Sunday, October 30, 2011

Because Smitten Kitchen knows: Pumpkin Cupcakes

I haven't carved a pumpkin in years, but today, in the spirit of Halloween, my friend Claire invited me to a pumpkin carving party. Whatever my contribution to the event would be, it had to be laced with pumpkin. And thus these Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting (that have been on my list for some time) would do perfectly.

As mentioned a couple posts ago, Deb's recipes are nearly always excellent. My only complaint here would be that the frosting wasn't really maple-y, but that's simply ratios that can be adjusted next time this one comes around. Whatever my thoughts, a dozen of these beauties were consumed by the time I ducked out for the evening, and I'll take that as sign of a successful recipe.

Once again - well done Smitten Kitchen, well done.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Because Smitten Kitchen Knows: Grape Focaccia with Rosemary

Although there may be countless steps and copious amounts of butter, it's generally easy to follow Deb's instructions with complete trust. She's never steered me wrong - from pumpkin cupcakes, to squash and caramelized onion galette, and now this focaccia.

I must have pulled the ultra tiny seeds from half a pound of Okanagan concord grapes (found at Sunterra) for about an hour. Thankfully this bread is seriously worth it. It's beautifully crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside, and after baking the grapes become incredibly sweet. Some extra sugar and salt on the top provide a lovely sweet-salty contrast.

Best of all, this focaccia seems to freeze well. It's been excellent for quick lunches, along with some chèvre I've been keeping in the fridge at work. Needless to say, once concord grapes appear again next fall, this recipe will be on the list.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Portland chocolate breakdown

As you may have noticed a few posts back, a lot of chocolate made it to Edmonton via my suitcase. Well, I've finally managed to sample all the bars made by Portland chocolatiers (with the help of Charles, and some of the staff at the shop). Thoughts and a few more details can be found here.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Symphony Under the Sky and Ochsner's Porter

*This post got stuck in my drafts back in early September, so please read it with cool-ish evenings and ever so slightly changing leaves in mind.*

Like most September long weekends during the past few years, Charles and I found ourselves at Symphony Under the Sky. This year a weekend pass picked up at the 104th Street 'Al Fresco' block party meant we attended five concerts throughout the four day event.

Charles suggested his favourite concert over the weekend was Sunday afternoon's Rhapsody in Blue, which featured George Gershwin's American in Paris and Rhapsody in Blue, and of course Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture complete with live canon shots. I preferred the Saturday evening concert led by Ian Tyson, which could have definitely has something to do with a Folk Fest related love of Four Strong Winds...

Beyond the music there was the usual food to be enjoyed, namely Fat Franks covered in mustard, pickles and sauerkraut, and warm, cinnamon-y mini donuts. Always the last indulgence of either for the year, I particularly enjoy these treats at Symphony Under the Sky - they signal the end of the best of the summer.

To balance out the Fat Franks...

A much welcome addition to this year's ESO concession was Ochsner's 1905 Alberta Porter, another brew by the Alley Kat/Sherbrooke team. Here's a little bit on the brew from the program:
Ochsner's 1905 Alberta Porter is named after Robert Ochsner, one of the earliest known brewers in Alberta. It was first brewed in 2010 to mark the 105th anniversary of Alberta becoming a Province. It is also the third in a series of beers sponsored by Sherbrooke Liquor Store and Alley Kat Brewing Company to recognize the winning Homebrewer of the Year at the Edmonton Home Brewing Guilds' Aurora Brewing Challenge. In 2010, the winning team of Patrick Doyle and Ray Duperron won gold... in competitions across Canada.

This porter was a treat to sip throughout the weekend. A serious departure from the usual big name lagers and IPAs, it was smooth and rich with a nice bite and a beautiful coffee aroma. With all those rich flavours it was lovely on both the cool, rainy Friday evening and the warm, bright Sunday afternoon.

Can't wait for next year's line up.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Three days in Seattle

After such an excellent week in Oregon, we found it a little difficult to settle into Seattle. Thankfully, our Capitol Hill apartment rental was well located, with tons of shops, cafés and restaurants nearby, and it was just a short 30 minute walk downtown. We thought we were "food-ed" out, but the eating kept happening in Seattle. Here's what we enjoyed, in no particular order:

Quinn's Pub - This 'pub' was just a few blocks away from our apartment, which made it perfect for dinner on our first day in town. I wasn't as wowed by the beer list as I had hoped, BUT, they made the best burger either Charles or I had ever tasted. Simple toppings gave way to a perfectly cooked, medium rare patty, and we certainly would have returned for another if we had time.

Poppy - Another spot just minutes from our front door. We loved everything about this place - a great cocktail menu, a short, well chosen beer list featuring Washington brews, and the thalis... especially the dessert one. I can definitely see why Sugar put this on her packing list.

Baguette Box - Thanks to Andre who suggested the Baguette Box. It was directly on our way downtown, and their Drunken Chicken sandwich was fantastic - crispy chicken, caramelized onions, cilantro. Need I say more?

Brouwer's - I don't know what to say about this place - it was amazing. 64 brews on tap plus over 300 bottles. And, it was right across the street from Theo Chocolate.

Theo Chocolate - I'm happy we made it out to tour Theo. It was great to see the 'chocolate making' process up close. I posted about it here.

Molly Moon's Ice Cream - Another one from Sugar's Seattle packing list, we enjoyed scoops of maple walnut and earl grey tea on our last night in town.

The Walrus and the Carpenter - I'm glad Charles was willing to make the trek to this place, even though most of the items on the menu weren't really his thing. We happened to step in during their happy hour, which meant $1 oysters and $7 cocktails. I went with one of each of their six oysters and a 'porch swing' which featured gin and Pimm's - two of my favourites. Charles chose a glass of Hale's Kolsch and a dish of serrano ham, cantaloupe, lemon basil and ricotta.

Marie and Frères - It was fantastic meeting Marie. She's incredibly passionate about chocolate, and in particular, chocolate made with Forastero beans right where the beans are grown. We walked away with the most amazing macaron and a bar of her chocolate studded with candied orange.

Lark - This was our final meal in town. Though we were originally hoping for something a little more laid back (and with a beer list), the food at Lark was lovely, and we wouldn't hesitate to return... particularly for the pork belly and salmon...

Café Presse - An excellent magazine collection, well done coffee and a casual menu (baguettes with butter, olives, salads, charcuterie, etc.).

Salumi - This seemed like the perfect way to end out trip. We did start with a porchetta sandwich back at The Peoples' Pig after all. We happened to arrive just when the line shortened a bit, and were out the door with messy, delicious porchetta and meatball sandwiches.

One spot we particularly enjoyed in Seattle was the Olympic Sculpture Park. It was quiet and the views were beautiful.

So there you have it. Our 2011 vacation. That little corner of the NW is really a gem and we certainly recommend checking it out.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Corvallis, the Oregon coast and the Columbia Gorge

I was glad we got the chance to head out to Corvallis for the weekend to visit relatives, and in retrospect, more time spent in the area would have been a good idea. It's right in the middle of breweries, wineries and farms, and it's just a short 1.5 hour trip to the coast. Furthermore, we left just before their "Beer Week" began.

If you happen to be in the area, there are a couple things not to be missed. Firstly, their farmers' market is beautiful, and full of Oregon specialties like hazelnuts and wine, in addition to all the produce Oregon's rich soil and temperate climate allow for. I picked up some sweet-tart green grapes, in addition to some lovely fresh figs and hazelnuts.

Block 15 Brew Pub - I was in love with this place as soon as we walked in. A giant chalkboard held their regular brews and seasonal varieties, and also tantalized us with up coming brews that we are missing right now. We had to try as many as possible, and thus two tasting boards were ordered. By far the best glass on the tray contained their "Nebula, Naked Oat Stout." It was super smooth and creamy, with all the coffee and chocolate notes that make stouts lovely. I wish I would have picked up a bottle of this to bring home.

On a beer note, the best selection we found at any grocery store was at Corvallis' Market of Choice. A four sided cooler held an unimaginable amount of micro-brews from the area, and we picked up half a dozen different bottles to tote home. Besides the Nebula Stout, we fell hard for many of the brews from Pelican Brewery, particularly their Belgian style ale - Ankle-Buster - and their award winning IPA (India Pelican Ale). Both came home with us.

The Oregon Coast

Our hosts for the weekend - John and Janie - also took us out to the nearby coast for an evening. Though it was pretty cold, I'm incredibly glad we made it out to the water, and that we got to catch this sunset from their friends' beach house balcony...

We also stopped at a crab shack on the way home for fresh crab sandwiches and fish and chips.

The Columbia Gorge

One of our favourite activities in Oregon was biking the Columbia Gorge. We went with Pedal Bike Tours, and our Tuesday morning tour ended up being a private one - just us and the guide. Whilst we biked the gentle slopes of the road, our guide drove the vehicle, meeting us at each waterfall to give us a quick run-down of history, etc. From there we hiked down (or up) to check things out while he stayed with the bikes.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Portland(ia) Part 4 - Downtown/Pearl District

Portland's downtown and Pearl District were some of our favourite locals. The former houses Powell's Books and great restaurants, while the latter is home to great cafés, shops and breweries. Short blocks make it incredibly easy to walk, and central Portland always seemed busy. No wonder food carts, cafés and restaurants are so successful here.

Cacao Drink Chocolate (414 SW 13th Street) - Some of you may already know that I'm co-managing Kerstin's Chocolates while Kerstin is away for the next eight months or so. That meant some extra "research" was in order. On a day where the temperature was up in the 30s, I still couldn't resist a drinking chocolate flight; the cinnamon was easily my favourite. I also picked up bars from American chocolatiers I was anxious to check out, including Rogue, Xocolatl de David, Potomac, Shagún, Cocanú and The Mast Brothers. In short, the shop is beautiful and their chocolate selection is amazing. Don't miss it.

Food carts on Alder between 9th and 11th, and at 5th and Stark.

Clyde Common (1014 SW Stark Street) - I couldn't wait to head to Clyde Common, another spot found via the Chow Tour of Portland. Although it was lunch, I couldn't leave without trying one of their barrel aged cocktails; I ended up with a smooth, lovely Negroni. Their grilled cheese sandwich with bacon was excellent, but the real star was Charles' all spice braised chicken sandwich with sour pickles. It was easily the best sandwich either of us had ever tried.

Grüner (527 SW 12 Avenue) - An evening meal on Grüner's 'patio' (aka. the sidewalk) ending up being one of our most tasty and aesthetically pleasing in Portland. While I didn't care for the tarte flambée (Charles loved it though), the croquettes stuffed with creamy raclette cheese and the grilled trout with sweet corn and bacon were amazing. The radish salad was a stunner too. To top it off, they had two wonderful chocolate desserts - a milk and dark mousse as well as home made powdered donuts with a rich chocolate sauce to 'dunk'. Everything finished with our bill coming out in the pages of 'Beethoven Studies'.

Coco Donuts (814 SW Yamhill) - After a disappointing trip to Voodoo Doughnut, we ended up bumping into Coco Donuts' downtown location. Charles' old fashioned glazed was lovely, while my glazed buttermilk donut hit the spot perfectly. In short, we would head to Voodoo to take a look next time, but taste wise, Coco Donuts is top of the list.

Pearl Bakery (101 NW 9th Ave.) - The treats at this place served as breakfast a few times throughout our stay in Portland. From crispy baguettes, to wonderful blackberry danishes and savoury, buttery, ham and gruyère croissants, they've got baked goods covered.

Portland Farmers' Market @ Portland State University - We couldn't wait to head to Portland's Saturday Market, with over 200 vendors spread out over the University's quad area. Although it was rainy and cold, we still left with our hands full of California olive oil, Alma Chocolate's toffee and a box of cookies from Two Tarts bakery. Finally, we shared 'The Reggie' from Pine State Biscuits - it was insane.