Archive | August, 2012

Chic Pique-Nique: Le Dîner en Blanc

31 Aug

Last night I attended an event that I’ve been looking forward to for weeks. To say that Dîner en Blanc was this picnic planner’s dream come true would not be an understatement. Dreamy secret location. Check. Elegantly dressed people. Check. French Food and Wine. Picnic Baskets! Check.

Dîner en Blanc Place Setting © 2012 Helena McMurdo

Founded in Paris 22 years ago, Dîner en Blanc happens one night a year. Friends gather together to eat and drink an elegant picnic, all dressed in white in a secret location revealed just hours before the event itself.

The undertaking was not without commitment. In addition to their white outfits, and their picnic, participants bring their own white tables and chairs plus their own proper dishes and glassware. (Proper in this case means china and real glass.)

In Vancouver guests also had the option to buy a prepared dinner from non-other than Top Chef Chef Dale McKay. Now I’m not saying I’m a Top Chef but I was not about to refuse a challenge. The official Dîner en Blanc list of things to bring, read as follows : “A picnic basket comprised of quality menu items and a china dinner service including proper stemware and flatware.” Oh yes. GAME ON!

Three weeks ago, we began to plan. Super G communed with his inner prop master and sprung into action. He found brilliant white chairs at Ikea. A very clever pop-up table at Canadian Tire. We raided my mother’s cupboard for white plates and linen. I dug out a beautiful restaurant-style white tablecloth I have never had occasion to use. And of course we started to put together our outfits and the small details involved.

Dîner en Blanc Decor. Photography © 2012Helena McMurdo

I started thinking about the menu. It had to be French, it had to be practical for transport and plating. In the spirit of the event, and in keeping with my own picnicking philosophy – only elegant and practical containers.  A fabulous buttery Quiche Lorraine – what could be more quintessentially picnicky? For dessert I wanted to be a bit more daring. I came upon the idea of crème caramel – so French – and I decided to do them in small Weck Jars so that I could seal the containers after making them and transport them easily, doing the renversement on the plate at the dinner for the final pièce de résistance. (These are the things that make me happy!)

Dîner en Blanc Food Prep. Photography ©2012Helena McMurdo

Cooking was much more fun than shopping and after trying on what seemed to be every white piece of white clothing in the Lower Mainland, almost going snow blind from the experience, I finally settled on my outfit. Now back to the food.

Paté was a must and so a trip to Oyama Sausages was in order where decided on a  smooth and creamy Paté de Cognac and a more rustic Paté de Campagne. We also picked up an amazing Saucisson Sec. Trés bon.

Finally the finishing table touches, the flowers, glassware, and a few tiny chocolates for ápres dîner and of course the baguette were assembled. The task of packing began. It was important to be self-sufficient and compact in our kit as we would be arriving to the picnic (as per the rules) en masse and by public transit carrying everything with us.

Picnic Set for Dîner en Blanc. © 2012 Helena McMurdo

Super G slung the pop-up table over his shoulder and carried the two chairs and I rigged up a little trolley for my basket. I had a smaller bag for breakables which I carried with me and finally a small hand-held basket with the flowers. It was time to dress up and get out there!

We had been told to be at the Main Street Skytrain Station at 6pm. We arrived and promptly saw a few other people in white. Gradually a larger group assembled. We met our table leader and checked in. It was all very organized and efficient. We were given drinks tickets for our purchased wine so we could collect it quickly when we arrived at the dinner location.  There was a bit of waiting around but the sun was shining and none minded. It was a pleasure to simply soak up the scene.

Waiting for Dîner en Blanc. ©2012 Helena McMurdo

With our leader heading the posse, we all hopped on the sky train to our mystery location. At this point we knew only that we’d be going to the Burrard Skytrain Station in the heart of downtown Vancouver but we still did now know our final destination. It was quite a laugh to see the looks on peoples faces as the hundred or so of us piled onto the train, all in white and with all our accessories.On the way to Vancouver Dîner en Blanc. © 2012 Helena McMurdo

From the Burrard Station we set off on foot and found our groups number growing as other groups from other areas converged on this point. It gradually became clear where we were headed, the home of the Olympic Torch, Jack Poole Plaza at the Vancouver Convention Centre. At the edge of downtown, on the water, it has a spectacular view of the North Shore mountains – a simply stunning, iconic location.

Without delay we found our designated spot, all organized and directed by our table leader Evelyn, and promptly set up our tables. Everywhere people were doing the same and it was wonderful to see the creativity in table settings and outfits alike.

Dîner en Blanc Vancouver. © 2012

To the sweet and beautiful music of Josh aka that-guy-who-sings-La-Vie-en-Rose-at-Granville-Island we dined, shared each other’s food and watched the sun go down.

Dîner en Blanc Celebration. Photography ©2012Helena McMurdo

The entire menu went down a treat and to my great happiness the crème caramel turned out of its dish perfectly.

By this time it was dark, and time for sparklers! We were each handed a sparkler and at 9:35, 1200 people lit them together creating a beautiful glowing mass which signalled the kick off of the dancing. Les Noces Gitanes from Paris, played a sort of new type of Gypsy Kings thing with the odd riff on Ukranian dancing music. It was great! The party had just begun.

Vancouver Dîner En Blanc Night. ©2012Helena McMurdo

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Spaghetti with Pesto & Roasted Garden Tomatoes

23 Aug

Here we are in August and gradually I’ve been harvesting tomatoes. This is my first year as an urban gardener and I have three tomato pots, two red cherry varieties and an heirloom, yellow pear. I guess my expectations were that I’d have a huge harvest and I’d literally be canning for months to use them all. Not that I’m disappointed. I’ve been picking them off in ones and twos for the most part but recently I was able to harvest one entire limb of a plant. I’m sure to seasoned gardeners this is not a big deal, but for me, it felt like a huge windfall.

Tomatoes ©2012 HelenaMcMurdo

But what to do with this bounty? Suddenly the pressure was on and now I felt that whatever these tomatoes went into had to be special, something I’d never done before, something amazing, because I’d grown these babies with my own hands. Today hunger and lack of groceries overtook me and so the tomatoes became the focus of my lunch. Something simple replaced something monumental.

So I roasted the tomatoes in a hot oven for a few minutes until they got tender and then tossed them into some pasta which I’d coated with some pesto from this year’s basil plants. I freeze the pesto in ice cube trays so I have a small portion ready to use when I need it.

Tomato & Pesto Pasta ©2012 HelenaMcMurdo

Simple, delicious and quick. And the tomatoes tasted so much the better knowing they came from my balcony. Next year who knows what will happen, but today, despite expectations, I was pretty happy with the delicious dish that found me. Although I may have some explaining to do on the home front when himself arrives home and finds I’ve eaten them all.

Tomato & Pesto Pasta ©2012 HelenaMcMurdo

Wordless Wednesday: Cubanelle Harvest

22 Aug

Summer Small Plates

7 Aug

It’s no secret that I could easily live on small bites. It’s definitely my preferred style of eating. Casual, relaxed and the the opportunity to try just a little bit of everything. Why would I eat any other way? Here in Vancouver we are having some very warm days, particularly this last week. So no way do I want to put on the oven.

We’re still waiting for our own tomatoes. They continue to show promise and we’ve harvested them in twos and threes but we are still not quite at salad production levels yet. So I thought we’d practice with some nice store bought, local,  mini San Marzanos and make a nice Caprese. The basil was freshly harvested from our own garden.

Caprese Salad. Photography © 2012 Helena McMurdo

We picked up some Bocconcini at Zara’s in the Granville Island Public Market and while we where there took the opportunity to purchase some of their delicious pasta. Ravioli stuffed with Butternut Squash seemed to be all the rage in the last few years and even though we seem to see it everywhere I can’t get tired of this combination.

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage Butter. Photography © 2012 Helena McMurdo

I simply cooked the pasta in water in a shallow pan for about 3 minutes and then drained the water and removed the pasta. In the same pan I melted some butter and threw in some sage leaves and then added the pasta back to the pan and tossed for 2 minutes or so. Luxurious and delicious.

Antipasto Plates. Photograpy © 2012 Helena McMurdo

No stop to Granville Island would be complete without a visit to Oyama Sausage Company.  The thing I like most about this place is when standing in line you can meet someone from every country that ever made a sausage. Some Spanish Serrano and one of my all-time favourite charcuterie items Rosette de Lyon made this meal complete.

What are your favourite summer dishes?

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