An afternoon in Montreal (Nov.2017)

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Montreal / restaurant / travel

Took the train to Montreal for a few days, partially to do some photography for my book on digital image photography. First day I had some time to kill before dinner, so I dropped by Rowntree Antiques near Atwater Market. A huge selection (like huge) of pine antiques, mostly from Eastern Europe. Fantastically restored, many with intricate dovetail joints. Also lots of vintage linen, often used to make flour bags in days past. Wish I had a second home to fill with this furniture. Then onto Atwater Market for a bit of pre-Xmas grocery shopping.

I scoped out some purchases for Saturday morning, and bought some French dessert mixes at Les Douceurs du Marché.

After that, it was 5pm and dark. This time of year the sun sets shortly after 4pm, about 30 before it does in Toronto, but then it is about 2 degrees of latitude higher than Hogtown (circa 200km). I had dinner reservations at Liverpool House, so decided to kill some time at a nearby cafe – September. Part cafe, part bar (after 6pm), part public surfboard workshop, Shaper Studio. What a super cool idea! That, and I had the *best* flat white there, the micro-foam was fantastic and lasted until the last drop of coffee (usually they break in under a minute).

Dinner was at Liverpool House, which is right next to sister restaurant Joe Beef. I had a bar seat, and even at 6pm the place was busy. Free oysters being shucked, and cocktails being made. I have wanted to go to Joe Beef for years with my buddy John from Darwin, but we just never get there (maybe next summer?). So, I thought I would try Liverpool House. For a starter I had a smoked eel Bourguignonne, which was just *exceptional*. Beautiful pearl onions, carrots, and the most crunchy fried potato blocks, but the smoked eel was the star (from Quebec, it isn’t often you see it on the menu anywhere). I followed that with a main of lobster spaghetti. OMG. Talk about crazy decadent. By the end I had no room for dessert, but totally worth the visit. (apologies, pictures are dark due to dim lighting, and the even poorer ability of my iPhone in low-light).

On the way back to the B&B, I walked along Rue Notre-Dame Ouest, which is studded with seemingly great places to eat like Le bOucan smokehouse, and Grinder Viandes & Vins steakhouse and raw bar.


Raspberry jam

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fruit / preserving

Jams can be extremely simple. They don’t *need* things like powdered or liquid pectin. Instead how about using a Granny Smith apple, which are loaded with pectin. Here is a simple recipe for raspberry jam made from garden raspberries.


  2 lbs  raspberries
 3 cups  sugar
      1  Granny Smith apple (shredded)
1 tbsp.  lemon juice

Put all the ingredients in a heavy pot, and bring to a boil. Continue cooking, skimming the foam off the top, until the temperature of the jam reaches 217-220ºF. Test the set, and then cap, and process in a water bath for 10 minutes.


A fancy cake: Sacher Torte

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baking / cake

For my daughters 16th birthday I made a cake, not for her per se (she wanted a box cake). But I thought why not try something fancy?  I don’t usually make fancy cakes, but I decided to make a Sacher Torte. I had always thought tortes were hard to make, but in reality this is not that tricky a cake. The original Sacher torte was invented in Austria, in 1832 as a dessert for a dinner party hosted by Prince Wenzel von Metternich. It’s creator was a 16 year old apprentice, Franz Sacher. The torte evolved into its current form by Sacher’s eldest son, Eduard, who also established the Hotel Sacher in 1876. A Sacher Torte is essentially a chocolate sponge, cut midway and joined with apricot jam, which is also used to coat the sponge. The entire torte is then covered in chocolate glaze.

INGREDIENTS: chocolate sponge

  120g  bittersweet chocolate
  120g  unsalted butter
     6  eggs, separated
  100g  icing sugar
 ¼ tsp  salt
   80g  superfine sugar
   80g  plain flour 
   40g  corn starch

  200g  sugar
 ½ cup  water
  150g  bittersweet chocolate

  300g  apricot jam

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Line the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan with parchment paper, and butter and flour the sides. I use a 3″ high aluminum pan. Sift together the flour and corn starch in a bowl.

2. Melt the butter and the chocolate in a water bath (a stainless steel bowl set over a pan with simmering (not boiling) water). See aside to cool. Place the eggs yolks in a bowl of a mixture, and using whisk attachments, whisk. Add the icing sugar and whisk until the mixture is pale – about 5-7 minutes. Slowly bland in the cooled chocolate mixture until it is completely incorporated. Set this aside.

3. Add the salt to the egg whites and whisk until soft peaks form. Slowly add the superfine sugar until the mixture is glossy and stiff (this forms a meringue-type mixture).  Now incorporate one-third of the flour mixture into the chocolate mixture, followed by one-third of the egg-white mixture. Repeat with the second third of each mixture, and finally the remaining third, until no white parts remain.

4. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan, and bake for 10 minutes at 350°F. Lower the temperature to 275°F/135°C and bake for 35-40 minutes more. When baked, take the cake out of the oven and place the pan on a cooling rack for 10 minutes. Then invert the cake onto a wire rack, remove the parchment paper, and allow to cool. Cut the torte in half (horizontally). It should reveal a nice airy sponge. Place the bottom half of the torte on a wire rack, with a baking tray or parchment paper below the rack to catch the runoff from the glaze.

5. Place the apricot jam in a small pan, and bring to a boil, allowing to boil for 2-3 minutes. Let it cool slightly, then spread half of the apricot jam on the top of the bottom half of the torte. Add the top half of the torte, then spread the remaining jam over the top and sides of the torte.

6. Make the chocolate glaze by placing the sugar and water into a saucepan, and bringing to a boil, maintaining the boil for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, and add the chocolate, stirring until melted. Return to the heat, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and allow to stand for 8-10 minutes. It will thicken slightly, but still be pourable. Slowly pour the glaze, and allow to cover the complete torte. The remainder will drip off the cake onto the parchment paper below.

So, for the first attempt, aesthetically it’s not the nicest looking torte. I didn’t strain, or blender the apricot jam, which just means the top of the torte was a bit lumpy. The glaze turned out quite well though.

Overall the Sacher torte tasted extremely good. By the second day the apricot-rum mixture had absorbed deeper into the cake. Tasty? Extremely.


Pears in fall

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I think pears are sometimes considered a “sidelined” fruit – with all the limelight is taken by “apples”. Maybe it’s because they are best when in season in the fall, and I don’t think they store that well in the fridge, whereas apples do. Most of the pears we see in grocery stores are the Bartlett cultivar, known elsewhere as Williams.  But, there are other fantastic pears out there. d’Anjou, Bosc, Rocha, and Abate.

(clockwise from top-left) Rocha, Anjou, Abate, and Bosc.

Anjou – firm, sweet and juicy, they can be green or red (Red Anjou). Good for eating or cooking.
Abate [Fetel] – an Italian pear (harder to find), crisp, sweet, aromatic, with hints of honey. Good for eating, baking, and salads.
Williams – super juicy, do not hold their shape (great for pear sauce).
Bosc – crisp when raw, hold their shape well when cooked. Great for pear tarts, and salads.
Rocha – a Portuguese pear, hard, firm, sweet and juicy.

Cooking with juniper berries

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food / ingredient

Some preserving (like pickles), meat dishes such as stews (e.g. game dishes like rabbit), and of course gin, use juniper berries as an ingredient. But what are they? Not a herb, not really a spice, and not actually a berry, juniper berries are the female cone of the juniper, which is a conifer. Its use can be found extensively in Northern European cuisine – Sweden Norway, Germany (e.g. Sauerbraten), Austria, and Hungary.

I buy my Juniper berries from Terroirs Québec, and come from Gaspésie Sauvage, harvested in Gaspésie. I used them recently in my first attempt at making bacon.


Scrumpalicious Scandinavian pickled cucumbers

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preserving / recipe / vegetables

The art of preserving food may seem onerous to some people, but making pickles is not hard at all. Some pickles can be stored in the refrigerator instead of processing with a water bath are super easy to make. The downside is that they don’t last as long, but all the more reason to eat them sooner. One of the best pickling recipes I have tried recently is this recipe for Scandinavian style pickles – crunchy pickles that are both sweet and sour. These are fast to make too.

INGREDIENTS: (makes 2 pint jars)

   6-7  pickling cucumbers
2 cups  white wine vinegar
     1  lemon (juiced)
 1 cup  sugar
 1 tsp  salt
 10-15  black peppercorns
     1  bunch fresh dill

Put the vinegar, sugar, salt, and peppercorns in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Allow the pickling liquid to cool completely. Prepare two sterilized pint jars. Cut the cucumbers into ¼” slices, and layer in the jars, alternating with sprigs of the fresh dill. When the jars are full, pour in the pickling liquid until the cucumbers are covered.

Allow to stand for 12 hours, then store in the refrigerator. they are good to eat after about a week, and keep for up to two months.



Pecan pie

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baking / pastry

Thanksgiving in Canada, and time for pie! I don’t make pie that often, mainly because if you make it, then you have to eat it (which is always a bummer right?). Pies (of any sort) can be too sweet – so this recipe is nice because it’s not overly sweet. It does use corn syrup, which I’m not the biggest fan of, but you could always substitute something such as maple syrup. Pecans are native to North America, and pecan pie is a derivative of medieval sugar pies such as treacle tart, originating in the southern U.S..

First, let’s start with the dough. This dough recipe I borrowed from The Model Bakery Cookbook. It uses a combination of butter and shortening, producing a really nice flaky pastry which bakes well.


  220g  all-purpose flour
 ½ tsp  sugar
 ¼ tsp  fine sea salt
   70g  unsalted butter (cut into cubes)
   55g  vegetable shortening
  60ml  ice-cold water

Mix the flour, sugar, and salt together in a bowl. Cut the butter into the flour, and then the shortening, continuing until the mixture resembles course bread crumbs. Add the water in portions, and stir with a fork until the mixture starts to come together. Mix the dough together by hand and form into a ¾” disk. Wrap and allow to rest in the refrigerator until needed. This is enough for one 9″ pie.

Now on to the pie.


  200g  light brown sugar
 180ml  corn syrup
     4  eggs (at room temperature)
   55g  melted unsalted butter
2 tbsp  whiskey
 ½ tsp  vanilla extract
2 cups  pecans

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Roll out the dough into a round, ¼” thick and large enough to fit a 9″ pie pan. Fit the dough to the pan, and trim, ½” beyond the rim of the pan. Fold this excess dough under so the dough is now flush with the rim, and crimp the edge. Blind bake the pie shell for 15 minutes or until it just starts to gain some colour. Remove the pie weights, and bake for a further 5 minutes – it should have a light colour. Remove it from the oven.

2. Reduce the ovens heat to 350°F. Mix all the ingredients, except for the pecans, in a bowl. Pour into the shell, and add the pecans. Bake until the top of the pie has puffed up – about 45 minutes (not so much that cracks start to form). Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a rack for 2-3 hours before serving. The pie will deflate somewhat, and should have a slightly toasted nut aroma.



Eating gravlax

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cooking / fish / recipe

Gravlax is classically eaten with hovmästarsås, the mustard-dill sauce. Like gravlax, there are many different versions of this sauce. It is classically made with Swedish-style mustard, although I have used mild Polish mustard mixed with honey. There are recipes with different ratios of oil, and sugar – it really is dependent on personal taste.


 3 tbsp  Swedish-style mustard
 2 tbsp  white wine vinegar
  ¼ cup  sunflower or canola oil
 1 tbsp  finely chopped fresh dill
 1½ tsp  fine sugar

Mix the mustard together with the vinegar, and then whisk in the oil to make an emulsion. Stir in the dill, sugar, and salt to taste. I like to slice the salmon and form them into a rosebud on the plate.