Optimistically Cautious

Sunday, May 18, 2008

My Last Post

On Blogspot, at any rate.

After Mack's constant badgering to get my own domain, and to transfer platforms to Wordpress, I've finally done it. Effective today, I will be blogging at www.onlyhereforthefood.ca (for those who subscribe to and read my blog in an aggregator, you'll need to update your subscription to use my new feed address: http://www.onlyhereforthefood.ca/feed/).

Blogger has been great to me over the past year and a half, with its friendly interface and lovely blue spotted theme that I've gotten quite attached to.

Thanks for the memories, Blogger! I'll see the rest of you on Only Here for the Food!


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Food Notes

  • Mucho Burrito, a fast-food outlet which bills itself as a "fresh Mexican grill" just opened its first Edmonton franchise recently (10124 109 Avenue). A second is already in the works for North Town Mall.
  • The City Centre Market opens on Saturday! The updated vendor list isn't up yet, but I look forward to joining many other "scuppies" (socially conscious upwardly-mobile person)in our weekend best on Jasper and 104th (is it just me or are markets the new Sunday Promenade for those 20-35?).
  • Speaking of Farmers' Markets, Lex Culinaria linked to a listing of all of the approved markets in Alberta, complete with hours of operation and links to their websites.
  • Taken by their flashy silver packaging, I bought a bag of President's Choice brand (get ready for it) General Tao Chicken Chips. I wasn't expecting much with that name, so who knew I'd actually enjoy them? They taste like a spicier, more flavourful version of BBQ chips. Worth the $1.49 I paid.
  • Also on the cheap end of things, Mack and I tried the new $1.39 Iced Coffee from McDonald's over the weekend. Three flavour options were available to us: regular, vanilla and hazelnut. Between the regular and vanilla, the former was surprisingly better. Mack commented that while the coffee taste was more genuine than a Tim Hortons' Iced Cappuccino, he wasn't sold on the low price alone, and would still opt for a Starbucks Frappuccino. I, however, wouldn't mind another regular now and again.

Iced Coffee from McDonald's

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Culinary Q & A with Diane

Occupation: Career Counselor

What did you eat today?

Cereal, fruit, nutribar, cheerio snacks

What do you never eat?

Cottage cheese, yams, sage, relish, canned orprocessed meat, tofu, chili peppers, meats with fruits

What is your personal specialty?

Omelets, pancakes and scalloped potatoes

What is your favorite kitchen item?

My paring knife

World ends tomorrow. Describe your last meal.

Asian salad, cauliflower withwhite sauce, smoked ham, garden peas in their pods and tapioca pudding. No wait, the sampler platter at Yianni's and tiramisu!

Where do you eat out most frequently?

Lately, takeout from Fusion Noodle

What's the best place to eat in Edmonton?

Yianni's on a sunny Saturday afternoon

If you weren't limited by geography, where and what would you eat?

I would be in Greece, easting dolmades, spanokopita, humus with pita, lamb withgarlic, Greek salad with lots of olives and feta, rice, roasted potatoes, fresh calamari with lemon and onions - oh my goodness, my mouth is watering!

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Monday, May 12, 2008

The Cooking Chronicles: Red Grapefruit Chiffon Cake

Only the Dads and the children were supposed to cook for the Mother's Day potluck hosted by one of our family friends. Thus, I offered to make a Red Grapefruit Chiffon Cake, a recipe requested by my Mum.

It was my first time experimenting with chiffon cake, noted for its light and airy quality, so when I ended up with some yolk in my egg whites, I was worried that it wouldn't turn out. The final product seemed alright, albeit was a tad on the dry side. It would have been better served with a dollop of whipped cream and berries of some kind, in my opinion.

Red Grapefruit Chiffon Cake

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Cooking Chronicles: Buttermilk Biscuit Sandwiches, part deux

My sisters and I decided to make breakfast for our Mum on Sunday instead of taking her out for a traditional brunch.

Inspired by the Tim Horton's breakfast sandwich (which I love), and using a Bobby Flay recipe I have already tried in the past, we made our own sandwiches with bacon, over-easy eggs, and shredded marble cheese.

Homemade Buttermilk Biscuit Sandwiches with egg, bacon and cheese

While Bisquick biscuits are undoubtedly quicker to make, nothing beats a buttery, flaky, hot-from-the-oven biscuit augmented by cheese and bacon. Yum.

Happy Mother's Day, Mum!

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Chocoholics Unite: Chocolate Tasting at Kerstin's Chocolates

I really enjoyed my first experience at The Cocoa Room by Kerstin’s Chocolates, and having heard that they offered an inexpensive chocolate tasting every month for just $15, I jumped and registered for the next available date in April. So on Friday, Amanda and I headed to the subterranean Cocoa Room and joined eleven other people at this unique event.

I was happy to see that Nina, the clerk that made my initial visit such a positive one, would be leading the session. A former teacher from Germany, she was enthusiastic and eager to impart her knowledge onto the group. To start, Nina explained how the evening would unfold - she would open with a lecture on the history and process of making chocolate, and then we would be provided with samples to taste.

The lecture lasted about forty minutes, and was more detailed than I was expecting - from the very particular conditions the cacao tree (which apparently looks more like a tall bush) need to grow, to the European discovery of the beans and subsequent experimentation, and finally, the modern methods of chocolate creation. This last portion was most interesting to me - I had no idea the process behind chocolate making was so lengthy and labour intensive, from the initial harvest to fermentation, to roasting, crushing, grounding, conching, and finally - tempering by the chocolatier. Nina also said that although the trend is now towards fair trade chocolate, Kerstin's has found such chocolate to be of poor quality at this time, but are partaking in direct trade with chocolate makers (they purchase Criollo chocolate from Swiss manufacturers).

Amanda was eager to get on with actual eating of chocolate, so by the time Nina brought out lemon water and crackers to act as palette cleansers, she was rearing to go. We were handed pencils and a simple chart to keep track of our initial impressions of the different chocolates, and were asked to record details regarding the chocolate's aroma, flavour, and texture. Nina recommended that we incorporate air into our mouths as we chewed the chocolate (like with wine), and prompted us to consider hints of tobacco, fruit, and liqueur in the samples. Perhaps it could be attributed to the power of suggestion, but I did start to recognize subtle flavours like cherry and what tasted to me like blue cheese(!) in some of the different pieces.

Amanda and I had different preferences - she liked the milk while I leaned towards the dark chocolates. My favorites ended up being their in-house Chocophilia Venezuela (65% dark) and a very cool "2007 vintage" single-plantation dark chocolate from Trinidad & Tobago.

While I thought gift-wrapped toothbrushes would make ideal parting gifts, what they gave was even better - everyone at the tasting was entitled to a 15% discount on all products that day. I picked up bars of the Venezuela as well as the Hazelnut Crunch to try (while both are very good, nothing can top the aromatic Mocha Bean).

I would definitely recommend the chocolate tasting - it would make a great alternative date venue, night out for girlfriends, and of course, excite any chocoholic. Although the next available date won't be until September (when it's cooler, and a more ideal temperature for the tasting), it's well worth the wait!

Our plate (we were told to keep bits of each piece to compare at the end)

Surrounded by Chocophilia

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Self-serve Stir Fry: Mongolie Grill

Along with the tickets to Puppetry of the Penis, I was also lucky enough to receive a $25 gift certificate to Mongolie Grill from Vue Weekly. I decided to take advantage of it before a chocolate tasting, and met Amanda for dinner at the Jasper & 109 Street location of the restaurant on Friday.

Greeted by what seemed like one of five hostesses on staff, I was quickly led to a table and seated. It was still early evening, so the restaurant wasn’t that busy, but I could see that business would pick up as the night wore on. The dining room was a typical Western interpretation of Asian style – dark wood and dim lighting reminiscent of OPM. As I waited for my sister to arrive, I read over the instructions on the menu on how to build-your-own meal. Provided bowls were to be filled with vegetables, meats and seafood, and sauce(s) of one’s choosing, with each plate including soup, rice, and wraps to complete the meal.

I was a tad weary of the service I might receive, after a warning from Mack that staff weren’t that attentive, but I found our waitress pleasant and quite competent at juggling a few tables. She took our orders for soup, gave us our bowls, then explained that after choosing our ingredients, we would have our creations weighed, stir-fried, then brought to our tables directly.

A plethora of options greeted us at the fresh food bar, all clearly labeled, with a fair number of sauces to choose from as well. To be economical, knowing how heavy comparable ingredients are would help (e.g. mushrooms are fairly light), but overall, I liked the do-it-yourself concept because it does allow for healthy eating and balanced portions. At the same time, if the end result is inedible, one only has him or herself to blame.

I loaded up my bowl with a variety of vegetables, thin slices of AAA beef tenderloin, and ladles of honey garlic, teriyaki and Thai chili sauces (a combination recommended by the attendant). My bowl ended up with a price of $14.65. My sister stacked up her bowl, drizzling it with only teriyaki sauce, and had her portion priced at $21.23.

When we returned to our seats, small bowls of soup and bamboo steamers containing wraps and rice were waiting for us on the table. My hot and sour soup was too spicy for me to discern flavour from it, but Amanda’s corn chowder was quite good and hearty to boot.

We actually weren’t even finished with our soups when our plates arrived. I thought Amanda’s serving looked better than my own, but mine actually tasted better, if not only because I included more sauce than she did. The peanuts and tofu were a definite plus, but the lack of baby corn and onion had me wishing that I had lingered longer at the food bar. Unfortunately, the beef was tough, but this was not unexpected given the fact that the cooks are asked to blindly stir fry whatever is in a bowl at the same time.

Without the gift certificate, I would have considered our dinner a rather pricey one. But still, if your party includes those that are particular about what they eat, Mongolie Grill provides a comfortable and efficient venue for dining.


Fresh food bar

My bowl before cooking

Amanda’s bowl being weighed

Stir-fry station

Steamers with rice and wraps (I loved how tall the water glasses were)

My plate

Amanda’s plate

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The Cooking Chronicles: Breakfast Pizza

Inspired by the version made by Pizzeria Prego, Mack and I decided to try our hand at making a breakfast pizza, customizing it to our tastes.

Using a Giada de Laurentiis pizza dough recipe from the March 2007 edition of Bon Appetit, we had to wait an hour for the dough to rise. That gave us more than enough time to prepare our toppings – shredding mozzarella cheese, dicing tomatoes, slicing mushrooms, microwaving bacon, and scrambling eggs.

After kneading and forming the dough into a circle (okay, it turned out more like a heart), we piled on our toppings. We waited the recommended fifteen minutes, and took out our creation. It wasn’t bad, but for next time, I’d make sure the bacon was extra crispy (there is no opportunity for it to crisp up under the layers of additions), undercook the eggs slightly (they, on the other hand, would continue to cook in the oven), and to add the basil after the pizza is out of the oven. Cheddar would have also been a better cheese to pair with the smoky bacon.

In the end, though the idea of a breakfast pizza makes a great and unusual dinner (or brunch) dish, the execution never seems to do the individual items justice – this is one example where the sum isn’t greater than the parts.

Breakfast pizza

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Friday, May 09, 2008

The Cooking Chronicles: Lemon Muffins

I had spied an interesting recipe in the April/May edition of Taste of Home for Lemon Crumb Muffins, and thought they would make an ideal treat for my coworkers.

I started the recipe a little later than I originally intended, but with my Mum’s help, was able to get them in and out of the oven just after midnight. The crumb portion of the recipe didn’t work out (was I supposed to use brown and not granulated sugar?), so I ended up omitting the topping all together. The muffins came out a little paler than I was expecting, and not as lemony as I wanted however, so I’m not sure I’d make them again. My coworkers didn’t seem to mind the imperfections though!

Lemon Muffins

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Ezio Faraone Park Photowalk

Finally following through with my intention on wandering the trails leading down from Constable Ezio Faraone Park, I asked Mack to join me on a leisurely photowalk on Thursday afternoon.

It’s funny how easily I took the surrounding area for granted, and though the greenspace (yes, finally getting green!) was so accessible and just down the road from my office, how I never took the time beyond occasional coffee breaks to explore the trail.

Here are a few of the pictures I took with the hopes of enticing you to take advantage of pedestrian-friendly pathways (the complete set is on Flickr).

Framed by trees

"Share the Trail"


At trail's end (or, where we chose to turn back)

Ezio Faraone Park (turns out I've been omitting the 'a' in 'Faraone' all these years)

Ezio Faraone commemorative statue (with the Legislature Building in the background)

Historic High Level Bridge


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Thursday, May 08, 2008

More Bakery than Cafe: Breadland Organic Whole Grain Bakery

After reading a backstory about the owners of Breadland Organic Bakery (11642 104 Avenue) in Vue Weekly last fall, I included it on my list of places to hit.

I convinced Cristy to come to Breadland with me for lunch on Wednesday. It took us a while to find the non-descript storefront in the maze of Oliver Square, but we eventually located the bakery next to Second Cup.

Breadland is known for their use of organic ingredients and spelt flour, a whole grain version that is apparently easier to digest. We entered the empty space, greeted by a quaint seating area decorated with care, and racks of fresh-baked loaves behind the counter. Two coolers held various desserts and lunch items. Breadland also sells organic chicken eggs and coffee from St. City Roasters.

I was hoping for more substantial lunch choices (as alluded to in the Vue Weekly article), but all Cristy and I had to choose from was a daily soup (vegetarian chili that day), a pizza, and a quiche. We agreed to split a slice of the sprouted spelt crust vegetarian pizza ($5) and a spelt spinach quiche ($4).

The servings were unfortunately small (or fortuitously small, allowing for consumption of dessert), and cold. We didn’t ask to have our portions heated, so perhaps it can be done, but I would assume that most of Breadland’s nearly year-old business comes from customers interested in takeaway only. In any case, the pizza, topped with an interesting mix of lentils and beans, was as good as a cold slice of pizza could have been. The quiche was the main attraction, however – with a base of buttery crust, the custardy filling was streaked with velvety cheese and spinach.

For dessert, we chose to share a chocolate croissant ($3), and a gluten free coconut cashew ball ($4). The coconut confection wasn’t my favorite, but the croissant was fresh – crisp and buttery, I would have actually preferred no filling, as the chocolate was a tad too sweet and concentrated for my liking.

More expensive than your conventional café and without too many options, Breadland isn’t an ideal place for lunch. That said, I wouldn’t mind stopping by to try out a loaf or two in the future.



Fresh bread!

Dessert case



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