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Still here

7 Jun

My my, it has been a long time since I’ve posted, hasn’t it? The past few months have been a fun and eye-opening culinary adventure and I just haven’t had the time or energy for personal baking but I’m baaaack! My adventure has included learning artisan bread baking as well as the opportunity to intern with chef extraordinaire Eric Tucker at Millennium Restaurant. If you ever dined there on a Wednesday night sometime between mid-January through April, you may have even seen me working on the line. Having gotten to witness a true master at work, all I can say is wow, wow, WOW!

Through Chef Tucker, I got a position at Encuentro Cafe and Wine Bar (which he co-owns) and have been working there part-time since March. Though my work had mostly been focused on producing savory items before, I now produce the desserts on the days I do prep. Co-owner Chef Lacey Sher has been extremely receptive to my suggesting new dessert items for the menu, which, as you can imagine, is very exciting for me. One of the desserts I introduced to the menu recently is a raw, vegan strawberry “cheesecake”  that also happens to be gluten-free. The crust is made with almonds, dates and cocoa powder and the filling consists of pureed raw cashews, strawberries, lemon juice, agave nectar, lecithin and coconut oil. We top the cheesecake with agave-sweetened strawberry slices. It’s deeeeelicious, if I do say so myself! Sometimes I even come back to the restaurant after my shift just to share a slice with my honey.

Cheesecake used to be one of my favorite desserts when I was an omnivore, and while the raw, cashew-based version tastes nothing like baked, cream cheese-based version, I think it’s tasty in its own right. The cashews give the cheesecake a rich, creamy texture, the agave and ripe strawberries a light sweetness, and the lemon juice a slight tang reminiscent of cream cheese.

I got four, overflowing baskets of strawberries at a farm and a bag of lemons from a friend’s lemon tree over the weekend so I decided to make a strawberry cheesecake that I don’t have to share with coworkers or customers (all mine!!). This time, I made strawberry-pistachio cheesecake — still a strawberry filling, but with a pistachio crust and no cocoa. Also, instead of making one big cheesecake, I opted for individual-sized versions so I can freeze the extra portions and not tempt myself to eat everything in one sitting.

I’ve gotta say, I’m partial to the strawberry-pistachio flavor combo. The pistachio crust provides a buttery flavor that complements the strawberry filling well. I imagine a bit of cardamom in the crust would also be a delicious addition. Either way, I suggest you give raw cheesecake making a try; it’s truly amazing what you can do with cashews. If you need to satisfy your craving now or are too impatient to make one yourself, go grab a slice at Encuentro while it lasts!

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Bitter Cake and a Swimming Pool of Ramen

19 Feb

Being sick can really mess up your whole week! I got whatever superbug has been going around and two weeks later, I’m still in recovery mode (but back in my routine for the most part, thankfully). Not all was lost last week while I took time off to rest though. For starters, I had some crazy dreams while on Nyquil PM, including an awesome food-related one:

In a spacious banquet room, a large, silver platter of various vegan sandwiches sits atop a round dining table covered in white tablecloth. As I go to reach for one, Rainn Wilson as Dwight Schrute keeps on grabbing my arm and stopping me from taking one of these delicious, veggie-packed sandwiches. I’m super frustrated, but Rainn/Dwight is much too fast for me, so I move on.

I walk through an indoor/outdoor courtyard and spot ahead — can it be!?– a swimming pool of vegan ramen! Fresh wheat noodles floating in a dark, shoyu-based broth. I excitedly inhale the savory aroma and anticipate the taste on my tongue as I jump in. There are already two other women in the pool and we all happily float about in the warm broth — me on my back, with long, soft strands of noodles flowing between my arms and legs. I look up and on the deck overlooking the pool is none other than Desi Arnaz, one of my favorite actors/producers of all time! The drama of the vegan sandwiches behind me, I am in bliss.

I’m so not kidding; that was the exact dream that I had. And in my dream, I knew that sandwiches and ramen were vegan (I’m not just making that up now). I was so excited about my dream, I actually woke up my partner to tell him about it. He looked at me like I was crazy…

While I was sick,  I also started reading Spiced: A Pastry Chef’s True Stories of Trials by Fire, After-Hours Exploits, and What Really Goes on in the Kitchen, which was recommended to me by one of my mentors. Though far less overt in my previous experience working at nonprofits, I could relate to the sexism in the workplace that Dahlia Jurgensen writes about. I’m a little more than half way through and so far, it reads more like a memoir than a detailed account of the experience of being a pastry chef. Her experiences are definitely eye-opening, however, and provide some insight into how things work in a fast-paced professional kitchen (e.g., be prepared for long hours, low pay and a high-pressure, high stress environment). Jurgensen’s story of her ascent from a bored office worker to a pastry chef thus far has been both entertaining and inspiring and I’d  recommend it to anyone curious about career in the culinary field.

Lastly, I managed to bake one thing last week (I have a hard time doing nothing, even when I really need to): a chocolate olive oil cake from one of the dessert recipes in Great Chefs Cooks Vegan. The use of cake flour gives the cake a soft, delicate crumb that I liked, but I found the finished product to be much too bitter. When I scanned the recipe, my gut told me that it called for too much baking soda — two teaspoons for one-and-a-half cups of flour! — but I decided to go with it since it was created by a famous chef and I figured it must have been tested. I did, however, reduce the teaspoon of salt it called for. Turns out, my gut was right and the cake had a noticeably bitter taste. I was planning to take a photo for the blog, but since I wasn’t happy in how it tasted, I scrapped it. I’ll have to try the recipe another time with some adjustments and see how it turns out.