Friday, January 31, 2014

Who Writes Christmas Cards and Letters Anymore?

Today I put my last Christmas card in the post and I'm not feeling the least bit guilty.

I have given up on the December-something deadline because it is just an unnecessary pressure. Although I usually can get them all out 'on time', I don't sweat it if I don't.  We receive Christmas cards throughout January so I know I am not the only one liberating myself.

Christmas cards are a big deal on so many levels to me.

Symbolically, I slow down once a year to focus my thoughts on friends and family, to share news, to give care and concern for what has been unfolding in our lives.  No matter how brief the note, it is a gesture which says "you are someone important and precious to me".  In these hurried times, this maybe means more than ever before.

The special list I put together may include a neighbour I see each day, a friend I spend time with regularly, an acquaintance who has marked my life for life - like an old school pal, and most importantly my family - near and far.

On the lightest level, those cards of bright happy colours serve to decorate, and I hope you feel the same.  So even if I do know all your news and see you all the time, I so cherish your pretty card for what it does to make my home that much more ready for the season with all the red and gold and green.

Starting early December the cards trickle in.  I have seen elaborate ways to display cards over the years and we have tried them too.  The long string stretched across the living room wall for them to sling over. Special wire contraptions to tuck into.  Bookshelf space and end table space where they crowd out pictures and trinkets.

Although I drone on and on about trying to be more 'green', the physical Christmas card is something I am reluctant to give up.

The e-cards are coming to me now though.  As are the electronic newsletters.  Know that I am happy to hear from you, no matter how you send your love and care. But, I don't see an e-card future for me yet. Though never say never, I guess.

Each year I review the list to see who gets added and who gets updated.  It is always tough to say good-bye to sending out a Christmas card.  But when our connection is just a once a year thing as two people with bygone histories, I eventually with great reluctance let go. I do wonder. Did you go 'green'? Did you have a big life event? Has Christmas traditions changed for you? Do you feel sending all those Christmas cards has just become too expensive?

Today is also the day where I organized all the cards I received.  I reread the notes and letters. They were sorted alphabetically.  (I know, I know, I've have the OCD thing down pat.)  I put the list of who was sent and received on top and then they were parcel wrapped in butchers cord.  I keep my Christmas cards. Every single one of them.  I do go back to look at them, but it's rare.  So far they are well contained but when I am old and grey, you'll be calling me The Card Lady, not The Cat Lady.

Each year I ponder the future of the Christmas card.  It seems, fewer and fewer are sending them. With Canada Post's recent announcement of increasing postage from 63 cents to $1 for Canadian mail, I have to figure it will push others to close the chapter on a long held tradition. So far, I am not wavering.

I get my cards on super sale after Christmas.  They are cheery but by no means pricey, so the stamp is the biggest investment.

For now, I can say without hesitation, you are totally worth that one dollar to me.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Danish Puff - Is it American, French or Scandinavian? Or Just Delicious?

I first made this Danish Puff the summer of 1980 after reading about it in the Free Press Report on Family. (No, the recipe was not chiseled onto a stone tablet.) I had read that its origins go back to a Betty Crocker Cookbook and apparently everyone's grandmother baked it every Christmas.

As young as I was, I knew nothing of fancy terms like pâte brisée and pâte à choux - French baking techniques. Nor does the recipe make reference to these terms. They keep it simple.

We don't have this perfect coffee time treat often as it is deceivingly rich.  Today I used Stirling Creamery's 84% Butter in both components of the puff.

There is no sugar in the pastry.  It's only sweetness comes from the icing.  

In true Danish style, the almond rules.  There is pure almond extract in the pâte à choux and the icing.  The toasted blanched almonds are the crowning touch.

To share the joy and the calories, anyone who came through our door today was served a piece or sent home with one. 

Whether this pastry is American, French or Danish, it's still pretty good. Says those who came through our door today.

Source: Free Press Report on Family June 1980

1 cup sifted all purpose flour
1/2 cup butter
2 tablespoons water

1/2 cup butter
1 cup water
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup sifted all purpose flour
3 eggs

1 cup powdered sugar
4 teaspoons almond extract
2 teaspoons water, or as needed

50 grams sliced almonds, toasted*

Heat oven to 350ºF.

Base: Measure flour into bowl. Cut in butter. Sprinkle with water and mix with a fork. Round into a ball. Chill for 30 minutes. Divide in half and pat dough onto an un-greased cookie sheet. Make two strips 12" - 13" in length and about 3 1/2" wide. Strips should be placed 3" apart. Set aside to chill while preparing the next layer.

Top: Put butter and water into a saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil. Turn the heat right down to low. Add almond extract. Stir in flour immediately to keep from lumping. Continue to stir until a ball is formed. Remove from heat. When smooth and thick, add one egg at a time, beating until smooth. Ensure that each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next. Once the last egg has been beaten in, continue to beat for another minute. Divide in half and spread one half evenly over each piece of pastry. Bake about 60 minutes until topping is crisp and nicely browned. 

Let cool completely before icing.

Icing: Add almond extract to the powdered sugar. Add the water slowly, testing the consistency.  The icing should be runny but not so runny that it can not be controlled off the end of a spoon.  If it becomes too runny, add icing sugar.

With quick movements, create lines across the top of the pastries by drizzling the icing off the end of a spoon. Try to avoid 'puddling' the icing.  Once it is well covered, sprinkle generously with the toasted almonds.  Continue drawing lines with the icing as a way of 'gluing' the nuts to the top of the dessert.

This is best served the day it is baked.

* To toast the sliced almonds bake them in a  350ºF for 5 minutes until they turn lightly brown.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Happy 1st Birthday Supply and Demand

One of Ottawa's top restaurants, Supply and Demand, celebrated their 1st birthday this week.

I can imagine it was a joyous day with much reflection on what many would consider a banner year with unprecedented successes, including being recognized on the national stage. Supply and Demand was chosen by Enroute magazine as #4 in Canada's Top 10 Best New Restaurants of 2013.

Chef-owner Steve Wall has worked tirelessly with his partner and wife, Jennifer Wall, to make this the kind of restaurant that would have customers returning time and time again.

Their regularly changing menu has continued to wow me with bold flavours, new fresh ingredients and interesting combinations of tastes and textures.

I would be one of those clients that over the past year has returned time and time again. My first visit being days after they opened, the most recent being last week, and with many, many visits in-between.

What I share with you today could in no way be considered a review.  At best, it is my food diary for Supply and Demand.  You see, for their 5 major sections on the menu - RAW AND MARINATED; SMALL PLATES; FROM THE GARDEN; PASTA; MEAT AND FISH - I have really only spent time in Small Plates and From The Garden. Once have I strayed and ordered a fish dish for a main.

I, like many, anticipated their opening last January with much curiosity. I distinctly remember how much I was looking forward to having a decent seafood restaurant in the neighbourhood.  Seafood is, after all, my most popular main whenever we dine out.

But, in fact, Supply and Demand has been really more of a vegetarian destination for me.  I just can't get out From The Garden, often ordering all dishes in that section for my dining pleasure.

Justin and Jessie have been my most frequent servers.  Jessie has now moved on to Wilf and Ada's on Bank Street to provide leadership there in the front of the house.  They, along with Jennifer Wall, made me feel welcome as I often dined solo when the mister was out of town and the sign on my own kitchen said 'closed'. Jessie knew that a request for a 'quenchy', meant I really wanted San Pellegrino's Pompelmo.  If Justin forgot my coffee, his tip was still intact and gentle ribbing would ensue. Jennifer constantly asked about the dishes, keen to receive feedback.

The best seat in the house is at The Chef's Table, where Chef Wall happily shares his secrets as plates are constructed before your eyes.  Adam Vettorel works along side him and expresses a similar calm, cool and collected demeanor.  The Chef's Table is tricky business though.  You are likely at risk of ordering more than you planned as the smells wrap round you relentlessly.

Every meal starts with their signature Parkerhouse rolls.  The spread has varied over the year but is always high calorie - duck fat, chilled brown butter, butter and duck fat combined. You name it. As a nod to their good service, they knew that when I dined alone, it was only one roll for me.

They came out of the gates guns a blazing.  Everybody was talking about their Lobster and Bacon Tart. At $19 on the Small Plates menu it might have seemed dear but it was worth every bite. Says me and everyone else who ever ordered it. This was my very first bite of Supply and Demand that chilly night last January 24, 2013.

Lobster and Bacon Tart with Crème Fraîche, Pickled Onions and Fennel $19

I promptly went home and emailed a foodie friend that I knew would want such good news hot off the press. This is what I told her as I unfurled the pile of flavours I had just consumed.

"Lobster and bacon tart - loved it. Crème fraîche on bottom, then pâte brisée tart medallion, then béchamel sauce, then maple glazed sous vide slab of bacon, then lobster, then pickled fennel and pickled onion, then topped with pea shoot sprouts. Not too sweet on the maple. Dish was a bit rich but not too, too much. Tart nicely done. Overall, just loved it. So many flavours. Well balanced. Clever. Original."

I liked this dish so much I had it again months later.

Kale Salad is a signature dish.  I am not sure it has ever left the menu and if it did it would have been a brief vacation, as I know I have had it a half dozen times at least.

Kale Salad with Caper Vinaigrette, Manchego Cheese and Bacon $7

The salad is dressed with a caper and anchovy vinaigrette. If that's not a enough salty flavour, it is generously adorned with bacon. Many times it came snow-capped with Manchego cheese. Though my kale salad last week had a Pecorino Crotonese, an artisanal sheep's milk cheese aged in wicker baskets. The leaves are soft and tender, a texture owed to a regiment in the preparation of a supple massage for each and every leaf.  This is part of the prep earlier in the day but also just before putting the salad together. A kale spa of sorts.

A reasonable strategy is to save some of your Parkerhouse roll to wipe out the bowl. Do ask for one if you forget. Not a drop of this dressing should reach the dish pit.

Even in a darkly lit room, the kale salad beckons your fork with haste.

Kale Salad with Caper Vinaigrette, Crotonese Cheese and Bacon $8

I've already declared my love for From The Garden.  My most favourite dish over the year was the New Crop Potatoes with Soft Boiled Egg, Dijon, Lemon and Herring Caviar.

New Crop Potatoes with Soft Boiled Egg, Dijon, Lemon and Herring Caviar $7

I loved it enough to order it two more times before it left the menu.

New Crop Potatoes with Soft Boiled Egg, Dijon, Lemon and Herring Caviar $7

New Crop Potatoes with Soft Boiled Egg and Herring Caviar $8

Okay, I may have lied. Perhaps the cauliflower dishes From The Garden were my favourite.  There were a number of versions over their run. Pickled Cauliflower Fritto with Smoked Paprika Mayo and Padano Cheese stood out as one of my repeats. Then they switched it up for a Scallion Mayo.

Pickled Cauliflower Fritto with Smoked Paprika Mayo and Padano Cheese $6

There was also Cauliflower with Buttermilk Purée, Olive Pistou and Toasted Almonds.

During their short season I tried the grilled asparagus.

Grilled Asparagus with Berkshire Lonza and Pickled Ramp Gribiche $8

Other great From The Garden dishes included roasted beets, pickled beets, mushrooms, more potatoes, fiddleheads, sunchokes and Brussels sprouts. They have ranged from $4 to $8.

Desserts were constantly changing, so one couldn't get too attached. Here are a few I tried.

Arnold Palmer Trifle with Lemon Pound Cake, Earl Grey Custard and Sponge Toffee $8 [top left]; Chocolate Crema with Whipped Peanut Butter and Salted Caramel $8 [top right]; Lemon Pot de Creme with Toasted Meringue and White Chocolate Rocher $7 [bottom left]; Cherry Cheesecake Trifle with Cream Cheese Parfait, Graham Crumbles and Sundried Cherry $8 [bottom right].

I will warn you, I didn't find one that wasn't super sweet.  Once at The Chef's Table, I asked for a half serving of the Cream Puffs with Raspberry Curd, Liquid Cheesecake and Fudge Glaze. It was still more sugar than I could handle. Have a strong coffee on the ready before you dig in.

They do know me at Supply and Demand, so if you need more proof that they are one of our finest picks in town, read what others have to say:
Well, this is all a very long-winded way to say Happy Birthday Supply and Demand! May there be many more.

Supply and Demand
1335 Wellington Street West

Sun to Mon: 5 - 9:30 pm
Tues to Sat: 5 - 10 pm

Facebook: Supply and Demand
Twitter: SupplyOttawa

Supply and Demand on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 20, 2014

Breakfast For Lunch

If you stare at my Breakfast For Lunch, you will see either: the portrait of a man - wild and wiry hair, weepy crossed-eyes, sharp pointy nose, droopy red tongue and a crooked smile OR you see a beautiful feast.

I choose to see a feast.

2 pieces romaine lettuce
1 half sesame bagel from The Ottawa Bagelshop, lightly toasted and lightly buttered
Morbier cheese -  a semi-soft cow's milk cheese from France with a wee bite
Avocado slices - ripened to perfection in a brown paper bag for a number of days
Oven-dried grape tomatoes - thawed and brought to room temperature
Soft-boiled egg cut in half
Basil pesto - homemade and stored in the freezer in 125 ml jars

Stack the ingredients and eat with a fork and knife.

Place large eggs(s) straight from the fridge into a small pot and cover the eggs with cold water.  Bring the water to a boil on high.  Reduce the heat to medium but continue to boil for 4 minutes.

Immediately immerse the eggs in ice-cold water to stop them from further cooking.  

Peel off the shell as soon as the egg is cool enough to handle.

Use right away.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

LCBO Food & Drink Magazine - Winter Issue 2014

So what's the skinny on the Winter issue of the latest LCBO Food & Drink magazine?  First off, the cover is gorgeous.  If blue is the new grey, which was the old beige, then I want some of that. Maybe it caught my eye because I am currently surrounded by paint chips. Or maybe it's because I love apples and oatmeal.

Rob Fiocca took the picture for the cover. Janice Poon designed the dish called Caramel Cran-Apple Stir Fry. Check out all her recipes in Food Entertaining's Stir Crazy!

The magazine this time is stuffed full of straightforward classics with the author's own personality shining through.  In fact, I have made some similar dishes already this winter.  But I am keen to try Jennifer Mackenzie's Coq au Vin.  She uses red wine. I use white.  Also, the Gratin of Potatoes by Julia Aitken uses Reblochon cheese. I used Gruyère. It's probably time I made an authentic tartiflette, rich as it is.

Brenda Morrison's Must Haves focused on grown-in-Ontario preserves. I was already familiar with Bumpercrop, Stasis Preserves, Pyramid Farm and Ferments, Rootham Gourmet Preserves and Hall's Kitchen.  But Manning Canning is new to me.  I hope Brenda will have a chance soon to try out Top Shelf Preserves from here in Ottawa.  They are worthy of keeping company with her fine list.  I currently have a thing for their pickled beets and their Sour Cherry Bourbon Jam.

Signe Langford takes us on a trip around the world in Games On! as preparation for the Winter Olympics viewing.  Now it's easy to host a party with Canada's Mini Lobster Rolls, USA's Southern-Style Chicken Nibbles with Simple Winter Slaw & Bourbon Dipping Sauce, Norway's Pan-Seared Lamb Chops with Lingonberry-Port Compote, Germany's Mini Wiener Schnitzel with Sauerkraut & Creamy Roasted Beet Mustard, and Russia's Mini Lazy Cabbage Rolls with Vodka-Spiked Tomato Sauce. Who will take home the Gold?

I am getting quite a list of Must Try's. Here are the other page corners that have been turned down:
  • Boudin and Mushroom Sauce with Celeriac Crème (From Nouvelle Once More by Lucy Waverman)
  • Grilled Beets & Peppercorn-Beef Roast with Gorgonzola Sauce (From Fire and Ice by Victoria Walsh)
  • Valentine's Chocolate Cake (From Piece of Cake by Joanne Yolles)

Plan ahead: The Spring issue hits the stores in seven weeks on Wednesday, March 5th.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Edgar Is Serving Up Their 2014 Calendar

Edgar re-opened yesterday after a much deserved holiday break and so I headed over specifically to pick up my 2014 Edgar calendar.

Flavour wizard and owner Marysol Foucault recently took Gold at the regional Gold Medal Plates competition here in Ottawa last November, winning her a spot to compete nationally. Ron Eade, food journalist and retired Food editor at the Ottawa Citizen, detailed that event.

The proceeds from the calendars are intended to defray travel costs for the Edgar team flying to Kelowna in February. Led by Marysol, they are going head to head with ten other top Canadian chefs at the Gold Medal Plates' Canadian Culinary Championships.

The calendar is a compilation of pictures that includes Marysol herself and also her colleagues from the wee eatery in Gatineau. What impressive team spirit and a great show of support.

Marysol is Miss July.  She looks quite confident in her high-style swimwear and go-go boots. I seriously doubt any of her other competitors will have employed that kind of spunk and ingenuity just to get their entourage out to the west coast.

But it won't be her swimsuit that will win this competition.  It will be her incredibly innate sense for understanding the complexity of flavours.  Marysol knows how to make them and she knows how to lay them down together.  Although the accomplished artist in her will help to create plates of beauty, in the end, flavour will be her secret weapon. Something the judges will not ignore.

Of course I couldn't have a mid-afternoon visit to Edgar without my requisite mug of Cha Yi Rooibos Safari tea.  I like the peace and quiet in the place at that time of the day. To sit, arms stretched out at the front window as the team behind me takes a breath following the lunch rush.  They are regrouping to get ready for the take-out crowd coming at the end of the day for their prepared meals.

I can't resist her chocolate dipped coconut macaroons.  A substantial mound it is.  I conquered it handily.

Cha Yi Rooibos Safari Tea $2.50. Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroon $2.

Marysol Foucault's food has been turning heads - those of her dining clientele and food critics alike - since Edgar opened October 2010 and Odile which opened in May 2012 (she has since closed Odile to manage her workload).

By all indications, her future continues to be bright. When her name is bandied about freely along with other well-known Canadian chefs, I'll be able to say, "I knew her when....".

The calendar is only $10.  A keepsake for sure.

So, do you want to get a glimpse at Miss July? Then get thee to Edgar. Help Marysol travel to Kelowna to represent the Ottawa-Gatineau region and bring home Gold.

Ten bucks. Just ten bucks. It's a steal.

60 rue Bégin
Gatineau (Hull sector), Quebec

Tues to Fri: 10 am - 6:30 pm
Sat: 10 am - 5 pm (Brunch 10 am - 2 pm)
Sun: 9:30 am - 5 pm (Brunch 9:30 am - 2 pm)
Mon: Closed

Facebook:  Edgar
Twitter: ChezEdgar

Edgar on Urbanspoon

There Is A New Bakery In Town - Bread By Us Artisan Bakery & Espresso Bar

The much anticipated new small-batch bakery, Bread By Us, opened just a day or two before Christmas.  It's located at 1065 Wellington Street West - almost across from the Hintonburg Community Centre.

The official GRAND OPENING for the sourdough-focused organic bakery will be this weekend on both Saturday and Sunday. Mark the date. January 11 and 12 from 8 am to 5 pm. You really must go.

The place has been selling their many temptations to rave reviews so far. Yesterday I popped in to pick up a loaf of their Country Sourdough.  Customers streamed in steadily behind me.

Their other bread offerings (though not every day) include: baguettes, focaccia, whole wheat, olive, burger buns, seed, ciabatta, brioche.

Their sweet treats include: cookies, croissants, cinnamon buns, almondines, scones.

Sandwiches are served at Noon.

The sidewalk sandwich board shares their daily offerings, including what time you can expect each option to come from the ovens and nestled in their baskets at the front of the house.

In addition to being an artisan bakery, they are an espresso bar - equipped with a shiny Rancilio machine. They are also well-stocked for selling bags to go of the Happy Goat Coffee Company's beans. Seating is limited. Really limited. One high-top with 4 stools, 2 slipper chairs and 2 stools at the counter.

The Hintonburg community has become well-known for looking after their own.  So it is no surprise to see that Bread By Us is participating in a Suspended Program.  Here's how it works. "When you make your purchase, you can buy another item and leave it in the store.  This credit will be available for others to claim, free of charge." Any suspended items not picked up will then go on to the nearby Parkdale Food Centre to be shared around.

Now about that sourdough loaf that I bought.  We dug into it as a late afternoon treat.  At $4.50 I thought it was well priced, considering its goodly size.  None of our bread knives are long enough to cut across the loaf. Practise your double-sided saw technique here. Our tasting crew sung their praises. And loud. Mainly by asking for more. Toppings included butter. Lots of butter. We also tried Jarlsberg cheese, ham, jam. All pleasing.

For my tastes, it is one of the top sourdoughs in the city.   The centre has both softness and pull, as well as balanced moisture.  Not in anyway dry.  The crust knocks hollow and gives a good chew, despite being quite firm and crisp.  But most importantly, Baker Jess got the 'sour' just right.  For me, breads with too much 'sour' are distracting and make toppings more of challenge.

A clear victory here. I bet you it would be just as stunning if it was toasted.

Grand Opening. This weekend. You really must go.

Bread By Us Artisan Bakery & Espresso Bar
1065 Wellington Street, West

Mon: 8 am - 5 pm * Baker's day off. Café is open.
Tues to Fri: 8 am - 7 pm
Sat to Sun: 8 am - 5 pm

Facebook: Bread By Us - Artisan Bakery & Espresso Bar
Twitter: BreadByUs
Instagram:  BreadByUs

Bread By Us on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 3, 2014

Let Them Eat Cake! Rhubarb Streusel Upside-Down Cake!

"Let them eat cake!"

Apparently Marie Antoinette never said that, so I will.

My Fine Cooking magazine for February/March arrived in the mail yesterday and this issue is plugged full of seasonally appropriate stick-to-your-ribs kind of food.  When the mercury is dipping into uncomfortable temperatures here in the Nations Capital, I help our furnace out a bit by turning on the oven.

The Cranberry Streusel Upside-Down Cake by Katherine Eastman Seeley on page 84 caught my eye. Despite having packed up every last ribbon and bobble from the holidays already, I find I am still attracted to Christmas red. Well, truth be told, I actually had some buttermilk to move along.

Not a single cranberry could be found in the house.  Though, my supply of frozen rhubarb is still holding strong and it seemed like a decent substitute since 'tart' would play a lead role against all that sweet richness.

I followed the recipe except for the change in fruit. I would consider adding more pecans to the streusel next time as I just love that nut.

If it is too cold to venture out today to pick it up issue 127, this recipe is found on their website.

This cake goes quite well with a strong cup of morning coffee for those that think a wedge of it could substitute for muffin.

WARNING: Fine Cooking says a slice of this cake is 400 calories and 19 grams of fat, so enjoy sparingly!

Serves 10 to 12

For the streusel 
1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans 
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar 
1-1/8 oz. (1/4 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour 
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon 
1/4 tsp. kosher salt 
1 oz. (2 Tbs.) unsalted butter, melted 

For the topping 
1-1/2 oz. (3 Tbs.) unsalted butter; more for the pan 
3/4 cup granulated sugar 
3 cups fresh or thawed frozen rhubarb* 

For the cake 
9 oz. (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour 
2 tsp. baking powder 
1 tsp. kosher salt 
4-1/2 oz. (9 Tbs.) unsalted butter, softened 
3/4 cup granulated sugar 
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract 
3 large eggs, at room temperature 
3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

* The original recipe called for cranberry.  I substituted in 600 grams of frozen rhubarb, thawed and drained.

Read Fine Cooking online for the method.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Rest In Peace "Garlic Man" Ted Maczka

One of the highlights of the annual Perth Garlic Festival each August is dropping in to say hello to "The Garlic Man", Ted Maczka, holding court in the Commerce Building.

You had to wait your turn as he often attracted a crowd - dieheart garlic lovers and the to-be-converted alike - but he was happy to have you listen in as he evangelized the many redeeming qualities of the stinky rose. 

I was saddened to read today of Maczka's passing on Monday. He was only 83 years old.

Long before social media was a thing, the mildly eccentric Ted Maczka was a marvel at spreading the good news about garlic, elevating it as a worthy essential in our pantries and kitchens.

Stephanie MacLellan, Staff Reporter at The Star wrote a thoughtful piece about Ted Maczka in today's paper.

Rest in peace Ted. I'm thinking that heaven is smelling pretty good right now.
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