Saturday, July 31, 2010

My new gig

This isn’t child labour. My niece Julia wanted to help me make flour tortillas from scratch when I was developing authentic Mexican recipes for my first issue of House & Home magazine as Food Editor. And let me tell you, if a six-year old can do it, so can you.

And you can find out how in the September issue of the mag, hitting stands this week. Go pick up a copy and let me know what you think!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Eat Here: Fromagerie Lemaire Restaurant

What's going on with me? I had never tried poutine up until a few years ago (and this – even though I lived in Montreal for four years), yet suddenly can’t get enough of the stuff. I’ve had it high (Martin Picard and Jamie Kennedy’s versions) and low (Harvey’s). I’ve had it here, in Calgary, just last night at Charcut Roast House, a great new restaurant in the great new Le Germain hotel, and there, in Quebec City.

There’s an honest-to-goodness poutine boom going on in Toronto, as this “fries as a meal” dish appears on most restaurant menus, in chip trucks and even at standalone poutine haunts such as Smoke’s Poutinerie and Poutini’s House of Poutine.

What is poutine? Fresh cut french fries, chicken gravy, cheese curd. Those are the basics. I find the rest of it – foie gras and shredded shortribs, lobster and bĂ©arnaise sauce, pulled pork and curried chicken – to be silly, superfluous stuff.

After all, a classic is always timely.

Which brings us to Fromagerie Lemaire Restaurant in Drummondville, Quebec. See how the word fromagerie is right in the title of the restaurant? That’s because they make their own cheese on the premises, including the freshest, saltiest, squeakiest cheese curds you’ve ever tasted.

Heaven on a cafeteria tray.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Top 30 things you do when you’re away that you normally wouldn’t do at home

We all do stuff when travelling that we don't get to do at home -- all part of the appeal of visiting far-flung places. Herewith, I present my comprehensive list of 30 things you do when you’re away that you normally wouldn’t do at home. If you have any to add, by all means, be my guest.

Sleep under the stars

Go fishin’

Go off-roading

Skeet shooting


Bungee jump

Go whitewater canoeing

Buy your lunch at a market and then enjoy it by a babbling brook

Sit in the bath like waters of the Mediterranean or Caribbean for eight hours straight

Go horseback riding

Eat four Swiss Movenpick ice creams or four Italian gelatos (locale dependant) every day for a week

Smoke opium

Drive standard

Go rapelling

Jump off a cliff into a quarry full of water

Go snorkeling or scuba diving

Go shopping. (I almost never shop at home, yet I always shop when I’m away. Why? Better stuff? Time? I can’t be sure.)

Send a postcard

Climb a tower, eg. Eiffel, Pisa, CN

Visit three galleries in a single day

Drink lots of good wine

Drink lots of bad wine

Drink moonshine

Take a bath with lavender salts

Have a 2.5hr treatment at a spa then go ocean kayaking

Ride a motorcycle

Ride a donkey

Ride an elephant

Ride a camel

Have dessert at breakfast lunch, and dinner

Saturday, July 10, 2010

This just in: Whisky & Wings

About a week ago I took my fourth or fifth Porter flight this year and I’m now making it official: I love this airline.

Here's why. I get to the Toronto City Airport in a breeze from my downtown home (while saving about $100 on to and fro airport pickups), I even enjoy taking the little ferry across to the island (one of life’s simple pleasures), and once across the lake the Porter lounge is user-friendly with a clean design and Mac stations. There are even cold beverages and cappuccinos and biscotti and shortbread on hand. (Shortbread!)

Of course, this shouldn’t take anything away from the good folks at Air Canada, an airline that remains close to my heart. After all, enRoute magazine, Air Canada’s inflight mag, was my first regular freelance gig out of journalism school, and I’ve been a regular contributor ever since. Which means I’ve been writing for the magazine my entire career. That’s a long time!

Air Canada also trumps Porter Air on the inflight entertainment front – I love getting caught up on old TV series, Canadian cinema and even new Hollywood flicks, all from the comfort of my personal entertainment system. Oh, and they fly basically everywhere.

Bottom line: When comparing likewise airlines in the States, I think we’re lucky to have two superior options here in Canada.

But here’s where Porter blows Air Canada out of the water…Free booze!

When I flew to Ottawa last week, I swear, we were only in the air for about a half hour, and it wasn’t even noon, and I still got a nice chilled chardonnay – in a real glass.

And now Porter has paired with Glenfiddich to make pre-flight even more top-notch. The famed fifth generation single malt providers are offering guided tastings of the Glenfiddich 12 year old, 15 year old and 18 year old and single malts with on-hand “Malt Specialists” at the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, from 4pm to 8pm on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays until July 23rd.

In other words, the skies just got a whole lot friendlier.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Worst. Interview. Ever.

Whenever I’m feeling a little too awesome and want to take myself down a few pegs, I think back on my most disastrous interview ever, with one of America’s best known chefs no less, and it basically gets the job done. Here is the story, reprinted from the National Post. It ran a couple of years ago. I think I'm finally over it.

Never offend a chef with knives

National Post

Before he sits down for our interview in Toronto, Masaharu Morimoto methodically ties and then straightens his hakama over his kimono, then adjusts his slicked-back ponytail and designer eyeglasses. He looks like a New York-chic samurai warrior and, as I'm about to learn, has the attitude to match.

Either the chef has had a rough day or the language barrier is worse than I thought, but five minutes into our interview, I hear myself saying, "Chef, you're killing me," and I'm getting ready to walk. I'm sad and hurt by this unexpected turn of events because 1) I like the Iron Chef and really want him to like me; 2) I'm usually such a charming interviewer and fear I've lost my touch; 3) He's wearing knives.

The Iron Chef is in Toronto to promote Morimoto: The New Art of Japanese Cooking. It's a gorgeous tome full of sumptuous photography, lots of doable recipes and some not. For instance, yes to tuna pizza with anchovy aioli built on flour tortillas, but no to crispy duck with port-wine reduction and red miso sauce with foie-gras croissants and sunny-side-up duck eggs. And a definite no to asparagus pocky. (Glad you asked: Instead of the regular delicious cookie stick dipped in chocolate, it's a candied asparagus spear likewise dipped.)

But there are many more yeses than noes: soothing Morimoto chicken-noodle soup hit with Sichuan peppercorns and sake, gorgeous ribbons of white and green asparagus in a simple salad, bamboo shoots struck with fresh lime, sweet little rolls of lamb carpaccio with scallion and ginger sauce, parchment-wrapped sea bass, and frozen lettuce. Simple, fresh and flavourful recipes all; what's more, Morimoto's creative plating will instantly improve your culinary standing during the competitive holiday dinner-party season.

Since the book is geared to the home chef, my editor thought it would be a bang-up idea if I asked the chef for his "top five" picks on how the home cook could instantly become a better chef. So I ask. He looks at me as if I've spat in his pork kakuni, then launches into a controlled tirade: "Do you have children? Would you ask someone to choose a favourite child? If you married and have 10 kids and I ask, which kid your favourite, you answer?"

"I'm not saying that…"

"No, no, no. There are recipes in the book. I work on these for two years. You going to ask me my favourite?"

"But I'm not asking your favourite recipe, I'm asking…"

"No, I try everything, you try it, you recommend everything."

"…But I'm not asking about your favourite recipes, I'm asking about your best kitchen tips, like the importance of using a sharp knife." (By the way, I'm absolutely hating my editor right now.)

"Uh-huh. You don't have to. I do it, but you don't have to."

"I know you don't have to, but if I'm cooking at home and my knives are dull…"

"…For sushi, yes. It's better, yes. Slice tomato, yes. But are you asking me because I'm a Japanese Iron Chef, it's all choppy-choppy?" (Oh. My. God.)

"No," I say, now verging on nervous laughter. "Just easy home tips."

Then he starts talking about sauces and making substitutions, the supermarket and the ease of mixing your own spices. The main thing, he says, is to "use your imagination," which is actually a really good tip.

Best of all, he's calmed down. Maybe it's because he's talking about his chicken-noodle soup, one of his favourite recipes in the book. His favourite ingredient? Octopus. He likes it because he can make it into anything, and because it evokes fond childhood memories. He goes into some detail here, but I can't really understand what he's saying, and you can only ask an Iron Chef to repeat himself so many times.

"Cooking in a restaurant is borderless," he says. "Cooking in the home is different. American mommy makes the home food. In this country, meat is cheaper than fish. So the food is different." In Japan, his family was poor but ate well: rice, noodles, vegetables and a little bit of fish.

I ask him if he knows what Kraft Dinner is. He does. I ask what he'd do with it to put his Morimoto stamp on in. "Spices. And maybe octopus, deep-fry it a little bit."

Of course, he's had many, but his proudest culinary moment? His eyes light up: "When I was doing Iron Chef in Japan. Very popular. Many children watch. And now they come of age, and many of those kids now becoming chefs. And now in America, they come to me and the kids tell me that I am their favourite Iron Chef and they want to become chef."

Finally, he's smiling widely and we're on good terms. As we shake hands before ET Canada steals him away, I want to tell him what a great fan I am, and what an honour it's been to meet him, and how eating at Morimoto in Philadelphia remains one of the greatest culinary moments of my life.

Instead I say: "My friend almost named his cat after you."