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Archive for July, 2009

Apologies

I am sorry for letting a week pass without posting, that is inexcusable. I have been caught up in so many exciting things–NYC Restaurant Week, booking my tickets for the New York City Wine & Food Festival, making SO much ice cream, more on that later–that the time has flow by. Oh, and my Blackberry broke (and I have been awaiting my new one for the past few days, long story). Life without a cell phone/electronic calendar has been strangely liberating, but I do feel as though time is standing still and I never know where I’m supposed to be or who I’m supposed to be meeting for dinner. I digress…

I kicked off this summer’s restaurant week with a lunch a Lupa with some friends from culinary school.

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We didn’t wind up ordering off of the restaurant week menu; each of us ordered a few of the small plates. I had the broccoli rabe (far left) and octopus (second and third from left). The broccoli rabe was mixed with ricotta and garnished with some lemon zest which went well with the bitterness of the greens. The octopus was cooked perfectly, its texture nice and tender, but I found the sauce to be a bit too creamy. I prefer my octopus grilled with a simple drizzle of olive oil. Not to mention the rosemary focaccia that was put on the table, just divine.

Kristen’s beets (far right) were superb, and she seemed to like her tuna with white beans (second from right) which I didn’t try. The best dish of the afternoon, however, was an escarole salad that Clare ordered (not pictured). It was cheesy and delicious with a wonderfully light dressing. Sadly we didn’t sample any of what they are famous for: charcuterie. But, I know I’ll be back, perhaps for dinner next time.

Lupa on Urbanspoon
Lupa in New York

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Sunday morning, before bidding Saskatoon farewell, Dave, Nancy and I had one more thing we needed to do: visit the Berry Barn.

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Famous for its Saskatoon berry patches and its brunch, the Berry Barn is a must visit on any trip to Saskatoon. We arrived shortly after they opened, but still had to wait a while for a table since we didn’t have a reservation. Once seated, looking around at the other diners, it became clear the most people come to the Berry Barn for one thing: waffles. You can order a whole or half waffle, both of which come with one trip to the topping bar. By the time our waffles arrived, we were all pretty hungry, so we rushed up to see what the bar had to offer. There were several types of syrups, different stewed fruit toppings, as well as whipped cream and pudding.

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I decided to keep it simple, going Saskatoon berry all the way. I topped my half waffle with Saskatoon berry syrup, which was just a little bit tart and very pleasing. I wanted to buy some and bring it home, but since I wasn’t checking any bags, liquids were a no go. I also had some of the whole berry topping, but it was a bit too thickened for my taste. Nancy and Dave were more adventurous, trying various fruits and syrups. Nancy tried some of the chokecherry syrup, a fruit I’d never heard of before. She gave me a bite, but the flavor was very mellow and hard to distinguish from the waffle itself.

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After brunch, we walked around the well-kept property and got to see some berries on the bush.

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For the first time, we all tasted some raw berries, which were less sweet than I was expecting. As I mentioned in an earlier post, they taste similar to blueberries, but meatier, with a slightly grassy aftertaste.

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We ended our time in Canada with an appropriate sight: endless yellow fields of rapeseed, used to make Canola oil. Canola is a made up name since marketers thought “rapeseed oil” would not sell. Yes, the “Can” in Canola come from “Canada.” (Canola stands for Canadian oil, low acid.)

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Lene’s wedding cake and favors. Yes, those are Lene and Sheldon’s faces on M&M’S.

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Saturday morning–the day of the wedding–I overslept and missed having breakfast with my friends. Dave was to arrive in the afternoon, so I set out on my own for some brunch. I knew that I wanted a real local experience, so I went with the Park Cafe and Diner, which many on Urbanspoon agreed serves the best brunch in Saskatoon.

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What I didn’t know (and found out after I’d been there) was that the street that the diner is on is considered to be a not-so-nice part of town. I was there during the day, so all was fine, and I actually found it to be the most interesting part of my Saskatoon exploration.

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On the way to the diner I saw many international markets, I went inside the Chinese grocery and was pleasantly surprised at the inventory. I also saw this meat store, proudly advertising sausage makers’ supplies.

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The diner was everything I’d hoped it would be and more. It was fashioned like an old school diner with booths and a counter with small circular stools. The walls were covered in old tin advertisements, as well as blow-up photos of Saskatoon in its prairie days. I ordered the Bridge Party: two slices of french toast with hash browns and your choice of meat (bacon, ham, or sausage) or a fruit cup.

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I was very happy with the fruit cup option, as most diners just offer a meat side and I simply have to omit it. Furthermore, when the fruit actually arrived I was doubly pleased to find strawberries, bananas, and even a sweet, ripe cherry; a stark contrast to your usual diner mix of a few slices of orange and apple atop a mountain of melon. The french toast was nice and thick, and cooked perfectly so as to render each bite light on the inside and crisp on the outside. The hash browns were also spot on, nice and salty, and not at all greasy. All this for just under ten (Canadian) dollars.

I left Park Cafe stuffed to the brim, but had a nice walk back to the hotel to digest. Along the way I happened upon a flea market, so I stepped inside. The best booth was manned by the sweetest old, gray-haired lady from whom I purchased two things that I have been wanting for a long time: a Crock-Pot and a glass cake stand with cover.

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Both were ten (Canadian) dollars each, a steal. Yes, there was the question of lugging them home on the plane (the first thing Dave asked when he saw them), but luckily I came with some empty room in my cary-on suitcase, and both made it home just fine. I can’t wait to put them to work.

Park Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Weczeria food and wine

Thanks to some online research by Kristen, the night before the wedding we had a delicious dinner at Weczeria Food & Wine, a Saskatoon newcomer. One of the few, if perhaps only, restaurants in town that focuses on the use of local ingredients, it had photos of the farmers who supply the restaurant on the walls. Weczeria also boasts the only wine list in the province that is comprised solely of Canadian wines. The menu changes daily, and our server brought it over (written on a chalkboard) and propped it up on a chair for all to read.

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Kristen started with the BBQ bison with coleslaw, while the rest of us ordered the tomato watermelon salad. Kristen said the bison was tough, but seemed happy with the flavor, and the coleslaw (which I did taste), was quite good (even by my mayo-hating standards). The salad was refreshing, and I found the pistachio nuts to be quite unique. That said, I didn’t find the use of tomato that successful. I thought that its texture and flavor was not the best match for watermelon. I do, however, love watermelon in a savory salad preparation, I make mine with feta and red onions.

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The entrees were all listed on the menu as a sequence of four ingredients. First is the protein, the main element. Second comes the vegetable followed by the starch. The final ingredient, according to our server, is the flavor that should permeate the entire dish. Nancy and I ordered pike · arugula · lentil · basil. For me, the lentils were the star of the dish, perfectly cooked and seasoned, they were simply divine. The fish, which was pan fried, had a nice crust on it and its mild flavor went well with the very flavorful lentils. Having a raw element–the arugula–was the perfect finishing touch. I can’t say that the taste of basil permeated the dish, or that I even tasted it for that matter, but I loved my entree nonetheless.

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Kristen had the sockeye salmon · asparagus · wild rice · arugula. She seemed very pleased, and the bite that I had of her rice was delicious. Mike’s flatiron steak · romaine · potato · BBQ sauce looked good too.

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When it came to dessert I thought there were some hits and some misses. I had the apple tart tatin which was my favorite of the bunch. The pastry crust was spot on and the ice cream on top had a wonderful swirl of butterscotch (or maybe caramel), which was the perfect touch.

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Mike’s flourless chocolate cake was good, but I think he would have been happier had it come with a scoop of  ice cream.

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Nancy ordered vanilla panna cotta which came atop some cherries and with a side of pistachio-covered cream. The texture of the panna cotta itself was fine, but she found all of the elements a bit hard to integrate into one cohesive dish.

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Lastly, Kristen’s peach clafouti, was hardly a clafouti at all. What should have been a custard around the fruit, was entirely too cakey.

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All of the dishes, sweet and savory, were beautifully plated with great attention to detail. At the end of the meal the chef, who had heard from our server that we were in from New York, came out to ask how we liked our meal. He was very friendly and seemed like he really valued our opinions. He even claimed to be a little intimidated when he found out that we were all culinary school grads; a fear that was quickly alleviated with our praise. He stayed for a while and chatted with us about his philosophy of local sourcing and how he is really trying to bring something new to the region. He’d even heard of Savoy, when I told him that I work at a place that does the same.

If for any reason you find yourself in Saskatoon, Weczeria is the place to eat, hands down.

Weczeria food + wine on Urbanspoon

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Saskatoon. What can I say but you can’t go wrong eating in a town named after a berry.

Nancy (a friend from culinary school) and I arrived in Saskatoon on Friday afternoon (Dave was to arrive the next morning). The reason for our trip was the wedding of Lene (who was also in our class), but, in the meantime, we were excited to eat our way through the small Canadian city. In the cab ride from the airport to the hotel our taxi driver informed us that the Taste of Saskatchewan food festival was going on right by our hotel. It’s like they knew we were coming.

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At the hotel, we met up with Kristen (another classmate) and her husband Mike and struck out for the Taste of Saskatchewan. As tempting as the deep fried Oreos and Mars bars were, the highlight of the many food offerings was the frozen yogurt from Homestead Ice Cream.

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We all went with the Saskatoon berry flavor, our first taste of something made with the fruit that is the ctiy’s namesake. Plain frozen yogurt is scooped on the spot and mixed together with the frozen berries of your choice, leading to a wonderful marriage of creamy yogurt and chunky berries. After having tasted the raw berries (more on that later) I will say that they are similar to blueberries, but meatier, with a slightly grassy aftertaste. In the context of frozen yogurt, however, they are simply divine.

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Nancy and I also tasted some lime melon trout: a piece of local trout poached to have a lime flavor and served over a slice of watermelon; and some sweet potato fries with chili lime sauce. We didn’t know that the chili lime sauce was mayonnaise-based, but after we scooped most of it out into the trash, we were able to enjoy some of the best sweet potato fries I’ve had. They were light and airy and not too greasy, with a wonderful crispness to them.

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The next day, between the wedding and the reception, I took Dave to the Taste so that he could try some frozen yogurt. Before that, though, he indulged in some “bison on a bun”: thin strips of tender meat in a smoky barbecue sauce, served on a slider-sized bun.

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Dave gave it, “an eight out of ten”

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Baking with fruit seems to be the theme of the moment. I received one luscious pound of the season’s first peaches in my CSA share this week. They were still a little hard when I got them so I was letting them sit for a bit but, before I knew it, it was Thursday night and I was packing for Canada (where I sit and write this) to attend a friend’s wedding.

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In order to use some of the fruit (I cut up and froze half for later) I decided to make breakfast for Dave’s office. I turned again to Whole Grain Baking, this time to their peach coffee cake recipe, which is just divine. Especially when made with fresh summer peaches.

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The recipe gives you the choice of making two 9-inch round cakes or one larger 9 x 13-inch one. When I think of coffee cake I think back to when I was a kid (before I learned of the evils of packaged foods) and I used to sometimes get Entenmann’s coffee cake as a treat. They always used to come in rounds (both big and 2-bite sized) so perhaps that’s why I went with the circular option.

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What I like most about this cake is that–unlike Entenmann’s–the crumb coating is not so overwhelming with huge globs. In fact, in this case, most of it sinks into the cake, but, don’t worry, it still maintains its crispiness and contrasts nicely with the very soft cake.

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It was a huge hit at Dave’s office, some people even said, “keep it coming.” So, I’ll have to decide what I’m going to make for them next time.

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Peach Coffee Cake
From Whole Grain Baking, King Arthur Flour
Yield: Two 9-inch round cakes or one 9 x 13-inch cake, 24 servings

Ingredients:

Cake
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 cup buttermilk*
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups peeled, diced fresh peaches

Topping
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

Procedure:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round pans or one 9 x 13-inch pan.

2. Make the cake batter: Whisk together the dry ingredients (pastry flour through salt) and set aside. Cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Beat in the eggs, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the dry ingredients, one third at a time, alternating with the buttermilk. Add the vanilla. Fold in the peaches until evenly distributed. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and smooth down with a rubber or offset spatula.

3. Make the topping: Combine all the topping ingredients in a small mixing bowl and combine until it looks like wet sand (I found that using my hands was the easiest way to do this). Sprinkle mixture evenly over the batter.

4. Bake according to pan size–25-30 minutes for the two rounds, 30-35 for the one rectangle–until the top is golden brown and a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack for at least 20 minutes before serving.

*I didn’t have any buttermilk around, so I made my trusty substitute: 3/4 cup plain whole milk yogurt + 1/4 cup water for every cup of buttermilk. If you look online you can find other options, namely souring some milk with lemon juice or vinegar, but I prefer the texture that results from the yogurt plus water.


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