Knife cuts

 

Sad mushroom

I moved to Asheville exactly one year ago to start culinary school. For years, I had experimented with cooking, developed a strong palette, devoured culinary knowledge, and worked on my knife skills. But, I didn’t feel like I had enough understanding of how the industry works or even a strong grasp of many of the terms used. I needed a stronger base in classical cuisine and it was obvious that my next step had to be culinary school.

 

Never one to shy away from a challenge or an adventure, I set the bar high for myself and put in everything I had. I could never have imagined the amount of effort I have had to exert nor how easily and fully I have given my life to this task.

 

I have never been as busy as I am now. I work in a kitchen full-time and attend culinary school full-time. I am always exhausted. I never have time for myself. I am often alone. My body feels broken. I stand for 10-12 hours a day. I’m almost never free and when I do have a moment, all I want to do is stay at home and be boring with my amazing husband.

Happy crostini

 

And, I love every minute of it. I have become so much more of a culinary beast than I ever thought I would. I work for a chef who believes in my skills and abilities. I have invited more responsibility so I can learn more about the managerial skills necessary to succeed in this industry. I have maintained a 4.0 at school and (hopefully) impressed upon my teachers how hungry I am for knowledge.

 

I have learned to approach food and cooking from different angles: from cost control to sanitation and safety, from the chemical reactions of different heat applications to the precision of knife cuts.

The Sassy Chef

I must confess: I have not been as good as I had hoped at photographing my knife skill progress. One knife cut I have managed to document is mushroom fluting.

 

The fluted mushroom is considered one of the more difficult cuts to master and when most first attempt it, they find that their fingers can’t make sense of it.

 

My first fluted mushroom. Awful.

First fluted mushroom

Still pretty bad.

…but with a little practice, I eventually produced something sort of refined looking.

Fluted mushrooms

They tasted excellent pan seared with trout.

Pan fried trout and fluted mushrooms

 

BE WARNED: Some may find some of the following photos disturbing.

Speaking of cutting, I cut off the tip of my thumb two weeks before this past semester began.

 

It healed remarkably well, and is now almost undetectable.

There are a few people without whom I might not survive this whole experience. You know who you are. Thank you.

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Homemade Limoncello + Working Through the Summer

Homemade Limoncello shot 1

This is my first summer in the States since I’ve been back from Korea. I would like to say that I’m spending my time doing interesting, summery things, exploring my new area, and having new experiences. Instead, I’m spending my time being responsible. Boring. I got hired in a kitchen, working with an excellent chef who is “refreshed by my eagerness” to be trained. It’s not an internship, exactly, more like a way to gain experience and pay rent on time. I’m learning a lot: I’m learning how to stand for 10-11 hours straight. I’m learning how to stay calm and navigate the chaotic busy-ness of a large kitchen. I’m learning a lot of new classic French cuisine. I’m learning to quickly convert the outdated and insanely infuriating imperial measurement system that is still used in this country. And so on.

limoncello zest 2

It’s tough sometimes. I work weekends. I’m often too exhausted on my days off to take care of the things I’ve been meaning to take care of. There is little routine to my schedule besides the lengthiness of my shifts. I rarely cook for myself anymore (somehow being elbows deep in giant vats of food turns off some personal desires).

Homemade Limoncello in a jar

Still, I see this job as an excellent opportunity to get in some of the groundwork I need to succeed in this field. I love cooking. We’ve had a life long love affair.

Homemade Limoncello in a jar 1

Due to the summer heat, I’m going to offer you something to cool you off.

Limoncello is a relatively young Italian drink. Its history is just a little fuzzy (must’ve had a few too many). People from Sorrento, Amalfi, and Capri have claimed ownership of the original limoncello recipe since about 1900. It is said that monks or friars invented limoncello because the monastery inhabitants wanted to get a bit tipsy in-between prayers. It has been a well-loved aperitif and digestive all around Italy since its conception and is gaining popularity worldwide. It is extremely easy to make and extremely satisfying to consume. Being made with grain alcohol, limoncello is a strong beverage. I’ve been burned more than once by the tasty lemon flavour that fools me into believing I can keep drinking. You’ve been warned.

Homemade Limoncello shot

Limoncello is best enjoyed cold, so keep it stored in the freezer. So, kick back after a long day of work and beat the summer heat with this refreshing, delicious booze.

Limoncello

Ingredients

  • 12-15 lemons (or limes, tangerines, grapefruit or any combination of citrus you desire)
  • 25-30 ounces (750 mL) 95% or higher grain alcohol (I used Everclear, but vodka will do if it must)
  • 1 cup simple syrup

Directions

Sterilize your mason jar(s) by filling with boiling water. Pour out the water once it is cool enough to touch.

Using a microplane, zest the citrus. It is important to avoid getting pith (the white layer between the peel and fruit) into your zest as the flavour of your limoncello will be bitter if too much gets in.

Put the zest into your jar and pour the grain alcohol in with it. Seal jar and screw lid on tightly.

Shake the jar for about ten seconds.

Write the date you started your batch on a post-it note and stick it on the lid so you can keep track.

Place your jar in a visible place where you will remember to shake it twice a day for two weeks. Make sure to avoid direct sunlight.

After two weeks, put your jar in a cool, dark place and let it hibernate for about a month. During this time, the lemon zest will release an intense flavour that makes limoncello unique.

After a month, stir in the simple syrup, which can be made by boiling water and adding sugar at a 3:2 ratio. For every cup of water, use 2/3 cup of sugar. Let simple syrup cool before adding to the limoncello. Add syrup to taste. Replace in cool, dark place for two more weeks.

Strain the zest using a coffee filter or cheesecloth. Discard the zest.

Store in the freezer.

Pour yourself a shot of homemade limoncello, add a bit of simple syrup and sip that aperitif before meals like a boss or after meals as a digestive like royalty.

Homemade Salted Caramel with Vanilla for Holiday Gift Giving

homemade salted caramel bite

I have just moved to Asheville to begin the newest phase of my life as a student of the culinary arts. With the madness of moving back to the country and then moving again shortly after, I’ve been too busy to prepare for the Holidays. This recipe is perfect if you need to produce a special DIY gift on the fly for a bunch of special people.

 winter canopy homemade salted caramel in jars

The exact origins of caramel are unknown, but can generally be traced back to the 17th century. The word itself is from French, meaning ‘burnt sugar’. This came to us via Old Spanish, ultimately from Medieval Latin, traditionally from Latin, possibly from an Arabic origin. Either way, this gorgeous goo has been around for a while. If it has never lived in your fridge, perhaps now is the time.

 winter berries homemade salted caramel in jars 2

I first tried making caramel for molten lava cakes. I had a bit left over which was used to top pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving. These pies were the best pumpkin pies any of us had ever eaten. And since I’d made a lot of pie filling, we were happily having repeat pie every night. This caramel is very versatile and makes everything really, incredibly decedent and delicious.

salted caramel pumpkin pie

Drizzle it on top of your ice cream, stir a dollop in your coffee, spread a little on toast, or eat it with a spoon. Soon, you too, will be as infatuated as I am.

winter berries 2

 

Homemade Salted Caramel with Vanilla

(yields about six cups!)

Ingredients

  • 4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 cups/500 ounces unsalted butter cut into pieces
  • 2 ½ cups heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

salted caramel ingredients

Directions

-Heat sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir continuously with a rubber spatula to avoid burning. The granules will clumps and eventually melt.

-Once the sugar is liquefied, add all of the butter and stir rapidly until the pieces have melted completely. The sugar will not combine with the butter, but stirring will ensure a smooth end product.

-Using a whisk to stir, slowly pour the cream into the mixture. Due to the coldness of the cream, the hot mixture will splatter as the cream is poured in. Continue pouring and rapidly whisking the mixture until the cream is fully incorporated and the caramel is smooth.

-Stir in salt and vanilla and let the caramel boil for one minute. Remove from heat.

-Let the caramel cool before distributing into gift containers. Small mason jars worked very well for me. Discard any chunks of sugar that may have hardened.

-Keep refrigerated for 3-4 weeks.

Share with friends and loved ones. Happy Holidays!

homemade salted caramel

The Path Home + Moving Forward

 watermelon radish salad in spiky bowl

After a decade of adventure, wondering at the world and learning how to be comfortable with the unfamiliar: I’ve come home.

abode flower 2 

What does home mean, exactly? Is home where the heart is?

My heart is all over the world: in every country I’ve been to, in every country I desire to explore, in every new adventure, in every meal.

abode flower 3

Is home the place you’re most familiar with? The place you relate to most?

I’ve become more comfortable with exploring new lands than plunging my roots into the ground to stay in one place. The foreign feeling I experience in the country of my birth is more pronounced than that of being a stranger in a foreign land.

abode flower 4

Is home a place? A person? An idea? Is it limited by what I know and where I’ve been? Can it transcend those limitations?

All of the above?

 abode flower

Here I am… Adjusting. Battling. Identifying. Trying to avoid having the same conversation everyday but also to avoid complacency. I’m also trying to avoid being too annoying to myself. First World Problems.

  colourful fall corn Autumn in the Berkshires 2 horse through spiderweb

For the moment, because I cannot claim to know what it will mean tomorrow, home can be identified in a decision; a path to refine my skills and to deepen my relationship to cuisine and food. I’m going to culinary school.

 fancy mac n' cheese with watermelon radish salad autumn in the Berkshires

Going to Korea to teach English to children was not exactly following my career trajectory. Adventure was a necessity and I found myself learning more about the world than I thought possible. In short, I put my career on hold to find out what I’m made of. Finally, when I made the decision to return, it was with clear intensions and strong passion. I’m ready to follow my path and keep moving forward. Take me home!

winter trees snowy branches snow and pantherkimchi jjigae