Archive for the ‘Chefs’ Category

Chefs & Tattoos

I’ve noticed a trend while watching the various cooking shows… most of the chefs (be they pastry or cuisine types) are sporting tattoos.

Just a handful of examples to back my observations:

Chef Duff

Chef Bourdain

And yours truly is included, I have a small hieroglyphic inspired tattoo on my right shoulder.  Not full sleeves or anything huge though.

Maybe this is pure coincidence, like when you are pregnant you notice all the other pregnant women around you and the cries of babies twinge the ears more than they used to.  I’ve had my ink for over a decade (wow, I must sound ancient!), long before I realized my passion for food.

Perhaps the connection is the artistic nature we share.  My first inclination of a career was to be an artist, preferably for a big animation house.  That didn’t come true, instead there was a path of technology laid out before me.  I think getting my tattoo was a cry from the other side of my brain.  Creativity can take many forms.  Food and cooking came naturally.  I wanted to sit down to a beautiful plate every evening after a day of gear grinding (or rather keyboard pounding), without paying someone else to do it for me.

I’m curious why these chefs have tattoos.

Is this weird for me to notice, or have you seen it too? 

Photo Cred: Click on the photos to view source pages.


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Today is the grand opening of the new baking supply store, Make It Sweet!

I had the chance to learn basic cookie decorating from the owner, Jennifer Bartos.  She demonstrated how to roll her mother’s sugar cookie dough between parchment paper to an even thickness.  The students mixed bright color gel into large bowls of frosting.  Jennifer showed us how to draw borders and flood the cookies, adding a few flowers, dots, and designs.  Then we got our cookie canvases to play with.

Make It Sweet is located at Burnet Rd/183 next to Pluckers.  You can easily browse the store for all your edible projects.  Check out the website for classes, they fill up quickly!  If you stop in today (May 19) you can partake in the festivities with cookies decorating, fondant, and a cupcake sprinkle bar.

Facebook Page  Website

Here are the cookies I made!

Angry Yellow Bird?

And guess what the kids did with them…

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If you watch as much Food Network as I do, you might recall this young chef from last season…

Chef Brad Sorenson’s latest endeavor is a restaurant with a casual vibe due to open later this summer.   At the Austin F00d & Wine festival he was handing out samples of chicken molé, which was delicious, on locally made bean chips from Beanitos.  The chips are made with non-GMO ingredients, namely bean flour.  Something better for your body that actually tastes good!  It didn’t hurt to have a savory topper made by a local celebrity chef.

Sorry ladies, Brad is spoken for.  His girlfriend was also at the festival helping greet patrons milling around the tasting tents.

On working together: both agreed that working at the same restaurant would not be the best idea.  Probably even truer when you have to slave in a hot kitchen for hours on end, you don’t want to take that stress into a relationship.

Chef Sorenson is happy to return to Austin and excited to open his restaurant in August.

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This was a big weekend for us.  Little Sister turned two and we celebrated her life with a trip to the San Antonio Zoo!

Since we were out all day, I didn’t have time to bake a cake.  We stopped on the way home and picked up a chocolate and vanilla layered cake.  To. Die. For.  I have to find someone who works at the HEB bakery to find out how they made this cake.  From the bottom it had chocolate cake, chocolate cream, vanilla cream, vanilla cake, another layer of the creams, then a duplicate of the first four layers topped with a strawberry.  I’m not a fancy cake baker, at least at this point, so I leave it to the experts for now.  I can appreciate the time it takes to create all those layers!

Paula Deen was in Austin with her NY Times #1 best seller Southern Cooking Bible.  Hugh Acheson, soon to appear on Top Chef as a judge, moderated the conversation with Paula within the beautiful Paramount Theater.  This was my first visit to the Paramount and I’m looking for a reason to return.  It’s not much bigger than the average movie theater in town.  Sitting in the lower level gives an intimate feeling with the person on stage.  Today, that person was one of my Food Network idles!  Paula is very funny, she said she made Matt Lauer nervous when she appeared on the Today Show recently.  Her favorite food is potatoes, and she told the audience about how much she loves her garden and chicken coop at home.  Southern Cooking is not all about fried food, it’s comfort food, it’s food made with love and purpose.  “If you die, your family will get a pie.  If you have a baby, you get a pie.  And if you just moved into the neighborhood…. you get pie!” This was part of Paula’s way of explaining what Southern cooking means to her.  And Micheal’s favorite food?  Oxtail.  I actually have two of her cook books and she signed both of them 🙂  I missed Alton Brown (because we were at the zoo) but I’m sure he will be back to Austin again, all the authors love Texas hospitality!

While leaving, I stopped to see what the fuss was about at the Paramount.  Another author?  No.  Val Lauren was there with director James Franco to open his new film Sal.

Have a look….

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And “Hi” to Sonia, Claudia, and Cassie (I hope I caught your name right!), it was very nice to meet you at the book fair!

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I’ve had Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking on my kitchen shelf for nearly a year now.  I’ve used one single recipe out of the lot.  This book revolutionized American cuisine at home, along with the PBS cooking show starring its author.  You would think, being enthralled with food, I would be half way through cooking every single recipe.  My obstacle is time, and to a slightly lesser degree, energy.  The willful will prevail.

Cooking from scratch is, or at least was, going by the wayside at an alarming rate.  It’s far too easy to grab food to-go on the way to your destination, while we are busy watching the clock instead of our waistlines and our health.  How many people do you know who bake their own bread, make their own fresh pasta, prepare batches of stock, and bake their own cookies?  Grandma.  Hmmm… anyone else?

Sweet Onions for the soup

In contrast to Julia’s methods, I read through my vintage cook book written in the early 1980’s by a group of church ladies.  I could positively tell you that over half the recipes in their collection contained at least one canned or otherwise pre-packaged ingredient, as well as half a cup of oleo (of which puzzled me, I found out that oleo is short for oleomargarine.  Also, based on when this cook book was written and guessing the participants were probably at least 50 years old, they probably wanted to say that vegetable margarine should be used, not one containing animal fat.  Margarine as we know it today was created in 1950 (when the recipe ladies would have been of “marrying age” and learning the fine art of becoming domestic goddesses) due to newer technology that enabled the extraction of oils from vegetable matter in a cheap enough fashion for commercial production.  It’s just a guess though!).  Not all pre-processed foods are created equal.  Compare a box of cheesy macaroni to a freshly frozen pasta dinner, both are pre-packaged pastas that require minimal cooking on your part, but one is not fluorescent orange (and nasty).  Does it hurt to use a can of cream of mushroom soup now and then?  I don’t think so.  I’m a mom, I take advantage of short cuts.

Back to the recipe at hand today, onion soup.  Not from a can or box, real onion soup.

Soft Onions

Julia Child calls for booze in this soup, which I don’t keep on hand, nor do I see a need for it.  These onions had so much flavour that I didn’t want to mask them with much other than my homemade chicken stock perfumed with fennel.

French Onion Soup

I found these vintage soup bowls at Goodwill for a few dollars, nifty eh?  Do make yourself some croutons and melt Gruyère cheese on them, this is a must for your French Onion Soup experience.  This reminds me of home-ec class because this was one of the few recipes we were tasked to replicate.  My home-ec teacher had to taste everyone’s creation at the end of class in order to receive a passing grade for that day, I’m not sure I would want that job.  I wasn’t the greatest cook at the wide-eyed and bushy-tailed age of thirteen.

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Texas Beef Soup

This was made to mend my dear Hubby.  Little Sister has infected us all.  It tears me up to see either of my babies sick, especially the little one.  The beans apparently were a bad idea, according to Hubby.  I liked the soup and had two servings along with iced tea and toasted 10 grain bread.

  • 6 oz steak, cubed
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 2 Roma tomatoes
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 dried chili pepper
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn kernels
  • 1 (15oz) can black beans, rinsed
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 cups stock (homemade, or any flavour)
  • 1/2 cup water or white wine

Soften the onion, pepper and garlic, remove from the pot.  Brown the beef cubes and add the cumin.  De-glaze the pot with the stock, scraping up the brown bits.  Add the softened veggies and the remaining ingredients.

If you are a vegetarian, you could easily omit the beef and still have a great tasting soup.  It’s all in the stock you use, homemade is best and this batch had fennel as one of the veggies.  You can use all sorts of combinations to make a stock.  I keep a zip top bag of bits of veg in the freezer, another one for bones.  Add a few green cardamom pods for a citrus note.  Try a few chilies for kick!  Roast a whole head of garlic and add the pulp to the stock at the end or directly into the soup.  As Claire Robinson says: be your own chef!

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This might sound strange to the average go-abouter, I read cook books.

What else would you do with a book?  Eat it?

Well, no, not exactly.  What I mean to say is… I read cookbooks like they were a novel.  Most have chapters dividing the courses or main ingredient, just as a novel strings you along the story with each passing chapter.  The clash of characters occurs when you come across a recipe that just doesn’t make sense and is not appetizing at all (every cookbook has at least one of these, you can’t please everybody!).  The happy ever after comes with the dessert you fall in love with and won’t live without for the remainder of your days standing in a kitchen.

There are two designated spaces for my small, but growing, collection of cookbooks.  The kitchen shelf and my bedside drawer. 

5 Ingredient Fix by Claire Robinson -- amazon.com

It occurred to me last night while thumbing through Claire Robinson‘s book that what I’m doing is probably not normal.  How many people climb into bed, get all cozy and warm, then quietly slip a cook book from its hidden resting place and proceed to read recipes while trying to contain drool. Not to mention late night hunger monsters hiding under the bed who heard the crack of a binding belonging to my culinary tome of the week.

I’ve even used my nocturnal habit as a teachable moment for Big Brother.  He asked me what I was doing and I shared my cookbook, Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat, with him.  This book is an oddity among the glossy illustrated cookbooks I have.   If you haven’t watched Nigella on television you might not understand the tone of this book.  Nigella writes her recipes closer to conversations you would have with her, rather than precise mechanical instructions for meal preparation.  The lack of images will perhaps let your mind see the outcome of the dish instead of being lead to believe your poussin should look as it is represented by the book.  There are several recipes designed for the single diner, which sould be easily extrapolated for larger parties.  Her section for children’s meals were especially of interest to me, being a mom of two little ones.  You won’t find many hot dogs or PB&J sammies in here!

How To Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food by Nigella Lawson -- amazon.com

Meanwhile, Big Brother amazed me with his word recognition skills…





and on he went, reading the words to me and smiling after each one.  My heart skipped along with the pronunciation of each syllable.  Would he share my passion for food when he grows up?

Do they have cookbooks at the city library? I later pondered.  That could get around my lack of cash flow for frivolous expenditures such as yet another cookbook.  There are so many cultures in the world and I want to learn about them through the food they eat, prepare, and share. 

Do you have a favorite cookbook?

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Claire Robinson, Food Network Chef, is introduced by Central Market at the Texas Book Festival

The Texas Book Festival included a cooking tent hosted by Central Market, this was the setting of Claire Robinson‘s presentation.

Claire showed the audience how to prepare a roast chicken with fennel and onions, as well as a flourless chocolate cake (I will try this for Sierra’s birthday party!).  Her style is informative and laid back at the same time.  A warm energy surrounds Claire.

Her family once lived in Dallas and Houston, this festival was her first visit to Texas since those childhood days.  Claire lovingly commented that Texas is hot and everything really is bigger here!

She lives in New York with her dog, Newman, who shares her tiny kitchen akin to the size Julia Child used to write Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  She started out on Food Network as production staff for Michael Chiarello.  There was also a time that she was working with Martha Stewart and had a whisk thrown at her.  Claire survived to go on to host her own show, 5 Ingredient Fix.  The first few seasons of 5 Ingredient Fix were shot in a friend’s kitchen. Her friend received some upgraded appliances and she continued shooting there until the current season (5) where a set has been built for her show.

Claire Robinson in Austin Texas

Chef Claire Robinson explains how to roast a chicken

One of her favorite restaurants in NYC is Ippudo (Japanese noodles).
Claire is planning to run a marathon in the spring, she has already completed a half-marathon. It’s no wonder she can stay that petite!

Yours truely and Claire Robinson

Having the opportunity to meet Claire was the highlight of the whole weekend.  She is very friendly and encouraging.  Thank you Claire for visiting Austin!

MORE: Paula Deen at the 2011 Texas Book Festival

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I caught a nugget of a story on NPR this week that Alton Brown was coming to the Texas Book Festival this weekend, as soon as I got home I headed online.  I was going to meet him, and had to start setting the plan in motion to make it happen.

With two kids, going to an event, such as a book signing, seems completely out of the realm of possible.  I called my friend to babysit, no answer, I left a message hoping she would be free Saturday.  My mother-in-law is a school teacher, and avid reader, so naturally I thought she would want to attend the festival.  The day before the festival she sent me a reply…  definitely interested

The book signing was hosted at Central Market (all Austinite foodies have shopped there, I would gander often even) by Barnes & Noble, the sponsor for the event.  We arrived 45 minutes prior to Alton’s presentation to find a very long and rapidly growing line of other adoring fans.

We finally saw the start of the line!

There was a volunteer relaying the questions and answers down the line, my hubby called it an “1847 loud-speaker”.  They should have set up speakers outside so that those of us fortunate enough to stand and wait over an hour could reap some benefit.  Apparently, there were free tickets sold two weeks prior.  I had no clue!  There was nothing at Barnes & Noble (I was there about that time buying hubby his birthday present).  Where was I supposed to be looking for these “tickets”?  Many of the other fans stuck outside with us shared the same questions and frustrations.  The event volunteers did bring free bottles of water, which helped a bit.  If this event were held at the festival, there would be a tent with speakers so that those of us in the back could perhaps listen to what the almighty Alton had to say. 

The volunteers managed to propagate a few hints of the Q&A: Alton’s favorite episode is Oatmeal: Part 2 aired recently, the next book will be a children’s book because his daughter likes Harry Potter, the next possible show on Food Network will be about hunting, and something about brains.  When asked what show we should watch, Alton responded re-runs, then his DVDs, then read the books and turn off the TV.  I would have asked, who is your favorite Iron Chef and why, who or what inspires you, if you cook for your daughter what does she prefer you make for her?  If only I had a magical ticket.

My little trooper

The kids were surprisingly well-behaved, I was thankful to have everyone tagging along to help out.  Baby Sister was passed around to keep her occupied.  Big Brother was treated to a pop from a restaurant along the side lines.  After waiting for over an hour, all of the guests with small children were escorted inside the building to the front of the line.  Thank you!  Whose ever idea that was, thank you very much!  Consequently, once moments away from meeting Alton in person, Baby Sister goes squirrely and Big Brother is turning up his annoyance level.  How do they know this is the coolest day in a long time for mommy?  Happiness radar comes with every well equipped child, that’s how.  We managed to keep everyone preoccupied long enough.

Walk the Baby

Push Big Brother

We reached the front of the line.  I start freaking out.  OMG, that’s Alton… What do I say?  Do I smell bad? 

Made it to the front of the line!

All I could get out was, it’s so nice to meet you!  Alton replied, it’s nice to meet you too.  Of all the books I’ve signed, Heather is the only name that you can only spell one way. 

Alton Brown

Alton was very nice, I’m sure by the time we met him he was getting a little tired.  I blacked out mentally and can’t tell you what else we exchanged.  My hubby told him that we love watching the shows.  I think Grandma got a word in too, just don’t ask which one. 

I left on cloud oatmeal, signed book in hand.

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