Oh, how I love Saturday mornings.
Oh, how I love Saturday mornings.
Did anyone else in eastern Ontario/Ottawa give in to firing up your BBQ last night? With the temperature finally rising just above freezing, the husband and I couldn’t resist breaking out our BBQ.
We didn’t have any fresh meat on hand, so instead we grilled up a whole bunch of veggies (potatoes, broccoli, bell peppers and mushrooms) and served them over a bed of brown rice with some feta cheese. Yum! You just can’t beat that grilled flavour!
I have been eating this same salad for lunch all week and I am still addicted to it! There is nothing better than roasted veggies and quinoa for a hearty salad.
Dinner at Devlin’s Country Bistro
As one of my parent’s favourite local dining spots, it is funny to me that I have really only been to Devlin’s one other time in recent history, when my parents took the husband and I out for dinner to celebrate our engagement (see here). Not living close to my family means that I miss out on some special occasions, and even those less formal occasions like a relaxing dinner out on a Friday night to a lovely spot like Devlin’s.
So when the husband and I went to visit my family one recent weekend (to celebrate my niece’s first birthday - see her amazing cake here), my parents asked if they could take us out to Devlin’s for a relaxing dinner, and to share some of their huge array of appetizers.
After spending some time settling into the cozy bar side of the restaurant and perusing their recently updated menu, we decided on a whole bunch of items to share, including (from top to bottom of my photos): their pasta special of the night, made into an appetizer-sized portion, which was seafood linguine with squid ink pasta; lamb lollipops with roasted garlic jus; another nightly special, the tuna tartare with in-house made chips for serving; Asian fried calamari; a personal pan pizza with anchovy, sundried tomato and basil; and turkey sliders done three ways. The food was, as demonstrated on our previous visit, fantastic, and it was so fun to be able to taste and share so many different items. I think my favourite dish of the night had to be the lamb lollipops: I’ve heard my parents talk about these for so long, I had been dying to try them, so it was delightful to finally sink my teeth into something so rich and meaty!
We all couldn’t resist sharing a dessert, and we managed to agree on the white mousse cake with fresh berries. It was the perfect way for all of us to end our dinner with a few bites of light and fluffy sweetness!
Lunch at A Thing for Chocolate
I’m lucky to work near the very up and coming neighbourhood (or perhaps it has already arrived?) of Hintonburg. It seems like there is always a new restaurant or shop that is on the verge of opening up, so I always have lots to explore!
Most recently, I noticed a little shop with a catchy name with an ‘opening soon’ sign on it’s doors: A Thing for Chocolate. With a name like that, I was intrigued!
A friend from work and I decided to check it out one day during our lunch hour. I had done a little bit of research online to try and find out exactly what we might find, and I was delighted when I discovered that this new little cafe would be serving crepes, both of the sweet and the savoury variety.
I wanted to try a savoury crepe for my first visit, so I chose the English crepe, which is filled with scrambled eggs, bacon, fresh tomato, cheddar cheese and Dijon mustard. Served with a side of greens drizzled lightly with a balsamic vinaigrette, this was one amazing crepe: light and fluffy, and filled with just the right amount of ingredients. My friend had the house special (sweet) crepe, which comes filled with your choice of fruit (strawberries, bananas, blackberries, blueberries - or all of the above!) and their in-house made chocolate spread, either in milk or dark chocolate. She loved it! The chocolate is of the highest quality, and the fruits were incredibly fresh.
I couldn’t resist trying one of their Death by Chocolate brownies (I mean, come on!) and I was not disappointed. This is a brownie at its best with a crisp top layer and a dense, rich inner layer. To help cut some of the sweetness, I ordered a cappuccino, which the owner, Omar Fares, makes on the strong side, which is absolutely perfect to me!
Overall, this is a great little spot. There is, however, limited seating, so I wouldn’t recommend going with a big group. The service, while good, is relaxed, so be careful if you’re tight for time. But if you have a free afternoon, it would be a great spot to relax in their big, comfy chairs and sip coffee and eat chocolate!
The owner loves to chat and is incredibly friendly and personable, which I loved. It is so invigorating to see the passion in an owner’s eyes and to hear it in his voice - he wants to be there and is excited to share his passion for excellent chocolate, crepes and coffee with his customers. I can’t wait to return: next time, obviously I’ll have a sweet crepe!
Weekend cooking project: tomato stew with farro and roasted eggplant
I am a big planner. I like to know when things are going to happen down to specific dates, times, locations etc. I am habitual. And all of this applies to how I feel about my weekday work lunches!
As someone who brown-bags it for lunch most days, I like to prepare so that I’m not scrambling every morning to gather up something that is healthy and that I actually want to eat each and every day. I find that, with a little planning and preparation, a brown-bag lunch can be just as exciting as going out!
One of my favourite ways to make easy brown-bag lunches is to make my own frozen dinners of sorts. By making a big batch of stew and freezing it into individual portions, I make the ritual of preparing my work lunch each and every day easy and tasty. It also allows me to try recipes that the husband wouldn’t be interested in, like stews such as this tomato stew with farro and roasted eggplant.
This stew is fantastic! If you’re looking for a hearty stew that is packed with veggies (and can be totally vegetarian if you like - I used chicken broth so mine is not vegetarian), this one will warm you up and fill your belly. I love the unique mixture of flavours and textures in this stew, from the slight hint of cinnamon and the raisins to the luxurious sundried tomatoes. I came across this stew on the fabulous Honeycomb blog, and modified it slightly. Click on my photo above to link to Honeycomb’s original recipe.
Tomato stew with farro and roasted eggplant - serves 4 as a main (large servings)
(Adapted from Honeycomb)
- 1/2 cup farro, cooked (I used PC Italian farro)
- 1 can (796 ml/28 oz) low-sodium or no salt added diced tomatoes
- 1 eggplant (approx. 1lb), chopped into bite-sized pieces
- 1 onion, chopped/diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 can (540 ml/19 oz) low-sodium or no sodium chickpeas
- 1/2 lb carrots, quartered and chopped into small pieces
- 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 1/2 cups chicken broth
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped (use the ones packed in oil)
- 3/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp cracked black pepper
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar
1.Get your eggplant roasting! Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Chop eggplant into bite-sized pieces, toss with olive oil and roast for about 20 minutes.
2. Cook the farro according to your package’s directions. Set aside.
3. In a large pot heated on medium, add a splash of olive oil. Add onions, carrots and bell pepper. Cook until just slightly tender and the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, cooked eggplant, cinnamon and tomato paste and cook for a minute. Add canned tomatoes, using the liquid to scrape any burnt bits off the bottom of the pan. Next add your chicken broth, chickpeas, sundried tomatoes, raisins and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or until carrots are tender.
4. Once the carrots are tender, add the 1 tsp of sugar and the cooked farro and stir. Enjoy!
Another Flying Banzini conquest: the meatloaf sandwich
As I have mentioned before, I’m slowly making my way through the Flying Banzini’s sandwich menu bite by delicious bite. It has been one tasty adventure after another so far!
When the Flying Banzini changed their menu a few months ago, I was excited about the new soft bun sandwich options, mostly the meatloaf sandwich. Meatloaf on a sandwich! It made my mouth water with delight just thinking about it. So when I finally sat down to sink my teeth into this hearty sandwich, I could barely contain my enthusiasm. A giant (and I mean GIANT) slice of Chef Nico’s meatloaf comes piled upon one of one of the Flying Banzini’s in-house made soft buns, with your choice of toppings (I chose the chipotle ketchup at the recommendation of my server and added fresh greens and sliced tomato). This sandwich was perfect - it was a monster of a lunch size-wise (let’s just say that I didn’t need to eat dinner that night) and worth every bite and penny. Chef Nico’s meatloaf is tender, not too salty and oh-so-meaty. The chipotle ketchup added a delightful but not too spicy kick. Overall, this has been my favourite Flying Banzini sandwich so far!
Martha Stewart’s molasses-spice cookies
How did I forget to share these with you? I did quite a bit of baking during the Christmas season this past December, and these beauties were one of the items that I made.
I bought a used copy of Martha Stewart’s Cookies: the Very Best Treats to Cook and Share cookbook a while back and I’d been hoping to put it to good use over the holiday season. It is a gorgeous cookbook with endless cookie recipes ranging from fancy cookies to your basic chocolate chip cookie. I am a sucker for a ginger molasses cookie, so when I came across Martha’s recipe in the cookbook, I knew these would be a perfect addition to my Christmas baking.
The cookies turned out deliciously! They were very flat and wide, and delightfully chewy. I added some red and green coloured sugar before baking to give them some Christmas flair.
I followed Martha’s recipe exactly as it is in the cookbook, which I have included below. You can also click on my photo to link to the original recipe.
Chewy molasses-spice cookies - from Martha Stewart
2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1/4 cup molasses
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. In a shallow bowl, place 1/2 cup sugar; set aside.
With an electric mixer, beat butter and remaining cup of sugar until combined. Beat in egg and then molasses until combined. Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in dry ingredients, just until a dough forms.
Pinch off and roll dough into balls, each equal to 1 tablespoon. Roll balls in reserved sugar to coat.
Arrange balls on baking sheets, about 3 inches apart. Bake, one sheet at a time, until edges of cookies are just firm, 10 to 15 minutes (cookies can be baked two sheets at a time, but they will not crackle uniformly). Cool 1 minute on baking sheets; transfer to racks to cool completely.
Thailicious - a new food truck in Ottawa
Ottawa has some great thai food restaurants, so I was a little surprised when I learned that there would be a thai food truck joining Ottawa’s raft of new food trucks this year. What made me change my mind was when I learned of the location: the truck would make its home in Stiittsville, which meant it was nice and close to me! As well, there aren’t really any great thai food restaurants in the far west end of Ottawa, so this truck would be a welcome addition.
After reviewing Thailicious’ menu, I knew I had to try the mango salad. The ever raging winter that we have been experiencing this year has made me crave fresh, light meals lately, and my mouth started to water just thinking of all of that fresh mango. I also decided to try their pad thai, because, how can you not? Both dishes were delicious! The mango salad was everything I’d hoped it would be: fresh, bright in flavour, and tangy from the spicy lime dressing. The pad thai, to which I also added chicken, was amazing. The noodles and chicken were tender, the sauce silky, and the peanuts added a perfect crunch for a textural adventure for the tongue!
Both the mango salad and the pad thai were priced fairly for the portion size in my opinion, but it didn’t come cheap at $7 for the salad and $12 for the pad thai (I paid an extra $2 to add chicken).
I definitely hope to try more of the menu items at Thailicious in the coming months and as the weather warms up. I think that this truck has great potential, and I wish them success with their business!
Dinner at El Camino
It took me a long time to finally get my butt (and my appetite!) to El Camino to try the tacos that everyone has been raving about. I was sorry I waited so long!
El Camino is brought to you by Chef Matthew Carmichael, someone who has been making waves in the Ottawa restaurant scene for many years now. I first tasted his delicious talents at Sidedoor (see here), so I already knew I’d be a fan of El Camino.
I managed to only snap a photo of the plate of tacos I shared with some friends, but I also tried a few other items at El Camino. I started off the night with one of their cocktails: the pina colada. But this wasn’t your ordinary blender version, it was a silky, modern take on the classic drink with coconut crème, coconut water, agave nectar, lemon, pineapple juice and 2 oz cachaça rum. Garnished with a hunk of coconut, this was one of the best pina coladas I’ve ever had. But it didn’t come cheap at $15!
Before digging into the main event, the tacos, I tried a few of El Camino’s other menu items, including their in-house salsa, which was incredibly smoky and flavourful and comes served with tortilla chips. I also tried the tuna tartare crispy taco with queso and iceberg lettuce, which was a beautifully presented dish jam packed with fresh tuna. I think it was my favourite of the night! Last but not least, I tried three different kinds of tacos: the ox tongue, the pork, and the crispy fish. All three were pretty mind-blowing, but I have to say that the ox tongue was a new experience for me. It was very smoky and rich, and I loved every bite!
All in all, El Camino was a fantastic experience. Another great spot in Ottawa for excellent food and ambiance!
Weekend breakfast/brunch: warm cinnamon apples
Why does the weekend always go by way too quickly? I know, I know, we all whine about this each and every Monday, but I never get tired of whining about it.
This past weekend, the husband and I made an extra special brunch on Saturday (that’s a thing, right? Saturday brunch? Sunday can’t have all the fun). I’ve taken to making warm cinnamon apples as a special treat to accompany pancakes or french toast, and we love them! The secret ingredient in my opinion is using Granny Smith apples. Their tartness mixes perfectly with the cinnamon, butter and sugar, and they don’t break down or get mushy.
The husband also made french toast using Richmond Bakery’s cinnamon bread, which went perfectly with the warm cinnamon apples. Oh, how I wish it was Saturday morning right now!
Warm cinnamon apples - serves 2, my own recipe
- 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and chopped into slices or chunks (I wouldn’t recommend using another type of apple, but you can if you really want to, of course!)
- 1 Tbsp butter (salted or unsalted)
- 1 to 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp brown sugar (optional)
Melt the butter in a small non-stick frying pan over medium-low heat. Once bubbly, add the brown sugar (if using), then the apples. Sprinkle the cinnamon over the mixture and stir well.
Cook for about 15 minutes or slightly softened and the sauce has become syrupy. Serve as a side dish or on top of pancakes, waffles or french toast!
I’m trying out this new President’s Choice Italian farro today in a vegetarian stew I’m making to freeze for my work lunches. Have you tried it? I’m very curious as I have never before tried farro. I think it will be very similar to wheatberries or barley in texture (and which I have tried). I will keep you posted, as always!
A lovely cappuccino on a rainy day - at Art-is-in Bakery.
Sunday supper: spicy chunky beef chilli
I adore chili: it is one of my favourite hearty wintertime meals. It is a blast to experiment in the kitchen with different chili recipes as they can each be so different in terms of flavours yet very much the same in terms of components.
During a recent trip to Bulk Barn, I noticed that they had chipotle powder in the spice section, so I got some to try. I thought it would be a delicious new ingredient to try in my classic chili recipe. I was right - but it was spicy! I have used canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce before, and I knew to play it safe and that a little goes a long way. But I was not so safe when adding the chipotle powder to my chili, and it packed a spicy punch! But along with the spicy kick comes a rich, smoky flavour that I love, so this was a resounding success. We also had a box of cornbread mix on hand so I made cornbread muffins to accompany our chili - a classic accompaniment!
Spicy chunky beef chili (my own recipe)
- 1 to 1 1/2 lb extra lean ground beef
- 1 bell pepper (colour of your choice), seeded and chopped
- 1 8 oz package mushrooms, cleaned and chopped or sliced
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup frozen corn
- 1/4-1/2 cup red wine
- 1 28 oz (796 ml) can diced tomatoes (or pureed tomatoes)
- 1 19 oz (540 ml) can sodium free black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 19 oz (540 ml) can sodium free red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 tbsp chipotle powder
- 2 tbsp chilli powder
- 1 tbsp smoked paprika
- 1 tbsp dried oregano
- salt and pepper to taste
- garlic powder to taste
Make the spice mixture - mix all of the spices in a bowl and set aside.
Heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Add ground beef and cook until no longer pink. Add onion, bell pepper and mushrooms and cook until softened.
Add the garlic and the spice mixture and cook for about 30 seconds. Add the red wine (you can use this at any point during the cooking process to deglaze the pain if the meat and veggies start to stick), the tomatoes, the corn and all the beans. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.
Serve topped with shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, cilantro, avocado and your other favourite chili toppings.
Weeknight supper: pasta bake
I don’t really have a recipe for this pasta: I tweak it a little bit each time that I make it so it always turns out a little bit differently. Basically, I gather whatever vegetables I have on hand (usually onions, bell pepper, mushrooms and broccoli) and meat (usually pork sausage or ground beef), and cook them together, throw in some passata (strained tomatoes), some dried herbs and other seasonings (garlic and red wine). When that has all come together, I toss it with some cooked pasta, then pour into a casserole dish. I top the whole thing with some cheese and bake it off until good and bubbly. This is comfort food at its best!