Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Produce Depot at Carling and Maitland is my new favourite store. I find that when I shop there, I buy less processed food (because there is less of it available, évidemment!). Furthermore, because there is so much gorgeous produce to gorge upon, I tend to buy more fruits and vegetables than when I am at Loblaws (supermarket chain). This plethora of fruits and vegetables means I am forced to cook "from scratch", which is healthier, and cheaper. Wonderful!

As I mentioned in a previous post, they also have lots of exotic fruits and vegetables to titillate my thrill seeking palate. On a recent foray, I came upon some exciting looking "Hawaiian Plantains". Now, they often have plantains, green, deep yellow and even blackish ones, but somehow they never pushed my buttons. But the shape of these Hawaiian ones was so unusual that I had to try them. The shape reminds me of banana blossoms, which is something else I want to try cooking sometime soon.

These plantains were a nice yellow colour, which meant they were ripe for cooking. Further research on the internet suggested waiting until they got really black, as then they are even tastier, but I wanted to cook up my Hawaiian plantains ASAP. I have a (somewhat warranted) reputation for letting produce rot in my household (at least, so my husband claims), and that charge is doubled when it is something exotic I haven't cooked before. I bought these on a Saturday so, the very next day, I readied my apron and my pans for a cooking spree.

I haven't eaten plantains often - just twice in fact! The first time was at university, when a fellow student from Jamaica made them at her home. The next time was at Yre's Exotic Chicken BBQ on Charlotte St, just off Rideau (another major street in Ottawa). Both times the plantains were deep fried oily, sticky and sweet. So I decided my plantains had to be the same. Plantains are the usual accompaniment to African and Caribbean foods like jerk chicken and other grilled meats. It may seem odd to have a sweet side dish for these foods, but somehow the flavour combination works, and is eminently delicious.

I googled a few plantain recipes, and decided to fry mine in a little more oil than I usually use, then to douse them in honey. They got all soft and goldeny. With the honey they got sweet and gooey, with a bit of a caramelized crust. Tasted incredible out of the pan. Had to exercise immense self control not to eat all of them before dinner was ready.

After this I made Chinese fried rice, then lamb meatballs. Had some chili-garlic sauce as an accompaniment. Was nervous the flavours of these eclectic items wouldn't go well together, but my husband liked it and enthusiastically dug in.

Later, he declared that he doesn't like fruit that has "had things done to it" and, after a few pieces of plantain, wouldn't eat any more. I pointed out that plantains are not eaten like a fruit, but as a starch. I didn't protest too strongly, though, as I was more than happy to appropriate his plantains. My kid didn't like them either, which made me sad. But hey, that meant more plantains for me! Yum!!

Hot Dog

It's springtime at Carling Avenue, and you know what that means - hot dogs!

Yes! For me, summer and hot dogs are inextricably linked. And back in April we had some really hot, sunny weather that it made my mouth water for a hot dog! I don't know where this craving came from - growing up we didn't eat hot dogs too often, and never from those enticing street carts (mystery meat doesn't go over well with Hindus); all I can say is that when the weather reaches a certain pitch, and the sun is at its zenith, I'm quite delighted if I can dig up some weiners, a bun, and some not-too-aged relish. Then I sit on the balcony, the sun in my face, and dig in.

I'm a mustard and relish kind of gal. I need ketchup, bien sur, but there must be lots of mustard and relish. Over the years I've perfected the art of distributing the ketchup, mustard and relish so that I get a bit of each condiment in every juicy bite.

My meal, above, is notable not just for its condiment perfection, but also for being entirely gleaned from the shops around Carling Avenue! The vegetarian hot dog, bun, salad fixings and fruit (papaya and kiwi) are from Produce Depot (my new favourite store), and the soda is from Shopper's Drug Mart. It looked quite enticing - "European Soda frizzante", flavoured with blood oranges. Who could resist? Alas, it tasted just like Orange Crush, albeit a bit less sugary.

No matter, it tasted just right with the hot dog, the accompanying fruits and vegetables made me feel virtuous, and with the warm sun on my face, it made for the perfect early summer meal.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


The egg-stra special Easter egg hunt!

Now, as I mentioned in my last post, I find Easter to be a fairly stressful holiday. Easter dinner requires cleaning up, lots of cooking, etc etc. So this year I vowed it would be low stress. No hosting dinner - we'd go out to a restaurant with my mother. And no Easter egg hunt for my son, as he would then be nagging me for chocolate for weeks afterwards (this is what happened after Valentine's Day!) the stores filled up with candy, and I recovered from my V-day chocolate rush, I couldn't help but be tempted by those cute little choco eggs and bunnies. And it would be so much fun to have an Easter egg with my son...and some other little kiddies...and to make a party out of our party room (so I didn't have to clean up the apartment!).

And then another thing - the Thursday before Easter my husband and I went for a dee-licious gourmet meal at Burger King with our son. Sounds guaranteed to be fun, right? Um, well, no. My little son, who usually loves french fries and soda, decided he wasn't interested in eating food, and instead amused himself climbing over the benches and tables. Perilous and eminently unsuitable for a restaurant. So my husband declared "no restaurant for Easter dinner!" Hmm...this put a wrench in my Easter dinner plans.

And then I came across a recipe for lamb. Leg of lamb! And then one for some tasty looking soup made out of leeks and young turnips. Now, I've never cooked leg of lamb before, but that's never stopped me from trying something fancy, so I decided, not only to host an Easter egg party, but to also host Easter dinner!

I don't recommend to other pregnant women that they try this.

Anyway, the Easter egg party was loads of fun (and loads of work!). The weather was warm and sunny that day so we had the egg hunt on the rooftop. My friend sent me photos and labelled it "The Sky High Easter Egg Hunt." So cute!

The spread for the Easter egg party - teacakes, mini samosas, crudités, hummus...

Easter dinner was also fun, though I hated having to clean up and cook food! (my husband did most of the cleaning, though). I made simple dishes: turnip and leek soup, scalloped potatoes, asparagus, leg of lamb, and crème caramel for dessert, but it was a lot of work!

The lovely crème caramel, garnished with cape gooseberries

But having Easter dinner at home, with my mother and a good friend, was more special than going out to a restaurant. And then I had lovely leftovers for several days!

Hope your Easter was egg-stra special too!

Shopping notes: the mini samosas, baklava, hummus and pita bread were bought from Damas Grocery on Carling Ave. (on Good Friday, no less, when all the other shops were closed. Another benefit of living in a multicultural society!). Damas also saved my crème caramel on Easter Sunday, when I ran out of sugar! I bought soda and candy for the party at Rexall Drugs on Carling Ave. (also, inexplicably, open on Good Friday).

The young turnips, leeks, asparagus and cape gooseberries were from Produce Depot on Carling Ave, while the lamb, juicy and tender, was from the Butchery in Bells Corners. The choco eggs, chicks and bunnies were from Dollarama (I love that place!), also in Bells Corners. Shopping for Easter food is fun!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Valentine's day

Well, my favourite holiday has come and gone and, as you can see, I celebrated it in style! Yes, as I have previously mentioned, I love pink, and Valentine's day is the best time to celebrate pink - in all its gooey, fluffy, plush & tinselled glory. Plus it's also about chocolate, and flowers, and cards covered with little hearts...I love it all!

I especially like Valentine's day because, unlike other holidays, there's no pressure. If you want to go all out with candy, flowers, a romantic dinner, expensive jewelry, etc, you can. But if you just want to grab a box of cheap chocos on the way home from work and order a pizza with your loved one, that's all right too. And if you want to fall in line with the legions of Valentine's haters and be mean to everyone that day, nobody will begrudge you that right (as long as you give them some Easter eggs later, to make up for it!).

This is in sharp contrast to holidays like Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter where one has to get together with family, clean the house, produce a big meal, observe piles of traditions, play nice, etc, etc. Now that's work!

So as you can tell, I'm a big fan of Valentine's day.

This year I started my Valentine's day preparations early. This was in part because Valentine's stuff started seeping into the shops around mid-January, just as the tired Christmas merchandise was being slashed to half-price, and in part because my son is in daycare and I wanted him to have Valentines to hand out to his little cohorts. It would have been horrifying to me had he received Valentines, with none to hand back (yes, you can see Valentine's is important to me!).

I wanted (somewhat) non gendered Valentines, so I passed over the superhero and the fairy ones, and instead got some Disney themed ones with cars, fish, and mice on them. Then, at Loblaws on Richmond Rd, I got a box of little cherry créme hearts covered in pink foil (they had to be pink!). I taped these to the Valentines. So cute! My son got a fair share of them to gobble, too. On Valentine's Day I used them to decorate the table, to delightful effect, I think.

A table full of pink prettiness

My next stop, and where I really went crazy on the chocos, was at Carlingwood Mall. This nondescript mall, smack dab on Carling Ave, is populated mostly by senior citizens (you really have to watch them in the parking lot!). They like to wander around and smile at people's babies. There's even a senior's mall walking club! When I was fifteen I worked there in a shoe store and would sell the ugliest (but expensive!) orthopaedic shoes to them.

Now I go there to drool over the most delectable, scrumptious, prettiest cakes in Ottawa - at Swiss Pastries! This store, "Home of the original Black Forest Cake" is iconic for me. Growing up, we would always get a Black Forest Cake for family birthdays. A future post will dwell on this wonderful store at greater length...for now suffice it to say that, after three consecutive parties where I was forced to eat cheap, hydrogenated oil icing cakes, I was desperate for some good cake! So I went to Swiss Pastries looking for a small Black Forest Cake to enjoy for the pre-Valentine's day weekend. Well, they only had a medium sized one so...

But at least it was 10% off!

With the money I saved (a full $2.30) I decided to buy some of the beautiful European chocolates they also had for sale. Well, $40 later I had a box of Mirabell Mozart praliné chocolate balls from Austria, Heidel Praline hearts from Germany, and pink multicolour Maison Pécou chocolate hearts from France (my son picked these out - it was none of my doing!) So droolworthy...

The Heidel chocos actually touched a chord with me, because I bought one of their plain chocolate bars in Frankfurt airport when I was on my way to India. It was tasty, so I wanted to see how their pralines were too. That's a good reason to buy something, right?

And as for that cute little mousey you see in the photo below...well, a few days later, I found myself at Café Délice on Kent St., in downtown Ottawa, where they sell the most delicious Leonidas Belgian chocolates (gee, how'd I manage to wander in here??). While blissing out on some of their fresh cream filled pralines, I fell in love with this little mouse lollipop for my son. I was sure that when I gave it to him he'd say "oooh, t'ank you!" in that adorable little voice of his (he more or less did).

What else would make a Valentine's day smorgasbord complete? A plush toy, of course, and a bottle of bubbly!

But this bubbly, unlike what most enjoy on Valentine's day, was non-alcoholic. Can any of you guess why? That's right, Ms. Foodie is pregnant! Yay!

So that's why I've been AWOL for such a long time on this blog. The exigencies of work, combined with the inability to stay awake past 9:30 pm, have all combined to make blog writing impossible (I used to do all my blog writing late at night, after my son fell asleep).

So in the short term, blog posts will be like hen's teeth for you, my dear readers. But stay faithful and check back every now and then. In a few short months I'll be off work and I can resume both my foodie ramblings and my food shop forays.

Hooray for babies!!

(and hope you had a fun Valentine's day too!)

xoxo Ms. Foodie (plus one)

Sunday, January 24, 2010


The Produce Depot on Carling Avenue (near Maitland) is a fabulous place. When you walk in you can just inhale all the fresh fruits and vegetables, waiting limpidly to be picked up by the diverse peoples walking around inside. And by diverse, I mean really diverse - Chinese folk picking over the bok choy with hawk eyes, Indian grannies selecting the finest methi leaves (fenugreek), and Eastern European couples with big-eyed babies picking out green peppers and eggplants. Different languages and accents speckle the air as everybody comes to buy the freshest, cheapest produce this side of Bronson Ave.

I really do think that immigrants are more attracted to this place than to big box stores like Loblaws, which purport to offer everything, but have limp zucchini and tired strawberries. Places like Produce Depot are more like the way one buys fruits and vegetables back home - fresh, fresh, fresh.

How fresh? Well, when I was in India this August, each morning vegetable sellers would bring their carts up and down the street, selling their just-picked wares. My mother in law tells me that many people insist on buying new vegetables each day and refuse to eat anything that has been stored in the fridge for a few days. "They don't like to eat "stale" vegetables," she said.

Oh boy, let's hope they never get a look at the withered specimens in the vegetable bin of my fridge!

Here in the West we have fewer compunctions about this kind of thing. "Convenience", a lack of greengrocers in close proximity to our houses, and our busy, busy schedules mean that most of us buy groceries once a week. And if we manage to use up the lettuce before it rots, we give ourselves a collective pat on the back (at least I do).

Okay, so that's the appeal of Produce Depot. Now what about the pesto I've got up there in the photo? Right, I'm getting to that.

So I was wandering around Produce Depot one day, ogling the wares, and trying to decide if I should buy lychees, rambutans, or longans in addition to the Cape gooseberries, Chilean cherries, and figs that I had in my cart (that's another reason I love this place - exotic fruit!). I passed by the fresh herbs cooler (dill, methi, bean sprouts, enoki mushrooms...and a whole buncha other stuff I couldn't identify) when my eye fell upon the pretty pesto pack you see pictured above. Now, my son loves pesto pasta, so I often buy the bottled kind (being too lazy to make my own). But here was fresh pesto (oh boy, I should have labelled this post "Fresh") and it was "tradizionel"! I had to try it.

A few days later (as my longans slowly went stale in the fridge) I pulled out the pesto and added it to some boiled shell pasta. Some boiled broccoli for colour, some sautéed shrimps for protein, and voila - quasi-tradizionel pesto pasta!

This is a classic recipe I have devised on my own, with no help from anybody (except a nameless website which had a long and complicated recipe that inspired this one, but was actually no good at all).

Like a closer look? go check out Produce Depot and say hi to the chayotes for me.

Happy munching!

Lunch box

Now here's something you don't see every day - a stylish pink lunch box! Building on the pink theme of my previous post (I must be getting excited for Valentine's Day!) I now present "Exhibit B" - a zippered lunch box, adorned with florid pink blossoms, enclosing an assortment of inventive pink food containers. Brilliant!
For my birthday this summer, a friend gave me a gift certificate to Chapters bookstore. Looking to spend it one summer day, I visited the Chapters at Pinecrest (which intersects with Carling Ave!). I planned to buy something for my son (virtuous mother that I am), but instead my eye bespied this cute bag.
This delightful invention goes by the moniker of "Laptop Lunches" (their website can be found here ). The point of the Laptop Lunch is to reduce garbage resulting from packed/bought lunches. Think about it - little plastic baggies, plastic wrap, paper napkins, plastic yoghurt cups, spoons, etc - and that's just from a packed lunch! And then consider the garbage associated with bought fast food lunches: styrofoam containers, glass/plastic bottles, plastic cutlery, paper bags and wrap...the list just goes on and on. And so, in my sporadic attempt to be a responsible consumer, I decided to try this fancy lunch box (okay, I wanted to show off at work too!).
Why "Laptop" lunch? Well, that comes from the nifty zippered case. It's insulated, has a rubber label (in the shape a flower, naturally) and a carrying strap, so it looks like a slim computer carrying case.
Check it out packed with food, in all its glory:

Posted by PicasaA gourmet summer's lunch: vegetable briyani, salad with yellow tomatoes, watermelon cubes, apple compote. Lucky me!

It was pricey - $45 - but I rationalized it by thinking of all the money I'd save by not buying my lunch (I can rationalize buying anything, especially if it's pink!). Plus, by packing lots of fruits and vegetables in, I'd lose weight and become so healthy!

Uh, well, that last bit didn't happen, and I do keep buying lunches often, so the first bit didn't exactly either, but I'm sure I made my lunch a few more times than I would have ordinarily, so I'm sure I've got my money back, at least.

Plus it's so cute!


No, this isn't an entry about Angelina's new movie, which apparently just wrapped up filming in New York. This is about that much more plebeian substance, essential for life, overused in food processing, and elevated to an art by the Victoria Gourmet company of Woburn, Massachusetts. What did Woburn ever contribute to fine dining? Well, this salt apparently!

Sourced from the Murry River, "fed by the Australian Alps,", I must say this is the first pink salt I have ever seen! I love pink in all forms (mainly clothes and cupcakes) but never thought I'd be able to enjoy my predilection for pink via a jar of salt. Wrong!

I came across this pretty morsel at Winner's, a high end discount clothing store that sells gourmet odds and ends as well. "Finishing salt" I mused, when I saw it. I didn't know what that meant, but one can always use salt (the same can't be said for some of my other foodie finds) and it was, after all, pink, so I felt I couldn't go wrong.

Well, I was right!

The stuff can't be used the same as regular salt. No, it really is best sprinkled on foods, for a "subtle, fleeting crunch" as the label boasts. My favourite way to use it is on pan-fried Rainbow trout (from Loblaws on Richmond Rd, which intersects with Carling Ave, so there's the tie in to my blog's theme!). The tender flesh of the trout, the "subtle fleeting crunch" of the salt, offset by some meaty mushrooms in the rice pilaf and a few juicy asparagus, there's a lunch worthy of a queen. Victoria would be proud!

Posted by Picasa