Saturday, December 31, 2011

I Love Food But I Love People More

I love food but I love people more.

For us, 2012 will be the beginning of a new normal. This year we have been touched by loss, as have people with connections to us - some very, very special.

When our dear loved ones leave us, they change lives. With 2011 hours away from drawing to a close, I reflect on the size of their wave.

To all of you facing new normals, our heartfelt wishes for good things ahead in 2012.



Margaret - March 26
Minerva - March 27
Bryan - March 31
Ursula - April 25
Leona - May 3
Gary - May 19
Ruth - August 8
Willie - August 12
Brian - August 22
Lou - October 8
Donald Robert - October 14
Mary Jane - October 17
Donald Grant - November 9
Betty - December 25

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Vaniljekranse - Denmark's Christmas Wreath Cookie

If only one cookie is made in Danish homes at Christmas time it would likely be vaniljekranse. (The English would say vanillakranse. My mother often wrote it as vanillekranse.) Pronunciation is always a challenge for young children. As such, we just took it upon ourselves to use our own pet name, 'hole cookies'. (Or would that be 'whole cookies'?)

When we were just wee, I remember my mother making so many Christmas cookies that she kept them in large cherry pails. This was one of those cookies that was made en masse. I would only be guessing, as a small child's sense of perspective is often grander than reality, but I would say that she made at least 4 batches of vaniljekranse. After all, it was my father's favourite.

As it was in many homes, my mother took on the leadership role of creating the spirit of Christmas in ours. The month of December was brimming with anticipation as we all did our part to prepare and develop the feeling of 'hygge'.

There was the trip to the back woods to find the perfect spruce tree. She had final say before it was cut down and hauled home on the toboggan. She picked out the ornaments, many of them home-crafted with her supervision.

The collection of Christmas decorations were strategically placed about the home. Some did not survive our small hands or clumsy moves. One St. Nicolas in particularly was almost fully decapitated. But every year he was again tenderly placed out on the shelf with his head readjusted in place, secured only by a small section at the back of his neck.

The Christmas dinner itself had many traditional dishes reserved for special occasions and sometimes just this once a year.

But it was really the steady flow of Christmas baking throughout the year's closing month that had us feeling the special day nearing. That feeling of 'hygge' was easily achieved.

When she passed away, we made a pact to keep the tradition of her beautiful Danish Christmas cookies a part of our celebration time together, each picking our own favourite to make for our day of gathering. My choice was made for me since it was agreed that I would 'inherit' the implement that actually produces the wreath-shaped cookie.

It has been 8 Christmases now that we have been striving for our mother's perfection. I sense that she would be very pleased.


I buy my ammonium carbonate at the Swiss Pastries store at Carlingwood Mall. It comes in a glass test tube. They also sell ammonium bicarbonate in a similar tube. Read the label carefully. Ammonium carbonate is an important ingredient as it is what gives the cookie its crisp snap while allowing the cookie to not be dry. I have also seen the ingredient at middle eastern grocery stores such as the Mid East Food Centre on Belfast Road near St. Laurent Blvd and the Queensway.
*** UPDATE *** Swiss Pastries is no longer open in Ottawa.

If you can't find vanilla pods, use 2 teaspoons of pure extract. In fact make sure the almond extract is also pure. Artificial extracts will not yield the rich flavours that make this cookie so unique. Using a vanilla pod is worth the effort though.

I buy my ground almond at Rainbow Natural Foods on Richmond Road near Britannia. They keep their product refrigerated vs. in the dry bins to maintain its freshness and keep it from going rancid.

If I want to make double the cookies, I still make each batch singularly as not to over handle the dough. When I made two batches this year, I decided to count the cookies. We made 35 dozen.


2 vanilla pods
500 grams all-purpose flour
250 grams sugar
125 grams ground almonds
1/2 teaspoon ammonium carbonate
375 grams salted butter
2 teaspoons pure almond extract
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Cut the vanilla pod lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with the tip of the knife. Put in with a wee bit of the sugar to be used for the recipe to help mix it through the dough and avoid clumping, as it is quite moist.

Measure the flour, sugar, ground almonds and ammonium carbonate. Mix well. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter until the butter is in the form of very small pebbles. Drizzle the extracts and egg mixture over the dough. Incorporate the wet ingredients. Work the dough with your hands until it forms a ball. If it feels a bit sticky, add just a dusting of flour. If it is too sticky, the cookies won't hold their ridges. Do not overwork the dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour.

Use the small star hole in the press plates for the meat grinder.

Put the chilled dough through the grinder and push out a long rope of dough through the small star pattern. Try to keep the dough as chilled as possible, keeping portions in the fridge until you need to refill the hopper. The ridges of the star pattern will stay intact more so when the dough is still chilly. To keep the long rope consistent, the hopper needs to stay reasonably full and you will need to push down on the dough in the hopper to keep forcing the dough into the grinder. Watch your fingers though!

The ropes are then cut into 4" lengths. I create a 'jig' in order to move very quickly with my 4" cuts. It ensures a consistent size and shape of cookie. If you have a piece at the end of the long rope that is much shorter than 4", it goes back into the hopper.

Join the ends to form a wreath. Try to minimize the handling of the rope as you do this. Place on an ungreased baking sheet. (Some prefer to cover their pans with parchment paper.)

(I was thrilled to have my niece helping me this year!)

Bake the cookies at 350ºF for 10-12 minutes or until they are slightly golden. Let them rest and cool on the pan for 5 minutes before removing.

Store in an air tight container. Vaniljekranse cookies freeze well.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Coconut Lime Clouds - Holiday issue of LCBO's Food & Drink

A few things drew me to the Coconut Lime Clouds in the Holiday issue of the LCBO Food & Drink magazine. First, I love lime. Second, I love coconut. Third, it is a sweet that can be enjoyed by my party guests with a gluten sensitivity. Full credit to Christopher St. Onge at Food & Drink for yet another beautiful recipe.


Bring your eggs to room temperature. Don't miss this important step. It maximizes the volume when beating the eggs.

Make sure to add the sugar gradually to the fluffy whites when beating. If you add it too fast, your eggs will 'fall'.

Be careful not to over beat your egg whites.

Go easy on the cornstarch. Do not pack it when measuring. It helps to keep the meringue 'dry' but you don't want an overwhelming cornstarch taste.

Make sure you have a solid 2 teaspoons of the lime zest. It really gives the cookie zing. The Lee Valley microplane rasp is great for getting the perfect zest.

When the cookies have completed their second hour in the oven with the heat off, continue their cooling on the kitchen counter. Leaving them to cool in the oven will mean further baking (all be it at a very low heat) and will make them more crunchy. (Though, perhaps a texture you are striving for.)

When you serve them on a red plate or a small white plate on a red tablecloth, their subtle lime green will be more pronounced on contrast.

Authored by: Christopher St. Onge, Holiday issue of the LCBO Food & Drink

Yield: 2 dozen cookies

1 cup sweetened coconut

2 teaspoons finely grated lime zest

1/4 cup cornstarch, scant

2 egg whites, room temperature

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 cup superfine sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 200ºF.

In a small mixing bowl, combine coconut, lime zest and cornstarch. Set aside.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer beat egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy. Gradually add sugar and continue beating until mixture holds stiff peaks. Add vanilla extract and blend briefly to combine.

Fold in coconut mixture by hand.

Drop a scant tablespoonful at a time onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet, allowing 1 inch between each cookie. Bake for 1 hour. Turn oven off and continue baking for an additional hour. Allow to cool completely before removing from parchment.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bacon Jam Meets The New Nordic Cuisine

For today's mid-morning feast I used my homemade bacon jam in a modern day version of smørrebrød, Denmark's open-faced sandwich. Although there are dozens of very traditional and precise constructions for smørrebrød, I have had a hard time sticking to conventional recipes.

One food blog I read faithfully is Danish Open Sandwiches (Smørrebrød) by Marcus Schioler. It is out of Montreal of all places and showcases many classic recipes of the beautiful things that go into architecting authentic smørrebrød. I am in awe at the food work he has done on the blog in just one year. It really is impressive. And inspiring.

Tending to just go with what's on hand, tastes that I think will work and a look that is attractive, I have done my own 'smørrebrød' thing when I load up layers on a sturdy bread base.

Perhaps my favourite post by Marcus would be a recent one titled New Nordic Open-Faced Sandwiches. Marcus frees me from my guilt of being reckless in my smørrebrød build. In this post, Marcus details the New Nordic Cuisine manifesto and I find out I might be okay. The most important thing to keep in mind though is to source your food locally. Already a mantra in our home, I think I am reasonably safe.

So how did I get to making bacon jam? Bacon jam is not typical Danish fare. You won't find the recipe in the century old Frøken Jensens Kogbog. However, the Danes do love bacon and it often shows up on smørrebrød in some form - the rendered lard as a spread or the crisped bacon as a layer or a topping.

Throughout 2011 I kept hearing the phrase 'bacon jam'. Anything bacon is good, right? But what really is bacon jam? What makes it jam? Is it made with fruit? My curiousity was piqued.

Then I finally tasted it. Two presentations at Savour Stratford's Tasting Tent event incorporated bacon jam into their dishes. Chef Nick Benninger of Nick and Nat's Uptown 21 in his 5 way "Porkapoluza" and Chef Sean Collins & Greg Kuepfer of Pazzo Ristorante as a topper on their arincini balls.

Shortly after that spectacular experience, I was reading that Skillet Street Food's bacon spread was being showcased at Toronto's All The Best Fine Foods where owners are supporters of the local food movement. (Though, interestingly, Skillet Street Food is American.)

But the craze doesn't stop. Since those jarred beauties have been tucked away in my fridge, a fellow food blogger, Kelly Brisson, demonstrated her bacon jam creation on a local morning show. Loblaws grocery chain is also on the bandwagon with their President's Choice Black Label Bacon Marmalade.

My prediction? Expect to see more applications of bacon jam out there in 2012. Perhaps a North American focused condiment for now. Let's see if this trend takes hold around the globe.

May I present my Breakfast Smørrebrød - Bacon Jam meets The New Nordic Cuisine.

1 slice of Art-is-in Bakery's Crazy Grain bread
Bacon Jam, spread thickly and to the edge

Scrambled eggs made with scallions and local cream

Salt and pepper
Oven roasted tomato, chopped (I made and froze in October)
Dollop of bacon jam

Kiss of sour cream

Garnish of fresh cilantro, chopped

Adapted from recipes by Martha Stewart and @Yzhalia

750 gr bacon
2 cooking onions, diced finely
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
3/4 cup port
1 1/2 tablespoons molasses

In a large skillet, render the bacon over medium-high heat. It is easier to do it if the bacon has been cut into chunks first. You want the bacon to be cooked but not crisped. Remove the bacon pieces from the pan and drain on paper towels.

Pour off the the rendered fat. But don't discard. It can be kept in the fridge and used for other purposes. (Wonderful for the preparation for hash browns for example. A Dane will love it as a spread on rye bread.)

Using a tablespoon of the fat, sauté the onions and garlic until the onions are translucent. Add the apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, maple syrup, port and molasses and bring to a boil, deglazing the roasty bits of bacon (the 'fond'). After a few minutes add the bacon.

Pour the bacon stew into a Dutch oven if you have a very low simmer on your cooktop or a slow cooker set to high. Leave uncovered. Cook for approximately 4 hours until the liquid is very sticky and syrupy. It may take less time in the Dutch oven.

When you think it is done, transfer the bacon stew to your food processor and pulse it until you have a consistency that leaves small pieces but is not a purée. If you feel it is too runny, return it to the skillet and bring it to a boil for a few minutes. With the sugars in the mixture, it won't take long to thicken. When you use it, you don't want it to 'run'. It should be the consistency of a 'jam'.

Fill sterilized 125 mL jars to 1/2" from the top. Seal with lids and rings that have been scalded. Keep in the refrigerator for up to a month.


Bacon - Bearbrook Game Meats Inc. purchased at the Ottawa Farmers' Market, Lansdowne Park
Onions - Roots and Shoots Farm, Manotick Station, outside of Ottawa, purchased at the Ottawa Farmers' Market, Lansdowne Park
Garlic - Abbey Hill Farms, Richmond, outside of Ottawa

Crazy Grain Bread - Art-is-in Bakery, Ottawa
Eggs - Bekings Poultry Farm, Oxford Station, outside of Ottawa, found in many specialty grocery stores around Ottawa, including Brian's Butchery
Tomatoes - Waratah Downs Organic Farm, Iroquios, south of Ottawa, purchased at the Main Street Market

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Finskbrød - Denmark's Black Tie Shortbread

Finskbrød is Denmark's version of the Christmas shortbread. One observation of my Scandinavian heritage is that everything tastes better with almonds. So it is no surprise that they have decorated this worldly classic with 'their' signature nut for extra taste and texture.

Like all great shortbreads, finskbrød is particularly light, buttery and ever so tender but firm. They pretty much melt in your mouth. The sugar/ground almond topping adds an extra je ne sais quoi that takes it from semi-formal to black tie. A beautiful food presentation is characteristic of Danish hospitality.

Maybe you have enjoyed many thistle stamped shortbreads over the years. Could this be the Christmas your cookie platter hops over a border or two?

* If you are interested in a variation, this latest recipe from Berlingske is a twist on the classic and has a spot of cognac in the dough. It is also less sweet than the recipe I make. If your Danish is rusty, Google translate does a terrific job. What I like about this recipe is that the almond used for the topping is made from a raw almond with the skin remaining. I think it is a sharp look if you want to go 'upscale rustic'.  I have since switched to topping my cookie with ground raw almonds and pearl sugar.


500 grams all-purpose flour
350 grams butter, cool but not chilled
125 grams granulated sugar

1 egg, beaten
3 tablespoons pearl sugar
3 tablespoons ground almonds (raw if possible - the skins add some colour)

Weigh the flour and sugar. Mix together. Cut in the butter until the pieces are very small. Work together with hands until a ball forms.

Wrap the dough and let it rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Roll the dough to a thickness of 1/4".

With cookie cutter or knife, cut dough in 3/4" long strips and then on an angle every 2" to form a diamond shape, technically parallelograms.

Brush on beaten egg. Combine the equal parts ground almond and sugar. Sprinkle the almond/sugar mixture over the cookie dough and make sure all cookies are well covered.

Using a small offset spatula, gently lift each cookie and place on an ungreased baking sheet. They will rise a bit and also spread out a bit, but they can be placed reasonably close together on the cookie sheet.

Bake in 375ºF oven until golden brown. Check them at 10 minutes to see how they are coming along. Rotate the pan 180º for the last few minutes. In my oven and with my pans I find 12 minutes works well.

  • Use fresh butter. This is critical. My favourite butter is Lactantia. When I buy it, I store the extra bricks in the freezer until I need it in order to preserve its freshness.
  • Use salted butter for this recipe. Unsalted butter will leave a bland taste. The balance of salt in the Lactantia butter is to my taste.
  • Roll the dough between two sheets of wax paper. This way you avoid adding more flour to the dough and throwing off the balance of the rich buttery taste. (I push in the edges to re-form them because they will split apart during rolling.)
  • Egg wash the cookies and sprinkle the almond/sugar mixture BEFORE they are placed on the pan. Not only is it faster, this minimizes the mess on the pan and potential over baking of many small sugary nutty crumbs.
  • Cut the diamond shapes before putting on the topping. This allows you to pull away the imperfect pieces of dough at the edges so that the extra dough it can rolled again and not wasted.
  • Make sure to use fresh nuts. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

East & Main Bistro - Wellington in Prince Edward County

Tonight the executive chef of East & Main Bistro of Wellington, Ontario in Prince Edward County is competing in the regional Gold Medal Plates competition in Ottawa. Lili Sullivan has been the chef at East & Main since 2009.

My first experience with this place occurred when we took a weekend vacation to the County at the beginning of June this year. But the closest we came to eating Lili Sullivan's fine foods was a box lunch on a farm tour as part of the Great Canadian Cheese Festival. Though it wasn't any old box lunch by my way of thinking. I loved every bit of the vegetarian sandwich wrap, salad, to-die-for brownie and extra fixings.

A few months before I read through Ron Eade's Omnivore's Ottawa blog that Chef Sullivan was going to be participating in Gold Medal Plates come November.

A great box lunch doesn't necessarily give you great insight into whether someone can capture the GMP crown. I needed an excuse to return and sit in for a fuller East & Main experience.

That chance came last month when returning to Ottawa from an out of town trip. Not a lover of the steady hard pavement of the 401 with its unpredictable truck traffic, I meandered off the highway past Brighton to take in the County. And with luck, catch lunch at East & Main. Fall had set in and the drive down Highway 33 was beautiful. The Loyalist Parkway curves by Lake Ontario just before it heads into Wellington. I arrived remarkably rested.

Owners Kimberly Humby and David O'Connor understood the clientele that would enjoy their bistro when they opened two years ago. As I sat down for lunch, my keen people watching instincts told me that I was surrounded by locals, regular visitors and tourists alike. And of course, the very food focused curious, like me. This is a destination place.

The interior is welcoming. Upscale touches to the finishings but still a cozy feel. In one of the bay windows they have placed a dining room table that can comfortably seat 6. On this day, it was occupied by four well-dressed ladies that, by my estimation, made this outing a regular event. In the other bay, were smaller groupings of tables to make room for a full wall buffet of their homemade preserves.

The menu offered 4 appetizers - soup, salad, trio of tapenades & pita crisps, and a pâté plate. There were also 6 sandwich choices ranging from $10 to $14. They came with your choice of soup, salad or frites. The 4 mains ranged from $12 - $13. Pasta, stew, quiche and a composed salad.

For my sandwich I went with one of the new offerings on the menu. Lobster and shrimp roll with smoked tomato tartar sauce on mini pastry house rolls from Pastry House in Picton. (The same bakery that supplies The Buddha Dog their great rolls.) Pastry House rolls are some of the best I have ever tasted. They risked stealing the show; however, the seafood filling was superb. Not to mention a handsome portion. I chose to have it with the soup du jour, leek and asparagus. I loved the creamy, silky texture and full flavour but I am not a gal who goes in for big croutons. I would have enjoyed a garnish with a bit more of a dressy look. My sandwich plate rang in at $14.

I was likely full enough after the sandwich and shouldn't have considered dessert, knowing that I had a sedentary 3 hour drive ahead of me. But the menu beckoned.

I passed on the Mexican chocolate cake, crème brûlée, honey panna cotta and lemon curd tart. Instead, I chose the fresh berry shortcake: cardamom pound cake with macerated berries and cream. ($8.00) Being a Dane, cardamom is a much loved spice in baking. The cake had the balance of denseness needed to stand up to the juicy berries without being too heavy. Another hit.

I had a hard time leaving. It is a place you settle into and feel the comfort of home. Before I paid my bill I wondered to the wall of preserves to check out their creations. Owner, Kimberly Humby was restocking the shelves. She enticed me with the laborious love that goes into the Slow-Baked Applewood Smoked Tomato Paste (125 mL jar for $5.95) and the Ploughman's Branston Pickle (250 mL jar for $5.95).

Having just put away so many jars of tomato creations myself, I had to know every detail of the Tomato Paste. She indulged me. Considering all the work, I was starting to feel like $5.95 was a bit of a steal for that wee jar.

Kimberly shared with me that their preserves are made with vegetables from their own garden and also from farms nearby in the County - Laundry Farms on County Road 1, Hagerman's Farm between Bloomfield and Picton on the Loyalist Parkway, and Vicki's Veggies on Morrison Point Road, near Milford.

Ottawa Magazine recently did an interview with Lili Sullivan before the GMP competition. The week before, The Ottawa Citizen had an article entitled "Five Worth The Drive" focused on destinations for wine tasting. East & Main Bistro was included. It appears the word is getting out.

The food, wine and beautiful countryside make Prince Edward County a vacation retreat from the big city. There are so many great places to eat in the County, it is hard to cover them all in a weekend. If you can work East & Main Bistro into your itinerary, you won't be disappointed.

East & Main Bistro
270 Main Street
Wellington, Ontario
K0K 3L0
Facebook: East & Main

Thurs to Mon: 12 - 2:30pm; 5:30 - 9 pm
Tues and Wed: CLOSED

East and Main Bistro on Urbanspoon

Succulent Beef Stew - The Mealtime Cure When Life Is Chaos

Succulent homemade stew tucked in the freezer in individual portions can save the day when life becomes too hectic.

Have you ever had that experience where you feel like you are living in a blender? Your time is not your own. You are juggling many responsibilities, not to mention the odd unplanned crisis or two. On top of that, you may be trying to make 3 healthy meals a day for yourself and your family.

Our lives have had an unpredictable rhythm to them this year. Nothing gets me feeling more defeated than eating fast food, takeout, or dinner from a can out of some sense of coping. I just can't do it. Give me toast, a glass of water and send me to bed hungry.

As I like to tell my family, based on our packed freezer, we are now ready for Armageddon. Well, except if the power goes out.

When I catch a moment and find a great deal on groceries, I have been jumping at the chance to put some great treats into the freezer that will reheat well and reheat quickly. I package in single servings, ready for any size group, which of late is often just one.

Recently, while reading Ron Eade's Thursday grocery special column, I saw that the Metro was advertising roast beef on sale. Two for one. I picked up two pieces just cents apart in price, yielding me a little over 4 pounds of outside round for what worked out to be about $3.65/lb.

I still had colourful carrots of white and purple left from my CSA share from Roots and Shoots Farm. Plus their onions and garlic. I had also picked up a small rutabaga at the Ottawa Farmers' Market from the stand of Needham's Garden Market of Arnprior. My beef stock was made by the Glebe Meat Market. I often keep supply on hand in the freezer.

With these basic ingredients on hand, it was succulent stew that was going to add to our freezer bounty. (Cross rib or blade are more typical cuts for stewing beef but I decided to use my outside round and handle it tenderly.)

Stew is also great for gifting to others with busy, chaotic lives. I have already snuck some into one of the hospital campuses this past week for a loved one's dinner. Dare I confess? I also know of a diligent student now residing at one of our local universities that appreciates an impromptu food rescue when it comes her way.

I asked her for a picture of the gifted stew and mashed potatoes. Also riveting comments.

Her 'riveting' comments: "The food is delicious as always. Thanks so much!" She knows I fuss over plating and when the picture came: "Yummy! But not very artsy."

For what it's worth, plating can really make a meal. I shared with her the picture from my plate. We agreed the differences in look must be about 'lighting'. Yeah, that's it, the 'lighting'.

[photo credit: Starving Student]

By the way, stew tastes even better the next day!

Succulent Beef Stew

4 pound roast suitable for stewing
4 cups carrots, chopped into 1" pieces
2 stalks celery, chopped into 1" pieces

1 small rutabaga, chopped into 1" cubes

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 onions, diced

2 large cloves garlic, minced

fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

fresh marjoram or 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram

1 cup red wine
28 ounces diced tomato

4 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups beef stock
1 cup frozen peas (optional)
1/2 cup corn (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Cut roast into bite-size pieces about 1 1/2" cubes.

Peel and chop carrots. Chop celery and set the two aside.

Peel the rutabaga and cut into chunks. Set aside.

Dice the onions and mince the garlic.

In large Dutch oven, heat oil over high heat. Sear the meat on all sides in batches (season with salt and pepper just before going into the pan). Then transfer to plate.
Make sure you don't sear it too long or you can actually dry it out.

Reduce heat to medium and cook onions and garlic for 1 minute.

Add carrots and celery. Cook until onions are tender and vegetables perhaps are just starting to brown.

Stir in thyme and marjoram and cook a minute more.
Add wine to help deglaze pan. Add the can of diced tomatoes.

Move mixture to large stock pot. Add meat and rutabaga.

Meanwhile in dutch oven make a roux. Melt butter. Add flour and cook for about 1 minute. Add the beef broth slowly to make a gravy. Add to the stock pot. Add the remaining beef stock not used in the gravy. All vegetables and meat should just be covered in liquid. If not, add more beef stock and/or wine.

Simmer on very low for 3 hours. Just before serving, if using, add the peas and corn and warm through. Also add salt and pepper to taste.
If I am freezing the stew for later, I don't put the peas in until just before serving. I find they don't freeze and reheat well. (They turn a sad, hospital food green.)

Serve stew over mashed potatoes or egg noodles.
Garnish with chopped fresh parsley if you would like to add a bit of colour.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

LCBO Food & Drink Magazine - Holiday Issue 2011

Curious. I didn't jump into the much coveted Holiday issue of the LCBO Food & Drink magazine like I usually do. Plus 15ºC today likely had something to do with it. Oddly, my bottle shopping confreres were decked in wool pants, socks, heavy shoes, fall coats and scarves when cruising through the liquor store this morning. I, on the other hand, dressed more appropriately for the weather Light weight fashions in keeping with a dreamy Disney vacation. And I was still hot. Wouldn't they be sweltering?

So everything wintery and frosty and jingly about Holiday just isn't working for me yet. It is important to know that the rule in my house is that Christmas starts the day after Remembrance Day. In 3 more days I should be contemplating putting up my tree. I now know what it feels like to do Christmas in Florida.

I peeled through the pages hoping to be captured and launched into the season. Eventually I did let go. Partly aware of my hosting obligations soon coming on me. Plus my strong desire to be ready and awesome. I do love the Holiday issue for the inspiration it lavishes on us as we go about planning our feasts of this and nibbles of that.

My list of wants ended up being many, and here are a few of my top picks:
  • Garlic Chicken on Bok Choy Rice Cakes and Black Pepper & Asiago Fricos with Serrano Ham (From Sugar and Spice by Christopher St. Onge) * In fact ANYTHING from this feature looks smashing.
  • Hot & Sour Soup and Stir-Fried Beef with Black Beans and Rice Noodles, Steamed Rice (From Fine China by Lucy Waverman) * Another feature where every recipe appears genius. Check them all out.
  • Bubbly Sangria (From Spirited Sangria by Michelle P.E. Hunt and Laura Panter) * 5 hard-to-choose Sangria recipes. 5 parties? Or 5 punch bowls at the one? A difficult decision.
  • Coconut Lime Clouds and White Chocolate & Clementine Shortbread Sandwiches (From White Delights by Christopher St. Onge) * Christopher is running away with this issue with 5 knock out choices for the cookie platter. Look at them all.
  • Hot Boxty and Lemon Posset (From Boxing Day Specials by Marilyn Bentz-Crowley) * Have you ever heard of Boxty and Posset?
  • Spiced Scallops with Blood Orange Salsa and Chilled Orange Salad with Honey and Grand Marnier (From Citrus Season by Lucy Waverman) * Please, please, please pay attention to her tip on how to do 'special cut oranges'.
There is a section entitled Thank You! by Cobi Ladner and Victoria Walsh. It is wonderful to labour over making high quality homemade gifts for your many hosts this season. But I have seen some real fails. Remember, it is not about you but your host. No fudge for the diabetic or spicy nuts for the wildly allergic. Nothing smelly for the asthmatic. You get the idea. Make it all about her/him. Make it very special. And for sure, it can still be homemade.

I favour the old familiar holiday jingles that should be belting out everywhere in just a few weeks. The Holiday Playlist by Rick Shurman and Earl Torno took a departure from tradition and focused on a theme more in tune with 'reconnecting with family and friends'. A cute idea. Though I am still puzzled by the choice then of Let's Call The Whole Thing Off by Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong. I guess some reconnections just aren't meant to be. Check it out on iTunes.

In Inspired Ideas by Brenda Morrison, is a definite GOTTA HAVE. Cool Ideas, showcases the Prepara Ice Balls. I am a faithful user of Lee Valley Tool's Ice Lantern, filling them over and over with boughs of pine and cedar and a few fresh cranberries. So it is no surprise that I would shape shift to orbs filled with slices of lemon, mint leaves or rose petals. Now, to go about sourcing them in Ottawa.

I have to think there is extra sweat that goes into making the Holiday issues extra glamorous. Food styling is everything. It has the very important role of conveying the seduction of the dish glossed up in the pages before you. When successful, you can smell the dish and want to lick the pages. A tip of the fork to the food styling team of: Ruth Gangbar, Terry Schact, Heather Shaw and Christopher St. Onge.

If you need something to rev your Holiday engine, you might try starting with the latest LCBO Food & Drink magazine. Weighing in at a hefty 865 grams (25 grams lighter than last year), not only will you be ready for your holiday party plans, you will find lots of great ideas that suit the chilly days that are inevitably coming ahead.

What tickled your fancy in this issue?

Plan ahead: The Winter issue hits the stores 9 weeks from today on Wednesday, January 11th.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

BEST EVER SOUP: Carrot & Coriander Soup In Brilliant Shades of Autumn

Today I think I made my BEST soup ever. The surprise to me is that this is a soup (or at least a variation of it) that I make with some frequency. Why was it so much better this time?

I used local produce (carrots, potato and garlic) from Roots and Shoots Farm, my CSA partner.

I used mainly orange carrots. But to round out the two pounds I included two white carrots and two purple carrots.

The colour from the purple carrots bled out into the liquid while the soup was cooking.

However, when the soup was puréed, it gave the soup a beautiful muddy, earthy, deep burnt russet orange colour. Not the hue of pink I was fearing.

Since I did not have my own chicken stock, I used stock from The Glebe Meat Market on Bank Street. They sell it in 500 mL bags.

I used the Vitamix on the double high speed for an extended period of time to make the soup silky soft.

What did I like about this soup? I loved how the coriander stood out boldly against the sweetness of the carrots. I loved the undertone of heat from the cayenne. I was a little more heavy handed than usual. I was particularly pleased with my choice of garnish.

Most of all, I loved the colour.


2 pounds carrots
1 potato
3 ounces butter
1 medium cooking onion, peeled and diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
1 litre chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon celery salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
plain yogurt
fresh cilantro

Peel the carrots and cut crosswise into 1/2 inch pieces. Peel the potato and cut into small cubes.

In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter. When hot, add the onion and sauté while stirring occasionally, until translucent, 3 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté while stirring until beginning to change color, 20-30 seconds.

Add the carrots, potato, and fresh coriander. Sauté, stirring a couple of times, for about 2-3 minutes. Add the chicken stock, sugar, salt, bay leaf, celery salt, and cayenne pepper. Over medium heat bring to a simmer. Lower the heat, cover partially and continue simmering until vegetables are soft when pierced with the point of a knife, about 20-25 minutes.

Remove the bay leaf. Use a Vitamix or blender to purée the soup in small batches. The soup may be made ahead to this point; covered and refrigerated. (We use our Vitamix and it always gives a great consistency for soup.)

Return the soup to the saucepan let it simmer on a very, very low simmer to keep warm. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary. If the soup is too thick, add more stock or water.

Garnish with a dollop of yogurt, chopped coriander leaves and crumbled bacon.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ottawa Magazine's Top 10 Restaurants List 2011

The much anticipated November/December issue of Ottawa Magazine hit the stands at Brittons in the Glebe today. Inside it's cover is the 2011 Top 10 restaurants list by food editor, Shawna Wagman. Apparently I was customer number 3 to scoop up this hot edition.

The cover bore such catchy phrases as: "WHERE TO EAT RIGHT NOW" and "10 RESTAURANTS WITH IMAGINATION". A hint of what would be revealed inside.

Here is the list (and it appears to be numbered):

1. Black Cat Bistro (Patricia Larkin)
2. Navarra (René Rodriguez)
3. Town (Interesting, there was no talk of who is doing the cooking now. Steve Wall recently moved to Luxe)
4. OZ Kafe (Jamie Stunt and Simon Bell)
5. Canvas Resto Bar (Charles Beauregard)
6. Fraser Café (Fraser brothers)
7. Restaurant E18hteen (Matthew Carmichael)
8. The Whalesbone Oyster House (Charlotte Langley)
9. Murray Street Kitchen Wine Charcuterie (Steve Mitton)
10. Sidedoor (Matthew Carmichael and Jonathan Korecki)

Repeats from last year: Town, Fraser Café, The Whalesbone Oyster House.

Returning from the 2009 list: Navarra, Restaurant E18hteen.

I have munched at them all but Sidedoor. And I have been holding off for all the reasons Shawna outlined in her piece, making it quite a surprise pick for a Top 10 list. She is upfront about Sidedoor's "uneven quality of the food" and the sense that "the service has gone from bad to worse". Not mentioned by her are the grumblings about the prices. The choice leaves me wondering. I liken it to then newly minted President Obama receiving the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize before the work was done.

There are others on this list that have been "uneven quality" in my first hand experience. Though I do try to abide by the 'try 3 times' rule before making named declarations.

I almost always order seafood when I eat out - app, main or both. For me, it has been a steady test of the mettle in the kitchen. Perhaps a theme for next year's article.

I am not as familiar as I would like to be with good eateries on the other side of the river. Bistro St-Jacques was a wonderful addition to last year's list. (I made it there 3 times already over the past 12 months.) I had been secretly hoping that Shawna had mined another nugget from across the way. It just can't be a barren eating wasteland, can it? (Nice to see the nod to Marysol Foucault's Edgar.)

This list is a mixed bag alright and I am still trying to make sense of it.

For me, any kind of Top 10 list for such a significant city as the Nation's Capital, would be a list of 'home run' picks - not necessarily high end (in fact a mix is nice), but a 'pride and joy' list. If someone's coming to town, then you would hope they wouldn't leave without giving a selection of them a try.

Maybe this list fits the "restaurants with imagination" tag (though the write-up on Canvas seems to contradict), but for my buck I still want solid value each and every time. A number fit that bill in my experience but certainly not all.

For anyone asking, Allium (on Holland) is still my favourite in this town.

Pick up the magazine. The article is a great read. Shawna has given you fair warning and has quite accurately depicted the pros and cons of her 2011 picks.

Are you looking for adventure? Then you now have a decent list to start from.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

I Found The Heart of My Story For My Butternut Squash Soup

[Photo credit: Sandra Gulland, author]

One of my favourite authors, Sandra Gulland, appears to like butternut squash soup. In fact, THIS butternut squash soup. I am not sure I cook on par with how well she writes, but I think I might agonize in a similar way when deep in the creative process.

In one of her a recent blog posts, she discussed the challenges of finding 'the heart of the story'. "That's what the process of writing a novel is about: finding the (damned) heart of the story. And it never, at least for me, seems to come early on."

I can have a similar frustration when preparing a dish that I want to be particularly special. I was making a tried and true autumn soup as my contribution for our October book club meeting's lunch. With Sandra Gulland as our honoured guest, I wanted to fuss a bit. Not only should it be a soup with delightful flavours, but I wanted it to be exceptionally pretty.

Sandra's ingredients are her words. Common to everyone but so unique when put together her way. Sandra writes historical fiction. As a result, the characters and the setting have already been revealed to the world. But she plays with her words and her expectations to make the characters and settings deeper and richer and more colourful than we might have first imagined. This she has proven 4 times over with The Josephine B. Trilogy and her latest book, Mistress of the Sun.

My ingredients are the bountiful foods of the garden, the aromatic spices in my many jars, the staples in my pantry, fridge and freezer. Butternut squash soup is not unusually complicated and those who make it often, likely have recipes very similar to mine. There are classic combinations that work. Squash with refreshing fruits, such as pear or apple. Squash with curries. Curries with coconut milk. Nothing new and clever here. The right balance of flavours and textures though could produce a bowl full of goodness leaving you wanting for more.

I actually made my soup days ahead and put it in the freezer. A step I often feel lends itself to improving soups, stews and sauces. I am sure there is something scientific going on in the freeze-thaw process that is flavour friendly. I don't profess to know what that is but time and time again, I have been pleased.

The day I was making this batch of soup, I was shouting it out on Twitter that the squash and apples were roasting away in the oven in preparation for soup. And out in the big wide universe came the voice of Marion Kane, saying something to the effect that 'You have inspired me. I think that is what I will do with my butternut squash too.' In that moment, we were 'Kitchen Sistas'. I was making soup with food sleuth, Marion Kane! She, somewhere out there in her kitchen on a cold, rainy autumn day, was creating similar smells. This soup was now having very good karma. The results were pleasing.

But then I got stuck. Stuck finding the heart of my soup. I just couldn't serve up a sea of 'yellow-orange', could I? I knew that I wanted it to be stunning to look at and that whatever I did in plating had to also complement the tastes. Twitter and friend requests to the rescue. Suggestions abound. A drizzle of thinned yogurt. Vidal ice wine syrup mixed with cream. Croutons. Fried onions. Dried apple flakes. (I don't even know what that is.) Chives. Parmesan crisps. I played and tinkered with ideas. Some I dismissed right away. The Vidal ice wine syrup intrigued. I followed the suggestion of mixing it with cream. Although tasty enough, it had a very muddy look. It didn't help that my drizzles looked liked grating shards.

I was ready to give up. My timetable was collapsing around me. I was at risk of being away the day of the meeting. If necessary, soup would be delivered ahead of time, as is. I was content that it had a wonderful taste and so a sea of brightness might just have to do.

The night before our special gathering my schedule realigned and, as an added bonus, I had a stroke of genius. My fridge was sporting a small bowl of leftover roasted beets. How did I miss this? How did I get so stuck? The technique is not mine to claim and perhaps in its day was overused. But I loved the idea of using a beet coulis, accented with a yogurt coulis to create trumpeting heart-shaped flowers.

Have you ever made a trumpeting heart-shaped flower with coulis? It is best to have the coulis in easy to manage squeeze bottles. The size of the opening is very important to get the right size dot. Consistency is important too because you don't want the beet or the yogurt to bleed out when the dot is laid on the soup. The beet dot is the larger of the two. The yogurt dot lays on the edge of the beet dot. Then putting a round toothpick deep into the soup, pull through the yogurt, then the beet and artistically pull a gentle curl.

The colours would be spectacular, I thought. I had also prepared a bundle of apple slivers.

No time for a dry run. The plating creation would unfold the next day as we were about to serve. The Vidal ice wine syrup came along for the ride. My confidence was somewhat restored. I was beginning to feel that maybe I had found the heart of my story.

Then something dawned on me that I had totally overlooked. An unforgivable oversight considering my many hosting experiences. I had given absolutely no consideration to the vessel being used to serve the soup. I knew nothing about the dishes being used by the book club hostess. She decided to pull out all the stops and laid out the table with her finest. What luck. The yellow-orange of the soup, the deep purple-red of the beet coulis and white of the yogurt would look striking surrounded by the majestic blue in the delicate china.

As the first ladle of soup hit the bottom of the bowl I knew this plating was going to be very showy, considering the decorating that was about to unfold. And so we made it up on the spot. The bowl was not broad and the flowers should not be crowded. Just a pair would fit. I chose to have my flowers tail out in opposite directions since there was only two in the bowl. There was room for a nest of apple slivers in the middle. Why bring the Vidal ice wine syrup all the way across town and not use it? After all, I paid a fortune for it. A splash covered the wee nest of apple.

We worked together quickly, I ladling and my favourite epicurean enthusiast, just trained, drawing trumpeting heart-shaped flowers with coulis. Then servers bustled 12 plates as quickly and safely as possible to the dining room so all would have theirs piping hot.

It was a very last minute idea but I sense those fussy, swirly, decorative beet flowers were in keeping with the bold, elaborate fashions of the 1600's and the time of the Sun King, Louis XIV of France. Maybe, maybe if we squinted really hard at them, we could make out fleur-de-lys.

It appears, I did in the end, find the heart of my story. But alas, "... it never, at least for me, seems to come early on."

Spicy Butternut Squash, Apple and Coconut Milk Soup
Inspired by many.

Butternut squash
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
3 apples, I prefer Granny Smith
Vegetable oil
2 small onions, diced
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon Thai red curry paste (add more at the end if you want more bite)
5 to 7 cups of chicken stock, homemade
1/2 cup coconut milk, more if you need to tame the heat of the curry paste
Apple juice, works well to thin the soup to desired consistency just before serving

Heat the oven to 375ºF. Cut the butternut squash lengthwise. Dig out seeds and pulp. Rub open flesh with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and cinnamon. Place on a large baking sheet, flesh side down. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes.

Cut the apples lengthwise. Rub open flesh with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and cinnamon. After the squash has baked for 25 minutes, add the apples to the baking sheet, flesh side down. Continue to bake the squash and apples for 20 more minutes. You will see that the apples have 'exploded'. Pierce the squash with a skewer to see if it is fully roasted.

Let the squash and apple cool long enough so they can be handled. Scoop out the squash and apple flesh. Note that you will need to remove the apple seed core if you had not already done so. It is easy to do since the flesh is so soft.

Dice two small onions. Sauté the onion in vegetable oil until it has softened. About 3 minutes. Add the grated fresh ginger. Continue to cook to release the flavours. Another minute. Add the Thai red curry paste and cook for a minute until the onions and ginger are covered.

Add the flesh of the squash and apples. Mix with the onions, ginger and curry paste. Add 5 cups of the chicken stock and simmer for 15 minutes.

Purée in the Vitamix or blender until silky, smooth. Add warmed chicken stock to help blend if the soup mixture is too thick. Put the blended soup into a clean pot. Add enough chicken stock to bring it to the right consistency. Remember, you will be adding a bit of coconut milk later too. Apple juice is nice for thinning as well but don't over do it as it will make the soup too 'appley'. Heat the soup through. Add the coconut milk. Adjust seasoning. If you would like a bit more heat, add a bit more curry paste. More coconut milk can be added if you over spice the soup. Play with the flavours until you get the right blend. Season with salt.

I like to freeze the soup until I need it. You will find the coconut milk will appear to have separated once it is thawed. It will come back together once heated.

*Update (Oct 27, 2011) - found this great post on roasting beets. Great pictures too. Pretty much the same way I do it. Worth the read.

Beet Coulis
Roasted beet(s), cooled
red wine
maple syrup

Purée in Vitamix or blender. Add splashes of red wine and maple syrup to make it silky smooth but it needs to stay relatively thick. Not runny. When using to decorate the plate, place the beet coulis in a squeeze bottle to control the 'dot' being placed on the soup. Another reason why it shouldn't be too runny. For control, you don't want it coming out of the bottle unless you squeeze it.

Yogurt Coulis
Plain yogurt (not fat-free)

Thin yogurt with cream. Place in squeeze bottle. It should not come out of the bottle unless squeezed. The hole in this bottle should be smaller than the hole for the Beet Coulis.

Apple Nests
1/4 cup Dried apples, cut in thin slivers but no longer than 1" long
2 tablespoon apple juice or water, which ever you have on hand
1 teaspoon butter
1/4 teaspoon sugar

Heat apple slivers in apple juice in small pan. Add butter and sugar. Heat through until the liquid is absorbed into the apple. This can be made ahead and refrigerated until plating time.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Petit Hakurei Turnip Latkes - Darling Hors D'Oeuvres

I feel there is a movement trending to use the technique of grating or shredding in food preparation. Most recently I experienced at least a half dozen presentations of 'slaws' at the Savour Stratford's tasting event.

When I considered how to use my Hakurei turnips from my latest CSA basket from Roots and Shoots Farm, I saw slaw.

But the raw turnip does have a strong taste. My idea to temper that flavour was to make them into mini latkes. I was feeling quite genius until I hit Google and saw that this has been done MANY times before.

A number of the recipes were the same. Just a basic latke recipe. Since I had never made latkes, let alone Hakurei turnip latkes, I kept things simple.

The result was 'Green Acres meet Park Avenue'. They made for beautiful hors d'oeuvres. The mister thought they would have been divine served with bubbles. On this, I would have to agree.

Petit Hakurei Turnip Latkes

Hakurei turnips (I used my entire bunch)
1/2 onion chopped
1 egg
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Sour cream
maple syrup
plum jam

Clean the turnips. Cut off the greens and end. Peel. Using a box grater, grate the turnips. Press all the moisture out of the shredded turnip. I used a big paper towel and twisted it at both ends in opposite directions. You may need to use a second paper towel.

Whisk an egg into a medium bowl. Add the wrung out turnip, salt and pepper. Mix. Sprinkle the flour over the turnip and mix. Let the batter sit for 15 minutes.

Heat oil in pan. (Do not use olive oil as it is not a good oil for frying. I used canola oil.) Drop a piece of turnip in the pan. When it sizzles, it is time to make the latkes. Drop a teaspoon of the latke mixture into the oil and flatten with the back of the spoon. If your oil is hot enough, the latkes should not stick to the pan or absorb the oil. Make sure the oil is not so hot that it is smoking. If they brown too quickly, they may not cook properly in the centre.

Once they have turned a golden brown, flip them and finish frying on the other side. You are frying them for approximately 2 minutes a side.

Place the cooked latkes on a paper towel to blot any excess oil.

Serve toasty warm with the garnish of your choice. Sour cream or a dip with a sour cream base is quite common.

You can keep them in a warm oven until they are ready to be used. They would hold up well made ahead and reheated.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Natalie MacLean's New Book - Unquenchable

I just saw this tweet this morning:
@Natalie MacLean: Ottawa's top wine bar Play is hosting the launch event for my new book Unquenchable, join us:
I know many of you are Natalie fans. Subscribing to her wine reviews and using her Wine Picks & Pairings app. Totally trusting her with your party planning.

There is a bit more to Natalie though than the encyclopedic wine brain and palate. She also likes to write. Did you get a chance to read her first book Red, White, and Drunk All Over? A runaway success. Oh to be able to have that kind of response on a first book. I can only dream.

I thought you might be interested in knowing that Natalie is about to launch her new book - Unquenchable: A Tipsy Request for The World's Best Bargain Wines.

There is an event coming up here in Ottawa on October 25 at Play Food & Wine down in the Byward Market on York Street. Haven't been to Play yet? Chef Michael Moffatt is one of my favourite chefs in the city and is a regular Ottawa Gold Medal Plates contender, winning last year and in 2007. Their sommelier, Grayson McDiarmid, has also been receiving high praise. I am sure the canapés will be divine and the wines perfectly matched.

The ticket includes a signed copy of the book. Maybe you can convince Natalie to write something really sassy to make your book super unique! I love the idea that this is a smallish event. Suits me better. Maybe you too.

Notice that they are offering two time slots that night to fit your crazy schedule. 5:30 to 7:00 pm or 7:30 to 9:00 pm. Just click on the times to buy your tickets.

My advice to Natalie if she plans to do a reading: Do it before the drinks start flowing! Relaxed people can be loud.

If you have some wine loving friends or book readers on your Christmas list, you could be done shopping a full 61 days ahead of schedule. THAT has great appeal. I heard nothing about gift wrapping. For that you are on your own.

One Christmas I put Natalie's first book in a Secret Santa exchange and it was a real hit. Not hard to find friends that love wine AND a great read. [For the record, it was one of those sophisticated Secret Santa exchanges with all kinds of lovely things. Not the kind where you try to clean out your garage. I really struggle with those.]

I would love to hear if you decide to go. If I am not in Paris, I will be at Play.
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