Thursday, May 28, 2015

Gentlemen (& Ladies) Prefer Blondes

I have a love/hate (love may be stretching it a bit; let's call it like/hate) relationship with Gordon Ramsay. Sure, he's probably an exceptional chef (I assume he must be in order to have made it this far) but, if you ask me, food aside, I think the guy has two versions of himself and the contrast between them is bewildering.

There is the Gordon Ramsay that we all know too well. The Gordon Ramsay that we instantly think of when we hear his name: the loud, somewhat obnoxious, scary man who seems to be seeping unearthly levels of anger. We often see him on our screens yelling and liberally throwing the F-word around at people who are fluttering about under scrutiny with fear, desperation and frustration in their eyes. His rough, vulgar and aggressive approach makes for good television... I guess.




Then there is the version of Gordon Ramsay that emerges when he's describing food. I call this version the Food Romancer. Have any of you realized that the way Gordon talks about food is almost too sensual? He speaks delicately, with a soft voice and by adding a few sighs here and there. He can describe a piece of raw chicken with the same adjectives and in the same way he could describe a lady. Buddy, it's food. We understand that you love food; we all love food! But maybe your relationship with it has gone too far. He may call it passion, but I just call it weird. 

If I have control of the remote at home, Mr. A and I often watch reruns of FRIENDS; if Mr. A has control of the remote, "we" watch sports; and when we're both looking for a happy medium, the Food Network wins the prize.  

A few weeks ago, we were watching Gordon Ramsay's Ultimate Cookery (also known as the ultimate television show for him to wear his ''romancing'' hat). As we were watching, I heard an ''Oooohhh'' from Mr. A followed by a sound that I can only describe as ''taking his breath away''. It is not often that Mr. A and I watch a cooking show to which Mr. A's jaw literally drops and stays open throughout the recipe. Gordon was making blondies: a fun twist on brownies. Based mainly on Mr. A's reaction (and not by the way Gordon was romancing the ingredients), I knew I had to make it. 

We were having a little family get-together a few days after seeing this episode so, very conveniently (because I love to share calories as much as I love to share food), I knew it was my opportunity to try this recipe.

All I can say is, vulgar or romancer, Gordon Ramsay can cook! 

So here it is. Gordon Ramsay's recipe for Blondies. The recipe that will make you wonder how you have lived thus far without these amazing sweet bites. Similar to my relationship with Gordon Ramsay, you may have a love(or like)/hate relationship with these blondies: you will hate that you love them so much. 

Ladies & gentlemen, you will soon realize that you just may prefer blonds.


Blondies in the making





Gordon Ramsay's Blondies

Ingredients

- 230g butter, plus extra for greasing
- 340g dark brown sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 280g plain flour
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 240g white chocolate, chopped into small chunks
- 4 tbsp dried cranberries


Directions

1- Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly butter a 23cm square cake tin and line with parchment paper.

2- Melt the butter in a saucepan and whisk in the sugar and salt. (A good whisk now will make the mixture slightly lighter and fluffier.

3- Add the vanilla extract and whisk again. Remove from the heat.

4- Add the eggs to the butter mixture and stir well. Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder into a large bowl, then whisk in the egg and butter mixture a little at a time. (It’s important to do this in stages so that you don’t get any lumps.)

5- Leave the mixture to cool slightly, then fold in the chocolate chunks and the cranberries. (If the mixture is too hot, the chocolate will melt.)

6- Spoon into the prepared cake tin and spread out evenly. Bake for 35–40 minutes until the outer edges are firm and the middle still a little soft.

7- Leave to cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes, then cut into squares before serving. Once cooled, the blondies will keep in an airtight container for up to a week (but trust me, they won't last that long).


The infamous blondies. The picture does not do it justice.





Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Love is a Potato

Mr. A has said that one of the first times he realized that I truly loved him was when we were a few months within our relationship. We had been dating for about three months. We hadn't said our "I love you"s (that's a story for another day); we were still a little giddy, a little nervous, a little unsure of where everything was going... basically we were still very ''fresh''.  

One evening, we had ordered food from our usual Lebanese takeout place. We always order the same thing: a mix plate, half shish taouk, half shawarma, half rice and half potatoes. And we must never forget to mention "hummus and garlic on the side in separate containers, please." 

One of the best parts of the dish (one of the best parts of ANY dish if you ask me) are the potatoes. Of course, you get what you pay for and a 10$ plate from a fast food place is nowhere near fine dining. Oftentimes, it's like a coin flip; you never really know what kind of potatoes you will get. You'll either get hot garlic and herb potatoes that are so crispy on the outside and so smooth on the inside OR you'll get mushy potatoes that were once the hot and crispy ones you oh-so-desire. Nevertheless, potatoes are potatoes; even if they are bad, they are still good.

As we sat down to devour our dishes, I snuck a potato from his plate (because sharing is caring) and noticed that his not-so-crispy potatoes left a lot to desire. I then took a potato from my own dish and realized that mine came from a fresh batch of deliciousness. Instinctively, I pushed his mushy potatoes away and gave him some of mine. I didn't think much of it but he paused and said something along the lines of "You really like me, huh?"

And, my friends, that is why love is a potato.




Mr. A and I have (already!) been married for about 9 months now and have been together for a little over 7 years. We have seen and helped each other through the best and through the worst of times. It is so common for two people to get so accustomed to one another after being in eachother's lives for so long. Unfortunately, little words and little acts may go unnoticed or may lose their essence.

A close friend of ours recently lost his mother very suddenly. I had had the blessing of meeting her once; full of life and full of kindness. Tragic situations like these put a lot of things in perspective. You instantly realize what and who are truly important to you. Instantly, the words "Life is short" weigh so deeply on your mind and in your heart.

Make sure you tell the ones you love how you feel about them and make sure to show them your love as well (via potatoes if you wish!)  And, everybody, remember to keep your eyes open to see the love that is given to you and see that love is actually all around us.

If you do decide to show your love through potatoes (or if you simply love potatoes and want to show yourself some love), here is a recipe for T.H.E. ultimate, perfectly crispy yet perfectly tender potatoes. I'm not joking, this recipe beats any potatoes you have eaten... even McDonald's fries! (Yes, I dare say it!)

Hot Potato!

Ingredients

- Small round potatoes (about 15 or more)
- 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- Salt & Pepper to taste
- Rosemary (or Other Herbs Of Choice) To Taste

Preparation Instructions

1- Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add in as many potatoes as you wish to make and cook them until they are fork-tender.
2- On a sheet pan, generously drizzle olive oil. Place tender potatoes on the cookie sheet leaving plenty of room between each potato.
3- With a potato masher, gently press down each potato until it slightly mashes, rotate the potato masher 90 degrees and mash again. Brush the tops of each crushed potato generously with more olive oil.
4- Sprinkle potatoes with kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper and fresh chopped rosemary (or chives or thyme or whatever herb you have available.)
5- Bake in a 450 degree oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.


Recipe & picture courtesy of The Pioneer Woman:

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Annie

Let's face it. There is a lot of good, a lot of bad and a whole lot of ugly in this world. We are constantly bombarded with negative news headlines. It is so easy to get sucked up in the negativity of the world; it is so easy to get sad and worried every time we flip through the newspaper or turn on the TV. To put myself in a happier and lighter state of mind, I make it a point to shift my focus away from the bad and the ugly when I blog.

Now, contradicting what I just said, I'm going to tell you about a very ugly incident I witnessed recently at Walmart. 

I was at the cash register of my local Walmart and a few registers away was an old man likely in his late 70s or early 80s. The man was speaking English and the young cashier was replying to him in French. The man apologized to her and asked for her to speak English because he did not speak French. Adamantly, the girl (her name was Annie) continued to answer him in French. One more time, the man told her that he did not understand. This is when Annie started to raise her voice loud enough to make many heads turn in a noisy Walmart. 

She raised her voice at the older man who could have easily been three times her age and started lecturing him on how he should learn to speak French because he is in Quebec. She was telling him to move anywhere else in Canada if he wanted to speak in English. I was shocked. After her unimpressive speech, she walked away from the cash without having finished the transaction with the old man. She stood a few meters away and faced the customer service section of the store. The man asked her twice where she was going; she replied in an impatient and annoyed tone "I have a problem with my cash." 

Luckily, the man was taking everything lightly. He was laughing at this strange situation (this strange situation that, unfortunately, is not considered so strange anymore).

Listen, Annie, (and to all you other "Annies" out there) before you start lecturing people on what language they "should" speak, maybe someone should have educated you and lectured you on how to be polite and how to treat people with respect. With what right do you raise your voice to a complete stranger, to a customer? 

This small incident at Walmart does not even compare with the many other ridiculous incidents we've all heard about (hospital staff telling patients to speak French, the infamous Pastagate, etc.)

The hate that has been instilled in you "Annies" is quite sad and shameful. I understand that you would like to preserve Quebec's language from the "evil anglophones" but every single time I hear someone say "You have to speak French in Quebec!", I feel pity. I pity you "Annies" for living in your narrow-minded worlds, and for going out to (language) war armed with an old-fashioned mindset and broken French (for some of you).

Every few weeks, a new story about these language wars emerges and, frankly, "Annies", it's getting pretty ridiculous. 

Click here to read about the gem of the week.


Five word sentence - two mistakes
Gem of the week @ Valentine Deux-Montagnes

Enough about language wars though. There is some good in Quebec: Poutine!
An indulgence of fries and cheese curds topped with heavenly gravy.
Here's my take on the best gravy for your poutine.

Poutine Gravy

Ingredients
- 3 tbsp butter
- 3 tbsp flour
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 5 cups beef (or veal) stock, heated
- 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tbsp ketchup
- 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
- Pepper

Directions
1. In a saucepan, on Medium-High heat, belt the butter. Add the flour and stir for about 3-4 minutes until the mixture turns golden brown. 
2. Add the chopped garlic and cook for 20-30 seconds.
3. Add the heated stock a little bit at a time while whisking (you don't want lumpy gravy!)
4. Once all the stock is added, add the Worcestershire sauce, ketchup and apple cider vinegar.
5. Cook for about 5 minutes until the gravy has thickened and season with pepper.

Top your crispy fries and cheese curds with this luscious gravy and indulge!

Friday, January 09, 2015

New Day's Resolutions

Hello lovely readers.

Once again, I have un-muted myself from one of my long silences to wish you all a very Happy and Healthy 2015.

Every year, I set a New Year's resolution for myself. Usually it has something to do with being a better person, reading more, drinking more water and exercising and getting fit because, despite "best" efforts, the pant-and-dress-shrinking-fairy never misses a visit around the end of the year... and this year was no exception.

However, this year, I have decided to not make a New Year's resolution. Similar to most of you, I used to think that there was something very magical when the clock strikes midnight on December 31st. A renewed sense of life rushes through you when the ball drops and you feel you have a clean slate, new opportunities and new chances of becoming a better version of yourself. You think that you will be able to press "reset" on your life and that this year will be your year! This year will be different! NEW YEAR, FRESH START!


I hate to break it to you, but there is no magic "reset" button on New Year (and there is no Santa Clause either)! New Year's is not a life-changing event.

You see, when the clock strikes midnight, your life does not reset and you do not get a fresh start, nor a fresh batch of chances and opportunities. When the clock strikes midnight, the only thing you are rolling in with the new year is a new daily planner. 

Let's face it, we are a little more than a week within the year and some of you have already likely broken your resolutions. A New Year's resolution is more like a "to do" list for the first week or two of January. 



This year, I don't have a New Year's resolution... I have a New Day's resolution. I have decided that I don't need a new year to push me to improve myself. A new year is really just a new day so consider every day as a an opportunity to hit that mythical and magical "reset" button.



Every year, for the festive season, I make a traditional Armenian dish called "Sou Boereg". It is savory pie with layers of buttered sheets of homemade noodles and heavenly melted cheese topped with more buttery noodles. It's a time consuming process but well worth every second! 

Sou Boereg 
Dough
- 6 eggs
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup water
- 5 cups flour
- 1 tsp cognac (or arak)
- 1 cup 5 tbs (300g) melted butter (to slather between the layers)

1- Beat eggs, salt, water and cognac (or arak) by hand or with an electric mixer. Add the flour half a cup at a time. 

2- Divide the dough into 6 balls. Place these balls on a lightly floured surface and cover with a tea towel. Let rest for 1-2 hours.

Filling
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley
- 550g braided cheese
- 550g akkawi cheese
- 1 egg
- 1/2 tsp white pepper

Finely chop the cheeses and place in a bowl with cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes for a total of 2 hours. Drain cheese and wrap in a towel to dry completely.
When dry, put the parsley, cheese egg and pepper in a bowl and mix until well combined.

Preparation

1- Roll out each ball into a very thin dough sheet of 35cm diameter in size and then place the sheets over each other and cover them.

2- While preparing the dough sheets, fill a big pot with 20 cups of water and 3 tsp of salt. Turn on the heat and let it boil.
Place each dough sheet in the boiling water for 30 seconds then remove it and immerse in cold water immediately. Place it on a towel to let it dry or squeeze the water out.

3- To prepare the pastry, coat a 40cm circular or rectangular pan with melted butter and put the first dough sheet in it. Coat it with melted butter then place the second sheet on top and coat it with butter. Repeat the procedure until the 3rd dough sheet. After placing the 3rd dough, spread the cheese filling on top and repeat the process of layering the dough sheets and melted butter until the dough sheets are finished. Coat the top layer with melted butter as well. Cut the “Sou Boereg” into squares and bake at 350F until top is golden.


Sou Boereg in all its glory! 

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Little Wedding Teaser

I have spent the last several days wiping giant happy tears off my face. 
With a nice bottle of wine, Mr. A and I spent Friday night watching our wedding video. Then with a nice cup of coffee, Mr. A and I spent Saturday morning watching our wedding video for a second time. Finally, yesterday night, with a nice bowl of soup, I watched the video with my sister.

I thought my happy tears would dry out a little bit at a time with every viewing but Oh! How I was wrong. Every time I watch the video, I feel like my heart is ballooning at an exponential rate and is being filled with overwhelming feelings of love, gratitude, happiness, excitement and many other foreign but beautiful feelings that I will welcome with open arms. I can still taste that delicious cocktail of amazing emotions that we had at our wedding; that cocktail is getting more and more delicious by the second.

Unfortunately, I cannot share our wonderful wedding video on a blog (it's too long), but here is a short teaser for you to enjoy. The video is from Raffi and his amazing team at Yeraz Media.

Thank you to all vendors and loved ones who made our wedding day as brilliant and beautiful as it was. It was full of love, full of joy and full of unforgettable memories.


video

Tania & Armand - September 6, 2014
Hall: Montreal World Trade Centre
Caterer & coordinator: AVOCADO Traiteur
Videography: Yeraz Media
Photography: Prizma Productions
Entertainment: DJ Klix & Marco Mr.TamTam
Flowers: Les Petites Excuses
Rentals: Joe's Prop House & Celebrations

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Sugar & (Pumpkin) Spice

As I hear the clinking clanking sounds of tempos going up, it has finally hit me... snow really is right around the corner. Although I am not a very big fan of the bone-numbing, face-hurting cold that is about to hit us soon, I really do love the jolly spirit winter comes with. The chilly nights that are perfect for movie marathons and hot chocolate (or maybe some spiked eggnog), the nostalgic Christmas songs, colorful decorations, Christmas cooking and baking for the whole family...

Before getting in the festive spirit prematurely, I decided to take more advantage of Fall. By now, many of you have probably overdosed on pumpkin-flavored everything. I am very late at entering this pumpkin game. I tried my very first pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks very recently. I decided to make the treat extra-decadently calorific so I ordered it with whipped cream on top.

I eagerly took my cup to my seat and dove in. I needed to finally understand why these pumpkin-spice lattes were so popular. I indulged in the soft, white cream with a spoon that had subtle hints of the pumpkin-flavored treat below. After devouring those cloud-like peaks, I stopped and looked down at my cup. I raised an eyebrow and started to wonder.

Why was my drink such a bright shade of orange? Pumpkins are orange but since when are they Oompa Loompa orange?



Maybe some of you already know this (and maybe some of you don't)... I eat everything! A bite at a time, I would proudly eat anything that is smelly, ugly, or slimy. I never discriminate and will try everything at least once. 




My biggest weakness though is sweets. I have never come across a sweet treat that I did not like... until now. Unless I am extremely full, you know that there is something terribly wrong with the food or drink in front of me (especially if it's sweet!) if I do not finish it... I didn't finish that orange disgrace of a latte and dumped that overpriced liquid-chemical-mixture straight in the garbage. 

If you're not tired of pumpkins yet (who can ever get tired of pumpkins?), here is an amazing recipe for the chewiest pumpkin spice cookies. These cookies are completely VEGAN and can be made in one bowl (easy cleanup!).

Indulge in what's left of Fall and get ready for Candy Cane/Mint-flavored everything once the snow hits. Oh! Deliciously magical times ahead!


Vegan Pumpkin Spice Cookies

Ingredients
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1 cup oats
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp all spice
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp baking powder
- pinch of salt
- 3/4 cup sugar (plus a bit more to sprinkle on the cookies)
- 1/2 cup pumpkin purée(canned or homemade)
- 1/3 cup vegetable or canola oil
- 1 1/2 tsp Maple Syrup
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup raisins
- zest of 1 orange

Directions
1- Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
2- Put the flour, oats, spices, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl and mix until they are all combined.
3- Make a well in the middle of the mixture and add the rest of the ingredients.
4- Stir until well combined.
5- Spoon mixture on the baking tray(I used a small ice cream scoop) and sprinkle a little bit of sugar on top of each cookie.
6- Bake for 20 minutes.


Pumpkin Spice Cookies & Chai Latte




Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Murphy & Emmanuel

When everything is going happily and smoothly, you can expect Murphy's law to suddenly come into effect at the worst possible moment. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.





Our honeymoon was breathtaking. Full of love, full of fun and full of action.
We had an amazing time in San Francisco; got a little drunk (the classy way) in Napa Valley while hot-air-ballooning over the vineyards at dawn; partied in Vegas while admiring the majestic strip; and, after a short 10-hour stay back in Montreal, were on our way to the Caribbean to relax with our feet in the sand and cold drinks in our hands. From Vegas, we took a flight back to San Francisco, then flew to Dallas and finally, came to Montreal. Once we landed in San Francisco, we only had 55 minutes to get on our Dallas flight. If we missed that flight, we would miss our flight to the Caribbean as well. This is when Murphy's law kicked in...

Knowing that having less than an hour between flights was quite risky, we took precautionary measures by travelling only with carry-on luggage and by downloading our boarding passes on our phones for the flight leaving for Dallas. 

So... what can go wrong? A lot of things!


Murphy 1 - Newlyweds 0: Our first flight was delayed-- suddenly, the 55 minutes ticked down to 50 minutes... then 45 minutes.. then 40 minutes. 

Murphy 2 - Newlyweds 0: We finally landed and were obviously pretty eager to debark from the plane; however, Murphy scored again. Turns out the airplane was not well ''parked'' so we had to wait another 5-6 minutes until the jet bridge was well-aligned with the door of the plane. 35 minutes left...

Murphy 3 - Newlyweds 0: When it was finally time, we grabbed our carry-on luggage and ran out like contestants on The Amazing Race. As we were running and looking for our gate, we came across another one of Murphy's tricks: the gate of our next flight (that was in about 30 minutes) was at another terminal. What does that mean? We had to go through security AGAIN! As we were approaching security, we met HIM! We could hear his high-pitched and nasal voice from several meters away. He was a short and slim middle-aged man likely of Filipino origin. He was wearing an ill-fitted burgundy suit jacket, dark pants with a big walky-talky hanging by the side and big, old-fashioned glasses with a silver frame. He was the bodily equivalent of Murphy's law; he was EMMANUEL!

Murphy/Emmanuel 4 -  Newlyweds 0: Every once in a while, you meet someone whose sole purpose in life seems to be to ruin yours. Emmanuel's job was to check travelers' tickets and to ensure that their carry-on luggage were of appropriate size before going through security. We had been on multiple flights with the same carry-on luggage and nobody had a problem with the size... nobody except, inevitably, Emmanuel. 

Yes, our bags were somewhat big (especially with the beautiful beach towels I got from Vegas!) but we were trying to explain to him that we had been on other flights with these bags before and that our next flight was to leave soon. He did not care. His high pitched voice got even higher as he told us that he was doing his job and that we had to check our bags in at the counter. As we arrived at the counter, the woman behind it told us that it is too late to check anything in for our flight. 

We ran back to Emmanuel and told him that he had to let us through with our luggage because we could not check our bags in. He pointed at the small compartment in which our suitcases were supposed to fit and kept repeating in his continuously-elevating voice "I have to do my job! There are cameras everywhere. I will call security if you try to pass!". He was clutching on to his walky-talky when he was mentioning the word "security".

Mr. A and I had now reached levels of stress that we did not know existed. Some *beep* words were uttered as we opened our suitcases and started emptying its contents and stuffing whatever we could in my purse and wrapping other things in my beautiful beach towels. 

We zipped up our bags, made it fit in the compartment and uttered a few more not-so-classy choice words to Emmanuel as we made our way to the next step.

Murphy 4 - Newlyweds 1 (YES!): Luckily, after hearing us and seeing our stress, many kind travelers let us pass before them in the queue. Finally, our streak of bad luck seemed to be ending. Just a few more steps before we could be on our plane.

Murphy 5 - Newlyweds 1: Spoke too soon. Murphy played another one of his cards when it was time to show our boarding passes. As mentioned, we only had electronic boarding passes on our phones and (surprise surprise!), the scanner was not reading them. We spent another 5-6 minutes in front of the absent-minded agents who were looking at us in a very dull and unimpressed way. It seemed like they did not have an ounce of sympathy or urgency in them.

Finally, with the help of some very kind fellow travelers, we zapped our boarding passes. We zoomed through the following security steps and, with our shoes still halfway on, it was time to sprint. 

I felt like we were running at such a speed that could put Usain Bolt to shame. We arrived at the gate mere minutes before the plane took off. Still somewhat trembling, sweating and holding giant, stuffed beach towels, we made it to our seats while telling eachother "Never again!" 

As stressful as this all was and as unforgiving Murphy and his law can be... THE NEWLYWEDS WON!

Our first meal on our honeymoon was lunch at the Hog Island Oyster Company in the Ferry building. Fresh oysters, warm clam chowder and comforting grilled cheese. The grilled cheese was completely different than the others I have tasted. The bread had a delicious crunch and the gooey center was filled with melted, sharp cheesy goodness. Perfect meal for a windy and chilly day. 


Hog Island Oyster Co.


Grilled Cheese (Hog Island Oyster Company style!)
*recipe from Leite's Culinaria
yield: 4 sandwiches

Ingredients
- 2 tbsp butter, room temperature
- 8 thick slices of sourdough bread
- 4 ounces Fromage Blanc cheese
- 4 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated
- 4 ounces Cheddar cheese , grated
- 4 ounces Havarti cheese, grated

Directions

1. Butter one side of each slice of bread. Place 4 slices (butter side down) on a board and spread the fromage blanc on the plain side. Top each of these with the Gruyère, Cheddar and Havarti cheeses. 
2. Heat a large skillet for about 2 minutes. place 1 or 2 sandwiches in the pan, cover and cook for 3-4 minutes (until golden brown). Turn the sandwiches and press on them firmly with a spatula. Cook for another 3-4 minutes. 
3. Remove from the pan and let cool for a few minutes (if you can!). Slice diagonally and serve.