Alligator Legs

While walking through Chinatown, I couldn't resist...the delicious outcome is deserving of 3 photo posts (serves 2):
1 1/2 lb alligator legs (from your friendly alligator dealer)
1 cup olive oil
3/4 cups soy sauce
1/2 cup lemon juice
5 parsley stems
4 cups chicken stock
5 thyme sprigs
1/4 cup orange juice
salt-to taste
pepper-to taste
1. Marinate alligator legs with olive oil, soy sauce, lemon juice, and parsley for 1.5 hours.

2. Pat dry, season, and brown legs in pan, on high heat.
3. Add chicken stock, thyme, and orange juice; bring to a boil.
4. Turn the heat down and simmer for ~3 hours, or until meat falls off the bone.
Serve with: ginger flavored rice, sticky rice, coconut rice, snow peas, and/or sauteed carrots.

Braised Duck with a Sweet Apple Pan Sauce

Poultry dinner alternative (serves 2):
2 duck leg quarters
olive oil
1 Granny Smith apple-sliced thin
1/4 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
3 sprigs of thyme-leaves only
zest from one orange
zest from 1/2 lemon
1 T butter
salt-to taste
pepper-to taste
1. Season duck and brown on both sides in olive oil; remove from pan.
2. Add apples to pan and brown.
3. De-glaze pan with white wine and reduce.
4. Add chicken stock, duck, thyme leaves, lemon and orange zest to pan and place in 375F oven until duck reaches internal temperature of 165F; remove duck from pan.
5. Place pan on stove top and reduce sauce by 1/2; finish with butter and serve over duck; sprinkle with remaining lemon and orange zest.


Things [the infamous] 'they' dont tell you

So you want to go to culinary school? It's an ever expanding field, with tons of opportunities! Photography, styling, writing, creating-the possibilities are endless! The glamor, fame, and glory! And by the way...

As with any profession, the culinary field has a few quirks: the odd hours and the occasional crazy, screaming boss.

A few of these quirks, however, are not so typical and are not mentioned in your culinary arts school tour...
  • Exceptionally sore fingers, hands, and wrists-who knew that fingers can be sore? From the chopping, carrying, dismantling, stirring, and various other necessary performances.
  • Not-so-light knife bag-which is to be lugged around each day...to and from work...to and from class...to and from home.
  • Knives-which are to be sharpened and honed daily...which otherwise prove to be completely inadequate, inefficient, and otherwise wretched.
  • $80+ Danskos-without which your back, neck, and feet wouldn't be here today to tell their story.
  • Last, and unfortunately not least, additional tasting pounds-which are thoroughly enhanced with every dish you make, as everything MUST be tasted.
Lucky for me, food is my absolute adoration, so I'll spend a few extra minutes on the spin bike, to tackle those unruly tasting pounds and schedule a much needed massage for the sore hands...any volunteers?


I Got It!

My first 'trail' was a success! With a job offer proposed within a week!


Mushroom Crepe Torte

Cheesy, savory goodness (serves 4):
1 egg
1.5 cup milk
1/4 cup water
1 cup whole wheat flour
8 oz mushrooms-sliced
1/4 cup onions-small dice
1/4 lb Gruyere cheese-sliced
1/4 lb fresh Asiago cheese-sliced
1/4 cup Parmesan-shreaded
Cooking spray
Salt-to taste
Pepper-to taste
1. Whisk egg, milk, and water.
2. Add flour and salt (to taste) to egg mixture; whisk to smooth, milky consistency (with no clumps; if needed, add more flour or liquid to reach correct consistency).
3. In a sautee pan, sweat onions; add mushrooms and cook to al dente; season well.
4. Spray a small sautee pan with cooking spray; depending on your pan size, ladle crepe batter into pan in 1/4 - 1/2 cup-full increments; tilt the pan in a circular motion so the batter coats the pan evenly. Cook to golden, then flip crepe and cook other side; continue (while spraying the pan before each new crepe).
5. Assemble: in a baking dish, lay down one crepe, top with mushrooms, top with 2 slices of Gruyere, top with 1 slice of Asiago, repeat until all crepes are used.
6. Top last crepe with grated Parmesan.
7. Bake in a 400F oven until top layer and Parmesan are crisp (aprox 6-9 min).


Lamb Lasagna with Eggplant and Spinach

Not your typical Italian fav, but still mouthwatering (serves 2, with leftovers):
6 Lasagna noodles, broken in half
1 oz butter
2 oz olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
3/4 lb ground lamb
1 shallot-small dice
1/2 lb eggplant-pealed, chopped in small dice
7 sprigs thyme-leaves only
1/2 bunch spinach, chopped coarsely
1 egg
8 oz ricotta cheese
1/4 cup parsley leaves, chopped
3 cups Parmesan cheese
1 cup Gruyere cheese
6 oz [good] tomato sauce
salt-to taste
pepper-to taste
1. Boil lasagna noodles until al dente; butter and reserve.
2. Sautee onions in olive oil until just golden.
3. Add lamb to onions and sautee until almost done, season; reserve.
4. Sweat shallot in olive oil, add eggplant and thyme, cook until soft, season, add spinach, mix, and turn pan off; reserve.
5. In a bowl, mix ricotta, parsley, Gruyere, and season lightly.
6. Assemble: in a round baking dish, one ladle of tomato sauce, lay down 3 noodles, top with ricotta mixture, top with lamb, top with eggplant mixture, top with Parm; repeat.
7. Top last noodle layer with Ricotta mixture and extra Parm.
8. Bake covered, in a 400F oven, for 10 min; uncover and bake 20 min longer.


A Food Trail?

So how does one go about getting that delicious culinary job? A trail. My initial reaction of, "I love hiking!" was shut down by a brief explanation of an 'audition'.

Once I landed an interview with my sparkling, new culinary resume, whimsical cover letter, and genuine phone charm, I was looking forward to the experience. After meeting with the serious and all too familiar HR representative (who, with her grimace mug, eyed an empty water bottle standing on the floor next to the chair where I was sitting, in the reception area...but it wasn't mine! It was there when I arrived!The Seinfeld in me almost lost composure), I was escorted to the kitchen, where a very pleasant, young sous chef asked me a few questions and showed me the assignment.

I was to prepare a slew of tasks, from a one page long document, while being secretly observed and timed. Tournet? Blanch? Fabrication? I was amazed at the number of functions we'd just practiced in class the day before! Funny how things work out sometimes. I set myself up in a part of the kitchen and quickly went to work.

Everyone around was working on their daily tasks, preparing for a food service, and knew my position...as just some time ago they were all in my Danskos. Luckily, they were very helpful, pointing me to the spice rack, letting me know an oven is out of order (which remained arctic 20 minutes after I turned it on), and showing me to the walk-in fridge where the butter is stored. As I hacked away at the assignment, I was ecstatic about the experience. I'm in one of the best kitchens in the country, working along side the most prestigious chef and staff, in the highest-end catering facility in NYC...and I actually know what I'm doing!

After all the fancy cuts, finely chopped herbs, peeled and seeded tomatoes, and perfectly balanced vinaigrette [among others], the final step was to plate everything for the chef. My presentation consisted of a bed of blanched asparagus, topped with pan seared chicken breast-finished in the oven with a white wine sauce, carrots-glazed in pomegranate molasses, and parsley potato tournets-crisp outside with a melt-in-your-mouth center.

As the chef inspected my presentation, I was not nervous or jittery. My energy was positive, clear, and surprisingly calm. He asked a few questions (how did I know the chicken was done? what is the ratio of the vinaigrette? did I boil the potatoes ahead of time?) and all of my answers were quick, meaty, and confident-because I did it! "The asparagus is cooked perfectly", he said as he snapped one of the stalks. "The potatoes are great! I didn't have lunch today", as he went back for seconds and thirds. I was gloating inside at the praise and my speed of the concoctions...after all, this was my first performance with no rehearsal.

After thanking everyone for their time, saying my goodbye-s to the kitchen staff, and HR, I walked away with a smile. Even if there's no offer made, I thoroughly enjoyed my first audition and cant wait for more!


Office woman gone mad!

You've made the right click! My goal has always been rather simple-to feed others...really, REALLY well. The closed, rolled back eyes, pressed lips, tilted head, and that familiar 'mmmm' moan (not that moan-get your mind back into the kitchen) are typically pretty good indications of satisfaction. After experimenting with some of my mom's typical dishes, I saw that chicken can be more than just seared...crepes can be made with wheat flour and stuffed with a multitude of fillings (aside from ground chicken)...and eggs are absolutely NOT limited to sunny side up and have boundless use.
My views didn't always synchronize with my extremely educated family's belief of life success:
  • marrying a nice Russian lawyer,
  • being a 'manager',
  • owning a home, and
  • bearing heirs-ASAP
This is not to say that I didn't try. After wrangling in my lifeless Business Management degree, like a nice daughter, I got myself a corporate job! In addition to my own office, I had a normal schedule, a regular paycheck, essential health insurance, and a mundane workweek. I continuously scouted the internet [between meetings and during phone calls] for new recipes and ways I could make them my own. I couldn't wait to get home and make a tapas dinner to share with my eager roommate.

'Mariya's cooking tonight', she'd tell her co-workers; they all knew a token feast awaited. I'd have my shopping list ready days in advance; I'd browse the plethora of store circulars [between meetings and during phone calls] to get the best deals; I'd even leave work extra early to avoid the 'after5' grocery-store-herd. Naturally, all this eating couldn't exist without a workout-which I conveniently crammed in before the festivities.

By the time my roommate arrived, the apartment was filled with a blend of aromas-from cheesy sauteed vegetables, toasted pizza-like breads, and stuffed mushrooms, to panko crusted salmon, sauteed shrimp, and luscious fillets. The spread was always a surprise of new variations and ingredients...however one constant remained: a dark, bitter-sweet, very happy, chocolate ending. It typically consisted of melted chocolate being poured on, dipped into, or otherwise consumed with any and everything available in the house (to include: nuts, pretzels, cookies, crackers, fruit, bread, cake, crepes, peanut butter, utensils, etc., etc., etc.). Typically, the next day was reserved for recovery after which the cycle continued...[between meetings and during phone calls].

After the 'office-woman' facade of 3 years, I decided to take some time off, travel, and search for my passion (which was very difficult for my family to grasp-as it was so 'insensible' of their accomplished daughter). Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and various countries in Europe were stops of choice-each offering their own amazing spread. I anticipated every next meal and impatiently waited for my body to digest and become hungry once more, so I could experience the overabundance of feed. Upon my return, the 'office-woman' in me decided that the logical thing to do was to get the same type of job...only in a food related environment. Close, but not quite. While managing a high-end catering operation I saw a lot of creative and interesting ideas (while consuming them), but was still not satisfied.

Always loving New York, and not being very satiated with the limited opportunity the city of Baltimore had to offer (where I grew up from the age of 10, after moving from my birthplace of Kiev, Ukraine), I finally got the courage to make the move. Needless to say, when I announced my plans, my rational parents, strict chef/boss, and hungry roommate weren't too thrilled. Nevertheless, I stuck to my decision and went for it.

For a while, in the big [delicious] apple, I played around and did various odd jobs (fashion assistant, office manager, model, movie extra, etc.); all the while maintaining my culinary passion by carousing NY's markets, hosting dinner parties, and even attending the Rachel Ray show!

As my savings account began to resemble the frozen turkey case at the market on Thanksgiving day, and I considered my options for 'what I want to be when I grow up', food was always on the forefront of my mind (and in my mouth). With a hard nudge (err...bulldoze) from a friend, I did my research of various culinary schools and set forth on my culinary arts degree. Can one really make a career out of cooking? Weren't we fighting for women's rights [to get out of the kitchen]? Shouldn't I want a corner office? All valid questions [mom]-but...not so much! I want to cook! At this point I'm ~4 months into culinary studies and:
  • instead of-marrying a nice Russian lawyer-live with my 1/2 Egyptian boyfriend,
  • instead of-being a 'manager'-work 3 jobs (event planner, cook, and gym girl),
  • instead of-owning a home-rent an apartment in Brooklyn, and
  • ...do I even have to say?
But I'm happy!


Salmon with Yogurt Dill Sauce, Roasted Chinese Eggplant and Potatoes

Dinner again? A tweaked alternative to a restaurant classic (serves 2):
2, 8oz salmon fillets
3/4 lb snow peas
2 potatoes-diced into uniform shape of your choice
2 Chinese eggplants-diced into uniform shape of your choice
6 oz Greek style yogurt
1 cucumber-small dice
1/2 cup dill
Olive oil
Italian seasoning-to taste
Salt-to taste
Pepper-to taste
1. Season salmon fillets with Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper.
2. Coat pan with olive oil and sear fillets on both sides, until golden; finish salmon in a 400F oven.
3. Blanch snow peas, by tossing them into a pot of boiling, salted water for ~15 seconds; immediately remove and submerge in an ice bath for ~15 seconds (to stop the cooking process).
4. Toss potatoes and eggplant in olive oil and season with Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper; roast both in the same roasting dish on 400F until tender when pierced with a fork.
5. Combine Greek yogurt, cucumber, dill, salt, and pepper.
6. Serve salmon over snow peas and top with yogurt sauce; serve potatoes and eggplant on the side.