31 August 2012

Montreal Day 3

Today was a mix of local culture (Jean Talon Market), and tourist trap (Old Port). We went to the Science Center (geared to non-science majors, unfortunately) and Pointe-à-Callière, and I learned so much about the Samurai and Etruscans!

Cafe In at Jean Talon Market ~17$
I got a smoked salmon, dill, and capers sandwich, made with some sort of bread (it was like a very light, toasted baguette) that started with a "b", and it was either local to France or Montreal. Without the panini press, the bread had been less flat (but still reminded me of a bagel without a hole). The sandwich came with a fruit salad. I used to hate dill, but apparently, my brain now has become quite attached to that fresh flavour.

[UPDATE 6th August 2013: I think it's a bialy. Pretty common in Ithaca, NY]

My brother got the same type of sandwich, but with Cajun chicken filling instead. He also got  coffee with milk (as he had been each day, even though he usually stays away from it).

Jean Talon Market! ~15$

I enjoy looking at how/what food is sold in other cultures. Jean Talon Market was intriguing because there were a bunch of Quebec or Montreal products, and everything was written in French. Finally, the pages of French vocab for vegetables and fruits have come into use! In addition, it appeared that fewer people knew how to speak English.

We saw cotton still on the branches!

Apparently, there is no tax for products bought at the market! This meant that maple syrup that was 20$ for 3 cans ended up being 20$, and not 23$! Maple syrup bought in a gallon-sized container was 48$. In general, the maple syrup was cheaper than at the RESO or at the gift stores at the touristy areas, and although there were maple leaf and log cabin bottles of syrup, there were also plenty of simple jars of syrup and butter stamped only with a company logo. Along with the economic benefit, I wonder if it's better to buy maple syrup from the market because there may be fewer middle-people, but I know nothing of Montreal's food politics. Needless to say, the market gets far less tourist traffic than the gift stores at the RESO or Old Port. There were also some maple butters that were refrigerated, and the store owner gave my brother and I a delicious sample. I chose to buy a maple butter made with 100% maple syrup. There was also a maple butter with some glucose syrup in it, that didn't need to be refrigerated. When I asked why the 100% maple syrup butter HAD to be in the fridge, the woman said that it would harden if left outside. That defies the concept that heat causes liquids to flow more easily, and I didn't want glucose syrup in my maple stuff!

Pomettes! Crabapples! I always thought that crabapples were this apocryphal non-edible fruit, and that Ms. Krabappel from The Simpsons was so named because she was crabby (but is she?). Yet crabapples are actually real fruits that look like miniature Pink Lady apples! They are the size of large grapes, and taste extremely sour - lemon sour. Apparently, people use crabapples to make crabapple jam, but as we lacked a pot to make the jam, I tried to eat half our punnet within the next two days. They did get a tad sweeter over time, but they were all still much more sour than the sourest Granny Smith apple. 2$ a punnet, which actually equates at least a jar of quality jam, had I a saucepan.

There were also cute punnets (everything is in punnets, and when you ask to buy something, they transfer it to a plastic bag unless you happen to have a reusable bag handy) of ground cherries! GROUND CHERRIES! I'd never seen such a thing before I went to the botanical garden, and seeing them being sold commercially was quite amusing. We didn't buy them though, because we already had the crabapples.

I also bought a cone of maple butter. While the cone was the standard tasteless wafer, the maple butter was thick, creamy, and melted instantly in my mouth. I love maple flavour, and the sweetness could sink ship (a large one, mind you). It was great!

La Fournee de Sucreriers de L'erable 7$
Finally, a pastry shop advertising maple pastries and tourtières (a regional meat pie)! Unfortunately, there were no tourtières that day, so I'll have to wait until I return to try one. I got a maple syrup tart that sweated maple syrup during the day, while my brother got a chevre, blueberry, and "basilic" tart. "Basilic" means "basil", but instead, there were almonds (and no basil!). Either way, my brother claimed that it was delicious. I thoroughly enjoyed my super-sweet maple syrup tart. It was basically all sugar and fat, textured like thick, gooey jam-fudge. While eating, my brother told  me that when he was really young, he used to think that one was supposed to eat the foil too.

Lays Dill Pickle Potato Chips 1.72$
We also shared some Dill Pickle chips, obtained from a gift store at the RESO. To both my brother and I, the chips tasted like Lays Salt & Vinegar chips, and we were right! There is acetic acid in the ingredients! However, there is a hint of dill and there are small green specks on each chip. I wonder why Lays doesn't try to advertise these in the US, since I would buy them instead of the Salt & Vinegar chips (multiflavour chips!)

Acité - Old Port 45$
Throughout our time in Montreal thus far, we commented on the lack of "42nd St"-ness in Montreal. By that, I mean that Downtown Montreal is not littered with gift stores, no one is trying to buy 8 Montreal shirts for 10$, people walking down the streets downtown aren't all waving cameras around, well, it just doesn't look like New York's Times Square, in both atmosphere and cleanliness. However, after shuffling around on the streets of Old Port, we concluded that everything cliche and gaudy could be found in Old Port. Tourists milled around fancy restaurants (steakhouses?), gift stores that sold "I [heart] POUTINE" shirts and "DO NOT TOUCH" beaver tail hats, and overpriced maple syrup, and a guy who juggled sticks of fire.

I wanted to go to Mont Royal Plateau to eat dinner but my brother wanted to eat at Old Port. So, we went to Acité, a nearly empty restaurant with exclusively outdoor seating of about 20, and I ordered snails and my brother got chicken and rice. Out of all things to consume, my brother picked a chunk of chicken and a scoop of rice.
The snails had been deshelled and were like little blobs of rubber in a plain cheese and oil sauce. It was quite bad. I don't recall snails being rubbery and tough (though the last time I'd tried them had been at The Dwarf Restaurant in 2001 or something in Hong Kong, and those had been shelled snails stuffed with delicious mashed potato and cheese). the cheese sauce was nothing special and particularly unctuous. The dish was very shallow. I was disappointed. Needless to say, I also didn't think much of what my brother got, though he seemed happy with the overall meal.

Les Délices de l'Érable 1.73$
My first macaron! Maple syrup flavoured, about 3 cm in diameter, and surprisingly moist! I didn't know macarons were chewy and soft. I always assumed it'd be something like meringue. It was delicious! And, to think that I can make a batch of these for the price of one...

Super C ~17$
We got Oka cheese! With mushrooms! It was semisoft, creamy and mild and had a hint of truffle. It was great! Apparently it is local to Quebec.
We also got ground cherries! Whoohoo! 2.99$ They were phenomenal! They were like mini tomatoes, and tasted like tropical fruit (mango?) and were slightly sour, like a tomato, but were also surprisingly sweet! It was so great pulling apart the outside!

30 August 2012

Montreal Day Two

My brother and I went to the Biodome, Olympic Tower, and botanical garden. The garden was an eye-opening experience for me, since I knew so little about the cool plants beforehand. Because the gardens were so interesting, we missed lunch.

CC Cafe Quiche Lorraine ~5$
  • Eh. Normal quiche.

Franx Express, ~5%

  • Delicious poutine at the Peel RESO, which is this underground area that connects a bunch of metro stops and is stocked with clothes stores and food courts! Not-too-salty gravy, slightly off-tasting cheese curds (due to no refrigeration?),  and ever-crispy fries! The cheese curds were stringy and slightly melted too, at parts. So, poutine can be delicious!
  • The guy who sold the poutine to me actually doesn't know much French. He used to live in the US, and then moved here and loves it here.
  • Unfortunately, the Peel RESO closes around 6 pm, and we didn't realise that the McGill RESO was the popular one and closes at around 9.

Crepes Gerard $9

  • We got a peach melba crepe. It was a canned? peach, one scoop of vanilla ice cream, one strawberry, a handful of almonds, and caramel syrup, all made lovelessly with ungloved hands, 10 minutes before closing. It was a very bland, chewy crepe.

Kinder Surprise from Super C (3.29$ for 3)

  • I no longer long for Kinder Surprises. There is no price that can buy back my 5 or 7 or 9 year old's excitement at nibbling at a hollow egg, and snapping open a bright orange capsule filled with plastic parts that can be assembled into a tricycle or something. Sure, the wrapper looks the same, and the milk/white chocolate is just as scanty (20 g...), but this time, the capsule was a mustard yellow one-piece blob! Disappointment!
  • To make matters worse, my toy was a piece of paper! Time to stop liking Kinder Surprises on Facebook, I suppose.

29 August 2012

Montreal Day One!

My brother and I went to Montreal from the 11th to 16th of August, by bus. We managed to squeeze in nearly all of the important events in four days (the 11th and 16th were spent travelling), and to me, the most important events included FOOD - markets, grocery stores, restaurants, cafes, etc. Unfortunately, it didn't go as well as anticipated, as we didn't make it to a few places. Ah well. As Montreal is such a clean, entertaining place, I expect to go back in the future. As I don't feel like detailing the non-food entertainment, here goes the details about all I ate (in 4 consecutive blog posts), in non-paragraph form with final prices! This summer I've also pretty much been eating animals, and this continued in Montreal. I will perhaps revert back to a "mostly-vegetarian" when the semester starts again and I feel more in control of my life.

We spent a lot of money on food, and tacking on 15% tax + 15% tip made meals much pricier than I am used to. However, we're travelling and trying foods, and that's what matters. Point of life is to eat, right?

Day 1: 12th

Lays Fries & Gravy Potato Chips 1.71$
  • These were pretty good!
Café Depot ~8$
  • In my question for une boulangerie at 8-9am on a sleepy Montreal Sunday, we ended up here. Unfortunately, this was a chain store (like Starbucks) and nothing was particularly appealing. If I were travelling alone, I would've walked around more searching for a neat local place, but I think my brother was hungry.
  • My brother got an iced mocha coffee thing that tasted like green bean ice lolly to me. It wasn't that sweet, and I enjoyed it (but I enjoy most mocha things, so that doesn't mean much). I think I ended up with 1/5 of it because it was too much for him. The ice chunks were too coarsely crushed; We had a round of ice the size of a quarter.
  • We shared a slice of blueberry cheesecake that was merely ok. I realised that my standards for restaurant foods have slowly increased since I started learning to cook, particularly regarding desserts. I now look at a lot more food with disdain because I can make a whole batch of [insert dessert] for the same price of a made-weeks-ago-frozen-and-reheated dessert at a restaurant. This isn't true for macarons or baked Alaska yet, though.
Frites Alors! ~40$
  • Well! Our second attempt to order in French was foiled again! Everyone can tell that we are not fluent (to zoom forward in time, though, there were two instances in which I spoke all French - badly - buying Metro tickets, and buying maple syrup at the Atwater Market). The waitress was really nice but forgot to give us our second sauce (but gave it to us when we asked her where it was).
  • Ever since I read the Wikipedia article about poutine, I've wanted to try it. Unfortunately, cheese curds are difficult to find in the Northeast, and now, I had the chance! I could eat poutine for all meals in Montreal! So, of course, I got the smoked cheese poutine. My brother saw that there was cheval tartare, which is horse tartare, which is horse pieces mashed up with spices and served raw. As we've both only tried raw fish before (sashimi), we immediately decided to order that. Finally, for some reason, my brother thought that it was necessary to order a third dish (sure, we were hungry, but not famished?), so we got fried calamari with amazing Frites Alors! sauce.
  • The smoked cheese poutine was a disaster. I didn't like it (although perhaps you would enjoy it). The fries had initially been cooked perfectly, but the cheese curds (or was it the gravy?) were so salty! Over time, the fries became extremely soggy and I felt like I was eating roasted, soggy, semi-mashed potato strips instead of fries, which defeats the purpose of using all that fatty cooking oil. Apart from the excessive peppercorns that added a lingering spiciness, it wasn't flavourful; all the volatile compounds in the gravy were masked by the salt. In retrospect, I probably should've just tried the original poutine.
  • The fried calamari was perfect, and the Frites Alors! sauce was drinkable (although a bit spicy). It is always a plus when a sauce is drinkable.
  • The raw horse mince (cheval tartare) was...interesting. I tried it by itself, and with bread. It was sour (there were chunks of pickle in it), oily (fatty tasting?), and kind of bland and tacky/gluey. Apart from that bizarre oiliness, there was no discernible flavour. I would not want to try it again.

  • Free Wifi.

Moi & Toi Café ~25$
  • I wasn't hungry at all (too much food from Frites Alors!) so I didn't even want to eat dinner. However, my brother wanted to have a meal, so we went, and I got Crème brûlée because I've never had it before. It was fine.
  • My brother got ratatouille with fried goat cheese (ostensibly) and it came in a cuboid with a square of something that tasted like a mild cheese cracker. I don't remember ratatouille as something densely packed, but, sure, it was fine.
  • The meal came with three pieces of baguette.
  • The service was quite nice.

Super C ~17$
  • I enjoyed visiting this supermarket. I like checking out different cultures' supermarkets because they stock interesting items, whether in pairs, or on sale, or even merely the size of the items. For example, there was a whole cheese section (no cheese counter though), with picnic sized artisan and fancy cheeses, while the generic cheddars and stuff were in a different section of the store. There were small tins of tomato sauce (150g?) as opposed to the big tins at our stores. The baguettes were skinny, the beer was easily accessible, and there were a whole bunch of fruits and vegetables that I had never tried before.
  • We got 5 Mars bars, one Dairy Milk Hazelnut bar, one Crunchie bar, 3 Kinder Surprises, 125 g Camembert cheese, one small baguette, and some juice.
  • We tried the Camembert and baguette that night (even though I wasn't hungry, and I didn't really have an appetite either), and it was quite good. The rind was pretty tasteless and a bit chalky, while the cheese was soft, mild, and creamy.

09 August 2012

Savoury Crêpes

As a farewell dinner (well, only for a little over a fortnight), SP and I made some crêpes. Twice, he flipped them using the pan, which was spectacular. We had various fillings: brie, peanut butter, fig butter (which has crunchy niblets!), and grilled tofu.

Regarding brie, a new cheese for me: I mildly dislike it. The rind has ruined it for me. Even after melting, the brie rind elicits some feelings of disgust, which have developed more strongly over the week. It tastes a bit earthy, but also reminds me of certain bodily fluids. This flavour is mainly due to retronasal olfaction - the volatile compounds that are smelled by the nose via the mouth while eating the food (as opposed to just sniffing the food). When I pinch my nose, the flavour is greatly reduced, and all I'm eating is a chewy rind that is mildly salty. So, I've been cutting off the rind and saving the pieces for SP, who enjoys it. In fact, some of the mold from the rind colonised a new patch of cheese in the interior, due to contact in the bag! The cheese itself is really soft, has a mild, earthy flavour, and is buttery. I don't think that I enjoy it that much as it doesn't pack much umami.

The fig butter goes pretty well with the brie, and I was too busy eating to take more pictures. There was no need to "prepare the Nutella" because we didn't have any. Crêpe combinations included:

  • Brie + fig butter + tofu
  • Peanut butter + fig butter
  • Brie rinds (all SP's!)
  • Peanut butter + brie
The first crêpes looked great (according to SP), although all our crêpes were on the small side as I possess a small frying pan.

"Brie and fig butter" has a fancy aura. Imagine going to a dainty restaurant and being served 
"Traditional, fresh, homemade crêpes cooked to a perfect tan colour, adorned with specialty imported double cream brie cheese curls and a generous smear of select fig butter with natural sugars"
...Or, you know, elicit a warmer atmosphere by getting your boyfriend to make them for you at home. Although he is expert crêpe-flipper, I am expert crêpe-batter-in-the-pan-spreader.

On the side, I made some bubble tea (Pu Er + sugar + milk + instant tapioca pearls) , which we both drank lukewarm. Then, like a four year-old, SP started shooting tapioca pearls through the straw, and got not only my bedspread, but also my light-coloured skirt splattered with milk tea.

We ended up with 7 or 8 crêpes, made with 1 cup of white flour, 1 egg, 1 teaspoon of oil, and 1 tablespoon of sugar. This is a recipe that SP's mum uses.

07 August 2012

Mango Custard Tart

SP and I made deliciously juicy mango custard tarts using this Fruit Tart recipe. The tart includes defrosted frozen mango, sliced and layered onto a light custard cream that is enrobed by a sweet buttery crust. The above tart was decorated by me (with the aid of a spoon, because the mango was surprisingly slippery!). The tart below was decorated by the SP, the Super Pastry-making-guy.

Notes on the Method:

  • With the same amount of dough and cream, instead of one tart, we ended up with two generous tarts that were smaller - 6 to 7 inches in diameter?
  • As I didn't feel like washing my rolling pin, we just pushed chunks of dough into the pans and flattened them with our fingers. This worked pretty well, though the edges should probably get more dough next time. The holes in the bottom need to be larger and more numerous so that there is less puffing of the pastry. Also, we only froze the flattened-out tart shells for about 20-30 minutes (while we made the custard cream), so there was no prechilling of the dough.
  • The dough, when done, really does clump up into a ball when stirring with a spoon (or for the other folk, a mixing blade)!
  • We used fat-free milk for the custard cream even though the recipe specified fat/low-fat. I don't think that it matters, taste-wise.
  • A lot of the ingredients were NOT dutifully measured, but everything turned out fine!
  • We replaced the corn starch with three tbsp of white flour in the cream. I think this is what gave the custard a more doughy/floury/pudding texture as opposed to a light pastry cream texture. Either way, it was still not too heavy (not like egg tarts at all!), had the viscosity of chocolate mousse, and paired well with the crust. Before incorporation of the heated milk, the egg yolk mixture had the consistency of pancake batter. On the heat, after merely a few minutes, the cream started to thicken!
  • The only fruit we used was mango. Fortunately, mango is really shiny, meaning that there is no need for an apricot jam glaze!

Thickening custard on the heat!

Shells - baked, and filled with custard.

I am pleased with this tart because I can now successfully gauge when custard is "ready", and so can SP! This is a skill that will help him woo the women (far far far in the future)! Also, we had heaps of frustrating fun decorating with irregularly-shaped mango slices. The best end to the day was, of course, sharing a whole tart and watching the Q&A video on Curiosity's second day on Mars. 

Changes I would make include substituting whole wheat flour for the white flour, using two egg yolks instead of three, and adding more corn starch & milk. I would also make the give the sides of the tart thicker crusts so that they don't burn as much, and I would poke more holes into the crust to let air out (so the dough doesn't puff up).

05 August 2012

Whole Wheat "Leftovers" Cookies

Well. It's my last Sunday subletting at HamCore and I have to use up all my food by (Thur|Fri|Sat) of next week.

SP and I made delicious whole wheat cookies with curry powder, cinnamon, and dark chocolate. We did not freeze the dough (as the instructions say), and after baking, we both proceeded to devour the whole batch of cookies (well, we made half a batch of cookies - 1 leftover stick of butter) while watching Sheep in the Big City. These cookies were quite filling (both emotionally and physically) and tasted a bit like gingerbread and had a satisfying sandy texture. I also wanted to just eat the cookie dough raw. So there - no more butter and chocolate! SP tried to grind  a cinnamon stick, first using a knife (nice little chunks, but highly inefficient), and then using a cocktail masher + bowl. We ended up with sizable chunks of cinnamon along with the puny bits.

I also had about a liter of skim milk leftover and I was afraid that it would go bad, so I decided to freeze it with some maple syrup, to make milk and maple granita. Basically, you break the ice slurry every hour or so until you have pin-sized ice crystals. You can easily chip at this structure to get a good amount of dessert. It is not creamy but it's fine. I'm not sure why I didn't make this with all the leftover milk and half&half during the semester. So, milk used!

Finally, I was a counselor for an Engineering camp last week, and at the final reception, there was a giant cake, with an anticipated 100+ servings (I assume - there were 69 students, and you have to include their families!). Miraculously, there were about 13 slices leftover, and they were going to trash all those slices! So, I claimed it, took it to DRL, fed some physicists, and brought the rest home to eat. Unfortunately, the end pieces of cake were slathered with "American Buttercream Frosting", a publicly-celebrated disaster. To me, that stuff is vile. Fatty and flavourless. I scraped off most of it from the cake parts and ate those, but I didn't want to throw out this butter+powdered sugar concoction, like I have done in the past (at least three times, especially whenever we got the Costco cakes). The answer hit me like a slice of pie hitting a serving plate - bake with it! Duh!

So I mixed it with the rind, juice and pulp of two lemons I happen to have, 1.5 c of whole wheat flour, a sprinkle of instant rice (just for experimentation) and some baking soda, and baked the stiff dough at 350 F for 10 minutes on the middle rack of the oven. I ended up with 18 cookies with a crusty exterior (crispy bottoms) and a cooked gooey filling. The cookie is not particularly sweet, and did not expand significantly while baking. It was quite lemony and I'm pretty glad I found a use for gross "American Buttercream Frosting"!

So, all I have now are about 6 eggs, some Brie, flour, almond meal, cocoa powder, oil, cooked pasta, rice, frozen mango, frozen veggies, an apple, and yogurt.