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Foodie Focus: A love for cuisine at the Caribbean Culinary Institute

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How Learning To Cook Can Boost Your Creativity

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Like many, I was introduced to cooking when I started college at 17 — to survive. Since then I have traveled many miles, experienced many cuisines, and cooked many meals.

Along the way I have learned a few things about food, the process of cooking, and the impact it makes on our mind, body, and soul during good times and bad times. Food is the most fundamental of needs for our survival and almost every major event in our lives revolves around it.

It plays a vital role in the development of social interactions and social relationships. I find food to be sacred and the process of making food to be awakening and insightful. Although I am not professionally trained, cooking has become a joyful passion.

The process of making food has taught me to be mindful, embrace creativity, and push for mastery. Below are a few lessons that might make you think differently the next time you enter your kitchen.

Ritualistic Cooking Can Enhance Mindfulness

Along with billions of others around the globe, I suffer from the daily grind of life. My affinity with mindful living is not grounded in any kind of scientific research — rather from constant self-analysis. I have found cooking is a means towards that journey of mindfulness. It’s been said that the only two jobs of a Zen monk that are more important that sitting zazen (meditation) are cooking and cleaning. Cooking is a great way to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention to the present. It simply means living in the moment and awakening to experience. And it takes practice to be mindful. I have found that when I ritualistically cook on a regular basis it enhances my ability to be mindful about everything else I do.

In the 13th century, Japanese Zen master Dogen wrote “Instructions for the Tenzo,” or head cook. In examining the manners and methods of preparing a meal at the Monastery, he reveals how to “cook”—or refine—your whole life. In one such instruction, he says “When you boil rice, know that the water is your own life.” How do we cultivate the mind that cares as deeply for an ordinary thing, like water, as it cares for our very own life? Sounds simple — but it’s actually pretty hard — go ahead and try it. It comes from putting our entire mind into those simple tasks, concentrating deeply, and doing them intentionally and completely. And when we are mindful, it allows us to better connect with the:

  • Past – What we have completed
  • Present – The task at hand
  • Future – How our task at hand moves us forward

I believe, if we consciously think about the ingredients we choose, their preparation, the way we cook and the way we eat, it can contribute towards the development of mindfulness.

Conscious Openness Is At The Heart of Any Creative Process

I don’t ever follow a recipe for my cooking. I like to experiment, mix and match, and ‘design’ my meals. I make my decisions based on availability, my eating companions, and the hour of the day.

Over the years this awareness (during cooking) of resource, audience, and need helped me hone how I think. When I started cooking at the age of 17, just like life, I was unsure of the kitchen. Now I try to ‘create’ my food with confidence. It is entirely natural for me to mix Japanese mirin with Indian turmeric and Mexican chilies.

In 2006, chefs Ferran Adria of El Bulli, Heston Blumenthal of The Fat Duck, Thomas Keller of French Laundry and Per Se, and the writer Harold McGee put forward what they termed ‘the international agenda for great cooking,’ and while its focus is food, it could well serve as a manifesto for anyone who is in the business of creativity:

“We believe that today and in the future, a commitment to excellence requires openness to all resources that can help us give pleasure and meaning to people through the medium of food. In the past, cooks and their dishes were constrained by many factors: the limited availability of ingredients and ways of transforming them, limited understanding of cooking processes, and the necessarily narrow definitions and expectations embodied in local tradition. Today there are many fewer constraints, and tremendous potential for the progress of our craft. We can choose from the entire planet’s ingredients, cooking methods, and traditions, and draw on all of human knowledge, to explore what it is possible to do with food and the experience of eating.”

Just like making music or poetry, cooking requires understanding interconnectedness and harmonies. Anyone can mix and match two random sets of ingredients together, but not everyone can cook. Understanding the relationships between the ingredients and their interactions is crucial to creating a successful dish. This conscious openness is precisely what is at the heart of any creative process regardless of what we do and the medium we use.

Mastery Comes From Enthusiastic and Devoted Practice

Most mornings I prepare my son a balanced breakfast and a lunch pack between 6am and 6:15am.

I have about 15 min to cook eggs, toast bread, chop fruit, make a sandwich, etc. Not much time, right? Actually, it’s plenty. It comes from skills, practice, confidence, and organization. It begins with breaking down the process into mini goals:

  • I first decide what I want to cook based on what’s available
  • I do all the prep work needed to create the meal
  • I start cooking based on the cooking time and how I will serve the meal

Along with clear thinking, being productive requires skills. And mastery comes from enthusiastic and repeated, devoted practice. In the video clip below from the movie Julie & Julia, Julia Child demonstrates what 100 lbs of onions and deliberate practice can achieve. She began with one onion and continued to use deliberate practice to master one skill at a time until she became known as the best teacher in French cooking.

I have come to believe that whether we like to cook or not, these same principles apply to just about anything else we undertake. It’s about the awareness we experience, the devotion we apply, and as a result, how we create. Happy cooking — whatever you may be cooking up!

Following a Gluten-Free Diet

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To follow a gluten-free diet, you must avoid wheat and some other grains, while choosing substitutes that provide nutrients for a healthy diet.

Definition

A gluten-free diet is a diet that excludes the protein gluten. Gluten is found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye, and a cross between wheat and rye called triticale.

A gluten-free diet is essential for managing signs and symptoms of celiac disease and other medical conditions associated with gluten. A gluten-free diet is, however, popular among people without gluten-related medical conditions. The claimed benefits of the diet are improved health, weight loss and increased energy.

Most clinical studies regarding gluten-free diets have been conducted with people who have celiac disease. Therefore, there is little clinical evidence about the health benefits of a gluten-free diet in the general population.

Removing gluten from your diet likely changes your overall intake of fiber, vitamins and other nutrients. Therefore, regardless of your reasons for following a gluten-free diet, it’s important to know how it can affect your overall nutritional needs.

Diet details

Following a gluten-free diet requires paying careful attention to both the ingredients of foods and their nutritional content.

Allowed fresh foods

Many naturally gluten-free foods can be a part of a healthy diet:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Beans, seeds and nuts in their natural, unprocessed forms
  • Eggs
  • Lean, nonprocessed meats, fish and poultry
  • Most low-fat dairy products

Grains, starches or flours that you can include in a gluten-free diet include:

  • Amaranth
  • Arrowroot
  • Buckwheat
  • Corn and cornmeal
  • Flax
  • Gluten-free flours (rice, soy, corn, potato, bean)
  • Hominy (corn)
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Sorghum
  • Soy
  • Tapioca (cassava root)
  • Teff

Grains not allowed

Avoid all foods and drinks containing the following:

  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Triticale (a cross between wheat and rye)
  • Oats (in some cases)

While oats are naturally gluten-free, they may be contaminated during production with wheat, barley or rye. Oats and oat products labeled gluten-free have not been cross-contaminated. Some people with celiac disease, however, cannot tolerate the gluten-free labeled oats.

Wheat terms to know

There are different varieties of wheat, all of which contain wheat gluten:

  • Durum
  • Einkorn
  • Emmer
  • Kamut
  • Spelt

Wheat flours have different names based on how the wheat is milled or the flour is processed. All of the following flours have gluten:

  • Enriched flour with added vitamins and minerals
  • Farina, milled wheat usually used in hot cereals
  • Graham flour, a course whole-wheat flour
  • Self-rising flour, also called phosphate flour
  • Semolina, the part of milled wheat used in pasta and couscous

Gluten-free food labels

When you are buying processed foods, you need to read labels to determine if they contain gluten. Foods that contain wheat, barley, rye or triticale — or an ingredient derived from them — must be labeled with the name of the grain in the label’s content list.

Foods that are labeled gluten-free, according to the Food and Drug Administration rules, must have fewer than 20 parts per million of gluten. Foods with these labels may include:

  • Naturally gluten-free food
  • A prepared food that doesn’t have a gluten-containing ingredient
  • Food that has not been cross-contaminated with gluten-containing ingredients during production
  • Food with a gluten-containing ingredient that has been processed to remove gluten

Alcoholic beverages made from naturally gluten-free ingredients, such as grapes or juniper berries, can be labeled gluten-free. An alcoholic beverage made from a gluten-containing grain can carry a label stating the beverage was “processed,” “treated” or “crafted” to remove gluten. However, the label must state that gluten content cannot be determined and the beverage may contain some gluten.

Processed foods that often contain gluten

In addition to foods in which wheat, barley or rye are likely ingredients, these grains are standard ingredients in a number of other products. Also, wheat or wheat gluten is added as a thickening or binding agent, flavoring, or coloring. It’s important to read labels of processed foods to determine if they contain wheat, as well as barley and rye.

In general, avoid the following foods unless they’re labeled as gluten-free or made with corn, rice, soy or other gluten-free grain:

  • Beer, ale, porter, stout (usually barley)
  • Breads
  • Bulgur
  • Cakes and pies
  • Candies
  • Cereals
  • Communion wafers
  • Cookies and crackers
  • Croutons
  • French fries
  • Gravies
  • Imitation meat or seafood
  • Malt, malt flavoring and other malt products (barley)
  • Matzo
  • Pastas
  • Hot dogs and processed luncheon meats
  • Salad dressings
  • Sauces, including soy sauce
  • Seasoned rice mixes
  • Seasoned snack foods, such as potato and tortilla chips
  • Self-basting poultry
  • Soups, bouillon or soup mixes
  • Vegetables in sauce

Eating gluten-free at home and in restaurants

For people with celiac disease, in particular, it’s important to avoid exposure to gluten. The following tips can help you prevent cross-contamination in your own food preparations at home and avoid gluten-containing food when you eat out:

  • Store gluten-free and gluten-containing foods in different places.
  • Keep cooking surfaces and food storage areas clean.
  • Wash dishes and cooking equipment thoroughly.
  • Read restaurant menus online ahead of time if possible to be sure there are options for you.
  • Eat out early or late when a restaurant is less busy and better able to address your needs.

5 Reasons To Attend Culinary School

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5 Reasons To Attend Culinary School

When you decide to learn cooking from a top culinary school, you can do so for a variety of reasons. You have to decide if you are doing it because you want cooking to be your profession, or you simply want to learn more about your passion.

There are several different reasons why you may choose to attend a culinary arts professional school. Here are some compelling reasons to attend culinary school:

1. Learn How To Cook

If you have always wanted to learn how to cook, learn cooking from top culinary schools. This is where you can attend for the sheer art of knowing how to bake an apple lattice pie or carve up a beautiful turkey. You can’t learn everything from cookbooks and when you get a culinary arts education, you will learn how to do everything you ever wanted to do inside a kitchen.

2. Try New Flavors

Attending a culinary arts professional school is one of the best ways to try new flavors. Not sure what flavors go best together? You will be educated on all sorts of flavor profiles and this will help you immensely. You will learn what herbs and spices go within the different ethnic cuisines. You will learn about flavor pairing. And you will have the ability to taste them all as well.

3. Work In Restaurants

When you learn cooking from top culinary schools, you will have the skills to work in any restaurant. You can choose to work in the front of the house or the back of the house based upon where your true passion lies.

4. Become Your Own Boss

You can become your own boss by attending a culinary school. You may want to open your own restaurant, start a food truck, create a catering company or do anything else inside of the culinary world. First, you have to know what you’re doing and a school will tell you how to cook and how to manage.

5. Become A Celebrity Chef

Want to be the next Gordon Ramsay or Rachael Ray? It all starts with attending culinary school so you can understand all of the basics. Then you have to work your way up to that status by entering culinary competitions and stepping outside of the ordinary.

10 skills every cook should know

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Even top chefs once had to learn the basics of cookery. Good Food brings you the must-know skills that will take you from nervous novice to confident cook…

1. How to chop an onion

The cornerstone of so many dishes, learning to chop an onion efficiently can speed up dinner preparations no end. TIP: One way to keep tears at bay- sucking on a teaspoon while chopping will keep your eyes dry. Let us know if it works!

2. How to master basic knife skills

Once you’ve mastered chopping onions, it’s time to broaden your knife skills and get to grips with scoring, shearing, fine slicing and more.

3. How to boil an egg

Sounds simple but a perfect, runny yolk can be lost in a moment, so timing is key. The duration of a boil depends on how firm you want the eggs to be, but it’s always best to start with them at room temperature to avoid undercooking. For a soft-boiled egg, bring a pan of water to the boil, gently lower the egg into it with a spoon and cook for three to five minutes. For hard-boiled eggs, start in a pan of cold water and bring up to the boil, then cook for seven-10 minutes – the longer you cook, the firmer the egg will be. Plunge the egg into cold water as soon as it’s done to stop it from overcooking.

4. How to cook pasta

If you’ve been put off pasta by stodgy, stuck-together school dinners, it’s time to learn how to cook it properly. In Italy, pasta is always served ‘al-dente’, which literally means ‘to the teeth’ – boiled until softened, but still firm to the bite. To achieve this, fill a pan with double the water to cover the pasta, add salt to taste and bring it to the boil. Carefully drop the pasta into the boiling water and cook for 10-12 minutes, making sure to stir within the first two minutes of cooking to prevent sticking. Bear in mind that different pasta shapes will have different cooking times and fresh egg pasta will cook much quicker than dried.

5. How to make an omelette

For a tasty lunch or light dinner, you can’t beat an omelette. Beat your eggs until thoroughly combined, pour into a frying pan, and scatter over your fillings. Simple! TIP: To make it fluffy, drag the egg into the middle of the pan as it sets.

6. How to bake a potato

The humble jacket potato needs very little to turn it into a substantial meal, but a few tweaks to your method can transform it from just average to outstanding. Try rubbing the outside with a little oil and salt for spuds that have crisp skin and fluffy white flesh.

7. How to stuff and roast a chicken

Roast chicken is a Sunday favourite, but you can add even more flavour by stuffing it.  Use a temperature thermometer or check that the juices run clear, as shown in our how to test & joint a chicken video. To achieve a flavourful and healthy roast, rub the chicken with thyme, lemon juice and rapeseed oil then serve with chopped vegetables.

8. How to separate an egg

Lots of recipes call for only egg whites or yolks, so how do you separate them out? One of the easiest methods is to crack the egg with the blunt side of a knife, open the shell into two halves, and pass the yolk several times between the halves, letting the white drop down into the bowl underneath before popping the yolk into a separate vessel.

9. How to knead dough

Bread is a staple, but if you’ve never tasted a fresh loaf when it’s hot from the oven, you’re missing out. Mixing flour with water and a gentle pummelling activates gluten, which needs to be developed through kneading to make the dough stretchy and elastic. Prepare a flat, clean surface by sprinkling over a little flour, and take your bowl of risen dough. Using your fists, ‘knock back’ the dough until it forms a smaller ball, then tip this out onto your kneading surface. Using the heel of one hand, push the dough down and forwards, stretching and squashing it. Give the dough a quarter turn and fold it in half, then repeat, kneading and turning in a rhythmic manner for as long as the recipe states.

10.  How to rub flour and butter

Some find it the most satisfying part of a bake, others hate this time-consuming task. However, if you’re making shortcrust pastry, scones or a crumble, you’ll need to use a technique called rubbing in. This means taking flour and fat and rubbing it between your fingertips until it looks like breadcrumbs.