Sunday, December 30, 2012

My New Year's Eve Signature Canapé - A Soup Shooter

Many New Year's Eve celebrations for tomorrow evening will be home parties.  For the gatherings we go to or host, potlucking those tasty nibbles has worked well for providing variety and sharing the workload.

This year our party canapé is a Roasted Carrot and Tomato Soup Shooter. I like it because it looks festive and it is easy, easy, easy.  It suits my gluten-free friends and gives an option to meaty protein apps that are so abundant. I have soup stored in the freezer that I will reheat.  But the soup I did make was straightforward and is very flexible, depending on what you have on hand.

My shooter cups came from Ma Cuisine down in the Byward Market on Dalhousie. They labeled them as a Dipper/Sipper. I picked up a few extra before Christmas and at that time they had 36 in stock. They hold about 85 ml when full.  It is better to pour your soup into the cups, instead of ladling. Not only is is faster, it is less messy. Pour slowly though, as not to splash. Presentation is everything.

To decorate on top, I use plain yogurt, sun-dried tomatoes and sunflower shoots. All of it is prepared ahead of time so assembly is quick. Anything that helps to keep the soup hot.

For the yogurt, I want it to 'flow'. I put it in a squeeze bottle with a bit of cream and shake it together.  I find the squeeze bottle allows for greater control when decorating the soup cups and it makes the work speedy too. The yogurt should not be so thin that it 'runs' out of the squeeze bottle. Try a pattern - a star-shaped, an 'S', dots, ...

I picked up the sun-dried tomatoes at Il Negozio Nicastro Westboro at their deli counter. I brunoised them ahead of time. (Brunoise means to cut a very fine dice, technically 2 mm by 2 mm by 2 mm or less.)

For the sunflower shoots, I use the heads of the shoot for a 'bow-tie'. My favourite brand comes from Butterfly Sky Farms in Gatineau. I usually pick them up at the Herb & Spice Shop on Wellington. I de-stem the heads ahead of time and keep them in in the fridge until show time in a small sealed container with just a drop of water to keep them hydrated.

Are you planning a signature canapé for tomorrow evening? What are your preparation secrets?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Royal Treasure Restaurant - Our Destination for Hot and Sour Soup

For maybe 15 years now our regular haunt for Chinese food has been Royal Treasure Restaurant on Somerset. What draws us there each time is their hot and sour soup.  For us, it rates as the best around.

Many have claimed that Royal Treasure is one of the most authentic Chinese food restaurants in Ottawa. I am absolutely not an expert on Cantonese and Szechuan cuisine so won't be able to verify this claim.  What I do know is that we love the flavours and the variety of dishes. And when it comes to Szechuan, they deliver a nice bite.

We usually get to the Treasure each season. Oddly it is most consistently around this time of year when the days are darkly long and the weather too carries quite the bite. I make sure to dress warmly because the door to outside is constantly swinging with customers coming in for their orders.  We prefer to go with a crowd to enjoy a good selection of dishes. It is hard to cover the favourites with just the two of us.

Tonight we mustered up a gang of five. Although our dining buddies live right around the corner, they tend to frequent Jadeland or So Good Restaurant. It seems the Treasure satisfied though, as there was barely a grain of rice left behind. I find the dishes amply portioned and keep that in mind when ordering.

Prices have gone up since we were last there.  For most dishes it was by $1. Some dishes even more. There are new menus to pay for and a fresh coat of paint on the place.  Surprisingly, it wasn't as drafty and cold as I have come to expect. Perhaps there have been other changes going on too.  The place is small and it always feel like a gamble to get one of the bigger tables. Karma was on our side tonight.

The restaurant is fully licensed but we settled for the tea. It is family run and friendly. Although they move very efficiently and like to turn the tables quickly for this tiny place, we rarely have felt rushed.

The medium bowl of Hot and Sour Soup yielded 8 servings. It carries a good balance of tang and heat. It is full of bamboo shoots, tofu, mushrooms, egg and green onions. $12.95

Spring rolls come 2 to an order. They are quite large and well stuffed. $3 an order.

The General Tao Chicken is the darling son's favourite. Well sauced, not greasy and very crispy. $11.95

Yang Chow Fried Rice is full of shrimp. This dish had been well spooned by the time I had a chance to take a picture. We sometimes call it Royal Treasure Fried Rice. $9.75

The sizzling seafood delight comes with scallops, shrimp and squid. $15.95

Spicy Assorted Mixed Vegetables $10.25

As far as my fortune cookie went, I didn't warm to it. With the new year just days away, I was hoping for an optimistic proclamation of good things to come. That would have suited more than advice free from Dear Abby. Alas, none of my dining partners were willing to trade. When it came time to leave, we shared the bill with our friends.

Royal Treasure Restaurant
774 Somerset St. W.
Ottawa, Ontario

Mon: Closed
Tues to Thurs: 11 am - 2 pm; 4 pm - 9:30 pm
Fri to Sun:  11 am - 2:30 pm; 4 pm - 9:30 pm

Royal Treasure 敦煌酒家 on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Illume Espresso Bar - Possibly The Best Latte In Ottawa

I think I can boldly say with barely a hesitation that this morning's latte was probably the best I have had in Ottawa.   (* read my additional updates over the first month. There have been some changes.)

Illume Espresso Bar opened this morning at 6:30 am.  They are located on the north west corner of Wellington and Carleton, across from the Metro grocery store. 

When I arrived (not at 6:30) one customer was seated enjoying his java.  I had the well-staffed espresso bar all to myself. This gave me the opportunity to pepper them with my many coffee questions.

Those who know me well, know that my quest for Canada's best butter tart is rivaled only by my search for the world's best latte.

Besides the usual suspects of espresso, latte, cappuccino, etc, they also do pour overs - Chemex,  Clever, Siphon plus the very specialized and exclusive German Walküre.

The espresso bean being ground this morning was the highly regarded Phil & Sebastian from Calgary.  They also plan on offering the 49th Parallel Bean from Vancouver.  Also a big favourite with me.

All drinks are served in the same sized cup - super stylish Walküre too, I might add.  I don't like my latte milk too hot.  They heat it to about 145F. Perfect.  I love a strong latte. They pull a double shot. We are feeling the same vibe.

I was expecting a very good latte. I knew that with the Phil & Sebastian bean I would get an espresso shot with bold, caramel, nutty notes. Their micro-frothed whole milk was in perfect balance. It did not disappoint. Barista Amy made it for me. Not bad for being customer number three on opening day and latte number two pulled from their impressive Mirage machine. A piece of fine Dutch manufacturing.

I've never considered this before, but is it over the top to mention to the latte-art-crafting barista that I'm left-handed? Upside down or not, this heart was full of coffee lovin'.

Seating includes a lounge space, plenty of table arrangements with punchy red, ultra modern metal chairs and bar stools at the counter. As the winter chill was in the air, I was happy to sit in their more private alcove area, away from the front door.

The food display case housed a bushel of large oranges. Not for sale but for freshly squeezed orange juice.  The case is meant for their wide selection of gluten-free products baked from their local east end supplier. The delivery was coming just as I was leaving.

I brought my cup back to the bar to pay and to ask for a spoon to scoop out the gold still clinging to the porcelain. For this 'the best latte in Ottawa' I wanted every last drop.

Update December 17, 2012:
I returned two short days later to have an equally high quality latte (still the Phil & Sebastian bean) and found out they plan to be open every day from 6:30 am to 10:00 pm. (Update: This eventually changed again to be 7 am to 8 pm.) This makes them a great destination stop on the way to work. A latte is $3.53 + tx.

They also sell a wide selection of private label tea.

Update December 20, 2012:
And I am back again on Friday. The third time in week one.  This time they were serving up the 49th Parallel bean.  A lovely latte again by Barista Amy, though I would say I favour Phil & Sebastian.

The display case was brimming with salads from Market Organics, 126 York Street.  Market Organics also provides illume espresso bar with their daily soup.

Update January 3, 2013:
Today I had a decaf latte since I stopped in late afternoon.  Barista Conor told me that it would be Phil & Sebastian's decaf.  I found it a bit thin tasting.  It can be a challenge to get a decaf espresso shot to taste as full-bodied as 'high test'.  The milk was warmer than I am used to. Note to self to mention it next time I am in.

The shelf is sporting JJ Bean Coffee Roasters' Eastside. I didn't see it opening day.  As well there are two selections from Social Coffee Company. Conor tells me that they are using Social primarily for brewing.

Phil & Sebastian beans are there as well but no 49th Parallel to be found.


Update January 4, 2013:
I'm back again because I am tempted to try the JJ Bean Coffee Roasters bean from Vancouver. Sure enough it was in the hopper. Barista Conor and I connect on my milk temperature. Thank you for that. I liked this latte well enough but I still prefer the Phil & Sebastian bean. Barista Amy really spoiled me on opening day!

Update January 10, 2013:
It is a morning visit today. So that means my latte will be in the loving hands of my favourite barista, Amy.

I ask every time, "What bean?" Today it's the Blaser Cafe, a Swiss bean that I have seen on the shelves at Morala Trading. That's a LONG way to come. I don't ask but I wonder about the roast date. It is lovely enough.  A bit acidic. I definitely favour the Phil & Sebastian. No word on when or if it will return. I'm puzzled.


And then the big wham. My latte has gone from $3.53 up to $4. The Cappuccino is also up at $4. New on the board is the Americano and the Machiato. (As a reference point, I consider the size of Illume's singled-sized Walküre cup to be on par with Bridgehead's medium cup, which sells for $3.50.)

Update January 11, 2013:
I pop in again for a morning visit. But no Amy-the-favourite-barista today. Someone new for me. We chat. It sounds like he has been around coffee for more years than he hasn't. Hopefully a good thing. So, "What bean?" The Swiss Blaser Cafe bean. Again. Now I'm really puzzled.  I had some great coffee chats with Fadi (the owner?) in December. I'm missing that. He REALLY knew his coffee. It seems he isn't around anymore. More puzzlement.

Update January 12, 2013:
This morning I pull in with a girlfriend before we head to lunch.  It's Saturday and there is a busy buzz to the place.  Many seats are taken and there are a number of staff on the ready. It is still the Blaser Cafe bean. I long for Phil & Sebastian or 49th Parallel - their original beans on opening day. Barista Conor serves me my latte.  He remembers to watch the heat on mine.  Third times a charm. I prefer my milk at 140F to 145F. My buddy got the regular super hot treatment. Next time she knows to mention it.  I am still wincing at the $4. latte for the far traveled Swiss Blaser Cafe. I find out Barista Amy is gone. Time to regroup.

Update January 16, 2013:
On my way to work and it's an easy pit stop to drop into Illume. A large bag of Phil & Sebastian is on the counter but my barista confirms that it the Swiss Blaser Cafe bean is still in the grinder's hopper.  At least it is good news that Phil & Sebastian is finally back in the shop. Also for sale on the shelves to take home. 

My latte ends up being too hot to sit for my quick visit.  I have it poured into a cup to go and drink on the road.  I confirm I am not a Blaser Cafe bean fan and feel relieved that its days in this shop seemed numbered.  The first month of Illume has not had the consistency I was expecting.  And I still haven't come to terms with the $4. latte.  This little neighbourhood could use a great coffee shop. Here is hoping for good things going forward and that the wrinkles get worked out.

Update January 29, 2013:
Today I had the pleasure of meeting Barista Brad.  He fussed over my Phil and Sebastian latte and was very inquisitive of my coffee peculiarities. I appreciated the attention.

He showed me the family of cups being used now at the coffee bar.  All are the beautiful German Walküre NYNY series.  Brad says the largest on the right is 8 oz and used for the latte (still $4.00).  The second from the right is 6 oz and used for the cappaccino (price dropped back down to $3.50). The second from the left is between 3 and 4 oz and is used for the macciato.And the small pup on the left is for the espresso - single or double shot. Brad also talked about seeing more activity on their Facebook page and on Twitter. A wise decision for a service focused business in this social media world, for sure.

Update February 14, 2013:
This is visit number 11. Illume has been open for two full months now and it seems like they have been in the neighbourhood forever. Today I had the pleasure of meeting Barista Alex.  He was very attentive.  I appreciated that he came to my table later in my visit to serve me with a loyalty card (and offer me a glass of water - nice touch!).  The loyalty card was just recently introduced.  Now the question is, will I remember to use it or even find it in my burgeoning wallet. Of course I ask, what's the bean today?  I find that they have set up two grinders to offer a choice. One was the, you guessed it, Swiss Blaser Cafe. Not my favourite.  Hopper number two held a Colombian bean roasted by Equator Coffee up in Almonte.  I have a soft spot for Equator so that was my pick.  I want my Phil & Sebastian bean though.  It is why I go to Illume.  Alex tells me I'm a day early.  New P&S beans are on there way. Lucky me to get a Valentine Swiss chocolate on the side.

 Have you stopped in yet? What did you think?

1433 Wellington Street West, Unit 111
Ottawa, Ontario
Twitter: Illumecafe
Facebook: illume espresso bar

Mon to Sun: 7 am - 8 pm

Illume Espresso Bar on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Roasted Carrot and Tomato Soup

Our 5 burner stove has been going full tilt the past few days as we dedicated kitchen time to preparing hearty cold weather dishes in bulk. Working at break neck speed, the possibility for an 'oops' was high.

In my haste, I accidentally opened a jar of my home-canned tomato juice instead of sauce.  At first I felt frustration, knowing it now needed to be refrigerated and used within days.  But as we say often around here, sometimes a problem is really disguised as an opportunity.  

The corner of the counter was loaded with well-ripened tomatoes from the garden - Yellow Perfection and San Marzano (seedling plants came from Vicki's Veggies in PEC).  Reviewing the remainder of our Roots and Shoots Farm's CSA food baskets, I found month-old colourful carrots needing a purpose. Thankfully, still in great shape.  

The flavour combination of carrots and tomatoes is undisputed. At least in this house. As I added up all my 'problems', the opportunity presented itself as roasted carrot and tomato soup.

I have written out the recipe as it was executed today. But you should not feel bridled to the ingredient list or the method.  It is not meant to be prescriptive but more of a suggestion of what works well together and how you could go about it.

If you can't find time to roast the vegetables, don't.  If you have more tomatoes than carrots, go for it.  If you want to throw in some basil, do.  If you have vegetable stock instead, it may actually taste better than chicken.  No coloured carrots, stick to orange. No kale chips in sight, skip it. Dying to toss in a sprinkle of Parmesan, I say "why not". You get the idea.  That's the nice thing about soup.  It's not souffle.

Roasted Carrot and Tomato Soup
Yields: 6 one-cup servings

6 small purple carrots
2 small yellow carrots
3 small orange carrots
2 cloves garlic
6 yellow perfection tomatoes
5 San Marzano tomatoes
1 onion
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons butter
1 onion, diced
2 small stalks celery, chopped, with leaves if healthy
handful of kale chips

2 cups tomato juice
2 cups chicken stock, use vegetable stock as an alternate

pea shoots or chives 
dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt, optional

Preheat oven to 425ºF.  Cut carrots and tomatoes lengthwise and lay out on a baking sheet.  Cut one onion into 6 wedges.  Place onion wedges and unpeeled garlic cloves onto the baking sheet.  Drizzle vegetables with olive oil. Then season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast the vegetables for 30 - to 40 minutes until they start to caramelize.  Do not over roast.

Melt butter into a saucepan.  Sauté the diced onion and chopped celery until translucent. Season with salt.

Add roasted vegetables to the saucepan.  Add the tomato juice and stock.  Add the kale chips if you are using them.

Simmer for 10 minutes to combine the flavours.

Blend in a VitaMix or a blender until very smooth.  Thin with more stock if necessary to get the preferred consistency. (I do not like my soup to be super thick.)  Heat the soup through again. Taste and season.

[Colour carrots from Roots and Shoots Farm]
[Garlic from Roots and Shoots Farm]

[Vegetables will be roasted at 425ºF for 30 minutes.]
[Delicious with a rustic bread]

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Awesome Apple Pie - Your Thanksgiving Dessert Saviour

Not everyone embraces pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. If you are still searching for a great pie recipe for the upcoming holiday, this one will keep your guests satisfied. This weekend we 'practiced' making our Thanksgiving dessert - homemade apple pie.

The crust is very flaky and the filling is full of the cinnamon-y scent of autumn.

I like using McIntosh apples because they cook out a bit, making a softer filling.

This pie is your Thanksgiving dessert saviour.


Servings: 8

2 cups all-purpose flour (I use 5 Roses)
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup lard (I use Tenderflake)
1/4 cup water

6 - 8 McIntosh apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
2/3 cup granulated sugar

1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons corn starch
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoon butter

Sift flour and salt together in a bowl.

Remove 1/3 cup of this mixture and place it in a small bowl or cup.

Stir water into it to form a smooth paste. (I usually add the water to this small bowl of flour after I have cut in the lard, in order to keep it moist.)

Cut lard into the flour mixture in the first bowl with a pastry blender until the grain is the size of small peas. It works best when the lard is still chilled and not fully at room temperature.

Stir the flour paste into the dough. Work it with your hand until well incorporated and the dough forms a ball. It is important not to over work the dough or it will become tough.

Wrap the ball in saran wrap and chill for at least 60 minutes.

Stir sugar, corn starch, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt together in a small bowl. Pour sugar mixture over the fruit. Toss to coat.

Roll out half of the pastry and fit into 9-inch pie plate. [I roll out my pastry between two pieces of waxed paper that is very lightly floured. This minimizes overworking and prevents it from becoming dry from over-flouring.] Prick the bottom of the pie shell and also the sides. This prevents the bottom shell from puffing up during baking.

Spoon fruit into pie crust and even out. Using approximately 1 - 1 1/2 tablespoon of very soft butter, place small dots of butter all over the top of the filling.

With warm water, wet the edge of the bottom pie shell. This will help the top crust adhere to the bottom crust, making a tighter seal.

Roll out remaining pastry and fit over top of pie. Press the top crust to the bottom on the moistened edge. If fluting the edge, trim it first. If using a fork pattern around the edge, then trim after it has been forked.

Cut vents in top for steam to escape. A large hole in the center is particularly helpful.

Bake on baking sheet in 450ºF oven for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350ºF. Bake for 40 minutes longer or until golden.
Cover the pie with tin foil part way through if the pie is golden before completely baking.

Fallowfield United Church Annual Fall Turkey Supper - The Best Meal Deal In The Valley

Get your tickets now!

In the 25 years we have been attending the Fallowfield United Church Annual Fall Turkey Supper, the price for the all-you-can-eat dinner has doubled to $16. It is still the best meal deal in the Valley.

For this princely sum, you can enjoy a refreshing juice drink, dinner roll, a plateful of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables, gravy, coleslaw, cranberry sauce, pickles and piece or two or three of homemade pie, coffee or tea. 'Tax and tip included'. Help yourself to seconds if you like. I dare you to find a better tasting church supper in the region. Let alone, a full meal experience at that price.

The supper is always the Saturday before the Thanksgiving weekend. This year it falls on Saturday, September 29th. The continuous seating begins at 4:15 pm and tends to end around 7:30 pm. They feed close to 500 people and some years have exceeded. Young and old from the congregation pitch in to make their major fundraiser a success.

The turkeys are cooked by the top cooks of the congregation. They also look after bringing in their best stuffing and piping-hot-secret-recipe gravy. Where possible, farmers have contributed vegetables for the meal's preparation. Proud pie makers provide the many choices of flaky goodness. I have it on good authority, that pecan pie is the most sought after. There is also a choice of cake for those that pass on pastry.

When you arrive, make your way into the sanctuary to pick up your tickets and listen to music. Enjoy the entertainment until your number is called. The dining takes place down in the church basement and they have capacity for close to 100 people. The crowds continue to flow as the hungry are seated, then fill up their bellies and head on their way.

It is a wonderful time to chat with old friends and neighbours and meet new ones. A few years ago, I sat across from Scott Moffatt, who is now councillor for Rideau-Goulbourn. Often I see the mayor out for a good meal deal - and in election years, the mayor wannabes.

Call today and reserve your tickets 613-838-2520. Takeout is also available.

Adults - $16
Children (6 - 12 yrs) - $8
Children (5 yrs and under) FREE

Fallowfield United Church is located at 110 Steeple Hill Crescent at the corner of Fallowfield Road. It is 1.5 kms west of the Fallowfield/416 exit, across from Valleyview Little Animal Farm.

Here are a few of our tasty dinners from years past.

Roots and Shoots Farm - 12th Week of CSA Food 2012

As we edge into September, the CSA food basket from Roots and Shoots Farm is less 'delicate' and more 'roots-y'.

I was so taken by the lovely looking acorn squash I did something I have only ever done once before. I used the trade box. Wanting 'lots' of acorn squash, I traded in my delicata squash for a second acorn. This strategic move set me up well for hosting a Thanksgiving-esque dinner party this weekend. The basket also had onions, celery, carrots and beans. Naturals on the dinner plate with bird, stuffing and gravy.

[My 6.55 pound chicken came from Earth's Harvest Farm near Oxford Mills. Luke and Liza Swale raise pasture-raised (grass-fed) organic chickens. I called him Francis and he was delicious.]

Roots and Shoots shared an Asian Napa Cabbage Salad recipe in their newsletter that I know we will try this week. The ingredient list includes: chow mein noodles, crushed peanuts, sesame seeds, rice vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, honey, and dry mustard.

This basket will not last long.

[Acorn squash]

[Red onions]




[Curly kale]

[Napa cabbage]


[Bell peppers, chocolate pepper, lipstick pepper, jalepeno peppers]

[Cherry tomatoes]


If you want to learn more about the farm, the contact information for Roots and Shoots Farm is:
facebook: Roots and Shoots Farm
twitter: RootsShootsFarm

They sell at a number of markets around the city, including the Ottawa Farmers' Market on Sunday at Brewer Park. 8 am to 3 pm. I frequent their Westboro market on Saturdays. It runs from 9:30 am to 3 pm. They are also out in Kanata and Manotick on Saturdays.

[Disclaimer: Many have noticed that I write quite frequently about Roots and Shoots Farm. I have no connection to this business other than as a 3rd season CSA customer and pitching in as a volunteer. My Linkcomments are my own. I do not do sponsored posts. Roots and Shoots Farm has never asked me to write about their farm. I did this post because I love their food. I receive nothing in return for waxing poetic about their great produce.]
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