To Melt. To Thaw. [Portered French Onion Soup with Île-aux-Grues Cheddar]

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This recipe comes at just the right time. When our bodies are craving warmth and solace from the bitter cold. The mercury seems to be on a never ending nose dive into the 30 belows and as it makes it’s decent, our bones stiffen, muscles tighten and groan as we reluctantly emerge from our blanket-covered indentations on the couch. We need to melt, to thaw our winter-permeated bones and come back to life. 


This soup will do just that. Every blistering spoonful, oozing like lava with sharp, buttery cheddar warms the soul from the inside out. I like to eat it when it’s so hot that it will likely leave your tongue slightly burned - a price I’m happy to pay for a soup that battles this unwavering chill. 

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French Onion Soup takes very few ingredients to construct and you’ve likely got most of them on hand right now. At it’s core; stock, onions, bread, cheese. But I’ve pumped it up slightly with a deep, dark, bitter porter. You can buy Trafalgar Cognac Aged Porter at some LCBO but if you can’t find it, substitute for another high quality porter that you enjoy drinking (that’s important!). Use a good quality stock, preferably homemade, and a cheese that’s sharp and melts to a rich, gooey  consistency. 

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Portered French Onion Soup with Île-aux-Grues Cheddar 
serves 4-6, depending on portion size

You can buy
 Île-aux-Grues Cheddar at The Red Apron in Ottawa. If you want to give this another dimension of flavour, a smoked porter would be a lovely addition.

3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
5 large onions, sliced thin into half moons
salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups porter
6 cups high quality beef stock
2 sprigs fresh thyme
8  thick-cut slices of baguette
1 1/2 cups grated aged cheddar 

Let the butter/olive oil heat up in a large dutch oven over medium heat. When sizzling, add the sliced onion. Cook, stirring every few minutes, until onions are deep brown and sweet. Be patient with this step, it should take about 30 minutes to get them a beautiful, rich brown. 

Once the onions have turned to a buttery soft consistency, turn the heat up a notch and add the porter. Cook, scraping the bottom of the pan to get all the little stuck-on bits of onion up, until reduced slightly, 5 minutes. Add the stock and sprigs of thyme, a few pinches of salt and fresh ground pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and let it cook until reduced by about 20%. It should be deep brown, shimmering and taste rich and full. 

Turn your oven on to broil. Ladle soup into oven-safe ramekins or bowls and place 1-2 slices of baguette on top of the soup. Sprinkle bread with a generous (GENEROUS!) amount of cheese. Broil until cheese is bubbling brown and baguette has toasted lightly around the edges. 

Serve HOT. The steamier, the better. But eat carefully - I can’t promise you won’t burn your tongue. 

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On Beergaritas and Beerjitos [Guest Post from Katy Watts; beer aficionado]



You know I love a good beverage around these parts, right? Maybe more than I’d like to admit some days. 

When it’s hot as it’s been all summer, the first thing I’m reaching for after a long day of work followed by a hot evening in the kitchen is an icy cold, frothy pint of beer. There is just nothing like that first sip that leaves a foamy mustache lining your upper lip. 

While I do enjoy beer as much as one can, my knowledge of the stuff is fairly pedestrian. Light vs dark, red vs blonde, cloudy vs clear. That’s about as far as I get before I gulp it down. So whenever I’m stuck on a pairing, or want to know more about a certain brand or style of beer, I find myself asking one person. Katy Watts.  Ottawa’s designated “beer girl”, or at least I consider her as such. Not only does Katy spend her time discovering all that Ottawa and surrounding area has to offer in the way of brews, she travels far and wide simply to discover new breweries for herself. In fact, when we were last together on a weekend in Prince Edward County, she regaled us with tales of a trip to Detroit simply to visit Dogfish Head Brewery. If memory serves (and it’s likely it doesn’t), she even shared her last bottle from Dogfish when we dined at Atelier for their Black Box Dinner (which allowed tables to bring their own beer or wine). This is a girl who is passionate about beer and all it’s many flavours and styles. 



Because I think Katy is talented and wonderful, I asked if she might consider sharing some of her knowledge with us so I could in turn share it with you. Not only did she agree to that, she even shared a few recipes for beer cocktails! BEER COCKTAILS! I am tickled at the thought. And so, I’ll stop rambling on and let Katy take it away! If you want to visit her blog, Sheltered Girl Meets World, there is a link at the bottom of the page with all her information. If you enjoy what you see, I’d love for you to leave Katy a comment at the bottom of the page! 

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It all started when I saw a picture of a margarita on my Instagram feed.  It was a pretty classic cottage photo; large glass filled with lime coloured liquid looking out onto a lake but it was the “beergarita” caption that caught my attention more than the scenery.  With a Google search I quickly found a recipe and recreated the beergarita in the photo (without the lake) and found it almost too tasty - especially for a weeknight.  In my beer and tequila glow I started wondering, what else can I mix with beer?

I know, why mess with perfection right?  But combining the right ingredients with beer can sometimes make it more refreshing and intensify those subtle flavours that are so enjoyable.  Look at the classic beer cocktails like the Shandy (citrus pop or lemonade with lager), Snakebite (stout and cider) or Black Velvet (stout and sparkling wine) - all of them flatter existing flavour profiles or provide a refreshing contrast.

For my experiments cocktails I used some of my favourite Ontario craft brews and tried my best to complement them with spirits and fruit.  I learned that most beers will easily pair with citrus and India Pale Ale’s love the herbal flavour of tequila but using mint or berries requires a bit of patience and a willingness to dump a beer down the drain.  Try my recipes or try mixing your own special blend to enjoy at the cottage or on the couch. 

The Kichesippi Beergarita
(Yield: 6 servings, 3 .. or 1 with a headache the next morning)

Ingredients
1 lime, cut into 8 wedges
1/4 cup coarse salt
1/2 cup thawed frozen lime aid concentrate
2 chilled bottles of Kichesippi Natural Blonde
1/2 cup chilled tequila
Ice cubes

Instructions: 
Prepare glasses by rubbing lime wedge around the glass rim and dipping in coarse salt. Combine beer, tequila and lime aid concentrate in a large pitcher, stir to combine. Pour over ice in salt rimmed glasses. 


[photo by Katy Watts] 

The Spearhead Spike
(Yield: Two servings)

Ingredients:
1 chilled bottle of Spearhead’s Hawaiian Style Pale Ale
1 oz of white rum
2 oz of pineapple juice
Ice cubes

Instructions:
Combine rum, pineapple juice and ice cubes in a shaker - shake till ingredients are well mixed. Combine Hawaiian Style Pale Ale and rum/juice mixture into pint glass. 

 [photo by Katy Watts]

Hogsback Raspberry Beerjito
(Yield: Two servings)

Ingredients:
1/2 pint of raspberries
Chilled can of HogsBack Brewing Co.’s Vintage Lager
1 oz white rum
Mint leaves
2 T agave syrup (also called nectar)
Ice cubes

Instructions:
Combine raspberries, rum, mint and agave syrup and muddle together. Pour raspberry mixture in glass filled with ice and add Hogs Back Brewing Co.’s Vintage Lager.  Stir with straw to combine.[photo by Katy Watts]

Katy Watts
Website: Sheltered Girl Meets World
Twitter: @klwatts
Flickr:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/klwatts 
Instagram: @klwatts 

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Eat Your Beer! [Brothers Beer Bistro; a review]

                               
Wait! Don’t count us out yet! 

The Ottawa dining scene has never been surrounded by such buoyant anticipation. The “city that fun forgot” is finally wagging an intrepid finger in the face of all the nay-sayers, starting first with a handful of admirable dining establishments in Hintonburg and continuing with the new kid on the block, Brothers Beer Bistro

366 Dalhousie St, which once housed a routine but somewhat lackluster Japanese restaurant, can now be called home to owners Patrick Asselin, Nick Ringuette and chef Darren Flowers. All gentleman come to Brothers B.B with an accomplished list of experience in and around the Ottawa dining scene and it shows in their attention to every detail. 



I was unable to attend the media event Thursday evening, so when I found out Mr. GL had plans to see a show in the Byward Market this past Sunday night, I took it as an opportunity to grab a pre-show dinner at Brothers…and to bring a few friends to share in the experience. After all, more people means more beers and better coverage of the menu so we were able to try a whole bunch of Brothers’ beerfully delightful dishes.

We walked in the door to an inviting fellow with a kind smile. Upon first glance, if industrial design and rustic charm had a spicy rendezvous, Brothers’ would be the resulting love child. Original brick, warm wood, clean white walls and exposed pipe beer taps give the restaurant a welcome, inviting feel, just as the owners had strived for. I found it hard not to feel perfectly at home in one of the 5 cozy booths. Had we not been rushing over to Mavericks to see friends play a show [shameless plug; Black Dogs!] I would have been perfectly happy to stay long into the night tasting beer after beer… which is serious work, guys. And, you know, someone has got to do the dirty work while you all sit around in your suits and boardrooms hogging all the fun. [snicker]

Now let’s get serious. The food. Oh my, the food. Chef Darren Flowers, who comes by way of Play Food & WineLuxe Bistro and Beckta, has quite obviously found a niche that he loves, because it truly comes through in his food. You won’t find Buffalo Chicken Wraps (which I shamefully admit that I love) or soggy french fries with a droopy, sad looking pickle at Brothers. What you will find, on the contrary, are artfully prepared takes on some classics. 



To start, we each ordered an appetizer which proved a harder decision than I had anticipated. I wanted them all. The Beef Tartare, which was recommended by numerous peers who had attend the media event, was everything I’d hoped and more. Great texture, a lingering bite from the ramps and an ever-so-delicate bitterness from the Maudite. The Tuna Crudo was brightly flavoured with a savoury kick thanks to the pigs ear crackling scattered generously around the plate. Both men ordered the Perogies, unable to resist their porky charm. Served with an ample slab of confit pig cheek and a savoury roasted potato brodo, each bite set mouths ablaze with salty, porky goodness and smooth earthy potatoes. As promised, they were a treat not to forget. 





For our mains, we each ordered something different to be sure we got to taste as many items as possible on our first visit.  A Kichesippi Fried Chicken (aptly referred to as “KFC”) and Waffles had me lustfully speechless (it was Mr. GL’s dish so I only had two bites…but could have easily eaten 2 servings) with it’s rich, savoury gravy, perfectly crisp fried chicken and tender waffles. The vegetarian dish, which I ordered, was a Parpadelle served with a bounty of spring vegetables, burly sliced olives, oven roasted tomatoes and, the kicker, an incredible smoked Parmesan that married brilliantly with the dish. The Charred BC Octopus arrived, looking oddly alien-like, but boasted an incredible, intense charred flavour that teamed well with the tender gnocchi and delicate fennel. Finally, the Arctic Char. Flawlessly crisp and golden skinned, topped with lemon zest, a welcome addition to fish’s mild flavour, and served with fingerling potatoes and Mad Tom IPA compressed mushrooms. 






We drank many a beer, most notably the Coopers Sparkling Ale. Mildly grassy and crisp in flavour with moderate carbonation - I would happily drink this any summer (fall, winter, spring) day. 

We came. We saw. We fell in love. What a treat our dining experience was! I am anxiously awaiting my next trip to Brothers Beer Bistro. An entirely welcome addition to the Ottawa dining scene, particularly in the Byward Market where mediocrity seems to run rampant (at least in the area of Brothers). I have no doubt that the beer lovers will find a happy home here, while the generally-beer-impaired will find themselves trying brews they never dreamed existed (banana bread beer, anyone?). There is something for everyone (yes, even a good selection of wines!) and then some. I have high hopes that Chef Flowers will continue to wow diners with his fresh take on classic dishes while expanding his menu slowly. 

 

 
If I may, I highly suggest you pick up the phone (or go online!), dial Brothers up and set a date to bring your favourite person to dinner - and then come and find me so we can rave about the experience together! 

Brothers Beer Bistro
366 Dalhousie Street, Ottawa ON
613-695-6300


 Brother's Beer Bistro on Urbanspoon



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Damned by Writers Block [Vegetarian Chili with Cinnamon Yogurt]



I haven’t been taking as much time to write lately. Of course, all the normal things that life brings with it tend to stand in the way, but this time it’s something different.

Writers block. My head, knock on it as hard as I may, will not answer. Sometimes I wonder if it’s taken a vacation somewhere wonderful and left me behind to fend for myself. How terribly rude that would be. I have an arsenal of photos and recipes to share but when I sit down, excited to share them with you, I just can’t muster anything. There’s been a lot of “I like to eat…” and “This tastes good…”. And really, you deserve more than that. Especially when I’m sure, or at least semi-sure, I can provide you with something more entertaining than single syllable, unimaginative description of what graced my plate last night.



This morning, rather than laying the guilt trip I’ve been giving myself on any longer, I made a life-sized pot of peppermint tea, set up a nice comfy spot on the couch beside a sleepy black cat, and started to read anything food related that I could. While I certainly was inspired to write, it wasn’t really condusive to what I wanted to talk about. So here I sit, spilling my brainless guts out to you in hope that I’ll eventually get back onto a topic that will lead me to the recipe I want to share today.

However, since that’s not happening and I’m sure I could yammer on all day about how writing isn’t always the easiest of tasks, and how blog writing can be a lot of pressure sometimes, and how I’m sure if I listen hard enough I could hear the crickets who have inhabited my brain, I’ll jump right into the meat it. Which is not the most exact way to describe it, since today I’m talking chili. A meat-less, but still seemingly meaty, chili that’s packed with so many flavours, textures and colours that it makes the addition of meat completely unnecessary. I top mine with a dollop of cinnamon-spiked yogurt for added earthiness and something to tame the spice. 

I also just happened upon a bottle of Muskoka Brewery’s dark Harvest Ale on my way home from work last night. So intead of using the stock I had, I opted for that instead. It gave it a bit more depth and earthiness with just a touch of bitterness. I loved the way it pairs with the smokey flavours. 



Vegetarian Chili with Cinnamon Spiked Yogurt
adapted from 101cookbooks Pierce St Vegetarian Chili

This chili is so easily adaptable to both your personal tastes and whatever you happen to have in your pantry. Don’t like beer? Add stock or water. Don’t like chickpeas? Add black beans. Do what makes your mouth happiest. Afterall, if chili doesn’t make you happy, you’re not doing it right.

I thought I had a can of chipotle peppers at home but it turns out I was wrong. I’m going to call for them anyhow, but in a pinch, a tbsp or two of smoked paprika adds a nice smokey kick.

1 large yellow onion, diced
olive oil
2 shallots, diced or sliced thin
8 cloves of garlic, rough chopped
1-2 tablespoons of ginger, peeled and grated
2 jalapenos peppers, seed and ribs removed and diced fine
2 tsp ground cumin
2-4 tbsp chili power (depending on how much spice you like)
1-2 chipotle peppers (from a can with adobo or dried and rehydrated), chopped
sea salt
1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes
1 750ml (26oz) bottle of favourite dark ale
water
1 can chickpeas
2 cups lentils (I used brown, you can use your favourite or a mixture)
1/3 cup potted barley
1/3 cup bulgur
1 large sweet potato, cut into small cubes
1 cup plain greek yogurt
1 tsp good quality ground cinnamon

Topping options; fresh chopped cilantro, reserved jalapeno, minced red onion, feta cheese, olive oil

Sweat the onions and shallots in some olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Once they’ve become translucent, add the garlic, ginger, jalapeno, cumin, chili powder and chipotle peppers. Cook for another 1-2 minutes until everything is very fragrant. Add the can of tomatoes and the beer. Give everything a good stir. At this point, have a taste of the liquid mixture. Add salt to taste and more spices if it’s not hot enough for you.





Bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the chickpeas, lentils, barley and bulgur. Turn heat down to a simmer and let cook for 15-20 minutes. At this point, carefully have another taste for seasoning. Adjust to your liking. Add the cubed sweet potato. If the mixture is becoming too thick, add water 1 cup at a time too thin it out. Cover again and let simmer for another 20-30 minutes.



While cooking, mix yogurt and cinnamon in a small bowl. Refridgerate until ready to serve.

Spoon chili into big bowls and top with yogurt and whatever else your heart desires.



Take a bite and feel your mouth turn up in a toothy grin only a big bowl of chili can provide.



That’s the bite, right there, that makes me supremely happy. Messy, unattractive, spicy and perfect. 

And of course, it tastes even better the next day. I am mowing through bowl #3 in 24 hours.  

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A Little Sunshine [Moules Frites with Aioli]



I have not come here to tell you about the rain. Really, I haven’t. I will save those rants until at least next week when you might have forgotten that it’s all I seem to be doing lately. Spring in Ottawa is usually on the wet side, but never as much as this year. I’ve seriously considered sleeping in my rain boots since they seem to be on my feet more often than not. OK, I complained a little. I just can’t help it.

Though I’d usually be hard pressed to find a bright side to the ever-grey gloom that is Ottawa in April, I have to admit that this past weekend was an eye opener. A wonderfully warm, and sunny awakening that was appreciated that much more as a result of the grey days that preceded it. After on and off weeks of seeing umbrellas where faces would normally exist,  there was no better reward than seeing the ear-to-ear grins of just about anyone who timidly stepped foot outside their front doors. And as though it was planned just for us, the weather decided to agree, not a second too soon, in time for our local Farmers Market to kick off the season.


This is Mr. GL. He’s usually the first to run for cover from my lens, but I got him this time.

As we weren’t sure how long this token from Mother Nature would last, we wanted to be sure to soak it all in as best we could. And if you know me, you know that means eating outside on the balcony. Of course, we were surrounded by stacked bins, my bicycle, planters filled with last year’s soil, and a barbecue (we haven’t had sun long enough to warrant prepping the balcony for summer), we still enjoyed every little ray of sunshine that graciously cloaked our skin.


Undoubtedly, one of the best parts of Moules Frites is using the mussel shells to pick at your frites.

While out on our Sunday jaunt, Mr GL and I found ourselves at a family run fish market that boasted some pretty lovely looking mussels. And what better to sit outside and pick at lazily than a batch of mussels…and maybe some french fries. If you’re unfamiliar with Moules Frites (Mussels & Fries), it’s something you should try and aquaint yourself with sooner rather than later. Primarily a Belgian or French bistro treat, they are the perfect meal to share with friends over loud, excited conversation, or perfectly acceptable to share over pints of Belgian beers on a lax date night. Of course, as you might have guessed, Mr GL did not take part in the eating of mussels, but rather, a crispy roasted chicken leg. Because mussels are such a cinch to make, it’s easy to make a batch for one. Don’t let a picky eater hold you back from the joys of the poor man’s shellfish.

If you hadn’t already gathered from previous posts, I have a dipping problem. A serious one. I will dip anything into anything, so it goes without saying that these frites were not complete without a creamy dip to accompany them. If you’ve been avoiding aioli, defined as a garlic mayonnaise but often refers to any flavoured mayo, because you think it’s a fancy dip that takes time and many ingredients to create, you’d be sadly mistaken. It’s one of the easiest dips and even you, yes you, the kitchen novice, can whip it up in mere seconds with a few kitchen staples.



Moules Frites with Garlic Aoili

I steamed my mussels in Hoegaarten, a white wheat beer, but the steaming liquid variations are endless. White wine, Absinthe, Beer, Stock…. so feel free to switch it up for a change in pace.

The mussel recipe is enough for one. Double the mussels, beer, cream and Dijon mustard for two.

1 clove garlic
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 egg yolk, room temperature
1 cup canola, plus more for frying
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
5-6 russet potatoes, cut into 1/4” thick sticks
1lb mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
1 leek, sliced thin (light green and white parts only)
2 tbsp butter
1 cup wheat beer
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tsp Dijon mustard

Aioli
Add the salt and garlic to a mortar and, using your pestle, grind them together until a garlic paste forms.

In a bowl, add the Dijon, egg yolk and garlic paste. Whisk until combined. Whisking constantly (put a towel under the bowl to keep it from wobbling around), add the oil in a slow steady stream until it starts to emulsify and thicken. Whisk in the lemon juice. Set aside.



Frites
In a 6qt (or larger) pot over medium-high heat, pour canola oil to a depth of 2”. When oil reads 375 on a deep-fry thermometer, add potatoes and cook until tender, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer fries to a wire rack to cool. Increase oil temperature to 385. Working in batches, add fries to oil and cook until golden brown and crisp. 4-5 minutes. Return fries to rack and season with salt.



If your fries are a little too greasy, which can happen if your oil isn’t hot enough, put them in a preheated 400 oven for 10 minutes.



Mussels
In a large pot over medium heat, add the butter. Once melted and bubbling, add the sliced leeks and cook until tender and soft, 5 minutes. Pour in the beer and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the mussels, turn the heat down to a simmer, and cover. Cook until mussels have opened, 5 -6 minutes. Any mussels that have no opened after 5-6 minutes should be discarded. Transfer mussels to a bowl with a slotted spoon and set aside. Remove pot from heat and add cream, a little at a time, whisking it into the mussel broth. Whisk in Dijon and add mussels back to pot.



Serve mussels with frites and aioli. And be sure to have an extra bowl around for discarded shells.



I also needed to make mention, once again, about the pie we got from Hall’s Apple Market at the Ottawa Farmers Market on Sunday. It was one of the most delicious pies I’ve had in a long time. It boasts a tender, flaky crust and is filled to the brim with beautifully sweet and tangy wild blueberries. It goes without saying that I will be back, perhaps multiple times, over the summer.

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