For convenience, I shall reference this food-serving entity as a diner, though it differs in a variety of ways from the beloved Place Milton and McGill Pizza I frequented during my undergrad. Meet The Northern Quebec Diner (NQD). Themes and commonalities:
- There is always pizza at an NQD; the extensiveness of the offerings are restaurant-dependent. Details from my three pizza experiences thus far:
- Pizzeria Amos – good; met my expectations for a diner's pizza. All dressed, lots of meat, lots of cheese. Quintessential Quebec-style pizza, with the meat under the cheese. The fries are good too (actually, I haven't met a disappointing fry during this season yet).
- Cadillac's Routier 117 – subpar, although the boy (who's eaten their on a few occasions before me) says it's variable. The kitchen staff must have been rotating through their B-list when we went together: although the crust was done, it was just done and on the soggy side; the all dressed featured pepper-pieces too large (which only just cooked through); and the cheese was just melted, and not at all coloured/broiled/etc.
- OPC Deli in Lebel sur Quévillon – in theory, the OPC special was extremely tasty: ground beef, olives, onions, bacon. The crust was well done, though my taste buds craved more salt (the boy believes I have an odd salt threshold: my usual tendency is to enjoy things less sodium-ridden than the average Canadian, but he's been slowly adjusting the salt content in his bread baking to above and beyond the recommended amounts for me), and the toppings would have been perfect if the beef was (more?) seasoned and drained. It's not as fun to have a well-done pizza that ends up soggy due to the meat juices on one's plate.
- Extending beyond pizza, the Italian section on the menu also offers spaghetti & sauce / lasagna / etc.
- Misc. “Canadian” fare on the menu. Sandwiches, fish and chips, sometimes (often times) a chicken section on the menu (see below re: Restaurant O'Poulet).
- Poutine is present. From your plain old poutine with beef gravy and cheese curds, to Italian poutine served with spaghetti sauce. Of course, you can always order just fries too.
- Les mets chinoise sont aussi sur le menu. It's been an unspoken tradition for the boy and I to check out the Chinese restaurants during days off. If we're lucky, we make friends with the owner/chef in Cantonese, and order off the back menu. In northern Ontario, we've managed to discover a few gems in Timmins and Kapuskasing, and even went to the restaurant serving Robert Munch's favourite chicken balls in Hearst. We've been unable to find proper Chinese restaurants outside of The (Chinese) Buffet (to be discussed in an upcoming post). Looks like Northern Quebec opted for all-you-can-eat. The only Asian face I've seen at anywhere was the lady serving us at Restaurant Viet-Nam in Amos (yes! "Vietnamese" food in Amos! The food was even good, despite its questionable authenticity. And very lacking of pho. More on this in a future post), so there was no ordering off the back menu for us. The Chinese restaurant in Rouyn-Noranda is actually the diner that bills themselves as a chicken joint (Restaurant O'Poulet), . I was trying to find an exception to the Chinese-food-at-the-NQD-rule, but one lone menu item at the OPC cafe has convinced me that there is no exception. Their menu was extensive in every other respect, but on the bottom of the second last page, a “assorted Chinese plate” advertised itself.
Yet another season of treeplanting!
Due to a few curveballs, we've landed ourselves in Quebec this year.
It's currently day-off in Rouyan-Noranda after an arduous 1st shift; during work, we're camping out of Rapide-Sept. "Camping" being a very loose term, since we have cabins with running water and electricity (!).
My initial food-fears have lifted in the land of poutine, where vegetarianism is deemed a disease. They weren't groundless: 2 seasons ago when we planted in Quebec, our vegetarian friends ate sides for dinner: soggy tinned peas and potatoes. The game of what's-for-dinner turned into wondering what's-not-for-dinner, since there were usually 3 different meat mains on any given night.
It's definitely also because we'd been spoiled on the Kap contract for the last 2 spring plants - our head cook had graduated from chef school prior to my first season. Everything was made from scratch (not only is it tastier and healthier, it's easier on the wallet when you're on the company budget), down to salad dressings and soup.
Although eggs to order are frequently breakfast foods, it hasn't be the only option (which was certainly the case 2 summers ago). And though not every dinner was accompanied by a side of veggies, it's been nowhere near mushy peas 5 consecutive nights. Our cook makes a mean meatloaf (which I found out in French is actually "bread of meat"), and a fairly good caesar dressing. Quebec soul food!
I am, however, looking forward to a grocery run today (to cure my lack-of-greens-crankiness) - we're spending our 2nd day off in camp. With stoves and fridges in the cabins, it's going to be a feast tonight!
Some time ago, the boy promised to take me out on a real date. Unfortunately our last pre-summer/treeplanting weeks in London were filled with errands - moving the contents of our apartment into storage, on his part: final papers & exams, on my part: wrapping things up in the lab so as to leave things at a natural breaking point for the next research assistant.
Putting London on hold, we decided to postpone the date until Ottawa.
Classically trained Matthew Carmichael's menu features local ingredients. Despite the unsurprisingly little amount of 'adventurous' foods, the dinner turned out extremely tasty. We created our own tasting: they "usually" only allow blind tastings if the entire table partakes, so we couldn't manage to convince the waiter to serve a few extra blind dishes in addition to one order of the tasting menu.
greek styled tomato salad - very generous amounts of delicious goat's cheese and olive tapenade. In fact, it was an overwhelming amount, hiding the oregano vinaigrette. I should've saved enough bread from the first round - it would've made a fantastic spread! The tomatoes were unfortunately a tad disappointing. Expressing these sentiments to the waiter resulted in him not asking about any more of our remaining courses.
lobster cobb salad - with a buttermilk dressing. Served with a rather generous amount of lobster (we suspect from cold storage -- it's definitely not lobster season yet), a few slices of perfectly ripe avocado, crispy bits of bacon, blue cheese (Bleu Benedictine) and egg. Just lovely!
steak tartare - a very generous amount served in a bowl in another bowl of ice. Definitely a smidge on the cold side - too cold for the flavours to properly come through in balance. Red chillies gave the dish a slight kick, and the roasted red peppers were a delicious and unexpected addition. Though the herbed and blue-cheesed crostini were delicious against the beef, we happily spooned the remainder onto their bread as well - a much sweeter variation that showcased the parmesan in the tartare.
foie gras, 2 ways - the soy-stained torchon served with maple crystals was creamy and tasty, although not my favourite of the two as the soy almost overpowers the subtle richness. Despite a few corners being overly browned, the pan-seared version served on brioche was simple and delicious, accompanied by a tiny amount of ume.
espresso roasted ostrich - when examining the menu, the boy was initially skeptical about strong flavours of the dish: cardamom, cocoa nibs, brandied cherries, and a red wine demi glace. In the end, I'm happy he was persuaded: everything was fantastically in balance. again, very generous portions (a good 4, 5 pieces of meat).
chocolate torte - served with a blood orange sauce. Chocolate-y rich and delicious, it was an awesome way to end the meal.
I think I'll never be able to take top-notch restaurants 100% seriously though: there was great entertainment value derived from the table next to us (6 men working in finance). After a bottle of rosé, a bottle of red, and a bottle of vodka, they sounded like frat boys Being in high school, I thought everyone would have grown up by the end of university. During my undergrad, I figured people would mature once they hit the real world. I wonder about the proportion of the clientele who are their for the food (genuinely), versus going there "to be seen".
But I digress.
It was overall a fantastic night out and I'm already salivating for our next dinner date!
18 York Street
I was in cooking mode since my first cup of coffee last Friday; it was grand. In fact, I went to bed the night before with purple hands. Beets!
The beauty of Montreal was having semi-regular dinner parties. Pretty much two of my favourite things in the world combined: good company and good food. In any case, between the boy's multiple church gigs and us being stuck on duty [i.e., functionally handcuffed to our apartment], I figured the best way to enjoy the long weekend was snag friends who did not have family turkey/chocolate egg hunt/etc obligations elsewhere. I was unreasonably gleeful at the number of friends who were also in town and wanting to partake in yummy eats. All of the food that was brought and shared was wonderful: cheese & crackers! pierogis! homemade oreo cookies! a salad of greens! zucchini bread! banana muffins! We even had a traditional Polish Easter cake (I believe it's called "mazurek") all the way from Milton.
I made my second ever roasted duck using the prick & flip method: low heat (325 deg F) and long cooking (almost 5hrs), pricking and flipping the bird every 60 minutes. The goal is to let as much fat escape, essentially self-basting the duck in its own goodness. I'm quite sure Jennifer Mclagan, author of Fat: an Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, would approve that I saved the extra skin and fat to render. Duck fat is delicious to use in cooking. [on a sidenote: I have yet finished reading the (cook)book, but I'm enjoying her inclusion of fat related trivia despite her preachy tone. I'm assuming most people who own it aren't afraid of lard.]
Using leftover turkey from our freezer (strategic fridge-emptying menu planning), I made a cheddar biscuit turkey pie loosely based on this recipe. The parsnips and pork stock worked wonderfully with the standard mix of peas, carrots and celery. Also on the menu, the boy's wonderful (garlic & onion) focaccia and (mushroom and cheddar laden) scalloped potatoes.
As for my beet salad, here's a general breakdown:
- 1 lb beets
- 2 medium sized carrots
- 1/2 of a medium sized head of fennel (keeping the green tops)
- 3 apples (we had Spartans on hand), peeled
I was warned against this place before moving to London, but I figured I had nothing to lose - the restaurant's close to my yoga studio, and I only had an hour to nourish my belly and get back to campus for a friend's recital.
Oh so wrong.
I called the restaurant from the yoga studio, ordering shrimp rolls and pad thai. Two very standard (and difficult to mess up) items, that should be at least average at any Thai restaurant (or restaurant claiming to be Thai). I was ravenous after my yoga class, and pulled out my stuffed-to-the-brim clam shell of pad thai. With my splintery disposable chopsticks, I shoveled a few steaming bites into my mouth. My mouth was burning 12 seconds later - not because of the steam, but the excessive sambal (which is an Indonesian chili paste, no?). Yes, that's right - burning. And I can take spice, usually even from authentic Asian restaurants. Even worse, the sweet-salty-bitter-spicy balance was off: too bitter (see note about spice), too salty (excessive fish sauce).
No saving grace with the ridiculously priced (6.95$ for two!) shrimp rolls. I had originally thought that splurging the extra 1.45$ extra for shrimp would be worth it and that I had nothing to lose. Oooooh dear. I was wrong to expect a Montreal-pho-house quality of spring roll, but I had a little bit of hope that maybe, just maybe, it would be at least mediocre-to-average quality. Nope. No herbs (?!). Piddly amount of cucumber. One piece of shrimp. Something that vaguely resembled white noodles. Tiny serving. And the peanut sauce was not peanut sauce: it was a dollop of peanut butter in a lot of way-too-sweet coconut milk. Of course, the extremely large and topped to the brim container of condiment that comes with a takeout order never makes sense either, but that's a tangentially related rant.
Bangkok Pad Thai
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735 Richmond Street
The use of our new pasta machine = success!
We are now in dire need of more semolina and eggs.
We inaugurated our newest kitchen toy in the company of friends (thanks J & S for driving coming all the way from Toronto), and ended the pasta meal with my second attempt at tapioca pudding. This time, I 1/2-ed the eggs, substituted 1/2 of the milk with water, and slightly decreased the amount of tapioca. Much more to my liking, although the boy preferred the first, more custard-y version. He is of course, more than welcome to make it his way if he decides to tackle the (easy-to-make) dessert.
I haven't forgotten: I'm still working on the massive post on our Mexico trip.
For now, enjoy the fun wordcloud generated by wordle.
I had tapioca pudding for the first time 2 weeks ago in Mexico (look forward to an extensive post soon!)
I'd argue that my childhood wasn't deprived at all; it's just that I grew up on a Chinese version of this. Sai mai lo (one of my favourite desserts since childhood) is a thinner, non-custard soup-like dessert served warm or cold. Taro is a common ingredient, there's often coconut milk involved, and it's sweetened with rock sugar. I'm adamant about the taro part, so I never make sai mai lo unless there's taro in the kitchen.
Being in London, I haven't gone out of my way looking for taro. Which means we have tapioca pearls kicking around in the cupboard. Which means I can make tapioca pudding! I gave this recipe a try after borrowing sugar from a neighbour (I'd finished soaking the tapioca and realised we had none), adding a pinch of nutmeg and cinnamon. I didn't care for it warm: too custardy (my bias for sai mai lo), too salty (I'll half the salt next time), to milky (sai mai lo incorporates water). Chilled overnight, all of that unpleasantness disappeared. I'm looking forward to tweaking this till perfection...
We have (now a little less than) 700g of feta in our fridge.
It's by far the best tasting feta cheese I've had in a long time (if ever) - it's creamy and smooth. It has a much better balance of brine/salt than most. Did I mention how creamy it is?
Its raison d'être in our fridge was the boy's rationalization that it was "the most authentic looking thing at A+P". Not to mention best bang for buck - I believe the 700g tub was around 15$. Try it if you see it. You can't miss the hideous cylindrical yellow tub with a red top.
Doric Macedonian Style Feta
The boy and I had planned on hosting a dinner party last Sunday before the mass exodus from London (ours included). With our love of wining and dining guests/friends, we naturally started the cooking craze mid afternoon and guestimated (sorry, I had to throw that in :D) for 5. Honey-wasabi roast chicken! Roasted potatoes with onions and green peppers! Green salad! Apple pie!
Sadly, our friends failed to show (they had valid explainations, and we're no longer too upset at them). Pick-me-ups that evening included homebrewed porter and wheat beers, a few episodes of House and Family Guy, and a bath.
Not all was lost - leftovers made fantastic lunches.
And I managed a mostly decent looking pie for my first ever lattice top!