Thursday, December 31, 2009

To New Beginnings...

It has been quite a year. I finally took steps towards my dream of doing something that I love. I am proud of my courage and can't wait to see what the new year brings.

To a year of good food, safe travels, loved ones, new beginnings, and following dreams.

All the best for 2010!

My horoscope for 2010:
CANCER - You have weathered some difficult times in recent months but with Jupiter, planet of good fortune, focusing on changes of direction for the first half of 2010 you now have the chance to do something more satisfying. Meanwhile, Mars's dynamic influence on your finances in April will help you to find ways to improve your cash-flow situation. Challenging aspects to obsessive Pluto throughout the summer will put increasing pressure on a close relationship and a decision will need to be made before the year is over. Autumn will bring some light relief, a romantic interlude and a chance to shine in a more creative environment.

Words to remember, from Randy Pausch's Last Lecture:
  • When people give you feedback, cherish it and use it.
  • Show gratitude.
  • Don’t complain. Just work harder.
  • Be good at something, it makes you valuable.
  • Work hard.
  • Find the best in everybody.
  • And be prepared. Luck is truly where preparation meets opportunity.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

An Update; Amaretto Balls

December has flown by really quickly for me. It has been a month of working hard at both jobs, visits from both sets of parents, and lots of Christmas shopping and get-togethers. On the career change front, things are still pretty difficult with my parents, but I am only a couple of days away from giving my notice. Scared and excited at the same time is only a mild description of how I'm feeling.

Got some great Christmas gifts this year, including a dSLR camera and a new lens (still to come), awesome hand-made recipe cards, the second book by Michael Ruhlman, a gift certificate to West, and a pizza stone.

One new recipe I tried this holiday season was amaretto balls. I had somehow gotten myself fixated on rum balls, but when I was finally about to start to make them, A pointed out that we don't have any dark rum. So I adapted the recipe and made amaretto balls instead, which I think is probably better than rum balls anyway.

Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and if I don't manage to get back here this year, have a very happy 2010!

Amaretto Balls
Adapted from Joy of Cooking (recipe for Bourbon Balls)
Yield: 30 1-inch balls
Print recipe

1/2 cup icing sugar
1 tbsp unsweeted cocoa powder
1/8 cup amaretto
1 tbsp light corn syrup
1 1/4 cup vanilla wafer crumbs
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1/4 cup icing sugar

  1. Sift the 1/2 cup icing sugar and cocoa powder together in a medium bowl.

  2. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the amaretto and corn syrup.

  3. Stir the amaretto mixture into the cocoa mixture. Set aside.

  4. Combine the vanilla wafer crumbs (crushed in a food processor) and almonds, and stir into cocoa mixture.

  5. Roll the mixture into balls between palms.

  6. Roll the balls in the 1/4 cup of icing sugar.

  7. Store between layers of wax or parchment paper in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 weeks.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

My Current State of Mind

I just worked four straight days of cooking - three game days and one prep day. It was my first prep day at BBC, which was a great experience. The game days go by so fast and there really isn't all that much cooking going on other than at the action stations, so it was good to finally get a chance to slow down a little bit, start from raw ingredients, and see how some of the food actually gets made. It was also the night of the SYTYCDC show, so we got to see their rehearsals during our breaks.

So not only am I physically tired from working so much, but I am also emotionally tired. My parents are writing me emails since they are away (this is in addition to long phone conversations before they left) about how going to cooking school is not a good idea. Their main points are (1) at cooking, I am not using my brain the same way a professional would and since I have been gifted with mathematical skills, I should follow a career path that utilizes those skills, not one that minimizes them, (2) I should finish my exams so that even if I decide to take time away from actuarial work at some point, I will have my designation to fall back on to be able to get a job that much easier in the future, and (3) cooking is a hard life and not condusive to family life.

These things really anger me. I am getting all riled up just writing them down. I understand all of their arguments. Obviously I've thought about them myself. I could offer counterarguments to each of their points: (1) Being a chef is not just peeling potatoes mindlessly all day long. Maybe if my long-term goal was to be a third cook for the rest of my life, I wouldn't use my brain all that much. But a chef doesn't even cook all that much because a chef's job is more about being organized and running all the components of the kitchen and business. I'm pretty sure you need a brain for that. (2) Actuarial work will always be there whether I finish my exams or not. I refuse to waste six more months studying for an exam that I will probably fail because I have no interest in it. (3) Yes, it is hard work and the hours are very different from a typical 9-5 job. But I don't see how that negatively impacts family life. If family is important, I will make time for it no matter what my job is. And if A is supportive, then we will figure out how to make it work and that is all that matters.

But the thing that bothers me the most is that I've told them numerous times that I'm not happy with actuarial work and they keep pushing me to continue. I am very open to listening to their opinions and concerns, but the bottom line is that it's my life. I'm tired of debating and arguing about it. It would be nice if they could just accept my decisions and support them instead of continually trying to convince me to change my mind.

I have also started to see some of the negative sides of cooking. On tv, there are chefs that yell and curse and I somehow decided that was a rare occurrence. But the new sous chef at BBC is definitely a yeller and a curser. He has no filter. It's definitely not something I'm used to working in an office. The people I work with are all pretty different from me too. They are not very well educated, they have a union mentality, they live pay cheque to pay cheque, and many of them have some sort of substance abuse, be it smoking, drinking, or other drugs.

And while I definitely see all the positives about actuarial work, I still feel quite strongly about my current dislike for it. Days at work go by so slowly because I'm so unmotivated - I get in at almost 9am now, and I sometimes spend hours just staring into space or just trying to look busy. I also feel quite strongly about going to cooking school. It is something I've always wanted to do. Anytime anyone has ever asked me what I would do if I wasn't doing actuarial work, my answer has always been have a restaurant. Who knows if the restaurant dream will actually come true, but working in the food industry has so many different possibilities, cooking school is definitely my first step.

I wish I could know whether changing careers is a big mistake or the best decision I will ever make. I wish I knew what to say to my parents to make them understand. But such is life - if everything were easy it wouldn't be worth doing, right?

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Typical Day at BBC

I guess you could say I was unofficially promoted. After my post about working in the new restaurant, I was moved out of Cold Catering and now work in the BBC kitchen. It's much more exciting and interesting than Cold Catering, and it gives me a great opportunity to see so much more than I would just making salads and sandwiches, so I thought I should write a post on a typical day at BBC.

As a third cook, I only get to work game days (there is a prep day the day before the game, but it's only first and second cooks, and usually just a handful of people). I show up at 1:30 and get straight to work getting ready for service. My tasks have included plating salads, mixing tempura batter, skewering meat, and preparing desserts.

At 4:00, we take a quick dinner break and then get back to whatever we were doing before break. Around 4:30, those of us working at an action station get our stations ready. I have worked at a station every game night except for one. Each station prepares one hot item, and personally I have made items including beef, rack of lamb, crab cakes, duck breast, and pork dumplings. We present each item individually on a plate with some sides and garnish, and then guests can take as much as they like throughout the evening.

Most nights, it is extremely busy trying to keep up with demand. Two of the stations can only cook one fry pan at a time, so maybe twelve items at a time, depending on the size. Often times people are waiting in line for food, especially things like beef which are really popular, so we try to use the larger action station for items like that because you can probably cook thirty to forty pieces at a time.

It's tons of fun cooking out of the kitchen and with the crowd. Many people have seasons tickets to BBC, so we see a lot of the same people every night. Most of the regulars come to the games early to eat and chat. Cooking slows down slightly during the game (though we're still busy trying to get ready for intermission), so I can usually watch the game on tv. The energy in the building when the team is winning and every time they score a goal makes it a lot of fun too.

After the second intermission, we close down the stations and clean up. There is usually some work to do in the kitchen as well, throwing out any food that can't be saved and cleaning up the fridges and work areas. It's a long day with just a short break, but it just flies by and it's really satisfying to know guests enjoyed the food I cooked for them.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Chocolate Almond Torte

The dessert for Saturday's dinner was a combination of two of my favourite flavours: chocolate and almond. The result was a decadent, rich, and velvety cake. Pretty easy to make, but would be sure to impress at a dinner party.

Chocolate Almond Torte
Adapted from Slow Cooking by Joanne Glynn
Yield: 8-10 servings
Print recipe

150 g sliced or whole almonds
1 thick slice of brioche
10 oz dark chocolate
150 g unsalted butter, softened
150 g superfine sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
200 g marscarpone cheese
cocoa powder, for dusting

  1. Preheat the over to 325F.

  2. Toast the almonds in the oven for 3 - 4 minutes until golden brown.

  3. Put the almonds and brioche in a food processor. Process until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

  4. Grease a 10 inch springform pan with a little butter. Pour some of the almond brioche mix into the pan and shake it around so that it forms a coating along the bottom and sides of the pan. Put the remaining nut mixture aside.

  5. Gently melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Stir occasionally until the chocolate has melted. Cool slightly.

  6. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and pale.

  7. Add the eggs and extracts and combine well.

  8. Add the marscarpone and melted chocolate and combine well.

  9. Add the remaining nut mixture and combine well.

  10. Pour into prepared springform pan. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until just set.

  11. Let cool in pan for at least 15 minutes before removing. When cool, dust with cocoa powder. Can be served with whipped cream or creme fraiche.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Lamb Shanks with Tomato, Chili, and Honey

This past Saturday was pretty rainy, and since I was working Friday night and Sunday night, we decided to spend our one day together cooking up a fabulous dinner. It started with the butcher - A went in alone so I wasn't sure what we would be cooking, but he came out with some great looking lamb shanks. We had never made shanks before, so we were excited to try it, and it's kind of a perfect slow cooking ingredient.

We have this cook book called Slow Cooking that we rarely use, but it has some amazing sounding recipes in it. It's quite a large book and every recipe has a full-page colour photo, which is my favourite feature. The recipe for lamb shanks didn't sound too hard, and we decided to serve it with milanese risotto. Dessert also came from the book, but I'll do a separate post for that.

The smell throughout the apartment all afternoon while the lamb was cooking made the anticipation hard to bear. But the wait was definitely worth it because everything turned out great (except for the sauce overboiling in the oven). It was a perfect rainy Saturday meal.

Lamb Shanks with Tomato, Chili, and Honey
Adapted from Slow Cooking by Joanne Glynn
Serves 3
Print recipe

3 lamb shanks
1 red pepper, cut into small chunks
1 yellow pepper, cut into small chunks
1 green pepper, cut into small chunks
4 garlic cloves, cut into slivers
1 onion, diced
2 cups full-bodied red wine, such as Shiraz
1 tbsp cumin seed
1 1/2 tbsp coriander seed
2 tbsp olive oil
2 red chili peppers, deseeded and finely chopped
1 (400 g) can chopped or diced tomatoes
3 tbsp honey
1 tbsp flour

  1. In a bowl or large plastic ziploc bag, combine the lamb shanks, peppers, garlic, onion, and red wine. Cover and leave to marinate for a few hours or overnight in the refrigerator.

  2. In a pre-heated frying pan over medium heat, add the cumin and coriander seeds. Stir while they toast for about 3 minutes. They will start to smell aromatic and jump in the pan when ready. Remove from pan. Grind to a powder with a mortar and pestle or in a coffee grinder.

  3. Remove the lamb shanks from the marinade.

  4. Strain the marinade through a sieve or colander, reserving the liquid.

  5. Preheat the oven to 350F.

  6. Heat the oil in a large flameproof casserole dish. When hot, brown the shanks, in batches if necessary. Transfer the browned shanks to a plate.

  7. Add the vegetables reserved from the marinade and the chili peppers to the casserole dish and cook for 8 to 10 minutes until the onion has softened a little.

  8. Scatter the ground spices and flour over the vegetables in the casserole dish and stir.

  9. Pour in the reserved marinade liquid, the can of tomatoes, and the honey and stir everything together. Add the lamb shanks and bring the liquid to the boil.

  10. Cover with a lid and transfer to the oven to cook for 2 hours. Gently turn the shanks after 1 hour.

  11. Transfer the shanks to a deep serving dish and keep warm. Put the casserole dish over direct heat on the stove top and bring to the boil. Bubble for 10 minutes to reduce sauce. Pour the sauce over the shanks and serve. Garnish with coriander.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Rack of Lamb with Mustard Crust and Red Onion Marmalade

A had to work yesterday while I had the day off, so I took the opportunity to cook us dinner. The ingredients I had to work with were the fresh rack of lamb A had bought on the weekend, a large bag of red potatoes, and two beautiful tomatoes on the vine ripening in our fruit bowl.

There was a little bit of grainy mustard left in a jar in the fridge that A wanted to get rid of, so a recipe for a mustard crust for the lamb was the first task. The Joy of Cooking is our go-to guide for most recipes and there was a simple recipe there. It called for fresh rosemary, so that was the inspiration for rosemary potatoes. There was also a little bit of balsamic reduction in the fridge, which at work we use on tomato bocconcini salad, so I decided to make that for the appetizer. Finally, the Joy of Cooking suggested an onion marmalade to be served with lamb, so I headed to the store to grab rosemary, bocconcini, basil, and a red onion.

I had quartered and boiled the potatoes earlier in the day, so when I got home with the ingredients, I put them in a large dish with a few sprigs of rosemary, a splash of olive oil, and a good seasoning of salt and pepper. I would put them in the oven after the lamb came out, just to rewarm and impart some rosemary flavour. One dish done.

Next I started the onion marmalade (recipe below) as it was supposed to take 30 minutes to cook. I sliced the onion and mixed the rest of the ingredients and left them on the stove to simmer away.

The big task was the lamb. Now, I realize this is a little weird coming from someone who wants to become a chef, but I have never actually cooked a large piece of meat by myself. When I was growing up, my dad would always be in charge of meat, and now A is the same way. Needless to say, I was a little bit nervous about ruining a nice rack of lamb. But I also figured it shouldn't be too hard - all I had to do was sear it, cover it with the mustard crust, and stick it in the oven until it was cooked.

I warmed up the pan. No oil, as instructed by the Joy of Cooking. I seasoned the meat and then put it into the hot pan. For some reason, I thought I could make the mustard crust (recipe below) while the meat was seasoning (the book said I had about 2 minutes per side, plenty of time to mix up the crust), but after I had gotten the first ingredient into a bowl, I already had to turn over the lamb because it was smoking a little. A few bits of char, but not too bad. I started adding the next ingredients for the crust, but quickly abandoned that because the lamb was now seriously smoking. I took a quick peek and there was a lot more char on that side. Yikes! Ok, I decided it was done with searing, so time for the oven. Quickly mixed together the rest of the mustard crust and slathered it on. Ready to go in the oven, but of course, the meat thermometer isn't ready (the lamb is still smoking beside me). I get the thermometer in and stick it in the oven, but the temperature is rising very quickly. We're already at 190 degrees?!? I'm supposed to take the lamb out at 130 degrees! The thermometer is obviously not in properly. Open up the oven and it's SERIOUSLY smoking in there and the bottom of my pan is black. OMG. Ok, move the lamb to a cookie sheet, redo the thermometer. 70 degrees. Better.

Take a deep breath. Turn on the oven fans and open all the windows because now the apartment is noticably smoky. Now I'm very worried that I ruined dinner and our pan. What kind of chef am I going to be when I can't even sear a piece of meat without burning it?

I then quickly slice up the tomatoes, bocconcini, basil, and a tiny bit of red onion, plate, and garnish with the balsamic reduction. Beautiful. Tidy up a little, stir the marmalade, everything is under control again.

I take the lamb out at 130 degrees, medium rare, and let it rest a bit. It actually doesn't look too bad (the mustard crust is covering up the charred spots). Potatoes head into the oven to warm up. A comes home a few minutes later and other than a cold and slightly smoky apartment, has no idea how crazy the last twenty minutes were. I carve up the lamb and it is actually perfectly cooked. The potatoes are beautiful, and the marmalade adds a nice colour to the plate. We sit down to enjoy the meal, and, surprisingly to me, everything is delicious (not even a hint of char). Maybe I'm not as bad a cook as I thought I was.

Red Onion Marmalade
Adapted from Joy of Cooking
Yield: 1 cup
Print recipe

1 red onion, cut into 1/4 inch thick slices, halved crosswise
3 tbsp dry red wine
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp honey
juice of half a lemon

  1. Combine all ingredients except for lemon juice in a medium, nonreactive saucepan over low heat.

  2. Cook, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved.

  3. Simmer, stirring often, until the consistency of marmalade, about 30 minutes.

  4. Add the lemon juice and cook until the juice is absorbed.

  5. Serve at room temperature. Can cover and refrigerate for up to three weeks.

Mustard Crust for Rack of Lamb
Adapted from Joy of Cooking
Print recipe

2 tbsp dijon mustard (I used grainy mustard)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary (or 3/4 tsp dried rosemary)
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

  1. Combine all ingredients together.

  2. Using a pastry brush, coat the entire surface of the seared lamb, then roast as directed.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dinner at PICA

Something we have always wanted to do is eat a meal at each of the culinary schools in the city. Great food at relatively inexpensive prices - perfect.

Our first was at PICA which offers Market Mondays. Every week is a different $20 3-course fixed price menu. As usual, A and I ordered one of each item and shared. The appetizers were clam chowder or salad with panko-crusted prawns. Entree choices were bacon wrapped beef tenderloin or arctic char with spinach sauce (both plates came with these delicious bites of carrot, which we found out were cooked in a simple syrup). For dessert, there was chocolate filled donuts or vanilla ice cream. All the menu descriptions sounded much more appetizing than my simple explanations - something I'll need to work on before I try writing any menus!

Everything was delicious, and often we were pleasantly surprised at the taste. Presentations were also excellent. Students were working the front of the house, and our only criticism would be the knowledge of the servers. We tried to ask lots of questions and they often had to go back to the kitchen to get the answers. But overall, it was a fun night. We would definitely go back.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Culinary School

I have now visited the two culinary schools I would potentially attend.

The first visit was to PICA a couple of weeks ago when the school held an event for potential students called Exploring a Career in the Culinary Industry. The itinerary consisted of a tour of the school and a hands-on class with chef instructors where we prepared what we would eat for lunch.

The tour didn't take very long as the school is quite small. I think there were four or five kitchens. They intake one culinary class of 15 and one pastry class of 12 every quarter. The director of admissions lead the tour and he was definitely not shy about selling his school. He didn't hesitate to point out all the competitions won by students of the school and all the top restaurants graduates now work at.

The best part of the day was the hands-on class. There were six of us interested in culinary (versus pastry), so we were hustled into a kitchen where a very energetic chef and two culinary students were waiting for us. We didn't waste any time getting into it. The students gave each us a whole raw chicken and we learned the proper way to butcher it into useable pieces. We also trimmed some duck breasts and started cooking them right away. The last thing I did was make mayonnaise from scratch (really easy) before I had to run to work.

I was probably only in the kitchen for an hour, but I felt like I learned so much. The chef demonstrated how to properly crack eggs (on a flat surface and only using one hand), told us that the best olive oil comes from Greece and Spain (not Italy, like I guessed), and showed us the best part, or "oyster", of the chicken (a piece of meat above the thigh, shaped like an oyster, with the flavour of dark meat but the tenderness of white meat). I wish I could have stayed to enjoy the lunch.

Last Friday, A and I went to VCC to participate in the weekly tour. It was very well attended, with over twenty people there. It helped explain why the program has a five month wait list. Even if I apply now, I won't get in until March, though that is actually when I was planning to start.

The tour of the school took a lot longer here because the number of kitchens and students was actually a bit overwhelming. The school accepts twenty new culinary students each month and they rotate to a new kitchen each month, so there are at least twelve large culinary kitchens filled with an amazing number of students. One of the first things I noticed was how much light and air there was in the kitchens. The tour included visiting the butchery, apparently VCC is one of the only schools with a butchery in Canada, as well as one of the numerous pastry kitchens, which smelled wonderful, especially after the butchery! We also saw the restaurant run by the students and ended in the registrar's office with admission information.

After both tours, I have decided to go to VCC. The two main reasons are (1) cost - VCC is significantly cheaper than the privately owned schools because it is subsidized by the government, and (2) red seal support - VCC will sign students up as apprentices, so school hours and even hours at work outside of school count toward red seal.

I sent in my application this weekend. I am just waiting for a passing grade from the FoodSafe course I took on Saturday and my official university transcripts before my application can get processed. Waitlist, here I come!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Buttermilk Cookies

I bought a large container of buttermilk on the weekend, which was perfect as I really wanted to bake and try out a new recipe. I found a buttermilk cookie recipe on, which will be shutting down soon, so here is the link to the recipe on

Mine didn't turn out quite like the picture as I wasn't very exact in dropping them on the cookie sheet, but I kind of like that more rustic, home-made look. Also, I was surprised to find that the texture of the cookie is really more like that of a cake, so it was very similar to a buttermilk pound cake that I make regularly, but the glaze is a sweet addition that changes it up. The original recipe called for lemon zest, which I omitted and replaced with almond extract, so you could definitely play with the recipe and substitute your own favourite flavour instead.

Buttermilk Cookies
Adapted from Gourmet magazine
Yield: 30 cookies
Print recipe

1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/8 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/3 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup icing sugar
1 tbsp buttermilk
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.

  2. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

  3. In bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt.

  4. In another bowl, cream together butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.

  5. Add egg and combine well.

  6. Add vanilla extract and almond extract and combine well.

  7. Mix in flour mixture and buttermilk alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture, until smooth.

  8. Drop by level tablespoon about 1 1/2 inches apart onto baking sheets.

  9. Bake until cookies are puffed and edges are golden, about 12-15 minutes.

  10. For glaze, whisk all ingredients together and brush on top of warm cookies.

  11. Cool cookies on rack. Let stand until cookies are completely cooled and glaze is set.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Pros and Cons

I've spent a lot of time the past couple of days thinking about things: am I making the right decision, when is the right/best time to tell my boss, what am I going to say when I quit?

People I've talked to recently about my new career have been supportive in general, but have also made me question myself, I can only guess because they care and want to make sure I've thought everything through.

The hardest part is that my parents really don't understand at all. To them, my decision is out of the blue. It's wild. It's ridiculous. It's throwing away years of eduction and training. It makes it hard to be confident in such a big decision without the support of my parents.

So I wrote out my list of pros and cons. It's all stuff I've already thought about, just never really written down. The list really illustrated to me how many pros there are to cooking and how many cons there are to my current job.

Current Job
-good salary
-job security
-stable hours
-great co-workers

-not interested in work
-hate sitting all day staring at the computer
-the work is the same year after year
-it will take me at least two years to finish my exams
-hate studying for something i'm not interested in
-reduced study time from work
-it will take years to be a consultant

-it's fun
-i learn something new every day
-possibility of owning my own business some day
-opportunities for travel
-many opportunities within the industry
-meeting new people
-like having a uniform
-like having a physical job
-i get to eat at work

-pay sucks
-will need to have more than one job at a time
-hours are different each week
-have to work weekends/holidays
-school costs money

My horoscope today: No matter how big the task you have set yourself and no matter how strong the rivals who stand in your way there is no doubt you will beat the odds and come out ahead of the game. You are about to make the big time. Believe it.

And I guess that's the bottom line - I have to believe that I'm doing what's best for me and just go for it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Around the time that I started my new job, I happened be reading the Life section of the Globe and Mail, and I came across these horoscopes that almost seemed like they were written just for me. I don't normally read my horoscope, nor do I really believe in it, but the words just jumped out at me and gave me that little bit of confidence that I was making the right decision in pursuing a new career.

September 15:
Today's aspect between Saturn, planet of the past, and Uranus, planet of the future, means you are at a crossroads in your life. Fortunately, you know exactly what you want and exactly how you are going to get it. By this time next year you'll be the latest success story.

September 17:
There will be some major changes in your everyday environment over the next few weeks and no matter how much you prepare yourself mentally you will still have to think fast and act quickly if you are going to stay on top of each and every situation. You can do it.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Opening a Restaurant

I got to work on Monday not knowing what to expect. All I knew was that I wasn't going to be working in Cold Catering.

I headed up to a small kitchen that I later figured out was a temporary kitchen until the new restaurant kitchen opened up. My first task was to make cocktail sauce, so I was going up and down from the temporary kitchen to the regular main kitchen to get my ingredients. I was just about to get started when I found out that we were moving up to the new kitchen.

It was literally brand new. Construction people were actually still working on things when all the kitchen staff moved up there. We brought all our food and stocked the fridges and freezer and just started cooking.

I really had no idea what was going on, so I just tried to do what I was asked, and tried to listen and observe everything. Over the course of the evening, I figured out how the new restaurant was going to work: guests buy tickets for the section and they stay there the whole evening to watch the game, and they get unlimited food while there.

The best part was getting to work with D, the executive chef. He was surprisingly calm, considering all the chaos of opening a new kitchen. B pointed out that I had only been in the industry for two weeks and had already opened a restaurant, which many people who have been working in the industry for years have never done.

My tasks in the kitchen were to fill the cutest mini martini glasses with ceviche and I also made tomato bocconcini salads. It was different from cooking in Cold Catering because everything we made was individual-sized. Around 5pm, D told me I'd be working at an action station, where food is cooked right in front of the guests. Everything was so new that the action stations weren't actually working yet, so all the food was cooked in the kitchen. I basically just had to stand there, answer questions, and make sure the station was always filled with food. It definitely wasn't as exciting as actually cooking, but I did get the feel of what it's like to be a waiter at a restaurant, putting my orders into the kitchen whenever I was getting low on food and serving and interacting with the customers.

Opening a new restaurant is a lot of work and a lot of chaos, but I came home from work in a fantastic high because I think I have finally found what I want to do.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Typical Day in Cold Catering

I have worked a few shifts now and have finally gotten into a bit of a routine. I get to work and quickly change into the uniform I have stashed in my locker. My second day of work, there were no uniforms left, so I had to wear my jeans all day in the kitchen, which was embarrassing to say the least, and quickly taught me to pick out the next day's uniform at the end of my shift.

My uniform consists of a white chef's coat with the two rows of buttons down the center, and black and white checkered pants, which say "small" on the tag, but actually puff out like crazy around the thighs and are way too short for me (think MC Hammer pants). I head to the kitchen carrying my knives in a ridiculous Tupperware-like container (one day someone asked me what I brought in, like I had baked goods in there to share with everyone), then I sign in and grab a white paper chef's hat, an apron, and some dish towels to wear in my apron before heading over to my work area.

I work in Cold Catering. We make all the salads and sandwiches for the team, the wives, the media, and a couple of the suites. Once I get settled in, I take a look at what we are making that day. Up on the wall are about 10 pieces of paper with all the day's menus. The salads and sandwiches are highlighted, so we go through and add up how many of each type of salad or sandwich we need to make. And then we get to work.

Some days are prep days, so the day before a game, we will come in for a shorter shift and just get everything ready for the game day. Some of the things I've done on prep days include cutting, baking, and make individual packages of croutons for caesar salad, roasting vegetables, chiffonading basil, and chopping various things like onions, tomatoes, or bocconcini cheese. Over the course of the prep days, I've learned how to use the steamer for things like potatoes and beets, the oven for all the roasted vegetables and the croutons, and the meat slicer to prep all the deli meat for the sandwiches. I kind of love the prep days because at the end of the day, our fridge is filled with trays of neatly arranged meat and vegetables, and the super-organized part of me is so happy when the mise en place is done and everything is ready to go.

Game days are a little bit crazier. Plating everything isn't so bad, but the problem is when our counts get changed in the middle of the day, which seems to happen a lot. But it's lots of fun making the salads and sandwiches and making sure everything looks nice and trying to find space in the cooler (walk-in fridge) for it all.

I've already learned so much in my first few days. Cold Catering is definitely not my dream culinary career or anything, but it's an amazing opportunity to learn how things work in such a large-scale kitchen. Yesterday, I worked my first shift out of Cold Catering. It was during the game and I actually got to work in a brand new kitchen. It was my best day yet by far. All the details to come in the next post.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

First Day of Work

I had my first day of work yesterday and it was amazing. I showed up at 9am and didn't have any idea what I'd be doing all day, whether it was an orientation or actually cooking or what. No one was there to meet me. It seemed like I was the only new person around, which was strange.

I saw someone I recognized and he showed me where to get my uniform, so I changed into my cook's jacket and some hideous black and white checkered pants. I surprisingly made it back to the kitchen without getting lost and finally found B. He got me a chef's hat, an apron, and put me straight to work making caprese salads. All the ingredients were prepped the day before, so I was just assembling them and wrapping them up to go in the fridge. I guess I must be pretty slow because it took me all morning to make 20 salads. In the afternoon, I sliced up some turkey breast by hand because no one wanted to show me how to use the meat slicer on my first day, sorted the wet lettuce out of the salads we were making, and because we actually finished making everything really early, started chopping peppers in prep for Monday.

Near the end of the day, B asked me how I liked my fist day, and I had a huge smile on my face. I actually had a lot of fun. It was pretty much chaos for most of the day, but that's what I loved about it. Everyone is like a well-oiled machine and each person contributes their bit to making all this food happen. I can't wait to go back.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Blueberry Cobbler

I love wild blueberries.

We stopped at a fruit stand this weekend and it was impossible not to pick up a basket of fresh blueberries. We didn't buy quite enough to fill a pie, so I decided to try something new from the Joy of Cooking. The cobbler was a lot easier to make than a pie, yet surprisingly similar, and definitely as good a treat.

Blueberry Cobbler
Adapted from the Joy of Cooking
Yield: 6-8 servings
Print recipe

Blueberry Filling
4 cups of blueberries (washed and patted dry)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp tapioca
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp lemon rind

Sour Cream Biscuit Dough
1 1/2 cups flour
2 tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
5 tbsp butter
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup heavy cream
  1. Preheat oven to 375F.

  2. Combine all ingredients for blueberry filling and stir together. Place in an ungreased baking dish or pie plate.

  3. For the biscuit dough, whisk together in a bowl all the dry ingredients.

  4. Using a fork, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles course meal.

  5. Mix the sour cream and heavy cream together in a small bowl. Add the cream mixture to the dough mixture and stir with a wooden spoon to combine. Gently knead until dough comes together.

  6. Roll the dough to the shape of the dish, then place on top of the blueberries.

  7. Cut a few steam vents in the dough. Lightly brush with cream or egg wash and then sprinkle lightly with sugar (optional).

  8. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the juices have thickened. Let cool slightly.

  9. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Almond Croissant

We finally found it - the best almond croissant in the city. Maybe ever.

Reading all about food last week on the internet lead me to an article written about food in Vancouver that happened to mention "unparrelled almond croissants." I would never pass up an opportunity to follow up on an almond croissant recommendation, so this weekend, A and I optimistically made the trip up to North Van.

Our journey took us to the Thomas Haas patisserie, located in a strange, almost industrial-looking area of the city. You definitely wouldn't expect to find scads of people sitting outside one of the storefronts, sipping cappucinos and nibbling on pastries, but we did.

Inside the shop was pretty chaotic - people lined up, servers rushing around, customers seated in every nook and cranny of the tiny space. But we spotted the croissants and immediately knew we were in for a treat.

We ordered one each, one once-baked and one twice-baked, but there's really no need to mention the twice-baked version anymore since the former is by far the superior croissant. We sat outside on the bed of the truck and enjoyed the best croissant we've ever had. The pastry was exactly what you imagine for a perfect croissant - light and flaky, and the almond was fresh, not too sweet, and went all the way to the ends. As A describes it, magic.

P.S. I also got officially offered the job of third cook this weekend. The new hire orientation is tomorrow. Ahh!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ricotta Gnocchi

With nothing planned for dinner last night, lots of inspiration from other food blogs, and plenty of time to google recipes at work, I decided to try to make gnocchi from scratch. Potato gnocchi is the most common type of gnocchi, but as we had eaten perogies the night before, it seemed a bit too similar, and I wanted to try something different. I remembered Anna making goat cheese gnocchi on an episode of Fresh, which I found the recipe for, but I guess I wasn't convinced because I eventually found a recipe for ricotta gnocchi on another blog. I think it was the description that caught my eye - the words "heaven in a bowl" and "takes less than 15 minutes to prepare" sealed the deal.

I didn't follow the recipe exactly (I used a whole egg instead of just the yolk), which is probably why they didn't turn out like the pictures I had seen. Mine were just a bit too mushy so it was hard to shape them and they didn't quite retain their form while boiling. However, they were delicious - very light and delicate, fluffy balls of ricotta goodness. I will definitely try the recipe again to improve on the appearance.

Ricotta Gnocchi
Yield: 2 servings
Print recipe

250 g Ricotta
1 egg yolk
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
30 g Parmigiano (or Pecorino), freshly grated
50-75 g all-purpose flour, extra for dusting the dough/board
  1. Discard any excess liquid that the Ricotta's packaging may contain.

  2. Add Ricotta cheese, egg yolk, salt and freshly grated Parmigiano into a large bowl. Mix well with a wooden or regular spoon.

  3. Add the flour and stir in briefly, just until combined. The dough will still be quite sticky. (Avoid adding too much extra flour at this point because the more flour you use, the denser the gnocchi will become.)

  4. To form the gnocchi, generously flour a board. Take a large spoonful of the dough and scoop it onto the board. Dust it with flour before rolling it into a finger-thick roll. Cut it into little pillows and place each gnoccho on a floured board or parchment paper-lined baking tray.

  5. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a generous pinch of salt, and reduce heat until the water bubbles lightly. Add the gnocchi and stir once so they don't stick to the bottom, then let cook until they start floating on top. Depending on their size this may take 2 to 4 minutes. Take out with a skimmer and serve immediately.

  6. Serve with a simple tomato sauce, browned butter with fresh sage, or any kind of pesto.

Recipe Index

Almond Thumbprint Cookies
Almond Toffee Bars
Amaretto Balls
Apple Brownie
Apple Strudel
Blueberry Buttermilk Muffins
Blueberry Cobbler
Blueberry Streusel Tart
Buttermilk Cookies
Caramels with Pink Sea Salt
Chocolate Almond Crackle Cookies
Chocolate Almond Torte
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Chocolate Mint Cookies
Cocoa Wafer Sandwiches
Ginger Cake
Lemon Poppy Seed Pound Cake
Lemon Raspberry Tart
Linzer Cookies
Marble Sugar Cookies
Mexican Wedding Cakes
Oatmeal Chip Cookies
Peach Frozen Yogurt
Peanut Butter Cookies
Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake
Rice Pudding
Salted Caramel Chocolate Cookies
Strawberry Pistachio Cream Phyllo Cups
Strawberry Shortcake
Vanilla Macarons

Angel Biscuits
Basic Egg Pasta
Beef Short Ribs in Cinnamon and Red Wine Curry
Broccoli, Cheddar, and Quinoa Soup
Butter-Poached Prawns with Cauliflower Israeli Couscous
Buttermilk Fried Chicken
Buttermilk Marinated Pork Roast
Chicken Fingers
Chilled Seafood Salad
Cilantro Mint Chicken Curry
Cranberry Goat Cheese Phyllo Purses
Curried Dal
Garlic Bread
Ginger Calamari
Irish Lamb Stew
Lamb in Coriander, Black Cardamom, and Buttermilk Curry
Lamb Popsicles
Lamb Sausage
Lamb Shanks with Tomato, Chili, and Honey
Lentil Curry
Marinated Mozzarella Salad
Milk Bread
Mushroom Risotto
Mussels in Garlic Fennel Cream
Osso Bucco
Pan Roasted Duck Breast
Pasta Dough (French Laundry)
Pork Gyoza
Potato and Leek Galette
Potato Salad
Rabbit with Mustard
Ricotta Gnocchi
Rye Bread
Salmon Carpaccio
Salmon en Papillote
Salmon Tartare
Shrimp, Avocado, and Grapefruit on Endive Spears
Spinach and Tomatoes with Paneer
Tomato, Yogurt, and Cinnamon Lamb Curry
Turkish Lentil Soup
Vietnamese Spring Rolls
Vij Family's Chicken Curry
White Bread - Sponge Starter Method
Wedge Fries
White Bread - Straight Dough Method
Whole Wheat Pizza
Zucchini Lemon Slaw

Beer Batter
Blueberry Chutney
Hollandaise Sauce
Marinara Sauce
Mustard Crust
Red Onion Marmalade
Rhubarb Chutney
Roasted Pepper Cream Sauce
Soy Ginger Dipping Sauce
Tartar Sauce
Tomato Salsa

Fromage Frais

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Food Blogs

Jo sent me a link to a food blog (cannelle et vanille) a few months ago, which honestly, has been a huge inspiration for me. It is written by a pastry chef named Aran who took some time off from work to raise a family and wanted to keep a pastry journal to force herself to bake everyday. I don't really have any way to describe her blog as anything other than 'beautiful.' Her food styling and the photographs on it amaze me every time I visit. Her desserts look pretty fantastic as well. I call it 'Aran's blog' now, as if Aran is someone I actually know.

Yesterday, Aran's blog linked to 50 of the world's best food blogs. Cannelle et vanille is second on the list, which doesn't surprise me at all. The first one on the list I'd never heard of before, so I immediately had to visit to see why it was number one.

The recent posts on Orangette are about a couple in Seattle opening a pizza restaurant. The author, Molly, quit a PhD a few years ago and started her blog because she loves food and writing. She too takes great pictures and her writing style is so easy to get caught up in - I couldn't stop reading about how her new restaurant is coming together. It sounds like a lot of hard work, but it's also something I dream about doing one day. Happy reading.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


I had my job interview on Friday. I didn't really know what to expect, mostly because I've never done a culinary interview before, nor have I been to an interview where I already know I have the job.

There really wasn't much to the interview since B already knows me and my situation, so he pretty much just told me more about the job. He's going to hire me as a third cook, which sounds perfect for me. He also talked about all the different opportunities he's going to try to give me, like working in the restaurant, doing catering, even doing live cooking, like carving a roast or doing a pasta station.

The worst part about the interview was doing the Third Cook questionnaire. B didn't really care what my answers were, but I felt pretty stupid not knowing some basic things that I'm sure most cooks would know. The first question was about the order of certain foods on a rack. I didn't know the answer at all, so B explained that you would want raw meat to be on the bottom of the rack (to prevent leaks and contamination onto other foods) and finished products, like julienned carrots, to be on the top of the rack (as it is least likely to get contaminated being on the top). I also couldn't come up with what FIFO stands for, but then I knew it as soon as he told me (first in, first out). It all makes perfect sense in hindsight.

B told me to buy black shoes as part of my uniform and to invest in a set of knives for work. He also told me that my shifts would be mostly during the day, which made me really nervous about how I was going to coordinate that with my current job. I left the interview, and in fact, still am, very unsure about how everything is going to work out, but also with a huge sense of anticipation and optimism about what's to come.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Job Application

A lot has happened since yesterday.

Last night, I finalized my resume and cover letter and hand-delivered it to my future employer. I also emailed a copy to B, the sous chef, just to make sure he received it. Then this morning, I got an email from B saying that the kitchen is doing interviews this Friday and there a couple of spots still available. There is also a job fair next week, but for all types of jobs, not just the kitchen.

Nervously, I called him to arrange an interview time. He encouraged me to come in on Friday since the job fair will be pretty chaotic. But the best part of the conversation was when he mentioned that he talked to his chef about my situation. They are both willing to give me a shot, so the interview is essentially a formality. That definitely calmed my nerves in some aspects, but as soon as I hung up the phone, my heart was still racing, I think because I realize that now, it's for real. I'm scared, but excited at the same time.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


I have finished the first draft of my new resume. It actually took me quite a while to figure out what to write on it since I had to totally revamp the whole thing. My first step was to figure out what a functional resume is and how it is useful for someone changing careers. Then, over the past two weeks, I jotted down notes whenever I thought of transferrable skills that would be applicable to the kitchen, and last night, I finally put everything together. The result - a one page summary of the skills I think would make me a great chef. Next step - actually submitting it!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


I am beginning fresh.

I have decided to start a new career in the food industry, and I am excited to share what I learn in my new blog.