By: Kathryn Dwyer, Culinary Arts Student
Culinary school is an adventure embracing all kinds of new things – new tastes and smells, new tools and techniques, new people and ideas; it is an experience that, if you’re open and willing, can take you to a variety of places. Two of those places you’ll become immensely familiar with, if you’re not careful, is the colorful, processed sugar rush and crash that is the cereal isle of the grocery store and the lonely, expensive world of take-out. But, with a little planning and some good intension, there are easy ways to avoid the danger of an unhealthy habit.
It can be challenging to both keep a healthy diet and cook for yourself at home during culinary school. Sure, you are super inspired by all the recipes you’re covering in class and you want to practice techniques but at the end of the day, after spending hours in a kitchen, cooking doesn’t always sound like a ton of fun. Furthermore, after sitting down to a big, multicourse meal, usually at an odd hour of the day, i.e. 4pm, and sometimes right after class, nothing really sounds appealing. Thus it seems culinary students can fall into one of two traps, either eating out or eating nothing but cold cereal.
At first, I wavered between the two, becoming a little too familiar with both a certain “Mexican” fast-food chain and a famous coffee place. It was a joke among my classmates in the beginning of the program that none of us had eaten as much take-out as we had during culinary school. I had a right library of cereal boxes in my cupboard to peruse after class each evening; the battle between granola and Lucky Charms was waged each night. In the mornings I wouldn’t leave myself the time to make breakfast so I’d pick up a bagel or coffee near school, but in reality I was wasting both my time and money. It only took a couple weeks of this unhealthy, unrealistic routine to realize I needed a change, I needed to eat a more balanced diet and I had to stop dropping the big bucks eating out.
One of my chef instructors was a stickler for not wasting anything. He was incredibly skilled in creating the “must-go” special, a dish created with nothing but leftover ingredients. He taught us the importance of this technique, in creating something from scraps and leftovers that can both make money for a restaurant and prevent waste. He called them “must-go” dishes. We had must-go stew, must-go quiche, must-go salads, the must-go referring to the last-ditch opportunity for the ingredients. He instilled in us the importance of not wasting food, from a financial and an environmental standpoint and in respect for the ingredients themselves.
There is an art to creating a wholesome, tasty must-go special and when I realized I needed to change my eating habits outside of culinary school it was those techniques I called upon. I knew I needed to come up with simple, healthy, filling and above all easy dishes I could make on the weekends to keep myself eating well all week. I needed to use up whatever scraps and leftovers that were collected in my fridge and freezer and I needed whatever I made to be quickly reheated and something that wouldn’t go bad within a few days. The favorite dishes my chef instructor created with his must-go specials were soups and frittatas. Dishes that are incredibly adaptable, forgivable and fit my eating needs during school.
So, I created my own must-go soup and frittata specials most weekends. I would check my fridge, take stock of what I wanted to use or had on hand, supplement those ingredients with a grocery store run for fresh items and create something that could last me all week. Now before school I had vegetable-laden baked egg frittatas that took only a few moments to reheat in my oven yet kept me satisfied and full of energy all morning. In the evenings, my humble, hearty soups were both appetizing and healthful. They were easy to reheat and simple enough to sound tempting even after looking at food all day. As an added bonus, with both dishes I could get in a little knife practice and I was saving money, it was a win-win-win!
The recipes included offer more techniques; both the soup and frittata are infinitely flexible making them ideal fridge-clearing dishes. Having the intention and a plan to eat healthfully during culinary school goes a long way in making your days more successful. Rather than allowing yourself to get caught up in an unhealthy cycle, make it a point to be mindful about your eating habits outside of your culinary classes.
Must-Go Roasted Root Vegetable Soup:
The recipe ingredients are very adaptable for the seasons and what you’ve got in your refrigerator; everything from the vegetables to the liquid to the herbs/seasonings can be changed to your taste. I went with organic winter root vegetables in a similar color scheme to keep my soup an appetizing color (the celery is green but it disappears in after pureeing). I also used chicken stock, a little thyme/bay leaf and smoked paprika. I only roast the vegetables that are firm and not too full of water, in this case everything except the celery and bell pepper.
1 medium butternut squash – peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
4 medium carrots – peeled, large dice
2 medium parsnips – peeled, large dice
1 large turnip – peeled, large dice
1 large yellow onion
1/3 cup olive oil
3 stalks celery
1 orange bell pepper
3 cloves garlic – minced
two sprigs thyme, rosemary, sage and/or bay leaf
2 ½ quarts chicken/vegetable stock or water
seasonings such as red pepper flakes, smoked paprika or curry powder
splash of lemon juice, apple cider or balsamic vinegar
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss butternut squash, carrots, parsnips, turnips and onions in 3 Tbs olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper. Spread out in a single layer over several baking sheets or shallow pans. Roast about 45 minutes, stirring every 10 or so minutes for evening browning. Remove from oven when vegetables are fork-tender and lightly caramelized.
2. Heat remaining olive oil in a stockpot over medium, sauté celery for 5 minutes, then add bell pepper and sauté 3 more minutes. Add minced garlic and herbs/spices and sauté one minute. Pour in liquid and bring to a boil, cook celery/pepper until fork tender. Add roasted vegetables and bring back to a boil. Check tenderness on several different vegetables and when everything is very fork tender, blend soup with immersion blender or in batches using a regular blender. If needed, adjust consistency with more stock or water. Taste for seasonings and adjust salt and pepper, and add a squeeze of lemon or splash of vinegar for a little zing (if desired).
3. Serve with any number of additions, including croutons, toasted pumpkin seeds, grated Parmesan cheese, a dollop of plain yogurt or swirl of crème fresh. Also goes great with grilled cheese sandwiches, too.
This too is incredibly adaptable. For my version, I needed to use up some broccoli, a red bell pepper and cheddar cheese so I chose hot Italian sausage and red onion to round out the filling. I’ve added everything from leftover steak and potatoes to cauliflower and feta cheese, even leftover pasta can be yummy! This recipe makes a large frittata and for me it easily lasts five mornings, I reheat it covered with aluminum in a glass container in a 300-degree oven for about 10 minutes, or you could warm it up in a microwave. Again, you can use any combination of vegetables, meats and/or cheeses you desire.
½ lb hot Italian sausage
2 cups small broccoli florets – blanched and shocked
1 red bell pepper – julienne
½ red onion – julienne
2 cloves garlic – minced
¼ cup whole milk or half-and-half
1 tsp salt
½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
butter or cooking spray for pan
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9×13 glass pan with butter or cooking spray.
2. Remove sausage from casings, break up into small bits and cook over medium heat in large skillet until cooked thoroughly and browned. Remove sausage from skillet drain fat and reserve, discard extra grease from pan and return to heat. Add onions to hot pan, sauté 3 minutes, scraping up any bits of sausage left behind, add bell pepper and sauté 3 more minutes, add garlic and sauté 30 more seconds, return cooked sausage to pan and combine, remove from heat and reserve.
3. Whip eggs well with milk, salt and pepper. Scatter the blanched and shocked broccoli and sausage/pepper mixture evenly in greased pan. Pour in beaten eggs and top with cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes, jiggling the pan a little to check doneness. When eggs are still a bit runny but almost set remove foil and cook an additional 5-10 minutes until lightly browned and knife inserted in the middle comes out clean of uncooked egg. Let cool on wire rack. Store covered in the refrigerator.
4. I like to make my frittatas super portable by eating them between two pieces of toast like a sandwich, it’s fast when I’m really late to school, and it’s even pretty good cold.
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