Monday, March 4, 2013

Hello again, friends

This is an extremely hard post to write... how do you write your first post in 2 1/2 years after spending a year blogging every single day?  Well that's half true because I did start a new blog "culinary diaries" last year, but my heart just wasn't into it.  I have been debating starting my blog again for the past year and needed the right moment to feel that motivation and passion for food again. 

Of course going through culinary school and completing a glamorous internship is FUN to talk about.  It was an adventure I've always dreamed about and I loved sharing it with my friends, family, and the world.  However, after my internship I entered the not so glamorous life of working in the restaurant industry.  My life consisted of looong hours, constantly smelling like food, sore and tired all the time from the hard labor, and just plain blahhh.   Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't take back anything.. every job I've had has tought me so much, especially the toughest one of working as a sous chef in a kitchen/catering company.   Man oh man did I learn a lot!

So what made me start blogging again?   I had a moment.   This moment took place over the weekend while I was visiting my parents in NJ.  The Saturday I was there was the best day ever.. you know those days where you're going to bed and you just think "I wish I could wake up and it would be today again because today was awesome!".. yup that was Saturday.   I woke up nice and fresh from a wonderful nights sleep (thanks to some benedryl and cough medicine from a cold I was still recovering from... it may have made me say some straaaange things to my mom the night before!).  I had an awesome workout that made me feel like I was ready to conquer the world!  My mom and I went for a nice walk around Asbury Park and had a healthy lunch at a vegan restaurant in town and then lounged and watched a movie with some hot tea.  At 5:00 it was cocktail hour (things never change in the Zick household) and as always we sipped on some fabulous red wine and delectable snacks (that have become more healthy and gluten free as the years progressed).   Then the three of us were on our way to Portofino, a favorite local Italian restaurant.   I have written a restaurant review in the past of Portofino here.  But have visited several other times and never had the same bad service as the past review reads.   Until this past Saturday night.  The restaurant was busy... but I mean it was Saturday night and they've been open long enough to be able to handle the crowd, right?  Our waiter was clearly stressed out and our food took hours to arrive!   I had no problem with this at the time because, well, there was at least wine on the table right?   My mom and I may have indulged a bit, but it was all in good fun and at least here I am writing again because of it! As we stumbled hand in hand to the bathroom (the single person bathroom) and telling each other "don't look!!!!", I really did appreciate how lucky I am to have my best friend as a mom.. someone who motivates me every day to do what I love, tells me  I'm beautiful, and will do anything to see me happy.   She's also someone I can exclaim to "let's take shots!!!" as we are heading back to my poor dad at the dinner table waiting for his 2 drunks dates to return, and she politely declines, saying "um I don't think that's a good idea sweetie". 

As we patiently (very patiently, too patiently) waited for our food to arrive (well, I can't speak for everyone because my mom kept winking at the waiter saying "drinks on the house??????")   we read my review on my blog from the last time we experienced this bad of service.   I loved reading my blog again and it got me to read even more entries.  I noticed the passion in my voice and had a flashback of the excitement I had when I would return home from school or from a restaurant and be soooo excited to blog about it, to write down everything in my head, to share my passion with everyone else.  I want that again.  I still have that passion, the witty sense of humor, and even more knowledge of food and this industry that I want to share with all of you.  Please join me on this journey as I show you how I create recipes (for my job and for just myself).  I can't wait to make this blog new and exciting and full of recipes, restaurant reviews, and stories of my crazy life!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Wedding Tastings

My job title as the "research & development chef" goes way beyond my job description.  I do everything from making staff lunch (to feed about 80 people) to catering large parties to cooking for wedding tastings. 

Most wedding tastings consist of impressing only 2-5 people...howeverrrr the wedding tasting I worked on last week was for about 40 people.  We fed them plenty of hor do'erves, samples from what would be a "station" during cocktail hour, a couple of different salads, and some entrees.  Overall they were pleased with what they were presented! 

Sooo lets start with hor do'erves ( I forgot to take pictures of some... its a fast paced environment so I'm lucky I snapped these photos!!!

-Prosciutto melon skewers with a balsamic glaze:

Beef skewers (I totally forget what we rolled them with.. woops):

Mini crab cakes with chipotle aioli:
Some crazy Indian "meatball" I had to make... I think it's actually called a "cutlet" .. One of the weirder recipes I've had to make..  Turned out okay though!

An hor do'erve sampler platter:
Mini spinach and cheddar quiches:
Ceviche, which I made with sea bass:
This one is my absolute favorite and a classic at Merri-makers.. Martini shrimp with cocktail sauce and horseradish cream... YUM I looove this one!!
Lamb chop station.. served with garlic mashed potatoes and a balsamic demi glace:
One of the salads with berries, white chocolate shavings, a homemade breadstick, and a vanilla bean vinaigrette:
The other salad consisted of wine poached pears, gorgonzola, candied pecans, and a raspberry vinaigrette:
I didn't get a picture of all the main dishes either.. we had a mixture of steak, chicken, and fish dishes (up to 3 different fish dishes!).. Heres the Cod with a white wine, lemon caper sauce, asparagus and a boursin cheese potato:
Gorgonzola filet mignon.. A demi glace was soon added to this..
Soo I'm pretty bummed that I didnt get a picture of dessert... That's because I made the BEST bread pudding EVER!  Not joking..

I made a sheet tray of chocolate chip bread pudding and cut small rounds out of it for dessert.  I plated that with my wonderful salted caramel sauce, along with a small ramekin of vanilla bean creme brulee, and a fresh fruit cup with whipped cream... The perrrfect dessert sampler (if you ask me!)

I like doing the wedding tastings because it allows a little creativity (with new hor do'erves, plating etc). 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Hor d'oerve tasting

On Wednesday afternoon I was given the task at work to test 10 different hor d'oerves that will potentially be added to the catering menu. I was to create samples (about 10 of each) and present them to the head chefs, the sales people, and the owner & president of the company. The pressure was definitely on!!!

I started prepping the recipes on Tuesday afternoon, but was HUSTLING on Wednesday to get them all done. Overall I received great remarks on the presentation & taste of the food... a successful day of tasting!

-First I sent out the cold hor d'oerves starting with "pork roll egg and cheese deviled eggs". These provided a nice twist to your traditional deviled eggs, with a cheesy yolk filling and rendered strips of pork roll placed on top:
-Crostini with pesto cream cheese and oven roasted tomatoes:
-Deconstructed caprese salad (i realized I didn't have the small boccocini mozz last minute, so I just quartered some larger mozz balls). The mozzarella was placed in the center of the plate, ready for dipping in the traditional pesto, sundried tomato pesto, balsamic glaze, and toasted pine nut dust:
-One of my family's favorite hor d'oerve that I make for family events is my asian turkey meatballs. I made a take on this, except with ground chicken (that I had to grind myself.. what a pain). I combined the ground chicken with some breadcrumbs, eggs, scallion, ginger, garlic, teriyaki, soy, and cilantro. Baked them off and served them on cocktail forks with sweet chili dipping sauce:
-I made 2 different types of mini pot pies. There are served in 2 oz ramekins with a small disk of puff pastry placed on top. The lobster & shrimp pot pie was made with a delicious, rich lobster bisque and chunks of shrimp and lobster:
-The chicken pot pies were made with a creamy bechamel, tender pieces of chicken, carrots, onions, and peas:
-The mini duchess potatoes were originally going to sit on top of a mini potato..instead I browned small disks of potato and piped the boursin cheese whipped potatoes on top. This was a delicious one-bite potato!
-Everyone's favorite pig in a blanket was transformed into something a bit more exciting.. andouille chicken sausage and whole grain mustard wrapped in puff pastry:
-Sirloin patty melts were presented on cocktail rye bread with melted swiss cheese, caramelized onions, and thin slices of pickle:
-The last one was my personal favorite! Wild mushroom and roasted garlic savory bread pudding. I combined rich brioche bread with heavy cream, eggs, swiss cheese, parmesan, sauteed wild mushrooms, sweet roasted garlic, and fresh thyme. MMmm my mouth is watering just thinking about this one bite wonder.
The rest of the week I helped out in catering, since they were prepping for 3 large weddings this weekend! Boy am I glad I have the weekend off :)

Monday, April 9, 2012

The beginning of a busy week!

Today was another day in my little kitchen testing new meals.

My favorite meal I made today was Tuscan chicken with marinara, grilled asparagus, and roasted carrots.

I'd be happy to eat this on a diet! It was very tasty! I also made sage crusted pork tenderloin with apple cranberry sauce, orange glazed carrots, and sauteed broccoli:
The last meal I made (my least favorite--just because I would never eat fish that was prepared and then frozen) was ginger and scallion crusted salmon with a soy lime glaze, snow peas and onions, and cauliflower saute:

These meals will be shipped out to the diet program headquarters in florida later this week for them to try and approve. If no changes are to be made then we will get working on the nutritionals, labels, and costing.

The rest of this week should be interesting! I have a few more recipes to test that are going to be included in the florida shipment and then I am going to work on the development of new hor'doerve recipes for catering. The executive chef and I discussed some new ideas that we want to try out and show our sales staff, along with the owner and president of the company. I loove making "small bites", appetizers and hor'doerves so this should be a fun project!

New apartment, new buddy

Hope everyone had a Happy Easter!

This past week has been a very busy one! Last Sunday I moved into my new apartment! I was extremely lucky with the timing of my move because I was able to snag some nice furniture from my parent's house, which they are selling. My apt is now beautifully furnished and already feels like home (thanks mom and dad for all your help!!!!)

Last Friday I had my parents, brother, and his girlfriend over for a small cocktail housewarming party. Well, I wouldn't actually call it a party, as it was only 4 people and lasted about an hour (we had dinner reservations at MJ's!)

Here's a picture of my kitchen:
I have several of "bon appetit" signs throughout and plan to post a larger one on the big wall over my culinary diploma:
My dining room is perfect except for the un-centered hanging lamp!
My sister donated her futon which is extremely comfortable.. and my lovely grandparents donated their recliner to complete my living room:
My TV stand was made by my grandpa for my parents very first apartment.. It holds a special place in my heart :)
I also have a pretty large balcony with a table and chairs, along with a couple of lounge chairs. My bedroom is furnished with most of my furniture from home and looks lovely. I still have some decorating to do and some pictures to hang!

Oh, but I don't live alone here.. Nope, I have a roommate. Her name is Lola
Also, check out my Easter post on my previous blog for basically the same re-cap as this past Easter.. Dumplings were a huge hit!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Big Kitchen

Today I left my tiny personal test kitchen and worked with the other big kids in the big kitchen. (I'm a big girl now!)
I worked in mass production for a different client that focuses on diet entrees (specifically dialysis friendly). It's really tough cooking in mass production..we were working on about 10-15 different meals and 200+ of each meal. I started out by making a couple of sauces for some meals (2 gallons each!). Then, I had to sear off brisket, short ribs, and pot roast in the large "tilt skillet".
I'll be braising these meats tomorrow and putting together all of the components of the meal for plating. It's important that we set up racks with every component of the meal with the accurate weights so that the plating crew can plate the entrees with ease.

Tomorrow I have a conference call with another client and then I'm off to the big girl kitchen to finish the production of the meals I worked on today. Is it the weekend yet????

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


My job as the "R&D Chef" can vary from testing recipes to entertaining/cooking meals for guests. Today was a mixture of both! As soon as I got to work I was given the task of cooking breakfast for some clients that were visiting for the morning (croissant sandwiches with scrambles eggs, sausage, and cheese).. Oh did I ever tell you I make the best scrambled eggs ever???? Yea, ask my dad or sister...they can confirm.
After that I got started on testing recipes for another client. I re-made a recipe I tested a couple of weeks ago.. (5-spice chicken with a ginger mango sauce, teriyaki green beans and "edamame caviar"). This recipe has been in the works for a while. Previously the sides to the chicken were simply green beans and edamame which was way too much green on the plate. Then, I made it a couple of weeks ago with a new edamame recipe that added more color. We changed it up a bit after that tasting..... here are the two tests I did on this recipe:

Which one do you like better?? We will probably go with the most recent sample (the one on the right). There is definitely more color and we had an issue with the thickness of the sauce on the first sample, so I added more starch and thickened it up a bit on the second sample.

You might be wondering how the proteins stay tender through the "freeze and thaw" process. Wellll, I will reveal the secret.... tumbling.

First I start out by weighing my protein and entering the weight in a tumbling solution spreadsheet, which gives me the amount of grams of the rest of the solution.
I then mix the solution ingredients ..which usually include water, modified starch, salt, white pepper, garlic, and any other seasoning you would like to marinate with.

The tumbling machine sucks the air out of the container, then we tumble the protien for 40 minutes.

I also made a "pork roulade" .. which we switched up to just layer the essential ingredients of a cuban.. pork, ham, pickles, swiss, and mustard. I paired it with a black bean puree and plantains.
In between all of this, I was working with a different client testing the quality control on potential expiration dates for the products. I took the frozen meals (16-- 1 each) out of the freezer last week and took a picture every day to determine any changes in the appearance. Today we heated each meal up and tested the taste. Overall, the meals were delicous for being defrosted for a week. There were a few changes we have to make to meals, but we were impressed with the quality of the flavors/textures of all the different components of the meals.

It was another interesting day in the test kitchen and another day of lots of eating/tasting. Tomorrow I will be working on yet a different client with producing their meals. I also have to be there a bit earlier so I better get some rest for another busy day!