Friday, January 29, 2010

The Creative Caravan Stops In at MyNaramata!

Check out my Sis and I high-jacking a kebab stand in Istanbul! (Oh, and there's an article about my fabulously talented sister too!)

Day 20: Dear Weekend, I've missed you so much. Love Rene

Take 6 squid and yank their tentacles out from their rubbery shells.
Slide their guts out and scrape their skin off...

... stuff them with a spicy lamb sausage mixture and skewer them closed.

Sear the outsides in olive oil and then throw in garlic, tomato,
a half cup of wine and some lamb stock.

Loosely cover and simmer. Let a delicious aroma fill the room.

Remove calamari, reduce sauce, plate like so - and fall in LOVE!

And then fall in love again....

and again!

And again.
What a day!

The above pictures are:
Sausage-Stuffed Calamari Braised in White Wine
Sticky Pecan buns.
Stuffed and Wrapped Lamb Moraccan Style

The Moroccan lamb was a huge hit! Stuffed with dried apricots, pistachios and garlic and a balsamic reduction. Seared and smeared with dijon and wrapped in (industry secret alert!) a crepe before wrapping it in filo dough. (Keeps the dough from getting soggy!)

Scored high marks from the table, up there with Chicken Saltimboca!

As a follow up to the business side of things that we're learning, we did a costing exercise on the calamari dish. We guess-timated how much this would cost in a restaurant and came up with 8 or 9 dollars. And then worked out our actual cost, (excluding labour), and were shocked to realise this dish costs less than a dollar per portion!

(I asked the Chefs about the gamey taste of the lamb yesterday, as today was the SAME lamb and the SAME rack of ribs as yesterday, and there wasn't a trace of gamey-ness at all. The Chefs say if your meat is overdone, it'll smell and take on that strong mutton flavour. I didn't even try my lukewarm slabs of bleeding meat yesterday, but I had some well-done pieces offered to me which I ate and disliked. Today's meat was cooked perfectly, just a little pink on the inside - big lesson of the day.)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Day 19: Lamb and Oysters

Oyster Shuckers

Some days you lovingly cook something, plate it perfectly, get to the table and bite it into and....

Today, I finish that sentence with - "... meh."

Lamb and oysters are admittedly not my most sought out foods. I have had some really fantastic lamb, and some rotten lamb too. I like it grilled, on a skewer, accompanied by tzaziki. I was spoiled in Turkey, the lamb was fresh, young, and always cooked well.

My Partner, trimming up our lamb.

Here in Canada, farms on Vancouver Island and Saltspring raise lamb, but Canadians aren't in the habit of cooking lamb at home, and restaurants (usually) only want the ribs. Farmers are not about to slaughter an animal unless they can sell it all, so they like to sell lamb to restaurants or to big grocery stores by the carcass. We needed a bunch of racks, so our lambs all came from New Zealand.

This one's for you Mellie!
You wanted to see the failures as well as the successes.

Our lamb was far too rare for my taste, (I mean LOOK at it! It was still bleeding!) We were clearly instructed to take it out of the oven far too early. I couldn't eat it, but a classmate could, and did.

I am slowly learning that there are times when you should question the Chefs instructions.

Another group gave me a piece of their properly cooked lamb to try. Nope. Not good. Too lamb-ey.

Anyway. Onto our oysters. We shucked them. My first time to shuck oysters. It was difficult at first, but easy once I got the hang of it. Then the Chefs explained that the dish we were about to make came from "Charlie Trotters", a famous restaurant in Chicago. Rob Feeney worked there. (I must find out who this Rob Feeney guy is. Apparently he's Canada's only Iron Chef? This is where not having a TV gets you!)

So imagine: shucked oysters, beet and ginger juice reduced to a syrup, carrot brunoise par-cooked, breaded oysters and a mixed herb salad with radish and cucumber julienne tossed in a vinaigrette.

My gosh! This dish had so many elements! We even had to crush the quinoa in a mortar and pestle for the breading and juice the ginger and beets ourselves. I do have to admit though, the quinoa as breading was interesting, you can even see here some of the crunchy seeds on the outside.

It looked great but it tasted... you know.

The guy across the table said it best when he said, "It tastes like fried". He was exactly right. For me the best part was the piece of cilantro in the herb salad on top. Love cilantro!

The worst part though, was that in the late morning my allergies acted up, and we didn't have even one 5 minute break for me to run and get something for it. I had to suffer through.

So today was Ok, a little disappointing. I was hoping to fall in love with something, but it just didn't happen.


Today we talked about our favorite dishes so far. For me, the Ginger-Orange-Chilli Beef Stir Fry and Ginger-Star Anise Crème Brule stand out, along with the muffins down below.

But the rest of my table raved on and on about the Chicken Saltimboca, some had even made it at home with good results. I think I really missed out there!

(If anyone wants a recipe, just ask and I'll post it or send it to you!)

Chasing Canada Geese at Manitou Beach

My sister has just completed her first canadian painting, of dogs chasing Canadian geese in our hometown of Naramata. I love it! Check it out here!

From Me to You: Morning Glory Muffins!

These are really, really good! A really moist, flavorful and good-looking muffin that holds it's moisture for days. Makes only about 6 muffins, so adjust for more. Straight from the pages of my culinary school curriculum!

1 cup flour
1/4 cup bran
1/4 cup toasted quinoa

1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon

1 cup carrot (grated
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup coconut
1/2 apple (grated)

2 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla

1. Whisk together all dry ingredients (first group), then stir in carrot, coconut, raisins and apple.

2. In another bowl beat the eggs with the oil and vanilla, then stir it into the flour mixture. Stir till just combined.

3. Spoon into muffin pans. 350ºF/ 180ºc for 35 minutes. (They freeze really well too!)

What could be easier than that?!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Day 18: What a Difference a Day Makes!

Brand new day. Clean slate. Yesterday is already in the past.
Today we made a cake. It took us all day, and all we made just one cake each - a Genoise.

We started with lining the cake ring and forming a bottom for it with (God's gift to people), parchment paper. Then we buttered and floured it and got it set up and ready for batter.

Then we started beating and warming our eggs, sugar and a pinch of salt in a bain-marie, (water bath) heating the mixture until it was just above blood temperature. My partner and I worked quickly and quietly, soon we had our mixture locked and loaded into the kitchen aid and beating as much air as possible into our egg and sugar mix.

Ten minutes later, when the mix had tripled in size, we poured it out into a big bowl and sifted in our pastry flour and a few tablespoons of butter - and then quickly into our pans and into the oven.

It was at this time that Chef T announced that whoever got the best rise would join him for lunch! Woo-hoo!

You see this is a sponge cake, it has no baking soda or powder to give it rise; it's all about eggs and air. The more air that gets in and stays in - the better. So you've got to be careful not to over-stir the batter, not to bump the pan and not to slam the oven door.

Twenty-five minutes later our cakes were out, and ours looked quite a bit higher than some of the others in the class!

The cakes were measured. A winner was found - team 4. Hey! That's US!

Chef T took us to a Lebanese place where we talked about travel, food, family and particularly - grandmas. Time flew by! Soon we were back in the classroom, working on butter-icing for our cakes.

This cake has actually been cut into three layers and had thin layers of chocolate ganache icing spread between the layers before it was re-assembled. There is also a "soak" of spiced white wine we used to poach pears in.



(A classmate was having a bad day and felt utterly frustrated
with every step of this cake. This is his cry of angst.)

More classmate cakes!

Pig or pug? I'm not sure, but I like the wings.

I really like this one. Stating the obvious.

And finally, my cooking notes and creme brule. But not a run-of-the-mill creme brule, this one was flavoured with ginger and star anise! I LOVE this stuff! (I'd even add more the next time I do this.) Luckily my partner didn't care for this one bit, so I get another one with lunch tomorrow!

I left school with my cake carefully wrapped in toothpicks and saran wrap. What a good day! Lunch with Chef T, a cute little cake to share with friends, even the pastry instructor complemented my piping skills!

In the block and a half walk to the bus, five people stopped me and asked about my cake, "Wow! Nice!", "Looks delicious!" On the bus, my little cake sparked a conversation between a group of strangers about the best birthday cake they'd ever had.

I got off the bus and went straight to my friend Marlene's house and shared my little cake with her, her friend and two little girls, and left the rest behind for her husband. Not too sweet, just yummy!

Lately, I've been wondering if the pastry course was really for me. Today I learned that it may be. There's something special about a cake. I guess that's why we need them for birthdays and weddings. The smiles on stranger's faces as I passed by them was heart-warming in this drizzly grey city, and being able to share my creation with Marlene and her little ladies warmed me even more. Everyone wants to be your friend when you've got cake!

Mine! My flowers turned into Butterflies at the last minute.
(I've only ever piped royal icing, and
this is melted chocolate - much runnier and
slippery than what I'm used to, but looks nice.)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Day 17: Disappointment All Around

Fruits of our labour!

It was bound to happen sooner or later. We were doing so well.

Nobody cried on omelet day, as the Chefs had predicted. Or on canape day either. But today was a long day, filled with recipe piled on top of recipe, and finally it happened - a big mess up.

The Chefs like to instill a sense of urgency in the class. You have to be calm under pressure, not lose your cool, keep your focus, get the job done. Sometimes the Chef yells for us to begin plating, but you're still five minutes away! At these times I've looked up and seen that everyone is still five minutes from plating. They're just piling on the pressure.

In these times so many things come into play. Teamwork, communication, speed, agility. In the heat of the moment, when you've got five things that need to come together just so, you have to have all your faculties working at once.

Morning Glory Muffins
with grated carrot and apple,
(the white specks are quinoa), and
Lemon Blueberry and Basil Scones,
(these were yummy with the basil!).

We had already made a few batches of muffins, 2 plates of scones, a few dozen cookies, finished our blitz pastry and poached a ton of pears when the Chefs decided to make "tuiles". Tuiles are what fortune cookies are made of, a kind of thin pancake batter that can be spread thinly, baked and bent into any shape before it cools. Tuiles were originally on the roster for tomorrow, but the Chefs had an idea for tuiles with our spicy-poached-pear tarts and decided to try them today.

Pears poached in red wine and eleven secret spices!

We made the pear shape they asked for, and then gave us permission to play and experiment with the rest of the tuile batter while we waited for our "vol au vent" to bake, which we did. But time was ticking, and as soon as the vol au vent was done we had to plate it and get it to the table.

In short, mine was disaster, I was not at all pleased with the outcome, but ces't la vie! (You will NOT be seeing a picture of my failure!)

Blitz pastry, vol au vent before baking...

.... and after.
Let it be known the Chefs heaped mounds of praise onto
this little guy,saying (and I quote),
"That's the nicest vol au vent I've seen in some time!"
That was before my rotund little pear wouldn't stand up
and I broke my pear tuile.

But one stove over, a big mistake was made.

Instead of filling their vol au vent with créme Patissiere, (custard), two teams accidently filled theirs with tuile batter! So easy to do! We had bowls of white creams and pastes everywhere. Their tarts had to be turfed. A few words were uttered and a few tears were shed.

It's hard when you take six products, all made from scratch and mess them up in the final stretch. It's disappointing, but you've just got to learn from the experience. And today, two teams over at the next stove learned to communicate, organise and taste before adding!!

Viola! Poached Pear Tart in a pool of Crème Anglaise!
Not mine though - my partner's.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Day 16: Monday again?

So begins our week of pastries, cakes and cookies.

Monday morning we hit the ground running. We rush in first thing in the morning with "Pate a Choux" for making profiteroles and eclairs, then carry on into "Crème Patissiere" and "Crème Anglaise", (we make them one after the other so we can see the difference in method and product). All the while we are turning our "Blitz Pate" (a kind of quick puff pastry), and managed to get a "Crème Brulee" into the oven as well.

(My friend Roz warned me that my French was about to get better, was she ever right!)

Crème Brulee and Blitz Pate are not pictured today, as we'll finish them off tomorrow.

Class cooling racks

As we made most of these individually, I've discovered that I'm pretty good with a pastry bag. I have never officially used a real one before, always opting to make little disposable ones with wax paper and masking tape. (It made sense at the time as when I do christmas cookies I like 4 or 5 colours of royal icing to work with!)

My petit choux, (little cabbages).

But my arms are dead. All the stirring and whisking and rolling and turning has them feeling pretty spaghetti-like. I can't help but think on a regular basis, "In a real kitchen situation, you'd use a mixer for this". Come on! Does anyone hand-beat their own meringue anymore? I think not! Not since the mix-master was invented.

But we do it because we have to. I have learned that the best way is to endure the cramps and just go for it. I've also learned to use my wrist instead of my whole arm, and that a side to side motion not only mixes better than a round and round motion, it's easier on my cramping muscles.

My finished product...

Three profiteroles filled with crème patissiere and topped with chocolate ganache,
sitting in a pool of crème anglaise!

Here's the kicker - I didn't love these. They were very sweet, and the pastry was pretty tasteless, (we made the plain variety as we may be using them in the future for canapes), and the cream inside was, well, not very exciting. Many of my classmates felt the same.

PS: Food safe was Ok! A great teacher made it bearable and made us think about some of the bad habits we had already formed in the school. Passed with a score in the high 90's.

Got our first quiz back today, (I was a little worried as a few questions I should have been clear on were a little less than clear at the time of writing). I got 90% , the class average was 81% so I'm sleeping easier tonight!

My gosh! Who goes back to school at 40?? I must be insane.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Day 15: It's Friday, But Not Quite the Weekend.

Deadly Chickens, (and a few ducks!) in Chinatown

Today a film crew came into the kitchen. They were filming for a website that links in partnership with our school. I avoided them like the P-L-A-G-U-E. Nothing good has ever come with my brushes with the media, but I did want to tell the creator of the website that it was through her hard work that I was attending this particular school, and when I told her of how I found the school through her site while living in Istanbul, she asked me to be on camera.

"No! No, I'd rather not", I told her.

In the end we compromised and I wouldn't be shown, I'd just do a voice-over. I don't know if they'll use it, they just asked me a bunch of questions and I rambled.

Other than this excitement, It was another crazy day of beef. I'm beefed out. Thankfully we move on to pastry next week.

One off-putting thing happened today though. In the morning Chef C asked us to put together a veal remouillage, (a stock which re-uses bones used to make one stock, to make another), and he asked us to make it with left-over chicken stock.

The chefs love to put chicken stock into all sorts of things, and of course many of you know I have a bad reaction to poultry products. I usually go about making things separately or substitute other products, but my partner (with good intentions), wanted to double check and asked if it was OK if we made one with plain old water.

The annoyance on the chef's face was visible not only to me, but also to those around me. He rolled his eyes and sneered, then told me to make one in a separate pot, which I did, but his crappy reaction bothered me.

It's not as if I just don't care for poultry. It makes me ill. Whenever I eat poultry I can feel it within 5 minutes. I start to feel a stinging in my throat and it feels like it's swelling, but it's not. At about 20 minutes my saliva becomes thick and viscous, and I feel like air bubbles are trying to come up my throat, but they can't. They just sit an burn and give me vicious stomach cramps. Then I'll throw it all up and the dry heave for hours. Sorry to be graphic but I want people to understand it's quite unpleasant. I think I need to relay this a bit more formally to the chefs.

So, tonight I googled "chicken allergy", (oh the power of google!), and this allergy is more common than I even knew! It's quite comforting to read about other people suffering from the same symptoms I have. It's serious, some people even need to carry an Epi-pen!

So, I was annoyed for a minute or two. But you know what? Whatever! I need to take care of myself, and if that means ticking-off someone - so be it. I let it go, like water off a duck's back.

So it's Friday night, but no excitement here, because I have to do a food-safe certification tomorrow. All day. Stupid food-safe.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Day 14: Where's The Beef?

So today we started on beef. Chef C took us through all the parts of the cow and explained what came from where and what to use the cuts for. Then we were turned loose to do all the prep for three separate menus and two marinades.

This part is a challenge. Getting straight what you need to do with a partner, and finding all those ingredients, processing them in the correct way and organising them according to recipe always takes longer than we anticipate. It makes my partner a bit grumpy when he's out of control, so today was a challenge all around.

Eventually, we made an AMAZING stir-fry over rice which is not pictured cause I was just too darned hungry, and a flank steak with poivrade sauce, which is pictured below, ALSO delicious! These two dishes put my partner in a much better mood!

Check out those carrot batons! Perfect!

On a totally un-food-related note, something happened yesterday that has had me thinking for two days now.

I was on the morning bus with a classmate, it was one of the extra long busses. The bus rolled up to our stop, but the back doors failed to open. It's a big stop so about 8 people yelled "Back door!!!", LOUDLY, but the bus driver didn't hear us and we had to get off at the next stop and walk back.

It's a small thing, but I can't stop wondering, why didn't the message get relayed by the passengers down the bus? This is the third time I've seen this happen. The passengers at the back door are yelling, and the passengers in the middle sit in stony-faced silence. Yes, some of them are plugged into their iPods, but most aren't.

I asked my classmate why others didn't relay the message and she replied, "People just don't want to help out or get involved. You could get mugged on the street and people would walk around you".

On the other end of the spectrum, I don't think this would ever happen in Istanbul. Every (particularly male) passenger on the bus would make it his personal business to make sure the bus stopped! The whole bus would get involved! They would tell the driver to make sure he was checking the back door, or get it repaired! It's his job you know!

It took a long time to get used to this kind of "helping", which I mistook for "meddling", but in time, I came to appreciate it. I forged better friendships and bonds with people because I knew if I really needed them, they'd be there.

It's this sense of community I feel is lacking in Canada, it's everyone for themselves, don't drag me into your business, I don't want to get involved. "Community" is a word that's bandied about a lot in Vancouver, but to me it seems it's just talk.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Day 13: Chicken. Again.

Chicken before.

Chicken deconstructed.
(No question about whose knives those are, huh?)

De-boning chicken was MUCH easier than I imagined. This little guy was a free-range fryer.

We started with the wings. These were very easy as the knife finds it way through the joints. Onto the legs cutting through the groin area to the back and finding what the French call the "Sot l'y Laisse". Sot means "silly" or "foolish", laisse is from the verb "to leave it there". You can figure out where that's going.

Flip the bird over and give it's legs a few chiropractic cracks to get the legs out of the hip sockets. From there it's just a few slices down the backbone.

Last part is to work on the breast, first slicing out the stubborn little wish bone, then cutting the two breasts away from the bone. Viola! Done!

Taiwanese would be outraged to learn we left the chicken's butt, (the Pope's Nose) on the carcass and threw it into the stock pot.

Then we got to work. These are the dishes we made over the last two days in pictures. (Not all of them, but a few of them.)

Chicken Breast En Papillote, chicken breast cooked with carrots, leeks and red pepper in parchment paper. Served with a light lemon wine sauce. Parchment paper might just be the best stuff on the planet, Mel will agree!

Thai braised Chicken. This piece of chicken should have been a thigh, not a leg, but in the kitchen confusion our thighs got put into a marinade. Sauce is too thin but tasted wickedly good! (I tried a teeny bit.)

Chicken Saltimboca with Roquefort Mashed Potatoes.
(That's a peice of proscuitto on top.)
Our sauce split, (boo!) but Chef T said our turned veg were sexy, (Yay!)
Turned veg are proving very difficult.

Not pictured is the Chicken Stirfry (action shot below), the Chicken Pot Pies, and Southern Fried Chicken we made. All from 2 fryers! I never even got to sample a morsel due to my poultry intolerance, but had fun cooking it all the same. This week, week 3, is more about fun, less about confusion and being overwhelmed.

Tomorrow we move on to beef, so I won't have to pack a lunch!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Day 12: Tools

Today I took lots of pictures of what I made and did and then forgot my camera at school. So I'm going to write about tools, cause I've been thinking about them a lot lately.

When I worked in the art store waaaaaay back in my 20's, I really learned about tools. That the right brush could give you exactly the right line without effort. Well, the same principle applies in the kitchen.

Our number one tool is our knife, and we've devoted a lot of time learning to feel really comfortable cutting all sorts of items at high speed with it. We've sharpened our own knives and put our own edge on them. Mine already feels personal.

Mine isn't quite as sexy as this one, but I love it all the same!

My next, and new fave tool which is never more than arm's length away, is my pastry scraper. It lifts up all my knife cuts and puts them in a bowl or stir fry in one second, then it cleans my whole board. It saves my baguette dough from sticking to the cutting board forever, and can even transport delicate items from the cutting board to the plate. I won't be able to survive without this tool in my kitchen from now on!

We are far more business-like when zesting our lemons.
The chefs would not approve of this willy-nilly zesting approach.
Straight lines only. Top to bottom.

The other tool I'm growing to love, (partly because of my love for anything lemon), is my citrus zester. It came in my toolkit and so far it's turning out to be a star! It takes little ridges of zest off lemons and oranges, and then you can chop the ridges up even finer from there. Any day we're going to zest a lemon is a good day! (Plus I like the look of the lemon when it's all ridged up.)

So, as a little teaser I'll tell you what I did today. I de-boned a whole chicken! (And as I wrote that I'm kicking myself, why didn't I save the wish bone?? Just thought of it now!)

Pictures and gory details tomorrow!

PS - Just some additional thoughts about NOT having the right tools. I made quiche tonight, but I accidently bought whole wheat flour instead of white, (how flaky is my pastry going to be? Not at all!) I have no rolling pin, but found a bottle of balsamic vinegar did the trick, and there's no slotted spoon in this kitchen, no worries, I used a paddle cheese-grater my mom sent me.

*Sigh* back to dreaming about the right tools for the job....

Monday, January 18, 2010

Day 11: Monday.

Photo from the weekend - Look! No rain!

The start of a new week! Clean slate!

I arrived on the floor early, just in case any surprises were flung our way, but the chefs were merciful and let us find our new station and partner. I cook with a new partner every week. We find ways to split the workload and responsibilities. We ask each other for advice and generally work as a team. My partner and I share our stove with another pair, making us a station of four people.

Strangely enough, my new station this week includes 3 of the four people who were at our station this week.

Lots of good products today including a fantastic quiche, some more baguettes and a lemon tart we'll finish tomorrow.

A Few Things About Knives

So, before this class I didn't know a thing about knives. But I've learned. In fact, today I sharpened my knife on my stone for the first time. (Woo hoo!)

So we had a lecture by a chef who's serious about knives. A few interesting facts.
  • Henckel Knives are world famous for their knives, but did you know many serious chefs won't use them? Their bolster makes it difficult to sharpen the last inch near the handle and so sharpening will actually warp the knife and leave a gap between the blade and the cutting board!
  • Japanese knives don't have a bolster, and therefore are easier to sharpen and maintain, hence they are becoming more popular in the world of fine dining.
  • You can wear your blade down several centimeters from years of use and sharpening.
  • Most knives are sharpened 50/50, meaning equally on each side, but some knives have a blades which are sharpened 30/70 for cutting fillets of fish! For these knives you have to specify if you are right or left handed!
So after our lecture, I came home a went to cut up an apple. I looked at the knife we have in the drawer. Global. Highly recommended brand!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Some Habits Never Go Away!

I made flashy flashcard rings for myself. I was filling up the old books so fast, I got a hole punch and some index cards. The top one is for methods and the bottom for terms. What a geek I am!