Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Scorching Student surfaces!

I've gotten through a full month of school!  In that time I've gotten my Servsafe certification, meaning I know how food can kill you and how to prevent it. I've learned how to clean the kitchen. I've learned the basic principles of cooking and the 13 cooking methods:  braising, stewing, simmering, boiling, poaching, steaming, baking, roasting, pan frying, deep frying, sauteing, broiling and grilling.

And I've learned a whole bunch of other stuff.  You know?  Stuff.  I did learn that I have to keep my thumb tucked under while slicing to prevent nearly cutting off the tip of my left thumb.  Yeah, it was gross.  My knife skills are coming along.  Practice is the key.  Practice practice practice.  Now that we've moved on to stocks, soups and sauces I need to practice at home.  This family will have the best eyes on the block based on all the carrots I'll be cutting up.

I got through my first written exam and my first practical exam.  The written exam involved short essay questions and a lot of kitchen math, some of which tripped me up.  As soon as I have it back in my hands I'm going to be asking my instructor for some assistance.  The practical exam required I demonstrate four cooking methods (stewing, deep frying, sauteing and grilling) along with my preparation, how clean I worked, how I handled the time issue, presentation and taste.  I completed the four dishes in time to take on the bonus dish, pan fried zucchini.  For that one, I got to choose between breading and batter dipping.  I selected bread crumbs and then had to go take a look to see what we had to cover with crumbs.  Zucchini it was!

I did B work.  I messed up french fries.  That's just a fact.  They were underdone.  But, I won't make that mistake again.  Next time, my fries will be brown and crisp.

My class started with 16 and has dropped to 11.  Of the four women who started, three of us are still hanging in.  Our fellow female broke her foot the first week of school, which wasn't treated quickly, had to be re-broken to be set but swelling prevented that for a long time.  I'm hoping she'll be starting with a class coming up in the near future.

This week we've been making stocks.  White chicken stock, white beef stock, chicken stock where the bones are roasted first, beef stock where the bones are roasted first, we've made it all.  Our meal at the end of our cooking time has been soups all this week made from whatever stock we're working on and whatever we have among our supplies.  Tuesday was chicken, veggies and macaroni in veggie stock.  Yesterday, we pulled the meat off the chicken bones we'd pulled out of our mass of chicken stock and turned it into chicken soup.

Between the increase in physical activity, the fact that I'm not great about breakfast or dinner I've lost six pounds.

I am pleased to say that in-fighting among my class is minimum.  There is sometimes an issue between a couple of students who take issue with another student who waits to be told what to do instead of asking what requires attention.  But that's pretty much it.  There's a group who've gotten friendly and they tend to chit-chat during lab (our time in the kitchen) which drives our instructor nuts.

The things I need to practice are my sauce making skills and clarifying butter.  I see macaroni and cheese in the future made with a true bechamel.  Anyone wiling to be my guinea pig?  Anyone?  Anyone?

Amanda's beauty tip of the day:  If you find that a lifestyle change is causing you to wash your hair more often, be sure to swap to one that provides deeper moisturizing.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

My book, Red Lipstick and How It Saved My Life My Journal From the Year I Was Crazy is now being 

offered by me as an ebook. If you'd like to read it send $5 via paypal: and I will 

email you a copy. It's currently in ODT format so send me a message if you'd like a different format.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Hip Housewife's gotta study!

This weekend is going to be all about studying because, you see, I have what's called 'practicals' next week.  These are tests where I demonstrate that I know the information and techniques we've been learning during the block we've just completed.

We are at the end of block 102.  This includes kitchen math, knife cut vocabulary, knife skills, kitchen vocabulary, wet and dry cooking methods including deep-frying, pan-frying, sauteing, steaming, poaching and boiling.

My exams will include a written exam where I will need to calculate new yields on recipes, costs per unit, costs per portion, how much a product costs per pound after it's been trimmed as compared to the original cost per pound.  Another written exam will test vocabulary and cooking techniques such as mise in place, mirepoix, deglaze, carmelization, Maillard reaction and refresh.

Then we move into the kitchen where I show I can cut product into the specific cuts in the correct dimensions.  From a large dice, a 3/4 inch cube, to a fine brunoise, a 1/16 inch cube along with the 2 inch strips that range from 1/4 inch square to 1/16 inch square.  I'll also need to dice an onion and chiffonade some type of leafy herb.

I'll need to use whatever I cut to demonstrate 4 cooking techniques, which I won't know until I'm given the recipe.  I'll need to quarter whatever recipe I'm given, set up my station with all my ingredients and equipment, use the proper ordering of preparation and successfully produce an acceptable finished product.

Part of my grade is going to be how clean I work.  Is my cutting board crowded?  Is my area a mess?  Do I have things out that I don't need?  Are my apron and tunic spotted?  (They shouldn't be.  I shouldn't be spattering stuff all over me. )

I know the cooking techniques.  I can set up my mise en place (you know how the chefs on telly have everything set up in little bowls with all the stuff they need?  That's mise en place.)  and work efficiently and cleanly.  I know the proper order of breading and batter dipping.

The challenge I'm facing?  Making my cuts even.  When I try to julienne I end up with a rectangle instead of a square at the end of the strip of whatever.  This weekend the family had better be looking forward to fries because I'm going to be cutting up a LOT of potatoes.  And onion soup as I'm going to dice a bunch of onions.  And carrots.  They better want some carrots.

Pass the knife steel, I'm on it!

Amanda's beauty tip of the day:  When you're going to be working, keep your hair pulled back so it doesn't rest on your forehead.  It will make your hair greasy and if you have product in your hair it can cause breakouts on your forehead.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Hip Housewife has a bit of a freakout

I've been actually cooking at school!  This is super exciting.  We get to eat what we cook and taste each other's stuff after we get the comments from our instructor.  I'm getting consistent "Well cooked, needs a little more seasoning.  But good."  I'm usually able to tell my instructor what I need to correct before she tells me.  When I hear her giving feedback I'll try listen and take a look at what she's talking about.

Today, I had a quiet little freakout in class.  Part of my program is completing 200 hours of externship in a commercial kitchen by March.  This equals out to about 10 hours a week, not totally un-doable but I have to find the place.  I'm pretty sure I have one in the bag, a bakery near my house.  The owner is also a mom who is running a niche establishment where she does one thing well instead of trying to do too much and sacrificing quality.

One of my classmates told me that she heard from another student that the culinary students couldn't complete their hours at a bakery.  I knew not to take that as gospel and decided I needed to heel-and-toe it over to career services to find out for sure.  But, I had myself a private little moment where I said to myself "Oh dear lord.  My resume needs serious work.  It's a big portion of my grade.  How the hell am I going to do this?  I'm forty fucking years old.  What the hell am I thinking?  This was a dumb idea.  Maybe I should drop out."  All that bullshit.

One thing I need to be very, very careful of is not self-sabotaging myself.  Not practicing, sliding on the homework, not applying myself in the kitchen, I need to make sure I don't do that.

Today, our instructor asked me to be the person to set up her demonstration station and yell out when a demo was about to happen.   I know what I did well and what I need to do differently next time.

This was good for me because the class as a whole didn't do very well in the organization department and the team I was going to be working with in particular.  We didn't clean as we went along or work neatly so there was no room for anything.  Things were done out of order so eggplant sat around and oxidized before we were ready to bread and pan fry them.  It took forever to do dishes and clean up and by the time we were done chef was pissed.

We stayed an extra twenty minutes past the twenty minutes we went over to finish the clean up.  Then I went over to career services to ask the counselor for clarification.  Turns out that as a culinary student, it's a *maybe* that I could do my externship at a bakery.

When I heard this my hormones, which are being wacky right now, kicked in and I started to cry.  This embarrassed me to no end.  Great.  Once I got calmed down and I was able to discuss how I could turn it from a maybe to a yes.

I'll need to send in a quick paragraph stating why I wanted to extern at this particular bakery and why I think it would be a good fit for me.  I can do that easily.

I also have the task ahead of getting my resume and cover letter into shape.  I've been at home for ten years, I'm going to need a LOT of help.  Luckily, there's the career counselor who's job it is to do that.  she won't do it FOR me, I'll need to bring one in, get feedback and make changes before meeting with her again.

And all of this scares me to death.  It'd be so much easier to go back to Barnes and Noble and schelp books for the rest of my life.

And if it's scary it's probably what I need to do.......

Amanda's beauty tip of the day:  If you are suddenly in a situation where you are sweating more than usual, be sure to wash your face at least once more a day.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

After a long absence, the Hip Housewife emerges!

And I'm feeling much better.  I'm pretty much healed up, but all my ab muscles have gone mmmm-bloop, a big bummer.


Today is a tough day for me, not for the obvious reasons, but because it's the day my grandmother died in 1999.  If there wasn't the huge reminder of the date I'd just do my general missing her, but I end up spending all day being weepy and feeling like she just died all over again.

A week after she died I wrote this:

The ferry left for Catalina today with you on board.
I stood on the beach and waved and waved and waved
And the swing band got softer and softer

You raised two sons, but I was your girl
You held me as I was christened
You watched me emerge from childhood
You saw me wed to a good man

I help you tend your windowbox garden
I laughed when we fed the ducks
I believed you would help me feed my children

And now all I know is that 
you boarded the ferry with your hat
pinned on tight and your hair just so.

I heard the band fire up and
I saw you foxtrotting as the ferry pulled away

And I waved and I waved and I waved

Long after everyone had left
I sat on the beach with the 
still and silent rusting behind me
and the lights of the pavilion floating 
in front of me like fireflies.

Wishing I could hear the Glenn Miller 
getting louder and louder as 
the ferry brought you back to shore
correcting this heartbreaking error.