Journal of a Poor Culinary Student

Started by Ryven, March 23, 2011, 02:04:43 PM

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So, as some of you may know, I like to cook, and if you know me well, you know I love to bake.  Anything I have to mix up, roll out, fold in, pour out, and then put in the oven is where it's at for me.  That's pretty much what this is going to be all about.  I will also be chronicling my experiences in culinary school as I will be there for quite some time.  Around double the time a full-time student would take for various reasons, but c'est la vie.

I do welcome comments and encouragement.  I will put the resource or recipe I use for anything I make and post about at the end of each post dealing with an actual dish.  I'm probably not going to come up with anything too original with recipes since I am pretty new at the learning part.  I want to get comfortable with the techniques and experience with the food before I venture out and begin to try new combinations or styles.

That being said, I hope you enjoy this.  My first post should be forthcoming soon about a cheesecake I am making for the last day of class this quarter. :-)


First Quarter and Cheesecake
Going Away and Chocolate Hazelnut Tart
A Word on Chocolate
Stocks of a Not so Sexual Variety
The Sweet Muscadine and its Wine
Mid-terms and Class Thus Far
Nearing the End of Fundamentals
A Plethora of Flours
4th Quarter Reprieve
Menu Management, Nutrition, and Uncertainty
Better Late than Never Update and Dismissal of Uncertainty
The Beginning of the End


First Quarter and Cheesecake

My choice to go to culinary school both did and did not occur overnight.  I had always wanted to go, but up until recently, about a month ago, in fact, I was reluctant to go.  I had been telling myself that I just wasn't good enough or I wouldn't be good enough for the longest time.  I would rationalize not going by telling myself that I wouldn't like it because it would turn something I love into something I hate because I would have to do it instead of wanting to.

I finally got the nerve to go, and it was because I was forced to take a position in a job that I had no business being in.  I had a decent amount of experience in the IT field to warrant applying at this position, so I did.  I had the experience, so why not?  After a month of being there, I couldn't take it.  It was a call center job.  It was tedious, boring, and talking to people all day about how they can fix the problem with their device was not what I wanted to do.  Culinary school kept popping into my mind.  It got so bad that I decided to quit the job without any other job lined up which, in this economy, was pretty dumb or pretty gutsy.  I'll let you decide.  Either way, two days later, I was on the phone with the admissions director.  The day after that, I was taking a tour of the school and had applied.  By the end of the week, I was accepted with all of my previous degree credits transferring, and by now, I'm finishing my first quarter.

Quarter 1 consisted of two classes:

Supervision and Effective Speaking.

Neither of these classes were actually hands-on in the kitchen, but they had to get them out of the way before starting the fundamentals class next.  It turns out that in my Effective Speaking class, almost all of the students are in the culinary program.  There is only one in the photography program.  So, naturally, what would culinary students want to do to wrap up their first quarter?  Bring food to share.

Since I love baking so much, I decided to bring a cheesecake.  I have documented my experience with some pictures as well.

First off, there is some equipment you may need to make a cheesecake:

-A medium size bowl
-A large spatula (maybe 2)
-A fork
-A couple of spoons (good for QC)
-An oven (You need something to cook it in)
-A large roasting pan
-A 9 inch spring-form pan (I do not recommend a pan with sides that do not come off.  It makes for messy cheesecake retrieval)
-A medium size pot or a kettle
-Aluminum foil
-Parchment paper
-A mixer of some kind (You can do it by hand, but it takes longer and a lot of energy on your part.  If you do use a mixer, make sure the bowl can hold the amount of batter that you're making)
Measuring spoons and cups
A rolling pin
A plastic bag

Some of this may be optional, but it all depends on how you want to make your cheesecake. :-)

Optional equipment that I used:

A digital camera
A laptop with internet access
4 cats (They boost morale)

Now onto the fun part.

The cream cheese was still a little cold, so I had to open it up and let it warm up a bit more.

While that is warming up, I assembled the rest of the ingredients.
Not pictured: Salt and Water (No feelings were hurt, I promise).

I didn't have time to go get the boxed graham cracker crumbs, so I made my own which is easy and less expensive anyway.

Making the crust is not an exact science.  Never try to get it perfect.  The cheesecake batter will be covering it anyway.

My nice baked crust now ready to be filled with the luscious creamy filling.

I'm so glad my roommate lets me Bogart her KitchenAid.  In fact, I don't think she's used it at all since she got it.

After adding sugar, salt, vanilla, and eggs, I begin to measure the sour cream with my tiny pink spatula.  That actually came from an EZ bake oven set a friend was getting rid of.  It looked useful, and I was right.  I've used it a lot.

Quality control is key.  However, never use your bare hands or fingers...unless you're a bear but then you probably couldn't read this anyway.

Good night my proto-cheesecake.  I will be back when you are nice and tanned.

My creation is ready to be extracted.

As a final touch, you can't have cheesecake without some kind of sauce to go over it.  This happens to be a strawberry sauce I made the day prior.  It will go nicely with it.

I was so proud.  I've made this cheesecake like 4 times now, and every time prior, some water would always get in to the very last later of foil.  It didn't really affect the cheesecake at all, but I thought I had layered the foil enough.  This time, there was no water inside, so I guess I did a good job of it.  I have to let it cool more before putting it in the fridge so it can be nice and chilled for tomorrow.

This is the recipe I used.  I had tried several before, but this one just seems to work great.  I'm sure my classmates will enjoy it too.

I think that should tempt you guys enough for now.  Please feel free to comment.  I encourage it actually.  I'm not sure what I'll be making next, but I do know that I promised someone some pumpkin scones.  Perhaps that will be my next post.


*gulps* . . . if I were your roommate this cheesecake wouldn't have survived by the morning. . .

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*drools* I'm going to have to give this a go myself...we don't get baked cheesecakes like that over here, our ones are very, very sweet, thinner and just not the same. I've been looking for a recipe to try so thanks for sharing!


Stay tuned for a chocolate hazelnut tart. ;)


Quote from: Ryven on March 28, 2011, 09:41:41 AM
Stay tuned for a chocolate hazelnut tart. ;)

That sounds yummy. I love hazelnuts.
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Going Away and Chocolate Hazelnut Tart

On the weekend before I return to classes, it would appear that I am baking yet again.  I have a close friend who is moving out of the country for three years.  She and her husband are moving to Singapore, and in honor of their departure, they are having a going-away party.  It is going to have a lovely Mad Hatter theme.  There will be lots of tea, and those attending will each be bringing a dish to serve.  Now, what better morsel to put in your mouth while sipping daintily upon delicious tea and smoking from a hookah pipe than a tart.  Not just any tart either.  A chocolate hazelnut tart.

However, before I get into that, I will explain about my next class.  I will be entering my first actual kitchen class, Fundamentals of Classical Cuisine.  This will be where I learn the basics, the knife skills and such.  I'm hoping to learn how to break down things like whole chickens, fish, and other foods that you can find pre-cut at the grocery store.  I often see chicken on sale at the store, so if I learn how to break one down, it will be cheaper for me to buy whole than to buy the packs of cut up chicken.  I could probably break one down now, but not without a bunch of headache, I'm guessing.

That being said, if you're lucky, I may post pics of me in my uniform. ;)

Now, onto the tart!

Compared to the cheesecake, this tart is actually much easier and less time consuming.  It also requires less ingredients.

The equipment you will need:

- A few small to medium size bowls (enough to hold about two to three cups each)
- Utensils for mixing
- A pie dish or tart pan (I used a non-stick tart pan with removable bottom)
- A stove and oven
- A couple of small pots
- Measuring cups
- A rolling pin

Optional Equipment:

A digital camera
A laptop with internet access
Wine and cider (both of which I was drinking while making this)

How it's put together...

The ingredients you will need (not pictured are water and salt.  They never seem to get any face-time).

The first thing I had to do was make a simple crust for the filling to go in.  Easy enough.

Once I had a ball of dough, I need to roll it out.  There's a neat trick you can use when getting your rolled out dough into your pan.  Either roll it back over your rolling pin, or you can fold it in half and then half again so you have a 1/4 size folded dough.  Transfer that to your pan and unfold.  You can avoid tears in your dough this way.

Once you have your dough in your pan and have pressed it into place, you can slip it into the oven to bake.  Another neat trick, especially for this type of pan, to cut the excess dough from the edges, all you need to do is roll your rolling pin over the top of it.  It will press the dough against the rim and cut it precisely where you need it, leaving you with the crust you see in the picture above.

While your crust is baking, you'll want to prepare chocolate chips and cream on the stove.

With their power combined you get melted chocolate called ganache though you'll be adding a couple more ingredients to it.

This is the completed filling before it enters the oven.  As you can see, my crust shrank while baking.  I'm still figuring that one out.  Anyway, it turned out fine still.  I just didn't have a full crust visible on the outer rim.  I'm thinking a mixture of ground hazelnuts and graham crackers will work better for next time.  There wont be any shrinkage.

Here is the tart after it has come out of the oven.  It looks pretty similar, but the egg has caused it to become firm like a tart filling should be.  We're not done yet, however.  This needs more chocolate.

After letting the tart cool completely.  I spread a ganache on top which is just warm cream mixed with chocolate.

While the ganache is still in a liquidy state, it's the perfect time to garnish.  I didn't have whole hazelnuts because the grocery store didn't have any, so I worked with what I had.  All that has to happen now is to let the ganache harden, and it's ready to eat!

One final look at the beautiful nutty goodness.

Not bad for the first run of a recipe.  Now that I know how it goes, I can make changes in the future.  The crust is definitely going to have to change.  While it still worked this time, I don't like that it shrank in the oven.  Hazelnuts and graham crackers or even chocolate graham crackers would work well with a little butter to hold it together.  I will know if it tastes any good later today, but I'm pretty sure chocolate can't taste that bad since that's mostly what its made of.

Here is the recipe I used for this tart.  This is the first tart I've actually made, partly because I didn't have any tart pan.  I think my next tart will be made with some kind of fruit.  Summer is coming up, so strawberries will be available.  Yum!  I can already taste it.

I hope you enjoyed it!  Feel free to comment! :-)


That looks amazing, Ryven!

*makes grabby hands*
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Yumm!! OuO I'm so going to try this one! *nods*

-waits patiently for the pics with the uniform-

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A Word on Chocolate

To many people, chocolate is chocolate.  It is thought of as that brown colored bar of sweet, lusciousness that takes away all your worries.  It is a comfort food, delicacy, and indulgence.  Chocolate is not always just chocolate, however.  Those going beyond the familiar and iconic Hershey's chocolate bar will find that, generally, chocolate is broken down into three categories: dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and white chocolate.

The FDA specifies that dark chocolate must contain at least 35% chocolate liquor by weight and less than 12% milk solids.  For those who do not know, chocolate liquor is chocolate in its liquid form which is a mixture of cocoa solids and cocoa butter.  Semi-sweet and bitter-sweet chocolate fall into this category of chocolate.  Semi-sweet chocolate usually contains half as much sugar as cocoa and is routinely used for baking.  Bitter-sweet chocolate usually contains one-third as much sugar as cocoa, a higher cocoa butter content, and vanilla.  A emulsifier such as lecithin may also be added.  An emulsifier is an additive that helps a mixture stay homogeneous.  This is why many times egg yolks or mustard to a salad dressing that contains both an acid such as vinegar and an oil.  Without an emulsifier, the mixture will separate.

Chocolate may also be referred to as 'couverture' which means that it will have a higher content of cocoa butter.  Couverture is also mainly used in more gourmet and professional settings where the chocolate consistency and look are highly crucial to the end product.  I believe this is the type of chocolate used in chocolate sculpting and show pieces.

Milk chocolate, by FDA standards, must contain at least 10% chocolate liquor and must contain at least 30% milk solids.  The milk is what gives the chocolate its much lighter brown color compared to the dark chocolates.  As you might imagine, the higher the percentage of cocoa solids in a chocolate, the darker the color will be.

White chocolate contains no cocoa solids whatsoever.  Many often do not think of white chocolate as chocolate at all (including myself).  White chocolate is a mixture of cocoa butter, sugar, and milk.  The FDA states that white chocolate (both domestic and imported) must contain at least 20% cocoa butter, at least 14% milk solids, at least 3.5% milk fat, and no more than 55% sweeteners.

With all this in mind, there are varying degrees in between each of these categories.  Chocolate is more like a sliding scale with the amount of cocoa solids being the deciding factor.  If you've ever been in a store looking at a chocolate section, you will often see the labels stating a percentage such as 65%, 75%, 85%, and even 99%.  This specifies the amount of cocoa solids in the product.  I find that cocoa solids above 75% becomes too bitter for simply eating.  Anything above that mark for me is no longer enjoyable for me.  That does not mean it isn't eaten.  It just requires some added ingredients first which is why higher percentage chocolates are often used in baking and cooking.  Unsweetened chocolate in the baking section contains no sugar because it is used for baking only while the other chocolate varieties can be used for eating, cooking, and baking.

Finally, there are some health benefits to eating chocolate, and this mainly applies to dark chocolate because it usually contains a lower content of sugar.  Dark chocolate has been linked to a positive effect because of the antioxidant content.  Antioxidants prevent the oxidation of compounds which, in the human body, can damage cells if there is too much of it, so enjoy your chocolate because it's good for you.


Awesome info on chocolate, Ryven. ^^ I had a friend in high school that actually enjoyed eating 85%. I don't know how he did it, but he would munch on the bar all day and liked it. *shudders at the thought*
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Wow.  Yeah, that's just too bitter for me.  I suppose if sea salt were added to it, it might be good.  I love the dark chocolate bars with sea salt added to them.  It just seems to make the chocolate sweeter because of the contrast on your tongue.


Stocks of a Not so Sexual Variety

My first day of fundamentals has come and gone.  There was a lot of hands-on fun though it will only get more intense.  It was pretty relaxed the first day considering we were only making stocks.  Knife skills were not of very much importance the first day.  We were mainly just getting used to holding our knives, and with our knives, we cut up 3 lbs of vegetables in each group to make the stocks.  Carrots, onions, and celery were the veggies of choice.  These three together in a ratio of 2 : 1 of onions to celery and carrot makes a mirepoix (mir-ˈpwä).  This is traditionally the vegetables used when starting any stock.  There is one variation for a white stock when you do not want any color.  Substituting parsnips for carrots will keep the stock from taking on any orange or brown tinge while cooking.

So, the night pretty much went by easily.  We cut our vegetables, put 8 lbs of beef bones in a roasting pan to roast in the oven, and put 2 pots on the stove to simmer our chicken and fish stock.  Most of the cooking just involves checking it now and then to skim the surface of the stock for impurities because a stock should be relatively clear and not cloudy.  The bones got a healthy coating of tomato paste after an hour and were left to roast for another hour with the paste on to develop some nice color and carmalization.  The bones will be used later to make a brown stock which is a dark beef stock.

At the end of the night, each of our teams was delegated a task to help clean the kitchen.  My team got the unfortunate job of cleaning the dishes, and there were not necessarily a lot of them.  They were very big however.  Washing 6 or 7 3 gallon stock pots makes a large pile of dishes.  All in all, I enjoyed it, and I can't wait to get back in there tonight.  I believe we'll be roasting more bones and making a vegetable stock.  We'll be learning our classical cuts as well.  It should be an interesting night.


Stocks are awesome. I prefer to make my rice and mashed potatoes with stock rather than water. Gives it more flavor. ^^ Last time I made a chicken stock was for a chicken soup a few years ago...may have to do it again sometime soon. >.>

Sounds like you had fun. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Except the dishes. I hate washing dishes and lots of pans are the worst, in my opinion.
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Quote from: Michi No Sora on April 06, 2011, 10:04:31 AM
Stocks are awesome. I prefer to make my rice and mashed potatoes with stock rather than water. Gives it more flavor. ^^ Last time I made a chicken stock was for a chicken soup a few years ago...may have to do it again sometime soon. >.>

Sounds like you had fun. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Except the dishes. I hate washing dishes and lots of pans are the worst, in my opinion.

My father wants me to show him how to make chicken stock.  It's fairly easy, and it really does offer a lot of flavor to whatever dish you're making.

The dishes weren't that bad.  It was nice to work as a team to get it all done. :-)


Chicken stock is one of the only ones I make at home (other than vegetable). Mostly since I tend to buy whole chickens rather than pieces. What's the point of just throwing out the carcass when I can use it to make stock?! Such a waste. Stock can keep for a while when stored and jarred right, so no reason to waste all those lovely bones. >.>
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You can freeze stock, and it will work perfectly fine.  I would just throw the bones in a bag and freeze them until you have enough to make stock.  Once you've made the stock, package it up and freeze it until you need some.


That's what I usually do. Though one chicken carcass is usually enough for a small pot of stock and I tend to make it the next day after making the chicken. Now waiting. :P I'm impatient.
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Yes, it would be.  According to the recipes we used last night, 8 lbs of bones makes 1 gallon of stock.


Ryven your thread here is wonderful. I hope you keep it up for a long time to come. All the recipes and pictures, as well as your explanations, are wonderful. I want to try everything myself. Thank you for sharing your culinary journey with us. BTW I agree with you an Michi homemade stock does make all the difference in cooking. Thanks for the tips on making a good stock.

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Thanks, Xandi! ;D  Good to know people actually read this. :P


The Sweet Muscadine and its Wine

So, I have taken a new interest in learning about where and how an ingredient gets from its origin to my hand before I actually put it in my mouth or into whatever dish I'm making.  I guess it really wouldn't be new because I would have gone to discover the origins of these things regardless, but now that I'm in school, it just seems that I have a renewed drive to do so.  I guess that is why me and my friend D took a 1 and a half hour drive to the local winery in our state to have a free tour of their winery and a free wine tasting.

Duplin Winery sits in the tiny town of Rose Hill, NC, the state I live in.  It seems like a fairly small operation, but once you get there and take the tour, you can actually see how much of a dichotomy their operation is.  They make over 1 million gallons of wine a year, but their facility is housed in one 7800 square foot building.  The tour consisted of walking through the steps from the very point where the wine master tested the grapes on arrival for sugar content to the very end where the wine is bottled.  It seems like a very straight forward process, but there were a few things I learned along the way.  First, the red color that one finds in red wine does not come from the juice of the grape.  In fact, it comes from the skin of the grapes which are fermented.  The longer the skin of the grapes are fermented, the deeper and richer the color red is you get with the wine.  Their most expensive wine, labeled Queen Anne's Revenge, is their deepest and boldest red wine.  It is also their most expensive because the grapes for that particular wine are picked by hand on 2 acres of land nearby before the wine is hand prepared before bottling.  It is worth the price to pay (which is actually quite cheap compared to other wines).

The other thing I learned while visiting the winery was the 5 S's of wine which I will go over here.

The first S is Sight.  When determining the quality of a wine by sight, you must pour a shallow amount in a stemmed glass and then tilt the glass slightly and hold it up by the stem to the light.  Inspect the wine and its clarity.  If you see any brown spots whatsoever, send the wine back or don't buy it.  Brown spots mean oxygen has affected the wine and it is no longer of quality to drink.

The second S is Swirl.  This is a measure of the sugar content of the wine.  When looking at this aspect, you must swirl the glass vigorously in your hand (without making a mess, of course) until the wine has swirled around the glass for a few seconds.  Once you have done this, hold the glass up to the light and watch the wine settle at the bottom.  Watch for small streams of wine to flow down from the sides of the glass.  These are called 'legs.'  If the legs are thin, the wine should be dry.  If the legs are thicker, the wine should be sweet.  The thickness is really a measure of the sugar content in the wine.

The third S is Smell.  The wine should smell crisp, fresh, fruity, bold, or whatever the qualities are of the wine you happen to be tasting.  Just like the swirl, you should swirl the glass before smelling, however, before doing so, you should cover the mouth of the glass with your hand before swirling.  Swirl for a few seconds then pull your hand away and put your nose to the glass.  Do not be afraid to get very close.  You really want to experience the wine in this sense because you want to make sure it is of quality for drinking next.  Smell once quickly then smell again for a more prolonged amount of time.  This will give you a clear and precise aroma of the wine.

The fourth S is Sip.  This is simply tasting the wine.  Do not take a large drink.  First take a small amount, drink it quickly and experience the brief flavor of the wine.  Once you have done that, take a larger taste and let it wash over your tongue for a richer, fuller flavor.  Like smelling, this will give you a clear and precise flavor of the wine you're drinking.

The fifth S is Savor.  If you have passed the first 4 S's without sending the wine back, your wine should be fit for drinking, so savor it.  Drink it as you desire and enjoy it because it is of such a quality to enjoy.

This should give you a good understanding of wine tasting.  If you're a wine drinker, I hope this has tantalized your taste buds to go and try your favorite wine in a new way.  If you have not tried wine before, this would be a good way to make it a more memorable experience rather than just cracking open a bottle of wine.  If you're lucky, you might have a winery in your area.  Look them up and see if they offer wine tastings.  Ask questions and ask them specifically about what you would like to try, and when you do, keep in mind the 5 S's.

Enjoy your wine!


Quote from: Ryven on April 08, 2011, 10:24:54 PM
So, I have taken a new interest in learning about where and how an ingredient gets from its origin to my hand before I actually put it in my mouth or into whatever dish I'm making. 

That reminds me of a line from Ratatouille.

"If you are what you eat, then I only want to eat the good stuff." -Remy

Thanks for all the info on the wine! ^^
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In the midst of reading Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human.  I'll likely post about it when I'm finished. Good read so far!


Quote from: Ryven on April 04, 2011, 10:50:41 AM
A Word on Chocolate

I have been a chocoholic and chocolate snob for many, many years now. So I just thought I'd inject my two cents:

Many often do not think of white chocolate as chocolate at all (including myself).

Me, too. While it's made from cocoa butter, it has none of the "good" part of the chocolate in it. Pah. Not chocolate to me.

I find that cocoa solids above 75% becomes too bitter for simply eating.

However, I must disagree with you here. While my favorite dark is 72%, I enjoy it up to 85%. I love the smoky earthiness of 85% - but I can't eat it fast. It must be savored... every bite slowly rolled around inside my mouth like a fine wine. Just like Michi's friend...  ;) I tried a 92% once and that was too bitter, but I don't rule it out forever. I'll try it again some day, and I look forward to the day when I can eat that, too!  ;D
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