Friday, July 22, 2011

Hot, hot, heat - what to eat?

Yeeeeeah... When it's 47 degrees with the humidex, there's no way I'm barbecuing, sautéing or turning my oven on. So what's for dinner? Well, I scrounged around in my fridge and found the following to make something tasty: local organic broccoli (partly softened because of my forgetfulness - you'd think that when you pay $4.99 for a broccoli, you wouldn't abandon it in your crisper for a week and a half), a half used-up red onion, an unopened tub of sour cream (expiring in three days - what is wrong with me?!?), and a bag of pecan halves.

Thankfully, I'd just come back from the Gatineau Costco with a abundant selection of lovely Québécois cheeses (NEVER go there before dinner! Go in for toilet paper, leave with fifty tons of dairy. Stupid seductive cheese.) I'd also stopped by my favourite boulangerie, which will be featured in an upcoming GMZ, to pick up the best traditional baguette in town, so I knew this broccoli-sour cream concoction would be a salad of some sort. So away I went!

First, I broke up the broccoli into bite-size florets and steamed them until they were al dente and that beautiful, brilliant shade of jade green. Then I plunged them into an ice bath to stop the cooking and prevent them from turning that gross, overcooked-army-fatigue green. While they were cooling off, I got on with the dressing.

I finely chopped some of the red onion until I roughly had 1/4 cup. I threw that in a bowl and then slopped on four or five greedily full tablespoons of sour cream with a sprinkle of salt and pepper, tasting to make sure the flavour was to my liking.

Then, I threw in the broccoli and tossed it around to make sure every last floret was coated in creamy deliciousness.

Finally, I chopped up a small handful of pecans (this could also work with another sweet nut, like toasted almond slivers), and scattered them on top of the salad. There. Poof. Done.

Marc and I then set up din-dins outside and had the salad, with the baguette and cheese as accompaniments, and a fine glass of rosé from the BIB. Please pardon the less-than-Gourmet-magazine-worthy Arizona themed plates. The dishwasher was full, and we hadn't done a load in time for the impromptu photo shoot...

That was a damn tasty hot summer night dinner (partly thanks to Marc filling those wine glasses nearly to the brim... Holy moley!) If I were to make the salad again, however, I'd probably give the broccoli a bit more of a shake to remove as much water as possible before adding it to the dressing. You've got to have the thick richness of the sour cream to make the broccoli sing.

Bongo loves broccoli.

Ti-Gars too!

À la prochaine!

Garden update - Dad wins. Again.


Marc brought this home after seeing my dad this week. It was in a bag with three other courgettes and two massive cucumbers. Yup. Dad wins the "first edible plant of the season" and the "I'm the first to have enough veggies to go around" awards. Again. HOW DOES HE DO IT?!? 

And it was so close! Two days later, I pulled out this beautiful little golden beet from my garden. Marc and I had ourselves a party and ceremoniously ate it. Because that's its destiny.

It was quite delicious, although I over boiled it a bit. I kept those lovely beet greens for a later salad or just for wilting in the pan with some butter, salt and pepper. Here's something I discovered : I was always frustrated when I bought beet greens and they'd be wilted in just over 24 hours if I left them in the fridge.  So this time, I just placed them in an oversized drinking glass with a bit of water (I guess you could use a vase if it was SQUEAKY clean - I've been told I'm a bit of a germ / gross -o-phobe), left them on the kitchen counter like any flower arrangement and voilà! The greens are still nice and perky 48 hours later. 

That's it for now, kids! À plus tard!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


[Disclaimer: this post is being written while under the influence of half a bottle of fine Bordeaux. Château de la Rivière, Fronsac 2004 to be exact. Don't ask me what I'm doing drinking this on a Monday night. It just happened. Honest. Le BIB just wasn't cutting it at the end of this first day back to work after a week's vacation.]

I friggin' love beets. They're like nature's candy that always has the last laugh, making you think you're going into massive kidney failure a few hours after eating them... Hypochondriac much? I digress. Back to beets.

I used to hate beets. I'd only known them to be little red balls of vinegary discomfort before I had them again in my early twenties, during my one year stint at chef school (fifteen pounds gained in one semester - oy!) The beets had been boiled from fresh and simply served hot with butter, salt and pepper. It was a revelation - they weren't gross after all! In fact, they were downright delicious. I was saved.

A few years later, I met Diane, Marc's stepmom, who took beets to a whole new level by making them the star of a tremendously simple salad. It was just so easy! And delicious. I made it yesterday for lunch with some tomato and basil egg-salad sandwiches. I just think it's a great way to dispose of a good amount of beets when you've gotten a ton in your weekly basket or the harvest in your own garden has turned out better than you could have imagined... Here's the recipe, with snaps to Diane for inspiration.

Diane's Beet Salad

Just toss the following together, or just layer:
  • Cooked beets (boiled or roasted - whatever floats your boat), sliced, as many as you need to feed the people you have to feed
  • Celery (approx. one stalk per three or four tennis ball-sized beets), light green parts only, chopped into a fine dice big enough to provide crunch but so not so big that it might give an overwhelming celeriness to a bite of salad
  • Green onion, white and light green parts only, very thinly sliced, amount depending on how many beets you have (again, I'd use one green onion per three or four tennis ball-sized beets)
  • Fresh Mint, Basil, Parsley or Dill, finely chopped, in quantities sufficient to give this salad a distinguishable herbiness
  • Fresh juice of one Lemon (you may need more - keep tasting until your tongue tells you Ayyyy!)
  • A good sprinkling of roasted / toasted nut oil such as sesame, walnut or hazelnut - again, put enough on to impart some nutty flavour and fragrance
  • Olive oil to play supporting actor to the nut oil ('cause that stuff's too expensive to use in big quantities), enough to coat whatever the nut oil and lemon juice haven't coated
  • Salt and pepper to taste
If you want, you could also choose to omit the celery and just throw on some walnuts, cold cooked asparagus and crumbled goat cheese with a few leaves of baby spinach instead. Eat that with a bit of baguette, and you've got yourself a sensible weeknight meal!

I hope you enjoy this recipe, although it may be a bit late to try it tonight... Okay... I'm off to bed now. I'll talk to you guys again soon. Nighty night. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

GMZ : Gatineau Munching Zone

I've always loved discovering secret treasures of food and fabulousness in the area where I reside. Some years ago, I realized this had become a bit of an obsession when I noticed I'd been regularly cutting off people mid-conversation to blurt out stuff like: "Stained glass? Hey, there's a really great workshop just a few blocks from here!" I don't have to tell you that when you're having a conversation about a church being demolished in Rosemont, nobody cares about the two hippies up the street who are making Tiffany-inspired billiard hall lighting... Awk-ward.

Anyhoo, it's with that obsession in mind that I offer you this first report in an initiative that will henceforth be known as... the GMZ (Gatineau Munching Zone). In this feature, I will happily reveal the fun foodie finds that may help save a few trips across the bridge to those of us who have made the jump to the P.Q. side. I also hope this helps reveal and highlight how Gatineau has a wonderful cachet of its own, without taking anything away from the gloriousness of Ottawa... with its beautiful T&T grocery.... (insert jealous grumblings here...)

Of course, I'm not getting any sort of payback from these businesses in exchange for my promoting them... It's just karma: you're nice to me and provide me with good products? I plug your shop.

So here's the first find: Aladdin Roastery!

I looove me a good cup of coffee. Sadly, my nervous personality combined with my body's tendency to retaliate with severe tummy aches whenever I ingest caffeine, tannins or other irritants make decaf my only option when it comes to el cafe. Enter Aladdin Roastery, with two locations: one on Gréber near LaVérendrye in Gatineau, and one on St-Joseph right next to Autoroute 5 in Hull. They roast their coffee on site, and they're well on their way to carrying only free trade and organic coffee (most of them already are, including the DELICIOUS decafs.) The staff is always extremely helpful and friendly, and their knowledge of the different coffees they offer is impressive.

Aladdin is also a gourmet shop where you can pick up a variety of foods from chocolates to dried fruits to specialty salts and everything in between (I always grab some nougat when I get to the cash - that stuff's like crack, I swear). Finally, they have a beautiful selection of teas, herbal or not. Try the Turkish Apple tisane; it's lip-smackingly good with its big chunks of apple and citrus, and I suspect it would make a beautiful iced tea at half the price of David's.

Voilà... I think I'm going to have to make up a logo for this GMZ feature. Sort of like a "seal of approval" thingie. Love it. Thanks to Perf Daddy for starting the ball rolling!

À plus tard, les copains!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

How chickpea flour seduced my man

Over the past year or so, I've been reducing the meat intake in our diets. In the beginning, as one would expect, there was some grumpiness on behalf of my meat eatin', hockey watchin', tattoo wearin', tough guy husband, Marc. Replacing ground beef with tofu in a chili was disastrous. When I served a veggie burger, I was very diplomatically advised that it would be preferable if I didn't insult burgers everywhere by calling my creation a veggie BURGER - it would have to be called a "vegetarian grilled patty sandwich". LOL! That's when I realized that I couldn't just think like a meat-eater by simply replacing meat with tofu. I had to think like a vegetarian. Veggies would be my meat. Boy, did I think I was a genius for figuring that out. Doesn't take much...

So off I went and bought How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman - a no-fuss, fantastic reference book of one thousand meal ideas - and my life was changed forever. Why do you ask? Because of the socca: a chickpea-flour galette that looks and cooks like a frittata, but tastes like the soul-warming leftovers of French-Canadian pea soup that's been simmered into a heady, creamy beautifulness... Served with nothing more than a simple salad of mixed greens, this was the vegan dish (note: not vegetarian - VEGAN!) that finally seduced my man into enjoying something completely meat-free. I nearly wept the second time I made this dish and he came around the kitchen, peeked into the oven window and said "Are you making that chickpea flour thingie? Mmmmmmm!" *sob* It was one of the most triumphant moments of my life. Honest.

Bulk Barn for chickpea flour. Easy.

I really can't say enough about this dish. It's fantastic. It's made with a staple that can always be at the back of the pantry for those nights you didn't have time to go to the store, and when you combine it with some frozen corn, peas, broccoli or other veggies from the freezer (another staple! Try a corn, oregano, onion and chipotle socca), you've got yourself a meal. AAAND, it's easily whipped up when friends stay for dinner on a weeknight! : 1) make cocktails, 2) whip up the batter + let it rest, 3) chat and eat some peanuts while enjoying the cocktails, 4) bake the socca and make the salad, 5) serve, 6) enjoy the oohs and aaahs from all assembled. This recipe is so accommodating, you can even prepare the batter in the morning, let it rest all day and just stick it in the oven for the fifteen minute baking time as soon as you get home. Really. It's that awesome. I wouldn't be surprised if it achieved World peace one day.

So here's the recipe, directly from the Saviour Bittman's column at the NYTimes : The recipe is lovely on its own, but I'm including my observations and tips here from having made this recipe a few times now... Take 'em or leave 'em. You'll be happy either way.

I heat cold water in the microwave instead of using lukewarm water straight
from the tap. Just because I prefer not to use water that's been sitting in
the water heater for hours/days.

Pre-baking soupiness. I tried with a silicone pan, but I'm not sure I'd
use it again for this - there was no delicious browning on the bottom!

Served with a red cabbage and apple slaw. Yum.

A few more tips:
- Bittman's book provides a plethora of other flavour combinations instead of the onion/rosemary combo. Think of adding cheese (goat cheese just before broiling, anyone?), nuts or other herbs. Awesome!
- I always double the recipe; it takes the same time to cook as a single batch and it easily feeds four people as a main dish;
- the batter, pre-baking, will be ridiculously soupy to the point that you'll find it hard to believe it could ever firm up. But it will. And it will be beautiful. Just make sure it rests for at least 30 minutes before baking;
- I mix the water, oil, salt and pepper together and then just sift the flour in - this somehow makes the recipe feel less complicated. But that might just be me;
- remember to oil your baking vessel well;
- don't over bake the socca; it's not as good when it's too dry.

Voilà. Bon appétit everyone!

Saturday, July 2, 2011


The food stylings of Gee.
I don't think Saveur will be calling anytime soon...

Let me tell you about my love for the box of wine. Or, as the French like to call it: le BIB (a.k.a. bag-in-box). Did you know they're making a comeback? Kind of like the screwtop wine bottle, which is no longer only for the underaged bush party crowd circa 1995...

Don't get me wrong - I'm just as demanding of my wine as I am of my food. I enjoy a nice bottle of Bordeaux Premier Cru as much as the next girl. But I like to have a glass of wine a day, and cracking open one of those suckers twice a week gets pricey. Not to mention how dishonorable it is to leave a Premier Cru sitting in your fridge for two or three days... It's just not done. 

So, enter le BIB; the greatest rebirth of an oldie since John Travolta played Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction. I highly recommend giving it a try (the wine, not Travolta), especially for the summertime where every balmy evening on your patio just demands a glass of rosé. Again, this may not be an appropriate wine for entertaining first-time guests, but it is a very nice "me-and-myself" or "me-and-my-better-half-who-knows-I'm-not-a-desperate-wino" weeknight wine. And it's just so much fun to open the fridge, wine glass in hand, and squirt yourself a dose from the spigot. Whoo! Do I sound as classy as I feel right now?

My market research still continues on the red wine front, but one rosé has pretty much been locked in as a favourite for 2011: it's called Nicolas Laloux (or, as it was recommended to me by a friend, "the one with the bicycle on it") and it's available in grocery stores on the Gatineau side at the very reasonable price of around 30ish dollars for a box of four litres (that's the equiv. of five bottles, people!). So make this a classic apéro provençal day : squirt yourself a glass of rosé and enjoy it with a bowl of salted peanuts, tiny gherkins and some olives. Spa shpa. This is the only way to relax.

À la prochaine!

Friday, July 1, 2011

My luxurious melons

For as long as I can remember, there has been a food garden for every summer of my life - either planted by myself or by my equally food-obsessed and childishly enthusiastic father. The enthusiasm is rather contagious (or maybe just inherited?) - every year, both of us try to cram as many plants in as many varieties as we can into our respective gardens, just because it's so much fun to be ridiculously overwhelmed by an overabundance of beautiful produce. Anytime we see each other between mid-July and late August, conversations always start with "You won't BELIEVE how many (insert name of produce here) I had in the garden this morning! Fifty six! Here. I brought you some."

The ridiculousness may take a break this year, however, depending on my talents as a gardener... I've gone nearly completely heirloom and organic this year, and it's my first time growing stuff that can't be picked up at the local Canadian Tire or Botanix nursery. I've planted mostly everything from seed, directly in the garden (remember :*finger pointing towards self*, lazy person over here) - so we'll see what happens.

All of my plants come from this wonderful little nursery called Greta's Organic Gardens in Gloucester (keep driving south on Riverside after crossing Hunt Club), which specializes in organic and heirloom species. Greta knows her plants and is always extremely helpful in helping you decide which ones would best suit your preferences. She's also a seasoned veteran of chemical-free pest warfare; if something's in your garden, she'll know how to get rid of it. After chatting with her on a rainy Victoria Day weekend, I came home with a haul that would make Dad proud:
  • tomatoes (those were plants, not seeds. I'm lazy, not crazy) : Black from Tula, Black Russian, Black Seaman, Isis Candy, Gold Nugget, Ottawa 39, Mrs. Botts' Italian, Kenosha
  • pole beans : Trionfo Violetta (purple, yay!), Blue Lake (green)
  • carrots : Chantenay (orange), Yellowstone (guess!), Cosmic Purple (cue Jamiroquai)
  • beets : Chioggia (red and white candy-stripe), Touchstone Gold
  • Romanian Sweet peppers (three plants)
  • Mid-East Prolific cucumbers (from seed - I planted ten of them. Aiigh!)
  • the requisite herbs to add to my perennial thyme and chives: two types of basil (non-flowering!), parsley, spearmint and mojito mint, rosemary

Aaaaaand last but not least, the plants that I'm most excited about, MY LUXURIOUS MELONS! Technically, they're called Noir de Carmes and Petit Gris de Rennes. I'd never thought of growing melons (bad return on investment, space-wise), but how could I not after reading the following line in the Noir's online catalog description? "One of the easiest to grow and most luxurious of all melons..." I had to get them! Of course, I planted all of my squash-family seeds too deep the first time, so the plants have only been growing since I realized my mistake halfway through June and replanted... But Greta says there's still time for me to have bountiful melons, so I'll keep hope. And laugh every time I say that.

The beginnings of my luxurious melons...

See you next post, and Happy Canada Day!