April 27, 2012

I would have a hard time living without carbs. I can't resist the temptation of bread (a freshly baked loaf is my ultimate weakness), pasta or the not-so-great-for-you sweet carb variety. After a few great lunches recently I have discovered a new kind of delicious carb and it seems to be popping up everywhere these days: the steamed bun.

The steamed bun, "baozi," is a small, fluffy bun in Chinese cuisine usually stuffed with meats for a savoury snack or sweet fillings like custard or bean paste.

I had my first taste of steamed buns at Bannock with their pickerel taco with caviar tartar; not quite the traditional steamed bun experience, but Toronto Life named the dish "the city's most elaborate steamed bun," so you can't really argue with that. I could see why it was a popular pick. Pickerel is quite a "fishy" fish, but it wasn't too overpowering and the buns were just the right size and not too doughy.


I actually ordered a "bannock" (because you have to order a "bannock" at "bannock" right?) with smoked salmon, cream cheese and onion. It's not a great picture of it, but I am a sucker for the smoked salmon, cream cheese and caper combo and I loved their take. The bread was light and heavenly and almost like a naan bread texture.  


But for the ultimate steamed buns I knew I had to try Banh Mi Boys. I kept hearing how amazing the place was and it seemed extremely affordable, so we went last weekend for dinner. Their menu is basically broken down into banh mi's (vietnamese-style subs with various meat fillings), tacos and steamed baos. 


I knew I wouldn't be able to eat an entire banh mi (they were huge!) and try a steamed bun as well, so I ordered a pulled pork bao and a tofu taco. The taco shell was quite soft, but had a nice chewiness to it and the tofu had a lot of flavour and wasn't too spicy. The tofu taco was also topped with purple cabbage slaw, kimchi, pickled carrots and cilantro. 



Mike got the kalbi beef banh mi (short ribs, kimchi, asian bbq sauce) and pork belly bao. You really can't go wrong with barbecued meat on a baguette. 


I enjoyed the steamed buns, and they are a steal at $3.50, but I thought they could have used a little more sauce. I don't normally like a lot of spice, but I thought they needed a little more kick. I like pulled pork dripping with sauce, but maybe I'm not used to the style of sandwich. The buns were extremely filling, so the whole meal was definitely a lot of carbs!

My favourite was actually the banh mi sandwich, as I preferred how the short ribs were marinated and tasted over the pork options. The whole meal was extremely affordable and I loved trying a new kind of sandwich. There's a reason why Banh Mi Boys is such a popular spot. 
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April 06, 2012

So after 12 classes, my continuing education culinary course at George Brown College came to an end last week. I know I don't want to be a professional chef, but the skills and recipes I learned will definitely come in handy. I can now apply what I learned to my own cooking and maybe even throw some amazing dinner parties!

The last few classes were quite meat heavy and since I don't eat meat that often, it was strange to suddenly have so much meat for meals from the leftovers. I think butchering is a beautiful art form, so it was neat to learn a little bit about how to properly clean, slice and portion meat.

Week 8 was Roast Chicken with Onion and Sage Dressing and Zucchini Provencal. I buy whole chickens sometimes when they are on sale, as they are easy to make and the meat is great for making soups and sandwiches. I had made roast chicken before, but I actually liked the method we learned in class better.


We learned how to fold the little chicken legs under and tie it up properly. We then seared the whole chicken in a pan for a few minutes on each side to add some crispiness to the outside. We placed it in a pan and put it in the oven and about half way through the cooking time lifted it up to add the mirepoix underneath. The chef then taught us how to make a gravy (she jokingly called it "Swiss Chalet sauce") using the juices from the pan, as well as some flour, wine, stock and tomato paste. It actually did taste quite similar to Swiss Chalet gravy. The stuffing was a savoury bread pudding-type dish baked with onions, sage, chicken stock and eggs.


We made a zucchini provencal, basically the base to a ratatouille, with chopped zucchini, tomato, onion, garlic and herbs sauteed with some olive oil. It had that simple, but fresh Mediterranean taste to it and would be great on the side of fish, or in this case, chicken.



The crispiness of the chicken kind of faded after having it in the fridge for a few days, but it still tasted wonderful and I had it at home with some mashed potato, gravy and the vegetable mixture. I will definitely sear chicken from now on before roasting.

Week 9 was one of my favourite weeks of the course. We made Beef Stroganoff and also sampled Veal Goulash and Spatzle. I had never actually tried any of these dishes. I originally thought Stroganoff was more creamy and gushing with sour cream, but it was actually more of a gravy. The version we made only had about a tablespoon of sour cream.


I actually enjoyed the goulash the most out of everything, although everything tasted wonderful. The goulash is pretty much a basic stew made with canned tomatoes, wine, brown stock and paprika with the addition of diced veal shoulder. The chef also demoed how to make spatzle, a Hungarian pasta, made almost like pancake batter and with similar consistency. It is then placed through a colander or "spatzle maker" into a pot of simmering water. I thought it would be quite heavy like gnocchi, but was quite light and fluffy (when eaten in small doses).


For the stroganoff we slightly seared the beef, then removed it from the pan and added onions and mushrooms. We then added the meat back with demi glace (a mixture of stock and roux that was prepared for us ahead of time), lemon juice, mustard, a touch of sour cream and sliced gherkins. The chef said the gherkins were optional, but they really added a kick to the sauce and made it quite tart. Of course, I had some leftovers with traditional egg noodles:



I enjoyed my first taste of Eastern European specialities and all of the dishes were incredibly hearty and not that difficult to make; however the spatzle, like most pastas, seemed a little complex.

Week 10 was similar to the fish week where we poached the protein and then made a sauce. The recipe was Poached Chicken Breast with Curried Lemon Grass Cream. The chef also made a Mushroom Rice Pilaf. The sauce was kind of weird, as the base was a bechamel sauce when most Thai sauces I've eaten have been made with coconut milk.


We poached the chicken by placing it on top of diced shallots and lemongrass in a pan with a little bit of stock. We placed a piece of parchment paper over (cut to fit the circumference of the pan) and let it poach for about 10 minutes. We then made the sauce with a bechamel base, the poaching liquid, cream and green curry paste.

Again, I'm not a fan of cream sauces and this one had a bit of a kick to it with the thai spices, but it was not my cup of tea. I loved the mushroom rice pilaf though. I have started eating mushrooms again after years of hating them and their slimy texture. I had leftovers of the chicken at home the way I prefer to eat it --sans cream sauce-- with some steamed vegetables and a bit of homemade mango chutney.


Unfortunately I missed Week 11 because of the flu. I was so disappointed as I looking forward to making Roasted Pork Chops with Pear and Stilton, Apple Sauce and Savoury Onion and Raisin Bread Pudding. I will have to make it at home sometime.

Week 12 was the grand finale and my goodness, it was quite the final class. We made Roast Leg of Lamb with Goat Cheese and Onions and Cauliflower Polonaise.

We each got an entire leg of lamb, which is about 3-4 pounds of meat, and cut it to lie flat. We then made the stuffing with onions, peppers, goat cheese and breadcrumbs and rolled and tied the lamb with the stuffing inside. It reminded me of some kind of "Epic Meal Time" meat roll.


We then roasted it in the oven for about 40 minutes on top of a mirepoix. The Cauliflower Provencal was also an odd recipe, but I grew to like it in the end. We blanched cauliflower, then cut it into florets and set it aside. We then browned some butter and add chopped hard boiled eggs, breadcrumbs, lemon juice and parsley and served it over the cauliflower.



I don't eat lamb very often, so I was excited to have it again. The stuffing had soaked up some of the juices and was cheesy, and deliciously soggy, and the lamb was beautifully tender.

Now that I have taken this course I can take the second level culinary course and many of the other courses offered at the college. I am not sure where I am going to go from here. I enjoyed the class, but it was a lot different and a bit more intense than I thought it would be. It was fun, but not fun in the sense of cooking at home or cooking at a relaxed, weekend class.

I was definitely challenged, and I think by the end I vastly improved, especially with my comfort level working in a professional kitchen. Some of the recipes weren't things I would make regularly, but I am glad I know how to make them and have better knowledge of basic culinary techniques using sauces and meats. I now have to go back to cooking regularly and not relying on amazing leftovers from class each week!
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