Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Want to wow with appies and desserts this holiday season? Don't be afraid to cheat at little....

Ah yes, Dec 1st- time to bust out my advent calendar, my Bing Crosby Christmas CD, my tacky tinsel mini tree and start my countdown to Christmas. I also love December because it is usually a party month, filled with lots of drinking and amazing food. Over the holidays, I usually attend a lot of parties where I’m asked to bring an appy or a dessert. I always TRY to pre-plan and bring something original and tasty, but since December is usually so busy- I end up rushing and slightly stressed- which means I end up bringing a veggie platter, crackers and cheese or cookies. Don’t get me wrong, these are usually crowd pleasers and standards at every party but I always wish I could kick it up a notch and really “wow” people with whatever I bring.
This year, I found an easy cheat for a “classier” appetizer with a healthy twist with a new product at one of my favourite grocery stores. PC has come out with convenient packs of “Vodka Beet Smoked Salmon ($6)” and “Smoked Wild Albacore Tuna($7).” I’ve sampled these and was wowed by the smoky, light, delicate flavours of these fish products. As a cheap, easy, healthy appy- I think I’ll pair these with either endive leaves or cucumber slives and light cream cheese, non fat plain yogurt, grainy dijon mustard and sliced green onion.
For desserts, I love to bake- cakes, cookies and squares usually go over pretty well, but I find myself longing to “class it up” and really wow people. Also, timing can I think this year it may be my year to cheat with cheesecake…PC has a tonne of dessert options out that would be sure to please a crowd at any holiday party. I’m a sucker for anything with a chocolate/mint flavour combo, so I’m a big fan of PC’s new Candy Cane Cheesecake ($7). The base is chocolate cake, the centre filling was cheesecake with a hint of peppermint, and the topping was chocolate ganache sprinkled with candy cane. Awesome flavour and awesome texture.
PC also has a new Red Velvet Cheesecake ($7) with yummy cream cheese icing and Dulce de Leche Individual size cheesecakes ($4 for 2). Another idea is to buy a plain NY cheesecake and make your own custom flavour by topping it with various fruit, nuts, chocolate, cookie crumble, or a fieldberry or lemon curd.
Show your friends and family how much you care. Take the easy route and cheat a little with easy dessert and appetizer solutions this holiday season;)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Jackie's Birthday @ Cedar Grove Restaurant in Lynn Valley

It was my youngest sister’s birthday, so obviously she got to pick the venue. She originally suggested a few places in her neighbourhood- but then threw a massive change-up and picked a new restaurant in Lynn Valley near our parent’s place. I don’t think of Lynn Valley as a culinary destination- there are only a handful of options and the selection is pretty limited. I was curious to try out this new kid on the block (part of the library mall area), but had pretty low expectations.
This restaurant opened in May 2010 and I think they are suffering a bit of an identity crisis. The décor and giant screen TV’s give the place a chain-restaurant/pub feel, and there are a few obligatory pub menu items…..but the food deserves a bit better. The menu is packed with delicious sounding dishes with a heavy European influence (venison ragu, red wine and thyme braised short ribs, steak frites, and pan- seared duck breast)- with pub/chain standard dishes that sound like they’ve got a special touch and quality ingredients (woodland mushroom pizza, lamb burger with gorgonzola, roasted beet salad.)

The birthday girl ordered the Larson Vegetarian Burger, a Hemp-hazelnut crusted carrot & cashew burger garnished with a tangy beetroot relish & crumbled goat cheese  ($10.95) with a side of roasted pumpkin soup. She was loving her meal and let me have a bite. This was made in-house and had an awesome crisp on the outside of the patty. The goat cheese and beet root relish were an awesome compliment and the flavours all blended together quite nicely. The pumpkin soup was really thick and creamy, with a subtle flavour.

Her girlfriend Ashley, went for The Karma Bowl with marinated tofu, simmered in a tomato curry sauce, over fragrant basmati rice, garnished w/ Raita & chutney, grilled naan bread ($15.95). Another satisfied customer! She loved this dish because it was fairly mild and she isn’t a big spice fan. I had a bite and found it tasty but pretty bland. If I’m having an Indian dish, I want big flavour and spice.

My mom had The Squealer, pulled pork simmered in our signature BBQ Sauce, then topped with crunchy coleslaw server in a kaiser($10.95) with a side of her favourite…Yam Fries. She was happy with her meal and liked that the coleslaw was on the bun and not too goopy. I had a little bite and it was tasty with a nice tangy sauce.

I must admit, I had a hard time dragging my fork away from my main to sample everyone else’s dishes because it was definitely the star of the table in my opinion. I had the Cashew Carrot Veggie Loaf with tamari-mushroom gravy, roasted fingerling potatoes and fresh seasonal vegetables  ($15.95). This plate was a dynamite blend of flavours and textures. The exterior of the loaf was crispy and slightly crunchy, and the inside was smooth and creamy with a rich flavour in every bite. The loaf was served with tender roast green beans, crimini mushrooms, and perfectly crisp and lightly-salted potatoes. A light, yet rich-tasting miso-mushroom gravy topped everything and brought all the flavours together. This tasted like the perfect “fall” meal and I loved every bite.

Our server was a lovely woman with an extremely thick French accent. She was attentive with re-fills, quick to answer any questions we had, and brought Jackie a complimentary birthday dessert- a vanilla berry mousse cake. I hope this place decides to step out of the safety of the pub/chain feel and establish itself as something the neighbourhood doesn’t have: a non-pretentious fine dining eatery with a low key classy atmosphere. Even if it doesn’t, I’ll still come back for that Cashew Carrot Loaf. YUM!

Cedar Grove Restaurant
(778) 340-3282             
North Vancouver
1255 Lynn Valley Road
North Vancouver District, BC

Friday, November 19, 2010

Beefy Beef Noodle

I met up with Eunice (the asian super director) for lunch last week and she wanted to hit up a restaurant with a name that makes me smile every time I drive by it (which is pretty often): Beefy Beef Noodle. Nestled in a mini-strip mall on the corner of King Edward and Main, the interior of this Taiwanese bubble tea/noodle joint is nice and clean, a fairly decent size, with surprisingly slick, modern décor.
We like to keep things pretty spicy and are big believers in “shares-ies” so we ordered a few items to split. The food came pretty quick and we were grateful because we were both pretty famished. In typical Eunice fashion, she ended up adding an additional dish to our order as the food started to arrive…not sure if she was extra hungry or if she saw someone else eating the salty peppery chicken and soup (another signature dish) and HAD to try it.
In the appetizer department, we ordered Deep-Fried Squid Tentacles (4.50). This was awesome.It was super crispy and a little chewy (which is kind of what you get with tentacles), but not rubbery. The crispy exterior had almost a granulated texture. Eunice was really pleased with the chewy texture, noting that with squid body- you want it to be really tender, but with tentacles- chewy is better.
From the dim sum portion of the menu, I had heard lots of good things about the Beef Pancake Roll (mainly that it rivals the BPR at Wang’s Noodle House in Marpole- which I love). Well, with that kind of positive buzz, we had to order the Five Spice Beef Pork wrapped in Chinese Pancake (5.50) and I’m sooo glad I did (except for the fact I’ve been craving it ever since!)The pancake itself has a nice crisp on the exterior and is slightly doughy on the inside. The beef inside is well-cooked and not overdone with a healthy blast of hoisin. This was great on its own, but for me, a healthy few dollops of garlic chilli sauce knocked this dish out of the park.
I went for their signature dish - Spicy Beef Noodle. This dish was beef brisket noodle in spicy soup (6.95). The broth was moderately spicy with a mellow, yet rich and savoury flavour. The beef was really tender and soft- although not crazy flavourful. This was a noodle-heavy bowl and they were all perfectly al-dente, nicely chewy, and loosely dispersed around the bowl. All-in-all, a pretty solid bowl of noodles.
Lastly, we dug into the Crispy Salty Peppery Chicken and Noodle in soup (6.95). Looking like an Asian version of popcorn chicken, it was served piping hot, extremely crispy and full of flavour. The chicken comes on a side plate with a bowl of chicken noodle soup. You can either eat the chicken on the side, or add it to the soup. Eunice went crazy for this broth- but I found it the flavour a bit weak. Overall, I preferred the spicy beef soup.
This place was fantastic. Cheap and cheerful, really clean, speedy service, with some real stand-out dishes!!!
(604) 568-6821  
Riley Park/Little Mountain
4063 Main Street
Vancouver, BC

Beefy Beef Noodle on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Goodbye Lunch: Panini Day!

It was the end of an era, my last day at the office where I’ve worked for the past 5 years. During my time with the company, I liked to try and bring everybody together for lunches. Panini day always seemed to create a buzz, bring everyone together, and everybody usually left with a smile and a full belly. So, I decided that for my last day, I would do one last Panini day with my sous-chef Aaron and finish my office legacy with a bang.
Panini day is pretty simple- usually it involves a big shop at Costco or Superstore for the basic ingredients.
We buy Panini foccacia buns, squirrely bread, two cheese options, roast turkey, salamis, pickles, olives, flavoured mustards and mayo, hot peppers, sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, hot sauces, fresh veggies, and marinated chopped mushrooms, peppers, zucchini, and eggplant in balsamic vinaigrette with oregano.
Once we set up all the gear, a side salad and a bowl of munchie mix (always a people pleaser) then we fired up three grills and let our 20+ hungry office mates dive in.
A Panini is a work of personal preference and you can take it many different ways. For me, I like to go thin with meat (love a sliced turkey or spicy salami) and cheese and heavy on condiments (dijon mustard, siracha sauce, and hot pepper rings. From my experience, the key to a good Panini is a marinated vegetable with olive oil component (sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, eggplant/zucchini in balsamic vinagrette) which A. keeps things crispy and B. seals the Panini together.
I wouldn’t take Panini building too seriously though, in fact, I’ve never heard anyone complain about a Panini (except for someone who cut the roof of their mouth on toasty bread.) Experiment  with deliciousness and explore some flavour combos!
Grilled sandwiches make for happy workers- and happy workers are productive workers. Be a Panini Pioneer and bring Panini Day to your office asap!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Kitsilano Veggie Night at The Naam

It was a very “Kitsilano” night. After a power flow yoga class at Semperviva, my dinner date and I walked west along 4th, debating where we would go for a bite to eat after all that backbending and downward dog-ing. We were looking for a place with lots of vegetarian options (dinner/yoga companion is a veg) and within minutes, we left the chilly fall night, and tucked into the warm and cozy exterior of The Naam. The Naam is a long-time standard in Kitsilano and is quite well known for its vegetarian and vegan fare, long hours, live music and always being busy. This veggie Vancouver legend is actually open 24/7 7 days a week!
I’ve been to The Naam before, and I remember it being tasty, but not mind-blowing. We started with a pot of Jamaican spice tea (4.50), since I was chilly from the blustery walk from yoga to the restaurant. I loved this tea- a warm, spicy, cuddle in a tea pot…it’s got hibiscus, cinnamon, cloves, rosehip, and orange peel.
My dinner date ordered the Crying Tiger Stirfry (10.95)- veggies, potatoes, and tofu, sauteed in a thai coconut curry sauce, served on a bed of rice. He was happy to order something that he would have to eat with chopsticks, since it would slow down his eating to match my epic slow eating. I’m getting a reputation. He seemed to enjoy it. I had a bite, and thought it was tasty and liked how packed it was with veggies. The sauce was nice. Overall, I felt like it was a pretty basic dish- tasty, but not too interesting.
The same was true for my meal- The El Topo Dragon Bowl (9.95).  “A fiery dragon bowl made of organic rice, chipotle chili, steamed veggies, salsa and cheese, topped with carrots, sprouts, and beets.”
The veggies were fresh and I enjoyed the mushy texture of the chili, rice, with the crisper texture of the carrots, sprouts, and especially the beets. I found the flavor a bit bland for me. Again, another basic dish that I felt I could make at home (with more flavour). It was filling and I ended up taking the leftovers home. The next day, I had the remains with grilled mushrooms and zuchinni and blended, canned chipotle peppers and a dollop of plain yogurt- and it was awesome….maybe even better than the night before.
Our server was great- laid back, attentive, and had plenty of recommendations for what to order next time….in particular the Shakti chocolate cake and Dutch Apple-Cranberry pie for dessert.
All in all, The Naam has a cool, laid-back atmosphere with chill-out live music and hearty, comfort food dished out in hearty portions. I was pretty underwhelmed by the flavours, but would go back to try the desserts, the brunch, and perhaps a dish with their miso gravy.
The Naam Restaurant
2724 West 4th Avenue, Vancouver, BC

Beefy Beef Noodle on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 1, 2010


If you’re a produce/market-loving nerd like me, this is the perfect fall afternoon. Visitors to Apple Fest can see over two hundred types of apples, watch cider making and tree grafting demonstrations, peruse the marketplace which offers candied apples, apple pie, apple cider and more, try your skills at the apple peeling contest, visit the Jonny Appleseed Orchard (for kids) and buy or taste 60 varieties of apples grown in British Columbia.
I went with Heather and Tacia on the Saturday afternoon for the Oct 16-17 weekend festival. The gorgeous weather made this an extremely busy event, but even though there were a few line-ups and sold out market products, it didn’t put a damper on our apple fest experience.
First up, we hit the marketplace area. I was having vivid memories of the out-of-this-world apple cider at the previous applefest and jumped into that line right away. It was just as awesome and fresh-tasting as I remembered. It was 1.50 or $2, and the equivalent of a warm, sweet, cinnamon hug in a glass. This cider was made from 100% Worrenburg Apple juice (straight out of Keremeos, BC).
Heather and Tacia both lined up for apple pie- and this was probably the biggest line up of the day- but, from experience, some things are worth waiting for. $4 a slice and served up by and efficient team of pie slicer and platers. They loved it and were generous enough to give me a couple of bites. The pastry was really light and flaky but look at this pie…it’s all about the sky-high apple filling. This pie is bursting at the seams with around 7 or 8 layers of delicately spiced apple slices with a light caramel taste. Crazy delicious! These pies were provided by Blackberry Hill, here’s a link to their dessert shop info http://www.vanmag.com/retailer/Blackberry_Hill_Farm
Then we wandered around taking in some of the displays and educational stations (Apple cider tutorial anyone?), and then hit the second marketplace area where apple trees, apple chips, fudge, more baked goods, and bags and bags of different varieties of apples were available for purchase.
I was overwhelmed at all of the apple selections…and needed some guidance. I didn’t want to just buy any old Spartan or McIntosh, I needed to try something new. So, I consulted a fantastic applefest volunteer and told her my two favourite kinds of apple (Fuji and Red Delicious). She deduced that my “apple-type” was crisp, sweet, and desert and recommended Yoko and Nicola dessert apples. I bought a bag of each and was really happy with both (she was my apple guru) but the Yoko's were particulary outstanding!