Paris: a food lover’s paradise

March 4, 2008

FishDoes anyone know the name for the feeling that’s a combination of humility and envy? I need to know ‘cause I’ve been dealing with that unnamed emotion for a week. Last Tuesday I dialed into my RSS feeder to see what was going on in the many food blogs I enjoy reading. Turns out all the cool foodies are writing about their adventures in Paris:

Over at Orangette preparations are under way for a baguette-sampling trip to Paris while David Leibovitz (who I guess should be allowed to write about Paris given that he lives there) is talking about romantic Parisian restaurants. Then there’s Mark Bittman who goes through his archives to bring us the best of his Paris posts. Obviously, Paris is still the quintessential foodie travel destination in springtime.

Then there’s me. I saw the Eiffel tower the other day myself except it was this cheesy knock off and not the one located in actual France. Yeah, I know, I’m the classiest person you know and you really, really want to be my friend.

Despite the snark, I had some great French food experiences in Las Vegas. For instance, there was a great bistro dinner at Bouchon. This Thomas Keller satellite restaurant at the Venetian Hotel is a great place to nibble on silken foie gras terrine (if you go, share it as a starter –it’s huge) and to eat classically perfect trout almandine.

Martin and I also ate at Joel Robuchon’s eponymous restaurant that recently received 3 Michelin stars. Surely dining on the wares of a living French food icon makes me almost as cool as these transatlantic travelers?

Not convinced? Let me persuade you: dinner at Robuchon was a wonderful meal that I’ll always remember. The décor at Joel Robuchon is truly sumptuous: the massive chandelier that dominates the room is a crystalline feat of engineering while dark purple velvet banquettes, lavender silk curtains, black lacquer tables and white leather chairs furnish the room. I know it sounds like a brothel yet the room ends up being chic and elegant. Go figure.

Highlights of the lavish, $250 per person (yes, you read that price correctly and no, that amount didn’t include wine), six course meal we chose included the amuse bouche which featured avocado, fresh cheese and a tomato glee. Also wonderful was a hand-harvested, pan-seared Brittany sea scallop on a lobster sauce. Delish! Of course there were truffles thrown about lavishly (one course featured thinly sliced layers of black truffles used like nori to encase smoked eel and rice) but these two dishes had the most memorable flavours and textures.

Although the Arc du Triomphe I saw last was a miniature used as the entrance to a Vegas hotel breezeway, I suppose I shouldn’t feel jealous of these food writers who are enjoying Paris. After all, going to Paris right now would be like having my cake and eating it, too.

What’s the most memorable French food experiences you’ve had outside of France?

Note: Congratulations to Paul Villeneuve of Surrey, B.C., the winner of our Slow Cooker Mystery Word Contest. His entry was selected in a random draw and he correctly identified “jambalaya” as the mystery word to win a Hamilton Beach 3-in-1 slow cooker and a signed copy of Dana’s Top Ten Table. With almost 12, 000 entries received, thanks everyone who entered this contest and made it a great success.


Afraid of baking?

February 26, 2008

Betty Crocker circa 1996My entire life, I’ve been told by friends and acquaintances that I look like other people’s sisters, cousins and neighbours. But, I didn’t realize how truly average-looking I am until I was hired to be the spokesperson for Betty Crocker in Canada. I was attracted to working with the Betty team because I so often meet people who are freaked out by baking. My hope was that by getting them into the kitchen with mixes and tubs of frosting, they’d gain confidence and end up cooking more of all kinds of foods on a regular basis.

A few weeks after we made our agreement, I was in a meeting discussing how we could make videos that would teach people basic baking skills when one of the marketing folks came in with a copy of the current picture of the fictitious (yet much-loved!) Betty. Although this picture was developed in 1996 when I was only 30 years old, this person easily could be my older, slightly more conservative, sister.

What’s truly telling is how the latest incarnation of Betty came to be. Her picture is the product of a computer averaging exercise that blended the faces of women who embody the Betty Crocker core values. You know, qualities like valuing family, prioritizing sharing meals and stuff like that. Specifically, the designers scanned all of these women’s pictures, blended them together into a composite and created a picture of the quintessential Betty. In other words, she’s your average woman. Just like me!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not unhappy being average-looking. In fact, I think it has a lot to do with why I’m so often invited to be a TV guest. I look like so many people that almost everyone can relate to me. The happy result is that viewers can see themselves cooking the foods I demonstrate on air and cook more as a result. In a way, being average is my gift. Don’t buy it? Consider this: good ol’ average Betty Crocker is one of Ad Age magazine’s top 10 advertising icons.

Valentine’s Day food gifts

February 12, 2008


In just two days it will be Valentine’s Day and apparently cash registers are ringing. A group called the National Research Federation reports that their study of American Consumer Intentions reveals that the average person will spend $122.98 US on their loved ones this Valentine’s Day.

While a box of chocolates will never miss the mark with most valentines, this gift won’t likely be remembered for years to come. So why not make your spending count by choosing a gift for your food-loving valentine that carries a memorable message? Here’s a roster of gift ideas appropriate for food-loving valentines of all sorts. Choose the best option to express your feelings for the object of your affection:

• For the adorable wino you want to toast: Champagne always sends a romantic message. Opt for pink-tinged bubbles of Lanson or Mumm’s and your valentine will celebrate you.

• For the many sweet pals you want to remember: Low fat, fun and easy to personalize, friendship exchange packs send a sweet message.

• For the sophisticated chocolate lover you want to impress: A Michel Cluizel plantation specific chocolate sampler may seem like just another box of over priced candy but for students of chocolate it’s a decadent educational experience. Or, check out Candy Addict’s list of top candy gifts for more ideas, or the 10 best chocolate recipes at

• For the spicy dish you want to take a bite of right now: Your valentine will realize you want to go from ‘hello’ to ‘hubba hubba’ if you offer them a copy of Erotic Café, a risqué collection of tales that combine food and sex.

• For the hot potato you want to keep warm with all year: Show your Valentine how much you love spending time together by wrapping a copy of former ABC Bachelorette Meredith Phillip’s The Date Night Cookbook up in glossy red paper.

Canadian comfort food and wine

February 11, 2008

Canadian comfort foodI’d love to be able to split myself in two (or more) pieces. Besides the instant weight loss benefits, such a talent would allow me to be in two places, eating two different meals at once. Bliss! Since I can’t figure out how to make that plan work, I’ve discovered the next best thing: get someone I trust to go and eat one of the meals for me! Today, you can read about the wonderful eating experience my colleague Rob Heidenreich enjoyed while I was in Ottawa sampling the delectable wares at Beckta:


Canadian comfort food and wine
by guest blogger Rob Heidenreich

Canadian culinary tradition is alive and well in Beamsville where Malivoire Wine Company’s proprietor Martin Malivoire has initiated a series of themed culinary events designed to showcase his belief that wines are at their best when expertly paired with food.

The first of these events occurred Sunday the 27th of January and featured recipes culled from the traditions of French Canada to create a celebration of “comfort wines for comfort food.” The menu — which featured food chosen by Martin himself and wines selected by Malivoire’s aptly named winemaker Shiraz Mottiar — was rustic and uncomplicated and matched with accessible wines in $20 price range.

First up was Creton, a coarse-textured pork pâté similar to rillettes, served with the winery’s ”Ladybug” rosé. The rich and delicately spiced pork matched well with the dry, clean forward fruit offered up by the wine.

Next, we were served a creamy chowder of cod and potato alongside Malivoire’s 2006 Pinot Gris. In this instance, the wine seemed to do more for the food than the food for the wine. To its credit, the pinot gris was dry and crisp with a refreshing acidity that cut through the richness of the chowder, but any fruit this bottle possessed was unable to stand up to the soup.

The main course was a classic French Canadian comfort food Cipaille (a layered, slowly cooked meat pie) served with Feves au Lard (sweetened baked beans) and a savoury, spiced rhubarb compote (see photo taken by Tim Yao above). This course was perfect cold-weather food; the kind of sweet and hearty meal that warms the belly and brings colour back to chilled cheeks. Two wines were poured to accompany this course: a ’05 Cab/Merlot and the ’05 Gamay. Neither wine disappointed. Without being particularly nuanced, the Cab/Merlot blend exhibited classic vanilla-oak and dark berry Bordeaux flavours and a sweetness that was accentuated by the food.

But the highlight of the meal was found in the Gamay. Described by Mr. Mottiar as “the purest expression of the Beamsville terroir” this wine released a full, complex nose of strawberry, raspberry and vanilla, making for a more substantial wine than one would expect from Gamay grapes. Mr. Mottiar claims that Gamay is the “quintessential Canadian red” and that Malivoire’s example is “the best in Canada and perhaps the world.” While this statement is clearly up for debate, those who are used to Beaujolais-style wines should try this much different expression of the Gamay grape.

Our French Canadian meal ended with maple syrup pie and butter tarts made from a Malivoire-family recipe served with tea and coffee.

The culinary history of Canada is not a long one, but as long as there are people here who are passionate about the quality of the food and wine we’re able to produce, it will be one day. Martin Malivoire and his staff at the winery deserve kudos for offering these events to those willing to make the trip to wine country.

Check out Dana’s romantic dinner from Montreal menu at