Monday, March 30, 2009

sunday breads mixed with some Q & A

I didn't get much sleep this weekend and with the extra hours available (ones I should have been sleeping away), I utilized my time right and wiped up 3 loaves for the week. From left to right; no-knead bread with a mix of corn flour, another crack at the whole wheat raisin cinnamon bread, and basic whole wheat sandwich loaf. Some days I think if my better judgment didn't stop me, I would be able to make my way through a good portion of each loaf.

I also wanted to thank Sharon over at Only Here for the Food, who was kind enough to have me participate in her Culinary Q & A section. I know how much I enjoy the insights of other foodies, so hopefully it sheds a bit of light on me.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

leva cafe bar - edmonton, ab

leva cafe car
11053 86 Avenue

A busy day of errands had me all over the city and created a mid afternoon coffee craving. Coming back to the south side wasn't going to cause much of a direction change, so I decided to hit up Leva.

They have been proudly serving the University area since 2001. They promote themselves as offering an Italian style coffee experience with a holistic approach. Besides supplying your caffeine fix they offer quite a few daily food items, think - soups, salads, pizzas, sandwiches, gelato, and sweets, all of which utilize local and/or organic ingredients.

Being mid afternoon I had no real desire to test out the heavier food options, so instead it was an americano and a pumpkin tart. The coffee was good. I don't really know how else to review it, as bad coffee is just so obvious. The pumpkin tart was a solid choice, although not the most adventurous. I thought it might curb the the sweet tooth but I found this version wasn't sweet at all. The crust was light and flaky and the whip cream topping added some much needed sweetness.

With Leva out of the way from my regular stops, I don't get down there often. I'll be sure next time I am in the area to stop in and try a more indulgent piece of chocolatey goodness.

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

culina millcreek - edmonton, ab

culina millcreek
9914 89th avenue

Before I asked last week for birthday suggestions, I had mentally narrowed my birthday dinner search to Red Ox Inn, Wildflower Grill, and Culina. Having been away from Edmonton for a while and looking for somewhere out of the norm, I knew these three options would easily fit the bill. I mean with delicious reviews like this, this, this, and this how could any of them disappoint. What pushed me over the edge? Well, you and your suggestions.

As my days start relatively early I was glad to get a 5:30 reservation, as I’m usually chomping at the bit for supper at this point. The three of us showed up to a completely empty restaurant and were greeted by two welcoming ladies. As we had all taken a gander at the online menu, we were pretty much decided; the hardest decision being whether to start with the calamari or the scallops. The scallops won out and our order was quickly dispatched. Before you know it we had 5 absolutely gorgeous scallops in a ginger-butter sauce and bacon gremolata in front of us. Needless to say, we made quick work of these babies.

I ordered the slow braised lamb shank in spanish tomato sauce on a bed of green lentils, while my dinning companions had the brome lake duck breast on roasted local potatoes in a white balsamic and cherry reduction and moroccan vegetable tagine with grilled flatbread. The lamb shank was fantastically tender, pealing away from the bone with nary an effort. The perfectly cooked lentils and tomato sauce combined wonderfully with the lamb. My only request would have been a bit more sauce, as I ran out before the other two components were finished.

While not the best duck I've tasted, it was a little too cooked for me, the balsamic and cherry reduction was what we all agreed made this dish a success.

The real surprise was the moroccan vegetable tagine. It was the most delicious blend of eggplant, zucchini, carrots, cauliflower, and tomatoes in a perfectly spiced curry. I kept sampling this dish, and started questioning my choice after a few bites. The generous amount of grilled flatbread had a light dusting of spices and sesame seeds; a fantastic side to the dish.

We finished the meal with coffee and, thanks to foodie suz's excitement, sesame banana fritters with coconut gelato. The bananas showed up with a candle, in honor of my birthday, which I thought was a great touch. I am definitely on the band wagon for this dessert. The mix of coconut gelato, warm ripe bananas, and crisp coating was a perfect topper to the end of our meal.

I really, really enjoyed my birthday here. We were able to relax nicely for an hour and a half, received great attentive service from two lovely ladies, and dined on 5 successful dishes. I do think Culina is a little liberal with their casual dinning statement, as I see this as more of a destination restaurant than random drop by. I definitely recommend Culina MillCreek for your next special dinner; unless of course money is no object, in which case I suggest you keep going back until you have sampled all the dishes. At least that is what I would do!

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Friday, March 27, 2009

poppy seed bagels...kinda

With my recent pretzel baking extravaganza, I ended up hearing a similar comment from a few people - this would make a good bagel texture. So here they are. I make no claims that these are real bagels, more of a cheater bagel as they go together in no time, giving you a 'bagel' like experience.

Hot from the oven it is obvious that the dough isn't up to the task, as it ends up being much lighter than your regular bagel. The key is to let these bagels cool and soften; that is when the bagel-pretzel starts to develop a chewier texture. Eat them with jam, toasted with peanut butter or like I did; one with tuna salad, and one with melted fontina cheese! So many possibilities.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

flirt cupcakes - edmonton, ab

flirt cupcakes
10158 - 82 avenue

With the depressing weather we received last Sunday, it was no surprise I needed a little pick me up and since I've been reading about flirt cupcakes on fellow blogs lately (Little Red Kitchen/Loosen Your Belt and Eat Around Edmonton) I figured what a better time to stop in.

Heading out for an americano to pair with the upcoming cupcake, I figured it wouldn't hurt to return my friendly barista's generous coffee gestures and treat her with one of these cupcakes. I was hoping that even on a Sunday with their shorter operating hours, I wouldn't be limited in choice. This wasn't the case at all, and maybe the poor weather was playing a factor on this day, but there was every topping available in both the vanilla and chocolate bases. I should say there were no red velvet cupcakes baked this day, as they seems to be available only certain days.

After a quick look through the glass, the order was straight forward;

Clockwise top right - Wild on Whyte, Fantasy Island, Nuts About You

First impressions are good. The cupcakes were moist (oily even) and tender confirming that fresh daily dedication. I found the icing a little excessive for my liking, but who am I kidding, it's the toppings that make these a special treat. Sarah and I both agreed that while the Wild on Whyte was advertised as raspberry, it definitely had a strong strawberry flavor. Is this an occasional change? Or were we both somehow out to lunch on this.

Sarah unveiling the Wild on Whyte (notice the shine)

The Fantasy Island was easily my favorite with a great combination of lemon and coconut, it had possessed a perfect balance of tart and sweet.

Fantasy Island with it's thick icing

The Nuts About You icing was good but a little too sweet for me. I think it would be great for the group of people who took a peanut butter sandwich to school every day, as it would bring back the PB memories if that makes sense.

Nuts About You with its cute topping!

Being a baker I can't help but being just a little put off by the price and actual product. I've done up a fairly wide selection of icings in the past, including pb and lemon, and used more elaborate bases. A plain chocolate or vanilla cupcake isn't that difficult to make and for the price, $10 for the 3, I could see this being a random treat while wandering down Whyte on a nice summer day. Not to say I don't see the niche for this product, but I can easily get my fix on a regular basis while baking for friends.

The cupcake is definitely stepping out of the cakes shadow and competition in the city is growing. If you find yourself down on Whyte and your craving something to spice up the day I would suggest treating yourself. I have a feeling we will see a fair amount of cupcake hype in the near future so don't be surprised if you see these popping up at showers, birthdays, and weddings. I know that I'll be back to try the peppermint, it just looks so darn cute, but not before I whip some chocolate Guiness cupcakes with Baileys buttercream. My current personal favorite.

* Asking Sarah to send me her thoughts for the post she kindly returned the following:

My two cents: the cupcake was good, but not as good as the ones my Mom made, or even the ones you've made me. The icing was the highlight with a natural strawberry (not Raspberry as advertised) flavour shining through the buttercream. The cupcake itself was decent, but not the best that I've ever had. I'd agree with you that the wash on the top of the cupcake, while retaining moisture, was a little bit strange - cupcakes are not supposed to be crunchy. Worth $2.95? Probably not. But it is fun to have shops that cater to such a specific niche, it definitely appeals to the foodie/snob in me. I want to go back and try the mint cupcake, but wouldn't make a special trip.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

the week that was and is - march 25th 2009

First off, a bit of self promotion - it's my birthday today! Happy Birthday Chris. Now on with some weekly thoughts;

  • I wonder how many people caught the first 2 hours of CBC's new food documentary. As a big fan of actual, factual food knowledge I was really looking forward to it. I enjoy it so far and it's shaped differently than I expected. I'm looking forward to the last section, but hope we are done with Mr. Monorail!
  • Sugar is on the comeback. Interesting to see parts of the food industry promoting 'real' sugar in place of HFCS. "But, as is often the case with competing food claims, the battle is as much about marketing as it is about science."
  • Yet another reason to cut back on our Western obsession with red meat. "The largest study of its kind finds that older Americans who eat large amounts of red meat and processed meats face a greater risk of death from heart disease and cancer."
  • I tell you what, you pay for the ticket to Cleveland, and I'll treat you to as many 1 penny breakfast's as you like!
  • With all the money I'll save buying breakfast, we can afford to pick up a few items of clothes for this lady protesting Jamie Oliver.
  • Who knew the Obama family was going to become such green thumbs. "After a campaign by gardeners and sustainable-food activists, the First Family has decided to dig up part of the White House grounds for a vegetable garden."
  • Kevin from closet cooking recently made a post about various burrito style meals and their accompaniments. Enjoying latin/tex-mex inspired dishes would be an understatement in my life. I don't go a week without some sort dish, so his post was like heaven. I'm excited for cilantro lime rice!
  • A bread picture from the weekend. I swear this loaf was music to my ears; as it cooled down it crackled for what seemed like hours. Boy it was delicious.

And finally, today is also waffle day, created by the crazy Swedes. In my opinion the best part is the custom waffle irons needed to fulfill the Swedish waffle. At least 4 heart shapes in a circle pattern are needed to create a flower shape; so why not head to IKEA for some inexpensive eats.

Now I'm off to start my day and eat my heart out.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

pepper spiced steak salad

Take the following; spring salad mix, orange and red bell peppers, mushrooms, carrots, cucumber, green onion, red onion, tomato and a pan seared steak. Mix together with sea salt, pepper and a few tablespoons of California dressing. Enjoy. Oh so simple and oh so good.

If I'm not eating a protein free salad, 99% of the time it's going to be topped with roasted chicken or tuna. I can't remember the last time I ever topped a salad like this, and it made me realize how a perfectly cooked steak can make it so luxurious. Do you have a favorite protein for salads?

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Monday, March 23, 2009

the white bag flavored doritos

Have you seen this bag around? Doritos is running a contest - name the new flavor. It's not a bad deal for Doritos if you think about it. I'm sure they will own the rights to every suggestion, and they only have to pay $25,000 (plus 1% of the sales) to the successful submission.

I was out and about the other day and saw a promotion for them by the till at Shoppers Drug Mart. I figured with all the hype I would pick some up and see if I was struck with a creative inspiration. First things first - I'm not a chip guy. I don't really eat a lot of snacks in this category; I'm much more of a fruit and vegetable guy. I don't even remember the last time I ate a nacho chip so my first impression was - it tastes and looks like Doritos.

I mean it was cheesy, had a little bit of kick and shared the same red dusting of flavor. Sharing these chips with two other people, neither of them noted any real difference besides a possible extra kick of heat. Not being a chip expert and needing some naming inspiration, I looked at the other Doritos options and noticed besides cool ranch, collision and bbq, they are all a play on cheese - jalapeno and cheese, nacho cheese, spicy cheese etc. This didn't really help so I looked at the ingredients list and this left me even more confused; have you ever tried to decipher the package of processed goods. fructomolopoly blah blah's etc....too many chemicals.

Eventually it hit me. The chip has some spice and apparently a mix of 5 cheeses so I had it. Santa Fe Cheese - a cheesy base with that down south heat. Done and done I figure, now Mr. Doritos throw me the 25 large! I went to submit my option but found the contest closed. So much for my winnings. March 24th is when the top 5 suggestions are going to be unveiled. So keep your eyes open for the finalist's, as I'm sure we will get to vote on them. One final note; it's nice to see a company offering a Canadian competition as well, as it's usually only open to the US.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

borscht makes the day

If you are lucky enough to have great neighbors, you know it. From your checking mail and shoveling snow to comforting gatherings with delicious food. So it was no big deal for me recently to drive Mr. Neighbor downtown for a meeting he couldn't get to. As we pulled up to his destination, he starting trying to offer me money to cover the gas. I really didn't see any point in getting a few bucks for the trip, that's what neighbors are for right, but he recently mentioned it again; so I thought of a better idea. Borscht.

Seeing as the Mrs' has supplied me with some delicious Ukrainian treats in the past, I mentioned my never ending desire for borscht. So with a knock on the door, I was now the recipient of this delicious and hardy soup. Besides the mandatory beets, the bowl was full of carrots, peas, green beans and fava beans. All of the vegetables were cooked to perfection making lunch on this average day, beyond heavenly. My mother's version did not include all the above vegetables and the beets were shredded, so this one doesn't take her crown, but it's the best tasting version I'll still be able to get. Thank you oh great neighbor, for the food and the memories it brings of my mother - you know how to fill my tummy and my heart.

Do you enjoy borscht? Do you have meat in yours? Sour cream on top? Let me know.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

bul go gi house - edmonton, ab

bul go gi house
8813 92 street

Korean food is something of an anomaly to me. When talking with friends or family about possible dinning options, Korean doesn't seem to be something that anyone craves. Chinese - who doesn't like it, Japanese - of course, Vietnamese - Pho and Bun goodness!, but Korean....nope. I think I can count the number of times someone has suggested Korean food on one hand, so I was obviously excited when a couple of friends asked if I wanted to head over to Bul Go Gi House. The restaurant, located in a french dominated neighbor, has been serving fellow Edmonchuckers Korean food since 1973.

My normal Korean order is bibimbap, as I really enjoy the simplicity of this 'meal in a bowl' dish and it's perfect for solo dinning. Things have changed though as I've become so entranced with the crew over at Eat.Sleep..Dream...Food and their Korean adventures that I already knew what I was having - soondubu.

Soondubu is described on the menu as; soft tofu with shrimps, clams and vegetables in a hot & spicy soup. Asking the waitress how spicy the dish was she mentioned it wasn't 'that' hot, so I asked for the dish to be kicked up. The bowl arrived bubbling away at full steam, and the first thing I noticed was the massive amount of tofu which was soft and delicious.

The broth was tasty with a nice developed flavor profile, while the vegetables consisted of a sliced mushroom and the green onion garnish. After making my way through the tofu, I was slightly disappointed to find one lonely clam and three shrimp; so much for 'clams'. I'm glad I asked for extra heat as it was still more than manageable (think no forehead sweating) and who knows how tame it would have been without this request.

My dining companions decided to split an order of Japchae (fried, soft clear noodles with black mushrooms and vegtables) and Samsunshin (fried vegetables with beef, chicken, and shrimp). The Japchae was a solid dish but with vegetables scattered on one side, it was a little deceiving. The mushrooms easily made this dish in my mind; they were that good.

The Samsunshi was a good mix of fatty beef and chicken thigh meat, with a couple of shrimp thrown in. The vegetables were cooked perfectly and were quite plentiful. This is a perfect dish for the less adventurous crowd or for rounding out the order if you need another plate.

The banchan sides were bean sprouts and a pretty blah kimchi. Come to think of it, I've yet to receive any other sides here in Edmonton.

The restaurant, with its dated decor, looks as if they haven't changed much in 30 years. However, I think this is the sort of place that has built a name for delivering quality korean food and doesn't need a modern look to entice customers. Arriving for a 6 o'clock supper, there was only one table occupied, but within a half hour the restaurant was completely full. I suggest if you have the time, or that rare once in a blue moon craving for Korean, convince some people to head down and enjoy the tasty treats.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

laurels whole wheat raisin loaf

One of the joys with Laurels bread book is her section on possible substitutions or changes after the standard recipe. Looking to change things up, and having prepped my standard sandwich dough, I was excited to see the possibility of adding raisins and cinnamon right before the final proof - easy raisin bread!

Now this isn't your overly sweet bread, as she specifically recommends not adding any sugar or butter as this will inevitably affect the rising and final product, but it makes for great healthy toast. Or even better french toast! Delicious.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

the week that was and is - march 18th 2009

I hope everyone has recovered, if that's how you roll, from St. Patty's day;

  • As reported by my fellow local bloggers, Liane Faulder, one of Edmonton's food writers, has started a blog. Great addition, as I'm usually left wanting more every Wednesday.
  • We have another late night food option on Whyte with Origin India now its fare via a take-out window right on the street. While I wouldn't consider it a healthy option, it will be a nice change for those who normally only get pizza or a donair. I'm curious to see how the demand is.
  • If you are a "foodie", it might be worth trying to convince your friends to head to Vegas for spring break instead of the typical coastal beach fronts. Looks like the food, even at the buffets, is really improving. I'll have to make it down there one day.
  • Would you eat pizza made by vending machine? Check out what those crazy Italians are making. Not only pizza, but whole restaurants made up entirely by vending machines. So much for complaining about the poor customer service :)
  • Anthony Bourdain was venturing around Vietnam this past week. I've never been, but for some reason it has always occupied a soft spot in my heart which made me enjoy this episode even more.
  • Speaking of Mr. Bourdain, he was recently interviewed about food based television shows. I think it's hard to be critical when you are celebrity chef because the knife can swing your way on any given day, but his responses are good. Check out his disappointment with this brutal Kwanzaa Cake.
  • Did anyone see the new Food Network Canada show, Ultimate Recipe Showdown. It's hosted by Guy Fieri and Mark Summers, it sounds like Mark is no longer co-hosting, and has 9 home chefs battling for the prize. I'm not sold yet, as I don't like shows that create forced drama by adding 5-10 seconds of 'anticipation'.
  • John Mayer recently twittered on his love for a certain flavor of Campbell's soup only to have his agent asked by the media if he is being sponsored. He isn't, but it shows how fast the media is jumping on to this twitter mayhem.
  • So not having any time to prep some St. Patty's Day goodies, I brought a tray of Turkish Delights in - pistachios are green right :) Oddly I was surprised in some way to find out that nobody had ever had one before. So the question is, have you?

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Monday, March 16, 2009

a nearby birthday

To all food fans - If you wanted something tasty/exciting for your birthday what would you get, or where would you go? I can't think of any cuisine or dish that I wouldn't be interested in, and with a week to go before my day I thought I would see what the word is.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

haggis-y goodness

I mentioned a while back that I visited Old County Meats and Deli in search of haggis. The trip was a big success. Not only did I find haggis, but loads sausage options, savory meat pies, and my first encounter with scotch eggs. While I did think about cooking up the haggis that day, it's already frozen state combined with my first scotch egg indulgence convinced me to tuck this away for another day.

Other than a few raised eyebrows, not much was said when I placed the haggis in the freezer. This should have been a sign as now a month after picking the haggis up, nobody seems interested in having a go at it. So it's all up to me.

I remember Todd saying, "put it in the oven at 350 until it's warm." So after an overnight thaw, I wrapped the haggis in tinfoil before putting it in the oven. The tinfoil was there for protection, as Todd also mentioned the intestine can blow out making making a mess of your oven.

30 minutes in and the house was starting to smell like...well like meat really. This had a Pavlov's dog affect on me so I prepped a plate some with English style pickled onions and pulled the haggis. I had no real temperature point to go to, so I had to open the package up and give a quick taste. Oh by open up the package, I mean go in through the hole that blew out the bottom. Unfortunately it wasn't warm yet, so it went back in for another 30 minutes before it was ready and I was left to battle my hunger by eating the onions. I suppose I could have prepared the traditional turnips and mash potato sides but that was too much work for a solo lunch.

The ingredients are pretty straight forward: beef, liver, heart, steel cut oats, onions, salt and spice. Right away I can understand the hesitation of eating offal, I mean you are eating hearts, livers, lungs etc..., but I promise this version of haggis would be a delicious way to start your journey into the off cuts. The texture is soft and very moist, think of a wetter meatloaf, with the steel cut oats being hard enough still to give a nice nutty structure. The spices do fill their role appropriately, but I promise you they aren't going to cover up the distinct taste differences these cuts of meat have. I'm quite impressed with the dish and it made for a hardy lunch. Hopefully I can convince the house it is a tasty meal, as I'll definitely be picking some more up.

I couldn't think of any sexy way to show haggis, so the pictures aren't that flattering!

* If anyone has any suggestions for some crazy or strange food they want me to try, just post a comment and I'll have a go.

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Saturday, March 14, 2009


Maybe it was all those Oilers games, or the NASCAR races I went to as a child, but I've always had a soft spot for those giant, chewy, salty pretzels you find at sporting events. Get them fresh with a bit of mustard and you are in heaven. This recipe is classic in my books and comes together in a jiffy as you can opt to let the dough rise for an hour or start stretching the dough right away if you can't wait. Some times I'll even make these after a night out with friends - I mean come on, fresh pretzels after a few pints. Feel free to top it with whatever you like - roasted garlic, onion, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, chunky salts etc.


1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon brown sugar
2-3 cups all-purpose unbleached or bread flour
1 cup warm milk (approximately 110 degrees - Microwave for a minute)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees right away if you don't let the dough rise, or after the dough doubles.

Mix everything together until if forms a nice ball. Knead, continuing to add flour as needed until you get a nice soft, slightly tacky dough. Easier in a machine, but by hand it could take 5-10 minutes.

Either cover and let rise until double (about an hour), or cut into 6 equal sections and form into round balls. Let the balls rest for 15 minutes under a damp towel, or saran wrap with cooking spray.

Start rolling the balls of dough to about 5-6 inches in length. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.

Continue rolling each length of dough rope until they reach about 15 inches.

Form pretzel by looping both ends away from you, and then bringing them back with a crossover.

Either mist them with water, or give them a quick egg wash before placing in oven. You could boil them in a pot of water with bakings soda, but because they disappear so fast I don't see the point of the extra work.

Bake them for 13-15 minutes. Enjoy, and don't forget the mustard!

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Friday, March 13, 2009

the lingnan meets the world

After reading Sharon's post this morning about Food Network Canada's - Family Restaurant, I thought I would add my two cents without filling up her comment box with a long winded response.

Last November I was in Nicaragua and it's where I first encountered the positive side of Family Restaurant. I was hanging out in my hostel and chatting up a Brit. After finding out I was from Edmonton, he quickly responded - "oh, you have a big greek population there don't you?" Not really thinking we do, (2001 census - .31% of Albertans; 9,110) I asked why he would think that. He then went into an elaborate story about how much he enjoyed that Family Restaurant show with the Greek family. His group of friends and family back home, were actually sad that the show was no longer on as they had 'fallen' for the family. Go figure; a totally different part of the world and the item that brings us together is a little show from Edmonton. It made me proud.

So I guess I had high hopes for this series. Could it make the same sort of impact? Would the family be as entertaining? Would we get insights into one of Edmonton's long standing institutions? Having "authentic" food in your restaurant slogan is enough to get me excited, as I'd never been to the restaurant and find authentic food more of a catch phrase than a reality in Edmonton. So while I hoped to get to know the family better, I secretly hoped to uncover some food knowledge.

Looking back at the now complete season, the show was not great. It reminded me of a car crash; I would cringe at times and want to change channels, yet I stuck with it. Hoping for more. Agreeing with Sharon's well thought write up, I just need to add;

  • Amy is so over the top I found it hard to get the motherly vibe. Too much yelling and not enough family emotion. Where is the love?
  • Kinman was probably at his best during the last episode and we can thank the beer for that. It was nice to see him relaxed, smiling, laughing, and having a great time. He even mentioned at one point, "I'm happy". I wonder if the cameras and crew affected him the most.
  • Miles was definitely the driving force, and played the roll well. I can't help but think Amy and Miles are cut from a similar rug. Both use over the top body movements and create a lot of the drama. What happened with Pan-Pan?
  • It was a shame we didn't get more involved with Mandy and her relationship with Ajit.
  • Marty was hilarious, in the fact that he didn't do much. Why are we showing video of him eating at the car dealership.
Agree or not, I think the show needed a larger story line, less drama and more discovery of Edmonton and it's love for Chinese cuisine. I don't think we will see a second season this time around, but that won't stop me from eventually stopping in to see Amy first hand.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

ichiban japanese restaurant cuisine - edmonton, ab

ichiban japanese restaurant cuisine
8750 149 St

It was one of those days where you are already talking about what to eat later in the day, and you haven't even finished breakfast. Thinking of something casual and relatively fast, we ended up deciding to have sushi for lunch. This meant I was going to be venturing out again into the sushi unknown as my new regular go-to place, sushi wasabi, isn't open at lunch and I would be running errands on a different side of the city. Let the sushi adventure begin.

As I don't dine out very often on the west side, and never for sushi, I was a unprepared for what options were available. So before heading out I checked a chowhound thread and saw a few mentions of ichiban japanese restaurant. With this new information I looked no further, and three of us met up at 11:30 for a little lunch.

The restaurant is located in a strip mall and occupies a tidy little space. Walking in, the place was empty and we had a choice of booths. I'm not surprised considering the time, but it filled up relatively quickly with the lunch crowd giving us that 'good, it seems popular' feeling. My standard go-to 'test' dish has become a chirashi bowl, what better way to see preparation, and with this on the menu the choice was an easy one to make. My fellow diners ordered a super spider roll, sunset roll, maki maki roll, and white tiger roll.

There was still nobody else in the restaurant when we placed our order, so it was a bit of a surprise when another table started receiving their food before we did - maybe because they ordered bento boxes, or maybe this was a sign. When our order arrived I was instantly bummed out. They say we eat with our eyes first, and this is unfortunate because the chirashi dish looked very weak. After digging in, it didn't get better; not one part of the dish did anything to shine. The rice was tasteless and very clumpy, the fish was poorly cut with torn edges and it had a distinct fish smell. Besides two large chunks of imitation crab and very dismal sashimi portions that was their offering. There was no other garnish, vegetable or greenery of any kind in the bowl. I'll eat my way through most things, but I actually gave up with this dish.

Hoping the rolls couldn't be any worse, I sampled a bit and didn't see much improvement. The spider roll was the star of the group, too bad there was only 4 pieces, because the other three rolls were below average. The rice was packed so tight that it ended up being gummy and you really had to chew to get the rice to separate.

Unfortunately something happened to my memory card, as it's now giving me a corrupt data message, so the only photo I have is the above...maybe it's better that way, I won't have to relive the meal again. I really don't know what to say about this experience. It was just plain bad. I feel more let down by this 'established' sushi place then I ever have at a Tokyo Express. The restaurant was doing steady take out business, and like I mentioned it filled up quickly, so they must be doing something right. On this day however, none of what we got was right.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

the week that was and is - march 11th 2009

Hope everyone is warm. Sure was a little cool this week.

  • So you lose the Oscar Mr. is a 10lb chocolate mold of your bulging chest.
  • Having lost a good portion of weight in my life, I can't fully agree with the idea of making a healthier donut. I understand why people would want a healthier donut, but aren't treats and other goodies just that. Something you have in either small amounts or on special occasions. Anyone else?
  • I didnt' know about the 100 mile cookie contest until I saw it in the Edmonton Journal last week. Sounds great, and while I was too late to enter, it's something I'm going to attempt for myself in the coming months.
  • An article on Chow - Do Eggs Need to Be Refrigerated? - got me thinking. While everyone I know here puts their eggs in the fridge, this wasn't the case where I lived in Guatemala. Even in plus 35, all the eggs were outside on the table and I never got sick once.
  • The four-part food series "The Great Food Revolution: A Citizen's Guide to Eating in the 21st Century." begins on CBC starting next Thursday (March 19th). As I'm always interested in learning about food, I was surprised to read "Last year alone, 18,000 products were developed for North American consumers. However, nine out of the 10 didn't make it to store shelves."
  • Finding this link, is Tau Bay Open?, through Only Here for the Food has made my day. With Tau Bay being my favorite Pho in the city, I've been disappointed countless times after making the trip and finding they are closed.
  • Anthony Bourdain's experience in Sri Lanka last week was very interesting. It was very down to earth episode and seeing Tony suffer what seemed to be either travel/food related problems gave me an even bigger appreciation for his commitment. How can you digest some uncommon foods and interact effectively when all you want to do is put your face in a toilet.
  • Oh and in case someone has a some money lying around they don't need. Please lend it to me so I can purchase a dream and a prayer. John Mayer brings you "The Black One"

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

blue plate diner - edmonton, ab

blue plate diner
10145 104 street

*A quick thought on the food from my previous visit/foodie get together.

I didn't really know what to expect as I made the trek downtown on this particularly cold evening. Combine a first time visit to the restaurant with a side of unknown dinning companions and you understand. Food however, being a great equalizer, has a habit of bringing things together.

After some brief chatter, it seemed most people had taken a peek at the online menu before heading over. As I'm typically the only person in my social group who would ever contemplate doing this, it brought a smile to my face knowing I was dinning with actual food fans. While the long table made for uneven converstaion between everyone, I felt lucky to have Marianne, from loosen your belt and eat around edmonton, sitting to my left. As a regular patron of the diner, I figured she could steer me in a good direction, so I asked for her thoughts. Of the 3 dishes she mentioned, she claimed the vegetarian burger was superb. A delicious veggie burger? I've had my fair share, and most aren't anything to write home about. So, when someone claims that a vegetarian burger is that good; you have to try it. The burger was described as being made in-House with Beets, Turnips, Zucchini, Carrots, Sunflower Seeds and Rice. Topped with Cheddar Cheese on a Whole Wheat Bun with Lettuce, Tomato, Red Onion, Pickle and Herbed Mayo.

I opted out of the cheese, wanting to give the patty a chance to shine, and finished the plate with a side of fries and grilled vegetables. To say the burger was good would be an injustice to the culinary team at the blue plate. This may be the best veggie burger I have ever had. The patty was thick, moist, and didn't crumble apart like so many I've had. The bun was fresh, soft and combined with crisp lettuce, 2 slices of tomato, pickle, red onion and a dollop of mayo made a great base for the patty. The skin on fries, my favorite kind, were plentiful but I found them limp. The side of vegetables was grilled nicely, which is a shame because the serving size was too small for my liking. I'm beginning to wonder if my love of vegetables is so unusual. I see plenty of restaurants happily serving giant mounds of rice and/or fries, yet the average vegetable side is made of a few small pieces. Somedays I want a mound of vegetables without ordering a salad!

Overall the experience was great and the restaurant was an awesome venue for this gathering. My fellow diners seemed to enjoy their meals, with quite a few taking home the left overs, and with so many of us I was able to see a wide variety of dishes. The shrimp stir fry and enchiladas are definitely on my list...that is if I can stop myself from ordering the vegetarian burger again.

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Monday, March 9, 2009

banana peanut butter oatmeal muffins

As a regular reader of Baking Bites, I was totally taken by the recent muffin post. I make a pretty mean peanut butter banana bread, so seeing a muffin version with the addition of oatmeal, I was sold. Sometimes these are things you bookmark and wait around for, but not me and not on this occasion. Simply put they are great. Moist like banana bread should be with a hint of peanut butter tickling the back of your throat. On days like these, I know why Elvis gained a few pounds!

banana peanut butter oatmeal muffins
Adapted from Baking Bites

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup quick-cooking oatmeal
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar (I used Splenda Brown Sugar Mix)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup mashed banana (I used 3 small)
  • 6 tbsp peanut butter
  • 1 cup buttermilk (I used skim)

Preheat oven to 375F. Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin tin.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, oatmeal, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In a medium bowl, whisk together vegetable oil, brown sugar, eggs, mashed banana, peanut butter and buttermilk until very smooth, making sure all egg has been well-incorporated. Pour into flour mixture and stir until no streaks of flour remain.
Divide batter evenly into prepared muffin tin, filling each just about up to the top.
Bake for 16-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the top springs back when lightly pressed.
Remove muffins from tin and cool on a wire rack.

While the recipe says it makes 12 regular muffins, there was enough batter left over to fill 3 large cups.

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

laurels whole wheat sandwich loaf

I'm the guy that brings a lunch everyday to work, without fail. My parents started packing a lunch for me in junior high so I can safely say it goes back at least that far. High school, University..still packing my own lunch, so why stop. A few things have changed over the years; the biggest, besides staying away from processed deli meats, is that I don't use store bought bread. Why buy delicious whole grain breads when I can bake a few loaves on the weekends, slice, and freeze for easy sandwich making.

Before I discovered Peter Reinhart I didn't really have good success with 100% whole wheat breads. It was edible, but not as airy or open as say a Cobs loaf for example. With this new found bread information, it was like a window into the bread world opened up in my oven and SNAP! This is what was missing. After this I branched out in the bread world and started purchasing even more bread books.. My sandwich bread recipe comes from one of these purchases - The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book.

A great recipe to start your way into whole wheat bread baking, and a delicious sandwich loaf.

Chris's Sandwich Bread
adapted from Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book.

  • 2 tsp (7 grams) active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water (110F)
  • 6 cups (900 grams) whole wheat bread flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp (14 grams) salt
  • 2 1/4 cups lukewarm water
  • 2 tbs honey
  • 2 tbs vegetable oil
Dissolve yeast in warm water.
Whisk flour and salt in later bowl, make well in center
Dissolve honey in the 2 1/4 cups of water, and stir in oil
Pour the liquids, along with yeast mixture into dry ingredients
Stir everything to combine nicely.
If using a machine, mix on low for about 10 minutes.
- If using your hands, knead dough for about 20 minutes (feel free to take breaks)
The dough should start becoming quite supple and elastic.
Let the dough rise in a clean bowl until double - 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Punch down the dough to degas, and reform into a ball for second rising
After dough as double again (around 45 minutes), remove from bowl and degas again.
Cut dough into 2 equal portions and form nice round balls.
Let the dough rest, covered, for 10 to 20 minutes, so the gluten can relax
Shape the loaves, and place in greased 8"X4" loaf pans, for final rising (30 - 45 minutes).
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Dough should be cresting the loaf pans.
Place in hot oven for 10 minutes, before turning the heat down to 325 degrees.
Bake another 45-50 minutes. Loaves should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom or register around 202 degrees with an instant read thermometer.

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Saturday, March 7, 2009

the watchmen

Not knowing much about the Watchmen, but buying into the hype, I fulfilled my duty yesterday and braved opening day to see the movie. I had heard about the graphic novels years ago, but like Sin City, it never really became my cup of tea. Either that or I was just too lazy to buy the copies. Without saying much; the movie is long (2 hours 41 mintues), which makes sense as the story is complicated and quite developed. You can sense, and feel, the anti-government 80's cold war vibe quite strongly. The characters are played wonderfully and can easily bring about life's bigger questions; the existence of gods, quality of friends, good vs. evil, and if some sacrifice is worth a greater shot at peace.

Go see the movie is my suggestion, just go easy on the pre movie drinking, and be ready for the graphic part, of graphic novels. Here is my inspired hero, care of a link I found through make-it-known.

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Friday, March 6, 2009

sushi wasabi - edmonton, ab

sushi wasabi (take 2)
5714 111 Street

It doesn't take much for me to skip out and have some sushi for supper, so with a recent request by my father to do just that, I knew instantly where I would be taking him. And yes I realize I already discussed sushi wasabi, but it is quickly becoming my go-to sushi place and I didn't feel like branching out on this evening.

Having a late lunch (the exact opposite of my last visit) I knew I wouldn't be digging deep into the menu. Opening the menu I headed straight for the sashimi while my father searched for his love - maki rolls. Along with an order of green tea ($3), I picked a 12 piece sashimi plate ($24.50) and a side order of rice ($1.50). It was exactly what my body craved - a good supply of fish, with a bit of rice.

My father decided on a 1/2 order of futo-maki ($6.50) and a sankai-maki ($12.80). Now, on my last visit, I mentioned trying a futo-maki style roll, which I realized this time is actually labeled 'California Special' ($19.50). On this visit my father ordered what is actually labeled as 'futo-maki' on the menu. To the uninitiated, a futo roll is quite a big larger than your average roll, but they all pale in comparison to the massive California Special. Not feeling like maki on this evening, I passed on my father's offer to dig in, but he claimed both rolls were good.

I couldn't help but be visually intrigued by the senaki roll (described as an inside-out maki with salmon, tuna, and various vegetables, fish roe on the outside) and will definitely order this next time I visit.

With my father being an early eater, we were there a 1/2 hour after opening and the restaurant was basically empty; a first. As well, it was nice to see the owner/sushi chef back to his regular happy demeanor - if I hadn't eaten late and with the restaurant near empty, I have a feeling I could have successfully entertained my first omakase....but then again, I'll never know. Until my next visit.

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

whole wheat and corn flour bread

I know I know, another loaf of bread you say. Bread and I have such a love/hate relationship which means I almost always have bread on the go and there was some talk at the recent Edmonton Foodie Meet about baking bread and how it can seem intimidating so I figured what the heck. I still say that if you need some convincing or positive results, go low and slow as they would say in the BBQ world. No-Knead Bread!

Feeling the need for a slightly different variation again, here is a new version for me with corn flour and a poppy seed top. The loaf was 3/4 gone within 2 hours, and it looks like I'll be back at it again.

2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup corn flour
1 1/2 cups water
3/4 tablespoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast

Mix everything together. Let stand overnight (12-18hours). Fold dough a few times and place on parchement or floured cloth to rise for 2 hours. During last half hour preheat oven to 450 degrees with dutch oven/pot in. Bake 30 minutes with lid, then 20 without. Let cool. Eat

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

the week that was and is - march 4th 2009

Another week and here we are in March! Spring is only a few weeks away so don't forget about Day Light Savings.

  • More recalls but still plenty of food left to eat - "nearly 2,200 items made by more than 250 companies have been pulled in the outbreak, which has sickened 666 nationwide, including 13 in Oregon, and been linked to nine deaths". Another day and more food troubles. I know I'm not the only person who likes knowing where their food comes from, but how much bigger are these recalls going to get?
  • Health Magazine did a study of America's Top 10 Heathiest Fast Food Restaurants. They "...scored the chains on such factors as the use of healthy fats and preparations, healthy sodium counts in entrĂ©es, availability of nutritional information, and the use of organic produce to determine the 10 highest-ranking restaurants." No real luck for use up north other than McDonald's at 8 and Taco Del Mar at 10.
  • Looks like gourmet cooking magazines are finally reflecting the budget/monetary problems becoming prevalent and offering options and ideas that don't include "...haute pub food, exotic fruits like yuzu, and restaurants that dehydrated, foamed and froze everything from meat to dessert."
  • I never realized that amount of money (nearly $500,000) that could be used " joint funding on marketing Atlantic Canadian lobster."
  • Sex > Food? A very interesting idea about how far we have come with regards to "...mindful eating and mindless sex."
  • Anthony Bourdain hit up some local Manhattan establishments last week. I enjoy these collage type shows quite a lot as it allows him to entertain different dishes without extensive travel and really showcase a city. Plus I think we all have a soft spot for long term, never changing, classic shops.
  • Sharon (Only Here for the Food) blogged about a 25 Best Things to Eat in Edmonton list that made its way into the new edition of Avenue. These are great articles and can give you an incentive to try a new spot...good to note they say it's just the tip of the iceberg, as I think a few things are missing.
  • 2 Hours of 24. Oh Me Oh My. Jack continues to show dedication to his job. I wish at times people "enjoyed" their job as much as he does.
Upcoming Food days include;
March 4th - Poundcake Day
March 6th - Frozen Food Day (Actually all of March is Frozen Food Month)
March 9th - Carling Day (time to get your drink on and just claim you are from Scotland)

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

puerco pibil - a slow roasted pork

Can there really be a dish worth killing the chef over. Well, if you are like me - a fan of Johnny Depp that is - you may have watched Once Upon a Time in Mexico. In the movie, Johnny's character Agent Sands kills a cook for making a version of puerco "too good". Now if anything can entice me to try a new dish, not that Mexican food can't do that by itself, it's a man killing another to keep the balance of the world.

When a Mexican dish is bouncing around in my head, I would normally try and sort things out by heading straight to my collection of Rick Bayless and Diana Kennedy cookbooks. Not this time though. I figured since Roberto Rodriguiez (the man behind the movie) is a proud home cook I would look for the movie recipe. What I found was even better, because the DVD offers you, me and anyone else who wants to buy it; a private Roberto Rodriguez cooking lesson.

With everything in my pantry, but the pork butt and lemons, it was a quick stop at the store, a few weeks back, before I was ready to rock. The dish ended up being a great mix of succulent pork, ready to fall apart just looking at it and a habanero heat that builds with every bite. A perfect combination for my taste. Others who are less 'heat' savvy were put off by the burn and even mouthfuls of rice couldn't soothe. So know your limits, and those of your fellow diners when dishing this plate. Oh yeah, remember to keeping an eye looking back at all times. There is no telling who might be eating...

Puerco Pibil - Roberto Rodriguez edition

5 tbl whole annato seeds
2 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 tbl peppercorns
8 whole allspice seeds
1/2 tsp whole cloves
Put spices in a coffee grinder, not the one you would normally use, and grind to fine.

2 habanero chiles, stems and seeds removed, chopped
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 tbl salt
8 cloves garlic
5 Lemons - juiced
Splash of tequila
Put the above, and the spice mix, into a blender and puree.

Cut a 5 pound bone-in pork butt into 2-inch chunks.
Combine all ingredients in a zip-top bag and mix well.
Line a 9x13 pan with banana leaves (or foil) and add the pork mixture
Fold over the leaves to cover, then cover tightly with foil.
Bake 4 hours at 325 until fork tender.
Serve over rice to get full use of the sauce.

I've also shredded it over homemade tortillas, and even mixed some into salad.

Tequila by the way is the secret ingredient that takes this dish over the top, and the reason why Agent Sands did what he did. So while it is optional, throw in a glug of the good stuff. The picture doesn't do it justice, so if I haven't sold you...just do it!

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