The adjustment from baking at home to baking at school was a tough one. Back home I could always guarantee that if I came across a mouthwatering recipe on Pinterest and suddenly caught the baking bug, my mom would already have all the ingredients stocked in our cabinets. I never had to think twice about whether or not we’d have brown sugar or enough eggs for a recipe.
My love of baking has been put on the back burner since I started college. I quickly realized that it’s hard to keep a fully stocked baking pantry and still have the grocery budget to buy other food. I didn’t want to give up baking at school entirely, so I found a solution: instead of seeking out something to bake based off what I’m craving, I let what ingredients are already in my pantry decide what I’m going to make.
Whenever I catch the baking bug I look in my cabinets, assess what ingredients I have and look up a recipe online, minimizing the costs of going to the grocery store. If I’m low on flour I’ll look for flourless or gluten-free recipes, if I don’t have milk I’ll Google vegan/dairy-free treats to make.
Most recently I looked in my pantry and found that I have a lot of almond butter- 3 whole unopened jars worth of it. Being more of a crunchy PB girl myself, it could take me years to use up that supply. Unless, I use it in a recipe! I immediately started searching for recipes that require almond butter (procrastinating all of my homework in the process) and found a recipe for flourless oatmeal almond butter chocolate chip cookies. Try saying that 10 times fast. It uses a full cup of almond butter and they’re so delicious no one would ever guess that they’re gluten-free.
Without further ado, here is my recipe for Chocolate Chip Almond Butter Oatmeal Cookies…
⅔ cup gluten-free rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup almond butter
⅔ cup dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
⅔ cup chocolate chips
⅔ cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350ºF and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper
Combine oats, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a medium-sized bowl
Using a hand mixer, beat almond butter, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla until smooth, about 2 minutes
Set hand mixer on low and slowly add the oat mixture. Mix until combined, dough will be sticky
Using a rubber spatula, fold walnuts and chocolate chips into dough
Scoop 2 teaspoons-worth of dough onto prepared cookie sheets
The other week, I tried the korean “nuclear fire noodles”. As a spice lover, the nuclear fire noodles created a familiar warmth in my belly that I thoroughly enjoyed. Happily slurping a bite, I noticed one of my friends chugging a bottle of milk straight from the carton. It made me think: why do some people handle spice better than others? As someone newly interested in cognitive science, I thought I’d do some research and share with you all the science behind the tolerance of spice and the flavor profiles of science. (“In the name of science!” I say, as I use this as an excuse to try every spicy noodle to exist)
Did you know? Spice is not a taste, it is a form of pain sensation! Perhaps the reason we like (and sometimes crave) this strange counterintuitive pain is because pain stimulates the release of endorphins (the same feel-good sensations that come with ‘runner’s high’!)
Capsaicin (comes in chilli, paprika, tabasco sauce: Mexican)
This spice is the type of spice that is generally associated with the general term of ‘spice’, the kind of spice you think about when someone mentions “the world’s hottest pepper”! Capsaicin triggers the cells known as the trigeminal cells which are pain receptor cells in the mouth. Your brain then receives these signals and releases endorphins – which is why people can be conditioned to love the sensation of capsaicin (I know that I fall into this category!)
Where to on campus? Honest Tom’s Taco Shop/Our very own Frontera!
Wasabi (comes in horseradish, wasabi plant: Japanese)
The wasabi plant is known as the Japanese Horseradish and it is actually sweet in nature – Real wasabi is grated into a paste that is mixed lightly with water, and it stimulates the nasal passages more than the tongue. This is why I call wasabi the “flash” of spices – it is brutal, but quick. As soon as you register its presence, it leaves.
On the right, there is a picture from my trip to japan that shows the wasabi root in its natural form – we were told to grate it into our soy sauce.
Where to on campus? Japanese – Cozara/OChatto
Szechuan pepper (found in Mala: Chinese)
Known as the ‘numbing spice’ that accompanies a feast of dumplings or a hot bowl of fresh noodles, this chinese spice is extremely potent, and makes your lips numb. This is known as “Parasthesia”, and it feels like a weird, tingling feeling that lasts a while after you consume the dish. This is my least favorite type of spice, but also the spice that is the most familiar to me due to my Chinese heritage. My grandmother used to feed us this spice as children in order to build up our spice tolerance!
Where to on campus? Chinese – Dim Sum Garden/OCHATTO
Aromatic Spice (found in turmeric: Indian/Thai restaurants)
Whenever I walk into an Indian restaurant, I get a whiff of a spice that I cannot place my finger on. Over the years, I’ve come to recognize this as turmeric. Brewed with coconut milk, paprika and mild mustard, this warm spice is the mildest out of all the spices mentioned. It’s earthy, homely and creamy, giving curry the orange-ish color. With Indian food, a myriad of spices are used – all decadent and flavorful. In the hottest curries, there is cayenne pepper added but most curries are actually mostly turmeric and coconut based (perfect for newbies!) Similarly, Thai food (one of my all time favorite cuisines) uses punchy, unique flavors of lemongrass, fresh basil, thai chilli powder and coriander to their green curries. The flavors of Thai and Indian cuisines can range in spiciness, but these two cuisines are the best for complete novices in spice because of the variety provided.
Where to on campus? New Delhi/IndeBlue, Pattaya
Of course it is impossible to touch on all the cuisines that I adore, but hopefully this spice catalog made you more aware of what spices there are and made novices a little more keen to try a little more spice in their food!
We have a dish on the menu at the restaurant that’s based on Peking duck, and today I was prepping the duck from start to finish. And I mean start to finish.
Meaning: Step one was using a small scalpel-like knife to literally make a slit through the duck’s butthole (at this point the duck was dead and plucked, but that was about it). Once the hole was enlarged, I then plunged by gloved hand into the rear end of the duck and pulled out the innards, from intestines and liver to heart and whatever else came with it. Perhaps luckily for the duck, this actually took some effort. I hope my innards are just as firmly attached to my insides as the duck’s!
Side note: remember how they tell you in grade school your intestines would span like 100 feet or something crazy if they were stretched out? Well I actually believe it now.
After de-gutting the ducks they got dunked in an ice bath to stay fresh, but, most importantly, to cleanse them of their own blood. Duck cooked in it’s own blood is a thing (I’ve considered cooking it before, much to the horrors of my parents), but we don’t do that at the restaurant.
At this point the less exciting, but less gory, part had to happen, which meant weighing out 6 portions, one for each duck, of spices. In fact, this meant twelve portions of carefully weighed spice mixes, one unique mix for the insides and one for the outside. This task was only made more difficult by the surprisingly poor scales in the restaurant.
Back to the ducks–now Sous Chef is asking me to blow them???? Essentially, the magic ingredient to Peking duck is that before cooking, air is forced in between the skin and the meat, enabling the fat to really come through right at the surface and for the skin to get amazingly crispy. I have no idea what they did in the old days, but today, thanks to the wonder of the machine, I didn’t have to do anything horrendous like physically blow with my mouth right under the skin. Instead, I stuck the point of a large air blower that ends in what looks like a bike-tire filler through the skin of the legs, breasts, thighs, and neck of each duck. An onlooker might look on with horror, as me, a duck-testing mad-scientist, inserted needles into ducks such that the skin at first bubbled, as if covered in fiery acid, and then expanded, like a balloon. Fun. And the key to deliciousness.
After “blowing the ducks,” I spice them with my carefully portioned spice mixes. Each inside gets rubbed in salt and baking powder/soda (yes, there is a difference, I just can’t remember which one we used), and the outsides turn a deep mahogany from the mixture of red spices and lots of salt.
Later in the day I have my second hand-related injury. I’m asked to help prepare the mise-en-place for meat station, which involves the toppings for a tasty taco dish we do. One of the toppings for the tacos is super thin radishes, meaning I need to use mandolin them. A mandolin is one of the scariest kitchen implements out there–imagine a board with a super sharp blade in the middle of it, parallel yet ever so slightly raised. To get thinly sliced radishes you slide the radish back and forth, keeping contact on the board, and each time you slide over the blade a tiny disk is shaved off. You just hope it isn’t your finger.
I get halfway through my first radish before slicing the tip of my middle finger off.
Apart from working at the restaurant, I’ve still been attending class like any college student, and I recently learned in my Brain and Behavior class about the different neural circuits for touch. The pathway for pain, it turns out, is slower than the basic touch pathway, which may explain why I sliced off the tip of my finger, and I think, “Well, that’s not good, but I think I’ll just keep mandolin-ing.” Then blood starts to leak out and I realize I’m not going to be able to keep going. At this point, I’m again pleased by the helpfulness and kindness of the chefs. I wash it up (disclaimer: only 1 inconsequential radish was bloodied in the process, and you can be sure it was disposed of) and Sous Chef helps me wrap it tight with surgical tape and latex.
All set to go, and now I have to make pickles. Like a lot of pickles. Like this many:And guess what? That also means more mandolin-ing! So after braving it out and mandolin-ing all the cucumbers I’m faced with my next dilemma. Mixing a handful of chopped mint and shallot in with this massive tub of cucumber slices, a problem unimaginable to the home cook. In the restaurant, as expected, everything is done on a huge scale, and that tends to complicate things. I end up mixing the herbs with cucumbers by employing a very large bowl. Next is the horrific part of the pickles. One might think that pickles are a relatively healthy food product, you know, vegetables and all. Except for these pickled, I had to mix nearly 2 kilograms (yes, kilograms) of salt and sugar combined with water and vinegar before adding the brine to the cucumbers. Just remember all that salt and sugar next time you eat a pickle.
A side note: See all that butter on the right? Now imagine 10 times that amount, and you can only begin to imagine how much fat is used on a daily basis at the restaurant. One prep work job I had was to beat 5 pounds of butter in a food processor until fluffy and airy so it can be piped onto cured fluke. Another job was beating more butter with equally excessive quantities of duck fat. Twice as bad for you. Again, you don’t go out to a restaurant to eat healthy.
One other fun task I had was mixing the spices for the cure for the short ribs we have on the menu. Again, I was working in massive quantities. You can’t really tell in the photo below, but that was only half the amount. To top it off, all the spices hd to be ground up in the blender, but the blender could only take a few cups at a time. This long and loud process did get better as time went on, however, as wonderfully aromatic and spicy smells began wafting up from the second equally large bowl of finely ground spice. Once all ground, these spices had to be mixed with 2 kilograms of pink salt, which looks just like salt with a fake, cartoonish pink color. Before I began mixing it in I was told that touching it would literally cause my skin to burn. And yet it’s being used to cure food that’s meant to be eaten!
I have something I need to get off my chest. I. Love. Avocado. Toast. I know, I know, it’s not surprising; I am a Millennial after all, and aren’t Millennials supposedly depleting all of the world’s avocado sources? Bon Appetit’s Andrew Knowlton included it in his Food Trends We Hope Disappear in 2017 round up, and people have even gone as far as to claim that avocado toast is the reason why Millennials aren’t buying houses. Seriously. Much like pumpkin spice and unicorn-themed treats, avocado toast has gotten a bad rap.
The Butcher’s Daughter, NYC – poached eggs and hollandaise sauce
Consider this my ode to avocado toast. Versatile, enticing, and oh-so photogenic, avo toast is always my go-to meal when I go out to eat for breakfast/brunch/lunch. No two toasts are the same, but you can always guarantee that it will be tasty. I have eaten toasts topped with scrambled, poached, and fried eggs. Toasts piled high with heirloom tomatoes and even ones decorated with edible flowers. The avocado toast add-ons seem endless.
Not only is avocado toast delicious, it can also be quite nutritious. Avocados are filled with monounsaturated fats (aka the good kinds of fats!), potassium, vitamins B and C, and are high in fiber, making avocados pretty inside AND out. Factor in the carbohydrates the bread contributes and toppings like eggs, nuts and seeds, radishes, tomatoes or pickled onions and you’ve got yourself a stunning and healthy breakfast/lunch/snack.
Green Engine Cafe, Haverford, PA – pickled onions, crushed pumpkin seeds, baby greens, olive oil, fig balsamic
I am writing this in hopes that avo toast haters will realize how ridiculous it is to despise something that is just so undeniably delightful and good for you too. As if I haven’t already gotten your mouth watering, here are a few of my favorite avocado toast toppings for when I make it at home…
Spread a creamy cheese like goat or Boursin on your toast before dolloping on your avocado mixture
Add some pickled red onions as a topping
Drizzle on your favorite flavored olive oil or balsamic vinegar
Top with bean sprouts for an extra little crunch
Homemade – heirloom tomatoes fresh from the garden, bean sprouts, lime & salt
Picking the perfect spot for brunch is a foodies weekend priority. There are many aspects that come into play when deciding where to feast after a long week of studying, partying and overall exhaustion. This review will explain why Parc Restaurant should be on the top of your “Places to Try” list. Below, I divide this review into three categories: the food, the atmosphere and the location.
Parc, a traditional French restaurant, has one of the most extensive brunch menus in Philly. The menu is huge, so whether you are in the mood for a classic brunch item or a more typical lunch item, you are in luck. The last time I went was 11 o’clock on a Sunday, so this review will mainly focus on brunch items. The dishes I tried were: the yoghurt parfait, avocado toast, smoked salmon tartine and mushroom tart.
The yoghurt parfait had a raspberry compote, which added a sweetness to the yoghurt and made it a little more special than an average parfait.
Yoghurt Parfait with Fresh Berries and Granola
The avocado toast came topped with poached eggs and an interesting salsa on the side. I have tried many different avocado toasts since the fad began but none have had a sauce like this before; it worked surprisingly well with the dish! My only complaint with this dish was that the avocado was only sliced on the bread and not actually mashed or seasoned.
Avocado Toast with Poached Eggs
Next, the smoked salmon tartine was a good combination of brunch and French cuisine. It had a Horseradish crème fraîche, which made it a bit more unique than other smoked salmon tartines I’ve tried.
Smoked Salmon Tartine
Finally, the mushroom tart with Pioppini mushrooms and truffled pecorino. This is probably at the top of my list for mushroom tarts that I have tasted. The crust was flaky and the earthy truffle pecorino paired perfectly with the mushrooms. It was incredibly rich, so I would definitely recommend sharing it.
No matter how great the food, a restaurant’s atmosphere has a huge impact on one’s overall experience. Parc has big windows that open up the restaurant and brighten it up. It definitely has a French bistro vibe and is quite relaxed, which is perfect for when you are looking for a nice weekend brunch. The people were also all very nice.
One of the big perks about Parc is its location. It is adjacent to Rittenhouse square, which is the epitome of where a Sunday stroll should occur. Walking there from campus is ideal and the area around it is nice for a post-meal walk.
As part of their mission to teach their students skills applicable to daily life aside from what they learn in class, Penn has launched a new series called Quaker Kitchen. Several times per semester, Chef Zach Hankins of New College House and his team are hosting intimate chef demonstrations of recipes that are easy to make and truly delicious. Additionally, nutritionist Daniel Connolly is present to discuss the dietary components of the recipes and answer any questions about eating healthy at school or at home that you might have.
The first of this series surrounded a fall pumpkin risotto. Creamy, seasonal, and the perfect balance of savory and sweet, the recipe includes local ingredients such as sugar-pumpkin, mascarpone cheese, dried cranberries, and toasted hazelnuts.
Hankins began by sweating some leeks and garlic in a small sauté pan with vegetable oil. He then added his rice to toast in the pan before adding white wine to ensure that the flavors at the bottom of the pan were fully incorporated into the dish. After allowing the wine to fully cook off, Hankins added his stock in small increments so that the rice could absorb as much liquid as possible. This allows for a creaminess to form in the rice as though the cheese has already been added. Once the rice is fully cooked through and on the softer side, he added his cream, butter, mascarpone, and salt and pepper to taste. He saved the cranberries for last to prevent the risotto from turning pink. The risotto was then served on a bed of puree made from roasted sugar pumpkin, and topped with chopped toasted hazelnuts and a parmesan crisp. Overall, the dish was excellent.
Hankins has said that he will continue to use this risotto recipe throughout the fall in the New College House dining hall with slight variation. Make sure you are on the lookout for that shrimp scampi risotto!
For more information about Quaker Kitchen events, attend Food Week from October 16th through 20th.
As winter approaches, I am reminded of the summer days when I had a lot of time (and resources) to make healthy, fresh meals in my own kitchen. One of my favourite supplements to play with at home is spirulina. One tablespoon has 4g of protein, is alkalizing and detoxifying for the body. Though spirulina might seem very fancy and overpriced, one jar is approximately $10 and will definitely last for more than a year if you only use a teaspoon of it a day (which is more than enough to make all these colorful recipes!) You can barely taste the bitterness of it if mixed into smoothies or bowls which is the way I love to make it.
1 ripe banana, previously peeled and frozen
1/2 cup sliced cucumber
3/4 – 1 cup milk (I use almond/macadamia milk)
1 cup kale
1 tsp spirulina powder
1 Acai packet (frozen, optional).
Spriulina is full of chlorophyll, Vitamin A (again helping to minimize the effects of UV light) and other essential nutrients that keep your skin glowy and fresh! It is approximately $12 a jar, but it lasts almost a year or more because you just need the tiniest spoon to get this beautiful, vibrant green colour.
Spirulina Chia Seed Pudding – For those who have a kitchen, spirulina, maple and chia seed pudding is a delicious alternative to morning oats or eggs. With a jelly-like consistency, it’s also an interesting texture for those on the more adventurous side! Chia seed puddings are ridiculously easy to prepare (just needing chia seeds, a type of milk, spirulina powder and some maple syrup) and sets in the fridge overnight for easy breakfast on the go.
1 Cup milk
1/4 cup Chia
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons chocolate powder (cacao powder)
1 tablespoon spirulina
Spirulina “Nice Cream” Bowl
Blending frozen bananas together with spirulina gets you artificial-sugar free ice cream that is a gorgeous green color.
Like peanut butter and jelly, wine and cheese, and sea salt and caramel – I consider coffee and music to be a classic pairing.With fall finally kicking in to full swing, there is nothing more satisfying than getting ready in the chilly mornings with a good playlist and steaming cup of coffee in hand, or taking shelter from the wind within the comfort of cozy coffeeshops. I spend entire afternoons like this – my mind retracing the lyrics of new favorite songs, the smell of coffee beans still lingering on my sweaters.
In homage to my love for the two, I’ve created a caffeine-fueled playlist in case you’ve grown tired of listening to the same old coffee shop tunes. Lonely Benson’s Silly Girl is my morning shot of espresso, and Daniel Caesar’s Best Part is a slow, comforting cup of mocha – enjoy 🙂
[A flavor profile on some of my favorite songs from the playlist]
Japanese Denim: a rich, earthy brew of slow R&B with a hint of sweet jazz.
Black Coffee: like its name, this song is a cup of deep, bold notes. A refreshing adaptation of the more sultry, citrus flavored rendition by Ella Fitzgerald. Best played straight up on early mornings for the perfect pick-me-up tune.
Easy: Mac Ayer’s Easy is smooth cuppa coffee. Like a caramel macchiato, let the song envelop you in the bittersweet, charming lyrics.
Hello fellow foodies! For everyone out there who always wondered what it was like working in a professional kitchen, look no further! Over the past several years I have gotten increasingly obsessed by food and cooking. Finally capitalizing on that I decided that I wanted to get involved in the food world. In no way do I see myself in this profession as a career (especially now that I’ve seen what it’s like), but I thought it would be a rewarding experience to discover what goes on behind the scenes of a restaurant. This will be the first of a biweekly (or is that wishful thinking?) blog chronicling my adventures in the kitchen.
My culinary career started with cold emails. I knew that I wanted to be able to work a decent number of hours each week, preferably not during the week when I had class and studying. As I wanted to leave Fridays open, I started scanning lists of “Best Restaurants in Philly,” etc. and my own personal knowledge of the food scene here for interesting restaurants open Saturdays and Sundays who listed contact information on their website. After compiling such a list I sent a brief email out to each of them, almost stupidly impersonal, telling how I was a member of Penn Appetit, some nonsense about how I thought so-and-so’s cuisine was a unique blend of creative and traditional fare, and how I had zilch, zero, nada, experience cooking professionally but how I had learned to cook from my parents, was very passionate about food, and wanted to help out in the kitchen.
No more that two days later, the Chef of one of Philly’s top restaurants sent me a reply, asking if I could come in sometime that week to discuss. Two days later and I made my way nervously into the restaurant during off hours. As I step inside, an employee tells me they don’t open for another three hours and asks if I would like to see the menu. My foray into the behind-the-scenes had begun! Chef comes out from the kitchen–separated from the dining room by a glass wall extending from countertop to ceiling, so the cooks can see the diners, and vice versa–and asks me to sit down. A no more than two minute conversation leads to the facts that a) This was a totally voluntary experience with no minimum hours or shift requirements, b) When could I start? Not this weekend but the next, and c) I’d come in at 3 pm, help out in the kitchen prepping, plating, and tasting both before and during service, and stay till closing time helping clean up in the kitchen. Just like that, I had the job (unpaid, although, as I would learn, I would be heavily compensated for my time in food).
When I walk into the restaurant on my first day, Chef is there to greet me, and he walks me into the back and shows me where I can get an apron and white jacket. I put them on and already feel like part of the team. Then I step out into the kitchen and am greeted by a melee of action. In the hallway leading around the corner to the kitchen, Chef first brings me into the walk-in, or small room sized refrigerator, with shelves stacked full of bins of fresh fall apples, verdant shelves with boxes of lettuce and crispy cucumbers, shelves loaded with plastic quart containers filled with mysterious sauces, spiced ducks hanging by their necks in the back corner, and a tray of fresh salmon waiting to be filleted and de-boned. And it is by far the best refrigerator you’ve ever stuck your nose in. Freshness and umami seem to permeate the room, as if forgetting that wondrous smells are usually muted by the cold. After introducing me to the walk-in, Chef takes me past the dishwashing station, around the corner, and I’m greeted by the chefs. The kitchen itself is not very large, with a nice view into the kitchen through the glass wall, but the neatness of the dining room, no matter how much they try, can’t be replicated in the kitchen, where cleanliness is much less emphasized than one would hope (or imagine). Chef says I’ll be working with another cook at the garde manger station.
As I’ll later learn, there are generally just three stations working on an one night of service. Garde manger prepares cold “apps” (appetizers) and desserts, fish/saute does fish/saute, and then meats does meat and other hot plates. On Fridays and Saturdays someone also works the annex, essentially taking a few dishes from each of fish and meats to lighten the load on the busiest nights of the week.
Back to my first foray into garde-manger-ing (which is so not what it’s called), my first task is preparing an apple pomegranate salad that is a topping for the salmon crudo on the menu. Chef painstakingly shows me how to square off an apple, slice it into planes, then matchsticks, and finally cubes, then plops down five apples in front of me and has me get to work. While the vibe of many professional kitchens is harsh, stress-inducing, or even violent, I was shocked with how calm and friendly all of the chefs were and how Chef himself took the time to show me how to cube apples.
Even during my relatively short (but way too long by professional standards) time prepping the apple salad, I begin to pick up on the lingos and mannerisms of the kitchen. An audible “Behind!” is necessary whenever passing behind another cook, whether or not one is carrying a bowl full of chopped apples, a vat of bubbling fat, or is simply passing by. “Sharp!” is absolutely necessary when passing with a knife, and “Hot!” is used in the appropriateness scenarios. The people I met all have their own unique personal stories, and even over the first two weekends I was able to pick up on some of the interesting tales of who I was working with. One of the cooks grew up in Israel, used to be an elementary teacher but “burned out teaching,” and followed a cooking passion into a new career. Another cook, I surprisingly learned, will finish a five-year probation this February, after several DUIs and a jail term. Another cook tells me the cooking world used to have a cocaine problem, but now it’s “just caffeine.”
Shortly after prepping the apple salad it’s already four o’clock, which means staff meal. A hasty ten minute clean up occurs and then all cooks and front-of-house staff grab a plate of food prepped by the chefs and eats out in the dining room. In my first few days we had kugel, some sort of braised beef, a slightly deconstructed version of the chicken dish on the menu, and purple fried rice, generally always served with a salad. While not as refined as menu items, the quality of ingredients and prep methods still shone through, as did the restaurant level appreciation for salt. Staff meal is really the one chance for chefs to take a break and sit down during their shift, which insanely goes from 12 to 12.
Staff meal of latkes, rice, salad, and vegetable curry
After staff meal, prep work continues and seamlessly flows into service. In that last hour or so before service started, over my first few days I worked on projects ranging anywhere from finely chopping herbs, making Russian dressing in massive multi-quart amounts, or peeling and then grinding roasted beets that would end up in a borscht tartar dish. The details begin to run together after just four days, surely due to the sheer number of things that gets done during one hectic day in the kitchen.
After just these few days cheffing I already began to feel the aches, pains, bruises, burns, and other assorted downs of hard restaurant work. The kitchen is a hot, sweaty place, you essentially stand around for eight hours at a time, and there is always the danger of burns or cuts. I quickly learned that staying hydrated was all important–one day I ignorantly didn’t have anything to drink after staff meal, and while that mentality is perhaps fine during a normal day of classes, not drinking during service rapidly led to the pangs of a headache. Then Chef showed me the trick–fill up a massive plastic quart container with water from a tap behind the bar in the dining room. In fact, the act of getting water is a treat in and of itself. I would step out from behind the line in the kitchen, step through a swing-door, and be transported into the comparative calm of the dining room where I fill my quart from a tap behind the bar area. As I fill my quart I look around at patrons taking in their meal, always oblivious to this sweaty, inexperienced college chef with no idea what he is doing, espying on them taking in their meals. Such is the invisibility granted by the chef jacket.
What follows is an account of the mishaps I experienced in these first few days, in no particular order.
After one pre-service job of chopping excessive amounts of pickles, chili peppers, scallions (twice because I messed up the first time), parsley, and radish, I woke up the next morning with a diagonal blister running along the base of my right pointer finger, exactly where the backside of the knife pressed into the meat of my finger as I sliced again and again. Needless to say, this made scribbling furiously on my midterm that morning quite the painful (and distracting!) process.
My time in the kitchen so far has ranged from doing prep work, either saving Chef’s time that would have been spent the next day or preparing things they’ll need during service, to organizing and rearranging food, to helping work the line during service (which is the best part, I’ll get to that later). One job I was told to do was remove a large metal bin from an ankle-height rack from the oven, covered in foil such that I had no idea what was inside. As I protected my hands with towels and proceeded to remove the mystery container, it tilted slightly, and boiling beef fat came pouring out over the floor, my shoes, and pants. Somehow, I didn’t feel a thing, but my once pristine shoes certainly did. Thankfully, Chef simply smiled when he heard what I did, instead of the perhaps more expected berating I could have expected. Related to the shoe incident is the fact that the floor of the kitchen is constantly wet, especially post service during clean-up (hopefully from soap/water and not fat), such that walking around in normal sneakers is well-nigh impossible. Noticing me tottering around trying not to slip into a knife or hot oven, chefs pointed out the need for what I call chef-shoes: black clog like things with lots of grip. I’m now proud to say my first investment in the industry has been a pair of ugly, outlandish clunkers, and not, say, a beautiful chef’s knife. That’s next on the list.
A delectable and unique dessert, the bacon and egg cream, with custard, chocolate foam, bacon, and smoked syrup
As I briefly mentioned, the best parts of my short career so far has been when I’ve been on the line, meaning standing behind the counter, facing into the dining room, helping work garde manger and plating the cold apps and desserts. Over the first two weeks I learned how to plate a fruit cake (swirl a dollop of custard into a pretty shape on a plate, center cake on top of it, dollop blueberry compote around one edge, dust with confectioner’s sugar), a hazelnut tart (carefully squeeze out several blobs of grape sauce into a pretty pattern on a plate, arrange several squares of tart over sauce, top with candied nuts), and apple pie (place apple pie on plate, place quenelle of flavored whipped cream on top, flake over mint leaves). This last dessert was something I learned but wasn’t yet allowed to actually plate because of the difficult quenelle. For those who don’t know, a quenelle is the shape your ice cream comes in when you order it at fancy restaurants, a football-like sphere that can be used to present all sorts of purees, mashes, ices, and, I guess, whipped creams, in a pretty fashion. I learned the deceptively simple technique and immediately screwed up my quenelle. An apple cake is ruined, and Chef sends me into the corner to go eat it. That has been another delicious part of the job: Chef will cook up a mini version of one of the dishes on the menu and send me out of sight of the dining room to scarf it down. On the first day he even made me a set of fried fish tacos near the end of service–the sheer quality and quantity of food available to eat is inspiring, delicious, and intimidating–how to choose what to have for dinner?
Lastly, I learned to plate two cold apps, perhaps my proudest moments in the early going. One dish is a sort of mackerel dip served with lettuce leaves, designed to be folded up into lettuce cups and eaten with your hands. The plating was simple and I was allowed to plate this dish on my own after a few tries, but I can’t say every plate I sent out was perfect. On my first solo attempt, I delicately scooped the fish into the bowl, topped it with pickled beets, garnished with dill, and selected four pristine sheets of lettuce to serve as the scooping implements. I place the bowl on the expediting counter where it’s picked up by servers and brought to the table. Smooth, right? Except I forgot to crumble the gribenes (crispy chicken skin) over the top, as advertised by the menu! (Please don’t tell anyone, I still haven’t).
The second dish I plated was a more complicated Brussels sprout appetizers. When the order comes in, lots has to come together at once. I call over to meat station for an order of croutons, which are then tossed in the deep frier while I pull out the correct plate, squeeze caesar dressing over it in some geometric pattern of dots using a squeeze bottle, and pull out a mixing bowl. Into the bowl go pre-roasted sprouts, pine nuts, parmesan, olive oil, lemon juice, a sauce made from raisins rehydrated in red wine vinegar, salt to taste (and way more than you would think), and halved grape. On my first few tries, the chef I was working with would at this point taste the dish and instruct me on its seasoning. The first few times, as I expected, my salting was way too low, but after a few tries I was told that my first mixing was the best yet! I was getting the hang of it! After a few minutes the croutons would be ready, I’d grab them out of the frier, place them carefully one by one on top of each dollop of caesar, and then arrange the sprouts mixture over the croutons, making sure it didn’t look too messy. A final sprinkling of parmesan and off to the expediter it went. (I must admit that I forgot the grapes during my first solo plating–no one was watching and I got away with it–but hopefully there wasn’t some eagle-eyed diner who noticed the as advertised “Brussels sprouts-raisins, grapes, pine nuts, pumpernickel, caesar dressing” was missing the grapes. Oops. Subsequent platings went better and better, however, and when I was told to plate one just for myself (yeah, that happens pretty often in the kitchen), I whipped up the salad, gobbled it down in the back, and appreciated the deliciousnousness of my efforts.)
Brussels sprouts with raisins, grapes, pine nuts, pumpernickel, caesar dressing
I guess you know you’re a true foodie when you get excited to go to the grocery store!
But honestly, one of my favorite places in Philly is the Whole Foods by the Art Museum. Since I had a rare Friday afternoon off, why not start off my weekend with a little treat?
To be fair, I did actually need some groceries, but I couldn’t wait to hit up the amazing prepared foods. I especially love this location because it includes some top local restaurants, such as Dizengoff and Servino. That Friday, November 3rd also marked the opening of Goldie and Federal Donuts. Perfect!
I decided to walk up because it was such a nice day, and I was starving by the time I got there. It was towards the end of the lunch rush, but the restaurant area was still packed. Instead of waiting, I went to the salad and hot bar and filled up two containers to the brim.
For dessert, I decided to try the tehina shake that Goldie is so famous for. I figured that since there’s a Federal Donuts on campus, I wanted to get something different. If you’re not familiar with tahini, it’s a condiment made from ground sesame seeds commonly found in Middle Eastern cuisine. It has a slightly nutty flavor, reminiscent of peanut butter. I love using it in sauces and dressings, but I had never tried it on its own like this. The shakes came in original, banana, and Turkish coffee, and I opted for the original.
After the first sip, I was in heaven! The tahini hits you immediately and then the nutty aftertaste sneaks up on you. The shake is super rich and creamy but not overwhelmingly sweet, and it’s just the right consistency to slurp up with the straw. Once I started drinking it, I couldn’t put it down!
Original tehina shake, yum!
In addition to the tehina shakes, Goldie is also known for its falafel, served either in a pita or on a salad. It’s actually an all vegan restaurant, using no meat or dairy products, but you definitely don’t feel like you’re missing anything. In addition to being in Whole Foods, they have another location in Center City on 16th and Sansom. Goldie has definitely piqued my interest and I can’t wait to try other things on its menu!
A temptation that I could never resist is the temptation of a perfectly glazed airy donut.
There are donut shops down every two to three streets, with each shop showcasing their one and only creations. From apple pie to lime coconut stuffed d0nuts and munchkins to timbits, these photo worthy delicacies are so worth!
Fried dough aka ‘dough’nuts can be enjoyed breakfast lunch and dinner, like I did during my fall break. Not only did I savor over 10 different types of donuts over 5 days, my journey also happened literally without boundaries: in my dorm, at the airport, on a plane, in a foreign country.
The donut to start my day at 4am, in the airport from Philly to Toronto was Dunkin. Although Dunkin Donuts does not appeal to me most of the time, those freshly baked donuts in the morning with some brewed coffee seemed like just the thing I needed to give me a sugary burst of energy.
Munchkins, the donut holes, tend to be more cakey and soft than regular donuts. A big plus is that you can try out more flavors! Naturally, I went for the 6 for $2 deal to get an assortment of honey glazed, original, and chocolate munchkins. I thought since I already got 3 flavors, might as well try out another, so I also ordered the blueberry donut.
After my plane landed in Toronto, the first shop I spotted was Tim Hortons. What else if not Canada’s most prevalent cafe/ donut chain! Throughout my four days spent in Quebec, I saw a Tim Hortons once every two streets. I couldn’t resist those glazed donuts staring right back at me. The most well known flavors are the Boston stuffed creme donuts and the original glazed crullers. Naturally, I decided to start my Canada donut streak with the local recommendations.
The filling was an extra sweet custard, the chocolate crust was semi melted, and the donut dough was more chewy and stretchy than cakey and crumbly. They had warmed the donut for me, so the sweet flavor combinations were enhanced.
Upon another visit to Tim Hortons I decided to try the Timbits and the maple creme classic. How could I leave Canada without trying a maple donut? To give an honest comparison between dunking munchkins and Hortons Timbits, I would say that Dunkin would be a 7/10 and the Timbits would rate a 4.5/10. Unlike the extremely dense and cakey munchkins the Timbits were slightly hard and dry. (This ratings could be affected by the state of the Timbits at the specific shop I went to)
After exploring Quebec, I discovered a local cafe called Saint-Henri micro-torréfacteur. The place was also famous for their original donuts and rich coffee. So I had to try those creations for myself.
I ordered two donuts, the Chai tea classic donut (on the left) and the apple pie donut (on the right). But after wolfing down both donuts, I decided to go for a third donut and chose the lime and coconut creme donut, recommended to me by the owner of the cafe.
These donuts were cakier than the Tim Hortons dough, but the stuffing was light and airy in comparison to the dense custard Boston creme donut. Furthermore, the chai tea donut’s spiced glazed and nut topic were very complementary with a cup of soy milk latte.
My next destination was Obama’s favorite beavertail fried dough restaurant called Queues de Castor. The restaurant is famous for their oval shaped dough, that looks like the tail of a beaver with a wide selection of toppings available. I chose to try the Nutella banana beavertail.
Since they fry the dough for you immediately, the donut was crispy and hot! The Nutella and the banana were warmed by the crispy fried dough. The inside of the dough was soft and airy.
To finish my donut craze over the fall break, I had to retry another flavor from America’s well-loved donut chain Dunkin Donuts. Celebrating fall, dunlin’s cream cheese apple crumble flavor was very comparable to Tim Horton’s Apple Fritter donut.
The cream cheese apple donut had a chewy and melt in your mouth texture – not much chewing needed for me to gulf down the entire donut. I would say that the cream cheese tasted a bit like icing, and the consistency also resembled more of an icing than a creme.
To end my log of the donuts I had over a course of five days, I would say that my donut journey has just started. Now that I’ve come to appreciate the difference in texture and taste of different donuts, it’s time for me to explore the local donut delicacies in Philly.
You like food, you literally live for it. From breakfast to diner, you spend your time musing about it, dreaming about the next recipe and reading every restaurants reviews on TripAdvisor. Still, you also like watching movies on raining sunday nights while munching some popcorn and some comfort food.
What would be better than actually watching an entertaining movie on this passion?
PennAppetit draws a list of the best foodie movie :
– Sweet Bean : I have not enough adjectives to qualify this movie : Adorable, excellent, heart breaking. A socio historical fresque framed around the making of ask, a must watch.
– Ratatouille : I hope you have all watched it, but this pixar movie simply makes you want to eat a whole plate of ratatouille.
– L aile ou la Cuisse : A truculent ‘French comédie’ mocking the Guide Michelin critics.
– le Festin Chinois : an ode, an hymn to Chinese cuisine.
– le festin de Babette : What would you do if you suddenly become a billionaire ? Babette throws a banquet
– Une affaire de gout / A question of Taste ; A cooking thriller. I don’t wish to reveal more.
– Les Saveurs du Palais // Haute Cuisine: An unknown franche chef from the Périgord is hired by the French President. Between Traditions, label, resentment and politics, an enhancement of French family food.
-Entre Les Bras / Set Up To The Plate- La cuisine en Heritage: excellent documentary of the Bras family ( famous French chef in Laguiole).
– Guy Martin, un artiste en cuisine. On the work of Guy Martin, a famous Michelin stars chef.
– Jiro Dreams of Sushi : A superb American documentary on the three stars Michelin and sushi maker Sukyabahsi Jiro.
– Kings of Pastry : For any French pastry maker, the title of Meilleur Ouvrier de France, is the ultimate graal. 16 chefs, 3 days, 1 place, the competition can start!
– Food Inc : an excellent documentary on the US Agriculture Industry, narrated by the non less outstanding Michael Pollan