food

Where the Magic Happens: My Trail at Eleven Madison Park and The NoMad

Forward

It’s not everyday that a young aspiring chef is given the chance to trail at some of the world’s best restaurants.  This unlikely opportunity was bestowed upon me. A few weeks ago, I staged at Eleven Madison Park and The NoMad, which are both part of Daniel Humm and Will Guidara’s Hospitality Group, Make it Nice.  For readers who do not know the meaning of stage, it is a cooking apprenticeship. I had the honor of trailing at Eleven Madison Park for two days, and The NoMad for three days.  In order to get a clear picture of what those two restaurants are like, it is important to understand their slogan, which is the name of the brand itself. All of the Make it Nice restaurants are hospitality at its finest because their chefs and service staff create delicious food that is served in the best way possible.  Eleven Madison Park is inspired by its New York City location, featuring dishes that put a French twist on traditional New York food. In short, Eleven Madison Park was number one on the 50 Best Restaurants list in 2017, named the best restaurant in North America that same year, and has countless James Beard Awards.  The NoMad serves French-inspired modern cuisine with more worldly influences. This restaurant has received numerous James Beard Awards and has a slew of other recognitions that prove its excellence, in addition to one Michelin Star.

At the one and only Eleven Madison Park, I spent my time doing preparation work with the culinary staff temporarily and the remainder of the two days with the pastry staff.  At The NoMad, I received more responsibility which involved a great deal of baking and measuring out mise en place. It is amazing to be served at restaurants of this caliber, but the experience is taken to a whole other level knowing how exactly the ingredients on the plate became art.  I was lucky enough to get an indulgent taste of both parts of the restaurant experience. While the glory of my stage may seem like it was short lived, the knowledge and value that I was able to draw from that week is something that is now on my metaphorical utility belt; to be used throughout my journey in the culinary world.  After this eye-opening week, I decided that it was important to share this experience with the world.

Just Another Week at the World’s Best Restaurant

“We got a bunch of random [stuff] from Dairyland today… figure out where that’s going.”

As you can tell, your restaurant experience at the award-winning Eleven Madison Park begins when shipments are received in the early hours of the morning.  Everything from greens, fruit, citrus, meat, and, apparently, a lot of dairy must be unpacked, re-packed, and labeled meticulously until everything finds a place.  Every. Single. Day.

At Eleven Madison Park, my first job was joining the savory staff in organizing their food, which has made me quite familiar with the process.  I began by husking kale very carefully (or so I thought), before a staff member took a piece out of my “done” container and instructed me to try again, removing every single bit of the husk, down to even the thinnest part.  He then proceeded to do just that, with three leaves at rapid-fire speed.

Next up was nettle — cue the scary movie track and offensively loud thunder.  While it seems like a harmless dandelion-style green, nettle is actually in the same family as poison ivy.  Chef Alex informed me of this before recommending that I put on three pairs of gloves prior to washing, drying, and trimming the greens.

Lesson number one in working at Eleven Madison Park: You must be able to do the work very well and very quickly — there are simply not enough hours in the day for three-Michelin-starred restaurants to dwell on small tasks, but nonetheless they must be done.

I was planning to write an article about people and establishments — including Make it Nice — to show what is that drives and motivates them to spend so much time perfecting their processes, but after my experience, it was clear that these two restaurants redefine my meaning of excellence entirely.  In general, people seem to separate the food they eat in restaurants from the journey the food takes to get to their plate. In my five days as a trail, I witnessed the care and level of perfection that the staff strives for.  I experienced the process by simply watching, learning, and completing the many small tasks in the kitchen that are imperative to producing an amazing final product.

I came to appreciate EMP’s high standards, when I was asked to label a bunch of containers filled with pieces of angel food cake.  Prior to that, a chef showed me the proper way to rip apart the cake, putting aside a few example pieces for me to model mine after.  Every so often, he would come back to check my work and remove a bit from a piece to adjust the size.

After I was done, the chef told me to label the cake bits that I had broken off.  Doing what I was told to, I grabbed the label board, pulled pieces of tape off the roll, pressed the adhesive on the surface of the board, and began to write “Angel Food Cake 6/22/18 S.A.”  The chef had moved onto something else, only returning once the majority of the labels were done. I was a bit surprised when he ripped off all of the labels that I had just finished and used an X-ACTO knife to cut new tape into equal-sized pieces, starting the entire process over.

At the moment, I questioned why something as simple as label size mattered so much, but then I remembered how clean, organized, and carefully labeled the walk-in fridges were, leading to my realization that this attention to detail is why they are at the top of the ladder.

I feel as though I cannot continue writing without sharing my other experience with angel food cake that would be the subject of many nightmares to come.  Before the previous task, I was asked to use tweezers to break apart angel food cake bits into crumbs of a specific size, which I then worked on for the next two hours.  This tedious task was just another example of how vital every single detail is to a successfully run restaurant, proving that everything done there is done for good reason.  The situation was reminiscent of that iconic Karate Kid scene that everyone knows, “wax on, wax off,” but the chef’s version.

There were countless other unique projects that I was assigned during my two days at Eleven Madison Park.  While I was working with the savory staff, I weighed out a couple hundred tins of the relish that goes into EMP’s New York cheesecake-inspired dish.  Each little metal tin had to weigh exactly twelve grams and then be tapped down so that it spread out evenly. Of course, since we’re talking about EMP, not your Joe Schmo deli around the corner, something that might normally be seen as mundane tastes spectacular enough to be its own dish.  Just take a moment to imagine every aspect you taste in a dish having this kind of miraculous quality.

Another mission I was given was to hull and sort several hundred strawberries into groups of small, ugly, and the ideal-looking berry.  A note for concerned readers: no need to fret, the strawberries that aren’t blessed with good genetics are still used for family meal, jams, and sauces. I would later discover the tiny strawberries I separated, beautifully poached in the angel food cake dessert I was served.

I will never forget my first job in the pastry department — cutting out 500 cheddar crackers.   I was pleasantly surprised when I got to sample the fruits of my labor, which ended up being a small black and white cookie with a savory filling and apple chutney in the center, all sitting on top of the cheddar cracker.  The black and white cookie aspect was familiar since I had witnessed a pastry chef using several tools to paint on the icing, ensuring that each cookie featured the perfect bold separation of black and white.

It was the absolute best feeling in the world to finally see those little bits and pieces that I helped create, in a dish.  Every single minute spent toiling became worth it when I saw that my hard work actually helped complete these dishes and add to their beauty (not to mention deliciousness).  I cannot even begin to describe how incredible the tasting menu I got to try was — well, actually I can. Everything I ate evoked a feeling of amazement with a hint of melancholy.  Being served the food right in front of those who had worked so hard to create it, felt more like destroying artwork. It was basically the culinary equivalent of viewing “Starry Night” or the “Mona Lisa,” and then ripping them into pieces while Van Gogh and Da Vinci watched.

After trying each plate, I went back to my station to continue working, and then to my delight, someone would come up to me again and say, “Chef Sara, your next course is ready.”  Now, for the purpose of professionalism, I tried to contain my excitement, but in my head, I was doing cartwheels. While sampling each dish, I tried to make sure that I truly savored and appreciated each new flavor.  When I brought my empty plate (once containing the lemon poppy seed dessert) back to the chef who had served me, he asked me whether I enjoyed my food. It was apparent that somehow he didn’t think I did. I was so caught off guard that I just looked at him for a second before replying, embarrassed, “Oh my gosh, I thought it was amazing. I mean, it was the best meal I’ve ever had!”  When he responded, “To me, it did not look like you enjoyed it, but it seems as though I misinterpreted that,” I started to realize that in trying to interpret and savor the flavors, I must have made some weird faces.

After that moment, I was given time to stand in front of the plating station.  If you haven’t ever seen pictures of EMP’s remodeled kitchen, this area is located in front of the exit leading to where guests are seated, and has a rectangular island with hot lights hovering over it.  To the left of the station, servers stand in a line while Chef Dmitri inspects that every last dish is crafted to perfection. The chefs/artists who are plating use the uniformly rolled cloth napkins placed at the end of the table to wipe any excess off of their canvases.  The most interesting part was how they used specific techniques on particular dishes — the duck for example, was removed from the plate for a few seconds, while a swift hand wiped a small amount of sauce from underneath. For me, there was a moment of excitement when my eyes met something familiar being plated — the nettle that I had so carefully worked with was placed on top of the duck in the form of a salad.

While observing my surroundings, I noticed how there was a kind of loud quietness in the kitchen.  Even though people were constantly moving around, the looks on the chefs’ faces were of deep concentration, something I had never seen or experienced before.  There were ever-present sounds of kitchen tools, low voices, and the occasional sizzle of a pan, but few people actually spoke out loud because of their “quiet” policy.   Somehow, despite this “silence,” their teamwork looked as effortless as it was efficient.

A kitchen that communicates and works well is imperative to success, which is then seen in the food that is served.  Of course, this is something that the staff at EMP has in mind all of the time. As a trail, I was able to be a part of pre-meal at both restaurants, where the lead chef addressed concerns and also praised the team for their outstanding work.

At these brief meetings, the lead chef would signal everyone to wipe down the kitchens, after which the entire kitchen staff would gather around him.  Many of the points that were brought up served the purpose of making the kitchen as efficient and clean as possible. Part of achieving that harmony in the kitchen is ensuring that everyone works as a team.  One thing is certain, the staff really understands the value of small favors, which come in the form of doing things such as holding the freezer door for others when they are carrying large loads.

Even though these meetings cover a large range of topics, a few things particularly stood out.   I vividly recall one conversation switching to how work in the kitchen affects the experience of their guests. Chef Dmitri reiterated the fact that their guests flock to Eleven Madison Park for a profound experience, making it a sort of haven for guests, where they are treated with great hospitality and served thought-provoking food.

During the meeting, someone informed Chef Dmitri that in the cooking line, there is a bit of competition amongst the chefs. He recounted that there is an unspoken race between his fellow chefs, with the goal being to put together the most delicious food in the shortest amount of time.  Chef Dmitri responded by turning the discussion into a learning opportunity, explaining that competition is beneficial because it strengthens the team by adding a more refreshing approach to their work.

In both restaurants, the chefs would respond to most instruction with a loud “Oui, Chef!,” meaning “Yes, Chef” in French, which reinforced this common theme of correspondence and teamwork.  While the kitchen could get heated and a bit stressful at times, there was also an ever-present spirit of caring hospitality, which I witnessed through a few instances, like when a service staff member would come around the kitchen offering water at EMP.  At The NoMad, there was one chef who would always check in to see if everyone was hydrated enough and equated anything negative to an insufficient intake of water. “Your biscuits didn’t rise correctly? You were probably dehydrated when you made them.”

Not surprisingly, there were some moments that seemed almost too stressful to handle, like when a wedding cake that needed to be finished in two hours was made incorrectly the day before, creating a crazy rush to start over from scratch and then to have it decorated within two hours.  The feat was only made possible due to the incredible coordination of two pastry chefs. One of them was standing at the counter separating egg whites and yolks like there was no tomorrow, while the other measured dry ingredients with the same quick precision. All the while, I was standing at the same counter measuring mise en place for the largest quantity of biscotti I’d ever made, but my stress suddenly felt minuscule.

On my afternoon shift at The NoMad, I was present for a smaller meeting with just the pastry chefs.  They gathered in the tiny space behind a cooling rack, where a dry-erase board listed their tasks for the night.  All of the chefs divided those tasks so that each person felt confident and comfortable with their workload. To end that meeting, everyone put their hand in the middle, did one of those “Go team!” huddles, and then ran off to do their work.  This team dynamic remains the same in and out of the kitchen, according to my co-workers, who said that they frequently go out together after work.

During the week, I met many people who gave me words of advice and knowledge that will always stick with me.  During family meal at The NoMad, I remarked that the week was flying by and that I could not believe it was already my last day.  “That’s how it is all the time here. The days go by very fast” one of them told me. Though I already had an idea of the answer, I asked whether coming to The NoMad felt like work, and the table gave me a resounding no.

On my first day, while I was separating peas from their pod with tweezers, I was talking to a chef who surprised me with inspiring guidance.  Our conversation centered around how challenging, but mostly rewarding a career in the culinary industry is. He said that “there are going to be days when you are crying.  There’s going to be days when you are sad, happy, or frustrated. Whatever you do, do not give up.” He told me this the first day, before I got a more three-dimensional view of what it is like to work in restaurants of this level.  Reading those words off the computer screen may register as something cliche to readers, but it was advice that clicked for me, as I got a taste of this career.

I arrived at The NoMad scared to use a scale and make pastry in large quantities, but I left the restaurant having forgotten that those things once plagued my mind.  From making meringue, devil’s food cake, pie fillings, and cookies, to doing tasks that appeared insignificant, like topping focaccia bread with potatoes and onions, I learned to own it all and have a blast.    Small things lit up my world, like being told to take home as many unwanted croissants as I wanted.  Even when I left the kitchen, I caught myself accidentally using kitchen signaling — the words used to navigate a busy kitchen, like behind, in front, corner — in the streets of New York.

On my last night at The NoMad, I was being served part of the tasting menu by a woman who was also training a new member of the service staff.  He had created a label for something, but stopped in his tracks once the woman began explaining that all of the restaurant’s success is really found in the details, and that if they just ripped the tape off of the roll, it would look like they just didn’t care.  I smiled at her words, as I thought back on how far I’d come.

In reality, most people will not get the chance to experience the best restaurants in the world, but there is so much to discover and learn in terms of the food you eat and appreciate at your local restaurants.  My advice to readers is to ask questions about your food, take time to think about what’s on that plate, and appreciate it. Let me just say, it does not just appear magically.

The following pictures are from my incredible meal at The Nomad Hotel.  Unfortunately, I was not able to photograph my food at Eleven Madison Park.

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Sources

Cover Image:  © ERIC PIASECKI PHOTOGRAPHY

food

It’s Not a Cookie! It’s Cake!

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What is a Madeleine?

The Madeleine is a type of French butter cake, however everyone usually refers to them as cookies. They are pretty easy to bake, but there are a few steps that you should not forget to do, if you want the real thing.

I am here to say that Madeleines are not as simple as a cookie–that’s what makes them French. Sure, it’s easier to just prep the batter and pour it into a muffin tray of some kind.  Though, in that case they would just be cupcakes.  It is evident that there are steps in the process of making them, that provide those defining features.  These characteristics differentiate them from being anything else. When fresh, Madeleines have a crispy exterior and a soft interior. They are most well-known for their distinct shell shape.
If you think about it, the person who created Madeleines, recognized the potential for something different and never done before with cake. There are plenty of legends and stories out there as to how they were invented, but it all boils down to someone pouring cake batter into molds, discovering that idea was good, and then polishing off the recipe. Basically, this pastry is creativity and elegance all in one shell.

 

Crucial Steps

Brown the Butter
It is really easy to go from brown to burnt with butter. Melt the 6 tablespoons in a very small pan/pot at a fairly low heat. Wait till it comes to a simmer. You could wait for the butter to brown slowly at this low heat, but make sure you keep an eye on the butter. It should turn to a golden brown. As soon as you see the butter slightly begin to brown, take it off the heat. The heat of the pan itself will continue to brown the butter even off the heat. What I did once the butter started simmering was crank the heat up high for twenty seconds, and it browned immediately. Act quickly, so that the butter does not burn. I suggest the slower method for beginners. After that, there may be some remnants on the bottom. Pour the butter once through a fine strainer to get rid of most of it.

Why should you do this?
Browned butter has a nutty flavor that adds a more rich flavor to the Madeleines.

Rest the Batter
Let the batter sit covered in the fridge for one hour.

During the this period of rest, starch molecules in the flour absorb the liquid in the batter. The absorption causes them to swell, which gives the Madeleine batter a thicker consistency. Gluten formed during the mixing of the batter gets time to relax, as air bubbles work their way out.

The result of this resting period, like all other batters that need to rest, is a more delicate and refined texture. Most importantly, the rest period creates the signature “hump” that they must have to bear the name.

Brush the Pan
First things first, plan to buy a non-stick metal Madeleine pan
In doing this, that well-known shell shape will be achieved, and there will not be any trouble removing the Madeleines.

Spray some non-stick spray into a bowl, and use a pastry brush to lightly brush the Madeleine pan.

Recipe

Ingredients:

3 eggs
2/3 cup (130 g) sugar
1 1/2 (7.5 ml) tsp citrus zest or vanilla
1 cup (120 g) flour
1 tsp (5 ml) baking powder
¼ tsp (1.25 ml) salt
6 tbsp (60 ml) browned butter
powdered sugar (for dusting)

Directions:
You do not need a mixer for this recipe, so go ahead and use a whisk to beat the eggs with sugar until pale yellow. Add zest or vanilla extract.
Gently whisk dry ingredients into the egg mixture, just until combined everything is incorporated. Add the browned butter and slowly whisk the batter.
Use a rubber spatula to scrape the edges of the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the batter for and hour or overnight. Do not skip this step, as you will not achieve the “hump” of a Madeleine, the traditional mark of this French pastry. Sometime during this rest period, preheat the oven to 350F/(176C).

Lightly coat a non-stick, Madeleine pan with baking spray. Do this by spraying the baking spray into a small bowl and with a pastry brushing the molds.
Fill each mold until the batter is a bit under the brim, but not reaching the top. You want to make sure the batter covers the shell shape. Do not touch the batter, instead allow the cookie to spread on its own.
Bake 7-9 mins until slightly golden around edges and centers look set and slight hump has appeared. The time depends on your mold size. Allow to cool slightly so they can removed from the tin. Then they can be dusted with powdered sugar and eaten!
Notes: Batter can be made 2 days ahead. Batter MUST rest for at least 1 hour in the fridge in order to get that “traditional madeleine hump”.

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food

Perfectly Imperfect Pie



Have you ever woken up one morning and felt especially in the mood for a certain food? Well I woke up today, in the mood to make pie. Not just any pie, though. It needed to be one of those “perfectly” manicured lattice ones that no one really eats, instead acting as window decor (you know, in those 1950’s movies). Today is Friday, and Friday is the day that my local farmer’s market is open, so the universe was just telling me: “go to the market, buy fresh berries, and make a beautiful pie”. Not a summer goes by without there being a pie recipe featured in a food magazine such as Real Simple that people look at but never bake. After recently seeing so many amazing lattice pie recipes all over the place, I decided it was time. So, here is a fool-proof recipe. As you can tell in the pictures, the pie did not come out flawless, but my family and I can vouch for how amazing it tasted. That is why it is so perfectly imperfect. Together, you and I can promote more realistic beauty standards for pie.

Ingredients:

Crust
1 cup of cold butter (two sticks) cubed
6 tablespoons of ice cold water — fill a cup with water and ice and measure out by the Tablespoon
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour + extra for dusting
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar + extra for topping

Filling
1 pound of fresh strawberries
A bit less than a pint of blueberries
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
Pinch salt
Juice of one lemon
Two tablespoons of butter (to add when the filling is inside the pie)

Directions:
Crust:
You could use a food processor for the crust, but I did it by hand as to avoid the heat from my food processor. Rule number one when it comes to pie crust: keep your dough cold.
Add dry ingredients to a big bowl and combine well. Add half of the butter and cut it into the flour using a pastry blender, until you get a lumpy crumbs. Add half the cold water. Continue to cut in the rest of the butter until well combined. Then add in the rest of the water and continue to use the pastry blender until the dough stays together. It is okay if the dough is slightly crumbly, as long as it does not fall apart. Shape the dough with your hands into two disks and put them inside the fridge for an hour.

Filling:
Add all of the ingredients together, except for the butter, and set it aside. This is called the maceration process, which extracts the juice from the berries, resulting in a more flavorful final product. You can leave it aside for up to an hour.

Putting it together:
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Be sure to put loads of flour on your clean counter and roll out both disks after reshaping them into spheres. The thickness should be about ⅛ inch. Rotate the dough as you roll it very carefully, and add flour as you go Make sure the crust is not uneven. Halfway through rolling, flip the crust and add flour .

Drape the pie crust on a 10 inch pie pan that has been greased with butter and flour to prevent sticking. If it does not fit quite right, adjust the crust accordingly, use excess dough to fill in any small gaps. At this point, add the filling and sprinkle the butter over the fruit. Roll the other disk out and cut strips lengthwise that are half an inch wide.

Start laying out the lattice for one direction. Then place the other direction down. In the areas where the dough crosses, you must either make it go over the other the other strip (the one going the other direction) or under it, alternating each time.

After you have finished your lattice, then trim the edges to your liking with a clean pair scissors. If you have extra dough, add a strip around the edge, over the part you just trimmed for a cleaner finish. Then, take a fork and press down the edges, so that a row of vertical lines form around the pie.

Take one egg and mix it thoroughly with a fork. Generously apply this egg wash with a pastry brush, but don’t go too crazy with it. Sprinkle a bunch of sugar (approx 3 tbsp) on top of the pie, being sure to cover all of it.

Bake the pie at 425 degrees for fifteen minutes. Then, lower the heat to 350 degrees for 50 minutes. Let it sit for an hour before you eat it. There you have it! A pie that is too beautiful to eat, but tastes so good. Trust me, using fresh fruit really does make a difference.
PS:
If you can wait to eat the other half of the pie a day later, it somehow tastes 10 times better.


food

Salad is Sexy

 

 

 

What’s the big deal?

First of all is that even a question? Salad can be as addicting as a bag of chips if paired with the right dressing.  No joke, I paused editing this post to get more salad .  I am also still right next to the big window where I took the pictures for good lighting, so I got some pretty weird looks.  This is a basic recipe my family has always had on the table.  We put it on legitimately everything on our plates whether it  be rice, chicken, or actual salad.  This recipe just brings all the flavors home, if you know what I mean.  I’m not going to continue wasting your time going on about dressing.  Anyways, my dressing is the secret to all of your problems in life, so you should definitely try it out.

Ingredients

4 tablespoons of good Olive Oil

2 tablespoons of lemon juice

2 tablespoons of grapefruit or orange juice

2 teaspoons of minced garlic

teaspoon of honey

optional: teaspoon of Dijon mustard

salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Measure everything out and add into a medium bowl.  Whisk everything until well combined.  The dressing will naturally separate, so just shake it up to incorporate the contents before you serve it.  The dressing stays fresh for a week, assuming you do not use all of it by then.

featured, food

This One Takes the Cake

 

 

Cake. Its something pretty traditional; some may even go further to say boring.  If this dessert is boring to you, then you’re doing something wrong.  Done well, a basic cake has the potential to impress.  Ditch the mediocre box mix for this simple, but delicious recipe.  Traditional buttercream can be unimpressive.   I mean it’s pretty much just sugar and butter.  The addition of salt and cream cheese balances out the crazy amount of sugar in frosting.  I add a small amount of cream cheese, so you cannot tell its there, but the taste is richer.  The addition of jam is optional, but it adds a pretty light pink color and accompanies the cream cheese.  If you are looking for a go-to basic cake recipe, this one is it.  This recipe tastes exactly like that familiar “cake batter” flavor in ice cream, oreos, etc. (duh… its vanilla cake).   I have nothing thought-provoking or ground-breaking to say about this recipe; it’s just really damn good.

Vanilla Bean Cake:

  • Butter or nonstick cooking spray
  • 2 ¼ cups of cake flour (and more for the pan/pans)
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • *or … omit flour, salt, and baking powder with self rising cake flour
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or the seeds from a vanilla pod
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • To be fancy… add gold leaf to the edges of the cake once its frosted like I did

Secret Amazing Frosting Recipe:

  • 4 ½ cups confectioners sugar
  • 1 ½ cups room temperature butter
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • ¼ cup jam
  • ⅓ cup cream cheese
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Grease and flour as many or as little pans as you want.  This depends on whether you  want a layer cake. The cooking time will adjust based on how many layers you do. The more pans= shorter time.  If you are looking for a traditional layer cake, use four six-inch cake pans.

If you are not using self rising flour, sift flour, salt, and baking powder together and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth.   Add the sugar and whichever vanilla you chose.  Mix on medium high until its fluffy for 3-4 minutes.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.

Turn the mixer to low and add the egg yolks one at a time. Stop it again, and scrape down the bowl.

Turn the mixer to low and add the flour mixture in a few batches, alternating with the milk.  Start and end with the dry ingredients.  Mix for no more than 30 seconds after the last addition.

Evenly divide the mixture among the pans.  I used one pan and baked it for 45 minutes.  If you are doing four pans, bake it for just 22-25 minutes.  It honestly does not matter, as long as you check every so often.  If a toothpick comes out mostly clean, its ready.  Its common sense that if it’s still soupy in the middle, it probably needs more time.  It is so important that you let the cake cool for an hour or so, before trying to get them out of the pans.  It will fall apart if you don’t wait or it you don’t coat the pans well enough.

Frosting:

With a paddle attachment on medium speed beat your butter sugar and vanilla until fluffy.

Add the rest of the ingredients and beat until well combined for 2 minutes.

You can adjust it to your liking with more heavy cream or sugar.

Putting it together:

If you are doing multiple layers, add a generous amount of frosting to the middle of the layers after leveling the cakes to your liking (leveling: evenly cutting off cake top for a flatter surface).

Spread those layers and assemble the cake.

Then you should do a crumb coat by adding just enough frosting to cover the outside of the cake, to prevent the crumbs from being visible in the end product.

Spread this evenly with the straight edge of a butter knife or leveling spatula.

Refrigerate the cake for 15 minutes.

Add the rest of the frosting and spread evenly, while rotating it on a cake stand.

 

food

Simplistic Cooking

If there is anything to know when it comes to basic home cooking, it’s that simple recipes and fresh ingredients yield a better outcome.  Have you ever noticed that on many occasions you may have thought that whatever you were working on—whether it be cooking or art, the more details you added, it did not look or taste as great as it did originally when it had less going on? This phenomenon applies to a bunch of things in life; especially in the culinary realm.  Here are three brief recipes that are perfect examples of this philosophy.  All of them have minimal ingredients, but their flavors stand out in a way that is straight to the point.  There are certain ingredients a home cook should always have in their pantry and fridge for most recipes and they should always be the best.  Arguably the most important of these ingredients that can pull a dish together is a very good quality bottle of olive oil in your cooking arsenal. An ingredient so versatile and flavorful if used correctly, has the ability to add a backbone to whatever dish you are making.  

 

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Asparagus with Parmesan

Yield: serves 4

Ingredients

  • One bunch of Asparagus
  • 3 regular kitchen tablespoons of olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  •  1 tsp of fresh lemon juice
  • 4 tablespoons of grated Parmesan Cheese

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Toss all of the ingredients with the Asparagus on a baking sheet.
  3. Put it in the oven for 15 minutes until roasted.

 

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Herbed Italian Orzo

Yield: Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients

  • 1 pound orzo pasta
  • 1 yellow, red, or orange bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • ½ cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed (optional: my version does not have it)
  • ⅔ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 white onion chopped finely
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ cup fresh basil
  • A squeeze of lemon juice

Instructions

  1. Cook orzo in salted water according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water.
  2. Combine cooked orzo with  bell pepper, tomatoes, onion, and the optional mozzarella cheese.
  3. Dress the pasta salad by pouring in olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, oregano, salt, parsley, pepper, and basil.
  4. Stir to combine. Refrigerate until chilled. Serve cold.

Honey “Glazed” Carrots

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Yield: 4 people

Ingredients

  •  1 lb. carrots
  •   3 tablespoons of butter
  •  2 tablespoons of honey
  • 1/4 cup of parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1.  Wash, peel, and cut the carrots lengthwise in half and cut once again through the middle.  Boil the carrots for three minutes and no more than that because you do not want those soggy carrots that taste gross.  Drain it afterwards.
  2. Melt the butter in a pan like the one pictured at medium low.  Add the carrots as well as the seasonings and honey.  Do not add the parsley until the end.  Toss and cook for 3-4 minutes.  The carrots should still have a bit of a bite to them, and should not be fully “cooked” per-say.
  3.   Add the parsley after turning off the heat and toss to coat.
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This poster was bought at a farm in Martha’s Vineyard, but is originally an advertisement during World War Two when America was encouraging rationing.  However, what it says is still valid when it comes to choosing the right ingredients to cook with.

 

 

food

Healthified Big Mac

My blog is full of contradictions.  On one hand I have posts about healthy eating and resolutions, but on the other I have recipes for marshmallows and ice cream.  Don’t be so quick to judge though.  I’m all about being able to strike a balance.  This recipe is one that I’ve made inspired by a similar dish that my aunt always used to make for my family, but healthified and still just as amazing.  Whenever I cook, my style is always “a little bit of this and a little bit of that”, so the recipe has ingredients that can be adjusted to your preference and as you see fit.  At first glance, it does not seem like there are many ingredients.  With most things, less is more, and when you don’t complicate things, flavors stand out more.

Ingredients:

1 Pound of Ground Turkey

Half an Onion

Four Cloves of Garlic

Good Olive Oil (do not use the cheap stuff)

Herbs de Provence

A small bunch of cilantro (about ¼ cup)

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce or Hoisin Sauce (completely different sauces, but both add the extra concentrated flavor)

An egg

Salt and Pepper to taste

 

Extras/Garnish:

Cheddar Cheese Slices

Arugula

Whole Grain Bread (I cut them into circles, removing the crust)

Avocado Slices

 

  1. Prep the ingredients.  Chiffonade the cilantro. Chop the onion and mince the garlic.  In a pan, drizzle olive oil and heat it at medium low. You can toss a piece of onion into the pan and if it sizzles, its hot enough.  Add the onion and garlic and cook until glossy and a bit soft.
  2. In a medium sized bowl add your turkey, salt, pepper, cilantro, preferred sauce, and herbs de Provence.  Mix well.  Now add the sautéed garlic and onion, mixing everything well.  Lastly crack the egg in and make sure everything is incorporated.
  3. Heat up the pan again after cleaning the remaining onion off on medium high with a bit more olive oil.  Make sure you have a spatula handy.  The turkey is a bit difficult to form into rounds, so try your best to do so, and just plop them on the pan once it’s hot.  The burgers should be about an inch-ish thick and fairly small compared to a regular burger.  I made mini burgers, so they were about two inches in diameter.
  4. Once the bottom browns, flip it over and cook the other side until it browns as well.  The sides should be cooked as well, but not necessarily browned.  It should take about 6-8 minutes.  You don’t want to overcook the burgers, so if you are not sure, cut one of them in half a little early to check for redness.  With beef it’s okay to have the center red, but with poultry, it is obviously not.
  5. Plate the burgers with the garnish ingredients listed.  If you would like cheese, turn the heat off, but put the cheese on top of the burger while it is still hot and on the pan.
  6. Enjoy!