Thursday, March 22, 2007

A (very) brief culinary tour of Victoria

Post-Oscar Party, Michelle and I hopped in a cab to the train station, and then boarded first a PCL coach and then a ferry to Victoria. I have to say that it seems they save the oldest and least-impressive ferries for the last trip of the day. I've never taken the trip in complete darkness before, and it was strange and absolutely freezing outside. We passed by the legislature on the way to the hotel (the Grand Pacific, and let me tell you, it was both Grand and Pacific).

The following night we were at the Mining Day Gala at the Royal BC Museum. It was held in the First Peoples Gallery, which was amazing. We were served drinks when we entered – this was the Hybrid, a concoction of gin and green tea with a copper stirring stick. It was quite bizarre to have copper in a drink.

I didn't take too many pictures of the food, as the lighting was low, and I was too busy enjoying it, but I have drawn some pictures. Most food was taken around by waitstaff, but there were some buffet areas – one for oysters, one for crudité, and this great station of cheeses.

The following morning we luxuriously slept in, so we headed out into the city for a late spot of breakfast. I wanted a croissant. We found this funny little place called the Bun Shop. I was attracted by its sign which advertised 'Afternoon Tea'. Everything about afternoon tea is appealing to me!

It was apparently a Victoria institution, as the owner seemed to know everybody who came by. Sadly, it was on its last day of operation – the husband and wife had run it for over thirty years, but were retiring. But it was lovely. I had a scone and tea and Michelle had a bagel and tea.

For lunch we went to Pagliacci's, also a Victoria institution. We went there for the first time on the now-famous tubing expedition trip. No doubt Meg and Erin can describe it better than I, but Pagliacci's has a lovely atmosphere, with loads of photos on the wall, lots of bustle and comfort, and lots of sunlight slanting in those large windows. We both had pasta dishes – Michelle had the Hemingway Short Story and I had the Last Chicken in Paris. I can only speak for mine, but it was fantastic. Creamy and delicious. And the caesar salad was amazing. I wish I could show you some food from there. But here is Michelle with some empty plates.

Mmm, Victoria. It was great. Too bad we had the same ferry on the way back!

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Dinner for Nonna

My Granny Barb has generously supported my cooking addiction over the past couple of years – if it wasn't for her there would be no beautiful Paderno pans hanging on my pot rack, no powerful mandoline waiting in my cupboard, no lime-green handled ice cream scoop to perfectly shape the gelato we bring home from Mondo. But, believe it or not, until last weekend, Granny had never had a chance to enjoy the products of these delicious gifts. So, she came to visit, with the request that I cook an Italian meal for her. I invited my Dad and my uncle Ken to dinner as well, to ensure we'd have enough appetites to take care of everything I planned to cook...

Here's what Darryl and I made:
Appetizer – thinly sliced fennel, apples, and proscuitto (wrap your own tasty parcels!)
Pizza – goat cheese, mushroom and basil sauce, with shrimp, pine nuts and roasted garlic (on a whole wheat crust – I made dough the night before and let it rise over night and all day in the fridge, and it turned out great!)
Salad – zucchini, red pepper, and feta, with a mint dressing (everyone seemed to agree that this was the tastiest part of the meal, and I've included the recipe below so that we can make it one Wednesday soon...)
Dessert – Apricot-Almond Meringues (so pretty, and yummy too!)

Uncle Ken brought a great Italian wine which I neglected to write down the name of, so I can't tell you what it was unfortunately. Which is too bad, because I'd drink it again...

Zucchini, Red Pepper, and Feta Salad

3 medium zucchini, halved crosswise and cut into very thin strips (like ribbons! I used the mandoline, but you could also use a vegetable peeler)
1 large red sweet pepper, julienned
feta or ricotta (we used a nice soft and creamy sheep feta, which was awesome)
1/3 cup olive oil
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp (or more!) snipped fresh mint
1/2 tsp sea salt
fresh ground pepper

Combine everything, and toss to coat.

I love zucchini, but hardly ever eat it raw. When it's sliced so thin like this though, it's delicious, and this salad is a cool alternative to Greek Salad.

So, the meal turned out well, and it was really great to have everyone together:

Oh, and one more thing – Granny brought me an amazing hostess gift of two books: Oz Clarke's Introducing Wine and Giada De Laurentiis Everyday Italian. Giada's book has become my new favourite – so far I've tried making White Bean and Tuna Salad, Potato Frittata, and Chicken Piccata (with a sauce of lemon juice, capers, parsley and butter). All three were extremely simple to make, with great combinations of ingredients and a couple of new-to-me techniques that I'll now rely on. Perfect. And the wine book came in handy the other night when I was trying to determine if the spicy popcorn I wanted to make would go with the Cabernet Sauvingnon I was drinking – hmmm, maybe a questionable pairing, but I enjoyed it anyway!

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Bits and Pieces: Part Two

Three Wednesdays Ago...

Three Wednesdays ago we were all here at ours, watching the two-hour premiere of ANTM. For this auspicious event we decided on some simple but healthy food – we made the popular mango-tomato salad I call Keith's salad (as it was introduced to me by Keith Tam, typographer and salad-maker extraordinaire) and chicken burgers. We met Erin at Choices, and picked up the ingredients for the burgers (chicken, of course; portobella mushrooms; two kinds of buns; goat brie (!); and basil for the basil mayonnaise (or the basil Miracle Whip, actually, but shh – don't tell Meg!)).

The salad needs butter lettuce, so accept no substitutes – for some reason its billowy softness (channelling a little Nigella there) goes particularly well with the other ingredients. The butter lettuce was a living lettuce, which meant it came in a little package with its root system still intact. See below.

The salad also demands cubed ripe avocados, mango and tomatoes (we like to use ones that aren't red and that have a lot of flavour). Here Alisha demonstrates proper cubing of the mango:

Make a dressing with lime juice, olive oil, palm sugar and fish sauce (use the bottle with the picture of a giant baby holding a bottle of fish sauce on the front). Here's the finished salad:

Meg cooked the portabella mushrooms in balsamic with chopped garlic, and they were bloody fantastic on the burger. Balsamic is so good to so many veg and fruit – mushrooms, tomatoes, strawberries. More on that later. The burgers were great. We sliced and cooked the chicken (Michelle did this, to perfection, I might add), and assembled the burgers with the brie, mayo and mushrooms. Finished dinner below:

Just a note on the goat brie: it's made by Woolwich Dairy Inc, which I discovered is apparently Canada's largest goat cheese producer. Their products include Goat Brie, Goat Mozzarella, Goat Feta, Goat Gouda, and Goat Cheddar amongst others. Which is very cool for my goat-product-loving friends. Do visit their website. But be prepared to be scared. Also, their tagline is "We've got your goat!," which I find mildly disturbing.

The Oscar Party

The following Sunday, much fun was had trying to figure out who would win, laughing at bad dresses, tallying up categories and generally eating a lot. Here are the essentials for the Oscars: the remote, the printed-out ballots and the food. Which included crudités, roasted red pepper dip, goat cheese, patés, avocado/goat cheese tostinis (with balsamic cherry tomatoes! Mm!), bombay hummus (as featured previously on We Dine), pita, olives, cashews...yum!

The tomatoes after their balsamic treatment:

Alisha brought blood oranges, kiwis and grapes and fashioned a beautifully-arranged fruit plate:

Flora made some gorgeous golden cupcakes (golden in honour of the Oscars) with yummy icing and smarties! Mine was the stoplight cupcake, as it had red, yellow and green smarties.

And here we are (Flora, Alisha, Sean and me) in hour two of the Oscars (but hour fourteen of the Oscar telecast). Sean's thinking 'Only 70% more packing left to do!,' and I'm thinking 'Whose idea was it to get on a bus and go to Victoria now?'. But Victoria was fantastic. We had a great time and some lovely food. And that will be my next entry! So stayed tuned.

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Real women do eat quiche

Here's the recipe for the quiche that has appeared a couple of times on We Dine (July 5th and January 27th). Apparently we need a quiche fix every six months.

We usually buy a pie crust (or two – they often come in packets of two, which is convenient for us!) instead of spending the time to make pastry, but there's no reason you couldn't make your own, if you have time and inclination. Or you could buy a packet of pastry and just roll it out to your pie plate size.

1. Pre-heat the oven to 350˚ and bake the pie crust blind (by lining it with parchment paper and dried beans or rice to weigh the base down or, if you're lazy, prodding it with a fork to make holes in the bottom so some of the air can escape and the crust won't form big bubbles). Bake for only five minutes.

2. Meanwhile, prepare your ingredients. I like broccoli a lot in quiche, but whatever you want to eat – mushrooms, onions, artichokes, goat cheese, ham, asparagus, tomatoes, blue cheese (blue cheese is good (for those who can eat it) for flavour and it mellows in a quiche), spinach, bacon, prosciutto – it's all good. You don't want anything too crunchy, though. On that note, you might also want to sautée or steam some of your veggies a little to take the crunchiness out of them, depending on what they are, of course. Don't bother with mushrooms, for example.

3. Then make the egg mixture. Heat one cup of milk (or lactaid, or soy milk) in a saucepan over a medium heat. You don't want to bring it to the boil. Beat one or two eggs (depending on size, and whether you want it quite eggy) and season with a little salt and pepper. Then add the egg to the milk when the milk is warmed through – not too quickly though, and not when the milk's boiling, as you'll just cook the egg.

4. When the mixture is uniform, take it off the heat. Arrange your vegetables and cheeses within the quiche crust, and carefully pour the mixture into the pie shell too, as high as you can without overflowing.

5. Then transfer to the oven, preferably on a tray (just in case), and bake for 25 minutes or so, until egg mixture is firm amongst the veg, the top layer is a little browned and the crust is done (golden brown!).

6. Enjoy! Goes well with a nice salad and a glass of white wine.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A few words (okay, quite a few words) about three interesting restaurants in Vancouver that serve tasty food that you should definitely go eat


I had never heard of this place, but as usual Michelle was up on these things, and told me about it one day before her good friend Naomi invited us there for her thirty-first birthday party. It was a great place to have a fairly large group, actually, as it is essentially a charcuterie, and the more people you have, the more dishes you can sample! The 'tasting room' (as it bills itself) is part of the group of eateries owned by Sean Heather that includes the wonderful pub The Irish Heather, the Salty Tongue Deli and the Shebeen Whisk(e)y House. Should whiskey be spelt with an 'e' or not, Michelle?

Anyway, it's a lovely Gastown place, just off of Blood Alley (oh, the intrigue inspired by such a name!), with all the exposed brick walls one could want. Its long communal tables and steel stools reminded me a little of Picnic, the deli attached to Meinhardt's, but thankfully there were no white ceramic tiles to be found anywhere.

There is no kitchen at all, but instead a selection of cheeses and meats that change daily, garnered from various local suppliers (like Oyama on Granville Island) and from further afield (like Australia, France and Spain). And a list of red wines, white wines and sherries. Mm. I had a very nice gewurtztraminer.

You choose from that day's available cheeses and meats written up on the back wall that is entirely covered by a chalkboard (a very cool idea), and they bring you condiments that they pair with the food, like grainy Guinness mustard, almonds, olives, piccalilly, slices of pear and apple.

I particularly loved the Petite Comté cheese from France, which was one of the most delicious cheeses I've had in a while, and the Roaring Forties Blue from Australia was great too. Also, the Oka from Québec is so good — I first had it when my stepdad bought some from the St Lawrence Market in Toronto, and it was amazing then too. as for the meats, the York Ham from Oyama was lovely, but was essentially prosciutto (so good!). And the cured and smoked pork belly was great too. I have to say I didn't try the Head Cheese. Perhaps it was the name. Or perhaps it was the fact that it is, and I quote, "the meaty chunks of a cow's, sheep's, or pig's head, chopped and combined with a savory gelatinous broth and allowed to cool in a mold."

Here's the Salt logo, from their website. I quite like it, the hand-drawnness of it, and of course the hand-written type (though the type underneath is a little squished). It's very appealing.


Locus was first introduced to us all by Meg, though these pictures were (sadly) taken on a day she couldn't come with us. But we must go back, even though I know Michelle will take issue with that, because when they get it right, they really get it right! So I include pictures of their yummy food in hopes of winning you back, Michelle. Alisha, Michelle and I went for brunch (a few weekends ago now!), and both YoonJu and Raisa met us for a little coffee — they make this amazing coffee, which even Michelle and I like, and that's saying a lot, as we are confirmed tea-drinkers. They also have two kinds of great bread, which they serve with two kinds of butter to start. Two kinds of butter! It doesn't take much to impress me.

Here is my breakfast — it was amazing. They did something to the pancakes to make them crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Fantastic! The chocolate sauce and creme anglaise was unnecessary. But the fruit salad and bacon were perfect.

The Reef

Another great place to eat on Main Street. Actually it's almost just across the street from Locus, really. They have a very cool website that should give you an idea of their vibe and food. Which is colourful and Caribbean, respectively. It's just a nice sunny place to go on a cloudy Vancouver day. We (Michelle, Sean, Alisha and I) shared the spinach salad, which was delicious. And there was enough for four of us, even though it was on their 'small tings' menu. Spinach, chevre, caramelized red onions (mm!) and a mango sesame vinaigrette. We should make that one Wednesday!

Michelle and I ordered these unusual drinks — kola champagne, which is Jamaican cream soda, apparently, sweet and delicious, and homemade ginger beer, (and I can tell you there was plennnty of ginger in there). Sean had the West Indian veggie curry, I think, and Michelle had Miss P's Stew Beef Bowl, and Alisha and I the Trini Roti. Which is huge. Really good. But absolutely huge. Enough for lunch and dinner. Especially if you'd also had the johnnycakes. Which we had. Sooo good. Deep-fried carbs. What could be better?

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

The new Yummiest Pasta Ever

So, remember our garlic prawn pasta invention that we dubbed "The Yummiest Pasta Ever"? Well, Darryl and I created something last night that we absolutely have to make some Wednesday soon, 'cause I think you'll agree that it's an even more delicious version of that legendary pasta dish. I guess it's all the butter and garlic, and wine and cheese. And, the fact that we made the pasta from scratch! So exciting, and it only takes about an hour to make the whole dish, with salad too (with Darryl's Pear Splash, not dressing as I was informed).

We paired the food with an Pinot Gris from Alsace which I had tried in class and loved. It has pear, honey, and apricot notes, and a smooth, rich mouthfeel – yum!

For the salad, we shaved fennel with the mandolin, and added that to mixed greens. I'd never had a pear salad dressing before, so I was really excited about the recipe Darryl decided to reinvent from his days in the kitchen at a fancy West-coast-style restaurant in Sidney. I guess the silly Pear Splash title kind of works, since it was super cool and refreshing. Here's what's in it:

fresh ripe pears
apple juice
apple-cider vinegar
olive oil
maple syrup
white wine

puree all ingredients in the blender, to taste

And the pasta recipe:

2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
6 egg yolks
2 tbsp olive oil
4–6 tbsp water

1. On a large work surface, heap flour into a mound; make a well in the center and sprinkle with salt. Put egg yolks and oil into well. With fingertips, mix yolk mixture into flour (just like I saw them do on Iron Chef! It's fun!). Sprinkle with water and mix until it forms a ball. Knead until dough feels smooth (it will look bumpy but feel smooth), about 10 minutes. Flatten dough into a disk; wrap in plastic wrap. Chill 20 minutes.
2. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a 1/16-inch-thick circle. (If it's difficult to roll, cover and let rest 10 minutes). Make sure it's really this thin – I gave up when it was still a bit thicker, and the noodles were really thick! Dust top of pasta circle lightly with flour, then roll it up like a jelly roll. Cut crosswise into 1/4-inch strips. Unroll and separate strips. Let stand about 5 minutes to dry slightly before cooking.

We had it with chicken, pancetta, and asparagus in a white wine, garlic, butter and romano cheese sauce. Rich rich goodness, mmmm.

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Friday, March 02, 2007

A tea-party at Raisa's . . .

A couple of weekends ago now, we all headed over to Raisa's lovely Burnaby house for a crafty afternoon. There was tea and coffee and various delicious foods as made by Raisa and her mother Aili (whom some of us met for the first time). We also all met Tula, Raisa and Craig's cute new wheaten terrier puppy (and in the case of YoonJu and I, read all about wheaten terriers in Raisa & Craig's instructive dog books). And we also did some knitting!

Here are a couple of the sandwiches, so prettily arrayed (and some went so quickly I couldn't get a picture of them!).

The 'before' picture:
Alisha, Meg and I without pie.

Alisha, Meg and I with pie!

The pie was so good - Raisa and her mom made it with the last of the summer blackberries. Mm. Below are the delicious cinnamon buns they made looking very pretty in the sunlight. Unfortunately I didn't get a photo of the meringues, which were delicious too. Meringues are one of my favourites, so perhaps they disappeared too quickly! You'll have to imagine them.

All of us on Raisa's soon-to-be-replaced (but very lovely) sofa: Michelle, Alisha, Meg, Me, YoonJu, Raisa (and Tula!).

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

And a wine-tasting at Meg's!

So we left Raisa's as the sun was setting and hopped on the skytrain, bound for Meg's, spaghetti & meatballs and a bottle of chianti.

That was our mission because as part of her wine-tasting homework (yes, that's right, I used the words 'wine-tasting' and 'homework' in the same sentence), Meg needed to try a bottle of chianti with some food that it would complement. That meant a little research in the liquor store.

We gazed longingly at various bottles of chianti, hoping that they would give up their secrets to us, and eventually chose a reasonably-priced one that looked promising. It wasn't the most expensive, nor was it the cheapest plonk on the shelf. I was minding my own business and holding another bottle whose label told me it tasted like leather and raspberry jam (?!), when a man ambling past told me it was very tasty. I do like that leather/jam combo, but I passed it up on this occasion. We purchased the chianti, along with the ingredients for spaghetti & meatballs and headed back to Meg's.

Meg's recipe (a Donna Hay special, if you recognize the page design), was covered in handwritten comments and directions (and some food stains - always a good sign!) that I thought were a good idea. That way you know how to alter it in the future - or not to try it again!

Alisha made breadcrumbs in the blender (which was surprisingly easy, with a piece of toast and the press of a button) and mixed the meatball ingredients together. We rolled them into small even balls (it's hard not to make them larger as you go through the mixture!) and Alisha cooked them.

Michelle mixed the salad. Here she is with handfuls of sprouts.

I chopped lots of garlic, both for the meatballs and for the yummy garlic bread we had. It was a garlic-intensive meal. And the bread was healthy! Whole wheat. And very tasty too.

Meg ironed the linen tablecloth! You know it's a serious dinner when...

The finished spaghetti and meatballs. I like that one loopy strand of spaghetti. We all agreed that spaghetti isn't the pasta we have most often, but there are a couple of dishes it goes perfectly with. And who doesn't like to twirl it around a fork?

The wine in all its glory. Meg and Michelle analyzed its flavour, aftertaste, legs, arms, nose, mouthfeel, aroma, etc. Meg will have to supply all the wine terminology. I couldn't even tell if it was fruity or not! My red wine palette is seriously deficient. But it was a lovely pairing with the spaghetti and meatballs, and the dinner was delicious. And then everybody beat me at cards! Several times. Sigh.

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