You haven’t lived until you’ve tried a steaming bowl of moules marinières — with ample crusty bread for soaking up every last drop of the garlicky broth. Lucky for you, Chef Sabrina Sexton shared with us her recipe for preparing this classic, French dish. These simple mussels steamed in white wine make the perfect, easy weeknight dinner.

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Moules Marinières
Servings: makes about 4 servings

Ingredients:

64 mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
16 fluid ounces dry white wine
2 ounces shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ounce parsley, minced
2 bay leaves
3 thyme sprigs
Ground black pepper, to taste
2 ounces butter

Preparation:

  • Combine the white wine, shallots, garlic, parsley, bay leaves, thyme, black pepper and butter in a large, tall pot. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cover. Cook for 5 minutes to infuse the flavors.
  • Uncover the pot, return to boil and add the mussels. Cover and cook until the mussels have opened, stirring once.
  • Serve in bowls and spoon a generous amount of broth into each bowl.

Ready to launch a rewarding career in the culinary arts? Click here for more information on ICE’s career programs. 

By Emily Peck

Emily is a nutritionist, personal chef, Kitchen Assistant at the Institute of Culinary Education, and the blogger behind The Greener Palate. She’s been a vegetarian for over a decade and is passionate about plant-based, whole-food cooking.

Vegan Thanksgiving fans, anyone? From the sausage stuffing to the gravy to the big ol’ turkey, it’s hard to imagine a meatless Thanksgiving that’s still mouth-watering and traditional. If you’re someone who’s inclined to save a bird this year, you might worry that all the tofurkeys and lentil loafs in the world won’t convince your family that eating plant-based foods is in any way comparable to a juicy turkey. But it’s our duty, my fellow plant lovers, to find ways to persuade the skeptics in our lives that we can enjoy the fruits of the earth in so many unique and appetizing ways, while staying true to some of the classic holiday recipes. That’s why, when I was given the opportunity to take Vegan Thanksgiving, a course taught by Chef Peter Berley at the Institute of Culinary Education, I jumped at the chance. He shared a handful of recipes plus ideas for modifying any dish to make it both delicious and entirely plant-based. The following are some tips I took away from the course.

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  1. Innovate with herbs. Cooking with herbs has the double benefit of adding fresh flavors and nutritional benefits to any dish. You can innovate with herbs for interesting new flavors, like we did with the Roasted Vegetable Pâté recipe. The recipe called for chopped rosemary, thyme and sage, but we had a lot of basil too, so I added a handful of that plus some leftover celery leaves — the final product had a complex (and delicious) flavor.
  1. Lighten up. You can substitute heavy ingredients like cream and butter for healthy alternatives. The traditional recipe for candied yams calls for butter, but we used extra-virgin olive oil (a heart-healthy dietary fat) instead. Coconut oil is another alternative fat source that adds some nutty sweetness to the dish as well. Bonus: coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides, or “MCTs,” which have been found to boost HDL or “good cholesterol.”
  1. Nix the gluten. One recipe that I particularly enjoyed was the Stuffed Dumpling Squash with Kamut, Spelt Berry and Wild Rice. The kamut and spelt berry, however, are gluten-ful grains, and while wild rice is gluten-free, store-bought mixes are often made in facilities that also make products containing gluten — which can be problematic for those with gluten sensitivities. If you’re looking for gluten-free options, opt for a gluten-free grain such as quinoa — a hearty and healthy complex carbohydrate with a low glycemic index.
  1. Swap out refined sugars. Many candied yam and sweet potato dishes call for refined white sugar, a processed simple carbohydrate. Instead, try substituting maple syrup, agave or even coconut sugar for a natural, less-processed sweetener.
  1. Swap in Flavorful Cooking Methods (Like Caramelizing). Roasting your veggies for a half hour or more will caramelize them and bring out their natural sweetness. Chef Peter’s Caramelized Onion Gravy was impressive — it had a delicious sweet and savory component due to the slow cooking of the onions. The gravy was a rich topping for the squash dumplings (mentioned above), creating a unique twist on a classic dish without using a meat base.

Many families rely on their collective traditions when choosing Thanksgiving dishes. I like to create my own traditions while paying homage to the long-standing ones of my family — my aunt’s irresistible Pecan Squares and my mom’s Creamy Zesty Carrots, both recipes handed down from their mom, my grandmother. This year, I plan to recreate these dishes by substituting the dairy and any highly processed ingredients with plant-based, fresh ones. My uncle, who finds great value in keeping things simple and classic, probably won’t admit that he likes Chef Peter’s Maple Tofu Whipped Cream that I’m going to pile on top of my Vegan Almond-Raspberry Cake. But the proof will be in the pudding — or on his empty dessert plate when he’s asking for seconds. Aside from being delicious, cooking plant-based foods provides the freedom to eat more (within reason), while taking advantage of many benefits, including improved digestion due to high amounts of fiber, minerals, vitamins, healthy fats and plant-based proteins. All of this creates healthy and happy bellies on Thanksgiving.

Emily’s Vegan Almond-Raspberry Cake
Servings: 8

Ingredients:

2 cups almond flour, firmly packed
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup coconut- or almond-milk dairy-free yogurt
⅔ cup honey
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 ounces raspberries, preferably organic
Zest of 1 lemon

Optional:

Sprinkle of powdered sugar
½ cup chopped raw pistachios, almonds or pecans

Preparation:

  • Preheat oven to 325º F. Lightly grease a 9-inch pan (I used a spring form pan) with vegan butter or spray and lightly dust with almond flour.
  • In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the almond meal, baking powder, baking soda, ginger and sea salt.
  • In small bowl, combine the yogurt, honey, vanilla extract, olive oil and lemon zest. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry. Mix well and fold in the raspberries. Pour the mixture into the pan.
  • Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the cake is golden brown. Test with a toothpick to make sure it comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.
  • Once cooled, slice into 8 pieces. Top with Maple Tofu Whipped Cream (recipe below). Optional: Sprinkle with chopped nuts and powdered sugar.

 

Chef Peter’s Maple Tofu Whipped Cream
Servings: Makes about 2 ½ cups

Ingredients:

½ pound soft tofu, drained
¼ cup maple syrup
¼ cup canola oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 ½ teaspoon lemon juice
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons agar flakes
½ cup cold water
1 tablespoon arrowroot or cornstarch
½ cup plain soy or almond milk

Preparation:

  • Combine tofu, maple syrup, oil, vanilla extract, lemon juice and salt in food processor.
  • Place the agar flakes and cup of cold water in sauce pan over medium heat. Stirring continuously, cook until the mixture reaches a boil. Then reduce the heat to simmer.
  • In a bowl, whisk the arrowroot powder (or cornstarch) and soy milk (or almond milk) and add to the simmering liquid. Raise the heat and whisk continually until the mixture begins to bubble. Remove from heat.
  • Slowly pour the hot mixture into the food processor and process until smooth. Stop the motor and scrape down the sides of the bowl to incorporate all of the ingredients.
  • Transfer the tofu cream to a clean container and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.
  • Process the tofu cream again briefly just before serving

Want to expand your healthy-cooking repertoire? Click here to check out upcoming recreational cooking courses.


By ICE Staff

Team up with the New York Jets and the Institute of Culinary Education to upgrade your tailgate and homegate all season long. The Official Jets Cooking School has created an exclusive lineup of hands-on culinary lessons so you can feed your hankering for serious food and football. Bacon lover? Don’t miss Bacon Bonanza, where you’ll learn to prepare everything from bacon-wrapped, cheese-stuffed chicken to a bacon-spiked cocktail. Ready to bring your burger game to the next level? Get your tickets for The Ultimate Burger Bar and ICE chefs will share their tips for cooking your burger to perfection on charcoal grills. Check out the entire roster and gear up to make it an unforgettable season of food, football and fun with the Jets and ICE.

Click here to learn more about The Official Jets Cooking School!


By Caitlin Gunther

There are dishes you learn to cook to impress friends and relatives. Others you learn to prepare a traditional holiday dinner. Then there are the dishes that you learn as basic life skills—cards you can pull from your sleeve on any given day, during any season, and your dinner guests, even the pickiest of them, are bound to be satisfied. Homemade pizza falls into this last category. With a base comprised of just a handful of ingredients—flour, water, salt, yeast and olive oil—you can throw together a pizza using what’s already in your cupboard, adding a few fresh toppings to give it that gourmet touch.

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To master this very essential life skill, I took the Homemade Pizza course with Chef Sue Gonçalves last Saturday at the Institute of Culinary Education. We measured, we mixed, we stretched (the dough) and, ultimately, we feasted. In the course of preparing one focaccia and two thin-crusted pizzas, I picked up some tips for crafting your best homemade pie. Though I highly recommend taking the class yourself—for the first-hand experience and because Chef Sue brings a fun, easygoing energy into the kitchen—I’ll share my tips to whet your appetite for homemade pizza making.

  1. Know your ingredients – Always review your recipe and ingredients before you begin mixing the dough. As I quickly learned in class, if you mistake cornmeal for yeast, your dough is not going to rise. Period. You’ll have to begin the dough mixing process all over again, and while your classmates are moving on to focaccia, you’ll still be kneading your first pizza dough.
  2. Watch your time – We used a recipe that called for active dry yeast. This will accelerate the rise and with the right temperature (either in a warmish room or a proofing box), the dough rising process should take an hour or so. You want to allow the dough to rise until it has doubled in size, but not much longer. If you’re planning to use the dough the following day, refrigerate once it has risen to halt the rise.
  3. Start from the middle – Once the dough has risen, it’s time to stretch it. You’ll notice that pizza dough has a wonderfully stretchy texture. It’s very tempting to dive into stretching and twirling the dough overhead. Not so fast. To begin, place your dough ball on a lightly oiled surface, and, using your fingertips, gently prod the dough beginning in the middle and pushing outward. Work your fingers around in circles to slowly stretch the dough in all directions. Continue until your dough is a large, mostly flattened circle, slightly thicker on the edge and not too thin in the middle. If your dough is too thin in the middle, it won’t be able to support the toppings and may burn if you try to bake it anyway. Rec-Pizza_Class_Caitlin_Gunther_7.23.16-4
  4. Don’t dress on the table – A classic rookie move is to dress the dough on the table and then attempt to transfer it to your baking surface. Always stretch the dough on your table and transfer to a wooden peel (or pan if you are cooking in a regular oven) before adding toppings.
  5. Brush on the olive oil – To get that crispy, crackly crust, use a brush to slather on some olive oil. Use a flavorful extra virgin olive oil for maximum flavor points.
  6. Cornmeal the peel – You know how the bottom of your pizza is always dusted with those golden speckles? That’s cornmeal! Sprinkle some on your wooden peel before spreading your dough on it. That will help you shimmy the dough, as Chef Sue says, off the peel and transfer it into your pizza oven. Rec-Pizza_Class_Caitlin_Gunther_7.23.16-1
  7. Less is more…with sauce – You may have the urge to get wild with the sauce—that gorgeous color, that rich, vibrant flavor. But the truth is, too much sauce makes for soggy, weak crust. To ensure your pizza will have a sturdy base, especially if you eat your pizza New York-style (grab, fold, devour), go easy with the sauce.
  8. Hide the basil – How does one achieve a Margherita pizza, with basil baked into the pizza, without burning those lovely herbs? Sure enough, laying fresh leaves atop your cheese and baking them in a 500+ degree oven will singe those babies and render them bitter herb crisps. The answer: add the basil on top of the sauce, then top with cheese. The cheese layer will protect your herbs from burning. Rec-Pizza_Class_Caitlin_Gunther_7.23.16-2Rec-Pizza_Class_Caitlin_Gunther_7.23.16-5

Pizza making is an art. Prepare it yourself and you’ll appreciate your next corner slice more than ever. With the above tips in mind, learned from Chef Sue Gonçalves of ICE, you’ll be one step closer to mastering your homemade pizza craft.

Want to learn to make pizza and other delicious dishes? Check out our upcoming recreational courses!

 

By Jessica McCain—Student, School of Culinary Arts

Most of us spend our childhoods answering the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The fact is, we all become adults some day and have to do something…but what we want to do and what we end up doing isn’t always the same thing.

All of your life experiences push you in a certain direction: they influence the choices you make, define who you are and what you choose as a career. But why just choose a career when you can choose your passion? It took me 25 years to figure out the difference between the two, and now here I am, a student at ICE.

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However conclusive and easy that sounds, it wasn’t an easy journey. I didn’t just wake up one day with everything falling into place. If we go back seven years ago, you find me at age 18—the youngest of four in a hardworking military family. I did what any normal kid would do: went to college, just like the rest of my siblings. The only difference? I hated it! I was so concerned about what I thought my parents wanted that I ended up a first-year nursing student with an overloaded nineteen-hour course schedule, as a new sorority pledge, an ROTC cadet and an intramural sports enthusiast.

If this overachieving, trying-to-please everyone else style of decision-making sounds like you, you’re not alone. By the time I was halfway through my degree, I knew something had to change. So I decided to change my major to psychology. So what if it added another year? I didn’t love it, but it was still a degree…right? I’d be 23 with a degree!

Wrong answer. Another year in, I had the same drowning feeling and still no degree.

College didn’t work out, so I started making other changes. I spent four years in reality television, worked endless miscellaneous jobs and even moved across the country to California. By then, I had finally had enough. Working for so long in fields that I hated (and that offered no room for professional growth) inspired me to finally give in to the one passion that had always stuck with me: cooking.

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ICE was all the way back in New York City, but I knew I had to give it a chance. Once I toured the school and met with the admissions team, I could just feel that I was finally in my lane. Still, the process was far from easy. Coordinating on a three-hour time difference, trying to wade through FAFSA paperwork and find an apartment within a short period of time was no joke! However, unlike some of the other culinary schools I had visited, at ICE I could tell I wasn’t just a number in a system. No, Mr. Jock Grundy, my admissions counselor, made sure I felt that I mattered, and he was always there to help with every step—from my first questions to my first day of school.

Fast forward three weeks later and I, Jessica McCain, was all moved into my new apartment in New York City. I suited up in my crisp white uniform with my name stitched on the chest and had my own set of knives gleaming back at me in my new classroom—kitchen six—with Chef Ted.

Culinary Arts | Jess McCain | Institute of Culinary Education| Sauces | Cauliflower | Roasting

Day one was so exciting, and unlike normal school, we dove right into the fundamentals of becoming a chef—and I felt my passion more intensely than ever. I was no longer waiting to meet my future. A month into the program, I don’t even feel like the same person. I’m no longer nervous to hold my knives­—they’re like an extension of myself, and I feel like I’m beginning to find myself at ICE.

My dad always told me, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” I say if you’re lucky enough to find your passion in life, pursue it and let it set your soul on fire.

Ready to start your culinary journey? Click here to receive free information about ICE programs.

 

By Michael Laiskonis—Creative Director

Sometimes the only thing better than finding inspiration on your own is witnessing someone else’s process of discovery. I see this spark in students all the time, when a visible realization of an idea or technique strikes, when the proverbial “light bulb” turns on. In my current position at ICE, making that connection is the most important aspect of what I do.

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Yet while ICE’s classroom kitchens regularly provide opportunities for inspiration, the routine of the professional kitchen often presents fewer of those moments. Chefs must actively seek out new experiences and learning opportunities. However, it’s not just about keeping on the lookout for a revelation that will become the next dish on your menu. Inspiration can also be a means to remind us of the reasons why we started cooking in the first place.

From time to time all cooks need a eureka! moment: a short, sharp shock of inspiration that fuels our sense of purpose. For some, it may come from a singular triumph—one dish or dinner service—which, however small, allows the bigger picture to fall into perspective. Or maybe inspiration springs from an isolated disaster—something positive can be spun from that too. Cooks may even find clarity in working through the many monotonous tasks in the kitchen—many chefs believe you don’t truly master a task until you’ve practiced it a thousand times. Of course, there is also a world full of new ingredients to be tasted.

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Working familiar flavors into new presentations—strawberry, yogurt and basil

These moments don’t necessarily have to be life-changing, but their influence is significant. They can provide the energy to get us through one more day or a particular challenge, or provide the missing link that brings an old idea full circle. I often think back to my earliest days, when everything was new, and each newfound skill provided a foundation for the next. These vivid memories can be inspiring themselves, as they transport me to a distinct time and place, a precise moment of “before” and “after” a noteworthy discovery.

I’ve had so many little such sparks that I’ve no doubt forgotten the majority of them. But off the top of my head, here are some of the grand and small eureka moments over the course of my career:

  • A dish at Restaurant Pierre Gagnaire that amazed me so much I nearly burst into laughter
  • The combination of blueberry pie and coffee at a picnic table in Massachusetts
  • Breakfast at the Tsukiji market in Tokyo, of raw fish so fresh it was still moving
  • My first successful laminated dough
  • Strolling the garden at the French Laundry between courses, peeking into the kitchen and noticing how quiet it was. After dinner, I noticed the word “finesse” posted above the kitchen door.
  • The day I bought a copy of the Larousse Gastronomique
  • The first time I tasted raw pulp from a cacao bean
  • Lunch at Le Bernardin in 1998: skate sautéed in goose fat with a squab jus
  • Strolling the streets of Paris at 7 a.m., with the unmistakable smell of financiers wafting down the block from Poujauran
  • When I finally understood the underlying science of making ice cream
  • Cooking at a winery in Napa Valley: We needed a lemon, and I was told, “Just go outside and pick one.”
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Figuring out how to develop a crunchy choux puff technique was a profound “eureka” moment

You’ll notice that the great majority of these moments were the result of travel. It’s true: our senses are hyper-acute when we leave our familiar surroundings, so it makes sense that we would be more open to inspiration. But most of us (myself included) can’t just hop on a plane for France or Spain or Japan whenever we feel like it. I remind myself all the time how lucky I am to live in a place like New York City, where there is no shortage of food-related stimuli, and, in truth, it can be even more special to find inspiration when we aren’t actually looking for it—in the “monotony” of kneading dough or chopping vegetables.

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Pursuing the impossible: fragile meringue cylinders

And yet, the eureka muscle may be one we can develop with time and intention. Go to the supermarket with a pair of fresh eyes. Talk to your ingredients, and listen to what they may have to say in response. If there’s a food you can’t stand eating, force yourself to try it again and ask yourself why. Buy a new kitchen tool and learn how to use it. Plant a garden, or at least a pot of herbs, and consider the processes at work. Learn how to make bread and study its inner architecture. Practice cleaning a fish and take notice of the anatomy. Intentionally “break” a sauce or ganache and see if you can fix it. Make a complex dish from a trendy cookbook and a more traditional dish from an iconic text. As long as it’s something you’ve never done before, your choice of activity really doesn’t matter. Moreover, this advice extends beyond professional cooks; I’d like to think everyone could use a positive little nudge in the kitchen.

Look for the answers to your own questions. Then turn every answer into another question. Challenge yourself, try something new, if not once a day, then once a week. It may or may not change your life, but it certainly will make what formerly seemed like “just another day” far more interesting.

Want to study with Chef Michael? Click here for a full list of his advanced pastry classes at ICE.

By Carly DeFilippo—Student, School of Culinary Arts

For most of my time in culinary school, I’ve been learning time-tested techniques or following a recipe “to a T.” So with the exception of a few lessons in modern plating, the ICE “market basket challenge” was the first time I was asked to truly cook creatively for my Chef Instructor and classmates.

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These Chopped!-style lessons, which culminate in an exam of the same format, have been among my favorite moments in the program. After months of following specific directions, I knew that having a blank canvas with only the specification to use “bacon, scallops and tomatoes” or “half a chicken” would be the ultimate test of what I had really learned.

To understand what I experienced during those lessons, it’s important that you know a little about my cooking skills before I entered the Culinary Arts program. I was an above-average home cook—highly knowledgeable, but with no technical training. Cooking dinner for 15 was a task I had already accomplished on numerous occasions, and experimenting with new ingredients is one of my favorite hobbies. So as I approached the “market basket” lessons, I was actually most anxious that I might feel I had not advanced significantly as a cook during the past several months of culinary school.

A "market basket" trial run: half poussin with roasted potatoes, cauliflower and porcini ragout

A “market basket” trial run: half poussin with roasted potatoes, cauliflower, porcini ragout and pan sauce

However, over the course of our two market basket “practice days” and exam, I realized how dramatically I had underestimated the transformation of both my skills and my confidence over these past few months. From pan sauces to warm vinaigrettes, creamy purées to perfectly cooked proteins, I honestly couldn’t believe how easy it felt to execute these dishes—and how proud I was of the results.

Now, before you call me “cocky,” let me be the first to say that there was still improvement to be had. For example, when I served a delicious and well balanced—but rustic—half poussin, Chef Sabrina Sexton challenged me to elevate my presentation style. So, leaving behind the bistro style that came most naturally to me, I felt motivated to tackle a true fine dining presentation for my final exam. Integrating a rainbow of colors, a balance of sweet and bitter flavors and at least seven different textures on a single plate, my final exam dish felt like an overwhelming success. While plating the many components of my “high end” braised chicken—with roasted and raw beets, sautéed radicchio, squash purée and carrot ribbons—was far more difficult than my bistro-style poussin, the flavors and textures were spot on, and never in a million years would I have imagined that I could have come up with such a dish. With a gentle push from Chef Sabrina, I realized for the first time, the incredible possibilities that could be available to me as a cook.

My "market basket" exam: braised chicken with orange/squash puree, roasted and raw beets, carrot ribbons, stewed radicchio, pan sauce.

My “market basket” exam: braised chicken with orange/squash puree, roasted and raw beets, carrot ribbons, stewed radicchio, pan sauce.

As we move toward graduation—and I plan a three-course appetizer menu to serve 60 guests—I’m all the more grateful for this “market basket” experience. While it taught me about time management, multi-tasking and devising a dish from scratch, it also taught me not to play it too safe. At the end of the day, cooking is the most fun when there’s a little risk involved—or, as some might prefer to call it, when you’re learning something new.

Want to tap into your creative potential? Consider a career in Culinary Arts.

 

By Chef Sarah Chaminade, School of Pastry & Baking Arts

As soon as the month of September rolls around, we’re inundated with pumpkin flavor; from lattes to muffins to Oreos…it’s everywhere! I love pumpkin, but my opinion is that if something is called “pumpkin ______” it should contain the real thing—not artificial flavoring.

Enter: granola. Granola is a great way to incorporate pumpkin into your daily diet. It features all those warm spices that make you think of fall—cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and allspice—plus this recipe actually has real pumpkin in it!

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It’s important to note that, just as most pumpkin products contain no actual pumpkin, granola can be deceivingly unhealthy for a supposed health food. Most recipes are high in calories due to large quantities of vegetable oil. However, in this case, you needn’t fear empty calories, as it’s the inclusion of pumpkin purée—along with maple syrup and applesauce—rather than oil that helps add moisture to this recipe.

Served by itself, on top of your favorite yogurt or even in your morning oatmeal for a lovely crunch, it’s the perfect way to satisfy your sweet tooth…once that Halloween candy stash runs out.

Pumpkin Spice Granola

Yield: 4 cups

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 2/3 cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin purée
  • 1/4 cup applesauce
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup dried cranberries

Instructions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 325F.
  2. In a large bowl, combine oats and pumpkin seeds. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together spices, egg whites, pumpkin purée, applesauce, maple syrup, dark brown sugar and vanilla extract.
  4. Pour wet ingredients over dry, stirring to coat.
  5. Spread mixture evenly on a parchment-lined sheet pan.
  6. Bake for 40-45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and dry to the touch.
  7. Let cool, and mix in dried cranberries.
  8. Store in an airtight container (up to 4-6 weeks).

Want to learn more about cooking with fall flavors? Click here

By Carly DeFilippo

In our increasingly global food scene—where we can access ingredients as diverse as octopus, chicory and passionfruit; where our shelves are lined with cookbooks celebrating Italian, Filipino, Middle Eastern or South American cuisine—what is the value of regional cooking? It’s a question that ICE Culinary Arts alum Vivian Howard and an evolving community of chefs are exploring by revisiting the flavors of their ancestors, celebrating the ingredients and dishes of regional American cuisine.

Acclaimed for both her work as chef/co-owner of Chef & The Farmer and her acclaimed PBS show A Chef’s Life, Vivian was presented with a Peabody Award in 2014 and has been nominated twice for the James Beard “Best Chef Southeast” award. But beyond these honors, Vivian’s cooking and storytelling are breathing new life into the culinary traditions of eastern North Carolina, inspiring a new generation of chefs to explore their own roots and celebrate the taste of home.

What were you doing before you enrolled at ICE?
Before I started cooking, I worked in advertising as an executive on the Pantene account. But I knew that I didn’t want to do that forever, so I quit my job. As I was trying to find myself, I started working in restaurants, and the first real place I worked was as a server at Voyage, which did southern food via the African diaspora.

I became very interested in the stories behind the food, so I started working in the kitchen as a means to become a food writer. I didn’t intend to become a chef, but I found that I enjoyed the camaraderie, the fast pace, the deadlines and the message of it all. The chef I was working for recommended that I enroll in a culinary program, so that I could get an internship in the city’s top kitchens.

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What were the highlights of your time in culinary school?
I liked ICE’s approach, and I felt it was a well-rounded program that would help me discover what direction I wanted to follow. My first instructor was Alex Guarnaschelli, who was such a great storyteller, a passionate teacher and—of course—a female chef. She really set the bar for my experience. I also remember Chef Ted; he was very intimidating, but turned out to be one of my favorites—so knowledgeable, very open and just knew everything. All my teachers were great. I never popped up so easily in the morning as when I was in culinary school.

Where was your externship, and how did it influence your future in the industry?
My externship was at wd-50. It was just about to open at the time, and the New York Times did a big spread on the restaurant. I remember reading about the avant-garde techniques, and thinking, “I want to do that.” It was a kitchen of super intense males at the top of their game, but they were open to [me externing]. The first day, I was terrified. It was overwhelming for a young woman from North Carolina—I was still working on my knife skills! But I had a great experience and became more comfortable.

Chef Wylie Dufresne and former Pastry Chef Sam Mason of wd-50

Chef Wylie Dufresne and former Pastry Chef Sam Mason of wd-50

I remember working in pastry, making a parsnip cake that Chef Sam Mason was so well-known for at the time. He did a lot of vegetable-based desserts, which I found very interesting and that I’ve carried with me over the years. I also remember working on a squid noodle dish where we froze the squid and then sliced it into long strips. It was one of the first times I really witnessed reinvention or a sort of culinary “trickery” on the plate.

What came next for you after wd-50?
From there I went on to join the opening team at Spice Market, and I stayed there for 8-10 months. I enjoyed the super fast-paced environment, with a ton of covers and Jean Georges himself on board—a great learning experience. But I began to think I might like catering, so I started working in that field after Spice Market and had a little non-legitimate catering business that I was running out of my apartment.

Around that time, I had some folks interested in investing in a soup shop in the city, but when my parents heard that I was really thinking of putting down roots in New York, they said, “Oh no, come back to North Carolina and we’ll help you open up a restaurant here.”

So I moved back to eastern North Carolina and began renovating a building and starting over from scratch. It took just over a year to actually open, and since I was just a line cook in New York City, I had no real experience running a kitchen. I was still trying to find my voice. But as I learned more about this place where I grew up and the food that I ate during my childhood, I came to love and respect that food. So I slowly started reinventing traditional dishes from our region of North Carolina, and we got a great response from our neighbors and the community.

How did running a regionally-focused restaurant evolve to the point where you were producing A Chef’s Life?
Four years ago, I had some neighbors who invited me over to make collard kraut. Here I am with four sixty-year-old men, using the same seeds that have been passed down for generations. They explained to me the traditions—including specific rules like the fact that women never made the kraut—as well as certain beliefs based on the farmers’ almanac. I found this so interesting, and I wrote a little blog post about it.

But my interest in these kind of traditional, regional stories really started to grow, and I started talking about filming and sharing them with other people. Finally, my husband said, “Please go talk to someone else about it.” So I reached out to a childhood friend, Cynthia Hill, to ask if she’d be willing to help out with the project. We started experimenting with what I was like on camera, and finally we came up with a pilot around the subject of sweet corn.

At that point, Cynthia had some contacts in New York and at University of North Carolina TV, but everyone said no. They didn’t understand what to do with it—was it a cooking show or was it a documentary? But we felt strongly that it was special, so we brought it to South Carolina TV, and they loved it and wanted to take it national to PBS. But for that to happen, we had to make 12 more episodes to create a series. We raised the money locally through economic development groups and a Kickstarter campaign, scraping together just enough to make that first season.

You’ve won a number of awards—notably James Beard Foundation and a Peabody awards—for the series. Are there any particular milestones or accomplishments of which you feel most proud?
I used to be very milestone-oriented. “Oh, if I can get a review by this newspaper or if I can get nominated for this award.” Or, “Oh, if we can just make this first season.” But at this point, I’ve decided that I’m not going to focus on those things and just try and enjoy the journey. Because with every positive milestone comes challenges, too.

What might people be surprised to learn about your job?
I don’t know if this would surprise people, but my day-to-day routine has changed a lot. A year ago, I would have been in my kitchen starting at 9am, prepping for service, expediting and then going home for the night. Instead, I’m in a car with two friends, heading to a bluegrass festival to shake hands and sign autographs. Clearly that’s not every day, but my role in my restaurant is changing as a result—even though, when I get off the phone with you, I’m going to write out the mise en place sheets for some new dishes I’ve developed. I’m still trying to run a restaurant kitchen, so there’s a lot of juggling that goes on [between my two careers].

What do you hope the future holds for you, for A Chef’s Life, and for the restaurant?
I would like to see what we’re doing in our community make the community a stronger place—with more economic opportunities, more young people, etc. I want our restaurant and our series to help make eastern North Carolina a place that folks want to travel to and spend time in. On a personal note, I also want to find balance in my life, where I can feel like I’m doing right by my restaurant staff and that I’m doing my best as a mother and a wife. I have no interest in developing a restaurant chain; I want to impact and support those people who are close by.

How would you describe your “culinary voice”?
I believe in cooking food that has a story behind it and integrity to it—food with a very specific sense of place and that people want to eat.

Click here to read about other ICE alumni pursuing careers in the field of food media.

 


By Jenny McCoy, Chef Instructor, School of Pastry & Baking Arts

Last month, we worked on assembling your dream team—from a photographer to food and prop stylists, recipe testers to a graphic designer. Your resources are now all in a row. You’ve got a slew of recipes developed. So what should you tackle first?

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  1. Determine Your Deadlines

First and foremost, meet with your editor to find out your strict deadlines, since your publisher will want to see certain parts of the book earlier than others. They’ll also request sample recipes and photos for marketing materials and will want your artwork delivered at a very specific time.

I’ve found that some editors will proactively hand you a schedule, while others will need you to coax it out of them. My best bit of advice: as soon as your contract is signed, set a kick-off meeting with your new editor and simply ask, “What do you need from me before my manuscript is delivered? And when?” Then, ask that same question about 10 more times in your meeting. From there, you can begin to formulate a plan that works for you.

  1. Create a Timeline for Recipe Testing

Start by writing a list of recipes for each chapter. Include about 10-15% more recipes than you need, as inevitably some won’t work as planned. Be sure to share this list with your editor and get confirmation to move forward. It’s much easier to have this discussion earlier on, rather than learn later that your editor doesn’t like the recipes you’ve been working on.

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Divide the number of recipes that you plan to test by the number of weeks you plan to work in the kitchen. For example, if I had a year to write a cookbook with 100 recipes, I would plan to test 5 to 6 recipes a week, giving myself about six months for testing and using the remaining six months to actually write the book. This kind of planning also allows you some leeway, should a fussy recipe require repeated testing.

And don’t forget—each week, after testing the recipes at home, you’ll need to transform your index card scribbles into a document that someone else can read and follow. How you go about this process is up to you. Will you collect a hundred recipes on scraps of paper, then sit down for a few months and bang everything out on your computer? Will you work through weekly batches? Or do you prefer to test and write up one recipe at a time? It’s completely up to your sense of organization and working style.

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Personally, I suggest going week by week. This helps you to write your recipes while they are fresh in your head—and provide all sorts of key tips with your readers that you might forget several weeks later. But whatever you decide to do, stick to it. You are going to have to crack the whip on this project. If you aren’t on top of the work, it will pile up and become completely overwhelming. And if your editor catches wind that you aren’t working in a timely and efficient manner…you are in BIG trouble.

 

  1. Schedule Your Photo Shoot

This seems easy enough, right? Well, it is, and it isn’t. Talk to your photographer and prop stylist about their expectations. Make sure you plan enough time for all the food prep you will need to execute, remembering that you will need to make double or triple the amount your recipe calls for. (A cake might fall. Your fish might burn. Trust me, you’re going to want extra.) In general, the rule is to over-prepare.. Don’t forget to bring lots of extra raw ingredients, which also work well as props in your images. (Now do you see why having a prop stylist is helpful? Imagine all the food and groceries you have to manage. Adding props into the mix? Yikes.)

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(My next post will cover organizing all the nitty gritty details for your photo shoot, including how to best organize the timing of recipes, choosing a location, refrigeration, essential tools and supplies, trouble-shooting, prepping your assistants, etc. Be sure you don’t miss it!

  1. Writing Your Introduction, Resource Guide, Acknowledgements, Etc.

I find that it’s best to save this for last. Once you’ve completed all your recipes, you’ll have a better sense of what to write in your introduction. Your resource guide will simply be a list of all the stores and vendors you used for ingredients, tools and other supplies for your recipes. But as you go along, it’s good to keep your acknowledgement page in the back of your mind; keep a list of every single person that has helped you with your book as you go along. You don’t want to forget anyone and have hurt feelings.

That should do it! If your editor has other specific requests, plug them in where they best fit. Now stop reading this and start writing your book!

Did you miss Jenny’s previous posts? See the links below:

 **Coming Soon! Part V: Recipe Writing and Photo Tips