I graduated!

So, after taking a week to just chill out and get caught up on some sleep, I thought it’d be good to get down some thoughts about this whole graduation thing.

This might be a little long and image heavy. I’ll try not to let it turn into a novel, though.

As one of our final assignments for my Capstone class, we had to do a personal reflection… Kind of a where did we start and where do we want to end up sort of thing. I talked about watching Julia Child, and about how I was obsessed with reading cookbooks, and cooking breakfast for my dad, and strawberry milk. The good news is, I didn’t cry. But, it really got me thinking about what comes next.  I’ll get to that in a minute, though.

As I’ve explained before, in order to graduate, students are required to develop a restaurant concept.  There are three classes we took to lead up to Capstone, where, ideally, we’d be wrapping up what we’ve already been working on all along. We took purchasing, menu management, and food & beverage operations classes to help us hone in on and refine each piece of the puzzle. In Capstone, we take all that work we’ve done and get it organized in a presentable format– something we could, theoretically, show investors or a bank (along with a lot of other stuff) to help get financing to actually open a restaurant.

There’s the fun stuff, like coming up with menu items, picking silverware and dishes, and designing the layout. Then, there’s the tedious, time consuming, real life stuff that actually takes up most of the project– the demographics…


Labor costs and schedules…


Employee policies…


And standardized, fully costed recipes…

menu costing

It’s a LOT of work… a lot of late nights and anxiety attacks and deadlines. I was incredibly fortunate to have the same instructor for menu management and F&B Ops, because she got to know my concept really well. The basics were nailed down and looking good by the end of the menu class, which made the rest of it much easier. Not easy, just easier. I ultimately ended up with a project that took up two full 9×12, 24 page binders. I ran out of pages and had to stick entire sections into one pocket.

I also pushed myself a little harder in the menu department, and created two different versions of lunch, dinner, dessert, and beverages– one for Spring/Summer and another for Fall/Winter, so I could create some seasonal dishes.

I’m not going to post all of them here, but I’ll give you a peek at some screenshots of the Fall/Winter stuff…








And then, on top of that, we also put together a professional portfolio. It contains, among other things, pictures of our food, examples from our restaurant concept to show menu design and recipe development, and costed menu items to show that we know how to cost out recipes. It’s something we can take with us on job interviews. It’s kind of hard to pick just 10 or 15 pictures that show what we can do, and our progression through culinary school. I honestly didn’t even remember cooking some of this stuff until I started going through the hundreds of pictures I’ve taken over the past two years.


Amidst all that… we also have to go to several different departments on campus to get each of them to sign off on a sheet that basically says we understand we have to pay back our loans, we can’t take any equipment with us when we go, we don’t have any overdue library books, and we’ve submitted a final version of our resume to Career Services so they can help us find a job if we need them to. After all that, our Capstone instructor signs off, and then it goes to the Culinary School director to sign off… and THEN, after all that… we get our chef’s coat for graduation.


I won’t lie. That part is pretty cool. The coats we wear in class are likely, at this point, stained and haven’t actually been white for several quarters. They don’t have our names on them, just the school logo, and none of them really ever seem to fit right. The graduation coat is lots nicer, fits better, and it’s just so white and new and pretty! I was torn between leaving it in the plastic forever and ever, or wearing it everywhere all the time.

We’re also required to pass an exit practical. It’s our cooking final that measures not just our ability to cook, but manage our time, demonstrate basic knife skills, work clean and organized, and our plate presentation skills. We have four hours to break down a chicken, complete seven different knife cuts, and then make Coq au Vin, broccoli with hollandaise sauce, glazed carrots, chateau potatoes, chardonnay chicken, rice pilaf, salad, cream of mushroom soup, and chocolate mousse. It’s a crazy morning, everyone is stressed, very few people actually do as well as they wanted, and nothing ever goes like you plan it. But, when you pass, it feels like FINALLY, the hard part is over.

Of course, it’s not, because after we get all of that done, we present at Portfolio Review. All graduates in every department, from culinary to graphic design, are given a 6′ x 3′ table to display their concept project, portfolio, examples of their work, resumes and business cards. By the time we’ve gotten to the actual venue, we were all just kinda giddy and sleep deprived. Most of us had been up all night cooking and fine tuning our table layouts and measuring to make sure it would all fit.


I think I rearranged this whole thing at least three times before I finally got it how I wanted it. We had to turn in a table design in Capstone, but the reality of it vs. the picture we have in our head isn’t always the same thing.

My incredible, generous, patient, long suffering boyfriend came and picked me up at school so I could get my food home. (The school gives us $50 to spend with the store room so we don’t have to foot the whole bill ourselves.) We also had to swing by a friend’s house to borrow a cake plate, hit three different stores to find the rest of my display pieces, and go to two grocery stores for the rest of the food supplies. Then, I got home, inventoried everything, and started cooking. I cooked until around 1230am, slept until 4am, and then got up and did all the baking. Adam woke up to a crazy eyed lady, but he took it all in stride.

We got about 3/4 of the way to the venue before I realized I’d forgotten the deviled eggs for my display. So, we loaded everything out, and he drove all the way back home to get my eggs while I set up the rest of the table. Bless him. Seriously.


From 10am to 1pm, we stood behind our tables answering questions from judges, potential employers, other students family members, cleaning people from the venue, and pretty much anyone else who came by to see our display. It wasn’t all that bad, except for the achy feet, and there were lots of friendly, familiar faces to help keep us from getting too bored or nervous. At 1pm, we had a little awards ceremony for culinary. They awarded first and second place for baking and pastry and for culinary. I was totally stunned when they called my name for 2nd place. At that point, it’s not really for a grade or anything, but it’s awesome to see that the judges, all instructors I’ve worked with throughout school, thought I’d done a good job.

And then, just like that, it was over. I was done with culinary school. They only do a walking ceremony every other quarter, so I’ll actually walk at the end of December, but I am officially a culinary school graduate now.

What’s next? Well… I have a lot of ideas floating around, some more concrete than others.

First and foremost is this blog. I want to get back to a regular publishing schedule. I have time during the day now to cook and write, so there aren’t any excuses not to. I am hoping to be able to start incorporating some video content at some point next year, not just here, but on social media platforms, as well. I want to have set days to publish here, as well as little quickies that will post to facebook, twitter, or instagram throughout the week. If anyone has suggestions, leave them in the comments below.

I’m hoping I’ll get to start interning in January (maybe sooner) at a local sustainable farming operation. Then, I’d like to do a little traveling to work on other organic/sustainable farm operations around the country. I’m also trying to figure out how to get the ball rolling on a pop up restaurant for the concept I created. I don’t want to commit to a full blown restaurant, ever. But, I thought it would be a great experience to actually get to serve my menu at least once. All the proceeds would go to a food/hunger related charity.

I also have a little project to work on in my hometown of Fort Smith, Arkansas. I’m hoping my hometown bestie Nikki and I will get to work on it together, provided I can get my butt down there enough to make it real. I don’t want to get into details now, but it’s food related, and hopefully an opportunity to reconnect with some old friends and bring something back to the town where I spent most of my childhood.

There are so many other things in my brain right now, but that could just be the post graduation excitement so I’m giving myself some time to really focus on what really speaks to me.

For those of you who have hung in there with me, thanks! For those of you who might be brand new to the blog, please stick around. There’s lots more to come!



Two Ingredients = Magic


This one is going to be a quicky, but I just had to share this amazingly quick and easy recipe with you, courtesy of Tasting Table. When it first came across my Facebook news feed I thought, “No way is it that easy. This will never work.” But, it is, and it did. And if you’ve ever felt cornered into bringing something to a bake sale or potluck, or gotten stuck on what to make for dessert, you’re gonna wanna bookmark this because it may just become a go to recipe. The great thing is that you can make it a different flavor every single time without ever changing the number of ingredients. Just pick a different ice cream flavor!

Tasting Table’s Ice Cream Bread

Loaf pan (I just used an aluminum throwaway recycle one from the grocery store)
Large mixing bowl
Mixing Spoon

2 cups (1 pint) any flavor full fat ice cream – I went with Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia
1.5 C Self rising flour (AP won’t work here)
Pan spray


1. Preheat your oven to 350.

2. Let the ice cream sit out for an hour or so to melt/soften. Then, dump it into a bowl and add the flour. Mix the flour and melty ice cream together until it’s a smooth batter. It will be a fairly thick batter.

BLOG_mix3. Spray your loaf pan with the pan spray, and then pour in the batter. Smooth it out a little on top if you want.

4. Bake for 25-35 minutes. Their recipe says 25-30 minutes, but I’m horrible about letting the oven fully preheat, so mine took a little longer. Just test it with a table knife or a skewer at around the 25 minute mark. If it needs to go longer, no worries.

5. Remove from the oven when it’s done and let it cool slightly, then remove it from the loaf pan to let it finish cooling completely.


The Tasting Table recipe/article says this bread will come out sweet enough that you could top it with more ice cream. I also think you could use any sort of sweet sauce and some whipped cream, or some fruit and whipped cream, depending on what flavor ice cream you use, but it’s also not super sweet, so you could just use it as is. The texture is somewhere between cake and bread– dense and sturdy but not heavy.

BLOG_insideI seriously could not believe how easy it was. And since there’s really just some stirring involved, you could even get the kids in on the fun.

Happy Weekend!

Here goes nothin’

I haven’t posted in a long while, and I’ve struggled with how to explain why. I feel like too much detail is, well, too much, and not enough is a cop out. I know there are people who would tell me to keep the personal out of the professional, and that I shouldn’t explain myself at all, but that’s not how I roll. What I do and why I do it are incredibly personal, whether I’m doing it for a living or for fun or some combination of the two. So, I’ll just stick with the facts and write from my heart and hopefully that’s enough.

I’ve been broke. Not just Can’t Afford to Go Out With Friends broke, or Had to Cancel My Hair Appointment broke, but… Haven’t Been Able to Go Grocery Shopping and I’m Struggling to Scrape Together Rent and Bus Fare broke. This following your dream thing… it’s fulfilling, and inspiring, and satisfying; but it’s also challenging, terrifying, frustrating, and occasionally, soul-wrenchingly difficult. This blog, and my followers, feel like friends, and every single time I’ve looked at my “Blog Stuff” bookmarks folder on my laptop, I’ve been struck with a sense of guilt and shame and embarrassment that I was basically avoiding a friendship I’ve worked so hard to cultivate, and quite frankly, that’s not the healthiest place to write from even if I did have the money to cook, which I haven’t.

Don’t get me wrong, there are things that are going well. I got A’s in both my classes for this quarter, and I’m just a little over three months from graduation. I am working again, finally, and getting enough hours to make a difference (slowly but surely) for my situation. Things with the boyfriend are going really well. He’s amazing and supportive and so incredibly patient and going through all of this would be so much harder without him. So, I don’t want anyone to get the impression that my life is horrible. It’s not. I’m blessed in a hundred different ways. But, when you’re struggling financially to cover even the most basic of needs, sometimes it just feels like your entire life is on hold, even if that’s not the reality.

Things are getting stabilized again, though, and getting things back on track here is a major priority for me. I’m learning so much in school and at work and in life, and I’ve had some wonderful opportunities over the past few months that I can’t wait to tell you about. I also have a ton of new recipe ideas to try out, and a whole buttload of experiments I want to attempt. So, I’m definitely not “broke” in the content idea department. As soon as I’m situated, it’s SO on.

I just wanted to poke my head in and say hi. I’ll be back soon. Thanks so much for sticking around.



I am not a morning person.

So, I’m taking Intro to Baking & Pastry this quarter. It is on Monday and Tuesday mornings from 7am to Noon. Yeah. 7 MOTHER EFFING AY-EM. It’s kind of sucked some of the fun out of Sunday afternoons with the boyfriend, because there’s this huge “You have to go home and finish the ridiculous amount of handwritten homework for Baking and Pastry tonight” cloud looming over the whole thing. It stinks. And also, the waking up early on Monday morning so I can catch the bus to school. That isn’t fun.

Fortunately, there’s only three weeks left in the class. Also fortunately, I have managed to function well enough to learn something. Mostly, that if someone held a gun to my head and asked me to make them a pretty, edible dessert or face my immediate demise, I could now do it and save myself from death by massive head wound. So, yeah, I’ve got that going for me.

There will be a recipe coming later this week, I hope, but just to prove to you that things have been learned, I thought I’d share some photos of the work I’ve been doing this quarter.

We spent most of the first four weeks working on breads… including one of my favorites– Challah. That braid is a lot tougher to learn than you might think, but once you figure it out, it sure is pretty, yeah? I had tried Challah once before on my own and it was ok, but this time I was really pleased with the results. I love using Challah for French toast and bread pudding, so I’m glad to have finally learned how to make it properly.


After week four, we moved on to slightly more advanced stuff. This was about when I started to figure out that I like plating desserts a lot more than I like baking them.

We made pate a choux dough… which I’ve made before here on the blog so I felt a little more comfortable with this one. We’ve made it three or four times this quarter, and I feel a lot more confident. I’m not really sure when I’ll use it again, but it’s good to have in my repertoire.


File this one under, “I can’t imagine why anyone would do this to themselves on a regular basis.” It’s puff pastry from scratch. Granted, once it’s made you can turn it into so many things, from cookies to tarts to napoleons, like this one. But getting there… hoo boy. It felt like the never ending recipe. Make the dough. Roll out the dough. Beat the butter into submission. Roll out the butter. Cover the butter with the dough. Roll it out, fold it, freeze it. Wait. Repeat at least five times. Someday, when I have an entire day to do nothing but make puff pastry, I’ll show you how. (Don’t hold your breath.)



Cake week was the first time I’ve ever tried to actually frost a cake with any sort of intent. My fallback for cakes has usually been to just frost the whole thing with white icing and then stick candy or cereal or something all over it. That, or sheet cakes, which require very little skill at all in terms of decoration.

I don’t think any professional cake decorators anywhere should be quaking in their boots that I’m about to steal their livelihoods. But, it was sorta fun and turned out pretty ok for a first try, I think.



And that brings us to last week, which was Plated Dessert Week. It’s the week we spend a full class period prepping elements we’ve learned how to make all quarter, so that on the second day of class we can plate them all up in interesting ways and invite in all the other classes to try out the goods.

One of mine was this chocolate torte, which I garnished with chocolate sauce, salted caramel sauce, and some pepita brittle I whipped up in a hurry because it needed some crunch. Flavor-wise, I think this one was the biggest hit. I think my plating got a little sloppy, though.



We also made a batch of crème brûlée. The dessert itself is already in a pretty ramekin, and I can’t imagine jacking up that lovely crispy sugar topping by putting anything else on there, but we added some interesting touches to the base plate to up the glamour factor.

HINT: If you’re ever making crème brûlée at home, do your sugar topping in three layers to get a restaurant quality crust. Lay down your first layer of sugar, brûlée it, then let it harden. Repeat that two more times, and you’ll have that lovely caramelized, crunch sugar we all love about crème brûlée.



Until next time… Bon Appétit!


Wuv… twue Wuv

Valentine’s Day is around the corner. We all know this. When I was single, I was always very determined to ignore it completely. Now that I’m not, well, I’m not ignoring it completely because while I’m not a total mush monster, I do appreciate a well thought out romantic gesture, just not exclusively because Hallmark says so. What was my point? Oh yeah! I think this cake could definitely fall under the category of a not over-the-top but will definitely be appreciated Romantic Gesture. It’s a serious cake for people who really like it rich, but pretty easy to make, and combines three of my favorite things: beer, coffee, and chocolate.

I actually made it at work, for a party, so most of the pictures you’re about to see are what it looks like to make this recipe multiplied by… well, a lot. We needed to make 750 little cakes. The original recipe also includes a chocolate ganache topping, but you can pretty much decorate this cake however you like, and bake it in whatever shape and size you like. I’ll give you the directions as they’re written, because I’d like to imagine one of you making a three layered beauty dripping with chocolate. If you do, send me a picture, yeah?


hand mixer or stand mixer
large pot or saucepan
medium pot
two large mixing bowls
spatula or mixing spoon
knife and cutting board (if you’re chopping up the chocolate for the ganache)


For the cake:
1 1/2 cups stout (chocolate stout, milk stout, regular stout– whatever kind you like)
1/2 cup strong black coffee
2 cups unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
4 cups all purpose flour
4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cup sour cream

For the ganache:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 pound semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (or just use semi-sweet chocolate chips)

Preheat your oven to 350º. Butter three 8 inch round cake pans and line with parchment paper, then butter the paper, too.

In the large pot, bring the stout, coffee, and butter to a simmer over medium heat.


Add the cocoa powder and whisk, whisk, whisk until everything smooths out. Allow the mixture to cool while you work on the rest of the recipe.

Whisk all the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking soda, salt) together in a large bowl. Set aside.


In your stand mixer or with your hand mixer, beat the eggs, sour cream, and vanilla together until well combined.  With the mixer running, slowly add the cooled chocolate mixture to the egg mixture until it’s all incorporated.

NOTE: Make sure the chocolate is cooled off… it doesn’t have to be cold, by any means, but if it’s too hot, it’ll cook the eggs.

Add the dry ingredients and blend until just combined.

Divide the batter equally between the three baking pans. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Allow the cakes to cool for at least 10 minutes in their pans, then turn them out onto a rack if you have one and let them finish cooling.

While the cakes are cooling, bring the heavy cream to a simmer in the 2nd pot. Take the pot off the heat, and add the chocolate. Whisk until the mixture is smooth and glossy. Refrigerate it for awhile until the ganache is spreadable.

You can layer these with however much icing between the layers as you want. If it was me, I’d do a thin layer of icing on each of the first two layers, and then really slather it all over the top layer and around the sides. But, I’m one of those people who can’t resist sticking her finger in the icing on the outside of the cake, so I like to make sure there’s enough for the finger sticking/licking bit without damaging the cake to icing ratio too much.

I found some pink chocolate in our walk-in so I just used that to cover the whole cake and then did a little thing with some sprinkles and icing sugar and melted chocolate. Go crazy, though. This is a very rich, deep chocolate cake so it would pair well with just about anything, from fruit to something creamy like ice cream to, well, more chocolate.


Happy Baking!