There are those who would never dream of giving up their slow cookers and those who still have theirs sitting in the original box gathering dust in the basement. I am, for the most part, ambivalent towards my slow cooker because I’ve used it to make some great meals and some really disappointing ones. I haven’t ever really become addicted to using it on a regular basis but I will admit that on busy days, it’s oh-so-satisfying to be able to work undisturbed or attend events and football games, knowing that dinner will be ready and waiting.
The slow cooker is an appliance suited to the lifestyles of busy families everywhere, so the gals at Best of Bridge knew what they were doing when they named their newest cookbook release; The Family Slow Cooker. Speaking of ‘gals’, did you know there’s been a regime change at Best of Bridge? The original eight Ladies of the Best of Bridge, who formed this highly successful Canadian publishing brand (having sold over 4 million copies since they began in 1975!), have decided it’s time to put their feet up and pass the baton to a new circle of friends. Long time friends Elizabeth Chorney-Booth, Sue Duncan, and Julie van Rosendaal were chosen as the new generation Best of Bridge ladies and will each bring their own flavour to the brand, while still honouring the original motto ‘simple recipes with gourmet results’. These slow cooker dishes are made with ordinary ingredients found in any grocery store, while the simple to use recipes (and hilarious one-liners) are meant to keep cooking in the kitchen fun.
Football season in Canada means long hours in chilly temperatures, metal bleachers, and late dinners. I’m so glad my review copy arrived just as football season began because after a couple of hours of being frozen to the bone, it’s so nice to come home to a warm and hearty slow cooked meal. I gave my husband the review recipe list and asked him to pick a few tester recipes, thoroughly expecting him to choose the Braised Lamb Shanks with Red Wine and Rosemary, but he went with the Chicken and White Bean Stew with Pesto because he knows I don’t enjoy lamb. Wasn’t that nice of him? I thought the recipe looked way too simple but I gave it a try and was surprised at how well it turned out. One of my pet peeves about doing stews in slow cookers is that I find everything begins to taste the same after 6 hours. The addition of pesto at the end is a GENIUS move by the BOB ladies because it adds a whole other layer of flavour and brightness to this stew. It’s opened up a whole new world of slow cooker possibilities and makes me think that other stews could be improved by simple herb pistous or even a spicy chimichurri.
I picked the next recipe, Caramelized Onion Pasta Carbonara, because I was curious to find out if the onions would really caramelize in the slow cooker. Again, this recipe seemed too easy and we were all suspicious that there was no bacon involved. The recipe introduction stated ‘you won’t miss the bacon’, so I had to test it out. The onions were just on the edge of burning because I was stubborn and started them on the high setting, but after I gave them a stir and switched the setting to low, they turned out quite nicely. Finishing the recipe in the slow cooker on high was really easy and the temperature was just perfect for cooking the eggs and melting the Parmesan. We all really enjoyed this dish, though we all agreed that I could sneak in just a little bit of pre-cooked bacon the next time I make it.
‘A comforting stew, flavoured with basil pesto’
Combine chicken, celery, carrots, garlic, onion, potato, zucchini, red pepper, cumin, beans and stock in a 4 to 6 quart slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 5-7 hours or until thickened and stew-like. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in pesto. Serve sprinkled with Parmesan. Serves 6.
Reprinted with Permission from Best of Bridge; The Family Slow Cooker
Combine onions, oil, and butter in a 4-6 quart slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours or until golden, stirring once or twice if you’re around and think of it.
In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook spaghetti until al dente. Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup cooking water. Dump the drained pasta into the slow cooker and turn it up to high. Drizzle eggs over the top and toss with tongs, adding a splash of pasta water to lubricate things, until pasta is saucy and eggs are cooked. Add Parmesan and pepper; toss until heated through. Serve immediately. Serves 4.
Reprinted with Permission from Best of Bridge; The Family Slow Cooker
Best of Bridge – The Family Slow Cooker; 384 pages; $29.95 US/CAN; Pulished by Robert Rose Inc.; October 2016
Have you noticed that your family tends to ‘cycle’ their preferred fruit intake, meaning they’ll eat all the bananas (apples, pears, etc.) that you buy, then suddenly move on to another favourite? Mine certainly does! The uneaten fruits sit in degrading in the bowl for days, sometimes weeks until I find some way to use them up. I’m not complaining because if there were never any ‘distressed’ fruits, I wouldn’t be able to bake any apple sauce, apple butters, muffins, or fruity quick breads.
The latest fruit to be cast aside, doomed to all fruit bowl eternity, are pears. Fall is the perfect time to pick up a box of pears in the Okanagan and that is exactly what we did. I thought the three of us polished them off quite efficiently so I bought another round at the grocery store. Truth be told, these pears were still from the Okanagan and probably from very close to where we bought ours…but either the boys were tired of pears or they weren’t as treasured as the first box that we bought directly from the orchard. I had four pears in various states of disarray to cook with and I was up for the challenge! I grated them all up and decided to make a double batch of this Spiced Pear and Yogurt Bread.
Let me tell you about meat that you can get in the mail. Nope, I’m not joking…not even a little bit. In fact, The Carnivore Club monthly meat box is the ULTIMATE box of meat you can get in the mail. I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t believe me because I was a bit skeptical (though quite curious) when Lauren from The Carnivore Club contacted me and asked if I was interested in doing a blog review. I mentioned the email to my boys one night and their reactions echoed my own carnivorous curiosity, though to a much larger extent.
Our sweet little box of cured meats arrived one sunny fall Tuesday and strangely, we didn’t immediately sink our teeth into it. It sat on the counter for a couple of days while I planned out the best way to make use of the contents. Since Friday was game day (football and meat go together like pb & J!), I knew I would need to make a portable, yet filling snack for hubby and myself to eat in the stands, while we watched our son’s game. Our boy is always starving afterwards because he is a starter and plays the entire game. Having an extra snack to hold him off during the long drive home is always well appreciated. One of our favourite ‘football snacks’ are Stromboli; the Italian rolled sandwiches made using pizza dough and filled with assorted meats and cheeses. Friday morning I began the pizza dough and made some fresh pesto. Then I cracked the Carnivore Club box open and grabbed the first package I saw.
The Spicy Fennel Salami from Urbani Foods was so good that I had a difficult time not eating all the pieces I was cutting for the stromboli. The boys were pretty impressed with the flavour of the sausage, but I don’t think they really got a sense of just how great this Canadian made salami really was until they tried a piece of it all by itself. Luckily, I only used half of the sample in the stromboli and I had plenty left over to serve beside the other meats on our weekly football charcuterie board. Our CFL team may not be doing so well, but we may as well have great snacks while the game is on right? I paired the Carnivore Box cured meats with some olives from the Italian Centre Shop, some simple crackers, and some of our favourite cheeses. By the end of the third quarter, we had nibbled our way through the entire platter.
I’m not being paid to share my thoughts on the Carnivore Box, though the sample box was sent to me for free. I think you can probably imagine how exciting it was for me to get meat in the mail, especially since the four products in the ‘September’ box were so outstanding. Our favourite was the Spicy Fennel Salami, followed by the Fig Toscano Salami. I know there are those of you that are yelling right now, “BUT WHAT ABOUT THE JAMBON SERRANO AND THE IBERICO JAMON DE BELLOTA!” Why are you yelling at me?! Yes, they were both outstanding but our family is a sausage kind of family. Besides, we loved that the the salami were made in Port Moody, BC with an old world flair. It was a real treat to be able to try the Iberico Jamon de Bellota because it is often regarded as the best ham in the world (priced at over $120 per pound), having come from a particular breed of carefully bred and acorn-raised Spanish pigs. The meat is then cured for at least 36 months.
So, that was our experience with the September Carnivore Club box. I say ‘September’ because if you sign up…you can receive a box of meaty delights every. darn. month. Let me tell you, if you have absolutely NO idea what to get someone for Christmas this year…this is IT. You can splurge and send them an entire year’s subsciption (for $660 with shipping included) OR just send them one box for $55. As long as the recipient is a carnivore, they won’t be re-gifting this box!
This year, Thanksgiving dinner at our house will be celebrated by a small, but jolly group. Our oldest son moved out in February and we dropped our daughter off at UBC at the end of August. That leaves hubby, myself, and our youngest son who receives the benefit of our full, undivided attention. I like to joke that with the others gone, I get to ‘mom’ him extra hard! Come to think of it, he’s had it fairly easy being the baby of the family and I know that he’s learned to use this to his full advantage. I really don’t know what I’ll do when our nest officially becomes ’empty’. I suppose that’s when dinner parties with friends begin to happen more often and that’s okay too.
Our late summer trip to UBC led us through the Okanagan where hubby and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary by wining and dining our way through the Naramata Bench. We stayed at a really wonderful B & B run by a senior Italian couple who fed us unbelievable multi course breakfasts. We were the only guests during our stay so we had their undivided attention. We spent a lot of time visiting and talking about food, touring their vineyard and garden; so much so that it became a part of our day. It dawned on my that they didn’t run the B & B to make money, but that they truly enjoyed having someone to feed and talk to. They were lonely. Sure, they have friends and a supportive community, but nothing takes the place of family.
The drive back from Vancouver was tough as I could physically feel my daughter getting farther and farther away. I counted the kilometres and the time it would take to rush back, if only I had received a text or that said we had forgotten to drop all of her belongings off. If only to go back for just one more hug. We spent the night at the halfway point, my sister’s house in Vernon, and visited the local Farmer’s Market on our way out of town the next day. I picked up many fruits and vegetables before I realized that I would need far less with her gone. I still bought a box of fresh picked honey crisp apples because at 50 cents a pound I just couldn’t leave them behind. The boys and I have done a good job of eating them, but they are getting a bit squidgy and I need to use them up.The best way to use a squidgy apple up is to bake with it. In this recipe, I take the classic bread pudding and add layers and layers of apples and spice. Then I top it off with a bit of Apple Brandy Caramel Sauce. The apple brandy is a locally made autumn treat, the first of it’s kind Eau Claire Distillery and it lends just a tiny bit of smoky flavour to the caramel sauce. Cooking with apples always ends in a delicious final product, however, the peeling, coring, and slicing can be tedious. I don’t know how I’ve survived until now without this pampered chef gadget to help me out. Yeah, I know…do we all really need more gadgets? I would usually say no, but when I saw this gadget at the local thrift store, I couldn’t pass up the deal. I paid $7.99 instead of $46…and it was so worth it! Next up…apple pie!
SAUCE In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, light corn syrup, and water (take care not to splash too much on the sides of the pan). Cook on high heat (without stirring!) until the sugar becomes caramelized. It’s a judgement call, really. I like mine a bit darker than a copper penny. Mine took about 8 minutes to reach the right stage but I am at a high altitude here in Calgary so chances are you will need less time. Once you have the colour you like, carefully stir in the cream then let it cool for about a minute and add the booze. Return to a boil over medium heat, stirring for another minute, then remove from heat.
Along with my dish today I’m glad to be sharing recipe ideas from fellow Canadian blogging friends under the hashtag #CANRecipe. Last month’s comfort food dishes announced the beginning of fall. This month join us as we celebrate Thanksgiving across Canada with delicious food straight from our kitchens.
Turkey Soup @ The Inspired Home
Sweet Potato Mash With Caramelized Onions @ Allergy Girl Eats
Seriously The Best Sandwich Bread Ever From @ Mommydo
Cumin-scented Baked Acorn Squash @ Maple and Marigold
Sometimes the call of the open road lures us away from the big city. We grab some water bottles, fill the gas tank to full and just drive. Most of the time we have no final destination in mind, only an idea of what direction we want to head in. When you live in Calgary, heading out to the mountains during the summer weekends can be like trading one rat race for another and when you’re dodging throngs of tourists on the sidewalks of Banff…there’s really no difference. If we want to relax, but still enjoy the joys of civilization, we head for a small town. There’s just something about a small town that makes me smile.
Our Cool Little Town adventure began on a sunny Saturday summer morning. We packed up the dogs and headed south on my favourite Alberta highway #22, dubbed the Cowboy Trail because it passes through so much gorgeous ranchland. The views along this highway begin with rolling grassland hills that give way to the mountains in the distance as this north/south highway runs parallel to the southern portion of the Rocky Mountains. I spent a lot of time with the window rolled down, trying not to drop my phone as I took photo after photo of this classic Alberta landscape.
The first small town we hit is Turner Valley. It’s a typical small town with quiet side streets, big backyards, and ball tournaments. On weekends, it’s a bit more lively, as the main crossroads between highway 22 and Mains Street contains more than a few unique stops for hungry and thirsty travellers. The Chuckwagon Cafe is often one of the first stops that anyone makes because it is truly a small town gem. Already famous locally before it’s appearance on The Food Network’s ‘You Gotta Eat Here’, The Chuckwagon Cafe serves home style all day breakfasts and one of Alberta’s best burgers (okay THE best burger in Alberta). The AAA grain finished, hormone free Alberta beef comes from the owner’s own ranch west of Longview. It’s the real deal.
Since it was a Saturday morning, there was a bit of a wait for a table at The Chuckwagon Cafe and we were all starving. Waiting for a table was not an option because the three of us were beginning to get a little hangry. We drove around looking for our next destination for quite a while, considering we were in a small town. We were just about to head out to the next small town when my son shouted, “There it is, the burrito truck STOOOOOOP!”. I had to laugh, really. This place is pretty difficult to miss Motoburrito situated right there in the yard at Motorrad Performance Motorcycle Shop. Bright Dia de los muertos adirondack chairs, Mexican flags, and all sorts of kitschy knick knacks abound at this road side food trailer. There were a few families and single biker dudes enjoying their burritos in the sunshine but best of all, there was no line! We ordered right away and the ladies got to work while we chatted away. It turns out that Claudette and Anne’s husbands own and work together at the motorcycle shop so the most logical step for them was to open a burrito stop. They are open Wednesday-Sunday and make a mean breakfast burrito if you ever want to get on the road nice and early.
I know I’m definitely not the only one from Calgary that makes the odd weekend pilgrimage to Eau Claire Distillery in Turner Valley. I’ve been a big fan ever since they opened their doors in November 2015. One peek into my home liquor cabinet gives you an idea of how much Eau Claire has grown over the year…I have every spirit (except for the Nectarine distillers series) including the most recently produced Apple Brandy. Home cocktail enthusiasts and professionals alike love the ‘grain to glass’ concept of locally grown grains sourced directly from farmers. While the tasting room and distillery tours are open year round, summer is the time to enjoy a hand crafted cocktail and nibble on some charcuterie on the sidewalk patio. For the kids, there’s locally crafted sodas and gelato from Fiasco Gelato in Calgary.
After our tour and cocktail at Eau Claire Distillery we were ready for coffee. A quick drive to nearby Black Diamond, an equally quaint but perhaps slightly smaller and quieter town and we hit the caffeine jackpot! The Stop Coffee House and Gathering Place is everything you would expect from a small town coffee shop, and more. They have all the classic baked treats (I had to pick up a puffed wheat square, turns out it was the best puffed wheat square I’ve ever had!) and sandwiches you would expect but they also have espresso and cappuccinos. New this year is an outdoor stage (made out of an old haywagon) for impromptu open mics and scheduled summer performances. Check out their facebook page for upcoming shows and keep in mind that they also hold indoor performances during the winter. We had such friendly service at The Stop that I want to go back and spend an afternoon there in the sun with these great folks; just check them out in the photo above…great people! Not coincidentally, great people attract great acts of kindness. One day, shortly after the outdoor stage was set up, the people at The Stop showed up at work to find a set of stairs up to the stage when before there was none. Cool little town random acts of kindness …
While checking our schedule, we made the executive decision to visit one last small town after Black Diamond. We’ve passed through Longview so many times but all we’ve ever done is admired the ‘long view’, literally. I really don’t know why it took us this long to stop in at the Longview Jerky Shop because both of our boys are huge fans. I guess we were just content with buying our Longview Jerky at the Farmer’s Market or Co-op, rather than stopping at the source. What began as a butcher shop in 1978 has grown into an established and beloved small town Alberta business.
These cool little town experiences were just the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of other interesting eateries, great music events, and local artisans to check out. Here are but just a handful of the fun things to do in Southern Alberta’s Cool Little Towns:
To find out more, visit the Cool Little Towns website HERE.
It’s that time of year again, YYC Pizza Week returns to Calgary offering up pizza lovers all kinds of delicious and unique pizza creations from Calgary restaurants. Now going strong in it’s third year as a Calgary-wide food festival, the event which runs from Friday, September 23 until Sunday October 2 raising money for two local and worthwhile charities; Calgary Meals on Wheels and 100 Men Calgary.
Now, it’s also MY third year of participating in YYC Pizza Week’s annual Food Blogger Pizza Challenge and this year I am super excited to hear that the challenge has grown to 14 bloggers. Choosing the ingredients and letting my creativity fly are two of my very favourite things to do (I also like smack talking with John Leung, a 2 year veteran). I like a good challenge and having 13 other participants really ups the game this year. You might remember my previous year’s Food Blogger Challenge pizzas; 2014’s Sweet 16 Pizza and 2015’s Pumpkin Spice Pizza. The Sweet 16 was a winner but the Pumpkin Spice Pizza was not. I think I may have scared some voters away with the Pumpkin Spice reference even though the flavours were not really what goes into a regular Pumpkin Spice anything…
So, it’s 2016 and as I am typing this, I can hear my pizza bubbling away in the oven. It was a bit labour intensive, but we’ll just call The Sky High Pizza Pie a labour of love! It’s more than just a deep dish pizza, it’s a pizza filled with layers of pasta and meat; it’s a lasagne! To vote: Head on over to the YYC Pizza Week website and click the old button HERE (starting Sept 23rd).
First things first, let’s work a little on our Italian shall we? There are some pretty intense words I am going to use and you should know how to pronounce them in your head as you are reading. Let’s start with one of the challenge ingredients; Guanciale. For heaven’s sake, don’t google how to say it because those robot voices just cannot mimic the way a true Italian speaks. Say it now, “Gwan cha lay” If you still aren’t sure, head down to any Italian deli (like the one at Lina’s Italian Market) and they will correct you! Guanciale is a very fatty piece of Italian cured meat prepared from pork jowl, or cheeks. I honestly had no idea what to do with it, but I had a good chat with Neil McCue, chef/owner of Whitehall Restaurant here in Calgary. We threw around some ideas and when I mentioned I might just render it and use the fat to cook onions, he suggested I used it in the actual pizza dough instead of olive oil. So I did.
The next thing I did was make a Bolognese. Say it, “bo-lo-NYeh-say“! Making the Bolognese begins with a Soffritto (sohf/FREET/toh) using three traditional ingredients; onions,carrots, and celery. This trio is diced, then added to the pan and allowed to sweat until they are soft. Next, I added some brown crimini mushrooms (another challenge ingredient) to the soffritto and allowed it all to cook further. Once, finished, I scraped it all into a bowl and began to brown the Italian Sausage (the third challenge ingredient) by taking the meat mixture out of the sausage casings. I used a ratio of two spicy Italian Sausages to four regular Italian Sausages. When the sausage was cooked through, I added the veggies/mushrooms, a jar of my homemade passata (tomato purée), and some fresh basil chiffonade (that’s a French word for finely sliced). Then I let it gently simmer for a couple of hours with the lid on.
So, if you are following, I have the Guanciale pizza dough and the Bolognese on the go. Then, I made some fresh pasta. I’ve pretty much used every kitchen appliance by this point; the KitchenAid mixer, the food processor, the pasta roller…
After the pizza dough has doubled in size, I give it a punch down, then line a 9 inch spring form pan with baking paper and grease it with the guanciale fat for good measure. Rolling out the dough was super easy because it was so fluffy. It went into the pan nicely, then I lined it with foil and blind baked it (using chickpeas) for about 20 minutes at 350 F. I took out the foil and chickpeas and baked it for another ten minutes.
Then it was time for the lasagne construction. Did you notice I didn’t say ‘Lasagna’? That’s because in Italian they say lasagne instead of lasagna. Any how, I built the layers up, with the last layer being entirely of fresh basil topped with pasta, sauce, and finally…cheese!
Concerned that the top would get too browned during the final bake, I covered the top with greased foil, removing it for the last 15 minutes of cooking so the cheese would brown.
Sky High Pizza Pie
To vote: Head on over to the YYC Pizza Week website and click the old button HERE (starting Sept 23rd).
Sprinkle yeast over the surface of the warm water. Let stand for 5 minutes. Mix 2 cups flour, sugar, and salt in a mixer bowl. Add fat and yeast water, then mix well. Knead dough until it becomes smooth, using some extra flour if needed. Lightly grease a metal bowl and place dough inside, turning it to coat with grease. Cover with a cloth and let rise for an hour in a warm spot until it doubles in size. Punch it down, roll it out and arrange in spring from pan. Grease a sheet of aluminum foil and press lightly over the dough so that the dough remains on the sides of the pan. Fill with beans, etc. to weigh the dough down. Bake in a 350 F oven for 20 minutes; remove beans and foil, then bake for another 15 minutes.
Add olive oil, onion, celery, and carrot to a large pan. Sweat until they become slightly soft and translucent. Add garlic, then mushrooms and sweat further until there is no longer any water coming out of the mushrooms. Transfer to a bowl. Add Italian sausage meat to the pan and break up the large chunks using a spoon until they are quite small. When the meat has cooked through, add the vegetables/mushrooms back in, followed by the passata, tomato paste, and basil. Cover and gently simmer for 2-3 hours.
On a clean counter, mix semolina flour with salt. Mix water, egg, and oil together in a cup. Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour the wet ingredients in. Mix with hands until the dough comes together and becomes elastic. Cover and let rest on counter for ten minutes before rolling out.
Extra ingredients: 2 cups fresh basil leaves, 2 cups shredded Caciocavallo (or mozzarella), 1 cup finely shredded Grana Padano, and 1/2 cup passata.
Spread a third of the Bolognese along the base of the pizza crust. Cover with pasta sheets cut to fit the round pan. Add another Bolognese layer, then pasta. One more Bolognese, then arrange 2 cups fresh basil leaves on the surface, cover with another layer of pasta. Spread the 1/2 cup passata over top, then top with cheese.
Grease a sheet of Aluminum foil then place it loosely over top of the cheese. Bake at 350 F for 40 minutes, then carefully remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes. Let rest slightly so it slices nicely.
To vote: Head on over to the YYC Pizza Week website and click the old button HERE (starting Sept 23rd).
Humans have been using fire and smoke to cook food for millennia. There’s a totally reasonable explanation for this: It.Tastes.Bloody.Good. Add in the relatively recent (hundreds of years) acquired knowledge of spices and herbs and your barbecued meat becomes carnivore’s dream come true. I don’t know the science of why protein cooked this way turns into the tender, juicy, flavourful meat you just can’t stop shoving into your mouth, but trust me on this…it does. Calgary has, is, and always will be a meat lover’s town. Yeah, we’ve got some vegetarian and even a few vegan places but visitors and locals know that Calgary is known as ‘Cowtown’ for the simple fact that we love meat.
Trends in places to eat our favourite proteins have evolved somewhat over the years: In the beginning we had places like Hy’s Steakhouse (1955), Caesar’s Steakhouse & Lounge (1972), and Nick’s Steakhouse (1979) who serve[d] diners ‘classic steak dinners’ showcasing premium Alberta Beef. Then, we had a smattering of fine dining but still ‘meat-centric’ establishments open (Divino, Buchanan’s, Murrieta’s). Next came the modern wave of Calgary’s meat forward restaurants such as Notable, Charcut, and Modern Steak. At the same time, Brazilian churrasco barbecue restaurants became quite popular, Southern barbecue joints also hit the scene. Most recently Hayden Block Smoke and Whiskey has opened up in Kensington, giving Calgarians and visitors a tasty version of Texas-style barbecue while stoking our continued passion for whiskey (with over 150 kinds of the sipping spirit). The tender fall-off-the-bone smoked and charred meat is dry rubbed and is great to eat on it’s own…but then there’s the sauce dilemma. They give you the sauce so what are you gonna do? Sauce it up!!
Can you call rustic/barn-y/smoke-shack inspired surroundings, ‘décor’? This term seems a bit too fancy for what they’ve got going on at HBSW. Country ‘chic’ is way overused…I’m just going to call it ‘comfortable’. There’s weathered ‘barnwood’ walls, and old dairy style light fixtures, rusty knick knacks, and long bench style banquets. It’s all very monochromatic and practical, my one pet peeve is if you want to make a night of it, the seating is hard on your tushy. It doesn’t really matter anyway, because once that meat arrives at your table, you won’t give a rat’s ass what the place looks like or if you can still feel if your own ass is attached to your body.
With one look at the menu on the wall (menus are provided table side as well) my lunch date and I knew we’d have a difficult time narrowing our choices down to appear less gluttonous than we really are. So we didn’t. We each order the brisket (dry rubbed, then smoked 12-13 hours) because that was a no brainer. We agreed that we needed an order of hushpuppies and whipped honey butter STAT, and that the Three Cheese & Bacon Mac ‘n’ Cheese was taunting us but it was then that we went our separate [side]ways. If you come to Hayden Block…consider this a warning: you MUST leave your caloric worries behind and be okay with the fact that every calorie is worth it. The hushpuppies and whipped honey butter are insane.
Looking back on the photos, I can’t believe I didn’t try the chicken. My date did and said it ticked all the right boxes; juicy, tender, and well seasoned. I was so entrenched in my brisket and pulled pork that I barely looked up from my plate and had eaten half of everything before I remembered there was sauce. As was recommended, I tried the ‘Espresso Yourself’ with the brisket and the ‘House Barbecue’ with the pulled pork. Of all three, I enjoyed the ‘Espresso Yourself’ sauce the most and I was happy to hear it’s made from hyper locally made cold press coffee. Why do I say ‘hyper local’? One of the bartenders has a small cold brew coffee business and his cold brew makes up the bulk of the sauce. The third sauce was not my favourite but if you like an ultra vinegary hot sauce, this is the sauce for you. I was more than happy to much on the crispy pile of pickles provided on the side of my plate in between meats as they act like a bit of a palate cleanser so your mouth doesn’t get meat fatigue.
My date had the Pork Spare Ribs with his brisket and I just ended up with rib envy. Next time, my friends! I didn’t get a chance to try his ribs but he made my try his Baked Beans and I’m glad he did because they were the perfect combination of savour, sweet, salty, and sour with a bit of a kick at the end. He didn’t try my Smokehouse Corn in spicy queso because he’s a touch lactose intolerant (though come to think of it, this didn’t stop him from eating the mac ‘n’ cheese!) but I thought it was a great side, though I would generally share such a rich side dish.
I’m going to stop right here and give you a little lecture on expectations vs. reality. What is the first thing that pops into your head when you see the words ‘turkey breast’ on a restaurant menu? If you’re like most people (Date and myself included) you think ‘Oh Hell no, I’m not giving that dry tasteless piece of meat the time of day…bring me the brisket!’ And you would be WRONG my friends! Don’t forsake the turkey breast like we did because you won’t be fortunate enough to have general manager, Ian Walsh take pity on you and bring you slices of the succulent poultry even though you didn’t order it (though he does recommend it to most diners). It was so good, I have no photographic evidence that we ate it. Sorry.
This being a Southern Style restaurant there’s no escaping dessert. You can choose from Peach Cobbler or Pecan Pie. Not too many choices there, but you may not have much room for dessert anyway. If you must end the meal on a sweet note, I recommend the Pecan Pie to share. It gets two thumbs up from this self confessed pie junkie.
Hayden Block Smoke and Whiskey is a unique place in Calgary. It brings our city’s love of meat to a whole other level. I can’t wait to visit again and bring my boys because, wow they can eat a lot of meat. Word is, they sell out of meat every night by midnight (not whiskey, just to clarify) and if you have a late night meat craving the best time to visit is between 10 pm-12 am when the meat is half price until they run out.
***mustaches and beards not required, but most certainly are welcome***
Hayden Block Smoke and Whiskey (website)
1136 Kensington Road NW; 403-283-3021
And so it begins again for another year; school. New beginnings for many, some of the same old for others. While my son is in his second year at the same high school, my daughter is just beginning her first year of university. In fact, as I sit here typing, I am at my sister’s kitchen table in Vernon, B.C., slightly halfway to our destination at the University of British Columbia. I’m going through all the emotions right now; dread, sadness, desperation (lol), and always…hope. I mean, we can always hope that as parents we have done the best job possible raising our children. The real test comes when they leave home for the first time and are entirely on their own. She’s pretty bright, thrifty, friendly, confident, and most of all, independent. I think those qualities alone will get her far in life.
Back to the beginning of the school year…that means the beginning to many after school activities as well. Dance classes, swimming lessons, and sports. For our family, it’s football. After a long day at school our 15 year old is ravenous! He comes home and immediately polishes off any leftovers within sight. Then, I usually scramble to get something quick and nutritious on the table before practice. Pasta is best, of course, and I like to keep it healthy by using Catelli Ancient Grains, made from all natural 100% whole grain Canadian wheat and 5 ancient grains including Amaranth, Teff, Quinoa, Sorghum, and Millet. Each serving contains 12 g of protein, 8 g of fibre and 25% of your recommended daily iron intake. My recipe uses fusilli, but you could use the other Ancient Grains ‘short cuts’ rotini or macaroni. I bet you could even use the ‘long cuts’; spaghetti or spaghettini.
It’s a happy day, indeed, when a new cookbook finds it’s way onto my bookshelf. Like many self proclaimed ‘foodies’ I like to explore the nuances of many cuisines, preferably first hand in their country of origin. When travelling is not an option, print is the next best thing. Kan Lam Kho’s Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees: Essential Techniques of Authentic Chinese Cooking is a gorgeous book packed full of almost everything you need to know about Chinese cuisine. It is highly approachable to the uninitiated reader (me) and reading it made me realize that there are many aspects to Chinese cuisine that I didn’t know about. At most, my connection to Chinese cuisine has been through dining out at Dim Sum and Szechuan restaurants. To date, the only recognizable Chinese dish I have attempted at home has been Red Cooked Pork. I don’t even remember where I got the recipe from but I do remember it was a comforting dish on a cold night. It was the first time I realized that there is a way to eat comfort food in every cuisine.
Kan Lam Pho is a food writer, instructor, and food consultant who specializes in Chinese cuisine. His blog, Red Cook, was nominated for a James Beard Foundation Award and his first book, Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees: Essential Techniques of Authentic Chinese Cooking has already received the Julia Child First Book award from the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals). His experience in teaching at the Institute of Culinary Education and Brooklyn Kitchen is reflected in the pages of the cookbook. Kian has thoughtfully included descriptions of pantry essentials, equipment, and techniques within the book, as well as intriguing history and family anecdotes. These inclusions make Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees more than just a cookbook, but a labour of love.
Today, I am happy to be part of a group of bloggers joined together to celebrate Mid Autumn festival, the second most important Chinese holiday (after Chinese New Year) by cooking from the pages of Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees. Like the universality of comfort food dishes, harvest feasts occur worldwide with the gathering of families around one table to enjoy a feast under the harvest moon. Since the Mid Autumn Festival is for lunar worship and moon watching, mooncakes are offered between friends or on family gatherings during the festival. There is no recipe for mooncakes in PCJT but there are several ‘how to’ posts on Kian’s blog for reference (here’s a link to one of them: Making Mooncake with Love).
There were several recommended recipes to choose from (out of the 158 included in the book) and I longed to try one of the stir fries. Stir frying is a technique that many people, like me, try to imitate but fail because they do not have the proper equipment. For years I’ve been using a flat bottomed non-stick basic frying pan which does cook the meat and vegetables but doesn’t really give the dish that ‘special something’ that every authentic Chinese stir fry has. That special something is called ‘wok-hay‘ or, breath of the wok. It is an indescribable presence that accompanies an authentic stir fry, much like the fifth sense of ‘umami’ that you have while eating a tomato. Like I said, it’s difficult to describe but ever so essential. I wanted that ‘wok-hay‘ in my dish so badly that I finally searched out a carbon steel wok of my own and attempted to season it. Do you see the gorgeous black patina on the wok pictured above? Despite my best efforts (and a great deal of time) this is what I ended up with:
From what I have heard, I can still salvage the wok but not in time to try the Stir Fried Beef with Black Pepper from page 118. Instead, I’ve turned to the most basic recipe in the book (and one that I am surprised to learn I have made before!), a refreshing Cucumber Salad with Garlic (page 336).
Quarter the cucumbers lengthwise and slice off the centre portion to remove the seeds (for large hothouse cucumbers you may want to further cut the quarters lengthwise into eighths). Then cut the lengths into 2 inch long pieces. Put the cucumbers in a bowl, sprinkle with the salt and garlic and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for 20 minutes. When you are ready to serve the salad, drain the juice that the salt has extracted from the cucumber pieces, retaining as much of the garlic as possible, and arrange the cucumbers on a plate. Pour the sesame oil over the cucumbers and serve cold.
Now for the GIVE AWAY! You can receive your very own copy of Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees: Essential Techniques of Authentic Chinese Cooking from Clarkson Potter. All you have to do is comment on my post and tell me about one of your most tragic kitchen adventures (come on, we all have them!). This giveaway is open to all Canadian residents until October 2, 2016. The official draw date is October 3. Good Luck!
Edited: Congratulations to Nicole Harling of Culinary Cool, enjoy your copy of Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees!
Do you ever get fixated on something and can’t block it out of your mind? Even though I’m pretty good at juggling or multitasking, I always go back that one intense fixation, like when I was determined to find the perfect pastry recipe. Even though there are hundreds of recipes that all give a similar end result, I wanted to find the one that worked for me one hundred percent of the time. I wanted to be sure that if someone called me up in the middle of the night and asked me to bake a pie, I could do it while half asleep. Not that this has ever happened, but you just never know when the need for pie will arise.
If you read my previous post, you will know that I was recently invited to a special dinner which was the kick-off to an entire educational weekend (sponsored and mediated by The Lodgepole School of Wholistic Studies) that celebrated the world of Fungi. At the dinner I had the privilege to meet Robert Rogers, a naturopath and herbalist whose many talents include identifying mushrooms in Alberta and using them as edibles or as medicines. It has been my dream (fixation) for the last 5 years to learn more about Alberta mushrooms but I hadn’t had any real opportunity to go foraging with an expert until I met Robert at the dinner. When I heard that he was leading a forage on the last day of the fungi filled weekend, I made plans for hubby and myself to go along with the foraging group. Then I began to wonder what I would bring for our lunch. It had to be portable and able to survive at room temperature (or slightly higher) until lunchtime, plus it had to be tasty and slightly healthy.Here’s where my pastry fixation, meets my mushroom fixation: After a quick look in the fridge, I noticed the large container of mini portabellos that needed to be used up, along with Swiss chard and some old-ish brie cheese…one look at the butter and I immediately thought of making hand pies. It didn’t matter that it was 6 pm because it was finally time for all that pastry making practice to pay off! I had the pastry made in less than three minutes and the finished hand pies really only took a couple of hours in total. In the end, we had a delicious lunch to share (because I truly believe that the first rule of picnic-ing with others should be ‘always bring more than you really need’) and it’s a good thing too…because Robert had forgotten his lunch back in his hotel fridge. It made me so happy to share my food with someone who truly inspires me.
1 recipe butter pastry (from Inspired Taste) as follows:
5. Flip over hand pie so that the cheese is on the bottom and make a couple of slashes for the pie to breathe.
6. Brush egg wash over top of hand pie.
7. Place on baking sheet and bake at 375 F until golden brown, 20-25 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before eating OR eat cold in a picnic lunch the next day.