Sweet Lee's Rustic Bakery at the Loyola Craft Fair

Sweet Lee's Rustic Bakery Cherry Square
Do you want to eat this dessert? It and other sweet and savoury treats from Sweet Lee's Rustic Bakery will be available for purchase this Saturday and Sunday at Concordia University's Loyola Craft Fair.
The fair will feature crafts from local artisans in addition to the affordable snacks from Sweet Lee's Bakery. If you got excited about Sweet Lee's baked goods being available for purchase at Café Saint-Henri, you'll be even more excited to see a wider selection of her sweets at the craft fair. PLUS you'll get to meet the woman behind the addictive (but all natural) goods. There is no crack in her chocolate-mint cookies, but when you can't stop eating them you start to wonder...
Sweet Lee's Rustic Bakery at the Loyola Craft Fair
Seems as though this baker is nurturing quite a few Montrealer's sweet tooths (sweet teeth?) with her carrot cake, fruit crumbles, cheesecakes, gourmet cookies and slightly healthier sundried tomato, goat cheese and cheddar savoury scones, muffins, and cheesecakes.
Sweet Lee's Rustic Bakery Savoury Scones
You can also grab a coffee or tea to dilute the sugar in your system while you peruse the other un-baked (but also exciting) crafts at the fair.

Loyola Craft Fair
Where: Loyola Campus (Concordia University), 4455 West Broadway
When: Jan. 29th-30th, Saturday 10am-5:30pm, Sunday 10am-2pm

Resilient Food Systems: Interview with Jon Steinman of "Deconstructing Dinner"

One of my favourite food journalists, Jon Steinman, is in town this week to give a talk at McGill on Resilient Food Systems. He was kind enough to do a live phone interview with me on CKUT 90.3FM on the Friday Morning After Show. You can download the interview here.

Jon will be on McGill campus at the Leacock Building, room 26, on Monday, January 31st at 6pm. Following his speech the McGill Food Systems Project will unveil their sustainability plan with McGill Food and Dining. The meal at the event will be offered by McGill chefs and will feature local grains and other sustainable products. The sustainability plan is still in draft form (and not all residence food is considered sustainable...yet) so now is the chance to understand where the organization stands now as well as how to become involved within the campus and within the greater community. All are welcome.

J Korean

J Korean
194 Duckworth Street
St. John's, NL
8 out of 10


Korean cuisine and I get along. Ever since I lived in Koreatown in Toronto I've made a habit of scouring Korean menus and church bazaars in search of home-made, high-quality, spicy marinated vegetables and meat. Meals in even the cheapest and most humble Korean restaurants are served with a side of steamed rice, a true comfort even when your meal is a soup.

Korean food generally breaks down into beef (or seafood and sometimes pork or tofu) in the following forms: Grilled, soups, stews, and noodles. Kimchi and assorted banchan (side dishes - mostly pickled or marinated vegetables) are served on the side and are brought at the beginning of the meal, usually with a clear broth miso soup.
House-made kimchi (fermented cabbage, below) and marinated root vegetable (sweeter than a potato) of some kind in a sticky sweet sesame sauce
Most places re-fill them for free, like an empty water glass). Korean BBQ is hugely popular in Canada's major cities, and the only reason J Korean in St. John's hasn't adopted the concept of setting a DIY-barbecue down on every table that orders grilled meat (or building one into the table itself) is because of fire codes in old downtown heritage buildings.

And the city is better off for it, because give a Newfoundlander a chance and he'll char his $25 marinated galbi beef ribs to a crisp, and that's a sin.
St. John's Galbi Jeonsik: Barbecued marinated beef short ribs on hot plate with special sauce, lettuce, and rice

For the Korean food novitiate start with the bulgogi (if you like beef), the pork bone soup if you like spicy, and Haemulpajeon korean-style pancake if you like seafood, and the bibimbap if you're vegetarian (go with the kimchi jigae vegetable version if you're vegan). I vote for the bulgogi over the obviously delicious marinated ribs simply because of the price. The bulgogi is $8 less than the ribs ($27.50, though somehow marked down to $16 at lunch, while the bulgogi only drops $4), so if you don't like the special sauce that comes with it, you'll be less disappointed. If you like sweet and spicy, however, you'll love the sauce. It basically makes the dish. The bulgogi is also BBQ-ed marinated meat, but it's cut up finer and served with green peppers and onions on a very heavy hot plate that continues to cook the items after they're placed on it. The trick here is to take some (or all, if you like) of your rice and put it on the hot plate. the rice then browns and gets a crisp crust. In Korean food (and Asian in general) texture is very important, so you just added an extra texture to your otherwise chewy and soft meal. You might be staring at your plain lettuce leaves and wondering if the kitchen forgot the salad dressing, but no, just pour the sauce on top of the beef, mix it up, and wrap the lettuce around pieces of the beef to create little parcels that you can pop in your mouth. 

The bibimbap ($15.50) was the best thing I ate here, all thanks to the sauce. It wasn't too spicy but had real depth and a balance of sweet and almost verging on smoky (and tasted almost meaty). You can see the bottle of rooster sauce in the kitchen (Sriracha hot sauce - the kind in the big plastic bottle that's red with a green tip at the top) but the sauce tasted much fresher than that. The rice-based dish comes in a stone bowl (get the stone bowl version, not the stone-less version - it's just more fun this way and you'll end up with some crusty rice without even trying), and is topped with marinated vegetables including carrots and cucumbers, and either topped with meat and then a fried egg, or just the egg. The egg will be soft and you can break it over the vegetables and rice and stir it around to let the stone bowl cook it into the dish, kind of like a do-it-yourself fried rice but with a much, much, much better sauce. The chicken version didn't really add much to the dish, as it had no real flavour, but in Korea bibimbap is known as a healthy, even diet meal. That's all relative to the huge amount of beef, though.

Other lighter options are the soups. Soup is served with most meals, but a meal of soup is a satisfying specialty. Most are spicy broths laced with crushed chili powder or Sriracha sauce (often you'll have a bottle on the table to add your own, but not here as plastic definitelry does not match the fine-dining decor). Above, julienned vegetables hide a mountain of homemade udon noodles (thick wheat-flour noodles) and are topped with mussels, squid pieces, and shrimp. Squid is a very common Korean seafood choice (you won't find a whole lot of traditional salmon or white fish) and they're also very affordable (as are the mussels). The broth was perfectly warmed but not boiling, so the noodles never got to the mushy, over-cooked stage. The noodles themselves were a good texture, but I couldn't really taste them in the spicy soup. Next time I'll try them stir-fried. The broth here was just fine but just couldn't be as intense as the sauce for the meat dishes and bibimbap because the broth dilutes it. Maybe you should request some sauce on the side for your rice. It's not traditional Korean to eat it that way, but that's what my tastebuds wanted.

The vegan option I gave above of kimchi jigae ($15.50) is a large soup served in a traditional silver bowl of broth flavoured by the pickled, fermented cabbage (the flavouring seeps into the soup and the cabbage becomes very mild), soft cubes of tofu, and mixed vegetables. I originally tried the version that was just a bean paste broth (Doenjang Jigae - $15.50), but it was pretty bland. So I poured in some of the kimchi from the banchan (don't tell...) and suddenly there was flavour.
 So what do you do if you don't like spice? Get out of a Korean restaurant!

No, just stick to the sesame-oil based dishes like the seafood pancake and the japchae ($14.50). Japchae is ridiculously easy to make. You take potato starch noodles (or sweet potato or yam noodles - perfect for those with wheat and gluten problems), warm them in hot water with some dried mushrooms (not even boil) until they're translucent (the noodles, not the mushrooms), add some carrots, onion, green onions, spinach and sesame seeds and toss it all with a slightly salty, sweet and savoury sauce of soy, sesame oil, sugar, and maybe some pepper. The trick is the get the ratio of salty, sweet, and savoury in the sauce correct. You can also make it better by toasting the sesame seeds and using a toasted sesame oil. It also needs to be made fresh so that the noodles don't harden or get soggy and cover the flavour of the sauce. So japchae for $14.50 is a bit overpriced unless you get it with beef. That will also add some more "savoury" to the dish, but it's often vegetarian for a "light" lunch ("light" meaning simple, quick, and easy to digest, not "low-fat" - there's a WHOLE lot of delicious sesame oil in there).
Korean sushi isn't exactly like Japanese sushi (or what we think of as "Japanese" maki rolls, but are really North American inventions, ie the California Roll). It's not better or worse, just different. Sushi from the Korean grocery store near my Koreatown apartment in Toronto consisted of pickled vegetables (spinach and carrots and cucumber, not always the standard ones your'd find in Japanese sushi) combined with sweet egg, so that all the rolls were huge and sesame-flavoured and sweet before you even thought of adding soy sauce. They were also dirt cheap because there was no meat in them. At J Korean there are some standard North American-type rolls, the kinds of rolls you'll find at Sun Sushi, but there are some other options. And that's great because variety is the spice of life. In fact, spice is the main difference. Well, that and beef. The J.K.K. Gimbab ("gimbab" - or "gimbap" - means Korean sushi) contains vegetables and beef and most of the other rolls are served spicy, from the kimchi option to the salmon option. You will also find standard volcano, dynamite, spider, and dragon rolls of deep-fried shrimp, avocado, cucumber, and fish eggs ($15.50). You can splurge on the lobster gimbab ($19.50) that's basically the same but with breaded, fried lobster instead of shrimp. So the rolls are pretty expensive, though at lunch they're about on par with Sun Sushi.
So this is a special occasion place, or a nice lunch place. A big bowl of soup will get you through the rest of the afternoon, and a plate of ribs or beef with rice and side dishes will warm you up on a cold evening. The endorphins (and romantic decor) from the chilies make it the perfect place for a date as long as you don't have a runny nose, and that heavenly special sauce on the bibimbap will bring you back when you want a healthy meal served in a giant stone bowl and all the marinated and sweet pickled side dishes you want. The perfect ending is the traditional tea with pine nuts and dates, served with ginseng candies (soft, miraculously savoury-sweet bites) and crisp, airy rice cookies that start to become chewy once they hit the warm tea...

Congratulations, St. John's. Another restaurant winner.

J Korean
Where: 194 Duckworth Street
St. John's, NL
When: Mon-Fri noon-10:30pm, Sat-Sun 3pm-10pm
How Much: $20 at lunch, $35-$60 including an appetizer, main, tax and tip at dinner

Montreal Highlights Festival en Lumière: Interview with Spokesperson Jean-Francois Demers

From Feb. 17-27 Festival en Lumière (the Montreal Highlights Festival) takes over the city. From workshops, to samples, to lunches, brunches, happy hours, dinners, and culinary tours, there's something for everyone and every budget.

You can download the interview I did with M. Demers on CKUT 90.3FM here, and see below for his recommendations for the "best of the fest". For my recommendations, check Midnight Poutine starting January 24th.

Complexe Desjardins Festival of Quebec Cheeses (Free! Plus tasting coupons for wine – optional): Cheese from Quebec and wines from the wine-makers you will find at the Festival’s Finest Tables Dinners at the city’s top restaurants. A very affordable way to try the best wines of the festival.

Jean-Talon Products of Charlevoix workshops (free, with samples) – Jean-Talon Salle Mandoline (upstairs)

Happy Hour at L’Accords Restaurant

Dinner at La Fabrique

Dinner at Laloux

Lunch at Le Restaurant de L’Institut

Brunch sponsored by Lebanese restaurant, Zawedah

$13 multi-course lunches at Byblos, Rumi, or Mogador

And, M. Demers’ take on the city’s best cannoli:
Cafe International (but do they serve Alati-Caserta’s cannoli??)

Montreal "Raw" Potluck

Montreal's "Raw" Foodist Potluck was the first thing I did when I got back to Montreal from Newfoundland. This wasn't some kind of New Year's Resolution to eat better or meet new, interesting people, but it just seemed like a good opportunity to learn more about "raw" food. I learned a little, but mostly I was overwhelmed by salads. I was expecting lots of heavy, interesting, nut-based dehydrated desserts that resembled cooked pastas and lasagnas, but for the most part the wide array of colourful vegetables were not dressed up as something they weren't (my biggest complaint with vegetarian restaurants and vegetarian food in general).

The pictures speak for themselves:
Nut-Paté Sushi with beets, carrots, and sprouts

The potluck took place at the Crudessence loft, an absolutely gorgeous kitchen and living room area with warm, wood decor and floor-to-ceiling glass windows where Crudessence teaches its raw food cooking classes. The colours of the food and the view from the window was the same feeling of visual rapture as walking into an impressionist art gallery.
Fruit Salad with Nut Milk, Honeydew melons, and green smoothie with banana

The fruit salads were served with dinner, while the "true desserts" (raw cakes and treats) were served after the meal. I don't think this corresponds with the raw food concept that fruit shouldn't be eaten with the meal. In fact they handed up a juicing guide at the even when you entered the room that explained that juicing is sometimes better than blending because the nutrients are much more easily absorbed and your digestion isn't slowed down by the fibre in the blended vegetables or fruit. Mostly it was referring to vegetable juices, though, as the sugar content of fruit juices is much higher than the pamphlet recommended to be having regularly. So if these fruit as going to be sitting in your stomach, fermenting while they wait for their turn to digest, they should probably be eaten 30 minutes before the meal. But that's no fun.
Beet salads,  sprouted lentils with lemon and nama shoyu, carrot slaws. Plain shiitake mushrooms with lacklustre tomatoes were my only disappointing find
My favourite salad (on the bottom) with fresh pomegranate seeds. I never buy them because organic pomegranates (and even non-oranic ones) cost a fortune and have a ridiculous carbon footprint...though every "raw" dessert I love uses imported Medjool dates, and my pecans certainly weren't local...or my lemons in the pecan-cranberry spread. I'm a "raw" food, locavore cheat...
Later in the evening the cakes came out. There weren't enough, and the ravenous
hordes of mostly not-"Raw" foodists stood in line for tiny spoonfuls of deliciously tangy "cheesecakes" and coconut soy ice cream. Fortunately, a spoonful of those cashew-rich concoctions is basically a whole serving. There were even daifuku (Japanese sweet bean desserts with cooked rice flour, beans, and refined sugar!). That's like bringing a meat dish to a vegetarian. Why would someone do that? Then the soy ice cream...everyone loved it, but seriously? I really don't think it was made from milk from soaked and blended soy beans...
Still there was more than enough food to go around (though a lot of dishes disappointingly ran out before everyone had tried some...A lot of people were surprisingly not into sharing). A late addition of zucchini pasta in pesto was more in line with what I had expected. The noodles were beautifully spiralized but the dish unfortunately tasted like nothing but water and fibre.

My biggest disappointment was how packed it was. You couldn't move and I felt a little xenophobically claustrophobic. I'm not really xenophobic and I'm not really claustrophobic, but something combines a feeling of being trapped in a suffocating crowd of people is the gist of it. I don't know if the potluck was full of people with New Years resolutions to eat better, but just thought it would be fun to come to a "raw" potluck, but it seems like the Montreal community of people who are actually "raw" is very small. most people had taken a cooking class from Crudessence once and either ate partly raw, mostly raw, or just vegetarian. There weren't enough seats and the waiting in line for food was as bad as the running out of certain dishes.

When I mentioned to someone I eat some kinds of meat and fish depending on how they're raised, where they come from, ho they're killed, etc. she said, "I don't know if we can be friends anymore," BUT SHE WAS KIDDING! (Mostly). Honestly, the people here were VERY nice and it was fun to speak with people who at least think about the benefits of eating healthily but enjoying quality food. It was not culinary nirvana and it would not convert a carnivore to serious lifestyle changes, but you eat with your eyes first, and my eyes were full. My stomach quickly followed.

Buying Natural Wines in Newfoundland: Joseph Drouhin et al

It IS possible to find a decent selection of natural wines in Newfoundland!

The second time I went to the liquor store (time # 2 of 2) this Christmas, it was to buy the wine for the 3rd Annual Volk/Watson Christmas Extravaganza. It was so much fun! I wasn't sure if I was going to buy a few of the same wines or buy a bunch of different ones, but I wanted them to all be natural (organic and then some, to put it simply, but listen to this to find out more). I knew no one at the liquor store was going to know what a natural wine was, and the best-case scenario would be that I'd just be pointed to the organic ones (that often aren't natural, and the natural ones are often not labeled organic, which they also are. Complicated, I know). So I looked at every wine-making region and read the back of bottles, and recognized some names. Here's what I came up with:

Joseph Drouhin's Morgon, Pinot Noir, and Saint-Véran, and a Bouchard Père et Fils' Pinot Noir.
I had also planned to serve two Quebec white table wines since they're supposed to be used for musical parties ("La Musicale" from Quebec honey farm and honeywine-makers Les Trois Acres) but they were left in the fridge by accident and are awaiting a new musical party at which to be opened.
On a piece of cardboard next to the bar at the party, I wrote:

About the wines:
The whites and reds are natural wines; they are produced organically, hand-harvested, and have no extra yeasts, enzymes, sulfites or other chemicals added. Many come from the same producer but are made with different varieties of grapes. By not adding any of these extras ingredients, natural wines are supposed to allow you to taste the "terroir" - the land and true flavour of the wine - since nothing is chemically-masking it.
The Honey Maple Dessert Wine and the Honey Ice Wine from Miel Nature are examples of what Quebec does best. They're a little sip of heaven. I also used them in the cinnamon apricots and figs for the angel food cake, so the cake and wine should go well together.
I couldn't tell anything about the champagnes at the liquor store, so I just bought an affordable prosecco for the zabaione and stuck with wines I trusted for the party. The prosecco was perfect for the Italian custard-like dessert.


St. John's, NL
9 out of 10

Contemporary Newfoundland Cuisine

In an old cable building with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out partly onto the St. John's harbour and partly onto a deserted part of Water Street, chandeliers hang from the ceiling, Ron Bolts paintings of raging seas decorate the walls, and well-dressed young servers choreograph dinner. This is St. John's newest dining destination.

There are not many tasting menus in St. John's restaurants, mostly because the clientele isn't there, but this one is worthwhile and it's going to last, even as the courses change. The night I went:

Grouse consommé was simple, sweet, and rich with cold-curing, flavourful fat. The diced tomato garnish complemented the sweetness perfectly, and wasn't the usual acidic but otherwise flavourless imported version of what Newfoundlanders call tomatoes in the middle of winter. A very sweet (though "brut") Henry of Pelham Niagara sparkling wine was paired with it.

Then a beet salad with finely chopped candied nuts and deep-fried slivers of jerusalem artichoke - savoury and sweet with an nicely biting vinaigrette and cooling crème fraiche. The artichokes were earthier, more flavourful versions of potatoes whose tendrils whirled artistically around the top of the beets. The white wine accompanying made the beets taste even sweeter without getting in the way of the vinegar on the greens.

A tomato, fennel seafood soup saw perfectly cooked cod in a warm (but not hot, so as to not continue to cook the fish?) broth that was full of fresh vegetables. The local (south-west NL), hook-and-line-caught (I think that's what was said. A more sustainable method than bottom longlined or trawled anyway) cod was well-seasoned and enriched the broth, and the sustainable BC rock shrimp on top, though fairly flavourless, twisted around itself like a soup sculpture. The fennel seeds in the dish gave your mouth a surprise from time to time, but they weren't as explosively fresh as I would have hoped. The white Chardonnay accompanying seemed too sweet for the mild cod.

The Chardonnay with the scallop, however, was perfect. My favourite pairing of the night. Sure, it's classic, but it works. It made the scallop seem more buttery (though there was no butter to be found in the dish, a real joy for a lactose-intolerant person). The lone, enormous, Newfoundland scallop was perfectly seared and tender, topped with some more pieces of diced tomato, and sat atop a mound of shaved brussel sprouts cooked with bacon, the salt sinking into the slaw, and the sweet parsnip purée the perfect amount to enjoy without becoming sickening candy-like.

So far, everything had been on the sweet side, and fresh seafood had shone naturally. The next dish was more cod, this time a small, simply-grilled portion on top of a cassoulet of white navy beans with zucchini and bacon for a slightly salty, deep flavour. Said Jeremy, the Sommelier, not the Chef, some fishermen can tell where a fish was processed just by the look of it, as some plants do a much better job of it than others. This was, apparently, a very well-filleted cod, and the thick piece on each plate fell apart slice by slice. The beans were cooked, but the dish just didn't have any single flavour to get excited about. Cod is a pretty bland fish, and even when cooked perfectly, in this case, it was just cod. I found the accompanying Chablis too sweet, as nothing in the dish could stand up to it.

Then a red: A Pangaea Syrah from Chile to go with the best filet mignon I've ever had. Even medium-rare filet mignon I usually find chewy and not worth the effort, but this meat was very, very tender and succulent. It was made with a Red Heart Shiraz reduction of the pan juices ("like the Hey! Rosetta album") and the very dry sauce/paste/reduction of rich meaty flavour was a generous, intoxicating serving of rich depth for the meat. The sweetness of the meat came out as you chewed, so instead of feeling like you've got to swallow to get the dry lump out of your mouth, you can savour. I had a little Chablis left, which actually brought out the butteriness of the fat of the meat, though it couldn't stand up for itself the way the Syrah could. The dish came with fingerling potatoes (or a purée for those who can handle dairy) and an over-salted asparagus, my only negative comment of the dish.

Finally, dessert. An almond-citrus sponge cake (naturally dairy and gluten-free) with mandarin orange confit, a sprinkling of crushed pistachios, and a scoop of the most amazing pineapple sorbet (I would swear it was ice cream, but no, it's also dairy-free). The sorbet melted quickly next to the cake, but that just helped eliminate whatever iciness would have been left after the sorbet-making process. So melt away. The ice cream wasn't acidic at all as under-ripe pineapple can be, but at the same time the sugar didn't seem too present in it until you tried it with the Hungarian muscat that tasted slightly bitter by comparison. The muscat seemed to be more bitter orange zest-based than sweet orange juice. Or maybe it just seemed bitter because the sugar syrup from the orange confit soaked into the bottom of the small, circular sponge cake like an accidental (on purpose) sauce?

Sublime. Just sublime. The highest quality, mostly local (forget about the pineapple, but it's worth it) ingredients you'll find placed on pedestals in a St. John's restaurant. Vegetables from Lesters Farm, Scallops from Placentia Bay, and grouse, for goodness sake...I wouldn't be surprised if the Chef had hunted it himself. I could have eaten a bowl of grouse soup and been satisfied. The scallop, the beef, and the pineapple sorbet were icing on the very sweet cake.