Tag Archives: Italy

One Year of Communal Table

26 Mar
Italy Food
Jenny, Neil and food in Italy.

One year ago today, Jenny and I were doing something we’d never done before – setting up a food blog. While that ‘first’ may not have the same excitement factor as, say, jumping out of an airplane or buying a house, for us it was a pretty big deal. It got us into the world of social media and has allowed us to learn a lot about that world in a short amount of time. It gave us an outlet to combine something we’re both formally trained to do – communicate with words – with things we both love to do – enjoy food and share interesting stories. And perhaps most importantly, starting this blog gave us yet another thing we can enjoy doing together as a team.

We started Communal Table last March not quite knowing where we were going with it. As our About Us page says, we chose the name Communal Table because we liked the idea of it being a place to gather and share food as well as conversation about passions, interests, opinions and life in general. If you look through posts from our first three months or so, you’ll see one focused on music (another shared love of ours), and a restaurant review interspersed between our more common recipe posts. I originally intended to provide the occasional music post here, and I think we both thought we’d do more restaurant reviews. But it didn’t take too long before we both realized that those types of posts just didn’t feel like a natural fit.

Meatballs Communal Table
Our meatballs with pine nuts and raisins, inspired by a trip to New York.

Jenny and I love cooking together, so our original recipes have been the focus of most of our posts over the past year. In fact, we’ve shared so many of our recipes that we recently added a recipe page to the blog so that our readers could access meal ideas without having to scroll through a year’s worth of our posts to find something that appeals to them. We’ve posted about some of our long-time favourite recipes, like our meatballs with pine nuts and raisins and my olive oil ice cream, and we’ve also written about creations that came to us in a moment of inspiration, like our poached egg on grilled Portobello and asparagus pesto, and aglio e olio pasta with seared fennel-dusted tuna and broccolini. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about these dishes – and hopefully trying them out yourself – as much as we’ve enjoyed creating them.

Angeline's Inn and Restaurant Prince Edward County
Angeline’s Inn and Restaurant in Prince Edward County, a great place we had the pleasure of staying and eating at.

The blog has also given us the chance to take part in some great events and explore some amazing places. Our trip last fall to Prince Edward County stands out in particular, because it got us out to an area we’d heard so much about but hadn’t yet seen, and it turned out to be a beautiful place with so many inspiring people. The recent Almost Famous Chefs’ Competition gave us the chance to see the next generation of great chefs in action. And of course, we participated in the February Kitchen Play event, which forced us out of our culinary comfort zone by asking us to cook with a common ingredient (Canadian beef) in an unconventional way (by using it in a cocktail recipe).

Along the way, we’ve met many people – fellow food bloggers, chefs, PR people, store owners and others – who’ve let us into their worlds and given us some great advice and support. Mary Luz Mejia at Sizzling Communications, the team at Rock-It Promotions, The Drake Hotel, Fiesta Farms, and Toronto food promoters and social media stars like Joel Solish and Suresh Doss are just some of the people we have to thank.

We’re moving into year two with a much better idea of how this blog will look than we had at the start of year one. But we also have some new ideas, both for Communal Table and for other projects we’ve been brainstorming, so we’re not entirely sure what the next year will have in store. Of course, the adventure is what continues to make it interesting. Thanks for reading over the past year, and we hope you’ll continue to do so and share your thoughts with us along the way.

Thanks,

Neil and Jenny

Communal Table Kitchen
A slightly blurry, in-the-moment shot of us getting our hands dirty in the kitchen.

Perfect Tiramisu, Part 1: Perfection in the most unexpected of places

4 Nov

This past summer Neil and I went on an unforgettable trip to Italy. We ate our way through all the amazing places we visited making for an unforgettable culinary experience that resulted in more photos of food than of ourselves.

One of the things that we were most excited to sample was Tiramisu.

It had become a bit of a running joke between Neil and I; in our four years together we had never had good tiramisu together, despite our efforts to track it down all over the place. We had been to tons of restaurants, all claiming to have ‘the best’ or ‘the most authentic’ tiramisu and we would continuously give them the benefit of the doubt, and with one taste, we’d look at each other and know that our search would have to press on.

Though we had never experienced a great tiramisu together, we knew that we were united in our quest, looking for the same qualities in the seemingly-simple dessert; a tiramisu that was really boozy and ‘wet’ in texture, with silky mascarpone cream and a really intense coffee flavor. What could be so hard?

With a fast-approaching trip to Italy, we knew that our search was most likely going to come to an end. We promptly ordered tiramisu on one of our first nights in Rome.

And we never ordered it again.

It was terrible. In fact, it was probably the most disappointing addition to our ‘terrible tiramisu’ list because, well, it was Italy! If the dessert was that much of a let down in its country of birth, then it was probably time to give up. And we pretty much did.

And then, a few months ago we found ourselves in Milford, Ontario. A small, quiet little town in Prince Edward County. We stayed at the charming and hospitable Milford B&B and by fluke had made a reservation at The Milford Bistro, just a few doors down. It wasn’t something we planned, we just sort of happened upon it.

From briefly reading about the place online, we knew that it was owned by Chris and Veronica Pengelly, a husband-wife team who had found their dream in the small town.

Dinner was a set menu with a few options to choose from because it was the busy weekend of the Taste! event. When we originally scanned the menu, Neil and I snobbily (yes I will admit, we can sometimes have moments of snobbery when it comes to food) gave each other a look that said “this seems kind of boring”. The menu was simple and uncomplicated and we had to choose our dessert option when we ordered our mains. The choices were tiramisu or crème brulée and we chose one of each, assuming we knew what we were in for.

The entire meal, course after course, was a huge, unexpected, delightful surprise.

Keeping in tune with the philosophy of so many restaurants in the county, the food was so fresh, the ingredients so pure and well treated. We couldn’t believe how flavorful our simple salad of local greens and carrots tasted, along with handmade cheese biscuits and the most savory and lovingly-prepared (you could taste the love, I swear) lamb with root vegetables. We enjoyed the meal so much that we both admitted and discussed how wrong we were to initially judge (admitting we’re wrong is not something Neil or I are very good at, by the way!).

But even still, when the dessert came, we kind of expected the same mediocrity that we had experienced everywhere else.

How wrong we were.

With just one bite, I knew this was it. We had found it; the perfect tiramisu in the most unexpected of places! You can see in the photo above just how liquid-ey (but not too liquid-ey!) and creamy this dessert was. It was incredibly boozy in the best of ways, but not overwhelmingly so that it overtook the other flavors of intense coffee and silky cream. It was perfection. We had to take a moment to properly take it all in.

But the story doesn’t end there. We had no idea that this specimen of perfection was actually a very special recipe that meant a lot to The Milford Bistro itself. When I grabbed our waitress to compliment the dessert, she told us that we were lucky it was on the menu that night because it had been taken off their regular menu months before.

It was called “Swedish Tiramisu” and it was a family recipe from owner Veronica’s Swedish roots. Veronica used to make it herself when it was on the regular menu and her husband (and bistro chef) Chris later told us that they were used to people swooning over the dessert and coming from far and wide just to have it again.

But to our dismay, the waitress told us that after battling a sudden and unexpected illness earlier in the summer, Veronica had passed away at only 39 years old. Understandably, her husband pulled the dessert from the regular menu and it hadn’t been made since. Until that night.

I remember shuddering at the sad story and looking over to see Chris, who was still in his chef whites, gabbing away with some bistro guests like the gracious host that he is. Neil and I decided that we had to go over and tell him personally how much we enjoyed our meal and especially, how perfect his wife’s tiramisu had been. He was so lovely to talk to, so grateful for the feedback and such an inspiration, we thought, given the fact that he’s continued on with the bistro so flawlessly.

We left feeling warm and satisfied and deeply touched by Chris and Veronica’s story. It seemed somehow fateful that we ended up there by chance, on just that night.

I emailed Chris a few days later after trying to research “Swedish Tiramisu” online to find out what made it so special, and not finding any information about it. Chris emailed me back right away saying that the reason they named their version of the classic dessert “Swedish Tiramisu” is because it was created by Veronica’s mother who had passed it on to her. We weren’t going to find any information about it because it was unique to them. The secret ingredient (of course there had to be a secret ingredient!) is actually Madeira wine instead of the typical Marsala Wine. He said that it gives a special flavor.

Well, the whole experience was special, in my opinion. I want to thank Veronica and Chris Pengelly for giving my husband and I a special memory of an unforgettable meal, and our first experience together tasting the most exceptional tiramisu we’ve ever had.

We loved it so much that we vowed to try making our own based on The Milford Bistro’s version…. Stay tuned for ‘part 2’ of this post!

And The Winner Is…

3 Sep

Congratulations to Chantelle (aka ChantelleJoy), who won the tickets to the Toronto International Film Festival’s opening night screening of Score: A Hockey Musical at Roy Thomson Hall, as well as passes to the gala party at Liberty Grand that follows the screening. Turns out Chantelle is a bit of a TIFF buff, to say the least: she has plans to see more than 20 films during the festival. We’ll be sure to follow her adventures during TIFF on her blog.

Thanks to everyone who entered by commenting with recipes, liking our Facebook Page, and tweeting about the contest. This was Communal Table’s first giveaway, but we’ll definitely run more great contests in the future, so be sure to keep reading for the heads up on entering!

In other news, we know it’s been a bit quiet here over the past week or so. But we have lots of great content scheduled, including the next installments of our Italy adventure (finally!), a look at our successful foray into brisket smoking last weekend, more bacon, and a few other fun things we’re working on. Stay tuned!

A Taste of Rome

19 Jul

In my last post, I mentioned that our silence earlier this summer was the result of our trip to Italy. I also promised some posts detailing some of the culinary delights Jenny and I experienced in our travels. While it’s been a while coming, this is the first in what will be a series of posts focusing on what we ate in the different places we visited.

First up, Rome. For most people, Rome is the natural starting point to a trip to Italy. And why not? It’s full of amazing things to see, and equally amazing things to eat. And while few things ruin an appetite like jet lag, we still managed to pack quite a bit of eating into three days. Okay, we ate a lot in three days. So rather than bore you with every detail, I’m only going to talk about the highlights.

Pizza Napoletana Rome

Rome is the only place in Italy where we ate pizza. Those who’ve spent time in Italy will know that pizza isn’t that common in most cities outside of Naples – the birthplace of pizza. And so it was appropriate that our first Italian pizza experience came at PizzaRè, purveyors of great Neapolitan-style pizza. We split two pizzas: the Napoletana ai fiori di zucca (bufala mozzarella, fresh anchovies, and zucchini flowers) pictured above, as well as the Rucola (mozzarella, prosciutto, arugula and shaved parmigiano).

Pizza Arugula Rome

While the crust, char and cornicione (that’s pizza snob-speak for crust) were outstanding on both pizzas, the flavour combination of the anchovies and zucchini blossoms on the Napoletana was something I’m still craving as I write this. Along with our pizza, we shared a stewed octopus dish that was also fresh and delicious.

Octopus

Like most regions and cities in Italy, Rome is home to several unique culinary delights. The Jewish quarter is a perfect example of this. Home to Rome’s Jewish population for centuries, today the quarter is full of restaurants serving interesting Jewish Roman specialties. We ended up at one of the oldest and best-known restaurants in the area, Giggetto al Portico d’Ottavia, for lunch one day, and it definitely ended up being one of the most memorable meals we had during our entire two weeks in Italy.

Carciofi Rome

On the plate of fried goodness in the above photo is carciofo alla guidia (Jewish-style fried artichoke), filetto di baccala (deep-fried salted cod), and fiore di zucchina ripieno (deep-fried zucchini blossom). The blossom was stuffed with mozzarella and anchovy, and the taste was – not surprisingly – reminiscent of the pizza we’d had at PizzaRè. The anchovies we had in Italy were so different from the ones we find here in Canada – far less fishy tasting; just fresh, salty and delicious.

Tripe Rome

We followed our sampling of fried goodies by sharing an order of Roman-style tripe, which is stewed in a tomato sauce flavoured with mint. Growing up Italian, I remember having tripe served to me a few times. And while it’s definitely an acquired taste that I haven’t entirely acquired yet, it was something I was determined to try while in Italy. Verdict: surprisingly good, though I’m probably okay with not eating it again until my next trip to Italy.

Caffe Sant'Eustachio Rome

Next up, Caffe Sant’Eustachio for some espresso. This place, located near the ancient Roman Pantheon and in business since the 1930s, is a legend in Italy. Many regard Sant’Eustachio as the best espresso in Rome. Some say it’s because of the water, from a 19th century aqueduct. Others claim it’s the method used in brewing the coffee, which is kept secret from customers’ eyes by screens around the espresso machine.  Honestly, considering the fact prices at Sant’Eustachio are considerably higher than at most other caffes in Rome, and the fact that just about every espresso in Italy is a good espresso, the experience left me a bit underwhelmed.

Mozzarella Obika Rome

The final stop on this quick taste of Rome is a mozzarella bar called Obika. Since the first location opened in central Rome in 2004, its popularity and the concept of featuring fresh mozzarellas and meats from Italy have taken off. Today, there are more than a dozen Obika locations across Italy, Tokyo, London, Kuwait and New York. I was initially skeptical of this place when we decided to stop in to Obika’s Campo de Fiori location for aperitivo (a relatively new Italian tradition of having a snack and drink in late afternoon or early evening). I mean, I like good mozzarella, but it’s not the most exciting cheese in the world. But the combination of fresh bufala mozzarella with a tasting of prosciutto di Parma, mortadella and a Tuscan finocchiona (a handmade fennel salami) made for the perfect snack. It was especially good paired with an Aperol spritz, a popular Italian drink made with prosecco, Aperol bitters, and soda water. And as Campo di Fiori was drenched in a torrential downpour while we ate, I couldn’t think of a better place to be.

So, that’s a taste of Rome. If you’re hungry for more, watch for future posts on the foods of Florence, Tuscany, and Bologna.

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