Scalloped Potatoes with cream cheese sauce

I have always wanted to love scalloped potatoes. Growing up, the ones I tasted – my mom’s, my aunts’ and others – were good, but not spectacular. Sometimes the onions didn’t seem to be cooked enough, sometimes the sauce was too thick, or sometimes there wasn’t enough sauce. I’ve tried many different recipes over the years, and tasted many prepared by others, but I just didn’t find a version that I truly craved. That all changed a couple of weeks ago when I decided to overhaul my basic recipe, which was adequate but not awesome. The game changer? Cream cheese. Oh, yeah. Creamy, cheesy deliciousness makes these scalloped potatoes totally crave-able and no more difficult to prepare than the standard cheeseless version. You can make them in a larger casserole dish, or, for a prettier presentation, use smaller oven-safe dishes or ramekins.

Adding cream cheese and herbs to the sauce makes these scalloped potatoes super delicious.

Adding cream cheese and herbs to the sauce makes these scalloped potatoes super delicious.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons (37 mL) flour
  • 2 cups (500 mL) milk
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) each salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) cream cheese
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) minced chives
  • 1 pound (454 grams) potatoes (I like Russet or Yukon Gold)

Method

  • In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.
  • Add garlic and cook for 1 minute.
  • Add flour and stir well as it cooks for 2 minutes.
  • Slowly add milk, about 1/3 cup (75 mL) at a time, whisking well after each addition. The sauce should be smooth and will start to thicken as it cooks.
  • Add salt and pepper and continue whisking, letting sauce cook for about 3 – 4 minutes.
  • Add mustard and whisk to blend, then add cream cheese and whisk as it melts. Do not worry if you can see some lumps of cheese; they will melt as the potatoes cook.
  • Add the diced onion and cook the sauce for 3 minutes more. Stir in the minced chives and remove from heat while you prepare the potatoes.
  • Scrub potatoes but don’t peel them. Slice thinly (1/4 inch or 6mm is ideal) using a sharp knife or mandoline.
  • Lightly grease your casserole dish(es) with butter.
  • Layer the potatoes in the dish, overlapping slices.
To ensure even cooking, lay the thinly sliced potatoes in layers, slightly overlapping the slices.

To ensure even cooking, lay the thinly sliced potatoes in layers, slightly overlapping the slices.

  • Top each layer of potatoes with enough sauce to just cover them. Don’t worry that the sauce has become thick as it stands; it will thin out when baked.
  • The casserole dish(es) can be covered tightly and refrigerated at this point for up to 48 hours before baking.
You can see the sauce has lumps of cream cheese; these will melt as the scalloped potatoes bake.

You can see the sauce has lumps of cream cheese; these will melt as the scalloped potatoes bake.

  • When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350F.
  • Cover the dish(es) tightly with foil and bake for 40 minutes for a large dish, or 25 for smaller dishes.
  • Remove foil and bake an additional 20-30 minutes, until potatoes are tender when tested with the tip of a sharp knife and the top is golden brown.
  • Serve warm.

Serves 4.

 

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A Taste for Life 2014 – Hope Made Delicious

It’s one of the most anticipated nights of the year – an evening when diners can gather with friends, in a restaurant of their choosing, and participate in one of the easiest and most meaningful fundraisers around. Now in its sixteenth year, A Taste for Life, taking place at restaurants across the region on April 23, provides crucial financial support for two essential local organizations – Bruce House and the Snowy Owl AIDS Foundation.

Steph "The Grilling Gourmet" is once again the spokesperson for A Taste For Life. Here, he shows off some of his marvelous candied bacon.

Steph “The Grilling Gourmet” is once again the spokesperson for A Taste For Life. Here, he shows off some of his marvelous candied bacon.

At the event launch held April 16 at the Urban Element, attendees learned about the proud history of A Taste for Life and the important work being done by the causes that benefit. With over 3800 people infected with HIV/AIDS in the Ottawa area (including 25% who don’t know yet that they are infected), the tangible and intangible support offered by Bruce House and the Snowy Owl AIDS Foundation is vital. The event has grown in popularity and scope since its inception and now takes place in two dozen communities across Canada.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson enjoyed sampling the delicious bites on offer at the Taste for Life event launch at Urban Element.

Mayor Jim Watson was on hand at the launch, enjoying the delicious nibbles on offer from five of the participating A Taste for Life chefs/venues. The food was a delightful representation of the excellent fare – ranging from casual to elegant – that  diners will enjoy on April 23 at any one of the forty-two participating restaurants. “This event combines what people like to do in this community,” he said. “They like to help, and they like to eat.” He noted that there has been a renaissance in Ottawa’s food scene since A Taste for Life started and the event is a true celebration of the talented individuals who make exceptional food every day.

The Urban Element has generously hosted the A Taste for Life even launch for many years.

The Urban Element has generously hosted the A Taste for Life even launch for many years.

Watson specifically paid tribute to the over 100 volunteers who make A Taste for Life possible (including over 50 from presenting sponsor TD Bank). “We hope one day that we won’t have to raise funds for people living with HIV/AIDS but that day is not yet upon us, so we still have work to do,” he added.

Steph the Grilling Gourmet served up Hickory and Apple Wood Smoked Pulled Pork Cones topped with Candied Bacon and Drizzled with a Bourbon Whiskey BBQ Sauce

Steph the Grilling Gourmet served up Pulled Pork Cones topped with Candied Bacon

Simon Bell of Oz Cafe’s tasty creation featured a tuna tartare bathed in yuzo mayonnaise perched on a bannock pancake, garnished with puffed wild rice and a tamari, honey and hoisin drizzle.

Charles Part from Les Fougères served a heavenly chowder composed of seared scallop and potted shrimp with salt cod ravioli and mussels.

Charles Part from Les Fougères served a heavenly chowder composed of seared scallop and potted shrimp with salt cod ravioli and mussels.

Laura Fletcher and her team from Winchelsea Events supplied tasty Guadalajara-inspired shredded pork mini sandwiches.

Laura Fletcher and her team from Winchelsea Events supplied tasty Guadalajara-inspired shredded pork mini sandwiches.

Sheila Whyte of Thyme & Again Creative Catering was on hand to serve yummy berry and passionfruit mousse parfaits.

Sheila Whyte of Thyme & Again Creative Catering was on hand to serve yummy berry and passionfruit mousse parfaits.

To date, A Taste for Life has raised over $750,000. Last year, 4200 diners participated, with most of the restaurants – each of which donate 25% of their proceeds that night – filled to capacity. Where will you and your friends dine on April 23?

For complete details and a list of the over forty restaurants participating in this year’s edition, please visit http://www.atasteforlife.org/ottawa.html

 

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Lemon Puffs

I recently got to spend a few days with my first culinary partner in crime. As university housemates, Karen and I shared a strong enthusiasm for procrastination by cooking, always accompanied by many cups of tea. Being in the kitchen with her this spring brought back so many delicious memories and inspired a number of the recipes I have posted lately, including this delightful dessert. Brightly coloured, tangy flavoured lemon curd is sandwiched between delicate, flaky pastry layers to make perfect little bites that would be ideal for a tea party or as a light dessert after a big meal. The puffs can be baked ahead of time but should be served within an hour of filling. Not quite a cookie, not quite a pie…these little beauties are hard to classify, but easy to make and oh so pretty!

Flaky pastry and a layer of tangy lemon make perfect little bite-sized desserts.

Flaky pastry and a layer of tangy lemon curd make these lemon puffs the perfect little bite-sized desserts.

Ingredients

  • 1 package (400 g) frozen puff pastry, thawed but still cold
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) icing (powdered) sugar
  • Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) super fine (caster) sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) super fine (caster) sugar

One batch lemon curd.

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 400F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  • Zest lemons, putting zest in a small bowl.
  • Dust your countertop lightly with icing sugar. Divide puff pastry into two equal portions and roll each one out to an 8 inch (20 cm) square.
  • Mix the reserved lemon zest with 2 tablespoons (28 g) superfine sugar and sprinkle over each sheet of puff pastry.
  • Carefully lift one of the sheets and place it on top of the other, with both sugared sides facing up.
  • Continue rolling out the stacked pastry so it almost doubles in size (your goal is to have a square that is approximately 14 inches (35 cm).
  • With a 2” (5 cm) round pastry cutter (use a drinking glass if you don’t have a cutter), cut out 24 circles in the dough (you may be able to cut more than this if you’re careful).
  • Transfer the cut circles to the lined baking sheets, spacing them about 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart.
  • Lightly prick the tops of each circle several times with a fork.
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 8 minutes; they should puff up and turn light brown.
  • While the puffs are baking, whisk together the egg yolk and remaining 1 tablespoon (15 mL) sugar.
  • After the puffs have baked for 8 minutes, brush the top of each one with the egg yolk mixture and return the trays to the oven for a further 3-4 minutes until crisp and golden, but watch them carefully to be sure they do not burn.
  • Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
  • Split the cooled pastries in half with a sharp knife and slather the lemon curd in the centre, sandwiching the halves back together.

Makes 24 little puffs.

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Maple Gimlet

The gimlet is a classic gin-based cocktail that has never really gone out of style. Many traditional gimlet recipes call for lime cordial while others favour freshly squeezed lime juice and sugar, or a combination of lime juice and simple syrup. I chose to make my own lime cordial, replacing the sugar with maple syrup to give this drink a Canadian twist, as well as a wonderfully balanced sweet and sour taste. This flavourful reinvention of the gimlet was inspired by the powerful botanical notes in Ungava,  a relatively new Canadian gin. While juniper is present, as with all gins, the other flavouring elements – including cloudberry, rose hips and Labrador tea – give Ungava an intriguing citrusy aspect that makes it ideal for many cocktails, including my other new favourite drink – the Spring Fling. Either of these concoctions would be ideal as a signature cocktail for your next gathering.

This gimlet is composed of fresh lime juice and maple syrup combined with premium gin.

This gimlet is composed of fresh lime juice and maple syrup combined with premium gin.

Ingredients

For the cordial

  • 6 limes
  • 3/4 cup maple syrup

For the cocktail

  • 2 ounces premium gin
  • 1.5 ounces maple-lime cordial

Method

For the cordial

  • Heat the limes gently in the microwave on medium-low for 30 seconds or in a bowl of hot water for 5 minutes.
  • Zest the limes with a vegetable peeler, taking care to leave the white pith on the fruit. Reserve zest.
  • Juice the limes, reserving juice. You need 1 cup (250 mL) of juice.
  • Put the maple syrup, half the lime juice and half the lime zest into a small saucepan. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and let simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Put the remaining lime juice and zest into a glass jar and pour the maple mixture over top.
  • Refrigerate for 24 hours.
  • Strain the mixture through a sieve and store in fridge until needed. The cordial will keep for 2 weeks.

For the cocktail

  • In a cocktail shaker (or a jar with a tight lid), combine the gin and maple lime cordial. Shake well to blend.
  • Pour the mixture over ice in a cocktail glass and garnish with a slice of lime.
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African Harvest – a celebration of food and farmers

I have long been a fan of fundraising events which take special care to include a great food component. African Harvest, taking place in Ottawa on Thursday, May 1st, will be a truly delicious fundraiser, in support of Farm Radio International.

african harvest

In case you’ve not heard of Farm Radio International, it’s an amazing Canadian-based not for profit organization that works in direct partnership with approximately 400 radio broadcasters in 38 African countries to fight poverty and food insecurity. They do this by preparing radio scripts which are then broadcast to hundreds of millions of farm families in developing countries. These farmers – the majority of whom have very limited access to telephones or the internet – rely on the practical information supplied through these broadcasts about low-cost farm methods so that they can increase their food supplies and improve their lives.

The event not only marks 35 years since Farm Radio International sent out its first script package, it’s also a celebration of 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming. This fundraiser brings together Chef Jeff Crump, acclaimed author of Earth to Table and Executive Chef of the Landmark Group (which includes five restaurants and a 100-acre organic farm), and the talented Le Cordon Bleu trained Chef Andrée Riffou of Ottawa’s C’est Bon Cooking. Both chefs will dazzle you with their prowess as they deliver small plates inspired by and seasoned with the flavours of Africa.

African Harvest is being held at the St. Brigid’s Centre for the Arts on Saint Patrick Street in the Byward Market. The event will feature live cooking demonstrations, delicious Africa-inspired food, a variety of local wine and beer, and a silent and live auction. You can purchase tickets online through Eventbrite, by phone at 1-888-773-7717 and in person at Cardamom & Cloves spice shop at 440 Preston Street. The cost of a ticket is $75 (or $65.63 for groups of 8 or more), which includes four small plates and complimentary wine and beer.

 

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Fruit Crumble with Caramel-Cardamom Sauce

I wish I’d known a long time ago what a great flavour punch freshly ground cardamom adds to all kinds of dishes, without overpowering the main elements. It’s recently become one of my favourite spices! I particularly enjoy the combination of cardamom and fruit (have you tried my Rustic Peach-Cardamom Tart yet?) and was anxious to come up with something new for spring entertaining.  I’ve long been a fan of fruit crisps but sometimes find the fruit a little lacking in flavour. Caramel sauce, I thought; that’s the ticket – but not drizzled on top as many recipes suggest. How about cooking the fruit right in the sauce? I will probably never make fruit crisp any other way now.  I have designed this dish without wheat flour, as I find I’m getting lots of requests for gluten-free recipes. Cooking the fruit a bit in the caramel sauce prevents it from shrinking down as much in the baking dishes so you can pack a lot more fruit into your baking dishes and it won’t shrink down as much in the oven. I love the combination of pears and apples but it would be delicious with your favourite fruit or fruit pairing as well.

This gluten-free crumble topping bakes up so crunchy and delicious.

This gluten-free crumble bakes up so crunchy and delicious; it’s the perfect topping for cardamom-infused caramel-covered fruit.

Ingredients

Crumble Topping

  • ½ cup (125 mL) quick cooking (not minute) oats
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) oat flour (make this by pulverizing oats in food processor or blender) *
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon (2.5 mL) cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon (2.5 mL) freshly ground cardamom **
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) cold butter

 Fruit

  • 3 small apples
  • 2 medium pears
  • ¼ teaspoon (1.25 mL) freshly ground cardamom **

Caramel Sauce

  • 1/3 cup (80 mL) white sugar
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) butter
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) freshly squeezed lemon juice

* you can substitute all purpose or whole wheat flour for the oat flour; finely ground nuts would work as well!

** you’ll need about 2 teaspoons of green cardamom pods for this recipe; crack them open and extract the black seeds then grind them in a mortar and pestle until they form a light brown powder

Method

  • Prepare the crumble topping up to 2 days ahead of time by combining the oats, oat flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and cardamom in a medium bowl.
  • Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the oats mixture. With your fingertips, rub the butter into the oats until it is evenly combined and the mixture is in pieces the size of peas.
  • Cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble the dish.
  • Get fruit ready by peeling, coring and cutting into thin slices. Sprinkle with cardamom and set aside.
  • Preheat the oven to 375F.
  • Prepare caramel sauce by putting sugar and butter in a medium saucepan. Set over medium heat.
  • Stir occasionally while butter and sugar melt to form a smooth, pale sauce. Add lemon juice and stir to combine.
  • Continue to cook the sauce, stirring often (be sure to do this so the sugar does not scorch), until it is medium golden brown in colour (about 5 – 7 minutes).
  • Add the prepared fruit to the caramel sauce; note that the sauce may clump up when you add the fruit, but it will re-melt.
  • Increase heat just a little and cook the fruit in the caramel sauce, stirring gently and often, for 5 minutes, until the fruit has softened (but is not falling apart).
  • Divide the fruit and caramel sauce among six 1/2 cup (125 mL) ramekins (or put the fruit and caramel sauce into a medium-sized oven-safe glass or ceramic baking dish) which you have set on a baking sheet (to catch drips as the caramel bubbles up in the oven).
Cooking the fruit in the caramel sauce ensures that it won't shrink down as much during baking.

Cooking the fruit in the caramel sauce ensures that it won’t shrink down as much during baking.

  • Heap crumble topping over the fruit.
  • Bake until caramel sauce is nicely bubbling and crumble topping is golden brown.
Combining apples and pears with cardamom-caramel sauce makes for an extraordinary fruit crumble!

Combining apples and pears with cardamom-caramel sauce makes for an extraordinary fruit crumble!

  • Let rest at least 15 minute or up to 4 hours before serving.

Serves 6.

Posted in Desserts, Fruit | 4 Comments

Moose McGuire’s – a quick peek

Moose McGuire’s, a newish pub in the Hunt Club/Walkley/Riverside area, is kind of a special place. While it draws primarily from the surrounding residential neighbourhoods, it’s actually worth the drive for those of us in other parts of Ottawa.

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What sets Moose McGuire’s apart is that it is among the rare sports bars which make food an equal priority to beverages. Co-owner Dan Butler has an excellent pedigree in the hospitality industry; he’s flanked by business partner Chef Ken Harper who has made a name for himself in various culinary circles over the years, included as the owner of the successful Chop Chop Catering. (Disclosure: I hired Ken to cook at a party I was hosting several years ago. It was fantastic. Too bad he’s out of that line of work now.)

Like all sports bars, much of the space is given over to tables, booths and many, many large TV screens, but this separate lounge area offers a lovely change of atmosphere.

Like all sports bars, much of the space at Moose McGuire’s is given over to tables, booths and numerous large TV screens, but this separate lounge area offers a lovely change of atmosphere.

Moose McGuire’s may bear many of the trappings of an upscale pub, but the décor isn’t the only reason. Not only do the premises include a cozily-decorated private lounge area, but the menu is, as mentioned, a cut above most other sports bars. Freshly made, from scratch is the hallmark of Chef Harper’s offerings – from classic pub appetizers to salads, sandwiches, handcut fries, pizzas, fish & chips and the most delicious, homemade-tasting burgers you can possibly imagine.

Now this is pub food worth driving for. Chef Ken Harper's handcrafted burgers are cooked to perfection and absolutely jam-packed with flavour. The fries are pretty awesome too!

Now this is pub food worth driving for. Chef Ken Harper’s handcrafted burgers are cooked to perfection and absolutely jam-packed with flavour. The fries are pretty awesome too!

Harper says the secret is in his burger sauce, which he is considering bottling for sale, due to its popularity. His inventive toppings add a huge flavour kick and the soft Ace-bakery buns are a nice complement (flavourful yet easy to bite into). Look for other signature Harper touches throughout the menu, including his in-house pickled jalapenos which deliver both sweet and heat, along with house made desserts including scrumptious apple-cinnamon doughnuts. I look forward to tasting my way through more of the menu on my next visit.

Now that spring is here, Butler and Harper have a number of enhancements planned for Moose McGuire’s. The beer lineup will be rotated, with a number of local craft brews to be featured, including Beyond the Pale. Weeknight food specials will continue, as will their popular live music events on Saturday nights, alternating between various genres including jazz, rockabilly, blues and rock ‘n roll. The pub’s emphasis on music is no accident. “I consider myself a musician first and chef second,” admits Harper, who studied music in university before embarking on his culinary training. He is presently involved in several musical projects including The Lowball Bidders (catch Harper on drums in this fun video).

A large 100-seat patio is due to be installed shortly and Harper looks forward to working outdoors, grilling up special dishes. “I’m thinking about some fun ethnic plates; things like Greek, Moroccan and South East Asian. It will probably drive everyone crazy when all those delicious aromas are wafting through the neighbourhood,” laughs Harper. “We’ve enjoyed such tremendous support from this community and we are happy to be able to give back by sponsoring a number of sports teams, including women’s Roller Derby team.”

Stay tuned for more news of Butler and Harper, who have plans in the works for a second, slightly more upscale venture in another part of Ottawa.

Moose McGuire’s is at 3320 McCarthy Road; www.moosemcguires.com or 613.680.4411.

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