Spotted - La Cucina, Ottawa

This month's Spotted is a long story. I had someone lined up, and then I didn't. I had another person lined up, and then I didn't. I hate to point fingers, but in both cases, I have to blame CK's laziness. I told him that if my Spotted Interviews don't work out this month because of him, he would be the one interviewed.

Well, here we are.

CK is extremely camera shy, so the picture below is the next best thing. Don't feel jipped because the character below does kind of look like him...big, bushy, angry eyebrows are one of his trademarks...hehe.

This month's Spotted interview is with my darling husband at La Cucina Ristorante, Ottawa.

Garu in the Snow

Where are you from: Memphis, Tennessee, but I spent most of my life in Montreal and Ottawa.

Your signature dish: Boiled pasta and spaghetti sauce from a jar. It is the quickest and easiest thing to make when you are a student.

Most memorable dining experience: My answer will embarrass my wife, but chicken almond guy ding and beef & broccoli from Golden Palace Restaurant in Ottawa. I used to go here every year for my birthday, as a child, with my family.

Favorite ice cream flavor: Bubble Gum. It has the most refined flavor of any ice cream ;-)

Your last meal would be: All of my favorites. For mains, I would have kebab soltani, poutine, a medium tomato, onion & mushroom pizza, and a bowl of Lucky Charms with skim milk. To drink, I would have a glass of Dr. Pepper, and a glass of Cherry Coke. For dessert, two cream puffs.

Happy New Year Everyone! We'll be spending ours in Memphis.

Theo Chocolate

Theo Chocolate

One of my addictions while travelling is buying exotic looking chocolate. This is somewhat ironic because, personally, I don't even like chocolate all that much.

Nonetheless, I gravitate towards the cocoa treats when I'm away from home, and I'm especially vulnerable to smart packaging and designs.

My latest discovery is Theo Chocolate. I saw these cool choco bars while perusing through my favorite grocery store, Whole Foods, in Houston.

Theo chocolate is the first and only organic and Fair Trade chocolate factory in the US. I had no clue that almost all US organic chocolate was manufactured in Europe.

It wasn't Theo's great organic and Fair Trade story that initially attracted me, it was their eclectic packaging design by Hungarian-American designer, 'KittenChops'. She has a very unique spin to design and collages, and her blog KittenChops is a great place to read about her inspirations and ideas. Clients and companies she's worked with include Starbucks, and The Seattle Times.

Theo Chocolates have a wide range of flavors, both traditional and exotic. I picked up two bars.
The first was the coconut curry bar. This was by far the most exotic flavor I saw. This was a milk chocolate bar made with 40% cacao.

Theo Chocolate - Coconut Curry
Coconut Curry Bar

Both the coconut and curry flavors were prominent, and besides those two ingredients, this bar also contained fenugreek, paprika, and cardamom. This bar was really different, and I definitely enjoyed it.

Theo Chocolate - Coconut Curry
Coconut Curry Chocolate

The second bar I picked up was the bread & chocolate. Made with 70% cacao, this dark chocolate bar adopts a traditional European food pairing. A real image of cat fur is used to fill out the cat in her design. Using real images with illustrations is characteristic of KittenChops designs.

Theo Chocolate - Bread & Chocolate
Bread & Chocolate Bar

This bar reminds me of a refined version of Nestle's Crunch Chocolate bar. Bits of dehydrated French bread is mixed in with the chocolate, providing a distributed crunch with each bite. There is also a nice sea salt flavor to balance the sweetness of the chocolate.

Theo Chocolate - Bread & Chocolate
Bread & Chocolate

3400 Phinney Avenue N.
Seattle, Washington, USA
Telephone: 206-632-5100

The Whalesbone Oyster House, Ottawa

Whalesbone Oyster House, Ottawa

My sister in-law was sweet enough to surprise CK and I with a gift certificate for The Whalesbone Oyster House, a small casual seafood restaurant on Bank Street. She bought us the gift certificate so that we could celebrate all of the important dates we missed over the course of the year such as our birthdays, and our wedding anniversary. CK and I celebrated by ordering as much food as we could eat ;-)

Whalesbone Oyster House not only has fresh seafood, but they are socially responsible about it as well. They are a member of Oceanwise Canada, an association "dedicated to effecting the conservation of aquatic life through display and interpretation, education, research, and direct action".
If you're not a seafood fan, don't fret. Whalesbone Oyster House also offers a non-seafood choice on their menu.

For starters, CK and I shared a few things:

We ordered a half dozen oysters, and asked the staff to surprise us with the selection. We ended up with two Mallet oysters, two Colville Bay oysters, and two Marina Golds. They were served with fresh horseradish, and a large selection of sauces. The oysters were incredibly fresh, and my favorite was the Mallet oyster.

Oyster Platter
Oysters on the Half Shell

Our table was right across from the bar, and I enjoyed my view of Sean shucking oysters as they were being served.

Shucking Oysters
Oyster Shucking

Our first starter plate was the BC wild albacore tuna: slices of tuna lightly seared, and served over top of an apple slaw with toasted pine nuts. The tuna was served with a deliciously rich duck liver mousse ravioli. I loved this dish!

Tuna and Liver Ravioli
BC Wild Albacore Tuna

I loved the tang in the apple slaw, and it definitely added a nice touch to the dish.

BC Wild Albacore Tuna with Apple Slaw

Our second starter was the hand picked Qualicum Beach scallops. It was served with a sweet Korma and raw Bergendale honey sauce that paired very nicely. On the side was a potato, cauliflower and goat cheese curd pavé.

Hand Picked Qualicum Beach Scallops

My main was the Lake Erie walleye served over top of a brussel sprout and walnut salad. The brussel sprout salad normally comes with double smoked bacon, but I asked for no bacon. On the side was creamed corn with pommes Anna on top.

Lake Erie Walleye

I didn't care for the creamed corn, but the pommes Anna was awesome. It was carefully layered, and perfectly crisped.

Potatoes and Corn
Pommes Anna and Creamed Corn

CK ordered the wild White Spring salmon served over top of bok choy, and a mushroom & leek stuffed canneloni. Sauces included an AMAZING dill sabayon and charred pepper coulis. The salmon was cooked very nicely, and the dill sabayon made the dish.

Wild White Spring Salmon

For dessert, CK and I split the chocolate selection: layered brownie, peanut, and ganache. This was served with a creamy salted caramel ice cream (I believe Pascale's ice cream), and a delicious sponge toffee.

Chocolate and Peanut Dessert

CK and I loved our meal, and I can't wait to go back.

Takeaway oysters and smoked fish are available for pre order for your upcoming holiday parties.
Whalesbone also owns the Whalesbone Sustainable Oyster and Fish Supply, a retail warehouse where you can buy sustainable fresh fish and sandwiches. You can read about my experience at this link.

The Whalesbone Oyster House
430 Bank Street
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Telephone: 613-231-8569

Whalesbone Oyster House on Urbanspoon

Skittles Citrus

Skittles Citrus

Now that the holidays are officially here, I have a bit of time to breath again. I have a small mountain of goodies in my kitchen that I've been meaning to check out when I had free time. My goodies are mostly food gifts I have received from people, i.e. Oz goodies from CK, and Malaysian and Taiwanese goodies from his sister from a recent Asia trip she took.

One of the things CK brought back for me from Oz were Skittles Citrus. It has become somewhat of a custom for him to buy me unique flavors of candy that aren't commonly found in Canada.

Skittles Citrus

I wasn't overly excited for these citrus Skittles, but they turned out to be pretty good, especially when eaten in big handfuls. Despite that they are citrus flavors, these candies are still very sweet. Skittles Citrus contain 3 traditional flavors, and 2 new flavors.

The two new flavors are mandarin & pink grapefruit, and the three traditional flavors are lime, orange, & lemon.

Skittles Citrus Flavors

Of the two new flavors, the pink grapefruit was definitely my favorite. They tasted exactly like pink grapefruit, and they even had a slight bitter taste. I found the mandarin ones very sweet.

Other Skittles flavors I've written about: Skittles Sensations

Roasted Chestnut, Mushroom, and Currant Stuffing

Roasted Chestnut, Mushroom, Currant Stuffing

Christmas has been at my cousin Stephanie's place for the last 7 years. She makes a huge, elaborate holiday meal for the entire extended family, and her dinners are a lot of fun. Her Christmas dinner is the one event that CK looks forward to every year.

Sadly, she has decided to spend her Christmas out of town this year, which means we're all on our own. Because we've relied on her so much, we're all scrambling trying to figure out what to do.

My small contribution this year is the stuffing.

The first time I tried this recipe, my chestnuts blew up, and I spent hours cleaning the tiny bits of chestnut splattered all over my oven. I had an awful time cleaning the mess I made. I finally figured out a proper way to roast chestnuts, and I must thank Duane Keats for that. He told me to first soak the chestnuts, and then roast them for 40 minutes on low heat (approx 150-200F). His instructions worked perfectly. I did use a sharp knife to cut an X in each chestnut before baking to allow steam to escape...juuuuust in case.

This stuffing is awesome. It is bready on the inside, and slightly crispy on top. The chestnuts and currants add a nice hint of sweetness, and the spices add a comforting taste. Try it, you won't be disappointed.

I wish everyone a splendid holiday, and a happy new year!

Roasted Chestnut, Mushroom, Currant Stuffing

Roasted Chestnut, Mushroom, and Currant Stuffing
- 1 loaf of Italian bread, ripped or cut into 1 inch pieces
- 8 oz, 227g of your favorite mushroom, sliced thinly
- 3 cups chicken stock
- 4 celery stalks, finely chopped
- 1 leek, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup of dried currants
- 3 cups of chestnuts (in the shell), roasted, de-shelled, and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 2 Tbsp of fresh sage, finely chopped
- 1 Tbsp of finely chopped fresh thyme + 1 sprig of fresh thyme
- 1 tsp of dried rosemary
- 1/4 cup of milk
- salt
- pepper
- small pinch of cinnamon
- small pinch of nutmeg
- small cube of butter, plus extra for greasing

1. Pre-heat the oven to 300 F/150C. Place the bread pieces on a baking tray and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until fully dehydrated. Another way to dry the bread pieces is to leave them out over night.

2. In a lightly buttered pan, sautee the onion, leek, shallot, sage, rosemary, and finely chopped thyme until the onions are translucent. Add the celery and mushrooms, and sautee for another minute or two. Add the chicken broth, a sprig of thyme, a pinch of cinnamon, and a pinch of nutmeg, and allow the broth to come to a boil. Add salt and pepper to taste. The broth should be slightly salty so that it is not bland when added to the bread. Turn off the heat, and discard the sprig of thyme.

3. Pre-heat the oven to 350F/180C. Grease a 9x13x2 rectangular baking dish with butter, and set aside. In a large bowl, slowly add the broth mixture to the dehydrated bread. Add milk, dried currants, and chestnuts. Mix well. Be careful not to break the bread pieces. Spoon the bread mixture into the greased baking dish. Bake uncovered for 35 - 40 minutes.

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen, Houston

Pappadeax, Houston

When I was in Houston, I got to experience Texas' "bigger and better" motto first hand.
For example, I ordered granola and a boiled egg for breakfast one morning, and ended up getting my order PLUS four pieces of toast, a large serving of roasted potatoes, and hot peppers on the side. I thought I had received the wrong order until I looked at the bill. Oh, and Texans mean business when they serve hot peppers. I threw a whole pepper in my mouth thinking that it would be mild, and almost died. My eyes teared up uncontrollably, and I coughed for about a minute straight. I think it took me almost 10 minutes before I mildly recovered.

Every other meal in Texas was similar to the breakfast I just described. There was so much food, I didn't know what to do with all of it.

Pappadeaux is my Texan friend N's favorite restaurant. When we asked her where she wanted to go, she didn't even have to think twice.

Pappadeaux is a huge chain specializing in quality Cajun seafood. There are 8 locations in Houston, and all are owned by the Pappas family. Find that impressive? They also own 8 other restaurant chains ranging from seafood to Mexican to steak houses, with over 60 locations across the US.
Back to Pappadeaux.

For appetizers, we all shared the lump crab and spinach dip, served with garlic bread on the side. This was a nice dip, and I loved the huge chunks of crab with every bite.

Crab Dip
Lump Crab and Spinach Dip

We also shared a plate of crispy fried alligator served with potato sticks, and creole dipping sauce. The alligator was nice and tender, and the sauce was delicious. I enjoyed this dish more than I thought I would.

Fried Alligator
Crispy Fried Alligator

My lunch was the catfish Opelousas. Served in traditional Louisina style, it was a huge piece of blackened catfish with oysters, shrimp & crabmeat thrown on top. Plenty of dirty rice was served on the side. The catfish was cooked very nicely and I couldn't believe the amount of seafood served with my fish.

Catfish Opelousas

M ordered the fried stuffed crab. He really enjoyed his lunch and couldn't believe the size of the crabs.

Fried Crab
Fried Stuffed Crab

A ordered a pan fried tilapia topped with shrimp and tomatoes. The sauce was a light white wine sauce, and sides included fresh green beans and potatoes.

Tilapia Plate
Pan Fried Tilapia

N knew what she was going to order before we even looked at the menu: the crawfish platter. This was fried crawfish & crawfish etouffee served with dirty rice.

Fried Shrimp Plate
Crawfish Platter

For dessert, they tried hard to entice us by bringing out a complete dessert platter as the dessert menu. The dessert platter is a gigantic plate of every dessert available. They had banana pudding, pumpkin cheesecake, turtle fudge brownie, pecan pie, key lime pie, creme brulee, regular cheesecake, praline cheesecake, and bread pudding. Boy, that was a mouth full.

Dessert Tray
Dessert Menu

We decided on two desserts to share between the four of us. We had a super rich turtle fudge brownie, and

Chocolate Cake
Turtle Fudge Brownie

a banana pudding and wafers in a jar.

Banana Pudding
Banana Pudding

We had a very enjoyable meal overall. As I said, the portions were humongous, and our seafood was prepared nicely. Pappadeaux is a good casual family restaurant.

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen (Richmond at Kirby)
2410 Richmond Avenue
Houston, Texas, USA
Telephone: 713-527-9137

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen (Richmond at Kirby) on Urbanspoon

Bo Bi Rice Paper Rolls

Rice Paper Rolls

The Bo Bi rice paper roll is a unique Chiu Chow/Vietnamese fusion dish that is commonly eaten by the Cantonese population who migrated to Vietnam. The name 'Bo Bi' is Chinese, and translates to 'thin pancake'. The original Chiu Chow Bo Bi dish uses a thin pancake instead of rice paper, but because rice paper is more commonly found in Vietnam, the Chinese who tried to re-create this dish started using rice paper out of convenience. The ingredients in the roll may vary depending on the family and their preferences.

I had Bo Bi rice paper rolls with my family the other night, and I instantly thought to snap pictures to share with everyone.

This dish is not very complicated to make, but there are many ingredients that need to be prepared. Here is the low down on how to make it.

1. Steam some Chinese sausages and slice them thinly.

Chinese Sausage
Sliced Chinese Sausages

2. Boil julienned carrots and turnips until tender and top it with fried onions. Be sure to make a large pot of this.

Carrots and Turnips
Boiled Carrots and Turnips

3. Roast some peanuts

Roasted Peanuts
Roasted Peanuts

4. Roast some preserved turnips and slice up a few fried eggs

Fried Egg and Preserved Turnip
Fried Eggs and Turnips

5. Wash some lettuce


6. Throw the above ingredients + dried rice paper on the dinner table. Get a big bowl of lukewarm water to dip your rice paper in. Give each person a big plate for wrapping, and away you go.

Bo Bi Ingredients

To make the wrap, dip the entire rice paper in lukewarm water for a few seconds, and set it on your plate. Place a bit of each ingredient in the middle of your rice paper.

Rice Paper Roll

Fold in the sides, and roll.

Rice Paper Roll

Voila! Once you have it, dip the roll into your favorite sauce. In my household, Sriracha hot sauce, hoisin sauce, and hot chilli oil are the most popular.

Rice Paper Roll

I mentioned above that some of the ingredients may vary from family to family. Other ingredients that could be used are jicama, dried prawns, and sauteed scallions. Of course, you can also try it the traditional way and use a thin pancake instead of rice paper.

MBCO (Montreal Bread Company), Montreal

MBCO, Montreal

Another place I visited in Montreal was MBCO (Montreal Bread Company). I have to admit, I had gone to Olive and Gourmando first, but I learned that they close on Sundays and Mondays :-(
MBCO is a little European-style cafe serving morning and afternoon eats such as croissants, brioches, hand carved sandwiches, and thin crust pizza. They always have funky world music or jazz playing, and I love the warehouse feel of this establishment.

MBCO, Montreal

CK and I used to visit this place regularly, and I used to order their sandwiches everytime I went.

On this visit, I decided on the pepper crusted tuna nicoise salad instead of a sandwich. This was a green salad with tomatoes, creamy potatoes, fresh capers, red onions, olives, and seared tuna. It was served with a very nice sesame dressing.

The only thing I didn't like about this salad was that the tuna tasted like it was cooked hours before it was served. It was cold and slightly dry on the edges. I would have much preferred the tuna to be freshly prepared.

Tuna Salad
Pepper Crusted Tuna Nicoise Salad

It was a cold day and the patio chairs were still out, which meant the doors were slightly open. I was freezing and needed something warm. I ordered an awesome Mightly Leaf chamomile citrus tea.

Mighty Leaf Chamomile Citrus Tea
Mighty Leaf Chamomile Citrus Tea

Mighty Leaf tea comes in beautiful hand crafted silken tea pouches that are biodegradable. The tea blends I've tried have all been great, and some blends have beautiful dried flowers in them.
The food wasn't as spectacular as I remembered it being, but it was still nice to be back.

MBCO (Montreal Bread Company)
1447 Rue Stanley
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Telephone: 514-284-0404

Mbco (Montreal Bread company) on Urbanspoon

Nocochi Cafe Patisserie, Montreal

Persian Pastries

I was recently in Montreal for a training course, and I was very excited because I hadn't visited Montreal in what felt like, forever! Montreal has a special place in my heart. This is where CK used to live, and was also where I spent all my weekends for a few years. My short trip to Montreal was a blast from the past! I loved walking through the busy streets of downtown Montreal, and it was a nice change from the Ottawa suburbia culture.

Being back in Montreal also reminded me of when my relationship used to be easy. We had no worries back then, and our focus was to have fun ALL THE TIME. No huge bills to pay, no long tiresome hours at work, and no extreme long distance marriage to balance!

The little free time I got in Montreal, I used wisely and visited my old favorite places. One of these is Nocochi Cafe Patisserie, a stylish café specializing in Persian pastries.

Nocochi, Montreal
Window Display at Nocochi

Visiting this place was a joy for both the eyes and stomach. They have a large selection of beautiful mini pastries ranging from delicate Persian nut pastries to French macarons to fruit jellies. If you want something more substantial, they also offer coffees, teas, sandwiches, pizzas, and salads.
I took home a cute little box of pastries for CK (who is home for the holidays...yay!) and I, and below is a lil’ snapshot of what we had:

Persian Pastries
Persian Pastries from Nocochi

To get a feel of how mini these pastries really were, I compared them to a Canadian nickel.

Persian Pastry

My favorite were the little marzipan balls. I LOVE anything with almonds.

Persian Pastries
Marzipan Balls

I also picked up a personal pizza for myself, and ordered the Nocochi pizza: sun dried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, ham, mozzarella, buffalo mozzarella, artichoke, olives, onions, roasted capsicum, and . The pizza didn't look like much but the ingredients were fresh. It also wasn't very greasy, which I liked.

Nocochi Pizza
Nocochi Pizza

Nocochi is owned by Vivel, its parent company. The majority of the Vivel shops are in the Middle East, but they are looking to expand in both Canada and the Middle East.

Nocochi Cafe Patisserie
2156 Mackay Street
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Telephone: 514-989-7514

Nocochi on Urbanspoon