Archive | July, 2011

Strawberry party anxiety

15 Jul

In case you missed it, Canada Day was a few weekends ago! Canada Day is A Big Deal here in Ottawa, something I wasn’t really prepared for until I moved here five years ago. People in the National Capital Region take Canada Day very seriously; even the people who would never venture onto the Hill for the celebrations hold their own parties, in backyards and parks across the city. If viewed from space on July 1, I’m convinced you would be able to pick out Ottawa by its sea of red and white: clothing, flags, banners, leis, and, bien sûr, food.

This year, we received our first Canada Day garden party invitation. The theme of this party was red and white, and I was tasked with bringing a red-and-white dessert. Excited as we were, we were (well, I was) also a little nervous, as this was a party involving some people whose opinions really matter to me, and who I hold in high esteem. I was also one of the younger people invited; I actually feel more comfortable around older people than people my own age (a weird consequence of a colourful childhood) but I was still a little self-conscious.

Add to that the fact that I am not really a dessert person, and you have a recipe for some anxiety. Don’t get me wrong: if someone set a warm chocolate cake in front of me, I would eat a piece (probably), but I’m just not emotional about dessert in the way that I am about, say, cheese. I have been known to throw a dinner party and forget to arrange for dessert.

As a result, I don’t have many dessert recipes in my repertoire. After ruling out some kind of cookie (boring and … time-consuming?) and a pie (pastry? I didn’t think this was the occasion to try to make something that I’ve never made before…) I was beginning to get a bit panicky. In fact, truth be told, my internal monologue was beginning to remind me of one of my favourite children’s book characters, the dog Tootle. Nervous about his mistress’s upcoming party, Tootle tries to learn to walk on two legs, to no avail.

getting to the heart of the matter...

After a bath (ok, a shower) and a good brushing, I came to my senses and checked out some recipes online. I came up with this gem from the Chatelaine website: strawberry shortcake tiramisu. If there’s one dessert I can always get behind, it’s tiramisu (let’s be honest: it’s the cheese)!

Never have strawberries been hucked and sliced with such care. Never has such expensive chocolate sauce been called into duty in my household. I had to make some adjustments to ensure this easy (no baking!) recipe would work in a party setting at someone else’s home.

assembly: layer by layer...

Concluding it would be tiresome to have to melt and pour out the chocolate sauce, I decided to whip it with some of the extra whipped cream and smooth it onto the top layer. This left the top (well, bottom, when you’re making it) exposed: eek! Unsightly ladyfingers! To distract my esteemed party-goers, I layered some strawberry slivers along the top in two rows (like train tracks; I suppose, in retrospect, I could have been more creative with this design. A maple leaf would be a nice goal to aspire to, I would imagine).

I am thrilled to report the flipping of the dish was accomplished (by me, after a glass of wine) with what could almost be called actual panache; coming from a girl who once “helped” drop a $90 cake for a library summer reading club party, this was no small feat. My strawberry shortcake tiramisu received some lovely “ooohs” and “aaahs”, and the entire thing was gobbled up in no time! My first “real” dessert was a success!

I was far too nervous, and my head was much too full of various things to remember, to take pictures of this fledgeling foray into sweet things. I did, however, have a running monologue to you, dear readers, in my head while preparing this dish. I also had some leftover mascarpone cheese that was calling out to me to be made into strawberry shortcake tiramisu 2.0. My best friend’s recent visit to Ottawa provided the perfect opportunity to make this dish again, document it properly for all of you, and perhaps even enjoy it more the second time around.

*nom nom nom*

 

For reference, the local Italian grocery recommended Igor mascarpone as the best, and I splurged for Stonewall Kitchen Mocha Espresso sauce, which was divine (a few spoonfuls disappeared somehow along the way…).

Do you think I’m ready for pastry? Or maybe I should start with a crumble crust. That seems like a safe gateway drug before harder stuff. I do like a good Key Lime Pie….

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Love letters, part 3 : France – Lyon, Colmar, Paris

8 Jul

As I mentioned at the end of the last post. I’m getting tired of writing in this voice but I’ll write a brief note to Paris here and then get on with the food.

Dear Paris,

I will be back soon. After visiting, I find myself obsessed with you. All the talk about rude Parisians is completely untrue. Everyone was nice beyond belief – to us and each other. You are in my top 2 of favourite cities. I won’t tell you who the other one is. I recently saw the documentary Midnight in Paris and loved it.

Ok, that’s enough of that. Here’s the chow.

cheese tray

cheese tray

Last things first. Here’s a shot of the cheese tray we had on our last night in Paris. It arrives at your table for an unknown length of time. You eat what you want and then someone comes and whisks it away. We had 20 minutes of cheese.

macaron

macaron

You know I love these things. I didn’t try this particular one. It seemed a bit heavy and as you know, I’m all about the light eating (ahem).

chips

roasted chicken and thyme

chips

jamon chips

Lay’s and Ruffles chips. The first pack is from France, the second from Spain. I love the idea of local flavours. The chips, however, meh.

tarte flambée

tarte flambée

Tarte flambée is an Alsatian specialty. It’s got a very thin crust, some fresh cheese, onions, and bacon on it. It’s shockingly large. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s an appetizer for 2 or do and eat the whole thing.

ma po tofu

ma po tofu

Yeah, we had some very spicy Szechuan food in Paris. Easily some of the best I’ve had anywhere.

raw root veggies and butter

raw root veggies and butter

This dish was so simple but all of the ingredients were wonderful – the vegetables, butter, oil, & salt. It doesn’t get much easier and better than this.

Ok, I’m getting hungry. Check out the Flickr account mentioned in the Spain post for more pics.

Love letters, part 2: Barcelona and Figueres

8 Jul

Dear Spain,

I love you. There, I said it.

broken eggs

broken eggs

Why are your eggs sooooo good? What do you do or not do to them? Why have I never had broken eggs before? If I were inclined to open a restaurant here, I would sell all the variations of your broken eggs dish and call it Spanish poutine. Potatoes, eggs, and every Iberico pork product available. P.S. Your potatoes are absolutely stellar as well.

anchoives

anchoives

I didn’t think I liked you, but you changed my mind.

fried artichokes

fried artichokes

Unlike your Italian cousins (see last year’s travel post), you arrive  showing only your best.  Vegetables are good. Deep frying the heck out of them is acceptable when on vacation from real-life.

cod

cod

Pine nuts, raisins, onions and cod – Oh what a surprise. So delicious.

candy

candy

Mercat de La Boqueria de Barcelona. So scenic, so plentiful. Possibly the best food market ever.  Tapas counters, fish stalls, candy to make your eyes pop.

chocolate and salt

chocolate and salt

When I hear chocolate I usually state my preference for cheese but throw some salt on it, and a few pieces of crunchy fried bread and it’s a different story. It’s a  story about a person who doesn’t usually eat dessert but finds herself with an extra spoon and partner willing to share. It’s kind of a love story or a teen movie where the girl hates the guy at first is then wooed by his edgy sweetness.

Glaser tea towel

tea towel - Computers are to design as microwaves are to cooking

Marry me, Barcelona. We’ll make beautiful cod fritters.

Ok, I’m getting tired of writing in this voice and it’s starting to feel creepy.  I have about way more pictures of food from Spain including shrimp, mussels, cod fritters, pretty salads, etc… Check out my Flickr account for more.

France is up next.

Love letters, part 1: Switzerland

8 Jul

Oh yeah, I was away for 3 weeks a little while ago. Here are some letters I’m sending back to Europe. Warning: I am speaking directly to countries and my food but at least you can’t hear the songs I made up as well.

Dear Switzerland,

The quality of your food is so astounding it almost makes up for the prices that are shocking to North Americans. Your dairy products = spectacular. Your bread, so far the best in Europe. Here are some pictures I took to remind me of your yummy goodness.

Shakeria

Shakeria

Oh Shakeria! I bought you for your hilarious name and because I still remember those school yard rhymes that still make me laugh. Despite your hilarious name, you are seriously delicious and not at all too sweet.

Bretzels

Bretzels

When traveling  through train stations (also pretty amazing), it was hard not to make cartoon sound effects as I screeched to a halt in front of the Brezel Konig. Brezel – you are soft, crunchy, perfect and make a good alternative to sandwich bread.

after Jungfrau

after Jungfrau

Dear giant rosti wok at the base of Jungfrau, thanks for the potatoes. After oxygen deprivation at 3500 metres up it’s nice to have another spectacular view, to have my skin return to its natural colour, and to drink some Fanta with your generous helpings.

cheese

cheese

You look like a flower but you taste like cheese. You are perfect. Please grow in my garden.

Ricola

Ricola

Just off the plane, I was handed a free sample. Ricola, you make all my jokes come true.