Archives for June 2008

Mmm…Canada: Foie Gras Sushi

The Perfect Balance of Flavors in Foie Gras Sushi: Nori, Sushi Rice, Red Anjou Pear, Seared Quebec Foie Gras, Reduction of Ice Cider, Wasabi, and Pickled Ginger

How do you define Canadian Cuisine? Is there one dish that sums it up? A half a dozen? I think not. Every province has its different specialty item from the Pine mushrooms in British Columbia to the seafood of Atlantic Canada.
Canadian cuisine means something different to everyone be they Ukrainian-Canadian, Italian-Canadian, French-Canadian or other. Our beautiful country is such a colorful melting pot of different cultures; stretching from ocean to ocean, with a vast majority of food products.

When Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict emailed me and asked me to participate in Mmm…Canada, her blogging event for Canada Day (July 1) I couldn’t refuse. I usually don’t participate in online events (read: never) for a few reasons, but mostly because deadlines and babies just don’t mix well!
However, I was excited to celebrate our nation in a culinary way and didn’t have to think twice about what I wanted to make.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ve probably noticed that I throw around the word ‘favorite’ quite a bit; however, this dish is, without question, one of my top five favorite things to eat in the world. Period. I find it also well represents Canadian modern fusion cuisine by taking a Japanese dish and using local ingredients such as Quebec foie gras and ice cider and highlighting them in this unique twist on classic sushi.

As I said before, deadlines and babies mix like oil and water and I am down to the wire on this one. Not a good start! So there is no way you are getting a recipe today and I hope you are not looking for a detailed look at how to make sushi rice! (I’m still mastering that one).
Despite a case of Red Rave and oceans of coffee, the late nights staying up talking with my parents (not to mention the Jazz Festival) and the early morning awakenings of the babies are taking their toll and my brain is fuzzy. My apologies for the awkwardness of this post!

Still I am so excited to show you the components of this dish I recently made for some friends, so here’s a quick look at how the recipe comes together.

An entire 375 ml bottle of Michel Jodoin ice cider is reduced and mixed with a little soya and sugar for the glaze on this sushi. This ciderie is located approximately 40 kilometers from my home; it’s hard to get more local than that!
The foie gras is from Palmex who are practically a household name to anyone who has worked in the fine dining industry in Quebec.

Here are the humble beginnings of the foie gras sushi:
a quarter of a sheet of nori, a generous smear of wasabi, a handful of sushi rice and some ripe pear. If pears grow locally, use your own; ours are not in season yet.

The foie gras is seared, placed on the pear and generously topped with the ice cider glaze.

Then you add some pickled ginger, fold up the two sides of nori like a bun and scarf it like a hot dog. No nibbling allowed! It’s a bit messy, but should be eaten in about two bites so you get all the flavors in your mouth at the same time. You will not soon forget the combination of the warm saltiness and richness of the foie gras paired with the tart ice cider, the sweet pear, the heat of the wasabi, and the pickled crunch of the ginger.

Oh. Mama.
Mmm, Canada!

All credits go to top Montreal chef Philippe de Vienne for this ‘out of this world’ recipe. Thanks for letting me pick your brain for the details and for coming up with it in the first place.

If you have any questions about quantities or preparation for this recipe, feel free to drop me an email and I will do my best to answer!

Enjoy your upcoming Canada Day on Tuesday!
Oh, one more thing. July 1 is also the Birthday of the love of my life, Danny!

Happy 30th, sweetie!
I love you!!

OK, someone cut me off of the Red Rave.

Monday Garden Update 2

It’s getting to be a jungle out there!

In brief:L to R from the top: Strawberry Flowers; Zucchinis in Bloom; Sweet William Border; Young Lettuce; Radishes; Corn and Tomatoes; Sage; Oregano, Onions and Broccoli in behind; Shed Entrance

We’ve been enjoying giant garden salads for a few weeks now; they are on the menu every evening. We’ve been having a wired mix of weather: cool rainy days mixed with cooking-hot days. Apparently it is a combination the garden likes, ’cause it’s taken off and I can hardly keep up with the weeds.

I can’t get the whole garden in the photo from my upstairs window, but here is a partial view. In just a few short weeks the greenery has gone from this:

to this!We’re going to have some serious space issues, I can see.

Not everyone has to have space issues, though. Here’s a cute birdhouse in my garden that is looking for some tenants. I comes complete with a tin roof and house number! Isn’t it darling? My dad made it, but I didn’t get it up in time for nesting season. Next spring!

I’ll leave it at that for today because I am sooo busy getting ready for the arrival of my parents this evening; they are traveling all the way from British Columbia!!
Remember my trip out West last summer? Well, now it’s their turn to come visit us, meet the new baby and enjoy some of Montreal’s unbeatable summer festivals. Anyway, their visit is quite the celebrated event around here and in keeping true to my family’s traditions, wining and dining are going to be front most and center of their stay.That said, I have to go cook some lobster for this pasta, buy ricotta for these pancakes, and peel asparagus for this tart! Oh, and about 100 other things to prep, too.Stay tuned because we have a few weeks of good eating ahead of us and I’ll try to get a few recipes out.Have a great week everyone!

Montreal’s Best Cupcake: Part 2

Mini’s from Les Glaceurs

Exactly one year ago today, Under the High Chair brought you a thorough investigation into the trendy cupcake scene in Montreal. We did a citywide tasting, related its highs and lows, and ultimately named one cupcake “Montreal’s Best”.
Today we bring you an update to that post, because bakeries change, new places open, and kitchens change staff. You deserve to stay informed and I am more than happy to do the ‘work’. (Mmm, sugar)
So, does Montreal have a new best cupcake? You’ll find out at the bottom!

If you haven’t read the original cupcake post, I strongly suggest that you do and familiarize yourself with the territory, for it is a fascinating one of mafia (only speculating here guys), high prices, frosting and sprinkles! You’ll learn not to judge a cupcake by its cover, that the average price for one is almost a biting $3, which places to hit up when you feel a craving coming on and which ones to avoid like the plague.

Noah checks out the gorgeous presentation of cupcakes at Les Glaceurs

We were a different bunch this time around for the tasting blitz: instead of a group of girls, we were three guys, the two tots and myself. There wasn’t a crumb leftover as things got polished off lickety split be they good or bad! Hmm, guys certainly have a different metabolism than girls!

We did not return to two places that I reviewed last year, Cho’cola and Itsi Bitsi, as I had been informed from many sources that things remained the same at each establishment. In brief, Cho’cola: bad to very bad and Itsi Bitsi: good to pretty good. Yeah, I know that is totally vague, but like I suggested before, read the first cupcake review for details.

(Note: if you have experienced something different than I have at either of these places please let me know. e.g. a fresh, knee-weakeningly-good cupcake from Cho’cola or the opposite from Itsi-bitsi. I would be happy to return as I am always game for sweets!)

Our tour started with the new kids on the block:

Les Glaceurs
453, rue St-Sulpice, Vieux-Montreal, 514.504.469, Open since: September ’07 Price per cupcake: $2.85 Seating: yes

I have to say I’m sorry guys, because with Olive et Gourmando just down the hill, we’ve haven’t really been holding our breath for a cupcake joint in the Old Port. Fortunately Les Glaceurs sells Bilboquet ice cream though, and that in itself is a big draw.
While they have location, location, location (literally a stone’s throw from the Notre Dame Basilica) and the appearance of everything going for them (cool decor, beautiful presentation, clean bathrooms) they are a perfect example of how when you scratch a little deeper than surface, things aren’t so pretty. In short, I didn’t enjoy their cupcakes.

Clockwise from top left: Lemon-Vanilla, Chocolate Brownie, Peanut Butter, Red Velvet

We tried six different flavors, the ones pictured above plus Choco-Choco and Coffee-Vanilla. Eager to get this tasting going, Noah and I tucked immediately into the Choco-Choco, apparently one of their bestsellers. I stopped after the first bite while he kept going, a lesson right there to never trust a two-year-olds’ palate!
I found myself mentally admonishing the kitchen to upgrade their brand of chocolate, or add more, or something. It was nowhere near chocolaty enough, most certainly would never cut it for one of my cravings, was dry and completely forgettable.
Not a good start.

I went for the Red Velvet next as I had never had this southern specialty and was eager to see what all the fuss was about. Les Glaceurs tops theirs with a cream cheese frosting and it looks pretty cute. It disappeared in a twinkle and I found it more appealing than the chocolate, perhaps because I had no expectations. The color is a little alarming, but I am a sucker for cream cheese icing.

However, as we kept tasting I started noticing a pattern. The cake part of every cupcake was dry and mostly flavorless, while the icings took a lead role and kept us licking our fingers. (We liked the peanut butter especially) But in my opinion, the frosting and various toppings should take a back seat to the star of the show, the cake, and not outshine them. At Les Glaceurs the cake was bad enough that, without the toppings, these cupcakes just might be worse than Cho’cola’s Betty Crocker specimens.

Final answer? Sure, I’ll probably be back. I take just about all my out-of-town guests to the Basilica and with two kiddos to lug around now, for sure we’ll need a pit stop that has A/C and a bathroom, though you can be sure that if I have any say in the matter, we’ll be getting Bilboquet ice cream all around and skipping the cupcakes.

Next up:

Petits Gateaux.
783 Avenue Mont-Royal Est. 514.510.5488.
Open since: May ’07
Price per cupcake:$2.95 Seating: yes

Clock-wise from top left: House marshmallow samples (yes please!), Sucre a la creme, Tea Cranberry Violette, Sour Cream Raspberry and Chocolate Cupcakes

My last visit to P.G. was my first and only. I was aghast at how bad the cupcakes were, likening them, if I recall, to a day-old Tim Horton’s bran muffin. And I hate Timmy’s. However, I had heard that the original baker had moved on and that new team was turning out something rather memorable. Plus they had added mini’s to their repertoire. I had to see if the rumors were true.

Yep, as a matter of fact, these cupcakes are now made by a team of four guys who apparently have a blast playing with frosting and sprinkles and are doing a fine job of it. Their flavor combinations are creative, the cupcakes are tasty and satisfying, and those mini’s are looking like a tasting menu waiting to happen. Bravo!

Top row L to R: Tea Cranberry Violette, Blueberry Tofu, Chocolate Ganache
Bottom row: Chocolate Ginger, Pear-Vanilla, Carrot

While I was impressed with the all-male teams’ work (almost anything would be an improvement over the last baker), of course I have a few quibbles and after careful consideration my complaint would be that the cupcakes could benefit from the delicate hand of a woman.

For example on the Pear-Vanilla cupcake, a large quarter of a poached pear dwarfs the cupcake below. If I had wanted a fruit cup, I wouldn’t be here. I do like a little frosting.

The Blueberry Tofu is hands down, the ugliest cupcake I have ever seen, but gets points for originality and flavor. Frozen blueberries that bleed all over the white frosting? How hard would it be to use a few fresh ones? Still the taste is great, but let me warn you, the texture is a little funny! I’m still trying to put my finger on what it reminds me of.

On the Sucre à la Crème, the square of fudge is so large that the cupcake must taste about as sweet as a slice of toast after eating it. Same for the Chocolate Sucre à la Crème and a few other toppings that seem completely disproportional to the already small cupcake.

The lilac colored Tea Cranberry Violette Cupcake is as if someone said
“OK, now we need a girly one. Hmmm, what do ladies like? Tea and flowers, I guess.”
It’s such a random combination and from my observations, has absolutely no cranberries to speak of save a sugared one on top. The cake itself is moist and tasty, but it’s a stretch to say it has green tea flavor, and as for the violets, they seem to be M.I.A with the exception of the icing color. I was baffled by this one.

Great carrot cupcake. I love a good carrot cake, yet it’s not something I would whip up for just our little family. Give me a few more years and a few more kids and I’ll haul out my box grater and start peeling carrots. This moist cupcake with its hint of spice and cream cheese frosting (told you I was a sucker for it) was a pleasure to eat and one I will return for when the craving hits-and it is sure to!
A pretty decent Chocolate Ganache and the Chocolate-Ginger were hits with the guys. At least here the chocolate was worthy of the title, unlike Les Glaceurs.

Moving on to our last stop:
Cocoa Locale.
4807 Park Avenue. 514.271.7162. Opened: Summer ’05
Price Per cupcake: $3 Seating: a bench and a –swing?
How much to I love you/I’ll tell you no lie/How deep is the ocean/How high is the sky?

If you haven’t dropped in on baker/owner Reema and her little shop on Park Ave yet, then lower that three pound container of two-bite brownies you are contemplating buying, get out of Costco and GO!
Trust me, your guests will thank you for it.

Three flavors available at Cocoa Locale: Lemon, Vanilla, and last year’s winner for best cupcake, Chocolate-Chai

Mother’s day was tainted for me this year because I knew exactly what I wanted and I couldn’t get it. I wanted a cupcake (or four) from Cocoa Locale and after getting our family out the door (not so simple with a newborn) and driving to Park Ex. I saw a sign on the door that said ‘sold out’. I learned a valuable life lesson that day and so should you: Call and reserve your cupcakes. Especially on holidays.

I must be growing up. No, not just because I am turning 30 this year, but because more and more, I am choosing vanilla over chocolate. It’s like my taste buds are maturing and realizing that the question “chocolate or vanilla?” is no longer a no-brainer. Vanilla really can outshine its seductive counterpart, chocolate, and I finally understand why it’s my mother’s favorite ice cream flavor. Here is what helped me see the light:

Which brings me to the conclusion of our cupcake tasting and a NEW winner for Montreal’s best cupcake!

Cocoa Locale’s Vanilla Cupcake!

You saw that coming a mile away, right? Well, satisfyingly dense, just sweet enough, ever so moist, and with such a perfect grown-up, vanilla flavor, this cupcake silently outshines last year’s favorite.
Apparently it’s Reema’s favorite, too. So there.
I am also enchanted by it’s soft pink color, simply a few drops of food coloring, and that must be the girly-girl side of me coming out.

Pretty please may I have 30 of them for my upcoming birthday?

So there you have it. I’m not sure how to conclude this post, but I guess I will just say that I hope you enjoyed the read and found it helpful.
We’ll see you next year!

Here comes the Bride…and another cake

I am happy to report that I fulfilled my duties as a matron of honor to the best that I know how and my friend Rachel is now happily married! It was a stunning wedding. The weather behaved perfectly and so did Mateo, so that helped the day go a lot smoother.

One of my tasks was to decorate the cake for this elegant outdoor wedding. The original plan was for me to make the cake, but the red tape and fees at the wedding location were such a hassle, that we decided it would be easiest (and more affordable) to use their cake but have me decorate it to the brides’ taste. These places have their ways of making you conform, don’t they? Still, there was no way I was going to let Rachel’s cake look like the gaudy, overdone ones they showed us in their albums.
So decorate I did.

Since she dislikes flowers and the wedding had kind of a vineyard/wine theme, it was easy to choose grapes for the cake decoration. I had originally wanted champagne grapes, but they are only in season in July or August, and I had to make do without them. These regular ones are sugared and the greenery is real ivy. It was really a simple decoration job and fortunately so, as I had -no joke- less than ten minutes to do it, right between feeding the baby and getting dressed with the girls.

I am looking forward to doing a wedding cake that is not rushed sometime!!

The Little Cake That Could

My first time to work with rolled fondant and the Force was not with me

A major storm blew through our area on Tuesday. It snapped trees, blew over tractor trailers on major bridges, picked up my barbecue from the back deck and ruthlessly pitched it onto it’s head. It also knocked out our power for about 6 hours and caused my stress level to go through the roof as I had the three layers to this cake in my fridge.

If you remember, I recently threw a bridal shower for my friend who is getting married soon and this week was the rehearsal dinner where I was slotted to bring the cake. Hey, I’m the matron of honor, I’ll do whatever I’m told!
With all the high heat and humidity we’ve been having around here, I didn’t want to risk a droopy buttercream icing, but rather wanted to go with something like rolled fondant that could hold up to the elements, as the dinner was an elegant backyard garden party.

But despite careful planning and my best efforts, everything went horribly wrong for this cake.

I had never worked with rolled fondant before, but I managed to cover three tiers of cake and make it look pretty decent. After that, things were out of my control, as due to the storm,we lost power shortly afterward.
This poor cake survived 5 hours in a dead fridge that was slowly warming, causing it to sweat and the fondant to get sticky. Then, in the pouring rain, it was transfered to a functioning fridge at the party’s location. Unfortunately, the car ride was a little rough on it and it suffered a few gouges, not to mention a large dent from, ahem, a protruding upper body part. To protect it from the rain, I had hastily slapped some saran wrap on, which was a big mistake as it left wrinkles all over the cake like some kind of bad art deco wall texturing.

So, not much else could go wrong, right? I was certain that with the right patch kit and a few decorations, I could make it look okay, all I needed was to show up an hour or so before the party started and a quiet place to work. Well, due to circumstances out of his control ( so he says!), Danny arrived home very late indeed from work and we were late for the party. I had about 25 minutes to assemble the layers and decorate and when you look at the cake you sure can tell!

Anyway, it was a learning experience and I did have fun with the fondant. A huge thanks to Melody of My Sweet and Saucy for answering my emails and questions and letting me pick her brain a bit.
Oh, and ROCKS!

This cake also had a little surprise inside when you cut into it.

Inspired by Joy the Baker and her recipe for Red Velvet Engagement Cake, I set out to try red velvet cake for the first time (lots of firsts here!). I was sure that one bottle of red food coloring would be enough, but I was wrong, it wasn’t. Not even close.

What to do? Babies are sleeping, there is no one to send to the store for more food coloring. The oven is preheated and the cakes are half made, it looks like I am going to have to improvise.

So I add some blue food coloring to the red and make (gulp) a purple cake.

Mind you, the brides’ colors for the wedding are purple, purple and more purple, so I knew she wouldn’t care.
The wedding invitations were beautiful in purple and green so I went a step further and dyed the buttercream green to match the purple.
The bride loved it and it certainly was memorable-if for all the wrong reasons.

The recipe for Red Velvet Cake can be found here. I used Martha’s Swiss Meringue Buttercream found here, minus the coconut. Between the cake layers are fresh raspberries and blackberries.
It was quite tasty after all was said and done.

Will I ever work with fondant again? Sure, as long as the power stays on! I deserve a second chance! I have a few cakes coming up in July, so wish me luck.