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It's Good to be Back!

Have you ever had a time when the cooking muse left you? For the past several weeks, I have been in a slump, lacking inspiration to make interesting meals.  Food has been more what can I put on the table than what can I create.

Well, this past week, Pat and I had a short vacation to Montreal, Quebec City, and Vermont.  In each place, we had really exciting meals at wonderful restaurants.  In Old Montreal, we had lunch at a spot called Olive et Gourmando.  The daily soup that day was parsley root, with a mild parsley flavor and a subtle peppery finish.  It came with slices of artisan sourdough bread, toasted in the panini press and served with sweet butter.

In Quebec City, again is the old quarter, we had a great meal at La Crémaillère, a classic haute cuisine restaurant.  Supper started with the Crepe "Fantasie" du Moment,  a mushroom filled crepe with a light Mornay Sauce, followed by tomato soup with a taste of roasted red pepper.  After that, Pat had a chicken breast stuffed with Brie, and I had Veal Medallions.  As I mentioned in an earlier post on Spring Tastes, on occasion you can taste the terroir of locally grown foods.  The potatoes that came with the veal tasted of the earth in which they were grown.  We chose to skip dessert until later and walk off a few of the calories we had just eaten.

The following night in Quebec City we ate at Cafe Sirocco.   The Hazelnut Crusted  Migneron Cheese with Sautéed Vegetables and Balsamic Dressing was wonderful, as was the grilled lamb chop with rosemary, Greek salad and fried Yukon Gold potatoes.  Pat's "Crème brulée au parfum du jour" for dessert was pineapple and coconut, and tasted like a rich, warm Piña Colada.

The real treat, though was in Vermont, where we dined at Michael's on the Hill in Waterbury Center.  I was honestly not expecting one of the best food experiences I have ever had to be in a small town in Vermont.  Chef Michael Kloeti uses fine local ingredients to create outstanding dishes.  The Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras with Pear Confit, Wildflower Infused Honey & Spiced Walnuts was done to perfection.  To sear foie gras takes a deft touch, a hot pan, and nerves of steel.  It must be cooked quickly at high temperature to get a brown crust, rich in flavor, without burning or melting the liver.  The candied pear confit was a perfect counterpoint to cut the unctuous flavor and texture of the foie gras.

In discussing the menu with the waiter before ordering, he said that customers have told him that the Roasted Pasture Raised Beef Tenderloin with Gratin Potatoes & Demi Glace is the best beef they have tasted.  I ordered it with the Bucher Blue Cheese, and may just have to agree.  For sure, it was one of the finest pieces of filet I have ever had.

On the return trip, we stopped in Toronto, where Pat's sister took us to the Don Valley Brickworks Farmers Market.  While we were there we picked up a baguette from St. Johns Bakery to go with cheeses that we got at Toronto's Cheese Boutique for lunch.  I also brought home some fine saffron from Kashmir, and dried  Chanterelle mushrooms from Forbes Wild Foods.

Tonight, the saffron and chantrelles went into a risotto to be served with a variation of Swiss Pepper Steak made with pork tenderloin.  I don't know if it was the vacation, the inspiration of fine dining for the past week, having new ingredients on hand or some combination, but it sure felt great to be back in the kitchen with energy and the desire to create.  It's good to be back!

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