Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Norma's for Brunch


I was invited to brunch with attitude. I just wasn't sure if it was my attitude, my invitor's attitude or the restaurant's attitude. It also didn't really matter how many times I asked, I was told "you'll see". Okay, it's a surprise. Sometimes it's just easier to go along than to ask too many questions. I trusted my companions and boy oh boy was I in for the experience of a lifetime. We arrived at the Parker Meridien Palm Springs and were ushered to Norma's Restaurant.




Have you heard of it? I'd heard of the one in New York but had never visited and had no concept of what awaited. My companions wanted me to have a life long memory. Nestled in what feels like a forest, the soft latin music and bustling wait staff just make you smile. The energy is completely positive and you feel a sense of fun around you. Our waiter was engaging, helpful and efficient and started our experience off with a shotglass sample of the smoothy of the day Coffee was served in a French press. The menu is diversified and interesting with catchy names such as "Wa-Za" for a waffle that has fruit inside and out and looks so interesting you're just not sure whether or not you should eat it or save it as a piece of art.



Mango-Papaya Brown Cinnamon Crepes



Normalita's Huevos Rancheros




Fish Tacos



We're getting ready to go home from our vacation. We're all ready. It's been a great couple of months but reality becons and soon enough we'll have more great things.


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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sucrerie de la Montagne


Plus 25 Celcius in March?  This does not happen in Canada and is not good news for maple syrup producers.  Maple sap runs best when the weather is warm during the day, but cool at night.

March and April is maple syrup time around this part of the world. You can read about previous visits to cabines a sucre (sugar shacks) here, here, here and here. If you take a look through these posts, you'll get a sense of the range of sugarshacks, from lame pancakes on a plastic plate to an all you can eat selection of food, sure to make you feel stuffed for the next 2 days.

My last, and probably most intense, sugar shack experience was at Sucrerie de la Montagne.

When you arrive, a horse-drawn carriage will take you the short ride from the parking lot:


You can explore the grounds, seeing several rustic buildings that house cottage-like accommodations, a bakery...




 a general store, a building where maple syrup is processed (during the maple syrup season)



and, of course, the main halls where the food is served.  Sucerie de la Montagne blows other sugar shacks (that we've been to) away in terms of food quantity and quality.  Let's just pretend that everything you see in the rest of this post was stretched out over a week of consumption, rather than one sitting.

Soupe au pois du Montagnard (mountain dweller's pea soup)


Omelette soufflée de la fermière (farm-style omelette soufflé)


Saucisses de campagne (country-style sausages) & Jambon fumé à l'érable (maple-smoked ham)


Tourtière de la beauceronne (meat pie from Québec’s Beauce region)


Traditional sugar pie


Pancakes with maple syrup



On this plate is Ragoût de boulettes (traditional meatball stew, Oreilles de crisse (crispy-fried pork  rinds), Fèves au lard de chantier (wood-fired baked beans), Pommes de terre pilées à l'ancienne (old-style mashed potatoes) and the same omelette, meat pie and sausage that you see, above.
Guests are also offered Coffee and tea, Pain croûté de la paysanne (farm-style crusty bread) and
Homemade fruit ketchup and pickles.

Of course, the star of the show is the maple syrup.


The food is all you can eat and is served family-style.

Once you're done.  If you're not in a coma, you can get up and dance to some traditional music.  Or, at least listen to the music while you rest your head on the table, unbutton your pants and close your eyes.  That's normal sugar shack behaviour, right?


Here's a video that gives you a good idea of what the place looks like.  Skip to 1:47 if you want to see the food insanity!



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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Moroccan Chicken Salad CPK Style


California Pizza Kitchen or CPK is a chain of casual family style restaurants that not only serve pizza as the name might suggest, but also a host of small portions, intriguing pasta and innovative salads. There's really something for everybody. I recently got hooked on what they call their Moroccan Salad.. Moroccan flavoured chicken pieces combined with an array of vegetables and nuts to give you one of the most pleasurable textured salad experiences you'll ever have.

CPK isn't found in Canada. Imagine the horror. I had to get to work and figure out how to reproduce this wonderful salad. I was happy to find out that I'm not the only one who loves the Moroccan Salad and that Food.com has a copycat recipe. I altered the recipe to accomodate 4 people.



Ingredients

½ cup butternut squash, diced (I used a whole butternuts squash)
1 (8 ounce) cans beets, diced
1/2 cup dried cranberries
3 hard-boiled egg, diced
2 avocados, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 red bell peppers, diced
¼ cup dates or ¼ cup dried apricots, chopped
1 head romaine lettuce, sliced
1 pkg mixed greens
¼ cup girard's champagne dressing (or homemade champagne vinaigrettes follows)
1/2 cup roasted almonds
3 boneless chicken breasts
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon olive oil

Directions

To make the spiced chicken: combine coriander and cinnamon with olive oil to make a paste. Spread on chicken breasts with a bbq brush or fingers; cook chicken in pan or grill until fully cooked. Let chicken cool and slice. While chicken is cooking, roast diced squash in a 400 degree oven for about ten minutes. Toss all other ingredients together with the champagne dressing to taste. Add chicken and almonds and top with diced beets.

To make the Champagne Vinaigrette

Adapted from Epicurious:
Yield: Makes 3/4 cup

Ingredients

1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 tablespoons dijon Mustard
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons honey
2 or 3 dashes hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
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Preparation

Whisk together the garlic, mustard, vinegar, lemon juice, honey, hot sauce, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until the dressing is emulsified. Alternatively, you can combine all the ingredients in a blender or a food processor and puré until smooth.

Verdict: The salad is not "exactly" the same but definitely close enough to say that my fond memories of Moroccan Salad at California Pizza Kitchen will live on for many years to come.



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Send me an e-mail if you would like free tickets to see the Ottawa Home& Garden Show.  Lots of great exhibitors to check out there! You can find our contact information in the "contact us" tab!


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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Hamentaschen


When Jewish holidays come up, my mind automatically goes to the food associated with that holiday.  Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) -- I think apples and honey.  Passover -- I think matza and horseradish and matza brie.  Hannukah -- I think latkas.  Purim - I think hamentaschen.  


I recruited a friend of mine to have a hamentashen-making morning.  It's so much faster when you have two people, one to roll the dough, the other to work with the filling.

Prune Filling

3/4 lb prunes
1/2 lb raisins
1 orange (deseeded, quartered, blended with skin left on)
lemon juice (to taste)
~1/2 cup pureed apricot (I couldn't find any, so I pureed peaches)

This is my friend's recipe.  She blends all of this together and lets it sit in the fridge overnight so that the flavours meld.  I followed a bit of a different plan.  I let the prunes and raisins sit in water overnight to plump up.  Here's what they look like after absorbing water overnight:
  

Then I blended everything together in the morning.  This made for a more liquidy filling, but it was still good.   


Basic Oil Dough
1 medium-sized seedless orange (thin-skinned)
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
2 3/4 cups flour (approximately)
2 tsp baking powder
Cut orange in quarters but do not peel. 

Process in a food processor until fine, using the steel blade, about 25 seconds.



Add eggs, sugar and oil. 

Process for 10 seconds. Add flour and baking powder. Process with several on/offs, just until flour is blended into dough. Do not over-process. Dough will be fairly sticky. Remove from bowl with a rubber spatula onto a lightly floured surface. Use as directed. 
Yield: enough dough for 4 dozen Hamentaschen. 


To Assemble:

1. Roll out dough to approximately 1/4 inch.  Make sure to use a good amount of flour so that the dough doesn't stick.





2. Cut circles as close together as possible so as not to have to overwork the dough more than necessary


3. Put 1 tablespoon of filling in centre of circle




4. Bring sides up and together pinching together to form a triangle shape. The cookie doesn't have to be completely closed, but the dough should hold together. It's nice to be able to see the filling - especially if you make several different fillings
5. Place cookies on greased or sprayed cookie sheet or on silpat
6. Brush with a combination of an egg yolk plus 2 tbsp of water (not entirely necessary but gives it a nicer sheen).  Alternatively, you can melt some butter and spread that on top.  


7. Bake in 350 F oven for 25 - 30 minutes



Verdict: I purchased the raisins and prunes at Bulk Barn and made the mistake of assuming that the scales provided measured in pounds.  I realized, at the checkout, that I had more than double what I intended to buy since the scales were actually kilograms.  So, I doubled the recipe for the filling.  To use up all the filling, I tripled the recipe of dough.  Surprisingly enough, it didn't take us that long to make 12 dozen hamentaschen.  Thankfully, they freeze very well, are easy to share with others and taste great!  

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Maple Grilled Jumbo Shrimp


Dinner parties are generally when we like to wow with an appetizer that intrigues people enough to think about what's coming next. Sometimes one can get a little carried away with the appetizer and find out that it could have been a complete meal in itself.

A friend's birthday party is cause for celebration. This particular friend was turning a big number and we wanted him to feel particularly special on his big day. We picked up some jumbo shrimp. We should have known right? The mere size of these jumbo shrimp could be a full meal. I guess I'm not great at reading the signs.

6 jumbo shrimp
1 8 oz package smoked salmon
1 cup maple syrup



Step 2: Take the individual strips from a small package of smoked salmon and soak them in maple syrup. Use as flavourful a maple syrup as possible.





Step 3: Wrap the shrimp with the soaked smoked salmon



Step 4: Grill shrimp approximately 3-5 minutes per side and serve



Verdict: I initially didn't believe this would be as tasty as it is and that for a second, I was mistaking the smoked salmon for bacon.

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Basil Lemon Drop Martini


My brother just returned from St. Maarten where one of our favourite restaurants is owned and operated by a family friend. Temptation Restaurant is all about fine dining and the most interesting of cocktails. Have a vacation planned to St. Maarten? You'll have to get to Temptation; it's worth the trip.

Paul Peterson bartender extraordinaire at Temptation gave us his recipe for this absolutely incredible Basil Lemon Drop Martini. As you've already heard, lemons are in surplus these days and this recipe just raises the bar up yet another notch. Paul has been the gold medal winner twice in the Taste of the Caribbean bartending competitions. When you try this martini, there will be absolutely no doubt in your mind that it was created by someone with a refined palette.





2 oz. Absolute Citron (we used regular Absolute)
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
1 oz basil syrup
1 oz pineapple juice

To make Basil Syrup:

We made a large quantity to have on hand because we knew we couldn't just have one.

4 cups sugar
4 cups water

Bring to a boil to make simple syrup, cool, refrigerate
Take a handful of fresh basil leaves, put them in a blender and just cover with simple syrup. Blend well.

To Make Martini:

The proportion above is for a single martini; just adjust the proportions.
In a shaker, put ice cubes, vodka, basil syrup and pineapple juice. Shake together and pour.





Visually, once you pour this martini and let it sit for a minute, you'll notice that your basil syrup will have some settling in the bottom of the glass. The martini is beautiful to look at and the finish is smooth with a hint of basil.



Paul - you rock!!! This martini is probably the best I've ever had. It's no wonder you're a two time award winner.
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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Chez Edgar


It's hard to believe that Edgar has been open for over a year ago now.  It seems like just yesterday that Marysol was getting her footing as a new restaurant owner.  Now, Edgar is known for its quality, made-from-scratch foods and quaint atmosphere.  With only 11 seats, we were lucky to find a place when we arrived for brunch shortly after opening (not ones to be deterred by the time change).  


I love everything about Edgar, the food, the service, the atmosphere...even getting to practice my ordering skills in French (note: everyone is bilingual, but thankfully didn't automatically switch to English just because I have an English accent).


I'm looking forward to the opening of Odile, Edgar's little sister, which will have more seating.

I ordered the dutch baby, a puffed up pancake filled with slow-cooked pork belly, five-year-old cheddar, apple puree and maple syrup.  I ate it slowly to savour the taste and to make sure I got a bit of every flavour in one bite.  


"Ron" had the cabin à sucre-inspired meal, which included baked beans with maple syrup, poached eggs, potato gratin, bacon and what I think was a yorkshire pudding.


Of course, who can resist the counter full of baked goods?  I went with the lemon beignet, which is a muffin rolled in sugar and cinnamon and filled with lemon custard.


Ron had a plum tart, which he loved.


Edgar on Urbanspoon

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