A Perfect Soup and a Personal Story.

A lot of you ask me why I came to the CIA. Where does my passion come from? How do I know so much now? As I end my first journey at the CIA (btw thanks for following!), I thought that I should tell you all my story. I know this is kind of lengthy, but a fun story nonetheless! 

In just three weeks I will get my first diploma from the Culinary Institute of America. Some of you have been following me since the very beginning. What a mess I was, right? I decided to go to the CIA with no prior cooking experience and thought I could handle it. At first I felt very discouraged. Everyone was faster than me, better than me, and smarter than me. 

When I came here, I didn’t even know IF cooking was right for me. As a lot of you know, I come from Minnesota. I am currently 22 years old and I went to the University of Minnesota - Mankato right after high school for one year because I had no idea what the hell I wanted to do. In every single class—even art class (!) I had no motivation at all. I flunked out. Towards the end of my year there I was feeling really stressed and worried about my future. I had many passions, but nothing that clicked with me. 

During that time I started having dreams…about food! I started seeing myself in my own kitchen cooking. Sometimes I would dream up recipes, too. I would wake up in the middle of the night and write them down. Several times I actually got myself up, even at 3am just to go to the 24-hour grocery store to test my recipe or cook whatever I was dreaming about. After about a month of that I started reading a lot of books about food and started teaching myself to cook every day. Then I started looking at culinary schools and had a friend who went to the CIA and recommended it to me. So I came here and…everything just worked. The motivation that I was looking for in college was instant at the CIA. And my dedication has always stuck with me. My passion has only grown, even with all the hard work and crappy days I had here and there. I strive to become the absolute best I can.

And you’re probably wondering how this is all connected to a bowl of soup. 

My very first Chef at the CIA was Chef Corky Clark in Fish & Seafood Identification and Fabrication. I remember one day specifically when he said,

"You can’t cook unless you can make a perfect soup."

Soup was one of the first things we learned how to make in Skills One. I remember that my lentil soup could have been seasoned more, and my cream of broccoli soup could have been silkier. Skills class is the very backbone of my education. My only experience beforehand was in a pizza shop back home. 

So I thought about that quote the other day and thought about how absolutely little I knew then compared to what I know now. That’s when I decided that I needed to make a perfect soup. 

Without a recipe. Without a plan. Just me, some basic skills, some basic knowledge, and a little soul. 

I picked up about two and a half pounds of plum tomatoes. Roasting seemed like the best option. It infused the flavor of the herbs perfectly. I just halved the tomatoes, seeded them, drizzled them with olive oil, a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper, and chopped basil and thyme. I roasted them at 450F until they looked like this—

Beautiful, aromatic, and caramelized. Cooked completely through with the skins barely holding on.

I took skin off the tomatoes and added them to a pot of onions.

I sweated them until translucent and added the roasted tomatoes. I let that cook down for a few minutes before putting everything in a blender and blended until absolutely smooth—like silk (unlike my rookie attempt at cream of broccoli). Then I added some chicken broth and salt to taste. Everything was perfect, the tomato flavor was there, I added a little tomato paste for color, the seasoning was there, I added a little more basil, but it needed something else. Everything was right there, but it needed a little…life. After a brief ponder I spotted a lemon in our fruit basket and Ah-ha! It needed acid. So I squeezed a whole lemon’s worth in and there it was. A symphony of flavor. A harmony of herbs. Crescendo!!! That single balancing note—the tomatoes—the smell of roasted tomatoes brings me back to childhood, it reminds me of my mother, of comfort, of peace and contentedness. I couldn’t wait to enjoy. 

At first I was going to make grilled cheese with it. But then, I remembered—this was supposed to be a PERFECT SOUP. A grilled cheese would almost make that the star, but it wasn’t. I still made my roommate Brian (www.brianthony.tumblr.com) one because he loves them. But for me I made some cast iron toasted rye bread with a little sprinkle of salt. 

And this is the result. As we were eating we sat mostly in silence at first. Then Brian told me that it was absolutely amazing and I felt accomplished…maybe even serene.

We spent the rest of the meal marveling over this basic soup and how something can be so simple, yet I worked so hard to get there.

Again, I can’t thank you guys (my readers) enough for sticking with me these past 2 years. Can you believe it? I will have 20,000 followers before I graduate. And I’m graduating as a whole new person. An adult, a hard worker, a passionate person, and a girl that can make herself a beautiful soup—even when she is sick as a dog (I am by the way!) I really appreciate that so many of you message me with questions and comments. It’s an amazing thing to hear that I’ve inspired so many people about cooking. Keep those questions coming! I am loving it.

Also, I still have food dreams almost every night. Sometimes I wake up in the morning thinking I just spent 12 hours in the kitchen!

I hope you enjoyed my story! Three weeks until graduation!

Sincerely,

Rachel

Good morning, little birds…

Hope you all had a wonderful Friday night. I know I did! 

Yesterday was a busy day for Skills I. I was on the stock team with a few others and our responsibility was to first roast veal bones for the brown stock, then make the stock and add the pincage (remember, we went over this yesterday, or…two days ago now). More on this later, for there are a couple funny stories of stock gone horribly wrong.

After we cut veggies for the mirepoix, we started our knife trays. I’m getting pretty good at most of my cuts. Even my tourne potatoes weren’t bad. In case you don’t know what a tourne cut is, it’s basically a small football shaped vegetable that has 7 sides to it, like this:

It’s quite a pain in the ass and requires a little patience, but once you get the hang of the knife strokes, it’s not so bad. Keep in mind I’m accident prone (cut myself 4 times already in class), so I have to be a little cautious with my knives. 

After the knife trays and chef’s demo, we began making veloute (veh-loo-tay). Veloute is one of the five mother sauces. A mother sauce, or grand sauce, is a basic sauce that can then be made into other sauces. You’ve probably made one sometime in your life and never even realized it. For instance, tomato sauce is a mother sauce. Tell me you’ve never made that!

The one thing I dreaded about making veloute is that you have to make a blonde roux. If you read yesterday’s blog, you’d understand that I FAILED my roux yesterday! It burnt to a crisp in less than a minute with no chance of saving. So thinking upon yesterday, I told myself ‘medium heat, medium heat, medium heat’, and it turned out beautifully. Though I can’t take all the credit. My friend Johneric walked me through it, making sure I didn’t scorch the crap out of it. But a veloute sauce is a blond roux whisked into white stock, and then simmered until it thickens slightly. Then we used it in our dun dun duuuuun, Cream of Broccoli Soup. I’m sure you all were waiting for the glorious of soups, though I was truly hoping we would make Cream of Mushroom Soup, a favorite of mine. The soup was creamy and delicious, and the one I made had a very smooth consistency. Chef said my garnish was too big though, but hey, I’m a work in progress. Here’s the soup porn, pardon the way it looks. The way chef ‘plays’ with our food (to inspect it) reminds me of a small child. :D He’s a pretty darling little French man though. 

12 oz broccoli (we used two large stalks)

2 oz onions, diced

1 oz celery, diced

1 oz leeks, diced

4 cups chicken veloute

4 oz heavy cream

First, you want to prepare your broccoli by removing the florets and setting them aside. From that, set a couple of SMALL pieces of broccoli for your garnish. Don’t make the same mistake I did! A garnish should ALWAYS fit on the spoon and should be easily eaten in one bite. Think a little old lady bite. Then, peel the woody outer layer of the broccoli stalks and dice them.

Sweat your onions, celery, and leeks in a little oil. When tender, add the broccoli and sweat as well. Then add the chicken veloute. Season! Simmer for 20-25 minutes. 

In the last 5 minutes of cooking, add the reserved broccoli florets. Cook until tender. Want to know why you put them in last? Because if you don’t, the broccoli will turn a dull army green, which isn’t too pretty. By adding them at the end, you’re enhancing it’s color while cooking it, and your soup will look stunning. When the broccoli is tender enough (you’ll know by poking it with a knife or toothpick, it should slide out pretty easily), bring your soup to the blender and blend for about a minute. Chef told us 30 seconds, and he said that most students had a somewhat gritty texture to their soup. I used my eyes and blended it until there were minimal green specks. When you open the blender, it will be a little foamy/bubbly looking. 

Boil some water with salt and blanch your garnish for 4-5 minutes, then shock it in ice water. Reheat and add to the soup (This can be done while you add your florets to your soup). 

Devour. 

After cleaning….

And our lunch break…

(Pork stew with green chile sauce and fried bread—->DELICIOUS)

We (the stock team) had to prepare the pincage. First, we sweat the carrots, then added onion, then celery…

After that, we added the tomato paste…

As you can see, the pans are set over the open flame. I was holding the pan with my side towel, which seemed pretty safe to me because I couldn’t see a flame. Then I noticed a strong burning smell and looked down, a flame jumped onto my side towel and it was on fire! I’d always wonder what my reaction would be to that type of panic, because when I pulled the side towel away, the flame grew twice as big. But let me just say, I’d make a bomb firefighter. I stomped it out, we all laughed a little and went back to work. I didn’t think that’d happen so early in my training. Oh well. Now that THAT’S out of the way, here’s the finished product…

We finished the stock…

Then we bagged and labeled it. Then, we had to clean that huge kettle, which wasn’t bad until a person on our team accidentally spilled a whole stockpot of hot stock on himself and the floor. It was a terrible sight! Stock went everywhere and we had to mop it up, which wasn’t bad, but Chef was REALLY irritated at the amount of time it took us to do so. Monday’s menu looks pretty tasty, but why would I share that with you. :-p

Hope you all have a great weekend! Maybe I’ll update sometime in between.

Sayonara!

<3, Salty. 

Nothing Like A Quickie

Hoping to keep it short and sweet tonight. I was up by 5 this morning because I, along with two others, were assigned to be ‘food stewards’. A food steward goes to class early and picks up all the produce and bones that the class will need for the day. 

After we picked up the bones and food, we started making the fish fumet, which turned out crazy delicious, even though the food smelled horribly fishy for awhile. Just an FYI, fish stock is when you simmer the bones in water to extract it’s flavor, while when making fish fumet, you sweat the bones first, add a mirepoix, water, white wine, and mushrooms until it turns delicious. 

Later in the day, we used the fish fumet we made in our Fish Chowder. I would put the recipe down, but I’m far too tired. If you’d like it, you can always click the “Ask Me” question. I’m not usually a fan of fish, but this soup was insane! It hardly even had a fishy taste. It was creamy and full of flavor. We even added some Tobasco. When I brought my soup to Chef, he asked how it went. Shyly, I told him, “Well…I think I may have put a little too much Tobasco sauce in.” (Keep in mind, I LOVE spicy food). He tasted it and asked, “Do you like spicy food?” I told him yes and he said, “Well, then this is great soup”. It definitely had a little kick to it. 

Sorry, the pictures a little dark, and Chef kind of swirled around my garnish, but tasty nonetheless. 

Anyways, simple breakdown of the soup:

Oil

1oz bacon

1oz celery

1oz onions

1oz leeks

1oz flour

3c fish fumet

4 oz, potatoes

1c heavy cream

3oz cod filet

sachet d’epice

Do what you wish with that :-p

In addition to the fumet and chowder, we learned how to make a roux. Correction…most people learned how to make a roux. I, on the other hand, let the clarified butter get WAY too hot and when I added the flour, it burnt to a crisp, skipping every stage of roux-ness and screwing me over! I’m pretty sure I failed that part of the day. I’m nervous about it because tomorrow, we need a blonde roux as part of our soup so my mantra for tomorrow will be ‘slow and steady’. Not ‘burn the shit out of everything’. 

I somehow managed to get another headache during production today, even though I gulped down a bottle of water right after our lunch break, so am I dehydrated or not? Where are these headaches coming from? Wish I knew. 

Oh! Took a couple of pictures today.

Took this picture at 6am. That’s the front of the main building of the school. Roth Hall. Pretty, huh?

Here’s a picture of the kitchen. There’s two to a station/stove. There’s Chef Le Roux in the very back, checking the stock for very common screw-ups. 

How delicious does that veal stock look? Wish you could smell it! It looks red because we added what is called a ‘pincage’. Not a pin-cage but a pin-sahj. French. Psh. Why can’t they spell what they mean and mean what they spell? 

Only kidding, but a pincage is basically a mirepoix (50% onion, 25% carrot, 25% celery) that has been caramelized in the juices the bones produce, then you add tomato paste and water and deglaze the pan. You only use a pincage when you’re making a brown stock, which is a stock where the bones are roasted first before they are made into stock. We didn’t get to try it but it smelled fantastic.

Sorry for the rambling. I don’t think I’ll even edit this. Far too tired and tomorrow I have to be in the kitchen by 6:20. 

Also, we have a quiz tomorrow that I’m going to just wing. Again, tired girl over here! Maybe the lack of sleep is to blame for these headaches. 

See yuh-all on the flip side. 

<3, Salty. 

Puree Day

So yesterday we were told by Chef Le Roux to get to the kitchen early. I’ve learned that even if you’re about 15 minutes early, you’re late. We were expected to be in the kitchen by 6:30. Which of course meant I should probably be there between 6:10 and 6:20. You can probably see that I’m getting to something here, like for instance waking up at 6:48 and throwing myself out of my bed, frantically pulling my whites on and jogging to class. I get there and yes, all accounted for—except me. 

By the time I was ready to start, I saw that all my duties were done for me, and I felt terrible. It’s nice that we’re all here for each other like that, but I felt bad that I didn’t do anything productive to help my kitchen this morning. So, I tried to do little things throughout the day to help out. Still feeling crappy about it though. Tomorrow, I’m supposed to be at the kitchen at 6:15 because my partner (Carl) and I have to start fish fumet (something I’ll explain tomorrow). So, my plan is to be there before then. : D

Every day, we have learned a different ‘type’ of soup, then we make one! We’ve made clear soup, thick soup, hearty soup, and consomme. Today, we made a ‘puree soup’, which doesn’t have a thickener in it. The vegetables or legumes are pureed at the end of cooking, and it thickens on its own. 

I wasn’t entirely excited to hear that we were making Puree of Lentil Soup, because I don’t think I’ve ever really had lentils. Some 5-year-old aversion I’m sure. Ooh! I finally got to take a picture of something I’ve made! My camera may be bulky, but I snuck my soup away for a quick second to snap a pic:

Puree of Lentil Soup

2oz bacon, finely chopped

2oz onion, small dice

1oz carrot, mince or brunoise

1/2 tsp garlic, minced

6oz lentils

1 sachet d’epice

1 qt chicken stock (vegetable works)

half a lemon (optional)

minced chives — for garnish

Heat up a saucepan with a little oil. Slightly cook the bacon. It should be fragrant and the color will change a little, but do NOT let it get crispy. This renders the fat and is going to add a lot of flavor to your soup. Dump in those onions and carrots and sweat until the onions are mostly clear. Then add the garlic, but be seriously careful not to let it burn. Cook until fragrant. Less than 30 seconds is all you need. Add the lentils, give it a quick mix and add the chicken stock, sachet, and a pinch of salt. Let this simmer, covered, for 20-25 minutes, or until the lentils are cooked. Taste and season, taste and season, taste and season! 

When your lentils are cooked, grab a bowl and a food mill. REMOVE THE SACHET! Put the bowl under the food mill and drain the soup into the bowl. Set the liquid aside and puree the vegetables back into the pot you cooked in. Then give it a quick mix and add the liquid back into the soup. Mix well. Season and taste until it feels right. Squeeze a little lemon juice into the soup, top with croutons and chives. Enjoy!

As far as the croutons, they’re super simple. Take a slice of bread and remove the crust. Then dice it. Heat up some clarified butter in a saute pan (about 2 fl. oz). Drop the bread into the pan (wait for the butter to heat up! It’ll bubble a little). Toss to coat the bread, and it’ll turn gold pretty fast! Keep tossing it or some sides will be mushy while some are crunchy. Add a little salt. Done. 

The soup was delicious!!! I had no idea I’d like it as much as I did. Chef even told me “that’s good soup there”. So I take that as a good sign. The only thing he mentioned about it was that my croutons were a little too big, which is true, but who doesn’t like a nice crouton that isn’t whimpy and gets soggy the minute it touches the soup? 

Also, I was wondering. Wouldn’t it be yummy to cook some bacon in that butter first, remove them, and THEN toss the bread in there? I personally think it would have given those croutons some mad flavor! Maybe I’m wrong, or maybe it’s just something I’ll have to try on my own time. 

Anywhoo, I’ve got a pretty decent migraine going for me. It’s been 4 hours long so far!

Note to self: even if you ARE late, drink a ton of water before working in the kitchen. 

For those of you who don’t know how to work my site, there are a couple of buttons on the top right of the page. The magnifying glass allows you to search for something in my site. For instance in two months you’re like “Now where in the hell was that Lentil Soup”, you could search the tag ‘soup’ and there yuh go. Or, if you want to send hate mail, click the button with the envelope. If you want to ask me a question or ask for a suggestion on something, click the question mark button and ask away. Or, if you see something delicious and you snap a pic, you can post it here for all to see. Click the pencil and show me! 

Sorry for the long post. Nap time for me. Then writing class…if I even make it there. 

<3, Salty.