Thursday, January 31, 2008

Ichibei — the best Japanese restaurant in Ottawa

Ichibei is my favourite Japanese restaurant in Ottawa. I get so excited! It's one of the first places S and I went to together, and where I discovered that Japanese food went far beyond sushi and tempura. Clockwise from the top is our recent meal of sukiyaki, Japanese pickles (eggplant, cucumber and daikon), sushi and an appetizer of tuna and natto (fermented soy beans that I'm slowly developing a taste for).

Ichibei has extremely tasty food and a well-balanced menu. The agedashi dofu and beef tataki pass my "favourite Japanese appetizers test" with flying colours. There's also a harusame salad appetizer that I just can't get enough of. If only I knew the recipe! I've tried to ask but understandably they won't tell me. From what I can tell it has bean thread (harusame) noodles, julienned carrots, crab meat, possibly cucumber and egg, and a spicy mayonnaise dressing that's so light and refreshing.

It's a tiny restaurant, but tastefully decorated. The tanukis (Japanese raccoons) in which they serve sake are just too cute. We always ask for one. You have probably noticed that our tanuki is posing with every dish in the photos :).

My friends at Ottawa Foodies have also noted that Ichibei is the place where the Japanese Embassy takes its guests from Japan, which suggests the food is quite authentic!

The only things I don't like are the small sushi portions, which is unfortunately the norm in Ottawa. The sashimi plate in particular has ridiculously tiny pieces for a price tag close to $25. This especially disappoints S, who spent many years in Vancouver where the portions are more than a mouthful to say the least.

We usually order a medium bottle of sake, two miso soups, two à la carte appetizers, a hot bowl food like sukiyaki or don buri and four pieces of sushi. It comes to about $100 for two people.

197 Bank Street, corner Gloucester
Ottawa, ON

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Secrets and Shortcuts: Braising

I am a great collector of helpful tips and sage advice when it comes to cooking and food preparation. My friends, family and favourite Food Channel chefs often share such valuable tidbits.

So, to document all of this great cooking lore, I've just created another new occasional feature on beFOODled, called Secrets and Shortcuts. Stay tuned for many more coming soon :)

Secrets and Shortcuts: Braising
Braising means to cook slowly in a small amount of liquid, so if you are cooking vegetables in a braised dish, be sure to cut up them up into biggish chunks, like quarters or a large dice, so that they don't lose all of their nutrients and flavours throughout the long cooking time.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Thai Salmon

Today I found a definite keeper in one of S's cookbooks. It's another way to do salmon besides my usual mahogany marinated recipe. This one's a Thai-inspired recipe that I adapted from Jill Dupleix's Good Cooking: The New Essentials, and it's really delicious. The chicken stock I used was a commercial one with a high sodium content, so I didn't use any extra salt anywhere, but you still can and I've indicated where in the recipe.

Thai Salmon
Serves 2

2 salmon fillets (I used one large fillet and sliced it in half after pan frying)
1 Tbsp fish sauce
1 lemongrass stalk
2 shallots, finely sliced
1 small red chilli, finely sliced with the seeds removed
4 mushrooms, sliced (I used shiitake)
about 40 g of baby arugula leaves (you could also use baby spinach)
500 ml chicken stock
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp grapeseed oil (or any vegetable or olive oil)
1 Tbsp lime juice
salt and pepper
fresh cilantro for garnish

Put the rice on. Marinate the salmon in the fish sauce in a bowl in the fridge while you cook the rest of the recipe.

Heat the chicken stock in a saucepan. Add the chilli, mushrooms, shallots, lemongrass and sugar. Simmer for 10 minutes.

Heat the oil in the pan over medium heat (level 5 on an electric element). Add the salmon fillets skin side down, and cook for 3 or 4 minutes until the skin is crispy and golden. Turn over the fillet and cook the other side for a minute or two until also golden brown. Ideally, the salmon is still pink inside. Let rest on a plate or cutting board. Season with salt and pepper if the stock you used isn't high sodium.

Divide the arugula leaves among two shallow bowls. Place the salmon on top. Spoon the hot broth mixture around the salmon. Squeeze the juice of half a lime over each bowl and top with fresh cilantro. Serve with a bowl of rice on the side.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Elgin St. Freehouse in Ottawa

A few nights ago, S came back after being away for a month. We looked into his fridge and, predictably, it was very bare. So we headed out the door to the Elgin St. Freehouse for dinner.

The Elgin St. Freehouse is a tiny, narrow, darkly lit restaurant that offers a small menu of interesting choices. We have eaten there three times now. I have always liked it because the service is very good, and it has a modern, minimalist silver-and-black decor that is really nice. I ordered the steak pasta, which was delicious, and S had pork chops with a blue cheese sauce and very tasty mashed potatoes. I like this restaurant not just for its good food, but because the portion sizes are just right and everything is beautifully presented, as you can see from the photo. A meal of two entrees, a bottle of wine, two coffees and a dessert to share came to 100 dollars.

Elgin St. Freehouse
296 Elgin Street, corner Gilmore

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Poll Results: If you were a food, what kind would you be?

I'm happy to report that the beFOODies out there are mixed and varied bunch of personalities, from spicy and spunky to safe and sensible.

The results of beFOODled's very rigorous and scientific poll "If you were a food, what kind would you be," show that, out of the 20 of you who answered, most are prickly pears or sweet peas, suggesting that opposites might attract on beFOODled. The rest have indentified themselves as hot tamales, followed by virgin olive oils and then finally we have one lonely hard-boiled egg.

I'd like to introduce our next poll on the right, "What country's food should the Gastronati make next?" The Gastronati is my monthly food club and you can click on its tag in the label cloud on the right to find out what we're all about. If you know what we should cook next, tell us! You can even type in a totally different suggestion in the "Other" field if you are not satisfied with the choices we have provided.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Roasted Balsamic Chicken

Over the Christmas break I was the lucky recipient of three cookbooks. This recipe for roasted chicken with balsamic vinaigrette comes from one of them - the famous and the original Everyday Italian by Giada de Laurentiis, courtesy of my brother. It's the first recipe that I have tried, and judging by the fabulous taste, I think I picked the best - and simplest! - one in the book.

This is a five-ingredient recipe (not counting olive oil and salt and pepper, of course). Giada recommends that you enjoy the leftovers all week, so I took her advice and prepared a bunch of accompaniments on Sunday. Every morning this week I have taken a drumstick from the fridge, shredded the meat off the bone, and made a salad for lunch with chicken, arugula, a hard boiled egg cut into quarters and cold cooked potatoes. Then, come noon, I drizzle over a vinaigrette of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and salt and pepper. It's perfick!

Roasted Balsamic Chicken

5 to 6 pieces of chicken (I used 5 drumsticks with the bone in and skin on)
olive oil
1 lemon
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
3 garlic cloves, minced
parsley (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Juice the lemon and grate the zest (keep these separate). In a plastic bag or bowl, mix and blend the lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, mustard and garlic. Marinate the chicken pieces in the fridge in a plastic bag for at least 2 hours or up to one day.

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Place the chicken pieces in a casserole dish and discard the marinade. Roast the chicken uncovered until cooked through, about 45 minutes. Serve hot with lemon zest and parsley (if you have it) sprinkled over top or let cool and keep in the fridge for use in sandwiches and salads.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Sushi Rolls

People often give my Dad sushi sets. He has at least three that I know of. He is well-known among his friends and colleagues for a love of food and all things Japanese, so naturally, sushi sets are a popular gift to him.

We cracked one open over Christmas and I showed him how to make sushi rolls the way my friend Jay showed me in Montreal. This recipe uses canned fish and other western ingredients, so it's not very traditional, but it's very good. You can find the Japanese ingredients at SuperStore or any Asian grocery store.

Sushi Rolls

For the sushi rice:
1 C short-grain rice
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt

For the rolls:
4 sheets of roasted nori (the seaweed wrapping)
1 small can of salmon or tuna, mixed with some mayonnaise
half a cucumber
1 roasted red pepper
1 hard-boiled egg
wasabi paste
soy sauce for serving
pickled ginger for serving

Wash the rice until the water runs clear (about four times). Cook the rice according to package instructions. Remove from the element, cover with a tea towel and let rest for about 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, stir in the vinegar, sugar and salt, gently so the grains stay intact. Let the rice cool to room temperature. (We made ours the night before and kept it in the fridge.)

Put some water and a little bit of vinegar in a bowl. Dip your fingers in this bowl to prevent the rice from sticking to them while you are assembling the sushi. Peel the cucumber. Slice the cucumber, egg and roasted red pepper into matchstick pieces.

Lay out a piece of nori with the shiny side down. Spread a small stripe of wasabi across the sheet about 1/4 of the way up - this is approximately where you'll place the fillings. Spread the rice over 2/3 of the nori sheet as shown in the photo above, pressing it into place with a fork or spoon. Spread a small stripe of mayonnaise where you are going to place the filling. Spread some salmon over top, and then build the layers of cucumber, egg and roasted red pepper over top of that.

Dip your fingers in water and dab the top and side edges of the nori sheet so that the roll will seal when you roll it up. Roll the nori up firmly. I just use my hands, but you can use a bamboo mat as a guide if you want.

If you have time, you can put the rolls in the fridge to firm up a bit. This makes cutting cleaner. Or you can cut the roll right away. Cut into about one-inch rounds and discard the end bits. Serve it up with soy sauce and pickled ginger.

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