Jackfruit Tacos

Last Friday night,  a few classmates and I celebrated the end of the week with a taco night and a few drinks. We have been curious throughout our beverage course about how some of the “drinks” we have been mixing tasted like, so why not combine that venture with tacos!

I originally planned on putting together typical vegetable tacos with marinated mushrooms or tofu but I was reminded of a jackfruit taco I had during a summer trip in Philly. I had to attempt to make a homemade version too.

Jackfruit is a commonly seen southeast Asian fruit found in a large green spiky shell. For the taco, I used young, unripen jackfruit but the ripen, sweetened version is a delicious snack.

RIpen, Sweet Jackfruit

Ripen, Sweet Jackfruit

Green Jackfruit

Young, Green Jackfruit

1. Drain and rinse the jackfruit, then allow to soak for 30 minutes in water

Marinade: 1 TBS molasses, 2 tsp cumin, pinch of red pepper flakes, & 1 cup vegetable broth

Marinade: 1 TBS molasses, 2 tsp cumin, pinch of red pepper flakes, & 1 cup vegetable broth

2. Drain the soaked jackfruit, and then marinate.

Sauteed 1/2 red onions with 4 cloves garlic, then caramelized with 1 TBS tomato paste

Sauteed 1/2 red onions with 4 cloves garlic, then caramelized with 1 TBS tomato paste

After sauteing, I added the marinated jackfruit mixture into the pan, then allowed to simmer for about 30 minutes. I did adjust the seasonings and ended up adding about 1/2 cup of water and a bit more tomato paste.

Using a fork, I separated the jackfruit, so it looked like a shredded chicken

Using a fork, I separated the jackfruit, so it looked like a shredded chicken

We had a can of black beans in the pantry, why not toss some of that in too?

Flour tortilla, chopped lettuce, shredded cheddar cheese, and my Jackfruit + black bean filling

Flour tortilla, chopped lettuce, shredded cheddar cheese, and my Jackfruit + black bean filling

The feast included fresh salsa and two other types of fillings. One was a bulgogi marinated beef, a type of Korean BBQ and a coffee-rub pork – seared then finished in the oven.

Did I mention we also had sweet plantains? They were delicious as a side dish but I also experimented with this:

Sweet Plantain Quesadilla

Sweet Plantain Quesadilla

Cheers to more fun, creative culinary nights!

-A

Queen’s Feast — Restaurant Week in Charlotte

Charlotte’s Restaurant Week is an exciting perk for a culinary student with a limited budget residing in the hotbed of rising high-quality restaurant establishments. A few friends and I, after about an hour of debating over restaurant choices,  settled on Mimosa Grill. I had heard good things about their Sunday brunch from a few of my instructors and one of my friends said he enjoyed his last experience there too. Their restaurant week menu did not offer a vegetarian option, so I decided to call to inquiry about  accommodations. The hostess cheerfully expressed that the kitchen would be more than happy to meet such accommodations, so I was sold and made reservations.

Our dinner was last Sunday, after being seated and putting in our drink orders, I again confirmed with  server that it would not be a big deal to make a vegetarian dish, she highly recommended that I let the  kitchen surprise me. Well surprise me they did.

With a huge disappointment.

Dinner started with a beet salad mix with thinly shaved beets, goat cheese, oranges fennel, and citrus rosemary vinaigrette. It wasn’t horrible, the vinaigrette was refreshing and fennel was a different greens to try.

"MG" Beet Salad

“MG” Beet Salad

My entree was a poor concoction of pasta and vegetables swimming in olive oil and black pepper. I could even say pasta dishes I’ve had at Olive Green have been better. I first settled for it but after finishing dinner with a practically inedible pecan pie, I did not think the price I paid was worth the  whole meal.

I did not make a huge issue out of it with the server. I tried to reconcile that maybe the kitchen was too busy to make a special vegetarian dish, but I guess the dessert (my favorite part of any meal) broke the camel’s back. I’ll certainly be more cautious about choosing my restaurant week experience and allowing a chef to experiment on my pricey meal.

A caveat though–the rest of my dinner party members enjoyed their meals but not overly impressed. For appetizers they tried the lobster mac & cheese, stuffed Georgia hushpuppies, and the beef carpaccio. Chosen entrees included the 24-hour “Painted Hills” short ribs served with a farro risotto, Rock House Farm Artisan Pork — a grilled pork loin with sausage mac & cheese and homemade Arkansas Black applesauce, and The Duck Plate, which though my friend said was tasty, it was a chewing marathon because it was cooked med-rare and had lots on fat on it.  And boy do I regret not getting the S’mores Bread Pudding for dessert instead.  Overall, it was still a fun night reflecting upon our culinary courses and learning hilariously quirky things about each other.

-A

Culinary life thus far…

This past Tuesday, I finish my second of five culinary course segments for the winter term. Before winter break, I had Introduction to Meatcutting and then started Fundamentals of Food Production for two days. The third day of the course was probably the worst day of culinary school. It was the Thursday right before our two week winter break, so that day was reserved for a “deep-cleanse” rather than class/production. I cleaned for four hours. FOUR HOURS. Pots, pans, measuring instruments, all utensils, every nook and cranny of that kitchen.  Needless to say it was exhausting, frustrating, and seemed almost fruitless especially when the “inspector” instructor came in and started to list off a billion other things we needed to clean. On the plus side, we did get out of class early, right around lunch time. Two classmates and I ventured to the Uptown area and had lunch at Vapiano’s, an Italian bistro where you order at different stations — pasta, pizza, salad, the bar, etc.. whatever you are in the mood for and they scan a card you are given by the hostess when you came in then the food is either brought to you or you can pick it up. We shared a refreshing vegetarian appetizer plate filled with green and black olives, sliced mozzarella and tomato,  toasted bread, and bruschetta. I had the bruschetta pizza, it filled my hangry attitude from cleaning all morning. The crust was freshly tossed to a thin consistency topped with arugula, bruschetta mix, olive oil, garlic, mix of cheese with a tomato sauce baked in a stone-pizza oven.

To be frank, I felt not so much in the culinary mindset when starting this term. After a week break for Thanksgiving, I was looking forward to getting back into the routine of classes and my afternoon/weekend activities around Charlotte, however I began to feel a detachment from my reasons to pursue culinary school and the type of courses I was going to have during winter term.  I needed to reevaluate how I approached my culinary school studies and practice. I desired some sort of validation in that the time, blood (seriously, knife injuries), sweat, and the piles of pots and pans I washed were actually worth it. I’ve tossed around the idea of applying for a few jobs but with the schedule of the next few weeks/weekends being not so concrete, it’s hard to imagine someone would want to hired me. But I have drawn up a resume — quite different from the resume I had during undergraduate studies — and emailed a few places I am interested in. That’s a good beginning right?

Introduction to Meatcutting

On our first day we watched a video about the brutal, inhumane treatment of factory farm animals from their living situations to their deaths at the processing plant. I am very well aware of this issue; it being one of the many reasons I choose  a vegetarian/pescartarian diet. I was interested in hearing my classmates’ responses and of course, the discussion with my professor about the culinary industry’s dilemma in utilizing those products. Though conversation did not go too in depth,we all agreed that the factory farm processing is wrong and change can happen when we as future chefs utilize our economic purchasing power to  source our meat products based on the conditions they were raised, fed, and slaughtered.

Each day our instructor led us through simple yoga-like motions, then we would run around the circular loop of the culinary lab hallways — we sure looked silly jogging in our checkered pants and undershirts. In between our stretches, we would point out certain parts of our bodies and relate them to the “cut” on beef, veal, pork, and lamb.  For example, our butt is known as the “fresh ham” on pork or “round” on lamb and beefs. I found the exercise very helpful to visualize the animal anatomy in relation to the cuts of meat we prepare in class and understanding where the tender meats are and tougher meats ideal for braising and stewing are located. Now I know where the tenderloin is!

This was a difficult course for me to stomach at some points — like seeing fabrications (cutting) of large carcasses. I still have various issues with meat-eating and the possibility of raising “humane” veal. But the tone my instructor set during those few days of discussion changed my former expectations of the course and garnered my respect for chefs and butchers who are being socially responsible.

Fundamentals of Food Production

Compared to my fall term culinary labs..this class seemed like a breeze.  I found myself quite frustrated by the lack of challenge. This course focused on three other “dry” cooking methods — sauteing, shallow frying, and baking. For practical, I pan fried chicken and made a creamy mushroom Marsala sauce.

There were some positive notes though — my group and I enjoyed the liberties of experimenting with whatever ingredients we were assigned. It was almost like a “Chopped” competition. Usually, we were assigned a specific protein to be prepared with a certain sauce, to practice our pan sauce technique. For the carb and vegetable side items, we wanted to get more creative than mac&cheese, potato gratin, and green beans saute with olive oil and garlic– boring! (Especially if you have had it for 3 days..) We also become the “Soup of the Day” group too! I think I made more soups in this course than in the Stock, Sauce, and Soups course last term.

Here are some photos from production:

Asparagus Cream Soup

Asparagus Cream Soup

Other soups my group made were light vegetable, Thai Sweet Potato, and Tortilla Tomato. A heartwarming bowl of soup was perfect for those chilly days last week.

Pan-Fried Pork Cutlets with Marsala Mushroom Pan Sauce

Pan-Fried Pork Cutlets with Marsala Mushroom Pan Sauce

Chicken En Croute Chicken stuffed with Spinach, Bacon, and Cheese, wrapped in Puff Pastry

Chicken En Croute
Chicken stuffed with Spinach, Bacon, and Cheese, wrapped in Puff Pastry

Vegetarian version of “En Croute”…

Spinach & Ricotta Puff Pastry

Spinach & Ricotta Puff Pastry

Vegetarian Stuffed Red Peppers Brown rice, mushrooms, onions,  garlic, and zucchini

Vegetarian Stuffed Red Peppers
Brown rice, mushrooms, onions, garlic, and zucchini

Ok, so maybe I influenced my group to make more vegetarian dishes…but no one complained and the serving dishes were always empty during clean up.

Can’t wait to shared my next post about my Introduction to Beverage course! Have a wonderful weekend & Happy (early) MLK day!

-A

Chocolate Fig Bites

I have the biggest sweet-tooth and moderation around anything with dark chocolate takes plenty of willpower. In a world of refined sugars, processed foods, and a never-ending Pinterest feed of delicious desserts and baked goods, feel good beginnings is not about restriction but trying healthier alternatives and minimizing added sugars!

These sweet bites were pretty easy to put together. I blended about half a container of black mission figs with (6 oz.) with 1 tbs of almond butter then rolled up 1 teaspoon scoop sizes into little bonbon-like balls. I dipped them into dark chocolate melted with some coconut oil. You can also make them vegan by using vegan chocolate chips. I also found that this treat is relatively inexpensive too. One 12oz container of dried figs from Trader Joe’s costs about $3.99,  I only used half the container and ended up with about 30 bites!

ChocolateFigBites_1

ChocolateFigBites

 

This is the recipe from Giada’s Feel Good Food

14 oz. dried Mission figs, stemmed and coarsely chopped ( about 3 cups)

2 tablespoons unsalted creamy almond butter

1 cup vegan chocolate chips (41% cocoa)

2 teaspoons coconut, safflower, or grapeseed oil

3/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt

1. Process the figs, almond butter, and 2 tablespoon water until smooth

2. Scoop out 1 teaspoon portion sizes and roll into 1-in balls*, place fig balls on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper to prevent sticking

3. Melt the chocolate chips and oil in a double boiler (heat-proof bowl set over simmering water)

4. Once chocolate is completely melted, using a fork dip the fig balls in the chocolate to coat, allowing the excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl

5. Return dipped fig bites onto parchment paper and sprinkle with the salt

6. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes for the chocolate to set,  store for about 1 week.

Makes 34-35 bites; Calories – 56 each

*I made mine a bit smaller, a good trick to satisfy the sweets craving yet not over do it.

-A

Feel Good Beginnings

I’m back. It seems the craze of the holiday season and beginning my winter term courses left little time or should I say, energy to post updates about culinary school life. As always, the new year usually marks for many of us a time to set resolutions, break old habits, and develop new ones. I have been thinking about the sort of challenges I want to achieve in 2014. One of them is to be a better blogger. I started blogging while studying abroad in Vietnam, it served as a communication line to my family and friends back home and most importantly, a journal documenting my unique experience. I often skim through some of my posts, reflecting on how I grew and the impact on the person I was at the beginning of the semester to who I became when I departed. That is the goal of this blog as well, to share my culinary school experience with my friends who are scattered all across the country working their jobs, pursing graduate degrees, and overall experiencing the ups and downs of post-graduate life.  My goal into this year is to at least post one blog a week, doesn’t seem like too difficult a challenge, but that’s what I told myself when I started this blog. I also was to take my postings in a new direction, I’ll still post here and there about culinary school, I want to share healthy recipes and tips i come across and tried in the kitchen.

Over the years, I have collected all sorts of cookbooks and I seem to have a growing list of cookbooks I want. Usually though, I make a few recipes from the cookbook then leave it collecting dust on the bookshelf while referring to Pinterest posts instead. So, in combination with decreasing my smartphone dependence, I want to utilize my print collection more this year starting with Giada de Laurentils’s Feel Good Food.

FeelGoodFood

I aim to prepare at least 2-3 recipes from the book each week, a perfect way to align my new year fitness goals with creating healthy, fresh dishes, snacks, and desserts. Here are picks from the first week of January::

Mini Carrot-Fig Muffins (adaption of Mini Carrot-Apple Muffins)

Carrot_Fig_Muffins

Without added processed sugar, I find that these mini muffins satisfy snack time grumbles, pre-workout fuel and sweet-tooth needs.  I didn’t have currants or apple juice concentrate on hand, so I substituted with dried figs and orange juice. I’m sure the apple concentrate would have made the muffin a bit sweeter. Giada serves her muffins with a dollop of honey-flavored greek yogurt.

Mint-Spinach Pesto

A refreshing, lighter twist on the traditional basil and pine nut pesto that leaves you lingering for the memories (and warmth!) of last summer.  Gaida suggests topping it on her lemon-cumin grilled chicken, but as a pescartarian, I mixed it into whole baked sweet potatoes and topped on roasted sweet potato fries for dinner tonight.

SweetPotato_MintWalnutPesto

Cheers to a new year! Good luck with your resolutions too!

-A

Water’s Waiting, Jump In.

Some of us have the fond memories of swim lessons, YMCA versions and the less costly version – just tossed in the neighborhood pool. Amid the shock, confusion, and gushing chlorinated water on our faces, our bodies engaged in doggie paddle mode.  Yay! You can swim.

That’s how my first day of official cooking or “production” in culinary terms went.

It started even before I stepped into the kitchen. I arrive on campus at the gloriously early hour of 6:22am and realized I had left at home my (newly cleaned and pressed) apron on the sofa when I was putting a couple of things in my bag. Well, I engaged in my unique form of dealing with such an unexpected conflict.

Here was my train of thoughts:

 Ok, can you race back to grab the apron and risk being late (thus making an early bad impression or even denied access to class)?

 Hmm. Why me? Why today?

 Maybe I’ll make it back in time (calculating the driving time in my head, while wasting time thinking about it).

 Well, it is the first day. And Chef did say yesterday he was not  “out to get us.” Maybe he’ll understand. Do I risk not being in full uniform today?

 Dang, I wish I had the number of that girl in my class who lives on campus so I can ask if I could borrow one of hers for the day.

 Wait. There’s a student, maybe I can ask to borrow one of his? Would that be weird? 

 Alright I’m going to risk it.

(to be continued)

So while I leave you all in suspense, I want to summarize what a general day is like for me.

5:00 am                       Wake Up (Snooze?), Breakfast

5:30 am                       Get dressed – I’m quite thankful official lab uniform does not allow wearing make up – more time to sleep!

6:10am                        Leave for school

6:30am                        Park, Walk to academic building  (or with the incident of this morning, RUN!)

7:00am                        Roll Call, Uniform check

7:15am                        Questions & Discussion

7:30am                        Menu Overview

8:00am                        Start Production

11:15am                      Mise en place lab for service – we prepare food to eat ourselves and for another class, so there isn’t too much waste, though it still pains me to see the amount of food dumped into the trash cans.

11:30am                     Class Lunch

11:55am                     Sanitation (THE WORST PART)

12:30pm                     Review

1:00pm                       Dismiss

The rest of the day is divided between doing my homework and review, working out, reading, and hanging out with friends and family. Needless to say, I am quite exhausted by the end of the day but the routine and structure are welcoming especially after the lazy days of August.

I promise to share details about my New World Cuisine Class in my next post, until then you can check out my Instagram for some pictures from production! Lots of delicious foods coming your way!

-A

Oh, I was in complete uniform today — apron included. I made it to class at 6:59 am.

Sanitized, Starched, Pressed, Hemmed–and the Sun is not up yet.

It’s 5:09am.

I’m going to have to quickly adjust to these early mornings and end my habitual late night Pinteresting. After general orientation yesterday, I received my knife kit and textbooks from my instructor – talk about easy school supply shopping! My uniform is washed, starched, and ironed. I have to say, my chef pants are rather comfy, almost like having on pajama pants. Along with my uniform are little accessories like a navy collar to indicating my year, side towels, and an apron. All are important to complementing my kitchen runway look. It’s clear that one weekly task will be cleaning my chef whites i.e. carrying around Tide To Go to lessen the stains to clean and learning to love ironing.

I am filled with anticipation, hesitation, and excitement as I am about to begin the semester. It is funny to think how my freshman self would react if told she would be in culinary school before graduate school. Today, the chefs are giving the whole department a run down on little things necessary to know for all the courses from storing products, setting up cleaning stations, and using the different equipment in the kitchens.

I want to dedicate this first official post to my family, friends, and supporters, I do not express my gratitude nearly enough and hope you all know that your honest insights, excitement, and continual words of encouragement played a huge role in my decision to go for my dream.

-A

Welcome to A La Twenty-Something!

Welcome to the world of culinary arts.  I hope to capture the best of the best moments and those worst of the worst moments that (hopefully) turn into memorable lessons. And…I’ll “leek” some of those culinary secrets that might make your home-chef experience better while integrating some tasty nutrition information and tweaks too!

“A La” is a French phrase you are probably recognized paired as “a la carte” or in translation, according to the menu..” Other synonymous meanings include “in the style of”As I was brainstorming blog name, I did not want a “HEY READ THIS BLOG ABOUT MY CULINARY SCHOOL EXPERIENCE” title, I want this social platform to capture my experience but also be a reflective, honest, informative piece — thus this is culinary school, post grad life, new city living according to a twenty-something.

I’m new to the blogging world and still figuring out the kinks of layouts, posting schedule, and everything in between. So first thanks for your interest,  support, and patience as I figure this all out! (Suggestions are welcomed!)

And of course no foodie experience is without an Instagram! Follow this account : alatwentysomething for pictures from inside and outside the kitchen!