A few people have asked me what happens at a George Brown College culinary class. I’m going to take you through my evening for a Culinary Vegetarian class – from beginning to end – from soup to pugs.
Chef Sara Harrel designed the course and recipes over the years. She has been with George Brown over 15 years and established this certificate course in Vegetarian/Vegan cooking. This class is popular with about 20 people signed up.
Tonight we are making a vegetable stock and then using the stock in the Roasted Butternut Squash and Pear soup. I arrive early so start to get my “mise en place” ready. This is the French cooking term meaning to get everything ready before you start cooking. It is important to have all the ingredients ready and at your fingertips. When you start cooking you don’t have to leave the stove. You can focus on cooking – not burning the pot bottom.
I review the 2 recipes and start to prep my vegetables. It is crucial to read the entire recipe so there are no surprises. Both call for 1 onion so I need to keep the diced onion separate in order to have enough for each recipe.
“HOSF 9283 Vegetarian Culinary Arts I”. George Brown College, Centre for Hospitality & Culinary Arts, pgs. 34-36.
Large dicing the vegetables for the stock. No great finesse is needed as they are going to be tossed out once the stock is made. This is my workstation for the course. I will be joined by a great group of fellow home cooks. Thanks to Sherman, Cela and Victoria for taking photographs for this post.
Chef Sara calls everyone up to go over the night’s menu. In addition to the squash soup, she will also be making a red lentil soup. The students are just doing the squash soup. We have to get our squash into the oven for it to be ready in time. I get my stock on first because I’ve prepped all the vegetables. It will also take about 45 minutes
I like this soup because I’ve never made a combination vegetable and fruit soup. Roasting the squash will give it that nutty flavour. Once the broth is simmering I get the squash ready, brush with canola oil and pop them into the oven. They go face down, on to parchment paper making it easier to clean up. I’ve really come to enjoy the convenience of parchment paper and not having to wash greasy oven pans.
With the stock simmering and squash roasting, I help out my table mates with anything they need. I then get my pear and onion diced for the soup. I decide to do a smaller dice so it will be easier to puree. This is another reason for keeping the diced onion separate because they are two different dice sizes.
My squash is done but Chef Sara has called that she wants us up to the front in 5 minutes. I decide to wait on starting the soup so I don’t have to interrupt the process. Chef Sara has finished both soups and shows us how to plate it for a presentation. The squash soup, on the bottom of the picture, has the white of the coconut milk chives for color and a touch of cayenne for boldness. The Indian Red Lentil has Kashmiri chilli powder. It is the spicier soup so we taste test that last.
The squash has cooled a little – I scrape out the goodness.
I’ve put the veg stock through a cone filter and it is ready to be added to the soup. I did not use the 45 minutes on the clock as my guide. Instead I eyeballed the level of liquid and reduced it by 1/2. Because I got the stock on early, I was able to increase the flavour by simmering it longer.
I saute the onions and pear until the onions are translucent. I’m not going to add the cayenne pepper nor the 3/4 cup of coconut milk. I want to see how thick it is after it has been blended. Speaking of which…
I’m showing Cela and Victoria how to use the immersion blender. I only need 2 tablespoons of coconut milk to get the consistency and flavour I want. I’ve saved some diced pear and make a rim along the outside. The firmness of the pear gives the soup a crunch that contrasts with the thickness of the soup.
Now for the taste test. At home I call my testers to the kitchen. This is why I did not add the cayenne to the soup. Instead I garnish with a shake of sea kelp
“HOW IS IT, RAISIN?”
The challenge in the class was the making of the vegetable broth. Yes, it is easier to use commercial broth but making your own stock allows you to maintain control of what goes in. And it provided the students with a way of tasting for doneness. Tasting vegetable stock is a subtle process because of the general blandness. By tasting it every 10 minutes you get an knowledge of how the reduction works. I found it challenging because I’m sure to tasting stock made from bones. The taste testing of vegetable only stock was a learning experience. My taste buds were insisting there was no flavour, but there was. Just needed to train them.
Next time I would add the cayenne so it cooks into the soup. I only avoided it so the pugs could have some. Also I would not use the diced pear garnish, add more coconut milk and just focus on the creaminess of the texture.
For the future, I would try different combinations of vegetables in the stock. I would use a primary one like parsnip to check what flavour it adds. In this way, using vegetable stock as a healthier option will become part of my culinary repertoire.