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Staying at a Ryokan in Japan: Helpful Tips + Dos and Don’ts

The entrance of Seryo, a ryokan (Japanese inn) in the Ohara region of Japan, an hour north of Kyoto. // FoodNouveau.com

Of all my travels, my trip to Japan stands out as the one that surprised, unsettled, and amazed me the most. Out of everything I did during my stay in Japan, my experience in a ryokan is one of the souvenirs I remember most vividly. There was a long list of things I wanted to do while I was in Japan, but staying at a ryokan was at the very top, and it’s the experience that I spent the longest pondering. What kind of ryokan should we choose—modern or traditional? Should we go for a city or a country ryokan? Are we expecting a natural onsen (hot spring) on site? Is an elaborate kaiseiki (multi-course) dinner a priority?

But what is a ryokan, exactly? In short, it’s a traditional Japanese inn. But if upon hearing the word “inn” you imagine a rustic, cozy accommodation with friendly hosts and voluble guests, you’re in for a surprise. Staying at a ryokan is a widely different experience than staying in a hotel, and you should definitely be aware of the ryokan etiquette if you consider visiting one. The following tips should help you prepare for a stay you’ll most likely remember for a lifetime.

Choosing a Ryokan

There are ryokans all over Japan, some located in big cities like Tokyo and Kyoto and others located in the country. Country ryokans are often located in areas that feature breathtaking scenery that change through the seasons. If you can spare the time to reach a country ryokan, you should do it, as I feel that they offer a more immersive experience. You’ll also witness a slower, lower-tech side of Japan that you may not get to see otherwise.

A pedestrian street in Sanzen-in, Ohara, Japan // FoodNouveau.com
A pedestrian street bordering a canal in Sanzen-in, Ohara.

Steps leading to Senzen-in Temple, Ohara, Japan // FoodNouveau.com
Steps leading to the Sanzen-in Temple and the Seryo ryokan, an hour north of Kyoto.

The ryokan we stayed at is called Seryo, located in the Ohara region, an hour north of Kyoto. We chose this ryokan because it’s close to several smaller and less crowded but magnificent temples (including the historic thousand-year-old Sanzenin Temple) and because a natural hot spring feeds the local ryokan hot baths. We felt that the location offered a great combination of sightseeing and an off-the-tourist-path journey.

Seryo, a ryokan (Japanese inn) in the Ohara region of Japan, an hour north of Kyoto. // FoodNouveau.com
Seryo, a traditional ryokan located in the Ohara region, an hour north of Kyoto.

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Breakfast Cookies

Breakfast Cookies // FoodNouveau.com

Cookies for breakfast? But of course! I’ve always felt muffins were overrated as an out-the-door breakfast option. I love them, but if I eat them while driving because I need to save a few precious minutes, crumbs go everywhere, including on and inside my shirt (I have once found muffins crumbs in my bra). Maybe I’m clumsy, but tired of having to vacuum my car after a few such snacks, I decided that muffins needed to stay at home.

This is when Breakfast Cookies saved the day (or my day, at least). These treats are filled with wholesome flours, grains, dried fruits, and nuts, packed with banana proteins, and touched with just a little sweetness from the chocolate. They’re filling, nutritious, firm but moist, and—most importantly—they don’t crumble all over you and your immediate surroundings as you eat them. I call them my perfect meal-on-the-go, because since they’ve entered my life, I eat them for breakfast, but also sometimes lunch and dessert.

This recipe makes lots of cookies, which is another reason why I love it. I freeze the whole batch—okay, maybe I eat one or two, and then I freeze the rest—and when I need a quick snack, I pop a frozen cookie into the toaster at a medium-low setting so it defrosts gently, grab it with a napkin, and go (the toaster method also gives the cookies their fresh-from-the-oven texture again). You can and should play around with the choice of dried fruits, nuts, and chocolate chips according to your cravings: there’s simply no way you can go wrong.

Breakfast Cookies

Makes 24 cookies

2 cups [500 ml] unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup [250 ml] whole wheat flour
2 cups [500 ml] old-fashioned oats
¼ cup [60 ml] ground flax seed (or wheat germ)
2 tsp [10 ml] baking powder
½ tsp [2.5 ml] salt
1 tsp [5 ml] ground ginger (or ½ tsp [2.5 ml] ground cinnamon)

½ cup [125 ml] unsalted butter, melted and cooled (you can also use a smooth tasting olive oil, nut oil—walnut or pistachio—or canola oil)
½ cup [125 ml] packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
¼ cup [60 ml] maple syrup
¾ cup [180 ml] buttermilk (you can also use soy, almond, rice, or regular milk)
1 tbsp [15 ml] vanilla extract
2 medium ripe bananas, mashed

½ cup [125 ml] chocolate chips (milk, dark, or white)
⅓ cup [180 ml] chopped dried fruits (cherries, cranberries, apricots, dates, etc.)
⅓ cup [180 ml] chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, almonds, etc.)

Preheat the oven to 350°F [175°C]. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, oats, flaxseed, baking powder, salt, and ginger. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk the butter and brown sugar together until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating between each addition until smooth. Add the maple syrup, buttermilk, vanilla extract, and mashed bananas, and mix until combined.

With the mixer speed to low, gradually add the dry ingredients and mix just until the batter comes together. Add the chocolate chips, fruits, and nuts, and mix a few seconds, just to distribute evenly. (The batter will be thick.)

Using a ¼ cup [60 ml] measure or an ice cream scoop, drop dollops of batter on the baking sheets 2 inches apart. Using a fork, press down lightly on each batter mound to flatter into a cookie shape. Bake for 15 minutes, or until set and lightly golden around the edges. The cookies will not spread much and hold their form, but they puff up a little.

Let cool completely on a wire rack, then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week, or in the freezer for up to three months.

Recipe Credit: Inspired by Jessica Merchant, How Sweet It Is

Download this recipe in PDF format - Food Nouveau

I Heart Quebec City

The view from Terrasse Pierre-Dugua-de-Mons, my absolute favorite place in Quebec City // FoodNouveau.com
The view from Terrasse Pierre-Dugua-de-Mons, my absolute favorite place in Quebec City.

Last fall, I worked on my most exciting writing assignment yet. As one of Travel+Leisure magazine’s newest “local experts,” I was asked to pick and list my favorite hotels, restaurants, and top things to do in my hometown, Quebec City. I was excited to work on this project for several reasons. First: it’s Travel+Leisure. I’ve been reading the magazine for over 15 years, and it is in fact the publication that gave me the itch to start traveling. Being asked to write for them made me as giddy as if I had just met my favorite rock star.

Second: I was over the moon that a major publication decided to hire a local to write about our city. Usually, journalists stay only for a few days—if they even get to come at all—and write about the few places they’ve had the time to visit, usually the same handful of places, located in roughly the same radius of the Old City. Talented as those writers may be, it’s, of course, impossible to dig under the surface of a city experienced for just a few hours.

A temporary art installation on Rue Saint-Joseph, in the Saint-Roch neighborhood of Quebec City // FoodNouveau.com
A temporary art installation on Rue Saint-Joseph, in the Saint-Roch neighborhood.

It took me a split second to accept the job, but then I realized the amount of research I would have to do. As a resident, I was well acquainted with the restaurant scene, but I had only stayed in hotels once or twice. I knew of the obvious big names, but family-friendly establishments, inns, and romantic hotels? I’d have to do lots (and lots!) of visits to feel knowledgeable enough to make choices. So I started contacting hotel managers, all of whom generously opened their doors to me.

The historic façade of Hôtel Clarendon, one of the Most Romantic Hotels in Quebec City //  FoodNouveau.com
The historic façade of Hôtel Clarendon, one of the Most Romantic Hotels in Quebec City.

The view from Hôtel 71’s penthouse, one of the Best Boutique Hotels in Quebec City // FoodNouveau.com
The view from Hôtel 71’s penthouse, one of the Best Boutique Hotels in Quebec City.

The lobby of iconic Fairmont Château Frontenac, one of the Top Luxury Hotels in Quebec City // FoodNouveau.com
The lobby of iconic Fairmont Château Frontenac, one of the Top Luxury Hotels in Quebec City.

The sunny terrace of Auberge du Quartier, one of the Best Boutique Hotels in Quebec City // FoodNouveau.com
The sunny terrace of Auberge du Quartier, one of the Best Boutique Hotels in Quebec City.

I have long had an eagerness to visit hotels from top to bottom, the same way I’d love to get the opportunity to tour a cruise ship. I’m extremely curious about the behind-the-scenes aspect, how such institutions work. And, of course, who wouldn’t want to get access to hotels’ most exclusive rooms and luxurious suites? I do, especially since I know I won’t ever get to visit them otherwise. Touring hotels not only allowed me to see Quebec City in a different light, literally—some rooms opening on absolutely breathtaking views over the city’s landscape—but also gave me the chance to meet with passionate people who regaled me with stories about where they work, the people they meet, and the city they have such fondness for.

In other words, it made me fall in love with my hometown all over again. Quebec City has long been seen as a “museum city,” a reputation that was reinforced when UNESCO named it a World Heritage treasure back in 1985. Indeed, walking through the Old City’s narrow cobblestone street while studying the historic buildings unveils a lot about what many historians consider “the birthplace of North America.”

Quebec City's cobblestone streets and historic stone houses reveal the city’s 400-year history // FoodNouveau.com
The Old Port’s cobblestone streets and historic stone houses reveal our city’s 400-year history.

But what I love most about Quebec City is its revival, a process that started around its 400th anniversary in 2008. The celebrations organized to commemorate the city’s foundation and infrastructures built for the occasion were a breath of fresh air, encouraging a younger generation of local entrepreneurs to take on new projects, changing the face of many neighborhoods. This renewed vitality also made residents walk tall again, chests puffed with a newfound pride of living in a city with such a fascinating history.

Since then, dozens of new restaurants have opened their doors, which did wonders for our culinary reputation. Not content with only honoring our French heritage, our chefs have defined a new cuisine, one that focuses on making the most of local ingredients and producers, bringing our delicious terroir into the limelight. Now, the city is rich with first-rate fine-dining establishments, delightful bistros where guests are welcomed like family, bakeries that compete with Paris’ finest, pubs crafting and serving award-winning beers, and locally owned coffee shops that make for perfect spots to watch the city life unfold.

A food and cocktail spread at Le Cercle, named in the Best Bars and Best Brunches in Quebec City lists // FoodNouveau.com
A food and cocktail spread at Le Cercle, named in the Best Bars and Best Brunches in Quebec City lists.

Picture-perfect Neapolitan pizza at Nina Pizza Napolitaine, one of the Best Family-Friendly Restaurants in Quebec City // FoodNouveau.com
Picture-perfect Neapolitan pizza at Nina Pizza Napolitaine, one of the Best Family-Friendly Restaurants in Quebec City. Photo by Catherine Côté.

A comfortingly spicy Korean soup at Soupe et Cie, one of the Best Budget Restaurants in Quebec City // FoodNouveau.com
A comfortingly spicy Korean soup at Soupe et Cie, one of the Best Budget Restaurants in Quebec City.

Quirky mementos at hidden gem Le Renard et la Chouette, one of the Best Coffee Shops in Quebec City // FoodNouveau.com
Quirky mementos at hidden gem Le Renard et la Chouette, one of the Best Coffee Shops in Quebec City.

Over the weeks I worked on the project, I had the chance and privilege to visit and revisit my favorite spots and to explore new ones I can’t believe I hadn’t discovered before. I walked a lot, ate everything from casual brunches to refined dinners, and lost sleep over the choices I had to make. In the end, the lists I shared with Travel+Leisure feature my personal favorites, and while the choices I made can of course be debated (I look forward to what my friends have to say about my favorite poutines!), I think it’s fair to say that visitors walking in my footsteps will have a heck of a good time.

A delicious French fries, cheese, and gravy concoction at Snack Bar St-Jean, one of the Best Poutines in Quebec City // FoodNouveau.com
A delicious French fries, cheese, and gravy concoction at Snack Bar St-Jean, one of the Best Poutines in Quebec City.

If it sounds like there are no negatives about my hometown, it’s because when I look at it with the eyes of a visitor, I really believe there are none. I want Quebec City to get its moment in the sun, and see visitors of all ages come and discover us. It does seem like the word is starting to come out: National Geographic published an extensive Quebec City Guide on their website last year and The New York Times just named Quebec City among its 52 Places to Go in 2015. So why don’t you come over? If you do, send me a line and I’ll happily have coffee (or drinks!) and share more about what makes this place so special.

Part of the breathtaking 360° view from Ciel! Bistro-Bar, one of the Most Romantic Restaurants in Quebec City // FoodNouveau.com
Part of the breathtaking 360° view from Ciel! Bistro-Bar, one of the Most Romantic Restaurants in Quebec City.

Place Royale, the exact location where Quebec City was founded in 1608 // FoodNouveau.com
Place Royale, the exact location where Quebec City was founded in 1608 and one of our Top Historic Sights.

Rue du Petit Champlain, one of Quebec City's most atmospheric streets // FoodNouveau.com
Escalier Casse-Cou (“Breakneck Stairs”) is where you can get one of the Best Views in Quebec City: that of Rue du Petit Champlain, one of our most atmospheric streets.

For more information about Quebec City:

Giveaway!

To celebrate the publication of my Travel+Leisure Local Experts site, I teamed up with the Quebec City Tourism Office, as well as local producers and artists to put together three prize packages I hope you’ll love.

Each prize package includes:

  • One copy of the book Québec: A Gastronomic Capital, a gorgeous 300-page book that feature 90 recipes by our best chefs, as well as features on restaurants and producers
  • One set of three notebooks featuring atmospheric Quebec City photography shot by my talented designer friend—and Quebec City native—Miss Lemonee
  • Three issues of 1608, Quebec City’s trendiest lifestyle magazine that features bilingual articles about culture, fashion, and food
  • A box of maple butter-filled dark chocolates handmade by Île d’Orléans producers, sold at the Old Port’s Public Market

A Quebec City-Themed Giveaway // FoodNouveau.com

Each package has a total value of $100.

The giveaway is over. Thanks to all participants!

To win, browse through my Travel+Leisure lists and tell me which one inspires you the most. To get a second entry, suggest a theme you would like me to cover in future lists (for example, best shopping streets, top local designer shops, and so on). Social media actions also give you bonus entries! The giveaway is open to everyone. You have until January 30, 2015, at 12 AM to enter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck to all—and I hope to meet you in Quebec City soon!

{Candy Week} Wild Blueberry and Blackcurrant Cream Truffles

It has become a tradition for me to make edible gifts for my clients and friends who live far away every year. Here are the treats I’ve shipped in the past:

This year, it’s candy time! I’m sharing four different kinds of candies with you this week, all of which make perfect homemade gifts. I wish I could ship treats to everyone (that’s how much I love to make edible gifts!) but I figure recipes is second best, isn’t it?

Wild Blueberry and Blackcurrant Cream Truffles // FoodNouveau.com

Wild Blueberry and Blackcurrant Cream Truffles

I’m not sure whether there’s a treat that spells holidays more than truffles. They’re the quintessential hostess gift, and they sell for a prime at chocolateries, pastry shops, and gourmet grocery stores. But you know how easy they are to make, right? They’re so easy, in fact, that I thought they had become common and shied away from making them, thinking people I would gift them to would shrug them off and think, “Oh thanks, more truffles.” Because, of course, there’s no such thing as truffle overdose, this year I decided to whip up a batch—and I’m so happy I did. There’s nothing boring about these: the fruity berry flavors complement the bitter, earthy notes of the chocolate amazingly, without turning them too sweet. It’s the perfect dessert for people who say they don’t like dessert, and they’re great with a sip of Sherry cask whiskey, or the liqueur you made the truffles with.

In the recipe, I use the product of a local blackcurrant farm, Cassis Monna & Filles, which makes an outstanding crème de cassis (“blackcurrant cream”). If you can’t find blackcurrant liqueur, you can use any berry-based liqueur, such as Chambord, or double the amount of wild blueberry jam to make them alcohol-free.

Makes about 32 truffles (the recipe can easily be halved)

For the truffles
12 oz [340 g] bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 tbsp [30 ml] unsalted butter
¼ cup [60 ml] heavy whipping cream
¼ cup [60 ml] smooth wild blueberry jam (if there are whole blueberries in the jam, press it through a sieve so it’s smooth)
¼ cup [60 ml] blackcurrant cream or liqueur
¼ cup [60 ml] cocoa powder

To finish
12 oz [340 g] bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 tbsp [15 ml] vegetable oil
Optional: cacao nibs

Melt 12 oz [340 g] chocolate with the butter, cream, and wild blueberry jam in the top of a double boiler over hot, not boiling, water until smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the liqueur. Pour into a small container, cover, and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

Take the chocolate mixture out of the refrigerator. Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper. Sift the cocoa powder into a small bowl. Using a 1-inch [2.5-cm] scoop or melon baller, from the chocolate mixture into balls and drop them onto the baking sheet. If the chocolate mixture is too firm to work with, leave it a few minutes more at room temperature to soften. Roll each ball in the cocoa powder to coat lightly and return to the baking sheet. Place in the freezer until frozen, about two hours.

Melt the remaining 12 oz [340 ml] chocolate with the oil in the top of a double boiler over hot, not boiling, water until smooth. Remove the chocolate balls from the freezer, and line a second baking sheet with parchment or wax paper. Using two forks, turn each chocolate ball in the melted chocolate to coat evenly and carefully transfer to the prepared baking sheet. If desired, sprinkle a little cocoa nibs on the top of each truffle when the chocolate is still soft. If the chocolate cools too much, reheat it and continue coating the balls.

Alternatively, you can skip the coating step altogether and serve the truffles dusted with cocoa powder as is. Both options are delicious, but the extra chocolate coating makes the truffles extra special!

Refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes, before serving. The truffles will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month, or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Always bring back to room temperature before serving.

Recipe Credit: Adapted from Lou Seibert Pappas, The Christmas Candy Book

Download this recipe in PDF format - Food Nouveau

{Candy Week} Crispy Maple Mini-Meringues

It has become a tradition for me to make edible gifts for my clients and friends who live far away every year. Here are the treats I’ve shipped in the past:

This year, it’s candy time! I’m sharing four different kinds of candies with you this week, all of which make perfect homemade gifts. I wish I could ship treats to everyone (that’s how much I love to make edible gifts!) but I figure recipes is second best, isn’t it?

Crispy Maple Mini-Meringues // FoodNouveau.com

Crispy Maple Mini-Meringues

I recently made several batches of éclairs to create my latest How-To post, so I was left with lots of egg whites. I usually don’t mind having egg whites leftover because they become the perfect excuse to whip up a Lemon Meringue Pie (one of my favorite desserts). This time though, I had a lot more than what is required to make a pie-topping meringue, so I decided to use it to make candy. I always thought mini-meringues were super cute, but I had never made them myself. Being that I’m such a maple syrup lover, of course, they had to be flavored with it and sprinkled with maple sugar. The resulting mini-meringues are super crisp, but they melt and become sticky in the mouth, like honeycomb does. They’re an irresistible treat and they’re so photogenic too! They make a great hostess gift, but I’m thinking they would make for perfect wedding favors too.

Makes about 100 mini-meringues

1 cup [250 ml] maple syrup
3 egg whites
¼ tsp [1.25 ml] cream of tartar
2 tbsp [30 ml] coarse maple sugar

Position two racks in the oven, one in the middle, and one in the bottom, and preheat it to 170°F [75°C]. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a saucepan, bring the maple syrup to a boil and cook until a candy thermometer indicates 250°F [120°C]. Remove from the heat while you beat the egg whites.

In a large mixing bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Slowly add the hot maple syrup to the egg whites, beating constantly, making sure the syrup never touches the whisk (it would create sugar crystals). Keep on beating for about 3 minutes, until stiff peaks form.

With a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip, shape the mini-meringues on the lined baking sheets: Hold the tip close to the baking sheet, press down on the bag to create an inch-wide [2.5-cm-wide] base, then lift up a little, pressing more lightly, then stop and lift swiftly. This should create the classic “kisses” shape. Keep on piping the meringues, setting them about 1 inch [2.5-cm] apart (they will not expand). Sprinkle each meringue with a little maple sugar.

Place both baking sheets in the oven and let the meringues dry slowly for about 3 hours, switching the sheets halfway through. Depending on your oven and the temperature (whether it’s humid in your kitchen or not), it may take longer to dry the meringues. To check for doneness, try to lift a meringue from a baking sheet. If it comes off easily, it’s done. If it sticks, even a little, let them dry more. Once the meringues are done, turn the oven off, and leave the meringues in the oven for another hour.

The meringues will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Recipe Credit: Adapted from RicardoCuisine.com

Download this recipe in PDF format - Food Nouveau