January 28th, 2015

Black Box Dry Run: The Westin’s Chef Ryan O’Flynn Prepares for the Gold Medal Plates

Mack and I were privileged enough to be invited to Chef Ryan O’Flynn’s dry run for his upcoming appearance at the National Gold Medal Plates competition.

Chef O’Flynn has been at the helm of The Westin Hotel since early last year, and in November, he won gold at Edmonton’s Gold Medal Plates, earning him a berth to the national contest. Taking place in Kelowna from February 6-8, 2015, the competition is comprised of three stages, including a “black box” portion: “Chefs will receive only 10 minutes notice, and a black box containing 10 ingredients of diverse foods before having to produce and plate one spectacular dish using 6 of the 10 ingredients for the national judges. All in one very short hour!” Tonight’s black box dry run was meant to help Chef O’Flynn flex his culinary skills in preparation for next week.

Chef O’Flynn originally hails from Edmonton, but had spent the majority of his career overseas in high-end kitchens in Europe. That experience is helping him raise the standards at The Westin, and now, on a national stage, he is proud to be just one of two hotel chefs represented at this year’s Gold Medal Plates. Given the winner is essentially crowned Canada’s best chef, the competition is fierce, but Chef O’Flynn has his eye on the prize.

Westin Black Box Dinner

On Wednesday, Mack and I arrived just after Chef O’Flynn had started cooking. The clock ticking down, he only had sixty minutes to create a dish using at least six of the ten ingredients chosen by the Westin’s Director of Food and Beverage. In the box: oyster mushrooms, chanterelle mushrooms, lamb, Chilean sea bass, nutmeg, cilantro, goat cheese, figs, dates and lady fingers.

Westin Black Box Dinner

Guests were encouraged to interact, ask questions, and otherwise, get in the way of Chef O’Flynn, as to simulate the environment he would encounter in Kelowna. I’m not sure we did the best job at this, as I know I was content to watch him work, but it was obvious Chef O’Flynn could handily multitask, and even in conversation, was duly focused on the task at hand.

Westin Black Box Dinner

When asked the process he underwent to compose the dish, he responded by asking, “How does a musician write a song?” – he has just come to know how to combine and balance flavours. One could also say that this might be in his blood; his dad Maurice O’Flynn was a chef and managed Culinary Team Alberta to a world title in the 1990s.

Chef O’Flynn finished his dish with fourteen minutes to spare. And instead of incorporating six of the mystery ingredients, he ambitiously worked in all ten.

Westin Black Box Dinner

We all marveled at how well the components worked with one another: the base of whipped goat cheese melted into the medium rare lamb; the nutmeg sauce enhanced the earthy mushrooms; the perfectly crispy sea bass skin topped with sweet cilantro-lady finger crumble. Our only criticism was related to the toughness of the oyster mushroom – the hour wasn’t enough to reconstitute the dried mushroom, and in hindsight, Chef O’Flynn shared that would likely have left them out of the final dish.

Chef O’Flynn deserved the applause he received; we can only hope it will be a good omen as he travels to Kelowna next week. Best of luck to him as he strives to make Edmonton proud!

Thanks again to the team at The Westin for having us – it was a treat to be a part of the preparation process!

January 26th, 2015

Food Notes for January 26, 2015

  • Congratulations to Transcend Coffee and The Tea Girl, the two winners of the second annual Winter City Drink Competition!
  • More details about Chef Ben Staley’s new project, The Alder Room, were released last week. Through an Indiegogo campaign, he and his partner hope to raise $100,000 which would go towards restaurant start-up costs and also work towards a food security foundation.
  • Liv is the latest blogger to review Solstice Seasonal Cuisine.
  • Phil dived into more pan-style pies in this week’s Pizza Odyssey, featuring Monty’s Pizza and Coliseum Steak and Pizza.
  • Episode 6 of Karlynn and Phil’s Sweet Tooth and Meat Tooth podcast is up.
  • Karlynn is also starting a new series that will delve into the “realities of food blogging”, spurned on by a tweet from a local chef implying that bloggers without any industry experience have no merit.
  • Two Edmontonians are putting together a historical cookbook that intersperses recipes and stories from the city’s different ethnic communities.
  • Since its inception eighteen months ago, Mealshare has served up over 150,000 meals to those in need.
  • Michelle wrote a great post highlighting the story of Gold Forest Grains and farmer John Schneider’s philosophy behind his products.
  • On Sunday, I attended the launch of Poppy Barley’s men’s collection with Mack (whose new shoes were on display!). Fitting for such an event, there was meat, scotch, and cocktails. Inspired by the new line, Jeff Savage from Three Boars created The Beltline, a beautifully balanced drink that I am hoping might be served outside of that special occasion!

Poppy Barley Men's Collection Launch

With Alicia and Thom at Poppy Barley’s launch

January 25th, 2015

Take Me To The Bar-Cade: The Denizen Hall

After a very full day at work on Thursday, I needed to unwind, so it seemed like a good opportunity to finally visit The Denizen Hall (10311 103 Avenue).

Located in the historic Grand Hotel, in the space formerly occupied by the sketchy Richelieu Pub (an establishment I’ve scurried past, but had never stepped foot in) Denizen Hall has been completely refurbished. Urban Sparq Hospitality (the company behind The Pint and Knoxville Tavern) had taken over, in another example of the optimism surrounding the promise of the new arena district. Still, it’s difficult not to be attracted to the narrative being told by the new owners, one which seeks to continue the tavern’s 110 year history as a prime space to gather and celebrate.

To that end, the room itself has been refreshed, with cozy booths, wall-mounted animal taxidermy, and more than a dozen retro arcade machines (hence the “bar-cade” label, but more on that later). On that Thursday evening, there were only a few other tables occupied, but of course, we would have been considered early birds.

The Denizen Hall

Mack at Denizen Hall

This did allow us to take advantage of their great happy hour offers, which included $2.75 hi-balls on Thursdays between 7-8pm, and a $3 Thursday special for pints of Yellowhead plus two arcade tokens. Denizen Hall definitely recognizes the need to compete with other area bars; make sure to check the website for more up-to-date food and drink discounts.

Based on early reviews, I already knew their “Alberta homestead” comfort menu, designed by Elm Café’s Nate Box, would be right up my alley. Although there are some lighter plates to choose from, most of the dishes could be found at a diner or a country fair – think grilled cheese, fried chicken and pork ribs. But with the bar slant, much of the menu items can be shared, which is what Mack and I decided to do.

We split the buttermilk biscuits ($5), mini corn dogs ($8) and the mac ‘n’ cheese ($13), which was enough to satisfy both of our appetites. The biscuits arrived toasted, and reminded us of the flaky, savoury counterpart we’d had once at an Elm Café Dining Room brunch, but were obviously not fresh. It would be unrealistic to expect otherwise, but we knew how much better they would have tasted right out of the oven.

The Denizen Hall

Buttermilk biscuits with savoury butter and house jam

The mini corn dogs were Mack’s favourite – easy to eat, with a thin, crisp batter, they easily had enough flavour to do without the dipping mustard. We agreed we’d be back for more.

The Denizen Hall

Mini corn dogs

Unfortunately, the mac ‘n’ cheese didn’t quite live up to our expectations. It was under-seasoned, and neither of us tasted bacon or the promised chili heat. We did like the fun topping of Ritz crackers, but this added texture was lost when we ended up having to mix it through the pasta to bring the creamy sauce throughout the dish.

The Denizen Hall

Mac ‘n’ cheese

Service was excellent – our server was attentive, and made sure to check in with us before happy hour expired, which was appreciated. Her only minor misstep was mentioning that Grizzly Gouda, the Sylvan Star cheese used in some of the dishes, was sourced from BC.

After dinner, we headed over to the arcade. Token prices were reasonable – $5 earned us 10 tokens (most machines only needed 1 token to start a game). We played our way through a few machines, including an Atari racetrack, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and my personal favourite, Star Wars (what’s better than a basic target practice game to release some tension?).

The Denizen Hall

Ms. Pac-Man

I’m an unabashed adult fan of Chuck-E-Cheese, but there’s something about a more mature atmosphere and the possibility of having a cocktail in hand during a games session.

The Denizen Hall

Flying through Hoth

There’s still a lot of items we’re excited to try on Denizen Hall’s menu, so with it being just down the block from us, we can see ourselves returning soon for the food. But with the added appeal of challenging ourselves in the arcade, I anticipate some hours will also be lost over drinks and games.

The Denizen Hall
10311 103 Avenue
Tuesday-Saturday 4pm-2am

January 22nd, 2015

We Got Married!

Mack and I got married in Edmonton on September 27, 2014. We had the most wonderful day. But, as anyone who has planned a wedding can tell you, the number of people and goods involved can be complex. We wanted to sum up our day, which would also pay homage to the great vendors we worked with along the way.

Sharon: The most common question leading up to the wedding was whether or not it was stressful planning it. To be honest, the wedding was one of the most fun occasions I’ve ever organized – it was a chance for Mack and I celebrate with our loved ones, and through the process, work with vendors we respect. Any stress leading up to it was related to the fact that the wedding was the last of four “events” we were producing in the seven weeks leading up to the end of September, followed by our honeymoon departure two days after. But we made the bed, so although it was hectic, it was entirely by choice.

Mack & Sharon Wedding

Mack: I was thrilled with the way our wedding day went and it was all thanks to Sharon. I certainly tried to help, but it probably won’t surprise you to learn that she was the one that truly made it happen. Maybe it was because we’ve attended a bunch of our friends’ weddings over the last few years, but she just knew what to do, from start to finish. As usual, I’d have been completely lost without her. I appreciate that she included me in the planning process and always asked for my opinion, even if sometimes she had already made up her mind!

Mack & Sharon Wedding

What We Wore

Sharon: I have always loved the look of Audrey Hepburn’s wedding dress in the final scene of Funny Face – elegant, chic, and tea-length. Although conventional wedding dresses are typically to the floor or beyond, I knew something less fussy and easier to wear would suit me better.

Mack & Sharon Wedding

A few years ago, while visiting Amanda in Toronto, we were riding the streetcar on Queen West, when I caught a glance of a storefront window featuring cocktail-length wedding dresses. The shop I was admiring turned out to be Cabaret, a respected vintage retailer which, in recent years, had also developed an in-house collection of vintage-inspired wedding dresses. The Cabaret staff were fabulous to work with, and I loved that the garments were handmade in Toronto. In May, I ordered “The Bijou”, one of the dresses I had seen in the window all those years ago. They shipped it out to me free of charge, and it fit perfectly, requiring no alterations. I couldn’t have imagined getting married in anything else.

Mack & Sharon Wedding

Sharon: For my sisters’ bridesmaids dresses, we were hoping to continue that vintage look. Our colour palate was cranberry and charcoal. After shopping around, we couldn’t shake the appeal of Alfred Sung’s line of dresses. We found a great selection at Bridal Debut in Sherwood Park.

Mack & Sharon Wedding

I also wanted to mention the two lovely ladies who did our hair and make-up that day. It’s an understatement to say I rarely dabble in beauty products, so I entrusted Jenn Chivers and Jenise Wong to help me. Jenn was efficient, professional, and was able to create art from an image. Jenise, a friend of Felicia’s, knew my apprehension about not looking or feeling like myself, so made sure I was comfortable with the make-up. I think she did a fabulous job!

Mack & Sharon Wedding

Mack: Honestly, I had never really considered what I would wear on my wedding day. There’s no “That Suit is a Beaut” or “Say Perfecto to the Tuxedo” show on TLC for guys. I guess I always figured my bride would guide me. Fortunately, she did. At Sharon’s suggestion, I decided I liked the lighter grey color with some red to pop. I wanted to look good, but I certainly didn’t want anything that would take attention away from Sharon and her dress. So with that in mind, service became the most important criteria for choosing where to get my tux.

Mack & Sharon Wedding

After checking out a couple of options, we made our way to Moore’s on Calgary Trail, where we met an awesome sales associate named Agnus. She was helpful right from the start, and made great suggestions such as getting an off-white shirt because Sharon’s dress wasn’t pure white (and could look yellow in photos if my shirt was). I ended up renting a BLACK by Vera Wang tuxedo, and was very happy with it. Again, the service at Moore’s was fantastic.

Mack & Sharon Wedding

Sharon: Although we were impressed by the sample arrangements at Wild Orchid, our deciding factor to book with them was their proximity to our condo. Being one block away, we negated delivery charges, and a member of our wedding party simply walked over the morning of to grab the bouquets. Sticking to vendors close to home definitely had its advantages!

Taking Care of Business

Sharon: I liked the idea of a first look – not only would it take the pressure off waiting until the start of the ceremony to see each other in our wedding attire, but it also meant we could be more economical about our time that day.

Mack & Sharon Wedding  
We squeezed in an extra location for our wedding party shoot in the time leading up to the ceremony, taking advantage of having the City Market right outside our front door. It was important to us to incorporate as many of our favourite Edmonton activities into our day as possible – sure, our wedding was primarily to celebrate our love of each other, but why not celebrate our love of Edmonton, too?

Mack & Sharon Wedding

Mack & Sharon Wedding Mack & Sharon Wedding

Mack: Though I was happy for Sharon to take the lead on figuring out what our day would like, I knew for sure that I wanted a tea ceremony to be part of it. The modern tea ceremony is a nod to Chinese culture and tradition and is a great way to show respect to our parents. There are variations on the procedure, but in general it consists of the bride and groom serving tea to their parents (and sometimes other elders like aunts, uncles, and grandparents). In exchange, they are presented with a small gift to wish the couple good luck.

Mack & Sharon Wedding

In our case, we served our parents tea. We also included Sharon’s sisters, and they served us tea in exchange for a red pocket (as we’re their elders). It was a fun way to include a little bit of Sharon’s familial heritage into our day.

Mack & Sharon Wedding

Saying “We Do!”

Mack: Because we have decided to live in the core, Sharon and I walk whenever possible – we walk to work, to the market, and to activities. So it was important to us that we be able to walk on our wedding day too. That meant a venue downtown, and though we initially had our sights set on the Citadel’s Tucker Amphitheatre, we ultimately settled on the historic McKay Avenue School. Located a few short blocks from home, we knew it would make the logistics on the day much easier for us, and we hoped that being centrally located would mean easier access for our guests too. The third floor assembly hall was where we held our ceremony, a beautiful space with old wooden beams and floors, and a skylight too. We are thrilled that City Council has recently decided to proceed with designating the building as a Municipal Historic Resource, so that other Edmontonians can enjoy its history and character for years to come.

Mack & Sharon Wedding
Mack & Sharon Wedding

Sharon: Mack and I had elected to use an internet-based system to manage our guest list instead of issuing paper-based invites. And though we had some functionality challenges with Appy Couple, it was still the right choice for us. It also allowed us to invest more of our budget into the paper program, which we treated as the primary souvenir from the ceremony. Erica Leong, a close family friend, is a designer based out of Vancouver, and she did a fantastic job translating our vision for a whimsical representation of a few of our favourite places in Edmonton. The program text itself was adapted from an online template.

Mack & Sharon Wedding

Sharon: After moving to 104 Street, I started associating City Market mornings with the sound of Martin Kerr’s voice. Windows open, his acoustic songs would float up into our condo, and over breakfast, we’d be able to enjoy his renditions of everything from Oasis to Jack Johnson. Knowing he also performed at weddings, we booked him early on in the planning process – while we didn’t get a chance to shop at the market that morning, we did have a piece of the market at our ceremony that day.

Mack & Sharon Wedding

Mack: Friends of ours had Fat Franks at their wedding a few years ago and we thought it was a fun, unique way to offer guests something to eat after the ceremony. Plus, with our penchant for food trucks, we knew we wanted to incorporate them into our day in some form! We decided to ask Eva Sweet to serve the waffles we have enjoyed so regularly at the City Market downtown. They were also one of the very first participants at What the Truck?! Back in 2011.

Mack & Sharon Wedding

What We Ate

Mack: Whenever Sharon and I are feeling gluttonous and don’t want to cook, we make a trip over to Route 99. We have been eating there since our first trip together in 2007 and I guess you could say that over the years it has become “our place”. We love the easy-going atmosphere, the quick service, and the non-traditional but extremely tasty poutine.

Mack & Sharon Wedding

It was important to Sharon that we plan lunch for the wedding party into the schedule of the day as this is often overlooked and just makes everyone hungry and grumpy until the reception. That’s how we found ourselves at Route 99 for lunch in our fancy wedding clothes! It was a great way to relax slightly after the stress of the ceremony, to take a look at the social media posts that had gone up, and to go over our plans for the remainder of the day.

Mack & Sharon Wedding

Sharon: We’ve always loved Chef Blair Lebsack’s food. Since his tenure at Madison’s Grill, to his outdoor farm dinners, and now, his celebrated establishment RGE RD, Blair has been an integral part in our journey of understanding the possibilities of locally-sourced ingredients. That said, we knew hosting our reception at RGE RD would require a very select guest list, as the restaurant only has the capacity of forty. We didn’t regret our decision – an intimate group meant we were able to spend more time with our friends and family, and the absolutely gracious staff made us feel right at home.

Mack & Sharon Wedding
Mack & Sharon Wedding
Mack & Sharon Wedding
Mack & Sharon Wedding
Mack & Sharon Wedding

We were able to customize a menu with Blair (to the point of requesting specific dishes we’d enjoyed in the past), while Caitlin designed the drink pairings. Mack and I especially appreciated Blair’s willingness to introduce each dish – the guided tasting elevated the experience, which was a first for many of our guests. And of course, the food – I will never forget the tempura-fried, ricotta-stuffed tomato, the incredibly flavourful potage, the wood-fired roasted chicken and the panna cotta that everyone couldn’t stop talking about. It was a beautiful end to a wonderful day, and I’m so grateful to the staff that made it happen.

Mack & Sharon Wedding
Mack & Sharon Wedding

Mack: Photography is of course an important part of any wedding, and truth be told we’ve known for a while who wanted to help us capture the day. We first met Bruce and Sarah Clarke of Moments in Digital a few years ago at one of the tweetups we hosted, and we were immediately impressed with not only the quality of their work but also how great they were to work with.

Mack & Sharon Wedding

We knew that Bruce and Sarah would make us feel comfortable and that the result would be a series of beautiful images that we’d be able to enjoy for years to come. They were incredibly helpful right from the start, and played a big role in helping us to organize and plan the day. We’re very happy with how the photos turned out and hope you enjoy them too!

Mack & Sharon Wedding

Sharon: No wedding can happen without the help and support of family and friends, and ours was no exception. From our parents to our wedding party, and our friends who lent, manned or otherwise ensured things were done before or on the day, Mack and I are in your debt.

January 19th, 2015

Food Notes for January 19, 2015

It took me long enough, but after almost four years, I finally bought a new phone! The push came only when the music stopped working on my old device, but I have to say, it’s certainly nice to have a functioning camera and the possibility of downloading apps! On to this week’s food notes:

Route 99

Our usual at Route 99

January 15th, 2015

More to Love on 124 Street: Solstice Seasonal Cuisine

For Mack’s belated birthday dinner last Friday, he chose Solstice Seasonal Cuisine, the newest restaurant to open on 124 Street. While it replaced Somerville Wine Room & Bistro, which means the total inventory hasn’t changed in the neighbourhood, it still reinforces the fact that 124 Street still commands attention for those seeking what is new and hot.

The restaurant’s pedigree is strong, with the four partners having trained and honed their skills at the respectable Packrat Louie. Not to mention that Executive Chef Jan Trittenbach has Canadian Culinary Championship and local Gold Medal Plates titles to his name. Solstice opened quietly on December 22, 2014, so though it has only had a few weeks under its belt, we were eager to see what they had to offer.

The interior of the restaurant is recognizable from its previous tenant in terms of the colour scheme and basic layout, but some changes have been made. The banquet has been removed in favour of standalone chairs, and the bar has been remastered, now sharing its space with an urban cultivator. The room as a whole is understated and comfortable.

Solstice Seasonal Cuisine

Interior

When we arrived, we were warmly welcomed and immediately ushered to a table. On that Friday night, there were only three other parties that came through during our visit. Although January can be a slower month for restaurants, I’m sure its entrance into the food scene during the holiday season has translated into a more gradual start. 

We started with cocktails. Solstice had a number of original cocktail creations, but we decided to choose from drinks that had been inspired by bartenders from elsewhere. Mack’s Mad Man, influenced by Frankie Solarik of Toronto’s Barchef, featured tobacco syrup, while my NYC Si Mamacita was a refreshing combination of grapefruit, tequila, chamomile syrup, aperol and lime.

Solstice Seasonal Cuisine

Cocktails

The food menu contained less than a dozen appetizers and mains, but the selection is varied enough to appeal to different tastes. Given the restaurant’s stated commitment to local producers (and their inclusion on the website), it would have been nice to see some of their names on the physical menu as well. Their motto claims a desire to cook seasonally, so expect menu changes based on the availability of ingredients.

On that night, craving warmth over diversity after our chilly bus ride over, both of us ordered the soup of the week ($9) to start, an enticing potato and bacon. The potato base wasn’t wholly smooth, which was Mack’s preference, but it definitely hit the spot.

Solstice Seasonal Cuisine

Potato and bacon soup

My beef short ribs ($28) were well prepared, though the accompanying baked potato perogies ended up being the stars of the plate. I loved the smoky bacon flavour, and declared them a very close second to RGE RD’s house made bundles.

Solstice Seasonal Cuisine

Beef short ribs

Mack’s halibut and prawns ($32) had no shortage of tastes and textures. He found the halibut slightly overcooked, but no fault with the rest of the dish.

Solstice Seasonal Cuisine

Halibut and prawns

For dessert, the caramel apple crème brulee ($12) caught our eye. While we couldn’t discern the apple flavour in the brulee itself, we appreciated the generous sugar crust and creamy custard. The green apple sorbet was wonderfully tart, and in warmer months, it could be a featured dessert all on its own.

Solstice Seasonal Cuisine

Caramel apple crème brulee

While the food was solid, what set Solstice apart was the service. Sure, it wasn’t a packed house, but our server was attentive, friendly and gave us the space we needed to enjoy each other. We lingered over our coffee and never felt rushed to leave as we relaxed our way into the weekend.

It’ll be interesting to see how Solstice’s menu shifts with the seasons, but hopefully traffic will pick up as their name spreads over the next few weeks.

Solstice Seasonal Cuisine
10723 124 Street
(780) 488-4567
Monday-Saturday 5pm-11pm

January 12th, 2015

Food Notes for January 12, 2015

Lots to cover this week (everyone’s back at it), so let’s get right to this week’s food notes:

  • Join the High Street Social Club for a “Farewell to Boardwalk Empire” 1920s cocktail party on January 18, 2015. Tickets are $55.
  • In case you thought it was too late to enter the Signature Winter Drink competition, you’re in luck – the deadline has been extended to January 20, 2015.
  • For you planners out there: Jacek and Credo are teaming up for a special Valentine’s Day tasting of champagne, chocolate and coffee. Tickets are $60.
  • Great to hear that another coffee shop is joining the fray downtown – look for Coffee Bureau at 10505 Jasper Avenue in February!
  • It’ Dog (8621 109 Street), replacing the Bad Ass Jack’s, is open and serving up Asian-inspired hot dogs and Korean fried chicken. Both Andrea and Cindy have early reviews.
  • Twyla is the first to file a review on Solstice.
  • The Journal reviewed the revamped Café Mosaics in Old Strathcona.
  • Liane checked out Passion de France on Alberta Avenue.
  • Congrats to Pampa on opening up their new restaurant in Calgary last week! It is located at Centre 10, 521 10 Avenue SW.
  • Look forward to Burgers Priest opening in Edmonton in March.
  • Where Magazine named North 53 Edmonton’s best new restaurant of 2014.
  • I missed linking to Vue Weekly’s yearly wrap-up of their top 2014 eats and forward-looking pieces last week.
  • Where to chefs eat? Check out Chef Paul Shufelt’s favourites in the city.
  • Vinomania’s Gurvinder Bhatia also shared his list of the 100 best things he ate in 2014.
  • Karlynn and Phil’s new (renamed) podcast is up – listen to episode #5 of Sweet Tooth and Meat Tooth here.
  • Speaking of Phil – you might remember his epic “burger odyssey” last year. This year, he will be undertaking a quest to find Edmonton’s best pizza. He’s already taking suggestions!
  • Sam Wok has been fined $30,000 for kitchen violations.
  • Starting on July 1, 2015, New York will be banning foam cups and containers.
  • Although it certainly lived up to its name yesterday, Mack and I headed out to Deep Freeze. The cold didn’t deter the crowds, and folks were out in full force to enjoy the festivities. As always, the atmosphere was fantastic – kudos to the organizers!

Deep Freeze 2015

I couldn’t resist Olaf, who has become winter’s unofficial mascot

January 9th, 2015

Culinary Highlights: 2014 Edition

I had a blast in 2014. Mack and I got married, had an amazing honeymoon, and leading up to it, we had our usual packed summer schedule. It was a wonderful year, with memories to last us a lifetime.

Here were some of my favourite food moments last year, starting off with some great local eats:

Tavern 1903

A part of me still doesn’t want to believe Tavern 1903 is closed for good; we loved the Korean fried chicken, truffled mac and cheese, and the desert shrub was my favourite cocktail in the city – RIP

Brunch at Elm's Dining Room

Although the Elm Café Dining Room is also no more, we loved their pop-up meals, which included buttermilk biscuits at brunch

The Parlour

I never thought I’d like, let alone enjoy, seafood on a pizza, but The Parlour makes magic happen with the Gamberi

Route 99

It was the year of the selfie – it seemed appropriate for Mack and I to take one at our favourite diner in the city

We did hit the road a few times before the honeymoon, with our annual winter sojourn to Calgary, a trip to Toronto for a friend’s wedding, and out to a nearby farm we’ve always been meaning to visit. We also had the privilege of attending Christmas in November at the Jasper Park Lodge.

River Cafe

It’s hard to believe it took us years to finally dine at Calgary’s River Café, but I guarantee we won’t wait that long before returning

Bymark

While in Toronto, our one splurge meal was at Mark McEwan’s Bymark – although the pan-seared halibut was perfect, it was the beluga lentils that spoke to me

Edgar Farms' Asparagus Festival

The return of locally-grown asparagus is what signals spring to us, so I’m happy we finally made it out to Edgar Farms’ annual Asparagus Festival last June

Sharon with the Olsons

It was a bit of a thrill for me to meet the Olsons at Christmas in November

Tourtiere

And though I probably didn’t cook as many new dishes this year as I have in the past, I can say that Anna Olson inspired me to make my first ever tourtiere. Even better, it turned out really well!

As usual, we had our share of events, starting with Eat Alberta in the spring, multiple What the Truck gatherings, our second 97 Street Night Market, and an ImMACulate Garden Party.

Eat Alberta 2014

It was my last Eat Alberta as a part of the organizing committee – it has been a blast!

What the Truck?! on 104 Street

What the Truck?! returned to 104 Street, in what was my favourite event of the year (the fact that I live on the street may have affected my choice)

97 Street Night Market

The 97 Street Night Market returned to Chinatown, and this year, included a food tour

Blink ImMACulate Garden Party

We partnered with the Hotel Macdonald for the ImMACulate Garden Party, a fundraiser for the Edmonton Humane Society

In early September, my sisters organized the best bridal shower for me. We started at Gail Hall’s loft for a cooking class, walked over to Tzin for an amazing meal, and ended with some bridal games.

Bridal shower

Making gnocchi at Seasoned Solutions

Sharon's Bridal Shower

We were lucky enough to receive two helpings of the bacon at Tzin

Bridal shower

The beautiful brides!

On September 27, 2015, I married my best friend. The only tears were happy ones (and mostly from me). To cap off a beautiful day, we had the most wonderful reception at RGE RD.

Mack & Sharon Wedding

Thanks to Blair and the team at RGE RD for a truly memorable meal (photo by Moments in Digital)

There’s so much more to say about the sights and sounds of Vietnam and South Korea that we experienced, but for now, these are the dishes that I’m still salivating over.

Honeymoon Part 1: Hoi An, Vietnam

Our homestay by the beach in Hoi An was a dream – where else would breakfast involve a regional dish as complex and delicious as cao lao?

Honeymoon Part 2: Ho Chi Minh City

Authentic bo bun hue in Ho Chi Minh City

Honeymoon Part 2: Can Tho

While in hindsight we should have included Hanoi in our itinerary, it was an experience to have pho for breakfast in Can Tho at 6 a.m.

Honeymoon

Japchae and fried rice at South Korea’s Namdaemun Market

Honeymoon

Mack will also never forget his favourite street dessert – an ice cream-filled waffle for $1

Though I’m still not certain where this year will take us, I can only hope it’s as delicious as 2014. Thanks for following along with me this year!

January 8th, 2015

Christmas in November: Make-Ahead Entertaining with Chef Michael Allemeier and Final Thoughts

The whirlwind didn’t stop on our last day at Christmas in November. Mack and I were atypical early risers that morning on the promise of a behind-the-scenes kitchen tour. And even when we discovered that we had been misinformed (no tour had been scheduled on the final day), like dialing 55 for any other need, we were soon met by one of the chefs to make it happen regardless.

Christmas in November

The cooking never stops

It was a quieter time, to be sure, with preparations for the final brunch buffet yet to be underway. Still, the staff we encountered were contributing to the well oiled kitchen machine.

Christmas in November Christmas in November

One man controls all of the alcohol and foodstuffs

We were surprised to learn that the capacity of the hotel dropped so significantly after the departure of the last Christmas in November guests, but in a way, it explains why they pull out all of the stops for the event in what would otherwise be a very slow period.

Christmas in November Christmas in November

How about some stock?

It was a brief peek behind the curtain of a kitchen that did a wonderful job over the course of our stay – bravo!

Christmas in November

And did someone say wine?

Our last session of the weekend was with Chef Michael Allemeier of the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. It was obvious that Chef Allemeier was not only comfortable in the teaching role, but excelled at breaking seemingly complex dishes down into a series of manageable steps.

Chef Michael Allemeier

Chef Michael Allemeier

His entertaining philosophy revolved around preparing as much as possible ahead of time. In his ninety minute demonstration, he managed to work through an appetizer, a main course and a dessert. Although each dish was composed of multiple components, most could be made ahead of time and reheated just before serving. A little planning can go a long way!

Unlike some of the other menus we’d encountered over the weekend, Chef Allemeier’s was much more finessed, with restaurant-quality touches and plating suggestions. The fennel-cured salmon with horseradish mousse, creamy beets and pickled quails eggs sounds fussy at first, but it was definitely a starter with a wow factor.

Christmas in November

Fennel-cured salmon with horseradish mousse, creamy beets and pickled quails eggs

Some of his tips:

  • Using previously frozen fish is fine, and even recommended as the idea is to dry out the filet, and in the process of thawing out, it will continue to lose moisture;
  • Keep the skin on, as the layer of fat helps with the development of flavour, and makes it easier to carve;
  • When the fish feels like a medium-rare steak to the touch, it’s done;
  • This process could also be used with halibut, but it will require a few more days.

Chef Allemeier’s recipe for cardamom clove glazed ham with ginger snap crumb was much more familiar, but was paired with a unique twice baked souffle instead of the usual scalloped potato. His trick for hams (the majority of which are already cooked and more easily dried out) is to keep the temperature low and to build a delicious glaze.

Christmas in November

Cardamom clove glazed ham with ginger snap crumb

The blueberry sour cream cake and chantilly sour cream, lemon curd and sponge toffee featured recipes that could be replicated individually and work equally well paired with other sweet endings. Chef Allemeier called the sour cream cake the “unsung cheesecake”, and said that it was a dessert that reminded him of Manitoba.

Christmas in November

Blueberry sour cream cake and chantilly sour cream, lemon curd and sponge toffee

Some tips:

  • By lightly flouring the blueberries before mixing them in the batter, they won’t sink;
  • The cake is even better the next day – let it sit in the fridge overnight before serving.

Chef Allemeier was keen to answer questions all throughout, but never seemed condescending. It was clear he was used to working with audiences who ranged in knowledge and abilities, and even factored in the need for the crowd to snap photos of the final product – each dish was plated, garnished and put forward for the paparazzi.

Thanks to Chef Allemeier for a thorough and informative session; I felt inspired to try at least one of his complex dishes at home!

After the final session, we returned to the main reception hall for our farewell brunch. Talk about overindulgence – in addition to the dozen chafing dishes overflowing with breakfast and lunch favourites, there were omelette and carving stations to choose from.

Christmas in November

Omelette station

It was a good chance to wind down, and enjoy the last meal with those we had befriended over the weekend.

Sharon

My last Christmas in November meal!

As a whole, Christmas in November provided a great opportunity to get away from the city. No question, it’s a luxurious trip, but one that combines learning and food in a wonderful setting. I could see why it has been a formula that has been successful for twenty six years.

Mountain Sheep in Jasper

Wildlife in Jasper

It’s hard to argue against the option of a Friday to Sunday package, especially to accommodate those who could only take one day off work (myself included), but given we only had about two hours of “free time” not spent in sessions or in meals, if we returned, we would definitely opt for a three-day package. It was really only on Sunday afternoon after the last meal that Mack and I had the chance to go for a walk and enjoy the surrounding outdoors.

Jasper

One of the picturesque paths around the Jasper Park Lodge

Based on the current website, and the desire for the event to attract a younger demographic, I’d recommend organizers release a detailed presenter and session list in advance. For those unfamiliar with the quality of the event, it would be difficult to justify the expense without knowing the content of the sessions. Also, the one page in the program that listed the names of the presenters for each of the packages would have been a great summary to refer to online – although information on each presenter was available, it was cumbersome to navigate.

It was also not clear to us beforehand just how much food and drink would be included over the weekend. The evenings featured free flowing alcohol (wine and sponsored spirits), and we were never in want of food. Between the lavish meals and the samples provided in the cooking sessions, it felt like we were eating non-stop. The extent of that value was definitely not apparent in the website description of the packages.

For small parties looking for a joint escape (like many of the ladies groups, stagettes or coworkers we encountered), Christmas in November is a timely way to do so before the season takes over with other engagements. The cost for an individual or couple would definitely have to be weighed against another similarly-priced trip to other destination, but as I’ve described over this series of posts, those who enjoy food and love to entertain will see the value for their dollar.

Christmas in November

Thanks for the memories, Jasper Park Lodge!

Thanks again to Gastropost for sponsoring a lovely weekend, allowing Mack and I to experience the magic of Christmas in November firsthand.

To learn about some of the other Christmas in November sessions, and for more recipes, check out the Gastropost CIN site.

January 5th, 2015

Food Notes for January 5, 2015

Happy New Year! Although I didn’t originally intend to take a blogging break, it was nice to step back over the holidays to relax with friends and family and complete our mandatory Christmas viewing (which for Mack, involves the Die Hard quartet). Hope you had a restful time as well! On to this week’s food notes:

  • You have until January 7, 2015 to vote for your favourite alcoholic and non-alcoholic concoctions in the City’s 2nd Annual Winter Signature Drink Competition.
  • Miss Sailin’ On? Check out their pop-up at Earth’s General Store on 104 Street on January 9, from 10:30am-3pm!
  • A reminder about this weekend’s 8th annual Deep Freeze Festival, taking place January 10-11, 2015 along Alberta Avenue. It’s one of my favourite winter events; not to be missed!
  • The first YEG Coffee Week event has been announced: a screening of A Film About Coffee and panel discussion about the city’s coffee culture. Early bird tickets for the March 7, 2015 event are $15.
  • The Tomato’s annual list compiling the “best things to eat or drink in Edmonton 2015” is accepting entries January 5-23, 2015. You can see the 2014 list here.
  • Denizen Hall received two thumbs up from the Journal. Can’t wait to try it ourselves!
  • Liv blogged about her visit to Passion de France, the newest French bakery on 118 Avenue.
  • Eat Your City checks out Café Blackbird in Crestwood.
  • What comprised Edmonton’s best eats in 2014? Three CBC reviewers share their opinions.
  • Most cooking classes that have sprung up are all evening affairs, so Gail Hall of Seasoned Solutions is offering a shortened, two hour alternative, priced at $49.95 per person. Perfect for those still seeking a second act to the evening afterwards.
  • Liane polled some chefs to gather their food predictions for the coming year.
  • I can definitely get behind Omar’s last resolution – “just say no to Q water”. I’m surprised more people aren’t making a fuss about the increasing number of restaurants charging for water in a city known for its water treatment system.
  • Nature’s Green Acres posted that they will no longer be at farmers’ markets, and instead, will be focusing on bulk sales. Sign up for the newsletter to stay in touch with Danny and Shannon.
  • It looks like the space that formerly housed Niche is now Tapavino (11011 Jasper Avenue). No details to speak of, as their website doesn’t seem to be functioning.

Tapavino

Tapavino

Burgers Priest

The Burger’s Priest

  • I didn’t end up doing as much baking as I had planned this holiday, but I did manage to make Mack’s new favourite cookie – he couldn’t get enough of Gwendolyn Richard’s recipe for chewy lemon cookies.

Chewy Lemon Cookies

Chewy lemon cookies

  • For my sisters’ joint birthday dinner, they decided on Rostizado. Great service, as always, and we learned that even –30 temperatures won’t stop Edmontonians from enjoying fantastic rotisserie.

Rostizado

The platter of two at Rostizado (love the board itself, too)

  • I was fiercely craving Izakaya Tomo, so we made sure to hit it up before the end of the year.

Izakaya Tomo

I love me some carbonara udon

Izakaya Tomo

Mack’s pick is the chicken kara-age