Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Daring Bakers February Challenge-Valentino Cake

February’s challenge is a Flourless Chocolate Cake
The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef.We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.
This was my first Daring Bakers Challenge, and it was a success I might say. Only 3 ingredients, can't get easier then that! I must say that the taste and texture of the cake was not what I expected at all. You could actually compare this to a brownie, but better. I used the best available dark chocolate, Callebaut. Available in Ottawa at "Farm Boy". This cake will taste exactly like the chocolate that you will be using, therefore I would abstain from low quality chocolate. I drizzled homemade caramel sauce all over it, hummmmm. There is nothing better then chocolate cake and a cup of Timmies. For you Canadians out there, you know exactly what I'm talking about :-)

Chocolate Valentino
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
16 ounces (1 pound) (454 grams) of semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons (146 grams total) of unsalted butter
5 large eggs separated

1. Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water) and melt, stirring often.
2. While your chocolate butter mixture is cooling. Butter your pan and line with a parchment circle then butter the parchment.
3. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and put into two medium/large bowls.
4. Whip the egg whites in a medium/large grease free bowl until stiff peaks are formed (do not over-whip or the cake will be dry).
5. With the same beater beat the egg yolks together.
6. Add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate.
7. Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and follow with remaining 2/3rds. Fold until no white remains without deflating the batter. {link of folding demonstration}
8. Pour batter into prepared pan, the batter should fill the pan 3/4 of the way full, and bake at 375F/190C
9. Bake for 25 minutes or until an instant read thermometer reads 140F/60C.
Note – If you do not have an instant read thermometer, the top of the cake will look similar to a brownie and a cake tester will appear wet.
10. Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes then unmold.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Play Food and Wine Restaurant

Pork rillette / purple mustard 7$
Crispy oysters / pineapple hollandaise / sweet chili 10$
Ricotta gnudi / brown butter / squash tempura 9$
GMS, Old Bush Vines, Schild, Australia, 2007 (5 oz)
Zinfandel, OVC, Four Vines, California, 2006 (5 oz )

I have been anticipating the opening of Play for months now! As many of you are, I am a huge fan of Beckta restaurant on Nepean street. It was said that Play would be more casual, and somewhat more affordable. Beckta, for us mere mortals, is kept for very special occasions. So I was delighted to hear that I would be able to feast on Michael Moffat's creations more then once a year!

However, in the back on my mind I had doubts, how could Moffat be in 2 places at the same time and if not, how would he manage to keep the quality of the food consistent... Unfortunately I was right.

First, I love the building and location. Could not be more perfect, the stone building is a beauty in the Byward market. But how disappointed I was to see no stone was exposed inside, but instead covered with baby blue walls and a white ceiling! Not very "playful" or warm. Actually, my fiancé hit it right on the head when he said; it felt like a sterile, cold hospital room, enough said... The room itself amplifies conversations so it is loud and it sounds like a bunch of people speaking in a cave.

Our waiter was nice, but not up to Beckta's standard yet. When he came over to our table he sort of "crouched" down but almost behind me to ask what I would like to drink... so I had to twist into an uncomfortable position in order to see and face him.. Minor detail, but still strange.

We ordered 2 glasses of wines 5 oz each, I think they were 9$. I had the Zinfandel, it was a cold night and I was in the mood for something bold. It did the trick and not only that the wine was the perfect temperature...wow! Finally someone in Ottawa gets it! Now, something else that caught my attention was the price difference between a 3 oz and 5 oz. As an example, if the 3 0z serving for a specific wine was 6$ (I cannot remember the exact amount), the 5oz was 9$. I noticed that another 3 oz wine was 6$ as well, however the 5oz portion was more then 9$.... you see what I mean? I brought it to the attention of our waiter, he agreed that it was strange and left it at that...no explanation.

Food. Many reviews raved about the food, it is a tapas style menu, (small plates). I love this concept, it enables you to try many different dishes. Ottawa is finally catching on to that trend, better late then never. I have always found that chefs try to "wow" you with the appetizers. I remember many moons ago, I would only order appetizers, I was either refused or looked at like I had 3 heads. Times have changed..thank goodness. However I still like to get a bang for my buck and the small plates were overpriced for the quality and quantity presented. I know the hot trend is small plates but four "plates " later your down $40.00. Mind you if the quality is good then fine but it has to be competitive with the other eateries out there and it didn't meet my expectations.

Sooooo, we ordered the Ricotta gnudi / brown butter / squash tempura that everybody raves about. The gnudi was good, so was the brown butter sauce, but nothing to brag about. The squash tempura was limp, smal and greasy . Second was the Pork rillette with purple mustard. My better half and I are big fans of rillette and will drive a ridiculous amount of kms to buy it! So we expected something spectacular from this kitchen, alas.. it was more of a pate texture, no big pieces of pork to be found. It also tasted and had somewhat the texture of bread crumbs... very disappointing. Third was the Crispy oysters with pineapple hollandaise and sweet chili sauce. Finally something tasty! The oysters were plump and juicy, the batter crispy and not too oily. Too bad the portion was so small and pricey. The chili sauce was nice, however the pineapple hollandaise tasted of tin... pureed canned pineapple??? At that price, it should not be...Moffat was certainly not in the house that night

Oh! one more thing, we ordered 3 small plates and asked the waiter to bring them at intervals, he agreed it was the best way. Well, all 3 plates were brought at the same time and the table was too small to accommodate everything...

All in all, not a horrible experience, but far from memorable. For that amount of money, Murray street and Aroma Mezze are a much better value. Sorry Stephen and Michael, I expected so much more from the both of you.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

I Left My Liver in Montréal

We had been following the adventures of chef Martin Picard and his famous Montréal restaurant "Au Pied du Cochon." for quite a while. We have his cookbook and watch his show "Wild Chef" on the Food Network.

This past weekend we finally had the opportunity to sample the PDC menu.
Warning: What you are about to read is a sick testament to foie gras, gluttony and pure gastronomic porn. The authors would like to apologise to vegetarians, vegans, dieters and all others who find huge plates brimming with creams, lard, organs and all that is pork and duck offensive. We're sick and can't help ourselves!

Our reservations were for 6:30 and we arrived to a vibrant, noisy pub style restaurant. The place is not large and the kitchen is open to the diners seated at the bar. Next time that's where we'll be. It's a show in itself watching the chefs at work churning out the meals in such a small kitchen..a symphony of coordination and communication.

Our Maitre D' was Maxime who guided us through the menu and wine cellar with the experience and knowledge of one who has tasted it all and knows each detail of preparation for every dish. The portions are large and the waiters will help you with quantifying your selections so you don't order too much and trust me you will want to order too much.

My sweetie ordered the locally brewed PDC blonde ale and I started with a glass of Shiraz.

We started with the Cromesquis de foie gras. It's a deep fried cornmeal cube with a molten foie gras interior. You put the whole thing in your mouth and bite down. Its an explosion of the most intense buttery rich flavor of liquid foie gras on your taste buds. Our eyes said it all as we looked at each other...OMG...and this is just the beginning.

A bottle of 2005 Chinon joined our table.

Next up " Tarte de foie gras cru au sel" and a special that evening "Salade de Lapin"

The tarte was a small personal foie gras pizza. Thinly sliced medallions of foie gras placed over a crisp golden "made in house tarte of buttery pastry. Absolutely delicious.

The salad consisted of fresh greens topped with nuggets of roasted rabbit, vinaigrette, toasted walnuts and a sharp cheddar. It was delicious but I found the rabbit a little bland.

Timeout-Le Trou de Normand..eight year old Calvados to make some room for the onslaught to follow.

Main courses: Poutine au foie gras and Canard en conserve.

The poutine is the culinary culmination of that saucy, cheesy "after clubbing " classic we all know and crave. This one has been dressed up with chunks of seared foie gras and a creamy rich foie gras gravy. Its hard to describe but for all you poutine lovers out there this is the sacred messiah and worth a pilgrimage to the PDC temple. It is the most decadent, delicious, tasty plate of chips you will ever eat.

The conserve is a duck breast (magret) stuffed with foie gras and layered in a can with caramelized balsamic onions, roasted garlic, buttery roasted cabbage. The can is sealed and steamed. The can is then opened at your table and the contents are poured onto a toasted slice of bread layered with a creamed celeriac puree. The aromas of the duck, froie gras, and garlic all intertwine into a rich wonderful smog that envelopes the senses as it melts and mingles over the bed of toast. As you taste it, each bite progressively gets more delicious as the flavors combine.

The duck was tender and sweet; the foie gras providing a rich canopy for each ingredient. Each one a delicacy on its own but combined together it was oohs and ahhs and wows after each mouthful.

Incredibly and painfully but joyously motivated we ended with Pudding chomeur. A light white cake pudding smothered in warm maple syrup caramel.

By now we were numb with food coma but proud of our accomplishment. I recommend you clear a few days to "detox" after a meal of this calibre. Hey, we knew what we were getting into and prepped accordingly. Tip: Eat light the day of your visit.....OK I lied . We tried but we're in Montreal for God's sake! I'll fess up. We ended up looking for a light snack to tide us over a few hours before our meal and hit another local dining establishment. JACKPOT!!!! That's another blog review and it would be too embarrassing to review it here after what I've just confessed to eating at PDC. Can two human beings actually eat that much in one day !!? Let me just say that there is no such word as light in the local cuisine.

It was a meal that will go down in the annals of gluttony and forever etched in our minds and stomachs. The food, the ambiance, the hosts make this restaurant a must for any culinary traveller.

Try to get a seat at the bar.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Sinful and Healthy?

Honey-Butter Carrot Cake with Toasted Pecans and Citrus Cream Cheese IcingThis classic carrot cake is simply the best. It was a hit with the birthday girl today. It is a long cake to make, but ohhhhh sooooooo good.

Butter or nonstick spray
2 cups (500 mL) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) baking powder
1/2 tsp (2 mL) baking soda
1 tsp (5 mL) ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp (2 mL) ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp (1 mL) ground clove or allspice
1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
3/4 cup (175 mL) butter, softened
1/2 cup (125 mL) honey
2 eggs
1 cup (250 mL) granulated sugar
1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla
3 cups (750 mL) finely grated carrot
1 apple, peeled and grated
1 cup (250 mL) toasted pecans, coarsely chopped

One 250 g package regular cream cheese
1/2 cup (125 mL) butter, softened
2 tbsp (25 mL) honey
2 tbsp (25 mL) finely grated orange, lemon or lime zest ( a mixture of all three)
2 tsp (10 mL) lemon juice
4 to 5 cups (1 to 1.25 L) sifted icing sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).

Butter two 9-inch (23-cm) layer pans or coat with nonstick spray; line bottom with circle of parchment or waxed paper. Stir flour with baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt.

In another bowl, using an electric mixer, cream butter until lighter in colour and slightly fluffy. Slowly beat in honey, then eggs, one at a time. Beat in sugar and vanilla.

Add flour mixture to butter mixture in thirds, stirring until just absorbed. Stir in carrots, apple and pecans.
Divide batter between pans; smooth tops. Bake in oven centre for 35 to 40 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into cake centre comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes; then turn out to finish cooling on rack.

To make icing, beat cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth. Gradually beat in butter, then honey, zest and lemon juice. Gradually add icing sugar until thick enough for spreading. Spread between stacked layers, then over sides and top. Sprinkle with any extra zest or chopped pecans.
Serves 8 to 12

Nectar of the Gods

Wolf Blass Grey Label Shiraz 2005
This wine was a Christmas gift from someone special. As soon as I saw the label, I knew that this was gonna be good, lick your glass clean good. I had good intentions of aging it in our cellar or perhaps saving it for a special occasion....My excuse for savoring it so early is that Life is too short. Hey! I could get hit by a bus or something...:-)
Here we go:
Color: Deep dark ruby
Taste and Bouquet: First note is definitely ripe cherries, plums, blackberry and butter. It reminded Hubby of Figs Newton. I personally also noted a bouquet of dark chocolate and rich vanilla . This wine is full bodied (a meal in a glass), it is smooth with just the right tannins and is slightly acidic.
Pairing: This is a wine best paired with strong meats, such as lamb, bison, AAA Angus beef... This is a winter wine, and worthy of decanting.
It was simply divine, and I am on the hunt for 1 more bottle. This wine can only get better with age.