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San Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Chooses a Winner and so did I - Who Won A Dinner At Lee?

Last night was the San Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Regional Competition and we now know that Canada will be sending  Jean-Christophe Comtois of École hôtelière de la Capitale in Quebec City to Napa in March. There he will compete in the 11th Annual Finals Competition along with competitors from 75 other culinary schools across North America. His winning dish was one of my favourites and was causing quite a bit of rumbling and happy noises on bloggers row. The little square of deep fried, crispy polenta provided such a nice crunch to balance out the silkiness of the veal and the puree. I also really enjoyed Kellie Callender's dish of salmon with a beet infused quinoa, voted People's Choice.

For now, go and download the Almost Famous Chef Recipe Ebook for lots of other great dishes from contestants, past and present.

It was a stressful, pressure filled night of cooking, plating, presenting and then justifying their dishes to the panel of judges in front of a lively audience. Everyone knows you have to have nerves of steel to survive in a commercial kitchen so last night is certainly a good test of their ability to shut out all of the noise and distraction and get down to business.

The judges table

trying to concentrate 

The winner hard at work

 The event was hosted at Cirillo's Culinary Academy and chefs from Cirillo's along with a few Humber students, recreated each contestant's dish for the audience to sample which is always my favourite part of the evening. I came a bit late and missed the first two dishes but I really enjoyed the rest of them. If I had to pick a favourite, it was a toss up between Kevin Hafichuk's  spot prawn with homemade lemongrass oxtail tortellini  and Kellie Callender's salmon on beet infused quinoa. There was also lots of wine, prosecco and Pellegrino sparkling water, of course and mile high cheese plates at every turn. It's always a really fun night and so inspiring to see so much young, exiting Canadian talent up close and personal.
Best of luck to Jean-Christophe in Napa!!

I will share the recipe for the salmon with you- I am planning to try it asap and I will report back:

Slow Roasted Salmon with Quinoa Salad Kellie Callender, Culinary Institute of Vancouver Island (Nanaimo) 
Fresh citrus flavours in this marinade match perfectly with the delicate richness of the salmon. This combination makes a delicious change for a brunch or lunch recipe to serve to friends. 

Citrus vinaigrette: 
1 each orange, lemon and grapefruit 
1/4 cup (60 mL) extra virgin olive oil 
1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt and pepper 
1/4 cup (60 mL) butter 
2 shallots, minced 
2 cloves garlic, minced 
1 tbsp (15 mL) chopped fresh thyme 
1 tsp (5 mL) minced fresh ginger 
8 skinless salmon fillets (about 4 oz/125 g each) 

Quinoa Salad: 
1 beet 
1 small head garlic 
1 cup (250 mL) quinoa, rinsed 
1 shallot, minced 
Half a bulb of fennel, finely diced 
1 apple, cored and finely diced 
1/4 cup (60 mL) freshly grated Grana Padano or Parmesan cheese 
3 tbsp (45 mL) lemon juice 
1 tbsp (15 mL) liquid honey 
3 tbsp (45 mL) grapeseed or canola oil 
1/2 tsp (2 mL) each salt and pepper 

Using a rasp or grater remove rind from orange, lemon and grapefruit. Measure 1 tsp (5 mL) from each fruit and place in a small bowl. Juice orange, lemon and grapefruit and add 2 tbsp (30 mL) of each into bowl with rind. Whisk in oil, salt and pepper; set aside. 

In a small skillet, melt butter over medium heat and cook shallots, garlic, thyme and ginger for about 3 minutes or until softened. Remove from heat and stir in 3 tbsp (45 mL) of citrus vinaigrette. 

Place salmon fillets into large casserole or roasting pan. Pour in shallot mixture and turn to coat evenly. Place in preheated 275 F (135 C) oven for about 20 minutes or until thermometer reaches 140 F (60 C). 

Quinoa Salad: Wrap beet and garlic in foil and place in preheated 375 F (190 C) oven for about 1 hour or until tender. Squeeze out garlic into a bowl and finely dice beet; set aside. 

In a saucepan, combine quinoa with 2 cups (500 mL) of water. Add shallot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and cook on low for about 20 minutes or until tender and no liquid remains. Fluff with fork into a large bowl. Add fennel, apple and cooked diced beet and parmesan. Add lemon juice, oil, honey, salt and pepper to roasted garlic and whisk together. Pour over quinoa mixture and stir to combine. 

Divide quinoa mixture among 8 plates and top with salmon. Spoon reserved vinaigrette over salmon to serve. 
Makes 8 servings. 

So, now on to my Lee Restaurant Giveaway - we have a winner!
I used a random sequence generator to pick a winner out of the 40 entries and the second post is the lucky recipient of a $150 gift certificate to Lee! Congrats to Collin Ng!

* the original winner did not come to back to check to see if she won and I had no way to contact her so I went to the next entry and that person was Collin

K Loaf - Korean Meatloaf with Gochujang Glaze

Oh gochujang, oh gochujang, could I possibly love you any more than I already do?
I am slowly letting this stuff take over my life and never tire of finding ways to incorporate it into my regular recipes. All I have been able to think about all week is a korean inspired meatloaf but everyday life has conspired to thwart my desires. I even went to the store for meat so I could make it yesterday and they had no pork or beef on sale. I go to the grocery store across from The Kid's school a couple times a week early in the morning to buy meat because they mark tons of stuff down to make way for the day's fresh shipment. It's a small store and it doesn't have tons of room so every morning they mark down a crazy amount of meat - I have been getting a picnic pork roast every week for approx $2.50 but I have to get there nice and early. Yesterday, not only had all of the pork butts sold, all of the meat was gone. The only thing left that I could buy for a song was a package of chicken breasts so we had chicken last night instead. I guess I could have paid full price for my beef and my pork but that just goes against my system. The chicken was tasty enough and it was certainly a bargain so that makes it even tastier, but it wasn't my meatloaf.
I cannot buck my own system, not even for meatloaf with a gochujang glaze.

Korean Pulled Pork Sandwiches = Love

I made these Bibimbap Sopes a couple of weeks ago and it opened up a whole new world of pulled pork for me. Out of that single batch of pork we ate tacos, sopes and sandwiches. I ate the last dregs of it over some rice for lunch and the only reason I haven't made it again already is because Shack has been working on a frozen lake far too north for me to even acknowledge his exact location. We weren't expecting him until the weekend at the earliest but he called to say he was on his way home AND it just happened to be Valentine's day so guess what I made? He had spent ten days eating wings, poutine, wings, fries and more wings at one of the two or three truckstops that were available to them so, to be honest, I could have just made him a  sandwich with nice italian cold cuts on really nice bread and he would have been thrilled.

I could have done that but everyone knows that the way to a man's heart is through his pork gland.

As much as we all loved it the last time, I found myself wishing that it was, perhaps, just a little less sweet and a tiny bit spicy so I tweaked it a little bit. This time, I cut way back on the honey and added just a bit of corn syrup instead (you could still use honey) and threw in a bit of gochujang. The amount of gochujang is up to you. I might add more the next time but I just wanted it to be a little bit spicy so this worked for me today. Maybe next week, I will be in a 1/2 cup of gochujang kind of mood.

For the actual sandwiches, I just made the same asian slaw that I made to go with my spicy chicken but I upped the vinegar to make it a bit more tangy so it could stand up to the pork and swapped the nuts for some sesame seeds.

I love lots of pulled pork variations (and I still adore Shack's pulled pork with  mustard mop with all of my heart) but there is something about this stuff that just makes you want to keep eating these sandwiches - they are sweet, spicy, salty and a bit acidic - just like me.

Korean Pulled Pork Sandwiches

Buns (we like old school, soft white hamburger buns but use whatever works for you)

1/2 cup light soy sauce
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
3tbls ketchup
3tbl rice vinegar
1 heaping tbls honey, korean rice syrup or corn 
cloves garlic, smashed1 1/2 tables grated fresh ginger2tbls seame oil
3 heaping tbls of gochujang (or more to taste if you want it spicier)
3 star anise
2lb pork butt

Put the pork in the crock pot. Whisk all of the other ingredients together and pour over the pork. Put the lid on and cook at low heat for about 8 hrs. When it's cooked, remove the pork, remove any big chunks of fat and shred like for pulled pork ( use your hands or two forks). Pour the cooking liquid into a fat separator if you have one (like the one you might use to make gravy with). You can also put it in the fridge to cool so the fat congeals and you can just get rid of it that way if you are making the pork ahead of time. If neither of those methods works for you, do the best you can skimming the fat off the top of the liquid - there will be quite a bit and you really want to get rid of as much of it as possible. After you get rid of the unwanted greasy fat, pour the liquid into a pot and bring to a boil over med high heat and boil that down until it's reduced by half. Pour the reduced cooking liquid over the pork and toss well to make sure all the meat is coated in the sauce. Now your meat is ready to eat.

Korean BBQ Sauce

2tbl gochujang
3tbls sugar
2tbls light soy sauce
1tsp rice vinegar2
tsp sesame oil

Whisk everything together really well and set aside

Asian Ponzu Slaw
4 tlbs rice wine vinegar
1 tbls mirin
1 tbls sesame oil
2 tbls ponzu sauce
pinch salt
2 cups shredded red cabbage
2 cups shredded nappa cabbage
2/3 cup to 1 cup grated daikon
1 to 2 tbls toasted sesame seeds
Put the cabbages, daikon and sesame in a big bowl. Mix the dressing in another small bowl, whisk well and pour over the cabbage mixture. Toss well and let it sit at least ten minutes before serving.
Pile each bun with a mound of pulled pork, a drizzle of bbq sauce, some kimchi and a mound of slaw. Pop on the top of the bun. Squish down delicately, bring to your mouth, chomp.

How Ricotta Whipped Cream Rescued Valentine's Day

This post is short on recipe, but long on story.

For Shrove Tuesday, I made those incredible Browned Butter Ricotta Pancakes which served two purposes. Yes, they were crazy delicious and it was the first time I had ever made such a thing and that is all good. 

Most importantly, it used up half of the container of ricotta that was sitting in my fridge, silently judging me every time I opened the door for buying something that I never use and would most likely end up throwing out 2 months after the expiration date. THAT was a major accomplishment for a procrastinator like myself. Nice work Carole.

The only problem that remained was the lingering ricotta in the container. It's far too soon to make the pancakes again and it's just sitting in there, making me feel guilty before I have even thrown it out.

Cut to yesterday - our tiny school's annual bakesale to raise money for Free the Children and I volunteered to make the raffle cake. I made this chocolate truffle truffle cake and it is the bomb people. The Kid bought 9 raffle tickets to put in the jar in an attempt to win it back and made me put MY three tickets in the jar for my own cake and you know what? I did it.

Last year, he won the cake and it was an equally delicious chocolate cake made by a staff member. She and I stood looking at the cake and I said "I actually don't really want to win it because we will never eat it. It's so rich that I can only eat a small slice, Shack isn't home and we will end up throwing half of it out or trying to give slices of cakes to passers by in front of the house and I don't really want to do either of those  things to be honest."

She felt the same and so we struck a deal. If either of us won the cake, we would split it! And much to my delight, she won the cake. Sure enough, The Kid came home with half the cake in a tupperware container. It was all smashed up and destroyed, of course, because it hadn't occurred to him that cake shouldn't be shoved into a back back on it's side in tupperware and bounced around all afternoon. Regardless of it's ghetto appearance, the taste was unaltered so I thought that the two of us would just take turns scraping it out with spoons over the weekend. 

As luck would have it, Shack sent a text a while later telling me he was finally DONE DONE DONE. He was coming back home from cold northern lands the next day, which also happened to be Valentine's Day. I couldn't just hand the guy a spoon and yell "dig in!" after being away for over a week, toiling and freezing his ass off in the frozen tundra in order to provide The Kid and I the lifestyle to which we have become accustomed. I was going to have to rescue this smashed up truffle cake and turn into into a proper Valentine's Day dessert if it was the last thing I did. I have made marscapone whipped cream so there is no reason why I couldn't make ricotta whipped cream and so I did, we had a lovely dessert and peace was restored in the valley.

The end of the story is a happy one. I have my family together for Valentine's Day after all, we got half of our cake back after sacrificing it to charity AND I used up the last of the ricotta and didn't have to throw out one drop.

RIcotta Whipped Cream
1 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup ricotta
2 tbls powdered sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla

Mix the ricotta, powdered sugar and vanilla together in a small bowl.
whip the heavy cream with a handmixer or in the bowl of your stand mixer until soft peaks form. Add the ricotta mixture and continue to whip until smooth and fluffy.
That's it.

Brown Butter Ricotta Pancakes with Cardamom Apples

I have been staring at a container of ricotta in my fridge for weeks now. We bought it for Shack's lasagna but then he thought he needed more and bought a bigger container of the stuff from Costco and used that instead. I don't use ricotta all that much and I didn't know what to do with it but I knew that I didn't want to end up throwing it out. I spent a couple of days toying with the idea of doing muffins so I read recipes, looked at tastespotting, read more recipes and nothing spoke to me. The easy way out was to make stuffed pasta but Shack is away and I am trying to not eat pasta while he is gone because when he is home, we eat it way too often. Then, last week a little voice in my head started to whisper "ricotta pancakes would be nice".

Scallion Ginger Noodles for Chinese New Year

Gong Hey Fat Choy!
It's day two of Chinese New Year and I am good to go with our friend, the snake. I cleaned the crap out of my kitchen on Friday and on Sunday, I didn't clean, I didn't wash my hair, I didn't sweep. To be safe, I spent the entire day in pjs and lounged around reading, I watched a movie on my iPad and then I reclined on my couch watching the Grammy Awards. The snake is going to be good to me.

A Contest! Win Dinner at Lee

I have been fortunate enough to be invited to watch the Almost Famous Chef competition for three years in a row.

The S.Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition is a cooking competition that brings together students from over 75 culinary institutions across the United States and Canada. During the competition they battle for a chance to compete for all kinds of great prizes and be judged by nationally renowned chefs at the finals competition in Napa this March. 

This whole thing is a kitchen smack down between over 75 culinary students from across North America. Each region sends it's winner to a final contest that takes place in Napa Valley in March. They are judged on their cooking skills but also on how professional they are, how well they perform under pressure (god knows a professional kitchen might present a bit of a stressful working environment from time to time) as well their performance while being questioned by the media and the judges.

me and the 2012 winner,  Daniela Molettieri

This year, the Canadian regional competition will take place on Feb 25 at Cirillo's Culinary Academy here in Toronto.  It's a really fun night and the lucky people who are invited to watch the event also get to sample each chef's signature dish that will be prepared by the Cirillo's, enjoy a glass of wine and do a bit schmoozing. Look at me up there, we are practically bffs.

You can go and download this free San Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef ebook and get a taste of the kind of thing these kids are throwing down.

This year the competitors are:

*Humber College (Toronto):  Timothy van Ryzewyk 
*The Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College (Niagara-on-the Lake): Janine Hall 
*École hôtelière de la Capitale (Québec City): Jean-Christophe Comtois 
*Institut de tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec (Montréal): Alexandre Latendresse 
*Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts (Vancouver): Kevan Hafichuk 
*The International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Vancouver: Matt Cusano 
*Culinary Institute of Vancouver Island (Nanaimo): Kellie Callender 

Okay, onto the contest:

I have a $150 gift certificate for Susar Lee's Toronto restaurant,  Lee  so, clearly it's only open to people either in Toronto or who are planning to come here for a visit because I am NOT coming to pick you up in Brockville and give you a ride. I am only sad that I cannot enter because I would LOVE a dinner at Lee.

If you want to enter, please post here and tell me, after checking out the menu online at Lee, what you will order if you win (obviously add what you will order after the word order when you tweet and facebook etc):

If I win dinner @susurlee from @SMmamashack at The Yum Yum Factor & @AFChefComp I will order

For a second entry, repost it on facebook and then come back here and link to it.
For a third entry, tweet it and come back here and link to it.
Contest closes on Feb 25
Good luck!

Spicy Korean Chicken - Gastropost Made Me Do It

This week's Gastropost challenge is to write about your favourite condiment and it couldn't be a more timely subject for me because I have fallen madly and deeply in love with the korean hot pepper paste,  gochujang. We are heavily into asian food but I have to admit, that I didn't know much about korean food beyond kimchi and bulgogi because we are too busy eating Japanese, Chinese and Thai food all the live long day. 
Then, one day, we had lunch at This End Up here in Toronto and I ordered the fried chicken thigh sandwich:


that's straight from the menu people. I thought I had died and gone to heaven and I don't even LIKE sandwiches.

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