International Food Blogger Conference

Oh I so, so so want to go! Aug 27-29th 2010 in Seattle!

But I just got back from holiday so no $$$$

Are you a company looking for representation at the IFBC? Can you sponsor me?

read my sponsorship submission here

Let’s chat

Foodie Trails with Foodie Friend: Blackberry Ricotta Filling

Funny how a simple comment on a blog can start a long conversation and eventually turn into a fabulous outing.

Towards the end of 2009 a new member joined the dinner group and she quickly took a liking to my blog and left many great comments. We actually started chatting a bit by email and looked forward to meeting in person soon at a dinner event. This day finally arrived during the group’s Christmas dinner. Unfortunately when you host you cannot spend much time with one person. But emails kept flying between us. One series of comments following the Canolli Daring Bakers Challenge got very heated on my blog…with this lady leading the pack!

Controversy over Canolli! Well that started another set of email exchanges between Claudia and myself. The result: we promised to go on the Foodie outing together that would include canolli! of course life got in the way and it took about 6 months, June 5th 2010, to finally spend the day eating! The day was planned by Claudia (who incidentally started her own food blog since then) and I met her at a subway at noon on that Saturday morning.

I stepped into her car and was quickly given…a canolli lol. What better way to start our adventure. We wolfed them down right in the car in no time. She had another gift for me that we will take a look at later in the post. Canolli are from…

Boulangerie Patisserie Lasalle, 2 locations
8591 Maurice Duplessis, RDP
1550, boulevard Daniel-Johnson, Laval

Next stop was a place Claudia had hear of. This lovely lady opened a stored specializing in stuffed dates. we really stayed quite some time and had a great chat with the owner. She uses two different dates: medjool and deglet nour that come from Tunisia or Algeria. A great tip: she quickly dips the dates in a mix of water and Orange blossom water. It adds a hint of a citrus scent and leaves the date glossy. She swears by Tunisian Orange blossom water alone. There are so many date confections: popular ones are cranberry, lemon, ginger, almond past, etc. Some are dipped ion chocolate (73% cacao exclusively).

Although not sold in the store you can make special savory (very salty is best) orders. Dates stuffed with blue cheese or salmon for example are delicious.

The owner also specializes in unique cookies and other pastries. She offered us scones made with soya flour, cranberries and Musk-mallow flowers. Really unique, I love it. This place is definitely worth the foodie detour.

La confiserie Thamar
168 rue Fleury Ouest, coin Esplanade

Now this next stop was a run in and run out. Claudia normally gets bread here on a weekly basis and we just picked up bread. She pre-ordered their amazing Olive bread. Since there was no more left she gave me one of her two loaves. THANK YOU! it was excellent and the bakery was impressive over all. Lovely huge olives all over the inside….so yummy.

La Petite Boulangerie
1412, Rue Fleury Est Montreal

Next on the tour? Lunch!

We went to a little hidden place in the Ile-de-la-Visitaiton park. Somewhere in the park are the ruins of the old mill that has been converted into a General Store museum up stairs and café-restaurant and adjoining terrace on the bottom floor. The terrace is set up along the small rushing river. You really feel like you are in the country almost. We even saw some local habitants: a few herons. Food is average OK but the location makes up for it. Really great choice.

Claudia: smile! you are on camera!

We made sure to keep room for dessert as Claudia had another surprise in store: gelato! I blog enough about ice cream so she new this would be a guaranteed success stop wise. We went to a traditional Italian place which is a restaurant, a gourmet shop and has a gelato counter.

Great gelato bars but not earth shattering unusual flavors. But it was good. Front cup is mine: Gianducia, Cantaloupe and English Custard flavors. The cantaloupe gelato was phenomenal. Gianducia was a new discovery for me. Gianducia is a sweet chocolate containing about 30% hazelnut paste invented in Turin. basically its natural real Nutella before it was commercialized.

Gelateria Roberto’s
2227 Rue Bélanger

Last stop was La Baia de Fromaggi, a last minute decision. It was not suppose to be an Italian outing, just mostly turned out that way. What a shop! Look at all the cheeses hanging from the ceiling!

Turns out the owner served us and took a liking to us (and is a camera exhibitionist lol). Now most of the conversation was in Italian with Claudia and the owner. I caught on a lot but missed a lot too.  It really added also to the experience. The owner is very proud of his store’s quality, its food…and right fully so! Love this pic of him showing cheeses to Claudia!

I did make a few purchases here which I’ll describe just below as they became my light dinner.

La Baia de Formaggi
1715, Jean-Talon St. E

So I bought some of the best proscuito I ever had (the one the owner held in the picture above) called Proscuito Originale de Parma. Then I told Claudia to pick an Italian cheese I never tasted before for me to try. She chose a Torta al Mascarpone. OMG, its a ‘layered cake’ if you will of gorgonzola and mascarpone. Can you even imagine how divine and rich that was! I served up a slice of each on that olive bread we bought earlier for dinner. It was orgasmic!

So what was my 2nd surprise from Claudia? Shells for canolli…12 of them! She said they were for me to fill will my unique touch. Thank you so much again, Claudia; I was just so touched.

So on my way home I got some ricotta and my inspiration of the moment: blackberries.  See my recipe below.

Blackberry Ricotta Filling

for canolli or what ever you fancy
2 cups ricotta cheese
1 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
about 1 cup of blackberries

  1. Put everything in a blender and puree.
  2. Place mixture in a strainer lined with cheesecloth. Fold cheesecloth over the top.
  3. Let drain overnight in the fridge.
  4. Pipe your filling into the cannolli shells with a party bag or a large zip-lock with a corner tip cut off.

You can read her interpretation of our outing too.  Thank you Claudia for a fabulous day and letting me get to know you one on one…my new friend! To our next outing!

NOT your Vanilla Ice Cream

Make sure to visit the Daring Kitchen’s Food Talk section this week.

It features an article I wrote on about ice cream.

It’s up tight now: NOT your Vanilla Ice Cream

Exotic (Fruits) Sightseeing

During the long week-end in May I head to Toronto to visit my good friend Susan. We had such an awesome time. I have a few blogs coming soon about the food of the short trip. This one is more of a show and tell. Turns out my Montreal friend Augustin was also going to be in Toronto at the same time.

While Susan stayed home and rested and prepared a “Lost evening” (yeah the religious night of the last show ever) I met up with Agustin for a foodie exploration of Kensington Market and Chinatown. I was half way though a book called The Fruit Hunters at that point and I knew I would find at least a handful of these mysterious fruits I had been reading about.

That book will be making an appearance, several, soon on this blog. A very weird book to read that affected me a lot. Get ready soon enough to go into the dark and exotic world of fruits! Until then enjoy a little windows shopping of my picture below. Pics in markets by Agustin Leon.

Cactus napoles in Kensington market by a Latin grocery store

Rabutans in Chinatown

Inside the Rabutan shell. Flavor and texture is just like gummi bears 🙂

Durian – when cut the smell is putrid but the flesh tastes like heaven…so they say. To big to buy and travel with. Have to wait till I get to taste. Some countries ban people from bringing in Durians in hotels and public places because of the horrid smell once cut.

Mangosteens in Chinatown

The inside of the mangosteen. Wonderful delicate flavor somewhere between a citrus, a peach and vanilla ice cream

Vanilla beans and cocao beans from Mexico. My friend Susan, with whom I was staying, just got back from Mexico. She shared with me some of her foodie Mexican stuff.

Susan also gave me a bottle of Mezcal.

Yep that is the one with a worm in it. Kinda off-putting. No, I have no intention of eating it.

Did you know:Only certain mezcals, usually from the state of Oaxaca, are ever sold con gusano (worm), and that only began as a marketing gimmick in the 1940s. The worm is actually the larval form of the moth Hypopta agavis that lives on the agave plant. Finding one in the plant during processing indicates an infestation and, correspondingly, a lower quality product. However this misconception continues, and even with all the effort and marketing to represent tequila as a premium—there are some opportunist producers for the shooters-and-fun market who blur these boundaries

Karyn Nakhleh: A Pastry Chef Portrait

Mint bark!
Peanut brittle!
Sucre à crême!

These are the little treats my great friend Karyn Nakhleh brought over just before Christmas. She made them all herself. She actually sells them during the holiday season. They were so good! Last Christmas, 6 months ago, this blog had started. You see Karyn is a trained pastry chef and she creates her masterpieces as a sideline. What a great interview opportunity! She graciously answered all my question and its a great and funny read. Enjoy!

When did you start baking?
I have been baking since I was a little girl. My mom was always baking or cooking something so I was always exposed to activity in the kitchen and wanted to make my own things. I was probably 8 or 9 years old.

Wedding Cake

Who got you started in this art?
Well, that would be my mom and my granny. Both cooked as well as baked all sorts of things, and since my family is made up of two very different nationalities, I had exposure to many different types of ethnic desserts and sweets. My mom was always making things like banana bread or poached pears with chocolate sauce and my granny used to make mamoul (arabic cookies, some filled with dates, others with nuts) so I was exposed to very different desserts from a young age.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in food?
Well, it sort of occurred to me one day that I might be good at that sort of thing. Before I had considered going to pastry school, it was the norm for me to make a dozen different types of cookies at Christmas time, paired with sweets, dessert sauces, and candies. Furthermore, I’m a very creative person, so I thought I’d be good at wedding cakes and designing my own creations.

Is there a website or blog where we can see something about you and your baking?
Yes, I have an online portfolio that I update on a regular basis. It really gives people an idea of what I’m able to do, and for me personally, it’s a diary of what I’ve made from my insane collection of dessert cookbooks.

Sugarwork Rose

What culinary training have you received? Where have you learned more, in class or by experimenting?
I attended the Pearson School of Culinary Arts, which is part of the PACC (Pearson Adult Career Centre). It was an intensive, 15 month program, 6 1/2 hours a day, 5 days a week, and I was working full time at the same time. School definitely gave me the basis to grow on and I think it would be a very accurate statement to say that I learn something each time I make a new dessert. You always see a better way to do things.. or learn a better way from the recipe in question. You never stop learning, and even when I am not successful at something I attempt, as long as I learn from it, or understand what went wrong, I’m pleased.

How and where did you get your first job as a professional baker?
Once I graduated from school, I apprenticed for a few months at a wedding cake baker, and then I landed a job doing dessert service and light prep at 40 Westt, which is a high end restaurant in the West Island. Actually, I had applied to another restaurant with the same owner and he asked me to go to 40 Westt, which I was quite intimidated by. Working there was a great experience. I was there for 2.5 years and learned a lot about working in a restaurant including doing huge group service and helping out on the hot side.

How would you define your style?
Hmm.. interesting question. I am not subtle.. I like bold flavors, looks, colors.

What is your favorite ingredient to bake with and why?
I would probably have to say chocolate, but good quality chocolate. It is so versatile and touches all aspects of pastry. Also fruit purées in general. You can do so much with them and the flavor that you get in a good purée is fantastic.

What is your signature dish or your favorite recipe?
I usually try to make something different every time I can, so this is a hard one. I’d have to say my mango mousse cake. Everyone loves that one.

Tobi’s Chocolate Shoes   –   Cupcake Wedding   –   Raspberry Marshmallows

What is your favorite baking gadget?
Oh my… I have so many very very cool pastry gadgets.. one of the coolest things I have are a set of Magyfleur molds. They are from France, and sell for around 400$ a set.

Who have been the biggest inspirations in your career?
Jacques Torres was a big influence on me. Seeing his TV show and the wonderful creations he would just effortlessly whip up with not many exotic tools made this metier so appealing. I was lucky enough to meet him on two occasions and he is a gracious man who always has time to say hello.

Buttercream Wedding Cake

Do you have an funny kitchen incident to share with us?

Oh my yes. I was delivering a wedding cake to a reception hall, and had to finish assembling the cake on site. It was a 3 tiered, butter cream cake with different piping patterns on each level that had to be added on site. The bride had ordered her flowers for the cake topper, but the florist didn’t make a bouquet for me, they just gave me the flowers. A friend of mine had come to assist me with the cake and while I was piping the pattern onto the cake, made a nice bouquet with the flowers, and wrapped the stems in saran so the stems wouldn’t come into contact with the cake. Once the bouquet was inserted into the cake and the piping was done, I took a final look at my creation, and found that I could see a bit of the saran sticking out from the cake. I took my pliers (pastry chefs have ALL sorts of tools.. ) and pushed the stem into the cake.. OK.. perfect. I was done, and moving away from the cake, pliers in my butter cream coated hands.. and the pliers fell out of my hands and plunked themselves perfectly into the 2nd tier of the cake, sticking out like a huge sore thumb. The bride was less than 30 minutes away at this point and there was no time to panic. I calmly pried the pliers out of the cake, got my spatula, extra butter cream in both the icing and piping colors and proceeded to repair the damage. The cake was given a 1/4 turn and it once again was perfect. I asked my friend (also a pastry chef) what she was thinking as I was doing all of this, and she replied that she would have been crying. My response to her was that there was no time to panic or cry and that the bride was on her way and I had to fix the cake prior to her arrival, there was no other option. And fixed it was. The only regret I have for this episode is that I should have taken a picture of the cake with the pliers in it.

If you were stranded on a deserted island for one year, what dish would ask to eat after your rescue?
Only one dish, and not a meal? No fair.

If any chef in the world could prepare a meal for you, who would it be?
Oh boy. First hand I would say Fernand Adria in Spain.  He is a master at what he does and in a league of his own, a real pioneer or Molecular Gastronomy. That would be a meal of a lifetime.

Single Knot Egg Buns

Is there something you hate to see when you go to a restaurant as a customer?
Desserts that are not made in house. Some restaurants will go all out for the savory meals they serve, and then when it comes to dessert – the last thing you will eat before leaving – they serve some pre-made, shipped in, lesser quality item. Oh and fake whipped cream. Nothing turns me off more, and some restaurants will defend this act as one that is necessary because real whipped cream is not only expensive, but also won’t hold itself in a cake, for example. This is false, and there are ways to overcome the delicate nature of whipped cream, it just takes a bit more effort.

What tendencies do you see coming on strong?
I see more people experimenting with exotic fruits, which is very nice. Mango’s time has come.

What new techniques are you interested in learning?
I would love to learn more about Molecular Gastronomy. I find it very interesting and it’s a hot topic in the food world. People are pretty divided about it, as we’re mixing chemicals with our food that we eat.. but the results can be phenomenal.

Rainbow Jello Mold

What advice would you give to someone in high school who would like to pursue a culinary career?
First of all, it’s a very rewarding field to be in, but it’s a lot of hard work. It is not easy to work in a kitchen. You have long hours and you are always on your feet. Try and find a kitchen that has chairs in it for it’s employees, it won’t be an easy task. It is very different from say, an office job. If your goal is to be on TV like Anthony Bourdain or Gordon Ramsay, know this: it probably won’t happen and those guys put years of hard work into their careers before they made it big. And don’t think you’ll get rich doing this kind of work either. The real reward is seeing the reactions and smiles on the faces of the people who taste your creations.

What would you say to a novice in the kitchen to help them get over their fear of baking?
Don’t be intimidated by measurements. The biggest thing that people say about baking is that it’s such an exact science because of the chemical reactions that are required to make cakes rise etc.. it’s very different from cooking. Check measurements twice, take your time, and be organized. Always read the whole recipe before you start. Don’t be afraid to attempt anything! Write down any changes that you make to a recipe, because you might not remember what you did later on, and if you’re going to multiply or divide a recipe, do your calculations before hand, and check them twice!

All foods were made by and photographed by Karyn Nakhleh

If you would like to contact Karyn for an order please email her at knakhleh at live dot ca

An Ice Cream Forum

I am telling you ever since the ice cream give-away contest all I can think of is summer, and ice cream, and what’s the next flavor I am going to make, and asking the winner what was the flavor she chose for her first recipe (which was Lemon Buttermilk with lemon verbena btw, wow).

Really I am so happy CSN stores offered to help me for the Contest. You really should check them out. They have 200 + websites were you can conveniently shop for just about anything you can want like cooking tools, bedroom sets, toys for kids, there is even bathroom vanity store. And here is a little tease….I will soon be posting an upcoming review of a great product graciously sent by them.

Anyways, I am getting sidetracked. Back to ice cream. During the contest I was very curious about one of the participants and their website. After closer inspection I joined immediately. The Ice Cream Forum is a forum entirely devoted to ice cream. You can learn about ice cream machines, share ice cream stories, meet other ice cream obsessed people (like  me), discuss sundae toppings, and of course try out one of the several posted homemade recipes. If you love this sweet frozen dessert join up now.

Did I mention today is a nice hot sunny day in Montreal? I just may go for an ice cram after work he he!

Speculoos Splendor

A common question I get is: “What are some of your favorite products that you have received from the care packages you have received from the Foodie Exchange? Of course here are quite a few:the hickory smoked salt, saffron, the best mint teat ever from England, Pequin chilies, clotted cream fudge, Conney Island mustard, and Italian nougat. The list goes one and on.

But there is one item I received that has really knocked my socks off. Hello, my name is Evelyne and I am Speculoos Spread Addict.

Never in my life would I have believed I would become addicted to a spread used on toasts. I actually like my toasts plain enough with a smidgen of butter normally. But this stuff is so good I cannot get enough of it. Yes I have gone in with just a spoon and straight to the mouth. Never heard of Speculoos? Neither did I until I got a jar. But a little research online quickly convinced me I am not the only one spellbound by this product.

A bit of background on Speculaas from wiki.

Speculaas is a type of shortcrust biscuit, traditionally baked for St Nicholas’ Eve in the Netherlands (December 5) and Belgium (December 6). Belgian varieties use no or less of the spices and are sold as speculoos. In recent decades it has become available all year round. They are thin, have a caramel taste, are very crunchy, and slightly browned. Speculaas dough does not rise much. Spices used in speculaas are cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cardamom and white pepper. Most Speculaas versions are made from white flour, brown sugar, butter and spices. The most significant characteristic is that these cookies have some image or figure stamped on the front side before baking while the back is flat.

Tasty reading ahead, KEEP GOING… →