a la carte

Hmm… I’ve been kinda lagging with my blog posts haven’t I? It was so easy in the beginning when we were learning specific topics every day like Soy Foods or Sea Vegetables. Now that we’re starting our final month of the program (HOLY SHITAKES HOW DID IT GO SO FAST?!) our classes have been more focused on our Friday Night Dinner and nutrition.

The last two Friday classes were A La Carte 1 and 2, where we prepared the “mis en place” for a few recipes and then prepared them to order. I really liked these classes because it was fun taking a dish from a mish-mash of ingredients to complete in a short amount of time. I also had more practice in preparing fish and chicken, which was a nice change of pace since I don’t do much (or any) of that at home.

We made a Tempeh Bolognese with roasted broccoli, capers and olives. This dish was actually amazing and I think I am going to make this at home this week, it was that good.

Salmon with black and white rice and grilled squash.

Sauteed apples in a phyllo cup topped with (melted) vanilla (soy) ice cream.

Tempeh in Curry Coconut Sauce, served with grilled pineapple salsa. This dish was also so good that I made it for Dan and I last night. I guess I just really love tempeh right now!

Chicken in a mushroom sauce.

And Teriyaki Tofu

The goal of this exercise is to simulate what goes on in the kitchens of real restaurants and to prepare us for our internships. Speaking of which, I am super excited for my internship! I am going to be working at a restaurant in San Francisco!

I have always wanted to visit (and move to) the West Coast so I am beyond thrilled to be going for the month of June. Maybe I will love it so much that I won’t come back? It was a pain in the butternut squash finding a subletter for my NYC apartment but I finally figured it out and am going to be starting my internship in just 5 weeks! I can’t believe culinary school is almost over, I’m feeling quite depressed about this…

In other news, I’ve been running again! Taking it slow but my knees have been holding up! More on that later, I’m off to watch my new favorite show, Girls.

cookie monsters

What is the best way to spend a Friday morning?

If you answered “Baking cookies” then you are spot on! That is exactly what my classmates and I did this previous Friday and it was mystical.

Each person baked a recipe so we had plenty of cookies to choose from, I baked Rolled Fig Cookies that we nicknamed “Figlets.” Personally I think they were awesome and like an even tastier and vegan version of a Fig Newton!

There were a couple other vegan recipes:

Pecan Tuiles, these reminded me of the winter holidays!


and Gluten-Free Ginger Crisps


Other cookies made were:

Jam Dot Cookies (these are the Natural Gourmet Institute’s signature cookie and they’re served at every open house. These were made with butter but I’ve made a vegan version before for the open house with coconut oil instead.)



 Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookies (the unappealing color is from the buckwheat flour)


Checkerboard Cookies


Raspberry Shortbread Linzer Cookies


Chocolate Biscotti


Chocolate Cherry Pecan Bombs Bars


pizza party

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie…

Do you remember when Congress classified pizza as a vegetable? Apparently the sauce counts as a daily serving of veggies but in my book, pizza is hardly considered a health food. It can be made healthier by using fresh dough and lots of veggie toppings though!It was really fun making the pizza dough from scratch, rolling it out and personalizing our pizzas with toppings. I think homemade pizza is such an easy dinner that can be so delicious and satisfying. Just whip up some dough and freeze the extra, it defrosts great for a quick weeknight meal!

In class we explored different doughs and methods of cooking.

Margherita pizza on our chef’s secret recipe crust.

Grilled pizza topped with bruschetta.

My vegan pizza #1


Pissaladière: A traditional pizza from the South of France with a flaky crust, caramelized onions, olives and anchovies.

An assortment of pizzas from my classmates!

Gluten-free mini pizzas!

Focaccia! This was my absolute favorite of the day, did you know that it contains a baked potato? Mmmm

I hope everyone has a bella noche and perhaps a slice of pizza or two!

sweet breads

Look how cute my lil monkey is:

CTP 209 has been submerged in a whirlwind of refined carbs and sugar as we have delved even deeper into the baking portion of our program since my last post. Last week we made pies all week and I was so pastried out by the time the weekend rolled through. I made this apple galette three days in a row!

On Monday we had our first of two bread making days where we made yeasted breads. I forgot my camera so I couldn’t take any pictures but I  made bagels. I had no idea bagel making was so easy! Some of my favorites of the day were a raisin walnut bulgur loaf and olive bread. Yesterday was Bread 2 where we focused on quick breads and sweet breads. During the first half of the day we made pancakes, waffles and crepes.

Buckwheat pancake, plain crepe and buttermilk waffle!

I have always struggled with getting perfect pancakes, the inside is always raw! But I think I have honed my skill now and have become a pancake pro 🙂 There were these really awesome gluten-free pancakes made out of rice flour. They were kind of funky looking and pale but the texture reminded me of mochi so I liked it (since I’m a mochi whore).

I also made this curry filled chickpea crepe with a side of blanched asparagus! After all the sweetness this was a welcome savory escape for my taste buds.

The second half of the day was spent making either scones or biscuits.

Spicy crushed red pepper and roasted garlic scones


Pizza flavored scones = Yum!

I made blueberry basil vegan scones! The combination sounds weird but they were excellent and super fresh tasting. I’m so trendy with my food combos 😉

We also had vegan cinnamon buns which were finger-lickin’ good!

The CTP class above us graduates this Friday and we will officially be the Natural Gourmet Institute’s Senior Class! I can’t believe it’s going so fast 😦

Tomorrow is Pizza and Focaccia Day, so let me ask you a question: On a scale of 1-10 how ecited would you be to make pizza all day?

I’m at a 10.5







Everyone has a little pastry chef inside them trying to get out and this week at the Natural Gourmet Institute I learned that I am no exception.

I turned this:

Into this:

Isn’t that vegan carob cake with coconut cashew frosting a looker? Aren’t the kiwi flower and toasted coconut edges superb? Wouldn’t you pay $40 for something like that in a bakery? If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions you would be correct 🙂

On Thursday we each made cakes and decorated them on Friday. As I’ve said before, I really love baking and I don’t want this unit to end! I was happy with how my cake turned out, it was delicious and decadent, especially for a vegan cake. I wasn’t so sure how the frosting would come out since at one point it looked like this:

It may look like shiny beige plastic but when mixed together with cashew butter in a food processor it made a creamy dreamy frosting. This recipe was made of agar agar (a seaweed) that is dissolved in coconut milk and other flavorings over heat and then chilled until it sets. I was amazed at the tranformation!

I was so happy with how my cake turned out, but I wasn’t the only pro in the class. Here are some of the other beautiful cakes that my classmates made:


Check out the basket-weave detailing by my classmate, Jane! Her patience and steady hand paid off, her cake was beautiful!

Ellie’s gorgeous cake also made use of the basket-weave. Her carrot cake was visually my favorite of the day with it’s little carrot garnish made of apricot jam and kiwi.

I was so impressed with everyone’s decorating talent! Not only were the cakes extremely attractive but they tasted phenomenal as well and provided a substantial sugar high despite the health-supportive ingredients 🙂


There were baked goods up the wazoo today and I couldn’t be happier. Our conversion practicum consisted of us splitting into pairs and converting traditional recipes into vegan health-supportive ones.

After our class was divided into pairs, the chef randomly drew our names out of a hat to decide which order we would pick our recipe. My group mate and I actually got to pick first and we picked brownies! A good vegan brownie is hard to find so we had a tough challenge ahead of us…

We started off by making the traditional recipe for Girardhelli’s Award Winning Brownies. They had a great moist texture and crispy top but were too sweet for my taste. They were very photogenic though 🙂

Our second step was to replace the white flour with whole wheat pastry flour. The flour substitution didn’t affect the finished product much, but the accidental omission of 1/4 cup cocoa powder made our second batch lighter in color and less sweet. (It was all Ellie’s fault)

We nicknamed these the George Hamilton brownies because they looked like they got a little too tan, like George Hamilton. The difference in color is especially noticeable when compared to the original…

Our third step was to replace milk but since the recipe didn’t have any we moved on to step four, replacing the additives. The additive in these brownies is cocoa powder so we subbed Girardhelli sweetened cocoa for unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa which made the brownies much darker less sweet. For some reason they also came out super dry…

Step 5 is when white sugar is eliminated and replaced with a more health supportive sweetener. We chose to use coconut sugar but to counteract the dryness from switching the cocoa we also added some maple syrup. These brownies were delicious and a huge hit with everyone who tried them! They were remarkably moist and had a deep chocolate flavor that greatly surpassed even the original “award-winning” recipe.

Replacing the butter in step six was another challenge. Butter really adds a richness and binding ability that is not easy to replicate in dairy-free baking. We substituted the 1/2 cup butter in the recipe for 6 tablespoons of coconut oil and the result was a brownie that was so dry it sucked the moisture right out of your mouth. I was so appalled I forgot to take a picture…

We upped to coconut oil to 8 tablespoon for our next batch but were also faced with the challenge of replacing the eggs for a vegan alternative. We wanted something moist and sweet so we added something special. Any idea what this could be?

Soaked prunes! We pureed soaked prunes and raising and used them as an egg replaced. because of this secret ingredient we nicknamed these “Digestive Brownies!” The finished product was perfectly moist, rich and sweet with a slightly fruity aftertaste.

I don’t think we perfected vegan brownies but I was happy with what we accomplished. We definitely learned from our mistakes and I think with a little more experimentation we could produce something vegan and drool-worthy. Our Step 5 brownies were out of this world though! Here are all our creations side by side:

Our class is naturally boisterous and combined with lots of sugary snacks we were behaving like five year-olds at recess. To balance all the sugar Chef Elliott made us his famous miso soup which worked wonders for calming both our minds and stomachs. It was kind of freaky how well it balanced us out! It was a really great soup and I’m so happy he gave us the recipe so I can make it at home!

Other groups had similar successes and failures with thier own recipes. We had a tasting and conference about the various stages of our conversions and I learned a lot about what does and doesn’t work with baking.

The other recipes were ginger muffins, carrot cake muffins, banana muffins, chocolate chip cookies, black and white cookies, peanut butter cookies and oatmeal raisin cookies.

On another good note, I ran for six minutes at physical therapy today pain-free! That’s a new post-injury record! I’m so happy I’m improving! I better get to bed so I have energy for tomorrow because I’ll be spending another full day in the kitchen baking cakes and then helping prepare a Friday Night Dinner. I’m off to pass out in a sugar-induced coma, good night.

intro to baking

Today was the first of what I’m sure will be magical weeks of excellence because it was the first day of our baking segment! I was giddy all day and it wasn’t even because of a sugar high… that comes tomorrow 🙂

We didn’t actually bake today, instead class consisted of a baking lecture demo and then a lecture about converting traditional baked goods into vegan health-supportive ones. Tomorrow we will be converting standard recipes like Nestle Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Cookies into vegan cookies by replacing one ingredient at a time. I’m excited!

Today we learned all about different flours.. Did you know that the climate in which wheat is grown affects the kind of baked goods it will produce? Flours from wheat grown in the North are heavier and have a higher protein and gluten content than those grown in the South. Northern wheat is better suited for yeast breads whereas the  lower gluten content in Southern flour is better for pastries. We also learned about leaveners and the difference between baking soda and baking powder. I was surprised that baking powder is just baking soda with an acid (cream of tartar) added in because I always thought it was the other way around!

The chef showed us three different cakes using the three leavening methods:

  1. Chemical leaveners like baking soda and baking powder
  2. Butter and sugar that has been whipped
  3. Egg foams

The first cake was a vegan Carob Walnut Cake that used chemical leaveners. Carob is one of those ingredients that sounds so hippy-dippy and health-nutty that I was dubious of how this cake would taste but it was excellent. I want to recreate this at home ASAP!

I really liked it 🙂

The second cake was actually not a cake but cookies. Why did I call it a cake? It was shortbread cookies, aka The Food of my People. Shortbread contains a ridiculous amount of butter and uses the whipped butter to leaven. This shortbread uses maple crystals instead of white sugar so that’s why it’s kind of brown. I always thought that the little holes in shortbread were for decorative purposes but they are actually there for some of the steam from the butter to escape. Cool right?

I was trying to think of some way to veganize it but I don’t think there’s any way to get that butter flavor. If I replaced it with coconut oil and gave it to my shortbread-loving Scottish mother, she would probably not be impressed. The last cake the chef baked was a Genois that uses whipped eggs as the leavener.

I’m so excited to get my bake on tomorrow!

When I got home from class I drank some kombucha, went to yoga and then came home and saw this weird rash on my arm. It’s raised, hurts when I press it and really freaks me out…

I also have this weird growth on my lap… I wonder what it could be…

pasta party

Today was my favorite day so far at the Natural Gourmet for one reason and that reason starts with “P” and ends with “asta.”

The day started out with a lecture where the Chef entertained us with the history of pasta and then demonstrated how to make fresh pasta using flour and either egg or water. It’s actually really easy to make pasta even though it’s kind of messy to do from scratch, it would be especially difficult in my tiny apartment with negative counter space, but fresh pasta is 10000000000000x better than boxed stuff so I think it would be totally worth it once in a while.

After the demo we got to make out own pasta and had the option of using different types of flours or coloring ingredients like spinach, beet puree or tomato paste. Check out the pretty colors of all the pasta we made!

Once our pasta dough was made we rolled it out into shapes. First we made long lasagna noodles to be used for making filled pasta like tortellini and ravioli, and then we used an attachment on the pasta machine to make fettuccini and spaghetti. This is what a happy pasta maker looks like…

And this is what it looks like when things go terribly wrong… (the crank fell off mid-fettucini)

Purdy corn fettuccini made by replacing ½ cup flour with cornmeal.

Beet pasta!

I barely got any pictures of the finished products but I managed to snap a few.


Cannelloni filled with butternut squash and tofu ricotta (I made the tomato sauce!)


Tomato spaghetti with basil walnut pesto

Chef also showed us how to make gnocchi. Here are the little gnocchi before…

And after they were cooked in a browned butter sage sauce. I’ve been staying away from dairy recently but gnocchi has a special place in my heart and this dish was calling to me so I had to have a bite. It was divine!

I took some pasta home to cook for dinner but by the time I got home it had turned into this…

It was originally fettucini… I still ate it though and it tasted pretty good even if it was kind of dense.

Tomorrow is our first day of the baking unit and I am pumped! So is Henry, he has his paw on tomorrow because he likes to think ahead and contemplate the future.

hail caeser (salad)

Sorry (if anyone is even reading this) for the lack of posts recently, it took me a while to replace my camera and then I was swamped with studying for my culinary school midterm! My entire class was super stressed about the test, which consisted of 85 written questions as well as a practical exam where we had to make a creamy soup (without cream), a salad with vinaigrette and a poached pear with apple juice reduction. I definitely didn’t fail but I don’t think I aced it either… After the exam all I wanted was a big scoop of dairy-free ice cream but opted instead for alcohol (does this mean I’m a big girl now?) A bunch of us went out for drinks after the test to de-stress and the waiter named a drink after me! It was blood orange juice and vodka, so like a screwdriver but more awesome red, and he called it the Screwing Fiona. I wish I got a picture of it, I guess I’ll have to go back sometime for a few more.

Salads, now this is what I pictured we would be making at health-supportive cooking school, not all this deep-fried bullshit. I love me some fried foods but is there anything better than a good salad? (yes, and they are called French fries.) We made this vegan Caesar salad that was out of this world and I already recreated it at home and am seriously jonesing for some now. I actually didn’t get a picture of it, but I’ll take one next time I make it. I definitely didn’t get pictures of every salad but here are a few. We’ve also had a couple classes on plating, hasn’t our food presentation improved?

Buckwheat Noodle Salad

Wild Rice and Hazelnut Salad with citrus dressing

Greenbean salad with spicy peanut dressing

We also learned how to make cute garnishes! Check out my classmate Liz’s tomato rose!

Today all the months of waiting will be finally over because I’m going to see The Hunger Games! I’m def Teem Peeta. Then later I’m going to try and check out a new vegan restaurant in Brooklyn, which I have heard great things about.

Catch you on the flip-side : )