Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The End is Nigh. Time for Dinner!

Braised Bean Curd with Black Mushrooms
Around the dinner table the other day, in the lull between the appetizer and the main course, the subject of the recent drought came up.  After that, the conversation took a turn for the worst and kept spiralling downwards into doom and gloom until it landed with a thud when one guest brought up the Mayans prophesying the end of the world.

Goodies in a Taro Root Basket
Not a cheery dinner topic to be sure, but instead of changing the conversation, I decided to hop on board and asked, "if you knew the world were about to end but you had time to eat, what would your last meal be?" 

I've posed this question to many of my foodie friends in the past and I've heard everything from, "the foie gras on toasted brioche at the Tour d'Argent in Paris" to  the more comforting, "my mom's mac and cheese and her home made chocolate cake."   To each his own, especially when it comes to food and a looming deadline.
Well, my choice for my last meal has been pretty consistent for the past 3 years, ever since my friend, Tom brought me to T'ang Court in the Langham Hotel in Kowloon for my birthday.  No doubt in my mind.  I know Chinese food may be an odd choice as a last meal but I adore Chinese food and T'ang Court elevates it to "end-of-the-world" worthy.

My last meal would start with their braised bean curd with black mushrooms, followed by sautéed macadamia nuts with white fungus and fresh water chestnuts in a taro root basket, and some ginger stir fried greens. Better yet, bring everything at once.  If the world is about to end we'd better hurry.

If you're starting to doubt my palate, Hubby put it into perspective.  "the difference between a typical Chinese restaurant and dining here is the difference between the taste of Wonder Bread and a hand-made, wood-oven baked artisanal loaf."  Leave it to Hubby to put it into perspective.

The food at T'ang Court is Cantonese and their chef, Siu Hin-chi, uses a light hand, makes all his own sauces, and presents the dishes simply and without fuss.   No surprise that T'ang Court has two Michelin stars and thankfully, a small but varied vegetarian menu.

To accompany the food, there's a basic Tea Menu with fragrant Oolongs and comforting Pu'ers.  I love that the tea is artfully served table side using a traditional Gaiwan.  Pairing tea with food is not typical in North America but it's something I love about Hong Kong's fine dining Chinese restaurants.
The Tea Menu
Let's not forget about dessert.  Since the world is about to end, I'd have three:  T'ang Court's Mango-Sago Soup followed by a bowl of their creamy, light, warm walnut soup.  To top it all off, I'd have a dish of Häagen-Dazs Green Tea ice cream.  Luckily there's a shop just around the corner.  I'd make it a double. 

What would your last meal be?

Dessert #1, Cold Mango Sago Soup with Pomelo
Dessert #2, Warm Walnut Soup
Dessert #3, Green Tea Ice Cream

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Good Ideas from the Union Square Greenmarket

With beautiful, classic skyscrapers surrounding us, I had an inspiring visit to New York's Union Square Greenmarket last Saturday.  Despite the steamy 94°F weather, the crowds were thick, curious, and seemed genuinely at peace with the oppressive heat.

This was my second visit to the Union Square Greenmarket.  My first visit in 2010 was just a quick zip in, zip out affair so I vowed that on my next visit I would take my time.  And take my time I did.

The market is one of my favourites in New York.  It has a huge number of vendors and a truly urban feel and it seems I'm not the only one who shares this opinion.  According to many of New York's visitor guides and our concierge, the market has its share of chef sightings, celebrity or otherwise who visit the market to load up on fresh, locavore goodies.  Since the market is open year-round and four days per week who knows whom you may encounter?  You may want to pack your camera and autograph book along with your cloth bags!

The market occupies the entirety of Union Square which is snuggled between Greenwich Village and Gramercy Park in Manhattan's Midtown South Central area. Near the market are hundreds of interesting and eclectic shops and restaurants so if you have the time you can make it a day to explore, provided of course your arms aren't loaded down with goodies from the market.  When you're ready for a change of scenery, you can retreat to the  beautiful, non-smoking Union Square park to chill out but if you'd like to do more shopping it's just a short a cab ride away to all the buzz in Soho.

Recipes from the Grow NYC stand

The brains behind the market's calm façade is not-for-profit, Grow NYC.  I love how they've transformed their network of farmers' markets into vibrant community meeting places with innovative programmes like community gardens, youth education, on-site clothing recycling drop off and composting, and "Stop 'N' Swap" to name a few.

My favourite of their programmes is Health Bucks for anyone who receives groceries from America's publicly funded Food Stamps programme.  Here's how it works:  for every $5 worth of Food Stamps a buyer spends at a Farmer's Market stand, he or she will receive $2 of Food Bucks redeemable towards the purchase of products from any of the participating vendors. I think it's an enlightened way to provide fresh food to those who wouldn't normally have the resources to buy it and support local farmers at the same time.  Maybe we should be doing the same thing with our Food Banks?
Tundra Ale. Hubby's favourite stand.

In all, we spent a leisurely hour or two poking around and talking to the many busy, engaging vendors. We bought some raspberries that were so good we gobbled them down on the spot and some sweet, little pink sugar plums that we munched in our hotel room later in the day.  I brought home some superb goat cheese, popcorn, and a bag of wild garlic orzo which I plan to whip up for guests once it cools off a bit.

Hubby discovered his own goodies too:  ale from Tundra Brewery.  True to their locavore claims, they grow their hops and barley on their own New York farm and the honey they use to sweeten their ale is sourced from the neighbours.  Hubby reported that the ale was very good ale indeed.  

I left the market inspired, filled with ideas, and wishing we had booked an hotel room with a kitchen so I could have bought and cooked what we saw that day.

The next time we visit New York I think I'll do just that!
Union Square Park.  A calm retreat from all the market hub bub

Gracious (soon to be married) vendors from Conuco Farm


Iron Chef Bobby Flay and a lucky Knoll Krest Farm hen

Sunday, 8 July 2012

New Discoveries, Old Temptations

This morning's visit to the Ottawa Farmers' Market in Brewer Park was an embarrassment of riches, new discoveries and old temptations.

I missed last week's market so it was a real treat to see how in just two short weeks there were some exciting new artisans to meet and some of the regular seasonal products were back on the scene.

Speaking of discoveries, the first time I met Corinne Mooney was at the end of May and I got goosebumps when I saw her ethereal, perfect and delicate, sugared flowers. 

I was beside myself with ideas about what I could do with them and I instantly imagined them resting atop delicate pastries, decorating shiny filled chocolates, and adorning plated desserts.
Today she had a larger variety of both candied and fresh flowers and while we chatted, I sampled some of her piquant Nasturtiums and delicately flavoured Yarrow blossoms. 

Corinne recently left the corporate world behind to create her small but growing business and I'm sure her creations will soon attract the eyes of gifted hosts and hostesses and local restaurateurs.
The temptress, Pascale
Speaking of new temptations, this morning the charming Glacier  Pascale of her eponymous Pascale's all Natural Ice Cream tweeted that she'd be sampling her new "better than sex" chocolate sorbet made with chocolate from Stittsville based, Hummingbird Artisan Chocolate

"Better than sex" chocolate sorbet
Of course I had to give it a go and I can report that it was definitely worth elbowing my way to the front of her stand.  If Hummingbird's chocolate transformed Pascale's chocolate sorbet into something so magnificent, I was dying to taste it in its natural form.

Like a bloodhound on the scent, I sought out the Hummingbird Chocolate stand to meet the owners, hoping to sample some of their "bean to bar" chocolate. 

Seems I wasn't the only one with the same idea.  By the time I found their stand, a large crowd had gathered, two people deep. It was obvious why.  They were sampling four of their 70% cocoa chocolate bars:  Ecuador, Peru, Talamanca, and Hispaniola.  

Of the four, the 70% Ecuador was my favourite and I bought a bar to take home and share with Hubby.

Beautifully moulded Hummingbird Chocolate
Once home, we tore off the wrapper to reveal a shiny, well tempered, moulded bar with a beautiful pattern on the top.  The pattern was cleverly designed to divide the bar into eight equal pieces, thereby eliminating finger pointing and heated accusations between loved ones in the household.
The chocolate itself was supple and smooth in my mouth. The flavours were bright and balanced, high and low, each revealing itself in sequence with a long, citrus finish.  

I'm kicking myself that I didn't buy more than one bar.  I guess there's always next week...
Speaking of an embarrassment of riches, today was the welcomed return of  Warner's Farms and their stone fruits and berries. 

I'm always grateful that the Ottawa Farmers' Market management makes an exception to their "100 mile radius" rule in allowing them at the market since they are technically out of range.

Peaches have always been one of my favourite fruits but in my mind, their annual return is always bitter- sweet.  For me they always mark the beginning of the end of the summer season. 

Luckily, everything this season is ahead of schedule so we have a reprieve - and more good things yet to come.


Flowers from Colin's Jambican Studio Gardens

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Saturday's Bounty

A simple Saturday lunch.  Market vegetables with Pesto alla Genovese

I love Saturdays, especially summer Saturdays.

Today I leapt out of bed with the birds and zipped off to BFF Sean's neighbourhood garage sale where I scored a great vintage plate and an unusual ceramic toast holder. I was quite proud of myself, exhibiting such restraint.  Serving pieces, especially vintage ones, are my kryptonite.

Two irresistible treasures from today's garage sale
The toast holder will début on my breakfast table tomorrow morning when I fill it with toast made from the divine bread from True Loaf Bakery served with soft boiled eggs from Bekings Poultry Farm

After the garage sale, I popped 'round to the Main Farmers' Market for some fresh seasonal goodies.  

Today there were creamy new potatoes, sweet fava beans, petit pois, sweet little carrots and some fine green beans on offer.  I prepared a Pesto alla Genovese to spoon on top of them all. 

Goldengredients gluten free treats
Also at the Main Farmers' Market, I discovered Goldengredients' delicious gluten-free baked goods and have become addicted to their moist, luscious, Amaretti. I originally bought some of their Amaretti for a friend who had recently adopted a gluten-free diet but we found them so irresistible that unfortunately, Hubby and I ate them all.  We find they're especially good washed down with strong Japanese Sencha or an espresso or two.  Sorry Fiona.  Perhaps next week...

Hubby and I enjoyed a simple lunch together on the terrace while we swatted away persistent flying pests who seemed to find our lunch as tasty as we did.

By all accounts, a Saturday well spent.

I can hardly wait for next Saturday!

How much for the cat?

$2 for the lot!

Pretty flowers in a garden at the garage sale