Cooking Par-Tay: Yuzu Kosho!

Okay, so if two guys in culinary school get together to smash some limes and garlic, that doesn’t quite qualify as a “par-tay,” but it was a lot of fun and the result was very, very pleasing – yuzu kosho.

Yuzo Kosho?

What is yuzu kosho? It’s an aromatic paste, similar to Thai curry paste, which is made from citrus zest, peppers, salt, and garlic. It’s somewhat labor intensive, but incredibly flavorful. We found that the flavors were not only bold and pleasing, but sustaining – they really had staying power on the tongue. We got the idea from a trip to Austin’s noted restaurant Uchiko, which is the home restaurant of Top Chef winner Paul Qui. They use quite a bit of Yuzu.

Yuzu kosho is a traditional ingredient from Japan, and is typically made from yuzu, a hard-to-find citrus. Yuzu is like a combination between a tangerine and an orange. Without Yuzu, you can use a ratio of several limes for each lemon. I have tried fresh Yuzu, and it’s not so special that NOT having it is a major problem.

Below: Lime zest, ready for processing.

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Cooking with Terry Hope Romero and Isa Chandra Moskowitz

Cover of "Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan...

Cover via Amazon

I volunteered to cook for the Texas Veg Fest Friday night and it gave me the opportunity to work with two of the best-known vegan cookbook authors around, Terry Hope Romero and Isa Chandra Moskowitz. I helped make seitan tamales! I made the tomato-chile sauce and I assembled a lot of the tamales. I worked mostly with Terry and she was super cool. Good times. 🙂 I heard about this opportunity from Molly from The Lone Star Plate blog. We met outside Conscious Cravings near UT Austin – how cool is that?

We cooked in an East Austin commercial kitchen along side vegan baker Kristen from Capitol City Bakery (available at the soon-to-open Counter Culture brick-and-mortar location) and Lou (graduate of The Natural Epicurean) and Serafina from gluten-free bakery True Nature’s Child (I wrote about them in one of my first blog posts). Celeste’s Best cookie dough was being made and Sue from Counter Culture was there, too. Everyone was super cool. Apparently there is a tortilla business that operates in the same kitchen, as well. Who knew?

Below: Me with Terry Hope Romero, author of Veganomicon and Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.

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Potatoes with Chef Marko Ellinger

Chef Marko Ellinger is a local chef who came in to show us a variety of techniques with potatoes. He brings a lot of industry experience and is always quick to remind us of the realities of a food production business. At the same time, he has a lot of creativity and knowledge, and like all of the teachers at The Natural Epicurean, he has an easy going demeanor.

Below: Chef Marko works on a potatoes au gratin recipe.

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Below: I made these gnocci. Gnocci is made from potato, some wheat flour, and often some herbs, eggs, and cheese. This was one of the rare occasions when I ate something we made in class which contained wheat. My body did pretty well with the wheat, but I did notice some of the familiar symptoms that tend to come up a few days later. One great thing about the school is that I always have the option to not partake in wheat ingredients, and usually wheat-free is the default preparation (e.g., tamari instead of soy sauce).

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Below: Chef Marko prepared a carrot coulis for the gnocci. Good stuff!

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Below: Chef Marko showed us a couple of plating options for new and fingerling potatoes.

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Below: The potatoes au gratin, which included sweet potatoes, shown at bottom.

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Nutrition Lecture

One of the topics we covered today was body mass index. Mine has been going up lately with all of the good food I have been cooking at school and home! Additionally, I’ve gone out to a few delicious eateries recently to keep my palate trained on what excellent food tastes like. Good thing I ran up to Mount Bonnell today!

Below: Calculating my body mass index.

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Iron Chef – Natural Epicurean Style

Today we got a double dose of labs – normally each day of class consists of a half-day of lecture/demonstration and a half-day of cooking lab. Wednesday we got two lab sessions – woo!

Lab 1: Tomatoes and Peppers

Tomatoes and/or peppers are elemental foods in multiple cultures: Italian, Mexican, Thai, Korean, etc. Filled with fiber, several vitamins and minerals (notably, vitamin C, vitamin A, and beta-carotene), and antioxidants, peppers and tomatoes are nutritious and delicious. Their color and heat are clues to some of their nutritive properties – antioxidants are often most prevalent in brightly colored vegetables and fruits.

Below: A wide array of shapes and colors were presented in our selection of peppers. At the bottom, habanero peppers and just to the right of that, ghost chiles – the hottest chiles I am aware of. 

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Soup’s On!

Acid-Alkaline Diet

Tuesday we had another nutrition lecture and we discussed the topic of acid-alkaline balance in the body and using nutrition to maintain that balance. Radhia gave us pH strips to test our saliva and urine (testing took place in the privacy of our homes, thankfully 🙂 ).

The basic idea is that certain foods tend to make your body more acidic and other foods tend to make it more alkaline. The theory’s proponents contend that bodies which are constantly acidic or fighting to reduce acidity tend to be sicker. Therefore, striving for alkalinity is desirable and guess what – healthy foods produce alkalinity: vegetables, most fruits, oats, tea, and other healthy foods. The baddies? Processed oils, dairy foods, meats, refined sugar and salts, etc. There are some unexpected foods — carrots and cranberries produce acidity, rice syrup (fairly sweet) produces alkalinity — but mostly it’s intuitive.

In the body’s fight to maintain homeostasis, it will become weakened and susceptible to a number of disease states.

Below: pH paper roll for testing your pH levels.

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Soups Lab

We made a variety of soups today, which was great for me because I haven’t had a lot of experience in soup production.

Below: One team made it’s own chapati from scratch, as shown encircling the bowl below.

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Below: Mint-melon soup.

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Below: A mock clam chowder made with sauteed oyster mushrooms. The team made a scratch version of Old Bay seasoning to lend a classic seafood soup flavor.

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Below: Brian Henderson, who’s in charge of procuring the stock we cook with and who also provides us with helpful coaching during our cooking labs, showed me how to quickly break down an avocado using a technique you probably haven’t seen before…

Below: Corn and quinoa chowder. I made and garnished this one. It had a very good corn flavor and the key was, I think, scraping the corn “milk” out of the cob after cutting off the kernels.

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Weird Observation of the Day

In the cooking lab, anytime you touch your face or hair, you have to wash your hands again before touching food. You learn to delay scratching your nose, or at least find alternative ways of accomplishing the goal. Now, even when I am at home, I have strange feelings about touching my face — I’m beginning to think twice before scratching!

Getting Fruity

Fruits Lab

Lab on Monday required us to cook through several recipes using fruit. Of course, we have cooked with fruit before (during Wet Cooking Methods, for example), and we’ll cook with it again. But when we have a lab session, our goal is to focus on a specific food or technique. Therefore, we will get multiple chances to repeat techniques and to work with certain types of food.

A great example is how we worked with fruit on Monday: we fried plantains, grilled bananas, poached pears, and boiled apples. Several different methods organized under one theme – fruit.

Below: Some lovely ripe Anjou pears (reddish) and Bosc pears (yellowish with a twinge of brown). An apple, some berries, and all types of fruit.

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Below: Apple-ginger chutney with bread. 

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Below: Poached Anjou pears with vegan yogurt, berries, and crumbled ginger snaps. Pear peel was used to create the ribbon designs around the stems.

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Below: Poached Bosc pears. The cinnamon-anise poaching liquid was reduced to a syrup and golden raisins were added. It’s common in lab for more than one team to make the same recipe, as with this dish and the one above. Often, the teams will receive slightly different instructions for demonstration purposes. 

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Below: A festival of fruit!

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Extracurricular Activities

We are moving so quickly through our curriculum – time is really flying. I’m learning a lot but it’s going by fast. To support my learning, I cook at home, and I’ve started partnering with a fellow student to cook together once a week. Also, I’m trying to take advantage of opportunities to explore new and good food. In the spirit of Jiro Ono (see blog post on Jiro Dreams of Sushi), I’ve also decided that I am done with so-so food.

Until now, I’ve been satisfied with occasionally eating what was handy or convenient, even though it was bland or uninteresting. I’ve committed to all but eliminate those instances in an effort to expose myself to as much good food as possible. It’s all with the goal of becoming the best cook I can be and taking advantage of this time I have in culinary school.

Playing Around with Raw Desserts

Two fantastic desserts at Casa de Luz inspired me to go home and try making some. I wanted to make them as simple as possible, so I stuck with raw ingredients.

Below: Banana with coconut meat, almonds, and a date.

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Below: Next, I made a raw blackberry cookie with almond and flax meal, topped with a blackberry lemon juice icing. All sweetened with agave. I really enjoyed this one. The icing had a ice bright quality from the lemon. 

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Vegetables: Class Four

For 98% of my life, I have hated greens. Bitter, overcooked, wilted – greens had no appeal. Occasionally greens with large amounts of animal fat would be acceptable. It was only recently that I began to appreciate greens more. I discovered alternative sauces and dressings. I learned of the potent nutritive power of greens. Cooking greens well is critical, so I was looking forward to our class.

Below: Preparation of greens is critical, especially thorough washing. Notice the aphids on the leaf below.

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Below: Chef Shahnaz instructs us on proper preparation and enjoyment of leafy greens.

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Below: Preparing a pressed salad. This stage of the process involved tossing thinly-sliced carrots, parsnips and celery in sea salt. Then you place a weight over the vegetables to squeeze out some of the liquids.

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Below: My team’s blanched greens between our braised cabbage (top) and our improvised sauce (bottom). The sauce was a blend of sesame oil, cilantro, and a number of other ingredients.

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Below: More blanched greens.

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Below: Two versions of cumin cabbage. The one on the left was cooked a bit more than the one on the right and was more tender. I think I preferred the slight crunch of the one on the right. Plus it had more of a cumin flavor, which is surprising because the spice isn’t as visible.

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Foodie Movie: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

3.16.12 - "Jiro Dreams of Sushi"

3.16.12 - "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" (Photo credit: moviesinla)

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is about 85-year-old Jiro Ono, a three-Michelin-star sushi chef in Tokyo. He owns and operates a 10-seat sushi bar of incomparable quality. His standards are high and he has been obsessed with producing excellent sushi since he was a teenager.

I highly recommend this movie for anyone interested in food, anyone who wants to work with food professionally, or anyone who loves beautiful cinematography. You do not have to be into sushi to enjoy the film, although I think that helps.

The way the sushi was depicted was gorgeous, and the music complemented the subject matter very well. I was afraid that a movie about such a topic would get old, but the film artfully tells a variety of stories: Jiro’s relationships to his elders and sons, how Jiro achieves excellence, how he is developing future sushi masters, how it feels to be a student of Jiro, how Jiro sources his fish, etc. They even touch on the topic of overfishing and ecology.

A few quotes and ideas that stuck with me:

  • Leaders want things their way and that is good. The job of a leader is to set clear expectations for others to achieve, not to be a collaborator or team member. This was Jiro’s approach and he got excellent results.
  • Perfection is the mark of an excellent chef.
  • Always striving to reach higher levels of performance is another mark of a great chef.
  • In order to make delicious food you must eat delicious food.

Veg III, Blogging 101, and Week 5 is Complete

Blogging for Cooks

Chef Alex (aka, The Food Diva) gave a presentation this week on blogging. And it wasn’t just about blogging, but how blogging can affect your career and also about just being open to career paths in general. She also talked about food styling and photography. As a person who dabbles in blogging (ha!) I appreciated it a lot. But mostly I liked hearing how we need to follow our passion and be true to ourselves. Chef Alex is pretty inspirational because she has really done a lot in the food world and she is quite savvy about pursuing her goals.

I think my favorite moment was when she said “do your thing, your ship will sail, keep that passion going.” A great reminder! The whole talk made me realize how much I love to communicate with others and share knowledge. Writing, teaching, doing cooking demos, counseling – all of those things align with that. I guess it partly goes back to when I was a kid – I always loved being on stage. Food media is something I need to keep on my radar!

Below: Chef Alex Lopez explaining how we are going to achieve culinary domination on a global scale.

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What is food styling? Food styling is where you make the food look really good on the plate and set up a scene that makes your food jump off the screen and into the imagination of the viewer. You’re trying to help paint a picture and a context for the person looking at your photo that will draw them in and inspire them.

Below: Food styling before a photo shoot. Check out The Food Diva’s blog post to see how the photo of the beet salad came out.

Vegetables III Lab

We spiralized and shredded in Veg III this week. I blanched some snap beans, which sounds simple, but there is so much that can happen to a green bean in just a few seconds in simmering water. We’re slowly but surely building on fundamental skills.

Below: Spiralized squash noodles.

Below: Some blanched snap beans with toasted walnuts.

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Below: Some summer squash sliced wide on a mandoline. They tasted amazingly similar to pasta.

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