Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Business lunch #3: Brasserie T!

If you ever receive text messages from me you know I love exclamation points. This little bistro next to the museum of contemporary art is the little sister of the famed Toque! restaurant, hence the ! at the end of its name. I like it.

I've never eaten at Toque! but from what I hear it's very pricey innovative food served in very small portions. This is not quite the case at the Brasserie T!. The menu doesn't offer much out of the ordinary for a bistro. I had the salmon tartare as a main and my mother had the entree portion of the same dish. Very well executed with the salmon chopped in rather big pieces (which i really liked) and flavored perfectly with olive oil, capers and echalottes. However, the main dish tartare didn't seem that much larger than my mother's entree... I really couldn't tell the difference at all.

I ordered it with the salad which was basically romaine lettuce. Not too exciting but the vinaigrette was very good so I got over the lack of visual appeal pretty quickly. My mother ordered the french fries and I have to say they were worth the calories. Crispy and not greasy at all.

The service was very professional and efficient and the waiter/bartender was helpful in suggesting wine to go with our meal. We had a meursault chardonnay called le petit tetu and at 14$ a glass cost more than my mothers meal(12$). It was unusual and a little nutty but accompanied the salmon very well.

This was a perfect place for a fast lunch as we were out of there in 45 minutes. I liked that my allonge came with a little pot of warm foamy milk. It was a nice, friendly touch.

I should probably mention the decor since it was quite strange in that the whole restaurant is pretty much all window which creates a kind of fish bowl effect. And to greet you at the door there's a vase with a fish swimming around a bottle of vodka. Clever.

I don't think I would come here for dinner because of this modern environment. I like my nightime locations to look more like men's clubs a la club chasse et peche.

But good bistro food at good prices! Even if there was nothing on the menu that enthralled me I'd like to come back to try some charcuteries and the steak tartare.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Brewery Brunch: Brasseurs de Montreal

Breakfast in Montreal, always such a dilemme.
I'm very picky about my eggs. 
Scrambled are generally burnt instead of fluffy and delicate.
Hollandaise sauce on eggs benedict often disappoints.
Omelettes suffer the same fate as scrambled eggs and are overly dry.
I've just learnt to not expect much from Montreal breakfast joints.

So today I went for brunch with Renata, hoping to find a decent place around the Atwater market. We drove by McKiernan's but couldn't find parking and just continued on Notre Dame. Renata suggested Les Brasseurs de Montreal, a brewery in Griffintown, which was right around the corner.
From the outside this place doesn't look like much but inside it's actually quite an impressive location, high ceilings, a long wooden bar and a semi-opened kitchen with a huge chalkboard that displays the beers they offer and the special of the day.

The menu was exciting with several different types of egg dishes, a section of rostis (their was a goat cheese spinach ham, a sausage and a smoked salmon chive cream cheese), fancy grilled cheese and crepes. There were also things like crab cakes (which i hear are amazing!!), sausage and several other options I can't quite remember. Renata and I both went for the eggs with goat cheese and spinach. Our typical breakfast choice. 

(me being very excited about the menu apparently)

The dish was wonderfully presented and so very delicious, from the baked goat cheese on the eggs to the roasted lightly herbed potatoes and the little fruit tower.

The service was super friendly and relaxed and the waitress even let us sample the beer of the day which was a blonde ginger beer called le chi orientale i believe. I definitely want to come back to try all the different ones like the rebelle quebecoise or the ghosttown with absinthe.

And there's a ton of parking (it's located in a really random area with nothing else around it) 

Overall, love this place!!


Friday, September 24, 2010

Hungover Apple Picking

There are very few things I like less than long car rides, physical activity, and sunshine when I'm hungover. Last Sunday (the day after Isabel's birthday) I was thrown into a car and forced to go apple picking on what seemed like the most picture perfect fall day. Obviously this is not the worst thing one could be doing when feeling a little unwell; yet the car ride out to the orchard in Mont St Hilaire was absolutely torturous, with waves of nausea and cold sweats hitting me every couple of minutes. Barely surviving the 45 minute treck out there, I got out of the car to a playground filled with screaming children and a depressing petting zoo. Things weren't looking up for me. All I wanted was my bed, 3o Rock reruns, and blackout curtains!

Nevertheless, it didn't take long before the fresh air and good company started to rub off on me and soon enough I was walking around with a smile on my face biting into Lobos, Spartan, and McIntosh apples.
When our bags were full we made our way back to the gift shop to look at all the homemade apple ciders, jellies, and fresh pies. I was promised a Creperie (which was a HUGE selling point for me) and it was closed, very disappointing! By this time, we were all starting to develop a pretty serious poutine craving and ventured back to the city in hopes of finding a Cassecroute somewhere on the side of the road. We ended up at an adorable diner somewhere in St Basile (thanks to Jordan's excellent memory) where we all learnt a valuable life lesson. If you are ever asked whether you would like chicken gravy or BBQ gravy on your poutine. The answer is CHICKEN!

Now we have more apples than any human can eat. Stay tuned for an abundance of apple recipes.
Have a lovely weekend!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Business lunch #2: L'Aromate

Today we hadn't planned on going for lunch and so we made a last minute decision to go eat at the new L'Aromate location on Maisonneuve. Considering that it is now part of the Hotel St-Martin, we expected the food and service to be of a certain standard. It was most certainly not.

There were many items on the menu that I was interested in. They had a good variety of contemporary cuisine and I had a hard time deciding on what I wanted to eat. I finally went for the tian de legumes with goats cheese and the seared sesame tuna steak as my main while my mother went for the cauliflower and potato potage and the veal cheek bourguignon.
First of all, the service was slow and unattentive. They took away our utensils after our entrees as though we were done our meal, they couldn't remember who ordered what and they gave my mom a coffee when she ordered a mint tea. It just felt like the staff was hungover or that they simply didn't care much.

In terms of the food, well the presentation was nice. The tian was probably the best part of my meal. It was a tower of aubergine, peppers and red onions with a few slices of melted goat cheese. There was a bit too much onion though as it gave me heartburn after and the aubergine was not cooked through and so a bit hard to cut. The soup was ok, nothing very exciting.

For our mains, once again, well presented. However, the ponzu sauce was way too salty (and i loooove salt) and the sesame crust seemed to be glued in an unatural way to my tuna steak. It scared me a little. The veal cheek was tender as it should be but the dish was underwhelming which should never be the case with veal cheek or a bourguignon.

The fare was very ordinary. The prices were not.
The meal without desserts nor wine came to 100$. This is ridiculous for the level of attention placed on the food and service.

I'm all for aesthetics but there has to be something more than just well presented plates and fancy decor. L'Aromate is definitely one of those style over substance kind of places and I would absolutely not go back here.
Can't wait to try Le Renoir's lunch menu at the Sofitel hotel. From the brunch I've had here, i can safely assume that the dining experience they offer is what it should be at a 5 star hotel.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Happy Fall!!!

Yay summer is over and sweater weather is here!!
This means apple and pumpkin and boozy hot chocolate recipes coming soon!!

Monday, September 20, 2010

girly car bomb cupcakes!

I was searching through my favorite cooking blog ( for a dessert recipe that would be appropriate for isabel and cameron's combined birthday extravaganza and I fell on these booze filled chocolate cupcakes. All i have to say is they are way tastier than the drink they were inspired by! The guinness is in the batter and then you fill the center with a chocolate whiskey ganache and top it off with Bailey's buttercream icing. So delicious. Especially when you warm them up a little in the microwave and the chocolate center oozes out.

here's the original recipe from the website
the only thing i did differently was double the alcohol in everything. i don't like booze in fruity dessert but with chocolate it's truly divine.

I delegated the task of decorating to Claire because her little dexterous hands are very useful in times like these. I have zero icing skills and i just make everything look sloppy.

I definitely am going to make these again.
By the way, the smell of boiling butter and Guinness is probably the best thing I ever smelled in my life.



Wednesday, September 15, 2010

It's tea time!

So I've been deathly ill this week and my business lunch is cancelled. Instead of eating delicious food I'm wrapped in leopard print blankets drinking gallons of tea! Ever since last spring when I discovered Davidstea I've been kind of obsessed with it. Everytime I walk in to that place I spend an hour smelling all the different flavours and just chitchatting with the helpful staff. And i always leave with three new packets of tea Im trying to cut down on the frequency of my visits, It's getting a little crazy.

Claire, Renata and I went to visit the new Westmount location recently and tried a few different flavours. I tried a very strong black tea that smelled and tasted excatly like a campfire. I don't know how i feel about drinking campfire. My next purchase is definitely Claire's pick which was the oolong long life tea that has apricot, almond slices and peach in it. it's heavenly as a latte! I also really want to try their new buttered rum black tea that came out for fall.

My favorites are Spring break (green coconut), regal turc (black tea with pistachio and spices, of course), jumpy monkey (a mate tea with no caffeine that gives you a steady boost of energy, without the crash! i find it only works when steeped in hot milk!),and the vata ayurvedic (which is a herbal tea with chamomille, rosebuds, ginger and spearmint). I don't really like the taste of red rooibos but they have a good selection of green rooibos which is amazing! I love the green and fruity and i"m looking forward to tasting the swampwater.

There's so many to pick from and tea has so many health benefits that you just feel like you're doing something good for yourself! They also have fun recipes for tasty alcoholic beverages using specific teas and I'm sure this winter they'll have some warm drink recipes!

Now I think I might have to venture outside of my bed and go try their cold remedy tea...


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Tuck shop!

Notre Dame west has had several new gourmet dining establishments pop up over the past several years like the joe beef/liverpool house/mckiernans trilogy in Little Burgundy. Tuck shop opened up even further west, casually located in St-Henri. It isn't the most chic corner but it adds to the charm of this great new place.

The first thing i noticed when I walked in was this place was packed and loud! We had reservations and our 2 seats were the only empty ones in the whole restaurant. The decor was really appealing with an open kitchen and the menu scribbled on a chalkboard, wooden tables, deep green coloured booths. Tuck shop looks really good but the atmosphere is still laidback and cozy.

The crowd was mixed, a family at one table, young couples and groups of friends, older men at the bar.
When the noise died down a little, we noticed the Rolling Stones were playing. A whole album actually (Cameron approved of their choice and he's a huge music nerd so i guess that means something).

The first thing that jumped out at me on the menu was the octopus salad but i was promptly informed that they were all out. So I settled for malpeque oysters instead and a steak tartare appetizer as my main. Cameron ordered steak and potatoes (typical male go-to meal!). The rest of the menu looked really interesting with things such as morue fritters and a duck magret and confit dish for 2. The mascarpone and crab stuffed ravioli also seemed really exciting but I wasn't quite hungry enough to venture into pasta territory. Maybe next time.

The six oysters came with lemon wedges, cocktail sauce and a mignonette sauce. I really didn't like the red cocktail sauce, i just associate that flavour with shrimp and not oysters. The mignonette was really good though and the oysters were fresh!

My steak tartare was absolutely amazing! It had pickles and capers in it and a celeri rave kind of salad on top. For 13$ they served me a very reasonable portion and it came with a bowl of french fries.

The steak (served rare) and potatoes were also very good. The meat was tender and well spiced and the potatoes were typical comforting and delicious mashed potatoes.

I think the most expensive thing on the menu was a 45 dollar steak which is nowhere near the prices you would pay at somewhere like Joe Beef. The menu got me excited to see what else they would come up with in the future. Tuck shop has a kind of cool, a tiny bit trendy vibe but is totally unpretentious and kind of subtle in its coolness.

And often the service at these kinds of places tend to be a bit sloppy or snobby but the people here were super friendly but professional. Someone from the staff or maybe the owner or manager even came outside when he saw we were looking for a cab and he immediately found one for us and even opened the door for me! What service!Totally unnecessary but super appreciated. Maybe certain of the patrons feel a bit uneasy in that part of town so he felt obliged to assist us. I read a review by some Montreal foodies that mentioned that they had noticed prostitutes strolling by while they were enjoying their meal. The only encounter we had was with a tipsy fourteen year old boy trying to bum smokes off us. He was adorable and friendly but I can see how that can be unnerving for some people. I actually really liked the location of the restaurant, i think it's fun to get out of the main areas and not do the typical strips. And especially if it's worth it and I think at Tuck shop it is. I would definitely like to try this place out again!


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Business luncheon #1: Le Marly

So now that I work in the same office as my momma we often go out on lunch dates together in the downtown area. I find it extremely hard to find good restaurants in the financial district of Montreal so we're sort of on a mission to try out new places. Lunch is my least favorite meal of the day but I'm hoping to find a restaurant that will change my mind about that!

Last week we went to Le Marly which is a relatively new bistro opened up by the people of Europea, right next to their other two restaurants (beaver hall and andiamo) on Beaver Hall. The terrasse was attractive but since it was raining we sat by the window inside. The decor is modern with purple being the main colour as well as striped grey, silver and black accents.

The menu was interesting but as usual I like to order 3 small appetizers instead of a main because I find main courses less exciting and I feel like chefs take more risks with their appetizers anyways.
I ordered the salmon gravlax ( I always need some sort of fish!), the nougat de fromage de chevre and the lobster and foie gras cromesquis. My mother went for a little tart of sundried tomatoes and gorgonzala and for her main she picked the seafood and fish in lobster broth with market vegetables.

For every dish, there was a suggested wine to accompany it which I really enjoyed because I often have a very hard time trying to successfully pair wine with my food! Also, while we were waiting for our meals to come, they brought us white baguette with olive oil instead of butter as well as spicy garlic kalamata olives. The olives were a nice touch.

The salmon gravlax was delicious, great texture, great flavour, nothing too special in terms of seasoning. The nougat de fromage de chevre on the other hand was very unusual! The flavour of hazelnut was prominent in the soft creamy cheesy and gave the dip a nice crunch. I really enjoyed these two flavours together and i am now inspired to attempt a goat cheese noisette cheesecake. I'll let you know how it goes...

The cromesquis came with a wasabi mayonnaise dip which had a bit of a weird radioactive green looking colour. However it did pair well with the fried spring roll stuffed with foie gras and lobster. I actually had forgotten that there was foie gras in the roll and I thought it was risotto for a while. Either way it was great (especially if you like fried things which I normally don't go crazy for but I just couldn't resist lobster AND foie gras!!

I feel like my mother's choices weren't as good as mine. Maybe I'm biased because I don't like pie crust very much unless it's for a tourtiere. It seems too heavy for anything else. A leger feuillete would have been more suitable in my opinion. The seafood marejade lobster broth was filled with fish (red snapper?), shrimp, lobster, scallops and some other unidentified food that had the texture of tofu but tasted like sausage... It was good but I honestly have no idea what it possibly could have been. My mother enjoyed this dish but I wasn't crazy about it. It sounded better on the menu than it turned out to be.

The desserts were quite tempting because the waitress brought this pretty tray to our table. However the verrines weren't terribly inspired: tiramisu, mango or berries. I opted for the tiramisu but i found they put too much whipped cream and not enough mascarpone.

Overall, nice interesting food at reasonable prices. I would recommend it for a lunch but it's not somewhere I would go back to with my girlfriends. Oh and my mom says she didn't like the music. Some latin beats were playing in the background and it didn't really fit the modern vibe.

Next week, Brasserie T!!

Double layered pistachio rose cheesecake

I invented this recipe from scratch for Claire's birthday. The flavours are typical of me but to make it more suitable for Claire, (since it was her birthday afterall!), I incorporated chocolate by using oreo for the crust. I'm not a huge fan of super dense cheesecake so I make them lighter and fluffier by substituting some of the cream cheese or cream for yogourt, sour cream or ricotta. The textures vary depending on the cheese so just try playing around with those to find what suits your taste buds best.


3 sticks cream cheese
1 cup ricotta
1 cup sour cream
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
some fresh lime juice
pistachio aroma
50g almond or pistachio paste
100g of pistachios
rose syrup or rose water

oreo baking crumbs (or any chocolate cookie crumbs, i prefer to buy them already crumbled simply because it's easier and quicker)
1 stick of butter (110g, 4oz)

1.Start by making the crust simply by mixing the melted butter and cookie crumbs together and patting down into a springform pan
2. mix together the 2 sticks cream cheese( this time i used 1 full fat, 1 light and 1 low fat, i like to switch it up...) and sugar and then add the 3 eggs one at a time. add a splash of fresh lime juice.
3. split this batter in two and add the sour cream to one and the ricotta to the other
4. for the ricotta mix add pistachio aroma to taste and the bitted up almond paste as well as the pistachios. add a few drops of green food colouring.
5. pour this mixture into the pan and place in the oven for about 15 minutes at 175C
6.move on to the other half of the batter and add rose to taste. I used the syrup and I had to keep adding until the taste was strong enough. I definitely ate too much batter while doing this. just know that it takes way more than you think. like maybe a 1/4 cup. add pink food colouring.
7. take the cake out of the oven and gently pour over the pink batter.
8. place in the oven for 40 minutes at 175 and thenfor 25 at 150C.
9. let cool for 2 hours
10. put in fridge overnight

11. Eat.

I Heart Heart Food!

Last Saturday I turned 24 and I hosted a dinner for 12 of my precious girlfriends. It was the long Labor Day weekend which ended the summer (the school calendar that is), and with a new job and free time running out I couldn't’t possibly do this without offering my gals the comfort foods I’m most comfortable and happy to create. Being me I characteristically left everything (and I mean EVERYTHING from cleaning + grocery shopping + birthday dress picking + cooking) to literally minutes before this dinner, and I could not have EVER done this without my wonderful mom who jumps at any opportunity to cook a few of her indistinguishable meals! Here are a few of our Czech dishes that, to me and my loved ones, taste like home and are fast and easy and perfect for the arrival of fall and winter:

At the party, this one was my mom’s fabrication…for this you could use your favorite white fish as long as it is flaky enough…Boil water with salt, chop pieces of fish (cod, halibut, or tilapia but she used cod), “leave them to boil”
Meanwhile, in a separate frying pan, over some butter fry some finely chopped onions (white) and add (finely) chopped carrots, celery root and parsley root. Now you’re probably all wondering about the measurements and quantities…and I guess getting it to taste perfect every time is mastered over years of feeling these things out. Whether it’s an omelet or spaghetti, mothers especially are amazing at recognizing with their eyes and hands the absolute perfect proportions and priorities of the ingredients. Trust yourself and have fun! (sabrina's favorite way)

Claire: How long does this mixture in the pan heat for?
Mommy: “until it’s foamy”, simply. (lots of stirring required)
Next, add this mixture to the boiling water.
Claire: “and how long should it boil for?”
Mommy: “a while”
Clearly there’s something to be said about practice and intuition and everyone’s got it so add that as an ingredient!
Ok, anything left? YES! THE KEY ingredient! Ground Nutmeg….add as much as you think is important. Pepper is welcome and dried Marjoram too but Nutmeg is essential
Right before serving, remove soup from heat so that it is no longer boiling, grab a bowl and mix together one egg (full) and 35% cream. WHISK into soup.
Claire: “How much cream?”
Mommy: “Hard to say”
Claire: “so it can’t be boiling when you add the egg mix? What would happen?”
Mommy: “the egg will turn into chunks, the appearance has to be smooth and creamy. You can decorate it with fresh chopped parsley and serve. I forgot to do that”
It was perfect mummy, thank you

Now for the infamous potato salad that has appeared at every single Ponka dinner (ever), including every Christmas my whole entire life, and, as Kristina’s tastebuds joyfully recalled, at every one of my birthdays as I turned 5-6-7-8 […] years old! Not only does it have a very rich flavor, the exact taste is also magically always reproduced. This type of salad is found wherever there are potatoes, but check out the Czech way:

photo by Laura-Alexandra Vrabie

Boil “some” potatoes in their peels until they are cooked, and peel them. Leave them to cool.
In a pan on the side, fry an entire very finely chopped white onion (to my mom this would be for about 10 potatoes and to me for about 5 or 6...I LOOOVE ONIONS!) in some olive oil until it is “cooked” (the vagueness comes with practice). Add a good three tablespoons of white vinegar (and lemon if you like) so that the onions are transparent; this becomes the “dressing” that has to be cooled down.
Back to the COOLED potatoes: cut them into tiny cubes (1x1 cm) and put them in a bowl. The rest is your imagination! From my experience I have seen and made potato salads with anything from chopped ham, apples, and green peas!

Saturday’s additions were:

-5 chopped hard boiled eggs
-One peeled and grated apple
-Boiled carrots, celery root, parsley root (remember to always finely cut!)
-chopped pickles
-salt and pepper

When you’ve added and combined all these ingredients to your liking, stir-in the cooled onion dressing (which by the way also works nicely if you replace the vinegar with pickle juice) and then finish with however much mayonnaise you can handle! Of course, at this point everything is supposed to be cold and that also goes for the cutting of boiled ingredients as they would crumble if still warm!

Chicken Kiev

This is a very simple dish and if, throughout all its stages of preparation and cooking could be kept neat, it could actually be very cute and esthetically pleasing at a dinner party (as it is comes in a wrap-like form to reveal its ingredients in a swirly shape).

Take a chicken breast and wash it. Yes, I have always washed my chicken and from what I’ve noticed it seems that only Eastern Europeans do this. Or maybe it’s just me and Renata. Then manipulate it to try to get it as spread out and thin as you can, using a chicken beater hammer thingy (mine has vicious spikes) and a knife. The thinness is key as it will become a thick roll, so you have to let as much heat from the pan through to the center as possible!
Add salt to both sides of the flattened chicken and a bit of pepper if you like.
Spread Dijon on the surface and top first with swiss cheese and then ham keeping these ingredients flat. ((Sweet) pickle wedges are an idea too!)

Then you’ll need three bowls: 1) flour 2) egg 3) bread crumbs (keeping this order in mind)
Then just grab one end of the chicken and tightly roll it onto itself. You’re going to need some fastening instruments, I either use toothpicks (which is what I used Saturday) but honestly I prefer string because it does a better job and nothing protrudes. Fasten roll tightly.
Dunk the entire roll first into the flour, then the egg and finally into the breadcrumbs (prefer using hardened baguette that is grated into a bowl), coating it completely with each. Last weekend I tried Kikkoman’s Panko crumbs and didn’t like it as much, it’s a little too flaky.
AND THEN it’s ready to be fried!! The surface should be golden and most of all it should be cooked to its center. Cut into little swirly circles and serve this wholesome hearty and super easy chicken recipe!

I think the trick to mastering any dish is practicing it often and, like with any craft, using mistakes to your advantage so that next time you can squash (no pun intended) and laugh at them before they may come up! Indulging in your imagination is fundamental but so is being responsible with it (considering taste combos and proportions); that’s where any dish is known to be your own. When it comes to cooking I personally think it’s important to focus on the preparation part (cutting and manipulating carefully, separating ingredients, considering needed textures, and the order and timing of effectuation)…is really just another way to be throwing in a little taste of love (sorry for the cheese) :) Thanks to my mom and wonderful friends for making my birthday the perfect night and inauguration of Fall! Love you!!