Friday, February 27, 2009

The Chicken...

I will start this post by saying thanks to Hanne, Sharon and Court for putting together a food blogger meet up at Blue Plate Diner last night. It was fantastic to meet everyone, and we're looking forward to the next one!

I was talking to a couple people last night about the chicken that has been sitting in our freezer for the past couple weeks, and I suppose the greater debate... every time I open our freezer I look at it, think about eating it, then run over the veggie vs. "I live in AB" debate in my head.

My personal debate started a few months ago but it's really been with me more since listening to Jon Steinman at the Deconstructing Dinner iWeek session a few weeks ago, and other sessions about the CSA Grain Project in Nelson, as well as an info session about farming in Alberta.

Isabelle from The Little Red Kitchen (also at the meet up last night) recently started eating meat again for similar reasons. I read her post on this a few weeks ago, and it definitely added some more fire to the "I live in AB" side of the debate. I think the chicken posted below will likely be headed for the oven some time next week, and thankfully Isabelle has posted a roast chicken recipe that looks to be a good re-start in my encounters with poultry.

"The Chicken"

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A heat and eat dinner with substance

A few weeks ago I managed to look beyond my regular grab of samosas or spanikopita at the entrance of Planet Organic, to find a tofu dinner, nicely portioned with a quinoa salad and winter greens.

The tofu is nicely marinated with a generous dusting of one of my favourites - sesame seeds; the greens are cooked until wilted, then dusted with chili flakes for a nice kick. And finally the quinoa salad - this is the most amazing part of the entire "dinner"; fluffy, full of cranberries, hazelnuts and a bit of green onion and dressed with something incredibly good but indescribable, this salad is a winner... I wonder if I can weasel the recipe out of them...

Here is the latest round (I think #3), which I've transferred to a plate for heating purposes.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Twisted Fork Diner could afford to twist a bit more

Needing somewhere quick and close to grab a bite to eat today, Zed and I headed over to Twisted Fork Diner and Lounge, just across the street from our building.

We had been to Twisted Fork once before a couple weeks prior and were not impressed. Just getting over my flu and finally able to eat again, I ordered a veggie burger out of the limited veggie options they had on offer. When it arrived I was less than excited - a limp, thin, gray coloured tasteless patty on a dry bun, served with some sweet potato fries that were just okay, but nothing special. The saving grace was a beer special on Alexander Keith's, which Zed appreciated.

Every day of the week they have specials (ie. I believe Wednesdays are wings, Martini Thursdays, etc.), and today was brunch, which was served until 4PM. We arrived around 3:45PM and while Zed was disappointed that it was brunch (he's not a breakfast person other than his own pancakes; to order pancakes/waffles in a restaurant, he has to know they are served with real maple syrup... but really, I think everyone would agree that the real stuff is the only way to go) I was more than glad to sample breakfast offerings after my previous burger experience.

After browsing a two page menu that was a bit more promising than their lunch/dinner offerings, I chose the three egg omelette served with potato pancakes and toast ($8.50). There was a long list of ingredients that included artichoke hearts, hummus, guacamole and other such fillings, but I went for something simple - red and green peppers, mushrooms and Havarti. Zed reverted to his standard restaurant breakfast choice - a side of ham and side of toast.

Neither of us could really complain about the service or timeliness of the arrival of our food - coffee was constantly refilled, and our food arrived ~10 minutes after ordering. As far as Zed's side order of ham went, he said it was average. I suppose with that it comes down to where the ham comes from and how it is processed; apparently not enough effort was put into either factor. My omelette was alright, but was slightly over cooked and I found it rather void of any cheese. Thankfully I finished with the potato pancakes which were a nice, crispy end to the meal.

And just a note on the music selection - both times there has been a mix of bad 90s stuff with the odd entrance of something great. Today the 90s hits were interjected with Édith Piaf's "La vie en rose." Along with Charles Aznavour, she is one of Zed's favourite French singers. While I understood the sound level when we were there in the evening a couple weeks ago, we both thought it could have been toned down a bit for brunch.

Twisted Fork does offer a student discount of 10% any day of the week with your One Card, so at least they are making it student friendly. But even though the discount is nice, I would definitely give it up for a more creative/diverse menu or better execution of the dishes they already offer.

Twisted Fork Diner and Lounge
11162 82 Avenue

Friday, February 20, 2009

More on Edmonton's cupcake situation in Friday's 24 Hours

Zed found an article today in 24 Hours, written by Kristy Brownlee, on the recent increase of cupcake availability in Edmonton (I couldn't get the link to the article online, so hopefully the following summary will do).

The article features an interview with the owners of Flirt Cupcakes, Michelle Lemoignan and Rick Krupa, as well as an interview with George Broumas, co-owner of Fuss Cupcakes, which will be opening soon on 104 Street and Whyte Ave. (apparently Fuss is the new name for The Cupcake Bakeshoppe and Cafe that has been operating for the past couple years at 17298 Stony Plain Road).

As far as Flirt goes, the owners commented that they sold 1000 cupcakes on opening day (this past Valentine's Day), twice what they were hoping for, and they have sold out of cakes almost every day of business this week.

The article does not mention the opening day of Fuss Cupcakes, but in an interview with the co-owner, he said that within the next five years they are hoping to franchise the company with the goal of opening 10-15 stores across the country.

Also, concerning our experience this past weekend with Flirt Cupcakes... the shop has updated their website to say that their menu of 8 flavours should be up and running by mid-March along with a weekly special flavour, but for now only chocolate and vanilla are available... I'm hoping the future flavours will be improved from the chocolate and vanilla versions Zed and I tasted last weekend.

A long awaited trip to Sabzy Café

After waiting at the bus stop in front of Whyte Ave's new Sabzy Café more times than we can count, Zed and I finally made it into the restaurant for a meal this evening.

There were a few tables left in the main part of the restaurant (the space is divided by a couple half walls) and in the end we chose a table near the door. We were both impressed with the space: brightly painted with a well chosen music selection and a well laid out floor plan (including a more secluded family style table at the back), as well as a constant rotation of photos on a tv above the service counter (this was one of Zed's favourite features).

We were expecting a slightly larger menu than what we encountered, especially more on the veggie end of things; the menu included a selection of a few salads, dips, flat bread sandwiches or Kabobs - either chicken or a mixture of beef and New Zealand lamb (I thought the latter was a bit odd as the write up on the door and menu talk about locally sourced ingredients...). In the end I selected the veggie flat bread sandwich with portobello mushrooms, red peppers, Swiss cheese and Sabzy (a herb mixture of cilantro, parsley, mint, basil and green onion) along with today's soup - avocado and rice (Soup/Sandwich combo - $15). Zed went for the Kabob platter, which included one each of the chicken and lamb/beef kabobs along with Saffron rice ($16). We also ordered a French Press of Persian tea to share ($5.95).

After placing our orders at the counter we took our seats again to wait for our meals and enjoy the above mentioned photos on rotation. The tea was brought out a couple minutes later, along with a large bowl of soup for me accompanied by a couple lemon wedges. My soup was just okay - it was a tad salty for my liking and I didn't end up making it through the whole bowl (it was a huge portion though). The tea on the other hand was fantastic - nice and smooth at the beginning with a little lingering spice at the end.

Our mains followed soon after. Zed's kabobs looked and smelled wonderful and apparently the taste matched, as Zed raved about them afterwards. My sandwich was a lovely surprise after the slight disappointment with the soup - while a grilled veggie sandwich isn't too hard to find in Edmonton, this one was done really well and the Sabzy added a refreshing, vibrant flavour to the whole thing.

The Kabob Platter

The Vegetable Flat Bread Sandwich

Although our initial encounter with the menu was slightly disappointing and my adventure with the soup didn't turned out as well as I would have hoped, the mains along with the tea were done amazingly well and we will definitely be back for more Persian fare.

Sabzy Café
10416 Whyte Ave

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Blue Plate Valentine's Day

Last year was our first Valentine's Day together, and for some reason Zed and I felt compelled to get dressed up and go out for a "nice dinner". We ended up at the now closed Il Portico and had a fantastic (but slightly pricier) meal.

This year though, we thought we'd stick with something familiar and meaningful to the both of us and so we ended up at Blue Plate Diner. Blue Plate was our first Original Fare encounter, where we went for the last "family meal" before my parents moved to BC this past December, a comfortable meeting place after the loss of a friend last June and the location of a Site Crew family dinner about a month ago.

We arrived at 7:30PM (we had made a reservation a couple weeks before on Open Table) to a not quite full but definitely busy restaurant (I was glad to be seated slightly away from the hustle and bustle against a wall towards the back of the restaurant).

The specials intrigued me and I ended up choosing the PEI mussels in a white wine, saffron and shallot sauce, while Zed went for the steak sandwich off of the regular menu (the menus have recently been dressed up with some nice hardcover bindings... very nice). We both went for the feature wine that evening, a Sauvignon blanc from New Zealand.

The mussels lit by a red candle and red shaded lamp

Zed's steak sandwich lit by the same red light

Our mains arrived in good time and were great as usual. For dessert we settled on the very cheesily named, "Bleeding Heart" cake, a warm chocolate cake filled with strawberry coulis.

The "Bleeding Heart" Cake

After dinner we ended up stopping at Leva for a coffee on the way home. We thought they would be packed, but we had the place to ourselves. Along with our coffees, we came out of Leva with the Valentine's Chocolate Collection from Kerstin's Chocolates that included three different types of bark (a dark with cherries, a milk with nibs and a white that appeared pink because of some cinnamon candy).

All in all I think we achieved our goal of a nice, comfortable (and tasty) Valentine's Day.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Flirt Cupcakes... pricey little treats

After a week of the flu, a couple pre-reading week midterms and the loss of a good friend last weekend, Zed and I finally managed to make it out today for a walk down Whyte.

Starting in Mill Creek we ventured down 82nd and eventually came upon the two day old Flirt Cupcakes shop on 101 and Whyte.

The tiny shop has a couple sleek tables along with some lime green bar stools by the window, but like most coming out of the shop, we were in for some cupcakes to go. Cupcakes topped with blue, yellow and purple icing seemed inviting, and we were hoping for a good variety of flavours under the bright spring colours.

I'm not sure if we arrived too late (around 3:30PM), but there was a disappointingly small choice between chocolate or vanilla/white cake topped with butter cream in the above mentioned variety of colours.

Half a dozen cupcakes set us back $16.95, which we both found steep. In the end they tasted alright, but were definitely not what we were expecting for ~$3 each.

Although we weren't too impressed with Flirt this time around, today was only their second day of business so hopefully the selection and flavours will improve over the next few months.

Flirt Cupcakes
10158 82 Avenue

Thursday, February 5, 2009

iWeek: Deconstructing Dinner

I ended up making it to three iWeek sessions Tuesday and I thought I would do a "short" write up about them.

The first was Deconstructing Dinner with Jon Steinman, who hosts a radio show on the topic of food security in Nelson BC on Kootenay Co-op Radio; Jon is also an advocate within the community (and obviously elsewhere) of locally produced food and food security.

He didn't end up deconstructing a real plate of food at the Tuesday iWeek session, but instead projected pictures of a "regular meal" on a screen to talk about where the food comes from and what goes into it. The meal consisted of: a steak, french fries, a salad (it looked like a bocconcini and tomato stack), a bun, ice cream, ginger ale, beer, wine and a glass of water, as well as the leftovers that you may or may not take home in a plastic/corn product container if you were eating in a restaurant.

It turned out that each food item was somehow connected with Cargill, a multi-national corporation that works in "food production" in 67 countries. For example, Cargill handles a large amount of beef production which also requires feed, so they have another company that manages the growth of grass and corn to feed cows, through another of their companies they produce fertilizer to grow the feed and they have a company that produces salt, both seasoning and blocks for livestock.

Similar to the steak, in the salad/French fry department Cargill's salt and fertilizer production came into play once again. With most of the products making up the meal, there was an issue with canola oil, as Cargill has been clearing land to produce the corn that makes it up. With the bread, wheat, flour, margarine and eggs all fell under Cargill's production again. When it came to beer, I found out that Cargill is the biggest malt producer in the world, with 11 plants in 9 countries.

High fructose corn syrup went into the ginger ale, and in both the bottle of ginger ale and the innocent looking glass of water, Cargill's softening salt was likely used to soften the water. The wine from the Niagra region was produced by workers from Jamaica and Mexico, brought in to work in Canada because farming jobs in either country have been cut or become unsustainable due to Cargill's establishment of large cash crops, especially corn. The ice cream was made up of soy products and canola oils, as well as chocolate from a cocoa production company owned by Cargill. The packaging was likely made of corn products, and the fuel used to get the food to the grocery store or restaurant probably contained ethanol made from corn grown by one of Cargill's companies.

Jon produced two radio shows specifically about Cargill, which can be found at these links: Part 1, Part 2. (In this show he provides links and other information to back up information accessed about the company in question.)

Moving past the specifics of the plate of food, Jon suggested that our food production has become concentrated in the hands of a few making our food system incredibly fragile. He argued that large corps like Cargill have succeeded in the setting of prices making it difficult/impossible for small farms to compete (there is a go big or go home mentality in farming) and have gained enough control over the agricultural sector to lobby governments in favour of their product. Jon believes that we have become dangerously disconnected with those that produce our food (the eater-farmer relationship), and that we need to think more about the impact of our food choices.

He went on to list several alternatives we could use to access food away from our current system. Some of these included: Co-ops (there is several in the Kootenay region including a grocery store with a local first policy, a radio station, a car co-op and several others; with co-ops "profits" go back into the project and into the community), the creation of food security groups, urban agriculture, CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) such as the model in Creston BC, underground food (buy products directly from the farmer) and finally, he put the most emphasis on education about our food and food systems.

I think Jon's discussion did a great job of taking our local food choices international, and I suppose awareness of the local-national-international relationship is one of the goals of iWeek. Also, like many of the iWeek sessions I've attended during the past few years, Deconstructing Dinner left me and others in the room with a fairly positive feeling of where we can take food if we invest a proportionally appropriate amount of time in it (ie. everything is structered around meals of the day, but we pay little attention to what we eat). He commented that with the iWeek turnout and the turnout at the food security conference that weekend as well as the fact that it was hosted here, many in Edmonton seem to be aware about the food they consume or are at least heading in that direction.

You can find Jon at the CJLY (Kootenay Co-op Radio) website or at the Deconstructing Dinner website. He also has recordings posted for past radio shows on various topics around Food Security, as well as recordings of community events, primarily the CSA grain project, which I will write next about... hopefully soon.

Afterwards, on a more personal level...

At the end of the session Jon opened the floor to questions, and a woman stood up to comment that she was considering becoming a vegetarian but since we live in Alberta, it seems incredibly impractical; she wanted to know whether it was better to support a local Alberta farmer that produces natural meat, or to eat soy products likely produced by Cargill or a like-wise company. Of course Jon could not answer her, except to say that he eats meat produced in Nelson/Creston (although very little), but in the end it is a personal decision that involves several trade offs.

I've been thinking about the exact same thing over the past couple months. Originally I stopped eating beef, chicken and pork because I knew what I was eating was far from local and far from being ethically produced. But now that I'm on my own and have more control over what I eat, I know I can go to the Strathcona Market and by a local, naturally produced chicken that is certified humanely raised from Sunworks Farms. After going to a session about farming in Alberta I was further convinced to purchase local meat.

So I'm considering mixing chicken with a large veggie diet, provided I know where it comes from and other details. And also, I'm hoping Zed and I can make it out to one of the local farms for a tour, which the later session on farming I went to said were available at Sunworks and a few others periodically throughout the year.

For more Alberta based information on food security, visit the Food Security Alberta (GFSA) website.

Also, check out Sharon's posts at Only Here for the Food for a more detailed look at the food security discussion in Alberta. She attended the Food: Today, Tomorrow, Together Conference at the end of last week.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Grab and go breakfast: Apricot Granola Biscuits

I think I've mentioned before how much better the first lecture of the day is with something to munch on. So this evening I made some "healthy" (and sweet) breakfast treats to grab on the way to class (or anywhere really...).

Apricot Granola Biscuits (from The Vegetarian's Cook's Bible by Pat Crocker)

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C)
2 baking sheets lightly oiled (I used parchment paper)

(** The recipe says the yield is 42 biscuits, but I made much bigger ones and got about 1 dozen... just make sure to flatten them out more and cook them a bit longer)

1/2 cup of soy or rice milk (I used cows' milk)
1 large egg
2 tbsp Olive oil
2 cups Whole-Grain Granola (recipe below) or store bought granola
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup chopped apricots
3 tbsp organic cane sugar (I used dark brown sugar)
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut (optional; I added it)

In a large bowl, beat milk and egg together until frothy. Beat in oil. Stir in granola, flour, apricots, sugar and coconut (if using). Drop by the tablespoon about 1 inch apart onto prepared baking sheets. Flatten slightly with a fork.

Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to cooling rack.

Whole-Grain Granola (from from The Vegetarian's Cook's Bible by Pat Crocker

Makes 6-8 cups (1.5-2 L) of granola

Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C)
2 rimmed baking sheets lightly oiled (I just used parchment paper)

2 cups spelt flakes
1 cup rolled oats (not quick-cooking oats)
1/2 cup natural bran or bran flakes cereal (I used the cereal)
2/3 cup chopped almonds (unblanched)
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/3 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup honey
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup raisins (I left these out)
1/2 cup dried cranberries

On one prepared baking pan, spread spelt, oats and bran. On the other pan, spread almonds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and walnuts. Stagger the sheets in preheated oven and toast for 8 minutes. Remove nuts and seeds from oven and let cool. Stir grains and continue toasting for another 6 to 8 minutes or until lightly browned.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat honey, cinnamon and ginger over medium heat until just simmering. Turn off heat and keep pan on the element to keep the mixture warm.

Transfer toasted grains to a large bowl. Stir in toasted seeds and nuts. Drizzle with warm honey mixture. Add apricots, raisins and cranberries and stir lightly to mix. Let cool.

Store granola in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.