December 16th, 2014

Christmas in November: Cocktails with Bob Blumer and a “Chopped” Reception

Before our gala dinner, we joined a small group inside the clubhouse kitchen for a VIP session with Chef Bob Blumer. Known as the energetic host of shows such as Glutton for Punishment and World’s Weirdest Restaurants, we were hoping Bob’s humour and enthusiasm would come through. In the end, we thought he had planned the perfect cocktail hour session, featuring recipes for both a drink and a nibble.

Bob Blumer

Bob’s caesar twist

Bob’s cocktail of choice was a caesar, made with a lemon vodka and a special rim. For additional kick, Bob recommended using honey and freshly grated horseradish. Mack, who is definitely a caesar fan, gave it a thumbs up.

Bob Blumer

Mack eagerly accepts a taste

For his cheeky shrimp on the bar-b, Bob continued the spicy theme with pan-fried chipotle-rubbed shrimp. Served with a cilantro dipping sauce, it was a tasty one-bite appetizer. And how is the dish related to its name, without reference to a grill, you ask? Simply serve the shrimp accompanied by what else – a Barbie doll.

Christmas in November

Shrimp on the Bar-B

For his final trick, Bob attempted to sabre a bottle of champagne, a trick he had taught fellow presenter Chef Lynn Crawford earlier in the week. Unfortunately, he must have had a faulty bottle, as his several attempts failed. It was a little nerve wracking to watch – a few of us were convinced the bottle would shatter before the end.

Bob Blumer

1…2…3!

Thanks to Bob for a fun start to our Christmas in November evening!

We headed back to the main lodge for the gala dinner. With everybody dressed up, it was a good time for photo ops.

Mack & Sharon

Gorgeous Christmas decorations

Santa was even on hand to make sure adults weren’t left out of the seasonal pose.

Christmas in November

With Diana, Vincci and Brittney (aka the Gastropost crew)

Jasper Park Lodge had pulled out all of the stops, decking out the reception hall in sumptuous linens and holiday colours.

Christmas in November

Gala décor

They had also organized great entertainment. The Willows, a trio based out of Toronto, sang a series of retro-inspired Christmas songs that lent a classic lounge feel to the room.

The Willows

The Willows

Dinner, unfortunately, was a little less consistent than our banquet lunch earlier in the day. The mountain foraged mushroom ravioli was pretty good, topped with braised beef short rib, but the buttermilk brined Alberta pork tenderloin was dry for most around our table (though I recognize tenderloin would be a difficult cut to prepare well for such a large crowd).

Christmas in November

Mountain foraged mushroom ravioli

Christmas in November

Buttermilk brined Alberta pork tenderloin

Dessert was an elegantly presented callebaut milk chocolate cup containing vanilla panna cotta.

Christmas in November

Callebaut milk chocolate cup

Before the dance closed out the evening, guests were treated to an “impromptu” Chopped-style competition, with teams drawn from attendees and presenters.

Christmas in November

Chef Dale MacKay advises his team

Chef Lynn Crawford (dressed as Santa) was the judge, and as the competition progressed, she narrated the proceedings for the crowd’s amusement. As you would guess, it was more than a little chaotic, but I had to respect the contestants. Cooking under the tenure of celebrity chefs isn’t easy, and they did it with good humour and grace under pressure. The winner of the contest was the team led by Charcut Chefs John Jackson and Jessica Pelland (the latter of which has actually won Chopped Canada).

Christmas in November

Chef Corbin Tomaszeski works with his team

A live band came on to close out the night, but Mack, Brittney and I had other ideas. We had spotted a games room in the basement of the lodge, and had time for a few rousing games of air hockey.

Brittney vs. Mack

Brittney vs. Mack

Back in our room for the night, we realized the staff of the hotel had been by for turndown service. It was the first time we’ve experienced this service, and though it wasn’t necessary, the Jacek truffles were a sweet surprise.

Christmas in November

Sweet dreams

It was a fun day full of learning, food and big personalities. We were glad to rest up for the last day of sessions.

December 15th, 2014

Food Notes for December 15, 2014

Just over a week until Christmas, folks! It’s probably something you don’t want to be reminded of if you’re feeling far from ready, but I know I’m looking forward to the gatherings with loved ones to come over the next few weeks. On to this week’s food notes:

  • Another fun showdown between Chef Levi Biddlecombe of Atilla the HUNgry and Chef Daniel Huber of The Pourhouse is going down on December 16, 2014 at The Pourhouse at 6pm.
  • A reminder that the 104 Street Customer Appreciation Day is taking place this Thursday, December 18, 2014. Check out the great deals to be had, and at the very least, it will be a good excuse to check out the festive lights on the street and the redeveloped pocket park.
  • The big news this week was the unexpected closure of Tavern 1903. Although the landlord is optimistic the dispute with restaurant runners Larry and Melinda Stewart can be resolved, the silence from the Stewarts doesn’t seem to be a good sign.
  • Café Mosaics, freshly renovated, is open for business again. They’ve doubled their capacity, lengthened their hours, and have added new menu items.
  • How about some ramen to temper the cold? Andrea checks out Ninja Club (10324 82 Avenue), now open in Old Strathcona.
  • There’s a great piece in Avenue Magazine about Denizen Hall, the newly-transformed bar in The Grand Hotel. Denizen Hall also started serving food this week – for an idea of what the “Alberta homestead”-inspired pub menu contains, check out Nate Box and Chael MacDonald on Global.
  • Arcadia Bar, offering a fully vegan menu, is now open at 10988 124 Street.
  • The Journal reviewed Café Beirut’s relatively new 124 Street location last week.
  • Karlynn’s latest Where I Ate Wednesday podcast is now up, where she discusses some of her recent meals at a few of the newest additions to Edmonton’s food scene.
  • The 2nd annual Winter City Signature Drink competition is back, with an Edmonton staycation up for grabs! The deadline to enter is December 31, 2014.
  • Still searching for a gift for that special someone? Robyn shares her ideas on what might appeal to the foodie in your life.
  • I didn’t know Earth’s General Store carried crickets. Stocking stuffer, anyone?
  • After a meeting in the area, I ended up having lunch at the nearby Sabzy. I haven’t been to the restaurant since they moved from Whyte Avenue, but based on the experience, I’d be looking forward to returning for dinner. The lunch special of ground beef kabobs ($13) wasn’t anything to look at, but the flavour was good, and the serving size deceptively filling.

Sabzy

Kobeedeh at Sabzy

  • Mack and I finally made it to The Culture Collective (as guests – thanks, Thomas!). This particular event was organized as an Arts Market, featuring a number of local vendors. We picked up some gifts, enjoyed a drink, and ran into some familiar faces. Fun night! Their next event, a variety showcase, is taking place on January 29, 2015.

The Culture Collective

Culture Collective at the Yellowhead Brewery

  • We met up with Amanda at 97 Hot Pot over the weekend. Service wasn’t as top-notch as my first visit, but we were hidden in the corner. The food, however, was consistent, and I love the atmosphere. Worth considering for gatherings of picky eaters over the holidays!

97 Hot Pot

Mack especially loved the unlimited spring rolls

December 12th, 2014

Honest Dumplings: The Pop-Up

Over the last year, Ray Ma and Chris Lerohl of Honest Dumplings have worked hard to build up their brand. The philosophy behind their dumplings sets them apart from anything you’d find at a conventional grocery store – not only are they committed to purchasing local and refrain from using preservatives or artificial additives, but they also focus on unique flavour combinations. In addition, they’ve had a consistent presence at the City Market, as well as at a variety of food festivals and events, including the Mercer Summer Super Party and Hawkers Market. And based on the response to their first-ever pop-up, I’d say they’re in store for an even bigger year in 2015!

Mack and I headed over to Drift’s storefront on 124 Street after work tonight, and encountered a line nearly twenty deep when we arrived. Thankfully, it wasn’t too cold out, and combined with a visit to Duchess across the street to pick up dessert (while Mack held our place in line), the hour long wait wasn’t too bad.

Honest Dumplings

Dumpling anticipation

Given it was their first pop-up, things were really smooth. We paid up front, were directed to a table, and our food was brought out in due time. For $15, diners were treated to an order of eight meat or vegetarian dumplings, a rice hashbrown, lemon pepper tofu, Reclaim Urban Farm sunflower shoots, and a slice of dragon fruit.

Honest Dumplings

Busy kitchen

One of my favourite things about Honest Dumplings is the fact that they always offer a number of tastes with every order – each plate subsequently feels more substantial and value-laden. On this occasion, we were able to sample eight different varieties.

Honest Dumplings

Meat dumplings

Our favourites included the short rib & apple pear and maple pork belly dumplings on the meat side (wonderfully deep flavours in two-bite form), and the mixed mushroom & truffle oil on the vegetarian side. I also really enjoyed the crispy rice cake – I loved the texture, though Mack would have preferred a slightly thinner patty.

Honest Dumplings

Vegetarian dumplings

You can find Honest Dumplings at the City Market every Saturday, or order their product one from SPUD. With party packs for sale ($40 for 32 dumplings plus a dipping sauce), they would be an easy and colourful addition to any appetizer platter this holiday season.

Honest Dumplings

Dipping sauce

Given the popularity of this pop-up (and the successes of the Prairie Noodle Shop), this form of dining is definitely alive and well in Edmonton. Here’s hoping this is the first of many for Honest Dumplings!

Learn more about Honest Dumplings in this Journal article.

December 11th, 2014

Christmas in November: Cooking with Chefs Dale MacKay and Lynn Crawford

The title of this post is a bit of a misnomer, as hands-on cooking with the presenters only seemed to happen incidentally. The focus was on demonstrations, and though in some cases, this was the only way to address a large crowd, in other instances (like with Chef MacKay), they missed an opportunity to offer more tangible learning sessions.

Although I was gunning for Albertan chef Connie DeSousa to win the first season of Top Chef Canada, it wasn’t a surprise that Dale MacKay pulled through in the end. And though his television debut is perhaps still his claim to fame, more recently, his year-old Saskatoon restaurant Ayden placed on EnRoute Magazine’s Best New Restaurants list. I actually didn’t know that Dale had relocated from Vancouver back to his hometown, but its great to hear other “back to the Prairies” stories – Toronto and Vancouver doesn’t have it all!

Unlike some of the other presenters, Dale focused on preparing a single dish of spinach & ricotta ravioli with brown butter sage sauce. This meant he could more thoroughly share his guidelines on fresh pasta dough, forming ravioli, and assembling the final plate.

Chef Dale MacKay

Dale preparing fresh pasta

If I walked away with anything at all from the session, it was how making fresh pasta isn’t all that difficult at all. He recommended making up batches to freeze in smaller single portion servings for quick emergency meals that would take twenty minutes to thaw (enough time to throw together a sauce) and three minutes to cook.

Some of Dale’s pro tips:

  • The gauge if you have the right thickness of pasta for tortellini, pass your hand underneath the dough – if you can see your fingernails, stop rolling.
  • To force the ricotta filling into the end of your piping tube, grasp the top and swing around the bag, rodeo style!
  • Make sure to force all of the air out of the half-moon pasta shapes, to ensure the filling stays in place during cooking.
  • Only use fresh herbs for the sauce – dried herbs will burn. As a bonus, the fried sage can be used as a garnish on the final product.
  • To filter out the brown butter sauce, use a coffee filter – its easier and cheaper than cheesecloth.
  • Toss your cooked pasta together with the sauce in a bowl instead of in the pan – it is gentler on the pasta!

Dale was no doubt one of the more low-key presenters, but his technical knowledge and skills were obvious. At times, I did find that he made assumptions about the audience’s level of understanding, but he was always open to questions and was one of the few presenters to build in a hands-on opportunity to assist (in this instance, with pasta folding). Given his detail-driven nature, it would have lent itself well to workshop-style delivery so attendees could feel the thickness of the pasta, and practice the shaping on an individual basis.

Chef Dale MacKay

Gastropost Alberta Community Manager Brittney Le Blanc (centre) learns how to fold tortellini

After the demonstration, we had the chance to taste the final dish (Dale had brought a total of nine hundred frozen tortellini prepared in the Ayden kitchen along with him to Jasper). The pasta was simple but delicious.

Christmas in November

Spinach & ricotta ravioli with brown butter sage sauce

Dale was gracious enough to pose for a photo at the end of the session. I wish him continued success with Ayden! It’s also worth noting that Chef MacKay will be back in Edmonton in March, as one of the guest chefs at Edmonton’s newest food festival, Northern Lands.

Sharon with Chef Dale MacKay

With Dale (and no, the backdrop isn’t photoshopped!)

From Chef MacKay’s focused session, we transitioned to the other end of the spectrum. Having been invited to Christmas in November with Gastropost, we were also given the chance to attend a VIP session with Chef Lynn Crawford. Billed as the “headliner” of the event, most in the crowd that afternoon seemed to be fans eager for a chance to see Lynn live in person. As a result, I’m not sure the majority of the group minded that it was entertainment, not learning, that dominated the hour.

Chef Lynn Crawford

Cocktail hour with Lynn Crawford

Lynn was an energetic host, and played Pharrell’s “Happy” to lighten the mood. She also invited several audience members to assist her with the demonstration, including the preparation of a modified version of her Pitchin’ In cocktail, a combination of apple and lime juices, rum, carrot puree served in a brown butter-rimmed glass. I wasn’t sure about the carrot, but it seemed to add more colour than flavour.

Christmas in November

Pitchin’ In cocktails

The assembly of her fried chicken with lemon thyme honey (a popular dish at her Toronto restaurant, Ruby Watchco) was scattered, to say the least, and most of the actual cooking took place outside of the room and away from our prying eyes inside the Jasper Park Lodge kitchens. To their credit – we did each end up with a plate of the finished product, with a side of cornbread and slaw to boot.

I will say that Lynn did remarkably well in taking things in stride – when another class paraded into our room, music blaring, without missing a beat, she invited them all to stay for fried chicken. Given the group had just finished up their champagne tasting, she also seized the opportunity to show us a new skill she had gained that week – how to sabre a champagne bottle.

Chef Lynn Crawford

Off with the cork

It was all in good fun, but I will admit, it was a little too much of a whirlwind for me.

Mack and I had a bit of time to change before attending another session just before dinner – they definitely pack it in at Christmas in November!

December 10th, 2014

Christmas in November: Tres Carnales and the Olsons, too

After breakfast, we started off our second day at Christmas in November with Edgar Gutierrez and Dani Braun, two of the three men behind Edmonton’s Tres Carnales and Rostizado. They shared their holiday traditions with the crowd, as a means of providing Mexican-inspired Christmas ideas.

Rostizado

Edgar Gutierrez and Dani Braun

Las Posadas is a nine-day celebration observed in Mexico. Preceding Christmas Day, Dani explained that Las Posadas recreates the experience of Mary and Joseph being turned away. After “actors” dressed as the couple are declined at two residences, they are welcomed into a third home. At that final destination, friends, family and neighbours would then gather and enjoy food and libations, which often would include ponche de frutas (traditional Mexican fruit punch) and tamales.

The ponche de frutas was relatively simple to make, with the only complicating factor being the need to source ingredients at a Latin American supermarket (such as Tienda Latina in Edmonton). The dark ruby colour of the punch was extracted from sorrel flowers (better known as hibiscus), which was described as a more versatile ingredient than I expected – Edgar often adds the hydrated petals into marinades, blends them into vinaigrettes, or adds them into quesadilla fillings. The punch was delicious, with a flavour deeper and richer than seemed possible. Mack especially enjoyed his rum-spiked version!

Christmas in November

Ponche de frutas

Consumed more as a snack than a meal, tamales can be sweet (filled with fruit) or savoury (filled with anything from potatoes to chickpeas or meat). Because they do take time to assemble, Dani and Edgar recommended doing so with others to make enough for the freezer – for them, tamales are a family affair!

Some tips:

  • Take time to soak the corn husks to rehydrate them – don’t be tempted to light them on fire!
  • The corn husks can also be used in place of parchment paper for en papiotte dishes to steam fish or pork.
  • If sourcing dried corn husks are difficult, banana leaves are a good substitute.
  • To determine if the dough mixture is ready – drop a tablespoon of dough in water. If it floats, it’s ready!

If the process sounds daunting, not to worry – Rostizado serves them with salsa roja and queso fresco.

Rostizado

Assembling the tamales

For dessert, the flan de queso was introduced as a great make-ahead dessert, intended to be served cold from the fridge. A cream cheese flan, the velvet-smooth custard was topped with a beautiful caramel, sure to wow your guests.

Christmas in November

Flan de queso

Ever the enthusiastic hosts, the hour or so with Dani and Edgar flew by. It was clear they were both passionate about their food, and were so proud to share some of their family traditions with us. It was a fun way to start off my Christmas in November experience!

There was no question I was most looking forward to seeing Chefs Anna & Michael Olson at Christmas in November. Back when the Food Network featured more cooking than competitions, I loved Anna Olson’s shows Sugar and Fresh with Anna Olson. She always made daunting dishes seem straightforward, even when they weren’t so on paper. I was hoping she was as lovely in person as she seems on TV – as it turns out, she was even sweeter (heh, heh).

I didn’t know much about her husband beforehand, but after watching Michael ham it up on stage, it’s obvious he’s the life of the party. That said, the two together would make great television, playing off one another, telling stories and exchanging bad jokes.

Anna & Michael Olson

Anna & Michael Olson

The theme of their session was a winning menu – because, as Anna mused, “Isn’t Christmas about winning and showing up your sister-in-law?” In conjunction with Alberta Pork, they had developed four recipes ideal for entertaining.

The Olson’s mini pork schnitzel sliders could easily fit on the menu of any upscale casual establishment in Edmonton. Designed as an appetizer which holds (crispy, I might add!) in a warm oven, it would be a definite crowd pleaser for adults and kids alike.

Slices of pork tenderloin were pounded, then seasoned, breaded and fried (make sure to salt and pepper the fillets directly instead of using seasoned flour, to ensure each piece is seasoned well). The schnitzels were then topped with a creamy ranch dressing (which could double as a veggie dip) and served on dinner rolls.

Christmas in November

Mini pork schnitzel sliders

The sliders were so good, Mack ended up eating two!

Christmas in November

Amy and Tiffany enjoy their sliders

Next up, the three most practical tips to come from Anna’s classic tourtiere recipe were:

  1. Make it in a springform pan, making it easier to disengage and serve;
  2. Let your butter sit out for half an hour before making the pastry – it will combine better than ice cold butter; and
  3. Following her pie dough recipe, which, instead of factoring it in negatives (e.g., “don’t put too much water”, “don’t over knead”), she has written it in positives (and for those looking for a gluten-free crust recipe, click here).

The tourtiere can be made ahead and reheated, which would certainly make life easier during the busy holiday season. The final product was stunning, and though I didn’t get a chance to taste it, given how approachable the recipe was, I will definitely try my hand at it this Christmas.

Christmas in November

Classic tourtiere

Michael’s recipe for a brie and cranberry stuffed pork loin with maple onion cream was his alternative to a more standard roast. His method of stuffing the pork was also free from twine, and instead involved making a deep cut inside the loin and spooning the cheese and cranberry mixture in the crevice.

We sampled the finished roast and enjoyed the combination of the moist pork and its creamy centre. For smaller family gatherings this would definitely work well in place of a turkey.

Christmas in November

Brie and cranberry stuffed pork loin

Lastly was Anna’s bacon cheddar shortbread, a recipe she developed specifically for Christmas in November (the gluten-free version substitutes a 1/2 cup of tapioca flour and 1 cup of quinoa flour for the all-purpose). I’m not the keenest baker, but given the ease in which the dough came together in the food processor, I will definitely be trying my hand at these – they would make a great hostess gift!

Anna recommended making and rolling dough in advance, saran wrapping them and labeling them with the name and temperature at which they should be baked. Then, when they’re needed (as a gift or cocktail hour treat), you could simply thaw the dough and bake them off – genius!

Christmas in November

Bacon cheddar shortbread

We had a great time learning and laughing with the Olsons. The couple celebrated their tenth anniversary as Christmas in November presenters this year, and I could see why they’re welcomed back again and again – their warmth and knowledge makes them great ambassadors for Canadian food. I hope they will return next year!

Sharon with the Olsons

Doing “the Olson” with Anna and Michael

If the pork appetizers weren’t enough, the festive luncheon certainly did us over. Banquet meals for several hundred guests are not often executed well, but the kitchen did a fantastic job with lunch. I could have easily had a second bowl of the Twin Meadows red kuri squash soup (I loved the roasted pumpkin seeds incorporated for texture).

Christmas in November

Red kuri squash soup

The salt-brined Alberta free range turkey was equally delicious, served with buttermilk mashed potatoes and a dried fruit stuffing.

Christmas in November

Salt-brined Alberta free range turkey

The pumpkin cheesecake was perhaps a little too deconstructed for most at our table, but was beautifully plated.

Christmas in November

Pumpkin cheesecake

As full as we were, an afternoon nap wasn’t an option – we had several more sessions to attend before finishing up the learning portion of the day.

December 9th, 2014

Christmas in November: The Welcome

I’ve been eyeing Christmas in November for the last few years, but because of the steep cost, I knew we’d have to save for it like any other vacation. And given just returned from our honeymoon in October, this year was a write-off. Enter Gastropost, who, through Postmedia (I am a part of the Gastropost Advisory Board), granted Mack and I the opportunity to attend as their guests, in exchange for documenting the weekend. We jumped at the opportunity, and away we went to the final package November 14-16, 2014. Although Mack and I have been to the mountains together before, this was our first trip to Jasper. We were looking forward to the fresh air, wildlife, and of course,  Christmas in November itself!

Christmas in November

Jasper

The moment we rolled into the Jasper Park Lodge, we felt immediately welcomed. All of the staff were eager to help and made sure we were well taken care of. We were eventually directed into our room – although I had expected a facility similar to the chateau-like Fairmont Banff Springs, I quickly realized this Fairmont property was made up of a sprawling complex of cozy cabins. Luckily, our cabin was located a stone’s throw away from the main lodge.

Christmas in November

Our cabin

We joined Brittney Le Blanc, Alberta Gastropost manager, and the rest of the “VIPs” in a pre-reception, and had a chance to meet some of the other attendees and presenters. It was nice to see some Edmonton representation (curiously, in Jasper, both Edmonton and Calgary talent were referred to as “local” presenters, I suppose to differentiate from the chefs visiting from other parts of Canada). It seems the majority of attendees were from Edmonton, though a smaller percentage make the trek from Calgary and the rest of the province.

Christmas in November

With Jacqueline Jacek

Upstairs at the welcome reception, the line-up of presenters were then introduced. It was clear that this was the kind of conference where rubbing elbows with these celebrity chefs was not only permitted, but encouraged.

Anna & Michael Olson

Anna and Michael Olson had fun with the camera

Surveying the attendee demographic, we were surprised with the range. We had been told to expect a large number of mature attendees, and mostly women. And although that was true for the majority, Brittney confirmed that this was the most diverse group she’d seen yet, in terms of age and gender.

Christmas in November

Mack (in front of an edible gingerbread house) wasn’t as outnumbered as he thought

After the brief program, we had access to unlimited food and drink. This included a few signature cocktails, such as the strawberry shortcake martini and a peppermint eggnog.

The Fairmont kitchen had prepared an amazing array of tastes, served at stations around the ballroom.

Christmas in November

Reception

We had fun sampling more than a dozen dishes, with Brittney providing us with helpful recommendations (it was her third buffet, as she had been there for the previous two packages). She pointed us to the poutine bar(!), which featured butter chicken sauce and braised short ribs. The flavour and heat level in the butter chicken gravy was particularly tasty, but it could have been warmer.

Christmas in November

Poutine

That was perhaps our one criticism of the buffet – most of the dishes just weren’t served at the ideal temperature, or, in some cases, had languished under heat lamps. There were a few exceptions to this, which elicited several return trips. The raclette – melty Oka cheese – was simple but decadent.

Christmas in November

Raclette

My favorite dish of the night was the mushroom risotto, made fresh throughout the evening, and served in a carved out parmesan wheel.

Christmas in November

Why yes, I’ll have seconds

Desserts were also a part of the evening, even though we were already more than full. The mincemeat pies were delicious, while Mack enjoyed his pumpkin and blueberry tart.

Christmas in November

Pumpkin and blueberry tarts

We weren’t ones to close out the reception, as we knew we’d have an early start the next morning. We were looking forward to what the presenters had to offer!

December 8th, 2014

Food Notes for December 8, 2014

  • The big news this week was Events Edmonton’s announcement that they are hosting the Canadian Food Championships in conjunction with Taste of Edmonton next July: “This exciting opportunity will allow Canadian chefs, home cooks and foodies of all backgrounds to compete for cash, glory, and an all-expenses-paid (flights, accommodation and entry fees) Golden Ticket to compete in the 4th Annual World Food Championships, which will be held in Florida in November of 2015.” I’m not familiar with the WFC, but I’m interested in seeing how this event shapes up.
  • Lots of pop-ups coming your way this weekend, starting with Honest Dumplings, who will be taking over Drift’s new storefront on December 12, 2014, from 5:30-9:30pm.
  • Big City Sandwich’s Big City Burger Fest is taking place on December 13, 2014, from 5-8pm at the Nor’Wester Rugby Club.
  • Long Lost Foods is hosting their holiday pop-up on December 14, 2014 at the Mercury Room. They have two seatings, 4pm and 7pm, with tickets priced at $35.
  • Twyla reviewed Ampersand 27 last week.
  • Linda shares her take on North 53’s new menu.
  • Cheryl attended a unique food event at Baseline Wines, which paired wines with cookies!
  • Karlynn and Phil’s second podcast, all about their #yegfood Christmas lists, is now up.
  • Avenue Edmonton talks about the new restaurant movement towards a “no reservation” policy.
  • Mack and I had dinner with some friends at Woodwork on Friday, just on the heels of their first anniversary – congrats!

Woodwork

Steak frites from Woodwork

December 4th, 2014

Another Chinatown Transformation: Lee House

It has been a few years since my last visit to Lee House in Old Strathcona, but for a recent Korean food fix, I was excited to visit their second location in Chinatown. They took over a storefront on 97 Street that has been vacant for many years, a building that I remember from my childhood (it had the distinction of being the only grocery store in the area that offered underground parking). Earlier this year, 97 Hot Pot also similarly transformed a derelict, hollow shell into a bright spot in the neighbourhood, and I’m hoping Lee House is continuing the trend.

The Lee House owners did a great job with the interior, with the wood finishes anchoring the room with a warmth and familiarity not unlike a comfortable kitchen. Tables are inset with a natural gas burner, which spoke to the communality of much of the menu.

Lee House

Interior

Having just been in Korea for our honeymoon, it was great to see some familiar items on the menu, spanning from barbecue to broth-based bowls and a plethora of small plates. Still, Maria and I let Roxanne (who had lived in Korea for a time) lead us through our choices. We ended up with the sweet ginger dubboki ($9.95), similar to one of my favourite dishes in Seoul, and the pork bone soup ($33.95), which seemed ideal on that chilly winter evening.

The dubboki, made up of rice cakes, fish cakes, cabbage and green onions in a ginger-soy sauce, was pleasantly sweet, though the rice cakes themselves were much firmer than their Seoul cousins.

Lee House

Dubboki

The pork bone soup felt like the main event when it arrived, complete with accompaniments. Over the course of a few minutes, simmering in front of us, the broth took on a piercing red tone, cooking down the vegetables layered in amongst the meat. But the chilli-based soup was beautifully balanced, with just enough heat to warm us through.

Lee House

Pork bone soup

It was the kind of meal you linger over, taking your time over the dredges of soup left in the pot. And unlike some other places in Chinatown, we never felt rushed; the friendly servers were more than happy to refill our tea, and gave us the time and space to catch up. It was a satisfying supper, and shared between the three of us, amounted to just over $20 per person with tip. Our only feedback for the restaurant was to consider offering dessert, as we would have been more than happy to indulge in something sweet.

On a random Tuesday night, we were happy to see that many other people had already discovered Lee House (though it should be noted their south side location is currently under renovations). And given there are many more menu items I was tempted by, I’m sure to be back soon.

Lee House
10708 97 Street
(780) 438-0790
Monday-Saturday 11am-10pm

December 1st, 2014

Food Notes for December 1, 2014

  • Get into the winter spirit – the Winter Excitement Guide has some great suggestions, including Frostival in McCauley taking place each weekend in December. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, anyone?
  • Save the date: Honest Dumplings is hosting their first pop-up on December 12, 2014 in Drift’s new space on 124 Street!
  • Mark your calendar for a new food festival this coming MarchNorthern Lands is bringing Chefs Vikram Vij and Dale MacKay to join some of Edmonton’s best chefs to showcase local food along with Canadian wines, beers and spirits.
  • Thanks to Amelia, I found out that there’s a new French bakery in town: Passion de France (11812 86 Street) on Alberta Avenue. You can also find them on Twitter. I look forward to checking them out soon!
  • Central Social Hall has revamped their menu (and is opening a second location in St. Albert).
  • Karlynn and Phil now have a podcast – check out the first episode of Where I Ate Wednesday, all about their favourite Christmas in November eats.
  • Congrats to the team behind The Yards, a quarterly publication launched by the Downtown and Oliver Community Leagues. Check out their inaugural issue, including a page on downtown’s cheapest eats.
  • Looking for a gift who will satisfy the kitchen-inclined? Some Edmonton chefs share their gadget recommendations.
  • The year-end celebration for one of the volunteer committees I belong to was held at Zinc last week, and Mack was able to come along as well. He enjoyed the crab cakes, but it was the pea risotto that won raves around the table. The sweet and spicy prawns were perfectly cooked, but they were a bit unbalanced and heavy on the heat.

Zinc

Atlantic Blue crab cakes

Zinc

Sweet & spicy baked prawns with green pea risotto

  • Mack and I headed to RGE RD for dinner on Friday – their dining room was a cozy respite from the cold! I loved the sablefish, served with a delectable mushroom broth.

RGE Rd

Sablefish

November 27th, 2014

“Pucker” Cookbook Launch

If you’ve got someone who loves to cook on your Christmas list, you’re in luck – we’re awash in locally-produced cookbooks this season! The Duchess Cookbook would be perfect for the baker in your family (they’ve already ordered a second printing), while the Alberta Famers’ Market Association’s 20th anniversary cookbook, From the Farm, is filled with locally-sourced inspiration from chefs around the province. Now we have Pucker, from Calgary-based Gwendolyn Richards, a celebration of citrus in all its tangy glory.

Pucker Cookbook Launch

Pucker

Mack and I first met Gwendolyn a few years ago on a Tourism Calgary showcase, but caught up with her more recently in Jasper at Christmas in November. We knew she would be heading up to Edmonton soon after to launch her new book, and we knew we wanted to be a part of the welcoming committee! The launch was held at the Cory Christopher Christmas Market, a festive space ideal for mingling over drinks and nibbles.

Pucker launch

Mixing up whisky sours for the crowd

Gwendolyn is the food writer for the Calgary Herald, but you may also know her from her blog that chronicles her food exploits, Patent & the Pantry. Pucker is her manifestation of “do what you love”, as the kitchen has always been her refuge (and photography, too – Gwendolyn styled and shot all of the photos herself!).

Pucker Cookbook Launch

With her labour of love

The book is filled with nearly ninety recipes – sweet and savoury – and a sizable section of citrus-infused cocktails (the section Mack is particularly excited about). Although Gwendolyn was hard-pressed to select a favourite recipe, the banh mi burger, a play on the Vietnamese sandwich, has achieved an almost legendary status in her circle of friends.

We had the chance to sample a few of the items featured in the book, including some delicious citrus-braised pork shoulder tacos (we may or may not have had seconds).

Pucker Cookbook Launch

Citrus-braised pork shoulder tacos

The lime bars were my favourite dessert, as they packed a citrus punch.

Pucker Cookbook Launch

Lillian and I loved the lime bars

Thanks to Gwendolyn and her team for inviting us to the launch, and congratulations on the book!

You can find Pucker online or in Chapters locations.