Sunday, February 27, 2011

Beautiful Brown Rice...

     I trust you all challenged yourself to something new this weekend, right? :-) I chose something a little bit different from the norm, but I'm thankful I went through with it. Rice.

     Over the past few weeks, I have been reading a book about macrobiotics and how all foods cause different moods/energies based on the inherent characteristics of the food. In macrobiotics, a brown rice fast is used for several reasons, including spiritual development, meditation, healing, etc. This is a fast that allows the faster to eat as much short grain brown rice and drink as much water & twig tea as desired. Short grain brown rice is chosen because it displays "yang" characteristics, meaning it is such a contracted food that it brings an individual into a deep, thoughtful mindset - thus an ideal food for a time of spiritual development and healing.

     I have never participated in a fast before and after learning about this particular one, I was eager to try it! Thankfully, one of my friends had also been wanting to do the brown rice fast. She and I prepared throughout the week to begin the fast this past Friday and go through tomorrow (Monday) morning. On Thursday evening, we went to the market and each bought a 4.5 pound bag of brown rice and a box of Kukicha Twig Tea. The rice was soaked at night (allowing for easier digestion) and cooked in the morning. I ended up eating around 15 cups of cooked rice over the past three days and drinking plenty of water and tea.

     This fast was not too difficult to accomplish because I was not extremely hungry the entire time. I never "stuffed" myself with rice, but I also did not allow myself to become too hungry that I would want to eat anything in sight. This allowed me to focus on my inner thoughts vs. thinking "golly, I could eat a whole tofu loaf (haha instead of a get it...)." Over the weekend, I had many wonderful conversations with God, family, & friends. My friend and I went on a long walk yesterday and were able to discuss how the fast was making us feel and other meaningful topics as well.

     You might have had the thought, "why would you start a fast when you just started culinary school?" Well, that was actually included in my reasoning for doing it at this point in time. My goals/thoughts regarding the fast included:
  • To connect with my Lord on a deep prayerful level.
  • To discipline myself in my food choices & in the timing in which I eat my food - to listen to my body.
  • To understand and appreciate the value of variety in the diet - yes, brown rice becomes a bit boring.
  • To retrain my palate to become more sensitive to flavors.
  • To have a mindset to accomplish a goal and actually following through with it.
     Although I did not experience any crazy physical changes, I did have a few interesting and inspiring thoughts while only consuming bowls of brown rice. Brown rice is a beautiful and abundant food that could be considered a perfect food as it provides plenty of nourishment and satisfaction to the human body.

     However, without the water to cook the grain, it is of little use. I identify myself with that small grain. I could have a great impact in this life, but without the Lord (the water), I am of little use. We must be willing to wait for the water (God) to cook (mold our lives) the rice (Christ-followers) to reap the wonderful benefits and nutrition (life) the rice (God) has to offer. Now plain brown rice on its own is great, but it's even tastier when you get to add salt, pepper, shallots, raisins, cranberries, peppers, almonds, etc. I see those extra toppings as "blessings." Who doesn't love a good blessing to make life even more enjoyable? But those blessings aren't necessary in order to have a relationship with God, just like the brown rice doesn't need those extra toppings to be nutritious. Blessings are hugs from heaven that God so graciously allows us to experience and for this I am very thankful!

     This was my own personal brown rice fast experience. It was enjoyable. It caused me think a bit deeper than I normally do. It was a weekend that showed me to be even more appreciative of the little blessings in life, such as jazzier brown rice dishes! I would do it again. But it will be over in the morning, so hello to something new to eat!

     Thanks for reading. I'll be back this week to update you on my culinary to all.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Food, Friends, and it's Friday!

     My weeks seem to fly by ~ but not without learning wonderful cooking techniques and having encouraging moments & conversations with friends and family! I'm very thankful for this!

     Mmmm... how does braised cabbage, fennel, & leeks, tuscan pureed white beans with roasted garlic, and vanilla poached pears with chocolate drizzle sound to you? Your mouth watering yet? Mine sure did as I walked into class on Wednesday and discovered we were going to make all of these delicious recipes and be able to enjoy our tasty creations for lunch. :)

     Every class, we are divided into groups - my group was fantastic again! We all worked together well and were very pleased with the result of each dish. The main focus of this session was to learn a few "wet" cooking methods, such as braising, roasting, and poaching. The ultimate goal was to time the recipes accordingly so they would finish within minutes of each other. This allows for optimal temperature and presentation.

     Garlic roasting in the oven with a dash of salt/pepper and a fancy drizzle of olive oil is so inviting and warming! It becomes even more inviting when combined with freshly cooked beans and rosemary to form a delicate puree that may be served in several ways. And oh my stars - braised cabbage is a MUST! Even if you don't care for these vegetables, (cabbage, fennel, leeks) which may be foreign to your daily plate; this method of cooking enhances the natural flavors and will make your mouth wonder why you haven't done it before! Perhaps, that was just my thought though... Mmmm...(there I go again), poached pears! What a sweet, but light treat to make you completely satisfied. Topped with some chocolate drizzle and toasted walnuts - bam! What a dessert! :)

     Of course, presentation is key. Below is my group's presentation...not to brag, but everyone agreed that our braised cabbage was the best. ;-) We let the dish set before putting it in the oven for all of the flavors to combine...basically, we made the "wow" factor happen!


     A few other dishes we made this week used the methods of stewing, steaming, and blanching.  Many veggies were eaten yesterday!

Hearty Autumn Stew with Tempe, Blanched Vegetable Salad; and Steamed Carrots, Radishes, & Parsnips.
     Not only did I have many blessed experiences in school this week, but I was also able to go out to dinner with some classmates to enjoy cheese-less pizza - really, it is good! Try it! :) I also got together with one of my new girlfriends from class to do yoga and make dinner. She's fabulous!

     Challenge! I encourage you to challenge yourself this weekend. Whether your challenge be trying a recipe, doing a new exercise, reading a book, or reflecting on what this past week has brought to you and what you would like this next week to bring is precious and too short to be stagnant.

     With happiness...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Feelin' Saucy?!

     It's official...I am now coming home smelling like garlic and onions. It's not necessarily the worst scent one could wear - but I would at least choose a different perfume for a date. :-)

     Sauces have been our scope the past two days. From traditional sauces (bechamel, veloute, brown sauce, tomato, hollandaise) to vegetarian sauces (vegan bechamel, vegetarian demi-glace, wild mushroom jus, vegan hollandaise), all serve the purpose to provide desired moisture, texture, flavor, richness, contrast, interest, shine, and taste to a particular dish.

     My group made the Mushroom Jus with shitake and cremini mushrooms. I might have made a few "whoopsies" but it's all in the learning experience! My fellow chefs were gracious and the sauce turned out wonderful anyway! The instructor and assistants had made some prior preparations so we could plate the sauces and enjoy our creations for lunch. I may have to adjust my breakfast to a smaller portion...I was full after eating this scrumptious meal!

Here we have a spinach salad tossed in salsa verde with walnuts and tarragon; roasted butternut squash over a vegetarian demi-glace; slices of grilled portabello mushroom; and risotto drizzled with a red pepper coulis.

Beautiful, yes? We have been encouraged to work on the presentation of our food even at home for ourselves. I need to practice...when one is simply cooking for herself, it's easy to just put it on the plate and eat it up. We all deserve a nice presentation placed before us as we dine. That is my goal for this week - to pretend I am serving a queen at her this case, I get to be queen! :-)

Be well!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Biking, Beets, & Bars!

      I hope you all enjoyed your weekend to the fullest! Mine was fantastic! The weather was beautiful, which allowed me to enjoy several bike rides for a bit of great exercise. :-) If you haven't engaged in exercise this week or the past few days, I urge you to get it movin'...your body will love you for it! I promise! ;-)

     Have you ever cooked your own beets? Well, I hadn't until last night. It is such an easy process and what a nice sweet & natural treat! The rich color in beets is due to the betalains, which may help protect against heart disease, birth defects, and certain cancers.

  • Begin by washing the beets as well as the stems and greens (save greens/stems and use as you would any other green - so tasty sauteed with some coconut oil).
  • Cut beets into small cubes.
  • Place in baking dish or castiron pot for 25 minutes at 425 degrees F.
  • Eat plain or toss in your next creative salad for added health benefits!
     I've been glued to Jessica Porter's book "The Hip Chick's Guide to Macrobiotics" this past week. She presents Macrobiotics in a creative and humerous way. Macrobiotic living is essentially eating in the most whole and natural way. It is a fascinating way of thinking...I'm starting to incorporate some more unique ingredients into my daily eating patterns.

She has a delicious recipe for "Really Yummy Oat Bars." But of course, I may have used a few substitutions...that's just what I harm, right? :-) I also added cloves and ginger and it makes a perfect addition. Try them out and satisfy that sweet tooth! Includes a WHOLE grain and is a healthier option to that huge cookie from the supermarket (or even "health" stores...right?!). Enjoy with a glass of almond milk.

Yummy Oat Bars: yields 8 small bars/6 larger bars.
  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour (use oat or rice flour to be gluten-free)
  • 1 3/4 cups rolled oats (use GF oats if necessary)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1/8 tsp ginger, 1/8 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/3 cup honey (or maple syrup)
  • 1/3 cup applesauce
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup raisins, non-dairy chocolate chips, &/or walnuts (optional)
Mix all dry ingredients together then mix in wet ingredients. Fold in raisins, chocolate chips, &/or walnuts. Press your mixture into an 8x8 pan or a pie pan. Bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees F.


Friday, February 18, 2011

A Wealth of Knowledge!

What a week! I continue to look to the Lord for guidance...a new place, new people, new can be overwhelming. But my inner joy is still present and I feel even more calm and at peace when I am feeding my soul with Jesus and my body with whole, living foods.

STOCKS! I have been provided with such a wealth of knowledge regarding techniques and quality ingredients.The past few days our class has been learning to make stocks. The ingredients we are using are absolutely beautiful and at their most natural state. Stocks with mushrooms, leeks, tomatoes, garlic, celery, herbs, onions, carrots -'s refreshing to eat from the ground.

After a delightful Wednesday in class, I went to the market and purchased all of the tasty and fresh ingredients needed to make Dark Roasted Vegetable Stock. My mission to create a homemade stock started at 7:30 p.m. and did not end until 11 p.m. Yes, it takes time, but it is worth it and the next time I go to use my stock, I will be able to taste the love and hardwork I put into it! :-) The aroma of roasting vegetables filled the kitchen! Mmm...I like that...

Beautiful, yes?! - photo by J.F.

Roasted Dark Vegetable Stock: 6 cups
3 carrots, cut into 1 in pieces
2 celery stalks, cut into 1 in pieces (I omitted this ingredient)
1 large onion, cut into 1 in pieces
1 large leek, white part thinly sliced and greens chopped
3 large tomatoes, cut in half
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. sea salt
Bouquet Garni (2 bay leaves, 4 thyme sprigs, 4 parsley branches)
1 Tbsp shoyu
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Put all vegetables and garlic in a bowl and toss with olive oil. Spread out on a sheet pan and roast, turning them every 10 minutes, until browned, about 40 minutes.
Transfer vegetables to soup pot and add herbs with 2 quarts of water. Deglaze the pan.
Bring to a boil then reduce the heat, cover the pot, and simmer for 40 minutes. Add shoyu. Strain.


I made an amaranth & quinoa dish using my homemade vegetable stock (instead of using water). It made my dish so much more flavorful! Love it! Toss in some green onions, diced carrots, walnuts, and lemon juice and you have a satisfying and nuturing side or main dish.

Here are a few photos of the knives we are you can see - they are pretty sharp! Careful now...
Labeled for identification - photo by J.F.

A sharp knife makes for a safe knife-really it does! photo by J.B.

Tonight I am going to a potluck hosted by one of my fellow colleagues. I'm taking my amaranth/quinoa dish - is it odd that I'm nervous to serve it to other aspiring chefs? Perhaps, they will grant me with some feedback.

Enjoy your Friday night!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How many chews?

...the answer to yesterday's question - how many times should you chew each bite for the body to absorb the optimal amount of nutrients from the food?

                                32 bites/chew!
Were you close?!

KNIFE SKILLS!!! Today I learned how to properly chop a carrot, potato, orange, honeydew melon, and an onion. Precise concentration was involved - it is important to have uniformity in your chopped goods as presentation will be optimal and each piece will cook evenly. I'm planning on picking up a large bag of potatoes and carrots tomorrow and practicing my new found skills. :-)

I'll be more detailed later this's getting late ~ this chef has to have her beauty rest to outweigh the goofy look in the chef's uniform!

Eat well & be well...

Monday, February 14, 2011

What is your favorite flavor?

Happy Valentine's Day!

What a sweet day to think about our loved ones...and a nice time to enjoy fresh flowers and chocolate (dairy-free, of course)! :-)

Flavors & flavorings were the topics today! We tasted several different foods then combined them with a spice or another ingredient. Try these at home and see how you would describe the flavor combination that is going on in your mouth. It's not easy! I am working on training my palate and slowing down my eating enough to truly appreciate the flavors that I am experiencing.

  • Cherry tomatoes with balsamic vinegar & basil
  • Avocado, lime, & sea salt
  • Strawberries with balsamic reduction
  • Orange & Cinnamon
  • Carmelized bananas with fresh vanilla bean & agave

The carmelized bananas were amazing!! Only a bit of safflower oil was used and plain bananas. The carmelization allowed the sugar of the bananas to be enhanced - what a treat! Agave was used, but not necessary as the bananas were plenty sweet. However, the fresh vanilla bean made a nice addition and is worth the extra effort. An orange with a dash of cinnamon is pleasantly refreshing as well. I had never tried this, but this evening, I put a bit of cinnamon on my grapefruit - quite tasty! We have to put a spin on our food once in a while - don't stay in your rut! I encourage you to try something new today.

What is your favorite flavor? Leave a comment below so I can be inspired! One of my favorites is a classic, but deserves to be recognized ~ cinnamon and nutmeg spiced muffins ~ the aroma that fills the room makes me feel warm & cuddly!

Also, when one is trying to describe a flavor, it is important to thoroughly chew the food until there is essentially nothing left in the mouth (another task that is not easy to do). Do you know how many chews it should take to finish a bite in its entirety? Leave your answer below...I'll post the correct answer tomorrow! :-) And you are welcome to answer the question "how many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie pop?" That's bonus though! ;-)

Treat your palate to something new and exciting today! Keep it fresh and healthy...until tomorrow...

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A New Beginning...

Hello to my readers! Thank you to those who encouraged me to start a blog! I'm excited to keep everyone informed on my happenings in Austin at The Natural Epicurean (NE). :-)

My first week has been fully blessed! After 3 days of driving and 2 hotel night stays (due to weather), I finally made it to my new home. I am nestled away in a sweet little house- about 20 minutes from school -  where I am renting a room from a wonderful lady and her precious little dog and cat. This living situation is fantastic! I do realize I am blessed!

As I walked into class on my first day, I had an overwhelming sense of perfect peace that this was the culinary institute I was to gain my education. The encouragement and support I received from NE before even coming down to Austin was incredible and I am so thankful to have the privilege to be here. I know it is going to be a journey full of God-given blessings and I am excited to see where this education takes me! Oh, and all of my classmates are wonderful - such unique personalities & background. It should be a good bunch to work alongside. :-)

This first week has been mostly lecture, but Wednesday was our first day to have our culinary uniforms on and to be at work in the kitchen! It was so fun! :-) The topic was "herbs & spices." Our instructor had us take a quiz and allowed us to identify several different types of herbs and spices by simply observing, touching, & smelling. Needless to say, the identification of herbs and spices is a component of the kitchen that I need to work on a bit! It was enjoyable to take a moment to discover what I know and what I should know. It's only the beginning, right?

There were several stations we could work at - I chose to make the Indian-Spiced Carrot Soup. The picture below is the French Carrot Soup, but it's a carrot soup, nonetheless! :-) It was delightful! The curry flavor is not one that I typically am drawn to, but I thoroughly enjoyed this soup...I'm broadening my horizons! The bundle of herbs is called a bouquet garnis that is pulled out of the soup after it is cooking.

French Carrot Soup - photo by J.F.

We also made fresh basil pine nut pesto using a much better than using a food processor! My favorite dish was a carrot/walnut puree. I did not assist in making this dish, but we had the joy of tasting it over a small piece of freshly made polenta.

Carrot Walnut Puree - photo by J.F.
Carrot Walnut Puree
2 cups of softly cooked carrots, 1 cup cooking liquid reserved
1 cup walnuts, toasted
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon ume vinegar
1/4 cup fresh herb
• Use a food processor for puree.
• Add carrots, walnuts, and vinegars, and begin puree. Add cooking water until desired consistency.
• Add fresh herbs and puree until incorporated.
• Adjust seasonings to taste.

And yours truly in the kitchen...

Chef at work :-) Photo by J.F.

Today marks my second week ~ I'm looking forward to sharing my experience with all of you!

Love to all...