Friday, February 27, 2009

Applesauce Muffins = Love

My baby brother is out of the hospital today after a short stay, so I thought I'd be a good sister and make him his favourite treat. We grew up eating these, so they're kind of the taste of our childhood. Also, he was always a really picky eater and these were one of the few things he would eat. They are apple-y and spice-y and almost more cake-like than muffin-like... yum!

Applesauce Muffins:
1 cup margarine
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
3 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cloves
2 tsp allspice
3 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking soda
4 cups flour
1 can unsweetened applesauce
3/4 cup chocolate chips (optional)
icing sugar (optional)

Cream the first four ingredients together, then add the spices and baking soda. Mix in the applesauce and the flour. Stir in the chocolate chips. Fill muffin cups 3/4 full and bake in a 400F/200C oven for 15 minutes or more (until a toothpick comes out clean). When done, place on a wire rack and sift over icing sugar then leave to cool. Alternately, this can also be baked as a loaf for 50-70 minutes.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

I Heart Soup

Inevitably as the weather here takes a turn for the cold, my appetite turns to soup. It is the kind of meal that banishes cold from your entire body, starting with your tummy and working right out to your fingers and toes. It also somehow always makes me feel like I am a pinnacle of healthy eating, as it typically contains more vegetables than most of my meals usually do. Yesterday I trekked through the ice and snow to have lunch with a friend at Soul Soup on Rice Howard Way, and ended up landing smack dab in the middle of soup heaven.

I have had the card for Culina TV dinners in my desk drawer for the past few years (I think I got it right when they were launching the concept). Up in the corner it says "Now available downtown at: Soul Soup." Other than the fact that the TV dinners sound fantastic, and I keep it to remind me to try them one day, I have kept this card to remind me that I want to try Soul Soup. How great does that name sound for a restaurant?!?! Finally, yesterday was the day.

Soul Soup is tucked inconspicuously into a building on the East Side of Rice Howard Way, just across the street from Bistro Praha. It is a tiny space with no tables, just a take away counter and a lunch bar with three seats. We were very lucky to have arrived early enough to nab a couple of them. There were three choices on the menu: a meat soup (jerk chicken with yam and mint), a fish soup (scallop and bacon chowder), and a veg soup (zucchini and veg).

I got myself a small bowl of the jerk chicken soup, and a side of corn bread. It turns out the soup came with a bun as well, so the corn bread wasn't really necessary, although it was very nice. My dining companion got a small bowl of the jerk chicken soup as well as a small bowl of the zucchini soup. Although she reported that the zucchini soup was good, it was the jerk chicken soup that I am still thinking about today. It was unreal. A bit spicy, but not overly so, it was everything I wanted on a cold winter day. The yam puree made it almost seem creamy, while the mint (that I had some concerns about), was almost undetectable.

While we sat enjoying our soups, making way to many "mmmm" noises, we looked around a bit and noticed a little flier taped up indicating that Soul Soup partners with a group called Full Course Strategies to promote provision of a natural, stress free environment for farmed animals, sustainable farm systems for future generations and stewardship of the land. Apparently all the meat products used in the soups are growth, hormone, stimulant, antibiotic and animal by-product free. I am not sure how rigorously that is guaranteed, but it did make me feel even better about my crazy delicious soup. Oh food that marries tastiness, healthiness, and uses a high degree of natural local ingredients!

If you think this can't get any better, oh it can! My bowl of soup and a bun only cost $4.75!!! I know some people would probably want the larger sized soup portion, but for me this is a great sized lunch (as long as I am not starving), and I like being able to opt for an appropriate sized meal as opposed to having to get a jumbo size at a jumbo price.

I will definitely return to Soul Soup in the future, and maybe even purchase their larger sized soups for take away. It would be a nice starter for a winter dinner party. In the mean time, I guess I will be hitting the internet in search of a recipe for jerk chicken soup in an attempt to make some of this magic for myself.

The only complaint I have is that there are no tables. I noticed a number of potential patrons peeking in only to turn around when they realized there was no where to sit.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009


I've been knocked out by bronchitis for the past week and have completely lost my appetite. I have only been able to eat things with very mild flavours, so this is perfect. It is my ultimate comfort food when I'm not feeling well.

3/4 cup cooked rice
green tea

I've been eating it plain like this or with crumbled senbei (rice crackers) on top, but you can top this with many different things. Check it out here!


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Lamb Shoulder Steak

Recently my husband and I bought a lamb. Not a living adorable lamb, but a lamb in pieces for our freezer and many suppers. We were completely familiar with the lamb chops and what to do with them, but have been pleasantly surprised since then with discoveries we have been making with other cuts of the meat.

Last night we had our second round of shoulder steaks, and I have to rave. What a great cut of meat! It has fantastic marbling so that all you have to do is give the steaks a little pat with a paper towel, hit them with some salt and pepper and then pan fry them on high for a few minutes a side to turn out a beautiful, tender piece of meat. I would say it is a bit easier to gnaw the meat off the bones than a standard chop, and the meat comes off so nicely that we were left with a small pile of perfectly clean bones (not shown to save the appetite of those that would be turned off by that kind of thing). I am a lamb lover, and this cut may have just risen to be my new favorite cut!


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Norm's Jamie's Green Bean Salad (made with asparagus)

This is one of those evolutionary recipes that slowly became the version of itself seen above from my dinner the other night. To begin with, my husband Norm found a recipe in one of our many Jamie Oliver cookbooks for a warm french bean salad. Seeing as we love whole grain mustard, "the Jamie Oliver beans" quickly became one of my husband's signature dishes. Over time, the ingredients changed a bit for the sake of convenience (shallots can be hard to come by at our local grocery store), and a bit so that the same recipe could be applied to other veggies.

Norm's Jamie's Green Bean Salad:
1 clove garlic finely minced
1 tbsp onion or shallot finely minced
2 tbsp whole grain mustard
1 tbsp olive oil
4 servings worth of beans (or asparagus in today's case)

Mix the first four ingredients to create a "dressing." Cook the beans or asparagus any way you like (steam, boil, grill), and while still hot, toss in the dressing to coat. This is a great tangy side dish. I frequently pair it with sweeter meat preparations such as my fig and plum glazed duck or apple pork chops because the help make sure that your dinner doesn't end up being sickly sweet.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

PC Blue Menu Steel Cut Oats

I had been hearing about steel cut oats for a long time without really knowing what they were, so when I saw them at Superstore a while ago I finally decided to give them a try. However, the long cooking time indicated on the packaging made me put off making it... and then I remembered that my rice cooker has a porridge setting. Yay! No effort required (that's my kind of breakfast).

Steel Cut Oats:
1/2 cup oats (rice cooker cups)
water to fill line
1/2 stick cinnamon

If you don't
have a rice cooker, just follow the package directions. But it is absolutely genius to be able to pop all the ingredients in the rice cooker in the evening, and set the timer to have my breakfast ready in the morning. This made enough for 2+ servings, and I just left the machine on Warming to keep breakfast ready for the second morning. It tasted just as good! On day one I topped it with brown sugar, 1/2 a chopped apple, and chopped walnuts, and on day two with dried cranberries, chopped walnuts, and a little sugar. Delicious both ways!


Downtown Dining Week!

Downtown Dining Week is almost upon us. Click here to see a list of participating restaurants as well as links to their menus.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Delux Burger Bar & Gabanna: A Review Two for One

One day over the holidays I came home with with the sweet bellyache of gluttony. I went out for lunch and then later for dinner, and filled myself to the brim and beyond both times.

To start with, I went to Delux Burger Bar. One of the Century hospitality Group of restaurants, I had never been to before. I am not really a burger gal, so I was not that interested, but it was close, so my friend and I gave it a try. The restaurant was pretty packed thanks to it being holiday time. It was cute and seemed like a contemporary diner type space.

We decided to share the burger of the day, which was a chicken burger with bacon, bbq sauce, and havarti cheese, as well as a side order of sweet potato fries (sides are ordered seperately), and the glass noodle salad. The burger was pretty much as expected. BBQ sauce, cheese and bacon really can't be bad together. The sweet potato fries were tasty, and for me are always a welcome option to regular fries. They came with a typical spicey aoli dip, which was not too spicey, but just a nice side. The glass noodle salad came with a good amount of teriyaki chicken, but not enough cashew nuts in my opinion.

The waiter did split up our meals so that we each had our own plates, and I love it when restaurants do that since I like sharing entrees (why eat one thing when you can try two things?). It is a cute concept, and I would go there again for lunch, but I am not sure I would choose it for dinner.

Later that night I was getting together for a night out with my dinner club. We go to a different restaurant once a month (no chains allowed), to get out on the town and eat and visit without anyone having to do all the cooking and cleaning. This month we were a tiny group of three seeing as we were competing with all the other holiday goings on. We ended up going to Gabbana.

The decor was bright and colourful, and the menu was described as EuroAsian. We arrived with no reservations, and were told that the wait would be about 10 minutes. We ended up waiting a good deal more than that (maybe 30 minutes?), but were eventually seated.

I got the lemongrass chicken, which was done as a green curry. I have been eating a lot of indian curry lately, and had forgotten how much different a thai curry was and how much I liked it. Whereas indian curries taste complex and warm, thai curries can be much sweeter and fresher tasting. This curry was very well balanced with the lemon grass and the coconut milk. Sweet, fresh and delicious! It was served with rice, and steamed veggies. The veggies were generally done quite well, and the variety was good and included white beech mushrooms. The carrot and squash were over cooked, but the rest were done well.

We decided to share a holiday dessert and went with the three chocolate terrine. It was disappointing, and strangely powdery tasting for a mousse dessert.

The main was good, and the menu had a lot of options that sounded interesting and were reasonably priced ($16 - $24 generally), so I will be back, but probably won't have the dessert again.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

These spring rolls make a fabulous lunch out of leftovers, and will really impress your co-workers. They only take about 15 minutes to make, but look like they take a lot longer. I made this with my leftovers from the Smoked Duck and it was super tasty, but really they can be made with any meat, or even tofu or just vegetables if you want to keep it simple. I served them with Thai Peanut Sauce (thinned out a bit with milk to make dipping easier).

Vietnamese Spring Rolls (4):
2 small bundles dried rice vermicelli
assortment of veggies and greens
(I used carrot, snow peas, & spinach)
green onion
4 round rice papers, 20cm/8" dia.
1/3 of a cooked duck breast, sliced

Bring water to the boil in a small saucepan, and lower the vermicelli into the water in a strainer. Cook according to package directions, or for around 10 seconds until al dente. Drain & run through with cold water to keep the noodles from sticking; it may make it easier to separate the noodles now into 4 piles. Arrange all of your fillings on a tray to prepare the rolls.

Separate and soak 2 rice papers at a time in a tray with room-temperature water for 1-2 minutes. Set a clean dish towel beside the tray, and when the papers are softened move them to the dish towel and blot them dry. Add the fillings to the papers, and roll as you would a burrito - that is, work about 1" from the edge of the paper, fold the bottom edge over the fillings and fold in the sides. The only tricky part here is getting the papers tight enough to keep the filling solidly together, but not so tight that the papers rip.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Breakfast Casserole - How Retro

I know that casseroles in general seem a bit retro, but I expect them to be making a big comeback this year in the wake of the "economic crisis" and the fact that casseroles are generally economical, filling, and fast for those that are dual income families (meaning no full time cook). I think I will be trying to dig up a couple of good ones over the next little while to help support my prediction. This one happens to be a great breakfast casserole that is extra great because you prep it the night before so that you can sleep in a bit on the morning of your breakfast/brunch. My mom always makes it for us to eat Christmas morning, and it has become a bit of a tradition at our house.

Wife Saver Casserole:
16 Slices of bread (crusts removed)
16 Slices of back bacon or ham (cooked)
16 Slices of sharp cheddar cheese
6 Eggs
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp dry mustard
1/4 cup Onion (minced)
1/4 cup Green Pepper (finely chopped)
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
3 cups Milk (whole or 2%)
A dash of hot sauce
1/4 lb Butter
Cornflakes (crushed)
In 9 X 13 buttered baking dish, put 8 pieces of bread (covering the bottom of the dish entirely). Cover bread with cooked back bacon or ham slices. Lay slices of cheddar cheese on top, then cover with the remaining slices of bread (to make it like a sandwich).

In a bowl, beat, eggs, salt and pepper. To egg mixture, add dry mustard, onion, green pepper, Worcestershire sauce, milk and hot sauce. Pour over the 'sandwiches'. Cover and let it stand in the fridge overnight.

In the morning, preheat the oven to 350F.

Melt 1/4 lb butter and pour over top. Cover with crushed corn flakes (or Special K cereal). Bake 1 hour in 350F oven. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving or it will slide apart as you remove portions from the baking dish. I left out the green peppers this time to suit one of my guests. It was delish!


Friday, February 13, 2009

"California" Flatbread

I still feel like I just returned from California (I know, I know, it's time to let go), so I decided to invent a new flatbread. In the tradition of calling anything with avocado the "California" version of that thing (California pizza, California burger, California chicken sandwich, etc....) this shall be dubbed the California Flatbread. It is quite a lot different from my standard "roast/preserved Italian veggies, goat cheese and pesto" flat bread and my "mango brie" flatbread, but clearly had a cuter name, and is a good addition to my usual lunchtime repetior.

As with all flatbreads, this one is just a fun group of toppings piled on a pita, or in this case some leftover naan bread, and then warmed up so that I feel like I am getting a hot lunch.

The base is just pesto (look at how much pesto restraint I exercised!), sundried tomatoes and artichokes (other ingredients that help support the random "California" label).

On top, I layer thin slices of feta cheese, avocado slices (the more the better), and a tiny bit of grated mozzarella cheese so that there is something to melt. Five minutes in a 350F oven, and voila! Lunch!


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Valentine's Temptation

This is a perfect Valentine's Day cake, as one would have to be in love to want to make this. Me? I'm just crazy. This is not for the faint of heart - it is both expensive to make and extremely labour intensive. The results are worth it though; the chestnut cream gives it a unique twist and it is so chocolate-y I think it's fulfilled my cravings for the next several months.

Base Brownie Layer:
1 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 tbsp/2 oz butter
1 egg2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/3 cup chopped roast chestnuts

Score the chestnuts and roast in a 400F/200C oven for 30 minutes, then peel and chop. Melt the chocolate in a bain marie then remove from the heat. Add the butter and whisk until smooth, then whisk in the egg and both sugars. Stir in the flour, followed by the chestnuts. Bake in a 6" greased springform pan or cake ring for 15 minutes in a 350F/180C oven. I used a strip of folded foil around the base to help seal the ring and prevent the edges of the brownie from baking faster than the middle. When the middle springs back when touched, remove & cool on a wire rack.
Centre Chestnut Cream Layer:
1 tsp powdered gelatin
1 tbps water
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup chestnut puree

In a cup or small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin powder over the water and let it absorb for 5 minutes. In a bowl, whisk the yolks and sugar together until it turns a pale yellow. Bring the cream to a boil, and whisk in the yolk mixture. Add the soaked gelatin, stirring over a low heat until the mixture thickens (around 10 minutes). Whisk in the chestnut puree. Pour through a sieve and refridgerate until partially
set. With the Brownie Base still in the pan, pour over the Chestnut Cream. Freeze for 2 hours.
Top Chocolate Mousse Layer:
3 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp water
3 egg yolks
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted & cooled to tepid
3/4 cup heavy cream

Bring the sugar and water to a full boil. Beat the yolks with an electric mixer, and pour over the hot syrup. Keep beating to prevent the eggs from cooking, and continue until the mixture is cool and has doubled in volume. In a separate bowl whip the cream to soft peaks, then take 1/3 of the whipped cream and whisk it into the tepid chocolate. Make sure the chocolate has not fully cooled! I was distracted by dinner while making this layer, and the cooled chocolate ended up not fully mixing into the mousse. Fold the yolk mixture into the cream/chocolate, then fold in the remaining whipped cream. Spread the mousse over the Chestnut Layer and freeze for 4 hours.

Chocolate Icing (optional):
1 1/2 tsp powdered gelatin
1 tbsp water1 cup sugar
3/4 cup cocoa
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup water

In a cup or small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin powder over the water and let it absorb for 5 minutes. Add the sugar, cocoa, cream, and water to a saucepan and bring to a boil stirring continually. Reduce the heat to med-low and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the soaked gelatin; to ensure this dissolves properly I found it easiest to add the hot chocolate mixture to the gelatin bowl bit by bit and then added it to the pan. Let stand until the icing is tepid but still fluid.

Place the cake on a wire rack and remove the ring/remove from the pan. I used a hot knife (ice cream cake-style) to get it out of the ring, then used my hands dipped in hot water to smooth the sides. Because the icing is similar to a ganache, you need to make sure the cake has a smooth base for it. If you decide not to ice the cake
(it's really not needed, as the cake is chocolate-y enough), sprinking cocoa on top and decorating would look good as well. This can be frozen for up to 3 days, and defrosted for 8 hours in the fridge prior to serving.

P.S. Make sure you keep all those egg whites!


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Lunchtime at Rigoletto's Cafe

I hit up the downtown area this week for lunch with a friend of mine who had suggested going to Rigoletto's. Having only seen the place from outside, I wasn't all that pumped. It has a pretty unassuming exterior in the bottom of a residential building, but I was really selling it short

Walking in, it was a lot bigger than I had realized, and the decor was a bit unusual. It felt half contemporary with clean lines, exposed brick and dark wood, and half more traditional with decorations alluding to Rigoletto's Operatic name. It seemed to draw a good lunch crowd.

The menu is a bit different from a traditional Italian restaurant, offering a few appetizer and soup choices, a fairly standard selection of salads, sandwiches - including some Italian grilled selections, pasta and entrees, and then an omelet section. To top it off, there was a list of daily specials that also covered most of those categories.

I started with the soup of the day, a bacon and potato chowder. It was excellent. I know that is a rare endorsement for a chowder, seeing as they tend to be creamy and a touch bland, but this one had a number of different diced veggies in it to add a bit of punch (plus it had bacon, which always adds a nice salty flavor to creamy dishes). It was a very well done soup.

For the main event, I got the Smoked Salmon appetizer, which came with cream cheese, red onions, capers, gherkins, olives and toasted French bread. I'm not a gherkin or olive lover, so I left them be. The bread was toasted to a lovely golden color, and there were plenty of sliced red onions and some of the largest capers I have ever had. I felt that there was not enough cream cheese, because I ran out about half way through the toasts, and I was not spreading it on very thick (although I would have liked to because I love cheese!). I was worried about the smoked salmon, as I typically am in new restaurants, because of the potential for it to be slimy and have a weird sheen. The smoked salmon here was actually quite good though. It wasn't quite delicate enough to put it up there with the stuff I had at Sage, but it was certainly edible, and quite tasty.

My dining companion opted for the Greek salad, saying that she had had it before and it was very good. I liked that it came with a piece of garlic toast (as did my soup), because I feel unsatisfied having a salad with no carbs or meat to go with it. The garlic toast is very tasty and has a bit of Parmesan melted onto it. The salad itself was filled with beautiful colours that popped all the more thanks to the generous amount of dressing.

All in all Rigoletto's was a pleasant surprise for me, but obviously not a huge secret given the number of patrons. I'm glad it has survived a few location changes and is still going strong today.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Adventures in Pastamaking I

After our success in making gnocchi last month, Court & I decided we wanted to try making pasta from scratch. The only thing stopping us was lack of a pasta machine, and no desire to spend a lot of money on something we didn't know we'd enjoy enough to do more than once or twice. A quick look on Kijiji and I found one for $10 (electric, unfortunately) - we were on our way.

I wasn't sure if special flour was required for pasta, so I stopped by the Italian Centre Shop and they did have imported flour with a pasta recipe on the back which we decided use (Thank you, Google Translate!).

Fresh Pasta (6 servings):
200g Semola di grano duro
250g Farina tipo ''00''
3 whole eggs
1 tbsp olive oil
enough tepid water to make the dough moist but not sticky

Sift both flours together, form a well in the centre and mix in the eggs and oil; the result looks a little like breadcrumbs. Now to add the water - this is where you need to be careful and where we made our mistake: I added too much water as the dough was very difficult to get together at first. I would recommend adding a little at a time and kneading it in, never adding too much. As soon as it feels the least bit sticky you've added too much water. Not to worry though, if you add to much the dough is still salvageable. We ended up having to knead in extra flour, and every time we thought it had absorbed as much flour as it could it was able to take more. The dough was very stiff, and once we got the dough right it finally started going through the machine properly.

The pasta machine turned out to be the loudest thing I have ever heard - worse than a food processor. The shrill motor eventually made me give up on using the machine and I hand-rolled the final bit of dough (which I wouldn't recommend as the stiffness of the dough made it nearly impossible).

That night, I made Linguine Aglio e Olio from David Rocco's recipe. Tasty! This is a super easy dinner to make when you have no ingredients in the house. I can't wait for our second attempt, as hopefully we've got all the mistakes out of our system. Plus, fortunately, a borrowed pasta attachment for a KitchenAid mixer. Wish us luck!


Monday, February 9, 2009

Duck, Brie and Pesto Sandwhich

The other day, I made duck confit (again!), and had leftovers to work with the next day. I looked around on Tastespotting, and found myself a great sandwich idea on the Echronicles. It's a simple one to put together, as long as you have the duck ready, but it seems sophisticated and Frenchy. It really brightened up an otherwise boring day.

Duck Sandwich:
Bread of your choice
Duck confit

Throw them all together, easy peasy, and chow down. Nice!


Sunday, February 8, 2009

Liberté Méditerranée Yogurt - Best Ever!

My new favourite thing is Liberté Méditerranée yogurt. This is a bigger deal than you might think, as I have kind of a love/hate relationship with yogurt and it has to be exactly what I'm looking for or I won't touch it.

Since leaving England (and the perfection that is Yeo Valley Organic Wholemilk yogurt), I have settled for Astro Original Balkan Style yogurt mixed with my own fresh fruit. While the Astro yogurt is delicious and has it's uses, it is a bit sour even with the fruit. I've spent years (not an exaggeration) trying to find exactly what I'm looking for, so I have pretty much purchased every brand on the market and nothing had the consistency, texture, and taste I wanted.

When I saw this at Sobey's a couple of weeks ago, I decided to give it a try. Don't be put off by the fat content (8% M.F.) - this is serious, stand-a-spoon-in-it yogurt. It has an amazingly smooth creaminess that I can't get enough of, and there are 12 flavours to choose from. To prevent myself from eating bowlfuls of the stuff, I have mostly been using it as a topper/garnish; really, it's almost a dessert - tonight I had some as a treat instead of ice cream. Delicious!


Thursday, February 5, 2009

Boursin Pasta

I know it's warm here for Edmonton, but having just come back from California, it is still feeling a bit wintery in comparison. I miss California and wish I could go back there and live all winter long, but alas, that is not a possibility until I become independently wealthy or old enough to retire. My husband is still on vacation for another day, so he was on supper duty tonight, and he whipped up one of our favorite quick comfort meals - Boursin Pasta.

This recipe originally comes from a cookbook called Fresh Food Fast, which I borrowed (for a very extended period) from Brooke until she stole it back. It is a great cookbook, but I can't seem to find it anywhere to get a copy of my own. This recipe is so simple that we don't really need to book to make it, and adjusting the quantities up or down to your tastes is a good plan.

Boursin is a brand of cheese that I have had great success in finding at pretty much any grocery store. It's nice as a spread on crostini if you want a super quick appetizer, and can be used a lot like a goat cheese or savory cream cheese. This time we used the pepper flavored cheese, but my favorite is the garlic and herb.

Boursin Pasta (for 3 or 4):
Spaghetti for 3 or 4 people
1 package Boursin Cheese
1/2 pack of bacon chopped
1 zucchini chopped - I like a larger julian
1/2 cup cream

Start the pasta boiling as per the directions on the package. In a saute pan, start to cook the bacon. When it starts to get crispy, drain off most of the grease, add in the zucchini and stir so that it is coated in bacon grease. Add the cheese in and break it up a bit so that it can melt in with the rest, and add the cream. Simmer the sauce until it is as thick as you would like it (this won't take long). Toss the pasta in the sauce and enjoy.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Pacifica (Palm Desert, CA)

Seafood in the desert might not be a natural pairing, but when you come from the prairies, a 2 hour drive to the coast actually equates to fresh seafood. I was thrilled when I heard that to celebrate my mom's birthday while in Palm Desert we would be going to Pacifica Seafood Restaurant. Last year we had got my parents gift certificates for it after reading lots of positive reviews on Trip Advisor, and then they had raved about it, so my expectations were high. Thankfully, this time the restaurant did a much better time living up to expectations that the ones I picked in San Diego.

Pacifica is located on El Paseo Drive - shopping street for those with pockets deeper than mine. It is well located for people from many of the surrounded Desert Cities such as Indio (where we were), Indian Wells, La Quinta, and Rancho Mirage. It is also located a couple minutes by car from the McCallum Theatre, to serve those heading to a show after dinner. It is on the second floor of a commercial building, with shops underneath, and it has a large patio seating area that allows you to admire the mountains in the distance, and lavish in the warm weather (or the heat rays of a heating lamp if the weather is a bit cooler).

Pacifica is a restaurant for seafood lovers. Almost the entire menu is devoted to fish and seafood, with a couple of token chicken and beef dishes. If you get there prior to 5:45, you can take advantage of "Sunset dinners," which we did since we had to make a 7:30 show, that is a bargain at $19.75 for a soup or salad and a main course. My father and I did that, and therefore began our meals with soups - clam chowder for him, and mulligatawny for me. Both soups were tasty, and I was pleased to see mulligatawny as an option, as I rarely do.

For mains, dad and I had the Lake Superior Whitefish (I know, not from the ocean so no fresher than I would have got at home...), served with a generous portion of sauted spinach and wild mushrooms. Drizzled around the edge was a beurre blanc sauce with some toasted pine nuts. The fish was very mild, as was to be expected, but the stronger earthier flavors of the spinach and mushrooms gave the dish good depth. The butter sauce probably didn't hurt either. Mom and Norm each had the scallops as their main course. I tasted, and the scallops were very nicely cooked. They were served with broccoli, butternut squash puree, szechuan peppercorn butter, and forbidden "risotto." We discovered upon arrival that forbidden "risotto" wasn't really a risotto at all really, but black short grain rice. I have never had rice of this sort before, so I am not sure how it is supposed to taste, but it had a texture like a wild rice, just shorter.

To finish off the night, we shared the dessert trio, even though we were all quite full by the end. It came with a flourless chocolate lava cake that was rich and divine, a creme brule, which was good, but not extraordinary, and a profiterole with ice cream filling drizzled with chocolate sauce. It was a lovely ending to a very nice meal. I'm sure in years to come, as we fly down to visit the snowbirds, Pacifica will continue to be a popular choice for a nice evening out.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Muesli Scones

On Sunday, I felt like having brunch at home all by my lonesome so I prepared a feast of scones, fresh fruit and my latest addiction - Liberté Méditerranée yogurt. This is one of my favourite recipes for scones. It is not traditional, but is certainly tasty; I found it about 10 years ago (yikes, that makes me feel old!) on the back of a box of Alpen No Sugar Added cereal. This time I made them small as I wanted to have them as a side with breakfast rather than alone, and because I ran out of raisins I used 1/8 cup chopped dried apricots and 1/8 cup finely chopped apple.

Muesli Scones:
1 cup Alpen cereal
2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp baking powder
13 cup margarine
1/2 cup dried fruit, chopped
1 egg
2/3 cup milk

Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl and cut in the margarine until it resembles breadcrumbs. Beat the egg into the milk, then stir it into the mixture until just combined. Knead the dough about 10 times on a floured surface, then press in a circle to a 2cm (3/4") thickness. Cut into wedges and bake at 350F/180C for 15 minutes until golden. This makes 8 large scones, or 12+ small round scones.


Monday, February 2, 2009

San Diego Tasting

We took a couple days off of all off our hard work vacationing in Palm Springs to hit up San Diego for a vacation within a vacation. The restaurant choices were pretty random, and generally not that great, but it helped me learn that doing some research before getting there might have made a big difference!

The first day we had lunch in the Gaslamp District, and we wanted sushi, so we hit up Nippon Sushi Bar. We got a couple of rolls (Alaska - crab, smoked salmon, cream cheese and salmon roe, Canadian - spicy tuna, salmon, avocado and cucumber), and some sushi (fatty tuna and squid). It was pretty pricey in my books for lunch, but I guess I felt that way in general about San Diego. That's what you get when you eat in the major tourist areas of a big city without doing any food research before going, and then think about the atrocious Canadian dollar exchange rate. It was $35 US per person with a drink each, and the rolls were pretty small. The fish was very good though, so I suppose we were paying for the quality, not the quantity. The salmon roe were really gorgeous, just like little jewels.

Later that night we picked our dinner restaurant by walking around and just going to one. We ended up at a place called Aqua Blu. I can't rave about this place either. I know, I really should have jumped on the blog network and searched out recommendations instead of just flying blind. Norm had a mustard crusted salmon, that he liked fine, but he didn't think the sides were great (bok choy and potatoes). I had filled up on beer during pre-dinner cocktail hour, so I just had the squash soup and the salmon and tuna tartar appetizer. The soup was really nice, but the appetizer was just so-so. I guess I just expected all seafood in the area to be stellar with it being right on the coast. Dinner wasn't terrible, but for $30 US for most entrees, I expect a lot more given what I could get in Edmonton for that price.

Our final experience was lunch the second day (we skipped breakfast). We stopped at the Cheese Shop to get sandwiches to take with us on a picnic to Pacific Beach. Norm got a clubhouse, that was very good he said, and I got the pork sandwich with cheese and avocado. Mine was not great, but I feel like it was a little bit my own fault, since I ordered something that was bound to get a bit soggy in the hour and a half I carted it around before eating it. Oh well, live and learn. I think Norm's experience with this one was a bit more like what you should expect given the number of local food awards that were plastered all around the Cheese Shop. It appears to be a local favorite.