Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Pirate Cake

Stephen wanted to bring a pirate cake to school today as they were doing an all day pirate theme.   He baked and iced with his mother and Sheila last night and this morning to make the cake.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Stephen Making Jam

My 11 year old son discovered how easy it was to make jam. He sold several hundred dollars worth of jam in two days last summer. This summer he is planning on ramping up his production and selling more. Yesterday he used the $35 he got from babysitting Max to buy 5kg of strawberries from Galey Farms. He made this berries into 12 250 ml jars and 7 500 ml jars of jam. He hopes to sell this batch of jam for $142.

Stephen is amazed that not everyone makes their own jam at home.   He thinks it is easy to make and it tastes so much better than the store bought stuff.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Sandwich Corner Express

We decided the other weekend to spend some hours on Saturday looking at the commercial art galleries in town.  We reached lunch time and needed to eat.  We were right outside of the Sandwich Corner Express on View.

Sheila had eaten at the Courtney Street location and had liked it.

We were less than impressed and I think the best way to review the restaurant is to let the pictures speak.

A chicken sandwich made with processed chicken luncheon meat it seems
the bread was a grocery store generic sandwich loaf

This is meant to be some sort of Caesar Salad

This was not worth the price of the meal even if it was free.

Sandwich Corner Express on Urbanspoon

Cactus Club

I have been meaning to go to the Victoria Cactus Club Cafe for ages but the location at the corner of Douglas and Fort is not one I think of when thinking of where to get some food. I have been to the one at Broadway and Ash in Vancouver a couple of times and always been impressed.  

On Saturday afternoon we were in Beacon Hill Park for the photo part of Daniels Grad Dinner and Dance and when it finished we stopped at Sheila's sisters place who offered to look after Max so we could go eat.  I decided this was the day to go to the Cactus Club.

If I did not know the menu was largely created by Rob Fennie, I would not be going.   The restaurant has a 'party' feel to it, almost a Red Robin for more sophisticated 25-35 year old people without kids.  

I ordered a three course tasting meal, though tasting is not what this was, they were really full portions.  

The starter was fried wonton with chicken and then covered in a spicy sweet chill sauce.  It was more than big enough for the two of us to share.   My only complaint about the dish was that there was too much sauce on it.

My main was a place of squash ravioli with prawns on top.  This was then covered in a butter truffle sauce - it was a very good sauce but I honestly could not taste the truffle.   It was very good, almost to the level of wanting to like the plate to get all of the sauce.  

Sheila had the burger and fries and she was not impressed.  There was nothing wrong with it, it was just entirely forgettable.   Her biggest negative was that the burger was simply too full of stuff.

For the desert there was a small slice of Key Lime Pie that we shared.   Sheila had had their pie before and was looking forward to getting to have some of mine.

The more 'party' food seemed to be less impressive than the 'fancy' food.

Will we go back?   I am not sure, I liked it more than say Milestones or Earls but with Sheila not being impressed it is not likely to be any time soon.

  Cactus Club Cafe (Victoria) on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Masterchef Australia - Episode 10 - First Offsite Challenge

The cheftestants were split into to teams and took over two restaurants in the Kings Road area of Sydney - Ortolan on Bayswater and Concrete Blonde.   The teams were judged based on how much money they could bring in between 6 and 9 pm.

The two captains, Emma and Andy, were chosen based on being chosen to the sous chefs the day before in the immunity challenge.  Emma has the red team and is in Ortolan on Bayswater with Gary helping them.  Andy was the blue team in Concrete Blonde and George helping them.

It is strange to through them into this sort of a challenge so early on.  Prepping for a dinner service is huge, it takes hours of a lot of repetitive tasks like chopping onions.   Also, none of them are used to how you work on the line a restaurant during service.  Also, with 12 people on each team, that is actually more people that you usefully manage when you are not used to running a serious restaurant.

Both teams had to create a menu and ideally the menu should reflect the existing restaurant's style as most of the punters have an expectation of what the food they would be getting.

Andy seemed to have the blue team well organized.  Emma and the red team were a train wreck during the prep.   It was interesting to see how it all started to fall apart for the blue team though they were in no danger of losing because they got the doors opened at 6 pm and the red team was not ready for customers.

In the end the results:
Red Team  $2,232
Blue Team $2,738

Floor Plan for Concrete Blonde
At $60 per customer, this is about 37 customers for the Red Team and 47 for the Blue Team.   Given that they had 12 people working in the restaurant, this is not a lot of customers.   Concrete Blonde has table seating inside for 44 people and the it has more seating outside on the terrace and there is a long communal table.   The Blue team barely got through a full seating inside.

Ortolan has seating for 45 in the restaurant, so the Red Team was about eight people short of a full seating.

Masterchef Australia - Episode 9

The first immunity challenge of the season. Having won the invention test Ben must go head to head against a professional chef and be blind tasted. This challenge was a bit unusual in that rather than the professional bringing a dish both must cook the professional brought his crew and Ben was allowed to choose two fellow contestants to assist him in creating a three course meal based around a core ingredient - lemon. The two groups were tasted course by course in a head to head judging and each course had a dish chosen as the winner for that course. The first course had Andy cooking a snapper ceviche taco for Ben that lost out to a sashimi snapper in lemon ponzu sauce prepared by one of the crew. Both dishes were well executed but the finesse of the professional carried the day.
sorry for the fuzziness - it was the best I could snip!
The second course was truly the meat of the battle, pitting challenge winner Ben against the head chef, Dan Hong. The professional prepared a better, more enjoyable, dish - a lettuce wrap - but lost the challenge due to his failure to feature lemon in the dish. Ben's winning dish suffered from some undercooked, unwanted prawns.  The judges felt that removing the prawns would have improved his ravioli dish on multiple fronts.

The final course pitted Emma, the young, budding pastry chef against the other crew-man for dessert.  Emma ambitiously chose to make a lemon cheesecake.  A move that won approval and awe from the opposition, but ultimately failed to carry the competition.  Some small flaws in execution, which caused huge stress from the 19-year-old, still left a highly palatable dish that the judges enjoyed, but it was beaten by an extraordinary effort from the opposition.  The professional created a deconstructed lemon tart that he presented in a stemless wine glass.  The dish combined multiple textures and temperature with creamy lemon custard basing the dish and a reported tart and delicious lemon granita on top sandwiching a shortbread crumb and candied lemon peel.  The presentation and execution were simply unbeatable.

No immunity pin and a rather dubious one point for the challenger who rather won by default in his round.  Though by no means a win, I should state that there were not true disasters - unless you wish to qualify undercooked prawns as such.  I would call it more of a minor error.  The contestants put forth a fairly credible effort but they simply couldn't outdo the professionals, even with the lead time they were given.

Masterchef Australia - Episode 8 - First time in the Masterchef Kitchen, First Mystery Box

It is with episode eight that things get serious and we are in the Masterchef House and in the Masterchef Kitchen.

I have to say I did not like the Mystery Box, it was a mirror and the idea is put yourself on a plate.   I do not like the very wide open challenges, it is both not a challenge but also very, very hard to do.

So what would I do if had to put myself on a plate?   I think I would go back to the food that makes up where I come from.   I would have to do a lot of Baltic food.   What comes to mind is making Zakuska, the Baltic German word of what the Russians call Zakuski, a serious of small bites to have when you are shooting back the vodka.

1) Speckkuchen - small yeast dough filled perogies.  I would fill some with the traditional bacon, onions and currants, some would be salmon, red onions and dill, and finally bacon, dried cranberries and shallots.

2) A cucumber slice pickled for 45 minutes in apple cider vinegar and then topped with finely chopped tomato and dill.  A final garnish would be some of the pickled onions from a jar of pickled herring.

3) Oven roasted potato chunks.  I would cut them into small wedges that are one bite.  I would toss them in oil, salt and dill and then roast them.

4) Devilled eggs - I would mix the egg yolks with a garlic and cayenne aoili.   The eggs would be have a few bits of caviar on top with a thinly sliced freshly pickled red onion.

5) Put the vodka in the blast chiller, if the time allows I would try to freeze the bottle into a block of ice.

I think this would be enough.   With three of each on the plate, there would be 12 pieces on the plate.

I would insist they need to have ice cold vodka with it.  This food is designed to be eaten with vodka, it is a pairing that makes both parts much better.

75 minutes is not long enough to do a few things I would want to do with salmon.  I would love to make a gravlax, but the time to cure the salmon would take far too long.

Looking at what the others put up, I think this would enough to finish in the top.   My concerns would be that I used too much dill and that the food was too simple

Earth to Table food program

Stephen with Dwane MacIsaac at Moss
Street Market 
Last night Stephen finished the Earth to Table food program for youth organized by Leadership Victoria and held at the Burnside Gorge Community Centre.   It ran for six weeks for an hour and half on Fridays from 5 to 6:30 pm.  Officially Stephen was too young to take part, the ages were 12-16 and Stephen will not be 12 till the end of July, but he is keen on cooking and he got the last slot.

Stephen loves to cook and especially loved the baking aspect.  He is constantly amazed at how easy most things are to make and wonders why most adults can not make them.

The program was offered for free and one of those things that sometimes happens when something is free occurred -  people do not value it.   Of the eight youth that signed up, only Stephen came to most of the sessions.  Two other youth came to most of them as well, but they were not signed up for it and were recruited on the spot in the BGCC..   Effectively seven of the youth that were signed up for the amazing course did not take part in it.

The first night the youth learned about growing food and where food comes from in the world.  They did some plantings at the Burnside Gorge Community Centre.   The BGCC has some interesting herd gardens going on and some veggie garden boxes as well.

The second week was a trip to the Quadra Burnside where they learned about various Asian veggies and then had a food scavenger hunt in the store.   They were also fed from the Chinese food restaurant part of the store.

The third week they made sushi at the BGCC.  Stephen could not remember which sush restaurant the cehf was from.

On the long weekend we always go to Western Half Yearly Meeting of the Quakers in Sorrento, so Stephen missed the pizza making evening.

The fifth week was baking and they made cupcakes at the BGCC.  They also planted some herbs at the BGCC.  Stephen actually managed to make it home with some cupcakes for others in the family to try.  Baking is Stephen's thing.

Stephen and his gifts
Friday night they went to Cook Culture and he did not get home till 7:30 though he came home bearing an armful of gifts.   Dwane MacIssac of Passioneat Foods, and current president of the ICC, organized the night teaching the youth how to make pulled pork tacos and touring through a proper commercial kitchen.    The Island Chef's Collaborative supplied gifts for the youth that took part.  Stephen came home with high quality kitchen cooking utensils that 9 out of 10 home kitchens are not likely to have.   He got about $150 in gifts and a one month transit pass.

Stephen was impressed with Dwane and pointed out several times Friday night that he would be at the Moss Street Market and offered him a free pizza if he showed up.   I took Stephen and Max to the Moss Street Market, the first time I had been in there in six or seven years, the last time I was there I was running a friend's stall on a week she could not go.

Stephen got there and ordered his pizza from Dwane.   He also gave Dwane a 250 ml jar of his low sugar blueberry jam and told him in a meek voice, which is odd for Stephen, that he sold jam.  Stephen's jam is very good and sells very well - he uses my recipes.
Stephen watching Dwane's mobile oven

Stephen got his pizza and oddly enough did not offer to share it with me.

Earth to Table is something that I very much believe in.   I think it is very important for people to understand where their food comes from and what it takes to make it.   The boys have seen us have chickens, make pasta, make kefir, can all manner of stuff, make pulled pork that is better than what you can normally get in this town and more.   They have lived Earth to Table.

Island Parent has a piece about the program in the June 2012 edition.
Pic from Island Parent
Stephen is in brown

Stephen loved every minute of the course and would take part in it again ASAP.   It has also inspired him to cook more.  He has already made crepes twice with two different recipes - one a from the Joy of Cooking and the other from a cook book on French cooking techniques, the one in the Joy is much better.  He has also made a lemon/chocolate marble cake loaf.   He loved being able to use "his" tools.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Masterchef Australia - Episode 7

Back to masterchef. We left our valiant remaining semifinalists awaiting their chance to compete for the final six spots. They first had to survive their first masterclass, the teaching episodes of Masterchef. This masterclass was an important one as they were learning basic french techniques that were to be crucial in their upcoming challenge. The challenge was to cook their best interpretation of a french dish. The contestants shopped in the city and then headed off to an artist's retreated housed in a french-styled chateau called Montsalvat. Once at the retreat the contestants discovered that in addition to the regular three judges they would be cooking for a guest judge who pioneered french cooking in Australia, Jacques Reymond. A sweaty challenge ensued with the guest chef offering several pointers to various contestants (i.e don't puree your bouillbasse)and several interesting concepts being brought forth - and questioned. Some of the ideas wouldn't have appealed to me in any circumstance, and some simply failed to achieve their planned glory. One in particular was a young man named Yukio whom I was rather pulling for. He did a scalloped cooked in it's shell which was resealed with bread dough and a fish en papillotte.
He received much praise for his fine knife work and the concept - which fused French dishes and technique with Asian flavours - but unfortunately he brutally overcooked everything. Both his dishes left him unable to actually taste or test the doneness at anytime which turned out to be a tragic miscalculation on his part. The winners of the six spots varied somewhat in their performances, several put forth erratic results while a few were simply stellar. Perhaps the best dish, in my opinion, combined both excellent execution and an interesting concept and was presented by one of the older contestant, Debra.
She took a traditional french salad of lettuce, walnuts and roquefort cheese and presented and walnut and roquefort tart with a salad of endive and poached pear. Deconstructing a simply house and building a elegant townhouse in its place. According to the judges her execution was as well done as the idea was interesting. I expect interesting things from this contestant. Close behind Deborah, for me, came Mindy with a pork belly, scallops and cider sauce all of which were well executed.
Third spot goes for me to one of the youngest contestants, Emma. She did macaroons with salted caramel and raspberry coulis filling. The only flaw was undersalting of the caramel, a small flaw by all accounts.
The rest of the finishers all made it into the finals but each had their flaws. Mario presented a duck a l'orange that had been.
queried during his preparation but which came through well in judging. His dish was marred by undercooked, though nicely turned, vegetables and a not good pate he created
Fillipo, who is not my favorite, for reasons I am not entirely clear on, presented a flatbread with herbs and a cherry clafouti (that was, to quote the judges, more of a "cherry omelet"). Fillipo is becoming very noted for his passion for bread and his excellent crust was a major selling point for the judges. He also left two more loaves in the kitchen - they might have served him better than the dessert in the end, though we will never know. The final spot was filled by Kath, who made a boullibase, which which she did not served pureed, along with a rouille and choux
pastry biscuits. The biscuits were not well received and the rouille looked unappetizing and I think she would have been better to simply serve the soup and be done. The one thing about having the rouille is she got to use the cool too bowl serving dish, but a good dish should not dictate the food, ever. The last issue to address is what I would have served? I am not greatly experienced with French cookery but I believe I would have done a main and a dessert. I would have adapted a recipe of my Mom's, ham and asparagus crepes with cheese sauce, to suit the occasion - replacing the cheese bechamel with a light, fluffy hollandaise - a sauce I have successfully executed a couple of times. The dessert would have been a cherry clafouti (not a cherry omelet), which is a dish I have made and had well received several times. I am not sure my clafouti is a true French one as I have only ever tasted my own, but I know it looks like the picture in the book and doesn't taste at all like an omelet, so I at least could have taken out Filipo