Category: Miscellaneous

Looking forward instead of behind.

I see a lot of people talking about posting blog posts about their 2015 year. While I had an amazing 2015, I don’t think I could write anything that would explain how perfect my 2015 was. Between our wedding, my near death, my graduation and our purchasing the farm, that alone would have taken up a multitude of pages on the world-wide inter webs and there’s no way I could begin to have done that year justice.

Instead, I’ve decided to post about  what’s to come in Mandy da Costa’s life… Yeah, I’ve even changed my name, being old-fashioned, I always wanted to take my husband’s name. Hasn’t changed much, mind you. I’m still keeping Mandy DeGeit for my writing though, no worries as this website won’t change. So much will change though, and I think 2016 will definitely give 2015 a run for it’s money.

The Dandy Little Farm: So Dan and I have bought a farm.  We’re just outside of Amherst, Nova Scotia, on 42 acres, with a mature apple orchard. We have over 150 trees, with quite possibly 10 different varieties of apples. The first thing that came to mind was cider.  Dan wants to raise sheep for meat and I want to have a flock of ducks for meat and eggs. I will work on agriculture as well, both for something to sell at the farmers’ markets and enough greenery to sustain Dan and I through the year. We have talked about building a commercial kitchen, converting the old farmhouse into a bed and breakfast and even building an abattoir. There’s so much possibility for our new homestead.

I’m heading out to the farm in March-ish… I say “ish” as it totally depends on the weather. Dan will continue working for a bit before coming out full-time, we need a tractor and those things are pricey.

Between the cider, sheep, ducks and vegetable garden, I see a lot of work ahead, but I think what we reap, in both food and experience, will be amazing.

We’ve already set up the Facebook page and the Dandy Little website, so you can follow along with our foray into farming.

The Dandy Little Family: We’re getting a puppy in April. We’ve put a deposit down for a female German Shepherd puppy from Narnia Kennels in Fredricton, NB. She’s going to be part companion, part working dog for the farm. I’m excited. I’ve been reading all the books on training, as I will be the one working with her everyday. I keep checking the website to see if there’s news of her conception yet, but still nothing. They’re waiting for her mother to go into heat. We’ve decided to name her Fraulien Speck von Dandy Little aka Miss Bacon, but just Speck for short. I’m excited for April. We’ve already started buying stuff for her.

Mandy the Author: I’ve slacked on writing, being in school put a damper on my doing anything not cooking related, but now I’m back. I have a plan to finish my zombie novel, YAMMAGEDDON! the yam novella, finish my short story collection and start a recipe book. I’m sure there will be random short stories written as well.

Mandy the Chef: Sometimes I wonder why I went to culinary school, as it seems my life has taken an entirely different route… but cooking will always be a skill set that I can use. Once the commercial kitchen is built, the opportunities will be endless. For now, Mandy the Chef will focus on being Mandy the Cider BrewMaster. I do have a page set up for The Dandy Little Chef on FB if you want to see what I’ve been making.

That’s about all I have planned so far. Seems like a lot, but if anyone can maintain this many hats, it’s me. I’m excited for what’s to come in the new year, I hope and wish everyone else a wonderful 2016.

I Do… The Wedding Cake – Layer #1

I’m getting married… In exactly 29 days. I’m not sure when I decided to bake my own wedding cake, but I know it was a good idea at the time. With the deadline quickly approaching, maybe I don’t exactly feel the same now. I’ll get it done, I have to, and it will be amazing. I hope it looks amazing when I’m done. I could always blame the “cake place”, had I not already told everyone that I was going to make my own cake, but it’s far too late for that.

This is actually the second, first layer. I tried to make a lemon one, but then decided I wanted lime for the top and lemon for the second layer, so I rebaked it. The second layer is actually in the oven now as I’m typing this, I figured I wouldn’t do two blog posts, as it’s the same recipe, I just traded up the lime for lemon.

I have a plan. Whether it’s good or not, I have one. See, we’re also getting married 1300 kms away from where I live, so I have to deal with transporting the cake. I decided to freeze the layers and prepare the roses and other decorations here, then bring everything to the Maritimes. I’ll crumb coat the layers and apply the fondant there, a few days before the wedding, then rebox the cakes. The day of the wedding I’ll assemble it at the reception hall. I’ve watched far too many shows where the centrepiece or cake ends up on the floor due to poor architecture/stabilization and I’m not ready for that at all.

So with a plan in hand, I’ve decided to blog about the makings of a wedding cake, and you’re currently reading post 1 (and technically post 2). I hope you enjoy my struggle, I’m sure they are going to come soon enough…

*Struggle #1 has already happened… i’ve never baked with the 3″ pans… They take a lot more batter and a lot longer to cook. I think I know what I’m doing now, but I’ve only attempted a 6″ diameter pan… (There’s an 8″ in the oven right now.) I think I have the time down and I know what I’m looking for, I also bought a heating core for the two biggest layers. Hopefully I won’t have to rebake those. I’m running out of time…

Here’s the recipe I used for the top (and second) layer.

Lemon (or Lime) Cake

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340g butter
400g sugar
Zest of 2 lemons (or 2 limes)
4 eggs
400g cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
Juice of 2 lemons (or limes) plus water to make up 1.5 cups of liquid

1 – Prepare pan, spray with nonstick cooking spray and line bottom with a piece of parchment.

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2 – Zest and juice citrus and set aside.

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3 – With a hand mixer or small stand mixer, cream butter, sugar and lemon zest.

IMG_48794 – Add eggs one at a time (and vanilla, if desired), beating only until incorporated.

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5 – Sift dry ingredients together and add alternately with liquid to the sugar mixture, beating on low speed until batter is smooth and scraping down sides at least once.

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6 – Divide equally between two or three greased and lined 8” round cake pans
(or 1-3″ deep, 6″ round cake pan and some muffin tins).

IMG_4885IMG_48877 – Bake at 350F for about 20 minutes (for the cupcakes) 55-60+ for the cake
or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. (I went with the toothpick trick.)

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So that’s that. Layer one (and two) complete. 😀
I’ll keep posting as I get things done. Tonight I’m going to bang out some gumpaste roses, there will be a post coming soon for those.

29 days and counting…

Thanks for reading.
Mandy D.

Happy Sous-Vide To Me!

Well that exciting. I just ordered a Sansaire Sous Vide machine as a belated bday gift from the boy. 🙂 He was going to get me a cake airbrush, but then I figured why not get something I’ll use more often. There’s not much we don’t have for the kitchen so I opted for something I’ve been wanting.

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For the readers who aren’t really sure what sous vide is, it’s french for under vacuum. You seal the food item into an airtight bag and place it in a temperature controlled water bath, low and slow. The machine maintains the temperature, which results in perfectly cooked food.

When you take it out of the bag, the food might not be a super appealing colour as you haven’t had any of the Maillard reaction (the browning of the sugars in meat), yet… Just pop it in a really hot pan and sear up some colour.

I’m so pumped for perfect steak! You’ll never get it wrong with one of these. We like our steaks rare, so we’d set the machine to 140°F and pop the bagged steaks in the water. (Add some oil, thyme, salt and pepper to the bag for flavour too.) They won’t cook more than than what you set the temp to. I can finish them in the grill pan and voila, maybe I won’t miss having a bbq as much. It’s not that I don’t want a BBQ, I can’t have one. There’s a law in Ontario that forbids BBQs on balconies in apartment buildings. And while I love to live life on the edge at times, not enough to entertain the idea of bringing the BBQ inside.

It’s not just for steak either, you can do pretty much anything in one of these. Pork, eggs, veggies, fruit… A teacher of mine made Hollandaise sauce and another made ice cream (obviously you have to freeze it after, but still, saves a lot of work…) meats either.

It’s all new to me, which I think is awesome. After this, I’m going to tackle candy making. 😀 Somehow I think super heated sugar is WAY more dangerous than my controlled water bath.

I’ll post a review on the Sansaire, bear in mind I’ve rarely used these machines, so I won’t really be able to compare it to anything. I can however tell you how a beginner can interact with the machine. Lol!

Well with a sous-vide machine and my trusty cast iron grill pan, I think I foresee a large number of steaks in my future.

MDG

Practical Class 2015: Breads, and Bruises.

I just finished a kick ass practical class. Today wasn’t a special practical class, actually that was last week. My hey-day. I got to be Chef of the Day. This is where I choose the menu, and get to run the kitchen and expedite on line. Even though it was all that awesome, for some reason, last week still wasn’t as good as today was.

Today, and yesterday for our 3 hour mise class, I was designated “Bread”. (Mise en place is a culinary term that means “to put everything in it’s place”. It pretty much just means prep day.) I was given two recipes and some free reign. I decided to challenge myself, since I’m lacking stress in my life apparently…

I made 6 types of bread for the bread basket. Baguette, cuban rolls, sesame and poppy seed crackers, and three types of biscuit (roasted garlic and herb, chipotle pepper and green onion, and kalamata olive, parmesan and fresh oregano.

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It was like a bread buffet in there.

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On the down side, I also nearly cut off my fingertip while cutting meat, burned the inside of my thumb pretty back on a sheet pan, due to a searing hot sheet pan and nearly fractured my pelvic bone with the unplanned smashing of a badly-placed sheet pan corner. *(Misjudged how far I was from the counter and hit the counter-mount can opener… Walking fail.)

I never had time to stop, so my finger didn’t have time to rest. I changed the bandages and finger cots four times during service but had to spend the after-service meeting with my hand in the air trying to staunch the blood flow. Chef kept asking me if I had to go to the bathroom… Har har. 😀

I’m super impressed with how my breads turned out. It makes me want to start baking more at home, and once I catch up on the homework, I will. I promised some friends that I would do a blog post for them about making pancakes. I had the bright idea that maybe I could do a video one, but then again maybe not… I’m not really super handy when it comes to videos, but I’ll try. 😀 Worse off, it’ll be another reading one like this one.

So that’s all for me. I’ll post a photo tomorrow of the bruise on my hip. I have to clean out the iPhone as there’s no more room. #foodiephotoproblems101.

Have a good night and go eat some bread. 😉

MDG

RestauRanting: Allium, Ottawa, Ontario

(*This review is a lot more in-depth than others I’ve posted, as it was done for a school project.)
AlliumLogo
 http://www.alliumrestaurant.ca

Allium restaurant is located at 87 Holland Street, a half block north of Wellington Street. Open since 2004, Allium’s website describes the restaurant as a “modern bistro-style restaurant”, and I think this is a very fitting description. Allium offers both lunch and dinner menus and the ever-popular Monday night tapas menu. The service style is tableside service. The menu is changed the first Thursday of every month, offering new and exciting dishes to those who choose to frequent the restaurant more than once.

We made last minute reservations for Monday, October 20th 2014 at 8pm. Around noon that day, I used the online reservation to book a table for two. There was still space available, I assume due to the fact that we were having a later dinner as opposed to a regular time. We arrived a little earlier than 8pm, but we didn’t have to wait for our table.

The hostess greeted us promptly, confirmed our reservation and took my jacket, hanging it in the nearby closet. She lead us to our seats, left us with menus and the wine list and told us our server would be with us shortly. As Dan looked at the wine list, I took this time to check out the table and cleanliness of the surrounding area. The table itself was not wobbly and it was clean. We were seated beside a window, I was impressed to see the window was streak and fingerprint free and the window ledge was well dusted. There were no unnecessary items on the table aside from a small tealight in its holder.

There was no marketing in the restaurant, on the tables or walls. There were paintings along the walls with price tags below them, I’m assuming they were from a local painter. (Also, they weren’t cheap.) I think the lack of marketing is good for this restaurant as they are maintaining the “higher-end” feel of it.

Our server came over and asked us if we wanted regular or sparkling water, we chose the regular water and she filled our glasses. She didn’t ask if we wanted drinks, but Dan was still looking at the wine list, so she may have assumed we hadn’t made up our mind. I was surprised that she didn’t offer any help in selecting wines, she just filled our water glasses and said she’d be back.

Dan and I decided on the DonaMatilde, a 2009 bottle of red wine from the Duoro region of Portugal, after making a few food decisions. It was a Monday night, so Allium was only serving from their tapas (small plates) menu, which was one of the reasons we chose this specific restaurant. The server went off to get the wine and we worked on finalizing our menu selections.

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When she returned with the wine, she held the bottle with the label facing Dan and pointed out the name, the year and where it was from. She opened the wine, again with the label facing out, and did not set the bottle down on the table. She tucked the foil into her pocket and set the cork on the table in front of Dan before pouring a small amount in his glass for him to taste. He approved of the wine and she proceeded to fill both our glasses.

The service wasn’t overly bad, but nothing really stood out either. She didn’t upsell us on any of the food, nor did she even suggest a certain dish or anything. She didn’t help with our wine selection either. Maybe she assumed we were wine connoisseurs or something, but I personally think it’s nice when they offer some kind of assistance to the food and wine selections, even just mentioning their favourite dish or something of the sort.

The first two dishes we decided on was the fresh bread with local goat cheese, balsamic, oil and cheese and the beef tartare with Dijon, truffles, chives, pickles, hot sauce and smoked corn salad.

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At first I was annoyed that we had to pay for the bread, normally that’s included in the meal, but I didn’t say anything to anyone. I assumed it was because it was a tapas night. However, when the bread showed up, I was very impressed. Not in the bread itself, that was just white sliced baguette, but the amount of creamy goat cheese that accompanied it. The balsamic vinegar drizzled over the cheese was one of the best balsamics I have tried so far, very sweet and not at all tangy.

The beef tartare is one of my favourite dishes, and this one did not disappoint. The smoked corn salad was a wonderful addition to the tender pieces of meat. While I do appreciate larger chunks of beef in my tartare, this beef in this one was cut quite small. The truffle flavour was incorporated into the hot sauce, giving a richness to the spice and vinegar. One complaint was that there wasn’t enough crustinis to finish the tartare. However, when we asked for more crustinis, she brought us another little bowlful immediately so we could finish the dish.

Our next choice was a duo of duck dishes. We chose the crispy duck confit wontons with hoisin, spicy honey and braised spicy cauliflower as well as the duck rillette and foie gras terrine with pickled beets, pistachio aioli, crisps, chervil and balsamic.

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Both of these dishes were amazing. The crispy wontons were spicy, sweet and crispy and paired very well with the well-seasoned cauliflower florets. I wish they had asked us if we wanted to add another wonton though, as there were only 3 on the plate and Dan and I were sharing everything. This would have been an excellent upsell option for the server as well. The terrine was fantastic as well. The foie gras was melt-in-mouth creamy and the duck rillettes surrounding it added to the delectable flavour. My one complaint about this dish was the repetition of the truffle flavour. I’m not sure what it was in, quite possible the terrine, but it was too similar to the beef tartare. (It was also not mentioned on the menu, which I found surprising.)

Another note on service, while it wasn’t very busy in there, I thought our empty plates stayed on the table far too long. When we first looked at the menu, she mentioned only ordering two plates at a time, as we were at a smaller table. With that information, you would think the servers would have worked at keeping the empty plates out of the way. As we waited for her to clear the plates, Dan mentioned that there were three servers chatting it up at the bar. I couldn’t see them from where I was sitting as I was in the corner. They talked for quite sometime, which was quite annoying, as Dan and I were done with our food and we were waiting to order something else.

Instead of dessert, Dan and I opted for a cheese plate. I’m not exactly sure what the three cheeses were, but it was paired with an onion and apple compote, pear and apple slices and a spicy honey.

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The cheese plate was okay, but it definitely lacked in colour. The cheese plate was monochromatic with lots of yellow and brown shades. The fact that it was served on a wood board didn’t help either. The compote was not bad, but I would have preferred something sweeter.

When we finished dinner, we were brought the bill and our table was cleared. There wasn’t a lot of chatting going on between the servers and the few guests that were left, I assumed they just wanted to get out of there as it was nearing 10pm. The restaurant concept was good, I really like the tapas or small plates idea as it let’s you sample a number of dishes as opposed to just one.

Dan and I made our way to the bathrooms, which were located downstairs on the lower level. (On that note, I’m not sure what they would do if they had to deal with someone in a wheelchair.) On the way down, I asked him to take a look at the men’s and I would do my check of the women’s.

It was a single stall, dark tiles on the wall and floor and dim lighting. I ran a finger on the shelving unit in the bathroom and noticed it needed dusting. The lighting however, allowed this to go unnoticed. The wastebasket was overflowing with paper towels and probably should have been changed at least once during the evening. Other than that, it was alright, as far as bathrooms go. It served its purpose and I could wash and dry my hands, although my paper towel landed on the ground as well, due to the overfill of the garbage. Dan’s experience in the men’s was nearly identical, aside from the fact he didn’t dust check the shelving unit. He also had an overflowing garbage and a very dimly lit bathroom.

As for things I would change or improve, I would recommend the servers get to know some favourites, for both wines and dishes. This small gesture would make for a friendlier overall service. I would also have bread available at no cost, but without the goat cheese. This would give the servers an additional chance to upsell at the table. They should also refrain from chatting in a group at the bar and focus on the customers in the restaurant. In conclusion, aside from the few small slips in service and a not-so-perfect bathroom, I would definitely return to Allium as well as recommend this restaurant to others.

Mandy

RestauRanting: The Port Pub, Port Williams, NS

We had heard about it from one of the boys, a gastropub somewhere near Wolfville. Yesterday, in the middle of a snowstorm, we decided to take the rental car (which does not have snow tires…) and run some errands. I’m not sure what lead us to Port Williams, but I noticed a sign mentioning “gastropub” as we were heading down the  main road. After a quick u-turn, we followed the sign and made our way down the road to the building set on the Cornwallis riverbank. The Port Pub is in a great location that I think would be amazing in the summer.

  Photos of The Port, Port Williams
(This photo of The Port is courtesy of TripAdvisor)

As we pulled into the parking lot, I was happy to see that it was in the same building as a micro brewery. Unfortunately, The Sea Level Brewing company was closed on Sundays, but the pub did have their beer available. We started our lunch with a tasting flight of beer.

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Usually when I have a flight, there’s one or two beers I find to be too hoppy for my likes. The flight consisted of five different types of beer, (from the far left going clockwise), The Rojo Mojo Red Ale, the Planter’s Pale Ale, the Blue Heron Extra Special Bitter, the Port In The Storm Porter and the High Street Wee Heavy Scotch Ale. My favourites were the Scotch Ale and the Bitter.

The menu had a lot of variety, which kept us deciding through most of our flight, but we finally decided on sharing a bunch of the appetizers.

We started with the lobster poutine. There were big chunks of lobster, cheese curds and a delicious lobster cream sauce served on crispy french fries. The sauce and cheese was evenly distributed throughout the poutine, which was very important as one of my biggest pet peeves when eating poutine is to end up with just fries at the bottom. I could’ve eaten the entire bowl to myself, but I was reserved enough to eat slowly and share half with the fiancé.

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For our second “course”, we ordered the chowder. A thick, chunky soup loaded with different seafood and a creamy base was what came to the table. Once again, it was amazing. The seasonings in the creamy broth were bang on and complemented the big chunks of seafood really well. My favourite spoonfuls were the ones with the huge bites of scallop in them.

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Finally, we ended the meal with crab cakes. The accompanying lemon dill sauce was excellent as were the crab cakes. My only complaint was that there was only two of them. (I could’ve done without the salad, which was good, but still just a salad.) It was an appetizer portion, therefore the two crab cakes make sense.

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We are already planning to make a second trip to the pub this week, as there was a lobster club I wanted to try, but I just couldn’t make room.

Overall, I would highly recommend this gastropub to anyone in the Wolfville/Port Williams area.

Mandy

RestauRanting: Play Food & Wine, Ottawa, Ontario

Play Food & Wine is amazing and still remains one of my favourite restaurants in Ottawa (and everywhere else so far). Sure I’m a little biased since my best friend used to work in the kitchen here, but even after her departure, the food and service continue to be top notch.

I love their lunch menu, (which is the same as their dinner menu) but they offer 2 for $22 on their dishes. Play offers small plates and a constantly changing menu, based on what’s in season. What “small plates” means is a normal dinner would be 2 or 3 selections from the menu. I do find that 2 plates with a drink or two is quite substantial however. I appreciate the small format, cause I like variety. 😀 I’m a fan of trying more than one thing from the menu and with the small plates, it makes it possible without overeating.

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On the last trip to Play, Dan (the fiancé) and I brought my best friend Dickie, who had never been to Play before. We went for lunch, and each ended up with two selections from the menu. The boy chose a great bottle of wine, but again, I don’t remember the name. *(This is why he’s in charge of the wine selections.) I was saddened to see that my go-to usual wasn’t on the menu, the steak tartare. I’m hoping they do bring it back, but I was just as satisfied with my other choices.

I started out with the scallops and I’m happy that I did. These were the highlight of the meal, well that’s what I thought. Dickie chose the scallops as well and he was also greatly impressed by them. I’m pretty sure we all licked our plates clean at the end.

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Dan started with the Beef Laab. It was like a spicy beef lettuce wrapped taco. They were really good, but made quite the mess. It was suggested to eat with our hands, which we did, but it was very drippy and messy. Even still, the mess didn’t detract from the awesome flavour packed into these totally tasty taco-like things.

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The Arctic Char was my next selection. This was awesome. The broth was rich in flavour and the skin of the fish was super crispy. While I’m not a potato girl, I really enjoyed these potatoes, (most likely cause they were in that amazing broth).

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Dan chose the Pork Belly. While I normally love pork belly, this dish didn’t seem to have the same “WOW!” factor the other dishes did. I’d like to say that it was missing something, I thought maybe salt, but I doubt it would be that simple. Dan and I both agreed that it was our least favourite out of the four selections. This didn’t stop us from cleaning this plate though. Even a mediocre dish at Play is still really awesome.

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When we were done lunch, the waitress came by with the dessert menu.

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While I wanted to say no, since my waistline DOES NOT NEED more fat, there always seems to be room for creme brulee. I asked Dan if he’d consider sharing one with me and when he said yes, I put in the order for the Autumn Spiced Brulee, which was absolutely divine.

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All in all, it was another amazing outing with great food and excellent service.  Play continues to impress me on all levels of food and hospitality and it continues to be one of my top rated restaurants.

I would fully recommend this restaurant if you are ever in the Ottawa area. (Let me know if you decide to go, I’ll join you for sure.) 😉

Chef-In-Training Mandy