Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Super Sized Catch Up

The fat lady has sung, the eagle has landed and Elvis has left the building. Bread class is finally over! We finished our written exam Friday and the practical exam yesterday. Before I move on to the new class (Nutrition), I want to ramble a bit more about the last week.

For starters my lunch buddy recently ended up with her loaded mixer on the floor. It was an accident, but cracked me up nonetheless. If our batches are small enough, we use small KitchenAids (4 qt capacity?) at school, and they sit on the tables attached to power cords that hang from the ceiling. If the dough in the mixer is of a thick enough consistency, the mixer will wobble when set at a high speed (like some washing machines). Such was the case last week. My buddy had loaded her mixer, and the formed dough ball was causing the mixer to wobble. She turned her back for a moment too long, and the mixer wobbled or 'walked' itself off the table. The mixer stayed in one piece, and the dough stayed in the bowl. She picked the mixer up, powered it on and it was fine. It was business as usual except for a small scratched area on the front where the attachment connection is located. This made me think of a few things.

First I was thinking about the mixer walking off the table, which led to Walkaway Joe by Trisha Yearwood (born to be a leaver, tell you from the word go). Then I thought about Technotronic and "get your mixer (aka booty) on the floor tonight, make my day". When I stopped dancing, I was thinking about how durable those mixers are. That floor is concrete. I've always been a fan of and wouldn't want to try to bake without a stand mixer, but I know of others who don't feel the same way. Some say the KitchenAids are excessive or too expensive. I have friends who received one as a wedding gift and returned it to a store for the cash. My mom also refuses to use one - but for a different reason. She likes to say that she mixes her stuff by hand with love, and that's why it tastes so good [insert rolling eyes here]. Last week's falling mixer just solidified my opinion. They're amazing and every home in America should have one (or two... and an iPhone, but that's another subject).

Before we took the written and practical exams, we had three quizzes during the bread course. I've mentioned before that the chef was comical, and he included interesting questions on his quizzes. One such question was as follows.

A baba rhum is a:
a. Prince of India
b. Curry entree
c. Savory dessert
d. Gong to ring for dinner

The answer was 'C. A baba rhum is a savory dessert'. During class each student made and plated a baba rhum. The team I was a part of made a strawberry and lemon simple syrup and a pureed strawberry and Grand Marnier sauce. My plated baba is shown below. It wasn't great, but I would have totally eaten it - had someone not taken it from the fridge and tossed it without asking me.

For yesterday's practical exam, we had to make 12 classic brioche, a three-strand braid and a coffee cake of brioche dough. We also had to make a boule, a baguette and a batard from French bread dough. Yesterday was not a good day for me in the kitchen. I was off my game. It may be the fact that I was up until almost 5 a.m. after drinking too much pop with a late dinner the night before or the fact that I'm more into cookies and cakes, but my finished products were far from stellar. The shape of the brioche was about all that was on target. After the two (or was it three?) tardies and the not so great practical exam products, I'm worried that I'll end up with a B in the bread course.

Breads from the practical. Expectant baguette, bloated batard...

Classic brioche from the practical.

Mix of breads from one day last week. The filled croissants were a bit overcooked.

A bread display made by the night class (but our day class still posed beside it and took pictures).
The basket is made of bread as well.

And with that we say goodbye to breads (Goodbye Norma Jean, though I never knew you at all...) and hello to nutrition. Day one of the nutrition course was today, and I have at least an hour of homework. Other than having homework, it was a decent day. We watched the Super Size Me movie as an introduction to the course, and it was gross - more than a little TMI in some cases. It included vomit, a graphic physical exam, video of a gastric bypass procedure and more bare overweight bodies than I care to see. We also started an online food and calorie journal. It's required for the next two weeks and will make up 30% of our grade. Keeping track of everything I consume for so long will be both daunting and eye opening and brings us to the subject of my weight.

You may recall the previous post lamenting the letting go of cinnamon rolls. I've been eating so many of them and other similarly sweet foods recently that I was concerned about my weight. Since leaving the office and it's basement scales in late January, I hadn't weighed until today. In preparation for the online calorie counter, I weighed and was happy to find that I've not really changed in the last few months. The number today was actually two pounds less than when I left the company. I think I'll go have a cinnamon roll to celebrate. Not really. Based on the computer and my shortness of breath (take my breath away, take my breath away), I still need to drop about 25 pounds (drop it like it's hot).

Aside from school I've done a few cakes since the last post. The first was a 50th wedding anniversary cake on Saturday. The picture below was taken before the addition of a topper that the family had purchased. The topper was added at the party, but in the end we couldn't use it. Though the topper was nice (a clear acrylic circle with etched names and dates), it was too tall or the cake was just unlevel enough from front to back so that the topper kept falling backward. We sat the topper near the cake and repaired the piping on the top. On the way home I realized that we could have rigged the topper with the extra fondant that I had taken to the delivery, but it was too late (Baby, now it's too late, though we really did try to make it). Overall it was okay, and the customer didn't complain.

The second cake for the weekend was for a bridal shower on Sunday. The only picture I was able to get of this one was of it sitting in the passenger seat of the car during a red light on the delivery. There was no time for anything more. The picture ended up cutting part of the cake off. In addition the top hadn't been added yet, so I'll just talk about it. It was a two tier square cake. It had white fondant with black squiggles (like the one above), hot pink buttercream shell borders on both tiers and a hot pink bow made of fondant on top. One thing that I did differently for this one was the cake board. Rather than buying foam boards, cutting them down to the square and wrapping them, I used a black granite tile. The expense was only slightly more than the other, but the saved time and effort more than justified the additional cost. I'll definitely be using this route again when cake size and color allow.

Finally for tonight the airbrush system that I ordered arrived. It came late last week when I was gearing up for the weekend's cakes, so I waited until last night to break it out. When I went to plug the gun into the hose, I realized that it didn't fit. I called the company to ask about it and was told that I had ordered the wrong one. Basically I ordered a compressor that is more powerful than I need, and that's part of the reason it won't fit. I could also be prone to blowing holes in cake icing if I keep and try to use it. The customer service representative asked if I had called them prior to ordering, and I had to say that I hadn't. As dumb as it was, I just went on the website and ordered what I thought was correct. It was the middle of the night, and nobody would have been there to answer the phones anyway. How hard could it be, right? Apparently, it's quite difficult. As a result I'll be packing it back up and paying to ship it back and exchange it for the correct one (Return to sender, address unknown, no such number...)

That homework still waits, and I'm nodding off. Until next time happy grubbing.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Short & Sweet

Another week has come and gone, and I'm still in bread class. It's the class that won't stop. It's like Shari Lewis is our instructor and Lamb Chop my teammate (This is the class that doesn't end. Yes, it goes on and on, my friend...). But wait. We don't work with lamb chops in the bakery. That would be down the hall in the culinary kitchens, and I wouldn't eat them even if we did, because I don't like them (Sam I Am), but I digress. Let me just get you up to date.

I need to say that I don't hate bread class. It's been fun. I've sampled all sorts of breads that I had never heard of prior to three weeks ago, but I'm ready to try something different, and I'm not alone. Though little has been said aloud, more and more students must be growing weary of bread, because they've started missing class in groups. On Monday of this week, four students were gone. Both Tuesday and Wednesday had missing students as well. It will be interesting to see who passes. I mean being tardy is one thing, but completely missing multiple days of a less than 20 day course is just asking for failure. Yes, I've been tardy in this class. Twice. And today was yet another very close call. Before I ever made it to the highway, I encountered this:

A train (and a dashboard that needs cleaning).

After waiting on the train, I had to crank up the volume louder than normal to focus on speeding across town. When I made it to the exit, I was out of time and all I had was four minutes to make the last half mile trek from the highway to the school, park and get in the kitchen. But I made it, and that's all that mattered.

My previous post mentioned a pecan recipe that had become my favorite. That recipe has been dethroned. The new fave is the classic cinnamon roll. I've always had a soft spot for cinnamon rolls, but I fell in love with them fresh and anew when we made them in class last week. We've made them multiple times since then (Making cinnamon rolls is an easy way to get rid of dough that needs using). The sad thing is that I have a hard time stopping once I get started. Add in a tall glass of cold milk, and it's a lost cause. Considering this and the fact that I eat Bueno nearly every day, I know that I need an intervention. I have to say goodbye to the cinnamon rolls. I actually threw a full pan of them in the trash yesterday to start the boycott. My tight fitting chef's jacket wouldn't let me have them, and nobody else in the class wanted them (because we're tired of breads). Thinking of letting go made me think of an old Elton John song about a yellow brick road, and I couldn't refrain from reworking the words a little.

When are you gonna slow down?
Get that fork out of your hand.
I should be out on the track.
I should have listened to my old chef.

You know you can't eat those forever.

It's gonna catch up with you
Metabolism slows, getting kinda old
This boy's too young to not be seeing his shoo-ooo-es.

So goodbye cinnamon roll.
I already have plenty jowls.
Can barely fit in my pants now.
I'm pushing back from the trough...


There is so much more that has happened in the last week that I want to share, but I've grown tired and time won't stand still before me. I let the sun go down long before I was ready for it to, and now I need to sleep. Though sorry seems to be the hardest word to say, I'm saying it now.

In light of the great weather we've been having, gather some friends, find a patio and enjoy some happy grubbing!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Biga, Baba & Baklava

It's been one week since you looked at me... and even longer since I've blogged, but you won't have to wait two days for me to apologize. I'm sorry and offer no excuse other than pure and simple slacking. If you have forgiven the neglect, accepted the apology and are still reading, let's get you caught up.

The previous post mentioned starting a new bread course with a new instructor, and class has gone on long enough for me to know that I'm over bread and that the new instructor rocks. First the bread. In an earlier Intro to Baking course, we spent two days making breads such as challah and brioche. During the last week, we have revisited each of these in addition to working with more types of breads and shapes than I can recall without notes. Among the first things we made were starters for some of the recipes. We made two kinds - a biga and a poolish (yes, two Os). The biga made another song come to mind, and it was one of those that gets stuck in my head. I spent the rest of the day mentally singing 'Biga than all my problems, biga than all my fears...'. Since then we've worked on ciabatta, multigrain, pain de mie, craquelin, baguettes (Marie! The baguettes! Hurry up!), batards, tabatiere, ficelle, gugelhopf, pannetone, baba (ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann) and many more. Some taste good and others not so much. Some we load with cinnamon, sugar and butter and others we ruin by adding raisins, pistachios and hazelnuts and such. The bread class is officially half over at this point.

A three strand braid of challah dough with cinnamon & sugar.

We also made pizza on two occasions. On the first day that we made pizza a chef from another class (non pastry) almost sent me over the edge by critiquing the way I cut my group's pizza. The pizza had just come out of the oven, and I was cutting it too slowly for his liking. He was there to mooch food in case you were wondering. Even though he had already taken food from other groups, he still wanted more. The man isn't my instructor, and we've never had a conversation, yet he felt inclined to rudely tell me how to do it... faster, more muscle, etc. He asked where I learned to cut pizza. I told him it was my pizza and my roller but I don't think he heard for his own obnoxious ranting (I should have asked him where he learned to teach or interact with adult students). I do tend to work with food more slowly than others. Most people who have dined with me know this. I'm often the last one eating and have looked up many times through the years to find friends watching me eat (creepy). Our pizza needed to be cut based on topping location. It was not all the same. I knew where the cuts belonged based on the toppings, and I like neat and clean cuts. In the end I cut my one piece and then walked away while he ranted on. Our pizza was gone in less than two minutes because of the chef and other more polite thieves. One team member who helped make the pizza got only a very small piece with toppings she didn't select, because she happened to be out of the room when the visitors snatched it up.

On the second day of pizza making, Mr. Obnoxious came back into our kitchen wanting some. He was putting his arm around people and trying to suck up to them to get some. The pizzas weren't ready yet, and nobody wanted to share with him since he had stolen such large amounts from almost everyone previously. The chef had to leave the kitchen empty handed, but he was mad and called us all 'stingy MF'ers' on his way out the door - only he didn't abbreviate. He also stated that it was gonna 'suck for us when we want some real food'. Such a classy guy. And he's an instructor. I would have withdrawn and found an office job long ago if I had to deal with him on a regular basis.

But the bad chef can serve as a segue to our good chef. The new guy is the bomb. He has rules and expectations, but he is laid back and hilarious. When I asked if the multigrain dough looked okay, he said it looked like a mouse had been loose in it (grains = droppings). When a student was standing in the foyer outside the bakery on her cell phone instead of returning from lunch, he called us all to the window to stare at her. When another student was mouthing and wouldn't stop, he kicked her out. He has years of experience and shows us shortcuts that he has learned along the way. He also shared with us a recipe from his collection, and though it isn't exactly bread, it is my favorite thus far.

The recipe is called pecan diamonds. It's a very thin sweet crust topped with a filling of brown sugar, butter, granulated sugar, honey, heavy cream and eight cups of chopped pecans. It's then baked. The recipe has been made twice, and I prefer the under cooked version, because it stays gooey. It's similar to baklava (Say what you wish, It's yours! True dish! How 'bout a little more baklava?) The fully cooked version is crisp and not my fave. For those old co-workers or those who know me personally and are questioning the obvious, yes, I have probably gained weight in the last few months. I'm behaving like an ostrich and avoiding the scales, so I can't answer with certainty, but there is a nagging suspicion that I need to put down the bread, butter and pecan diamonds (Come lay 'em down, come lay 'em down).

Pecan Diamonds made with walnuts instead of pecans.
One friend said they should be kept under lock and key.

Speaking of co-workers takes me back to something that happened earlier in the week. I was having dinner at Bros. Houligan (eat more gravy) with a friend when an old Fleetwood Mac song came on in the background. It was 'Don't Stop', and it transported me back to the summer and fall of 2006. I was still a trainer and using the tune as a sort of merger theme song for classes and work related photo collections. I was trying to be the corporate player and keep a smile on to encourage others to believe that we really were bigger and stronger together when in reality I had a strong hunch that we had just climbed into the proverbial handbasket and started our descent. I won't be bitter and trash the company or mention the 1% raises that were given to some members of my team or the 60% compensation increase that the CEO took last year according to the Chicago Tribune. I'll just say that I think I'm still grieving and moving around (and backward?) in the stages of DABDA.

On a more exciting note, I finally bit the bullet and ordered an airbrush system for cake decorating. After looking online for product comparisons and reviews, I still wasn't sure which to go with. The final decision was made based on what I've seen the decorators use on Challenge, The Cake Boss and Ace of Cakes. The system should arrive next week, and I'm looking forward to playing, er, working with it. I've always wanted to do graffiti on a brick wall or train car (on a warm summer's evening on a train bound for nowhere, I met up with a gambler), and this should be similar and better tasting - even if it likely won't smell as good as spray paint.

The family reunion that I worked on over the weekend went well. The wife had told me that the reunion was going to be a very casual event, but we ended up going with white linens and fresh floral arrangements on every table and a huge spread of food. I've worked with her on a couple of other projects, and she always impresses me. These clients are also some of the nicest folks I've ever met (no, they don't read this in case you think I'm sucking up), and they have a way of making you feel like a million bucks when you talk to them. Based on their comments, you would have thought that I hung the moon or cured cancer instead of throwing linens on tables and baking. Since this blog is supposed to be about food (though someone told me I should change the name since I have so many song references), I'll discuss the desserts. I pulled an all-nighter (which really isn't that bad) to make miniature cinnamon bundt cakes, chocolate bundt cakes, chocolate chip cookies, iced sugar cookies and fresh fruit/lemon curd tarts.

In light of the previous paragraph, the oven has obviously been repaired. The repairman came last Wednesday and replaced the heating element in the main oven. He was in and out in about 30 minutes, and the oven works like a charm. In addition the repairman told me about a coupon in the telephone book that saved me $25 off of the bill. It was great service, and for those in the Tulsa area, I strongly recommend using the Maytag store at 71st & HWY 169.

Okay. It's late even for me, so I'll stop for now.

Happy Grubbing!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Holiday Is Over - Back To Life (back to reality)

'Twas a dark and stormy night (the thunder rolls, and the lightning strikes) when the worn and weary prodigal blogger returned to his laptop and logged in. It had been an extended holiday weekend with no school or significant obligations to speak of, yet the rambling blogger was quite exhausted and had little to say other than the fact that his four day weekend should have consisted of five days instead of the aforementioned four.

Yes, I'm back after the Easter weekend. We had no school on Friday of last week or yesterday, so it was a nice break - even if it did fly by. As far as class goes, you may recall that I mentioned another certification in the last post. That test was on Wednesday, and I passed. Somehow the review questions used for class discussions were straight from the actual exam, so it ended up being a breeze. Of the 75 questions on the exam, I had seen all but about five of them in advance. You say it was unethical, I say it was grace (potato, potahto), because it was certainly unmerited favor considering the fact that I neglected studying on my own time. In the end I made 100% on the exam and was baffled by those (yes, multiple) who failed in spite of having discussed the questions and answers in advance. Twice. Given my previous work experience I understand that some simply don't test well, but still. The questions and multiple choice answers were verbatim.

Today's return to class brought with it the start of a new course, International Breads, and a new instructor. The instructor, whose name I can't recall, is also new to the school. New as in today was his first full day, but he has already shown a very different view than that of our previous instructor. While the previous instructor had no tolerance for gum in the bakeshop, the new instructor asked if anyone had any, because he wanted a piece. While the previous instructor assigned homework each night, the new instructor isn't a fan of it and stated that he doesn't like or desire to grade our papers. As a result homework will be minimal for the next three weeks, and this is very good news. The most exciting thing about the new instructor, however, is that he believes in 45 minute lunches! My lunch buddy and I were able to catch up over a leisurely meal at Bueno without inhaling. On a less than positive note, the instructor has already shown his 'extensive' vocabulary. I suppose I'll become immune to it at some point, but I'm still amazed at the number of adults who think the use of profanity in common conversation is perfectly acceptable. Yes, I understand that I complained about this topic in the last post, that you're tired of hearing about it and I should let it go, so I'm moving on (I'm moving on. At last I can see, life has been patiently waiting for me). I just needed to say it one more time. That's all. Really. Maybe. Okay, For now.

There was also more bong talk today. Actually bong talk was taken to an entirely new level due to the fact that it came complete with visuals. While we were killing time and using salt dough to practice shaping breads and roses, one student decided to mold an oversized bong instead. This doesn't offend me. To each his (or her) own. It's just that part of me finds it sad that people I interact with on a daily basis consider such a lifestyle living when they have so much potential (that a life of great potential is dismissed, inconsequential...).

On a more positive note, the repairman is coming to inspect my oven tomorrow! Had I told you that it died? I think so. I need sleep and can't remember what I've told you. I started a new class with a new instructor today after a four day weekend. Just kidding. Hopefully the oven will be repaired with little expense involved. If it has had the biscuit (that's Canadian for 'can't be repaired' according to a good friend), I saw a beautiful oven at a local restaurant supply store today. Granted the new oven isn't for home use, but I lusted for it just the same. I could be so much more efficient with a professional oven. And a baker's rack/speed rack. After a few moments of staring and daydreaming, I wiped the drool from my chin and walked over to the digital scales and then made a small purchase. Most of the recipes from class are measured in weight, so the new inexpensive scale will come in handy.

Baking projects of a personal nature for the week aren't huge, but I've been retained to work on set up and desserts for a local family reunion this weekend. It isn't an elaborate event, but I do need a working oven. Pray that tomorrow's repairman is amazing. The rest of the month is pretty slow except for an order that came in earlier tonight. The order is for a 50th anniversary cake to be delivered in a few weeks.

That's really it for now. The pace of class will pick up tomorrow, but for tonight that's it - not to mention the fact that the sound of rain is putting me to sleep.

So until tomorrow (the sun will come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar...), happy grubbing.

PS - In case you're wondering what happy grubbing is, it's simple. It's a great meal shared with those you love. For example: the incredible spread that I was fortunate enough to enjoy at Mawmoo's on Easter was happy grubbing. Smoked ribs and ham, baked beans, coleslaw, corn, fried okra, mashed potatoes, deviled eggs, made from scratch hot rolls, butter and sweet tea. And dessert. As much as I enjoy and go on about Bueno, there is no happier grubbing than that done at a grandmother's table (grandma got ran over by a reindeer).