Sunday, February 27, 2011

Friday evening at Somerville Wine and Cheese

On Friday evening Charles and I made plans to meet up with our friend Brenna at Somerville Wine and Cheese on 107th and 124th Street. Calling earlier in the day we secured a reservation for 6:30pm and arrived (a little late) to a bright, open space and a friendly greeting at the door.

Seated at one of the tables for four lining the north side of the room, we decided on four dishes that would be shared tapas style and asked that they recommend a bottle of red to compliment our selections. They came through with a spicy bottle of Dehesa Gago Cosecha from Spain (~$42) that went really well with all our dishes, especially the Spanish inspired 'grilled cheese' and the red wine and tomato braised bison short ribs.

Our server explained that each option on the menu could be ordered as an entree or as an item to be shared. We selected the latter option and everything came out together after a few sips of wine and a short wait.

Lox in the front and the Spanish Manchego 'grilled cheese' ($14) served open-faced in the back. With Charles out of the grilled cheese situation, it was left for Brenna and I. We both enjoyed this take on the sandwich, especially the bites containing spicy, smoky chorizo.

 The Lox (~$17). This was a welcome classic, and in comparison to our other dishes, was certainly the lightest thing to grace the table.

Red wine and tomato braised bison short ribs (~$22). Along with the pork belly, this dish was the hit of the table. The meat was tender, slightly spicy and smoky.

 Cider braised pork belly with caramelized onions and apples and fennel cream (~$15). This dish was rich but incredibly flavourful. The pork was soft and tender, the fennel cream was rich yet bright and fresh, which worked well with the pork, and the apples and onions provided a satisfying level of sweetness.

After indulging in the savory side of the menu we opted to share the restaurant's single dessert offering between the three of us - a goat cheese and blackberry blancmange prepared by Duchess ($9). The blancmange was creamy and tangy and the blackberry compote provided a rich, sweet contrast. My favourite part of this dessert was the spicy (ie. cinnamon, nutmeg, etc.) poached pear.

Service throughout the evening was attentive and friendly, with water glasses topped up regularly and dishes promptly cleared. Lingering for awhile, the space was certainly comfortable. And despite the large birthday party happening on the banquette side of the room, we had no problem carrying on our conversation. At one point a party guest stood up and sang a great rendition of 'What a Wonderful World' to the birthday girl, and it turned out to be a real treat for us too (we weren't too fond of the restaurant's music selection throughout the evening, which seemed a little heavy on the classical side of things, and thus a little too formal for the space and atmosphere).

At the end of the evening the three of us agreed that our visit to Somerville Wine and Cheese was certainly successful. With a comfortable space, friendly staff, knowledgeable wine pairings and well executed dishes, we are definitely looking forward to our next visit.

Somerville Wine and Cheese
10723 124 Street
Hours: T-W (4:30-11PM) Th-Sa (4:30PM - 1AM) Su-M (Closed)
Somerville Wine Room on Urbanspoon

A blurry picture from the end of the evening.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Meal Planning Saga: Week Six

With a couple of assignments and a mid-term during week six, we had a few ups and downs. Though once again, there were a couple favourites and a brand new keeper.

Sunday - Frankies' Meatballs - Perusing videos and recipes on Chow a couple weeks ago (a great way to procrastinate and make yourself hungry), we stumbled on a recipe for meatballs from the Frankies of Frankies Sputino in New York. The raw garlic in these was incredibly overpowering, though the rich yet light texture was incredible. In the end, we ate what we could, froze the rest, and they are now slated to be 'slow cooked' in tomato sauce for a few hours this week to slay some of the raw garlic stuff going on.

Monday - Pulled Pork with Maudite 'Spare Rib' Sauce - Though the pulled pork here was excellent, the sauce we'd loved so much for our New Year's meal didn't quite work here for some reason. The mystery continues.

Tuesday - Thai Green Curry from Meal Planning 101 - Finally a recipe from Kindra's blog, the first one I perused before beginning the meal planning adventure. This is an incredibly flavourful and quick recipe and we'll be making it again soon. Next time with a red pepper, as listed, for a little more colour.

Wednesday - Pizza - Pulling out the last of our latest batch of Peter Reinhart's Neo-Neapolitan pizza dough, we ended up with two pretty excellent pizzas topped with tomato sauce, hot soppressata, hedgehog mushrooms, bocconcini and basil.

Thursday - Carrot-Ginger Soup - Using this recipe from Chatelaine as a guide, this soup turned out pretty well. Best of all, I managed to use up the large amount of carrots that had been sitting idle in our veggie drawer. Kicking up the ginger (by that I mean doubling it), this was almost as good as the bowl I grabbed a couple weeks ago for lunch at Leva.

Friday - With a last minute change of plans I ended up hosting a couple girlfriends for dinner Friday evening while Charles was off to a hockey game. Dropping into the Italian Centre, we grabbed a jar of roasted red peppers and eggplant pâté, a couple loaves of sun dried tomato bread, a round of chèvre and some smoked ghouda, "dolmades" (I'm really addicted to the Zanae version) and artichoke and mozzarella ravioli for what turned out to be a casual, tapas style evening. We also stopped at Bin 104 adding a bottle of Alley Kat's Apple Wit to our food lineup, along with Rogue's Chipotle Ale and their Chocolate Stout for dessert. My favourite was the the creamy, bitter-sweet chocolate stout, though the hit around the table was the Apple Wit.

Saturday evening we found ourselves at Niche... of course a post will follow soon. Enjoy the rest of your week!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Meal Planning Saga: Week Five

Clearly I'm a few days behind here, but the good news is, I've successfully made it to reading week. As I head into the final reading week of my undergrad career, I've realized I now fully understand the 'reading' portion of reading week. I remember when I had time to take a vacation, a break, whatever, but the next week will be spent in the library, doing research and writing essays, and yes, reading. But however much of that I do, there will be cooking (and hopefully neglected baking)!

Sunday - Roast chicken, spinach and roasted yam. Simple and covered us for meals for both Monday and Tuesday.

We just cannot carve a chicken... it's on the list.

Monday - Chicken and mushroom risotto, of course using some of the leftover chicken and stock.

Tuesday - Chicken and vegetable soup. This was quick and comforting, which was great since we were off to Edmonton Opera's second performance of the season, The Abduction from the Seraglio. We enjoyed this one immensely, and I should have posted on it the night of. It was hilarious! And references to Canadian politics, Facebook, You Tube, and the use of video in the performance kept everyone on their toes and laughing.

Wednesday - Things switched up a bit, and we ended up at Sugarbowl that evening with a friend. We both did the evening special - a meatloaf sandwich - which didn't really impress either of us. Now the beer, that was good. Charles did his current favourite - Chimay Red - while I was off to their 'Features/Staff Picks' board for an Anchor Brewing Porter, which was creamy and rich - perfect for a cool-ish evening.

Thursday - Slow cooker 'Bison' Goulash. This one was adapted from The Gourmet Slow Cooker, where the original protein called for was beef. We had some bison in the freezer so we thought we'd give it a try, and thankfully, it worked. We also had some leftover mushrooms in the fridge, and added those to the mix as well for a rich, flavourful Thursday meal (this one also made for a great lunch on day two).

Friday - Louisiana Trout, with more spinach and roasted yam. This recipe from Moosewood Simple Suppers was originally listed for our first week of the 'saga'. Though Charles preferred the Moroccan spiced fish, I was quite taken by the slight spiciness of this one along with the rich paprika. And more yam here. I found what I felt was a gigantic yam (you know, in a 'for two people' sort of way) at the Italian Centre a couple weeks ago, and I finally got around to chopping it up. Some of it got roasted as you see below, and some of it was roasted, mashed then frozen in anticipation of making this loaf over the 'break'.

 The yam!

Saturday - Slow Cooker Dal, another one from The Gourmet Slow Cooker. I added a bit of curry powder to the garlic and ginger mix here and I still think it was good move. This recipe was fantastic, and the flavour certainly improved the next day, and even Monday for a tasty lunch. The yogurt provided a tangy creaminess and the cilantro a very necessary brightness and hint of green.

And there's week five.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Meal Planning Saga: Week Four

I can't believe we've made it a month. Though the whole meal planning process was a bit daunting, we're noticing the benefits - simpler grocery shopping, less stress around meal times, more 'rounded' plates on the table, better lunches via leftovers and, best of all, we're cooking together then sitting down for 45 minutes or so (depending on the meal) each evening. A big plus after busy winter days.

After last week's 'hiccups' we got back on track this week with some pretty enjoyable recipes. As per usual, we kicked the meal planning week off with Sunday dinner.

Sunday - Oven-roasted miso sesame salmon from Moosewood's Simple Suppers. The flavours here were great and I think we'll certainly be oven roasting more fish. But the texture of the 'glaze' was sort of 'starchy', and both Charles and I couldn't help but compare it to the dijon-maple marinade we usually love with salmon - I think we'll stick to the latter in the future. We served this with the 'Pan-Asian slaw,' also from Simple Suppers, and some of those soba noodles still kicking around the pantry.

Monday - was a visit to the Muttart for details on the newest Culina Family addition.

Tuesday - 'Greek' lamb burgers from Epicurious. These were really great, though I think a little less paprika would have been a good idea. We swapped the spinach for the arugula we had in the fridge and made a quick salad on the side. These were also great for lunch the next day with some pita and hummus.

Wednesday - Moroccan spiced 'fish' (trout, in our case), again from Simple Suppers. With a little less heat, and a little less of the spice mixture on the fish itself, this would have been great. Never the less we enjoyed it alongside salad and wild rice for a rounded mid-week dinner.

Thursday - 'Shortcut Chili' from what I'm now realizing is our fall-back cookbook. We were running around a bit this evening, and although this veggie chili from Simple Suppers only required a bit of heating, I put everything in the slow cooker so we could eat when convenient. This recipe called for an entire can of chipotles in adobo; I added four, freezing the rest, and there was a pleasant heat level. In short: don't use the entire can.

Friday - Pizza. Charles made dough from the Bread Baker's Apprentice on Thursday evening, froze four of the six pieces and we had two nice pizzas for a casual Friday evening dinner. One pizza contained tomato sauce, hot mortadella, artichoke hearts, mushrooms and bocconcini, while the other had tomato sauce, mushrooms, bocconcini, smoked bison and fresh basil. While we loved both, the latter was the clear winner - crispy, slightly smoky bison, soft cheese... we'll be combining these ingredients again.

Charles stopped on the way home from work to grab a couple items for dinner and found Crave Cupcakes (7929 104 Street) open, so he grabbed a dozen mini cupcakes ($16.95) for dessert (okay, dessert and snacking over the weekend).

Saturday - Goat cheese and squash ravioli with mushrooms and arugula. Four weeks ago when school was not yet taking up so much brain space, Charles made some pasta dough while I filled it with the squash-goat cheese mixture, freezing it for later days. We broke it out Saturday night, cooking down a mixture of mushrooms we'd picked up at the Italian Centre with some sage, onions, garlic and vegetable broth. Topped with more of that arugula that won't leave the fridge, this meal was one of the more nicely balanced ones we've created, with tangy goat cheese, silky pasta, rich mushroom 'sauce' and peppery arugula mixing well.

This week has been chicken, risotto, and soup so far. Tomorrow night is slow cooker goulash which we're looking forward to. Enjoy the rest of your week everyone!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Culina Muttart

This past Monday Charles and I were off to the Muttart Conservatory for a celebration of Culina's newest space and partnership with the City of Edmonton - an evening of 'local' food, food themed tours of the pyramids and a bit of an intro to Culina Muttart itself. Arriving right at 6:30pm (the scheduled start time) we were happy to encounter a warm, casual gathering; a welcome escape from the -30°C we'd just encountered.

Finding 'local' producers set up around the reception space at the centre of the pyramids, we stopped first at Yellowhead Brewery, thankfully nearest the coat rack, finally testing out their lager, which was smooth and easy to drink. Other producers included long time Culina partners Spring Creek Ranch, The Jam Lady and Pinocchio Ice Cream, along with newer partners such as Mighty Trio Organics, Tangle Ridge Ranch (lamb), O Sol' Meatos, The Cheesiry and en Santé Winery.

A few favourites of the night were Tangle Ridge's lamb (prepared by Culina) with the curry mustard from The Jam Lady, the Rustico Grande cheese from The Cheesiry, a salad (the same one they'll be serving at Culina Muttart) with quinoa and chickpeas from Mighty Trio Organics and a strawberry-tarragon sorbet from Pinocchio Ice Cream.

As mentioned above there were also tours of the pyramids. While we missed the 'Feature pyramid' (check out Sharon's post for a picture of the Valentine's theme), we did head into the arid, temperate and tropical pyramids, where guides pointed out agave, grape vines, pomegranate and persimmon trees, bananas and coffee in the various pyramids, just to name a few.

Before we left I was glad to clear up a few details I didn't quite understand about the City-Culina partnership. First of all, they'll be growing some of their greens (lettuces, herbs, etc.) in the Muttart's greenhouses, hopefully increasing space and thus product over time. Currently the restaurant is open for brunch and lunch only (during the hours the Conservatory is open), but hopefully they can branch into dinner soon. The space was pretty lovely at night, with the coloured lights of the Muttart entrance and the large windows creating a pleasant effect; I certainly wouldn't mind sitting down to a casual evening dinner.

Talking with one of the Culina Family partners, we could tell the team was excited about the new space and what's to come. And given the 'educational' nature of the Muttart itself, it seems like they'll be taking the opportunity to showcase regional products, engaging a broader audience of Edmontonians and visitors in the possibilities of local food in a casual, accessible fashion.

And of course we had to inquire about Folk Fest weekend. Although they're not sure if they will be open yet, here's hoping they can work something out for patrons and volunteers (and staff), inevitably hungry for a good breakfast on the Saturday and Sunday of the show. You know we'll be stopping on our way to site if those doors are open.

Thanks again to Kiri from the City, and of course to Culina, for inviting us to the event. We had a great time and are eager to see where things go from here. And of course we can't wait to head down for weekend brunch!

Culina Muttart
9626 96A Street
Hours: M-F (10-5), Sa-Su (11-5)
Currently taking reservations for six or more only; you can find their weekday lunch menu here by scrolling down a bit.

Check out posts on the event from other bloggers: Chris (great slide show here), Sharon, Twyla, and Liane from the Journal. And thanks to Charles for taking all the pictures above!

*Okay, just a little note on ETS. Getting to the Muttart after hours was a slight challenge, with no buses running East down 98th Ave. after 6pm. If you are heading to the Muttart on weekdays or Saturdays during open hours, check out the 85 which runs until 6pm (5pm on Saturdays) from downtown. On Sundays, the closest you'll get is via routes 7 or 8. If it's a nice day, Cloverdale has great biking/walking trails to/from Old Strathcona, Downtown and the River Valley in general. Good luck!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Tzin and Brian Jungen

This past Friday evening we were excited to check out the new Brian Jungen exhibit at the AGA, and with both of us already downtown at work, we planned the night before to check out another spot that had been on the list for some time - Tzin.

With the AGA event beginning at 7:30, we made a reservation via Open Table the evening before for 5:30, which would give us time to enjoy a few food items and couple glasses of wine. Unfortunately we arrived a little late for our reservation, but we were greeted immediately at the door, our jackets were hung and we were led to a table towards the back of the small space, right next to the bar.

A pillow lined banquet, deep red walls, a small, open kitchen and only a couple windows create a pretty cozy space (especially during cold evenings) and I think we probably could have stayed all evening with a bottle of wine. The two servers that evening were incredibly friendly and helpful, pairing wine with our food and suggesting glasses they thought we'd enjoy. Eventually we both ended up with a glass of Gine Gine, a red from Spain... that's about all I can remember. Food wise, we went with the mushroom crostinis ($13), golden halibut cheeks ($19.5) and chicken sausage and chorizo strudel (~$18).

The one and only food picture of the evening - mushroom crostinis. The cozy space meant sparse lighting, so we put the camera away.

Our food came out fairly quickly just as we got into our wine and we were left to enjoy. The mushroom crostinis were fantastic - rich crimini mushrooms, crispy baguette and flavourful garlic and red pepper aioli were a perfect start to the evening. We also enjoyed the sausage and chorizo strudel, which combined a moist, spicy filling with a satisfyingly crispy exterior. The halibut cheeks, our 'splurge' item, didn't quite live up to expectations. Breaded and slightly overcooked, the pieces came out a little dry, and we had to rely a little too heavily on the ginger-sesame-soy sauce on the side to provide necessary moisture and flavour.

I have no doubt we'll be back to Tzin. While we weren't necessarily 'wowed' by the food, we certainly enjoyed the majority of our dishes. The space and friendly service easily make this spot one of the most welcoming we've ever ventured to and that's definitely enough to warrant many return visits.

TZiN Wine & Tapas
10115 104 Street
Hours: T-Th (4-11pm), F-Sa (4pm - midnight), Su-M (Closed)
Tzin Wine & Tapas on Urbanspoon
*There were quite a few parties turned away throughout our stay, so if your heading to this spot, I'd suggest making a reservation.

Brian Jungen was thoroughly enjoyed. Definitely check it out if you get a chance. We also bumped into Isabelle and her husband which was great. Since this post was without food pictures, here's a few from the exhibition instead... I know, not quite as appetizing.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Meal Planning Saga: Week Three

Alright we had some stumbles this week. We couldn't find all the ingredients for Monday's dish, and with me bagged after a lengthy book review, it was phở at Phởbulous. Wednesday was scheduled for Red Ox's Fork Fest, but Charles had a nasty cold and thus we ended up with an evening of chicken broth and 'nibbling' instead. Friday was TZiN. So here's the partial week.

Sunday - Pork tenderloin with Balsamic Cranberry Sauce - our first Epicurious recipe in awhile, this was pretty good. I couldn't find cranberry sauce so I made my own, which worked well. The pork was moist, and made for an excellent sandwich the next day. We had some leftover quinoa, spinach and roasted sweet potato alongside.

Tuesday -Grilled Chicken and 'Ratatouille' - another one from Epicurious, this one didn't quite get all the ingredients necessary. The chicken was great, but the missing basil and tomatoes from the 'Ratatouille' would have made this dish a bit better.

Thursday - Lengthy title here, but it was steak, sautéd mushrooms, greens and a spicy ginger dressing, again from Epicurious. This was easily the most successful dish of the week, and though we discovered we were out of sesame seeds thus leaving the steak bear, the addition of toasted almonds gave this salad a good crunch. Still resisting buying ingredients for a single recipe, I subbed the 'chili-garlic sauce' with chili paste and fresh garlic, and it tasted great.

And that's all. Saturday evening we were at the annual Folk Fest Members' Appreciation, where we had some incredible lasagna along with various salads, and then we were back on track Sunday to kick off this week. Meals are planned until the 14th of February, so hopefully there won't be too many hiccups in the next couple weeks...