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.