LUNCH PICK: Teatro Café puts on a grand show

By ANNE DESBRISAY

Teatro Café's Lamb and fig skewer. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Teatro Café’s Lamb and fig skewer. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

It’s been a long time coming, but the little café space on the ground level of the Great Canadian Theatre Company seems to have grown and found its groove. This based merely on lunch, mind you, but it was a good one.

Mook Sutton is the chef at Teatro Café. New to Ottawa, Sutton is a New Zealand native whose career has taken him to Toronto, B.C. and the Cayman Islands. I first heard of him when a fellow judge at the Canadian Culinary Championship was extolling the virtues of a weekend he’d had at Galiano Island’s Bodega Ridge , where Sutton was then in charge of the kitchen.

Two dishes to tell you about. An elegant chicken liver paté, appropriately smooth and rich and unctuous, its surface lightly bruléed for a bit of crunch and sweet, served with fruit compotes and crostini. This was followed with a skewer of lamb — a substitute (with warning and approval) for the bison that hadn’t shown up. The meat was seared and perfectly ruby-pink. It shared the stick with marinated figs, bronzed and boozy. Beneath the lamb, there was a row of braised heirloom carrots and a healthy dollop of whipped feta. A red wine gastrique patterned the plate, and lent tang, and the dish was finished with a squirts of smoked paprika oil and a flourish of micro greens. Appropriately dramatic looking for a theatre café.

I’m looking forward to an encore.

1233 Wellington St. W., 613-699-1020 teatrocafe.ca

KITCHEN CHRONICLES: Trish learns the bald truth about family PLUS recipe for Gado gado chicken skewers

Drama Queen

By Barbara Sibbald

Saturday morning chores: Luc’s gone to buy groceries while Fiona makes the satay sauce for the chicken*. She’s washing up the blender when Trish barges through the backdoor. Bald.

—   Omigosh, Trish! Your hair! What happened?

Trish bursts into tears.

—   I know I look terrible. Like a tondue.

—   Oh honey, says Fiona, wrapping her arms around her friend. It’s just hair. It’ll grow back.

Fiona can’t help reaching out to caress Trish’s head. There’s a fine stubble already, but her exposed skull is beautifully smooth.

—   At least your head isn’t all lumpy, like mine, she says.

—   She pulls back and looks at Trish, trying to ignore the razor cuts and razor burns.IMG_4300

—   It actually looks okay. What happened, Trish?

Trish wipes her eyes and sits down heavily, her legs splayed to accommodate her pregnant belly.

—   Craig and I had a big fight. I quit my job yesterday.

—   You did? But you’re not due for what…six weeks?

—   Yeah, but I’m just too tired and big. My boss has been great, he let me sit on a stool behind the cash most of the day, but I feel like a cow and every customer who comes into the bookstore makes some comment or another.

—   You look fabulous, Trish. And people comment because it’s a happy event, a new baby.

—   Well anyway, I quit and Craig went ballistic last night: “You have no self-discipline,” says Trish, mimicking him. “Don’t expect me to support this family all by myself, that’s some 50s woman’s wet dream.”

—   He actually said that: a wet dream? That’s pretty funny.

—   Yeah, well, it flopped with me. Anyway, it’s the other stuff that upset me. He has no faith in me, no confidence.

—    Did you tell him you were going to quit?

—   No. It’s my business. Besides, I just couldn’t do it for one more minute.

—   So you quit on the spot? Burned your bridges?

—   It’s just a minimum wage job at a book store. A summer job. I thought you’d be supportive, Fee!

Trish snuffles into a squirrel’s nest of Kleenex. Fiona grasps Trish’s hand but shakes her head.

—   Trish, I love you, you know that, but you’re in a relationship now, a family. It’s not just your business. I understand why Craig’s upset. You should have talked to him first.

—   Oh, so now you’re taking his side!

—   No, I’m not, Trish, I’m not taking anyone’s side. I’m looking at the big picture. In your defence, the mitigating factor is that you and Craig haven’t known each other very long and now you have a baby coming. It’s a lot to get used to. It took Marcel fifteen years to get his head around buying a house. People adapt to things at different rates. Craig’s probably anxious about the baby coming, about money. About his responsibilities.

—   I guess, says Trish, slowly. He was really upset. We argued, then he went out, said he had to get away to think. But what about me? I’m the one who’s pregnant. I’m the one who has to give birth and look after the baby.

—   Oh my goodness, says Fee, I just thought of something. What about mat leave? Will you still get it now that you’ve quit?

Trish shakes her head.

—   I’m not eligible anyway. You have to have worked six hundred hours.

Fiona looks into Trish’s pale face.

—   Oh, honey.

She wraps her arms around Trish, giving her a hug, then sits across the table from her.

—   It’s always difficult getting used to living with someone, Fiona says.

scrambled-eggs—   What do you think I should do?

—   I can only speak from my experience. Counselling has always been good for us.

—   You and Luc go?

—   A few times a year. I think all couples need to go now and then, just to keep things going well. To check in. One of the key things is learning to be patient with each other. We expect so much. I mean it often comes from a good place — a desire to see the person we love succeed or to make a nice home together. But it gets distorted by our own agendas. You have love and limerence on your side, so I’m sure you can work it out. Do you want our counsellor’s phone number? She’s great. She’s very fair, doesn’t take sides at all, and she helps you set rules of engagement. You’ll like her.

—   I don’t know, says Trish. I’m not sure if Craig will go.

—   Just take the number, says Fee. You can talk to Craig about it. And if he wants to talk to Luc, I’m sure Luc won’t mind.

—   Okay, says Trish reluctantly.

—   Sorry I can’t help with your hair, says Fiona. Oh, but I do have a head wrap. Black silk. I bought it on sale at Holt’s eons ago, thinking I’d wear it, but I don’t have that dramatic flair. You, on the other hand….

—   That would be great, Fee, says Trish, grinning. I’m such an idiot for doing this. I was just so upset with him and I wanted him to see.

—   What did he say about it?

—   He says I look great. And this morning he said he was sorry for getting so angry and that we needed to talk, but then he rushed off to work. Thank goodness I caught you at home.

 

She rubs her head.

 

—   It matches your belly! jokes Fiona.

—   Ha ha.

*Gado Gado

Marinade or sauce for chicken or pork. Makes wonderful chicken satay on skewers.

2 tablespoons  peanut butter

1 cup (200 g) raw peanuts (without skins)

3 large cloves garlic, chopped

4 shallots, chopped (or 1 onion)

1 teaspoon shrimp paste (optional)

½ teaspoon salt (or to taste)

1 teaspoon red chili powder or ¼ teaspoon red chili seeds

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon dark soy sauce

2 cups water

1 tablespoon tamarind water or juice of a lime

3 tablespoons raw coconut

2-inch chunk of ginger, peeled and chopped

 

  1. Heat a skillet on low heat (no oil). Put in the raw peanuts, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, until they turn light brown. Remove from burner and leave for about 15 minutes to cool.
  2. Grind peanuts into a fine powder in a blender or with a mortar.
  3. Blend the garlic, shallots and shrimp paste with a mortar or in a blender with a pinch or two of salt.
  4. Heat the peanut oil in a wok or non-stick frying pan. Fry the blended paste in the oil for about 3 minutes on medium heat, reducing the heat if it starts to burn.
  5. Add the chili powder, brown sugar, soy sauce and water. Bring to a boil, add the ground peanuts.
  6. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce becomes thick; about 8–10 minutes.
  7. Add the tamarind water or lemon juice and more salt, if needed.

You can refrigerate in a covered jar for up to two weeks. When you need some, take out the required amount, put it in a pan, add a few tablespoons of water, and reheat on low heat.

Thank you to Anne Fouillard for this wonderful recipe.

 

 

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TASTING NOTES: Prince Edward County Wines Rarely Seen at LCBO

BY DAVID LAWRASON

(Originally published in OTTAWA Magazine, Summer 2014)

125310 Norman Hardie#6459D7

Prince Edward County has been shaking off a scary winter. Grape growers were crossing fingers (and toes) that their tender vinifera (European) vines, anchored in the limestone bedrock on the shores of Lake Ontario west of Kingston, would survive below -23 C, since vinifera vines can give up the ghost at that temperature. But County vintners have become accustomed to the painstaking practice of “hilling up” — as it sounds, the process involves burying trunks within insulating earth. So things may work out.  By the time you visit this summer, the verdict will be in.

And visit you should — and make it a long weekend. Once there, your days will decelerate to a crawl and you won’t want to leave. There are now about 30 wineries to tether you to what has become one of the most interesting, idiosyncratic wine regions in North America — just two and a half hours from Ottawa. Furthermore, the towns of Picton, Bloomfield, and Wellington are replete with fine, comfortable, and non-ostentatious restaurants, galleries, and craft and antique shops. Can you really just drive past a store called Dead People’s Stuff?

But back to wine. You will experience the first reds from 2012 — a vintage that may prove to be the best yet — as well as some 2010s, a close runner-up.  These include primarily pinot noirs, with cabernet franc and gamay (Beaujolais’ grape) showing prowess. The 2012s will include the barrel-fermented and/or barrel-aged chardonnays. Watch 2013 vintages for the good lighter whites — the pinot gris and rieslings — that are now trickling out of the vats and into bottles.

Having tasted many of the new releases, I offer the following as guidance to the wineries offering the most thoughtful wines. As you head out to taste for yourself, pack lightly to leave room in the hatchback for wines that you will rarely see for sale at the LCBO.

WINE & SPARKLERS

2012DogHouseWhiteCCThree Dog Winery 2012 Dog House Vidal Riesling
$12.95 I Ontario I 87 Points
As you drive from Ottawa, this new winery will be your first temptation over the bridge off Highway 49. It’s predicated on inexpensive, easy wines, which are rare in the County. This blend works, with pear, lemon, and stony aromas and flavours in a light, fresh veneer. Good tension and length. Vidal is a hybrid variety (i.e., not Euro vinifera), so Ontario’s uptight regulators don’t allow it to be labelled Prince Edward County.
Fish Lake Road, Demorestville

Rosehall Run Defiant 2012 Pinot Gris    
$18.95 I Prince Edward County I 89 Points
Rosehall Run is a must-visit. They make generous, elegant, and likeable wines from A to Z.  Pinot gris (a.k.a. pinot grigio in Italy) is a lightweight amid serious pinots and chardonnays, but this vintage is showing ripe fig, honey, and bread-crust notes mindful of some Alsatian examples. Medium-weight and fleshy, yet firm on the finish. Delicious!
LCBO 307769
Greer Road, Hillier

Keint-He 2012 Portage Chardonnay
$20 I Prince Edward County I 91 Points
This bottle offers great value, with a beautifully made chardonnay from a Wellington winery with three vineyards near Hillier, which is considered the County’s epicentre. It comes across like a fine Macon, perhaps even Pouilly-Fuissé, from France. The nose is reserved but nicely balances fruit, honey, and spice. It’s mid-weight, fresh, and smooth, with some tail-end firmness and County minerality. Portage 2011 Pinot is also very good.
LCBO 374819
Loyalist Parkway, Wellington

Stanners 2012 Chardonnay
$25 I Prince Edward County I 88 Points
Colin Stanners and his son, Cliff — both former scientists — direct an idiosyncratic, engaging range of County classics within the thick walls of a straw-insulated winery in the hamlet of Hillier. A touch of fried onion and garlic on the nose is accompanied by notes of lemon, apple, and toast. Overall nicely complex; very firm and mouth-watering, with excellent length. Stanners is also strong on pinot and cabernet franc.
Station Road, Hillier

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Hinterland 2011 Rosé Method Traditional  
$37 I Prince Edward County I 90 Points
Jonas Newman and Vicki Samaras have turned a dairy barn into the hub of the exciting sparkling-wine scene. Bubbles are all they do, and all are made with great care. This is the most Champagne-like, with a faintly salmon-coloured pinot-noir-based sparkler that is taut as a piano wire, with well-integrated and subtle floral, raspberry, and mineral flavours.
Closson Road, Hillier

REDS

Huff 2012 Gamay     
$24.95 I Ontario I 89 Points
Gamay — the Beaujolais grape — has a big future in Ontario. This edition contains Niagara fruit, but it is so nicely rendered that I could not resist including it. It is very pretty, fresh, and juicy, yet firm, with cherry-strawberry, a touch of pepper, and minerality. Huff’s French winemaker, Frédéric Picard, is doing consistently great work across the range. A top inn and gallery are also on-site. County Road 1, Bloomfield

Norman Hardie 2012 County Unfiltered
Pinot Noir
$35 I Prince Edward County I 91 Points
The most famous, hardworking, and experienced County winemaker deserves his County-defining cred. This charming, lively pinot shows fragrant raspberry and sour cherry fruit buttressed by florals, oak smoke, toast, and vaguely meaty corned-beef notes. Complex, with a juicy, mouth-watering edge and minerality. Also excellent chardonnay, riesling, and cab franc.
LCBO Vintages 125310
Greer Road, Hillier

Casa_dea_cabfranc2010

Lighthall 2010 Pinot Noir
$25 I Prince Edward County I 89 Points
Ottawa’s Glenn Symons bought the almost famous Lighthall vineyard in the County’s extreme (and warmer) south, near the village of Milford. He is very much on my radar for sparklers, whites, and reds. This mid-weight, firm, dry, and maturing pinot has a subtly complex nose of sour cherry, evergreen forest floor, wet stone, even a hint of lakeshore. Good structure and intensity, but dry and lean too.
Lighthall Road, Milford

Casa-Dea 2010 Cabernet Franc
$18.95 I Prince Edward County I 89 Points
Casa-Dea owns some of the oldest vines in the County, and talented winemaker Paul Battilana is creating a range of very good-value, well-balanced sparklers, whites, and reds. This is a very pretty and spry cab franc — not dynamo, but very even and restrained, with cran-raspberry, tobacco, twiggy, and almost wet slate aromas and flavours.
Greer Road, Hillier

 

SCORES David Lawrason assigns scores on a 100-point scale. They reflect a wine’s overall quality. A rating of 95 to 100 is outstanding; 90 to 94 excellent; 86 to 89 very good; 80 to 85 good. 

 

QUEST: Best bets for milkshakes and other cool sips

By CINDY DEACHMAN

I scream for ice cream — and hot summer days do too, dontcha know. Hike it up a notch with luscious ice cream drinks: bring on the ice cream sodas, smoothies, shakes, and malted milks. Anything goes! Start with your favourite frozen dessert. The classics, for instance — vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry ice cream. Then there’s nougat, peppermint, or peanut butter cup gelato. How about black cherry or sorrel sorbet? (Don’t exclude granitas, ices, frozen yogourt, frozen custard, or the Arab agraz, either, all of which come in innumerable flavours.) Now combine in one way or another with milk, Orange Crush, blueberry green tea smoothie, or mojito with fresh mint and lime. Imagination? You got it!

O.Mag_Zaks_RootBeerFloat_4.30

Zak’s Milkshake. Photo by Christian Lalonde – Photolux Studio.

 

Root Beer Float>>
The ice cream float was invented more than 130 years ago in the United States, likely for outstripping the soda fountain competition. At Zak’s, a 1950s-style diner in the ByWard Market, the classic can be had — root beer with vanilla ice cream, topped perfectly with a maraschino cherry. There’s something so satisfying about ice cream melting into the root beer fizz. Of course, you can order other pop too — orange Fanta and cream soda are popular. Ice creams include chocolate and strawberry. $5.49. Zak’s Diner14 ByWard Market Sq., 613-241-2401.

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DesBrisay Dines

DESBRISAY DINES: Elegant salads and splendid mains at new Preston Street resto Salt

By ANNE DESBRISAY
Salt's pierrogi gnocchi. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Salt’s pierogi gnocchi. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

This big corner space of Preston Square has had two fairly short-lived restaurant tenants. The latest is called Salt, and I rather hope it’s third time’s the charm for this one.
Salt is a tall, dark, mod space, divided into bar, dining room, and patio. The design is generically industrial, though the  chandeliers and custom iron work lend lustre. One wall is all windows framed with dark drapes. It overlooks a corner patio with  fire pit, lounge furniture, and a nicely tended vegetable/herb garden in full swing. Another wall introduces a built-in of backlit spirits around a slick electric fireplace. The lounge at the front has a marble bar-top curved around a baby grand piano. The dining room proper is very dark, the walls and ceiling painted black. (Or possibly navy to match the drapes; hard to tell.) Outside the kitchen pass is a handsome shelving unit, loaded with carefully considered bits of culinary nostalgia (an old Joy of Cooking, a few ‘we love the whole pig’ cookbooks, many jarred preserves). It all looks designer-great.
Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Two problems marred my initial enjoyment of the place. One, was the pong of bleach, or some sort of industrial cleaning solution. (Not an unusual whiff at bars and restaurants these days, but a regrettable one: doesn’t whet the appetite.) And two, it was freezing cold. And quite dark. It was a welcome that had me bracing for a middling meal and a final bill that looked like it would be hefty.
The cold was dealt with by a gracious server. The smell faded (or we got used to it). The bill was indeed sizeable, but the food, as it happened, was disconcertingly delicious.
That may have to do with the fact that Salt, which is open 18 hours, seven days a week, has three chefs: Aaron Wong, most recently at Play; Jessica Hendren from Town; and Ryan Edwards, formerly of Taylor’s Genuine Food & Wine Bar. Three great restaurants.
The dinner menu is divided into small and large plates, and steaks. The pricing is a bit confusing. Small plates range from $12 to $39; large plates start at $16 and climb to $32.
Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

We began at the bottom, with an elegant salad starring house cured and smoked salmon. On a long plate were three moist piles of the fish on a bed of pea shoots, dill fronds, carrot tops, and spinach, topped with pickled pearl onion, fennel, and jalapeño, injecting a bit of heat. Piped blobs of a luscious avocado mousse lent richness, and oiled caraway toast, crumbled overtop, gave crunch.
And then a dish so rich and good I ordered it again for lunch. (Partly so I could see it enough to photograph.) Billed as ‘pierogi gnocchi,’ these were big, bronzed pillows of gooey smoked potato, seasoned with a whiff of garlic, the soft texture within offset by the crisp out. On top were scattered hunks of blue cheese and strings of caramelized onion, some young arugula leaves, while creme fraiche perked up with pink peppercorns was the moisture beneath.
We loved the dish called “Kraken vs Halibut” and though the name suggests the fish would arrive wrapped in the octopus tentacles, the two elements were kept apart. I’ve had lousy halibut of late. Dry and dull. But this was a splendid finger of the fish, with a powerful sear and soft, moist petals of flesh set on a carpet of minted summer peas. Other successes included the salt brick chicken infused with lemon and bathed in brown butter, and a dry aged 20 ounce striploin for two with choice of sides and sauce.
Salt has a climate-controlled, dry-aging room — the only restaurant in the city with one of those, our server tells us — and their cuts are reported to hang for at least 45 days. This was a very fine steak, the meat musky, grilled to rare, sweet in places, and with a pronounced flavour of ripe cheese.
The one dud came at lunch with a so-whatish bolognese, the fresh pasta overcooked, the basil puree served as a streak on the plate, rather than mixed in where it would have done more good.
The wine list offers lots of bubbles by the glass, which is very good of them, and a generous, well chosen list of reds and whites in two pours. There’s a good craft beer list and though I can’t vouch for the ‘craft cocktails’ the young women chatting up the bartender appeared to be happy with them.
Salt’s a fine addition to an ever more interesting Preston Street.
Open daily from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Large Plates, $16 to $32
345 Preston Street, 613-693-0333 saltottawa.ca

 

KITCHEN CHRONICLES: Fiona’s mom has a hissy fit PLUS the recipe for Fee’s fabulous carrot cake

By BARBARA SIBBALD

Westward ho

—   Hi Mom, says Fiona. Just let me put you on speaker phone, I’m in the middle of making a carrot cake*. There. Can you hear me?

—   You’ll never believe what that brother of yours is doing now, says her mother.

—   Is he okay? asks Fiona anxiously.

She spoke to him on Wednesday and he seemed okay, but still…. It’s early days yet.

—   He’s fine, says her mother crisply. I’m the one having a nervous breakdown. He’s moving out west. To Vancouver. To be closer to him.

—   Him? Dad?IMG_4300

—   Of course, Dad. Who else? she says impatiently. For some reason, your Dad phoned out of the blue and two of them had this big kiss and make-up session.

So he did phone, thinks Fiona. He did listen to me. I can’t believe it. Maybe he is changing. Or maybe all we needed to do was talk. He’s the one who opened things up with that damn will.

—   When did he call? she asks.

—   Couple of days ago. And now all of the sudden, Neil’s decided to move to Vancouver. Says it will be a fresh start for him. And get this, the old tightwad actually open his wallet for Neil. Can you believe it?

Good for him, thinks Fiona. He’s finally getting involved in our lives. Luc walks into the kitchen; Fee mouths “Mom” and motions for him to be quiet.

—   I guess you’ll really miss Neil, says Fiona.

—   And the rent, says her mom. Everyone seems concerned about his financial wherewithal, but what about me?

—   Neil couldn’t have paid rent anyway Mom. He’s not working. And if he did stay in Halifax, I don’t think he’d be moving back home. It’s time for him to be on his own.

—   He’s not well enough. You know that, Fiona. He needs his mother.

—   Or is it just the rent you’re worried about?

—   Fee! How can you be so crass? I’m a loving mother.

—   Mom, if you need the money, rent out the downstairs apartment to someone else. A student or someone.

—   The laundry’s down there.

—   So get it moved upstairs. It’s not such a difficult thing, Mom. I think the important thing here is Neil and helping him get better. If he thinks a move….

—   There’s no way that will help him. Leaving behind all his friends and the one person in the world who loves and cares for him the most.

—   You?

—   Yes, me, of course, she snaps.

scrambled-eggs—   Mom, someone’s at the door, Fee lies. I’ll call you back.

She hangs up and begins dialling. Good for Neil, she thinks.

—   Neil’s leaving? Luc says

—   Going out west. Dad’s paying.

—   Wow, that’s a barn-burner.

—   I’m calling Neil, she says, putting the phone back on speaker. They listen to the rings.

—   Hello?

—   Neil? It’s Fee. Luc’s here too on speakerphone.

—   Hey guys. I’m guessing Mom called you, he says.

—   I would have rather have heard it from you, says Fiona.

—   I had to tell her first, Fee. I was going to call you tonight. I’ve been so busy getting everything set up. Packing, shipping stuff, tickets. Dad’s paying for everything. And I know you’re behind it all. He skirted around it, not wanting to share the glory, but you said you talked.

—   I did, but I never expected this!

—   I don’t know what’s gotten into him, says Neil, but he’s really come through. He’s even found a couple of contracts for me with his buddies. Web design for lawyers, but still, it’s a start. And there’s so much more work going on in Vancouver for me: design, apps. All sorts of stuff. More than there ever will be in Halifax.

—   Where are you going to live? asks Fiona.

—   He’s set that up too. Place in Burnaby, near the BCIT, so I can take courses if I want.

—   Or teach them.

—   Ha! As if! Anyway, it’s near stores and the SkyTrain so I’m good to go. I can’t wait.

—   Neil, I haven’t heard you sound this good since…forever! I’m so glad. And what about your psychiatrist, what does she say?

—   She’s a bit worried, says it’s awfully soon. But she’s hooked me up with someone she went to school with, so I have that sorted too. It just seems like this was meant to happen.

—   Except for Mom.

—   Well, yeah, she’s pretty upset. But you know as Dr. C says: I’m not responsible for how she’s feeling.

—   It took me years to realize that, says Fiona. It’s always all about her.

—   You’re right there. Listen Fee, I’ve got an appointment in twenty minutes, I’ve gotta run.

—   When’s the move? she asks.

—   Week tomorrow.

—   I’m so happy for you, Neil.

—   Thanks Fee. Love you.

—   Love you too, she says and hangs up.

—   I don’t think he’s ever told me that before, she says to Luc.

*Fiona’s favourite carrot cake

 

2 cups stirred, unsifted cake and pastry flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 cups sugar

1 ½ cups canola oil

4 eggs

2 cups peeled, grated carrots

1 ¼ cups drained, crushed pineapple

1 cup chopped pecans

 

  1. Preheat oven to 350 °F.
  2. Place sifter over large bowl, sift flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.
  3. Add oil and eggs, beat by hand for 1 minute.
  4. Add carrot, pineapple and nuts; beat to mix.
  5. Grease bottom of a 13×9 inch pan. Line bottom with buttered heavy brown paper.
  6. Pour in batter and bake on centre shelf for 40–50 minutes, or until cake springs back when touched with your fingertip.
  7. Cool and frost

 

Cream cheese frosting

4 ounce light cream cheese

½ cup butter (soft)

2 cups icing sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

 

  1. Put all ingredients into a bowl and beat with hand mixer until smooth.
  2. Spread on cooled cake.
  3. Cut into squares from pan.

 

 

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ANNE’S PICK: More of a plea (buzz off!)

By ANNE DESBRISAY

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“And how are our first bites this evening?” Just 30 seconds ago, our server had dropped two plates in front of us.

“Fine, thank you.”

We carry on our conversation.

Three minutes later, she’s back. “Does everything continue to be to your liking?”

Yes, “Thank you,” we say through gritted teeth.

“Excellent. I’ll tell the kitchen.” And off she goes.

Delivered shortly after the next course, my favourite line yet: “And how are our flavours suiting your palate?”— I kid you not. That’s what she said.

It took remarkable restraint not to shoot back: “Actually, dearie, the first bites, the fourth bites, and the eleventh bites are all fair to middling, if you truly want to hear it, though you may read all about it in next week’s column. But if my soup happens to be stone cold or the salad studded with earwigs, I’ll let you know. Otherwise, kindly LEAVE US ALONE.”

When did these maddening quality check rounds become de rigueur in restaurants?

You would think the constant querying smacks of gross insecurity. (Do you like me? And what about now… Do you like me still?) And while service style in modern restaurants tends to be approachable, casual, personal — none of which I have a problem with, nor do I have a problem with a server describing my dish, or asking if there’s anything else I might require before leaving me to tuck in — this constant servility seems faux. More self-seeking than genuine.

Except, may I tell you, at Le Baccara. There, at fine dining room of the Lac Leamy Casino, the disruptive bob-ins were noticeably absent, and the lack of them noted and appreciated.

I would suggest a server at Le Baccara wouldn’t think (a) to interrupt a conversation and an appreciation of the dish, and (b) that the plate that’s just been created and assembled for me would be anything other than marvellous. You might find that arrogant. I think it’s more likely confidence from the kitchen, which in turn generates confidence from the eater.

My Baccara server and server’s assistant dropped by my table many times, quietly pouring wine, refilling water, noticing the house churned butter had been gobbled up and delivering, without a word, another round. I was not left alone. And I could have —  should I have felt the need — voiced a concern. (I didn’t. There were none.)  But at a recent five-course menu degustation, I was not asked, not even once, how were my first bites. And yet the service was attentive and polished, thoughtful and kind.

Which begs the question: when did we start training servers to be so much a part of our meal? Can we please be rid of the constant lickspittle quality assurance check ups?

How’s my meal?

We’ll let you know… buzz off.

KITCHEN CHRONICLES: If only all disruptive colleagues would leave. PLUS summer bounty tomato and basil fusilli

By Barbara Sibbald

Mission accomplished

For the tenth time in the last fifteen minutes, Fiona looks up at the starburst kitchen clock. Where the heck is Luc, she wonders. She considers dialling his cell, but doesn’t want to be a pest. He’s with his buds for their Friday after-work whine-fest; he’ll be home soon enough. Besides, she knows if she phones him, she’ll just blurt out her news. This has to be told in person, she thinks. She palms the tomatoes* on the counter; they’re perfectly ripe, ready for dinner. Everything’s going my way, she thinks. Sweet justice.

She recalls all the angst Lena has brought her, beginning with the undeserved salary hike, the snide digs, the lack of respect. Fiona knows the senior editor’s job inside out, and Lena just isn’t up to it: she’s lost photos, missed deadlines and meetings, pissed off advertisers and freelancers. For months, Fiona’s been regaling Luc with stories about Lena’s incompetence. She’s also told the publisher but, as Luc guessed, he’s been thinking with his little head where Lena was concerned.

Fiona smiles to herself, what the heck she thinks, I don’t have to wait for him. She unscrews the cork on the bottle of Amarone della Valpolicella.

Fiona pours a glass and takes a tentative sip — there’s something not quite right about drinking alone in her mind — when the screen door swings open.

—    Hi ya beautiful, Luc says with a grin.

She smiles at him.

—   Had a few, have you? she asks.

—   One of the joys of taking the bus. In addition to the diesel fumes, he says. Hey how about a kiss?

She puts her hands on his chest and gives him a big smooch.

—   Where’s Gavin? he asks.

—   Gone to the movies with Andrew, then for a sleepover. Hey, I’ve got news, she says. Glass of Amarone?

—   We were saving that — this must be some news.

—   Oh, yeah, she says, pouring the wine. Guess who stormed out in a huff today?

—   Uh, that would be Lena.IMG_4300

—   Bingo!

—   That is good news, he says. Here’s to clearer sailing.

They clink glasses and kiss.

—   So what was the final straw?

—   Remember I told you how she forgot to send that feature for fact checking? The one that blasted a new condo developer for shoddy work? Well, it turns out there were a couple of errors. Nothing really earth-shaking, but the developer got his lawyer to send a letter, rattling Richard’s chains. So he calls Lena into his office — raised eyebrows all around — and we hear voices, but we can’t make out what they’re saying. Then Lena comes storming out, big red face and grabs her purse and heads out. I ask her what’s up and she just glares at me. Not a word. Then Richard calls me into his office, tells me he’s dismissed her for incompetence. But I know there’s more to it than that.

—   How do you know?

—   Lena called me later in the afternoon, asking if I’d pack up her cubicle and meet her at Bridgehead. So I get there and she’s in a complete rage. How dare he, blah, blah, blah. What shocked me most was her lack of self-awareness. She actually thinks we’re friends. Finally she tells me that she and Richard were an item, but she broke up with him last week.

—   I knew it! says Luc.

—   Yeah, you sure called that one. Now she’s got this thing going with some foreign affairs guy. High up. But she won’t say who it is. He’s probably married too. And she thinks Richard fired her as a revenge thing, which may be partly true.

—   Knowing Richard.

—   Yeah, it’s not out of character. But I think mostly he did it to placate the developer — and his lawyer. That and a big apology, usually does the trick when people start rattling chains.

—   Peyton Place, I’m telling you!

—   End result though, she’s gone and I’m a happy camper. Now I can hire my own senior editor. I already told Richard that I want to be in charge of the hiring, and he can be part of the process. He’s cool with that.

—   Which is the way it should be anyway. For editorial.

—   Precisely.

—   Well, here’s to a happier workplace, he says raising his champagne flute. 

scrambled-eggs*Fiona’s fusilli with fresh tomatoes and olives

Serves six

½ pound mozzarella

4 large, very ripe tomatoes

3 ounces black olives, cured in oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 tablespoons minced fresh basil

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

pinch of sugar

salt and fresh pepper to taste

1 ½ pounds fusilli

 

  1. Cut mozzarella into one-quarter-inch cubes
  2. Immerse tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds. Peel and cut into small pieces.
  3. Pit the olives and coarsely chop.
  4. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients, except pasta.
  5. Cook the pasta al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain well toss with tomato mixture.
  6. Cover with a towel to let the mozzarella soften/melt.
  7. Serve with a green salad and a Pinot Noir.

 

TRENDS: Jalapeños make for a fiery hot summer

By SHAWNA WAGMAN

The 2013-2014 edition of Ottawa Magazine’s Eating & Drinking Guide is a food lover’s bible for everything local, with 80+ pages of restaurant, wine, food shop, and kitchen store recommendations. Look for it on newsstands or order it here

Photo by Giula Doyle

Café My House’s Jalapeño Mojito Photo by Giula Doyle

The recent craze over Sriracha hot sauce is evidence that spicy flavours are indeed hot. Fans of the put-it-on-everything condiment may not realize that the most popular brand used by North Americans is actually made with red jalapeños. In Ottawa, the humble green jalapeño is the pepper of choice. Art Is In Bakery ignited a passion for the flavour and relatively unaggressive heat of the pepper with its cheddar, chive, and jalapeño bread. Thanks to greater acceptance of spice in general and the instant addictive quality of dishes made with hot peppers, we’re happy to see that more chefs are willing to play with fire.

Café My House’s Jalapeño Mojito
When Briana Kim was preparing to re-launch her vegan-friendly and (mostly) gluten-free café in Hintonburg back in April, she decided to incorporate fresh homemade jalapeño-cucumber juice into a fun new cocktail. She came up with the jalapeño mojito, made by mixing the sweet and spicy elixer with muddled mint, gin, and celery bitters. The cool zip of the cucumber and mint contrasts with the kick of jalapeño to create a taste sensation that’s as warming as it is cooling. The smart, seasonal cocktail is part of a changing menu that is sure to attract and intrigue the new neighbourhood’s tastemakers.
Cafe My House, 1015 Wellington St. W., 613-733-0707

El Camino’s Tongue Taco
Matthew Carmichael once believed the ox-tongue taco would never fly. But it quickly became his most popular taco — behind the fish — at El Camino. “I was flabbergasted,” he says. “I’m so happy people have embraced it.” As for the jalapeños on top that accompany thinly sliced radish, basil, and avocado, he says buying them by the jar was never an option. He gets better flavour and texture by pickling them himself with a classic brine. That tasty liquid gets used again in other recipes.
El Camino, 380 Elgin St., 613-422-2800

Fraser Café’s Albacore Tuna with Jalapeño Poppers
While fresh albacore tuna is often treated delicately, as in sushi and sashimi, it stands up magnificently to powerful partners (think wasabi). Ross Fraser played with this dynamic when creating this appetizer at his café. He pairs lightly grilled tuna topped with olive oil, lime juice, and coriander with a hot-from-the-fryer jalapeño popper. The peppers are split and filled with scallion cream cheese before being breaded with a cornmeal-flour mix and sent to the fryer. Fresh tomato salsa and sliced green apple balance the heat.
Fraser Cafe, 7 Springfield Rd., 613-749-1444

Relish Food Truck S’Mac N Cheese
Parked on the University of Ottawa campus, Paul Bergeron’s gourmet food truck shakes up the classic student meal. His signature S’mac n cheese — named for its lip-smacking quality — has become one of his most popular dishes. Forget the reheated crusty baking dish — every S’mac is made to order. Real béchamel sauce is stirred together with elbow pasta, old cheddar, and tomato. Next come chipotle sauce, crispy onions, herbs, and a little buttermilk dressing. A tiny dice of crisp fresh jalapeño is the culinary kicker.
Relish Food Truck, Copernicus Street and University Boulevard, 613-266-0538

Spread Delivers’ “The Mexican” Sandwich
Julie Harrison says she’s a sucker for raw thinly sliced jalapeños — it’s a love affair that began with a plate of pupusas at a Salvadoran joint. Pickling these peppers has become another passion. For her sandwich delivery business, she wanted to capture the flavours of Mexico between two slices of potato bread from Nat’s Bread Company. Fresh pickled jalapeños play a starring role alongside queso fresco, a white Mexican cheese, and chunky salsa roja with a handful of fresh coriander. Not enough heat for you? She puts chili in her chocolate brownies too.
Spread Delivers, 613-860-3636

 

 

 

DesBrisay Dines

DESBRISAY DINES: Introducing Fiazza Fresh Fired

By  ANNE DESBRISAY

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

A few weeks back I had come to the ByWard Market with my son to pay our respects to Domus Café. He had celebrated a thirteenth birthday there, along with another family feast to mark a university graduation. We noted the massive ‘For Lease’ sign, and we shook our heads and we sighed. We cupped our hands around our eyes and peered through the windows into the empty space. Then we smelled pizza — and I spied a face that was familiar to me, delivering the pizza to an outdoor table. So we crossed the street.

The last time I saw Luigi he was handing me a rabbit. A very nice stew, as I recall. I still have the 2003 review of the dish. That was at (the late) Zibibbo Restaurant on Somerset Street, owned by Luigi Meliambro.

I liked the short-lived Zibibbo; I liked its second floor lounge (TheCamarilloBrilloUpstairs) but the place closed ten years ago, and Luigi moved on. To Kanata, I believe. And then across the river. Friends in Chelsea and Wakefield were Friday night regulars at his pizza joint, Cheezy Luigi’s, though I’d never had the pleasure.

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Meliambro has moved back to Ottawa now, and has a new venture. Pizza, fired in one of those crazy-hot ovens in something like 140 seconds. The pies are created to order, assembly line style (a la Subway) while you wait. Fiazza Fresh Fired is found on Murray Street in the spot where Pecco’s bike shop used to be.

It works like this: you queue up, read a lot, and hem and haw while the kids in their Fiazza Fresh Fired T’s and food service gloves wait patiently for instructions. You may order one of the dozen suggested combinations, or you create your own based on a lengthy list of toppings. There are two bases — regular and gluten free. The sauce, we are told, is made with (the lionized) San Marzano tomatoes. There are seven cheese options, including blue, feta, goat cheese, fior di latte, or the house blend. All cheeses, we are told, are locally sourced. Toppings come in two categories — the traditional (mostly vegetable, at $1.25 each) and specialty (mostly meat, along with organic mushrooms). The “After Fired” options — fresh basil, chilli flakes, oregano, evoo drizzle — are on the house. Once you’ve placed your order, you can watch them load it on and fire it up, or sit down and have it delivered.

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