Friday, December 26, 2008

Writing the Winter Menu

As soon as I finish one menu, I start thinking of the next one. Ideas spin around my head for the next two months. I talk to Danielle, Clint, all my staff about ideas I have. I look at books and magazines, play around, try things out, run things as specials. By the time I get to actually writing the thing I have a fairly clear picture about what I want to do.

Then I sit down to write it. I set aside a chunk of time, usually pour myself a glass of wine or port, and start writing. The picture I though I had is never as clear as I thought it was. And it is always a lot more work than I think it should be.

I like to have a fairly solid first draft before I show anyone. Then I will sit down with Danielle, and we will tear it apart. I will tell her the things I really like, and what areas I am struggling with. We will look thorugh books, remember meals we have enjoyed in the past, toss ideas back and forth. Danielle is a great cook, and also has a good idea of what types of things our customers love. Sometimes I overthink things, and Danielle will call me on that. We are driven by the idea of Luxurious Comfort Food, but mostly, we cook food we would like to eat. Hopefully, there are enough of you out there who like the same things we do.

So far, this is what I am thinking of:
I want to re-invent our burgers, I want to use pork belly in more ways, I want to do more weird fifth-quarter off cut stuff (We going to do a snout salad with pig snout cooked two ways), I want a luscious duck dish people go crazy for...
... then the question is always "what stays?" the livers and short ribs for sure, but what about the hammer chop? It feels kind of fall to me, but is is a fabulous dish and kind of unique to us. Do I keep the salmon the way it is? What new mussels will I do? What are my three small salads, what are my dips? Do we continue with the fennel maramalade?

So any way, time to start. I am using this blog to stall, so I am going to start writing. I will update this blog as I work on the menu. If you have any suggestions, feel free to send them to me with a comment. We can all be part of the process!


Grilled Cheese and fresh cracked pepper

Merry Christmas Everyone!

I just wanted to post the links to a couple of good foodie blogs.

For the grilled cheese lover, there is the grilled cheese manifesto at

Another great foodie blog with fabulous food photos is

Please let me know of any other good food blogs that I can add to this list.

My chef friend marnie just gave me a great link to a cheese website, with a Canadian cheese podcast. )


Chef Alex

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Longest Day

While my fellow Canadians are celebrating the shortest day of the year, I find myself living the longest day.  December is always busy in our bistro. It's busy every where, but Friday seemed a little extreme.  At 4 O'clock our bistro was still full of lunch customers. Our first dinner guests sat down at the bar at 4:30.

My day usually begins at 11:30 when we switch on the open sign and unlock the front door.  (others on my crew start their day at 5am) But this last friday, by the time we opened we had already fed 25 ppl. We had a catered out a holiday luncheon to Concordia hospital.  Salmon with grilled vegetables, chicken and mushroom fusilli, fig and prosciutto sandwiches and a tray of Christmas dainties provided by Chocolate Zen Bakery (

Lunch started promptly at 11:30 and by noon the restaurant was full.  We had a really great lunch special of cocoa chili fettucinni (nature's pasta) with chorizo and shrimp.  This sold like crazy, we went through an entire case of noodles!  In addition to the pasta we dished out a silly amount of mussels, chicken sandwiches and croque madames. By 1:15 the first of our large groups celebrating christmas parties was beginning to arrive. I quickly ran down stairs to place a wine order. Although I had received what I thought was more than enough wine the day before, we had run out  of a number of labels. (I would have to do yet another order the next day.) Soon, the bistro was filled again with long tables of merry revellers. Back on the line, me and Ruben slammed out one table of 10 after another.  In the background, my nighttime cooks were scurrying around like santa's elves, trying to stay out of my way, yet needing to be ready for dinner. 

At 4:30, as I am sitting down for a brief pause, Clint comes down to tell me "it's started."

"are you ready?"
"so", I reply grudgingly, "I guess you need me to do these orders?" So I found myself back on the line, clean jacket and apron, ready to go all over again.

The restaurant fills up quickly. We kick it into high gear and pop out a dizzying amount of food in what felt like record time. At 8:15, everyone is fed and we are waiting to clear the back half for the Christmas party that has already started to arrive.  With a momemtary pause in the barrage of orders coming in, I grab clint and ruben and my wife and we run across the street for a much deserved, and hastily quaffed, pint from Luxalune.

Then we are back into it. Appetizers and mussels for the big party, apps followed by dinners for the rest of the restaurant, salads and soups for the big party, more new tables up front, mains for the big party, a few more tables turn up front...

Clint looks at the clock, "it's 11:30". We laugh, I am geared up for one more turn, but sadly, the longest day is done.

Cocoa Chili Fettucinni with shrimp and chorizo.

1 lb cocoa chili fettucini from Natures' Farm (or any other fettucinni)
1 tbsp oil
1/2 lb peeled and deveined shrimp
2 chorizo sausages (or other hot sausage), sliced
1 onion diced
1 red pepper diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
a pinch (to taste) of dried chilies
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
1 tomato diced
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar

1. boil pasta
2. saute onions and peppers in oil, add chorizo.
3. add shrimp, garlic and chilied and saute until shrimp is opaque.
4. add stock and bring to a boil
5. add cream, check for seasoning. Toss pasta in sauce. Toss in diced tomato. 
6. serve topped with grated cheddar


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas Cocktails

Here are a couple of fun cocktails for the festive season. The first is based on a hot mulled wine we always have around christmas called glög. For those who don't like hot wine drinks, and I have discovered there are many, this is a chilled drink served in martini glass.

The second just looks like winter, all white and soft. Be very gentle with how much mint you use. It is really just there to give a wintery chill to the drink, use too much and your martini will taste like toothpaste. The trick to this drink is to really shake it vigourously, this will make it nice and frothy.

Have fun, e njoy!

Christmas Crantini

1 oz dry red wine
¾ oz vodka
¼ oz triple sec
2 oz cranberry juice
squeeze of orange

Shake with plenty of ice
garnish with an orange slice and cinnamon stick

White Christmas

1 oz Godiva white chocolate liqueur
1 oz vanilla vodka
1 oz cream
dash of crème de menthe or peppermint extract
white chocolate shavings

shake vigourously with ice. It will get nice and frothy
garnish with white chocolate

Here's another one...

remember the old song, "I'll have a blue christmas without you..."
When you sing it, do you put on your best Elvis voice, or do you always remember the porky pig version?

Blue Christmas

1 oz vanilla vodka
1/2 oz "mirtillo" blueberry liqueur
1/4 oz amaretto
1/4 oz Blue Curacao
2 oz blueberry cranberry juice

shake on ice, serve in a martini glass, garnish with frozen blueberries

I love the combination of blueberry and vanilla, and I love blueberry and amaretto. Here we have it all together!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Treasure of the Sierra Madres: Discovering Mexican Soups

The "true" story behind the mexican soup article that appeared in the fall issue of Flavours.

The article, too controversial to print.

Treasure of the Sierra Madres: Discovering Mexican Soups

11:58 the wheels of our plane bounce down onto the tarmac. We are welcomed by smiling men with automatic weapons. The P.A. system and bright yellow signs warn us of lengthy and awkward searches, but the officials look bored as they stamp our passports, asking no questions. Outside of the airport we are greeted with warm ocean breezes and palm trees. We are herded on to the bus which takes us to our hotel. We are in Mexico.

0n day three we find ourselves in a remote mountain village. We had rented a jeep and were on our way to tour an old mayan city. Somewhere, we took a wrong turn. As we went higher and higher into the mountains the road got rougher and rougher. The little donkeys at the side of the road laughed at our 4X4 struggling with the bumps and ruts. Couple times we got stuck, a couple times we nearly flipped and once we nearly drove of the edge of a cliff. At the end of the road we come upon a little village. Maybe village is too big a word. It was a few ramshackle huts pieced together with slabs of broken concrete, pieces of plywood, some assorted truck parts, heavy blankets, and sheets of corrugated tin. Somewhat surprisingly, in the centre of this circle of huts, was a little stone church. A few children ran around playing some incomprehensible game, some of the scrawniest chickens you have ever seen hunted frantically for bits of grain, a tired old three legged dog lay in the sun. As we stood there, wide eyed, a woman old enough to be Pancho Villa’s mother, stepped out of one of the huts. Without a word, she invited us to come in. She sat us down on old apple crates and served us big earthenware bowls of soup. It was a black bean soup as dark as the midnight sky. It was spicy and earthy. Little pieces of smoked meat we hoped were pork enriched the soup. As we ate we discovered layers of nuanced flavours. The tang from lime and vinegar, layers of spice from diverse chilies, cumin, black pepper, garlic, and the beans themselves: silky smooth with little pops of texture, Sweet and smoky, and woodsy. At first the beans served as a foil for the sharper flavours but by the end, they had taken centre stage. Without a word, this old woman’s soup had told us we were welcome, we would be cared for as long as we were there and we would find our way home. We returned to our hotel content.

On day five we were strolling the boardwalk, ducking the smiling and aggressive sales people offering us everything from $2 necklaces to timeshare condos. We came upon a little collection of huts and beach umbrellas which seemed to function as a crude food court. Each little stand posted a hand painted menu offering an almost identical selection of food items; Tacos al pastor, grilled marlin on sticks, octopus seviche. They were cooking up this food on little grills too small and rustic to enjoy the name hibatchi. We had our fill of tacos, garnished with onions and jalpenos; and the marlin, sweet and spicy and smoky; and the corn sprinkled with chili and lime and doused in crème fraîche. And then we noticed in the back, closer to the water another little umbrella.

As we approached, we noticed that the fabric on the umbrella was torn. The man seated beneath the umbrella was probably younger than I but his weathered skin made him look twice my age. Canadian politeness made me ignore the fact that he was sitting on a cart which looked like a child’s wagon with both of his legs amputated above the knees. In front of him he had a battered old cauldron of a soup pot, precariously balanced over an open fire. He spoke one word to us, “Pozole?”. We nodded an affirmation. He ladled out big Styrofoam bowls full of blazingly hot soup. The bowls were filled with big chunks of fish, still on the bone, crab legs, mussels, and fat red prawns. The broth tasted like the sea. But in this mess of delectable sea food, the highlight was the pieces of pozole. This dried, starchy corn, made tender by long slow cooking was at once earthy yet ethereal. This lowly corn imparted not only a feeling of comfort, but a sense of a connection the generations of people who have farmed and survived of this humble grain. All the way back to the hotel, we talked about this soup. We raved about the quality and abundance of the seafood, which we prairie folk are definitely not used to, but we kept coming back to the life affirming presence of the corn.

On our second last night, our hotel hosted a “Mexican fiesta”. Alex, my tocayo, and our favourite server told us we must come. “This is when we serve the real mexican food”. Alex saved us a table up front. We ate heartily, enjoyed traditional music and dance, and drank margaritas, cervezas, more margaritas, and more tequila. The next morning, I woke up a little green around the gills. I crept down to the dining room, holding on to my head to keep it from spinning, on a quest for coffee. My tocayo was there, with his usual broad smile, “you don’t look so good!” he laughed. He sat me down at a table in the shade and told me he had just the thing. He comes back a few minutes later, not with the mug of coffee I was looking for, but with a deep clay bowl filled with a dark red soup. Floating in the soup were little pieces of grey meat and bones from an animal I didn’t recognize. I delicately swirl the soup with my spoon only to discover long ribbons of tripe. The look of the tripe, and the overwhelming aroma made my already tenuous stomach churn. “It’s menudo… This will make you feel better… trust me” I did trust him, but maybe this was just too much. Gingerly, I took wee sip off my spoon. Almost immediately I felt the transformation. The warm spices started to clear my head. And the rich flavourful broth restored energy to my body. I could feel the tips of my fingers and toes start to tingle as life returned to them. I started off slow, but by the end, I was practically licking the bowl. One bowl of this strange and wonderful soup and I was a new man. I was ready to enjoy my last day in Mexico. And I started by ordering a margarita.

For recipes, go to search recipes for black bean soup, menudo, or seafood pozoles