Monday, June 29, 2009

the pleasures of summer...

this past saturday, oliver and i joined 16 other guests at chez eric in our hometown of wakefield for a delightful "wine by mood" tasting with billy and his partner, kato.

amongst having their hands in many other culinary outlets, the duo spends alot of their time hosting what they refer to as 'alternative wine education' experiences for both the public and trades in the industry.

billy & kato were up visiting from toronto to host a tasting at the local bookshop (solstice), and a wine dinner at chez eric here in the village. i know billy from his jaunts in and around toronto and ensure i always keep a copy of "billy's best bottles" on hand with each annual release - it's a tremendously resourceful guide to lcbo wine selection.

billy & kato's approach to wine tasting is a laid-back, casual and most of all, fun. his philosophy is that you should always drink wine in tandem to how you are feeling, and plan parties accordingly, using your mood as your inspiration. this philosophy makes sense to me - shouldn't we always sip on what we are in the mood for? his practices illustrate how to take a party from start to finish with wines that vary in texture, feel, taste, and ultimately, mood. just like you set the tone with music, you also set the tone with wine. easy concept.

although it would appear that at any time the skies would open up and we'd have to scatter inside the cozy cafe at some point in the evening (which would not be a bad idea as i absolutely love the cafe's charming interior), the weather held out and allowed us to sit beneath the trees and enjoy the early summer breeze.

we sipped, savoured, chatted and laughed for about 90 minutes over the tasting (and of course, learned a thing or two, thanks to billy's Q&A in "wine school") and then were treated to three-course dinner by the talented team at chez eric.

as daylight slowly turned to twilight, it was on to kaffe 1870 for some local music, continued socializing and oh yes, to carry on the sipping under the stars....summer is here at long last.

here's hoping your weekend was full of wonderful wine!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I think we like tomatoes...

2nd post in a row about tomato-goodness!

Lovely little tartlets that Candice baked for Monday's big event...
A delightful late afternoon snack.

Also, some fabulous baguette that we served from a bakery right next to my house, Aux Deux Frères. It is clearly worth the detour to Aylmer...

They have different treats on different days.
I have to admit to morning laziness since we moved to Aylmer - I just drag my feet to the bakery and get croissants & coffee for breakfast. They are the best I have tasted, hands down.

I sampled some heavenly 'pizza' with cranberries, red onion, walnuts & spinach (they also had classic pissaladière) and gummy-yummy-good fruit & nut breads (they even have some with sexy icing on Fridays and Saturdays). Always available are savoury breads (again, they switch up the kinds...), multi-grain, rye, sourdough, muffins, sweet treats...

-Let it be noted that I bike to work to make up for the guilt, sometimes!-


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Combining Two Wonderful Things...

Art and food. Two of my favourite things.

Last Thursday was the annual Art Auction at the Ottawa Art Gallery.
Always a great event - so much to look at and taste!

We served some tomato-basil strata, arugula and mascarpone cream, roasted cherry tomato and Bryson Farm's pak choi micro greens.

It is hard to resist temptation to steal a few bites from other restaurants or caterers, thank goodness my hands were busy... I would have easily snacked on Essence Catering's lovely shrimp skewers, or stolen some tiny pieces of fish from the Whalesbone.

...and if I had had the time (or budget!), I would have bid on a piece from Alexandre Castonguay... maybe next year!


Sunday, June 7, 2009

a taste of modern latin cuisine...

back from a weekend full of gastronomical delights in the fabulous city of montreal - a city that oliver and i are convinced, never sleeps!

with our bellies full to our heart's content, we already dream of the next visit. montreal is never boring and there is always a new foodie adventure around every corner and within every neighbourhood.

one of the highlight's of the past weekend was spending an afternoon with mario navarette jr., chef-owner-operator of raza restaurant ( raza strives to allow the history and culture of latin cuisine shine on its plates to express his interpretation of "modern latin cuisine". mario also runs a quaint bistro, called madre, which dishes ups a divine brunch/dinner menu that reflects a throwback to his younger years and his mother's cooking. (we couldn't help but scoot into madre for brunch before we left the city... the highlight dish was pork cakes -a crispy fried shell with braised pork nestled inside - sunny side up eggs, patatas bravas and fresh tomato salsa - i loved the delicious purple corn lemonade - so unique and refreshing).

as oliver and i are game to get our hands dirty at cooking experiences of all sorts, we eagerly enrolled for the carpaccio class. mario teaches these workshops out of his tiny kitchen, which he runs weekdays and weekends on off-hours, before the restaurant opens for service. what a better way to get a sneak peak and a behind the scenes look at one of the top restaurants in the city?

the website cites a group maximum of 16 for its "el taller" (spanish for "workshop"), however it turned out we were the only two students that day. i was impressed that he chose to still run the workshop even though it had turned into a private one-on-one session. lucky us!
in this class we would tackle a more interesting variation on the traditional beef dish- fish carpaccio - and that was right up our alley.

the kitchen was neat, extremely small (but perfect for a 28 seat restaurant) and clean as a whistle. for an hour and a half cooking workshop, we would each produce one dish (our own plate) from preparation to plating. for this dish, we each started with a firm-fleshed 4 ounce piece of whitefish, similar to grouper. we chose our knives and under the direction of mario, sliced ever so thinly sashimi-style pieces of fish. our knife skills definitely need work and more practice perfecting this technique, but all in all, not bad, and mario was extremely encouraging. the thin slices of fish were fanned decoratively out over a plate, dressed with a splash of oil, saran-wrapped and refrigerated, chilled until we were ready to plate.

next came the vinaigrette. minced garlic, fresh lime, salt and pepper - a small dollop of yellow pepper "paste" to add a bit of punch and flair, one egg yolk, and oil we whisked in to emulsify the mixture. taking the cold plate of carpaccio out of the fridge, we spread a thin layer of this vinaigrette over the fish - just enough to cover the top. next we used a mandolin to slice tender spears of local Quebec asparagus into thin slices and tossed these strips in the bowl with remaining vinaigrette and added a colourful medley of pickled baby carrots, red onions, jicama, some blanched and peeled brussel sprout leaves (so pretty) which were already prepped and ready from mario's mise-in-place counter. one final ingredient before we went to plate. mario brought out a container filled with a simple puree of parsnip - nothing added - pure as pure.
for some creaminess and texture, mario added a few strokes of parsnip puree atop the fish which i thought was a unique combo. using the parsnip "streaks" as height to which he ever so methodically dressed the rest of his spring salad atop - the baby carrots, pickled red onion, crunchy jicama and tender raw asparagus ribbons. the final touch was some micro greens (these were mustard greens, my favourite). et, voila! the creation, you can see, shown above.

mario gestured to us to the dining room, and opened beautiful bottle of chardonnay that complimented the buttery nature of the dish so well (sure enough, that parsnip puree worked its magic with the wine pairing - exquisite). over this delicious lunch, the three of us waxed poetic about the food scene in montreal, and i found myself boasting about ottawa's own culinary landscape - which although doesn't quite have the same vastness as montreal's - surely has its remarkable stand-outs and equally passionate chefs.

el taller is a wonderful way to experience accessible, hands-on cooking methods with one of montreal's top chefs - an experience that can be that more magical if you luck out with a private tutorial. in the end, it was not so much as what was on the plate as what we will remember most, but the conversation that flowed between the three of us and the stories exchanged. not only is mario a masterful chef, he is a gracious host - opening up his kitchen and restaurant to students, making his guests feel quite at home. we'll be back - definitely for the ceviche class which is just weeks away.

the next time you are planning a trip to montreal - check out el taller at restaurant raza for an insider's look and taste of modern latin cuisine - i guarantee you will not be disappointed!

until next time....

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

blogs we read...

Sometimes, blogs we read delightfully surprise us... with a blog entry on us!

Rachelle Eats Food is a great read. I have to admit that I went back and read older and older entries... I was so totally hooked on her honesty and, of course, enticing food pictures. I love the Tip Jar!

Funny how we connect with certain people just by reading tidbits of their lives... I feel right at home with her husband's food. It seems like they are taking pictures of dinners at my house!

Below is the entry about the Raw class this past Monday.
I wanted so very much to attend this class, luckily Rachelle took a lot of pictures! I indulged in tartare quite a bit where I used to work, it was my péché mignon (along with rillettes tartines!!!).

The Raw class was also an excuse to taste the food of one of the best chefs in the region, Scott Adams. (to me, he shares the crown with Matthew Brearly of Castlegarth...) For a few years now (hmmm, 4 years I believe!), Benny's Bistro has been my absolute favorite spot for brunch and lunch. I have been many many times, brought friends and family and never have been let down once, a sure sign of a great kitchen, best quality ingredients and passion.

So... two things. Read Rachelle Eats Food, and go to Benny's Bistro!