Friday, December 30, 2011

Xmas Eve at Casa del Unicorn

Happy (insert appropriate holy day here)!

It's the holiday season and out cometh some of the year's best feastings. I've partook of the traditional Christmas turkey feast most years and this was no exception. But this is also the first year where I celebrated the holidays with my favourite lady-friend Kari and we took the opportunity of having nothing going on Christmas Eve to have our own little celebration à deux.

But really the fun began on the 23rd. Kari still had some shopping to finish up at the mall, so I was in charge of picking up the food. Now, because it was Christmas Eve eve, we needed a couple of days worth of meals. I decided that I wanted to make one of them something stew-like, but was in the mood for something in the Spanish vein. Basically I wanted chorizo. So, I went to Saslove's Meats and picked up some chorizo as well as a duck breast (I made the duck for dinner that night to much excitement, having never cooked duck before - more on that in a subsequent post). We also decided that our Xmas Eve celebration needed a wine and cheese course, so that was next from the International Cheese and Deli, where I grabbed some Goat Brie, a Danish Blue and an aged Manchego.

Next came a quick trip to the Byward Fruit Market for veggies and such and a pop in to Aux Délices Bakery for the baguette (olive baguette to boot! SCORE!) and some dessert (which we never ate - oops). Then, a quick beer at the Dominion and it was off to LCBO for a booze stock-up. 150 bucks and a box full of bottles of wine and beer later, it was off home!

Skip ahead to the next evening. After working til 7 pm, I booted it home to get ready for the feasting!

First off, we made a quick appetizer of wild boar sausage slices on crostini with a smidge of Dijon mustard. Taaaaasty!

Next came the stew:

Spanish "Chili"


- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 3 chorizo sausage, casing removed and divided into small bits of meat
- 1 Spanish or Vidalia onion, roughly chopped
- 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 small eggplant, chopped in 1 cm thick pieces
- 1 zucchini, sliced into quarters length-wise and cut into 1 cm thick pieces
- 2-3 tomatoes, chopped (with their juice)
- 3/4 cup dry red wine (I used a Spanish Rioja, which was perfect)
- 1-2 tbsp tomato paste (they sell tomato paste in squeeze tubes now, which is really practical)
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- pinch cayenne pepper or other ground pepper (I used guajillo powder for this one)
- 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
- 1/2 tsp black pepper (or to taste)
- pinch saffron (in this case, we had no saffron, so we used a Saffron Pepper Rub we'd gotten at a farmer's market. Close enough!)
- juice of half a lemon
- capers (for garnish)
- 1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped (for garnish)


- In a large pot, heat olive oil on medium-high heat
- Sauté sausage meat, onions, garlic and eggplant for about 5 minutes
- Reduce heat to medium and add zucchini, tomatoes, tomato paste, wine and seasonings. Stir everything together. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 50 minutes.
- Stir in lemon juice and simmer for another 10 minutes.
- Serve in bowls topped with a few capers and lots of parsley. Serve with baguette, preferably olive baguette.

Now, the recipe presented here is not exactly what I made, but rather the way I'd do it next time. First off, the 'eggplant' part was actually a leftover eggplant side dish from the night before that was basically eggplant baked with croutons, oil and balsamic vinegar. But, if I was doing it from scratch, I'd toss in fresh eggplant for sure.

Second, I added the capers to the pot while cooking. This didn't really ruin anything, but when I had a bowl for leftovers a couple of days later, all the salt had leeched out of the capers and basically oversalted the whole thing. So, only add your capers per order. Trust me.

Otherwise, I recommend this one highly. It was super tasty, super easy and had a really bright flavour profile that stews often lack.

 Ain't it pretty?

Spanish 'Chili' with Olive Baguette - photo by kira_generika
Now, this was Christmas Eve and really our only "alone" celebration time as the next day would be filled with screaming kids, work, slot machines, turkey, and the fairly recent tradition of closing the Dominion with a whackton of our friends. So, yeah, a romantic after-dinner treat of wine and cheese and present opening was pretty much perfect.

I kind of took my inspiration from the Wine Flight we took at Play a month back (the epic tale of which can be read here) in pairing 3 cheeses with 3 different wines. The difference is that I'm a rank amateur and don't always get it right. In this case, 2 out of 3 (which ain't bad).
So here's what I came up with:

Wine and Cheese Flight Selections - photo by kira_generika
First Pairing - Goat's Milk Brie (Quebec) with Toasted Head Chardonnay (California, 2010)

Toasted Head Chardonnay is one of those "go-to" wines. It's a Vintages Essential at the LCBO and you can usually find it at any location. It's got a very rich, smoky yet buttery flavour to it. The Brie was more subtly flavoured than expected, but still quite tasty and I think it went beautifully with wine, but I could see someone more critical complaining that the wine might overpower the cheese.

Second Pairing - Aged Manchego (Spain) with Campo Viejo Rioja Reserva (Spain, 2006)

This was a perfect pairing. The Campo Viejo Rioja was very dry but assertive, and offset the crumbly texture and heavy-duty saltiness of the Manchego (which is a bit similar to Parmesan, but not quite as salty or pungent). The two came together to make a wonderful burst of juicy and salty. I really think the cheese brought out an extra dimension of flavour from the wine. I'd go with this pairing any day of the week.

Third Pairing - Danish Blue Cheese (Denmark, assumedly!) with Bombing Range Red (McKinley Springs, Washington State, 2007)

Aaaaaand insert sad trombone noise... I blew it with this one. I'd been so impressed by Washington State wines after having Velvet Devil Merlot paired with a Blue cheese at my first visit to Play, that I thought (like an idiot), that they'd all pair well. I was totally wrong. While the Bombing Range Red was assertive and bursting with flavour, it was torpedoed by the Danish Blue. Yes, it was a fairly mild Blue, but not that mild. Oh well... next time I'll know to avoid Blue cheese with all but the most kick-in-the-teeth reds. Or whiskey...

But, I was still feeling clever and threw in some extra elements to our wine flight. Just to be cute, I threw in some extra flavours to go on top of the cheese. I topped the Manchego with cumin seeds (WIN!), the Blue with Sriracha salt (DOUBLE WIN!), and the Brie with brown sugar (ok, not so much win... too sweet). I also tried playing with the leftover parsley from dinner, but it didn't pair well with anything except the Chardonnay. Can't learn without experimenting, right? We also made little toast squares out of some 12-grain bread to serve the cheese on, but that too was not well matched with the wine and cheese.

Ready to enjoy wine and cheese and more! - photo by kira_generika
Then it was present opening time where a good time was had by all!

So, that was our foodie Christmas Eve chez Casa del Unicorn. I hope all of you had fantastic and delicious holidays!

Happy New Year! See you in 2012.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Toast to my Hometown's Better Eateries - Play!

This post has been a long time in coming as this is one of my favourite places to eat in Ottawa.

Play Food and Wine is the brainchild of Stephen Beckta and Michael  Moffatt (of Beckta renown) and the concept is to have a low-key, fun environment to enjoy really tasty small plates from an ever-changing menu and a diverse wine selection while not breaking the bank. Whereas Beckta is a once-a-year super-splurge (as my post from last March will attest to), Play has been a recurring treat for a couple of years now. Why I haven't blogged about it yet is really just a case of me forgetting to chronicle my meal properly in the past (sometimes it's hard to remember how good something tastes four glasses of wine later...) and by the time I remember to actually write a post about it, I've forgetten the details!

So, this time I made sure to take pictures and notes of what we ate and what I enjoyed most about it. Luckily the meal was pretty damn memorable all on its own! Let's explore it together, shall we?

Kari and I are pretty exacting in our culinary experiences when we go out. I have no qualms letting the server know how I'd like a meal to proceed and this was no exception. Luckily Play follows a service model that accomodates the customer without ever getting the sense of "attitude" from the staff that we're bothering them. In fact, I think the fact that we knew exactly what we wanted and in what order probably made life easier.

So, here's how the menu works at Play: It's a savoury small plate menu (as you can see below) with cheese, charcuterie and dessert selections also available. On the back of the menu is the wine list. They also publish it on simple paper so you can keep your menu to take home, something both the blogger and experiential packrat in me appreciate.

First things first, we ordered our de rigueur cocktails, which is usually something fun and sparkling for Kari (a Spanish Cava in this case, I believe), and a draft beer for me (Beau's Lug Tread).

As we sipped our drinks and looked over the menu, we figured we'd stick to two plates each, followed by a "Wine and Cheese Flight" (more on that later...). So, now came the actual choosing process of what's for dinner! One thing I really dig about Play is that they list the wine pairing along with the plate, so for wine rookies like me, it saves a lot of contemplation. Now, as I looked through the menu, the first thing that grabbed my attention after the Pork Belly was the Meatball Sub. And then I looked at the pairing, which happened to be the exact same thing as what was in my glass! So, first course was picked. Kari was having a bit more trouble deciding, but the ingredient combo in the Beet Bruschetta was too enticing to pass up. Next course had me torn between Pork Belly and Braised Rabbit. In the end, having previously had only one bite of rabbit in my life, I decided to go for it. I've had Pork Belly a few times, including once at Play, so I figured the rabbit needed to be given a chance to shine. Meanwhile, Kari was weighing the options of Pork Belly herself, as well as the Gnocchi and Beef Tataki. In the end, she went for the beef, basically for the same reason I did. It is worth noting that Play usually has pork belly on the menu, so the opportunities to try it are ample.

So, food was ordered with the pairings as listed, and off we went!

Kari's 1st plate - Beet Bruschetta w. chèvre, honey and truffle - paired w. Barbera d'Asti Cascina Caslet (Italy, 2009)

I only tasted a bit of this one, as it was Kari's plate, but I noticed a magical element in the combination of beet, chèvre and honey. It was a completely unique mix of flavours that worked very well together. Definitely something to try in the future, either at home or at Play.

Nick's 1st plate - Meatball Sub w. spicy eggplant, burrata and hickory stix - paired w. Beau's Lug Tread Lagered Ale (Vankleek Hill, Ontario, 2011 - I hope!)


Oh man this was good times! The meatballs were so ridiculously tender that I had to ask how the kitchen staff made it. Turns out they use pork belly. HA! Now, take this gorgeous meatball flavour and mix it with subtly spicy eggplant, fresh and bright tomato sauce, gooey burrata (a fresh mozzarella). Not bad eh? NOW, top that sucker with homemade hickory sticks. Yeah. Goddamn. Not much to say about the beer except that it's really good beer and beer goes with meatball subs.

Kari's 2nd plate - Beef Tataki w. habanero jelly, shiitake mushroom and sweet & sour onions paired w. Z52 Zinfandel (Lodi, California, 2006)

I'm somewhat regretting not getting a whole order of this myself... In case you're wondering, Beef Tataki is a Japanese cooking style where the meat is lightly seared, then slightly marinated, then sliced super-thin before serving with all the good stuff listed above.

One of the best bites of beef I've ever had and I've had a LOT of beef in my life. I can't really remember what the rest of the flavours on the plate were. Again, this wasn't my dish. Rats...

Nick's 2nd plate - Braised Rabbit w. orecchiette pasta, sofrito, date and pistachio - paired w. Benzinger Chardonnay (Sonoma, California, 2008)

This plate sort of hurt my brain. I wasn't quite sure what to expect with this dish. I knew that rabbit was a very light-tasting meat and that the combination of light meat, nuttiness from the pistachio and the sweetness of the date would be interesting. What I didn't expect was how evocative it would be. This was a plate full of Autumn. It had elements of Thanksgiving dinner with the veggies of the sofrito, and the rabbit was similar to turkey in flavour and texture. Also, the sauce itself had elements of a sweetened gravy. But on top of that, there was a freshness to the whole thing that simply reminded me of going for a walk on a brisk Fall day. More date would have been nice though...

The wine was maybe a smidge under-assertive compared to the complex flavour of the plate, but I guess it's better for the wine to be "outshined" by the food. Nonetheless, it was a tasty experience!

But next came my favourite part, the Wine and Cheese Flight!

Wine and Cheese Flight

Play does its best to keep the good times rolling and for the late crowd, they offer their Wine and Cheese Flight from 10 pm to closing time (generally midnight). This consists of three 2 ounce glasses of wine paired with a generous hunk of cheese. Usually there's a brie-style cheese, something hard and salty, and a blue cheese. Tonight was no different.

Our gracious Wine Director, Grayson
We were fortunate to have Play's Wine Director (aka Head Sommelier?) Grayson McDiarmid there on this night (he also takes care of the resto's twitter account - @playfoodandwine). He kind of takes experiences with wine and cheese to a whole new level.

The whole thing is presented on a single plate per person and our Sommelier/Director explained his choice for each pairing. I remember that there was a theme of "chips and pop" to this Flight, with each choice having its roots in salty meeting sweet. Works for me!

1st pairing - Brie de Meaux - France - paired with Organized Crime - Pinot Gris (Niagara, Ontario - 2010)

Brie de Meaux is a raw cow milk described as "creamy and mushroomy". The earthy flavour was nicely contrasted by the bright, citrusy flavours of the Pinot Gris. I was pretty impressed by the wine, as I find most Niagara wines a bit boring.

2nd pairing - Caciotta - Italy - paired with Pagos de Araiz - Crianza (Navarra, Spain - 2007)

The Caciotta is a goat's milk cheese wrapped in walnut-leaf. It had a beautiful saltiness that was offset by the nuttiness of the walnut leaves. It reminded me a bit of Manchego cheese, so paired nicely with the slightly sweet Crianza. Chips and pop indeed!

3rd pairing - Bleu d'Elizabeth - Warwick, Quebec - paired with Gonzales Byass - Sweet Cream Sherry (Spain)

It's been said that no ordinary wine can pair well with blue cheese. While I tend to disagree, it's pretty hard to pair well with a red or white. Here, Grayson decided that a sweet cream sherry would do the trick. He was right, the sherry was very sweet and robust (almost cloying), but that was a necessary flavour profile to match up with the very salty and intense blue cheese. In the end, it created a fascinating intersection in the mouth with nuttiness and chocolate being the end products. YUM!

Who needs dessert?

Of note: the first time I did the Wine Flight was back in '09 and I had the pleasure of a fascinating pairing of a blue cheese and a uniquely bold Merlot called the Velvet Devil out of Washington State. I remember the flavour was reminiscent of a pancake breakfast. I've since had Velvet Devil at Whalesbone and Play a second time. I want more and really wish the LCBO or SAQ had it in stock. Siiiiiiigh...

Free booze! YAY!
As an added bonus, when Grayson heard that Kari had never tried Port, he insisted on treating us to a 2 oz. sampling of a Taylor Fladgate 10-year old Tawny Port. Thanks again Grayson!

In the end, the bill was in the 215 dollar range, including tip (I think...). Certainly worth it for that delightful an eating experience.

So, that was just a sampling of what the dining experience at Play is like. We're going back there for a 4-course table d'hôte on New Years Eve, so expect a follow up post, if I don't get too loopy on champagne...

Also, as a bonus, they do a 2 plates for 20$ lunch special. I have no idea why I don't take more advantage of this...

Merry Xmas and enjoy the food!


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Travels in Taste - Schwartz's Deli, Montreal

I've just finished reading Anthony Bourdain's A Cook's Tour, which is basically the story of a celebrity chef's voyages to various parts of the world looking for "the perfect meal". I guess you could call it a Hollywood-ish example of foodie tourism (although I'm pretty sure some of the experiences and locales he visits in the book are unattainable for the average non-bazillionaire).

Over the course of reading it, I've come to realize that I too need to start travelling the world looking for some of the best food it has to offer. At least I've already got Prague under my belt, so no need to go back in search of more deep-fried cheese sandwiches, bread dumplings and bramborak.

Luckily, a recent trip to Montreal gave me a pretty decent (and unexpected) starting point. It was a Wednesday morning, I was staying at my brother's place in Montreal, looking forward to dinner with a local friend at a recently-opened BBQ place. But alas, plans had to be cancelled. This left me with a few hours to kill in the afternoon before the Mastodon concert (which was the whole point of being in Montreal in the first place). So, after confirming with my bro that Schwartz's Deli is indeed the place to go for smoked meat, I set upon an excursion up the length of St. Laurent Blvd. to find this promised land of brisket.

After a bit of confusion, I finally was able to amble my way into the place. I was greeted by an enthusiastic and easy-going gentleman dressed in cook's whites who asked "to go?", to which I responded "Actually, one for here if you have room" (the place was packed, which I can guess is normal). He indicated a table of four with three people still sitting, so I sidled into a seat beside a bunch of strangers. I was in love with this place!

Inside Schwartz's Deli - A beautifully low-key environment for such a wonderful culinary experience!

As I sat and took in the surroundings (and snapped a pic or two), the other three folks finished and left, leaving me on my own at the table for a bit. Looking over the menu, I decided I'd go for the standard smoked meat on rye, fries, coleslaw and pickle. Within minutes, the "server" returned and I gave my order and asked if they served beer. Turns out they don't! But he suggested I get the traditional Cott's cherry soda with the order instead. With a "Sure, why not?", my fate was sealed! He also assured me that "medium" fattiness was the way to go. Sure, I could have gone for lean, but what would have been the point of that?

It didn't very long for my order to arrive, nor for a few more guests to join my table. What I really enjoyed about the laissez-faire ambience of the place was the hodge-podge of clientele: Japanese tourists with professional grade cameras, businessmen in from New York, locals on their break or day off, not to mention the two guys from Norway who sat next to me.

But, ambiance be damned, I was here for the food!

Smoked Meat on Rye, Fries, Slaw and a Dill Pickle - What else does a man need?

Now, before I tell you just how damn good this sandwich was, let me give you some background on the significance of smoked meat in my lifetime. Back when I was a little guy in the 80s, there was a place called Kardish's Deli in Ottawa's Hintonburg neighbourhood (wayyyy before it was trendy). Once a month or so after going to Mass (that's what Catholics call "going to church"), my dad would trundle all the kids into the van and we'd have lunch at Kardish's, being served by their legendary waitress Nancy who knew all seven kids by name and would always give us extra fries and pickles. It was probably the best thing from my childhood.

I'd still go into Kardish's in my later years, but in 2000 they closed down. For years I went around Ottawa hoping to find comparable smoked meat, to no avail. I also had been to some of the better delis in Montreal (like Ben's) and definitely enjoyed the smoked meat, but it still didn't quite measure up to Kardish's. I feared that nothing ever would.

Then, more than 11 years after my last bite of Kardish's came my first bite of Schwartz's smoked meat.

Angels sang!

Taste buds exploded into flavourgasms!

I exclaimed "Oh my God!" quite audibly while gripping the table.

This was like NOTHING I'd ever tasted. Kardish's be damned, this was the promised land! The meat didn't need to be chewed, it just dissolved in a smokey moment of bliss and spice.

I was in Heaven...

If you've never had smoked meat before, you might hear folks say that it's basically the same thing as pastrami or corned beef. Whoever told you that deserves a beating. While all three are basically cured and smoked beef (smoked meat is always brisket, other cuts are known to be used with the other two), pastrami and corned beef are usually sweeter and less peppery. You know that "Montreal Steak Spice" they sell at the supermarket? Imagine if Yahweh Himself whipped together a batch of that (in reality, it was invented by a Schwartz's employee in the '40s), rubbed it all over premium beef brisket, cured that mofo for 10 days, and then smoked it in a smokehouse dating back to the '20s. Starting to see the difference?

Montreal smoked meat is one of those "must try before you die" foods, and it must be tried at Schwartz's. Don't worry about the crowds, you'll find a seat next to a nice couple from Belgium or a bunch of techies on lunch break. Why would you have it any other way?

Oh, and the cherry soda? I wound up drinking two... Even with that, the bill was less than 20 bucks. What's not to love about the deli life?


Update - March 3 2012

After much pleading, I finally took Kari today. She really enjoyed the pickle:

Monday, December 12, 2011

Belly Christmas! AKA The Ottawa Wine and Food Show

Every year around the first or second weekend of November, Ottawa hosts the Wine and Food Show. I call it Belly Christmas because wow, there are some lovely moments of culinary and vintner-ary awesomeness. Now the scene itself is quite "meat-markety" and I think it's a chance for many folks to get their "sexy dress-up" on, but when you get a couple of food and booze purists like Kari and I there, the focus isn't on how hot all the people are around us (that is a happy bonus, mind you), it's on the tasty goodness.

So with that in mind, here's a photographic tour of some of the highlights from the 2011 Ottawa Wine and Food Show. There won't be any recipes included in this post since I doubt I could ever recreate this stuff!

2010 White Rabbit from Waupoos Winery in Prince Edward County, Ontario - Varietal: Pinot Gris, Riesling, Auxerrois

Soy Cones with Goat Cheese (and other tasty goodness) - from Le Moulin in Wakfield, Quebec

Kari enjoys the wine!

Utterly delicious White Bean and Sausage Cassoulet topped with Smoked Duck - from Le Moulin in Wakfield, Quebec

A nibble of Praline Milk Chocolate from Chocolatier Rochef - Gatineau, Quebec

Kari enjoying a Four-Spice Dark Chocolate from Chocolatier Rochef

Angus Slider (from the Sheraton in Gatineau, I believe) and Cleavage!
A taste of "Et La lumière fut!" Blonde beer from Les Brasseurs du Temps - Gatineau, Quebec
Les Brasseurs du Temps booth

Caught in the act of pre-lamb-meatball snarf - Plate was a Greek appetizer collection from Mystiko in Ottawa

Thalia - a Greek blend (can't remember the varietals involved)

Naoussa 2007 - a really tasty Greek Boutari wine

Who doesn't enjoy a good cheese flower?

A locavore sampler plate courtesy of Savour Ottawa and partners.

Chocolate-Pecan Pie from Life of Pie (not sure what that pink stuff is)
Shadow Ridge 2009 - California Cabernet Sauvignon - As expected, good times!
Shots of port in dark chocolate cups? Don't mind if I do!
Flirting with hot girl in a velvet dress. Too bad I forgot her name! It must be noted that this was near the end and sobriety was a very distant memory, but this was a very nice way to end the night!

So, there you are, just a few glimpses of the drunken fun that is the Ottawa Wine and Food Show.

See you there in 2012!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Homemade Pasta Dough and Ravioli

Me again!

I'll let you all in on a little secret that maybe I've mentioned before: Cooking, while often time-consuming and labour intensive, is not really all that hard. At least many forms of it aren't very hard to do. I'll grant you that trimming the membranes off a piece of foie gras or slicing a perfect cut of sashimi are probably pretty damn difficult, but who really wants to do that at home? But I'd say most forms of cooking have their root in simple methodology and cleverly matching ingredients.

One form of cooking that I think we tend to overlook as being something to do at home that's dead easy, and allows for a great deal of creativity, is making pasta from scratch. As happens so often, Kari and I were watching the Food Network and one of the chefs was making homemade ravioli. He made it look so damned easy that I figured we could give it a try. Kari had been in possession of a pasta making machine for a while but never took the time to use it. Now it was time. She did a bit of quick Internet research and found that pasta dough is a straight-forward recipe that involves a bit of technique, but is still dead easy. She used Alton Brown's recipe as follows:

Fresh Pasta:

- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 large eggs
- 3 tablespoons water
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt


By Hand: On a clean surface make a well with the flour. In a measuring cup mix the eggs, water and oil and salt. Pour the wet mixture slowly into the flour and mix with your 2 fingers until all of the wet is incorporated. Do not force the dough to take all of the flour. If you are
 going to use a pasta machine to roll out the dough you may at this point form the dough into a disk and cover with plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator for 1 hour to rest.

Now, it didn't quite go exactly as planned since the egg broke through the "walls" of the flour well and leaked out. But with a bit more water and oil, she was able to salvage it and knead it into the proper consistency. After refrigerating the pasta for an hour as indicated, it was time to roll that sucker out!

Our first run was a little awkward as we tried to roll out too much dough at once, but it didn't take long to get the hang of it.

While Kari was preparing the pasta into sheet form, it was up to me to come up with the filling for the ravioli. Ravioli gives you the opportunity to get pretty damn creative with the filling. Really, there are no limits as long as it's fairly easy to tuck between two sheets of pasta.

So, I originally had one filling in mind, but as luck would have it, I wound up with two!

The first came about whilst chopping for ingredients. I was thinking smokey and spicy with strong umami components in it. This was not going to be a light meal! So, I came across some lovely hot chorizo sausage and decided to pair it with a kind of cheese I'd never tried: smoked Emmenthal (aka Swiss cheese). Now, I figured some mushroom was a must, so I reconstituted some dry mushrooms and went from there. When we got home and were about to get cooking, I noticed that there were leftover ribs in the fridge from earlier in the week. There were only about 3-4 ribs left so there wasn't enough for a meal, but there certainly was enough to shave the meat off, mix it with sharp provolone and mushrooms and make another kind of ravioli filling!

So, here's the breakdown on both kinds of ravioli filling:

Chorizo-Emmenthal Filling (for about 20 raviolis)


- 1 hot chorizo sausage, meat removed from casing (just squeeze it out of the filling, it's that easy).
- 3-4 tbsp chopped mushrooms, fresh or reconstituted
- 1/4 cup grated smoked Emmenthal cheese
- pepper to taste (because the chorizo has so much seasoning in it anyway, I didn't see much point in adding more than just pepper. It's up to you if you want to fiddle with the seasoning)


- Fry up sausage meat and mushrooms in a pan until meat is fully cooked. Transfer to bowl and stir in cheese and seasoning.

Rib Meat Filling... I think...
Rib Meat Ravioli (for about 20 raviolis)

- about 1/2 a cup to 1 cup cooked rib meat, chopped
- 3-4 tbsp chopped mushrooms, fresh or reconstituted
- 1/4 cup grated sharp provolone (aka Provolone piccante)

- Fry mushrooms in either butter, mushroom liquid (if reconstituted) or olive oil for about 5-6 mins (until cooked through).
- Transfer to a bowl and mix with rib meat and cheese.

So, the next step in our adventure is actually making the ravioli!

Well, first off, crack an egg into a bowl and whisk it/beat it until well mixed.

Next, take a sheet of pasta and lay it flat. Using a tablespoon used for measuring (so more round than oval), scoop about a tablespoon of either filling and place it on the sheet of pasta, about 2 inches apart from the next spot for filling (basically, as pictured).

Using a basting brush, brush around the filling. This will allow the top layer of pasta to stick.

Lay another sheet of pasta on top, using fingers to press down, following along the contours of the filling and sealing out the air to make the ravioli tight. You might have extra pasta bits leftover, just fold this over and seal.

Now this was my first time, so there were some hits and misses, as you can see...

A motley selection of ravioli

So, really, if you're not too picky on how it looks, it doesn't take much manual dexterity to make a functional ravioli.

The next step is to cook the pasta and sauce it!

In this case, Kari wasn't feeling the standard tomato sauce, so she made this tasty mix of onion and butter. But I'll be damned if I can remember how she made it. In any case, basically you want to place the raviolis in a pot of boiling water, same as any pasta. But it should be noted that fresh pasta takes very little time to cook, no more than 5 minutes. Just use a slotted spoon to remove the raviolis and shake off excess water. Serve topped with sauce and grated parmesan, pecorino, asiago (or whatever other cheese you like).

Dinner is served!

Oh and in case you were wondering which filling was better, I'd say the chorizo-Emmenthal, but only by millimetres.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Toast To My Hometown's Better Food Purveyors

Hi there!

Sometimes I get lucky timing and my girl and I get a weekday off together. Usually there's a mission to make kickass meals involved. Now, we do most of our shopping in the Byward Market, but we also figured we'd take a walking tour of Ottawa's Little Italy to see what we could find in the 'awesome food' category. It did not turn out as well as we had hoped, but we did find a lot of neat stuff. But in the end, we wound up back in our beloved Byward Market. So, while the walk was good for us and fun, we found all the foodstuffs we needed for an epic meal of Tuscan-Style Steak Salad, Mushroom Stew and Tomato Bread Pudding (recipes/inspiration courtesy of Chef Michael Smith and his Chef at Home program) in the Market and discovered that Little Italy isn't the best friend of the home chef. That being said, we ended up finding some pretty epic food over the course of our little adventure.

Off to explore!

So, our first stop was the Art-Is-In Bakery, about  1.5 kilometres from our apartment, sort of just before Little Italy proper. We wanted to get a nice, hearty loaf of bread to go with our Tomato Bread Pudding. We also thought we might enjoy a snack... Look at the tale in pictures below to understand how that snack came to be...

First stop - Baked goodness!

So much tasty bread! We picked one called "Crazy Grains"

"Hmmmm, what am I hungry for...? Wait, what the eff is that in the bottom right corner? Bread... Crème... Caramel...
FRAK YES!!!!!!"

This (sweet) Bread Pudding was soooooo tasty. It had pieces of freakin' chocolate croissant in it!!!

The spokesmodel sure likes it!

So, our bellies full of warm caramelly goodness, we continued on our voyage into Little Italy, looking for some neat spots to buy good foodstuffs. We passed by a butcher shop and took note to come back (lugging steak around for a while is not the best plan). Our first stop was a more practical one at Preston Hardware to get charcoal for the evening's steaks. I picked up a bag of Jack Daniel's "Whiskey Barrel Charcoal" which contains charcoal briquettes made from the barrels they make JD in as well as little blocks of wood from the barrels that can be used for smoking or as extra fuel. I was amazed at how easily they lit, how little chemical taste they produced and how hot the coals got! Damn near broke the needle on the thermometer! So, highly recommended for grilling, especially when going for a real nice outer sear on meat.

So, as we progressed from one end of Preston Street to the other, we noticed two things. First, there are a lot of Italian restaurants I want to try! Second, there is a marked lack of proper grocers/supermarkets in the area. There are maybe two fully appointed grocers: Casa Nicastro, which was a smurf-village version of La Bottega Nicastro in the Byward Market (more on that later), but we did pick up some lovely Pecorino Romano cheese from there, and Luciano's (mentioned earlier). But upon inspection of Luciano's, they a) were ridiculously remiss in their supply of fruits and veg, and b) didn't have meat that was any better of cheaper than what could be found in the Market. So we pretty much made up our minds to head home with what we had, hop a bus to the Market, and get our foodstuffs from people who already know our names! OK, maybe there's a neighbourhood bias leaking out, sorry...

But before we even thought of quitting Little Italy, I did want to introduce Kari to a city tradition: the Dirienzo's sandwich. Dirienzo's is a little corner store on Beech Street that sells Italian groceries, but are best known for their sandwiches. So we got a couple to go and were back on our merry way home, and then  to the Byward Market.

Coming up to Di Rienzo's

That's a big sammich!

Surprisingly, while the sandwiches from Di Rienzo's were pretty darn tasty, I found them to be inferior to La Bottega Nicastro's. Which brings us to the next stop on our journey: La Bottega Nicastro. This is pretty much THE place in Central Ottawa for Italian groceries and goodness. They're the purveyors of what I like to call the "Two Day Sandwich", which is your choice of bread, meat and cheese, the bread selection including an utterly delectable whole wheat focaccia, the meats being almost unlimited in selection (I asked for speck, which is a slow-smoked variety of prosciutto, one day - no such luck) and either provolone, mozzarella or Swiss cheese. On top, your choice from onion, hot peppers, black olives, pickled eggplant and tomato. Condiments are mayo, mustard or Dijon, or all three if you're crazy. Why the "Two Day Sandwich"? Because I could never eat the whole thing in one go and would usually save half for the next day's lunch.

La Bottega Nicastro - 64 George St. in Ottawa's Byward Market

But it isn't just the sandwiches. They provide some of the most gourmet food in Ottawa, including a little truffle stand! The place is huge and you can get pretty much anything you need there except fresh produce.

Luckily, when you're in the Byward Market, you're rarely at a loss for produce. There are obviously the fruit and vegetable stalls that populate the area between April and November (depending on weather),  which is where we found the onions and garlic for our meal.

Onions - cheap and plentiful!
We then went to one of our favourite shops for the remaining produce, specifically mushrooms and salad fixins. That shop is the Byward Fruit Market.

Byward Fruit Market - 36 Byward Market Square
This is one of those shops where you're on a first name basis with the owner. And man do they have some awesome produce! I'd never seen morel or wood blewit mushrooms before coming here. So, we picked up some lovely wood blewit, oyster and shitake mushrooms as well as a salad mix (they were out of arugula as the Tuscan Steak Salad recipe had called for).

Next, MEAT!!!

Aubrey's Meats - 59 York Street

For our steaks, we went to long-time butcher shop Aubrey's where they had some absolutely EPIC New York striploins for us, locally raised and tasty as hell. Buying meat there isn't cheap, but you really can taste the difference between what you get at the supermarket and what you get at a good butcher's. We also picked up some Beking's eggs (also local) and Cochrane's milk, fresh in a glass bottle like the old days!

Now, fully loaded with ingredients, it was time to end our little road trip by getting back to the kitchen (or as Kari has dubbed it on foursquare, Cucino del Unicorno). Now, I'll admit I only had to take care of the steak, but the meal was pretty epic all around, except maybe the Tomato Bread Pudding, but mostly because we burned it. Whoops...

So, even though they're available from the links provided above, here are the recipes we made after our culinary trek.

Tomato Bread Pudding (by Michael Smith - Chef at Home)


- 1 loaf of rustic whole grain bread, cut into large cubes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 onions, large, peeled and chopped
- 8 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes
- 1 cup 35% whipping cream
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 8 ounces grated parmesan cheese
- 2 eggs
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil


1.Preheat your oven to 400°F. Put bread onto a baking sheet and toast it in the oven for 15 minutes or so. Remove when it is golden brown and crispy. This adds tremendous flavour and dries out the bread which helps it absorb the pudding mixture. Cool the bread until you can handle it.

2.While the bread toasts sauté the onions in a large skillet with the olive oil. Sauté until softened and golden brown then add the garlic which would burn in the time it takes the onions to brown. Sauté for another few minutes.

3.Pour the tomatoes and onion mixture into a large bowl along with the cream, oregano, cheese, eggs, salt and pepper and whisk well. Toss the toasted bread into the mixture and let it rest a few minutes allowing it to soak up all the liquid. Oil an 8 x 8-inch baking pan and pour the mixture into it. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes. NOTE: DO NOT OVERBAKE! We did and well, look at the result:

Yeah, the top is not supposed to be black. D'oh...

The next item, the Steakhouse Mushroom Stew turned out much better, it was quite tasty. The only drawback with this was that there was so much going on flavour-wise that we couldn't quite taste all the different mushrooms we were using.

Steakhouse Mushroom Stew (by Michael Smith - Chef at Home)

- 1 pound mixed mushrooms, shiitake, oyster, portabello, button and cremini (we added the wood blewits and reconstituted some dry ones
- 1/4 cup butter
- 2 onions, peeled and sliced
- 8 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
- 1 tablespoon soya sauce
- 1 tablespoon dried thyme
- Freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 cup 35% whipping cream

1. Trim the mushrooms as needed, removing any tough stems. Cut larger mushrooms into smaller pieces. Smaller mushrooms may be left whole or simply halved to show off their form. Rinse them well then roll in a towel to dry them off.

2. Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat then add the butter and onions and garlic. Sauté for a few minutes until they’re golden brown. Add the mushrooms and continue. Once they release moisture and become a bit "soupy" add the soya sauce, thyme and pepper. Continue cooking until the mushrooms are tender and most of the moisture has evaporated, concentrating the flavour. Add the cream and stir until the sauce has thickened.

Mmmmm, shroomy goodness!

What REALLY made the meal was the main course. The Tuscan-Style Steak Salad was one of the tastiest mains I've had in a very long time and I'll definitely be using this recipe again:

Tuscan Grilled Beef Salad (by Michael Smith - Chef at Home)


- 1 large striploin steak, 24 ounces or more, 4-inches thick, bone-in if possible (it's pretty hard to find steaks like this pre-cut, so we used a couple of 1-inch thick 10 oz. striploins. As long as you cook them rare to medium-rare, they'll be fantastic.)
- 8 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 bottle of premium extra virgin olive oil
- 1 pound baby arugula, or more (as mentioned, we could only find a spring salad mix, so I'm curious as to what the flavour would be if we used arugula)
- 8 ounces fresh basil leaves (optional)
- 1 lemon, juiced and zested
- Coarse sea salt
- Freshly ground pepper peppercorns
- 8 ounces chunk of authentic Parmigiano Reggiano (we might have used Pecorino instead, it was still DAMN tasty!)


1.Preheat your favourite grill to high. Meanwhile puree the garlic and oregano with a few splashes of the olive oil. Slather the marinade all over the steak.

2.Once the grill is hot, season the steak with salt and pepper and begin slowly grilling it. Take your time and keep an eye on the grill heat, adjusting to prevent burning. A large steak takes longer to cook as heat penetrates to its center, enough time for the exterior to brown and potentially scorch. Flip as it sears, once it has browned, flip it frequently to further prevent burning. Use your best judgment to gauge doneness. Poking, prodding, pinching, probing even peeking. A meat thermometer works well even a sneak peak at the interior is better than guessing. A piece of beef this large should be cooked to medium rare or rare to maximize its juiciness, well done would be criminal! It may take 20 minutes or more. When it's done rest the steak for ten minutes or so, give the meat a chance to relax and reabsorb its moisture. Pre-mature slicing releases agitated hot moisture that is lost as juice. Rest before slicing.

3.As the beef grills get everything ready for the tableside presentation. Mound the arugula and basil leaves in the middle of a large festive platter. Present the steak to your table on a wooden cutting board with a sharp knife. Once the steak has rested slice it very thinly and arrange the slices around the arugula. Sprinkle everything with lots of olive oil from a special bottle. You may theatrically zest the lemon over the salad then squeeze on the juice. Season with liberal sprinkles of coarse sea sat with lots and lots of freshly ground peppercorns, coarsely ground. Last but not least, using a vegetable peeler, garnish the works with shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano.

Pretty and tasty!
So, in the end, not every culinary adventure ends up quite the way we expect it. But isn't the journey itself the important part? Or maybe it's a simple matter of this: No day that ends in steak can ever be considered disappointing.
Till next time! Enjoy!