Thursday, December 19, 2013

True Confessions of a Wannabe Chef

I am not sure how many people who know me now even realize how much I love working in the kitchen. While it is true that I am a tutor (of Latin, grammar, and writing), in my last year of college, and the first year after, all I wanted to be was a chef. My first paying kitchen job was when I cooked, privately, for some great people who lived in the middle of nowhere. (I also cleaned their house, which is a decidedly less glamorous aspect of the time I spent there.)

Starting out, they gave me their favorite cookbook to use. Eventually, however, they gave me full reign over their weekly menus. I was watching Emeril Live! as often as I could (and re-watching segments on youtube) to learn how to perfect my form, gleaning tips from almost any source that I could. By far, my employers' favorite recipe of Emeril's was "Individual Beef Wellingtons." (This is not originally where I found the recipe, but here is a link to it. You can make it with or without the sauce.) I often served the Wellingtons with creamed spinach, and I got multiple requests for that meal. Even for dinner parties. It is a meal that I still cannot afford to make for myself (filet mignon is not cheap!). But if you have the skill and the money, honey, let me tell you: it is worth it! After we amicably parted ways at the end of that summer, I continued learning and experimenting with different techniques and genres of cooking.

My second paying kitchen job was at a Christian summer camp, 5 hours away from my home. I lived there for the summer, learning to cook for the masses. Literally. At one event the camp held, for example, we easily served over 1,000 people (whew!). And thanks to the brilliance and attention to detail of the head chef at the camp, most meals contained very little processed food.

I often think that if I ever got out of my current business to start a new career, it would be as a chef or a baker (yes, I bake a lot too). In selfish moments, I really wish that I was a culinary artist because then I wouldn't have to grade papers. But God hasn't said, "Go forth and be a chef or baker" in any way, shape, or form. So my cooking and baking will simply continue on as a hobby that I can use to bless my husband, family, and friends. At least for now.

Over the years, I have continued experimenting with things in the kitchen. This week's efforts were no different. Yesterday, I made carrot juice to go in a gingerbread cake recipe from Chocolate Covered Katie. I don't know what experiences you have had with "healthy" cooking, but this cake is so moist and delicious that you won't know it's healthy. Promise. (I made it sans icing by the way, so I cannot vouch for the icing recipe.) The gingerbread cake was so fantastic that even my anti-healthy-eating husband who has never liked gingerbread loved it.

I didn't snap a picture of the cake before I sliced it into individual portions, wrapped each one, and put them in a freezer bag. I didn't think I'd be blogging about it, but alas!

Anyway, I decided to make my own carrot juice to go in it because I refused to pay a ridiculously high price for the stuff when I only needed 1/3 of a cup. Plus, I didn't know whether or not I would like the results of the cake recipe. Plus, I've been secretly wanting to make juice because I have seen so many "juicing" recipes lately, for both the juice and the pulp. And buying carrots costs a lot less than buying carrot juice.

Did I mention that I was determined to make carrot juice myself?

At any rate, making carrot juice is really easy. I followed the first method on this website, using my trusty blender. Once I made the juice and put it in the gingerbread cake, I had plenty left over. So, I filled a glass with ice and juice and started sipping. If you realize before you try it that the juice is going to be a liquid that tastes like carrot, you're probably fine. For me, it still took a little getting used to. Once I got used to it, the juice was actually pretty good. Not good to the point of me making carrot juice in the future just to drink probably, but to put in recipes? Absolutely. I poured the rest of the carrot juice into ice cube trays and popped them into the freezer for later.

Step #1

Step #2

Making carrot juice also left me with a bunch of carrot pulp. Caveat lector: I do not like to waste anything that can be used. If it's trash, fine. But I save scraps that most people just dump into the trash, like onion ends and pepper tops for stock-making. Most vegetable scraps that I cannot use in cooking and consuming, I try to save for my dad's ongoing composting project, a project that will come in handy once it's time to plant in early spring. That being said, I knew ahead of time about the inevitable carrot pulp and had found a handy list of ideas for how to use it here.

I decided, based on time and resources, to make crackers out of the pulp using this recipe. (Possibly also because I'm going to be making Christmas-shaped crackers to go with a "soup mix in a jar" gift that I'm making to give to a friend this weekend. Sometimes, I get on certain "kicks" in the kitchen. This week's kick is apparently crackers.)

You mix the ingredients together and, since we do not own a dehydrator, I spread mine on a parchment-lined baking sheet. I made a half batch because I only had a little over a cup of pulp.

Yes, I put it right in the oven this way. Worked just fine.

Now, it does take a while in the oven. But that's okay, because it gives you time for other important things. Like...

...working out with your cat,

I do a few ballet/yoga/pilates type workouts on the floor. She usually sits under my legs when I raise them mid-exerice or sits on me during others. This was a tame day, though. She just supervised.

...finishing your Christmas cards,

Here's hoping that the last few arrive on time!

...sipping a cup of Root Beer tea (made with Rosemary Gladstar's recipe, and Jean's Greens herbs),

I could probably do an entire post about this tea and why
I drink it every so often.

...and sewing the rubber mat onto your kitchen rug so you don't constantly keep tripping on them and separating the rug from the mat while working in the kitchen.

I think that the rug is a bit too thick for my machine. I shouldn't have to pull so hard to get it to go through...

After about two or three hours, I flipped the cracker batter like she said. Mine started breaking into little pieces, some of which, to me, looked like foreign countries (anybody see India or the UK?).

Once you flip them, they go back into the oven for another long while. Which gives you time to free the rug and mat that have caused a major jam on your sewing machine.

I think we'll call it quits; 2 sides sewn is enough to hold it together.

Once they crisped up, which for me was a little over 8 hours in a 150-degree oven, I tried one.

They are really light, yet possessed a somewhat hearty taste. Hearty in the sense of "wholesome." I didn't want to use "wholesome" though, because that word freaks out a great deal of anti-healthy-eating people. Like my man.

The coriander and curry add a nice zip. To be honest, it initially had the same kind of sweetness as a sun-dried tomato. One thing of note: I used a low sodium soy sauce this time around. But if I make them again in the future, I think I will use a full sodium soy sauce. They need the salt. Overall, I think this recipe is worthy of your time if you often find yourself with vegetable pulp from juicing. I think they would be great for a snack with a piece of cheese or an apple. Or spread with a cream cheese dip, perhaps. Mmmmm.

Happy experimenting!