Summer Tarts Baking Class @ Northwest Culinary Academy Vancouver (NWCAV)

Summer Tarts July 2013: Lemon Meringue Tart, Creme D’Amande Paste, Rhubarb Creme Brûlée, Cherry Clafouti Tart. Can you guess which is my favourite?

Since childhood I have always been more interested in savoury foods than desserts.  Unlike my sister, who just cannot live without desserts (especially macarons), I really don’t have a sweet tooth..Over the years I can count the number of times I have made dessert for any occasion with both hands!  I DO enjoy certain desserts, anything with dark chocolate is my “vice”. I only need a very “small bite” to feel satiated (I secretly wish all desserts come in “child size”);  it is my own “dim sum” – just a “little to touch my heart”.

Andy loves lemon tarts and apple pies and I’ve only baked a few on special occasions.  When Northwest Culinary offered ( one night 3 hour short course;  it was a perfect opportunity for me to learn something new  and add a couple of desserts to my repertoire.  Venturing into unfamiliar territory, I went with my friend Jo Jo, who is a very talented and accomplished baker  ( Earlier this year in April, we attended a one day-Artisanal Bread Baking Class at Pacific Culinary Institute ( and had tons of fun together!

Unlike the other NWCAV classes, my classmates were 99% females and there was only one male student in this class!  We worked in groups of four (I had great teammates, all experienced bakers!), same as before, recipe handouts were given and  the class was broken down into segments  switching between Chef’s lecture/demonstration and hands on cooking/preparation at our workstations.

Ingredients prepared ahead of time of us; the baking stations are located at the back of this one-floor culinary school.
Tart shells ready fresh baked from the oven! Each student has their own “name tag” to avoid confusion.

Due to time constraints, the dough (Sweet Paste is used for baked base for tarts and widely used in European style Pastries) was prepared for us ahead of time.  Chef Christophe showed us how to roll the dough (we practiced!!) and provided us with many useful baking tips and technical information (blind bake, ratios, decorating); we prepared the tart shells and made fillings for Four different types of tarts: Rhubarb Creme Brûlée, Creme D’Amande (almond) Paste (decorated with in-season berries), Lemon Tart with french styled meringue, and Cherry Clafouti Tarte.  At the end of the evening, we brought the goodies home; Andy “inhaled” the lemon meringue tart quickly, and I brought the rest to work and shared with my colleagues the next day.

We had a Surprise (yes another one, remember power outage during halibut cooking class? (see earlier posting)) that evening…Chef Nina Hemmes was unable to teach due to last minute emergency; we were all truly grateful that Chef Christophe stepped in and the school did not cancel the class. I have taken his classes before, French Bistro Classic (2012), Stocks and Sauces (2012) and Poultry Butchery (2011), all of which I’ve enjoyed tremendously.

The school has graciously granted permission to post the lemon meringue tart recipe on my blog. Thank you NWCAV and Chef Christophe for another fun filled and informative evening!  Jo Jo, can’t wait to go to another class with you sometime!

Am I still clueless about baking?  Of course, after all this is only one class but I’m not afraid to try different baking recipes to hone my skills!  Just like all enthusiastic home cooks, I constantly look for new ideas and I know eventually all acquired skills and techniques come handy sometime when tackling any new recipes.   With the bountiful fruit harvests in early Fall (apples, plums),  I am sure I will be able to test and “adapt” the new recipes perhaps at the next family dinner.  I was just cleaning my pantry the other day, taking inventory and dug out all my baking supplies…My pink KitchenAid Mixer has been a “fixture” on the shelf for the past three years…perhaps it’s time….(OO)

Father’s Day Dinner

IMG_8853 - Version 2I have always enjoyed cooking for my extended family; whether it’s New Year’s, Thanksgiving or birthdays,  there are many fond memories of good times and delicious meals prepared together at Andy’s parents’ house.

This year Barb and Nick hosted Father’s Day dinner at their place and we had a “seafood and vegetable” extravaganza:

I spent the Saturday shopping and prepping most the ingredients at my home; the next day  “Golden Apron mobile kitchen” (my nickname)  transferred everything to the hosts’ kitchen and cooked three dishes for dinner: My own version of salmon carpaccio (inspired by a dish I’ve had at Suika (Japanese Izakaya on West Broadway and Fir in Vancouver (; salmon sashimi thinly sliced (easier to sliced when slightly frozen, sharp knife required!), drizzled lemon juice and wasabi mayo,  then garnished with arugula, kaiware (sprouted daikon radish seeds) lightly tossed in yuzu dressing (grape seed oil/soy/yuzu juice/minced shallot/salt and pepper to taste) mixed with prepared seaweed (purchased from local Japanese deli)and flying fish roe (tobiko).

Salmon carpaccio with arugula and kaiware in yuzu dressing, seaweed, flying fish roe with wasabi mayo.
Salmon carpaccio with arugula and kaiware in yuzu dressing, seaweed, flying fish roe with wasabi mayo.

Steamed clams and prawns in sake (butter, garlic, mirin, dashi stock) with dipping sauce (light soy, lemon juice, shichimi (japanese spice mixture), mirin and green onions)

Steamed clams and prawns in sake and butter, with soy dipping sauce.
Steamed clams and prawns: From stove to table as is!
Ready for the oven; pacific halibut purchased at Granville Island market; I skinned and portioned the fish myself at home the night before, then marinade two hours prior to cooking..

Roasted halibut fillet with seasonal vegetables purée , an improvised dish based on a recipe which I’ve learnt not too long ago from the halibut cooking class at Northwest Culinary Academy ( Instead of halibut cheeks, I used halibut fillet and served family style; fish portioned and marinaded in olive oil blend (2 parts olive oil, 1 part canola oil), salt, white pepper, thyme, lemon zest), roasted in oven at 375 degrees until opaque; finished with mushroom purée  and seasonal vegetables (see original halibut cheek recipe).

Marcia’s heavenly chocolate meringue!

What about dessert?  That’s not really my department; Marcia made these absolutely delicious Chocolate Meringue; Barb and Nick served vanilla ice-cream with freshly picked strawberries from a local farm in Ladner, BC.

It was fun evening filled with lots of interesting stories and laughter; I have always told Andy he’s very fortunate his parents and siblings all live here in Vancouver!  I miss my own family dearly, especially my Dad, who had a stroke in March 2012 and fortunately recovered. Although I just went to see him recently; somewhere between tossing the vegetables and roasting the fish, my mind drifted back to last year’s Fathers Day, when I made a special trip back home just to celebrate with my Dad, the first time in many years. Can’t wait until the end of this year when I will see my family again..(OO)

Recipe: Seared Halibut Cheeks with Seasonal Vegetable Puree

Our group's finished dish!
Our group’s finished dish! Not as pretty as Chef’s but not too shabby for the first try.

This is the Halibut Cheek recipe, courtesy of Chef Curtis Webb ( class instructor at

The instructions are based on my notes; I made this dish for Father’s Day Dinner and my family loved it!  Due to “cheek shortage” at the market, I had to improvise and use halibut fillet; it worked just as well.

Ingredients: (serves 3-4 PPL)

Halibut Cheeks (2-3 per person; Vancouverites, cheeks can be purchased at Granville Island (

15 pc nugget (different varieties) potatoes, 3 bay leaves, 1 tbs salt, 1 liter of water, 3 sprigs of thyme, 2 Tbs Butter

Mixed Mushroom Puree: 2 cups Mixed (button, brown) mushrooms, rough chopped, 1 pc chopped shallot and 1 clove chopped garlic, 1/2 thumb ginger (grated), 1/2 cup cream, white wine

Shaved Vegetable salad: Asparagus, Beets (boiled), Baby Lettuce, Carrots and Radish with Citrus Vinaigrette (1/4 tsp lemon juice, 1tsp Extra Virgin olive oil, salt and pepper to taste)


Boil potatoes in cold water and salt (use enough water to cover potatoes), cook through, drain and set aside

In hot pan add shallot, garlic and ginger (cook until translucent), add mushroom and “sweat” the vegetables, when all liquid evaporated, add wine to deglaze, then cream and cook until fork tender.  Puree in blender set aside.

Prepare vegetable salad:

Vegetables all prepared, later toss in citrus vinaigrette
Vegetables all prepared, later toss in citrus vinaigrette

Beets (boiled, use rag to remove skin, slice with mandoline (be extra careful when using one), Asparagus (can be eaten raw or parboiled quickly in hot water and “shock” in ice bath in order to retain the crispness) then thinly sliced using vegetable peeler, Carrots (peeled, thinly sliced using peeler) and Radish (thinly sliced easier with mandoline).  Prepare vinaigrette and set aside.  Can soak vegetables in cold water to retain the colour (it will lose some flavour). Be careful when using mandoline to shave the vegetables!

To finish the dish: 

Strain the vegetables, lightly toss in vinaigrette, reheat potatoes in separate frying pan using butter, bay leave and thyme, season accordingly; reheat mushroom sauce (there’s cream, low heat)

Halibut cheeks – pat dry, season with salt and pepper, add to Hot pan (use low smoking point oil) and seared (2-3 minutes per side,cooking time depends on thickness of cheek, translucent appearance turns opaque when done).

To assemble: Spoon mushroom sauce on serving plate, then potatoes (remove bay leave/thyme), place halibut cheeks, then garnish with shaved vegetable salad. Enjoy!


Halibut Cooking Class @ Northwest Culinary Academy Vancouver (NWCAV)

Gravalax with Spring Herb Aioli - Chef Curtis prepared in advance for class, we prepared the aioli, pickled red onions and plated the dish.  We learn't the curing process and each took home a piece for next day's enjoyment.
Gravalax with Spring Herb Aioli – Chef Curtis prepared in advance for class, we prepared the aioli, pickled red onions and plated the dish. Chef taught us the curing process and we each took home a piece for next day’s enjoyment.

At last a Fish Course is being offered at Northwest Culinary Academy Vancouver (!  Halibut has always been somewhat a mystery to me; I usually order it when dining out…at home, we eat a lot of salmon and black cod, mainly prepared in Asian styles (sashimi, soups, steamed or oven baked); this was an excellent chance to get out of my own comfort zone.

Nestled between E.12th and E.11th Avenue on west side of Main Street, NWCAV is not noticeable unless you walk by or live in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood; or if you are like me, an attentive passenger riding shotgun, I always look out of the window checking for food stores and restaurants; this is how I found this school four years ago, follow-up with a search through the internet (how did we ever get along before the web???).

This is my fourth time returning to this school;  these amateur classes are designed for passionate home cooks who make time out of their schedules to pursue their culinary interest; it is also a great way to meet fellow aspiring “food-geeks” to share an informative and fun-filled evening.  Going back into this classroom I had butterflies in my stomach, a hint of nervousness mixed with the excitement of anticipation: the idea of tackling a new and unfamiliar ingredient, learning from a new instructor, and partnering with “seasoned” classmates who are mostly returning students, many of whom have completed the famous intensive Serious Foodie course.

Grilled Halibut Steak with Organic Vegetable (Asparagus, Beets, Corn, Fava and Sprouts) - Chef's version as ours were "to go"
Grilled Halibut Steak with Organic Vegetable (Asparagus, Beets, Corn, Fava and Sprouts) – Chef’s version as ours were “to go” as we were so full by the end of the night..

Chef Curtis Webb, one of the full time instructors, included three recipes which showcased “in-season” ingredients and different cooking methods: Halibut gravalax (cured with sugar and salt and spices) with spring herbed aioli; Seared Halibut Cheeks with Seasonal Vegetable Puree and Grilled Halibut Steak with Organic Vegetable Saute.

Fresh Halibut!  Chef Curtis demonstrated how to cut up the fish: Tail for Gravelax, Filet Steak for Grilling, bones for making stock, nothing goes to waste!
Fresh Halibut (season: Mid-March to Mid-November)! Chef Curtis demonstrated how to cut up the fish: Tail for Gravalax, Steak for Grilling, bones for making stock, nothing goes to waste!

There were 9 of us in the class, split into groups of threes (and chores divided amongst ourselves) and worked along side the school’s professional program students (one assigned to each group – Thank you Matt!) who assisted with the preparation, cooking, cleaning (yay!) and providing us with helpful tips and a “glimpse” of their lives as culinary students.

Whisking away: making aioli
My team mate whisking away: making aioli (egg yolk, dijon mustard, vegetable oil, chopped cilantro leaves and lime juice)

I like their teaching approach: the class is broken down into segments  switching between Chef’s lecture/demonstration and  hands on cooking/preparation at our work stations,  chores and order of preparation are listed and explained – this teaches us how to plan and be organized; and in between, we sat down and enjoyed the fruits of labour with wines pre-selected for the evening. Besides the recipes (handouts were given), we also learned many useful tips on knifing skills, food and kitchen safety, plating, preparation, utilizing all ingredients (limiting food waste)..this is “REAL COOKING”…

We had a “surprise” that evening:  At round 08:30pm the power went out in the Main/Cambie area; Chef Curtis gave us an in-depth cooking theory class at the reception area (where there was light) so we could finish the dishes at home, the student assistants packed and portioned all our ingredients; and we were advised perhaps to return another night to complete the course. Just as we were about to leave an hour later, the power came back on and we had an extended class, finishing at 11pm!  The assistants were all great sports, unpacking our foods and set up the stations, and the next day we received a very nice follow-up email from Chef Curtis (, I asked for permission to share his halibut cheek recipe (different posting), and he agreed without any hesitation (Thank you Chef!!).

I have been asked by many if I ever cook any of the recipes I’ve learned in classes?  Perhaps not everything…I do cook and share my favourites with family and friends! Will I continue to take classes?  DEFINITELY whenever time permits and program is suitable…It is a lot of fun and I enjoy every moment of it…even amidst chaos and confusion..haha…

Me at the stove preparing the red onion pickle (sliced red onions sweated, deglazed with vinegar and sugar, reduced to syrup consistence, cool down to room temperature for later use.
Me at the stove preparing the red onion pickle (sliced red onions sweated, deglazed with vinegar and sugar, reduced to syrup consistence, cool down to room temperature for later use.

Can’t wait to try one of the recipes for this Sunday Father’s Day Dinner…which one will it be????


Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver:

My comments: Environment is professional, friendly, clean and well equipped; different instructors for each amateur program/series, fees and duration of classes vary.  Tools to Bring: Chef’s knife, paring knife, apron (new students will get one from school), wear flat non-slip and non-scuff shoes.  Parking: Mostly metered (on Main Street), free parking might be available in the neighbourhood (as always, I found parking on East 11th Avenue just around the corner!)