Tag Archives: Food

How To Make Chocolate Truffles, Fill A Pastry Bag and Temper Chocolate

Chocolate truffles have a decadent reputation, with good reason. For one, they are chocolate. The other main ingredient is heavy cream. Surprised? Here’s how you make them at home, for birthday presents, dinner parties, or cuz, you know, its Wednesday!

Chocolate Truffles
For the ganache centers:
1 lb good quality bittersweet chocolate
1 cup heavy cream
2 T light corn syrup
2 T butter, softened
2 T brandy, cognac, rum, cointreau, or other liquor to your taste

For the enrobing chocolate:
1 lb bittersweet chocolate
~2 cups cocoa powder

For the ganache middles:
Cut the chocolate up into small pieces and put in a bowl. Meanwhile, combine the heavy cream and the corn syrup in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate pieces and let sit, uncovered, until the chocolate is mostly melted, about 3 minutes, then stir to combine and any remaining chocolate lumps should melt away. Add the butter and the liquor and stir until everything is well combined. Pour the ganache onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and allow it to “set up” or harden slightly and lose its shine. Fill a pastry bag and pipe out the truffle centers. Here’s how to do that:

Once you have all of your middles piped out, place the cookie sheet, uncovered, into the refrigerator until the centers are completely firm, at least an hour.

Ganache Centers

The next step is to “enrobe” your centers, or dunk them in melted chocolate. You could just melt chocolate and dunk away, but if you want that characteristic crisp shell around your truffle you have to temper your chocolate. Tempering chocolate means that you have to heat the chocolate up to a temperature high enough to break the chocolate molecules and then cool it down to a temperature where the molecule start to form again in the shape that you want them, in this case truffle-shaped. At least I think that’s how it works. Here is an article from Fine Cooking magazine that explains the food science behind tempering chocolate.

How to temper chocolate:
You’ll need an instant read thermometer

1. Break your 1 pound of bittersweet chocolate up into small pieces and place in a glass bowl.

2. Microwave on High in 30 second increments until the chocolate is mostly melted, stirring at every stop. Then, switch to 10 second increments.

3. When the chocolate is melted, start taking its temperature at 10 second increments until it reaches between 110º and 120º. This is where the chocolate crystals break.

4. Next, you have to cool the chocolate down to between 91º and 87º. There are two ways to do this: stir and take the temperature every 10 seconds until the chocolate cools off on its own, or add “seed” chocolate. This is chocolate that has already been tempered and hardened again, and speeds the cooling process, but I am guessing that if this is your first tempering experience, you don’t have any seed chocolate laying around, so stir.

5. When the chocolate hits 91º it is “in temper” so start dunking! To do this, I drop a ganache center into the chocolate and press it down with a fork to completely coat it. Then, lift it out on the fork, let the excess chocolate drip off and drop into the cocoa powder. Toss GENTLY to coat and then use a slotted spoon to remove the truffle to a parchment-lined cookie sheet to continue to harden, no touching for at least 5 minutes.

6. Repeat until all the ganache centers are enrobed or you get bored – whichever comes first!

Truffle Mess!

This is messy and it takes a while but there are an infinite number of variations – change up the liquor in the ganache, or try rolling the truffles in toasted ground nuts or coconut – or both! So much more fun than going to the store and buying someone else’s creativity, don’t you think?!

Truffles

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Chicken Liver Paté

I’ve come to believe that the appeal of chicken livers lies deep in the psychic memory of one’s childhood. Either you dreaded being forced to eat them and they conjure memories of sitting in the dark at the table until the last bite was choked back, or, if you’re like me, your mouth waters with the scent-memory of onions sizzling in butter.

If your situation is the former, I encourage you to take another dip in the liver pool. (Sorry! I couldn’t resist!) I made this recipe for a lunch party and as promised, ladies, here is the recipe. Its easy and good for days spread on thinly sliced and toasted italian or french bread.

Chicken Liver Paté
4 T unsalted butter
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
6 chicken livers (the ones I bought came in a pint container. I used them all, drained, rinsed and patted dry with paper towel.) 
6 oz dry white wine 
4 oz good chicken stock
1 T tomato paste
1 anchovy fillet, finely chopped
2 T capers, finely chopped
1 sprig fresh thyme
salt & pepper

Italian bread, thinly sliced and toasted

1. In a large sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and sweat until just transparent, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the chicken livers and sear until lightly browned. Try to keep the livers in a single layer on the bottom of the pan.

3. Add the wine and cook until it reduces to being almost dry in the pan.

4. Add the chicken stock, tomato paste, anchovy, capers and thyme. Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.

5. Use a slotted spoon to move the chicken livers into the bowl of your food processor. Add about a half cup of the juice from the pan and pulse until smooth, adding liquid in small increments as necessary to get to the desired consistency…like peanut butter. (*optional, add a tablespoon or two of cognac or brandy at this point.)

6. Taste and add salt and pepper to your liking.

7. Refrigerate until cold. Serve with toast.

8. Use fancy Italian name to impress guests: Crostini di Fegatini.

Weekend Diary of the G&P

Mark & I are antsy for spring. We’ve got all of our seed catalogues and spend evenings pouring over heirloom herbs and vegetables to soon be planted in our backyard. Until the 50 degree days are here to stay (and turn into 70, 80, 90 degree days after that) we’ve been working hard to keep ourselves busy through late winter weekends. Here’s a recap of two days of food and exploration both close and far from home.

Saturday at Chelsea Market

I am a little embarrassed to say, as a New Yorker, foodie and aspiring chef, that I’ve only been to Chelsea Market once, and I didn’t “get it.” That was years ago and I was a different person, so forgive me for looking right through the culinary wonderland that lives on 9th Avenue in New York City.

The space is like I imagine Pike Place, a sort of indoor mall of food and kitchen purveyors. There were lots of tourists taking pictures, which leads me to believe that the Market is listed in guidebooks. It’s a block long and houses about 15 shops, some super unique, some selling the same stuff as the guys next door.

What brought me here, and Mark, and our friends Aleka and George, was a presentation done in my and Aleka’s culinary class on a product called Nduja. Chris, who gave the presentation, was very humble and self-effacing about her history with this stuff. Her elderly great aunt smuggled it into this country on visits from Calabria before just one purveyor started to make their own in this country. Chris gave a dubious explanation as to why it can’t be imported, but like many tales of elder relatives, it was lost in translation. No worries though if you live in or near New York City. 

Nduja (ahn-DOO-yah) is a spreadable pork salami whose proper production relies on 1/3 of the weight of the sausage be hot peppers, pepperoncino, in italiano. Traditionally, the pork, lots of pork fat and peppers are ground so that the emulsion is creamy and spreadable, but still chunky and recognizable as meat, fat and pepper. Its stuffed into a pig’s bladder and smoked. Once you bring it home, it has an indefinite shelf life, upwards of a year, but I dare you to make it last a week. We bought this, a hunk of fresh asiago, and peach tea from San Marzano from Buon Italia. Its on the left, about two-thirds deep into the market. Walk all the way to the back of the store and talk to the butcher.

After buying Nduja, we realized we needed bread, and Amy’s Bread, was right down the way. Its odd in this day to find a bakery that does both bread and sweets, and from the looks of the display, equally well. We passed on the chocolate ganache tarts, however and just got a baguette. A perfect crunchy crust protecting a yeasty soft core that, spread with salami and topped with a creamy slice of asiago, made for a lovely Valentine’s Day carpet picnic.

After an unremarkable lunch at Hale & Hearty Soup, we ventured into the Bowery Kitchen Supply and I could get married all over again, just to register there. The prices were perfect and the tools on sale were both practical and weird – who needs a carrot curler, anyway? They had funky knife bags from Yak Pak and if you bring your knives in on Saturdays or Wednesdays, a surly woman, perhaps of eastern European descent will sharpen them for you. I asked her what she thought it would cost for a 10″ chef’s knife that’s not in too bad shape, but could use a professional hand. “Perhaps $6. I have not seen it, but from what you told me, $6. But don’t quote me.” 

Housed in the same store is L’Arte Del Gelato. Mark and I split two scoops, one of chocolate chile pepper and one of banana chocolate chip. More on this in a bit…

After filling up with freebie chocolates we left, full and happy, and thoroughly enjoyed our Valentine’s Day.

Sunday in Camden, Philadelphia and Princeton

 

Peasant & Shark

Peasant & Shark

We didn’t exactly know how today was going to unfold, except that we made the decision to go to Adventure Aquarium before reading that President’s Day weekend was the busiest weekend of the year. Normally around this time, we throw a couple of bathing suits and our snorkeling gear into a backpack and go camping in the National Park on St. John. This year, I’m in school and jeez plane tickets have gotten expensive! So we decided that the Caribbean Currents exhibit would have to suffice for Winter ’09. 

In my estimation, we were the only people there without kids. Mark claims he saw another couple who had yet to populate the earth, but there were literally thousands of families with mostly little kids, though there were some sour-looking teenagers trying not to enjoy the lucite tube through the sharks’ tank. The place smelled like baby wipes and cheerios. 

Adventure Aquarium is pretty true to its name. The sign should read “ADVENTURE aquarium” and “Warning: Spongebob Squarepants will be piped into every exhibit” which he was, god love him. Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? Absorbent and yellow and porous is he!

Enough!

About the aquarium: its located in Camden, NJ which Mark described as potentially the most violent city in the US, after we took a wrong turn and the detour found us in what looked like a movie set of generic, broken down neighborhood. White Cadillac straddling the double yellow line? Check. Broken pavement littered with broken glass? Check. Eerie lack of pedestrians, and boarded up buildings surrounded by empty lots, check, check and check. 

The intention of the Aquarium was to “revitalize” the Camden waterfront and is a failure at that. It’s more like they’ve built an aquarium-themed park outside of the “bad” part of town, and charge twenty bucks a head to keep the riffraff out. The displays are cute, Spongebob abounds, but they are big on adventure and small on aquarium. If you are going for science, try Boston. 

By 2pm we were starving and I had googled “gastropub philadelphia” before we left Jersey City. Two promising results were returned and after looking at their websites, we had settled on the Kite & Key. I’m going to be really critical of them because its clear that they really care about their place and I want them to do just a little bit better because they are so close to being awesome.

Pros:
Extensive, eclectic beer menu
Cool laid back ambiance
Perfect price point

Cons:
The food. It wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination bad, in fact, it was really good, but it would be so easy to make some simple changes to make it great. For instance, list what comes with entrées. Maybe we are just jaded New York eaters, but when a menu doesn’t specify that a sandwich comes with fries, it means that it doesn’t. Especially when fries are listed as a side dish. We ended up with 2 orders of fries, one on Mark’s plate, next to the pulled pork sandwich, and one in a big bowl on the side. My fish tacos didn’t come with fries, and I couldn’t figure out why not.

We ordered the “cajun fries” as a side, but the seasoning was prepackaged, and was BBQ flavor – not cajun. Also, tossing the fries with the spice before plating would ensure an even coating. BUT the spicy (was it chipotle?) mayo was delicious.

Finally, avocados are cheap in the winter! Its a sin to use mass-produced guacamole in a tub when just a little extra time, and perhaps a huge savings in food cost, would mean housemade guac. Its worth the effort. If not, pull it from the menu because the store bought stuff sucks.

I loved the Kite & Key because it looks a lot like the place I hope to open someday. A couple of passionate people on a DIY budget – just fix the details and you’ll be awesome.

We departed Philly and headed, slightly out of the way, for Princeton, where we knew The Bent Spoon would revive us mid-roadtrip home. If you read Hanging Out With Farmers, you’ll know we got free samples at the NOFA conference a few weeks ago. I hadn’t forgotten the mascarpone-lavender flavor and when we got to the teeny, adorable storefront, the place was packed. It was freezing cold, yet artisan ice cream knows no temperature. Amazingly, for $7 we got four generous scoops of ice cream in two small cups. In mine, Honey and Earl Grey; in Mark’s, Coffee with Cocoa Nibs and Dark Chocolate. 

How do you say heaven on a spoon? Seriously. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I would give up bad ice cream and periodically drive 40 miles to eat at The Bent Spoon. I wish I was kidding because all ice cream will forever pale in comparison. Ok, maybe not all. There’s Taylor’s in Chester, NJ. That’s many miles in the opposite direction. There’s the gelataria outside Paestum in Italy that I’ll forever remember. And the gelataria, oddly in Placencia, Belize.

Then there’s the difference between gelato and ice cream. I am planning a detailed research project. PLEASE recommend your favorite makers, who either ship or are within a day’s drive of New Jersey and I’ll report the sweet results in time for summer.

All right, I’ve chewed your ear off enough. I’m off to grill some burgers. Enjoy the long weekend and remember that all your stories are in the making. xo.

Chili For A Cold Winter’s Night

In culinary school, we’ve been braising and stewing large, primal and sub-primal cuts of meat. This week, I had Osso Bucco and Oxtail for the first time. I loved both. Long, slow, moist cooking renders even the toughest meat, like beef cheeks, tender and juicy.

You can tell a cut of meat’s tenderness by how active the muscle was in life. The top loin of a cow, the part of your T-bone steak that isn’t the filet mignon, doesn’t do a whole lot of active work in life. It sort of passively allows the cow to stand and move its legs to walk, and therefore the loin is a tender cut. A tail does a whole lot of swooshing and the cheeks do a whole lot of cud chewing, resulting in strong muscle and therefore a tough cut of meat. 

I am excited to perfect my techniques, and promise to share them with you in the future, but for tonight, I rummaged through the freezer and alas, came upon no cross-cut veal shanks. I do however, have ten pounds of ground, grassfed, organic beef care of my parents cow-share.

A quick word on cow shares. If you want to know that your beef, in life, lived the way god intended and ate grass and breathed air without the company of thirty thousand other cows, you can buy a whole cow, or a share in a cow, from a local farmer. As you may know I am passionate about knowing where my meat comes from. If not, click here. Google search “cow share” and not only will you get information on cow, but also on milk, but that’s a whole other story.

Ok, so I’m making chili, which like tomato sauce or chocolate chip cookies, there are a million variations and everyone thinks that their’s is right. I don’t, I just think its damn good.

Chili 
grapeseed oil
1 onion, diced 
kosher salt
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 T dried thyme
1 T chili powder
1 T dried red pepper flakes
2 tsp ground cumin  
2 tsp ground coriander 
2 chipotle chiles, seeds removed and chopped
2 lbs ground beef
2 cans tomatoes (diced, whole, chopped, whatever, doesn’t matter)

In a heavy-bottomed pot large enough to hold all the ingredients, pour in grapeseed oil to coat the bottom. Heat the oil over medium-high until it shimmers, then add the onions. Add a generous tsp of salt and toss to coat with oil. Sweat the onions until they just begin to soften, then add the garlic. Cook a minute or two more, until the garlic is fragrant. Add the dried spices and stir allowing the flavors to bloom. Add the chipotles and stir. Cook two minutes. Add the beef and cook, stirring occasionally until it is all browned. Add the tomatoes, stir to combine, and bring to a boil. Lower the temperature to simmer and cover. (Careful here. Covering the pan holds in heat so it requires less burner power to maintain a simmer than if it was left uncovered.) 

Simmer the chili for 1 hour, stirring occasionally and monitoring that it is just simmering and not boiling away. After an hour, check the seasoning (aka saltiness) and adjust as necessary. Continue to cook another hour. Check seasoning. Remove cover, simmer 30 minutes more, skimming any fat (the oil slick you may or may not see) as necessary.

Serve over rice.

Optional garnishes:
shredded cheddar cheese
sliced green onions
sour cream
sliced avocado or guacamole
diced onions
diced caramelized onions
hot sauce of your choice

Stay warm and hearty!

Hands-on Learning to Cook

When I started out, I was prepared to provide a hands-on account of what its like to go to culinary school. Partially to educate you, but also to do some reflection on the experience. What I am discovering is that it is incredibly difficult to put into words because so much of the learning is hands-on and visual. I sat down to write every night last week and just couldn’t articulate what it was like. Frustrating, as a writer, but more educational to a would-be chef than I could ever qualify in a quippy paragraph or two. Here are some highlights:

• Making Mirepoix
Mirepoix is a French combination of onion, celery and carrot that is the basis for myriad stocks, soups, braises and the like. The Cajun equivalent, the “Holy Trinity” of onion, celery and green bell peppers, serves the same purpose: learn this, and you can cook nearly everything.

mh_jacksonpollock2So, why French? I had a long conversation last Saturday with my friend Brad about why it is that French technique is so pervasive. I think of it much like art. Jackson Pollack, Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko, all did something that after the fact everyone could look and say, well, I could have done that. And well, yeah you probably could have. The thing is they recorded it first. They didn’t do it first, or maybe they did, but I imagine that every culinary culture in  a temperate climate was experimenting with something that resembled mirepoix (MEER-pwah.) The French named it and popularized it before anyone got around to scratching out what they were doing, and it was a really good idea. I could create a mushroom, butter and chocolate syrup base for lots of meals, but it probably wouldn’t catch on. Read up on Brillat-Savarin and Escoffier if you are truly excited by the history of Le Cuisine Francais, or shoot me an email and we can chat about it because the stories light the pilot light in my soul.

• Knowing how to handle your meat
My father was a commercial fisherman, and I’ve watched him fillet (fill-EH) millions of fish, open clams, scallops and oysters, many of which I helped to catch, butcher chickens and rabbits, and turn a deer into a year’s worth of venison in the freezer. The thing is, my dad is a kind of perfectionist. Having been a middle school teacher, I’ve learned to accept that the first couple of times you ask someone to do something, they will fail. Miserably. My dad, looking for Martha-quality cuts the first time around took the knife to “show me how to do it.” So I got to watch thousands of striped bass and little necks find their way to the serving platter, but before this week, I had never actually done it for myself.

However, I opened my big mouth and so everyone in class knew I was a fisherman’s daughter who grew up raising chickens, so there was a lot of pressure to know what I was doing. I was elected “team captain” to make sure my group was doing it right, which was perfect, because I’m real good at observing. But like any new student, I butchered my fish. Not in a good way. In a “…well, we can put that piece in the soup” kind of way. And it felt great.

Go to the fish market, buy some whole fish, youtube some videos and get slimy. It feels great! Do it with a chicken, a rabbit, and fear not! It will still taste good, even if you mangle your first attempts. Like anything else, it takes practice.

• The Perfect “Dice”
In my toolkit came, oh how to describe this. OK, picture a 3″ square platform of stiff plastic on which is mounted plastic models of the fine french cuts, which require precise knife skills. We in class call it our “fake food.”

A “medium dice” is exactly a 1/2″ cube. Like Chef says in class, God didn’t make vegetables into cubes, so it is your knife skills that turn a potato into perfect cubes. Or celery. Most celery is not 1/2″ in any dimension, so your knife skills have to make it happen. Leeks, shallots, garlic… make it happen.

Its not mean, there is no yelling, but there is an expectation that you will strive for the perfect dice. Its not the final product, but exhibiting the patience and diligence to be willing every morning to try for the perfect dice. Its a Zen-Sisyphean undertaking and I love it.

Ok, so what about the cooking?

Here’s what I did with some fillets of fish and zen cut leeks:

Panko Fried Flounder with Caramelized Leeks
For the fish:
1 cup grapeseed oil (or vegetable, or corn, but not olive. It burns before it gets hot enough to fry)
4 flounder fillets
1 egg
2 T whole milk
1 T sea salt
1 T freshly ground white pepper
1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

For the leeks:
2 large leeks, sliced thin and washed well (wash after slicing in a few changes of cold water, allowing any grit to settle to the bottom of the washing basin. Lift the leeks out, drain, repeat. Don’t dump the grit back over the leeks when draining.)
2 T butter
2 T olive oil
1 medium shallot, minced
1/2 cup white vermouth

To cook the fish:
Heat the oil in a pan that the oil fills about a 1/4″ deep. In a wide, shallow bowl, mix together the egg, milk, salt and pepper, like you were making an omelet. Tear a piece of wax paper into a large square and dump on the panko. One fillet at a time, dunk the fish into the egg, and then coat with the breadcrumbs, using the wax paper to help you coat. Set aside on a plate until you are ready to fry.

To cook the leeks:
Wash the leeks very well. In a large skillet, over medium-high heat, melt the butter, with the olive oil. When hot, add the shallot and sautée until they are very soft. Add the leeks and toss to coat with the butter. Add the vermouth and turn the heat down to medium-low. Let cook slowly, stirring only occasionally until the leeks are very soft and some start getting very dark brown.

Bring it all together:
Fry your fish in hot oil, in two batches (more if necessary) about 3 minutes per side. The panko should be just starting to turn golden. Move onto a piece of brown paper bag from the supermarket (no printihttp://ng ink) that you have placed on a rack in a 200 degree oven. This absorbs any excess oil. Repeat until all the fish is cooked. Serve the fillets with a heaping pile of the caramelized leeks and a squeeze of citrus juice, if you have it.

My First Day of School

Whenever I see pictures of so-and-so’s first day of school, I think Great. Another high school acquaintance found me, friended me and has added me to their list of people who care about so-and-so getting on the school bus. Yes, yes. I love kids. I was a teacher. Someday Mark & I will have a brood of our own. But for today, it is my first day of school. Again.

I’ve had several “first days of school” before. The usual ones, a first day of art school, which was on purpose, and a first day of teaching school, which was for all intents and purposes, an accident. Thank you 9/11.

Ok, so there I was, a few months back, knowing I was a creative person, knowing that New York City schools are too fucked up for me to teach in. Knowing that I didn’t want to sit behind a desk for the rest of my professional career, and feeling like I could look around and see so many people who had figured out what they want to do with their lives. I was wrong, and I think most people are figuring it out as they go along, but I was just stuck. I couldn’t take the chance to exhale to admit that I’d made some pretty poor choices, and begin to figure it out. I felt like a failure because I hadn’t gotten “it” like everyone else.

In a past professional iteration, I commuted 3 hours in each direction, to have basically nothing to do. In another, I loved what I did but it was like the movie Groundhog’s Day. (Remember? With Bill Murray?) In another, I devoted my whole being to what I was doing to be told I was “completely replaceable.” Ouch. These were all in my grown-up years, post schooling and so I was trying to fit into the mold. 401k, dental, taxes, etc. The thing is, I never fit into any mold. Ever. I dyed my hair pink with Kool Aid because Manic Panic hadn’t been invented yet. But grown ups are supposed to fit into molds and build safe, stable lives for themselves. Right? Maybe you, but not me.

Now what? I started with books with titles like “The Anti 9-5 Girls Guide: Practical Career Advice For Women Who Think Outside the Cube,” Money & the Meaning of Life, and A New Earth, and websites like www.mylifeinacube.com and lots of therapy. I’m not kidding. It really took (and takes) an hour with Evelyn every week to remind myself that its okay that I don’t fit into the mold I thought I was supposed to fit into. There are other molds out there.

A quick story. When I first started seeing Evelyn, I was crying and begging for her to tell me how people knew that they were doing the right thing with their lives. I was having an existential crisis. My beloved Grandfather had died two weeks before I got married and changed my name. Enough to send anyone to the couch. I was fixated on finding a career path like some friends of mine fixate on finding a husband. I found me one of them, but the idea of spending the rest of my life explaining what a PDF file meant sent me into whirls of anxiety and frightening depression. So on this particular day, I’m begging Evelyn to tell me the secret that everyone else knows but I must have gone to the ladies when it was announced. And you know, she said the most frustrating thing. She said that I already knew. And that when I cleared away all the anxiety and depression and accumulated garbage and failed expectations, it would be sitting in my mind like it was in the middle of an empty room.

And, in a nutshell, that’s exactly what happened. I came home for the nth night crying about “the sands of my life falling through the hourglass” and decided to make chicken stock. And as I was chopping this onion, all of a sudden, it was there. That’s it. That’s what I want to do. In all the dark, sad days with all the change and loss and gain and upheaval I return to my knives. And my onions. I love to cook. And unlike other professions, if I try and fail, at least I won’t go hungry.

Ok, so there it was sitting in the middle of the room just like Evelyn said. Now what? Culinary school?! Are you NUTS?! That’s like $35 grand! I know I’ll save it up. I’ll work, pay off my credit cards, then save up the money and then I’ll go. One more day of cubicle dwelling was all I needed to see for sure that that would never work. So I spent a few days, two, three tops, researching New York culinary schools, found two that looked promising, and chose one for a variety of very practical reasons. Money was not one of them. I came to the conclusion that what money I had would never be enough. That there will always be another debt, and that if Sallie Mae would lend me the money, it was an amount that, compared with what I had without the debt, was priceless. Then I was getting fitted for a chef’s jacket.

Anticipating that it would feel like camp was exactly right. There are big stoves and pots and a proofer and a salamander and other things I’ve never even seen before. Here’s a pic of my new tools:

img_0537

And I’m so excited to keep you posted on techniques, recipes, learning experiences and et cetera. And here’s my new life, in the making.

Blue Cheese Stuffed Burgers & Culinary School

Culinary school starts in a week. Have I mentioned that I am going in to culinary school? Its pretty awesome. Prohibitively expensive, had it not been for dear old Aunt Sallie Mae, before she froze all assets. Remember? Back before the meltdown, when she was still all like “I can charge 13% interest!” These are things I don’t think about. Instead, I imagine that instead of buying an entry-level BMW, I bought a whole new life.

I’ve learned a few things about myself in recent times, and sitting behind a desk is not something I can do to make a living. Even if I really good at it, it just isn’t in my blood. So I redefined what I mean when I say “I’m a creative person.” I used to believe that this meant that I had unique solutions to problems. As it turns out, that’s only half the story. The other part is I actually have to create things, where there was nothing before. Not in like a God way, but in an apple+butter+sugar+flour=Apple Pie Bars. Or ball of yarn=homemade holidays. Or what might I do with that left over blue cheese? Unique solution! Put it inside the burger. Ok, so maybe I read that somewhere in a magazine, but I thought of it at the right time.

So, I plan to keep you posted on the culinary school adventure. Primarily, was it worth all that money when the only thing I’m even a little sure of is that I don’t want to be a chef. Not in the Anthony Bourdain way, anyway. Maybe in the private chef in an island villa kind of way though.

In the meantime, fire up the grill and make these:

Blue Cheese Stuffed Burgers
2 lbs ground sirloin
1 egg
1 T cajun spices (you can mix up your own concoction. I used something called “Slap Yo’ Mama Cajun Seasoning”)
1/4 lb really good blue cheese, cut into 4 slices (I used what we got from Lively Run Dairy in the Finger Lakes. If you can find goat’s milk blue cheese, use it, otherwise, Roquefort or some other stinky, furry thing will work.)

4 bakery-style rolls

In a large bowl, mix the beef, egg and spices until just combined. Divide into for portions and make 4 big meatballs. Use your index finger to hollow out the middle of a meatball, slip a hunk of cheese inside, and reseal the hole. Press the meatball into a patty, making sure you don’t expose any of the cheese, and repeat three more times for the remaining meatballs.

Cook over a medium-hot charcoal grill until done to your liking. Keep in mind though, the cheese has to melt, so if you like your burgers medium-rare, and that usually means 4 minutes per side, add a minute or two to the cooking time to ensure gooey cheese centers.

When cooked, move the burgers to a plate and let the rest for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, toast your buns over the charcoal. Put the burgers on their buns, and slice in half to reveal the centers. Serve with whole grain mustard, ketchup and hot sauce.