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Saturday, October 18, 2014

My visit to the Epcot Food & Wine Festival 2014

     Once again, as it is customary for me, I have attended the Food & Wine Festival at Disney’s Epcot.  It is an event I look forward to every Autumn and I truly enjoy.  The festival has grown every year and includes more and more countries each time with more dishes to try.  As an added bonus, one gets to pair the sample-sized servings with regional wines.  A win-win no doubt.

     This year however, I found the quality of the foods offered quite lame, and at times without any flavor.


     My first stop was France.  It is always my favorite country when it comes to gastronomy.  One of the perennial offerings of this pavilion are the escargots.  This year, they decided to do a nice amuse-bouche and they put them into a crumbly pastry tart, thus a Tartlette aux Escargots.  The result was good, and accompanied by the Kir à la Pomegranate it opened up the appetite nicely.


     Next I headed for nearby Canada, as I wanted to try the Seared Rainbow Trout, topped with bacon, friseé and L8 harvest vinegar.  It is very hard to ruin trout, especially if it’s not overcooked.  Sadly, I have to report that these people have managed to do it.  The fish tasted like nothing at all, the only flavor contributing to it given only by the bacon.  And friseé and L8 harvest??  I definitely missed it.  A lonesome single string of lettuce without any dressing whatsoever.  Very bad indeed.  The Neige Première Apple Ice Wine I have had before.  It should have been chillier.


     As I kept walking I stopped at the Italy pavilion, where I tasted some very good Limoncello, and later a shot of acquavit in Norway.  The former very deliciously sweet and fruity, the latter highly alcoholic and without much flavor.  Italy also had in stock some very unique porcelain to serve espresso, and to which I couldn’t help myself.  The line is called I*Wares, by Seletti, and they’re worth exploring.  The espresso cups are made of fine white porcelain and include a spoon.  The only note of bright colour is on the painted handles, making them ideal to mix and match.

The beautiful porcelain espresso cup, here paired with my Mikasa sugar bowl
and some elegant Dalimayr coffee.  Perfect cremma.
     In Germany, I got my hands on some wonderful apple schnapps, which I’ve tried before and thought would be very good to have on hand to add to some apple desserts now that Fall is upon us.  Schönauer Apfel is a delicious mix of Germany's best apples and grain spirits that tastes truly like pure apple heaven.  In Germany, it’s the way a party starts.  It makes great apple martinis.


    For my main course I wanted something I’d never tried before, kind of exotic.  I stopped at Africa’s outpost.  After making sure there were no ivory animal carvings around, I tried the Bobotie with turkey and mushrooms.  This is the national dish of South Africa, pretty much like a frittata, made with egg, curried meat and grapes.  The portion was small, but it was very filling.  Going back to quality ingredients, it made me think that in South Africa, where produce is much fresher and better than here in the USA, this dish must indeed taste wonderful.  Here it was just okay.  I had it along with M.A.N. Vintners Chenin Blanc, refreshing and very helpful in counteracting the spicy flavours of the dish.


     The Bobotie left me without any more want for savory.  So I headed for the “Desserts & Champagne” booth, where I order the customary Dessert trio.  This was probably the biggest disappointment of all.  Usually this trio of desserts is a pleasure to indulge in, but not this year.  It consisted of Passion Fruit Coconut Creamsicle (an average custard with a jelly top), a Blueberry-Lime Cheesecake Roll (the best one of the three, should just have had this dessert in a bigger piece instead of the trio), and Chocolate Espresso Opera Cake, which was an insult to the excellent dessert created by the Dalloyau patissiers (for an excellent Opera cake that you can find locally, worth every one of your tastebuds, go HERE).  Dry, tasteless chocolate, lacking the requisite coffee flavour in the genoise layers.  A disaster.


     The best part of the dessert experience was the champagne.  I ordered a glass of very expensive Ruinart Blanc de Blancs.  It was refreshingly clean, very smooth, and did not overpower the flavours of the food.  A pity to have had it with such poor sweet pairings.

     But even if dessert disappoints at the Food & Wine Festival, if one is local, one has the privilege to bring some very good ones from the French patisserie on site.  I selected Lemon-Merengue tarte and Framboise at the end of my journey and hurried towards the car, as the day was quite warm.

Italian merengue, slightly caramelized, on this citron tart.  Heavenly creamy.
"Framboise" is a combination of velvety
raspberry mousse and chocolate genoise.
     The France pavilion has also recently opened an ice-cream parlor.  They carry some unique European flavours, and I couldn’t resist trying the Caramel Fleur de Sel.  I bought a cone.  It tasted mostly like caramel, and I couldn’t really detect the “sel”.  Still, who cares when you’re hurrying home with some really good dessert under your belt?

Creamy caramel ice-cream finished off the journey

Sunday, September 28, 2014

L'art du pain

     The French and their bread are a case apart.  One can spend hours debating on the subject of bread with French people.  It is just as important to them as wine is.

     In France, pairing the proper bread with one’s food is something taken very seriously.  Rye bread is the only one eaten with oysters, while breads made with lemon or aux hèrbes are reserved for fish.  Pastries, such as tea cakes or cookies, are mostly consumed for the mid-afternoon treat called le goutier and are rarely eaten in the morning.

     Originally, bread was the staple food of the peasants.  It was not until Louis XIV’s reign that bread started to be refined into what is known today as the ubiquitous baguette, and all its extensive varieties.   In the 18th century, the aristocracy decided that the pain de campagne was a bit too heavy for their stomachs, and the refinements of flour in order to produce white bread began.

     Bread was one of the main causes of the French Revolution.  Following a bad harvest, the government decided to raise the price of cereals.  This meant the common folk were not only deprived of the beautiful palaces and glamour the aristocracy enjoyed, but were now also going to starve.  The people revolted, and the rest, as they say, is bloody history – literally.


Kirsten Dunst uttering the famous line “let them eat cake” in a 
still from “Marie Antoinette”
Another still from “Marie Antoinette” showing beaucoup du pain!
     When Marie Antoinette uttered the famous qu'ils mangent de la brioche”, it was indeed an insult to injury to the already starving populace.  She could only keep her head for another four years after that. 

     Nowadays, in Paris alone there are about 35,000 bakeries, which produce about 3.5 million tons of bread per year.  When it comes to baguettes alone, it is estimated that 10 million are sold each day.  In France, it is illegal to put preservatives into the bread.  Hence one must buy it every day.  I remember the practice was the same in Buenos Aires (where I was born).  One would go to the almacén within one’s own neighborhood to get the bread for the day.

     This is unfortunately not the case with bread in the United States, where generally, the bread is very bad.  One can find excellent bread in any bakery in Europe, or even in the supermarket.  But in the U.S., unless one goes the extra mile to find it, all there is available is what I call “plastic bread”.  It is chewy like gum and has no crispness at all.  An insult to the art of baking bread really.

     Luckily, and thanks to the local farm-to-table movement, there are a few places where one can go for just the right amount of goodness when it comes to bread.  I am speaking, of course, of The Olde Hearth Bread Co., a local bakery with a stall at the most excellent East End Market.  They also sell their products over the weekends at the Windermere and Maitland Farmers Markets.  They supply the top local area restaurants and premiere hotels… and I have their breads all over my freezer at home too.  For me it is de rigueur, every 2 to 3 months, to place a large order and stock up on their wonderful bounty.


     Here’s what I got this last time I went, starting at the top right hand corner and then clockwise:


     -          Croissants.  Their plain croissants are the best ones I’ve been able to find in Orlando.

-          Fougasse a l’oignon.  Small breads with onion, ideal for substantial sandwiches to go on a picnic for instance.

-          Ficelles. Two small baguettes to laden with butter and preserves for breakfast in the morning.  For more details on the French breakfast, go here.

-          Chocolate boule.  Yes.  This is a pain the campagne made with chocolate and either dried mango or dried cherries.  I prefer the mango.  Toasted with a slab of cold, salted butter and a cappuccino, it is my weekend treat.

-          Pain de mie raisins.  Smells like the holiday season already.  Great toasted with some butter but even better for French toast.

Not pictured, but also worth trying, are the specialized baguettes aux figues and noisette (ideal for a great cheese plate), as well as the brioche challah loaf, which makes an ideal dipping bread.

     I’ve always longed to visit famous bakeries in Paris, but for now, I am happy I have The Olde Hearth Bread Co. for my monthly supply of bread.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Feeling blue

     Feeling blue is not always a bad thing, especially when it comes to cheese. I love cheese in all its forms, but blues, I have to say, are my favorites. I mostly eat French cheese, but when it comes to “blues” I do like the whole spectrum. Italian Gorgonzola and very British Stilton have a special place in my heart. Recently, I came upon what may be considered the world’s most complex blue. Fellow foodie Sudi Pigott recommended a mysterious fromager in Oregon, with a particularly coveted cheese called Rogue River Blue, which is produced in the old-fashioned way and with lait cru. This unique delicacy of a cheese matures wrapped in Syrah leaves that have been previously soaked in pear brandy. The result is an intensely flavoured cheese, quite similar in intensity to Stilton; however the pear brandy provides the difference in flavours. This cheese also has an accentuated taste of hazelnut and oak. If well-paired, it will burst your palate into delectable heaven.

The leaf-wrapped, brandy soaked, Rogue River Blue
     What do I mean by well-paired?  We all know that proper cheese must be consumed with proper wine.  Generally, blue cheeses pair marvelously with sweet wines, especially Rieslings or Voigners.  Even maybe a Sauternes, for which I would recommend starting your meal with a supreme foie gras.  That being said, my best recommendation for the Rogue River Blue is the great Marcel Deiss and his Altenberg Grand Cru.


          I’d recommend a vintage for this wine no more than six years old.  So if you can get your hands on a 2008 or 2009 bottle, never mind the expense and splurge for your own good.  Alternatively, if your pocket allows for less splurging, you can also try a more mineral Riesling, but nonetheless great with cheese, like “Recas”, from scary Transylvania.  This wine has a soft flavor of peaches and is also floral, with just enough body to pair with blue and slightly strong cheeses, like a Comté or an Emmentaler.


     For an exemplary plate of blues, include also another version like a Bleu de Gex, a creamy, semi-soft cheese from the Jura mountains, also made with unpasteurized milk.  Both of these cheeses will benefit tremendously with a small topping of fruit compote or confit, made from Alsatian white wines and fruits.  Try those from L’Epicurien to impress your guests with the talk of the evening.


     Because it is also made with pears, this confit brings out the flavor of the Rogue Blue unlike anything else.

     And so I made my plate, the two blues, a slice of a very nice Comté reserve and yet another special confit for it, and delectable, melt-in-your-mouth Stilton and pecan crackers.


     They are quite addictive, and taste like heaven in your mouth.  You can double or triple the recipe and keep several logs in your freezer.  Then defrost in the fridge overnight when you’re ready to bake them.

Blue-cheese-pecan Icebox crackers:

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup pecan halves
  • ¾ all-purpose flour
  • 4 Tbsp. very cold, very good, unsalted butter (I use Echiré)
  • 3 oz. blue cheese, such as Stilton, crumbled
Preparation:

     Place the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes.  Let cool.  Transfer the pecans to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely ground.
     Add the flour to the ground pecans and pulse briefly to combine.  Then add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal.  Add the cheese and process until the dough comes together and is well combined.  Transfer the dough to a clean work surface and shape into a 2” wide log.  Wrap the log in wax paper and refrigerate for at least 24 hours or freeze for later use.
     When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325F.  Slice the well-chilled log into ¼” thick slices.  Transfer them to a baking sheet and bake immediately, rotating the sheet half way through cooking, until the crackers are golden brown and firm in the center, about 20 to 25 minutes (the crackers should not get brown around the edges).  Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Homemade blue cheese cracker
topped with Rogue River Blue.
Pure heaven.

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Canadian steakhouse that is worth visiting

     I’ve been visiting Epcot at the Walt Disney World Resort for several years now, and as such, I have eaten at almost all the restaurants in the park.  Almost.  There was one that I’d been wanting to try for the longest time: Le Cellier, at the Canada pavilion.

     Le Cellier is a steakhouse, a tribute to French Canada and a pricey one at that.  But the food is great and the service super.  It is the ideal restaurant for a cozy dinner in late fall, although I happened to go in the Spring.  The entryway to the restaurant takes one through a path among a replica of the great Victoria Gardens in British Vancouver.  It looked particularly beautiful at this time of year, no doubt on occasion of the Flower and Garden Festival, which had the whole park blooming.



     Inside, the restaurant follows the theme of its name (“Cellier” means cave or wine cellar in French) with décor as that of the inside of a medieval abbey where the monks used to age the wine in, all with archways in stone.


     A very friendly waitress came and offered me a drink.  I decided to choose something that would go along with my meal, so I had a glass of 2010 Château des Charmes, a Canadian Merlot bottled at an estate in the Niagara Falls region.  It had abundant blackberry notes, with a slightly oaky nose and a hint of vanilla.  It paired beautifully with the meal I had.


     My starter was a plentiful bread-basket, with 3 different types of bread (white, pretzel and whole nut), and a disc of butter that was half spread with fleur de sel, half with sugar maple syrup.  The sugar maple complemented the nutty bread beautifully.  It was such a tasty idea that I will definitely implement it at home.


     For my first course I went with a Spring classic - Navarin d’agneau.  The lamb was cooked to perfection, brown on the outside and very pink (almost raw, but I have no problem eating raw meat) on the inside.  It was surrounded by a velouté of avocado, sautéed and fresh vegetables and…delicious morels.  It was served at an ideal temperature and was filling without being heavy.


     For dessert, the friendly waitress suggested the maple crème brulée.  Once again, it did not disappoint.  The slight touch of maple flavor seemed to be ideally suited for the creamy nature of the dessert (a recipe to look into).


     As I said before, Le Cellier is an expensive restaurant, but one where one can find prime meat that is also cooked as it should be.  This is no easy accomplishment, since most of the restaurants I’ve eaten at locally offer dismal options.  In the fall, the menu offers delicacies like venison rack and a scrumptious charcuterie starter.  Reservations are highly recommended.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Aperitifs à la rosé

     Spring is the time of the year when we can finally venture outside and experience some warmth and sunny days.  I love this time of year here in Florida, when the days are bright and sunny, not too hot and inviting for barbecues and just lounging around with a great cocktail.

     I have become a great mixologist and love to craft cocktails at home.  So I have gotten my hands on a few bar supplies and a few great drink recipes and have followed through in typical French fashion.

     The French are very keen in starting a great meal with what they call an “àpero” (aperitif).  So much so, that there is even an actual drink by this name, which is generally served over ice.  “Apero” is bright orange in colour and has a sharp taste with an aniseed finish.  It is very refreshing and can sideline easily into a meal.


Apero on the rocks
      My favorite cocktail starter however is “Lillet Rosé”, which is a fortified wine blend of Sauvignon and Muscatel grapes.  It smells like flowers and ripe berries, hence making it perfect for a refreshing cocktail, full of flavor.  There are also Lillet Rouge and Blanche, but Rosé is my favorite.  I have created the most delicious cocktails with this àpero, all wonderful for this time of the year.

     The first suggestion is one I have seen in one of Martha Stewart’s magazines.  This is an ideal cocktail to serve at a semi-formal party, where your guests can wander in and out of your home and into a backyard or garden.  It packs a punch, so be sure you serve it with some nice appetizers.


Lillet Rosé Spring cocktail

Ingredients:
·         2 ounces Lillet Rosé
·         2 ounces ruby red grapefruit juice
·         1 ounce gin
·         1 edible flower for garnish

Preparation:

      Combine the Lillet, grapefruit juice and gin in a cocktail shaker with ice.  Shake until well chilled.  Strain and pour into a champagne coupe and garnish with the flower.  Serve immediately.



    Now for those afternoons when you arrive from work exhausted and need a cool, refreshing drink to unwind, may I suggest my friend’s Daryl Robinson’s Sunset Rosé.  You can make it with any rosé wine made out of garnache grapes, but Lillet suits it particularly well.


Sunset Rosé

Ingredients:

·         1 ounce Grand Marnier
·         4 ounces Lillet Rosé
·         Club soda, as needed
·         Dash of orange bitters
·         Orange twist, for garnish

Preparation:

                   In a fully iced wine glass pour the Grand Marnier and Lillet and stir with a cocktail spoon.  Top the glass with club soda and add a dash of orange bitters.  Garnish with an orange twist and serve.



    A drink I really do enjoy at the end of a long day is the ubiquitous Martini.  I was thrilled to try Lillet’s own suggestion to make it with the wonderful rosé.  Here is yet another refreshing recipe.


Rosé Reverse Martini

Ingredients:

·         4 ounces Lillet Rosé
·         1 ounce gin
·         2 dashes orange bitters

Preparation:

      Pour ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice.  Strain into a chilled martini glass.  Garnish with a freshly cut orange peel, rubbed over the top of the glass in order to express the oils.


     
So try your hand at mixing the French way this month and let me know how your party went.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

How to clean copper

     At the end of 2013 my husband and I moved into a new house.  It was a daunting, albeit highly positive, stepping stone.  Used to living in a small apartment for a number of years, the vastness of our new abode presents new decorating and maintenance challenges every day.  It was also the reason for my two month hiatus from blogging.  I should have plenty of material under my present circumstances.

     I have always been a lover of copper for kitchen utensils.  The material is undoubtedly the best for cooking and baking, copper being the best conductor of heat.  And who can deny the glistening of egg whites beaten in a bowl of solid copper.

     I own several pieces of copper, from saucepans to cookie cutters, so in order to keep them shining I decided to try an idea I once heard from Laura Calder in one of her cooking shows.  It is a paste of all-purpose flour, coarse salt and white vinegar.  The salt works as a scrubber and does not dissolve, while the vinegar works its brightening magic.  The flour is mostly a binding agent.  The results were excellent... at the beginning.

Before...


...and after

     This what they looked like after a few hours:


     So obviously not a good choice.  I came back to my old time favorite Copperbrill, a product created by French copper manufacturers par excellence, Mauviel.  Undoubtedly, this the product to go for.  

One of my mixing bowls.  Results that last.

My coveted KitchenAid got new highlights
     It's worth noting that copper will acquire a slight patina with time.  This is not only encouraged but beautiful.  Nevertheless, a product like Copperbrill will ensure that your copper utensils always look their best.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A unique mold... and Seed cake

     In continuing with my exploration of kitchen tools the French kitchen, I have come across a unique cake mold, recently offered by Williams-Sonoma.

     This rectangular cake pan offers the peculiarity of a lemon-shaped top, ideal for any citrus-flavoured recipe.  It is made of solid cast aluminum and its non-stick coating ensures easy unmolding.  I like to keep my eyes open for interesting molds to add to my collection, and I just couldn’t resist this one.  Always be on the lookout for accessories to add to your kitchen tools, and in time you will develop a set tailored to your own style of cooking and baking.



     But beyond the ubiquitous citrus loaf, I went a – curious – step further and decided on a classic Victorian recipe – Seed cake.  I became aware of its existence watching an episode of the Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series, “At Bertram’s Hotel”.  During one of the sumptuous teatimes, Ms. Marple is offered this cake by one of the waiters.  But Jane Marple is hesitant in accepting the offer, until the waiter tells her it is indeed the “true” seed cake, a specialty of the house, for which the pastry chef has had the recipe for years.




     Seed cake was the typical Victorian teacake.  Sometimes it was also eaten as a snack before turning in to help aid digestion, as caraway seeds are known for their soothing qualities.  After some research, I came up with Mrs. Beeton’s recipe, a true testament to the history of British teatime.

Victorian Seed Cake

Ingredients:

  • 225 gr butter
  • 225 gr cake flour
  • 175 gr caster sugar
  • 2 Tbsp caraway seeds
  • 3 eggs, whisked
  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • Tad ground mace
  • Grated nutmeg to taste
  • 50 gr chopped candied citrus peel

Preparation:

     Cream the butter along with the sugar.  Add the sifted flour.

     Add the mace, nutmeg, caraway seeds and chopped candied peel and mix well.

     Pre-heat the oven to 325F and grease the pan.

     Stir in the whisked eggs and then the brandy.  Beat for about 3 minutes, until very smooth and with no lumps.

     Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for about 1 ½ hours, until a skewer comes out clean when tested and the cake is well risen, firm and golden brown.  Once cold, it can be sprinkled with powdered sugar. 


     This is a very moist cake.  It also freezes well, and I can’t think of a better way to satiate bedtime munchies, along with a hot cup of herbal, lemony tea.