Monday, March 29, 2010


My fellow classmate Ashley and I have something in common; we both must avoid ingredients that are commonly found in a lot of foods. 

When I first signed up for culinary school, I worried a lot about my poultry allergy and what kind of problems I was bound to run into. Then I met Ashley, she has celiac disease and must avoid all wheat gluten! 

Through Ashley, I've learned that a lot of foods contain gluten that you would never think about, for example - beer! 

We have both had days when we have had to pack a lunch because all the food on the menu was off limits to us. The above picture comes from one of those days during Italian week. Our classmate Bowes* saw that Ashley couldn't eat all the pasta we were chowing down on and ran back to his stove and whipped up these little mini kebab appetizers for her. 

Ashley also blogs about our class and the difficulties of her disease at glutenfreegal. Click on over for an alternate view of our class!

*If the class were to vote for a Miss/Mr. Congeniality, I believe Bowes would win! 

Day 57: Celebration Cakes!

I haven't written about them, but there are actually 2 classes in our school. The other classroom is occupied by the pastry class. They're also nearing the end of their term and as a final project, they have to create a celebration cake. Here's what they were working on today. 

These white poppies will decorate the cake above.

Yes, that is a "tetris" cake in the middle.

Japanese blossoms, notice the shinto shrine on top!

This is the top...

...and the base. It should be quite dramatic once it's together.

I've decided at this time not to continue onto the pastry portion of the course. I'm a little sad because I know the group that is going on has some really talented people and I'd love to study with them, but at the moment it's just not right for me. (Although I may pick it up sometime in the future. Never say never!)

Meanwhile back in Culinary....

Foie Gras
The Chefs spent the big bucks on us today - foie gras, black truffles and tournedo ! 

We won't have to eat for 3 days now.

Tournedo Rossini

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Day 56: A Collection of Canapés

I love canapés.  Every time we make them in class my classmates come up with the most amazing creations. This week we were given leftover crepes and focaccia and were asked to come up with two appetizers alongside three other dishes we were preparing.

Our class never disappoints. A few of my favorites...

The above two are made with leftover crepes.

Inspired by Samarra mosque minarets?

Little cones filled with duxelle and tomatoes.
Don't ya just wanna eat them?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sisters Think Alike...

What I made last week.
What Mel made last night.

Day 55: Kickin' it up a Notch

Another restaurant day, this time the Chefs gave us more dishes to prepare and pushed us harder. I'm getting the hang of it, especially on the organization and visualizing end of things. Just like teaching, it's a lot of prep to get there, but once you begin everything falls into place. 

The way restaurant day works is that you prep for dishes. We prepped for four dishes, three of each. One of the Chefs will give your stove an order, "Stove 13! Two quail, one duxelle!" We then rush to quickly and efficiently fill this order. (Usually, as we're filling this one, another is called.) The trick is, all the food must be done at the same time, so it takes careful timing, strategy, and communication between stovemates - no plates getting cold as you plate your mousse!

When done, one person takes the food to the pass, which is a Chef, and they'll pick over it. Lukewarm food! Cold plates! Sauces are too thick or too thin! Undressed greens! All go back to the kitchen - usually with a smart remark, "What's this? Looks like hospital food!" All dishes are fixed, and re-presented, all the while you have to continue on the next dishes!

It's hot, it's stressful, but it can also be a fun challenge. We don't get upset when something comes back, it's part of the learning process. The two times my plates have come back, it's for undressed greens.  Oops!

Because this course is almost over, tomorrow there'll be another restaurant day. this is to help prepare us for our last week, when we'll be preparing our own creations over three days for industry professionals. These working Chefs will actually grade us and give us feedback on our dishes! 

I tried sweetbreads for the first time today. 
They were good! 
I can't say I'd order them in a restaurant, 
but I can appreciate why people love them. 

My group's dishes!

Stuffed quail - there are no bones inside, only those drumsticks!

*Note to self: Chocolate mousse quenelles
 look like poo.

The aftermath.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Day 55: Attention Dad! Venison and Beer!

It's not all sauces and sorbet.

My dad is a hunter, and every fall we'd have some animal hanging in our garage after one of his hunting trips. Deer, moose, bear, buck - he bagged them all, and that meant a freezer full of meat. 

In my teens, my sister and I rebelled and decided we disliked venison and refused to eat it. We'd arrive home after school to the smell of roasting meat and ask, "What's for dinner?"
"Roast", my parents would answer.
"Roast what?", we'd suspiciously inquire.
The answer to this question rotated between silence and "don't ask". 

Once my mom tried to trick us, thinking our dislike for wild meat was all in our heads. She threw out, "beef!" and would soon regret it.  One fork-full of meat had us ranting all night and we methodically checked all her cooking for gamey smelling and tasting meat after that. We suspiciously eyed her sausages, put stews under strict scrutiny and questioned everything on the table. I'm sure we refused to eat beef a few times, deeming it too "gamey" for our delicate palates. (Gosh, what a pain! Why do people have kids?)

 So today's themes were mussels and venison, and I gave the meat one more try. But before that, I had to question the Chefs. "How long has that been aged?" "To what degree of doneness do we cook it?" "Can I marinade it in something?" (Gosh what a pain! Why do people become teachers?!)


Things I learned:
 - Moose, deer and elk are all referred to as venison. We had red-tail deer today, flown in all the way from a farm in New Zealand.
 - There are venison farms in the interior of BC and of course farmed venison is less gamey tasting and less tough than wild.
 - Wet cooking methods rule, (braising, stewing), unless it's the loin because it has little fat and tends to be dry and tough.
 - Always cook between medium to med well - no more, no less. In fact, venison is a tricky meat to cook well.

So we made it, luck was on our side and we cooked it perfectly and... it was ok. Still not a fan. Sorry parents!

But! I am now sure that if my dad brought home another deer, I may not be able to eat it, but I'd be able to butcher it!

Here's a dish I liked...

Mussels! Cooked in beer!

Although I still prefer them this way! Midye Dolma!

Anthony Bourdain ate these in his Istanbul segment of "No Reservations". He made a big deal about how unhealthy and dodgy they were off the street and how he was sure he would pay for it later. 

He didn't. 

I know because I ate these off the street quite often and never suffered a minute. (And I'm sure if he was ill - they would have put it into the show! 'Cause, well, that's the kind of show it is!)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Day 54:The Glamorous Life of Future Chefs in Training!

Deboning this little guy was so easy! 
But imagine if you had to do 300!

So you watch the food network. All you need is a catch phrase and a bit of kitchen know-how and you can rise to fame and shmooze with the rich and famous! Maybe get a line of soup with your picture on it! 


In reality, a cook's job is physically, mentally and emotionally challenging. Standing all day long, and doing tedious, repetitive work, usually next to a hot stove. Fish scales stick to everything! Your fingers are all nicked up! You're pulling skin, scales or tentacles off some steaming-hot dead animal! Don't even get me started on the uniform....

The truth is, there is nothing glamorous about this job. Except, (occasionally) the product. 

Preserved Lemons and saffron - as elegant as it gets.
(I'll be making this myself in the near future.)

Picking and skinning chick peas! Good fun!

Icli Kofte! In Turkish, "sensitive meatballs".

Moroccan style Cornish game hen, 
stuffed with nuts and dates. Those are black olives on top.

Luckily, in our school we get to eat what we make. 
(Well, most the time we're lucky - extra incentive to get it right!)

But then it's back to work....
.... somebody's got to wash all those prawn tubs!

Day 53: Back in the Middle East!

Middle-east cuisine is something that is very near and dear to my heart. So when I arrived at school Monday morning to be greeted by this amazing piece of art drawn lovingly on the board by Chef T, I felt both excited and a little sad. I really miss this part of the world.

As the chef went over the history of the region, I counted the countries on the map I'd been to. The total came to ten! It dawned on me that I have a lot of knowledge about this part of the world, even more than I realised. I have a dream about travelling back to south-east Turkey and writing a book a la Paula Wolfert about the cuisine of the area. This day made me think it might almost be possible.

This hummus gets 10 out of 10 from me! 
(And another student with Jewish roots who knows hummus,
 BTW no-one does hummus like the Israelis do.)

This tabouleh gets 10 out of 10 from me!

This zaatar gets 5 out of 10 from me because when 
we worked at ADU in Al Ain, this was pretty much the 
only thing we could get from the cafeteria 
after 3pm, bone dry from hours of sitting under hot lights.
 Ugh! Pass!

Lovely pitas. They taste as good as they look.

This mother and daughter team are making mantı. They're sitting out on the porch in the shade in a region of Turkey where mantı is considered their signature dish. And guess who they're making it for? That's right! Me!
If you don't know the dish, tourists call it "Turkish ravioli" and it comes with three sauces, a bit of yoghurt and garlic, a bit of tomato and a splash of brown butter. It's creamy, nutty, tangy and filling all at once. Turkish comfort food.
This is us making mantı, some of the romanticism 
is lost on cold stainless steel.
End product. Not the mantı I know and love, so it was a bit 
disappointing. For me it was good, but this dish was
crispy and served in broth.
Western take on Iskendar Kebab. 
Made with a tamarind tomato sauce which I liked. 
(For the record I have never seen a tamarind in Turkey.)

To die for. 11 out of 10.
 I loved these ricotta and walnut filled pancakes. 
For some reason they reminded me of Damascus. 

I'm posting the recipe for this one 'cause they are dead simple to make.

Stuffed Syrian Pancakes
1 cup flour
1/2 t baking powder
1T sugar
pinch of salt 
1 egg
milk (as needed to make a smooth batter)

I cup ricotta 
2 T chopped walnuts
2T sugar
pinch cinnamon

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1t lemon juice 
1/2t rosewater - Simmer and reduce all until syrupy

1. Cook small pancakes just as you would a pancake BUT DON'T FLIP IT!
2. Place 1t of ricotta filling  on the uncooked inside of the pancake and fold in half pressing edges together firmly.
3. Deep-fry till golden (2-3 minutes)
4. Coat in cold syrup and garnish with crushed pistachios.

Affiyet Olsun! (Turkish for Bon Appetit!)

Middle-east continues tomorrow....

Friday, March 19, 2010

Day 52: Black Box Exam

Have you ever seen "Chopped"? I haven't, but apparently the premise is the same. We'll get a box of ingredients and 2.5 hours to cook them in to something you would serve in a fine dining restaurant. The exam is done individually and a very controlled list of supporting ingredients is supplied.

Unlike "Chopped" we do get a bit of a heads up on some of the ingredients we can expect.

One of these protiens:
Quail, Cornish game hen, trout, salmon

One of these grains:
quinoa, puy lentils, course bulgur, chick peas

One of these vegetables:
squash, beets, chard, savoy cabbage

From the assigned protein, grain and veg we have to create 2 portions of an appetizer dish and 2 portions of a main.

Our restrictions include:
 - Only one component for the whole black box can be deep fried.
 - No soups
 - No square plates, no bowls, nothing served on the side

The combinations are vast and some deep thinking and organization are in order. Thankfully organization is one of my strong points, (who knew?) and I'll have a plan of attack mapped out  before the big day, which is less than two weeks away.

I need to graduate from this class already! My nerves can't take it!

Rene and Melanie do South India!

Last week we had a whole day of Indian cooking, a classmate asked me about Hampi, the Globe and Mail published and article on the caves of Ethiopia that remind me of the Ajanta and Ellora caves near Pune and then my Sis goes and writes this, can it be a sign??

Mother India is calling! (She wants to know why you haven't visited her in so long! Mothers!)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Day 50 & 51: Octopus, Quinoa, Mole and Tamales!

Taking a break: a group of us hanging out back 
between the dumpsters playing handball. 

The Chefs workin' hard!
(And yes, if you look hard that does say "bone rabbit" on the board. Poor bunny.)

Octopus Salad

The last two days have been all about Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula. Gazpacho, cod cakes, salsa, tamales and mole! Happily, I can say that this week has also delivered several winning recipes that I will add to my normal repertoire.

Blanching octopus for our salad.

Strangely beautiful in the pot

Cod cake on roka (arugula)

The best tamale I've ever had with spicy molé. 
My partner made a call and added one more chapotlé pepper to the mole 
than the recipe called for, which made it a) spicier and b) redder. Nice! 

Spanish paella!

Mexican beer to go with our Latin American dishes, no Corona here! 
The Chefs know how to keep us happy!

New World Sprouted Quinoa Salad
A good recipe for people who want to experiment with sprouting seeds.

1/3 cup white quinoa
2 T black quinoa

1/4 cup squash, medium dice, roasted
1/4 cup roasted corn
1/4 cup jicama, medium dice
1/4 yellow pepper, roasted, diced
2 T pumpkin seeds, toasted
romaine leaves, chopped


1/4 cup olive oil
jiuce and zest of 1/2 a lime
i garlic clove finely chopped
1/2 jalapeno, diced
2T torn cilantro
2T torn mint
salt, pepper

1. Rinse both quinoas. Place in a bowl and cover with water. Soak overnight. Rinse in the morning and place on a tray. Rinse twice during the day. Will sprout within 24 hours.

2. Combine sprouted quinoa with the rest of the ingredients plus dressing. Refrigerate and serve cold.

*We toasted up some more quinoa with some oil so they were super crunchy and added this to the salad, if you're a fan of crunchy, healthy salads, you'll love this!