Monday, December 26, 2011

Oh Canada :)

Hey everyone!

I know it has been a really long time since my last post - I'm sorry! It just got so crazy studying for my final exams, packing, graduation, etc. that I was forced to take a bit of a break from blogging. But I wanted to do one final post to update you all on my final experiences/thoughts on culinary school and my experiences :)

The final dish we learned how to make was undoubtedly the most difficult we have made this semester: the St. Honoré. Basically, it is a cake made of eclairs stuffed with chiboust cream. The "eclairs" are also dipped in caramel >> YUM! But the process isn't easy, and some caramel burns were acquired along the way I'm sorry to say - but it was all for the good of the St. Honoré, so it's ok! ;)

Here are some pictures of my St. Honoré (with a caramel ball on top for extra decoration!):

Our last class was held on Friday the 16th, so after that we had the weekend to do some last minute studying before our final exam on Monday the 19th.

The final was quite nerve-racking for everyone I think. There were 2 parts: a written and practical. For the written part, we were given the name of a dish (at random) and from that name we had to write out all the ingredients and quantities of the ingredients in that dish. The practical was similar in that we were given a dish at random, except this time we actually had to make the dish. My dish for the written portion was the Miroir au Cassis and my dish for the practical was the Lemon Tart. I was a bit jittery at first, during the practical, but after I got cooking, I was able to relax and "get into the cooking groove" :) In the end, all my studying really paid off, and I was able to produce a dish of which I was very proud :) I didn't take my camera into the final exam, so I can't show you a picture of the dish, but it looked similar to the lemon tart I had made weeks ago in class, so that was a good sign!

After the final, I had about 48 hours to pack/recuperate from all the studying, and then it was time for graduation festivities! Graduation was a beautiful ceremony. It was held in the Hotel Chateau Laurier, which, apparently, is the nicest hotel in Ottawa. It truly was a beautiful hotel and it was such a lovely ceremony! It was similar to a university graduation - except a lot of it was in French! lol But the "head" Pastry and Cuisine chefs spoke and congratulated everyone, and there was even a valedictorian, one of the Superior Pastry Graduates. They called us all to the stage one by one (first the Basic Pastry and Cuisine students, then the Intermediate, and finally the Superior) and presented us with our diplomas. Attire was business casual, but instead of graduation robes (like in University), we wore our chef jackets :)

Here is a picture I found online of the Hotel Chateau Laurier:

Here are some pictures from Graduation:

Some students from my house and I (from left to right it's Robin (she actually didn't live in the house, she just jumped into the picture lol), Mulianti, Pranav, me, Sam, Jessica, and Derek)

Most of my Basic Pastry class :)

I had such a wonderful experience in Ottawa - as I sit here trying to come up with words to describe my time there, I am realizing that any words I come up with simply will not do my experience justice. I met so many incredible people and made so many wonderful friends. I learned so much and truly pushed myself outside my comfort zone. It feels strange to be back in the States now, in many ways. I'm not necessarily "homesick" for Canada, but I do miss it very much. I feel that I "grew up" in a lot of ways in Canada, and I feel so lucky to have all the experiences that I did there. It is hard to believe it is over, but I will never forget my time at Le Cordon Bleu or the Wilbrod House.

Thank you all for your encouragement and support during these past three months - keeping this blog was a wonderful way for me to contemplate my experiences and share them with my friends and family, and I hope you enjoyed reading it! :)

Until my next blog (perhaps about grad school?),

Me ;)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Don't forget the vegetable!

Hey everyone :)

Today was a really good day - I feel like I've been in a particularly happy mood the past few days which is enjoyable lol and kinda unexpected because I've been waking up at 7am for the past few days and the weather has been a rainy/snowy mess and the Congolese Embassy near my house had a HUGE riot the other day - people were shooting rifles, throwing rocks at the police was pretty intense. The riots were apparently about the election that just occurred in the Congo in which the incumbent, Joseph Kabila, won what many are claiming to be a "stolen election." If you want to read about it (from an Ottawan perspective), here is the link to the article I was reading:

Anyway, it feels like a lot has been going on here lately, and I've been keeping pretty busy with class, grad school applications, etc., so I'm figuring that all that has a lot to do with my good mood - I always seem to feel better when I'm keeping busy, you know?

Ok, well moving onto class today, we made Pear Charlottes which are basically frozen desserts with lady-fingers around the sides and pear-flavored Bavarian cream in the middle. They are served with raspberry coulis (or a fruit reduction sauce) and Chantilly cream on the side. They are impressive to look at and taste pretty good. Personally, my favorite dish still remains to be the croissants lol But this wasn't bad ;) Pear Charlotte is a very light dessert - no butter - so that might be a :) or a :( depending on who is reading this lol

Chef piping the lady fingers

After you pipe lady fingers, you have to dust them with powdered sugar (or, as they say in Canada, icing sugar)

Chef using my new favorite kitchen appliance (the blow torch) on another cake he made today in class (that we didn't make in Practical) called Entrements aux poires (or Geneose sponge cake with pears). And don't worry - he is not torching the icing on the cake in this picture, he is torching the almond paste masque he put over the buttercream icing.

This is what the Entrements aux poires looks like when it is done :) Beautiful! That is mint in the center (for the vegetable component of the dish ;) ) and chocolate "cigarette" sticks.

Here is Chef's Pear Charlotte or Charlotte aux poires - apparently, it is traditionally served with a bow tied around the middle lol So the part that you see are the lady fingers, but if you cut into the Charlotte, you would see the Bavarian cream filling.

These are some frozen souffles Chef just "threw together" at the end of class ;)

And here is my Pear Charlotte with my raspberry coulis and whipped cream on the side :) (apparently, this dessert can also be called a Charlotte Russe! Like the clothing store lol) Ps. I *did* have a mint leaf on my Charlotte when I presented it to the Chef, but I didn't have it when I took the picture because there was a limited amount of mint leaves in class, so my friend Erin and I shared, and she was presenting her dish when I took this picture, so the mint leaf was on her Charlotte. I tell you this just so you know I didn't skip the vegetable component ;)

Here is a picture of a few of my friends and I from class: from left to right it's Erin, me, Rafi, and Beth is in the middle :)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

I love chocolate :)

Hey everyone!

If I were to sum up today's culinary creation in a single word it would be this: CHOCOLATE (!!)

Yes, there was chocolate today. Lots and lots of chocolate. We made Pavé du Roy or chocolate cake :) And this is definitely something I'll be making again :)

Basically, its a 3 layer rectangle cake with alternating layers of chocolate biscuit (or cake) and chocolate ganache. The sides of the cake are decorated with chocolate sprinkles and the top of the cake is decorated with a chocolate flower made out of chocolate shavings. It's a pretty straightforward cake to make, but the tricky part is the ganache. It has to be at just the right temperature and consistency before you spread it on the cake - not too cold, not too hot, not too liquidy, and not too solid. To get it to the right consistency, you have to stir the ganache about once every 5 minutes over the course of an hour or so. If you over-mix it, it's ruined. If you under-mix it, it's ruined. Today was a bit frustrating, if you can't already tell lol But in the end, I mixed it just about the right amount of times and got it to be the right consistency :) Woohoo! [Ganache is made by boiling cream and pouring it over an equal amount of chocolate chips and stirring]

Here are some pictures:

Chef spreading the first layer of cake with chocolate ganache.

Chef's Pavé du looks flawless to me!

This is something else Chef made today in Demo (but we didn't have to make it in Practical). It is called an Entremets Casino Cake, and is basically spongecake with apricot jam and a filling of bavaroise (or Bavarian cream). I want to try to make this at home - it was so good!

My Pavé du Roy :) Not quite as pretty as Chef's, but it tastes good! ;)


Friday, December 2, 2011

Crème Brûlée and a Blowtorch for Christmas?

Hey everyone!

Waking up at 5:45 in the morning is seldom a happy way to start the day (at least for me). But I figured I wanted to get some extra study-time in before my exam this morning, and so that's why I did it...although I did hit snooze a few times ;) Anyway, despite the fact that I woke up so early, I was greeted by a happy surprise when I looked out my window:

Doesn't that picture almost look magical? lol My camera wasn't focusing very well, and it kept wanting to focus on the snowflakes instead of the landscape, but I actually think I like it better that way! It matches my sleepy/dreaminess at 6am (or whenever this picture was taken) :)

Anyway, after pulling myself away from the window (which was not easy to do!), I pulled out my notes and got an extra hour of study-time in before my exam. The exam was...difficult. But right now I'm trying not to think about it and just focusing on the fact that I studied the best that I could and for better or worse, it is at least *over*.

After the exam, we still had class, but that was ok because we made crème brûlée!! Crème brûlée is a mixture of cream, milk, egg yolks, and sugar aka it is rich and delicious!

We also made crème caramel (or flan) in class, a dessert which I personally am not that big a fan of, but it was still cool to learn how to make it!

This is a picture of one of the first steps in the flan production. First, you make caramel and coat the bottom of the ramekins with the caramel, and then you fill the ramekins with the custard. To serve the dish, you flip the entire dessert upside down, so the caramel is on the top, and it kinda oozes down the sides of the custard :)

Chef also taught us how to make ice cream and sorbet in class. This is vanilla ice cream. Ice cream is actually one of the only dishes we have made so far that I've had previous experience making - thank you Missy and Mandy! :)

This is raspberry sorbet - it was delicious!

Here is Chef's final presentation: the flan is on the right hand side and the crème brûlée is in the back. The ice cream and sorbet are in the big bowls behind the crème brûlée.

A close up of the flan with a vanilla bean on top.

Now, here are pictures of my dishes:

Crème caramel (or flan). See how the caramel oozes over the top? :)

Crème brûlée :) And *yes*, I *did* have to use a blow torch to caramelize the top! After the custard has baked in the oven, you sprinkle some sugar on top of the dish and pretty much go for it with the blow torch! haha I was a little apprehensive about using it, but once I got started, I loved it! I don't know why it was so much fun, but it really was! This might be going overboard, but I'm thinking about asking for a blowtorch for Christmas!

We also made and colored (with an airbrush) marzipan (which is a play-dough-like substance you can mold) animals and flowers. Chef gave us creative liberty, so we could basically make any animals or flowers we wanted! I made a duck, a pig, a rabbit (with a carrot), 2 turtles, a frog, a pumpkin, and 2 roses:

I had originally only intended on making one turtle, but I couldn't resist making a little baby one too! lol ;)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Contemplating Language...

Hey everyone :)

I just got back to Ottawa from a long Thanksgiving weekend in the USA last night. I had such a wonderful visit with my friends and got to have lots of turkey and pumpkin pie which made me very happy! I would *love* to learn how to make pumpkin pie - I don't think that's on "the list" for recipes I'll learn in school, but if I can find a good recipe, I'm definitely going to give it a try!

Now that I'm back in Ottawa, though, holiday celebrations have unfortunately come to a dramatic halt as I (along with the rest of the students in Basic Pastry class) prepare for the written exams this coming Friday. From what I've learned talking to Chef and listening to some of the Advanced Pastry students talk about their Basic-level exams, it is going to be very difficult :( We pretty much need to know all the recipes we've done so far, their ingredient lists, etc. by heart along with the more "scientific" information like the temperature at which sugar cooks (121 degrees Celsius) and the composition of an egg white (88-90% water and 10-12% protein albuten). It's definitely a lot of material to learn, but I've been studying, and I have about 1.5 more days to study, so I hope I'll be ok!

In other news, I went to the grocery store today (Loblaws) and smelled my first Christmas trees of the season! They had a bunch of trees outside the store, so everyone walking in and out of the store got a whiff of their wonderful pine-y scents! However, there is *still* no snow here if you can believe it! All the snow from the other day melted rather quickly and according the the news station I was listening to on the radio, if it doesn't snow by this weekend, this month of November is going on record as the 4th warmest November in Ottawa since 1889!

Now, for a bit of a philosophical tangent before I get back to studying:

How much does the language we use shape our thought? For example, as you and I have learned from my time at Le Cordon Bleu, the French language has many more words than we do in English for certain culinary techniques and dishes. Two of my favorites are detrempe (dough without butter inside) and paton (dough with butter inside) because they seem to accurately reflect the importance of butter (or beurre) to French pastries. Now, I know we all joke that Americans love butter too and put butter on *everything*, but the heavy use of butter in French cooking isn't conceived of in the same way as it is in America. The butter isn't, for lack of a better word, abused in French cooking. It is respected as an important past of the dish. It is savored. It is valued. In America, it seems we just pile it on without really thinking about it. The French *do* think about it. They think about it very much. So, I guess what I'm wondering is that if we, in the United States, would think about something like butter differently if we had words in our language (like detrempe or paton) that demonstrated more of a respect for butter. I think we would.

I've taken a few classes during my undergraduate studies that touched on this issue of language and thought - it is so interesting to me! The consensus (in the academic world) seems to be that language does shape our worldview and how we interact with the environment around us. At first, I remember being almost scared by how much language shapes thought - I wanted to remain as unbiased as possible and was concerned that there was nothing I could do to remove some of my biases because they were reflected in the words I used every day. However, feeling this way was of no good to anyone - I couldn't just stop talking and using my words because I was afraid! What I could do, though, was just have more of an awareness of the words I used and choose them more carefully. I remember, for instance, when I was little, being told by my parents not to use the word "hate" because it was such a strong word and carried such power. I regret to say that I definitely disobeyed my parents on that one, though. It seemed like *everyone* else used "hate" in their speech, so I figured there couldn't be anything that wrong with it....and saying "dislike" or even "strongly dislike" instead of "hate" just seemed like too much trouble and effort. The words I used didn't really matter, I thought. All that mattered was that I conveyed my thought as quickly as possible. And, "hate," being a one syllable word, was much "quicker" than "dislike," a two syllable word, so I used "hate." Now as I think about this though, I wonder if our society is just too concerned with being fast and moving quickly that we are not paying enough attention to the words we use and reflecting upon how those words are shaping our worldview. "Dislike" might take a bit longer to vocalize than "hate," but the word "dislike" contains the word "like" within it, making it a bit milder and perhaps even reminding us (on a subconscious level) that some things are not *all* bad - there is good to be found in most things. "Hate," however, is just "hate" - pure and simple. Now I'm not saying that the word "hate" should never be used, for there are some things that really deserve to be hated, I think. What I do question, though, is whether "dislike" is more of an appropriate word for situations that might not warrant full-on hate.

Hate is easier to say, though, isn't it? This also made me think about what we do when we cannot come up with a word to reflect how we are feeling at a given moment. When expressing our feelings to another person, how many times do we just "settle" for a word when we just cannot seem to think of a more accurate one? I have learned from some of my friends who are bilingual speakers that sometimes it is easier to express a certain feeling or emotion in a language other than English because English just doesn't have a word for that feeling (or vice versa). How many times do we just settle on a word just so we can "get it out" and convey our thoughts? How many times have we put pressure on another person to do so? All this just made me think that maybe we should have more patience with others before getting upset when they can't seem to say what they are thinking or feeling right away. They might just be searching for the right word to use, and our pressuring them isn't really going to help. I think this applies a lot to children, which is one of the reasons I think everyone says teachers of the younger grades need a lot of patience. Children tend to take longer to express themselves than adults, and I think this is partly due to the fact that they aren't as comfortable with words yet and want to choose the right one. Instead of getting impatient with them though, maybe it is better if we let them (and everyone) have the time they need to express themselves. If not, we risk misunderstandings and conflict. Here, I'm thinking of an instance when someone in a relationship might be pressured to say "I love you" when that is not what he/she really feels, but is simply trying to express a strong admiration or respect for their partner. This can potentially lead to conflict down the road if the individual was simply pressured to say the four-letter-word too quickly.

Hmm...just something I was thinking about.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving and a Cassis Cake!

Happy American Thanksgiving!! I hope you are all having wonderful days and meals (always, but especially today)!

A group of people from my house are about to go out to eat in a few minutes to celebrate American Thanksgiving :) Rafi and I will be the only Americans, but I thought it was so nice that everyone wanted to go celebrate with us. We were having trouble deciding where to go - we're a pretty big group of people, so we wanted to pick a place that would have lots of options and wasn't too expensive, and even though we knew we wouldn't be getting a "traditional" Thanksgiving meal with turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, etc., we thought it would be cool if we found *some* way to incorporate at least turkey into the meal. However, after a little bit of pondering, we came up with a great idea: The Works! Do you remember The Works? It was that burger place I went to a few weekends ago. They have *tons* of options so everyone should be able to find something they like, and they even have TURKEY burgers!! haha It's perfect - I'm soo excited! I'll probably have to stick to something on the plain side, just to continue my "easing" back into regular food, but a turkey burger sounds wonderful for an American Thanksgiving in Canada :)

Anyway, today in class, we made a miroir au cassis cake which is a blackcurrant mousse cake. It a layer of sponge cake on the bottom with blackcurrant mousse in the middle, and a blackcurrant glaze on top. You can modify the recipe any way you would like, however - i.e. you could make a lemon mousse, an orange mousse, a chocolate mousse, a chocolate *and* orange mousse - so you don't necessarily have to use blackcurrants for this cake, and the possibilities are endless!

Today in class, Chef also taught us how to make little candies out of lemon and orange peel. There is a technique where you basically cook the strips of peel in sugar/water, bring it to a boil, strain it, and let the pieces of peel sit out at room temperature which allows the sugar on the peel to crystallize. After that, you can eat them as such or you can go a step further and dip them in chocolate! Yum! :)

Here are some pictures from today:

Remember the chocolate displays I took a picture of a few weeks ago? The advanced pastry class did sugar displays this week, and I took a picture before going into class - aren't they incredible? I can't believe they are entirely made out of sugar!

Chef putting a layer of blackcurrants inside the cake before topping it with more mousse. As I said, there is a layer of spongecake on the bottom (and sides), mousse in the middle, blackcurrants, more mousse, and then a glaze on top. There were a ton of steps in this whole process, and Chef told us that we had to have "perfect" organization today because of all the steps and possibilities for error. The most difficult part was making the actual mousse - I wrote 2 pages front and back with instructions on how to do the mousse! I know I usually write a lot anyway, but that's a lot even for me!

Chef's final presentation! The writing and design is done in white chocolate. I like how we've been writing the names of the cakes on top! I think it looks so pretty :)

Now here are some pictures of my cassis cake :))

See all the layers? I think it looks so cool ;)

Ok, well I'm off to dinner! I hope everyone is having a good holiday! :)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Thanksgiving-Eve Surprise for Me!

This morning began like any other morning. Thankfully I did not have an early morning class, so I slept in until about 9:30am, and then rolled out of bed, still half asleep and grumbling about someone's alarm clock that was buzzing next door. I dragged myself across the hallway to the bathroom, and it was then that I saw something that immediately shocked me wide awake!

Can you guess what it was??


lol Ok, I'm being a bit dramatic, it didn't *exactly* look like that, but here is a picture from my window:

That's a lot of snow for one night! I had no idea that it was coming either! My dad had mentioned that Montreal (which is about 2.5 hours east of Ottawa) was going to get some snow, but I thought if anything, it would be a few flurries, not almost a foot!

Here's a picture of my car in the snow:

It was actually kinda fun shoveling it out! :)

I had to go out into town to run some errands today, so here are some pictures from my walk:

I couldn't believe this tree still had green leaves! I guess it is in denial that Winter is coming!

Anyway, I was walking around Byward Market, and I saw this cupcake shop that I had never noticed before called The Cupcake Lounge. It looked really cute and there were a ton of people inside, and I thought a cupcake sounded like the best thing ever, and since I've been feeling better the past couple of days and have been good about sticking to bland foods, I thought a cupcake might be a nice way to ease back into more complex food ;) A lot of rationalizing went on if you can tell lol Anyway, The Cupcake Lounge was amazing and I can't wait to go back! I'll give you the link to their website so you can see all the options they have: (click on the "Order" tab to see all the flavors).

Here's how it works: they have a number of flavors that they make every day, and then flavors that they just do on a specific day of the week. Today was Wednesday so they had their "regular" daily flavors plus Chocolate Marshmallow Ganache, Lemon Coconut, Strawberry, Apple Dulce de Leche (I know someone who would have gotten that one! You know who you are! lol), and...Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter....How could I possibly resist that? ;) And, to add to the rationalizing, I figured that a peanut butter cupcake would be a perfect way to combine an ingredient that had been easy on my stomach during my sickness (I've been eating so much peanut butter!) with an ingredient that I had stayed away from: chocolate/sugar in general. It was meant to be and sooo worth it! :)

Their menu (I got this picture online, so I think the daily flavors may have changed slightly since the time the picture was taken, but this is still pretty much how it looked)

The display case :)

My Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cupcake - it was hard to be patient and take this picture before diving right in!

Here is a picture of their paper menu with all the descriptions of the flavors. I took this later when I got home.

Lol I know I sound obsessed with this place, but I can't help it! It was so good, and I can't wait to go back!

After running my errands, it was time for school, and so here are some pictures of Le Cordon Bleu in the snow:

We didn't do any baking today, and just had a lecture about flour, so no baking pictures to post, but I promise a description of the Yule/Christmas log is coming soon! :)