May 30, 2015

Pea and Asparagus Pesto Pizza

There are some things you should never put on pizza. Personally, I am a pepperoni and cheese kind of gal who doesn't stray far from the classics. Chicken, a fried egg or five types of meat on my pizza? Not for me, thanks. I am even hesitant about white sauce pizza. This time I gave peas a chance and tried something different. You would think as people get older they get less picky about foods. As I approach my third decade of life, I am learning that the older you get, the more you get set in your ways and enjoy the simpler things. One of those things is gardening. Even though my garden space is limited, I still love taking care of plants and having herbs on hand. The weather got chilly last weekend, so I had to bring the plants inside to protect them from the frost. The cat ate her breakfast with a garden view: 


As a birthday present, I was not disappointed in any way to receive a pot I had been eyeing at Loblaws. First of all, I loved the colour and secondly it is a huge stock pot. Yes, my birthday present was a cooking pot and not, well, the other kind of pot you would associate with wilder, younger days. Things aren't generally a big surprise around here either. When I say "eyeing," I was practically stroking it and saying how pretty it was every time I walked by it in the store. 

President's Choice ombre stock pot

On my birthday I went to a neighbourhood garage sale. I am definitely that person who is fascinated by other people's stuff. When I'm at the grocery store I do a once over of other people's carts and I if I ever rented an Airbnb I would totally do this. So going to garage sales is fun for me even if I'm only looking at what people are selling. Does that sound creepy? 

pink cake with buttercream roses

After we came home with a garage sale haul, Mike got to cooking some brisket we picked up on the way home. And then he made me that wonderful pink cake. He actually knew how to bake way before I ever started baking for myself, so I wasn't surprised he could pull off a whole cake. I didn't even have to intervene with the piping. Then the rest of my birthday wasn't too crazy after that. I protected my plants from the forces of nature, went snooping around other people's stuff and ate some food. I sound more and more boring each day. Right now I'm alright with the age I am and staying where I am (and not thinking about big birthday milestones like next year). 


Speaking of crazy, I made a pizza with peas on it. Stay with me here, this is crazy. I have apparently re-discovered frozen peas. After not buying them for years, I bought a bag the other day and have been putting them in everything. They work with so many recipes. I saw this recipe for pizza and liked the idea of a "green" pizza even though I normally stick to "plain." The pizza has no tomato sauce and feta cheese instead of mozzarella. Somehow it works. The saltiness of the cheese mixed with the savoury pesto and hint of acidity in the vegetables--that are first tossed in lemon juice--drizzled with a bit of olive oil on top, makes a refreshing pizza. 

Pea and asparagus green pesto pizza

Pea and Asparagus Pesto Pizza
Ingredients:

1 pre-made or frozen pizza dough
1/2 cup of frozen or fresh peas
1/2 of a zucchini, sliced
4-5 asparagus spears, diced
1/2 cup feta cheese
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
Salt, pepper, fresh mint or basil for topping
1/2 cup pesto (see recipe below) 


Directions:

1. Marinate the asparagus and zucchini in a bowl with 1 tsp of olive oil, the lemon juice, salt, pepper and a dash of chilli powder. Leave for 10 minutes.
2. Roll out the pizza dough. Add the pesto first, and then the vegetables and lastly the cheese on to the pizza. Sprinkle a drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper and a dash of fresh basil or mint on top of the pizza. Bake for 15 minutes at 400F.  

pizza dough


Pesto recipe
Ingredients:

1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup fresh basil
1/2 cup fresh mint
2 cloves of crushed garlic
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Combine ingredients in a blender or food processor. Add a touch of water if it is not coming together. Keep remaining pesto in the fridge for a few days or freeze. 

Pea, asparagus, feta pizza

Here is a genius tip for making pizza on a pizza stone with parchment paper. I have tried adding cornmeal and olive oil to the paddle before with no success. Every time the pizza sticks to the paddle and I can barely get it on the stone. Someone told me about using parchment paper on the pizza stone. You still get a crispy crust even when the pizza is not cooked directly on the stone. My new trick is to make the pizza on parchment paper on the paddle and then transfer the whole thing to the pizza stone. Then I cook the pizza for about 5 minutes until the crust has slightly cooked and pull out the parchment paper. It doesn't stick and I get a combination of crispiness from the parchment paper and stone contact. No more hassle.

Asparagus spring pea pizza with pesto

If this was one of those "things you need to learn before you turn 30" articles, then I would recommend learning how to make a fine pizza instead of ordering in. Also, learn how to take care of a plant or two before you attempt other creatures. Lastly, don't stop being creative and always keep your mind open to learning and trying new things. 
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May 20, 2015

Chateau Montebello lobby fireplace

The idea of having a "10 + 1" celebration was created when my husband and I were on a cruise in Australia last year for our honeymoon. On the first night of the cruise we introduced ourselves to another couple and said we were on our honeymoon. The couple said they were celebrating their "10+1:" 10 years together plus 1 year of marriage. We realized that the following year we would celebrate our own 10+1. That year we celebrated 9 years together and one month of marriage by looking up at the stars of the Whitsunday Islands on a tall ship cruise. How do you top that? As well as the wedding itself, it was hard to think of something special to do that was equally as good. Since moving to Ottawa, I have obviously explored Ottawa and a bit of Montreal and discovered there is a piece of Canadiana luxury right in between. So to mark our anniversary, we seriously splurged on a weekend getaway to the Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello in Montebello. 


Located on the Ottawa River between Ottawa and Montreal, the spectacular resort was built in 1930. We were greeted by a bell hop who gave us some insight into the history of the place as he helped take our bags to our room. The three main buildings were built in the span of 4 months with about 3500 construction workers who used 10,000 red cedar logs to build everything. The hotel is built on the grounds of what used to be a 17th century Seigniorial estate. In the 1800s, the Papineau family of Quebec purchased the land. The resort as it is known now was opened to the public in the 1970s and now attracts visitors from all over the world. 

Chateau Montebello lobby

The focus of the lobby is the spectacular hexagonal rotunda shaped fireplace. All of the 200 guest rooms in the hotel fan out from the middle of the lobby into four wings. The main dining room and banquet rooms are also off of the lobby. This means the lobby is an ideal spot for an afternoon break, pre-dinner cocktails or a late night cocktail. To appreciate the craftsmanship and sheer size of the lobby, it is something you have to see in person. The reviews I read beforehand said the rooms were on the smaller size, so it is best to hang out in the lobby instead of the rooms to appreciate the experience. 

Chateau Montebello deluxe king river view room

Originally, we booked a regular room with a Queen bed. Earlier in the week I tweeted that I was staying there for our anniversary and I guess they got the hint because they upgraded us free of charge to the deluxe room with a King bed and river view. Don't say tweeting never gets you anywhere! The room was spacious with a couch and seating area, television, coffee maker and kettle. We were also greeted by the lovely tray of desserts shown in the above photo. They didn't have to do that at all--and during the busy May long weekend too--so I appreciated it very much that they went the extra mile to make our stay memorable. I can't say enough about how wonderful and attentive the staff were at reception, in the dining rooms and on the grounds. There are many people buzzing around all of the time making sure everything is taken care of and comfortable for each guest. The resort mascot Monty, an old Golden Retriever dog, even has his own log cabin dog house in the lobby to take naps in between greeting guests. 

Chateau Montebello deluxe room

Chateau Montebello deluxe king room

We arrived Friday night around 6pm and had dinner at the Seigneurie Bar in the basement. The bar is one of the resort restaurants and serves standard fare like fish and chips, burgers and sandwiches. I had a Caesar salad with chicken and Mike had duck confit gnocchi. Since we were staying in May, it was a little early for a BBQ dinner on the terrace. The staff said it usually opens in June. The terrace seating was set up outside, but sadly no BBQ yet. We will have to go back for a terrace meal later in the summer. After dinner, we took a quick walk around and sat by the river on the Muskoka chairs and then went back to the room and both fell asleep while reading books. That fresh country air will do that to you.


Even the smallest details show the rustic charm of the place down to the paintings, decorations and lamps, like this epic bear lamp in our room. If you are expecting a modern, boutique hotel with brand new finishings then this won't be the place for you. Although all of the amenities are quite modern and clean, the beauty is in the coziness and sense of history. When I say history, I don't even mean like a giant, haunted old hotel either. It by no means has the vibe of an abandoned lodge. It felt like I was an exclusive guest at someone's grand home. 


Although room service is available at all hours of the day, we chose to bring some things to make our own breakfast in the room. Mike picked up some pastries from Art Is In Bakery in Ottawa the day before. We had coffee and pastries, such as almond croissants, sticky buns, cinnamon rolls and chocolate croissants--way too much for two people. On Sunday morning, we even had some Mimosas with breakfast. I brought the bottle of champagne that was left in our room for us on our wedding night by the Elmhurst Inn; it was a bottle of Lakeview Cellars 2008 GMR sparkling. 

Pastries from Art Is In Bakery Ottawa

Saturday was a full day at the resort to explore, relax and try some activities. The hotel has an indoor and outdoor pool, spa, 18-hole golf course and 26 km of trails. Silly me was actually worried there wouldn't be enough things to do since it wasn't peak summer time. Instead of paying for each activity individually, there is a $23 per night resort fee for each room. Although that is an extra charge, it does mean you can take advantage of most of the activities for free. There were kids in every corner of the resort trying some sort of activity and a lot of things for adults to do as well as the obvious relaxing that needs to get done. This was the first weekend of the year they had canoes, kayaks and boats out on the water. 

Le Chateau Montebello

We took a stroll through the forest trails to the village to see what Montebello was like. The focus of the town most obviously seems to be the resort, however the village has a few small bistros, pubs and shops. For souvenir buying, there is a local cheese shop and chocolate store. I always like walking around seeing a place instead of staying cooped up in a hotel room. Another exciting activity close by is Parc Omega, which I like to call "Quebec's version of African Lion Safari" with drive up paths to see wild animals.   



Instead of worrying there wouldn't be enough to do, we actually found it difficult to do everything. We had a swim in the indoor pool along with half of the hotel who all had the same idea. The indoor pool is more than big enough for everyone with two hot tubs and two saunas, as well as a spa. I would love to go back in winter and try out some of the winter activities and then warm up by the fireplace with a hot cocoa. 

Le Chateau Montebello

On a side note, I thought it was funny there were so many trilliums blooming around since the trillium is Ontario's flower and not Quebec's. Does that mean it is technically not illegal to pick trilliums in Quebec? Not that I would, of course. 

trilliums

There was a wedding going on that day, so we snuck a peek at the preparations. I could hear the wedding celebrations later that night in one of the banquet rooms, but the sound didn't carry to the rooms even though some of the rooms are right off of the lobby. The Chateau Montebello would be a gorgeous spot for a large or intimate wedding. And how symbolic yet again that it was exactly a year since our wedding day. 

wedding at Chateau Montebello

After walking and swimming, we both got ready for dinner with a pre-dinner glass of champagne. I put on a fancy dress and we headed down for dinner to the main restaurant Aux Chantignoles with food by Executive Chef Jean-Francois Fortin. Perhaps my only slight criticism would be the price of the restaurants. I know the Fairmont has a reputation for luxury. Having lunch and two dinners at the resort ended up costing almost as much as one night's stay. I found the prices a little on the expensive side. Mike was taken a back at lunch when he ordered a beer and it came to $15. That being said, the food is good with many options to choose. The menu is mostly French inspired featuring local Quebec ingredients.


It was a our anniversary after all, so we definitely splurged on the room and the food. The main restaurant is a grand ballroom with windows overlooking the patio. They also have a buffet option for brunch and lunch. To give you a clue of my level of fanciness, I saw that the buffet was open at dinner and I asked the hostess if it was available. She then replied that "at dinner time, the buffet is only for children." Mike had a laugh at my expense over that one. For dinner, we started with a salmon gravlax appetizer. 

Dinner at Aux Chantignoles Chateau Montebello

Dinner at Aux Chantignoles Chateau Montebello

Mike had the trio of Quebec rabbit stuffed with herbs and mashed peas. I had the grouper fish "catch of day" with white asparagus and 7 grains. We were also given a few amuse bouches in between courses to cleanse our palates even though we did not opt for the 3, 4 or 6 course meal options. That is another example of the exceptional level of service of the place. 

Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello

On Sunday we had breakfast and then played tennis. Pro tip: playing tennis after drinking Mimosas isn't the best idea. We whacked a few tennis balls around and then called it a day. It was nice to be outside and enjoy the long weekend sunshine. I couldn't take enough photos of the Chateau Montebello. Mike asked me when I wanted to head back to Ottawa and I was like "hold on, I want to take more photos." 

Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello

Chateau Montebello Quebec hotel

Why would you ever want to leave? I mean, look at this. You can see by the crowds in these photos that it got busier on Saturday and Sunday. Between weddings, spa visits, business meetings, family vacations and couple's vacations there must be hundreds of people coming and going each day. The exciting thing is that is shows that log cabins don't have to be associated with some small place in the middle of the woods. They can be luxurious, grand and elegant. 

Chateau Montebello Quebec

We also opened our anniversary gifts for each other. For Mike's gift I framed one of the sheets we had guests fill out at our wedding with marriage advice as well as the magazine spread of our wedding in Wedding Bells magazine. He got me an engraved jewellery box and printed out some of our old email correspondences from years ago. Who says romance is dead after marriage?


Then it was back to Ottawa on Sunday. And the start of working towards marriage year 2. Here's hoping every year will be as wonderful as the first one. Thank you to the Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello for a lovely weekend getaway.

Ottawa River
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May 10, 2015

Birthday cake with sprinkle numbers

There was a time--when I had more time--when I would spend all day making a cake. Sometimes it was for a special occasion, other times for fun or at times simply to practice. The process of making a cake from the icing to the layers to the decorating takes time. If I was on one of those Master Chef type shows and had to make an entire cake in an hour or less, I don't think I could do it. Luckily I had a day off last week and it was my husband's birthday, so I made him a cake. Maybe it sounds ultra domestic of me to spend a whole day in the kitchen, but I enjoy creating something from nothing and admiring small details. I do it for myself as much as I do it for other people.  


Pardon the obvious clique: sometimes you need to "stop and smell the roses." Like making a cake from scratch, it is nice to admire the beautiful details of things, especially in nature. This weekend in Ottawa was the start of the Canadian Tulip Festival. The festival celebrates Canada's role in liberating The Netherlands during World War II and the gift of thousands of tulips The Netherlands gave to the capital city afterwards. Only a few weeks ago, we were freezing cold covered in snow and now the flowers are in full bloom for the start of spring. 

Canadian tulip festival Ottawa

Canadian Tulip Festival, Ottawa Ontario

Canadian Tulip Festival Ottawa

When you think about each individual petal on each flower, you start to see how each one builds a bigger picture. I love the photo above of one tulip standing out from the crowd. There were seas of different colours of tulips along with massive crowds hovering around to get a good look. Taking a few minutes to admire nature is another way to relax and enjoy the moment. 


It is funny how during a celebration, you often gift someone with either flowers, cake or balloons. They are required things for every celebration whether it is momentous or small. Like the tulips sent to Canada, they signify a tradition to uphold. In the case of birthday cake, well, it isn't a birthday without cake. You also need the right tools if you are going to get everything right. My Mother-in-law got me the deluxe Wilton decorating kit for Christmas last year which has everything I need to pipe icing, make icing flowers, cake designs and much more. I used the carrot cake recipe from my favourite baking cookbook: The Happy Baker. 

Carrot cake with toasted coconut and sprinkle numbers

"You can kiss my triple decker carrot cake goodbye" by The Happy Baker

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
4 eggs
2 cups finely grated carrots
1 cup crushed pineapple, drained
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 cup coconut

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour 3 9-inch round cake pans. In a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Add sugar, oil and eggs; mix together for 3 minutes with a hand mixer. Stir in carrots, pineapple, chopped nuts and coconut. Pour into prepared pans. Bake in preheated oven for 35 minutes. 

Carrot cake layers

Cream Cheese Icing:

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 8oz package cream cheese, softened
500 g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup toasted coconut for decorating. Bake at 300F for about 5 minutes until coconut is light golden brown; stir often.

Directions:

Cream together the butter and cream cheese. Add the vanilla. Stir in the icing sugar. Spread evenly on the top of the first layer, add the second layer, spread evenly on that layer. Add third layer spread icing evenly all over cake. Sprinkle with toasted coconut. 

naked layered carrot cake

I kept this cake simple with the design. It would have been fitting to make icing flowers to coincide with the spring flowers around town right? As lovely as they are, icing flowers are a blessing and a curse. The inspiration for this cake came from a sprinkle birthday cake I saw on Pinterest. You use cut out numbers and place them on the cake and then sprinkle the sprinkles around the numbers. 


For my cake, I printed out numbers and then cut them out and placed them on the cake after it was iced. Then I sprinkled the coconut around the numbers. Make sure to press down on the numbers and brush away any coconut that gets on the numbers. The only problem is that the paper numbers then lift off any icing that is underneath. You could either re-ice the number area or add a different colour of sprinkle to the area. 


I added chocolate sprinkles to make the cake look a little less naked. The sprinkles also looked more uniform instead of trying to make sprinkled numbers by hand. I also piped some stars at the bottom of the cake to make it look nicer. I am not the best at the crumb coat icing part. As much as icing can fix mistakes with cake, fiddling with the icing too much can ruin a good thing. With baking each layer individually, making the icing, assembling the layers, icing the cake and decorating the cake, the whole process took a few hours. Making a cake is only something I do once in awhile. Maybe we all need to spend some time to do something nice--for someone else or ourselves--more often. 

carrot cake with birthday numbers with sprinkles
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