Thursday, April 30, 2009

Laura Calder's "Apple Turnovers"

Laura Calder is one of those Food Network hosts I had to warm up to... she was a little annoying at first for some unexplainable reason, but once I started watching French Food At Home a bit, I really enjoyed it (although I am not enjoying the new season with the wonky camera shots).

A couple months back Laura did a show about puff pastry that you buy and thaw from the store. She did four recipes on the basis of "almost everything is better with a layer of pastry around it." There were two that caught my eye - the apple turnovers (or Chaussons aux Pommes) and the salmon and asparagus wrapped in puff pastry (or Salmon En Croute). I'm still working on creating the latter, but last week I did manage to make some apple turnovers.

I'm sure Laura Calder got her puff pastry from some nice bakery, but all I could find was some Tenderflake stuff at Save-On, so that is what I used (I have a few recipes for the homemade stuff that I'm eager to try, but the time needed to create it with all the chilling and rolling is daunting).

They turned out well - nice and crispy on the outside with the chunks of apple still holding their shape on the inside. The apple filling had a nice tart-sweet balance (I used Fuji apples), although both Zed and I thought some cinammon, and maybe a bit of vanilla, would really add to their flavor.

I really like recipes like this though - they are nice and simple but still allow you to experiment with whatever you have on hand... I'm looking forward to peaches and raspberries this summer, and maybe a creamy cheese layer under the fruit filling.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Folk Fest = summer time = Sugarbowl

I've mentioned before that Sugarbowl becomes Site Crew's hangout after long (but fun!) days on site. Today though, Folk Fest held its annual AGM, which is the signal that the quest to build the thing has officially begun for many of the volunteers and full time and summer staff. After this up beat preview what will take over our summer, we decided a visit to Sugarbowl was important on this very snowy Sunday.

None of us indulged in the lengthy beer list this afternoon, but we were all in for some food. The menu has changed in the last few months - I heard awhile ago that Sugarbowl had a new chef, and while he's left some of the classics on the menu (ie. the goat cheese stuffed tomato, three bean hummus, three cheese panini, etc.) some things have definitely been switched up a bit. All in all though, there seems to have been definite improvement in the quality of the food.

Our group had a fairly wide variety of the menu: lamb burgers with feta cheese, three cheese panini, three bean hummus, Vietnamese pork, chicken curry with rice, a strawberry-nutella panini and a bowl of the day's soup: curried red-pepper and potato. Every thing went over really well: the lamb burgers were the most raved about, perfectly moist and slightly salty from the feta. Sugarbowl also uses some great balsamic that they drizzle on the cheese panini (and the goat cheese tomato) that definitely makes the dish.

Lamb Burger with potatoes and house ketchup

Three cheese panini

Three bean hummus

Strawberry-Nutella panini

I've come down with a bit of a cold thanks to a recent visit from my parents living in Vancouver (I think they must have brought a new strain), and something spicy seemed to be in order so I went for the Chicken and vegetable curry with rice. It didn't look the most appetizing on arrival, but even I could smell the warm curry. It ended up being perfectly spicy and satisfying, served with some warm slices of bread to soak up the excess sauce.

Chicken and vegetable curry

Zed went for the Vietnamese pork stir-fry served with rice. I'm pretty sure he's ordered this a few times before and although I haven't tried it, he's assured me several times that it is a fantastic new-ish addition to the Sugarbowl menu.

Vietnamese Pork stir-fry

I'm looking forward to our Sugarbowl stops this summer, especially since the quality of the food has seen improvement (although their beer list is enough to keep anyone coming back). However I was glad for the stop over this afternoon: the bright windows brought in lots of light making the brick walled space the perfect, warm preview for the coming summer, and a perfect place to watch what will hopefully be our last snowfall.

10922 88 Avenue
Sun - Th: 8am - midnight; Fri-Sat: 8am - 1am

Small signs of summer... despite the snow

Whatever the weather, I've got it in my mind that it is officially summer... I finished exams this past Wednesday, I start my "summer" job at Folk Fest in a couple weeks and Fat Franks on Whyte (and every other location) is officially open.

On Friday evening Zed and I stopped for the summer's first Fat Franks. Admittedly it was a little cold, but it really didn't matter. I went for my usual: a Veggie Dog on whole wheat with Dijon and regular mustard, onion and lots of pickles. Zed bounces between Veggie, Honey Ham and Italian, and this time it was Honey Ham with fried onions, mustard, banana peppers and pickles.

Our Fat Franks in the sunshine

Although we are inevitably sick of Fat Franks by the end of the summer (they become a regular, wholesome part of our diet during Festival season), they are the perfect reminder of warm days to come.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Study Breaks

When it comes to studying for exams I am the worst sort of student - I think about how I have an exam one or two weeks before the actual date, but then my love of procrastination takes over and I find myself cramming until 6AM on the eve of the thing.

Whether you are cramming or not, study breaks are essential. For obvious reasons it is recommended that you eat uber healthy when your studying - carrot sticks, grapes, granola, etc. - but since I was already cramming anyhow I decided to eat this...

"This" is a piece of German Chocolate Cake from Upper Crust. Zed and I walked to the cafe to pick up a piece to accompany my late night studying for a microeconomics exam this past Tuesday. I would have loved to sit and share it there, but since time was scarce they nicely wrapped it up on a paper plate for us.

The cake itself was light and moist and the whole slice was covered in a rich but not-too-sweet chocolate buttercream icing. But my favourite thing about this cake is the coconut buttercream stuff in the middle of the layers - it tastes like caramel and coconut at the same time - amazing!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Kijiji steal and Chicken Tagine

I can't remember who got me hooked on Kijiji but over the past couple years I've been looking there first if there is something I want or need. This time, just after our trip to Le Gnome, I typed in "Le Creuset."

The dutch oven I was hoping for didn't pop up, but this tagine did. Since she wasn't using it and an unfortunate fall had taken a chunk out of the base (although not enough of a chunk to affect cooking or lid placement), the owner was selling it for $20.

So this past Sunday morning Zed and I picked it up and toted it home. Last night was our first tagine meal, and we chose Chicken Tagine.

We couldn't make it to the Famers' Market this past Saturday, so instead ventured to Whole Earth Foods on 99 St to find some chicken (this also allowed us to stop at Whole Earth Bakery/Cafe for coffee and a pecan tart). The few recipes I looked at suggested mixing a couple cuts, so we chose to include some chicken legs and breasts.

All the vegetables (onions and carrots), spices (cumin, coriander, saffron, cardamom, cayenne) and chicken were thrown into the tagine on low heat on the stove top for a couple hours and came out fantastically moist and richly flavoured. So although the poor tagine is a bit damaged, it will definitely be a welcome tool in the kitchen.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Thank goodness for Blogger tested recipes

With a night off work this past Friday evening, Zed and I finally decided to throw a sort of apartment-warming party combined with a belated birthday party.

It started out as an attempted pot luck, however we quickly forgot to mention bringing a dish to our friends (although two friends who are amazing in the kitchen brought a loaf of grainy no-knead bread, some spiced gouda and a tres leches cake that were all fantastic!).

A few things were quickly added to the list - some asparagus tossed in a satay pan for a few minutes with salt, pepper and olive oil then sprinkled with parmesan (adapted from an Ina Garten recipe), some meats from the Italian Centre that ended up being prosciutto and capicollo and a few different cheeses.

We were searching for other things though - finger foods that were relatively quick and easy to make that we would want to eat lots of if there were leftovers. Luckily a couple weeks ago Foodie Suz mentioned the pastry chef David Lebovitz and his blog in one of her write ups. I was immediately hooked as she suggested anyone would be; his write ups about living and eating in Paris are humerous and light hearted and include a wide range of recipes and food thoughts.

David Lebovitz' Baba Ganoush (please click on the link below for his more beautiful picture)

A little while ago he wrote up two recipes that I decided would be a great addition to the food table - Baba Ganoush and Spanikopita. The baba ganoush turned out well - especially after being spread on our friends' no-knead bread - but I'm hoping to borrow someone's bbq this summer to get some more roasted flavour out of the eggplant. The spanikopita tasted great. It was my second attempt with the stuff, and the first recipe I ever tried was full of egg, but this was rich and creamy with a crispy phyllo outside (I used some Fairwinds Farm feta that worked out great... plus the container of it I found at Planet Organic was exactly the quantity required for the recipe).

David Lebovitz' Spanikopita

I also figured some sort of cake was in order. After dropping $3 per cupcake at Flirt last month, I finally decided to make my own... buying 2 dozen cupcakes from Flirt wasn't all that appealing, and the $70 price tag wasn't in my budget. A couple people have mentioned to me over the past couple years that it is depressing to make your own birthday cake, but I have to disagree - I really like to bake, and making my own means I get to choose what to make and what to put in it. If you really don't like doing it then maybe it is a bit depressing...

The first cupcake recipe I found sounded good - Mexican chocolate cupcakes - although the ingredients listed were over a dozen and I knew there must be something more simple out there. The night before our event Kevin of Kevin Kossowan posted this cupcake recipe that he had made for his wife's birthday. There were five ingredients: chocolate, butter, sugar, eggs and flour, and they turned out great. I made two batches, one with some Mayan chocolate and one with a darker chocolate. The recipe and Kevin suggested letting them sit over night in the fridge, but I ended up making them the day of so that part didn't quite turn out (although the few we had left over were way better the next day as suggested). Either way they ended up being fantastically dense and chocolatey and the whip cream on top was the perfect, light topping... it may not have been as pretty as the ones from Flirt, but this was definitely a cupcake I would pay $3 for.

Melt In Your Mouth Chocolate Cupcakes with Whipped Cream

An hour before our friends arrival Zed decided to throw together a salsa. He had never made salsa before and told me he was going to "wing it." It turned out really well, but after all my recipe hunting he just threw it together like nothing...

As for me I will keep using the safety net that is Blogger tested and suggested recipes... thanks for the fantastic posts everyone!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Birthday ups and downs at Ragazzi and Vi's for Pies

After our visit to Copper Pot a couple weeks prior to my birthday, Zed and I decided something simple was the answer for the day of. Zed was all for Blue Plate, but I was in for trying something new.

A regular at Sobey's (who comes for a glass of wine after his weekly shop) asked me where I thought the best pizza in town was. I don't leave downtown or Old Strathcona much, so I could only comment on the area, and so suggested Leva or Da Capo. In turn he recommended Tony's Pizza Palace or closer to the area in question, Ragazzi Bistro Italiano (formerly Pizza Boys). Ragazzi is the project of one of the brothers who started "Tony's," Vince, and his four sons. We both agreed to try each others recommendations, and in line with this, Zed and I headed to Ragazzi a couple Tuesdays ago for a birthday pizza.

I had mentioned to my recommender that my experience with Tony's last November left much to be desired - Zed and I both found that the pizza was fine, but the service was less than impressive, so I was hoping Ragazzi would improve on this end while keeping up with the pizza goodness. Upon arrival however, it didn't seem promising after an indifferent greeting at the door and a brisk seating.

Our server arrived later to take drink and entree orders, and while I felt for her as she seemed to be serving all the occupied tables in the place (with a little help from our greeter), she had the same "I don't really want to be here," attitude. Despite the service the menu looked promising, and in the end Zed went for spaghetti and meatballs and I for the house pizza that included bocconcini, mozzarella, capicolla ham, capers and tomato sauce on their thin crust.

The order took longer than we would have hoped, but was interrupted half way through with the greeter dropping off a basket of a couple slices of dry bread with an olive oil and balsamic dip... it was a nice gesture, but after a slice each we decided to let it be.

When our mains did arrive we were underwhelmed: the crust on my pizza didn't really look thin at all, and in the end it was a little to soft and doughy for me. The toppings didn't fare any better, and were too heavy and soggy for my liking. Zed's spaghetti was all about the sauce and "Italian style" meatballs, and sadly he reported that both were just average.

House Pizza

Spaghetti with Italian Style Meatballs

Although the menu recommended homemade tiramisu for dessert, the experience with service and our mains led to a decision to opt out and head to another friend's recommendation - Vi's for Pies. Both Zed and I had been wanting to try Vi's for awhile, but since it is a bit out of the way we had not yet made it... this was the night.

We were greeted by a display case full of yummy looking cakes and pies and a really friendly server. I was immediately torn between a key lime pie and carrot cake, and in the end I chose a slice of the latter along with a cup of Earl Grey. Zed went for a latte and a couple giant gingersnap cookies.

Jumbo Gingersnap cookies

Vi's Carrot Cake

It was slightly chilly that evening and we were glad to walk into the newer part of the building to find vaulted ceilings and a cozy fire with a vacant table right in front. The carrot cake brought out by the server was dense and moist, full of cinnamon and walnuts. My only complaint would have been with the icing... I like a really tangy cream cheese icing with carrot cake, and this was slightly sweet for me. Zed's cookies were a good way to finish the evening after his spaghetti mishap. I'm not sure where his love of gingersnaps came from, but he doesn't seem to pass up the opportunity to eat them if available... the jumbo sized ones at Vi's were particularly good.

While I would have liked my entire birthday evening to be full of good food I'm glad we tried something new. This past weekend we went to Da Capo to renew our faith in pizza - after sharing a crispy, ultra thin crust pizza with bocconcini, basil, mushrooms and prosciutto, I'm glad it's back.