Saturday, November 29, 2008

Tempting Tea Bread

If you can braid hair, you can braid bread. It really is that simple, and I particularly like looking more impressive than I actually am. This sweet bread is fantastic served with tea or coffee, and if you're not a fan of cardamom you could switch it up and use cinnamon instead. Cardamom is a standard ingredient in Scandinavian baking, and for me it gives a nice warm, wintry feel to this bread. Because I don't have a bread machine due to space constraints in my small apartment, I headed over to my parent's today to make this.

Cardamom Tea Bread:
1 cup/250 ml milk
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp softened butter
3 cups/460g plain flour
1/3 cup/70g sugar
1 pkg/7g active dry yeast
3 tsp ground cardamom

1 egg white, slightly beaten
pearl sugar or other decorative sugar

Add all the ingredients into the bread machine and select the 'Dough' cycle. Remember to keep aside the remaining egg white, as you'll need it for the top. Once complete, separate the dough into 3 equal portions and roll them into 30-35cm/12-14" long ropes. Braid them together as shown in the photos.

Preheat your oven to 375F/190C. Put the braided dough onto a greased baking sheet and allow it to rise until doubled in size. This works particularly well in the warming drawer of your oven, if you have one. If not, just find a warm place and cover with a tea towel until risen.

Brush the dough with egg white to cover all exposed areas, and sprinkle with pearl sugar. Bake until golden brown, around 20-25 minutes. Watch carefully near the end, as mine turned out a little too dark this time because I wasn't paying attention.


Friday, November 28, 2008

A Pretty Happy Ending at Glenora Bistro

After the debacle recounted in the previous post, we worried the birthday celebration would have to be postponed. Luckily Court can be tenacious, and with some hard work she managed to find a place that could seat all 9 of us for that Friday night. When she let us know we’d be going to Glenora Bistro ( the name didn’t sound familiar, but on checking their website I saw that the brains behind Normand’s had revamped this place last year. As Normand’s is a favourite of us both, I was pretty excited to check this location out. It wasn’t until we arrived that I realized I had eaten here before, but several years ago before the change in management. I kept that change in mind, because my first experience here for brunch was not one I would care to repeat – and it later came out that a few of the others had had hit and miss experiences here in the past.

It's a relatively small place, and very cozy due to the soft lighting. The servers were knowledgeable, quiet, and organized. They plied us with baskets of delicious, delicious warmed French bread - hard to resist while waiting for the appetizers. Court had the Coquilles St Jacques (baked scallops in a white wine cream sauce) and found it average. I tried the Fresh PEI Mussels in a pernod cream sauce that my neighbour had ordered, which were fragrant with anise and very good; the pernod is the dominant flavour. While soup of the day (Cream of Mushroom) was a resounding success, the salad of the day (Mixed Greens with Strawberry, Tomato & Blue Cheese) would be better served in summer when the ingredients are in season, as both the tomato and strawberries looked a little pallid. For mains, both Court and I ordered the Veal Osso Bucco which is done in a white wine cream sauce; the veal shank was perfect, falling off the bone but still pink inside, and the cream sauce was very good, though in my opinion the addition of whole red peppercorns was pretty but unnecessary. The portion is quite generous, and we both struggled to finish. It was served with a side of potatoes and steamed mixed vegetables (described incorrectly as brunoise on the menu), most of which were cooked just right - the only exception being large piece of rock hard squash.

It was very difficult to decide, as there are several items on the menu that sound delicious, and all three of the daily specials were tempting. I'd really like to go back and try the Cassoulet, as it's not something I often see on a menu. The prices are mid-range, with appetizers ranging from $4-14 and mains from $16-30. There were several reasonably priced wines available, and the few sold by-the-glass were $8-9.

On the whole, everyone was satisfied. While a few choices on the menu were a bit average, there are definitely enough stand-out items to warrant a trip back.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Café Select, I Wish I Could Rate You

I am entering into a new decade of my life. To celebrate, I decided to have some close friends and family get together for dinner out so I didn’t have to worry about cleaning my house. I have been meaning to try out Café Select for some time now, and unfortunately, it was not meant to be for this evening. I did, however, want to blog briefly about the service in this situation, and see if anyone else out there had thoughts on whether it is worth trying again in the future.

Calling in on Monday morning, I knew it would be a bit of a challenge to find a table for the upcoming Friday for 8-10 people, but I still figured it was worth a try. I left a voice message early Monday and waited to hear back. No response Monday, no response Tuesday, and by Wednesday evening I was getting panicky, so I called them back myself when the dinner rush should have been mostly through. I spoke with a young woman who told me she thought they could swing it around 7:30, and I was very excited. She added that they include gratuity in the bill for groups that large (no problem), and that they impose a $25 minimum charge on the weekends because “otherwise you can get big groups in that all drink water.” Um, last time I checked you were free to drink whatever you wanted at a restaurant. I understand the idea, but was just a bit put off by being told that. I had no idea if anyone in my group might be on a budget, and I generally assume that menu pricing covers costs as necessary. I was told that she needed to confirm the availability with her manager and would call me back that evening. As I am sure you can guess given my frustration, I did not get a call back. I called them Thursday morning and left the standard “no one called me back, I am disappointed, if I cannot be accommodated at this point it is going to put me in a very difficult position to find another place” message. I called back again Thursday around five - after still hearing nothing - only to be told by the manager that they were fully booked and had been for weeks.

I do take a certain portion of the blame, knowing that even calling on a Monday is a bit late for this size group on a Friday night, but I do expect that if a restaurant has a message saying to leave your reservation request, that you will get your call returned promptly. The manager did offer to help call around to find another place after I mentioned I was high and dry for my birthday, but I was so ticked off that I declined. To add insult to injury, after I spent majority of the next morning thinking of alternate locations and finally booking one. I got a call from a woman at Café Select confirming my reservation.

Now I ask you: Have you been to Café Select before? Did you experience such difficulties? Is it worth me getting over this and trying again?


Do You Need a Chef's Knife?

When I first moved out, I got a knife set that was very basic. They looked fine in my apartment, sitting on my counter in the block they came in. There were many sizes and types, all which I used interchangeably (based on what was in my dishwasher). A few years later, after taking a cooking class where the chef went on about choosing a good chef's knife, I thought, I will ask for a good knife for Christmas and see if it makes a difference. Now I have three decent knives, and I only use the ones in the block when none of those three are available.

Having a good knife makes kitchen work go much more smoothly. No longer do I worry when cutting the skin of a tomato that I will just squish the insides all over. Neither do I worry as much about cutting myself. That might seem a bit contradictory, but if you have a sharp knife, it is more likely to cut your food than slip and cut you instead. Finally, there are items that are just too difficult to cut with a dull knife that a good sharp knife will have no problem with. I can cut through frozen meat and a seriously firm squash with no problems.

I started with a Victorinox that was bought for me by a friend. It is a nice large chef's knife, but it is still quite light, which makes it easy enough for me to work with. Life was good with my chef's knife for a while, but then I went and read Kitchen Confidential by chef Anthony Bourdain, where he claims that the only knife you need is a Global chef's knife. Well, he went on in such detail that one had to find it's way into our kitchen. I admit, I do love it. Would I give up my other knife? No way! I use my knives so much that I often dirty up more than one making a meal (and don't want to stop part way through to do dishes).

Recently, it seemed that almost everyone I know was looking at santoku knives. Apparently they were necessary! Off I went to the store to get myself one. I tried a number and chose a J.A. Henckel version, again, because it had a good weight in my hand. Yes, like the other two, I didn't know how I had been living so long without owning this knife.

What brands and types of knives will work for you will depend on what feels good to you, but I would certainly recommend that anyone who likes to cook regularly will benefit from a reasonably good knife. I have had someone stay at our house that has then said they hated cutting things when they returned to their place after using our knives. They can be a bit of a pain, because you have to hand wash them (and I don't hand wash anything else), and they need to be sharpened regularly, but they are totally worth it.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tzaziki is Greek for Delicious

I love Greek food! I love souvlaki and spanikopita and Greek salad and Greek roast potatoes, but most of all I love tzaziki. My favourite tzaziki at a restaurant is from It’s All Greek to Me, a little restaurant on Rice Howard Way and Jasper Ave that I used to have lunch at when I worked next to there. I actually got them to sell it to me in containers for a little while, until I learned that the reason it tasted different was because it had sour cream in it. Since then, I have updated my own tzaziki recipe to be as close as possible, and can have delicious homemade tzaziki whenever I like.

1 cup of Greek yogurt
¼ cup Sour Cream
½ cup grated cucumber
pinch of salt
1 clove garlic finely chopped
some dill finely chopped

When buying Greek yogurt, sometimes I go to the Greek food store that is just west of 124 st. around 111 Ave, but more often I just get the stuff in my local grocery store that is called Balkan yogurt. To start you must “sweat” the yogurt and sour cream. Basically you just put it in a fine strainer over a bowl and cover with cling wrap then sit it in the fridge. If yours is metal, you may want to line it with cheesecloth or it will drip through. This plastic one works like a dream. Ideally you want to sweat it for eight or more hours. If you start it in the morning before running off to work that is great. If not, I have been known to cut it down to an hour if I am struck by an intense craving. It will just impact the consistency. Some people will like it a bit less thick anyway.

With about 30 minutes to go, grate the cucumber. I use an English one, because you don’t have to peel it and I like the green colour. Regardless of which kind you use, quarter it lengthwise and take out the seedy bit. Sprinkle the pinch of salt over it and put it in the refrigerator so that it too will release some of its liquid. This step is a good one to do before you worry about getting the main part of your meal going. Letting it sit for more than 30 minutes is fine, just cover it if it is going to be much longer.

Put the reduced yogurt and sour cream into the dish you are making the tzaziki in. Press the cucumber to get rid of as much liquid as possible (I press it between stackable glasses, or use my hands) and add it to the bowl. Throw in the garlic and dill and mix. Done!

I fully encourage you to play around with the amount of each of the ingredients, as the results will not be altered much if you adjust to taste. I like mine to be very strong and garlicky, but if you would like it to be milder, put in less sour cream and garlic and it will be more like what you get in other restaurants. It is nice to warm up your pita bread if you have picked it up from the grocery store. Don’t get the thin stuffing pitas; get the nice thick bread-like Greek pitas.

This is a great appetizer, or I make it to use as a tasty condiment for Greek potatoes or souvlaki or to eat with my spanikopita or even perogies. It will keep pretty well for a couple of days, but some liquid will rise to the top. Drain it off or just mix it in.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Not Quick but Easy Mushroom Risotto

Now that winter is here all I want to do when I get home is curl up with the internet and something delicious, warm, and rich. This is one of my winter staples, and is a simplified version of one of Delia Smith's recipes. Today I've used a 50/50 mixture of oyster and button mushrooms as that's what I had, but usually I just use regular button or crimini. It takes about an hour all together; it's worth it! And who doesn't love having risotto without having to do any of the usual stirring?

Mushroom Risotto:
3-3.5 cups/200-225g chopped fresh mushrooms - any kind
1 medium finely chopped onion
3 tbsp/60g butter or margarine
2 cups/500ml vegetable or mushroom stock
200ml white wine
1 scant cup/175g arborio (risotto) rice
salt & pepper
2-3 tbsp fresh grated parmesan

Preheat your oven to 300F/150C, and place a shallow 1.5 litre baking dish in to heat up. First, chop up the mushrooms and onion. Melt the butter in a medium saute/fry pan and add the chopped onion. Cook for around 5 minutes over medium-low heat, then add the mushrooms and stir. Keep the heat low and let soften for 20 minutes.

Add the rice and stir it in, then add the stock and wine plus 1 tsp salt and some ground pepper. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Transfer the contents to the warmed baking dish and place uncovered on the centre shelf for 20 minutes. Then, stir in the parmesan and put back in for another 15 minutes.

This serves 2 generously, or up to 6 as a side. If you want fewer dishes to clean, just use an oven-safe saute/fry pan and pop that in the oven to cook - that's what I usually do when I'm not concerned with having a fancy dish to serve it in.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Misoyaki Mahi-mahi

As Billingsgate Seafood Market ( was celebrating their 100 year anniversary this week, I stopped by on Saturday morning to check it out for the first time. I didn't try any of the tastings they were offering, but Court went by after lunch and said their Lobster Bisque was fantastic. I'll probably go more often now that I know they carry some of the harder to find things I've been looking for, like salmon roe and sashimi-grade fish (for those days when I don't want to make the trek to T&T). The prices were reasonable too; the mahi-mahi fillets were around $5 for 2 fillets.

This dish sounds - and tastes - a lot more complicated than it is. I make this quite often as it only requires 3 ingredients and works with any white fish as well as chicken and pork, and it doesn't hurt that it's super quick as well.

Misoyaki Mahi-mahi:
2 x 110-140g/4-5oz mahi-mahi fillets
1/4 cup mirin (or 1/4 cup sake + 1/2 - 1 tsp brown or white sugar)
1/4 cup white (light) miso

For the marinade, mix the mirin and miso until combined. If you're using sake + sugar instead of mirin, make sure to dissolve the sugar in the sake first before combining the miso so t
hat the texture of the marinade stays smooth. Cover the fillets with the marinade and cover with cling film or put in a sealed bag for a few hours (or overnight)... or if you're like me, 30 minutes - because I usually decide to make this when I'm already hungry! While it marinades, start on the salad.

Preheat your broiler and wipe the marinade off the fillets. Put the fillets in the oven
and watch them - it usually takes around 5 minutes each side. Today I've made this in the oven, but for chicken and pork I usually cut the meat stir-fry-style and use the stovetop to fry over medium-high heat until just cooked.

Sesame-Orange Spinach Salad:
2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1/2-1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp mirin or sake
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
1/2-1 tsp soy
1 tsp sesame oil (optional)
sesame seeds to garnish
fresh or tinned mandarin orange segments, about 3/4 cup or 1-2 oranges

With a mortar and pestle or food processor, grind the sesame seeds and sugar together to make a paste. Add the mirin, vinegar, soy, and 4 mandarin orange segments and grind together, adding sesame oil if desired. If you're using fresh rather than tinned oranges, remember to remove the skin on each segment. Dress the spinach and add the remaining mandarin orange segments to the salad; garnish with sesame seeds.


4th and Vine is Devine!

Brooke and I found ourselves with nothing exciting to do on a Friday evening recently, and so we decided to go out on a dinner date together. I had been to 4th and Vine ( a couple of times when I lived beside Oliver Square, and once with our dinner club, and this last time there a few of the other gals tried the duck salad and raved about it. I decided we needed to go back and try it for ourselves.

4th and Vine is a small wine bar and bistro in the Oliver Square area. They have a large wine selection, with choices by the glass or bottle, and they offer wine flights as well if you want to try some new selections. They run tastings on Tuesday nights, and show movies on Sunday evenings. I am dying to go to one of the movie nights; it would be an excellent choice for a slightly more refined version of the standard dinner and a movie date. It also works well for dinner with the girls before going out if you are heading to a near-by local such as Hudson’s (across the parking lot) or the Druid (a few blocks south). Going there still feels like you are going out for dinner downtown, but with more parking.

Each time I have visited, the food has been well above average, to the point that when a menu item gets removed, I can be left a little disappointed (until I try something new). Price wise, it would be mid range, with Tapas and Appetizers typically running at $10-$12, and Mains topping out at $26. The restaurant has nice ambiance. It is long and narrow, so you feel like you have a bit of privacy seeing as patrons only run about two tables deep, and there is lots of candlelight, giving it an air of romance. For those of you like Brooke and I, who enjoy wine, but are not sommeliers by any stretch of the imagination, each menu item has a suggested wine pairing from the list of wines by the glass. If you don’t want to try the suggested wine, the wines by the glass offer more selections than most restaurants, and are ordered based on body (red) or dryness (white).

On this visit, we arrived knowing very well what we wanted to have, and so after a few minutes of pretending to consider each of the menu selections, we ordered two duck salads. When they arrived I had a momentary fear that I might still be hungry after eating seeing as the salad is not a giant overflowing bowl of greens like most main course salads. It is an attractive arrangement with the salad piled at one end of a rectangular plate, and the duck and a mustard condiment artfully arranged off to the side. Do not expect a full duck breast. Ours came with three slices of a duck breast each. Given that duck is fairly fatty meat, it seems like plenty once you get eating. Add to that that the salad was filled with decadent treasures such as goat cheese, peppered pecans, sun dried tomatoes (as well as a sun dried tomato vinaigrette), and blackberries and you will understand why it ended up being more filling than expected at first glance. When we got the salad, we thought it had dried blueberries as opposed to blackberries – perhaps it was a substitution? This salad alone warrants a special visit.

We strayed from the wine suggestion and went with a white wine instead, just to suit our taste that night, not because we thought it would be a superior pairing. It was nice, and wasn’t too bad of a match seeing as we were having salad as opposed to a full duck main course.

To wrap the evening up, we considered the dessert menu, but decided instead to split the Baked Brie Tapa. For $12 I was quite impressed by the amount of food we got. The brie was wrapped in phylo and served warm and melty with a side of apple, pear and kiwi slices, dried mango pieces and some dried blueberries. In my mind, mixing pastry with cheese and dried mango is pretty much the equivalent of heaven in my mouth. There was plenty for us to share.

The service was good in that it was barely noticeable. Our food arrived in a very timely fashion, and no one pestered us by repeatedly asking how things were while we had our mouths full of food. No one made us feel rushed after dinner while we chatted for a while after the bill came. Everything just seemed so smooth that we concentrated on our dinner and visiting as opposed to the staff, and in my mind that is perfect service.

All in all the visit was excellent and I will certainly be returning.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Easy Chocolate Mousse

Tomorrow evening I am having a couple of girlfriends over for dinner since the hubby is on night shift and won’t be home. I will be working during the day, so I need to think about making things that are either fast or can be made in advance, or both. It’s a pretty safe bet that girls will like chocolate, so I am going to whip up some easy Chocolate Mousse this morning that I can pull out at the end of dinner with a flourish and then sit back and listen to the oohs and ahs as everyone feels spoiled with a rich (but light tasting) chocolate dessert. Chocolate desserts go great with girls, wine, and visiting!

I like this dessert because it is fast, easy, only requires two ingredients, and can be made in advance if you have people coming over. You can make it with any kind of chocolate you like. I usually go with either white chocolate or dark semi sweet chocolate. Don’t try to make this low fat by using half and half - the mousse won’t turn out as nice. It is dessert; it’s going to be a bit indulgent.

Chocolate Mousse:
6 squares of bakers chocolate (any kind you like)
1 ½ cups whipping cream

Combine the chocolate squares with ¼ cup of the whipping cream and microwave for 1 minute on high. Give it a stir and then microwave it for 30 seconds to 1 minute more. If you chop up the chocolate it takes a bit less time. If it is not melted fully after the second minute, just stir it until it has melted. Let the melted chocolate sit for about 20 minutes or until close to room temperature.

Whip the remaining 1 ¼ cup of whipping cream and fold it into the cooled chocolate mixture. If the chocolate mixture is still quite warm, give it some extra time or the whole thing will curdle, and you will be very disappointed after smelling delicious melting chocolate to not get a nice mousse to eat in the end. Refrigerate for two hours.

There are lots of fun ways to fancy this up. You can pour it into little ramekins or pretty glasses. You can top it with chocolate shavings or berries or drizzle sauces over it. If you really want to put in some additional effort you could make dark and white chocolate mousse and layer them like a parfait. I have even made mousse cake using my spring form pan with an oreo cookie crumb crust, a layer of the dark chocolate mousse, and a layer of the white. If you are having a family style dinner, I like to make a batch in a trifle dish and just let people help themselves. Yum!