Fois Gras

Second in a series of Cuban-related posts.

Sol Rio Luna y Mares pool

Sol Rio Luna y Mares pool

I love Cuba.  Rather, I love a particular resort in Cuba.  It’s called Sol Rio Luna y Mares and is located 50 minutes outside of Holguin in the middle of a nature reserve.  The beds are comfy, the swim-up bar is convenient, the beach is spectacular, the staff is friendly, and the dining options are plentiful and good.

Unfortunately, as is true with many all-inclusive resorts, the vacation experience can be somewhat insular in that it’s very easy to avoid exposure to any sort of local culture, history or genuine interaction with those that actually live there.  In fact, until as recently as 1997, Cuba’s communist regime forbade any contact between tourists and Cubans and essentially created enclave resorts, resulting in a situation often referred to as “tourism apartheid.”  This is no longer the case and other incremental changes are being made.  It is still required for a tourist to obtain a discretionary permit in order to stay outside of a resort.  But Cubans may stay at the resorts and enjoy the beaches along with the vacationers.  And now, majority foreign ownership of these resorts is virtually non-existent.  Still, it is possible for the typical Canadian to stay on Cuban soil for a week and never venture beyond the poolside buffet, which is very sad indeed.

And speaking of buffets, take note that many of the Cuban resorts cater predominantly to German, Italian, English, Canadian (and Quebecois), and Spanish tour operators.  This means having to please a diverse range of palates.  On any typical night, one may find antipasti and pasta, stroganoff, sausages and sauerkraut, fish and chips, and of course burgers in addition to the 50 or so other options available.  And if that’s not enough, we are encouraged to enjoy the special à la carte restaurants offering “Cuban”, “Romantic”, “Italian”, or “International” cuisine.  I place all names in quotes since the name rarely offers a hint at what might be served.  

I was delighted to learn that a new French restaurant had opened on the resort since my last visit and it was earning raves on the review sites.  My sweet baboo and I were eager to enjoy the experience and reserved a table for our final night there…sort of a last hurrah.  Well, in short, it was everything the reviewers had described.  We were greeted at the door with a blast of cool air and a glass of sparkling wine and were guided to our table.  Celine Dion’s “Deux” album was spinning on the platter and we got momentarily lost in the menus.  I selected an appetizer of fois gras. 

Fois Gras at le Bistro

fois gras at le Bistro

I like paté but haven’t tried fois gras, ethical implications notwithstanding.  And at the resort, the food may be good but the menu translations tend to be a little more on the creative side.  “Cow Spine” in the Italian restaurant, for example, was really meant to be Bistecca alla Fiorentina, and ended up being flank steak.  Who would have thought?  Anyway, all this to say that I was certainly not guaranteed to receive authentic fois gras.  In the end, it didn’t really matter because it was scrumptuous.  It was a piped rosette of cognac-flavoured liver puree with a sliver of toasted bread and garnished with cornichons, onion, prune, and a port reduction.  Served with a bottomless glass of bubbly, it was heaven on a plate. 

steak au poivre

steak au poivre

For my main, I dove into a top notch piece of steak “au poivre” and some artfully arranged vegetables.  I don’t know where they get their beef but it’s been among the best I’ve ever enjoyed. 

I concluded my bistro meal with a dessert of slightly rude-looking, piped chocolate mousse (I’ve declined to publish the photo), silky and smooth, creamy and rich.  We were sent off into the tropical sunset, riding our chocolate buzz and rubbing our linen-covered bellies, looking for the nearest lounge chair in which to enjoy our final digestif. 

Sol Rio Luna y Mares Resort
Playa Esmeralda, Crta. Guardalavaca, Holguín, Cuba
http://www.solmeliacuba.com/cuba-hotel/sol-riodelunaymares/
 

19

08 2009

Vegetarian Butter Chicken

butterchicken

Once a year, I am inspired to undertake the ordeal of a detoxifying cleansing program.  This usually occurs after a long winter of over-indulgent eating and an extended period of activity no more strenuous than operating a remote control.  Ah…those dark Canadian winters.  But when the days get longer and the pants get tighter (and my favourite shows’ seasons start wrapping up), I get off my butt, throw out any treats I might have hidden in the recesses of the cabinets, and kick-start the Spring with a good cleanse.

 Detox Box

A dear friend, knowing my penchant for over-complicating things and always trying to support my causes, gave me a fantastic detox program called “The Detox Box” by Dr. Mark Hyman.  This is not just a simple cayenne-honey-lemon-water-drink-for-three-days kind of thing.  No ma’am.  This program tackles your toxic issues from multiple angles over a multi-week period.  We’re talking journal-writing.  We’re talking yoga three times a day.  We’re talking dry-brushing and lavender and salt baths and meditation and long walks and saunas and naps and cardio sessions.  And we’re talking food, or rather no food: no meat, no chicken, no dairy, no soy, no sugar, no nightshade vegetables, no starches, nothing processed.  If it comes in a package, it’s out.  Only non-predator fish, grains, many vegetables and some berries.  Oh, and clay.  We can’t forget the bentonite clay.

Now I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV, so I will avoid the quackery of a detoxifying cleanse.  I do believe that the body is essentially self-regulating and that our internal systems are designed to promote a healthy state.  However, I can personally attest to the benefits of the program:  my skin gets clearer, my organs get a holiday, my senses become heightened, my appreciation for simple food grows, and the quality of my nutrition improves tenfold.

And what does this have to do with butterless, chickenless butter chicken?  Well let me tell you, it’s not easy coming up with meal variations using the same few food items for three weeks.  Some Internet research offered up a few options, one of which was the basis for this yummy dish.  It’s completely vegan and while it doesn’t exactly duplicate the traditional Murgh Makhani from the Mugal Empire, it does work at capturing the spirit: creamy and rich, flavourful without being too spicy, and it’s great on rice.

for more info on using dried chickpeas, click here.

For more info on using dried chickpeas, click here.

One of the great things about this kind of dish is the flexibility the recipe allows.  Use any combination of vegetables you might have on hand; my favourite is cauliflower, carrot and pea with chickpeas.  And while almond butter might be the easiest to find, experiment with different nut butters like cashew or hazelnut.  You also don’t need to be on a detox program to enjoy this dish, but I grant you full permission to feel redeemed upon its consumption.

Recipe on following page… Read the rest of this entry →

11

08 2009

Highland Park Diner

Highland Park Diner
Highland Park Diner

My sweet baboo and I went on a little road trip to visit a friend who recently relocated to Rochester, NY.  He lives in a cottagy clapboard home in the community of Swillburg, a cozy neighbourhood of charming, narrow streets and a committed business association.  At one end is the adorable 1940’s Highland Park Diner.  Pre-built off-site and then moved to the site via rail and truck, this has been the original location of the diner for more than sixty years.

Diner counter taking a rare pause between breakfast and lunch

Diner counter taking a rare pause between breakfast and lunch

   After serving tasty fare under the name Dauphin’s Superior Diner, it operated as an off-track betting parlour in the 70’s, but was restored to its former glory in 1986 and has operated as a restaurant ever since.  Crowds have flocked to this spot for its authentic diner fare and quality breakfasts.  The hearty fare has garnered a solid reputation and secured the title Best Diner for three years running in Rochester’s City Newspaper.

Before we hit the road back to Hogtown (from Swillburg…I’m not making this up), we decided to enjoy our favourite meal of the day steeped in Americana.  Greeting us as if we were long-time customers, the waitress directed us to a booth and presented us with their extensive breakfast menu. 

so many choices

so many choices

Flapjacks!  Grits!  Hash!  It was all too much.  Eyes, once again, were larger than the stomach (although it’s doing an excellent job keeping up).  Always a sucker for a good Bennie, I was tempted by the daily special of Eggs Nantucket whereupon the english muffin is replaced by crab cakes.  As delicious as that promised to be, I stuck with the classics and settled for the traditional Eggs Benedict.  The Sweet Baboo dug into an order of corned beef hash and we shared a short stack of blueberry almond pancakes, another daily special.  All this was washed down with swigs of drip coffee from a thick Luby’s coffee mug.

diner_benedict

Now I’ve had a few Bennies in my time, with more than my share of hollandaise.  The Highland Park version really left all others in the henhouse.  Hollandaise is never easy at the best of times.   An emulsion of butter, lemon and yolks, it requires some skill and knowledge to prepare.  The sauce should be smooth and creamy with a rich and buttery flavour and a mild tang of lemon.  I prefer mine a little more lemony than is typical of the sauce and the one prepared at the diner appeared made to order.  Yum-O!

It also never fails to impress me how certain short-order cooks have mastered the art of the firm whites and runny yolks.  It was perfection.  And instead of the traditional english muffin, underneath it all was a slightly denser biscuit, flaky and tender.  It was all so good that I hardly had room for the home-fried potatoes.  Take  note, however, that I was also stuffing my face with forkfuls of  pancake, big as a dinner plate, blue from the berries and filled with crunchy shards of almonds.

Heaven on a plate.  Yes, it was.

Highland Park Diner
960 Clinton Avenue South
Rochester, NY  14620
585-461-5040

03

08 2009

St. Lawrence Market

Bing Cherries

Bing Cherries

I went to the market today with two dear friends and we all left with sacks of produce exploding with possibilities.  If you’ve never been to St. Lawrence Market in Toronto before, you’re missing out on a world of possibilities.  It may not be the biggest market or the best market, but it’s MY market…only an 11-minute walk away.  I’ll tell you more about it shortly.  Until then, you’ll have to munch on my photos of the seasonal produce I schlepped home…

orange beets

orange beets

26

07 2009

Mojito

First in a series of Cuban-related postings.

mojito

I just returned from my fourth visit to Cuba and have mojitos on the mind (for the uninitiated, it’s pronounced “moe-hee-toe”).  Cool and refreshing, balancing sweet and sour with a complement of herbaceous mint, this rum cocktail is perfect to sip while lounging in a hammock, rocking gently with the tropical breeze or to quench the thirst during a night of salsa. 

Some say the name was inspired by the lime-based seasoning, mojo, used in Cuban dishes.  Others believe that the name is a diminutive of “wet” in Spanish.  Regardless, the mojito was made legendary at the famous La Bodeguita del Medio, a tiny restaurant in Havana, and was also known as a second-favourite tipple of Hemingway’s.  I had my first sip of the cocktail at a Holguin resort in 2003; the gritty sugar crunched between my teeth and the economy rum was a bit harsh, and boy was it perfect.

The mojito is traditionally made with lime, mint, sugar, sparkling water and a good dose of Havana Club 3-year old white rum.  Indiscriminating tastes can now find any number of bastardized versions from mango to strawberry.  While perhaps delectable-sounding, they are as close to an authentic mojito as a saketini is to a martini.  And if you’ve never tried Havana Club, you’re really missing out on something.  Their Anejo Blanco rum is made with the best dark molasses from Cuban sugar cane and aged in oak barrels, giving it a fresh fruity flavour.  The classic 7-year rum is world famous and noted for its butterscotch and honeycomb nose, opening up to apple crumble with the addition of water.  It is initially very sweet but quickly moves to dry and woody.  It’s the perfect sipping tipple and heaven’s please only enjoy it on its own. 

Snobbery aside, here’s a simple recipe for the near-perfect mojito, fairly loyal to the version sanctioned by the International Bar Association:

Continue for recipe…

Read the rest of this entry →

20

07 2009