The Next Chapter – Austin Healthy Chef

Greetings!

It’s been one year since I embarked on the journey to culinary school, and six months since I graduated and created my new identity – Austin Healthy Chef.

I’ve been working as a personal chef, making healthful and whole foods meals. I’ve also taught some classes privately in homes, for groups privately, and even some classes at my alma mater, The Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts. I’ve worked with some terrific chefs in various temporary arrangements, competed in a couple of cooking competitions, and learned a lot of lessons during all of it. It has been one of the most rewarding years of my life.ย 

Despite making the riskiest financial decision of my life, I’ve managed to get off on a very solid foot. And though the past year has been a financial risk, it was a slam dunk no-brainer for my spirit. I’m far happier, more motivated, and more inspired than ever.

2013 will be another year of growth for me as I take my business from seat-of-the-pants success to engineered prosperity. Marketing will be a key activity for me this year.ย 

Toward that end, I have created AustinHealthyChef.com, and a Facebook page to match. As part of my effort to promote myself in a focused way, the energy I’ve put into this blog will mostly be directed elsewhere. I will be posting updates about myself, food, and nutrition at these places. Please “like” my Facebook page and subscribe to the WordPress blog at AustinHealthyChef.com.ย 

Thanks for your ongoing support!

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Bread! (With Gluten)

Wednesday and Thursday we spent time with Jean Brooks, a professional baker from Lampasas, Texas. Jean runs Serious Sourdough Bakery and sells her bread to the Monument Cafe in Georgetown and also the Four Seasons in Austin. She is indeed VERY serious about her bread and very knowledgeable. We were very lucky to have her as a guest instructor.

Jean is a dynamic baker and her excitement about baking is really easy to see. It’s understandable why she has had so much success. Bread is her life’s work. She brought in some wheat that she grows on her property, which was a treat because I have never seen where wheat comes from. Have you?

Below: Some wheat (I believe red winter wheat) from Jean’s crop.

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Below: A whole grain of wheat that I pulled from the wheat stalk.

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Below: We baked this sourdough in class.

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Jean had us mix dough using her six year old starter. A starter is a naturally fermented combination of wheat and water that is used to naturally help bread rise. Yeast is a common “artificial” rising tool that is added to bread to make it rise faster. Making a starter is a way to foster natural yeasts and bacteria that help bread rise. Jean has been feeding her starter and maintaining the active culture for six years. This is a living fluid. Sourdough is made using a fermented starter, which is where the sour flavor comes from. Jean says it takes her three days to bake her bread: one day to measure the ingredients for all of her breads, one day to mix and let the bread rise, and the last day to bake. The long process helps develop flavor and is a more traditional method of rising bread. We didn’t have that much time, so our bread was not as delicious as Jean’s bread.

Below: Our multi-grain bread, before mixing. You can see the distinct elements of the bread in the container. From top left: Powdered milk, multi-grain mixture, oats, yeast, millet.

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Another cool thing about Jean – she grinds her own flours. Regular flour that you buy in the store is at least partially rancid. After a grain is ground the oils oxidize unless the flour is kept very cold. So, unless you buy flour out of a freezer case or your bread was made from flour stored in freezers, your bread is rancid. To get the freshest flavor, Jean grinds her own flours from grains using a massive grinder.

Below: Pulling dough from the mixer. It was very sticky. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Below: Our baking lab “kneading” dough. The dough is incredibly gluey because of the natural gluten in wheat, so you could really pound it. You have to work the dough until the gluten proteins bind adequately.

Below: Our mixed dough waiting to double in size.

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Below: Jean showed us many types of grains and described their properties.

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Below: Some of the bread we baked.

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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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Seeds, Seitan and Nuts

Thursday we got to work with seitan, sunflower seeds, and walnuts, making vegan versions of several non-vegan dishes (1) fettuccine (2) mayonnaise (3) pesto and a handful of others.

Seitan

Seitan is a dense, chewy brown colored mass of wheat protein – otherwise known as gluten. Gluten has become a very well-known word in America, although people still don’t understand what it is. At The Natural Epicurean, we are going to be making our own seitan in a future session, but I can tell you it is made from wheat that is ground into a flour and then rinsed and wrought until the starches are washed away and the gluten only remains. What you’re left with is seitan – it’s thick, and it closely resembles meat because of it’s density and chewiness. However, since I am gluten sensitive, seitan was a no-no for me. I did cook with it, but I just didn’t eat any.

Below: Seitan fettuccine.ย 

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Below: Sun cheese, made from soaked sunflower seeds. Sun cheese tastes pretty dang good! And nice presentation! Lemon juice adds some of the tangy flavor that you usually get with cheese. A Vita Mix helps it get nice and creamy. All four teams made sun cheese so we got to compare final products and discuss. ย 

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Below: Cilantro/parsley pesto with pumpkin seeds instead of pinenuts. I plated this dish and I love the red clay bowl against the green pesto. The yellow lemon zest was a lovely addition, also.

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Below: Wild rice stir fry with walnuts.

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Below: Sun cheese and pesto.

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Below: Seitan saute. The sauce was delicious.

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Week 4 of 22 Begins

Okay, I’m not exactly sure how many total weeks I have, but 22 is pretty close. And time keeps ticking away!

Career Reflection Moment

A lot of folks in the program are very interested not only in cooking, but in helping others. So, the career of personal chef is a popular choice. It certainly has appeal for me, too. The idea of helping someone think through food issues on their way to feeling better is an amazing thing to be able to do each day. I’d much prefer that to selling insurance or writing clever ads or doing soil measurements. I’d also prefer it to hiring, firing, compensating, and training people, which is what I was doing in my last career. Not bad work, but the sense of a higher mission was really hard to grasp most days.

Beans

Beans are terrific little powerhouses of carbs, proteins, and fats. Add fiber and lots of nutrients, and it all makes beans are incredible useful things to incorporate into your daily diet if you can. And if you can take dried, bulk beans and turn them into creamy masterpieces, then you’re saving money, having fun, and putting good energy into your food, as well.

Below: Lotsa beans to choose from in this life.

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Below: Not a lot of action in this week’s blog post, but here are the delicious results of Monday’s cooking. Tomorrow, we turn this into hummus (chickpeas) and black bean patties.

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I’m Only Happy When It’s Grains

We dove back into grains on Wednesday, after having had our fill (literally and figuratively) of rice. Corn meal, polenta, amaranth, millet, and other grains were on the menu. All were whole grains, so we got the most protein, carbohydrates, fats, and fiber intrinsic within each grain.

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Below: Chef Alex demonstrates cooking polenta.

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Below: Lentil and bulgur wheat salad – sadly, this was one I couldn’t taste. Feta cheese on the side, so that vegans can try the dish without cheese.

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Below: Bulgur wheat tabbouleh (pronounced ta-BOO-lee). Minty, garlicky, creamy – a new favorite (I eat mine with millet, which is gluten free).

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Below: A video showing how the above presentation was executed.

Below: Quinoa salad with apricots and almonds. You can also use cranberries and pecans. Quinoa is amazingly flexible! I plated this dish – I especially love the celery across the top. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Below: Another successful lab. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Demo/Lecture Kitchen

Chef Rachel talked with us about intuition in the lecture portion of the day. She talked about using intuition in our cooking and in thinking about our wellness. She talked about ways to get more in touch with your intuitive nature. She also talked quite a bit about macrobiotics and ayurvedic principles. She said that we have an innate ability to maintain our own wellness, but we need to set up our lives to facilitate this awareness.

Below: Chef Rachel attempts a vulcan death grip on herself. ๐Ÿ˜› Just kidding, she led us through a thoroughly relaxing impromptu Do-in self massage, a type of Shiatsu technique. So nice!ย 

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Going with the Grain

The topics for Monday were grains, herbs, and spices.

Demo Kitchen

Chef Rachel Zierzow presented to my group Monday morning on herbs and spices. She definitely whet my appetite for getting a spice grinder after she toasted spices for garam masala and ground them in a Krups spice/coffee grinder. The result was a much more aromatic powder than my garam masala at home.

Below: Chef Rachel gets all herby on us.

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Below: We got a pop “quiz” on herbs and spices. It was fun to see if I could identify all of them by sight and smell alone.

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Below: A carrot soup with Garam Masala prepared by Chef Rachel in the demonstration kitchen. It was subtly sweet with warming spices of the garam masala and blended smooth in a Vita Mix.

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Lab Kitchen

In lab kitchen, we made rice pilaf, brown rice, white rice, and risotto. Rice, you ask? Isn’t that super simple and boring? No way! Rice is very versatile. You can add all kinds of stuff to it and pair it with all kinds of foods and flavors. There are many types of rice with different flavor profiles – jasmine, basmati, wild rice, and many others hold aromas and flavors that go far beyond your grandma’s white rice. I even cooked some black Forbidden rice recently.

Here’s another great thing about rice, and especially brown rice – it’s minimally processed. Your body has to work a bit harder to break it down. You also can’t eat as much of rice as you can eat of bread, for example, before you realize you are full. Do yourself a favor – cut the amount of bread you eat by half and use rice as your main carb.

Below: Varieties of rice we reviewed in lab kitchen.

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Below: Chef Alex shows us how to rinse rice before cooking to wash off the starchy bits.

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Below: Some risotto that Chef Alex cooked. She wanted to offer us the chance to eat a traditional risotto with butter and parmesan cheese. When I made the risotto, I made it with Earth Balance and nutritional yeast, since I don’t eat dairy for allergy reasons.

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Below: Some wild rice cooked by a student group during lab.

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Below: Rice cooling on sheet pans. It’s important to cool hot food quickly when you’re going to store it in a cold state.

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At Home: Pulau

I wanted to practice a bit at home, so I pulled out a recipe for Indian Pulau from my “recipes to try” folder, which is way too thick these days. Pulau is a rice dish made from basmati rice and featuring garam masala. There are many variations on pulau. I got my recipe from the 1998 Best of Gourmet, which featured many Indian recipes in the special focus section. Thanks, Austin Public Library!

Since I don’t have a spice grinder – yet – I had to use a jar of garam masala rather than make my own.

Below: My mise en place for pulau.

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Below: The recipe called for sauteing the spices, then adding the rice to the spices and oil. Only then would you add the water.

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Below: I tossed in the cold, dry raisins and let the rice sit for five minutes. After that, the raisins were plumped up a bit, and were moist and warm. Good stuff!

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Below: The finished product. Aromatic, mysterious, colorful, with textural and color variations. This is not the white rice I grew up with!

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Getting Saucy in Week Two

Week two has started and we have begun to cook!

So far this week we’ve cooked some stocks and sauces. Stocks are essentially water simmered with vegetables and aromatic herbs and spices. For those so inclined, stocks may also include animal bones and other parts. The water is imparted with flavor and the resulting stock is used to make soups, sauces, or in other cooking applications.

Below: Chef Rosa shows us three completed stocks of varying colors, which come from the ways the stocks were prepared and/or the ingredients used.

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Below: Chef Rosa demonstrates assembling a sachet of herbs for a stock. This image is from the demo portion of our day. Each day is divided into two parts, a demonstration (“demo”) half and a lab half. The lab half is where we cook and the demo half is mostly observing.

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Below: I decided to try making a stock at home to complement a potato soup I made, so I simmered 2 quarts of water with leeks, onion, and garlic. Here’s the stock cooling in an ice bath.

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Below: Chef Alex doing a quick demo before our lab on sauces. After the introduction to a lab session, the instructor turns us loose on our recipe(s) for that lab session, walking around and providing guidance as needed.

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Below: Mmm…some minced onion sauteing nicely.

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Below: Team dashi slicing mushrooms.

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Below: The mushroom jus was one of my favorites from the sauces lab day (Tuesday) – rich with tender and earthy mushrooms. The foundation of this was the good mushroom stock made the day prior.

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Below: A terrific salsa verde (parsley and walnut, in this case) and roasted red pepper coulis. Both had colorful and enticing presentations.

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Below: Dishes pile up in the kitchen. We take turns doing the dishes, but everyone in the kitchen is responsible for various aspects of cleanup after a lab session.

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Below: A tasting after the demonstration on sauces. Chef Rosa prepared several sauces including bechamel and hollandaise for tasting. Sauces were a bit of a bummer for me because they typically contain either butter (dairy) or wheat (gluten), both of which seem to give me trouble. Nevertheless, Chef Rosa showed us versions without dairy and I’m optimistic about learning more about gluten-free sauce options.ย 

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Below: Just for fun, a lovely and delicious chocolate made by my classmate Kim Gallogly.

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Day 4 of Class

Yesterday involved more knife skills – new shapes and practicing things from yesterday. Also, we were oriented to the kitchen tools and machines stocked in the kitchen.

We were shown how to sharpen our knives by Brian Henderson, who is a staff member at The Natural Epicurean and who also did an internship at Uchi, what I would consider the most highly regarded restaurant in Austin. That’s where he learned the technique of sharpening that he showed us. It was very similar to a method described not long ago in Edible Austin by local chef Todd Duplechan, but I never was sure if I was doing it right. Brian’s explanation was really helpful because I got to see it in action, and he made it seem a lot more straightforward than I thought it was. I performed the technique on my home chef’s knife and it worked very well in restoring the blade. So proud to know this new skill!

We did a brunoise of green pepper – tiny 1/8 inch cubes used for garnish. We also did losenge cuts, paysanne cuts, and rondelles. We also cuts supremes of citrus and chiffonade of spinach. Much of it was used for a salad that we ate for lunch. Yum!

It’s challenging making consistent cuts to specified dimensions, such as 1/2 inch cubes. Often, one side is a bit too long, or my cuts are a shade too large and my prep mates’ cuts are a shade too small and the result is inconsistent. Just imagine doing carpentry without a measuring tape, pencil, or T-square and you may get the idea.

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Day Three of Culinary School

It was Day Three and it feels like Week Three because of how much is going through my mind. It’s a good thing – life is filled with possibility.

Knife to Meet You!

Ah, knife skills day one! This most basic of chef talents was something I didn’t expect so soon, but I welcomed it with enthusiasm. Chef Rosa is a terrific instructor and so positive! She strikes a great balance by upholding standards but also showing lots of flexibility and encouragement. One thing that struck me was that she said it took her three years to feel fully comfortable with knife skills in a professional culinary setting, which is to say that we all have a lot to learn. Everyone took their time striving for the ideal battonet and large dice cuts – it’s much harder than you’d think because each cut requires fairly specific dimensions (e.g., a proper julienne is .125 in x .125 in x 2.0 in.).

Below: Vegetables for the choppin’! These were prepared by one of the kitchen assistants – a recent graduate who is working on her assisting hours for the school.

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