Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Salad Days

I've heard people use this term. Mostly older folks in reference to the time in their lives when they were young, carefree, and blissfully in love. I must admit, I never really understood it. Salad is boring in comparison to say, eclairs, but its pleasing in so many ways. I AM young, carefree & blissfully in love. So, I try to take care of myself, and my new husband too!

My new favorite salad dressing was a complete accident: guava vinaigrette. Side note: I've been trying to consume less processed foods...short ingredients list. If I cant pronounce it, don't eat it (Beware, my beloved Hagan Daas dark chocolate ice cream has only 5 ingredients, but don't be deceived, its evil). Ever looked at the ingredient list for salad dressing? I bet, 15+! Good news, any homemade vinaigrette is easy once you know the basic formula.
Basic Vinaigrette formula: 1 part acid to 3 parts oil
The start for every vinaigrette, yet sometimes I use slightly less oil than this ratio. It goes something like this:
* Create a base of flavor: For the guava viniagrette I used guava jelly (which we just happened to have in the fridge), minced shallot, salt & pepper.
* Add an acid: I used lime juice for this one (but vinegar or other citrus fruit can work)
* Whisk in oil: high quality olive oil will really shine here! Drizzle it in slowly while whisking until desired viscosity (thickness) is achieved.
* Season to taste.
Once you get the basic formula, you can substitute other ingredients as needed. Sometimes, its nice to include an emulsifier (an ingredient that stabilizes an emulsion: the union of un-blendable ingredients). For example, Dijon mustard is perfect for a lemon vinaigrette. For the guava dressing, the jam will thicken the dressing to the desired point.
Tip: Make the salad dressing at the bottom of the serving bowl, then layer the salad on top
With the liquid on the bottom, you can layer all other ingredients on top. Salad greens, layers of toppings, then toss just before service.
Try Sweet Stuff too!
Adding a sweet element is an easy way to balance the acid in vinaigrettes. Ripe mango & blueberries, watermelon, strawberries, dried fruit, candied nuts...use whats available and fresh! Culinary school focuses on method rather than recipes. Simple cooking ratios are way more empowering, giving you the chance to be creative!
Ingredients matter! Use the good stuff!
Raw ingredients really shine in simple preparations. Ripe summer heirloom tomatoes, aged balsamic vinegar, high quality olive oil (I used a meyer lemon olive oil on this one)...use the good stuff here!

No uncharted culinary territory here, rather a return to the basics.
Nourishing & satisfying, colorful & pretty too...I'm loving the salad days. Happy Summer :)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Adventures of a Kitchen Slave pt 9, the Emancipation

The Emancipation of a Kitchen Slave

Twelve months ago, I set foot into a professional kitchen as a paid employee for the very first time. My pristine chef's coat (among other things!) gave away my inexperience. I can't help but giggle when I look at it now, stained & showing my every battle with avocados, tuna, and worse. My arms look different now, scarred with multiple burns, which I've grown to think look pretty bad ass. My feet? I try not to look, just let my pedicure lady do that for me, show the wear of ungodly amount of hours spent standing. I wanted to find out if this crazy life that I read about in Kitchen Confidential was for me. Turns out, I'm just psychotic enough...this fast paced demanding job and ridiculous schedule, coupled with balls-out celebration after a job well done, is something that I can do, and do well.

Comparing my first day to my last is comical. I spent hours organizing the walk-in or making pico de gallo, something I can hammer out in 30 min now. I wasn't even confident in operating an industrial opener. My last day, I held down a busy station on a Summer Saturday...with a smile on my face. Yep, surprised me too.

I am in love with my completely crazy co-workers. I have encountered nothing but kindness, a willingness to help, a capacity for teaching. I am forever grateful of the amazing people I've met a Hotel Laguna...those who complimented me on improvement, those who helped me when I was "in the shits" (it was called "in the weeds" when I was a server in college, but I truly think this is a better descriptor), and those who nothing made happier than hearing me say naughty words (you know who you are). It was a far cry from Gymboree, but an amazing ride!

I accomplished more in the last year than I ever thought possible, on a sheer number of hours basis, and a growth through learning one too! I must admit, though, my honeymoon in Hawaii did something to me...made me realize there is a world out there that I've been absent from. I'm taking this summer, between semesters of culinary school, as a bit of a sabbatical...a chance to be a newlywed, to travel, to eat, to cook MY food. My enthusiasm is growing, not waning. I'm honing my skills on my break. I will continue to cook, to eat, and write (blowing a kiss in my mind to Tony Bourdain).

Sometimes, love manifests in strange ways. Deserving of the "whip cream special", my last night was nothing less than memorable. I'm aware of this restaurant tradition, and even brought a change of clothes. But, nothing prepared me for hearing "blue team, go", just before getting attacked from both sides.