Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Artist Formerly Known as Russell

"Rez-on-8", 12x24, Mixed Media, John Wimbush

He’s back and better than ever! Right now food takes a rare backseat as I shamelessly use UtHC to reach you all and give my dad’s wicked awesome art a plug. I can’t help it! He’s putting out some great stuff and these pieces are from his recent exhibit at the Smithers Art Gallery. Click here to view the gallery’s website and nine amazing pieces from my dad’s collection. Hey, I get a commission if I sell any, so take a good look and decide if your home deserves an original John Wimbush.

"Hatian Fight Song", 24x48, Mixed Media, John Wimbush

(Why is he formerly know as Russell? Ah, that is a long story for another time. )

Friday, January 26, 2007

50 Things To Eat Before You Die

When I ask people in their Foodie Facebook interview the question about their last meal and what they would order, I always get a wide variety of answers. Some list a dish they associate with a favorite memory, some list their dream meal, and others merely go with the last great meal they remember eating. Obviously and naturally, people have very different ideas as to what a last meal should include, and so I was curious when I came across a list of 50 Things To Eat Before You Die that was put out by the British BBC as a result of a nation-wide poll they did.
What a bizarre, disjointed, mess of a list; however, it gets one thinking!(I’ll expound afterward)

Now before you go thinking that all this “...before you die” stuff is kind of depressing, do consider that it’s merely a way of earnestly encouraging a person to carpe diem and live a little. I’m sure you’ve seen the books like “Places to go before you die” and so on….
It is a suggestion of things that one must absolutely try in their lifetime, and if you live your life letting others tell you what to do, this is a list for you! Ouch! J/K.

While the list is no longer on the BBC website, I had no trouble finding it on the web, and so, with no further ado, here it is.
Oh, one more thing: the items I have NOT eaten are in Bold. Have you eaten everything??

BBC’s 50 Things To Eat Before You Die

  1. Fresh fish
  2. Lobster
  3. Steak
  4. Thai food
  5. Chinese food
  6. Ice cream
  7. Pizza
  8. Crab
  9. Curry
  10. Prawns
  11. Moreton Bay Bugs
  12. Clam chowder
  13. Barbeques
  14. Pancakes
  15. Pasta
  16. Mussels
  17. Cheesecake
  18. Lamb
  19. Cream tea
  20. Alligator
  21. Oysters
  22. Kangaroo
  23. Chocolate
  24. Sandwiches
  25. Greek food
  26. Burgers
  27. Mexican
  28. Squid
  29. American Diner breakfast
  30. Salmon
  31. Venison
  32. Guinea Pig
  33. Shark
  34. Sushi
  35. Paella
  36. Barramundi
  37. Reindeer
  38. Kebabs
  39. Scallops
  40. Australian Meat Pie
  41. Mango
  42. Durian
  43. Octopus
  44. Ribs
  45. Roast beef
  46. Tapas
  47. Jerk chicken/pork
  48. Haggis
  49. Caviar
  50. Cornish Pasty

So, as you can see, the list varies greatly from the hugely vague (Chinese FOOD) to the very specific (Australian meat pie). You can’t just sum up an entire ethnic cuisine like that! And if one could, it’s a little sad that all we need to try is Mexican, Chinese, Greek and Thai.(You can tell where the British vacation!) What about Italian? Spanish? Eastern Europe? Moroccan? Skip them?
They left out a lot of my favorites, too, like bagels, maple smoked bacon, wild strawberries, and cherries picked right off the tree. Heck, there isn’t a single fruit or vegetable on the list. It’s pretty sad.
50 things to eat before you die should be just that: things. A dish or one item, a specialty of a country, but not their entire cuisine. For example, New York Pizza or Thai Green Curry.

Hmm, I would love to write my own list, but I would never presume to know even 1% of all the fantastic dishes to eat all over the world, never mind pick the best ones. It’s not a bad goal, though. Travel around the world and taste the top five dishes of each country. Mmmm. Now that would be a list worth publishing.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

DIY: Vietnamese Hot and Sour Soup

You can Do It Yourself! Vientamese Hot and Sour Soup

There is nothing like a plate or a bowl of hot soup, it's wisp of aromatic steam making the nostrils quiver with anticipation, to dispel the depressing effects of a grueling day at the office or the shop, rain or snow in the streets, or bad news in the papers.”
Louis P. De Gouy, The Soup Book (1949)

Yesterday was minus 15 and snowy. Inspired by an old recipe my sister, Haidi, sent me a while back, I whipped up a Vietnamese noodle soup and it turned out to be the perfect antidote to the weather. It’s incredible how a bowl of soup can be the most comforting, soul satisfying thing. With a fully belly of soup and after a one hour massage from Sandra at the Concordia Physio Center, I was about as relaxed and content as can be!

Sometimes creating an Asian style soup can be a daunting task as the list of ingredients is often long and usually requires various exotic, unattainable ingredients. This recipe is different; it’s so easy to make, I had to share it with you. If you haven’t yet tried a recipe from UtHC, this one is a perfect start. Feel free to play around with the vegetables, substituting bak choi or jullienned carrots for bean sprouts or whatever your fancy. Of course, the shrimp can be left out completely if you wish for a vegetarian soup.

Vietnamese Hot and Sour Soup

2 teaspoons oil

2 tablespoons minced shallots

2 stalks lemongrass, trimmed, cut into 3 inch lengths and bruised lightly.

½ lb mushrooms, thinly sliced, button or shitake

1 ½ teaspoons sugar

5 cups water

½ lb shrimp, peeled, deveined, and sliced lengthwise in two.

5 tablespoons fish sauce

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

¼ lb flat rice stick noodles, softened for 30 minutes in warm water and drained

1 ½ cups bean sprouts

½-1 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or ½ teaspoon Thai chili sauce


1 cup diced tofu

½ cup green peas


Sliced scallions

Chopped cilantro

Wedge of lime

Heat a heavy pot. Add oil and heat. Add shallots and lemongrass and stir fry lightly. Add mushrooms and sugar and stir fry for about 1 minute. Add water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 10 minutes. Add fish sauce, noodles, peas and tofu, if using. Bring to a boil again and add shrimp. Simmer 2 minutes more while you call everyone for supper. Discard lemongrass, add bean sprouts and chilies.

Serve immediately. Top with scallions and cilantro and serve with lime wedge.

Note: If you don't serve this soup right away, the rice noodles will absorb most of the broth and you will be left with a tasty (but soggy) noodle dish!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

WFD? Citrus Duck with Thyme Crêpes

What's For Dinner? Sour Citrus Glazed Duck Breast with Watercress in a Thyme Crêpe.

This was inspired by the traditional Peking duck wrap with Mandarin pancakes and Hoisin sauce that I had a wedding last summer. This dish just kind of evolved from a few things I had on hand and turned out to be a nice fresh mouthful, transporting us momentarily away from the snow and ice.
Thanks to Bobby Flay of the Food Network for the crêpe recipe.

Sour Citrus Glazed Duck Breast

2 14-16 ounce boneless duck breast halves, rinsed and patted dry

4 Tablespoons Sour Citrus Glaze (see below)

Preheat oven to 450F.

  1. Score skin of duck breasts in a crosshatch pattern and season with salt and pepper.
  1. Place breasts skin-side down in a cold skillet. Place over medium-high heat until most of the fat has rendered and the skin is dark golden brown, 5-8 minutes. Pour off fat, and turn duck breasts, meat-side down. Brush skin with citrus glaze.
  1. Place duck in oven and roast about ten minutes. (or until the thickest part reaches 125F) Brush with glaze a few times during the roasting period.

  1. Remove from oven, remove from skillet and let rest on a wire rack for ten minutes. This is important to allow the meat to reabsorb some of the juices. If you slice into it right away, you will loose flavorful jus! Cover to keep warm. Your duck is now ready for slicing.

Sour Citrus Glaze:

2 cups fresh orange juice
1 cups fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

Place the juice, garlic, fennel and peppercorns in a medium saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until reduced to 2 cups. Strain the sauce into a bowl and let cool to room temperature.

Thyme Crêpes:

2 large eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated black pepper
2 teaspoons dried thyme
3 tablespoons melted butter

Butter, for coating the pan

In blender, combine all of the ingredients and pulse for 10 seconds. Place the crepe batter in the refrigerator for 1 hour. Heat a small non-stick pan over high heat. Add butter to coat. Pour 1-ounce of batter into the center of the pan and swirl the spread evenly. Cook for 30 seconds and flip. Cook for another 10 seconds and remove from heat. Lay them out flat so they can cool. Continue until all the batter is gone.

Now you can add the filling and serve, or refrigerate for a later use. They also freeze well.

To Assemble:

Brush crêpe with a little citrus glaze. Add a few springs of fresh, washed watercress, several slices of duck and an orange segment. Fold crêpe and serve immediately.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Top Ten Ways I am Making Every Day “Earth Day”

“It doesn't feel hotter to me.”
— George W. Bu

New Years Resolution 2007: Reduce My Ecological Footprint.

If you talk to anyone out there, they will admit they could be doing more to save the planet. An overused phrase, yes, but after watching Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, it took on a new meaning. While I am certainly no expert in this area (that’s my brother-in-law, Kevin) I can still educate myself and make more of an effort to be environmentally friendly.

Here’s how:

  1. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. I’ve always been a fan of 2nd hand stuff and always recycled of course, but now we are getting really serious. We’re recycling stuff like batteries and donating unwanted household items to charity instead of pitching them. We also got a second recycling bin for glass, metal and plastic so we don’t just recycle the various newspapers and flyers that come to our house.
  1. Cloth Diapers instead of disposable. These just use water, a renewable resource, and some biodegradable soap to stay clean and don’t contribute a thing to landfill. Here’s an article you MUST read before deciding to use disposable diapers, which highlights that they are in fact NOT disposable and are a leading contributor to landfills. I love my cloth diapers; not only are they eco-friendly, but they save us a ton of money and are better for Noah's bum as they don't have all the chemicals in them that disposables have.
  1. Push-Reel Lawnmower. In one hour of operation, a conventional gas lawn mower (two-stroke) pollutes as much as 40 new cars. Just imagine how much pollution is being created in a typical suburb on a summer weekend! I love our quiet, pollutant-free push mower and it’s great exercise too!

  1. Reusable Shopping Bags: Bringing along reusable cotton bags for groceries and errand running.

  1. Biodegradable Soap: both dish soap and laundry detergent. Fortunately, these have become easier to find and much more affordable in recent years. We like the brand Biovert.

  1. Composting: I compost kitchen scraps, leaves, and grass trimmings. This, combined with recycling, cuts my garbage output by 50% and helps fertilize my garden, too!

  1. Energy efficient light bulbs. Compact fluorescents use around 70% less energy than a regular bulb. This is an easy way to save energy for anyone. Just remember this – we learned that they burn out quite quickly when used with dimmers.

  1. Energy Saving: Using cold water to wash clothes to reduce hot water usage and by using a clothes line in summer. Also keeping thermostats lower and wearing a sweater instead of cranking the heat (which Danny always chides me for doing).

  1. Less a Car/Walking: Owning just one car for our family and leaving it at home more often for errand running and market shopping.

  1. Buying locally grown produce…in order to support local farmers and also eating more fresh, organic foods, which aren’t sprayed. According to climatecrisis.net the average meal in the US travels 1,200 miles from the farm to your plate. Buying locally will save fuel and keep money in your community. Also, frozen food uses 10 times more energy to produce.

Interested in making some changes also? Visit www.climatecrisis.net/take action

Monday, January 15, 2007

Foodie Facebook: Cameron

Cameron with girlfriend, Dana, in one of the Okanagan's many cherry groves

Pentiction, BC, Canada
: Chef/Owner Joy Road Catering

  1. What is your earliest childhood food memory? My mom made me a Darth Vader birthday cake once. That was pretty cool.
  1. What did you eat today? An almond and chocolate croissant, a plain croissant, a plum doughnut and tea for breakfast. For lunch I had steak tartar with fries and a warm spinach and poached egg salad. For supper, Swiss fondue; feta and roasted Portobello salad with sherry-braised shallots, and for dessert, lemon almond polenta cake.
  1. What will your kids never be allowed to eat? Spammy white bread and margarine
  1. What do you always have on hand in your fridge? Grainy mustard, farm fresh eggs
  1. What is your beverage of choice? Organic beer
  1. If you could have dinner with anyone in the history of man, who would it be? Ernest Hemmingway
  1. Ok, it’s your last meal ever, what do you have? Oysters in the half shell, foie gras torchon, steak tartar, and cheese course.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Flashback: Thailand, 1999

Koh Phan Ghan, Thailand. Eight years ago

We’re looking for the perfect restaurant.

Darkness has fallen by now. Here, halfway around the word from home, and closer to the celestial equator than I have ever been, I search the sky for familiar patterns in the stars. I don’t find any.

A group of us walk along a muddy road, following the lights of the guesthouses and bars that line the beach for miles. It’s been three days of nonstop rain on this island and no boats can get in or out. I exasperatedly wrote in my journal this morning:

“72 hours of solid torrential rain. Ok, I’m impressed. Can you stop now?”

With nothing to do but sit in our guesthouse restaurant, watching the rain carve channels in the sand, we’ve formed friendships with the good folk we are now stepping out with. Since we’ve tried everything on our menu, it’s time to venture out in search of something new, and tonight’s break in the rain is the perfect chance.

A giant mud puddle yawns in the road before us and I can’t even make out the other end in the darkness. Joe offers me a piggy back ride and I accept, since my brother Josh has already veered off into the jungle and is bush-whacking his way around the puddle. That’s ok. We’re only two weeks into our three month backpacking trip together and I can tell I am going to have to look out for myself.

Joe is a tall, tanned Kiwi who’s been traveling for months with his girlfriend, Andrea. They’re giving New Zealanders a good reputation with their easygoingness, big smiles and charming accents. We met up with them a week ago in Bangkok and have been having a blast touring temples, snorkeling, watching Thai boxing and eating out together.

Two British blokes make up our party of six: Churchy and Snaksy. I don’t think I know their real names-or their relationship to each other, for that matter. Both are thirty something’s, always ready with a joke for the occasion, and speak what I imagine to be Cockney. Snakesy, the short one, never takes off his cutoff jean shorts, rain or shine, swimming or sunning, and perpetually has a fag lit. Churchy, the tall one, seems to be the more educated of the two and likes to rag on Snakesy.

From three different countries-different continents for that matter-we are united by a love of good food and that is our quest tonight as we stop and peruse a menu posted in a bamboo case on the side of the road. Down a windy path, the lights of the restaurant beckon and I can smell ripe pineapple.

“Nope, not this one” I declare, after a quick look at the menu.

“Look, they have hamburgers and Wiener Schnitzel”.

Obviously the place couldn’t be authentic Thai if it is catering to the tourists so blatantly.

We pass pub after pub, place after place and we’re starting to get hungry. There’s the unspoken feeling that this is our last night together and we’ve become better friends than we thought we would. Tomorrow the weather will be calm, the ferries will be able to cross from the mainland and we will be off, each to our different destinations. This meal had to be memorable. A feast. We would order Som Tam (green papaya salad), Chicken with Red Curry, Pork Satay with Peanut Sauce, Fried Rice with Veggies and Cashews, Coconut Curry Shrimp with Thai Basil, Fish Soup with Vermicelli and Sweet Potatoes, Curry Prawns with stir-fried Baby Corn and Lime, and mounds of sticky rice.

Finally, just as certain members are starting to mumble about “buggerin’ off” under their breath, I see it. The perfect place. A large thatched roof bungalow rimmed with swinging lanterns. Guests seated outside, at low tables that are scattered amid the trees on the shoreline where the willows meet the sand.. The sign says it all: “ The Nice Place for Your Nice Time”. The menu sends shivers up my spine and I announce that this is IT.

No one argues. I think they are all to hungry. What time is it anyway? Nearly eleven. Wow. No wonder we’re starving; we’ve done more walking tonight than in the past three days.

A bowing waitress escorts us to our table and I can hear the THUD of coconuts dropping around us. This small island exports about one million coconuts a year; it’s biggest industry after tourism.

As we take our seats, which are large pillows on the ground, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed with the beauty of the moment. The surf gently laps the shore just a few yards away. The moon is rising over the South China Sea and it’s reflection is splintered by the waves. Strong, gnarled trees seem to grow right out of the sand and form a canopy over our table. A few lanterns swing above us in the night breeze, illuminating a couple sitting a few tables away. They sit close, their heads together over a bowl of rice. They don’t talk, but just look into each others eyes. I think of Danny and wish for the millionth time that he was here with me.

I’ve just remembered, it’s Valentine’s Day.

Our menus arrive and I cheer up. We order drinks. Singha beer for the guys, fresh pineapple juice for Andrea and I. The food sounds amazing and I can’t believe our good fortune at finding a spot like this. The blokes have cheered up too and the jokes are rolling. Josh looks tired, his contacts are probably bugging him.

A long way down the beach, firecrackers pop and explode in the air from a nightclub. Laughter drifts down the beach and I can hear the pulse of Thai techno as a Valentine’s party gets under way. People certainly know how to party here; I can see them in the light of the moon, flocking to the club from all over the beach.

It’s taking a long time to get our drinks and Joe jokes that we should have brought a pack of cards. All we’ve done for the last three days is play Butt hole and sip lemongrass tea.

A shy, bowing, young Thai man finally comes out to take our order. He kneels on one knee next to our table and smiles and nods about 50 times as we painstaking relate ALL our dishes to him. When we fold our menus, he stands up quickly to collect them.

Too quickly.


He bashes the back of his head on a low branch and drops (‘Like a sack-o-potatoes’ said Churchy, later) onto the sand.

For a few seconds we all stare in disbelief, and then immediately feel stupid for not responding, as two restaurant staff come running and kneel next to him. He is conscience, but hurting, and they gently carry the man inside.

We sit in stupefied silence for a while. I have the horrible urge to giggle and hate myself for it. Then we talk in low voices, fidgeting with our drinks, wondering how he is and what happens next. It’s not long before we find out.

A lovely, but distraught looking Thai lady approaches our table and in her broken English explains that the restaurant is closing and we have to leave.

“ No food” she says.

Puzzled, we enquire after the health of the waiter and discover that he isn’t a waiter, he is the cook, and that he may not be cooking again for a long time. Since they no longer have a cook, they can no longer serve food, and that is that.

It’s like a bad joke, but we have no choice but to leave. As we collect our things, I see the poor man, lying on a bench just inside the bungalow. He has a bandana wrapped around his head and he’s pale.

No one feels like walking around anymore -or even eating for that matter- so we drift down the beach in the direction of the party. We’ll get in line for a plastic cup of the popular party drink, a ghastly combination of whisky, Coke and Red Bull, join the throng of all-night revelers, and will probably make some memories of a different kind tonight.

I don’t know if we did or not. I don’t remember.

Editor's Note: "Flashback" is a new feature on UtHC, relating travel stories, memories and wisdom from past experiences. Where are we going next? Turkey. Maybe the Yukon.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Stuffed, Italian style

Best Wishes to Nick and Josie! January 7, 2007

After all the feasting over the holidays, we faced our upcoming friend'’s Italian wedding with a mixture of resignation and eagerness. I had heard from an Italian chef friend about the large amounts of food at an Italian wedding, but I wondered to myself if he was exaggerating, and was confident I would probably do just fine.

We were both right.

Danny and I attended the wedding of Nick and Josie last Saturday and this was probably the most lavish wedding we have ever been to! There was so much food, excellent food, it was almost like being in a dream that you don'’t want to wake up from. Ok, maybe you don't have those dreams..

It all started when, immediately upon entering the ballroom, we were invited to a gorgeous buffet of appetizers. Large dinner plates were provided, and they filled up alarmingly fast as the band serenaded us with the theme from the Godfather.

The buffet was memorable.

Huge rounds of fine cheese with strawberries; platters heaped with prosciutto and smoked salmon; large whole smoked trout; deep dishes of calamari, marinated bocconcini, roasted eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, pearl onions, artichoke hearts and peppers; an Asian section with imperial rolls, deep fried shrimp, dumplings and a whole sushi table; shrimp several ways, cooked right in front of you; sausages; and more that I can recall.

Everything was in abundance, everything was the perfect temperature and it was all superb.
We were very, very happy.

Shortly after, the seven course meal started. Here is the menu:

Antipasti of Cantalope, Basil- Marinated Bocconcini, and an assortment of Italian cold cuts: Mortadella, Capicola, Soppressata, and Prosciutto.

Duo of Pasta: Florentine (spinach and ricotta) Roll with Rosé sauce

Farfalle in Tomato Sauce

Spinach and Mandarine Salad with Raspberry dressing

Lemon Sorbet

Veal Chop with Wild Mushroom Sauce, whipped potatoes, yellow and green beans, roasted red peppers

Seafood platter of Calamari, Shrimp and Mussels (breaded and deep fried)


Chocolate Porto shooters

Again, it was all fantastic. We were starting to get full after the sorbet and gulped a bit when we saw the size of the veal chop. It was one of those pieces of meat that, no matter how much you eat, it doesn'’t seem to get any smaller! But it was tender and delicious and I made a valiant attempt to conquer it.

The last bit of light, creamy tiramisu was scooped up around 10:30 and as everyone churned and writhed on the dance floor to the likes of JT’s 'Sexyback'’ and Madonna'’s '‘Hung up', the ever-busy staff started assembling the midnight buffet. Mama Mia.

Danny was starting to look a little weary and so we hit up the coffee bar for an espresso (for him) and a cappuccino (for moi) and then joined the line for the buffet. It'’s amazing how an hour of dancing can whet your appetite for even more food.

This buffet was a beautiful thing. We'’re not talking cheese and crackers here, folks!

Smoked meat with the fixings, more of those Italian sausages, pasta with seafood, an enormous 8 foot cold-cut sandwich, more cheeses and marinated vegetables, a mountain of fresh focaccia, too many cakes and tortes to count, platters and platters of cookies and Italian pastries, a chocolate fountain with about 20 kilograms of beautifully presented fruit for dipping, and trays of perfect looking cannolis. Oh yeah, and wedding cake.

Once again, I am embarrassed to say, I had a full plate.

Vive la Italia!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Le Beaver Club

Assortment of breads, among them the famous Beaver Club banana bread

I used to think that my dream job was to be a food critic, but the more I eat out, the more I realize that it wouldn't be as glamorous as I imagine. I get the feeling one would have to eat about ten mediocre dishes before coming across one great dish. Not a good ratio.

I recently ate at the Beaver Club, one of Montreal's long established fine restaurants located in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. It was my first 'hotel' dining experience and, as I expected, it was quite different than what I am used to.

This place is seeped in tradition, and who can blame them? It's worked for decades, so why change a thing? The hotel itself is famous for it's "John Lennon Suite" where John and Yoko chose to have their "Bed-in for peace" in 1969...You've seen the pictures. I got the feeling that some of the staff may have even been around for that long, too.

I'm glad the restaurant, in all it's old-school ways, does well, but it was not for me.

So, how do I put this? I would never go back; especially in a city like Montreal where excellent, affordable restaurants abound. Places where you don't feel like you're seated in the dining room of a cruise liner, waiting for the captain to walk by. Fun, cheerful restaurants where you are not constantly distracted by the heavy traffic flow caused by the constant passing of the cheese cart, the dessert wagon, the chateaubriand chariot, and various other trolleys whose purposes were unknown to me. With all the tableside cooking going on, one wonders what's left for the actual kitchen staff to prepare. Don't get me wrong, though, I appreciate how the Beaver Club still keeps up these seriously dated formalities.

I did enjoy certain aspects of my meal, as you will see in the notes and pictures to follow, and I also noted that the staff were warm, professional and helpful. It was curious that there were no female wait staff (save the sommelier) and I don't think any of them were under age 50. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but you start to wonder if you are eating at your grandparents favorite restaurant.

One of the most delicious dishes of the meal, this artichoke capuccino was served as an amuse bouche shortly after we were seated. Warm, creamy, and with plenty of mild artichoke flavor.

Pan-seared foie gras: a dish I know well, having cooked on average about 15 kilograms a week at Toque! This was delicious with the red currant sauce that accompanied it and the foie was just the way it should be: crisp on the outside and melting on the inside. I was also please with the portion size.

My main course: roasted sea bass with vegetables. The fish was flawless, fork-tender and buttery, with a nice crust that comes from patient pan-roasting. The vegetables were a meager, dried up, sorry accompaniment of over-cooked white asparagus, mashed beets and bland, crispy green beans. I was expecting a little more, considering the $45 dollar a la carte price tag on this plate.

I was happy to see a bowl of whipped cream come with the sugar tray for the coffee. How decadent! Dessert, usually my favorite part of the meal, is up next!

This tray arrived with the coffee, consisting of sugared grapes and an assortment of chocolates that tasted about as good as a bad box of drugstore bonbons.

Coffee is brewed at the table in an old fashioned, pressurized, copper steam pot. This was entertaining, especially for the guys. Fun contraption, but the coffee tasted ordinary and I would have much preferred a cappuccino or espresso; in my opinion, the only way to finish off a rich meal.

The biggest disappointment of the night: my dessert, a trio of creme brulé served in egg shells. I think they were pistachio, praline and mocha-or something- I only had a small spoon of each as they were the most cloying, disgusting, over-flavored custard cups I have ever encountered. Creme brulé should be delicately flavoured and gentle on the palate, where these bad boys could have held their own for nine rounds.
I sent them back.

In case you were wondering, the bill was about $560 for six of us with two bottles of lower-priced wine. Fortunately, my brother-in-law works at the Q.E and we got a discount! While their prices are certainly indexed to 2007, the food is a bit behind the times(dessert especially).

Probably one of the highlights of the night, and also the most bizarre, was several chunks of dark flavorful banana bread served in the bread basket. Perhaps more suited to a Sunday brunch menu, but nevertheless, there it was and we ate it up. I was able to locate the recipe, thanks to it being published in the Gazette, and according the hotel's pastry department this is the one that goes back decades.

Not that I ever doubted that.

The Beaver Club's Famous Banana Bread

Makes 2 loaves

1 pound (about 4), bananas, peeled and very ripe
2 1/4 cups sugar
7 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
3 1/4 cups flour
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 275 degrees F and set the rack in the middle of the oven. butter and flour 2 loaf pans.
Combine the bananas, sugar, baking soda, and salt, and blend at high speed in a blender for one minute. Pour the mixture into a bowl and mix in the eggs one at a time. Blend in the flour alternately with the buttermilk and oil, and beat the mixture for two minutes or until smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 21/2 hours.
Note: For a rich banana flavour, be sure to use very ripe bananas and bake for the full 2 1/2 hours. This banana bread improves with age and can keep for several days.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

New Years and Caramel Corn

Happy New Year!

We brought in the new year at a friends place and (I never thought I’d say this) it was great not to host!
This year, I had vowed not to overdo things, since last year I exhausted myself with a New Year's Eve party AND a New Years brunch, not to mention caring for a newborn.Uh.

I remember clearing scads of wine glasses off my table at 3 in the morning -just a fraction of the clean-up- and thinking I had to be up by 7 AM if I wanted to shower before getting started on the two different kinds of scones I was making, among many other things.

Never again!

So I made a few batches of caramel popcorn and brought that to the party. It was a hit and the high sugar content fueled people with more energy for dancing.

Caution: it’s highly addicting!

Caramel Pecan Popcorn

1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup kernels
2 tablespoons plus 1 ½ teaspoons canola oil
2 cups pecan, lightly toasted
2 cups brown sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
2 teaspoons pure vanilla
½ teaspoon almond extract
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda

  1. Preheat oven to 250F. Butter 2 rimmed baking sheets; set aside. Place corn kernels and oil in a large pot over medium-high heat; cover. Once kernels begin to pop, shake pot frequently; when popping slows to about 3 seconds between pops, remove from heat; uncover. Transfer to a large bowl. Add nuts and toss.
  2. Cook sugar, butter, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring, until it reaches 255degrees.
  3. Remove from heat. Stir in extracts, salt, pecans, and baking soda. Pour over popcorn mixture; toss to coat. Divide between baking sheets. Bake, stirring occasionally, 1 hour 20 minutes. Let cool on wire racks. Popcorn can be stored in airtight containers up to 1 week.


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