Saturday, November 21, 2009

A decadent chocolate stop at Kerstin's Chocolates

For the feast we attended last Saturday I intended to take a chocolate cake in addition to the croquembouche. I used this Chocolate Cream Cake recipe from Laura Calder and it didn't turn out. I think I over mixed the batter, so it didn't rise properly and turned into this fudgy thing that I decided not to take to the party (I'm not sure why I keep using Laura Calder recipes - they are seemingly easy but never turn out for me. This was failed recipe number three, so I think I've learned my lesson).

The poor cake

Before the cake fell though, I needed to find two pounds of baking chocolate without soy lecithin in it so that the host, who has a soy allergy, could partake. The only place I could think of that would keep this type of chocolate in stock was Kerstin's Chocolates, so we headed over last Thursday evening.

We hadn't been into the store since the re-opening and dropping of the Cocoa Room name in September, but except for the new addition of a "Kerstin's Chocolates" awning over the front door, the interior remains unchanged.

Although she didn't have any soy free baking chocolate on the shelf, Kerstin went in the back and found a bag of soy lecithin free Valrhona baking coins that were about 74% (I think), and measured out the amount I needed.

We also picked up some Valrhona Pearls - chocolate covered pieces of rice cereal that are made here in Edmonton at Kerstin's. We were looking for something other than chocolate chips to put in some "chocolate chip" cookies, and these fit well. They gave a pleasant, although unusal, light crunch that was nice with the chewy cookie dough.

And of course, we couldn't leave without picking up some eating chocolate while there. They have some really great stock in right now, so definitely stop by if you are looking for a yummy treat (check out their blog for their Christmas line-up and a "Name that Origin" contest).

We picked up a 70% Madécasse bar which is really nice and fruity... everything I love about Madagascar beans. What's great about this bar though, is that while most companies' processing facilities are located outside of Africa, this company keeps the manufacturing process near the beans. Along with Claudio Corallo (also available at Kerstin's), Madécasse is one of the few bean to bar companies operating in Africa.

I also picked up a small version of the Michel Cluizel Grand Lait 45%. This is a really rich, nutty milk chocolate that I almost always keep around... this small 30 g bar is perfect to keep me from munching too much.

And finally, the shop had a nice, tidy stack of 50 g Amedei Porcelana bars that we could not resist. Porcelana chocolate is made from the Criollo bean, which is thought to be the origin of all cocoa beans and therefore the purist form.

This bar is amazing with lots of complex flavours like vanilla, dried fruit and caramel cycling through each bite. Best of all it has a really aromatic and long lasting finish, so there is no need to pop another piece in your mouth straight away (good, because at $18.95 per bar, eating this stuff too quickly could get pretty pricy).

In their recent newsletter, the Shop also reported that they will be getting in a new supply of Domori soon. Apparently their version of the Porcelana bar is the most coveted in the world, so we're waiting anxiously for them to come in... I think we can justify the purchase of one of these bars as a holiday gift to ourselves.

So although the cake didn't work out, the trip to Kerstin's was well worth it and definitely decadent. Plus, I purchased some extra baking chocolate so that I can forge ahead to chocolate meringues (not a Laura Calder recipe, btw).

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Smokey Joe's "Hickory" Smokehouse

I've heard various things about Smokey Joe's - namely that the quality of their food seems to have slowly trickled down after so many stops and starts around the City (check out this thread on Chowhound). There is also this article from a past Avenue Magazine that details a couple changes made by the new owners once Joe left the business (ex. changing the wood from hickory to apple wood). At any rate I've been wanting to check it out for myself for some time, so last Wednesday Zed and I headed over to Stony Plain Road for lunch with a friend, to check it out.

It was mid afternoon when we arrived, and the large space was empty. We chose a booth to sit down in, and after placing our drink orders, decided to pass the time by colouring on the brown paper place mats, hoping our art would be added to the others hanging on the wall at the entrance.

Artists at work

In between our colouring we browsed the menu. It seemed a little confused, with nachos, Casear salad and other items I wouldn't expect to see on a BBQ menu... but I suppose these menu items are fairly standard in Edmonton and they are trying to appeal to a larger audience. I decided on a Reuben with smoked corned beef with fresh cut fries ($9), while Zed went for the Beef Dinner, choosing sides of in house made curly fries and garlic toast ($18) and our third ordered the turkey dinner with sides of corn bread and coleslaw ($14; with dinners, you are able to select 2 sides out of the given 8 or so).

Our food seemed to arrive in no time at all, maybe 10 minutes after ordering. Zed's plate with two large beef ribs and a pile of curly fries was the most noticeable, so we all tried a bit of this first. The ribs were nicely caramelized on the outside but still lovely and tender on the inside, falling off the bone as soon as you prodded at the meat with a fork. In addition to a couple bottles of BBQ sauce, they also brought us a small bowl of warmed BBQ sauce for dipping, which was great for the ribs.

Beef Dinner

My Reuben was pretty good. The corned beef was lovely and rich, and I appreciated the generous toppings of sauerkraut, grainy mustard and Swiss cheese. My only complaint was that they seemed to have grilled the sandwich using a little too much oil, and so the bread on the outside was a little greasy. The fries though were great (both mine and Zed's)! Nice and crispy and not overly seasoned, they were a great accompaniment, although the three of us didn't actually make it through both piles of fries in the end.

Smoked Corned Beef Reuben (with the Turkey Dinner in the background)

Our third was a little disappointed in his turkey dinner, which turned out to be smoked turkey served on a bun with BBQ sauce. The turkey was also a little too dry, but a good dunking in sauce definitely provided a quick fix. Although the coleslaw was just average, we all had piece of the cornbread muffin which was very nice and light.

Smokey Joe's will definitely not be a regular spot (partially location but also the heaviness of the food), although I would like to head over for dinner on a Friday or Saturday evening to see if they draw more of a crowd. Though, if we have a ride again and someone willing to help us eat all those fries, I think we will likely be back for more of those ribs, no matter what day it is.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Health Fare - Downtown

When we decided to stop for lunch today at Health Fare on Jasper and 102 Ave, I didn't realize that there was already an established flagship location down on 108 and 23 Avenue. I guess they are just beginning the franchising process now, so more will likely appear around Edmonton soon.

We arrived just after noon, and managed to get in line right before it began to grow with hungry office workers. Everyone (both customers and staff) appeared to be handling the rush well, with only one customer complaining to a staff member about his wait.

As we waited to place our order, we got to take in the surroundings - it is definitely light and refreshing, with large windows and a colour scheme of bright greens, natural browns and whites. The interior definitely provides a nice midday oasis (despite the noise level), but between the Kirei board and reclaimed wood table tops, sustainable flooring and "green" take out containers, they have also used the decor to remind customers of their eco-friendliness. The decor is completed with an interactive "nutrition centre" in the corner, where you can look up the nutritional contents of your meal on the computer.

Zed decided to skip food as none of the "healthy" options were really appealing to him but thought he would try a latte (~$4 for a large). After passing over a couple sandwiches, salads and the four available soup options, I decided to try the Orange Beef Rice Bowl with Alberta strip loin, Asian greens, brown organic rice, citrus and a ginger soy sauce (~$9.50). I was intrigued by their freshly squeezed orange and kiwi juice, but our cashier let us know it wasn't available yet, so I went for a cup of loose leaf organic Rooibos tea (~$2.25).

We found a couple seats along the wall and waited for my name to be called to pick up our order. I realize they are still working out the kinks, but between the conversation of diners eating in and those coming for take out, it was pretty difficult to hear your name being called... hopefully they will come up with a new system soon. About ten minutes after placing our order we heard them call "Marianne", and I went to grab our drinks and my rice bowl.

Large latte and Rooibos tea

Orange Beef Rice Bowl

The dish definitely looked "healthy" - lots of brown rice and a good amount of veggies and beef all contained in a neat little portion. Unfortunately between the rice and the beef, the dish was a little dry for my liking and neither the orange or the citrus came through... hopefully this is another one of those kinks they will work out with time. Zed's latte was pretty good, with 2% milk their standard, it was definitely lighter than the whole milk beverages found elsewhere.

Although the food wasn't quite up our alley, the restaurant seemed to be an instant hit with downtown workers. Though after today's rice bowl, I'm not convinced that Health Fare delivered on their "...nutritious, mouth watering delicious..." motto. In terms of healthy food options, I was expecting something that went beyond the obvious of goat cheese and veggie sandwiches, tomato soup, salads and rice bowls; with all these lunchtime basics available elsewhere downtown, I hope Health Fare will work out some of their kinks in the next couple weeks to provide an experience beyond the impressive decor.


A friend of ours decided to hold a feast this past Saturday evening at she and her partner's cabin at Spring Lake. The setting was definitely beautiful, and although the plan to cook at the lake together all day didn't quite pan out, the dishes at the table were great - someone brought a pasta salad with lots of olives and peppers, our host made a pan of roasted beets, leeks and sweet potatoes, there were a couple loaves of home made bread, Moroccan lamb soup, Zed and I made tourtière and picked up a lovely roast from ACME Meat Market (9531 76 Avenue) to cook once we got there.

A couple weeks ago during all the planning, I offered to bring dessert. I've been waiting for an occasion worthy of Croquembouche, and with no weddings, baptisms or first communions in sight, this feast seemed to fit the bill. So on Saturday, armed with about 80 profiteroles, a couple cups of caramel and a homemade cone of tinfoil and construction paper, Zed and I got to work.

The tower

I'm happy to say that I got through the build with only a sugar burn on my thumb, and that we are both otherwise unscathed. And although the caramel was slightly dark and the puffs weren't perfectly round, it seemed to be a hit. But really, how can you go wrong with pastry, whipped cream and caramel?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Bits and Pieces

I've got a bit of a build up of posts, so I thought I would wrap them up into something as tidy and concise as I am able to...

First of all, although I'm sure it has been mentioned somewhere already, we noticed that the Mexican restaurant on 108 St and White (just behind the convenience store) has finally opened. I know there was some drama with the naming, but it looks like it has worked out and they have settled on "Arriba Mexico".

Also, after quite a few months of work, the space that was formerly Nokomis Clothing (on the 108th Street block of Whyte) has opened as Friends and Neighbors "Delight", and is offering more Vietnamese and vegetarian selections than their attached diner.

Muddy Waters Cafe on 111th and Whyte appears to have shut down. All the furniture and equipment have been taken out and it doesn't look like renovations. Although I didn't venture there too much, Zed liked it for its proximity to home and late night hours, so it will definitely be missed if it has in fact closed for good.

I made these nonfat gingersnaps from David Lebovitz' blog. I'm not sure why I decided to venture into nonfat territory, but it sure was a good way to use up some left over applesauce. They weren't quite rich enough for my liking (those ginger cookies from Duchess are the best!), but they are really nice with a glass of milk for dunking.

We went for brunch at The Hat last month. I'm surprised we stopped as we've had really bad luck with service there in the past, but in the spirit of the second last City Centre Market day, we decided to give it another shot. I had an omelet with green pepper, Swiss cheese and mushrooms and was less than impressed - it was thick and heavy and the green peppers made the filling watery. Again, Zed is not a breakfast person unless he's making his own pancakes, so he went for his fall back of ham and toast which he found fine.

Once again the service left something to be desired. There was too much lag time between drinks, ordering and food, and there were only a few tables of two in the restaurant. Also, they were doing server interviews within ear shot of the customers, and it would have been nice if they could have found an alternate location that was a bit more private. We will definitely be heading back to the more reliable Blue Plate for Saturday brunch instead.

We also went to Dahlia's Mediterranean Bistro (10235 - 124 Street) for lunch a few weeks ago. The owner, Fadi Smaidi, just moved to Edmonton from Montreal last year. In addition to Shawarma, hummus and other Mediterranean dishes, Dahlia's also offers panini and Montreal smoked meat sandwiches... the smoked meat is the real thing, flown in weekly from Montreal, so of course we had to get a couple of those. It wasn't quite like being in Montreal, but it was nice to order a "Smoked Meat Sandwich" and actually get the real thing.

We've picked up a couple new kitchen tools recently. In August we found this Peugeot pepper mill in Montreal and couldn't resist. There was definitely some associated sticker shock, but after using it for a couple months and having perfectly ground pepper, it's faded.

After sorting through what seemed like hundreds of knife reviews, we decided to purchase a MAC Mighty Santoku and picked one up on Monday. We made soup that evening to make sure we were giving the knife a good breaking in... I never knew chopping veggies could be so pleasant! And it made quick work of this red pepper on Tuesday morning for my omelet.

And finally, we have finished our culinary classes at NAIT and we both had a great time. Although some of the techniques in either class may have been simple, they were still a bit daunting to undertake at home, so it was nice having an instructor close by to answer any questions and to guide us through the more difficult steps.

The instructor of the pastry course was Curtis, who besides teaching part time at NAIT, also works at Duchess Bake Shop and Kerstin's Chocolates; I think having someone there with everyday industry experience really added to the course.

The pasta below is from the class Zed took at the end of October, and the rest of the pictures are from the baking class I attended last week and this past Tuesday.

Fettucine, marinara and alfredo sauce

Day 1: Caramel Pannacotta

Day 1: Crème brûlée

Day 1: Raspberry Charlotte Royale

Day 2: Pate a Choux and Pastry Cream

Day 2: fresh puff pastry for raspberry & sour cherry turnovers

Day 3: Tiramisu with chocolate cigars (the poor thing sagged on the way home because the inside wasn't set yet... it still tasted fantastic though!)