Spotted - Le Cordon Bleu, Ottawa

I took a Gourmet weekend cooking course at Le Cordon Bleu a few weeks back and got the chance to chat with my instructor, Chef Gilles Penot, after the class. He is a man who is passionate about food, and I learned that he adores salt and butter. He claims that you can never have too much of it, and truthfully, I'm not sure where he puts it all!

I will soon post about the wonderful dishes I learnt during my weekend gourmet course, but in the meantime, this month's Spotted is at Le Cordon Bleu, Ottawa.

Chef Gilles Penot

Where are you from: Beauce, France, but I spent the last 15 years in Normandy.

Your signature dish: Sauces and fish. I love cream and butter, and I love to work with fish. My signature dish would be a cream sauce with a fish flavor.

Weirdest thing ever eaten: I don't like pralines. It makes my stomach sick. I am in trouble when I smell it. I've always wanted to taste insects but I am too scared to.

Favorite ice cream flavour: I prefer sorbets. Any fruit flavored sorbet.

Your last meal would be: Rillette de lapin made by my mother. Delicious! Amazing! But it must be from my mother.

Winner of the Putumayo Food Music Giveaway

The winner of the Putumayo Food Music giveaway is commentor #15, Gina! You will receive 1 copy of the awesome Brazilian Cafe (my new favorite CD), and 1 copy of Picnic Playground.

Please send me an email at nooschi [at] gmail [dot] com with your mailing address so that the CDs can be mailed to you. I hope you enjoy them, and congrats!

Thanks to everyone who participated.

The winner was picked via

Sunday Brunch at Urban Pear, Ottawa

Urban Pear, Ottawa

I met up with my friends P and A for brunch yesterday at Urban Pear, and had an awesome meal there. We all had a lot of catching up to do, and it was long overdue. P had just gotten back from an anniversary trip in Italy, and A got married to a man she met in Australia a few years back. Her husband is currently living in Ireland waiting for his Canadian visa to be approved. Gotta love the long distance relationships. Of course, I filled them in on my frequent jaunts to and from Sydney.

Urban Pear is a small restaurant in the Glebe area that serves seasonal dishes that change quite frequently. The atmosphere is serene, simple & sophisticated, and the wooden bench that stretches across the oblong restaurant provides a communal-like dining atmosphere (tables are separated, however). Urban Pear also serves as a mini art gallery, where works of local Ottawa artists are featured throughout the restaurant. From June - August, the beautiful works of Anita Utas, with the theme 'Abiding Land', are displayed.

I needed a caffeine jolt, so I immediately ordered a cappuccino.


Shortly after, warm bread with a delicious balsamic vinegar & roasted garlic butter was brought out.

Bread with Balsamic Vinegar and Garlic Butter
Bread with Balsamic Vinegar & Roasted Garlic Butter

For starters, the three of us split a large antipasti plate. On the plate was Canadian Brie cheese, pickled shallots with marinated eggplant, pickled field mushrooms, house cured chorizo sausage, roasted garlic, 3 types of marinated olives, and fresh pear slices. It was a nice start to our meal.

Antipasti Plate
Antipasti Plate

I ordered the poached eggs with slices of chicken sausage, and fingerling potatoes. It came in a wonderful portabello broth mixed with nasturtium aioli. Nasturtium is a type of plant with a nice peppery flavor. Mixed in with the delicious sauce were smoked tomatoes, and a summer squash & local corn hash. This was an awesome dish, and I was not disappointed.

Poached Eggs with Potatoes
Poached Eggs with Chicken Sausage and Fingerling Potatoes

P has a sweet tooth, so of course, she ordered the french toast stuffed with double smoked bacon and mild St. Paulin cheese. On top of the french toast was fresh berry compote, and a dollop of vanilla whipped cream. Below the french toast was a pool of basil syrup. This was also very tasty. The berry compote was not overly sweet, and the bacon balanced the sweetness in this dish.

French Toast
French Toast Stuffed with Double Smoked Bacon

A ordered an omelet served with a fresh green salad. In the omelet was chorizo sausage, St. Mary's goat cheese, smoked portabello, and sun dried tomatoes. The omelet is normally served with basil pesto, but A is allergic to pine nuts, so she had her omelet without the pesto.

Chorizo Sausage Omelet
Chorizo Sausage Omelet with Green Salad

We were all very impressed with our meals, and it was a great start to a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Urban Pear
151 Second Avenue, Unit C
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Telephone: 613-569-9305

Sample Brunch Menu

The Urban Pear on Urbanspoon

Liang's Village, Ottawa

Sole with Hot Peppers

I know this is a bold statement, but my dinner at Liang's Village may have been one of the best, if not THE best, Chinese dinner I have had in Ottawa. I had put off writing this post because of the amount of food I had to write about, but after reading Ron Eade's mention of Liang's Village in his blog, I figured it was a sign for me to get off my butt and get writing about the wonderful Chinese meal I had there.

I'll start by talking about my mom. She is a woman who loves to be around people. She is a social butterfly, and her philosophy in life is "the more the merrier" (which has become mine as well). A small, intimate dinner with my mom is nearly impossible to organize. One of her favorite things to do is gather a big group of people for dinner so that they can try literally everything off the restaurant menu. I tagged along to one of her dinners a little while back, and enjoyed a 10 course meal (not including dessert) at Liang's Village.

Liang's Village is a very unassuming place. It is wedged inside a small strip mall on the East end of Ottawa, and most people in the area know them for serving a mediocre lunch buffet during the week. If you go in the evening, and order the right dishes, you won't be disappointed.

Our first course was deep fried shrimp balls. They were coated with rice noodles for texture, and were served with a sweet and sour sauce.

Deep Fried Shrimp Balls
Deep Fried Shrimp Balls

Next was a duck soup with Chinese veggies. This was a thick soup cooked with bamboo shoots, carrots, and cloud ear fungus.

Duck Soup
Duck Soup

The third course was a whole deep fried chicken with shrimp chips. The skin of the chicken is crispy, and the chicken is dipped in salt + pepper befor eating.

Deep Fried Chicken
Whole Deep Fried Chicken

The fourth course was something I had never seen before. It was pork stuffed winter melon braised in an Oyster sauce. The presentation was beautiful, and I was amazed at how cool it looked. Accompanying the winter melon was bok choy pieces.

Pork and Winter Melon
Braised Winter Melon and Pork

Another not-so-common dish was the pork shank braised in a dark soy sauce. This is not something one would normally order during a multi-course Chinese meal, and I was glad we tried it for that reason. The sauce was flavorful and the meat was extremely tender. This dish was garnished with broccoli florets.

Pork Shank
Braised Pork Shank

Part way through our meal, the chef came out to greet us. He talked a bit about the food, but mainly came to shoot the breeze. Unfortunately, he was camera shy.

The sixth course was a seafood stir fry. It was shrimp, scallop, squid, Chinese broccoli, and carrots stir fried in a light garlic sauce. The seafood was cooked very nicely.

Stir Fried Seafood
Seafood Stir Fry

The next course was a stir fried fish dish. The fish is whatever white fish is available and fresh that day. The bones of the fish were deep fried and ready to eat.

Stir Fried Fish
Stir Fried Fish

Lucky number 8 was twin lobsters stir fried in a garlic scallion sauce. This dish is good but can be messy if you're not skilled with chopsticks.

Twin Lobster
Twin lobsters

Traditional at the end of a multi-course Chinese meal is a noodle and/or rice dish. We had noodles stir fried with snow peas, mushrooms, and carrots.

Long Life Noodles
Stir Fried Noodles

We saved the best for last. This is the chef's specialty, and it is spectacular!!! It is a Szechuan-style dish that involves boiling sole fillets in a flavorful broth, and then accenting it with hot chili peppers and hot chili oil. As you can see, this dish is spicy! All I can say is yum, yum, yum, yum, yum. This was no doubt my favorite, and everyone else's favorite, of the night.

Sole with Hot Peppers
Szechuan-style Sole Fillets with Hot Chili Peppers

For dessert, we ended with a classic: red bean soup. This is my favorite Chinese dessert, and I was glad to see that they didn't skimp on the beans.

Red Bean Dessert
Red Bean Soup

This restaurant is a little jewel in East end Ottawa. The prices are moderate, the selection is good, and the ingredients are fresh.

I've also heard that they have a very good Peking duck dinner, which is on my list to try.

Liang's Village
1755 St. Laurent Blvd.
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Telephone: 613-733-2889

Liang's Village on Urbanspoon

Black Pepper Anise Cookies

Black Pepper Anise Cookies

If something seems out of the ordinary, it will appeal to me. It was one of those days where I was craving something sweet, but had no clue what to make. To get ideas, I decided to flip through my cookbook collection. Most of the cookbooks I own look great on my bookshelf, but rarely get used. When ideas are scarce, like today, my seldom used cookbooks really come in handy. While flipping through them, I saw the usual: chocolate cake, lemon tart, muffins....and then, what's this I see? Anise + cookies? The idea intrigued me and I instantly decided to try it out.

Anise is a spicy licoricy plant that is used in a lot of Mediterranean and South Asian cooking. In Chinese cooking, star anise is also popularly used. It is a star-shaped spice that closely resembles the flavor of regular anise. To enhance the spiciness of the anise seeds, I decided to add a bit of cracked black pepper to my cookies.

Anise Seeds

I got the recipe idea from Paris Sweets, a wonderful collection of authentic & traditional recipes from famous Parisian bakeries. Wedged in between the recipes are the author's, Dorie Greenspan's, recollection of her sweet life in Paris.

These cookies have a meringue-like texture on the outside, but resemble a dry cookie on the inside. The anise seeds and black pepper are used to infuse an aroma to the cookie.
This recipe makes approx 18 cookies.

Black Pepper Anise Cookies

Black Pepper Anise Cookies
(Adapted from Paris Sweets by Dorie Greenspan)- 1 cup of all purpose flour
- 1 cup of sugar
- 2 eggs, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 Tbsp of anise seeds
- 1/4 tsp of cracked black pepper
- small pinch of fleur de sel

1. Pre-heat the oven to 350F/175C.

2. Combine the sugar, anise seeds, and cracked black pepper into a food processor and chop for one minute. Sift the sugar into a bowl, and discard the remaining anise seeds and black pepper.

3. In a large bowl, combine the sugar and eggs. With an electric mixer, mix for 3 minutes on the highest speed. With a spatula, fold in the flour slowly. Add in a small pinch of fleur de sel. Mix well. A smooth batter will form.

4. Spoon or pipe the cookies (approx 2 inch diameter) onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 15 minutes or until cookies have a very faint burnt color around the edges.

TIP: If possible, spoon the entire batter onto baking sheets before baking. Your cookies will have a much smoother texture this way. Letting the batter sit for even 10 minutes, and then spooning it onto a baking sheet will create a bumpy texture. I made that mistake, and you can compare the picture below (bumpy texture) with the pictures above (smooth) to see the difference.

If you want an extra kick of spice, you can garnish these cookies with whole black peppercorns.

Black Pepper Anise Cookies

Putumayo Food Music + GIVEAWAY

Putumayo World Music
I was contacted by Putumayo World Music announcing that they are soon releasing two food-themed music CDs: Brazilian Café & Picnic Playground, and was asked if I wanted advance copies of the CD's to preview. After receiving the email, I checked out some of their music on the Putumayo website and really liked what I heard. I happily agreed to the advance CDs, and am thoroughly enjoying them. I'm a huge bossa nova lover, so the Brazilian Cafe CD is right up my alley.

Putumayo's goal is to introduce and connect people to different cultures through music. I love their concept, and am open to anything that embraces different cultures. Each CD comes with a thick booklet, written in English, Spanish, and French, that provides short bios on every artist featured on the CD. It doesn't stop there. Each booklet also contains recipes by leading international chefs.

I am giving one lucky reader an advance copy of each of the new CDs that is scheduled to be released July 28th: Brazilian Café & Picnic Playground.

Picnic Playground is a light, fun summer collection that will make you smile and dance. Two simple recipes, created by a child nutritionist and geared for children are featured in this CD. The songs will take you on a worldwide food journey with songs featured from countries such as France, Germany, Trinidad, and Australia.
Brazilian Cafe features very chill bossa nova, samba, and jazz music from different cities in Brazil. The recipes keep with the theme of the CD: A wonderful Brazilian dessert and coffee drink.

If you want a chance to win the two CDs mentioned above, leave me a comment and let me know what kind of music/songs you like to listen to while cooking or eating.

I will pick a winner at random on the morning of July 28th at 9:00am Pacific Time, and will ask the winner to contact me with their mailing address. If you are feeling lucky, and have an inkling you are going to win, you can choose to send me your mailing address in advance for prompt shipping. Please be sure to include 'Food CD' in the title, and include the name you commented with. If you are commenting without a link to an account/site, I would also recommend that you send me an email so that I have your email address handy in case you win. All emails should be sent to nooschi [at] gmail [dot] com.

Putumayo has a vast collection of CDs, and I'm sure there is a CD for just about anyone. Feel free to check out their online catalog.
One percent of proceeds from the sale of Brazilian Cafe will go to Terra dos Homens Brazilian Association supporting children's and adolescents' rights and similarly, one percent of proceeds from the sale of Picnic Playground will go to Vitamin Angels, a group that provides essential nutrients to children in the US and around the world.

***[Updated July 28 '09] The winner of the contest is Gina from Gina's Weight Watcher Recipes. Congratulations***

Trout Stuffed with Prunes and Pomegranate

Trout with Prune and Pomegranate Filling

I've never been a fan of mixing meat with fruit. I've always believed that the two should be kept separate...until I started eating Persian food, that is. This dish combines fruit with fish, and if you are one of those meat/fruit haters like I used to be, believe me when I say this dish is good!

This healthy fish dish is baked with a prune, raisin, and pomegranate sauce stuffing. The pomegranate sauce adds a nice tangy flavor, and the herbs in the sauce provide texture. My mother-in-law likes to serve this dish with a dill + fava bean rice that pairs perfectly.

Pomegranate sauce can be found in most Persian grocery stores. It is a thick paste that is made purely from pomegranate juice. The pomegranate juice is reduced to create a molasses-like texture, and the paste is very dark in color.

This recipe yields 4 - 6 servings.

Trout Stuffed with Prunes and Pomegranate
- 2 trout fillets of equal size, approx 10 inches long and 0.6 kg total
- 1 cup of curly parsley, finely chopped
- 2 scallions, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup of pomegranate sauce
- 1/2 cup of prunes & sultana raisins combined (2 parts prune + 1 part raisin), roughly chopped
- extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F/175 C.

2. In a pan with some olive oil, sautee the parsley and scallions for 2 minutes. Add in the pomegranate sauce, prunes, raisins, a dash of salt + pepper, and sautee for 5 minutes. Set aside.

3. In a large baking dish, lay one trout fillet with skin facing down. Spread the pomegranate mixture evenly over top of the trout fillet. Place the second trout fillet on top of the mixture with skin facing up. Bake for 30 - 40 minutes. Remove from oven, remove the fish skin, and serve.

The picture below shows four trout fillets. Simply double the recipe to feed more mouths.

Trout with Prune and Pomegranate Filling

La Roma, Ottawa

La Roma, Ottawa

If you are from Ottawa, then you are likely familiar with the construction happening on and around Bank and Preston Street. The streets are being teared up, and a large portion of the streets have been closed since April. There is no doubt that this is affecting businesses around the area, and for that reason, my friend R and I decided to head to La Roma on Preston Street for an Italian dinner.

La Roma recently renovated and completed their semi-private CinCin rooms, which are suitable for large group functions. They are located on the 2nd floor of the restaurant and the decor is elegant and contemporary. The rooms combined can accomodate up to 60 people. If you are worried about the large parties affecting regular dinner service, don't be. La Roma was hosting a large party while we were dining there, and the service was attentive and uninterrupted.

Our meal started with fresh bread and a small plate of olives tossed in herbs.

Olives Tossed in Herbs

For appys we ordered two deep fried plates: deep fried calamari, and deep fried smelts. The batter here is quite thin, and out of the two dishes, I preferred the smelts.

Deep Fried Calamari
Deep Fried Calamari

Deep Fried Smelts
Deep Fried Smelts

My main was the Linguini alla Pescatore: linguini pasta tossed with a tomato sauce that was mixed with baby shrimp, scallop, and crab meat. Surrounding the pasta were fresh, tender mussels that were cooked perfectly. I really enjoyed this dish, and would recommend it. If you aren't a tomato sauce fan, they also offer this dish with cream sauce or olive oil.

Linguini alla Pescatore
Linguini alla Pescatore

R ordered the uccelletti scappati: stuffed veal 'birds' with ham, baby shrimp, mozzarella, fontina and parmigiano cheese. They were covered in a cognac cream sauce and were served with vegetables & potatoes on the side. This was an interesting dish, but I much preferred my pasta.

uccelletti scappati
Stuffed Veal 'Birds'

For dessert, I had to order the budino alla panna. It was labelled as an exclusive La Roma specialty, and it is a unique Italian variation of the crème caramel. Compared to crème caramel, the budino alla panna was richer and starchier. It was neat to try but I prefer the smoothness of crème caramel.

Budino alla Panna
Budino alla Panna

R ordered the crepe Alaska. This was a baked vanilla ice cream crepe, topped with chocolate sauce and almond slices.

Crepe Alaska
Crepe Alaska

La Roma
430 Preston Street
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Telephone: 613-234-8244

La Roma Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Salade Olivier

Salade Olivier

My food journey started with this dish. I never used to cook much, and frankly, I didn't really enjoy it. It was about 5 years ago, at my in-laws' house, when I first tried Salade Olivier. I instantly fell in love, and felt compelled to learn how to make it. My mother-in-law did not make this salad much, and I couldn't fathom the fact that it would be months before I would taste it again. I wanted to eat this salad when I wanted, and as much as I wanted. What did I do? I asked my mother-in-law to teach me how to make it. I didn't care how labor intensive it was, I just wanted to learn how to make it.

My mother-in-law was such a joy to cook with that our so-called 'cooking classes' became a regular thing. Through the process, I learned to cook many traditional Persian dishes that utilized unfamiliar techniques and ingredients. This excited me. My time with my mother-in-law opened my eyes to their beautiful culture. More importantly, it was my husband's culture. I am so thankful that I got to spend that time with his mom because I finally understood him in a very personal and unspoken way.
From there, I not only saw food and cooking in a whole different light, but I began to appreciate different cultures for their traditional beauty.

Salade Olivier, also called Russian salad, was invented in the late 1800's by Lucien Olivier, then owner and chef of Moscow's popular Hermitage restaurant. Salade Olivier was considered a signature dish at the Hermitage restaurant, and the complexity of my recipe comes no where close to the original. I read on wiki that the original salad contained ingredients such as veal tongue, crayfish tails, and grouse.

Although this salad originated from Russia, it has become a traditional dish in other parts of the world such as Iran and the Ukraine.

This recipe yields 6-8 servings.

Salade Olivier
- 5 white potatoes
- 3 dill pickles
- 1 onion, halved
- 1 1/2 cup of green peas, frozen
- 3 carrots, peeled
- 1 chicken breast
- 3 eggs
- 4 Tbsp of white vinegar
- 4 Tbsp of light mayonnaise
- 1/2 tsp of turmeric
- salt and pepper

1. In a small pot, simmer 2 cups of water with the chicken breast, onion, carrots, turmeric, and some salt for 45 minutes. Allow to cool, and discard the onion. Shred the chicken breast into small pieces with your hands. Cut the carrots into small cubes.

2. In another pot, boil the potatoes and eggs. Remove the eggs after 12 minutes. Remove the potatoes when tender. Crack the eggs, peel them, and cut into small pieces. Peel the potatoes when they have cooled. Cut the potatoes into small pieces.

3. In a small pot, cook the frozen peas according to package instructions. Cut the pickles into small cubes. In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, chicken, carrots, pickles, peas, and eggs.

Ingredients for Salade Olivier

4. In a separate bowl, prepare the dressing by whisking the mayonnaise and vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the dressing to the potato salad, and mix well. Refrigerate for 2 hours before serving.

It may not seem as though there is enough dressing at first, but this salad does not need a lot of it. You can eat this salad plain or with bread. My choice is pita bread.

Salade Olivier with Pita Bread

Parsnip and Chive Gnocchi

Parsnip and Chive Gnocchi

Gnocchi is traditionally a potato-based pasta resembling mini dumplings. They are very filling due to the starch content, and when made properly, they have a soft and pillowy texture.

Instead of using potato, I like to add variety by using parsnip. I love parsnips and I find they add a nice hint of sweetness to the pasta. I also love fresh herbs, especially in the summertime. I had a bunch of fresh chives on hand, so I added it to my gnocchi.

Making Parsnip Gnocchi

This recipe yields 4 servings.

Parsnip and Chive Gnocchi
- 1 lb of parsnips
- 1 1/2 cups of sifted flour
- 1/4 cup of fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 Tbsp chives, finely chopped
- salt and pepper to taste

1. Peel the parsnips and cook in a large pot of boiling water until tender (approx 25-35 minutes). Drain and allow the parsnips to cool and dry.

2. In a large bowl, mash the parsnips. Slowly add in the flour and mix thoroughly. Add in the chives, Parmesan cheese, and a dash of salt and pepper. Mix well.

3. On a lightly floured surface, roll the gnocchi mixture into a thick snake-like shape (about 1 inch diameter). Cut the snake-like gnocchi mixture into small 3/4 inch pieces. Roll each small 3/4 inch piece into an oval shape. With your thumb, press into the center of the gnocchi, creating a little hole in the gnocchi. Using a fork, press the tines of the fork on the opposite side of the gnocchi to create a ribbed imprint. Gently reshape the gnocchi into an oval shape if required.

Marking Parsnip Gnocchi

Making Parsnip Gnocchi

4. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Place the gnocchi into the pot of boiling water. The gnocchi is ready when it floats to the surface. Drain and serve.

Because this gnocchi has such a nice flavor au naturel, I like to serve it with a simple garlic butter sauce. To garnish, I used freshly chopped chives and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Yuca with Coconut and Sugar

Yucca Root with Sugar and Coconut

Yuca with coconut and sugar is a popular street dish in Southern Vietnam. You can find this pretty much anytime of the day, but most people prefer it in the morning as a breakfast dish. The yuca is first steamed, then split with a knife to create a crevasse, where the condiments are poured in. Condiments include confectioners' sugar, fresh coconut, coconut milk, and toasted sesame seeds. To serve, the yuca is wrapped in a banana leaf.

Yuca, also known as cassava, is a starchy root with a hard waxy exterior. It is a major source of carbohydrates, and in terms of taste, it doesn't have a lot of it. It is eaten more for the texture than for taste. Tapioca is made from the flour of this root.

Yucca Root

When selecting yuca, be sure to avoid ones with bruises. Any tender spots on the yuca root is likely a sign of a bruise.

This recipe yields 6-8 servings.

Yuca with Coconut and Sugar- 2 yuca roots
- 3/4 cup of granulated sugar
- 2 cups of sweetened coconut, shredded
- 4 Tbsp of sesame seeds, toasted

1. Peel the yuca roots, and soak them in cold water for 3 hours. Steam them for 20 minutes. While still hot, cut the yuca into small wedges.

2. While the yuca is still warm, mix in the sugar and coconut with your hands. The sugar will melt into the yuca, so make sure it is evenly distributed. Right before serving, mix in the toasted sesame seeds.

Yucca Root with Sugar and Coconut

With this recipe, we normally toast the sesame seeds in a wok to create a more authentic flavor. If you wish, you can also pour coconut milk on top of this dessert.