Author: Erica

Sourdough brownies: does cocoa powder matter?

I can’t believe I’m down to about five weeks here until the school year comes to an end. I’m on my last lab of the sophomore curriculum – plated desserts – and I’ve got six more days of getting up at 5:15 in the morning. It’s been an adventure for sure, and it took a village to get to this point, as most of you know. All of it was so worth it though; what an experience I’ve had living in a completely different part of the country and going to my dream school!

As I think back on all 15 of the labs I’ve taken, I remember some of my favorite days. There were days that were just fun, regardless of what we did, and there were days that I remember learning so much. There was one day in Advanced Artisan Breads back in winter term that we were just standing around waiting for our sourdough to proof, so my Chef walked over and placed his container of sourdough starter in front of us and just said, “Here, do something with this.”

Brownie1Sourdough starter is a combination of flour, water, and wild yeast that ferments for at least ten days, but can last for several years. Most people use it to make sourdough bread, but it can also be incorporated into hundreds of other recipes. Armed with google and sourdough starter, we set out to make brownies.

But then, when we were grabbing the cocoa powder, we saw two kinds: regular dutch-process cocoa and black cocoa. “What’s the difference?” we asked. He shrugged and answered, “find out.”

We used a great sourdough brownie recipe  (http://www.wildyeastblog.com/sourdough-brownies/) and made it twice – once with the dutch-process cocoa, and once with the black cocoa. The results were interesting, and very different from each other.

Brownie2Perhaps the most noticeable difference between the two was the color of the batter. The batter made with the black cocoa was indeed, well, black. Most of the class said that the black batter looked unappealing, since it wasn’t even really a dark brown. I personally just couldn’t wait to try the “blackies,” as we called them, because I was waiting for an intense dark chocolate flavor.

The baking times were slightly different. The brownies made with the dutch cocoa took a few minutes longer than the black cocoa brownies, and this could’ve been because the darker brownies absorbed heat more quickly, causing them to bake faster.

Brownie3The color difference is still quite obvious after baking. The smell was a little different as well: the dutch cocoa brownies had a cocoa sent, but we could easily pick up the sourdough aroma as well. With the black cocoa brownies, the chocolate scent was much more pungent and the sourdough was barely noticeable. The wait for them to cool was a long one, but eventually, the tasting commenced.

Brownie4First, we tried the dutch cocoa sourdough brownies. The consistency was what you would come to expect from a brownie – a combination of a crumbly top and slightly fudgy center. Upon the first bite, it tasted like an ordinary brownie. As we chewed though, we tasted the unmistakable sourdough flavor. The starter gave the brownie almost an acidic flavor, but one that paired well with the cocoa. I also felt that the starter added a richness to the brownie – almost how sour cream can add moisture and richness to a chocolate cake.

The black cocoa brownies were a different type of brownie entirely. They were extremely rich and decadent, and a bit more dense than the brownies made from the dutch-process cocoa. I preferred the black cocoa brownies, because although the sourdough starter was there, it could hardly be tasted under the bitterness of the cocoa. While still people said the color was a turn-off, I liked the black-velvet look of the brownies. Throw some chocolate ganache on there, and it’s the perfect “death by chocolate” sort of dessert.

This little experiment definitely livened up an otherwise monotonous day, and it was a lesson to remember. As the school year draws to a close, I look forward to taking my formula book home with me and recreating most of everything I’ve learned during this incredible year.

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“You need to go work at Disney World.”

A comment like that is usually a nice thing to say – most would probably take it as a compliment. But when I was first told that I should go work for the Mouse, I was a little insulted.

A chef who I had been an unpaid intern for for about six months was kindly suggesting alternative careers, since in her mind there was no way I could succeed in the culinary industry. She provided me with an excellent letter of recommendation that would later win me a James Beard scholarship, but she tried her best to steer me away from going to Johnson & Wales, and said she was afraid that I was wasting my money.

When things didn’t work out with Johnson & Wales in Miami, I eventually found myself studying pastry at a community college in Orlando. My roommate worked for Disney and I knew he loved it, and I needed a job shortly after starting school so I said what the heck, and applied in mid-October two years ago.

What happened after that was probably the greatest blessing I’ve been given over my college career. I was shown how an employer is supposed to act, and, contrasting starkly from my internship and my first experience applying to culinary school, how ADA laws are supposed to work.

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I started at Disney in late January as a hostess for a character dining restaurant in Animal Kingdom. Not only was the guest interaction fun most of the time, but I seemed to be constantly praised for my performance and positive attitude. That was something I had never experienced before – I actually felt that I was really appreciated, not just tolerated.

The day that I was readmitted to Johnson & Wales at the Providence campus was incredibly bittersweet. Sure, I had gotten into the school of my dreams, but my days at my dream job were now numbered. Handing in my resignation was one of the hardest things ever, but I knew I was doing the right thing. I also knew that I would only be leaving temporarily – the moment I finished my degree, I knew I’d be heading back to Disney.

Since I’m a baking and pastry student, I have to complete a pastry internship before I continue on to my bachelor’s degree. I knew of the Disney Culinary Program, but I wasn’t in a hurry to leave Rhode Island to go back to the Florida heat. For the last couple of months, though, as much as I’m still in love with this incredible school, I’ve missed my Disney family. In February I sent in my application, and I got the email today that I’d been waiting for.

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It’s such a crazy coincidence that my dream school has such a strong connection with my dream job – over 1500 JWU students have worked for Disney World since the company first started recruiting.

In the last two years, I got my first job with Disney, my confidence grew by leaps and bounds, I got into my dream school, and I chose to leave my Disney family for Rhode Island. I’ve been so fortunate to accomplish some huge goals for myself, but until recently, I never imagined I could have both at once.

I’ll be hopping on a plane and working for the Mouse again in September, and I’m over the moon. I guess I’m just one of those people…

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I need to go work at Disney World.

On the sweet side, indeed.

I rarely think about May 30th of 2013 that I spent at the North Miami campus of Johnson & Wales desperately trying to show that, despite the fact that I couldn’t lift a pot of water or carry a 50-pound bag of flour, I was still capable of participating in the baking and pastry program at JWU. My pleas fell on deaf ears at the time and I spent an enjoyable year in Orlando learning the basics of pastry elsewhere, but always held a grudge against the administration that kept me out of one of the best pastry programs in the country.A1

I dropped a full gallon of milk today coming out of the cooler and it exploded all over the floor. I was so embarrassed – who drops an entire gallon of milk on the floor weighing a few pounds at most? Thank goodness for laid-back and understanding instructors – Chef Miscovich grabbed the container and said, “I see that this is a couple of days past the expiration date, but next time it might be easier just to pour it down the sink.”

I grabbed the mop and cleaned it up, probably still a little red in the face, and went back to scaling out my brioche for tomorrow.

And that was that.

No one was harmed by my little milk explosion, and it wasn’t a particularly dangerous situation. Would an instructor have seen that differently in Miami? Hard to say. But it’s one of those days (like most of them) that I’m so grateful that my situation turned out the way it did, even as I walk outside in the morning greeted by -23-degree temperatures.

This last week leading up to Valentine’s day was a busy one, but fun.

OPLBI spent Wednesday night baking heart-shaped pretzels with Operation Peace, Love and Bread, and we sold them to students on Thursday afternoon to raise money for a few homeless shelters in Rhode Island. The cause is a great one, and I always have a blast spending time with the other culinary students in the club.

Friday was a make-up day for culinary classes thanks to all the endless snow we seem to be getting, so I stayed busy all day. It was the very last day of Entremets and Petits Gateaux, and while it wasn’t a good day, I was so glad to finally be done.

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Through the whole class I struggled to work well with my group, and they decided not to work with me at all on the last day. Begging other students to work with you isn’t exactly a nice need-to-be-needed kind of feeling, and because of an incorrect formula, my fromage blanc petits gateaux ended up in the trash before they were finished. Having a rough day with nothing to show for it at the end was frustrating, but thank goodness the practical was already done and these were just for fun!

Saturday was an exhausting but fun day. I spent Valentine’s day morning playing around with three kinds of chocolate to make whatever small chocolate showpiece I wanted. I had so much fun during my chocolates class that I couldn’t wait to work with chocolate again.

Chocolates9It’s got a lot of flaws, and I desperately need practice making chocolate flowers, but I was really thrilled with it. If I could spend my career building chocolate showpieces, I’d be a happy girl! After my stressful week, it was a blast to just get into the kitchen and work on making some edible art with fun people. I learned to airbrush and use luster dust to make the piece pop, something that’s usually a reserved for juniors and seniors.

It’s getting close to a year ago that I proved that I belonged in this program at the Providence campus, and I find myself reflecting on how fortunate I am pretty often these days. I take the good with the bad just like everybody else, but I refuse to have anything but a positive experience here.

Every day here is a blessing that fell in my lap, no matter what. So when I’m constantly asked, “aren’t you sick of the snow YET?” The answer is always no. I wanted to experience seasons, and I’ve certainly been doing that!

In three months, I’ll be finished with my associate’s degree in baking and pastry arts, and I’m on track to graduate magna cum laude.

Take that, North Miami.

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Let it snow!

Campus16Well the snow continues here in Providence, and I am definitely a happy camper. Last week we were treated to two snow days in a row, and it was a blast. Most people here only cared about missing class and spent the day watching Netflix I’m sure, but I just couldn’t resist spending a day playing out in the snow. It was more than I’d ever seen – we got at least two feet.

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To say I was ecstatic is an understatement. It’s been about ten years since I’ve gotten to play in the snow like this, and it was still more than I’d ever seen before. It was so cold outside, and the wind blew the snow into our faces until we couldn’t feel them. But with a driving and parking ban in place for all of Providence and Cranston, the city was our playground for the day!

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Providence was hit hard, and the city looked like a ghost town. Definitely if I had my own house and job and normal responsibilities here, winter storm Juno would’ve probably freaked me out a little bit. But everything was well taken care of here – the ground crew worked hard all day keeping the Commons as clear as possible, and the dining hall was open all day.

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To break up the monotony of our two-day week last week and our four-day weekend due to snow, we all got dressed up to go to JWU’s Sno Ball 2015, at a casino about 15 minutes away. It was the perfect way to spend a Saturday night after not having too much to do over the whole week!

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I’m definitely going to do things differently next time around though, because walking to and from a bus in a fairly short dress and sandals was not a good idea in 11-degree weather (-3 with windchill, mind you). But I think we all had a “ball” and we’d all do it again next year.

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Today was snow day number three and I’m still not tired of all the snow. I laughed to myself last Wednesday as I remembered a conversation that I had had just a few minutes after the Providence campus gave us the news we’d been waiting for last March, and I was whining that even after such a perfect day, I didn’t get to see any snow. My lawyer on the phone assured me that I would see more snow than I ever wanted to see come winter, and I think it has officially arrived. Now if all that snow would just pack and I could build that snowman I’ve been wanting to build, I’d be totally content.

Pretty sure we have class tomorrow (despite the snow still coming down and the gusty wind), which will be my first sophomore lab here at JWU. I’m not expecting it to be a blast since I’ve heard the instructor’s all business, but eh. that’s what everyone said about my Chef for chocolates and it ended up being a great time.

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Tomorrow will most likely be a cold and early morning, but I’m excited to get back into a normal routine. Bring on the last two labs of this winter trimester!

The year’s half over, let’s stay for another!

JWU winterWell, there’s no doubt about it – it’s winter. By the way people talk about it up here, it seemed like every Floridian’s nightmare with snow, ice, and single-digit temperatures. It’s only mid-January, so I have a feeling I haven’t seen anything yet, but I don’t see anything wrong with winter yet! Now I’ll be realistic here and say that I don’t think I could handle this in “real life” (because let’s face it, nothing about living on a college campus resembles living in the real world); shoveling snow and driving in the snow and ice just scare me. But I love being able to enjoy it and see the beauty in it here!

Getting up at 4:45 in the morning when it’s nine degrees and feels like two (we’ve even had one morning at -1!) isn’t fun, but it’s not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. And, my goodness, when I pass the Dean in the hallway and he says hi to me by name or I sit down to write an article for the Campus Herald, there are no words to describe how much I love it up here.

I spent the last month suffering through my Introduction to Cakes lab, and let me just tell you, there is no chance of me being the next Ron Ben-Israel (a pro cake designer and my idol, for those of you who don’t know) in the future. It’s disappointing because I really wanted to like and be good at cakes, but I’m just… not.

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We made a variety of cakes and tortes, but I just couldn’t ice a cake to save my life for some reason. Seemed like everyone else could. This is definitely a skill I’ll keep practicing, since I’d like to be able to decorate at least a couple of decent wedding cakes in my career, but we’ll see.

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I’m now in my last lab as a freshman – time sure flies when you’re having fun! – and I’m enjoying it. Mostly because it doesn’t require any sort of cake skill. It’s all about chocolate, and we’ll be doing truffles, pralines, and a small showpiece. I really, really want to do well in this class because I’m so looking forward to the senior level chocolates lab where students make 3′ tall chocolate showpieces. They look so beautiful, and I’d like mine to look that nice!

Speaking of senior level classes, I’m SO excited that I get to stay at this amazing school for a second year! The original plan was to stay for my associates degree and then start working in the industry, but I’ve done a ton of research and I don’t think that graduating college with a two-year degree is the best choice for the future. Sure, an AS will do me well for the next five or ten years, but when I no longer want to be in the kitchen for 10+ hours a day every day, I’d like to work up to a management position. Since I’m definitely looking more toward a corporate career (which is the fancy way of saying, I MISS DISNEY!!), I feel like a bachelor’s degree is necessary. My fingers are crossed that I’ll be an RA, which will definitely help pay for that extra year.

So, with nothing but fun things to look forward to, like another term of labs, a somewhat long-term position with the Campus Herald, and a whole bunch of other fun possibilities for next year, bring on the rest of winter because I’m just getting started!

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Christmas = plenty of holiday treats

A little over a week ago, I shed my coat and scarf for a pair of shorts – it was time to head home for Christmas! Leaving the cold, 40-degree weather behind in Providence sounded really nice, but I still haven’t decided if 80 degrees at home is comfortable or not. Luckily, Christmas yesterday was a nice 60-ish, cool enough for a jacket but still comfortable.

Now that I’m in school for nothing but six-hour baking labs every day, I’ve become the designated baker for any special occasion. This Christmas was no exception, and I definitely stayed busy in the kitchen! First up was Christmas eve dessert, Panettone. Now I know most of you have seen this fruitcake-like bread on grocery store shelves in a box around the holidays, but it’s a completely different product when made from scratch. I first baked it in my Viennoiserie lab that I just finished before leaving for Christmas break, and after one bite I knew I had to recreate it.

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I’ll be doing a how-to for this sometime later on since I absolutely LOVE this recipe. One of the key ingredients in this Italian bread is Fiori del Sicilia, an orange-extract-type of flavoring (though it’s alcohol-free) that gives Panettone its unbelievable aroma and orange flavor. Add some candied orange and lemon peel to the mix and you’ve got a great citrus flavor to brighten things up.  Sicilia isn’t necessarily difficult to find, but you’ll be paying a high price for the 4-5 grams that you need for the recipe. King Arthur Flour sells an ounce for $8.99 or so, which will last you quite a while. I was lucky enough to obtain an ounce of this amazing stuff from my Chef, but I will say it’s almost gone because I haven’t been able to resist putting a little bit in pretty much everything I’ve been baking. These mini Panettone will definitely be a Christmas tradition from now on!

My next assignment was Christmas morning breakfast, so I pulled an original recipe from my repertoire from last year. We all love scones and I’ve done several variations, so I knew my cranberry orange scones would be well received.

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We were all so full from our Christmas eve feast the night before (another Christmas tradition – it’s our one night a year to eat fresh crab legs!) that none of us wanted a heavy breakfast, so fresh fruit and bacon on the side was perfect.

Christmas morning was such a nice time to be home with family. I didn’t have much of a Christmas list this year – my Christmas (and birthday and Christmas and birthday) present is my time at Johnson & Wales this year and probably next. I so enjoyed watching everyone else get the usual surprises, and since my parents are now living the beachside lifestyle, we made sure they had their own beach chairs to enjoy.

Christmas dinner consisted of a Thanksgiving replay, with turkey and all the fixings. We waited a few hours for dessert, but it was well worth it. Before I came home for Christmas, I helped out with a party that the Club of Culinary Excellence put on and had to come up with an hors d’oeuvre dessert. My partner and I decided to do a lemon mousse with gingerbread biscotti, and it was such a hit that I made a full-size version. While anything chocolate mint is my usual go-to, this was something unique and refreshing, and seemed to be a hit with the whole family.

Christmas3I have a few more things to work on – choc-oat-chip cookies for my dad’s birthday in a few days, coconut macaroons, and maybe a couple more treats here and there, but I have to say, I’m looking forward to taking a little bit of a break from baking until I go back to doing it full-time. I have another week before it’s time to go back to Providence, but until then, I’ll be enjoying my time at home baking what I want, when I want!

 

Goodbye fall, hello winter!

Campus15The temperatures are dropping and the evidence of fall is slowly disappearing, and so is the fall trimester! I can’t believe that my first term at Johnson & Wales is ending tomorrow. What an adventure these last ten weeks have been. Lots of high points, a few low points now and then, but so many new experiences! I’m always learning new ways of doing things, and working just a little bit faster with each class.

My Fundamentals class, the fourth lab of the trimester, was a nightmare. I loved my chef (he’s somehow earned the nickname Chef Cutie Pants within my class of 18 girls), but piping and knife cuts were two things that I’m still just not good at. To my chef’s credit, he tried really hard to keep working with me on it. There’s a certain amount of muscle control that I just don’t have and he seemed to understand, and suggested several different ways of standing that might help me compensate for that lack of control with a lot more practice.

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Add an injury to that segment and it just wasn’t a good time. Some guy in Philly managed to mow me down while he was staring at his phone even though I tried to step out of the way, and I ended up straining a ligament in my right foot. I wore an air cast for two weeks which helped, but I couldn’t wear it in labs so I was still moving at a snail’s pace during my practical. I still finished though, and somehow managed to get an A in the class. That was pretty weird, I didn’t even know if I would pass, let alone get an A. But I won’t ask questions! His final remarks on the last day were so encouraging, especially after all of the effort I put into piping that didn’t really pay off. With Fundamentals behind me, I was so ready to move on and enjoy my next lab.

Enjoy it I did – how can you not like learning to make ice cream pretty much every day? Hot and Cold Desserts is so much fun and I love my chef. He hasn’t taught the class much so he’s a little disorganized, but he’s so funny. After being with an instructor who just nitpicked everything to pieces (never a bad thing, just emotionally exhausting after a while), it’s such a nice change to be having so much fun every day.

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While this isn’t technically a plated desserts class – that will be in the spring – we get to play around with plating techniques quite a bit. Good thing, because it’s not easy. I’m trying to develop an eye for it, but it’s going to take a lot of practice. It’s nice to get a little exposure to it this segment so I’m not completely at a loss later!

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 We’ve covered ice creams as well as a few flambéed desserts, which were terrifying and a lot of fun. We’ve also done some American classics that pair well with ice cream, like apple crisp, blueberry cobbler, and apple strudel.

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I’ll be finishing up this term with a 3.8-ish GPA. Not too shabby since according to North Miami, I’m not physically able to handle the teaching environment at JWU. It’s an accomplishment that I owe completely to a few administrators here in Providence and to all of my chef instructors. Since getting here I’ve felt nothing but welcome, and most of my instructors have done everything they can to help me succeed when they see the effort I put in. I may not be the fastest worker, but I’ll show up at quarter to six in the morning for extra practice every time.

I’m so incredibly happy here. I’m learning things about pastry that I never imagined I’d be doing already, I’m staying involved with tons of clubs on campus, and I’m learning what my limits are and how to push past them every day. Because of what I went through to get here I know that every day I spend here is such a gift, and I definitely treat it as such.

That being said, I’m so excited to be leaving in three days to spend ten days in weather that’s not below freezing! I’ll be flying home for Thanksgiving and our term break on Saturday, and I can’t wait to spend a week and a half at home. It’s not always fun to be so far from family, so any chance to get home is always appreciated!

Tomorrow is the last day of my Hot and Cold Desserts class, then it’s on to Viennoiserie after the break. With such an amazing fall term behind me, I can’t wait to see what’s ahead!

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The great Philly cheese steak debate!

It’s been eight days since I left with the Campus Herald to attend the Associated Collegiate Press convention in Philadelphia and I’m just now getting around to blogging about it. This last segment of labs just about killed me, and I’m so glad it’s over. More on that later. For now, let’s talk about my favorite part of Philly – the cheese steaks!! Actually, to be fair, I didn’t have a single meal in Philly that I didn’t like. While I don’t see myself there for any extended period of time in the future, Philly sure knows a thing or two about sandwiches in general.

We got off the plane at 8:20 AM and I could already taste the cheese steak. But I didn’t want just any cheese steak – this was a one-time all-expenses-paid trip to the city of brotherly love. I wanted Pat’s. Or Geno’s. Or both.

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Both it was. I ordered my cheese steaks after some coaching from our accompanying faculty member (are they still called chaperones when they’re taking a bunch of college students? I don’t know.) who grew up in the city: “One provolone witout!”

Both Pat’s and Geno’s had instructions posted for the out-of-towners who weren’t familiar with how to order. Pat’s instructions were clear and detailed,

Philly9while Geno’s kept it simpler. And quite possibly offensive.

Philly3Price-wise, the two were about the same with the sandwiches costing around $9 each and an additional $3-4 for fries and a drink.

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Pat’s cheese steak on the left, Geno’s on the right.

I’m going to apologize here for the poor photography – my hands were shaking so badly from the cold and rainy weather. Perhaps indoor seating might give one of these fine entities an edge over the other in the future? Anyway, you can see that both cheese steaks look similar. I did have a preference for one over the other, but both had a great flavor. Pat’s steak was cut into small pieces which made it easier to chew through, and had the flavor of sautéed onions even though none were on my sandwich. Since I’m such a fan of bread, Pat’s was slightly disappointing in that most of the inside was scooped out. The crust had just the right amount of softness but firmness to hold together, but I missed the thicker inside of the roll.

Geno’s cheese steak had larger, slightly fattier pieces of steak that contributed greatly to the overall flavor. Though the meat took longer to chew, it had a better meat flavor and less of a greasy taste. The bread was again soft enough on the outside but had that chew that I look for in a fresh loaf of bread. The only disappointment was the provolone on top that never melted into the rest of the sandwich. There’s no question that it was extremely cold outside and that may have had a hand in keeping the cheese too cool, but what’s a cheese steak without melty cheese? (And I don’t mean that fake whiz cheese. No, thank you.)

So, in my book, Geno’s has the better cheese steak. I can definitely see why others prefer Pat’s – these are two very different sandwiches texture- and taste-wise. I also think that neither of these two cheese steaks were the best sandwiches that Philly had to offer. For those who aren’t overly fond of cheese steaks, Tommy Dinic’s Roast Pork and Beef inside Reading Terminal Market has some fabulous roast pork sandwiches. Open since 1954, they’re obviously doing something right!

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The pork was so moist and tender, and the bread was baked on-site by the hour. Sitting inside on that cold afternoon didn’t hurt either.

We crammed so much in on this trip, I have tons more to talk about. Including the reason why I’m currently sitting here wearing a bulky walking boot on my right foot. But with another early morning approaching, that’s a story for another day. I’ll be bundling up tomorrow since it’s supposed to be 39 in the morning, but I’m still loving this New England weather!

Fall, food, & Philadelphia!

It’s definitely been a busy couple of weeks here in beautiful Providence! Fall is clearly in full swing, and even though it’s been cloudy and rainy for the last few days, I’m still loving it! The temperature’s been hovering around 55 this week, and it hasn’t even felt that cold to me. Just pleasantly not hot. And I’m sorry, but I just don’t get how people can complain when looking at a view like this.

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My cookies and petit fours class is a ways behind me (YAY), and so is Pies and Tarts. I really did enjoy my last segment, and it was a really nice change from the cookies class that never really got better after dropping my sheet pan of cookies. I learned that Petit Fours glace’ (almond cake sandwiched with almond cream and covered in some sort of glaze, for my non-culinary readers) are no fun to make, and glazing with poured fondant is not my specialty.

I moved on to pies and tarts, and had a lot of fun. Even though I wasn’t fond of my group members, I learned so much. Every day flew by as we made two or three kinds of pie each day. We moved so quickly, but I never felt rushed.

PaT7Probably the most important thing I learned in this class is that turtle pie is the best pie in existence. With its freshly-made Oreo crust, layer of caramel sauce and pecans, chocolate mousse, and finishing of Chantilly cream with a garnish of toasted pecan brittle, why would you ever choose to make anything else for Thanksgiving? That being said, I also made a pretty stellar pumpkin pie, if I may say so, with some cinnamon Chantilly to finish it off.

PaT8Toward the end of the class we got away from pies and began focusing on tarts. These are a little bit less rustic and more decorative, so to me they were more fun. I’ve made tartlets many times for friends and for school meetings back at Valencia, but never properly. These are the real deal, and they’re so good!

PaT13We made fresh fruit tarts – short dough shell (like a sugar cookie!) with the inside brushed with chocolate, a filing of pastry cream, and fresh strawberries, blueberries, and kiwi on top. We also did chocolate ganache tarts, lemon meringue, and almond filled with raspberry jam. We did a similar assortment for our practical, and other than being just a little short on time, I was really happy with them.

Besides for class, I’ve done some pretty fun things this month. I flew to Orlando on the tenth to spend the weekend of my 21st birthday with my twin and best friend Emmy and brother Travis. It was so nice to be home again! We definitely got spoiled by Cala Bella, the fine Italian restaurant we went to for dinner. Em works there so most of the staff knew we were celebrating.

O6The pastry team at the Rosen Shingle Creek resort where we were are top notch – I definitely don’t remember ever having such an elaborate birthday dessert platter! I don’t even like cheesecake, and their take on cheesecake with a sugar cookie crust, mascarpone cheese and a lemon glaze was amazing. Executive pastry chef David Ramirez is a JWU Providence alumnus, and his success is something to aspire to.

I’m busier than ever with the Campus Herald lately and I’m loving it. The amazing night I had on September 28th covering Johnson & Wales’ Centennial Showcase got lost in the shuffle during my rant about my cookies class, but it was probably the best night here to date. I met Emeril Lagasse and asked him a few questions from the paper, and I got to sample some of the delicious food that JWU alums and current students were serving up. Chef Petrone, a chef that always says hi to me in the halls when he sees me, fixed me my first plate of raw clams and oysters. I tried beef tartare, home-brewed dark beer from our JBrew brewing club, and a creamy passion fruit panna cotta. The networking I did and the contacts I made were invaluable. I’ve always loved schmoozing with people at big events, and this night was no exception.

I’ll be leaving on a new adventure next Thursday morning to Philadelphia! I was chosen for one of four spots to go to the Associated Collegiate Press with the Campus Herald, and I can’t wait to go have fun and learn as much as I can. There are so many seminars I want to go to! Many are about blogging and food writing, so I’m sure they’ll benefit me greatly!

This post is getting way too long, but that’s what happens when I haven’t posted in forever. It’s now week seven already, and I’m still feeling like I’m living a dream!

Some bumps and bruises, reflection and smashed cookies…

During class (and usually day-to-day life in general), I like to blend in. I mind my own business and try very hard to get my work done in the four hours we usually have for production in this Cookies and Petit Fours class. Most of the time, I do just fine.

cpf1When I fought back to be able to come here and got what I wanted it was absolutely a dream come true. It still is. I wasn’t concerned about my safety at all like some of the administrators seemed to be. My first course, Classic Pastry, came and went without any problems (except that I didn’t finish my practical in the allotted time. But I’m going to chalk that up to not knowing what to expect, instead of me just moving too slowly). Undoubtedly, the most frustrating thing about living with CP is losing my balance. Every day, I know it’s only a matter of time before something happens in a lab and I fall. I couldn’t believe that I had gotten through the first nine-day class without falling.

So I would just keep going along making my cookies and brownies just like everybody else. But let me tell you, there’s no better way to attract attention than to grab my sheet pan of baked cookies off a rack, try to turn around, catch the pan on the oven and fall backwards, spewing the cookies all over the floor. See, when other people drop stuff, it’s like, “Oh, shoot, I’m so clumsy and I just tripped and dropped a pan of cookies. Whoops.” And nobody really notices. And then when I drop stuff I usually end up making a ton of noise trying to catch either myself or whatever product I’m carrying – today it was the latter – grabbing on to whatever I can reach. And everyone’s always like, “Erica! Ohmygoshareyouokay??” Which is understandable, but embarrassing. For the first time I was so grateful to have an instructor who’s quite strict and doesn’t particularly favor anyone. He saw everyone else react and from the other side of the room he asked, “You okay, cheffie?” I gave a prompt “Yes Chef!” and that was that. Works for me.

cpf3

My grade for today’s production of smashed checkerboard cookies is still to be decided, but I don’t have high expectations. Those darn things took me three days to finish so I was pretty devastated when they hit the floor. I know it’s not about grades. This whole experience – from the time I made the decision to teach Miami a thing or two about ADA law to graduation  – is all about learning.

cpf2But what about when I finish school and I start working? What Pastry Chef is going to be happy about a full sheet pan of labor-intensive cookies hitting the floor? I constantly try to push those thoughts out of my head. It’s a question that’ll never have a good answer. Mistakes happen, sure. But I can still remember being called a liability by a chef that I interned for a few years ago, and each time a perfectly good product hits the ground, it’s a reminder that my mistakes are being scrutinized a little more closely than anyone else’s.

Today’s post isn’t upbeat and colorful and positive. But it’s real. I fell in love with an industry requiring speed, precision, and artistic talent, and every day’s a challenge when my biggest concern is staying upright. But I still love it. I love pastry, I’m loving Providence, and it has absolutely been worth all the trouble to get to Johnson & Wales. I’ll put today behind me and get ready to tackle another week of opportunities. Tomorrow starts a two-day demo with King Arthur Flour’s own Martin Phillips – have I mentioned how much I love this school?