I Am … Cooked

Caroline & I

It all started with a bright-eyed, hansomely adorable French chef who, when saying “pear” it sounded more like “bear” and when describing the process of using a “moo-zaar” to start the vingear-making process, it took us a few turns to understand that we were discussing starting a “mother“. I remember the first night of culinary school, 1 short year ago. I remember the feeling of childhood excitement but also the intense worry and nervousness reminiscent of publicly reciting my thesis in a crowded audiotorium. I remember not knowing how or understanding why I’d gotten myself into that unaccustomed situation – why I’d decided to go to school for the third time or why I’d chosen to remove three nights of free time from my schedule. And today, I still don’t understand why I chose to go to culinary school, for I have a career, a great job, and was quite happy as-is. Sure, I do love to cook, but I can cook at home without knowing what a zabaione is and without knowing how to make challah from scratch.

Chef Pierre Pollin

But there was something missing. An urge to learn more. A desire to learn to make zabaione and challah, and who knew if I’d ever use that knowledge, and who cared. I wanted to know it. I wanted to experience it. I wanted an excuse to leave my work behind, if only after hours. I wanted to be taught by the best chefs around, and I wanted to accomplish a feat that had me transfixed from the start. I wanted to become a ‘real chef’. Just for the fun of it. And fun it was.

blueberry muffins gone bad

It all started with the bâtonnet: 1/4 x 1/4 x 2 inch cuts of carrots and whatever else we could get our eager knife-wielding hands on. And then julienne (1/8″) which, when cut into cubes becomes brunoise. And my least favorite – the tournée. Who, besides the French, really cares about football-shaped vegetables? I surely did not – my stews are just fine with cubes, please and thank you. But I figured it out long enough to pass the practical.

spice bread

And two quarters later, after Chef Pierre taught us to cook without measuring, to ‘taste & season’, and to adjust as needed, we entered the realm of baking and pastry. A class for the scientifically-minded (yes, me – on some days), we learned about yeast and gluten formation, and we learned the difference between baking sodas and powders, bread and pastry flours, the intricacies of baking, of measuring precisely, and of totally screwing things up. I managed to, with Caroline’s help, botch some blueberry muffins a couple of times, but we also made some killer bread, layer cakes, and pies along the way.

puff pastry from scratch

And although I never took the French bistro class, I did make that daunting zabaione and drizzled it over some summer berries. After all, what better time to learn how to make it than on your practical?

The final quarter consisted of lectures and a class about healthy cooking. We got to construct our own virtual business from name to business concept to timeline. I made a trendy bed & breakfast in Chicago called ‘Marmalade’. Along the way, I realized that virtual wasn’t so virtual after all – and if I had it my way, I’d open that B&B in a heartbeat. And I’d sell the mess outta some marmalade all the while.

mussel with kamut

I learned how to cook with grains I’ve never heard of. I learned more about gluten-free cooking and as productive as it was not, I learned how to make tofu from scratch. Chef Sara taught us that cooking isn’t always about cream and butter (although both are tasty), and she taught us with enthusiasm and a sense of humor that many instructors forget. To keep in tune with our failed blueberry muffins from baking class, we (Caroline & I – yes, joined at the hip in every class) also made it a point to muck up a tofu-based blueberry cake which looked surprisingly great on paper and smelled excellent in the oven. It appears blueberries are not our baking forte.

blueberry gluten-free cake and such

And maybe we won’t be making blueberry muffins or even blueberry cakes. Shoot – if we know what’s good for us, we will steer clear of those little berries from here on out – both of us! But we definitely will not steer clear of one another, for we’ve really constructed an awesome friendship along the way.

tofu from scratch

So yes, after 1 short year, after three nights each week of intense cooking, tasting and re-tasting, botching some recipes and near-perfecting others, and lecturing and testing, I am finished. I have my nights back and will be home before 11:15 PM every night of the week. I am a graduate – again. But this time, this time I went to school for me – not out of necessity, not out of urgency, and not with any clear idea of what I’d do at the end of this. I did it because I wanted to.

Some things never change 🙂


Classic Zabaione w/ Fresh Berries
Serves 2

1 lb fresh berries, your call
3 egg yolks
3 T Marsala or other liquor/liqueur (Madeira, Port, Grand Marnier, etc)
2 T water
1.5 T sugar

Divide berries into two serving dishes. Whisk remaining ingredients in medium metal bowl and place over larger saucepan of simmering water (don’t let bowl touch water). Whisk constantly until mixtures becomes thick and foamy, ~5 minutes if whisking briskly. Drizzle over berries.

*Chef Pollin pic courtesy of Maggie’s blog via Michael & Kenna’s blog

Challah If You Like Hot Buns!

gorgeous challah bread

I’m afeard that I may have started a trend. A trend of me showing off our baking successes (and failures, as you remember from the first episode). I’m really sorry – but when you’re in school 3 nights a week it doesn’t leave much time to prepare bloggable recipes from home.

You may think that Chris is upset about this – having been spoiled for a few weeks while school was out by having fresh dinner AND lunch leftovers practically every day. He isn’t. He may even be happier – happier because he wins brownie points by sharing his treasures with coworkers instead of eating home-made meals in front of everyone while they scarf down a Leany Cuisiney or something less healthy like McDonalds. Now, invite him to Chicken Planet for lunch and my food gets tossed back in the fridge for tomorrow. But at least while Baking&Pastry 101 is in session, he can bring some fresh baked goodies for everyone to gnaw on. And who needs lunch when you have bread anyway?

soon to be english muffinsgrilling muffinsyummy english muffins

Last week, week 2 of the quarter, was two long nights full of yeast, proofing, and scoring. Bread that is. Lean bread. We made baguettes two different ways (with and without fermenting overnight), and I got the pleasure of kneading dough for about an hour for a huge football-shaped loaf of 4 grain bread. Felt like even longer. Needless to say, I had some pain in my right palm for a couple of days. But that bread was lookin’ mighty fine. The tastiest treat of all last week was the focaccia bread with rosemary. De-lish. And I almost forgot – English muffins! My friend Emily blogged about english muffins recently. I’m not sure how she made them without coming to our class but hers looked yummy too! English muffins provide instant gratification – you cook them in a skillet rather than bake them, so you don’t have to stare at the oven and count down the minutes until its ready. If I remember correctly, everything last week came out pretty good. I have a freezer full of bread as proof. 🙂

4 grain breadbaked 4 grainrosemary foccacia

Monday night we finished up our bread-making extravaganza. Instead of lean breads, we kicked it into high gear and made enriched breads. Basically, it means good ol’ fatty bread that have eggs, milk, butter in any combination. We made milk bread, hot cross buns, and challah. Challah is by far my favorite bread. {And no – it is not pronounced challah. The c is silent as any good Jewish person will tell you.} Since we were braiding the bread, we each made our own loaf and did 4 strand braids. I think, one day, I might try to fancy it up a bit and do some more strands. And I’m going to knead with my stand mixer at home – because I can. And because I’m a wimp and I just can’t knead for an hour. The braids look mighty fancy don’t they? And every morsel is a mouthfull of chewy goodness. Take my word for it. If you’re super nice (and live nearby) – you might one day be lucky enough to receive a batch (minus a bite or two…. just to make sure it’s good). OR – maybe I’ll make you some french toast a la Wetzel. Which is essentially – french toast, with challah.

braiding challahready to bakepretty challah

While not the superstar that is challah bread, we did make some other tasty treats. I find it odd that my only memory of hot cross buns is that song. And of that, all I remember is “hot cross buns, hot cross buns” and then something about a penny. But apparently it’s a bread that is made with currants and raisins (sometimes candied citrus) and traditionally eaten on Good Friday. Although ours didn’t, they generally have a cross across the top. And when you serve them hot, you get Hot – Cross – Buns. Voila! Have you ever heard of milk bread? Me neither – but we made that too. The buns were made by rolling three balls and putting them in muffin tins. As you can see, we had big balls. Done & done.

dinner rollshot cross buns

For recipes, I’ll post my two favorites: focaccia & challah and will try to post the recipes in the “at home” style. If you’re interested in the other bread recipes, just challah!!


Adapted from Professional Baking, 5th EditionAdapted from Professional Baking, 5th Edition

Water – 8 oz
Yeast, fresh – 0.75 oz
Bread flour – 1 lb, 4 oz
Egg Yolks – 4 oz
Sugar – 1.5 oz
Malt syrup – 0.13 oz
Salt – 0.4 oz (2 tsp)
Vegetable oil – 2 oz


Mixing: begin with water and add yeast. Add yolks, oil, and syrup. Add some bread flour, then add sugar, then more bread flour, then salt. Continue mixing and kneading (either by hand or in stand mixer) until dough springs back. (If using stand mixer, mix ~10 minutes on second speed). You may need less or more flour, but do not mix to overdry.

Fermentation: 1 1/2 hours at 80 degrees (an oven that is barely on)

Makeup: Refer to any google site. Here is a good youtube video for braiding a challah loaf with six strands. For class, we did four strands.

Baking: 400 degrees (~30 minutes; but check often with oven light)

Herb Focaccia
Adapted from Professional Baking, 5th Edition

Sponge: water, 6 oz; yeast (fresh) 0.12 oz; flour 8 oz
Flour – 1lb, 4oz
Water 14 oz
Yeast – 0.12 oz
Salt – 0.5 oz
Olive oil – 1 oz
Rosemary & sea salt (to liking)

Mixing: Sponge method – combine water, then yeast, then flour. Do not knead.

1st ferment: sponge for 8-16 hours at 70 degrees

2nd mixing: mix water, yeast, flour, salt (salt last) and combine with sponge. Knead until dough springs back quickly.

2nd ferment: all dough for 30 minutes at 80 degrees

Makeup: Scale at 3 lb for each half-size sheet pan. oil pans with olive oil. roll and stretch dough into pan to fit. if dough does not give, let it rest for a few minutes. proof again in oven until doubled in thickness. Top each with olive oil. with fingertips, poke holes heavily at regular intervals into dough. spring with fresh chopped rosemary and sea salt.

Baking: 400 degrees for ~30 minutes