Saturday, 24 January 2015

Final Exams and Chef-At-Home

Well now! The semester has lurched to an end and we all survived our own cooking!
How did THAT happen?

Remember five months ago, and that first class which always starts the semester ... "Make Me Cookies"? Everyone had their own take on what should happen, and almost nothing happened in over two hours ... we had a few burnt cookies, lots and lots of raw cookie dough (because no one came to turn on the ovens) ... and no real coordination between anyone.

Remember the second class, with the first demonstration (how to really make cookies), then the challenge to, again, "Make Me Cookies", and you were only given 40 minutes from cold start to finished product, and EVERYONE succeeded? I certainly do. It was the start of your success.

You have all come such a long way! Over the Christmas holidays and in early January each of you has successfully completed the "Chef-At-Home" project, cooking for your family for three days. Now every one of you has demonstrated your skills in our 5-hour Final Exam, creating at least 3 dishes from scratch. You have your menus, you have your memories, you have shown us all how wonderful, confident and skill-filled each of you now is. You have learnt a huge amount, and you have learnt it very well.

Now, here is my final challenge to each of you: Take your skills of strong focus, getting rid of distractions (which is why a professional kitchen does not have radio or music on), the ability to start AND finish something, and to receive encouraging compliments and accept them with both acknowledgement and gratitude, and apply all this to every other class you are going to take.
Apply these skills to your whole life. They will keep you honest, sharp, clear and determined. You will earn a wonderful reputation because you will have consistent and wonderful character.

Reputation is on the outside, character is on the inside. Guard your reputation with every good thing you can do, dear students ... in the end, it is all you will have to offer: Your personal qualities of honesty, integrity, knowledge, skill and honour.

Good Luck to each of you.

A HUGE thanks to our co-op student, Emmerson (a graduate of this program), and Chefs Ruby and Susan. You all make my work SO much better and smoother. Thank you!

Please do stay in touch!


Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Roast That Bird, and How to Make Fabulous Gravy

Well, it is THAT time of year, students and friends ... a variety of fowl will show up in our kitchens over the next few months and we'll be asked to do something with them.

A few months ago my partner (whom some students have just called "Mrs Chef") was reading through the autumn edition of Canadian House and Home. This magazine is frequently full of wonderful ideas for cooking, serving and generally creating a good home without going bust dong so. Each edition features a variety of excellent recipes. This recipe for roast turkey (or chicken, or duck) featured a cheesecloth veil with a hard cider infusion. Mrs Chef was interested! So, I tried it a few times at home, and decided to share it with my students just before Christmas holidays. It is simple, cost-conscious and a lovely no-fail recipe.

Here is the technique and rough go-through:
Fire up your oven, prepare your bird, hold it in the frig, create the cider infusion, measure and cut the cheesecloth veil, haul the bird out of the frig, drape the veil, fire the roasting pan into the oven and just let it roast for you! The details are in the recipe.

I have to be honest with students and tell them that I am NOT in favour of stuffing a bird (any sort) with anything and roasting it. My sense is that it is safer to make a separate dish (call it 'stuffing' if you want to) and co-roast it using some pan drippings or previously-made chicken stock. All I do with most birds is rinse the inside well with cold, cold water, then pour in quite a bit of salt and push it around with my fingers into all the cavity crevices. The bird is then put onto a rack in the roasting pan and about 4 - 8 slices of fresh lemon are put into the bird's cavity, and sometimes a few onion slices, too, but nothing else. These are not designed to be eaten. The lemon and onion are quite loose; the cavity should not be packed tightly at all. Then the veil goes on (or however I choose to do my bird) and into the oven it goes!

At the end of the roasting time, test the bird by trying to wriggle the drumsticks up and down a bit.
If they resist movement, leave the bird to roast more. If the movement is pretty free and easy, that bird is done. (And as Sean observed, if the drumstick comes off in your hands she is probably overdone! Quite right.)

Remove the veil carefully, not pulling hard at all. It will come off as one piece of cheesecloth and leave you with a tender, succulent bird. Let it rest on the counter for 15 minutes or so while you make gravy.

First, make a bit of a rue by melting some butter and whisking some flour to make a sloppy sort of ball you can push around in the pot. Add some of the roasting juices to this rue and thin it out, a bit at a time, whisking until the right consistency is achieved. Your hand-whisk is your friend for making a good gravy! Correct the taste with S/P. A dear friend sometimes adds a tiny bit of sherry. Serve this and mmm ... mmm ... good!


To give, someone once said, is more blessed than to receive. Our students had the opportunity to be wonderful givers just before their Christmas holidays ... the photo above shows a couple of large birds and two (of three) students who came out to work with Chef to make and feed Christmas dinner to the clients of H.O.T.T. (Housing Opening Today, Toronto).

On Saturday morning of 06 December Chef Susan Plummer met in the Monarch Park Kitchens with Chef Aller-Stead at 09h00 and together they got 4 huge turkeys (see photo again) into ovens, along with 5 smaller halal chickens, all with a delicious cider glaze set over them in a cheesecloth veil. Then the roasted vegetables were organized, then the potatoes. The cranberry sauce was made and when Chef Plummer left at just before noon everything was done. The delicious gravy was made with pan-drippings, per; tradition. Students had made the required creme anglaise the day before, and the dessert cookies (to be dipped into the creme anglaise). The salads were made on site at the last minute and all the equipment was lined up on counters to be stacked into Chef's creaking Subaru.

Tayson came in at 15h00 and helped with all the loading and the removal of the birds from the ovens and lifting of the veils. By 16h00 everything was loaded and Tayson scooted over to the event site on his own, to meet with Crystal and Steven there.

Chef's fabulous-smelling car rolled into the parking lot and backed into the loading dock, and in about 20 minutes everything was taken up into the kitchens for the HOTT family and community dinner!

All the HOTT staff and volunteers decorated the room with festive garlands and lights, and the guests started to drift in W-A-Y before the appointed time. This always happens, though, so we are ready for them. The music was on and the punch was made.

Almost 70 people finally came to table. Erin, a former student in the kitchen with Chef, kindy volunteered her time. It was just lovely to see Erin so well launched into her own career helping young people. We got the serving tables set up, plugged in our hotplates ... and ... blew all the fuses.


After a few bits of electrical juggling, the serving line-up started and everyone came to the groaning banquet tables. The chatterboxes talked a blue streak, the very quiet people came and nodded to our inquiries about more turkey, and did they wish gravy? For quite a few, home-made cranberry sauce (made with cranberries, oranges and a little sherry) was something they'd never had, ever, and a few were reluctant to try. Chef said "Just try it! If you don't like it, bring it back and you'll get a refund." A few young kids tried it and then dragged their parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles and cousins over to have some. We ran out of 12 litres of home-made cranberry sauce in about 30 minutes! Kids tore around, and music filled the air. It was a huge, riotous family doing what families do ... making memories together and lengthening the story of their days. It was tender, unruly, loud and quietly reflective.

It was, truly, the merriest of Christmasses.


Epilogue (written in January 2015): One of the senior HOTT staff came into the kitchen today with personal, hand-written thank-you cards for the students who had so generously given their time to HOTT (Tayson, Crystal and Steven), and Chef Plummer (who was honouring us again with a visit). There was even a card for Chef! In addition, a $100 donation was made by HOTT to our program.

Thank you, HOTT ! Your kind and generous support for our students and program is VERY appreciated. Happy Christmas and New Year to each of you, Bernadette, Lisa and Erin.