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Archives for September 2014

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Searching for Authentic Poutine in Montreal

Last Thursday, as my friends and I chatted excitedly about our girls’ weekend in Montreal, our discussion turned to food, specifically what and where we were looking forward to dining. On Judy’s list was a recommendation from a work colleague that she should not miss poutine.

Poutine, pronounced put-in, a local favorite, was created in rural Quebec in the 1950s. Once only available in the province, it has made its way across Canada and to as far away as the UK.

I doubt I’d had poutine and when Judy explained that it was fries covered with cubed cheese curds and gravy, I knew for sure that I hadn’t – I would have remembered cheese curd. We had our first opportunity to try poutine at lunch on Friday.

As the waiter approached, Judy’s eyes locked on and followed the dish until he placed it on the table. Right away, her face changed from excited anticipation to disappointment. This poutine didn’t have the cheese curds her colleague had mentioned.

“This isn’t authentic,” she grumbled but she didn’t let that stop her. She dug in immediately and pronounced her first taste “good.”

“Have some,” she urged. I looked on skeptically. I would have preferred fries with gravy, which I used to love when I was at university, or even plain fries, but fries with cheese curd just didn’t appeal to me.

I searched the plate for a few fries that hadn’t been touched by either cheese or gravy. They were fine. But even though this poutine didn’t have cheese curds, I wondered whether I had let my dislike for them keep me from enjoying a good dish.

Poutine
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Ingredients
  1. 4 lb. russet potatoes, skin-on, washed and dried
  2. 4 tbsp. unsalted butter
  3. ¼ cup flour
  4. 1 shallot, minced
  5. 1 clove garlic, minced
  6. 4 cups beef stock
  7. 2 tbsp. ketchup
  8. 1 tbsp. cider vinegar
  9. 1 tbsp. whole green peppercorns
  10. ½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  11. Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  12. Canola oil, for frying
  13. 2 cups cheddar cheese curds
Instructions
  1. Cut potatoes into lengths of about ¼" x ¼" x 4". Place in a large bowl, cover with cold water, and refrigerate for about 2 hours.
  2. Meanwhile, heat butter in a 2-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Add flour, and cook, stirring, until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add shallot and garlic, and cook, until soft, about 2 minutes. Add stock, ketchup, vinegar, peppercorns, Worcestershire, and salt and pepper, and bring to a boil; cook, stirring, until thickened, about 6 minutes. Remove from heat, and keep gravy warm.
  3. Pour oil to a depth of 3" in a 6-qt. Dutch oven, and heat over medium heat until a deep-fry thermometer reads 325°. Drain potatoes, and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Working in small batches, add potatoes and fry, tossing occasionally, until tender and slightly crisp, about 4 minutes.
  4. Drain on paper towels, and let cool for 20 minutes. Increase temperature to medium-high, and heat oil until it reads 375°. Working in small batches, return potatoes to oil, and fry, tossing occasionally, until crisp and golden brown, about 2 minutes. Transfer fries to paper towels to drain briefly, and then divide among serving bowls. Pour gravy over each serving of fries, and top with cheese curds; serve immediately.
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We spent the next day looking for poutine and each time we saw it on a menu, Judy would ask if it had cheese curds. She refused to have it without the curd. It’s not authentic, she’d say. She agreed finally, that poutine with melted cheese could probably be just as good as that with cheese curd but we had no basis for comparison. She also decided that next time someone recommended a local favorite, that she’d ask where to find it.

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A Return Visit to Harlem’s The Cecil

One of the best things about living in New York area is the variety of restaurants the city has. At any given time, if you’re so inclined, you could eat your way around the world with just your Metrocard as your passport. (Of course, you’d also need to take your credit card along.)

With so many restaurants, it’s sometimes difficult (for me, at least) to settle on a favorite. But I have. The restaurant I can’t get enough of is The Cecil. I go there every chance I get, recommend it to others and take visiting friends and family.

Located in Harlem, The Cecil is the creation of businessman Richard Parsons, formerly chairman and CEO of Time Warner, and chef, restauranteur, and author, Alexander Smalls.

The menu boats an eclectic fusion of African, Asian and American ingredients. Dishes are spiced with or accompanied by ingredients as varied as kimchi, piri piri sauce, tamarind, ginger, and coconut.

A Return Visit to Harlem's The Cecil

With Lorraine at The Cecil

When my cousin, Lorraine, told me she was coming to New York on business, I knew right away where I wanted to take her. She’d taken me to her favorite Thai restaurant when I was in Toronto on business earlier this year. Now it was my turn to reciprocate.

For days before her arrival, we exchanged text after text about the restaurant, the menu and finally which day we’d go. She was as excited to go as I was to take her and even though she twisted her ankle the day we planned to go, not even that stopped her.

Here’s what we had:

A Return Visit to Harlem's The Cecil

Portuguese Sausage Dumplings from The Cecil

A Return Visit to Harlem's The Cecil

Crispy Soft Shell Crab

A Return Visit to Harlem's The Cecil

Jollof Rice with Shrimp

A Return Visit to Harlem's The Cecil

Citrus Jerk Golden Snapper

A Return Visit to Harlem's The Cecil

Feijoada

A Return Visit to Harlem's The Cecil

Avocado Crema

 

Have a foodie post you’d like to share? Join the #FoodieTuesday linkup and add it here  –

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Costa Rica, Pura Vida

The one thing everyone says about Costa Rica is how lush it is. And despite having near drought conditions (it was the rainy season but there was little rain and we heard of water lock-offs), much of the landscape in the northwest still looked green.

Postcards from Costa Rica

Costa Rica from Above

Postcards from Costa Rica

Costa Rica from above

Postcards from Costa Rica

Costa Rica from above

I had traveled to Playa Potrero, Costa Rica in Central America to celebrate a milestone birthday of one of my close friends. It was a welcome break for me. I didn’t bring my laptop – the first time I’d traveled without it in more than 5 years – so I could disconnect totally from the everyday details that filled up the spaces in my life and reconnect with longtime friends.

We played trivia games, read, walked the beach, slept, ate, drank copious amounts of wine and one day the women in the group – all five of us – headed to the nearby town of Tamarindo for a day at Coco Beauty Spa, and lunch. (I chose Coco’s natural volcanic mud wrap – Costa Rica has more than 100 active volcanoes – and relaxed for almost an hour in warm mud. Everyone said I looked relaxed and glowing after. )

Zip lining Costa Rica

Post Cards from Costa Rica

Ready to go zip lining

Did you go zip lining?

It’s the one question everyone’s asked since I returned. I nod as I smile. Seems zip lining is the thing to do in Costa Rica so I was glad to have my début there. Joan, one of the other ladies in our group, and I were the only ones who decided to leave the comfort of the villa for some outside activity.

The Congo Trail Canopy Tour with a total of eleven lines and two hanging bridges caught our attention. The longest line was about 900 feet, the shortest about 400 feet. While it was fun flying through the air, I would have preferred to see the beautiful trees up close.

To avoid losing our cameras, we left them at the company’s office. They took one photo of each of us as we approached the second line (I have proof that I actually zip lined!).

Postcards from Costa Rica

Capucin monkey

As we waited for our guide, we watched several capucin monkeys as they swung from tree to tree. They moved quickly but this one came close enough as if he wanted to see who we were and what we were doing. Isn’t that the cutest face you’ve seen?

Postcards from Costa Rica

“We take care of our natural resources.”

Signs like these remind us how zealously Costa Ricans guard their natural treasures. We were warned not to take anything, not even shells from the beach, when we were leaving the country. 

The dark brown sand, soft and compact under our feet and the warm, inviting waters of the Atlantic called to us from just beyond the gate of the villa. My friend said he saw whales in the distance. I kept an eye out, hoping I’d see one but didn’t.  Most afternoons, we’d stroll the length of the beach, oblivious to the broiling rays of the sun.

Postcards from Costa Rica

Playa Potrero

Each evening, we gathered on the back patio, cameras in hand, and waited for the sun to paint the sky with dazzling purples, oranges, blues and yellows.

Postcards from Costa Rica

Sunset, Playa Potrero

Postcards from Costa Rica

Golden sunset, Playa Potrero

Postcards from Costa Rica

Sunset near Playa Potrero

All too soon, our week of pura vida (real living) came to an end and it was back to long days, busy schedules and long commutes. Every so often, I’ll pull out my phone, look at my photos and smile. Pura vida!

Linking up this week with Travel Photo Thursday, that Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox organizes.

Seafood Dishes From the Road

Like a lot of people, I look forward to the foods of the cities I travel to as much as the sights and activities. I am passionate about food and because of that, there are places I’d return to just so I can satisfy my craving for the food.

On the other hand, there are some places I doubt I’ll visit because I have no interest in the food.

During my recent trip to Costa Rica, I tasted foods similar to what I’d have in Jamaica – but with a twist. One morning, for example, I chose gallo pinto, the desayuno típico of Costa Rica. Gallo pinto is rice and beans, fried plantains and scrambled eggs. I swapped the scrambled eggs for sausages and left out the cheese. I was almost finished eating when I remembered that I hadn’t taken a photo.

In Jamaica, we usually leave rice and beans for dinner. About 10 years ago, it was reserved for Sundays and special occasions like Easter and Christmas.

Since we were staying near the coast, we had fish or seafood almost every day. One evening for dinner at a restaurant, I had grilled snapper accompanied by risotto.

Three Meals from the Road

Avocado & Shrimp Salad

Three Meals from the Road

Grilled Snapper with Risotto

Near the end of my week-long visit, I took a day trip to Granada, Nicaragua where lunch was sea bass with rice and salad. I can still remember the sharp taste of the lime on the fish.

Three Meals from the Road

Rice and Sea Bass

Have a foodie post you’d like to share? Join the #FoodieTuesday linkup and add it here  –

  • Add the link to your foodie post in the link tool below.
  • As a courtesy, please include a link back to this post.
  • To make it a fun linkup, don’t forget to leave a comment here and comment on as many posts as you can.
  • If you Tweet, G+, Facebook please use the hashtag #FoodieTuesday.
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