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Thank you to everyone who voted, the pumpkin carving contest was a close call, Witchy Pumpkin took the lead by a mere 8 points. YAY! Witchy pumpkin was my creation and JT carved Scary Pumpkin! I ended up carving two more on the day of, these one’s tested my skill in Surface Carving, and my only casualty was jabbing the exacto-knife into my forefinger! I only noticed when I was dotting blood all over my iPhone! Silly me. I really enjoyed carving these pumpkins so next year I’m upping the ante!

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Hooter. The pattern wouldn’t stick to the pumpkin
so I had to eyeball it!

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Mumford

On Friday October 25, JT and I went to the Delicious Food Show at the Better Living Centre at the CNE in Toronto. This show is only two years old but it’s really taken hold of the foodies in the city! Tickets for this show are $20 which would be expensive for a show, but if you take into consideration that there are no additional costs for the presentations, I think it’s a pretty good deal.
We didn’t really plan our visit and were very pleasantly surprised that we arrived in time to see Martha Stewart doing a live demo of her Raspberry Swirl Cheesecake, a recipe from her new cookbook called Cakes! You could purchase the cookbook and have her sign it but frankly there were too many rules to review and I got bored and moved on. While walking away, we practically bumped into Food Network Canada’s hottie, of Chuck’s Day Off, Chuck Hughes! I also found out that my friend Claudia was assisting him all day, sorry I missed you.

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Martha Stewart and her assistant making a raspberry ripple cheese cake from her new Cakes cookbook. It’s her 81st cookbook.

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Although the auditorium wasn’t large, they had two enormous monitors so you could see close up what she was doing.

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Chuck Hughes is a Montréal Chef with two restaurants and a very cool show on Food Network Canada called Chuck’s Day off.

There were many wonderful exhibitors and although you could definitely buy food to eat, there were lots of free samples to be had. There were also cocktails and although in Ontario the LCBO makes it illegal to give away booze for free, Wine Country Ontario was giving free wine samples in the form of a tasting which was very nice.

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A show about deliciousness.

There are far too many exhibitors to talk about in a reasonable length blog post so I’ll highlight a few.

Ice Syrup was one of our first stops. Ice syrup is a delicious syrup made from ice wine grapes. Use it drizzled on sharp cheeses like very old cheddar or blue cheese, last night we drizzled it over a pesto, prosciutto and goats cheese pizza, it was delicious!
Kosliks Canadian Mustard Klosiks makes the most morish mustard you can imagine, it makes you want to eat it by the spoonfuls! They were also showcasing organic chocolate with mustard seeds which were rather interesting.

Stirling Creamery makes the most delicious French style butter. Although there is only 2% difference in the fat to regular butter, it makes the butter very creamy. We bought 225g for the show price of $4, I believe it’s normally $6!

Remember my very first giveaway? Kristy (Eat, Play, Love; our family food adventures) won some Just a Pinch salts. President Mario Di Giovanni was working the show and JT and I had a lovely chat with him. His passion for his product and company really showed through, it was inspiring. His rubs are family recipes that he diligently copied down while watching his mother cook. Just a Pinch and my very first giveaway.

By late afternoon we started feeling a bit peckish and coming across Green and Blacks Organic Chocolate was perfect. Their free samples were generous and very delicious! I was disappointed that they didn’t have bars to sell at the show as they are often $8-9 dollars for a 100g bar. We hung around that booth for a while.

My dear friend Chgo John (From the Bartolini Kitchens) wrote about sustainable fish in his last post so I was very pleased to come across this booth who website clearly defines what fish are properly farmed in a humane and sustainable way.
Ocean Wisei sustainable seafood

Last June I purchased a unique cutting board from a Québec artisan Planet Creations what’s unique about their cutting boards is that the are all end grain, which makes for beautiful designs but practically speaking they do not dull your knives! They are works of art and I was very happy to see them at this classy show.

And last but not least, Sprucewood Brands was the booth that the inspiration for my next post came from. Their savoury shortbread cookies are perfect for the upcoming holiday season.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! You may think that I’m referring to Christmas, but then you’d be wrong. It’s Halloween, of course! JT and I traditionally have a pumpkin carving contest, and this year is no different. We scour the net for unusual pumpkin patterns and when we find one we get down to the dirty job of carving. Carving is made easier with the right tools, but then again isn’t everything? I bought a set of pumpkin carving tools at an end of season sale last year and wish I had bought two sets! So in light of the grand tradition, I’m going to ask you to vote on your favourite pumpkin! May the best pumpkin win!

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Vote for me. Vote for me!

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Vote for me. Vote for me!

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Hope the decorations and the scary music doesn’t frighten the wee ones too much!


We were craving a unique hors d’œuvres so I remade a traditional polenta recipe into a delightful orange snack: polenta “fries”! The orange is strictly from the sharp cheddar. And the best part is that you can easily freeze these babies for those lovely drop-ins during the holiday season.

Cheddar Polenta “Fries”

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They are crispy on the outside, soft and creamy on the inside.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup fine cornmeal
  • 2 cups stock (vegetable, beef or chicken)
  • 150 g grated old cheddar cheese
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • Pinch of chili flakes
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped chives

Directions:

  1. Bring stock to a boil and add the smoked paprika and chili flakes.
  2. Slowly add the cornmeal, whisking quickly as you add it.
  3. Add the grated cheese and mix well.
  4. Turn heat right down to low and cook for 10-15 minutes until it no longer feels as hard grain.
  5. Turn into a parchment lined square Pan about 22 cm x 22 cm or 9″ x 9″ and press down evenly and firmly. Allow to cool.
  6. Cut into 1cm or 1/2″ wide “fries” about 5 cm or 3″ long. Fry each side until golden in a light oil.
  7. Serve warm with marinara sauce or salsa.

Other serving suggestions:

  • Serve with soup instead of crackers.
  • Cut into small rounds and serve instead of rice or potatoes with a gravies meat.
  • Cut into small rounds and serve as ‘crackers’ topping with a cold cut or a pickle round!
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Marinara Sauce or Salsa are the perfect accompaniment.

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You sure I can’t interest you in even one?

Shortly after I became manager of the Creative Team at KPMG, the group moved into the brand new Scotia Plaza tower, then renowned for being the tallest building tower in Toronto (First Canadian Place had more floors but Scotia Plaza was taller!) You may have heard of Scotia Plaza in Toronto because it was the tower that was used in several scenes in the famous movie Three Men and a Baby, with Tom Selleck, Steve Guttenberg, Ted Danson. They filmed during the construction phase at Scotia Plaza because Peter Mitchell, played by Tom Selleck was an architect on that project.

Tragedy hit both the filming and construction when two of the construction workers were horrifically killed in the elevator shaft; there was talk of the elevator safety system failing and the elevator ‘fell’ upwards, crushing the men to death. I can’t find documentation of this (before the internet) but I seem to recall that filming and construction were suspended for investigations. We moved into the tower well after completion, in fact, it had been up and running for quite some time, and not without incidence.

Working late in the tower meant enjoying the quiet solitude because the HVAC systems were on a timer and unless you called down and requested to have the AC/Heat left on, it went dead silent around 6:30pm; that meant that you could hear a pin drop, it also meant that you were able to hear the creaking, groaning and moaning attributed to the steel supports within the structure. Or was it? I have to admit that I had several occasions to work late, well past the hustle and bustle and the HVAC timer, but other than my imagination, I felt nothing out of sorts — until that strange morning.

Scotia Plaza has several banks of elevators and I believe they were set up piggy back so that you always had two elevators moving, one servicing the even floors and one for the odd floors in of banks of 10. Fortunately for me, I worked on the 53rd floor so my floor was at the beginning of the bank of 10, so I never had to experience the ‘milk run’. That fine morning, I had popped downstairs to pick up some dip for a gathering and was returning to my office around 10am. It was passed the rush hour but people were starting to emerge for their morning coffee. I was waiting for the elevator with one gentleman. The elevator arrived and we both stepped in. I pushed the 53rd floor and he pushed 55. The doors closed and the elevator began to move. Now these elevators are super fast, it’s just seconds to reach the 50th bank, it’s not at all uncommon to have your ears pop as you ascend. The count-down to your floor doesn’t start until you reach your particular bank, and then it beeps every time a floor is passed. Beep 51, Beep 53, Beep 55 and then nothing WITHOUT stopping! As we approached the top level of our bank, the elevator slowed thank goodness. We tried pressing buttons to stop the elevator to get out, but it had a mind of its own and continued. At 61, it slowed down and almost stopped but then decided to return to ground level, fortunately for us, at normal speed. At ground level the doors opened and we emerged pale-faced and totally freaked out. I stepped out determined not to get into that particular elevator again and took the next one up without incident. The remainder of my tenure at Scotia Plaza was uneventful.

I couldn’t help but think if this little prank was the creation of the two men who died in the very elevator banks in that building; I guess we’ll never know. But I do know that if I had made a home-made dip, I wouldn’t have had to go down to the concourse that morning.

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A slightly tangy but very creamy dip with the perfect balance of salt and lemon juice.

This dip comes from my friend Charlie (Hotly Spiced) way down in Australia; she made it as part of three vegan dips for her daughter’s 19th birthday (which is ridiculous, as she barely looks 19 herself!). I was at my brother’s cottage in Muskoka when I read this delicious recipe and knew I had to try it. Of course, all the ingredients were available because of the Hollywood connection, unlike our cottage stores which are run by deer and chipmunks!

I only made a few alterations but I suggest you take a look at Charlie’s lovely blog, she always has a story that will make you laugh! Please excuse the photo, it was a quick decision but such a delicious recipe I had to post. Perhaps in the near future I will update the hideous shot!

Artichoke and Parmesan Dip

Serves: 8-10

Ingredients:

  • 500 g jar of marinated artichokes, drained
  • 1 generous tbsp salted capers, rinsed
  • rind of 1 lemon, plus juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus 1 tbsp for garnish
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions:

  1. Add everything BUT 1 tbsp Parmesan Cheese and a pinch on lemon rind into a small blender and blend until smooth.
  2. Garnish with 1 tbsp Parmesan and lemon rind.
  3. Serve with rice crackers (to make it gluten free).
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The aroma that wafted through the cottage was intoxicating. Or maybe it was the wine.

My family has always been cake people; JTs family are pie people. I always thought it was the difference between Europeans and the English. We usually had some fruit with or in our cakes whereas JTs family always had some pastry with their fruit. This was never a big deal for us because I’m not much of a dessert eater, but it did pose a challenge because I had to learn how to make a pie! Now that we’re more accustomed to each other, I make a variety of cakes and pies and JT happily samples them.

Recently, my friend Barbara Bamber from Calgary author of Just a Smidgen posted a gorgeous Martha Stewart recipe for a fall apple cake and I was smitten! When I suggested that I bake this cake to take over to my niece’s cottage-fest on our last weekend at the cottage JT was all over it. It’s moist and quite flavourful, the perfect mix of fruit and cake. We served it warm and at room temperature and both were very tasty. Although cake is always considered a treat, this could be perfect as a breakfast muffin, made in smaller portions.

Martha Stewart’s Apple-Cranberry Cake

makes one 9″ spring-form pan cake

Ingredients:

  • sugar for dusting pan
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 6 tbsp butter, unsalted and melted, plus a bit more for the pan
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup milk (I used skim)
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 3 Golden Delicious or Janagold apples, peeled, cored and sliced into 2 mm sliced wedges
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp butter cut into pieces

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F. Butter a 9″ springform pan and line the bottom with parchment. Sprinkle with sugar and shake the pan to coat.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.
  3. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together melted butter, 3/4 cup brown sugar, milk and eggs.
  4. Slowly fold the butter mixture into the flour mixture, just stirring until blended.
  5. Spoon the batter mixture into the prepared springform pan, smooth the top evenly.
  6. Arrange the apple slices and dried cranberries as you wish onto the cake batter. Then press each piece of fruit gently down into the batter.
  7. Sprinkle over with the 2 tbsp brown sugar and cinnamon. Top the brown sugar by dotting the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter over.
  8. Bake until top is golden and the fruit has softened, about 35-50 minutes in a convection oven (fan oven for my European friends), or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Notes:

I added cinnamon to the batter, the original recipe did not have it.

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Next time I will shroud with foil so that the top doesn’t darken as quickly.

As you know I’m a free agent at this particular juncture in my life and although I am keeping my ear to the ground and looking actively for work in my field, I am pretty realistic about the prospects out there and I’m keeping an open mind. The support from my blogging peeps is phenomenal and I thank you for your interest and offer to help! I am constantly touched and surprised by the generosity and kindness of, for all intensive purposes, strangers! It is because of you I am keeping my mind open for alternative opportunities, one such opportunity became a reality just two weeks ago.

About a year and a half or so ago, I had the good fortune to be invited to a taping of Top Chef Canada, Season 3 and there I met with Lucie Richard, Toronto-based Food Stylist with whom I chatted extensively about her craft. At that time, she very generously offered to have me ‘assist’ on one of her photo shoots. Two weeks ago it came to fruition and I assisted on a National Brand ice cream shoot. You cannot imagine how excited I was!

Ice cream is one of the most difficult things to shoot because of the very short window of opportunity before it begins to melt. I was thrilled to experience such a challenging product with one of the best in the field; Lucie was kind and generous with her advice and patience and she taught me an incredible volume of information on shooting ice cream. The tricks of the trade tend to be quite personal and what one stylist does may not necessarily be exactly what another does, so experiencing variety is key to coming up with your own tricks of the trade. The client has very specific expectations in what the characteristics of the ice cream should look like so you really need to know what you’re doing.

We used dry ice to super cool the tools, we worked in small batches for short periods of time, constantly re-freezing the ice cream so it doesn’t glaze over in the melting process. And the studio was kept very cool with air conditioning so I brought a sweater and I even brought gloves in case I needed to warm my hands. Of course, the work is fast and furious and there is no time to be cold.

The trends 15-20 years ago was to use ‘fake’ product. Ice cream was a highly guarded secret recipe of shortening, food colourings and inclusions. Today, most companies want the real deal and that in itself presents some interesting opportunities. And then there is Photoshop®, which has at times saved this incredible craft. We even took Photoshop into consideration, shooting slightly brighter and darker versions of the same shot in order to make sure we have what it takes to make the best composite. Of course, the Photoshopers are so skilled and talented, you can’t tell that they have added a little of this and a little of that to make that shot.

The client was very happy with the ice cream photo and we even finished a few minutes early. It was a huge success for me, and gave me the confidence to send out notes to my Food Stylist peeps that I’d love to assist. Who knows, this may become something!

Sadly, blogging is the driver and result of cooking passion; I make recipes for meals that I want to blog about. But we also want to eat the food I blog about. It’s wasteful to make an extra portion just for the blog so either JT or I will suffer with the pretty but stone cold blog version of a dish or eat separately which is what happened with this amazing ‘ravioli’.

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The pasta is relatively thin, so you can see all the good stuff inside!

Some time ago I saw this unique ‘ravioli’ treatment on my friend Celi’s blog (the kitchen’s garden), she was inspired to make this delightful dish after her daughter who works in a very upscale restaurant in Melbourne told her about it. We were at the cottage at the time I read the post and you know how we are unable to divert from plan because of ingredient limitations, so I was itching to make this beautiful dish as soon as we returned to the city.

One thing led to another and it wasn’t until the Friday before Thanksgiving that I finally got it together to make this tasty dish. Thank you Celi, it is exceptional! It’s reasonably fussy so I will have to figure out a way to simplify it so I can make it as a starter for a dinner party. I used John’s recipe (from the Bartolini Kitchen) for the pasta dough (with minor modifications) and Celi’s rough description for the filling. Even JT commented that he would definitely have it again. So it’s a win/win, all the way around. Thank you Celi and John for inspiring me to make this gorgeous dish.

The ravioli is comprised of sautéed spinach, ricotta and parmesan cheese  and the crowning glory is the simple egg yolk enveloped within the light pasta dough. When it is cooked, the yolk is simply warmed so that it becomes thick but remains runny and once it’s broken into, it mixes with the sage brown butter and becomes a delightful sauce over the ricotta, spinach and pasta. This is definitely a winner and will be shared with friends soon.

Ravioli with Egg Yolk and Sage Brown Butter Sauce (uova-da-raviolo)

I forgot to sprinkle additional parmesan on this one, shhhh.

I forgot to sprinkle additional parmesan on this one, shhhh.

Serves 2 with lots of pasta left over (I made additional plain ravioli and filled it with seasoned ricotta and froze them for future use).

Ingredients, for the pasta:

  • 1 scant cup flour
  • 2 egg whites

Directions, for the pasta:

  1. In a food processor, combine the flour and egg whites and process until you achieve a ball of dough.
  2. Allow the dough to rest for 30 minutes.

Ingredients, for the brown butter sauce:

  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp finely sliced sage
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced

Directions, for the Brown Butter Sauce:

  1. Melt the butter and cook until it is brown, remove from heat and add the sage and garlic and allow to infuse while making the filling.

Ingredients, for the ravioli filling:

  • 2 whole egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 2 handfuls of spinach
  • 1/4 cup ricotta
  • 1 roasted garlic, puréed (I used a fork)
  • 2 tbsp Parmesan Cheese, and 1 tbsp for garnish

Directions, for the ravioli filling:

  1. In a small frying pan, sauté the spinach with a splash of EVOO until wilted, set aside to cool.
  2. In a small bowl, mix the ricotta, roasted garlic and 2 tbsp parmesan cheese. Taste and season with salt as desired.

Directions, for assembly of the ravioli:

  1. Heat a large deep pan of salted water to a steady boil.
  2. Roll out four thin sheets of pasta about 10-15cm in diameter (4-6″) (I used #5 on my Kitchenaid Pasta Attachment, but I think #6 would have worked very well too).
  3. In the centre of two of the pasta sheets, add a mound of spinach and on top of that add 1/2 the ricotta mix. Make a divot in the centre and add the room temperature, raw egg yolk. Place the second sheet on top and push out any air and seal the edges well. Cut this into a shape or leave it rustic.
  4. In the meantime, reheat the brown butter sauce on low.
  5. Boil the large ravioli for 2-3 minutes or until the pasta is completely cooked but leaving the egg yolk runny. Serve with the hot brown butter sauce and parmesan cheese for garnish. If you have a few extra sage leaves, add them as garnish too.
  6. Enjoy while the yolk is still runny.
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The egg yolk oozes out and mixes with the brown butter very nicely.

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We had these for lunch, for appetizers I will make them smaller and use small egg yolks!

October is slipping through our fingers very quickly. Socially, we are already booking into November which never ceases to amaze me. Blogs are filling the virtual world with comforting fall recipes, halloween decorations and stories. My dear friend Kelly (a fellow Canadian who recently moved to California , the delightful writer and creative genius of Inspired Edibles) made a comment on my last spooky story about a haunted house tour in London she participated in several years ago and that reminded me of my own haunting experience in the UK. So I would like to continue with the Spooky Story series on my humble blog (to be honest, I had no idea I had so many of them!) Please pardon the photos in this post of our trip to the UK, they were before digital cameras and I simply took an iPhone photo of them for this post!

It was about 4 years into our marriage and JT and I were vacationing in the UK; we rented a car and drove from  town to town from the south-west to the south-east culminating our adventure in London for a few days (as a side note: we saw the Queen Mother speed along in her Rolls Royce while we were walking to Buckingham Palace). We specifically chose to stay in old mansions and guest houses on this trip, it was not only budget friendly but it also was much more fun than the large international hotels.

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Bibury Court Hotel

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This was high fashion in 1990! Well, at least my hair was high.

One such town was Bibury which is a quaint little picturesque town in the heart of the Cotswolds. We stayed at a very large, very old manor house Bibury Court Hotel, incidentally the same manor house that JT and his dear Mom stayed in several years earlier. “The hotel is found on the edge of the famous village of Bibury, once described by William Morris as ‘the most beautiful village in England” taken verbatim from their website!

On these holidays, one of the things JT really loves to do is visit old castles and there were plenty of them in England; of course his favourite part of the castle was always the dungeon! As you can well imagine, my young self was not thrilled at such prospects, but as a good young wife, I accompanied him through many a dungeon throughout England and each one gave me the willies — some worse than others.

After our visit to Warwick Castle, I was particularly spooked. Not sure why, but as soon as I entered the very ghoulish dungeon I had an uneasy feeling and some very cold air wafted over me (of course, dungeons are cold and damp so that wasn’t entirely unusual).  The uneasy feeling was so overwhelming that I was unable to spend more than a second in the dungeon and we had to cut our time short. We retreated to our lovely manor house on the edge of town.

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This was the creepiest room by far in the dungeon.

We rented a lovely room which was pleasantly decorated and reasonably spacious for the time. But the view was something to be desired, particularly by someone who was recently spooked by dungeon spirits; our room over looked the grave yard (cue scary music). JT was nice enough to see if there was another room facing a different direction but sadly they were fully booked so we were stuck. I said it didn’t bother me, but you know it did.

We had a lovely dinner in the converted restaurant coach house and an after dinner drink in the quaint little bar tucked in beneath the grand old staircase in the manor house. And then it was time to retire. I tried not to think of the old cemetery, but it weighed heavily on my mind.

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That was the window that the wind and ghosts were pouring in from. The grave yard was directly outside.

Eventually, I drifted off to sleep but it wasn’t a restful sleep. As I lay curled up on the comfy bed, snuggled under the generous duvet, the large windows facing the grave yard at the foot of the bed flung themselves open and the curtains wafted menacingly in the cold fall winds sending a chill throughout the room. But it wasn’t just wind blowing in; there were ghosts…lots of them. Apparently that is the moment I jumped out of bed and screamed to shut the windows. Of course, the windows were not open and nor were there cold winds nor ghosts blowing in. Occasionally, when I am stressed I talk in my sleep and the only way to console me is to agree and remedy, however ridiculous it may be. JT learned this lesson with the bed spiders (sorry Chgo John, that’s a whole other story). So JT simply got up and pretended to whisk out the ghosts,  close the windows and lock them down tight, explaining what he was doing along the way.  That seemed to be good enough for  me and I was able to continue my sleep with the consolation that the grave yard and ghosts were on the other side of the locked windows. The next morning, JT took quite the delight in telling me the story but I had no recollection!

I’m sure it was the heavy, meat laden meal I had that night which no doubt contributed to my restless night; had I chosen something lighter, such as vegetarian Paella, I may not have had such vivid dreams of ghosts and grave yards!

I have documented several paella recipes on my blog (please see here, and here)

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A traditional Paella Pan is essential to make this authentic dish

Seafood Paella with Salmon Chorizo

Original recipe from Matiz La Bomba Paella Rice on back of bag. This particular bag of rice was a beautiful gift from our biscotti neighbour, wasn’t that thoughtful? This was only the second time I made this dish the authentic way on top of the stove. Nothing was even remotely over cooked!

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 c dry white wine
  • 1 tsp saffron
  • approximately 650 g of seafood, I used Shrimp, Bay Scallops, Salmon and Cod
  • 1 Salmon Chorizo (for recipe, please click here)
  • 4 cups vegetable or fish broth, warmed
  • 1/2 vidalia onion, chopped
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes (I used unsalted)
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced finely
  • 1/4 c green peas
  • 1/4 c sweet corn
  • 3/4 cup of La Bomba Pealla Rice
  • 2 tbsp EVOO

Directions:

  1. About 1 hour to 1 day prior tocooking the Paella, add the saffron to the white wine and refrigerate.
  2. In a Paella Pan, on medium heat, add 2 tbsp EVOO and sweat the onions until translucent, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the chopped red pepper and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic, diced tomatoes  and white wine saffron mix and simmer for another 5 minutes. This is the Sofrito.
  4. Add La Bomba rice and stir until the rice is thoroughly covered with the Sofrito.
  5. Slowly add the broth to the paella, moving the rice around gently until it is evenly distributed throughout the pan. The instructions indicate not to stir the rice after this point.
  6. After about 10 minutes of simmering, add your selection of seafood into the mixture, evenly distributing and gently burying it within the rice. After 15 minutes, add the peas and corn and cook for another 10 minutes.
  7. Once the broth has been completely absorbed, remove from heat and cover with a lid or aluminum foil and allow to sit for 10 minutes.
  8. Serve in the Paella pan garnished with lemon and lime wedges (which I forgot!).
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The rice is short grain and soaks up the vegetable stock like a risotto rice would, making a deliciously creamy dish;jl

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Our neighbours were kind enough to bring us back authentic Paella rice called La Bomba.

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I even used Saffron from Morocco! The dish was perfect in every way.

I thought you might enjoy some photos from the Thanksgiving weekend in Muskoka:

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Unfortunately, the colours were just past their prime.

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Some of the golden colours were still quite beautiful.

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The scenery made for a beautiful drive.

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A few leaves still hanging on for dear life!

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Sunrise from the boat house at my brother’s place

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The setting sun still produces an incredible effect in the sky.

Hope all the Canadians reading this post are having a Happy Thanksgiving this weekend! The second Monday of October has been designated as Canadian Thanksgiving, not sure why, but we’ll take a holiday in October any day of the week!

We used to spend Thanksgiving at the cottage, often inviting my dear Mom and her hubby Geo, but since her passing in 2005, we’ve been invited to my brother’s cottage in the Muskoka. It’s quite a different life-style than ours to have a cottage in Muskoka. For example, you needn’t do much grocery shopping in the city because you can get everything and anything you need for the weekend in one of the well stocked grocery stores; in comparison, last time I forgot Parmesan Cheese and I was even going to settle for the powdered prepackaged cheese but our little shop didn’t even have that, so we had to drive an hour to find it! You might wonder why it’s so different in the Land of the Thousand Lakes (our cottage area) and Muskoka. Well, let me tell you. It’s because Hollywood has descended on Muskoka and while we have 1,000-2,000 square foot cottages (93-186 square metres) (ours is about 600 square feet), Muskoka boasts 10,000 and 20,000 square foot cottages (930-1860 square metres) with helipads and landing strips!  There is name dropping in Muskoka whereas we just talk about the dear we may have seen on the back road driving in. Goldie Hawn has a sprawling cottage on the same lake as my brother. We’ve never really been close to it, but apparently people think it’s ok to moor their boat and hop out to look around. She has security. My SIL spotted her in their local grocery store, where you could order Sushi grade tuna for the weekend (I’m lucky to get mac and cheese at ours). Steve Martin visits Martin Short who also has a nice place down the road on my brother’s lake. I heard that Steve Martin is very kind and hands out business cards that prove you’ve met him: “this  certifies that you have had a personal encounter with me and that you found me warm, polite, intelligent and funny” and of course he signs it. Martin Short’s wife once ran after my brother while he jogged down the road in front of their place to warn him that there have been bears seen that very morning! So you see, while we hob nob with the dear, chipmunks, bunnies and beavers, the folks in the Muskoka’s hob nob with the rich and famous.

My brother’s family is down to earth and their cottage is much more modest than those around them. They are generous to a fault and we always eat well and drink copious amounts of wine when we visit. We’ve had balmy 24°C days and on the very same weekend, we’ve had snow flurries! But it’s always a relaxing weekend to connect with family and take long quiet walks around the lake.

Snow flurries a few years ago. View from the dining room and kitchen.

Snow flurries a few years ago. View from the dining room and kitchen.

Although I didn’t make this galette for the Thanksgiving weekend, it dawned on me that it would be the perfect sweet for afternoon tea or dessert after a big turkey dinner. I used the lavender sugar that my dear friend Barb (Profiteroles and Ponytails) brought up when they visited us at the cottage this summer. It just made this dessert that much fancier! Thanks Barb.

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The Lavender Sugar was a gift from my friend Barb from Profiteroles and Ponytails

Apple Rhubarb Galette with Lavender Sugar

Serves 6-8

The Galette Pastry Recipe comes from Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 Galette pastry
  • 1/2 c Rhubarb
  • 3 Apples, chopped into equal-sized pieces
  • 2 tbsp all purpose unbleached flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1 tbsp egg white for brushing pastry
  • 1 tbsp Lavender Sugar for garnish

Directions:

  1. Combine the apples and rhubarb and dust with the spices, sugar and flour, coating evenly
  2. Roll out the galette pastry to about 10cm or 3 inches larger than required. Fill centre with the fruit and turn up the sides to form the galette.
  3. Brush pastry with egg white and bake for 25 minutes or until edges are golden brown and fruit is soft.
  4. Remove from the oven and dust with 1 tbsp Lavender Sugar.
  5. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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The Rhubarb was the perfect foil for this sweet dessert

The rhubarb came from our dear friend’s Monica and Rae’s garden in Toronto. I still have some in the freezer, it will be a welcome taste of summer in mid-winter!

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Can you see the little Lavender Flowers?

As we are approaching the end of autumn and the beginning of a long cold winter, I am once again excited about… Halloween! Last year I started telling you about some spooky stories all true, and now I’m going to continue this tradition. Buckle your seat belts ladies and gents.
JT and I bought our first house north and east of Toronto in a small bedroom community called Stouffville. It was an old farming community from the 1800’s that the city planners linked to Toronto via the GO Train (Government of Ontario Train). The small city was limited only by the fact that it wasn’t on either main water or sewage; our little city’s water was from an arteasesn well. Being limited by the water made Stouffville even more desirable because it constrained mass building which was happening in droves in similar bedroom communities (we used to call it ‘the sea of houses’ because they went on and on). Our subdivision was the last of its kind until Stouffville joined up to city water and sewage in the mid-2000’s, which made it the fastest growing community north of Toronto. But we were gone long before that.
Although the house was brand new, it always gave me the willies! I only ever spent one night by myself in that house, I would go spend the night with my Mom or in laws when JT travelled. There were creepy noises, creeks and cracks. But the weirdest thing that happened even made skeptic JT agree that the house was strange.
One evening after dinner I was baking in our little kitchen, JT was watching television in the adjacent family room. I was turned away from the doorway and as I turned to put something in the sink out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone poke their head into the kitchen, they were wearing red. I just figured it was JT seeing if there were any samples to be had. But then a few moments later JT actually came into the kitchen and asked me what I wanted. I said I was just about to ask him the same thing. He said he thought I just poked my head into the family room, he thought I was wearing red too! Except neither of us had red on. Super freaked out, we checked all the doors and windows and they were locked tight. Then we checked all the rooms and closets. We found nothing.
Even though I wasn’t baking biscotti that night, I think JT and our mystery guest would have enjoyed a few tasters from this recipe.

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There is something so civilized about eating a little biscotti with an afternoon espresso, don’t you think?

 

Chocolate Almond Biscotti

Makes 2 logs, about 48 biscotti

Original recipe from Food Network

I was drawn to this recipe because it doesn’t have melted butter in it. Not having butter actually makes this cookie very hard and I would recommend not biting down on it unless you have dipped it into something warm.

Ingredients:

  • 2 c flour
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1/3 c cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp espresso powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2/3 c whole almonds, toasted skin on
  • 1/3 c chocolate chips
  • 1 egg white for brushing

Directions:

  1. Combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in a stand mixer with paddle attachment.
  2. Mix together eggs, egg whites and vanilla extract.
  3. Gradually add egg mixture to flour mixture blending on low speed.
  4. Toss almonds with chocolate chips and fold into the flour mixture until combined.
  5. On a well floured surface roll dough into 2 logs, 2 inches in diameter. They will expand quite a bit.
  6. Place on a greased pan and brush with beaten egg white.
  7. Bake at 350 degrees until light golden brown, about 30-35 minutes.
  8. Allow logs to cool 15 minutes then cut into slices on the bias. Place slices on a greased sheet pan and bake in a 350 degree oven until toasted, about 15-20 minutes. Cool. Store in an airtight container.
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Delicate flavours of the almond are accentuated by the rich, creamy chocolate. Isn’t that crema gorgeous?

Has this ever happened to you: you hear about something for the first time and then you keep hearing about it again and again? It’s happened to me recently and it’s the absolute, lip smacking, deliciously tantalizing Kale Salad by renowned chef and restauranteur of Gusto 101, Daniel Mezzolo. My friend Kim (old boss, neighbour) mentioned this salad a while back and I’ve seen it come up more and more often which has made me want to taste said salad, however, that is much more difficult than one would think. You see, Gusto 101 takes reservations only until 6pm and then it’s a free for all. We’ve driven by many times around 7 or 8 and there is always quite the line-up outside, waiting for a table. Now, I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I just don’t like to line up. I figure if I am about to spend upwards of $80 for a meal, I shouldn’t have to wait in line to do so. But this is the reality if one needs to try this salad, and I really, really needed to try it.

I searched the net and found this helpful video on making this healthy salad, but alas there was no recipe for the dressing…so I looked further and found several versions all based on similar ingredients. My friend Celi from The kitchen’s garden just competed her September Home Grown challenge during which time she only allowed herself to eat what she grew on her little farmie! By the end of the challenge she mentioned that she was quite tired of eating the same old things. So when I finally hunkered down and made a decent effort to make the Kale Salad, I immediately thought of Celi. I know I’m a little late for the challenge, but it’s definitely a good recipe and I hope you have a chance to try it before the snow falls.

KaleSalad_1012

It’s a melt in your mouth salad

What makes this salad unique is the finely cut curly kale and how the lemon juice in the dressing acts to ‘cook’ the kale as it sits (like a ceviche would cook the seafood!). It’s a wonderful balance of sour, sweet and salty. I added a couple of slices of crispy cooked Serrano ham, but that is easily omitted if you wish to make it vegetarian.

Cavolo Nero (Kale Salad)

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups finely chopped kale
  • 2 tbsp raisins or dried cranberries or dried sour cherries
  • 2 tbsp toasted pine nuts or toasted sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp EVOO
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 slices of Serrano ham, baked or fried until crisp and crumbled (omit for vegetarian)
  • 1/4 c + 2 tbsp of freshly grated Parmesan Cheese or Pecorino
  • 1 tbsp fresh basil
  • 1 tbsp EVOO
  • pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. About 20-30 minutes before serving, combine the lemon juice, honey, Extra Virgin Olive Oil and salt and mix well in a large unreactive bowl (not metal).  Add the finely cut kale and toss to coat evenly. Set aside for a minimum of 20 minutes (I did 30 minutes) tossing a few times over the 30 minutes. (an update October 16: I made this salad at my brother’s cottage last weekend and I suspect the kale was older and tougher so 30 minutes wasn’t enough time to macerate, please keep this in mind when making the salad. Just as baby kale will take less time than the 30 minutes because it is not has tough).
  2. Muddle the fresh basil in 1 tablespoon of olive oil, with a pinch of salt. Set aside. I’ve made this lovely salad without the basil oil without missing it.
  3. Just before serving, add the raisins, pine nuts, crispy serano ham and 1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese to the dressed kale and toss well. Divide the kale between two plates.
  4. Drizzle the basil olive oil on the plate and garnish with 1 tablespoon of grated parmesan cheese over each plate. Serve immediately.
KaleSalad_1009

Perfectly balanced sweet, sour and salty

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A perfect salad for a hot summer’s day. Where did it go, anyway?

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The fall colours were just starting when I took these photos in late September.

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The cottage colours happen a bit earlier than the city colours.

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The sun also moves to the far left during the fall. We see more of the sunset during the summer months.

We always really luck out with our neighbours. Our first house was in a new, bedroom community north of Toronto and JT and I bought the smallest house snuggled in between two of the larger models in the subdivision. The neighbours to the west of us built our shared fence and didn’t even ask us for a penny for it; we built our fence to the east of us with the neighbour over a weekend culminating with a great big shared BBQ. When we moved back to the city, our northern neighbours held a BBQ for us and invited the entire street so that we could meet everyone; it was wonderful. We shared a driveway with these people and more often than not, when I couldn’t find JT (who should have been doing chores), he was sitting on the neighbour’s back porch having a beer with the neighbour.
When both our careers moved to the west side of Toronto, we made our third move; there were no parties or BBQs this time around, but there was always Biscotti! Our lovely neighbours on our north side made us delicious biscotti every Christmas. When I started living in our new reality, coffee breaks from the gruelling job search became imperative and I couldn’t help but crave ‘a little something’ with my java and that’s when I remembered our sweet neighbour’s almond biscotti. I’d never made biscotti before so it not only satisfied a craving but it also became a blog post! What more can I ask for?

Original recipe from Eyetalian Magazine.

Almond Biscotti (Biscotti Albani)

Makes about 2 dozen

Ingredients:

  • 2 c unbleached All Purpose Flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 3/4  c  almonds
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 but melted butter
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 lightly beaten egg white

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F or 180°C.
  2. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, lemon zest and nuts in a medium-sized bowl.
  3. In another bowl, whisk the eggs together with the sugar, melted butter, vanilla extract and almond extract ; stir the wet ingredients into the flour/nut mixture and combine until a sticky dough forms.
  4. Transfer to a floured surface and form the dough into two logs about 30 cm or 12 inches long (as the dough bakes, it will increase in size, so unlike what I did, I would make the logs much thinner next time).
  5. Place the logs onto an ungreased baking sheet and brush with the beaten egg whites.
  6. Bake for about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for about 6 minutes and then slice into 1 cm or 0.5 inch thick diagonal slices. Return slices to the cookie sheet and bake again for about 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool.
  7. Serve with a beautiful espresso.
Biscotti_IMG_0950

We’ve had a hankering for biscotti these coolish days

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A perfect snack when dipped into the aromatic, creamy espresso

Biscotti_IMG_0947

Oh go ahead and take one please, I insist!

Gluten Free Cherry Cake

The days are getting shorter and the nights chillier, fall is definitely upon us in Ontario; you can feel it, see it and even smell it. We had a fire last night in our wood burning fire place! I even put closed toe shoes on today. I say it every year: I’M NOT READY!!! Is it just me or do you also feel that time is even a bit faster these days — where did the summer go?
Several friends and family have now gone gluten free, some by choice and some by necessity. Even at our house we try to limit our Gluten intake, so I’m always on the lookout for new gluten free, beautiful and tasty dessert recipes.
My friend Charlie at Hotly Spiced made this wonderful Gluten Free Sour Cherry Cake a while back and I knew I had to make it as soon as I saw her post! Thanks Charlie! The cake is moist, and the texture is perfect. It reminded me a little of a semolina cake, but with a finer texture. I usually have a dislike to the flavour of gluten free flours, so I made a few alterations which worked out famously; I added lemon rind, lemon essence and because I was short on butter, substituted cream cheese for the missing weight — I hope you don’t mind Charlie! It was absolutely wonderful and it’s going on my list of ‘Go-To’ Gluten Free desserts!

GFCherryCake_0925

I only put 1/2 cup of cherries into my cake, next time it will be a full cup (recipe is adjusted already).

Gluten Free Cherry Cake

Serves 6-8 from an 20 cm or 8″ spring form pan

Ingredients:

  • 75 g softened butter
  • 25 g softened cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup castor sugar (super fine sugar, but not icing sugar)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 lemon rind
  • 1/2 tsp lemon essence
  • 2 free-range eggs at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup GF flour
  • 3/4 tsp GF baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 37 g almond meal
  • 1 tbsp buttermilk (or cow’s milk)
  • 1 cup cherries

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 180° C (375° F).
  2. Prepare a 20 cm (8 inch) spring form pan by spraying with non-stick cooking spray and lining the bottom with parchment paper.
  3. Beat the butter and cream cheese together until they are as white and fluffy as can be (this takes several minutes). Once you’ve reach the light fluffy consistency, gradually add sugar. then add the vanilla and continue to beat until incorporated.  Add the egg and beat in until well combined.
  4. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together and using a wooden spoon, mix into the butter fluff. Then fold in the almond meal and buttermilk.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared tin and smooth the surface.
  6. Drain the cherries then scatter across the top of the cake.  (No need to be decorative as they will sink during the cooking process).
  7. Place in the oven for 30-40 minutes or when your cake tester comes out clean.
  8. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool in the tin.
  9. Serve with dusted icing sugar and cherry sauce (or ice cream, whipped cream etc.
GFCherryCake_0924

It’s a delicately flavoured moist cake, the sauce isn’t really necessary,
but it’s darn nice!

Honey-Spiced Almonds

We survived another Doran weekend; these weekend are full of gluttony, laughter and somewhat excesses but most of all, they are full of friendship, love and stories. And laughter, A lot of laughter. We decided to spend this weekend at the cottage because our dear friends hadn’t been up for quite some time, plus we wanted to share our new found excitment in the renovations with them! September weekend weather can be hit and miss and we had both this time around. Sunny or not, it was damn chilly and we had the heat on more than the windows open. Fall is definitely the the air. And as luck would have it, I forgot my shoes at home, so the majority of the weekend was spent in flip flops and borrowed socks, thank you T!

I always like to serve a little nibbly with cocktails; drinking on an empty stomach can be dangerous so when I came across these flavourful little nibbles, I was all over them. A touch of heat, a touch of sweetness and a lot of texture, these will surprise you with how easy they are to eat!

Spiced Nuts_0930

They are not sticky at all.

Honey-Spiced Almonds

Makes 3 cups (recipe adapted from Epicurious)

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cups whole almonds, skin on
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin
  • pinch of cayenne
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp black and white sesame seeds

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 300° F (XXX° C). Line a baking sheet with a silpat® sheet or parchment.
  2. Sift the spices and salt together and set aside.
  3. Heat the oil in a large pan, add the almonds and roast for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat.
  4. Add the honey and stir well. Sprinkle the spices over the sticky almonds. Add the sesame seeds and stir well to combine.
  5. Turn out the almonds onto the prepared cookie sheet and flatten to one layer of almonds. Bake for approximately 15 minutes (watch so it doesn’t burn), turning at least once in the process.
  6. Cool completely and serve.
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The sesame are a nice little touch.

Spiced Nuts_0933

The almonds crisp up very nicely.

We usually have a lot of fishermen at the lake because apparently it is a good fishing lake. The past couple of years someone has caught something big in our bay and word got out, so we usually have a couple of fishing boats trolling our bay for fish every weekend. As you can well imagine I am not fond of this activity particularly when it infringes my privacy. The lake at the cottage is spring fed, which means that it’s reasonably cold for most of the summer, in fact it’s usually August by the time I feel it’s warm enough for a refreshing dip! Over these same last few years, it  seems that every time I dip into the water, smallish fish surround my legs; it wouldn’t be bad but these little devils actually try to bite my legs! They’ve obviously heard about the good fishing in the lake and have launched a protest in the form of attacking my defenseless legs! Since I don’t like to fish (obviously, they haven’t heard!) but I do like to eat fish (well, maybe they have a point!) I usually get my fish from our fish monger or the grocery store.

Recently we had some friends for dinner who are vegetarian (the fish-eating kind) and I wanted to make a fish based Paella; I’ve made this dish before but found it a bit lacking without the use of chorizo so I was thinking…what if I made chorizo from fish using similar spices? The texture isn’t the same, but it did add the punch from the spices that I was looking for. It worked out so well, that I will use this method for other  ‘sausages’ in the future.

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A delightful combination of cod, bay scallops, shrimp and salmon chorizo

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I am participating again in Our Growing Edge Monthly blogging event; I’ve participated before because I had made the Indonesian Thousand Layer Cake which was pretty out there for me, but since then, I can’t say that I’ve made anything quite so awesome, until now.

Salmon Chorizo

makes three ‘sausages’ about 10 cm long each

Ingredients:

  • 120 g drained canned salmon, skinless and boneless
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 tbsp panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Saran wrap or thick plastic wrap made for cooking (not microwave as they may contain small holes)
  • 3 tbsp canola oil

Directions:

  1. In a small food processor, add all the ingredients except the plastic wrap and canola oil and process until it is well mixed.
  2. Lay out one piece of plastic wrap about 30 cm x 30 cm (12″ x 12″). Pipe a length of the mixture into the centre of the plastic wrap and fold over one side and smooth out so that it’s taught to the salmon mixture. Now roll the ‘sausage’ up on the plastic wrap.
  3. Take each end of the wrap and roll the ends until it is very tightly wound, tie a knot in each end. Repeat until you have rolled all of the ‘sausages’.
  4. In a medium-sized saucepan, heat about 10 cm (3″) of water until it is almost boiling. Add each ‘sausage’ to the simmering water and cook for about 10 minutes (you don’t want to boil the water, just simmer).
  5. Remove the sausages from the water and drain. Allow to cool completely in the wrap and when cool remove the wrap. The ‘sausage’ should maintain its shape well. Slice into 1 cm (1/2″) thick slices.
  6. In a large frying pan, heat the canola oil and fry each side of the ‘sausage’ until desired colour is achieved. Now you are ready to use you salmon chorizo in your recipe.
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The egg is the binder in this sausage

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The sausage stands up very well in the paella

 

 

Hello everyone! Hope you are enjoying the definite fall weather of late. I won’t even mention the spring weather our friends from below the equator are experiencing. Yes, that’s the green in me!
I’m just going to hop right back and tell you more about our stop in Grand Rapids while traveling to Wisconsin and Illinois in late July and I wanted to share another really cool thing to do in Grand Rapids: the Frederik Meijer Gardens. The weather wasn’t great, a little unseasonably cold and rainy, but it didn’t stop us from exploring and I’m sure glad we did. I definitely recommend this little outing; the gardens are beautiful to walk through and the sculptures throughout are captivating. There are even a couple of August Rodin and Henry Moore pieces; both artists are dear to me because I have seen quite a few of their pieces (Rodin Museum in Paris and in the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto). And there were several moments that I thought of my dear blogging friends: Norma from Garden to Wok (because of the frogs she collects in her garden), Celi, the Kitchen’s Garden (because of the cows and the pigs she has on her farmie), Genie, Bunny, eats, design, because she has the beautiful and mischievous Tofu the bunny rabbit. So if your ears were burning in late July, you now know that it was because of me!

The Frederik Meijer Gardens are a bit of a drive from down town and admission is a reasonable $12 for adults and $4 for 3-4 years old and $6 for 5-13 — parking is free; it’s a long walk through the gardens, so wear comfy shoes (famous last words, eh ladies?)! The weather was a bit iffy, so we did a brusque walk completing the tour in about two hours, so a gentle stroll will last at least three to four hours. They even have some lovely green houses holding some very exotic plants, in case you need a break from the chill outside. There is also an interactive kids section which we passed on.

I hope you have a chance to watch the slide show below, and to perhaps some day visit the Frederik Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

We were not compensated for this review, it is strictly our opinion.

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
1000 East Beltline NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49525
(616) 957-1580 | Toll-Free: 888-957-1580

Continuing on our trip to Michigan this past July, we spent one lovely afternoon and evening in Grand Rapids to help break up the driving time to Wisconsin. After a delicious but unfortunately quick dinner at Grove we decided that the night was still too young to be packed in so we checked out Reserve, a lovely wine bar in the heart of down town. We were very pleasantly surprised to end the evening off so well.

I don’t know about you, but JT and I check reviews and sometimes we get lucky and choose a good place on a good night and sometimes it’s an epic fail. This little spot, we got lucky! We sat at the bar and chatted to Cory the Mixologist who turned out to be a fantastic spokes-person and historian for his humble city. When he wasn’t attending to other customers, Cory spoke very highly of Reserve’s dining experience (that we’ll have to return to try!). With just over 100 wines by the glass, there isn’t a shortage of libations to choose from, priced from a sampler size to a full 9oz glass these folks have everything your heart desires. They have a very sophisticated system of storing and serving the wines (the system extracts the oxygen and seals each bottle after use) and they are said to keep for 30 days, although I wouldn’t think they’d need to as the place was hopping! There were a variety of prices and non of them seem exorbitant.

Reserve is located in the down town area of Grand Rapids, by the Grand River. It’s cool, contemporary décor is a perfect stage for the trendy business crowd. It’s not a huge place and where we were sitting the noise level wasn’t too bad. Lighting was a bit harsh particularly beneath the centre area but at the bar it was very flattering. If the quality of service could be gauged by Cory’s level of attention and friendliness, I would say it’s excellent! Definitely deserves a return visit.

Reserve

201 Monroe Ave. NW

Grand Rapids, MI 49503

616-855-9463

Hours

Monday – Thursday 11:30 AM – 11:00 PM

Friday 11:30 AM – 12:00 AM

Saturday 4:00 PM – 12:00 AM

Sunday Closed

 

Overall rating of Reserve, Grand Rapids (in my opinion): Decor 3.5/5, service 4/5, food n/a, Value 3/5, Noise: 3/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

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

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Rich and flaky, just as it should be.

You may have noticed that I’m not around much lately and I do apologize. In fact, I missed posting on Monday! Can you believe it? In the 7 years I’ve been blogging and have had a schedule to post, this was my first unintentional miss. What have I been doing? Well, some of the time I’m at the cottage but that’s mainly weekends, mostly I’m in the city scouring the internet, networking and such to find something new to do. It’s not that easy selling yourself when you’ve been doing what you’ve been doing for so long, it’s more instinct and natural reaction and to put that into words and make yourself sound amazing is more difficult than I thought. I can sell you someone else, or something else, I can always find the words to make it look and sound amazing, but to have to weave the words about one’s self is another story. So I’ve been putting off creating a new post because I thought my words had had it and that my stories had dried up, but au contraire, there are stories galore and the words are now flowing, I just need to find the time to write them down.

Would you care for one or two?

Would you care for one or two?

We are expecting our good friends Paul and T up from Illinois for a weekend to frolic at the cottage. Our weather has been fall-like but yesterday was unseasonably hot (not warm but hot) and in another unlikely change the weekend is expected to return to the autumn temperatures and we’re expected to pull on our boots and sweaters and enjoy the chill. Bah humbug. I’m not ready for boots. My pedicured toes are holding out for the sandals and flip flops! So for this menu plan for the weekend is based on comfort food with a lot of soups, chowders and a roast chicken which will turn into another delightful meal. Most of the meals have been recycled blog posts so I won’t be sharing them again, but I have made a few things in the last week or so that are new to the blog, so I thought I would share them with you, starting with these delicious scones.

These cheese biscuits were created to pair with a split pea soup with ham that will be served for our very first lunch. I treated myself to a slow cooker that lives at the cottage so this baby is getting assembled in the morning and will slow cook until lunch time. I’ll reheat the biscuits and if it’s sunny, we’ll eat with sweaters and long pants on the porch (but no boots), otherwise we’ll turn up the heat and eat at the dining room table wearing flip flops! Either way, I’m sure we’ll be laughing and enjoying each other company.

The recipe is adapted from Jean Pare’s, Company’s Coming Cookbook

Melty butter is the icing on the scone!

Melty butter is the icing on the scone!

Flakey Buttermilk Cheese Scones

Makes 12 8 cm or 3 in biscuits

Ingredients:

  • 2 c all purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/4 cup cold butter
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk, 1 2 tbsp for top

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 450° F.
  2. Combine the dry ingredients and mix well.
  3. Cut in the cold butter and the cheese until it resembles a coarse meal.
  4. Add the buttermilk and stir just to combine.
  5. If it’s really warm in your kitchen, it’s best to refrigerate the dough. Roll into 1 cm thickness (half inch) and use your favourite cutter to cut even shapes.
  6. Place each round onto a silpat® or non-stick surface and brush tops with buttermilk.
  7. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until lightly golden.
  8. Serve warm.

As you may recall, JT and I took a little road trip down to Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois to meet up with old friends and make new friends. To make the drive a bit more manageable we decided a stop in Grand Rapids, Michigan was in order so we booked a night into a nice hotel downtown and did a few touristy things (to come).

We chose Grove for dinner from the reviews on Yelp and Trip Advisor and it was certainly spot on; an unexpected culinary experience in Grand Rapids, who knew? And even more so surprisingly it was not expensive at all!

The restaurant is nicely decorated in a contemporary style but if you ask me, it had a few too many hard surfaces making it rather noisy for a quiet, romantic dinner. I also found the TVs in the bar area distracting because they are visible from the dining area and although I understand why they have them, I personally feel it takes the dining experience down a notch.

Service was prompt and efficient, our server was enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the food, but dinner lasted only an hour and I would have liked it spaced out a bit more.

I ordered the bouillabaisse ($11) and it was OUTSTANDING! My only complaint is that that there was not enough broth! It is a rich saffron, tomato seafood broth generously filled with fresh shrimp, scallops and a variety of fish. It was almost as good as the one I had in Marseille, but then again we were in France eating outside! For the reasonable price of $11, I could have easily had another bowl, it was so tasty!

The bouillabase was full of tender, perfectly cooked seafood.

The bouillabase was full of tender, perfectly cooked seafood.

JT enjoyed the sweet corn soup ($6) but kept dipping his spoon into my bowl of bouillabaise! As you can see from the soup’s colour, it had A LOT of cream which diluted the sweet corn flavour a touch. It was not nearly as lovely as the one at Toca JT recently had.

This corn soup had A LOT of cream.

This corn soup had A LOT of cream.

An interesting take on an old favourite. The hard cooked crumbled eggs were a lovely change.

An interesting take on an old favourite. The hard cooked crumbled eggs were a lovely change.

For my main I had the steak tartare ($12 also a starter) which was very nicely seasoned and had a twist of crumbled hard boiled egg on top and some bread and butter gherkins on the side. It was roughly chopped and I generally prefer a finer chop it was seasoned perfectly to my taste and I enjoyed it very much.

JT had the Chicken Confit ($10) which compared to my bouillabaisse seemed a little lack-lustre although there was nothing technically wrong with it. Sorry, forgot to take a photo :-(.

All in all an excellent experience we’ll tuck away for our next visit to Grand Rapids.

Overall rating of Grove, Grand Rapids (in my opinion): Decor 3/5, service 3.5/5, 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.

Grove, Grand Rapids, Michigan

919 Cherry Street S.E.
Grand Rapids, MI 49506
P: 616.454.1000

Hours of Operation

Sunday – 5pm-9pm
Tuesday – Thursday 5pm-10pm
Friday – Saturday 5pm-11pm

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The egg yolk acts as part of the dressing on this tasty salad

This post was written and photographed entirely on my iPhone 4S sitting on the deck at the cottage. Apps used for photos are: PS (Photoshop) Express and Art Studio Lite.

We’ve been enjoying our time at the cottage but sadly the lazy days of summer are quickly coming to an end so we’re savouring every bite minute. Many of you have suggested that I write a cookbook/manual about the cottage and I’m going to seriously consider it. Thank you for being so very complimentary, I am very touched by your kind words and voices of encouragement.
Cottage life to me means taking the time that is normally not available in the city; take things low and slow. It’s been incredibly hot up north and humid! This morning it was 20C (68F) at 8am, projected humidity throughout the day is 97% which makes the 20C feel like 27C (81F)! Now that’s a scorcher for sure. Our little cottage is a heat sink powered by the low and slow moving sun on the horizon with inside temperatures in excess of 32C (90F) so I’ve been focussing on easy, lighter summer meals some with grilling instead of roasting. Yesterday’s lunch was a reinvention of a delightful salad I’ve enjoyed many times at a local place where I used to work. What’s incredibly delicious is the poached egg with a runny yolk on top which, when broken into flows all over the salad making a warm, creamy and delicious dressing. It’s not really a recipe as such, but mere suggestions; I urge you to try this wonderful dish at the earliest opportunity. Don’t be fooled by its simplicity – it will impress your taste buds for sure.

Poached Egg Smoked Salmon, Endive, Roasted Sweet Potato on Baby Arugula and Baby Kale Salad:

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 handfuls each of baby arugula and baby kale
  • 2 large or 4 small endive
  • 100 g smoked salmon
  • 1 sweet potato
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 1/2 tsp chopped dill
  • 2 tbsp EVOO
  • 1 tsp Dijon Mustard
  • 2 tbsp capers
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Peel and cube the sweet potato into about 2.5 cm or 1″ cubes and roast on the BBQ (or oven) with a 1 tbsp of olive oil until soft.
  2. Add a handful of the greens to each bowl. Slice endive and divide into each bowl.
  3. Add about 50 g of the smoked salmon to each bowl.
  4. In a small measuring cup, add the juice of half a lemon, 1 tbsp olive oil, the Dijon mustard and dill and mix well, drizzle onto the greens.
  5. Poach two eggs so that the yolks remain runny. Add one egg to each bowl and divide the warm roasted sweet potato between each bowl.
  6. Add the capers and season to taste. Serve immediately.
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There is something extraordinary about a poached egg with a runny yolk.

A local chain of Japanese and Thai Spoon and Fork, Etobicoke opened nearby about a year or so ago. We tried to get in few times for lunch but there was always a wait. Then a couple of months ago we had a Girls Night Out there and I was quite impressed with the food, so one day a couple of weeks ago I suggested that we try it for lunch again. Although it was quite busy with the business set, we were able to get a nice quiet table.

The restaurant has a contemporary Asian feel with good lighting (although a little bright at night). The tables are well spaced out and although it’s noisy you can still have a decent conversation and not have to yell over the noise. Our waiter was excellent, he knew the food very well and spoke with enthusiasm about it (always a great sign). JT and I ordered the Sushi & Maki which has 5 kinds of Sushi: Salmon, White Tuna, Kani, Shrimp and Tamago and 8 Spicy California Roll ($12) it comes with a small salad (iceberg lettuce and a few tomatoes) and Miso soup which makes for a filling and delicious meal.

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A very reasonably priced Sushi plate


I would definitely go back, but beware, they push the ‘all you can eat’ menus so you have to ask for ‘a la carte’ and the ‘a la carte’ is quite different during the weekends than on week days.

Overall rating of Spoon & Fork, Queensway (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 4/5, food 4/5, Value 4/5, Noise: 2.5/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

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

Queensway Spoon & Fork
1233 The Queensway, Unit 24,
Etobicoke, ON M8Z 1S1
416-201-8688

JT enjoyed a soup similar to this at the Ritz Carlton Toca in Toronto on his birthday and I told him I would replicate it as soon as the Ontario corn was available.
To be truthful, I made this very soup when our dear friends Barb and Kevin (Profiteroles and Ponytails) spent a weekend at the cottage, but I forgot to take photos and I know better than to post a recipe sans photos so I had to make it again, this time with notes and photos! The soup I made for Barb and Kevin used a combination of white corn and fresh Peaches and Cream Corn. The white corn was part of my shopping spree with Chgo John From the Bartolini Kitchens. I didn’t include the white corn in this recipe because I found it too starchy tasting and decided it didn’t enhance the soup at all, so my second attempt used only fresh Peaches and Cream Ontario Corn.
It’s creamed but there is not a spot of cream in it; the inherent texture of the corn makes it velvety smooth and you really don’t need cream at all.
Crab and corn are a match made in heaven and turns this simple soup into a meal, avocado added to anything really ups the ante! We grilled the corn on a charcoal grill to enhance the smoky flavour, but if you can’t grill it, just add it to the pot and cook the kernels a bit longer. Frozen corn also works well in a pinch, but shhhhhh — that’s our little secret!

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Creamed corn, avocado, crab and more corn. YUM!

Creamed Corn Chowder with Avocado and Crab

(makes about 3 to 4 cups depending on how thick you wish the soup to be)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup Vidalia onion finely chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups charcoal grilled corn
  • 1 bacon rasher
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika (optional if you can’t grill the corn)
  • 1 tin crab meat with whole legs
  • 1/2 small avocado, in cubes and sprinkled with lime juice
  • juice of one lime
  • 2-3 tbsp chopped cilantro
  • 500-1,000 mL vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • Sea salt to taste

Directions:

  1. Grill fresh corn on a charcoal grill. Slice off kernels and reserve.
  2. Heat a pan with olive oil and sauté the bacon adding the onions and cooking until translucent, add the garlic, cumin and smoked paprika (if using).
  3. Add all the corn kernels but 1/2 cup (set aside for the garnish)
  4. Add stock and purée until smooth with an immersion blender, adding stock until desired thickness is achieved. Season with sea salt to taste.
  5. Press through a fine sieve.
  6. In a small bowl, combine drained crab, corn, cubed avocado, chopped cilantro and freshly squeezed lime juice. Season with sea salt to taste. Stir well.
  7. Ladle hot soup into bowls and garnish with a generous spoonful of the crab mixture in the centre. Serve with a grilled crostini on a deck over looking the lake. That last bit is optional, but it does enhance the experience.
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We eat out on the deck as much as possible.

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May I offer you a bowl?

We’ve been spending a lot of time at the cottage this August and I thought I’d share a few of the meals we’ve been enjoying. Cottage is for laid back times, but that doesn’t mean soup out of a can or even ready made products, for me it’s time to really enjoy having time to do things right.

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I made a pulled pork Tenderloin in the slow cooker and it provided a variety of meals such as pulled pork flatbread.

The pulled pork recipe can be found here.

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A wonderful hors d’œuvres of seared scallop wrapped in Prosciutto on Avocado paste smeared crostini.

Click here. for this tasty recipe.

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A nice lunch of deconstructed Caesar Salad, with avocado and Canadian Bacon

Links can be found here and here.

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Mulligatawny Soup with Shrimps. This soup transformed itself into BBQ sauce (add vinegar and brown sugar and a dash of soy sauce), and to Shakshuka (a middle eastern tomato based egg dish).

Muligatawny recipe can be found here.
Shakshuka recipe can be found here.
I made the BBQ sauce on the fly, so there is no recipe!

Bircher Muesli

Muesli was invented by a Swiss physician to help his patients recover from surgery. It originally was a wet version (unlike the dry ones you buy at the grocery store) with raw oats, a grated apple and nuts and dairy such as milk or yogurt but it can be made using whatever you prefer. I love making a large batch to have over the weekend when we go to the cottage, it’s a delicious and nutritious breakfast particularly when you have projects to finish up like we did. I served it with a half a grapefruit and it satisfied us even working hard!
The first time I had this lovely breakfast was in Zurich in the late 80’s; JT had a business meeting with a wonderful Swiss gentleman (with whom we are still friends) and his wife was kind enough to take me around. I couldn’t wait to introduce JT to it. Years later, I’m still making it even though I confuse the name quite often!

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The variety of textures is a pleasant way to start the day.

Bircher Muesli

(makes about 4 cups)

Ingredients:

  • 1 apple, grated
  • 2 cups Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 mixed in salted nuts (I used the Turkish honey and nuts my friend Barb of Profiteroles and Ponytails gave me)
  • 16 grapes cut into halves
  • 1 cup raw rolled oats

Directions:

  1. The night before you wish to eat this breakfast, mix everything together and refrigerate.
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The honey nuts make a lovely addition to this old favourite.

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You could add a piece of toast, but I find the oats filling enough.

I seem to have come into quite a bit of free time of late; you may have noticed my sporadic commenting and I do apologize but we’ve been spending a lot of time at the cottage (cabin/lake house). We renovated or more accurately, gave it a face lift and that makes me want to spend more time there. Freshly painted white walls instead of the dowdy wood panelling from the 1960’s, replaced the linoleum and industrial carpeting with lovely wood laminate flooring added some kitchen cabinets in my efforts to annoy the mice and even gave the furniture a face lift too with new slip covers — and purchased new artwork! You can see my excitement. So we’ve been making the most of it. Come September I hope to be back in the normal swing of things.
In the meantime I wanted to share a recipe for Butter Tartlets that I made for my birthday bash from my very ancient Five Roses Flour cookbook and I’ve been making these tartlets since I began to bake in my early teens — they have been a family favourite. This time I used a flower cookie cutter to give them a lovely scalloped edge and I baked them in mini muffin tins so they are quite small, one or two bites.

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Caramelized brown sugar coating the flaky pastry.

Prize Butter Tartlets

Original recipe from Five Roses Flour Cookbook (1983)

Makes about 18 mini two bite tartlets

Ingredients for the pastry:

  • 1 1/2 cup of AP flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 5-6 tbsp ice cold water

Directions for the pastry:

We all have our favourite pastry recipes so if you prefer to use your own, by all means do so but I hope you make these tasty tarts!

  1. Mix flour and salt together and cut in the shortening with a pastry blender or fork until the mixture is crumbly (like oatmeal).
  2. Add water a little at a time until the mixture hold together, do not overwork.
  3. Roll out to about an 1/8th of an inch or 1 mm thick and cut with an appropriate cookie cutter (I used a lovely scalloped edge to make my tartlets).
  4. Press into a mini muffin tin and refrigerate until you have prepared the filling.
ButterTartlette_0474

They are rather small, are you sure I can’t interest you in more than one?

Ingredients for the filling:

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup or 36 small pieces of walnuts
  • 1/4 cup melted butter (unsalted)
  • 1 small egg, beaten
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp dark rum (secret ingredient)

Directions for the filling:

  1. Melt brown sugar and butter together (I do this in a microwave, on low) allow to cool a bit.
  2. Add the beaten egg, milk and flavourings. Mix well.
  3. Spoon about 2 teaspoonful into each pastry tartlet and add 2 walnut pieces to each. Bake in a 375°F oven for about 15-20 minutes or until the pastry has browned a bit.

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You know you want one!


These two are before photos, dark and dowdy:

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We changed the colour scheme to blues and whites to reflect the boathouse theme a bit more. The refrigerator was a later gift from my Mom’s husband so it’s a bit of an after thought, we’ll incorporate it into the kitchen when we get rid of the propane burners, which protrude out from the wall.
Sigh, back to reality!

Way back in June I took JT to Toca to celebrate his birthday, it’s the fancy restaurant at the Ritz Carlton on King Street West.

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The menus were placed on individual plates hand painted by one of the wait staff who is coincidentally an artist! How lovely that the Ritz did this!

Toca is a contemporarily decorated restaurant with large booths and cozy tables and very flattering lighting. The walls are decorated with custom hand painted plates which were created by Jacqueline Poirier , one of the wait staff. Each place setting is also adorned by these beautiful works of art.

We started our lovely dining experience with some house baked Middle Eastern breads — now I usually try to skip the bread to limit my carbs, but these looked too good to pass up. The patty style bread on the right had a perfect chewiness and the sesame seeds were just the right topping.

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House made breads were too tasty to pass up

I couldn’t resist ordering the smoked burrata. It was served with fresh figs and an absolutely spectacular presentation where the smoked burrata came with a glass dome covering it with smoke trapped within. The server released the burrata and the smoke quickly dissipated. I’m going to have to figure this one out, so we can try it at a dinner party. Any suggestions?

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A gorgeous glass dome encasing the burrata with smokey flavour was the presentation.

JT ordered the creamed corn soup, made entirely without cream. It was spectacular! It was served with a corn & tomato salsa and lump crab. I’m definitely going to make this one!

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So creamy and delicious, but there isn’t any cream in it.

My main course was an appetizer portion of Alberta Classic Beef Tartare (yes, I do enjoy my tartares!) served with a lovely quail yolk on top and very crispy potatoes on top. The description included tartar sauce which made it a little too creamy for my taste, and I wasn’t able to finish it. The lovely waiter and then manager suggested I order something else, but JT had already started his steak and I didn’t want to be eating on my own or to allow his to cool off while I waited so I declined. They even took it off the bill.

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The Steak Tartare was a little too creamy

JT ordered the Alberta Filet Mignon and because the soup was so filling, he decided not to order any sides with it. It was dressed with a cherry gastrique which was simply delicious against the earthy flavour of the Filet Mignon.

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Simple and delicious

Even though my main course was not to my liking, I would definitely return to this restaurant. The pace was lovely and the service was exceptional as one would expect from the Ritz.

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Even the fingertip towels were logo’d in the bathrooms

It was an unseasonably cold day and even colder evening and as we exited the restaurant were drawn by some live music in the courtyard adjacent to the hotel. It was Luminato and we walked right over to see X Alfonso. If it hadn’t been so chilly we would have stayed and danced the night away, but the wind had come up and it felt like October weather instead of June!

Overall rating of Toca Ritz Carlton (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 4/5, food 4/5, Value 3.5/5, Noise: 3.5/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

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

Toca, The Ritz-Carlton
181 Wellington Street West
Toronto, Ontario M5V 3G7
(416) 585-2500

We had the most splendid weather on the day JT had my birthday party, not humid at all and it was beautifully sunny. Even though it was a wonderful temperature I decided not to serve any warm or hot appetizers, keeping the house even cooler! When I saw a version of this tasty mediterranean dip over on Karen’s blog (Back Road Journal) I knew I had to include it in my party food repertoire! We served it with papadums and Gluten Free crackers. The next day we had it for dinner with a little goats cheese, very tasty indeed.

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A slightly salty treat

An easy dip to make and delicious to eat!

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Tapenade in Action!

Black Olive Tapenade

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup pitted Kalamata Olives
  • 1 tbsp capers
  • 1 anchovy fillet
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
  • 1-2 tbsp EVOO

Directions:

  1. Add everything but the parsley to a small chopper and pulse until you achieve the desired consistency.
  2. Gently fold in the chopped parsley.
  3. Serve at room temperature.

Our dear friends Rae and Monica dropped in the day before my birthday party to share a little bubbly with us to celebrate! It was such a lovely gesture since they live about 50 minutes away. They dropped their three girls and some friends off on Bloor Street in our hood because we have such lovely shops to browse through; our local Chapters is a great visit because its a converted theatre with beautiful architectural features not to mention the cool stuff to buy! And then there is Sweet Flour where you can get a custom-baked fresh cookie in about a minute (they have a variety of raw doughs and a whole mess of inclusions, you pick the dough and inclusions and presto, a freshly baked cookie!). Definitely worth visiting. They also shopped the trendy clothing stores while we visited with Rae and Mon and a couple of hours and bottles later their girls dropped in! It was such a lovely visit; we’ve known the girls since they were born, so it was nice to have adult conversations. The girls very kindly and generously bought us a box of red currants! How nice is that? With everything going on, my big bash the next day and leaving in a couple of days for a short vaycay, I knew I had to do something very special with these delicate berries, but what? Then I remembered my dear friend Sissi makes the most incredible hot and sweet jellies so I took a little trip to her beautiful blog With a Glass to see what kinds of jellies she has made and boy, what a selection. Sadly their were no jellies for red currants, so I expanded my search on the web and found this lovely jelly recipe by David Lebovitz’s Red Currant Jam recipe, with some artistic license! Thank you Sissi for the inspiration.

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it’s a perfect accompaniment to cheese

The jelly is slightly sweet with some smokey heat right at the very end, nothing unpleasant, and if I were to make it again, I would likely add a bit more heat to it.

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We had this jelly with left over cheeses and fruits from my birthday bash!

Red Current Jelly

based on David Lebovitz’s Red Current Jam

Ingredients:

  • 1 part currents (150g)
  • 1/2 part sugar
  • 1/2 guajillo pepper
  • 1/4 ancho pepper
  • 1/8 haberno pepper

Directions:

  1. Finely chop the three varieties of peppers, including the seed if you prefer a more robust heat.
  2. Remove the large stems from the currants, rinse. Add the currents and the chopped peppers to a pot large enough to be able to add enough water just so that it covers the currents and the peppers.
  3. Cook the currants and the peppers stirring frequently until they’re soft and wilted (like you would in making cranberry sauce).
  4. Weigh the glass container you will transfer the purée into. Press the purée through a fine sieve to remove the seeds, stems and pepper bits into the weighed glass container. (or if you have a scales which tares, simply put the glass container on top, tare it and press the currant pepper mix into it.
  5. Now weigh the purée in the glass container, subtract the first weight from the second weight and divide it by four (if you have a scale that tares, this is much easier).
  6. For each pound (kilo), add the 1/4 of the amount of sugar to the pot.
  7. Mix the purée and the sugar and cook over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, let it boil for five minutes undisturbed.
  8. After five minutes, turn off the heat and skim off any scum.
  9. Pour into sterilized jars up to the top and screw on the lids firmly. Turn the jars upside down and let cool completely (this is Lebovitz method to can, it worked for me!).

Speaking of the big bash, here is the photo book I created so I can remember the wonderful day everyone made for me (any references to age were intentionally left out, so don’t be rude and ask me how old I am ;-)!):

Click here to view this photo book larger

Shutterfly offers exclusive layouts and designs so you can make your book just the way you want.

Happy civic holiday! in ontario, today is a day off!
We just got back from a wonderful road trip to Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois, so I’m still catching up. We visited our lovely friends Paul and T’s wonderful Lake House on Delavan Lake. We drove down this time and decided to break the drive up into two days stopping over in Grand Rapids, Michigan for the afternoon and evening. It worked out very well, having a five hour trip to Grand Rapids and then a four and half hour trip to Wisconsin.

Grand Rapids is a fantasic city with a bustling down town; there are several things to do, but because we were there only the afternoon and evening, we only did The Frederick Meijer Gardens. It is a beautifully manicured sculpture garden and green houses; they even have a couple of Rodin’s and a Henry Moore, plus lots of other great sculptures. It’s a beautiful way to spend the afternoon. The next morning we got up bright and early and hopped into the car for the second leg of the journey, Delavan Wisconsin. In the interest of keeping this post a manageable length, I’ll do some other posts reviewing the various restaurants and touristy things we did.

Our fantastic little holiday culminated in Chicago where we met some more bloggers: Celi from The Kitchens Garden, Kristy and Mike from Eat Play Love, Our Family Food Adventures, and Chgo John From The Bartolini Kitchens. We all met at Rick Bayless’s casual Mexican dining room Fontera Grill. I was particularly excited to meet everyone. John graciously offered to pick up JT and I at 10am and give us the beautiful and now famous Bartolini Food Tour; we stopped at Sur La Table a wonderful kitchen gadget shop (which will be on my GO TO list here on in), his favourite Indian Spice/Grocery shop and his favourite Asian Spice/Grocery shop. I joked with John that I never get a cart or basket in these places because so often I come out empty handed (taking a cart at the very beginning is just bad luck), so I walk around the store, picking up this and that until my hands are totally full and someone brings me a cart. John so very kindly asked several times, but I just didn’t want to jinx it! Oh yes, I went to town! Not that I couldn’t get things in Toronto, we have little India and China Town and some great gadget shops, but it wouldn’t be the same — now when I use the cumin from the Indian Spice shop, I shall fondly think of our time with Chicago John. Thank you John, you are truly a gentleman and a wonderful host. We extend the invitation to you anytime you wish to see Toronto!

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We had a great lunch at Fontera Grill and even better conversation. Thank you Celi, John, Kristy and Mike, it was a blast to meet you all and I hope to do it again soon. Please don’t hesitate to visit us in Toronto.

I took the day off for JT’s birthday back in June and although it wasn’t a super hot day, it was very lovely and sunny so we decided to spend the day at Toronto Islands. You may recall that we did this several years ago and enjoyed it very much, but we were at a fringe season and were not able to check out The Rectory Café so we decided to come back for the experience.

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Funny little sandwich board where we got off the Ferry.

The Toronto Islands are made up of several islands and are accessible by Ferry at a number of points. There are residents of the islands who own their own homes but rent the land from the Government on which they stand (apparently it’s a 35 year waiting list!), a few social Yacht clubs, an amusement park, a petting zoo, several beaches (including a nude beach), a lighthouse, parkland fast food and restaurants. It’s quite a beautiful place to walk or ride your bike. It’s also the place where in 1914 Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run into the waters of Lake Ontario! Go figure!

We made it into a half day trip, walking and spending time outside.

We made it into a half day trip, walking and spending time outside.

We like to arrive at Hanlans Point and walk the 5+km (3+ miles) to Ward’s Island making little detours and stopping for a look along the way. Ward’s Island is where the Rectory Café is and it’s a nice way to finish of a 4+ hour day!

The Rectory Café has a wonderful open air patio, and we decided to sit outside even though it was rather chilly. We started with the Sun Blushed Tomato Hummus ($10) ccompanied by Kalamata olives and toasted flat breads. It’s a very nicely seasoned hummus with some tasty little flat breads. Quite reasonably priced too.

Hummus_0343

Hummus with flatbread

I then ordered the Char Grilled Calamari ($7 for one $13 to share) Marinated in a fifteen spice rub and served with a scallion thyme aioli and lemon olive oil, which was delicious and quite generous for the price.

GrillCalamari Rectory_0345

Grill Calamari

JT ordered a sandwich which was also generous but I didn’t try it so it’s intentionally omitted.
Overall rating of The Rectory Café (in my opinion): Decor 4/5 (how could you go wrong sitting outside?), service 3/5, food 4/5, Value 4.5/5, 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.

The Rectory Café
102 Lakeshore Avenue
Toronto, ON M5J 1X9
(416) 203-2152

Tuna Waldorf Salad

Thank you for your wonderful birthday wishes, I am so blessed to belong to such a giving community. XOXO to you all!

The same weekend of my birthday, we were invited to another benchmark birthday party at one of our wonderful neighbours; it was a special “Studio 54” theme! What fun is that? And everyone came dressed like the 70’s — it was glam and it was fun. Thank you Iona (and Tom), and I hope you had an amazing birthday.

JT 1970s_0496

JT looking cool and hip; his pants usually don’t match my dress, though

Eva 1970s_0493

Those are curtain grommets decorating my dress!

Can you believe July is almost over? What ever happened to the summer? We’re still in high humidity and high temperatures so our meals tend to reflect lighter fare and foods that don’t need to be cooked or baked to limit the additional heat. This tuna Waldorf is a lovely adaption of the original Waldorf Salad made by Oscar Tschirky, the maître d’hôtel of the Astoria (the predecessor of the Waldorf Astoria) in New York City sometime between 1893 and 1896*. The original recipe is basically apples, walnuts and celery dressed in mayonnaise, but you know me, I try to healthy up the dish so I’ve made some alterations. I also like to serve it on a bed of greens but you can serve it on toasts or a wrap. We enjoyed this fast and easy dish at the cottage during our renos in early July.

Tuna Waldorf Salad

Serves 2 as a main coarse or 4 as an appetizer

Ingredients:

  • 1 tin albacore chunk tuna in water or stock (to make this vegetarian, you can omit this or used firm cubed tofu in its place)
  • 1 cup diced celery (dice all items similar size)
  • 1 green onion finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup walnuts (you could give them a toast, if you’d like)
  • 1 diced apple
  • squirt of lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp chopped lemon thyme
  • 1/4 cup Greek yogurt (I used fat free)
  • 1 tbsp mayo (I used full strength)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice (I added more lemon juice to imitate the tart flavour of the mayo, so I didn’t need to add more mayo)

Directions:

  1. Drain the tuna and set aside.
  2. Add the apple to a small bowl and squirt a bit of lemon juice on it to prevent it from oxidizing.
  3. Add the celery, green onion, walnuts and apple to a bowl and combine well.
  4. Combine the Greek yogurt, mayo and 1 tbsp lemon juice and stir well. Add it to the vegetable fruit mix and coat evenly.
  5. Add the chunk tuna and stir until equally distributed.
  6. Serve on a bed of greens or toast.
Waldorf Celery_0454

I have no idea why I shot the celery and nothing else, but since I had it, here it is!

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It was nice enough to sit outside even though it was a very overcast weekend.

I know many of the lovely readers of this blog have cottages or summer homes, so I thought I would pass along a little something I invented to help keep the mice off the cutlery in the drawers. Even though the mice don’t tend to enter the cottage during the warmer months, I cannot be 100% sure they are not having a hay-day dancing or whatever all over my cutlery, so I tend to wash them before use (as well as after use). I created this little invention to keep the buggers away from the cutlery, and I specifically chose plexy-glass so it would infuriate them as much as they infuriate me! So there, bugger mice, dance away because you can’t get there from here!

MouseProofDrawer_0459

The plexy-glass is cut to fit the parimetre and is glued with a bonding agent to the drawer without interfering with the roller mechanics. It is hinged about 1/3 the way out so that you can easily lift the other two thirds and balance it on the counter for easy access the cutlery.

*from Wikipedia

I’m taking a little time off over the next few days so if I am absent from your blog, I do apologize, but I need a bit of a break. See you soon.

Today I celebrate another benchmark birthday. All I could think of is, I can’t really be THAT age! But what the heck, like wine, we only get better with age, right? — that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

JT organized a beautiful little cocktail party of our closest friends and family yesterday and it was lovely. Of course, I prepared a lot of the food and I’ll be posting about a few new things soon. In the meantime, here are a few great recipes from the Canada Day long weekend. Cheers!

An early morning paddle shows the sparkly lake.

An early morning paddle shows off the sparkly lake.

The old boathouse built by JTs grandfather in the late 1800's

The old boathouse built by JTs grandfather in the late 1800’s

I’ve mentioned before that our cottage is rather remote and we don’t have very good grocery stores close by, in fact the closest is about 45 minutes away and it takes about 20 minutes just to get out to the main highway to get there so planning is essential. Recently we had our lovely friends Rae and Monica up for the weekend and so I put together a great menu plan that allowed for reinventing left overs. One such left over was a combination of several of the meals that resulted in 4 fantastic flat breads that we used as hors d’œuvres on Sunday night. Each of these flatbreads are fantastic on their own, but the variety is also quite lovely. Plus, all of the ingredients are available ready made if you aren’t as fortunate to have left overs.

Quick and Easy Flat Bread Hors D’œuvres

Italian Delight: Gorgonzola, Parmesan and Parsley with Walnuts

The sharp Gorgonzola was a lovely contrast to the candied walnuts

The sharp Gorgonzola was a lovely contrast to the candied walnuts

Ingredients:

  • 1 naan
  • 1 oz gorgonzola
  • 1 oz grated parmesan
  • 2 tbsp chopped walnuts candied with balsamic
  • 1 tbsp chopped flat leaf Italian Parsley
  • 1 clove garlic

Directions:

  1. Peel the garlic and cut it in half. Rub one side of the naan with the cut side until it leaves the naan fragrant.
  2. Add cumbled gorgonzola and grated parmesan. Sprinkle with the candied walnuts. (To candy the walnuts, simply add the walnuts to a saucepan with about 2-4 tbsp of balsamic and boil until the balsamic has thickened, cool on parchment and break apart to use)
  3. BBQ until cheese has melted and then add the parsley. Cut into portions.
  4. Serve warm.

Mediterranean: Caramelized Onion, Roasted Red Peppers and Goats Cheese with Pine Nuts

Sweet and tangy Onion against the creamy goats cheese was a lovely foil for the sweet red peppers

Sweet and tangy Onion against the creamy goats cheese was a lovely foil for the sweet red peppers

Ingredients:

  • 1 naan
  • 1/2 a large caramelized onion
  • 1/2 roasted red pepper, skin off, sliced reasonably thinly
  • 3 tbsp crumbled goats cheese
  • 1 tbsp toasted pine nuts

Directions:

  1. Evenly distribute the roasted red peppers on the top of the naan.
  2. Add the crumbled goats cheese and sprinkle with the pine nuts.
  3. BBQ until cheese has melted. Cut into portions.
  4. Serve warm.

Mexican: Salsa and Cilantro

The sassy flavours of Mexican  saturated the Naan well

The sassy flavours of Mexican saturated the Naan well

Ingredients:

  • 1 naan
  • 1/2 cup salsa
  • 2-4 tbsp chopped cilantro

Directions:

  1. Evenly distribute the salsa on the Naan.
  2. BBQ until warmed through. Cut into portions.
  3. Serve warm.

Greek: Red and Yellow Peppers, Green and Yellow Zuchinni, Kalamata olives and feta

Tangy flavours and lots of texture

Tangy flavours and lots of texture

Ingredients:

  • 1 naan
  • 1/4 cup greek yogurt with 1 garlic chopped into it
  • 1/4 red pepper, sliced
  • 1/4 yellow pepper, sliced
  • Green and Yellow zucchini sliced
  • 2 tbsp Kalamata olives, sliced
  • 3 tbsp crumbled feta
  • pinch of dry oregano

Directions:

  1. Spread the greek yogurt and garlic on the Naan.
  2. Lightly sauté the red, yellow peppers with the green and yellow zuchinni strips (not too soft)
  3. Evenly distribute the peppers and zuchinni on the top of the Naan, dot with the feta and Kalamata olives.
  4. Sprinkle the oregano evenly.
  5. BBQ until warmed through. Cut into portions.
  6. Serve warm.

I’ll leave you with two amazing shots of the sunset from two different nights. This is what makes the drive worth it!

Sunset1

The sunset on Friday night; red sky at night, sailors delight!

SunSet

Sunset on Sunday night, very surreal

Thank you all for your lovely words and kind wishes to JT for his recent birthday in June. It was fairly low key because it landed on a Tuesday, but we still went out for a very nice dinner (review to come). The Monday before JTs birthday, he’d made plans with a friend to go out for dinner, which left me with some private time in the kitchen and I knew exactly what I wanted to do: Bake a cake as a surprise for his birthday! But I only had a small window of opportunity to bake, cool and ice it.

JT had walked up to a local place to meet this friend, so he was gone by the time I got home. Good, but I was home a little later than expected having to finish off a few things at work and ride my bike the 8 km home. As soon as I got in, I was immediately racing around in record time to bake this cake. But first I had to find a recipe! Without much time (I was expecting JT back around 8-9) I found this recipe which was called fastest fudge cake (just what I needed) and I was able to easily half the recipe so that I can bake it in a small spring form pan. Just as I was cleaning up and waiting for the cake and ganache to cool, I get a text from JT at 7:30 that he’s one his way home. That means I’ve got 10 minutes tops. Even with this easy recipe, I just barely squeaked by, dumping the barely cooled ganache onto the barely cooled cake and hiding it in the living room credenza! It was a very nice surprise.

ChocFugdeCake_0363

A very special little cake. Night pictures suck.

Fast and Easy Fudge Cake

Makes one 13 cm or 5″ cake plus a muffin-sized cake

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 tbsp unsweetened natural cocoa powder (not Dutch processed)
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • pinch table salt
  • 1/4 cup  unsalted butter, melted and warm
  • 3/4 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • pinch of cayenne
  • 1/4 cup orange liquor
  • 1/2 cup Ganache

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F  (177°C). Grease the bottom of an 13 cm spring form cake pan and line it with parchment.
  2. In a small bowl sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, cayenne and salt.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the melted butter and brown sugar and stir with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Add the egg and vanilla and stir until well blended.
  4. Add the flour mixture all at once and stir just until all the flour is moistened. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
  5. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35-40 minutes for a 13 cm (5″) spring form pan. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 10 min. Run a thin knife around the edge and invert the cake (peel off the parchment). Pour the orange liquor over the cake and allow to saturate. Allow to cool completely (or mostly as in my case!).
  6. Once cool, set the rack over a baking sheet or foil. Pour the warm ganache over the cake and use an icing spatula to spread it over the top of the cake and down the sides. Let set for about an hour before serving.

Ganache Ingredients:

  • 4 oz of dark semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup of 18% cream

Ganache Directions:

  1. Warm the cream just before boiling point. Pour the hot cream over the finely chopped chocolate and stir until it’s all melted.
  2. Allow to thicken (or not) and pour over cooled (or not) cake (place cake on a piece of parchment). Even out. Allow to cool in a cool dark place (like a credenza!).
  3. Serve with a sprig of mint over a small puddle of orange liquor.
ChocFugdeCake_0366

Would you like a little cake with your mint?

Notes:

  • The batter was a bit too much for the pan, it did bubble over a bit, so I was glad I put a cookie sheet under the spring form.
  • The cake has a rich, chewy texture with a nice crunchy crust (like brownies).
  • The ganache would have been better if it had been allowed to thicken a bit more, but it was still super tasty.
  • Recipe updated (May 2016) to reflect correct pan size. To make a slightly larger cake (22 cm or 8″), double the recipe.
  • The original recipe in the link makes 600 mL of batter (using only 1/4 cup hot water), the perfect size for an 22 cm or 8″ spring form pan (updated December 2016).

We’ve been craving delicious thin crust wood oven pizza since our return from DC. I don’t eat pizza often so when I do, I really want it to be AWESOME! Terroni is a small, family owned Italian Trattoria ‘chain’ with three restaurants in Toronto and one in LA. Their claim to fame is their overbearing motto that allows for no substitutions, so if you want anchovies with that and it’s not on the menu, they’ll refuse to serve it to you. Period. Now you have to admire the guts to do that. Not withstanding, they are enormously successful; one of their places(Queen Street West) in Toronto won’t even take reservations, so if you want to dine there, go stand in line at 5pm and you’ll get a table at 6!

Terroni Grilled Calamari_0211

Perfectly grilled and tastefully seasoned

The location JT and I recently dined at is central, right down town in old Toronto’s Courthouse, a beautifully renovated old brick building. The washrooms are in the basement located in the old holding cells. I would have taken a photo but it was disgustingly filthy (yes, I mentioned it to them, apparently a number of women had just stormed through).

We arrived a few minutes late due to traffic and we had to wait a minute or two for our table; we were seated in an outdoor space converted to an interior covered courtyard. I’m glad we were seated in this smaller room (~50 people) because it was noisy enough, the main areas it would have been brutal. They don’t rush you per-say, but it’s not a lingering meal (just as well, as I found it to noisy to talk).

We decided to share a pizza but have our own appetizers; I had the Grilled Calamari and JT had the Salad Nizzarda. The Calamari alla Griglia ($15.95) was a generous serving of grilled calamari, mixed greens, fresh tomatoes with a very nice balsamic dressing — the tomatoes had a lovely tomato flavour. By contrast, the Nizzarda ($12.50) which is like a salad Niçoisse, was a scant serving of Italian tuna, on a bed of arugula, potatoes, eggs, red onion, tomatoes, olives with pits, green beans and anchovies (JT gave me his anchovies, I hope we weren’t caught!).

Terroni Puzza Pizza_0215

The lighting was very dark by the time we ordered the pizza, so I photographed the leftovers at home the next day. Boy was it tasty!

We shared the Puzza Pizza ($17.95) which was a white pizza with mozzarella, italian mascarpone, gorgonzola, mushrooms, Italian ham, not inexpensive by any stretch of the imagination but it was well worth it. The creamy white base, slightly salty Italian ham with the tangy gorgonzola was a perfect combination. Even the next day it was outstanding. The pizza measured about 11-12″ in diametre.

Overall rating of Terroni, Adelaide (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 2.5/5, food 4/5, Value 3.5/5, 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.

Terroni Adelaide

57 Adelaide St E

416 203 3093

Mon–Wed 09:00–22:00

Thu–Sat 09:00–23:00

We’ve been up north for a few days finishing off the mini reno; it sure doesn’t get easier as one gets older! A quick synopsis: wood panelling painted white, ceilings and gaping holes were caulked. Laminate floors installed and waiting for one more box (how did that happen? We are 6 pieces short, damn it! We both did the math, TWICE!) Baseboards have been cut but not fully installed (need to finish the floors under the couch first). New kitchen shelving installed with task lighting. New porch blinds installed with bottom hooks! Garbage packaged and stored for handy man removal. A few more décor items and we’re done! Just in time for closing ;)!
With all that standing up, sitting down it feels like I’ve completed a marathon, but not really, I’m just a spectator of sports. And we all know what a crazy sports fiend I am, I just can’t get enough of it ;-). In fact, I have every single tuner in the house tuned into different sports channels or talk radio channels just to keep on top of it; then there are the push notifications every time a player does something worthy — like fart, for instance! OK, I may be BS’ing a little but I do get a little drawn in particularly when the sport is baseball and we’re talkin’ about our beloved Jays! Blue Jays that is!

My good friend Jed from Sports Glutton asked me to do a guest post as part of his MLB Series (except that I kept calling it the MBL whenever I talked about it, drove poor JT nuts!) and I couldn’t resist. Thank you Jed, I’m not only honoured to do this guest post, but I am flattered beyond belief and I hope to have done your lovely gluttonous blog worthy with this post.

Our beloved Jays are due for a world series win; no — really, I’m serious. I’m told (and god knows I’m no authority) that this year the Jays have the most expensive players and one would think that with that kind of ‘quality’ we would get some wins…except it’s taking a bit of time — you see, those poor Jays had a bit of a rough start, but we’re back on track and as of writing this post, we’ve worked ourselves back within striking distance of first place in the division! Woohoo!
Even with the Jays resurgence the Jays should be hungry for more, I am 100% sure they would want a highly gluttonous meal like Canadian Whiskey BBQ Sauce Pulled Pork Benny and Homerun-fries, don’t you? I developed this recipe for Jed and there are a few things I would have done differently if it was for kitcheninspirations.wordpress.com, but because Jed was a little concerned; that I would make it too healthy, I really stepped it up a notch, within reason, of course! Thanks again Jed, I am truly honoured.
Please head on over to Jed’s blog to check it out, you will be surprised and delighted with what you see.

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The Dijon Béchamel was just the perfect gluttonous addition.

MLB Series Guest Post — Canadian Whiskey BBQ Sauce Pulled Pork Benny and Home-run-fries

Makes enough for 10-12 Bennies if you want to use it all on that, but the pulled pork is wonderful as leftovers in sandwiches, pizza and wraps.

Ingredients for the Pork and the Rub:

  • 1lb or ~500 g Pork Tenderloin
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp granulated garlic (not garlic powder)
  • 1 tsp brown sugar

Directions:

  1. Preheat the slow cooker on high.
  2. Combine the spices and mix well, set aside.
  3. In a very hot skillet, heat about 1 tbsp canola oil and sear the pork well. Set the pan aside — DO NOT WASH.
  4. Carefully rub the spice mix on all sides of the pork and set into the slow cooker.
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Searing the tenderloin; it’s so loud, I can’t hear the talk radio!

Seared_0307

The beast has been seared, you can tell because the talk radio is fully audible.

Ingredients for the Canadian Whiskey BBQ Sauce:

  • 1/2 cup of Canadian Whiskey
  • Scant 1/4 cup of soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup strong black coffee (I used espresso)
  • 2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion

Directions for the BBQ Sauce:

  1. Combine all of the ingredients in the same pan you seared the pork in and bring to a boil, scraping off any of the bits left behind by searing the pork.
  2. Pour the sauce over the pork in the slow cooker, cover and set the heat to Low and the timer to 4-5 hours.
  3. Turn pork in the BBQ sauce occasionally.
  4. The pork is done when you can take two forks and start pulling it apart.
WhiskeyBBQ

Giving the BBQ sauce a good boil

SlowCooking_0309

The pork and the sauce are all cozy and ready for their 4-5 hour rest in the slow cooker

Ingredients for the Homerun-fries:

  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1 inch (2.5cm) cubes.
  • 1 green onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp canola oil

Directions for the Homerun-fries:

  1. Boil or roast the sweet potato cubes until very soft.
  2. Heat canola oil in a pan, pan-fry the sweet potato cubes, smashing them with a fork. You want a slight crispy texture on the exterior of the smashed cubes.
  3. Stir in the chopped green onion.
  4. Serve warm.

Ingredients for the Dijon Béchamel:

  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp white flour
  • 2-3 tbsp Dijon Mustard
  • 1/2- 3/4 cup of milk
  • salt to taste

Directions for the Dijon Béchamel:

  1. Melt the butter in a small saucepan on medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook but don’t brown it.
  2. Slowly stir in the milk, whisking to incorporate the flour butter mixture so it’s not lumpy. Keep whisking until you reach your desired thickness (it will thicken more as you cook it).
  3. Add the Dijon and blend well.
  4. Keep warm.

Assembly and serving for one:

  • 1-2 perfectly poached eggs.
  • 1-2 Whole wheat English Muffins per person, torn in half and toasted.
  • 2-4 tbsp braised red cabbage
  • 1/4 cup sweet potato
  • Dijon Béchamel
The pork after it has been pulled

The pork after it has been pulled

Notes:

  • I seared the pork in my favourite cast iron pan and therefore could not use it for the BBQ sauce as the acidity of the sauce strips off the seasoning from the pan. Had I done it in my enamel cast iron pan, I would not have had an issue.
  • We added the braised purple cabbage for more gluttony with the benefit of texture, colour and flavour, feel free to omit.
  • To perfectly poach an egg, heat 10cm or 3.5 inches of water to a gentle boil. Add 1 tbsp vinegar (this helps to set the egg white so it doesn’t get all stringy) salt. Break eggs into individual cups or small bowls. Gently turn the egg into the hot water allowing the water to flow into the small cup or bowl, once the egg is setting, gently turn it fully out and giving it a summer-salt. Repeat with all eggs and set the timer for 2 minutes. The water should be gently boiling not roughly bubbling. When the timer goes off, remove each egg onto a paper towel to dry. Serve immediately.

Summer is finally here. There I said it. It’s hot, humid, did I mention humid? But don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to complain because the summer just took too damn long to arrive, so BRING IT. What I will complain about unbashedly is our transit system. I had the misfortune to ride the 504 King the other day in the heat of rush hour and it was B-R-U-T-A-L. Although it is the twenty-first century and we don’t live in a third world country, for some reason our street cars still don’t have A/C. Oh yes, the windows do open, but there is not a lot of air coming in when you are sitting in traffic or moving slower than the pedestrians on the side walks. So I got out and walked to the Metro (Subway) because I had somewhere really important to go, yes I was meeting someone ;-)!

About a month or so ago, I had extended the Blogger Girls Night Out invitation to Norma (From Garden to Wok) a very dear blogger friend, but unfortunately she was unable to make it up from Upstate New York. We were both rather disappointed so when she decided to make the trip to visit her sister in early July, she emailed me to see if we could meet. Of course, I was all over it, but work was busy and I wasn’t able to confirm until a day or two before but she was patient and waited as I finally finished what needed to be done and made the commitment. We had tried to include my old friend Barb (Profiteroles and Ponytails) but sadly she had a commitment and was not able to join us but rest assured, she was missed.

I met Norma a few years ago and to be honest, I can’t recall how I came across her blog or whether she left her lovely words on my blog first, but the point is that we’ve known each other in the blogging circles for a couple of years. Norma writes a beautiful blog documenting her escapades in her garden in which she grows a number of beautiful flowering plants and vegetables for the wild life in her area (well, she doesn’t really grow them specifically for the wild life, they just help themselves). Every Monday Norma posts her harvest from that week and it’s really cool to see the variety of vegetables she is able to grow, but then again she is a Master Gardener! Norma also blogs about recipes she makes with her home grown vegetables, giving us handy tricks and tips along the way. Norma is an accomplished food writer, having published two cookbooks as well as running cooking classes in her home town. I’ve made several (this and this) of Norma’s lovely recipes and would encourage you to visit her blog and write some lovely words for her.

Because we were both at opposite ends of Toronto, we picked a central location right at Bay and Bloor at La Societé a trendy French Bistro in the hoity toity area of Yorkville. We talked and talked and talked, honestly — the waiter was so sweet, he came over a number of times and finally said, very politely that he would stand over there and when we wanted something we should give him a nod. We talked for 3 hours straight — we ate too, but completely forgot to take photos! The conversation was lovely and we truly enjoyed each other’s company, just like old friends. Thank you Norma for a wonderful evening and we will see you again, perhaps even in Upstate New York.

We had a lovely three hour dinner, with lots of conversation!

We had a lovely three hour dinner, with lots of conversation!

Speaking of old friends, on a recent Sunday we had an old collegue friend and his wife over for brunch;  I’ve known Gordon for 27 years. We met standing at a window in one of the sky scrapers downtown where we both worked, watching as the snow fell upwards! How could you not chat about that? Gordon and I became fast friends and had lunches from time to time catching up on life, then a handful of years ago we started seeing each other as couples and it’s been lovely — I knew that his wife Angela and I would become fast friends and that JT would get on with the similarly tempered Gordon and I was right, of course.

When I planned this brunch I had hoped that we would have summer weather, so I made this delightful and surprising Chilled Caramelized Vidalia Onion Soup, but on that Sunday, as the morning progressed with rain and cold winds I decided to serve it hot instead. We did a little taste test and yes, it was just as tasty; so if the weather isn’t cooperating and you need to do a quick change, this soup is perfect.

And then shortly after they arrived, the sun started coming out, the clouds disappeared and we opened up windows! I made a quick decision to chill the bowls while we chatted sipping on orange juice and sparkling water and I changed the soup back to a refreshing cold starter!

ChilledVidaliaOnionSoup_0315

The first time I made this soup, I was able to slowly lower the gruyère crisp so it didn’t drown in the soup looking like a brûlé.

Chilled Caramelized Vidalia Onion Soup with Gruyère Brûlé

Makes about 450 mL  but it depends on how thick you want your soup to be

Ingredients:

  • 600 g Vidalia Onions, finely sliced
  • 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • pinch of fresh thyme
  • Short spray of non-stick coating
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 400-500 mL chicken stock or vegetable stock
  • 4-5 tbsp finely grated Gruyère cheese
  • 1 tbsp chopped chives
  • 1 cup non-fat Greek Yogurt

Directions:

  1. Spray a heavy bottom pan with the non-stick spray and begin cooking the onions with the balsamic and white wine. Cook slowly and steadily until you achieve a lovely golden colour. You may wish to add a bit of water in this process (or you can use EVOO, but I’m trying to keep it lower in fat). Or you can use this technique.
  2. Add the thyme and stir well.
  3. Remove from heat and begin adding the stock a little at a time, whilst blending smoothly with an immersion blender. Keep adding stock until your desired thickness is achieved. Press through a fine sieve and refrigerate.
  4. Preheat the oven’s broiler to high. Place a piece of parchment onto a flat baking sheet and place about 1 tbsp of the Gruyère into rounds being careful to keep them well separated. Watch as they broil because they can burn very easily. The oils from the cheese will render and you will see this beautiful lace pattern appear.
  5. Remove the parchment from the cookie sheet to allow them to cool a bit, then carefully lift each one onto a bit of paper towel to soak up the extra oils. Store flat, uncovered until needed — these may be made in advance!

Plating:

  1. With the immersion blender, give the chilled soup one more blend adding in the Greek Yogurt and blend until very very smooth. Return to the fridge.
  2. Chill the bowls for about one hour. Ladle the chilled soup carefully into each bowl, garnish with the gruyère crisp and some chopped chives.
  3. Serve immediately.
ChilledVidaliaOnionSoup_0319

The second time I made this soup, the first gruyère crisp slipped from my fingers into this exact position, and I really liked it, so they were all plated this way!

Notes:

  • Some bloggers have commented that the amount of vinegar is too acidic for their taste in the onion confit or caramelized onion, so you may cut it down, or alternatively add a tbsp of brown sugar to the caramelization process to balance. We did not find it too acidic.
  • For the gruyère brûlé, you can use a small brûlé torch to brown it up a bit more if it’s not crispy enough coming out of the oven.
  • For my first attempt with the brûlé on top of the soup, in addition to broiling the cheese in the oven, I actually used the torch while it was one the soup, it was an interesting combo of cold and hot.

Happy Independence Day! Since it’s Thursday, do you take Friday off and make it an extra long holiday? How do you celebrate? Last year we were in Wisconsin at our friend’s lake house (Paul & Ts) and at around 9pm we boated out to the middle of the lake and watched the most amazing fireworks–it was awesome!
Speaking of awesome, if you want your guests to see fireworks in their heads, THIS is the dessert to serve. It’s a perfect summer dessert combining popular tropical flavours: pineapple, rum and coconut. You can’t go wrong, and it’s very impressive making it the perfect dessert to serve on such an important holiday.

Happy Fourth of July!

Happy Fourth of July!

The first time I saw this recipe was at Jed, the Sports Glutton’s blog and I knew I would make it, I just didn’t realize how soon! We were entertaining my uni BFF and her hubby a while back and I needed a gluten free desert (she is gluten intolerant) and I wanted something that wasn’t too bad for you…so I chose fruit but even better it was sweet, caramelized Pineapple. I loved the grilled pineapple salsa we made for the grilled shrimp so I knew this dessert would be a hit; it turned out so well, JT suggested that I make it for our next progressive dinner, so I did! What was super cool about the latest progressive dinner was that each course had to be made on the BBQ! This is the perfect summertime dessert, not having to heat the house up by turning on the oven — there are better ways to heat things up ;)!

This is the version I served to my BFF for brunch, no cake!

This is the version I served to my BFF for brunch, sadly there was no cake!

So, I present to you, an inspired version of Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Since we sliced the pineapple thinner, they didn't hold their shape, I suggest skewering them as well.

Since we sliced the pineapple thinner, they didn’t hold their shape, I suggest skewering them as well.

Deconstructed Piña Colada: Grilled Buttered Rum Pineapple with Grilled Coconut Pound Cake

Serves 8 (1 cm or 1/2″ slices of cake, with lots left over)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup fat free Greek yogurt
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 3 tbsp powdered sugar
  • the rind of one lemon

I

  • 1 /4 cup of unsalted butter
  • 1/8 cup dark rum
  • 1/2 tbsp brown sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 pineapples, peeled and cored and cut into 8 spears each
  • 24 smallish strawberries
  • 1 Coconut pound cake (recipe can be found here).
  • pineapple sage finely julienned (or mint)

Directions:

  1. Combine the Greek yogurt, vanilla, powdered sugar and lemon rind and stir well. Refrigerate.
  2. In a small saucepan, melt the butter and then add the rum, brown sugar and salt and give it a good boil (to burn off the alcohol).
  3. Using the buttered rum sauce, baste the pineapple spears and grill until you have achieved grill marks, you can baste throughout the grilling process but make sure you reserve some sauce for drizzling. Keep the grilled pineapple spears warm.
  4. Slice the coconut pound cake into 1-2 cm (1/2″-3/4″) slices, brush lightly with the buttered rum sauce and grill until you have achieved grill marks.

Assembly:

  1. Place the slice of grilled coconut pound cake on the plate, arrange the spears so that they overlap the pound cake and each other.
  2. Add three washed strawberries clustered together.
  3. Add a dollop of the Greek Yogurt sauce and finally drizzle with the remaining buttered rum.
  4. Garnish with the pineapple sage julienne. Serve immediately.

*Clip art from Microsoft Clip Art.

Happy Canada Day! Today is Canada’s birthday and she’s a whopping 146 (now my birthday won’t seem half bad!). How are you celebrating this auspicious holiday?

Happy Canada Day!

Happy Canada Day!*

We’re at the cottage, spending a long overdue weekend with good friends. The redecorating has taken a bit of a back seat due to being crazy busy at work and not being able to take a little extra time up north, so it’ll just get done later. Being at the cottage means everything slows down and it forces you to enjoy the quiet. I usually bring a craft to do or read, which I don’t often get to do in the city. It also forces you to reflect and in reflection I remember some really good times; one in particular is this:

A couple of months ago I received an email from my friend Kristy (Eat, Play, Love, Our family food adventures) that she was coming up to Toronto and did I want to meet her? WHAT? Of course I want to meet her, who wouldn’t? Kristy and Mike have an incredible blog where they actively involve their two beautiful children, Mr. N and Miss. A; I particularly love that they do that because it’s how I became interested in cooking.

At first I was going to keep Kristy all to myself and not share the adventure, but then I felt that would be selfish so I emailed Barb (Profiteroles and Ponytails) and that got me thinking…what about Kelly (Inspired Edibles), she’s not far from Toronto and she might also be interested, and that’s where it all started. You already know that I’ve known Barb for many years and we’re very good friends with she and her husband — Barb’s blog is a lovely presentation of easy, family friendly recipes. Kelly is a fellow Ontarian, up in Ottawa (only a four hour drive away) and she runs a fantastic blog focusing on health and nutrition. Kelly and I have emailed once or twice before so I didn’t feel awkward in presenting the invitation. Without hesitation both ladies jumped (and I mean JUMPED) at the offer and boy am I glad because it was an incredible night of camaraderie, friendship, good conversation and few very hearty laughs! Thank you ladies for making the evening.

We started at a the classy Roof Lounge at the top of the Park Hyatt in Yorkville; it was as if we’d known one another a lifetime, the conversation just flowed and it was so easy to talk to everyone. We then made our way to Bar Mercurio our favourite Italian restaurant. JT and I have been dining at Bar Mercurio for quite some time and they know us by name so I knew were would get the royal treatment, and we weren’t disappointed. We had a complimentary dessert platter of biscotti and complimentary Lemoncello. Of course, I forgot to take photos early in the evening when there was still daylight, but fortunately Barb and Kristy both brought their iPhone 5s and the very lovely Omar obliged us with a photo. Thank you ladies again for a wonderful evening, I hope we can do it again soon.

It's a shame you can't see our lovely shoes!

It’s a shame you can’t see our lovely shoes!

Complimentary Biscotti always hits the spot.

Complimentary Biscotti always hits the spot.

Of course, one very popular topic of conversation was food and I happened to mention that we’re doing another progressive dinner on our street and that this time our theme is the BBQ, which means that every part of this meal must be grilled. I volunteered for dessert, because I love the challenge. This Coconut Pound Cake is one component to this very delicious dessert, but I won’t spoil the surprise!
I did alter this recipe to make it slightly healthier, by cutting the butter in half and replacing it with puréed apple (or you can use store bought unsweetened apple sauce). It worked out very well indeed!

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Preparing the cast iron pan for the BBQ

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I photographed the batter so you could see that the apple purée did not affect the texture

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Baking on the BBQ

PoundCake_0272

Cooling the pound cake. Or do I call it the kilo cake?

Coconut Pound Cake

Serves 10-12

Original recipe from Epicurious, I made some adjustments to make it a bit healthier (original recipe had 1 cup butter in it)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup of apple purée – see note below
  • 1 cup sugar (reduced from 1 1/2 cups)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened flaked coconut (6 oz) (original used sweetened)

Directions:

  1. Preheat the BBQ to 325°F. Turn off 1 burner completely.
  2. Prepare1.4L pâte terrine enamelled cast iron pan with non-stick cooking spray (or you can use a 9″ by 5″ by 3″ loaf pan) and line it with parchment leaving ‘handles’ on the long sides.
  3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl, set aside.
  4. Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes with a stand mixer or 8 to 10 minutes with a handheld. In small increments, add the apple purée and beat an additional minute it two until full incorporated (don’t worry if it looks separated, just beat a little longer on a higher speed and it will smooth out).
  5. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in extracts. Reduce speed to low and mix in flour mixture until just combined. Fold in coconut gently but thoroughly with a rubber spatula.
  6. Spoon batter evenly into the prepared loaf pan, smoothing top. Bake in a BBQ on a warming rack in the back with the burner directly below turned off until golden and a wooden pick or skewer inserted into center comes out clean, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2hours.
  7. Cool cake in pan on a rack 15 minutes. Run a thin knife around edge of cake, then invert onto rack and cool completely.

Notes:

  • In order to reduce the butter, I used baked and puréed apples. Peel and core two apples, cut into small cubes, microwave in a heat proof glass bowl with 2-3 tbsp of water until very soft. Purée with an immersion blender until smooth. Push through a fine sieve. Cool and use as directed in recipe above.
  • Cake may be made in advance and stored in an air tight container in the refrigerator until required.
  • Cut slices may be frozen for future use (this is what I did)

When I wrote this post in early June, it was supposed to be summer in Toronto but the temperatures had not been warm to say the least and we’ve had to turn the heat on or have had a fire in our wood burning fireplace a few more times than I would have liked in June, but being a Canadian just means we buckle down and bear it; I refused to stop wearing my open toe shoes and sandals and I’m cooking like it’s summer. But now, the high humidity has rolled in and lots of rain and thunder, so this is a perfect little refresher particularly when it’s dark and drizzly outside.

We had my best friend from University Kim and her hubby here for a brunch the other week and I wanted to make a chilled soup with lots of colour so I did what I normally do, I Googled it. Up came the New York Times 12 cold soups and I was immediately smitten! I loved the layout of this spread, the colours and the variety if soups. I settled on the Chilled Watermelon Gazpacho because the combination of ingredients really called out to me — so fresh and clean and the colour is gorgeous. Do check out the link because you too will be impressed; I know I will be inspired to make a few of these beauties over the summer months. I would suggest you make extra and freeze it, it makes a gorgeous little amuse bouche for your next dinner party, served in little shot glasses.

The original recipe can be found here, but of course I had to change it up a wee bit. Thanks to Kelly at Inspired Edibles for putting me onto Pineapple Sage, I found it at my garden centre and immediately bought a plant for my patio and I was inspired to add a few leaves to this delicious soup.

WatermelonGazpacho_0221

This soup is AWESOME!

Chilled Watermelon Gazpacho

Makes 500 mL give or take (100 mL each of four servings with 100 mL to freeze for another dinner party)

Soup Ingredients:

  • 700 g seedless watermelon, cubed
  • 200 g seedless cucumber, peeled and cubed
  • 150 mL (1/2 cup) seedless, skinless tomato purée
  • few leaves of lemon mint
  • 1 large mint leaf
  • 2 large pineapple sage leaves
  • 1/3 up lime cordial (or just use lime juice if your watermelon is super sweet, ours was not)
  • splash of lime juice

Salsa Ingredients:

  • 150 g finely cubed seedless watermelon
  • 60 g finely cubed seedless cucumber
  • 50 g finely cubed celery
  • 4-6 tbsp crumbled sheeps milk feta
  • 1 mint leaf, fine julienne
  • 2 pineapple sage leaves, fine julienne

Directions:

  1. Put all the soup ingredients into a large bowl and purée with your immersion blender until you get a smooth thick soup. Strain through a fine sieve.
  2. Refrigerate overnight so flavours can build.
  3. Combine the finely cubed salsa ingredients and toss with the herbs of herbs.
  4. Serve in chilled rimed soup bowls, garnish with a spoonful or two of the salsa.
WatermelonGazpacho_0217

The bright colour of the soup tells the story of the flavour

WatermelonGazpacho_0218

A refreshing combination of flavours

We had one gorgeous day and then it turned cold and rainy again.

We had one gorgeous day and then it turned cold and rainy again.

I mentioned that when we travel we never pre-determine lunch, but we find free wifi and Yelp a place close by. Sometimes we’re just lucky enough to just come across a little gem serendipitously and that’s exactly what happened with La Tasca. La Tasca is a Spanish tapas establishment directly across from Chinatown in DC. We were hungry, hot and very tired and were cautiously excited about our little find (keeping expectations low means less disappointment!). Plus they had free WIFI which meant I could upload more pics to Facebook for my family and friends back home; JT has his head buried in a map app or a sports app to keep up with the latest scores :)!
La Tasca has a couple of locations in around DC, but It doesn’t scream chain. The service was great, and the food, well…it was dang good, we dug in before I remembered to take a photo, yep, that good. The quality and presentation brought us back immediately to our trip to Barcelona, Spain last fall (only it was way hotter in DC). Talk about a lovely memory!

The décor is kind of kitschy Spainish but we sat at the front looking onto the street so it wasn’t that offensive. I suspect this place would be great for larger groups.
Tapas means small, sharing portions which is perfect for JT and I. For lunch they have three sized specials: 2 for $13, 3 for $19 or unlimited for $24, we chose 2 & 3, and it was perfect.

Our meal:

Tortilla Torera: this is Spain’s traditional potato and onion omelet and here it’s served cold. It was lovely, as good if not better than some we enjoyed in Spain.

Brocheta de Gambas y Vieiras: these were Skewers of shrimp and bacon-wrapped scallops drizzled with a wonderful lemon emulsion, served sizzling hot with just enough garlic to get your mouth watering.

Garbanzos con Espinacas: this was an incredibly delicious Andalusian-style chickpea and spinach stew, i just wish we had bread to sop it up with (yes, I wrote that).

Empanadas de Carne, not the traditional empanada that i’m accustomed to, these were two good-sized stuffed pastry shells filled with ground beef and cheese. I’m not used to cheese in my empanadas but OMG was this good! It was also deep fried which I generally don’t prefer but it was soooo worth it. I almost wish we had ordered two more!

Our last dish was another cold tapas Tabla de Jamón y Queso, this was a very simple plate with Serrano ham and Manchego cheese served on artisanal bread brushed with the traditional Catalana tomato spread. This was the weakest of the dishes, but only because the others were so AMAZING!

The presentation was beautiful on all the dishes and I’m really sorry I didn’t take photos of all the plates. My only complaint was that they brought everything at once and the table wasn’t quite large enough for all the plates.

And that concludes our visit to DC, thanks again to Jed and Liz for their generous hospitality and advise.

Overall rating of La Tasca, DC (in my opinion): Decor 1.5/5, service 3/5, food 4/5, Value 3.5/5, Noise: 4.5/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

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

La Tasca

722 7th Street NW

Washington, DC 20001

202–347-9190

dc@latascausa.com

 

Hours of Operation

Sunday-Thursday 11–10

Friday-Saturday 11–11

Bar Open Late Weekends

 

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.

 

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.

Bistro Bis oysters_0100

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.

Bistro Bis Steak Tartar_0102

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.

Bistro Bis Pork Chop_0103

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.

Bistro Bis Dessert_0106

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

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.

Proof DuckFoieGras Mousse_Spec_0063

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.

Proof Tuna Tartar_0062

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!

Proof Gnocchi_0060

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

We usually travel to New York City around our anniversary to celebrate (read shop) and to have incredible food, but this year we decided to cross off another bucket list destination and go to Washington DC instead. I’ve always wanted to see the wonderful monuments, the Smithsonian Museums, Capital Hill and The White House and we did all that and more! We were lucky with the weather because it wasn’t raining but it was unbelievably hot and humid — we were told it was more like summer weather. But we donned our sunscreen, hats, comfy shoes (yes, you read that right) and left our hotel at 9am to return hot, tired (and did I say hot?) around 5pm just in time for wine and cheese in the lobby.

We stayed at the Kimpton Madera in Dupont Circle, a very good location which is close to Georgetown and the subway. We’ve stayed in several Kimpton hotels over the years and have always had exceptional experiences and this property was no different. My friend Karen from Back Road Journal made a great suggestion to join the Kimpton’s Loyalty Program and we did, and it has worked out very well for us, thank you Karen. Because we are InTouch members we received a voucher to raid the mini-bar (or one free cocktail in the bar — guess which one we did?), free WIFI in our room and a lovely room upgrade to one of their superior King rooms! Aron at the front desk and Fernando at the front door were incredibly helpful and friendly. Aron found out that we were celebrating our anniversary so he comped us breakfast every day, how nice is that? I consider breakfast an easy meal to really control calories while traveling, so the free continental breakfast with whole grain toast and fruit was perfect for us.

We ate at wonderful restaurants (reviews to come) and had some fantastic times with new friends — JT and I were very fortunate to meet up with fellow blogger Jed Gray and his beautiful wife Liz of the infamous Sports-Glutton blog. I started following Jed a couple of years ago and haven’t looked back. When I emailed Jed that we were thinking of coming down to DC, he and Liz very generously spent an incredible amount of time writing up recommendations for areas to stay in and provided some excellent restaurant recommendations and they were spot on. We met for dinner on our last night and as you can imagine we got on as if we were long-time friends. The lively non-stop conversation was richly dotted with good bouts of laughter. Thank you so much Jed and Liz it was such a pleasure to meet you both and JT and I sincerely hope that we will be able to repay your hospitality in Toronto very soon.

DC, what can I say? Go big or go home would sum it up. The city itself is only about 176 square kilometres or 68 square miles, so it’s not enormous, but because DC has so much to see and do, you really should plan on 4-5 days, sadly we were only there just under three days so it was a bit rushed but that just means we will need to go back sometime soon. We arrived on Thursday around 11:30 and took a stroll through Georgetown which was a 20 minute walk from our hotel. It was very hot and humid. We decided to have lunch at a Peruvian restaurant which worked out very well and then we walked around some more. Our hotel serves up wine and cheese from 5-6pm every day and we like to go because it gives us an opportunity to chat with the other guests. There weren’t other guests having the wine and cheese but we were able to chat with Aron at the front desk and he made some lovely recommendations about DC.

There is a lot to see and do in DC, so it’s best to have a game plan; figure out what is most important to you and then plan your stay according to that. We wanted to see a few of the Smithsonians (which by the way are totally FREE!): The Air and Space Museum, the Smithsonian Castle, the National Gallery. And we wanted to spend some time walking around the monuments near the Tidal Basin. We did the Hop on Hop off bus tour, but we made the mistake of hopping on and off, so we ended up wasting A LOT of time waiting to hop back on. The bus we got on later in the afternoon was so incredibly slow it was painful. We should have cut our losses but we persevered, and therefore missed seeing a few of the things we wanted to see — so there will be a next time. Due to an earthquake in 2011, the Washington Monument was damaged and therefore closed for repairs and will not open until 2015…so that’s a great excuse to return.

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We met Jed and Liz at 5:30 on Saturday night in Georgetown, a short cab ride from our hotel and their apartment. Jed suggested we meet at the Four Seasons bar called Bourbon Steak (well you just know the night is off to a great start!). In true gluttonous form Jed selected this classy establishment because of the variety of unusual cocktails served; we all know JT and I do cocktails, and Jed’s Thirsty Thursdays lead me to believe that they do too! The next course was dinner, we had a short walk (yes, I was wearing inappropriate shoes which made walking on the cobblestone in combination with the extreme heat very difficult!) to a very nice Mexican Restaurant called Bandolero. We started with more drinks and some very tasty treats. I loved this place because it was tapas style so we each got to enjoy every flavour and not have to commit to one dish. Conversation with either Jed or Liz was easy and JT and I flipped back and forth with the two. Our first course was La Muestra, which was guacamole, masa crisps, chicarrones, and three salsas, very flavourful salsas and the guacamole was delicious! Then, each of us selected one item to share; it was very tasty and four items seemed to hit the spot with all of us. In chatting with Liz I wondered if there were any cool jazz bars in DC and she lit up knowing just the one so our next stop was Blues Alley but we were only able to get tickets for the 10pm show, so without hesitation we went to a J-Paul’s saloon for, you guessed it, more drinks and conversation until it was time for the show. We heard the exceptional John Pizzarelli (who concidentally sometimes plays with Diana Krall – a fellow Canadian!)
Sadly we cut the night short as we were flying home the next day — we usually stay up much later, really we do! We really enjoyed our time with Jed and Liz (you guys really made our little DC vacation!)

I encourage you to visit Washington DC, it’s really much more than I expected and I was expecting a lot!

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