Tuesday, September 29, 2009

An “Okay” Dinner at Windmills – September 15, 2009

While I’ve raved about experiencing a spectacular dinner at Windmills, I was rather disappointed with this one. The food was okay, the service was a little lacking, and the value wasn’t quite there. I only took a few pictures at the start of the meal. I didn’t feel like putting the effort into blogging about a meal that didn’t seem to have a lot of effort put into it.

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First, I started with an iced tea. It’s hard to go wrong with a fountain drink.

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Then the bread basket arrived, along with the Portuguese mussels. Windmills used to have a “Mussels of the Day” feature, but I think they got rid of that idea months ago.

The mussels were cooked with chorizo, generous amounts of sausage, wine, and cilantro. Normally, the mussels contain lots of broth. This time, there was about two tablespoonfuls of broth at the bottom of the bowl, so I was unable to enjoy my favourite part of eating mussels, sopping up the flavourful broth with massive amounts of bread.

Jimmy ordered the crusted lamb chops, which came with a side of pureed veggies (cauliflower? turnips?), yogurt-mint sauce, and prunes. He felt the flavour combination was a little strange, so we ended up switching entrées after he had taken a few bites. It tasted rather boring, until I bit into a prune. It suddenly made sense! It was a “Eureka!” moment. The strong herbs, mild mint sauce, gamey lamb, and gentle sweetness of the prunes worked really well together. However, after a few bites, the flavour combination began to bore my taste buds again. I would not order this again.

I ordered the featured salad in an attempt to stick to The Diet. It was a mixed green salad with Fuji apples, pomegranate, mandarin oranges, fennel, and a roasted lemon vinaigrette. I added a chicken breast to it, since it didn’t sound substantial enough to be a dinner entrée. I loved this salad! The bright, summery flavours really made my night. I have become quite partial to fruits in my salads, so make of it what you will. Jimmy really enjoyed the salad. Skeptical at first, he said he was surprised at how well the vegetables paired with the fruit and the vinaigrette. He didn’t like the chicken breast because it was dry and tasteless, but otherwise, he said it was a dish he’d like to eat again.

I mentioned the service was lacking, but truthfully, the waitress was adequate. She was polite, asked about our food, refilled our drinks, and did all the right things. It seemed like she really didn’t want to be working that night, which is fine, but there was no extra effort, no genuine friendliness in her manner. I didn’t realize how much I value service until that night. I know I judged her quite harshly, but only because I’ve received excellent service from her before.

We used a coupon from the “Welcome Back” magazine that granted us 10% off an entrée with the purchase of another entrée and drink (I believe). Even with that discount, the bill came to $75 including tax and tip. At this point, though we both truly loved that salad, I doubt I’ll be craving Windmills anytime soon. Now that I know what goes into the salad, I can just as easily make it myself at home, ensuring good food and perfect service for great value!

~ * ~

Windmills Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Kingston Lunch Plate - September 24, 2009

Local lunch plate

Relishing the beautiful weather, I walked down to the Kingston Market Square. I picked up a basket of the season's last Ginger Gold apples. They were $6.00 a basket, and they were grown locally. My cousin introduced these apples to me this past summer, and I've been in love with them ever since.

Then I walked down to Pan Chancho, intending to pick up a small olive rosemary loaf. Unfortunately, they ran out of the small loaves, and I can't finish a large loaf in a week. I picked up a small sourdough loaf instead.

Inspired by the apples and the bread, I decided to buy cheese from the Golden Rooster Deli. I wasn't sure if caraway havarti would match the apples, but I bought it anyway.

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It was a light, delicious lunch. The Ginger Gold slices were crisp and sweet. They weren't cold, but they were really refreshing. The buttery havarti matched well with both the sourdough and the apples. The caraway seeds were a little confusing, but I liked it more as I continued to eat.

Ahhh, the sweet, mellow flavours of fall.

This little lunch plate definitely fits in The Diet, so I can officially say that The Diet is back on, baby!

~ * ~

Kingston Market Square
King and Brock
Kingston, ON

Pan Chancho Bakery
44 Princess Street
(Princess and King)
Kingston, ON
(613) 544-7790

Golden Rooster Delicatessen
111 Princess Street
(Between Wellington and Bagot)
Kingston, ON
(613) 549-6540

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Snacks, Soup, and Korean BBQ at Korea Garden – June 1, 2009

A couple of months ago, all five of us (four siblings plus Jimmy) drove out to Korea Garden for dinner.

Banchan (side dishes)

We had a large selection of banchan. From the foreground to the back: seasoned wintermelon, kimchi, and seasoned bean sprouts. I don’t remember much about them, except that the kimchi wasn’t my ideal kimchi (stinky, spicy, and with a hint of ginger). It was still plenty awesome, though!

Banchan (side dishes)

The shredded daikon wasn’t as spicy as it looked, but it still packed quite the pungent flavour. The seaweed salad tasted refreshingly like the sea. I enjoy food when its innate flavours and characteristics are the main focus.

The banchan were free and refillable, of course. We probably ordered four or five refills of kimchi that night.

Fried tofu, pancake, chapchae

I can’t remember if the fried tofu and kimchi pajeon were free. I assume we ordered them, since we didn’t ask for refills. I don’t remember what they tasted like, so no descriptions, sorry.

We ordered one plate of chapchae to share. It was mediocre. Too oily, too peppery, and not enough flavour. If there was less sesame oil, I’m sure the seasonings would have tasted much stronger. The noodles were too firm, so I wasn’t able to slurp down the entire plate.

Salad

Everyone had their own bowl of salad, also free. It’s the standard iceberg lettuce salad with a light, citrus dressing.

Sweet and Sour Chicken

I didn’t enjoy the sweet and spicy chicken. It was covered in a thick layer of batter, which ended up soggy in all of that cloyingly sweet sauce. I had bites that were chokingly spicy, but most of the others were mild. I definitely avoided those jalapenos! It’s not something I’d order again.

Beef soup

Jimmy ordered the beef bone soup. He found it too bland. I read up about the soup afterwards, and I found out that the soup is usually seasoned at the table by the diner. Oops! I liked the blandness; it felt like I was cleansing my body of the fatty foods we were eating that night. I ate most of this myself, since no one else wanted to drink hot beef water.

Samgyupsal (BBQ pork belly)

The main dish of the night was the samgyupsal (BBQ pork belly). Normally, we would be grilling strips of pork belly ourselves, but that night, the waiter brought out a sizzling plate with the pork belly already cooked. I was disappointed, but at least I didn’t walk out of the restaurant smelling like barbecue.

It was a nice, low-key dinner on a quiet, rainy night. We don’t get to go out like this very often because we live in three different cities.

The bill came to around $70 for five people, which wasn’t bad. Their weekend all-you-can-eat barbecue special is a far better deal, but I would definitely revisit this restaurant for snacks and drinks during the week.

~ * ~

Korea Garden on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Comfort of a Warm Drink Before Bed

A London Fog before bedtime helps ease me into bedtime. I've been feeling a little off for the past few weeks (adjusting to life back in Kingston, no doubt), so falling asleep at a decent time has become an issue. A warm cup of tea is the drinkable (potable?) equivalent of a security blanket for me.

London Fog

A spoonful of sugar, an Earl Grey tea bag, a splash of vanilla, a dribble of milk, and some hot water is the cure for my restlessness.

Once the warm aromas of bergamot and vanilla seep into my pores, I begin slipping into a calmer state. This summer, I would make two cups, but would only be able to get through one and a half before I curl up in bed and fall into the elusive arms of sleep.

London Fogs are perfect for starting and ending the day.

Zzzzz....

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Lunches with Lucy: Panini and Subs – June 8 to 10, 2009

Unfortunately, I left my notebook containing my lunch notes at home in Ottawa. I won’t have any prices for the rest of the Lunches with Lucy series, and my commentary is going to be pretty vague. If you don’t mind suffering through the poor quality pictures and terrible descriptions, read on.

You have been warned.

~ * ~

Cream of Broccoli Soup and Ham & Brie Panini from Muffin Plus – June 8, 2009

Cream of Broccoli (Muffin Plus)

I can’t say I remember much about this cream of broccoli soup. I know that crackers made everything taste better. Not within The Diet, but the other choices sucked. I don’t remember what they were, but if I picked cream of broccoli, they must not have looked or sounded very good.

Ham and Brie Panini (Muffin Plus)

The ham and brie panini was disappointing. The smoked ham flavour drowned out any other flavours, so I could barely taste the brie. A less salty, less smoked ham would have done better with the mellow brie. Also, everything in the sandwich (mustard, brie, ham, tomato, lettuce) was still cold, even after its little trip to the panini press. If a sandwich is going to get grilled, the insides should at least be warm. Otherwise, it’s just not worth the wait.

Muffin Plus

While I was disappointed with the panini, I gave it another chance at a later date. Muffin Plus was okay.

~ * ~

Spicy Italian on Honey Oat from Subway – June 9, 2009

At Subway, and only at Subway, I am very predictable in my order. It has to be a Spicy Italian on whole wheat with Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, green olives, extra black olives, and mayo. Every now and again, I deviate from my regular order and change one of the ingredients. Lately, I’ve been forgoing the tomatoes for cucumbers (if I wanted I watery, virtually tasteless vegetable, I’d rather get cucumbers), and I think that’s a change I’m going to keep. However, on June 9th, I got my usual order but changed the bread for honey oat.

Spicy Italian on Honey Oat (Subway)

I have to say, it didn’t make much of a difference. I can’t see any olives in the picture, which leads me to believe that there wasn’t actually any “extra” olives at all. Also, the layer of deli meat (salami and pepperoni) looks rather thin. That’s unfortunate.

Chocolate Milk

I washed it all down with a large chocolate milk. I normally get a small, so I may have been thirsty that day. Who knows?

~ * ~

Mesquite Chicken Sub from Quiznos – June 10, 2009

I started walking further for my lunches (as noted in The Diet’s rules), and I actually wandered all the way down to Bank and Slater to get a sandwich from Quiznos.

Mesquite Chicken (Quiznos)

This mesquite chicken sandwich was disappointing, to say the least. All of the ingredients (chicken, bacon, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and ranch dressing) should have been quite flavourful. After I placed my order, I was actually concerned that it would be too much flavour at once. I was so wrong.

It was so bland. Normally, a sandwich with bacon, cheddar, and ranch dressing would pack quite a salty punch, but this time, I was unmoved. I kept chewing and chewing, expecting something to hit me, but it never did.

I would not recommend this sandwich.

While this sandwich wasn’t Diet-friendly, I’ll include it for the 10-minute walk.

~ * ~

Le Muffin Plus
45 O’Connor Street, 100 Queen Street, and 111 Albert Street
(World Exchange Plaza food court)
Ottawa, ON
(613) 232-0416

Subway
45 O’Connor Street, 100 Queen Street, and 111 Albert Street
(World Exchange Plaza food court)
Ottawa, ON
(613) 231-7015

Quiznos
139 Bank Street
(Bank and Slater)
Ottawa, ON
(613) 231-7770

Lucy's Favourite Mugs

Though this post isn’t ABOUT food, it’s related. I love collecting mugs. I’ve been obsessed with large, oversized coffee mugs since I was a little girl, and now that I have money to spend, I’ve been collecting them for a few years.

Today, I added two more mugs to the collection, so I thought I would share.

Cycloptic Ghost Mug (Starbucks, Halloween)

Cycloptic Ghost Mug (Starbucks, Halloween)

This is cute, special edition mug from Starbucks. Jimmy bought this for me for our anniversary a few years ago.

Cow Milk Mug (Somewhere in Belgium)

Cow Milk Mug (Somewhere in Belgium)

A friend gave this milk mug to Jimmy as a souvenir from Belgium. Because milk is opaque, the cow is hidden until you begin to empty the cup. It was creepy at first, but it has since grown on me. I think it’s the cutest thing!

Snowflake Mug (La Senza, Christmas)

Snowflake Mug (La Senza, Christmas)

I bought this mug when I was back in first-year. I was Christmas shopping with my floormates, and I fell in love with the simple snowflakes. This was actually my first oversized mug!

Shakespearean Insults Mug (Minotaur)

Shakespearean Insults Mug (Minotaur)

This is one of two mugs I bought from Minotaur today. Since I love literature and I’m pretty mean-hearted, I impulsively bought this mug.

Math Mug (Minotaur)

I bought this math mug for Jimmy because he loves math and will be teaching it in high school after teacher’s college (we hope!). It’s so nerdy, it’s cute!

Boxes for Mugs (Minotaur)

And here are the boxes for the newest additions to my collection.

I should stop collecting these mugs because they take up sooooooo much space. My cupboards are almost full, but I can’t help myself when I see fun mugs. I almost bought a pumpkin mug from Starbucks today, but resisted, only to buy these two mugs from Minotaur. Conscience fail.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Homemade Gu Chai Guoi (Garlic Chive Dumplings) – May 25, 2009

Yes, this post is practically ancient history. I still want to write about it because making these from scratch is a big part of my childhood memories. This is a distinctly Dio Jiu dish.

One weekend, my grandmother’s garden was completely overrun with garlic chives, so my grandpa called everyone over to help make dumplings.

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The filling is made from chopped garlic chives (韭菜), salt, fried garlic oil, soy sauce, and an additive that prevents the garlic chives from turning brown after you steam the dumplings. After all of the ingredients have been combined, it is put in a strainer to rid it of excess water. Too much water in the filling will make the dumplings soggy.

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My mum is mixing the dough because she’s just about the only person in our family who is willing to do it. Traditionally, the dough contains glutinous rice flour, tapioca starch, oil, and hot water. After much experimentation, my mum figured out a way to make it with regular all-purpose flour, oil, and hot water, which is much cheaper than buying small bags of rice flour and tapioca starch.

Making the dough is difficult for newbies because the dough has to be mixed thoroughly and quickly. If this is done improperly, the dumpling skins will break easily or be too lumpy. And that would be dumpling fail.

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The dough is portioned into smaller balls. Then the balls are either rolled out flat (with a can of pop) or manipulated (by hand) into a cup-shape.

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I’ve only recently started helping with the wrapping part. Here’s one of my wrapped dumplings. The bottoms were a little too thick, but don’t they look the part?

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Because this is such a time-consuming food to make, we normally make this on the weekends when everyone comes over. Making this many dumplings doesn’t take long when we’ve got four or five pairs of hands to help out.

On this particular weekend, we had three generations making gu chai guoi. It was a neat moment.

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These dumplings are steamed for about 15 minutes, and then they are quickly removed from the steamer. Each one is coated with a slick of vegetable oil, to keep them from drying out and sticking to each other, and piled onto a tray.

They’re best eaten immediately after being taken out from the steamer. I like to eat them with a squirt of soy sauce and a little bit of Sriracha sauce. Apparently, in Cambodia, these are eaten with sweet fish sauce instead of soy sauce.

Garlic chive dumplings are also a delicious breakfast after they’ve been lightly pan-fried the day after. However you want to eat these, they’re delicious and good for you (perfect for The Diet)! Although your breath suffers quite a bit… all that garlic….

Totoya: An Ottawa Haven of Truly Delicious Japanese Cuisine – July 30, 2009

One sunny day after work, Christine met up with me in downtown Ottawa. We shopped at Rideau and wandered the ByWard Market a bit before deciding to have dinner at Totoya. I had been dying to try it again after eating there a few years ago. Christine had heard great things about it (namely that the Japanese ambassador dines there regularly), so she was excited for dinner.

We were greeted warmly by the sushi chef and the waitress as we entered. Offered a seat anywhere in the restaurant, we chose one of the window seats. The weather was gorgeous outside, one of the few summer days in Ottawa this year, and the sunbeams made for some fantastic lighting.

Edamame

We started with an order of the edamame. These were steamed just right and sprinkled liberally with salt. I loved that they still retained their bite. Pop, pop, pop, and then they were gone!

Miso Soup

Normally, the miso soup is a forgettable dish. While it is one of my favourite soups, most Japanese places just don’t do it justice. The miso soup at Totoya, however, is the most nuanced and satisfying bowls of broth you could ever slurp. The base of the broth was a proper dashi broth, with shaved bonito flakes and kelp. This added a lot of umami to the soup. The colour and deeper flavour of the soup indicated that they used a mixture of white AND red miso paste.

In the end, the soup was rich and light, all at the same time. The flavour was rich and complex, but it was light on the stomach.

At this point of the meal, I was pretty excited for the food to come.

Salad

Next, we were served a typical Japanese salad for a set meal: iceberg lettuce, shredded carrot and radicchio, slices of cucumber, a tomato wedge, and a magical ginger dressing. I love this creamy ginger dressing, so I always gulp up the salad. I’ll have to find a recipe of it sometime.

Una-jyu

The main course, una-jyu (broiled eel with sweet sauce, over seaweed and rice), was the best unagi dish I have ever eaten. Of course, I can’t say that all of the unagi dishes were authentic, but they were all inferior in quality to Totoya’s. The eel didn’t taste fishy at all, and it may have been fresh. I suspect that most eel is frozen before preparation (especially in Kingston), but the tenderness and sweetness of the meat leads me to believe that it was never frozen.

The sauce was also a revelation. Often, restaurants will get lazy and use their teriyaki sauce as the unagi sauce, but Totoya’s sauce was clearly made for the unagi. It was sweet and round. That’s a strange way to describe sauce, but that’s what comes to mind. There were no sharp flavours, all of them melding together smoothly.

The green onion and gari even played pivotal roles in this dish. The green onion perked up the dish with its crisp flavours, cutting through the sweetness. The ginger also cut through the sweetness, but with its spiciness.

It was truly amazing.

Inari and Spicy Salmon Sushi

I don’t remember much about the inari sushi (deep fried tofu shells, marinated in sweet soy sauce, and stuffed with sushi rice), so it was probably “okay.” I was expecting more of an impact, in terms of flavour. I suppose I’m used to the generic Sushi Shop rendition. Oh, no!

The spicy salmon, on the other hand, was like no other spicy salmon I’ve eaten before. The salmon was chopped into little chunks, not minced into paste like at other restaurants. This allowed me to chew through the sushi and enjoy the lovely texture of the fish. It’s such a simple roll, with so few ingredients, that freshness and execution can make or break it.

Matcha Ice Cream

For dessert, we decided to order the matcha ice cream. This ice cream struck a nice balance between bitter, sweet, and creamy. Other green tea ice creams taste like vanilla ice cream with a bit of matcha mixed in for colour (i.e. not very matcha-y at all). This ice cream was smooth, not too sweet, and even had some powdery texture without being distracting. I really enjoyed the way the bitterness was tempered by the creaminess.

The bill couldn’t have been more than $50. I remember thinking that it was worth the price for the quality of the food, so it must have been on the pricey side.

The service was friendly and unrushed. The older waitress (probably the manager/owner) was exceptionally patient in explaining the dishes to us. When we told her we were going to share everything, she immediately asked if we also wanted our own bowls of miso soup and salad, something most waitstaff forget about. I really enjoyed the quiet atmosphere. Because it isn’t as trendy as places like Kinki’s, you can focus on the food and your company. I would bring a date or a small gathering of friends or family here.

Samuel de Champlain

After a surprisingly filling meal, Christine and I decided to walk it off downtown, just as the sun set. Here’s a beautiful shot of the statue of Samuel de Champlain at Nepean Point.

Ottawa Sunset

From the same spot, Christine pivoted and shot this postcard-perfect picture of Parliament Hill. Ahh… such a relaxing scene. The sun eventually set, so we slowly meandered our way to a bus stop. A perfect food and photo adventure on one of the loveliest days of summer.

~ * ~

Totoya on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Epic Food Disappointment at the Dragon Boat Festival – June 19, 2009

Yes, I am more than three months behind. I considered ignoring this long-promised post, but I realized that I hated the food so much, the story demanded to be told.

After the team meeting at the Dragon Boat Race Festival, Christine and I wandered over to the food vendors for dinner. We finally settled on Jamaican food from Fitz’s Catering.

I was sooooooooooooooo disappointed.

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I ordered a spicy Jamaican patty because I was REALLY craving something that would punch me in the mouth with flavour (The Diet was starting to get to me at that point). I wanted a flaky, crispy exterior with a rich, spicy, meaty filling. Instead, I bit into hard, crunchy pastry filled with dry, flavourless minced meat.

As I ate, I broke off the super hard bits because they were simply inedible. It was clear that the patties had been overcooked to begin with, and then they sat around for too long in the warmer. It was pretty gross. I’m not sure there’s much you could change to make it delicious, except buying one from another stand!

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We also got a goat curry roti, which was a giant scoop of goat curry wrapped up in a flatbread. There was some potential awesomeness in this dish, but it really let me down.

The curry was a smidge too gamey for me to eat every day, but I enjoyed it. The goat was quite tender, though not properly prepared. There were shards of bone in the curry and large chunks of inedible bits (cartilage, tough tendons, and God-knows-what), which turned me off almost immediately. The potatoes, on the other hand, were delicious. This could be attributed to my carb-loving soul, seriously deprived over the preceding months.

I really hated the chickpeas. At first, they were okay, but as I continued to chew, they just sucked out the last bit of moisture and flavour in my mouth. Powdery and flavourless, they detracted from an already mediocre goat curry. I ignored them after my first few bites.

The next day, the festival organizers provided all of the volunteers with food vouchers (worth $6, I think) for Friday Organics. No pictures of the food, unfortunately, but the food itself was decent. We ordered a cheeseburger, poutine, and a few drinks. Christine said that the gravy tasted like it came out of can, and I totally agreed. But it was good.

I think I’m going to have to lower my expectations a little bit when I eat at festivals and events. I was expecting super deliciousness from Fitz’s Catering, so that was probably unfair. When I ordered the food from Friday’s Organics, I knew that I was getting a cheeseburger and poutine. I didn’t expect it to be awesome, and it wasn’t. It was exactly what I ordered, and it certainly met my expectations.

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While I don’t have any pictures of the races, I do have a few shots of our badass temporary tattoos. The stand made a killing because their customers were walking billboards. Christine had her dragon tattoo on her neck, and I put mine on the back of my calf. Word.

Anyway, Christine and I had a blast at the Dragon Boat Race Festival, and we’ll probably return as volunteers next year. We will have to ensure that we have one day to wander around and photograph the event itself because I was only armed with a shitty camera phone. Oops!

~ * ~

Ottawa Dragon Boat Race Festival
Mooney's Bay Beach
Ottawa, ON

Ottawa Dragon Boat Race Festival Vendors

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