December 25, 2012

holiday cookies

One of the last things I did at my internship was decorate holiday cookies. It got me in the mood to make some of my own, and I did it just like they did at internship, using a sweet dough recipe normally used for tarts. I never thought you could have a multipurpose dough - for tarts and for cookies. It's very similar to shortbread, although more flavorful, with just enough crumble and snap.

The recipe (makes about 50 cookies):

soft butter 250g
sugar 175g
almond powder 40g
yolk 1
eggs 1
flour 400g
baking powder 3g
orange zest 2-3
cold water 12g

1) Cream butter and sugar for a few minutes using the paddle attachment. 2) Mix in the other ingredients in one by one in the order listed (although yolks and eggs can be mixed together first, as with the flour and baking powder). As soon as the cold water is mixed in and the dough comes together, stop mixing. 3) Take the dough out and spread it flat in a casserole dish or other pan. It should be thicker than you want your cookies to be. Refrigerate the dough for a few hours, or overnight. 4) Roll out the dough to the desired thickness. Cut and bake for 15 minutes or until golden and firm-looking. Then cool and decorate!

Here are some of my decorations:


holiday cookies 1


holiday cookies 4

Untraditional (since I didn't buy any holiday-specific cutters)

holiday cookies 2

And I also made gingerbread cookies using this recipe. Substituted maple syrup for molasses. It turned out well, just softer than the cookies I prefer. The fun cutters were ninja gingerbread men, on loan from my friend Kim.

holiday cookies 3

Happy holidays everyone!

December 15, 2012


I can't believe the past two years have gone by so quickly. The culinary department graduation ceremony took place last weekend and I had been chosen by my peers as a speaker. I wanted to share my speech, so here is the full text.

Good morning friends, family, teachers, classmates, chefs, administrators. It is an honor to speak before you today.

So the only reason I was able to finish this speech was because I was starving. I’ve known for a good two months that I needed to write this, but it wasn’t until a couple of days ago, where I made myself sit at my desk and literally did not allow myself to eat until this speech was finished that it actually got written.

Starving reminds me of the past two years here – especially in the beginning, when I had just moved here from New York. I had almost run out of savings, was taking class in eight-hour blocks. It wasn’t uncommon for me to skip meals. And it was always ironic to me, going to culinary school – cooking food for goodness sake, and starving at the same time.

But I didn’t mind – that much. Before I came here I was starving in a different sort of way. I was mentally, creatively starved. Working in a square box of a room, staring at a computer screen and filling out forms all day. I’m sure many of you career-changers came here to leave that kind of life, and I’m sure most of you are here because you want to avoid that kind of life.

But beyond that, I wanted to work with my hands. Actually make things that another human being could touch and be fed by. And here, I got to do that. Every day we would make food, that was sold in the cafeteria or the Latin Quarter (now Café Med) or the Pierre Coste (PCR) Dining Room and people ate it (for whatever reason, probably because they too were starving).

Anyway, in those past two years I have learned so much. Not just about how to make food, or how to work with people, but about how to work hard. For me it meant working, usually two part-time jobs, so I could actually feed myself while going to school. I’ve watched so many of my peers work full-time jobs, only to squeeze in a couple of hours of shut-eye before waking up at the crack of dawn and tackling a full day of school just to go to work and do it all over again.

And it wasn’t just the schedule that was hard but the work itself. When they say blood sweat and tears, let me tell you, I didn’t know I could sweat so much. I had to learn to be okay with it. Some days, it seemed like all we did was sweat. Flipping omelettes with the broiler, frying mounds of potatoes on the flat-top, baking loaves upon loaves of bread in the rack oven, stirring soup with a paddle the size of an oar in the steam kettle, packing the convection oven with ten pound roasts, trying to keep track of all the tickets in PCR, taking down the endless cafeteria lines that were always a blur of people, faces, steam, food on plate after plate after plate.

Besides sweating, culinary school was also a place where I got to work out some of the regrets I had in life. Like with scholarships for example. When I went to college before for my bachelors, it was straight out of high school and I didn’t apply to any scholarships because I was afraid I wasn’t good enough, that I couldn’t possibly be chosen so why bother trying. But when I came here and was starving and working two jobs and barely making ends meet and on top of it all, sweating every day, my “fear” didn’t really matter any more. I had nothing to lose, and I applied to every single scholarship I could get my hands on, and I ended up being accepted to a few. Enough to allow me to attend Chef Mark’s summer in Oaxaca program, which was amazing. But the most gratifying thing was being able to cross that regret off my list.

Another thing I got over? My inability to start a blog. When I used to work for the Red Cross, I would often think to myself: “Hey, wouldn’t it be great if I wrote about my disaster relief experience? I’m sure people would be curious to know how the operations actually work and where the money actually gets spent.” But for the life of me, I could never start. There was never enough time, or I was always too tired, or the things that I wanted to say were said already. But when I came to culinary school, I knew it was another one of those intensive life-altering things that I wasn’t going to do again, and I didn’t want it to go by undocumented. So I did it, I started a blog and kept it up through these two years. Maybe when regrets pile high enough they avalanche and... I started a blog, Ms. Reinhertz starts a blog, everybody starts a blog! Just kidding. Point is, when regret piles up and avalanches, something happens.

So when people tell you to live life without regrets, maybe they’re being idealistic, overly simplistic. Because I’ve found that regret is a powerful motivator. And when people tell you not to sweat the small stuff, or “don’t sweat it”, whatever “it” is, maybe that’s not so right either. Because sweating is literally your effort visualized. And when you’re motivated, and putting in all the effort, that’s when things change. Life changes. You change.

So to you I say: sweat it, and yes, sometimes, regret it. Starve, for this thing, and the next. Go out there and make this world yours – I've worked with you guys, I believe it.

Congratulations to all of you. It’s been a honor.


Awhile ago, my Food & Fitness instructor brought her kombucha culture to class. It was massive. She divided the scoby (symbiotic culture of bacteria & yeast) into pieces so anyone who wanted to make their own kombucha could have a piece.


I took a scoby piece home for kicks. The scoby needed something to feed on, so I brewed black tea (roughly 8 cups water, 4-5 tea bags) and sweetened it with sugar (3/4 cup).

brewing tea

After brewing, I waited till the tea cooled down to room temperature, then poured it into a clean jar (formerly of pickles) with the scoby and about a cup of its original liquid.

The jar was covered with a clean towel and left to undergo the aerobic (oxygen included) first fermentation. During that time the scoby grows thicker, the tea turns slightly sour and the whole thing starts to smell like apple cider vinegar.

first fermentation

10 days later I pour most of the liquid into a second jar, this time with a tight-fitting lid for the anaerobic (no oxygen) second fermentation. You can flavor your kombucha at this point - so far I have tried a capful of elderberry syrup (floral/fragrant and very pleasant), agave nectar (slightly spicy/smoky sweet) and honey lemon (still fermenting). You can use a variety of fruit purees or nectars to flavor.

Meanwhile I brew a new batch of tea to accompany the leftover scoby/liquid for another first fermentation.

second fermentation

5 days later I move the second fermentation to the refrigerator, to slow it down so it doesn't get too sour and fizzy on me. The fermentation lengths are something you can play with, both for the first and second fermentation. It's recommended to taste the liquid every day so you can see how you like it - the longer it goes the less sweet and more sour it gets.

If you're here in San Francisco, I'd be happy to give you a piece of my scoby. If you're not though, here's a good article to get you started with your own. Happy fermenting!

December 2, 2012

crème caramel

My co-worker Virgie had birthday this week and I couldn't make her a cake because I ran out of flour (Thanksgiving cleaned me out). So I had to brainstorm options. The flan/pudding I recently ate from Irving Cafe reminded me that I had yet to make a proper flan. So I looked at dozens of recipes, most of which called for whole milk and/or heavy cream, neither of which I had. I was about to settle for one of the recipes utilizing low-fat milk and/or sweetened condensed milk when I decided to search creme caramel, or French flan.

And that brought me to Julia Child's recipe. I had never made any Julia Child anything, so it was time.

First, caramelizing sugar: 2/3 cup sugar and 1/3 cup water heated until the mixture *just* starts to brown (the color will deepen after you turn off the heat). Pour the caramelized sugar to coat the bottom of the desired ramekins (I used two medium sized ones). Don't worry if you didn't pour the sugar evenly - it'll even out during baking.

caramel bottom

Next, bring 2 1/2 cups of milk (yes, I used low-fat) to a simmer. While that is going, whisk 3 eggs, 3 egg yolks and 1/2 cup of sugar together.

eggs & sugar

Once the milk is simmering, slowly pour it into the whisking egg/sugar mixture. Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

simmered milk

Then strain the mixture into the waiting ramekin(s).

strained into ramekins

Bake at 325F for 40 minutes, or until the creme caramel looks firm but is still wobbly and almost liquidy in the center. Pull it out to cool.

baked flan

I recommend serving it warm. You can run a knife around the edge and unmold it after it spends 10 minutes sitting in cold water. (Otherwise you can always cool it in the fridge overnight and serve cold the next day.)

unmolded flan

The creme caramel was exactly what I wanted flan to be: light and silky smooth. A little bit too sweet for my taste - next time I'll be sure to cut down on the amount of sugar.

eaten flan

But really, now I am a believer in Julia Childs. Wonder which recipe of hers I'll take on next!

dashi & miso

A couple of months ago I came across this recipe for dashi, or the mother broth of all Japanese cooking. I had a package of bonito flakes sitting in my pantry (an impulse buy from Daiso, the Japanese 99 cent store) but it wasn't until recently that I got my act together and bought some kombu (seaweed).

And so finally I had the two ingredients necessary for making dashi.

kombu & bonito flakes

Okay, so the seaweed wasn't actually Japanese, it was Chinese. But it was all that was available at my favorite ethnic grocery store. So anyway, I took a 6 quart part, ripped up enough seaweed to cover the bottom, and added 9 cups of water (enough to submerge the seaweed) and allowed the seaweed to soak for 20 minutes.

kombu soaking

After that I turned on the heat and brought the water to a simmer (watch for the small bubbles on the side!). Once that happened I turned the heat off and added the bonito flakes (2-3 cups worth).

with bonito simmered

I allowed the mixture to sit for 10 minutes, then poured it through a strainer. The strained broth has a nice clear golden color.

broth strained

Side note: I tried to make a second round of broth just by adding water and re-simmering, but the taste was very faint. I'm sure you could find a use for the second broth though - I mixed it with some of the first broth to make miso soup.

So to turn dashi into miso soup, you'll need miso paste and good quality soy sauce. And other ingredients depending on your taste - I had tofu and scallions but you could easily use bits of seaweed, mushrooms, etc.

miso ingredients

I made 4 servings of soup (~6 cups) using roughly 2 tablespoons each of miso paste and soy sauce. Soup was delicious.

miso soup

Cris made sushi from scratch to accompany the soup.

sushi accompaniment

Good news is I still have leftover dashi - will probably use it to make ramen, but you never know...

November 24, 2012

poached pear deluxe

For my birthday in September, my friend Daniel gifted me a bottle of dessert wine. I hoped to make a dessert with it (or to go with it), and since Daniel's birthday was this month I decided to use his gift to me and make a gift for him.

Being that I've been so busy/overwhelmed lately, I decided to keep things simple and do wine-poached pears. I've poached pears before, and I've poached mushrooms in white wine before, but this was the first time with pears and red wine. Had to dilute the wine with a bit of water so I'd have enough liquid to cover the pears. Also added a cinnamon stick and bay leaf for flavor. Brought the mixture to a boil and let it simmer for a little bit over an hour, until knife tender.

wine & pears poached

Decided the keep the whole pear intact because I thought it would be more dramatic. For toppings, I had caramel sauce and sweetened creme fraiche (tied in little ziplock baggies as makeshift mini piping bags), powdered sugar, and poaching liquid reduced and sweetened with agave syrup.

poached pear accoutrements

Spooned the reduced poaching liquid on first, then creme fraiche, caramel sauce, and the dusting of powdered sugar (through the mesh colandar) last. It looks pretty dramatic if I do say so myself.

poached pear deluxe

And it wasn't too sweet, because I didn't poach it with sugar. And Daniel liked it too. A warm and satisfying treat.

five+ spice turkey

Last year was the first year my family had a big turkey for Thanksgiving. My mom was the one who cooked it, and she was so worried it wouldn't turn out well. Except it exceeded all of our expectations. Besides being moist and flavorful, she also made a unique sticky rice & shiitake mushroom stuffing.

This year I wanted to tackle the turkey-making. As it was my first time, I was pretty worried too. I wanted to keep the sticky rice stuffing tradition going, so I thought the turkey should be flavored with Chinese five spice to be complementary. Cris found me this five-spice turkey recipe, which lays things out from start to finish. True to "me" form, I made some modifications to the recipe.

Started out with a 15-pound Butterball turkey. Took the neck out to make stock with later. Checked all of the cavities (or so I thought), but it wasn't till after the turkey was roasted and carved did the plastic sack of giblets turn out. So don't let that happen to you!

naked turkey

Anyway, cooked the brine with 5+ spices. Roughly 2.5 gallons of water (two of these pots), 1.5 cups of salt, handful of each of the following: cinnamon stick, clove, star anise, fennel seed, lemongrass, black peppercorn. Brought the mixture to a boil and let it cool (with some ice cubes to speed the process up).

brine & spices

Once the mixture cooled to about room temperature, it was poured over the turkey in double oven bags. The last minute addition of orange zest made it all the more fragrant. Tied the bags and put it inside an extra trash bag just in case. Then the whole thing went into the fridge.

turkey in brine

The turkey sat in brine for a good 24 hours, after which I dumped the brine, rinsed the turkey, and patted the turkey dry. Saved the spices though, and shoved them under the turkey skin wherever I could.

After overnight stay in the fridge to further dry out (to facilitate the skin being crispy when roasted), it was time to roast. First set the oven at 400F and roasted the breast side up for 45 min so the skin would brown. Then lowered the temperature to 350F and rotated the turkey every 30 min so it would cook evenly.

The soaked and stir-fried sticky rice was stuffed into the turkey at some point. Except it doesn't really cook in the cavity so I had to scoop it out and cook it in the rice cooker.

The turkey was pulled when the internal temperature was 155F. It came out glorious - skin crispy, super fragrant. And once carved, it was the moistest turkey I've ever had.

roasted turkey

Megan said the spices reminded her of the Chinese duck she likes to get. Very flavorful.

The only downside was that the bottom of the turkey was a little underdone. I think it's because I didn't roast the turkey breast side down, for fear the crispy skin would get soaked. Or maybe I should have let it roast for longer and pulled it out after the internal temperature reached 160F.

Not a loss though, because I used the bones and all the underdone parts to make turkey porridge, not unlike the chicken porridge I've made before. And that was delicious too.

November 18, 2012

cake pops

For my roommate Megan's birthday I thought about making funfetti cake, since funfetti mix is her favorite. However, when I stumbled upon a funfetti cake pops box, I knew I had to get that instead.

I've never made cake pops before, and as with anything I've never made before there was a bit of mystery attached. Like how do you get the cake pop to be round? Or the stick to stick?

Turns out you start with actual cake. Which is crumbled and moistened with frosting. While this cake mix and frosting were included in the box, you can easily substitute your favorite cake recipe and whip up an easy powdered sugar + milk (or water) frosting.

crumbled cake & frosting

Then you portion out the crumbly cake mixture and form them into ball-shape with your palms. Apply lots of pressure so the cake balls get firm and dense and don't fall apart on you.

Melt some chocolate in the microwave (at 15 to 30 second intervals so it doesn't burn). Dip one end of the cake pop stick into the melted chocolate and stick it into the cake ball. If you don't have cake pop or lollipop sticks, you can break up disposable chopsticks and sand the ends down with a nail file. That's what I did because the box was missing a stick.

cake balls & couverture

Put the naked cake pops into the fridge to chill. Or if you're impatient like me, stick them in the freezer.

In the meantime, prepare more melted chocolate and sprinkles/decoration. Once the cake pops are thoroughly chilled, roll them each in chocolate, cover them in sprinkles, and stand them up to dry/set in a container full of sugar (dense enough to hold them up).

dip & sprinkle

Rather than give Megan just a cup full of cake pops, I made her favorite yellow cake to use as a cushion.

cake pop cake

Although the cake was frosted with whipped cream, it didn't look too nice because I didn't have my offset spatula. So I covered the cake with cake crumbs, which worked out because it made the cake look more like a cushion.

And despite the yellow cake mix being a boxed one, I ended up enjoying the super moist crumbly texture a lot. So I'm going to reverse engineer my own yellow cake mix based on the ingredients on the box. Will report back once I have some findings!

November 11, 2012

citrus fennel chicken

This was the last Sauces class of the year, so Chef Morse set up our final to be kind of Iron Chef-style. Each team got to pick from three proteins: beef, chicken or fish. Our team picked chicken and fish, and I was in charge of the chicken.

This recipe was emailed to my inbox not too long ago, and I decided to adapt it. Instead of clementines I used segmented oranges.

This is me segmenting oranges, one of the first things I ever learned to do in culinary school. And it was taught by Chef Morse too.

segmenting oranges

After that I cut up fennel in segments too.

cutting fennel

Frank helped me marinate them in olive oil, orange juice, lemon juice, mustard, brown sugar, salt and pepper.

marinating orange & fennel

Meanwhile I prepared the other seasonings in the dish: butter, lemon, toasted almond slices, toasted fennel seed, thyme, parsley (chopped and whole leaf) and fennel frond.


Scott seared off the chicken breasts, seasoned with cayenne, salt and pepper.

seared chicken

Jen contributed a delicious Israeli couscous, made with chicken stock and seasoned with cucumber, fennel frond and feta cheese (the feta changed everything).

couscous with cucumber & feta

After all this we still had some time to kill, so Jen and I candied some orange peel, to further play on the citrus theme and to provide a different textural element.

candying orange peel

Once it got close to plating time, I started on the sauce. I took the pan that the chicken had been seared off in, and mounted the pan with some butter.

butter & chicken fond

Then I threw in the marinated orange & fennel, along with some marinade, and cooked that off.

sauteeing orange & fennel

In went the other seasonings I had prepared: lemon juice, toasted almond slices, toasted fennel seed, thyme and chopped parsley.

adding all the seasonings

Cooked everything until the sauce was the consistency I wanted.

orange fennel sauce

Then came plating. Or rather, some contem(plating), haha.

contem plating

Bed of couscous first, then chicken, then sauce.

actually plating

We garnished with parsley leaf, fennel frond, slivers of orange peel, and an orange segment.

the plate

Besides the chicken being a little dry from finishing too long in the oven, everything tasted pretty good. Citrus + fennel + chicken = good combination.

October 28, 2012

vegan chocolate mousse (and cake)

For Food & Fitness class we had to do a project on a healthy cookbook of our choice. I chose 500 Vegan Recipes because they had a recipe for chocolate mousse that I found intriguing.

It involved avocado (ripe, 1), tofu (firm, 1 pound) and agave syrup (1/4 cup).

vegan chocolate mousse ingredients

I pureed the tofu and agave syrup first, then added melted chocolate (dark, 2 cups). It was a little grainy, but I think it would've worked if the tofu was the soft kind. I wanted to try without avocado because Whole Food's vegan chocolate mousse is really good and all it is is chocolate, tofu and brown rice syrup.

pureed tofu

After I added the avocado the mixture became smoother/creamier.

pureed chocolate mousse

I wanted to serve samples to the class, so I made a vegan chocolate cake to accompany the mousse. This was my first foray into vegan baking and I had no idea to expect. The cake came out dark and dense, like bread almost. Besides having no egg, no dairy, it also didn't have sugar. The only sweetness was from the non-dairy yogurt and applesauce that I put in.

The cake by itself didn't taste very good, although it did have the texture/chewiness of a regular chocolate cake.

vegan chocolate cake

Thankfully it tasted better with the mousse. I cut the cake into little squares and placed them in little sample cups, then piped mousse over.

chocolate mousse cups

The mousse actually set at room temperature, to a ganache-like consistency. Definitely didn't expect that. Also the dark chocolate taste was too strong (and I'm speaking as someone who loves dark chocolate). If I were to make this again I would use a milk/dark chocolate mixture, and/or cut down the amount of chocolate in the recipe.

If anyone has any vegan dessert recipes to share, please let me know! I'd love to try other stuff.