Thursday, June 30, 2011
A regular favourite kitchen game, "Move It Along", gets our creative juices going when combating ingredients that are prime, prime-plus or just in surplus.
Today's Problem: Two very ripe avocados and two pieces of two-day old pita.
Solution: Guacamole and Mexican Pita Chips for happy hour.
Luckily the avocados were in excellent condition considering their age.
It seems like a simple game to play but we tend to follow the rule of only using existing ingredients in the fridge, freezer, pantry and garden. You can count on staples like oils, onions, garlic and array of spices. We were fortunate to have a lime, a tomato, jalapenos.
2 ripe avocados, mashed
1 small clove garlic, minced
a taste of minced onion
jalapenos, diced finely (quantity to your taste)
1 tomato, finely diced
juice of half a lime
salt to taste
Combine and chill. Garnish with cilantro.
Mexican Pita Chips
2 pita breads
zest of one lime
juice of half a lime
Brush pita breads lightly with oil. Sprinkle the five spices over the pita bread. Sprinkle the zest of one lime and the juice of half the lime over the pita breads. Put in preheated 350ºF oven for 15 minutes until crisp. Let cool before breaking the pita into chips.
The weather was perfect for happy hour out on the deck. Warm, not too sunny and a light breeze.
Any suggestions for the happy hour drink?
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Today's lunch drew on local and market ingredients.
Art-is-in Boulangerie's Dynamite Potato, Caramelized Onion & Fresh Dill Bread
- The Dynamite Potato, Caramelized Onion and Fresh Dill bread was bought fresh today at Art-is-in Boulangerie. I cut the 2 foot loaf into eight 3" wedges, ready to be put in the freezer. (When I use a wedge, I thaw it, cut it in half, and usually toast it.) Today's sandwich bread was toasted first.
- Bought from The Piggy Market in Westboro, Clarmell Farm's chèvre goes for $29/kg. It may seem dear but the taste is pure gold. The cheese is produced at the Glengarry Fine Cheese Factory in Lancaster, Ontario using a 100% goats milk from the Mussell family's farm. Many think this is the finest chèvre for miles around, including Savvy Company! I can easily agree. I have also seen Clarmell cheese down in the Byward Market at the stall for Bekings Poultry Farm. It is also available at the Ottawa Farmers' Market at Lansdowne.
- We were at the Jean-Talon Market in Montreal on Sunday. It is said that it is frequented more by the residence of Montreal than tourists, so prices are reasonable. There were many stalls of beautiful fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. We picked up some tomatoes grown in Quebec. They have been so enjoyable as they are ripe and full-flavoured. The 4 good-sized tomatoes were $2.
- I picked up a large bunch (weighed 12.5 ounces!) of fresh basil while at the Jean-Talon Market. It only cost $3. The bunch yielded close to 4 packed cups of basil leaves. From this I made pesto using also 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts, 3/4 cup olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, 6 large garlic cloves (toasted and minced), few drops of lemon juice, 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- My basil leaves are from one of my basil plants from Vicki's Veggies near Picton.
At present it is 16ºC. Going to a high of 18ºC. UV Index of 3. Cloudy and a 70% chance of showers. Since this past Friday, the days have started their descent into darkness. The only thing summer at my house is the LCBO Food & Drink magazine. With the latest issue being released today, I intend to spend my morning warming up in its gloriously colourful pages.
This issue is brimming with salads, salads and more salads. As the bounty is already starting to come off the fields (my first CSA pickup with Roots and Shoots Farm starts tomorrow!), there are so many wonderful combinations that can make the colours and tastes on your dinner table pop.
I loved seeing the many strawberry recipes as well. The season is well underway in our zone, but it won't last long. So if there is something in the Strawberry Social segment calling out to you, make it without delay. I hope you will have good luck finding beautiful, juicy local berries.
What caught my attention in this issue? Here are some of the highlights.
- Strawberry Parfaits with Cheesecake Cream & Lime Curd (From Strawberry Social by Marilyn Bentz-Crowley)
- Sesame Grilled Baby Bok Choy Salad (From Party Platters by Jennifer MacKenzie)
- Grilled Chicken Satays (From Sweet Sensations by Sarah Goddard and Nicole Young)
- Planked Salmon with Ginger-Mirin Mayonnaise (From Top Tips For The Grill by Lucy Waverman)
- Grilled Zucchini & Buffalo Mozzarella Salad and Raw Kale Slaw (From Simply Irresistible by Christopher St. Onge)
- Crostini with Shrimp Ceviche & Spanish Gazpacho Shooters (From Fishing For Complements by Marilyn Bentz-Crowley)
- Baby Back Ribs on Maple Planks (From What's New On The Q by James Chatto and Robert Rainford)
Do you have a soft spot for 'sensible decor touches'? In Inspired Ideas by Brenda Morrison, I was immediately attracted to the colourful Västlig Gardening bags from IKEA. They look very sharp used as vases!
Kudos to Ruth Gangbar for her food styling work!
Plan ahead: The Autumn issue hits the stores 10 weeks from today on Wednesday, September 7th.
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
I first read about Montreal's Café Myriade on Coffeestork's blog. Coffeestork is a coffee sommelier of sorts. I love reading his blog. I probably love a good espresso as much as he does but he is willing to write about it, study it, learn the lingo, research the beans and be a thoughtful and fair critic. In some ways I feel like a bit of a freeloader, going on his suggestions when venturing to coffee towns unknown.
When in Montreal this past weekend, I had to check out Café Myriade. Sanctioned by both Coffeestork and my foodie/coffee friend, JK, it was a no brainer.
I made it there on the Saturday and returned without haste first thing Sunday morning. No surprise here. Coffeestork and JK are right. Café Myriade pulls a mean shot. Both times I enjoyed them in a latte.
Being close to the universities, it seems to attract a strong following from the academic crowd. Probably the demographic most in need of caffeine. So why not AMAZING caffeine. With the full front of the store opening up to a good size patio, the place still seems small. Wintertime is probably pretty crazy.
On my first visit, I tried a pain au chocolat. It was nothing special. Considering it was later in the afternoon, the treat was at a disadvantage, because no pastry gets better with age.
For those that are die-hard coffee fans, Café Myriade also does siphon filter coffee for a premium price.
The bean of my jolt was the 49th Parallel's Epic Espresso from this rising star roaster in Vancouver, BC. I came home with a pound to see what artful coffee business I could do with our Rancilio (no doser grinder) Rocky and (espresso machine) Silvia. I am quite transparent when it comes to pulling a shot. I put a lot of judgement on the crema. I am looking forward to see if Epic Espresso can rival my now-favourite bean, Happy Goat Coffee Company's Babae's Espresso Blend from a new-in-town, Ottawa-based roaster.
I really need to point out that the staff is extremely friendly and helpful with any questions.
On Sunday I had a religious experience with my latte. Without even noticing, I somehow managed to preserve my latte art down to the last drop.
When I go out for a latte here in Ottawa, it is always a trip to Bridgehead. I hear from Coffeestork that they get their beans from micro-roaster Café Mystique (sister company to Toi, Moi & Café) in Montreal. They will soon be roasting their own when their new facility Roasting Works on Preston Street opens in the Fall.
Café Myriade won me over. But Coffeestork speaks well of other coffee cafés in Montreal. Like the butter tart, aren't we always on the perpetual search for the best? Wanting, and trying, and measuring it against the last best. I am curious to see if Café Myriade can reign supreme.
1432 Rue Mackay
Mon to Fri: 8 am - 7 pm
Sat to Sun: 9 am - 7 pm
Saturday, June 25, 2011
If I were to use one word to describe Les 400 Coups I would say "soothing". If I were to use many words, I would say trendy, hip, creative, superlative, flavourful, sophisticated, unpretentious, welcoming, detailed, attentive, fun. I might even use that uninteresting, universal word "yummy".
Business brought us to Montreal and it was at the last minute I was organizing the more fundamental details, like where to eat. It's a task I usually relish but this time it wasn't going as smoothly.
I have a Montreal 'list' of places to try. The many, many foodie-related scribbles have been collecting as hot tips come my way. A friend makes a discovery. A Twitter tweet floats by. A review in the Gazette seems compelling. Les 400 Coups is on that list. How and when, I don't remember.
Getting a bit bogged down on some of the restaurant planning, I turned to Twitter friend, Francis at Laloux late Thursday for lunch advice for the next day. He was clear and decisive. Les 400 Coups in Old Montreal. It was on my list! No hesitation. I booked.
When we arrived, I was a bit jittery from just driving 2 hours, re-familiarizing myself with the city, wondering if we would make it on time, questioning the weather, figuring out where to park, heaps of too many things on my mind.
I had no idea what to expect in this city on their June 24th holiday - St. Jean Baptiste Day. Old Montreal was quiet of cars and people. We arrived at the restaurant early and enjoyed a brightly lit table in the front corner by the two almost floor-to-ceiling windows. This was a wonderful treat.
With my mind moving like a marble in a pinball machine, it took me a bit to settle and enjoy the ambiance. Because we were early, the lunch crowd had yet to form and other than one earlier couple, we enjoyed the place to ourselves for the first part of our meal. The solitude helped me to take it all in.
The lunch menu is straight forward. 2 courses for $20 or 3 courses for $25. There were 4 appetizer choices, 4 main course choices and 3 dessert choices.
I started with a glass of their one rosé offering. The mister was going to be working in the afternoon and chose to keep a clear head! We also nibbled on their warmed and tempting baguette. Actually, we more than nibbled. They did offer us seconds and we continued on. Foolish on our part as our courses were generous for a lunch service.
My first course was the salad. Frisée, cucumber, melon and fresh goat cheese, garnished with croutons, chives and microgreens. The deep bowl was filled with bright, fresh ingredients. I loved how the melon and goat cheese played together. A repeat dish if I can resist the temptation of the other appetizer choices.
The mister had the chicken liver mousse, marinated mushrooms, quail egg, shaves of celery dressed with a mustard sour cream. I did not sneak a taste but he said he very much enjoyed it. The presentation was beautiful.
My second course was the guinea fowl. (I almost always pick seafood but the mister had already laid claim to it this time.) The crisp skin was a beautiful dark caramel but I found the meat a bit dry. Not enough to stop me from finishing it. The dish was accompanied with carrots, mushrooms, kale and watercress purée.
The mister had the Atlantic cod. It was plated with mushrooms, edamames (many, many edamames), bacon and ramps emulsion. We have a weakness for anything ramps. The perfectly prepared fish was a hearty portion for a lunch serving. He enjoyed every bite, though didn't manage his way through all of the edamames.
We had absolutely no intentions of having dessert. When the mister saw their arrival at a table nearby, all good judgement was lost. My will-power too collapsed like a house of cards.
The rhubarb lured me in to my choice.
I had the ginger and vanilla mousse, rhubarb compote with shortbread crumble. It was sprinkled with blueberry flowers.
The surprise waiting inside was a ball of sorbet bursting with rhubarb.
The mister is fairly transparent when it comes to dessert. He goes for chocolate. He had the pot de crème. It was layered with a Madagascar chocolate mousse, then a crumble of dark chocolate cookie topped with caramel and maldon salt custard.
Remember, I came to Les 400 Coups on the suggestion of Francis, endorsed by their name being scribbled on my loosely organized 'eat in Montreal' list. I didn't spend time reading the website or reviews to bring myself up-to-date. There are pluses and minuses to doing that. We came in with no preconceived ideas. Little did we know at the time that pastry chef, Patrice Demers is renowned for his dessert 'Vert'.
Bless Les 400 Coups for saving us from ourselves. When they brought our dessert choices they also brought Vert. Although we loved our picks, Vert stood head and shoulders above its dessert companions.
This splendid dessert is a combination of diced green apple, pistachios, olive oil, cilantro and creamy white chocolate yogurt.
We finished our meal with cappuccinos. (They don't do brewed coffee.)
Today I read (re-read actually) Lesley Chesterman's April review. It is probably how this place made it on my 'list' in the first place. Between her review and their website, you can get a full appreciation for the dynamic trio (Marc-André Jetté, Patrice Demers and Marie-Josée Beaudoin) that make this place happen and also the beautiful interior. I now understand why Francis at Laloux gave his recommendation without hesitation.
Les 400 Coups did for me what I needed it to do. Soothe me. Settle me into the city for a busy weekend. It did that with its architecturally rich setting, the fabulous gourmet food, the top-notch service and the very warm welcome.
I would go back in a heartbeat.
Les 400 Coups
400 Notre-Dame Est
Facebook: Restaurant Les 400 Coups
Friday only: 11:30 am - 2 pm
Tues to Wed: 5:30 - 10:30 pm
Thurs to Sat: 5:30 - 11 pm
Closed on Sunday and Monday.
Maximum seating is for 50 people.
Monday, June 20, 2011
I have been closely tracking the progress of the recently opened 3 Sisters Bakery. This bakeshop full of gourmet creations is nestled deep in the centre of residential Alta Vista. A fellow foodie friend, JK, shares food interests and she regularly peppers me with foodie highlights when she makes a new discovery. Her news bulletin about the 3 Sisters Bakery came at the beginning of May when she saw activity at the new location. Recently her update said it finally opened early June!
3 Sisters Bakery is situated at 1791 Kilborn Avenue in a generally unattractive strip mall. A branch of TD Canada Trust anchors the west end of the mall and 3 Sisters is 3 doors down. They have prettied up their look with a colourful teal green awning.
In case you are wondering, there really are 3 sisters! Carol, Rosemary and Joan Brazeau share their mission statement on a plaque just inside the door:
"All products in this store have either been freshly made by us or we have tested and chosen what we feel are the best products available in every category. This is an ongoing process and we would appreciate your input."
With errands in the neighbourhood Friday, I decided to pay an impromptu visit. I was stunned to see how much was tucked into this small place - coffee bar, baked goods, pastries, handcrafted chocolates, gourmet specialty dry foods, gourmet specialty frozen foods, sandwich shop, gourmet ice cream bar, art gallery, and a meeting place.
While browsing, I was lucky to have the opportunity to chat with one of the sisters, Rosemary. She lives in the area and is fully aware of all the driving that she does around the region to buy her favourite food items. A focus for the store is to bring those products to the neighbourhood under on one.....awning. If Alta Vista neighbours are regularly driving beyond their community for great food products, she wants to add it to the already long list of choices now featured at 3 Sisters. Just let them know!
Rosemary said 3 Sisters has been very well received for the short time that they have been open and they have been showered with flowers and cards of well-wishes from neighbours, now clients, that have been waiting for such a jewel to been placed among them. 3 Sisters is working hard to keep the place well stocked. Their hours are ambitious. They are open from 10 am to 9 pm Tuesday to Sunday. Closing only on Monday.
The beautiful L-shaped counter groaning with the many baked treats, was designed after their grandmother's kitchen counter. You pick up on the warmth that you might expect at grandma's house as soon as you enter the store. Considering what they had to work with mall-wise and store footprint-wise, they have done a decent job with trying to create a cozy feel.
There are limitations though from the onerous number of by-laws placed on the plaza, Rosemary says. For example, there are severe restrictions on the number of seats that can be made available for her patrons. With a large seniors contingent among her already loyal customers, this is something she wants to change. Rosemary says that many have already been talking to the local councillor, Peter Hume, looking for help.
Also, only 25% of the baked goods can be made on site. (I don't know the motivation of the by-law but perhaps they don't want to frustrate neighbours by permeating the smell of baked goods through the neighbourhood. Because that could get annoying. Only to those dieting I suppose.) More work for the 3 Sisters. They have been doing additional baking at a spot downtown.
Rosemary likes the idea that 3 Sisters can be a meeting place. When the school bell rings, the area around her place is littered with bikes. Many young people are popping in on the way home for a sweet treat or a cool something from one of her other big attractions. The Gourmet Ice Cream bar.
Lois 'N' Frima's homemade ice cream is now available in Alta Vista! Considering how hot it was when I visited on Friday, my first reaction was that this was as good as printing money. Her prices are fabulous. Maybe too fabulous. Something Rosemary knows she needs to revisit to hit the right price point for running such a stand. But she is very aware that she wants it to be a reasonable price for her clients. She gets that ice cream goes with summer and the whole experience needs to feel yummy good. Even the part about paying. Don't miss that her sign says that they do sundaes and milkshakes too. She is really aiming to please.
As for the baked goods and pastries, it is no surprise that they are selling Ottawa-based Art-is-in Boulangerie Dynamite bread. It has become so popular around the region and for many, this will save a lot of driving. Perhaps the closest destination for the bread before was Serious Cheese on Bank Street in Old Ottawa South. But with Serious Cheese soon to relocate to Kanata, this would have made the trek even further. The timing of 3 Sisters' arrival couldn't be better.
The Art-is-in Boulangerie bread is used in the prepared sandwiches at their sandwich counter. They are ready to go and can spend time in the panini press if that is your favour. 3 Sisters is choosing to forego the standard cold cuts and instead enjoy such feasts as grilled chicken, roast beef or vegetarian. When you pick up your sandwich you can also grab an iced tea or a Kiju organic juice. (I love Kiju juices. They are located in Kitchener, Ontario. Get to know their brand.)
The eye candy in the store is the plates and plates and plates of baked goods and pastries. They are made up of products from Dolci (Ottawa-based and all their items are gluten-free), Art-is-in Boulangerie (pain au chocolat and the almondine), Dufflet and 3 Sisters.
Rosemary was quick to mention that they had many gluten-free choices and they tasted so good. As she was pointing them out, her finger was moving like a Gatling gun. I couldn't keep up with her efforts to identify. Suffice it to say, you will have plenty to pick from. In fact, Rosemary spoiled me with a gluten-free cupcake as evidence that she wasn't talking out the top of her hat. I don't do cupcakes and I don't gravitate to chocolate for my sweet treat. She was right. That gluten-free treat was indeed good. (This rating was validated by the mister.)
With so many gluten-free choices, where is the signage? Rosemary acknowledged it is something they need to get to as this was not the first time it had been mentioned to her. This is a great feature of 3 Sisters and getting the news out about some gluten-free bakery choices would surely make them a destination location.
Little did I know, the mister had secured one of the nut-free brownies. It was substantial. Later I had a chance to taste it. I have no idea who baked it or whether it was gluten-free but I can tell you that 'plank' of a sweet was also delicious.
Degas Chocolates by Laura Holmes were also on display with the baked goods.
Their coffee bar features locally roasted beans from Francesco's Coffee Company on Bank Street in the Glebe.
The takeout freezer section includes gourmet specialty items from Scratch Kitchen in Ottawa and Restaurant Les Fougères in Chelsea in the Gatineau Hills. I have tried Scratch Kitchen's products and my favourite is the Madras Chicken Curry.
The gourmet specialty items displayed in the hutch include a number that are very local: cookies from Dolci gluten-free bakeshop, chutney from Major Craig's Chutney, jams from michaelsdolce, and mustards, jams and jellies from Restaurant Les Fougères.
Going further afield, there are Rootham Gourmet Preserves from Guelph. My favourite is the Tangy Red Pepper Jelly. The premium condiments by Redhead Pantry are from Chesterville.
There is more....
Just Wing'it products are from Merrickville. Honey and tea by Bay Woodyard come from Honey Pie Hives & Herbals in Milford near Picton. Wheat & gluten-free polenta chip crackers come from Dendy & Co Fine Foods in Richmond Hill. Flavour infused oils come from Celestial Delights in Durham Region.
The 3 sisters are also committed to supporting local artists. Already on display for sale are works by Patty Woodyard.
It is still early days and some details for starting a business have yet to be addressed - business cards and a website, to name a few. We hope to see them on Facebook and Twitter too. Right now, the focus is on the customer experience, the quality of choices and the freshness of product. Alta Vista has been longing to have their fine food tastes serviced closer to home. Rosemary says she isn't trying to be a foodie but when you have clients who are, I suspect that makes her one too. Lucky Alta Vista.
3 Sisters Bakery
1791 Kilborn Avenue
Tues to Sun: 10 am - 9 pm
*** UPDATE TO HOURS AS OF SEPTEMBER 20, 2011 ***
Tues to Thurs: 7:30 am - 6 pm
Fri: 7:30 am - 8 pm
Sat to Sun: 8 am - 6 pm
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Blumen Garden Bistro, found on the edge of Picton, proved to be our safe dining harbour as we began our long weekend vacation in Prince Edward County at the beginning of June. The visit to The County was the second leg of our 10-day Ontario focused vacation.
Our travels had been interrupted by a 24-hour stop back home in Ottawa to attend to important matters. What a mood killer just as we were well into mentally unwinding. It didn't help that our efforts to get back on track were haphazard. We left Ottawa late in the afternoon, tired, hungry and feeling rushed. Our travel route was plagued with delays and construction.
Hungry on a '400' highway in Ontario leaves you with very little to choose from. Although neither said it out loud, eating fast food on a food holiday is sacrosanct. We would rather go to bed hungry than start off The Great Canadian Cheese Festival weekend with anything prefixed with the name Mc.
Feeling downtrodden at our disorganized attempt to get out of the nation's capital, we edged into Picton at about 8 pm. The solitude on County Road 49 was finally broken with the collection of buildings peppering the outer town limits.
And then like a beacon in the night, I caught the lit sign for Blumen Garden Bistro high in the sky. Now the big question, would they take us this late? Why, yes they would!
I think a standout for me was our waiter for the evening. His high energy and enthusiasm rejuvenated these two weary travelers. I just fell into the safety of his arms, so to speak. I let him pick my drink. I let him choose my dinner. We weren't looking for an elaborate dining experience. Just good food. A little something to take the edge off. So we both went for only a main. Were we ever wowed! I couldn't stop chattering to myself about my dish and the mister was happy too. The start of our vacation had been appropriately christened.
As we were finishing our meal, Chef Andreas Feller, came to visit us table side. I was thrilled to tell him how much I enjoyed my rabbit. One of the best dishes I have ever had and for sure the best rabbit dish I ever had. It turns out, I had the last of the rabbit that evening. The dish is very popular and he has a hard time keeping up with the demand. He had taken it off the menu once and his regulars really raised a fuss! I thank them for that.
Chef Andreas Feller actually has an Ottawa connection too. He worked at E18hteen in the Byward Market back in 2004-2005. He then went to Café Paradiso before moving to The County in 2008 to be chef/owner of Blumen. Trained in classic French cuisine, he grew up and apprenticed in Switzerland.
We appreciated Chef taking the time to come check in on us. We hear that this is a regular thing with him. Nice touch!
My very refreshing Cosmo in the foreground and the mister's Church Key beer tucked in the background.
Crisp seared wild Pacific salmon, celeriac purée, new potatoes, braised fennel, raisin and pine nut vinaigrette ($24)
Pulled braised rabbit over house-made gnocchi with leeks, mushrooms, lardons and Parmesan cheese ($24)
(When settled into our room at the Hayes Inn in Waupoos, just east of Picton, I went on-line to read more about Blumen Garden Bistro. I was delighted to come across a post by fellow food blogger Rachelle Eats Food. She too was a rabid fan of the rabbit! She is right. It is sinful.)
This evening we needed to be rescued. We needed to be rescued by people that know great food and great service. Blumen Garden Bistro does both of these effortlessly. Thank you for taking us in after an arduously long hard day. Our second mini-vacation was definitely starting on a high note.
Blumen Garden Bistro
647 Highway 49
Facebook: Blumen Bistro