Thoughts For Food

Insights into the Mind of a Culinary School Student


Pumpkin Spice Bread Pudding


This is one of my new favorite recipes. It’s relatively simple to make and it tastes delicious. If you’re like me and love all things Pumpkin Spice, then you’re going to adore this recipe! Enjoy!

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Ingredients:

  • 3 Cups Pumpkin Puree (fresh made or canned)
  • 2 Cups Milk
  • 2 Cups Heavy Cream
  • 2 Cups Brown Sugar
  • ½ Cup Sugar
  • 8 Eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract
  • 1 Tablespoon Cinnamon
  • 1 Teaspoon Nutmeg
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Teaspoon Ginger
  • 1 Teaspoon Pumpkin Pie Spice Mix
  • 1.5 Pounds Toasted Bread Cut into Small Chunks
  1. Preheat oven to 350-degrees
  2. In a large pot, combine the Heavy Cream, Milk and Brown Sugar. Heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the Eggs and ½ Cup of Sugar. Whisk thoroughly until the sugar is dissolved and the eggs are lighter in color
  4. Using a ladle, temper the hot liquid into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. If you stop whisking, your eggs will curdle.
  5. When you’ve transferred half the liquid from the pot to the bowl, pour the whole thing back into the pot on low heat and keep whisking.
  6. Whisk in the Pumpkin Puree and remaining spices
  7. Fold in toasted bread until each chunk is fully soaked in the pumpkin egg mixture.
  8. Spray an oven-proof ramekin (or bundt pan) and pour the bread pudding mixture inside
  9. Place the pan in a larger container and fill with hot water until it comes up halfway the bundt pan or ramekin
  10. Cover the whole contraption with foil and bake for an hour and 15 minutes
  11. After that time, it should be set. Remove the foil and bake until the top is browned.
  12. Let cool and enjoy!

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Recipe: Chocolate Nutella Brownies


This is one of my favorite brownie recipes of all time. It’s incredibly simple and absolutely delicious. The end result are brownies that moist, chewy and absolutely addictive!

Chocolate Nutella Brownies – Makes 9 (fairly big) BrowniesNutella-Brownies

  • 1 ¼ C Cocoa Powder
  • 1 C Sugar
  • 1 C Brown Sugar
  • ½ C All-Purpose Flour
  • ½ Tsp. Salt
  • 8 oz. Melted Butter
  • 2 Tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • 4 Large Eggs
  • 4 – 5 Tablespoons of Nutella
  1. Preheat oven to 300-degrees
  2. Spray sides and bottom of an 8” Square Pan
  3. Sift together Cocoa Powder, Flour, both Sugars and the Salt. Set aside
  4. Whisk together Eggs, Butter and Vanilla, then mix in dry ingredients. Mix only until just combined
  5. Pour into pan
  6. Swirl Nutella into the Brownie mix
  7. Bake at 300-degrees for 45 – 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean
  8. Let stand for 5 minutes before removing from pan and cutting to serve


Cinnamon Pecan Coffeecake Muffins


404643_710425609406_699123801_nThis is my all-time favorite muffin recipe. I actually learned this recipe while I was on Externship and it quickly became my favorite item to make. They smell wonderful while they’re baking and they taste just as good. Whether for a party or just for the family, these muffins are most definitely a crowd-pleaser.

Cinnamon Pecan Coffeecake Muffins – Makes 24

Dry Team

  • 400g Flour
  • 290g Sugar
  • 9g Baking Powder
  • ½ Tsp Baking Soda
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 160g Butter

Wet Team226177_630386438546_276449_n

  • 360g Sour Cream
  • 100g Eggs
  • 60g Egg Yolks
  • 15g Vanilla Extract
  • 30g Canola Oil

Topping

  • 120g Toasted Pecans
  • 100g Dark brown Sugar
  • 6g Cinnamon
  1. Preheat your oven to 400-degrees
  2. Combine the ingredients for the topping in the Food Processor and pulse until the Pecans are chopped small. Set aside.
  3. Cut the butter into small cubes and combine them with the rest of the Dry Team in the Food Processor until the texture is similar to wet sand. Set aside.
  4. Combine all the Wet Team ingredients in a large bowl, then mix in the Dry Team ingredients until only just combined. Try not to overmix.
  5. Fold in 2/3 of the Topping mixture. Leave the rest to top the muffins.
  6. Spray the muffin cups with a little bit of no-stick spray and then fill them about 2/3 of the way. Don’t over fill them or else they’ll flow everywhere in the oven.
  7. Bake for 400-degrees for 10 minutes, then drop the temperature to 350-degrees and bake for another 10 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  8. Cool for 5 minutes before serving


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Food Bites: Gluten, Gluten. Who’s Got The Gluten (Allergy)


My previous class here at the CIA really opened my eyes to the dangers those who suffer from gluten allergies or Celiac Disease. It’s an epidemic that afflicts thousands of people in this country and sad to say, not may restaurants cater to this relatively common autoimmune disease. Luckily, it’s a fairly easy task to do. many reliable gluten-free flour blends exist on the market today, as well as the means to create your own. As the old saying goes; “Knowledge is Power.” Here’s some tips on what ingredients you need and, how to keep your kitchen/bakeshop gluten-free.

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disease, which means it originates within your own body. Furthermore, the disease never leaves. Once you are diagnosed with Celiac Disease, you have it for LIFE. What happens exactly is what’s known in the medical world as Villi Atrophy. The microvilli that line your small intestine and are responsible for absorbing nutrients from the food you ingest, have weakened and atrophied to a point where they can no longer function properly. As a result, the person afflicted can no longer consume ANY gluten-based products, and in some cases, not even products that have been in close proximity to gluten. Ongoing exposure to gluten proves highly dangerous to those with Celiac Disease. Worst of all, those afflicted with Celiac Disease (about 1% of the total population) can go misdiagnosed for YEARS. Great care and consideration must be taken to cater to those affected by Celiac Disease. These are human lives. The extra work is more than worth it.

What Does “Gluten-Free” Mean Exactly?

The term “gluten-free” means that the amount of gluten in a given product has been reduced down to 20 PPM (parts-per-million). At this level, the amount of gluten will not be enough to trigger a reaction in someone suffering from Celiac Disease. There is no standard, legal definition for “gluten-free” in the US right now, but, there will be hopefully soon.

What Do I Need To Make Gluten-Free Items?

There are some common items on the open market that are perfectly suited for making your own gluten-free flour blend:

  • White and Brown Rice Flour
  • Potato Starch (a.k.a. Potato Starch Flour)
  • Tapioca Starch
  • Tapioca Flour
  • Soy Flour
  • Cornmeal
  • Cornstarch
  • Guar or Xanthan Gum (aids in stability)
  • Baking Powder and Soda (aids in rise)

With these easy to find ingredients, you can make a gluten-free flour blend that you can use at any time to substitute a normal order. Just remember: the flours, unless specified, must be kept under refrigeration. The bakeshop.kitchen MUST be free of wheat flour and flour particles. Normally, this means not baking anything for one to two days and allowing the flour particles to settle and dissipate. The oven where these items will be baked MUST be treated the same way, AND the grates/baking surfaces must be washed thoroughly  to remove any trace of gluten. Finally, any refrigerator or freezer space where gluten-free items will be stored must also be scrubbed down and made absolutely gluten-free. There can be NO cross-contamination at all, or else all the hard work you put into making a glutne-free item will be for nothing.

The bottom line is this: Don’t slouch on gluten-free items or on customers who have Celiac Disease. Be proactive. Ask if anyone has Celiac Disease or a gluten allergy. Take the appropriate steps to make sure your kitchen or bakeshop is sufficiently gluten-free, even if it is just for a few hours before prep or service. Finally, be sure to store all the products correctly. These extra steps and items may seem daunting, but they are well worth it to protect human lives.

If you would like some suggested reading, I highly recommend Gluten-Free Baking with the Culinary Institute of America by Chef Richard Coppedge, Certified Master Baker. He was the one who taught my last class. He is incredibly knowledgeable about Celiac Disease and a whole host of other food allergies and dietary restrictions. The book is a wonderful resource for those who cater to such food-based allergies and for those wanting to learn more about the subject.


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Life in the CIA: My Externship – A Summary


Well, my externship period is over. Four months have come and gone in a flash, even thought at times, it seemed like it would drag on forever. Despite my ups and downs, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Berkshires and will take all those experiences (and injuries) with me as I finish my tenure at the CIA. I will say that my externship was a very humbling experience. It taught me to look past my own weaknesses and embrace my failures as learning experiences. It also made me expand my sense of humor in many ways.

During my time at the Store and the Inn, I had the opportunity to experience brand new ways of working in a professional kitchen, using tools and techniques that I have never seen before. Moreover, I had the opportunity to bond with a whole new set of coworkers whom I had never met until then. Truth be told I was a little frightened, but excited at the same time. It was a bit awkward at first, bonding with everyone. It was very much like being a freshman at college all over again, complete with many, many hazing rituals. I understand that many, if not all kitchens use racial slang and/or terminology as a joke or because they’re just comfortable with it. Honestly, I was very uncomfortable with the whole thing throughout the entirety of my externship. Even when asking Chef Peter for feedback on my performance, he would drop some form of Asian stereotype while doing so. I voiced my concern to my coworkers about this matter, and they did stop using the stereotypical slang as much, though they still did. However, I did learn that it was just one of those things that goes on in a kitchen. They did not mean any disrespect towards me for my race, but instead meant it as a joke or a nickname (as they kept calling me “Chino”). In return, I treated them with the same amount of respect and trust that I have since day one.

All the different methods and techniques that I was introduced to while working helped to broaden my mind and see possibilities for any dish, savory or otherwise. The most important lesson they taught me was that the line between pastry and culinary, while present, is not a dividing factor, but merely a small obstacle that can be easily crossed. Many pastry items that I would only ever see in a bakeshop actually got a fair culinary treatment, as either a main ingredient or just backup to the larger dish. In any case, it served to let me see that the food industry is not as black and white as many would have us believe. It is this mentality and outlook that has helped me focus on my ultimate career goal of being a food writer, even more so. Despite not having a lot of free time to do actual writing on my day off, my externship did give me the clarity and focus needed for such a career. Many new ideas are are swimming about in my mind. My outlook on the food industry as a whole is renewed and refreshed. One of my coworkers even said he’d pass my name onto someone who works for a major publication, once I graduated. So I suppose I have a bit of a head start in that regard, and for that, I am ever thankful for my coworkers.

If given the opportunity to do this externship over again, I would change a few things. Make myself more assertive in certain situations, push myself a little harder, etc. But mostly, I would do exactly what I did, and that’s work as hard as I can, no matter what. It is this new-found confidence that I am most thankful and it is with this new-found confidence that I can face any challenge that comes my way.


Life in the CIA: Culinary vs. Baking


In the food world, this is an age-old battle. no matter where you go on-campus or in the industry, the vibe is always the same: many, if not all, of the chefs in the kitchen hold a distinct disdain for bakers of pastry chefs. They think the baking & pastry side of the culinary world is easy street compared to the fast-paced, high-demand kitchens of the savory side of things. I think it’s high time to set the record straight. True, there are aspects of the bakeshop and pastry shops that are easier than the traditional kitchen, but that does not make bakers or pastry chefs exempt from high demand or stress.

First, some acknowledgments of why traditional chefs accuse bakers of having it easy. Number one, every bakeshop I have visited on-campus is indeed air-conditioned. This does give bakers and pastry chefs an easier environment in which to work. Number two, it is a slightly more laid back atmosphere. the pace is much more controlled and more even. Finally, the one major complaint I always hear is just that bakers are too girly/prissy/fussy/gay (choose your slang) and that they’re not “real” chefs. This one is just wrong on so many levels, but I’ll get there eventually. Bottom line is this: while many complaints and jeers are somewhat valid, others are just plain wrong.

First off, while bakers do have an easier working environment, it is for a good reason. Bakers and pastry chefs need a certain level of humidity and temperature to ensure that the products they’re working on retain their shape, structure, moisture content, etc. The most obvious reason for the A/C? So the chocolate or sugar pieces don’t melt! It’s not for the comfort of the chefs or bakers. It’s so that the food they’re working on doesn’t come apart while they’re working on it.

Secondly, it is true that the working environment in the bakeshop is quieter and more at ease, it is FAR from laid back or easy. bakers and pastry chefs who run the bakeshops are militaristic in their control of everyone in said bakeshop. they, like any chef, are dictatorial in their control of the kitchen or bakeshop. They get yelled at as much as any other cook in a traditional kitchen.

Finally, not all bakers and pastry chefs are gay. That’s just hate for hating’s sake. It’s dumb to assume that and even worse to assume it’s true. And to say that they’re not “real” chefs? What is wrong with people? They are real chefs! They put in as much (if not more) work, they suffer just as much as any other cook, they got through as much hell as other cooks. I really don’t get why people give bakers and pastry chefs such a hard time. I say, go experience it, before you make any judgments, and above all, BE NICE. They’ll all be working together at some point, most likely in the same space. So be civil, please?


Food Bites: NJ_Chef Goes to School


Hey guys! First of all, I just want to thank everyone who commented and read my Pizza Week extravaganza. I hope everyone enjoyed it! I always love enjoy sharing my recipes with you all and will continue to do so. What can I say? I love writing about food, which is exactly why I am heading off to culinary school very soon!

I’ve mentioned this in my About Me post, but I think it bears repeating, seeing as how the time is rapidly drawing closer. By May 31, I’ll be moved into the Culinary Institute of America, starting my classes at that most prestigious of schools. I’ll continue to keep this blog updated while I’m at school, giving you an insight into the life and times of a Baking and Pastry Arts student. And I’ll even share new recipes that I will no doubt learn while I’m there. I’m also keeping this blog up to hone my own culinary writing skills, mainly because of what I want to do once I’m done with school.

My plan so far for when my tenure at the CIA is done is thus: once I’m done with school, I’ll be in the food industry for some time, honing my craft and perfecting my skills. Either during or after that time, I would like to do one of two things; go to work for a culinary publication like Food & Wine Magazine or Food Network Magazine, or, become a culinary instructor. The first option is kind of obvious, considering my love for writing. The second option actually stems from a long time period of me doing some soul searching about what exactly I want to do with my life. For the longest time, I convinced myself that I could never be a teacher, despite teaching running in my family. However, after some soul searching, i realized that if I’m teaching something I enjoy, then it won’t be as bad. So I am definitely keeping that option open.

Well that’s all for this post! I’m working on a new recipe so expect it up sometime soon. I’m also working on the second installment of Chef Spotlight. See you all later!