A great big slice of Italian passion in Victoria B.C. - Il Covo Trattoria · 18 September 2015 by colin newell
My wife and I have a few go-to places for celebrating special occasions – like Fridays, or a Wedding Anniversary, a successful shopping trip or the first rainy day in September after a long drought.
And considering that Victoria B.C. is a city flush with imaginative restaurants, there are really only a handful (in my estimation) of food places that consistently deliver passion, authenticity, love and great taste in equal measure.
Il Covo Trattoria at 106 Superior Street in James Bay near Fishermans Wharf is one of those places. I have a soft spot for Italian cuisine (my mother grew up in an Italian enclave in Montreal in the 30’s and 40’s…) and I was raised on rustic interpretations of Northern Italian classics. So, it’s in my blood and in my memories. And if your momma cooked Italian, getting that experience in a restaurant is a tall order.
Il Covo Trattoria seems to make it effortless. Their location in historic James Bay – Victoria, not far from Fishermen’s Wharf and a short walk from the Inner Harbour and some of the cities finest hotels could be just as easily located in the heart of New York City, Rome or Montreal. Passing through the grand entrance into the care of the hostess, one is transformed into another time and place. A big part of a restaurants charm is unquestionably its ambiance and Il Covo has certainly nailed the European experience.
Ii Covo is large enough for expansive families and intimate enough for couples on an important or romantic date. Service is attentive, informed and engaged without being worrisome. What I love about the eating experience here is the dedication to authenticity and focus on regional ingredients – all impeccably fresh and balanced according to the season.
Andrea and I started our culinary adventure with a martini and one of Il Covo’s brilliant Northern Italian inspired cocktails.
Our opener from Chef was a salad of rare tuna, chick peas and arugula – perfectly tart and balanced to set the palate up for our mains.
Click on Map Photo for the Big View
This evening my wife had the signature Lasagna – which she rates as the best in North America – and trust me, she has sampled this straight forward dish from coast to coast. I had the Papardelle pasta with Prawns and fresh asparagus in a Pernod sauce – delicious, fresh and so satisfying.
If you have room for any dessert, the cakes, creme brulee, panna cotta and tiramisu are amazing – I know. I have had them all. Coffee is great too!
Il Covo, for us, is a place filled with love of family, friends and dedication to the most positive food experience – it is as close to eating in an Italian village as you can get without actually being there. Top marks to the Il Covo team! Bravo!
Victoria home cooking - Slow roasted garlic and tomato marinara · 30 August 2015 by colin newell
As Fall and harvest comes upon us, it is time to start making some of those tasty sauces that we will start enjoying throughout the fall.
Most of our best tomatoes are now ready and they are being converted to sauce for pasta dishes in the future. One of our favourite building block sauces: Marinara – it cannot be beat. It scales up well and you can add nothing to it or your favourite protein.
Necessary ingredients: Tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, salt and ground black pepper, 1 medium onion,
2 medium celery ribs, 1 medium green bell pepper, basil, oregano, fennel seeds, chili flakes, 1/2 cup red wine or vegetable stock,2 bay leaves, 2 Tablespoon tomato paste, bunch of fresh parsley…
Take 3 pounds of Roma tomatoes.
Boil some water. Trim the stem end of each tomato and then cut a 1/4” X at the blossom/stem end.
Drop the tomatoes a few at a time into the boiling water for 60 to 90 seconds OR until the skin starts to loosen. Using a slotted spoon, remove the tomatoes to a bowl to cool for a few minutes.
Pull the skin off of each tomato.
Preheat your oven to 225 degrees (F).
Line one or more large baking pans with parchment paper.
Cut all of the tomatoes in half. Set a fine sieve over a bowl. Squeeze out all the seeds over on and onto the sieve. Keep the juice that comes out! We will use this later.
Place these tomatoes onto the parchment paper.
Mix together 1/4 cup of olive oil and 3 to 5 garlic cloves crushed and minced.
Paint this oil/garlic mixture onto the tomatoes. Put a twist of fresh ground pepper and salt onto each of the tomatoes.
Roast the tomatoes on the parchment paper in the oven for 2 hours.
Put all of these roast tomatoes into a bowl and add the reserve juice from the earlier seed removal.
Puree this mix with a hand mixer to medium fine puree eliminating all the lumps and clumps. Personal preference kicks in around here.
Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot. Add onion (diced), celery (diced) and bell pepper (diced).
Simmer for 5 to 7 minutes.
Add 1 teaspoon or more of basil (fresh or dried) and oregano (fresh if you have it), a 1/4 teaspoon of crushed fennel seeds (use a rolling pin — releases the aromatics), a pinch of chili flakes and cook for another minute.
Added the pureed tomatoes, wine or stock, bay leaf and tomato paste and simmer, stirring occasionally for 35 minutes or so.
Discard Bay leaves and add chopped parsley (1/4 cup chopped)
Season to taste with additional salt and pepper. Makes around 10 cups of sauce.
Bon apetit! This is one of our favourites and mirrors one of our all time favourite sauces from Victoria restaurant Zambri’s. Original recipe by Eric Akis of the Times Colonist.
A life in Ice-Cream Chapter one - Bushmills Butterscotch Pecan · 10 August 2015 by colin newell
When I was around 17 or 18 (and living in a household of very competitive women all with their own culinary streak) I decided to get a French ice cream maker, A Donvier – which was a manual ice cream maker with a cold core very similar to the KitchenAid.
Because it was manual, I could look forward to 25 minutes of cranking the handle while day dreaming about living in the 1980’s… ah, yes… good times.
Anyway – I digress. The recipe.
If there is a top 3 ice cream flavour or style, it may just be butterscotch because it is a subtle variation on vanilla with a twist of something sweet but not as refined as chocolate. Butterscotch: No idea where the name came from, but since it mentions Scotch… I thought, what the heck. Away we go.
6 tablespoons (80g) butter soft / salted or not
3/4 cup packed brown sugar (I used unprocessed Demerera – comments on that later…)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups (500ml) 36% heavy cream
3/4 cup (180ml) Homo milk
6 egg yolks
1 teaspoon organic vanilla extract
1 tablespoon (exactly!) Bushmills Irish Whiskey
1 cup (give or take) Roast candied pecans
Melt the butter in a 2 quart saucepan on a medium gas burner (electric is fine)
Add the salt and then add the brown sugar – stir until molten (and caution ahead! Molten
sugar is darn hot and can burn you in ways you cannot imagine — keep children and fingers clear of the sugar!)
Important put aside a few tablespoons of the butter/salt/brown sugar for the roasted pecans – more on that later.
Let the sugar/butter/salt cool a bit if you have over-heated it – check the temperature with an instant read thermometer and make sure the sugar mix is below 200 degrees (F)
Add 1 cup of the cream and the milk to the sugar/butter/salt combo
In a separate bowl whisk up the 6 egg yolks (egg whites can be saved for another day — like a healthy omelette!)
Add the warm sugar/butter/salt/milk mixture to the eggs whisking constantly to avoid a scrambled egg mess in case the sugar/milk mix is too hot.
Put this mixture back into the 2 quart saucepan, and keeping an instant read digital thermometer bring the “custard mix” up to a temperature of between 160 and 170 – but no higher!
In yet another container (that will sit on an ice bath) put the remaining cream.
Place a fine strainer on top of this container and then pour the “custard mix” through the strainer into the bowl (being ice chilled) that holds the remaining cream. Add the vanilla and scotch and stir to mix.
This is your ice cream “pre-mix” – after it has cool and or stabilized, take it off of the ice bath and put it into the fridge for 2 hours to chill.
Roast some nuts – While it is chilling, prepare your roast pecans. You can use almost any nut but preferably something with flavour and texture – walnuts are a good alternate choice – or pistachios.
2 tablespoons butter (around 35g)
1-2 cups of pecans or walnuts
Twist of kosher salt.
Melt the butter in a skillet or sauce pan on medium heat.
Toss in the halved pecans or walnuts.
Add a twist of kosher salt.
Stir to coat the nuts and then spread them across a cookie sheet on top of a layer of parchment.
The parchment paper protects the nuts from burning and sticking.
Put in a 350 degree oven for 9 minutes, turning once at around 5 minutes.
In your sauce pan that you used to coat the nuts: toss in the roasted nuts and the two tablespoons or
so of the sugar mixture you kept from earlier. You can even darken the sugar mixture by heating it in advance and reducing it a bit. Coat the nuts. Let cool. Chop the nuts into small pieces. Put aside.
Add your ice cream pre mix to your ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer instructions.
And when your churning cycle is around 1 minute remaining, add the chopped nuts.
Empty your ice cream into the storage container of your choice and freeze for 2 to 4 hours.
Note any ice cream that contains alcohol will not set as quickly or as firmly as ice creams without alcohol.
The more hard liquor you add, the more difficult your ice cream will be to set.
Notes I found with 1 tablespoon of Whiskey that it was hardly noticeable in terms of flavour – Rum would have been a better choice. It’s up to you.
I used a very dark raw brown sugar which created a pretty dark ice cream – a tad non traditional – that said, it has a deeper flavour. Personal taste. And up to you as well what you use.
A life in Ice-Cream Chapter one - Simply rich chocolate · 7 August 2015 by colin newell
To date, this is my best ice cream creation ever.
Read the instructions carefully because there are ingredients moving hither and thither!
You will need one sauce pan for heating things up. You will need a digital instant read thermometer (if you really want to play it safe and not cook the eggs!)
You will need a variety of bowls and one large bowl with water and ice in it for chilling a medium sized bowl which will contain the ice cream mix (for chilling)
Do yourself a favour and visualize the steps and the process – I needed to and it helped make this the best chocolate ice cream ever.
2 cups (500 ml) heavy 36% cream
7 oz semi-sweet Bernaud Callebaut cooking chocolate
1 cup (250ml) whole milk
3/4 cup (150g) white sugar
pinch of salt
5 large egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder (optional)
Warm 1 cup of the cream – bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer for 30s
whisking constantly – remove from the heat and add the coarsely chopped
chocolate stirring until smooth.
Turn in the remaining cup of cream.
Pour the mixture into a large bowl – scraping as much of the goodness out and
set a mesh strainer on top of the large bowl (that also contains the dairy and chocolate mixture…)
Combine (and warm) the whole milk, sugar and salt into the now emptied saucepan. And in a separate medium bowl whisk together the egg yokes.
Slowly pour the warm milk, sugar, salt mixture into the egg yokes whisking constantly – then return this mixture of eggs, milk, sugar and salt into the saucepan.
Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heat proof spatula – monitoring the heat with an instant read digital thermometer – note as you heat this mixture do not under any circumstances exceed 170 degrees or you will cook the eggs.
Scrape the bottom as you stir until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula – again making sure you do not exceed 170 degrees. This is your custard.
Pour this “custard” through the strainer into the chocolate/cream mixture and stir until smooth.
Stir in the vanilla. Add 1/2 instant espresso powder if so inclined.
Stir and cool over an ice bath – that is, your bowl of chocolate custard mixture should be floating on a bigger bowl that is half filled with ice and water.
Chill the mixture thoroughly for 2 – 4 hours in the fridge.
Put the mixture into your ice cream maker following the manufacturers instructions.
I use a KitchenAid commercial mixer with the Ice Cream Cold Core attachment and it works the charm. Ice cream needs to be churned for around 25 minutes or so and there are some manual ice cream makers (like the Donvier but you need strong wrists to churn for 25+ minutes!)
A life in Ice-Cream Chapter one - Orange and Anise · 5 August 2015 by colin newell
I bought a Ice cream “Core” for my Kitchen Aid professional mixer – the core is a special bowl with a coolant that can freeze and the kit includes the “dasher” which is the rotating arm that churns the ice cream.
It is a simple process: Put the core in the deep freeze (temperature in my freezer is around 5 degrees (F) and that is plenty cold for setting up the core. You can push the core to a cooler temperature but the “mixture” (the dairy mixture that will soon become ice cream after churning) can freeze on contact with the core bowl causing the dasher to seize up – you do not want that to happen.
Anyway – here is the recipe for my first attempt at a Philadelphia style ice cream (contains no eggs) – In my next blog I will demonstrate my first French style of Ice cream (the good stuff!) with eggs.
Ready your gear This series will be written around the KitchenAid Ice Cream maker core – but the recipes work with any method of churning. I grew up making Ice Cream with the Donvier manual Ice Cream maker – which explains why I have such strong wrists!
2 cups (500ml) 18% 1/2 and 1/2 cream and 1/2 cup whole milk (125ml)
3/4 cup or 150g sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 cup of orange juice.
1 tablespoon orange zest
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon anise extract
Instructions – pour 1 cup of the cream into a medium saucepan and add the sugar and salt.
Add extracts and the zest of one orange (around 1 tablespoon)
Warm over medium heat stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
Add 1/2 cup whole milk.
Remove from the heat and add the remaining cream.
Chill mixture thoroughly for around 2 hours – in the fridge.
When ready to “churn” add to your device and follow the device instructions.
Yield is around 1 quart or a litre or so.
This ice cream maintains a pretty white colour and tastes different to different people – some of you will pick up the orange flavour, some the licorice — it is pretty subtle.
Coming up: Some of the richest chocolate ice cream you have ever tasted!
The Nespresso Inissia pod system and the convenience of now · 4 August 2015 by colin newell
I get many offers of coffee machines to test in exchange for a review – or a machine in exchange from one of the many online companies offering a selection of coffee products.
The folks at New York City and Berlin based Gourmesso.com were good enough to send a very significant supply of coffee samples and arrange for an Inissia machine to test them on and for me to keep, cherish and redistribute however I saw fit. Great deal.
So – my review of the Innisia is over here – and it is worth a spin before proceeding with the rest of these follow up observations.
OK – here is the big upside of Nespresso pod coffee. It is convenient and fast. It reduces the planning for coffee to a push of a single button. Feel like coffee? Get out some pods and fill and power up the machine. There is little more than a minute and a half of waiting while the unit heats up. I like to heat up my cups before I start brewing shots from the Nespresso so that might take a few more moments of your time. So, if you are absolutely and positively in a hurry and have to have your coffee right now, this might be the way to go.
The quality of the Nespresso coffee pods is good, annoying good in some ways when you compare it to other methods of brewing. From a technical stand point, there is not quite enough coffee in each pod to balance the mount of water that the Nespresso pushes through. I noticed that the Gourmesso pods contained slightly less coffee (or the pods were a touch smaller) and the quality of the coffee was not quite up to the level of the Nespresso pods. The Gourmesso pods are also cheaper – and I think at last check, a Nespresso pod is well over a buck a pop. And for you convenience lovers, that adds up fast! We had some friends over last night for some wine and coffee (brewed on our patio out of doors!) and they claimed to be Nespresso lovers for a few months until the costs for the pods started to rack up.
They noted that they were averaging $200 (Canadian) a month on pods – they are both coffee drinkers. They were brewing several double shots in the morning and afternoon and quickly added up to lots of pods.
The Nespresso (and Gourmesso) pods are only available online (or in Nespresso boutique stores in large Urban cities) so the costs and shipping start to add up fast. My whole bean coffee habit when consuming the same amount of coffee (brewed as gravity drip) is less than 1/2 this amount and I serve an average of 2-4 cups a day to 2 to 4 people every day of the week!
The big downside outside of the cost of pods is the waste that is generated – but slowly there are recycling stations that are taking the spent pods – which often contain plastic, paper and foil in one unit — kind of difficult to process. Pod systems are quite the rage right now and the environment is having a bad time with all the waste materials and it could be years before the planet catches up to it all.
The Nespresso machines themselves tend to not be that expensive and they are not that complex – and they are wickedly convenient… but that comes with a cost that you have to weigh out. Do the math ahead of time and if you think you can live with the extra cost, then go ahead.
Personally, I like my gravity drip methods, my Hario filter holders, paper, grinder, kettle and scale. It’s hipster and tasty and easier on my pocket book and my conscience. For the Coffeecrew blog and website, I am Colin Newell in Victoria B.C. Canada.