July 30, 2012

Caesar Salad

My salad consumption drops substantially during the winter months. And who can blame me?! With snow, cold winds and sometimes -25 temperatures the last thing I was to have is something cold. But in the summer, I can live off salads and I often do. In many pictures I post there’s often just a simple salad on the side, and why not? They seem so fresh and crisp, and usually, quite healthy.

One of the first things I learned to make was a Caesar salad. I had taken a cooking elective while in junior high and one of the things we learned to make was Caesar salad and veal parmigiana (I passed on the baby cow – ticking off the teacher – but thoroughly enjoy the salad). My mom was impressed and so it became one of our regular salads at home. Once my sister got to junior high she learnt a creamy dressing version, which is also really good, but I prefer the oil and vinegar base.

While watching copious amounts of TV while sick in November Anna Olson (on her show Fresh) showed how to have a coddled-like egg that is cooked thoroughly. Knowing that coddled eggs aren’t always preferable (and sometimes that stringy bit just won’t mix in and I always get that bit – yuck) I thought I’d give it a try. In my cheater version, I make a coddled egg by putting a cracked egg in a glass measuring cup and microwaving it for half a minute or so, and it’s done. For Anna’s version I again cracked an egg into a glass measuring cup and beat it a bit. In 5-10 second intervals I cooked it and beat it again until it was just cooked and light and fluffy. It was interesting and different, and in my Caesar salad dressing it was perfect.

Caesar Salad
1 head of romaine lettuce, washed and torn into bit-sized pieces
Parmesan cheese
Gluten-free croutons
1 coddled egg
6-8 tbs olive oil
4 tbs white vinegar
2 tbs butter
1-2 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp dried oregano
Pinch of salt
After coddling the egg, add melted butter (you could add the butter and melt it while cooking the egg if you like). Add oil and vinegar and mix well. Add garlic, mustard, oregano, salt and pepper and whisk well. Taste and adjust seasoning to your preference (or more oil or vinegar). Add some cheese to the dressing and mix again. Place lettuce and croutons in a large bowl. Sprinkle oregano and parmesan over the top and then drizzle dressing over salad (use as much or as little as you like). Toss and serve. Leftover dressing will keep in the fridge for a week or so.

July 20, 2012

The Cake Shop

Earlier in the year The Cake Shop moved from their south-west end location to the still up and coming Hintonburg. I say ‘still’ because there are so many shops and restaurants and it seems to be ever changing. A friend and I had lunch and wandered around a little bit discovering the new places on the east side of Parkdale. Isabelle’s had moved to the area and while my friend found a few tasty treats to take home, the gluten-free options had to be pre-ordered. It seemed like a let-down especially since I could make my own vanilla or chocolate cupcakes if I had notice myself. I only wanted one, not a dozen! If I buy a dozen, I’m going to eat a dozen!

After my friend and I parted, I continued on my way home still slightly deflated. I had popped into the Cake Shop before and knew they had GF cakes. But again, if I bought a cake, I’d eat the whole thing. On this visit they happened to have GF cupcakes and four different kinds! They also had a cheesecake pop. Mmmmm

I finally decided on a red velvet cupcake and a vanilla cupcake with pretty pink icing. And of course I couldn’t pass up the cheesecake pop. I delved into that first and it was delicious, especially with a dollop of caramel inside.

On the cupcake front, both were nice tasty cake; however, when I have red velvet I want it to be real red velvet. Real red velvet is made with chocolate cake and has a tint of red, while most places these days seem to be cheating and using a regular vanilla cake with a ton of red food colouring (a lot is needed otherwise the cake is pink and not red). Another important reason for using chocolate cake is that the chocolate flavour overwhelms the taste of the food colouring. So unfortunately, I could really taste the food colouring. I know I have freaky taste buds, but I hate that taste. I’m sure had it been made with chocolate, it would have been to-die-for. The pretty-in-pink cupcake was enjoyed more and it looked so darn pretty.

One thing I hadn’t thought about until after wolfing down all three (seriously, they lasted 20 minutes in my house) is what was in the flower decoration. I picked it up and analyzed it. Was it Styrofoam? Was it like a communion wafer? I took a leaf off and took a very small bite. Yes, it was edible and yes, it was like a communion wafer, and yes, that meant it probably had wheat. Off my tongue and into the compost it went (and some gargling and spitting into the sink). Gluten-free is fine and dandy until something silly like this happens.

Another disappointment was the icing. It was beautiful and sturdy and held-up on my walk home. Unfortunately, it was full of shortening. If you can’t tell the difference, then don’t worry, but if you can, well, maybe take a pass. I make a point to make real icing in my house and if I’m paying big bucks (over $3) for one cupcake, I expect the real deal. They were nice to try once, but maybe I’ll think again the next time I’m walking by.

The best cake shop? I wouldn't know. The best gf cakes? Not quite; they still have some work to do.

(An additional note: An email to The Cake Shop regarding the pretty flower went unanswered)

July 15, 2012

Whirlwind of Life

Life really has seemed like a whirlwind. Here it is the middle of July and I haven’t had the chance to enjoy summer that much. There have been little things here and there, but it hasn’t been the usual. The Honey and I usually take advantage of the summer months spending as much time as we can outside going for walks, biking along the river, hiking in the Gatineaus, and spending time on many patios – ours and those in the neighbourhood. But this year, we’ve been really busy with work. As I’ve mentioned before, my private student and gearing up for the summer program have been keeping me really busy and to top it off, my mom was staying with us again while she was working in the area (Yes, The Honey is a saint!). The Honey has been working most weekends getting projects, readings, and speeches written. Sometimes the highlight of our day was looking out our bedroom window when we opened the curtains in the morning and seeing out colourful garden. Our lilies were in full bloom and showing off like we’ve never seen.

But now, finally, we have some time to ourselves.

Last weekend we took a drive to Hudson, QC at the suggestion of a colleague. She told The Honey of a market there and a great restaurant on the lake. The weather was going to be gorgeous and we had the whole day with nothing to do so off we went. It is super easy to get to (take the highway to Montreal and get off at the Rigaud/Hudson exit) and take about an hour or so from Ottawa. The market is in a field behind some bushes and if you don’t keep your eyes open you may just drive by it. There are food goodies to buy and some tchotchkes, some furniture and dishes, and anything else you may like – a cement leaf birdbath perhaps? We bought some great cheese curds while wandering around, but they didn’t keep our hunger at bay for very long. Off we went to find the restaurant on the lake.

The roads are winding and narrow and there isn’t much room for error, especially when you encounter a cyclist. We would catch a glimpse of a beautiful home, big or small, and awe at its design or landscaping. There are many large homes in this area, but many that are smaller, quaint really, that make me think how wonderful it would be living in something so cottage-esque.

We easily found Willow Place Inn and smiled when we saw the stacked patios overlooking the lake. What a great place to have lunch. Although we had to wait a bit for a table, we were welcomed to get a drink at the bar and take it down to the grass. We didn’t have to think about it and quickly made out way with a drink in hand. While I’m sure many would have liked to have a quick seating, we were enjoying ourselves in the comfy chairs and were slightly disappointed we couldn’t stay there a bit longer. It was just as well as we were hungry and we could always return after lunch.

We had a nice view from the second story patio and just enjoyed the shade under our umbrella. As the day advanced so did the heat. Oddly enough, nothing impressed us about the restaurant. They didn’t have a wide variety of beverages (I ended up getting a Smirnoff Ice because I knew it was safe), the menu seemed nice until the food arrived and it was only ho-hum (a spinach, strawberry and brie salad fell flat) and the service could have been much better (our young waiter really needed some training if he was going to make any tips by the end of the summer), but we still enjoyed ourselves. We had the whole day to relax for a change and we were in no hurry. We enjoyed each other’s company, the weather and the scenery.

July 7, 2012

Elk Burgers

Ahhhh, finally a chance to relax. I finished with my government student last week and am back with the summer program for the next 5 weeks. Week one has gotten off to a glorious start – great teachers working together, happy students, and outgoing monitors. And I can’t forget the great admin people on staff; my boss included. It was so nice to do things throughout the week on my terms instead of last minute details that ‘had to happen 10 minutes ago’ or chasing after teachers.

Now that my planning is done for my student and her supply teacher and the summer program is under way I actually have time for myself. The Honey and I actually had time to think about what we’d do with our Saturday. What a luxury! No work, no emails, no gardening, no hiding from the heat. Heavenly.

Thinking about what you’re going to do on a beautiful weekend? Why not head out to one of our region’s wonderful farmers markets. No too long ago I picked up some delicious elk burgers from Elk Ranch; perfect on the BBQ. I didn’t do anything special to them as I wanted to taste them as they were; just added a little herbed butter. It was quite the treat especially with some sliced greenhouse tomatoes (they should be arriving at the markets soon), mozzarella and a sprinkle of basil.

Steakhouse Butter (Chef Michael Smith from The Best of Chef at Home)
½ cup butter, softened
2 tbs finely minced shallot or red onion
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 tbs finely minced parsley
1 tbs finely minced thyme
2 tbs red wine vinegar
A sprinkle of salt and pepper
Mix all the ingredients together. Place the butter in a log formation on a piece of plastic wrap and roll it once so it is almost covered in plastic. Continue to roll it and twist the ends a bit so it pushes all the butter tightly into the log formation. Refrigerate for several hours. Serve a slice over perfectly cooked steak.