Friday, October 23, 2009

Montreal Food Guide -Part Deux

On our third day in Montreal, we were invited to a friend of a friend's Canadian Thanksgiving. Julia and Carlo were so sweet to let us join their family for the festivities. Overall, Canadian Thanksgiving is more of a low-key event compared to the American holiday. We had turkey with a foil bikini - which I unfortunately don't have any pictures of, but found a picture off of the internet below. We also had some delicious butternut squash soup with drizzled avocado oil, as well as mashed potatoes and gravy, and pumpkin pie for dessert. It was really so kind of Julia and her family to have us over - they even spoke English just for us!
Image taken from
Later that night, after we went back to the hotel and took a nap, we took the metro over to Mile End and watched Carlo perform in a play. It was very interesting, because the play was in a loft where the audience could walk into whatever scene they wanted and watch. It felt like a mystery because you were trying to put together pieces of what was going on in each storyline.

Afterwards to celebrate, Carlo and Julia took us to Fairmount Bagel which is open 24 hours.
Over Thanksgiving dinner, there was a debate about who had better bagels - New York or Montreal, so we had to go find out for ourselves. I am not really a bagel connoisseur, and in fact have never even been to H & H Bagel in New York. I have only eaten them whenever a friend has brought one over for me. That said, the bagel debate was something I couldn't really get passionate about, but I was all for just going to get warm bagels at 11 at night. According to my guide book, the main difference between an American bagel and a Canadian bagel is that the Canadian bagel is less doughy and slightly sweeter. Carlo wanted us to get the ultimate Montreal bagel experience so he went and bought bagels from the rival bagel shop St-Viateur Bagel, while Julia took the rest of us to Fairmount.
Photo taken by AWD.
Inside is a small space with a counter and a couple large refrigerators to the right filled with various spreads such as cream cheese and lox. Behind the counter you can see the ovens baking the bagels and the employees cutting and hand rolling the dough. I had to get the sesame bagel and cinnamon raisin (my two favorites) and I also tried the small sweet bagels which were crunchy and slightly sweet but actually a disappointment. Both the sesame and cinnamon raisin bagel were delicious, as we had waited for them to come straight out of the oven.
Photos taken by AWD.
Once Carlo returned, we had a sesame bagel throwdown between Fairmount and St-Viateur. Four out of five preferred Fairmount (I think the odd man out was just trying to be cool).
Winning Fairmount Sesame Bagel on right!Photos taken by AWD.
After our bagel taste-testing was complete, I thought our night was over. I thought wrong! Julia and Carlo decided to take us for some traditional, greasy Canadian food called poutine. Although poutine comes in many varieties, the standard is French fries covered in beef gravy and topped with fresh cheese curds. Needless to say, I did not try it, but I did get just some French fries. We ate at the very crowded La Banqiuse Resto, which is also open 24 hours and to me seems equivalent to going to Perkins after a late night out. You pay at your table before you get your meal, and usually people wash the grease down with a cold beer.
The next day we got up early and rode the train back down to New York - thank goodness I had bought a couple more bagels for the journey home :)

Montreal Food Guide - Part Une

A few weeks ago, a couple of my friends and I took an eleven hour train ride up to Montreal, Quebec from NYC. The Amtrak train ride was long, but much more enjoyable than flying and not to mention cheaper! For me the best part was the view of the fall leaves throughout the Hudson Valley and of course eating tons of snacks.
I stuffed one Baggu bag full of various goodies such as: Cheddar Bunnies, Ginger Snaps, Fig Newmans, Wasbabi peas, rice crackers, Pumpkin Flax granola bars, apples, bananas, Tazo tea, and Volvic water. Plus there is the dining car, but microwaved chicken sandwiches for some reason didn't interest me.
Siamese Cheddar Bunnies - Photo by AWD
By the time the train arrived in Montreal, it was dinner time and we dropped our luggage off at the Hotel St. Paul and walked through Old Montreal to a restaurant called Garde Manger. I had read about it on Chow Hound and The New York Times. We made it there and walked into a trendy yet cozy interior. Unfortunately, we were denied a table because we needed a reservation and no waiting was allowed. What? So my friend and I foolishly decided to just walk to a restaurant that seemed to be close by called Joe Beef. After about a mile in the misty rain on a desolate street we arrived at Joe Beef only to find out that they too only took reservations. Now I was becoming irritated, so we decided to check next door at a place called McKeirnan as our last option since was already 9:30 pm. Come to find out, McKeirnan is actually connected to Joe Beef and is advertised as a luncheonette more than as place to eat dinner. We walked into the small, dimly-lit restaurant with tile floors and a tin ceiling lined with small tables and a chalk board high up on the wall stating its menu. To the right of the menu was the open kitchen with a robust chef with a thick Québécois accent. The menu looked rustic and hearty, but definitely not suited for a vegetarian. The only option I had was an eggplant sandwich, and I am not a huge fan of the vegetable. When I told to the chef I wanted the sandwich - he informed me that it was "too pedestrian for tonight." So surprisingly he ran downstairs and brought me up a piece of fish and ended up preparing an on-the-spot dish of mashed potatoes, toasted pecans and pine nuts, topped with fish. The dishes were served in these adorable white enameled cast iron pieces. It really hit the spot. Both the chef and the cute waiter were so nice, and chatted us up after we finished our meals, giving us places to find a beer. I unfortunately did not bring my camera along, but below I attempted to draw my meal. Later that night we made it to Snack'n Blues - a place suggested to us my our waiter in the Mile End neighborhood. It was amazing - cheese puffs in bowls and a projector displaying Prince live in concert from the nineties.
The next day after getting a tour of the Canadian Centre for Architecture, we made our way to Olive + Gourmando, a little cafe and bakery I had been dying to go to. The place is in Old Montreal and is bustling. You are first seated and the host places a sign at your table that says "Reserved." Then you are suppose to get up and order at a counter. The menu is located on a chalk board and is in French.
I ended up getting roasted red pepper and tomato soup and my friend got the Cubain - a panini filled with ham, braised pork, homemade mayonnaise, and gruyère cheese. The soup was delicious, and my friend gave the panini a 7 out of 10. At the end of our meal we were confused on how to pay, because we never got a ticket, but the waitress assured us that when we got to the pay counter that they would know what we had ordered. And sure enough, somehow they did, but before we paid we got a chocolate banana brioche and one palmier to take back to the hotel.
We decided to have a dessert competition between the brioche, palmier, and our Fig Newman Reduced Fat cookies from our train ride. The chocolate banana brioche was just alright. The chocolate was kind of dry and chunky and only every once in a while did you get a slice of banana. For all the trouble it was to eat, it definitely wasn't worth it.
The palmier was thickly coated with a dry simple syrup. The coating was so thick that it kind of hurt your teeth to bite into it - revealing its flaky texture inside. If it hadn't had been so rock hard I probably would have liked it better.
I was so disappointed, but then I remembered the Fig Newmans. These cookies were soft and filled with delicious sweet figs. You really couldn't beat them, and the other two desserts didn't stand a chance. The Fig Newmans won hands down!
Later that night after going to the Festival du Nouveau Cinema and seeing Mary and Max, a touching claymation about an 8 year old Australian girl who is pen pals with a forty year old New York man with Asberger's, we went to the French bistro called L'Express. We had gotten smart and made a reservation. L'Express was brightly lit and had tall ceilings and tiny tables lined up throughout the restaurant. The waiters were all wearing crisp , white dress shirts with black ties and vests.
We sat down with our French menus and fortunately the waiter brought us English versions so we could order appetizers - chicken pate for my friend and a vegetable soup for me (it had chicken broth - oh well). While waiting, the waiter brought us a jar of baby pickles. Seriously, they were probably our favorite thing we ate the entire weekend. I ended up not finishing my meal so I could eat more pickles. After appetizers came my white fish with vegetables and my friend had the steak and frites. Both meals were cooked perfectly, except for a few small bones I found in my fish.
More on Montreal and their food later. Look out for second post on Canadian Thanksgiving, Montreal bagels, and their specialty - poutine.
For more on Montreal restaurants, click here for The New York Times' suggestions.

For Part Deux of my food guide, click here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Flourless Double-Chocolate Pecan Cookies

I miss a lot of things about Lawrence, Kansas, but I particularly miss the choc et choc cookies from Wheatfields. Every time I ate one of their delicious cookies, I would wonder how they made them so someday I could recreate them myself.

Last month, I got my Everyday Food magazine and found a recipe for flourless double-chocolate pecan cookies. Although these cookies aren't the exact version of the choc et choc cookies at Wheatfields, they do trick in New York. I also think that the Wheatfield's cookies use walnuts instead of pecans, but I actually like pecans better anyways. The great thing about these is that they are gluten-free and still delicious. The first time I made these they burned because my oven is crazy (usually 75 degrees off, but on occasion off more with out letting me know). This didn't stop people from eating them up within a day.

Here are the ingredients for Everyday Food September 2009 issue's Flourless Double-Chocolate Pecan Cookies (makes a dozen large cookies):
-3 cups confectioner's sugar
-3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder, spooned and leveled
-1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
-5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
-1 1/2 cups pecans, chopped (you can substitute other nuts or leave them out completely)
-4 large egg whites, room temperature

To begin, preheat oven to 325 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, cocoa, and salt.
Chop chocolate and pecans, then stir into flour mixture.
Add egg whites and stir just until incorporated. Don't over mix.
Drop dough by 1/4 cupfuls, 3 inches apart, onto baking sheets. Bake until cookie tops are dry and crackled, about 25 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through.
Transfer cookies onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely.
These cookies come out glossy and have a crisp edge with a chewy, meringue-like center. I am definitely going to make them again very soon.

For original recipe, click here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Pear-Caramel Ice Cream

I got David Lebovitz's book The Perfect Scoop a couple weeks ago and had to try one of ice cream recipes. The book is divided into sections by ice creams, sorbets and sherberts, granitas, and sauces and toppings, etc. The recipes are laid out concisely and there are beautiful photos throughout the book which beckons the reader to make another recipe. I have been getting a ton of Bosc pears from my CSA so I decided to make the Pear-Caramel ice cream. To be honest, Bosc pears are not my favorite, I prefer Barlett or d'Anjous pears for eating. Bosc pears have a firmer flesh than other pears, making them perfect for baking or poaching. For more information on Bosc pears, click here. So my main goal was to get rid of these pears, but still make something I would enjoy. Overall, I enjoyed the ice cream, but next time I would go with David's suggestion to use Comice or Bartlett pears. I think the Bosc pears' flavor couldn't hold up to the caramel, so if you make this yourself use the pears suggested for a stronger pear flavor.

Ingredients for David Lebovitz's Pear-Caramel Ice Cream taken from The Perfect Scoop:
-3 medium sized pears, peeled and cored (Bartlett or Comice pears recommended)
-3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoon granulated sugar
-2 cups heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
-A few drops freshly squeezed lemon juice (didn't have lemon on hand, so I didn't worry about it)

To begin, dice the pears into 1/4 inch pieces.
Spread the sugar in a large, nonreactive, heavy-bottom saucepan (mine was stainless steel). Cook sugar over medium heat and be sure to watch it carefully. When it begins to liquefy and darken at the edges, use a heat proof spatula to very gently stir the sugar, encouraging the other sugar to liquefy in the center.
Have your pear pieces ready, and once the sugar becomes a deep amber, stir the pear pieces in. Don't be afraid if some of the sugar hardens over the pears, they will eventually melt. Continue to cook the pears for about 10 minutes or until the pieces are cooked through.
Remove pear mixture from heat and add 1/2 cup cream, then mix in the remaining cream along with the salt and a few drops of lemon juice.
Let cool to room temperature and then puree in a blender or food processor until smooth. Note: I actually chilled mine completely before pureeing the mixture. Then press the mixture through a mesh strainer with a rubber spatula to move any tough pear fibers.
Then chill the mixture thoroughly and then pour into the ice cream maker, following the manufacturer's instructions. For a firmer ice cream, place in the freezer for at least two hours.
This ice cream is good on its own, but is also nice paired with some caramelized pears on the side. Enjoy!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Starbucks VIA Ready Brew Coffee

For me, Starbucks is more of a public bathroom hot spot than a place to get coffee. On Sunday though, while out with friends I found myself forced to get a cup of coffee. Along with the coffee came Starbucks' latest gimmick-the Starbucks VIA Ready Brew. According to their website it is "pretty revolutionary" and "a life-altering concept." I had to laugh a little and then wonder who came up with this nonsense. Starbucks prides themselves on their flavorful instant coffee and the convenience of just adding water. Ummm...has anyone heard of a drip c one ? I know that you have to have coffee grounds, cone, filter, and hot water, instead of just the instant coffee package and hot water, but I have never found that to be difficult. In fact, I think the most challenging thing would be to find hot water. I think the only person who would find this useful would be someone who only has a microwave, otherwise making real coffee seems just as easy.

So after I turned my nose up at even the idea of drinking instant coffee, I decided to give it a try and see if the Starbucks VIA lived up to its high reputation.
The package is small, so it would be convenient to carry with you in your purse or attache case. Basically you heat up water, rip open the package to dump in the minuscule grounds (which reminds me of the iron powder in the Wooly Willy Magnetic Drawing Face), and then stir. It instantly dissolves.
Overall, the taste was alright - maybe it's great compared to other instant coffees, but I have never tried them. It was definitely not any better than a cup of coffee from a pot at work, and it especially didn't compare to my one cup drip cone. The most confusing and unsatisfying part about my cup of Starbucks VIA is that it didn't have any aroma, which is an important quality to a great cup of coffee.

Starbucks VIA cost $9.95 for a 12 pack (that is 83 cents a cup) or $34.95 for a 48 pack (which is 73 cents a cup). You could pay a little more for a real cup of coffee, or better yet - buy your own beans and make some yourself.