Sunday, 20 January 2013

Hootie Hoo!: Cooking Demo with Chef Carla Hall

This past week, we welcomed all of our students back to campus, a welcome that meant ushering in the spring term and in my case, my sixth semester on staff. (Seriously, where has the time gone?) And after the slow to out-of-nowhere flurry of daily life (at least in our Division), I was more than ready for a mini-break. Cue then--as it might always seem--the food! A few weeks ago, a notice appeared on my Facebook news feed from Giant Eagle Market District with an opportunity to meet Top Chef Fan Favourite Chef Carla Hall. I quickly took a look at my calendar and reserved a pair of tickets without further delay. As it turned out, Maureen (who previously introduced me to the GEMD in Kingsdale) was able to join me for what I expected to be a great foodie experience, and so it was off to the market we went!

[As a preface: Unlike many of my previous posts, this time around I decided to take as many videos as possible; and thank goodness I did! Carla had so many great tips and one/multi-liners that there were times when I just couldn't keep up with writing them all.] Above, I'd like to introduce you to Carla, who kicked off her demo by showing us how to make her amazing pie crust (the same one used to make her infamous chicken pot pie, with the crust on the bottom; printable menu here).

To start things off, Carla began by explaining how to make her crust which can easily be adapted to fit either a sweet or savoury recipe. The trick of course is to get everything as cold as possible because we want to keep the butter as solid as possible before it goes into the oven. The moisture in the butter is the chief agent in creating a crust that is flaky "tehn-deure." While many stick with ice water to do the trick, you should also aim to get your mixing bowl in your freezer too (or your fridge for those of us who can't necessarily fit a bowl amongst everything else); if that isn't feasible, getting your mixing paddle in the freezer is a great start to an awesome pie crust.

With the crust evenly rolled out (use a rubber band on the ends of your rolling pin or a pair of thin boards one on each side of your rolling surface for an even thickness), Carla got to work on preparing the filling for her rustic mushroom tart. (Did you click on the link? I'm literally salivating at the sight of it. Okay, one more chance...) In the process, she talked about how to properly cut and clean leeks and the importance of salt, or as Carla calls it, "a bowl of compliments."

While Carla's leeks and mushrooms were sautéeing, she prepared the mixed cheese component that also included some lemon zest. Apparently, there's more than one way to zest a lemon; however you want to grate, just make sure you don't mess with the pith. (And don't forget to remove the plastic case!)

With the cooked elements prepared, it was finally time to assemble the dish. I'd like to note here that the kitchen area smelled wonderful. (Maureen and I were literally two rows away from the demo kitchen, yet somehow we later found our way to the end of the line...?) Anyway, in the latter half of the above clip, Carla talked about another important aspect of cooking that I whole-heartedly appreciated, i.e., cooking with your senses.

One of Carla's final culinary tricks that she shared was how to easily cut something round (usually more easily divisible in fours) into ten slices.

During the Q&A segment, a tray of deliciousness was passed around as we were each treated to a small sample of the dish, a truly tasty piece of art that exemplified how great a homemade hors d'œuvre could be.

Post-demo, again, I don't know how in the world Maureen and I got toward the end of the line, nor do I really understand how there were so many samples still leftover...

In the grand scheme of things, the wait in line wasn't too bad and in the end she was able to sign my copy of her book and take the photo above with me (btw, thanks, Maureen!). As I included in the description section of the YouTube videos I posted, I must also include here that Carla has such a great personality and continues to be a source of culinary inspiration and courage, as well as an example of positive energy and community building through food.

Flavors of India on Urbanspoon

As a brief wrap-up to this post, Maureen and I headed over to North Market for lunch. Amidst all of the many culinary choices before us, I went with Flavors of India, which I'm fairly certain was one of the few I had yet to try. Overall, I love their wide selection and the colours of the dishes are brighter (in terms of both appearance and flavour) than many of the other cuisines that come to mind. In my takeout box (which understandably severely limits the amount of creativity in terms of presentation points), I ordered a chicken entrée with saag (creamed spinach) and a seasoning-heavy cabbage-based dish, the latter of which I found to be a bit to crunchy and raw tasting.

Pure Imagination Chocolatier on Urbanspoon

And for dessert, I settled on Pure Imagination Chocolatier for a quartet of chocolates that were incredibly delicious (the latter two of which I later ate). I first began with the Twist My Arm Truffle which was filled with a rich ganache and followed it up with the Dark Mousse au Chocolat which tasted especially dense, yet smooth and creamy. Perhaps my favourite of the four was the Grand Mariner which as one would expect was light and flavourful because of its orange citrus taste. As for the final one, i.e., the Theobroma, I didn't connect at the time the significance of the sign which clearly states "as featured in the movie Chocolat." If you've never seen the film, click here; otherwise, I think you'll know what ingredient threw me off. Don't get me wrong, this is one combination that I've only been introduced to recently and do enjoy. While I loved each chocolate individually, there was something about these that rang out as "good," and nothing quite more. Indeed, it's great for the value, but perhaps I'm now at a point where my palate is getting a bit particular when it comes to my chocolate cravings.

For these and additional photos, click here. For my YouTube channel/playlist with all of the videos I captured, click here.

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