The Next Step in My Career + Chocolate Pudding

Remember how a few weeks ago I told you I was making a big change? Well, that wasn’t the end of the story. How could it have been? As exciting as it was to bid the finance world an enthusiastic goodbye, I had to get moving on what the next step would be for me, professionally. While it took a few weeks to get everything in line, I’m finally ready to share with you some big news.

Starting May 28th, I will begin my training as a student at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. That’s right guys, I’m going to culinary school.

A photo of me getting fitted in my chef's uniform.

Getting fitted in my uniform.

For all the grief that deciding to leave my old job gave me, the decision to enroll in culinary school came surprisingly easy. When I sat down to think about how my future career might shape up, I had a few criteria I knew I wanted to address. First of all, I wanted my career to be centered on cooking. Not food, the end product, but specifically cooking, the process. Second, I wanted this career to express my very personal point of view, my belief that cooking is a simple yet powerful way to care for yourself. I wasn’t (and still am not) fully sure what a career meeting these criteria would look like, but I knew that if I were to put myself in a position to speak about food, I wanted to be able to do so with authority. It was apparent to me that culinary school could provide me with the training I needed to speak with such authority.

Now that I am officially enrolled at ICE I am allowing myself to get excited about the upcoming months in culinary school. I’m going to be spending the next five months in a classroom in the middle of Manhattan, learning from some amazing chefs. Some of the curriculum I am already familiar with (I have pretty good knife skills), but I’m excited to improve. Other things will be entirely new to me. I can’t wait for my early classes in “protein fabrication”, where I will learn how to butcher a cow and break down a whole fish, and I’m really looking forward to learning how to make proper sauces, which is something I rarely bother with in my home cooking. I’m also eagerly anticipating the module on modern culinary masters, where I will learn the stories and recipes behind great chefs like Mario Batali, Daniel Boulud, and Thomas Keller. Learning how they developed their culinary personalities will be incredibly useful to me as I begin to develop my own.

After those five months in the classroom, I’ll move on to an externship in a professional kitchen. In my externship, I’ll choose a restaurant whose aesthetic and values I admire, and begin to hone my skills under the guidance of the chefs there. For me, a girl who thinks staying out late means coming home at 10:30, this portion of my training will be particularly demanding, but I’m nonetheless excited for the challenge.

Through all of this, I’ll still be blogging regularly, keeping you up to date on the changes in my life and providing you, as always, with simple and delicious recipes. This next step in my journey is so exciting for me. I can’t wait to begin and to share everything I’ll be learning with you.

Chocolate Pudding with Homemade Whipped Cream

Serves 4

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Homemade chocolate pudding.

One Saturday in March I attended an open house at ICE, during which they took all the prospective students on a short tour of the school. At one point we were shown to a pastry classroom for a short demonstration. There, the pastry chef-professor made for us a simple chocolate pudding as we asked questions about the program. My boyfriend had a few extremely important questions he voiced to be answered, like “How much time will she spend learning pastry?” and “Is ice cream a part of the curriculum?”. Two weeks, Brian, and yes, I will be making you ice cream.

At home I attempted to recreate that chocolate pudding from memory, and of course it was an utter failure. I’m happy to report that this new recipe was more successful. It produced a pudding that was creamy and smooth and totally nostalgic. Because it uses cornstarch as a thickener (instead of eggs), there’s no worries to be had over scrambling the custard. I promise you it’s super easy and definitely an improvement over store-bought pudding.

Chocolate pudding ingredients array.

Chocolate Pudding Ingredients:
1/4 cup (30 g) cornstarch
1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
1/8 tsp salt
3 cups (710 ml) whole milk
7 ounces (200 g) chocolate coarsely chopped – I have been really like Green & Black’s chocolate lately, and used a mix of their 85% Dark and Milk chocolates here
1 teaspoon (5 ml) pure vanilla extract

Combine the first 4 ingredients: In a large bowl, mix together the cornstarch, sugar, and salt. Slowly pour in the whole milk, whisking as you go to ensure there are no lumps.

Heat the pudding base: Transfer this mixture to a saucepan, and heat over medium low. Stir occasionally to break up lumps. After 15 minutes, the pudding base will have thickened enough so that when you drag a finger across the back of a coated spatula a dry line will remain.

Mix in the chocolate: Remove from heat after mixture has thickened, and whisk in the chocolate and vanilla extract. Once all the ingredients are thoroughly combined, pour the pudding into individual serving containers (or into a single large bowl). Cover loosely with plastic wrap and place in the fridge to set for at least 3 hours.

Photo Apr 03, 2 56 50 PM

Whipped Cream Ingredients:
1 cup (710 ml) heavy cream
1/4 (31 g) powdered sugar
a few ounces dark chocolate, for shavings (optional)

Beat the cream: Using electric beaters (or by hand, if you are very strong and naive) beat the cream to soft peaks. It is best to start slowly so that you don’t splash cream all over your kitchen, and then kick up the speed as the cream thickens. Sift the powdered sugar over the cream, and continue to beat to fluffy medium peaks.

Serve: Spoon the whipped cream over the chocolate pudding. If desired, use a vegetable peeler to shave some impressive little chocolate sprinkles over the finished dessert.

Quick, Creamy Mushrooms with Frisée

It’s fair to say that the food I make is heavily influenced by the weather. Take this past Saturday, for example. On Saturday the fog in New York was thick enough to erase the view from my apartment, rendering the landscape milky white. I suppose I prefer to see the city obfuscated by a white of hazy, rather than snowy, precipitation, but the damp chill in the air makes me yearn for a comforting meal all the same.

With the intention of creating a bit of comfort in mind I headed into the kitchen early Saturday afternoon. I hadn’t really planned on being at the stove that day, at least not after breakfast, so when I set my mind on cooking a little lunch I had to scavenge for ingredients leftover from meals past. Searching the fridge, I found wild mushrooms, bought the prior day before that evening’s plans changed, as well as some frisee that never made it into salad and a single remaining vidalia onion. I also happened upon a half bottle of local organic cream, the surplus of a failed pastry attempt earlier that week. Between those finds and the garlic and herbs that are constant fixtures in my pantry, I was set to create something amazing.

Photo Mar 29, 1 53 00 PM

When you have great ingredients to work with, beautiful meals come together with little effort. As much as I try to plan meals that are inventive most of the time, my best efforts are always those that come about haphazardly, like this one. Creating meals out of necessity with limited supplies is what brings out my creativity, forcing me to think outside the box of what I know has worked in the past to create something new out of the ingredients I have now.

This meal is the product of such creativity. The mushrooms are cooked down to a gentle earthiness with the onion, garlic, and rosemary. They are joined by the frisée, which provides a bright vegetal counterpoint to the mushrooms’ fleshy tenderness. Finished with cream, the dish has a milky resemblance of the fog outside. Rather than being dreary and cold, though, each bowl has a rich warmth, and brings the soothing comfort needed to brighten a gloomy day.

Quick, Creamy Mushrooms with Frisée

Serves two as a main dish, or four as a side

Photo Mar 30, 11 11 52 PM

For crunch, I sprinkled toasted almonds over the finished dish. The traditional way to toast nuts would be to heat them in a low-temperature oven or in a pan over moderate heat until they smell fragrant but are not yet burnt. The much easier way is to zap them in the microwave for a minute, stirring halfway through. Don’t tell a real chef I said to do this – it’s super uncool – but it totally works.

I did this dish a complete injustice by not eating it with a hunk of toasty bread. Bread isn’t really something I have around my house much, but if you have some on hand you’re going to want to use it as a spongy mop for all the delicious cream in the bottom of the bowl.

2 cups mushrooms, preferably a mix of wild varieties
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 vidalia onion, sliced in half vertically and then thinly sliced horizontally into half-moons (you could alternatively half an ordinary onion, a few scallions, or even a leek)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp chopped rosemary
1 tbsp butter
1 head endive frisee – strip enough leaves to equal about half the volume of mushrooms (save the remainder for salad another day)
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup almonds, toasted and chopped

Sautee the mushrooms: Place a saucepan or pot over medium-high heat and add a few tablespoons of olive oil, enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the mushrooms. Season aggressively with salt and pepper – mushrooms require a lot of seasoning, and the cream added later will somewhat mute the dish, so you might need to compensate with more salt than you would normally use. Allow the mushrooms to cook for five minutes or so, in which time they will give off a lot of water and begin to collapse.

Add the aromatics: After the mushrooms have wilted a bit, add the onion, garlic, and rosemary. Cook for another minute or two until they become fragrant and the garlic turns lightly golden. Add the butter.

Stir in the frisée and cream: Add the frisée and cream, and bring to a simmer. You want to wilt the frisée a little bit so it loses most of its crunch. After two or three minutes the cream will have reduced. Stir to ensure that the cream is thoroughly mixed with the butter and olive oil.

Serve: Serve warm, garnishing with the toasted almonds.