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OMG remember this dude?


My dad used to do this most excellent impression of the Swedish Chef. The only downside was that while he was doing it, he felt the need to squish my face into a million different weirder-looking faces and then laugh his ass off. SO unfun.

Speaking of parenting (if that's what you wanna call it), when I was growing up my mum used to make a big pot of stew on Sunday and keep it on the cold back porch all week long for meals. Yes, by Friday you'd be patently sick of stew (and I don't even know what patently means in that context) but it was a great way to make a lot out of very little, which is really the challenge of a well-lived life, if you think about it.

Mum's stews were always sans meat because she's a veg. But I am a blood-guzzling carnivore. I would eat you if I could get away with it. Raw. So I thought I'd try my hand at beef stew:

Beefy Stew

2lbs or so of stew beef (depending on how many people you are cooking for)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
glug of vegetable oil
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 potatoes, chopped
1 parsnip, chopped
1 turnip, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 cups beef stock
1 cup red wine (optional)
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs rosemary or thyme

Preheat a dutch oven over medium-high heat. Pat the beef chunks dry with a clean paper towel and season with salt and pepper.


Add the glug of oil to the bottom of the pot, enough to cover the entire bottom with a thin layer. Place one layer of beef chunks at a time to brown. Sear meat on all sides until it is entirely browned. Once meat is cooked, add half of the vegetables, beef stock and wine if using. Add the bay leaves and rosemary or thyme, and bring the pot to a simmer.


Continue cooking for about an hour until the meat is tender. Then add the remaining vegetables. Continue simmering for another 30 minutes. When finished, season to taste.


Totally heats you up on a cold day, from the inside out. And it makes a completely affordable week-long meal alongside bread or salad for cents a day (that is, if you happen to live by yourself. If you have a family it will be gone sooner). Yes, by the end of the week you do get kinda sick of it, but if that happens just freeze the rest and make something new!

Jessica

http://crasscuisine.blogspot.com/

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It is that time of year again, where you wish you were a kid again and the only stress about Christmas was trying to get to sleep the night before.  Like most people I have a list of people that I need to shop for and some of them are picky and a gift certificate to the movie theatres just doesn't cut.

The Circle Craft Market is back to help you find that special gift. There is a strong assortment of food, clothing, jewellery, and kid stuff made by crafty Canadians.    They have asked us to help promote the event, and we are giving away a pair of tickets to a lucky reader.  All you have to do is post a comment to this post saying what your favourite Christmas gift was/is.  The winner will be selected on November 6, 2011. (if you don't have a blogger profile, make sure you include your email in your comments)

If you are looking for stuff for the food lover, last year I purchased the most amazing balsamic vinegar and truffle salt from Maison Cote.  A perfect gift for yourself or a friend.


Circle Craft Christmas Market
November 9-13, 2011
Vancouver Convention Centre West
www.circlecraft.net - tickets available online.

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"Dip" is misleading. "Dip", at least the really good ones, should really be called "shove" because that's what you end up doing, although you'd be offended if anyone pointed it out to you. C'mon. You know you shove your cracker or your pita chip in there like you're proving a point or scoring the winning goal. Don't give yourself airs. But the word "dip" allows you to think you are dainty.

I'm in the mood for dips. Flavourful, healthy ones if possible. I'm not a big fan of eggplant, but I love baba ganoush. I thought about making it, but then I remembered this Greek meal I had once that started with smokey roasted eggplant dip that was delicious. So I did a little research and found what looked like a simple and authentic recipe:

Melitzanosalata
1 medium eggplant
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 clove crushed garlic
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400. Wash eggplant and place on a cookie sheet. Roast for 1 hour. Remove from oven and place in fridge for about 10 minutes. Remove the skin and stem and chop eggplant fine, almost to a paste. Place in bowl and add the oil, lemon, garlic, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly and mash eggplant to a pulp. Serve warm or cooled in the fridge.

Looks like a roasted boxing glove:



I love this. So tasty and so simple. As I said at the start of this blog, sometimes the best thing you can do to quality ingredients is almost nothing. Here was have not added much, and simply dry roasted to bring out the eggplant's natural flavour.

Why not make it a hat-trick and do roasted garlic alongside an olive tapenade for our dip-orgy?

Roasted Garlic
1 head garlic
extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400. Cut top off of garlic head so the tops of each clove are exposed. Place inside a piece of tin foil. Pour olive oil over the exposed cloves. Wrap the tin foil shut over top. Roast in the oven for about 1 hour, unwrap and serve.

Mixed Olive and Lemon Tapenade
1 garlic clove
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives
1/2 cup mixed olives, pitted
1/2 small roasted red bell pepper
4 large leaves fresh basil
1 tbsp freshly grated lemon zest
4 stems finely chopped Italian parsley
glugs of olive oil to taste
1 tsp balsamic vinegar

Roast red pepper in oven until soft, remove skin and place half in a food processor. Add olives, garlic, capers, basil, parsley, lemon zest, oil, vinegar to the processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Serve.



I had this little trifecta with toast and it was a perfect way to end the day. Sometimes you just want a light snack, you know?

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Back in the day, there was way less pressure on chain restaurants in North America. They were go-to joints for basics: steak and eggs, pancakes, burgers, stroganoff, nothing special but warm and hearty pub-ish food that's perfect for a lazy Thursday night. They had names like "Anna's" and "ABC Restaurants". Simple, straightforward.

Things have become a little more complicated. In most major cities, we want our chains to be high-quality, fast, creative, and delicious. Oh, and include dishes from other cultures that come next door to "authentic". Oh, and be well plated and well served in a creative, stylish environment with a good wine pairing. OH, and be reasonably priced. It's a pretty tall order: in order to make food that's appealing to the widest customer base, you have to be less specific, less daring. And the less specific you are, the greater the danger of being bland and boring and scoffed at. It's a culinary grey area/fine line/no-man's land that feels like a set-up that's destined to fail by trying to be too many things to too many people.

I was invited recently to the Earls preview of their fall/winter menu, and to be honest I wasn't sure what to expect. I actually quite like Earls, but I couldn't really picture how I was going to write an interesting article about their food. As far as I knew it was pretty basic. I must admit that I was totally wrong.

We had 5 courses of creative, considered food with high-quality ingredients and surprisingly interesting flavours. We started with a leek and potato soup, which I've made many times and so I know is not easy to make flavourful and unique. I would probably drink a gallon of this:


It's not for dieters. Cream and cream and some more cream for good measure. Chunks of pancetta, praise Jesus. But it's not like the kind of richness that some restaurants employ in their dishes to make up for lack of flavour. It's a meal in itself and I would order it with bread and be full for a whole afternoon. And I'm a complete pig.

The most interesting dish on the menu was the tuna poke nachos. When I heard the name I thought: gross. But again, wrong. It's a cut, fried wonton with tomato, cucumber, albacore tuna, mango, avocado, serrano with a maple reduction and mango coulis. This is the pub food component, a higher-end play on nachos that's pretty creative and craveable. Chain restaurants usually can't have that high of a spice profile, so I kind of wished this had a bit of a spicier, more citrusy finish but the maple/mango combo is flavourful and basic and a great complement to the tuna. Would go great with beer.




This being the West Coast, we love us our salmon salads. Earls needs to have one too and their approach is seasonal, fresh and unexpected: They pan-fry the filet in maple butter making it very tender and juicy. It's served on a bed of what looks like a Thanksgiving horn-o-plenty: greens, butternut squash cubes, pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, farro, goat cheese. An interesting use of unusual ingredients and a whole, healthful meal in and of itself. The fall flavours and textures compliment each other well. I inhaled it without taking a picture first, which is really all you need to know.

The home-run as far as I was concerned was the fourth course and that was the Yukon potato gnocchi with old-world San Marzano tomatoes and burrata cheese.




If I closed my eyes I would not have been able to tell that I wasn't in a boutique Italian restaurant paying $40 for my pasta rather than in a chain restaurant.

We finished with warm banana chocolate cake:




Caramelized bananas? Check. There's a whole lotta banana goin' on, and again it's specificity was what really impressed me.

We return to great places because they’re great, and Earls should really be no exception. I’ll for sure be back for that gnocchi.

This new Earls menu is available in all locations as of yesterday.

Jessica

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In this crazy Liz Lemon world that we have all succumbed to, it makes great sense that Mom's Grilled Cheese Truck, another new member of the local street food community, should weather the rain with aplomb.

Familiarity's the sort of stuff you seek out in the rain. Cindy Hamilton, nee "Mom," offers it by the tonnage. She runs the truck much like a neighbourhood diner, eager to learn your name and pleased to give the gift of gab. It's the sort of energy that can run for miles, which is great for a food truck specializing in grilled cheese sandwiches, since there's really only so much one can stretch melted cheese between sliced bread.

Of course, if you count the variations of cheese, bread and add-ons, the combinations can be endless: $5.50 gets you a classic sandwich, with your choice of cheese (cheddar, havarti, pepper jack, swiss, or $0.75 more for vegan daiya) and bread (white, multigrain, sourdough, marbled rye, or $0.75 more for gluten free), accompanied by potato chips and a pickle. Take it a step beyond for $0.50, with either onion, tomato or dill pickle, or for $1.50, with either double cheese, double smoked bacon or a splash of chili. Each is brushed with oil before grilling, weighted down on the flat top with a grill press, slightly charred but with a crisp that will last the walk back to the office on a rainy day.

Order the pepperjack with bacon on multigrain (pictured above), and Mom gushes about the combination. "Well, I've never even thought of that," she says. She says that a lot, to everyone.


Of the combos she has thought of, two go for $8.50 (again, with potato chips and a pickle). Try the meatloaf sandwich, not quite a grilled cheese but certainly friendly towards it: the meatloaf is well-seasoned with basil and fennel seed, with just enough melted mozza and parmesan, and a touch of marinara. It's amazingly balanced for what could have easily been a overwrought nightmare, a perfect example of how good comfort food can often be deceptively simple in the right hands. The sandwich divides and conquers: plan for an afternoon nap shortly after, or bring a person to share.

There are further sides (including a serviceable tomato soup with a dollop of basil mascarpone cream, $1 for a shot, $3.50 for a cup), of which I'd only recommend if you're skipping the sandwich. Of course, "Mom" may offer a sample while you're waiting in the rain for your order. You'd be wise to take it, fuel for a patient wait, while all the passers-by stop for a split second, stare, and mutter, "I want to go to there."

Joe.

Mom's Grilled Cheese Truck
Howe Street at W.Georgia Street, by the Vancouver Art Gallery
(as with all food trucks, note that locations may vary over time)

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Vancouver Slop was recently asked to partner up with the David Suzuki Foundation to help promote the Sea Choice sustainability program.  We strongly believe in sustainability here and felt that the Sea Choice program is something we are willing to stand behind.


There are more and more third party certification bodies being displayed on logos so it was difficult to really know which one we would align ourselves with.  What tilted the scale for the Sea Choice program was the credibility in the support behind it.  Backed by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, the Ecology Action Centre, Sierra Club of Canada, Living Oceans Society and the David Suzuki Foundation it  was clear that the program was credible.  Furthermore, the Sea Choice program works in collaboration with the Monteray Bay Aquarium which in my opinion is one of the leaders in the seafood sustainability world.   So, when the opportunity to hear more about the Sea Choice program and to be involved we were excited.

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Mention Noodle Box to any person remotely impassioned about food and you generally get a scoff. The chain - now with a second location in town after having expanded from Victoria - comes across only slightly better than a regional equivalent to a PF Chang's, offering what is assumed to be an offensive simulacrum of Asian fare in a city whose citizens know better.

But: we don't. It's easy to write Noodle Box off as a non-starter, as I often have, without even trying it. When pressed, most people I know that pan the chain have yet to set foot in it. And that ain't fair.

The primary issue with Noodle Box that comes to mind is one of authenticity. We hate it on principle - even if we've never tried it - because it isn't "authentic." As Todd Kliman recently put it in "The Problem with Authenticity," "authenticity is nothing more than a matter of the angle from which you choose to look. A purely arbitrary, purely subjective surmise of a purely impure thing." But it's still a hard issue to reconcile (witness the breadth of opinion on Bao Bei), particularly when, on their website, the Noodle Box owners give a testimonial about how they started the chain to offer the very foods they enjoyed in Southeast Asia, albeit with a "Canadian spin."

Their menu largely reflects that (the curry dishes specifically reference Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand) though with a more Pan-Asian bent (the stirfry dishes incorporate the usual Asian ingredients that have since found place in the Western vernacular: black bean sauce, peanut sauce, plum sauce, etc.). All of it finds its inspiration in Asian cuisine, though - for their sake and your's - none of what Noodle Box dishes should be treated as such.

Forget, for a minute, that pad thai exists, and try the Spicy Peanut Noodle Box (pictured above; $13 with chicken, but more on that later). The hearty serving, enough to feed two if pressed, is chock o'block full of peanut sauce, chopped peanuts, and other ingredients (fried shallots, bean sprouts, broccoli slices and other crunchy ones) that fight for its place in the bowl. On its own, the dish is acceptable, particularly if you are emphatic about peanuts and little else. But in comparison, Noodle Box's homage ('version' isn't quite the right word) is one-dimensional, without the complexity or depth that tamarind (or even ketchup) gives to the pad thai found around town, with but a lone lime wedge provided to give it any balance.


Try the same experiment with the Thai Green Curry ($11 with chicken and rice noodles). A bowl overflows with the same medley of bean sprouts, fried shallots, broccoli, etc., but served in a bowl filled one-third of the way with a green curry broth. The broth goes down easily with the first few spoons; by the end of the bowl, it is more properly described as somewhere in between a broth and a gravy, taking on more flavour from the mushrooms in the bowl than the absent lemongrass, a muddy taste that doesn't leave the mouth easily...no matter how hard one tries.

In other words, if you don't treat Noodle Box as offering Asian food, it's possible to eat there without being offput before you set foot in the door. Is it authentic? No, and it doesn't have to be.  Is it good? No, and that's the real problem.    

On an endnote, Noodle Box's website testimonial bears another flaw. "Darren BC" writes that "the Noodle Box is a great place to get filled up without emptying your wallet." The average dish costs anywhere from $10 to $15. Upgrade your protein to locally sourced? An extra $2 to $6. Skip on the carbs? An extra $3. Any other substitution or modification? $0.50. Split one dish into two boxes? $1. All in all, an average lunch at Noodle Box will likely cost around $15 to $20 per person (in comparison, a lunch entree at Hawksworth hovers in the low $20s), tax and tip in. 

Joe.

Noodle Box
839 Homer Street (at Robson)
Vancouver, BC
(604)734-1316

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Ah, peaches. I've been in love with them more than any other fruit ever since I first read James and the Giant Peach. I would lie on my bed and imagine eating my way through a giant peach just like James. As an adult, I pretty much have the same fantasy.

It's actually a great season for peaches right now, as they've all been picked in late summer and are coming into their own now. Of course, they are not as good in the grocery store as they would be in late August on the side of the road in the Okanagan, but we make do with what we have.

When I really love an ingredient, I like to make something sweet and something savory with it. Let's start with the savory:

Peach Tomato Salad

2 peaches, chopped into cubes
10-15 cherry tomatoes, quarters
5 large basil leaves, ripped
good glug extra virgin olive oil
small glug champagne vinegar

Mix all together and let marinate for 15 minutes. Serve.

This is a great side, goes great with a big beefy sandwich or something.


 

And now, for the sweet:

Ginger Peach Pie

FYI, you know my all-purpose crust that I used to use for fruit pies? I've replaced it with this flakier, tastier version that browns beautifully:

Crust:

2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into small chunks
3 tbsp cold vegetable shortening
1 egg
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Combine flour and salt. Rub in butter and shortening until mealy pieces are formed. Add egg and lemon juice, and moisten until mixture holds together with ice cold water. Divide in half and set aside. Now. Here is where most cookbooks will tell you that you should stick it in the fridge. I disagree. I find it much easier to use if I just knead it a few times, roll it out and lay it in the pie plate. Try a few versions and see what works best for you, you could find that leaving it in the fridge for 5 mins makes it less cracky, but I find room temp with the slight chill of the butter and shortening works well. If the dough gets too cold, it will split, and that is just beyond bullshit to try and roll out.

Roll out and place in bottom of pie pan. Set aside.

Filling:

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp peeled, minced fresh ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar (this should vary depending on how ripe and sweet your peaches are. Bite into one and sweeten to taste from there)
1/4 instant tapioca
6-7 large, ripe peaches

Combine lemon juice, ginger, cinnamon, sugar and tapioca in a large bowl. Cut peaches into chunks and add last. Mix thoroughly and set aside.

Preheat oven to 375. Pour filling into the pie pan and roll out the second ball of dough to make the lattice crust. I like to use a serrated pastry wheel make the edges all pretty, but a knife works just as well. Place lattice on pie, first one direction, then crossways, OR you can go super deluxe and weave your lattice. A great tutorial on how to do this can be found here. I personally love doing this as it looks so much harder than it actually is and makes people think you are really talented.

Crimp edges down around the perimeter of the pie pan and wash lattice crust top and edges with egg white. Generously sprinkle sugar on top of the egg, place in the oven and cook for 40-60 minutes, until golden brown and your house smells ridiculous.

I've made this particular pie three times now. Pie porn, y'all:





At first I thought tapioca was a shit thickening agent and fuck it, I was going back to use cornstarch. But it actually works like a hot damn. I would use it in pies you really want to have a thick consistency, like apple. If you don't mind it a little runnier, stick to cornstarch.

Remember this one-hit-wonder? It was a huge hit in the early '90s, here in North America. Proves we have a penchant for inane lyrics. I give you, "Peaches":




Just in case you believe everything you hear in the form of lyrics, moving to the country is no guarantee that you will eat a lot of peaches. I lived in the country for 10 years. No peaches. Not once, ever. What kind of shit is that?

Jessica

http://crasscuisine.blogspot.com/