Monday, January 31, 2011

Café Beirut

A couple Saturdays ago Charles and I decided to check out a spot close to home that's been on the list for some time - Café Beirut.

I've lost count of the number of times we've walked past this place since it opened last summer, regularly peering in the front window to check things out. Finally stepping through the door around 7:30 that Saturday evening, we found a fairly empty space, save a table of two in the corner, and were greeted by the owner immediately. Running over the selection posted above the 'prep area' at the front, we eventually decided on the mezza - 8 items for two people (~$38).

 A Raspberry Laziza

The space is fairly small, with about half a dozen metal rounds placed throughout. We were asked to select a spot set up with two tables, and we saw why once all the food came out. After a slight wait we were brought a table full of food - there had to be enough for three or four people there. Nevertheless we dug in.

Without a doubt the hit of the table was the Shawarma Chicken - served between two crispy pita shells, the chicken was delicately spiced, flavourful and moist, and like a few other dishes on the table were topped with bright purple pickled turnip (I could have eaten a bowl of those pickles alone). Charles ate his way through most of the Fatoush (romaine salad with Summak spice, olive oil, lemon and crisp pita) while I happily kept the dish of Musakaat (eggplant, chickpeas and onions sautéed with garlic and spices) to myself. Though it was served cold, it reminded me of the Briam I'd always order at Cosmos in Sherwood Park during evenings out with my parents. I would certainly head back for this dish alone. While Charles isn't a big fan of humus or baba ganouge, I found both well spiced and incredibly creamy - perfect with pita and a couple other items on the table.


At the end of our meal (we ended up taking home a sizable container of leftovers) we also managed to grab a piece of fresh, still warm Baklava. Dripping with honey and full of warm walnuts, you just can't beat a dessert like that.

Though we decided Café Beirut was set up more for takeout than anything else, the owner was incredibly friendly and there were dishes in our mezza lineup that we'll certainly be heading back for, whether it's eat in or take out.

Café Beirut
10812 Whyte Ave.
Hours: M-Sa (11am - 10pm); Su (noon - 6pm)
Cafe Beirut on Urbanspoon

We walked to Ice on Whyte afterwords and bumped into Monkey themed snow sculptures. I didn't take much from my Anthro of Religion class last year, but I was able to recognize Monkey with his iron, Piggy and Sandy carved in snow. Excellent.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Meal Planning Saga: Week Two

Week two went fairly well, though the dishes certainly got better as we approached Wednesday. I'm working on getting pictures up shortly - I've officially run out of 'free' space on the blogger account so I'll have to see what I can do about that. And dealt with!

Sunday - pulled pork ragu with polenta and spinach, from The Italian Slow Cooker. This was pretty good, though I should have sprung for some fresh basil at the market on Saturday. It lasted for sandwich centred lunches well into mid-week though, which was great.

Monday - quinoa and vegetable pilaff from Simple Suppers. The quinoa here was great - nutty, hearty and flavourful in general. I cooked far too much so it's now frozen in small portions for me to grab for lunch on my way out the door. The vegetable part of the dish wasn't my favourite, but I think it was me more than the recipe itself. I added mushrooms and zucchini, and I think in general, I may have cooked the veggies too much.

Tuesday - Thai 'Butternut' Squash Soup with tofu from Simple Suppers. I cooked some extra squash the week before when making the spelt pancake filling, and Charles made this soup the next evening then froze it, so this meal was no more than warming up the soup and pan frying some tofu with Thai red curry paste. This one was alright, though I think we could have gone with the spicy-sweet soup on its own, or maybe with an addition of lentils.

Wednesday - Another one from Miss Dahl's Voluptuous Delights - Chicken and halloumi kebabs with mushrooms. This one was great. I picked up the halloumi at the Italian Centre back in the fall in anticipation of making this recipe (it was on their 'specials' board, so I'm not sure if it's a regular item or not), and it was lovely - sort of rubbery as was noted in the recipe, but perfect for grilling (we grilled instead of broiling... sensitive smoke alarm and warm evening). We had these with some of the leftover quinoa and a green salad.

Thursday - originally the plan here was Sugarbowl. It was cask night, and I was really looking forward to that orange and cardamom wit-bier with their seafood-coconut-green curry. Unfortunately it wasn't in the cards - as we stood waiting for a table, lucky seated patrons began ordering second rounds, so we left. We bumped up Friday's recipe of Keema stuffed peppers from The Gourmet Slow Cooker, skipping the slow cooker part and popping them in the oven instead. These were definitely enjoyed - the lamb held the spices well, and instead of rice, quinoa or potatoes, I used yams which brought a pleasant sweetness to the dish.

With no Alley Kat to be had at Sugarbowl, we tried one at home

Friday - From The Italian Slow Cooker we did Chicken 'Parmesan' Heroes, though I skipped the parmesan part and just did buffalo mozzarella instead. We had some of the tomato sauce leftover that we had cooked the pork in on Sunday, so we froze it and used it to cook the chicken breast here as well. Along with the basil, soft, salty, lovely mozzarella and whole wheat buns from the Italian Centre, these were a great start to the weekend. Our friend stopped by just as we started eating (we were off to go skating in Hawrelak Park that evening - the ice was rough and it was wet, but it was enjoyable none the less), so I made some extra salad and Charles cut some bell peppers to munch on, and thankfully the single chicken breast I'd cooked was enough for the three of us.

And that was it. Saturday we went to Café Beirut and afterwards to Ice on Whyte, but I'll save that for the next post.

This coming week we're making a few recipes from Epicurious, so we'll see how they compare to the cookbooks we've been using. On Wednesday evening we're off to Red Ox Inn for Fork Fest. It's been two years since our last visit and I think we're both eager to return. Charles is down with a nasty chest cough this evening (the 26th), so another time perhaps.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Leva - Morning, Noon and Night

On Wednesday my Mum and I met up for lunch. With class until noon, we decided to convene at Leva for salad, pizza and chai lattes.

The place was packed with hungry students, university staff and others, but we managed to squeeze in at a table for two along the window. I meant to mention after our visit last Saturday, that Leva under went a small renovation recently; the 'ledge' that previously ran along the window has been replaced by square wooden tables that comfortably seat two, while the round tables that filled the rest of the space have been replaced by tables that more easily seat four (or a couple studying students). There are also some fancy new lights that run the length of the space.

After heading up to the front to order, we soon found a salad each in front of us and dug in. Like the roasted pear salad I had on Saturday, this one was beautiful, with roasted zucchini, yams, red peppers and onions providing an enjoyable sweetness amongst the spinach. Our pizza came out soon after our plates were cleared. Although this pizza featured mushrooms, I think it's also comparable to a version I love at Da Capo, with potatoes and blue cheese also making an appearance here, along with porcini cream and mozzarella. Both my Mum and I enjoyed the flavours, but I think next time I'm at Leva, it's just going to be a simple Margherita, which is where they really seem to shine pizza wise.

Beyond our dinner this past weekend and this recent lunch, Charles and I have been finding ourselves at Leva fairly frequently during evenings for several reasons. It's always a good place to study/read, with excellent music at a volume just loud enough to tune others out. They also make a latte that Charles finds enjoyable, they have an excellent selection of Kusmi teas for me, the almost-always-irresistible desserts, and best of all, they are open fairly late (until 11pm on weekdays) and are only three blocks or so from our apartment.

I should also mention that I have become addicted to their muffins. Last semester, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I had an English class in Humanities 'early' in the morning. With Leva on my way to class, there was no reason why I couldn't stop to grab a freshly baked muffin. There are new flavours daily, usually with two types per day.

The situation on Tuesdays and Thursdays is the same this semester (although 'Reading Class and Ideology' has been replaced with 'Canadian Literature: Writing and Colonial Contact to 1900'), and I stopped on Tuesday for a lovely blueberry version. There's much to love about these muffins, namely that they aren't cloyingly sweet, with just a little sugar sprinkled on top. But they are also slightly over-baked so that the edges get a little crisp and caramel-y - my favourite - and the flavours are always fresh and enjoyable (there was a fig and pistachio version awhile back that I loved).

This evening we did head to Leva for tea and coffee (and a rhubarb square and molasses-ginger cookie), and I picked up a muffin for tomorrow morning's 'early' class venture (sadly it happens on Fridays too, though the 112th street route is far more convenient). A carrot, apple and raisin muffin will surely make my History of Archaeological Thought lecture just a little better... or at least I like to think it will.

Leva Café and Bar
11053 86 Avenue
Hours - M-F (7am - 11pm); S (9am - 12am); Su (9am - 6pm)
Leva Cappucino Bar on Urbanspoon

P.S. One day last semester I ordered a breakfast croissant. It was incredible - a fried egg, spicy salami, mozzarella, potato and pesto all sandwiched between a flaky croissant and grilled in the panini press. Needless to say this 'sandwich' was a little more indulgent than my usual morning muffin, and I only ordered it once so as not to become addicted. But if you're in the neighbourhood, I'd strongly recommend one of these beauties. Like the muffins, there are daily versions, usually one vegetarian and one meat.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Don de Dieu Caramel Pudding Cake

A couple Fridays ago I did end up making the Don de Dieu cake from the Unibroue site. I love the idea of the recipes from this site, mostly, of course, because they incorporate some beautiful beer. But they are not as detailed as I'd like with the directions. For instance, this recipe said to pour the caramel into a cake mould then pour the batter on top. But what size of cake mould? What type?

We ended up using one of those giant Pyrex cake pans (it got the job done, but of course it's not the most aesthetically pleasing thing ever; probably individual ramekins would be better, especially since the caramel bottom made it so difficult to 'scoop'), and ended up with a lot of cake. Thankfully it turned out well, although it was far better once left to cool until it was just slightly warm, allowing the beer flavours to surface. All that said, this thing was incredibly sweet - an entire can of maple syrup will do that I suppose (good thing we got all those cans at a good price in Québec this past summer).

We served the cake up to a friend after a main of La Fin du Monde Salmon and Pearled Barley (that recipe was excellent), and it was a great way to finish the evening. That was also the evening all the snow started, which made this warm cake even better.

Tucking it away in a container in the freezer, we've been warming pieces of it up on select evenings for dessert. Sadly it's almost gone, so a new dessert is going to have to take its place sooner or later... maybe some good brownies.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Week One

After the Beijing Noodle success on Monday, we had a bit of a flop on Tuesday with Miss Dahl's spelt pancakes and squash-goat cheese-orange filling, but the rest of the week progressed well, and we're ready to go this week and the next.

Monday - 'Beijing Noodles' (well, sort of

Tuesday - Spelt Pancakes with squash and goat cheese filling. Decidedly a flop.

Wednesday - Definitely a mid-week day. 

The dish I'm serving up - Artichoke heart, spinach and feta 'sauce' with Charles' sheets of pasta (he made and froze them over the holidays), inspired by a dish from Simple Suppers. This one was a definite mid-week hit and I've already purchased another jar of artichoke hearts.

Thursday - Chicken curry made in the slow cooker, with saffron rice, samosas and naan from Origin India. So we cheated a bit...

Friday - The end of the week was slated for Moroccan spiced trout, but my parents called Friday morning to invite us for dinner so the dish has been moved to another week. I did take over the carrot salad, however, and it was a welcome fresh side along with the roasted vegetables my mum had made.

Saturday - We wandered up the street to Leva for a pizza and spinach salad, and subsequently found our friend and site volunteer, Doug, playing the blues all evening.

The pizza was thin crusted and topped with a thin layer of sundried tomato pesto, chicken, mozzarella and basil (Chris' recent post had left me with a craving). The whole thing was a bit bitter for me, even a little dry, and I gravitated towards the salad - baby spinach, roasted pear (sweet, soft, caramel-y - what an excellent thing to do with a pear mid-winter), blue cheese, balsamic vinegar and vanilla candied pecans - perfectly comforting and excellent for watching the snow fall and listening to some good acoustic blues.

We're beginning week two this evening with pulled pork ragu and polenta, and some spinach on the side. The pork shoulder has been in the slow cooker for a couple hours now getting friendly with tomatoes, garlic, sage, fennel and rosemary, and it's starting to smell pretty lovely in our apartment.

Have a good week everyone!

PS. The post below has more details on the week's recipes. Feel free to e-mail me if you're interested, and I'll send them on. Alternatively the EPL has all the cook books we used in their collection.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

And now for some meal planning.

As I mentioned a little while ago, last semester was decidedly crazy when it came to what we would be having for dinner. Every day we would get home and ask each other what we were doing for dinner, and by then it was often later in the evening and the chance of us having the ingredients to make what we wanted was unlikely.

Hence the meal plan. I'm going to try and keep it up for the entire semester, but we'll see what happens. Last weekend we sat down (with all our neglected cookbooks spread across our kitchen table) and planned the next two weeks for a bit of a head start, and we'll just keep adding recipes to a 'we'd like to make this' list as we encounter them.

We figure we have two days where time is a real issue - Mondays and Tuesdays. On Mondays I don't arrive home until around 6:30, while on Tuesdays Charles doesn't get home until ~6:30pm and I don't make it home until after 8pm. Thus Mondays and Tuesdays we're going to attempt speedy meals or those utilizing the slow cooker.

Yesterday was day one of school and the meal plan, and we made something inspired by the "Beijing Noodles" recipe from Moosewood's Simple Suppers: Fresh Ideas for the Weeknight Table. This is a vegetarian cookbook (although they do include fish recipes), but amazingly, we substituted the tofu here for beef (I used to do the opposite during my veggie days, so this is hilarious to me).

We couldn't find any sweet bean sauce in our area and in the spirit of using up things from the pantry, I rifled through the cupboard eventually finding a small jar of Thai roasted red chili paste to use instead. In the same spirit, I also discovered two packages of soba noodles in the pantry; I have no idea why we have these, so we subbed the 'Chinese wheat noodles' for buckwheat soba noodles which were really tasty. Other than that we cut up the veggies on the plate below and added some shitake mushrooms to our 'tofu' mixture as directed in the recipe.

Veggies at the ready

This was a lovely fresh way to start the week and all our substitutes worked pretty well. I certainly think this dish - currently nameless - will make it around again.

My plate

Here's what we've got planned for the remainder of the week:

Tonight (Tuesday) - Spelt pancakes with winter squash and goat cheese filling (from Sophie Dahl's Miss Dahl's Voluptuous Delights); with some wilted spinach on the side

Wednesday - Pasta with artichoke hearts, spinach and feta (also from Simple Suppers)

Thursday - Chicken curry (from Lynn Alley's The Gourmet Slow Cooker) with carrot and seed salad (from We Eat Together)

Friday - Moroccan Spiced Fish (again from Simple Suppers) with some greens

Saturday - We've decided to leave one free day, and this week Saturday is it. So we can either head out or stay in, whatever we choose.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Mango Chutney with Bison Burgers

You know those gifts you continue to enjoy well after Christmas celebrations are long gone? This jar of mango chutney is one of those things. Every year Charles' sister and brother-in-law make a batch of this stuff, but this is the first year we've remembered to grab a couple jars at the end of tourtière day.

I've been utilizing this fruity, cinnamon-y condiment on multiple things, namely chicken and camembert sandwiches. As we sat down to bison burgers last night, Charles laughed a little as I opened the jar and pulled out a large spoonful to see if it would work with our Wednesday evening meal. It was perfect, and went well with all the cumin and coriander I'd thrown into the patties earlier (also in there was onion, portobello mushrooms, white cheddar cheese, salt and pepper, an egg and rolled oats).

I'm halfway through this first jar, and with one more in the pantry, I know there're plenty of good chutney topped foods to come.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Maudite New Year's Eve

I saw an add in Vue or See Magazine, probably both, about a month ago for a New Year's Eve dinner at Sugarbowl that would include four Brooklyn Brewery inspired dishes and the accompanying beer for $50 per person. In true Marianne and Charles fashion, we procrastinated and didn't manage to get a reservation before spots filled up. So instead I decided to make our own beer inspired meal (although it would definitely not be four courses).

Unibroue always has great recipes on their site, and with a few bottles of Maudite in the fridge, and a pack of short ribs in the freezer, we were good to go for 'Maudite Spare Ribs with maple syrup'. As directed, I boiled the ribs with a bottle of Maudite and water the night before, throwing them in a container with the marinade over night. The big obstacle was the grilling. Our balcony door is generally frozen shut for most of the winter, so before I was able to get to the grill I ended up crouching next to the sliding door for a few minutes with my hair dryer melting the ice away (sadly no pictures of this glorious finish to 2010).

In the mean time the suggested side of sweet potatoes were seasoned with salt, paprika, curry powder, pepper and some olive oil, and popped in the oven, while Charles worked away at a salad.

We were pretty happy with the outcome of the meal. Next time a little more beer during the pre-marinade cooking stage is in order, but other than that, we'll definitely be making this again. I also wanted to make the 'Caramel Pudding Cake with Don de Dieu' for dessert, but with no bottle of the brew to be found, I decided to pick up a Paris-Brest from Duchess instead while there with my Dad during the day. A couple days later I did find a bottle of Don de Dieu, so the cake is planned for Friday.

After dinner we went to a New Years Eve concert at McDougall Church put on by the Food Bank and the church itself. I expected it to be packed when we arrived a little late, but there were seats throughout and eventually we made our way to the second floor where we bumped into more than a few 'Folkies'. The concert itself was great, with Bill Bourne finishing and causing dancers and singers to suddenly emerge. In the midst of everything I also got my face painted (done by a ten year old, it's supposed to be a firework... I loved the neon, though it was difficult to wash off). Finishing things with a 10:30 rendition of 'Auld Lang Syne', we wandered off to Churchill Square to check things out.

Admission to the concert was a Food Bank donation

I have to say we were disappointed with the state of things in the Square. With a lengthy changeover on stage, most of the activities shut down and no vendors selling hot drinks, we found most people in a lengthy snaking line at the Second Cup across the street or hanging around waiting for the possibility of more music. Unsure what to do with an hour before the fireworks, we simply decided to grab the bus home and miss the crowds. With people seemingly willing to head downtown for New Year's celebrations, it's unfortunate a bit more of a show can't take place, maybe combining some of the festivals utilizing the space during the summer would be a possible option. At any rate, we arrived home, rang in 2011 with a string of international fireworks via internet and put on a little 30 Rock.

So happy 2011 to you and yours. Here's to lots of great food (and drink).

Moriarty's Bistro and Wine Bar

The day after our d'Lish visit, a friend called to offer us a couple tickets to the Christmas Pops concert - of course we couldn't refuse. With me working that day, we thought it would be best to grab a bite downtown before heading to the Winspear, and we found Moriarty's at the top of our list.

Arriving around 6pm with no reservation (on a Saturday evening no less), we were seated at a table for four in the middle of the room, making me wish I had thought to make a reservation so we could have sat in one of the more comfortable looking booths. Deciding to skip appetizers after glancing down the menu to see the 'Modern Opera' dessert made by Duchess, we went straight for mains. Charles opted for the Root Beer braised short ribs ($23), while I went for the Black and Red Chicken ($21; I think the black was the wild mushrooms it was served with, while the 'red' referred to the red wine reduction). We also asked the server to pair a glass of wine with each of our selections, which she was glad to do.

As the space filled up quickly around us, we had time to enjoy a few sips of wine before we found our mains in front of us. Charles really enjoyed his short ribs, which were fall off the bone soft and full of flavour, and I was happy enough to eat the rejected golden beets left on the plate. I enjoyed my chicken, with the rich red wine reduction and earthy mushrooms playing well together. Though enjoyable, the amount of mashed potato on my plate, and even the size of the chicken breast itself, was daunting, and in the end I had to leave quite a bit of food on my plate.

Making good time we were looking forward to the 'Modern Opera' ($12) mentioned above and were sad when our server told us they were out. Taking another look at the menu, we decided to share the profiteroles ($11) instead. We were pretty shocked when a plate of three profiteroles arrived - they were gigantic, and one between the two of us would have been more than enough. Unfortunately the dessert was disappointing, with choux pastry that was dry, tough and hard, and thick, sweet fudge sauce that didn't seem to help much. In the end we popped off the tops of two, ate the gelato and left the rest.

Although we'd likely skip dessert next time, our mains at Moriarty's were certainly enjoyed. The rather large entree portions were a little frustrating, so although I can certainly see us heading back to Moriarty's, it will likely be to share some flatbread or a few small plates, hopefully in one of those booths.

Moriarty's Bistro and Wine Bar
10154 100 Street
Moriarty's Bistro & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

d'Lish Urban Kitchen and Wine Bar

Celebrating the season - the 'done school for three weeks' season of course - Charles and I met up with friends a couple Fridays ago for dinner at d'Lish.

After an unfortunate ETS experience (where the driver changed the bus to 'Not in Service' without letting anyone on the bus know, dropping us off north of Grant MacEwan with no other bus in sight), we arrived at d'Lish half an hour late for our 7pm reservation. Luckily our two dining companions had arrived promptly for the reservation time, and were able to enjoy a drink while waiting for our arrival.

The Friday before Christmas, I'm guessing diners were off at holiday celebrations elsewhere, for as we arrived we saw only our table plus one other table of four beside, and a table of two behind us. The space itself is beautiful - sparkling, sleek and perfect for the season. We settled into our table in front of the bar gazing a little longingly at the banquette along the north side of the room, which had several tables along it but all set for two.

Our server came to inquire about drinks, and we all quickly decided to share a bottle of Prosecco ($40) to celebrate. Arriving back with four glasses and the beautiful sound of the popping cork, we had already decided to try the 'Faith tasting' - $35 for seven 'selections'. There was one snag - one of our dining companions was vegetarian. I had called earlier in the week to make sure vegetarian options would be available and was told she would have lots to choose from. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but with our server informing us that the tasting plates wouldn't be an option, she ended up going with the tagliatelle with pesto (~$17) while we stuck with our original decision, also adding the wine pairing ($15 for three, 2oz glasses).

Everything came out fairly quickly, with the seven 'selections' turning into three small courses. First up was a shooter of parsnip soup. Creamy and warm, the soup was an excellent way to take the chill off. The soup was served alongside a root vegetable, apple and kale salad (which we were asked to share amongst ourselves), served with rillette crostini and fig jelly. All three of us enjoyed the rillette, but the hit was by far the salad, tossed with sticky, sweet maple dressing.

Next up was smoked applewood tenderloin, served on top of polenta along with a scallop. We picked up one of the applewood tenderloins from O Sol' Meatos during the summer and really enjoyed it, so this part of the tasting plate was already a hit, especially atop the piece of silky polenta. The scallop was nicely cooked - soft and tender - but the smokiness of the meat quickly over took any of its sweetness. The tagliatelle also came out at this point, and our dining companion said she thoroughly enjoyed the carby goodness.

Our final course was dessert - banana-chocolate bread pudding served with maple-apple compote. I think we all enjoyed this one, and the banana bread was particularly nice with the compote.

As our plates were cleared, we quickly realized the tasting had not been enough, and a couple more options were certainly in order. In the end it would be pulled pork sliders with mango chutney and 'Mona' mushrooms served with focaccia to end the evening. The pulled pork sliders were alright, but not quite as rich and moist as we had hoped. The mushrooms were great - flavourful, rich, buttery and comforting. Our only complaint was the amount of bread the mushrooms came with - with three of us indulging, a couple more slices of bread than the one we were given would have been preferred, and we were left to awkwardly split the single slice.

In the end, we had an enjoyable evening at d'Lish. Service was friendly, although sitting in front of the bar with only a few people in the place, it was difficult not to notice the three servers constantly chatting when more water, or menus after the tasting portion of the evening, were needed. I don't think the wine pairings were big winners with any of us, especially the red served with the tenderloin that clashed immediately with the smoky meat. But overall the food was enjoyed, the season celebrated, and we left happy and content, and I think Charles and I will certainly head back as warm weather approaches and the menu changes.

d'Lish Urban Kitchen and Wine Bar
10418 124 Street
D'Lish Urban Kitchen & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon