As the year draws to a close, I like to review my food photos and reflect on the amazing things that I tasted throughout the year. I am blessed to work in a field that I am deeply passionate about, and I enjoy exploring the world around me through food. Food gives you a view into the people and culture of a place, as well as the terroir. Everything tastes better when enjoyed in the context of where it was grown, and the history of the people who influenced the food.
I kicked off 2014 with a trip to San Francisco, where we enjoyed many great flavours. To pick one item from that trip was a challenge, but our visit to the famed Chez Pannise Restaurant, the creation of the even more famous Alice Waters stands out. Her philosophies on food start with the ingredient, and the chefs in the restaurant treat the ingredient with the utmost respect and care, using everything, and allowing the flavours to shine. This simple duck broth & noodle soup was perfect in it’s simplicity, garnished with fresh herbs and snap peas.
On that same trip we visited Craftsman and Wolves, a truly innovative bakery that pushes the boundaries with creative baked goods, and sophisticated twists on traditional items. It was there that we sampled the ‘Rebel Within’ – a savoury muffin baked around a soft cooked egg. We were so inspired by this creation that we came back to Ottawa and Jo-Ann spent a few weeks creating a similar ‘Red Apron’ version which we lovingly dubbed the ‘M’oeuf-in’.
Sometime last spring I made a discovery in Ottawa that I found difficult to believe I had not known about sooner. In the old Mello’s Diner on Dalhousie, new owners recently took over operations of this 45 year old Ottawa landmark. Traditional diner by day, a new chef has introduced a dinner menu offering truly excellent food including what I believe is the best hamburger available in this city.
I have watched many other patrons express concern when presented with a burger cooked this carefully and served this pink, but I believe that when you source your ingredients carefully, as this chef is doing, you can trust your food and the person cooking it for you. It’s a brave move on the part of this establishment, and I applaud their courage. But this is no fast food burger. It takes a full 20 minutes to cook this baby properly and it is well worth the wait. If you’re super hungry, start your meal with a plate of deep fried Brussel sprouts. You will never turn your nose up at a Brussel sprout again!
On an early summer trip through Rome, I had 3 days to eat as much famed Roman far as one could consume. An organized walking food tour took us into the Jewish Ghetto for some historical treasures. Most memorable was my first bite of this Torta Ricotta – a rich chocolate cheese cake made with few simple ingredients and baked in a wood fired oven until dark and crusty on top. Not too sweet, creamy and decadent, I was blown away.
There were many great taste memories of that trip, including a bowl of el dente pasta, treated simply with olive oil and shaved truffles. It’s often the simplest dishes that leave the lasting impressions.
The coffees were spectacular, and the baked goods were scrumptious, but the block of pecorino style cheese laced with truffles was beyond my ability to resist. This, I did manage to pack and transport back to Canada, and I savoured slices of it for weeks after my return home, each bite reminding me of the great times we had on our trip.
Summer is always a wonderful time in Ottawa to enjoy local produce for our short season. Tomatoes, local cheeses, fresh vegetables picked off the vine – my cooking efforts are pared down to the basics. It seemed like a good time to learn something new.
Eggs, although one of the simplest things to cook, are also the simplest thing to cook badly. I was reading an article and decided to try a new approach to scrambled eggs. Juniper Farm fresh organic eggs, low heat, a pinch of salt, constant stirring and lots of butter result in creamy, custard like eggs that are unlike anything you have ever tasted. The colour is bright, the consistency is spreadable, the taste is almost cheesy. Served with Purebread rye pumperknickel (another 2014 discovery), fresh chèvre, vine ripened tomatoes & capers, this was a memorable breakfast!
As in previous years, I have enjoyed many a great meal at the Fraser Cafe & Table 40 in 2014. These brothers continue to put great value on every plate, and you never leave their establishment feeling underfed or overcharged – an accomplishment in the restaurant industry these days. The meal that really stood out this year was a sharing platter of perfectly roast chicken, pork belly, polenta fries, mashed potatoes, gravy, and numerous side dishes. Although we were two hungry eaters we could not finish this platter, and got to take the leftovers home for lunch the next day. The service is always excellent and the food is beautifully prepared and presented.
Each year I visit the Atwater & Jean Talon markets in Montreal and a highlight is always the small stands and cafes serving up ‘ready to eat’ and inexpensive dishes. This year the Atwater market expanded their space for food booths, reminiscent of a food truck ’round-up’. We spent one happy afternoon sampling many of the delicious offerings which included gourmet grilled cheese, cured fish, curries and this amazing bowl of Thai soup from the Satay Brothers.
It was full of flavour, warm and comforting, and another perfect example of how simple food can be the most satisfying.
Finally, I had the great pleasure recently to visit a new addition to the Ottawa food scene. Macarons et Madeleines has long been a favourite of those ‘in the know’ for viennoiserie, but stepping into their new shop located at 1323 Wellington will leave you feeling that you have left Ottawa and arrived in Paris. The smell of butter fills the air. Their bright, beautiful shop is well stocked with delicious treats including, of course, macarons and madeleines. Everything looked beautiful and the few things I sampled were ‘out of this world’ delicious.
Just a sampling of the many great food experiences I enjoyed in 2014. Wishing you a very Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year. Here’s to great flavour experiences in 2015!