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.