Monday, January 31, 2011

Tuna and Brussels Sprouts

Nothing quite compares to the quality of the Whalesbone's tuna. And nothing compares to how my husband prepares it! This soft textured meat was perfectly seared and topped with the most decadent chive oil (pureed chives, olive oil, salt and a touch of honey). The combination was magical, mild enough to not overpower the tuna, but oh-so-tasty. We even saved the leftovers for salad later in the week. YUM.

Brown rice with garlic and olive oil and roasted brussels sprouts were the perfect sides.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

1st Ever Canadian Culinary Chefs Event

There's been a lot of mixed reviews going around about the most recent culinary event here in Ottawa – Celebrity Chefs at the NAC. And although many of us have chosen to look at the brighter side of things, the negative comments still seem to be lurking in the background. Does that mean that those who enjoyed themselves have poor taste? Absolutely not. Just because you like the colour red doesn't mean that I like the colour red. Luckily there are enough different personalities in the world that we don't all have to like the same things. But we do tend to stick around those people who have similar likes. They bring us joy. And you'll see at the end of this post, there are quite a few people here in Ottawa that share these likes and bring me joy.

Which is why, in this case, i'm proud to be associated with the positive side. Life's too short to dwell on the negative. When I started my blog, it was because I had such an amazing food experience that I just had to shout it out for everyone to hear. And I've continued with that passion since. Have I had any negative food experiences since then? Of course. Are they worth my time? Definitely not. Re-living a good food experience and being able to come back to it again and again is what keeps me going. Why would I waste my spare time, my “me” time, complaining? There are also some experiences that have a mix of both good and not so good. That's where I'll make a quick mention of the misses, and then focus on the hits. The things that truly made me happy. This post is the perfect example of that. I don't dismiss the things that could be improved, but I'm sure going to remember the things that made me smile.

Walking into the NAC last Monday afternoon, I had no idea what to expect of the rest of my day. I had missed the morning portion of the demonstrations due to some work requirements. But in the end was fine with only attending half – I have a hard time sitting down for too long so half a day was the perfect amount of time. In fact, I would almost recommend they break the day in two or even 4 segments next year so people could pick and choose the portions they want to attend. A full day can be long. Especially if you're sitting there drooling over a new plate every hour. Pure torture.

Ray Bear of MIX in Halifax along with Clifford Lyness of Perspectives were the first post-lunch duo. My eyes grew wide as I watched chef Bear prepare one of my favourite things in the world – lobster. In fact, he brought in 230lbs of it! I even got to try a generous morsel once the plate was complete. Mmmmm buttery lobster tail. Heaven. I must admit, trying one of the hundreds of dishes being plated in the evening can't compare to getting it fresh off the stage.

Next up were the chefs I was paired with for the event. Brad Long from Café Belong in Toronto, and the only female chef of the day, the beautiful Charlotte Langley of the Whalesbone. They were a great pair – both so passionate about what we eat. Food is fuel, it is medicine and it brings families together. And then of course, where we get our food – sustainable, organic. They made us think about where and how animals are raised. Did they have a life before you took it away? “It seems only fair if I'm going to take that for me, I should give it something.” Brad said.

The food in their dish was as impressive as their passions, smoked shiitake, done on a stove top using alder wood, fried oysters that came from 3 days of breading, black herring caviar, quinoa, scarlet runner beans and plump Lake Erie walleye. See the end of this post for full recipe details.

David Rocco of Dolce Vita in Toronto and Cesare Santaguida of Vittoria Trattoria followed. And I grew a huge respect for chef Santaguida during this performance. While chef Rocco kept the audience entertained with his charm, chef Santaguida worked away tirelessly at the dish.

I was most impressed with the scallops being seared on a block of sea salt. Yum!!

At the very end when chef Rocco began approaching my friend Lynne and I, my heart stopped (no, not at him, at his plate!) A personal delivery of beet risotto, crispy pig cheek, seared scallop and Granny smith slaw. I don't think we even took a moment to breathe before digging into this magnificent plate.

Finally chefs Michael Lyon of Hotel Eldorado in Kelowna and Michael Blackie of the NAC. I have to commend chef Blackie for his efforts in pulling this all together. They closed the event with a bang, including sabering a bottle of champagne. I imagine that after weeks of preparation, to get to the end of a successful day must be liberating.

And although the entire segment wasn't solely about cooking, the portion that was was enough for us to realize that these chefs are too, only human. In fact, I spoke to a gentleman in the audience after the show who commented on chef Blackie's miss with the crisp potato wrapped sweetgrass cold smoked Charlevoix veal: “We try these at home and it doesn't always work out. It's nice to see that these guys aren't perfect and that they too have things that don't always work out exactly as planned.”

For a first-time event with a less-than-professional host, my overall feeling is that this was a big success. I was hugely entertained, laughed a lot, got to know some of my favourite chefs on a more personal level and then ended the night eating delicious food and chatting with friends. The timeslot given to each chef was respected and the amount of work involved in the prep before the show was insane (picture yourself ordering 60lbs of scallops for an event only to find out there are none available!). Not to mention that this was a fundraiser! Yes, some of the lineups were very long, but that's to be expected when you're pulling in hundreds of food-fans. But there was no ridiculous time limit, so you could chat and sip your wine while you waited. No pressure.

On the food blogging side of things, I think chef Blackie made the right decision in going with local food bloggers to get the word out. When a foodie has the opportunity to attend a culinary event, there is a risk of them dissolving into a puddle of enthusiasm. What did you think would happen with a group of food fanatics surrounded by delicious food!? If there's one thing we have in common – we adore food, and we're not going to hide it.

For more food-enthusiastic posts on the event, check out these fantastic sites:

And for the mouthwatering recipe from the Langley-Belong duo:

Shiitake poached pickerel, beurre noisette, dressed grains and greens with crispy crème fraîche oyster

Brown Butter Vinaigrette
1 lb. Salted Butter
1 medium Shallot finely diced
1 tsp. Mustard (Dijon or any but ballpark yellow, please)
1 tbsp Honey (raw is best or unpasteurized next best)
4 - 5 oz. Cider Vinegar (start with less and work up to balance)
Salt to taste

Melt the butter in a medium sauce pot until the butter foams, falls and the solids begin to brown. This process can vary from butter to butter and non-salted or cultured butters will perform differently and give slightly different results but can still be used none-the-less. Don’t walk away from this process as it may take a few minutes for the butter to melt, foam and fall but once it starts browning it will be all over in a matter of seconds – if you go too far it will burn and turn the butter black – that can be used for other dishes but for this recipe get it off the fire and out of the pot before it burns.

When it begins to brown you can not only see this happening in the pot but you can also smell the distinct hazelnut aroma that makes it so appealing to go through all this fuss.

As it fully browns, remove from heat and immediately pass through a fine strainer into a medium sized bowl containing the shallots. The hot butter poured over the raw shallots will cause them to lightly cook (the liquid will boil immediately as the butter is several hundred degrees) so they will foam up – beware not to do this too quickly or it will foam over the top of the bowl.

When this has cooled a little (5 minutes or so), add the remaining ingredients and season to taste. It is certainly possible that you may need to adjust the acid (vinegar) and the salt to find the best balance.

This vinaigrette can be stored in the fridge but the butter will solidify again so it must be warmed slightly or left at room temperature before use and it also must be firmly shaken or stirred before each use.

Smoked Shiitake Broth
5 Lbs Firm Shitake Mushrooms
1 Head Celery
Fresh bay Leaves
1 Large Spanish Onions
2 Cloves Garlic
Lemon Peel of 2 Lemons
Any Bacon Scraps that you have kicking around
2 cups White Wine
aromatics of your choice ( thyme/rosemary etc)
4 Cups Woodchips

Soak woodchips for at least 20 minutes in cold water. Using a metal container that you don’t mind ruining from smoke, place chips in it. Using medium heat, get the smoke going in the container. Add a rack overtop and place mushrooms in nice neat rows. You don’t want to overcrowd. Do a few batches. Cover and let smoke till you have reached the desired smokey level ( I prefer mild smoke).

Start by cooking Bacon scraps in pot, add Onions/Garlic/Celery/Lemon/ bay leaves and chosen aromatics. Deglaze with white wine, add Mushrooms and Water and simmer very tenderly until
you have achieved a nice flavour. I tend to taste as I go along. Strain through a fine strainer and use right away or let it sit overnight in fridge to deepen its flavour.

Can be used for soup base, poaching fish or vegetable etc.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Play Food and Wine

I love eating late, midnight barbecues, 11pm dinner parties, 4-main-course-days (one time my husband and I were in Buffalo and on our first day had breakfast, lunch, dinner out before the hockey game, and then another full dinner complete with a bottle of wine at 1am – how brilliant is that!?).

One thing we've always found Ottawa to be lacking in is places to go for a meal late at night. More recently though, that seems to be changing. Play offers that luxury. I went recently with my friends Teresa and Gina. They serve until midnight, and possibly later if people are still ordering. My last plate was requested five minutes to – so awesome. I will make a note though, the website states 11:45pm on Fridays and Saturdays.

Beets rarely make it past me. Even though I eat them often with the traditional goat cheese and toasted pecans, I somehow refuse to get bored of them. Pickled onion and truffled-leek made this variation extra special. And the perfect starter.

Next, charred squid, white beans, wilted spinach, melt-in-your-mouth ricotta and fennel.

The Digby scallops were also a winner, complete with orange, ginger, celeriac and mushroom.

While Teresa savoured every bite of her catfish taco and shaved brussels sprouts, my mouth watered with every bite of my beef tartare, dijon, capers and bacon aioli.

A delicious Zinfandel guided us through each plate and impeccable service made the night, simply put, perfect. Prices reasonable with small plates ranging from $4 to $16.

1 York Street
Ottawa, ON

Play on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Interview with Chef Charlotte Langley for the Canadian Celebrity Chefs Event

I'm now counting down the days to the big celebrity chefs event going on at the NAC Monday, January 24. I love food so much that being able to try many different dishes is a total sensory overload for me that I just can't get enough of. Kind of like a drug, a really good drug.

Looking over the delicious menu makes my heart race. Try it for yourself, if your mouth doesn't start to water, then I'm going to make the assumption that you are just not human. Perhaps even a robot.

Transverse Nova Scotia sea bass crispy seared | citrus cured cool fennel + citrus salad | warm gold beet puree + hay brown butter | dulse and beetroot coulis | applewood smoked mussel bridge done by Norm Aitken (Juniper) and Michael Howell (Tempest).

Oyster | honey flavor roasted foie gras terrine | marrow bones + chardonnay vinaigrette | bacon foam done by Marc Lepine (Atelier) and Mathieu Cloutier (Kitchen Galerie).

Shiitake poached pickerel | beurre noissette | dressed grains + greens | Crispy crème fraiche oyster done by Charlotte Langley (Whalesbone) and Brad Long (Café Belong).

Sweet grass cold smoked Charlevoix veal | crisp potato girdle | Clarmell on the Rideau feta + sage infused retention firecracker spotted prawn crisp | Cloud Horse mead-lychee sting done by Michael Blackie (NAC) and Michael Lyon (Hotel Eldorado).

Poached Atlantic lobster | Bridge sparkling wine beurre blanc Le Coprin mushrooms | sweetbreads with candied fennel corn flan, water cress sprouts | black olive purée done by Clifford Lyness (Perspectives) and Ray Bear (MIX).

Drunken squab + Newfie screech | tatin of sunchokes | foie gras crepinette done by Michael Moffatt (Beckta) and Anthony Walsh (Canoe).

Beet risotto | crispy pig cheek | seared Qualicum beach scallop | Granny smith slaw done by Cesare Santaguida (Vittoria Trattoria) and David Rocco (Dolce Vita).

North country bison hash | Quebec goat cheese + cauliflower ravioli Preserved lemon + rendered bacon hollandaise | ancho chili plum gastrique done by Robyn Bowen (Empire Grill) and Paul Rogalski (ROUGE).

Oh, and did I mention each of these will be paired with the perfect wine?

When I interviewed Charlotte Langley recently, I actually drooled a little bit when she started talking about ingredients and describing her plate for the event. This woman's passion for food is obvious, both through discussion as well as in the kitchen. I've been a fan of the Whalesbone and Charlotte's cooking for a long time – that end result that I savour so much can only come from someone who truly loves what they do. And she does. Chatting with her was a real treat and allowed me to get to know that amazing person hiding behind the kitchen divider at the restaurant.

Brad Long (left) who is paired with Charlotte Langley (right) for the Canadian Celebrity Chefs Event food demonstrations.

When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
I liked to cook so I decided to apply to culinary school and was accepted with a scholarship in PEI. During my first year, I was doing really well, my marks were good and I thought this seemed like a fun career. It seemed easy. But by the second year I realized it was insane and challenging, and a long struggle. But I still wanted to do it. And I fell in love, it was such a surprise. I was 20.

What do you love most about your job?
Giving pleasure to people. Giving them a taste sensation they've never had before and hearing their reaction. It's such a cool feeling to be able to do that for someone.

When you're designing a complete meal, what factors do you take into account? And how do you achieve harmony and balance?
I use all the senses, sweet, sour, savoury, smokey, bitter, all those different taste sensations that we have, and in my mind, acid needs a bit of sweet, and also does really well with a bit of smoke, those are my three favourite style combos. So if I'm going to put tuna on a plate, tuna is texturally soft and fatty so it needs something sharp and edgy to accentuate the softness of it, so as a contrast it needs acid to break it down a bit in your mouth. Fat tuna, lemon sour, smoked fish roe, fat avocado to remind you of the texture of the tuna, it's not the same texture but it has sort of the same feel in your mouth – they're all kind of building blocks – it's a textural thing.

What's your biggest culinary guilty pleasure that other chefs would maybe frown upon?
Meat on meat. I really like ketchup too. And Ballpark mustard. I actually use the mustard a lot in my sauces.

What was your worst kitchen disaster?
When I worked at C in Vancouver, I was garde-manger there and it was my first professional restaurant job. One day the pastry girl was really sick so the chef got me to work pastries. The kitchen there is split-level, so I had never even seen the desserts that came out because it was all done upstairs and then just filtered out into the dining room. I was also asked to pin bone a case of sardines while doing pastries. I had never done either one. When the dessert orders started coming in I had a hard time finding everything and so it ended up taking me 20 minutes just to get the first one out.

The disaster in this case was everyone's desserts were late, they were probably wrong, I'm sure they looked awful, I had no idea what I was doing. And the sardines didn't get finished. It was a disaster because I let my chef down. He was upset. I was so disappointed in myself. It was a huge sign to me that I didn't know anything about this career.

Another disaster was our first night open at the Gastropub, we set the fire alarm off and it wouldn't turn off. It went off for like 5 hours and we couldn't figure out what was wrong. It was hard-wired into the building. Everyone still sat there and ate.

What other profession would you like to try?
I would like to go back to university at some point to get a degree in biology because I want to do water preservation in Canada. I don't have any experience in it but it's something I'm really interested in. Next to Asia we have the second largest mass of fresh water and it's very important to me that we take care of it and maintain it.

A lot of the atmosphere at the Whalesbone revolves around the staff, their friendliness and the music playing loud. What's your favourite song to belt out to?
Depends what night of the week it is. Some nights I really get into Bob Marley – on the quieter nights of the week. It chills out the guests a little bit. And everyone knows reggae.

One of my favourite bands of all time is Timber Timbre, he's from Toronto. It's really dark but so gorgeous.

When Jenna was there it was Abba.

And there's a song by Marvin Gaye but I can't think of the name of it right now. It's a super upbeat dancing song. Whenever I'm in a bad mood Jared will put that song on.

What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?
Laughs. He's just not the one.

Be honest with people. Tell them how you feel.

Name 3 great wines that you love to drink.
Laughing Stock from BC has a juicy, fresh red that I love.
Blue Mountain Brut that we have at the restaurant. It tastes like bacon, hickory.
Evolution No 9, it's a mix of 9 different grapes – fresh, light, sweet and sour, it has a ton of really nice flavours in it, some residual sugar and goes well with anything.
And Semillon with oysters. That's 4.

When you cook for yourself is it experimental or quick and easy?
More refined I guess, because I'm not in a rush. I'll make myself spaghetti and meatballs but I'll try it differently. I'll try to take myself out of the box of how I normally would make it at work or for other people. I try to slow down and introduce a new method different than what I'm used to doing, just to see if it changes things at all.

Lately it seems like there's a lot more culinary events like the Gold Medal Plates, dueling chefs, Taste of Winterlude, and now the NAC's celebrity chefs event. Why do you think Ottawa has become so food crazy?
I have no idea. When I first started working here it wasn't like this at all. In the past 5 years it's grown really fast. Maybe all the cooks that were working together before at 5 or 6 small places finally got the finances to open their own place and all just did it at the same time. Farb's, Fraser, Murray Street, Town, all these places opened up within a year or two of each other.

Have you ever done anything similar to the celebrity chefs demo?
Not really, no.

Have you met Brad Long before?
No, I called him though and we chatted about our ideas. He seems cool.

Are you worried about your dynamic in the kitchen at all?
Not really. Only because he's not going to be there at all for the prep until the day before. And a lot of the prep that has to be done, because it's such a large number of people, can't be done the day of, it needs to be done at least 2 to 3 days in advance.

We're doing a mushroom poached piece of fish and he's given me the recipe for the broth which is a signature flavour combo of his. And we're doing a crunchy grains and greens base, so sprouted grains as well as cooked and sautéed grains and spicy greens. It's going to be really healthy actually. He's giving me his signature dressing that has a bit of a Japanese flair. So both his two recipes but with my interpretation, so I think it'll be fine.

What's your motto or advice that you live by?
Passionism. I don't always feel it but I try to think about it. Don't do something unless you want to do it well or do it nicely or with care. Don't just do something to get it done.

You too can chat to, and learn more about Charlotte and the other magnificent chefs at the show. There are still some tickets available through the NAC.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Steamed Asian-style Sea Bass and Veggies

There's nothing quite like fish caught from someone you know. Just like Jenn and Eric's trout, I consider something like this one of the best gifts of all.

My husband's cousin Mark caught this beauty out East in the Atlantic Ocean. Some went to my father-in-law, the rest, to us – 2 massive pieces that have been sitting in our freezer waiting for that oh-so-perfect moment. That perfect moment was last night, and then again tonight (that's how big the pieces were!) And, unsurprisingly, my husband prepared them beautifully.

If you are so lucky to get fresh caught fish delivered to your door, I highly recommend this recipe.

What you'll need
4 fillets of sea bass (about 6oz each), skin removed
Sea salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1/4 cup fresh ginger, cut into thin strips
1 cup of finely sliced shiitake mushrooms
2tbs chopped fresh cilantro
4 green onions, sliced diagonally
2tbs regular or chile-infused sesame oil
1/2 cup soy sauce
sesame seeds (optional, we added this the second night)

What to do
Bring water to a boil under a metal or bamboo steamer. Sprinkle sea bass with salt, black pepper and cayenne. Place on a piece of parchment paper inside steamer. Top with ginger and shiitakes, cover and steam 15 minutes. Remove fish and place on a plate. Sprinkle cilantro and green onions on fish. Drizzle with juices from parchment.

In a small sauté pan, heat oil over medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes or until smoking. Pour some oil over each fillet to wilt cilantro and green onions. Drizzle plates with soy sauce. On our second helping, we also added black toasted sesame seeds – yum!

Enjoy with your favourite veg. In our case, carrots and asparagus. And a lovely Chardonnay – we cracked open an unfiltered Chardonnay from Norman Hardie that we brought back from our Prince Edward County tour.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Canadian Celebrity Chefs Event

I love Ottawa. And for many reasons. The main one of course, is it's many offerings of delicious food. I've always loved eating, but I never became passionate about it or, well, down right obsessed with it, until I moved here. So many amazing restaurants and specialty food shops, so little time (or not enough stomach space). Which is why, when an event that combines many of this city's talented chefs comes about, I'm all over it!

This is my intro to the Canadian Celebrity Chefs Event.

But it gets better.

Not only does this event include 8 of our local culinary geniuses, but also 8 more – on Monday, January 24th, the NAC will be host to drool-worthy demonstrations by top celebrity chefs from across Canada. This daylong gastronomic extravaganza is the first of it's kind and will consist of live cooking demos that are sure to get your heart pounding and mouth watering. But don't worry, it finishes off in the evening with a scrumptious food and wine tasting reception – my favourite part.

Each Ottawa chef has been paired with another chef from across Canada. And, being the first time for something like this, some of Ottawa's top bloggers have come together to spread the word. Each of us highlighting our paired chefs outstanding talents. Come back soon to check out my interview with Chef Charlotte Langley from the Whalesbone who will be cooking up a storm with Brad Long of Café Belong in Toronto. And keep your eyes peeled for the same on these fantastic blogs:

Tickets for this event, are a very reasonable $145 for the full package (demos and reception), or if you want to skip the daylong torture of yummy food being prepared before your eyes, the reception is only $75. You can also skip the reception (although I don't know why you would), and attend the cooking demos for $99.

Monies raised are in support of the NAC's National Youth and Education Trust which furthers artistic education, training and mentorship for young Canadians.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Holiday Traditions and Saying Farewell to What Was a Fantastic 2010

It's going to be difficult to write this post without saying the word comfort in every sentence. December was a tough month work-wise, lots of late nights at the office. But that hard work is what makes all the comfort foods so special and so appreciated.

This year, we didn't fall short on any of those holiday traditions.

Teresa still served up a wicked pre-Christmas brunch, complete with spinach salad, both chicken and pork bacon, delicious egg stratas, homemade shortbread cookies festively decorated, pineapple and watermelon with a whipped chocolaty dip, and a new addition this year, her mother's delectable cinnamon rolls! They happened to be in town for the brunch – yay lucky me! Oh, and her to-die-for Breton brittle and bottomless mimosas.

Next, Christmas eve, where after serving dinner/enjoying dinner with the guests at Jack Purcell's Operation Big Turkey, my husband and I returned home to serve more guests. My mother-in-law's mouthwatering tourtière (I can never stop eating this thing) and my husband's heavenly clam chowder.

On Christmas day, another turkey dinner is served, this time at my brother and sister-in-law's. This was her best turkey yet - cooked to perfection! And complete with all the fixings. I admire her so much for her patience, especially with my whole family invading her home for days on end. One of the best parts to this meal? Her father's gâteau-à-sandwich. I cannot go without it.

As the days go by, so do the leftovers, more get-togethers, and lots of great wine and chocolate. All this rich food is enough to send anyone over-the-edge. My husband and I decided that this week will be a much healthier, more reduced form of eating. Lots of juicing!!

But before we jumped into it, we finished off the last night with a bang. Donairs!! Unless you're from the East Coast, you probably won't understand how important this is, but if you are, run, run fast to Giant Tiger and get these. They're Donair Kits from Bonté Foods that beat out any Donair any Ottawa restaurant has ever attempted to make. It's the real thing. And it's made in Dieppe, New Brunswick. Urgh, I want another one right now!!