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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.

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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.

Making your own dried cranberries

5 Mar

by Amanda Halfpenny
Is it weird to admit that dried cranberries are one of my favourite foods? I eat them as a snack either on their own or mixed with nuts; I put them in salads, in cereal, and with sautéed vegetables. In fact, there are probably very few dishes that could not be improved with a little sprinkle of this delicious and colourful dried fruit. Yet, as anyone who shares my love for dried cranberries knows, buying large quantities of this tiny fruit can become very expensive. Even in bulk stores where you think that you should be getting a bargain, the final price at the cash always makes me gulp.

It was to my huge delight this fall when I was driving along a local highway and spotted a pick-up truck on the side of the road with a farmer sitting in the back and a make-shift sign saying “Canneberges à vendre”. Being disappointed by the lack of local produce in the grocery stores in my town, I jumped at the chance to buy food directly from a farmer in the back of a pick-up. I had never purchased fresh cranberries before but before I even asked the price, I was already planning how I would attempt to dry my own cranberries at home. I ended up buying around 8 litres of cranberries for $20.

dried cranberries

dried cranberries

When I got home I immediately began researching on the internet the various ways that people recommend to dry cranberries at home. I learned that it is not difficult to dry fruit (I was a bit concerned that I would need to buy an expensive fruit dehydrator). The easiest way I discovered, (although it is time and energy consuming) is to

1) Boil the cranberries in water adding sugar/maple syrup/honey using a 1:1:1 ratio (the recipes I saw used sugar but I’ve always used either maple syrup and honey) until the cranberries have popped (around 15 minutes)
2) Drain the cranberries (I keep and reuse the drained cranberry juice)
3) Place a piece of wax paper on a baking sheet layered with a paper towel and then layer another piece of wax paper on top then spread out the cranberries on the wax paper
4) Bake in the oven at a low temperature (150 F) for around 6 -7 hours depending on how juicy you want the final result
5) About half-way through the process flip over the cranberries so that they are dehydrated equally throughout

Keep in mind that fruit, when dehydrated, shrinks considerably so make sure that you start out with a good quantity (at least 4 cups).

The most annoying part of drying your own cranberries is that you need to stay at home while they are in the oven. Never leave your home with the oven on even at a low temperature!
However I think that it is definitely worth it. It is fun knowing that you’ve done it yourself, you can adjust the quantity of sweetness and they are definitely less expensive than buying them in a store. I froze the cranberries that I bought in the fall and have been eating them all winter!

For new recipe ideas for cranberries, I recommend checking out both Cranberries by Elaine Elliot (Formac Press, 2005) and The Cranberry Cookbook (Hamlyn, 1998).

Enjoy!

Check out Amanda’s bio on the Contributors page

Lineup at the lunch counter

9 Feb

I was in Toronto last week for the OLA super conference and it totally lived up to the “super”.  I made a detour one day at lunch to shop for some presents and found myself close to Dundas and Yonge. I haven’t lived in Toronto for over a decade but I remembered that there used to be a Jamaican restaurant near Ryerson. I know the block I used to know has been torn down. It’s a very different intersection these days. I figured, however, that a new restaurant might have popped up to take its place. I could have used the power of my iPhone to check, but I decided to do what I love doing in cities – I  started walking. I came across a  Jamaican restaurant called Ritz on Yonge St. It’s around the corner from Massey Hall. I had never heard of it, don’t know anyone who ever ate there, so there was only one thing to do. Check it out.  I went in and was met with a very long lineup. I decided to stay and eat. Here’s where I’m going with this – big line up at lunch = good. Also,  it looked clean, the food smelled great, and the line was moving. When I finally got close enough to see what was behind the counter, I had trouble deciding. I settled on some incredible jerk chicken and made sure to tell 5 more people about the place.

jerk chicken

Sabor Latino on Belanger in Montreal is  another lunch counter I found using this technique. I watched families fighting their ways in and out the front door and decided to find out what was so great. Turns out, the food. Another good find, the name of the restaurant escapes me, was a lunch counter in Hamilton, Bermuda run by a French chef. It was located in the heart of the tourist area, but all the people in line were from nearby offices and the line was out the door.

I am suggesting you try this technique, or let us know if you’ve found any great spots using the long lineup technique.

Top 10 travel eats (Italy, Spain, France, and back to Italy)

16 Oct

In August, I took a 3 week trip to Italy with a brief detour to Barcelona and Nice. For the first week of my trip, I spent time in my father’s hometown, a small seaside resort town on the Adriatic. The second week involved a cruise to Genoa, Nice, Barcelona, Majorca, and Sardinia). I then spent a week in Rome.

I ate a lot of food. Good food made with fresh ingredients. Despite all of this eating, my flying-home jeans were loose at the end of this extravaganza. We walked about 5 hours/day and I realized that lots of things I wanted to see are at the top of very large hills. So if you’re ready to walk, you can eat like Phelps. Also, I didn’t eat anything that came out of a package. Take note – the potato chip aisle in Italy is only 2 bags wide.

Here’s my top 10 in no particular order.

1. Quadrifoglio, Porto San Giorgio – this is one of many restaurants that are adjacent to the beach in this little resort town, my dad’s hometown. Nobody eats on the beach (hence no pesky seagulls!). You can spend the day on the beach, walk 20 feet to the restaurant for lunch and then return to the glorious shade of your beautiful beach umbrella and comfy chairs. (I’m not a tanner)

 

seafood pasta

seafood pasta

 

2.Vela, Porto San Giorgio – Another beach resto. You may notice it’s seafood again. Basically, every restaurant has the same menu. Some do it better than others. Vela is among the best.

 

fried seafood

frittura mista, Vela, Porto San Giorgio

 

3. Can’t remember the name of this resto, I swear. We had a 3-course meal on a park bench (which was probably very gauche). This was the dessert.

 

tiramisu

tiramisu, Genoa

 

4. Bar del Pla, Barcelona – Cod fritters are like little fishy pillows of joy. We grazed on tapas throughout the city. The food, staff, and atmosphere here was nice. The menu, like most things in Barcelona was well-designed.

 

cod fritters

cod fritters tapas, Bar del Pla, Barcelona

 

5. Nice, Porto San Giorgio, Rome – I ate these donut shaped peaches everywhere I could find them. They’re sweet and white inside and too expensive in North America (when you can find them).

 

saturn peaches

Saturn / Donut peaches, Rome

 

6. Filletti di Baccala, Rome – This restaurant does one thing, fried cod fillets. As a general tip, it’s a good idea to eat at restaurant that serves only one main dish especially if the name of the dish is also the name of the restaurant and the sign for the resto looks older than you.  Lotsa locals eating here.

 

fried cod

fried cod, Filetti di Baccala, Rome

 

7. Sora Marguerita, Rome – This was my third fried artichoke in 3 days and it was the best. The outside petals are crunchy like potato chips and the inside is soft.

 

fried artichokes

fried artichokes, Sora Margherita, Rome

 

8. Bakery in Nice, can’t rember the name of it. These little cookie sandwiches are so flavourful that you only need one. I will try anything bergamot flavoured. If the best Earl Grey tea in the world were a cookie, this would be it.

 

bergamote maccaron

bergamotte maccaron, Nice

 

9. Costanza, Rome – This gnocchi, mozzarella, basil dish was a bit of a surprise. I didn’t expect it to be so casserole-ish. Not the ideal dish for 30 C weather in Rome but so good I ate the whole thing (and then probably walked up a hill somewhere).

 

gnocchi

gnocchi, Costanza, Rome

 

10.  Roscioli, Rome – If you’re gonna have a plate of charcuterie or sample some regional or international cheeses, this is the place to do it. Don’t expect the service to be good, however.

 

mixed plates

mixed salami and cheese plates, Roscioli, Rome

 

That’s it  for this eating adventure. Eating in Italy really helped me understand my parent’s attitudes towards food. Attitudes that I have internalized. This trip has been in the works for a long time. Now I have to figure out how long it will be before I can get back there. I come away from this trip with a few thoughts. Most things you want to see in Europe are at the top of a hill. Walk up. Eat fresh and you will not gain weight – even if it’s deep fried. Use good ingredients – always. Eating or drinking while walking or commuting = bad ideas. Italians don’t do it and nor should you. Sit down and enjoy your meal with friends, family, and loved ones. I’m lucky and thankful.

And now for the librarian segment – A restaurant I didn’t eat at in Rome. The Library.

 

The Library restaurant sign

The Library restaurant in Rome

 

Birthdays are for embarrassing friends

31 Jul

It is tradition for me to bake my friend Richard’s birthday cake. After 4 years of silliness, the cake has come full circle, venturing into a parallel universe. The first cake came about after Richard found a ridiculous cake stand in the shape of a triple layer chocolate strawberry cake. After secretly studying the cake stand, I decided to create an edible replica of the cake stand  for his birthday. That was year #1.

cake and cake stand

year 1

Year 2 became a challenge. How could I create something as silly or mind-bending as the cake stand trick? How about a hot mess Barbie cake for a grown man? Why not? (note, store-bought icing would probably have been better visually but I opted for homemade buttercream and shoddy skirt decoration instead.)

Barbie cake

year 2

And then there was the disaster inspired by Cakewrecks.com and a garage sale cotton-ball owl. Surely, one of the ugliest things every to leave my kitchen.

cakewreck owl cake

year 3 HAPPY BDAY RICHERD IN BIG LETTERS

Year #4, what to do? Last winter I strolled into my local Salvation Army and found the vanilla version of the cake #1. So that’s what I did this year.

While doing a little collection development for the “cookery” section (who, besides a librarian, would use that word in a search?! it’s simply misleadery), I came across a recipe for a  birthday cake on the new (and snazzy) James Beard site. I skipped the buttercream icing in favour of some fresh whipped cream and topped with some Quebec strawberries. (In the background with candles an olive oil orange cake from Nick Malgieri‘s Modern Baker. Yummy and easy to make. See Alex’s previous post on olive oil for best results.)

cake assembly

cake assembly

cake with cake stand 2

year 4