Saturday, April 30, 2011

Easter Eats

The cold weather is starting to dissipate, the flowers protruding from the thawed ground - it's finally spring! Winter sucks, terribly. What I miss most is the nice summer breeze, the fresh tomatoes, herbs and other delights growing in the garden or at the local farmer's markets (Dufferin Grove is my fav). I miss the freshness of summer, when everything is frozen in the boring, not to mention cold winter months. 
This Easter, for our usually small easter lunch, my mom excluded me from making savoury food. So off I went to design a dessert. With blood oranges slowly dissipating from markets, I wanted to take advantage of their deliciousness and colour. A sorbet was what I decided on.

I zested and removed the pith on a couple of the blood oranges, halved them and squeezed out the vibrant acidic juice.

Roughly following the instructions from an Alinea recipe for orange sorbet, the 250g of orange juice (not much considering it took 6 frickin' blood oranges!) joined 25g of water, 75g of sugar and a splash of lemon juice to substitute for the required citric acid. I added to this recipe the zest and ginger to infuse into the sorbet. Finally agar-agar was added to thicken and stabilize the mixture, helping to make it less granular.

The sorbet churning in my ice cream maker.
The finished and cooled sorbet base.

 The second component for my dish was sesame oil powder, featuring the awesomeness of tapioca maltodextrin, the modified tapioca starch that can absorb any form of fat. It's pretty awesome, however to render the fat into a powder the purity of the fat can become lessened. The flavors diluted. Sesame oil being very strong was only slightly muted. One thing that is cool is that the flavor release is gradual, so that the powder must dissolve before the sesame flavor is released.

15g of sesame oil joined 6g of tapioca maltodextrin in my mini-food processor. The processor was mainly empty and was useless so I just mixed it together with a spoon. The best way to mix it though is by using dry hands and crumbling the mixture until the fat is absorbed. The powder was sweetened to taste with powdered sugar and a pinch of salt. Finally the powder was pressed through a sieve to separate it into a powder.
The finished pressed sesame oil powder

My final component? A spherical orb of ginger tea. Again following an Alinea recipe (the book is awesome). 32g of ginger was sliced, peeled and steepedwith 150g of 37g of sugar, and 2g of calcium lactate. The mixture of frozen in an ice cube tray so the orbs would be identical.

Easter Sunday quickly arrived and the stuffed leg of lamb was roasting with the potatoes and bone marrow, that I bought to spread on bread instead of butter. The bones went in the oven at 400 for 30 minutes of until the marrow was jiggly, warm and cooked mostly through. The marrow was scooped out and spread on crusty, toasted bread and finished with maldon sea salt. Rich, warm, fatty and sinful. I don't want to think about the cholesterol in those bones...

My family finished the savoury foods and my palate-cleanser was plated. The ginger orbs were spherified in the sodium alginate water, but only two made it out of the water whole. Note to self: always use low calcium water, as tap water will gel when the sodium alginate is dissolved.

The sorbet was light and acidic. There was not much of it when I churned it, so I added some water which kinda diluted the flavors...The sesame oil powder was sweet and added a subtle nuttiness to the refreshing sorbet. The ginger orb was beautiful. It burst like a water-balloon releasing the piquant ginger flavoured tea. It was cleansing, but not totally successful in total as a dish. The ginger orbs would be awesome in an amuse-bouche or a small dessert meant to be eaten in one bite. The diner would have the orb explode in their mouth releasing a gush of liquid...

Next thing I'm making: PORK BELLY!

Friday, April 22, 2011


For a recent assignment for Spanish class, we had to research a Spanish/Latin dish and bring it into class. I choose to do arepas, a Venezuelan stuffed corn bread. The arepa itself is made with a special masa harina flour, specifically for making arepas. To make the dough I combined about 6 cups of the pre-cooked cornmeal with around 4 cups of water and a good pinch of salt in my kitchen-aid stand mixer. Because of the absense of gluten, the dough never really compiled into a ball, however it could be compacted easily and rolled out by hand.

I then rolled the dough into balls and flattened them until they were about half an inch thick. The dough had a smooth crumbly texture which allowed for easy shaping. Thirty-two arepas later and they were ready to fry.

Frying them went smoothly and rendered them crispy on the outside. The aromas emanating from the arepas smelled like polenta; a complex, toasty corn aroma. The frying process took around 1 hour and left them ready to bake. They went into the oven at 375F for 15 minutes. Now on to the fillings...

Traditional arepas fillings include scrambled eggs with tomato, peppers and onion and black bean with crumbled queso. My fillings of choice, however not entirely authentic, were slow-cooked black beans, soft goat cheese and a cabbage slaw with several latin flavours.
The slaw was a mixture of mandolined cabbage and carrot, and chopped cilantro. The vinaigrette was comprised of an emulsion was olive oil, lime juice, minced whole chipotle peppers, black pepper and salt.

The black beans, I soaked over-night in water and cooked until tender on the stove-top with garlic and salt. Homemade beans just don`t compare to mushy beans that taste of aluminum can...

Lastly, it was all topped off with a soft goat`s cheese...

The whole thing was good. I`m not sure how it compares to the real arepas, but I had fun making them.
The actual arepas was decent, but had a somewhat dense, chewy texture. By next morning, when I brought them into class, they were no longer crispy. The slaw was excellent; crunchy, acidic, fresh and light. After marinading over-night the flavours had completely been absorbed by the cabbage, attaining almost a very light pickle on the cabbage. The goat`s cheese added a lusciousness to the textures in the arepa, and a subtle goaty flavor. The black beans added earthiness. Most of them were gone by the time I came home after-school, but a few remained for me and my family. I`ve got to try the real deal ones ASAP.
The completed dish.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Green Toronto Awards!

Last night, I was at the Green Toronto Awards. For my involvement in Greenest City, I was nominated along with the rest of the Youth Mentors for the Youth Leadership category. After school, on Mondays we spend our time to help run the Growing the Future program, where we teach youth how to cook, eat and grow food sustainably. We arrived at 5:15 and headed straight for the reception area. There was some hors d'oeuvre-ish nibbles to snack on and some spring rolls and chow mein. Basically, we just talked to some people there in different organizations and they congratulated us and said they would cheer for us.

That's me in the plaid shirt!
 After talking and eating, it was time for the awards to start! We headed to the stage at the back of the Direct Energy Centre and waiting for it to start. The MC's for the ceremony were from CP24 and The Toronto Star. Different presenters came on announce the winners. After half an hour, our category soon approached. There was a musical performance by Alyssa Reid half way through the presentations, which was very good, however the sound quality was terrible. At last, our award was next! The representatives of each of the nominees were allowed up and a brief video was played describing why we were nominated. I was really confident we would win, I thought there was no way we'd get our asses kicked...
The video finished and the presenter walked to the mic and announced; "and the winner of the Youth Leadership is..............(he shuffled the envelope and pulled out paper)....YOUTH MENTORS, Greenest City!."
All of us, being in the stands stood up and made our presence be known, we cheered and applauded ourselves for kicking ass.

The rest of the categories soon passed by and the ceremony was over. We took some pictures and got filmed by CP24, as we were the youth (and eco-friendly youth make good news on TV). It was AWESOME, we won 5,000 dollars to help continue our environmentally conscious work at Greenest City, and won recognition for our efforts. After, we hung around a bit took more pictures, and left to go home. Thank you to Emma for nominating us and the judges for selecting us to win! Altogether it was an awesome experience!
The trophy and certificate proving that we won!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Birthday Cake Reinvented?

For the past two days we've been preparing for our annual family birthday party where we celebrate the birthdays of my sister and me. Instead of having a standard, commonplace chocolate cake that is practically universal at birthday's everywhere, I been thinking of adding some creativity to the often boring birthday cake...

The actual cake itself was a molten chocolate cake, a simple combination of 18 ounces of chocolate and what seems to be a mountain of butter (it's a special occasion right?), eggs, sugar, and a pinch of salt. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler and combine with eggs before baking at 400 degrees Fahrenheit.


Mango, being one of my favorite fruits and being a natural pair with the dark complexity of chocolate was one of the garnishes I had to include in my dish. I pureed about 280g of mango with sugar and lime juice, strained it and thickened it with UltraTex 3, a modified tapioca starch available online. It is very useful and simple; add a small amount to the desired medium before blending, no cooking required. Especially awesome for fresh sauces where you'd would to preserve the fresh flavour a fruit or vegetable.

Ice Cream is a favourite of mine to make at home. It is simple and the results speak for themselves. To complement the chocolate and tropical flavours of the mango, I decided to whip up some coconut ice cream. 680g of coconut milk were reduced over medium heat for about 45 minutes, until it was thick and reduced by a third. After the reduction, I added 80g of sugar and some homemade vanilla extract, made by infusing Tahitian vanilla beans in vodka. Finally it was frozen in my ice cream maker. Too bad I didn't have any liquid nitrogen hanging around...

Thanks to my recently arrived shipment of modern cooking ingredients from Willpowder I wanted to add some cool techiniques into this dish. Peanut butter being a staple in my diet, had to make it on to this plate. By combining peanut butter with tapioca maltodextrin, a modified tapioca starch, and icing sugar, I created a fluffy, dry powder that tasted of peanut butter and reconstituted in your mouth back into peanut butter. YUM.
With all these decadent components going on, the chocolate cake, peanut butter and viscous ice cream, this dish needed something to cut through the richness after all that celebratory food. Cilantro was the answer to the problem. I decided a foam would be the form that cilantro would take on the plate. After blanching a  bunch of cilantro, I pureed it with some of it's cooking liquid, then strained it through a sieve, then press through a tamis (my ghetto tamis is a frying-guard normally used to prevent oil from splashing. It works very well and saves me 50 bucks.). The liquid (115g) I blended with 1.15g of soy lecithin and sugar with an immersion blender to produce a puffed stable froth that was beautifully tinted with chlorophyll  from the cilantro.

Having some pineapple hanging around, I made some caramelized pineapple. About 100g of sugar and some rum, went over medium-high, until amber and browned. The pineapple was "seared" in the caramel, before I added some more rum and let the pineapple soften in the beautiful caramel. The results? A tender golden slab of sweet pineapple.

The final component of my dish was a lime fluid gel. Gathering some inspiration from my Colborne Lane experience, I combined 60g of lime juice with 70g water, 90g of sugar, 10g of ginger and 2g of agar-agar, a seaweed extract used as the gelling agent, available almost universally in health food stores as vegan "gello".

The final dish above. Plating took forever, as I did it solo with 12 individual plates and too many components. In the end, it was worth the effort, even though some of the molten cake were slightly over-baked (I didn't have enough ramekins, so I baked them in tin, so they cooked faster). The acidity in the mango puree mixed with the goey chocolate cake was balanced and perfect. The ice cream was one of the best components, slightly-sweet and silky with a nuttiness from the reduced coconut milk. The peanut butter powder was awesome, a small touch with the cake reconstituted creating chocolate and peanut heaven. The cilantro was a misstep. Most of my guests didn't want it or like it. I though it was good, but I should have gone with a pudding with UltraTex 3 instead of a foam with soy lecithin, as the froth did not deliver the full potential of the herbaceous green sauce. My other mistake: over thinking this dish. Too many components or too small a plate. In the end, a great birthday dessert. All the guests really enjoyed it. Now, I'm off to make some more! (I have leftover batter)


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Colborne Lane Tasting Menu Review

 I`ve been interested in modern cooking techniques, for some time now. Colborne Lane in Toronto, incorporates these techniques into their dishes, so I decided that since my birthday has come around I want to go and experience them from someone more experienced than I. The executive chef and owner, Claudio Aprile has briefly staged at El Bulli, and has worked at Alinea, two of the leading restaurants practising avant-garde techniques and two of the best in the world.

On walking into the restaurant, it is an intimate setting, not too bright. Background music resonates through the modern, hip, industrial looking space. There is no air of pretension or snobbishness, it is quite casual considering the complexity and intricacy of the food. The waitstaff are friendly and informative. After being sat at our table, we explained that we would be having the 10-course tasting menu. Bread was served - an aerated bread stick with pumpkin seeds and focaccia. Both good.

The first course of the night quickly arrived: salmon sashimi garnished with avocado puree, cauliflower puree, pickled cauliflower, cucumber, radish, crispy nori and poppy seed powder. The texture of the salmon was buttery and velvetly, without any trace of fishiness. The cauliflower puree was smooth, rich and left a touch of heat on the toungue. The dehydrated nori was excellent, crisp, light and naturally salty. The poppy seed powder added a slight nuttiness. Awesome dish, nicely composed and executed.

The second course was steak tartare beneath lightly pickled frisee, bread "crisp", salsa verde gel and horseradish ice cream. The tartare had the pleasant chewiness of raw beef with bits of minced caper. Horseradish ice cream was luxurious and had a beautiful touch of horseradish flavour without overwhelming the delicate, but balanced flavors of this dish. The pickled frisee was crisp, fresh and added both acidity and freshness which lightened the dish. The bread crisp was extremely thin and crunchy, evidently cut on a meat slicer and toasted. Excellent dish, the horseradish added something unique to the plate.

One of the best dishes of many memorable ones, the thrid course brought a single seared scallop, unctuous and succulent, drizzled with sweet chili dressing and topped with liquid nitrogen frozen creme fraiche pearls. The dressing had a complexity belonging caramelized sugar and reinforced the natural sweetness of fresh scallops. The creme fraiche pearls provided a silky and cold counterpoint to the perfectly cooked warm scallop. Accompaniments included a light coconut powder, made with coconut oil and tapioca maltodextrin, and orange and serrano chili salsa. The green puree was slightly bitter and overall could have been left out as well as the quenelle of something on the plate. Assertive, strongly flavoured dish. Really outstanding.

The fourth course, my favorite of the night, I didn't photograph =(. It was a soup of squash with caramelized maple syrup, shredded duck confit, verjus gelee, brown butter powder and compressed asain pear. The presentation was unique, as the bowl with only the wafer of maple tuile and the garishes was placed in front of us before the squash puree was added and the tuile instantly dissolved into the broth, releasing all of the garnishes into the soup. The soup was rich, sweet, earthy and incredibly well balanced. The duck confit added a saltiness to the soup and contrasted with the sweet flavours. The asian pear was compressed in a vacuum packer and provided excellent textural relief from the fluid soup. Fuckin` GOOD.

The fifth course, a deconstructed beet salad cleansed the palate after the heaviness of the fourth course and was a bridge leading into the heavier main courses. Complete with four kinds of beets, some sliced thin and served raw, some cooked, (I think cooked sous-vide)  fennel sponge, crushed pecans, beet gel, dehydrated beet dirt and aerated goat's cheese. The beets were lightly dressed and cooked beautifully.  The most flavorful component - the aerated cheese - light and refreshing, showcased the lightness and delicacy of goat cheese. After eating so many aerated things, I feel like buying an Isi canister...Back to the dish, the fennel sponge was cool but was cold temperature-wise. The beet gel was incredibly clear and smooth. Not the best of the night.

The sixth course was Artic char with cauliflower puree, leek foam, braised leek, lemon gel, beluga lentils and seared king oyster mushroom. The fish was a perfect medium rare, and wore a delicate coating of fabulously crisp skin. The braised leek was slightly stringy and lacking in flavour, the mushroom underseasoned, however the perfectly cooked fish, lentils and cauliflower puree more than compensated. I noticed that the cauliflower puree was different from the one in the first course; it shows how attentive they are to details. The lemon gel had a delightful texture and tasted purely of lemon. Really really good.

This was my least favourite course. Sous-vide lamb, manchego cheese polenta cake, smoked tomato puree,  opal basil gel, mushroom and rapini ragout and lamb reduction. It was one of the more conventional dishes, but it didn't come together very well. The lamb was well cooked, but was underseasoned. The opal basil gel was fragrant, but the gelling of it reduced it`s flavour. The ragout was good. The best components were the manchego cheese polenta, which crumbled once eaten and tasted complexly of manchego cheese and cornmeal, two tastes that meld together easily, as well as the smoked tomato puree which was perfectly smoked and tasted purely of the sweetness of tomato mixed with a slight hint of smoke. All things considered a good dish.

The first dessert; refreshing, balanced, tart and sweet - all about the deliciousness that is citrus. A liquid nitrogen-frozen snowball of lemon foam atop a balanced lemon curd with lemon pearls, again frozen in liquid nitrogen (who doesn't like that?) accompanied with fresh grapefruit salsa. The snowball looked like a snowball you'd throw, but the intense, yet delicate flavor would convince you otherwise. The exterior hard as ice, the inside soft and pillowy. Everything component tasted like the essence of lemon, presented differently, all balanced and not too sour. My favorite dessert.

The last plated course, liquid nitrogen ice cream prepared tableside. White chocolate creme friache, with aerated pumkin flan, glazed cranberries, cranberry fluid gel, granola crumble, lemon gel, and cranberry consomme. The ice cream was the smoothest I've ever eaten, like freakin' butter, it just dissolved thanks to the ultra-fast freeze in liquid nitrogen. Flavour-wise the ice cream could have been sweeter because you could one taste the creme fraiche, not a touch of white chocolate. The cranberry gel was excellent, sweet and sour. The aerated pumpkin flan, was light fluffy and slightly earty without distracting from the ice cream.  I was sad that such a great experience had to end...Excellent dish.

The entire experience was very enjoyable. I was only slightly hungry when I arrived and very full when I left. While there, I was introduced to new flavour profiles and got to judge the food and refine my palate. I hope that this experience will teach me more about the complexities of food, and how to assemble a cohesive dish, what works and what doesn`t. I feel that I left knowing more than when I arrived, not to mention that I experienced some truly extraordinary dishes. Thank you, Claudio Aprile and staff for crafting a very memorable meal and my Mom who paid for it...