Thursday, December 23, 2010

Block 8: Weeks 1 and 2 - Lunch Service

Last week and the first two days of this week, I was serving in the restaurant at school. It was not exactly my first time serving as I had served a couple of times at some of the volunteer stuff at school, but it was still pretty much a new experience - taking orders, using the point of sale system, and dealing with payments was all new to me. But I'm actually kind of enjoying it. And it definitely makes me look at servers in restaurants differently.

Our class is split in half - half works lunch service and the other half does dinner, and then we switch after two weeks. I am doing lunch first, which is perfect for me, because after the Christmas holiday, I do dinner and then Block 9 is also nights, so it makes my schedule a lot easier. I also totally got the better half of the class - I would be pretty miserable if I was in the other group for sure.

The first day, we pretty much just had an orientation of the restaurant, learned about the point of sale system, and then did mock serving with our classmates. I got N and F on a date - and they were very difficult customers :) The second day, the restaurant was open, so we got our first tables. When we first get to school, we set up the room according to the groups that are coming in. Then we set the tables and get everything ready for service. That day, our instructor kept the numbers down so I think everyone had about 6 or 7 customers each. I had one big table of 7, which wasn't too hard to manage. A pretty good start to serving.

My favourite day last week was definitely Wednesday - I got 3 small tables, and one table was a guy who used to come to the cafeteria everyday. He was at one of the events I volunteered at, so I told him to come to JJ's, and he actually did. He was a great customer - he ordered the drink special of the day, a chocolate martini, as well as a chichi (a pina colada with vodka instead of rum), ate three courses, and then tipped generously. We actually get to keep the tips - we just split all the tips at the end of service. Wednesday's tips were the best for all of last week.

The rest of the days weren't anything too special, until the last day of school. We invited the couple that owns the restaurant we often go to after school to come for lunch. They were great customers, ordering lots of drinks and food. They even brought the class a bottle of champagne to share. A friend and I paid for their bill, but they left an amazing tip. Our tips on Tuesday were outstanding.

Lectures in this block are pretty fun. We've learned about bartending, opening wine bottles at the table, and making specialty coffees like espressos and cafe lattes. On dinner service, we do some wine tasting, which should also be fun.

Serving is definitely harder than it looks, but I think it just takes some getting used to. I'm a lot more comfortable serving now than I was on the first day. And it makes you appreciate good service, like at Raincity Grill. A's parents were in town for a few days last week, and we went to Raincity for dinner. It was a really delicious meal - I had duck, A had bison, Mr. B had mussels, and Mrs. B had ribeye. The kitchen sent us mushroom risotto to share and also a plate of four desserts. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

We had some fun afternoons - checking up on the afternoon group, dinner at Al Porto, and lunch at Peckinpah, a new restaurant in Gastown.

I get two weeks off of school and work, which I couldn't be happier about. Plus, we are heading to sunny Jamaica. I can't wait!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Block 7: Week 4 - Pastry

This was a much better week than last week - I decided I needed an attitude adjustment. Getting angry at people for being lazy accomplishes nothing. So I was much more positive and just focused on myself and not other people. It made for a more pleasant week for sure.

Pastry station was pretty easy. We made puff pastry (regular method and quick method), turnovers with the puff pastry, lemon puddings, pastry cream, sweet tart dough, fruit flans, and choux paste. Decorating the fruit flans was probably the thing I hated the most, though for no particular reason. I guess I just didn't feel especially creative. So the second time we had to decorate the fruit flans, I asked my partner to do my share for me. And crazy Chef Larsen gave me a 9 on it and gave my partner a 6. That was pretty frustrating, for both of us.

We wrote our ITA level one test on Friday. It was a 100-question multiple choice test. It was actually a lot harder than I thought it would be, and I had to guess on a bunch of questions. But I'm pretty sure I passed.

Next week - serving in JJ's. Should be interesting.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Block 7: Week 3 - Yeast

I'm a little bit jaded writing this post because the last couple of days at school were pretty frustrating for me, especially yesterday. I'm having a hard time dealing with the laziness of people in my class. Every day, we have to package all the products that we make to be sold in the market. It is the shared responsibility of the whole class, but it tends to fall to those on the yeast station because a majority of the products to be packaged are the breads and danishes made by the yeast station. However, the last few days, a couple of other people and I packaged pretty much everything by ourselves while the rest of the class essentially stands around doing nothing. I don't even know why it makes me so angry, but yesterday, I almost lost it. I really need to work on being more patient. Really.

Yesterday was a crazy long day because I stayed after class to help out with the Winter Feast, a fundraiser for Junior Team Canada. It was a dinner for about 300 people, so we helped set up all the tables, the buffet area, and the silent auction. Then we served the passed canapes, champagne, and cleared the tables. Chef bought us all a beer afterwards to celebrate a successful evening. It was long and tiring, but fun.

Before the Winter Feast, I had lunch at Meat and Bread. It doesn't have a website yet apparently, but it's a new place that opened up near school. It's totally my kind of place - it only serves four sandwiches, one salad, and one soup, and it does everything really well, as far as I can tell. I tried the pork sandwich, which is pieces of this roasted stuffed pork with a salsa verde. They also top it with a bit of the crispy pork skin and serve it with a homemade sambal. Delicious.

Other than the frustration, it really wasn't that bad of a week. We were on the yeast station, which is probably the busiest of the stations this month. We made white bread, brown bread, french bread, sour rye, pumpernickel, danishes, croissants, and cinnamon buns. The hardest part is the timing of everything because once you make each of the doughs, it has to proof before it can be baked.

The best night this week was J's birthday - $2 beers are definitely trouble on a birthday. I also got a new nickname that night: Sar Bear (apparently I look a lot like Sarah Silverman).

Next week - Pastry.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Block 7: Week 2 - Cakes

We started our first real week of baking on the cake station. We made yellow cake and chocolate cake and decorated them, cheese cake, carrot cake, pineapple upside down cake, and jelly rolls.

Chef Larsen has a very strange marking system. Basically you have to make each item at least twice during the week. The first time you make it, the best mark you can get is a 7 out of 10. The next time, you can get an 8 or a 9 (to get a 10, it has to be outstanding, so I don't think he actually gives out 10s). But if you get a 6 the first time, the best you can get the second time is a 7, and the third time can improve to an 8 or 9. He doesn't provide any guidance on how to complete your tasks throughout the week, as long as you get each item made at least twice, or more, if you need/want to improve your marks. The main problem with the system is that he doesn't offer any feedback on how to improve, and the marks are somewhat arbitrary as he doesn't always even see the products before they get sold in the market.

On Tuesday, I volunteered at a dinner at UBC. There were so many students involved that transportation was provided in a tour trolley. It was very strange. And cold. There were two parties - one upstairs was a sit-down plated three-course dinner, and the larger party downstairs was just passed canapes. I got to work the upstairs party, which was good practice for Block 8. We set the table up, served drinks, served the food, cleared the table, and served coffee and tea. The food was amazing - lobster bisque, beef tenderloin, and lemon tarts. Once we were done upstairs, we headed downstairs to help with that party. The tour bus ride home was pretty entertaining, with the two guys in my class who were also there singing the whole way home. We also went out for a drink afterwards. The night ended a bit emotionally, but all worked itself out the next day at school.

This weekend, I had my first performance review at work. I was nervous - I've never had a performance review for a cooking job, so I didn't really know what to expect. It was mostly just a conversation with my chef and sous chef, and they didn't really have anything negative to say, which was good. The main things I need to work on are my sense of urgency (I'm a bit too laid back I guess) and asking more questions. I was pretty struck by how similar the review was to previous reviews I had at my actuarial job - I put myself in a totally different experience and I'm still the same person deep down. Interesting.

Next week - yeast station.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Block 7: Week 1 - Intro to Baking

Baking is awesome. I had the best week.

The baking kitchen is on a whole separate floor from the culinary kitchens, so just walking onto the baking floor, the smell is pretty wonderful. There are three stations this month - yeast, cakes, and pastry. This week, we spent one day on each station. We also spent one day making laminated doughs (a layered dough, like puff pastry). The first day was basically an intro to the kitchen, where the chef just talked about the month (no baking at all, so a pretty boring day). Speaking of our chef, he is, I say it every day, crazy. He has the most evil laugh, which kind of makes sense, because he likes to play practical jokes. If you bring an outside drink into class, he will put a raw egg into it, or tabasco sauce. He also likes to use a spray bottle as a water gun. He definitely keeps class interesting. There is a video of him on youtube decorating a cake, if you want an idea of what he's like.

This month, we are working in partners. We are still in groups on each station, but we spend most of our time within out partnerships. I am pretty happy with my partner so far - he is really competent in the kitchen, which was the most important criteria in picking my partner, but we also get along really well and have a lot of fun together. This week, we made pumpernickel bread, white bread loaves and rolls, danish dough (and from the danish dough, we made danishes, cinnamon twists, pull-throughs, and pinwheels), carrot cake, yellow cake, cinnamon buns, and fruit flans.

A was out of town this week, so I made some stew tonight to welcome him home. I can't wait until I have more time to do more cooking at home - I miss experimenting and photographing. Just over a month until Christmas holidays!

Next week - cakes.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Double Down Dinner

Since I can think of nothing better to do with myself on my days off, we invited friends over for dinner last night for a double down dinner. A double down is essentially a bacon and cheese sandwich, but instead of bread on the outside, it is two pieces of fried chicken. I also made fresh pasta, garlic bread, and coleslaw. It was a lot of work, but everything was delicious. And I think the double down was actually my favourite part of the meal.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Block 6: Week 4 - Vegetables

Another difficult week. Vegetable station is the hardest station in that it has the most volume and thus the most prep to get done each day. Two people were out on the lunch line, so they weren't available to help with prep, which added to the difficulty. I'm pretty sure every other station in the kitchen had to help our group out this week because we were so slow. Wednesday was the most painful day - we were making very time consuming dishes, and our station was a total disaster (chef asked if anyone got hurt when the hurricane blew through), so I went home that day pretty frustrated. Friday was funny though - I asked someone to help us peel potatoes and carrots and he came back two minutes later with everything already done (he had found pails of already peeled product in another fridge - perfect!).

I liked the dishes I made this week - braised red cabbage, roasted nugget potatoes, saffron rice pilaf, green beans with almonds, and potatoes columbine (pan fried potatoes with sauteed onions and peppers).

The best day for me this week was Remembrance Day, because it was my first day off in 110 days. We went out the night before and played shuffleboard, which was tons of fun. Then I had a pretty easy relaxing morning on Thursday, went to the spa in the afternoon, and cooked cardamom chicken for dinner, which was really delicious. I will post the recipe next time I make it.

I also had the whole weekend off, which was amazing. I have never appreciated a weekend as much as this. A and I finally got to spend some time together. We went out to a club on Friday night, slept in, had croissants at Thomas Haas, and went out for dim sum, which were all great, but the highlight was dinner at Pear Tree. We shared the spot prawn cappuccino to start. I had the slow poached chicken breast napped in blanquette foam with potato gnocchi, and A had pork belly with cassoulet and mushrooms. We shared the lemon tart with cracked sugar for dessert. So amazing. The restaurant actually changed my life a little. The open kitchen was really modern and looked super quiet and organized. My friend from school was on the pastry station and she came out to say hi to us after dinner. Scott Jaeger was also in there cooking, which was really cool. The prices were very reasonable especially given the quality of food. I would love to have a restaurant like that someday.

Next week - Baking (so excited!)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Block 6: Week 3 - Meat

This was a frustrating week. A couple of people in my group are particularly weak. I'm learning that I have a hard time dealing with people that need their hands held in the kitchen. Some people are also really messy and are just ok with leaving their mess for other people (ie me) to clean up for them. Sometimes I feel like I'm babysitting.

I did have fun making our dishes though. This week, the meat menu included Hungarian goulash with spaetzle, Jamaican jerk chicken, meatloaf with sundried tomato sauce, and roast chicken with lardons of double smoked bacon, mushrooms, and pearl onions. I also really enjoyed working with our new chef. He really appreciates organization, which I can relate to, he gives great and interesting lectures, and the best part is that he will spend time teaching all students, not just working with the weaker students. I learned a lot from him this week.

I didn't get to go to the junior Team Canada lunch that Chef JC mentioned last week - I guess he forgot that he invited me. There were some fun afternoons this week though, specifically Carlos, ramen, and bowling.

Next week - vegetable station.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Block 6: Week 2 - Egg and Pasta

I am officially half way done school. Five and a half months over. Already. Time is flying by so fast.

I was on the egg and pasta station this week. It's actually a fun station because we do the a la carte specials. A couple of the dishes served in the cafeteria are actually cooked to order - so the customer will order, someone from the line comes back to the classroom to tell us, and then we prepare the dish and bring it out to the customer. This week, the specials were a spinach and pesto calzone, penne with tomato sauce and chorizo and garlic toast, and a denver omelette. We also make a vegeterian entree, which was eggplant rouleden stuffed with ricotta and sundried tomatoes. Unfortunately, I didn't get to do the a la carte cooking much because I had to work on the cafeteria line to replace someone who was absent. I still had a pretty fun week though.

At the hotel, I was alone on Monday. Working alone isn't much fun. I sliced duck, baked tart shells, seared chicken skewers, and spent the rest of the time making mushroom ravioli. I stayed late to try to finish the ravioli so one of the cooks offered me steak and mashed potatoes for dinner, which was delicious. Thursday started off pretty boring, chopping herbs and peeling potatoes, but towards the end, we helped to plate two banquets. I also got to go to one of the banquets to sauce the plate just before they were served. Pretty fun.

On Saturday, I helped out with a Team Canada fundraising event. I worked with the chef making the appetizers, so I just helped plate the canapes. Afterwards, we were watching the entrees being plating, and I noticed that one plate was being sent out missing the sauce on the ravioli. Bruno Marti was very happy that I caught that, and I think that's why Chef JC later invited me to check out the junior Team Canada fundraising lunch on Tuesday.

The best day this week was Wednesday, walking to Noodle Box, having Starbucks, and hanging out in the park by the Burrard Street bridge.

Next week - meat station.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Block 6: Week 1 - Fish

Block 6 is definitely not my favourite block. We are cooking lunch in the cafeteria, so it is basically the exact same as Block 4, but we make more portions because lunch is a lot busier than dinner. The food just isn't very exciting. The recipes are better than Block 4 though, which is good. Our chef, who we will have for the first two weeks, is pretty nice, and he actually gives me constructive feedback, which I definitely like.

I started off in the fish station. This week, I made poached salmon with white wine sauce and sauteed vegetable julienne, pan fried trout with almonds and brown butter sauce, fish cakes with dijon hollandaise, and fish brochettes with an orange ginger glaze. I was also on the lunch line this week, so I was serving lunch to the customers. I had a lot more fun than when we served at dinner because lunch is so much busier, and I kinda like interacting with all the people.

I miss my group from last block. My new group is definitely not as strong. I'm getting to work with a couple of people I've never worked with before, which is good, but it can be frustrating at times working with people who need their hands held more.

At the hotel, I was alone this week on Thursday. It was busy because they had a couple of banquets that night. I sliced smoked duck breast for a canape, prepared a fruit display, and made rosti potatoes to be used in another canape - it was a rosti sandwich with smoked salmon in the middle, which would later be seared and then served with a creme fraiche. Painstaking to make, and I stayed an hour late to finish them, but they would probably look really good finished, and probably pretty tasty too.

I got to participate in a couple of cool events this week as well. On Monday, I helped out a practice event for the junior culinary Team Canada. Basically, they were practicing plating their dishes and we were there to write out their recipes. I helped out the team preparing the appetizer, and it was an insane dish. So many components. I probably can't even remember them all - a pheasant consomme gel with mushrooms and chervil, ravioli with a lobster cream foam, microgreen salad with prawn and scallop ceviche and citrus vinaigrette, and sous vide pheasant breast and lobster. Pretty crazy. And yesterday, I was asked to help out with a Chaine competition being held at school. It was a young chefs competition, and it was black box. I was only there for the end, when competitors were plating their dishes, and I helped transport the finished dishes to the judges. It was pretty intense, watching them get their plates together in the allotted time, and watching them being judged on their every move in the kitchen. A lot of chefs from different hotels and restaurants were there as judges, which was cool. I learned a lot just being there, even for a short time. They all seemed like very talented young chefs.

Next week - egg and pasta station.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Ravioli with Mushroom Cream Sauce

I have been wanting to make ravioli since I got the pasta maker a few months ago and I finally made a batch today. I was at a culinary Team Canada practice event on Monday and there was a ravioli component on the appetizer plate, and I found out the recipe was from the French Laundry, so I had to try it myself. The dough was a lot nicer to work with than the one I previously posted. And while I didn't try the old dough with ravioli, it seems pretty tasty. I'm excited to try it with regular pasta noodles like spaghetti to compare.

I filled my ravioli with caramelized onions and goat cheese and ate it with a mushroom cream sauce. Pretty tasty.

Pasta Dough (French Laundry)
From The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller
Yield: 40 ravioli
Print recipe

8oz flour
6 egg yolks
1 whole egg
1 tbsp milk
1 tbsp olive oil
  1. In a bowl, add the flour and make a well in the center.

  2. Add the egg yolks, egg, milk, and olive oil to the center of the well.

  3. Gently break up the eggs with your fingers.

  4. Begin turning the egg mixture in a circular motion, gradually pulling in flour from the sides of the well. Continue mixing until all the flour has been incorporated and a sticky paste has formed.

  5. Remove dough from bowl and knead on a lightly floured surface until dough is smooth and bounces back slightly when pressed with a finger.

  6. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Block 5: Week 4 - Breakdown

The four-day week went by pretty fast. Breakdown station is basically like the first week of this Block again, but instead of chef demonstrating, we are actually doing the butchering. Tuesday and Wednesday we worked on the front and hind quarters of the beef. I did the shoulder and the flank. Thursday we butchered the whole veal - I worked on the loin. Friday we cut a pig into the primal cuts, and then we each deboned a pork loin and Frenched some chops. W also bought a whole lamb, so we helped him break it down into the cuts he wanted.

I had a great month. I'm pretty sad to be leaving my group.

At the hotel, I was actually working across the street at the Marriott. Most of the other students working at the hotel have worked at the Marriott and have told me that it is so much better, so I was really looking forward to it. The kitchen is definitely a lot nicer and newer, the team is a lot younger and more energetic, and things just seem a lot more organized. They also gave me a lot of responsibility without a lot of instruction. I peeled 900 asparagus, which was painful, but then I prepped a cauliflower puree and actually got to make a bacon risotto. It was a lot of fun.

Thanksgiving weekend at work was pretty busy, especially Sunday brunch. Saturday and Monday were actually nice and quiet for brunch, but I worked the hockey games both nights. 40 hours of work in one weekend is a bit insane.

A was in Ottawa again this week, but I didn't have much to do after school, so I had some fun evenings out - got stood up from a movie, but went out afterwards, had a yummy burger at Raglan's, and had a few martinis on Friday with people in Block 10.

Next week - Block 6 - lunch in the cafeteria.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Thanksgiving Dinner

The day A was coming home from Ottawa, I spent the afternoon making Thanksgiving dinner. I bought a turkey breast and roasted it in the oven. Made some gravy with the pan drippings. Blanched some asparagus and made cranberry sauce with local organic cranberries. The highlight though was the bacon, sage, and candied cranberry risotto with asiago cheese and homemade chicken stock. Delicious.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Block 5: Week 3 - Fish and Poultry

This was a really fun week, and I learned so much. The whole week, we practiced filleting fish and cutting chicken. Each day, we scaled and filleted a whole salmon. It was cool to see how much we improved from the first day to the last. On Monday, we also broke down whole chickens and we also learned how to debone the chicken without breaking the skin, like for a galantine or turducken. On Tuesday, we worked with trout - we filleted them and also deboned them whole to be stuffed. On Wednesday, we filleted rockfish and sole. Rockfish came in whole, head and guts and all, so it was different from the salmon in that we had to use a J-cut to get around the innards. Sole is actually a pretty gross fish. It's a flat fish, so it already looks ugly, with the two eyes on the top of its head, but the worst part was that it was covered in a thick slime. Filleting it wasn't too bad, but the challenge is not cutting into the guts because it has a pretty foul odour. It was not the most pleasant fish to work with at all. Thursday we didn't do anything new, but on Friday, chef brought in a whole halibut, so we saw how to fillet that. Halibut is a flat fish like sole, so it was exactly the same method, just a lot bigger.

At the hotel this week, on Monday, I helped out with pastry for a bit. Basically, I shaped donuts for a few hours in the pasty shop by myself. I got shown the herb garden, and did some prep for a soup. Thursday was pretty slow. There wasn't too much to do. We made butternut squash soup, and I seared some skewers and made a potato gratin (basically a scalloped potato dish). F was working the line for a bit and somehow managed to get us a steak to share for dinner. Yum.

At Canuck Place, the cook I usually work with was away, so I was there all by myself. It was pretty easy since most of the food was already cooked - I just had to put it out and clean it up. But a couple of people came in with special requests, like a vegetarian, and two kids needed their food ground up. Overall, it was a fun night though. And they were very thankful that I was there to help out, so that made it all worthwhile.

A was in Ottawa this week, which was tiring for me, so I didn't go out much. I did however secure my partner for Block 7 (pastry), so I'm happy I won't get stuck with someone I don't like for the whole month.

Next week - breakdown station.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Block 5: Week 2 - Lamb and Production

I had a fun week. First of all, my group this month is amazing. It's almost the group I would put together if I could pick my own group. Most of the time, we are joking around and laughing. It's great. Slightly less good is that I have been sick for about a week now, probably because I don't have any time to rest and get better. I'm almost back to healthy now though, finally.

This week, we were on the lamb station. So on Monday, we deboned a lamb shoulder and a lamb leg. On Tuesday, we deboned the lamb loin and Frenched a rack of lamb. On Thursday, we took apart the whole lamb just like chef did last week in the demo. It wasn't too hard, so I'm excited to buy large pieces of lamb from the butcher and debone them myself at home now.

My group was also responsible for daily production. So every morning, we took all the leftovers from lunch and dinner the day before in the cafeteria and package them up to be sold in the store. We also packaged any extra meat that we butchered in class that doesn't get used in any other class at school, and we also cook food from the extra meat, such as sausage patties, flank steak roulade, and chicken wings. Chef lets us taste a lot of the things we cook, which is great.

At the hotel this week, the highlights were getting to skin and portion fish on Monday, and then working at the pasta action station at a function on Thursday.

This morning, a couple of people from school and A came by the restaurant for brunch. Matty sent them an appetizer and a couple of desserts on the house. It was fun having them there.

Next week - fish and poultry station.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Block 5: Week 1 - Demos

We started Block 5 this week down in the butcher shop. This week was simply demonstrations by the chef, so it was a little bit slow, but still pretty interesting.

On Monday and Tuesday, chef broke down a whole side of beef, the front quarter on Monday and the hind quarter on Tuesday. On Wednesday, chef broke down a side of veal. He cut the side into the primal cuts, and then continued processing the meat into purchasable cuts. We did get to participate after the demonstrations by helping to clean up small pieces of meat that would eventually be used for ground beef or veal.

We learned about a side of pork on Thursday, and we each got to break down and debone a pork loin. Today, chef cut up a whole lamb, and also demonstrated deboning a turkey, and we each deboned our own turkey afterwards. I definitely will find this month challenging as I haven't worked with meat all that much (A tends to do a lot more of the meat cooking at home) and deboning is pretty new to me. I am excited about learning a lot this month though.

This week, I also started back at Rogers Arena. I worked Monday night at an event for 3,000 people and made spinach salad with beets, gooseberries, and goat cheese. I also worked a pre-season hockey game in my new kitchen. It's pretty similar to BBC from last season in that it's a buffet and there are action stations. I worked on a station and made prawns and scallops with a Thai curry cream sauce garnished with water chestnuts, snow peas, and toasted sesame seeds. This kitchen is on the 200 level, and the view from the action station is pretty amazing. When we aren't busy, I can watch the game, which is great.

I was at the hotel yesterday, and it was somewhat painful. Me and another guy were assigned to clean baby carrots. Peeling and cleaning them took forever, so we spent almost the entire shift on the same task. We did get to see how they make rice pilaf for a party of 200 in the tilt skillet, and we also helped set up the hot food for the buffet dinner, so that was good to see.

Groups haven't been decided for the rest of the month, so we don't know what stations we will be on in class yet. But the three stations are poultry and fish, beef, and lamb and pork. Should be an interesting month.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Block 4: Week 4 - Vegetables

Vegetable station wasn't the most exciting week, probably because it was pretty easy. I made carrots vichy (carrots braised in water and butter), scallopped potatoes (which was the most stressful because I was cooking them in an oven that wasn't working, so I barely got them out in time), turnips glazed with brown sugar (gross), roasted acorn squash, and potatoes berny (mashed potato balls breaded with sliced almonds and then deep fried).

The hotel this week wasn't too exciting either. I made tartare sauce on Monday and cut a lot of veggies for stir fry and soup on Thursday.

The highlight of the week was probably my interview at Rogers Arena (formerly GM Place). I applied to be a second cook for this season. I met with Chef and with B and I was nervous they were going to ask me a lot of technical questions, but mostly they just wanted to know about my experiences at school and work over the summer. They seemed really happy that I showed so much interest and they thought I did great work last season, so they gave me the promotion on the spot. They also told me I'd be working in a different kitchen. The set up is similar to BBC, in that it's buffet style and there are action stations and the menu changes every night, so it should be somewhat familiar. I'm excited to work with different people and learn some new dishes. Another good thing is that the restaurant is on the 200 level, so when I'm at an action station, I can see the whole ice and watch the game. Should be a fun season.

Next week - Block 5 - butchery.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Block 4: Week 3 - Meat

This week, we cooked meat for the cafeteria. Over the course of the week, I made roast chicken with a giant log of stuffing, chicken ballantines (boneless chicken legs wrapped around a ball of stuffing and baked in the oven), and pot roast.

The highlight of the week was probably starting work at the Renaissance Hotel. Through school, our class is doing practicum work there. We do five hour shifts, a couple of days a week, for five months. My first day was Thursday, and I ended up working with the pastry cook. I had tons of fun that day making dinner rolls, brioche dough, cookie dough (chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin), chocolate cake, and creme brulee. The guy I was working with was really nice. He took me on a tour of the kitchens and I got to see the revolving restaurant at the top of the hotel. He gave me a chocolate chip cookie for breakfast (yum) and he also let me taste the chocolate cake (surprisingly delicious when it was made with water as the liquid ingredient). He encouraged me to write down all the recipes, so I will definitely be making some of those at home. We also get to eat a meal at the hotel, which was a delicious salmon, scalloped potatoes, and roasted veggies. It was a great day.

Next week - vegetable station.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Block 4: Week 2 - Fish

This week, I was on the fish station. Over the course of the week, I made poached salmon with tomato basil cream sauce, salmon brochettes with peppers and red onion and an orange ginger glaze, pan fried sole with a lemon caper brown butter sauce, and a mixed seafood curry.

We had a new chef for the week as our regular chef was away. The first day was really stressful because she was so different from our regular chef. She got really panicked that we weren't going to get our food out on time, even though everyone was doing just fine. As we got to know her better throughout the week, things improved, which is good because we will probably have her again in Block 6 and Block 9.

I also worked on the cafeteria line this week serving the dinner. It was not especially exciting because we probably only did about 30 covers a night. So there was a lot of standing around with not much to do. But A came for dinner on Friday and thought the food was good, so that was fun.

I went for brunch with a friend this week at Paul's Place Omelettery. He also works brunch on weekends, so we were both really happy to sit down and enjoy a delicious breakfast not cooked by us.

Work was extremely busy this long weekend. We did the most covers I've ever done, 130, both Saturday and Sunday, which is more covers than the restaurant does for dinner sometimes. Thankfully Monday was rainy, so it was a lot slower. I also found out Lady Gaga came to the restaurant for lunch when she was in town for her show. I wish I had been there that day!

Next week - meat station.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Great Meals

We had two great meals this weekend.

Last night, our friends cooked us an Indian feast - an appetizer of samosas with spicy ketchup, beef vindaloo, green lentils, spicy beans, and fenugreek roti on traditional thalis, mango panna cotta for dessert, and dark and stormy drinks. So delicious.

Tonight we went to Hot Oven Pizza in Burnaby because a friend from school works there. He made us a special pizza for dinner - a combination of the Orient pizza (duck pizza) and perogie pizza. The perogie pizza isn't on the menu, but is made of mashed potato, sausage, red and green onions, and topped with a sour cream quenelle (which was my favourite part).

Monday, August 30, 2010

Block 4: Week 1 - Pasta and Soup

Last week, we started Block 4, which is cooking dinner in the cafeteria. It's the same set up as the last couple of Blocks - groups of five rotating through four different stations: meat, fish, vegetables, and pasta. I'm actually in a group of five for the first time, and my group is pretty solid. We're in class at night, from 1:30 to around 7:00, so I get to sleep in finally. It's great.

We started off in the pasta and soup station. This station also makes a vegetarian entree. In the summer, dinner isn't very busy because there aren't too many students around, so we only need to prepare twelve to fifteen portions of whatever dish we're making. Not too hard.

We also have more lecture time than any previous Block. Chef likes to fill the boards up with writing before class, so I usually get there early to write everything down before lecture.

This week, I made a cream sauce to go with spinach tortellini garnished with green onions and chili flakes. The most interesting dish for me was zucchini pancakes served with tomato sauce, garnished with sour cream and brunoise yellow pepper. I also made rice pilaf, cream of corn soup, and creole soup.

Overall, this was a really fun week. Everyone's having a lot of fun, especially now that we're cooking a bit more. We also had some fun nights out after school. I was sad one day though - one of my friends was mad at me about a conversation he overheard and decided to ignore me for a while. Pretty immature.

This week, I also found out that I was student of the month for Block 3. Basically that means that I had the best mark in the class last month. The student who is student of the month the most times becomes student of the year and is eligible to enter a competition with other students of the year from different classes. It's been a different person each month so far, so no idea who is going to be student of the year at this point.

Next week - fish station.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Block 3: Week 3 - Stocks

Stocks was not the most exciting week, mostly because once the stock is cooking, there isn't too much to do except cut mirepoix. It was interesting to actually make a huge kettle of stock though.

First, we would rinse off the bones (chicken or fish), and then cover them with cold water. We would let the water come just to a boil, then turn it down so it was just barely simmering. After an hour or so, we would add the mirepoix and a sachet of herbs, and then let it simmer away overnight (for chicken - fish only needs to simmer for just over an hour). In the morning, we would strain the stock through cheesecloth, and then cool it down in a water bath. We would also check inventory in the fridge to see what stocks needed to be made the next day.

We also made brown veal stock. Instead of just adding water to the bones, we would first roast the bones until they were brown. We then deglazed the pan and added some mirepoix to be roasted. Finally we would add tomato paste, let that brown for about twenty minutes, and then all the bones and mirepoix would be added to the kettle. We deglazed the pan again and added those juices as well. We then filled up the kettle with water, added a sachet of herbs, and tomato pieces.

We also made vegetable stock with mirepoix, leeks, eggplant, squash, asparagus, and mushrooms. Other groups made lamb stock or pork stock when necessary. Chef also demonstrated making consomme. We took brown veal stock and added a clear meat mixture - lean ground meat, egg whites, finely chopped mirepoix, and salt. This mixture causes tiny particles that cloud a stock to gather to the top in a raft. After a couple of hours, the raft is removed and you are left with consomme.

Next week - soups.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Block 3: Week 2 - Cold Salads

Cold salads was not the most exciting week. Luckily it was only a four day week. Each day, we were assigned two different salads to put out for lunch in the cafeteria. Most days, it was pretty easy to get the salads done and out on time. However, with only four of us in the group, one of whom is absent at least one day a week, it made for a couple of more challenging days. Certain salads (crudites and a mixed green salad) had to go out every day, no matter what, so we had to recruit help from another group a couple of times, and I made three salads one day. But it keeps things interesting I guess.

The first day, I made pesto macaroni salad and a honey roasted beet salad. Both of them were prepped for me by the previous group, so it was an easy day for me. The next day was the most time consuming because I had to make a fruit salad and chow mein noodle salad. Peeling and dicing all the fruit took forever, and the noodle salad was filled with julienne vegetables.

Thursday was the day I dreaded most because I had to cut 2.5kg of carrots into batons (sticks) for a carrot salad with raisins and almonds. But I think that was my favourite salad. I just blanched the carrot sticks, added raisins, sliced almonds, and finely diced red onions, and tossed it with a dressing of mayonnaise, lemon juice, honey, ground cumin, and chives. I also made a mixed vegetable salad, filled with a variety of blanched vegetables. Not too interesting.

Friday I made an Asian green bean salad and Greek salad. Neither was very hard, so I made the extra green salad that day.

We had a fire alarm at school this week. Someone in Block 6 spilled some grease from Yorkshire puddings and it caught fire. The whole school was evacuated for half an hour. But I ran into a girl who does a lot of volunteering at school who invited me to help out with a Team Canada culinary event in a couple of weeks. I don't know exactly what is involved or what the event is, but apparently it will be "a good opportunity to mingle and get my name out there." Should be interesting. But I am more looking forward to a farm tour that only four students were invited to go on. Again, I don't know many details, but I will be missing school that day. I can't wait.

Next week - stocks.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Canuck Place

I had my first volunteer shift at Canuck Place Children's Hospice tonight. The hospice provides palliative care for kids living with a life-threatening illness. When I first heard about it, I thought it was a place that kids went to for end-of-life care. But it is actually more of a respite facility for kids to visit for a short period of time to provide their families with a bit of a break. The hospice is actually in a huge heritage house in the Granville area. It's the biggest house I've ever seen, and being a house, it can provide care in a home-like environment.

I volunteer in the kitchen. Lunch and dinner are provided each day to the kids, staff, and volunteers. The food isn't anything particularly special, but it is good food - one or two entrees and a lot of vegetables and salads. Cooking there really feels like cooking for friends or family, but for about fifty people instead of for a small dinner party.

The shift is four hours long. The first two hours, I help out where I'm needed. Tonight, I made caesar salad and some cupcakes with cream cheese icing. Then dinner is served, so I take a short break to eat. I don't really know anyone there yet, so it's interesting meeting new people, especially the kids. I sat beside this girl who was very excited to be going on an outing to see Despicable Me. It's always a bit challenging to figure out what to talk about with kids, let alone kids with a disability. But it'll get easier each week, especially once I get to know them a bit better.

After I eat, I become the dishwasher, and I just clean up for the rest of the night. But the time goes by really fast. And it feels good to be able to be a part of something that I enjoy that helps others at the same time.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Block 3: Week 1 - Sauces

Block 3 is another busy block. Just like Block 2, we are put into groups of five, and we rotate through four stations again - sauces, stocks, soups, and cold salads.

I started off in Sauces. I am working with a totally different group of people from last block, but so far, we haven't really had to work together quite like last block. And somehow, I am in a group of four again.

Each day, we have three or four sauces that we need to make individually. We make each of the mother sauces (bechamel, veloute, tomato, espagnole, and hollandaise), and then use them to make secondary sauces.

The first day, I made tomato sauce and espagnole sauce (brown sauce). I was also supposed to make a chasseur sauce (a mushroom sauce), but the first day was filled with orientation-type things, and I just ran out of time. It was additionally stressful for me because I was the sous-chef. Each day, one student is the sous-chef, and it is their responsibility to get the orders from the store room and put them away first thing in the morning, as well as write down what everyone did each day, clean the fridge, and put together a new order list for the next day.

The second day, I started off behind because I had to make the chasseur sauce that I didn't make the day before. I also had to make provencale sauce, demi glaze, and glace de viande. Provencale is essentially tomato sauce with some white wine, garlic, shallots, and herbs - pretty delicious. Demi glaze is a 50/50 mixture of brown sauce and brown veal stock that you reduce by half, and glace de viande is brown veal stock reduced by 90% until it becomes very gelatinous and flavourful. Both are used to add flavour and colour to other sauces. It would have been a pretty easy day if I hadn't started off behind, especially because the demi glaze and the glace de viande were cooked in one of the big stock kettles, so it took probably half the time it would have had I cooked it on the stove.

The third day, I made chicken and fish veloute, and then used them to make supreme sauce and saffron sauce, respectively. The supreme sauce is my favourite - chicken veloute mixed with onions, white wine, and whipping cream. So good.

Thursday I made bechamel sauce. Our chef made a bet on the first day of the block that someone would burn bechamel this month. I definitely did not want that to be me. It's a really easy sauce to make, basically milk thickened with a roux, but you really have to just stand there and stir it until it's done. The milk wants to stick to the bottom of the pan, so you literally cannot leave it alone for a minute. Thankfully, mine turned out great, and not burnt :) I then used the bechamel to make mornay sauce (bechamel with gruyere and parmesan cheese) and cheddar cheese sauce.

Friday was an easy day - I just had to make hollandaise sauce and garlic butter.

Our class is definitely getting closer too, which makes the days at school fun. I was nervous when starting school that everyone would be younger than me and that I'd be the only one taking school seriously, but while most of my class really is younger than me, we all get along really well. I laugh a lot at school. It's great.

Next week - cold salads.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Raincity Grill

I just got a new job. I now work at Raincity Grill. It's right at English Bay, so it has a beautiful view, and it's a very busy part of the city. A and I have eaten there once before, and the food is really good. It's also the home of the first 100 mile menu, so everything is sourced locally.

I actually got the job through a chef at school. He asked me if I was looking for a job, and when I said yes, he connected me with a girl who works at Raincity who told me they were looking for a brunch cook. I was excited because I knew it was a good restaurant, and the schedule was perfect for me because I only want to work weekends. She told me to drop my resume off the next day, which I did. I met the sous chef, Matt, who told me he would contact me after the weekend. But he actually called back a couple of hours later. He asked me to come in for a stage the next weekend. I was actually in Red Lake, but he was ok with me coming in the following Saturday.

The stage did not get off to a great start because I went there on about three hours of sleep. The detour in Golden took a lot longer than we thought it would, so we got home at 3am. And I couldn't really sleep in the car because I had to keep talking to A so he wouldn't fall asleep at the wheel. So I was pretty tired, but somehow I did a good enough job that they wanted to hire me. Yesterday was my first official day.

The brunch menu is really nice, and so much better than at Glass City. We actually make hollandaise from scratch. So both days, Matt, who I'll be working with going forward, trained me. I start at 7am and basically do prep for my station for three hours before service starts at 10. Then it's just trying to keep up with orders until service ends at 2:30, or shortly thereafter. Once we clean up, we help with prep for the dinner cooks. It's a long day, but it goes by really fast.

There are two stations - one makes eggs and potatoes, and the other (mine) does mostly everything else. I'm on the grill, so I do toast, bacon, sausages, and French toast. I also do the cold breakfast, like yogurt, and all the salads. Raincity also offers a two-course prix fixe menu, so I got to learn how restaurants deal with more than one course.

The first two days were a little overwhelming - there's so much to learn. But I'm really happy.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Block 2: Week 4 - Cold Sandwiches

Cold sandwiches was a relatively easy week. We essentially had to make sixteen sandwiches each and have them out in the cafeteria before 11:30. The first day was the hardest because we didn't really know what we were doing, and chef kept asking me to do different things, like organize the fridge and make roast beef. But that roast beef was actually really tasty and made some excellent roast beef sandwiches with a horseradish mayo, lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts, and red onions. Throughout the week, I also made a mexican wrap (with ground beef, rice, tomatoes, sour cream, lettuce, and cheddar cheese), a roasted tomato, basil, and bocconcini sandwich on foccacia (so delicious), an egg salad sandwich, and a ham and cheese sandwich.

I also figured out why the hot sandwiches week was so hard - my friends were on hot breakfast and I was on hot lunch, so we never saw each other. School just wasn't as much fun as it normally was.

Block 2 was a pretty busy month. Chef told us that breakfast and lunch actually used to be two separate blocks that were combined into one, so there was a lot to do in a short amount of time. I'm sad school is flying by so fast, but I'm kinda happy to be moving on to a new block.

We actually just had a week off from school. A and I went to Red Lake to visit family, and we drove home. Man, that's a long drive. It didn't help that there was an accident between Golden and Revelstoke, so we decided to take the long route home. But we had a nice stop in Banff, staying and eating at the Banff Springs Hotel. The pool was my favourite pool ever - an outdoor pool, but heated like a hot tub. It was amazing.

Tomorrow we start Block 3 - soups, stocks, sauces, and cold salads.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sushi Feast

Co made me and Nic the most amazing sushi dinner. Spicy salmon rolls, california rolls, hand rolls, nigiri, and sashimi. It was ridiculous, but so good. Thanks!

Block 2: Week 3 - Hot Sandwiches

This past week was probably the hardest week so far, but I'm not really sure why. The hot sandwich station itself wasn't too bad - we're basically short order cooks in the cafeteria. We make hamburgers, veggie burgers, steak sandwiches, monte cristos, clubhouses, and like on hot breakfast, we make a special each day. Maybe it was just the time pressure - we had to be ready for service at 11:30 no matter what. We start school at 7:30, so we have four hours to do everything because there is no time after service. School ends at 1:00, but by the time we cleaned up after service ends at 12:45, it was often 1:15, and then we would have to go back to class to discuss the next day's special with chef when all we really wanted to do is take off the uniform and relax outside. Also, with only four of us in the group, it was just that much more of a time crunch to have everything ready.

But cooking on the line was fun. Like last week, we rotated stations each day. I started off as expeditor, so basically organize the plating of the food before it goes out to the customer. Our special on the first day was a turkey quesadilla, so I also put some of those together when we started running low.

The second day I was on the deep fryer. This is the easiest station because all you have to do is drop french fries and onion rings into the deep fryer, take them out, and season them. Since there were only four of us in the group, whoever was on the deep fryer also took orders from customers. That is also an easy job, and it's a lot of fun interacting with the people and telling them about the special, which that day was chicken teriyaki burgers with grilled pineapple. There were a couple of specials leftover after service, so I got to eat one, and it was really tasty, so it was my favourite special of the week.

Wednesday I was on the grill. Like at breakfast, grill is a busy station. Grill has to make all the burgers, steak sandwiches, and monte cristos. Our special was a beef dip that day.

Thursday was a busy day for me because I was on sandwiches. Usually the sandwich person deals with the special. That day, we made paninis with grilled vegetables, bocconcini cheese, and capicola. We pre-grilled them to get the grill marks, and then I warmed them up to order. The sandwich person also makes the clubhouse sandwiches.

The last day, I was expediting again. Our special was a pizza deluxe. We cut a hole in the top of a foccacia bun, filled it with mozzarella cheese, meatballs, tomato sauce, sauteed onions, and salami.

Next week - cold sandwiches.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Block 2: Week 2 - Hot Breakfast

I had the best week cooking breakfast in the cafeteria.

The first day, I was a little nervous, especially because the chef put me on the eggs station. I had been practicing my eggs over easy on the weekend and had been able to flip a couple without breaking the yolks, so I felt as ready as I was going to be. Usually, each group has five people, so two people are supposed to be on eggs, but since we only have four people, I was on eggs by myself. Chef showed us how to set everything up for breakfast service, and then off we went. He also picked a special for us, which ended up being a frittata, something to be made on my station. Yikes. Between 7:30 and 8:50, it was somewhat busy, but not too bad. When 8:50 hit, the students arrived for breakfast, and then it was madness. Everyone after Block 2 orders eggs over easy just for fun. So I had 2 or 3 pans of eggs going at a time. It was chaos, but organized chaos. After service, chef told us that we as a group did an outstanding job, which felt really good. He also told me specifically that he thought I had natural talent. He suggested that I work in a restaurant where I can work closely with the chef because he thinks I would do really well and learn a ton in that kind of environment. It really inspired me to start looking for a better job.

We rotate stations each day, and create a new special each day, so on Tuesday, I was on the toast station, which is the easiest station. Basically, I just make toast to order and then butter it. Not very hard. But because it's easy, I helped out with eggs when the egg guy got slammed with orders. One of the students who ordered breakfast on Monday was there again on Tuesday, and he told me that I did a great job on eggs by myself the day before. Our special was pancakes with raspberry sauce, which chef really did not like because it is so similar to the regular pancakes on the menu. So he made us add bananas and chocolate chips to the batter and then whip some cream to put on top of the pancakes before service, which was pretty stressful.

Wednesday, I was on omelette station. We make them very differently at school than I do at work, so I had a hard time with them. At work, I just let the egg mixture cook out in a circle, add the toppings over one half, and then fold the other half over the toppings so you end up with a semicircle omelette. At school, we are supposed to mix the egg around, kinda like scrambled eggs, then flatten them out to set slightly, add the toppings over the whole egg, and fold it into thirds. For some reason, mine tended to stick to the bottom of the pan. I figured out later, after service of course, that I just had the heat on too high. The special was probably our best one - Mexican breakfast bowl. It was a deep fried tortilla shaped into a cup, filled with refried beans, black beans, scrambled eggs, salsa, sour cream, and green onions. It was definitely the most unique and interesting looking dish we did all week.

Thursday was a holiday, so on Friday, I was on the last station - grill. Grill is a busy station - you have to cook the bacon in the oven, grill the sausages and the hash browns on the flat top, and also make the pancakes and french toast to order. Our special was a Scottish breakfast, which chef picked for us as he's from Scotland. It was eggs sunny side up with sausages, back bacon, hash browns, baked beans, and a fried tomato. A took the day off work and came by school for breakfast. He said the special was delicious.

Next week - hot sandwich station.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Block 2: Week 1 - Cold Breakfast

Another week has flown by. Block 2 is breakfast, and my group started off in cold breakfast. We were responsible for making muffins, scones, muesli, fruit cups, and granola for the cafeteria each day.

It's a lot different from Block 1 because we're responsible for a lot more. No one tells you what to do, and everyone is kind of doing their own thing, so we're starting to see people's strengths and weaknesses in the kitchen. We get to be a bit more creative too as we get to decide the special each day.

Next week, my group is cooking hot breakfast in the cafeteria. It'll be our first opportunity to do line cooking at school. I've been practicing my over easy eggs because that's the hardest one to master. We have to flip the eggs (twice), and with our left hand. Should be fun :)

Come by the school between 7:30 and 9:00 for cheap breakfast this week if you're interested - but don't order eggs over easy!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Vanilla Macarons

I've been wanting to try macarons for a long time now. The dessert blogs I read have numerous posts on different macarons and as soon as we tried them at Thomas Haas Patisserie, we were hooked.

I tried making them for the first time a couple of weeks ago. They tasted amazing, but my batter was a bit too stiff, so the shells weren't as flat as they should have been. I also used jelly as the filling, which made the shells a bit soggy in a few hours.

This batch was better - I didn't whip the egg whites for as long, and I made a vanilla bean buttercream for the middle. Delicious.

Vanilla Macarons
Adapted from this post on Tartelette
Yield: 40 macarons
Print recipe

90g egg whites (about 3)
30g sugar
200g icing sugar
110g ground almonds
  1. The day before, separate your eggs and store the whites at room temperature in a covered container.

  2. In a mixer with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam.

  3. Gradually add the sugar. Whip until a glossy meringue forms, but do not overbeat, about 3 minutes.

  4. Fold in the icing sugar and almonds. It should take about 50 strokes. The batter should flow like lava or a thick ribbon. Test a small amount on a plate - the tops should flatten out on its own.

  5. Fill a piping bag fitted with a plain tip. Pipe small rounds onto parchment lined baking sheets.

  6. Let the macarons sit out for 30 minutes so the shells can harden a bit.

  7. Preheat oven to 280F.

  8. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes. Let cool. Shells can be stored in an airtight container for a couple of days.

  9. Pipe or spoon 1 tablespoon of buttercream in the center of one shell and top with another shell.

Vanilla Buttercream
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg whites
3/4 cup butter, at room temperature
1 vanilla bean, split open and seeded
  1. Place sugar and egg whites in a heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water.

  2. Whisk constantly for about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, the mixture should be hot to the touch, and the mixture should look like marshmallow cream.

  3. Pour the mixture into a mixer with the whisk attachment.

  4. Beat the mixture on medium speed until it cools and forms a thick, shiny meringue, about 5 minutes.

  5. Switch to the paddle attachment.

  6. Add in the butter, one tablespoon at a time, beating until smooth.

  7. Once all butter is in, beat the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and smooth, about 5 minutes.

  8. Beat in the seeds from the vanilla bean.

  9. Buttercream can be refrigerated for up to a week if not used right away.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Yesterday was my first day off in about a month, so what do we decide to do? We drove out to Driediger Farms in Langley to pick strawberries.

We picked enough to fill four of those buckets. Fifteen pounds. It was crazy. But they are the freshest, sweetest strawberries. So delicious.

We spent the afternoon making a strawberry rhubarb pie and trying to make jam. Unfortunately, I tried to cut down on the sugar because the strawberries were so sweet already, but we ended up with 12 jars of strawberries preserves (ie because the jam never set).

Fun day nonetheless.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Block 1: Days 17 to 19

I'm sad to say Block 1 is now over. It's crazy how fast four weeks has gone by.

On Wednesday, we made some muffins and cookies that weren't especially good. Oh, A and I tried the apple pie and it was not good at all. No butter in the crust is not a good idea. It tasted like the worst grocery store pie I've ever eaten.

Thursday and Friday at school were a bit more interesting because the class was asked to prepare canapes for the graduation ceremony happening Friday evening. So we were divided into groups and we each prepared about forty pieces of two different canapes. My group made smoked duck with peach chutney and brunoise of strawberry, and shrimp mousse in cherry tomatoes.

I also stayed after class on Wednesday and Thursday to prepare other food for the graduation, which was a lot of fun. We didn't make anything too interesting, mostly just cutting vegetables and cheese and preparing sandwiches, but I got to meet some people from other blocks, and I also got to work with JC, the director of the culinary program. I was one of two people who volunteered to help on both days, and on the second day, JC actually put me in charge. A bit scary, but it felt good to be acknowledged as someone capable of leading. But something not so good - on Wednesday, I cut my thumb while I was cutting carrots, and somehow JC had heard about it by Thursday. Very embarrassing.

Block 2, we'll be cooking breakfast in the cafeteria. We work in groups, and it will be the same group for the whole month. My group is starting off on cold breakfast, which is muffins and granola and stuff like that. We rotate each week to the other stations - hot breakfast, hot sandwiches, and cold sandwiches. Should be fun.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Block 1: Days 13 to 16

Last Thursday, we cooked up potatoes. We did some of the usuals, like twice-baked and scallopped, but I learned some new kinds as well. Lyonnaise potatoes are basically sliced potatoes, sauteed with caramelized onions. Boulangare potatoes are similar to scallopped, in that they are sliced thinly and layered, but layered with caramelized onions and braised in chicken broth and a bit of butter.

Also, the mashed potatoes we made were interesting. Usually at home, we use Yukon Gold potatoes, but at school, we used Russet. We boiled them and passed them through a food mill, then mixed them with egg yolks, which is called a duchesse mixture. We made three variations: piped the mixture into beehive shapes and baked them, rolled the mixture into balls and breaded them in almonds before deep frying them (called pomme de berny), and shaped the mixture into logs and breaded them with panko crumbs before deep frying them (called croquettes). I think the croquettes were actually my favourite.

Friday was a slower day. We just made mayonnaise and a couple of salad dressings. The main thing was that it was our instructor's last day before vacation. So we showed up Monday morning to quite a shock, because our new chef is serious. We realized pretty quickly that we had been babied a lot the first three weeks. Long prep lists were written all over the board and he expected us to know a lot of things that we didn't. It was scary.

We made different salads yesterday. In groups, we got our prep lists together and the chef plated a bunch of salads, like nicoise, cobb, seafood salad, etc. Not particularly interesting. Oh, our new chef also doesn't let us eat anything - no fun.

Today we made pies - apple pie and banana cream pie. We made the pie dough differently from how I make it at home, most notably, without butter. Again, we didn't get to eat it in class, but I bought my apple pie from the market, so A and I will try it for dessert tonight.

Tomorrow, muffins and cookies.

Almond Toffee Bars

I didn't get a chance to take a picture of these bars, but they are delicious. A cookie made up of a chewy brown sugar almond layer spread over shortbread and topped with chocolate. Mmm.

Almond Toffee Bars
Adapted from Joy of Cooking
Yield: 8 x 8 square pan
Print recipe

Shortbread Crust
2/3 cup flour
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 cup butter
2 tsp milk
  1. Preheat oven to 350F.

  2. In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt.

  3. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.

  4. Add milk and stir to blend. Knead until the dough begins to hold together.

  5. Press the dough into an 8x8 baking pan lined with parchment paper.

  6. Refrigerate the dough for 15 minutes.

  7. Bake the chilled dough for 10 minutes. Let cool slightly.

Almond Toffee and Chocolate Topping
5 tbsp butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp milk
1/8 salt
1 cup almonds, chopped
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup chocolate chips
  1. In a medium saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar, honey, milk, and salt.

  2. Bring to a boil over medium heat.

  3. Boil mixture for 3 minutes, uncovered. Remove from heat.

  4. Stir in the almonds and vanilla.

  5. Spread evenly over the shortbread crust.

  6. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until toffee mixture is bubbly and golden brown.

  7. Sprinkle chocolate chips over the top.

  8. Let stand for 2 minutes, then smooth across the surface with a butter knife to partially spread the chocolate.

  9. Let cool completely before lifting bars from pan. Cut into bars.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Block 1: Days 7 to 12

We've been cooking tons the past few days. This whole month is just kind of an introduction to cooking, so we make a few recipes each day without too much depth on any particular topic.

Last Wednesday, we made some base sauces. These sauces can be and are used to make many many other sauces, which is why they are also called the mother sauces. We made hollandaise, bechamel, chicken and fish veloute, brown sauce, and tomato sauce.

On Thursday and Friday, we did moist heat and dry heat cooking. We made pot roast and beef stew, pan-fried pork cutlet, and grilled steak. All delicious. We also had our first test on Friday, on safety and some basic stuff, so it was no problem.

Monday was chicken. We trussed the chicken and learned how to debone it. Then we cooked up some yummy recipes - stuffed chicken leg, southern fried chicken (much better than the one I posted on this blog a while ago), poached chicken breast with supreme sauce (basically chicken stock and wine thickened with cream), and chicken fingers.

Yesterday we cooked fish - pan fried salmon with lemon caper brown butter sauce, and then two sole dishes, sole bonne femme (sole poached in fish stock with onions, mushrooms, and cream), and deep fried sole. Chef also showed us how to fillet fish, though we will be doing much more of that during butchery block.

Today was a vegetable day. All the food we cooked previously, we each made either individually or in pairs. But today, we just chopped up all the veggies and chef cooked everything himself. Batonettes of carrot glazed with butter and sugar, green beans sauteed with butter and almonds, roasted banana squash with cinnamon and honey, cauliflower au gratin, zucchini provencale, and braised red cabbage. So yummy.

I've gotten to know my class a lot better as well. We went out on Friday, which was a ton of fun. Everyone is really nice, and surprisingly to me, really keen on learning. On the downside, we've lost two members of class already. Neither of them had worked in kitchens before and didn't realize how much standing was involved. I can't really understand it - waiting all this time to get into school, paying the tuition, and then dropping out after a week. Crazy.

Tomorrow and Friday, we are cooking starches and salads. Can't wait.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Oatmeal Chip Cookies

At my old job, my oatmeal chocolate chip cookies were nicknamed "crack" cookies because they were so addictive. I tried this recipe from the Joy of Cooking, which is very similar to the crack cookies. The main difference in this recipe is that the oats are ground in the food processor before being added to the batter. I think I might like this version better than the crack cookies.

Oatmeal Chip Cookies
Adapted from Joy of Cooking
Yield: 4 dozen
Print recipe

1 1/3 cup rolled oats
1 cup butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 tbsp milk
2 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 2/3 cup flour
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 375F.

  2. Finely grind oats in the food processor. Set aside.

  3. Cream butter and sugars together until pale and fluffy.

  4. Add the egg, milk, and vanilla and beat until well blended.

  5. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

  6. Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until well blended and smooth.

  7. Mix in the ground oats and the chocolate chips.

  8. Drop by teaspoon onto a parchment lined baking sheet, about 2 inches apart.

  9. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until the cookies are light golden brown at the edges.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Block 1: Days 2 to 6

The past few days at school have been so much fun. Since Friday, we've spent most of our time in the kitchen. Finally. Before Friday, we were mostly in the classroom, watching videos on safety, knife skills, and vegetables. Not especially exciting.

We first went to the kitchen on Thursday, and we segmented some oranges and grapefruits. On Friday, we spent the day cutting vegetables like onions, carrots, celery, peppers, garlic, green onions, and asparagus. We did different cuts, but mostly we practiced the dice and the julienne. It might not have been quite as interesting had we not been asked by the dean of the culinary department for those vegetables to take with him on a job over the weekend. It was definitely good motivation to do the cuts properly.

Yesterday, we made stocks - beef, chicken, and fish. We work in groups of two, and each group made a small pot of each stock. Afterward, they all get combined together and saved for later use. For example, today we made soups using the beef and chicken stocks. Each group made tomato vegetable soup, cream of mushroom, and split yellow pea soup. We were allowed to take a small bowl of the soup we made, and the rest was packaged up to be sold in the market.

I love the market. The stuff culinary and pastry students make in class gets sold in the market, so there are plenty of different items, like soups, sauces, bread, desserts, packaged meals, butchered meats, and all at very reasonable prices. I visit it every day to see what's available and to see what I might be making in future blocks. It's great.

I'm definitely having a lot of fun at school. The day passes by so quickly and I'm sad when class is over. Getting up at 5:30 isn't even so bad because it's awesome to wake up being really excited about the day ahead. I can't wait to see what we learn next.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Tomato, Yogurt, and Cinnamon Lamb Curry

We tried another curry from the Vij cookbook. This lamb curry is tangy because of the yogurt, but I really liked it.

Tomato, Yogurt, and Cinnamon Lamb Curry
Adapted from Vij's Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine
Yield: 3 servings
Print recipe

2 tbsp canola oil
1 lb lamb leg, cut into 1- to 2-inch cubes
1/2 tbsp cumin seeds
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 tbsp ginger, grated
5 cloves
1 cinnamon stick, 2 inches long
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
1 can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
  1. In a large pot, heat oil on medium high heat.

  2. Brown lamb, stirring regularly, until you notice small thing lines of blood on the meat.

  3. Remove lamb from pot.

  4. Reduce heat to medium low and add cumin seeds. Saute until they sizzle, about 30 seconds.

  5. Add onions and saute until brown, about 5 minutes.

  6. Add garlic and ginger. Cook for 1 minute.

  7. Wrap cloves and cinnamon in cheesecloth and secure with twine. Add to pot, tying string to pot handle for easy removal.

  8. Add ground cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, and salt. Saute, stirring regularly, for 5 minutes or until the oil separates from the spices.

  9. Add tomatoes and cook for 3 or 4 minutes, until oil separates again and glistens.

  10. Add yogurt and cook for another 1 or 2 minutes.

  11. Add water. Bring to a boil.

  12. Return lamb to the pot. Cook covered, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour or until meat is cooked through.

  13. Just before serving, remove cinnamon and cloves and stir in cilantro.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Chocolate Almond Crackle Cookies

No story to these cookies. Just wanted to try a new recipe, and who doesn't love the combination of chocolate and almond? They turned out a tad on the sweet side for me, but good nonetheless.

Chocolate Almond Crackle Cookies
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living, May 2010
Yield: 4 dozen
Print recipe

8 ounces dark chocolate
1 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup icing sugar
  1. Melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water.

  2. Cream butter and brown sugar until fluffy.

  3. Mix in eggs and vanilla.

  4. Mix in melted chocolate.

  5. Add almonds, flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix until combined.

  6. Refrigerate mixture until firm, at least 1 hour.

  7. Preheat oven to 350F.

  8. Place sugar on one plate and icing sugar on another.

  9. Form dough into 1-inch balls.

  10. Roll cookies in sugar to coat, then roll in icing sugar.

  11. Place cookies on a parchment lined baking sheet.

  12. Bake until surfaces crack, about 14 minutes.

  13. Let cool completely.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

First Day of School

It has finally arrived - my first day of school. I still remember finding out in Hawaii that I wasn't going to start school until May 25 and that seemed so far away then. But the time has really flown and here we are - I'm a student again. It's a weird concept and it hasn't really sunk in quite yet.

Today wasn't an especially interesting day since we just did administrative things, as we will continue to do for the rest of the week. We probably won't even get into the kitchen until Friday. But I bought my textbook today, as well as my knife kit, so I finally have a proper knife bag to transport my knives, as well as all the tools I will need for school.

My class seems good so far. There are twenty of us, fifteen boys and five girls. To my relief, I am not the oldest student in the class, though there are definitely some pretty young people there too. Varying levels of experience in the industry, from zero up to about ten years.

My chef instructor learns names by repetition, and since alphabetically, my last name puts me first on the list of students, my name was the first he learned, mostly by using my name in every example he gave. I'm pretty sure I'm the only person whose name everyone in the class already knows.

We talked about our schedule for the year. Block 1 is safety, sanitation, intro to the kitchen, and knife skills. Not too exciting, but necessary. I'm most looking forward to Block 7 which is baking and pastry. Block 8 will also be interesting, being a server in the restaurant and learning about the front of the house.

It's weird to think that I'm really doing this. A year ago, this was just a dream, and now it's reality. I'm happy.

Strawberry Shortcake

The final new recipe we tried in Toronto was for strawberry shortcake. I've never made it myself before because whenever I've had shortcake, it is really dry. Not a fan.

This recipe makes one of the nicest doughs I've worked with. It comes together beautifully and is so tender I didn't even need to use a rolling pin. It is a little bit dry, but nothing like what I've had in the past. It's saying a lot that I liked it enough to make it again for A. Very yummy.

Strawberry Shortcake
Adapted from Mildred Pierce
Yield: 8
Print recipe

2 cups strawberries, quartered
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp brandy
  1. Combine ingredients together.

  2. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

1 cup whipping cream
2 tbsp icing sugar
1/2 tsp almond extract
  1. Whip cream.

  2. Mix in icing sugar and almond extract.

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
1/4 cup butter
3/4 cup milk
2 tbsp water
  1. Preheat oven to 450F.

  2. In a small pot, gently warm the milk and water over low heat.

  3. In a bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.

  4. Working quickly, cut the cold butter into the flour until it resembles coarse meal.

  5. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour in the milk mixture.

  6. Mix with a spoon lightly just until the dough comes together.

  7. Pour out onto lightly floured work surface and knead gently for 30 seconds.

  8. Roll or flatten dough to 1-inch thickness.

  9. Cut out 2.5- to 3-inch rounds and place on a parchment lined baking sheet.

  10. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until tops are golden.

  11. Let cool slightly.

  12. Tear shortcake in half. Top with strawberries and cream and replace top half of shortcake.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Buttermilk Marinated Pork Roast with Rhubarb Chutney

Another recipe we made in Toronto was buttermilk marinated pork roast. I think my mom bought a pork shoulder which really absorbed the flavour of the marinade well and was really tenderized by the buttermilk. When I made this again for A, the roast I bought was basically pork chops, so the meat didn't absorb the marinade as well and thus was a bit tougher and less flavourful.

I think the rhubarb chutney is a great compliment to pork - it is a bit tart brings out the flavour of the pork. I also like how the chutney is pink and makes the plate really colourful.

Buttermilk Marinated Pork Roast
Print recipe

1 cup buttermilk
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp ground marjoram
1 tbsp dried thyme
1 tbsp dried rosemary
4 sage leaves
1-2 cloves garlic, sliced
salt and pepper
3 lb pork roast
  1. Mix all marinade ingredients together.

  2. Place pork into a ziploc bag with the marinade.

  3. Marinate in the fridge for 4 hours.

  4. Preheat oven to 500F.

  5. Remove pork from bag and discard marinade.

  6. Roast pork for 10 minutes.

  7. Reduce oven temperature to 300F.

  8. Continue roasting pork for about an hour or until internal temperature reaches 150F.

Rhubarb Chutney
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living, May 2010
Yield: 1 cup
Print recipe

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely grated
1 tbsp ginger, finely grated (about a 1-inch piece)
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup sugar
2 stalks rhubarb, cut crosswise 1/4 inch thick
  1. Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.

  2. Cook onion, garlic, ginger, and salt until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.

  3. Add wine and bring to a boil.

  4. Reduce heat to medium. Add sugar and stir until it dissolves.

  5. Add rhubarb. Cook, partially covered, until rhubarb breaks down, about 5 to 10 minutes.

  6. Let cool completely.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Fresh Pasta

I was home in Toronto for a week visiting family and friends before school starts next week (I can't believe how soon it is!). It was great to see everyone, to catch up with old friends and meet new ones, and share some delicious food. The only small downside to the trip was finding out that my favourite Indian restaurant closed. I was sad :(

My mom bought me a pasta attachment for my mixer, something I've always wanted. We made fresh pasta with marinara sauce for dinner, and it was amazing. I actually made a second batch another day for my family to freeze before I brought the machine back home, and then I made a batch the day I arrived home so A could try.

The dough is a bit dry, so it was a little bit difficult to work with at first. But the machine is so much fun - I love seeing the dough come together and flatten out, and it is so cool using the cutter and seeing the finished pasta roll out of the machine. I will definitely experiment with some different flours and ingredients in the dough, and I also want to try some raviolis.



Basic Egg Pasta
Yield: 6 servings
Print recipe

4 large eggs
3 tbsp water
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
  1. Place all ingredients in mixer bowl.

  2. Using the flat beater, mix for 30 seconds.

  3. Switch to the dough hook, and knead dough for 2 minutes.

  4. Remove dough from bowl and hand knead until dough comes together.

  5. Let dough rest for 10 minutes.

  6. Divide dough into 6 pieces. Flatten each piece slightly.

  7. Set the pasta attachment to the largest opening. Turn mixer on.

  8. Feed flattened dough into rollers.

  9. Fold dough in half and roll again.

  10. Repeat folding and kneading process several times until dough is smooth and pliable and covers the width of the roller.

  11. Move adjustment knob to the second setting. Feed dough through rollers.

  12. Continue to increase roller setting until desired dough thickness is reached (about 5 for spaghetti, 6 for fettuccine).

  13. Cook immediately in salted boiling water for 2 to 5 minutes.

  14. Pasta can also be dried by laying in a single layer on a towel for up to an hour. Dust with flour and form into nests to freeze in an airtight container.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


The third and final jam-filled cookie I wanted to try was rugelach.

I've never had "real" rugelach before, so I don't know if they turned out how they are supposed to, but I thought they were pretty tasty. The chocolate, cinnamon, and jam go really well together. And of course, the look of both the crescents and the rolls is very unique.

Adapted from Joy of Cooking
Yield: 3 dozen crescents, 2.5 dozen rolls
Print recipe

1 cup butter, softened
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 1/4 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup seedless fruit jam (not jelly) (I used raspberry)
3/4 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup ground walnuts
  1. Cream butter and cream cheese together until well blended.

  2. Add flour all at once and beat on low speed just until the dough comes together.

  3. Divide into thirds. Flatten each third in to a 6 x 4 inch rectangle or a 6 inch circle. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

  4. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar and cinnamon.

  5. Preheat oven to 350F.

  6. On a generously floured work surface, roll out the dough. For rolled rugelach, roll the rectangle into a 16 x 10 inch rectangle with the long edge parallel to the edge of the work surface. For crescent rugelach, roll the disc into a circle with a 14 inch diameter. The dough should be about 1/8 inch thick. Use a pastry cutter to make the shapes even, removing the excess dough to reroll later.

  7. Leaving a 1/4 inch border, spread a third of the jam over the dough.

  8. For rolled rugelach, place the chocolate chips along the edge of the jam on the long side nearest you. For crescent rugelach, sprinkle the chocolate chips over the entire surface.

  9. Sprinkle the entire surface with a quarter of the cinnamon sugar and a third of the ground walnuts.

  10. For rolled rugelach, roll the dough, starting with the chocolate chip edge, gently tucking and tightening as you go. Cut the roll into 1 1/2 inch slices.

  11. For crescent rugelach, cut the circle like a pizza, creating 8 large or 16 small even triangles. Roll up from the wide end to the point.

  12. Transfer the rugelach to a parchment lined baking sheet.

  13. Sprinkle each cookie with the remaining cinnamon sugar.

  14. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until bottoms are light golden (tops will still be blond).

  15. Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool.

  16. Repeat with remaining dough. Dough can be rerolled as many times as necessary.