Sunday, February 28, 2010

Ravioli with Scallion Oil and Green Grapes

Using the scallion oil and beet-juice caramel from the night before, my husband whipped together a satisfying and memorable dinner. I was worried we wouldn't get to use the leftovers of those two heavenly sauces – boy was I wrong.

My husband picked up some mâche salad greens, added some cucumber and drizzled them with the honeyed beet juice. Some spinach and ricotta ravioli was smothered in a mellow scallion oil and sprinkled with parsley, green onion shavings and then dotted oh-so-beautifully with firm green grapes, halved. It was better than anything I would have imagined to use up the sauces.

Once again, my husband blows me away with his magical meals.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Torched Scallops, Crispy Beet Chips and Mushroom Risotto

What do you have to do to have the perfect night? Read on...

It starts with a trip to the Whalesbone. We arrived at the restaurant in the early evening to sip on some beer and down 18 oysters. Then a quick shot of Sailor Jerry's before heading back home.

Inspired by Marc Lepine and our evening at Atelier, this dinner was a true work of art. I was in awe as I watched my husband make every piece of this meal so carefully and to utter perfection. The details were astounding. My husband pulled the recipe from Wednesday's Globe and Mail. He even got to use his juicer for the beet cream.

The end result, luscious and crispy beets drizzled with scallion oil and sweet, creamy beet-juice caramel (oh what honey will do to a beet – yum!).

Serve the rest of the creams in a ramekin on the table for dipping!

For the velvety scallops, my husband first seared then brushed them with honey before taking his new blow torch to them. My mother-in-law picked up the torch for his birthday. A wonderful kitchen toy if I do say so myself.

It's hard to believe that after 10 years my husband continues to amaze me with his extravagant meals. Not only are the plates alluring, the flavours are mouthwatering – ALWAYS.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Dinner at Marysol’s

Ok, so imagine you love something so much you decide to start blogging about it. Let's say food for example – just an example. Then once you get going you start reading other blogs on the same subject. You have a few favourites you keep going back to, ones that totally inspire you, make you drool and are just plain beautiful. There are many out there but only a select few actually have you coming back religiously. You're addicted, and you look up to these people. Imagine one of those people you admire so much actually posts a comment on your blog – Wow! Time goes on, as does a few more posts back and forth, and through it all you come to find out you have a mutual friend. Some more time goes by and because of your common love of that particular subject (food in this case) you decide you both have to experience it together at the same time. And then it happens. Your favourite food blogging chef invites you to dinner. OH. MY. GOD.

Amy and I made our way over to Marysol's for dinner tonight. As if just going over there wasn't exciting enough, she had an Asian-inspired meal planned too! My nerves were quickly put to rest five minutes after we arrived and two sips into my chilled glass of bubbly. I was in awe watching her flawlessly prepare the last bits of the meal she had obviously spent hours on shortly before.

I was so excited I could barely contain myself. I must have said about fifty words per minute on whatever I was talking about. Right up until my first bite of food. Then I shut up. Everything was even better than I imagined – all those times I sat at my computer salivating at what she had eaten the night before (don't get me wrong, I've got it going amazing at home too!). But now, when I look at her photos, I can imagine even more what every bite would taste like.

Here's what we had.

Papaya salad – a tangle of crispness, so fresh and with just the right amount of spice.

Wilted greens, so flavourful and yummy.

One of my favourite things in the world, rice paper shrimp rolls. Amazing. And served with our choice of sweet, delicious hoisin, or the most heavenly peanut sauce ever.

Ah, gyoza. How I love thee – golden and cooked to perfection. These were insane. I couldn't stop eating them. It was almost embarrassing. I won't even say how many I had (actually, I lost count).

And the most memorable thing on our plate, stuffed tofu (see very first photo above). They were like little gift bags filled with love. You know when you get a gift that is so beautifully wrapped and you're like, there's no way any gift inside this bag can top what the outside looks like? That's what I was thinking, until I had my first bite. Oh, and did I mention she poured a velvety peanut sauce over it too?? Simply to die for. She got this recipe when she was in NYC a couple weeks ago.

We also had some great wine, Southbrook Triomphe Sauvignon Blanc, and a lovely ice cider and apple brandy port-like drink for dessert – Domaine Pinnacle.

I can't rave enough about my evening. It was so wonderful to have dinner with two remarkable women. My only hope is that we do this again sometime very soon. Thank you so much Marysol, it was truly an honour. This meal was the best!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sushi 88

My husband is out of town for a few days so when my friend Teresa sent me a note today asking if I wanted to go for sushi, I was in!

She didn't have a lot of time and since I was late getting home we were left with deciding wether or not we actually had time to get anywhere or if a certain restaurant very close by would meet our demands. That restaurant was Sushi 88. I've seen the sign many times on my way into Chinatown, and the inside of this little restaurant has always looked inviting. We took a chance. And boy were we glad we did!

Now Teresa is way more versed on a sushi menu than I am. I pretty much love it all, but I never really know what to order if I'm just getting a couple of things. So I let her do the ordering for me. Oh, and I threw in an order of gyoza of course! If it was me, I would just rate them on the gyoza alone, and if I did that, they would score really high, they were outstanding!

Tempura sweet potato, this was also very yummy. The sweet potato was cut into nice thin slithers which allowed for more tempura. And one of the most unique things about this place, you can get white or brown rice! Or a mixture of the two.

This shot of the Spice Spice Sushi (17pcs) does not do it justice. Most restaurants don't give you a choice this good on a mixed platter. Spicy tuna, spicy salmon, tuna, salmon, cooked shrimp, and cucumber. It's seriously my dream combo. Also came with a side salad, we paid a little more and got the wakame.

Then we finished off with a spicy tuna hand roll. Yumm.

Everything was fresh and delicious. Nice little touches like sesame seeds in the cucumber roll and the choice of rice were awesome. The atmosphere was also very warm and inviting. Service was excellent and the prices just right. Apps range between $4 and $9, sushi and sashimi combos from $10 to $35 and specialty rolls which we must try next time, from $6 to $12.

Sushi 88 on Urbanspoon

Atelier Restaurant – Post Food Thoughts

Last week I had my friend Tony do a pre food post of Atelier Restaurant. We were chatting one evening and, knowing deep down his preconception wouldn't match up with the end result, I asked him to do a guest post. I'm very excited to present to you his Post Food Thoughts. I must say, he's got a wonderful way with words. His thoughts in combination with my review should have you drooling at your keyboard and rushing in for taste of this exotic cuisine.

Guest: Tony Lyons

Post Food

I entered the front door of Atelier with pre-conceptions. I left with an appreciation for food that I haven’t had in quite a while. Having eaten at Craft in NYC and George in Toronto – both small plates concept establishments, although not necessarily billed as “molecular gastronomy” — I would have to say that Atelier can easily run with those dogs. Ottawans have a habit of seeing the far away fields as greener, of not seeing the talent that we have close to home, of playing the small town card. But the truth is, our city is coming into its own in more ways than just food, and we need to embrace and nurture our home grown creativity.

The front of house experience was great. Low key but sharp and professional. The room is definitely a secondary player to the food, which it should be, however I did find it a bit sterile – perhaps my only criticism. The sommelier was informative and creative without being pompous, and the pairings were bang on. One of the choices was St. Peter’s Organic English Ale – which I typically don’t like (maybe just because I’m Irish). But it played perfectly with the sweetness of the Southern Comfort dish – beautiful.

Rachelle has given a detailed breakdown of what we ate and drank so you don’t need to hear it again from me. What I will say though is that we had a surprising amount of what I wasn’t expecting – food. We ate a ton. The dishes were complex and creative, each building on their own theme. Soup-er Bowl for example. The most tender and succulent chorizo I have ever tasted, in a broth resembling a fine corn chowder, with anti-griddled cheese puffs made to look like pop-corn. Some of the dishes were very brief, others were actually quite substantial, all were highly creative, multi-sensory and delicious.

Anything other than a glowing recommendation of Atelier would, in my mind, be grossly unfair. Yes there were anti-griddles and foams, yes there was an immersion circulator, yes there was a bit of science. But not too much. Really it was just about great food.

I would eat my words if I wasn’t so full.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Leg of Lamb with Wilted Greens

My mother-in-law is in town this week so my husband thought he'd cook her a nice lamb. Like him, it's one of her favourite meats, especially after my husband has had his hands on it.

This succulent piece of meat was impeccable. I especially loved the sweet, sticky layer that enveloped it. My husband smothered the lamb in oil, dijon, honey, rosemary and garlic before roasting it. On the inside, the meat itself was studded with more rosemary and garlic. I don't know what a true vegetarian would think but if it was me, I'd be converted in a second. But then again, I love meat.

For the side my husband served a mélange of wilted spinach, swiss chard and dandelion leaves. How's that for a hearty mix of greens!? Some garlic and olive oil completed this lovely side.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Heart Healthy Beet Juice

My husband had been wanting the Omega Vert-VRT 330 juicer for a while. So I finally ordered one from Green Health for his birthday last week. We've seriously been juicing daily since. I bring a large glass of it to work every day and this weekend I made my own starfruit, pomegranate and pineapple juice for my morning smoothies as well as fresh orange juice for breakfast.

We also got The Juicing Bible, a fantastic book that outlines all the health benefits of various fruits and veggies along with great recipes.

I thought I'd post the juice I made for work tomorrow as well as a quick video to show you how crazy this machine is. You stick the veggies inside and they get crushed like crazy and then out comes the juice on one side and the dry pulp on the other. You can even save the pulp, freeze it and add to sauces for a nutritious boost. The juice above has 2 beets including the green, 2 carrots, 2 celery sticks, 2 pearl onions, some dandelion leaves and an apple. So yummy and extremely healthy!

Weekend Breakfast

Really, does life get any better than this? My favourite part of the weekend is being perched up at the island watching my husband make me an amazing breakfast. We had leftover mashed potatoes so he fried them up and served them with cheesy eggs sprinkled with chives and dill, and toasted olive bread.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Atelier Restaurant

To only give this restaurant 5 stars, without first prefacing that I would give more if my rating scale allowed it, would be belittling to this gem to say the least. This eating house is a category all it's own – because of the chef's unique style, but mostly due to the fact that every single dish is like an elaborately prepared work of art done by a renowned artist.

Atelier has been on my wish list for quite a while now. A Christmas gift from my father-in-law and his wife made this want a reality (thanks so much Darrell and Brenda!). I'd read many reviews about them before, but still wasn't sure what to expect. One of my biggest surprises was that if I had no idea this was a molecular gastronomy restaurant, I'm not sure I would have pegged it as one. Every single creation of the 10 courses we had was like my own personal food God had come down to prepare a dream plate specifically for me. And my friends were just there to enjoy the ride.

The service made us feel just as special as the food. I was blown away by both our servers' (or should I say curators') knowledge of each dish and ability to remember ingredients without exception. That impression doubled when I overheard one of them recounting the meal in French at the table next to ours. Steve, who we dealt with most, had an exceptional ability to describe the details on how things were made and was a true raconteur for every wine pairing he introduced. Every tasting note was described to a T. I would love to do a wine tasting with that guy!

I started off with a St Ambroise Oatmeal Stout from their limited but perfect beer selection. My husband went with the Tankhouse, Cathy the Cava Brut, and Tony a Manhattan with 2 cherries that had been dipped in nitroglycerin to serve as ice cubes. Dill pickle bread, with powdered butter that turned to oil once in contact with the heat of your mouth, decorated the table.

Each plate had an extensive list of goings-on. I'm going to do my best to make a mention of the ingredients involved, but can almost guarantee that not all will be touched on.

Truffled! La Sauvagine cheese wrapped in duck confit and truffle sitting in a spoon that held a burning piece of rosemary for olfactory stimulation. Fantastic way to start.

Tuna Salad – Blow torched albacore tuna loin, virtually like sushi, spotted with green grapes and tucked in by a grape sheet, high acid lime foam, chive mayo and fennel done 2 ways, the first serving as a bed for the tuna and the second as a garnish (looks like dill). This dish was paired with a lovely 2009 Saint Clair Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand.

Beetroot/Grapefruit, a sweet and sour combination including a Dr Seuss-like egg (think green eggs and ham), the centre being a pod full of beet juice that exploded in your mouth. Tarragon cream with duck, grapefruit cells, foam with a honey centre, cumquat, marshmallow foam and balsamic. A burning cinnamon stick arrived before the dish to get our senses prepared. 2006 Seifried Riesling from Nelson, New Zealand brought the whole thing together.

Gallo Mussel with bits of smoked duck breast, cremini mushrooms, brown butter, chive oil, scallion, milk foam, shiso leaf and Jerusalem artichoke purée was to die for. The dish had a nice spice from the curry oil. And Steve's description of the 2008 Niagara College Teaching Winery Pinot Noir was bang-on.

Southern Comfort, and oh how comforting this was. Pulled pork marinated for 11 hours in coke and garlic and then pan seared in bbq sauce was heavenly. Torched bbq meringue, sweet cornbread powder, shallots served as onion rings, sweet potato onion, and baked bean purée decorating the plate. St Peter's Organic English Ale was served alongside.

Fruit Cocktail functioning as a cleanser. High acid, pears poached in red wine, passion fruit seed, mascarpone cheese, apple purée, apple cider vinegar, sugar glass, drunken watermelon soaked in vodka and chestnut cream.

Soup-er Bowl – mouthwatering chorizo sausage topped with pop corn and placed neatly next to a custard made from Beau's beer that had been poured into nitroglycerin. A warm milky liquid coated the ingredients transforming the dish to soup with cumin and white cheddar. 2006 Fielding Estate Viognier from Niagara was lovely.

Meat and Potatoes. Lamb leg done 9 hours sous-vide, or “under vacuum” which is a cooking method that keeps the integrity of the meat by heating it for a long time under low temperatures. The result was insanely tender, medium-rare lamb. Potatoes, celery root, mustard, red cabbage sprout and a dehydrated mustard sheet. So insane I jumped in before taking the photo. 2003 Domaine Lignères le signal from Corbières, France was a divine pairing.

Greece Lightning – Greek flavours surrounding succulent elk, roasted fig and roasted eggplant purée. Chive oil, green olive caviar and mustard crest. The wine was a 2006 Luigi Bosca Single Vineyard Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina.

Red Rover, dessert in it's most complicated form. Aloe vera and cranberry foam, cheesecake, angel food cake, streusel, soft and hard meringue, beet and blood orange sponge, dehydrated cranberry sheets, hibiscus gel, beet powder, vanilla ice cream and pomegranate seeds. Light and with a little sweetness, 2008 Cantina San Pancrazio Brachetto from Piemonte, Italy was served at the same time.

Every angle so different from the other, you almost need a shot from every side of the plate.

Hot Chocolate ended our culinary marathon with chocolate and Chinese five-spice Ganache. Candied peanut, dehydrated mango sorbet, crème anglaise, sriracha, ginger ale foam, brownie streusel marked with five-spice, chocolate shortbread and 3 dots of lemongrass gel that glittered like gold. Again, paired with the perfect wine, 2007 Cantine Pellegrino Passito Liquoroso from Pantelleria, Italy.

An espresso and an Unfortunate Cookie allowed us to decompress and look back on the magical feast we had just completed. We were even escorted to the kitchen where we met the man of the evening, Marc Lepine and expressed our gratitude for such a brilliant evening. The kitchen was pristine and showed no signs of having assembled such fascinating plates.

The entire evening was one I believe everyone should experience at least once in their lives. The 10 courses are $85 per person and the wine pairing at $55, to me, is part of the whole experience and should not be overlooked. The restaurant is small but very comfortable with simple and unobtrusive decor. Service of course, impeccable. Oh and I must make a mention of the washrooms. The Dyson Airblade was insane, giving you dry hands in 12 seconds. Even the toilet seat dropped slowly, my husband commented, after putting the seat down.

I'm anxious to post Tony's follow-up thoughts on the experience from his pre-conceived notion of earlier. I'm confident there will be some changes.

Atelier on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 19, 2010

Atelier Restaurant – Pre Food Thoughts

I'm insanely excited to present my very first guest post. This evening I will be dining with our good friends Tony and Cathy at Atelier Restaurant. This reservation has been set for over a month now, and a few weeks ago my friend Tony let me know his feelings in anticipation of the meal. I was so amazed by his preconception of molecular gastronomy that I asked him if he would write his pre-dinner thoughts and then of course, his post-dinner thoughts, to see if anything changed. Enjoy!

Guest: Tony Lyons

Pre Food

There was a time, not that long ago in our existence, when food meant sustenance, it meant nutrition, it meant survival. There was also a time when everything we ate we hunted or gathered ourselves. We ate, we sustained, we survived simple.

Then, one day, we noticed that the guy 2 caves down had some yummy looking ungulate hanging outside his front stoop. And he noticed that we had some very tasty yak entrails that we werent using and so, commerce was born.

Well now, in the developed world, our concept and value of food has evolved so far from any notion of nutrition or survival, that we take it for granted. Of course the supermarket will have papayas. Of course I can buy a kilo of beef for 6 bucks. Of course I can get cucumbers in February. Now dont get me wrong, Im no food Trotsky we had a whole roast piglet at our open house last week, so Im as guilty as anyone. But the point is, as a society, when our relationship with food evolves to the point of a $500 hamburger we need to sit down and give ourselves a bit of a talking too. Food is no longer about food. It has become theatre, entertainment, an outlet for artistic expression, a fashion accessory. Putting vittles in your belly to get you through the day is for losers Im exaggerating for effect of course.

So all of this rambling is really just a way of voicing my slight discomfort with the idea of where Im going to dinner on Friday. Cathy and Rachelle suggested we go to Atelier on Rochester. As you might know, Atelier is Ottawas own iteration of the food movement known as molecular gastronomy, a concept most recently made famous by Ferran Adria with his Catalan restaurant El Bulli. The idea behind molecular gastronomy is to (allegedly) challenge ones ideas of what food is and how we experience it, using chemical and scientific processes to transform ingredients rather than cook or prepare them. Now to be honest, I have never eaten at a molecular gastronomy restaurant, Ive only seen it on the tube and read about it, and all these opinions, notions, right or wrong are just that opinions.

And thats exactly why Rachelle asked me to write about it. To compare the pre-conceived notion of molecular gastronomy to the actual experience of consuming it. I have no doubt that the Atelier people will put on a great show, and maybe theyll change my mind. I will probably be proven wrong, and we will probably have a very memorable experience. But I may still grab a sandwich at Dirienzos first.

Talk to you after dessert.

Do you think well get dessert?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Gnocchi in a Rosé Sauce with Pancetta

I bought my husband a juicer for his birthday. We've been using it religiously for the past few days but tonight's the first time he used it in a meal. So smooth and fresh tasting, this rosé sauce was perfect for the gnocchi it smothered. My husband roasted some tomatoes and removed the peel. He then juiced the tomatoes, some onion and garlic and used that as the base for the sauce. He added the tomato peel back in at the end. After marrying it with the gnocchi, he put the entire mixture onto a bed of arugula and finished off the plate with fried, spicy pancetta cubes. The flavours together were absolutely perfect.

Before we dove into this indulging meal, we snacked on some toasty baguette with a selection of cheeses (cendrillon, goat with figues, blue) and a selection of charcuterie (rillettes de canard, foie gras, rabbit pâté) and a couple of new additions my friend Dino brought to the table, charcoal crackers and blackburn cheese from Pusateri's.

Our Sauvignon Blanc was worth a mention too, Villa Maria from New Zealand.

What a feast!!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Maple Marinated Salmon

There aren't many things my husband doesn't do well. In fact, the more I try to find something, the more I draw a blank. I think salmon has to be one of his top 5 specialties though. I've yet to eat a more phenomenal piece of fish after he's had his hands on it. From his cedar plank salmon to roasted garlic and dijon salmon and so many others in between, my husband cooks the best salmon, hands down.

Tonight's sweet salmon, held together by it's chewy, caramelized skin was so satisfying. My husband marinated the salmon for a few days in some maple syrup and brown sugar before grilling it. Garlic fried spinach and chopped asparagus were served alongside.

So yummy and so healthy. It's always so sad when it ends.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Jane’s Magnificent Cookies

In case you missed my Special Delivery of Cookies post back in December, allow me to once again brag about my joy of knowing someone as special as Jane. I've yet to meet another person who can put this much detail into a tiny little cookie with such patience and grace. The results astound me every time. And these intricate hearts of deliciousness once again brought joy to my home.

As I left the house for work this morning, a nicely decorated and tempting bag hung on the door handle. I peeked inside, only to find Jane's irresistible cookies (so easily recognizable) accompanied by a birthday/valentine card addressed to my husband. It took all of me not to steal this mouthwatering gift. Being the good wife that I am, I placed the bag in an obvious spot in the kitchen so that my husband wouldn't miss them when he got up.

Hours later an email arrived in my inbox from my husband informing me that there was in fact two servings of cookies in the bag, one for my husband and one addressed to me!

Well, you can imagine what I did the minute I arrived home from work. Pure indulgence.

Thanks so much Jane!!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Heavenly Rack of Lamb

My husband has been away for a few days (hence the lack of posts). He arrived home last night so we decided to celebrate his birthday and Valentine's day today (yes, he's my own personal cupid!).

He did leave me these beautiful flowers to enjoy while he was away.

Originally I was going to surprise him with a lamb dinner, but as soon as he got wind he suggested we cook together instead. What an excellent idea, as I would hate to waste such a lovely piece of meat! Honestly, who knows what would happen to it in my hands.

The entire day was perfect. And of course, food played the major part. Banana pancakes and scrambled eggs to start the day along with fresh squeezed orange juice (more about that to come in another post). Then in the afternoon we went for a lovely drive out to Wakefield, stopping off at La Boucanerie Chelsea for some snacks in the car. Smoked shrimp, scallops, salmon, tuna and sturgeon was what we left with. Once at our destination, we stopped in town for a beer.

Around early evening we decided to start cooking. I did some of the leg work, under my husband's direction of course. And surprisingly it wasn't too difficult at all. I pulled out the rack of lamb and we sprinkled it with salt. Then a dijon, garlic, rosemary and pepper rub was applied all over it. Cook at 450 for 30 to 35 minutes and voilà, a perfect, absolutely delicious and tender rack of lamb. Honestly, to die for.

For the sides we steamed some asparagus and set it over some arugula on the plate. I also picked up these potato and caramelized onion puffs from Sasloves and heated them up in the oven. They were perfect with the lamb. And my favourite side, some pearl onions that we cooked in a pool of maple dijon, melted butter and brown sugar for 20 minutes at 450.

The entire meal was breathtaking. I didn't want it to end. And as I mentioned above, surprisingly easy. Although, on my own, I doubt it would have turned out this perfect, my husband has magical hands that turns every meal to pure gold. I love it!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Pause for a Cause at Alphabet Creative

For the second year in a row, our friend Tony of Alphabet Creative has thrown a magnificent office party to help raise money for the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health. This year he and his team outdid themselves once again with a Baroque theme, artistically decorating the office with a ton of roses, candlelight and the best part of course, a bacchanalian spread. Everything catered by Dish Catering.

Upon our arrival, we were offered a glass of absinthe. Very nice way to start the evening and take the edge off for meeting new people.

To our right was well, as you can see in the first photo above, insane. Giant fresh fruit, cheese and shooter glasses ready to be filled with warm chocolate for dipping.

This lovely smoked venison bite made it's way across the room and straight to me.

But at the far end of the room, a little piggy kept calling me.

I finally made my way over to chow down on a tender pork sandwich with pickle slivers and quail egg shooters.

Not too long after, king prawns bathing in a beet purée topped off the whole experience. Yummmm!

They even had Alaina Viau, an Ottawa-based performer who would randomly belt out these amazing opera songs, immediately getting everyone in the spirit of things. She had such a strong, beautiful voice.

And if that weren't enough, Soundara Rajan, a local astrologer was in a side room reading palms for donations. So fun!

Such a wonderful evening for a great cause.