To a food critic

For 38 years Joanne Kates was the food critic for the Globe and Mail. Growing up Kates’ weekly restaurant reviews kept me entertained despite the fact she was writing about places I wasn’t likely to ever visit. Although it was difficult to pick one, the review of Aria is a strong representation of her writing style. It is a demonstration of the skills she honed during her long career. This review is a classic example of her no-nonsense style of writing that aims to give the reader a clear a picture of the restaurant as possible.  Some key aspects of the writing style stand out as indicators of an engaging and informative review. She references “research”, gives detailed description of food and integrates comparisons between other restaurants, as well as relating these to her own past experiences.

Joanne Kates’ “research”, comes from her habit of visiting each restaurant more than once. This is an attempt to ensure the restaurant’s consistency and form a fully analysed opinion of her experiences. Descriptions of food may seem to be an obvious feature to include, however, I want to emphasize the quality of description. When something is good, you as the reader, might feel your mouth beginning to water at the descriptions of the delicious meal. On the other hand, if the food was terrible or subpar the reader is equally engrossed in wondering, just how bad can it really be? This is not simply an accounting of what was eaten but the emotions that went along with the meal. As someone who has had occasional meals that left me speechless and totally lost in my meal, emotions are important.

Finally, comparisons between the restaurant in question and others which may be similar (or in this case related to) allow readers to get a better sense of the type of food as well as the expected quality. As an added bonus, most of Kates’ reviews also include an anecdote which relates to the restaurant. In the opening of the review the reader is usually given a small taste of what is to come in the article. In this example, her own experience of skills transference is referenced and she points out that in her case the skills in question did not end up being transferable. The same goes for Aria vs. Noce. The original and far superior restaurant, apparently did not translate well into its more contemporary “spawn”.

A review (by me, for a class) of a review by Joanne Kates – Aria’s food is far from pitch perfect

A season for cookies

 

While it is apparently still fall, it feels wintry and time to bring out some favourites for the season. For most of my living memory Mrs. McKenzie’s ginger snaps have been a constant treat, best kept for dunking in milk and now in my coffee. I’ll admit, mine never turn out a lovely looking as my mom’s or Mrs. McKenzie’s, but they are still delicious. I haven’t made these in years, but we were recently given a Kitchenaid mixer so it seemed like the perfect reason (that an it already snowed once in the last two weeks).

Mr. & Mrs. McKenzie were family friends of my moms and although I don’t know all the details they seemed like a second set of parents when she was far away from home. All of our best family treat recipes seem to originate from their kitchen and for that I am grateful.

Ginger Snaps

Cream together:

  • ½ cups butter
  • ½ cups brown sugar        
  • 1 egg

Add & Mix:

  • ¼ cup molasses
  • 2 cups flour 
  • 1 Tbsp ground ginger (* also add some candied ginger)
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 Tbsp cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt

Roll in balls ( don’t squish). Bake 8-10 mins at 350 degrees.

 

And then the sun came out….

….and tricked us into a false sense of “Spring”, but I guess that’s our own fault forgetting how unpredictable April is.

So, I few weeks ago I planted veggies and some more a couple weeks after. Low and behold they came up at virtually the same time, because we suddenly had a heatwave. That’s beside the point, my plant babies are pretty cute right now, I can only hope  they actually produce something.

Lettuce, Mustard Green, Rainbow Swiss and Kale in the far pot, a week ago

 

There is a bit of a background story on this, so we live in a North East facing suite, which means not much sun. Which sucks for me since I really love having a garden, so I have gotten quite creative with this little space. Initially though I wanted to get a plot in the community garden, which at the time had a wait list of 50 people. That was a year ago and I stupidly didn’t put my name on it until now; now that list is 140. At the rate they currently have for turnover that means I might wait 5 years. So, clever me I thought maybe the landlady would let me plant some sunny plants on the South side of the building (where there is an amazing space). Unfortunately, the property management company that owns the building is particularly irritating to deal with and she had to say no. Mainly because she is tired of dealing with their antics, I mean these guys hardly do the minimum for longtime tenants, they only care about the renovated suites since they are charging sometimes twice as much rent for them. I know why they do it, I mean from a financial point of view it makes sense, from a human point, not really. Our building isn’t new, and those “new” suites aren’t actually better, they just look pretty. But they still have the same old balconys, the same single pane windows and the same weird heating system. Greed, that’s all it is.

 But my plant babies are ok and I might at least get a delicious salad out of the many greens that will definitely thrive. As for the building, I’m working on that. Any dealings I’ve had with the property management company have been bad and all I can do is feel for my landlady and all the crap she puts up with. One final note on the weather, that heatwave ended pretty quickly and it got a whole lot colder ( but then 24 in April is  record) and rainier. The plants don’t seem to mind too much though.

Spring weather

I’m on the ferry now, coming back from a long weekend with the family. Seems as good a time as any to write. We’ll see if anyone actually reads it. Anyway, the ride is beautiful today I’m actually too hot and worried I might have a sunburn on the tops of my feet (there’s something that’s been off the radar for months).

 It’s always wonderful at the farm, my sisters ‘ kids are such fun and I love the forest and quiet for a weekend. So it’s always a little sad when I have to got back to busy city life. Even the ferry seems a nice reprieve when the weather is nice enough to be outside. This weekend it dawned on me that I really should start planning our wedding, my family like to know what’s going on and my vagueness seemed to bug them. I’m a generalist so I have an overarching n idea but no details ( who can blame me though the wedding isn’t for more than another year). Society says I should already have it halfway planned, it just seems so far away right now I don’t have that sense of urgency yet that gets things moving. It will come, and then my efficiency will show. Not til next year though. I’m really not willing to spend crazy amount of money or stress on a wedding when so many other things that come after that day will be just as exciting as getting married. Travel, new house, babies, career changes. This is one piece of the puzzle, a big one, but not one we want to be paying for for years.

So back to the farm. My sister and her husband live in a beautiful piece of land in the Comox valley, they are a couple years away from opening their Blueberry farm. For now you can get just eggs and veg from them until the blueberries are bigger and have more fruit. I think they have a really wonderful future there, with three kids who will grow up with a love of the land and an appreciation of the energy that goes into making it. I can only hope to have the ability to empart that with my own children one day. Hopefully they will live going to the farm as much as I did as a kid. The mud pies and forts and cousins running around. I’m a bit slow on the uptake of the kids aspect but that’s ok.

Of Food trucks and new beginnings

After watching the movie “Chef”, my fiance has wanted a food truck. I can see why, that movie made me hungry, inspired, but mostly craving a cubano.  It did make me want a lineup causing busy like hell food truck, and a social media page full of delicious photos of the food we would make. I saw the movie described as food porn and I would have to agree, its right up there with Mostly Martha *, Chocolat and Eat Pray Love (I admit it… and the only part of the book I managed to read was Italy and only because of the food).

The thing about chef is, although it doesn’t look easy, the guy has the start-up cash and the backing to get this food truck going. He also has free “marketing” labour in the form of his son. So yes, they make it look doable and far less terrifying than the usual starting of a small business. That’s how they can look like this:

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Happy, with a bustling business selling cubanos in the south. But travel back to 1996 Ireland, and you might remember The Van. Also about food trucks, but that one ends up being driven into the ocean to save a friendship.  There was definitely no sugar coating it there, they look like tired Irish people trying to make some money with with fish and chips. If you haven’t seen it, you might at least recognize a certain Star Trek character, the guy who came after Scotty. I digress, but I sometimes thing my own food truck would end up more like the one in The Van, than that of Chef, and it would be me driving the truck into the ocean. the_van

So, after the movie, I kept hearing about food trucks for a few weeks and then it kind of disappeared from discussion. Which brings us to today, as I find myself researching food trucks and licensing costs.

* Now, a quick rant. Mostly Martha is definitely a movie that always makes me hungry, and the story has me in a better mood by the time I finish watching it. However, dear America had to go and ruin the charm by creating No Reservations, which follows such a similar story it could hardly be coincidence. Why do they do this? Is it really so hard to read subtitles?

 

Welcome Back Salty Coast

This, and the three previous entries come from a previous blog that I have since closed up. These are taken from my time in Montreal. Hope you enjoy!

Life has taken a new direction and I have moved a few thousand miles with my cat Sasha and my most prized possessions. We are embarking on a new adventure. I hope that this new place will open new doors and lead me closer to my dreams. I am trying to find some clever way of incorporating all my skills into one job, time will tell. For now, I cut to the chase. My parents celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary this week, and I cooked one of the most decadent chocolate tarts I have ever made. It was a crowd pleasing velvety tart that was pretty easy to make. I will be enjoying the last piece tonight on my own with a nice glass of wine, while my parents enjoy their anniversary trip.

On the subject of desserts, I met Canada’s Gold Medal winning pastry chef Melinda Patrice Burke on the plane while setting off to my new adventure. I hope to see her again soon and possibly learn a few tricks about pastry and baking! I want to improve my baking skills, I almost always find something to be missing but this cake was a winner! This recipe comes from Gourmet Magazine September 2008.

 

Chocolate Glazed Chocolate Tart

Ingredients

For crust:

9 (5- by 2 1/4-inch) chocolate graham crackers (not chocolate-covered), finely ground (1 cup)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar

For filling:

1 1/4 cups heavy cream
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate (not more than 65% cacao if marked), chopped
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

For glaze:

2 tablespoon heavy cream
1 3/4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 teaspoon light corn syrup ( I omitted this as I prefer not to use corn syrup)
1 tablespoon warm water

Equipment:

a 9-inch round fluted tart pan (1 inch deep)
Preparation

Make crust:
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.
Stir together all ingredients and press evenly onto bottom and 3/4 inch up side of tart pan. Bake until firm, about 10 minutes. Cool on a rack 15 to 20 minutes
Make filling:
Bring cream to a boil, then pour over chocolate in a bowl and let stand 5 minutes. Gently stir until smooth. Whisk together eggs, vanilla, and salt in another bowl, then stir into melted chocolate.
Pour filling into cooled crust. Bake until filling is set about 3 inches from edge but center is still wobbly, 20 to 25 minutes. (Center will continue to set as tart cools.) Cool completely in pan on rack, about 1 hour.
Make glaze:
Bring cream to a boil and remove from heat. Stir in chocolate until smooth. Stir in corn syrup, then warm water
Pour glaze onto tart, then tilt and rotate tart so glaze coats top evenly. Let stand until glaze is set, about 1 hour.

Winter Vegetable Soup

Squash Soup

My favourite winter soup. Freezes well and easy to play around with the flavour.

This is the basic list of ingredients, but I like to ad sweet potatoes, pears, carrots (basically any fall veg plus pears) I also like to add a dollop of yogurt, a drop or two of olive oil, cayenne (if i’m feeling some spicy) and a little chopped fresh basil

1 large onion
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp oil and/or butter
4 cups chopped squash/pumpkin (seeded and peeled) – I also usually roast this in the oven with rosemary, butter and pepper and occasionally some brown sugar as well.
8 cups chicken broth
1 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Pepper

pinch of each of the following depending on taste:

  • Curry
  • Basil
  • Thyme
  • Ginger

1 cup milk

Once all the vegetables have softened, remove the pot from heat and blend in cream and milk with a hand blender. Serve with yogourt, and fresh basil. Also add a little cayenne if you like some more spice.

Heat Wave With No Leaves

Spring finally came, and with a vengeance, full of sneaky little tricks and strange weather. For a week we had a taste of summer yet to come, in the sun I could feel the kind of summer heat that we will face in a few months. Sticky, sticky, sticky. Before our heat wave came to an end I was able to enjoy a few refreshing treats.

A year ago they built a lovely new ice cream parlour in my neighbourhood, it seems a part of the gradual gentrification that is happening, I was glad to see it open and tasty as always. Le Gourmandin, has also made some nice improvements, such as adding crepes and speciality coffee to their menu. This definitely adds a little more versatility to their business. As delicious as ice cream is, sometimes its not what we are looking for, I also believe that it helps them to stay alive in winter when they stock only a small selection of ice cream (compared to their usually very large selection). It is the place to go for ice cream that comes in many shapes and sizes. They range from Bilboquet sorbets to various kinds of sundaes and frozen delights. I personally treated myself to a raspberry frozen yogurt, which has long been one of my favourite things.

I thoroughly enjoyed my much needed ice cream on Thursday when the heat was still in all it’s glory. I was rather disappointed though that shortly after the ice cream, the weather began to cool down. There was enough time however for a refreshing little drink from the Canadian Living Summer Cookbook (2009).  It is a simple and delicious way to liven up a pitcher of water.

I have so far tried the Cucumber Lime.

4 cups water

1 sliced cucumber

2 sliced limes

Cover and refrigerate for at least 5 hours for flavours to infuse. Makes about 4 servings. Enjoy!

In spite of all the wonderful heat it is still strange to be out in a short sleeveless dress enjoying the sun, all the while sitting near shadeless naked trees. Just a little taste of summer, an appetizer shall we say.

French Onion Soup

Spring seems to be trying its best to poke its little head out from behind the grey skies of winter, but so far with little luck. So, I am using these last cold days as an excuse to make my favourite French onion soup recipe.

French Onion Soup
Gourmet | December 2006

Yield: Makes 6 (light main course) servings

Active Time: 45 min
Total Time: 1 1/2 hr

2 lb medium onions, halved lengthwise, then thinly sliced lengthwise
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 Turkish bay leaves or 1 California
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup dry white wine
4 cups reduced-sodium beef broth (32 fl oz)
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
6 (1/2-inch-thick) diagonal slices of baguette
1 (1/2-lb) piece Gruyère, Comte, or Emmental
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Special equipment: 6 (8- to 10-oz) flameproof soup crocks or ramekins; a cheese plane

Cook onions, thyme, bay leaves, and salt in butter in a 4- to 5-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, uncovered, stirring frequently, until onions are very soft and deep golden brown, about 45 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in wine and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Stir in broth, water, and pepper and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes.

While soup simmers, put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.

Arrange bread in 1 layer on a large baking sheet and toast, turning over once, until completely dry, about 15 minutes.

Remove croûtes from oven and preheat broiler. Put crocks in a shallow baking pan.

Discard bay leaves and thyme from soup and divide soup among crocks, then float a croûte in each. Slice enough Gruyère (about 6 ounces total) with cheese plane to cover tops of crocks, allowing ends of cheese to hang over rims of crocks, then sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Broil 4 to 5 inches from heat until cheese is melted and bubbly, 1 to 2 minutes.

Cafe Myriade

I know that when I moved to Montreal I looked everywhere for a good coffee. It seemed to me that Starbucks and Second Cup were the only places, thankfully I was mistaken and I soon found a little piece of home and excellent coffee at Cafe Myriade in downtown’s core. Coming for the West Coast Myriade encompasses everything that is wonderful about good coffee and attention to detail. From the first time I discovered Myriade I was a fan, and I have since been sending everyone I meet to discover their coffee! They have something for everyone, excellent daily filter coffee, lattes, cappuccinos, a nice selection of teas, and for those who don’t drink coffee they make one of the best hot chocolates around! Myriade is also the only place in Montreal where you can find Syphon Coffee.

Although now it seems to be getting easier to find a good coffee in Montreal, Myriade still holds a special place for many, from the friendly employees to the music they play everything spells inviting. I almost always find myself discovering new music as well as rediscovering some music I had forgotten about.

Although it can be a little crowded in winter, during summer they open up the terrasse and this makes room for about double the amount that usually fits. For those visiting from outside Montreal, a “terrasse” is the colloquial term for a patio here. In keeping with their very West Coast feel, one of their main coffees is 49th Parallel, which is based out of Vancouver, although you will almost always find Ritual Roasters coffee. Other coffees vary depending on the time of year and what they choose to bring in.

Having lived and worked almost always within minutes of Myriade has been dangerous at times. I find myself going there almost every day. Whether its a craving or just enjoying a delicious lattee, this is where you’ll find me on my coffee break, before work, on the way to class, it is the perfect coffee. Maybe I identify with it for its west coast appeal, or that one of the owners once worked for an excellent coffee shop in Vancouver, either way Myriade stands out as being the best coffee shop in Montreal.

So here’s to coffee and a friendly atmosphere! Today I’m enjoying a cappuccino and looking at the sunshine!

You can find Cafe Myriade in downtown Montreal at 1432 Rue Mackay, and you can find them on the web via TwitterFacebook or their website.