Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Whisk Wednesdays—Carre d'Agneau (Rack of Lamb)

Carre d'Agneau (Rack of Lamb)This rack of lamb is the second-last recipe as part of the Basic Cuisine curriculum that I've been following. The hardest part is preparing the rack. Watch this video to see how to "French" a rack of lamb. Then, it's just a matter of searing the meat and vegetables and finishing it in the oven. The sauce is made from the pan juices and water, seasoned with salt and pepper. Not too many dishes this time either!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Week 3 at Le Cordon Bleu (Basic Cuisine)

After last week, I was glad to leave the white pepper on the shelf for a bit. During week 3 at Le Cordon Bleu, we turned our attention to desserts. Crème anglaise and charlotte were the first tests of our dessert skills. These desserts are light, called "entremets", which translates to "between meals".

The first practical had us making old-fashioned apple charlotte. Fourteen students were cooking down the apples slowly, caramelizing them only after they were cooked, and the aroma was heavenly. We all lined the charlotte molds with bread, first cutting the bottom pieces into raindrop shapes to form a circle. Lastly, we made crème anglaise to a thickness called à la nappe. Everything was going along perfectly until the unmolding stage when I forgot to trim the excess length of my bread pieces, which in turn caused the apple compote inside to travel to meet the plate making the whole thing fall apart slightly. One miss-step in the kitchen, and everything is quickly ruined (except in this case it still tasted sweet)!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Whisk Wednesdays—Pets de Nonnes (Choux Pastry Fritters with Apricot Sauce)

Pets de Nonnes (Choux Pastry Fritters with Apricot Sauce)This recipe, literally translated, means "nun's farts"! Choux pastry is deep-fried and sprinkled with confectioners' sugar much like a doughnut. The story is that a nun accidentally dropped a ball of choux paste into a kettle of hot oil. Instead of throwing it out, the nun watched the choux paste bubble and brown and upon tasting it named it Pets de Nonnes.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Week 2 at Le Cordon Bleu (Basic Cuisine)

Clockwise from top: Chef’s Flamiche aux maroilles et poireaux (Leek tart from northern France),
Pâté Pantin (Pork pie without use of mould),
Getting Ready to Taste

Week 2 at Le Cordon Bleu was full of flour, fraisage, and finger injuries.

I’m thoroughly enjoying the demos. It’s almost as if the secrets of the culinary world are being whispered in our ears, passed down to the next generation as grandparents would for their grandchildren. The demos are full of helpful tips that are best shown live: watching the chef make pâte brisée, showing us how to flour our tables (fleurer), how to gently work in the flour without over-mixing the dough, and demonstrating the technique of fraisage where you take just a bit of dough and rub it between your palm and the marble countertop to form a dough, repeating this for all the dough. Although I’d read about fraisage before, to watch it makes more sense. And I was surprised by the texture of the quiche that the chef served us. It was more like custard with salt, cheese and lardons (we’re not allowed to use the word bacon!) and less like scrambled eggs.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Feast of Fields—Ballotin of Ferme aux Saveurs des Monts Organic Chicken

Feast of Fields was an Ottawa event held this past weekend that brought together the talents of organic farmers and chefs and allowed hungry guests to sample all their tasty treats. Chefs were paired with area farmers to showcase this season's harvest. And what a feast it was!

There were 25 teams set up with tables along each side of a huge tent. The weather was perfect, with a slight cool breeze, and the diners were clamoring to get their plate and sample the local organic food. As we walked around tasting, we were amazed by the variety of options. From mini bites of cornbread and smoked pork and apple sausage to goose terrine garnished with a delicate edible flower and gingersnap cookies, I soon realized my eyes were bigger than my stomach.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Whisk Wednesdays—Grenadins de Veau au Coulis de Celeri-Rave (Veal with Celery Root Cream Sauce)

Grenadins de Veau au Coulis de Celeri-Rave (Veal with Celery Root Cream Sauce)
It seems these last recipes in the curriculum are strictly a review of techniques already learned. They don't contain much history or interest but are good practice for the impending exam. Grenadins de veau are thick veal fillet steaks laced with pork fat. After sprinkling the meat with salt and pepper and searing them on the stove in a bit of butter, I placed (I should have larded!) the pork fat on top of the veal and set it aside while I worked on the vegetables.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Week 1 at Le Cordon Bleu (Basic Cuisine)

The anticipation of the students waiting before the first demo was tangible. A little nervous chatter here and there, but mostly silence.

WaitingAt last, we were invited into the elegant yellow and white room with high-tech flat panel screens on either side. Everyone tried to score a front row seat.

The chef explained many things including the kitchen brigade, all the different knives and tools in the kit (worth about $1000 Canadian but is included in the tuition), safety and hygiene tips, and French terms for all the pots, pans and tools.

Then he launched into vegetable cuts, including émincer, ciseler, hasher, julienne, brunoise, paysanne and chiffonade. Finally, he made Potage cultivateur (Cut vegetable soup).

In the kitchen, we had a chance to practice our precision cuts with carrots, turnips, potatoes, onions, leeks and cabbage. Lot of practice is required for the precision required at Le Cordon Bleu. I have a long way to go (and wondering if I'm on the right path)!

Potage cultivateur (Cut vegetable soup)
Chef's Potage cultivateur

Lesson three was all about garnitures (not garnishes!), which are side dishes. It was fun to see the master chef work on so many dishes (six of them) at once without breaking a sweat while we kept flipping pages to keep up with which recipe he was working on.

Knowing we had to make three dishes during the practical was daunting enough for me: Bouquetière (a hot garniture of turned vegetables and artichoke), Jardinière (another hot garniture of vegetables cut as batonnets), and finally Macédoine (a cold vegetable medley cut into small cubes or pieces). In addition to these recipes, chef made Tomates
concassées, Portugaise, Duxelle sêche de champignons, Blanc de cuisson, Grandmère and showed us the different cuts for Pommes de terre pour frire.

Since there are 30 students in Basic Cuisine, we've been broken up into two groups of 15 for the kitchen part of our class. Our group has already experienced its share of drama.

In the third practical (our second one where we actually had to use the stoves), one student sliced her finger and while the chef was cleaning her cut, she fainted. We were all asked to leave the room, and wait in the lounge while they helped her. Meanwhile, an ambulance was called to ensure she was ok. She came back to class shortly after that and was ready to resume her station. However, we still had to serve the chef our dishes at the same time agreed upon at the beginning of class. That was stressful, but the show must go on!

Artichokes have always confounded me. I've never known how to prepare them. Well, now I've prepared them twice in the last week, and I've learned that I like them! The day before we were shown how to turn artichokes and cook them in a Blanc de Cuisson (a mixture of water, flour, lemon and salt). We practiced this again in the third practical. Although I failed to remove the entire choke for serving, I now know that I can buy an artichoke at the grocery store, and I finally understand what to do with it.

I also learned that it's important to keep the stove from being idle. While turning turnips, I had to cook carrots. While cooking turnips, I had to prepare green beans. It's about making the most of the time you have and multitasking. It's also about having the skill to turn vegetables quickly. Even after spending hours on a Saturday night practicing turning vegetables with my husband (who was much better at it than me, by the way!), I'm still impossibly slow and awkward shaping turnips and carrots into pretty footballs (if footballs can be pretty!).

But during this practical, I started to feel like I can actually do this. In someone else's kitchen. With someone watching over every move looking for ways to help us improve. There's chaos all around with students asking which is the parsley, others asking where to find the cutting boards, all while the clock ticks down to our deadline. I felt like we were a team. I can learn. I want to learn more. I've already learned a lot. But I wish I didn't have to learn how to turn vegetables.

Jardinière, Bouquetière, Macédoine & me
Counter-clockwise from top: Chef's Jardinière, Bouquetière, Macédoine & me

When my girls saw me in my uniform for the first time, I heard "interesting" from one, "you're going to wear that!?" from another, an incredulous look from my third followed up with "it looks professional, Mom!" from all three.
Yes, I'm going to wear that, and feel proud!
. . . . . . . . . .

Here is a link back to the recipes as I did them last year (although they aren't exactly the same as what we did in class):

Class 1: Cut Vegetable Soup
Part 1 - Mise en place, Mirepoix and Knife skills
Part 2 - Potage cultivateur (Cut vegetable soup)

Class 2: Turned Vegetables Cooked in a Court Bouillon
Part 1 - Légumes à la grèque (Turned vegetables)
Part 2 - Légumes à la grèque (Court bouillon)

Class 3: Garnitures
Part 1 - Laitues braises (Braised lettuce)
Part 2 - Tomates concassées (Crushed tomatoes)
Part 3 - Portugaise (Tomatoes, crushed and cooked)
Part 4 - Duxelle sêche de champignons (Mushroom, chopped and cooked with shallots)
Part 5 - Grand-Mère (Garnish of bacon, onions, mushrooms, and potatoes)
Part 6 - Pommes de terre pour frire (Different cuts for deep-fried potatoes)
Part 7 - Bouquetière (Vegetables served in a bunch)
Part 8 - Jardinière et macédoine de legumes (Vegetables cut into sticks and cubes)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ottawa Urban Foodie—Ottawa Metro

As of today, I have a byline! And a way to indulge my love of eating at restaurants. I'm the new restaurant reviewer for the Ottawa Metro newpaper, and I'll be providing a review every Thursday along with food events. (If you know of any upcoming events or restaurants you would like to see reviewed, email OttawaUrbanFoodie[at]gmail[dot]com.)

My first review is for a wonderful little Italian restaurant in the suburbs called La Porto a Casa.

Today at Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa
"To everything (turn, turn, turn)." Turning carrots, zucchini, artichoke and mushrooms is the wrath of culinary school and best summed up in this humorous article! Would love to write more about today, but it's late, and I still have to iron my uniform for tomorrow. G'nite!

Chef's Légumes à la grèque (Turned vegetables cooked in a court bouillon with coriander)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Whisk Wednesdays—Spiced Shrimp Balls

Spiced Shrimp BallsSweetbread fritters were supposed to be on the menu today. However, they weren't something I wanted to taste, but may have to if they're on the list of recipes at Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa. Instead, the Whisk Wednesdays group decided Spiced Shrimp Balls sounded tastier and found it in one of Le Cordon Bleu cookbooks called Le Cordon Bleu Complete Cook Home Collection.

Moving away from typical French cuisine and into something a little more Asian-inspired was a nice change. Practicing deep-frying technique is always helpful and usually renders something crunchy and tender at the same time.

This is a simple recipe. I used my food processor to mince the shrimp into a purée. Then, I stirred in the remaining ingredients. After whipping the egg whites, I folded them into the mixture. Finally, I formed the shrimp mixture into balls and rolled them into sesame seeds.

I followed the same technique for deep frying that I learned when frying potatoes.


Serves 6

1½ pounds large uncooked shrimp
1 tablespoon oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
½-inch piece fresh ginger, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon cornstarch

½ egg white, whipped

2/3 cup sesame seeds

Oil, for deep frying

You can find the recipe for Spiced Shrimp Balls in the book Le Cordon Bleu Complete Cook Home Collection. To see how the rest of the Whisk Wednesdays group fared with their recipe, click here (or check out the sidebar) and then click on each blogger!

Spiced Shrimp BallsTasting Notes
Crunchy and yummy.

Next Class
• Grenadins de Veau au Coulis de Celeri-Rave (Veal with Celery Root Cream Sauce) pages 330-331 in Le Cordon Bleu at Home cookbook

. . . . . . . . . .

Running total: $1,521.17 + $19.04 = $1,540.21
($3.17 per serving)

Butter used so far:
12 pounds, 31 tablespoons

93% complete Basic Cuisine (on blog) / 3% in real life

. . . . . . . . . .

::Whisk Wednesdays::
We're cooking our way through a cooking school curriculum using the Le Cordon Bleu at Home cookbook. The "classes" are based on the Le Cordon Bleu curriculum found online and used as a guideline. Not all the items in the curriculum are in the cookbook, but most are. Where the items are not in the book, we try to find a suitable substitution. Find out more here.
. . . . . . . . . .

If you like this post, share it!

If you like this blog, you can subscribe and get updates automatically.

  • Click here to learn about subscribing.

  • Click here to subscribe.

  • Tuesday, September 8, 2009

    Le Cordon Bleu—A Dream Come True

    Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa
    "Choose Life
    only that and always
    and at whatever risk.
    To let life leak out, to let it wear away by
    the mere passage of time, to withhold
    giving it and spreading it
    is to choose
    — Sister Helen Keller
    Some of you already know this, but I thought I should let everyone know that today was my first day of school at Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa! A few weeks ago, I decided to follow my dream of attending culinary school, and with the help of my supportive family (especially my husband) I signed up for Basic Cuisine with the hopes of working towards the Grand Diplôme.

    Today was orientation for all Basic Cuisine and Pastry students, of which 30 are in Cuisine and 45 in Pastry. We learned a bit about the history of Le Cordon Bleu. It was actually started by a woman named Marthe Distel in 1895 who was the publisher of a magazine called La Cuisinière Cordon Bleu. To thank her subscribers, she invited chefs to demonstrate to readers some of the recipes published in the magazine. The demonstrations launched the cooking school.

    We were introduced to the chefs and staff, and then we walked through several policies and procedures (with attendance and promptness being stressed over and over).

    All the parts of the uniform were explained, including why the jacket is double-breasted (so that you can re-button it to show the clean side if you want to visit the restaurant patrons). Houndstooth pants hide any stains. Aprons are done up on the front so that they're easy to take off in case it catches on fire. Steel-toed shoes protect feet from falling knives and hats collect the sweat. (Hairnets are worn at all times.)

    After some more presentations about the schedule and other administrative details, we were given a tour, our equipment and uniforms.

    Finally, I made sure to sample as many of the "viennoiseries" that I could, including two types of muffins, a sunny-side up apricot pastry, a croissant, a lemon poppy-seed loaf and some fruit. All were tasty, as expected.

    Now, I must iron my uniform and get ready for tomorrow. Stay tuned...
    "It is your soul's duty to be loyal to your desires."
    — Rebecca West

    Monday, September 7, 2009

    Feast of Fields—Crispy Polenta with Fresh Corn and Aged Cheddar

    Feast of Fields Ottawa - LambIt's harvest time, and for the fifth year in a row you can spend an afternoon feasting on the talents of organic farmers and chefs at Feast of Fields in Ottawa. Chefs are paired with area farmers to showcase this season's harvest.

    When: Sunday, September 13, 2009, Noon to 4:00 p.m. (food served Noon to 2:00)
    Where: Vincent Massey Park (near Riverside Drive and Heron Road)
    Tickets: Available online and at listed retail outlets

    I attended a pre-event to sample food made by the winners of the farmer/chef pairing from last year as well as preview food we can look forward to tasting at the event itself. We sampled a spicy orca bean quesadilla prepared by resident chef Candice Butler from Urban Element who is paired with Greta's Organic Farm this year. Greta owns an organic seed company that grows plants simply for their seeds with an eye for a plant's uniqueness in taste, appearance, color and shape. These seeds are the bread and butter of Greta's farm. In fact, when Carley visited to collect the ingredients for her dish, Greta removed the seeds from the peppers first!

    Feast of Fields Ottawa - QuesadillaJennifer Heagle and Jo-Ann Laverty from The Red Apron, winners from last year's event, prepared a mild, tasty lamb from Aartje den Boer's farm called The Pickle Patch along with a vegetable medley of heirloom tomatoes, garlic and white beans. The organic crispy corn polenta with aged cheddar served on the side was particularly tasty and happily the chefs shared the recipe.

    Crispy Polenta with Fresh Corn and Aged CheddarI'm looking forward to attending this event next week and sampling more dishes from all the creative chefs who are paired with the hard-working organic farmers in the area. Until then, I'll be enjoying this comforting cheesy corn polenta.

    Recipe for Crispy Polenta with Fresh Corn and Aged Cheddar

    from The Red Apron

    Makes 1 9x9 pan

    Crispy Polenta with Fresh Corn and Aged Cheddar ingredients
    4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
    1 cup whipping cream
    2 tablespoons butter
    1 small onion, diced
    3 cloves garlic, minced
    Fresh corn niblets from 1 cob of corn
    2 tablespoons white wine, for deglazing
    1¼ cup yellow cornmeal
    1½ cups old cheddar, grated
    ¼ cup fresh thyme and rosemary, chopped
    1 teaspoon salt

    Line a 9x9 pan with parchment paper.

    In a pot, bring stock and cream to a simmer and set aside.

    In a 2-quart saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft but not colored. Add garlic and corn niblets and sauté until corn is tender, about 3 minutes. Deglaze with white wine.

    Add the stock and cream mixture to the saucepan and bring to a simmer.

    In a slow, steady stream, add the cornmeal and cook over medium heat for 1 minute, whisking constantly to avoid lumps.

    Remove from heat and stir in the grated cheddar and fresh herbs. Season with salt, to taste.

    Pour mixture into pan. Refrigerate until set, about 2 hours. Turn out the polenta and cut into desired shapes.

    Pan fry the pieces in olive oil and a little butter until lightly browned on both sides or broil in the oven until browned.

    Crispy Polenta with Fresh Corn and Aged Cheddar
    If you like this post, share it!

    If you like this blog, you can subscribe and get updates automatically.
  • Click here to learn about subscribing.
  • Click here to subscribe.

  • Wednesday, September 2, 2009

    Whisk Wednesdays—Biscuit de Savoie (Sponge Cake)

    Biscuit de Savoie (Sponge Cake)Savoy (pronounced Savwa) Cake, or Sponge Cake, dates back to the 18th century and is a simple cake using five pantry ingredients. The only odd ingredient is potato flour, which helps produce a more tender cake. Although similar to a pound cake, it's often baked in a mold that looks like a turban.

    After combining the yolks, sugar and vanilla, fold in the flours. Then, after whipping the egg whites, fold them into the yolk mixture. Bake at 350°F until the center comes out clean. Dust with confectioners' sugar and serve with crème anglaise or fresh whipped cream and berries. Très simple.