Category Archives: Foodie Goodie

Kitsilano Farms CSA

I mentioned in my last post that our CSA is keeping me well in veggies for this cleanse I’m doing. I’ve had a lot of questions about the CSA, what is it, where is it, how much does it cost and what do we get – so after picking up our share last night, I took a picture and compared some costs to share… uh… the share.

First off, for those unfamiliar with a CSA, it stands for Community Supported Agriculture. From Wikipedia:

[It] consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes the community’s farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production.

We pay for an entire season’s worth of produce up front, and

Thus, individuals, families or groups do not pay for x pounds or kilograms of produce, but rather support the budget of the whole farm and receive weekly what is seasonally ripe. This approach eliminates the marketing risks and costs for the producer and an enormous amount of time, often manpower too, and allows producers to focus on quality care of soils, crops, animals, co-workers — and on serving the customers. There is financial stability in this system which allows for thorough planning on the part of the farmer, and emotional investment on the part of the members. (Wikipedia)

Our particular CSA is Kitsilano Farms. And from what you can see, we certainly receive a LOT of produce in a typical week (click to go to the flickr page where there are notes, to see the specifics of what we get):

Kitsilano Farms CSA

In terms of value for dollar, the share purchase was $475 for 20 weeks of produce (which turned into 21 weeks because of an early boom of harvest-ready produce). That puts us at $22.62 per week. We’ve always felt like we were getting amazing value for the haul of goods we brought home every week, but just for kicks, I priced out what our share would cost in the grocery store downstairs, the local farmer’s market or from a local grocery delivery. I’ve picked the average prices for everything, here’s how it all adds up:

Spring Onions – $0.89/bunch
Komatsuna – $0.99/bunch
Rhubarb – $1.50/500g
Garlic – $0.85/head
Radishes – 1.50/bunch
3 big heads leaf lettuce – $1.50 each
Beet Greens – $1.99/bunch
Raspberries – $5.99/pint
2 heads Red Romaine – $1.50 each
3 Turnips – $2.25/lb (about 1 lb)

That all adds up to $23.46. It’s not a big savings, but it is a savings over time for the entire growing season. It’s also forcing us to eat a LOT more veggies, since we know a new batch is coming every week, and we’ve already paid for it (no “stopping delivery because we’ve tossed the last two weeks’ worth in the compost” for this).

In fact, we went a bit CSA happy this year, we’ve also signed up for a Grain CSA, and will visit our wheat in a couple weeks, with delivery of our 20kg of whole wheat flour showing up sometime in late summer/early fall (baking anyone?).

We also have plans to join a Wine CSA, and are actively keeping our eyes out for a meat CSA as well if anyone knows of anything going on.

Now we didn’t leap suddenly into farm-sourced eating. We’ve been moving down this road over the past year or so. Thankfully, with the larger influence of food-security related movements, it’s becoming much easier to source things that are being grown in a sustainable way and develop relationships with the producers.

CSA’s aren’t for everyone – it’s a big stretch in mindset and lifestyle to go from planning meals based on what you want (or not planning, and just grabbing things at the last minute) to figuring out from week to week “what can I make out of what these farmers have given me?”. At least, it’s a stretch in North America for the way most of us live. It’s actually just the way of things in much of the rest of the world, and was the same here until the dawn of industrial agriculture.

Despite the shock and awe value of films coming out now like Food, Inc., the writings of Michael Pollan and the fuss over the White House organic food garden, I don’t expect a sea-change in the way many people in the industrialized world get their food. But if I can have a hand in making sure a few more small farmers survive, ensure a biodiversity of crops, and reduce the risk of salmonella in my (and a few others’) spinach as a result, well that’s a pretty exciting thing to me.

As Wendel Berry famously said, “Eating is an Agricultural Act,” and I’m certainly enjoying playing my part.

Let’s Get Improvisational

Apologies for the radio silence! I was out of town, and had a draft all queued up and ready to go, but wordpress ate it.

Anyhow, A while back I started writing about a few of the cookbooks that have made a big difference to me, and the way I cook. Turning me from a heater & assembler of pre-packaged food-like-substances to an enthusiastic cook.

First, the Joy of Cooking reminded me what real, from-scratch cooking looks like. Then Jamie’s Dinners got me cooking by taste, instead of strictly measurement and instruction.

Number three in the collection of cookbooks that really helped turn me into an enthusiastic cook is The Improvisational Cook by Sally Schneider.

I’ve tried to get others excited about this book as an amazing tool for working with food, but its lack of photos for any of the recipes is a turn off for a lot of cookbook enthusiasts – especially those who get off on the food porn craze of glossy, sumptuous photos of every dish.

But fear not! The lack of photos will set you free! There is time to worry about presentation later, for now, this book is all about focusing on the flavours.

What Schneider does in this book is take some of her favourite dishes, present them in their original form, then goes through an “Understanding” section, explaining how the ingredients work, finally re-creating them three other ways by swapping out the starch, protein, oil or vegetable to improvise new dishes with whatever’s handy.

For example, one of the “core” recipes is Chicken with Root Vegetables in Fragrant Lemongrass Broth (inspired by the classic French “poulet au pot”). By understanding the components of a flavourful broth, and how chicken turns out after cooking in liquid in a closed casserole, it’s a quick step to Rabbit Rillettes (rabbit’s a very similar meat to chicken), made with Madeira and herbs, and from there to Chicken with Red Wine, Bacon and Mushrooms (the traditional flavours of coq au vin), finally combining some of the flavours between the previous two recipes to create Guinea Hen with Bacon and Madeira.

Before this book I hadn’t thought about the relationships between ingredients and how they come together. After working through a few of the variations and learning how to tweak small things in recipes in meaningful ways, I now almost never have a dish that doesn’t turn out (unless, of course, it involves tempering eggs).

I still don’t create my own recipes, but I do a pretty good job of adapting existing ingredient lists to what I’ve got on hand, make the best use of seasonal ingredients, or insert flavours I prefer. It has, quite literally, changed the way I cook. I couldn’t have done it without slowly building my confidence following recipes to the letter, then focusing on flavour, and finally switching things up on the fly.

But don’t take my word for it – try it yourself. And if you have, comment and let me know what your kitchen-changing cookbooks are!

Restaurant Review – db bistro

I had dinner at db bistro in Vancouver the other night, and it was fantastic! better than I expected!

I’ll admit, when db bistro first opened its doors in Vancouver I was curious, but not quite chomping at the bit to try it out. I’d already been to the db brasserie in Las Vegas, which was good, but not great. I expected much of the same in Vancouver.

In fact, I went to db bistro shortly after it opened for lunch on a Wednesday in December 2008. The food was fine, but the service was downright awful. Forgotten cutlery, missed drinks, mixed-up orders, and a constant need to flag down our server (even though there were only 3 tables in the entire place) plagued the whole meal. I chalked it up to new-opening jitters, but man was it ever disappointing.

(For the record: I had planned to write an email to the restaurant shortly after my visit tell them about my experience, but snowmageddon happened and I got distracted.)

So when I saw the usual cadre of local food bloggers and journalists pumping up its perfection a week or two later, I figured the restaurant was on its best behavior and had brought in a few service ringers to ensure things would go smoothly for the media. Meanwhile, I’d decided to wait awhile for my next visit. Hopefully by the time I returned, they’d have ironed things out enough that the hoi palloy would have a good time too.

My second visit happened to be a couple nights ago, and it was much, much better!

We wandered down to the restaurant at about 7:30pm on a whim, without a reservation. It was about 75% full and we were seated promptly. Our server was just the right mix of attentive and friendly (without being aloof or too familiar). Now that the service experience was sorted out, the food absolutely shone. We started with the shared charcuterie plate, which was perfect. For mains, Neil had the infamous db burger and I had the night’s special, which was a broiled skate wing over spring vegetables and new potatoes in a white wine & butter sauce. It was heavenly. Dessert was the apple tart for Neil and the raspberry napoleon for me.

We thoroughly enjoyed the food and the experience. And when we left, despite being “nobodys” on the local food scene – just a couple of neighbourhood locals who popped in for a late Tuesday dinner – we were given a fond sendoff that made me want to plan my next return.

Except, I have this day-after sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when I think about what’s on the menu.

Looking at the Seafood Watch guide, Atlantic Skate are on the “avoid” list. I was told this was a Pacific Skate, but information on them is really sparse. Despite the well-reported and much hailed opening of the local spot prawn season, the May menu at db bistro features a Nova Scotia Lobster Salad. And while my dessert was indeed delicious, raspberries aren’t growing anywhere in the northern hemisphere at this time of year.

I am also highly skeptical of the whole concept of the “May 2009 Menu” considering it’s almost identical to the “December 2008 Menu” from when I dined there last. I have no problem with keeping signature dishes and specialties on a static restaurant menu, but I’d like to see more of a demarcation and highlight on the true features and seasonal dishes – both so I don’t miss them, and so I get a better feel for what will be there next time and what’s a special treat that may not stick around for long.

I know these things aren’t important to everyone, and they in no way detract from the deliciousness of the food we had – it takes quality ingredients and a dedication to good cooking to produce a quality meal – but it is something that’s important to me.

db bistro and its sister restaurant lumiere live the birthplace of the 100-mile diet, where decades old restaurants like Bishop’s (and later Raincity Grill) started, grew up, and continue to flourish because of their commitment to local, sustainable products, and where our farmer’s markets regularly land in continental and international top 10 lists.

It’s pretty obvious that while Chefs Boulud and Istel are already doing a fantastic job, they could be doing much better on the local and sustainable front. And it’s a challenge I’m looking forward to seeing them rise to!

DB Bistro Moderne on Urbanspoon

A pinch of this a handful of that

When I first started taking cooking more seriously, I aimed straight for the Joy of Cooking.

After cooking many of the recipes therein, I’d gotten a bit more comfortable with the idea of cooking rather than assembling and picked up a copy of Jamie’s Dinners. It’s a beautiful book, full of outright food porn (and Oliver’s pretty easy on the eyes as well) and the message that one can just “throw a few things together” and end up with a delicious meal!

It is true that one can do that. And wonderful things occasionally come out the other end. But for those of us who knew only how to follow directions, but not how food works (read: me) the book results in much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments.

I will say now that Jamie Oliver’s recipes stack up as some of my favourites and this book holds such treasures as the first meal Neil ever cooked for me, a few go-to recipes for dinner parties and some handy tricks for packing tastier sandwiches.

But it took me quite a few spoiled dishes and a scrambled carbonara (confession: I still can’t temper eggs*) before I learned the cardinal rule of pretty much all cooking, and an essential element of success with this particular cookbook: TASTE EVERYTHING AS YOU GO!

When making food that you’re going to eat it would seem like common sense to focus on the taste of what you’re preparing. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. It’s easy to get distracted during the cooking process by remembering all the ingredients, trying to prepare them without slicing off pieces of one’s digits, not burning whatever’s on a heat source and trying to finish a few dishes all at the same time so the beans aren’t stone cold and the potatoes dried out because the meat’s still resting.

However, the recipes in Jamie’s Dinners ONLY WORK if you are tasting as you go. I learned that lesson the hard way, but I did finally learn it. I learned that a bit of lemon juice or zest brightens up a dish, tasting pasta while it’s cooking is much more reliable than timing it, a pinch of salt is a lot bigger than I’d thought and adding a little bit more than a little bit makes all the flavours sing. Also, there are no hard and fast rules about how much of any herb or spice you should add to a dish. It all depends on the volume and condition of the ingredients you’re using. If you taste it and like it and want more of that flavour, add a little more.

Suddenly, everything I cooked started turning out much, much better. Not only was I making tastier dishes, I was also salvaging dishes that were starting to go south by adjusting the ingredients and seasonings as I went.

Finally, thanks to the Joy of Cooking and Jamie’s Dinners, I’d become comfortable with what I was making, as well as the food-saving habit of tasting as I went. But I still didn’t really understand how ingredients work together to make dishes. That started to come together after I picked up The Improvisational Cook

(*by the by, if you’re interested in hearing more about how my continued lack of ability in combining uncooked eggs with hot food, check out my latest disaster on the Menus from an Orchard Table cook the book blog – coming up later this evening!)

The road to foodie-ism is paved with books

Ever since Karen’s Post on the meal that turned her into a foodist, I’ve been thinking about how I ended up going from a re-heater and assembler of things that come in boxes and cans to a competent, enthusiastic, and dare I say pretty good cook.

For me, a lover of processes and gleeful follower of directions, it all started with the acquisition of some key cookbooks.

While I’ve always been an enthusiastic consumer of great food it was never something I felt the need to investigate further. Good food just appeared on my plate, why question it when there is eating to do?

Unfortunately, when I moved out on my own to go to university, the food ceased to be as good. My complete disinterest in learning how to reproduce the food that had effortlessly (at least on my part) shown up on my plate finally caught up with me. After my millionth meal of Chunky Soup with Pillsbury Crescents (which alternated with a pre-packaged freezer section stir fry and pasta with a jar of sauce dumped on top) I’d had enough. I saved my pennies and invested in the tome my mother always referred to for all things culinary: The Joy of Cooking.

Cue Whole New World soundtrack, complete with flying carpets and cheeky monkeys.

Stupid things that had never occurred to me all started coming together. Broth doesn’t have to come out of a carton? Ranch dressing didn’t originate in a bottle? Doughnuts don’t have to come from Tim Horton’s? AMAZING!

I have no idea why these things didn’t ever occur to me. I grew up eating (even helping to make) homemade jams, preserves and pickles. Homemade bread was a regular occurrence. And there was always a TON of baking around. Again, I just never put much thought into it.

But once I started reading the Joy of Cooking, I started trying out a lot of the recipes. It did not go well at first.

The biggest piece of advice I can give to any aspiring cook is don’t be afraid to throw it away. You will make some entirely inedible things. And the more you practice, the less often that will happen.

After a year or so of using the Joy of Cooking as my kitchen companion I started getting more comfortable with ingredients. Mistakes were happening less and less often. The best part of The Joy of Cooking for me is the level of detail it goes into explaining the ingredients and processes. Not only do I learn how, I also learn why.

Any time I thought about a food I’d have normally bought pre-made, I instead roamed through the book, reading up on the origins of recipes, then trying them out for myself.

Eventually I figured I was ready for something a little less structured and more challenging. So moved onto my next critical cookbook acquisition: Jamie’s Dinners by Jamie Oliver, which I’ll pick up on in the next post…

(in the meantime, if you’re curious about what else I’m cooking up these days, check out CookTheBook.ca)

Restaurant Review – Chai

We were invited out to Chai for a friend’s birthday last night. It’s one of those places we’d never think to go on our own, and being dragged out by other people is one of my favourite ways to discover a new restaurant.

I always check out restaurant reviews and websites before I go for the first time so I have some idea what to expect. When I found reviews and eventually pricing on the website, I was ready to be indignant and annoyed and write a scathing review on this overpriced gimmick as soon as I got home.

Instead, I was pleasantly surprised!

For some inexplicable reason, health food or whole food or vegetarian/vegan restaurants seem to go hand-in-hand with questionably grungy atmospheres and service staff who have tripped the light fantastic a few too many times, and can’t focus long enough to bring the table some drinks, let alone process orders in a reasonable amount of time. Granted, sometimes that’s what you want, and if that’s the expectation you have, and you feel it’s a good value for your dollars, it doesn’t matter.

And my dollar:value equation stops far short of the $27 per person Chai charges for their buffet if it were the typical lacklustre space, spacy staff and limited selection of veggies and tofu.

Thankfully, Chai has kicked it up a few notches to balance out the value equation.

The space is stunning, and though I was skeptical when I read that it’s like you’ve been “whisked away to another land” it really is. It reminded me of a Berber camp. Or a Middle-Eastern place we went to in London. And though I doubt the decor is truly authentic to any specific culture, I didn’t feel like i was tied in any way to Kitsilano, or even Vancouver while we were there. It was obviously put together thoughtfully and deliberately, and it shows.

The buffet was also delicious. The restaurant boasts an Ayurvedic menu with all organic ingredients that are sourced locally wherever possible. The main buffet has fully a dozen different vegetarian, meat and fish curry-type dishes; there’s also a raw salad bar, and a delightful dessert buffet.

I think it’s especially hard to strike a good balance of value for price at ethnic buffets, where the cuisine is based on some of the least expensive food in the world. But by providing a great variety of dishes, not limiting the menu to vegetarian, including dessert, and serving it all in a lovely, unique atmosphere, Chai has managed.

if that wasn’t enough, they completely sealed the deal with the service. The staff were helpful, attentive, kept our plates cleared and drinks replenished, and were completely, genuinely friendly. We were free to eat, rest, lounge, eat some more, and just linger in each other’s company as long as we pleased. I know in the restaurant industry, the ability to turn tables is crucial to success. If Chai has managed to find a mix that allows them to complete the experience by letting us linger, I can’t find fault with that.

Oh, and there is a bellydancer!

So while Chai certainly isn’t cheap, it is one of those places where you get what you pay for, in a very good way.

Chai on Urbanspoon

Provenance

One of the most fun things about getting into cooking has been learning more about the food that goes into recipes. I’m not particularly interested in the different ways and things that can come together to make yet another condensed-soup casserole, but I love getting right down to the ingredients: how do I know this or that foodstuff is going to be the right one in any given recipe, and how does the quality of it affect the end result.

Now pair this with a husband who grew up on an organic farm and wants to get back to eating food that’s good for the body, the farmer and the planet, then shake it all up with the fact that there is a huge trend throughout the culinary world these days toward “sane eating” and getting back to the origins of ingredients.

What do you end up with? Provenance.

This series seems like it was tailor-made for us. I’m so excited that we’re going, and I hope I’ll see you there:

Tuesday, April 21
Join Anthony Nicalo for the official book launch of Provenance: a blueprint for the modern eater. Guests will learn to assess the sources for food they eat and will learn practical tips for buying clean, healthy food.

Monday, April 27
Special guests include Mike McDermid, Program Manager of Ocean Wise, and Chef Robert Clark of [C] Restaurant discussing the importance of understanding seafood’s impacts on our oceans. Guests will enjoy sustainable seafood hors d’oeuvres prepared by Chef Robert Clark and fish-friendly wines.

Tuesday May 5
Jason Pleym, founder of Two Rivers Specialty Meats will shed light on what is really going on in grocers and butcher shops, while guests taste naturally raised meats.

Wednesday May 20
Mark Bomford, the Program Coordinator for the Centre of Sustainable Food Systems at UBC Farm will share tips for buying and growing sustainable produce.

Tuesday May 26
Farmstead Wines founder Anthony Nicalo lifts the veil on wine marketing and connects guests to authentic wine and artisan farmers.

Saturday June 6 at UBC Farm
This special fundraiser features international food expert and author of In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan. Pollan will share his manifesto for eating. Guests who participate in the full series will receive a gourmet picnic lunch at UBC Farm.

And by the by, this ain’t no “blogger promo” post – I’m genuinely excited by this, and we’re paying the full shot. Support what you’re passionate about. I think it’s worth it.

Book Review: Food Matters

Are you reading the FoodTV.ca blogs? If you aren’t, and you like to cook and/or watch the food channel, you should be!

Not least of all because their shopping blog, Bazaar, does regular book giveaways. Of which I’ve won two. Because apparently not too many people are reading yet (since I’m certainly not naturally that lucky).

Anyhow, I was super excited to get my copy of Mark Bittman’s book Food Matters, and managed to read it in just a few hours. Mostly because I totally skimmed the first half.

The book’s content falls on an interesting line: the first half seems to be fully already preaching to the choir. If you haven’t already read The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, both by Michael Pollan, Bittman’s content in the narrative part of the book seems a bit thin. But if you have read either or both of those books (especially the latter), again the first half of Food Matters seems like unnecessary overkill.

Where this book really shines is in the latter parts, where Bittman gets into instructions and recipes for what he calls “Sane Eating” (or eating like food matters).

For those of us with whom Pollan’s books have resonated, but who are still floundering a bit with how exactly to eat mostly plants when so many of our meals have been meat-centric for so long, this book is pure gold. Bittman’s plan is to eat mostly vegan (though he has limited dairy, like cream in his coffee) until dinner, then whatever the hell he wants.

His recipes are also really elemental – breaking down ways to change up each recipe by changing the vegetables, starches, sauces, legumes, etc. depending on what’s local, in season and in your pantry. I’d be highly intimidated by most of these recipes if I were a novice cook, but as someone who’s just looking for new ways to put basic ingredients together to achieve a filling, nutritious and “sane” diet, this totally fits the bill.

Bittman’s been publishing a lot about his book and some of the recipes on his blog; check it out for a taste of what’s in the dead-tree version.

New Project!

It’s been in the works for a little while as I’ve been kicking at it when I’ve got some spare time, and I’m happy to say that my latest wee project, CooktheBook.ca is finally up and running!

Inspired by blogs like Alinea at Home and others who cook their way through entire cookbooks, I’m hoping this site will turn into a bit of a community for Canadian hobby chefs and home cooks who want to do the same.

Currenty I’m cooking my way through Menus from an Orchard Table, and my friend Jen is making all the recipes in Super Natural Cooking.

Stop on by and tell me what you think!

Restaurant Review: Raincity Grill

I know it’s a travesty for someone who considers herself not only a gourmand, but also passionate about eating local to have not yet managed to dine at Vancouver’s Raincity Grill. But until Saturday that was the case.

I’m pleased to say I’ve finally checked that particular dining milestone off my list, and it lived up to all my expectations!

Without really glancing at the rest of the menu, Neil and I went straight for the current 100-mile tasting menu – Winter Cellar. The fact that three of the wine pairings were from one of our all-time favourite local wineries, Venturi-Schulze, and that the third course was Sloping Hills Pork absolutely sealed the deal.

I was a bit apprehensive about how much I’d really enjoy dinner, since I’m honestly a bit tired of the endless soups and stews we’ve been eating for what seems like an eternity, so I was delighted to have a meal in which Peter Robertson & team turned the same tired ingredients we’ve been cooking with all winter into some exciting new dishes.

First Course: Baked Helmers Potato Consome: creme frache, chive, seig linda potato gnocchi. Wine: Venturi-Schulze Bianco di Collina

Second Course: Seared Baynes Sound Scallop: fricassee of north arm farms vegetables, vegetable paper, jus gras. Wine: Venturi-Schulze Schonburger

Third Course: Crisp Sloping Hills Pork: pemberton valley root vegetable pave, north arm farm beetroot, jus gras. Wine: Garry Oaks Pinot Gris

Fourth Course: Grilled Pemberton Meadows Flank Steak: yukon gold potato puree, mushroom ragout, braised onion, beef jus. Wine: Garry Oaks Zeta

Fifth Course: Apple Tart Tartin: roast apple ice cream, aggasiz honey caramel. Wine: Venturi-Schulze Brandenburg No.3

Dinner was delicious. The wine pairings, while not particularly remarkable or adventurous, were spot on. And the service, which is my make-it or break-it benchmark for all things fine-dining was outstanding.

We also happened to be dining during Earth Hour, where the restaurant turned off all their lights (save for one in the kitchen) and the dining room, restrooms and pass-through were all lit by candlelight alone. It was a delightful twist on the evening, and nice to see the restaurant participating (even though the rest of the Denman/Davie intersection seemed as lit-up as usual).

All in all, it was a fantastic evening.

When I think about my experiences dining in Vancouver, I always end by asking myself “Would I rather return here, or try something new?” When it comes to Raincity, I’ll definitely be back.

Raincity Grill on Urbanspoon

Plenty

Along with adjusting to the schedule and commute of my new job, I’ve been living the single life. Neil’s been gone for a week, and isn’t heading home for another few days. This has made it really easy to slip into some old, inefficient habits, especially in the kitchen. When I’m home alone, it’s almost all I can do to get up early enough to walk the dog and get myself put together to get on the bus and head to work, then get home, walk the dog again, get a few chores done, get things ready for the next day, and crash into bed. Then get up the next day and do it all over again.

Feeding myself well doesn’t end up very high on the priority list, and when I do need to eat I find I’m reaching for the old, easy, expensive standbys: Pizza. Take out. Fast Food. Toast. Okay, toast isn’t that expensive. But toast alone isn’t all that healthy either.

Before the great budget challenge of 2009, I wouldn’t have blinked about spending what I have this past week on food. But now, seeing the money I’ve spent on convenience and knowing the bounty I could’ve bought with the same amount of cash (or just the amount of cash I could’ve spent on other things) and not much more effort, it’s kindof disheartening.

It’s another reminder that this whole budget exercise is as much about state of mind as state of wallet.

I’m reminded of a quote from Alice Waters on a recent episode of the Splendid Table Podcast (on not wanting to waste the local produce she’s worked so hard to source & obtain): “We used to base most of our food decisions on ‘what do I want,’ now we start thinking about meals with ‘what do I have?'”

I’ve been operating in “what do I want” mode for the past week, basing my food decisions on fast and easy, rather than affordable and healthy.

Which is dumb. Because if I take three minutes to look through the fridge, freezer and pantry, I have: bread, wraps, eggs, rice, pasta, chili, soup, beans, frozen fruit, frozen veggies, etc. etc. etc.

I have a bounty of food available, if I’d take the time to look for a couple minutes and do a minimal amount of thinking and prep. And I’d probably feel a world better by feeding my body real food as opposed to fast food. Not to mention having some extra funds for things I really want, instead of blowing it on short-term instant but fleeting gratification.

If you made your next meal with what you have already instead of what you want, what would it be? And what are you waiting for?

12B

When our neighbours suggested we join them for a unique dining experience on a random Friday evening, we knew we were game. All we had to go on were a location, a price, and a sense of adventure. And it couldn’t have been more fun or delicious if we tried.

12B bills itself as a “unique restaurant concept” – I can’t think of a more perfect way to describe it. Diane at Global Peasant and Anne at Food & Tell do a great job of describing the experience and the atmosphere. I couldn’t agree more with their assessments.

The fact that two of our party were done in by the Pink Drinks concocted by our intrepid organizer Adam, or that we erupted into regular battle cries of “BACON SEX!” (neither of which phased our host one bit) was a refreshing change from the somewhat stuffy atmosphere at most places in the city one obtains food this good.

It’s an evening that promises to leave you with tantalized tastebuds, a satisfied belly and enough inside jokes to last you a long, long while.

But enough of the shenanigans, what on earth did we eat?

French onion soup
homemade veal stock, caramelized onions, 4 cheese blend

12B 013

Deconstructed Nicoise Salad
crab & goat cheese puck with quail eggs, cherry tomatoes, new potatoes, green beans, nicoise olives, garlic & shallot vinaigrette

12B 017

Sole wrapped Proscuitto
asparagus cream sauce, cucumber & cauliflower in mornay sauce, local spot prawn

12B 023

Star Anise rubbed Duck Breast
orange duck jus, wild rice red pepper pilaf, carrot celery julienne

12B 024

BBQ Beef Flank Steak
red wine balsamic demi, mashed potato, artichoke bottoms, seared mushrooms

12B 032

Chai Ice Cream, Homemade Shortbread, Poached Pink Lady Apple
chef’s mom’s cookie recipe, pomeau de normandy & port sauce

12B 035

More pictures of the food and the space on flickr.
———————–
12B – a unique dining experience
12breservations {at} gmail {dot} com
778.389.7295

Watermark at Kits Beach

Love it or loathe it, it’s Dine Out Vancouver time!

I fall somewhere in the middle of the love/loathe continuum. I somewhat loathe the slide service takes in some of my favourite places while they struggle to deal with the glut of bargain-seekers. But I do like it for trying out new restaurants, especially those that fully embrace Dine Out, and have orchestrated their service and offerings around making Dine Out a good experience.

An ideal candidate for that, for us, was Watermark at Kits Beach. I’ve heard far too many negative reviews to want to spend time and money there on their regular menu (fearing one of Colene’s Food Mulligan experiences). But when we were invited to join some friends there for Dine Out, I figured the $28 menu is a price I’m willing to pay to come to my own conclusions about the place.

And overall, it was pretty good.

The service was friendly and attentive. When we ordered our drinks (Hendrick’s Gin & Tonic with cucumber – my latest go-to cocktail) our server was honest in that he wasn’t sure he could get us the cucumber. We were okay with that, and it made it all the more impressive that when our drinks arrived, they did so complete with the requested garnish.

They also gave us the option of ordering from the regular menu if the Dine Out offerings weren’t our cup of tea, and didn’t balk when 3 of us ordered Dine Out, and one had a regular menu dish. I’ve found a lot of restaurants force Dine Out as an “all or nothing” option for the entire table.

Finally (literally), they didn’t boot us out after 90 minutes, as so many places attempt to do for the discount crowd. We lingered into the evening and still had to ask for our bill when we were ready to go (it wasn’t unceremoniously dumped on our table, glaring at us to just pay and leave already, geez).

And while all of that made the experience a nice one, and the food was fine, it was just that – fine.

It wasn’t outstanding, impressive, or memorable in any way. If not for the obvious lack of ditsy servers delivering less “service” than “facefull of cleavage” we could’ve been in any Earlstone’s Club in the city. It was “just nice.” And there are too many great restaurants in the city for me to spend my time and money on “just nice”.

I can say that if you’ve got people in from out of town, for whom the beach is an amazing sight, they appreciate a nice meal (but aren’t ultra-picky food critics) and it happens to be a sunny day where English Bay and the North Shore Mountains are all shiny and sparkly, then a seat by the window at Watermark would be a nice treat, and you probably (hopefully) won’t feel ripped off by what you pay for your meal, even though their is a bit of a “view tax.”

But if you’re looking for more than “just nice,” you might want to stop by Capers to grab some picnic fixins, park yourself on the beach in front of the restaurant, and give Watermark a miss.

Watermark on Urbanspoon

Tur-what-ken? TURDUCKEN!

Vegetarians, now is the time to look away. In fact, leave. Just go. Come back tomorrow, or perhaps the day after.

Well, you can’t say I didn’t warn you.

As we’ve been getting more and more comfortable in the kitchen, and more apt at flexing our culinary muscles, Neil and I have been looking for greater food and recipe challenges to undertake. One thing we don’t get to do very often are recipes that make enough food to feed small armies. They’re expensive, and require either a small army to feed, or being okay with wasting a HUGE amount of food (we are in possession of neither a small army nor any comfort with tossing out food).

But, by hosting Christmas Dinner for both our families, we had a great excuse to cook a giant meal, with the added bonus of feeding it to people very unlikely to sue if we gave them all food poisoning (we didn’t).

So we embarked upon that unholy abomination against barnyard fowl everywhere, scourge of the vegetarian and patron saint of the Church of John Madden: The Mighty Turducken!

(by the by, if you’d like to view the entire “making-of” photoset, it’s here)

After searching far and wide for a recipe that looked like it would be achievable and tasty, we finally settled on this one from The Black Table.

This particular recipe follows the standard Turkey-Duck-Chicken recipe, and uses three different stuffings between the layers, and a healthy dose of traditional Cajun seasoning.

It was certainly expensive (our butcher will sell them pre-made for $175 – we didn’t come in much below that, thanks mostly to using organic, free-range poultry and much bigger birds than they claim to), and somewhat time-consuming (the work has to be spread over two days – eating the same day would be nearly impossible).

But, for anyone who’s comfortable in the kitchen, it wasn’t actually all that difficult.

The hardest part was boning the birds.

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Luckily for us, my inlaws took a poultry boning workshop last year, and handily took care of removing the bones from the chicken, duck and turkey for us. Bonus: since the duck and chicken are on the inside, there isn’t a whole lot of worry about wrecking the skin. They were quite quick. The turkey was a bit more of a delicate job, and we left the drumsticks on so it still looked like a turkey, instead of a dimply loaf.

The other task for day 1 was making the stuffings. If you’ve never made a stuffing (aside from Stovetop, which was actually the 3rd stuffing used for this recipe) they’re awfully simple. Sautee aromatics (celery, onions) and any other vegetables or meats you may be using until cooked through and tender. Mix with breadcrumbs, add dried fruits and/or nuts if using. Pour on broth, stir together, bake. It’s that easy. As indicated by the recipe, we did a Sausage & Oyster stuffing, a Cornbread Pecan stuffing, and Stovetop.

Again, we were less worried about making the stuffings than we were about putting the whole thing together. We needen’t have been.

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Because the birds handily have no more bones, the assembly is quite a bit different than you might think. The typical description is “a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken” – but while the birds are indeed inside each other, there is no “stuffing” motion at all. It’s more of a big, meaty jellyroll.

This is also the part where a bunch of other hands come in very… well… handy.

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Coming at it from either side, you pull up the sides of the turkey until the meat is once again joined at the back. It all went really easily, we didn’t have to force it together at all, but we did need to hold it very securely (hence using many hands) while it was skewered down the back, then trussed up to hold it all together while it roasted.

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And roast it did, for five long hours. We kept it covered for the first couple hours, then took the foil off to crisp up the skin.

One thing we certainly weren’t expecting was the amount of drippings this creation put out! Six full cups of juices came out of the turducken over the course of cooking it. We had to siphon most of those off into a separate vessel at every basting, otherwise the roasting pan would’ve overflowed.

And it made The. Best. Gravy. I have ever had. Ever. Period. The End. I could just stop now. And I’m drooling. Literally.

The gravy alone is enough reason for me to make turducken again.

Also, the fact that it turned out to be really, really tasty. Even for leftovers. Which is good, because for the 14 of us for dinner, we managed to eat not quite half.

When you serve turducken, you slide a cross-section, like a big ol’ loaf (which it really is), so you can “taste the rainbow” with a portion of each of the meats and the stuffings.

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Most people only made it through half a slice.

Knowing what I know now, this is something I’ll absolutely attempt again. I would tweak a couple of the stuffing recipes (use half of the smoked oysters, and chop them rather than leave them whole, also dice the mushrooms for the cornbread stuffing, and nix the stovetop all together for a homemade basic bread stuffing).

I’ll also probably try it in smaller format. Perhaps a turkey breast and a duck breast and a couple chicken thighs with stuffings in-between. And wrap it all in bacon…. Ohhhh and here comes the drool again…

Cooking Resolutions

At The Kitchn, they’re asking about cooking resolutions for the new year.

Since cooking seems to be what we do most of these days (in fact, 5/6 of our Christmas gifts from other people were cooking-related), I thought I’d chime in with a few of my own kitchen-based resolutions (more like goals, these) for 2009:

-Make homemade mustard, at least once.
-Make pasta from scratch.
-Find a fool-proof recipe for the perfect soft-boiled egg (I once was so frustrated that I hurled my 3rd round of undercooked eggs off our balcony, and haven’t attempted them since).
-Find a bean recipe I love.
-Make a meat-free recipe at least once a month (though for me, using meat stock doesn’t count as meat!)

One other thing I’ve already made great headway on (though are still far from 100% converted) is eating more ethically raised meat and cutting out factory-farmed meats entirely.

We’ve done the easier part by only buying non-factory-farmed meat at home, but eating out is still a challenge. I saw a great approach to this on Slashfood, where Curt Ellis is dropping cards at restaurants that serve factory meat (after he finishes his vegetarian option there) to let them know that he, as a patron, cares where his meat comes from.

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I think it’d be great if he made a second card for restaurants where he is able to get non-factory meats, to say thanks, and let them know that it made a difference.