Sunday, 16 November 2014

Lambsickles (a.k.a.Lamb, Modena Style)

Lamb ... lamb ... what is not to love about lamb?

This delicious dish does not require huge amounts of lead time, but does take patience to be able to do well. Take heart, have fun and work carefully with the knives, especially when Frenching the bones!

To start ... go and buy a whole rack of lamb ... figure two or three bones per person, and racks come in at 8, sometimes 9, bones. (The racks available at Costco are a very good deal, and are worth buying one or two of. I always have a whole rack on hand in case someone shows up for dinner. They are halal as well, so go over very well in our kitchens at MPC!) Once you gain confidence working with lamb and racks, I encourage everyone to go to a local butcher and get fresh lamb from one of their local farmers. I buy my fresh Ontario lamb at either The Brickworks Farmers' market or at my favourite food store, Fiesta Farms.

Learn how to 'French' bones using the back of a knife, (not the working blade ... you'll wreck the edge), and patience. Be sure to cut the chops (we call them 'Lambsickles" because in class we eat them with our fingers) evenly thick so the cooking time is consistent.

Our 'dredge' (coating) is made with 'Italian' breadcrumbs, and we add the following: salt and pepper, a goodly amount of powdered parmegiano and make a chiffonade of fresh herbs (if we can get them) -- usually rosemary, thyme, oregano and basil (the Mediterranean Quadrivium). Others may prefer a sightly 'darker' mix, using sage, perhaps, and marjoram or tarragon.

Make your balsamic reduction from good product, not cheap stuff. You will always be able to taste the difference! Get good vinegar from Modena. Reduce, then let it thicken for you as it cools.

The final cooking is done quickly ... takes about 14 minutes from start to served. Our single biggest problem this semester was remembering to pre-heat the ovens beforehand AND pre-position the oven racks so the saute pans can fit in with their handles! (Note to the adventurous at home ... be sure your pans AND handles can go into the oven! Your sauté pan must go from stovetop to 375 degree oven in about 3 seconds.)

The photos presented are in order (top to bottom) of the lambsickles in the pan fresh from the oven, the preparation of the presentation plate and the final presented product of a pair of lambsickles and a pair of lamb poppers. The plates are prepared with balsamic reduction, and a little more is drizzled over the finished lambsickles. They were absolutely delicious!

Finally, we have VERY satisfied suctomers (so to speak). Today, we ate what we made. Congratulations, all!

(And just for the curious, this recipe is called 'Modena Style' because it uses a reduction of real Balsamic vinegar from Modena, Italy!)

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Chef Herbst Comes To Visit: Profiteroles & Black Forest Cake!

Again this semester Chef Walter Herbst is spending almost a week with us in the Monarch Park Kitchens. Thank you, Chef Herbst!

Learning to make Choux Paste is ... unsettling. It has to be done precisely, and the half-way point of making it renders a MOST un-appetising mess rolling around in a pot. Eeeuch! Who wants THAT stuff?

Well, add a few eggs, fill a piping bag and ... PRESTO! SHAZAM! Something magical can happen ... all you need next is heat.

Turns out EVERYBODY wants 'that stuff'.

Chef Herbst demonstrated (perfectly, of course) how to make choux paste.
Then the students tried ... almost a first-time home-run for every group! Congratulations, students. You didn't lose your nerve, and the final results were simply delicious, visually decadent and smelled grand!

Here is Leshaunda showing how it is done.

Everyone needed to practice with a piping bag, and although final results varied slightly, every group, every student, did a wonderful job. And some student tried making swans!

Our biggest problem was with the Chantilly Cream ... everyone argued about how much should be put into each profiterole ... and a little nutella was added (just for medicinal purposes, as one student earnestly assured me ... medicinal purposes ONLY, Chef!)

Thank you for everything, Chef Herbst. Now students are saying that they can do this at home! See what you've started?

For tomorrow ... we begin Black Forest Cake!

Monday, 3 November 2014

Cheese ... Cheese ... Cheese ... at The Cheese Boutique in Swansea

The Cheese Boutique in Swansea is not particularly easy to get to. For our MPC Culinary Arts students it meant either a train ride out to Runnymeade and a bus trip south, or a streetcar ride out along The Queensway to South Kingsway and a walk up. Either way, the destination is just SO worth the effort!

Afrim Pristine, like his Dad before him, is a member of the Cheese Knights: Order of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Taste Fromage de France. This may sound utterly weird and foreign to most people in north america ... but keep reading and learn. You, too, may choose to learn and learn enough to be welcomed into this particular Honourable Order. For details, read more here. Afrim is an 'affineur' of cheese ... a keeper, ager, ripener and cheese guide. He is a 'Cheese Sommelier'. The Cheese Boutique offers over 1,100 kinds of cheese for sale, along with a huge range of other products, from the mundane-but-necessary to the wildly-exotic.

Afrim and the Cheese Boutique staff welcomed us at about 09h30, and each student received a scavenger hunt sheet, and was given 30 minutes to go and explore, observe, ask questions and learn. The staff were fore-warned, and made our students very welcome indeed! Everyone was offered a morning tea and croissant, just to welcome them into the atmosphere of one of Toronto's most sophisticated food shops. Throughout the course our students will be introduced to several of these destinations, and offered the chance to try and develop a palate of exceptional quality, discernment and refinement (which does NOT have to cost a large amount!).

After discovering the warmer parts of the store, our MPC Culinary Arts students were welcomed into one of the three cheese caves of the Boutique, and with Afrim as our guide were introduced to the work of the affineur.
There is nothing else like what Afrim does, anywhere. He spends about 1/3 of his working day making sure the caves are working correctly, and ripening, ageing and preparing his cheeses for final presentation to clients, or looking after cheese which has already been sold to clients and is being held for them under ideal conditions. We saw an enormous cheese, one of the largest in the world, owned by MLSE, which is being held for the company (they have already bought it) until they have something decent to celebrate (like make it past the quarter-finals of the play-offs).

Finally, our students had a chance to step up and buy a bit of cheese for themselves, and Chef bought some for a tasting which will take place on Tuesday in class, with fresh baguettes.

The cheeses we will be enjoying during our formal, guided tasting are: Vento D'Estate, Comfort Cream, Picobello, Chevre Noir, Gruyere, Valencay, Taleggio, Niagara Gold, Morbier, Epoisses, Blue Juliette and Tiger Blue.
These have all been personally selected and cut for us by Afrim and his staff of cheese specialists.

And ... one extra, EXTRA-special treat ...

Just before leaving, Afrim took a whole small triple-cream Brie and split it sideways (into two thin wheels). Then, after explaining what a truffle is, he shaved two whole white truffles into the open top of the split cheese. The top was then repositioned, making a 'truffle sandwich' of the Brie. This beauty is sealed and locked up in Chef's frig, and we will enjoy it tomorrow at the end of our class.

For anyone in Toronto who does not know The Cheese Boutique, please find their website here.