Catching Up with the Season

When I was still in UBC, life usually slows down as the calendar turns to October and everyone’s finally settled in school. Extended summer breaks are over, frosh kids are all partied out, and adding/dropping courses are past the deadline. As for me, it’s my cue to get serious with my research papers and bury myself in readings.

Here in Toronto, it’s different. The leaves are changing but the city is as vibrant as ever. From Nuit Blanche to Oktoberfest, park crawls to zombie walks, and food shows to chocolate festivals, there’s always something big happening every weekend. The city sets its own pace, which I too have come to do for myself.

One way I’ve gained control of this fall season is by volunteering. The great thing about the culinary and hospitality industry is that it is part of everything we do so there will always be events to work on. I’m grateful that George Brown is very hands-on and really pushes its students by regularly updating them of the opportunities all over the city. Last weekend I was able to work at the Homegrown Park Crawl with AGO’s FRANK Restaurant, then on the 25th I’ll be working at the 2014 Canadian Hospitality Foundation Gala.

Aside from these special events, I have been spending my Thursdays helping out at a small community kitchen. They have an amazing Youth Food Program wherein they encourage kids to learn culinary skills like cooking and baking from scratch. I’ve only volunteered twice but I’m really enjoying it! I get there and my mind just enters its comfort zone. It’s not like one of my culinary labs where I am under pressure and have to present 4-5 dishes in 2 hours; it’s more of building a relationship with the youth, contributing what I know (in culinary as well as in life in general) and simply having fun in the kitchen. At the end of each session, we gather for a lovely home-cooked dinner, strengthening our sense of community, but more importantly, sharing a unique food experience with everyone. And if there’s something I wouldn’t mind doing for the rest of my life, it would be to encourage those kind of experiences.

Since it’s Thanksgiving on Monday, this week we taught the youth how to make chicken pot roast and their choice of either apple or pumpkin pie. I chose the latter since I’ve only made it once before and that was from a canned pumpkin. At the volunteer, we got to use fresh pumpkins, and although it’s more work, we all had fun deseeding, roasting, and scooping out the insides. Not to mention that fresh purée tastes so much better!

I ended up with extra pie filling so I played around by adding flour, baking powder, baking soda and butter to make these pumpkin donuts. I also coated them with homemade brown sugar glaze and chopped pecans for toppings. They actually turned out really good. They’re flat-sided donuts but it works for something that I came up with by just randomly mixing in stuff!

Have a great weekend, and if you’re in Canada, Happy Thanksgiving!

Raw Kale Caesar Salad 

(A recreation of UNA Calgary‘s version, adapted from Dr. Weil’s Kale Salad)

Ingredients

  • 4 slices prosciutto
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 2 cloves garlic, mashed
  • pinch of coarse salt
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 bunch kale, ribs removed and leaves picked into 1/4 inches
  • eggs, boiled (I use the 6 minute method)
  • Pecorino Romano cheese, shaved
  • panko breadcrumbs, toasted

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a baking sheet with parchment paper, arrange prosciutto in a single layer. Place in the oven, and bake until crisp, 5 to 10 minutes. (Keep a close eye because they can burn easily!) Remove from the oven, and crumble into pieces once cooled.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper flakes. Add kale and toss to coat. Let sit at room temperature for 10 to 30 minutes.
  3. When ready to serve, top salad with boiled egg, shaved cheese, toasted panko breadcrumbs, and crispy prosciutto bits.

Alexa Versus The Starfruit

As a foodie, I am pretty adventurous in the sense that I’m always exploring new food joints and different restaurants all over the city. I have even endured a wide range of waiting times such as 20 minutes or a half cookie sandwich–not worth it if I may say so–and 3 hours for a highly acclaimed pizza place. I go out of my way to try these new places but I’ve realized that they are not exactly new tastes. Most of the time, they are fads and simply offer novelty items. For this weekend, I’ve challenged myself to a true foodie adventure: to try a new fruit.

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Startfruit (Carambola)

Meet my contender, the starfruit, also known as carambola. It is a tropical fruit native throughout Southeast Asia, the South Pacific and parts of East Asia but because of its popularity it is now cultivated all over the world.

I initially wanted to try a prickly pear cactus but as I was going through the produce section, I stumbled upon a container filled with starfruits. Their bright light-green to yellow skin and unique shape caught my eye. I pick one up, and it had a smooth waxy surface but firm to touch. For ripeness, I chose the most fragrant one in the bunch. It had a very tropical aroma with notes of pineapple and citrus which I assume would be translated into the flavour of the fruit.

Back home, after washing the starfruit, I am ready for my challenge. I grab a knife and a bit of juice oozes out as I slice through. The flesh has a lighter shade, somewhat transparent, and has small seeds in the center. On my plate, I get these star-shaped slices that’s just too pretty to eat! Then again, it may look good but does it taste good?

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I hear a crunch as I take a bite, reminding me of a honey apple crisp. It had a succulent texture, juicy and crispy, yet I crinkle my face as I couldn’t pin the flavors I was getting. It was like a mix of pear, pineapple, plum and lemon in one–mild, sweet with a bit of sour, and tangy. Somehow it’s all vaguely familiar but completely foreign.

I don’t know if it’s because it wasn’t as ripe as I thought it was but I didn’t enjoy this fruit. However, that doesn’t mean I would completely reject it. I would probably try it infused in a tropical mixed drink or baked in a pastry. I think I would appreciate its flavour more those ways rather than as raw fruit treat.

Starfruit Recipes:

References: