Friday, November 8, 2013

Weekly Roundup - Chef School is Heating Up!

Last Week At Chef School - Here I thought the bean and rice week was the tastiest week I would have in my course at chef shcool...then I found out we were making fresh pasta! YESSSS!!! Anyone who knows me knows that I go absolutely weak at the knees for delicate, fresh pasta noodles. It's my all-time favourite food, the one that I request for every birthday, and crave when I'm feeling down. I also adore making fresh pasta, making it with my sister and her boyfriend, with my boyfriend, and on my own. There's something very therapeutic about creating something so delicious and hands on from scratch. Naturally, I knew I would excel in class this week (at least I hoped!) and was really excited about taking on this very tasty menu. On the menu last week we served up:
Fresh Pappardelle
Dried Pappardelle
Pesto Sauce
Butternut Squash Barley Pilaf
The biggest thing that I learned and benefitted from in class this week was how to prevent your noodles from sticking, which has always been my biggest issue with making pasta in the past. I had heard that a little semolina flour sprinkled over your freshly cut noodles should do the trick, but I guess I was skeptical and never gave that simple step a shot. Turns out that step totally works and allowed me to lay out my fresh noodles on top of each other (which was unheard of in the past without using semolina, as you would be left with a big blob of sticking dough) and separate them easily. My pasta turned out perfect, dressed in a perfect garlicky and herbaceous pesto sauce. As I pointed out earlier, I also loved the polenta that I made in class, which was free of lumps and tasted so delightfully rich. I was surprised at how much I also loved the Butternut Squash Barley Pilaf, which had a fantastic texture and savory flavour. What a delicious week for leftovers! I can happily say that I had a very filling dinner full of leftovers the next day, as well as a couple lunches of leftovers! 

What did I learn last week?
  • To prevent your freshly-cut pasta noodles from sticking, simply sprinkle over a dusting of semolina flour.
  • Polenta is another dish that forces you to man the stove to determine its success. You have to be constantly at the stove, stirring your polenta, and adding more liquid when necessary to create the perfect creamy and slightly loose texture. 
  • If your polenta is thickening up too quickly, don't be afraid to add more liquid. Have a pot of warm water or stock on the stove to ladle into your polenta as it is cooking to keep that creamy texture.
  • Cook your polenta on a very low flame! Polenta wants your time, care, and attention.
Arancini - Risotto, that delightfully indulgent, creamy, buttery, cheesy, Italian rice dish that tempts me on every Italian restaurant menu, yet I never make at home. After hearing how tricky it can be to achieve that perfect creamy and slightly runny consistency and tender yet firm grains for risotto, I have always been too nervous to attempt to make the Italian indulgence in my own kitchen. This week in class my teacher broke down the steps to creating the perfect risotto, and I quickly learned that finding success in risotto is less about skill and more about the attention that you give it. As long as you man that stove, never leaving the risotto for more than a few seconds, and are consistent about adding new additions of hot stock and stirring, you should find yourself with a deliciously creamy and comforting risotto that you would be proud to serve your family and friends. Another trick to making good risotto is timing. As soon as that risotto comes off your stove, you better have warmed bowls ready so that you can serve it up immediately. Risotto is incredible when served right away, but a mere few minutes later the risotto begins to thicken and harden, becoming gummy, and losing that beautiful creamy consistency that you worked so hard for.

So what the heck do you do with leftover risotto? Throw all your hard work and expensive ingredients in the garbage? Not a chance! The tastiest way to utilize leftover risotto is by mixing it up with some beaten eggs, breadcrumbs, and seasoning, rolling them into balls, stuffing them with cheese, and deep frying to create Arancini. Aw hell yeah! And you thought risotto couldn't get any better!  This is precisely what I did with all of my leftover risotto from class, and let me tell you it was fantastic! I will definitely be posting the recipe for these crispy, creamy, and cheesy little bites soon!

2013 Pumpkin Carving - One of my favourite holidays all year long is Halloween. Sure dressing up, decorating, and gorging myself on sweet treats is a ton of fun, but really my absolute favourite part of Halloween is carving my pumpkin, a tradition that my dad has gotten me excited about ever since I was a kid. Being an artist, my dad has always created the most magnificent pumpkins that would always "wow" all of our neighbors. When I became old enough to be comfortable and safe with an x-acto blade, my dad started teaching me all of his pumpkin carving tricks so that soon we had a family of striking pumpkins on our front porch for our neighbors to take photos of each year. With last Halloween being our final year in our family home, and living in an apartment now, there didn't seem like much of a point to carve a pumpkin other than my sheer glee at skillfully taking a knife to a large vegetable for pure artistic expression. Luckily, for the sake of my pumpkin carving tradition, the pub that I work at purchased some pumpkins to decorate the space. I of course jumped at the opportunity to carve a pumpkin once again. Although it wasn't exactly on display for the neighborhood children as it rested behind the bar full of regulars sipping their Canadian Tall Boys, it was really fun to be able to carve a pumpkin once again and hear how much the regulars appreciated seeing something a little bit different. In this photo my pumpkin is looking a little worse for wear, a week after it was carved, with its mouth caving in and filled with candy wrappers, but try and use your imagination for how it originally looked!

Pulled Pork & Polenta - Taking evening culinary school classes is so awesome in so many ways, but the one thing that drives me crazy is having class right smack in the middle of dinner time. I often feel inclined to have a second light late lunch before class as opposed to a more filling dinner so that I won't feel weighed down while running around the George Brown kitchen. The problem with this is about an hour and a half into class I am starving, which certainly doesn't help when you have to cook a full menu each class, with no time for snacking. This week I was smart and went for a satisfying meal that I knew would keep me full and active all through class. With leftover pulled pork in the fridge (thanks mom!) and no bread or mashed potatoes for serving, I decided to turn to one of my newly acquired George Brown recipes to give me a base for the pulled pork. After enjoying the creamy polenta we cooked in class last week so much, and enjoying the leftovers cut up and fried all week long, I couldn't help but want to make more! Although it meant manning the stove for about 15 minutes, it was quick and easy to prepare a creamy polenta base that would soak up the savory, spicy juices from the pulled pork. Quick, satisfying, and oh so delicious, my leftover pulled pork with polenta was the perfect dish to devour before class.

This Week At Chef School - Who would have ever thought that Salad week at chef school would be one of the most difficult to manage our time as of yet? Yeah, you heard me, SALADS! You know, the simple thing that you whip together in two minutes to add something green to the side of your plate. Being someone who really enjoys a great salad, and has the ability to create a new one from scratch in a few minutes, it baffled my mind that salad week somehow became one of the most stressful. The truth is, it can be very simple and quick to prepare a good salad, but when you are making everything by hand, it takes a little elbow grease and patience. Opening a jar of mayonnaise takes all of two seconds, but whipping mayonnaise by hand requires a little more time and a lot more effort, so much effort that my wrist still hurts from whipping that damn egg yolk and vegetable oil mixture. Of course in class they want to teach us the classic way to make everything, so a good steel bowl and a heavy duty whisk was our equipment to make a nice thick, stick-to-the-spoon mayonnaise, but have no fear because making mayonnaise at home can take just a couple more minutes than opening up a jar of the store bought stuff, all you need is an immersion blender, food processor, or blender, and ta da! You have beautiful, thick, additive-free mayo! Mayonnaise was included in salad week because mayonnaise is actually a very common base for many of salad dressings we are most familiar with, for instance Caesar dressing, Thousand Island dressing, and French dressing. Of course we also learned how to make a simple citrus dressing, which taught us the ratio and tips to emulsify two unmixables such as citrus juice and olive oil. It was a very busy class, with lots of running around, cleaning, whipping, and mess to create a menu that included:
Green Salad with Orange Segments & Citrus Dressing
Caesar Salad
Quinoa Salad
Couscous Salad

What did I learn this week?
  • The trick to getting a thick mayonnaise and preventing it from "breaking" (not emulsifying, resulting in a loose consistency) is to very slowly pour your oil down the side of the bowl while whisking fast with your wrist, not your arm.
  • To remove pin bones from anchovies, simply run your fingers along them and remove any that stick out with your fingers.
  • To make your homemade Caesar dressing last longer, add the parmesan cheese when tossing the salad, not right into the dressing itself.
On My Mind:

It's important to know when to turn in your kazoo. I'm just about ready!

This makes my blood bubble. 

An interesting look at the hard truth about girl-on-guy rape.

I guess Astronaut Chris Hadfield isn't as...down to earth as we had thought.

More blood bubbling: A comparison of Girls Life vs. Boys Life magazine covers.

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Listening To:
Arcade Fire - Porno

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