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Archive for the ‘Vacation Photos’ Category

In early September, our dear friends came for a visit and JT and I planned a full schedule of fun activities! We went hiking at a conservation area, saw King Lear in High Park (which turned out to be reimagined from a female perspective, Queen Lear), we traveled to Montreal for a few days with a stop in Kingston to visit the newly refurbished Kingston Penitentiary. The time went quickly and a much-needed fix with special friends. Our days were packed, so I made these Banana Bran Muffins for a breakfast on the morning we went hiking, as we were also having lunch at an adorable little cafe near the conservation area. Scroll down to see a few pics of Kingston Pen.

Banana Bran Muffins with Belgian Milk Chocolate Chunks

Original recipe from Company’s Coming, Muffins and More by Jean Paré.

Makes about 10-12 medium-sized muffins

Please click here to print this recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 128 g (1 cup) flour
  • 60 g (1 cup) all bran cereal
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup milk chocolate chips or chunks (I used Belgian milk chocolate chunks)
  • 60 g (1/4 cup) coconut oil
  • 75 g (1/2 cup) coconut sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 65 mL (1/4 cup) sour milk (milk with 1/4 tsp lemon juice)
  • 250 mL (3 medium or 1 cup) bananas, mashed

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 400° F (200° C). Prepare muffin pans by spraying with non-stick spray.
  2. Combine flour, bran, baking powder and soda and salt in a bowl and mix.
  3. Cream coconut oil and sugar with 1 egg until well blended and add the other egg and beat well. Combine the soured milk and mashed bananas and mix well.
  4. Pour into the dry mixture and mix well. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  5. Pour batter into prepared muffin cups to about 3/4 full.
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.
  7. Cool slightly and serve.

These muffins have excellent texture from the moistness of the bananas and the bran cereal.

Notes:

  • These muffins are not nearly as sweet using coconut sugar as using regular white sugar.
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tejas-dulces_first

Happy Halloween Everyone! Hope you all have a ghoulish night!!!

While in Europe this past September, we spent four extremely hot days in Sevilla. It’s no wonder they call Spain the “Frying pan of Europe”! It wasn’t as hot as it had been (near 50° C or 122° F) but it was hot enough for us! The sun was relentless and most locals only walk in the shade (you can tell who lives there because they hug the shadows directly beside the old buildings!). The city has covered some of its sunnier streets with canopy sails to shade the citizens and tourists, it’s that bad!

Many of the historic town streets have these sails in both Sevilla and Madrid.

Many of the historic town streets have installed these canopy sails to protect citizens and tourist from the unyielding sun, in both Sevilla and Madrid, though I did not see them in Granada.

During one of our last walks though the beautiful historic part of town, we stumbled into the area where the locals actually live. There were no tourist shops, a few restaurants, just butchers, bakers, children’s clothing stores, kitchen stores (yes, I did buy something), grocery stores and specialty shops. One such shop was a beautifully designed little cookie shop where they sold only one type of cookie in three flavours: La Tejas Dulces de Sevilla, in almond, pistachio and coconut. A young lady was handing out samples in front of the beautiful store and we couldn’t resist. In one taste, we were immediately hooked on the simple almond flavour and lovely crunchy texture and we had to buy some. Upon returning to Toronto, I hid the small package so that I could work on a recipe and perfect it for the blog. I told JT it was for the greater good, he wasn’t impressed.

The cookies are light, airy, crunchy and full of flavour; imagine a genoise batter spread paper-thin, topped with almonds and baked until golden. They are so GOOD! The recipe is relatively simple but follow the instructions to get the signature airy, crunchy texture. I think this could easily convert to a gluten free variety, stay tuned!

I must warn you, though, because these are not like the French Tuiles, these have a bit more body than a traditional French tuiles. They are really more cracker-like than a tuile or a cookie.

Scroll down to the end of this post to see pictures from this part of our trip.

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Delicately sweet, these crispy, flavourful cookies hit the spot for an afternoon craving!


original

These are the originals we brought back from Sevilla, sadly only three left and a mess of crumbs but I’ve finessed the recipe so I can make more!

Almond Tuiles of Sevilla (Tejas Dulces de Sevilla)

A KitchenInspirations Original Recipe

Makes 25 cm x 30 cm (10″ x 12″) sheet, cut to make cookies or various sizes

Ingredients:

  • 30 g (2 tbsp) unsalted butter
  • 75 g (3/4 cup) almonds, thinly sliced and toasted
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 80 g (~1/3 cup) sugar
  • 1/2 tsp almond flavour
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla
  • 50 g cake and pastry flour
  • pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Toast the almonds until golden. Set aside to cool.
  2. Melt* the butter and set aside to cool.
  3. Beat the egg with the sugar until it reaches the ribbon stage, about 5 minutes. Beat in the flavourings and cooled butter.
  4. Sift the flour with the salt and fold into the egg mixture, cover and allow to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 265° F (130° C).
  6. Pour the entire batter onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet and spread out until it is quite thin (about 3-4 mm (about 1/8-3/16 inch) works out to about 30 cm x 30 cm (12″ x 12″). Evenly sprinkle the toasted almonds onto the batter and gently push into the batter**.
  7. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour or until evenly golden, turn the pan once about halfway.
  8. While still warm, move parchment onto a cutting board and cut into uneven shapes with a pizza cutter. Transfer parchment to a cooling rack and allow to cool. Cookies will firm up as they cool.
  9. Once cooled, store in an airtight container for about a week, but they won’t last that long!

Spread batter out thinly (about 30 x 30 cm or 12 x 12 inches)

Spread batter out thinly (about 30 x 30 cm or 12 x 12 inches)


tejas-dulces_3

I made another batch but spread the batter out much thinner. They probably could have baked a little longer to get a little richer colour, but the flavour and texture is spot on.

Notes:

  • *for additional flavour, brown the butter in a frying pan until hazelnut in colour.
    ** to insure that all of the almonds are ‘stuck’ to the batter, I did a little toss of the pan quickly and that way I was able to move ‘unstuck’ almonds to a better place.
  • Add a teaspoon of lemon zest because lemon and almond go so wonderfully together!
  • Drizzle melted chocolate over the cookies once they are cool, refrigerate until set then store in an airtight container for about a week, but be warned, these won’t even last as long as the originals!

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pomegranatesyrup_firstRecently, JT and I spent three wonderful weeks touring through London, Almeria, San José, Granada, Sevilla, Madrid and finally Paris. It was awesome. I will recount some wonderful meals and memories in future posts but I wanted to share a quick and easy recipe to make pomegranate syrup because my dear friend Sissi (With A Glass) recently posted a beautiful salad which included pomegranate seeds and the dressing was created with pomegranate molasses, a slightly sweet and sour syrup.

Sissi’s post went live around the time we had just spent the day in Granada, a large, historical city in the south of Spain. We did a wonderful walking tour of the city with Panchotours with Registered Tour Guide, Veronica and at one point she mentioned that the word Granada in Spanish means pomegranate! What a coincidence! The name is appropriate because the streets are lined with gorgeous pomegranate trees. Yes, you could just reach up and grab a fresh pomegranate, how cool is that? Sadly, they were not quite ripe enough, otherwise, you know I would have!

granada-pomegranate

ourtourguide

Our lovely tour guide, Veronica.

Several weeks prior to our departure, we purchased something and for some unknown reason were given a 473 mL bottle of Pom Pomegranate Cherry Juice for free. We don’t normally drink juice as it is far better to eat your fruit than drink it so it sat in the refrigerator until now! Making the syrup is so easy, I won’t even list it as a recipe. Simply pour the entire content of the bottle into a non-reactive pan and boil it on medium-high for about 30 -40 minutes or until it reduces to about 100 mL. I didn’t want an overly thick syrup (the viscosity is about the same as maple syrup) so you could boil it down even more — but be very careful, after a very short time, it can burn very easily! Allow to cool and pour into a sterilized bottle. Store in a cool, dark location.

pomegranate-syrup

It’s a thick, sweet and slightly sour syrup. that is delicious on chunks of Parmesan.

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The view of the Alhambra.

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Panoramic View of Granada.

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Merry Christmas everyone.

Christmas Eve is the more celebrated day in European families, even those residing in North America. Back when I was a child, my family would make the trip out to Northern Toronto on December 23 or 24 to buy our Christmas tree. It was tradition not to set up the tree until the day of Christmas Eve (although JT and I have been known to get our tree in late November!). Even though it was late by North American standards and the trees were pretty well picked over, we always managed to find a good one (not an easy task in a family of tree connoisseurs). One year the best tree (read fattest) was so short, we had to put it on a table. Mom said it was so more presents could fit under the tree. The only thing Dad did with the tree is put the lights on it. The lights would only be turned on to make sure they were evenly distributed and then they wouldn’t be turned on until later that night. Mom, my younger brother and I would always dress the tree. My favourite part was adding the tinsel after all the gorgeous hand blown glass balls (and various kid craft ornaments) were hung; my brother would throw the tinsel on by handful and I would carefully add them one tinsel strand at a time. The tree wouldn’t be complete without adding szalonczukor, a traditional Hungarian fondant candy that my Aunt and Uncle would send every year from Budapest. We also had candy canes but that was later as we became more Canadianized.

Christmas Eve was our big celebration and we would always have a huge dinner (Mom would make fish and turkey with all the fixings) and then after dinner (which seemed to take F O R E V E R) we’d be sent off to our rooms to see if we could see Santa in the skies because we’d follow him through NORAD! During that time Santa would arrive quite quietly and fill the floor beneath the tree with gifts. So many gifts. Then, Mom and Dad would turn off all the lights and illuminate the tree, Dad would put on on some Christmas music (a special mix he made on the Sony reel to reel) and they would signal my brother and I (and usually some stray my Mom invited for dinner) to come out of our room into the living room. That was our Christmas. I can still feel that nervous energy and the excitement of the anticipation as we walked down the hall into the living room, our eyes bugged open to take in the view of our beautifully lit Christmas tree and piles and piles of presents! We would always start out opening presents systematically but by the end it was always chaos. At some point Mom would serve dessert, a traditional Yule log (piskota), both walnut and poppy seed Baigli! She also made a Lindzer Szelet which was my Dad’s favourite (a tender pastry square with a layer of apricot jam and sometimes chocolate ganache). Cognacs would be poured (for the adults) and my brother and I would lose ourselves in the bounty of all our new toys and have an impromptu fashion show off all our new clothes (well, maybe that was just me). Family friends always popped in after dinner after the mess was cleaned up, more desserts were served and more cognac was poured. It truly was magical.

On Christmas Day, my brother and I would open our stockings and we would continue to play with our new things while Mom made a beautiful breakfast with kuglof and home made jam. Christmas Day was usually quiet at our house, we hung around in our jammies, played, watched a Christmas movie or two and just chilled. We were always invited to my parents’ best friends for Christmas Day dinner.

JT’s and my Christmas took on a similar landscape with the exception that on Christmas Eve we always go to my brother’s for dinner because they have kids. Lately, they been having a ham for dinner so we’re not eating turkey two days in a row (honestly, I don’t mind two turkey dinners). I usually bake a Yule log and a plate of Christmas cookies to share. This year I’ve baked a white chocolate and strawberry tart that I’m recipe testing. My brother’s family celebrate a more traditional North American Christmas (with her family) with the major festivities on the morning of the 25th and dinner with her family in the afternoon, which works out perfectly since JTs family does the same so we’ve never had a conflict. Today we’ll have JTs family over for our turkey dinner, complete with stuffing, roast potatoes, gravy and green beans with garlic and almonds. Dessert will be pie that my SIL brings as well as a cheesecake thing that I’m recipe testing. So tell me, how does your family celebrate Christmas and is it the 24th or the 25th?

It’s been a whirlwind  year and I must admit that December snuck up on me and I feel like I’m behind. But the next few days will be all about family, relaxing and just enjoying the festivities. JT and I wish you all the best, a very merry Christmas and a safe and Happy New Year!

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When we travel we never like to book lunches because we never really know where we are going to be when hunger strikes; so we leave it to the last minute and find a Starbucks sit with an espresso and peruse Yelp for some recommendations in relation to our location! I love that Starbucks has free WIFI! Yelp is an excellent review site where I find most of the reviewers are more foodie than not and their restaurant reviews are excellent! Sometimes we use open table, but it’s only good for establishments who subscribe so it often doesn’t work out.

We landed on Café du Parc in Washington’s elite Intercontinental Willard Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. The restaurant describes itself as a traditional French bistro where the food ‘fuses witha modern atmosphere to provide a truly authentic bistro experience” (from Café du Parc’s website) — well, I’m not sure about food fusing with atmosphere, but the experience was pleasant enough. Have I ever mentioned this thing that I find SO INCREDIBLY annoying? It’s when the wait-staff remove plates before everyone is finished at the table. JT eats faster than I do and I am often left eating on my own with the table cleared. Not this time but I had to tell them to leave the plates alone until I am done! What school of etiquette did these people go to? They’ll loose points on service for that one.

The décor is blues, creams and yellows and the dining room was light and airy; it made me happy to be there! They also had a very lovely patio but the heat was overwhelming so we chose to eat inside; bad choice since all the windows and doors were wide open and the A/C didn’t seem to be on, but we soon acclimated and all was well.

With the exception of the faux pas of the attempt to remove JTs dishes before I was finished, the service was efficient, friendly and quick — we were in and out in less than an hour, but we had places to go and people to see, so we were fine with that.

Cafe du parc Nicoisse_0157

Cafe du Parc’s Salade Niçoise

I ordered the Salad Nisçoise which was rare tuna served on a bed of mesclun salad, with pitted black olives (I prefer the pits in, the pitted always makes me think they are canned), green beans, tomatoes, a hard boiled egg, cucumber speers, julienned celery, delightful pickled white anchovies (a very nice change) with a very light balsamic vinaigrette which was not over dressed. The salad was fresh, flavourful and quite filling, but for the $21 for lunch, I would have expected a bit more tuna on the plate.
JT ordered the Croque Monsieur which was a very generous sandwich of French ham & Gruyère cheese sandwich, served with a mixed green salad and hand cut fries ($18) considering how expensive the ingredients in this dish are, I felt the $18 price tag was a reasonable amount.
And that concludes our visit to DC, thanks again to Jed and Liz for their generous hospitality and advise.
Cafe du parc Croque M_0159

Croque Monsieur

Overall rating of Café du Parc, DC (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 2.5/5, food 4/5, Value 3/5, Noise: 2/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

Disclaimer: We purchased our meals for full price and my opinions just that, my opinions.

Cafe du Parc

1401 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20004

(202) 942 7000

Monday – Friday

Breakfast : 6:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. (a la carte ends at 9:45; 9:45-10:30 buffet only)

Lunch : 11:30 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.

Cocktails and Light Fare : 2:30pm – 5:00 p.m.

Dinner : 5:30 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.

Saturday – Sunday

Breakfast : 7:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. (a la carte ends at 10:30; 10:30-11:00 buffet only)

Lunch : 12:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.

Cocktails and Light Fare : 3:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

Dinner : 6:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.

Terrace (weather permitting)

Breakfast is served at our courtyard only.

Service starts at 11:30 Mon – Fri and 12:00 noon Sat-Sun until 10:00 p.m.; weather permitting.

 

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Tomorrow is JT’s birthday, please join me in wishing him a Happy Birthday!

Our second night in DC we chose Bistro Bis, a contemporary French bistro, located in one of DC’s other Kimpton hotels called the Hotel George. The tour bus mentioned that this hotel is famous amongst celebrities visiting DC (the likes of Justin Bieber: gag). It’s high ceilings and lack of soft surfaces makes this establishment a little noisier than I like, but we were able to get a lovely table that was tucked away in a corner allowing me to talk without yelling at the top of my lungs. Our Russian waitress was lovely and attentive and even though her section was rather full, we never felt ignored.

The first dish we ordered was the Escargot Forestière, burgundy snails on toasted brioche with garlic confit, beech mushrooms, artichokes and bordelaise ($13) did not get off to a good start; the escargot were incredibly sandy and it turned us off immediately. There is nothing grosser than improperly cleansed escargot — they slither around in the garden eating anything and everything in their path, they MUST be thoroughly cleansed. We sent it back to the kitchen and they immediately rectified the situation by offering to replace the order with any thing we wanted, so we order the Oysters Gratin Florentine. The dish was an oyster ragout with smoked ham, spinach, fennel, tarragon glaçage and grilled baguette ($12.50) and it was lovely. The portion size was enough to share, I couldn’t imagine eating this rich dish on my own.

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A deliciously rich sauce

My main course was the Steak Tartare, of course! Steak Tartare Atilla is a traditionally flavoured tartare with finely chopped raw sirloin with capers, onions, cornichons, spicy aïoli and garlic potato chips ($13) — for the price it was a very generous portion and they sold it as an appetizer size. The little salad was delicious with the tartare and I could have used a bit more of it.

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Night lighting is not great for restaurant photos.

JT ordered the Côte de Porc Roti which was pan roasted berkshire pork chop with barley risotto, spring vegetables and morello cherry gastrique ($27) and even though it was expensive, it was an extremely generous size of meat. It was perfectly cooked and very tender, and the cherry gastrique was an innovated and delicious pairing. I believe JT would order this dish again.

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A very generous portion of meat.

We generally don’t order dessert, but we felt like lingering as the meal finished a little faster than we had hoped so we ordered cappuccino’s and I must say, they were the hottest cap’s I’ve ever had. As part of the apology for the sandy escargot, the chef sent out a lovely tasting plate of dessert, very tiny portions, but enough to finish the meal.

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After we had finished our meal the manager came over to apologize and we chatted with him for a while. They really redeemed themselves by the service so I would recommend this place, but sadly not the escargot.

Overall rating of Bistro Bis, DC (in my opinion): Decor 3/5, service 4/5, food 4/5, Value 4/5, Noise: 2/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

Disclaimer: We purchased our meals for full price and my opinions just that, my opinions.

Bistro Bis, Washington, DC

15 E Street NW
Washington DC 20001

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Our first dinner in DC was at Proof, one of the recommendations Jed and Liz (of the infamous Sports-glutton blog) made and it truly DID NOT DISAPPOINT! Proof is a moderately price American restaurant with an eclectic menu (their words). It’s contemporary design with rustic elements (brick walls, wooden tables and antique dressers) make for a very warm and inviting eating establishment — the bathrooms are wild! We chose to eat inside because of the high temperatures outside, but their patios looked amazing! I also wanted to mention that the dinner had a lovely pace to it, not too fast and not too slow, all in all it was almost two hours for the three courses which was perfect.

Both our server and somelier were friendly and attentive enough without being over-bearing — we never once had to fill our own wine glass. We decided to share the starters and chose the Bresaola, which was from Uruguay, cured, juniper scented beef tenderloin ($8US), I thought it was quite tasty although the juniper was very subtle and for $8US I felt we got a good serving size for the price. We also shared the Duck Liver Mousse (aka Fois Gras) with Pickled Red Onions & Baby Greens ($11US) and it was over the top, the duck liver mousse was so creamy, yet felt rather light in the mouth. Our server even brought us a nice selection of house made crackers and breads because as you can see, there are only three crostini’s with the dish. We were off to a great start.

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Our starters that we shared.

My main course (appetizer portion) was the Ahi Tuna Tartare with Crispy Nori Tempura with hass avocado, wasabi soy emulsion ($15) and I must tell you it is by far the BEST tuna Tartare I’ve ever had and I’ve had quite a few. The flavours just hit me perfectly with just the right amount of wasabi (no tears). The crispy Nori was a beautiful contrast in texture to the creamy avocado and the soft tuna. If you can believe it, my mouth is watering as I type this. I could have had two portions it was THAT good.

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The BEST tuna tartar I’ve EVER had

JT chose the gnocchi which came in two sizes, a small appetizer portion and a large main portion — this is the smaller size and as you can see, it was plenty (the bowl was about 24cm or 9.4 inches in diametre. The dish was Sautéed Potato Gnocchi with Hen of the Woods Mushrooms spring peas, baby chard in a sweet farm butter with basil and Parmesan sauce ($15/$27). JT was kind enough to allow me to taste this beautiful dish (sorry, it was already dark when I took the photo) and it was fantastic, but don’t let the sauce fool you, even though it’s not a cream-based sauce there is A LOT of butter in this dish! Both of our courses were lip smackingly good and I immediately wished we had this restaurant in Toronto as it became a fast favourite!

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JT chose the gnocchi

Thank you kindly for the reco’s Jed and Liz, you really hit this one bang on. It’ll be on my list whenever we return to DC.

If you find yourself in DC, do yourself a favour and try this place, it won’t disappoint.

Overall rating of Proof DC (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 4/5, food 4.5/5, Value 4/5, Noise: 4/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

Disclaimer: We purchased our meals for full price and my opinions just that, my opinions.

Proof DC

775 G Street, NW Washington, DC 20001

proof@proofdc.com

202.737.7663

 

Lunch

Tuesday – Friday 11:30 – 2:00

 

Dinner

Monday – Thursday 5:30 – 10:00

Friday – Saturday 5:30 – 11:00

Sunday 5:00 – 9:30

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