Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sushi rolls at Em's

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Last Thursday, Em hosted a girls night and we all helped her make sushi rolls. She bought fresh, sushi-grade fish from Pelican Grill, a fish market with a restaurant attached. She bought a pound and a half of salmon for $20, plus some tuna for $12 and smoked salmon chunks for $6. We mixed and matched the fish with some cooked shrimp cut in half, and cucumber and avocado. We also ate edamame (beautiful, boiled soybeans) and longan fruit, which I had never had before, but have a lychee-like flavour and texture. They are so yummy and juicy, and have a big, shiny, dark-purple pit inside.

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I brought instant miso soup, but forgot to make it in all of the excitement!

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Of course, girls nights are not complete without animal companions. I leave you tonight with a picture of the beautiful Hermes, an adorable Himalayan who had me at meow. Hermes is very old and likes to have his face smushed, but only by girls :) Good thing there were five of us on hand to oblige!

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Pelican Fishery and Grill
1500 Bank Street
Ottawa, ON

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Remembering Pompeii with homemade tomato sauce

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I still had some mason jars left over after making jam with Squeaky, so I decided to try my hand at canning tomato sauce next. I adapted a delicious recipe given to me by Chef Hermann Jenny that uses canned tomatoes instead of fresh.

I used San Marzano tomatoes. You can get these at any Italian grocer (I got mine from La Bottega in Byward Market). They are grown and imported all the way from the fertile plains of Mount Vesuvius near Naples, shown in the map below. Pompeii, that famous ancient Roman city buried when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D., is also nearby. It's just a little southwest of where they still grow the tomatoes in San Marzano sul Sarno.

It's strange to think that the same volcanic ash that makes San Marzano tomatoes so special today was also responsible for burying entire cities over 2,000 years ago. That said, San Marzano tomatoes are not native to the region. Coincidentally, just 22 years after archeologists uncovered the remains of Pompeii in 1748, the Kingdom of Peru gave the first San Marzano seeds to the Kingdom of Naples.

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Tomato sauce

makes about 6 and a half cups

drop of olive oil
1/2 cup diced pancetta or bacon
1 onion
4 cloves garlic
2 crushed dried cayenne peppers (or 1 tsp dried)
1 cup olive oil
5 Tbsp tomato paste
2 800-g cans of San Marzano tomatoes
a 1" by 3"piece of parmesan rind or other hard cheese
small hunk of salt pork rind
1/2 Tbsp herbes de Provence
a couple of beef bouillon cubes
1 Tbsp oregano
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste

Saute the pancetta and the onions in the olive oil for about 10 minutes or until soft. Add the garlic and the dried cayenne pepper and saute another minute. Add the tomato paste and stir to make a paste with the other ingredients.

Then add the canned tomatoes and break them apart a bit with your wooden spoon. Add the rest of the ingredients and cover and cook in the oven for three hours at 125 C/250 F.

Discard the salt pork rind and bay leaves. The parmesan rind should easily break up and dissolve into the sauce.

Follow the canning directions that come with your preserving jars, and top each jar with a layer of hot olive oil, about 1/4 of an inch think to sterilize the top layer of sauce.

Alternatively, you can freeze the sauce if you'll be keeping it for more than a few weeks, but in that case, store it in a Tupperware instead of a glass jar.

This is lovely in pasta or pizza, and to spread on toast!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Tomato harvest roundup

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Ah, my little yellow cherry tomatoes, how much do I love thee? Let me count the ways: in salads, on pizza, with burgers and just plain popped into my mouth fresh off the vine.

Over the past few weeks, S and I have found many different ways to eat the cherry tomatoes off our balcony plant. We cut them in half and tossed them in a salad with arugula and toasted almonds. We put them in baguette sandwiches that we took on a road trip to Montreal, and another time to a picnic by the canal. S put them on his pita pizzas, and I tossed them with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, as a side salad for my pork-and-beef hamburger patties on pita with raita (plain yogurt with ground cumin and grated cucumbers).

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The best way to eat them, though, is plain off the vine, maybe cut in half, with a little salt and pepper, if you want to maximize their flavour. Sometimes one side of the tomato splits in half and it bursts open a bit. They do that when they are too full of water, but I like to think it's part of their personality that they are literally bursting with sweetness, tempting me to eat them :)

So the tomato experiment was very successful — our one plant produced at least 90 tomatoes in my estimation. I can't wait until next summer, when I can up production with some more plants. Maybe hold some tomato parties ... ah, the possibilities!

What is your favourite way with cherry tomatoes?

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sho-dan, a Japanese restaurant in Montreal

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Until this year, my Japanese food destinations in Montreal were Sakura and Katsura, adjacent restaurants on rue de la Montagne. Unfortunately, Katsura has since disappeared and Sakura is just not what it used to be.

So after a bit of online research, a lot of positive reviews led S and I to Sho-dan, a Japanese restaurant on Metcalfe. Le Chef, a francophone magazine that covers food news in Quebec, honours restaurants in Quebec every year with an awards show, and Sho-dan won the gold award in 2009 and the silver in 2008 for Best Sushi.

I was excited to go and, as it turns out, I loved the space and the decor, and the service was very good, too, but the food ... well, I'll get to that in a minute.

The restaurant is beautifully decorated. It has nice mood lighting and there are dramatic flower arrangements. It's very modern, and obviously a favourite place of many Montrealers because it was packed.

Sushi is the focus of Sho-dan's menu. There must be at least 70 kinds of sushi, sashimi and rolls to choose from. The selection ranges from the traditional to the cool and creative with names like Mango Tango and Dancing Dragon. The rest of the menu is appetizers, salads, tempura and teriyaki.

We ordered lots of sushi, about seven or eight kinds. I realize that this is supposed to be award-winning sushi, so I'm treading carefully as I write this, but we were disappointed when our big plate arrived. The fish was tasty enough, but the sushis were small and thin, more like slender fingers than pudgy ovals with thick slabs of fish floating on top (like I've had in Ottawa and Calgary). Also, the rice was a bit mushy. I wish we had been able to show you with some photos, but the lighting was so dark that none of them turned out.

Including tax and tip, our meal of three appetizers, seven or eight sushis and a couple of drinks came to about $100.

I'd be willing to go back and give Sho-dan another try, but the truth is I don't recommend it since I know sushi can be much better than this. And I'm still searching for a great Japanese restaurant in Montreal.

Does anyone have any suggestions?

2020 Metcalfe
Montréal, Que.

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Ottawa Farmers' Market

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Food Network has published another guest blog post of mine. This one's about my latest trip to the Ottawa Farmers' Market, where Robin Turner (above middle) of Riverglen Farm, and Cory (below) of the Elk Ranch, sell their company's locally made foods every Sunday. My post on the market is at this link if you want to check it out. As always, I would love it if you would leave a comment :)

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