Saying so long to Seattle

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Well here I am, back in my daily routine and only a few days since the IFBC 2013 conference in Seattle has ended. Many of my friends have asked what the conference was like so I will give you soem highlights. First of all, I really enjoyed meeting such a diverse group of bloggers, speakers and corporate sponsors.

Some highlights of the trip for me were:

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Going to Chateau Ste. Michelle for a wine tour and tasting:

A group of us signed up for this pre-conference tour. We were taking by bus to Woodinville, WA to see the Chateau Ste. Michelle wine operation. Although the Chateau was not in the same location as the vineyards, we were able get an appreciation of the size and scope of the wine making process. After touring the bottling plant we were provided with a tasting of 5 Chateau St. Michele wines accompanied by some light appetizers for pairing. Culinary Director, John Sarich walked us through each of the vintages and which dish would pair well with each. I had no idea that Chateau Ste. Michelle is the largest producer of Reisling wine in the world. It was a great way to spend the afternoon and a good way to meet people.

Touring around Seattle:

I love to travel and see new places.  I decided to take an unconventional route so I took the Victoria Clipper ferry from Victoria, B.C. to Seattle. The ferry travelled down through Puget Sound and docked close to the downtown core.  It took 2 ½ hours to make the crossing but it was a very relaxing trip and the views were amazing.

When I was not in the conference, I spent most of my free time exploring the city. As I mentioned earlier I loved Pike’s Place market. I also explored the downtown area. Seattle is a small city compared to Toronto with a population of approximately 650,000 in its downtown core. The people were friendly and getting around was easy.

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One morning I got up very early to visit the Space Needle and Seattle Center. The Warwick Hotel, where I stayed was central to all of the sights so I was able to walk around quite easily. I did; however; take the Monorail from Seattle Center to the Westlake Center in the downtown core just to have the experience. It only took less than 5 minutes for the trip on this very cool train.

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The Seattle Central Library was also a great place to visit if you love great architecture. The library is decieving from the outside. I climbed up to the 10th floor via escalators before taking the elevator back down to level 1.

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Dinner at Purple on our last night in Seattle:

Urbanspoon hosted dinner parties at 25 different restaurants across Seattle. We were each given a card indicating the neighbourhood that we would be going to but no other information until the Staturday evening when it was time to go. Then we were given directions to our surprise destinations.

My group had the good fortune to be hosted by Purple on 4th Avenue. The restaurant had prepared a wonderful 7 course tasting menu complete with wine parings from their massive wine cellar. The food was spectacular and the pairings were delicious.

Our hosts were very gracious. It was an evening that I will not soon forget.

Food Photography sessions with Andrew Scrivani:

As you can imagine, I was really excited about meeting the renowned NY Times food photographer, Andrew Scrivani. I did not expect that he would be such a personable guy. In spite of his great success as a food photographer, he did not present as someone with a huge ego. He presented twice at the conference. First was a session of food preparation and food photography with Chef John Mitzewich of Food Wishes. The chef and his assistants prepared a few plates of sushi and Andrew explained the process of photographing them. I enjoyed Andrew’s discussion of his work and how he sees the photos.

The second session was about his workflow and the business of food photography. Needless to say I took many pages of notes from this session and came home with a huge to do list.

Meeting Dorie Greenspan:

As I mentioned in my previous post, Dorie is my favourite cookbook author so meeting and chatting with her was an enormous thrill! She is so very charming and quite modest.

All in all; I think this conference was well worth the trip to Seattle. It was informative, fun and I met some great people from all over the U.S. and Canada.

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Skating on the World’s Longest Skating Rink

Photograph by J.S.Swider

Photograph by J.S.Swider

I checked off another box on my bucket last week. I had always wanted to skate the Rideau Canal in our country’s capital city of Ottawa.

With the plan to do this we drove to Ottawa for a long weekend getaway. I had only been to Ottawa in warmer weather so I had never seen the canal frozen and open for skaters. The canal rink is 7.8 km long and is the longest skating rink in the world. Local residents use the canal as a way to commute to work to work on skates while carrying their boots in backpacks.

The canal rink is very well maintained. Every 0.2 km along the route there are signs to tell you where you are and how far you have travelled. Also, every few kilometres there are change huts, washrooms and food concessions where you can buy a hot chocolate or other hot drinks.

The traditional snack along the way are Beaver Tails. Since beavers were declared our national animal in 1975 some clever person decided to make a pastry in the shape of a long flat beaver tail. You can try them with a variety of toppings from sugar and cinnamon to maple and hazelnut. Even though Beaver Tails have become a classic Canadian treat I had never tasted one until this year. I tried one after skating and quickly fell in love. The pastry had a long, thin fried doughnut-like texture that had been topped with cinnamon and sugar. It tasted amazing!

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On our first evening in Ottawa we skated part of the canal to get used to the ice. Afterward we enjoyed a terrific dinner at Maxwell’s Bistro on Elgin St.

The next day we rose early and set out to skate the canal from end to end. I had never skated such a long distance before but the sun was shining, the day was beautiful and I was determined to make it to the end. I was very tired in the last kilometre and had to stop a couple of times to catch my breath but I made it to the end, then we walked all the way back. That afternoon we rested and then ventured out to another local bistro called The Buzz to enjoy a delightful dinner of Steak Frites, Creme Brule and Red wine. I slept like a baby that night.

I hope to go back to Ottawa again soon so I can skate the canal both ways.

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Photograph by J.S. Swider

Photograph by J.S. Swider

After a long day of winter activity I love to enjoy a bowl of hot soup. This Winter Minestrone is from Ina Garten’s new book Foolproof and the recipe is just that.

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Winter Minestrone

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients:

Extra virgin olive oil
4 ounces pancetta, ½-inch-diced
1½ cups chopped yellow onions
2 cups (½-inch) diced carrots (3 carrots)
2 cups (½-inch) diced celery (3 stalks)
2½ cups (½-inch) diced peeled butternut squash
1½ tablespoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
26 ounces canned or boxed chopped tomatoes
6 to 8 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 bay leaf
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups cooked small pasta, such as tubetti (see note)
8 to 10 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves
½ cup good dry white wine
2 tablespoons store-bought pesto
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Directions:

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven. Add the pancetta and cook over medium-low heat for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Add the onions, carrots, celery, squash, garlic, and thyme and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften.
Add the tomatoes, 6 cups of the chicken stock, the bay leaf, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 ½ teaspoons pepper to the pot. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.
Discard the bay leaf. Add the beans and cooked pasta and heat through. The soup should be quite thick but if it’s too thick, add more chicken stock. Just before serving, reheat the soup, add the spinach, and toss with 2 big spoons (like tossing a salad). Cook just until the leaves are wilted. Stir in the white wine and pesto. Depending on the saltiness of the chicken stock, add another teaspoon or two of salt to taste.

Serve large shallow bowls of soup. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, drizzle with olive oil, and serve hot.

NOTE: To cook the pasta, put 1 cup of pasta into a large pot of boiling salted water. Cook according to the directions on the package, drain, and set aside.

You can make this soup ahead and reheat it before serving. It will need to be re-seasoned.

Recipe from Barefoot Contessa Foolproof by Ina Garten and also published in Canadian House and Home Magazine

Eating Our Way Through France-Lyon

We bid our friends farewell at the Avignon train station and caught the TGV to Lyon for the last leg of our tour.

Lyon is a lovely historic city shaped by its two rivers, the Rhône (to the East) and the Saône (to the West) which is the not only the birthplace of cinema but the silk making capital of France. I loved visiting the silk scarf makers where you can see the artists screening colourful scarves on the premises.

Lyon is regarded as the Gastronomic capital of France with her restaurants holding 22 of France’s coveted Michelin stars. The term “Michelin Star” is the award for the finest dining establishments in the world. There is an annual guide published by the Michelin Company that rates the best restaurants on the quality, mastery of technique, personality and consistency of the food.

We chose the Sofitel Lyon Bellecour as our place to stay on this visit. This 5 star beauty sits at the edge of the Rhône near Place Bellecour. The rooms were lush, contemporary and oh so comfortable with views of the river.

 

After sight-seeing we decided to see what the fuss about these Michelin Star restaurants was all about. Our hotel is home to Chef Alain Deville’s famous Les Trois Domes which holds a one star rating. We made reservation for that evening and prepared ourselves for an exciting experience. We also left our cameras and our budgets behind for the night.

The restaurant sits at the top of the Sofitel with panoramic views of Place Bellecour and the Rhône. The décor is modern, elegant and the ambience rich with luxury.

For dinner we ordered a 5 course prix fix menu with wine pairing:

The meal began with 2 amuse bouches on a plate, the first a smoked salmon with Roquefort cream and the second a dollop of polenta topped with a lobster and parmesan chip.

This was followed by an entre of grilled foie gras with kumquat, spice chips and spanakopita filled with nuts and vegetables.

The plat was lambs chops with artichokes barigolle and gnocchi.

The next amuse bouche was a more traditional lemon ice with liquor served with pistachio madeleines and chocolate tartlets.

The cheese course featured an assortment of cheeses chosen from a rolling cart filled with and assortment of local artisan cheeses served with apricots and cinnamon bread.

Desert was a light, creamy raspberry sorbet with fresh strawberries and raspberries and a cup of tea.

Each course was paired with a lovely French wine from the region that complimented the plate.

It sounds like a huge dinner but the portions were small enough to allow room for the next course while providing a taste sensation that made you almost forget the previous course. We relaxed and left ourselves in the hands of the waiters who did not disappoint us. As each course was unveiled and each glass of was wine tasted we better understood why people search out Michelin star restaurants on their tours of Europe. It was not just the luxury and impeccable service but it was the tastes, the aromas and the extreme sensuality of savouring a great meal.

This truly was an evening to remember.

My only regret was not getting photos of these fabulous plates as they were presented. It was a memorable way to end our trip before heading home.

Au Revoir Belle France

A bientôt

A New York State of Mind

I travelled to New York City twice in the past year. My first trip was a week-long shopping extravaganza with my best girlfriend and the second trip was a photography trip with a good friend. These were my first trips to this fantastic city, but they will not be my last.

New York is amazing!! It has an excitement that lasts from the moment you hit Manhattan until you head for the airport to come home.

I love it!!!

I love to spend my time wandering the different neighbourhoods, tasting local bistros and experiencing how the local residents spend their time. While travelling I usually visit the obligatory tourist spots and museums, but get much more enjoyment out of just exploring and breathing in my surroundings.

On the first trip we stayed close to Broadway on 43rd Street in a lovely boutique hotel called the Casablanca Hotel that offered free breakfast and wine and cheese every evening. The decor was a modern take on the classic movie where the service was impeccable and was just around the corner from Times Square.

On my second trip I opted to stay in the more residential Murray Hill area so that I could enjoy a New York weekend like a local. Our hotel, the Affinia Shelburne, was a newly renovated hotel on Lexington and 37th that offered the most amazing suites. It was clean, spacious, luxurious, newly renovated, well located and a good value for the money. The suite came with a kitchenette so we picked up some snacks and some lovely California wine from the local store.

While we were wandering the streets of New York we discovered places that I would love to go back to again and again. The first day that we were there we wandered down to the Union Square area only to find a charming outdoor farmer’s market. This happened to be the first nice day of spring so we strolled through the stalls of fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers while soaking up the sunshine and dreaming of days to come.

The next day we wandered the streets of the East Village and ended up in Soho enjoying the best bistros and wonderful little shops. While wandering down Broadway in Soho, trying to find hiking shoes, I came across the quintessential food lover’s paradise, Dean and Deluca. I don’t usually go into food stores while on vacation, but I had to see it. There was row after row of extraordinary gourmet delicacies and delicate baked goods to tantalize any foodie’s appetite. I will definitely return to this store whenever I am in New York.

My girlfriend has celiac disease so I was unsure about how we were going to accommodate her dietary needs while still enjoying great food. Interestingly we found some terrific places that offered gluten-free meals that were delicious. My favourite of all of these was a pizza place in the East Village called Risotteria. We loved the food so much we went back a second time the same week for dinner. Their wood fired pizzas are among the best I have ever tasted and you can enjoy a meal of pizza, salad and wine for less than $25. When you are finished there is a lovely little Gelato place down the street to your right that is across from a small park.

We also decided to try Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill. You always see these chefs on the Food Network cooking up interesting dishes but you wonder if they are really as good as they are portrayed. Well Bobby Flay can cook! The restaurant’s atmosphere was very urban chic, with 2 floors of tables overlooking a long bar. The service was impeccable and the food was worth the trip. I ordered a New Mexican Spice Rubbed Pork Tenderloin that was so tender I could have cut it with a fork it. I would definitely say that this place is worth a try.

Other places that I would also recommend are Freidman’s Lunch in the Chelsea Market for lunch, Scotty’s Diner on Lexington for an authentic homestyle breakfast and Rare Bar and Grill for the best gourmet burgers on the planet.

I don’t usually like go to another big North American city on my vacations but New York City is definitely the exception to the rule.