We receive some great feedback about our lunch program. We get suggestions for food, service and dining hall ambience. We love it, so keep that feedback coming!
I have noticed that since my hat is the tallest and my name has "Chef" in front of it, most of the compliments are addressed to me. Trust me, nobody loves me as much as I do, but I'm quick to guide the compliment to the appropriate group: our Kitchen Crew. We have a great crew. Many have been trained in culinary school and local restaurants and yet still have the compassion and love that working with children demands. Kitchens are hot, stressful, cramped, slippery and dangerous and our Kitchen Crew handles all of these obstacles with superhero skill. I'd like to take the time to introduce each of our Kitchen Crew members to you over several weeks.
We have two new faces on the Kitchen Crew this year:
Shannon Collins is a graduate of Sullivan University's Culinary Arts program. She has worked with great Lexington Chef's and organizes the Lexington Women Chefs. Shannon will have the honor of working with one of Food Network's Iron Chefs this October. Her constant smile and bright demeanor are both welcome additions to our crew.
Carrie Warmbier is a graduate of Sullivan University's Culinary Arts Program. She has worked for several years developing and managing the Midway Bakery. She has a strong passion for baked goods and is a wonderful addition to our crew. She is currently working on a very special product: creating the first ever TLS scratch-made gluten free bread. It's a huge challenge and Carrie is just the kind of kitchen ninja that can handle it!
I like to take advantage of the summertime to work on a few projects that get ignored during the food service of the school year. Much of the time is spent planning the coming school year's food service but I also spend more time in the gym, reading and doing all the things that I love to do but am I too busy to do during the school year. I play with my son at parks, pools, playgrounds, zoos, aquariums and museums. I do things that are fun to me and that includes cooking (which is fortunate since that is also my job). I spend extra time planning our family's menu and play with recipes that have been backlogging in my brain all year. I visit the farmer's market a few times a week and eat at the restaurants that I have been wanting to check out. I smoke meat, grill fish & vegetables, make ice cream and eat outside. Summertime is great!
As I review the list of activities I choose to focus on during the summer, one broad category is blatantly missing: Baking. I do not enjoy baking. Baking is technical, precise and difficult. When I cook, I like to improvise and make little tweaks as I go. Baking does not allow for this. Baking provides a formula and the formula must be followed. The true skill and beauty in baking is the intuition of the baker; feeling, proofing and shaping the dough. Understanding the stages of the formula on an instinctive level, being patient as the process works its magic and moving the dough with precision and patience. I face a hard truth about baking: I do not enjoy baking because I am not good at baking.
Nobody likes to lose and I am no different. Unfortunately, I have marginalized baking as an unimportant skill and use that reasoning to avoid the sense of loss when my baking fails. I unconsciously trained my palate and brain to avoid baking and have settled for mediocre baked goods in my life. All of this reasoning and manipulation to avoid the pain of failing. That is not healthy.
At the beginning of summer, a friend shared the following post on FaceBook:
"Everything worth doing is worth doing badly. Back when we started baking bread, I was awful at cutting even slices. They'd be too thick, too thin, or crooked on any of three dimensions. But over time I got to the point where I could consistently and effortlessly cut bread just the way I wanted it: thinner when making PB&J, thicker when making a bird in the nest, but always even and consistent.
Everybody's bad at what they're not good at. Stick it out, be willing to be bad at stuff for a while, and put in the work to get better. It's worth it."
This profoundly struck me. The wisdom is clear and simple, I just had either never thought of it or was unwilling to follow the truth of it. The truth is, I am bad at baking. I have avoided baking and have been fearful of taking the time to practice (badly) in order to work towards proficiency. The more I thought about this the more it seemed like a character flaw than just the lack of baking skill.
So I decided to change. I have spent the summer practicing baking. Many of my attempts went poorly but with each failure I learned something about the dough or batter and found a solution. I have read professional baking textbooks, reviewed recipes from relatives and friends, watched documentaries on bread and practiced, practiced, practiced. Wouldn't you know it, I'm pretty good at baking now. Twelve weeks of immersion in the world of flour and I have found beauty rising from the bread pan. I have discovered strategies to shape product for more efficient portioning. I have explored best practices and have planned recipes for every station in our food service. I have even developed a bread starter from wild yeast gathered right in our TLS garden!
So get out there and be bad. Beauty is on the other side. Follow the Kitchen Crew on Instagram @mildmanneredchef
*You can read more of my friend Micah Odor's recipes by checking out his blog: http://bulletproofbites.blogspot.com/
The old saying "Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life" brings two thoughts to mind. First, the person who said this never worked in a kitchen. Cooks are passionate about our art and truly love what we do. Many days though, throwing all that passion into a daily service leaves us sweaty, sore and sleepy. We love it, but it's definitely work.
The second thought is a step back from that sentiment. My work is also my hobby. This is a luxury to be sure. Many people clock out for the day grateful to be away from what they do for work. Even teachers and administrators who are the most passionate about their job (I'm including all the fine faculty at TLS) are thankful for a rest or Spring Break. Reading, relaxing, soaking up some sun and getting some well deserved rest is so important.
Guess what I do on scheduled school breaks. I cook. It's leisure cooking (any meal I'm cooking for less than 700 is leisure) but I look forward to breaks for the time to play and experiment with unique ingredients and techniques. These working breaks have created staples in my house like summer pickles, soft pretzels, weekly ice cream, stir fry, omelets and more. I play with my work even when I'm not at work. The joy I feel in what I do, even when I'm exhausted from doing it, satisfies me, invigorates me and keeps me wanting to do more work.
Food is what I do for a living (and I love that living). I love sharing what I know about food and its preparations, origins, cultural diversity, and priority in my life. I have spent a chunk of my life learning techniques and flavor profiles. I have spent years preparing menus for varied groups of people and learning how food can bring joy. My position at The Lexington School has allowed me to use that knowledge and, with the help of a great Kitchen Crew and supportive Administrative team, have built a top-notch food service.
So there it is. I'm done, right? I can sit back and cruise along enjoying our success.
In the immortal words of Mike Myers' "Dr. Evil", "HOW 'BOUT NO!" Our Kitchen Crew uses the summer time to write menus, plan special events, organize work loads, and, most importantly, improve. We catch up on reading food trends and techniques. We test new techniques and recipes. We take every station in the dining hall down to its base and think of ways to make it have more variety with more efficiency. We look at the kitchen layout and see how we can optimize our space. We evaluate the previous year's menu and events and see what needs to go, what needs to be duplicated, and what can be built upon. Every recipe is re-evaluated to check flavor profiles and techniques. If improvements can be made, they are made.
"Always be improving." It's cliche but we take it to heart in The Lexington School Kitchen.
I love rice. Short grain, medium grain, long grain, whole grain, sticky, red, black, white, yellow, and even green rice are delicious, filling and simple to prepare.
My favorite rice preparation by far is rice pilaf. Long grain rice that is loose, fluffy, and filled with flavor. The method is simple and, once the pilaf is going, it's hands-free till dinner. I can get a pilaf started and, while it cooks, prepare the rest of the meal with one less thing to think about. That's vital, because my brain is already full of daily routines, food info, and every spoken line from The Princess Bride. You have to make priorities, people.
A few keys to rice pilaf:
Long grain rice
2:1 Liquid to Rice
"Pearl" or saute the rice in oil
Heat the liquid before adding to the rice
Start with a sweat of 1 cup standard mirepoix (50% diced onion, 25% diced celery, 25% diced carrots) in a little olive oil. Toss the rice (2 cups) and saute until fragrant and "pearled". Add 4 cups of hot chicken stock, stir a few times, and bring to a simmer. Cover tightly with foil and bake in a 400 degree oven for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit, covered for 10 minutes. Remove foil, fluff rice and serve.
I love bragging to other Chefs and Food Service Professionals about our Kitchen Crew. When I describe the variety and quality of food we produce daily, I consistently get positive feedback. More often than not, a follow-up comment is made either in nostalgia or discontent with current school standards.
"I wish my school had real food."
I have a prepared answer to this because the attitude often accompanying the comment is one that my kitchen is special or my resources are unique (both are true but that could be true of any kitchen). My answer turns the focus from the food to my Kitchen Crew. Food is simple. Lettuce is lettuce, meat is meat, milk is milk. Quality can vary but the products themselves can be very simple. What a kitchen really needs is a Crew that can take simple ingredients (in their primary forms) and cut, cook, and serve them in a skilled fashion. Kitchens don't need organic this or truffled that, they need trained cooks that can take something like ground beef, season it properly, cook it simply and serve it attractively. It takes skill to turn a roast chicken into great roast chicken.
A tip of the hat food service staff everywhere but I am truly grateful for the Kitchen Crew at The Lexington School.
The Spring season is a special time. This is especially true in the cooking world. Chefs look forward to the first tender vegetable offerings. Take a look at the menus of local restaurants and you will see the fires of creativity burning and yearning to play with fresh and local ingredients again. The Lexington School kitchen changes our menu cycle three times a year and the last cycle change is for the Spring season.
Spring means two things to me. The first is asparagus. Asparagus is in season locally from mid-April(ish) through the first part of June. The second is strawberries, which usually arrive mid-May and go strong through June.
Asparagus is my favorite taste of Spring. I can purchase asparagus year round at the grocery store and through the vendors we use at The Lexington School, but December asparagus is just not that great. It's large, woody, tough and flavorless. I wait through the hottest part of summer, the cooling of autumn, and the frozen months of winter for those 30-60 days in Spring when the local farms start bringing asparagus to the farmers' market. Slim and tender, flavorful and crisp...the way asparagus should be enjoyed. I love to grill or roast asparagus. I shave it with a vegetable peeler and soak the strips in ice water to curl them, then dress with a lemony vinaigrette. I puree simmered asparagus with cream and lemon for a delicious and fresh soup. Breakfasts at home during Spring are full of quiche and benedicts all with a heaping pile of asparagus. I believe in celebrating food at its best and asparagus is at its peak in Spring.
July arrives and the asparagus celebration ends...and tomatoes are just hitting their peak. :)
Well, it should be all we need to say about french fries but I feel the need to detail what I mean by french fries. Fair warning, this may feel a little soap box-ish to some.
You see, somewhere along the line we accepted that fries can come pre-cut, pre-formed, pre-cooked and processed into something beyond a simple potato. It's probably due to the fact that it takes more time to cut a potato than it does to open a bag. Also knives are sharp and freezer bags don't bleed and cry like we do. So we consume fries from fast food joints and from the freezer to the fryer or oven and we settle for something that doesn't taste as good as its origin (potatoes). I get the convenience aspect but, honestly it's not that complicated to do fried potatoes right. It's also much, much less expensive.
Let's deal with the cost side first. Fryer oil, salt and any other seasonings are necessary in both processed and scratch-made fries. I can order russet potatoes for $0.40/lb. I can order pre-cut "natural" frozen fries for $0.80/lb. Twice the food cost simply to have someone else cut my fries. Not worth it. (These are wholesale prices but the math works the same way with grocery store prices).
But the larger reason for cutting your own fries is the quality. Russet (Idaho) potatoes are simple, starchy, and perfect for frying. No fillers, sugar, preservatives or flavorings needed. A salty, crispy outside, fluffy inside, stick of delicious. Simple food is great food.
The Lexington School Kitchen Crew celebrates the quality of good fries periodically during the school year. Quality and simplicity are our guiding influences.
Idaho Potatoes cut strips 3/8 inch thick (We have a special hand-crank contraption for this, but a knife will work just as well) Fryer oil and deep fryer Salt (Pepper if you would like)
Rinse cut potatoes with plenty of water and dry completely. Fry once at 270 degrees for 6 minutes (this is called blanching or par-cooking the fries). Remove from fryer and drain thoroughly. Increase fryer temperature to 400 degrees. Fry potatoes again for 2-4 minutes until golden brown and delicious. Toss with salt in a large bowl. Serve immediately.
I'd like to make a confession. In a given week, I would estimate that I eat the main entree at most three times. There is something about preparing, cooking and serving 700 portions of any given food that burns out the "special-ness" for my taste buds. Some days a person wants something unique, something personalized, something...well, something else. Fortunately for me (and for our faculty and students) The Lexington School Dining Hall has wonderful variety. I can make a great salad pick and choose whatever toppings I like and top it all with our great house-made salad dressings. I can have a bowl of fresh soup and a baked potato (or sweet potato!). My personal go-to is the Deli Station. I love great sandwiches.
But a sandwich is only as good as its ingredients and our Deli Station has great ingredients. Take our turkey for example. No fillers, no solutions, dyes or artifical preservatives. We buy turkey, remove the breast from the bone, season with salt and pepper, roll it in foil and roast it. We chill it over night and slice it fresh daily.
Why go to so much trouble over something like lunch meat? The primary reason is the flavor. Turkey tastes better when it's simple. A great benefit, and the second reason we use real turkey, is the carcass. There's gold in them there bones. And by gold I mean stock. We make our own turkey stock that is the base for our Chicken Noodle Soup as well as protein based entrees that need a little extra body and flavor.
Stock is really simple to make. It needs a long time to simmer but there is little active work that needs done. Just add celery, carrots, and onions, bones and cold water. Bring to simmer, and let slowly simmer for at least 4 hours. Strain the solids and chill the liquid. When completely chilled, the stock may set slightly like gelatin. This is normal (and the sign of a truly great stock). At home, I make stock, chill it and then freeze it in those old school ice cube trays. When they freeze I pop them out of the trays and put them in gallon freezer bags. Any time that a dish calls for a little (or a lot) of stock I have perfect 1.5 ounce portions ready to go.
March 25th is National Waffle Day and I for one am very excited. At home, I make waffles more than I make pancakes. I mix different ingredients into a basic waffle batter including sweet potatoes, bananas, blueberries, chocolate chips, and pecans. Occasionally I'll even throw in some cheddar and green onions, top with some crispy chicken thighs and drizzle the whole thing with maple syrup!
What's the big deal? I mean waffles are just pancake batter put in a waffle iron, right? Yes...but also a definite no. Waffle batter includes different leavening agents at different ratios. Waffle batter typically has a little extra sugar to help crisp the exterior. The real uniqueness of waffles is the exterior. There is more exterior surface area than interior. Think about that. Have you ever had a really great flapjack at a small diner or breakfast spot? Those delightful crispy edges holding in all that fluffy cake really set them apart. A waffle is mostly crispy edge! Plus, as a comedian once quipped, waffles have built in syrup traps.
So celebrate with a waffle this weekend. Think about the science that makes them so special and different from pancakes. Here is a basic recipe to begin the celebration.
1 cup all-purpose flour 1 cup whole-wheat flour 1/2 tsp baking soda 1 tsp baking powder 1 tsp salt tablespoons sugar 3 whole eggs, beaten 2 oz unsalted butter, melted & cooled 2 cups buttermilk Non-stick spray for waffle iron.
Combine flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Whisk to be sure ingredients are well incorporated.
In a separate bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs and butter until very smooth. Add buttermilk and stir well.
Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir just until combined. Let batter rest 5-8 minutes while waffle iron heats. Ladle appropriate amount of batter for your waffle iron and close. Place cooked waffles in warm oven and cover with aluminum foil until ready to serve.
*Note: Waffles freeze really well. Cook waffles on lightest setting and let cool to room temperature before packing in freezer zip-top bags. To reheat, just pop in the toaster on medium!
Ramen Noodles have been reborn in the American culinary scene. Ramen has stepped out of its comfort zone of college dorms and bachelor pads and has found a new home in the hearts and minds of American Chefs. Noodle shops, bars and trucks are popping up more frequently and I for one am very pleased. Consider the packaged Instant Ramen. It's cheap, quick, simple to make and tasty- all things that meet the needs of our on-the-go culture.
I'm not going to disparage the simple instant ramen noodle package. Honestly, I think they are delicious. I personally buy a Korean Style that is extra spicy and enjoy them every now and then. But if it's good in its simplest and processed form, it can be great with a little respect to the ingredients and process. That is exactly what the Kitchen Crew at TLS executed this past Thursday. Fresh ramen noodles, fresh garnishes, and a broth that took four days to make! I do not exaggerate when I say the broth was excellent. We took turns in the kitchen sipping the broth (testing for quality, of course). I think I "tested" an entire coffee cup full of broth.
Here is the process for the broth:
Day 1: Simmer Oxtails, vegetable scraps and konbu (dried sea kelp) Drain and chill broth. Day 2: Simmer roasted pork bones, vegetable scraps and konbu. Drain and chill broth. Day 3: Simmer roasted chicken bones, vegetable scraps and konbu. Drain and chill broth. Day 4: Season broth with rice vinegar, soy sauce, and bonito (dried and cured fish). Serve hot.
On the day of the event, we boiled the fresh ramen noodles in the broth and shocked them in ice water. We served the noodles cold and served the hot broth in thermal pitchers on the tables. The students could pour the hot broth over the cold noodles and garnish with provided ingredients. Food should be delicious but great food is an experience.
*Note: Not only is it a socially encouraged practice, "slurping" ramen noodles helps the flavor. The air reacts with the alkaline noodles and broth and provide a flavor that would not exist without this typically frowned upon eating method.
St. Patrick's Day is almost here and with it comes our annual love of all things Irish. Corned Beef and green...er...beverage specials will light up local menus and parties. I'm totally fine with this and we take this opportunity to serve Corned Beef, cabbage, potatoes and the like in the Dining Hall. Honestly, I like to make corned beef for the leftovers (I mean "unused portions"). Corned beef hash and griddled potatoes topped with a fried Clark Farms egg is just about the perfect breakfast in my opinion.
Of course, corned beef is about as Irish as cheese dip is Mexican but at least it's traditional. The term corned beef comes from Old World Great Britain. A "corn" was a general term for anything of a certain size (typically the size of a wheat kernal). "Corns" of salt helped preserve the beef. Truthfully, beef wasn't the most popular "corned" product in Ireland. Cows were used primarily for their milk and the cheese made from that milk, as well as their strength in the fields that grew the real Irish staple- potatoes. Pigs were the most prolific animal raised soley for food. Ham or bacon (also preserved by salt) are more authentic Irish proteins. In fact, using brisket for corned beef is traced back to Irish immigrating to the U.S. and buying beef, which was cheaper in America, from Kosher butchers. It could be said that corned beef is not an Irish dish as much as it is a Kosher dish.
But who am I to let something like authenticity get in the way of a celebration of food? Corned beef and cabbage are served readily in Ireland now, especially around St. Patrick's Day. Tourists buy it by the platter full. So dance a jig, wear is shimmering shamrock and grab a few tender slices of briney brisket. We all are Irish March 17th!
Ketchup is my nemesis. Kids put ketchup on everything (my own child included). Panko breaded chicken tenders? Ketchup. Roast turkey breast? Ketchup. Local beef pot roast? Ketchup. It's not that I have anything against ketchup...on fries. Golden brown, salty potatoes with ketchup is quite possibly the most perfect pairing ever created, but that is where I draw the line. No ketchup on my chicken. No ketchup on my beef. Don't even say the word ketchup while I'm eating a hot dog.
I think personal taste is a tricky thing for a chef. I have likes and dislikes of my own (and ketchup is way up on my dislike list) but taste is subjective. I can't tell you that you shouldn't like ketchup on your chicken anymore than I would accept you telling me I should like ketchup on my chicken. I have reasons for why I dislike certain flavors but it all boils down to the subjective matter of taste.
I do have my own "ketchup" though and its name is chimichurri. I put chimichurri on eggs, sandwiches, soup, rice, meat and salad. If you haven't tried chimichurri, give it a go! It's essentially an herb and oil mixture but you can tune it to your own personal taste. After all, taste is subjective.
But seriously, no ketchup on a hot dog.
Chimichurri 1 cup packed fresh flat leaf parsley 1 cup packed fresh cilanto 1 TBSP fresh oregano 3-4 garlic cloves 1/3 cup good quality olive oil 2 TBSP lime juice (or more to taste) 1/2 tsp kosher salt 1/8 tsp black pepper 1/2 small jalapeno seeded and chopped
- Finely chop the parsley, cilantro, oregano and garlic in a food proccessor. - Stir in oil, lime juice, salt, pepper and jalapeno. - Serve immediately or refrigerate. Chimichurri is best at room temperature so if you refrigerate it, let it come to room temperature before serving.
Our annual Donuts with Dad was this past Friday. I remember our very first Donuts with Dad.
Krispy Kreme Manager: "How many donuts do you need?" Me: "A whole bunch of donuts."
I also remember the second Donuts with Dad.
Krispy Kreme Manager: How many donuts do you need?" Me: "All of the donuts."
This is such a fun and special event. Then again, any event centered around family and donuts is special. Our family has donuts occasionally on the weekend. We check social media early Saturday morning to see which local shop has the most intriguing donut specials. On really special occasions, I make donuts at home. Donuts are a little time consuming to make but absolutely worth it. I make the dough the night before, let it relax and proof the next morning while I set up whatever glaze, icings, fillings and/or toppings we want and get them frying while the coffee brews. Since I'm an "early riser" I usually have a first batch done before everyone makes it to the table. Simple glazed donuts are a favorite but I like a maple flavored icing (with a nice piece of crisp bacon).
1 1/2 cups whole milk 1/3 cup vegetable shortening (I like to use butter flavored) 2 packages instant yeast 1/3 cup warm water (100-105 degrees) 2 eggs, beaten 1/4 cup sugar 1 1/2 tsp salt 1 tsp nutmeg 23 ounces all-purpose flour (about 5 cups) plus more for dusting Vegetable oil for frying
Place milk in microwave safe bowl. Microwave on high for 45 seconds to 1 minute. Place shortening in a bowl and pour warm milk over shortening. Set aside.
In a small bowl, sprinkle yeast over warm water and let stand for 5 minutes. Pour mixture into bowl of stand mixer and add milk and shortening mixture (be sure the milk and shortening mixture has cooled to lukewarm). Add eggs, sugar, salt, nutmeg and half of the flour. Combine with paddle attachment on low speed until flour is incorporated and then turn the speed up to medium and beat until well combined. Add the remaining flour, combining on low speed at first, and then increase the speed to medium and beat well. Change to the dough hook and beat on medium speed approximately 3-4 minutes. Transfer to an oiled bowl, cover and let rise for 1 hour. (I usually divide the dough into 4 equal portions and freeze 3 portions. This recipe will make nearly 30 donuts!)
Sprinkle flour on counter top. Roll out dough to desired thickness (1/4 to 1/2 inch thick is recommended). Cut dough with large pastry ring (use the smallest pastry ring for the hole). At our house I just use a pizza wheel and cut the donuts into squares and only use a small pastry ring for the hole. Set donuts on a floured baking sheet, cover with a towel and let rise for 30 minutes.
Preheat oil to 375 degrees. Gently place donuts into oil. Cook for 1 minute per side (wooden chopsticks are a great tool for flipping donuts). Move fried donuts to a cooling rack placed over a baking pan. Allow to cool for 15 minutes prior to glazing.
Terminology is important in every career and cooking is no different. A great example would be our upcoming Creole Celebration. With some common kitchen terminology, our preparation can be both consistent and efficient.
Etouffee is a staple of Creole cuisine. The stew is served over rice and commonly includes crawfish, the freshwater cousin to lobster. Interestingly, the word "etouffee", culinarily speaking, can mean either to steam (a moist heat cooking method) or to braise (a combination dry and moist cooking method). So is etouffee steamed or braised? The answer is both!
We will serve Etouffee during our Creole Celebration, February 28. Our version will include shrimp, andouille sausage and vegetables. We start by cooking onions, celery, and green peppers (a vegetable mixture referred to as the "Trinity") in a little butter just until softened. We add garlic (A LOT of garlic) and cook for a little longer. We thicken the vegetable mixture with roux (adding flour and stirring until a paste forms) and cook until a deep crimson color. We add stock and tomatoes and bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring occasionally until beginning to thicken, cover, and let simmer. Add shrimp, cover and let steam until shrimp are just cooked through.
Does this seem rather detailed? For our TLS Kitchen Crew, our recipe contains two lines of instruction: 1.Trinity braise with tomatoes and stock. 2.Steam shrimp in braising liquid.
I love quotes, especially quotes from movies. Some of my favorite lines come from characters that are trying to inspire; either themselves or another character.
"Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try."- Yoda
"The day may come when the courage of men fails...but it is not this day." Aragorn
"It ain't about how hard you hit, it's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done." -Rocky Balboa
These kinds of lines inspire me. They inspire me when I watch the films. I download files of them and mix them in with my playlist when I'm at the gym. I think we all need motivation every now and then. I know I do.
Recently I realized an area of my chosen career that I had neglected- Baking. Cooking is fun and intuitive. "A little of this and pinch of that" goes a long way in cooking. Not so in baking. Baking is all science and percentages. You must be exact in baking or things turn out wrong. Many professional baking recipes aren't measured in cups or tablespoons but in percentages. It can be very intimidating. In culinary school, I took one quarter of baking. I didn't excel in it as I did in my other practical courses, at least by my personal expectations. I think because of my sub-standard performance I wrote baking off. "I'm not good at it, " I thought. I poured myself into other flavors and cooking styles and strived to be excellent at those. I figured I could just let the bakers do the baking.
I quit trying. I quit moving forward. I did the opposite of what I found inspiring in some of my favorite characters. So I began to change. Starting in the summer, I worked for days, that turned into weeks, and now into months on improving my baking skills. I traveled to some establishments that my peers and colleagues were working in to glean some skills and trends.
I find enjoyment in baking now. It's not my favorite part of the culinary world by any stretch but I feel better knowing that I can judge quality baked goods from average goods. The Lexington School Dining Hall will benefit. Look for our In-House Honey Wheat Bread (to be made with honey from TLS bees when available) and our In-House Raisin Bread. Our crew is also working on In-House Garlic Cheese Bread for pasta days, Hoagie Rolls for sandwiches as well as other baked goods!
Have you eaten a meal at home or in a restaurant that was so simple and yet so delicious that it made you want it again the next day? Or even to want it the very next meal? Creole food gets me that way. I have no Cajun roots or emotional attachment to the culture of the region. I just love the food. I like to make a Creole dish around Mardis Gras time. During the meal, without fail, I think to myself, "Why don't I eat this food more often?" It's simple, delicious, and comforting. I just don't keep it in my rotation of meals at home...and I really should. Spiced sausage, tender shrimp, thick, dark, heavily flavored sauce all over rice, mmmmm, gets my taste buds dancing just thinking about it.
So this time of year and all the other times of the year, do yourself a favor and enjoy some delicious Jambalaya. If you need a good starting place, here's what I'll be making at home:
2 1/2 TBSP Bourbon Smoked Paprika 2 TBSP Kosher Salt 1 TBSP black pepper 1 TBSP dried oregano 1 TBSP dried thyme 3-4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs 2 TBSP olive oil 1/4 cup chopped onion 1/4 cup chopped poblano pepper 1/4 cup chopped celery 2 TBSP chopped garlic 2 roma tomatoes, chopped 4 bay leaves 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce 3 shakes tabasco sauce 1 cup basamati rice 3 cups chicken stock (low sodium) 12 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined 5 ounces Andouille Sausage Salt & Pepper to taste
Combine first 5 ingredients and mix well. Season shrimp and chicken with mixture. Heat oil over medium high heat in a large saucepan. Saute onion, peppers and celery for 3-5 minutes. Add chicken and saute for 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and stir for 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, bay leaves, worcestershire and tabasco. Stir in rice and slowly add broth. Reduce heat to medium and cook until rice absorbs liquid, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Add shrimp and sausage. Cook until shrimp is done about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt & pepper.
I usually add a heavy dose of extra hot sauce and a big dollop of sour cream.
In the Netflix mini-series based on Michael Pollan's book Cooked, a food scientist makes an interesting observation about bread. If given water and a bag of flour you could survive for weeks. If you combined the water and flour and made bread, you could survive indefinitely.
Bread has been a hot button issue for nearly two decades. Bread and the carbohydrates they contain have been villified by "low carb" diets. Gluten sensitivity and allergies have developed and have made bread dangerous to some people. Whole grains have been elevated to superfood status and then brought low again by the philosophies of Primal and Keto diets. I have no side to take in the politics of carbohydrates. I am not a dietician or a doctor and can speak very little about how people should incorporate nutrition in their lives. I do passionately believe in one thing: Bread is Beautiful.
Take a moment and recognize the alchemy of bread baking. A handful of flour, a little water, salt and time create something that is ten times as voluminous as the parts that created it. Bread is literally multiplying a few ingredients into something that can feed many. Every culture in the world has bread. Bread is the most accesible food. Literally grass and water can make a meal. Beautiful.
More than accesible, bread is satisfyingly delicious. We taste with our sense of smell as much as our taste buds (if not more). When you take a bite of fresh bread, the texture and flavor hits your tongue, but the aroma from all the air trapped inside the crumb of the bread hits your senses like a tidal wave. I take glorious pleasure in every bite of well made bread.
The key ingredient to great bread is unfortunately something we rarely have an abundance of: time. Mixing the ingredients takes very little time at all but the fermentation that follows (and indeed must follow) takes hours. Maybe you are disciplined enough to keep a bread starter alive and can reduce the fermentation time. Maybe you use instant yeast to speed the process but ultimately the dough must sit and the fermentation must be allowed to run its course. I recommend taking the time periodically to celebrate the glorious yet basic task of making your own bread.
Check out The Lexington School's own scratch made breads at the Deli Station. We've made multi-grain, rye, potato, sourdough and many more!
February Food Events: Super Wing Toss! Spirit Week Fun Grapefruit Celebration Kyushu, Japan Regional Cuisine
Food origins fascinate me. I love to learn the history of a dish, the reason for the cooking technique, or the need filled by a certain kind of food. Buffalo wings have a unique origin story. They were created at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York by Teressa Bellissimo. She threw some food together for her college-age son and his friends. She grabbed what she had: Hot sauce, margarine, wings, blue cheese, and some mayo. Maybe she added the now standard celery and carrot sticks but I like to think they were excluded.
Every year at TLS, we celebrate the "Big Game" with a special Super Wing Toss. Traditionally wings are deep fried, but I think that's just because frying wings (or most food) is an easy way to get them cooked in a hurry. We've added a little more technique to the cooking process.
First, we steam the wings. Chicken wings have a good amount of fat and we want to remove some of this fat before we bake them. If all the fat is still in the wing, the oven is going to get pretty smokey.
Second we lay the wings in a single layer on a wire rack over a sheet pan. We typically line the sheet pan with parchment paper to help with clean up. We bake the wings at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until the skin is crispy. Be patient with this part. The fat in the wings will essentially fry the wing.
For the sauce, add 1/4 cup of hot sauce to 2 TBSP melted butter and whisk to combine. At home, I like to add minced garlic and some worcestershire sauce as well. Toss the wings with the sauce and enjoy. If the hot sauce is a little too hot for your taste, add some honey to the mix. The sweetness helps to tame the heat.
If you have been in the Northern Kentcky/Cincinnati area for any stretch of time you have probably encountered a rather unique protein: Goetta. Goetta is a curious mixture of beef, pork, oats and seasonings that has found a strong identity in the Greater Cincinnati area. Newport has an annual festival celebrating this special food. Goetta: Get-uh. Never tasted it? Never heard of it? Well, we're all about education at TLS (seeing as how we're a school and all) and the Kitchen Crew took the time to work Goetta into several dishes during a special food event. The dishes included:
Connie Haney is our most veteran Kitchen Crew member. She has worked in The Lexington School Kitchen for 17 years! Connie is our Salad Station Professional. She works tirelessly to make sure that the salad offerings are not only attractive and creative, but that faculty and student favorites are always ready.
Connie loves to spend her free time with family. She can often be found at the Kentucky Horsepark Campground. During the off season, she spends every weekend organizing a family oriented event. It could be as simple as cooking a big breakfast of bacon, eggs, pancakes, fried potatoes and sliced tomato (Connie's favorite meal to prepare). Family is all important to Connie Haney.
An extended form of Connie's family would be her dogs. She owns four dogs: Nietzche, Gigi, Brandy, and Brighton. Connie's dogs always participate in family events.
Excellence in food service industry can be a bit tricky to define. Values vary for each customer and in a school food service that serves more than 700 people it is no different. The Kitchen Crew operates under a set of core guidelines that help us to keep focus of high quality food service.
1. 90% Scratch-made: We make as much as we can in house. We purchase some prepared foods like pasta, mayonnaise, tortillas, etc. Each week our Kitchen Crew meets, reviews the menu to see how we can incorporate more scratch-made food.
2. Fresh First: We don't purchase many canned items. Crushed tomatoes, ketchup and fruit for a few menu items are really all we buy in cans. We look for a fresh option first. It may take more time to prepare but it is time well spent.
3. Local Love: We have great relationships with local farms and vendors. If we can buy it locally, we will buy it locally.
4. Batch Ready: We have four lunch services spread out over 2 1/2 hours. We could prepare all the food necessary for the day before the first lunch and then pull food from warmers during service. That is the easiest way but not the best way. We cut, blanch, shock and organize each item to the point just before cooking. We then cook in "batches" so that each lunch has fresh food on each station.
5. Innovation: We are proud of the food service our Kitchen Crew has developed. We desire to continually create new ways of preparing, serving and demonstrating our Crew's culinary training. We want to continue to lead the way in school food service by being our most creative selves.
If you haven't visited us for lunch in a while, come on down!
January Food Events: Citrus Celebration Cheese Celebration South African Cuisine
The mission of The Lexington School is to provide an education of the highest quality to students in preschool through middle school. In a structured, nurturing environment, The Lexington School seeks to instill integrity, a life-long enthusiasm for learning, and a strong work ethic.