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Posts Tagged ‘french food’

Several years ago we dined in a lovely bistro in the heart of the financial district downtown Toronto called Forte Bistro and Lounge. JT had read about Chef Greg Argent in one of our foodie magazines and he knew right away we had to experience his cooking! Sadly, the restaurant is no longer around but the delicious memories of Chef Argent’s cuisine still lingers on.

A delightful combination of rich broth and caramelized onions in a perfectly bite-sized pillow.

A delightful combination of rich broth and caramelized onions in a perfectly bite-sized pillow.

One such dish was the unique French Onion Soup Dumplings ($11): a tender pasta dumpling filled with braised veal broth and gruyère cheese; what made this tasty dumpling so unusual was the surprise of the explosion of veal glacé that would fill you mouth with flavour after biting into the tender pasta, immediately reminding you of French Onion Soup! I have tried many times to recreate this wonderful dish without success and then Chef Argent revealed his ‘secret’ when I asked how he does it. Today I will share with you the secret of the tasty, unassuming little dumpling, but you must swear never to speak of it again! Although the recipe is laborious, I urge you to make a batch to serve as an amuse bouche or little hors d’œuvres at your next Super Bowl party (you may freeze uncooked dumplings on a parchment lined sheet lightly dusted with flour and then put them into a zip-lock bag), you will not only thank me for the wonderful compliments your lucky guests bestow upon you, you may even wish to send me gifts! 😉

Did you figure out the 'secret'?

Did you figure out the ‘secret’?

French Onion Soup Pillows

makes 60 single bite pillows

Ingredients for the broth:

  • 0.5 kg (about 1 pound) Beef bones or oxtail bones
  • 130 g (about 4.5 oz) sweet onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp merlot salt (from my friend Kristy at Eat, play, love; our family food adventures)
  • 600 mL water, divided
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tbsp cooking sherry
  • 3 g (a scant teaspoon) powdered gelatine (agar agar will not work here)
  • 1 cup caramelized onions (please click here for a great recipe)
  • Home made pasta dough or 60 square won ton wrappers (for a great pasta dough recipe, please check out Chicago John’s kitchen)
  • Gruyère cheese to garnish

Directions for the broth:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F 177°C. Put a 11.5 cm x 21.5 cm (4 1/2″ x 8 1/2″) metal loaf pan into the freezer.
  2. Sear the beef bones well on high heat. Remove from pan and set aside. Deglaze the pan with 1 tbsp cooking sherry or port. Add the onions to the pan and sauté for a minute or so on the residual heat from searing. Spread the onions out evenly on the bottom of the pan. Return the beef bones to the pan and nestle into the onions, add the merlot salt, bay leaf and 300 mL water. Cover with tin foil and roast in the oven for about 1 hour, checking occasionally to make sure the water hasn’t evaporated, top up as needed.
  3. Remove pan from oven and remove tin foil. Add an additional 200 mL water and boil on the stove top until liquid is reduced to about 150 mL (about 5 oz). Strain through a fine sieve and press as much liquid out of the cooked onions as possible.
  4. Set aside about 60 mL (1/4 cup) of the stock and cool. Keep the remainder stock on a soft boil.
  5. Stir the gelatine into the cooled stock until melted. Add the boiling stock and stir well. Allow to cool to room temperature and pour into the super cooled loaf pan. Refrigerate until set.
FrenchOnionSoupPillows_1960

You can develop a little assembly line to speed up the process!

An unexpected, rich, delicious soup explodes in your mouth when you bite into each pillow.

An unexpected, rich, delicious broth explodes in your mouth when you bite into each pillow.

Directions for assembling the pillows:

  1. Roll out the pasta dough to #4 thickness on the Kitchenaid Pasta roller (less than 1 mm or 0.125 inch). Using a 6-7cm (2.5″ -2.75″) oval cookie cutter, cut out the ovals to make both sides of the pillows.
  2. Remove the jelled broth from the fridge and cut into 0.5-1cm (0.25″-0.5″) rectangles.
  3. Onto each oval, more or less centred, add one jelled broth rectangle and about 1/4 tsp caramelized onion. Wet your finger and run a wet bead along the outer edge of the pasta oval. Turn up both sides of the oval and squeeze the edges together to bind — you don’t want these pillows to burst open when boiling.
  4. Lightly flour a parchment lined baking sheet and add each finished pillow to it so as not to touch each other. Freeze and bag frozen pillows into a zip lock bag or container. Use as many as needed.
  5. Bring an appropriate  amount of salted water to a boil. Add frozen pillows and boil until they float to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon onto a clean dish cloth to drain off water. Present on a Chinese soup spoon and garnish with a small amount of finely grated gruyère cheese. Brûlée the cheese until it is golden and crispy. Serve immediately.
FrenchOnionSoupPillows_1950

The Brûléed Gruyère cheese taste just like the burnt bits on a French Onion soup bowl.

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We were finally able to get into Ici Restaurant in Toronto; I say finally because, believe it or not, we made reservations between Christmas and New Years! It was on our list of places to try, but alas we had not been able to get in until now! Ici opened in November 2010 on Manning Avenue in Toronto after two years of fighting ridiculous issues with a City Councillor; not sure what the hoopla was over since it’s a very small French restaurant and not a after hours club! They serve “modern French food” with classics such as Lobster Bisque, Steak Tartar and Chicken Suprême.
I have to say, having to wait three weeks to dine with a reservation, I had expectations. It was a blistery cold day in Toronto and this place is in a residential area (the Annex), with street parking only. We had our first snowfall the day before and not everyone shovels their sidewalk as they should; we had to park about a hundred metres from the restaurant and I wore satin sling backs (OK, I’m well-known for inappropriate footwear so this should be of no surprise!) We arrive and the place is T I N Y – seating for maybe 25, half if which is along the bar and kitchen counters. We were sat at the bar. I said, “but we had reservations” this is all we have, was the response. Hmmmm. It’s REALLY S M A L L. No where to hang your coat — they could have used hooks under the bar. The door is covered with heavy velvet drapery, but it’s still not enough to stop the blustery cold from interrupting our comfort. People are turned away at the door, you really do need a reservation. The décor is quaint but nothing special. The napkins are linen tea towels, I like them. There are place-mats at each place on the bar, and we are not overly crowded (I can’t even reach over to touch the next two diners, not that I would want to). The kitchen has a window so you can see the action, and it’s pretty obvious that they are not overly taxed.

The staff is attentive; we are immediately welcomed with a small but very tasty goats cheese tart amuse bouche; it had caramelized onion baked with the tart, creamy goats cheese — it was delicious, which makes us both excited about our meals. The menu is short, only about ten things and they come in two sizes, appetizer portion of meal portion, which works out well for me. We order six oysters as our starter, they are small PEI oysters for $3. each; they are served with grated fresh horse radish, lemon wedges and a classic Mignonette garnish. They are quite lovely with a hint of brininess (I actually like my oysters a bit brinier!) and they are a lite great starter without taking up tummy-space. Because the restaurant space is small and there are not many people, it’s a little quieter than most hot spot eateries, which is nice because I have a difficult time competing with noise, my voice tends to be the same level and I can’t even hear myself talk! I ordered the steak tartar; the server said it was delicately seasoned with shallots, cognac, mustard and cornichons (not capers). I ordered the appetizer portion and it is served as two good sized quenelle shapes with similarly shaped deep-fried mashed potatoes. Although I am not a huge potato eater, my preference would have been the beautiful match-stick fries traditionally served with this dish. I ate half of one of the potatoes and gave the other half to JT. The tartar was tasty, not the best I’ve ever had, but certainly up there. JT had the Seared Braised Beef, Artichoke & Black Trumpet Ravioli, even the appetizer portion was a healthy serving. The meat was so tender and tasty, it was right up there for taste and quality. He said it was good but not the best he’s ever had. We finished with a couple of very delicious espressos. The dinner was nicely spaced out, with reservations at 7:30 we left around 9:30.

Overall rating of Ici (in my opinion): Decor 2.5/5, service 3.5/5, food 3.5/5, Value 3.5/5, Noise: 5/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

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

The first give-away on Kitcheninspirations:

Would you like a pinch?

Would you like a pinch?

I picked up these wonderful little Just a Pinch sample packets of flavoured gourmet salts during the Christmas Holidays at Longo‘s new store at the Air Canada Centre. I was so intrigued by them, the possibilities are endless. To enter is easy:

  • Answer the following four questions correctly (all of the answers are found in my blog) in a comment on this post will get you one entry.
  • For additional entries, leave one comment on the correct post in which you found the answers; each comment (limit one per post, per person) on the correct post will gain you one additional entry.
  • Bring a new person to comment on my blog (and they actually leave a meaningful comment), please tell me the person’s name in a comment and you will get an additional entry AND the new person will get one entry.

Contest open until January 22, 2012 at which time I will tabulate the entries and all correct entries will go into a draw. JT will officiate the draw. All five little packets will be won by one lucky individual, anywhere in the world. I will release the winner’s name during the week of January 23. Good luck to you all.

  1. What inspired me to create this blog?
  2. What month is my birthday?
  3. How did we travel to Montreal in the fall of 2011?
  4. How many pictures did I upload in 2010?

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Croissants. Sawsan over at Chef in Disguise inspired me to take on the lofty croissant. Usually I don’t feel intimidated by a recipe, but come on, these are like the French National Treasure! Could I possibly do them justice? Sawsan also posted a Julia Child video outlining each step. OK, I thought, I think I can do this! Well, I also thought, I don’t HAVE to blog about it if it failed (HA!)! So, I started the recipe on Thursday night, letting the dough rest in the fridge at each interval. I didn’t document the steps, there are too many more accomplished croissant makers out there, including Sawsan whom you can reference in the link above. I’ll just present the final photos.


They didn’t actually turn out too bad. I think they could have been a bit flakier but all in all, 3.5/5.

Needless to say, I’ve got another batch going for a second trial (don’t fret, they don’t go to waste!). I found this recipe at The Fresh Loaf where the author overhauls Julia Child’s recipe. I preferred the baking times a bit better than the first batch, the author recommends to Bake at 425°F for 10min, 375° for 15min. The recipe is also made for an electric mixer version, which I also prefer (I am having shoulder issues and the kneading really kills it!) We baked them off last night, but I made the mistake of proofing the last proofing on the kitchen counter and sadly the butter had started to melt within the croissants (we had been using both ovens for dinner and the kitchen was a little warm!). The overall texture is more flaky on this batch, but they looked awful (my tummy doesn’t care, though). We had them for breakfast this morning and they were really good :).

I am going to try one more batch this week, and hopefully they will be good enough to take to my brother’s cottage for Thanksgiving Weekend (this weekend).

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This is a very versatile recipe, fill with your favourite savory or sweet. Pictured is roast chicken with a cheesy mushroom sauce.

Makes two 12-inch crèpes
3 tbsp whole wheat flour
2 tbsp ground flax seeds
1/2 cup soda water
3 tbsp egg whites
Pinch of salt

Place all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth.
Allow to rest for 15-20 minutes (it should be runny, not thick like pancake batter). If it’s too thick add a bit more soda and blend again.
Pre-heat crèpe pan (mine is cast iron that I picked up in Paris on my first visit – ya, I know, weird souvenir!)
Rub a little olive oil all over hot pan.
Pour 1/2 the batter into the pan and either swirl around the pan to get the batter thin and evenly distributed, or spread out with a crèpe trowel. Cook the first side until the edges curl up a bit, flip carefully and cook until golden. Repeat with the second bit of batter.
Crèpes will shrink a bit.

Fill with you favourite filling and grill both sides with a panini press. Drizzle reserved sauce and garnish with finely chopped green onions. Bon appetite!

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This is a very versatile recipe, fill with your favourite savory or sweet. Pictured is roast chicken with a cheesy mushroom sauce.

Makes two 12-inch crèpes
3 tbsp whole wheat flour
2 tbsp ground flax seeds
1/2 cup soda water
3 tbsp egg whites
Pinch of salt

Place all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth.
Allow to rest for 15-20 minutes (it should be runny, not thick like pancake batter). If it’s too thick add a bit more soda and blend again.
Pre-heat crèpe pan (mine is cast iron that I picked up in Paris on my first visit – ya, I know, weird souvenir!)
Rub a little olive oil all over hot pan.
Pour 1/2 the batter into the pan and either swirl around the pan to get the batter thin and evenly distributed, or spread out with a crèpe trowel. Cook the first side until the edges curl up a bit, flip carefully and cook until golden. Repeat with the second bit of batter.
Crèpes will shrink a bit.

Fill with you favourite filling and grill both sides with a panini press. Drizzle reserved sauce and garnish with finely chopped green onions. Bon appetite!

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