Good Food (Coconut Curry Chicken and Garlic Chicken Gyoza)

What a delicious week this has been.

First off, as you all know if you have been reading along, I’ve been interning at a bakery all week where delicious pastries of all sizes and shapes abound. Goodness, have I had my fair share of test tastings and sweets during the last week.

I’ve also been cooking up some more extravagant dishes in the kitchen as of late with the free time I have away from school. This free time has been an absolute gift; not only have I found time to care of so many things on my to-do list, but I’ve had time to dive into some dishes I have been waiting to cook up.

Also, as you may also know if you have been reading along, this was prom weekend for me, meaning a great dinner — filet mignon, chicken, sweet potato souffle, creme brulee — at prom and a scrumptious breakfast with friends and Girlfriend (you can see of what breakfast I’m talking about below and in this post).

With all these sweets from the bakery and elsewhere, my sweet taste buds are starting to get a bit tired out. My saving grace? Coconut Curry Chicken and Garlic Chicken gyoza I prepared and froze about two weeks ago, ready to be steamed or pan-fried at will.

These gyoza were incredibly fun to make (and very time-consuming, but I already told you that I have lots of time on my hands nowadays) because I started with some gyoza wrappers I bought, excess coconut milk and garlic, a fridge-full of ingredients, and no recipe in hand. I have to say, these gyoza definitely turned out very well for my first time preparing them, considering I was cooking off the cuff (off the top of my, umm, chef’s hat? But I digress…). The chicken delicately poached in a combination of coconut milk and curry is just awesome and, well, who doesn’t like garlic and chicken? I mean, come on, that combination was born a winner.

Here’s to another week of deliciousness–albeit, a bit further towards the healthier side :P.

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Fudge, The Intern (Part II): Full Speed Ahead

Going in today, I thought I was about to be on full-time cookie duty, ready to learn about the other types of cookies the bakery makes on a daily basis. My thoughts were confirmed as I started a batch of oatmeal raisin and snicker doodle cookies…

…until N said, “Hey, clean everything off your workspace. Let’s do some fun stuff.” After that, I knew I was in for more than just cookie making today.

What followed was a crash course in piping frosting, something I had never done before. I’ll be the first one to admit, I was really no good at first, but I think I started to get the hang of it after doing dozens of mini cupcakes. There were four steps to this whole process, and it went a little like this:

Step 1: Arrange The Cupcakes

Each box of 12 mini cupcakes was going to contain four of each flavor cake. This step expedited the whole process.

Step 2: Frost The Cupcakes

The above is my handiwork. As you look towards the back in the picture, you can see how my piping transformed throughout. All the red velvet and vanilla mini cupcakes received a vanilla buttercream frosting while the chocolate got frosted with chocolate frosting.

Step 3: Smush The Cupcake (Into the sprinkles, that is)

Each column of cupcake was dipped into a different sprinkle, making 12 cupcakes with 11 different sprinkles per row.

Step 4: Package And Seal The Cupcakes

Now you see why the arranging step came in handy.

I finished the order just in the nick of time (the box was taken out of my hands and delivered to a customer right then and there!). Afterwards, it was off to finishing off the donut muffins, the confection that actually drew me to this bakeshop to apply for my internship. Well, not before a snack first ;).

See how the wrappers are falling off? That's a no-no for presentation, so they became duds. In the words of "L," my supervisor, "Sorry about the red velvet cupcakes I baked, I forgot to burn them."

Now, back to those donut muffins. Those yummy, yummy donut muffins. I first encountered them at my school. A friend of mine brought a batch to school one day and I was instantly hooked. You want to know why?

Imagine a donut. Got that? Alright. Make that the fluffiest cake donut you’ve ever had. Now imagine a muffin, but take out all that filler–no nuts, no blueberries, no bran, just a muffin of pure vanilla batter. Finally, imagine these two sweets had three even sweeter children–all 1/2 cake, all 1/2 muffin. Oh wait, I take that “finally” back. Finally, sprinkle some fairy dust on them. You get a little something like this:

They come in three varieties–vanilla, chocolate chip (is it a chip? More like a fleck), and mini–and yes, they do taste even better than they look. Believe me when I say that these were very hard to let slip out of the kitchen.

Next task was to check up on the fudge I made yesterday. No surprise, the fudge turned out pretty darn good; it’s like making fudge is in my blood or something.

😐

Anyways, my final two tasks were making the salted caramel brownies (the other delicious reason I applied for this internship) and the pecan bars. The salted caramel brownies were very time-consuming yet fun–there were lots of prep and measurement, including parking and fully baking the brownies with and without the caramel (a lesson in offset spatula usage).

Not the best picture, but this is the only one I have that shows you the ooey-gooeyness of it all. A better photo is forthcoming.

The pecan bars were also a blast to make because pecans are some of my favorite nuts and, well, when you combine them with butter, sugar, and shortbread…I think you get my point. I never got to take a taste of the brownies and the pecan bars today, but my memory of the salted caramel brownie from a few months back is still very strong: an intense chocolate taste offset by the sweet, almost burnt caramel flavor, all complemented by a generous sprinkling of fleur de sel and packaged in a fudgey, gooey square. One of the best brownies I’ve ever had, hands down.

Yet again, not the best photo; yet again, better photo forthcoming.

As I closed the door to the oven where my pecan bars had just left, my day at the bakery also came to a close. I learned so much from my experience there today; there really is no other way to learn baking like this than being in the thick of it, and I thank my supervisor and all the other employees I’m working for the opportunity and for putting up with a rookie like me.

Throughout the day, N let me stockpile a few odds and ends, test samples, and day-old pastries for a taste test grab bag. Don’t you worry, readers, you’ll read much more about those tomorrow. For today, however, I’ll just leave you with a little preview:

P.S.: I told you I would have a better photo of the chocolate chip cookies, and here it is! I’m a man of my word, people.

It’s Been A Long Time (Homemade Gnocchi)

Long time no see, people! It’s been much too long since my last post. I, uh, the reason it has been so long is well…

…I just forgot to post for a while.

The other day I visited the farmer’s market to buy some beautiful veggies and herbs for dinner and for the rest of the week. I got home, prepared my wonderfully simple dinner, snapped a couple of pictures, and suddenly I thought, “Oh. OH. BLOG. Didn’t I post last weeke–no. The weekend befo–wait, no…whoops.”

What $3 can buy you at the farmer's market: Chicken Kebab ($2), Ear of Corn (.75¢), Mixed Greens (.25¢)

Yeah. Lame, I know. For that, I am so sorry, readers.

Readers, you deserve something better than a post once in three weeks, because, readers, you are all awesome.  For that reason, I did something special for you all: homemade gnocchi.

You know, gnocchi! Those little riveted mini potato dumplings/pasta you order at a nice italian restaurant? Yeah, those things. Now sprinkle some love, elbow grease–no potato ricer or food mill in here, people–and homemade on that gnocchi and you’ve got a masterpiece. I think the sheer fact that this gnocchi is from scratch elevates its texture–soft, pillowy, dreamy–and subtle flavor to a new level.

Be nice to your gnocchi: use a good-quality pasta sauce like the Rao's arrabiata sauce I used.

Pasta from scratch–especially gnocchi–has been on my list to make for a long time. I keep a Moleskine journal on me at all times and my list of dishes to cook and bake has been growing and growing. Thus, I thought I would start a little feature called 11 in 2011. Click on the link to learn about it!

Now, let us begin the healing process, readers. Have some gnocchi. Okey…gnocchi? HAH! 😀

Sorry. That may have hurt more than it helped.

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Plans (Roasted Purple Cauliflower and Broccoli & Turkey Meatballs)

Plans have a funny way of turning into something completely unplanned.

Sometimes you spend two hours preparing food for a bike ride to and picnic at the local park, and sometimes that park and bike ride becomes an indoor picnic on your bed with a picnic blanket, Regina Spektor in the background, and a ravenous labrador retriever hounding you for a bite to eat.

Sometimes you bike after you have an indoor picnic and then decide to come back and play Halo with Girlfriend because she insists upon blasting me upside the face with a plasma gun (Score: Fudge 17, Girlfriend 0…sorry, Girlfriend 😉 ).

Authentic, delicious mochi balls from a little Japanese/Korean market down the street for dessert.

Maybe you need to take Girlfriend home right away but really want a frozen lemonade so you stop at 7-11 for a Coke slurpee.

Maybe you were really excited for the plans you made and thought it was perfect.

Well, maybe they were; deviating from plans, however, made my day that much more perfect. Oh, that and the fact that I made turkey meatballs and found purple cauliflower at the farmer’s market. Purple cauliflower, people.

Did I mention it’s purple?

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Stress-Relief (Pizza Semi-Bianco)

First thing is first: my apologies for taking a two-week hiatus from blogging. If you refer to my last post, that may explain things a bit further. On the flip side, that means that I’ve got to make up for those blog posts soon, so double blog post weeks are on their way! My goal is to do at least a blog per week this year.

It has definitely been a rough few weeks, but friends and I are gradually getting back into the swing of things. We all have our own ways of recovering. Mine would be eating tons of sugary and carb-loaded foods and working out in long stretches to compensate.

It’s called balance, people. Doesn’t mean the balance is necessarily right.

Bread and cheese balance with veggies and garlic; a totally right balance

Thankfully, I just put the need to do something physical and the need for good food together by combining them in my first attempt to make pizza. I needed something light, something that would make me feel good (as much for my brain as for my waist), but it had to scream, “I am pizza! HEAR ME SIZZLE AND CRUNCH!”. I immediately thought of a pizza bianco, a traditionally sauce-less pizza decked out with onions, cheese, garlic, and in my case, basil and spinach (hence the semi-bianco, or semi-white).

Not to knock psychiatrists and therapists, but cooking is probably the best therapist you will ever meet. Somewhere between the whirring of a mixer, the sizzling of a skillet, and the heat of an oven lies the key to a release so basic and so simple; knead some dough and try to tell me you don’t automatically feel better. Not to mention, you get some great food afterwards (unless it all goes down south, in which case…lesson learned! I’m speaking from experience, people.)

(Just don’t ask me about pretzels, that tale stays between me and the garbage disposal…)

(But I digress.)

So thank you, food, for being my punching bag. Nothing against you, actual punching bag in the gym that I’ve spent so much time with during the past few weeks; you’ll get some attention after I indulge myself on this incredible pizza.

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Comfort (Roasted Tomato Soup & Panko-Crusted Grilled Cheese)

Those precious, rare, free moments. Those few golden hours with nothing errands to run, no homework to do, no tests to study for, no college apps need to complete anymore (I just finished all of them!!! :)). Those pure, unadulterated stretches of time to relax, rejuvenate, and recover.

Life can become hectic, especially for my friends and I, along with any other teenager, in what is probably the most volatile time of his or her life. With all this seemingly unending chaos, some people seem to burn out. I may be a second semester senior, but I can’t burn out; my grades still matter, along with those upcoming college interviews (very important…I’ve actually got two tomorrow!) and my weekend job at the restaurant. When I can devote a few worry-free hours and a bit of love to cook some comfort food in the middle of all of this, though, I take that opportunity.

I’d hardly be sane otherwise.

It’s a Sandwich-Soup-Sandwich Sandwich! Get it? Since the sandwich slices are “sandwiching” the soup…oh, nevermind.

The ingredients and recipe are simple enough for these dishes. Go the extra mile for these, though. Take that extra few glances in the oven to check if your vegetables are at the peak of their caramelization; take the few moments to taste and spice the soup along the way. Take the time to spruce up your grilled cheese with some panko breading; take the few extra seconds needed to grate the cheese instead of slicing it.

I could definitely the care and love I put into this perfect comfort combo. After I finished, I sat back in my chair, dunked my grilled cheese, ate…and did absolutely nothing else.

Perfect.

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