Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Warm Goat Cheese Salad

This is a salad that I always think of as 'Alisha's Warm Goat Cheese Salad,' just like I think of Keith's salad as, well, Keith's salad. (Have we never posted about Keith's salad? Shocking! We must rectify that). In any case, I'm not entirely certain from whence this recipe sprang, but it is delicious and relatively simple, and so thanks go to Alisha for introducing it to all of us.

The salad is made with greens - mesclun, mache, the lettuce of your choice - which go marvellously with warmed goat cheese. Arrange your greens on separate plates or bowls, instead of in a large salad bowl, the number depending on how many guests you are feeding.

Choose a mild firm log of goat cheese and cut it into discs with the aid of a knife dipped in hot water (to keep the slices clean).

Coat the goat cheese discs in a mixture of 1/4 cup of plain dried bread crumbs (in the picture above we used panko, Japanese breadcrumbs which are flakier and lighter - the jury's still out as to which is better, though the breadcrumbs coat more thoroughly than the panko) mixed with 1 tbsp of chopped fresh parsley, 1 tbsp of olive oil and 1/4 tsp of ground black pepper.

Bake the coated discs in a 425 degree oven for 8 - 10 minutes, until breadcrumbs have browned, and the goat cheese is still fairly firm, warm and creamy. Mm.

For a dressing, make the classic French vinaigrette: mix 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 1 tbsp dijon mustard, 1/4 tsp of salt and 1/4 tsp pepper. Then whisk in 1/2 cup of olive oil - it will become opaque. Coat your greens with the dressing in their separate bowls, and place your disc of goat cheese on top. Devour!

Absolutely delicious. Whoever thought of warming goat cheese was a goaty genius! P.S. We also had portobello (spelling contention?) mushrooms with balsamic and tasty hummus and pita chips on this Wednesday, as you might be able to tell in the photo!

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

You've gotta be wacky to be this easy and delicious...

This post is an attempt to compensate for skipping out of Wednesday Dinner tonight... and a contribution to future WeDine's – a much needed one because we are sorely lacking dessert recipes! And what a dessert this is.

I have all these hazy childhood memories of making wells in flour, dropping chocolate chips one by one on top of chocolate batter, and sneaking tiny slice after tiny slice out of cake pans. This cake is so easy that a small child can make it, a small child or an exhausted twenty-seven year-old with pressing web design homework, a craving for cake, and no butter in the fridge. I decided to make this cake at 11:20 last night. It was in the oven at 11:30, and I was eating the first too-hot-to-cut slice at midnight. It's crazily easy (wackily...) and so good. Incredibly moist, not too sweet, and crusty on top soft in the centre. Mmmm mmmm mmmm.

Wacky Cake
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Grab a cake pan. Pour the following into the pan and stir to mix thoroughly:
2 cups flour

1-2/3 cups sugar

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1-1/2 tsp. baking soda

Pinch of salt

Make three wells in the dry ingredients – one big, one medium-sized, one small. In the big one pour
1/2 cup canola oil. In the medium one pour 1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. white vinegar. And in the small one pour 2 tsp. vanilla. Then, pour 1-1/3 cups lukewarm water on top of everything.

Mix it all together with a spoon. Then sprinkle chocolate chips or other yummy things on top. Bake for about 25 minutes. That's it!

See, we could even make this on a Wednesday! And then I won't have to eat it all by myself...

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

French Food, Part One: Brittany

These lovely rows of macaroons were waiting for us (my Dad, Michelle and I) in Quimper, Brittany. Brittany is part of the northwest arm of France, and part of the celtic fringe. Apparently people from Wales speaking Welsh and people from Brittany speaking Breizh can understand each other, though they've lived apart for hundreds of years. We were there on holiday with my family from England, and had driven into Quimper for the day – and the day happened to be market day. This was very exciting from a food point of view, but very bad from a navigating the city point of view.

This shot gives some impression of how crowded it was along the streets. There's my Dad on the left-hand side of the picture – good thing he's tall, or we would definitely have lost him in the crush! The stripey yellow building on the right-hand side is the macaronier and salon de thé where those marvellous macaroons were made. In the distance is the cathedral, arrayed around which were many cafes.

The first thing we did when we got into the city was head to one of those cafes and have some lunch! Priorities! Here's my dad pouring us some 'Breizh Cola,' clearly a rustic local drink.

My dad and I went for a Croque Monsieur, that ubiquitous French ham and cheese sandwich, made with béchamel inside and gruyëre cheese on top. Toasted to perfection.

And Michelle had some moules frites (mussels and fries) in this shell-shaped bowl. With little bits of lardon on top.

Before lunch, as we navigated our way to the cathedral square, we came upon some food stalls in the market, which were fantastic. Giant wheels of cheese! Small wheels of cheese! Saucissons! The signs on the saucissons say 'Veritable Saucisse seche, bien seche, pur porc' for five euro. And there was a 'saucisson du fromage au chevre' for four! In the cheese stall there were (from left to right) a tomme de brebis (apparently tomme is, according to wiki, "a generic name given to a class of cheese produced mainly in the French alps. Tommes are normally produced from the skim milk left over after the cream has been removed to produce butter and richer cheeses, or when there is too little milk to produce a full cheese. As a result, they are generally low in fat," a vieux salers (old salty!), a tomme de chevre, a tomme de saudie, a morbier (the one with the black layer of ashes separating it horizontally in the middle), an andouille sausage and some tomme de pyrenees. We had had a slice of the chevre on the way to lunch, but didn't end up going back for some as we thought we would. Sigh. We'll have to go back next summer.

But perhaps I should start back at the beginning. Michelle has very nicely explained, in her entry on cidre our madcap rush to the train that would take us from Paris to Brest at the start of our French holiday. By the point that we collapsed into the seats that had been assigned to us (and that someone else had taken up temporary residence in), we were starving. So we had some train food. Expensive and of varying quality. This collage shows Orangina, a fizzy orange drink which is ubiquitous there (but which, of course, you can also get here), some fruit salad, a hot cup of thé (which was never served with milk), my train croque monsieur (the less said about that, the better), the stylish bag it all came in, and some rhubarb and strawberry compote, which was delicious. Though not for the cooked-fruit impaired. Below that is la vache qui rit! I love this small wedge of soft cheese, though I really don't know why. Maybe it's the name. Maybe it's the fun of unwrapping its foil wrapper. Maybe it's the red cow on the front sporting earrings made of her own cheese! In any case, it's tasty.

After meeting up with my parents in Brest, we eventually went out for a crepe lunch (with cidre, described a little in Michelle's entry, and to be elaborated upon in an upcoming entry on crepes). We then settled, for the next week, in a little village called Kergudon, and spent the week relaxing on the beach and making food together for sixteen people. Breakfasts would start with me, my dad and MIchelle heading down to the next village to the artisanal boulangerie for 20 croissants, 4 pain au chocolat and 4 brioche. We were not popular with the locals, as we often took the last croissants! But they were delicious.

Tony (my step-uncle) would make his famous scrambled eggs (or egg-flavoured butter, as my dad refers to this recipe) and we would be away! Liberal lashings of Bonne Maman jam (cerise and myrtles sauvages), orange juice and coffee completed the meal, all consumed outdoors at a giant table. Here is some of that fantastic Breton butter, which contains cristaux de sel, small suspended crystals of Guerand salt.

Lunch would be whatever we brought with us to the beach, and wouldn't be very complicated. There were ice creams and ice lollies purchased at the beach, though – I favoured the almond Magnum, a bar with vanilla ice cream in the centre and chocolate and almonds surrounding it. My nephew Joe had one of those stripey twister lollies that he made last about two hours (through careful drip management).

Dinner was an extensive affair, and required several gin and tonics in preparation:

We'd all pitch in to make dinner. One night, Jenny made a pizza dough from scratch, and just off the top of her head. I don't know why this impressed me so much, but the results were delicious – Jenny's one of my food heroes. Here we are doing some prep-work in the kitchen, and below that are the results – a tasty pizza, coleslaw made by my step-brother Jon, some paté, potatoes, some salad and some pickled beetroot, which the British love, and can't seem to give up, even in France!

A couple of nights we fired up the two barbecues on the property and cooked some hamburgers and pork.

Most days we'd stop by the supermarche and wonder at the enormous selection of good (and cheap) wines available. In the supermarket! What a civilized idea. We tried a number of reds and whites, from the very dry to sauternes and other dessert wines. We also tried numerous cidres, biers, chouchenn (the ultra-sweet liqueur made from cidre) and port. More on this to come in WeDrink!

But here, our finest moment in Brittany caught on film – boxed wine! One night this was the only white wine left in any of the cottages, but it had been put in the freezer overnight by mistake. We had a great time trying to thaw it in the sun, and trying to get the spout to produce little drips of white wine for us. It finally obliged!

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Friday, November 16, 2007

The first thing I did with my share of the 1/4 of a cow

I made short ribs, for the first time ever! Mmmm, mmmm short ribs.

On Thanksgiving weekend, my Dad, sister and I were driving up Vancouver Island on our way to Maple Bay for a cozy cabin day and dinner. We made the essential stops for veggies to accompany the turkey who lived a happy life, bread to go with Betty's delicious soup, and of course, special-cheese-shop-cheese. But there was one more stop on the way, unrelated to Thanksgiving... The butcher! We parked the van outside and ran through the rain and into a big square warehousey place.

Inside, it was like a bigger version of a regular meat shop, except that there was lots of glass behind the counter, through which we could see all the butchers working on one side, and all the cows hanging up to age on the other side. Very cool. Even my recently un-vegetarianized sister thought it was very cool. We chatted with the girl behind the counter, who's great grandfather started the farm and the butcher business. We actually spent a long time chatting with her, because we discovered that when you buy a 1/4 of a cow, you get to make lots of complicated decisions about how you want it butchered. So we learned a lot. And about four weeks later (all of the beef is aged for at least 21 days) my Dad showed up at our apartment with a cardboard box full of carefully wrapped beef in all of the cuts and sizes we'd decided on!

This past Monday just felt like a short-ribby kind of day, so I started looking for recipes. I looked in all of my cookbooks, and Mark Bittman (How to Cook Everything)was the only one who offered short ribs. So I looked online, read through many recipes on Epicurious and several random southern cooking sites. But I didn't find what I wanted. I was planning to make short ribs in an Italian-style tomato sauce, to serve over the fancy tagliatelle noodles Darryl picked out a Parthenon the weekend before. So, I made up a recipe. I roughly followed Mark's method for short rib stew (with carrots and potatoes and such) as I really didn't have a clue about how to approach cooking these things, but ignored the ingredient list and threw a bunch of stuff in that I thought would be tasty with pasta.

It took about three hours, but it was delicious! Really rich and comforting. Definitely I'm-trying-not-to-despair-that-it's-winter food. I am trying to trust that winter offers good things this year (since summer kind of betrayed me, not enough to loose its favourite season status, but enough to make me consider other contenders) and I can tell this recipe's really going to help.

Short Ribs with Tagliatelle

2 tbsp canola oil
6 beef short ribs

1 medium-sized yellow onion, diced
2 cups roughly chopped mushrooms
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried sage
1/4-1/2 tsp Spanish smoked paprika
* I used dried herbs cause I didn't have any fresh on hand, but if you've got fresh, throw them in!

6-8 roma tomatoes, cut in 1/2" chunks
1/4 cup port
2 cups diced tomatoes in juice
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

3 red/yellow peppers, roasted, skinned, seeded and chopped roughly
2 heads garlic, roasted and scooped out of the skins

tagliatelle noodles

The first step is to brown the short ribs. Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Brown the ribs well on all sides, seasoning with salt and pepper as they cook. It should take about 20 minutes in total - I turned them over about every 5 minutes, until all sides were nicely browned.

Remove the ribs from the pan and set aside. Pour out all but 2 tbsp of the fat. Add the onions to the pot and saute them in the remaining fat. After the onions have softened a bit, add the mushrooms and the herbs as well. Once these are all nicely sauteed, pour in the tomatoes, tomato juice, and port. Stir in the sugar and balsamic vinegar.

Now return the browned short ribs to the pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then turn down to low and cover. You want the sauce to simmer slowly, braising the ribs until they are nice and soft, and beginning to fall off the bone. Mark says this takes about an hour. I think I cooked them for closer to two hours, but just cook until they're the texture you want. I wanted to be able to tear/cut them up into small pieces to add to the sauce. About halfway through the cooking time, I added the chunks of roasted pepper and the roasted garlic.

Once the ribs are cooked to your liking, remove them from the sauce, let them cool a bit just so they're not too hot to touch. [This is a good time to put the pasta on to boil.] Remove the meat from the bones and break it up into smallish bite-sized pieces. Meanwile, reduce the sauce - remove the lid and turn the heat up to high, stirring frequently.

Add the pieces of beef back into the sauce, laddle the sauce over the tagliatelle, and you're ready to go!

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Scallops love Muscadet

Les Vergers
Muscadet Sevre et Maine, Sur Lie
France (Loire Valley)

Yesterday, my mom, my sister and I were roaming around town, enjoying the sunny afternoon and looking forward to having uncle Ken over for dinner. As usual, most of our activities for the day revolved around food. In the car, on our way to Granville Island – after a visit to Monde Chocolat and Les Amis du Fromage – we concluded our half hour discussion of what we should cook for dinner, deciding finally on scallops. Specifically, the scallops we made in the summer for WeDine, sauteed with chicory and apples. Yum, yum. Once at Liberty Wines on Granville Island, I described this dish to the nice man who asked if I wanted help, and he brought me straight over to French section and pronounced "Muscadet Sur Lie." His description of its virtues won me over right away: apparently this palette-cleansing wine had the ability to make each bite of our perfect scallops taste as amazing as the very first bite.

Well, he was right. The Muscadet was great with the meal – light, crisp and refreshing, but neutral enough to let the flavours of the food shine. Very dry and low in acidity, it was a bit lacklustre when tasted on its own after the meal.

Something interesting... Liberty offered two levels of this wine – an entry-level one (which I chose) aged sur lie for six months, and a premium-level one aged sur lie for nine months. My helper said that the nine-month one would just "do its (palette-cleansing) job a little bit better."

Here's what wikipedia has to say about sur lie aging:

Sur lie literally translates from the French as 'on lees', [lees being the yeasty residue remaining in the cask after fermentation]. 'Sur lie' wines are bottled directly from the lees without racking (a process for filtering the wine), giving an added freshness and creaminess to the wine.

Oz Clarke says that aging the muscadet sur lie "gives it a bit of life and depth and makes all the difference between interesting neutrality and boring neutrality."

So now I know I'm a fan of interesting neutrality – I'd buy this wine again, next time I'm cooking up some rich seafood.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Moong Dhal with Roti

This recipe is one I've loved since I was young. I used to ask my mom to make it for me, as a special treat. It's kind of odd when you think about it - who'd have thought that vegetarian Indian lentils with roti could be seen as a treat?

The original recipe is from my Indian Delights cookbook, which was a gift from my parents upon leaving the house. Unfortunately, the recipes it contains are somewhat vague, to say the least - presumably, they are meant to be prepared by Indian women who already know what they're doing in the kitchen. You see, the cookbook was published by the Women's Cultural Group of South Africa in 1970, and the dedication reads as follows: "This book is dedicated to all husbands who maintain that the best cooking effort of their wives can never compare with what 'mother used to make'."

Since I've made this dish numerous times, and have never really followed (or figured out) the recipe, I'm including my version here. It's really simple and very satisfying.

Moong Dhal (Moong Lentils)
2 cups moong dhal (soaked in water for a few hours)
3 medium onions (finely chopped)
2-3 green chilies (seeds removed)
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
1 tsp fresh chopped garlic
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
3-4 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup chopped tomatoes (either canned or fresh with skins removed)
roti (or brown rice)
lemon wedges and chopped cilantro for garnish

1. Braise onions in oil until they are soft, but not brown.
2. Add all the spices to the onion mixture and stir to coat.
3. Add tomatoes and dhal and 6 cups of water.
(I never seem to get the amount of water just right - sometimes I end up adding a bit more part way through the cooking if it looks like it's getting too dry - but I'd aim for about 3 cups of water for each 1 cup of dhal. In the original recipe, the directions say: "Care must be taken that there is just enough water to cook dhal, otherwise dhal will be soggy." But how much is just enough . . . ?)
4. Simmer on medium low heat for about 45 minutes, or until dhal is soft and slightly browned at the bottom.
5. Garnish with chopped cilantro, fresh lemon wedges, and serve with hot roti (fortunately, you can buy roti at most grocery stores these days).

This dish will please vegetarians and carnivores alike!

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Endive and frisee salad with blood oranges and hazelnuts

Here is the recipe for the delicious salad mentioned in Meg's entry on chicken pot pie. This is a recipe from Giada de Laurentiis's Everyday Italian. Sadly Giada is no longer with Michelle and I, but happily she will soon be enjoying a Renaissance at Meg and Darryl's! But before Giada left I nabbed this recipe to post for future reference. See also my entry that mentioned how endive and frisée are related.

Endive & Frisee Salad with Blood Oranges and Hazelnuts
For the vinaigrette

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
1 tablespoon honey
1/3 cup olive oil or hazelnut oil
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the salad

3 heads belgian endive, trimmed and cut crosswise into thin slices
2 heads frisée lettuce, centre leaves only, torn into pieces
2 blood oranges or regular oranges, segmented
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped

1. To make the vinaigrette, whisk balsamic, chopped shallots and honey to blend, and then gradually whisk in oil. We used olive oil, but hazelnut oil sounds delicious, and would probably add a deeper hazelnutty flavour. Season with salt & pepper.

2. To toast the hazelnuts, arrange them on a heavy baking sheet and put in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 7 minutes. Stir occasionally until nuts are fragrant and light golden brown in the centre. Let them cool completely and rub between your hands to remove the skins, then chop – either in a food processor or wrap the nuts in a kitchen towel and chop them with the back of chef's knife.

3. Then toss the endive and frisée in a large bowl with enough vinaigrette to coat. Mound the greens on plates and surround with the orange segments. Sprinkle with hazelnuts, drizzle any remaining vinaigrette around the salads and serve immediately.

This was a great salad. I don't think blood oranges were available when we made it (not the right time of year), but I would use those next time if possible. And the hazelnut oil – I'd like to try that too. But even without those it was a great combination of textures and flavours, and went really well with a hearty dish like chicken pot pie. Thanks for the memories, Giada!

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Chicken pot pie, how I've loved thee all these years...

A couple of visits to Victoria ago, my Mom presented me with the little red journal from Chinatown which she had kept as a diary of her first few years with me. It documents her adventures in learning how to deal with me and the peculiarities of my personality. Not surprisingly, food makes an appearance in several entries! She pointed out one hilarious passage that says it all:

Oct 26 [1983] The things you come out with Meg – a 3 year old already asking for gourmet dinners. We got home late this aft. after making Halloween cookies at Pegs, so just had cheese + crackers + veggies + dip for dinner. Jim said "Isn't this a nice dinner?" You replied "No, not really, I'm used to souffles and things like that!"

If you ask me, it's not really my fault that I was a snob about food right from the start. My mom cooked such delicious food every night that I think it's fair to hold her responsible for my high standards. She gave me my love of food – introducing me to everything from Chinese, Greek, middle-eastern, Thai, and Indian food, to west-coast hippie specials like homemade sprouts, peach-coconut fruit leather, and tofu-fudgesicles.

But occasionally, there would be a night when she didn't cook... In Oak Bay there used to be a restaurant called The Blethering Place which made the best chicken pot pies hands down, and on those rare nights we'd stop by there to pick up chicken pot pies to go. Mmmmm. They became one of my ultimate comfort foods.

So, when the idea of making chicken pot pie for Wednesdsay Dinner came up, I was super excited, having never made one myself before. Alisha hates chicken pot pie (why, oh why Alisha?) so we waited until she was out of town, and then Michelle, Laura and I got to it - armed with 2 (!) kinds of pasty and my trusty Donna Hay cookbook.

Here's how it went:

We rolled out the puff pastry (ghetto style, with a wine bottle)

We readied the pie pan – which turned out to be a lost relic from my childhood! Laura and Michelle had somehow inherited it and didn't know it was mine. Oh how happy I was to be reunited with it.

Michelle taught me how to successfully transfer the pie crust to its new home inside the pie pan

Meanwhile, the leeks enjoyed hanging out under water, and looked pretty while doing it

Those leeks eventually found their way into this pan of goodness, and after a while were ladled into the waiting crust.

And this came out of the oven!

Mmmm, look how flakey that pastry is. How could that not be comforting?

We did though feel the need to pair all this nostalgic comfort with something fresh and modern and healthy. So we made a frisee-orange-hazelnut salad from Giada's Everyday Italian. I would include the recipe here, but someone still has my copy of the book, so you'll have to be satisfied with just a few photos for now. Laura, maybe you can redeem yourself by posting the recipe in the comments... or you could just give the book back :)

Chicken Pot Pie
[from Donna Hay's Modern Classics – Book 1]
1 shortcrust pasty pie crust (I always used to use the recipe on the shortening box, now I use butter... but everyone has their own favourite pastry recipe, so use that!)
375 g puff pastry*
1 tbsp oil
2 leeks, chopped
2 lb chiken thighs, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
3 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup dry white wine
250 g small button mushrooms, halved
2 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup water
sea salt and cracked black pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten

To make the filling, cook the oil and leek in a pot over med-high heat for 3 min or until soft. Add the chicken, stock and wine. Simmer, uncovered for 45 min or until tender. Add the mushrooms and parsley to the pan and cook for 5 min. Blend the cornflour and water to a smooth paste, add to the pan and cook, stirring, for 5 min or until the mixture thickens and returns to a simmer. Add the salt and pepper. Set aside to cool. Roll out the shortcrust pastry on a lightly floured surface to 1/8 inch thick and line the base of a deep 9 1/2 inch pie pan. Spoon in the cooled filling. Roll out the puff pastry to 1/8 inch thick. Cut a shape from the middle of the pastry as an air hole. Place the pastry top onto the pie. trim and press the edges together to seal and brush the top with a little egg. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 40 min or until golden and crisp.

* Anyone know a bakery in Vancouver that will sell blocks of puff pastry they made themselves? I hate buying the packaged stuff from the grocery store... but don't have hours to make it either. Donna Hay says " a local patisserie and order a block in advance" but I've yet to find a bakery who will sell it to me. Help?

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Some Summer Sweets

I've cunningly titled this post in an open-ended manner so that I can add more summer sweets (or even autumn or winter sweets) if I so desire, as this is just a selection of some of the sweets I've consumed recently. I always thought I liked savoury foods more than sweet, but clearly I happily indulge my sweet tooth too. I even cross the sweet/savoury border occasionally (Sorry Alisha!). These sweets are presented in absolutely no order at all, with neither temporal nor geographic constriction imposing any structure upon them.

This first dessert is from C5 in Toronto, the new restaurant found at the top of the Michael Chin Crystal at the ROM. The jagged glassed annex was designed by Daniel Libeskind on a napkin, so I suppose it's fitting to open a restaurant there. No really, I saw the napkin. Everything had a sort of crystaline theme, and this violet cheesecake, violet syrup-soaked brioche and ice cream were no exception – they had crystalized violet flowers on them. It was delicious. The frosted tiny grapes were exquisite. This was certainly the most expensive of my summer sweets!

Here Michelle holds up a Tim Horton's sprinkled-dipped doughnut (or possibly, donut) up for inspection. This was after we'd visited the Simpsons-themed 7-11 in Coquitlam with Flora and Trevor (who took us on a suburban voyage exraordinaire! Thanks guys!). From high-brow to low-brow!

And here is Meg exclaiming on the root beer float I got at Helen's, a stop on the famous diner tour (post coming soon!). It was delish. Whoever thought of the idea of combining soda (!) with ice cream was a genius. Also, it came with a bendy straw, which never fails to bring happiness.

Here I am eating vanilla ice cream in a waffle cone in Mont St Michel, a monastic community and village on an island in Normandy, France. It was well-deserved – the queues were utterly ridiculous, and the stairs were numerous! You can't beat an ice cream cone on a hot day, though.

Here are the scones I helped bake in Toronto along with my mom and Ben. It was great to bake together. This seems like something Cathie and Meg and Tessa do a lot (or is that just canning and camping?!), but Ben's not usually particularly into baking (though he does make a mean salmon en papillote, I hear!). Anyway, it was great fun. The scones turned out perfectly. I really like raisins in them! Who knew? We had them with tea in my Bubbie's china cups. And served the scones on this matching plate. I may have had several. But Mom says they don't last past the first day, so it was a kindness to eat them on the day they were baked, really. Recipe to follow in another post. We had them with preserves!

Here are some sesame balls we sampled on our passage through chinatown on the diner tour. Okay, we only sampled one. Okay, only Michelle and I sampled it – Meg bought something too, but I can't remember what it was for the life of me. The sesame ball is one of life's joys. Sweet red bean paste on the inside, fried juicy glutinous rice dough on the outside, sesame seeds ... what more could you possibly want? Thanks to Amy for introducing us to the delights of dim sum.

This is me and a whole lotta candy floss (British English); cotton candy (US/Canadian English); fairy floss (Australian English); or barbe a papa (French). But since I was in France (Paris) it was called the latter, which means 'dad's beard'. I tried to sculpt it so. The girl in front of me got a massive portion, and that was called a 'super' (imagine French pronunciation here), so I asked for the smaller size, the 'normal.' Sadly, this was the 'normal'! Here I pose in front of the bumper cars.

Here is the sweet counter at Capers, where we often find ourselves of a WeDine Wednesday when we're at Alisha's. I just wanted to include a picture of it, because so many delicious lemon tarts, oatmeal cookies, fruit squares, brownies and nanaimo bars have emanated from this very spot. Also pictured is a very moist and deliciously chocolately cupcake I had from Capers.

And last but not least, some more waffle (or as the French say, gauffre). This decadent dessert was the end of a very good meal at the Musée D'Orsay's restaurant (where I've always wanted to go!) The restaurant is situated behind the façade of one of the two giant clockfaces – both clocks have glass faces and you can see out through them towards Sacre Coeur. Brilliant! And so was the waffle. Not too dry or bland, as many waffles are, and the chocolate sauce was rich and properly chocolately, and the ice cream was perfect, and the cream was real cream. Unbelievable!

Now that we've reached the end of my post I can think of so many sweets that could (and might soon!) be included in WeDine. Flora's amazing cheesecake with strawberries that we had this past Thanksgiving weekend, for example. Or the delicious almost flourless chocolate cake we made for Alisha's birthday up in Maple Bay. Or the hot chocolate Michelle and I had at stylish Vancouver chocolatier Mink. Good thing I've still got some room!

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Prickly Pear Cactus Liqueur

I had this amazingly beautiful liqueur at the Canadian embassy in Paris this summer. What I was doing there was a long story, but the drink was was given as a gift to the ambassador by one of his staff on the occasion of his leaving service (the ambassador's retirement, that is). The ambassador then chose to share it with his family and with me and Michelle, which was lovely (and lucky for us!).

The liqueur is made with fico di india (literally 'indian fig'), which is one of the Italian names for the fruit of the prickly pear cactus. The fruits are funny little red buds on top of the flat (and very prickly!) cactus paddles. The liqueur is made in Sicily and Malta, and is sometimes called Bajtra. The staff served it in cut crystal glasses, and it was a startlingly red colour, almost glowing in the light of the lamp. The flavour was strong and sweet and had sour notes too. The sharing of the drink was so generous and had a lot of meaning for the ambassador – such is the power of food and drink.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

L'Amour du Cidre: Un Collage Cidre

This year's vacation was all about cidre francais and crepes.

The above collage shows some of the many cidres Laura and I sampled in Brittany. We began our journey by flying into Paris (11 hours), elbowing our way through the Métro (1.5 hours), and collapsing into our seats on the train (4.5 hours). Meeting up with Andrew and Jenny the next morning, we drove to our destination, the Kergudon Cottages, in St Cadou (1 hour from Brest).

While driving to our accomodation, we passed by an enticing looking creperie - L'Armorique and determined we would drop our luggage and come directly back for lunch. How lucky we were, delicious crepes were ordered and consumed along with the perfect cidre - Kerné (top row, 2 on left). It has the perfect sweetness, bubbles and finish, presented in a bolée (champagne bottle). I first tasted this several years ago on my first trip to Bretagne and have been dreaming about tasting it again ever since. We (Laura, Andrew, Jenny and I) all lament the loss of the Creperie de Lost March where we first sipped its sweetness.Sharing this bottle our first day in Brittany was a lovely way to start our holiday. Pouring in action(3rd row, last pic). Unfortunately, this was the only time we encountered this delicious nectar during our trip (though not for a lack of trying). Incidentally, this town, Landerneau, is also one of the only places in Europe with an inhabited bridge (others include Florence - Ponte Vecchio, historically the original London Bridge was inhabited until the Victorians messed with it - apparently big ships where more important - bah!!!)

While in St Cadou, many different cidres were purchased and drunk, some of the labels are shown above. They ranged from the 2 pack of 1.5L bottles for €2.75 (1st row, 4th pic) to the €3 bottles (2nd row, 4th pic; 3rd row, 3rd pic) to the tasty Kerné (€8 in a restaurant). In an effort to sample other regional products Laura and I purchased a bottle of Chouchenn. Chouchenn (Hydromiel) is a mead made from honey and apple juice and is often served as an aperitif (1st row, 3rd pic; 3rd row, 1st pic; 4th row, 3rd pic). This was tasty but many others around the table didn't enjoy it. All the more for us I say!!

There are also two other breton beverages we did not get to try (we had to save something for next year): pommeau and lambig. Pommeau is a beverage of unfermented cidre mixed with apple whiskey/brandy and aged before being drunk as an aperitif (appellation in Bretange and Normandie) while Lambig is an apple whiskey/brandy

Ah, this trip was heavenly! Every corner store, grocery, restaurant and roadside stand contained some cider. It is usually served cold in the bolée or in a pitcher, with a boule (small ceramic teacup) to drink from. These vessels are seen in several of the pictures above.

Down the road from the cottages, where we were staying, we spent several days on the beach of Lake Drenec. We sampled the almond Magnum ice cream bars and couldn't resist the creperie. I ordered an andouille sausage crepe which I didn't enjoy - it was the musty smell, Laura ordered a tasty ham and cheese one. The saving grace was the bottle of Val de Rance cidre we while sitting under a clear blue sky in the sun (2nd row, 1st pic; 4th row, 2nd pic).

A note in the rare cases when in Brittany where no cidre is available (Sacre bleu!) or you are drinking alone and bottle will be too much, turn to another delicious beverage Breizh cola. Breton in the Breton language is Breizh a word often seen here. The cola is a delicious, refreshing and non-alcoholic alternative when cidre evades.

Following our week in St Cadou, we continued on to Rennes, the capital of Brittany. Rennes seems like a sea side town even thought it is completely landlocked. It had innumerable timber frame buildings from the 15 - 16th centuries and walking down some empty streets lined by these buildings, felt like you had fallen into the past. Many of the timber frames were residential on the top levels with restaurants and divey bars below ( 2nd row, 2nd picture). In a divey celtic pub, we enjoyed a boule before heading to the cinema to see Persepolis en francais. We were 2 of 7 in the theatre with no line ( unlike the lines at TIFF for the premiere in North America).
The next day we visited the Creperie de Porte des Mordelaises and supped on crepes with a pitcher of cider (2nd row, 3rd pic; 4th row, 4th pic). Porte des Mordelaises was one of the gates to the city the medieval period.

Laura had read about a good creperie in Mont St Michel called La Sirene. It has a great view of the main street from its' second floor locale and you could only gain entry by winding your way through a ultra-kitschy gift shop. We dined on crepes and cidre before heading towards the top of the mount (4th row, 1st pic).

On the final leg of our journey, Paris, we did not drink any cidre - what a shame. But after all the quality cidre from Brittany, our hearts and tastebuds just weren't into substandard drink.

We did however purchase a special bottle of cidre to bring back with us to Canada from the fermier stand in Giverny. We saved it for a special occasion when friends were together and we shared the gift of sweet french cidre with them on a sunny afternoon in September.

Until the next cidre adventure....

Photos and collage courtesy of Laura.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Stylish Scallops and Soba Noodles

It was the middle of July – the fifteenth to be exact – when we decided we had been waiting to try scallops (and Seven Seas, the fresh fish place just around the corner from Alisha's) for far too long. Two recipes were called on to aid us in our quest for a scallop dinner. We settled on 1. pan-fried scallops with chicory and apples on parsleyed soba noodles and 2. a hijiki and edamame salad with creamy miso dressing.

Perhaps some of those terms need to be defined – I certainly didn't know a lot of them. Here are soba noodles. They are a Japanese noodle made with buckwheat, which gives them their greyish-brown colour. The other (and possibly better-known) type of Japanese noodle is the udon noodle, a thick noodle made with wheat.The reason soba are a sort of flat rectangular shape is that the dough is rolled flat and then cut into strips with a special knife (at least traditionally by hand, anyway).

Chicory, as we discovered, is actually endive. Well, sort of. It's a little confusing, but various types of the chicory plant are cultivated for use as salad greens. These include Belgian Endive, Curly Endive (also called Frisée – your favourite, Michelle!), Escarole and Radicchio. When we picture endive, we are usually thinking of Belgian Endive (see below). This is the blanched head of a variety of chicory known as witloof (Dutch for 'white leaf'), which is grown (and apparently, kept by Capers) in darkness to preserve its light colour and mild flavour. The lighter the leaf, the less bitter the taste.

Coincidentally, Mâche, which we just had last WeDine (some of us for the first time), is a member of the chicory family, and is also called lamb's lettuce in the UK, and was called for in my pretentious British salad. It's interesting to make all these connexions. Thanks to the Joy of Cooking for salad green information. I quite like its little pointillism drawings. I'm so glad I spilled banana cake batter on my mom's first copy, which she then gave to Michelle and I. (Sorry Mom!). Here are the light-hating endives under their stylish tea towel at Capers:

To get the scallops needed for the dish, we made our first visit to the fish shop near Alisha's (on Fourth), and it was a great success. They had a variety of fresh and frozen seafood and fish, and several sizes of scallops. We chose the mid-sized ones. The small ones were too small, and the big ones were gigantic, but the medium ones were juuuust right. The little fish-shaped signs in the shop were quite adorable.

The recipe called for the scallops, peeled apple slices and chicory to be variously pan-fried with clarified butter (butter that has been melted and separated by density into three layers – milk solids at the bottom, butterfat in the middle, and whey at the top – which are then skimmed off and strained to preserve only the butterfat). Also in the mix were light soy sauce, mirin (a slightly sweet rice wine) and nutmeg. I peeled and chopped some apples – in the wrong order! I chopped them first, and then had to peel all the segments. Whoops. Michelle did the sautéeing honours with aplomb.

Meanwhile we cooked and drained the soba noodles. Alisha's colander makes them look quite stylish, I think.

And we got to work on the salad. This involved reanimating the hijiki, a seaweed commonly eaten in Japan (a theme is emerging here!) in some water. It glistened in the summer sunshine. Also very stylish.

Meg peeled the daikon, a large Japanese white radish that is milder than small red radishes. Also in the salad went a pound of shelled edamame beans (an immature soybean), shredded carrot, spinach and soybeans. Alisha made a dressing with brown rice vinegar, olive oil, miso (soybeans fermented with mold), and garlic. The salad was colourful and incredibly healthy.

Finally, all the elements of the dinner came together on Alisha's lovely glass coffee table. The soba noodles had been sautéed again in butter with parsley and looked delicious. We dug in.

I went for the minimalist approach on my plate for the finished dish photograph, in honour of the Japanese theme, but had to go back for more salad later. It was all delightful – fresh and slightly spicy (there was also a pinch of cayenne as well as the nutmeg added to the frying pan that I forgot to mention!). The scallops were cooked perfectly, and for our first time attempting to make scallops, I was pretty proud. It was the perfect dish for summer – the right meal at the right time, as Nigel Slater says in his lovely book, The Kitchen Diaries. But that's another post for another day!

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