Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Meal Planning Saga: Week Eleven

We are creatures of habit...

Sunday - We began the week with a brand new recipe - a Vegetable Tagine from Chow. This was certainly easy to prepare and the smell was incredible. That said it seemed to be missing something when we finally sat down to it, even with the addition of almonds, green olives and currants. I've bookmarked a few more veggie tagines that we can hopefully try later on.

Monday - More pizza. This time it was tomato sauce, leftover feta, Gruyère, cardamom salami, mushrooms and green pepper (the last on Charles' side only). We also munched on some very peppery arugula.

Earlier in the day I met Charles downtown at Transcend. He's been stopping there on his way to work for coffee and apparently needed more than one latte that day. Though I've been enjoying their cappuccinos lately, I'm excited for the increasing tea additions (I had 'mountain dragon' at the Garneau location today - alongside a waffle - and it was a great way to start the morning - can't wait for more).

Tuesday - Once again, Kindra's slow cooker butter chicken. I think we had a better handle on the spicing this time and this version was far better than the first alongside some whole wheat rice. Charles stopped for naan and must have had some extra time on his hands. He did coconut, garlic and plain naan from Daawat, then walked down the ave. and picked up plain from Origin India.

I quite enjoyed the sweetness of the coconut version, but for both of us it was Origin India's version hands down (crispy exterior, with a far softer, less chewy texture overall). At any rate we have a nice bag of naan sitting in the freezer for next time.

Wednesday - Study Potluck Two. Once again a few of us met up with food at Rutherford South to simultaneously study and do some end of term de-stressing. There was Academy Pizza, Ho-Ho's, and I brought fruit salad and chicken salad sandwiches from Upper Crust.

We're planning on doing another one in the midst of exams and are attempting to make it a 'healthy' potluck (everyone's eating habits seem to tank during exams). If we organize things soon enough, I'll be sure to post the time and date (and rules like no laptops unless your notes are there or you're working on an essay) here for any of you students out there. Alternatively, feel free to e-mail me if you'd like details.

Thursday - Birthday dinner/Anthro 'field work' at Corso 32.

Birthday cake

Friday - What turned into a post-birthday beer at Sugarbowl with Brenna and Charles quickly became dinner. Charles simply went for some home-made spring rolls, while Brenna and I both did the lamb burger, recently made extra-famous in Avenue's Top 25 Things to Eat. Beer wise, I've been enjoying Nelson Brewing's After Dark recently - smooth, chocolate-y and a little hoppy (and only $5.50 per bottle).

Saturday - We spent some time at Charles' mom's Saturday afternoon and as we were about to leave we remembered we had left our second fillet of white fish in her freezer. It began to soften a bit on the bus ride home, so dinner was basically planned for us. Once again, the fish in parchment. Alongside this time was wild rice and the rest of the green beans picked up the Saturday prior at the market. The beans were sautéed with some chili flakes, salt, pepper and lemon juice, and were a nice crispy contrast aside the fish.

Charles and I tried to work a few new recipes into week twelve, though we admittedly kicked things off with a roast chicken and mushroom risotto, and Tuesday and Wednesday have been left open since Charles' sister is coming to town.

I'm quite excited for Thursday and Friday - noodle salad with peanut sauce and the lentil loaf from We Eat Together (Somehow I've never noticed the lentil loaf in We Eat Together before. It must be because it's tucked in just before the dessert section). On Saturday we're going to re-try the Frankies' meatballs, this time with some of the ground lamb tucked away in the freezer.

Enjoy the remainder of the week everyone!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Birthday Anthropology: Corso 32

Charles asked me a few weeks ago where I would like to go for my birthday, and I had a great list - Wildflower Grill, Bistro La Persaud and Madison's were top candidates. But then I decided on my research project for Anthro of the Senses - the sensuality of the restaurant experience.

Not that the three spots above wouldn't provide sensual experiences, but Corso 32 seems perfect for this project. Corso 32 seems to take on both 'local' and 'Italian' identities, and my aim is to explore how these two aspects are emphasized via décor, sound design, seating layout, structural design (ie. the role of the 'half-open' kitchen), lighting, etc. Ultimately, I want to illustrate the ways in which these considerations shape the sensual aspects of our dining experience, and possibly change the way we interact with and taste our food.

So far I have found one ethnographic record of a 'local' restaurant in Wisconsin that attempts to showcase regional food and provide a space where people can gather, eat and discuss the food, and ultimately learn new ways of preparing local ingredients. This particular essay suggests that the restaurant plays an essential role in developing healthy local food systems.  However there is little discussion of 'how' this is accomplished beyond the food itself. On the other side of things, there are many studies of 'Italianicity' and how it is created in the American restaurant via design (esp. photographs), but the focus has been on 'casual-family-dining' spots (ie. restaurants such as the Olive Garden).

The best resource so far is a design book called "Eat Out". It covers various types of restaurant design and briefly (and I mean briefly) discusses the aims of each. I think the 'rustic chic' and 'straight forward' sections will be most helpful in this particular context. So after perusing previous anthropological research to do with restaurants, Corso 32 seems to present a new scenario - local food is showcased and they simultaneously present a new type of 'Italianicity' than has not previously been researched. So I'm going to try to navigate this representation whilst incorporating the senses, and a focus on an Edmonton context allows me to reflect on my own experiences, background, etc. (ie. It allows me to be 'self-reflexive' - something much loved by socio-cultural anthropologists right now).

With all this in mind, Charles stopped at Corso 32 a couple weeks ago, snagged a reservation for 8pm, and we were off last night for a birthday/anthropology project dinner. The place was full when we arrived, and after a few minutes we were led to what I think is the best seat in the house - the window end of the communal table.

Drinks were easy - it's got to be prosecco, especially on birthday occasions. Food was another matter, and it took us awhile to settle on options.

First up was the starter on special - a crostini with Swiss chard, crispy pork and braised pork belly, a fried egg and parmigiano ($11). Wow. This wasn't easy to share but it was an incredible way to begin the evening. The crunchy crostini and pork were mellowed by the soft egg and pork belly, and there was a lovely sweet-peppery-vinegary situation happening that I'm obviously unable to articulate. If only they served breakfast.

Window seat (sorrow, I forgot to get the camera out for the 'starter')

Next we opted to share the arugula and fennel salad with roasted hazelnuts and parmigiano ($13). This one was peppery, fresh and the roasted nuts provided both crunch and a pleasant smokiness. The perfect 'in-between' item.

Moving quickly on to mains (and receiving questions from the gentlemen seated next to us - "What are you guys doing a tasting menu or something?") I decided on the polpette (aka. meatballs; $22) whilst Charles went for the 48hr. chuck flat steak ($26). The meatballs were as remembered from our last visit - rich, peppery and fragrant. And I'm sorry to keep bringing this up, but I was once again reminded of the Frankies' Meatballs, with the addition of raisins and pine nuts here as well. And the flat steak. Soft and tender, it had the very enjoyable peppery-vinegary thing going on as well.

We also did the side on special - brussel sprouts with pork (~$7). I loved these and Charles was swooning. The leaves of the sprouts were charred and peppery while the bits of pork were salty and fatty. Watching us dive into the sprouts, the group at the end of the table ordered a dish of their own halfway through their mains.

And dessert. I was really counting on the zeppole (aka. donuts) and limoncello, but by the time we made all the way through the savoury items, they were out. So it was an order of the torta ($9) we fell in love with last time along with a slice of the blood orange and olive oil cake with mascarpone ($8). The torta is still loved - the warm, crunchy roasted hazelnuts, the fleur de sel, the chocolate - it's a tough one to beat. As such the olive oil cake came in second, but it was still excellent. The citrus cut through the richness of the cake and mascarpone well, as did some black pepper. I think the best thing about this cake though is the crispy, chewy edges.

After a Macallan 12 for me and a Brooklyn Lager for Charles (I'm very excited to see the addition of beer and a short but incredible looking cocktail lineup... next time!) it was time to head out. I should mention that service throughout the evening was prompt, and we were checked on during each course to see how things were tasting.

Though it would have been nice to head to a 'new' spot for my birthday, I'm glad my anthro project led us back to Corso 32 - the meal was enjoyed, as was the atmosphere and service. I have much to write on for my anthro paper, but as we left we both agreed we can't wait for a reason to head back.

Corso 32
10345 Jasper Avenue
Reservations via phone or in person only.

Thoughts on our initial visit here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Next Act brunch

This past Saturday morning began perfectly as we stepped into Strathcona market and saw some green things at Morinville and Gull Valley Greenhouses. Completely unexpected, we've been eating green beans and arugula this week. So it's spring to me... for a couple moments anyhow.

As we left the market we decided it was finally time to head back to Next Act to check out the brunch situation, something we had been meaning to do for awhile now. The place was about half full with families and friends (ie. many post market shoppers) as we arrived around 11:30. We settled into a mimosa and a pint of Full Moon ($4 for the new moon!) and looked over the menus - both lunch and brunch are on starting at 11am.

Charles didn't waver from our last visit, again going with the pulled pork sandwich ($12) from the lunch menu. I was torn between the 'Pulled Pork Melt' (hashbrowns, pulled pork, poached egg, cheese, pea shoots and house salsa; $12) and the breakfast burrito ($10). I eventually decided on the latter, easily swayed by the thought of avocado and black beans.

Our food came out in no time, and as I cut into my crispy burrito, I was happy to find it full of soft scrambled eggs, plenty of avocado, green peppers, cheese and black beans. Though a little 'heat' would have been welcome, the salsa definitely added a bright freshness to the mix, and the crispy potatoes were a nice addition on the side - a little smoky and slightly spicy. My favourite thing on the plate was the smoothie shot - fresh and hinting at a blender full of banana, it was a great finish to the dish. Charles seemed to enjoy his pulled pork sandwich even more than our initial visit - a little more smoky, sticky and flavourful this time, I was working on the burrito long after the sandwich disappeared.

After our successful dinner stop last October, we were happy to find the same comfortable, friendly space and service, along with a small but well rounded brunch menu that added even more to Next Act's appeal. While we love venturing outside Old Strathcona, it's always nice to re-discover great spots in your own neighbourhood.

Next Act Pub
8224 104 Street
Hours: M-Th (11am - 1am); F-Sa (11am - 2am); Su (11am - 2pm)
The Next Act on Urbanspoon
This past Sunday Next Act began the first of a series of Family Dinner Nights. Keep an eye on their website for details on the next one. Reservations required.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Meal Planning Saga: Week Ten

Week ten went well. Relatively stress free, we returned to some favourites from earlier in the 'saga'. I'm excited to see how things go as I head into 'essay season', which has officially begun. As others have mentioned, the planning is the easy part; the execution is a whole other beast.

Sunday - Bison and mushroom burgers. These were excellent, with mushrooms, an egg, oats, cumin, salt and pepper being our chosen additions. Best of all, our balcony door was ice free and thus we were able to grill!

Monday - Continuing with the mushroom theme, we did mushroom risotto. Luckily Mona Foods was at the City Market on Saturday and we picked up a half pound of mixed mushrooms for the dish. We also gave in and dug into the saffron jar, which made for an ultra rich and flavourful start to the 'work week'.

Tuesday - Kindra's Thai Green Curry, the same one from Week six. We used a different brand of coconut milk and weren't so successful this time. The sauce was a little watery. However, we made coconut rice from Moosewood's Simple Suppers which was a quick, easy and flavourful base. As a note, we skipped the chile and currants.

Wednesday - Another recycled recipe, this time from Week three - the steak and mushroom salad from Epicurious. We did shiitake mushrooms instead of crimini, and forgot the cilantro, but this was still a great mid-week meal. Since the patio door remained unfrozen, we opted to grill the steaks minus the sesame coating.

Thursday - St. Paddy's Day. Charles was off to pilates while I went to have a beer. Unfair, I know. It was a bit of a debate where to go. I've avoided all St. Patrick's Day celebrations at bars in the past, and with a friend informing us that one needs to arrive at an "Irish" bar around noon for a table, we eventually decided on Sherlock Holmes downtown, which was central to everyone in the group.

Friday - With Charles mom settling in, we offered to cook dinner at her place. We started downtown, grabbing a baguette and dessert from Queen of Tarts, then it was off to Ocean Odyssey Inland (thankfully within walking distance of his mom's) for some fresh fish. The final delivery of Slave Lake fish for the next little while (due to unsafe ice conditions) was in, so we picked up two large fillets - one for that evening, and one to bring home. Pat vacuum packed everything for us and we were off.

Once again we opted to use the fish-in-parchment method. The fattiness of the winter fish along with the herbs, lemon and butter made this my favourite meal of the week. And the carrot cake 'tulip' afterward didn't hurt either.

Saturday - As I mentioned above, essay season has begun. So while Charles went back to his mom's for meatballs, I stayed home to get some research done and had a bowl of the turkey soup she had given us the evening prior.

I'm both happy and sad to see repeat recipes surfacing. The fish in parchment, butter chicken, Thai curry and steak salad are certainly great, and I'm happy to have them in our repertoire; however I'm hoping we can make a conscious effort to incorporate more new recipes as we move into April.

Have a great week everyone! And watch out for that wind!

Little Whyte Avenue Update

Walking home last week I noticed this sign on the space that was Press Café (10846 Whyte Ave). Peering through the door's window, it looks like the 'renos' are definitely still in progress...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Meal Planning Saga: Week Nine

Wow. This past week was a little hectic and not nearly as well planned as I would have liked it to be. With Charles mom moving to town Monday, we just couldn't anticipate where we would be each evening, which was completely fine... it just meant reverting to some old (incredibly tasty) 'habits'.

Sunday - Things started off rather well with this butternut squash and caramelized onion galette from Smitten Kitchen. Some leftover roasted squash from Saturday's pizzas, caramelized onions and Fontina were great for my first galette ever. As Deb says, the dough is flawless. I even substituted some Greek yogurt in the absence of sour cream and it still turned out well. I can't wait to make some other fillings, especially as summer berries begin to arrive. This was great the next day for lunch at room temperature alongside some salad, and it even held up well in my backpack throughout the morning.

The onions are starting...

Monday - With a delayed flight and a paper due Tuesday morning, we found ourselves at Dadeo for the $8 Po-boy special. One catfish, one Philly cheese steak and two chili lagers.

Tuesday - A Zed family dinner of pancakes and sausages.

Wednesday - Salmon and braised lentils from America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two 2010. We certainly enjoyed this salmon prep, which was quick and easy, and the lentils turned out to be a filling, creamy base. Though this fish dish had nothing on the 'fish in parchment'.

Thursday - A little while ago Sharon posted on Mario Batali's Roman Egg Drop soup, so we thought we'd give it a try. Wow, she wasn't kidding - creamy and rich, the eggs did wonders here to turn chicken broth into a hearty winter soup. Charles stopped on the way to the LRT station and grabbed a loaf of bread from Queen of Tarts just as they were closing, along with a cinnamon-orange treat for dessert. We are realizing the positives of him working just a couple blocks away and a transit route back to Garneau that carries him near the spot.

A seedy bread

 The soup

Amazing cinnamon 'tulip' with pecans and orange-caramel

I also broke out this banana bread recipe again, though this time it was destined for muffins. I filled the tin to the top and as I looked in the oven about half way through I was sure everything was about to overflow. Thankfully it never did and I ended up with some excellent crispy muffin tops after about 45-50 minutes of baking... nearly Leva worthy, especially just out of the oven.

Friday - Urban Diner, Garneau. We had burgers planned, but getting home a little late in the evening after kitchen unpacking, we gave in and took a walk over to 109th. As we approached I was happy to see Friday was the first night Urban Diner would have Yukon Brewing's Porter on tap. I love this beer - it's incredibly creamy, comforting and easy drinking. As we arrived we found the place packed with porter lovers and I couldn't believe we were seated right away. We waited a little while for our food, but it was well worth it.

...worth freezin' for...

Steak sandwich

Reuben with caramelized onions and amazing cumin-curry-dijon

Saturday - This was the first snack based evening we've had in awhile, but it was leftover bread, cheese, salad, etc. from the week.

Earlier in the day though, we went to the City Market. We got there just as vendors were finishing set up and, finally, for the ringing of the bell!

The bell!

Monday, March 14, 2011

'Eat Alberta 2011'

Got April 30th open this year? Check out Eat Alberta, a conference that will highlight some of the talented people within Edmonton's food community. Throughout the day there will be coffee, wine and goat cheese tastings and pasta, pie and pizza dough making (amongst other sessions)... in short, be prepared to get your hands dirty! You can register and/or find full details on sessions, pricing and goals of the conference here.

I'll be volunteering for the day, so if you have a chance to make it out, please stop by and say 'Hi'!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Meal Planning Saga: Week Eight

Last week was certainly highlighted by adventures around town more than our 'home cooking', though the butter chicken was pretty incredible...

Sunday - Once again, a roast chicken. There's just something about it that works well on a Sunday evening.

Monday - Braised beef with mashed potatoes. Inspired by our visit to Somerville Wine and Cheese we placed this roast in the slow cooker for about four hours with red wine and tomatoes. Next time a fattier cut of beef is certainly in order, but the flavours here were great all the same.

Tuesday - Chicken and vegetable soup.

Wednesday - Italian sausages with salad and roasted veggies. Digging through (I mean... 'organizing') our freezer a couple weekends ago, we found a neglected package of sausages that we were excited to barbecue. No go - the door to our balcony was frozen solid, and this time no hair dryer could fix it. So we simply poached and pan cooked them instead.

Thursday - Alley Kat was certainly the highlight of the evening here, and afterward a stop at Langano Skies finished things off nicely.

Friday - Slow Cooker Butter Chicken from Meal Planning 101. This was the most viewed recipe on Kindra's site in 2010, and for good reason - it was simple to prepare and incredibly flavourful. There's no doubt we'll be doing this one again. We grabbed some naan from the E-Zee Market on 109th to round the meal out. (We've walked passed this place hundreds of times but only recently went in to find an incredible selection of spices, curries and other dishes made fresh daily.)

Saturday - A few things were on our minds Saturday, namely heading to Queen of Tarts to check things out, and later in the evening to Refinery at the AGA. First though, I was distracted by the excellent snowflakes falling on Saturday morning.

Leaving the snowflakes outside, we were stunned as we entered the Queen of Tarts' space. It's both beautiful and well stocked, with products from The Jam Lady, Mighty Trio and others available amongst their desserts, breads and lunch items. I urge you to check out Sharon's pictures and thoughts here. We actually ran into Sharon and Mack while there, along with Valerie, which was great. I also ran into Liz, an amazing lady who I took both baking and chocolate classes with at NAIT last year.

Before getting into the tarts themselves though, Brenna and Catherine came over for some pre-Refinery pizza. A veggie for Catherine consisted of roasted red peppers, feta, bocconcini and tomato sauce, while the rest of the discs were made into white pizzas with roasted butternut squash, sage, prosciutto, bocconcini and Gruyère (that last one was the perfect sweet salty combo and a reminder of warmer fall days). We also drank a couple beers that I intend to post on a little later.

And for dessert - the Queen of Tarts' tarts. As expected they were lovely. The lime was rich while tangy (Brenna and Catherine both swooned) and the chocolate hazelnut tart was dense and chocolate-y, with an amazing sandy, hazelnut crust. Post dessert we ventured back downtown for a couple drinks, some new exhibits and an attempt at dancing in public.

And hello week nine.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Alley Kat and the Three Bears Oatmeal Stout

Alley Kat posted an invite on Facebook Wednesday asking everyone to come check out their newest (and first for 2011) in the 'Big Bottle Series' - Three Bears Oatmeal Stout. A couple friends and I arrived around 7pm for the last hour of the launch party.

The tap

Brenna and I grabbed a couple glasses of the stout, while Catherine, not a stout fan, went for the classic Full Moon. The stout is rich and smooth with a pleasant level of bitterness throughout, and I think it will be perfect drinking for what is supposed to be a cool-ish spring. In other words, "It's just right." (Sorry about that... I couldn't resist). We also grabbed a few sips of the Apple Wit, which has quickly become a favourite of Brenna's, and the coffee porter which none of us had tried previously. The coffee aroma and flavour in the porter is intense (enjoyably so), and as someone next to us said, it's just like drinking a cold coffee - perfect for breakfast.

A couple mini chocolate cupcakes went with the stout nicely, as did bread from Tree Stone made with some of the malt mixture leftover from the brews. As we sipped our beer we went on a tour of the brewery, something I'd been meaning to do for some time. Informative and fun, this was a great way to spend a Thursday evening after a long week.

Whisky barrels, mostly for the Sherbrooke brews. One is full of Olde Deuteronomy but its release is being delayed by the AGLC. Unfortunately it seems they're not over that whole 11.9% thing... strange since they had reversed the three week law.

Recycled bottles on their way to be filled.

Alley Kat Brewery
9929 66th Ave
Hours: M-W (10:30-4:30) Th-F (10:30-5:30) Sa-Su (Closed)
Alley Kat has great prices on all their brews in store and you can create your own six pack if you're so inclined.