Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Chocolate Messenger

Yes, that's right - "same day delivery in GTA (if ordered before noon)."

And we're talking chocolate that rivals the quality at SOMA, which for many involves a schlep to the Distillery District. The truffle flavours are delicious (not too sweet) and the colours whimsical. My personal favourites are pistachio and strawberry:

Chocoholics rejoice!

1645 Bayview Avenue (south of Eglinton at Fleming)
Tel:(416) 488 1414

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Mad Search for Berbere

It seemed easy enough to find berbere, the essential spice for our Ethiopian dinner. I'd checked out the Ethiopian Spice Market in Kensington Market in preparation for just such an occasion, delighted to find not only berbere but many of the other ingredients we'd need (turmeric, cardamom, freshly made injera). But alas, on the day I actually needed it, they were sold out. The reason, I was told? An unexpected boost in sales since the last shipment arrived. Apparently they hadn't calculated that with the popularity of Ethiopian food, non-Africans like nodrog would try to make it at home.

What to do?

I quickly moved into "problem solving" mode and started dialing Ethiopian restaurants. "Do you have any berbere?" I asked. Would you sell some to me?" Success on the first try - the woman who answered the phone at Dukem told me she'd set some aside and I could pick it up that evening.

When I walked into the restaurant, I discovered a candle-lit oasis from the hustle and bustle of the Danforth. The woman was nowhere to be found, but her husband seemed familiar with my request and told me he'd sell me some. It felt like a clandestine drug deal, as he handed over a plastic baggy with the bright red powder and I handed over my $10. Within seconds, I was out the door, the goods stashed in my handbag, and boarding the TTC at Donlands.

It all seemed to have gone off without hitch - until nodrog tested a dish with the stuff. "It's been cut with too much salt," he exclaimed, as he sampled a sauce that looked and smelled just right but was way too salty to eat. Back to square one - what to do now?

Well, it turns out that the Ethiopian Spice Market isn't the only place to buy berbere in Kensington Market. Just around the corner, I found dozens of packets of the stuff at the House of Spice...

Crisis averted!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

"Can't Get a Meal Like this in a Restaurant"...

...Dad would say looking at the home-cooked meal set across our dining room table. He was probably right, considering it was pretty much a suburban wasteland for eating out where we grew up!

Fast forward to my life now in Toronto, as food-obsessed a city as I've ever eaten in (a list that includes NYC, San Francisco, Sydney, Barcelona, Paris, Lyon, Bologna...) and his remark seems rather naive. Well, that is until Rob and nodrog go at it in the kitchen...

The purported premise of the evening was "a celebration of our wives" which I'm not sure I deserved but I happily played along as if I did! Weeks in the planning and days in the making, it was truly a labour of love that paid off beautifully in an homage to Jean-George and Thomas Keller. When you tally up the number of bottles of wine we went through, you'll see there's no way I could have recounted each dish here were it not for the printed menu we were given to take home as a souvenir! Following in the tradition started by Craig Claiborne, we signed each other's menus with reflections on the dinner. Marg summed it up best when she wrote, "I'm thinking that the chefs need to give up their day jobs."

Smoked wild salmon with creme frache and caviar (a tiny wedge of lemon burst onto the scene as a surprise ingredient - the first hint of the whimsical delights to come) & Louis Rodere Brut 2000.

Foie gras on brioche with roasted strawberry and balsamic fig glaze(blow-torching the glaze on top into a brulee was a genius maneuver!) & Chateau d'Yquem, 1983 (yeah, you read that right...all I can say is that urologists have way more grateful and gift-giving patients than critical care docs do)
Pan-seared wild Alaskan black cod in Asian-style consomme (the smooth & succulent fish swimming in crystal clear broth made in a most unconvential manner: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/05/dining/05curi.html?emc=eta1) & Zind-Humbrecht, Pinot Gris, 2005 (a pleasant budget surprise from the LCBO)
Braised lamb shank served with baby spinach and cannellini bean puree with roasted garlic and black truffle (savouring every bite, my mind wanders...how can lamb possibly be this tender? how can I rent a villa in Italy during truffle season and write it off as a business expense?) & Chateau Margaux, 1983 (ditto my comment above about urologists...tonight's wine pairing is just over the top!)

Goat cheese panna cotta with roasted beet marmalade and pistachios (served in a glass in horizontal layers, one spoonful down and up reveals a heavenly mix of flavours and textures - how does nodrog do it without a recipe, relying only on a "taste memory"?).

Coffee and assorted SOMA chocolates (because it's not dessert without chocolate).

And yes, even the new puppy is pampered tonight. For Miles, a course of Purina Pro-Plan Kibble paired with the finest tap water in the GTA, vintage 2008!