December 29, 2011

Montreal Calling

For the May 2-4 weekend The Honey and I made a trip to Montreal. Friends were celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary and Montreal is a bit special to them – he proposed there while on a weekend getaway. It had been a while since we picked up and took off to Montreal and we really like these friends, so we couldn’t resist joining them (along with other family and friends).

May was still quite cool and rainy here in Ottawa, but the weather changed once we got closer to Montreal. The whole weekend there made it seem as though summer had finally arrived – the sun was shining and warm, the flowers were in full bloom, trees had leaves and blossoms, and it suddenly became shorts and t-shirt weather.

We were staying in Mont-Royal Plateau, a new area for us, and spent much of the weekend exploring this lively neighbourhood. We wandered through La Fountaine Park, along St Denis & Mont Royal streets, popping into shops and cafes. Of the dozens and dozens of times we’ve been to Montreal we had never set foot in the Plateau, and so we continue to see something new after all these years.

Our first dinner was at Bières et Compagnie (4350 St Denis St), a given that our friend is a beer nut and this place makes all their own beer. He had been before and raved about the food, unfortunately, once I saw the menu I realized it wasn’t going to be very ‘me-friendly’. If it didn’t have beer in it then it had wheat. Luckily though the waitress was knowledgeable about the food and when she didn’t know, she asked the kitchen. With my options being very slim, I decided on a Chicken Caesar salad (sans croutons!) which turned out to be very nice.

For lunch the following day we found Une Crêpe?, located at 425 Mont-Royal Ave E. I’d heard they had buckwheat crepes and if there was something for me, then The Honey was happy. We both enjoyed our crepes and surprisingly the buckwheat flour didn’t have the overpowering flavour like it does when I cook with it. I could taste my apples and cinnamon and savoured the nice flavours.

Later for dinner, my friend had chosen Le Flambard (851 Rachel St E) for a special celebratory dinner for us all and because their website stated they could accommodate food allergies. Another first for The Honey and I was an occasion to take our own alcohol and being a large group, this allowed us to enjoy our dinner a bit more (we were still civilized!). Our waiter was very attentive and so helpful in making my dinner choices. We all had the table d’hôte (very reasonably priced at around $30) with varying options and no one was disappointed. Given that dinner took most of the evening between our four courses and many bottles of wine, our waiter maintained his sense of humour and attentiveness (and was tipped well in appreciation as a result). We were still talking about it the next morning at breakfast.

All of us stayed at the Auberge de la Fontaine (1301 Rachel St E) where the rooms varied from being spacious to being cozy (in a good way). Our friend had reserved a room with a large patio and we spent quite a bit of time there hanging out, talking about whatever, having a few beverages, and of course, enjoying the gorgeous weather. Just off the lobby there is a small kitchen where guests can keep some goodies and prepare something for themselves too. Breakfast was a variety of baked goods, fresh little quiches, breads, cereal, fruit, and yogurt. I suggest speaking with an employee the day before to see what they’ll have on offer, just to be on the safe side. I dug into one of the quiches when I didn’t see the crust, thinking it was baked eggs (but a little pastry was there on the bottom!). With the warm weather I didn’t mind just having yogurt, but in cooler weather I might bring something.

It was such a lovely weekend and the perfect way to spend a May 2-4 – with friends and great weather. Upon returning to Ottawa the nice weather followed and summer really did begin.

December 27, 2011

Quick & Healthy

When I first began having problems with foods I quickly realized that I was missing some key nutrients. As a vegetarian I used soy and diary to help with my protein, calcium and iron. With those two gone and wheat along with it I decided to bring fish into my diet. It took a lot of soul searching, research and learning. And combined with removing some difficult foods from my diet, I began to feel better.

Even though we are far from a regular source of fresh fish here in Ottawa, there are some great fish mongers and in my experience, they are more than happy to help. Of course, fresh fish cannot be in my diet every day. My wallet really couldn’t handle that and I actually would get a little sick of it. The Honey has uttered ‘Fish again!?’ on numerous evenings.

To make things a bit more convenient I always have a stash of frozen salmon patties in the freezer. Through the years I have tried many and some are just horrible. But there are some really good ones out there. While they are not the same as fresh, when the weather is horrible or I forgot to go to the store or I discover there is nothing to eat (since everything needed to go into the composter), they can be a lifesaver.

Two of my favourites are both gluten-free and taste great – Irrestibles Blue Menu Salmon Burgers (Metro’s store brand) and Janes Sockeye Salmon Burgers.

At regular price, both are affordable ($6-8 for four patties), and when they go on sale, they are really affordable and are perfect for stocking up. I always have a stock in my freezer. Both cook up really nicely on a BBQ and will cook evenly if done on the stove. 

And a bun isn’t really necessary as they both have nice flavour on their own. Plus, I dress them up enough on their own.


December 23, 2011

Chicken Soup

For a family dinner a while back I roasted a large chicken. I had asked the butcher to flatten it for me, mainly to lessen the cooking time (it cuts the time to almost half). A downside to being new with meat is that I have no idea on portion or serving size. This chicken was huge! We had plenty not just for dinner and leftovers, but probably enough for the week or more. After days of chicken with veggies or on sandwiches, we’d had enough.

The cold weather convinced me to make chicken soup. My mom had rarely made soup from scratch, but my grandmothers always did. I prefer making my own soup because I know what’s in it. Plus it doesn’t take as long as people think. The most consuming part is chopping everything, but while the soup is cooking, you can do what you want.

I had copied a few recipes from Ahern’s book Gluten-Free Girl and one was for chicken stock. Whatever was in the fridge went in – tonnes of veggies and some rice that everyone was also sick of. And because the chicken had already been roasted I added a gf stock cube fearing there would be no flavour. Another upside of using leftover chicken is that all the natural fat was solidified sitting in the roasting pan, meaning there wasn’t any to skim off the top.

At first I stirred the soup often, impressed by my first meaty soup. Then I left it alone. When I returned to the kitchen an hour later the aroma was amazing. It was one of the most delicious smells I’ve ever experienced. Then the realization hit and tears came to my eyes. It smelled like my Babcia’s kitchen. I hadn’t smelled anything like it since I was 8 years old. In adjusting Ahern’s stock recipe I inadvertently made my Babcia’s chicken soup. She’d be proud of me, but also wonder why it took me so long to make it.

In finishing it up I poured everything through a colander and into a large bowl. It seemed a shame to throw out all the meat afterwards so I pulled it off the bones, chopped it up and put it back into the pot. As I fingered the bones, the legs, wings, then the vertebrae I was reminded again that my meal was once alive. Again tears came to my eyes with this realization. This was my new reality. It was something I continue to be aware of and need to remember. It was just taking me some time to adjust. 

December 21, 2011

Mincemeat Tarts

My nana made mincemeat pies and tarts every year for Christmas. Of course there was a lot to eat at her house for Christmas dinner, but you were also expected to take either a few pies or a few dozen tarts home with you too. Even though my parents divorced when I was a young child, my nana would still want me to take some home to my mom. In her eulogy I mentioned how hard it was to leave her house empty handed as one would always be loaded down with loaves and jams after every visit. Family couldn’t help but laugh in agreement.

Her mincemeat recipe is cherished and a family secret. It is so good that one of The Honey’s aunts likes it even more when we stay in Ottawa for Christmas as I always take her a few tarts. I make her mincemeat every year, usually enough to get me through the season. And trust me, I eat enough mincemeat during the holidays that I don’t have any inkling for it until the following November. While I’m not going to divulge my nana’s secret (I’d probably be excommunicated for that), I will tell you about another great mincemeat that you can use and one that tastes like homemade.

President’s Choice 5 Minced Fruits mincemeat is wonderful and tastes likes it’s homemade. I’ve tried others and they don’t compare (to this or my nana’s); in fact, they don’t even come close. An extra bonus is that the PC mincemeat is gluten-free (many oddly enough, are not). 

I’ve used this on a few occasions when in a bind, like the recent celiac association dessert party (mine was still frozen solid) and everyone loves it. There are two kinds – a vegetarian (suet-free) and regular (with suet) – and they taste exactly the same.

Luckily, there were a few tarts that wouldn’t fit on the plate and I have to leave them at home. Almost nothing more perfect with my morning coffee and a little cream (or rice milk).

December 20, 2011

Rice and Fish Stew

The temperature has been fluctuating like a yo-yo this past week and I’ve gone from wearing my fall jacket (well into December – unheard of in Ottawa) to bundling up in my warm winter jacket. I still haven’t pulled out my big down coat; it’s not cold enough yet. It’s the kind of weather where one needs something warm and hearty; the kind of food that sticks to your bones. I’m almost through my stack of Style at Home recipes that I wanted to make my way through this year. The stack seemed to grow as time went on. I’m pleased to say that it’s near the end of the year and the stack is almost gone, although other recipes have replaced the magazines.

One recipe that was just sitting there waiting for the right weather was a pearl couscous in red snapper stew. Of course, couscous is not celiac friendly so I changed it to rice; actually I made a few changes. The original recipe in Style at Home (March 2008) is courtesy of Massimo Capra, owner and chef at Mistura in Toronto and of CityLine fame, who had written ‘One Pot Italian Cooking. I must admit that I was still hesitant to try it after his squash and rice soup turned out to be a really mushy risotto. Maybe I’ll blame it on the adaptation by the magazine.

The changes I made were the obvious couscous, using cooked rice instead (quinoa would be awesome too); using tilapia instead of the red snapper (I was nowhere near a fishmonger that day), and using fresh parsley instead of oregano (my grocery store was out). I also accidently used the juice of a whole small lemon, but loved the result as the lemon made the dish pop. The final result was a dish full of flavour and warming on the inside. Next time, I’ll add more fish instead of the 12oz called for, and maybe try something less tender – halibut may not break up so easily.

Perfect for bone-chilling weather.

Rice and Fish Stew   (serves 4)    (Style at Home March 2008)
12 oz fish
2 tbs olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, sliced
½ cup white wine
2 cups each tomato juice and water
1 cup cooked rice
Salt and pepper
1 small bunch fresh oregano or parsley, finely chopped
Finely grated rind of 1 lemon
Juice of half a lemon
1 hot chili pepper, chopped
In a saucepan, heat oil over medium heat and sauté onion and garlic until translucent. Add fish and cook gently for 3-4 minutes. Pour in wine and simmer until liquid had evaporated. Pour in tomato juice and water and simmer for a few minutes. Add rice and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add oregano, lemon rind, lemon juice, and chili pepper. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Stir to break up the fish into serve-able pieces.