Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Monday's Plate: Its a Baking Sheet This Time

I had absolutely no idea!  

What I mean to say is that laminated doughs are way cool!  This is the newest technique and skills we have been practicing in Intro to Baking class.

Its a layered dough with lots of butter - its most classically used for applications like Danish and Croissants-  and is more appropriately defined by The Food Lovers Companian as:

"A butter-rich pastry that begins as a yeast dough that is rolled out, dotted with butter, then folded and rolled again several times.  The dough may be lightly sweetened and is usually flavored with vanilla or cardamom. Baked Danish pastries (often referred to simply as "Danish") contain a variety of fillings including fruit, cream cheese, almond paste and spiced nuts."  

Our text book basically says the same thing. Thankfully Chef Fred made sure that once we started our daily production in the kitchen that we had a visual demonstration of the lamination process too.  It is always fun to watch him throw the dough around in a snow storm of dusting flour.  He makes it all look so easy.  

When we first start working with our own dough at our table I felt like a brand new mother, afraid of breaking my own baby and handling it all with extreme caution.  I know the more we practice the process the more my handling will resemble a confident and cool Mom of three.  All the folding and rolling will eventually be executed with ease and a comfortability that only comes with practice.
~A picture of our first laminated dough, done the original way
What is even cooler is the opportunity that Taylor (my lab partner) and I had to try a newer process of lamination that had us grate our butter layer instead of pounding it out with a rolling pin.  The grating process was much quicker and easier to assemble.

The difference in doughs was very dramatic.  The grated butter dough was much smoother, with very even laminations and after baking yielded a much nicer product than the pounded butter dough.

~The grated butter dough- look at those even laminations

The finished product had the texture and flavor that was exactly what we would hope for.  Chef Fred was so happy with the difference that he told us he might continue this technique and prefer it over the old "pounded out" technique.  

Our Croissants made from the new lamination version~
One of my classmates, Courtney used part of the grated butter dough to make a Chocolate croissant that turned out VERY nice too.  What a cool idea, and it was very very tasty too.

~Courtney's Chocolate Croissant
Laminated doughs are so much fun to make, but soooo,  mostly forbidden in my daily dietary intake.  The wild and crazy amount of butter that makes then some rich and tasty is something to be saved for exceptional occasions and special treats.  Overall the skill, the technique is something I plan to continue to practice.  It will be one of the abilities that I will store in my toolbox for the events when I really want my loved ones and guests whom I will cook for to feel extraordinarily special.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

"A Tour of Italy" - The Sound of Success

I have a new favorite sound.......

This sound is a combination of perfectly un-choreographed synchronicity.  It starts with a sizzling hum paired with a preparatory clatter of pans and tongs.  It also included the jangle jingle of silverware against bright white platters followed by a joyful choir of various conversations.   This sound has a slender slice of an echo attached to it and an undeniable note of happiness at its finish.

Welcome to the hustle and bustle, and the delivery of a highly anticipated evening of great food and good friends at Lobdell's Student Restaurant inside the Great Lakes Culinary Institute.  This particular evening features the Culinary Creativity  of Chef Coburn MacNaughton's World Cuisine Students as they have prepared a "Tour of Italy" for your dining pleasures.

Our menu

This dinner was such a wonderful learning experience and everyone really showed up and showed out with their commitment to producing and plating a five course round of delights.  With focus and confidence we conveyed our culinary practice to our families, friends and guests.  From what we could discern they all left their tables with highly satisfied expectations for what was truly a delightful dinner.

Class photo at the end of the night

I am very proud of what we accomplished as a team of classmates and I feel honored to have the opportunity to work with every single person who was there- including the instructors and the students who came in to serve our dinner as the "Front of the House" staff.  This miniature taste of what it is like to work on the cooking line in a restaurant was fabulously fun and a great learning experience.  Thanks to our Sous Chef and classmate Ryan- who walked me through the routine beforehand-  I felt fully prepared for what we would need to execute once our first round of orders came in.  The plates went out, and we did everything we planned to do.  High fives all the way around as the last set of 5 plates were whisked away to their table and what a great feeling to know "We did it!"  I am sure all the other teams working on their particular course felt the same way.

The main entree team- Jared, Me and Ryan

Once again I am just completely thankful to be exactly where I am at this very moment.  Working towards my education in the Culinary Arts is the perfect fit for me and I am always looking forward to what is next onthe production list.  We only have about a month left of classes before the end of the semester and then I will be starting my internship.  I am thankful for a night like this to help prepare me for what I might be faced with this summer.

 I am extremely thankful for my family and friends who continue to support me and encourage me through this journey.  It is all so amazingly wonderful to be living every single one of my dreams.  My ambition is burning and I am ready to put the hard work in to make the impact I was meant to leave on this earth.

Table for three- our entree waiting to be delivered

One plate at a time- I will continue putting my passion into each creation :)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Preview of The Big Night: Our "Tour of Italy" Class Dinner

I am not exactly sure when it happened but somehow in the midst of the past ten weeks I have experienced a remarkable change in my comfort level at school.  It is a good change.

 The kitchens that we as students learn and work within used to feel strange and unknown to me.  I always felt like I was trying to figure out where something was located or scrambling around while trying to accomplish my daily production tasks.  Also, the classmates that  I knew were in their second year seemed so much more cooler and wiser than me. I am so far only a little first year student.  I admire how these second year classmates move through the walk-in, kitchen and hallways with such grace and comfortability.  The way they called out a hello to the chef instructors or joked with other classmates in the halls really caught my attention and I found myself looking forward to the day when I would fit in the same way.

 Overall I knew it wouldn't take me too long to find my place in the Culinary School ranks.  I figured it would be just like when you start a new job and it takes time to learn the ropes.  I also knew it wouldn't happen overnight, but I can safely say that I am definitely on my way now.  I am really liking the particular surroundings that I have come to recognize and the friendships that I have developed along the way.

The knowledge and hands on skills I am practicing are really starting to take form too.  My intuitions and ideas have a stronger sense about them.  I know this because when I transfer my performance to the home kitchen, there are certain meals and baked goods that I used to struggle with that are now turning out quite a bit nicer.  Its the techniques that are being honed- my abilities are more precise, and I have a  sharper understanding about how to create good food.  (Though I still struggle with sharpening my own knife and thankfully I have a friend who is helping me with that one.  I will be writing about him soon.)

All this being said, tomorrow is a very big day for me and my classmates in World Cuisine Class. We have been planning for this event for almost a month now and its finally here. Friday evening, March 19, 2010 Chef Coburn MacNaughton's World Cuisine Class will be presenting "A Tour of Italy" in five distinct and thoroughly planned out courses. With the help of our friends from another World Cuisine class who will be working as servers in the front of the house we will create and serve our pride and joy. This is why we are here at the Great Lakes Culinary Institute ~ to prepare food in a pleasing and deliciously tasteful manner.

This is our opportunity to practice these newly formed skills. This is a "real live" moment that requires us to expedite our "A Game" efficiently and flawlessly.

This is the instant where we merge into a new awareness.

Where we get to move up the ladder among our peers.  
We start to earn the credibility right now that we all desire in our future careers.

This is how we become seasoned and our knowledge transforms into wisdom.  

I can't wait for tomorrow night!!

I have faith that everything we set out to accomplish will be wonderful!

This is what I am supposed to be doing!

Here is a small preview of our prep this week:

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patty's Day!

**Lots of school work tonight so this is gonna be a quickie post**

Our Green Theme Dinner included a Spinach Grapefruit Salad 
(sorry no picture)
Baby Cabbage Saute'  
(we used Brussel Sprouts)

Everyone cleaned their plates which is always a good sign!  We typically have now problem involving Green items in our meals, but tonight was fun to be intentional about it.

 I have not typed up the brussel sprout recipe but if you want it then let me know.  ~Here is a link for the spinach salad- I made it vegetarian by omitting Bacon and adding one drop of smoke flavor which my husband Tod said worked well!  I am always changing up recipes that I find so that I can make them work with what I have in the fridge and my own dietary preferences.  Its a black box everyday in my kitchen and I love it!

Click for Spinach Grapefruit Salad

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tuesdays Top Ten- The Musical Artists Who Accompany Me While I Cook

If I had a Reality TV series it would be a Black and White episode of "The Art of Cooking with Stephanie Sheffer" if the space surrounding me was devoid of music.  When I am stirring and sifting, or slicing and dicing ~ it is the musical collaborations and compilations that set the tone for me.  My tastes change from time to time, but here is my list of the artists who will always get me in the cooking groove. I am a lover of music, but I can't always articulate why- I like what I like and that is that- 

1. Jack Johnson - My sister introduced me to Jack almost 8 years ago.  I love to bake cookies to the tune of his voice.  It always makes me happy!

2. Frank Sinatra- He is amazing, period.

3. Dave Matthews - I discovered Dave when I was 15.  I loved him then, I love him now, just the same.

4. My Dear Disco- This is a newer one that I was just recently was introduced to but I Love them!  There could listen to their song "All I Do" over and over.
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5. Brett Dennen- He is another new one for me and "She Mine" is my favorite by far.
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6.  Maroon 5- Ever since my daughter Lauren sang "This Love has taken its toll on me" at 2 years old from the back seat of my car, I was hooked. 
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7. Michael Buble-  He is a lot like Sinatra to me- He always delivers and gets me dancing in the kitchen.
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8.  Jason Mraz-  "Ba da da boo ba da boo da boo da"- Yeah I just like his style- and together we make great a great dinner!
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9.  Jem- This is another newer favorite that I am really inspired by.  Her song "Its Amazing" is one I can't stop listening to also!
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10.  Ashley MacTavish - She has been my best friend since I was 7 years old.  Her voice is simply amazing, a beautiful gift!  I have a CD of her singing children's songs that she gave to my kids and one of her with the Clarion Band.  Live version of Ash is the BEST but I like to listen to her when I am winding things down in the kitchen- its always a great way to finish the night.  

Monday, March 15, 2010

Monday's Plate: Hot Plate vs. Cold Plate

A few months ago I met with a very well known and respected chef in my hometown's downtown.  We came together to discuss opportunities and simply dish about the world of culinary.  I was entirely intrigued by every single thing this man said.  Why wouldn't I be?  He has built a highly successful business with many enamored patrons.  His plated creations whisper to the seated visitor deliciously devine traces of a secret love affair that cannot be concealed.  Each of his courses is a destination to be explored with all of your senses.  I am completely inspired by the accomplishment of this culinary treasure he has anchored on Front Street.  This Chef/Owner is a culinary hero in my heart always.

One component of our conversation laid a very heavy impression on me.  Mostly because it was so simple and made absolute sense.  This chef told me "You don't ever want to serve your food on a cold plate!"  He continued, "First it will suck the life right out of your food."  "Second, if the food is obvioulsy not placed on a hot plate and it is already in the process of cooling, well people will tend to eat the food too fast and not take the time to savor it."

Think about the different meals that have been prepared for you, and think about the meals you prepare at home and then compare.  One noticeable difference that sets these two meals apart is how they are plated.  A restaurant meal can be so very extra special not just because you are being served, but because your server is nestling your entree onto the table with a hot pad.  This is because they are shielding their hand from the intentionally absorbed heat within your plate.  How many of the meals that we make at home are intentionally served on warm plates?  Probably not many.  I do attend to this "hot plate" aspect much more now that I am in school, but with a 6 and 8 year old I have to be careful.  Once we are outside the restaurant boundaries this Mama's warnings apparently are not taken as seriously as a waitstaff's precautions.

I have recently discovered that you can apply this Hot Plate / Cold Plate concept not only to plates but to your relationships with people too.  Its a balance beam type of subject.  By that I mean that when you decide what type of plate you are today~ well if its the less desirable "Cold Plate"- then my suggestion is to figure out how to get the oven pilot light going and don't wait to long to stir up some warmth before the next course or social interaction in the relation to the people around you.

An appropriate use of a Cold Plate

You are having a bad day all the time and everyone around you knows about it.  Nothing ever seems to be very great about anything you encounter.  You complain and whine about the problems that plague you on a daily basis, while never taking responsibility for your own part in how you perceive and react to the situations you are faced with.  Your glass is typically half empty and pessimism is not an uncommon tool in your bag of responses.  In the most extreme of cases, this is the description of the "Cold Plate"-A person who can easily suck the life force out of an entire group if they continue to evolve in this way without interruption.  Usually they aren't actually able to affect people to this exhausting extent because people just won't hang around for it to go that far.  Now I am not saying that we aren't allowed to vent when we are having a bad day, or lean on a friend when times get tough.  Hopefully we all have someone we can go to in a situation like that.  Ultimately it can make you weary if all you ever get from a person is "The Cold Plate".  You wish and hope, and pray for them to have a better day.  They need something good to revitalize their perspective, but in the end they have to be the one to light the match.

A Hot Plate

The "Hot Plate" can set a good example for what a "Cold Plate" has the ability to become.  A "Hot Plate" person is intentional.  They plan ahead, and envision their successes far in advance.  They see potential in people and events in a way that inspires eternal greatness.  Their optimistic outlook is the main ingredient to the manifestation of their own happiness, and also their ability to motivate the same outcomes for the family and friends they surround themselves with.  The person who is a "Hot Plate" is encouraging and supportive.  Their purposeful agenda accentuates the amazing possibilities that life has to offer everyone. They know if they step into each day this way, they will effectively come out a winner.

I know I can count on these hotties!

 An entree of passionately prepared cuisine relies on the induced warmth from the supporting "hot" serving plate.  Similarly a person can infuse these same qualities into their surroundings like the hot plate, and positively accentuate their daily results while also conducting their warmth into the lives of others too.  The "Hot Plate" conclusively is the most paramount way to support and deliver a satisfying flavor for all aspects of life.  We have all encountered the "Cold Plate" from someone else or from our own production.  It is our responsibility to accept that "Cold Plate" days happen, but we learn from its faults, and plan ahead for a better delivery the next time.  If all you ever serve up is cold plates, don't be surprised if people stop making reservations.  Ahh, but if you can master the service of hot plates, then you will likely have a full house every time.   You may also achieve a helpful take-away impression or illustration by the way you transfer your warmth to those around you with a "Hot Plate" mentality.  Thanks to you someone experiencing a "cold plate" moment may be able to learn how to fire up their internal proverbial ovens to find a greater happiness too.

Together with my girls!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Tuesday's Top Ten: I Love to Cook for My Kids- Let me Count the Ways!!!

They are the reason for the depth of my passion!!

How I love to cook at create for my children, let me count the ways!  In my life story there was a particular moment when my love for all foods transformed and turned into a real passion.   Like a beautiful bud when it meets the face of the warm springtime sun, my love intensified for all things food and opened up into a full bloom.  It began with reaching out for fresh knowledge, and building an understanding that there is so much more to eating than I ever took the time to notice before.  Suddenly I wanted to know everything I could about nutrition, food origins, and how to purposefully create meals that would meet our crucial daily needs to be healthy and energized.  At twenty tree years old they laid a beautiful baby girl into my arms, and nineteen months later a sweet boy - from that point on I knew it was going to be my responsibility to lay the all important nutritional foundations of my babes and give them the strong and highly flavored start they deserve.

Strawberry Picking- so much goodness!!

I have learned so far that by setting a good example and creating awareness for how to make good choices, these two munchkins of mine have learned all about "Good Food".  They have a sense of pride in knowing where our food comes from when we practice growing our own garden veggies or when we take a visit to the farmers market and local orchards.  Even raising our own egg producing chickens has been a major lesson in how special food really is.  A new appreciation for how food is produced in nature has really enlightened all of us to the importance of supporting agriculture not only for ourselves but for everyone and our futures.

 My children have a very developed palate at their young ages of 6 and 8, and it is always fun to see what they think of new foods or flavor combinations that we come up with.  They definitely have their favorites and I have also allowed them to dislike things too.  Since there aren't too many things in the "dislike" category, I am fortunate that I have not had to become a short order cook to satisfy rumbly tummies at dinner time.

I have acquired and stored a vast body of knowledge so far and yet I feel like I have hardly scratched the surface.  Every day I learn something new in my culinary crusades.   It is my mission to give my children the best start so here are the Top Ten Reasons why I Love to cook for my kids:

1.  There is nothing better than hitting a home-run, double play at the diner table- this is when they ask for seconds.

2.  My mom always made sure that my sister and I had a warm, hearty meal for dinner every night, even when she was attending night school. I never appreciated that until I had kids of my own.  Certainly she gave me a great foundation to build upon with this practice- I have the blueprints in my own hands now to create a similar foundation in my own kids- Thanks Mom!

At the apple orchard with my Mom and Lauren- Family Traditions

3.  My kids love to help in the kitchen- I have learned that this usually equates to messes, but how else are they going to learn.  Its our time together, these are the real teaching moments.  I am just thankful they are interested.

4.  With noses up high in the air, they walk into the kitchen and exclaim "What is that yummy smell Mama?  What are you cooking?"  Hook, line and sinker!!  If it smells good that is half the pleasure, right?

5.  My kids have told me that their lunches always look different than anyone else's at the school lunch table.  I asked them if that was OK and if they were happy with their lunches I made for them.  Both answered that they love their lunch "even if there aren't any fun things in wrappers."  Whole foods have nothing to hide!

6.  I love to talk about the week's dinner menu with my kids and get ideas for what they would like to see at the dinner table.  Together we can come up with some ideas that work well not only for dinner but we can use the leftovers for lunches too.

7.  Since they were little babies the Grocery store trip has always been a "Big Family Outing."  We make a pretty big deal about going to pick out our ingredients and favorite foods.  We talk about how to pick out the freshest ones of the bunch and in the past couple of years we have enjoyed doing our circle through the store without much aisle action.  The kids understand that fresh is best whenever possible- it takes three stops to accomplish this- but the trip is always an adventure and they usually get the added bonus of eating dinner out on such occasions too.  Oryana deli (a local Co-Op with an Organic focus) is one of the family faves.

8.  They always tell me the truth about what they think of the food I prepare.  The constructive feedback is never sugar coated.  Either they like it or they don't- they aren't afraid to go over it with me.  This is very helpful especially if it is a new creation.

It was super hot but they were loving it!!

9. When they do like something the praises are overflowing with love and admiration.  There happiness is what fuels me.  It makes me want to keep pushing the boundaries of my knowledge and learn even more so I can present them with the next exciting and delicious dish.

10.  Someday I hope they will look back at what I have started them with on this journey towards making healthy choices and appreciating "Good Food."  I pray that they will take these values and ideas and pass them to their own families.  I believe that if they start to understand it all now, and appreciate all these experiences that no matter what they do, they will always know how to pick a good peach, enjoy a garden fresh carrot, and create a balanced meal.

I love you my dear Lauren and Riley!  You make me so very very proud!

Love Always, Your Mama

Monday, March 8, 2010

Monday's Plate - Together At The Family Table

I didn't have enough time beforehand to study my dictionary.  Apparently that was not necessary since I have been doing enough Thesaurus work with my blog that my vocabulary is up to speed.   I honestly can't tell you what my final score was.  I didn't win, but I didn't lose either.  Thanks to my Mom I did get a great game changing score in the middle of the game.  Dad wasn't very happy about it since it was his turn after me.  Its all about laying out a brilliant word on some part of the prime real estate on the Scabble board.  By the end of the game I was exhausted, partly from eating too much, and partly from working all day in the kitchen making food for a long time friend's baby shower and also for my Mom's Birthday Game Night/Family Dinner party which ended up being back to back that day.  

I did my pear plate x2 for both parties and tried something new- Candied Pecans- they a very yummy new addition with the dried cherries and goat cheese too.

It was my Mom's birthday weekend, and our newly formed "Family Game Night" was a perfect fit for the whole family to get together and celebrate.  My sister Jen and I decided to handle the food for this one so that Mom could take a break and enjoy.  I had two parties to attend in the afternoon and so I got to work right away Saturday morning- turning my kitchen into a beautiful disaster!  Obviously I totally enjoyed prepping all the food I was responsible for.  Jen told us that she worked in her kitchen all day too and to everyone's delighted surprise she offered us some very delicious dishes for all her hard work!  Mom couldn't help not making something too.  She made her favorite cake in the whole world- "Mississippi Mud Pie!"  

Here is a photo tour of some of our food:

The birthday girl and her "Mud Pie"

Jen's Taco Salad in Tortilla Bowls- they were so creative and scrumptious!

I chose to make my "Thai Corn Cakes" with fresh sweet corn from my  Mom's favorite corn farmers and she loved them.  They are so easy!

Jen's "Artichoke Mushroom Bruschetta with Pesto"  These were AWESOME and so different than anything I had seen before- Good job girl!

My "Triple Mushroom Soup"  

Jen's Dessert Platter- A Cream Cheese Pecan and Chocolate Dip and cinnamon sugar graham crackers.  This was really cool too, very different, fun and delicious!

The gorgeous birthday girl enjoying the goodies!

Happy Birthday Mom!
Thanks for sharing your Birthday with us 
and letting us put together a dinner for you!
We love you!

"Mom's Girls"- Me and my Sister Jen