30 July, 2008

Heaven in a Strip Mall

For our Tuesday Toodle yesterday we decided to tour the Bernard Callebaut factory. Hubby's cousin was visiting from the Okanagan and had spent most of her money shopping the previous day. What little girls wouldn't want to visit a chocolate factory? What Mama wouldn't?

Bernard Callebaut was a sensory delight. When you walk into the retail store you are overwhelmed with the sheer amount of chocolate selection - bars, dozens of chocolates, cowboy hats, chips, cocoa, and even a giant chocolate inukshuk. But what you really notice is the heavy air conditioning. I was worried it would wake the baby, but I think the scent lulled her to sleep. Oh, the scent. You really don't get the full effect until you go downstairs to the manufacturing facility. I would have been lulled to sheer indulgent relaxation if it weren't for the fascination of the chocolate making process.

We stared through the windows at the staff working on Christmas treats already. There were logs on the moulding rack - this wheeled contraption that turns the moulds as they spin around, in some kind of crazy orbit. There was one woman patiently adding a white chocolate drizzle to a gilberte. For the few moments we turned away from the manufacturing we could read about how the cocoa bean turns into the chocolate we so love.

As fascinating as it was to watch the chocolates being made, we grew impatient to try chocolate. Well, the 11 year old and I grew impatient, the Monster was anxious to ride the "alligator" back upstairs, and the baby slept. Upstairs we bought baking chocolate, tried a few chocolate treats, and shared a sample of luscious white chocolate soft serve. The Monster had a few toddler-sized bites of a dark chocolate fish before Mama took it away to enjoy later.

Now, you would think that a trip to a chocolate factory was good enough. Generally, it would be, but I had heard rumours of a great bakery in the same building. Unfortunately, the Manuel Latruwe is undergoing renovations. We'll have to go back again in a few months.

Fortunately, a French treat recently opened next door. L'Epicerie imports French products and serves deli sandwichs made from duck pate or the tastiest ham (carved off the leg in front of you). They have cheeses, olives, and a market cart of fresh produce. The Monster found the sample table and ate more than her fair share of cornichons and black olives. I bought some Puy lentils and olives to take home. We also decided on a ham sandwich on black olive bread to enjoy at home with chocolate for dessert, of course.

Bernard Callebaut
Manuel Latruwe
L'Epicerie - 403.514.0555

23 July, 2008

History and Inspiration

Brownsville, Halifax, Brooklyn, Austin, Manhattan, Brandon, New Orleans, and Phoenix.

Bread, soup, potatoes, chocolate, cupcakes, cookies, BBQ, smoking, tarts, seafood, and berries.

Chinese, Arab, Cretan, Italian, Thai, Caribbean, Spanish, Ukrainian, Cuban, and French.

We were cleaning out our teak hutch on the weekend in order to put new legs on it. Hubby emptied the contents - all my cookbooks - on the dining room table. In theory that would be a good time to review and purge. In theory. Instead, I reviewed and reminded myself of some enjoyable reads, vacations, and inspiring recipes that have never been tried.

My collection of cookbooks includes souvenirs from cities visited (both by us and others), gifts from speaking engagements, birthday and Christmas presents, impulse buys from the grocery store and one of my favourite stores, and a growing assortment of community cookbooks. I am one of those weird people who actually reads cookbooks. I try to stay away from celebrity cookbooks, but that is getting harder and harder. Hence the growing collection of community cookbooks. My collection serves as a history of where I've been and want to go - in the world and in my cooking.

Don't get me started on my magazines...

17 July, 2008

Taste Adventure - Capers and Artichokes

I have to make a confession. As much as I'd like to think I am a foodie, there are still a lot of foods I've never cooked for myself: Foie gras, creme brulee, gnochhi, and artichokes. When I saw the artichokes sitting amongst the organic imports at the market on Sunday I decided to do my own taste adventure. Sure, I've eaten my share of jarred artichoke hearts on pizza and pasta but I've never taken on the home cooking challenge of a fresh artichoke.

Artichokes are not at the peak of their season, and I knew that going in. But if I'd seen these California beauties in May I'm sure I would have had the courage then. I was already in line, keeping an eye on the Monster while Hubby bounced E in the Bjorn. I called to him across the stall, "Grab me a couple of those artichokes."
"A couple of the whosawhatzits?"
"The artichokes."
"What do they look like?" he asked
It seems Hubby should also be considered a backseat gourmet. After a verbal map ("To the left of the peppers") he grabbed a couple, we paid and we were on our way.

After a few days delay due to birthday parties and swing set erecting I got down to tackling the artichokes. Unfortunately, none of the recipes in my cookbook collection appealed to me. That meant stealing the laptop from the Monster to do some research. This is not a good idea when you are trying to make dinner because You Tube is the best invention ever. Daddy searches for videos of baby belugas, dolphins, and killer whales while I start dinner. That lasts until Mama starts chopping and she has to help. And help she did.

I found a recipe for grilled artichokes with a mint caper vinaigrette. Sounded yummy to me. As a plus, the barbeque was already on for the bison flank steak we were also having. I squeezed my lemon, chopped my garlic, picked my mint, and found the capers in the fridge. I pulled a couple of the capers out to start chopping.

"Beans!" The Monster exclaimed. I tried to explain to her that they weren't beans, but she insisted they were. Okay then, try one. Who would expect that these 'beans' would prove so tasty to a 2 year old? If only her fingers were long enough to reach into the jar.

Back to dinner. I trimmed the artichokes, set them to cook in lemon water, and hoped I was doing it right. When the steak went on the grill I also put on the artichokes. Meanwhile I boiled some potatoes and tossed them with cream and fresh dill. When everything was done grilling I tossed some greens with the mint caper vinaigrette and topped the artichokes with the same. At least I knew The Monster would like the vinaigrette.

After savagely working her way through all her steak and a good chunk of Daddy's she decided to try some of her artichoke. Before that it sat forelornly on her plate, a pale green chunk with a few pieces of garlic clinging to it. It was a good thing I still had some of mine left because she wanted more, and more.

Lessons learned - salty foods in brine should all be assumed as good; you need to either trim more off the artichoke before cooking or cook it longer so as not to waste as many leaves or buy it closer to the peak season; and buy more artichokes next time.

Mint Caper Vinaigrette

1 lemon, juiced

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

3-4 leaves mint, finely chopped

1 tsp chopped capers

1/2 cup olive oil

Get your toddler to shake together all ingredients in a sealed jar. Stand close in case she decides she is done with her task mid-shake. Season to taste.


California Artichoke Advisory Board

Grilled Baby Artichokes with Caper-Mint Sauce

14 July, 2008

Taste Adventure - Calamari

A few weeks back we attended Greek Fest. It was a Greek day - with blazing heat, lots of people, dancing, and so much food! Hosted by the Calgary Hellenic Society it is a display of Greek culture through performances, hospitality, and food. Oh, and oddly, one Ukrainian dance performance.

We loaded up on souvlaki, potatoes, and calamari. By the time we found a seat among the crowded tables the Monster was clawing at us to get to the food. That's normal - she always wants to eat. We weren't sure if she would want anything besides the pita since cucumbers are a recent addition to the diet and meat only makes sporadic appearances. And forget about pototoes entirely. We did not anticipate the calamari to be the object of desire.

The plates were set down, she climbed up on the rickety folding chair, and before you can say, "Opa!" her hands were on those rings of squid. Like most kids she first saw them as a carrier for tzatziki. What is it with kids and dip of any kind? After some very deliberate licks of garlicky goodness she chomped down on that fried ring of cephalopod. Then she grabbed more and more. It still had to be dipped in tzatziki, of course. Unfortunately for us, she ate most of it.

This gives us hope for when we return to restaurant adventures Greek can be high on the list. Calamari can keep her busy for hours.

Calgary Hellenic Society

11 July, 2008

It All Started With Some Vindaloo

The Monster was not quite a year old. At that point we were still eating separate meals from her. She ate, and then we ate. That night she'd eaten her dinner of finger foods and we sat down on the couch to watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs and eat our dinner. Lamb vindaloo was on the menu. No, I didn't make it from scratch. It was probably a spice mix, but it filled our tummies well. We were happily eating and the Monster kept climbing over us. It was exasperating. We thought she was just seeking our attention (and rightly so). Then we noticed that she was reaching for our forks.

"Do you think she wants our food?" Hubby questioned.
"Let her try it and we'll see," I responded, fearful that the first bite would cause heartburn, nausea, and the dreaded tears of baby barf.

Famous last words. She ate half my plate that night. And she hasn't stopped.

On this blog I will document our food adventures, through her eyes, mine, and those of our new daughter as she begins to explore food beyond her Mama's boob in a few months. We'll visit local and regional producers and foodie haunts. We'll explore the ethnic grocers and bakers and festivals. And we'll eat. Boy will we eat.

On the topic of Indian food, I want to share a local source for Indian take-out and spices. I first found Shef's Fiery Kitchen at the Hillhurst-Sunnyside Farmers' Market here in Calgary. She's now moved to the Calgary Farmers' Market, our Sunday morning hang-out. The menu changes for fresh food, but a mango lassi can always be found. While the lassi is always a hit with the Monster, we often order some of the frozen meals. Before our second was born these were great on a weeknight with some basmati and roasted veg. Who am I kidding? It is still good a weeknight meal as I try to feed the family with a newborn demanding my attention. And she still devours the vindaloo, the butter chicken, the kuka pakka, and the palak gosht.

Shef's Fiery Kitchen
Calgary Farmers' Market