Becoming a Professional Cook

I haven’t spoken on this subject quite yet. Mainly because becoming a cook is a lot of work. It’s a lot of time and effort. Becoming a cook is physically demanding. However, I am so excited to sit down and write about this subject today. It is true. After years of wandering around this Earth trying to find my place in life, I have become a professional cook.

As a person with Borderline Personality Disorder it’s tough to settle on one goal. We are prone to changing our goals, our hair color, our clothes. I think this stems from not having a firm personality and a tendency to split on not just people, but situations as well. But, here I am, thirty years old and finding that one thing that I’m consistently passionate about and turning it into my dream job.

How did this all start?

 

Ami Lee and her First Black Chef Jacket

Let’s back up to the beginning of this year. My birthday was January 20th and this was a big year for me. I was scared to death of becoming a 30 year old woman. I was working in a miserable office with terribly negative people. I had made a decision that I was “too old” and “old enough to know better” when it came to negativity and drama. I applied for several jobs for months upon months. I had interviews and even second interviews and nothing panned out.

Unfortunately, everything came to a head in April. After three days straight of panic attacks and calling into work because I couldn’t handle the thought of dealing with that place another day, I sent a text message to my manager saying that I wasn’t coming back and blocked her. Several phone calls later I blocked the work number as well. I sent my keys back with a friend that worked there and I washed my hands of the whole place.

This, of course, lead my husband to panic. Bless the poor man, I don’t know how he puts up with me sometimes. I even annoy the hell out of myself sometimes. How he chooses to love me on a daily basis continually inspires me to try to be a better person.

I tried to do an MLM based business to keep us a float but that was a terrible fail due to my crippling anxiety and feeling like I was annoying everyone around me. I needed a job and I needed a job quick. I had seen signs that the grocery store around the corner was hiring and my Mother-In-Law mentioned that there was a baking position open. I decided to apply. Even if it was part-time, it was money in our pockets and would be better than nothing. Oh, how I look back now not realizing how big of an impact this would be.

I ended up getting the job and floated between learning to bake and the deli. As the weeks progressed I ended up getting less and less baking days to help out in the deli due to the dwindling amount of staff on that side of the department. I didn’t mind until I stopped getting bakery days. Thankfully, the full-time baker and one of the managers still let me hop over and help on occasion so I could still learn what I could.

I knew if I was patient I could work my way up for more hours. I have really great managers and one of them told me something that still sticks in my mind. “You’re not going to get more hours because you want them. You’re going to get them because you deserve them.” He was right. I was chosen to be the new deli opener when the previous one left. I took pride in the department and tried my best to excel even though it wasn’t my cup of tea.

So many things began to change though. My amazing manager over the deli/bakery moved to another store. I was sad, but happy for her and she was just like a ball of sunshine and I felt like I was a better person for knowing her. The turnover rate began to climb after she left and we were left short handed and stressed out. This led to drama and I was feeling a little overwhelmed. Then, our beloved full-time cook decided to leave. Rightfully so, I realize now.

Entrees from the Hot Bar

I was offered to take over his position. I went from 25ish hours a week to a full 40 in a week. Our new deli/bakery manager was an absolute hoot to work with. I had so much fun training with her to be a cook. I was having fun at work for the first time. Our other, and my most consistent cheerleader of a manager, helped me bring creativity to the position and so began my cooking.

The first few days I couldn’t believe it. I’m a cook. But, I kept thinking in my mind about Deadpool. Yes, I know…. If you’ve seen the second movie, you might remember at the beginning when Deadpool decides he’ll give the whole X-Men thing a try. They all show up ready to help at the scene and Deadpool is in a bright yellow jersey marked “X-Men in training.” Deadpool begins to explain to somebody that he’s an X-Men now. Negasonic Teenager shouts from behind him “IN TRAINING!!!” Every time I said something about being the cook I was just waiting for someone to shout “IN TRAINING!!!” But I wasn’t. I was the cook. Enabled and empowered by my managers to cook for the masses that come through our store each day.

As time went by I started to get compliments from customers. There were great comments from coworkers that worked in other parts of the store. Where there was once just a bunch of fried food on the hot bar, there was Taco Tuesday and Fish Fridays. I made soups and tortellini and with the help of my managers was able to provide different options to our sweet customers.

I hear things like, “We love what you’re doing. Keep up the good work.” People around town would see me in my work shirt and ask if I was in the deli. I would explain that I was the new cook and they would exclaim about how they had tried something or heard about Taco Tuesday. My heart was so full from feeling like I was actually able to provide unique foods. I was able to be creative with simple, cost effective ingredients.

Today I sit here, on a Wednesday knowing next Monday I move to the next stage in my goals for my career. I didn’t plan on only being a cook for my little small town grocery store for only two months before moving on. I just happened to get an email about a new restaurant opening in the next town over. The ad said it was for a prep cook position, no grease, no alcohol, 5 major holidays off. I looked over reviews and thought, Why not? As many unanswered applications and failed interviews I’ve had in the last two years I really didn’t think anything would come of it.

I received a call the very next day and went to interview. It was nearly four and the sun was sagging through vaulted ceiling height windows. People were cleaning and you could tell that they were still working on the finishing touches of the restaurant. I was greeted by a very sweet lady who conducted my interview and then was asked if I would like to go ahead and move to round 2. An interview with the owner of the franchise. I said yes.

Sat across from me was the owner and after hearing about this restaurant I was fan girling. Fresh food. No microwaves. No fryers. It’s not that I don’t love my current job, but I think that this food, even though it’s not vegan… Is closer aligned to my values of fresh food and food that feeds your body. There was also a beautiful, clean, brand new show kitchen. Gleaming stainless steel everywhere. A far cry from the neglected kitchen I was used to scrubbing furiously. I really didn’t think I had a chance so I mentioned as I left that even if I didn’t get the job I’d happily return to eat because I love what they’re going to be doing.

The Clean Vents Above the Fryer

The next day I received a voicemail from the sweet lady who did my first interview. I gave her a call back on break expecting bad news. I didn’t have enough experience. Blogging and writing recipes doesn’t qualify as education or study. I was fan girling too much and just silly talking about food. It’s just how I get when I get excited about food. But, no. I underestimated myself (as usual). She said, “We’d love to hire you.” I was speechless. I believe my exact words were, “I didn’t think I had a chance in hell.” (Oh yeah… Good old fashioned southern charm y’all.)

Italian Meatball Soup

So yes my friends. The next part of my cooking journey starts on Monday, November the 12th. I am becoming a prep cook. I am excited for this next step because I know that the experiences I learn here will lead me further to line cook, head cook, and possibly one day earning the title of Chef. Tears come to my eyes because I don’t think anyone can realize how truly special this is to me.

To go from dreaming of cooking for people by writing my recipes, to actually being a professional cook. To finding a dream that is truly attainable. I’m going from wandering aimlessly in the world, wondering where I belong and what my passion is… To having a dream and a goal. I always envied my little brother. He is a former Marine. I envied my husband who is in Law Enforcement. I wanted to do something special too. I wanted something I was known for and was respected for. I’ve been searching through the woods of uncertainty for so many years.

My husband often reminds me of Julia Child. Saint Julia who sparked my love of cooking as she has done so many others. She was 52 when she first started the French Chef and lead us into a frenzy of food television. It all started with Julia. It’s never too late he would remind.

Julia Child Quote about Cooking at 32

So this, my friends, is a rather long story. It is by no means the whole story. It’s not been as easy as this post implies. Drama is rampant and negative people are always prowling about trying to bring people down. But, if this year has taught me anything, it’s taught me that I am much stronger than I believe and that I truly am better. Not in an arrogant way, but with the confidence that I fight every day for my dream. I fight to be a better cook and to learn lessons that will take me so much further in life. Even if it’s how to clean the grease off the floor properly, or cleaning the vents above the fryers, equipment maintenance, and first in first out (food inventory management).

Instagram Picture from Thought of the Day

I am so thankful that as one chapter ends, another one begins for me. I am not sure how much I will be able to share about the new place. You can always follow me on instagram @workhardeatkind to see what I’m up to and my thoughts of the day. I can say that 30 has been a great year. As the end of year 30 of my life draws to it’s end, I actually look forward to 31. Even though it’s a terrible odd number. Does anyone else appreciate the eveness of numbers? I guess that just means 32 will be even better. How grateful am I to actually look forward to living after so many years of impatient despair for the constant continuation of life. How grateful am I for this journey to becoming a cook.

Vegan Dirty Rice

I was first introduced to Cajun Cuisine by none other than Emeril Lagasse. As a child I would stay up late and watch him vigorously spicing up dishes in front of a live audience. He was enthusiastic as well as informative as he danced across his kitchen. I was later introduced to Dirty Rice by my cousin Lisa. I didn’t fully understand as a child what it was. All I cared about was that it was absolutely delicious.

20180904_205118

Recently, I’ve been working on “veganizing” my childhood favorites and even though this wasn’t anything that my family cooked from scratch, I do have a fond memory of my cousin sharing this with me. I also have an alpha galactose allergy (mammalian meat) so I couldn’t have typical dirty rice with beef. Instead, I decided to try TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein) for a beef substitute and it turned out better than I could have imagined.

20180904_205111

What is TVP? It’s a defatted soy flour that is dehydrated. It is quite inexpensive and can take on the flavor of any seasoning or marinade. In this recipe in particular I used a vegan beef bouillon to re-hydrate the TVP to give it a beefy flavor. I was quite impressed with the way this cooked up in my favorite cast iron skillet.

I hope you enjoy my take on this Cajun favorite. You can enjoy it just like this or I absolutely love using the Hot for Food Sour Cream on top. I also made my kids happy with this recipe which makes me feel like this old favorite of mine just might become a favorite of theirs as well. Emeril Lagasse continues to inspire the new generations.

Do you have a favorite Emeril memory too? Share it with me in the comment section below this post. I’d love to hear about it.

Dirty Rice

  • Servings: 5
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients:20180904_205100

To Prepare the TVP:

  • 2 Cups of Texture Vegetable Protein
  • 2 Cups of Water
  • 2 Beef Bouillon Cubes
  • 1 Tablespoon Cajun Seasoning

Other Ingredients:

  • 1 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
  • 2-3 Garlic Cloves, Minced
  • 2 Cups of Rice
  • 4 Cups of Water
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 Tablespoon Vegan Butter
  • 1 Tablespoon of Garlic Powder
  • 1 Tablespoon of Onion Powder
  • Salt & Pepper to Taste
  • Fresh Parsley for Garnishing

Directions:

  1. First, cook your rice the way you know best. If you use a rice cooker, go ahead and use that. I always use a steel pot and a 2 to 1 ratio. Check the rice package for the time on the particular kind of rice that you are using. It can be anywhere from 20 minutes to 45 so be sure to check. When done, set aside off the heat.
  2. Dissolve your vegan beef bouillon in hot water and add to the TVP. Set aside and let it soak for 10 minutes. When it is softened use paper towel to press the TVP and remove any excess moisture.
  3. Add olive oil and about a tablespoon of vegan butter to a hot skillet. When the butter is melted add in the diced onion and saute until soft.
  4. Toss in your seasoned TVP into the pan and stir well. Remember, this has no dairy, or animal products so you’re really just trying to reduce the moisture, crisp the TVP, and cook it through.
  5. Add minced garlic here and cook until fragrant.
  6. Throw in the cooked rice to the pan and make sure to season your rice! Sprinkle with garlic and onion powder then stir to combine the mixture.
  7. When warmed through and the rice starts to crisp up it’s done. This only take 3 to 5 minutes.
  8. Garnish with parsley and enjoy.

Grandma Ellen’s Fried Green Tomatoes (Vegan)

Grandma Ellen's Fried Green Tomatoe

We were wandering through the produce section of our local grocery store and my kids happened to find some green tomatoes. At first the kiddos asked if they were apples, but I explained they were just tomatoes that hadn’t turned red yet. Madison thought they couldn’t be eaten yet, but I had her grab three so I could show her exactly what to do with these unripe tomatoes.

Home we went with our groceries in tow. I was also planning on making a wonderful recipe by the amazing Mississippi Vegan for Garden Rolls. I’ll leave the link to that recipe here. I basically was going the route of a good ole fashioned Southern supper.

Mississippi Vegan Garden Herb Rolls with Grandma Ellen's Fried Green Tomatoes

I remember when I was young, I was quite picky. My Grandma Ellen wouldn’t have any of that though. She handed me a round, browned, piece of food and I asked her, “What is this?” To which she replied, “Try it first and then I’ll tell you what’s in it.” Of course, I loved it and I still remember that tangy, crispy disk of deliciousness. I’ve always carried that soft little push to try new things and it’s in her honor that I do my best to try everything (as long as it won’t kill me). It’s also why I named this recipe after her. As soon as these came out of the pan I was instantly transported back to my childhood.

Fried Green Tomatoes with Herb Rolls Cauliflower Mash and Meatless Balls

In the coming months I am hoping to share more family inspired recipes. Dishes that truly mean something to me from my life and I hope you enjoy them. While some of these family members are no longer with us on this Earth, I do feel like their spirits live on with the recipes they left us.

Grandma Ellen's Fried Green Tomatoes

  • Servings: 5
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Print

Instructions:                                                         Grandma Ellen's Fried Green Tomatoes

  • 3 Green Tomatoes
  • 1/2 Cup Just Caesar Dressing
  • 1/2 Cup All Purpose Flour (Sub for Rice Flour if you are gluten free.)
  • 1/2 Cup of Panko (You can use Rice Panko or Gluten Free Panko.)

Directions:

  1. Core your tomato and slice in rounds about a quarter of an inch to a half inch thick depending on your taste. If they’re too think they’ll fall apart.
  2. Dip each slice into the Just Caesar Dressing to substitute for egg wash. This gives a lot of great flavor.
  3. Dust in the all purpose flour then back into the Just Caesar Dressing.
  4. Cover with Panko Bread Crumbs.
  5. Fry in a skillet with about an inch of oil. Wait until it is hot before putting the tomatoes in. If it doesn’t sizzle when you add it, it isn’t hot enough.
  6. Cook until golden brown on each side, about 2 to 3 minutes on each side.
  7. Remove and place on a paper towel lined plate or platter to absorb excess oil.
  8. Enjoy.

Finding my Green Thumb

When I was a little girl, I remember going to a store in our small town in the River Valley of Arkansas and picking up a little sprig of a rose bush. It was in a little water cup and I remember it’s pink flowers vividly. It’s funny the things that we remember and forget. If I remember correctly, it was planted at the house I remember growing up in Clarksville on the side of the house.

My Back Porch Garden

My mom had planted a couple rose bushes and I remember loving to look at them when they were in bloom. My mom often complains that she doesn’t have a green thumb but I don’t believe that’s true. I’ve seen her do well. Actually, many of the woman on both sides of my family have green thumbs. My Aunt Linda on my mom’s side (her oldest sister) used to plant flowers in many creative manners. My Nana (on my dad’s side) has had a huge garden ever since I can remember with all manners of homegrown food.

It’s no surprise that I have tried for a few years to find my green thumb. I had it as a little girl and I’ve tried a few times to do some small herbs in my kitchen. If you’ve watched my YouTube videos you’ll realize this wasn’t the best because I have one tiny window in the kitchen and a large glass back door. So either the plants get no light or practically catch on fire.

Last Year's Potato Plants
Last Year’s Potato Plants

Last year I started an experiment to see if I could grow some potatoes from some old and gone potatoes. The idea sprouted (pun intended) from a Facebook video suggesting I could grow a whole host of potatoes in a pot on my back porch. It was a great experiment and I loved watching the green sprouts jump out towards the sun. Unfortunately, my father-in-law came to examine them because the leaves began to turn yellow. The soil we used was cheap and from the dollar store to keep this initial project cheap. The soil made the potatoes sick so they weren’t viable. However, the amazing thing was, when I dug up the plants there were in fact, more baby potatoes! From scraps to potatoes!

This year I learned my lesson. I used some savings and took a trip to my local Home Depot and decided to go with organic soil and try simpler plants like herbs, romaine lettuce, and cucumbers. My basil ended up dying because we had a couple late freezes this Spring. It was a really weird Spring as far as typical Arkansas weather. I was quite sad because I love basil. It’s probably one of my favorite herbs next to Dill. I currently have very healthy chocolate mint, sweet mint, lavender, and lemon balm. As far as larger crop plants I have a baby lima bean plant that Madison brought from school that is going amazing as well as romaine lettuce and another planter full of cucumber vines.

I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos about container gardening and I really love Gary Pilarchik, The Rusted Gardener. He has a lot of great tutorials and did a great job teaching me about my cucumbers. I also hope to use his awesome compost pipe idea if I can get my garden going in the yard rather than on the back porch. I’ve been worried with my lack of experience that I might not be able to combat the land because it’s been riddled with tornado debris twice in 2011 and 2014. There’s no telling what might be harming the composition of the dirt in our yard. However, starting by learning how our plants should look, how they grow, and the importance of good quality soil will be valuable for the future garden that is already growing in the garden of my mind.

20180521_200943

There’s still a long way to go before we’re able to see how this green thumb experiment will end up. Summer in Arkansas is extremely hot and they can often get really dry. Watering will be very important and managing the extreme heat. I’ve had a friend and local homesteader recommend that I bring my lettuce in about mid-summer because it doesn’t work very well with the extreme heat. Many lessons will be learned regardless and I’m so thankful to be able to go out to my back porch to grab some great herbs or more and more food.

Tell me about your favorite plants to grow where you live below! I’d love to hear from you and your plant babies.

Strawberry Tarts

Strawberries! What a wonderful berry indeed. Strawberries have certainly been a family favorite for years and years. We look forward to when local farmer’s markets start up and we’re able to buy some from our local growers. I took a quick trip to a local friend’s homestead to see how she’s getting her strawberries growing this year. She says that strawberries grow really great in containers but that they do just fine if you plant them in the ground.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Seeing her amazingly beautiful strawberry plants encouraged me to consider adding strawberries to my planter garden next season! Off I went inspired to procure some strawberries that were ripe and ready to eat. I was lucky to find some great local Arkansas Strawberries from ‘Sue’s Garden.’ It was a tough job fighting the kids off of these to make them into anything other than a snack.

I was going through the cupboards as well and decided I wanted to use some ingredients I had on hand to try to make something sweet. I pulled out some tart tins that I had bought but hadn’t used yet and away I went into the kitchen to experiment like a mad scientist. Strawberry tarts aren’t unusual but I do have the added complications of being dairy and egg free. I was also using a flour called “Tigernut Flour” which is a gluten free alternative made from a starchy tuber. What had I gotten myself into?

Strawberry Tart Pinterest Image

In the end, my experiment was a success with a wonderful crumbly crust, sweet strawberries, and a tangy chocolate sauce. I also used some chocolate mint that I’ve been growing in a container on my back porch to garnish to send this dish into outer space!

StrawberryTartwithChocolate

If you try to recreate this yummy treat please be sure to tag me throughout social media @workhardeatkind so I can see!

Strawberry Tarts

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Print

Ingredients:                                                                       StrawberryTartwithChocolate

Crust:

  • 2 Cups of Tigernut Flour
  • 1 Cup of Powdered Sugar
  • 1 Cup of Cold Vegan Butter
  • A Few Sprinkles of Water if Needed

Toppings:

  • Strawberry Jelly (Preferably something organic without high fructose corn syrup.)
  • Sliced Strawberries
  • Chocolate Chips
  • 2-3 Tablespoons of Almond Milk
  • 1 Tablespoon of Coconut Oil
  • Chocolate Mint

Instructions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350F degrees.
  2. Mix two cups of tigernut flour and powdered sugar in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Add in pieces of very cold butter into the mix and stir until the mixture becomes crumbly.
  4. If needed add a few sprinkles of water to get it to combine into a thick batter.
  5. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for one hour.
  6. In the meantime, slice your strawberries and melt your chocolate chips with the almond milk and coconut oil. You can do this by using a microwave for 30 seconds, stirring, and then repeating until you have a thin, runny chocolate sauce.
  7. Put your chocolate sauce into a reusable condiment bottle for easier drizzling.
  8. When your crust batter has chilled and is more firm, simply spread it out into tart tins, preferably with the removable bottoms for easier removal. Push it up along the sides. The thinner the better.
  9. Place all of the tart tins on a baking sheet and place it in the oven for 18-20 minutes. You should check them at 10 minutes and poke the middle with the tines of a fork if they are starting to lift.
  10. Keep a close eye on them. The thinner the crust the less time. When it’s golden brown it’s done.
  11. Let them cool completely.
  12. Top each tart with a tablespoon or two of strawberry jelly or preserves.
  13. Layer the strawberry slices on top of the jelly.
  14. Drizzle with chocolate and garnish with chocolate mint.
  15. Enjoy!

You can now find the video for this recipe on YouTube by clicking here.

The Easiest Tofu Scramble (Basics)

Tofu Scramble Pinterest Image

** This post may contain affiliate/referral links. It is a way for this site to earn advertising fees by advertising or linking to certain products and/or services.**

Tofu scrambles are a hot ticket recipe for new vegans. You can see veggie laden scrambles and some people have even figured out how to do omelets. (I’m not there just yet y’all.) But, how does it taste? What do you put in a tofu scramble so it’s not bland? I’m going to tell you it’s really not as hard as it seems and my kids (one of which is allergic to eggs) enjoy this just as much as their regular chicken eggs but without the side effects.

Big Southern Vegan Breakfast Plate
Black salt is an inexpensive way to add an egg like flavor to your egg dishes. You can find the one that I bought at this link Black Salt 3.5 oz.. Trust me when I say, a tiny bit goes a very long way. You can also customize your tofu scramble by the types of tofu that you use.

For instance, if you like a softer, runnier type of scrambled egg then all you have to do is use a medium to firm tofu. You can also use a sauce to flavor rather than just adding seasoning. Me? I prefer a nice dry, fluffy egg. How do you obtain this firmer texture? Use an extra firm tofu! The options really are just as endless as using your conventional chicken egg. If you can dream it you can make it plant based.

20180130_100027
Our family favorite is to add some vegan cheese and some ketchup. One of my kiddos even loves a little touch of mustard on top. Do what you want! It’s your scramble. I’m just here to teach you the basics. But, be sure to come back and share with the whole class when you’re done. Tag me on social media @workhardeatkind and/or leave me a comment letting us know your favorite scramble.

The Easiest Tofu Scramble

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Super Easy
  • Print

Ingredients:                                       20180130_100027

  • 1 Block of Tofu (Firmness depending on your preference.)
  • 1 Teaspoon of Nutritional Yeast
  • 1/4 Teaspoon of Turmeric Powder
  • 1/4 Teaspoon of Fresh Cracked Pepper
  • Pink Himalayan Salt, To Taste
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Onion Powder
  • A Pinch of Black Salt
  • A small amount of Oil for the Pan

Directions:

  1. Remove your tofu from the package and pat dry with a towel. You can lightly squeeze it to make sure that it doesn’t have excess water within the tofu.
  2. Add oil to a pan and bring it to medium to medium high heat. When the pan is hot you can add your tofu. Be careful! Any extra water can make it pop and sizzle.
  3. Start breaking the tofu apart with a spatula.
  4. Add your seasonings and mix well until well combined. You should see the tofu change color from the turmeric to a light yellow, egg like color.
  5. When the scramble is hot throughout it is ready to eat. This should only take 5 to 8 minutes.
  6. Enjoy in your favorite breakfast manner whether it’s topped with ketchup with vegan bacon on the side, or stuffed between two yummy pieces of bread.