René Rodriguez at Jerome’s Top Chef Canada Event

It seems like just yesterday that I visited Jerome’s Appliance Gallery for the annual GE Monogram sponsored Top Chef event with Trevor Bird. I joined the crowd to watch the season two runner up demonstrate his chef skills to a captive audience. Then last year I had the pleasure of watching season three’s third place chef Jonathan Goodyear cook alongside Calgary’s own Nicole Gomez.  Even though I was really excited to be a part of the event again this year, I knew it would be bittersweet because there will be no more seasons of Top Chef Canada. Still, season four winner René Rodriquez really rocked Jerome’s kitchen and fed us well.

Ottawa born, with culinary beginnings in Mexico, Renè Rodriguez grew up with an affinity for Spanish cuisine. He spends time in Spain every year, consistently learning and honing his Spanish culinary skills which he translates into an outstanding menu at Navarra. I’m not kidding…have a look for yourself!  Ottawa is certainly very lucky to benefit from his talent for using bright and warming flavours…food that feeds the soul.

The Top Chef Canada event at Jerome’s began with a quick introduction by our emcee, John Gilchrist. johnreneRené explained each process that went into the creation of our two tapas dishes beginning with the seared duck breast. The prep for the duck breasts had started the night before with removal of the attached sinews and a thorough layer of salt. The duck breasts were then left uncovered to air dry in the cold fridge. This technique draws out some of the moisture and enables the flavour of the duck to become quite concentrated. To sear the breasts, a thin layer of oil is heated in a large frying pan. Once the pan is really hot the breast is placed in it, fat side down and stays there for about 15 minutes, or until it gets a nice crispy layer. The breast is flipped onto it’s other side for just a quick minute and finished in the oven. The duck breasts they used for the demo were from the absolutely huge Pekin variety of ducks from Brome Lake Ducks which are also prized for their foie gras. Once the breasts come out of the oven, they are rested then sliced and placed over a delicious ancho chile/poached quince sauce. To make the sauce René takes the dried ancho chiles and sears them slightly, then reconstitutes them in water. Quinces require cooking to be edible and for the sauce they get poached, slightly pickled and then sautéed in a brown butter. These two ingredients marry beautifully and compliment the duck really well.reneprep The sliced duck was then topped with sun chokes pickled simply with brown sugar and white vinegar. The splash of green is baby sorrel.

duckcollageChef René Rodriguez and Cody Draper lending a hand with the prep, execution, and plating

Our second tapas was a lot simpler in nature but had outstanding flavour. René cut large wedges of Manchego and added a chorizo meatball. One quick garnish of baby cilantro and the dish was done.chorizomeatballWhile this dish was being prepared, John explained that Manchego is a Spanish sheep’s milk cheese that comes in various stages of ripeness, sort of like Swiss Gouda I guess. They didn’t say but I’m guessing by the texture of the Manchego we were served, it must have been aged for at least 9 months.johnmereneI was thrilled to have been a part of Jerome’s Top Chef event again this year. Excited to add another ‘famous Canadian chef’ photo to my collection, though it’s a bit out of focus. Huge thanks to GE Monogram and Jerome’s Appliance Gallery for putting these great Top Chef events on, to John Gilchrist for being such an entertaining emcee, and to René for taking time away from his family to cook for us in Calgary.

Pickled Egg and Beet Spinach Spring Salad – A Ricardo Recipe Experience

Winter. It’s over! Thank goodness…I’ve been so OVER the root vegetable salads, specifically Roasted Beet Salad. Root vegetable based salads are quite tasty, don’t get me wrong…but after six months of darkness, I’m ready to lighten it up a little! When I was asked to share some Easter recipes from with my readers I was immediately drawn to the Pickled Egg and Beet Spinach Salad recipe. It was as if the dreary winter had suddenly stopped existing, the sun came out and the birds were chirping. Spring is a time for renewal and what better way to change up an old favourite than to add these lovely, bright pickled eggs to the old beet and spinach salad. I love pickled eggs, but I think I will be pickling them with beets from now on. Not only do they look really cute and are dyed the perfect pink, but they taste fabulous too! beetsaladThe recipe is certainly not difficult but you do have to make it a day ahead of time.  This makes it a perfect ‘make ahead’ dish for your Easter feast as it really comes together quickly after the initial pickling process. As you can see from the photo above there is quite a large ring of beet dye around the eggs. I had the eggs and beets pickling for about 28 hours, less time would probably give you a thinner ring of pink.  Flavour-wise the beets were spot on. They weren’t as pickled as the ones you can buy from the store (which are actually too harsh for me) and you can still taste their earthy beet flavour clearly. While making the salad I didn’t follow the vinaigrette recipe to the letter because I didn’t have any white wine vinegar. I substituted a white balsamic reduction and omitted the honey because the reduction was already quite sweet. I also used tarragon infused dijon mustard in place of regular dijon which turned out to really complement the pickling spices that I had used to pickle the beets. 109I only made half of the recipe quantity that was provided online and now I really regret it. I had the whole family gather round as I cut into the eggs for the first time and they all had to have a half before I put the salad together. I was a bit worried there would be none left to photograph!

Pickled Eggs and Beets (


  • 12 small beets
  • 12 peewee or small 
  • 2 1/2 cups (625 ml) white vinegar
  • 1 cup (250 ml) water
  • 1 1/2 cups (375 ml) sugar
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) salt
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) celery seed
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) mustard seeds

NOTE: Instead of the celery and mustard seeds, add two teaspoons of pickling spices


  1. In a large pot, cook the beets in water for about 30 minutes or until tender. Cool them in cold water and peel. Transfer to a 2 litres (8 cups) jar.
  2. In a saucepan, place the eggs and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat. When the water begins to boil, cover and remove from the heat. Let stand for 12 minutes. Place the eggs in very cold water to stop the cooking. Peel the eggs and place them in the jar with the beets.
  3. In a saucepan, bring the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, and spices to a boil. Pour into the jar over the beets and eggs. Let cool and refrigerate for 24 hours. Cut the eggs in half to enjoy the colour contrast.

Now for the salad!

Pickled Egg and Beet Spinach Spring Salad (



  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) chopped fresh chives
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) honey
  • A hint of garlic, finely chopped (I used one clove if you need a measurement)
  • Salt and pepper


  • 6 cups (1.5 litres) baby spinach
  • 6 pickled eggs, halved
  • 6 pickled beets, cut into wedges



  1. In a bowl, combine all the ingredients. Season with salt and pepper.


  1. Divide the spinach among four plates. Garnish with eggs and beets. Drizzle with the vinaigrette. Adjust the seasoning.090

Ottolenghi Style Comfort Food – Mejadra

Comfort food. What does this phrase mean to you? For many it means familiar flavours that have survived the special and not so special times in their lives. A familiar flavour that brings you back to another time or place. It sets your soul and mind at ease. Just think about digging into a creamy, cheesy bowl of homemade mac ‘n’ cheese. What kind of feelings does this imagery conjure up? Warmth, love, belonging, peace? I’m obviously speaking from my own experiences here. You may have your own dish that gives you similar feelings or you may just not be as addicted to food as I am.

Wikipedia defines Comfort Food as such:

           “A traditional food which often provides a nostalgic or sentimental feeling to the consumer and

is often characterized by a high carbohydrate level and simple preparation. The nostalgic

     element most comfort food has may be specific to either the individual or a specific culture.”

Here in North America classic comfort foods include the aforementioned mac ‘n’ cheese, cookies, poutine, gravy and biscuits, chicken noodle soup, pasta dishes, pie, fried chicken, etc. All dishes that are quite high in carbohydrates and fat. It’s no wonder there’s a higher percentage of obese people in North America. So what about other countries? Do they have their own comfort foods? According to the Wikipedia definition they do. I just listened to a podcast called Eat This Podcast where the host was talking to an Egyptian lady, now living in London, who opened up an Egyptian street food themed restaurant called Koshari Street. Koshari is a popular Egyptian street food that unites the people regardless of class or religion. It’s a comforting mixture of lentils, rice, pasta, and chickpeas with a spicy tomato sauce on top. Not really something that interests my tastes or conjures up ‘comfort food’ but then again, I didn’t grow up in Egypt.

One comfort food from another country that I have recently tried and adored is Mejadra. Mejadra is a ‘one pot’ dish complete with Middle Eastern flavours but what really makes the dish are all the fried onions piled on top of the rice and lentils. It is served both warm and cold, sometimes with cucumber yoghurt or plain sour cream. In Jerusalem, it is a popular picnic dish. The Mejadra recipe that I used came from Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi.ottolenghiMejadra (Yotam Ottolenghi; Jerusalem; page 120-121)


  • 1 1/4 cups/250 g green or brown lentils (I actually used Beluga lentils in my dish)
  • 4 medium onions (1 1/2 lb/700 g before peeling)
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • about 1 cup/250 ml sunflower oil
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 1 cup/200 g basmati rice (I used brown basmati and adjusted the time accordingly)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups/350 ml water
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Place the lentils in a small saucepan, cover with plenty of water, bring to a boil, and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, until the lentils have softened but still have a little bite. Drain and set aside.

Peel the onions and slice thinly. Place on a large flat plate, sprinkle with the flour and 1 teaspoon salt, and mix well with your hands. Heat the sunflower oil in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan placed over high heat. Make sure the oil is hot by throwing in a small piece of onion; it should sizzle vigorously. Reduce the heat to medium-high and carefully (it may spit!) add one-third of the sliced onion. Fry for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally with a slotted spoon, until the onion takes on a nice golden brown color and turns crispy (adjust the temperature so the onion doesn’t fry too quickly and burn). Use the spoon to transfer the onion to a colander lined with paper towels and sprinkle with a little more salt. Do the same with the other two batches of onion; add a little extra oil if needed. Warning: This step will take quite a while to complete but it is really worth it because the onions make the dish.

Wipe the saucepan in which you fried the onion clean and put in the cumin and coriander seeds. Place over medium heat and toast the seeds for a minute or two. Add the rice, olive oil, turmeric, allspice, cinnamon, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and plenty of black pepper. Stir to coat the rice with the oil and then add the cooked lentils and the water. Bring to a boil, cover with a lid, and simmer over very low heat for 15 minutes.Because I used brown basmati, the rice needed a bit more liquid and time to finish

Remove from the heat, lift off the lid, and quickly cover the pan with a clean tea towel. Seal tightly with the lid and set aside for 10 minutes.

Finally, add half the fried onion to the rice and lentils and stir gently with a fork. Pile the mixture in a shallow serving bowl and top with the rest of the onion.

A Night with Chef Lynn Crawford and Catelli Ancient Grains Pasta

It probably seems strange to follow a cheesecake post with one that promises so many healthful benefits but I’m a firm believer that any little bit helps in the grand scheme of things and moderation is key. I’ve been trying, by way of baby steps, to incorporate more healthful decisions in my life. I have just turned 40 and as someone who loves to cook and eat as much as I do I will admit that there are more than a few lifestyle changes needed in my future. So I’ve started with small changes. I begin each day with lemon water. Lemon water is reported to have many health benefits including aiding digestion, reducing inflammation, flushing toxins, etc. At the very least I figure I’m getting more Vitamin C and starting each day hydrated. After my lemon water I move on to my daily latté. I’m careful to keep my caffeine intake low, usually only one cup a day, maybe two at the most. I’ve stopped dumping a teaspoon of sugar in each time. As a family we’ve made the decision to switch to brown basmati rice and have severely limited our pasta consumption to limit our intake of high carbohydrate foods.PastaCollage

I’m not going to lie, we do miss eating pasta dishes but the alternatives we’ve tried so far; whole wheat, rice, and bean based pastas have been a bust in both taste and texture. So much so that when I got invited to try out the new Catelli Healthy Harvest Ancient Grains I was really hesitant and skeptical. What if I tried the product and then found that it was like all the other alternative pastas that I had already tried? I’ve learned from previous experience that writing a blog post about a product or gadget that I didn’t like is a very tough thing to do and I’m not going to patronize my readers or put on a show like a trained monkey. Sure, I was treated to an amazing evening with Canadian chef Lynn Crawford…but what I got out of the evening was a new way to feed my family. I’m really excited to have a new and delicious pasta alternative that doesn’t taste or feel like cardboard. Ancient Grains pasta is quite delicious and it comes in three types; Rotini, Spaghetti, and Spaghettini. Right now it is only available in Western Canada but hopefully soon all of Canada will be on board.

In addition to 100% Canadian whole wheat, the Catelli Healthy Harvest Ancient Grains pasta contains…drum roll…five Ancient Grains all of which bring their own unique flavours and nutritional benefits:AncientGrains

Quinoa: Dating back to the 13th century South American Inca Empire, quinoa is high in fibre, protein and minerals – including magnesium, potassium, zinc and iron – and low on the glycemic index.

Amaranth: Native to the Americas and prized by Aztec civilization, amaranth is rich in protein, containing all the essential amino acids, key vitamins, and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and iron.

Teff:  Originating in Ethiopia and Eritrea between 4,000 BCE and 1,000 BCE, this poppy seed-sized grain is high in protein, fibre, calcium, thiamin and iron.

Sorghum: Domesticated in Northeastern Africa more than 5,000 years ago, sorghum – a good source of vitamin B6, riboflavin, thiamin and magnesium – is known to support digestive health, help fight cardiovascular disease and help control blood sugar levels.

Millet: Cultivated 4,000 years ago from wild West African grass, this nutty-flavoured grain is known to be heart healthy, containing a high level of protein, magnesium and niacin. Alkalizing to the body, millet is considered one of the most digestible and non-allergenic grains available.

This pasta stuff is really kind of cool…it’s non GMO, all natural with no preservatives, low in fat, no sodium or trans fats. It contains 75% of your daily recommended whole grain servings AND 32% of your required daily fibre in one 85 gram serving. saladshot2

Chilled Noodle Salad with Ginger Wasabi Dressing (from Chef Lynn Crawford)

 Prep Time: 10 min Cook Time: 8 min Servings: 4


1 pkg (340 g)              Catelli® Healthy Harvest® Ancient Grains Spaghettini

2 cups (500 ml)            snow peas, thinly sliced diagonally

1 cup (250 ml)               shelled edamame

1                                       small English cucumber

2 cups (500 ml)            napa cabbage, finely shredded

1 cup (250 ml)               red pepper, cut into matchsticks

3                                       green onions, thinly sliced

1                                       ripe avocado, sliced

1/4 cup (60 ml)            cilantro leaves

2 tbsp (30 ml)              black sesame seeds

Ginger-Wasabi Dressing:

1/4 cup (60 ml)            seasoned rice vinegar

3 tbsp (45 ml)              canola oil

2 tbsp (30 ml)              soy sauce

2 tbsp (30 ml)              lemon juice

1 tsp (5 ml)                   lemon zest

2 tsp (10 ml)                brown sugar

2 tsp (10 ml)                sesame oil

1 tsp (5 ml)                  grated fresh ginger

wasabi to taste


  1. Cook pasta according to package directions; drain well. Rinse under cold water until well chilled; transfer to large bowl and set aside.
  2. In a pot of boiling water, cook snow peas and edamame until tender-crisp. Drain and rinse under cold water until well chilled; set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, halve the cucumber lengthwise and use the end of a spoon to scoop and discard seeds; cut cucumber into julienne strips.
  4. Ginger-Wasabi Dressing: Whisk together rice vinegar, canola oil, soy sauce, lemon juice and zest, brown sugar, sesame oil and ginger. Season with wasabi to taste.
  5. Add cucumber, snow peas, edamame, napa cabbage, red pepper, green onions and avocado to noodles; toss with enough dressing to coat.
  6. Garnish with cilantro leaves and black sesame seeds.

 Tip: If you have time, you can chill the noodle dish by refrigerating for 1 to 4 hours.

Per serving: 590 calories, 19 g fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 710 mg sodium,

84 g carbohydrates, 145 g fibre, 13 g sugar, 21 g proteincheflynn

To get the most out of your pasta experience here are 10 Whole Grain Pasta Cooking Tips from Chef Lynn Crawford:

  1.  Watch your cooking time: Pasta should be cooked according to the cook time guide on the package to achieve the ideal al dente texture. For a professional twist, cut one to two minutes off the suggested cooking time, drain and finish off cooking your pasta in the sauce.
  2. Skip the oil: There is no need to add oil to your cooking water. Despite popular belief, this actually takes away from the pasta’s final texture and ability to adhere to the sauce. Skip the oil and embrace the starchiness of your pasta.
  3.  Water your pasta: When cooking pasta, use a large pot. As basic as it sounds, it will make a difference in the outcome of your pasta. You will need one litre of water to about 100 grams of pasta.  Using a large pot will give the pasta room to boil and help keep the noodles from sticking together.
  4. Think salty sea: Add a generous amount of sea salt to the boiling water to ensure your pasta is well seasoned. You may even want to taste the water before adding your pasta to make sure there is enough salt.
  5. Avoid rinsing: For hot pasta dishes, never rinse the pasta after cooking in order to retain the starch and enable warm sauces to better adhere to the pasta.
  6. Create the perfect pair: Delicate pasta shapes go well with delicate sauces, and heartier, ridged shapes pair well with richer sauces and ragus.  For example, try long thin pasta, such as spaghetti, with a classic marinara sauce. Penne, ziti or rigatoni lend themselves to thicker sauces with more texture, such as a ragu Bolognese.
  7. Embrace the texture: Whole grain pasta has a hearty, firm texture that’s perfect for cold or chilled recipes and marinates well in tangy dressings. The firmness of the noodles also provides a good base for both crunchy and juicy fresh vegetables.
  8. Top it off: With a nutty, rich flavour, whole grain pasta can take on other strong, complex flavours. Ingredients that pair well with whole grain pasta include garlic, chili, anchovies, rich pesto sauces, and bitter or dark leafy greens such as kale, Swiss chard and radicchio.
  9. Take the heat: When preparing hot pasta recipes, keep your serving plates or bowls warm in an oven set to a low temperature until you’re ready to serve. This will ensure that your final dish stays nice and hot.
  10. Crank up the flavour: Whole grain pasta is an easy base on which to build a healthy and delicious meal. Incorporate a lean protein, plenty of fresh vegetables, and seasoning with big flavours in the pasta for an even more nutritious and satisfying dish.

We really had a great night with Chef Lynn Crawford at SAIT Culinary Campus. She kept us on our toes as well as keeping us giggling like teenagers all night long. I would really like to thank Catelli for the fun experience, for feeding us, and for the cool pasta swag. saitcc

Mini Lemon Cheesecakes with Extra Lemon of course…

I come from a long line of people who like to save useful things. Please don’t ever call us ‘packrats’ because everything we save has an intended purpose and we’ll use it…someday. There was a point in time when I would just shake my head at the heaps of wool, cabinets full of material, and all the old antiques hanging around my mother’s house. Sometimes it felt like the walls were closing in on me whenever I would go back for a visit and other times there was barely enough room to turn around. I don’t really know what actually caused her to start cleaning everything out and selling the old antiques (some of which I now ironically feel would be useful to me as blog props) but I can only speculate that it was because I had casually mentioned torching the house when they leave this world instead of going through the work of sorting and finding a new home for each and every ‘treasure’. I know, I’m a horrible daughter.  Anyway, I found these mini glass containers (also conveniently filled with chocolate mousse) at Costco and I knew they would be perfect to make mini cheesecakes in. I guess in this case I’m the collector…cough…hoarder!…cough.lemoncheesecakes4

This post is going to be heavy on the photos because I had one of those rare days when the photo shoot actually worked out. I had my sidekick/artistic director helping out with some of the propping and lighting. I love being mom to such a artistic and talented young lady and I’m tickled that she is in the very process of starting her own blog, just like her momma!lemoncheesecakesI’m guessing you don’t just want to stare at Mini Lemon Cheesecakes all day so here’s the recipe:

Mini Lemon Cheesecakes with Lemon Curd


2 cups graham crumbs

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup melted butter


2             8-ounce bars cream cheese

1 cup      sugar

1 cup     sour cream

2             large eggs

1/3 cup lemon juice

1 tsp      pure vanilla extract

1/4 tsp  kosher salt

2 tsp     lemon zest


4 large egg yolks

Zest of ½ lemon

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

6 tbsp sugar

4 tbsp unsalted butter, cold and cut into pieces

Method for Graham Crust: In a bowl mix graham crumbs with sugar and melted butter. Add more butter if the crumbs don’t start to stick together then press into the bottom and sides of the pan or container you are using. You can make a full cheesecake pie or make individual ones like I have done. I pressed enough crumb mixture into the bottom of these glass ramekins to make a solid layer about 1 cm thick. Bake in 400 F oven until golden. The bake time will vary based on the size of your vessel. A regular pie size will take about 10 minutes. Let cool.
Method for Cheesecake layer:
  1. Heat oven to 325° F. In a food processor, process cream cheese, sugar, sour cream, eggs, lemon juice, vanilla extract, and salt until smooth.
  2. Pour into the piecrust and bake until the center is set but still slightly wobbly, 40 to 50 minutes for a regular sized cheesecake pie, about 20 minutes for the individuals.  Let cool, then chill until firm, 4 to 5 hours. Top with lemon zest before serving.

Method For the Lemon Curd:

  1. Combine yolks, lemon zest, lemon juice, and sugar in a small saucepan. Whisk to combine.
  2. Over medium heat, stir constantly with a wooden spoon.
  3. Cook until mixture is thick enough to coat back of wooden spoon, about 7 minutes.
  4. Remove saucepan from heat. Add butter, a few pieces at a time, stirring until consistency is smooth.
  5. Transfer mixture to serving container. Let cool. Refrigerate for about an hour or until chilled.

(This recipe makes about 8 oz., enough to top a pie sized cheesecake and four mini cheesecakes)lemoncheesecakes5

Big Taste YYC – Shiki Menya/Black Pig Bistro

It felt bittersweet to be celebrating the Big Taste Calgary finale at Shiki Menya and Black Pig Bistro. On one hand my favourite Calgary food event is coming to a close, on the other I’m so excited to see how Black Pig Bistro has grown over their first year of business and to finally get a taste of Shiki Menya ramen. Last year, one yucky day in April we happened to be near Bridgeland and thought we’d try to get in at Shiki Menya for ramen to warm us up. That was before we’d heard that they limit sales to 150 bowls of their outstanding ramen per day thereby selling out by 3, maybe 4 o’clock. Since we were there for dinner there really was no chance of getting any ramen at all. What seemed like rotten luck (as a result of being ill informed) suddenly took a turn when we noticed the next door lights at Black Pig Bistro were on. Could there possibly be a table for four just magically waiting for us on opening day? There was, and we enjoyed a fabulous dinner with great service…I was highly impressed that we could have such a stellar meal on their very first day of service and I knew that Black Pig Bistro was to become a fix on the restaurant scene here in Calgary.

The growth and success of Black Pig Bistro in their first year of business is due to Chef Alison MacNeil’s ability to transpose her love of Spanish cuisine to diners here in Calgary. Her focus is mainly on bringing Spanish flavours, mixed with a bit of French and Italian flare, to a mostly non tapas menu.  What a year it has been for her as well…opening a restaurant, getting married to Chef John Michael MacNeil, formerly of Teatro, who now also works at Black Pig Bistro. Together they have achieved some amazing results: Black Pig Bistro was named Best New Restaurant 2014 by Where to Dine Awards and more recently Best New Restaurant 2015 by Avenue Magazine and that lovely dish of Pork and Beans that my boy loved so much on that very first visit? It won the Divine Swine Award at the Passion for Pork/Alberta Pork 2014 Pig and Pinot Festival. Oh, and Black Pig Bistro has recently become #86 on Canada’s Top 100 restaurants list compiled by food critics, chefs, and personalities across Canada. So yes, I would definitely say it’s been a busy (and rewarding year) for Black Pig Bistro.

Our Big Taste YYC evening began with some delicious little bites at Shiki Menya. I absolutely adored these little Squid Ink Risotto Arancini. They were the perfect start to our evening.

068Squid Ink Arancini

Then we had these really tasty little Pork Belly Kimchi Tacos. If these beginning bites were meant to awaken our taste buds…they sure did the trick. I could have eaten a whole platter of these but I knew we had a long and tasty night ahead of us.

porkbellytacosPork Belly Kimchi Tacos

And finally, the ramen. This little dish was just a sampler of their deliciously chewy ramen noodles with a spicy tomato/sesame oil sauce. I felt like it was such a tease!

ramenSpicy Tomato Ramen

After the ramen, we moved next door to the Black Pig Bistro and found our seats. Hubby and I sat next to a really nice couple, Brett and Madelinn, with whom we had both food and football in common. The evening continued on the path of deliciousness with these adorable little tapas. I don’t use adorable that often but just look at that tiny little Confit Tuna Melt and deconstructed Tomato Caesar on a spoon! Simply Adorable. Of course the star of the show in flavour was the Chorizo Croquette.

tinytapasConfit Tuna Melt, Chorizo Croquette, Tomato Caesar

For the main course we had the choice of Saffron & Piquillo Pepper Risotto with lemon parsley salad or Broek Acres Pork Shank with potato purée, fig compote, and pea shoots. I know that Black Pig Bistro is a place that I can order risotto with confidence so it became my choice. I loved the creamy saffron flavoured risotto with the added acidity of the parsley salad. I did find a couple of the larger parsley leaves to leave a bitter flavour so I made sure to pick them out and eat only the small ones.

risottoI think hubby was suitable impressed by his dish. The meat was so tender there really was no need for a knife and once he tasted the compote he was a bit surprised that there were figs in it. Apparently the menu had him at  ‘Pork Shank’.
porkshankAfter much deliberation, we both decided we wanted the Passion Fruit Mousse for dessert. The mousse was velvety soft and was definitely full of pucker power. I loved how the crunchy bits on top tasted like Frosted Flakes and provided a textural crunch. It was like eating a passion fruit and not having to eat all those pesky seeds.
passionfruitmousseChefs John Michael and Alison MacNeil just returned earlier this week from another trip to Spain. I can hardly wait to see what kinds of new inspirations show up on future Black Pig Bistro menus.
JohnAlisonChefs John Michael and Alison MacNeil 

Shiki Menya

827 1st Ave NE

(403) 454-2722

Shiki Menya on Urbanspoon


Black Pig Bistro

825 1 Ave NE

(403) 460-0350

Black Pig Bistro on Urbanspoon

Big Taste YYC – Anju Restaurant

When I found out the what was really ailing me was the flu and not just a common cold, I almost had hubby bring a co worker of his to replace me at our Big Taste YYC Anju lunch event. Almost. I really didn’t want to miss out but I really had absolutely no energy and an extremely limited sense of taste. I knew if there was any chef worth getting out of bed for, it would have to be Chef Roy Oh. I sucked it up, took a whole bunch of medication, and went with the original plan. As mentioned previously, I usually like to buy singular tickets to the Big Taste YYC lunch events and just mingle with others, but in this case I knew hubby would be extremely upset if he wasn’t included this time. He really loves Anju (and for him to be so particular is not the norm) and I think a big reason for this is that he feels he can safely leave his dining experience in the hands of the chef. I don’t think we are alone when we say that we’ll gladly eat whatever Chef Roy Oh is dishing out…his restaurant is always full of satisfied customers.

003 John Gilchrist finalizing the Anju BigTaste YYC menu with Chef Roy Oh

First up was a puck size (hey, I’m Canadian you know!) Oshisushi featuring Salmon and Tuna. Oshisushi is a type of sushi that has been compressed, giving it a more silky smooth texture. I didn’t taste much of the sushi or the avocado mousse, but the textural elements were definitely not lost on me.  Maybe I enjoyed the textural aspect a bit more because I was ill, then if I were completely healthy. What I was able to taste was the stellar gochujang vinagrette. So spicy, sweet, and sour…very well balanced and with enough flavour for me to enjoy!


  Our second dish consisted of ‘last year’s’ protein (according to John Gilchrist) but I really didn’t care because to me pork belly is classic. Both hubby and I were squirming with anticipation when this little dish was placed in front of us. Crunchy chicharon, pickled garlic chives, deep fried pork belly, and a perfectly balanced sweet and sour broth. It’s really all I needed. The deep fried pork belly had an amazing melt in your mouth consistency with a bit of stickiness, but what I really loved and needed was that broth. Hubby was embarrassed that I picked up the bowl and drank it but that hot vinegar really cleaned out my sinuses. Thanks Chef Roy!

porkbellyradish        Chicharon

After the first two amazing dishes I was a bit less enamoured with the main we were served. Of course the flavours were superb on the marinated steak and it was perfectly cooked so no complaints there. It just didn’t have the usual Roy Oh magic. I thought a bit about why this dish fell flat for me and I think it’s because I’ve grown used to the ‘Korean tapas’ or small dishes packed with flavour that Chef Roy Oh is famous for. This ‘meat & veg’ dish is not really something that I would order when I visit Anju as it’s very similar to a dish I would make at home.

013Korean Style Rib Eye Steak

After our main was served hubby was getting a little antsy as he had a 2 pm meeting. He ended up leaving just before dessert was served so he missed out on these adorable little ice cream sandwiches. Made with creamy vanilla ice cream sandwiched in between two dark chocolate gochujang spiked cookies, they were the perfect ending to our lunch at Anju.

icecreamcookiesIce Cream Sandwich

Anju Restaurant

344 17 Ave SW


Anju Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Big Taste YYC – Barcelona Tavern

I was really looking forward to the Big Taste YYC lunch event at the new Barcelona Tavern. I had visited with the family nearly a month ago and was very impressed with their style and choice of great tapas. We enjoyed everything we ordered right from the fried Manchego to the Churros at the end of our night. The paella was quite tasty, though it was a bit oily for my taste.  I chose not to write a post on it as it was one of those rare evenings out for the four of us and I let go of any blogger frame of mind right from the get go. I will say that I love the interior of this place. It has not changed in shape or form from the previous occupant, Belgo, but it has it’s own…Spanish flavour. I love the lighting, artwork and great ‘street art’ featured throughout the space. Do not mistake this place for an upscale or quiet date spot.  It is loud and raucous…a high energy place best for groups of friends looking to unwind after a busy day.

So I was very curious what Chef Andrew Gass at Barcelona Tavern would offer for the Big Taste YYC event. We were all seated on the top level and though I was in a great position to hear the commentary by John Gilchrist, I was glad he used a sound system for those diners in the back seats. As a well known local food writer, critic, and all around good guy, John Gilchrist lightheartedly offered us his predictions for the ‘it’ foods of 2015.  Last year his pick for protein of the year was pork belly, with cauliflower being his choice of veggie and sriracha the choice for sauce. This year John has chosen octopus as protein for the year. While I love octopus (especially grilled) I will admit this prediction seems strange for a city in a landlocked province about a thousand kilometers from the ocean. I will wholeheartedly disagree with John that celery is to be the popular vegetable for 2015. It was bad enough that he chose cauliflower last year…there’s no way I am going to get excited about celery. My own veggie prediction for 2015 is the radish. I’ve begun to really enjoy the beauty and flavour they impart to dishes, whether they are raw, pickled, or roasted…radishes are THE veggie for 2015!

We began our lunch with…Octopus Crostini. Beautifully braised and tender octopus with queen and cerignola olives, crispy caper berries, and chili sambal with meyer lemon and San Marzano tomatoes.  Our table did wonder if this crostini was to be eaten by hand or with a knife and fork. The majority used utensils and exclaimed that the crostini was delicious to the last bite
octopusSince I had come down with an unbelievably inconvenient head cold, I gave most of my wine to my dining partner Wanda, who writes the local blog Bakersbeans. I worried a bit when we were to have a charcuterie board for our second course. I really didn’t want to share my germs with others while eating in a sharing style and I’m certain most of my dining mates did not want what I had. When the servers placed these adorable individual serving boards in front of us I was really excited…I didn’t have to share my food or my cold! On the platter we had a lone white anchovy, (and going clockwise from the anchovy) house made chorizo, Iberico ham, Quince preserve, hard goat cheese, sriracha pickled carrot, lightly pickled pear, rosemary manchego, and Pepita studded crackers. I think my favourite components on the plate were the chorizo and those pears. They were lightly pickled bosc pears with star anise and allspice. Perhaps there could be an experiment in my future?
barcaboardIf octopus and celery (radishes!) are the ‘it’ foods for 2015, chimchurri is most certainly the sauce of the year as well. I fully and completely agree with Mr. Gilchrist in this respect. I’m not going to complain because I would much rather drape this tasty and luxurious sauce over my steak than have someone slather it with the fake smokey tasting sauce that most people call barbecue sauce. On our Grilled hanger steak, Chef Gass drizzled some amazing non traditional chimichurri consisting of horseradish, tomatoes, and capers. It went fabulously with the succulent piece of meat. The meat may have been overcooked for some but I rather enjoyed it and found it still quite tender. What I really enjoyed the most though, was the adorable little Spanish tortilla on the opposite side of the plate. What a thoughtful little addition,  much nicer than the traditional side of mash, fries, or roasted potatoes.
flanksteakI was a bit confused when the dessert arrived. I had been expecting churros but I wasn’t sure why there was also a very ‘Italian’ cannoli on the plate as well. It turned out to be a great thing that the cannoli made it onto the plate as the churros were a bit doughy in the middle and definitely needed some dipping sauces. The sauces that generally come with the churros on the regular menu had been smeared onto the plate ahead of service and had mostly dried. The cannoli, however, was a crispy roll filled with lovely strawberry cream. I loved dipping it into the thyme-scented lemon curd provided.
cannoliThought Barcelona Tavern has really only been open for a couple of months I think they did a great job on their Big Taste YYC menu as well as keeping up with the regular lunch time rush. If you are ever craving a taste of Spanish tapas downtown or some great gin based cocktails, Barcelona Tavern is a great choice.


Barcelona Tavern

501 8 Ave SW


Barcelona Tavern on Urbanspoon

Big Taste YYC – Home Tasting Room

The sun is out, the birds are singing in the trees, and spring is undoubtedly in the air. It’s finally March and time for my absolute favourite Calgary foodie event: Big Taste Calgary.  I’ve eagerly been watching the website for updates and the opportunity to buy tickets to some of the great events put on by Downtown Calgary every year. These events are so popular that they sell out rather quickly and there have been a couple years where I missed out on a few that I wanted to attend. This year when I got the notification that tickets were on sale bright and early one morning, I used my phone to buy tickets while I was still in bed. I managed to snag tickets for four events before my bank account ran out. In general I like to buy solo lunch tickets for myself along with dual tickets to a couple of events where I drag hubby along. Dining solo at these events is great because I’m usually seated with friendly strangers and I meet some really interesting people this way.

The best thing about Big Taste Calgary is that it is a great chance to visit restaurants that I haven’t had the opportunity to dine at previously. If you don’t want to buy tickets to events, there are 76 participating restaurants where you can enjoy 100’s of prix fixe multiple course menus for $15,$25, $35, and $65. I really enjoy the events because I like meeting like minded foodies and hearing John Gilchrist talk about the various restaurants, chefs, menus, ingredients, and BC wine pairings. The Big Taste Calgary kickoff lunch took place at Home Tasting Room on Friday, March 6. I had actually forgotten that hubby and I had been to Home Tasting Room a few years ago for a special anniversary dinner. Though we really enjoyed our dinner, my momentary memory lapse was due to the fact that I didn’t write a post on our experiences that night. The restaurant has changed executive chefs since then so my experiences at the Big Taste event were akin to me dining at Home Tasting Room for the very first time.

Arriving to an event as a single does sometimes prove to be a problem. In this case I was to be seated right at the end of the table, nearest the door. I was a bit worried about not being able to hear John so I asked him where he was to be speaking from. I honestly had no intention of being moved at all but one of the restaurant owners was within earshot and she mentioned that they had an extra seat at their table and I was welcome to it. So, I ate lunch with John Gilchrist and Suzanne Baden, managing general partner of HTR. The lunch created by Executive Chef Kaede Hirooka was outstanding.

We began with a very satisfying creamy, yet light Carrot and Prosciutto Soup. The flavours of the carrot oil and leek ash were present but not obtrusive. This soup was paired with Sandhill Chardonnay. CarrotsoupFor the second course, diners had a choice between a Winter Greens and Roasted Root Vegetable Salad and Grilled BC Octopus. I took a quick look around to see that like me,  the majority of the diners had chosen the BC Octopus. One perfectly grilled tentacle lay across a shaved apple and celery salad along with Ume (Japanese plum) and Shisho Emulsion. While the dish was certainly beautiful and the octopus was fork tender, I found the salad portion to be quite acidic. The Grilled BC Octopus was paired with Red Rooster Gewurtztraminer.grilledoctopusI went against the majority of the other diner’s choices when I chose the Cumin Scented Falafel over the Maple and Soy Marinated Bison Flank Steak. Normally I would choose the meat option but I had some lovely striploin steaks waiting for my dinner with the family. I was really happy with my first ever falafel experience, though this one was not made with the traditional chickpeas but with Red and Navy beans. The Sandhill Sauvignon Blanc was an excellent pairing.falafel

I am in love with panna cotta. I could make it weekly if my waistline allowed…the Home Tasting Room version was made with Greek yogurt so this may just be an option! The lemon dessert was a great way to end our Big Taste Calgary lunch at Home Tasting Room.pannacotta

In My Kitchen – March 2015

I’ve been fairly busy with many events recently and my ‘kitchen time’ has decreased dramatically. The family still has to eat though, and my daughter is starting to become quite the little sous chef, helping me out when she can.  She leans mostly towards vegetarian dishes and vegan eating and sometimes there is a bit of resistance within the family to this style of eating. Not that I have anything against beans or legumes BUT not for three meals in a row (we had to eat steak for the fourth evening) but my son might…he doesn’t feel entirely satisfied by bean burgers after a two hour football practice and I really can’t blame him. The growing boy needs his meat!

The first vegetables of the spring season are beginning to appear at markets in Calgary and even though none can really be labelled as ‘local’, they still bring the promise of spring. We have the first of the Californian asparagus, some gorgeous BC hedgehog mushrooms from Fifth Element Fine Foods, and these really strange horsetail buds. Apparently you peel the outer rough layer off and steam or sauté them for a nutty little treat.horsetails047

I have two cakes for you this month! They are sure to appeal to anyone’s sweet tooth whether or not you like your sweets to include chocolate or citrus flavours.choccake2

This Chocolate Carrot Cake with Chocolate Cream Cheese icing has been near and dear to my heart for 20 years now. It all started back in university when I would go out for a treat at a nearby restaurant located just off campus. My love for this cake has withstood midterms and finals, becoming a mom, moving cities, moving provinces, and moving countries! One of the last things I ate before we moved to Australia was this cake. I’ve been begging for the recipe since the very first time I ate it and they have never divulged their secret cake recipe to me. Until now. All it took was for me to turn 40 I guess. My daughter is old enough so that I finally don’t have to make my own birthday cake anymore (I love baking cakes but it’s always nice to be baked for too!) and thoughtful enough to phone the restaurant directly and ask for the recipe. She mentioned that it was for her mum’s 40th birthday and they gave her the recipe!! Not only did she get the recipe I’ve been trying for 20 years to get, she made an absolute stunner of a cake. I’m still floored!chiffoncakeThen there was this Lemon Chiffon Cake that I made for a friend’s birthday. I find that when I start baking with citrus, it usually means that spring is just around the corner. It seems to be an automatic mood lifter.doughnutsI’m not a big fan of deep fried foods, but I sure do love doughnuts. I have been wanting to buy a doughnut baking pan for a while now and I finally found one that I liked. I woke up one Sunday morning to find my daughter had tested out the new pan before I did! She made these delicious gluten free almond and strawberry doughnuts with chocolate glaze. I think I’ll leave the doughnut experimenting to her from now on.magazinesAnd finally In My Kitchen, some new reading material from Chapters bookstore.  I’ve heard so much about the Where Women Cook magazine but have never been able to track one down until now. I also found the premiere issue of Sift, which is a publication by King Arthur Flour.

What’s going on in your kitchen this month?

If you’d like to see more from other kitchens around the world or take part in this fun monthly post club,  head on over to visit our gracious host Celia at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial.


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