Browsing: Food Celebrations

The Grove Revisited

January23

When we traveled to Ireland this past spring, we came to understand the essential importance of the neighbourhood pub.  If you define a pub in Canadian terms, it equates to something far different from what a pub is to an Irishman.  The Grove is the closest facsimile to a real pub in my mind.  For one, it is located on the street which borders ours, albeit significantly east of our locale.  For two, we could walk there, although when it is -47 with the wind chill, we chose not to on this day.  For three, there is familiarity-the owner waving at J1 as he arrived at work on this afternoon.  And then there is the rest of the package: personable staff, a wide selection of cold drawn and bottled beer and simple, yet wonderfully prepared food.

We were celebrating a family birthday.  That is, we have a celebratory meal together when it is a family member’s birthday.  The format does not change very much: the birthday boy/girl gets to choose whether we will slow roast a batch of ribs, plant ourselves on a patio for the afternoon or try a new restaurant together.  In this case, D wanted to ensure that he was sitting in his favourite chair in front of the big screen TV for NFL conference finals, by kick off time, so lunch it was.

When we arrived, there was a note on the door declaring that due to a mechanical issue (our guess was that something froze in the extreme cold), the menu would be limited.  We were undeterred and found all kinds of delicious choices.

Of course fish and chips were ordered and J1 and J2 remarked that the fish was very lightly breaded and that the haddock fillet itself was a hearty portion, more like a fish steak.  J1 would have loved to have had a burger which he declares is the city’s best but was pleased with this alternative.

Daughter #1 loves her Butter Chicken and found this recipe to her liking, that is to say: flavourful but not too firey.

The Frenchman sampled the lamb stew and was delighted.

I had been celebrating D’s birthday with indulgent food since the night before, so I decided to make a healthy choice and had the quinoa salad: sour cherry and pistachio crumble, cucumber, red onion, red pepper, tomato, carrot & mint, dressed in lemon garlic vinaigrette.

D had been dreaming about The Grove’s pan-seared scallops and knew that he had to savour them again.

Our cordial server brought out the German Chocolate cake that we had brought ourselves (D’s favourite cake) with a knife, plates, napkins and forks and we concluded our pub lunch in this way.

The Grove Pub and Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Kath’s quote: “Some people have a foolish way of not minding, or pretending not to mind, what they eat. For my part, I mind my belly very studiously, and very carefully; for I look upon it, that he who does not mind his belly will hardly mind anything else.”-Samuel Johnson

Love-that is all.

Our Annual Fondue

January10

Here is Daughter #2 with that “Mom, you aren’t going to take another fondue picture of me when -I- have- just- put- food -in- my- face expression.”

It is fun to go back over the years and the photos of our annual family fondue party.  There have been various friends invited to join us and the date has sometimes been New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day or the Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s but the one thing that remains the same, is that it must be scheduled.  Last year when we spent New Year’s on Isla Mujeres, I even tried to gather up some fondue pots on the island, to no avail.  We are a family who love our traditions.

The key to a successful fondue party is being well prepared.  I layout a plastic table cloth, ensure that we have lots of fuel on hand and that every place setting has an adequate share of forks.  If you are queasy about cross contamination (we have many safe food handlers in our family), you can eliminate concern by placing  stack of paper plates in front of each of your guests.  You would think that this would cut down on dishes to be done but the dirty dishes still seem endless.  One small drawback to a fondue evening, but still well worth it.

I also like to provide lots of variety, not only on the nightly selection but the choices from one year to another.  We started making tempura vegetables the year that the Frenchman’s sister (who is vegetarian) joined us and now that has become a staple.  But this year was the first time that I prepared an authentic tempura dipping sauce to have with it-that was a big hit. 

I also mixed things up a bit by preparing a spicy chicken coating and a meatball stuffed with camembert.  Here is the recipe for the latter:

 

Fondue Meatballs
Author: 
Recipe type: Entree
 
Original recipecalled for ground veal.
Ingredients
  • 1 T canola oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ¼ c tomato, diced
  • 1 t basil, finely chopped
  • 1 T parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 egg
  • 1 lb ground chicken
  • ½ lb camembert cheese, thinly diced
  • salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Warm the canola oil in a pan and add the garlic, tomato, basil and parsley.
  2. Cook these ingredients for about three minutes then turn off the heat and let cool.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat the egg and mix the ground meat and the contents of the pan.
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Using a piece of cheese as the center, shape the ground veal mixture into balls.
  6. Keep the meatballs refrigerated until fondue time.
  7. Let your meatball cook into the hot oil for a few minutes.
  8. Note: if you use ground chicke thigh, meat with still remain pinkish even when fully cooked.
  9. Once cooked, remove from the oil and let cool for a few minutes.

We always have a bazillion sauces on our refrigerator door so I pour out a variety of these.  I also made Bearnaise to have as a treat with the sirloin strips.  To add more veggies, I prepared a broccoli cheese fondue rather than our typical cheese only one.

For dessert: angel food cake, strawberries, pineapple and banana are always dipped in melted chocolate.  This year we added a salted caramel sauce and the piece de resistance-we dipped the most amazing shortbread (a Christmas gift) into chocolate (salty/sweet-I’m in heaven)!

Kath’s quote: “Well loved he garleek, oynons, and eek lekes. And for to drinken strong wyn, reed as blood.”-Geoffrey Chaucer

Love-that is all.

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

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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