Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Death by chocolate

Posted by Bonita

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It was Andrew's birthday this past Saturday, but since we were on vacation, I had to postpone his birthday cake until we got back to his place in Manitoba. But more on the cake later...

After a whole week out on the road, it was definitely nice to be back to a home-base with a kitchen at my leisure. Alas, my brother's kitchen is certainly not as well-stocked as the one at home. In fact, I had to lug along with me a big box full of my own equipment, gadgets and ingredients to Manitoba. If I could have lugged the whole kitchen, I probably would have! But chefs have to make do with what they have in the kitchen, and thus I too must suck it up and live with what I have at hand.

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Living in a small town, there's often not a lot of choices to pick from. I certainly just can't go downtown to gourmet shops to pick up some great meats and veggies, unlike back home with the Byward Market. We did pick up some nice steaks yesterday, and I thought it would be nice to add some spark to the steaks rather than the regular steak spice my brother uses all the time. Stopped by the liquor store to pick up a bottle of brandy, and I was all set to make Steak au Poivre. I used Ina Garten's recipe, and the only thing I changed was I added some sliced mushrooms to the sauce (since Andrew's a self-confessed hobbit) and substituted a small onion for the shallots since we were all out of shallots. The sauce turned out nicely, although next time I might add a bit of cornstarch solution to the sauce at the end to thicken it a bit more, but that's just personal preference.

As for tonight's dinner, I picked up some shrimp and arugula from the store yesterday, and since my brother had a couple of tomatoes lying around in his fridge, I thought I'd try Pasta with Shrimp, Tomato and Arugula. The sauce smelled absolutely divine while I was cooking it over the stove. I also feared that I might have overcooked the shrimp, but everything was perfect in the end. The family seemed to enjoy it, so I guess my job was done here!

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Now for the cake. It should be no surprise by now that both Andrew and I are huge chocolate lovers. And while I love chocolate, my love for it usually just stands with chocolate candy. Not to say I don't like chocolate cakes, cookies and desserts...I do! But nothing beats chocolate candy for me, and if there are other dessert choices besides chocolate, I'm apt to try something else. Andrew, however, is a chocolate lover through and through, so what could be better than making him a Double Chocolate Mousse Cake? And what could be better than Chocolate Mousse Cake? Add his favourite fruit inside...raspberries!

This cake is based on the recipe from La Tartine Gourmande. Instead of making individual-sized cakes, I made an 8-inch one. First, I made the cake layer and let that cool down. Then I layed a layer of raspberries and blackerries, after which I covered the berries with the dark chocolate mousse. Unfortunately, since the recipe is based on individual portions, I didn't have enough mousse to cover all the berries. I actually ended up doubling the mousse recipe and it STILL didn't cover all the berries. At that point, I had also run out of cream, so I had to wait until the next day to finish the cake.

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After a quick trip to the grocery store the next day, I finished the cake, except this time I decided to make a layer of milk chocolate mousse. When ready to serve, I decorated the top with fresh raspberries, shaved chocolate and dusted it with cocoa. The cake turned out really nice. The sides were a bit sloppy in some places since I didn't have those plastic cake sheets so I had to plastic wrap my cake pan instead. Otherwise, the cake didn't turn out too bad, and the family enjoyed it! I just love how this cake looked in the end. It really is my first "professional"-wannabe cake. Happy (Belated) Birthday Andrew!!!

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Escape from the city

Posted by Bonita

One of the good things about travelling is the fact that you can try new food. One of the worst things about travelling is the fact that you’re eating out pretty much all the time.

With Calgary expanding like there’s no tomorrow these past few years, it’s no surprise that there will be a few dozen upscale restaurants to choose from. After sifting through a few guide books and online guides and reading reviews, we decided to try The River Café when we were in Calgary last week, a quaint little restaurant located in Prince’s Island Park and features Canadian regional cuisine.

To get to the restaurant, you have to park your car back in the city, and then cross a bridge over to Prince’s Island Park. After a short walk, you’ll find the restaurant tucked away in a corner, surrounded by beautiful pine trees. The interior of the restaurant is nicely decorated, giving off a cozy, homey, cottage-like feel, featuring lots of woodwork and natural décor. The River Café was already packed when we got there, and even though we had already booked our table the day before, we still had to wait a bit at the bar for our table to be ready. But once seated and given our menus, all was forgotten as we lost ourselves in the very impressive menu choices, as well as their daily specials.

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As a starter, Andrew and I shared the Fish and Game Platter, featuring Native Candied Trout, Rabbit Rillettes, Salt Cured Bison, Pork & Game Terrine with Brassica Mustard and Crabapple Jelly, Smoked Rainbow Trout, Grilled Apple Turnip Relish and Red Onion Marmalade, all served with House Made Crackers. The platter looked beautiful, but the food was even better! The crackers were very yummy. My personal favourites were the Smoked Rainbow Trout, the Pork & Game Terrine and the Native Candied Trout (my favourite of all!!!). The sweetness of the jelly and the saltiness of the grainy mustard really enhanced the flavour of the terrine, while the sweetness of the candied trout was just right, not too sweet and the smokiness of the trout was absolutely beautiful. And while I did originally cringe when eating the Rabbit Rillettes (for personal reasons), I have to admit that it did taste good. Although it’ll probably my one and only time I’ll ever eat rabbit!

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My main course was the Wild Pacific Spring Salmon, cooked to perfection (medium heat) and served over a bed of barley and spring vegetables, including bitter greens and fiddleheads, and topped with tomato and feta chutney. The fish was absolutely delicious, and the chutney complimented the fish very well. A really nice, light summer dish!

For dessert, I had the Chocolate Beet Cake, served with a White Chocolate & Toasted Cocoa Nib Ice Cream and Apple Cider Sabayon. The cake was rich and decadent, and the ice cream balanced the chocolate cake very nicely. It was definitely one of the nicest meals I’ve had in a while.

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What I loved about this restaurant was that it features fresh Canadian ingredients, many of them organic. The atmosphere is great too, making you feel like you’re in the wilderness. The restaurant really celebrates what nature has to offer to us, both regionally and seasonally, and I think that’s a great philosophy. Service was great too! Just be sure to book a table, as this place was packed and a continuous stream of customers kept on coming in, even by the time we left (9:30 pm!). This is certainly a gem of a restaurant, which changes its menu every month, and is a great place to escape the chaos of the city without actually leaving the city.

Name: The River Café
Address: Prince's Island Park
Cuisine: Seasonal Canadian
Price Range: Dinner $60-80
Accessible: Yes

Friday, 8 June 2007

The Gastronomical Side of Business Trips

Posted by Andrew

Depending on the type of business trip you might take, your experience with meals abroad can vary. Time (or lack thereof) can be a factor, as well as the cultural/social variety and sophistication of the place you're visiting. Even what your business host might provide you can be a factor as well. My previous business trip in March took me to Morden, Manitoba, and not meaning to put down this pretty little town, but the dining selection was understandably a bit more limited and more "local" or franchise in nature. This week I got to go to Quebec City for the CIP conference, and here my experience was much richer (both in dishes offered and the prices one has to pay for them).

Again, with my being in the heart of Quebec's tourist area the fear of running into culinary tourist traps came back to me a bit. Furthermore, with it being a heavy tourist area I was anticipating that the cost of meals would also be higher here than in many other tourist areas across Canada.

Saturday, June 2
After landing in Quebec mid-afternoon I found myself trying Aux Anciens Canadiens for dinner within the old city walls, a restaurant that features traditional French Canadian cuisine. The lobster bisque was creamy and rich in flavour, while the game pate was neatly balanced by the carrot compote (preserve); however, I thought that the preserve might have been a bit on the sweet side. The main course was the "Coureur des Bois", which consisted to two feature items: traditional tourtiere (a Quebec-style meat pie) and stewed pheasant & buffalo. There was also a tomato and fruit salsa on the side which had a similar flavour to ketchup (then again, even the waitress called it a "tomato and fruit ketchup", only it was chunky so that I considered it as a "salsa"). The flavouring of the stew was a bit on the bland side, but the tourtiere was decent. For dessert I had a maple syrup tart, which, as much as I do love maple syrup, I thought unfortunately was too much on the sweet side.

Aux Anciens Canadiens definitely gives one a glimpse of traditional French-Canadian cuisine, something that one may not find as easily now in the big cities due to its historic and even rustic nature. Set meals are available, but portion sizes for especially the main course dishes are larger than average.

Sunday, June 3
For lunch I landed myself outseide the old city walls at Louis Hebert along a section of the Grande Allee lined with a whole slew of restaurants and eateries. The cream of onion soup was velvety and full-bodied, while the smoked salmon platter, with some baby greens and a light dose of capers, was a delight; this dish has got me inspired to try making a salad dish when my family visits me shortly. Set menus are available.

That night I went to the Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP) reception at Le manoir Montmorency, and there for dinner was a pleasant buffet for all. Some of the savoury dishes I can remember include a shrimp and scallop ceviche-style salad, smoked salmon pieces (yep, not just thin slices), pate with caramelized onions on crostini, smoked salmon sushi-inspired rolls (with nori, cream cheese, dill & pickles) on crostini, various terrines, including one sprinkled with apricots, and a whole bunch of cakes, tarts and cheeses. The reception certainly helped boost my first impression of Quebec hosting the CIP conference.

Monday, June 4
CIP provided a lunch of various sandwiches and wraps with potato salad. For dinner though, everyone was on their own, so a fellow UW classmate, a friend of hers and I finally found a sports bar west of central Quebec to watch Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals and have dinner as well. It was small and looked like a hole in the wall, definitely catered to the locals. Surprisingly though, their Sicilian pizza was quite good and was reasonably priced between the three of us. It was also nice for the bar to provide Polar Bear shots to everyone in the bar on the house whenever Ottawa scored.

Tuesday, June 5
Lunch was provided again by CIP, sandwiches and croissant sandwiches offered as well as an artichoke salad. That evening was the CIP Awards Gala, which meant dinner would be provided as well, and CIP certainly made sure we were well fed. For starters I was given a plate with baby greens and two slices of what looked like brie or camembert with something sandwiched within each slice. It turns out that somehow slices of smoked salmon were wedged into the camembert; I can definitely recall that I grinned from ear to ear and chuckled in delight. The main dish was duck breast in red wine sauce and cranberries with cauliflower and wild rice on the side. The dessert was disappointingly a bit weak, with the surface of the creme brulee a bit undertorched.

Wednesday, June 6
Once the CIP conference was over around lunchtime I found myself a place to grab a quick lunch at Paillard, a bakery, sandwich shop and ice cream shop all rolled into one with an interior decor that is reminiscent to Williams-Sonoma and sort of reminds me of some of the sandwich shops I've been in London, UK. Sandwich selection is a bit limited, but I'd prefer quality over quantity. I had myself a nice toasted chipotle chicken focaccia sandwich with a bottle of British ginger beer.

For dinner I went all out in my indulgence at Le Saint-Amour (needless to say, at ~$130 my wallet took the biggest hit here as well). Quebec is well-known as a major producer of foie gras (duck liver), and this restaurant apparently prides itself in specializing in foie gras. For starters I was provided with an amuse-bouche of a thick tomoto coulis with sundried tomatoes and a whipped parmesan topping, all put in a tall shooter glass. The flavouring was rich, and the acidity of the tomatoes definitely got my appetite going. My appetizer was bluefish carpaccio sprinkled with mandarin and tomato pieces, drizzled with lemon juice and dressed with layers of smoked Sockeye pieces, chopped avocado and snow crab on turnip (daikon) medallions). The bluefish was delicate and was not overpowered by the flavours of the ingredients, including the smoked Sockeye.

The main course was very lean caribou in Sarawak pepper on a bed of creamed potatoes flavoured with wild boar bacon. Half a roasted peach sat on the caribou and provided a pleasant twist in the medley of flavours. Of course, I had to try the foie gras here and so ordered a seared slice of it to accompany my main course. It was 80g of gastrononmic heaven melting in my mouth! I'm sure my arteries will never forgive me for this, but I just had to try it, and how often can you eat such a delicacy in Brandon?! Come to think of it, I don't remember the last time I had a foie gras product, be it a pate or the pure thing.

For dessert I ordered something called the Royal, which came in two parts. On one side was a cake-like feature with raspberry coulis and a chocolate wafer base with Italian Garanaja chocolate ganache and two shredded coconut crisps on top. The other part of the dessert was a mini coconut ice cream scoop resting in a dark chocolate ganache taking up the bottom third of the tall shooter glass, the remaining two thirds filled with raspberry coulis. The dessert had just the right touch of sweetness partly in thanks to the bitterness of the dark chocolate.

Le Saint-Amour has a very limited set menu selection, but if you really want to indulge on their speciality, foie gras, you'll have to order a la carte.


For more of my Quebec adventures beyond the food realm, please visit here.