Category: culinary school (Page 1 of 5)

Favorites From 2013: Foods, Beverages & More

2013 was a big year. We lived in Fargo, North Dakota and Mason City, Iowa. We got married, bought our first house, and adopted a dog. I embarked on a lot of solo road trips and completed a whole year of full-time culinary school at Minnesota State Community and Technical College.

Here are my favorite tastes from the past year:

Favorite Overall Dish: Prosciutto Wrapped Shrimp With Marscapone Polenta at Mezzaluna

Mezzaluna offered our favorite happy hour in Fargo with hospitable service and skillfully crafted cocktails. This is the dish we ordered the most frequently during the year. No trip to Mezzaluna was complete if one (or both) of us did not order this.  It’s only $7 during happy hour.

I don’t have a decent photo since we dined when the light was especially dim, but there’s a photo on Mezzaluna’s slide show on their homepage

Favorite Sushi Roll: White Boy Sushi Roll from Bangkok Corner (formerly Cafe 21), Fargo, ND
Yes. I, too, was surprised my favorite sushi roll came from Fargo, ND.

This sushi roll’s name is strange. I liked its pleasing balance of sweet and savory. The mango sauce surprised me because it tasted like a fresh puree and wasn’t cloyingly sweet. The fish was fresh and silky and the portion size was generous for $12.99. Hopefully this is still the case.

Red Curry Scallops, Sarello’s, Moorhead, MN
I met Sarah, the author of the blog Home With The Lost Italian at the North Dakota Blogger and Writer Conference in Bismarck, ND. We were the only Fargo-Moorhead attendees to participate in first evening’s food crawl with Marilyn Hagerty. Jake called me about the Iowa transfer during this conference and so we made a point to visit Sarello’s before we moved.

We spent one of our last evenings in Fargo surrounded by good friends at Sarello’s who gave us the perfect send-off. Our favorite dish was their Red Curry Scallops. The menu features a lot of Italian food, so I was surprised when their curry was spicier and more flavorful than any I’d tasted at a Thai restaurant.

Favorite Salads: 1910 Grille at the Historic Park Inn, Mason City, IA
The only surviving Frank Lloyd Wright hotel 
We’ve visited the Historic Park Inn several times to dine at their restaurant and lounge. Their menus are concise and don’t get too crazy, but everything we’ve ordered has been nicely seasoned and thoughtfully prepared.

Their salads are outstanding. For $9-10 per salad, I’d expect the greens to be free of any blemishes and the dressings to be scratch-made and balanced. These certainly are.

We love the calamari here. One the two occasions we ordered it, the squid was tender, tasted fresh, and fried nicely without being greasy. I was also pleasantly surprised when our gin martinis were only $7 each. 

Fish and Chips from Ward 6, East Saint Paul, MN
This is the dish that keeps me from branching out. It’s fried in beef tallow. “Nuff said.”

More reasons why I love Ward 6.

Favorite Beverages

Absinthe from Meritage, Saint Paul, MN
I’ve written about Meritage so many times. It’s one of our favorite special occasion restaurant in the Twin Cities. They offer many varieties of absinthe that they pour from their fancy absinthe fountain.

They allow one serving per guest, per visit and it’s all for good reason. 
Chai Tea from Verdant Tea in Minneapolis, MN and Coffee Cat, Mason City, IA
Homemade chai tea lattes are the best. Both Verdant Tea and Coffee Cat offer versions made from their own blend of ground spices. 

Tea from Verdant

Verdant’s is automatically made with almond milk unless one requests otherwise and Coffee Cat stocks soy milk and sweetens theirs with honey. You won’t find any sweet powdery mixes or syrups at these places.

Favorite Sandwiches

Signature Sandwich Box Lunches from Starboard MarketWhen I first moved to Mason City, people sang the praises of Starboard Market. I stopped by for takeout lunches while we were in the midst of a miserable hotel week before we could move into our house.

These sandwiches brightened our day. First timers beware: There are so many different types of creative sandwich combinations that it may take you a long time to choose your first one.

The full Signature Sandwich Box Lunches aren’t cheap at $10.25, but our Reuban and Regatta (smoked turkey, mango chutney, havarti cheese) were stacked tall with freshly sliced meat. The boxes also come with a pickle spear, chips, freshly baked cookie and a tiny cup of your choice of salad.

The Cleveland Panini from Cafe 116
We drove between Fargo and Minneapolis-St. Paul countless times. My favorite city to stop was Fergus Falls and I always visited Cafe 116 for their Cleveland Panini and espresso.

Fergus Falls is a beautiful city with a cozy feel. I felt at ease at Cafe 116, so I would often pause to enjoy my meal on my way to the Twin Cities.

The cafe pulls wonderfully rich espresso and serves scratch-made foods made from local producers. I always ordered my favorite Cleveland Panini filled with prosciutto, mozzarella, red onion and sliced apple with a side of fresh vegetables. All sandwiches can be ordered by the half or whole.

I don’t miss making the three and a half hour drive between Fargo and the Twin Cities, especially in the winter, but I will miss my visits to Cafe 116.

Most Surprisingly Good Foods

Shrimp Cocktail at Dempsey’s Public House
Who orders the shrimp cocktail at a dive bar in Fargo?

Dempsey’s is a dim dive bar on the main drag through downtown Fargo. It serves an eclectic crowd and offers surprisingly decent food like Bertrosa’s beer cheese soup.

We’ve been burned by shrimp cocktails such as the $1 version at the MN State Fair so we were wary when our friend ordered it. We were surprised when shrimp were huge and the cocktail sauce made our noses burn with horseradish. In fact, it was just as good than the version at a hotel down the street. It costs $9.75 for five large shrimp and is Dempsey’s offers it for less during certain happy hours. Who knew?

Breakfast Sandwich at Polly’s Coffee Cove, East Saint Paul, MN
This little coffee shop is tucked into a block on Payne Ave. within walking distance to my in-laws house. One morning I ventured over in search of breakfast. I asked the woman at the counter if Polly’s offered breakfast sandwiches and she offered to whip one up for a few dollars.

The sandwich she created wasn’t fancy or gourmet. But somehow, squishy croissants, eggs, swiss cheese and cubed deli turkey meat never tasted so compelling.

Favorite Sweet Things

Green Market, Orange Tart and Corn Cake, Fargo, ND
Alas, the Green Market is no more and is truly missed. 

Green Market was one of a kind in Fargo because they sourced local and organic ingredients and offered a rotating menu every night. Chef Andrea Baumgartener and staff were stellar so we cheer for them as they embark on new adventures. I was thrilled to see Chef Andrea and Amy Thielen prepare Icelandic pancakes on the first episode of Heartland Table.

Pictured above is a buttery tart filled with tangy orange custard and passion fruit glaze and a corn cake with burnt caramel syrup.

Buttermilk Pie, Josie’s Corner Cafe & Bake Shop, Fargo, ND
I hadn’t even heard of buttermilk pie until I worked at Josie’s.

It became my favorite pie and I still think about it from Iowa. Flaky crust and a filling that’s slightly tangy and caramelized on top. It’s already affordable, but on Mondays and Fridays, you can get a slice of pie and freshly-brewed house coffee for a few bucks.

If you’re not in the mood for sweet, their knoephla soup and chicken pot pie soups are some of my favorites. Plus, they make a mean veggie panini.  

Strawberry parfait, Decker House Bed & Breakfast
We spent our first week in Mason City at the Decker House this summer. Jake had to start his new position within weeks and since lodging options here were limited, we thought the Decker House would provide a safe place to land while we considered our long-term options.

One morning, the owner started breakfast with this yogurt parfait made with local strawberries she and her staff picked. It was a bright spot in the midst of a stressful situation.

Read more about our week at the Decker House here

Rhubarb Soup, Pirogue Grille, Bismarck, ND
As I mentioned, the ND Bloggers and Writers Conference food crawl through downtown Bismarck led by Marilyn Hagerty was completely epic. In fact, it has to be one of my favorite memories of my entire life. I’m not even joking.

On our first stop, Chef Stuart Tracy and Cheryl served this cold rhubarb soup in which a ball of ice cream coated in crunchy nougat floated in the middle. It tasted like magic.

It was also surreal to eat lunch with and learn from freelance writer Margie Goldsmith and Mark Orwoll, the International Editor of Travel + Leisure. Thanks to the ND Department of Commerce for coordinating the workshop. 

Favorite Culinary School Tastes

Last year, I completed my first full-time year of culinary school at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Moorhead, MN. I loved culinary school and was crushed when we found out about our transfer to Iowa last summer. I had just begun working at the bakery and looked forward to completing my second (and final) year where we got to butcher animals, supervise first year students, and plan the school’s cafeteria menus.

Nevertheless, I am grateful for this experience, the friends I made, and the learning opportunities our instructors provided. Here are a couple highlights:

Peking Ducks
Our teacher taught us how to make Peking ducks in our meat unit. We stitched them full of marinade, blew them up with a air compressor, hung them to dry, blanched them in honey water, and roasted them until their skin was crispy.

I’m not even going to try to be humble, here. This experience was awesome.You can read a detailed post as part of my Culinary Chronicles series at Simple, Good & Tasty.

The Seafood Unit
This collage doesn’t quite do our seafood unit justice, but it provides an impression of all the things we tasted.

We learned how to scale and fillet whole salmon and halibut and boil lobsters. We shucked and ate raw oysters, cooked clams and mussels, and ate bacon-wrapped scallops. We boiled lobsters and ate them drenched in lots of butter and learned how to distinguish between different qualities of shrimp.

Read more about our seafood unit here

Spiciest Food

Dhamaka Balti, India Palace, Fargo, ND
Finally, a curry that really gave us heat stroke. We ordered it with lamb and enjoyed every bite.

This particular curry came with a hilarious disclaimer that’s been since removed. It said: *Very HOT! Prepare for an explosion in your mouth.  

Either way, we loved that India Palace actually delivered on their promise of heat. The rest of the dining experience was pleasant as well. Now, if only they’d set up shop in North Iowa.

Favorite Acquired Taste

The Everything Grinder from The Red Pepper, Fargo, ND
Boy, did I hate The Red Pepper when they first opened their location into the strip mall next to our apartment complex.

I whined about the long lines and lengthy wait times and I whined about how the parking lot was now busy with traffic. When I finally got my first taste of Red Pepper, I didn’t hate it, but just didn’t understand how it could have created such a frenzy.

The cheese tostada was just plain weird and the grinder was made from squishy bread stuffed with slimy deli meats and taco meat. We didn’t return between our first visit and move to Iowa. But then everything changed when I had to make solo road trips from Mason City to Fargo to coordinate our move.

By the time I arrived at our old apartment, I was completely exhausted and found the only thing I wanted to eat was an Everything Grinder from The Red Pepper.

I remember wearily trudging across the parking to Red Pepper to collect my sandwich and then to Happy Harry’s for a bottle of beer. It became a ritual that I will miss.

Favorite Food Television Moment

One of my favorite food television moments occurred during season two of Rachel vs. Guy: Celebrity Food Cook-Off.
On the first episode, the contestants seemed determined to win and loved cooking even if they weren’t trained chefs. And then there was Gilbert Gottfried
It became very clear he had no idea what he was doing as he struggled to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. This was all made all the amusing by the fact that Rachel Ray was so earnestly trying to coach Gilbert as if this situation wasn’t hilarious. 
Obviously, he lost that challenge and moved on to compete in a second elimination challenge. When he started preparing a peanut butter and banana sandwich, Jake and I just lost it.
Was he being serious? Was he trolling the Food Network? I mean, for goodness sake, look at his answers to the following interview questions on his contestant profile:

What’s your signature party dish?
GG: I don’t use my dishes during parties. I bring out the paper plates. 
What’s the most surprising thing we’d find in your fridge?
GG: Jimmy Hoffa
Maybe we’ll never know, but I want to thank Gilbert Gottfried from the bottom of my heart for whatever the heck this refreshing moment was in an era where the Food Network feels compelled to produce more and more shows hosted by Guy Fieri and add Farmhouse Rules to its line-up.
Final Thank You’s
Thank you for reading. Blogging has been a dream come true and I am grateful for your support every day. Also, thank you to everyone who made our Fargo journey memorable, our family and friends, and new friends who’ve helped to ease our transition into Iowa. 
I also want to add a thank you to the friends and family that welcomed us into their homes and fed us homecooked meals while we had to live in a hotel. 

Apparently, I’m Afraid Of Lobsters: Seafood Class Finale

Apparently, I’m afraid of lobsters.

On the last day of seafood class, our teacher ordered live Maine lobsters. She even ordered extras for the students who wanted to purchase them for home cooking. This was the only opportunity on which I passed to purchase food the school purchased for special demonstrations. Once the teacher handed the lobsters over to my care, I was afraid I’d feel responsible for their well-being. They would have been more likely to live in my bathtub than ever become food. It mostly came down to the thought of driving home with them in my car. I knew I’d freak out.
The lobster demonstration got off to a rough start. One of our teachers had snuck a slinky, wooden snake into the box before we reached the kitchen and when we opened the box, I screamed. Before I could make sense of the situation, I remember wondering why on earth the supplier would include a snake with the lobsters.

And you thought your last flight sitting in coach was rough. . . 

Our teacher gently removed the lobsters and examined each one for movement. 

We learned that active lobsters taste better. Those that barely move are known as sleepers and are close to death. They’re still edible but won’t taste as flavorful. Our instructor flipped a feisty lobster on its back and tickled its little pairs of legs, known as swimmeretes, to identify whether it was a male or a female. A female’s swimmeretes are soft, while a male’s are hard. This shouldn’t too hard to remember. . . The lucky students who bought the lobsters got to take home the females that were rich in roe.

Before she passed one around the class, she firmly stated the afternoon’s one and only ground rule: Do not, under any circumstance, remove a rubber band from a lobster’s claw. No one did.

Then, she piled the rest of the lobsters onto the demonstration table. Some of them may have been sleepers while others explored the table as they waved their long, delicate antennas. Our teacher had set out a container of hot water to rinse the lobsters after they been cooked and broken down. I noticed one lobster’s antenna wiggling dangerously close to the hot water and leaped to its rescue until it touched my hand. A kind classmate came to both of our rescue.

I noticed that I started feeling funny. My face flushed with heat and I broke out into a cold sweat. When the lightheadedness hit, I knew there was a distinct possibly that I might faint. I’ve prided myself on maintaining a (mostly) composed demeanor in the kitchen and trying to avoid giggly and squeamish gender stereotypes. This has also meant being willing to taste anything, handling raw meat like a champ, and throwing down in the dish room. I didn’t want to end this winning streak by being the girl who fainted at a lobster. Plus, I had laughed when I found out someone fainted when the Meats class broke down half a cow. Call it karma.

Our teacher placed the lobsters into a brazier of boiling water and quickly covered the pot with a lid. No, the lobsters did not “scream” or make dramatic scratching noises as they tried to climb out from the pot, but for someone who’s never taken part in dispatching an animal, it still felt unsettling. A minute later, she lifted the lid and we all flinched when we saw they were still writhing in the hot water.

Somehow, I did not faint.

You can remove the rubberbands, now.

Phobia aside, the demonstration was worth the taste. During our last seafood demonstration featuring clams, mussels, and oysters, I was surprised when a quarter of my classmates left because they thought they were gross. To my dismay, everyone stuck around to taste lobster, but fortunately there was more than enough to go around.

We compared previously frozen warm and cold water lobster tails broiled in their shells to our freshly boiled Maine lobsters. It was hardly a contest, as the Maine lobsters’ texture was stunningly more delicate and silky than the other varieties. One lucky student took home the lobster shells to make a seafood caldo broth while I stuck around to suck the tiny shards of meat from the legs.

We wiped clarified butter from our faces and thus ended seafood class.

It’s summer break now. I took my last final and turned in my final project. Maybe by the fall I will have enough gall to reconsider the upcoming field trip to North Dakota State University’s slaughterhouse. So far, I’ve maintained that I’m just not going. If I almost fainted at a lobster, who knows what will happen?

Worst case scenario is that even if I do, in fact, faint, it’ll make a good story, right?

Culinary School Woes: I Sure Hate These Pants

Culinary school has a lot of benefits.

We get to taste a new type of dessert everyday, attend food shows, and scarf down what’s left of the themed breakfast buffets every Thursday morning. But culinary school is like any other experience and has its own set of ups and downs. Our pants come to mind. I just hate those pants.

Next week, our semester will come to an end and we’ll return our uniforms to AmeriPride. I will not be sad to part with my pants over the summer. These aren’t just any pants, they’re culinary school pants and we get five pairs. Have I mentioned how much I hate them? Let me count the ways:

First, they’re unisex pants and don’t differentiate between male and female anatomy. I don’t need to explain these differences, only to say that there are reasons why pants aren’t generally offered in unisex shapes.

Not only are these pants unisex, but they have a firm waistband that just doesn’t give. It’s not like these are sweatpants. They’re non-stretchy unisex pants. This is unfortunate considering they’re like clown pants merged with high-waisted, tapered jeans from the 90’s. These pants levitate towards my bosom and are so severely starched that they literally stand on their own legs. When I sit down, they rise, and when I exhale, they squeeze my abdomen like a sausage.

I encountered these pants during my first week of school on Uniform Fitting Day. We took turns meeting with vendor representatives who assigned us pants. Now, I’m a petite individual who already has trouble finding adult clothes, any clothes, and most especially pants. It’s hard to be on either side of the size spectrum, and it’s not fun to be on the small/short size when default sizes are often set to extra large. I hauled a few pairs of pants to the bathroom and tried them on. They fit in such a comically bad way, that I confronted a random girl in the bathroom and asked for reassurance.

“They’re not that bad, are they?”

In the Midwest, “Minnesota Nice” is a reality, not a myth but even she could not say anything nice about the pants. She made a face and replied, “I don’t think those are supposed to fit like that.” That’s when I ran.

I found the AmeriPride representative and showed him my pants so he could see for himself how badly they fit before he sentenced me to wearing them for a year. Even he could not tell me, in good conscience, to just wear the pants, so he made a note to find a different size and hem about a foot from the bottom.

My final grievance about these pants is that they are white. They match our white everything: Pants, jacket, and baseball cap which comes in a one-size-fits-all. No matter how tightly I adjust it, the bill always falls into my eyes. It’s not unusual for me to run into others or biff counters and I maneuver around the kitchen by watching my feet. I know that white symbolizes ideals like cleanliness or purity, but what if it’s accented by spots and streaks in questionable colors? I feel like a walking canvas. A sunset painted in carrot orange, rusty blood, and chocolate streaks. I just hope I don’t unknowingly sit in something colorful. On especially messy days, I jump at the sight of my own clothing. People must look at me and think, “Damn, that girl sure knows how to throw down in the kitchen,” or, “What a klutz!”

In addition to being prone to staining, white pants are also kind of revealing. Some of my white pants are constructed from thick fabric, while others border on transparent. Both become see-through when wet and, since we are often cooking with water or spraying down dirty dishes, this is a significant concern. I have to wear pants underneath my pants because I just don’t trust my pants.

All of this makes me wonder, “Why white? and, “What’s up with these pants?”

Turning in my pants will feel bittersweet, but unfortunately, it’s not a goodbye. It’s a see you later.

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