Monday, 15 August 2016

All new - my life, my habits and my blog!

What can I say... Sometimes life gets in the way of good intentions? 
I last blogged in 2013. That's a loooong time ago.

It was before the trip to Europe, where my husband and I ate in England, France and Norway...

(We will never think of a croissant as being even half decent after having had the real deal in Paris!)

It was before our amazing wedding (because planning one takes up massive amounts of brain power, even with a great wedding planner)...

It was before our once in a lifetime honeymoon to Tahiti and Bora Bora...

(You need to try poisson cru, raw tuna marinated in coconut milk and lime, national dish of French Polynesia!)

And then, our greatest achievement, Téa:

So that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I've been gone. That is also why this blog is taking a different direction: more home cooking, more baking, more how-to, and less dining out.

In the months that I've been on maternity leave so far, I have baked more than ever. Breads, cookies, brownies, and even tackled my life long fear of pie crust! I've made potluck picnic food, muffins, pancakes galore... My husband and I watched and were inspired by Australian tv shows (random, I know) like MKR (My Kitchen Rules) and Masterchef (which is 100 times better than both North American versions). We have raided our cookbook collection and will be cooking up new and challenging recipes every week.

My hopes are that you will read and cook and drool along with me. What would you like to see? What are you hungry for? Let me know in the comments, and I'll get to writing my next post in the meanwhile. 

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Wildebeest - what a feast!

Ever since I first laid eyes on the menu of still young Wildebeest, the seawater-infused hazelnuts have been calling me. We decided to spend my long awaited Friday night off work dining at Wildebeest mostly because of my intense curiosity of these nuts and the meaty menu's ability to satisfy my meat loving man. 

Seated at low long tables at the back of the restaurant, we had a great view of the open kitchen and the overall flow of operations. Our very friendly server was helpful in navigating the menu, as he knows the flavours and structures of each item. He kindly let us know that our choices were one dimensional, and recommended replacing one of the heavy, fatty (and drippingly delicious) items with the cleaner item of Angus beef short rib with hay jus. We took his recommendations to heart, and he suggested a Petit Sirah - Grenache blend to go with it all. 

The seawater-infused hazelnuts are my new addiction. They use the seawater that their oysters come in to prepare these deliciously crunchy salty gems. I kept imagining them with a really dark chocolate, and fantasized about adding them to a dark brownie or a chocolate torte. They were gone too fast, and I want to go back for hazelnut take out soon. 
We went for the beet salad to get our vegetables in, as the rest of our dishes were meat-heavy. Their chewy heirloom beets (are some of them smoked?) are fresh and bright, the salted pears are crunchy, sweet and tangy all in one. The goat ricotta is creamy and rich. I don't know what the heart shaped leaves are, the coolest looking green I have ever had on any plate, three leaves to each "flower", green on one side, purple and hairy-looking on the sides that meet the other leaves, and a bright tart flavour - fun! But then there's the "crispy milk". Looks like a cracker, right? Super light, breaks easily. Put it on your tongue, and it ... disappears. It's milk. Like a fake cracker, kinda. Crunchy and light and airy and gone in an instant. Milky sweet. Awesome! 

Dishes at Wildebeest arrive at your table as they are prepared. By the time the beef short ribs and the foie gras poutine arrived at our table, the camera was forgotten and the food was devoured. Sorry, no pics, just the ones I have in my mind... They look great, I tell you! 

The bone marrow looks gorgeous. In the middle of the plate sits half a bone with roasted bone marrow, sprinkled with a parsley gremolata, served with thick grilled slices of crusty bread. The bread is full of air bubbles, so the bone marrow and its juices really sink into the bread. Deliciously fatty and rich, yet portion is perfect for two to get a sample. Just a taste each,  an introduction to the world that is bone marrow, and then maybe next time we'll go for the über luge?

The Angus beef short ribs are chunky cuts of meat, cooked to medium rare, with smoked salt, served on a hay jus. The flavours are focused around the amazing beef, there is nothing else on the plate. The beef have been cooked for 48 hours and even the fat practically melts in your mouth.

I used to have a personal "Vancouver's best poutine" in mind when talking to visitors, and now it has changed to Wildebeest's foie gras poutine. The chunks of foie gras are rich and creamy, the gravy generous and silky smooth. Large chunks of cheese curds and the fries soak up every bit of flavour. 

Yes it was a lot of food for the two of us. We were full. But I had read that they had a chocolate fondant on the menu, and the word chocolate just speaks to me. It had to be tried.
The cayenne chocolate fondant is smooth and dense and intense, although light on the cayenne. If spices in dessert scare you, this would be a great item to warm you up. If you are used to heat in desserts, then it might leave you wanting more of a kick. The fondant is accented by chunks of a dehydrated chocolate mousse. Dehydrating the mousse is an imaginative way to create an unexpected texture. But the absolute winner on this plate is the pear sorbet. Talk about beauty in a scoop! Pear paired with chocolate is an age old combination, but a spoonful of the deep dark fondant and a light, fresh dollop of pear sorbet will open your eyes to new ways to experience classic flavours.

We will most certainly be back. We already have the items picked out for our next meal! Curiosity needs to be satisfied, and the elk tartare, pork jowl, and caramelized bone marrow dessert are all items that are calling my name... 

Thursday, 26 July 2012

O Lupo Mio!

There's a charming heritage house on Hamilton, in between modern condo buildings and commercial spaces. If you go up the stairs and through the front door, you will be warmly greeted by the smiling Michael, or another one of his welcoming team members. Walking into Lupo is like walking into an old friend's house, where you're always welcome, they've always got food on the stove, and great wines are ready for your glass. 

We were seated by the bay windows on the second floor, with views out to the street. The menu is Italian, meaning divided into Antipasti, Primi, Secondi and Contorni for the table. It is also vital to pay close attention to their specials of the evening, there are true gems hiding behind the words and descriptions! You could spend a good half hour reading the wine list and debating which one to pick, or, like us, a good conversation with your server and trusting their input. Our wine of choice for the evening was a good choice for our rather different plates and tastes.

We started out with their special of burrata cheese, which was as fresh as can be. Mixed with the balsamic vinegar, the olive oil, the tomatoes and the beets, this was a great start to a delicious meal! We also ordered their octopus carpaccio with barlotti beans and limoncello vinagrette. The carpaccio is an ideal way to serve octopus, as each paper thin slice is as tender as can be. 

For our second course, we picked two items from the primi part of the menu, the pasta courses. The pappardelle is served with slow cooked rabbit, sage and fontina cheese. The slow cooking process ensures that the rabbit is tender and juicy, which marries well with the perfectly cooked ribbons of pasta.

Risotto Nero is a squid ink risotto with assorted seafood throughout the risotto itself, served with freshly steamed shellfish on top. Delicate flavours of the ocean permeate the risotto itself, while the plump and juicy seafood on top acts as a smooth, almost buttery, complement.

For dessert, we chose mascarpone cheesecake (Joe’s weakness, and yes, it was his birthday) and a beautiful chocolate creation (chocolate gets me, every time). The light and fluffy and deeply satisfying cheesecake was velvety smooth, melt in your mouth, with a crunchy sweet base and a fresh coulis on top.

On my plate, the dark, dense, rich chocolate, with tart and sweet berry sauce, tickles the taste buds and makes my heart flutter, this is THE ONE. Our two desserts were certainly the perfect ending to a great meal, in a friendly setting we look forward to return to! 

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Savouring Seattle - Final Chapter

I have to say, for a rainy weekend, Seattle sure was dry and sunny-ish for most of our stay! We could have sat in our hotel room and waited for the sun to properly set into the distance, but we had more eating to do!

Flying Fish was recommended to us as a good place to experience true Seattle seafood, and my goodness were they ever right! The restaurant itself had a slightly industrial feel, with high ceilings, exposed pipes and light fixtures, walls of windows toward the dark street in the background.

The halibut was fresh, straight out of the ocean, and prepared with full respect for the flavours and textures of the fish itself. The carrots retained their bite next to the pillowy soft flesh of the fish.

My scallops were gently caramelized and served with buttery soft and smooth puree of turnip. The crispy pancetta added salt and crispiness to this delicious dish. If I could have it weekly, I would! It sure satisfied all of my needs in one dish, sweet, salty, crispy, soft... And then the delicious centre of a not fully cooked through scallop. Is there anything better?

But the star of the show, if the scallops did not take home the trophy, was truly the chocolate lava cake dessert. They could have skipped the chocolate sable, the lava cake shines bright enough to light up the whole restaurant. It spoke directly to my very chocolate loving heart. The vanilla ice cream sat on a crunchy chocolately crumble, and the espresso syrup held it all together. We've all had less than perfect chocolate desserts out and about, but if you are in the Seattle area and looking for chocolate dessert, I have found it for you! 

Our Saturday night ended on a high dark chocolate flavoured note. Only a few short hours of Sunday left of our Seattle eating extravaganza! And only one more area on our list left undiscovered...

Seattle's International District is kinda like a Chinatown. But not like Vancouver's Chinatown. Unfortunately. We walked all the way from our hotel to the International District, craving amazing dim sum in new surroundings. The sun was shining and the wind was extremely cold, but we couldn't figure out why there were no buses along the street, our concierge had said it ran along this street and ended up in the International District. Only later did we discover the underground bus system of Seattle, remarkable and probably all thanks to the old underground network mentioned in Seattle part 2.

Arriving in the International District early on a Sunday morning was rather dull. Where were all the people? Where were all the good restaurants? Nothing was open, and those that were open had maybe 2 out of 6 tables occupied. Not exactly the kind of place we were looking for. Now we were HUNGRY, after our long walk and the thought of dim sum, so we were almost at the point of giving up and giving in to one of the less desirable places along the way... But then, we turned a corner, and as if by magic, there appeared a restaurant in front of us, with a huge line up: Jade Garden Restaurant! Ironically, the owners are from Richmond, BC, just another hint at Richmond being the best place in the North West for true Chinese cuisine... That, and the fact that our Vancouver favourite is Jade Dynasty on Pender, made us devote our Sunday brunch to Jade Garden Restaurant.

The sad part when I go for dim sum is that I cannot stop to take pictures. Inner monsters take over, jump out and start eating before I even gather my thoughts to think of it as another picture opportunity. Rice rolls with shrimp, shrimp dumplings, turnip cake (steamed or pan fried, depending on my mood du jour), vegetable dumplings, I just can't help it. (I really should go see a shrink about it. That and chocolate.) All I can tell you is that dim sum at Jade Garden Restaurant is good quality dim sum. It is an authentic Cantonese dim sum restaurant, where the service is minimal, the steam baskets are hot, the trolleys are loaded to beyond their capacity, the servers are expert acrobats maneuvering between packed tables of happy families busy eating.

Full from dim sum and still managing to dodge the rain clouds, we make our way back to our hotel. We have to check out, and with some hours to spare, we make it down to Pike Place Market one last time. What a place, what a market, what an experience. One last attempt at a picture of the both of us.

But wait! We have to eat something before getting on the train again! Hmm... I could have sworn we missed at least one of Tom Douglas' restaurants, and what would you know, they're all conveniently located close to our hotel! I once mentioned Serious Pie to someone I know from Seattle, and his eyes lit up. Literally. Taken completely out of context and in a different country, those two words create emotions in people.

Serious Pie is a small restaurant that is serious about their pies. A small menu that focuses on doing a few pizzas seriously well. Unfortunately with pizza comes garlic, so my choices were limited. But their Penn Cove clams pizza is naturally garlic free and, lucky for us, seriously good! Crispy crust, well seasoned toppings and their own house pancetta - a very serious pie! Tasty pizza, good atmosphere, and I wish we'd had more time and bigger stomachs...

And so ends our Seattle foodie safari anno 2012. We look forward to returning next year for new and old flavourful favourites! We took Amtrak back up to Vancouver and returned to our daily grind, and tried to recreate some of the flavours of Seattle in words, in the hopes that you'll get tempted and try some out too.

Now, let's get talking about some Vancouver favourites... What are yours?

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Seattle's got me by the tastebuds! Part 2

It's Friday night in Seattle. The clouds are threatening to open up and soak everything, everywhere. We cautiously brought an umbrella and set out from our hotel to our dinner destination for the night. We have been talking about this restaurant for a whole year, since we last visited Seattle and did not (gasp!) visit this place. I'm talking about... The Crab Pot.

Just look how festive their beverages are!! Joe was feeling extra adventurous this evening and decided to go with a Pirate's Punch. I prefer my fun drinks frozen and served with a souvenir glass so that I can attempt to recreate the feast at home, complete with one Crab Pot (plastic) glass. 

The Crab Pot is amazing for so many reasons, it's going to be hard to not write on for days about them.

  1. After we order, they bring a mallet, a cutting board and bibs. BIBS! We get to tie plastic souvenir bibs around our necks and take fun pictures - this is going to be GREAT!
  2. Drinks are tasty!
  3. No garlic? No problem! Our feast is served without the regular sprinkling of secret spice mix, although Joe gets a little portion of it on the side, in case he wants to dip the goods in extra flavours! (He didn't actually end up doing this, as the seafood in itself was SUPERB and did not need the added garlic, salt, etc.)
  4. When our food had been prepared by the chefs, it was brought to our table and POURED OUT IN A BIG PILE IN FRONT OF US. I'm sorry. It was just ridiculously original. Look, my food's on the table! Pardon the plate on the side, it stemmed from a starter that was totally and utterly overshadowed by the feast ahead. The starter had garlic, so I just had a nibble. I'm sure it was good. I just couldn't have it.
  5. The crab. Both the dungeness crab and the snow crab were absolutely rocking delicious. We got to crack through both types of shell, figure out how to get the most flavour and meat out of the nooks and the crannies, and if we wanted to, there was melted butter to dip it into. We didn't want to. None of the food needed it, really.
  6. The shrimp (shell on), the clams, the mussels. It was all so fresh, so good, so fun! The fillers were corn on the cob (delish), andouille sausage (garlic alert) and red skinned potatoes. The only thing remaining after we feasted until we could feast no more, was potatoes and andouille.
After our Crab Pot adventure, as we stumble on back to our hotel, full of seafood and big smiles, we agree to make it a must-eat-here stop every time we visit Seattle... And the rain held back until we got home.

Breakfast is one of my favourite meals ever. Maybe it stems from working overnights in hotels, and going out with the other night owl girlies after work (8am) for a few mimosas and some good food before going home to sleep the day away? I don't know. That's my theory, and regardless how I got it, I am now addicted to great breakfasts and brunches.

In our room at the Westin Seattle, there was a magazine featuring breakfasts and brunches around Seattle. There were so many to choose from, but one restaurant in particular stood out to me: Toulouse Petit. I have forever wanted to visit New Orleans to discover their food scene, and suddenly, right there in Seattle, there was a chance to taste the South!

So garlic intolerance can really get in the way on so many occasions, Toulouse Petit included. Luckily, Joe ordered the Spicy Shrimp Creole and Eggs over Creamy Grits so that I could at least taste it. I had to "make due" with the most wonderfully creamy and sweet and luscious Crème Caramel French Toast. I am a sucker for french toast at the best of times, but here they've combined it with flavours and textures of Crème Caramel! HEAVEN on a plate, with a pear caramel sauce, pecan butter and fresh strawberries.

We also tried their freshly made beignets with chicory anglaise, as I hear that is what one does should one be in New Orleans, and we kinda were. Yummilicious! Oh, and did I mention, wholeheartedly recommended!?

So once we regained the ability to move after our wonderful breakfast at Petit Toulouse, we snuggled under an umbrella while walking back towards downtown, we had some shopping to do at Pike Place Market. Right across the street from the market there's usually a barbershop quartet, without the barbershop. They sing to entertain people lining up for the first ever Starbucks, the one and only, the original location. Yup, it's still there. It's not big, nor flashy. It doesn't look as good as most modern Starbucks. And it serves the same coffee, tea, or whatever you may fancy. The line up is long and the wait for your beverage is longer. But I've been there, and I had a beverage from there, so yay!

What else does one do in Seattle? We were heading for an underground tour, as we were curious about what could be found underneath the streets. Bill Speidel's Underground Tour took us to Pioneer Square, an area we had yet to discover in Seattle. As we hadn't had lunch yet, we were on the look out for a place to eat close to the tour starting point. When we bought our tickets, we also got a discount voucher for the Underground Cafe, AND, if you purchase something from the cafe, you automatically get priority seating for the tour. I don't think I would look the Underground Cafe up for any other reason than good seats for the beginning of the tour, but there you go. The burger filled a hole, the hot dog could have been from Ikea, and when I started writing this installment of our Seattle tour, I couldn't even remember where we had lunched that day.

Bill Speidel's Underground Tour takes you below the streets of Seattle. Without getting into too much detail, the original Seattle was built on a flood plain, and sewage came back in with the tide twice daily. The sewage system improved in stages, and at one point, you were only safe from further nasty flooding if your house was built slightly higher up than that of your neighbour's house. All in all, what remains today is a network of hollow sidewalks, between basements of buildings and the propped up, solid streets. Our guide had a story teller's heart, and we could have wandered on and listened for many more hours. We laughed, listened and exclaimed "EWW!" at all the right places.

And so ends the second part of our Seattle adventures. One more part to come, before I leave Seattle be until next year, when we hope to go back for some more Crab Pot and Toulouse Petit, for sure!

Friday, 20 April 2012

Seattle forever in my belly... I mean heart! -- Part 1

Seattle. Space Needle. Pike Place Market. Yada yada yada, sights to see, just like any other city. But MAN can they cook down there!

Joe and I stayed at the very nice Westin Seattle, with a view directly towards the Space Needle, where we also had the chance to watch the sun set every night, had we stayed in our room. But no, we had eating to do!

The first night, the front desk person at the hotel recommended that we checked out Palace Kitchen, an open late type restaurant right next door. Palace Kitchen is owned by Tom Douglas. Mark that name, you might come across it again... Just sayin'.

Palace Kitchen has an impressive menu, with features I have certainly never seen on a menu after midnight! Hand crafted cheeses, oil poached tuna, oysters - oh my! They also do a late night breakfast of steak and eggs, all the way up until 1am! Now I'm a fan of breakfast, but even I don't call food at midnight breakfast... Lunch maybe, but not breakfast.

We didn't take any pictures from Palace Kitchen, because it was after all veeeery late, and we were veeeery hungry and veeeery tired. Nevertheless, their beet salad with pistachios and cheese and orange segments, was perfect. Just what I needed, with moist, juicy, fruity and earthy beets. Mmmmm... And I did pick at Joe's charcuterie... Sausages, pork belly and sauerkraut. Gotta get my protein from somewhere!

So Tom Douglas got another visit from us Friday morning, in his restaurant Lola. Get this - Lola serves an octopus, bacon, celeriac, leeks and eggs breakfast! It originally comes with a coriander yoghurt, but in my garlic free world, it comes with a side of plain greek yoghurt. Joe had the truffled crimini omelette, with smashed garlic potatoes.
Needless to say, octopus for breakfast wins, hands down, any time. The egg creates a sauce for the dish, as does the yoghurt. Mix it all up, the bacon is salty, the octopus has a nice char from the grill... Oh my. Lola, come to Vancouver! Or maybe it's good they're not here. It could get expensive!

We continued our culinary travels down towards Pike Place Market. What a vibrant place! Like your favourite farmers' market, with all your local artisans and hazelnut growers and t-shirt makers and fish throwers (ever seen the leadership training movie Fish! ? It's from here!), beautiful flowers and thousands of visitors per hour. You can taste test hot pepper jellies hotter than the hottest coffee from the first and original Starbucks across the street. Try some fresh fruits at the green grocers, or a stick of dry chocolate spaghetti from the pasta guy. Yup, you read that correctly, chocolate spaghetti. He claims it tastes just like chocolate. I'm thinking he's never had good chocolate...

Pike Place Chowder is in an alley right across the street from the market itself. They make a minimum of 6 different chowders every day, they even have two garlic free ones! :) Thanks for that! The chowders were good, rich, creamy, salty, fishy and just pure savoury goodness. With oyster crackers on top, and sour dough bread on the side. This goes to show that you don't need fancy plating (see the cardboard cup of chowder, the plastic spoon, the iron grate table and the plastic wrapped oyster crackers) for full on, repeatable flavour that will bring us back to Pike Place Chowder for a bowl of awesome whenever we return...
That's it for the 1st 24 hours in Seattle. There are another two installments to come, with a cracking good time at The Crab Pot, and superb dim sum in the International District...

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Norwegian to start, then...

So yes, I'm Norwegian. I learned lots in my mom's kitchen, she holds the award for best Norwegian waffles amongst all our friends and family, and she hated baking. I learned more than just cooking skills in her kitchen, whenever a cake would slip and fall, there would be colorful language to match her disappointment. My dad makes really good sour cream porridge, from scratch. He still has to teach me that.

Then I started moving around the world. Well, Europe and North America, if that qualifies as the world. Learned that a roast cooked in a full bottle of wine was the ultimate Sunday dinner while living in Germany, from a woman who cooked for 4 people as in the recipe book, no matter how many people, 2 or 8, were around her table. We went to bed hungry sometimes. Spaetzle is still my favourite German food though.

I studied in France for just over three months. So the end result unfortunately is not fluency in French, but it left me with an addiction to pain au chocolat aux amandes, which forces me to avoid bakeries at all costs. And don't get me started on buying bread in the grocery store! The last loaf of bread I picked up had three different sources of sweet, sugar, molasses and raisin pulp - so I bake my own breads now. They crumble too easily, so if anyone out there has tested and true recipes for good loaves or buns, please let me know. 

Estonia was different. I lived there for about a year and a half, and learned most of my Estonian language from the grocery store and the multilingual menus in restaurants. They have dairy products that I had never heard of in any other country, and one of the Tallinn tourist trap restaurants serves food as it would have been served way back in the Hanseatic times, around year 1400, with whole ancient grains instead of potatoes. They also serve bear. Not only beer, but bear. And boar. Growl!

I also lived in Scotland for four years. One of the years during university, I lived right above one of the many chippies in Edinburgh, which meant that every night at around 10pm, when they fried up a batch for tomorrow's customers, my room would stink. I'm not sure that the word 'stink' quite covers it, but it'll do, for now. They deep fry EVERYTHING in Scotland. Slices of pizza, black or white pudding, chocolate bars, cheese filled hamburger patties... But I do enjoy a good haggis, with neeps, tatties and gravy!

My summer interning in Michigan taught me about North American breakfast haunts, which is the inspiration behind my constant search for the best breakfast/brunch hidden gems. I'll share them with you, don't worry, just promise you won't tell anyone once I do. Michigan also told me that fresh seafood is to be served with a bucket full of melted butter. I politely declined and had the seafood as is instead.

Then in 2008, I finally moved to Canada, knock on wood, for good. No more country hopping. I'm here to stay. Poutines for the rest of my life - woohoo! And perogies. And ceasars, the liquid ones, not the salad ones. That's what I had for dinner on my 1 year anniversary as a Canadian resident, just in March. I woke up to this waiting that morning, red and white cupcakes and a whole array of buttons to wear to show off my Canadian pride:

And here comes the sad part... I can't have garlic. It hurts. I don't swell up and die, but it hurts and ruins the rest of my day. If you really want to be mean, serve me garlic for breakfast. Not being able to pick up most packaged foods from the store has made me a better cook though! I've been experimenting with spices and flavours for years, and I want to thank all the wonderful women who have been making me scratch made taco seasoned meat for taco salads from the bottom of my heart. It's still my go to comfort food, and cumin is my new best friend.

It's 2012 and I live in the West End of Vancouver, in beautiful British Columbia. I have a brisk walk to work at one of the best hotels in the city, and lots of temptations along the way. I have a favourite macaron joint, as all Vancouverites should have by now, and breakfast out a little too much. I live and cook with my boyfriend, who's ancestry is from Hong Kong, so we certainly have a favourite dim sum place too. My only problem when we go there, is that all the food is gone by the time I remember that we should have taken a picture... But I'll work on it, I promise!

So there you go, I think that about does it for background. I'll get writing about places you can go to eat now.