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.