The Kitchen Crew at The Lexington School is a hard working, dedicated and creative mix of wonderful culinary talent. As proud as I am to call these awesome people my friends and colleagues, their creativity puts me in an awkward situation on a regular basis. An unanswerable question is asked of me almost daily: "Would you share the soup recipe?"
We have a Baked Potato Station that is stocked with fluffy Russet potatoes and sweet potatoes along with a variety of tasty toppers to personalize your baker. We also keep our Soup of the Day at the same station. Our Kitchen Crew makes some really fantastic soups. I do not impose a menu on the Soup Station but rather allow a wonderful variety of vegan, vegetarian, creamy bisques and hearty stews to rotate at the whim of the chef responsible for the soup. The soup chef has the freedom to take any unused product from any other station in the kitchen and use it to create the Soup of the Day. This helps the kitchen reduce waste as well as add variety to our daily offerings. Maybe we have an abundance of carrots from yesterday's lunch. Some have been partially cooked for quick service and some are roasted and glazed with orange juice, honey and garlic. It would be easy to just toss these in the garbage. We don't have a "leftover" day and a partially or fully cooked (and seasoned) product doesn't work well in a cold salad preparation. One of our chefs adds some aromatics to a pot along with the roasted carrots and some of our house made vegetable stock. A little house made curry blend is allowed to bloom in milk and then pureed with the carrot/stock mixture. Creamy Curried Carrot Soup. Delicious but completely improvised.
You see, we have served this very soup on several occasions. Sometimes mushrooms are added from the Salad Station and the soup is slightly more earthy. Sometimes the cream is left out and potatoes and extra stock are added and the soup is completely vegan. Sometimes we didn't have unused carrots but we had ten pounds of butternut squash on hand so the soup is changed all together. Creating a set menu would stifle creativity and could even lead to more waste. I have no interest in either consequence so we'll just leave our Crew to their magic. Just know that if you ask for a recipe for the Soup of the Day, be prepared for me to answer with, "I don't know."
The Kitchen Crew likes to stay creative at TLS. That may seem obvious since cooking is considered a creative craft. It's easy to get creatively numb in this craft, creative as it may be. Customers have their favorite dishes. Trends come and go and while chefs may try to put a creative spin on the trend, it is essentially what "everyone else is doing." In our kitchen, a creative idea quickly goes from, "Wow, this will be so cool," to "How many of these do we need to make?" (The answer is always 800).
Enter Thanksgiving. This is the time of year that certain flavors are cherished and even expected. I believe in honoring food traditions but it is easy for this meal to feel creatively empty. When I was in culinary school I took this to the extreme. I had family over to our house and I served "my" spin on Thanksgiving. We had Stuffed Leg of Lamb, Sweet Potato Gnocchi, Potato and Cornmeal Latkes, and Pumpkin Creme Brulee. It was a fantastic meal. Everything was spot on and flavors were perfect...and I'll never do it again. I could see the reactions to the food and while the response was positive it was tinged with the fact that this is not what they wanted. It turns out, it was not what I wanted either. I think I did a roast chicken dinner the following week just to hit my craving for the Thanksgiving meal.
So our Kitchen Crew is working up a fabulous menu of traditional Thanksgiving treats. Boom. There it is. End of story. Roast Turkey with gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans, cornbread dressing, cranberry sauce, sweet potato casserole and pumpkin pie.
Hmmm...pumpkin pie. This is a polarizing dish. Folks seem to love it or hate it. Those that love it are split into the "Purists" and the "Whipped Cream" factions. Sounds like a chance to enter some creativity...
Picture a typical pasta day before the new kitchen was completed. Pasta was cooked in eighteen quart stock pots. We had 8 burners and used six for pasta, one for gluten free pasta, and one for soup. Each pot could hold about five pounds of dry pasta. We typically cook at least ninety pounds of dry pasta for lunch service so you can imagine the effort of cooking, draining, refilling, waiting for water to boil and doing it all over again and again and again.
Enter the new Steam Jacketed Kettle. This piece of equipment is like a giant stock pot but the walls are filled with steam to heat gently and prevent scorching. We use kettle in many applications but it is a heaven sent tool on pasta day. It heats water very quickly so we have the ability to cook pasta just minutes before we need it. It has a drain in the bottom to keep from handling the heavy pots of boiling water. Most importantly, it cooks LOTS of pasta at one time. We can cook all the pasta we will need for a single lunch service (we have three) in a single batch. This keeps the pasta fresher and of better quality for service.
There are many other uses for the kettle. Alfredo sauce is great in it because the jacketed walls keep the cream from scorching. We have used it for chili, tomato soup, beans, cooking stocks and more! As an added bonus, it is really easy to clean!
We love the kettle and look forward to all it can do for our food service!
Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday. As Americans, we tend to have signature dishes for most holidays, celebrations or events but Thanksgiving is really the only holiday when food is the event. I don't roast a whole turkey on any occasion other than Thanksgiving. Green bean casserole is rich and delicious, but Thanksgiving is the only day I treat myself to a helping. I love mashed potatoes and enjoy them year round but I'm pretty sure I only add gravy during Thanksgiving. I love food and the celebration of food and Thanksgiving is the epitome of these concepts. Thanksgiving also has a special place in the cold month holiday season when we celebrate with loved ones near and far. We take the time once a year to share life and focus on the many blessings we enjoy every day. We spend this time cooking, laughing, eating and enjoying memories. We gather around a table full of special food and celebrate the good life.
Did you know a group of very special and skilled people do this same ritual every day? They are your TLS Kitchen Crew. We spend great time and effort to place attractive, delicious and nutritious food on every station in the Dining Hall. We spend time with local farmers and vendors, coordinate with students and faculty, build menus, plan special food events and research trends. We do this as our chosen career but we also find joy and use our passion for quality food and love for our customers. Food looks and tastes better with love. Love makes a kitchen run smoothly when the crew is hot and cramped. Love brings creativity to each station via the Chef's Specials. Love pushes our team to not take the easy and processed road, but to look for a way to use fresh and local in every dish, every time. Love creates variety in our food service and the bountiful selection of every station.
Enjoy your holiday season and celebrate with the ones you love. The Kitchen Crew at TLS gets to celebrate our loved ones every day: You!
We have a new, super "cool" piece of equipment in the kitchen. When we were discussing if we needed this piece of equipment, things got a little "heated" but "cooler" heads prevailed and it was approved. I have to admit, I get "chills" just thinking of what our food service would be without it and I hope you don't turn a "cold shoulder" and ignore it's importance.
It's a blast chiller, we have a blast chiller.
I love the blast chiller for several reasons. First, and least used, it freezes things super fast. The inside temperature of the blast chiller can hold -40F. We can prepare pizza dough, cookie dough, chili, sauces, and stews ahead of service, blast chill and store until the needed day of service.
The second reason the blast chiller is so great is because we use it to cook. It may sound crazy but the unit can cook at a low temperature over a long period of time. This has been great for our house-roasted deli meats. We prep and season a turkey breast, put it in the chiller and set it to cook overnight. The gentle temperature keeps the moisture inside the meat that tends to be pressed out at higher roasting temperatures. We have cooked turkey breast, pork loin, beef eye of round and chicken for salads. It's a pretty "cool."
The third feature of the blast chiller (also our most used) is the "thaw" function. We work with several local farms and it benefits them and us to purchase product in bulk. We can store in our freezer all of the chicken, pork and beef that we will need for an entire month. Of course, frozen is not a usable state to prepare food safely so we need to thaw the product. Typically, frozen product is thawed under refrigeration which takes time and valuable space in our cold storage. Here is where the blast chiller comes in handy. We can load the unit with the product we need to prepare, change some settings and our frozen product will be fresh and usable in the morning! It has given us so many options and freed space for us to use for other important needs.
Time and space are tricky details in a kitchen. Having a blast chiller makes both of these details work for us rather than against us!
Have you heard? We have a new kitchen and to answer the most common question we receive from students, parents and faculty, "Oh yes, we love it very much." What I love the most about the new space can be summed up in a single word: potential. The new equipment, added prep areas, upgraded storage space and the shiny (oh so shiny) dish area all bring a service potential that was unreachable in our previous space. Our talented and dedicated Kitchen Crew has been dreaming big dreams with this new space and we can't wait to show you what it and we can do!
It's not easy to describe all of the ways that our new cooking and serving space has improved our efficiency but I'd like to take some time this school year to try. I will focus primarily on the equipment describing the new pieces we have and how they impact our food service. Stay tuned for more great information about the new TLS Kitchen.
Comfort food takes many forms in the U.S. It can vary by region but we have a unique palate in this country. When I'm craving comfort food, my craving usually has several filters. I can have an Asian craving for ramen or egg rolls. Maybe I'll crave a rich lasagna with sausage and a hearty Italian tomato sauce. Sometimes a I feel a desire for a pungent hit of garlic, hearty and game-y lamb and tangy, herbacious yogurt. Fortunately for that craving, we have Gyros.
Gyros were most likely developed in Greece though what we often eat in the U.S. is an amalgamation of the cultures of the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Traditional gyro meat is a pressed meatloaf of either beef, lamb, or a mixture of both (the mixture is my personal favorite). The Middle East serves shawarma, typically a shaved whole muscle protein rather than the blended loaf.
We celebrate the Gyro at The Lexington School. Our version is a beef and lamb blend with feta cheese wrapped in pita. We make toppings available to personalize your wrap. We make a delicious tzatziki sauce (the garlic-y, herb, cucumber and yogurt sauce) that can be drizzled or used as a dip for the wrap.
Everyone has their own way of building and eating a salad. Some enjoy crisp and sweet lettuces and greens. Others (like me) prize the garnish and pile on the tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggs and croutons. Of course there will always be the group that just really loves dressing and salad is the most socially acceptable way consume nine fluid ounces of ranch. Whatever your style the Salad Station at TLS has all the ingredients to turn your dream salad into your lunch. I'd like to break down the Salad Station for you and let you know what to expect for lunch.
First, think of the name of a salad. Chef Salad, Cobb, or Garden may come to mind as your favorite salads to order out or build at home. The Salad Station takes a salad and breaks it down to each ingredient (deconstruction). Today may be Summer Fruit Salad with fresh strawberries, blueberries, apples/pears, baby spinach and goat cheese. Tomorrow could be Apple Chicken Salad with local apples, tomatoes, cucumbers, Wholesome Living Farm's chicken, blue cheese and crunchy apple chips. The salad of the day changes daily and likewise the ingredients change. Even the greens change! We always have fresh chopped romaine but we have sweet spring mix, arugula, baby spinach and new blend called Arcadian Harvest that brings a fresh blend of baby lettuces to the station. To compliment the daily salad we offer house-made ranch and balsamic vinaigrette as well as a rotating special dressing. We also offer fat-free Italian dressing as well as vinegar and olive oil.
The Salad Station is more than salad alone. We offer house-made whole grain salads like Farro w/Sweet Potatoes, Red & Gold Quinoa and Lentil with Vegetables. These whole grain blends pack serious nutrition in every delicious bite. The Kitchen Crew makes hummus in house and you can find fresh veggies or pita to dip. We even re-purpose the unused house-made bread from the Deli Station into our own unique croutons.
Unique and fun food events are in store for October. Check the online menu for details on these culinary parties including:
-The Wide World of Popcorn -The Food of Indonesia -Apple Celebration -National Bologna Day
I consider comedians to be the philosophers of our time. They make observations about our society and culture and report them to us in a clever way. The comedians I enjoy typically make observations that resonate with me on some level. Sometimes though, I laugh because an observation shines a light on an embarrassing aspect of my life and my reaction is also laughter. I laugh primarily because the truth of the observation is humorous but also because laughter reduces the awkward and uncomfortable feeling this modern day philosopher has created in me. Recently I had an important part of my life laid bare by a comedian. The performer was not judging me or making any call to action to change the way I live but the observation brought real laughter and then has picked at my mind ever since.
"...so I decided to go 'veggie' twice a week. Brutal. I could only make until about 5 o'clock. That's what I realized about myself: Something has to die everyday in order for me to live."
I enjoy eating meat. I make the effort to be responsible about my meat sources and at TLS, our beef, pork, chicken and eggs all come from local farms. I believe sourcing responsibly is important and yet the nagging feeling that something in my life has enough hold over me that I can't do without it for an extended period of time really gets to me. I tend to rationalize my daily animal intake with my need for protein, B12 and other nutrition justifications but the truth is that I really like to eat meat.
So I went vegetarian for a week. Proud of me? Well, before you think I'm up on my moral high horse, I had intended to go vegetarian for a month and after 6 days I was so short-tempered, irritable and resentful of vegetables that I only made it a week. Let me tell you, the eggs and bacon the next morning were glorious. I think it is important to note that I'm not arguing for or against the morality of eating meat. My hang-up is having anything in my life that I can't periodically abstain from with a little discipline. I even do this with coffee. Every month or so I take a week and skip my morning life-giving liquid. The weekend headache is brutal but the feeling of discipline at the end is enough of a reward.
I have taken smaller doses of a vegetarian diet and have discovered some great benefits. Cooking all vegetarian for a day or so is a wonderful way for me to be creative. I play with ways to prepare dishes and sauces that make all-veggie dishes attractive and palatable. I have discovered a love for ingredients that I have not included in my regular diet. I have been pushed to create and enjoy new sources of protein that I would not have tried before (since meat was always handy). My overall vegetable intake has increased and my meat portions have decreased. Overall it has been an enjoyable exercise.
In the Dining Hall at TLS, vegetarian cooking will take a special place at the Entree Station. We will begin celebrating "Meatless Mondays." Our Kitchen Crew Chefs have been working on some wonderful celebrations of vegetable cooking and I am pleased to share those with you. Try something new and expand your personal palate. Don't worry, if you desire a meat protein source everyday for lunch a simple baked preparation will always be available.
The Kitchen Crew will have several food events during September. Check the online lunch menu and feel free to join is in special culinary celebrations including:
-National BBQ Rib Day -The Food of Peru -Potato Celebration -Special Dessert: House Made Key Lime Pie
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 briny 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.