Nothing quite like blueberries and lavender to wake one out of culinary hibernation

July 10th, 2007

Internet, I don’t even know where to start, it has been way too long. Life is resuming some level of normalcy; we moved, we are unpacking, we are exploring the new neighbourhood, we are furniture shopping, we are shopping for a BBQ, but most importantly, we are cooking and eating in our new home (and yard) and enjoying it all.

Given the moderately warm summer we’ve been having, dinners seem to revolve around salad. Every year I almost forget just how much I enjoy the bounty that summer has to offer! The market every Saturday is an exercise in self control because I have to remind myself that it’s only the two of us and we won’t really be able to finish eating all the fruit and vegetables that I would like to buy (there is nothing that bothers me more than food that goes to waste).

This weekend was no exception, with strawberries, blueberries, and cherries everywhere, it was hard to make choices. I selected delicious juicy blueberries with the thought that they would be a good accompaniment to a pound cake that I was baking for a picnic. And indeed they were, a simple lavender infused blueberry syrup worked very well with the loaf of pound cake.

This quantity was sufficient for 8 generous slices of pound cake, but could easily be served over plain yoghurt, cottage cheese, ricotta or anything else you please.

3/4 cup of water
1/2 cup of sugar
4 tsp dried edible lavender flowers or 2 tbs fresh edible lavender flowers
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 pt of blueberries

Bring water and sugar to boil, stirring periodically until the sugar has dissolved. Once completely dissolved, remove from heat and stir in lavender; let steep for 30 minutes (if using fresh flowers, steep for 40 minutes). Strain syrup to remove the lavender buds. Stir the blueberries and lemon juice into the syrup and serve.

I will be posting pictures of the culinary adventure that I experienced on a recent trip to China. Stay tuned.

Disappearing Act

March 14th, 2007

We promise, this is not a permanent thing, we have legit excuses. We have both been out of the country on business and are now faced with the fun task of packing our belongings in preparation for a house move. We have spent the last few days questioning, among other things, the rationale for holding on to things like commemorative shooter glasses from first year university residence. How does one manage to accumulate so much stuff? While I plan to keep every copy of Food and Drink magazine that I have collected over time, I’m not sure if we need to keep every publication that makes its way into our home, food and wine related or not. And this coming from a person who has mistakenly believed that she had no pack-rat ways about her. As if…

Needless to say, we have not done any cooking, and meals have consisted of supermarket sourced soups, salad, humus, other dips and the like. I am very much looking forward to getting back to homemade dinners, perhaps some baking, and of course some related blogging.

Back Again

February 18th, 2007

The last few weeks of non-blogging definitely represented an unintended hiatus. There was a little vacation in the midst of it all, but the rest of the non-blogging time was spent at the office.

We had a wonderful nine days in Paris. January proved to be an excellent time to visit; limited number of tourists, few to no queues to get into the major museums, perfect 10 degree Celsius weather for lots of walking, and the overcast skies just made it all the more romantic.

There was of course lots of “gastro-therapy”, some new restaurants, one much dreamed about, and some old favourites, and in between those meals, there were large numbers of macarons consumed. We will try and blog about this, but don’t even know where to start at this point. Photos and details to follow…

Amused and then some…

January 27th, 2007

To celebrate my birthday earlier this week, Mr. Vin de Table surprised me with dinner at Amuse-Bouche, a place that had been on our list to try for sometime. The cosy little restaurant has warm red walls, and is on a quiet neighbourhood street and has the perfect ambience for a dinner for two, especially on a wintery January night when you can watch big fluffly snowflakes fall outside. The two owner/chefs do classic French cuisine with just enough of a tropical twist to make sure that you are paying attention to every bite.

We opted to try a seven course menu degustation, and we waited with anticipation for every course. There was everything from scallop carpacio to butter poached lobster. One of our favourite courses was seared foie gras with a miniature sticky toffee pudding – heaven on a plate. The main course was a perfectly seared duck breast with a beet and bitter lemon ravioli. Dessert was a creative rooibos panna cotta served with a rooibos jelly, along side a lemon cream macaron.

Another first for us was that we took in our own bottle of wine. The laws in Ontario were changed in 2005 to allow for restaurant patrons to “bring your own wine”, and restaurants are allowed to charge a corkage fee. It always seemed awkward, how do you carry in the wine? how do you know what wine to take, given that you don’t know what you will be eating? This time, we thought we would try it with a bottle of Champagne, figuring that we could eat just about anything with it. The servers just took our bottle from us, along with our coats – there was no awkwardness at all. We will definitely do it again.

In addition to the delicious meal, the service was courteous, very knowledgeable and friendly. This restaurant will now be added to the list of places in the city that we would like to go back to.

96 Tecumseth Street
Toronto, Ontario

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

January 15th, 2007

I probably make more soups in January and February than I do in the rest of the year combined, I’m going to blame it on the weather. This is a “curried” take on one of my favourite vegetables.

This is a very hearty soup; it serves 4 as a first course.

1 butternut squash, cut into one inch cubes (give or take)
1 vidalia onion, chopped
4 cups of low sodium chicken stock or vegetable stock
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tbs olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil over medium high heat, add onions and sauté for about five minutes, until softened. Add the squash and the curry powder and cumin, sauté for another five minutes, ensuring that everything is well combined. Pour in the stock, add more if necessary to make sure that the squash is covered. Bring to a boil then reduce and simmer for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, the squash should be very tender and even mushy in parts. Remove from heat and puree in a blender or use an immersion blender. Add salt and pepper to taste. I stirred in a teaspoon of clarified butter to give it a delicate richness, or you could add a dollop of creme fraiche or leave it by itself.

The sweetness of the squash and the onion are off set by the complex curry flavour (I used Sharwoods hot curry powder). It all paired nice with a Riesling.

Happy New Year (belatedly)

January 7th, 2007

We started off the new year plagued by router problems, hence the delay in wishing you a happy and prosperous 2007!

Wireless network problems aside, we spent a wonderfully relaxing holiday season, not to mention a delicious one, and are now rejuvenated for the year ahead.

We are fortunate to be surrounded by good bakers which meant that I did not need to bake anything this holiday season; instead we were able to enjoy the friuts of everyone else’s hard work. From our sisters came ginger snaps and shortbread, and marzipan fruit and animals, suitably devoured by those of us who can eat our body weight in marzipan. My mother and grandmother made many family favourites, including butter horns, cashew crescents, traditional Christmas cake and my absolute favourite, Kul-Kuls. I found the recipe on the internet, but someday, I will have to get my mum and grandma to give me their secrets.

For three days leading up to Christmas, our kitchen was awash in a sea of red, nothing is more festive than cranberries popping over a hot stove. I made homemade cranberry jam for everyone, and cranberry sauce to go with the Christmas turkey (a cinch to make, with sugar and water and bag of fresh ocean spray cranberries).

As a great suggestion from Chocolate and Zucchini, of all the new things we tried this year, here is our Best of 2006 list:

Best Meal (local): George, close second would be Celestin.
Best Meal (international): Tragabuches, Ronda, Spain, close second would be Cal Pep in Barcelona
Best Sparkling Wine or Champagne: Krug (NV), close second would be Dom Perignon Vintage 1998
Best Wine: Chateau Cantenac 2001 (there is a story to this one)
Best New Kitchen tool: Cuisinart hand-held blender (not sure how I survived this long without one)
Best New Cookbook: Thomas Keller’s French Laundry. I was fortunate to receive 3 great books this year, and the other two deserve an honourable mention as well: Alain Ducasse’s Flavours of France, and the formidable, Larousse Gastronomique.

One of our goals for 2007 is to do more blogging, you’ll have to tell us how we do.

5 Cup SaladKul KulsIMG_0749.JPG
Christmas Cake with an Angry SantaCranberry Sauce being madeIMG_0795.JPGBay of Fundy Smoked SalmonMarzipan Animals & Fruit!New Year's Eve dinner with Dennis & Sophie

Merrry Christmas Everyone

December 25th, 2006

It has been a busy month, a month that will take several posts to adequately describe, so we promise to get started very soon. There have been many great meals with friends and family, some adventures in our own kitchen, and needless to say, some great wine!

One of the many things that we love about the month of December is that despite the hustle and bustle of it all, it really gives you the chance to reflect on what is important and how much there is to be grateful for.

I’m sure it has been said millions of times today already – our wish is for peace for all humankind, and for those who celebrate, Merry Christmas!

French Women for All Seasons

December 12th, 2006

Thanks to the gracious invitation from GP, I had the opportunity to meet and have my books signed by Mireille Guiliano, the writer of the best selling book French Women Don’t get Fat. Madame Guiliano was in town last week for the launch of her new book, French Women for All Seasons which, if it is anything like her first book, is bound to be a winner.

She was extremely articulate in speaking to the crowd gathered around her at a local bookstore. Being President and CEO of Veuve Clicquot Inc, the Veuve flowed freely through the evening (a very nice treat at a book signing, I must say), and there were delectable hors d’oeuvres to accompany the Champagne. She talked to us about what it took to pull her second book together, and also about the feedback she has received on her first book. She humourously noted that her French friends disagreed with her publishing “their” secrets, but now that she has, there is no going back. She has the good fortune of splitting her time between New York and Paris equally, but admits that the food/work/life balance is somehow a bit more within the reach of the average person in Europe versus North America. She also reminded everyone not to bother buying tomatoes this time of the year, it’s just not worth it.

I look forward to burying myself into her latest collection of recipes, secrets and general life lessons, it will be a perfect treat over the holidays. If you are interested in any inspiration regarding food and managing the balance between sustenance and pleasure, I would highly recommend these books to you.

It has been a while…

November 21st, 2006

It amazes me how time seems to fly by sometimes, and I have nothing substantial to show for it. I wonder if everyone has that same feeling. I can not believe that Christmas is but a month away, and now like every year, I vow that I will be more organised than the previous year… cards will be written and mailed early, gifts will be purchased early, and never again will I drive around to six different supermarkets to buy sugar to make treats on December 23rd. I will let you know how I do this year.

Over the last couple of weeks we have buried ourselves in work and have hunkered down, because the cold weather is here. The only bright spark food wise over the last few days was dinner at Restaurant Celestin in Toronto. The chef/owner, Pascal Ribreau was written about in this local publication, which of course got us curious enough to take a night off work and try it out. The food was delicious, the ambience was quiet and romantic and it was exactly what we needed. I ate lobster that was positively sublime. It was poached in butter, and every bite just seemed to melt in my mouth. Mr VdeT was predictable in his menu choices (if you guessed foie gras, you would be right), and enjoyed everything immensely. Dessert probably deserves a post by itself, but suffice it to say, leave room, you will not regret it.

In staying in and keeping warm, I have wandered farther afield in the blog world too. I just started reading this blog, which will become a staple (thank you TR for pointing this one out). I have gone back to some old stand-by’s as well; having read this one since the start, I only just realised that there is a small section entitled Cooking, and having eaten more than my fair share of those cupcakes, I commend that and her other recipes to you.

For those of you south of the border, celebrating Thanksgiving later this week, if you need any last minute help for dinner, Megnut has done an amazing job of pulling together all the best recipes. Happy Thanksgiving to you, and to everyone else, happy buy nothing day on Friday…I wonder if that means food too…

Roasted Beets

November 12th, 2006

Being vegetarian was easy for me because there was nothing vegetable based that I would not eat, except for beets! Must have been some suppressed childhood experience, but I would never go near the things. A couple of years ago, someone recommended that I try them pickled; I usually love anything pickled, so decided to buy a small jar of pickled beets from the supermarket. They were good, but you know, you could not really taste the beets, just the delicious pickling components, so it still never felt like I was over my dislike of beets. Recently I got it in my head that I had to conquer this general distaste, and figured roasting was a good option and if I still could not eat them, thankfully Mr VdeT has no aversion to them whatsoever, so they would get consumed.

Well the solution is roasting! The beet flavour is favourably enhanced and the richness fills each mouthful with goodness. I roasted the beets, cooled them thoroughly and served them over mixed greens, it made for an excellent autumn salad.

This quantity was sufficient for a salad serving 6.

6 medium beets, peeled and cut into 6 wedges each.
Toss beet wedges in your favourite salad dressing, just enough to coat evenly. I made my own vinaigrette with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and a tablespoon of honey as the emulsifier. The honey is the key ingredient because it helps the beets get caramalized while roasting. Once tossed with dressing, put the beets in a single layer of foil; cover with a second layer of foil and close the ends, forming a pouch for the beets. Put this in a roasting tray into a 400 degree oven. Roast for 25-30 minutes, then remove the top layer of foil and return to the oven for 10-15 minutes. Watch carefully because they can burn easily, especially given the honey component to the dressing. Once you can pierce them easily with a fork, they are ready to be removed from the oven.

I used the same dressing on the beets as for the salad that I served them with; greens, dried cranberries, roasted walnuts and crumbled goat cheese. Given that as of this week, Canadians can once again buy US grown baby spinach, I would recommend the robustness of spinach as a great salad base for your beets.

If you have not already seen it, I would recommend the new Food TV Canada show called
Ricardo and Friends
(new for those of us outside of Quebec). Ricardo does some mouth-watering recipes with a focus on locally grown ingredients; he also has energy and enthusiasm that you can not help but enjoy watching.