Give thanks where it’s due

July 8, 2009

SpicytamarindlobsterRestaurant meals often bring surprises with them. Unfortunately, it’s usually a bad surprise that blemishes your mealtime; however, every once in a while you get a fantastically wonderful surprise when you dine out. We had that experience recently at a little restaurant in our neighbourhood called Sweet Basil.

To be honest, we went there by default since it was a Monday and our first choice Asian restaurant, Mi Ne Sushi, was closed. We’ve been to Sweet Basil dozens of times and while it’s usually good, it has never been phenomenal until our last visit when we ordered the special Spicy Tamarind Atlantic Lobster pictured above.

It was absolutely fantastic and, get this, only $32 for the same amount of lobster that would be sold for $50 (or more) at any Toronto steakhouse.

When’s the last time you had a wonderful restaurant food experience? Did you send your compliments back to the cooks in the back? If not, why not?

What I eat at home

June 12, 2009


Among the questions I’m most frequently asked when people find out about my job is “what do you eat at home?” Next, when they find out that my husband is also a chef, I get asked “who cooks at home?”

The truth is that on weekdays, I spend all day long working at a test kitchen where I literally have to taste food whether I’m hungry, like that food or hate it. It’s my job and it’s usually a pleasure; however, it means that it’s almost impossible to tell you about my typical menu. Some days I come home having eaten nothing but chocolate cake all day and only want a salad. Then, on other days I come home after eating veggies all day and cook just meat and potatoes. Likewise, five days out of seven, Martin is cooking at the restaurant during family mealtime so the cooking falls to me.

Then there’s Sunday, that glorious seventh day of the week, when we’re both at home and we eat what we want, when we want. Finally a day when I can catalogue our true eating and cooking habits. So, if you’re one of the people who has pondered what chefs eat and how they cook at home, here’s an account of how I ate last Sunday:

9 a.m. a non-fat latte

10:30 a.m. a banana

12:30 pm Lunch out at Panera with Martin while Oliver hangs out at home playing video games (we get him a takeout sandwich). I order the sandwich and soup combo: frontega pulled chicken panini and tomato soup. It’s Martin’s first time eating at Panera and he declares the side of baguette that accompanies his sandwich ‘curious’ but eats it anyway.

3 p.m. Small square of a homemade brownie lingering on the counter just waiting (almost begging – it was rather wanton in truth) to be eaten.

5:30 p.m. Lobster (cooked and shelled by Martin) and a salad (made by me) that contains roasted beet, avocado, cucumber, tomatoes and mâchâ tossed with lemony dill dressing and accompanied by a glass of sauvignon blanc.

7 pm Kit Kat single from my secret stash hidden in the refrigerator butter keeper.

10:30 pm After I get home from humiliating myself at house league tennis, Martin and I split a consoling Cameron’s Auburn Ale and nosh on a few slices of his homemade, dry-cured fennel sausage, a wedge of aged Cheddar, and a few baby dills.

There you have it. That’s how I eat when left to my own devices. How about you? Do your eating and cooking habits follow a pattern? Or is it a different situation every day?

Dana learns a lesson

December 5, 2008

img_2269I hate to be labeled as an arrogant Torontonian but since the moniker applies, I can’t help but own it.  I expected St. John’s, Newfoundland to be a quaint city. I expected the people of St. John’s to be friendly. I expected the seafood to be fresh and abundant.  All of these expectations were confirmed within an hour of landing at their international airport. Now for what I didn’t expect to find:

  •  a stylish shopping district that made my credit cards itch,
  •  a horde of investment bankers clogging up a  restaurant I wanted to walk into on a Wednesday night,
  •  a stylish eatery that served food on par with the best restaurants operating in bigger Canadian cities.

But that is exactly what I did find at Water Street eatery The Vault. Although they were closed for a private party (hence the bankers), they found me a spot to eat at the bar. Hostess Lisa Downey, pictured  here in the converted bank vault now used as a wine cellar that inspired the restaurant’s name, was incredibly gracious.  I think hearing that I’d walked from the Fairmont in the cold and dark to try their cuisine won me her favour!

The food at The Vault is inventive, fresh and well-executed (the scallop napoleon is particularly good), the selection of wines by the glass are well matched to the menu, and the service is friendly, polished and attentive. Truly a great experience!  In fact, if I were a citizen of lovely St. John’s I’d likely be a regular customer.

While The Vault is definitely a gem, other St. John’s food destinations deserve to be explored when you’re in town, too. So, if you get to this small Atlantic city do check out:

Have you had a restaurant meal that exceeded your expectations lately? Since the opposite type of experiences get so much more discussion time, please take a minute to tell us about your last great restaurant meal. It doesn’t matter if it was a fabulously fresh bagel at a breakfast joint or a gourmet tasting menu at a grand hotel. Let’s sing out in praise today!

Hanging out with the Grand Crew at Grand Cru

October 27, 2008

Although being married to one of Canada’s best chefs delivers perks on a daily basis (for instance I often get pretty tasty samples of his new recipes!), every once in a while, I get a big pay off. Such was the case on Friday night when I got a last minute call to join Martin at one of the parties that was part of the fourth annual Grand Cru Culinary Wine Festival that’s held to raise money for the Toronto General and Western hospital. He and Daniel Boulud had cooked at the $12,500 a plate Chateau Le Pin luncheon earlier that day (that’s one of the courses in the picture above) and Martin called to see if Oliver and I would like to meet him at Todd and Ellen Halpern’s Grand Cru team thank you party.

The party, held at the Halpern’s gorgeous house in Forest Hill, was easily one of the most elaborate house parties I’ve ever attended. It literally humbled my status as a Perfectionista

When we arrived there was an Asian elephant in the driveway to greet us (turns out I’m allergic to elephant spit; after feeding her, my hand broke out in a itchy rash – good thing I’m too old to run away and join the circus).  The backyard was swathed in black canvas and red carpet and, to make room for all the guests to dance to the tunes being played by the four piece band, the underlit pool was covered in plexiglass. To say no detail was spared would be an understatement.

Besides getting to hob-nob with philantropists and celebrity chefs, the party was also a great experience since it reminded me that even when you hear doom and gloom economic news all day long that you can’t  place your own acts of charity on the back burner. In fact, many Canadian food banks report lacklustre donations during their Thanksgiving food drives and other charities are concerned about the impact the current economic changes will cause as well.

While I certainly can’t host a lavish event where roses pave the guest tables and glasses are filled with first growth burgundies, I can still volunteer some of my spare time and remember the same charities I’ve supported in other years with a donation of some kind.  After all, when times are tough our donations and support are more necessary than ever.

Will you be changing your charitable habits due to changes in the economy?

Hanging out with Ferran Adria

October 9, 2008

Martin Kouprie, my chef sprocket hubby, spent time yesterday with molecular gastronomy guru Ferran Adria. In the morning they hung out at The Cookbook Store together while Feran signed copies of his book for an event held last night at the University of Toronto to promote Feran’s new book: A Day in the Life of El Bulli. Although Martin’s cooking is anything but high tech (he likes to say that he could have cooked as well in 1928 with the equipment and ingredients that were commonly available then as he does in his fancy schmancy restaurant kitchen) yet he found himself agreeing with Ferran Adria when he said “cooks need to learn how to taste before they learn how to cook.” I have to say that I agree as well. People with well developed palates know what will delight your taste buds. And, once you have that skill, it doesn’t matter if your tools are high tech or low tech. Great tasting ice cream can be made in a salt packed, hand turned ice cream maker or by using a canister of liquid nitrogen but only if the flavours are combined skillfully in the first place.

Mini interviews with foodies

August 6, 2008

I’m not much for biographies. They are usually way too long and exceed my interest in their subjects by far. That’s why I like Casey Ellis’s 4 Questions 4 series of notable food professional interviews.

Unlike Bill Buford or Michael Ruhlman who create sagas by cataloging the minutia of their subjects’ childhood food phobias, professional influences and food allergies, Ellis keeps it short and sweet. In fact, her interviews are the perfect length to read while you’re waiting for a fresh pot of coffee to drip.

Among my favourite interviews by Casey:

Dorie Greenspan

Tamasin Day Lewis

Gary Kunz (not someone whose name I knew before but an interesting block, just the same!)

Internet tag

June 7, 2008

My friend Julie at Dinner with Julie pegged me in my first online game of tag (who knew the Internet had so much to offer?!)

What was I doing 10 years ago?
Summer 1998 was a stressful, busy, sleep deprived time. I was working 4 days at week at the Kraft Kitchens and writing freelance food stories for Elm Street, Canadian Living and President’s Choice Magazine (remember that one?) on my extra day and at night when my toddler was in bed and my husband was cooking at Pangaea. In between I was reading proofs and making corrections on the galley for my second book Noodles Express.

For fun I watched TV shows like Barney (instead of the more mature and appealing Friends). When stuck in traffic I puzzled over big questions such as whether the Teletubbies were subversively weird or just lame. The question continues to plague me in quiet moments.

This is also about the time I discovered the Jean Paul Sartre Cookbook, a spoof that still makes me laugh out loud even though I’ve read it dozens of times.

What are five (non-work) things on my to-do list for today?
1. Go for a walk with my friend Chris P.
2. Move Oliver’s smelly leopard gecko out of his room to the reading nook so that he (Oliver, not the gecko) doesn’t get the plague from the funky smells.
3. Put away all my boots and arrange my summer shoes so that I can find them easily (yeah, I’m about two months behind on this task).
4. Pull weeds (that might be work related though).
5. Play my moves on Scrabulous.

Five snacks I enjoy:
Just 5?
1. Cheese – especially stinky stuff such as Stilton and epoisse.
2. Homemade Caramel Corn
3. Tangy flavoured potato chips such as salt and vinegar and that new Pringles extreme dill flavour. Yum!
4. Dry roasted peanuts
5. Derek’s Foie gras pâté

Things I would do if I were a billionaire:
That’s a lot of money! I can imagine easily what I’d do with a million dollars but this amount is a bit mind boggling.

Naturally, I’d pay off my bills and toss some cash at my family members so that they could be debt free as well. Then I’d donate 10% of my money to worthy charities. I’d also start a foundation with a mandate to educate people about making globally responsible food choices (end shark finning now!).

I think I’d buy a helicopter since that seems like a slick way to travel around the city (It’s funny to me that the rock band Traffic and the movie Traffic are good, but actual traffic is bad).

I might hire a stylist to dress me. I hate buying clothes and I rarely feel like I make the right choices.

More interesting, is what I wouldn’t change. I likely wouldn’t move out of my present house (although I might buy a couple more in good locations such as Manhattan and Bali). That said, I would do a whole bunch of cool stuff to my existing house and yard. First on the list would be a kick-ass upgrade on Martin’s wine room. I’d also buy a silly number of original paintings and photographs (which I’d bring home in my helicopter!).

Places I’ve lived:
Toronto/GTA, ON
Vancouver, BC
Kingston, ON (for University)
Stratford, ON (for chef school)

Jobs I’ve had:
High school jobs: counter help at Donut Window, Sears jewelry counter clerk, cashier at Shoppers Drug Mart
Later jobs: book store assistant manager, garde manger, prep cook, Canadian Living test kitchen assistant, cookbook author

Tag, you’re it!
1. Cheryl at 5 Second Rule
2. Judith at Aroma Cucina
3. Matthew at Roots and Grubs
4. Ruth at Once Upon A Feast
5. Jamie at Flavor Pantry