Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ottawa Cultural Festivals


Growing up in Winnipeg, Folklarama was one of the summer festivals I looked forward to attending every year. Folklarama has been around for over 30 years and has grown to a two week festival with over 40 different cultural pavilions set up around the city. The festival typically draws about 425,000 pavilion visits.

In Ottawa, cultural festivals are smaller and usually initiated by individual cultural communities.  But, still well-worth checking out.

Here are some pictures of the food from a few that have taken place over the summer:

Recently, we went to GreekFest, probably one of the most popular cultural festivals in Ottawa.  I can't even imagine how much food they go through during this festival.

Chicken Souvlaki


Gyros Platter


Bougatsa


Baklava


The weekend before last, we checked out Ottawa's first Night Market.  The market was small (about 15 stands total), but it was a great start to what hopefully will grow and become an annual event.  


These ladies are making Turkish gozleme.


Baklava




curry fishballs







A third festival we attended, the South Asian Festival, took place earlier in the summer.  At the festival, we picked up a jar of Ishina's ready-made curry sauce.


I decided to make a vegetarian dish, using the curry sauce and a bunch of these vegetables:



Vegetarian Curry

2-3 zucchini, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
kale (as desired)
1.5 cups cooked brown rice
3 small carrots, chopped
2 garlic, crushed
3/4 jar of curry sauce
2 tbsp olive oil

Add olive oil to pre-heated frying pan.  Add garlic, stirring constantly to avoid burning.  Carrots take longest to cook, so I threw them in first, followed by the zucchini and tomatoes.  I added about 1/4 jar of sauce at this point.  After about 5 minutes, I stirred in the kale, rice and the remainder of the sauce.


Flavourful & healthy!  Great combination.
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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Burnt Butter


I always feel conflicted about giving anything less than glowing reviews about local restaurants.  I want them to taste great, stay open and contribute to the vibe of the city.  So, I want this post to be constructive.

A few days ago, I went to Burnt Butter, a new restaurant that has opened in Hintonburg. The restaurant has a simple and serene feel that made me feel positive about the food to come. The service was also strong. Our waiter was friendly, attentive and knowledgeable about the menu selections. I don't remember his name, but he did mention that he used to work at the Canal Ritz.

We started off with the soup of the day, seafood (scallops) and sweet potato.


The soup was the highlight of the meal. It was well-seasoned and flavourful. I didn't mind having to request that it be warmed up (despite having requested that it be extra hot when I ordered). It did bother me, however, when I heard the line cook giving the waiter attitude about it when the waiter said that it needed to be warmer. The restaurant is relatively small and there's an open kitchen design. So, I'd recommend that the staff keep that in mind when they're conversing.

We also ordered some calamari.  The tartar sauce was nice and tangy.  But the calamari itself was pretty bland.  We requested some lemon and doused them with it, which made it more palatable.


For the mains, I ordered the Sage Fettucine.  Unfortunately, it was pretty bland.  The pasta was quite dry and the peas were about equivalent in flavour to the peas that I pull out of my freezer. The proscuitto was the best part of the dish. I brought most of the dish home with the intention of adding something like a pesto sauce to it.


My friend ordered the Swiss Chard Agnolotti.  The filling had good flavour, but the pasta was undercooked and the eggplant broth lacked punch and didn't have a particularly pleasing consistency.


My friend has an astute analogy to describe the meal.  She said it reminded her of a meal made by a boyfriend who wants to impress you and goes out and buys fancy ingredients to support his efforts.   But, after your first bite, you put on a brave smile, appreciate the effort and make a mental note that you'll probably be the chef in the relationship.

You can tell by the effort put into the space and concept that they're trying.  But, I think some of the menu items need to change and a chef with a strong palate should get in the kitchen.  I'll be keeping an eye out to see how the reviews continue to shape up.

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Blueberry Jam & St. Jacobs


A few weeks ago, R and I decided it was time to visit the mothership.


Well, not exactly that* mothership. The mothership I'm talking about is a one hour (in no traffic) drive away, past a shocking number of strip malls.

Giz and I started the weekend off with big plans to go fruit picking in the Niagara region, marketing in St. Jacobs, dinners with the family, preserving, watching Harry Potter (and the list goes on). But, most of those things weren't exactly on R's "to do" list of going to the Hockey Hall of Fame, Wayne Gretsky's restaurant or a Blue Jays game. So...here's how the compromise played out:

Saturday morning, we left early for the St. Jacobs Farmer's Market. I think we picked the busiest day of the summer, not to mention the heat was well into the 30s (somewhere around 100 Fahrenheit).

Probably the best deal of the day was the strawberries from this place:



Five packages (about 1 lb each) of strawberries for five dollars! Usually, on sale, they're about $2.99 each.

I only wish I had Baba on tape when we told her the next day that they were 5 for $5.

Baba: "5 for $5? No. 1 for $5?"

Giz: "No Baba -- 5 for $5 not 1 for $5"

Baba: "5 for $5?"

Giz: "Yes - 5 for $5"

Baba: "5 for $5?"

Giz: "Yes"

Baba: "Well that's a good deal"

Blueberries happen to be one of my favourite fruits, so we had plans for these guys:


The biggest patty pan squash I have ever seen. They look like they overindulged on a bunch of the these. Who knew that they came in such different sizes.





Apparently, the market is known for its peameal bacon sandwiches.


After about a couple of hours the dogs were DONE. As is, stop for one second and they're laying down in the closest patch of shade, done.


So, we went into the Village to check the stores out and find somewhere to sit in the shade.


Stone Crock Bakery is well-known in the region.




Their butter tarts are delicious!



After a full day, we returned home to chill out and enjoy the "fruits of our labour." Thumbs up for everything, except for the raspberries we bought that were very mostly stale and flavourless.

The next day, R and I went to a Blue Jays game where they retired Roberto Alomar's number and then out to a family dinner.



The next day, Giz and I did some preserving:

No Sugar Blueberry Jam
Bernardin



Makes about 4 to 6 x 250 or 236 ml jars

4 cups (1000 ml) crushed blueberries
1 cup (250 ml) unsweetened fruit juice, (i.e. cranberry, apple, white grape)
1 pkg (49 g) BERNARDIN® No Sugar Needed Fruit Pectin
Sweetener – if using:
1 1/2 cups (375 ml) SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener OR 1 1/2 cups (375 ml) granulated sugar (we used honey)

Place 6 clean 250 or 236 ml mason jars on a rack in a boiling water canner; cover jars with water, and heat to a simmer (180°F/82°C). Set screw bands aside; heat lids in hot water, not boiling (180°F/82°C). Keep jars and lids hot until ready to use.

Wash and crush blueberries, one layer at a time; or pulse small quantities of blueberries in a food processor; do NOT puree! Measure required quantities of blueberries and fruit juice into a large, deep stainless steel saucepan. Whisk in No Sugar Needed Fruit Pectin until dissolved.

Stirring constantly, bring fruit mixture to a boil over high heat. If using, add sweetener (sugar or SPLENDA®) and return mixture to a boil (we did this, but with about 3/4 cup of honey).
Stirring frequently, boil 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Skim foam.

Quickly ladle jam into a hot jar to within 1/4 inch (0.5 cm) of top of jar (headspace). Using nonmetallic utensil, remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if required by adding more jam. Wipe jar rim removing any food residue. Centre hot lid on clean jar rim. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip tight. Return filled jar to rack in canner ensuring jars are covered by water. Repeat for remaining jam.

When canner is filled, ensure that all jars are covered by at least 1” water. Cover canner and bring water to a full rolling boil before starting to count processing time. At altitudes up to 1000 ft (305 m), process –boil filled jars – 10 minutes.

When processing time is complete, remove canner lid; wait 5 minutes, then remove jars without tilting. Cool upright on a protected work surface; leave undisturbed for 24 hours; DO NOT RETIGHTEN screw bands. After cooling check jar seals. Sealed lids curve downward. Remove screw bands; wipe and dry bands and jars. Store screw bands separately or replace loosely on jars, as desired. Label and store jars in a cool, dark place. For best quality, use home canned foods within 1 year.


Giz tells me the jam is delicious and she wants to make more... I can't personally attest to that since I'm determined not to have multiple jars of jam open at one time (and am kind of hoarding all of my preserves).

We also made a strawberry-blueberry jam, inspired by this recipe.



* for those who don't recognize the first picture, it's the CN Tower in downtown Toronto.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Brownie Peanut Butter Cups and Blogger Love



I have a blogger "buddy" in the U.S. who has the most incredible passion for all things "peanut butter". We're talking about none other than Nick from The Peanut Butter Boy . Nick's run his blog for a long time sharing his findings, recipes and good humour for several years. He comments on people's blogs, has run peanut butter events and always shares positive comradery with other bloggers.



"The Boy" has been developing his own line of peanut butter for quite a while and sent me a sample of each of his creamy and crunchy peanut butter. He has made it his life's work to sample, cook and bake with and develop his own personal line of peanut butter. Now here's a guy that deserves some positive print space. After trying Nick's samples, I have to tell you, The Peanut Butter Boy is definitely on to something - rich tasing, creamy texture, super nutty flavour and lower sodium. He's going to be a success and all I can say is "Look Out Kraft and Jiff", there's a new boy in town.

Nick's introduced a new concept that's worthy of mention - his 1 minute recipes. I mean, really, what can you do in a minute? How about something like peanut butter elephants or raspberry truffle coffee?

I couldn't think of a better way to honour our blogger buddy for his efforts than to post something deliciously peanut buttery. From The Girl Who Ate Everything I invite you to share these decadent, creamy, wonderful Brownie Peanut Butter cups that I suspect will earn The Peanut Butter Boy's approval. Good Luck Nick!!! I've got my cheering pom poms rooting for you.

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon water
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup peanut butter chips plus about 1/3 cup more for garnishing
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips plus about 1/3 cup more for garnishing
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter

Preheat oven to 350°. Spray or grease 12 muffin cups. *Or you can opt to do mini-muffin bites and cook around 8 minutes or until center comes out clean with a toothpick test.

In a large microwave-safe bowl, combine sugar, butter, and water. Microwave on high for 1 minute or until butter is melted. Stir in 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips until melted. Stir in egg and vanilla extract. Add flour and baking soda, stirring until blended. Allow to cool to room temperature. Then, stir in 1/2 cup each peanut butter chips and semi-sweet chocolate chips. Spoon batter by heaping tablespoonfuls into muffin cups.

Bake for 13-15 minutes or until top is set and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out slightly wet. Place pan on wire rack. Centers of brownies will fall upon cooling. If not, tap centers with the back of a teaspoon to make a hole.




Place peanut butter in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 45 seconds, then stir. While brownies are still hot, spoon about a tablespoon of peanut butter into the center of each brownie. Top with semi-sweet chocolate chips and peanut butter chips. Cool completely in pan.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookies


I was catching up on Twitter when I noticed a new post from Paula of The Dragon's Kitchen . If you haven't visited Paula's blog, honestly, go there, so worth spending some time checking it out.

Chocolate chip cookies always seem to grab my attention and this one had a couple of ingredients I've not seen in chocolate chip cookies before. Game on... had to go to the kitchen and make them almost immediately. Can you tell I don't do well with deferred gratification :)?



Makes 18 cookies

Ingredients:

1 cup of butter, softened
1 cup of brown sugar (I used sucanat )
1/2 cup of white sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoon of strong coffee (liquid)
1 tablespoon of pure maple syrup
2 1/4 cup of flour
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of cinnamon
1 1/2 - 2 cups chocolate chips

Directions:

1. Beat together butter and sugars until creamy. Add eggs (1 at a time), vanilla, coffee and maple syrup. Mix well.

2. Combine in a separate bowl, flour, salt baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon. Combine dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Don't over mix!

3. Add chocolate chips, gently fold them into the cookie mix.

4. Chill the cookie dough for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 375.

5. Drop the cookies (I used a large ice cream scoop to drop the cookies on the tray, you should get 6 per tray) 2 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet. Bake in the middle of your oven for 10-12 minutes (depending on your oven) or until the tops turn golden.

6. Remove from oven and let sit on the tray for 1 minute. Transfer cookies to cooling rack.



DEEEE LICIOUS!!!!! Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside - pure Nirvana.
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Monday, August 8, 2011

Australia: Cairns


Our time in Australia started off with a bang. Literally.

After Queenstown, New Zealand (read about our time in New Zealand here: part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4), we flew to Auckland and stayed at a hotel near the Auckland Airport (at one of the many kind of dingy options available). The next day, we had two flights to get to Cairns: Auckland to Brisbane then Brisbane to Cairns.

The flight to Brisbane was possibly one of the scariest flights of my life. Part of the problem is that I've developed a fear of flying. I don't know why - I used to be a great flyer. But, now, I go right into thinking about the many ways I could die when there is turbulence.

The flight was going well until the descent. There was some turbulence, so I looked out the window to the night sky. The light at the end of the wing was flashing, which is normal. But, I started to see flashing at irregular intervals. I said to R, "It's lightning." A couple of minutes went by and the lightning grew brighter, the turbulence worse and the plane got quiet. At one point, there was a bright flash at the end of the wing and the plane jolted abruptly to one side. R stayed cool while I was losing it.

Eventually, the turbulence subsided and we landed. Relief.

After a calmer flight from Brisbane to Cairns, we made our way to our hostel, The Northern Greenhouse Hostel. Good place, with a pool, movie night and free breakfast (that's not particularly good, with the exception of pancake day).

During our first day, we scoped out day trip options. Popular day trips include Port Douglas and the Daintree Rainforest, Kuranda and, the biggest draw, the Great Barrier Reef. Also, Cairns apparently has a good nightlife. But, if you're looking for a beach, be aware that there isn't one in Cairns.

Instead, there's a water park area.


It's a good place to lay out in the sun (Cairns is HOT), but it can be fairly crowded.


The next day, we took a day trip to Kuranda, a village with many shops 25km northwest of Cairns.  Although you can drive there, most people with take the train (Kuranda Scenic Railway) and/or skyrail (Kuranda Rainforest Cableway). We took the train there and skyrail back.


Aside from a tonne of shops, that will sell you anything you could want from boomerangs to candy, many will visit the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, Kuranda Koala Gardens and Birdworld Kuranda.


We chose to visit the Kuranda Koala Gardens because I'm a sucker for koalas.  This is one of the few places where you can actually hold a koala (for an additional fee, of course).   I forked out the additional $17 -- how many times do you get to hold a koala?


This was followed by my Veruca Salt impression: I want a koala! Now!



The Koala Garden also had crocodiles...




banana trees...


an iguana (who was very patient while I took a tonne of close ups)...


a kangaroo/wallaby enclosure where you can hand-feed the animals.


and a snake enclosure.

Afterwards, we walked around, bought some souvenirs and made our way back to Cairns via the Skyrail.





Personally, I much preferred the skyrail, which offers a couple of stops where you can get out and take pictures, to the train.  Between the heat and rocking of the train, I was counting down the minutes until our arrival.

Although I was very happy to have visited the Koala Gardens, we probably should have gotten a multipass since visiting the stores/stands can be done relatively quickly (unless you're a shopper).

The clear highlight of our time in Cairns was our trip to the Great Barrier Reef. We booked a trip with Reef Experience because they seemed to have good reviews and offered scuba diving and two meals (breakfast and lunch).


We really lucked out with weather because when we visited, it had only just stopped raining in the past couple of weeks after almost a year of rain.

After some onboard instructions, we went scuba diving in smaller groups.  In the picture, below, we're practicing breathing.  All of this went fine until I went further under water, and started practicing taking the mouthpiece out and replacing it.  I couldn't remember how to eliminate water in my mouth.  Slight panic, followed by repetition of instructions (don't forget to pay attention during the short training).  I was going to quit, but a determined instructor pushed me to keep going and I held onto to his hand (for dear life) while exploring the reef.


Personally, I much preferred snorkelling.  It was amazing to swim with the fish, while seeing the coral up close.  Eventually, it was time to return to the boat, but I could have kept snorkelling for hours.

This may or may not be R with a noodle...I'm sworn to secrecy about that.


There were many varieties of fish. Some people saw a reef shark. We also hung out with a curious and playful Maori Wrasse.

All around - highly recommend it!

The next day, we visited Rusty's Market. Here are some pictures of some interesting fruit that I would never find in my local market (with the exception of the hot peppers).













We also visited the Botanical Gardens, which are free. I alternated between being fascinated by the vegetation and freaked out by the massive spiders. Here are some shots of the interesting trees/flowers.










Up next....Sydney!



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