Chef Wannabe's Culinary Adventures

The thoughts and adventures of a wannabe chef cooking his way into the hearts of a few.

Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Thursday, November 09, 2006

New found spice...

I'm back. Not a soon as I should have been but back nonetheless.
It's funny I just finished reading a blog on Blogger that was written by someone going through culinary school at NAIT in Alberta. It was great and was very inspirational. I think that (should I ever actually get off my ass and do something about deciding on my future and actually talking to someone about it) I too will Blog about my experience in School. I think that it would be a great study tool for me as well as help for anyone else thinking of doing the same thing. Sara's blog( was very helpful in pumping me up again to want to do this. I have a problem with following thru or implementing plans when I think of them. I think that change is another thing that I have trouble dealing with and fear of it tends to hold me back from time to time. So does fear of failing. That's the real reason that I quit music class so many years ago. I was afraid to fail. Had I not quit, I might be a great trombonist now! ;)
Well, too much of a therapy session there eh?
This is supposed to be about my culinary adventures. And I have had a few since last I wrote.
This was freaking awesome! I will definately be making this again. I won't post the recipe here because well... It is in Beth Hensperger's book The Bread Bible and well you should buy it I suppose or maybe someone else has posted it on the Internet (like in a blog( but I'm not going to link to it. Go ahead and look for it... you're pretty smart.
Back to the Bread of the matter. This was so good. I have gone out and bought bananas again just to let them get over-ripe so that I can make it again. I shared half of the loaf with my friends that bought me the book for xmas last year and they really enjoyed it. I just wish that I didn't share it cuz I ate all of mine so quickly. Just as good though the recent diet and exercise programme has paid off with a loss of 16 lbs. and I don't want to backslide too much. I'm looking so good now!
This was pretty good. Actually a little bit better on the second day after the flavours intensified overnight in the fridge. It needed more garlic and more hot stuff. I think that the recipe was too white. It needed to be spicier and a little stronger in flavour. I would love to try to make the original Sichuan version originally called Gōng bǎo jī dīng according to Wikipedia. Link
I took it too over to my friends' house to have the next night and we heated it up again and I added some more chili flakes as well as some chili sauce to try to heat it up some more. I think too, that I wasn't able to find black chinese vinegar and used worchestershire sause instead and that may have had something to do with it. I have to make a trip to the Asian markets.

That day I also made something that I just had to try. It is called Wacky Cake and is from the Harrowsmith cookbook. It is ridiculous how easy this cake is and how good it tastes for such an easy cake. There's not even any eggs. There's several versions out there on the web. Here are a couple. and
This one I'll include cuz it's so easy.
THE WACKY CAKE (sharon steele - the complete Harrowsmith cookbook)
They say you can mix it in the pan but I would do it in a bowl the next time to make sure that everything mixes well.
1-1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3 Tblsp. cocoa (Dutch process)
1 tsp. vanilla ( I used some homeade pure extract that I have)
1 Tblsp vinegar ( I used cider vinegar)
5 Tblsp. melted butter (mmmmmmmmmmm butter)
1 cup luke warm water.
Preheat oven to 350
Mix the dry together well.
Add the wet stuff.
Mix well again.
Pop in the oven for 30 min. or so.
We had ours with some simple homemade vanilla ice-cream that I made in the Cuisinart Ice cream maker I got with Air miles this summer.

Then, I went nutz and cleaned the kitchen for a couple of days and tried to reorgaize it so that it worked a bit better but really there is not much that can be done with that shit hole. There is no prep space and the fact that it is in the friggin basement doesn't really inspire much. I gotta get outta here. Mom and Dad's would be a real nice change if I do go there. Wherever I go next I am definately getting a place with a decent kitchen no matter the cost.

On the weekend I went to a 40th birthday party for a friend. It was catered at their place and was a real treat. I have been so used to being the one doing the cooking at these events it was really nice to just sit back, get loaded and well... wish that I was doing the cooking.
The food was good. It was all cocktail type finger food. The best by far was what was basically mini-filet mignons. You can never go wrong with meat wrapped in meat.
The only complaint about the night (other than I came home alone and had to bail on dinner the next day cuz I was so hung over) was that the bartender for some reason found it necessary to shake his gin martinis... bad form. They tasted fine though and well... got me loaded.
On the Sunday I made Split Peas Soup. I had tried some that my friend Dave had made and liked it so I wanted to try to make it myself.
I used Chef Michael Smith's recipe. It was pretty damn good. I think that my rosemary was a bit old though or that I didn't crush it up enough because it ended up being kind of woody and distracting in the soup. Next time I'll use less or fresher.
Nonetheless, it was tasty and fed me for a couple of days. I put a bunch in those large ziploc twist containers (I love those things) and froze it to see what it is like later. I wonder if it would be better to freeze that kind of stuff in a bag so that it lies flat and thinner.... more even freezing? I don't know. I'm sure somebody's got a good answer on that. Maybe a good idea for a blogisode. compare bags vs. containers.... hmmm.
Well, that should keep me for a bit. As well as you too!
Keep on cooking,

Thursday, October 26, 2006

In the fashion of Douglas MacArthur...

Okay, okay. I know it has been forever since I last wrote. I got busy with my other life. And now I am back. This time I am considering the option of never returning to my other life as a set designer. I am actually thinking about going back to school... culinary school that is. Yes, I am thinking of going to chef school. I am 35 years old and established in the film world but I am thinking of throwing that all away and becoming a cook. Why? Simply because I love to cook. Whenever I am working I fantasize about what I will do in my time off between film projects. What new breads I will bake, desserts I will try or dishes I will test on my friends.
I even went out and bought a book. It's called Becoming a Chef and I intend to read it this week. In it I hope to find helpful information that will help me to decide one way or the other on culinary college. I have even threatened to move back in with my parents. They didn't seem to mind and I think that is because they know that they would get to eat my homework. More on all of this later after I have done some reading, talked to a chef friend of mine as well as others and had a good long think about the whole matter. It is afterall a big change and a pricey one at that. About 4 grand for two years of school and the loss of whatever I could have made in that time working in film. I hope that in the end it is all worth it. And I am sure it will be.
Just now, I have taken out a loaf of banana bread from the oven. I have been dreaming of making this for quite some time now and finally remembered to defrost the super mushy frozen bananas that I had in the freezer. It smells great and looks pretty tasty. I have to let is cool over night in the fridge before I can taste it. I am assuming that one does this to allow the flavours in the bread to meld with each other and also to allow the oils and cooked egg to stiffen a bit in the cold... or it is just meant to drive me wild looking at it thinking about what it is going to taste like. Oh well, we'll see tomorrow.
There were an awful lot of banana bread recipes online but in the end I ended up going with the one in the Bread Bible.
For dinner tonight: Kung Pao Chicken and spicy sichuan-style green beans. I just purchased a new cook book titled: Spices of Life by Nina Simonds. I was flipping through it the other day and came across the Kung Pao Chicken and thought, "I have to have that! Spicy chicken with peanuts is always a big hit with me." So, I am going to cook a bunch tonight and freeze the left-overs for later dinners. That's kind of the only bummer about living alone and not being able to cook for others, three quarters of your meals are the other 3 frozen portions of whatever you made in the last month or so.... though it is handy to not have to cook EVERY night especially when you are in a hurry. And, too, I guess that means that if you make something really good, you don't have to share with anyone else and get to keep it all for yourself! MMM.

"I shall return"

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Cheese Course

So, I haven't really done any cooking over the last couple of days. I have, however, gone fishing and golfing and enjoyed the great outdoors as spring is here and I can't wait for BBQ season. I was researching smokers today and am thinking of building one out of an old filing cabinet that I have. On the other hand, it may be better if I just go and buy one. I saw a cool electric one at Bass Pro in Michigan the last time that I was there. I will need to see if they are available here in Canada. (yes they are)
I've also been talking to my friend Nancy about throwing a dinner party at her house. I think that I have decided on the menu. It will be 8 courses with the main course being Prime Rib. My only worry is that I will be cooking for 16 people and don't know if I will be able to find a standing rib roast big enough. I guess that I could get 2 smaller ones and do it that way which I may need to do. I think that I'll have to go to the butcher to talk to him about his suggestions. I've got a week or so to hammer out the details. The best part of the whole thing is that I have encouraged her to make it a Cook for the Cure party.
My biggest joy of the day is that I think that I have found a place to buy some of my favourite Quebec Artisanal Cheeses. I happened to be surfing about and decided to do a Google search and after many different combinations and permutations of cheese, Quebec, and Toronto etc. I was able to find a place in Etobicoke that may be an interesting place to try out. It appears to have been written up in many places and has been there for a very long time. It is called the Cheese Boutique and I am going to go there very soon.
As for that loaf of Sourdough... hopefully tomorrow.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Bread Course

Yesterday, I made up a batch of Alton Brown's very basic bread recipe. It was turning out so well. The starter had a wonderful yeasty, alcohol aroma that reminded me of walking past the Canadian Club Distilleries in Walkerville. I was very excited, as I usually am, at the prospect of having a fresh, tasty loaf to tear into, fresh out of the oven. As I mixed the starter in to the remaining flour and the dough came together, I was ready to knead. Kneading is always my favourite part of making bread (besides eating it). The physical act of pushing, twisting pushing pulling sends me in to a kind of trance. I get all of my frustrations out and end it all with a satisfying, beautifully silky dough. All was good as it should be. I let it rise for 2 hours then punched it down and shaped it. The dough was absolutely fantastic to work with and I was sure that this was going to be the best loaf ever. Well, this may be where I went wrong. I think that while I was shaping it that I must have somehow introduced an extrememly large air bubble to the bottom side of the loaf. Also, before putting it into the heat I slashed the top of the loaf with a knife and the last slash that I did went a little deep on one side. This all resulted in a very violent rising of the bread up and to one side as I put it in the heat. Though the loaf was not horrible it was not the best. It was, I would say, over browned on the top and obviously mishaped. The crust was too chewy for my liking and the inside was not bad, except for the enormous air bubble on the inside. Next time I'll have to work harder at shaping it properly. I am beginning to realize that shaping is one of the things that I will have to work on.
The big bonus out of all of this is that I do have a fairly tasty loaf of bread to eat and a little bit more experience. In fact, I have been waiting on a sourdough starter since Monday and will be making it all happen in the next couple of days. The starter, though scary at first as it rose very quickly and started to over flow the container that I was keeping it in (I shoulda used less of the instant yeast... oops!), again smells awesome. It is actually starting to fill the house with that aroma of yeast and alcohol. mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.
On another note, I went over to my buddy's house last night and he and his girl treated me to a fantastic meal inspired by pumpkin that she had in the freezer. We started with a fantastic pumpkin soup that had wonderful earthy undertones of bacon, leek, potato and the sweetness of cream. It was delicious. I brought a bottle of Freixenet Cava that went very well with the soup. For our main we had some great porkloin in a mushroom sauce with potatoes and peas. This is one of my buddy's specialities. He takes whatever pork he has, in this case left over porchetta, and places it in a skillet with a can of cream of mushroom soup, some milk or cream, potatoes salt, pepper and at the end peas. It is always awesome and I love this dish. It feels like home.
We finished it all off with some great pumpkin pie, coffee and sambuca. Rounded off with some red wine and beers and it was a great evening.
The next challenge: Sourdough bread.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Appetizer

And so it begins.

I do not claim to be a chef nor even a great cook. I am just a guy who loves to cook and eat great food.
I am absolutely addicted to the Food network and have tried many, many of the recipes I have seen on the various shows. I have even whipped up some fantastic meals for my friends and relatives. There is nothing quite like that feeling that one gets upon seeing the smile of content on people's faces after eating a great meal that was made with a lot of love, care and passion.

So, I have decided to embark on another mission: keeping a record of my successes and failures as a cook or wannabe chef (Thus Chef Wannabe). Here, I will share with you, my dear readers (if ever there are any) , the recipes that I have tried , their results and any other thoughts, feelings, ideas or general comments that I have regarding my life as Chef Wannabe.
I have no idea of how often I will post. I work in a seasonal field where I often find myself unemployed for long periods of time and have the luxury of being able to watch lots of tv and cook to my hearts content.
Unfortunately, when I am working, I have very long hours and sometimes go weeks without ever putting pan to flame. I guess at that point we'll just have to see what I can come up with and perhaps this new adventure will help to change that situation.
For now, I am off to the kitchen to whip up some ideas for the next post. Perhaps something on the Loaf of Bread that I am about to bake.
My spirit is rising already!

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