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Part IIIb: Paris

Good day friends, I hope this post finds you all in a good place and bearing the chilly fall temperatures (or the warmer spring temperatures for my friends down under). As promised this is the final installment for my vacation photos and it’s Paris! We traveled to Paris from Lyon via the TGV which is their high speed train. Four years ago we went from Avignon to Paris on the TGV and enjoyed it so much, we thought we’d do it again! Normally this trip would have taken an entire day, but on the TGV it’s only three hours — that’s how fast it goes! Here is a little movie to show the speed.

The trip itself was quiet and uneventful and we arrived at the main train station in Paris on time. Because JT was still hobbling so we took a cab to our apartment which seemed to be on the complete opposite side of town, and was expensive. They have a direct train to the airport but it was a 30 minute walk to the apartment and considering our situation, we decided against it.

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The apartment was on the fourth floor, fifth if you count the ground floor as one (Europeans count it as zero). 88 steps up. 22kg (50lbs) of luggage EACH! Fortunately, our lovely host Jean-François bolted both of our bags up the 88 steps to our beautiful flat. I’ll be the first person to admit it, seven pairs of shoes seemed like a good idea at the time I selected my outfits for the trip, but from here on in, I will change my packing MO, for sure! I will limit myself to three pairs of shoes (knowing full well that I will likely buy a pair or two while away!) Now I just need a long trip to test myself!

Our flat was in the Montmartre district, not very touristy, but that’s a good thing. I like having a simple breakfast because it’s an easy way to control the calories particularly on vacation so we bought some provisions for breakfasts and cocktails and we were good to go!

We didn’t have great weather, these things happen, so we stayed close to home for dinners but we explored like crazy during the daytime — rain or no rain, it’s Paris! In fact, the weather made us choose activities we might not have normally chosen. For example, the Pompidou Centre which is apparently the largest collection of modern art. Not sure about you, but I just don’t get the large rock on a 1970’s fridge as art. Really? But they also have some more interesting pieces that I can relate to. The Pompidou centre has a lovely lookout at the top and if you don’t wish to subject yourself to art: pile of bricks on the floor, you can pay only for the lookout. They also have a restaurant up there too which is supposed to be pretty good bit it was expensive and it was overcast; had it been a sunny day, we would have splurged! Musée de l’Orangerie is another gallery that we visited, it’s not expensive and it’s quite manageable in a couple of hours. It has Monet’s Water Lilies, the really huge paintings — they have two or three large rooms dedicated to 4 works each…they are HUGE!

We also did some old favorites, like the top of the Arc de Triomphe, which gives you a gorgeous view of the Champs Elleyse, the top of Montmartre with the beautiful Sacré-Cœur Bascilica and the lively artists selling their art in the square. We were also up close to the Obelisque in the Place de la Concorde. We tried to get into the crypts at Notre Dame Cathedral but the line up was bad, so we passed; it wasn’t our first trip to Paris and I’m sure it won’t be our last, so it’s on the list for next time.

Food was as good as ever; we had some lovely meals at little ma and pa restaurants in our direct hood! I had a lot of steak tartare…and Caprese salads. One meal in particular was at a place called Le Bistrot Pappillon where I had a tuna tartare, but I loved the crispy rosette of Phylo pastry they garnished the dish with. I snapped a pic to make sure I don’t forget…you’ll be seeing that technique sometime soon!

And last but not least, on our final day in Paris, we had the opportunity to meet up for lunch with fellow blogger Charles, of Five Euro Foods. Charles is gracious, kind, generous and charming…exactly what you would expect from reading his blog. Charles generously treated us to a Korean BBQ luncheon at one of his favourite spots. Neither JT nor I had experienced this wonderful and tasty food before so it seemed apropos to experience it first with Charles. We had a delicious beef BBQ with a variety of toppings and sauces, Shiso leaves or lettuce leaves and steamed rice; he also ordered an interesting soup with tofu. We were very well fed! Thank you Charles for a memorable lunch, it was so lovely to meet you.

Eva and Charles enjoying a Macaron in Paris

Charles recently became a Dad to a lovely young man named William. If you pop over to his blog you can see a photo of William sporting a very chic jumper (if I do say so myself)! You will also see my friend Barb’s (Profiteroles and Ponytails) very first guest post successfully making non-other than the famed Macarons. Barb had asked me to pick up some Macarons for Charles and I to munch on while JT took our photos; what can I say, it’s a tough job, but someone had to do it! We found a perfect little specialty shop in Montmartre called Christophe Roussel (recommended by a blog called Madaboutmacarons that claimed it was the best in Paris and boy, they were TASTY — wish I had bought more of them! Particularly the salted caramel … YUM). Fortunately, our last day in Paris was perfect with warm temperatures and sunny – just right for the photo opp!

So that concludes our European Adventure for 2012. Thank you so much for joining us on our little journey and now we’ll get back into regular programming. Blog on!

I released the polenta squares too early! So annoyed with myself so I thought I’d follow it up with some more tapas. I wrote this post before our trip thinking that I’ll be swamped and jet-lagged when we get back, so glad I did because I so am all of the above. Work is nice and busy, I got a great little freelance job in and I’m ready for bed at 8pm most nights! I’m not complaining, just giving you the lay of the land.
I had mentioned that I love tapas dinner parties, so the Sunday before our holiday we had friends Rae and Monica over for a simplified tapas dinner party; their two youngest girls went to a concert close by and they needed to kill a few hours, so we said, come on over! We didn’t have a lot of time, so I had to abbreviate the standard 3×4 courses, so we only had 4×1 courses in total. It was plenty of food. In fact, I had to forgo one of the planned courses; fortunately tapas are make as you go so nothing went to waste, we just had it for dinner later in the week.

I’m also trying Instagram on my iPhone 4Gs, not quite as nice as the Canon, but pretty close. It really does better during the daylight as opposed to night. I never use the flash, mainly because my 3Gs never had one, so I really don’t miss it. What do you think?

Abbreviated Tapas Dinner Party

Sawsans Flat Bread with Tapenade and John’s home made Ricotta

Because you fold the tapenade and ricotta into the dough, it makes it flavourful throughout

Chilled cucumber shooters with greek yogurt. I made the soup with vegetable stock as we had a vegetarian in our midst.

Very tasty little shots

Sizzling garlic Shrimp with cilantro and lemon with home made spelt fajita shells

I thought I made too much food…not

Gluten-free Honey Ginger Cake with fresh figs, candied ginger slices and edible rose petals

No one was gluten-free, but I had some left over cake from the previous night


Lyon and Paris also had to be broken down into two parts, too much stuff to talk about, you’ll see why. I’ll need a vacation from my vacation!

Spelt Fajita Shells

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We’re celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving at my brother’s place on the Muskoka’s and it’s pretty chilly. Although on the way up the trees seemed to be at their height of Autumn colours, the trees along Lake Rosseau aren’t quite there yet.

I set up a couple of posts before our holidays knowing that I would be busy when I returned; I’m still trying to organize all my photos from the trip, but that is a full time job. It’s great to have the camera (iPhone) at your disposal all the time, but it does make it too very easy to take too many photos. I have more than 300 and JT has over 150 photos (he didn’t bother taking too many because my phone takes better pictures!). I am hoping to have the Paris part of our trip next week sometime, in the meantime, I hope you enjoy this post…continuing on the tapas theme.

We had a tapas dinner party for some friends the weekend before we left and I made Spelt Fajita Shells; I made them myself instead of buying them at the store because I wanted smaller shells, so that we wouldn’t fill up on one tapa. They worked out great, and I’ll be making them again.

Can you guess what this is?

How about this?

We had a garlic shrimp skillet to stuff these little babies with. It was quite successful as the shrimp vanished in no time!

I made mini fajita shells so that we could eat more of them!

Spelt Fajita Shells

Original recipe can be found here.

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup spelt berries, ground in a mill or 1 cup spelt flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon oil
  • 1/2 cup hot water

Directions:

  1. Combine all the ingredients (I used my food processor, but don’t over process) and mix into a ball of dough. It should have a little elasticity but not too much.
  2. Cover and let sit in a warm place for 20 minutes.
  3. Divide the dough into 16-20 equal parts and let sit, covered, another 20 minutes (these will make a tortilla about 10cm or 4inches in diametre).
  4. Take each ball and place closer to the hinge of the tortilla press (not centre) and press down. To get it even thinner and bigger, pulse the press a few time so that the dough reaches to the edges of the press. Repeat until all of the dough balls have been pressed. Keep covered with a damp cloth so they don’t dry out.
  5. Preheat a skillet on medium high heat. Spray with non-stick cooking spray.
  6. Cook each side of the tortilla until golden (or slightly brown, like mine)
  7. Cook all of the tortillas, watching carefully. The instructions said to place the tortillas in a plastic bag, with wet paper towels in between them to keep them soft and moist but if you forget, you can steam the tortillas just before serving and they will become soft and moist and fresh again.
  8. Freeze leftovers and reheat by steaming.

Yes, that is a glazed ceramic flower pot bottom, you caught me ;-)!

Sizzling garlic shrimp with cilantro and lemon

We’re celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving this weekend and JT and I traditionally head up to my brother’s cottage in the Muskoka’s. We’ve had all sorts of weather during this weekend over the years, from swimming in Lake Rosseau to a little snow. But what ever the weather, there is always lots of food, reconnecting with family and lots of wine. We wish you all a very happy Canadian Thanksgiving and safe travels. Remember, it’s never smart to drink and drive (Hungary has a Zero tolerance rate and France is 0.5!) Just choose a DD and give them lots of dessert instead! Happy holidays friends.

For this post, I’ve had to change my plan and divide Lyon and Paris into two posts so that I don’t bore you too much. I also figured out how to add a slide show (boy, that was painful!) but it’s done. So if you have a moment, please visit with us in Lyon.

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A little history of why we chose Lyon; it is said to the Gastronomic Capital of France. I’ve read that there are over 30 Michelin star restaurants in the city. The people clearly love food and since we do too we thought it would be a perfect match. And it was…for the most part. We had read that we must experience the traditional Bouchon in Lyon and I’ve read many blogs advising that, so it seemed like a good idea at the time. Unfortunately Bouchon’s are generally small places and serve only a fixed menu of three to four courses, and unless you reserve well in advance you simply cannot get in (they only cook for the number of seats in the restaurant, and there is only one seating!). I simply cannot eat three to four courses and feel good, so we decided to just go to a bistro specializing in the cuisine of Lyon and order one course. We did this on night one, the day before our trip to Geneva to meet our friend Ted and his partner Ji. I ordered the andouillette of Lyon (warning…this may be offensive to the ultra sensitive) it is a ‘sausage’ of various ofal particularly some kind of tripe. Now I can eat practically anything, but this dish had an odor (Charles described his experience that he thought someone left the W/C door open, but now I’m getting ahead of myself) I thought it smelled of barn yard, very earthy and very strong. I didn’t take a photo as the lighting was really bad (and I’d rather not be reminded of the experience). It was served in a cream sauce (very rich) and a gratin of potatoes (quite yummy). I could barely eat it, but I persevered and had about a quarter (JT finished the rest). I did not have a good night that night and didn’t recover until lunch the following day! JT had smaller, more traditional sausages that reminded me of bratwurst, without a heavy sauce. Neither were high on my favourite list. But we were entertained for the most part by a street entertainer who was quite funny mimicking people and making rude balloon objects! We figured he could take 100E per set, and given an evening, he probably does 3-4 sets in different neighbourhoods.

Also, you can bet a tomato will taste like a tomato in France. They still care.

Note: if you click on the first photo in the gallery below, it will enlarge and you can click through them like a gallery!
Sorry, but it doesn’t work on your iPhone.

Geneva trip 1:

We made arrangements to meet up with our good friend Ted whom we haven’t seen for at least 10 years. He and his partner Ji traveled by train from outside Zurich to make this possible. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch in Geneva’s oldest restaurant/hotel in the historic district. I may have even sat in the same chair as George Clooney; check out their guest book. Geneva is a beautiful city whose population is manly made up of people from somewhere else; there are many company head offices in Geneva as well. We had hoped to meet up with other blogger in Geneva too, but sadly she had to travel for work on the date we could make it. We shall have to return one day.

Geneva trips 2:

We had booked a tour at C.E.R.N laboratories so that we could see what all the fuss was about. This was a very bad weather day; traveling on the highways, it rained so heavily that at times we were unable to see the hood of the car! The tour itself was lead by a physicist and was interesting but we both felt that since we were in Lyon for such a short time, this little side trip could have been avoided without much loss. Plus it was a gorgeous day in Lyon which we missed entirely! And we had to rush back for our cooking class! Not-withstanding the tolls which over the two days were in excess of 100E! Oh well. Live and learn.

Upon our return to Lyon we tried to return the car with the tank empty but they would have charged us 175E to fill it themselves so we opted to find a station and fill it ourselves for 52E. It took over an hour (mainly waiting for people to fill their cars) and return…only minutes to spare for our cooking class. Chef Villard was ready for us waiting in the lobby of our hotel! I barely had time to change and freshen up!

Cooking Class with Chef Jean-Marc Villard

Winemakers notes: “The color is a brilliant light straw. Aromas of intense acacia, yellow peaches and exotic fruits. On the palate the wine is very elegant and harmonious. Its freshness allows the fruit to fully develop. A seductive wine to be enjoyed with appetizers and hors d’oeuvres”.

Our cooking class was amazing and I would definitely recommend it. Chef Villard is fluent in English and is a kind instructor. His kitchen in tidy and calm, but then again there were only two of us. I shall list the menu, but as you can well imagine, I shall be blogging about it in future blog posts! Chef Villard kindly created a little hors d’œuvres of sausages wrapped in home-made brioche (he served the meal with a lovely local wine made with a Viognier grape), we then had a wonderful creamed pumpkin soup fragranced with vanilla bean, drizzled with hazelnut oil (OMG, you MUST smell this!) and served with three seared scallops. Chef Villard mentioned that it depends where you are in France with the fat is that they use…not everyone cooks with butter! Our main course was a Monkfish wrapped in bacon with a delightful veal sauce with green olives (the sweetness of the veal stock and the saltiness of the olives really went well with the fish, and the bacon wrapping was not too salty at all), with olive oil sautéed fingerling potatoes and some lovely snap peas with an arugula (rocket) pesto. For dessert we made a pear and chocolate clafoutis with a glorious caramel sauce. Yes, this will be a dinner for several friends over the next month or so. Of course, I will try to make it marginally healthier (although for a French Chef, he didn’t use as much cream as I thought he might!). This was a very enjoyable dinner. If you are in Lyon, you must try to get into one of his classes, you will not be disappointed. We ate with Chef and Mme Villard and chatted as if we were long-time friends. It was a very enjoyable evening.

We’re off to Paris next on the TGV! See you soon.

I was very excited about our trip to Barcelona, Spain because I was hoping to be inspired to create new and innovated tapas. As you all know, I enjoy having tapas dinner parties and this little inspiration will make a wonderful addition to my repertoire. Although we didn’t really have anything like it in Barcelona, I created this hors d’œuvres the first day of our return, I was just so darn excited about it. It’s relatively simple, and if you have polenta left over, even better. I made a small batch and cooled it with ice and our heat sucking stone (our Canadian Soapstone counters have the ability to suck heat out of anything you put on it). JT thought they were just OK, but I think he would love them if I had just put some bacon on them! I really enjoyed them; you can top them with anything, including prosciutto or even a crispy fried sausage slice but I just used some simple Sharp Cheddar with Horse Radish. You can also serve this warm or at room temperature. I froze the left over polenta squares and will use them for a future tapas dinner party! Cheers!

Polenta Cheese “Crisps”

Crispy on the outside and soft and creamy on the inside. The cheese was just the icing on the cake!

Original recipe modified from Epicurious

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups cold water
  • 1/2 cup polenta (not quick-cooking)
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped thyme
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits
  • 2 tbsp canola oil for frying
  • 25 small square slices of cheese, your choice
  • Chives for garnish

Directions:

  1. Spray an 8″ square baking pan with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Combine water, polenta, herbs, and pinch of salt in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring constantly with a long-handled wooden spoon, until polenta begins to pull away from side of pan, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in cheese and butter until incorporated, then transfer polenta to baking dish, spreading evenly with a dampened rubber spatula. Chill until set, about 45 minutes (to speed up the process, I put a piece of plastic wrap over the top and lined ice cubes along the top. Once the cubes started to melt, I pulled them off and then carefully lifted the plastic wrap so the water didn’t spill onto the firm polenta).
  3. Turn out the polenta from the pan (should fall out easily, mine did) and cut into 2-3 cm (1.5″) squares. Preheat a cast iron frying pan and add about 2 tbsp canola oil. Fry one side until golden and then flip. Cover the second side with a 1-2mm slice of cheese, garnish with chives.
  4. Serve warm or room temperature.

Part II: Barcelona

We travelled from Vienna to Barcelona with one of the intercontinental airlines, Berlin Air; it was efficient and relatively inexpensive (less than $100 pp Canadian). The terminal in Vienna is being overhauled and I don’t know about you, but JT and I have the uncanny ability to chose a flight that departs from the absolute farthest terminal in and out of the building. This was no exception; fortunately we were able to dump our weighty luggage early and manage the walk (and hobble) to the extreme farthest part of the temporary portable building (yes, this terminal was even farther from the actual terminal — it was outside the terminal!). Our drive from Budapest took two hours longer than it should have and we were both anxious not to miss the flight, we made it but we’re being boarded within 15 minutes of arrival! Thank goodness my dear Aunt made sandwiches which we gobbled down while speed-waiting! For some reason security did not care about food, just our documents which were pulled out and scrutinized. Oh, and my shoes! (nudge, nudge wink, wink my shoe buds Kristy and Charlie)

We rented an apartment with AirBnB that was in the Barri Gotic area (thanks for the tip for AirBnB, Charles – I’ll have a little surprise about Charles later!). The apartment was great, much as described on line and the bed was comfy, the kitchen had a coffee maker and a good fridge and the bathroom was modern and we had free wifi! The location was great too, within a short walk to La Rambla with the pedestrian boulevards with restaurants and shops.

The living room overlooked a quiet pedestrian street-no noisy mopeds!

This is the pass through to the small ‘office’. We were streaming music from Martini in the Morning a lovely Jazz station in Southern California.

The bed was a king which is unheard of in Europe! Nice and roomy.

The dining area in the kitchen. That’s an interior window that opened to a fairly large shaft. People hung their laundry out there!

Modern appliances and a N’espresso Machine. Mind you we did have a bit of a challenge finding the cartridges for the machine. To save calories we ate a simple breakfast in our apartment most mornings (plain yogurt, a little bread and coffee)

Our first full day was kind of a bust, full fledged rain so we opted for a bus tour of the city — a great way to get to know what you want to see. We ended up getting the two day pass so that we could go back and see things more in detail, but we ended up just seeing new things. So much to see, so little time.

The architecture is very interesting — this is the Olah hotel with strange eyeballs/Security cameras on the exterior.

Designed by Gaudi a famous Spanish architect and a leader of Catalan Modernism.

Personally, I find Gaudi architecture somewhat disturbing and upsetting

The organic shapes almost seem to make the building come alive…like it’s an alien.

JT had read about this place and indeed it was an excellent lunch

Views from the bus tour

This undulating roof was a market just around the corner from our apartment. Sadly it was open only until 4pm every day and we kept missing it.

Just around the corner from our apartment

They were setting up a stage for later that evening when the Catalan’s would protest for separation. Québequois are not the only one’s who wish to separate!

The Cathedral of Barcelona interior a wonderful example of high gothic architecture

A restaurant that once was the cellars to another cathedral.

It was a really cute place, but the food was just so-so.

Statue of Christopher Columbus. Yes, he was indeed Italian, but his boat was Spanish!

We had a lovely lunch on the shores of the Mediterranean!

A selection of tapas…I did happen to ‘borrow’ the menu for future ideas!

Part of our hood

Along La Ramba, the pedestrian avenue

The weather became brighter and warmer as the evening progressed

The protestors who want to separate. All peaceful.

Walking back…so many motorbikes and scooters!


And that concludes our trip to Barcelona. I had additional photos showing a vista from a fort high above the city, but sadly the light didn’t really provide enough contrast and the photos were dull and boring. We’ll just have to return to Barcelona to get better photos!

Hello friends, hope you’ve all been very well over the last few weeks I’ve been away. We had sporadic internet service over our holidays and I did try to stop by and leave a comment or two, but alas on going back I did notice some did not ‘stick’ and I do apologize. I’ll try to make it up over the following weeks.

Our holidays did get off to a rocky start, with our seats unable to recline on the ancient aircraft Austrian Air employ but that just meant everything else can be so much better, or not, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
In order not to bore you with a million-word post, I’ll condense our trip into three sections: Part I will be Vienna and Budapest; Part II Barcelona; Part III will be Lyon and Paris.

I’ll let you know from the get-go that our weather pretty much sucked! If it wasn’t dark gloomy skies and chilly temperatures then it was dark gloomy skies with chilly temperatures teaming with rain. But that didn’t slow us down as much as … oops! There I go getting ahead of myself again. We did have a few nice days, and you’ll see which one’s in the photos. Those of you on my Facebook have had glimpses of our holiday already…so now I hope you enjoy the narrative!

As you know, we landed in Vienna pretty much unscathed, even though beauty sleep avoided us; we had anticipation and adrenaline pretty much on our side, so we were ready for the experience. JT booked us into the Radisson Blu which is in the inner circle in Vienna; the cab from the airport was rather pricey, so if you don’t over-packed (like I did) you may want to take the commuter train which is much less expensive. Quite surprisingly our room was ready at the bright and early arrival time of 10:30am and we were quite pleased because we like to unpack and freshen up after such a long flight (8 hours from Toronto). We set out on a mission to find a lunch place and look around the city. We’ve been many times before (it’s a perfect spot to pick up a rental car and drive the 2-3 hours to Budapest, and it has many intercontinental connector flights to facilitate our adventures) so we were just walking around to air our heads and check out the new/renovated shops.

One of my favourite stops is the Julius Meinl specialty grocer right in the Graben. It’s a feast for the eyes and stomach. The chocolate section is unparalleled!

This is just one of the aisles for the chocolate section. It spans about 1/4 of the entire store.

I just couldn’t resist a chocolate bunny box, image by Andy Warhol. This one is for my friend Genie all the way down under in New Zealand, a fellow bunny lover.

As you can see, Austria is not cheap. In fact, breakfast in our hotel was a lofty 28 Euros (about 35 Canadian dollars) per person. We decided to order one and share, and it’s a good thing we did, even one was more food than we both could eat.

We chose Danieli for lunch and Huth for dinner (which I’ve talked about in my first post about Vienna).

Here is a lovely picture of Danieli and my delicious salad.

A very nice Italian Restaurant in the Graben

I just can’t get enough of this delicious salad. They just call this cheese Bufala Mozzarella

Budapest was a trip to visit family. My dear uncle passed away over a year ago and I haven’t been back since so it was a rather emotionally stressful time for me. I am pleased to say that all went well, and although there were a few moments of water works, it went rather smoothly. My family lives on Rosa Domb (Rose Hill) in Buda, which is the quieter side of Budapest. They used to live in the heart of it all in Pest, but about 30 years ago decided to move in preparation for their retirement. They have a lovely four-story town-house. We packed 22kg (about 50lbs) into each of our cases, and the guest room is…you guessed it, on the fourth floor! Now these were likely the most luxurious steps of all the steps we encountered on our trip, there were worse. And I was very lucky that my cousin and JT carried my over-packed case all the way up (I’m re-thinking this packing business in the future!).
We ate like kings for the four days in Budapest!

This was our welcome lunch. The Hungarians eat their main meal at noon on weekends. It’s stuffed pork tenderloin with prunes, cooked beets, carrots, mashed potatoes and white asparagus.

A typical “dinner” served anywhere between 6-9pm. Cold cuts, cheeses, tomatoes, Hungarian peppers, radishes and fresh bread

My cousin treated the entire family to a evening cruise on the Danube. It was a lovely evening and the lights sparkled like diamonds. It was such a beautiful sight, I would recommend this cruise to everyone, although the dinner cruise is not recommended (we just cruised with a cocktail!).

The Szabadsági Bridge (Freedom Bridge) with an interesting light my camera caught

The very beautiful shoreline with the Independence Monument in the background

The beautiful Parliament Buildings

Our last full day in Budapest, we visited the Castle District (Vár) and Margit Island (Margit Sziget).

Matthias Coronation Church newly restored and sparkling clean

The Fisherman’s Bastion. The story goes that during one of the many Turkish invasions (over several hundred years), the city was divided into different sections to be protected by each trade. This section was protected by the fisherman.

Dancing Fountain on Margit Island

Yes, we did get a lovely day or two in Budapest.

It was nice enough to eat outside. JT took this picture from the back which is a reverse ravine. That’s my cousin Rudi on the far left, my Aunt Ági, my cousin’s wife, Éva and me!

We left early the next morning to drive back to Vienna to catch a flight to Barcelona but not without issues. JT tried to carry too much luggage down and slipped and twisted his ankle (OK it may have been the precarious little rug at the foot of the stairs). We realized in Barcelona that it was indeed a sprain, but after some quick first aid and the purchase of a cane we were back on our way!
The other issue was that we had left 4.5 hours for a 2-3 hour drive and we ended up just barely catching our flight due to some really bad back up just outside of Vienna on the A4 (M1 in Hungary). It was a very anxious trip but we made it.

We’re still on vacation, and on our last night in Lyon we tool a wonderful cooking class; our chef-host had a beautiful fig tree in the back yard, and we ate fresh figs right from the tree! Although I prepared this post well before we left, I thought it appropriate to post before I return. I do hope you’re all doing well, know that You know that I miss reading about what you’re cooking and that I’ll be back next week with lots of stories!!

One of our dear friends brought us a package of fresh, beautiful figs as a hostess gift (I love my friends!). Coincidentally I had taken out a portion of goats cheese from the deep freeze, so this salad was literally staring me in the face. A quick weeknight meal. There are no directions or quantities, do what your heart dictates, you can even throw in some crispy prosciutto or don’t make it crispy. It’s simple and wonderful. I sautéed the onions until they were soft and then I poured in about 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar and cooked it down until it was the consistency of syrup. You can use this to dress the salad…it doesn’t need much.

My salad has fresh figs, quartered, toasted sliced almonds, goats cheese, caramelized onion, balsamic dressing, arugula (rocket) and spinach.

It’s kinda like the kitchen sink salad

Fresh Figs, Goats Cheese, Caramelized Onion and Walnuts on Arugula and Spinach

I’m posting this from our little apartment in Paris in the Le Marais … Correction: Montmatre district. Here is a little peak. Cheers!

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European vaycay 2012

Our trip got off to a rocky start; we couldn’t check into Austrian Air the night before so when we arrived at the air port we didn’t have assigned seats. When we checked in they had only two seats left together, by the emergency exit. We asked if they reclined (it’s an eight hour flight) and the first girl didn’t know, so she called a supervisor over and the woman assured us they could. Are you certain? Yes, she said. You know where this is going? Of course, the seats did not recline. But the cabin crew did their best and found a single reclining seat elsewhere on the plane so at least one of us could get some sleep. JT stayed back at the non-reclining seats (gallant!) content to put the arm rest up and spread out over two seats. You know where this is going…arm rest was fixed. Long sleepless flight. Are they allowed to fly planes that old? I’m talking at least 30! Not good at all. No in-seat entertainment, poor audio, no fans above seats, poorly insulated windows. Not a fan. Can you tell?
On a positive note, I used social media Twitter to convey my unhappiness and Air Canada responded immediately (A/C and A/V are partners). Wow that was a powerful tool. I doubt I would have been called back if I sent one of my famous letters! I will also go the traditional route so this doesn’t happen again to some unsuspecting soul. Lesson: don’t lie to your customers!
Vienna was as gorgeous as ever.
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Vienna was a bit chillier than expected, but at least it wasn’t raining.

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Our hotel the Radisson Blu Palais
This time we stayed just inside the inner ring a short 5 minute walk to the Graben at the Radisdon Blu Palais a gorgeous old building.

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The view from our room.

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A walk around the Graben
We were pleasantly surprised that our room was ready when we arrive at 9 am, so we were able to unpack, shower and change and feel human again. We searched around to find a place for lunch and settled at Danieli just off the Graben. It’s an Italian place inside a very old building with brick vaulted ceilings and a beautiful atrium. Food was great as was the service. After lunch fatigue hit us and we crashed for a couple of hours; we’ve been to Vienna several times and we’d already done most of the touristy things.
After a restful nap we headed out again to find a place for dinner. But first we had a cocktail on the lovely rooftop patio at Steffl Skybar.

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We decided on Huth a short walk from our hotel. When we ventured out for dinner around 8ish they didn’t have room, so instead we sat at the bar. Although our host was extremely busy, he spent a lovely amount of time with us chatting and recommending their specialties. Another great meal and experience I would highly recommend.
We picked up our rented a car the next morning and started our 3-hour drive to Budapest on the M-1 highway.

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Stopping once at McDonalds Cafe (sacrilege!) for a coffee which was surprisingly good we made it to my family in just over 3 hours. Garmin’s voice died somewhere along the way so we may have missed a turn or two, but we made it unscathed.
The next few days will be in Budapest. We’ll check in again in Barcelona, when I’m sure we’ll have some stories to tell!

My best friend Kim who works at Christie Digital (the folks who supply all of the projection equipment for TIFF) invited JT and I to a gala screening of Cloud Atlas on Saturday. To say we were excited would have been an understatement. This movie had the ‘A-list’ of all the huge Hollywood stars and we already knew they would be there! We’d be breathing the same air as Tom Hanks, Hugo Weaving, Halle Berry, Jim Sturgess, Hugh Grant, Susan Saradon, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, Jim Broadbest and James Darcy to name a few — can you see why we were so excited?

What made it even nicer was that we had Dress Circle Seats, second row on the balcony directly in the middle! Perfect movie viewing location and we were directly above the cast! How cool is that? Now we don’t go to many movies because we find them lame and predictable and we lucked out because Cloud Atlas was not like that at all. It was a story spanning many lives (played by few people) over many years and how one’s actions in one life may affect another in a future life. The story was tightly knit and in the end it all made total sense. JT and I loved it. Sadly, my friend Kim and her hubby Mike hated it (actually, that would be an understatement, abhorred it would be more like it!).

We were allowed into the theatre in advance of the regular seats. We watched the stars arrive from the third floor of the theatre, away from the unwashed masses! Unfortunately, I forgot my Canon Rebel, so I had to make do with my iPhone 4Gs and JTs iPhone 4 for the photos. They are much better during daylight than night, but at least it’s a memory.

The streets were lined with hundreds of people hoping to get a glimpse of their favourite star!

Susan Sarandon was the first of the Big Guns to arrive.

Ms Sarandon signing autographs

Mr. Hanks Sr. and Mr. Hanks Jr. toward the middle of the photo facing each other.

Hugh Grant emerging from his car

Mr. Grant waiting to walk into the theatre.

The Princess of Whales is a gorgeous old theatre. This is on the ceiling.

The directors of the film Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer. These folks also directed the Matrix Trilogy.

The lovely Susan Sarandon

The dashing Hugh Grant

The gorgeous Halle Berry

The classy Tom Hanks (far right)

Mr. Hanks monkeying around, getting the audience to clap louder!

There you go. Our brush with fame at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival; TIFF will go on for two weeks and air almost 400 movies, all of which have never been seen before. This event brings in about 24 million dollars into the Toronto economy. There is not a hotel room to be had in the downtown area. We get visitors from all over the world. JT and I are very fortunate to have been invited to see this movie with a lot of favourite actors.

Here’s the so-long for a while bit:

JT and I are gearing up for our European vacation in a few days. I will try to comment on your lovely blogs but I am unsure of how active I will be able to be. I may keep a running diary (like I did in Morocco) if we do anything that’s notable (such as a tour of the Cern Laboratories in Geneva, or perhaps coffee with my friend Sissi, or a cooking class in Lyon or even a bite of lunch with my friend Charles!). I know I will come back rejuvenated and ready to get back into it, and I hope that you will not forget me and forgive me for not being as active.

If anyone has any suggestions on where to eat (your favourite place) or must do in the following cities, please don’t hesitate to put in the comments, I appreciate them all!
Vienna 1 partial day
Budapest, we’re seeing family so we won’t have time for anything else.
Barcelona 2 partial and 2 full days
Lyon 2 partial and 2 full days
Paris 2 partial and 3 full days

So long until October!

You know I’m always trying to jazz up our fish and this was no exception. It was a Tuesday night and I was riding home ‘the better way‘ and trying to figure out what the heck to do with the fish we pulled out of the deep freeze and then it hit me — Grilled Tilapia with Basil Pesto. The pesto would also allow the opportunity to utilize the gorgeous basil growing like weeds on the back deck (I may have planted a few too many plants!).

Tilapia is a firm white fish that is great grilled as long as you don’t over cook it, then it falls apart! I added a bit of hot chili pepper flakes to the top for colour and a bit of punch. It depends if you like heat, like I do. Plus it’s a nice bite with the creamy pesto. I make a classic pesto, but I’m sure you’ve made yours a gazillion times so feel free to improvise, this is, after all for inspiration. Reserve the left over pesto for the dressing for the greens and you’ll notice that I’ve added a little something to make it more like dressing (make sure the spoon you use to spread the pesto on the fish is never put back into the reserved pesto).

This fish is green with pesto, not envy!

Grilled Tilapia with Basil Pesto

Serves 4,

Ingredients:

  • 400 g Tilapia
  • 2-1/2 cups (625 mL) packed fresh, washed basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup (75 mL) toasted pine nuts
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) EVOO
  • 2 small cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 4 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
  • red chili pepper flakes
  • arugula greens

Directions:

  1. Add basil leaves, Parmesan, pine nuts, salt and garlic to your food processor or immersion blender and blend until you achieve the desired consistency.
  2. Dry the tilapia and spoon 1-2 tbsp of the pesto per side per fish and spread evenly.
  3. Heat your grill to 177°C (350°F), spray with non-stick spray. Lay the thickest parts down first as they will take the longest to cook. Cook until the fish is firm to the touch. Repeat with the thinner bits.
  4. For the dressing, add the white balsamic to the left-over pesto and stir well.
  5. Serve over arugula greens and garnish with the dressing and red pepper flakes
  6. Enjoy!

I’ve also made different types of pesto here and here. My friends who are making pesto:

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My friend Sissi from With a Glass posted this recipe late last month and I knew the moment I saw it that I had to make it. Why you ask? Well, two reasons: 1) almonds and 2) super easy. There I said it. I did not slave for hours baking these tasty treats; but if JT asks, then I’ll throw some flour on my face and spray a little ‘sweat’ on for effect and claim it took hours and hours. 😉

Sissi went into great detail on why these wonderful, light little cakes are called Financiers (a financial person). I’ll tell you the Reader’s Digest version, but I would urge you to check out Sissi’s blog for the real deal. Apparently first baked by Nuns of the Visitation of Mary in the middle ages and were not called Financiers and had an oval shape. Sadly they were forgotten until 1890 when a Parisian pastry chef revived the recipe. His pastry shop was located in the financial district in Paris and many of his customers were from that sect, so he named these little pastries Financiers. There you have it. I did not have the lovely gold bar shaped rectangles that Sissi had, but I did have some very nice little square muffin tins. I also doubled the recipe so that I would yield 12, but in reality I should have quadrupled it, since I just baked them last night and by this morning, there were only 6 left and I didn’t even have one. We must have mice in the house ;-)!

Note: My little cakes did not brown as nicely as Sissi’s and that is because I decided to bake them on convection (with a fan); I should have done them traditionally and they would be golden and beautiful. But I’m told they tasted darned good. If you like almonds, this one is for you. For a gluten free version, substitute the regular flour for gluten free flour.

A pillowy texture with great almond flavour

Financiers with Ontario Cherries

Makes 12 5 cm x 5 cm (2″ x 2″) square cakes

Ingredients:

  • 100 g powdered almonds (Sissi suggested that you run your almond flour through a fine sieve and this worked perfectly for me)
  • 140 g sugar
  • 100 g butter
  • 4 egg whites
  • 2 heaping tbsp flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • 12 large cherries, pitted

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C)
  2. Prepare your muffin tins by spraying with non-stick cooking spray.
  3. Prepare the brown butter: heat the butter in a pan on a low heat and observe the milk solids, which will separate at the bottom. When they become light brown (hazelnut colour), put the pan aside (they will continue to brown in the pan).
  4. Combine the egg whites, sugar, almond powder, salt and the flour in a medium sized bowl (I chose a large Pyrex measuring cup so that it’s easy to pour). Gradually whisk in the butter until combined.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared muffin tins (or other small cakes forms) 2/3 full.
  6. Place one pitted cherry in the centre of each cake.
  7. Bake for about 15 – 20 minutes until golden.
  8. Allow to cool thoroughly before taking out of the muffin tin.

Mango BBQ Sauce

I wanted to come up with an alternative to adding sugar to my BBQ sauce for the pulled pork, after all, we reduced the fat by using the Tenderloin and I thought of Mango. Mango pairs really well with savoury dishes so I cam up with this recipe and tried it out tonight, slow cooking my tenderloin until it literally falls apart.

Tangy and naturally sweet, a perfect accompaniment to any meat, particularly Pork.

Mango BBQ Sauce

Makes about 250 mL

Ingredients:

  • 100 g mango (you could use more, but I didn’t want it too sweet)
  • 50 g chopped onions
  • 120 g tomatoes (I just used vine ripened because our lovely neighbours gave us some)
  • 3 large cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tbsp Éva’s Hot Sauce
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • water

Directions:

  1. Put everything into the container of your immersion blender and blend until smooth, adding water until you reach your desired consistency.
  2. Press through a fine sieve to get rid of the lumps, tomato seeds and such.
  3. You can can cook this down for about 30 minutes or just use it in your recipe as is (I did for my pulled pork as it cooks for several hours on the BBQ and cooks down anyway).

Cottage Closing 2012

This post was written and photographed entirely on my brand new iPhone 4s. I decided not to wait for the new iPhone 5 because they removed Google Maps from the Apps and the connector changed.

Cottage closing is always a sad time; it means no more cocktails at the lake or dinners by the water but then again it also means that I don’t have to plan, scramble and improvise meals when I’ve forgotten a key ingredient. At least for another year!

Many of you have asked for photos of the cabin and I’ve been reluctant because I’m sure you have grand images in your imaginations of our humble little cabin and I didn’t want to expose the real deal spoil the fantasy. It’s tiny size is what I love about the cabin; a full throttle cleaning takes two of us an hour which is perfect because when I’m at the lake, cleaning is the LAST thing I want to do.

I thought I’d share photos now because next year I’ve roped in Ceement Boy to help me redecorate! We’re ripping out the carpeting replacing it with laminate wood flooring, white washing the walls and updating the kitchen a bit! I’m very excited about it. I’m figuring on 2-4 days with all that brawn to help me. And a 2-4 of beer of course! (for him, not me). I’ll stick to my Martinis!

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It’s all one room, open concept living

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We just got the slider replaced with a half French Door.

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The kitchen is a cheap white kitchen with melamine counters. This will get updated next year.

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The windows will also be replaced next year. The guest room had all our crap in it, so I didn’t take any photos. But it’s there if you’d like to come up one weekend. You bring the booze!

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We had the decking replaced this spring.

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Because it’s the apartment above the boat garage, we are right on top of the water.

Here’s the menu from the weekend and a few pics (with my iPhone 4s!!!!) to bring it back to the purpose of the blog. Enjoy.

Saturday
Dinner: Waldorf Chicken Wraps (we had these in the car whilst driving up)

Sunday
Breakfast: date bran muffins, poached egg and half a grapefruit, coffee
Lunch: adult grilled cheese and a salad of arugula, spinach, avocado, cucumber and mini tomatoes

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The cheese gets all melty and gooey!

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That’s old orange cheddar and Gruyère oozing out. A nice hot salsa would have been great with this sandwich, but someone forgot to bring it up.

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We took a walk along the road to build our appetites for cocktails (do you really need to do that, come on!)

Cocktails: grilled scallops on sesame bread with a smear of avocado paste with Martinis. Sawsan‘s sesame bread recipe click here.

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The scallops were perfectly grilled, and pair beautifully with the avocado paste

Dinner: deconstructed Caesar salad
With financiers for dessert (post coming soon)

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I’m still getting a lot of miles out of Roland’s deconstructed Caesar salad. Wish I hadn’t forgotten the anchovies.

The last sunset for the year. I’m sure the sun will set without us, but it just won’t be the same.

Monday
Breakfast: Cheese Omelet Crêpe with Cantaloup and Date Bran Muffin.

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We had a wonderful paddle-boat ride on the lake before breakfast, coffee in hand.

Lunch: Tuna salad wrap, cantaloup squares and celery sticks to eat in the car on the way back to the city.

We’ll likely go out for dinner as I didn’t take anything out of the freezer. Lunch for tomorrow will be a challenge.

Eva’s Hot Sauce

This was an unexpected surprise in the spring

It has more tomatoes than I would have thought

We’ll likely have enough for one salad

This year I was too late in getting tomato plants but nature gifted me with a sprout from last year. Now it is about 90cm (36″) tall and has a good lot of tomatoes growing on it.

But I was able to get some chili pepper plants in and now I have a lot of chili peppers, more chili peppers than JT and I would eat. So I got to thinking, what can I do with chili peppers? Hot sauce, of course.

This hot sauce turned out quite complex with a good amount of heat, but also a great flavour. It’s uncooked, so it won’t last forever in the fridge, but hot sauce rarely lasts in my house anyway.

I would totally spread this over my Heuvos Rancheros, Shakshuka or even in Pulled Pork. Or add it to a BBQ sauce for the pulled pork to make it even more awesome than you would ever imagine. The possibilities are endless.

Careful, it’s hotter than it looks!

Éva’s Hot Sauce

Makes enough to fill a 250 mL bottle

Ingredients:

  • 20 g fresh red chilis
  • 20 g smoked Morita Chilis (I got these when we were down in Wisconsin visiting our friends Paul and T)
  • 20 g garlic, minced finely
  • 2 cloves
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/8 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 5 pink pepper corns
  • 1/8 tsp fennels seeds
  • 1/4 cup puréed tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup puréed sweet red peppers
  • 1 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp tahini paste

Directions:

  1. Rehydrate the Morita Chilis in about 250 mL water, remove seeds and reserve hydrating liquid.
  2. Clean and remove seeds from the fresh red chilis.
  3. Put everything into the jar of an immersion blender and blend until you achieve a smooth paste, adding a little of the reserved hydrating liquid to achieve your desired consistency. You’ll want to taste for seasonings, but remember, it won’t really come alive until at least 24 hours in the fridge.
  4. Press through a fine sieve and pour into a clean container. Refrigerate for 24 hours. Taste again and adjust salt and vinegar to taste.
  5. Enjoy with hamburgers, hot dogs, steak or use as a flavouring in other sauces or stews.

A little dab will do you

Notes:

  • The Morita Chilis lend a smoky flavour to the sauce.
  • Rick Bayless uses sesame and pumpkin seeds puréed to cut some of the heat in a couple of his hot sauce recipes, so I thought, why not tahini paste? It does make the sauce more caloric and thick, but it also smooths out the heat.
  • I added the spices that I thought would work in the hot sauce, you can adjust to your taste or even choose entirely different combos!

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Hungarian Cherry Squares (Cseresznyés pite)

I am rather thrilled and honoured that my good friend Charles of Five Euro Food has kindly asked me to guest post. Charles has been a valued commenter on my blog for over a year now, and as most of you know, he takes his time to formulate interesting and thoughtful remarks; his comments are a joy to read and sometimes even have a bit of a chuckle over. Thank you Charles, your friendship is cherished, I hope to do your guest post right.

In keeping Charles’ tradition of a little peek into living in Paris, I will give you a little peek into living in Toronto and a lovely Hungarian family recipe. I ask that you head on over to Charles’ blog to check out our little adventure, but I will share my recipe here as well. I belabored over which recipe I would share as Charles’ guest post, because he takes so much time to photograph and document his recipes so well; I didn’t want to get ahead of myself and bite off more than I can chew (pardon the pun) so I hope you enjoy it. This recipe is a cherished favourite for my family (my brother always asks for it when I visit and now that my dear Mom is gone, it is up to me to carry on the tradition).

Cherry Squares

By Éva Hársfai-Robinson (1936-2005)

Makes 1 pan 9” x 13” about 20 squares

Cost: ~€0.31 ($0.40) each piece

Preparation time: ~40 minutes

Calories: ~120 calories per piece

Ingredients:

  • 1 jar pitted cherries 500 mL to 700 mL, drained but reserve liquid
  • 3 eggs separated
  • 120 g unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 125 g caster sugar
  • 250 g flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • About ½ cup milk – or use reserved cherry liquid (if you use the reserved liquid your squares will be a bit pink)

Directions:

  1. Grease and flour 9” x 13” x 2” baking pan (22cm x 33cm x 5cm).
  2. Preheat oven to 350° F (175°C)
  3. Drain cherries, liquid reserved (you can use this as your liquid or make a delicious sauce or use it in soda as flavouring!)
  4. Whip egg whites until a stiff but not dry (should be able to stand in a peak) – no need to wash the beater if you do it in this order, if you cream the yolks first, then you must wash the beater and dry thoroughly).
  5. Cream egg yolks with butter and sugar until light and fluffy (should be a lighter shade of yellow).
  6. Sift flour, baking powder and salt – dry ingredients.
  7. Alternating dry ingredients with the milk (or reserved cherry liquid), fold into egg yolk mixture.
  8. Fold beaten egg whites into the mixture.
  9. Pour into greased pan. Note the dough should be quite thick, should have to spread it into the cake pan, it should not pour by it self.
  10. Dot with cherries throughout (you may want to give each cherry a squeeze as you dot so ensure there are no pits!).
  11. Bake in preheated oven for about 20 to 30 minutes (test with toothpick to make sure it’s done).
  12. Cool in pan (don’t cut until it is entirely cool otherwise it will become ‘bacony’ or szalonás, as the Hungarians put it).
  • Creaming the butter, sugar and eggs together takes patience
  • I start out lining up all the cherries, but then I have to fill in the spaces so I can use up the whole jar!
  • The cherries behave as they wish, so there is no point in lining them up anyway

They are moist and not overly sweet.

A short note: This was my very first guest post ever, and I am delighted that it was for Charles’ Blog. I have a new found respect for Charles’ blogging, over and above my original respect, which was plenty! The extra effort Charles puts into this blog is unparalleled, the ingredient shot, the video, the working shots etc., make this blog ever so wonderful to follow but impossible to follow in its footsteps!

English Crumpets

This recipe has been in the making for about 30 years; my Mom and I bought the crumpet rings that long ago, and although we tried making crumpets in those days, we were not successful. Without the internet and YouTube to show us how, we simply gave up. But I kept the rings, and every time I see them I am reminded of my failure.

Warm, crispy and chewy, just like a crumpet should be

I spent the weekend at my friends Carmen and Roland who after a re-evaluation of their lives after 9-11 up-rooted and moved themselves and 3 kids from the bustling city of Toronto to the Muskoka‘s. To their credit it’s a wonderful, relaxing life-style with a grand view of the lake. We had an incredible, social weekend catching up, eating, drinking and just having fun. My other friend Pam who runs the blog Downton Abbey Cooks (you know, that enormously popular British drama Downton Abbey) was also there. Pam is a bit of a Tea aficionado and she posts every Tuesday about Tea Tuesday where she talks about the traditions of tea, how the Downton’s handled their tea, and modern day snack to serve with her tea. You’re probably wondering what the heck all this has to do with crumpets, but I’ll get to it.

Roland collects old cookbooks; he loves the particularly wordy one’s and most of his cookbooks don’t even have pictures (or if they do, they are terrible). We were paging through a first edition Fanny Farmer cookbook chatting about food trends when I recalled my crumpet dilemma and decided then and there to try my hand at it again. Plus, with Tea Tuesdays, I really had no choice. So there, you see, I did get around to it!

This was the second crumpet recipe I tried, and even it was not perfect, but I did get two very crumpet-like specimens that I had to blog about. The first recipe cooked blind which means we didn’t get the holes. The trick is to get the right consistency so that the yeast can do its job and bubble up and cook with those wonderful holes. The texture turned out exactly as I had remembered, a little crispy on the outside but nice and chewy in the centre. The taste was perfect too, I’ll just have to perfect the consistency so that all the crumpets cook up with the famous holes. Please click here for the original recipe.

English Crumpets

Makes 6 crumpets

Ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tablespoon butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1/2 cup warm milk
  • 1/4 teaspoons baking soda dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water
  • additional warm water to adjust the consistency of the batter.

Directions:

  1. Proof the yeast in the water with the sugar for 5-10 minutes until its bubbled up. Add the warm milk, butter, and salt.
  2. Beat the liquid into the flour and stir until the batter becomes smooth. Let stand for 30 minutes. It will bubble up and increase in volume somewhat.
  3. Stir the baking soda into the water until it’s disolved; add it to the batter and mix well.  Allow to rise in a warm place 20 to 30 minutes.
  4. Prepare griddle and crumpet rings with a little grease. Heat over medium heat.
  5. Drop batter into crumpets rings so that the batter is about half way up the ring side. Reduce heat to low, cover griddle and cook crumpets until tops look dry, about 10 minutes. During this time, the holes should form, from the outside in.
  6. Flip them over and cook for a couple of minutes or you can put them under the broiler for a minute or so.
  7. Serve toasted with butter and jam.

The holes turned out perfectly in two. The others still tasted good, but didn’t look the part so they didn’t get a call back for the photo shoot (but they made the breakfast table).

Last night I was running around the blog-o-sphere looking for something to do and I came across my friend Jed’s recipe for his Grandma’s Oatmeal Cookies on his blog (Sports Glutton). I love oatmeal cookies; maybe because you can almost convince yourself that they are healthy snacks (not even close! wink wink, Kelly). But what I do love about them is the bite of the rolled oats, the wonderful chewy texture and the warm spice of the cinnamon. I prefer traditional oatmeal cookies with just raisins (sometimes I put nuts in but I didn’t this time because JT was taking them into work on Saturday, and I figured it was just safer that way).
I want to thank Jed, that gluttonous-sports-loving-dude for inspiring me with his treasured recipe; sadly I didn’t have enough butter (WHAT?) in the house so I had to find a recipe that used slightly less butter and opted for my good old Fanny Farmer recipe, modified ever so slightly for our taste. I’m not sure why it’s called Cape Cod Oatmeal Cookies, perhaps one of my New England blog-friends can help with that. And if you love oatmeal cookies this is another great recipe, tipping my hat to my Australian friends (Charlie, Lorraine and Maureen)

Can you just taste that chewy oaty goodness?

Cape Cod Oatmeal Cookie

Makes 36 cookies, about 5cm (2.5″) in diametre (recipe has been adapted from the original Fanny Farmer Cape Cod Oatmeal Cookie, you can find it on-line, but it’s best to get her cookbook as there are several yummy treasures in it).

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp cinnamon (original recipe called for one but I like the heat)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups rolled oats, uncooked
  • 1/2 cup raisins, optional
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup melted unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup melted shortening
  • 1 tbsp molasses
  • 1/4 cup milk

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 177°C (350°F) degrees.
  2. Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, sugar and salt together in your food processor (metal blades) and pulse to combine well.
  3. Pour dry ingredients into a bowl and add the raisins and rolled oats and mix well.
  4. Mix cooled melted butter, shortening, molasses and milk with the egg and whisk lightly to combine. Pour this mixture into the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until it is entirely incorporated.
  5. Drop by tablespoons-full* onto parchment lined cookie sheet and bake until bottoms are golden-brown, 10-15 minutes (depends on size of cookie).

*I used a 4cm, (1.5″) ice cream scoop, packed well, and then I flattened the cookie with my palm as they don’t spread much.

May I get you a coffee or tea with your cookies?

Peach Salsa

We are trying to eat more fish these days and I’m constantly cruising the web trying to find delicious and unique ways to present said fish. The internet has been busy with peaches recently as they are in season so I created this recipe to include them. Last week we had a grill Tilapia with quinoa tabouleh (or this one) and I wanted a little something to spice it up, so I came up with a Peach Salsa that was quite tasty so I thought I’d share it with you. I’ll leave the ingredients quantities to your own taste, after all, these recipes are meant to inspire.

The small dice allows it to be used as a garnish, plus I love the way it looks

Peach Salsa

Serves 4-6,

Ingredients:

  • Peaches, finely diced 0.5cm or 1/4″ cubes (I left the skin on for texture, plus I always have a really hard time getting the skin off, no matter what technique I use).
  • Jicama, finely diced 0.5cm or 1/4″ cubes
  • Green chili peppers (seeded), finely diced 0.5cm or 1/4″ cubes
  • Sweet red pepper, finely diced 0.5cm or 1/4″ cubes
  • Garlic, finely minced
  • Green onions, finely minced
  • Thai basil, finely chopped
  • Mint, finely chopped
  • Cilantro, finely chopped
  • Rosa’s Lime Cordial, just to wet and mix everything together
  • Salt to taste

Directions:

  1. Combine everything in a glass bowl and refrigerate, this is much better if it can sit for an hour or so.
  2. Garnish with parsley, mint or Thai basil and serve on top of grilled white fish.

Tasty on crackers too

OK, I am the first to admit it, we go out a lot. We try to go out only once per weekend for dinner, but sometimes that doesn’t work out. Too tired to cook, forgot to take something out of the freezer, you name it, I can come up with a reason. Bloor West Village has quite a few restaurants but unfortunately most are not that great. Bloom is a place that has been around for quite some time, but changed chefs last year. The food has a Cuban/Latin/Italian flare. We tried it for lunch a few years ago and enjoyed it so last week we decided to try it again for dinner this time.

We didn’t make reservations and fortunately it wasn’t too packed when we arrived around 7:30 in the evening. It’s about a 15 minute walk from our house and it was a lovely warm night. We were greeted by a very nice gentleman who seemed very proud of the place (I’m guessing it’s a family affair). We were seated at a very nice four person table so JT and I were able to sit side by side (which we love).

We were hesitant to order the bottle of Prosecco but the gentleman quickly offered to bring us a taste to see if we liked it; it was nice and dry so we ordered it. They offer 41 bottles on their wine list, which is rather extensive for such a small place. The restaurant quickly filled up and by 8:30 all the tables were occupied. Fortunately another waiter (perhaps his wife?) came in to help our gentleman who seemed to be the only one serving. Not withstanding, he did a good job and we didn’t feel like we were waiting long for anything.

We weren’t starving so we decided to order only appetizers. I ordered the Ceviche which was listed as Chef’s Selection Seafood (sustainable B.C.Halibut, line caught) Lemon Juice, Habanero Pepper, Cilantro $13. It was served in a small martini glass. The white fish was nicely done but it was a tad citrus-y for my taste, perhaps a little more balance with something sweet like a mango would have been a fix. The martini glass was just tall enough that it made it difficult for a vertically challenged person like me to eat from it (click here for a video of Chef Pedro Quintanilla making the ceviche). JT ordered the Caesar Salad with Spanish Style Smoked Bacon, Home Made Garlic Croutons with sliced chicken breast on top $14. You might ask why one would order a Caesar salad in a Latin restaurant…or you might not. Anyway, it was pretty ordinary.

I’d like to go back and try a few other items on the menu that caught my eye, such as the Avocado and Mango Salad $9, or the Cuban Shrimp Cocktail $15, or the Grilled Calamari $14, and the Arepa which is a Venezuelan corn cake with wild mushroom ragout, Asiago and crème fraiche $10

Overall rating of Bloom (in my opinion): Decor 3.5/5, service 3.5/5, food 3/5, Value 3/5, Noise: 5/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet). We paid for our meal in full.

Wheat Berry Salad

I’m always looking for something new and different and when I saw a Wheat Berry Salad on my friend Angie’s blog, Taste of Home, I knew I had to try it at least once. Angie cooks with a lot of whole grains, always healthy and always inventive. She is also a master of bread making, her loaves are gorgeous, appetizing and did I say gorgeous?

I had never heard of wheat berries before reading Angie’s post and I am so glad that I did see it and was inspired to make it. Thank you Angie, I know I will make this grain again and again.

Wheat Berries look very similar to pearl barley, but they are darker in colour and apparently have a nuttier taste. They are a very dense grain and therefore many sites suggest pre-soaking. I soaked my berries overnight and it still took about an hour of boiling. They have more of a bite than barley and are a bit chewier, which I liked, but JT did not.  I have found that you will need a ratio of 3 or 4 parts water to 1 part wheat berries. You can substitute wheat berries anywhere a grain is used, for example rice pilaf or even risotto!

The avocado and the mango are a nice contrast in textures to the wheat berry

Wheat Berry Salad

Serves 4, Inspired by Angie, Taste of Home, Wheat Berry and Watermelon Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup wheat berries, soaked over night
  • 1/2 avocado, cubed
  • 1 Mango,  cubed
  • 1/2 chopped cilantro
  • 1 roasted red pepper, chopped
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • salt to taste

Directions:

  1. Cook wheat berries in 3-4 cups of water, about 1 hour (at around 45 minutes check to see if you like the texture, and if you do, stop cooking).
  2. Add the cubed avocado, mango and chopped red pepper. Drizzle with the lime juice and salt to taste. Mix in the cilantro. Serve warm or cold as a side to a BBQ’d dish.

Villa is a restaurant in our hood that we visit from time to time. They have a good solid contemporary Italian menu with great thin crust pizzas, some wonderful salads and a decent wine list. We were looking for lunch on a Sunday with a patio that was out of the intense sunlight. The temperatures were still broaching 30°C with a reasonable amount of humidity, but at least outside there was a nice breeze.

This restaurant has an interesting history; for years and years there were two restaurants at this location side by side owned by the same people, one was Zsa Zsa (this is where Villa opened in 2004) and the other was Fiasco Trattoria (this was our Friday night place). Sometime prior to 2004, the owner sold off the two locations and the ZsaZsa side opened Ill Fornelo, an Italian wood oven pizza restaurant chain in Toronto. The restaurant failed rather quickly, apparently we Bloor West people don’t prefer chain restaurants and the manager purchased the restaurant and re opened under his own label called Villa. They serve very similar food to Ill Fornelo, but it is not a chain! Go figure!

They did an overhaul of the restaurant when it turned into Ill Fornello, but didn’t change much when it morphed into Villa. It has a nice clean contemporary design, with the kitchen exposed in the centre with the lovely pizza oven. The photos decorating the walls are of Italy and provide a nice personal touch. The staff is friendly, although could use a bit of training. We were there for a late lunch on a Sunday and it wasn’t busy.

I ordered the Grilled Shrimp and Calamari ($14.95) made with grilled calamari and tiger shrimp, black olives, capers, spinach, tomato salsa. I love this dish. It has just the right amount of the tomato salsa to eat with the succulent grilled shrimp and calamari. They leave the tails on the shrimp and I know for presentation it is preferred, but now I have to dig into my saucey dish and pull the tails off with my hands. The calamari is perfectly grilled, tender and not chewy at all.

3 large calamari tubes and 3 good sized shrimps makes a very filling meal

JT ordered the pulled pork eggs benedict ($14.95), which was a plate of 2 poached eggs, braised pork, barbeque sauce, caramelized onions, toasted English muffin with hollandaise sauce. He said it was good but wasn’t bowled over by it. The pulled pork was tender and tasty and not too sweet with the barbeque sauce. Sorry, no photo.

One of my pet peeves is when one person finishes their meal before the other and the server removes the spent plates. I find this so rude to the diner who is still eating (that would be me); it makes me feel like I should hurry up and finish (and he cleared the table of the bread and bread plates as well). So for this fact, the service is getting a low score this time. We have had better service on occasion but not this time. Our adult libations also took quite some time to arrive, but then again, perhaps they had to send a courier to Italy to get what we ordered!

Overall rating of Villa (in my opinion): Decor 3.5/5, service 2.5/5, food 3.5/5, Value 3.5/5, Noise: 5/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet). We paid for our meal in full.

I’ve been following a blog called Cooking with Corinna who has been doing the Ducan diet (you know, the French diet). Corinna has been very successful in losing weight following this diet and has decided to try and healthy up some of her favourites so that she doesn’t fall back into old bad habits and jeopardize her success. The first recipe she ‘healthed up’ was pulled pork. JT loves pulled pork but it’s not something I ever make at home, mainly because it is so unhealthy, or so I thought. Corinna’s method was relatively simple and frankly quite obvious but, for some reason I never thought of it myself. She simply chose a leaner and healthier cut of pork — pork tenderloin instead of pork shoulder. Genius! I was inspired to make this pulled pork for dinner the other night and boy was it a success! Corinna used a slow cooker, but I chose to get my roasting pan on the grill outside (it was so hot and humid that day, I couldn’t bear even the slow cooker!). The trick is low and slow; I cooked our 300g tenderloin for almost four hours on 121°C (250°F). I turned it a few times and made sure it was always covered in BBQ sauce. You can use a store bought BBQ sauce, or you can throw one together in minutes like I did. Soooo easy. You will be surprised that you won’t be able to tell the difference from the unhealthy version! And if you want to keep it even healthier, choose a BBQ sauce based with fruit instead of sugar.

Thanks Corinna, this one will be a keeper, that’s for sure!

A Healthier Pulled Pork

Serves 3, 100 g portions

BBQ Sauce Ingredients:

Original recipe can be found here.

  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup vinegar, preferably red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp prepared mustard
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tbsp espresso coffee powder

Directions:

  1. In a small saucepan, combine all of the ingredients and bring to a slow boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes or until the flavours have blended well. Remove from heat and set aside.

Pulled Pork Ingredients:

Original recipe can be found here.

  • 300 g pork tenderloin with silver skin and excess fat removed. This is a great video on preparing pork tenderloin. I removed ALL of the fat to keep it healthier.
  • 1-2 tbsp canola oil (or an oil with a high flash point)
  • 1 cup BBQ sauce, home made or store bought.
  • 1 cup water

Directions:

  1. Preheat BBQ to 121°C (250°F).
  2. Heat the roasting pan on the stove with the canola oil until almost smoking. Sear all sides of the tenderloin. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool for a minute or two. Add the BBQ sauce and make sure that the tenderloin is brushed evenly with it. Place the covered roasting pan on the BBQ and turn off the heat directly below it. You’ll have to watch your BBQ so that the temperature maintained for the 4 hours is around 121°C (250°F).
  3. Turn the tenderloin 3-4 times making sure it is always covered well with the BBQ sauce. I kept about 1 cup of water near the BBQ and added water as the sauce became thicker and evaporated. Eventually around 3.5 hours, the meat will literally fall apart and you will be able to mix it well with the BBQ sauce and cook it for the last half hour.
  4. Serve warm or cold, on a salad, on a bun, or even in a fajita shell. Garnish with chopped cilantro and finely chopped green onions.

Tomorrow would have been Julia Child’s 100th birthday and this is my post to celebrate this amazing woman. Julia is an American food icon who literally taught American’s how to cook. She was one of the early “foodies” before Food Network was even a thought; even before most of the chefs on Food Network were born! She was the first celebrity chef!

My friend Betsy over at Bits and Breadcrumbs suggested that we post a recipe from a Julia Child cook book to commemorate and celebrate her life and I was all over it! Betsy posted a gorgeous Clafouti recipe that’s been her dear Mother’s favourite. I also wanted to post an authentic Julia Child recipe, but unlike Betsy, I don’t have one of her actual cookbooks. Last Christmas JT gave me Dorie Greenspans Baking with Julia, a wonderful cookbook of mainly sweets, breads and such. But I didn’t want to bake something sweet, so I searched and searched until I came across a gorgeous luncheon dish, a savoury galette. I was sold. Thanks Betsy, this was a lot of fun.

For the galette pastry, you can click here for a very similar recipe, or you can check page 371 in Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan. I changed up the filling to suit our tastes and what I had in my pantry. It is an incredible crust, crispy and slightly sweet that can withstand even the wettest filling but it’s also not dry and crumbly. The cornmeal in the pastry recipe adds enough crunch to make it a little more interesting that a standard pasty. It’s really just perfect. In fact, so much so, I’ve had a special request to bake it again, believe it or not. 😉

I divided the pastry into two portions so that I could keep one galette and give the other away. Both were resounding successes. You can keep this very simple or make it a bit more complex as I did. You can serve this room temperature or right out of the oven or even reheated, it is amazing every-which way.

Savoury Oven Roasted Tomatoes, Caramelized Onion and Goats Cheese Galette

Serves 4-6, makes 2, 15 cm galettes

The oven roasted tomatoes and caramelized onions really went well with the goats cheese. The pesto was icing on the cake, I mean galette.

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Prepare the pastry as indicated in the recipe. It needs to be refrigerated for a couple of hours, so you’ll want to plan ahead.
  2. Roll the galette on a piece of parchment into a circle about 10 cm larger than the size you want it to be. Spread the sweet onion confit on the bottom leaving the last 5 cm all the way around clear. Add a layer of tomatoes and dot with 1/2 of the total goats cheese.
  3. Fold up the edges and pleat or do some other fancy design. I wanted my galette rustic looking.
  4. Bake as the recipe indicate (I did our’s for 30 minutes at 176°C or 350°F) just until the crust was starting to get golden.
  5. Serve hot, warm or even at room temperature garnished with fresh basil and a little basil pesto drizzle.

The basil pesto was a nice touch.

That was one tasty galette. Photo by my friend, neighbour and boss, Kim with her iPhone 4Gs.

The summer has been literally slipping through our fingers, it’s been going so quickly. And we’re busy (I guess that doesn’t help) so it’s difficult to coordinate a Saturday with friends, unless you book months in advance (we already have plans for October 27th, believe it or not!). So when I tried to get a date with our friends David and Mi Mi, we were only able to come up with a Thursday last week or a date in October other than the 27th! And we didn’t want to wait until October to see them, so we nabbed the date and penned it in. David and Mi Mi work downtown and take the Go Train to the city every day, so we wanted to pick a place that wasn’t too far from the train station so we weren’t wasting time travelling to the station and have more quality time at dinner!

We selected Obikà Mozzarella Bar in Brookfield Place (used to be known as BCE Place, why do they keep changing the names of these buildings?). I have seen this place every time we eat at Marché (another great place to visit if you are in Toronto) and I knew I wanted to try it, particularly with my new found love affair with Burrata Cheese. Obikà flies their fresh mozzarella in TWICE a week from Italy. I kid you not. Their fresh Mozzarella balls are priced at $11 for take away, which isn’t bad considering we usually pay $9 for ordinary stuff at the supermarket! You can read about their fresh Mozzarella here, just click “Read more about our Mozzarella here”.

The restaurant is basically in the main floor atrium of an office building. It’s a lovely space with super high ceilings and the majority of the seating is in the atrium; bottom line is that’s it’s a mall and people walk by all the time. It didn’t give me the warm and cozy feeling. But once we got into the wine, and chatting, we soon became unaware that we were basically sitting in the middle of a mall.

We arrived a little late as I had to get ready — you know me, ladies, I can’t go downtown without the usual accoutrements (mini, heals, bling etc). We arrived by Subway at around 6:30 and David and Mi Mi had already ordered a couple of lovely sampler platters: A Tasting Plate of Three Bufala Mozzarella di Campagna ($34.00) Affumicata a smoked Bufala Mozzarella di Campagna, Classica a regular Bufala Mozzarella di Campagna and Stracciatella di Burrata which is the inside of a Burrata (this is the soft creamy part). I really didn’t care for the way they served the Stracciatella di Burrata in a bowl. My favourite, by far was the smoked Mozzarella, it was so tasty (I’m going to make my own smoked version this weekend!). They also ordered a Selezione di Salumi which was a lovely meat platter ($12.00), showcasing a Prosciutto Crudo di Parma DCP, Prosciutto Cotto and Mortadella. Now I know that Mortadella is the pride of Bologna, but honestly, it’s Boloney! OK, I take that back, I don’t want to offend my Italian friends, suffice it to say, I was not impressed. We ordered the Veneto La Serenissima Pinot Grigio ($35) because we all craved a light summery wine (it was incredibly hot and humid out). For our mains, each couple shared a pizza and believe it or not, we let our hubby’s choose. Mine, made a bee-line for the Cheese Pizza called Formaggio Morbidi ($17) (soft cheese pizza), decorated with Mozzarella di Bufala Campagna DCP, Gorgonzola, Staccchino and Ricotta garnished with fresh basil and EVOO. The crust was super thin and beautifully baked, crispy and soft and chewy all at once. We had asked them not to add the Gorgonzola until the very end after it has come out of the oven as our preference is not to have it render. It could have used a few more little bits (we LOVE our Gorgonzola!). David and Mi Mi ordered Prosciutto ($16) which was Prosciutto Crudo di Parma DCP, Mozzarella di Bufala Campagna DCP, Organic Tomato filets and Arugula. I think they enjoyed it. (I apologize for any spelling errors, the menu on line is extremely difficult to read).

Overall rating of Obikà Mozzarella Bar (in my opinion): Decor 2/5 (this failed incredibly because we were sitting in a mall), service 4/5, food 4/5, Value 2.5/5 (it’s not inexpensive, but the quality is very good), Noise: 2/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet). Reservations are definitely recommended.

This blog has a good photo of the first platter: http://cookbookstoreblog.blogspot.ca/2011/08/obika-mozzarella-bar-toronto.html

This search turned up a good photo of the second plate: http://obika.tumblr.com/post/2431126408/selezione-di-salumi-prosciutto-crudo-di-parma

This search has some good pictures of the restaurant: http://www.pic2fly.com/Obika+Restaurant+Toronto.html

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

Wednesday August 15 would have been Julia Child‘s 100th birthday. My friend Betsy over at Bits and Breadcrumbs made a wonderful suggestion and I’m ALL OVER IT! I strongly recommend you pop over to see her and find out how we can all participate and celebrate Julia Child’s birthday.

Looking forward to seeing how you celebrate Julia’s day.

An after thought: please be aware of copyrights on recipes; I’ve noticed that Dorie Greenspan recipes ate not reproduced on line! Just sayin’.

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This post was written at the cottage including the photos taken on my lowly iPhone 3GS! Hopefully Apple’s September announcement will be about the iPhone 5, for which I am anxiously awaiting the release.

Do you have to create a meal plan for the weekends at the cottage? I do, I have to. We have no decent stores anywhere near our cottage. I once forgot cream cheese and had to settle for a cream cheese and chive dip from a 7-11. It was pathetic. I have to have everything figured out because to forget an ingredient would be devastating (well, for me anyway).

I had a menu plan for this past weekend which was our Civic Holiday long weekend (each first Monday of August is the Simcoe Day, in honor of our first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe) and it was good and it was well thought out. I had shopping lists and everything. And then I read a couple of posts which made me switch my plan. Yes, you read that correctly. I revised the meal plan to include these wonderful recipes that inspired me.
My first deviation was because of Karen at Backroad Journal Posted a healthier version of Eggplant Parmesan that I just couldn’t resist; plus it gave me an opportunity to use my adorable cast iron individual square frying pans! It was incredibly delicious!

Eggplant Parmesan

(only slightly modified from Karen’s lovely recipe)
Serves 4-6 for lunch as a main

Ingredients:

  • 4 baby eggplants, sliced 1 cm (0.5″)
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 2-3 tbsp EVOO
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • salt to taste
  • 300-400 mL basic homemade tomato sauce, or your favorite marinara sauce
  • a handful of chopped fresh basil
  • 1 cup ricotta
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 large ball fresh mozzarella, sliced
  • 20 cm (8″) square pan plus individual serving dishes
  • Non-stick spray

Directions:

  1. After slicing the eggplant, rub each side with lemon juice to prevent ‘rusting’.
  2. Mix the olive oil with the garlic and brush each side if the eggplant slices liberally. Grill on a hot grill until slices are soft. Sprinkle with salt to taste. Set aside (may be made in advance).
  3. Mix the ricotta with one clove finely minced garlic, salt to taste.
  4. In an oven proof 20 cm (8″) pan, line with parchment and spray with non-stick spray. Line the bottom with one layer of eggplant, top with half of the ricotta. Dot with roughly torn fresh basil. Drizzle with the tomato sauce, add another layer of eggplant. Top with the remaining ricotta, roughly torn fresh basil and the remainder of the tomato sauce.
  5. Add the sliced fresh mozzarella evenly on top. Bake on indirect heat on the BBQ until fully warmed through and mozzarella has melted. Sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan and broil until bubbly.
  6. Serve in individual serving dishes garnished with fresh basil and green onions.

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Just a quick word about the blog…I just posted my 500th post! Woohoo!

A week or so ago I was intrigued by a recipe at my friend Liz’s blog That Skinny Chick can Bake for Chocolate Meringue Cookies; it’s a meringue cookie for which you need not beat the egg whites. WHAT? How could this be? I had to give it a try! They were EVERY BIT AS GOOD as Liz made them out to be. EVEN BETTER some might say. So chocolatey and chewy with all the texture of a typical meringue cookie without the fuss. Please pop over to Liz’s blog to check out what all the fuss is about this cookie (plus she has some other tasty treats to ogle over).

So that got me thinking (oh oh, this means trouble), if it worked so well for the chocolate version, I wonder if I can work it with an almond version! So I tried and it worked like a charm! The first time too! Although, I did adjust the recipe a teensy tiny bit. I think next time, I will toast the almonds so that that they give the cookie a bit more interest.

Chewy, crunchy and very almondy

Almond “Meringue” Cookie

Makes about 4 dozen small cookies

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups confectioners sugar (icing sugar)
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 cups sliced almonds
  • 4 egg whites (no need to beat like with a traditional meringue)
  • 1 tablespoon almond essence

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350º F. Line baking sheets with parchment and spray with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Mix sugar, almond flour and salt in a bowl. Stir in almonds (if you are going to toast the almonds, I would allow them to cool entirely). Add egg whites and almond essence, and mix until just moistened. Do not over-mix batter. The batter should not be runny.
  3. Drop by small teaspoonfuls onto prepared baking sheets. Leave plenty of space between cookies as they spread quite a bit. I got about 12 per sheet in general.
  4. Bake until the bottoms begin to colour, about 12 minutes. Remove the parchment with the cookies from the hot tray and cool briefly before carefully moving to a cooling rack. Cookies are fragile, but I found them easily removed to a cooling rack with a large spatula. Store with parchment between layers.

If you like almonds, this is the cookie for you!

Norma, over at Garden to Wok had asked that I photograph my onion and garlic harvest, and I finally got around to it, sorry it’s been so late. I planted my garlic too early last fall and it sprouted and then proceeded to rot over the winter. I was so disappointed this spring when they didn’t sprout again that I pulled them out and planted more garlic and a few green onions. The garlic was planted too late and the heat, lack of rain did not help so they are a bit stunted. But I will persevere this fall and plant garlic again.

I like the contrast on the Canadian Soapstone counters

On Thursday, July 19th we went to a relatively new restaurant in Roncessvales called Hopgood’s Foodliner. We heard about the place some time back but had reservations about going because they don’t have a menu posted on their blog/website but we did walk by it last weekend and checked out the menu in person.

The restaurant décor is rustic but clean and nicely done (please click here for photos and another review, it was too dark and mine didn’t turn out). They have insets in the walls with interesting ‘sculptures’ made of ordinary pantry items, such as triscuits and Evaporated Milk. They also have my favourite filament lighting hanging evenly from the ceilings (great light to be seen in!).

Cool Décor

We were happily greeted by the hostess and she quickly confirmed our reservations on her iPad. At 7:30 the place was already busy, but there were a few tables still empty. The first table we were shown was at the beginning of the hallway to the back and I feared that we would be constantly disturbed by servers going to the kitchen (in the middle of the restaurant), so she showed us another table in the back room, far corner. I liked the back room as it wasn’t as crowded or noisy as the front (but that would soon change). Unfortunately, our new table was also beside a prep kitchen doorway (see Toronto Life’s 8th picture, with “Watch your Step” on a glass door); it seemed as though there was someone in and out every few minutes, and there was a very chilly draft blowing on me from the A/C above. So we asked to move and they were very cool about it. Our final table had us sitting at the front of the back room at a much warmer space.

Our waiter, Edward seemed quite knowledgeable about the food, and spoke as if he had tried everything. We decided to begin with 6 PEI blueberry point oysters with a delightful ginger Mignonette Sauce and of course, freshly ground horse radish. Both were wonderful with the slightly briny good sized oysters (I like to taste the ocean in my oysters, and I like to chew the oysters!). I had the surf and turf tartare with rave reviews from Edward. It’s a nicely chopped sirloin with scallops (surf and turf). It was traditionally seasoned and then topped with a thin layer of mayo and crispy fried potato pellets (well, that’s the best I could do to described it…kind of looked like mashed potato that has been through a ricer and deep fried). I liked the tartare, but I have to say I did not taste the scallop so it was lost on me. The deep fried potato topping was interesting in terms of texture, but I am neither a potato eater nor a lover of deep fried foods so I wasn’t as hyped about it as Edward, but I did finish it — all of it!

Oops! Almost forgot to take a photo.

JT ordered the Pork cheeks with mini sausages. The mini sausages were delightful and nicely seasoned, I didn’t taste the pork cheeks but they looked very tender. JT wasn’t wowed but he said he liked it. We didn’t have dessert. Our dinner took about ninety minutes and was nicely spaced without being rushed. On a down side, they have a very limited wine and beer selection (and the beers were quite obscure, the most recognizable being Labatt 50 in a can, which was just weird!). Chef Hopgood apparently changes the menu every couple of days, so you’ll never know what will be on, but rest assured it will be creative and tasty. Service was attentive, properly timed, friendly and consistent.

Fortunately, I got a shot before it was inhaled!

Overall rating of Hopgood’s Foodliner (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 4/5, food 4/5, Value 4/5, Noise: 2/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet). Reservations are definitely recommended.

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

On another note, I wanted to share a photo of Chef Rob Rossi and I (runner up Top Chef Canada Season 1) at his place Bestellen when we were there recently. If you recall, I reviewed the restaurant here; we liked it very much, so we went back.

It was a rather dark photo that I had to doctor in Photoshop

One recent weekend we decided to get a little culture and enjoy the Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris which are on loan for a special exhibition to the AGO. These cultural experiences always seem to surprise me on how expensive they are (we paid $30 each, including the self guided audio tour). I cannot imagine bringing a family of 4 or 5 to see such a thing, it would literally bankrupt most people. It’s actually a quite sad commentary on our society in Canada, where cultural activities are usually only available for the middle and upper classes. Of course, you could visit the AGO on a Wednesday night (general admission is free) for a mere $12.50 each admission to the special exhibitions, but then you are restricted to 6-8:30 pm. JT and I tried this approach several years ago with the ROM, who offer free admission on Friday evenings, but the line up was so long, we speculated we would have a mere 10 minutes to go through the museum once we got in. Sadly, we haven’t tried it since.

Are museums and galleries expensive where you are? And do they offer free time slots?

The Picasso exhibit was very nicely laid out chronologically through his life experiences around women (or so it seems to me that it was). He was a passionate artist and had several girlfriends, wives and lovers who influenced his work. Since he died in 1973, he was able to communicate much of where he was coming from in his art; of course, he left a lot of interpretation to us, just for the fun of it.

I majored in Art History in University, but that was a million, perhaps even a billion years ago, so the AGO was like a second home to me. But in 2008 Frank Gehry (Toronto born) redesigned the building and it’s a far cry from the gallery I recall (sadly, I was unable to find a photo of it). Non-the-less, it is a superbly beautiful building with Gehry’s trademark organic structures that challenge the materials used and is really a joy to walk through; the spaces where the art is showcased will always remain about the art, but the other areas, such as walkways, stairs and common areas are totally about the architecture.

I have to admit that I am not a huge Picasso fan, I find most of his work jarring and disturbing but I can appreciate it for what it is. He was a visionary in two and three dimensional art, looking at his subject as no other. The perspective is quite interesting but for me, finding the beauty of the subject (not necessarily the art) was challenging. By far, my favourite piece had to be Sacre Cœur, one of my favourite views in Paris (and fortunately this fall we will be staying in this lovely neighbourhood!). Because of copyright issues, photography is not permitted in the galleries with installations, but you can google it or click here to see it.. The facets skim the image, giving us just enough information to be able to recognize the building. Perhaps it’s the tones I am drawn to, or that the facets sparkle like the facets of a diamond, I am not sure; I just know it was my favourite of the entire collection.

The exhibit took us about an hour to go through, and we lingered. We could have stayed on to wonder through the permanent collections but we had to do grocery shopping for the week, otherwise we would have no lunches! Perhaps I’ll pop down one Wednesday when it’s free for a few hours and revisit my past. I hope you click on the links to see more of this impressive structure, known as the AGO.

My friend John (from the Bartolini Kitchens) did a post on June 6 for Straw and Hay Pasta including fresh peas that were shelled. It was that vivid picture that John painted sitting at the kitchen table, shelling the peas that brought back such fond memories of my childhood that I had to recreate the recipe that his story conjured: Hungarian Sweet Green Pea Soup with Dumplings — Zold Borsóleves. I didn’t search the internet nor did I look at my mom’s recipe book as that would have been futile, my Mom cooked from memory and instinct. It used to drive my Dad crazy; she would make something he thought was delicious and he’d say, “this is delicious, did you write it down?” And she’d wave him away and say “no, but I can recreate it”. But it was never the same. It could have been our memory of the dish, or that she added a pinch of this or a pinch of that, and on this round may have gotten missed. At any rate, there is no recipe. I haven’t had this soup in over…(oops, there, I almost spilled the beans), in many, many years, but I have recreated it to my best recollection. And as I sat in the kitchen, eating this soup, I felt like I was 10 years old, sitting at the formica top and aluminum lip edge kitchen table. Thanks John.

This is a simple soup dictated only by the simple ingredients. Just water is used as the stock, to allow the sweetness of the peas to come through. After I made the soup, I did search the net to discover people put in carrots, potato, celery root, etc, but our’s was just peas, onion and garlic. My mom also used the young pods in the soup by carefully removing the hard membrane from the inside of the pod after it has been shelled. You can do this by bending the tip in toward the inside of the pod until the exterior cracks, and carefully peel the membrane away. It is hard and plastic-y, you won’t be able to eat it, so make sure you remove it entirely. Or you can just drop the spent pods into the soup for flavour and fish them out before serving.

Even though I pictured the dumplings made with Quinoa flour, I wish I had splurged and made white flour dumplings. The quinoa was OK, but it certainly didn’t have the bite and chewiness that the normal dumplings had. If I were to do it again, regular white flour dumplings. Although, I must say the quinoa made it a filling dinner.

The flavours of this soup conjured up all kinds of childhood memories

Hungarian Sweet Green Pea Soup with Dumplings — Zold Borsóleves

Serves 2 as an appetizer or lunch, or one good-sized bowl for dinner

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup white flour (I used quinoa flour but it didn’t turn out as well)
  • 1 large egg or egg white equivalent
  • 1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
  • 12-15 fresh green peas, shelled and pods prepared
  • 2 cloves garlic finely minced
  • 300 mL water
  • non-stick cooking spray
  • Salt to taste

Directions:

  1. Shell peas and remove membrane from pods. Roughly chop pods into bite sized pieces.
  2. Mix the flour and the egg in a small cup. The mixture should be thick so you can pinch small bits off and it doesn’t stick to your spoon (in fact, the chewier you like your dumplings, the thicker the dough should be). Set aside.
  3. Coat the bottom of a soup pan with a good spray of non-stick spray and sauté the onions until translucent (you may need to add a bit of water to help it along). Add the garlic and cook until you can smell the wonderful aroma. Add the pods (not the peas) and cover with 300 mL water. Salt and taste, adding more as required (I ended up adding a good pinch — it should not taste salty, it should just bring out the flavours of this simple soup: peas, onions and garlic).
  4. Bring to a boil and begin ‘pinching’ the dumplings into the boiling water. I used a small spoon which worked out to about 1/2 tsp size (or you can roll the dough into a narrow roll and cut with a knife) the dumplings will grow because of the egg. Add the peas and give give it a stir. Cook on boil for an additional minute until all the dumplings float to the top.
  5. Serve immediately on your favourite Hungarian placemat. Sigh and enjoy the memories.

The Quinoa Dumplings were OK, but nowhere near the wonderful texture of my Mom’s old fashioned white flour chewy dumplings

We first had this slaw in NYC about 5 years ago at Susur Lee’s now defunct Shang restaurant in NYC’s LES (Lower East Side). Fortunately, he still serves this incredible dish in Toronto and DC. This is not a new slaw in our household. In fact, a month doesn’t go by without a version of this slaw surfacing (here, here, here, here, here, here and here) offering up left-overs for the entire week. Yes, we love it THAT much! I decided it would make a lovely main course with BBQ’d rib eye slices (the way Lorraine makes the steak here) last weekend for our dinner party. It was a huge success and now I have slaw left overs for the week!

I’ve had a few people ask me for the recipe recently, you can see the original Susur Lee’s recipe on Food Network or in his gorgeous book A Culinary Life; my version below, is my version. Now the ingredient list is daunting, but I beg you not to be put off, it is a recipe worth making. Also, a lot of time can be cut down if you get everything organized “mise en place” before beginning. I will go through some of my time saving techniques in TIPS below and hopefully it will help encourage you to make it. It is one damn good slaw, if I do say so myself.

Despite the overwhelming number of ingredients, it is WORTH making this slaw

It’s not all that time consuming if you have everything ‘mise en place’

It’s such a colourful slaw, that your eyes sing with glee when you first see it. Please click here to see the slaw Chef Lee and his famous slaw.

You can chop your herbs by hand, but I needed a time saver on this day, so I chopped them in my Cuisinart mini processor

It’s all about balance in this slaw, so tasting throughout is very important

The colourful dry ingredients above.

By keeping the ‘wet’ ingredients separate to the ‘dry’ you will preserve the freshness of this slaw and be able to stretch it out over a week

It’s all about balance of flavours.

The dressing is sweet, tart, tangy and a bit spicy

I had a luncheon of grilled shrimp and the slaw. YUM YUM YUM!

The assembly with the pickled onions, watercress and grilled shrimp

Susur Lee’s Singapore Slaw, AKA 19 Ingredient Slaw

Serve 8-10 (please click here to see the original unadulterated recipe)

Ingredients:

Pickled Red Onion (make 2 days ahead):

  • 1 red onion, sliced thinly on a mandoline
  • 1 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig thyme

Salted Apricot Dressing (make 2 days ahead):

  • 1 cup dried apricot
  • 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon mirin
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tablespoon peeled and chopped fresh ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons sugar (taste and adjust)
  • lime juice (to taste) I find the dressing a little sweet and the lime juice helps cut it, but you must taste it to be sure there is balance.

For the Singapore Slaw Salad:

  • 1 pickled red onion
  • 1 1/2 cups Apricot Dressing
  • 1 large English cucumber, julienned
  • 1 medium sized mango, firm but not soft, peeled and julienned
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and julienned
  • 1 small jicama, peeled and julienned
  • 1 medium sized fennel bulb, julienned (this is my addition)
  • 1/2 head of purple cabbage, julienned (this is my addition)
  • 4 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds (to dress)
  • handful of watercress (to dress)

For the herb mix:

  • 1/2 cup of Thai basil leaves, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup of mint, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup of cilantro, leaves only, finely chopped
  • 2 green onions, green and white parts, finely chopped

Directions:

  1. Make the pickled onion and dressing 2 days ahead, so it has time to develop the flavours, plus it will take the pressure off having to do everything in one day. Store both in the refrigerator.

For the Pickled Red Onion:

  1. Peel and julienne red onion and set aside in a medium bowl. In small saucepan, bring vinegar and water to a boil. Season with salt, peppercorns, fennel seeds, bay leaf, and thyme; continue boiling for another 5 minutes. Pour mixture into a heat proof jar while hot and let sit for at least 1 hour or two days in the fridge.

For the Salted Apricot Dressing:

  1. In an immersion blender container, combine the dried apricot, vinegar, mirin, onion, sugar, ginger, and salt. Purée until smooth. Taste and add lime juice and additional sugar if necessary.

TIPS:

  • A mandolin with a fine julienne attachment is a MUST. I use my Borner Roko Vegetable Shredder. Part of the beauty of this slaw is that all the ingredients are julienned uniformly, plus you’ll be standing for a very long time if you have to do this by hand! You need not clean it out between shredding as it all goes into the same pot.
  • Get yourself two large bowls and one medium sized bowl. One large bowl is for your ‘dry’ ingredients and one is for the peelings; the medium sized bowl is for your wet ingredients.

For the Singapore Slaw Salad:

  1. Julienne the wet ingredients first mango and cucumber, as there are only two, combine well and cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.
  2. Julienne the ‘dry’ ingredients: carrot, jicama, fennel and purple cabbage, combine well and set aside.
  3. Wash and dry all the herbs for the herb mix, including the green onion. Add to a little food processor (I find the fuller it is the better) and processes until all the herbs are finely chopped. Add to the “dry” ingredients and mix well. Cover and refrigerate until serving.

Serving:

  1. In a new bowl, take 2/3 of the “dry” ingredients and 1/3 of the “wet” and combine thoroughly. Dress with about 1/4 of the dressing (start small and increase as required) and combine well. Serve on a platter, piled high in the centre. Sprinkle sesame seeds overall and dress with the watercress leaves. Add the pickled onion over the summit to curl here and there (you don’t need a lot, just a few strands). Serve immediately with grilled chicken, grilled steak (please see Lorraine’s amazing technique for a full flavoured steak here), tofu or shrimp.

Thai Marinated Steak:

Prepare your steak just as Lorraine shows you in her blog here (don’t worry, it works like a charm!). Once it has aged for a couple of days, marinate it in the marinade below for a few hours.

Ingredients:

  • 50 mL lime juice
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup cilantro stems and roots
  • 1/2 tsp fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp mirin
  • 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic finely chopped

Directions:

  1. Combine the ingredients in the bowl of an immersion blender and blitz until smooth.
  2. Pour over the aged steak and refrigerate. Turn the steak throughout the day occassionally.
  3. Remove steak from fridge for about 1 hour to bring to room temperature before grilling.
  4. Follow Lorraine’s instructions on grilling.

It’s been blazing hot in Toronto, as I am sure most of my dear readers are experiencing in the northern hemisphere. For our dinner party last week, I decided to make the Armenian Nutmeg Cake (OK, I didn’t make another cake, I simply defrosted the cake I made about a month ago) and I wanted to serve it warm with a cold scoop of hazelnut frozen yogurt. I chose hazelnut because I adore the flavour (no, JT didn’t even save me a bite of the frozen yogurt) and I wanted something nutty to go with the nutmeg cake. I also made a very easy caramel sauce (just used ordinary milk instead of cream, which still worked out but wasn’t as creamy). Now this recipe is not entirely fat-free because hazelnuts contain fat, but it’s about balance, I saved the fat with using fat free Greek Yogurt so I didn’t mind adding the ground hazelnuts. You could leave the ground hazelnuts out entirely opting to use just the extract but then you will need to balance with a bit more sugar, as roasted hazelnuts have a bit of sweetness to them.

All in all the recipe worked out well. The yogurt adds a very nice tanginess to the frozen dessert that I liked. The caramel sauce balanced the tanginess (good call JT). And I adore a contrast of warm and cold; cake: warm, frozen yogurt: cold!

Creamy, nutty, low fat frozen yogurt.

Low Fat Hazelnut Frozen Yogurt

Makes a little more than 500 g of frozen yogurt

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts, roasted and peeled (I found this method after I painstakingly peeled mine the old fashioned way!)
  • 2-3 tbsp brown sugar, or to taste
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1-2 tsp hazelnut extract
  • 500 g non-fat Greek yogurt

Directions:

  1. In a coffee grinder reserved for this type of thing (i.e. not coffee) grind the hazelnuts, salt and brown sugar until it becomes a paste (like peanut butter). Mine took about 10 minutes, stopping to allow the machine to cool down every so often.
  2. Whisk the hazelnut extract into the non-fat Greek yogurt, and then whisk in the hazelnut mixture. I found the mixture was a bit lumpy so I took my immersion blender and blended it until I no longer saw any lumps. Doing this will make the yogurt a bit more liquidy, but it still works.
  3. Pour into the chilled ice cream bowl and assemble as per instructions. Turn on and allow the machine to work its magic. Mine took about 20 minutes. Scrape into a freezable container and freeze.
  4. Frozen fat free Greek yogurt doesn’t have enough fat to make it creamy straight out of the freezer, so I had to bring it out to sit on the counter for about 10-20 minutes, depending on how cool your house it. Scoop onto prepared plates and drizzle with the easiest caramel sauce ever.

My friends Angela and Gordon (the couple for whom this menu was served) gave me a book for my birthday, called Beaten, Seared and Sauced by Jonathan Dixon. It is a book about Johnathon, a late 30’s guy trying to find himself at the Culinary Institute of America in the Hudson Valley, chronicling the trials and tribulations of his journey through cooking school. It’s not like ’50 Shades’ where I couldn’t put it down, but his writing is compelling enough that I missed my streetcar stop twice already! I thought I would start this post with this quote that really defines how I cook; to be honest I hadn’t really thought about it before, but it really is me:

“If you follow a recipe blindly, you’re never going to really get that recipe into your blood. You need to memorize it, envision it, see it in your head. Then you’re going to be cooking.” Page 139 Beaten, Seared and Sauced, by Jonathan Dixon.

Well, I may not actually memorize the recipe, but I do get a sense of the recipe and where I want to take it and work through it from memory. Of course,  no one is grading me either! Thanks for the book Angela and Gordon, I’m almost finished it!

Greg, Greg, Greg. Your posts seem to get into my head and just keep playing over and over like one of those songs that you just can’t stop singing (you know what I mean, Kristy). I’m not saying that it’s bad, but let’s just say that it can complicate things. Case in point, I thought I was done, finished, انتهى, fertig, kész, terminado  (well, you get what I mean) with my weekend dinner party menu; I had a great hors d’œuvres, a great appetizer and an equally delicious and light main and a fantastic dessert. And then I remembered that post for Lemon Basil Granita Greg did. You know what it’s like? It’s like you’re almost finished in the kitchen; you’re tired, your back aches and all you want to do is sit down. And then it happens. You know what I mean: you glance up at the big ol’ wall clock and say, “Oh, I still have time, I can make XXX!” Well, that’s what happened to me on Saturday. I had just finished cleaning up, put the last of the dishes away and wham-o, Greg’s granita invaded my head. I had no choice but to make it, or something similar to it. My dinner theme was more Asian fusion so I switched up the flavours to represent Asian flavours and I reduced the sugar as I was using this course as a palate cleanser and not a dessert. The result was very refreshing and tasty. I will keep this recipe and will make it again.

It was over 30°C (86°F) on Saturday, so I didn’t want to fill all the glasses for fear they would melt and I’d have to start again. So there you have it.

The lemongrass and Thai basil infused simple syrup flavoured the ice perfectly to cleanes the palate and refresh to get us ready for the main course.

The subtle lemongrass and Thai basil was a refreshing palate cleanser after the roasted red pepper soup

Lemongrass and Thai Basil Granita

Inspired by Greg at Rufus’ Food and Spirits Guide

Serves 4-6 depending on size of glass, our glasses were just over 60 mL or 1/4 cup each

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup finely chopped lemongrass, packed
  • 25-30 Thai Basil leaves, washed
  • 2-4 tbsp granulated sugar, to taste
  • 150 mL water
  • 150 mL water
  • 50 mL lemon juice
  • 1-2 tbsp icing sugar, to taste

Directions:

  1. In a small sauce pan, add 150mL water, sugar and lemongrass. Bring to a boil, (taste and add more sugar if required) reduce heat, and simmer for 5-10 minutes so it is reduced a bit. Remove from heat and add the Thai basil leaves, really immersing them in the hot liquid. Cover and allow to cool; refrigerate overnight.
  2. In a small, freezable container, add 150mL water, lemon juice and 1 tbsp icing sugar and mix well. Taste and add sugar as required.
  3. Strain the lemongrass syrup and add to the lemon juice and water, mix well. Taste and add additional icing sugar if required.
  4. Freeze for 3-4 hours; loosen granules with a fork once it begins to freeze to get the beautiful shaved ice.
  5. Serve in a pretty vintage glass with a garnish of Thai Basil or mint.

We interrupt the stream of recipes from our dinner party here to bring you the blog post about my birthday dinner.

All photos were taken with the iPhone 4G.

Sparkling water made directly in the restaurant; no need to pay $8.00 for a bottle of San Pellegrino!

My friend Barb (of Profiteroles and Ponytails) put us onto a restaurant in Toronto called Victor (in the St. Germain Hotel) where Executive Chef David Chrystian offers a prix fix dinner where the guest chose the secret ingredient and the chefs prepare one of each of the five courses using non-other than your secret ingredient. I was intrigued; our very own Iron Chef competition? I just had to try it out, so we decided to make this the celebratory birthday dinner on Saturday (my birthday was on Sunday, but who wants to go out for a fancy dinner on Sunday?). The dinner was a wonderful precursor to the lovely robin’s egg blue box with the traditional white ribbon I was spoiled with on my birthday.

Chef David Chrystian was also one of the first round of participants in Top Chef Canada, season 1, and a very worthy adversary. Unfortunately he was eliminated, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t good; competition is severe and time is short, a bad day can make or break you in this quest. Some go on the show not to win, but to gain publicity in the bigger picture of their career path, not saying this was the case with Chef David. It’s kind of like American Idol, not all the winners are as successful as the one’s who were eliminated. Just saying. Getting on a show like Top Chef is grueling enough (1,000’s apply), making it through several rounds of elimination is success and it’s National TV. We Canadians just gobble that stuff up.

We chose coffee as the secret ingredient. I was intrigued to see how creative the chefs can be and still make it an enjoyable and elegant dinner. We would not be disappointed. Although, I will come right out and say it, the coffee component was weak. Not that the food wasn’t unbelievably delicious, it just didn’t sing coffee. It did not hinder our 2.5 hour dinner, during which we talked about each course and sometimes at length with our server.

A little text about the chef and the secret ingredient

Our places were set with an intro card which talked about the Chef and on the reverse side was the Score Card. Each dish was presented and explained by our server and was scored in four considerations, each one out of five points:

The Score Card. There is a typo on dish 4, taste, they should all be out of 5!

Dish 1: We were presented with Coffee/Carraway Rye with Ctirus Gravlax, Coffee Crème Fraiche. Interesting. We tasted distinct coffee in the crème fraiche and noticed how well it went with the citrus Gravlax, but the Coffee/Carraway Rye was not strong enough to notice. Tasty non-the-less and a very nice portion.

Beautifully presented on a piece of slate

  1. How well was the theme ingredient incorporated into the dish? JT 3/5, Me 3/5
  2. How original was the dish or how authentic? JT 3/5, Me 4/5
  3. Presentation? JT 4/5, Me 4/5
  4. Taste? JT 3/5, Me 3.5/5

Total: 27.5

Dish 2: “Breakfast Soup” we had no idea what to expect. We were presented with a very large bowl of Vichyssoise with a poached egg that was breaded and deep fried, drizzled with a balsamic and coffee glaze. It turned out to be my favourite from a taste perspective. The soup was incredibly silky and the egg was perfectly cooked so that when I cut into it, the yolk oozed all over the soup. Sadly the balsamic overtook the coffee and neither of us could taste it. But it was the best “breakfast soup” I’ve ever had. I could eat only half and forgot to ask to bring it home. Oops, forgot to take a photo!

  1. How well was the theme ingredient incorporated into the dish? JT 2/5, Me 1/5
  2. How original was the dish or how authentic? JT 3/5, Me 4/5
  3. Presentation? JT 3/5, Me 4.5/5
  4. Taste? JT 4/5, Me 4/5

Total: 25.5

Dish 3: Moroccan Coffee Chicken Tagine; when the server mentioned to the chef that we were just in Morocco last November, he said “oh, crap, I’m in trouble”. Although the dish was incredibly tasty, it was neither Moroccan nor did it have a distinct coffee flavour. It was served over basmati rice, but I wondered why it wouldn’t have been couscous? They served it in a little cast iron pot, and neither JT nor I could finish off the portion but we had the good sense to ask to bring it home! It was incredibly tasty.

Now why wouldn’t you serve couscous with a Moroccan dish?

  1. How well was the theme ingredient incorporated into the dish? JT 1/5, Me 1/5
  2. How original was the dish or how authentic? JT 3/5, Me 2/5
  3. Presentation? JT 4/5, Me 4.5/5
  4. Taste? JT 5/5, Me 4.5/5

Total: 25

Mmmmm. This made a very tasty lunch on Monday.

Dish 4: Espresso Glazed Beef Tenderloin with Espresso BBQ Sauce; a beautifully presented course, with about 2 oz of meat, we were getting really full by this time. The BBQ sauce was tasty and although there was a touch of coffee flavour, it wasn’t quite what I had hoped for. On top of it, pairing beef with coffee or espresso is not new and ground breaking creative. Non-the-less it was a very yummy course.

Small pieces of tenderloin served with roasted little baby vegetables

  1. How well was the theme ingredient incorporated into the dish? JT 1/5, Me 1.5/5
  2. How original was the dish or how authentic? JT 3/5, Me 2/5
  3. Presentation? JT 3/5, Me 4.5/5
  4. Taste? JT 4/5, Me 4.5/5

Total:  23.5

Dish 5: Dark Chocolate Espresso Tart with Coffee Anglais; a very small tart (which was just perfect because now we were seriously full) that had great chocolate flavour (too bad our ingredient wasn’t chocolate) but little coffee, even the crème Anglais was sweeter than it was coffee. But a beautifully presented course and just the right amount of dessert. Oops, forgot to take this photo too! Oh well, it would have been quite dark, anyway.

  1. How well was the theme ingredient incorporated into the dish? JT 3/5, Me 2.5/5
  2. How original was the dish or how authentic? JT 4/5, Me 3.5/5
  3. Presentation? JT 3/5, Me 4.5/5
  4. Taste? JT 4/5, Me 4/5

Total:  28.5

We had distinct winner, the pastry chef with the Dark Chocolate Espresso Tart with Coffee Anglais. This surprised me since I am not much of a sweet eater. The server reported back to the chefs!

I do have a few thoughts that could have made it even better. I would have enjoyed each Chef coming out to present each of their course (obviously, this is not easy on a busy night, but come on, there were two other couples in the whole place!). Chef David was not even at the restaurant on Saturday, apparently he was married earlier in the week and was taking a couple of days off. I was disappointed because my friend Claudia (from Food Network, who knows Chef David) emailed him that a friend of her’s was coming in on Saturday! I was hoping for a photo opportunity! Sigh, bad timing on our part. And last but not least, the final score should have been a bigger deal than it was. The server just asked us to tally it up and she reported back to the kitchen and that was that. Not sure what else could have happened, but it seemed anti-climactic.

And to end on a positive note, I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, the food being the forefront even in discussion and I really liked that. The restaurant was not busy at all (summer time is bad for them) so we had great service and it was quiet. Overall a great evening, that’s for sure. And we’ll likely do it again for another special occasion. If you have a chance to come to Toronto, I urge you to sample this unique experience.

The cost was $80 per person, plus libations, not an inexpensive dinner, but certainly worth it.

We paid for our dinner in full, and the opinions above are exactly that, my opinions.

I knew I wanted to make a chilled soup for our dinner party last weekend because it’s been so darn hot (not complaining) and I knew I wanted something a little unexpected than the traditional vichyçoissecucumber, avocado or even gazpachio — although all worthy soups in their own right. On top of it all Barb had posted a lovely asparagus soup recipe with a herb crusted goats cheese ball that really intrigued me. What to do, what to do? Off to the internet I went to find an unusual cold soup; my first stop was Epicurious and as luck would have it, there on the summertime meal feature page on my iPhone was a roasted red pepper and tomato soup. Call it kismet, serendipity or fate, this soup and I were meant to be.

The warm goats cheese ball is a nice surprise in the cold soup

The soup is a lovely balance of sweet red peppers and the acidity and sweetness of oven roasted tomatoes (or, in our case, BBQ roasted). There is a little raw green onion and a smidgen of garlic with a delightful earthy undertone of coriander. I also wanted to incorporate Barb’s goats cheese balls but I wanted a little contrast, so I rolled the goats cheese balls in sesame seeds and lightly fried them to brown the sesame seeds but more importantly, to heat up the goats cheese ball. Yup, I did the ole’ switcheroo and made the soup cold and the balls warm. It was a lovely contrast. JTs only comment was that there could have been more soup.

Chilled Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup
with Warm Sesame Crusted Goats Cheese Balls

Recipe adapted from Epicurious

Ingredients:

Serves 8 small bowls (125mL or 1/2 cup) or 4 large dinner sized bowls (250mL or 1 cup)

  • 4 red bell peppers, roasted on the BBQ (or oven), seeded and skinned
  • 3 medium plum tomatoes, cut into 1 cm thick slices and roasted on the BBQ
  • 1/4 red chili pepper, roasted on the BBQ (or oven), seeded and skinned
  • 1 green onion
  • 1 small garlic clove, finely minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • water to achieve desired thickness
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar (check for sweetness, and omit if the soup is sweet enough)

Goats Cheese balls ingredients:

  • 10 g (about 1 1/2 tsps) goats cheese per ball (I did one per serving)
  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds per ball
  • non-stick cooking spray

Directions:

  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and blitz with the immersion blender until smooth, adding water until the desired consistency is achieved. You can use chicken stock or vegetable stock, but it’s not necessary as there is a already a plethora of flavours going on.
  2. Strain soup through a fine sieve. Don’t skip this step as it does ensure a very velvety soup without the addition of cream or butter. Refrigerate until serving. (the soup actually gets better if made one day and served the next).
  3. Roll the goats cheese into nice round balls and coat evenly with the sesame seeds (I used black and white). Heat a cast iron pan, spray with non-stick spray and gently fry the balls at medium temperature — you want to brown the sesame seeds and heat the ball through, you don’t want to melt the ball. Brown all sides evenly.
  4. To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and carefully place one (or more) balls onto the soup. My soup was thick enough that the balls did not sink. Serve immediately.

Today is my birthday, and in normal Pamela fashion (from Downton Abbey Cooks), I plan to continue the celebrations as long as I possibly can, so I’ll be celebrating all week long with luncheons and dinners and of course, the obligatory trips to the gym to offset the effects of said celebrations!

JT is actually taking me out for a special “Iron Chef” dinner which will require a post of its own. Stay tuned.

We were out Friday night at a relatively new place and I had the Caprese salad which was drizzled with Extra Virgin Olive Oil without balsamic (this place is notorious for sticking to authentic Italian food and if it is NOT authentic, it’s simply NOT done) and it was delicious. Although I do love balsamic with tomatoes, this version allowed the subtle flavour of the bufalo mozzarella and the acidity of the tomatoes through. It was a very lovely experience, so I decided to create this simple hors d’œuvres the same way.

We were able to find mini Bufalo Mozzarella Cheese balls for this delightful hors d’œuvres. Mind you, we had to put a second mortgage on the house to buy them. When I asked JT how much they were, he said, “Don’t ask.”

Caprese Salad Bites

Serves 4, or two really hungry people!

Ingredients:

  • 16 grape tomatoes
  • 8 mini bufalo mozzarella cheese balls
  • 16 small basil leaves (I used both Italian basil and variegated basil)
  • 1-3 tbsp EVOO
  • 1/2 tsp Himalayan pink salt
  • 16 wooden toothpicks

Directions:

  1. Slice the bufalo mozzarella in halves.
  2. Skewer one tomato, one smallish basil leaf and the bufalo mozzarella; continue until you have them all done.
  3. Serve at room temperature, in a little bowl, drizzled with EVOO and Himalayan pink salt

We had good friends over for dinner on Saturday night and I wanted to make a light, healthy dinner which we could all feel good about. The couple recently down-sized about 22.6 kg (50lbs) combined total weight and I sure did not want to make them feel bad with a heavy meal. Plus it’s been ridiculously hot in Toronto, with high humidity so a heavy meal isn’t even appealing. I also planned the meal so that we had little kitchen time, other than plating and serving. We served family style to allow each individual to have as much or as little as desired.

Over the following few days, I will document the recipes that I served; here is the menu to give you a little taste:

Cocktails: Home made Ginger Ale (recipe below. I was inspired by The Cook’s Sister with this recipe)

Hors D’œuvres: Bite-sized Caprese Salad with EVOO and Himalayan pink salt.

Appetizer: Chilled Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup with Warm Sesame Encrusted Goats Cheese Balls (Barb at Profiteroles and Ponytails gave me the idea for this recipe, but I did the ol’ switcheroo and made the soup cold and the balls warm)(insert all goats cheese ball jokes here 😉 )

Intermisso: Lemongrass and Thai Basil Granita

Main: Susur Lee’s Singapore Slaw (aka 19 ingredients slaw) with Thai Marinated BBQ Steak (steak prepared as per Lorraine at Not Quite Nigella)

Dessert: Armenian Nutmeg Cake with Hazelnut Frozen Yogurt and Caramel Drizzle (the Armenian Nutmeg Cake was reinvented from a previous post)

Late night snack: Fresh Ontario Strawberries and Cantaloupe bites

Our guests last week were on a sabbatical from drinking alcohol so I wanted to make a special cocktail for the evening, I came across this recipe from The Cook’s Sister recently and bookmarked it for the occasion. I changed it up only to reflect the time I had to spend on the recipe, otherwise it was pretty similar. The ginger was strong enough to be refreshing and the added sugar made it just sweet enough to cut the heat from using fresh ginger. I really enjoyed it, it was a refreshing summer beverage. Of course, you can add booze to it to make it that much more interesting: gin, vodka, amber rum or whiskey seem to be preferred choices to add to ginger ale on the net.

A refreshing cocktail that aids in digestion! What more could you want?

Home made Ginger Ale

Original recipe can be found here

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated ginger (you will notice this is significantly less than the original recipe, but because it’s grated, it seems to infuse the water with enough flavour)
  • 2-4 tbsp Demerara sugar
  • 1 liter San Pelegrino (this is a lightly carbonated natural spring water)
  • 1 lime, cut into eights

Directions:

  1. To prepare the syrup, place the water, ginger, sugar into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. I allowed it to boil for about 10 minutes to concentrate the flavours and reduce a bit.
  2. Remove from heat, cover with a lid and allow to cool completely. Refrigerate over night.
  3. When ready to serve, strain the ginger bits out of the syrup, pressing as much of the ginger juice out as possible.
  4. To serve, add 4 tbsp (or to taste) of the syrup to each glass mixing in the San Pelegrino. Serve with lime wedges and garnish with mint. Individuals can add as much freshly squeezed lime juice as desired.
  5. Cheers!

You may recall I posted the hot and cold smoked salmon for our progressive dinner party here and I served it with a Quinoa Tabouleh (leave out the feta and poached egg) and a rather simple Creamy Cole Slaw by Martha Stewart. Since the recipe was basically verbatim, I wasn’t going to post it, but I’m still having the slaw having added more vegetables and made up more dressing, so I thought to my self, “self, this is good enough to post.” And so I shall. The dressing is sweet, tangy and creamy and it is not over the top. I don’t like the creamy slaws they serve in deli’s either as they are just too mayonnaise-y. This one is perfect. I know I will make this again during this summer. Because we had no salmon left over for lunches, on Sunday I had roasted a whole chicken with Herbs en Provence and just shredded it on the slaw. It was delicious.

A tangy but not too creamy slaw.

A Very Simple Creamy Cole Slaw (by Martha Stewart)

Serves 8-12

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar (you may not think this is necessary, but it really smooths out the flavours)
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup fat free mayonnaise (this was regular mayo)
  • 1/4 cup fat free Greek Yogurt (this was sour cream)
  • 1 small napa cabbage, (about 1 3/4 pounds), finely shredded
  • 1 medium carrot, finely shredded (this was 2)
  • 1 small celeriac, finely shredded (this is my addition)
  • 1 small chili pepper, diced finely as garnish (thank you Sissi for pointing out that I had missed this).

Directions:

  1. Whisk together mustard, vinegar, lemon juice, sugar, salt, mayonnaise, and sour cream in a small bowl. Refrigerate dressing, covered, until ready to use, or up to 2 days.
  2. Put cabbage, carrots, and celeriac in a large bowl and toss. Reserve dressing until an hour or so before serving.
  3. Pour in dressing over the amount of slaw you will consume and toss thoroughly. Refrigerate, covered, until slaw begins to soften about 1 hour. If not using immediately, refrigerate undressed slaw, covered.

The shredded BBQ’d chicken with the herbs en Provence made it a lovely summertime dinner

What goes around comes around right? My friend Charles at Five Euro Food posted this recipe last week and coincidentally I was just thinking about making a chick pea salad for dinner, so I thought, why not his recipe? His recipe incorporated all the flavours I love in Hummus but he made it into a delightful summer salad; and with the heat wave we’ve been having, it’s a perfect summertime dish (well, maybe not declared perfect by guest, but certainly perfect in my mind!). Of course, I didn’t have time to get to the green grocer, so I used vegetables I had on hand, which is exactly what Charles had prescribed.

I actually made it with two rather healthy sized cloves of garlic, and woe, it was strong; in fact, so strong, I had to rinse a portion off for JT so he doesn’t offend his customers! I ate mine full octane, because, well, it’s been rather slow these last couple of weeks so I just thought, what the heck! I’ll be eating the entire parsley plant later!

I took a bit of artistic license by adding roasted red and yellow peppers and tomatoes

Deconstructed Hummus Salad

A recipe from Five Euro Food, slightly altered.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 540 mL (19 oz) chick peas
  • 1-2 mini cucumbers, chopped into bite sized pieces
  • 1/2 each roasted red and yellow peppers, cut into small cubes
  • 1 green onion, finely chopped
  • 1 jalopeño, finely chopped
  • 2 oven roasted tomatoes, diced (please see this post for oven roasting tomatoes; because of the heat, I did it on the BBQ)

Dressing Ingredients:

  • 30 mL (2 tbsp) EVOO
  • 59 mL (1/4 cup) lemon juice
  • 1 small clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tbsp tahini
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Directions:

  1. Combine the dressing ingredients and set aside.
  2. Combine the vegetables and chick peas and mix well. Drizzle with the dressing and serve immediately. If you wish the vegetables to mix with the dressing in advance, I would suggest leaving out the cucumber until serving as it tends to get a bit on the mushy side.
  3. Serve over greens or spinach, as below.

It was a light, refreshing and garlicy dinner. Lunch will be wonderful tomorrow.

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