Tuesday, July 28, 2009

“Gourmet” Supper Club: The 60’s at The Urban Element

After all my husband has done for me, the least I can do is make an effort in the kitchen. But where would I gain the confidence? I'm up against a magnificent cook who caters to my fussy palate every single day. I needed somewhere I could learn but on a more relaxed scale than the hustle-bustle of a real restaurant. And for this reason, I decided to sign up for the “Gourmet” Supper Club at The Urban Element – ALONE. My husband and I have been to a few events there already. In my mind, they are a fantastic way to spend an evening with your significant other. Unfortunately, I rely a little too much on him when I'm in any kitchen, asking every little question I can to make sure I don't screw things up. So when I arrived this evening, I was pretty nervous. Well, excited and nervous, all at the same time.

Chef Candice Butler has been doing a series of “Gourmet” Supper Clubs over the summer. One of the Urban Element clients donated her collection of Gourmet magazines from 1940 to the late 1970's and they've been building these hands-on cooking classes from them. I got to check out the magazines this evening and they're quite interesting. I thought to myself, how different could cooking have been back then compared to now? Maybe it's just me, but the recipes seemed much more labour-intensive then. And the choice of ingredients are interesting too. But as I did expect, the dishes were quite comforting.

I chose to work on the one course I felt I could accomplish without too much trouble – a minted pea soup. Only the roux part of it was scary. Anytime I've ever tried to make a white sauce I end up burning it in the pan. But this was the one and only thing I had to think about, and therefore, was quite successful. As I've mentioned in previous posts about the staff here, they are truly fantastic. They are fun to be around, they get everyone involved, and they are always there if you need them. They obviously believe in your ability to cook and they know just what to say to give you that extra bit of confidence you need to push through it on your own, which is really quite rewarding. Another thing I enjoy quite a bit is that they are not pretentious in any way. In fact, they'll point out the things they learned from trying it before we arrived on the scene and offer helpful hints that you can use going forward. They all seem to have tremendous experience in the kitchen and are so calm through the entire thing that you can't help but find the whole experience meditative.

Even though I enjoyed the cooking, my favourite part of the evening was eating all of the delicious food. We started off with 4 appetizers displayed beautifully on a plate – a fresh Minted Pea Soup, Deviled Stuffed Eggs, a yummy Cheese Fondue Dipping Sauce with bread, and my absolute favourite item of the evening, Codfish Balls. They even left the additional ones out for us to snack on afterward! (Yes, I ate more than I should have, but I really couldn't help it). These tasty treats were served with crisp bacon and a mustard sauce – heavenly.

They paired these up with an Ontario wine, 2007 Cave Spring Chardonnay Musqué.

Next came our main, a moist Grilled Trout cooked to perfection, topped with a flavourful Corn Relish and served with Green Beans in a walnut sauce and probably my second favourite thing of the evening, Potato and Celery Root Mold. A homemade garlic mayo, chives and capers really made this dish special. And I now have a new love for celery root. It's got the consistency of a potato, but has way less starch and so much more flavour. If you like celery and potatoes, you'll love it. Every ingredient in this dish complemented one another nicely.

They served our main with a great local rosé from Domaine Perrault. The perfect accompaniment to the meal.

And if that wasn't enough, dessert, which proved to be a little more difficult than some of the other dishes, but came out great nonetheless. A Strawberry Savarin. It reminded me a lot of a strawberry shortcake but less cakey and more rich and sweet in the sauce – a nice finale.

These hands-on classes aren't just for beginners. Any skill level will learn something new (as my husband has in the past). I would have to go to many to get great in the kitchen, but courage is the first step. And I definitely gained some of that this evening.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Lobster and Grilled Vegetable Salad

I try not to post the same thing more than once. But in the case of lobster, I have to do it. I don't know if everyone does this or if it's just me, but I can't think of any time I've ever eaten lobster and haven't taken a photo of either the lobster on it's own or me gleefully holding the lobster. There's something so special about it. I just love it. Which is probably why my husband and I decided that for every year we are married, we will have that many lobster on our anniversary. Tomorrow is our 4 year anniversary. We were celebrating this evening and enjoyed 4, very large lobster. My husband grilled some red pepper, onion, garlic and potatoes on the barbecue and tossed them with some baby spinach, basil and oil – a great complement to the lobster and so good.

We even started off with a bit of leftover gazpacho.

And enjoyed this delicious wine brought over last week by my friend Dino. Carefully chosen in the most recent batch of vintages at the LCBO.

Everything was amazing. But I think going forward, we're going to have to push our celebrating by a couple of weeks so we can hit lobster season. The longer we're married, the more expensive this is going to get!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Andalusian Gazpacho

We had an impromptu Spanish-themed evening going on last night. Garnacha, tempranillo, chorizo, cheese, gazpacho and smelts were all on the menu for the evening. Each fantastic, but none worth elaboration as much as the gazpacho. My husband and I have recently fallen in love with this site called tastespotting.com. A huge selection of delicious meals beautifully displayed daily from random food lovers such as myself. That's where we found this recipe. It's so summery, light, easy to make and just bursting with flavour. You can link directly to the recipe at the following blog.

The wines we had are also worth a mention.
- 2004 Gran Feudo Tempranillo
- 2007 El Burro Garnacha
- 1999 Château Le Bon Pasteur Pomerol Merlot
- 2007 Henry of Pelham Sibling Rivalry Merlot/Cab Franc/Cab Sauvignon

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Barbecued Margherita Pizza

Have I mentioned my husband is the king of the grill? Seriously, in this house if it's cookable, it's barbecue-able. Ok so you may be thinking, yeah, frozen dough, no big deal. Not this one. My husband cooked this pizza on the barbecue using fresh dough. Some discussion forums online convinced him it was do-able. And boy was it worth chancing it. He had originally planned to make the dough from scratch, but when he arrived at La Bottega, they convinced him to go with their fresh whole wheat dough. It was awesome and it was $3. Why you'd make your own is beyond me.

To do this, my husband started by getting the barbecue really hot (500 degrees). He charred the dough for one minute and then rotated it 90 degrees to get a cross hatch pattern and finally flipped it over to start adding the ingredients: Nicastro's Gourmet Pizza Sauce, mozzarella fior di latte (both from Nicastro's)—and some fresh basil (from the Byward Market). He then closed the lid and cooked it for 5 minutes. If you'd like to add veggies, precook them before or cut them very thin since the cooking time is minimal. Drizzle the pizza with good olive oil and serve with a side salad. Barbecued dough is fantastic, and this pizza sauce is amazing! The best part – it has no additives. I love when my husband tries new things. Unlike my attempts, his always turn out to be mind blowing. This pizza was one of the best I've ever had.

Check out the bottom of this crust! So crispy and yummy.

Poor Seb wanted in on the action too.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Greek Salad

As I type I am shoveling in the last bite of this delicious salad my husband has made for our lunches this week. 

A mixture of tomatoes, black olives, feta, red pepper, cucumber, green onion, parsley and quinoa. The quinoa makes for a unique take on the traditional greek salad. As does the olive oil and balsamic that brings everything together. It's so refreshing I'm glad the bowl for the week is nowhere near me right now. Yumm!

Navarra (Happy Anniversary to Me!)

Has it been one year already!? I just don't believe it. One year ago tomorrow (July 20th) I started my blog. My how time has flown by, eating and drinking and eating some more. When I look back at all the fantastic dishes I've had I can't help but think I must be the luckiest woman in the world. Not only do the memories make me happy, but the people who have tried some of these dishes or chosen restaurants based on my reviews also makes me very happy. Why settle for anything less when there's so much good food out there? That was our topic of conversation last night at dinner. We are Maritimers and I have to say that besides lobster, that I adore, the restaurant choices and availability of unique ingredients isn't as easy to get as it is here in Ottawa. Because of that, we have become food snobs, expecting only the best no matter where we go. And why shouldn't we? It's our hard earned dollar going on what we hope to be a marvelous experience. And speaking of a marvelous experience, I saw it only fit to dine at Navarra this weekend to celebrate this milestone, since they are the reason I started this blog, and since my mother-in-law was in town (she was also with us that night one year ago). They're also on my favourite foodie block. And one of the first restaurants I recommend when asked for a referral. So has my rating changed since my last review? Not at all!

It started quite similarly to our first visit, being super happy with the service. I called to make a reservation and they were delighted to receive my call. I was afraid my expectations would be too high, since I had built up the experience in my head. Really I had nothing to worry about. I'd been since our first visit and everything remained equally wonderful. Why would it change now?

We started off with a bottle of Pago de Cirsus. A 2005 Tempranillo/Merlot/Cab Sauvignon from Navarra. Sadly, this wine is not available at the LCBO. I would return for this alone, it was fantastic. I wish my wine knowledge was better than it is, then I could properly explain the flavours. I just know what I like, and I loved this wine. I found a description online that I'll share with the wine connoisseurs out there. Deep garnet with russet edges, lots of peppery spice and balsamic notes, with a long finish. Lots of red fruit and vanilla roasted coffee from the oak. This also went very well with the amuse-bouche they brought us. A gorgonzola and fig roulette with apple butter and roasted beets. Um, could I have 10 more please? The apple butter reminded me of my mother-in-law's apple crisp. So comforting.

Next came my appetizer, the Chef's Signature Beef Tartare – lacquered serrano ham-parmesan leather, basque guindilla peppers, gribiche, crostinis. This was a more mild beef tartare than I am used to which was quite nice because you could actually taste the beef more than anything. Most tartares I find to be quite a bit more flavourful, which is nice, but you loose a lot of the meat's natural flavours. I find a lot of dishes at Navarra are like that. You really taste the main ingredient, it's not hidden by anything and always paired with ingredients to complement it. The ham-parm leather was also a fun addition to the plate, sweet and salty.

For my main, the Roasted Lamb Rack was screaming out at me, and I thank god I heard it's call. This rich and tender lamb was cooked to perfection, done medium-rare (although arrived closer to rare, which is what I prefer) and so juicy. Again, the taste of the lamb complemented by the ingredients that were so carefully placed around it, but not overpowered by anything. It was served with goat cheese-potato coulant, baby summer vegetables, serrano jus, espelette. The baby vegetables included carrots cooked al-dente, turnip, peas, beets and even a tomato sitting in this sweet yummy sauce on the corner of the plate.

Last but certainly not least, I ordered the 2 Textures of Amedei Chocolate, a self saucing fondant, mousse, berries, cocoa earth (crumbles of crisp chocolaty goodness) and pear chutney. A wonderful way to end the evening, especially paired with a sweet glass of sherry (ask your server for a recommendation and you can't go wrong). I had the East India Solera and it was very good.

The atmosphere is relaxing, the service impeccable and the food to die for. If you want a beautiful evening out with guaranteed great service and a meal you'll never forget, this is the place to go.


Navarra on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Fish in Foil with Sweet Onions, Tomatoes and Mojo Verde

My husband never ceases to amaze us with his mouthwatering meals and last night was no different. He got this fantastic recipe off epicurious.com and in addition to it's visually striking presentation, was one of the best dinners we've had to date (and there have been a lot!). The recipe for this dish calls for red snapper. Unfortunately my husband wasn't able to get some where he went so he bought grouper instead. Which was equally delicious. I can't rave enough about this meal, you just have to try it. And if you're lucky enough to have some of the potatoes and onions leftover, they go great with eggs for breakfast topped with the salsa.

We paired this meal with a delicious new chardonnay from the Niagara Peninsula – Sibling Rivalry, Henry of Pelham. I highly recommend it.

What you’ll need
3 tablespoons pure olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium red onions, sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pound medium red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
One 4-pound snapper, gutted, scaled, and pectoral gill cut out (but tail left on; ask your fishmonger to do this) or you can do what we did and get a very large filet
1/4 cup Mojo Verde (see below for ingredients), plus extra for serving if desired
1 pound ripe tomatoes, sliced
1/4 cup dry white wine
Lemon wedges for garnish

Mojo Verde:
2 large poblano peppers
8 ounces tomatillos, papery husks and cores removed, and rinsed
Canola oil
1/2 cup virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Spanish sherry vinegar
1/4 cup roasted garlic
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons toasted and ground cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Tomatillos are the key ingredient in this alluring green sauce.

What to do

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. (We actually put this on the barbecue instead.)

In a large sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and the butter over medium-high heat. When the butter foams, add the onions, stirring to coat, and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 8 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden. Let cool.

Stack two pieces of aluminum foil that are large enough to wrap the fish in on top of one another. Fold up the sides of the foil so that it resembles a little boat. Pour the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil into the boat and spread it over the bottom. Lay the potatoes in the boat in one layer, and season with salt and pepper.

If you're using a whole fish:

With a sharp knife, make slashes in one side of the fish about 1 1/2 inches apart, going almost to the bone, and season with salt and pepper. Repeat on the other side of the fish. Lay it on top of the potatoes.

If you're using just the filet like we did, all you have to do is lay it on top of the potatoes.

Spoon the mojo verde on top of the fish.

Lay the tomatoes on top of it and spoon the rest of the mojo on them.

Spoon on the caramelized onions. Pour the wine around the fish.

Fold the foil over to enclose the fish, crimping the edges to seal and set on a baking sheet.

Roast the fish for about 1 hour, or until cooked through (carefully open the foil to check: the fish should flake easily when tested with a fork); cooking times can vary significantly depending on the thickness and type of fish. (The baked fish can be kept warm, and still retain its moisture, for up to 30 minutes if kept wrapped.)

Serve with lemon wedges and, if you like, extra mojo verde on the side.

Recommended wine: A wine with soft acidity and sweetness, such as a Vouvray or an American Pinot Blanc.

Mojo Verde:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly rub the poblanos and tomatillos with canola oil. Place on a baking sheet , and roast for 20 minutes. Put the poblanos in a bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let stand for about 15 minutes. Set the tomatillos aside to cool.

Peel the poblanos and remove the stems and seeds.

Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor and puree until fairly smooth. Refrigerated, this will keep for up to 1 month.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Chicken Satay with Sesame Cucumber Salad

The second I had my first bite of this heavenly meal, I was in love. I quickly announced this was now one of my new favourite meals. It had all the flavours I adore so much, I'm just glad there wasn't any leftovers because I'd be rolling on the floor in agony right now. My stop button is sporadic and never works when faced with meals of this caliber. My husband marinated some chicken in soya sauce and rice vinegar. He then skewered it and sprinkled these meaty bits with sesame seeds and placed them neatly on the barbecue, brushing them with satay sauce until cooked perfectly and with a slight crispness on the thinner strips. Alongside the meat, once served, was some more of the satay peanut sauce – a velvety textured concoction that truly had a tropical feel, mostly due to the coconut. You'd never guess this was store bought. It's savoriness and spiciness complemented the chicken so nicely. As did the shaved cucumber salad mixed with garlic salt, soya sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds. Sweet baby carrots completed this meal.

The brand of the satay sauce is Asian Family. I couldn't find the actual sauce we used tonight on their website (Satay Peanut Sauce) but if you ever come across this brand, I'm sure it will be great.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Beef and Venison Burgers

Ah yes, a vertical picture. My first. This one was taken with our camera but from a guest photographer. A very good friend of ours, Hiep Vu, is in town for a couple of days. And since he's such a fantastic photographer, we thought it only made sense that he take the photo.

Tonight my husband made the most enormous beef and venison burgers. He added some onion and garlic to the mixture, stuffed them with blue cheese, and threw them on the barbecue (of course). They were very juicy, and with all the toppings and bun, quite difficult to bite into. But once you got in, you didn't come up for air, they were that good.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Fiddlehead, Mint and Spinach Soup with Sesame Crusted Salmon and Garlic Potato Salad

The smell escaping from our barbecue this evening was enough to get every single neighbour within a half mile radius jealous. In fact one did pop his head over to question what smelled so good. My husband was cooking salmon on another one of our many cedar planks. After soaking the plank for a couple of hours, my husband sprinkled some garlic salt on this delicious piece of pacific salmon, coated it with sesame seeds and carefully placed it on the plank. He also put an entire garlic bulb sprinkled with oil and wrapped in tinfoil on the barbecue, as well as some potatoes. Once heated up, he tossed the potatoes and garlic with some oil and spinach, wilting it. But that's not all, we started off with a delicious peppery soup made with some leftover frozen fiddleheads that he first boiled with mint, spinach and garlic in a chicken broth. He put everything in the blender and then strained out the pulp. So very yummy and healthy!!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Soft Chicken Tacos

The word of the week this week is chicken. It's funny how we go on kicks every now and then with certain ingredients. No matter how many times we've had chicken this week (3), I'm still loving every second of it. None of these dishes has even tasted remotely the same. In fact, even the texture of the chicken is different in each one. From the beer up-the-butt chicken heightened by the smoking process, to the chicken smothered in green curry, to tonight's special that kind of actually tasted a bit like KFC (in a good way!) and had this marvelous texture on the outside when savoured on it's own. My husband barbecued some onions, jalapenos and chicken. He tossed the chicken in cumin and chili powder first. Then he added some roasted red peppers, grape tomatoes, black beans, avocado, coriander and rice to the selection. After warming some soft tortilla wraps on the barbecue we spread some salsa over them and added our favourite ingredients. What a fantastic spectrum of textures and flavours!

Thai Curry Chicken

Last night we had a low key dinner night, but still fantastic nonetheless.

My husband cooked some chicken and then added it to this really tasty PC Thai Green Curry Sauce and some spinach. He set the mixture over long grain rice, to which he added some curry. Add cilantro over the top and this meal is complete.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Blue Cheese Stuffed Bison Burgers

This is the last of the ground bison we bought at Ranch Les Beaux Bisons. I've had bison from other farms in the area recently as well and I have to say, the meat from here has this uniquely delicious flavour that none of the others had. I almost want to say gamy, but not, it's hard to explain. Their bison never receive any supplement such as grain and silage which can alter the consistency and taste of the meat. They age naturally and more slowly than those on commercial farms. I guess that's why this meat tastes so freakin' great.

My husband also knows how to make a delicious burger go from great to really awesome. And it doesn't even take that much effort. Mix some onion, garlic and 1 egg into the ground meat. Form a little divot in the center and add some blue cheese. Top it with more meat and there you have it, the bison burger from heaven. Obviously you can do this with any kind of meat, but I do highly recommend this bison meat.

The cheese is just oozing out. Yummmmmm!!!

Smoked Beer Up-the-Butt Chicken

So, I've said it before, I try not to post the same meal twice. But this was way too good to pass up. As mentioned in a previous post, my husband's specialty is beer up-the-butt chicken. I've never had chicken so good in my entire life. In my mind there was no way anything would ever top this method of cooking it until last night. And this version blows the regular way completely out of the water. Take the original beer up-the-butt and times it by 10. What do you get? SMOKED beer up-the-butt! I've never pigged out on chicken like that before. My husband made it in the usual fashion but then put it on the smoker with some apple chips. After a couple of hours, threw it on the bbq for about half an hour and voilà! Masterpiece! He served this with some barbecued corn and a yummy beet salad that my friend Teresa brought over. I had a small piece of chicken this morning as I was packing my lunch and I think it may even be better today.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Absinthe Café and Resto Bar

I can finally knock this restaurant off my wish list. We arrived in the early evening and got a great seat next to the window. Actually, any spot in this restaurant would be great. It's got such nice big windows at the front and overall a really great atmosphere. My mouth started to water the minute I began reading the menu. I decided to go with the table d'hôte, which gives you a choice of appetizer, mid and main course. They also offer wine pairing for an extra $30 but we didn't go for that. I had a tough time choosing between the Seafood Trio and the Charcuterie Duo to start. I decided to go with the latter – bison terrine, duck parfait, port gelée and onion rosemary bread. It was really good. I especially liked the strong flavour of the duck parfait, which came in a little shot glass with slippery gelée on top. For my mid I went with the soup, a white onion velouté sprinkled with chopped chives, so yummy and a great choice over the ceasar salad that everyone else got. The salad was only disappointing to everyone because of the croutons, which looked like they came from a box. Nice big homemade croutons would have been a better complement to the salad.

My friend Teresa picked out my main before I did. That often happens as people know what I like. The warm potato salad and tomato jam that came with the maple marinated bison sirloin made the bison dish an obvious choice. The meat was so tender and paired with the jam made for a robust and flavourful taste experience. The potatoes were also quite tasty and served alongside some crispy peas in the pod and broccoli. My husband had the Hog Wild – wild boar loin rubbed with rosemary and juniper and served with apple smoked belly with maple glaze, mushroom ragout and lyonnaise potatoes. I got to try some of his and it was really tasty. The meat unfortunately, seemed a little overcooked, as did my friend Bruce's steak. But other than that, all offered a great medley of flavours. To drink we had a fantastic rosé that our server recommended, 2007 Cuvée Marie-Justine, Chinon from France. Fun atmosphere, good food and great service made for a wonderful evening. Apps range between $7 and $13, mains between $21 and $31 and for the 3 course table d'hôte, $37 to $47.

Absinthe Cafe Resto Bar on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Poached Eggs on Potato Pancake

Who needs Von's when you have a huband who can cook! I almost fell to the ground I was so excited when my husband served me my breakfast this morning. I have an obsession with potato pancakes, and served with poached eggs, sausage, tomato and toasted baguette is like I've literally died and gone to heaven. To make these, my husband shredded some potatoes, chopped some onions and mixed them with some salt and pepper, 2 eggs and 1/3 cup flour. Fry them on both sides and voilà! The most awe-inspiring breakfast ever.

On a side note, be sure when chopping the onions to wear protective gear. I don't know about you, but my eyes burn and water like crazy in the presence of chopped onions. Even if i'm not the one cutting them. My husband comes well prepared with these fashionable sunglasses. They're big enough that they don't let any of those nasty onion fumes in. He bought them back in college at a chinese grocery store in Fredericton. The one kitchen product that followed him around his whole life. Now there's debate on whether or not it's the eyes that are affected by the onions. Some people say that it's breathing through your nose vs. breathing through your mouth – but according to Wikipedia (and my husband), it's the eyes.

Quail Stuffed with Poultry, Foie Gras and French Plums

If you're not a cook, or if you prefer to spend time with your dinner guests rather than in the kitchen, this is the perfect meal idea. Yesterday evening my husband was out and my very best friend from back home was in town. I decided to serve foie gras stuffed quail since to me, it's decadent, but also very easy to do. I picked up these biscuit-like balls of yumminess from the Chelsea Smokehouse. I've bought them before, my husband cooked them the last time, and they were to die for. All you need to do is pop them in the oven. Sounds easy right? Well, when my husband made them, they were cooked to perfection. I on the other hand, over cooked them last night. I'm not perfect in the kitchen. And it's ok because they were still very good. With these I served some mixed greens with green onion and a raspberry balsamic vinaigrette and microwavable, yes microwavable, risotto. My husband picked it up for me at La Bottega in the market. 2 minutes in the microwave and presto! Not nearly as good as risotto from scratch, but it did the trick. I added some butter and parm to it as it recommended on the package directions. Total prep time for this meal, approximately 5 minutes!

Before our main course, we had some munchies – Cacciatore sausage, Fourme D'Ambert blue cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano, Canadian Brie and fresh figues. I've never had fresh figues before. What a fantastic addition to a plate of cheese.

We also drank probably one of the best wines I've ever had. My friend Dino had dropped this off for me one evening and since I was already into a second or third bottle of wine that night, recommended I save it. So glad I did. 2003 Chateau Belair (St Emilion) from France.