Food Musings

A Winnipeg blog about the joy of preparing food for loved ones and the shared joy that travel & dining brings to life.

Tapas at Home

January8

Little plates are our favourite way to dine.  When the holidays are over, we still want to entertain friends but we want to lighten it up for everybody concerned.  So this weekend, we hosted a dinner of small plates.  First off we invited, my eldest brother and his wife as she had just recognized a significant birthday and we wanted to extend the time of celebration.  When we had gotten together with them in the last year or so, we had been anticipating and then remembering, our time in Ireland, so we eliminated stew and soda bread as possible menu items.  We all love Mediterranean fare and so that seemed the right choice.  Then we found out that our Sicilian friends were back  in Canada and invited them too.  So here I was cooking tagliatelle for an expert.  I gave myself the jitters.

Treats of sausage, ham, salami and olives sat on the table while we assembled and poured out a beautiful Cab Sauvignon from Sicily and an equally lovely Argentinian Malbec.

We started with a sweet potato and lime soup with just a hint of cinnamon.

Sweet Potato Lime Soup
Author: 
Recipe type: Soup
 
Ingredients
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled, cut in 1-inch chunks
  • 1L chicken stock
  • 1 T freshly ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 2 T freshly squeezed lime juice
Instructions
  1. Add sweet potatoes, stock and ginger to large pan.
  2. Bring to boil on medium-high heat.
  3. Turn heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until potatoes are very soft, about 20 minutes.
  4. Purée soup using immersion blender.
  5. Stir in coconut milk, lime juice.
  6. Adjust salt and pepper.
  7. I had a cinnamon citrus spice mix which I sprinkled on top.

 

We accompanied this with a rosemary flat bread.

Next up were rolls of eggplant.

And tagliatelle with browned butter and mizithra cheese.

The last dinner plate were white wine steamed mussels and even the guests who did not think that they were inclined towards mussels, quite loved them.

D had prepared a special treat for the birthday girl and dessert was banana cream pie (sorry no photo), Bernard Callebaut chocolates and an experiment with an Italian digestive-grappa.  I had found out earlier that day that grappa is a distilled product made from the seeds and skins of grapes.  Italians are very resourceful people and this was not surprising. The taste mind you, was a surprise.  High in tannin, it reminded me of what turpentine might taste like.  It must be an acquired taste, as the Sicilian quite enjoyed it, whereas D renamed it “crappa”.

The conversation was lively and the evening deemed a success, proving to me once again, that it is not so much the richness of the food but the richness of the friendships that makes for a successful dinner.

Kath’s quote: “At a dinner party one should eat wisely but not too well, and talk well but not too wisely.”-W. Somerset Maugham

Love-that is all.

 

 

Promenade Cafe and Wine

January7

Our youngest spent this past summer in Montreal with the goal of becoming more proficient in Canada’s official second language, so she was the perfect lunch date to accompany me to Promenade Café and Wine at the historic corner of Tache and Provencher Blvd. in St. Boniface.  As we ordered, she told me tales of the poutineries in the Le Plateau area of Montreal and one place in particular which was open 24 hours a day and served over thirty varieties.

Once I started thinking about Poutine, I couldn’t get the thought out of my head and just had to have it, but also wanted to sample something a wee bit new, so I chose poutine topped with tourtiere meat.  The tourtiere recipe that I am familiar with is a combination of ground beef, pork and veal seasoned with cloves and sage.  This version used bison tossed with cloves, all spice and paprika and was rich and savoury. The fries themselves were thickly cut from what must have been huge potatoes, because they were as long as the width of my hand.  They were topped with both squeaky cheese curds but also shredded gruyere cheese that added a smoky tone. The piping hot gravy (the high temperature is a must so that the cheese melts), includes a taste of red wine and a variety of French herbs.

Daughter #2 selected the Reuben, another staple from her time in Montreal.  She commented that the meat was abundant and that the Chef uses her preferred Montreal smoked meat as opposed to corned beef.  The proportions of sauerkraut, cheese and dressing were just right.  Her yardstick is that the juices ran down her arm when she took a bite.  A tossed house salad accompanied the sandwich but she could have chosen the daily soup which was bacon and pea on the day that we visited.

Promenade is well positioned for much success with a gorgeous view overlooking the “Feather Bridge”, the historic Forks and the amazing structure of the Canadian Human Rights Museum.  The owner Shawn Brandson is no stranger to St. Boniface as he has also taken on providing the foodservice for Fort Gibraltar.  I am anxious to return for breakfast and the special tasting menus that Shawn and his Chef create on a regular basis.  I have reserved a romantic table for two with the best view in the house for my husband’s upcoming birthday (please don’t tell him-it is a surprise).

Promenade Cafe and Wine on Urbanspoon

Kath’s quote: “The only cooks in the civilized world are French cooks. . . . Other nations understand food in general; the French alone understand cooking, because all their qualities – promptitude, decision, tact – are employed in the art. No foreigner can make a good white sauce.”-Roqueplan

Love-that is all.

The Hills of Tuscany-“A Tuscan Easter” by Ferenc Mate

January4

Here is the last little excerpt from The Hills of Tuscany by Ferenc Mate. If you have traveled to Italy or dream of doing so, you will love this read.  I was so sad when the adventure was over but then just last night, I picked up the sequel entitled A Vineyard in Tuscany.

Connie in her Sicilian Kitchen

This highlight is from his first Tuscan Easter dinner.  We have our own version of an Italian Easter Feast with dear friends who live half of the year in Sicily.  They are in Canada right now and will join us for dinner tomorrow evening.  Of course there will be photos and details of our menu to follow but for now, imagine the following:

Connie and I share he same birthdate

 We ate.

We started with two big trays of crostini, small cut toast from a baguette-type loaf, with four different spread they had made: one of porcini, one of chicken livers, one of tomato and basil, and the last one of tuna and capers.  That was enough to fill us.  Then came the pastas. One at a time. Forever.

And Franco kept pouring wine for us and all,  Carla, the eldest daughter, who had turned twenty-five that year, kept snapping orders at him and he seemed to have had almost enough, until Carla, being the perfect hostess, went to pour mineral water for everyone, a nice gesture, except that she forgot that she had set the table with the water glasses upside down, and now, while she was feverishly directing her dad, she was pouring water with great precision all over the table.  And we all broke up and laughed and laughed, and her little sister Elenora laughed until she cried.

Then we dug into the first pasta.  It was home made-what a stupid thing to say, of course it was homemade!  Everything was homemade!  Even the damned chickens!  They were delicate little crepes made by Carla, stuffed with ricotta and spinach and then baked in the oven like lasagna, and they tasted like heaven.  Even Giovanna, who, justifiably, fancies herself a great cook, rolled her eyes.  And we drank.  And we talked and talked-us mostly with our hands.  Then came another pasta.  Tagliatelle with rabbit ragu.  Spicy with tomatoes.  I think I swooned.  The came another pasta,  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  It was handmade pici, smothered in bread crumbs that had been stir-fried in olive oil.  When I was a kid in Budapest, it had been one of my favourite dishes.  After the third pasta, Candace said she was so full, she was about to lose consciousness.  Giovanna and I thought we were about to die.  So we drank some more wine.

The wine and a bit of rest must have dissolved all the pasta, because when the three trays of meats arrived we didn’t even gasp.

There was roast pigeon cut into small pieces, baked in the wood oven for two hours so there was just a parchment-thin crisp skin over the gamy meat.  Then there was wild boar stew, and of course the finale: roast lamb.  And roast potatoes that Candace somehow ate by the pound, and shredded salad well salted, Tuscan style.  And wine.  The Paolucci women drank very little, meaning that the four of us had sipped away about a litter each.  Over two hours.  And two pounds each of food.  Then came il dolce.

We had brought a great fruit tarte that Candace and Giovanna made.  It was coals to Newcastle.  Rosanna brought out her own tiramisu, a creamy thing full of coffee, which is why it’s called “pull me up”, and Carla had baked a crostada di albicocca, a crumbly apple tart, and of course there was the inevitable colomba, the traditional Easter cake, an uniced thing shaped like a dove.  Then came  resurrecting espresso, then of course brandies and grappa.  The Paoluccis kept insisting we drink the grappa because it is a digestivo; it helps with the digestion.  It also puts you in a profound state of merriment and lets you forget that you’re about to explode.”

Me on the rooftop of their home

So until I can sojourn to Italy again, I can anticipate new adventures and savour the memories of previous ones….

Kath’s quote: “Small cheer and great welcome makes a merry feast.”-William Shakespeare

Love-that is all.

 

The Hills of Tuscany-“Funghi” by Ferenc Mate

January3

I have two last excerpts from Ferenc Mate’s accounting of the planting of their roots in rural Tuscany.  I have to be careful not to read this when I am hungry or I will start salivating and building fires to grill my mushrooms over.  Even though I am a happy forager-loving the wild flowers and blueberries around our summer home, I have bever pursued the study of safe mushroom harvesting.  Belair Forest which surrounds our property, is regionally famous for their wild mushrooms and as a result of reading this, I intend to become an expert this coming fall.

 The first funghi-feast at their house I will never forget.  Piccardi casually invited us to taste the year’s first finds.  It was a Saturday night and we went through the graying light, up the hill to their house and looked down on our valley, taking some Vino Nobile and some PinotGrigio from Orvieto.  We had no idea what we would be eating.

The table was set for seven, for their children too were there: feisty Francesca, gentle Angela, and the resolute Allessandro.  We chatted about their schooling, about the coming fall, the nearing vendemmia, because the grapes might be ready early this year with all the heat.  Then the season’s first funghi appeared, chopped fine, cooked down to a sauce and spread on round crostini.  It was heaven.  The pungent, fragrant porcini flavors exploded in our mouths-bittersweet, moody-and the flavors came even more alive with the Vino Nobile from the Avignonesi vineyards.

Having finished the appetizer, I asked if we should open the Pinot Grigio for the next course, but Anna Maria said coyly, “No, there’s a bit more funghi.”  That night at the Piccardisfunghi rained like manna from heaven.  After the crostini came tagliatelle con funghi, not with one but two kinds, the first made from tomatoes, the second with porcini only, cooked with sliced garlic, parsley and salt in oil about twenty minutes, then at the end splashed with wine and simmered for a while.  Then came a zuppa di funghi, a think soup of sliced mushrooms, deep, peppery, calling for more wine.  After that we were convinced that we had reached the end, leaned back to relax, thanked Anna Maria for a stupendous dinner, when we noticed that Piccardi had been absent for a while.  We asked if all was well, and just as Francesca was about to reply, in burst her dad, aproned, grinning, carrying in his arms an enormous plate of grilled porcini.  Their fragrance wafted across the room and eddied all around us, and their taste made for the world’s best grilled steak taste dull.  We ate.  Savoring each bite as if it were our last.  The room fell silent as a tomb.

That was, thank God, the end.  Except for some whipped chocolate cake with a thick sauce of berries, and a bit of vinsanto and coffee, and just a tiny bit of grappa.

I can just feel the heaviness of the rich food in their tummies, can’t you?  Next installment  from The Hills of Tuscany is of their Easter Feast.

Kath’s quote: “Nature alone is antique and the oldest art a mushroom.”-Thomas Carlyle

Love-that is all.

 

 

Bailey’s for New Year’s Eve

January2

I’ll admit it: I don’t particularly enjoy New Year’s Eve.  This is not because I don’t like the moments of hugging and kissing at the appointed hour, because if you know me, you understand that I love any and every excuse to embrace and smooch.  I am an optimist and I live my life looking forward, so it is not that either.  I suppose it has to do with the regret that we don’t live every night of our life with a “new year’s eve” attitude-of forgiveness and reconciliation and the determination to do better.  The evening seems kind of artificial and contrived to me.  Do any of my readers feel this way too?

We often attend the bash at the Winnipeg Convention Centre where the multi-course meal is divine but the jazz stylings of Ron Paley and his big band even better.  Last year and another before that, we were on Isla Mujeres where the entire island (or so it seems) crowds into the square at midnight to kick off the year with a tremendous show of fire works and then they dance all night long.  And I mean this literally, because the next morning when we tried to hunt up some breakfast, most places were shuttered up because they had just arrived home to get some sleep.

Well this year, we were invited by new friends to join them at Bailey’s Restaurant and Lounge.  The evening had a lovely pace and lots of opportunity to get to know them better.  When we left to go elsewhere for midnight, there were only family and staff members left who were assembling to celebrate midnight together.  We had the pleasure of meeting Leo the owner and other members of his family. Typically Leo is very hands on helping with table service and the like, but on this evening he was simply making the rounds to warmly embrace his many patrons.

The first course was a cold platter of appetizers for the table with a nibble each of spanakopeta, spring roll, beef satay skewer, smoked salmon and garlic shrimp.  This proved to be a lovely way to forecast the culinary treats ahead.

Our attentive waiter came over to sadly tell us that the red pepper soup had been substituted with an asparagus one.  No disappointment to us- it was pungent with asparagus and buttery at the same time.

A warm from the oven, crusty roll occupied us until the salad course of mandarins, strawberries and candied blueberries topping mixed greens and a sweet poppy seed dressing arrived.

The guys both chose a platter including a beef tenderloin medallion, a lamb chop, shrimp and scallops. 

My new friend loved the veal chop with a tarragon port wine reduction.

I was over the moon with my selection of scampi.  There were so many upon the plate, that my vegetables and roasted potatoes had to arrive on a second plate, alongside.  I wondered how I was going to eat them all and then proceeded to do so without any trouble.  Each Icelandic baby lobster was still completely encased in its shell which meant that I had to roll up my sleeves and crack my way through to the sweet meat.  I mopped each one of them around in Bailey’s own butter sauce (which I have to get the recipe of) and when they were gone and there were still dobs of sauce on my plate, I swirled slivers of the potato and then cauliflower to ensure that I soaked up every salty drop.

I could have easily bundled up for our walk to the Forks to see the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and the fireworks by this time, but we were not quite done.  Everyone needed a chocolate fix which was satisfied by the Black Out Torte and I opted for fresh fruit swimming in cointreau.  Coffee and Biley’s (of course) came after that.

By this time, we got moving to mark the strike of twelve.  I loved the intimate evening with our new friends which seemed so perfect at a time which sings about auld acquaintances not being forgotten.

Bailey's Restaurant and Lounge on Urbanspoon 

Kath’s quote: “An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.”-Bill Vaughn

Love-that is all.

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