Monday, April 30, 2007

WFD?Red Wine Braised Beef with Root Vegetables and Parsley

Danny came home the other day with two kilos of beef blade roasts that I think he may have thought were awesomely huge steaks. I took it as a hint that we hadn't had a serious meat meal in a while and was glad that it was a drizzly, gray day outside and I could have the oven on for about five hours to cook the monstrosities.
I don't cook red meat that often, but when I do, I like to keep is as simple as possible and braising is my cooking method of choice. It's so rewarding to throw a bunch of ingredients together in my cheery red Le Crueset, place it in the oven and forget about it for about four hours, only to come back and discover there's an elegant dinner ready.
This is the first time I have tried to write out a recipe as a braise is something I just tend to feel, rather than measure. I usually throw in whatever vegetables I find in the fridge, a lonely carrot, tired celery, and a wrinkled old turnip. Don't worry if you don't have a bottle of wine, either; although it adds a nice complexity, beef or vegetable stock will do just fine. One last thing, don't feel limited to parsley, as there are plenty of other herbs that would fit the bill. Parsley was just something I had to use up, but thyme, oregano, tarragon, marjoram, rosemary or sage would also be delicious. (if you are changing up the herbs, use only about 2 or 3 sprigs -even less for sage and rosemary-as they are much more potent than the humble parsley.)

Red Wine Braised Beef with Root Vegetables and Parsley

2lb blade roast, whole

1 onion, chopped roughly

4 cups root vegetables, peeled and cut into 1 ½ inch cubes, I used turnip, parsnip, carrot, potato, and celery.

4 garlic cloves

3 Tablespoons olive oil

500 ml red wine

Small bunch of Italian parsley, tied with kitchen twine

Salt and pepper

Filtered water

2 tablespoons butter, cold and cut into cubes

optional: sauted mushroom of choice

Place blade roast in airtight container. Thinly slice two of the garlic cloves, sprinkle on top and pour 1 cup of wine over. Crack some fresh pepper on it and close lid. Cover and marinade at least four hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 275F.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a Dutch oven or heavy oven-proof pot. Add onions and sauté until lightly colored while you chop the remaining 2 cloves of garlic; add garlic and sauté and other minute. Add the rest of the vegetables and seat for about five minutes on medium heat. Remove from pot and reserve in a bowl.

Remove beef from fridge and drain off marinade; do not throw out but reserve for later use.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in the same pot until very hot. Add meat to the pot and sear on both sides and edges until well colored. Add sautéed vegetables to the pot as well as reserved marinade, remaining 1 cup of wine, ½ teaspoon ground pepper, 1 teaspoon salt, and bunch of parsley. Add enough filtered water to cover everything and bring to a simmer on the stove top.

Cover and place in oven. Braise for about two hours and then check tenderness of vegetables. If soft, remove and reserve. Beef will be hard and there will be lots of liquid. Braise another two hours or so until beef is fork tender. Remove lid for the final half hour of roasting.

Remove pot from oven and strain off liquid. In another pot or sauce pan, simmer juices until reduced to about ¼ the liquid. Sauce should be dark and the consistency of heavy cream. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if needed. With sauce on a low simmer, swirl cold butter into it until melted and sauce takes on a nice sheen. Return vegetables and meat to sauce. Meat will fall apart on its own as you stir the dish together.

Serve hot with fresh parsley and a nice glass of red!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Le Jolifou

I always feel a touch of pride when I dine at Le Jolifou since the chef/owner, David Ferguson, is a friend of mine and I've watched his beautiful restaurant evolve literally from the ground up.
As I was between jobs around the time he was planning to open, I gave him a few months of work as his sous-chef and enjoyed every minute. Some describe his cuisine as French techniques with a Latin twist, but you really have to try it to understand why this place is unlike any other restaurant in town. If you like memorable, bold flavors, totally reasonable prices, and a fun, hip atmosphere, this is a place you need to try out now! I can't count how many times I have eaten there and it never gets old.

Shrimp Tempura with Avocado and Mango Curry Sauce
I had this toothsome appy and it really hit the spot; then again, I could eat pretty much any combination of mango and avocado! Toss in some jumbo shrimp and I'm sold!

Grilled Calamari with Mojo Sauce
This smoky warm salad is a burst of flavor with the intense citrus, garlic and cumin sauce coating the calamari. Just remembering it makes me hungry again.

Grilled Salmon with Balsamic Reduction, Seasonal Vegetables and Basil Tagliatelle
I'm always a sucker for homemade pasta and I am happy to report Dave's is stellar.

Veal Chop with Guajillo Chile Sauce
This was Danny's dish which I didn't get to taste, but I know he was very happy with it, especially the portion size! Guys and their meat...

Duck Confit, reduction of Sherry vinegar, with Pazole and roasted Parsnips
This is a hugely satisfying dish. The rich duck melts in your mouth and is paired nicely with Dave's pozole with a fire-roasted salsa chuck full of tomatillos, blackened tomatoes and cilantro.

The menu: Table d'hote or fixed price. So you pay one price for your main dish and an appetizer and dessert are included. Again, really affordable prices.

Lavender Panacotta

I only got to shoot one of the desserts, but we enjoyed lemon tart, chocolate and cranberry bread budding, chocolate tart, and creme brule. Not usually one to steal the show, the lavender panacotta was my dessert of choice for the evening. A smooth, simple and a perfect finale to a decadent meal.

With his laidback style and simple yet bold presentation, Dave makes it all look effortless; I, for one, know it's not. Too many places around Montreal miss the mark for the combination of affordability and titillating taste to be an easy target.
Fortunately for us, we have Le Jolifou!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Clementine and Cardamom Sorbet

I am happy to report that on Saturday we dined al fresco for the first time this spring! We were graced with glorious, sunny, warm weather all weekend, and while I know you are not looking for a weather report, I had to mention it because it was such a boost to the spirit!
It was also the inspiration for this sorbet I made for dessert.
A different take on the classic lemon sorbet, the spine-tingling sweetness of the clementines made it a complete dessert, while the delicate flavor of cardamom adds a fun dimension. Perfect for a lazy afternoon in the backyard!

Here's a head's up for all you ice cream lovers: if you don't already own an ice cream machine, you may want this to be the summer you buy one! I have decided this is going to be the summer of iced desserts and, trust me, you are going to want to join in the fun. Classic ice creams, sorbets, terrines, water ices, tortes, iced drinks, maybe even a Baked Alaska or two: it's time to use the machine every week, at least and not just on special occasions. It's going to be fun!
Tip: Ice cream machines are now much more affordable! You don't need a $2000 industrious machine for home use. I just use the Cuisinart 1 1/2 Quart and am happy enough with it (for now!) I can certainly recommend it for beginners. We'll see if it makes it through the busy summer!

Clementine and Cardamom Sorbet

Serves 6
1 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups water
1 1/4 cups fresh squeeze clementine juice (or citrus fruit of your choice)
1 egg white
6 green cardamom pods

Put the sugar and water in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. This is what we call a simple syrup, the base for most sorbets.
Crush cardamom pods, remove seeds and add seeds to sugar mixture. Cover and allow mixture to infuse for 10 minutes or so.

Add citrus juice to simple syrup and chill well.
Stain sorbet mixture into ice cream machine and churn until thick.
Whisk egg white with a fork and add to sorbet mixture. Churn another 10 minutes or until firm enough to scoop.
Scoop into chilled glasses and serve or pack sorbet into an airtight container and freeze.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Earth Day 2007

"We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children."
Native American Proverb

Happy Earth Day everyone! Are you doing your part?? Here are ten ways you can take action right now to start helping the environment. Do it!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Flashback: Okanagan Valley, 2006

When we started our decent along the switchbacks from high in the Cascade Mountains down into the Okanagan Valley, all we knew was that we were headed for a town between two lakes at the heart of British Columbia's wine country, and to the home of our friends who lived in this place called Pentiction. We weren’t expecting to gape in awe at the scenery, as we drove our rented Montana along a breathtaking wine route that wound around the lake, providing beautiful views of vineyards co-existing along the sloping hills and growing nearly right down to the shimmering, clear waters of Okanagan Lake.
In short, we never expected to fall in love with this bewitching place.

Located about five hours east of Vancouver, the Okanagan Valley stretches over 100 kilometers with Okanagan Lake at it's center. This is Canada's warmest region and one of it's premiere wine appellation, thanks to the many unique micro climates and soil types in the various pockets of the valley. One could say that this area is experiencing a boom as in the past five years the number of wineries has doubled in size bringing to total up to 132. We decided that was enough to keep us happy doing wine tours for an entire summer. Unfortunately we had to settle for considerably less than that during our two day stay.

Our cheery, enthusiastic hosts Cameron and Dana were more that happy to give us the tour around the valley where they have settled and set up their business, Joy Road Catering.
Two of the best chefs I know, we've kept in touch over the years since working together a few years ago at Toqué!

After a swim in the lake to cool us down, our friends got on their cell phone and called their contacts to let them know that they were on their way with some food and wine lovers in tow! We were in for a rare treat: a gourmet excursion along the captivating benchland known as Naramata with our own personal guides.

Danny and Noah enjoying the river-fed Okanagan lake with it's mountain views and sandy beaches.

Although wineries are predominant in the valley, plenty of orchards and produce farms take advantage of the rich terrain. The air is heavy with the scent of ripe apricots and roadside stands showcase the best of what the valley has to offer: peaches, pears, plums, apricots, cherries, and apples. This is fresh fruit at its finest, bursting with flavor and warm from the lazy suns rays.

Our van lurched along a winding driveway alongside a cherry grove and we tumbled out at Claybank Lavender Farm. We walked down a sloping hillside overlooking the lake (everything overlooks the lake here!) and into fields and fields of ripe purple lavender. Absolutely magical.

Dana's friend Pati runs this second-generation lavender farm and makes her own one-of-a-kind luxurious products for body and home. She was as pleasant as can be and invited us to pick cherries from her trees, which we were hoping she would, and gave me a bundle of fresh lavender that scented my suitcase all the way home.

Fresh cherries are amazing and all, but we were getting hungry and eager to sample some wine. So while Noah succumbed to the warm sun and dozed in his stroller, we did a wine and cheese tasting at Poplar Grove Winery. This establishment produces four different kinds of absolutely stellar cheese that are sold on site and various local markets. Also, from what I have read, many of BC's fine dining restaurants are featuring Poplar Grove cheese on their menus. Their wines weren't bad either. Miranda picked up a bottle to bring home to her boyfriend, but to be kind, let's just say he was M.I.A. when she returned home to Montreal and she drank it herself.
He didn't deserve it anyway.

View from Poplar Grove Winery

Next up was Elephant Island Orchard Wines, who's driveway carved through dense orchards scattered with Quebecers busy harvesting the fruit. (OK, maybe there weren't all from Quebec, but the word is that the majority of fruit pickers in the summer come from Quebec!) Here we found no elephant and no island, but a tantalizing selection of fruit wines: raspberry, apricot, crabapple, black currant, cherry, pear...Just reading the wine list made my mouth water. We sat in their shady garden and sample five or six. We left with a case.

This sun was sitting low in the hills as we dropped in to visit Heidi Noble at Joie Farm Cooking School and Winery.

View of Joie's outdoor kitchen

Haidi and her partner, Micheal Dinn, seem to lead a pretty idyllic life, at least one that I would covet. Hmm, let me see, own a small winery, a few orchards, a modest cooking school run out of a top of the line outdoor kitchen, and in the winter months, work on a cookbook. It was a pleasure to meet the vibrant Heidi, and we realized we had more than one thing in common: we both held the same position at Toqué, but she was there several years before I. Small world. They showed us around their charming farm and we picked ripe peaches as large as grapefruits from their trees. Look for their cookbook, Menus from an Orchard Table, coming in May. The word is out that both of our friends, Cameron and Dana, are featured in it.

Soon afterward, following a quick stop for coffee's, we said our goodbyes, thanked our splendid hosts and hit the highway toward Vancouver, where we would catch our flight home. The van was oddly quite as we watched the beauty of the Okanagan Valley fade away as the miles passed under our wheels. Soon the fast food joints started popping up on the sides of the road and we began to see all the usual signs of the approaching sprawl of suburbia.
We had experienced a rare side of Canada's natural splendor and it was going to be hard to get back to normal everyday life.
We had had a glimpse of a world where a peach tastes so good, it's the best thing to happen to you all day-and you're having a great day. A place where people care about their environment, get to know their neighbors, take pride in their land, and live life to it's fullest.

The fragrance of lavender perfumed our Montana, reminding us of where we had been.
As if I would ever forget.

Friday, April 13, 2007

WFD? Smoked Meat Sandwich with Celery Root Remoulade

Montreal's famous smoked meat on rye with a remoulade of celery root and pecans

One cannot live in Montreal for very long without devouring a smoked meat sandwich, be it from the famous Schwartz’s, or at the corner casse croute. Thanks to contributions from the local Jewish community, we have the best smoked meat in North America. If you think you’ve never had smoked meat, it’s what Americans call corned beef or pastrami and the British call salt beef, so maybe you’re just had it under another guise.

We like to buy ours straight from the butchers rather than order it in a restaurant and we’re convinced that the best in Montreal can be found at …..ready?...a small, family run place in Point St-Charles called Quebec Smoked Meat (1889 Center St. (514) 935-5297) Don’t look for a website or anything like that, this place is so old school they don’t even have Interac and operate strictly on a cash basis. It seems like the two guys behind the counter have been there forever and nothing ever changes in the store.
Thank goodness for that, because their meat is something to write home about. It’s even something to pack in your carry-on and bring home with you for visits, which I have been known to do. Who cares if I smell like a traveling Ukrainian deli?

Quebec Smoked Meat has been around long enough that Danny remembers when he was a six-year-old living around the corner and going there with his mom. Ordering is simple: two pounds of sliced smoked meat, two loaves of Kimmel (caraway rye) bread and a jar of kosher pickles. (Incidentally, that was our purchase on the way home from the hospital with two-day-old Noah. A very wise one too, as we didn’t have to cook for a few days)

Most places heap up a pile of fries next to the smoked meat sandwich, but I prefer a salad and until we start getting some spring lettuce that actually tastes like a green, my choice is a creamy celery-root remoulade. Celery root (also called celeriac or ‘knob celery’ which I kinda like but would look silly on a menu) is a relative of the humble celery that is developed for its root rather than it’s stalks. It’s pretty popular here in Quebec and local chefs like to play around with it in soups and salads, passing it off as something gourmet, when really most cookbooks ignore it as if it’s some kind of cow fodder.

The truth? It’s delicious! A welcoming burst of flavor and a much-needed crunch to my palate which has grown tired of tasteless lettuce from California. I keep it simple: make a quick julienne, a dressing, toss a handful of nuts in, and voila, the perfect side to a Medium Fat Smoked Meat Sandwich.

All I need now is a cherry coke.

Celery Root Remoulade with Pecans:

1 small celery root, peeled and julienned fine, (about 2 cups)
¼ cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
¼ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix cream and Dijon together. Season with salt and pepper; toss with celery root and pecans. Check seasoning again and adjust if needed.
Serve immediately.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

DIY: Madeleines for Easter Brunch

"Sunday was only invented so that one could brunch." Jill Dupleix

I am not one of those people who can go without breakfast; it is a very necessary part of my day and one that I enjoy whether it may be a mere bowl of meusli or the very personal breakfast in bed. Brunch is even better:an excuse to take breakfast to a whole new level, which I am more than happy to do! Open all the homemade jam in the house, chill a bottle of champagne, wait outside the bakery for the freshest baguettes possible, track down the sweetest strawberries and whip loads and loads of cream. Whatever you do, don't get stuck in a rut of sweetbreads, fruit salad and scrambled eggs. The possibilities are vast and these madeleines are a fabulous way to start any morning, especially Easter Sunday.

My love affair with madeleines began as most of my food obsessions did: at Toque! Here, one of the finest pastry chefs in Montreal introduced me to these dainty shell-shaped, lemon flavored cakes and I was smitten from the very first one I popped into my mouth. I remember he made them bite-size, using the smallest molds I had ever seen, and when they came out of the oven and he inverted the pan upside down on the cooling racks, I used to hover around, just hoping that one of those enticing little beauties would make their way into my mouth and brighten up my day. I was hooked!
Keep reading for the recipe and a few more brunch ideas...

Citrus salad with thyme is a pretty and simple alternative to a standard fruit salad. Just peel and slice a variety of citrus fruit (blood oranges look amazing), arrange on a plate and drizzle with some orange blossom water or fresh OJ. Sprinkle some fresh herbs such as thyme, basil or mint on top and serve at room temperature.

Bacon and Eggs: Soft-boiled egg on a crispy potato galette with fried lardons and apple butter

Perfect with a wedge of toast

I’ve never found any in stores or bakeries that have ever come close to those Toque! madeleines, but I have found a recipe that is worth while making. Actually, they are surprisingly easy to make yourself, but do require the special oval shaped molds with ribbed indentations know as Madeleine pans. I borrowed my pans, but I can see a trip to the baking supply store coming up pretty soon!

I think I’ll have to get the mini molds for old-times sake.

Lemon Almond Madeleines
(adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook)

½ cup unsalted butter, plus more for pans
¾ cup all-purpose flur, plus more for pans
½ cup finely ground almonds
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
¼ teaspoon almond extract
3 large eggs
½ teaspoon salt

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Set aside to cool. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours and sugar; set aside.

Add the lemon zest and the extract to the cooled butters; stir to combine. In a large bowl, combine the eggs with the salt and whisk until frothy. Whisk in reserved flur mixture to combine. With whisk, fold in butter mixture. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter 2 12-mold Madeleine pans, and dust with flour, tapping out excess. Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitter with a ½ inch plain round tip. Pipe the batter into the prepared pans, filling each mold about halfway. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until the edges of the cakes are golden brown, 12-14 minutes.

Immediately invert madeleines onto a wire rack to cool. Madeleines should be served the same day they are baked.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

So Sweet.Tres chic.That's Olive & Gourmando

Espresso Brownie from Olive & Gourmando

Just when it was starting to look like spring had sprung, along came old man winter and pulled a fast one on us. My poor bulbs are now having it out with the blanket of heavy, wet snow that completely covered the ground last night. I’ve been had, that’s for sure! I had even gotten the BBQ out of the shed and managed to christen it with some steaks and asparagus before getting snowed in, perhaps I was a bit hasty to do so.
It’s hard not to feel gloomy when your back yard looks like a giant chocolate cream pie that someone sat in-only it’s mud and snow.
Fortunately there are ways to cheer up, like hitting your favorite cafe.

It’s no secret that mine is Olive & Gourmando in Old Montreal, which I’ve been frequenting ever since it opened seven years ago. At the time, my aunt lived in the same charming area and I remember her telling me about this fabulous bakery that just opened behind her condo. It was shortly after that when we popped in to the small, modest place to check it out. There was just two tables, four chairs and a counter with a cash register, but is sure smelled like heaven and the apple-cinnamon brioche I sampled was a like none in any other Montreal bakery.
Over the years Olive & Gourmando has evolved into the hippest café in the city. It has stayed small, tripled it’s charm, and everything about it is chic, chic, chic. Fortunately the baking is just as good as it was in the beginning and they’ve added some pretty fantastic sandwiches and salads, too. Throw in an espresso bar featuring my favorite, Illy coffee, and there’s no reason to go anywhere else.

A cute local girl who enjoys her Illy cafe mocha too

Just the description of these sandwiches is enough to get my stomach rumbling. For example, Danny's favorite, Le Cubain: Ham, braised pork, homemade chipotle-lime mayonnaise, and gruyere cheese. Or my personal preference: grain-fed chicken breast with guacamole, cajun spices and fresh mango. Is it lunch time yet?

Montrealer's take their tea very seriously. O&G have a selection to rival any of our cities many tea salons and know how to present it properly as well.

As for their baked goods, it would take too long to give the credit that is due to them! I will just say that the Vahlrona Chocolate and Illy Espresso Brownies are an experience in themselves and by far the best cure-all to any winter or false spring blues.
Dyan Solomon prepared these brownies on a Quebec TV show and I was very happy to get the recipe. Here it is, translated from French.

Espresso Brownies

Chocolate Chips

30 ml (2 tablespoons) 35% cream
30 ml (2 tablespoons) ground espresso coffee
200 g (7 oz) chocolate 70 % cacao, coarsely chopped (Olive & Gourmando use Valrhona)


175 ml (3/4 cup) soft butter, cut into cubes
100 g (3 oz) chocolate, 70 % cacao, coarsely chopped
150 g (5 oz) Belgian dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 large eggs, room temperature
5 ml (1 teaspoon) pure vanilla
175 ml (3/4 cup) sugar

125 ml (1/2 cup) all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt

Chocolate chips
Bring the cream and the coffee grounds to a boil. Let infuse a few minutes and pass through a fine sieve. Dissolve the chocolate in the bain-marie and to add the cream to it. Pour on a plate covered with parchment paper and let cool in the refrigerator approximately 2 hours or until the chocolate is completely hard. Break apart with your hands.

Dissolve butter and the two chocolates over the bain-marie and mix well.Preheat the oven to 180 °C (350 °F).Beat eggs, vanilla and sugar until pale in color and light in consistency. With the rubber spatula, gently incorporate the flour and salt. Add the melted chocolate and mix delicately until batter is combined. Add the chocolate chips and mix well.Pour the batter in a buttered 9 inch square pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool overnight in the refrigerator.

Monday, April 02, 2007

B&J's Free Cone Day!

It’s coming! (This is no joke, April Fool’s was yesterday!) Get in line for free ice cream because Ben and Jerry’s are having their annual Free Cone Day on Tuesday, April 17!! It will be at their usual downtown location, 1316 de Maisonneuve Blvd W. Now for the hard decision: what kind to have? Will it be the new “Americone Dream”: vanilla ice cream with fudge-covered waffle cone pieces and a caramel swirl? Maybe“Peanut Butter Tracks” or Strawberry Cheesecake. Regardless of what you choose, it’s bound to be great.


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