Making Pasta with Cosmo Meens

Homemade Clive and Cheese Tortellini with Pancetta Caper Cream Sauce

Homemade Clive and Cheese Tortellini with Pancetta Caper Cream Sauce

Thanks to a thoughtful birthday present, I attended my first cooking class in over a decade just last week.

At Cook Culture, my partner and I along with ten or so others, learned the fine art of making fresh pasta from Victoria’s own Chef Cosmo Meens, owner/chef of Mo:le and The Hot & Cold Café.

I’d always wanted to try and make fresh pasta, but I was a little apprehensive about trying to figure out how to use the pasta machine, particularly how to calculate the different thicknesses of the dough.

I didn’t have to worry though. Cosmo was very thorough in walking us through how to create the pasta dough using a food processor, how to use a potato ricer to create fluffy potatoes for homemade potato gnocchi and even how to twist individual portions of freshly made pasta into tortellini.

When it came time for my partner and I to use the pasta machine to make fettuccine, apparently we misjudged the different thicknesses of the dough. Our machine didn’t have the numbers listed on the dial and we rolled out a chunk of pasta dough almost to the correct thickness, but we missed a step. The thickness of our fettuccine looked more like udon, according to Cosmo, but, hey, that would be closer to me, culturally speaking anyway.

After we all took turns making the fettuccine or angel hair pasta along with learning how to twist the tortellini properly, Cosmo talked about how to make the proper cream sauce for the tortellini and how to create brown butter, which I’d seen before on the Food Network.

The meatballs for the spaghetti were rolled and baked, while the asparagus for the gnocchi dish was blanched. As we cooked, Cosmo shared stories of all the restaurants he worked in and had previously owned and talked about some of his current projects.

We were each served three plates of the pasta we made. I would have to say though everything was delicious; my favourite dish by far was the gnocchi, simple and easy to make, but hardly plain or bland.

Want more of Cosmo’s stories? Check out how a Canadian Olympian became connected to my first cooking class in over a decade.

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-Lilian

 

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Third & Final Stop on the Dine Around & Stay in Town Victoria Tour: Vista 18

I saved the best for last to close out our Dine Around & Stay in Town Victoria Tour. We chose Vista 18 partially for the beautiful views of the city and the waterfront but also to try out some amazing food.

After perusing the menu, we decided to try the $30 selection. Our server, the ever easy going and good natured Russell, commented that many people were averse to trying the steak dish in the entrée after being told what sweetbreads were, but having developed a taste for pate, sweetbreads didn’t scare me.

My partner and I both decided to try the chicken terrine as an appetizer. It has less of a spreadable texture than I thought it would, but it was still tasty paired with the rosemary crackers that had come in our bread basket.

For a main course, I did choose the steak with the sweetbreads and onion Yorkshire pudding. My partner went with the pan seared sablefish with spicy tomato and octopus ragout. The steak I had was even better than the one I had at Spinnakers a few days previous, but Russell was right, the crowning achievement of the dish was definitely the crispy breaded sweetbreads.

They were so good, I’m still craving them now, in fact. My partner did enjoy his fish, but the ragout was a little too spicy for him.

To round out the evening, he had the flourless chocolate torte with peanut butter ice cream for dessert, while I chose the cardamom panna cotta with a cardamom shortbread cookie. My partner was addicted to the peanut butter ice cream while the panna cotta and cookie were so good, sometimes I feel like I can still taste them.

Overall, I’d say Vista 18 was definitively the winner out of the three restaurants for me and I can’t wait to have dinner there again.

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-Lilian

PS. Missed my post on Chez Michel or Spinnakers Gastro Brew Pub?

PPS. Sorry for the blurry photos, forgot the camera and had to make due with my partner’s phone.

Second Stop on the Dine Around, Stay in Town Tour: Spinnakers Gastro Brew Pub

For our second stop on Victoria’s Dine Around & Stay in Town event we decided to go more casual and fun than upscale.

We chose Spinnakers because of its strong $30 menu and we were definitely not disappointed. My partner ordered the meatballs as an appetizer while I went with the seafood chowder and both dishes surpassed our initial opinions.

The chowder was creamy and it definitely wasn’t short on seafood either. I tried a bite of my partner’s meatball appetizer and they were delicious, smoky and spicy with a hint of cumin and paprika.

For a main course, we both decided on the steak frites dish, given that the jambalaya was too spicy and neither one of use felt like having a vegetarian meal. The steak was tender and the fries were crispy, but the real highlight of the meal was being able to dip slices of steak into a condiment that tastes like ranch dressing mixed with chipotle. Though I’m not sure what it was, it was tasty all the same.

For dessert, my partner opted for the apple sorbet with handmade truffles and biscotti, whereas I wanted to try the blackberry tart with goat cheese ice cream. The bite of truffle I had was creamy and decadently rich, but the highlight of my own dessert was definitely the goat cheese ice cream. It’s something that I recommend everyone try, it’s not only creamy, but the taste of it is more mild than you’d think and just as addictive as regular ice cream.

Overall, I’d say this dining experience went better than the first one at Chez Michel. Here’s hoping for good experiences to continue at our third and last stop. I’d give Spinnakers a rating of 4 out of 5.

Missed my last review on Chez Michel? You can find it here.

-Lilian

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PS. Sorry if the photos come across a little blurry, I forgot my camera and we had to rely on my partner’s phone.

First Stop on the Dine Out Victoria Tour: Chez Michel

On our 4th annual trip into the Dine Around & Stay in Town event, my partner and I decided to try an entirely new trio of restaurants. As a rule, we don’t re-visit a restaurant that we’d already eaten dinner at.

For our first stop, we chose Chez Michel as we enjoy French cuisine and it was a restaurant that I’d heard good reviews from people that I knew, in the past.

For our first course, my partner and I both chose the lobster bisque.  It was deliciously creamy and rich with great lobster flavour and the crouton provided the right amount of contrasting texture.

Our main courses weren’t quite up to the same standard, unfortunately. My duck a l’orange was delicious, the orange sauce a perfect companion for the duck, but the vegetables left something to be desired.

My partner’s filet mignon was tender and he enjoyed the béarnaise sauce, but underneath the flavour of the sauce, he felt that the steak itself was under seasoned. A steak, he said, no matter how tender, should not be left with no seasoning at all.

As for dessert, we both decided to go with the old-fashioned crème de menthe sundae as mint is one of our favourite flavours. Though the dessert tasted good, it wasn’t what we were expecting for something labeled a sundae. It was too simple and plebeian for the price we were expected to pay.

Overall, while our experience at Chez Michel wasn’t the worst I’d ever had at a restaurant, it wasn’t the best either. Instead, it fell somewhere in the middle.  Thought it wasn’t bad, I expected more for my money and I would currently rather save the return trips for other restaurants.

2 and a half stars out of 5.

 

-Lilian

Top 5 Dishes & Drinks I’ve Tasted in Victoria-NOT in a Restaurant

Over the years I’ve lived in Victoria, I’ve compiled a list of my favourite restaurants. From Sauce and Il Terrazzo to King Sejong and everything in between, Victoria has surprised me with some great restaurants that serve my favourite cuisines.

Along with new restaurants, I also made other surprising culinary discoveries in the city. Even in a smaller city, you can find some amazing drinks, liqueurs and culinary dishes in places that you never expected.

Here’s my list of top 5 dishes and spirits I’ve tasted in Victoria-NOT in a restaurant:

1)      Giffard Menthe Pastille

Giffard Menthe Pastille

Giffard Menthe Pastille

As mint is one of my favourite flavours, I couldn’t wait to try it.  If you’ve never tried Giffard’s Menthe Pastille, I highly recommend it. As a mint liqueur, it was silky and refreshing and it definitely exceeded my expectations. It’s smooth and the mint flavour isn’t too over powering. It’s great on its own and to spice up coffee or hot chocolate.

2)      Smoked Duck Sliders with Heirloom Tomatoes and Arugula

Smoked Duck Sliders with Heirloom Tomatoes

Smoked Duck Sliders with Heirloom Tomatoes

I’ve tried many burgers and sliders in my time; made with all different kinds of meat, including wild game as well as vegetarian and tofu burgers. But this was the first time I’d had duck, smoked duck at that, in a slider. The smokiness and saltiness of the duck paired with the sweetness of the tomato was a perfect match. It was so delicious I went back for seconds. It’s definitely a flavour of slider that you should grab and try ASAP!

3)      Vice Vodka Ice Wine Martini

Vice Vodka Ice Wine Martini

Vice Vodka Ice Wine Martini

I’ve been a fan of ice wine ever since I tried my first sip. I love to pair the sweet taste and tart finish with my favourite desserts, but I’ve never tried to make cocktail with it before. Vice Vodka Ice Wine Martini was the first time I’d ever heard of a spirit being mixed with wine into a cocktail and the end result was fantastic. The vodka balanced out the sweetness in the wine perfectly.  It’s definitely one of my go-to drinks for appetizers, dinner and dessert.

4)      Pallini Limoncello

Pallini Limoncello

Pallini Limoncello

I’ve always loved the fragrance and flavour of lemons in my baking, cooking and my cocktails as well. I wanted to try a lemon based liqueur and this one from Italy was exactly what I was looking for.  Tart and smooth, the citrus flavour was strong but not overwhelming. I’d recommend trying a sip and experiencing the lemon flavour for yourself.

5)      Carrot Cake with White Chocolate and Mascarpone Mousse and Grand Marnier soaked Sultanas.

Carrot Cake w/ White Chocolate & Mascarpone Mousse

Carrot Cake w/ White Chocolate & Mascarpone Mousse

I’ve baked and eaten many carrot cakes in the past, but for a bite-size dessert, this particular carrot cake was one of the best ones I’ve had yet. It could’ve been the soft texture paired with the white chocolate mascarpone mousse. Or, it could’ve been the extra hint of orange liqueur coming through in the Grand Marnier soaked sultana raisins. All I know is it definitely worked.

Now I know I said that these were the top 5 dishes and liqueurs that I’ve tasted in Victoria, NOT in a restaurant. Truthfully, no restaurant I’ve been to has given me the opportunity to try so many different dishes, liqueurs and drinks. You can find similar dishes at certain restaurants, but nothing exactly like what I was able to taste.

So where can you find rare and different liqueurs, cocktails and dishes in Victoria? At the annual Art of the Cocktail fundraiser for the Victoria Film Festival, of course, which is the one event I always make sure to attend every year.

Pick up your glass and buy a ticket for Art of the Cocktail 2013 to be held this October. After all, you might be missing out on a rare cocktail, liqueur or dish that could become your new favourite.

 

-Lilian

PS.  If you missed my last post, don’t worry. Find the Top 5 Marketing Resolutions Every Business Should Make for 2013 here.