Sunday, May 30, 2010

Saturday Brunch at Culina Highlands

We had good intentions of going to the Highlands Street Festival yesterday, but in the cold and pouring rain Charles decided to head into Mandolin Books for warmth, while I perused Sabrina Butterfly Designs (finding a fab shirt for a warmer day). As soon as our excursions were done, we gave in and decided it would be best to head over to Culina Highlands for brunch.

Arriving around 12:30pm, we stepped through the door and were hit with a lovely aroma of bacon wafting through from the open kitchen immediately to the left. The smallish seating area was pretty full, except for a cozy table for two near the window. We were provided with menus and water, then left to think things over. I decided on a black tea (~$3) and bacon and eggs ($15), while Charles opted for a cup of coffee (~$3) with bacon and toast ($8).

Our food came out pretty quickly, but they had great tunes going - the Beatles and later disc 1 of Joel Plaskett's 'Three' - so I'm sure we could have lasted awhile with our coffee and tea alone.

The eggs portion of my meal was represented by a savoury and perfectly soft frittata, topped with a rich, peppery mushroom sauce that I probably could have eaten an entire bowl of. The potatoes were also well done - not entirely mashed, but still soft and fluffy, topped with a refreshing heap of green onion. Although it was slightly oily, Charles and I both enjoyed the flavour of the Applewood bacon, which is smoked in-house - with lots of rich, smoky flavour, it was a great addition to a rainy Saturday afternoon.

As soon as our server mentioned chocolate pot du creme ($9), we were hooked on dessert. Just as it should be, the custard was silky, rich and intensely chocolatey, and the blackberries sitting on top provided a necessary tang.

We were glad to finally make it over to Culina Highlands, as it had been on our 'list' for some time. Happily we found a great atmosphere with fun Ukrainian decor touches, friendly, casual service, and fantastic food - we will definitely be returning... hopefully to test out the pyrohy.

Culina Highlands
6509 112 Ave
Phone. 780.477.2422
Hours: Tues - F (11-2 for lunch; 5-10 for dinner), Sa (10-2 for brunch; 5-10 for dinner), Su (10-2 for brunch)
Culina Highlands on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Three Banana Bread

My Nanny makes amazing banana loaves, and her apartment is just a ten minute walk away from our place, which means I can easily head over Sundays for a slice with tea. But with three bananas sitting on our counter last Tuesday, I thought I would finally attempt one of my own.

I typed 'banana bread, three bananas' into Google last Tuesday evening, and this Food Network recipe popped up. Although it didn't list any additions like walnuts or chocolate, I figured I would give this one a try and add them on my own.

It turned out really well - a nice chewy crust, a crumbly perimeter, and a moist interior with lots of cinnamon, Valrhona Manjari, and toasted walnuts . Pretty satisfactory for my first banana loaf and a good excuse to leave the bananas on the counter for a few extra days.

You can find the recipe from Food Network here. As mentioned above, I added chocolate and walnuts, but I didn't really measure them out. I'm guessing it was about 1/3 cup of each, but this loaf seems pretty forgiving, no matter how many 'extras' you wish to add.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Fort Edmonton Park- Johnson's Cafe, JHH Bakery and Kitchens

We decided to head over to Fort Edmonton Park this afternoon for Victoria Day festivities and the opening of the park itself for the summer season. Activities included a toast to the Queen in the Fort courtyard, entertainment from the Edmonton School Boys Alumni Band in the bandshell, and Victorian themed activities around the park. And of course, there was food.

The Bakery at the Jasper House Hotel (1885 Street)

The bakery on the main floor of the Japer House Hotel is always a fun stop, and it was worth our lengthy wait in line today. Fresh bread, cinnamon and cheese buns, rhubarb cake, brownies, cookies and raspberry lemonade make for a refreshing stop after the Fort area, and we certainly took advantage of it.

Everything was great - chewy gingersnaps, sticky, sweet cinnamon buns, a crumbly piece of  rhubarb cake and a rice crispy square got us around the park for the rest of the day, and made great after dinner treats at home this evening.

Johnson's Cafe at the Hotel Selkirk (1920 Street)

Hoping for a new menu to kick off the season, we decided to check out Johnson's Cafe in the Hotel Selkirk to see if anything had changed since our visit last summer. Arriving around 2pm just after the lunch rush, a table for two was immediately available.

As expected, their menu is short and to the point, trying to appeal to everyone who steps foot in the door, and it appeared to be similar to the one we perused last July. Both of us thought the menu was lacking in personality, and after spending a nostalgic day wandering through the park, it seemed unfortunate that , considering its surroundings, the restaurant was not offering any regional or 'period' dishes. In the end, Charles decided on the Wellington Burger with salad ($10), while I went for the roast beef sliders with salad ($8).

Our food was brought out shortly after ordering, and we found the real thing no more intriguing than its write up on the menu. Charles' burger was dry, thin and seriously lacking in flavour, and while the roast beef in my sliders was alright moisture wise, the squishy white buns the beef sat on didn't add anything to the sandwiches, and the horseradish mayo topping them was lacking any sort of bright, spicy kick.
And while the idea of sliders is lovely, I wish they would take the concept further, maybe offering different toppings on each of the sandwiches. The salad was certainly the best thing on both our plates. While standard, the combo of greens, apples, cranberries and a berry vinaigrette always works for me.

While we understand the restaurant's need to play it safe, we left disappointed and bored, wishing the restaurant would take a chance, be inspired by their surroundings and offer patrons something fun and inventive. Next time we will likely head over to the Masonic Hall for a bison burger, or the Jasper House Hotel for chili or soup.


Either we've always missed it, or there were a few more parts of the various houses open today with the season's opening celebrations. Anyhow, here are some kitchen things we enjoyed:

Fort - Rowand House

Gingersnaps at Egge's Stopping House

Lauder's Bake Shop and Residence

Rutherford House

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Wild Earth... half way there

Finally, Wild Earth Bakery (8902 99 Street) has opened the west side of the cafe after months of renos. Charles stopped by yesterday around 10am for a coffee and cinnamon bun with a friend, and they managed to snap a few pictures (some of these pictures are from today as well). The plan is to have the entire space open in a few weeks, as they've shut the east side down for an overhaul... can't wait for all that seating!

And finally, I promised Charles I would post the picture of the bathroom sink area he took. He's in love with the countertop and sink. They are pretty beautiful, and apparently Greta (the owner) is pretty proud of them... I would be too. What a great find!

8902 99 Street
Ph. 780.425.8423

Thursday, May 13, 2010

David Lebovitz' Chocolate Chip Cookies

My favourite chocolate chip cookie recipe is always changing, and this one from David Lebovitz' Ready for Dessert is my current favourite.

Everything is mixed up, formed into a log, and is then left to sit in the fridge for 24 hours. The dough is good in the fridge for up to a week, so you can either bake the whole thing in one go, or bake a couple at a time for fresh out of the oven cookies, as we have been doing this past week.

Lebovitz calls for dark chocolate chunks, but I decided to go with half milk (Valrhona Jivara 40%) and half dark (Valrhona Caraibe 66%) and they turned out great. The dough is melt-in-your-mouth soft, and it's loaded with pecans and lots of gooey melted chocolate. My favourite type of cookie... for now.

Happy belated to Charles... this was his midnight birthday cookie on Monday

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Yield ~ 48 cookies (I halved this recipe and it worked well)
Adapted from David Lebovitz' Ready for Dessert


2 1/2 cups (350g) all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup (8 ounces/225g) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup (215g) packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract (I used vanilla paste here)
2 large eggs at room temperature
2 cups (~225g) nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds, or macadamia) toasted and coarsely chopped (I used pecans)
14 ounces (400g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped into 1/2 to 1 inch chunks (again, I used 3.5 ounces dark, and 3.5 ounces milk). Just be sure to use chocolate vs. chocolate chips... chocolate chips are designed to keep from melting.


1. Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt.
2. Beat together butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and vanilla until smooth. Beat in eggs one at a time until thoroughly incorporated, then stir in the flour mixture followed by the nuts and chocolate chunks.
3. On a lightly floured work surface, divide the dough into quarters. Shape each quarter into a log about 9 inches (23 cm) long. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, preferably for 24 hours.
4. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat the oven to 350F (175C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
5. Slice the logs into disks 3/4 inch thick and place the disks 3 inches apart on the baking sheets. If the nuts or chips crumble out, simply push them back in.
6. Bake, rotating the baking sheets midway through baking, until the cookies are very lightly browned in the centres, about 10 minutes.


Logs can be refrigerated for 1 week or frozen for up to one month. The baked cookies will keep well in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A quick stop at Ottavio - Victoria BC

*I think I've posted on pretty much everything from our Victoria trip now, so back to Edmonton stuff next post.

On our very last day (well, half day) in Victoria, we finally made some time to head over to Oak Bay. I had been hoping to make it over sooner to have lunch at Ottavio, but no luck. So we arrived full from a Blue Fox breakfast, and there was no cheese or salumi for me. I thought of bringing cheese home like Valerie did, but we just didn't have time to get it together, and all I could think of was a warning from David Lebovitz - don't even attempt to shove cheese in your suitcase.

I didn't want to tempt myself by taking pictures of the meats and cheeses, but they did look amazing. House made salumi as well as imported, and lots of local cheeses as well as those from around the world. There are lots of Kusmi teas, Illy coffees, breads, baked goods, olives, pastas, etc. All this can be either taken home, or they have a little cafe offering charcuterie and cheese plates, as well as baked goods, sandwiches, salads, coffees, teas and beer and wine.

My touristy tote to bring home

Although we were too full from breakfast to even attempt charcuterie or sandwiches, the weather seemed nice enough that we would finally be able to sit out on a patio. So it was a cappuccino and a small lemon-current scone with jam for me, and a latte for Charles, along with a sunny patio.

Ottavio - Italian Bakery and Delicatessen
2272 Oak Bay Avenue
Ottavio Italian Bakery, Delicatessen & Cafe on Urbanspoon

*I didn't take any pictures of the inside of the place, but they've got lots on their website here.

Blue Fox Cafe - Victoria BC

We had a bit of a three quarter day in Victoria on Tuesday, with our flight not scheduled to depart until later in the afternoon. I was eager to try the Blue Fox Cafe for breakfast, located directly across the street from Cafe Brio, our dinner spot the previous evening.

We arrived around 9am Tuesday morning and were seated almost directly. However the place was still packed, with tables being filled almost immediately after the previous patrons had vacated. (On this Chowhound thread, one hound advises not to head to Blue Fox on weekends... you could be in for a wait lasting more than an hour!).

Charles was all about coffee that morning, while I went for an orange juice. Unlike the amazing juices offered at Rebar, I'm sure this one was out of the carton, but it satisfied my craving anyhow.

We were ironically sat at a table with these Edmonton to Victoria doodles...

...sadly we were heading in the other direction, towards snow.

Not really one for breakfast, Charles went for his standard - bacon and toast. I was eager to get some final seafood in before departing the City and went for the Eggs Pacifico ($11.5), an eggs benedict with avocado, smoked salmon, and a chipotle spread served on a bagel.

Our food was brought out almost immediately after placing our orders. They seem to be used to flipping tables, but their promptness was still initially surprising. Charles' breakfast was pretty standard, but what he appreciated was our server asking if he would liked his bacon cooked to a crisp, or left a bit softer... and in the end the bacon was cooked to what he thought was a pretty good crispy state. The Eggs Pacifico was pretty good too, with the creamy avocado, rich hollandaise sauce, smoky salmon and spicy chipotle all playing well together.

I know that Blue Fox is known for their portion sizes and fair prices, but I found the large size unfortunate since I only got through about half my plate. Next time, Charles and I will definitely need to agree on a plate to share.

With friendly service, prompt timing, good food, and, once again, a very relaxed atmosphere, we will certainly be returning to the Blue Fox Cafe. But next time, I know not to tackle one of those plates on my own.

Blue Fox Cafe
101-919 Fort Street
Blue Fox on Urbanspoon

*I believe reservations are taken for groups of 6 or more Monday through Friday, but not on weekends.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Haro's at the Sidney Pier - Sidney BC

Last year we had spent our last evening before heading back to Edmonton at the Sidney Pier Hotel. I love Sidney - it's quiet to the point of being kitschy, there are always sail boats in the distance, and everyone there seems to have a cute dog. Plus, my parents lived there for about 15 years, my grandparents retired out there, and I spent most of my preschool years there too. So we took last Saturday to head out to Sidney and explore once again.

After exploring the water front for awhile, and perusing and drooling in this place, we decided to try Haro's at the Sidney Pier Hotel for lunch, since we had only made it there for drinks last year.

We arrived just as they were opening for lunch at 11am, so were sat down immediately. While I wish it would have been warm enough to enjoy the patio, we still had a pretty lovely view...

Like most restaurants we encountered in Victoria, Haro's seems to try to focus on utilizing local ingredients, although at some points on the menu, it seemed like more of a show than an actual passion for the ingredients themselves. I went for the 'steamed gulf island mussels', with Spanish chorizo, almonds, garlic, shallots and smoked paprika cream ($15), while Charles went for a pulled pork sandwich with fries (~$15).

We were provided with a bit of whole grain bread before our mains, which we happily munched on after skipping breakfast to grab the bus out. And soon after we had polished of our slices, our mains appeared. Charles' sandwich was alright - the pork was tender, but he thought the sauce was a little strange (something about the sweet and sour combo wasn't working here).

I really enjoyed the mussels - they were cooked well, and were perfectly sweet and fresh, however I can't say the chorizo-mussel combo here was my favourite. I love having a nice piece of bread to sop up the sauce that is inevitably left with mussels, so I was sad to find only a dried out piece of focaccia on the side of my plate for this purpose, especially after we had started the meal with some really good whole grain bread.

Our visit to Haro's was pretty good, but I wish we would have waited in line to get into some other 'breakfast' style spots up Beacon Avenue, especially the 3rd Street Cafe, where the line was out onto the sidewalk. But I guess there's always next time!

Haro's Restaurant + Bar
9805 Sea Port Place
Haro's on Urbanspoon