January 27, 2012

Last night was week three of my culinary class at George Brown College. I didn't realize how much food I would be able to take home after each class, but it's been a blessing in disguise.

I have to admit, I was a little bit intimidated when I walked into the huge, professional kitchen. We are also all required to have a chef's uniform, non-slip shoes, apron, towel, knife and tools. Putting on a chef's jacket for the first time was definitely cool and I had a little too much fun with it:

We didn't cook anything the first week, but instead got our uniforms and tools organized and watched the chef demo how to make basic stocks. He demonstrated chicken, beef and fish stocks. The most important thing I want to take away from the class is how to properly use a knife. The chef demonstrated how to properly cut onions, celery and carrots for the mirepoix (the vegetable flavour base for the stock). My knife skills have drastically improved in only a few weeks, granted I did invest in a fancy, new chef's knife.

(A bit of what the kitchen looks like. Photo by Nostrovia)

Last week was onto salads, and again more vegetable cutting practice. The Chef demoed a tuscan bean salad, cucumber and onion salad and a pacific rim beef salad. My favourite was the beef salad with the addition of oyster sauce, lime juice, water chestnuts and sesame seeds. Did I mention we also get to taste whatever the chef makes?

We then made our own bean salad. The recipe was pretty basic, but it was a chance for us to get comfortable in the kitchen and try our hand at cutting and dicing vegetables.

All of our portioned ingredients are laid out for us beforehand, which is nice, but we do have to do our own dishes (only fair!) We boiled the pre-soaked beans, then combined the ingredients for the salad: beans, vegetables, olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, salt and pepper, fresh herbs, asiago cheese and prosciutto. We also get to take home any leftover ingredients we don't use, so we each got a whole package of prosciutto and a wedge of cheese.

The recipe made enough salad for an army. I tried to pawn the salad off on other people during the week, but I still had way too much for one person.

This week was onto soup, which is one of my favourite things to make. Chef talked about basic sauces, like bechamel and rouxs, and demonstrated a chicken veloute. He then made a cream of mushroom soup using the veloute. Don't order cream soup at a restaurant if you're a health conscious eater, as the chef used 35% cream (yikes) and a ton of butter. He then toasted croutons in a pan of butter and sprinkled them on top of the soup.

I had a taste and yes, it was amazing, but not something I could handle regularly. He then demoed the piquant vegetable soup we would be making. We were supposed to start our soup base by sweating bacon, but I left mine out for a purely vegetarian soup (I don't know if my stomach can handle this class!)

The soup included cabbage, carrots, onions, spinach, chickpeas, tomato paste, chicken stock and fresh herbs, and was basically a minestrone-type soup. We all ended up going home with about four litres of soup each. The cool thing about the class is it's mostly working twenty-somethings like me who want to learn how to cook and have something fun to do on a weeknight. It is a lot different than cooking at home though and I definitely don't feel as relaxed, but it's nice to be able to chat and help each other out and to know we're all just learning.

The class so far has been a great introduction to basic skills and recipes. Being able to learn these things at a well-established culinary college like George Brown is pretty neat too. Next week we learn bolognese sauce, vinaigrettes and lasagna. I am scared to think how much lasagna we'll get to bring home...
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January 12, 2012

I know it's a little late for a holiday recap considering the holidays have been over for awhile now, but I have so many photos piling up that I wanted to share.

On the foodie front, I participated in another cookie exchange and made another four dozen cookies. This one was for Mike's class, so naturally the cookies had to be medical-themed. I made--with lots of help from Mike--male and female gingerbread doctor cookies.

I made the "scrubs" with royal icing, then drew on the pockets and stethoscopes with food colour markers. I piped the hair and faces with buttercream icing.

I also made snowflake cookies...just because they looked nice.

The cookies were presented at a cookie exchange with about 15 other people. Since there were so many people, everyone just took however many cookies they brought. That still meant we came home with four dozen cookies. I developed a bad habit of eating cookies with breakfast over the holidays (and every meal actually). That picture is only about half of what we came home with!

On Christmas Eve we spent the afternoon making tourtieres (meat pies) with Mike's Mom. The recipe she uses was her grandmother's and includes various ground meats, such as veal, pork and beef.

She then mixes in onions and spices and bakes the mixture in a pie shell. And she even cut some of the pie crust into holly leaves for the top.

The food gods were extremely good to us this Christmas and we were blessed with a Kitchen Aid StandMixer (amen!), a bread maker, a food mill, a mandolin slicer and lots of other cool kitchen things. My present from Mike was an espresso/cappuccino maker. He was considering getting a Tassimo single cup brewer, but in the end went for the do-it-yourself, classic espresso maker.

Having endless cappuccinos at your fingertips is a dangerous, dangerous thing...

I am one of those strange people who love fruitcake and look forward to eating it every Christmas. My parents bought a Pannetone loaf for holiday snacking and I loved eating it so much I decided to try making one myself. Pannetone isn't quite fruitcake, but is a sweet egg-type bread with candied fruit inside.

I got to test drive our beautiful, new stand mixer in the process. I don't know if these modern appliances are actually making us better cooks, but it sure is nice to let it do all the work.

Pannetone Loaf (recipe from Canadian LivingIngredients: 

1/3 cup raisins
1/4 cup candied mixed peel
4 1/3 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup warmed milk
1 pkg active dry yeast
3 eggs
3 egg yolks
1 1/2 tsp grated orange or lemon rind (or lemon juice)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup softened unsalted butter
(Full instructions)

If you like raisin bread or sweet breads (not to be confused with sweetbreads), then you will definitely like this as a holiday snack, or anytime bread really.

So much has been going on the last few weeks. You know how you have times of quiet and nothingness and then everything seems to happen all at once? That has been my life lately. I am overjoyed at some new changes though and can't wait to share. It's been a great start to the New Year so far.
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