Sunday, June 30, 2013

Roots and Shoots Farm - 2nd Week of CSA Food 2013

As Season 4 of Roots and Shoots Farms' CSA food basket program gets underway, I am feeling like an old hand.  We have been members since year one.

Roots and Shoots Farm is located south of Ottawa and has been certified organic for a few years.  In addition to the CSA shares, they also sell their produce at local markets around the Capital.  I will sometimes buy from them at the Ottawa Farmers' Market - either the location in Westboro or at Brewer Park.

My pickup location is at the Mountain Equipment Co-op in Westboro.  Roots and Shoots sets up a produce stand for walk by shoppers.  This week it included bunches of Jess Weatherhead's beautiful organic flowers. Normally Danny is cheerfully greeting us as we roots through the bins but this time we had Robin Turner himself, the owner of the farm.  The Beatnik van plastered in psychedelic murals has been replaced by a larger, slick looking refrigeration truck.

Typically a pickup takes just a few minutes, but as we get to know each other, we stop to enjoy a friendly chat.  This week I ran into an other veteran, Lesli.  By the time we swapped recipes, food inspirations, and updates on our own home gardens, I am sure the mister figured I had stopped in somewhere for dinner.  We covered it all. Strawberries, canning, tomatoes, garlic, kale, cookbooks and probably a bit more. It made my day.

One of the biggest challenges with having a CSA share is the uncertainty.  It isn't until the last minute that you find out what will be filling the fridge.  Most of us shop with a predetermined grocery list. What used to be so stressful, is now just something we are taking in stride.

Our first basket is not dissimilar to our first one last year, though a wee bit smaller because of a cold, wet past few months.

But what we did receive was high quality and well developed.

This week's basket included:
Cucumber (two)
Kale (I chose curly leaf)
Swiss chard
Spring onions
Herbs (I chose basil)
Hakurei turnips

Tonight we used our radish tops in an open galette, baked on the BBQ.  A few years ago, ignorant of their goodness, radish greens would have ended up in the compost.  Today, I use them like I would spinach.  In fact, the greens were substituted into a recipe that had originally called for spinach - Spinach and Feta Galette found in the latest issue of the LCBO Food & Drink magazine.

With the radishes all tidied up, the mister will be munching on the red buds. A favourite snack.

The bunch of basil was used in a Margherita pizza.  First, some went into the sauce.  Then a number of fresh leaves were laid on the pizza when it came off the grill, as a finishing garnish.

Tomorrow I am making a kale salad.  I have said many times how much I enjoy the kale salad created by Chef Steve Wall at Supply and Demand.  He was gracious enough to allow the recipe to be published.  I just hope I can do it justice.  Jen Wall says the trick is to put in lots of time massaging the leaves during preparation.

And on it will go. Before long, we will be shopping at the markets to fill in until the next basket arrives.

Are you a CSA member? What are you doing with your food basket?

Saturday, June 29, 2013

LCBO Food & Drink Magazine - Summer Issue 2013

Happy Canada Day long weekend.  The Summer issue of the LCBO Food & Drink magazine came out on Wednesday and its timing couldn't be more perfect.  It is exploding with food inspiration for our multi-day celebrations.

The cover photo gives no hint of the constant splash of big colour inside - pink, purple, orange and green.  So much to get your juices flowing.

Did this happen to you too? I bet it did. The first delight that jumped out at me was the Ale-Braised Cheese Dip with Caramelized Onions & Maple Bacon in the feature, A Splash of Beer. Truth. I was feeling a bit of the hometown pride to see the recipe showcasing our local Beau's LUGTREAD Lagered Ale.  Who crafted this creation? Why, Ruth Gangbar, super talented food stylist, whose work is regularly found between the pages of Food & Drink and is now also heading up food styling workshops in Prince Edward County. Read more at Food•ographyPEC.

I snuggled on the couch Wednesday evening to soak up every word of Robert Hercz's essay Popsicle. I had no idea that the world's most famous ice pop was invented in 1905. It has had a tumultuous history over the past 108 years. Definitely read it. If you were ever a kid, you will re-live at least one memory. Me? Sharing a lime-flavoured two-stick Twin Popsicle with my as-far-back-as-kindergarten friend at the local Becker's.

This issue is extra meaty. Included in your cellophane is the Wine Country Ontario Travel Guide 2013. It includes a very handy Official Map of Ontario's Wine Route. We used it extensively when we traveled to Niagara-on-the-Lake last week.  A great planning tool. Put it in your car right away.

The number of turned down corners this time around means my issue has almost doubled in size but here are a few of the recipes that are being tagged as 'Gotta Make':
  •  Ale-Braised Cheese Dip with Caramelized Onions & Maple Bacon (From A Splash of Beer by Ruth Gangbar)
  • Watermelon Gazpacho (From What's Fresh For Dinner by Lucy Waverman)
  • Grilled Steak, Buffalo Mozzarella & Tomato Tartine and Thai Mussels ( Both from 30-Minute Marvels by Heather Trim)
  •  Strawberry & Pineapple Curd Bombolini and Buttermilk Jelly With Wine-Stewed Strawberries (Both from Strawberry Sophistication by Christopher St. Onge)
  • Baba Ghanouj and Baklava Tarts with Walnuts & Pistachios (Both from Dinner on Location by Marilyn Bentz-Crowley)
  • Canuck Mojito (From Global Mojitos by Michelle P.E. Hunt & Laura Panter)
  • Queso-Stuffed Jalapeño Poppers (From Peppery Pleasures by Victoria Walsh)
  • Spinach & Feta Galette (From Alternative Grill by Jennifer MacKenzie)

Plan ahead: The Autumn issue hits the stores in 10 weeks on Wednesday, September 4th.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Café qui pense - A New Ottawa Indie Coffee Shop Thick With Crema

It has been a wow week for me when it comes to checking out new and delicious coffee shops.Ten days ago a friend told me about Café qui pense and now I need to tell you.

The Café qui pense opened June 15 at 204 Main Street, by The Green Door Restaurant and across the road from Saint Paul University.

Their espresso bean hails from Equator Coffee Roasters in Almonte. The work horse espresso machine is the highly regarded La Marzocco from Italy.

Today I had an 8-ounce traditional European cappuccino ($3.45). It required a spoon to dig out the sediment of thick coffee-crema-whole-milk-candy.

My honey had the medium 12 ounce latte ($3.98).  My stealthy taste test confirmed it was equally delicious.

The place is small. There are three dark-wooded tables for 2 lined up on a long banquette bench, artistically painted an aqua similar to the Santorini blue of my cappuccino cup and saucer. There is also two stools at the front window bar. Creamy white beadboard covers most of the walls, creating a cozy warmth in this quiet setting.

There is street parking in front of the store, though competition for a spot is stiff with The Green Door having a solid customer base. We parked in a paid lot on Hazel behind Watson's Pharmacy just north of Café qui pense. ($2 for 30 minutes.)

We shared a Morning Glory Muffin made by their street partners, The Green Door. ($2.28) If you know their kitchen you know not to hesitate. Yep. No hesitation. No hesitation at all. And so no picture either.

This is a wonderful spot to visit after lunching at The Green Door or to fuel up before hitting the Main Farmers' Market which is open Saturdays from 9 am to 2 pm. Or just a quiet place for a special meet-up with a friend. In fact, it's close enough to CHEO and The Ottawa Hospital, General Campus to make it a destination for post appointment respites.

Right now the hours are being tested.  The shop is open 7 days a week from 7:30 am to 4:00 pm.

Our meter was ticking down and as quickly we came, we slipped out the back door, through the umbrella-wide back alley, dancing between rain drops and licking our lips.

Two new coffee shops this week. Two new additions to my list of top Ottawa coffee shops.

204 Main Street
Ottawa, Ontario

Facebook: Café qui pense

Mon - Sun: 7:30 am to 4 pm

Café Qui Pense on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ottawa Has Strawberries!

Baskets of bright red, juicy, sweet strawberries are dotting food stands around the Nations Capital.

My regular spot for strawberry shopping each year is at the Shouldice Berry Farm & Market's roadside location at Richmond at Woodroffe (easy access from Byron).

My 4 litre basket cost $16.  2 litre baskets were going for $9.  They also sold quarts.

After filling my belly, the remaining berries went into the pot as I made 4 jars of strawberry sauce that I actually use as a jam.  This recipe is a favourite because it doesn't have as much sugar as most conventional jams and also does not use pectin.

We were quick to enjoy our jam on some homemade rhubarb ice cream.  A traditional match.

How about you? Having the berry bug? I am curious to know where others are buying strawberries and what type of pricing are you experiencing. Where are the deals?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Ministry of Coffee - My List of Favourite Coffee Shops Is Growing

"Quality driven. Expertly crafted." I have another coffee shop to add to my list of top shops in Ottawa.

The Ministry of Coffee opened June 8 at 279 Elgin Street, just south of Somerset and across the street from Boko Bakery. They are in the spot once occupied by Hava Java, who held court here since 1992.

One of the co-owners, Fadi Karam, was part of the start-up team that brought Illume Espresso Bar to Wellington Street near Island Park last December. Those early visits and conversations gave me a sense that Fadi has coffee passion as well as a depth of coffee knowledge.  I credit him and opening day barista, Amy, for giving me a big wow first impression. Although his time with the Illume team was short, I was pretty pleased to hear he surfaced again with another opportunity to bring good coffee to java fans in Ottawa.

For this recent venture, Fadi has teamed with Alex Dhavernas. It was Alex who was in the store today to show off his talents.

Their bean for the espresso drinks is from Social Coffee & Tea Company in Richmond Hill. Alex admitted it is a bit tricky to pull the shot with this bean when making a milked drink. I thought his clever moves paid off and I appreciated that he knew that it needed the extra finesse. Alex suggested that they may be bringing in the 49th Parallel bean.  In this, I would rejoice.

Today I had their 8 ounce cappuccino ($3.50).

The place is small and can barely seat a dozen-plus customers at four light-wooded tables for 2, a large dark-wooded bar table and the front window bar. Yes, they do have Wi-Fi!

Street parking is metered in that stretch of town. We parked south of McLeod to avoid the up-charge and enjoyed a stroll for the six or seven blocks.

The walls are filled in with art by Dr. Catherine Dhavernas, Alex's sister and interestingly, the Head of the Department of French Studies at Queen's University.

In-house baked goods are prepared by Alex's wife, included the large coconut macaroon I partnered with my capp. I was half way through it before I even considered that you might like to know about it too.  For $2 is it a hefty treat but thankfully not as sweet as most macaroons.  It reminded me of another one I often seek out over in Aylmer at Boulangerie Aux Deux Frères. Alex's wife is also making a selection of cupcakes.

Their foray into Suzy Q Doughnuts this weekend was well received with fast sellouts. Gluten-free treats are sourced from Auntie Loo's Treats. It's not my thing, but you can even have a bowl of Mocha Cheerios.

Pre-made paninis are on the ready in a variety of breads and toppings. Alex says they have also been selling out with the lunch crowd.

They carry a selection of teas from Maison de thé CHA YI, including my favourite Rooibos Safari.

Plans are in the works to carry Hummingbird Chocolate, a local artisan bean-to-bar chocolate. We have a lot of practice with their products. My favourite is the Bolivian.

Did I mention The Ministry of Coffee is on my list of top Ottawa coffee shops? Easy decision.

279 Elgin Street
Ottawa, Ontario

Facebook: The Ministry of Coffee
Twitter: TheMinofCoffee

Mon - Fri: 7:30 am to 7 pm
Sat - Sun: 9 am to 5 pm

The Ministry of Coffee on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Smartie Cake is THE Only Kind of Birthday Cake

The tradition of birthday Smartie cake goes back to the early part of my own childhood.

Smarties themselves have been around a long time, and who knows, maybe Smartie cakes too. Rowntree started making 'chocolate beans' in 1882 and they picked up the word Smarties as part of their name in 1937. The name was shortened to just Smarties in 1977. Smarties are currently manufactured by Nestlé and their largest production facility is in Canada. 

There is a family photo in our album of a big square Smartie cake placed on the dining room table for my oldest brother's eighth birthday. I was only four. The picture is a bit faded, but still in colour. You can see a sparse selection of Smarties dotting the 'sticky icing' in colours of brown, orange and red on one side. Nestlé changed the colours of Smarties in March 2009 as they switched to natural dyes. Their rainbow included yellow, brown, orange, red, green, pink and purple. Blue was re-introduced into the colour palate a year later.

As I recall, the Smartie cake was our mother's response to her kids protesting the more typical version of a celebration cake served in a Danish home.  Lagkage is a delicious adult experience, but as kids, we didn't really warm to the rich tastes of a custard filling and a frosting of whipped cream. Our palates at that age were more geared to 'sweet'.

My mother was crafty and also loved to experiment in the kitchen.  She had a paper recipe book by the Good Housekeeping Institute called Good Housekeeping's Cake Cook Book - Special Crisco Edition, which included a recipe for Seven-Minute Frosting.  Or as we like to call it - Sticky Icing. I don't know if the cookbook offered the idea of decorating the cake with Smarties or if that was my mother's artistic flair.  I remember helping to make the frosting.

And so a tradition was born. For just about all of our birthdays, while living at home, we had Smartie cake as our birthday cake - a simple white cake, filled and covered with Seven-Minute Frosting and decorated with Smarties.

As their long running marketing jingle was very catchy, when we ate our piece of cake we would almost always break into chorus, "When you eat your Smarties, do you eat the red ones last? Do you suck them very slowly, or crunch them very fast? Eat those candy-coated chocolates, but tell me when I ask, when you eat your Smarties, do you eat the red ones last?"  It was a real coup to get a red Smartie on our slice.

The tradition was upheld.  When the grandkids came to visit my mom, they too would receive a Smartie cake for their birthday. She often would use a white Duncan Heinz cake mix to lighten her load.  If they were lucky, she made the orange flavoured cake.  But this special cake was more about the sticky icing and the Smarties, than the cake itself.

When my mom passed away, the Smartie cake tradition was one I just couldn't let go by the wayside. I re-learned how to make the Seven-Minute Frosting myself. The first time my results were a bit rocky but the recipe is straightforward and I learned the nuances of the method. Our darling son's birthday Smartie cakes have continued on.

In fact, when he turned 16, he started making birthday Smartie cakes for his friends on their big day.  The group would create a big birthday fuss with the cake when they all sat together at lunch time. I offered preemptive advice as the cakes headed to school - the smelly locker is not where one stores a Smartie cake for the morning. Bless her, the school's receptionist guarded many a pretty Smartie cake over his high school years.  His reputation became known. He received a last minute call one weekend for a birthday Smartie cake, 'STAT'! Teenagers can be lousy planners. We always kept supplies on the ready.

It was during his tenure, that the sticky icing took on colour, instead of just being plain white.  Trying to play to personalities, the frosting sported hues of pink, mauve, baby blue and sometimes light green.  The Smartie decoration became more elaborate too.  It must have been the influence of all that IB art!

As his university career began, the darling son missed birthdays at home because he was either in school or on a work term.  This year I had the chance to have a cake personally delivered to him at university. I jumped at the chance to make a milestone birthday Smartie cake, rusty as I was.

I wonder. Will the traditional Smartie cake as THE birthday cake carry on for another generation?  Time will tell.


2 egg whites
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup water, or as little as 1/3 cup if you want a more crusty frosting
1 tablespoon corn syrup, white
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla


It cooks in a double boiler.

Combine all ingredients except vanilla in double boiler top; place over rapidly boiling water and beat
with electric mixer at medium speed, or with hand beater, till mixture holds a peak (about 7 minutes).
Remove from boiling water. Add vanilla and continue to beat till mixture forms stiff peaks.
Generously fills and frosts tops and sides of 2 8" or 9" layers.

Once the cake is frosted, it should be refrigerated.

If there is too much humidity in the air, the frosting will not become fluffy.  When it is muggy or rainy, I make sure the air conditioner has run for a bit if I attempt this recipe.  A cool, clear day is best.
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