Author: foodicity

Family. Food. Art. Food. Business. Food. Travel. Food. Skiing. Food. Gardening (that grows food.) I think that just about does it.

I almost want to hide the fact that the theme of this post is “Gluten Free”

Let’s not get into a big debate about gluten hype. You all know I adore the stuff. But my daughter, who I love more than bread, has recently become (thanks to a nasty virus), gluten intolerant. We are all hoping it is temporary, but in the meantime, life, and a delicious one, must go on.

My baking adaptations have been…uneven. I have determined that the best two “all-purpose” gluten-free flours are Bob’s Red Mill BLUE LABEL (the red label one is pretty icky), and Maison Canelle All-Purpose.

So far, I can say that both flours can be used exactly as my regular wheat AP, and things turn out ok. Anything cakey is perfect the first day, but gets gritty if it sits around. Cookies are fine.

This week I have decided to make Gluten Free Hamentashen, Challah, and Sticky Toffee Cake. The cookies and cake are regular recipes, and the “Challah” is one specifically for Gluten Free flours.

I am intrigued to see how restaurants adapt to this food restriction. Whether it is to beat wheat bellies, or to accommodate true allergies and intolerances, many restaurants and bakeries are offering “glutard” options (no, it isn’t politically correct, but come on, it is kinda funny).  A few weekends ago in NYC, we noticed Les Halles offers a gluten-free (I will just use GF, ok?) menu. Great – we sat down, and looked at the breakfast selections. Eggs and toast. French toast. Um, server, are we missing something? “You can have a fruit cup”. NEXT…

Friedman’s Lunch (one in Chelsea Market and one on W. 31st.) does it right. Can you say chicken and waffles? Pancakes? GF reuben sandwich (yes, the toast did crumble).

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Want something a little less sinful? Bistango offers a full selection of Italian-esque GF deliciousness. Meatballs without breadcrumbs, great GF pastas, and yes, desserts. All choices were seriously good, on their own merits, and not just because they had GF options.

Perfect GF pasta

Perfect GF pasta

If budget is not a concern (to put it mildly) , 11 Madison Park (3 Michelin stars) makes GF adaptations of everything they serve.

One of these things is NOT like the other...

One of these things is NOT like the other…

my baking report: the hamentashen were ok, but not easy to fold. Nice thought, not worth redoing. Or taking a photo!

The sticky pudding cake recipe is a winner – gluten free or not. Here is the original recipe from Bonnie Stern:

STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING WITH BUTTERSCOTCH SAUCE

3/4 lb pitted dates (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 cups boiling water
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/3 cup unsalted butter
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3  eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (regular or gluten-free)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Butterscotch sauce:

3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/4 cups whipping cream
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cubed

The recipe mentions serving it with additional whipped cream, but I never do!

Butter a 9″ springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper, or bake individual cakes in 12 muffin pans

  1. Combine dates and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Add baking soda and let rest 5 minutes. Puree. Let it cool.
  2. Cream butter and sugar with an electric mixer. Beat in eggs one at a time. Whisk flour with baking powder and salt. Gently fold into batter alternately with dates, starting and ending with the flour. Transfer to prepared pan.
  3. Bake in a preheated 350F/180C oven for 35 to 45 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. (Muffin sized ones usually take about 25 -30 minutes.)
  4. Meanwhile, while cake is in the oven, make the sauce by combining sugar, cream and butter in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Simmer gently 5 minutes until slightly thickened.
  5. When the cake comes out of the oven, let it cool for a few minutes, then prick holes and drizzle half the sauce over the top
  6. When serving,  drizzle with remaining butterscotch sauce and if you want to, some whipped cream.

 

Makes 10 to 12 servings

and now…..

GLUTEN-FREE CHALLAH

The following recipe is courtesy of www.glutenfreegirls.blogspot.ca so thank you.

The Challah is worth tweaking – next time I will replace some of the sugar and water with honey, just so it tastes a bit more like my “standard”.  That said, it is probably the tastiest “white bread” I have eaten in a long time. It is delicious toasted, and incredibly, it is NOT crumbly!

seriously rising

seriously rising

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2 cups rice flour (I used almost half and half brown and white rice flours)

1 3/4 cups tapioca flour

1/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons sugar

3 teaspoons xanthan gum

1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup lukewarm water

1 cup lukewarm water

1 1/2 tablespoons yeast

4 tablespoons melted butter

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

4 eggs

sesame seeds, poppy seeds or my favourite, pearl sugar (optional)

 

  1. In mixer, combine the flours, 1/4 c sugar, xantham gum, and salt.
  2. Dissolve the 2 tsp sugar in the 2/3 cup of water and mix in the yeast. In a separate bowl combine the butter with the additional 1 cup water and vinegar.
  3. With mixer on low speed, blend the dry ingredients. Slowly add the butter/water mixture. Blend in the eggs, 1 at a time. The dough should feel slightly warm. Pour the yeast mixture into the ingredients in the bowl and beat at the highest speed for 2 minutes.
  4. Place the bowl in a warm spot, cover with greased plastic wrap and a towel, and let rise approximately 1 hour.
  5. Return the dough to the mixer and beat on high for 3 minutes. Spoon the dough into a greased, floured loaf pan. Fill 2/3 full, you may bake the remainder in greased muffin tins, etc. (or make all rolls~about 18). Sprinkle tops with sesame seeds. Let the dough rise until it is slightly above the tops of the pans, about 45-60 minutes.
  6. Preheat the oven to 400 F and bake the large loaf for approximately 1 hour. Bake the rolls 25 minutes.

Personally, I think the bigger loaves taste much better, but try it out and see!

 

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Mini-post – Take a break from Winter…. Doing it Right, in St. Henri

I enjoy championing small business. I empathize. I know how hard it is to put it all on the line and want/need to make it work. It is such a pleasure when it is done properly. Case in point – Sumac on Notre Dame West – the street that is exploding with all things new and foodie. David Bloom and Raquel Zagury have figured out the perfect formula. SUPER food (best falafel I have ever eaten – and I have eaten a lot of the stuff – Sumac has knocked both my Jerusalem AND Tel Aviv favourites off the map), simple and comfortable décor, and laid-back sort-of-table service (you order at the cash and orders are brought to your table). EVERYTHING is delicious. I know, since our party of 5 ordered…almost the entire menu.

Thank you, Sumac, for brightening my winter with exotic flavours. It is a spot of middle-eastern sunshine in the Montreal deep-freeze.

Chicken Shwarma platter

Chicken Shwarma platter

Yes, those fries are sprinkled with Za'atar

Yes, those fries are sprinkled with sumac!

Best Falafel. Served with a side of Salade Cuite and Quinoa salad

Best Falafel. Served with a side of Salade Cuite and Quinoa salad

Yes, we ate all of that.

Yes, we ate all of that.

Place + People + Vision = MAGIC

I have had the privilege of a wonderful summer of travel. To celebrate a momentous anniversary, we planned 2 trips. One to Italy to “re-live” our honeymoon, but with our grown kids this time, and the second to Fogo Island with dear friends.

Italy was wonderful. The Art. The Food (simple is really the best if simple is perfect, which of course it is, even if simple can be difficult since there is no hiding behind fancy cover-ups). The Wines. The Architecture. Positano. I am sincere in my love for that country and its people. My husband jokes that I must have been Italian in a past life.

Next…I have looked forward to visiting Fogo Island since I heard about it in 2008. Initially I saw images of artist studios and heard that a woman who grew up there was behind the project. I added it onto a list of places I’d like to visit. I was enamored by the idea, and the images. Fast forward to last year, when we were travel-planning with friends and all completed the sentence “Next Fall, let’s go to….” with “Fogo Island!”

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Travel planning was simple enough. Fly, rent a car, and get there. Stay at the recently completed Fogo Island Inn, again a product of “the woman who left and went back.” As our trip approached, I started reading a bit more about our upcoming trip. I realized we were in for a treat. This was more than a beautiful hotel on an island that appreciates art. This project is a model for getting it right, on so many levels.

My life will never be the same. I am now a Canadian who understands my country differently, and am the quickest to say that the nicest people in our country of nice people are Newfoundlanders, and the nicest Newfoundlanders are those from Fogo Island!

I was going to start this part of the story with the basics. How Fogo Island sits off the Northeastern coast of Newfoundland, has a population today of 2800 which is less than half of what it was in the 1950’s when the cod fishery still existed. No, that isn’t a typo. Once the “big boats” came from all over the world and emptied the ocean of fish in international waters, and decimated the inland cod stocks, local fishermen came in with empty nets. The story has a formal end with a moratorium in 1992, directly or indirectly impacting every resident of Fogo Island.

Instead, I am going to quote the Fogo Island Inn’s website, where the following is explained:

Somewhere in-between land and sea is where you’ll find our vision for a better future. More than a place, the Fogo Island Inn is part of a groundbreaking model for community innovation and cultural resilience.

Somewhere in-between this home and its people, is where our strength of character resides. Every decision we make is imbued with integrity.

Every stranger we meet is a welcome guest in our home. Every challenge we face is a source of creative inspiration. This is who we are.

We have a way of doing things here. We find new ways with deep-rooted traditions. We lead with the arts. We seek out new ways of thinking. We are making ourselves home to a new generation.

It continues,

The Fogo Island Inn has many things to feel good about. It is a gem of contemporary architecture and at the same time is a place that is “made of us”; made of the traditions and lived experiences of the island. It is a place that was created with deep sensitivity to the natural and social ecology of the island; a place that offers guests an exquisite nest from which to feel the harmonizing power of the North Atlantic; a nest with fine linens, creative local cuisine, wood burning fireplaces, a wood fired sauna, a cinema and all of the touches – big and small – for solace, comfort and profound ease. It is a place for adventure; a place from which to explore the rich and varied cultural and natural world of Fogo Island during its seven seasons.

But perhaps the most important thing to feel good about the Inn is its social purpose. The Fogo Island Inn is a trust whose beneficiary is the Shorefast Foundation, a federally registered charity whose mandate is the economic well-being of the local community. All surpluses from the Inn will flow through to the charity and be reinvested back into the community. There are no investors seeking a return on their investment.

 This innovative and progressive business model is our interpretation of social entrepreneurship, using business minded ways to create social good. It is a structure that is not-just-for-profit. Money spent at the Fogo Island Inn is money spent for the wellbeing of one of Canada’s oldest rural communities.

Now what I have to say will make more sense.

We arrived at the Inn, pulling up to a building I wasn’t convinced about. We had passed one of the four studios on our drive, and it was magical. The “road side” façade of the inn is not particularly attractive. It looks…big. And kinda institutional. Hmm…what are we in for this week?

But then, we entered through the doors with circles painted on them (more on that later), and it began. The charming hand-hooked cushion (designed by Lilian Dwyer and hooked by AnnMarie Newman) on the bench inside the door.

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The luggage carts designed to reflect the wood piles that support the fish-houses known as stages. This same metaphor is successfully used on one end of the inn– it is the most impressive structural detail.

 

photo courtesy of the Fogo Island Inn website

photo courtesy of the Fogo Island Inn website

 

We enter the building and are warmly greeted. We find it hard to concentrate, because the view from the public areas are dominated by the coastline just feet away. We check in and get our keys – each of the 29 rooms has a unique key fob. Relics – fishing knots, bird skulls, tools, rocks… have been beautifully crafted into bronze artifacts.

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Walking to our room with one of the lovely desk staff (a non-practicing nurse whose sister runs a great café featuring her mom’s epic tart – recipe ahead – keep reading- and whose father fires an antique musket at weddings) felt like we were on a boat.

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Each room faces the ocean. The long hallway has narrow windows looking inland giving glimpses of rugged rocks and sky. Our room… oh, it is hard writing about it from afar. I want to be there. Now! Our view of the ocean and sky. IMG_0072

The brilliant cross-ventilation system that allowed me (for those of you who know me will understand this part) to sleep and sleep and sleep. The furniture was designed by international designers for the inn, and is produced onsite. The quilts were made by women at the craft collective, and each one is signed. The organic mattresses are made in Ontario. The custom wallpaper is one of 4 ( I think) used throughout the Inn. The shower tiles feature tone-on-tone words of a poem used by fishermen to navigate into harbor. The heated toilet seat is just… a treat. Local first, then Newfoundland, then the rest of Canada, then a wider cast. Nothing in the Inn comes from a country without fair labour laws. Books about, or written by Newfoundlanders are on the bookshelf. A warm scarf awaits on a hook. Think it can’t get better? At 6:30 every morning, a box with a thermos of seriously good, hot coffee and freshly baked goodies are placed silently outside the door. Oh yes, re-entry after our visit was painful.

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Our first afternoon was spent reading and snoozing. That in itself was a new experience! The food at the Inn is remarkable. Not only for what is on the plate (traditional fare done with haut-cuisine finesse), but for how it has positively impacted the island and appreciation of its offerings. Locals now have, and tend, vegetable gardens to supply the Inn. Guests are wowed by foraged plants and berries. They eat fresh when there IS fresh, and pickles when there isn’t!

Local musicians play in the bar every night. Normally not a huge fan of maritime folk, I adored each of the entertainers. They felt right. One of the desk staff commented to me that one singer was a school friend’s dad and that she grew up hearing these same songs. She said it in passing. It made me choke up and my eyes watered. How fabulous to both have that kind of childhood, and to be able to take it for granted.

Mornings offer nature walks with a guide from the Inn. Mona is a forager, runs a small museum on the island, sells jam, has recently learned that she likes building, and sews quilts. She has also taken on a project of marking a walking path around the Inn with stones. Obvious in some places, but Herculean in others. Mona showed us oyster leaf (tastes like a mouthful of oysters), all of the different berries (it is was impossible to walk more than a few paces in September without stopping to take a handful of blueberries) and taught us a bit about mosses and lichens.

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At the end of our visit, when I asked if I could pass by to pick up some jam, she agreed. A few hours later, I was stunned to buy warm jam. When asked, she explained that she had been low, but had asked her husband to break into her mom’s freezer to get the last of the partridgeberries so she could put up a fresh batch. Calling islanders hospitable is an understatement!

Locals are available to Inn guests to give them an “orientation”. Clem Dwyer drove us around the Island answering questions, and teaching us local history and customs. Remember the dots on the doors I mentioned earlier? They are on every fishing stage (otherwise known as fish houses, where cod were processed on the water’s edge when they came in). The white circles served to mark the doors when it was dark out! One door? One dot. Two doors? You walk towards the 2 dots! Clem explained that his wife is a nurse who had been the mayor of (my favorite town) Tilting, and was an expert rug hooker who had made the cushions at the Inn. Are you starting to see why this place is so cool? My head was doing a family tree/venn diagram thing constantly. Fogo Island is surprisingly complex for such a small place. There are 5 towns in as many bays, each with a slightly different culture. Families with 5 to 10 children live in tiny, cherished salt box homes. These homes have withstood storms, frozen morning blankets, and are alive with generations of memories. So treasured are the homes that families sooner move a house than buy an existing building in a location they want.

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Remember my comment about epic tart? So – Nicole’s Café in Joe Batt’s Arm (yes, that is the name of one of the towns) is a very popular spot, with good reason. Guests of the Inn on the full-board plan are welcome to eat at Nicole’s and it is considered as a meal at the Inn. Nice touch and a good break from “formal” dining. Food at Nicole’s is very good. But the thing that stopped time and made the room go silent for me was “Margaret’s Molasses Partridgeberry Tart”. The crust was similar to a gingerbread cookie. Who needs flaky when you can have this kind of spicy yumminess? The jam was indeed partridgeberry – I know them as lingonberries (at Ikea) – that grow everywhere! One of the best desserts I have EVER tasted.

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There’s more, but I will save the one last anecdote for a bit. How does this place happen in the way that it does? How does a place and culture that is destined for eventual extinction become a model of community innovation? The simple answer is vision and leadership. Once again, it isn’t “good government” that saves the day. It is a remarkable person who cares.

Zita Cobb (my new hero) grew up on Fogo Island and watched as her fisherman father became a broken man – a symbol of his time. Like many, she left the island to go to University. Unlike many, she became incredibly successful as the CFO of a tech company, in the good days. And again, unlike many people anywhere, she left and ultimately decided to do something for her birthplace. Zita’s model is centered on art. She recognizes it as a “way of knowing” that mirrors islanders’ “ways of knowing”. She started there, continued by building an Inn that was in fact built by and is staffed by locals and has put the Island onto the world stage of geo-tourism, and has a foundation that offers microloans to local businesses. The model of not JUST for profit” is astounding and simple. There are very few people on the island who have not been touched by Zita’s vision. The amazing thing we realized, is that there is no resentment. People often dislike change, even if it is good for them. Zita’s visual statement was not subtle – it says “Here I am. I am proud and different, but I come from this place”. There have been so many articles written about the project, and Zita, but I really think that hearing directly from Zita gives the best understanding. Watch one of her many Youtube clips. I particularly like this one:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jF9AmFkG_b0

“Nature and culture are the garments of human life,” says Cobb, “and business and technology exist to serve human life. Somewhere along the way, we got it backward.”

check out  the Shorefast Foundation and Fogo Island Inn to learn more.

And now for my last little story. Our last evening on the island coincided with an annual Irish Festival in Tilting. We were invited to the shed crawl. The WHAT? So – many homes on the island have sheds. Places to keep the ski-doo and workbench and “stuff”. Ok, but they are also decked out with Christmas lights, sofas and decorations. Friday nights they become “the spot” to hang out, have a few drinks and listen to one of the MANY locals sing and play an instrument! It was simply amazing. What a way to lock Fogo Island into our hearts.

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I can’t wait to return. In the meantime, I’m planning to “put up” a few of these pies…

Margaret’s Molasses Partridgeberry Tart (found in the Memorial University archives – how cool!)

Recipe_for_molasses_tarts_from_Margaret_Deckers_cookbook_Joe_Batts_Arm

You will need:

A pie’s worth of partridgeberry (lingonberry) jam

Other ingredients and method:

Cream 1 cup butter (softened)

¾ cup molasses

mix in:

2 tsp. baking soda

¼ cup tea

Stir in:

4 cups flour

2 ½ tsp. cloves

2 ½ tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. ground ginger

Roll onto a floured board. Place into pie plate and fill with jam. Bake 20 minutes in a moderate oven

(I will save some crust to put on top, and my idea of a moderate oven is 350)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unexpected Florence preview

My summer adventure was planned to coincide with my daughter’s dance performance…in Florence.  But things don’t always go as planned, and so, when I got a call from her teacher that she was really sick, I dropped everything and hopped a plane to take care of her.  Fast forward – 1 hospital visit, 2 more doctor’s visits, and she is…ok.  I am in Florence for a few more days, and so thought I would let you in on my impressions.

I “get” this city, finally. My first trip years ago to Florence was admittedly (and in retrospect) not that great. I’m not sure what happened. Either I missed the good stuff or this city has changed.  I’m going to split the difference here. Of course I loved the obvious places and sights last time – the Uffuzi is worth at least a week, the Duomo is a “must see”, David is another… But this time, THAT stuff isn’t what defines this city. It is imperfect and thus “perfect”. There are too many tourists (pot calling the kettle black, I know, but hey…). Too many vendors hawking crap none of us need. The designation of the car-reduced historical centre is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it makes the streets walkable. On the other, if you actually need to come and go, city buses are less than convenient… But back to my love affair. I think one of my gaffes last time was visiting the Duomo and then retreating from the tourist-packed streets in the area. This time, I am staying right in the thick of things at the Roomate Isabella, a very decent boutique hotel, fittingly above a boutique (that just happens to be Gucci). Nice rooms, decent (new but kinda ugly) bathrooms, very good breakfast and friendly (yes folks, I said that) staff. It is Italy, so I wasn’t really surprised that one of the guys working the front desk sent me off in the wrong direction, but I digress. As I lie in bed this morning writing, there is a street busker playing violin outside my window. So far, I’m impressed with both his ability and repertoire. Last night I listened to a trio playing the standard hits- Ave Maria, Vivaldi’s top 10….But it all worked! The Duomo has always been the heart of the city. I just figured out that in some ways, it still IS.

The Mercato Centrale deserves it’s own post. It might be reason  enough to want to pick up and move here.  The main floor is everything one would expect. Open until 2 pm, it is chock full of …

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Everything you want to buy at a market, plus a bar or two, some tripe stands…

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panini di lampredotto. Ignore the texture and fact that it is tripe. It is delicious, especially with pesto and hot sauce

… But wait, there’s more! I wandered upstairs to another world. Sleek stands line the periphery. Wine store? Check. Organic vendor who prepares fabulous plates? Yup. Want fresh pasta with whatever ? 6 minutes. Pizza that even I get excited about? Uh huh. Need a cookbook? Gotcha. Pull up a stool and join the rest of the city at a long table. This is the place to be. And yes, they show World Cup soccer matches when Italy plays.

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So far my dining choices have been limited by a kid who can barely eat anything (torture!). We managed to eat at the well-reviewed Trattoria Mariani, which was an enigma. Crowd is 50/50 local/tourist, which seems likely as good as it gets mid June. The menu isn’t particularly appealing. Specials seem to be standards, but are listed in Italian only. So bone up on your menu vocab. The locals order riboletta, so we followed and did the same. A bowl of brown mush appeared. Not pleasant to look at, but man it smells good. Tastes better. You can’t really call their version “soup”. The bread has soaked up the liquid. Who cares? Why not eat soup with a fork? Tagliatelle with porcini was delicious. The huge chunks of mushrooms were silky and just plain yummy. Needing some protein, Ms. Stomach-flu opted for the roast beef. It was… Covered in beige gravy, but cooked perfectly and very tasty. Would I return? Not likely, but it was a good meal. Just not re-do worthy.

I find it incredible that Italians simply DO NOT DO takeout. Again, because my patient sidelined dinner plans, I had to figure something out. There is one restaurant in the Duomo area that does let you take food home. When I finally found Restaurant La Strada (people know it existed, but weren’t sure of the name… Turns out to be the name of the street it is on!) I asked somewhat meekly if I could take something to go. The guy told me to go out, hang a right at the corner, and the door would be there for “that”. Really, I felt like I was doing something illegal. Door found, there was a small counter selling roast chickens and salads. There was a small menu on the wall. My request of “pasta bianca” (pasta with olive oil) was met with a scowl until I explained that my daughter wasn’t feeling well. That changed everything. Typical Italian style, the order was sent home with wishes for her speedy recovery.

It looks like my patient is improving. She has headed back to her fellow dancers.  And now for the yummy stuff….

I don’t eat alone in restaurants often. On some level I think it is both necessary to prove something to myself AND almost, weirdly fun ONCE in a blue moon. It is also the only option this week!   I am not talking about grabbing a bite on the go. I’m talking about walking into a great looking restaurant and requesting a table for one.

It is rare that a busy restaurant seems totally nonplussed. Such is the case at Obika, on the very swanky Via de’ Tornabuoni.

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Overhearing the conversation next to me, just don’t pull a “Can I have that without the blank but with blank?”  The poor waiter looks like he is ready to burst… Really, unless you are going to die from an anaphalactic allergic reaction, my advice to you in this country is to perhaps just order something else.

I am seated at a round community table with a view of of the other diners and a lovely terrace. Cool. Good selection of wines by the glass. Great. Serious mozzarella selection.

The pizzas (not “my thing”)  look SO good. I will have to bring more bodies next visit and sample them. In the meantime, my plate of fresh mozzarella and grilled artichokes beckon.

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Mmm. That is exactly what it should be!  Absolutely simple. And perfect. I even figured out Italian bread, Which has always seemed… kinda sad. The good stuff is just basic no-knead bread. No bells or whistles. Just flour and water and yeast and a pinch of salt. When done well, it works. Especially doused in good olive oil. I am a satisfied loner tonight. I really miss my usual company but am pleased that I not only had a delicious dinner, but got through it entirely in Italiano!

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A Bakery Worth the Drive

The last few years I have spent a lot of time on the road. I’m not a “road trip” fan, but have made a conscious decision to embrace them. As much as possible, I try to do a bit of pre-drive research and seek out a few interesting places along the way – or not too far out of the way.

One of my recent trips through the Berkshires gave me the chance to discover Berkshire Mountain Bakery in Housatonic, MA, just beside Great Barrington. What a delightful discovery!  Run by Richard Bourdon – born in Quebec, trained in Europe, THIS PLACE GETS IT RIGHT. The fresh milled flour is right – the technique is right – and the “art” of bread…is right!

Their croissants are the best I have tasted in a very long time, on BOTH sides of the Atlantic. They are a perfect combo of flaky and elastic such that the layers pull apart beautifully!  The bakery is really well known for their “bread and chocolate” a sourdough full of dark chocolate chunks. Saveur Magazine recently wrote a glowing review.Click the link to have a read.

This photo is courtesy of the Saveur article - my bread was devoured in the car and never lasted long enough to be photographed!

This photo is courtesy of the Saveur article – my bread was devoured in the car and never lasted long enough to be photographed!

Of course I had to try replicating Bread and Chocolate as soon as I got home….how could I resist? My reading told me I would have to increase hydration of my sourdough. A lot. So I did. I used 100% hydration, meaning that for 1000g of flour that I added to my levain, I added 1000g of water, rather than my usual 700 g. My dough was a goopy mess! I was sure it was going to be a disaster. When it finally flopped into the pan,  I imagined myself throwing it into the garbage 40 minutes later.  But wait, it was a little less “high” coming out of the oven than my regular loaves, but…it was amazing. The dough inside was glossy and stretchy. I don’t really understand why the chocolate dictates a higher hydration level, but hey, as long as it works, I’m ok with it!

Hmm. I wonder if I could get there by the time the next batch is out of the oven. Think I will fill up the car. I want a croissant. And a pizza. And….

Happy Asian-Fusion New Year

I am Addicted. It is as simple as that.
A few years ago I ate something at David Chang’s Momofuku that has lodged itself in my brain and will not leave. That isn’t a bad thing, but I can’t eat there very often, and so, I had to figure it out and make it at home.
I read a bunch of recipes online and tried a few. Below you will find the combination that, to my taste buds/brain really does it right.
Roasted Rice Cake Noodles

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Nian Gao (the Chinese version) is normally eaten for Chinese New Year, as a symbol of good fortune for the upcoming year.

I found them in the freezer section of my Korean/Chinese/Japanese grocer.
After making them the first time, I read that the key is soaking them.
So, defrost them on the counter or in the fridge, cut them into pieces about ¾” long, then soak them in cold water for a few hours.
This recipe serves 4 as a side dish. We never have leftovers, regardless of how many people we are….
OK, here goes – read through before starting.

For the caramelized onions:

1 teaspoon canola oil
1 medium white onion, thinly sliced ( I really love my mandolin!)
pinch of kosher salt

For the Red Dragon sauce (that I now like on just about anything):

1/4 cup mirin
1/4 cup chicken broth
— (this is separated for a reason…keep reading)
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
⅓ cup ssamjang (fermented bean and chile sauce – I trusted the woman at the local Korean market to point me to the right section – there is NO English on the labels)
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sherry vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

For the roasted rice cakes:

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 pound rice cake sticks

To serve:

1 tablespoon sesame seeds
2 scallions, ends trimmed, green parts thinly sliced

How to make this deliciousness:

Heat oil in 12-inch cast-ion skillet (if you have one – otherwise use your heaviest pan) over medium-high heat until lightly smoking. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally until onions begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and reduce heat to medium-low. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally until richly caramelized, about 30 minutes longer. Adjust heat as needed to prevent burning. Transfer cooked onions to bowl.

Meanwhile, make the sauce.

Pour mirin and broth into a large heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to medium-high and cook until lightly thickened, about two minutes. (Pour into a bowl if you want to save using an extra pot. In that case, wipe out the pot, and then…)
Combine water and sugar in medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir until sugar is dissolved then remove from heat. Let cool for a minute, then stir in ssamjang until dissolved. Add soy, sherry vinegar, and sesame oil.

Add back the reduced mirin and broth, reduce heat to medium, and cook until glossy and thick, about six minutes. Add  onions and stir well.
(if you are prepping this in advance, store the sauce and onions separately, the combine when heating just before serving)

Meanwhile, clean out iron skillet, and return to stove. Add two tablespoons of canola oil and heat over medium-high heat until just starting to smoke. Drain the rice cakes and towel dry. Add rice cakes to pan and reduce heat to medium. Cook until light brown on all sides, about 3 minutes per side.

Toss rice cakes with sauce. Garnish with sesame seeds and scallions.

Please tell me if this isn’t one of the yummiest things you have eaten.  I need to go and make more this minute!

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Montreal Winter-Melting (Pot) Moments

Visitors often comment on Montreal’s neighbourhoods. Each one has a different feel.  Some parts of town feel European, others like they could be anywhere. Montreal neighbourhoods are always changing. Areas popular with immigrants transition as groups establish themselves. Blocks that used to be run down slowly morph into cool and hip.

Two recent restaurant meals tell the story better than I can.

H4C, a restaurant in that very zip code is in the heart of Little Burgundy, an area long known as poor, tough, and undesirable. It is now seen as an up and coming, if not even maybe “here and now” young neighbourhood, minutes away from downtown, close to the Lachine Canal and the Atwater Market. The Joe Beef gang began the restaurant gentrification several years ago, and now the wave is continuing west, with solid names like Tuck Shop, Rustique Pie Kitchen, Satay Brothers and thankfully, H4C.

The restaurant’s website told me I would be in for something special. How many restaurants have an “Architecture” tab on their site?  The space is beautiful. An old post office was converted into a perfect dining room. It is open, but not too open. Airy without being cold or severe. Lighting is perfect, which is rare. Service is knowledgeable and reservedly friendly, which seemed to suit the space.  Diners can peek into the super-equipped kitchen, while noise and cooking smells are kept out of the dining room itself. Now, onto the food!

Every plate was beautiful. Every morsel was delicious. While menu descriptions sounded simple, execution proved the level of detail was anything but.

Carmelized liver mousse, huckleberry, pickled onions, toast

Caramelized liver mousse, huckleberry, pickled onions, toast

Braised veal cheek, salsify, black trumpets, brussel sprouts, black garlic

Braised veal cheek, salsify, black trumpets, brussel sprouts, black garlic

One of the deserts we devoured won the Montreal Gazette’s dish of the year (click link for the complete article and a video). “Apple, cheddar, buckwheat, oatmeal, maple” was a triumph.

Apple, cheddar, buckwheat, oat, maple

Apple, cheddar, buckwheat, oat, maple

Lesley Chesterman, a critic not afraid to call it like she sees it wrote:

“This unique dessert at H4C was just beyond the beyond. The mix included an apple sorbet, an apple brunoise, apple jelly, muesli and a large quenelle of buckwheat ice cream. The way that gorgeous ice cream played off the muesli was brilliant, but the inspired addition of a slice of cheddar cheese in the middle of it all took this dish to another level. It was not only the dish of the night, but one of the best desserts I’ve ever sampled: the perfect example of technique meets innovation meets deliciousness. Bravo!”

A few weeks later we finally made it to Impasto in Little Italy. Stefano Faita, a local foodie celebrity, and Michel Forgione, a well respected local chef opened this corner restaurant last summer. Did I mention it is based on “local”? The restaurant is across the street from Stefano’s family’s “hardware” store (specializing in kitchen ware and hunting equipment!) and Stefano’s cooking school. It is a few blocks from the all-important Jean-Talon market. Décor is simple, and perfect, in a much different way. The exterior blends in seamlessly with the block. No “look at me” here! The interior says “Italia”, from the terrazzo floor to the sleek walnut paneled walls to the marble tabletops.  The vibe matches the style of cooking. It is friendly, comfortable and Italian. While I understand this restaurant is all about the pastas, I have to say they were fine, but not the standouts of our meal. The charcuterie was exceptional, and (some of you readers may shudder), the porchetta was the best I have ever even IMAGINED eating. The fact that desserts were delicious actually came as a surprise – I am usually disappointed at Italian restaurants in Montreal. The tiramisu was not too sweet or too airy, and the chocolate-hazelnut cake was so good I am still craving another piece.

Reflecting on this blog and thinking how lucky I am to live in a city this diverse and foodie-friendly, I popped into Cheskie’s bakery on Bernard Street. That was the clincher, and I found myself chuckling. There was an orthodox Jewish man buying bread and some cookies. A young religious girl was buying an assortment of pastries, including the requisite sponge cake. Next, a hipster French-Canadian girl ordered chocolate croissants. Two very large Black guys were next. In French, they ordered sandwiches. One of the guys knew no meat was served. He was about to order a tuna sandwich when he spotted something and asked what it was. When told it was lox spread, his face lit up, and he said “one of those, and one for my friend”. I knew I was in Montreal, and left the bakery with the best babka in town and a smile.