Tortellini and other tiny bites of heaven

The food of gods continues. But before I get into the food, lets talk about the service in the evening – some may be confused that we cook all day and then chuck it on a plate and snarf it down. Not so. Dinner is as structured and choreographed as the Viennese Waltz. It begins at a pre-agreed time, with a table set for the finest restaurant.  Fresh flowers, leaves, two bottles of special fine wine (and usually a number of bottles of table wine which is also fine!), a selection of wine glasses,  maybe fresh hazelnuts or pine cones for a splash of texture. All set on a backdrop of fine linnen with a custom made set of chargers and plates for Casa Umbuto.  Music is playing in the background along with a monster fire. This is all wrapped in a cosy almost underground dinning retreat. 

Ahhhh, and then the food. Traditional italian procession. Appetizer, first course, main course, desert, aperitif.  The pattern is delightfully predictable. Of course, each course also comes with a detailed explanation from Paola.  You could be eating cardboard and still really enjoy it, but you are not – you are sampling all of the labour from the day’s cooking lessons. The ultimate is that you really do get to eat your own cooking.

Last night, we started with a ricotta cheese soufflé over a bed of lambs lettuce greens and a butter and an brilliant sauce.  The sauce was over the top.  The next dish blew everybody’s taste buds away. After an incredible labour of love, tortellini with butter and sage sauce and piche noodles with pigeon ragu were presented and devoured. They piche noodles were sublime. The tortellini had a taste that would put a smile on any Italian grandma.  The hand made noodles were soft, silky and had a delicate covering of pigeon ragu (with bigger pigeon bits as well). Paula made sure to mention to gently, ever so gently nibble all the bits of meat next to the bones to ensure we got the really good parts.  Next came the unlikely pairing of vegetable muffins with pork loin slices. For those of you who have seen the foodie show “you’ve gotta eat here” you’ll understand our looks and the ooze of happiness as we tucked into these delectable morsels.   Last but not least was a desert of Nutella and orange shortbread tart.  This was not something your grandma ever made. Soft fluffy and capable of filling the final small almost imperceptible tiny spots left in your stomach while putting a smile on your tongue.  

This was, naturally, followed by a full table of aperitif’s.  You would almost think that we would be getting bored of this. Really – you were thinking that. LOL.

This was all just to get us ready for our day off. A day of cooking withdrawal. But one not devoid of drama. Did I mention, in Italy, there is always drama.

Gina’s update on the drama and day off…..well we came down for a lovely leisurely breakfast (first one we have made this week) before our day trip.  Much to our surprise, we were the only guests ready to go on our trip.  After a couple of cappucino’s, toast and yogurts we asked when the bus would arrive to pick us up.  Well…imagine our reaction when we were told by our wonderful but very Italian (aka…no english) hosts that the bus had already left.  What?  Well there was a scurry of telephone conversations which resulted in Bryan and I hitting the road with sketchy directions to meet the bus at the tractor garage (really I am not kidding).  We headed off with a trusty GPS and discovered she was not well.  Her directions came about 45 seconds after we passed the location she was talking about.  We had to rely on signs.  Not ideal for two people who thought we were starting the morning in a leisurely way.  After 30 minutes of racing through the Tuscan countryside, we saw the other guests standing on the side of the highway waving frantically.  They were indeed in front of the tractor garage.  So after the confusion subsided we were off and on our way to a marvellous day of typical Tuscan delights.  Will provide more details later.  Just glad we made the day tour in the end.  The adventures never subside.

   

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24 Dishes and Counting

Yesterday was our second day in the fabulous kitchen learning to prepare five-star Italian meals.  The kitchen we are working in is truly something to behold.  The island work surface has embedded fossils and can easily fit 15 people working comfortably. The kitchen includes everything a professionals chef could want (so you can only imagine how pleased we are).

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Each day we have learned a variety of things about the foods, wines and other ingredients we are using.  Before we go into the kitchen, we gather around a huge wooden table and “pull” the recipes from our book (this alone was worth the trip).  Paola goes through the recipes with us and gives us detailed explanations of what to do (and most importantly, what not to do….for example, you do not want to overcook the zabione as is will separate….just until it is fluffy like soft meringue).  Yesterday’s recipes included chicken breast filled with olives, pigeon ragu, zabione, meat loaf, beetroot ravioli, lettuce cream soup with cheese balls, focaccia with pumpkin, bruschetta, millefoglie (layered vegetables and cheese), and basil pesto cheesecake.  One highlight….Bryan made fresh pasta.  He has made great gnocchi before but this was your thin delightful chef-quality pasta dough.  Everything we make must meet Paola’s standards.  Paola is a professional gourmet chef so you can imagine how amazing our creations are.   Bryan will have stories of what happens when you produce something that does not meet the standard.

After five hours in the kitchen, we get ready for dinner.  Paola continues working in the kitchen and adds the final touches.  We then begin the culinary adventure and enjoy the fruits of our labor.  The meal takes between three and four hours.  Makes your efforts seem more appreciated than the turkey dinners we spend hours preparing which end up devoured in less than 30 minutes.  It is also a way of life….gathering around the dinner table and talking with friends and family for a few hours.  Great way to connect or stay connected.  Back to the food…the dishes are paired with amazing Italian wines and we finish our meal with the table full of liquors for you to choose.

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This is a picture of Bryan’s ravioli (notice the rose….made of tomato skin by Bryan) and my chicken with olives. mmmmmmmmmmm

Last night we ended our evening in a hot tub which provided a great view to the Tuscan hills.  The hot tub was fire heated which required adding wood and requesting that the heating process be started 7 hours prior to use.  Well worth it.  Great way to end an amazing meal.

Gina had to mention it … what happens when you don’t meet Paola’s standards. Let me first explain that all of my re-do’s today were because I was striving to meet those standards and anything less would have been unsatisfactory. I want to create a faithful rendition of Paola’s recipe even if it means re-do’s four times.  Did I mention I was often the slow student back in school. Patience and persistence triumphed.  My task, making the lowly and often dreaded north american dish of “Meat Loaf” was transformed into a culinary tour de force (which we are about to go and sample). It looked like none of the meat loaf’s your mother served you as a child.

Watch for Wild Boars Crossing

Our adventure in Venice was over and it was time to make our way to Casa Ombuto for our next culinary adventure.  The day began with a quick train ride to Florence.  As we approached Florence, it became clear that the weather Gods were not happy with the world.  Sheets of rain were beating down.  From the train station we grabbed a cab to the car rental area of the airport only to discover that Alamo does not have a sign like Budget, Avis, Europcar etc.  The cab driver said he had never heard of Alamo (except the American historical version) and of course this did not sit well.  The thought of making our way hours into the countryside through the torrential rains by cab or some other mode of transport seemed a tad daunting.  I braved the rain and checked with Avis and wouldn’t you know that the only Italian car company was also Alamo….Maggiore.  So we did indeed have a car.  Brand new.  No kilometres.  So once we spent some time getting acquainted with the vehicle (and grabbing another GPS as the one in the car was not set up although they did send us on our way telling us it was…lesson for those to follow….do not leave until you have everything working).

With the rain pouring down, we obeyed the GPS lady and turned left in 300 metres.  We continued this trek bravely through the snow….yes the snow.  The rain turned into snow on the narrow mountain roads.  We were surprised and wished that we had rented a Land Rover rather than the Mercedes.  Three hours later we found the Casa.  After kilometers of castles, ancient walled towns and narrow cobblestone roads we arrived.  We pulled up and were immediately greeted by Alex who insisted we have a drink and snack before unloading the car.  After five or six glasses of wine and platefuls of delightful snacks, we saw our room.  The chef, Paola, was preparing a feast for us which included a variety of wild boar treats.  Casa Ombuto is amazing.  The buildings are beautiful and our room was amazing.  The combination of modern amenities with 700 year old structures (all of which have been redone with brick) make for a lovely location.

Speaking of wild boars. It turns out if you want a wild boar, you just have to wait until they wander through your room. Yup, if you leave the doors open, they will just help themselves to drinking out of your toilet. Anything with nasty ass tusks and a bad attitude gets all the water it can drink!   Fortunately we actually had the upper rooms with our doors shut. No nasty pigs sleeping with us.

There is also a warning about one of the pictures we are posting here. First it looks like a poster child for the reason we have an alcohol policy. After dinner, a couple of bottles of “special wine” and the fact that they had been plying us with the local vino since we showed up, they brought out the big guns. They filled the table with all the local aperitifs they could find. It was stunning. If you are wondering what happened next, you haven’t been following our story close enough.  Needless to say, the next morning was a bit on the slow side and the old Irish Rovers song, “wasn’t that a party” kept running through the remaining 4 functioning brain cells I still possessed.

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Gina’s update on the food:  Paola made us a feast, last night, which included the infamous Florentine steak.  This time it was sliced and only a few pieces served to each making it much more manageable.  The steak followed an amazing course of red rice with parmesan and wild boar with mushrooms. Somewhere in there was fresh arugula with extra virgin locally made olive oil.  Seriously, being Italian is a gift from the Gods.  There was a meringue, strawberry semi-fredo delight for dessert.  This I will master.

I heard that breakfast was an amazing feast but there was no hope for us after all of the liquors.  Lunch was salad, variety of cheeses (different ages so we could compare), acacia honey, fresh made (less than 10 minutes earlier) pasta with basil and more olive oil.  Lastly, if that was not enough, we had local sausage with cauliflower.  Dessert at lunch was a light snack of lemon cookies with whipped cream in between (a high end version of whoopie pie).

Today we cooked for 5 hours and had the dinner over three hours….did I mention I LOVE Italy, Casa Ombuto, Alex and Paola.  We made bruschetta, tomatoe sauce, roasted veggies, minestrone (which is for later in the week as it gets better with age), asparagus rolled in parmesan and other delightful things, panna cotta, and last but not least, wood fired pizza.  Bryan also learned a new trick for the pizza oven.  We made our own dough and mastered 13 Italian dishes today.  I made the panna cotta and for those of you who have had my ice cream you will LOVE the panna cotta.  It was divine.  We learn how to make pasta tomorrow.  Yay!  Will keep you posted.  By the way….boars running rampant makes me happy that we are on the second floor too.   I would also be fine without seeing another flake of snow until next winter.  We have been told by many that it is extremely rare for it to snow this late in Tuscany (yeah…I bet it is about as rare as hotels exploding in Mexico….tell me a story I haven’t heard already)!

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Mama Gina

So we missed an update on a really cool place. Wandering around aimlessly or as Gina would point out, focused consumer therapy of the ladies bag nature. Man, there are a lot of ladies bag stores here. And they stay open late – usually later than the pizza by the slice joints.  So, as we were wandering, we passed by a lovely restaurant named Mama Gina’s.  Hard to go wrong with a name like that. I stuck my head in and they said come back later, much later.  Not a problem in Italy, you head down the block until you find a nice little outdoor patio and have an aperitif. Then you wander back.  So Mama Gina’s was indeed a Mama’s place. Her picture was hung reverently at the front as you walked in for all to pay honour to.  Our first inkling that this was going to be special was one of the head waiters waving around a pig leg. Fresh air cured proscutto, by now one of our staples as a dinner warm up. They shave it fresh off the hoof and it doesn’t get better than that. Another Mama special was Riboletta, a twice boiled pot of mama’s best. We ordered one, got two – the waiter indicated that it was our problem now and thats how mama rolls.   It was tasty and filling, only as mama would have it. Gina however was apprehensive about finishing hers and insisted that I finish her bowl, least mama come out and give her a harsh tongue lashing.

Not a problem except I was already getting full. These are hearty potions. Next was the main.  This was an OMG moment. I ordered a light chicken dish. Should have been something small. It wasn’t. Bloody chickens were working out at the gym and were the size of the plate. Mine was nothing in comparison to what Gina ordered. We had heard a few times that nothing compared to the beef from Florence cows. Must be something about a blue tongue. It was ordered rare because thats the way it’s ordered around here.  When it showed up, there was an audible gasp from Gina and a snicker from one of the waiters. It took two of them to lift the plate into place. This  was a seriously large T-Bone steak. There were entire families in africa that could have been fed  for a week on this chunk of moo. Gina’s mission, to make it disappear. As the waiter mentioned before, it’s her problem now.

Some time later, after transferring many tasty – oh so tasty – morsels onto my plate, it looked like Gina was going to finish.  This is why dinners can take so long in Italy. It takes time to chew your way through a whole cow.  The char on this beef was to die for. Truly exceptional flavour that we have not experience anywhere else.

Gina’s note:  Not sure I have ever seen a steak the size of the one at Mama Gina’s.  I was very impressed with the char they got on it.  The most amazing thing happened when I cut into the morsel.  No bleeding.  The steak was rare but truly allowed to sit long enough to avoid seepage.  It was awesome.   A tip for those to follow….the older the waiters…the better the restaurant.  The young hip Italians work at new, hip places.  The older Italians work at locations which were young and hip when they were young and hip.  Or…their mother owned the restaurant.  Either way, they are working in the places to go.   Two more adventures yesterday (after the torrential rains which resulted in flooding in San Marco Square..which is common).  Once the sun came out, we were off to Murano, the glass artists heaven and apparently a drooling place for Bryan.  The Island is full of glass factories.  There are stores selling items (all Murano made items are clearly marked…others just inexpensive).  We added an “art piece” to our collection.  Stunning actually.  The gallery kindly threw in a 750 pound vase as their “thank you” gift.   The glass piece will be sent home (insured but it is one of a kind).  Then off to the opera…Vivaldi…in a Venetian Teatro….seriously how cool is that.  It was mesmerizing and a must do.  Of course, we hit high tide after the opera and had a failed attempt to stay dry by purchasing retail bags and using duct tape to set in place.  Unfortunately, the bags slip on the marble (which is everywhere) so were too dangerous even for someone as graceful as me….:)  Swam home and now we are off to Casa Ombuto in the Tuscan country side.

 

Singing in the Rain….just singing in the rain

IMG_9683GIna, did you fall into a canal? It was raining hard and the streets were narrow, dark and windy. The 5 euro umbrella bought in a moments desperation from a shifty looking street urchin was a bad deal and I knew it. But the rain gave him the advantage.  5 euro’s for 5 minutes … you get what you pay for which of course lead to me looking for Gina in the canal.  We were just about to head off to Murano – home of world famous glass blowing. No such luck. 1.5 meter swells in the lagoon and images of news flashes about small passenger boats sinking with tourists desperate to get glass trinkets was enough to put off even the most desperate tourist seek shelter with a nice glass of wine. Which is exactly what we were trying to do. Back to the umbrella for 5 euro’s. One puff of wind and it was toast. Not even good to cover my poor head from the liquid onslaught. Must have been in return for us making fun of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  Half blind, by rain on my glasses and a miserable broken umbrella flapping in my face, we retreated back to the hotel. Somewhere along the way I looked back and there was no Gina. Not good to lose Gina in a canal. She would be cranky and her mom would be really cranky. I spun around and started to backtrack. From one of the gusts, came her dulcet voice – Bryan – get your ass over here. She had gotten in front of me somehow. I caught up  quickly. Just when you thought it couldn’t get much worse – the sirens began again.  Not good. For those of you who have been to Venice before you know what they mean. Its time for your rubber boots! Yup, when they talk about the flooding in Venice, you might think its a random thing. Wrong. Twice a  day.  Do they warn tourists about it. No, not a chance.

So, what do you do. Yup, strip down and wander through the streets naked.  Just kidding – Off come the shoes and socks and you end up walking through the water back to your hotel. You’re already soaked so it doesn’t really much matter.  Enough of this, lets talk about food from last night.

Wandering around the Piazza San Marco, we were gobsmacked. Full on gobsmacked. We’ve seen some of the biggest and best the world has to offer. This blew us away.  Started in 1050, this amazing square is enough to take your breath away. One could write an entire blog or book on this place. Its grandeur was simply beyond words. It of course worked up a decent appetite. The hotel concierge suggested any place behind our hotel and definitely not anything near San Marco … too touristy.  Our random walk back towards the hotel took us past a little hole in the wall place that you couldn’t find with a gps if you were trying. They had the catch of the day proudly on display in the window.  As it turned out the chef would walk out, fetch something from it, show you what he was about to cook, and then cook it. Pretty amazing overall. By now, we’ve figured out that you simply cannot do an appy, a first, a second and a desert. Not to mention a bottle or two of vino and a couple of capachino’s.   So we are down to a shared appy and either a first or a second each – the portions seem to be the same (huge).  Tonight was no exception. We ordered the scampi risotto creama.  OMG. Yup, Gina, queen of risotto, needs to master this one. It was also smothered in truffles – just like they were a condiment. Not that I’m complaining.  Sublime. Truly sublime. This was followed by fresh sea bass. Gina had the grilled and I had the baked with olives and potatoes. They were cooked perfectly and the young lady did a great job showing us her skills at removing the bones, heads and tails. She did miss a few bones, which is easy to do. They are tiny and amazingly sharp. I punctured my gum with one of them. Just like a sewing needle. You want to pay attention when eating this stuff – a mistake could be fatal.

Desert – yes we were tempted and it was also fabulous. Gina had creme caramel. A delightful and uber soft version of this near perfect desert. Mine was a chocolate cake that paled in comparison to the caramel.

Gina’s Update….fall into a canal?  Just trying to get out of the rain and not giggle too much while Bryan fought with his umbrella.  The dinner was delightful and the risotto worth replicating.  The Piazza San Marco was amazing and the hotel….well I felt like I was sleeping in a museum.  The ceilings are 24 feet high and there is enough marble in this place to start a store.  We are staying in a suite which overlooks the canal.  Two balconies out onto the water which conjures up images described in century old tales.  Bryan has been fascinated by the doors and the doorknobs which has resulted in sudden stops to photograph brass lion-headed door knockers and the like.   I, on the other hand, have been mastering local customs and drink….SPREETZ….Aperol (orange liqueur) with Prosecco and a splash of soda water, orange wedge and a green olive.  Served anytime of the day.  I do LOVE Italy.

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Toscana and a tower which leans

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Last night we wandered over to a restaurant ranked by many as numero uno in Florence.  A tiny mom and pop place just off the the Piazza del Signoria.  We had tried several times to call and make a reservation only to find out they do not speak English and I cannot use the IPhone for a call and as a translator at the same time.  We took our chances and wandered over to the restaurant at a civilized dinner time of 8:30.  The tiny place had all of its 8 tables full and a yellow sticky on the door “we are full”….interesting use of the English language. Who ever wrote the post it note clearly didn’t answer our phone call.

Tragedy was averted. By turning around and walking three steps, we found a Michelin 3 star. God I love Italy.  We wandered in like lost tourists and they said, of course they would serve us. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better it did. Food, service and did I mention wine. On top of that, we’ve started to notice the crowd. You’ve got your basic every day toursits. Mostly boring. Then you’ve got your basic every day Italian crowd. Really interesting. Everything from old movie stars with just a little too much botox, to the all to obvious old guys with really cute mistresses having dinner shamelessly and enjoying both.

Lets talk about dinner – after all, this is a food blog.  Wine was ordered as a sampling of three of their finest wines. Somewhere in our collection of tourist stuff, clothing and a wide assortment of Italian trinkets are three critical “Circles” of paper that have the names of our wine lovingly inscribed. That and the extra virgin olive oil that fully saturated our chef’s crostini producing a little bite of heaven to get our taste buds going. In relatively short order these guys know how to take your mouth to places it’s never been before.

Dinner was of course equally impressive. We both decided on the Turbot (fish). It was as succulent as any Dover Sole and presented beautifully. We were forced to have desert. Once you read the menu, they have you – right by the soul. And of course there was a matching desert wine that had a longer list of awards than I could remember anyway. Gina would have licked the plate but there were too many people watching. I had no such resistance (okay, so I didn’t lick the plate), but I made damn sure there wasn’t much left to wash. Italians do desert better than anyone else I’ve ever tasted.

Gina’s note….today we toured tuscany for 12 hours….we started in Florence and went to Sienna (oldest bank in the world..oldest roadway….oldest….well just old).  Italians do OLD great!  Saw some of Michelangelo’s sculptures in a church….could almost touch them.  The church was something to behold.   Then off to lunch on a Tuscan farm (of course farm might not be the appropriate descriptor as the place was organic, had some sort of famous white cows (don’t let the fame thing intimidate you…they smelled just like their less famous cousins although they did have blue tongues), had a winery and an olive oil business (grape and olives grown on site.  Also had enough patios to seat 50 people for lunch.  The tables had a view of the tuscan countryside along with a direct view of San Gimignano.  Lunch was served with a variety of wines, fresh meats, organic pasta and biscotti.  Not regular Starbucks biscotti but something that was inspired by the same Gods who inspired the church.  We met some great people (some from DC who we think were spies…..well I always think people from DC are spies but in this case Bryan thought the same).  Off to San Gimignano to see the walled city.  Best gelato place ever (according to the voters…Italian critics).  Also found a few pounds of wild boar meat.  OMG.  Last stop, the leaning tower….it is actually leaning quite a bit.  Touristy but fun!  Full tummies, a little tipsy, too much sun and sore tootsies.  Another perfect day in Italy. We are off to find the music we can hear out our balcony.  Think it is a band playing on the Ponte Vecchio.

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Firenza (Florence) – prima cena in Italia

Dinner in Firenza – our first Italian dinner.  Following the time honoured tradition of wandering randomly from street to street we were tempted with countless – truly countless number of eating delights that simple dazzled the senses. After hours of wanding about, looking at shops, soaking in the scenery, we finally settled on a dinner location. Overlooking the Arno river, we found the perfect marriage of food and art – the Golden View – a restaurant dedicated to the art of food and visual arts. It was perfect. Being our first meal, a bottle of prosecco reserva and some Italian caviar were in order. 

Divine. When Michelangelo was carving “David” just in the piazza outside of our penthouse, he probably dined on this.  This was followed by crostini with 4 cheese and truffle butter. Hard to imagine your tastebuds doing backflips…..well worth the effort.  These two little power house appetizers were just the warm up act.  In Italy, they have a starter followed by the main. We ordered the starter and realized there could be no main this evening.  Gina had giant prawns over risotto and I had steak bits over fresh spaghetti pasta.  Wow. Wow. Wow.  These were good on the richter scale. And large. There would be no main tonight. We had already seen some of the deserts floating by.  Tonight we would sample some of the finest gelato’s and a heavenly concoction titled “la seduzione” – the seduction. Somewhere a mango was converted to a concoction that defies classification. It was one of those jaw dropping moments that made you want to jump up and kiss someone. Fortunately Gina was the closest!  Not bad for a random pick on a random walk. Clearly planning can be overstated. 

Gina’s note…..the balcony overlooks the Piazza della Signoria…or better known as the place which houses the Uffizi.  Built around 1200 something the architecture is amazing….not a McDonalds nor Starbucks to be found.  Many Italian designers…italian restaurants….italian…well you name it and it is here.  We walked down to the Duomo today through narrow cobblestone roads that I imagine have been used in many Hollywood blockbusters.  The pedestrians are barely bothered by the cars that try to make their way through the narrow passages.  The rooftops also conjure up images of superspies chasing a nefarious bad guy while performing death defying leaps from building to building.   LOVING EVERY MOMENT!

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And Now the DInner

Okay, so there may have been some confusion over the last post titled Dinner in Edmonton which didn’t actually contain any details about dinner. I can explain. Well at least I think I can. Sometimes Technology SUCKS.  Connecting a Samsung Galaxy table to free airport wireless sounds easy and for the most part it is. But tablets connect to PageMill are lacking a few things … spellcheck and any real ability to TYPE.  The sorry excuse for a keyboard that you finger point to on a tablet is a far cry from the tactile titillation of a good old laptop. Fortunately Gina brought her MacBook Air. Pretty darn good, but still connected to a mediocre online tool.

Enough ranting.  More about dinner. Three letters – OMG. Seriously OMG. A little place in Edmonton called the Canteen.  We got there early. The young lady asked if I would like a beer while waiting and that I looked like a Chimay type of guy. She was right – my own little beer angle. Many of you might not know what a Chimay is. Long ago, a bunch of Franciscan monks started stomping hops instead of grapes in Belgium. That lead to a heavenly beer only produced in one spot in the world, the monasteries of Belgium.  Only recently have they been shipping it overseas. For the first 500 years or so, it never made it much past the boarders of Belgium – which has the highest rate of alcoholism and an average age of drinking of 3. But the beer is heavenly.

After Gina’s son and girlfriend arrived, so did the food. It matched the beer.  Chick pea fries. Who has even heard of chick pea fries. They looked like good old hand cut french fries but they sure didn’t taste like it. Dipped into a lovely red pepper sauce they were like fries on steroids. The other appy plate was a delightful selection of yummy morcels including shinkenspec (german bacon), pickled asperagus, chorizo that had been curing for at least since the last time Beatles played together and some raw goats cheese that ran onto the crostinies.  I almost forgot – the chicken pate with tapenade on top.  Good – pretty amazing if I may say. Nice warmup for the main.

I had the duck. Gina had the braised short rib. Confession time. I’ve never been able to get duck right. That balance between crispy and medium rare meat is an art. This duck was succulent, bathed in a sauce to die for and came with risotto fritters stuffed with goat cheese and deep fried.  These guys nailed it. Gina has alway been queen of the short ribs. She’s received marriage proposals from other guys (while I was standing there) over her short ribs. We were both trying to decide if we could get the chef to join us for Italy. The ribs were kicked up to places our mouths didn’t know we could go.

Dessert – oh ya. It was a must do – and Chad and Terry were treating Gina to belated Mothers day. Did I mention they are great kids!  Desert included an orange-almond crusted bread pudding. Gina shared milk chocolate ice cream over a cross between a cake and pudding.  OMG OMG …

Not a bad start to our culinary adventure.  I’d be looking up the Canteen in Edmonton if you’re out on a day pass for a hot date.

Dinner in Edmonton

Our first stop on our culinary adventure was last night in Edmonton. It was quite simply -amazing.  But i jump ahead.  We actually started the day at 3:30 in the morning! Normally I’m an early bird.  330 is rediculous. I was up early finishing packing from the night before. Nothing beats the thrill of last minute rushing around at 330 am after procrastinating for weeks. Gina had arranged for a limo the night before, or so I thought.  Imagine my surprise when a beatup Sunshine minivan showed up. Turns out the limos were all sleeping.  We packed in and off we went.  Turned out that our cabbie didnt like mornings much either. At least thats what I inferred from all the weaving about he did. At this time of the morning it didnt seem to matter much since nobody else was on the road.  All was going fine until our first light.  The engine whirred and the transmission made a sound you would expect of a vintage pinto that had seen better days.  This was repeated several more times along the way. It also seems that buddy was confused about getting to the airport.  A missed major intersection wasnt gong to slow him down.  Through the ditch! A sharp left and a good swerve thrown in was just another morning.  Gina and I were somewhat less enthused. We did make it in time to wait for everything at the airport to wake up.  By now we were awake and interested in breakfast.

HAPS not a typo, a place to get eggs.  No just any eggs, but the greasy spoon eggs that you crave after a long hard night of – well, you know or a harrowing taxi ride.HAPS has been around forever. Ever since the prverbial question of which came first, the chicken or the egg, there has been HAPS serving up chicken hapiness. Wether you are having an eggs beni or my fav a McHAP, there can be no doubt that your tastebuds have arrived at the quintesential dinner.

English: Photo of chicken egg being fried in a pan

English: Photo of chicken egg being fried in a pan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now we can talk about dinner

After a year of careful preparation

Planning is key … let the adventure begin. It started with a musician playing soft italian music in the living room. It floated outside to the deck and had Gina intrigued. What would it possibly lead too? Fast forward a year – the countdown is on – two more sleeps – well three actually but I doubt any sleep will occur on the third night.  Then the adventure begins!