Tuesday, December 22, 2009

TopFive in Five: #5 Gift Certificates

This is the last installment of my five-week series of holiday gift ideas.

Down to the wire? Saving your shopping until the last minute? Or simply not sure what to get someone? Consider a gift certificate. I don't believe that gift certificates are always impersonal. In fact, I'll take a thoughtful gift certificate over another set of measuring cups any day. The key is to match the gift certificate to the person. Here are some choices that you may not have thought of.

1. Appetite for Books
Have a cook on your list but not sure what cookbook she already has? Consider a gift certificate to this unique book store in Montreal that focuses exclusively of cooking and food-related books. You'll be supporting locally-owned business and sending a foodie to cookbook heaven. Bonus: They also offer cooking classes!

2. A Cooking Lesson at Académie Culinaire
What cook doesn't want to learn new tricks? Académie Culinaire in Old Montreal is the mainstay of cooking classes in Montreal, but they can be quite pricey. For something more budget-friendly, or for the more adventurous or vegetarian cook, consider the workshops offered by Crudessence, a raw food restaurant in the Plateau that uses mostly organic ingredients, or Karen's Kitchen, a mostly macrobiotic, vegan cooking school in the West Island.

3. Dinner at DNA
Many restaurants will give you a gift certificate if you ask for one. To help you decide on the amount of the certificate, take a look at the menu and choose an amount that will allow the receiver and a guest to enjoy at least two courses, including tax. (If the certificate is for a vegetarian, Bonny's on Nôtre Dame would be my top choice.)

4. Ares Kitchen
The emporium of kitchen and baking supplies! When I was looking for baking trays and cake molds that weren't made in China, this was the only store that offered a selection. You can buy gift certificates online or at any of the three locations in Montreal (2355-A Trans Canada Highway, Pointe-Claire; or 1501 Blvd des Promenades, St-Hubert; or 1550 Blvd Le Corbusier #501, Laval).

5. The Conscience Verte Rebate Guide
This is a book with discount coupons for many green business around Montreal, including some food stores, restaurants and cafés like Crudessence, Bonny's, ChuChai, and Cantine. It's perfect for someone who delights in discovering new restos, shops and green businesses. At $20, it is also a great deal.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Top Five in Five #3: Boozy Bottles

This is the third installment in my five-week series of mindful gift ideas for the food lovers on your holiday gift list.

For those on your list who imbibe, you can rarely go wrong with a nice bottle of cheer. Increasingly it is becoming easier to find products made locally, artisanally, or with organic ingredients (and sometimes all three!). I'm not a sommelier or drinks expert, so I'm not going to offer too many specific brands here. Rather, here are five categories and a few suggestions.

I'm a cider-lover. And with the number of orchards in south-western Quebec, it's no surprise that there are lots of cider choices. One of my favorites that is widely available is Degel by La Face Cachée de la Pomme in Hemmingford, but see what your local SAQ or grocer has to offer. Also, Le Domaine Steinbach in Ile D'Orleans produces five organic ciders, including an ice cider. You can order their product online. In Ontario, see if you can find County Cider products in your area.

Mead or Honeywine
Like cider, mead in Quebec is sold as an alternative to wine rather than beer. There are lots of small producers in the Eastern Townships, Montérégie and up north. A few varieties are sold at the SAQ, including four organic products sold under the Forest label from Ruchers des Framboisiers in the Gaspe.


We're spoiled for choice with hundreds of microbrews in the Montreal region. My suggestions is to take a trip to a local shop that sells a wide selection of microbrews and put your own tasting-pack together as a gift. My brother did this last year and we enjoyed trying out the different brews. One brew of note for locavores is Rur'Ale, produced in St-Polycarpe using completely local ingredients. Marché des Saveurs at Jean Talon Market, Fromagerie du Marché at Atwater Market, and Les Delires du Terroir on St-Hubert street, and the Metro grocery store on De L'Eglise in Verdun all have excellent selections of microbrews. In Quebec City, try Depanneur de la Rive. (If you have a favourite place to buy microbrews, I'd love to hear about it!)


Close to Montreal, Vignoble de Négondos is a small organic vineyard in Saint-Benoit-de Mirabel near Lachute, Qc. that produces some nice wines. You can purchase a bottle (or more) at the vineyard or at Fromagerie Yannick in the Marché de l'Ouest, DDO. The SAQ has started offering organic and eco-pratique wine choices. See what your local has to offer.

My first choice here would be a nice bottle of ice cider, which is only made using traditional methods in Quebec. As mentioned above, Le Domaine Steinbach in Ile D'Orleans offers an organic ice cider that you can order online. Other than that see what your local SAQ has to offer, either in ice cider or other Produits de Terroir. If you're in Quebec city, consider a special visit to the SAQ Terroirs d'ici in Le Chateau Frontenac.

Previous installments in this series were cookbook ideas and crafty catches.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Vegan Chewy Chocolate Brownies

My friend over at A Season to Taste has been asking for this recipe. It's taken a while to post it though! I first got it from a cooking workshop we put together at Le Frigo Vert over ten years ago, and the brownies are truly amazing! They are soft, rich and chewy. And very easy!

Vegan Chewy Chocolate Brownies

1/2 cup flour
1 1/4 cup water
2 2/3 cups sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup cocoa
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 cups flour*
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup chopped nuts

Stir together the 1/2 cup flour and water in a saucepan over low heat until very thick. I use a whisk initially to stop it going lumpy. Then cool the mixture to room temperature. (This is important!)

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9 x 13 pan. (I've used two 8 x 8 pans with success as well.)

In a large bowl combine the sugar, salt, vanilla, and cocoa. Add the cooled flour/water mixture. Stir together. Add the oil and mix well until smooth and the oil doesn't separate out of the batter. (This can take a while.)

Add the remaining flour, baking powder and chopped nuts. (*For a chewier brownie replace up to 1/2 cup of flour with ground almonds. Highly recommended!) Mix well until all ingredients are blended. The batter will be fairly thick.

Transfer batter to pan(s). Bake 25-35 minutes until firm and a knife inserted into the centre comes out 'clean.'


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Top Five in Five #2: Crafty Catches

Last Friday I posted a list of crafty events going on leading up to the holiday season. These might not seem like the most obvious places to get mindful foodie and kitchen-related gifts, but you might be surprised. Consider these gift ideas. Keep in mind that your mileage will vary from fair to fair.
  1. Aprons, napkins, table cloths and dish towels
    Some of these can be really simple. I know someone who makes napkins and place mats out of old clothes and pieces of fabric. But you can also find some real pieces of art like hand-painted table cloths or silk-screened dish towels. Hand-knitted hemp dishcloths anyone?

  2. Napkin rings or table centrepieces
    If you're gifting cloth napkins, consider looking for some napkin rings to go along with them. I've seen wood ones, ceramic ones, rubber ones... Table centrepieces may include vases, candle arrangements, etc

  3. Pottered mugs and bowls
    This is pretty self-explanatory. To make a pottered mug extra special, toss in some packets of fair-trade cocoa, tea or coffee.

  4. Bowls, serving plates and cutlery
    These come in a wide variety of materials and qualities. I've seen cutting boards made out of driftwood, hand-carved wooden cutlery and bowls, serving plates made from papier mâché , and cheese plates made from melted jars and bottles. Very creative and unique stuff.

  5. Home preserves, jams and baked goods
    There are some fabulous and dedicated cooks out there. If you don't the time or the inclination to make your own, consider picking up a few jars at a fair. Admittedly, you have to be a bit careful when buying from a home cook.
Did I miss anything? Let me know.


This is the second installment in my five-week series of holiday gift ideas for foodies and kitchen junkies. The first installment offered cookbook recommendations.

For some other, not necessarily kitchen- and food-related, gifts. Check out Hour's guide to eco-conscious gifts.