Wednesday, December 30, 2009

French Onion Soup

Last night my friend Gina invited us over for her homemade French onion soup. This is quickly becoming her specialty even though it's only the second time she's made it. I'm convinced all those Tim Horton ads are what led her to go buy onion soup bowls. So I will thank them for that since each time she's made it, I've had an invitation. And both times have been delicious.

A lot more time and effort goes into a good French onion soup than I thought. Caramelizing the onions, toasting the bread, building the broth. But it's oh, so worth it! She even opted for Gruyère cheese. Yummm.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Gift Bag of Goodies

Look at every single gift out there and none, I repeat, NONE compare to a homemade gift. The time and effort put into these alone is proof that someone really cares about you. So you can imagine how special we felt when Marc and Zoya presented us with a lovely gift bag full of homemade goodies that were not only made by them but packaged by them as well. Even the bark on the gift tag and wrapping on the parmesan and rosemary crackers was taken from a tree in their back yard.

Here's what we received:
  • Spiced nuts – so addictive
  • Savoury parmesan and rosemary crackers
  • Sweet rosemary jelly
  • Spicy jalapeno jelly
  • Delicious almond biscotti
  • Melt-in-your-mouth sugar cream and peanut butter sugar cream squares
It was beautiful. And something we will enjoy over the next weeks to come. We're now starting to think about what we can do for our friends next year as we were really touched by this.

Tapas Style Dinner at Denis and Véro’s

Ah yes, another dinner away from home. It's pretty hard to get home sick when this is how you're eating. Friends of Marc and Zoya's had us over for dinner last night. There was a long list of dishes up for grabs put together by not just one, but 4 people. Zoya pretty much emptied her fridge preparing food to bring, and she and Véro's mom cooked up a storm on the bbq. The experience of what we ate was further heightened by the decor inside Denis' chalet – a beautiful log home decorated with chic taxidermy. The look flows through the rooms, every detail perfectly executed, even right down to the red plaid bedding. You have to eat meat in this house. And eat we did.
  • Game sausage made with bison, deer, wild boar and duck
  • Barbecued chicken drumsticks
  • Duck served on wonton chips and topped with a plum and ginger sauce (this was my number one dish of the entire week – simply to die for)
  • Selection of marvelous cheeses served with a moose shaped rosemary jelly
  • Fresh baguette and homemade parmesan crackers
  • Smoked salmon
  • Spicy shrimp rémoulade
  • Miniature lamb sausages
  • Rosette de Lyon sausage and smoked sausage
From the company and the atmosphere, to the Landskroon Shiraz and the Errazuriz Cab Sauvignon, every single bit of the evening was absolute perfection. The richness of every bite of food had me in awe. Just the thought of it continues to remind me how insanely lucky I am. Thanks again to everyone for filling my tummy and allowing me to indulge in such a spread.

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner at Zoya and Marc’s

Our travels the past few days have brought us to many homes with fabulous people and meals to die for. Zoya's house has always been and always will be one of my favourite places to visit. I literally spend the entire time perched up on a bench overlooking her kitchen, chatting and sipping on fine wine while she cooks, cooks, and cooks some more. She leaves the kitchen only to walk over to the dining room table to serve our meals and eat.

I'm really not sure where to start with what we had while in her presence. Maybe I should just make a list. From breakfast casseroles to tourtière, charcuterie, cheeses and steak, we ate it ALL.
  • Fresh strawberries, pineapple and banana
  • Smoked bacon
  • Eggs with onion, feta, potato and hungarian sausage
  • Tourtière made with beef and pork, actual meat, not ground
  • Shrimp grilled with pancetta and sprinkled with parsley
  • Rosette de Lyon sausage and smoked sausage
  • Rillettes de canard
  • A selection of cheeses from Fromagerie les Folies Bergères
  • Delicious homemade rosemary and jalapeno jelly for the cheese and rillettes
  • Homemade parmesan crackers
  • Octopus stew – a Portuguese delicacy made by Marc's mom
  • Fresh arugula greens with thinly cut fried onions, spiced nuts and dijon, rosemary dressing
  • Slow cooked, melt in your mouth, blade steak
  • Sweet caramelized cauliflower
  • Arugula greens with tomato and balsamic drizzle
  • Sweet Portuguese buns with a hint of lemon

And all this in less than two days!

Thank you, thank you, thank you. You really know how to make us feel so special and lucky. You have totally outdone yourselves, again!

Dinner at Diane & Yvon’s

We arrived at my aunt and uncle's house for dinner a couple of nights ago and were served some yummy paté, grapes and shrimp upon arrival. Shortly after, one of the most decadent appetizers I've ever had popped out of the oven, warm brie and toasted pecans bathing in a pool of maple syrup – amazing.

For dinner, we started off with a fresh spinach, mushroom, dried cranberries and pine nut salad. Our main was prepared by my cousin Renée, who cooked up a mouthwatering pork tenderloin she had marinated in honey, garlic and balsamic. It was so tender and flavourful I couldn't help but have seconds. Roasted potatoes, crisp green beans and carrots completed the meal. And as if that wasn't enough, a sweet Christmas loaf with chocolate wafers was served with coffee for dessert.

Thanks so much guys for such a great meal and wonderful company!

Christmas Traditions

Some foods only come out at certain times of the year. My husband's crowd pleasing chowder for one, yummy tourtière, and my mom's satisfying seafood casserole. All of these dishes are so rich and delicious. This is what we snacked on for lunches, breakfast and pretty much any time of the day we felt like a little nibble. My husband made the tourtière using ground pork, veal and lamb. The ambrosial flavours that left everyone floored came from savory, onion, garlic and cloves. He even added some bread crumbs to the mix so that it didn't end up watery. As for the casserole, my mom put in extra lobster, which made every bite so exciting. Chunks so big I almost had to cut them in half they barely fit in my mouth. I love this time of year!!

Christmas Dinner

Our first stop for the holidays was my brother's place, where his wife Josée cooked her first turkey dinner. All anxiety aside, I'm sure it was the biggest and best dinner she's ever made. It turned out great. A fresh green and tomato salad, followed by moist turkey, mixed veg, stuffing and whipped mashed potatoes mixed with creamed corn, the whole kit and kaboodle (wow, you can tell I just spent some time with my mom using expressions like that!). Her dinner really brought us all together and made Christmas so special.

Since we've all seen turkey dinners before, I thought I'd put the emphasis on the one part of the meal that was new to me – pain au sandwich, or sandwich loaf. It's a tradition that Josée has with her family, her Dad makes it every year. He brought this one to Christmas dinner and it was so fun! After spending the day putting it together, we gobbled it down in minutes. From the outside, this loaf looks like a cake. On the inside are layers of bread cut horizontally and spread with layers of egg, chicken, salmon and ham salad. The entire concoction was held together with yummy whipped, cream cheese that was beautifully decorated with radishes, parsley, tomatoes, corn and cloves. Josée's dad even grabbed the parsley still growing from the ground in their backyard under the snow!! It was fantastic!

Thanks so much Josée for making our Christmas so special and for hosting dinner for our family. We had a wonderful time.

Christmas Breakfast

Oh my god, the past few days have been absolutely insane. My husband and I have decided that we are not eating anything but vegetables for the month of January. I know this time of year brings in a lot of food, but who knew it would be this crazy! And it all started off with Christmas breakfast.

My husband made a delicious feta and spinach frittata along with some fried, cubed potatoes and onions and a warm croissant. Champagne and orange juice solidified the fact that we were officially on holidays. With our tummies full, we packed up the car and headed out for a 4-day-long food frenzy.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Special Delivery of Cookies!

And what a special delivery it was.

One of Santa's helpers came by this evening to drop off some cookies. I was as excited as a child at Christmas when Santa comes. Either that or I was just as excited as Santa would be if he stopped by her place. By her I mean Jane. She used to work with my husband and every year she goes all out making the most beautiful, intricate cookies ever.

A little treat bag holding hours of work presents itself. Every detail executed to utter perfection. You almost don't want to eat them. But you really can't resist. And I am sad to say that the big beautiful moon and snowman cookies that were in this bag got eaten so fast I didn't even have time to take a photo. We realized on the last bite what we had done. But that's ok, we got a snapshot of some of the others.

Holding back is the hardest part. Sharing them with my husband is even harder, since he's not normally a sweets guy, until these cookies show up!

Thanks so much Jane! Merry Christmas!

Pork, Veal and Lamb Burgers

The best thing you can do for yourself if you plan to make a tourtière is to buy a bit extra meat and make some burgers! That's exactly what my husband did. He hasn't actually made the tourtière yet, but he knows what he needs. So tonight we had pork, veal and lamb burgers. What a combination. One of the tastiest burgers I've had to date. Topped with roasted red peppers, onions, mustard and mayo and served alongside some sweet potato fries and a red pepper mayo dipping sauce make this dish a definite keeper.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Chocolate Truffles

I manage a team that works very hard. Every Christmas I like to get them a little something to show my appreciation for their efforts. This year I decided to toast their hard work, so I got them each a little bottle of sparkling wine. To make it a little more personal, I added some homemade truffles. I made them yesterday. I thought it would be easy. Making them into a ball was the most frustrating part. But I did it, it's done, they taste great. But I will never make truffles again.

You can get the recipe here. They're chili-chocolate truffles, so they have a really nice kick to them.

Kraft Dinner

I usually avoid posting these meals. But I thought I'd let everyone know that we are actually human over here and don't just eat gourmet meals every night. Yesterday we had some KD and ginger ale. The perfect comfort food after a few too many glasses of wine the night before!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Party

Bruce and Gina held our annual Christmas party last night. By 9pm there was enough food to feed a small country in their house I'm certain of it. It was a potluck dinner which is always a fantastic idea. Basically you get people putting their heart and soul into their best dish, and the end result is a buffet of absolutely amazing food. I didn't get a shot of everything, I'm missing the chili, lasagna, salmon paté and a few others. But the shots below should give you a pretty good idea of the heaven I was in.

Tender chicken skewers and grilled shrimp with a heavenly peanut sauce.

Crisp apples with a sweet caramel dip topped with skor bits.

I think this was one of my favourites, dates wrapped in bacon and coated with maple syrup.

Moist gingerbread.

Tasty ham.

Star shaped cookies with chocolate drizzle. I love cookies.

Christmas cupcakes.

Creamy spinach dip.

Fresh veggie wraps. Another one I returned to.

Kielbasa sausage and olives. So garlicky and yummy.

Veggies with the best dip in the world – Gianetto dip.

Thanks so much guys for a fantastic night and for hosting. And thanks to everyone for all the great food! It really feels like Christmas being surrounded by such wonderful people and comforting food.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Amazing Eggs Benedict

As promised, my husband whipped together an incredible breakfast this morning using the leftover beurre blanc sauce from the other night. He added an egg yolk to it and whisked it while heating up the sauce. After letting it cool a bit to thicken, he poured it over two perfectly poached eggs, stacked beautifully over slices of bacon and spelt toast. Next to that, fried potato cubes and onions leftover from the chowder last night.

I've always been a breakfast fan. Eggs benny is on the top of my list. No restaurant could ever compare to this morning's creation. That velvety sauce is to die for. A bit of tarragon and this dish is magical.

Clam Chowder

There isn't too much I can say about this clam chowder except that it is the best in the WORLD. No exaggeration. I've never, ever had a better bowl of chowder in my life. And I don't think I ever will. The holidays to me, are the best time of year, and that's mostly due to the foods I get to eat that don't come out year round. As I mentioned last year when I dangled this soup in front of everyone, I cannot share the recipe. In fact, I don't even know it. Only two people in this world do, my husband and his mother. My own mother asked me for the recipe last year and I had to turn her down. Imagine, turning down your own mother! The woman who put her entire life on hold for you. I was sad. But the good news is that I didn't loose any respect from my mother-in-law, and my mother appreciated the fact that this recipe is so near and dear to their hearts.

We do share though. Which is why every year, when we have our annual pot luck with friends, we bring this dish. In order to make sure it turned out ok (like it wouldn't!), my husband and I had some for dinner last night. I'll be downing some more this evening!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Scallops in a Beurre Blanc Sauce with Artichokes

Jean-Marc, you are going to want to read on for some tips on cooking scallops.
Judith, you should probably not read this post as you may want to drive 10 hours to come here and beat us over the head for serving your favourite dish without you.

Best. Scallops. Ever. My husband was sure I said that the last time he made this (which was quite a while ago, before my blog even.) These round morsels straight from heaven are like candy. I could have eaten 20 of them. Rich, yes. Too rich? Not if I can eat that many! The silky sauce makes what would have been an 80 calorie dish, about 600, at least. And the only reason is because you want to douse every last bite in it. The flavour is very light, with a slight tang. We scooped up so much with each artichoke leaf, scraping the meat off with our teeth and savouring every second.

I'll start with the cooking of the scallops. How does my husband make them so perfectly golden brown? You have to dry them first. Never put a wet, slimy scallop in a pan. He normally just dries them by wrapping them in a paper towel to get the moisture off. Today he put flour on them and then shook off the excess (careful not to leave too much flour on them, you want to get most of it off. It's like dredging meat before browning it.)

This classic French beurre blanc sauce is worth every second of your time (and doesn't even require that much). Heat 1/4 cup of white wine, 1/4 cup of white wine vinegar, a little bit of chopped shallots (or green onion) in a pot slowly. Reduce to about half or less. At this point, my husband cheated by adding a tiny bit of cream so the sauce wouldn't break when he added the butter. The cream helps to bind the butter. Real chefs would NEVER do this. Dice 1 to 1 1/2 cups of butter into inch cubes – they must be cold – and add 2 to 3 blocks at a time while whisking over the lowest possible heat. This may take a bit of time, don't rush it. Add a bit of salt at the end and pour over the scallops. I almost started to cry when I finished my last one. If I could just start over. You never want a meal like this to end.

For the artichokes, steam them in a mixture of water, cloves of garlic and a bay leaf. They're so fun to eat. My husband actually made these for me on our first date almost 10 years ago. It's no wonder I married him!!

Seriously, if you want to impress anyone, this is the meal to go with. Serve with a great glass of wine, like this 2006 Cunha Martins wine from Portugal (yeah-yeah, a white would have probably gone better, but in my book, red goes with everything, even the heavier ones). This one is currently $2 off in the LCBO vintages, and so delicious.

We even have some leftover sauce for breakfast! Best hollandaise sauce ever.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Chicken Stir Fry

Yummm. Chicken cooked in honey hoisin sauce with sprouts, bok choy, carrot, green onion and sesame seeds on japanese sticky rice.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Teresa’s Pre-Christmas Brunch

Teresa outdid herself again this year, filling our tummies to the max and literally sending us all into a food coma.

I was stilled drained from a social event the night before, but I found a comfortable spot in the corner of Teresa's living room where I could savour each bite of food and take in all the conversations going on around me. I love the comfort that comes with hanging out with your closest friends – there's no stress or need to impress, something I never take advantage of.

The spread was amazing. Two magnificent egg stratas, one with pork sausage and the other with turkey sausage. Fresh spinach, goat cheese and strawberry salad to cleanse the palate. Strawberries and pineapple paired with a sweet, whipped dip. Greasy bacon cooked to perfection and tall mimosa cocktails.

By the time I got through that, I was torn between getting seconds, or going for the fresh out-of-the-oven coffee cake. I did both. Best coffee cake ever! A delicious layer of crusty sweetness on top, moist and tasty inside. 

In addition to the above, she was well prepared for whatever request may come at her. From bailey's to beer, and even chocolate and nuts for snacking.

Thanks so much Teresa! You really know how to throw a daytime party!

Nuts & Bolts

Every Christmas my husband makes nuts & bolts using his grandmother's recipe. They're super easy (I know now because I actually helped make them this year!), insanely addictive, and make the perfect host gift.

I'm on my way to my friend Teresa's annual pre-Christmas brunch, and I'll be bringing her a lovely jar of yumminess to thank her for the feast.

What you’ll need & what to do
1 cup melted butter
2 tbs Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp celery salt
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp paprika

Mix and pour over:
2 cups Cheerios
2 cups Shreddies
2 cups thin pretzel sticks
1/2 lb salted peanuts

Bake at 250 for an hour. Stir during baking.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Bison Stew

We found some stewing bison buried deep in the back of our freezer. We had purchased this a while back from Ranch les Beaux Bisons (best bison meat I've ever had). The stewing meat has a different texture, almost similar to liver in the fact that it is so dense. We made brochettes with this meat back in June and it was really tough. It definitely needs to be cooked for a long time, so that's what my husband did last night. So much more tender.

He got the idea after we watched the Julie & Julia movie, and the beef bourguignon. To the meat, he added some carrots, celery, one bay leaf, thyme, sage, rosemary, brandy, garlic, onions and beef bouillon concentrate and baked it for a few hours on 250. Just at the end he added some tomato paste. Served up with mashed potatoes and fried mushrooms was heavenly.

These comforting meals make me so full. I love them so much and have the hardest time stopping when I should. Yummm.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Pork Loin Roast

This is going to be a quick post, I'm so tired I could fall asleep while I write. Work has been just crazy – as I'm sure it is with just about everyone this time of year. Eating hasn't exactly been as normal either, working late and all. But tonight, my husband made a delicious roast that made up for all the daily stress by relaxing me with every bite.

He coated this lovely piece of pork with herbs, dijon and garlic and roasted it fat side up (I've been told this is common knowledge, roasts are always cooked fat side up, but I thought I'd mention it since if it were me reading this blog, I'd have no idea). To make matters even more outstanding, he whipped together a lovely sauce that complemented the meat perfectly. He started out by making a roux, then slowly stirred in some vermouth, chicken broth and dijon. So – freakin' – yummy. I ended up dousing my potatoes and french style green beans in the sauce too.

Thought I'd also test out my new camera stand! Jean-Marc, my personal wine sommelier, also does photography on the side and gave me a cute little stand for my camera so that I may take my restaurant pictures in the dark this winter. I tested it out at our dining room table, lit only by candlelight. Thanks JM!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Café International

I'm not going to rate this restaurant yet. It's too new and needs some time. The woman who runs the show in this quaint little space has got to be one of the friendliest women in the world (maybe too friendly?). I'm excited about it because of it's location, literally half a block from my house, on Gladstone between Lyon and Bay. It has bright big windows that let the morning sun shine in beautifully – perfect for Sunday brunch. And the best part? No lineup.

I ordered the Seafood Benedict. I had no idea what to expect, there's no description on the menu. I was surprised this dish didn't come with eggs, but I don't think it would have been good with eggs anyway. Bagel halves topped with grilled chicken bologna and a tasty seafood concoction that reminded me of my mom's seafood casserole. It had a mixture of mussels, fish, shrimp and onion in a hollandaise sauce. It was really quite nice. The home fries were also yummy. Sliced strawberry, orange, grapes and blueberries decorated the plate.

My husband had The Original. 2 eggs with your choice of 2 breakfast chicken strips, 2 sausage links or 2 grilled chicken bologna, toast, home fries and coffee. He went with the sausage, which was a polish chicken sausage.

The breakfast prices range from $5.95 to $9.95. They also serve lunch and dinner and have a small but diverse menu. From quiche to jerk chicken, smoked meat sandwiches and hamburgers and fries, mains range from $7.95 to $15.95. Apps from $4.95 to $7.95. They also have a dinner special for $9.95 every Sunday.

As is with pretty much all new restaurants, there are some ups, and some downs. I'm going to list a few of the downs – which I must point out, didn't bother me too much at all. Ok, except maybe the cell phone.
- There was no real server. The owner's neighbour, a very friendly man, helped serve us in between his smoke breaks and running out to get butter.
- My dish was ordered with an english muffin, but they ran out (? there was one other table), and replaced it with a bagel. I really don't like bagels, unless they are the Montreal style bagels.
- Someone who works there's cell phone rang too many times for me to count, very loudly and with what was soon to become my most hated song of the day.
- The restaurant is Halal – good news to some, but not to those who enjoy wine or other alcoholic beverages. Although I must say, this is definitely going to be a plus for you Teresa! There's no pork, all the sausage and bacon is made with chicken.

Why would I go back? The woman who owns this place has obviously put her heart and soul in this dream. I'm sad that she has no prior restaurant experience – I think a lot pitfalls could be avoided. Nonetheless, it's hard not to like this place when the owner comes out and offers you more breakfast potatoes (just like being at a friend's house), gives you complementary pineapple juice, and allows you to leave without paying a cent (their debit and credit card machine had not been installed yet but she didn't let anyone know that for fear they would not eat there. Instead, she took your name and trusted you to return with the cash). Lastly, if you don't see what you want on the menu, they'll make it for you (as long as they have the ingredients).

Café International

Café International on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Maple Bourbon Glazed Scallops with Squash and Sage Orzo

I felt like I was dining at a fancy restaurant tonight. Ok, I feel like that every night. But tonight was even more so with these lovely, fresh scallops I picked up at the Whalesbone Oyster and Fish Supply shop on Kent. When I was paying for them a gentleman waiting for his sandwich asked me how I planned to cook them. I will be giving them to my husband, I said. And hopefully he'll do something with maple. Ever since I had the maple scallop appetizer at Petit Bill's a while back, I can't seem to picture them without it.

The visually striking presentation of this dish alone had my mouth watering. My husband mixed together equal parts of maple syrup and brandy (he would have used bourbon but we didn't have any so he added a bit of vanilla to the brandy to make up for it), a little bit of molasses, and some beef bouillon and boiled the mixture until half of it disappeared. Zig zags of this lovely, syrupy sauce was drizzled over the scallops and then dotted with cubes of pancetta. Simple orzo was mixed with pepper squash, making it one of the best sides I've had in a long time. A golden squash triangle gave it a radiant backdrop.

Can't rave enough about this dish. I'll be dreaming of scallops tonight and all the fantastic ways my husband can cook them.