Lessons from Culinary School

Happy Wednesday!

One of the things I really wanted to get back to this year is passing on some of the stuff I’m learning in school to you all. These past few weeks have given me some really cool firsts: First time making bread that actually worked and the first time I’ve ever made my own pasta. Exciting stuff, yo!

Lesson 1: Bread


I’ve tried bread a few times in the past. It’s come out… ok. Edible. But definitely not something I’d be proud to bring to the dinner table. This time, though, I think I’m on the right track.

First thing I learned? Be patient and be prepared. Bread isn’t all that mysterious, but I’m impatient and in the past I think I’ve just been in a hurry to get to the final product. Basic bread dough is simple– flour, yeast, salt, and water. If you can remember 2 cups flour, 1 cup water, 1 tsp instant yeast, and 1 tsp salt, you can make dough that will make a baguette, a round loaf, or even rolls, if you want.

Make sure all your ingredients are at the right temperature. If you keep your flour in the freezer, bring it up to room temp before you start. Cold flour will keep the yeast from activating. If you’re one of those people who would rather bundle up in the winter than turn up the heater, make an exception. Warm up the kitchen a little before you start mixing the dough. The best temperature for activating yeast depends on the type you’re using.

75°F–95°F (24°C–35°C) Best temperature for yeast activity
85°F–100°F (29°C–38°C) Best water temperature for hydrating instant yeast
100°F–110°F (38°C–43°C) Best water temperature for hydrating active dry yeast

Also, dough needs to be kneaded. Probably a lot more than you think. If you have a stand mixer with a dough hook, that becomes a lot easier. If you’re doing it by hand, remember that the dough should be smooth and elastic, and the gluten strands need to be well developed to get there. If your dough reaches a point where it just keeps snapping back on you and refuses to stretch, put it down and let it relax for a bit. If it’s still sticking to your hands and the counter top after a few minutes, knead in a little more flour.

Lesson 2: Pasta

I really lucked out this quarter for European Cuisine. I got an actual Italian chef instructor. He’s passing along his family recipes for things like bread, sauce, and (yay!) pasta. It’s such an easy formula I memorized it on the spot.

6 eggs
3 1/2 cups flour
1 half an egg shell of water (about a tablespoon)

I didn’t get a chance to make my own pasta way back last year when I was taking fundamentals, so I was stoked to get a shot at it this time. You guys… it’s so easy.

Put the flour in a bowl, make a well in the center, crack the eggs into the well, add the water, and start mixing with a fork from the inside out, slowly incorporating the flour into the eggs until it all comes together. Knead it a few times, until it smooths out, then cover it and let it rest for about 30 minutes. Roll it, cut it into whatever size noodle you want, cook it in well salted boiling water for about 5 minutes and there you go.

If you have a pasta roller, or an attachment for your stand mixer, of course that’s ideal, but I experimented a little with some of the extra dough and found that in a pinch, you can roll it out thinly enough with just a rolling pin. Just takes a little work, and you should not try to roll out the whole thing at once. Just do a little at a time. Also, once it’s cut, let it hang out over the edge of a bowl, or on a sheet pan with a little flour for about 10 minutes to let it dry and relax from all the rolling. It’ll give you a better texture in the final, cooked product.

I hope if any of you have ever let either of these things intimidate you, you’ll put on your big girl (or boy) britches and embrace the challenge. I think you’ll find it’s not so complicated after all, and it can be something you’ll take pride in knowing how to do for the rest of your life.


Milking this for all it’s worth

I’m baaaaaaaaaaaack!

After a week off from blogging to wrap up Finals at school, I now have a week off of school so I can get back to blogging. Synchronicity? Or something. There’s a word for it.

Anyhoots, I’ve actually missed writing and I’m glad to be back to business.

I’ve decided it’s long past time for me to get started on that culinary bucket list. One of the items on the list was to start making my own almond milk. So… for the past couple months I’ve been buying up almonds and I now have quite the little herd and I go outside and milk them every– not buying it, are you?

Fine. I went and bought some almonds. Happy?

Seriously, though, I’m actually kind of embarrassed about how long it took me to tackle this particular item because it’s so freaking easy.

fine mesh strainer
cheesecloth (probably optional, but it actually made things a little easier)
medium sized bowl
spoon of some sort

water (to soak, plus more for the blender)

I used about 8 ounces of almonds, which got me about a pint of almond milk. I made the switch from cows milk to almond milk about three years ago, but one of my biggest pet peeves about buying it is that I don’t use it all before it goes bad. If you’re a regular drinker of almond milk, you know how long it takes for that to happen, but for some reason I just forget about it. I’m not a regular cereal eater, so unless I’m on one of my smoothie kicks, I really don’t use it all that much. It’s just one of those things I feel like I need to have around. Now that I know how to make my own, and make only enough for what I actually need for a couple days, I can cut the cord and stop relying on the stuff from the grocery store.

1. Soak your almonds in water at least overnight, or for as long as two days. The water should just cover the almonds. As they soak, they’ll absorb the water and get bigger and plumper. All the recipes I’ve read said the almond milk will be creamier the longer the almonds soak, so if that’s important to you remember that you’ll need a two day head start before you can actually make the milk.


2. After they’ve soaked, you can just dump the whole she-bang, water and all, into your blender. Some recipes say to drain the almonds and start over with fresh water. I’m not sure why. I’ll try it that way next time and see if it makes a difference.

3. Pulse the blender a couple of times to break up the nuts a little, and then blend the water and almonds on high for a couple of minutes. The almonds should be pretty much pulverized, and the liquid should be… well… milky. If it looks a little too thick, you can add more water. I think I added about 1/3 of a cup.


4. Line the fine mesh strainer with a pretty large square of cheese cloth, and then strain the liquid from the almond meal a little bit at a time. You can stir it with your spoon to get most of the liquid through, and then gather up the corners of the cheesecloth and squeeze the rest of the liquid out by hand. Just repeat that process until all the liquid has been strained.


5. I drink mine plain, but if you want to add some flavor/sweetness, you can add a little vanilla extract and/or some agave nectar or maple syrup.

Now that I’ve tasted it, I think I really do like the homemade stuff better. I am going to play around with amounts of almonds and water and flavorings a little in the future, but as first batches go I’m pretty happy.


Bear in mind, the home made stuff will only be good for 3-4 days, but since I’m doing this in smaller batches and “as needed,” that’s actually perfect for me.

And that, my friends, is how you milk an almond. Enjoy!

P.S. You can throw out the leftover almond meal, or hang onto it to add into baked goods or smoothies. I hung onto mine.

You guys… I’m cracking up over here!

I cannot help myself with the bad jokes. 

Though crackers were not on my “make them yourself” list for this year, when I saw this recipe from thekitchn.com, I instantly added them. I don’t eat a lot of crackers, but this recipe was so easy I can see whipping up a quick batch of these for a party or to bring to a party or other things where you share food that are party-like in nature. (Or if you really like crackers just make them for yourself and pour some wine and eat all the damn crackers. I don’t judge.)


You can click the link for the recipe. The recipe lists out equipment for you and everything, just like I do. Nice, yes? I don’t have a rolling pin, so I just used a can of pears. No, really. Anything round with flat sides works!

I’ll walk you through the basic steps so you can see how things looked, and a few little hints and whatnot..

The dry ingredients are pretty straightforward: flour, sugar and salt. The wet ingredients are olive oil and water. The recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of salt, so to add a little something different I used 1 tsp regular sea salt and 1 tsp smoked sea salt. I think you could get creative about adding other flavors, too, if you wanted.

Once you add the liquid to the dry ingredients, everything comes together pretty fast. At first, it kinda looks like a shaggy mess…


But after I dumped it out on the (floured) counter and smooshed it together a little, it was easier to work with. The recipe says this is a no knead dough, which is true, but you will need to stick your hands in there and bring it all together. However, the nice thing about this dough is that it’s not sticky at all, thanks to the olive oil. You won’t be picking scraps of dough off your hands or your counter top.


The instructions say to divide the dough in half and just work with half at a time. I didn’t really want a huge batch of crackers, so I just wrapped the 2nd half up and stuck it in the freezer for another time.

As I mentioned, I used a can of pears in lieu of a rolling pin. It was a little harder that way, but not ridiculous. I was still able to get the dough pretty thin. If you’re in the same rolling pin-less predicament, just remember to rub the sides of whatever replacement tool you use with a little flour so nothing sticks to it. Regardless of what you’re using, you’ll want to roll from the center of the dough outward toward the edges. The dough in the middle is thicker, so following that method helps redistribute it evenly all the way to the edges.


Once you have your dough rolled out, a pizza cutter works nicely to cut the dough into crackers. Don’t worry about making perfect crackers. Just keep them all generally the same size. Remember, these are homemade, and it’s ok if they look like it. 


The original recipe provides a suggestion for how you top these crackers, but you could use just about anything. Keep it simple with some sea salt and/or cracked pepper, or pull out your favourite seasoning blend and use that. I used Za’Atar spice, which includes sesame seeds, sumac, cumin, thyme, oregano and marjoram in it. 

The instructions also tell you to prick each cracker with a fork. Don’t skip this step or your crackers will all puff up on you and will likely burn on top.

That 12 minutes in the oven goes by fast, and with the higher oven temp (450°) you probably want to stay close to the kitchen. A few of mine burned anyway, but that’s pretty par for the course for me and anything baking related. Most of them are fine, and they taste really good!


The entire process, from start to finish, took about 45 minutes, so this isn’t a labor intensive recipe at all. If I was a regular cracker eater, I can see making up a batch of these once a week without it becoming a pain in the butt. 

This is a recipe you can really customize to your own tastes, so give it a shot and have fun!