Friday, October 28, 2011

Butter makes everything better ;)

Today was pretty much the day I have been waiting for since the start of culinary school. When I got my schedule the first day of classes, I highlighted and circled and starred October 28th.

Today, everyone, was French pastry day.

That means that today we did croissants, pains au chocolat (chocolate filled pastries), brioche (several different varieties), pain aux raisins (raisin bread), and danishes (several different varieties as well). It was a good, good day. (Especially because it gave me motivation to get out of bed at 7am and walk to school in the -4 (yes, *negative four*) degree weather. No snow, but it was *very* cold. As a side note, this cold weather came completely out of the blue! It has been in the 40s and 30s, and this morning it just decided to drop to the negatives. Oh, Ottawa.)

Anyway, on to more important things like delicious French pastries! Here are some interesting food facts I learned:

- The French language has words for a dough with butter inside ("paton") and a dough without butter inside ("detrempe"). I know there's the whole French/American tension thing, but really, how bad can they really be if they have words for that??

- Ever wondered why croissants are shaped in a crescent shape? Well, in 1686, the city of Budapest, Hungary was being attached by the Turks. One night, there was a baker working in an underground bakery (apparently, all bakers worked underground in these days - it was cooler down there!) and he heard some strange rumbling noises. He immediately alerted the city's military leaders, who came and found that the Turks were trying to get into the city by tunneling under the city's walls. There was a battle and the Hungarians were able to eventually destroy the Turks' underground tunnel. The baker became a hero, and he decided to bake a special pastry commemorating the fight. The pastry, the first "croissant," was shaped like a crescent, the symbol on the Turkish flag, and whenever it was consumed by the Hungarians, the joke was that the Hungarians were eating the Turks for lunch!

- Salt deactivates yeast, so yeast should never be in direct contact with salt and allowed to just sit. If you are making a dough that has both salt and yeast in it, you must add the salt to the flour, mix well, *then* add the yeast while constantly mixing to make sure it is all incorporated.

- There is a different technique for kneading each kind of dough! Before today, I honestly just thought there was one way to knead, but I was very wrong!

- And, when you are kneading the dough, do not be afraid to really put energy into it! At first, I was being really gentle because I didn't want to "disturb" the dough, but Chef came and told me to just go for it - think of something that makes you angry and punch it! He joked that "Cuisine" makes him angry lol - there is this rivalry here between pastry chefs and cuisine chefs - so when he pounded out the dough in demonstration, he kept saying "Cuisine...I hate cuisine" each time he punched the dough lol

- Never forget your egg wash when baking something! It makes it look so much prettier when it comes out of the oven - shiny and golden!

- And, most importantly, there is an *absurd* amount of butter in French pastries! We are talking Paula Dean amounts of butter! I can't believe all the butter really fit into the dough! No one was complaining though ;)

I am completely exhausted from all the physical labor today, but I am really happy with the outcome! So is my stomach! ;)

Here are the pictures:

Chef putting the little Brioche Tetes into the tart dishes.

Braided Brioche!

Chef getting everything out of the oven and ready for the final presentation! (Our mouths were watering at this point - the room smelled sooo good!)

Chef's final presentation! The day before he told us all to bring coffee to demonstration this morning because we would be having a "breakfast buffet"! lol

Up close shot of Chef's *delicious* pastries! I was praying mine would look half this good!

Now, time for Practical:

Getting everything out of the oven and onto cooling racks during practical! I was so exhausted by this point, but really happy with my products! My croissants and pains au chocolat are in the far back left (behind the bread loaf thing, which is called a "brioche nanterre"), then my brioche tetes are in front of the loaf and the braided brioche is next. On the right side, the little cinnamon roll looking things are my pains aux raisins.

It looked (and smelled) like a bakery in practical today!

Up close shot of some of my pastries! The loaf/brioche nanterre is in the back, the brioche tetes are on either side, and the braid is in front with some pains aux raisins on top!

My second plate of pastries: the pains au chocolat (chocolate pastries) are in the center, and the croissants and more pains aux raisins are around the circumference.

My final presentation! Now let's eat! ;)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Trip to the Market

Hey everyone :)

I think I've had about 6 cups of tea today - that's a lot even for me! I've loaded up on cough drops and gotten as much rest as I can. However, I have not been able to shake this nasty cold I've now had for about 3 days :( It's probably the weather change and the fact that I'm living in a house with 15 people, so sickness spreads quickly (a few other people in the house aren't feeling well either). Anyway, this icky cold has kinda hindered my ability to go out and explore the city, but I *was* able to get a library card today (woohoo!)! And even better, I was able to get what is called a "Sm@rtcard" which is basically an "all access" pass to the libraries in Ottawa (including the University of Ottawa Library!). Technically speaking, the guy wasn't supposed to give me a "Sm@rtcard" - they are really only for full-time residents and not for people only staying here a few months. The card I was supposed to have gotten is a "basic pass" that would only allow me to access the public libraries (not the University library), check out 3 books at a time, and costs $5 a month.

*However*, by playing up my "cute-I'm-not-from-here-I-just-really-love-to-read-and-I'm-also-feeling-sick-today" card, I was able to convince the guy to give me a "Sm@ardcard." WIN.

Yes, I cheated the system, but I meant no harm, and I really *do* love to read, and I really *was* feeling sick today, and I will be a good book borrower, so I think it's ok ;)

Anyway, since not that much happened today, I'll share some pictures from over the weekend when my friends Kristina, Beth, and I went to the ByWard Market :) The ByWard Market is basically this HUGE farmer's market right in the city! There are outdoor booths with vendors selling everything from apples to lobster to earrings! There are also indoor shops and restaurants that line either side of the street. There are bakeries, tea stores, cheese shops, fish markets - everything you could want! The thing is though - the outdoor part is only open until the end of October because of the winter weather. I'll be able to go back to the indoor shops when I'm here during November and December, but this was probably my only chance to go to the outdoor part, so I'm glad I got to go! Even though it was a bit chilly, we had a really good time - I especially thought all the fresh produce looked so beautiful and autumny!

Welcome to the Market!

Pretty flowers!

There were so many vendors!

YUM ;)

Fresh produce

Did *you* know that cauliflower can be purple?? I didn't!

I love these mini-pumpkins!

Fall colors everywhere

It's hard to believe this will soon be covered in snow


Monday, October 24, 2011

Edible Art!

Hey everyone :)

The weather is definitely getting colder here - one girl in class this morning announced to our class that it is supposed to *snow* this Thursday! The news, as I'm sure you can imagine, was well-received by everyone...especially since this was around 8 o'clock on a Monday morning. ;)

Honestly, though, I'm kinda looking forward to the snow - I don't know if I'm ready for it to snow on Thursday per say, but I'm excited for all the winter activities I'll get to do - I really want to go snowshoeing! I heard about it at Cornell, but I never got to try it! Apparently it is a really popular thing to do in Ottawa, so I'm looking forward to trying it! I also might give a go at skiing! Several of the people I have met here are *in love* with skiing and have been talking about going once it gets colder. Again, apparently there are some really good places to ski nearby, and this is also something I've wanted to do since my freshman year at Cornell, but never got the chance to try, so maybe I'll get to this winter!

Anyway, despite the unpleasant announcement that began class this morning, the rest of the class went really well! Today we worked in the practical kitchen and got to try out our piping skills! We practiced piping buttercream (Italian buttercream, that is) and chocolate :) It was a really fun class and was basically like an art class, except instead of paint, we got to use icing and chocolate! The Chef demonstrated some piping techniques at the beginning of the class, and after that, the rest of the time was ours. Chef told us we could be as creative as we wanted, but it seemed like most people stuck to copying what he did, especially with the buttercream. We're all basically beginners, so it's hard to really be that creative yet when we haven't had all that much experience. I *did* get a little creative with the chocolate in the end though... ;)

Chef's demonstration with the buttercream - the ones at the top are stars, then the next level down are rosettes, then after that he did various "shell" patterns, any of which we can use to decorate the circumference of cakes.

Chef's demonstration with the chocolate - he made the palm tree for me, the "Florida girl"! lol

At first I tried doing all the fancy swirly loop things with the chocolate, but it is harder than it looks - you have to hold the chocolate piping tool just so and you have to be fairly quick because the chocolate hardens in seconds! Anyway, I was getting a bit frustrated with it, but Chef came over, saw my frustration with the swirly patterns, and asked me if I ever doodled any shapes or anything with a pencil on paper. I said I did, and he asked me what it was that I doodled the most. Actually, I told him, I *always* seem to doodle palm trees and beach landscapes - not necessarily swirly lines or geometric shapes. "Then, that is what you should try with the chocolate!" he told me. "Start by doing what you are the most comfortable with."

So that's what I did! Once I was done, Chef came over to see it my beach landscape and said it was wonderfully detailed! After that, everyone wanted to come over and see my "artwork" - it's funny though because I think they all thought I had some kind of knack for chocolate decorating when all I did was what I was most comfortable with lol

My home :)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Chef gave us lemons, so we made tarts :)

Good evening everyone!

I can't wait any longer to tell you about Friday's class...I made a lemon tart! This is definitely the most "involved" dessert I have ever made - and I did it all from scratch and by hand! I've felt happy with my work before, but that work has mostly been academic - intangible ideas or thoughts that I've expressed in essays. Making this tart, though, was different. I actually made something. And that something can be eaten which makes it even better! ;)

In demonstration, the Chef taught us how to make 3 different kinds of tarts: a strawberry tart, an apple tart, and, of course, the lemon tart that we had to make later in practical.

Here is the white board that the Chef used to outline what we were learning today - see all the French words? ;)

Chef rolling out the dough for the strawberry tart!

The finished strawberry tart! It was delicious!

Chef putting the apples into the apple tart.

The finished apple tart - I love the design he did in the middle!

Chef's Lemon Tart with Italian Meringue on top! I was hoping mine would turn out this well! It looks so pretty with the golden brown meringue and almonds on top!

After demo, we had a couple of hours before practical, so I took that time to go over my notes and grab some lunch. Chef told us that today was the first day we would really be graded on our products. The dishes we have been making before this have been "building blocks" - we've done doughs, fillings, and basic shortbreads, but today we had to use these building blocks to make one entire dessert. I could definitely feel a bit of nervousness in the practical room when I walked in - I was feeling nervous too!

Everything went really well though! My tart wasn't *perfect*, but I was really proud of it!

My tart before it went into the oven to crisp up a bit! (To toast the meringue and almonds on top, the oven had to be set to 500 degrees Fahrenheit! I don't think I've ever cooked anything at such a high temperature before this! We even had to use 2 baking sheets because at that high of a temperature, the baking sheets will actually get so hot that they can bend over! Using two gives more support.)

My tart out of the oven and ready for presentation to the Chef! He liked it a lot and said I did very well!

My arms were so sore from all the hand kneading, mixing, and egg-white beating, but I didn't even care! I was so excited! lol

My friend Rafi and me :)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Day in Pictures

Hey everyone :) I don't have a lot of time to write a bunch right now, but here are some pictures I took this Thursday of my bedroom and Le Cordon Bleu. Thursday class started early at 8:15am :( But it was ok because we learned how to make a few different kinds of pastry cream and chocolate ganache! :D

Enjoy the pictures, and I'll write more soon! :)

My bedroom door!

Zooming in :)

My bed and desk

Up close shot of my desk

My dresser - and no, it's not nighttime - it's so dark outside because it is early in the morning!

Yes, this was taken at 7:26am :( lol You can see some of my books on the the left and all my Gilmore Girls DVDs on the shelf in the center. I had to take them with me! ;)

The door on the left is my closet door, in the middle is my sink, and the door on the right is the door to my room.

This is one of the industrial kitchens we use for practicals - it looks so intense!

Here is my work station after practical had ended. We had made pastry cream and chocolate ganache (those are in the plastic wrapping next to my knife kit). Yes, that big black bag is *loaded* with knives. My balloon whisk is on the other side of the pastry cream and ganache (we use that for whipping egg-whites for meringues), and my notebook is on the far right.

Le Cordon Bleu!

I think it's a really pretty building. It's a renovated old house :)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

American Buttercream in the Eyes of the French

Hey everyone :)

Today all the Basic Cuisine and Basic Pastry students had to go to a lecture about HACCP, or Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, the management system used in Canada that addresses food safety through the analysis and control of biological, chemical, and physical hazards. Basically, it was a lecture about food safety and sanitization procedures. It was an important lecture for sure, but still, after sitting in one room for 3+ hours (the lecturer went over time by about 35 minutes or so, to everyone's dismay except the one girl in the front who couldn't wait until the lecture was over to ask her incredibly long list of questions), everyone was getting tired (we'd been awake since 7am or so), hungry (we're culinary students after all!), and hot (the temperature of the room had been turned up one notch too much we all agreed).

Anyway, class was pretty uneventful, but I did learn that one of the principal ways food can become contaminated is when it is at the wrong temperature. There exists what is called a "Danger Zone" for food and that is between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Food (at least prepared food, fresh produce, fresh protein, etc.) is only "allowed" to be kept within the danger zone for 4 hours. After 4 hours, according to the lecturer, the food may become contaminated and might thus be unsafe for consumption.

I also learned that out of all the proteins, eggs are the "safest" in that they are the least likely to be contaminated (compared to beef, pork, chicken, etc.)

Also, I didn't learn this in class, but later when I came home and was talking to a few of the Superior Level Pastry students, I learned that there are actually 2 kinds of buttercream icing (which as many of you might know is my favorite kind lol): buttercream made with egg whites and buttercream made with egg yolks. The difference is in the texture and color: egg-white buttercream is lighter and fluffier and whiter, while egg-yolk buttercream is heavier and thicker and more yellow in color. In considering this, I began to wonder what kind of buttercream I'd been eating (and very much enjoying!) my whole life - was it the kind made with egg-whites or egg-yolks? When I asked for my housemates' opinions they looked at each other, smiled/snickered (politely though!) and said that if what I was asking about was "American buttercream," what I'd been enjoying my whole life probably wasn't even "real" buttercream at all. "You Americans use Crisco in *everything*," Chantal, one of the girls said. "Most of your buttercreams are light on the butter, heavy on the Crisco and fat, and extremely heavy in the sugar, while more 'traditional' buttercreams, like you'll learn how to make at Le Cordon Bleu, are made from 100% butter, sugar, although less sugar than is used in America, eggs, and maybe a pinch or too of vanilla extract."


Somehow that does not surprise me lol but you know what? I still stand by my fake American buttercream! You have to admit, it's delicious ;)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Rideau Centre

Hi everyone!

As I'm typing this, I'm enjoying my *second* slice of a mousse-cake-log that the students in the Superior Level Pastry class brought home from school today. I just realized I should have taken a picture to show you all, but I found one on the internet that is pretty close:

It is very good :) I hope I'll be able to make something like this one day - just so I can eat it again!

Today was a good day and a big improvement from yesterday :) The Basic Level Pastry students had the day off today, so I took the day to do a bit of exploring and a lot of laundry!

In the afternoon, I took a walk down to the big shopping center here called the Rideau Centre. It's this HUGE shopping mall on Rideau Street (which as far as I can tell is one of the "main" streets in Ottawa) with practically every store you can think of! I've been here once before with some friends, but we had driven and didn't stay very long. It wasn't a bad walk at all (about 20 minutes or so) and the weather was nice - chilly and autumny - but very pleasant! A random observation: One thing I've noticed in Ottawa is that street signs (and most signs in general) are in both English and French. Ottawa is very close to Montreal (the French-speaking providence of Canada), so that makes sense I guess, but I just found it interesting! Also, it seems like the city in general is soooo multi-cultural. Just from the little bit of walking around I did in the mall today, I heard probably about 10 different languages! Anyway, here are some pictures of some pretty fall trees I took on my walk and at the mall:

This is the house I'm living in - 476 Wilbrod Street :) - it's actually an old convent

This is kinda hard to see, but if you look to the left of that hole in the tree, you can see a bushy black tail. There are these animals here that look like squirrels, but they are all black! I've never seen a black squirrel before Ottawa, but I think that's what they are!

Fall on Wilbrod Street :)

I thought this tree was so pretty!

On an elevated sidewalk connecting one part of the mall to another - this is Rideau Street.

The clouds were so crazy - I couldn't tell if it would rain or not! Ps. In the distance on the right, can you see the buildings with the green roofs? Those are the Parliament buildings!

I needed to pick up a few items for class (an extra spatula, some dish towels, etc.), so I was able to get all that done at the mall and then just explore a little bit before coming back home. Before I left for home, though, I did stop at the food court for something from Tim Hortons, which I've been wanting to try because everyone has been telling me it's "the place to go" in Canada for coffee! I'm not a coffee-drinker, though, so I got some hot tea, which was still *very* good!

I have class at 8am tomorrow :( so my plans for this evening just include some laundry, Lolita reading (I finally have a copy of the book - I've been wanting to read it since sophomore year of college!), and hanging out with people in the house so I can get to bed at a good time :)

Before I go though, here is a quote from my calendar today that inspired me to try to follow my passions in life as much as I can: "The biggest mistake people make in life is not trying to make a living at doing what they most enjoy" (Malcolm S. Forbes). I don't necessarily think I can just through all caution to the wind and follow each one of my passions to the fullest and make a stable career out of all of them (because there are financial constraints, etc. that can be a bit hindering). *However* I do believe that even with the constraints, it is still possible for me to, excuse the cliche, "follow my heart" and find a career that is personally fulfilling and which I can truly enjoy. It might not be the most well-paid career, but at the end of the day, if I am happy about what I am doing, that is what most matters to me. I might sound naive, but right now, my 23-year-old self truly believes that and believes it is possible to do that. As many of you know, starting in middle school and up until my sophomore year at Cornell, I was on a "pre-med" track. However, it got to the point where I wasn't even keeping my mind open to other careers or passions, but was simply allowing myself to become "stuck" on this track. (Don't get me wrong, being a doctor is such an admirable profession, and I have a tremendous respect for doctors, but that career choice wasn't necessarily the right one for me.)

My sophomore year of college, I finally allowed myself to become open to other possibilities, but was afraid because I felt it was "too late" to change my mind. I felt like I had already chosen my path in life, and I would just have to see it through, and maybe explore my other passions during retirement. I was only 20 years old! It was scary at the time, but I just took a leap of faith, ignored the negative thinking, and decided to follow my "academic" heart and became an English major. This was one of the best decisions I've ever made because, this might sound funny, but I actually used my brain! I got off the "track" and used my brain to critically think about what I wanted to do. I was talking with one of my Cornell professors when I visited Cornell last month, and he told me that the biggest problem with Americans is that we are not critical thinkers. We live our lives and follow our tracks without ever questioning them or questioning ourselves. Now, I'm not saying that you should question every little thing you do, but every now and then I think it's a good idea to question where you are in life in terms of your relationships with the "bigger" things in your life: your family, your friends, your career,... If you are not happy with how you are spending the majority of your time, maybe something should change. I realize that not everyone can feasibly just up and quit their careers, but I do think it is a good idea to at least be honest with yourself about what it is you really enjoy and care about and try - just try - to make that a bigger part of your life. This might just mean a mental change, but that's important too!

I think being in culinary school has really made me see that it is never really "too late" to make a change in your life. There are students here who are in their 40s and 50s who have been working in other careers, but realized that their true heart was in the kitchen, so they decided to switch careers. I don't know if my future career lies in the culinary arts, but I can't believe I was ready to "settle" into being a doctor at 20 years of age because I thought it was too late to change my mind! I really believe that it is never too late to change your way of thinking. Because of financial considerations, etc., you might not be able to just switch careers in a flash, but I think one of the biggest mistakes someone can make (and one which I made) is in not even being honest with yourself about where you are in your life and whether or not you are happy with what you are doing and how you are spending your time. I remember the night before I made my official decision to "drop" my biology major and switch to English, I made a list of what I cared about the most in my life. My family was the first on the list and my friends were next. Being a doctor wasn't even on the list, but finding a career that would allow me to be an active member of my family and be active in my friendships definitely was. So was a career that would allow me to read lots and lots of books. So maybe I'll be a chef or maybe I'll be a teacher or maybe I'll be something else I haven't even thought of yet, but I believe that if I can keep critically thinking and remembering my priorities, I will live a happy life and can help to make others around me happy too.