Happy Anniversary

We celebrated our 11th anniversary on the 24th of June, with an day spent childless and with no particular plan in mind with what to do with this free time.

It was hard to come up with a plan for this year. Last year we spent our anniversary in Quebec City and enjoyed wonderful, wonderful food, beautiful scenery and a charming city.

Our trip began with a lovely meal at Aviatic-Club. I can't recall exactly what we had for dinner that night, and didn't take out my camera to take pictures, but do know we enjoyed the grown up and unusual taste combinations. We ended our meal sharing a bento box style dessert, which had a little bit of everything. I wish I had had the foresight then to have had my camera with me. Oh well.

On the evening of our actual anniversary, we chose to dine at the highly recommended Laurie Raphael. As a young couple with young children, we had never had the opportunity to enjoy such fine dinning before. We were also very obviously the youngest patrons in the restaurant that night.

Laurier Raphael does not have a "traditional" menu that details what goes into each item. Instead the chef provides you with three items that will go into the dish. My entree involved duck, but also included fois grois and I believe truffles.

Again I don't have many pictures. I did bring my camera this time but was discouraged by my husband from taking pictures at what was clearly an upscale restaurant. This was pre-blog. Now I would ignore him and let the staff know I intended to take pictures throughout the evening.

I did get one picture though, of Warren's dessert. Listed as Maple selection, it included a piece of sugar pie, maple ice cream, and maple creme brulee, topped with cotton candy. Other patrons in the restaurant stopped to see this dish brought to our table.

Mine was not nearly so dramatic to look at - a trio of creme brulee. Pistachio (my personal favorite), vanilla, and "plain." I'm not normally much for creme brulee but mmmm'd every bite of this.

We also learned while we were in the restaurant that the chef taught cooking classes. Unfortunately we hadn't known about this in advance or I would have spent part of my weekend trip apart from my husband, learning from a talented chef. If we ever go back, I'll be reserving my spot in advance. I might even be able to talk my husband into coming with me!

After such a wonderful 10th anniversary, how could we possibly find something we enjoyed as much for our 11th anniversary?

Rather than try to compete, we eventually decided to go with what we knew we liked, Thai food. We googled Thai food in Ottawa, read up on recommendations from Chowhound, and despite all that we eventually decided to go back to the same Thai restaurant we had gone to on our last date out, Sukhothai in Bell's Corners. Nothing fancy, but the food was wonderful. Expectations were high, and this time, I brought my camera.

We started out with Pho-Pia Goong, spring rolls stuffed with whole shrimp. They were crisp, fresh and not at all greasy. It was the first time that night I questioned when purple cabbage had become an authentic Thai vegetable as it decorated nearly every plate we had.

As a main course we ordered three selections, along with rice, served family style. I think they got one wrong. We ordered Tod Gra Tiam Prik Thai, sauteed chicken, pork or beef with garlic and pepper sauce. We asked for pork but as you can see from the picture, we got beef. Neither one of us realized it until after we had begun, and we were very much enjoying the beef, so we said nothing.

I think of the three items, it was my favorite. A touch of sweetness to the sauce and the beef was still tender.

Next we ordered Goong Pad Med Ma Muang, sauteed shrimp with cashew nuts and dried chilli. A bit of heat, but unless you ate the dried chillis, not too hot. Lots of cashews and lots of extra sauce, good for mixing in with the rice.

Our last selection was Pad Kee Mow, spicy, fried noodles with beef, chilli, mushroom and basil leaves.

This one was disappointing to me. The flavor was alright, again not too spicy but still with a bit of heat to it, but the texture was wrong. The noodles were thick and short, like egg noodles. The cabbage that had been displayed on the side of the previous dishes dominated this one instead. It was difficult to get to the noodles without receiving some.

While not the classy evening of last year, or even as good as our expectations had hoped, it was still enjoyable. The wonderful company, and the celebration of 11 years of marriage, combined to make it a night worth remembering.

Asian Shrimp Noodle Salad

Cooking is something I not only enjoy doing, I also enjoy reading about and watchingt. So it is not unusual to find me cozied up on my couch with Food Network on, while I am reading a cookbook or magazine. I pay attention to the show as a background noise, and stop reading when a recipe or dish sounds like something I would like.

I admit, I also turn it on when cooking dinner even though I won't be able to see it. I like to listen to other meals being cooked while I'm cooking. That is how I "watch" most episodes of 30 Minute Meals.

Licence to Grill is tapped here in Ottawa, though I have no idea where. When I watch this program I am usually envious of his food budget, especially having been to the butcher that supplies all his meat. So while he cooks alot of stuff I would like to eat, he doesn't often cook things that fall within my budget.

I happened to have it on and overheard him making a salad that interested me. Alot.

I love Asian foods, and lately have been wanting things that are lighter and fresh. Until just now, I hadn't bothered to look up the recipe to see what exactly had gone into the salad. Instead I faked it.

Vegetable wise I went with carrots (trying to julienne baby carrots is not fun), snow peas, red peppers and red onions. A bit of basil, a bit of cilantro for flavor. Then the dressing. Juice of a lemon, a lime and an orange with a touch each of sugar and salt and a splash of rice wine vinegar. It was good but needed a kick. Garlic chilli sauce was exactly what it needed. Mmmmmm.

Wanting to turn it into a meal instead of a side salad, I added some grilled shrimp to the mix. The shrimp picked up the flavors of the dressing with ease and was complimented by the brightness of the citrus.

Now I think I'll go look up the pork belly recipe that was served with the salad. Because this salad was a keeper in my recipe repetoire.

Happy Birthday Grandma!

I knew my grandparents should be stopping by today. Or rather, I hoped they would be. I had held off mailing my Grandfather's father's day card, and had not gotten my grandmother a card for her birthday this last Saturday. Instead I planned to make her a cake.

It isn't often I get to cook for my grandmother, who has probably had more influence on my cooking than any other person I know. As a child I used to compare every apple pie I ate to my grandmother's home made apple pie. All of them fell short. I spent years trying to recreate her turkey noodle soup, knowing she made her stock from scratch after each Thanksgiving and Christmas. I never did manage it (though now I know her secret and probably could.) On one visit a few years ago I even managed to persuade her to let me borrow her personal cookbook, her blue binder, so I could copy down some of her recipes, the ones that reminded me of her and my childhood.

I learned something today. I did not have a single clue what type of cake is my grandmother's favorite kind. I mentioned that to her and still don't know what kind she likes best! According to her, she likes them all!

Having no idea of what she would like, but not wanting anything too sweet, the little "assistant" and I settled on carrot cake with cream cheese icing. Today's Parent provided me with the recipes for both, and having made each of them before, I knew they would be good.

I made one mistake.

I didn't start early enough in the day.

When my grandparents arrived, I had barely turned the cakes out of the pans to cool and had not started the icing but instead had the cream cheese out on the counter, softening to room temperature.

They left less than an hour later, having had a cup of tea and some coconut banana muffins that I had made that morning (with my grandfather in mind - he loves coconut.) The cakes were still warm and the icing still not made.

My oldest son was sad to learn he had missed visiting with them, but was consolled by the thought of carrot cake for dessert later that night.

Happy Birthday Grandma! Perhaps when I see you in a few weeks I can try this again? Maybe by then I will learn what kind of cake is your favorite.

Playing with my food

Though it isn't officially summer yet, I've felt like summer cooking. To me that means my bbq.

I love my bbq. It's big, it can hold alot of food and let me do a variety of things on different heats all at the same time. And I haven't even hooked up my rotiserie yet!

Saturday saw me outside with my bbq, grilling up our meal. Dry rubbed beef ribs with vegetable kabobs, marinated in a red pepper and parmesan dressing. Mmmmmm.

All the wonderfully grilled vegetables had me thinking though - salad. Couscous salad with left over grilled mushrooms, zucchini, red onions and red and yellow cherry tomatoes. A touch of feta cheese crumbled over it, a sprinkle of olive oil and salt. Sounds like my Monday lunch is planned!

Or would have been. But the vegetables were just too good for left overs. (I should have known better - one of my husband's favorite meals out was from a restaurant in Georgetown, Maine, Robinhood Meeting House, consisting of a plate of grilled vegetables, a sauce at the side for dipping.)

I still had both kinds of tomatoes left, and part of a red onion. Corn would work well with that, plus the children would eat the corn on the cobb that would be left over. Now to play with flavors. A bit of basil and chives from my front garden. Touch of olive oil, a little salt, a little pepper. Something missing. A vinegar, maybe rice wine vinegar. No, balsamic. Mmmmm tasty!

Sometimes I am surprised at what inspires me to make something different. The grill marks on a couple of ordinary vegetables set me on a path to find a summer time salad that would satisfy my lunch time cravings for something fresh and vibrant. I'm glad I decided to follow that path.

Father's Day feast

I live in a house of spaghetti-a-holics.

Seriously. I'm not kidding.

If it were up to the boys (all 3 of them), we could have spaghetti several times a week. Some pasta substitutions are allowable, sometimes even requested.

The plan for Sunday morning was to walk up the street to the local Farm Boy and purchase the ground beef and celery I needed to make a large pot of pasta sauce, the all day, slow cooked kind of sauce. The kids and I were slightly over ambitious though as the store did not open until 9am, and we were ready to shop at 8:40am. Oh well.

"Maybe I"ll make penne tonight instead of spaghetti with meat sauce."


"Yes, penne. Tube noodles with the tomatoes and garlic and chillies. Parmesan cheese. That kind."

"Yohoo! That's my favorite! I love penne!"

That from my oldest child. The child who requests spaghetti at every special meal he has.

It's your birthday tomorrow, what would you like for dinner? Spaghetti. Congratulations on your taekwon-do promotion, what would you like for dinner? Spaghetti. End of school, you finished kindergarten, what would you like for dinner. Spaghetti. Soccer tournament tomorrow, what should I make you for dinner? Spaghetti.

I guess I can stop asking the question.

All around this change in menu was approved up by all the pasta-a-holics, both big and little.

I have to mention, this is one of the items off a small list that my husband will actually cook. He can cook when he wants to but claims that he doesn't because I enjoy it too much and I'm so much better at it.

A very simple sauce, topping penne noodles, rigate only because other kinds of penne are too small. A bit of olive oil, sauted garlic slices, chilli peppers, canned, diced tomatoes. Basic, simple, very tasty. Extra chillies on the side for those who like more heat in their pasta, freshly grated parmesan cheese for those of us who like our cheese.

But to make up for a simple, though much enjoyed, dinner, I followed up with a not so simple dessert. Key Lime squares, courtesy of Cooks Illustrated magazine.

I think my husband was happy to see me finally making a recipe from this magazine. He got it for me for Christmas, and anxiously waited as I read the first issue, waiting to see if I liked it.

"It was highly recommended."

"Hmmmmm" (I was busy reading.) "Okay these people are wierd."


"Yes, wierd. They just made over 100 meatloafs in their quest to make the perfect meatloaf."

Final conclusion from me? "Interesting. I can see making the occassional thing from them, but I'd hate to have to cook for any of them! And the letter from the editor has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with food!"

Still, while the boys are pasta-a-holics, I am probably a cookbook/magazine-a-holic. Combines two of my favorite things - cooking and reading. The stack of cookbooks on the floor beside my bed is probably a symptom of something, not sure what, but something.

But Key Lime squares just screamed out at me. Oh he'll love these. Heck, we'll all love these!

They were fairly easy to make, alot of cooling time. Unusual base for a square - instead of the usual graham cracker crust, it was animal crackers instead. (I think that contributes to my feeling that these testers are a bit wierd and I would not want to cook for them. Who doesn't like a graham crust?)

Despite that, the last two squares went into my husband's lunch box this morning and I'm sure if I were to offer to make them again any time soon, no one would complain. (Actually, while writing this, the youngest just came up behind me and said, "We ate those! They're all gone! We need more.")

For those who subscribe to Cooks Illustrated and decide to make this recipe, you'll note that I skipped the optional toasted coconut topping. While I like coconut, these squares did not seem like the right place for it.

In the end both dinner and dessert were a success. I hope it made for a good Father's Day feast for my husband.

Happy Father's day.

The basic rules of baking (or how to make the same recipe twice)

Always preheat your oven.
Read, then reread, your recipe before you begin.
Make sure you have all your ingredients on hand before you start the recipe.
Check to see that you have the time to bake your recipe before you put it in the oven.

What was that last one again?

Rhubarb Coffee Cake. It looked good, it sounded good, and it was another way to use up the large amounts of rhubarb that grow in my garden. Cobbler is good, but sometimes change is better. (Thanks to The Canadian Baker for the recipe!)

With my junior "assitant" otherwise occupied, I reread my recipe, gather my ingredients, preheat my oven and start baking. He catches on that I'm doing something just as I'm Pouring the batter into the pan, "What are you doing Mom? Can I help? Can I try it Mom? Are you going to use your timer Mom? But not your broken timer."

Into the oven goes, timer (not the broken one though), set for 1 hour and go on to something else.

Suddenly my watch beeps. It's 2:15pm, my daily reminder that it is time to finish what we are doing and get ready to go get the oldest from school.

Check the timer on the cake. Oh oh, does that say 30 minutes? I have to be at the school in 30 minutes. Hmmm compromise time. Turn the oven off, leave the cake in, and check it when I get back.

(Ironically, if I had waited 20 minutes to make the cake, I would have been fine!)

Well it doesn't look to bad - a bit sunken in the middle. The crumble topping isn't exactly topping the cake, but you can see pieces of it have submerged themselves in with the rhubarb.

Yes you eat with the eyes first, and so far the eyes are refusing anything, so on to the most important test - taste!

Not bad actually. Moist, though a bit denser than it should be. The rhubarb is so soft and so mellow it actually tastes more like apple.

However before this cake ever came out of the oven, as I was heading out the door, I was already determined that I would be making it again, properly, and making it again soon!

Rhubarb coffee cake - take two!

Version number one was good. I made it Thursday, it was gone by lunch Friday.

But did I say anything about the smell of it waffing through the house? No? That's because it was barely there, which is sad. One of the first satisfying signs of baking, to me at least, is the smell of your successful creation weaving it's way through the house, attracting everyone in it (and sometimes my neighbours too.)

Today the smell was amazing. Cinnamon, brown sugar.... Hmmm......

So the crumble topping is actually supposed to stay on top! (Okay, no big surprise there.) And the cake is supposed to rise in the center. Again, not really a surprise.

Texture wise, the difference is actually subtle. The crumb is a bit lighter, but not as much as I would have expected. Both were tender, both moist, but there is a small difference.

What is a surprise is the taste of the rhubarb. There is actually a bit of a tang to it, and it is very obviously rhubarb, not apple.

I think I actually prefered having the crumb a bit more submerged into the crumb rather than sitting on the top, though. It fell off very easily, making it difficult to have crumble and cake with every bite.

Overall the entire family has enjoyed both cakes, and this recipe is going to make it's way to my blue binder.

Of note, I did make one change to the original recipe, both times. In order to keep my house nut free I replaced the nuts in the topping with some oatmeal instead. Not being a fan of nuts in my baking to begin with, I didn't miss the nuts and enjoyed the texture that the oatmeal added to the crumble.

Hmm I wonder how it would taste if I used blueberries instead?