Monday, 30 May 2011

Feats & Feasts

What a weekend! Tasty as all heck.

What began as a Friday Feast ended up being an entire weekend of dining-in and over-indulging. Fine by me! Isn't that what summer (or the lead into it) is all about?

Friday: Lobster

I left work on Friday armed with research, recipes, and one pre-dinner errand to run. Of all the food experimentation I have done over the past several years, I'm ashamed to say I've had relatively little experience with lobster: in cooking or eating it. So when F. suggested we cook lobster for one of his best friends and her boyfriend, I was excited, but equally intimidated. I wasn't even the one cooking the lobster - F.'s forté - but I was unsure of what to make for sides. Everything I had read online suggested keeping the sides simple, since the lobster really is the main event and requires so much of your attention that sides often go cold. I couldn't sit back and make a small contribution, however, so I opted to start with some baked goat's cheese and olives, with baked asparagus, sautéed sugar peas, and spring potatoes as the side.

The recipe I used called for boiling the potatoes first, before putting them in a pan with butter, green onion, the peas, and chopped, fresh mint. I only used half the mint that was called for, but I was surprised by how much I liked the flavour, and how nicely it set off the seafood and lemon flavours elsewhere in the meal. My timing was a bit off with F.'s lobster-boiling, however, so while the flavours were there, I was a little disappointed with my presentation: The veggies were left in slightly too long, so the greens lost their vibrant colour and looked a bit wilted in the dish. The lobster, however, was tender and cooked to perfection. Freddie wins this round!

Here are some snaps of our spread:

We finished up by cleaning off our buttery plates with some fresh sourdough bread from Julien's Bakery, and then some strawberry shortcake (with a brown sugar twist) for dessert. This meal was accompanied by a variety of Rieslings and Riesling blends. Each step of the way.


Lesson learned, however. Everything I read about keeping the sides simple seems to be true. Next time I'll be a better-prepared sous chef.

Saturday: Crêpes & Steaks

Mozza, tomato, and basil crêpe
I was feeling surprisingly ambitious on Saturday morning, given the previous evening's festivities, so I rolled out of bed and headed to the Halifax Seaport Market for some much needed breakfast and caffeine. One of my favourite stops here is the Crêperie Mobile for their mozza, tomato and basil crêpe. Bursting with fresh flavour, I find them to be the perfect way to wake up. Along with copious amounts of coffee, of course.

Halifax Seaport Farmer's Market

Saturday night ended by throwing a couple of steaks on the grill and eating up leftover veggies from the night before. F. keeps it fresh and simple with steak, and that's exactly how I like it. They're well seasoned and grilled to medium, at most. The outside is slightly charred and spicy, the inside pink and juicy. Glorious! 

Sunday Brunch: Bacon Cups

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Chad - a notorious meat lover/promoter - posted a link from the Republic of Bacon's website and a recipe they had for some intriguing-sounding Bacon Cups. I took a quick look, was immediately sold, and vowed to make these bad boys as soon as possible. Life being life, I was only able to get around to making them yesterday, aided and abetted by the gorgeous natural, organic, no additives, hormones, antibiotics (etc., etc.) bacon I had picked up the day before at the market, from Windy View Farm in the Annapolis Valley.

This recipe is a piece of cake and took under 20 minutes to make, including baking time. The Republic of Bacon's recipe is foolproof and ridiculously easy to follow, but I will say that if you don't like your eggs runny, you will need to bake them about 5 minutes longer than the recipe calls for. Also, I substituted the gruyere with sharp, aged cheddar. Mine didn't turn out quite as perfectly as theirs did, but here is a condensed play-by-play of my first go at these breakfast beauties:

Pretty, no? Feeling vindicated for my mediocre sides on Friday, I now have big plans for these Bacon Cups and me this summer. They will definitely be making a re-appearance! All told, a hugely successful and delicious weekend. Now to find more time for the gym...

What's your favourite brunch recipe? I'd love to hear your ideas!

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Thanks for the day off, Vix

So there I was, full of gusto and imagining all the things I would cook and blog about over the Victoria Day long weekend. In actual fact, over the entire three days, I cooked nothing. Nothing! I didn't even really go out to eat. So what did I do? See the aftermath and wreckage that was my culinary weekend off below.

The rice had a bit of an unnatural flavour, but everything else was surprisingly tasty!
I split this up over two days' worth of dinners.

Wild Horse Canyon Shiraz and a Lime Dufflet Tart from Pete's.

Pita chips, Pete's hummus, and spinach dip courtesy of Sobeys.

Pete's build-your-own salad. I combined beans, olives, red onion, green onion, tomatos, feta, and sunflower seeds with a balsamic dressing. Ridiculously filling!
See, here's the thing: I like to cook for me, but I love to cook for me when I have company. So with F. off in Vancouver, and finding myself solo for the weekend, I basically checked out, didn't cook a thing, but still ate well and relatively healthily. This was my relaxing equivalent to ordering pizza in all weekend.

Truthfully, I've been living and eating like I'm still on vacation these past several months (Mom: your delicious baked good are not helping!), so not having any kind of health or fitness routine has really started to bother me. It's something I find really hard to do without a little time on my own to re-prioritize and reflect. As a result, I decided not to make many plans over the weekend, other than attending a yoga class, taking a bath, going for a walk, and watching Restaurant: Impossible marathons on the Food Network. Taxing! I decided to embrace the weekend alone and get some Aimée Time in. Because of the open schedule, however, I was also able to take in a friend's comedy show at the last minute, catch up with an old friend from high school, and spend an entire afternoon of quality time with my cousin, Melissa.

Despite the overrepresentation of pre-packaged food, I still got a nerdy, foodie high off of finding surprisingly delicious treats in the frozen food aisle and then foraging for gold - no difficult task! - with Melissa at Pete's Frootique, which, in my opinion, is the next best thing to homemade. I felt utterly and perfectly indulged and I had the downtime I needed to get out and get my body really moving; a feeling that leaves me in a better state of mind to get back into a more balanced lifestyle in the coming weeks.

How did you spend your long weekend? What did you eat?

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Trattoria della Nonna & The Mariner King - Lunenburg, NS

I'm that embarassing person who takes out their camera at almost every meal - at home or in a restaurant - and insists on taking macro photos of everyone's food. I've become a little more bashful about it, though, since coming back home to Nova Scotia. As a result, I don't have any photos of our food from Trattoria della Nonna, but I do have some of our breakfast that I'll share. Now that I've actually started Food: Je t'Aimée, I have a fine excuse to get back on the photo-taking wagon and ask that my future dinner-mates humour me. Consider yourself warned!

I came home last February, after almost two years living in South Korea, and one of my first orders of business was setting up one of these new-fandangled Groupon accounts I had been hearing so much about. Buying the deal for Trattoria della Nonna was my very first purchase back in March, so I was saving it for a special occassion.

After weeks of rainy, grey skies, and with that Groupon burning a hole in my pocket, I set off for a quick weekend escape to Lunenburg last Saturday with F.: my fellow foodie and partner in culinary crime, among other things. The upside to all this rain - yes, there is an upside! - is that the grass and trees are flourishing because of it, and adding some luscious green to the grey landscape. It also made Lunenburg - a charming, coastal town and UNESCO world heritage site - especially atmospheric.

Lunenburg, the lovely.
Upon arriving at The Mariner King (our lodgings for the night), we discovered that Trattoria della Nonna was right next door. Given that we had both already scoped out their menu online, and that the Chef, Terry Vasallo, hails from such highly-praised kitchens as Seven and The Five Fishermen in Halifax, I think we were both really looking forward to the evening's indulgences. I also enjoyed the fact that our room was only a short stumble away, should we find ourselves in a food coma later in the evening.

Trattoria della Nonna is just what a charming, ristorante should be: Intimate (not too big, not too small), cozy, and atmospheric. Perfectly set lighting cast everything in a yellowish hue and created a gorgeous ambience. I immediately felt pleasantly warm; something like the feeling after one glass of wine. There were three small floors that were all visable from the front entrance. We were brought down to the bottom floor, which felt cellar-like and reminded me of many places I had eaten at while living in Germany and travelling elsewhere in Europe. 

With menus laid out in front of us, it was decision time. There was a book of restaurant reviews in our room at the Inn, and in it, the writer had recommended starting with the calamari here. I absolutely love calamari, but as a result, I'm often disappointed by it and therefore usually hesitate before ordering it. It's either too greasy, not fresh, too chewy, or just not flavourful enough. Trattoria's calamari, however, did not disappoint! Admittedly, it was probably some of the best I've ever had. It was lightly battered, crispy, and remarkably fresh. The seasoning was spicy and had some kick to it, which I really liked. The warm olives and pickled onions added some great flavour when combined with the calamari, as well. 
For mains, I ordered the Agnello (hazlenut and herb crusted lamb rack and lamb shoulder ragout, soft polenta with pecorino, brodo di agnello) and F. ordered the Pollo al Mattone (crispy skin cornish hen, cooked under a brick, crushed potato with fresh herbs and bacon, black sausage jus). I asked for my lamb to be cooked medium, but it showed up cooked straight through and more on the well-done side. I didn't mind, though, because the lamb was extremely tender and packed with flavour. The ragout was the best part of this dish, hands down. From the bites I stole off of F.'s plate, the Cornish hen was moist and had a nice hints of cinnamon and cloves. He said it was good but he'd had better. I think we should have just switched plates, because from what I tasted, I liked his even better than mine. We washed all this down with a bottle of Evil (2007, Cabernet Sauvignon, South Eastern Australia) and topped it off with some Torta al Formaggio and Limone - both of which were to die for. The lemon tart was fresh, tangy, and palate-cleansing after such a rich meal, while the cheese cake was decadent and completely sinful. It was just enough to send us home completely stuffed and satisfied. Adding to the experience were the wait staff: Lovely, warm, personable, and attentive in the all the right measures.

In the end, F. snuck off and paid the bill, claiming that it was an excuse to come back and use the Groupon another day. Maybe he liked his pollo more than he admitted? Hmmm. In any case, I'd happily revisit Trattoria and sample some of the other dishes on their menu. It was definitely worth a trip out of town.
As a quick ending note, I'd also like to offer my two cents on The Mariner King. Wonderful, helpful staff, gorgeous rooms, and one of the best breakfasts I've had in ages, which was included in the price of the room.

Lobster Eggs Benny

Apple & Cinnamon Brioche French Toast
The breakfast had both a continental spread and a hot menu to choose from. We indulged in everything:  the beautiful cheeses (the cranberry goat cheese was a favourite), cured meats, fruit, croissants, and champagne, as well as dishes off the hot menu. I had the lobster eggs benedict and F. had the apple and cinnamon brioche French toast. The lobster was slightly on the rubbery side, but was still tasty and had a lovely presentation, while the French toast was a huge hit for both of us. Considering we straggled down minutes before breakfast ended, I think we did pretty well for ourselves. I was even offered a mimosa top-up before they packed the cart away.  

All in all, a hugely successful 24 hours of foodie bliss. In truth, it was more like 36, since the previous night I had gone to The Bicycle Thief in Halifax with Colleen (lifelong friend and once partner in teenage riff-raffery), to celebrate our payday. I'm going to wait to write about this one, though. My first meal there was wonderful, but I've heard mediocre reviews since, from some people whose taste buds I trust. Maybe I got lucky that night, or maybe they got unlucky. Either way, I'll give it another go before I share my thoughts.

Happy eating!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

For the Love of Food

This being my first post, I need to be honest about something: I'm a terrible blogger. At least, I used to be. I started several blogs during my undergrad years (10 years ago now - eep!), but due to the distractions of school, play, etc., I could never really commit. For many reasons, all these years later, I feel much better placed to actually develop and nurture a blog. An experiment in commitment, perhaps? A commitment to my on-again/off-again love affairs with writing and with travel, yes, but my commitment and love of food has never - I repeat - never been called into question! Maybe this fact will be my blog's saving grace?

My love of food aside, I have a couple of other motives behind starting this blog. First, after several years of travelling, I find myself back home in Nova Scotia - by choice - and attempting to establish my life and career here. Having spent time living in various other cities outside of Canada, however, I've noticed that Halifax is missing something: a strong approach to food tourism. With the popularity of the Food Network and shows like Diners, Drive-ins and Dives - to name but one - people are discovering new reasons to travel: the grumble in their belly and the culinary and cultural adventures that can follow from it.

We have the wonderful organization, Taste of Nova Scotia, promoting quality food, its production, and its producers in this province. You can find and review any restaurant in this city on Yelp, and we have many wonderful festivals that celebrate local cuisine and drink. But only recently has Nova Scotia begun to tap into the possibilities of food tourism, through ToNS. Given how new this venture is in town, I want to offer my independent take on the food tourism scene here and offer alternatives. Nova Scotia has loads to offer visiting food enthusiasts, and I'd love to do my part to show them that. Ultimately, and eventually, I'd like to start organizing thematic food tours myself, showcasing Nova Scotia's best and tastiest. (Let me know if you're interested!) In the meantime, and given how much of my time, money, and social life are devoted to the pursuit of eating good food in and around Halifax, I thought it would be a good experiment to document what I find, make, and taste.

This brings me to the other motive behind starting Food: Je t'Aimée. Food has become such a focal point and gathering point in my life, that a number of people close to me have encouraged me to get beyond my fairweathered past with blogs and start afresh. So, friends and family, here I finally am.

Preliminary ramblings complete. Up next, my take on Trattoria della Nonna: an Italian Ristorante in Lunenburg I visited last weekend, thanks to the wonder that is Groupon.