Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Great White North Eh?

Have you ever seen the movie Strange Brew? I know. Random question. Random movie. You probably haven't seen it. But you must. You simply must see this movie. Take a minute right now to put it in your Nexflix cue......go ahead......I'll wait.

Strange Brew is nothing short of hilarious. It's full of great lines like, "This movie was shot in 3B...3 beers and it looks good eh". It's also FULL of more "hosers" and "eh's" than you can count(actually, come to think of it that would make for a good drinking game...note to self...try the "Strange Brew 'eh" drinking game tonight...scratch that, Friday night, yes, that's more responsible). I used to work with a guy named Ross who would google lines from this movie whenever he needed a good laugh. Then we would just sit there in stitches for 5 mins or so reliving our favorite parts of the movie over and over again. Ok, back to the story. So, this movie portrays Canadians as, well, rednecks of the north(but slightly dumber and a whole lot uglier). In reality Canada(at least around the major cities, as I have personally run into some "rednecks of the north" in some rural Canadian areas) is full of intelligent, well spoken and very gregarious individuals. So if you've never thought of visiting I highly recommend a trip. I'm going to focus on Montreal this time around(Quebec City is next you hosers).

If you were blindfolded and flown into Montreal, having never been to Canada and having the "rednecks of the north" misconceptions about it, you would never believe your eyes. It has a great mass-transit system, which is one of the things that my husband and I adore when traveling. The people are friendly. And the food...oh the food...let's just say I had trouble fitting into my jeans for the trip home.


Poutine: Cheese curd anyone? Might this offer be more tempting if I put the cheese curd on piping hot french fries and covered the whole shebang with brown gravy? Yah, I thought so. This strange yet oh so yummy dish is called Poutine. It's a local favorite in Montreal, and if you're in Montreal and you don't stop for a plate literally overflowing with Poutine, you're missing out big time. I know, the cheese curd part sounds like a turn off but it's not. Actually, if you're going to offer me a dish that's basically cheese fries, I would take real, honest to goodness cheese curd over radioactive orange fake cheese whiz any day of the week. It melts slightly on the fries and lends an ooey, gooey, texture to the dish. We had it au-natural. Just the bare bones Poutine with a side(or two) of ice cold beer. However, they do offer more Poutine variations than you can shake a stick at(and I mean it...we ate here: http://www.restolabanquise.com/index.php?langue=an and the menu says it all).

The Montreal bagel:
I grew up in central NJ. There were some ups and downs to growing up in New Jersey, but as far as I'm concerned, I would have put up with a lot more downs for the bagels alone. I adore bagels, and the corridor between Philly and New York is absolutely lined with some of the best bagel shops ever....yes, I said it...ever. There was a bagel shop called Kramer's in a town adjacent to mine. They stayed open all night on Saturdays. Yup. They baked straight through the night. Thank you Kramers. I would leave a bar around 1:30am or so and head over to Kramer's for a little "snack". You would walk into this place, already a bit hazy from your night out, and it was surreal. It was the only place open in the entire(pitch black by now) strip mall. This small, poorly lit shop was a beacon for the bar crowd...like moths to a flame we'd walk towards the light. Once inside, the all night skeleton crew of Kramer's was hard at work.....and listening to the most obscure Pink Floyd you've never heard. With bloodshot eyes the guy behind the counter would slather whatever bagel just came out of the oven with cream cheese and hand it over to me. I would sit there and enjoy that bagel into the wee hours of the morning. Just me, a few friends(quietly savoring their snack), the "Pink Floyd dude" and the sweet smell of bagels, wafting through the air. If this doesn't sound like heaven to you I can understand. But this place was an institution. My parent(pre-me) went there too.....after a bar, before Saturday Night Live, and enjoyed the same bagel joy I spoke about. So even now as I think back on it, it was wonderful....pure and simple.

How does this story tie in with Montreal(or anything at all) you might ask? Well, in Montreal, they believe they have the best bagels in the world. Ok. I'll let them think their bagels are the best. I think Kramer's are the best so we're already at an impasse. I can't effectively judge this so I'll just tell you a little about them....and I'll also tell you that my husband and I sat on a bench outside the shop(Fairmount Bagel http://www.fairmountbagel.com/eng/index.htm ) and ate about 8 of them....just tearing pieces off the bagel and dipping them in a tub of cream cheese....so yes, they were good. The Montreal bagel is much denser than NY style bagels, and noticeably sweeter. They get their sweetness from being boiled in honey spiked water, then they're finished off in a wood fired oven. They're also smaller and thinner, perhaps about the diameter of a pretzel. They're a whole other breed of bagel. Good...in a different way. So give them a shot while you're there. Like I said, we ate our share of them, so decide for yourself. BUT if you're say, from North Carolina, visiting Montreal, and have never had a bagel from the PA/NY/NJ section of the I-95 corridor please don't make your final "best bagel in the world" decision quite yet. Be sure to bite into a few more bagels first.

Au Pied De Cochon:
Women. Let's face it. We all have a fantasy man out there somewhere. No matter how much we love our husbands or boyfriends, we still can't help but look at the Brad Pitts of the world and drool a little. And we all have our "type". Some like athletes. Some like movies stars. I.....like funny guys and chefs. And looks don't play any part of this. They can look like the back end of a horse for all I care. So when chef Picard of the famed restaurant Au Pied De Cochon in Montreal, stopped me on the way out of his restaurant, tenderly grabbed my hand and said "merci beaucoup" I just about squealed like a 12 year old at a Jonas Brother's concert. I literally skipped down the alley behind the restaurant as my husband just giggled. Thanks for understanding Nick ;)
Au Pied De Cochon(which means "the foot of the pig") is probably one of my favorite restaurant concepts of all time. They take the meat we all really love. You know. The fatty, moist, delicious meat. And serve it to perfection. Looking for a salad? Don't go here. Looking for fancy presentation and a snobby wait staff? Don't go here. Looking for good meat and lots of it? Ok, YOU can go here. I loved this place. They offer dishes like "duck in a can". I'm pretty sure you don't need me to describe this, but I will. They take a duck. Stuff it in a can. Cook it. Then serve it to you. They don't waste energy on radish blossom garnishes here. Oh no. All of their energy is focused on making the best damn pork, duck, Foie Gras, etc. dishes this side of....well....I guess I'd say Makebelieve Land, because it seems too good to be true. Just now as I'm re-reading the menu online I noticed that for $4.75 you can get a side of fries......cooked in duck fat. Why didn't I get that when I was there? No worries. I'll just have to go back. While we were there we got the Foie Gras special(I always get the special...always) which was a big, hunk of Foie Gras, seared and set atop a nutty flavored flapjack of some sort then drenched in one of Canada's finest exports...maple syrup. It was good :) My husband won the prize this time around by ordering this cassoulet type dish. I think it might have been called "The Melting Pot" but they could have called it "Pig Anus Stew" and it would have still flown off the shelves. I can't believe that I didn't get a picture of it. I'm sorry folks...but breaking out a camera didn't even enter my mind...breaking out a bib, on the other hand, did. I can only assume that chef Picard came up with this recipe one drunken evening, perhaps after getting back home from a night out on the town. I picture him walking into his big, beautiful kitchen and opening the refrigerator looking for a late night snack. He saw leftover bood-sausage, pork belly, bits of fatty pork chop(and other lovely things), couldn't decide which he wanted, stuffed them all into a casserole dish, covered it with meat flavored sauce and baked it. This thing was superb. So please, pretty please, with a cherry on top...if you find yourself in Montreal, visit Au Pied De Cochon. You'll need a reservation(I'm talking a few weeks in advance), and you'll play hell finding it(it's housed in a teeny, tiny, itsy, bitsy, unassuming space, with about the smallest sign you've ever seen) but it's worth it. Here..... http://www.restaurantaupieddecochon.ca/ Start drooling now.

Go to Le Plateau-Mont Royal. It's a maze of quaint neighborhoods lined with bars, restaurants and shops. We spent a lot of time wandering around aimlessly, trying to look like locals. It's very charming and well known for it's duplexes and triplexes that house what seems like most of the Plateau's residents. They have distinctive exterior staircases that are apparently an architectural must-see. Honestly, we walked around for at least an hour looking for these suckers(pic left)....like suckers. When we finally realized that the houses we've been passing on every block were the houses we were supposed to be admiring we were anything but impressed. However, the neighborhood is lovely and the restaurants and bars will keep you busy(you can find Poutine AND Montreal Bagels on just about every block).

Ride the subway all day. It's a wonderful subway and it goes everywhere(and where it doesn't go...like the casino(always a must-see on my husband's list) on one of the islands...it drops you off at the bus that does in fact go there). So get a map, grab a tourist pass($9/day) and hop on and off when and where you like. AND if you're visiting in the winter there is a veritable underground society in the basement of the subway lined with shops and such. We were there during a warm spell, but I can imagine escaping the blistering cold by stepping into this underground sanctuary.

Go to Old Montreal. It's quaint, European-like cobblestone streets are charming. There are plenty of prix-fixe options at the restaurants there as well. Enjoy the architecture, do a bit of shopping and grab a bite to eat at an outdoor cafe. We stayed through the afternoon and into the evening and I think it might actually be more beautiful at night.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Mussels & Chorizo...A Love Story
Mussels and Chorizo grew up on different sides of the tracks. Mussels was a delicate creature....always treated with tender loving care. She had a privileged life...growing up on the waterfront. Everywhere she went she was kept at the right temperature...handled gingerly...she was a princess. Chorizo on the other hand grew up on the streets. He was a mutt....made of different parts of pork....he even had a little paprika in him which gave his skin a red hue. He was different and everyone could see it. He had been stuffed and smoked and hung upside-down..... he had a rough life. One day the two were brought together by their best friends, White Wine(Mussels' BFF) and Tomatoes(Chorizo's BFF) at a party. There was a mixed crowd at this shin-dig....Garlic was trying, once again, to hit on the oh-so-smokin' hot Dried Pepper Flakes in the corner but as always, she just could not get over Garlic's breath...Basil and Parsley were ignoring Salt and Pepper, as usual(cliques - what are you gonna do?)....and poor old Chicken Broth was passed out on the couch(yup, he's quite the lightweight). But when Mussels and Chorizo saw each other from across the room it was love at first sight. They were meant to be together. Yes. It was fate. A match made in culinary heaven. That night got crazy folks. I'm talkin' downright wild. Together, they stewed in a hot tub with the rest of the party, and it was oh-so-right. So break out some crusty bread, turn on a little Barry White, pour yourself a glass of wine, and have an intimate double date with the hottest couple around....Mussels and Chorizo.

RECIPE:::::::Mussels with Chorizo
3 pounds of mussels for two very hungry people OR for 4 people as a starter
1 good sized link of chorizo(maybe about 4 or 5 inches worth) cut into chunks
1 1/2 cans of good quality crushed tomatoes
2 garlic cloves(finely chopped)
1/4 cup of white wine
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/2 tbs. dried basil
1/2 tbs. dried parsley
1 tsp.(or more if you like) dried red pepper flakes
Salt & pepper to taste
This is one of the easiest and most "wow-worthy" recipes of all time. There are just a few things you need to remember when working with mussels. Look for mussels with very tightly closed shells. Sometimes you'll find bunches of mussels that look closed, but with further inspection are slightly opened(pic. right). You don't want these. Once they're home keep them ON ice in the fridge. Don't let them swim in the ice, just keep them ON the ice(I keep them in a bag on the ice so they don't get submerged). They'll keep for a day or so like this. Ready to cook? Good, let's get the broth going first, then we'll sort the mussels. Find a stock pot large enough for twice as many mussels as you have(they'll open when they're cooked and if the pot isn't big enough they will push the lid right off the pot). Pour the canned tomatoes, garlic, wine, broth, basil, parsley and red pepper flakes in the pot. Bring to a barely there simmer and let it sit for 5 mins or so. We just want the flavors to come together a bit before we add the Chorizo. After 5mins, go ahead and throw the Chorizo in and let that simmer for another 5 - 8 mins. Check the seasoning. It will probably need a bit of salt and maybe more red pepper flakes if you "like it hot". While you're letting this puppy simmer away, start cleaning and sorting the mussels. Go through each one to be sure the shells are closed tightly. Open ones should be discarded and not cooked. If it's a good one, remove the beard, a fuzzy bit attached to the mussel(pic. right) and rinse it under cool water. When in doubt over whether a mussel is "tightly closed" throw it away. It's not worth it folks. Once you've gone through all the mussels just pour them into the simmering broth, cover, and let cook until all of the shells have opened(5 - 7 mins). Once they're opened pour them into a large(high sided) serving dish and dig in! While transferring the mussels give them a quick once-over. If there are any that haven't opened discard them. They're not safe to eat. You can serve these beauties with crusty bread for dipping(sometimes I slurp up the broth with a spoon), or perhaps serve it with a side of plain pasta dressed in a bit of good olive oil, red pepper flakes and fresh basil. Enjoy!

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Friday, April 3, 2009

Hit and Miss.....Vegas Revisited

My parents are...well...they're unique. When I was 1-ish they decided to sell their house in suburban NJ, buy a motor-home, and live in it while traveling around the country....for a year. Can you imagine? Voluntarily going from living in a 2,000 square foot house to a box so small that you could shower while you were flipping pancakes or where one minute you're eating dinner on your kitchen table....and the next you're sleeping on it. I guess when the world is your back yard it makes the transition a bit easier. But they did it. And they traveled clear across the US and Canada. Hearing this story makes it almost unbelievable that they have never been to Las Vegas, BUT they're planning a trip as we speak. So in honor of their inaugural visit I'm going to re-visit Vegas one more time and give a "hit and miss" account of a few things I left out on my first post.

Red Rock Canyon - HIT:
Most people I know who have gone to Vegas say they’ve never considered renting a car, and I understand why. You’re either drunk half the time and SHOULDN’T be driving or you’re strolling along the strip, popping in and out of casinos and don’t WANT to be driving. Plus, if you have ever actually rented a car and got caught in traffic on the strip for an hour(trying to go 3 blocks) you’d be once bitten twice shy. But all that being said I recommend renting a car…for 1 day…to visit Red Rock Canyon . We rented a car for one full day just to get off the strip and experience a bit of the dessert, and it was worth it. Most people never see a landscape like the kind you’ll find just minutes outside the Las Vegas border. It’s breathtaking. Red Rock Canyon is only about a half hour’s drive from Las Vegas but it seems like it’s worlds away. You can go on a hike or just drive the loop around the nature reserve. Either way you’ll be happy you took the trip.

Hoover Dam – MISS:
My father is the kind of person that jumps at the opportunity to see how things work behind the scenes. He’s the kind of guy that would rather hang out in the HVAC room of a casino than lay by the pool. After growing up in his house I certainly have a fine appreciation for the Hoover Dam. It’s an engineering marvel. A true testament to what man can do if he puts his mind to something. However, it’s also a rip-off in my mind. The Smithsonian is free to the public. National and State parks have a very reasonably priced entrance fee which I’m MORE than happy to pay in order to help support our beautiful National Parks(I’ll post some camping articles soon). But the Hoover Dam(part of the US Dept. of the Interior) is really taking visitors for a ride with this one. First you pay $8 just to walk into the Visitor Center . Then if you want to take the abridged tour(you basically take an elevator ride with 30 other people) you pay an extra $11/person. THEN if you want the full tour. The tour you see pictures of. The only one you really want to go on. It costs a whopping $30/person! So here’s my recommendation. While you have the rental car and you’re driving around, swing by and drive over the dam. Maybe get out and take a walk, take some pictures, even have a little snack while admiring the view. But don’t even bother with the tour unless you’re willing to shell out $30 for the real deal. The other $19 would be better spent in a slot machine.

The Lion Habitat at the MGM Grand - HIT:
How can this not be a hit? Lions.....in the middle of a casino....walking(and sleeping) right above your head(see picture). My husband had to drag me out of there kicking and screaming. I would have sat in that little glass tube and watched their antics all day. And no, they weren't particularly active, but they're jumbo sized kitty cats...fluffy and cute...AND BIG...and right there for your viewing(free viewing) pleasure.

The Gondola Ride at The Venetian - MISS:
I know you're thinking, "how can this be a miss...a gondola ride through a casino...a singing gondolier...yes please!". But it lasts for 14 mins(the outdoor ride only lasts for 12) and it costs a whopping $16/person if you don't mind sharing the gondola with strangers....or $64!!! if you want a private ride. For $64 that gondolier better do more than just serenade me. I'm looking for some real personalized attention. Maybe he can help me with my taxes or at the very least rub my feet. And the worst part for me isn't just the price, but it's the idea that you're paying to see the exact same parts of the casino that you can see just by strolling ALONG SIDE the canal. Vegas.com made me laugh out loud when they described it as an opportunity to get a "unique view" of the shops and restaurants. Tell ya what. You can pay me $16 and I'll let you sit on my shoulders for another opportunity to get a "unique view" of the shops and restaurants. BUT after all is said and done you really do have to see The Venetian. It's absolutely beautiful. We had dinner here(pic)......And it was really yummy AND not too pricey. I can't remember the name, sorry, just print out this picture and take it with you when you go....then stop at the place that looks just like it ;) And yes, the canal is awesome. But admire it from the sidewalk....a whopping 3 feet away ;)

The Bellagio Fountain Show - HIT:
I have a friend named Beth that thinks it's hilarious that people actually stand around waiting for this show to start, and I can understand her reasoning. You want to think that you have better things to do than stand around waiting to watch water. BUT I liked it. No, I loved it. And so do a lot of people, so it's a hit in my book. It's free. It's beautiful. It's set to a snazzy tune(One, Singular Sensation when we saw it..but it changes) and colorful. And being my father's daughter, I can't get over what kind of engineering went into making it happen. The sound alone that the water cannons, or jets, or whatever, make when they're shooting a perfect tube of water 460 feet in the air, is awesome. So grab a beer off a street vendor and find yourself a good spot to watch it. It's definitely worth looking like you don't have anything better to do ;)

The Fremont Street Light Show - 1/2MISS:
Who likes commercials? Not I my good friend, not I. My husband and I don't even watch live tv anymore. We just record EVERYTHING on our DVR so we can fast forward through every single commercial. I love my DVR. But if you like commercials you'll like the Fremont Street Light Show(actually, I think they call it the "Experience"). Ok, it was kind of cool, but it was also one big advertisement for LG. I found myself wanting to upgrade to a brand new LG phone moments after watching it. I gave it a half miss for the actual content of the show, but the 1/2HIT side of it goes to the fact that they just recently upgraded it to LED lights and it's pretty cool to see the "sky" come alive over your head. So go ahead and see it but don't go in with high hopes.

The Deuce - Public Bus HIT & MISS all rolled into one
I have a love-hate relationship with The Deuce. It's the public bus that runs the length of the strip...the WHOLE strip. It's relatively cheap: $7 for a 24 hour pass. $15 for a 3 day pass. It's pretty clean. It's air conditioned(yes please). But it's painfully slow in many ways. First of all, it's always slow going on the strip. The day my husband and I rented a car to see the sights we got caught in traffic for almost an hour.....trying to go 3 blocks. So it's not The Deuce's fault that it takes forever and a day to get anywhere on the strip, but that doesn't change the fact that you could probably walk faster. Also, it's more packed than the subway at 5:15pm on a Friday. You will never ever be confused about where the nearest stop is. Just look for a line of about 30 people standing at a random section of the sidewalk, and you have found it. Sometimes you'll wait as bus after bus pass you by because they're too full to let anyone on. But after saying all of that....you'll find yourself riding it a few times. You'll get on it to go down to Fremont Street. You'll get on it when it's 105 degrees in the shade and walking another inch towards your destination sounds like a death sentence. And at least you won't pay too much to do so.
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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Drink of the Month.....April!

My father-in-law, fondly referred to as The Pops, is a bit of a creature of habit. Now don't get me wrong, he's pretty adventurous when it comes to trying new things, but when he finds something he loves it becomes a permanent part of his life. He loves his instant half-caff coffee(and a certain brand...that I always forget...and never, ever get right when he visits). He loves his Hot Shot(one cup electric kettle kind of thing) for said coffee(if it ever breaks we'll have a riot on our hands because I don't think they make them anymore). And he loves his Pimms. Actually, both he AND his wife love their Pimms. What is Pimms you ask? Well I'm glad you asked because it is the main ingredient in my Drink of the Month.....The Pimms No.1 Cup.
My husband and I bought Pops and his awesome wife(really...she's pretty darn cool) a bottle of Pimms after trying it in St. Lucia........
(at the Almond Morgan Bay resort...I highly recommend it...best food at an all-inclusive I've had yet...wonderful service...St. Lucia is second to none...Look!!!).

We were sitting at the swim-up bar next to a nice British couple and all four of us were trying to decide which delicious concoction we would ask the bartender for next. We had already drank more Pina Coladas, Strawberry Daiquiris, Rum & Cokes, Bourbon and Cokes, Pitons(St. Lucia's hometown beer), Vodka and Cranberries, Screwdrivers(the list goes on) than we'd care to admit and were in the market for something different. The woman leaned over and said "Whenever we can't decide what to drink at home...we reach for the Pimms), and so we did.
Pimms itself, straight out of the bottle, is a mixed drink of sorts. It's a gin based liquor that tastes to me like gin and really yummy cough syrup. Now please don't let that dissuade you. I said REALLY YUMMY cough syrup. So you could drink it on the rocks, OR, you could make the Pimms No.1 Cup....and you should. The Pimms No.1 Cup is like the nesting egg of the alcoholic beverage world. It's a mixed drink inside of a mixed drink inside of my belly. My husband can, and will, consume an entire bottle of Pimms in one night of drinking Pimms No.1 Cups and still be left wanting more. It's rather low in alcohol(25% by vol) and downright addictive. Now there is some discrepancy over this yummy in my tummy concoction. Some like to mix Pimms and lemonade and pour it over ice. Some like to mix Pimms and a lemon-lime soda and pour it over ice(The Pops just informed me that the reason my husband THOUGHT he was supposed to drink it with lemonade is because the British call a 7-up like beverage "lemonade"). Some like to mix Pimms and ginger ale and pour it over ice. The Pops and The Wife always make "diet" versions of their drinks(stay tuned....I might post one of their award winning(I give out the awards in my mind but they still count) drink recipes in an upcoming post...they're great) and this is no exception. They use diet ginger ale and Pimms(and it too is good). You can try any of these, and more(much more...just google and see). I prefer the 7-up....my hubby prefers the lemonade....we're a divided household.
So back to the Pops and The Wife. To close out their side of the story I'll tell you this. We gave The Pops and his wife their first bottle of Pimms and they loved it. Soon thereafter they visited Antigua and they too bonded with a British couple over the Pimms(apparently they still keep in touch...don't underestimate The Power of the Pimms). A few months after giving them their inaugural bottle we met up with them, another bottle of Pimms in hand, expecting it to be a wonderful treat. "Oh!" they would say, "What a treat! We are so delighted that you brought us another bottle of it as we cannot seem to find it in any of the liquor stores in my area. We will drink it slowly to make it last.". Instead they said, "We buy it by the case online". And we couldn't have been more happy for them.

Pimms No.1 Cup....as stated on the back of the Pimms bottle...and no...it's certainly not very accurate..."tall glass" could mean anything....in fact, tonight, just for shits and grins, I think I might make a No.1 Cup in one of our Hofbrau House mugs we brought back from Munich(see "this is my husband" picture on the right side of the page)
Fill a tall glass halfway with ice
Add 1.5 oz of Pimms(The Pops uses a little more than a "shot" and it works great)
Top off with ginger ale or lemon-lime soda
Garnish whit a slice of lemon
.......and don't make any other plans for the evening
..............you'll be spending it with your new best friend.....Mr.(or Mrs. if you like) Pimms
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