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...