A Cooking Planit Holiday

I have been working with Cooking Planit for several months now and really like the utility of the application. I used to cook a large meal at the beginning of the week and eat off leftovers till about Wednesday when I would get sick of the same old thing, throw out the rest and eat fast food till the weekend. Cooking Planit helps me organize simple enough dishes on a small scale to cook several times a week with minimal leftovers. Seems like an easy enough idea but the temptation of the drive thru can be overwhelming when faced with prepping, cooking, and cleaning a whole meal. The ease of finding two or three delicious recipes, linking them into a meal, scaling it down and even putting together a shopping list makes it more manageable, even for a chef.

Holidays are an entirely different issue. Although I am originally from Austin, when my parents retired they moved back to Graham in north Texas where my mom is from. My older brother who has a long list of Special Needs is cared for by them and my younger brother along with his gorgeous and hilarious wife and their brilliant and beautiful children also have a house in Graham. So, much like my entire childhood going to my grandmother’s house, I travel up to spend time with my family for holidays. My mom is a woman of many talents but cooking is not one of them. She is the first person to make a box brownie mix and take it to cheer up a sick neighbor but a full scale holiday meal is not fun for her or us. So she allows me into her kitchen (although not much of a cook, she can be territorial about the space) to put together family favorites and maybe a “fancy” dish or two for special occasions.

Like most families, our holidays have a tradition of being done to excess. My grandmother would cook for days before we got there. Then she would get up in the wee hours of the morning to put the turkey in the oven and spend hours creating a multi course feast. The fondness of these memories and the honor of being the selected family chef to carry on the tradition led to many years of over complicated planning, prepping, and back breaking execution of some wonderfully delicious meals, half of which ended up thrown away after a day or two of way too many leftovers.

Each year, as the list of health concerns at my parents house has grown, we have moved away from the fancy china in favor of the easy clean up of paper plates and disposable baking pans. And as all of our waistbands have expanded I decided to try to scale down the feast as well as organize the prep and planning with Cooking Planit. A couple of the recipes are not up on the site yet but should be soon. My bff Michelle makes the world’s best cornbread and I used that as a base to make my grandmother’s traditional cornbread stuffing along with a turkey breast put together casserole style. Although there are eight of us, even a small whole turkey yields way more leftovers than we need. A 3 pound turkey breast was just the perfect amount with a wee bit left for the next day. Another Southern must is giblet gravy. It goes over everything without sugar, at least on my plate. I will link these recipes up when we publish them for the holidays.

For the sides, I chose 5 from Emily’s long list of delicious options. Instead of scaling it up for 8, since I was doing such a variety, I chose to prepare it for 4 which ended up being a perfect amount. Everyone got a little bit of everything with enough for seconds but only a bit of leftovers. First up was the spinach, blue cheese, and pistachio salad. Delicious and my dad is now addicted to pistachios. Next was the brussels sprouts with pancetta and sweet potato and bacon puree. Since pancetta was impossible to find in Graham, I ended up using bacon for both. The kids sadly passed on the sprouts but they were so good compared to the mushy version I hated as a kid. The sweet potatoes were a huge hit. As a rabid bacon lover, I am surprised I had never thought to pair the two before but the salty sweet combination was a real winner. The haricot verts with almonds was a healthy alternative to the traditional fat laden green bean casserole. The cream cheese mashed potatoes were the other big winner of the meal. Creamy and rich with the fresh bite of the green onions.

The biggest surprise was timing of the meal. I made the cornbread the night before so it would be ready for the stuffing but the rest of meal I set up in the My Cookbook feature and it said the whole meal would take 2 hours and 19 minutes. I think most of us are familiar with the other holiday tradition of the actual start of a holiday meal being at least an hour past the time you plan it. My mom kept asking me if we should put the turkey in the oven or start prepping sides hours before “dinner time” but I assured her that everything was under control. I started cooking at 2:30 and when the kids showed up at 4:50, the last dish was coming out of the oven. Just enough time to heat the rolls while the turkey rested before carving. Success! I have never done a holiday meal in under 3 hours.

So, yes, I work for Cooking Planit and this whole post may sound like a bit of a commercial but it is really nice to work for an app that actually does what it says it will. And who couldn’t use a little help in the kitchen, especially around the holidays?





My Dream Job

It has been over 2 months since my last post.  So much has happened.  So much that I have been afraid to talk about because I was convinced that acknowledging it might make it disappear.  I have felt so unworthy of announcing I finally have my dream job.  I have so many talented and dedicated friends that do exactly what I have been doing, some for much longer.  We share what we love about food and cooking, posting it into the unknown ether of the internet, hoping to connect with like souls.  We do it because we are obsessed.  Not for book deals, or cooking shows.  Yes, those are dreams we all share and cheer for when someone we love achieves but know that it’s like taking up basketball to reach the NBA, fun to think about but not entirely practical.

In January 2012, I lost my job of 12 years that I was very good at but had no passion for.  Don’t get me wrong, I think the majority of people work a job that may not fulfill their hearts desire but may fund it.    That in itself is a blessing.  Knowing what makes your heart sing is the first half of the answer.  Finding a way to do it is the second.  A very, very small minority find a way to fund the first half with the second.

I have been blogging for almost 3 years now.  That came about as a failure to my dream of becoming a pastry chef.  I loved pastry school and the years I spent trying to make a living at it.  The truth of being a chef is that it is for the young and the broke.  My knees betrayed me and my bank account could not keep up with the mortgage and car payments.  I would have done better to spend a couple of years on the road after school working at the best gigs I could wrangle working for free but I was too settled in Austin.  I went back to work for the company I had been at before my stab at the culinary world and started to blog as an outlet for all I had learned and all I had met.

There have always been more culinary events in Austin, than I could ever hope to afford to attend.  I also have a love for volunteering that makes me more comfortable behind the scenes anyway, so I spent additional spare time as a volunteer at the Central Market Cooking School, La Dolce Vita, and the Hill Country Wine and Food Festival now the Austin Food and Wine Fest to name a few pouring wine, taking tickets, doing dishes, and on a few lucky occasions, working with some amazing chefs both local and national.  I was not angling to further a career, I was just being a food dork and looking for others who could relate.  Not all of my Facebook friends understand what seeing Martin Yan debone a chicken in 18 seconds in person meant.

“Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”

This quote from first century philosopher Seneca or Oprah Winfrey, take your pick, is my favorite.  My passion led to my preparation which led to my opportunity.  My pastry chef dreams led to my blogging which led to my association with Austin Food Bloggers Alliance, which led to my employment by Cooking Planit.  When I lost my job in January in this age of recession one of my friends recommended I write down my dream job and I remember responding, “What’s the point?  Nobody is going to pay me to bake from my kitchen.”  Yet here I sit in August 2012 and that is pretty much my job  description.  I am truly blessed.

Now that being said, there have been lots of learning opportunities and surprises with this dream gig.  I have been writing recipes for years on my blog and in conjunction with partners like Greenling who has been so generous in supporting my community and my passion.  I am limited on some of the details I can share right now about the Cooking Planit job but basically I am writing and photographing dessert recipes from my kitchen.  The way I have to compile this information is more formal than what I am used to.  I thought I would be knocking out a dozen recipes a week at least.  I am used to writing recipes and baking professionally  but applying these skills to what is essentially writing an online cookbook for a website is profoundly more challenging.  And exciting.

Today I had a “fail” day in the kitchen.  We are having a launch party on Wednesday August 29, 2012 for Cooking Planit and I insisted on doing some small dessert bites for the party.  Partly because my friends that are attending would expect it and partly to hopefully impress the Executive Chef at Cooking Planit, Emily Wilson.  She is the genius behind the plethora of savory chef-tested recipes that Cooking Planit is launching with and she told me that Tiramisu is one of her favorite desserts.  I had visions of knocking out 80 of these or so in a small serving version as an impressive verification of my sweet to her savory.  Of course, today the mixture both curdled and proved to thick for the ISO canister I planned to use to whip out 80 servings.  But also I am learning to embrace the failures as of more value to users.  I can find a million recipes for Tiramisu.  How to prevent/fix a mistake is the most valuable contribution I can have to a recipe that has so many variables.  Hopefully my fails will help our users build on the collective culinary skills.

I have another day to fix mistakes and hopefully wow my friends and new coworkers.  I could not wait another day to claim what I have wanted most.  I am a pastry chef.  My “overnight success” has taken years of training, preparation, volunteering, wanting, and dreaming and if only for one brief and shining moment, I am doing what my heart wants most to earn a living.  I am sharing a passion and knowledge of pastry and baking with others.  May every one of you find and embrace your passion as well.


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