St. James Restaurante Juan Bravo

I am very happy to be able to say that I just spent ten days in Madrid, Spain! I prefer to write about trips after the fact because it’s generally not a good idea to announce to the world that your house is empty while you’re out of town. But I returned last night, jet-lagged as all get out, and now it’s time to write all about it.

Due to the jet lag I think I’m going to keep this one fairly short and sweet, and I’ll tell you a bit about the fancy group dinner that we had at Saint James Restaurante Juan Bravo. I believe that our hosts wanted us to get a chance to try some good, traditional Spanish food, which is the specialty of this restaurant. Most of us had paella, which is a slow-cooked, savoury rice dish with many variations. Above is Valencian paella, which includes chicken, rabbit, vegetables and snails.

These Norway lobsters (which are much smaller and more delicate than the American lobsters I’m familiar with from our East Coast) and prawns came on the side of a paella that also included chicken, vegetables, mussels and squid.

The crowning glory, at least for me, was the paella with Galician lobster, which is what my husband and I had. This serving was for at least four people (all of the paellas had to be ordered in portion sizes for two people or more), but I could have eaten all of that delicious lobster all by myself. The rice was also amazing, but it paled in comparison to the seafood. It was obvious to me that all of the dishes were prepared with care and pride, and the depth of flavour is where this showed the most.

This was the one and only time I tried paella in Spain, but it was absolutely delicious, so I hope that it was a good representation of the dish. It definitely makes me want to learn how to make it myself, especially since Spanish restaurants are few and far between around here. I think I’d have to keep the ingredients for homemade versions a little more simple, though; eating like kings while on vacation is definitely different than what we can afford to have every day at home. Maybe I should just keep an eye out for a sale on lobster…

Sansotei Ramen

Over time, I hope to try every ramen restaurant in Ottawa. What with ramen becoming more popular, this process has become more difficult, but I think I’ll manage! Recently I had the chance to check out the Sansotei Ramen location at 1537 Merivale Rd.

A few things you should know before I even talk about the food: they’re closed Mondays, they don’t take reservations, and they’re really popular right now due to positive reviews in the paper. The last two factors mean that even if you arrive shortly after opening for dinner, as we did, there’s going to be a wait. The line only gets longer as you progress further in to the dinner hour, with people squashed into the tiny vestibule awaiting their turn, and then a line going out the outer door and down the sidewalk. Although turnover was fairly quick (ramen is generally supposed to be a quick meal), the entrance looked like the above the entire time we were there — although to be fair, it was a Saturday.

Now to the food. I tried the tonkotsu ramen black (i.e. pork bone broth with black garlic oil) with chashu pork, which is one of my favourite dishes. It’s also one of the more complicated ones to make, so I find that it’s a pretty good test of a restaurant. I was very happy with my soup! The broth was rich without being too fatty, and bursting with flavour. The pork was melt-in-your-mouth. The noodles had just the right amount of chewiness. I have to admit that my favourite ramen place in Ottawa is still Koichi Ramen (formerly Ginza Ramen) in Chinatown, but Sansotei is definitely giving them a run for their money. I would definitely recommend this restaurant; it’s well worth the wait in line.

Quick & Easy

I needed a quick and easy dinner recently, something that didn’t take a lot of prep because it was a busy weeknight and I was already running around like a chicken with my head cut off.  So I threw some sticky rice in the instant pot, steamed some spinach in the microwave, and fried up a couple of eggs per person.

I topped the steamed spinach with a sprinkle of furikake (which is one of my favourite easy ways to liven up some dull vegetables, by the way), and it was done!  It wasn’t anything fancy, but it was healthy, fast, and cheap.  I’d estimate that it was less than $2.00 per serving — and it could have been much cheaper if I’d gone with the less pricey basmati rice instead of sticky rice.  Sticky rice is probably the most expensive kind of rice available at the grocery stores around here, although I’m sure there are other, more expensive kinds available in specialty stores.

Instant Pot Ground Beef Stroganoff

I was perusing my cookbooks the other day for a quick meal that wouldn’t require a lengthy trip to a grocery store, and I decided on Ground Beef Stroganoff from The Ultimate Instant Pot Cookbook (Coco Morante, 2018). It’s very different than the stroganoff that I was taught to make way back when (I learned so long ago that I honest can’t remember), but it was still quite nice. The only alteration was that I made the dish using lactose-free sour cream instead of regular sour cream.

I really liked that this was truly a one-pot meal; the sweating of the onions and garlic, the browning of the meat, and the cooking of the noodles are all done in the Instant Pot. This is the kind of situation where the saute function really shines. And I really liked that the short pressure cooking time was just long enough to get the prep mess cleaned up and the table set. What a great meal for a busy weeknight!

All-You-Can-Eat Sushi

One of the things that I really like about birthdays is that it usually means going out for dinner. When it’s a large group of people like it was for the dual birthdays this past weekend, that usually means a kind of place where everyone can find at least one thing that they like — which often means a buffet or all-you-can-eat kind of place. This year my friends chose 168 Sushi Buffet. We’ve eaten there for a number of other celebrations, and it’s usually pretty good food. I mean, it’s not fancy, no bones about it, but it gives everyone a chance to try a little bit of everything, and I really like that.

As a bonus, this meal gave me the chance to try out the little ring light that I had purchased during my visit to the US in the fall. Restaurant lighting is notoriously bad (it’s generally kept low for “ambience” — and often to conceal a multitude of flaws), and it’s not like you can set up a tripod in the close quarters between tables. One of my friends was nice enough to act as my light stand, though, so I think I captured a few decent pics. Above we have a group order of sashimi.

Shrimp tempura.

Rolled sushi (dragon rolls I think).

And seafood udon soup.

Every other dish went by me so quickly and was picked clean so fast that I didn’t have a chance to get pictures! I mean, it’s not like I wasn’t involved in that process or something, but I found it funny.

So, would I recommend this restaurant, and others in this style? Most definitely! Don’t go in expecting something high-end, but you will get your fill of good food. It’s also extremely popular! There was a long line from the time we arrived to the moment we left.

A Taste of Summer

Over the weekend two of my friends celebrated their birthdays together — the same two friends that I baked birthday pies for around this time last year. I asked them if they would like pies as gifts again this year, and they seemed to think that this was a marvelous idea! One of my friends even requested the same type of lemon meringue pie as last year, since it went over so well.

I don’t think the meringue was as fluffy this time, but I was much happier with the level of browning on the top — which I think can be accounted for by the oven, which we replaced in the meantime. I find that while it does have its own challenges (it runs pretty consistently 50 degrees F hot), it provides a much more even heat overall.


Photo by Karen Turnbull.

Sadly, the meringue topping got a little bit mangled in transit, but I’m assured that it still tasted fine! Once again, I used half of a crust recipe from page 73 of The All-New Purity Cook Book (Elizabeth Driver, 2001), the lemon meringue filling from page 687 of the Joy of Cooking (Rombauer & Becker, 2006 edition), and Soft Meringue Topping #1 on page 798 of the Joy of Cooking.

My other friend requested a change-up from last year with a fruit crumble instead of a pie. He really wanted rhubarb, and he was lucky that I still had some left over in the freezer from last summer’s harvest, because it’s well out of season around here. I mixed the rhubarb with some strawberries and green apples for added flavour and texture, and I did add a cup of sugar to the fruit because rhubarb is so very tart. To make this dish I used the Apple or Fruit Crisp recipe on page 392 of the Joy of Cooking. The final product kind of looked a mess, but I find that most crumbles do! I got to taste a bit of this one and I was quite happy with how it turned out as well. It was like a little bit of summer stuck smack dab in the cold and snow of February.

Valentine’s Day Baking

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, and while we’re not terribly into big romantic gestures in our household, the kids really do love celebrating this holiday at school. Everyone ends up with a little mailbox full of Valentines, and some sweets to bring home, and often parents send in some nice snacks for the kids to munch on throughout the day. So of course I had to get the girls to help me with some baking to bring along to class.

At Thing 1’s insistence, I made a chocolate sheet cake with chocolate icing for her class. Since she loved her Triforce Cake so much, I used the same recipe: Amelia Bedelia’s Sheet Cake, found at the back of the story book Amelia Bedelia Bakes Off (Herman Parish, 2010), or online via Desktop Cookbook. This time, though, I actually made buttercream icing from scratch — my very first time trying it! I used the Joy of Cooking (Rombauer & Becker, 2006 edition) recipe for Chocolate Buttercream found on page 793. Honestly, the icing was more difficult to make than the cake, but it turned out so well! I used really dark chocolate and my munchkin appreciated it. She isn’t actually a big fan of the thick layers of super-sweet icing that are commonly found on commercial cakes, and to be honest, neither am I. I decorated the icing with a dusting of icing sugar over some heart-shaped cookie cutters, and then I removed the cutters to lay down a heart made of Smarties. I know it wasn’t symmetrical, but the kiddos didn’t seem to care.

Thing 2, however, really wanted to make mini banana muffins for her class. I went back to the trusty recipe in the Joy of Cooking and we together we made the Banana Bread Cockaigne on page 628. There’s a lot of teaching that goes along with baking with a child of that age, especially since they haven’t started learning fractions yet! Even so, this recipe is very forgiving (if you read my blog regularly, you’ve probably noticed that it’s a favourite), and it turned out really well. There were only three left over after she shared them with her friends, and those were promptly snatched up by her grandparents. Not that I begrudge them, because if they didn’t eat them, I would.

I hope you all had a lovely Valentine’s Day and were spoiled with some of your own favourite treats!