Friday, December 24, 2010

Thirsting for Parisian Macarons

The Parisian macaron is a decadent confectionary that is synonymous with elegance. It is an irresistible combination of sweetness from the delicate, airy eggshell-like crust straight through to the rich ganache and jam fillings.

Finding a perfect macaron in Ottawa can be a bit of a treasure hunt. They are not mainstream fare. For some, a macaron is an undeniable craving. No need to be longing for the French patisserie, Ladurée to quench your ‘thirst’. Now there is a new game in town.

Urban Baking Co. has created a name for itself with its signature macarons, bursting in flavours of Red Boyne Raspberry, Dark Chocolate and Bartlett Pear & White Fig.

I am still too intimidated to serve my baking attempts at macarons. When it is perfection I want, I like to supplement my own dessert table with work from an expert. It is also a way to offer a gluten-free choice for my guests.

A home-based business located in Kanata, they have put together a beautiful Winter Collection of petit carrés and French macarons. Owner, Wendy Raoux, is Cordon Bleu trained. If you are looking for a special hostess or thank-you gift, you may be pleased with their choice and size of gift boxes.

My favourite? I go for the raspberry every time.

Urban Baking Co.
Call/text: 613-859-9838
Tweet: @urbanbakingco
Link to:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Peanut Brittle - Is It Cheating to Make It in The Microwave?

I have friends who, without hesitation, will say that I am a bit of a type-A personality. I love organization and order. I love precision and will happily work to a high standard. That can imply that I HAVE to do things the RIGHT way. But in the kitchen, going with traditional methods at every turn is not one of my mantras.

For me, as long as I have a reasonable handle on the science, taking short-cuts or using time saving equipment can usually get me the same result as going the 'long' way.

When I tweeted out yesterday that I was knee-deep in my annual peanut brittle production, I let it slip that it was dead easy when you use the microwave. Well it appears that Jonathan Viau, aka @bigheartchef, decided to call me on my culinary heresy and shouted back "Cop out!" Lovingly, of course.

So why would I turn against my species and use a microwave for a candy that is so temperature sensitive? Well, because I do find it easier to push out the volume. I make each batch 1 1/2 pounds at a time. I find this most manageable. As a result, I made 8 batches reasonably quickly. (12 pounds of peanutty goodness to gift to family and friends!) I use my two 10-cup Pyrex bowls, cleaning one while the other was in service. Most importantly, I don't need to be at the pot for the full duration of the heating process, stirring away, waiting to hit 250ºF to put in the peanuts and then 300ºF for completion.

What I do need to know is that the sugar and corn syrup needs to be heated in the end to the 'hard crack' stage for candy, which is 300ºF. And I need to know that I am looking for a light amber colour on the sugar when it is heated. The baking soda will give it a light, crunchy texture and it will also give it colour. The vanilla will also darken it a bit. The vanilla and butter add flavour. Once I have poured my brittle out onto a well buttered pan, I tip the pan to have it spread and I will bang the pan as well to release any big bubbles that may have formed from the baking soda. If you like a very thin brittle, consider spreading or 'stretching' it with two forks pulling in opposite directions.

I use a silicon spatula to do my stirring. I also make sure everything is pre-measured before I begin as it all moves very quickly. Important to note, my microwave throws out 900 watts of power and based on this I was able to determine my times for each stage of the process. If you have a microwave with less power, you will need to increase the cooking times.

I have made peanut brittle the 'candy thermometer in pot' way but I do think making peanut brittle in the microwave is dead easy. If you do want to make peanut brittle and want to go the route of using a candy thermometer on the stove-top, you will find similar recipes that will have one additional ingredient - water. It helps the sugar melt evenly and by the time it is up to temperature, it will have almost all evaporated.

Now on to the recipe.

Microwave Peanut Brittle

1 cups sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 1/2 cups peanuts
2 tsp butter
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

In 10-cup Pyrex bowl combine sugar and corn syrup; stir. Cook at HIGH for 4 minutes. Stir, then add peanuts; stir well. Cook at HIGH for an additional 3 minutes; stir, add butter and vanilla, stir well. Cook at HIGH 1 1/4 minutes. Add baking soda; stir gently until light and foamy. Immediately pour mixture onto well buttered cookie sheet. Spread thinly. Cool completely; break into small pieces.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

I Am Going A Bit Nuts For Spicy Maple Pecans

Nuts are a popular treat at this time of year. They come in all shapes and sizes. It could be that collection of plain raw nuts we know so well - almonds, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, pecans and walnuts - all still in the shell. It's a young child's dream to go at them with the fancy nutcracker in hand. Oh, do I ever remember that mess. Some prefer the assorted nuts that are already cleaned up, roasted and salted. And there are those that love to get fancy and dress them up with flavour. Lots of flavour.

My favourite nut is the pecan and I like them sweet and spicy. These Spicy Maple Pecans are adapted from a recipe by American chef Art Smith from his book, "Back to the Table: The Reunion of Food and Family". I also found a similar recipe on the blog of fellow Canadian food blogger, Julie, who posts on Dinner with Julie.

The nuts are a great party snack. They also make a very smart gift for those who appreciate gourmet and handmade. They are perfect in salads.

I am thrilled to have found my party nut. Try them. I bet you can't stop at one.

Spicy Maple Pecans
adapted from Back to the Table: The Reunion of Food and Family by Art Smith and Julie of Dinner with Julie

2 cups pecan halves

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon salt, scant

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Combine the sugar, cumin, chili powder, paprika, salt and cayenne pepper in a small bowl.

Spread pecans out on a baking sheet. Toast for 5 minutes. Pour the maple syrup over the nuts and stir to cover. Return to oven and roast for another 5 minutes. Stir the nuts to turn them and re-coat them with the syrup on the bottom of the baking sheet. Return them to the oven again for another 5 minutes. The syrup should be bubbling on the pecans now.

When the pecans have finished roasting in the syrup, take them out of the oven and cover with the spice mixture. Stir well to fully cover the nuts.
Then pour them onto a clean baking sheet to cool completely.

They can be stored in a sealed container for up to one week.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Going A Little Local Under the Christmas Tree

My recent crazy jam craving has had me finding out more about the upcoming Locavore Artisan Food Fair on December 12 in New Edinburgh.

In a discussion with Michael Sunderland of michaelsdolce, I asked when the next jam tasting may take place in town. I have a few friends I think could become easy converts to that bright, fresh, full fruit flavour he captures in every jar. And Michael's response was that he would be out in full force at the LAFF (Locavore Artisan Food Fare).

I took a look at their line-up and noticed a number of my new loves were going to be there too.

Art-Is-In Bakery:
I pick up their breads from time to time at the Ottawa Bagelshop. The teenager's favourite is the cheddar jalapeno and the mister likes the fennel. I have been delighted with Art-Is-In panini sandwiches at favourite places like Edgar and Morning Owl Coffee House.

Chamomile Desjardins Hot Sauces: I have tried these hot sauces when dining at Jak's Kitchen. The sauces were were out on the table for us to doctor up our brunch as we saw fit! The teenager goes a little mad for hot sauces.

Happy Goat Coffee Company:
I recently picked up their espresso beans. They call this signature blend Babae's Espresso Blend. If I was in charge of Pierre Richard's marketing department, I would be calling this blend CRAZY CREMA! I just love seeing the shot being drawn and watching the big crema float. When I was at the shop to do my pickup, I got a great tip. Cochrane Dairy's egg nog is to die for when making an egg nog latte. Who knew that egg nog could froth? And why not?

Isobel's Cupcakes & Cookies: The only cupcake place I have tried in town so far is Isobel's. Cupcakes aren't my go-to sin but I did have to give it a try since cupcakes seem to be all the rage now. I went for one that was lemony. No surprise. Everything I was expecting in fresh and curdy of the lemon kind. I have yet to master the eat and run as a snack thing. The icing is stacked SO high. So for now, my Isobel cupcakes will have to be enjoyed on a pretty china plate with a nice silver cake fork and a wonderful cup of tea. And somehow that has a way of making it prettier too.

Rochef Chocolatier: On a food crawl down St-Joseph in Gatineau this summer, we found this wonderful chocolate at La Brûlerie. So many great flavour choices. But you will find me always reaching for Dark.

Serious Cheese: Tucked away in Old Ottawa South near my hairdresser, a piece of Fifth Town cheese can seem like a nice way to top off a great hair day. Don't even get me started on their ginger molasses cookies.

Siren Bakery: I have tried all of Loreli's granola flavours. I do like how liberal she is with the cinnamon. I have a soft spot for handmade gourmet granola. For me it works perfectly on fresh fruit and plain yogurt. We are lucky to have a number of great choices in the city. One of my favourites is for sure Siren Bakery's Cranberry and Almond.

I am going Christmas shopping: I have become familiar with the products of 8 of the participants. By my way of thinking, the other 13 must be on par with them to be included in this Food Fair. I look forward to finding out more about them in this collective setting. I like the idea of moving gift giving to top quality consumables. I like that I can get some of that good shopping done on December 12th at the Crichton Cultural Community Centre. 10 am until 3 pm and admission is Free.

The Ottawa LAFF is also partnering with the Ottawa Good Food Box for this event.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Bauer Kitchen - Waterloo

On a recent road trip to the Kitchener-Waterloo region, we took in brunch at The Bauer Kitchen, one in the suite of restaurants owned by The Charcoal Group. We had a reservation for 11:00 am on the Sunday after the clocks changed back so we were expecting to be seated among a buzz of well rested fellow patrons. I am almost certain we were the first to arrive. First pour of the coffee would be the freshest, right?

The menu for brunch isn't teeming with choices of the 'breakfast' variety. Something we knew before going since we had cased it out on-line. This is not the place to go if you are looking for the diner experience of 2 eggs over easy, 3 strips of bacon, hashbrowns, rye lightly toasted. It is catering to a finer plate presentation - eggs benedict, waffles, french toast, 2 different omelettes, steak and eggs. The lunch side of the menu is better represented with sandwiches, salads, appetizers and even what I would call light dinner fare.

The website says that "The Bauer Kitchen's fair trade organic house coffee is a proprietary blend of three estate coffees from Nicaragua, Ethiopia and Sumatra". Which I suppose that's why it is $2.95. It was good, but not memorable. Though I am sure it was doing what it needed to be doing to get us primed for the day. (Perhaps I carry my loyalty to Bridgehead Coffeehouse, Ottawa too far.) Although it was Noon, 'old time', we all seemed to be dragging. Interestingly, if you are looking to bring their caffeine experience home, you can purchase their coffee (whole bean or ground) or get it next door at Vincenzo's.

They say their bread is baked using local grains and no additives or dough enhancers. That sounds like a good thing. It is baked on-site in the Bauer Bakery and can be purchased for take-home as well.

Our first mistake was ordering the sticky bun ($1.95 each). Two to share among the 4 of us. Although, there wasn't a whole lot of sharing. The mistake you ask? Well, let's just say the thing is gigantic and there is a reason that this picture looks like it covers the whole plate. It's because it does. It was a meal in and of itself. (Shouldn't good wait staff stop you from making bad decisions like that?) The fresh tender sweet bread was covered in much cinnamon, butter and sugar. (Not a nut or raisin to be found.) It was pretty yummy but I still continue the search for the 'best' sticky bun in the world.

I decided to go for the Smoked Salmon Benedict on a fresh biscuit with hollandaise, poached eggs, homefries and fresh fruit for $13.95. I try to pick salmon whenever I can. What a great idea to match it with the bennys. It really was lovely but I wished I had been more hungry than I was. Darn that sticky bun.

The teenager went off brunch and headed for lunch tastes, starting with the Romaine Salad with garlic anchovy dressing, Heidelberg double-smoked bacon, olive oil croutons and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese for $7.45. He absolutely LOVED it. It had that big garlic flavour he was looking for. He commented on the great bacon (quantity and taste) and the big splash of cheese shavings.

He then moved on to the Bauer Butcher Burger with Heidelburg double-smoked bacon, mustard scallion mayonnaise, aged cheddar and grilled onion on a multi-grain bun. It came with a handsome serving of sweet potato fries. All for $13.95. His eyes were bigger than his stomach and he admitted defeat early and opted for a doggie bag. He says he quite enjoyed the burger and the fries were done to perfection. (I can agree. To the fries.)

The mister and our guest had Eggs Benedict on a fresh biscuit with peameal bacon, arugula, poached eggs, hollandaise, homefries and fresh fruit for $11.95. Our guest moaned a lot through her meal. When it came time to clear the plates, hers had a look of 'licked clean'. The sticky bun mister gave his meal a valiant try!

The Bauer Kitchen opened in December 2009. They describe themselves as "an energetic up-market 'bistro' set in a SoHo inspired, restored felt factory". Who can argue with that description! (SoHo, a neighbourhood in Manhattan is 8 hours and 800 kms away. Wow! The power of inspiration.) The interior is impressive with its high ceilings, high wall shelves, cement floors, table dividers of industrial steel and reclaimed wood. The restaurant space is massive so getting a cozy feeling is tricky. This was my second time here and I still haven't felt it. It actually reminds me a bit of Milestones Grill + Bar, though it is hard to beat the Bauer Factory history seeping through.

Executive Chef, Michael Hodgson is a hometown boy and I often read about the healthy competitiveness and camaraderie among the chefs in the region that I can't help but think keeps them all sharp at their game.

I usually do not to pay much attention to restaurant prices, at least not in a picky way. I tend to think if you had a really outstanding experience, a percentage point or two doesn't really factor into your make or break decision. But I did feel the prices at TBK are a bit on the high side compared to other places of this calibre.

I do prefer chef-owned restaurants versus those run from 'head office', but I can happily say that our overall experience was positive and I do want to come back again. There is so much to the place, I think it will take a few tries to soak it all in. Perhaps on a future visit we will be out on their large outdoor patio. Here is hoping that the place is having a solid following as it approaches its first anniversary.

Whether I like it or not, Waterloo appears to be growing up.

The Bauer Kitchen
187 King Street South #102
Waterloo, ON
519. 772.0790
Twitter: @thebauerkitchen

Open seven days a week.
Weekday Lunch: 11 am - 4 pm
Dinner: Mon & Tues: 4 pm - 11 pm
Dinner: Wed & Thurs: 4 pm - midnight
Dinner: Fri: 4 pm - 1 am
Dinner: Sat: 2 pm - 1 am
Diner: Sun: 2 pm - 11 pm
Weekend Brunch: 9 am - 2 pm

The Bauer Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 19, 2010

Is There Room For Food Bloggers In The World Of Food Writing?

Ever since I started food blogging, I have noticed from time to time criticism on Twitter, Facebook and through on-line articles about the state of food writing in the 21st century and who is actually doing it. A traditional print model of newspapers and magazines publishing food writings has existed 'forever'.

In this day and age, it is quick to set up a web page and begin blogging. Now with such social media tools as Twitter and Facebook, it is also effortless to get the word out. Anybody can publish, if they are so inclined.

Here in Ottawa I faithfully follow close to 25 food bloggers, thanks somewhat in part to a food aggregator site called The Food. (Though I would venture to say the list of food blogs in Ottawa is probably nearing 100.) My reading list includes such notables as the Ottawa Citizen's blog by food editor Ron Eade called Omnivore's Ottawa. As far as I know, their food critic, Anne DesBrisay does not blog but does go digital with a website called Capital Dining, where her printed reviews are posted on-line, 'blog style'. I regularly catch Lunch Rush by Shari Goodman at MetroNews. Shari also has a personal food blog called Whisk. Shawna Wagman is consistently sharing foodie morsels over at Ottawa Magazine through City Bites. But many food blogs I read are done by amateur writers receiving no remuneration for what they post.

The blogs seem to come in all shapes and sizes. Some really look quite sharp. Downright artistic. Others, plain and basic. There is the clean look vs. the very cluttered. Some writings are short and sweet, bordering on poetic. Some are more the story-teller. There are those that struggle with their prose. And then there are the ones that come at you like 'I just had 3 Red Bulls!!'. You might find some choose to invite you into their family and kitchen. Others keep arms length and choose just to inform. Some are pushing vendor products on their behalf. Some are helping to distribute press releases. Some want all the world to follow. Others, just friends and family (but would tolerate the odd voyeur). Some blog once a day. Others blog once a year. Some read like they are dying to get paid one day. Others, hold tight to 'getting paid' means 'selling out'. And for some, this is just a great place to store their favourite recipes and restaurants and lucky you if you want to skim through it too.

With food blogging being so ubiquitous in the nation's capital, it has raised so many questions for me. The obvious one being, is there room for everyone's voice to be heard?

And then the questions start to tumble (none of them unique to Ottawa-Gatineau) ....

What qualifications are required, if any, to be a food blogger? What should be the 'rules of engagement? Are there some areas that are off limits or inappropriate? Are there some things about food blogging that is just downright WRONG? Do restaurateurs and chefs see a place for food bloggers or are they a blight on the print sheets of food writing? Should they cover a breadth of topics or do they create 'topic fatigue'? Are food bloggers being exploited for their readership to push someone else's food agenda? Are they too critical or not critical enough? Sure, there is the Food Blog Code of Ethics, but is there more to this conversation than this 'Magna Carta' of food? And what about the BIG question, does anybody really care?

Please weigh in. I would love to hear what you think. Is there room for food bloggers in the world of food writing?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Tales from the 'Snack Lab' - Garlic Butter Crostinis with Melted Cheese, Shredded Apple and Chives

I am not sure why some days the lunch appetite seems to be all but vacant. Common sense tells me I should have something to eat anyway, even if it is just a 'little something'. I quickly consider a fast trip to Edgar in Hull, but get the bad news on Twitter that the brioche was all scooped up by one client! Not that Marysol's now famous bacon date brioche should have been my lunch - my 'little something', but it may have made a nice finish. The bad news tweet is probably an omen telling me I need to fend for myself.

The fridge is going through a food diet right now, which means I am refusing to buy groceries and I am slowly working my way through the selection of raw ingredients, trying to be as creative as possible with the combinations.

So today out came 14 McIntosh Osgoode Orchards apples, still left from my bushel that I had picked up at the Parkdale Market. I am thinking apple sauce. Lots of apple sauce. I am thinking pie. Probably two pies. Two award-winning apple pies. Neither really constitutes a 'little something' for lunch. I am stuck. Next, out comes a small brick of 'whenever did I buy this?', but still happy mozzarella cheese. Still not committed.

I expand my search and go down into the freezer. Here I find a small bag (well sealed!) of Ace Bakery baguette slices leftover from a recent dinner party. From the pantry I pull out the last vestiges of my locally grown garlic purchased from Jacobson's on Beechwood, of all places.

I am now feeling ready to play and experiment in the 'Snack Lab'. The bread slices get very lightly toasted, slathered with garlic butter and then covered with a small parcel of grated mozzarella cheese. Back under the broiler until they bubble up to a light golden brown.

Meanwhile I peel one of those still crunchy apples and shred it. When the garlicy, cheesed-up crostinis come out of the oven, I garnish them with a sprinkle of shredded apple and a few snips of chives for colour. I go in for the taste. Jackpot! I love the crunch of the bread, the nip of the garlic, the sweet and salty in the goo of the cheese, the bright freshness of the apple. I love the pretty of the chives. It is complex but complementary.

Voila! Today from the 'Snack Lab' I bring you the Garlic Butter Crostini with Melted Cheese, Shredded Apple and Chives!

I am feeling quite pleased with my 'little something' lunch. A possible hors d'œuvre for the upcoming book club Christmas party? I think so!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Oliver & Bonacini Café Grill - Waterloo

It has been 4 days now since our party of five dined out at the Oliver & Bonacini Café Grill, located at Conestoga Mall in Waterloo, Ontario and I am still pondering the experience. This is one of five O & B Café Grills in Ontario. So a chain, I guess. Not something I usually do when dining out. But this collection of restaurants is just five in the larger family of Peter Oliver and Michael Bonacini eateries. Of the other six, Canoe and Luma are the more well-known, both situated in Toronto. As I contemplated whether I would go to a 'chain', I acquiesced knowing it came with a pedigree.

I sometimes catch a glimpse of Michael Bonacini on Citytv's CityLine but I am most fond of his TV presence from his time on Chris Knight's production, Cook Like A Chef. What is it with Welsh men? They are just so darn charming. And a celebrity chef so calm, cool and collected seems virtually unheard of in this industry. Shea Robinson is the Chef de Cuisine at the Waterloo location. No word on HIS disposition!

With all this goodness, what could I possibly be pondering? What I can't figure out is why Waterloo. The other Grill locations are more Toronto centric with the exception of the other outlier, Blue Mountain. And if Waterloo, then why the Conestoga Mall. And if Waterloo's Conestoga Mall, where is everybody? I get that Kitchener-Waterloo has a high student population with two universities but surely there are enough people in the area with some okay coin to go out to dinner once in a while. Perhaps we can just chock it up to being Sunday night in a town that still closes its doors sometimes for 'the day of rest'. For us it was a lovely evening and I just hate to see people missing out! I so hope a Waterloo presence can work for them.

Annie greeted us like family on our arrival. Our service was consistent, cheery and attentive. The interior is beautiful. So many details that speak to a very urban style, not typical of restaurants I have been to in Waterloo in the past. High ceilings. Large tables. Banquettes. White and bright everywhere. Fashion forward plates. Their handicap washroom borders on posh. Check out the website gallery section to give you a better sense of the mood of this place.

We all shared the chicken & leek potstickers with maple ponzu sauce. Lovely bundles with an asian accent.

The teenager first dug into the small caesar salad with focaccia croutons, maple bacon, creamy garlic and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese dressing. Another guest started with this dish as well. They both had the same comment - the dressing seemed diluted. He was looking for a rich garlic punch. High praise for the bacon though!

The teenager then moved on to the Tuscan onion soup with caramelized onion broth and bocconcini and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. This was his favourite dish. All the onion flavour he was hoping for. He recommended it and wants to come back for more!

The teenager finished off with one of the November Tutta La Pasta specials - handmade ricotta and truffle ravioli with preserved lemon and garlic sautéed Swiss chard, butternut squash and rosemary brown butter. I was able to pull off a taste of this. I enjoyed the creamy filling and the squash base. But the Swiss chard was just a bit too overpowering against the very mellow ricotta and squash. High marks though for being beautifully presented. After all, we do eat with our eyes, don't we?

I had the grilled Atlantic salmon seasoned with olive oil, lemon, sea salt and garden herbs, served with Provençal ratatouille and thyme roasted potatoes. It was a handsome portion and the salmon was cooked to perfection. I loved every bite. The ratatouille was a good match and something I have never had with salmon before.

The mister had the grilled chicken on Japanese Caesar with edamame, roasted shiitake, cashews, wasabi peas, pickled ginger in a lime and soy Caesar dressing.

Our first dinner companion followed her Caesar salad with the strozzapreti (short hand-rolled pasta) with rosemary lamb ragout, spinach and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. It was an ample portion and she left most of her pasta. I suspect it overshadowed the ragout.

Our second dinner companion had the fire roasted baby back ribs with jalapeño cornbread pudding, creamy coleslaw, seasonal vegetables and campfire maple baked beans. He just loved these lip smacking ribs!

Our dinner companions shared the Sicilian pistachio ice cream. Creamy goodness! It came from SOMA Chocolatemaker in Toronto’s Historic Distillery District where artisan David Castellan makes handcrafted chocolates and gelato.

The teenager, the mister and I shared one of the O&B Tiniest Desserts - a raisin loaded butter tart. Being a bit of a butter tart connoisseur, I believe no butter tart should have more than ten raisins. I didn't do a final tally but I know there was easily double that count. Thankfully they all sat on top so I could alter this tart to be just pure sugar pie. This probably isn't the place to brag about my own baking prowess, but it was said by both family members that my butter tarts are better! It was still a tasty treat.

The highlights were definitely the salmon, the baby back ribs and the Tuscan onion soup. Waterloo is fortunate to have Oliver & Bonacini Café Grill in their midst. Considering the size of this region now, it needs to have a place to go for a reliable, solidly delivered meal that can serve as a 'go-to' place and also a destination for celebrations. The food preparation is receiving careful attention in its preparation. The ingredients are simple and fresh. Come out and enjoy your gem. I for one would love to go back.

Oliver & Bonacini Café Grill
Conestoga Mall
550 King Street North
Waterloo, Ontario

Open seven days a week.
Lunch: 11:30 am - 4 pm
Dinner: Sun & Mon: 4 pm - 9 pm
Dinner: Tues to Thurs: 4 pm - 10 pm
Dinner: Fri & Sat: 4 pm - 11 pm
Weekend à la carte Brunch: 11 am - 4 pm

Oliver & Bonacini Cafe Grill on Urbanspoon

LCBO Food & Drink Magazine - Holiday Issue 2010

The Holiday issue of LCBO's Food & Drink magazine came out yesterday. My anticipation of its arrival every few months, borders on compulsive. Yep, I even set my alarm to get to my neighbourhood location at Richmond and Kirkwood for their 10:00 am opening. The Holiday issue is probably my most favourite. In our home, my rule is that the Christmas decorations can 'legally' go up the day after Remembrance Day.

Yesterday morning the mister took the liberty of adding the pickup task to HIS to-do list as a gesture of helpfulness but also to be 'efficient'. To not have that hot little number in my hot little hands at 10:05 am pushed me out of my comfort zone, for sure.

But now that I have it, I am dreaming of sugar plums. Okay, well maybe there aren't actually sugar plums dancing in my head, but I have to say the Suppli Al Telefono appetizer stopped me in my tracks. Party Apps by Cobi Ladner and Tonia Wilson will be a go-to article for amping up the yummies at our book club Christmas party. [These gals are regular readers of F&D too!]

Even better, I may finally conquer the construction of the Parisian macaron. I have had these Marie-Antoinette-style sweets straight from Laudrée in Paris, and I am now ready to follow every minute detail on 'mastering macarons' laid out in the article Macaron Magic by Dana McCauley.

A new dinner menu is forming as I ogle the Large Lobster Tails with Dill Butter & Pistachios on Saffron Risotto with Leeks from Dressed for Dinner by Marilyn Bentz-Crowley.

I know my turkey leftovers are headed for Curried Turkey in Naan Bread thanks to Remains of the Day by Signe Langford and Monda Rosenberg.

I could go on and on. The weight of this magazine alone at 890 grams says it all. This edition is PACKED with everything you need for the holiday season, including a Holiday Playlist on page 38 by Rick Shurman and Earl Torno that mixes the familiar traditionals with some up-beat, peppy numbers.

I am guessing that this is probably their hottest issue of the year. You need to get out now and pick it up!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Edgar - Infectious. Like Bees to Honey.

Today, I paid an impromptu visit to Edgar at 60 rue Bégin in Old Hull. Edgar is the brain-child of powerhouse, Marysol, well known for her food blog she eats bears. I was out of town for the big opening this past Saturday and Sunday. Monday they were closed and so today was my first chance to see the culmination of all the meticulous planning and hard work that went into opening this petit café. Marysol seems to exude boundless energy and determination.

I would be wrong not to mention her number one supporter and fan, Simon, who was ably helping over the weekend and also this Tuesday. What a strong team the two of them make.

When I went today, it was not with camera in hand or with the intent to write. Just to visit, enjoy lunch and to say a hello. There has been quite a few blog posts already, sharing the message of goodness. Maybe my take on it wouldn't be that much different. Great food is, well great food. But I came away with two thoughts that were unshakable as I made my drive home.

First, I don't know Marysol that well, really. We are Ottawa foodie community confrères that share the love of food through personal food blogs, who have met just a handful of times over the past number of months. But she has the darnedest way of making you feel like you have known her forever. Her infectious personality draws you in. Second, the food at Edgar is memorable. Every detail, surgically calculated. Her food is emblematic of that age old phrase 'made with love'.

For those that fall under the spell of Marysol, your life will be enriched. Be you acquaintance, fellow food blogger, Edgar client, supplier of food wares, industry colleague. It is like bees to honey. I bet you even the phone guys liked her in the end, despite all the hassles with installing that debit machine.

For those eating the food here, you will struggle with your decisions and you may not know when to stop. I just can't imagine my experience today was unique. I ROLLED out of Edgar after the most delicious lunch.

I started with a ham, romaine and Jarlsberg cheese panini. So yummy with the Dijon mustard. I had it along side a big bowl of spicy butternut squash and sweet potato soup infused with lemon grass, lime leaves, coriander, cayenne, and curry. It was lovingly garnished with fresh coriander and cucumber cubes.

The compulsion to continue could not be reined in. I just couldn't say no to the now famous orange zesty brioche, that parcels nuggets of bacon and dates. It is best when it is warmed. Simon's suggestion. I went totally sophisticated and ate it with a fork. It seemed wrong to have it without a latte. This would be a chance to give Marysol her sought after practice with the big machines, I thought. Really, I was doing her a favour, wasn't I? She spoiled me with a dash of cinnamon on top. Cinnamon goes well with zesty orange and bacon and dates and briochy flavours. A calculated move on her part? To be sure. As good as she is with the colour palate when making her beautiful art, this lady knows her taste palate as well.

So you think my foodie visit ended with that last drip of emulsified latte milk? Oh no. I was still at the trough. It was now time to pick a treat to bring home to the mister. That sticky apple pecan muffin would bring me high praise. I have been eyeballing it since the blog post of October 9th, where its perfection was unveiled. [For the record, it has vanished already and there isn't even a crumb to be had.] I have been dedicating myself to vigorous product research since mid-summer, searching out the bestest homemade granola in the Ottawa-Gatineau area. 190 grams of granola goodness would be coming home too.

If you are caught up on all the food blogs about Edgar from the opening weekend, you will know that I am confirming that everything the others have been saying is totally true. Be it The Twisted Chef, foodiePrints, heartful mouthful or Rachelle Eats Food. And while you are at it, why not hear what Marysol thinks of it all so far.

Lucky rue Bégin. Lucky Old Hull. Lucky anybody who crosses the threshold of Edgar.

Congratulations Edgar! It must be in the genes.

60 rue Bégin
Gatineau (Hull sector), Quebec

Update to Brunch hours (effective Oct 1, 2011)
Wed to Fri: 10 am - 6:30 pm
Sat: 10 am - 5 pm (Brunch 10 am - 2 pm)
Sun: 9:30 am - 5 pm (Brunch 9:30 am - 2 pm)
Mon and Tues: Closed

Edgar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Open Letter to Bridgehead Coffeehouse

Dear Tracey Clarke:

If you have ever wandered over to my blog, which I hope you have, you will know that I love food. More importantly, I love coffee. Good coffee.

Lucky for me, there are now a dozen Bridgehead coffeehouses dotting the urban landscape here in the nation's capital. Today I stopped in to your Golden Street location at precisely 1:40 pm. Being one of your larger stores, I think of that particular coffeehouse as the 'gateway' to 'Westboro West'.

My mission was to pick up two critical breakfast accoutrements for the upcoming gal pal weekend deep in chalet country on the Canadian Shield in Quebec.

The first item was a half pound of Nicaraguan Dark, ground for an automatic coffee machine, basket filter. At this moment, the bag is driving me to distraction. The scent of fresh ground coffee permeating from that bag is pure drug.

The second item I needed to purchase was your 500 gram container of chunky handmade Bridgehead Granola fresh from the Bridgehead Kitchen. I faltered for a moment as I grabbed the 1.2 kg bag out of pure gluttony. Three breakfasts and four ladies. No matter how I did the math, there was no way I could justify it. I love how the rolled oats, sunflower seeds, almonds, honey, canola oil, cinnamon, vanilla, salt, and almond extract cleave to each other in gentle bundles that quickly relax at the slightest touch of a knowing spoon or a closing jaw. This granola is headed to the top of the heap of fresh fruit and plain, fresh yogurt.

I thought my visit was straight forward, but as can often be the case, approaching the cash is not without its dangers. It was well past noon and without hesitation I scooped up your last pre-made tuna sandwich. Your grainy bread (also from the Bridgehead Kitchen) is pillowy soft. The cucumbers and lettuce, crisp. I love that you and your master food people know that dill and capers are absolutely exquisite in a tuna sandwich. Nice that you offer your sandwich bread for sale by the loaf.

When my foot crossed the threshold, I think I already knew that I would not get out of Golden without a latte crossing my lips. Being of the older persuasion, I know that past noontime means any coffee must be decaf. I love that you can make a decaf latte not seem like fake coffee. A mirage of ‘high test’ all the way.

It is with great regret that I did not ask the name of the young gentleman on Barista duty for my sacred potion. The espresso for my coffee was deep, full-bodied and thick. The micro bubbles of milk were silkily poured into my cup with the steady precision of an artist's hand. My latte art was not one fern. Not two ferns. But a full bouquet of three ferns engraved into my espresso crema. It would not be wrong to promote him to Barista Maestro if you have such a title.

So why am I writing? You already know your lattes are drinks for the gods. Even if mine was a decaf. You already know that your Bridgehead kitchen is doing very good things with your granola, your bread and your other culinary creations. You already know you have top-notch teams working each coffeehouse.

I am writing to you because I wanted to tell you that I know too.


One of Ottawa's Real Foodies

Bridgehead Coffeehouse
440 Richmond Road (at Golden)
Ottawa, ON

Mon to Sat: 6:30 am - 10 pm
Sun: 6:30 am - 9 pm

Bridgehead on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Bistro St-Jacques - One of the 10 "Where To Eat Now" Restaurants in Ottawa-Gatineau

Bistro St- Jacques: "It's like being in France without the cost of the flight." - Shawna Wagman, Ottawa Magazine

On Thursday afternoon I read the newly released November issue of the Ottawa Magazine. Divine intervention would have me buying the very first copy as I made my purchase at Britton's in the Glebe. Shawna Wagman's article showcased her "Where To Eat Now" list of top ten restaurants in Ottawa-Gatineau. I thought I was totally up-to-date on the 'must try' eateries in this region, so imagine my surprise when she tucked into her list a place I had never heard of before.

My curiousity was piqued by the inclusion of a lesser known bistro nestled onto a side street in Hull called Bistro St-Jacques. Come mid-November they will be celebrating their 2nd anniversary. Although a very new restaurant, they know their vision and they operate it with confidence. Co-owner and general manager, Vincent Denis has global experience and on the local front he was longtime co-owner and founder of Jean Sébastien, which is right across the street.

The secret weapon in their arsenal is professionally trained executive chef Christopher Mulder, who has been with them most of the 2 years. Chef Mulder delighted us with a visit table side at our Friday night dinner. I didn't dare ask his age but his youthful presence seems a bit unbelievable when you hear about his extensive and intensive work opportunities in the industry thus far. Before coming to Bistro St-Jacques, he worked as sous chef to well-known teacher and chef, Gérard Fischer, owner of Le Tartuffe. The list goes on. He also worked for Robert Bourassa at Café Henry Burger. Not to mention time spent at ARC The.Hotel, Casino du Lac-Leamy's Le Baccara and in Montreal for a stint. This place has a team with pedigree!

The tables in the main dining room seat 40 and are covered in white linens. They also have room downstairs for another 20.

Our meal started with an amuse-bouche, a delectable single bite-sized hors d'œuvre consisting primarily of duck confit.

Our warmed and toasted bread came with a caramelized vegetable butter.

I decided on three appetizers. My first was one of their evening's specials. A salmon tartare with salmon gravlax and avocado. It was perfectly seasoned. This was my favourite dish.

I followed with their salad of tender leaves, fried shallots, marinated vegetables, maple & lime vinaigrette. I was so craving a salad, which is how I ended up at three dishes. I wanted fresh. I wanted light and I wanted simple. Again, a perfectly executed dish.

To finish, I had their risotto with asparagus, over-night tomatoes, coffee mushrooms, pancetta, chervil & vegetable consommé. You guessed it, I was still looking for fresh, light and simple. I am a fan of 'traditional' risotto but this time I was really appreciating that it wasn't heavily laden in cheese and richness. I typically pass on dessert when I eat out so this was the perfect ending. (Though I half expected to see Berthillon ice cream on the dessert menu!)

While I worked away on my starter salmon, the mister was collapsing to the temptation of their 'famous' frites and aïoli. I hate to bring the church into this but that aïoli was sinful. And I am sure they weren't telling a lie when they describe their frites as being 'famous'.

The mister then went to work on his main - a cassoulet with a leg of duck confit, pork belly, toulouse sausage and sprinkled with toasted crumbs. He said the meats were really nicely done, though he prefers the skin on his duck crisped. The mister's benchmark for cassoulet is a restaurant we frequented in Paris called Le Dauphin on Rue Saint-Honoré, near Palais-Royal. Those cassoulets seemed like they had been smoldering their flavours together for days and days into that fine mellow blend of sauce and beans. By contrast, the mister's beans on Friday night were fine enough but still a bit 'young'.

The mister sipped on a Griffon Red ale while I enjoyed a Sauvignon Blanc. And here is one of the highlights of the night. Our bill came to a squeak under $80, before tax and tip.

The service was particularly warm, friendly and knowledgeable. Vincent's life partner and co-owner spoiled us with attention throughout the evening. She tends to all the details in the front of the house, while Vincent labours over the responsibility of being general manager.

The dining room was not as busy on this Friday night as I would have expected, considering that the calibre of this restaurant earned them one of the top ten spots. But Chef Mulder did say they were full for Saturday night and they are continually packed for the lunch service through the week. There are restaurants much younger than Bistro St-Jacques on Ottawa Magazine's Top Ten List that already have quite the buzz in the foodie community. This place is no less deserving. I look forward to their winter menu, which will be coming out in the very near future.

Shawna confesses that putting Bistro St-Jacques on her list is a sentimental pick. Having already experienced eight of the other restaurants, I can say confidently that her pick is a worthy, solid choice. She closes her vignette by saying "it's like being in France without the cost of the flight". Maybe just a wee bit too high praise, but we really did like it.

Bistro St-Jacques
51, rue St-Jacques
Gatineau, Quebec

Mon to Fri: 11:30 am - 2:30 pm

Mon to Sat: 5 pm - 10 pm

Bistro St-Jacques on Urbanspoon

Cozy Autumn Dinner Party

One of the most intimate gifts to give friends is the communion of food at your table. And last night was one of those occasions where we had the opportunity to host good friends to a feast of everything autumn. Our history goes back to university days but our visits are just too sporadic. Last night was a chance to catch up on all the news and relax like family.

For us, a cozy autumn meal showcases the beautiful late season colours of golden brown, earthy rust, deep red. The foods are of the harvest and the types that can be cellared, like beets and apples. The tastes are hearty and warm.

Do you have a favourite dish you like to serve when your are hosting in the fall?

Crab Cakes on a bed or Fennel Slaw topped with a Creamy Chili Chipotle Sauce and Baby Onion Shoots.

Roasted Beet Salad of Boston Lettuce and Arugula with Goat Cheese, Candied Walnuts and Creamy Citrus Vinaigrette. [Inspired by Rachelle's roasted beet salad at Rachelle Eats Food and Karen's roasted beet salad at Tasty Trials found through FoodBuzz.]

Pappardelle Lamb Ragu. [Inspired by Marc Dorion and Steven Wall's pappardelle lamb ragu at Town on Elgin. I experienced it at a lunch back in August.]

Apple Custard Tarte. [Inspired by Henrik Lundsgaard, now at Palisades Retirement Residence but formerly the head chef at Stornoway.]

*** Happy to share any of the recipes on request. ***

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ottawa Magazine's Top 10 List 2010 by Food Editor Shawna Wagman

Shawna Wagman of Ottawa Magazine has taken on a different twist for coming up with Ottawa Magazine's Top Ten List for 2010 - Where To Eat Right Now. You will need to get the magazine to read her thinking on the Ottawa food scene and why she made these picks.

I was lucky enough to be the first person in Ottawa to put down coin for the November issue, which was made available at Britton's in the Glebe today. What timing for deciding that today was the day I needed veal stock from the Glebe Meat Market! The magazine will be widely distributed tomorrow.

Here is her coveted list:

The Wellington Gastropub
Fraser Café
The Whalesbone Oyster House
Play Food & Wine
Bistro St. Jacques
Taylor's Genuine Food & Wine Bar

I have tried them all except for Whalesbone and Bistro St. Jacques and know that those on this list are strong establishments.

Only 4 from this list are going to the Gold Medal Plates competition in November. Fraser Café, Whalesbone, Atelier and Play.

The Gold Medal Plates contenders not making Shawna's list are: The Urban Pear, Zen Kitchen, Murray Street Kitchen, Les Fougères, Harvest (actually in Picton) and Narvarra.

Missing from last year's Top 10 is: Beckta Dining & Wine, Domus Café, Le Baccara, Restaurant Ei8hteen, Benitz Bistro, Allium, The Urban Pear, Navarra and Juniper. In fact the only one of the Top 10 to stay on the list into 2010 was The Wellington Gastropub.

Some may also wonder about The Black Cat, Le Café, Farbs Kitchen, Sweetgrass Aboriginal, Perspectives, Social and Luxe as contenders in the past for top recognition in the city, whether on the Ottawa Magazine's 10 Ten List, formerly constructed by Chris Knight, or some that have gone to Gold Medal Plates.

Well, the politics is out of the bag. And in a city that seems to know politics best! Enjoy the buzz on this topic over the next week.

Although I have a soft spot for Allium and thought it should have made Shawna's list, what I see when I pull back and take the broad view on this, is how lucky for us to have so many great choices brimming over on our lists of stellar eateries here in Ottawa. What a nice problem to have.

Get the magazine! This article in particular is a great read.

Friday, October 15, 2010

When You Aren't Drinking Buttermilk, You Can Use It For Other Things!

Do I have any buttermilk drinking buddies out there in the foodie galaxy? Such kindred spirits seem to be few and far between. No one else in this house shares my fetish.

The website Good Health Tips shares the following health benefits from drinking buttermilk.
  • Buttermilk is a good source of potassium, Vitamin B-12, calcium and phosphorous. It also contains probiotics; they help with digestion and strengthen your immune system.
  • Buttermilk is easier to digest than regular milk because it contains even more lactic acid than can be found in skim milk.
  • Buttermilk actually has less fat than regular milk; the fat has been removed to make butter.
  • Healthy bacteria reside in everybody’s colon, and in return for food and a warm place to live these resident bacteria contribute to your health.
  • Some healthy things these bacteria do to your body are manufacture vitamins, improve digestion, boost Immunity, manufacture nutrients, protect against cardiovascular diseases and protection against carcinogens.
Happily I do share my buttermilk for other purposes. In an effort to be teamy, this morning I made buttermilk pancakes for the mister. He much prefers his buttermilk on the plate and not in a glass. Maple syrup works well with it too.

Do you take your buttermilk in a glass or lovingly incorporated into a pancake batter?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Thanksgiving Dinner. In a Word. Yummy.

Much of our extended family on both sides lives out of town. So when one is hosting Thanksgiving dinner for just a small group, one might be tempted to eat out. Order in. Or at the very least, consider just a basic selection of dishes to accompany the traditional Thanksgiving bird. Somehow we never seem to execute on any of those suggestions.

This year, like always, magically the little tastes of the many dishes added up to a very full plate. Starting at the top and going clock-wise: Sweet and sour red cabbage, boiled potatoes, baked acorn squash, roasted potatoes, a mix of roasted heirloom carrots (white and orange) and roasted parsnips, baked delicata squash, steamed peas and carrots, grain-fed turkey, stuffing, dreamy gravy.

Roots and Shoots Farm's CSA food baskets helped us out on a number of dishes: Sweet and sour red cabbage, baked acorn squash, roasted potatoes, roasted heirloom carrots, baked delicata squash, and finally onions in the stuffing.

This Thanksgiving we dedicated our meal to a special family that is dealing with a big crisis. For now, it is putting some of them on the other side of the world in New Zealand. Every day is one of big effort, both there on the scene, but also here at home for those left minding the fort. Divided by miles, they are together in love.

I am thankful that our family was able to be under one roof for this special weekend. Making almost a dozen dishes of everyone's favourites was a privilege and a way to honour tradition.

So how was Thanksgiving dinner after all that work? In a word. Yummy.
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