Monday, May 31, 2010

Fresh Scallops with Asparagus and Risotto

My parents are in town for a few days and that usually means two things – food and wine. It's nice when your family appreciates the same things you do. I'd like to think that's not uncommon, but I've seen people not get along with family around food. Weird. That's what makes family. And that's what made me love food, growing up with such good food at home.

I pretty much laid out the menu for my husband, picking out some of my favourite recipes for their time here. It started last night with chipotle pork cheeseburgers, only this time he served them with Mexican-style stuffed potatoes (minus the tortilla chips). Honestly the BEST potato I've ever had. Ever. I want to eat this all day, everyday. I was in such awe by my plate I immediately began eating it without taking a photo. After a few bites I paused, contemplating stopping to do the deed, but just couldn't bring myself to it. I had to keep eating.

Tonight was another awe-inspiring dish. 4 giant, fresh sea scallops, so tender. And of course, as my husband always does, seared to utter perfection, like a perfectly cooked filet mignon. As my mother said, it's like the steak of the sea. Fresh thyme from our garden added some greenery to these gold and white beauties. Grilled local asparagus drizzled in salt, pepper and oil still had a slight crispness to them. And finally, mushroom risotto from La Bottega. We don't normally buy packaged foods but when you get something as good as this imported to your city, it's hard to pass it up. Plus it brings a plate together in no time.

Tomorrow I look forward to my husband's latest specialty (one of very many) – tender and juicy beef short ribs. My house is going to smell like a magical place tomorrow. I can't wait.

We have had many wines over the past couple days. One I must point out that is an easy-drinking summer wine, perfect for hanging out on the patio, or eating with scallops, Bonny Doon's Big House White. I picked up three bottles at the Rideau location on Saturday. Not sure how long they'll have it, but if you're there, don't leave without a bottle, or two. It's only $10.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Wine Tasting Class #3

Last Monday's was a short one but covered off some pretty important information. First, the serving temperatures of wine, then information on how to start your own cellar, and finally, a delicious wine tasting.

Serving Temperatures for Wine
Sparkling 4-8°C
Rosé 9-12°C
White 9-14°C
Sherry (Light) 9-14°C
Red 13-20°C
Fortified 13-20°C
Sherry (Dark) 13-20°C

I was a bit surprised by the fact a white should be less cool than what it is coming directly from the fridge. It's much harder to get the aromas if the wine is too cold. It also may seem more acidic.

Starting Your Cellar
Basically you want to have 1/3 reserved for wines you will drink between now and 5 years from now. These wines would be the lesser expensive ones as well. Under $30 a bottle. Another 1/3 should be reserved for wines that you will drink 5 to 10 years from now. The cost for these wines should range between $30 and $60. And finally, 1/3 should be reserved for wines you plan to store for 10 years or more. They are more expensive and usually contain heavy bodied reds, such as Barolos from Italy, California Cabs, Bordeaux reds and some dessert wines.

Make sure you have at least a couple of sparkling wines, 1 or 2 really good champagne's, 3-4 dessert wines and a couple of ports or sherry.

Start your cellar with around 50 to 100 bottles. You should be ready to invest $2,000 to $2,500 up front.

Storing Your Wine
  • Don't expose wine to sunlight or direct light.
  • Don't put wine near things with movement, such as a staircase.
  • Keep the wine at a constant temperature. The ideal cellar temp is 13-17°C.
  • An inexpensive way to store wine is to go to the LCBO, usually on a day their vintages arrive, and get some wooden crates. They only ask for a donation to a charity for them.
  • Stelvin enclosure (screw cap), is the best enclosure for long term cellaring. Rubber isn't great for long term and cork is more prone to bacteria.
When you grab a red from your cellar, it's a great idea to put it in the fridge for 2 hours, then remove for 20 minutes, open and set out before serving.

Wine Tasting
1. Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc CSPC 35386 $18.95
Sight: Pale yellow (probably no oak because of the paleness)
Aromas: Grapefruit, strawberry, peach, apricot, lime, green apple, citrus, melon, herbaceous, dill weed
Weight: Light to medium bodied
Acid: Medium to high (acidity keeps it crisp, even with sweet fruits)
Taste: Grapefruit, lime, citrus, mineral, apricot, green apple, passion fruit, pineapple, kiwis
Finish: Medium to long
Suggested Food Pairing: Goat cheese, nachos with mild salsa, bocconcini

2. Toasted Head Chardonnay CSPC 594341 $17.95
Sight: Medium yellow (oak could have influenced the wine's colour)
Aromas: Smoky, charred, butter, caramel, popcorn, nutty, toffee, overripe banana, honey, ripe pineapple, mango, oak, light diesel
Weight: Medium to full bodied (buttery, oily, silky and milky meaning it's gone through malolactic fermentation. Normally found a lot in Chardonnays and Cabs)
Acid: Light to medium
Taste: Smoky, oak, honey, vanilla, melons, overripe banana, MacIntosh apple, apricot
Finish: Medium to long
Suggested Food Pairing: Nothing greasy or oily. Cedar plank salmon, warm goat cheese salad with toasted pine nuts, butternut squash soup (similar texture), chicken, pork, good with meats if you are primarily a white wine drinker.

3. Pierre Sparr Gewurztraminer CSPC 373373 $16.50
Sight: Pale to medium yellow
Aromas: Orange blossoms, violets, lily of the valley, paraffin wax, honey, pear, pineapple, very perfumed, musky, spicy
Weight: Medium bodied
Acid: Light to medium
Taste: Honey, peaches, floral, melon, pineapple, dried candied orange, dried apricot, musky, lychee
Finish: Medium to long
Suggested Food Pairing: Very flavourful and exotic foods, Thai foods, curry, chicken Korma.

4. Rodney Strong Pinot Noir CSPC 954834 $24.95
Sight: Light red with a brick hue
Aromas: Cinnamon, smoke, underbrush, chocolate, cherry, pepper, raspberries, charred, sour cherry
Weight: Light
Tannins: Light to medium
Taste: Dark bitter chocolate, sour cherry, smoke, pepper, red fruit, cranberries, spices
Finish: Medium
Suggested Food Pairing: Mediator wine, crowd pleaser and goes with many dishes. Mushroom-based, earthy veggies (root vegetables), good with vegetarian dishes, hummus.

5. Ravenswood Merlot CSPC 505065 $17.95
Sight: Dark red with a brick hue
Aromas: Honey, caramel, ripe red fruits, cranberry, anise, herbaceous, plum
Weight: Medium
Tannins: Light to medium
Taste: Chocolate, sour cherry, blueberries, cassis, blackberry, plum
Finish: Medium, smooth
Suggested Food Pairing: Steak, lamb, grilled meats, Italian dishes, tomato-based sauces.
Note: Duckhorn Vineyards in Napa Valley makes a Merlot that tastes like Cabernet Sauvignon.

6. Gran Coronas Cabernet Sauvignon CSPC 36483 $18.95
Sight: Dark red with light purple and brick hues
Aromas: Wet cardboard, chlorine – this wine was corked. In the background some eucalyptus, mint, red fruit, strawberry, raspberry
Weight: Medium to full bodied
Tannins: Medium
Taste: Sour cherry, raspberry, cassis, herbaceous, pomegranate
Finish: Medium

Friday, May 28, 2010

Oz Kafé

Nothing in the world compares to dining with someone who loves food as much as you. The excited feeling I get when served a delicious meal is further heightened when in the company of someone savouring every bite as intensely as I am. Which is why I think I need to eat more meals with Marysol.

Last night we got together at Oz Kafé. We were lucky enough to get a spot on their tiny patio in the beautiful outdoors. Although the view isn't much to brag about, being lower than street level, none of that mattered as we were so engaged in conversation, refreshing wine and good food. And once the sun went down, the only spotlight on our food was the candlelight. Perfect.

As much as possible, I try to eat as many things as I can on a menu. Whether that means begging others for a bite of their dish (sorry), or simply sharing with someone else. So of course I was elated when Marysol wanted to share a few different things.

We started off with a lovely Pinot Gris Private Reserve from Peller Estate.

Our first course was one we hoped would set the tone for the evening. Probably one of the best tuna dishes I've ever had. It was one of their specials and I can't even describe to you how awesome it was. Seared to perfection, fresh slices of delicate tuna placed flawlessly over a crisp cucumber salad. A dollop of thick, whipped lemon cream lay next to it, ready to be smeared over each piece. And one of the best things I've ever tried, fried capers. I thought I really liked capers, I now adore them when cooked this way.

Next we had the Oz Poutine. A tower of scalloped potatoes, separated by rows of melted Balderson old cheddar and caramelized onions. A grilled apple crowned the top and added dimension to the centre. Rich, meaty cuts of smoked duck and jus added to the overall yumminess of the plate. A rich man's poutine would be my description.

Next was the duck special, hearty slices served with a sweet rhubarb compote (my favourite part of the dish), fresh grilled asparagus and a flavourful potato salad, spiced from the mouthwatering mustard seed. Unfortunately no photo for this one. None of the shots did the plate justice.

We decided to pass on dessert since our first course was still quite prominent in our minds. Neither one of us saw anything wrong with ordering tuna for dessert. So that's what we did, along with a sparkling wine that I think was created especially for this dish.

Although none of the other dishes wowed us as much as the first, they were still very good. That great food, along with phenomenal service definitely makes this a place to come back to again and again.

Apps range from $5 to $12, and mains from $13 to $25. They even have the choice of small or large portions on some items.

Oz Kafe on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Maple Smoked Trout

There are a few things in life that make me VERY happy. Seafood is one of them. There's just something about the texture and flavour of fish that's so satisfying when cooked properly. Not to mention the fact that you just feel awesome after eating it. I love it done many different ways, grilled, raw, poached. But nothing compares to smoked fish. To me, that's the best.

Friends of ours, Jenn and Eric, gave us some trout her dad had caught up in Sudbury. We've had it in our freezer for a little while, waiting for that perfect moment when my husband had time to smoke it. It was well worth the wait. He brined the filets overnight in some brown sugar, maple syrup, salt and water. The next day he smoked them for hours, coating them in the maple syrup from Eric's camp.

Today I ate it. My husband served me a lovely salad of watercress and arugula topped with a creamy dill and horseradish dressing (olive oil, dill, horseradish, cream, vinegar), and red onions. Slivers of crisp apple lined the plate. And off to the side, there it was, so unbelievably tasty and rich – flaky smoked trout. The marriage of spicy horseradish and subtly tangy and fresh dill in the dressing was perfect not only for the salad, but also for the fish. The entire combination on that plate was simply to die for.

In addition to the fish, since my husband had the smoker going, he also smoked a chicken. Something he's done before and done very well. This time though, the chicken was cooked solely in the smoker (last time some time was also spent on the bbq). The result was the juiciest chicken I've ever had – I've never seen anything like it. So my lunches this week are filled with smoked chicken. I love it!

I don't know how he does it. But am I ever glad my husband knows how to cook so well. I think I'd have a pretty boring life without him.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Yummy Shellfish

After having raved to my husband about my Island Kitchen Party experience, there's no way he could help but go out and get some seafood for the weekend. Besides the fact that it was perfect shellfish-eating weather, lobster was on sale in most grocery stores!

Mmmm, lobster and clams, beer, wine and sunshine. The perfect recipe for a hot summer day.

My husband cooked the clams in white wine, garlic and parsley – so perfect.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Wine Tasting Class #2

Oh my god I’m so excited about my wine course! After some mild feelings of low self confidence experienced in class #1, I was immediately reassured that everything would be ok by class #2. My fear of not getting the aromas is one that is not mine alone – so I learned from some of the other students. And was also reminded by our teacher, “this is only class #2!” Who by the way, is very awesome. You may have heard him on the radio, Paul Carriere appears on Live 88.5’s morning show to talk about offerings at the LCBO. I don’t normally listen to Live, but I made the effort the other morning just to hear him. He’s the most enthusiastic teacher I’ve ever had. Backing up every fact with funny, relevant and interesting stories. I could only dream to have just a quarter of the knowledge he has for wine. And it’s his genuine interest that has got him there. I consider myself very lucky to be learning from the best.

Last Monday’s class was about aromas. I meant to take a photo of the lovely sketch he had on the board showing the process of how smell gets to your brain but I got sidetracked at the end. Or maybe I just had too much wine to drink! Haha.

Aromas help us appreciate the smell and taste of wine. Unlike most fruits and vegetables that are dominated by a simple character, grapes can contain hundreds of different aroma compounds. In addition to the grape itself, many other factors affect a wine's flavour, such as the climate, the vine, the soil and fermentation. Understanding and being able to pick out the aromas in wine is something that takes time, practice and a well practiced brain. The more scents you can store into your mind, the better you will be at picking out these characteristics in the wines that you drink.

Smelling anything and everything is quite possibly the best thing you can do. My husband and I now play guess this scent on a regular basis and I'm already seeing the benefits. In class we did the full monty, passing around vials of specific scents and then trying to guess what each one was. I'd love to own the Le Nez du Vin Aroma Kit so that I could practice daily with more than what I have in my house.

Here are some common wines and the aromas associated to them.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon – berry, black currant, cassis, mint, soy.
  • Merlot – fruit (red cherry, plums), floral (violets), supple and lower in tannins.
  • Pinot Noir – fresh berry (strawberry, raspberry, blackberry), smoke, violets, truffles.
  • Zinfandel – berry, black pepper, raisin.
  • Chardonnay – fruity (apple, pear, peach, citrus, pineapple), cloves, vanilla, butter.
  • Sauvignon Blanc – floral, fruity (citrus, peach, apricot).
And of course, what would the class be without some delicious wine tasting.

1. Alta Vista 2008 Torrontes CSPC 37127 $13.95
Sight: Pale yellow
Aromas: Green apple, grapefruit, peach, apricot
Weight: Light to medium bodied
Acid: Medium to high acidity
Green apple, grapefruit, lime, peach, apricot, pear, butterscotch, toffee, spice
Finish: Short to medium
Suggested Food Pairing: Mazatlan Roasted Mussels with tequila, garlic and drizzled with a pasilla de oaxaca sauce.
Note: All the food pairings mentioned in this list come from a Mexican restaurant in Las Vegas called Taqueria Canonita.

2. Altenbourg Gewurztraminer 2008 CSPC 168906 $17.95
Sight: Pale to medium yellow
Aromas: Lychee, floral, pear, white peach, parafin wax, light smokiness
Weight: Medium bodied, has some residual sugar (#2)
Acid: Light to Medium
Lychee, sweet peach, honey, mandarin, pear, pinapple, mango
Finish: Short to medium
Suggested Food Pairing: Zacatecas Chile Relleno – poblano chile stuffed with Mexican cheeses, dried fruits, almonds, guajillo sauce, served with jicama orange salad and roasted vegetables.

3. Villa Girardi Ripasso 2007 CSPC 161844 $17.95
Sight: Medium red with brick and purple hues
Aromas: Leather, wood chips, tar, sour cherry, dried raisins, dark chocolate, black licorice, clove, butterscotch, lily
Weight: Medium to full body
Tannins: Medium
Taste: Cherry, plum, dark fruit, cranberry, dried fruit, sweet tobacco leaf
Finish: Medium
Suggested Food Pairing: Vaquero Beef Rib – short rib simmered in Negra Modelo beer, served with chorizo mashed potatoes, veal reduction and crispy onions.
Note: Ripasso is like a junior amarone.

4. Sebastiani 2008 Zinfandel CSPC 672667 $19.95
Sight: Dark red with brick and purple hues at the rim
Aromas: Tobacco, black cherry, pepper, cassis, blackberry, dark chocolate, licorice, plum, butterscotch, raspberries, jam, prune, strawberries
Weight: Full bodied
Acid: Medium to high
Tannins: Light to medium
Taste: Smoky, tobacco, licorice, black currant, cherry, raspberry, strawberry, leather
Finish: Short to medium
Suggested Food Pairing:
Beef Flautas – shredded beef rolled in corn tortillas, topped with avocado tomatillo sauce, lettuce and pico de gallo.

5. Cline Cashmire 2007 CSPC 161539
Sight: Medium red with brick hue
Aromas: Tobacco, smoky, cigar, espresso, mushrooms, pepper, cloves, bitter chocolate, ripe red fruits
Weight: Medium bodied
Tannins: Light to Medium
Taste: Bitter chocolate, berries, jamy, spice, peppery, leafiness, cedar, smoky, cranberry, cherry
Finish: Medium to long
Suggested Food Pairing: Sonora Filet Mignon with Canonita spice, served with a huitlacoche tamal, roasted vegetables and a pasilla de Oaxaca reduction.

6. Rosewood Estate 2007 Harvest Gold CSPC 116004 $17.95
Sight: Light to medium yellow
Aromas: Pineapple, melon, banana, peach, orange blossom, lavender, lilacs, bubblegum
Weight: Light to medium bodied, with some residual sugar
Acid: n/a
Taste: Buttery, floral, fig, pear, diesel, white concord grapes, over ripe bananas, honey
Finish: Short
Suggested Food Pairing: Peach Marmalade Empanada with pepita brittle ice cream and ponche syrup.

7. Osbourne Iorf Oloroso Sherry CSPC 87536 $15.95
Sight: Light to medium copper
Aromas: Ripe bananas, honey, dried apricots, honey coated pecans, peanut brittle, burnt dried raisins, dates, nutty, caramel
Weight: Medium bodied
Acid: Light to Medium
Taste: Hazelnuts, butter, caramel, peanuts, toffee, pecans
Finish: Long
Suggested Food Pairing: Corn and Green Chile Soup – fresh sweet corn sautéed with roasted green chile, potatoes and applewood smoked bacon.
Note: A medium sweet sherry is fabulous served as a starter with mixed nuts or with a butternut squash soup, or for dessert with pets de soeurs or pumpkin pie.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Prince Edward Island Kitchen Party

One of the biggest perks to writing my food blog is getting invitations such as this one. Yesterday I had the honour of meeting and chatting with some amazing people from Prince Edward Island. They're in Ottawa this weekend at the Tulip Festival to show off what wonderful things their Island has to offer – and boy do they have a lot! Being from New Brunswick, I've got a pretty soft spot for anything and anyone from the East Coast. There's just something about the people, the air, and of course, the food.

I had never really thought of Prince Edward Island as a destination for food, or even wine, but in my mind they're quickly working their way towards that. My father-in-law travels to PEI every year with his wife who's originally from there. One time they brought us back a lovely blueberry mead from Rossignol Estate that we often use to cook. During the event yesterday, I got to try their wine – really nice!

Up until now, the islanders have been pretty modest about what their beautiful province has to offer. But it's pretty hard to keep a tight lid on it when you have world class golf courses, miles of beautiful sandy beaches, the Culinary Institute of Canada, and of course, Canada's best known chef – Michael Smith, also the island's food ambassador. You may have seen him on the Food Network's Chef Abroad, Chef at Home, Chef at Large and The Inn Chef.

He's also the author of some pretty amazing cookbooks, including this one that I got signed!

In addition to Chef Michael Smith, some other passionate islanders in attendance were Robert Vessey, the Minister of Tourism and Culture, Anne Chouinard, one of Canada's top 10 golf instructors, Barry MacLeod, COO Golf PEI, Lucie Bellemare, artist and creativity facilitator, and a woman who's enthusiasm and genuine love for the province is truly addictive, Pamela Beck, from Tourism PEI.

As I sipped my delicate Little Sands White and chatted with Pamela, trays of finger food began to appear, all featuring the unique flavours of PEI.

What would an East-Coast event be without lobster? Crispy dumplings filled with lobster arrived on the scene with a mango-mint or avocado dipping sauce. Spicy Indian potato fritters with a tomato chutney were also in attendance. Try to eat just one, I dare you!

Fresh, delicious mussels with a tomato chili salsa were absolutely mouthwatering.

And oysters. Oh how I love thee. Served with a rhubarb balsamic sorbet.

I even got to shoot one with some local vodka. What a fantastic way to start the weekend!

The best part about all of this is that you too can get a taste of these amazing treats this weekend. They're holding an Island Kitchen Party at Major's Hill Park today until Monday. Not only will there be food tastings at specified times, but you may also run into some of the other great folks I got to meet.

Not only that, some of our yummy restaurants will be holding special PEI food promos until May 29th. Absinthe Café Resto Bar, Allium, Juniper Kitchen and Wine Bar, Pelican Fishery and Grill, Sweetgrass Aboriginal Bistro and the Whalesbone Oyster House to name a few.

And if you're lucky enough to make it to this little gem of a spot, be sure to check out these culinary treasures:

Fall Flavours: From September 3rd to September 30th, the Island hosts more than 130 culinary and cultural events. Guests are invited to refine their taste buds at interactive taste workshops, join local hosts to pick potatoes, dig clams, catch lobsters and harvest oysters. Chef Michael Smith will also host various events, including A Gala By the Sea, Taste Our Island Roving Feast and the Fortune Feast. For more info, go to

International Shellfish Festival: This is from September 17 to 19 on the Charlottetown Waterfront. You can sample and judge clam chowder at the PEI Potato Seafood Chowder Championship, watch the world's best oyster shukers at JP's Shellfish World Invitational Oyster Shucking Championship, do some tours and take in live entertainment. Visit

They also offer hands on experiences where you learn how to fish for lobsters and then cook it for yourself. Indulge in some seaweed soup, dulse biscuits and seaweed pie. Pick your own potatoes, make your own potato fudge and then enjoy a potato lunch. Make your own chocolate, dig some clams for dinner and even tong and shuck oysters.

And of course, if you'r going to be eating, there'd better be some drinking involved. Rossignol Estate Winery offers a variety of table wines, fruit wines and liqueurs. Prince Edward Island Distillery is Canada's first and only vodka distilled from PEI potatoes. And Myriad View Artisan Distillery makes a legal high potency premium moonshine Strait Lightening.

And of course, there's no shortage of great chefs and restaurants.

I think I see a trip to the Island in my near future.

Thanks so much to Johanna Vandermaas from GCI Group for organizing and inviting me. I had a great time, and learned so much!

Sweet Salmon and Asparagus

The other night my husband made a delicious salmon. It's funny how, just by changing the way you make something, it can be as exciting as the first time you ever had it. I find that happens a lot when my husband cooks. I can't count the number of times we've had salmon. But I also can't count the number of different ways my husband has made it. Which is probably why, every time we have it, I'm in awe.

Before throwing these pink beauties on the barbecue, my husband coated them in a sweet sauce that he made by mixing 2 very big spoonfuls of butter and brown sugar, heating it in the microwave and then whisking it until it turned into a caramel-like texture (I tried some at this point and it took all of me not to eat the entire concoction). Then he added a dollop of honey, dijon and some soya sauce. Amazing. The result was a candied salmon – silky sweet sauce, crisp black honeyed edges and a thin brittle skin that just begged to be eaten.

Sides included some local wilted spinach and green onions, and al dente asparagus sprinkled with lime and parmesan. Yummm!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Well, I finally made my first real visit to ZenKitchen. I say real visit because my first time there was for the launch of their TV show, The Restaurant Adventures of Caroline and Dave. That night I had the pleasure of rubbing shoulders with all those who made the show possible, and of course, indulging in yummy finger foods. I told myself I must return for a proper meal. So here I am.

A couple of weeks ago I looked after a friend of mine’s dog. Although I wasn’t expecting anything in return, I was thrilled when she asked to treat me to dinner. The absolute best way to my heart, is definitely through my stomach! And I love that people know this because I always end up with savoury treats as a result. Thanks so much Sue!

The décor in this restaurant is warm and welcoming. Walls coloured in natural earthy tones of deep oranges and yellows and decorated with bright local art. The floors have an unassuming look but offer an awesome non-slip grip that would stop any woman in any heel from slipping.

Sue ordered a half litre of Strewn Cab Rosé to get us started. As I perused the menu, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat overwhelmed by my choices. Not that there were many, it’s a small menu. But everything looked mouthwatering. I finally decided on the raw land and sea salad and one of the tapas plates. Sue ordered similarly, sharing the tapas, and with a soup to start.

A fun fiddlehead-inspired amuse-bouche arrived at the table. It was cooked (or not) quite differently than any fiddlehead I’ve ever had. It was crunchy, or should I say crisp? Really quite interesting. Either we’ve been overcooking our fiddleheads or this is a new way to enjoy them. I liked it!

Next came my salad, a tower of colourful spirals of root vegetables, sea vegetables and a delectable sesame ginger dressing. I honestly think you can make anything tasty with sesame. Not that these fresh veggies needed it. I could feel my body filling with excitement at the healthiness of it all.

My main was a combination plate, actually an appetizer meant for two. Perfect as a main course. I just can’t help but order anything that gives me a selection. I love trying different things. Nirvana house-made dumplings, sautéed organic edamame, the freshest and tastiest stuffed grape leaves I’ve ever had, served with raita, crispy age-dashi tufu cubes, and yummy slivers of house-made pickles that cleansed your palate as you jumped from item to item.

There were four of us at the table. Everyone ordered two apps rather than an app and a main. Mine was the only meal equivalent of a full dinner. I started to feel a bit like a pig for having ordered so much, but had I not I would still have been hungry. I couldn’t understand how they did it. Until my plate was taken away and our server asked us if we wanted to see the dessert menu. All three women answered with an obvious YES (um, of course!!) They purposely ate less to save room for dessert. Are they brilliant or am I just dumb? I hardly ever get dessert. I much prefer to fill up on the savoury vs the sweet. But when I saw that menu, I was envious at the room they had saved for this special moment. Did I pass? Of course not! This is Rachelle eats food, not Rachelle eats too much for dinner then passes on dessert!

The table was filled yet again with some pretty nice dishes, spicy Mexican chocolate cake with warm chocolate sauce, crème anglaise and berry coulis, fresh lime mousse pie in an almond cookie crust with vanilla bean cream, and 2 servings of apple ginger cobbler with vanilla ice cream. I had the cobbler. And I enjoyed every second of it (did I mention that my body was made with a separate stomach for desserts?). Sue’s chocolate cake was unlike any cake I had ever had, so moist and dense it was rich like a dark chocolate brownie would be. Since it’s vegan, the chocolate is made using coconut milk instead of cow’s milk, probably another reason for it’s decadence. If you’re in a place with good desserts, be sure to save yourself some room, it’s so worth it. Another thing I noticed on the menu but had to save for another time was a trio of dessert wines, what a great idea!

Just when I thought I couldn’t possibly take anymore, 4 lovely little chocolate truffle balls were served. There’s always room for chocolate.

Prices are very reasonable, starters from $7 to $10, tapas plate $16, desserts $8 to $10, and mains $21, or $48 if you go with the four course chef’s tasting menu. Menu is fully vegan with most dishes gluten-free or available gluten-free as requested. Service is also very friendly.

ZenKitchen on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 17, 2010

Turkish Delight

Some friends of ours just got back from Turkey. And you know what that means? Turkish gifts!!

Before I continue, let me just say that I have never been a big fan of Turkish Delight. It’s not that I dislike it, it’s just not something that was ever on my radar of food to consume. I had tried it before, but I’m going to guess that what I had was no comparison to this package that we received because this is now something I feel all homes should have in their cupboard for a quick, light snack. I love it!! It’s the perfect thing to eat when you get home from work and don’t want to spoil supper. It’s also ideal as a dessert after dinner if you’re too full to think about dessert but still want that sweet taste in your mouth.

These gelatinous morsels filled with pistachio and coated (not dusted, coated!!) in icing sugar were quite addictive. We even ate the leftover sugar by the spoonful.

Paul and Sue, thank you so much. But now I have to replenish the box we emptied because I cannot live without it! Anyone know where to get some good Turkish Delight in Ottawa?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Steak, Salad and Summer

What a fantastic weekend! Ok, I know it's not summer yet but so far May is looking pretty summer-like. I honestly believe that the sun and warm weather heighten any food experience. And Friday night was the perfect evening for a barbecue and dinner outside.

Beautiful t-bone steak cooked medium-rare and flavoured with simple Montreal steak spice and bbq sauce. My husband is amazing on the grill. Results are always juicy, tender and to die for. Fried shitake mushrooms and onions had my tastebuds in overdrive. And a fresh arugula and spinach salad with warm toasted walnuts and herbed goat cheese was the perfect side.

And of course, for a meal to be considered “complete”, you need to serve it with an outstanding wine. This deep burgandy wine was filled with black cherry and blackberry flavours, some spice and aromas of sandalwood. 2005 Ceja Cabernet Sauvignon. We picked up this wine in the Napa Valley back in March and well, I adore this wine!

All in all, the perfect way to start off a fun-filled weekend.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

re•fresh 2010 Art Auction at the OAG

Art + food + wine + friends = Rachelle's favourite place to be on a beautiful Thursday night in May.

This evening I had the honour of accompanying my friend Marysol to the re•fresh art auction at the Ottawa Art Gallery. Now, I could spend my entire evening going on about the beautiful artwork from over 60 renowned and emerging artists (including Marysol!) that were displayed and up for auction. Or the fact that these pieces were sold at a steal (many going for less than half their value), with all funds going to Public Educational Programs connecting children and families to modern and contemporary visual art. But this is a food blog, and I must stay focused. Actually, that won't be a problem.

Restaurants and caterers at this event were some of Ottawa's finest. Sixth Sense Catering, A Culinary Conspiracy, B. goods Bakery, Essence Catering, Epicuria, Farb's Kitchen and Wine Bar, J. Willy Krauch & Sons Ltd, Les Fougères, The Whalesbone Oyster House, The Mixing Bowl, The Urban Element and Thyme & Again. Given Marysol's “connections” in the food world, I was lucky enough to get a behind the scenes peak of the plates before the vultures landed. I swear none of them made it out more than 2 minutes before they were empty. And it's no wonder, here's just a sampling of what was offered.

Moist chocolate cupcakes with either cassis & blackberry, mint, orange and kumquat or coconut topping from the Urban Element. Sinful!

Yummy pork bites with chipotle from Essence Catering.

Warm pork quesadillas from Epicuria.

Mmmm, seared tuna on a crispy lotus root cracker.

Delicious mascarpone and fig crostini with kumquat from Sixth Sense.

Carrot and cardamon dark chocolate with Chai Tea frosting from Essence Catering.

Spoonfuls of fresh shrimp and scallop ceviche from Les Fougères.

Other items that missed the photo opp were Alberta beef crostinis with truffle oil from Thyme & Again, shrimp and chorizo skewers from a Culinary Conspiracy, and Trumpour's Mill Riesling or Cab Merlot.

And a lovely assortment of warm, fresh cookies from B. goods bakery. I had to save this one for last as it was the perfect end to my evening. As I left the building and bid farewell to Marysol and Simon, I was immediately taken aback by a cookie wagon exuding the smell of fresh baked goodies. My eyes grew wide when I noticed a gentleman leaving the truck with a plate full of cookies.
“What!? How come you guys are out here?” I asked.
“Because this is where the oven is!” Was the reply I got.

That's how fresh these puppies were! Literally straight from the oven. Turns out these guys supply cookies to shops and cafés all over Ottawa, and it all gets made right here in this truck. Fancy events get blessed with their presence on-site.

I left with a handful of a selection of cookies that I could not wait to devour. And just as I turned to leave the truck, there was Marysol, camera in hand to catch me in action! Yikes!! (Have I mentioned my soft spot for cookies!?)

Thank you so much Marysol!! I had a wonderful evening.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Scallops and Beet Salad

Did you ever have one of those days? Did you ever have one that no matter how hard you try once you get home, you just can't shake it? I've been trying all night. But I do think that there was a few minutes this evening, during the time I had my eyes closed, concentrating on all the flavours and textures that filled my mouth, that I actually forgot about what a rotten day I had. This of course, thanks to my husband's fine cooking.

He made some yummy scallops that he served with my new favourite salad, warm beet cubes, spicy arugula, herbed creamy goat cheese and toasted walnuts. All drizzled with fragrant truffle oil and lime juice. What a combo! If you could fit each ingredient onto your fork at once, the result was heavenly. I've now got my lunch salad picked out for the rest of the week.

On a side note. We normally buy our scallops at the Whalebone supply shop. Today, because of convenience (they're only open to the public Thursday to Saturday) and price, my husband bought them at Hartman's. Although their seafood isn't terrible, it's not the quality you would get buying from a top quality fish store. You know that milky liquid they come in? Well that's brine, and it's there to help keep the scallops fresher longer. Not a good thing, especially if you want something naturally fresh. But something else my husband noticed with these, was that they don't sear well at all. That solution they're bathing in really takes a toll on the quality of not only the taste, but the cooking of the scallops. They're practically impossible to brown. (Jean-Marc, take note, this may be the issue you're having!!)

This is also where I start to post about wines that I've had. Instead of just telling you how delicious a wine was, I'm now going to do my best to describe the wine to you. The first few will be taken from my cheat sheets (wine bottle or LCBO tasting notes), just to solidify my findings (or lack thereof). As in this case, Pelee Island Winery Chardonnay. This wine had flavours of melon, peach and vanilla. I did not pick this out on my own. But after reading it, kind of knew where they were coming from. This wine had some acidity with a medium to long finish. I think. Wow, lack of confidence or what!? I'll get there eventually. I hope.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Wine Tasting Class #1

I finally began my first wine tasting class through Algonquin College's Sommelier Program. What a mix of emotions I had this first night! Listening to our prof Paul Carrière's current job as a product consultant at the LCBO, as well as other professions he's seen his students end up in, had me very excited. The complexity of the courses and the knowledge required, in everything from geography to physics and chemistry and everything in between, to finish the entire program had me nervous. Not to mention the fact that I could barely pick out the aromas, tastes and sensations from the wine – made me wonder if I was even cut out for this type of thing. Luckily, most of the others were in the same boat, from what I could tell anyway. But hey, that's why I am there, to learn!

After we introduced ourselves and ran through the overall plan for the class, our first homework assignment was issued. I would have to say that this was probably one of the best assignments I've had in my entire life. For the next couple of weeks, we must smell as many things as we can, especially things we wouldn't normally smell (flowers, spices, dill pickles, black licorice, leather, cedar, pine needles in the woods after it rains, tar, asparagus), and take a few minutes to concentrate on what's going on with each scent. We must focus on the texture of things we eat and drink (is it gritty, sharp, etc.). And we must pay attention to the taste of things, the colour of things, really take life in as a whole. These aromas and flavours tend to repeat themselves in wine, so of course it totally makes sense to do this exercise. How else would your brain associate anything you get in a wine if you've never put the initial scent in your cranial storage case?

I'm writing this post now one week later and I must say, it's kind of weird, I haven't stopped smelling just about everything since.

I wasn't expecting to actually dive right into the tasting on our first night, so I was pleasantly surprised when I realized that would not be the case.

A traditional tasting room should follow a pretty simple structure:
  • Wine tasting background must be white
  • Have a spittoon or sink handy
  • Room must be filled with natural light or at least be really well lit (so much for enjoying the wine over candlelight!)
  • The temperature of the room must not be overly warm or cold. Between 16 and 19 degrees celcius is perfect.
  • Keep aromas in the room to a minimum.
  • Have water available.
  • Room must be quiet.
  • And of course, have the proper stemware or glasses available. In the class we use ISO tasting glasses as they enhance the taste and texture of the wine. They are the vessel that encompasses everything. If you are the type of person that sticks to one particular kind of wine, Riedel of course, offers different glasses for specific grapes.
We went through a list of six wines, each offering our findings through smell, texture and taste.
The formula we used was as follows
Sight: Pale, Medium or Dark Red/Yellow. For Reds Brick/Purple Hue. The outer rim (watery edge) in reds expands with age. After that is the hue, followed by the core colour (center). Tip your glass to view.
Aromas: List a minimum of three (take 3 short smells rather than a long one)
Weight: Light, Medium or Full Bodied
Acid: Light Medium High (Prickly on the tongue and the back of your mouth – the more acid, the more you feel.)
Tannins: Light Medium High for Reds (Gives you a drying sensation on your tongue and the center of your cheeks, like your mouth is trying to create saliva.)
Taste: List a minimum of three (aged in stainless steel = more citrus)
Finish: Short, Medium or Long (concentrate on how long the flavours linger in your mouth; 15 seconds is short, 15 to 20 or 25 is a medium finish and more than that would be long)

The First Tasting
Note that these descriptions are a compilation of our entire class' feedback. I personally only offered a few (hence my need to learn).
  1. Mount Nelson 2008 Sauvignon Blanc CSPC 694752 $17.95
    Sight: Pale yellow (borderline watery)
    Aromas: Fruit, green apple, minerals – flinty, wet pavement, apricots, citrus, sweet, lime rind, diesel fuel
    Weight: Light to medium bodied, prickly (effervescent)
    Acid: Medium to high acidity (Sauvignon Blanc's are naturally high in acidity). Prolonged sense of salvation.
    Taste: Citrus, mineral, melon (cantaloupe), herbaceous (grassy)
    Finish: Medium to long
    Suggested Food Pairing: Best with tomato sauce, the high acidity acts as a car wash to your mouth, cleans the palate. PEI Mussels Provencal.
    Side notes: Sauvignon Blancs, Rieslings and sparkling wines are great appetizer wines. They also promote hunger. Malolactic fermentation is a process where a harsher acid is combined with a softer acid, which makes the wine softer and will give you aromas and tastes of butter. Malic acid often tastes of green apples, and lactic acid is richer and more buttery. Oak will give you flavours of vanilla, toffee, spice.

  2. Malivoire 2008 Chardonnay CSPC 573147 $19.95
    Sight: Light to medium (combination of stainless steel aging and barrel aging)
    Aromas: Not fruity, bland, soft, initial not of citrus, butterscotch, vanilla, banana bread or over ripe bananas, crème brûlée, clove, spice, cinnamon, macintosh apple, tropical fruit (mango, pineapple)
    Weight: Medium bodied, smooth, creamy, buttery
    Acid: Light to Medium
    Taste: Apricot, pear, apple, vanilla, butterscotch
    Finish: Short to medium
    Suggested Food Pairing: Walnut bread with dried olives, pear chutney and torched gorgonzola.

  3. Dr Fisher 2003 Riesling Spatlese CSPC 146340 $17.95
    Sight: Pale to medium yellow
    Aromas: Gas/diesel, caramel, primer, burnt rubber, parafin wax, flowers, honey wax, peach, odd aromas hit you first (primary), then the normal ones come out (secondary)
    Weight: Light to medium bodied
    Acid: Light acidity with some residual sugar
    Taste: Creamy, fruity, sweet, caramel, honey, marmalade, apricot, Macintosh apple
    Finish: Short to medium
    Suggested Food Pairing: Maple roasted quail with German style potato salad and lemon thyme sauce.
    Side notes: Riesling is one of the most versatile varietal. Makes from bone dry to more sweet luscious wines and everything in between. Also used for ice wine.

  4. Lake Chalice 2008 Pinot Noir CSPC 163964 $19.95
    Sight: Pale to medium red (can read through it), with a watery edge and a purple and brick hue to it.
    Aromas: Hickory, smoke, sweet spice, clove, bacon (smoked or cured meat), char-burnt ash, tobacco
    Weight: Light to medium bodied
    Acid: Very high
    Tannins: n/a
    Taste: Metal (minerality of the acidity), iron, sour cherry, cranberry, earthy, smoky
    Finish: Short
    Suggested Food Pairing: Cured chorizo sausage with salami rillettes
    Side notes: Any red should be decanted.

  5. Two Hands Gnarly Dudes 2008 Shiraz CSPC 660043 $24.95
    Sight: Dark red with purple hue, minute watery edge
    Aromas: Dark cherry, smoke, earthy, baker's chocolate (bitter), eucalyptus, black licorice, raspberry, blackberry, strawberry
    Weight: Medium to full bodied
    Acid: High (lots of acidity)
    Tannins: Low to medium
    Taste: Smoke, jamy red fruit, chocolate, licorice, vanilla, black pepper, plum
    Finish: Medium to long
    Suggested Food Pairing: Red deer shanks, pasta, hearty tomato and bean sauce.

  6. Cline Ancient Vines 2008 Zinfandel CSPC 719211 $17.95
    Sight: Medium to dark red (garnet) with purple and brick hues and a watery rim
    Aromas: Fruity, raspberry rhubarb pie, sweet spice, pepper, herbacious, jamy red fruit
    Weight: Medium to full bodied
    Acid: High, a lot of acidity
    Tannins: Light to medium
    Taste: Cedar, pepper, herbacious, sweet tobacco leaf, bitter chocolate, jamy rhubarb, strawberry rhubarb pie, tilled earth
    Finish: Short to medium length
    Suggested Food Pairing: Zinfandels are perfect with stuffings and tourtières as it adds more spice.
I will post my learnings at the end of each class so you can follow along. I'm sure between now and the last post there will be some dramatic changes. I'm very excited at the possibility of having this knowledge. It truly does bring a whole new perspective, not only to wine tasting, but also to appreciating all the beautiful things life offers us through each of our 5 senses.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Foods You Should Buy Organic

I thought I'd share this wonderful link with everyone. It brings you to a crafty cheat sheet on what common fruits and vegetables should be bought organic, and which have lower amounts of pesticide. Perfect little reference for your wallet!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Slow Cooked Ribs with Whipped Cauliflower and Fiddleheads

Have I told you lately how much I adore my husband? I've been so busy this past week, I haven't had time to post every amazing meal I've had. Although all have been very worthy of recognition. On Monday night my husband made me squash ravioli in a homemade pesto, last night was juicy filet mignon with grilled sweet potatoes, and then tonight, oh. my. god. The best ribs to ever come out of this house, and there have been a lot! It must have been ribs like this that began the term “fall off the bone”. No need for a knife and fork here. Just pull them apart.

My husband cooked them on the bbq for 6 hours, alternating temperatures from high to low. They were first coated in his special Memphis rub (taken from his friend Jon), and then doused in a homemade bbq sauce that was made with ketchup, molasses, hickory smoke, worcestershire sauce, honey and brown sugar. It was heaven. The outer layer was sticky, almost like candy, with a thin crisp edge. Underneath the caramelized goodness was meat so tender you just couldn't believe how it was all possible. The bones were bare with one pull from your teeth.

Sides for this perfect meat included garlic whipped cauliflower and fresh fiddleheads. I just love meat like this so much! I'm so lucky.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Bon Appetit

Wow! I can't believe, being the food lover that I am, that this is my first year attending Bon Appetit. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, well then you'd better read-on, and then quickly mark a reminder in your calendar for next year, as this event sells out super fast – and for good reason.

It was my dream night – beer, wine, lots of yummy finger foods and great company. Add the fact that my participation in this food fest was supporting the operational needs of local charities in our beautiful Nation's Capital, and well, there's nothing else that tops it. Many of our top chefs and wineries came together and put on a magnificent feast for the eyes, palate and tummy. You would think that producing hundreds, if not thousands of bite-sized goodies would take away from the quality, but these guys seriously put their heart and soul into every single magical creation they offered. And it didn't go unnoticed. The Urban Element, Scone Witch and Red Apron, Beau's Brewery, HogsBack and Mill Street, Canvas Restaurant and so many more, over 100! It was insane. The sad part is, I didn't even make it to half of them. But what I did get was worth it. Sinful lobster poutine from Petit Bill's, comforting and spicy lobster chili with cumin and crème fraîche from Lago, and Bryson Farms organic potato scallion crisps with Kerr Farms Ancho Beef Brisket – OH MY GOD. And believe it or not, that's just the beginning.

This event is the perfect showcase for something being done right. I feared I'd be spending my evening in a lengthy line-up, only to get to the counter to be told they had none left. That did not happen. And although there was some waiting, it didn't last long at all. In fact, it was just long enough to get a few sips of wine in before indulging in the next bite. Perfection. They even had the waste under control, tons of volunteers ensuring that every biodegradable plate, reusable wine glass and plastic fork was properly disposed of. And I must make an additional mention of these perfect plates, as they held your wine glass beautifully, allowing your other hand to roam free and reach for as much food as possible. Yes, I may have pigged out just a little, but have a look at these delicious morsels and you'll understand why.

First a drink. Joseph's Estate Wines Riesling from Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Thai Salmon Sausages – Denis' Gourmet Sausages.

Smoked salmon with creamy whipped dill and capers from the Pelican Fishery and Grill.

Another Riesling, this time from Strewn in the Niagara Peninsula.

Lemon tart cupcakes.

One of my favourites, smoked scallops from the Wakefield Mill.

Mmmmm mushroom cups from a Culinary Conspiracy. They also served an amazing paté.

Another favourite, panfried pork and shitake dumplings with ginger and coriander served with a spicy red pepper chili glaze on Napa chiffonade and spring onion from Les Fougères.

Ok, I'm at the point where I'm going to say everything was my favourite. Lobster salad with pineapple and cilantro from Savana Café.

The lovely folks at the Village Café offered some sweet potato, apple and smoked paprika soup, espresso bourbon pulled pork on savory foccacia with garlic aioli and crab cakes with peach-chili jam. Yes, I had all three.

Trumpour's Mill rosé from Prince Edward County.

Lighthall Tomme cheese from Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Co.

Rosehall Run Chardonnay was perfect with the cheese.

This delightful little bite almost got turned down because I was about ready to explode at this point. But seeing my husband's reaction after eating his, I smiled at the gentleman from the Mixing Bowl and snatched one. It was worth it – a light spring asparagus, leek and ricotta cheese soufflé with oven dried tomato and chive.

Ok, one more stop, the Candy Store. For some lemony chocolate goodness.

I'm still full 24 hours later. What a fantastic evening. The Aberdeen Pavillion with it's perfectly open space and beautiful natural light just screems “good times”. I will definitely be back next year! Tickets are $75 each and worth every penny.