Sunday, May 31, 2009

Brand Whore

I compose blog entries many times while I'm running in the mornings. For this one, I was all set and ready to write about how I tend not to care about brands - except when it comes to cooking. And then I started remembering my designer handbags, and my particularity about my brand of running shoe, and the little blue boxes much of my jewelery comes in, and how I literally drool over anything created by a specific designer. At which point I hung my head in shame and recognized myself for the brand whore I actually am.

So I guess it makes sense that this particular form of particularity extends into the brands I use in my kitchen. And I know I'm not the only one, there are many who swear that a certain by a certain brand of canned tomatoes. Others who require a specific brand of flour. As for me, I'm a firm believer in the "crap in, crap out" school of thought so I definitely try to use quality products. With the exception of wines - I know there's a school of thought about using high quality wines for cooking, but I just get sick to my stomach pouring out tasty stuff anywhere but my mouth so I stick with 2 buck chuck for all my cooking needs.

Right now, we are truly, madly, addicted to Trader Joe's garlic asiago bread. It is beyond excellent and I try to keep a loaf in the fridge or freezer at all times. It's terribly versatile and I've used it for breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. You can't even begin to imagine what it does to a turkey sandwich. Here are a few of my favorite uses for it, just to show the versatility. Our star players are of course, the Trader Joe's bread, Cento marinated artichoke hearts, and Arbequina olive oil from our favorite olivery (is that what you call a place that makes olive oil?) We Olive.

Garlic Asiago Strata
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • Trader Joe's Garlic Asiago Bread, sliced in 1/4 inch slices
  • 1 cup shredded asiago cheese
  1. Butter a 2 qt pyrex dish (I used a round one). In a separate bowl, mix eggs, milk, cream, salt, and pepper.
  2. Place slices of bread on bottom of pyrex dish, sprinkle with asiago cheese.
  3. Place another layer of bread, then cheese on top of base layer. Repeat one more time with bread, then cheese.
  4. Pour half of the egg mixture over the bread and cheese.
  5. Repeat with remaining bread and cheese. When you're out of bread and cheese, pour the remaining egg mixture over top. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  6. Preheat oven to 375. Bake strata for 45 minutes. Let sit for 15 minutes to cool.
  7. To serve, invert strata on large plate.

Artichoke Brushetta
  • Trader Joe's garlic asiago bread, sliced into 1 inch slices
  • 1 jar Cento marinated artichokes
  • 3 Tbsp parsley, chopped fine
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped fine
  • 1/4 cup Arbequina olive oil, plus extra for bread
  • 1/4 cup parmesean cheese
  1. Heat grill pan over medium high heat. Brush each side of sliced bread with olive oil and grill 2-3 minutes per side.
  2. Combine artichokes, parsley, garlic, olive oil, and parmesean in food processor and pulse until the ingredients are mixed together.
  3. Spoon artichoke mixture over bread and serve.

Saturday, May 30, 2009 You, Part 5

We returned to Kitsilano for our final morning to have what has been proclaimed as the best breakfast in Vancouver.

Sophie's Cosmic Cafe
is an eclectic, diner style restaurant where there is as much good stuff on the walls as there is on the menu. If the atmosphere alone isn't enough to sell you on the place, the food confirms their rightful position in the breakfast rankings.

I was uber-excited to see an iced Vietnamese coffee on the menu, so of course I started with that. If you're not in "the know" Vietnamese coffee is strong and dark, but served with condensed milk which is my favorite kind of sweetner...and perhaps the worst for you. I had often enjoyed the beverage hot, but never had it over ice before. And with the balmy spring weather a cold beverage was just what the doctor ordered. Thatboy ordered a regular ole coffee to go with his fresh squeezed oj.

Although the menu specifically proclaimed there would be "no special orders" Thatmom explained to our kind waitress that all she really wanted was eggs, toast, and fruit and miraculously the waitress made it happen...with a side salad thrown in. Because goodness knows there wouldn't have been enough food without it.

Thatboy, on the otherhand, decided that "when in Rome".... (his new favorite expression which he believes means to act as immorally as possible when traveling) he should order the lumberjack special with pancakes, bacon, eggs, sausage, and of course - CANADIAN bacon. (How embarrasing. I'm quite certain the waitstaff assumes he doesn't get fed at home. Which I like to emphasize by remarking loudly through out the meal "Better enjoy that, it's the only meal you're eating this week.")

To further drive home the point that we are gluttonous Americans, I ordered the Southwestern Benny - which quickly became the-best-breakfast-I-have-ever-eaten-in-my-entire-life. Seriously, I am already working on making this at home so I can eat it every weekend from now until enternity. I would eat it every day, but methinks it may not be the healthiest thing I've put into my body. And friends, I'm not even talking about the potatoes and beans (although I developed an unnatural affection for black beans and cornbread from my ETG days). I'm talking about the gorgeous mound in the middle there. Start with fresh, sweet, homemade cornbread as moist as cake. Top that with some fresh salsa and some fresh guacamole. Now put two perfectly poached eggs on top of that. Finish off with the lightest hollandaise you've tried, neither too lemony or eggy. Each bite was like tasting heaven on a fork.

I hope you liked those pictures, because they're going to have to carry you through the rest of the post. See, after Sophie's, we headed back to the good ole U.S. of A. We had the time to take the more scenic route, along the 1. We reached the border at Aldergrove/Lynden with plenty of time to spare since there wasn't a single other car at the border crossing. As I whipped out my camera to document this iconic moment, the battery flat out died. I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised since the "battery dead" light had been flashing at me since our dinner the first night. I looked at it as a Channukah miracle - that little battery lasted just long enough to document our trip, and not a moment longer.

So I have no pictures of cute little Lyndon, a dutchish looking middle America town that was completely closed on Sunday. FWIW, I don't feel like we missed out too much since each of us had visited Solvang which is much larger and open 7 days a week. I cannot show you the mother deer and two baby fawns that crossed directly in front of our car as we drove through a residential neighborhood in Bellingham. And you'll just have to believe me when I tell you about how beautiful and clear Lake Whatcom was on that morning as we drove around the lake and had a last picnic lunch in the park. I'm sure Thatboy has pictures of all of these sites on his camera (well - except the deer. He makes it a point not to take pictures WHILE he's driving. ) but he's not as quick as I am to upload, so I'm still waiting to see what shots he got.

All I can tell you is the drive back was scenic and leisurely, filled with charming towns, lakes, and animals. We had a fantastic trip and Thatmom already has me planning our next adventure!t

Friday, May 29, 2009 You, Part 4

We started off day 2 with a picnic in the room. Fresh coffee, cheese, bread and fruit. Then we headed out for our day of adventure! But first let me introduce you to these little guys:

If you're living under a rock, I should let you know, the 2010 Winter Olympics are being held in Vancouver and there are signs of the excitement everywhere! Including these adorable little mascots. Of course Thatniece and Thatnephew got a little something brought home for them. My favorite is that little black and white guy - Miga, the seabear. I don't know what a sea bear is, but SO CUTE!

Our first stop of the day was Grouse Mountain. I think I might have mentioned this before, but I am NOT NOT NOT a fan of heights or high places or swinging from a wire. So this next picture of how we got up the mountain is not mine. I was gripping Thatboy FAR too tightly to take a picture. Because I knew if I let go of him we would all go tumbling to our death. And Thatmom? She has similar feelings to me, so she kept her eyes closed the whole time.

Scary, right? But a necessary evil - because the only other way up the mountain was the "Grouse Grind" a near vertical 2 mile hike that is so strenuous that you get a t-shirt if you finish it. And so challenging that they actually have a television screen up at the top which gives you the times of people as they finish.

The mountain was still covered in snow, but was warm, sunny and gorgeous. We walked around enjoying the phenomenal view of Vancouver as we kept stripping off the layer after layer I had made us put on. I mean, I THOUGHT we were going to the top of a snow covered mountain. No one told me it was going to be warm up there!

Meet Grinder and Coola. They live on Grouse Mountain. As you can tell, they are bestest friends. Thatboy believes they may be something more - he informed me Grinder was a boy bear and Coola was a girl bear.
TG: How can you tell?
TB: The names, obviously.
TG: Grinder is a boy's name?
TB: Of course! You would never name a girl "Grinder." And Coola is obviously feminine.

Sometimes I find it easier not to argue with him.

Right around this time, Thatboy began explaining to me how difficult it is to take pictures in the snow blah blah blah reflection blah blah refraction blah.....I kinda tuned him out - you would too if you were surrounded by tree covered mountains.

We had to take the gondola back down - although I seriously considered rolling. Once we were on solid ground again we headed to our next destination. I planned this with Thatboy in mind exclusively, and I am SUCH a smart wife. He said it was the highlight of his entire trip. There are two suspension bridges in Vancouver. Capilano is higher and longer, but Lynn Canyon is over a raging river complete with waterfalls. AND it was free, unlike the big touristy one. So we were off to Lynn Canyon Park.

I planted myself squarely on one side of the bridge and waved my honey on. I'm no fool - that thing is held up with ROPES. Okay, fine, they're steel BUT STILL! And there were a lot of people crossing which made that thing suh-wing! If you squint real good you can see my brave warrior husband standing there in the middle. He was there for so long taking pictures, other people started asking to see the results - so in this shot he's showing some other tourists what he had just taken a picture of.

We stood for so long waiting for him, that Thatmom got brave. FAR braver than me. She got this determined look in her eyes and kinda marched right onto that bridge.

She didn't get too much farther than this though, because, as I noted - SUH-WING! After the bridge we headed to the outskirts of Vancouver so we could hit up some yarn shops for Thatmom. As long as we were out there, we thought we should grab some lunch - dim sum anyone?

Vancouver has the second largest Chinatown in North America and they are oh so proud of their Asian food. For us, we're lucky enough to be able to enjoy Vietnamese, Thai, Korean, Japanese, Cambodian, and other diverse Asian foods, but others are not so lucky. The best Chinese food is said to have migrated south to Richmond, but we didn't feel like making the drive, so we went with the best Vancouver has to offer, Sun Sui Wah.

There isn't any cart dim sum left in Vancouver according to Chowhound boards, so we were left just picking Thatboy and my favorites. We got the "whitest" dim sum you could possibly order, but we're okay with that because every dish was a winner. Thatmom had only been to dim sum once before and she's not as adventurous as the two of us, so we wanted tame. The food was excellent, and everyone had a different favorite.

After lunch we headed into Gastown, which is considered historic Vancouver. It is here the city began and the area is named after a fellow known as "Gassy Jack." If I were him I would have tried really hard to be known as "Just Jack."

The famous Gastown steam clock. It actually runs on steam and every 15 minutes "sings" for you! Thatboy got REALLY excited this week during the finale of Reaper because Sam and the Devil were standing right in front of this clock. I was in the kitchen fixing dinner when he started screaming "THEY'RE IN GASTOWN! THEY'RE IN GASTOWN! WE WERE JUST THERE." He's a very excitable boy.

We didn't stay in Gastown long, because we had a VERY important place to be.

See, my pre-trip research revealed that we were going to be in Vancouver during EAT Vancouver - a food and cooking festival held 2 blocks from our hotel in the BC Stadium! So of course we HAD to go!

We were greeted right off the bat with a goodie bag filled with chips, licorice, and clamato. Who knew how much Canadians liked clam in their tomato juice! We wandered up and down the aisles, tasting, drinking, and checking out local products. There were seminars on wines, cheeses, chocolates, demonstrations by Canadian celebrity chefs, and even this "iron chef type" competition.

After we'd eaten everything they had to offer, we headed over to Kitsilano for a little walking around before dinner. Kitsilano is akin to the villages in New York, or Hillcrest in San Diego. It has fun eclectic stores and great restaurants. Including Bishops.

Bishops is one of those fantastic restaurants that presents all local foods with gorgeous presentation and even better taste. John Bishop has several cookbooks emphasising fresh, seasonal foods and his dedication to this concept is clear from every aspect of the dining experience. This was everyone's favorite meal in Vancouver.

The restaurant is small, giving it an intimate feel. It was quite obvious that the primary clientele was locals as the owners popped from table to table catching up with them and sharing stories of vacations and travels.

Shortly after being sat we were brought out a beautiful amuse bouche of white bean and sausage cassoulet. This was so good, we were sold on the restaurant instantly. But more treats from the kitchen kept arriving.

Next up came the fresh cranberry cornbread and olive bread, served with fresh, local butter. Thatboy announced the butter was creamy and fantastic because of the salt crystals sprinkled atop. He devoured almost all of the olive bread, declaring it his favorite, while Thatmom and I were smitten by the cornbread.

Thatmom and I both ordered the grilled spotted shrimp which were easily each as big as a small lobster. The shrimp came with a sunroot hummus and fennel couscous. The hummus was the best I'd ever had and I guilty admit to eating it with a spoon. The shrimp were sweet and buttery and perfectly complimented by the sweet Ehrenfelser I had with it. I am beyond annoyed we don't seem to be able to get Ehrenfelser here in the states as Thatmom decided she liked it better than Reisling!

Thatboy ordered the venison which came with both a chop and a steak. I don't usually love venison because I find it a little tough and gamey, but this was perfectly tender and not a bit of game on it. The mashed potatoes that accompanied were more like a gorgeous potato foam that the meat floated upon.

And because it stays light in Vancouver till close to 9:30/10pm, we figured the best way to see Chinatown would be to attend the Night Market! One street in Chinatown is closed off and it becomes a night bazzar filled with all sorts of "crap!" If you've never been to a Chinatown before you'll be fascinated by the booths and booths selling t shirts, cell phone charms, toys, and knick knacks. It was hard to drag Thatboy away from the sparkles and shine. The food stalls were far more interesting looking, but we were just too full to sample anything.

And so the sun set on our second day in Vancouver. Stay tuned for our last morning!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009 You, Part 3

There is no rest for the wicked, and so when we disembarked from the ferry (do you disembark from something or do you simply disembark?) we walked through Yaletown and up Robson Street.

Robson is the shopping mecca of Vancouver and describes not just the street itself, but also the side streets that branch off and lead to high end stores and malls. Just a note for us non-Canadians....Sears on Robson is different than any other Sears I have ever seen. Think Saks. Think Bloomies.

In addition to shopping, Robson has another treat:

No, not the Salmon Village (although a great stop for all your salmon needs). That pink awning marks Vancouver's cupcake shop! The cupcakes here are so colorful and sweet looking with fun names and funner flavors. They come in three sizes: mini, normal, and HUGE.

As I've mentioned before, we usually get 2 cupcakes and split them, but since we had Thatmom to share with us, we got to try three different flavors! Obsession - chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting, Mint Condition - chocolate cake with mint buttercream frosting, and Red Velvet.

After shopping, it was time to head to Stanley Park. Are you tired yet? Well, don't worry. We don't have far to go! Stanley Park itself is GORGEOUS and I could have spent days just seeing all the park has to offer.

Biking, kayaking, hiking, the aquarium....Thatboy and I are already planning a trip back. Not only is the park beautiful with its lawns, trails, and canopy trees, but it also affords the best views of the city.

Since we were short on time, I knew we wouldn't be able to see everything Stanley Park had to offer. I made sure we got to see the totem poles. To paraphrase Thatdad, "Totem Poles! Growing right out in the open!"

The originals were built in the 1800s, although these are reconstructions. At the base of each there is a picture of the original. Thatboy noted that these are still called "Indian" totem poles instead of Native American (although I believe he said Native Canadian.....but I didn't want to break his heart and let him know that Canada is still part of North America.)

Wanting to stay in Stanley Park for most of my life, I had made reservations for dinner at The Fish House.

The Fish House specializes in British Columbia cusine, with the obvious emphasis being on the fresh local fish. The "fish list" changes daily and is prepared simply with lemon butter. It also includes an oceanwise symbol for dishes recommended by the aquarium as ocean friendly dishes. The wine list featured many local wines which were so wonderful we're saddened at being unable to get them here in the states!

If you know me, you know I don't really eat fish. Luckily this has never proven to be a problem for me, since most fish places have some nonfish on the menu. Like the steak frites in herb butter. I had actually been craving steak frites for a couple of weeks now. That's a weird thing to crave isn't it? This was the weakest of the three dishes. I'm not sure whether it was because there was a huge party that had come in right before us or because the nonfish dishes just aren't as good. Everyone else was pleased as punch with their meals, so I can recommend this place for all you fish eaters! I enjoyed my steak with a Peller Estates Merlot, which I really enjoyed.

Thatmom thoroughly enjoyed her wild sockeye salmon. They prepared it with the lemon butter on the side for her and served with fresh seasonal vegetables. Thatmom is a fan of sweet wines, the sweeter the better. Our fabulous waiter brought her over several to try before she selected the St. Hubertus Riesling. She loved this wine, and she's pretty picky about her rieslings.

The most adventurous out of our trio ordered the sticky chile sable fish. We had never even heard of sable fish which was described as a cross between a tuna and a trout. White like tuna, flakey like trout. Thatboy's dish was pan roasted local sablefish in a sweet soy & chili glaze with a crispy lemon risotto cake. I can't comment on the fish, although he was very pleased with it. I can, however tell you the lemon risotto cake was one of the most fabulous things I had ever put in my mouth. To drink, Thatboy chose the Oak Bay Pinot Meunier, which wouldn't have been my first choice of wines with fish, but Thatboy hardly ever drinks whites if he can get away with it.

After dinner we brought Thatmom back to the hotel before Thatboy and I headed down the street to the Lennox Pub for a drink. It's a very "locals" pub as evidenced by the good natured teasing the waitress gave us trying to pronounce the names of the beers. "You're not from around here, are you?" she asked. Then again, how would you pronounce Kokanee? There are no pictures because this is about the time of night when I started crying hysterically. I get like that a lot lately. It just comes over me. Spending the day with my mom and doing things we might have done with Thatdad hit me once I sat down for the night. Our poor waitress. Thatboy said she must have been so confused since our body language didn't indicate we were having a fight, and yet, there I sat bawling. We finished our pitcher and headed back to the room to call it a night.

Up next: Day 2 and our outdoor, death defying adventures!