading, writing, and knife cuts.  At school, we’ve been using the chef’s knife most.

The chef's knife on top is what I'd use a lot at home.  The bottom chef's knife is what we use mostly at school.

The chef's knife on top is what I'd use a lot at home. The bottom chef's knife is what we use mostly at school.

We mostly practice our cuts on potatoes and carrots

We mostly practice our cuts on potatoes and carrots

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My homework for tonight is to make 4 potato tournets.  I still don’t understand how to cut them correctly – no one in class does, besides the chef.  I’m going to youtube it now, make the cuts, read, then prepare dinner.  Right now, in the fridge, I’m marinading orange roughy fillets in ziplock bag.  My marinade includes: a blended oil (75% canola and 25% extra virgin olive oil), lemon juice, chopped garlic, bay leaf, salt, freshly ground black pepper, red pepper flakes, and oregano.  I’m going to grill it then serve with rice pilaf and either steamed broccoli or glazed carrots.

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I start culinary school in a few hours!

My uniform is pressed, my shoes are broken in, my nails are cut down, and my knives are ready to start slicing and dicing.

I should be asleep right now, since my first class is at 6am.  What am I waiting for?  I’m so exhausted.  I am so anxious!  I’ll share all the details of my first day at culinary school tomorrow.  Good night, sweet dreams!

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4th of July at Mrs. T’s

4th of July at Mrs. T's

4th of July at Mrs. T's

Mrs. T’s on the 4th of July was a wonderful place to be!  As I expected, Mrs. T prepared a marvelous feast!  On the menu was grilled chicken with Mrs. T’s Ginger soy marinade; chicken wings with another Mrs. T sauce/marinade; potato salad; macaroni crab salad; Oriental chicken salad, Japanese rice with rice vinegar, pickled ginger, and egg; 2 special types of lumpia – one with shrimp and the other with water chestnut, beef, and squash.  Aunt Carol brought Kalbi, Her neighbor brought a yummy spinach dip, Riva brought chocolate chip and cranberry/macadamia/white chocolate chip cookies and her signature brownies, and Marie, Peyman, and I brought pies: egg custard, banana cream, and coconut cream pie.  I know, I said I was going to make the ceviche tostadas with crab meat, but I had them earlier in the week for several days and  I was all crabbed out.  Mmm, the pies were really good!

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Pico de Gayo Salsa and Guacamole


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Still haven’t decided on what to bring to the 4th of July potluck?  How about chips and restaurant-style salsa and/or guacamole?  Try my semi-homemade salsa recipe that’s delicious and so easy to make.  Although I use a canned salsa for this recipe, the fresh ingredients make it deliciously vibrant and earthy.  The canned salsa already has lots of flavor and heat, and adding the fresh goodness livens it up and gives the salsa wonderful texture.  You can use this salsa recipe to quickly whip up guacamole (see below).  We use this salsa to top off tacos, enchiladas, burritos – you name it.  Your friends and family will love it!  Note: you may want to double the recipe if you’re taking it to a party.

Semi-homemade Salsa

Makes about 2.5 cups of salsa

Ingredients

7 ounce can Herdez Salsa Casera Mexicana

1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

1/4 cup white onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons of green onion, chopped

1/2 lime, juice

3 Roma tomatoes, diced

4 to 6 turns of freshly ground pepper

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt

Directions

In a bowl, mix together all the ingredients.  Season to taste.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.  Makes abour 2.5 cups of salsa.

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Guacamole

If you want to make guacamole as well, you can easily make guacamole by mashing 3 ripe avocados together.  Add in about 3/4 cup to 1 cup of the salsa above, plus juice from 1/2 a lime.  Mix well, salt and pepper to taste, add sriracha sauce if you like it spicy, and viola!  It makes about 2 cups of guacamole.

I hope you enjoy these recipes and have a happy and safe 4th of July!

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What to bring to Mrs. T’s for the 4th of July…

Ceviche with Artificial Crab Meat
Ceviche with Artificial Crab Meat

In my (almost) 30 years of life, I have spent the fourth of July mostly with my family at the beach, eating bbq, building sand castles, crashing with the waves, watching fireworks, and overall, having fun.  There have been only 2 instances when I missed this holiday with my family.  The first time, I was turning 16.

In early June that year, I asked my dad if I could have a party with a DJ for my Sweet 16.  I was surprised that he said “Yes” but more stunned by the words following, “Yes, you can have a party with a DJ.  Get a job and pay for it.”  So there I was, a 15 year old, at Subway Sandwiches on the fourth of July, making sandwiches with extra avocado, listening to K-Earth 101, the oldies music station, and wishing I’d be crashing waves in the ocean and rolling around in the sandy beach.  I didn’t think my life would ever be the same – I had a sandwich, not even a barbecue sandwich.  I had cold cuts and it was the fourth of July!  When my birthday rolled around though, all the bread and cookie baking, sandwich and salad creating paid off.  I had a party, paid for the DJ, the food, and the sparkling cider that some mistook for champagne.

The second time I missed a 4th of July with the family was 2 years ago when I decided to spend the day at Hermosa Beach with Peyman.  It was jam-packed with all types of folks- from your rowdy and belligerent, to your cheerful and patriotic.  We had sandwiches with cold cuts as we watched crowds of friends and families play and have good times at the beach. For me, a holiday I enjoy most and prefer is one spent with good friends and family.

This year’s a little different.  Instead of going to the beach or park, we’re going to Montebello, California.  We’re going to Mrs. T’s, Riva’s mother-in-law’s.  Mrs. T is a great cook; I’ve enjoyed everything that’s been prepared in her kitchen.  Born and raised in Hawaii to a Japanese mother and a Chinese father, then moving to California in high school, she’s been exposed to all sorts people and food.  I wonder what she’s preparing on the 4th.  Since it’s a national barbecuing day, I’m thinking she’ll be having some sort of grilled food.

I’m not one to attend a party empty-handed and I’m still deciding on what to bring.  Should I bring something sweet or something to snack on, or a side dish..how about something refreshing and somewhat healthy. We’re going to Montebello, an area that’s about a 45 minute drive to the ocean…I know, why not bring the ocean to Montebello?

Maybe I’ll make ceviche!  The other night, I made ceviche with artificial crab.  Ceviche is traditionally made with raw, sushi grade fish.  In fact, my sister, Mimi, used to make a delicious ceviche in junior/high school with yellowtail.  She learned the recipe through one of her friends.  It was so good, but we stopped eating it when we learned that the fish was raw, cooked using vinegar and/or citrus.  Since we lived very close to Mexico, and there were a lot of sewage breaks in Tijuana, Mexico (about a 5 minute freeway drive away), we didn’t want to mess around.  I still don’t want to mess around with raw fish until I’m professionally trained to do so.  For now I’ll stick with the fully-cooked fish that we call, artificial crab. If you didn’t already know, artificial crab is usually made of Alaskan Pollack fish.

I love ceviche with tostadas or chips.  For a healthier chip or tostada, I leftover corn tortillas to make tostadas or chips.  I bake the tortilla at 400 degrees in the oven for about 7 minutes or until brown and crispy.  You can add oil if you want to, but it’s not neccesary.

My favorite tostada brand, Los Pericos
My favorite tostada brand, Los Pericos

I always eat my ceviche tostadas with a few dashes of Tapatio sauce – salsa picante hot .  It is so good!

Here’s the recipe below.

Ceviche with Artificial Crab Recipe

Prep Time: 10 minutes     Serves: 4 to 5

Ingredients

1 pound artificial crab, shredded

3 to 4 tomatoes, diced

3/4 cup cilantro, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 cup white onion, finely chopped

1/4 cup green onion, chopped

2 limes, juiced

1/2 cup crushed pineapple or diced orange segments (optional)

1 tablespoon of good extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons of jalapeno or serrano pepper, finely chopped (optional)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Tapatio sauce -salsa picante hot , as needed

Directions

In a large bowl, add the crab meat, garlic, tomatoes, cilantro, onions, peppers, fruit, lime juice, oil, salt, pepper.  Toss well, add salt and pepper to taste.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Serve on tostada shell or in a bowl with a side of chips.  I like Tostito chips, or Mexican Restaurant-style chips.  I highly recommend adding a few dashes of Tapatio sauce to top it off.

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Havarti, Dill, and Cranberry Appetizer Recipe

I sold real estate a few years back, and when holding an open house I wanted to complete the home viewing experience by serving up memorable appetizers.  I had so much praise for this appetizer.  I wish I created it, but didn’t come up with it myself – a friend made it for me, and it is so good that I want to share it with those that like to entertain.

Notes: 1- when you purchase the Havarti, make sure that it isn’t rubbery or very firm.  It is best when the Havarti is creamy and semi-firm in texture. 2- in every bite of the cracker, you should have a piece of the cheese, cranberry, and dill..the flavor combination is fantastic!

Havarti, Dill, and Cranberry Appetizer

Ingredients

Havarti cheese

1.5 cups dried cranberries

¼ cup lightly chopped fresh dill

Milton’s multigrain crackers – original flavor

Directions

On a serving plate, spread the cranberries and place the cheese in the center.  Spread the dill on top of the cheese.  On the cheese plate, have a knife for your guests to cut into the cheese.  On a separate plate, place crackers.

Alternatively, you can prepare each cracker for your guests. On top of the cracker, place a slice of cheese, sprinkle dill and  add  one to three cranberries, depending on the size of your cracker.

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Garlic Pita Chips Recipe

In my home, we use pita bread to eat Persian dishes such as kookoo-sabzi (an herb omelette) and cutlet (spiced beef and potato patty).  When I have pita left over, I use it to make pita chips for salads or as a part of an appetizer as a scoop for hummus or dips.  When I crave something crunchy and sweet, I toss the pita in cinnamon and sugar, bake, then serve it up with a scoop of ice cream.  Below is a recipe for a savory, garlic pita chip.  It’ll add a nice crunch to your everyday salad or appetizer.

pita chips

Garlic Pita Chips

Cook time: 7 minutes

Ingredients

4 pieces pita bread

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon garlic powder

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons freshly chopped parsley (optional)

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cut pita bread into squares or triangles, whatever shape you prefer. On a baking sheet, toss pita bread, oil, garlic powder, and salt.  (For a low fat pita chip, remove olive oil from recipe.)  Allow pita to cook for 7 minutes or until golden brown and crispy.  Remove from oven and sprinkle with fresh parsley (optional).

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Sauteed Red Bell Pepper Recipe

When I have a bell pepper on hand and not asparagus, I enjoy sauteed bell pepper as a side dish.  Once the peppers get cooking, they become sweeter.  This is a really nice side dish.

Cook Time: 10 minutes    Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients
2 cups of red bell pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
tablespoon sesame seeds
1 tablespoon soy sauce

Directions
Roughly chop squared pieces of bell pepper.  In a large saute pan, warm the oil over medium heat.  Add peppers, tossing occasionally for 7 to 10 minutes or until al dente.  Add soy sauce, toss to coat, and place on a serving dish.  Sprinkle sesame seeds over peppers and serve hot.

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Orientation today

Today I attended my Le Cordon Bleu orientation, where I met a few chefs and my classmates.  I learned more about the school, student resources, and that we’ll be given a lot of homework.  Many students start culinary school thinking they’re not going to do any reading or writing, but they are mistaken.  I’m glad that we’ll do a lot of reading because I’m a visual learner so it’s going to help me a lot.

In order to graduate I need to complete a 6-week externship.  I have to start planning for that and work in that direction.  I’m going to have to get a job in the industry soon.  I’ll put my resume together and will start applying on Monday.  Wish me luck!

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