Road trips and lunch

September 7, 2009

packed lunch

For the first time in years, my little family stayed home instead of taking an adventurous vacation. Last year we went to Alaska and the Yukon; a few years before that we went hiking in Banff. But this year we planned to rein things in a little, being cautious with our money given the global economy. In the end, we took a number of little road trips that found us in all kinds of Southern and Central Ontario towns and even in Montreal and Quebec’s Eastern Townships for a couple of days.

My shoe leather touched the streets in Creemore, Lindsay, Minden, Haliburton, Highland Grove, Montreal, Picton, Parry Sound, Port Parry and Cookstown to name most but not all of our destinations. It was a lot of fun to take these spontaneous trips and I have to say I enjoyed seeing these nearby destinations up close more than I imagined I would.

One thing we learned, however, is that road food is nasty! Sure, stopping for a coffee is fine but just how many French fries and tasteless burgers can you eat before you want to scream? By August I was proactive and packing sandwiches and fresh fruit for the road.

How about you? Do you take the time to pack a lunch when you’re heading out on road trips or do you take your chances with roadside fare?

No rest for gourmands

August 13, 2008

This article about what chefs take with them on holidays got me thinking. I’ve been known to travel with my knives and a good set of stainless steel claw tongs but I usually only tote equipment if I’m expected to cook something at my destination. Most of the time I figure that being on vacation means that I’ll also be on vacation from being both a cook and a foodie.

Perhaps my attitude would be different if I had a cottage and, since no one ever invites me to theirs (maybe I should enroll in charm school?), I can’t really imagine packing up all my kit and kaboodle and laying in serious gourmet supplies for my holiday.

What about you? Are you a Judy Rogers or a Thomas Keller? Or, do you fall somewhere in between?

Regardless of what kind of pack horse you are, I bet you laughed at Sang Yoon’s entry and that deep inside you wish you were that cool, too.

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.

Life-altering Italian soup

February 20, 2008

Guest Blogger Chef Sabrina FaloneItalyCiao tutti! My name is Sabrina Falone and I’m the test kitchen manager for Dana McCauley & Associates Ltd. I recently spoiled myself with a trip to Italy. I chose Italy because that’s where my family is from and I thought it only fitting to learn more about my culture before branching out into more exotic territories. I travelled all over the Central and Northern regions of Italy with a girlfriend and 40 other tourists for two weeks. I had a great time, but two weeks is not nearly enough time to truly appreciate Italy. It was ‘only a taste,’ our tour guide informed us at the beginning of the journey.The scenery was amazing and I met fantastic people. Both the art and architecture were literally breath-taking. (The Sistine Chapel can only be appreciated in person, so I won’t even try to express what it is like in words.)You must be wondering why I haven’t mentioned the food yet. Are you thinking it’s because I’m saving the best for last? No, regrettably the food was actually very, very disappointing. Granted, it was the part of my trip I had the highest expectations for but I never dreamed I would come home with so few pleasurable flavour experiences.Let me explain before you think I’m just being a stereotypical cheffy snob. I did have some great food. The two gelatos a day I ate were always delicious; the pizza was always good, regardless of the type of crust or toppings. And I never had a bad cup of coffee, and the wine was some of the best I’ve had. I made a deal with myself before the trip: I would eat anything and everything I wanted while in Italy and deal with the repercussions when I got back; hence the two helpings of gelato each day. (It was in the name of research!)I did, however, endure grey mystery meat, tasteless tomato sauce, over-cooked pork and countless plates of disappointing pasta. I did, however, have a bowl of life-alerting soup. OK, maybe I’m exaggerating but it was damn good!It was served in the least likely of places. A very small, hideously decorated trattoria, tucked away on a sketchy side street in Venice that we chose simply because it was there and we were cold and hungry.The proprietress suggested a bowl of bean soup (zuppa di fagioli) that she said was very good. Keeping to my quest for good food, I took her at her word. The soup wasn’t much to look at. There was no thoughtful presentation, the bowls were far from designer and, truthfully, the colour was a bit concerning. But the aroma made up for these lackings; the delicious aroma would have been enough to knock us over if we’d been standing.Without saying a word, we picked up our spoons and dove in. We were, by this point, all so disappointed by the food in Italy that we didn’t trust our first impressions. After a second taste, it was unanimous — the soup was delicious!Creamy, hearty and earthy. The tender, slow-cooked beans floated in a pureed fine-quality chicken broth with deep herbal notes. You just knew this was a recipe that had been in the maker’s family for generations. I wanted so badly to quiz her about the flavours and techniques but between her broken English and my limited Italian there wasn’t much opportunity to swap recipes.It’s been three months since I returned home from Italy and I can still taste that soup in my flavour memory. Unfortunately, my several attempts haven’t been able to duplicate that wonderful soup. That said, I’m confident that I will eventually crack the recipe and when I do, you’ll be the first to know.[Dana’s note: Take heart, Sabrina! You’ll get this recipe dilemma solved. Just look at Luisa at Wednesday Chef. She finally solved her foccacia puzzle.]