Sunday, August 23, 2009

Tomato farming balcony-style

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I have a hard-working cherry tomato plant on my balcony that is currently sporting no less than 87 tomatoes! Most are still green but a few are ripe and a healthy bright yellow. S and I are going to cook these up tonight in the first of what I hope will be many yellow-tomato meals. We just need lots of sun for the rest to ripen, so here's hoping for some more good weather.

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The other plants that are doing well are my thyme and sage. I planted them in a 12-inch pot with mint and rosemary. The rosemary is growing but it's small and a bit overshadowed by the herbs that are doing well. The mint never really got going. So all in all, four out of five plants are thriving, which is nice.

I had a big lavender plant, which I kept in its peat pot with clay soil. It flowered and was fantastic for a while, but now it's dying. Not sure what to do about that. Maybe I should have potted it in real soil. Has anyone ever successfully kept lavender alive on a south-facing balcony?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Julie & Julia premiere in Ottawa

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Le Cordon Bleu hosted a lovely party for the Ottawa premiere of the Julie & Julia movie last month. The chefs served several delicious little “amuses gueules” at the reception, which thankfully staved off hunger during the movie because it was full of mouthwatering food scenes (or what S calls “hardcore food porn”). We attended the event with a few of our friends and I wrote a post about it for Food Network Canada, which you can read here. I'd love it if you would leave a comment!

Friday, August 14, 2009


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For the first time in our lives, Squeaky and I made jam — raspberry-peach, peach and blueberry — with fruit from the farmers' market.

We followed the directions on the Certo package, and also some wisdom gleaned from the Internet and Squeaky's aunt, a seasoned jammer.

My gosh, even for a detail person like me, jamming is nitpicky and not like the kind of cooking I am used to.

Firstly, you have to sterilize everything but the kitchen sink. I do not own a canner, so we baked our jars in the oven at 225 F for 10 minutes. We boiled the lid rings for 10 minutes, but not the actual lids, no, those you must immerse in just-boiled-but-not-boiling water, otherwise the seal will be damaged.

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Then you have to skim off the sludge and bubbles that rise to the top while boiling the jam. And you have to make sure you don't get any jam on the lip of the lid when putting it into jars.

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We were also a bit grossed out by how much sugar you have to add: cup for cup of fruit, and then some! I had no idea I was eating so much sugar every time I had jam. But if you don't add all that sugar, the jam won't set, they say.

Well, our attention to all these painstaking details was all worth it when we heard the little "pop" that meant a vacuum had pulled the lid down into place. It was music to my ears because it meant, we had gotten it right!

To make the peach jam, we made light Xs in the skin at the bottom and top of the peaches, blanched them for 30 seconds in boiling water and then transferred them right away to a bowl of cold water for a few minutes. Then the skins were easy to peel off (you can skin tomatoes the exact same way).

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S and I are tucking into the raspberry-peach right now (below). I know it looks a bit radioactive, but I kind of like the psychedelic red. No hallucinations so far, just a mighty fine sweet taste.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Bocconcini picnic sandwich

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I just read about fanny food — food that is warmed up and flavour-enhanced by spending an hour under someone's buttocks.

Food writer M.F.K. Fisher once made a guest at her home sit on a cling-wrapped baguette sandwich for an hour before proclaiming that lunch was ready. She then instructed him to stand up and retrieved the squashed sandwich, cutting it into finger lengths and serving it with baby pickles and red wine.

Wish I could have had lunch with Ms. Fisher! I never would have thought to involve bums in a cooking process.

The French have a similar but more sophisticated approach named pan-bagnat or bathed bread, in which a baguette is hollowed out, spread with olive oil, filled with salade niçoise, and then tightly wrapped and left to soak.

S makes a sandwich like this that we've taken on road trips and to picnics. The secret is to make it a few hours in advance and tightly wrap it to let the flavours blend before eating. Unfortunately, neither of us had the brilliant idea of sitting on it until now ...

If any of you make this, I would love to hear from you! The recipe has already been taste-tasted by friends Squeaky and Shady and they love it.

Bocconcini picnic sandwich

cherry tomatoes, halved
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
bocconcini, halved
fresh herbs
salt and pepper

Generously drizzle baguette halves with olive oil. Add a layer of arugula and halved cherry tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Add some fresh herbs, such as thyme or basil. Cut the bocconcini balls in half and lay on top, cut side down. Mix some balsamic vinegar and olive oil together and drizzle over top.

Wrap sandwich in cellophane and let rest for about an hour — underneath someone's bum if you wish — to let the flavours meld.

Eat and enjoy!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Casa Tapas in Montreal

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I found a great tapas restaurant in Montreal! It's called Casa Tapas and it's on Rachel East near St. Denis.

My first impression after walking through the door was amazement at the decor. I was in front of a cave-like wine cellar and there were mosaics on the wall and stone columns that look like tree trunks. The whole restaurant is decorated in the style of Gaudí, a Spanish architect who designed many buildings in Barcelona, Spain.

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The menus also deserve a special mention because they are very cute. They're tall and skinny and mounted on a plank of wood. The design is very unique and I like the fonts. (When you work in publishing like me, you develop a geeky interest in such things.)

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The waiter brought us complimentary bread and a little espresso cup full of small green olives (arbequinas, I think). We ordered five tapas dishes and shared a half litre of wine for $100 CDN including tip and tax.

The three dishes pictured above are asparagus and manchego cheese, grilled sardines with cumin, and chorizo in sauce. These were all delicious, especially the sardines.

We also ordered artichokes aioli and mussels in white wine and saffron cream, which was very rich. Even though saffron and aioli are wonderful things, I found they dominated rather than complemented in these dishes.

So five things on the menu tasted, which leaves 25 more to go! I plan to return to Casa Tapas the next time I'm in Montreal and I recommend it to anyone who loves tapas-style eating.

Casa Tapas, Resto Español
266 Rachel est
Montréal, QC

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Saturday, August 1, 2009

An afternoon snack at Montreal's Café Town

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Last Saturday, S and I went to Montreal for the day last and made a pilgrimmage to Sakura Gardens for a mid-afternoon snack of ramen. But when we got there it wasn't open, so we crossed the street to eat at a little place called Café Town instead.

Café Town is one of those below-street-level cafés that are common in Montreal and serve a small selection of sandwiches, pizzas and desserts. It had a tiny sunken patio, and some other small, tippy table-and-chair sets on the sidewalk above it. We found some seating in the shade, and ordered pizza and French beer. I felt very Parisian!

We shared a traditional pizza with pepperoni, mushrooms and green peppers, and each drank a bottle of Kronenbourg 1664, for $24. The waiter was very nice and took good care of us.

It's a very sweet and unpretentious place — perfect for an afternoon snack after shopping on Ste-Catherine. It doesn't seem to have much of a web presence yet, so it's nice to be one of the first people to write about it.

Café Town
2125 de la Montagne
Montreal, QC
Mon. to Sat. 9 - 6
Closed Sunday

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