LABARAKE, Doca and Bleu Lavande

I am taking a week off from regular posting this week. It’s summer vacation time and I am on a trip I have been dreaming off for years. Silly enough I am not even that far from home, about 12 hours away. We are 2 friends on a road trip heading to the east coast of Canada: Atlantic Canada, also know as the Maritimes.

Lunenburg Nova Scotia

Lunenburg NS, source andrewmuhlbach.com

Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are on this trip’s menu, as are bucket loads of seafood like lobster, the cities of Halifax and Saint-John, coastal fishing villages like Lunenberg, Maritimes whales, the highest tides in the world at Fundy Bay, and as this post publishes we will be exploring the Cabot trail, one of the worlds most scenic drives!

Cabot Trail2

Cabot Trail NS, source usask.ca

If you just cannot wait for my return then I invite you to head over to Citynet Magazine and check out my latest outings at a lavender filed and 2 of the HOTTEST new restaurants in Montreal:

  • the 1 year anniversary of LABARAKE located in Historic Angus Shops

labarake-kitchen

  • Escape to the Perfumed Fields of Lavender at Bleu Lavande Just South of Montreal

bleu-lavande-ntn-1000x600

  • Doca, a Mediterranean swanky spot in Griffintown

doca-montreal

I will be back on August 4th with #twelveloaves!

Pastizzi a treat from Malta

I have always idolized exotic and historic Malta as a perfect Paradise destination. So it was a real treat to prepare one of it’s most popular snack foods, Pastizzi.

It’s time for the MENA (Middle Eastern & North African) Cooking Group. This monthly group has for goal to help us discover the culture and cuisine of the countries found in these parts of the world. The host of the month will choose a savory and a sweet dish from the country and the members pick one dish to make. Get your luggage ready as we are exploring Malta this month.

pastizzi

Tasty reading ahead, KEEP GOING… →

Halloween Squid Ink Pasta with Pumpkin & Cured Epidermis

The makings of a grown up halloween dish: seasonal squash, homemade squid Ink Pasta and “cured epideris”.

Well this year Halloween was not going to get away with just once post apparently. When I was hunting for black food coloring I came close to using squid ink in a sweet out of desperation to get my black color. My pastry chef friend Karyn saved that day … but now I really wanted to use the squid ink to. Fresh made Squid Ink Pasta to the rescue. Throw in some pumpkin for color and atmosphere, and a little bit of suspicious meat: Squid Ink Pasta with Pumpkin and Cured Epidermis.

Happy Halloween buaaahahahaha!

Squid Ink Pasta with Pumpkin and proscuitto

Tasty reading ahead, KEEP GOING… →

Cinque Terre Memories and a 5 Star Pizza Perfect for a Youth Hostel Kitchen Meal

Quick announcement, my article Reviewing Restaurants – You Be The Critic was published today on the Food Bloggers of Canada site. Please go visit the site after reading this post.

I am sitting here on my couch leafing through the 2 photo albums from my fist backpacking trip though Europe. What a trip it was! It was 1996, I was 22 and I left my mom and dad for my first independent trip where I traveled through 9 countries and 25 cities in 60 days all by myself. It was a whirlwind trip as I did not want to miss a single thing just in case I never got to make it back to Europe. Digital cameras were a new thing back then hence the actual photo albums….I scanned a few pics for you.

This was years before the food blog, the food group or even really realizing my passion for food. But I knew I liked to eat and I was thrilled at the prospect of trying so many new specialties. It was my formative years in ethnic food. Budget was the first priority and before anyone would go spend the day sightseeing we had a few basics that needed to be settled, cheaply: food and shelter. Shelter as usually covered with a Youth Hostel and food took on many forms like sandwiches, pastries, going off the tourist path for a local cheaper joint and the occasional Youth Hostel kitchen.

This was years before the food blog, the food group or even really realizing my passion for food. But I knew I liked to eat and I was thrilled at the prospect of trying so many new specialties. It was my formative years in ethnic food. Budget was the first priority and before anyone would go spend the day sightseeing we had a few basics that needed to be settled, cheaply: food and shelter. Shelter as usually covered with a Youth Hostel and food took on many forms like sandwiches, pastries, going off the tourist path for a local cheaper joint and the occasional Youth Hostel kitchen.

When I was contacted by HostelBookers.com to submit a recipe for the Backpackers Recipe Guide, wow I was flooded by so many memories. This cookbook will be sent out to 20,000 youth hostels worldwide with a selection of cheap, easy and delicious recipes a traveler can cook in a youth hostel kitchen. How exciting it would be to have my recipe in there.

The village of Manarola

I have had my fare share of Youth Hostel meals and they were always fun and communal. There is one meal in particular that really stands out in my catalog of memories. And not just that meal but that destination, that youth hostel and the people I met there! It’s a doozy of a story so sit down and get comfy as I take you back 15 years (yikes), in early October, to a little town called Riomaggiore located in Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera. Its a long post and story but I swear you will be thoroughly entertained!

The cool guide to travel with at that time was Rick Steves Europe Through the Back Door. Do you remember his show on PBS? His travel show took you through the unknown, the cheap, the secret treasures that you did not find in regular travel guides. It was a great book to find cheap accommodation with sometimes quirky descriptions. And in those days Rick Steves was the only guy talking about Cinque Terre, a rugged stretch of the Italian Riviera composed of 5 villages:  Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.

Ξ Pesto and Mushroom Pizza Ξ

Ingredients:

  • 12 inch pizza crust
  • ½ cup pesto
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 5 oz ( 150 gr) firm tofu, cubed
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F /180 C.
  2. Place the pizza crust on a lightly oiled baking sheet (or aluminum paper).
  3. Spread the pesto on the crust leaving a clear edge on the crust.
  4. Top with mushrooms, tofu and the cheese.
  5. Bake the pizza for 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Makes 6 slices.

I served this pizza for a potluck this weekend and it got rave reviews. This is truly one of the most flavorful pizzas I have ever made and it is so easy to make. Because of the tofu and the good amount of mushrooms, a couple of slices constitute a balanced quick meal. You do not need a lot of utensils besides a spoon, a knife and a baking sheet or aluminum paper. But my favorite part of this recipe is that it will satisfy both vegetarians and carnivores in one dish, not a claim many recipes can make. And who does not like Italian Pizza?

Back then there was only one option for cheap lodging and it was listed in the guide book: Mama Rosa’s Hostel in Riomaggiore. The guide said Mama Rosa met every train that arrived to round up the backpackers. The guide also said she ran her modest hostel with her son Sylvio. Although I doubted she would actually be at the train station a fairytale setting did start forming in my head of this private non touristy stop with Mama Rosa, the vineyards and her hot Italian son. That image got shattered real fast.

Oh yes Mama Rosa was at the train station. Try to imagine a 50 year old woman wearing a bright Barbie pink full jump suit with a bad light blond hair dye job waving her hands like all Italian mothers should announcing loudly:(say it with emphasis) MAAAma ROOOSaaaaaa, MAAAma ROOOSaaaaaa! I picked up my jaw off the Cinque Terre terre and followed her to the Hostel. What a dump! Some online reviews call it a slum and a notorious place. But what was I going to do!  I was there, it was cheap and I was in an isolated part of Italy.

Cactus pears, Mama Rosa's kitchen and outdoor bathroom

The set up was rudimentary at best, I remember the roof of my room was a corrugated roof – it rained and it made that unavoidable musical noise you hear in movies. And the outdoor bathroom was perfectly visible to the people living in the houses above that flank of the mountain, as in they could have seen us on the toilet! The common area was the basic kitchen with a long table.

And when you thought you saw the worst of it, Sylvio teh son made his appearance: carrying a bucket of dirty water the imaginary hot Italian son was actually an ugly and toothless middle-aged bachelor in tattered clothes. As stupid and vain as it may sound I was in shock. And I was not alone as I confirmed with all the girls I met there that we had all imagined Sylvio up into an Italian Stallion. NOT!

Thank god when you are traveling like a backpacker you can put all these things aside and go with the flow. Because you know what? This was one of the most memorable and enjoyable stops on my trip in the end. I met quite a few really delightful travelers there – all with a copy of Rick Steves Europe Through the Back Door under their arm.

My first friend was a tall German guy who was also at the train station. It was late afternoon when we got in so not much to do except explore the tiny village. We spotted the vineyard terraces above the village and we decided to go for a stroll through the grapes. Of course to make it to the grapes we had to find out if permission would be granted to climb the old stone stairs leading to the terrace by the 3 typical widowed women, all dressed in black. It was like a militia guards post. A little apprehensive, German guy and I flashed our biggest smiles and said our best Hellos and How are yous in Italian. Well we got the blessing and were allowed to climb up the stairs and stroll in the vineyards. I could not resist and I grabbed a raisin and bit into it. That was the first time I ever ate a raisin right off the vine: it was heaven, sweet, luscious and destined for a great wine.

The next day I joined another small group of travelers who were getting ready to hike the famous walking trail joining the 5 villages. After all that was the point of going to Cinque Terre. I only remember bits and pieces of that hike. I know it took about 5 hours to do including very quick stops and a lunch. I have a very vivid memory of the most quintessential Italian scene I have ever seen in my life: a old man climbing out of his cellar into his house with his feet barefoot and purple from stomping the grapes. I remember the hiking path being so narrow at times it was scary.

Narrow path, Monterosso al Mare beach and a Mediterranean dip

I can still feel the little pricks on my fingers of the cactus pears I picked right of the cactus, a fruit my new friends had never seen. Yes even then I was introducing people to new foods. And my last memory of the actual hike was our destination, the tiny beach of Monterosso al Mare at the end of the day where I was going to swim in the Mediterranean come hell or high water. After all the sun was going down at the end of that cooler October day but I am from Canada and I can handle cold water. And the guy with us agreed to join me. The locals looked at us like we were absolutely crazy.

It was such a great day. We took the train back to Mama Rosa’s where we bought food for a communal dinner. During the hike we found out Pesto was from this part of Italy so we made a simple dish of pasta with a pesto sauce bought by the ladle in a small shop, got extra cheese and a few bottles of wine in tow. For dessert we enjoyed the sliced cactus pears I had picked – still feeling the tiny shards lodged under my skin. That is how I remember Cinque Terre: rugged in every sense of the word but such a beautiful raw experience. And I owe it all to Mama Rosa and her Hostel!

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Got a simple recipe up your sleeve? Enter it and thousands of people could be cooking your recipe from a special cookbook that will be in youth hostel kitchens all over the world. To submit a recipe check out how to enter.

Don’t forget to go check out my article Reviewing Restaurants – You Be The Critic on the Food Bloggers of Canada site.

Daring Cooks: Stuffed Grape leaves

Our October 2010 hostess, Lori of Lori’s Lipsmacking Goodness, has challenged The Daring Cooks to stuff grape leaves. Lori chose a recipe from Aromas of Aleppo and a recipe from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.

Stuffed grape leaves are a part of many cultures including the Syrians, the Turks, the Greeks, the Lebanese, the Albanians, the Israeli’s, the Iranians, the Iraqis and the Armenians (just to name a few). Generally speaking the stuffed part could be in zucchinis/courgette, eggplant, tomato or peppers. Really it also extends to stuffing certain types of fish as well. It is suggested that the origin of stuffed grape leaves goes back to the time when Alexander the Great besieged Thebes. It has also been suggested the Byzantines refined and spiced up the recipe and used the leaves of other vines such as hazelnuts and figs.

So yeah if you get a feeling of “déjà vue” your are correct. I am fessing up at least lol. I did this recipe about a month ago for the first time in my life prior to knowing this was going to be the October challenge. I even picked the leaves fresh out of my friend’s backyard. And with time constraints well I am going to use those pics and call it a done challenge. Forgive me? **batting eyes**

Preparation time: The recipe will take up to 2 hours, depending on how fast you roll. You can freeze them before boiling if you want to try to do half of the recipe ahead of time.

If you want to see the recipe given for the challenge go here. But this is what I did a month ago, to see how to prepare fresh vine leaves go here or get a jar of store bought ones. Then do your filling.

Cousous and meat filling

  • ground beef
  • couscous
  • 1 egg
  • onions
  • garlic
  • tomatoes
  • ginger
  • coriander
  • cumin
  • salt, pepper

Cook couscous as per package. Mix everything in a bowl with your hands.

Trim stem off. With  with shiny of leaf down, place a small spoonful of prepared stuffing at the stem end of the leaf, roll about one turn. Fold in the two sides. Continue rolling to the tip of the leaf. The package should be firm, but not tight, as the stuffing will expand while cooking.

I steamed mine. I did no have enough leaves for all the meat so I lined my steamer with parchment paper and flattened my leftover meat on the bottom…like a thin meatloaf. Then I placed the rolled leaves with the seam side down. I placed the basket in a large enough pot with 2-3 cups of broth. Once the broth was boiling I lowered to simmer and steamed about 45 minutes covered.

Finally I prepared a quit sauce to serve with….

Egg and lemon sauce, Greek style:

  • 2-3 eggs, separated
  • 1 tablespoon of water
  • juice of 2-3 lemons
  • broth from the dish being cooked (or hot beef or chicken broth or stock)

Beat the egg whites until foamy. Beat in egg yolks, water, lemon juice, and 2-3 ladle full of broth, beating continuously. Transfer mixture to a small saucepan and heat gently. Whisk while heating, until mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Do not boil.

Cheap Ethnic Eatz 3rd Anniversary Dinner

I don’t know why I always get so behind on the blog post following a Cheap Ethnic Eatz anniversary dinner.

March 11th 2007 is the official day the dinner group saw light. This year 47 members of the dinner group came out to the restaurant Plein Sud for our 3rd anniversary on March 12th. It was also the 75th event. 75 dinners or food related events! Wow

That was a month ago and I just don’t feel like I can justifiably review it anymore….except to say it is a great place to eat. So I will let the pictures speak themselves. I highly recommend trying this place. The owners are AMAZING and so ACCOMMODATING (you have no idea!!!). On the menu:

Tasty reading ahead, KEEP GOING… →