Sunday, February 21, 2010
This past Friday I went out to catch up with my good friend Roxy and she took me to her favourite restaurant. Since Roxy has great taste in restaurants I was really looking forward to this meal and it did not disappoint.
Justine’s is a bistro owned by a Frenchman. His aim is to have a restaurant as close to a Parisian bistro as possible on this side of the pond and I would say that he has succeeded. The restaurant is small but very intimate. I loved the decor with the exposed stone walls and the muted lighting.
Bistro Justine is also a well stocked wine bar. They have a huge selection of wines from all around the world available by the glass. Unfortunately I know next to nothing about wine other than the fact that I don’t like white wine.
I explained to the waiter that I usually take Bordeaux but that I wanted to try something different and he said he had an idea of what he was going to bring me. The waiter poured me some wine but I found that it was too dry so he brought a second bottle which was perfect. The bistro gets their stock from their own private importers so they have a lot of hard to find bottles. I have to add though that the service was impeccable, the waiters are very welcoming and helpful. They do not rush you and they take their time answering any questions that you might have. Roxy has been going there for years and said that they have had the same people for years which is no surprise given how good they are.
I liked their wine glasses with their names etched on.
While we were waiting for our food we munched on some bread. It was really good quality, it tasted almost like sourdough. The butter was rock hard though. It’s a small pet peeve of mine in restaurants when the butter is stone cold and you have to scrape it over your bread.
The menu is very reasonably priced with small “French sized” portions. As Roxy said, the portion sizes are the real reason that French women don’t get fat.
To start off Roxy ordered the foie gras crème brulee which is basically a foie gras mousse with a caramelized sugar topping. I personally have a thing against sweet and savoury mixed together so I just tried a bit of the mousse on a piece of bread and it was delicious; very smooth with an excellent taste.
I ordered trouted salmon gravlax with fennel salsa. This was great, the fish was excellent and matched perfectly with the salsa.
It sounds crazy but I was really impressed with the dicing on the salsa, everything was perfectly uniform in size. From what I could make out it had raw fennel, French shallots and pieces of fresh orange in a citrus dressing. I was really pleased with this dish.
To follow up we both had the blue marlin tataki niçoise. This was a bit of a miss, although I have to say that I have yet to have a good salad in a restaurant. The quality of the fish was acceptable but the lettuce was the same spring mix that every single supermarket stocks and the dressing was too heavy on the vinegar. I remember Jamie Oliver saying that he found that even at ultra posh restaurants that salads were an afterthought on the menu. I can’t judge too harshly though since the fact that we are in the middle of winter probably puts a dent in the availability of salad greens and veggies.
I rarely order steak in restaurants bit I decided to give the filet mignon a try. I loved the presentation for all the dishes, very chic.
To accompany the steak there was gratin dauphinoise cut in a perfect square.
Ratatouille, which strangely enough had no tomatoes.
and a wine pan sauce.
On the bottom of the steak there were sautéed snow peas and mushrooms. Overall I was happy with this main course, The gratin had perfect super thin layers and the ratatouille was good and not greasy at all. The absence of tomatoes allowed the more subtle flavours of the zucchini, red and orange peppers, eggplants and onions to shine through. The pan sauce was delicious and I dunked every piece of steak in it. The only slight downside was the steak itself. I had asked for medium and it came closer to done, as well it was completely unseasoned. I always season my steaks with sea salt and pepper so plain steaks always surprise me. Without fail I usually have trouble with the “doneness” in restaurants since medium can either be practically raw at one place and nearly done at another.
There were some amazing sounding desserts but Roxy and I were too stuffed to order anything else. The price was extremely good, for a glass of wine, appetizer, salad and steak main course I paid 44$ including tax and tip. This is a place that has what I consider honest food. There is a lot of attention to detail and while the food is beautifully presented it is not a stuffy, pretentious restaurant. The atmosphere is very welcoming and it is an excellent place to relax with a good friend for a long dinner and a good chat.
As I mentioned in my last post, The Husband and I had fondue for our anniversary. Here is the caramel one I made for him. The recipe comes from here. It is only in French but you can run it through the translator here.
First of all check out our super retro fondue pot. Since we pretty much eloped (I got married in jeans, at city hall, no I am not joking) and did not have the benefit of having a registry, pretty much 90% of our dishware comes from The Husband’s grandparents. Being the frugal bunch that they were some of their stuff dates back to the 50’s. It is quite amusing pulling out random kitchen utensils and trying to figure out to which war they date back to; World War II? Vietnam? Korean War? Fun times.
Sorry about all the shadows. The pot has high sides that slope in so it was a bit rough trying to take pictures. Anyways, you start off with water, sugar and corn syrup then bring it to a boil.
I’m always nervous whenever I have sugar boiling on the stove. Being accident prone I always envision some kind of disaster occurring.
You let the caramel boil away until it reaches the desired colour. The darker it gets the stronger the flavour will be. If it gets too dark it will just taste burnt though.
The butter goes in then.
Followed by heavy cream
and some milk with cornstarch mixed in.
You bring it back up to a boil until it is thickened and smooth. The whole process takes around 10 minutes, tops.
The Husband dipped pound cake and apples into his fondue and was very happy with his dessert. For my tastes I let the caramel brown a wee bit too much but he thought that it was perfect. The leftovers reheat well although it really thickens upon cooling down so you need to add more cream to thin it out and then bring it to a boil again. Fondue is a fun dessert and not very difficult to make at all, It’s definitely a repeat for next valentine’s day.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
This past week was The Husband’s and mine 9th year anniversary. Go us! and what better way to celebrate it than with stuffing our faces. For dessert I wanted to make fondue but since he doesn’t like chocolate, silly boy, I made two different ones: caramel for him and chocolate dulce de leche fondue for me.
This recipe is dangerously easy to make. I say dangerous because you can easily make it in less than five minutes in the microwave; you don’t even need a fondue pot.
To start off you need chocolate, bittersweet or semisweet, whatever floats your boat. Personally I always use semisweet chocolate. Avoid using chocolate chips as they have stabilizers in them and don’t work as well as baking chocolate. As well you need to add enough heavy cream to cover the chocolate halfway, you want it thick but still liquid enough to coat whatever you are dipping easily.
As you can see, I changed bowls. I originally started melting the chocolate on the stove but got rather impatient and decided to do it in the microwave. I put it in at 30 second intervals, stirring each time until everything was smooth.
Since melted chocolate wasn’t enough I decided to add dulce de leche. It was a very happy day for me when they started selling this stuff in the supermarket, I think I almost started doing a happy dance in the middle of the aisle.
As you can see at this point I had poured the chocolate back into the fondue pot. I added a generous spoonful of dulce de leche and stirred until everything was incorporated.
I meant to buy strawberries and bananas for dipping but I completely forgot so I made pound cake and used marshmallows.
This was so good. Chocolate covered pound cake = instant winner. Don’t worry, I didn’t finish that entire vat in one shot. Do make this at home for your significant over and impress them. I still can’t believe how ridiculously easy it is. You even really don’t need a fondue pot. We actually borrowed my in-law’s in order to have two dessert fondue pots but chocolate doesn’t cool down so quickly that you absolutely need one. I have to say adding dulce de leche was a great move; chocolate and dulce de leche were meant to go together.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
I have always wondered why the British seem to refer to everything as pudding. Pudding can be a dessert, a savoury meat dish (blood pudding) or a baked good such as Yorkshire pudding. Being Canadian a pudding always makes me think of a soft custard based dessert. Anyone have any idea why the word “pudding” has become such a culinary catchall in Britain? Anyways, given my love of all things British, Yorkshire puddings were next on my list of things that I wanted to make.
This recipe was ridiculously easy to make. The ingredients: flour, salt and dried rosemary. You can leave the rosemary out but I toss it in on a whim.
In a bowl to the side: eggs, melted butter and milk mixed together. Traditionally pan drippings would have been used instead of the melted butter which would of course have give it much better flavour. Note to self: start saving pan drippings.
The wet and the dry ingredients then made their acquaintance.
When it was all mixed together it was extremely soupy.
I forgot to mention that before you pour the batter into the ramekins you need to pour a teaspoon of oil into each and put them in the oven until they’re sizzling hot. The batter was so runny that I was worried that they were not going to rise.
I should have had more faith because halfway through the cooking time they were coming along nicely.
Nice and golden. I have no idea why they were lopsided though. Very weird.
We ate them with sausages and gravy which made a most appropriate accompaniment. They were nice and crisp on the outside and fluffy and eggy on the inside. They were perfect for mopping up stray gravy on my plate. Next time I make a roast beef I am definitely making this on the side.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
This isn’t calorie or waist friendly and isn’t very pretty but boy is it tasty. I’ve always thought that the reason that non-football loving people like to watch the Superbowl is that it makes an excellent excuse to spend an entire afternoon eating greasy food. At The Husband’s request I made this dip for Superbowl Sunday and we both happily gobbled it up while watching the game.
The ingredients: Cheddar cheese
Mayo. Not the travesty that is Miracle Whip.
Softened cream cheese. Notice how I used light cream cheese and light mayo? Every little bit helps, people!
The cheese, mayo and cream cheese (I used more or less the same amount of each) went into an ovenproof pan along with chopped green onions, English mustard, cayenne pepper, salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce. Hot dips are pretty forgiving in terms of the proportions between the cheeses and the mayo. You really can just eyeball everything and not screw up.
After mixing everything together I smoothed it out and put it into the oven at 350 Celsius.
I checked on it after 15 minutes but decided to put it back so it would be more bubbly.
After 25 minutes it was perfect. This picture is courtesy of the husband since I was cooking something else at the time so he was the one who actually took it out of the oven. He has a thing with overhead shots for some reason but is a sweetheart for getting dragged over often to take pictures of food.
Tortilla chips are pretty much a prerequisite for eating this. This is cheesy, hot and savoury and is perfect party food. I really need to find an excuse to make this again soon!