Road tripping: much more than a château in Montebello

Great reasons to visit the Outaouais in winter!

 Aside from my family, cooking and reading, one of the other abiding passions in my life is travelling. This year, I’ve decided to focus on some of the amazing destinations that are relatively close to my home in Ottawa. This zest for exploring my more immediate surroundings was fuelled in part by the fantastic time I had checking out the Ottawa Valley and the Pontiac region of Quebec last year as well at finding new fun in the Eastern Townships the year before. I’ve now got an extensive list of spots within a few hours’ drive that I want to visit (or revisit). Near the top of my list was the Montebello area, just over an hour from Ottawa. I’ve enjoyed a number of visits to the Fairmont Le Château Montebello over the years and truly love it there. However, for a recent trip to the Montebello region, my favourite travel buddy (my husband) and I decided to venture just a little farther afield, and I am so glad that we did.

About fifteen minutes north of the town of Montebello is perhaps one of the most unique places I have ever visited – the Kenauk Nature Reserve. From the moment we drove through the gate, we felt as though we were in the absolute middle of nowhere, in the best possible way. Offering a range of accommodations from small and rustic to large and luxurious, I can confirm that Kenauk is the ideal place for those wishing to get away from it all and reconnect with nature. With more than 60 lakes scattered across 65,000 acres, Kenauk is one of North America’s largest private fish and game reserves.

I was intrigued to learn about the property’s rich history. In 1674, it was a huge wilderness domain granted by the King of France to Francois de Laval, Bishop of New France. In 1801, the land was transferred from the Catholic Church to Québec’s prominent Papineau family, and then in 1929 a Swiss-American businessman acquired the land and founded the Seigniory Club, an exclusive organization with an elite and impressive membership roster that included prominent Canadian and American businessman and politicians as well as foreign dignitaries. As for the nearby Château, the hotel was constructed in 1930 as the private retreat for the Seigniory Club and remained as such until 1970, when the resort was taken over by Canadian Pacific Hotels, who opened its doors – and the grounds of the nearby Commandant Properties (now Kenauk) to the public for the first time. In 2013 a small group of private investors, along with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, purchased Kenauk and have been operating it to the most exacting standards ever since.

Kenauk is truly dazzling in winter. Eight of their sixteen private cabins are four-season ones, available for rent at rates that I found quite reasonable for all that the property has to offer. I was pleased to discover that you won’t find televisions, Wi-Fi or microwaves at Kenauk. What you will find is luxurious simplicity in the newer chalets while the vintage ones offer rustic comfort with modern amenities. They’re sensibly furnished with super comfortable beds, ample kitchenware and a minimum of clutter. I’m not sure if it is intentional, but the lack of distractions in the décor meant my attention was more focused on the gorgeous views from the many windows of our chalet than on the interior environment.

Wilson Chalet at Kenauk sleeps eight in two bedrooms and a loft; it boasts two fireplaces, including one in the three-season porch.

Generations of guests know Kenauk as a summertime destination, but winter offers loads of options as well, including the chance to fulfill a longstanding dream of mine, which was to go dog sledding. Kenauk has partnered with Aux Solstices, a local organic farm that also raises and trains sled dogs with care and kindness. When I asked owner Marc De Repentigny why he chose to get into dog sledding twenty years ago, his answer was simply that he loves spending time outdoors with these majestic animals. After a safety demonstration and a quick lesson on how to drive a sled, we got settled while the friendly dogs gave a chorus of gleeful barks as they leapt up and down in their harnesses, eager to get underway.

The team of dogs from Aux Solstice was so friendly and energetic it made the whole experience even more enjoyable than anticipated.

It is a good thing my husband is both agile and athletic as being a solo musher – especially on a 25 kilometre loop – is quite the workout (but one that he absolutely loved). I, on the other hand, was completely content to relax in the larger, handmade sled Marc called ‘the Cadillac’, snuggled under a fur blanket, with a hot water bottle for company. It was the perfect vantage point to watch the dogs at work and observe their different gaits and playful behaviour. The dogs clearly love to pull and required only a minimum of guidance from Marc who issued only the occasional soft whistle, called out a dog’s name to encourage it, or gave a gentle command such as, “Allez les chiens!” Even when we stopped for a short break, complete with hot chocolate and homemade cookies supplied by Marc, they dogs rested only briefly then many of them began barking and leaping as they could not wait to get going again.

It was so incredibly peaceful to glide along the trails, listening to the swish of the runners and the gentle scraping of the brakes being applied as we coasted down hills. Icy branches glistened in the sunlight as we zoomed along seemingly effortlessly, thanks to the dogs’ combined energy and strength. The dogs are muscular and lean, being a mix of Alaskan Husky, Siberian Husky, Greyhound and other breeds, making them ideally suited to long distance pulling. Similarly, Marc’s commitment to properly training and caring for his animals makes Aux Solstices an ideal partner for Kenauk.

Marc De Repentigny of Aux Solstices treats his sled dogs with care and kindness.

The next day, we had a chance to explore Kenauk with the reserve’s general manager, Bill Nowell, who helped us understand how committed he and his team are to balancing guests’ enjoyment of Kenauk with operating the property sustainably. Bill has lived in the park for over three decades and takes obvious pride in the reserve’s pristine state. As he explained, development is only undertaken at Kenauk in a controlled way and with as minimal an environmental impact as possible. He first took us to see a number of cabins, ranging from secluded one bedroom ‘honeymoon’ chalets to vintage cabins crafted almost a century ago using leftover logs from the Chateau Montebello’s construction. We also toured the gorgeous Papineau chalet which sleeps 19 and can accommodate up to 40 for events, making it ideal for corporate retreats, weddings or family reunions. Next, Bill led us on a multi-hour snowshoe trek through the forest, pausing to point out moose, deer and coyote tracks along the way. We passed frozen ponds, rushing streams and then, to my absolute delight, rounded a bend to discover an old school bus perched on a platform in the woods (tires and engine removed, of course). On the side of the bus, a message in bright red letters said “Paint Me” and Bill dug down through a metre of snow to uncover a cache of spray paint tucked into a wooden box. It was my first experience as a graffiti artist and it was so much fun.

Tagging this bus was all kinds of fun…and yes, the paints were non-toxic!

Aside from exceptional snowshoeing, also on offer for winter visits to Kenauk are fabulous groomed trails for cross country skiing plus skating and ice fishing on some of the lakes. In summertime, the reserve is popular for fishing, canoeing and kayaking; it’s also a hiker’s paradise, with over 120 kilometres of trails and a few campsites including several tepees and a yurt. A newly renovated fish hatchery on site annually produces 25 tons of rainbow and speckled trout to supplement the lakes’ natural stock. Year round you can also enjoy sporting clays and the only Land Rover driving experience school in Canada. You can also learn about the important work being done at the Kenauk institute, dedicated to research and environmental education on the property, including biodiversity and establishing a vital corridor for north-south species migration.

The view from our chalet was both peaceful and breathtaking, not to mention ever-changing due to weather and light conditions.

After our blissful stay at Kenauk, we found ourselves a little reluctant to go home, so we decided to linger a while in town of Montebello where we discovered four treasures worth visiting: Les Brasseurs de Montebello, Fromagerie Montebello. Chocomotive and Le Bistro. The genial co-founder of Les Brasseurs de Montebello is Alain Larivière and he kindly gave us a tour of both his brewing facility and cozy pub.  Alain has long been an enthusiastic connoisseur of beer and turned his passion into a business in 2014; the microbrewery now enjoys wide distribution throughout Quebec. Les Brasseurs de Montebello produces numerous different varieties of beer, each with intriguing names and backstories like Kenauk Ale (brewed with honey from Kenauk Nature Reserve), Jackrabbit (for legendary cross country skier Jackrabbit Johanssen), Phantome d’Elzide (named for the ghost of the nearby Manoir Papineau national historic site) and more. They also brew up seasonal delights such as their current Carnav’Ale. The pub on Rue Notre-Dame (the main street) is small but cheerful, with a spacious patio, live music and friendly service.

Alain Larivière is the friendly co-owner of Les Brasseurs de Montebello, an impressive microbrewery that also operates a cozy pub on Rue Notre-Dame in Montebello.

Just a few doors from the pub we found Fromagerie Montebello. Their wonderful cheeses, made on site, pay tribute to the region’s history with names such as Tête à Papineau, Rébellion 1837, Manchebello and Adoray, along with fresh cheddar and curds. We had to restrain ourselves and brought just a few wedges home to sample; the good news is several of Ottawa’s better cheese shops do stock their products.

For a small town, Montebello has lots of charm!

Nearby, Chocomotive is part of the Economusée network, a growing international collective founded in Quebec that now boasts more than 70 member artisans renowned for their excellence. Located in the old Montebello train station, it’s a working specialty chocolate factory and gift shop, showcasing products made in house as well as well as those from other artisans. Unlike the cheese, the chocolates I bought as gifts did not make it home to Ottawa, as they were just too irresistible.

Our last stop was another delicious find. Le Bistro is most well-known for its pizzas, cooked to perfection in a wood-fired oven. It’s housed in a charming building that’s over 200 years old and is very popular with locals and tourists alike. We savoured the warm atmosphere while waiting mere moments for our pizzas to be delivered and wished we’d had time to sample more from their eclectic menu.

In case you were wondering, the word kenauk is derived from mukekenauk, the Algonquian word for turtle, and I have to say, I felt a bit like a turtle during my time there. It’s a place that makes it so easy to slow down, recharge and savour the beauty of nature in a whole new way. If you came here just to watch the incredibly sky show of stars at night, you’d be amply rewarded. I cannot wait to go back.

Note: While catering can easily be arranged for your stay at Kenauk, including the option of having meals provided by the Chateau Montebello’s kitchen, true to form, we brought some delicious meals with us. Wondering what great food we enjoyed to fuel our outdoor adventures at Kenauk? Watch this.

 Disclaimer: I was a guest of Kenauk Nature Reserve and Aux Solstices but opinions, as always, are entirely my own.

 

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Sweet and spicy crispy cauliflower nuggets

One of the most delicious vegetable dishes ever!

Not being a huge fan of cheese sauce, for years I avoided cauliflower because it just seemed to look so boring on a plate. Now that cauliflower’s had a bit of a renaissance, I’ve learned there are lots of delicious ways to prepare it that can make it look as attractive as it is delicious and nutritious. Some of my favourites include this Moroccan-spiced cauliflower, crunchy curried cauliflower pickles and this fragrant rice with cauliflower. In this case, the sweet and spicy sauce is what makes the cauliflower shine. Don’t be surprised to find kids devouring these as fast as the adults!

Ingredients

Cauliflower

  • 1 small head cauliflower
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups (500 mL) Panko bread crumbs
  • Salt and pepper

Sweet and spicy sauce

  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) vegetable oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) very finely minced fresh ginger
  • 2/3 cup (160 mL) sweet chili sauce
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) soy sauce
  • Juice of 1/2 lime

Optional garnishes: toasted sesame seeds and sliced green onions

Directions

  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Preheat oven to 400F.
  • Cut cauliflower into bite-sizes pieces (about 1 to 1 1/2 inches or 2.5 – 3.5 cm).
  • Crack eggs into a small bowl and beat until frothy. Put Panko in a second bowl.
  • Dip cauliflower pieces in egg then roll them in the Panko until evenly coated; place coated pieces onto the parchment-lined baking sheet.
  • Bake for about 20 – 25 minutes or until bites are turning golden brown on the outside.
  • While cauliflower cooks, prepare sauce by putting oil, garlic and ginger in a small saucepan placed over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 – 3 minutes until softened. Add chili sauce, soy sauce and lime juice and bring to a boil. Let simmer for 5 minutes then remove from heat.
  • Drizzle sauce over cooked cauliflower then add garnishes if desired and serve hot.

Serves 2 – 4

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A mostly make-ahead fancy vegetarian feast

Perfect for date night…or any night!

Move over, meat and potatoes. When it comes to making a special dinner at home, why not try a new approach to menu planning? Vegetarian meals by their very nature are colourful and appealing; they can be equally festive as well, like the following easy yet impressive feast. The best part is that in addition to being healthy and delicious, it’s also mostly make-ahead, so you can focus on enjoying the company of whomever you are dining with, rather than slaving in the kitchen.

Appetizer: Mushroom and walnut ‘caviar’ on herbed crostini

Salad: Fennel, orange and arugula with pistachios

Main: Pasta with roasted beet, garlic and walnut pesto

Dessert: Mini brownie cakes with mocha ganache (gluten-free)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sealed With a Kiss Cookies

Party-perfect treats for Valentine’s Day!

I love the look of these adorable little cookies, and they’re as tasty as they are cute! Despite appearances, they are actually really easy to make. I used my favourite chocolate chip cookie dough recipe (minus the chocolate chips); feel free to use your own favourite dough instead. Wondering how to get the sprinkles to stick to the cookie dough before baking? Dip the edges of the dough discs in milk then roll them in the sprinkles – it works perfectly! My favourite way to eat these is while the chocolate Kiss is still soft from the heat of the cookie, but extensive taste testing has confirmed that they are absolutely scrumptious when completely cooled.

Valentine's Day cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (250 mL) packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) white sugar
  • 3/4 cup (185 mL) softened butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) vanilla extract
  • 2 2/3 cups (410 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) baking soda
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) milk
  • 1 cup (250 mL) pink, red and white decorating sprinkles
  • Approximately 3 dozen Hershey’s Kisses or chocolate discs

Method

  • Preheat oven to 350F. Line two large baking trays with parchment paper and set aside.
  • In a large mixing bowl, cream sugars and butter together with an electric or stand mixer. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until blended.
  • Combine flour, baking soda and salt then add to butter mixture and mix at medium speed until just blended.
  • Put the milk in one small bowl and the sprinkles in another.
  • Scoop the dough out in portions approximately 1 1/2 teaspoons (7.5 mL) each (smaller than a golf ball). Roll into a ball, then flatten to make small discs. Roll the edges of the discs in the milk, followed by the sprinkles, then place on the parchment-lined baking sheets.

  • Bake for 8 – 9 minutes until tops are just barely beginning to crack. While cookies bake, unwrap the chocolate Kisses.
  • As soon as you remove the baking trays from the oven, press a chocolate Kiss into the centre of each cookie. Let cool 5 minutes on baking trays then transfer to wire racks to cool until chocolate is set.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.


 

This original recipe created by Paula Roy was first published by ymc.ca.

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Mushroom and walnut ‘caviar’ on herbed crostini

An easy, elegant vegetarian appetizer!

So many elegant hors d’oeuvres seem to involve meat or seafood that I decided it was time to come up with a vegetarian treat. I recall my mother eating mushrooms on toast which just looked like a nasty mess to me when I was a kid. Little did I know then that I would grow up to be a huge fan of fungi. I’m also a huge fan of baguette and love toasting thin slices to make crostini – the perfect vehicle for all sorts of spreads, dips and more. This dish reminded me of enjoying caviar on crostini at a fancy party; it’s important to chop the mushrooms and walnuts really finely to vaguely resemble the look of caviar. This dish can be served warm or at room temperature but should only be assembled right before serving so your crostini can stay crisp. If you are interested in learning more about mushrooms, check out this post about my visit to a local mushroom farm!

Ingredients

  • Half a baguette, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) herb-infused olive oil *
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) butter
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) finely minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) white wine
  • 1/2 pound (225 g) cremini mushrooms, cleaned and very finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) finely chopped, toasted walnuts
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) heavy (35%) cream
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Microgreens, thyme sprigs or chopped fresh chives, for garnish
  • Fleur de sel or Maldon sea salt, for garnish

* you can also use regular olive oil, or make your own herbed oil by gently heating the 3 tablespoons of olive oil in the microwave for 20 seconds, then adding 2 teaspoons chopped fresh herbs. Let sit 30 minutes then strain and use the infused oil.

Method

  • Make the crostini by preheating oven to 350F. Lay out the baguette slices in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush each one lightly with the herb-infused olive oil then bake 7 – 8 minutes in the preheated oven until they are just barely golden. Flip the bread slices over and bake approximately 8 minutes more until they are light golden brown. Let cool.
  • Make the mushroom caviar by melting the butter in a large, heavy-duty frying pan placed over medium heat. Add the chopped shallot and cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 more minute.
  • Add the finely chopped mushrooms to the pan and increase heat slightly; continue to sauté, stirring often, for about 5 minutes or until mushrooms have softened and stopped releasing moisture. Add wine and cook, stirring often, for 2 more minutes.
  • Add chopped walnuts and cream to pan and cook 2 – 3 minutes more until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add lemon juice and cayenne, then season with pepper to taste. At this point, the mixture can sit for up to 3 hours.
  • When ready to assemble the hors d’oeuvres, you can use the mushroom mixture at room temperature, or quickly reheat it in the pan.
  • Top each crostino with some of the mushroom and walnut mixture. Garnish with microgreens or herbs, sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt, and place on a serving tray.

Serves 4 – 6.

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Indonesian-inspired beef and vegetable bowls

Spiced-up flank steak with chili, coconut and more! 

I’ve never been to Indonesia but this island archipelago is a land that has long fascinated me. Sambal Oelek is one of the ingredients I reach for very often in my kitchen; it is a ground fresh chili paste that hails from Indonesia and is so versatile and flavourful. Other elements such as lime, turmeric, cumin, cinnamon and coconut help this delicious dish fit the taste profile of many Indonesian recipes. For a wine pairing, I would suggest a Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon. A medium-bodied, well-structured wine, it is nicely balanced with fruity and smoky notes that complement rather than overwhelm the warm spices and coconut garnish in this dish.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds (675 g) flank steak
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) soy sauce (use tamari for a gluten-free dish)
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened pineapple juice, divided
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) vegetable oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) Sambal Oelek (Indonesian chili paste), or more, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) ground turmeric
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (7.5 mL) ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) ground cinnamon
  • 1 red pepper, cut in thin 1.5 inch (3.5 cm) strips
  • 1 green pepper, cut in thin 1.5 inch (3.5 cm) strips
  • 1 Spanish onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup (250 mL) water
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) sweetened, shredded dried coconut, toasted
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) fresh coriander leaves, torn or chopped
  • Cooked basmati rice, to serve

Method

  • Score steak on both sides with a sharp knife in a criss-cross pattern and place in a sturdy plastic bag.
  • Combine soy sauce, lime juice and 1/4 cup pineapple juice and pour over steak. Close bag tightly and marinate in fridge for 3 – 12 hours.
  • When ready to prepare the dish, coat the bottom of a large, heavy duty frying pan with the vegetable oil and place over medium-high heat to warm up.
  • When the pan is hot, add steak and sear quickly on both sides (2 minutes per side) then transfer to a cutting board.
  • Reduce heat to medium and let pan cool for a minute. Add garlic, Sambal Oelek, turmeric, cumin and cinnamon to frying pan. Stir to toast spices for 2 minutes, then add peppers and onions. Stir-fry for 2 minutes, then add water.
  • Cook, stirring often, until most of the liquid has evaporated and onions and peppers are tender-crisp (about 4 – 5 minutes).
  • While vegetables cook, slice steak against the grain into very thin slices then cut the slices cross-wise so they are in bite-sized pieces about 1 inch / 2.5 cm long. Note that the steak will be extremely rare (almost raw) in the middle but you will be cooking it some more.
  • Return steak to frying pan along with remaining pineapple juice and cook, stirring, over moderate heat, until steak is cooked through. Serve on beds of cooked rice with coconut and coriander sprinkled on top.

Serves 4 – 6

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Fast and flavourful enchilada dip

Five minutes to make a party-perfect yet nutritious dish!

I love this dip because it takes just minutes to assemble and can even be prepared up to 48 hours ahead of time before baking. More importantly, it’s packed with flavour and goodness! Sure, there’s lots of cheese, but there are also tons of nutritious vegetables packed in here too. It’s a great way to use up leftover roasted meat – or even sliced deli meat, in a pinch – but you can swap in cooked ground turkey, chicken or beef if you prefer OR make it meatless as well! Just like this scrumptious bacon cheeseburger dip, it’s great for feeding a crowd at a party, but makes a super easy weeknight dinner as well.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) red enchilada or taco sauce
  • 1/2 green pepper, diced
  • 3 green onions, diced (separate the white and green parts)
  • 1 cup (250 mL) canned diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) canned black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) frozen corn
  • 1 cup (250 mL) chopped cooked beef, chicken or turkey
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) each salt, pepper and ground cumin
  • 1 cup (250 mL) grated Tex-Mex (nacho blend) cheese (or mozzarella)
  • Lime wedges and tortilla chips, for serving

Directions

  • Put cream cheese in a medium sized mixing bowl. Gently warm in microwave on medium power for about 30 seconds, until cream cheese is softened.
  • Add enchilada sauce to cream cheese and stir to blend well.
  • Add green pepper, white parts of diced green onions, diced tomatoes, black beans, corn, meat, and spices. Stir to blend well.
  • Add cheese and stir once more.
  • Transfer mixture into four two-cup oven safe ramekins, or one larger casserole dish.
  • Bake at 350F until the entire dish is bubbling (about 20 minutes for smaller size; 25 – 30 minutes for larger). Sprinkle top with green parts of diced green onions and serve with lime wedges and tortilla chips.

Makes four generous meal-sized servings or serves 8 as an appetizer.

This original recipe (created by me) first appeared at ymc.ca.

Posted in appetizer, casserole, cheese, Chicken, dinner, easy Tex-Mex dish, Entertaining, gluten-free, make-ahead meal, meal I can make in 20 minutes, One dish meals, Tex-Mex, Vegetables, vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment