Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Bit of Comfort Food to Cure What Ails Me

Moving, it makes a girl tired and cranky. The cold rainy weather hasn’t helped any either. After what seems like weeks of packing, cleaning and toting boxes around, I really needed a break. My kitchen stuff had been unpacked and put away in some semblance of organization. The new place was starting to feel like home, so I felt that some home cooking was in order. Mind you it was the middle of the week and I wasn’t really up to anything too ambitious, but I was in dire need of comfort food. I had lunch at Madison's Grill last month and my thoughts went straight back to their Sylvan Star Grilled Cheese Sandwich. I’d been to the 104th Street Market on Saturday and just happened to have some Sylvan Star Spiced Gouda in the fridge. At Madison’s they use Gouda and Gruyere but I’d just have to suffer and use only the Gouda. As soon as I’d decided on the grilled cheese sandwich my next thought was of course tomato soup. Thankfully, I had all the necessary ingredients in my cupboard. The soup is a bit of a work in progress. I’ve been pulling bits from a bunch of recipes trying to work towards something that I’ll consider perfect. This version was adjusted a bit due to a limited pantry, but it worked out pretty well.

Creamy Tomato Soup

3 tablespoons butter
½ cup onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (5.5 oz) tomato paste
2 cups chicken broth
1 tsp thyme
1 bay leaf
½ tsp red pepper flakes
1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes
¼ cup fresh basil, finely chopped
pinch of sugar
salt and pepper
1 cup cream

1. Melt the butter in a large pot. Add the onion, carrot and garlic and cook for about 10 minutes
2. Add the tomato paste and 1 cup of stock and mix well
3. Add the thyme, bay leaf and red pepper flakes, cook for 2 minutes stirring often
4. Add the tomatoes and rest of stock (you may want to adjust the stock added depending on how thick you want your soup.)
5. Bring your soup to a boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes
6. Add sugar, basil and salt & pepper to taste
7. Puree the soup in a blender (you can freeze the soup at this point.) When ready to serve, add the cream and warm

Definitely a success. The sandwich was perfect served with some of The Jam Lady's Rhubarb Chutney (also picked up at the market on Saturday) and my tomato soup. My crankiness was alleviated by a belly full of a couple of updated childhood favourites and I spent the rest of the evening curled up on the couch, reading a book and listening to the rain come down. Beats Campbell’s soup and Kraft Singles any day.

Monday, May 3, 2010

An Afternoon at the Art Gallery of Alberta and Dinner at Zinc

My birthday came a week early this year. Dave's working nights all next week so we celebrated on Saturday with a trip to the new art gallery and dinner at Zinc. I'd been eagerly anticipating a visit to the gallery since they first announced it was being built. I'm happy to say it more than met my expectations. The architecture is stunning and we really enjoyed the exhibits. It's wonderful that Edmonton now has a gallery that I'll be proud to show off to friends from out of town. The Karsh exhibit was my favourite and the kid in me can't wait for the upcoming Art of the Warner Bros. exhibit that starts June 19th.

After touring the gallery we headed to Zinc for our 5:00 pm reservation. I was a bit hesitant to eat there after the mixed reviews that I've read. I decided to try it anyway. At least then I'd know for sure and could then form my own opinion.

Our dinner started with warm brioche served with herb butter.

The brioche was followed by an amuse bouche of blueberry panna cotta with balsamic drizzle and a chiffonade of fresh mint.

For some reason nothing on the appetizer section appealed to me that night, so we skipped it. Since it was my birthday dinner, I headed straight for the rack of lamb. Billed on the menu as: Herb panko crusted rack of lamb, couscous and anchovy tapenade, baked apple and pear chutney, eggplant ratatouille involtini and lamb jus. While it wasn't the best rack of lamb that I'd ever eaten, it was very good and cooked perfectly to my order. I have to add that I have pretty high standards where lamb is concerned. If it's on the menu, I order it. The couscous and chutney were OK, but didn't add anything to the dish. I really enjoyed the eggplant ratatouille involtini, which is just a fancy way of saying ratatouille rolled in thin strips of eggplant. The chunks of Parmesan melted on top were a nice touch.

Dave had the Trio of: Caribou, Amberlane Elk Saskatoon Berry Sausage and Carmen Creek Bison Short Rib with Braised Red Cabbage, Gnocchi and Spiced Dark Chocolate Sauce. He was nice enough to give me a little taste of everything. We agreed it was a great dish with intense flavour.

Instead of the regular sweet dessert we decided on the cheese plate, a selection of three cheeses served with crackers, a bit of fruit, pineapple compote and baked apple and pear chutney.

For $12 they offered wine pairings for each of the 3 cheeses served. The offerings for that night were: Le Riopelle de I'Isle, a triple cream cheese from Quebec, paired with Road 13 Pinot Noir; Jarlsberg from Norway, paired with Renwood Viognier; and Comte from eastern France, paired with Anvers Cabernet Sauvignon. It was a nice selection to what I thought was the end of the meal.

We'd mentioned that we were there for my birthday when we'd made the reservation, but it was still a pleasant surprise when our waitress brought out a plate of 4 kinds of ice cream for me, the birthday girl. I did share with Dave, although reluctantly. The selection was interesting. The pink stuff was a wine ice, I've forgotten exactly what kind. Below that in the photo is avocado ice cream. It didn't have much flavour, but it was incredibly rich and creamy. Next to that is the coconut ice cream, not much compared to the others. Lastly, the salted caramel, which was heavenly! After having it at Sensi in Las Vegas, it's become my all-time favourite ice cream.

I really enjoyed my dinner at Zinc. While the service was not as polished as some of the other fine dining establishments in town, everyone seemed to be trying very hard. They went through all the right motions and said the right stuff, but they still need a bit of practice to be really professional. Our waitress was exceptionally friendly. When I asked her to write down the names of the cheeses and wine pairings she brought out what I'm sure was her "cheat sheet" with all the information on the cheeses and their origins. I'm looking forward to going back for either brunch or lunch once the Warner Bros. exhibit opens.

2 Winston Churchill Square
Hours: Tues. & Wed. 11 am to 2:30 pm and 5 pm to 9 pm; Thurs, Fri, Sat: 11 am to 2:30 pm and 5 pm to 10 pm; Sunday Brunch 10 am to 2 pm

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Roasted Pear & Butternut Squash Soup with Crumbled Stilton

Leading up to our conference we had a test meal at the Shaw Conference Centre. My favourite thing on the menu that day was pear soup served with a blue cheese wonton. The soup was wonderfully sweet and was set off perfectly by the blue cheese in the wonton. Since then I've been searching for a recipe that would produce something similar. I found this recipe in Eating Well magazine and I like it better than the original soup I tried. The addition of the butternut squash and the blue cheese crumbles really pumped up the flavour.

Roasted Pear & Butternut Squash Soup with Crumbled Stilton

Serves 6


2 ripe pears, peeled, quartered and cored
2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 2" pieces
2 medium tomatoes, cored and quartered
1 large leek, pale green and white parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced and washed thoroughly
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
3 cups chicken broth
2/3 cup crumbled Stilton, or other blue veined cheese
1 tablespoon thinly sliced green onions or chives


1. Preheat oven to 400°F.

2. Combine pears, squash, tomatoes, leek, garlic, oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper in a large bowl; toss to coast. Spread evenly on a large rimmed baking sheet. Roast, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, 40 to 55 minutes. Let cool slightly.

3. Place vegetable mixture and stock in a pot large enough to accommodate them. Puree with an immersion blender until smooth. (You can also puree the mixture in a blender in two batches.) Stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt.

4. Cook the soup over medium-low heat, stirring, until hot, about 10 minutes. Divide among 6 bowls and garnish with cheese and green onions or chives.

Leftovers will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days or can be frozen for up to 1 month.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Prairie Goulash - Some Comfort Food

A couple of weeks ago, before the weather turned good and then bad and before my life got crazy preparing for our conference, I had a real craving for comfort food. I pulled out my big ol' binder of recipes that I've been collecting since junior high and found this one. I originally found it in an Alberta Pork Producers recipe book that I was given in my Food Science 10 class. I won't mention how long ago that was. But, good recipes stand the test of time and this one remains a family favourite.

Prairie Goulash

2 lb boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1" pieces
1/4 cup flour
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup finely chopped onions
2 crushed garlic cloves
2 tbsp paprika
2 cups beef broth
1 cup dry red wine
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp caraway seeds
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 bay leaf
salt & fresh ground pepper to taste
1 cup sour cream

Dredge pork in flour. In heavy saucepan, heat oil. Add pork gradually and brown well. Add onions and garlic and cook until onions are tender. Stir in paprika. Add remaining ingredients except sour cream. Cover and simmer until pork is tender, about 1 - 1 1/2 hours. Remove bay leaf. Add salt and pepper. Just before serving, stir in sour cream or serve seperately.

Makes 4 - 6 servings

I usually serve this on either egg noodles or fresh spatzle. It goes wonderfully with a side of red cabbage.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Lesson From My Mother - Biscuits 101

I make crappy biscuits. My mother, on the other hand, makes wonderful ones. Hers are always soft and flakey. They pull apart in wonderful layers, just waiting for butter to melt on top of them. Mine are like hockey pucks. I've decided that the only way to improve my biscuit making is a lesson from the master.

Before we started, she gave me some pointers. Always put the butter in the freezer before using and make sure your milk is as cold as possible. She also pointed out that I should make great pastry because my hands are always cold as ice. I guess some people have a hard time making good pastry because their hands are too warm and it melts the butter. Who knew my lack of circulation would be good for something!

I've been craving dill and cheddar since we had a test meal at the Shaw Conference Centre a couple of weeks ago. They served the most wonderful dill and cheddar scones and I thought I might give dill and cheddar biscuits a shot

The measurements are close guestimations of what she used, since she just eyeballed her measurements

Dill and Cheddar Biscuits

Makes 6 biscuits

2 cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp chopped fresh dill
3/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
3/4 cup grated frozen butter
3/4 cup cold milk

Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl. Then add the dill and cheddar cheese and mix thoroughly. Add the frozen butter to the dry ingredients and mix gently until the butter is covered in the flour mixture.

Add the milk stirring with a fork until it forms a ragged dough. Turn the mixture out on to a lightly floured surface and knead gently until it just comes together. The dough will still be quite floury. Pat the dough into a rectangular shap and to a thickness of about a 3/4 inch. Cut the dough into 6 square or use a biscuit cutter to make rounds. Bake on an ungreased baking sheet at 425 F for 10 - 12 minutes.

Pull out the butter and enjoy immediately!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Vegas, It's All About The Excess

Go big or go home. That's always the motto in Vegas, and we took it to heart the last day there. Well, actually it was go big and then go home. On our last day we had to be at the airport by 1:00 pm, so we decided a big breakfast was in order. I'd read some reviews about Hash House A Go Go at the Imperial Palace and after some of the comments, I knew that we wouldn't be leaving hungry.

This is definately extreme food. We could have easily shared one breakfast and still had plenty.

Andy's Sage Fried Chicken Benedict with Maple Reduction, two eggs, bacon mashed potatoes and a biscuit ($15.95).

The platter was a wide as Dave!

The Hash House Original - Smoked bacon, fresh tomato, fresh spinach, roasted red pepper cream topped with two basted eggs ($11.95)

The food was definately big, but so was the wait to get our order. Our waiter warned us that because everything was made fresh and they didn't use microwaves or heat lamps our food might not come out at the same time and would take little longer than average to come out.

After waiting an hour for our meals, we were happy that they at least showed up at the same time. Thankfully, our waiter had at least kept the coffee flowing. The meals were quite good, not outstanding, but tasty and hearty. After stuffing ourselves silly, we both agreed we'd probably come back if we had a lot of time to kill on another trip.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Happy Pi Day!

This past Friday we celebrated Pi Day at work. Pi Day is actually today, March 14th, third month, 14th day or 3.14 if you're not a math geek. To celebrate we ordered a bunch of pies from Bee Bell Bakery and decorated the office.

There were Pi posters....

Some pie songs

Even a Pi contest...

The Pi Duo Prize

And lots of pies...

I'd really like to thank Shelley, my manager, for suggesting we that we celebrate Pi Day, and Marion our decorator extraordinaire for making it all look so great.
Until next year.