Sunday, July 11, 2010

What better on a hot day that a Ginger Beer that is really beer?

It looks like today will be a hot one without the benefit of an evening shower. So what could be better to have to cool you down on a hot day than a ginger beer that is actually a ginger BEER and not just some sort of ginger flavored soda pop? I say, very little, which is why I am now a big fan of Crabbies Alcoholic Ginger Beer.

Now if all you have had is a ginger ale, like Canada Dry, Schweppes or whatever then you probably think that ginger beer and ginger ale are the same thing, a not-too-sweet soda pop with a faint flavor of ginger. Like most Canadians you only ever drink this when you are sick or as a mix with Rye. Well, I can say that a real ginger ale/beer actually tastes like, well, ginger. Crabbies takes it to the next level by not just making a ginger flavored beverage, but creating a drink that IS ginger beer.

According to their website they take "4 secret ingredients" and then steep them for 4 weeks with ginger brought from India to craft their brew. And I am here to say that it is darned tasty stuff. They suggest it as I have it pictured here, over ice with a wedge of lime. It is cool, nicey gingery without clubbing you over the head, and about 4% alcohol, so it has just enough kick to it to make it interesting. These are lovely on a hot day, so I am going to go and mow my lawn and then treat myself to a Crabbies.

I first discovered Crabbies at my local Sobey's Liquor Store. They were brought in as a trial, but flew off the shelves. The keep ordering more and they keep selling out, so hopefully they will prove to be popular enough to stick around. They sell as singles and cost about $3 per bottle.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The World's Best Salad

As most of my friends know, I like to eat. What I think that many of them do not know, is that I love a really well made salad. Now, I am not talking about a bag of mix from the store with a bottle of Kraft dressing and maybe a box of croutons if you're feelin' fancy. I am talking about a well made, fresh ingredients, interesting flavors and textures, damn tasty salad. This evening, I made what I think is a really damned fine salad and thought I would share the recipe.

I would love to take credit for coming up with this, but I can't. It belongs to Chef Christine Cushing. About 8 years ago, she gave a cooking demonstration at the summer fair here in Edmonton (back when it was Klondike Days) and made this salad and gave everyone a taste. It is an awesome salad. There is some work that needs to go into it, including using your oven, but the meal is absolutely worth the effort.

Salad Ingredients
1/2 lb. (250 grams) cipollini or pearl onions peeled
2 TBSP (25 ml) olive oil
1 pint (500 ml) grape or cherry tomatoes
1 bunch of fresh baby spinach (3oz/75 grams. I find 1 box of spinach leaves from the produce cooler works great)
1 small head romaine lettuce (again, a box of baby romaine saves time and effort, portion is great)
1 cup (250 ml) Fresh basil leaves
salt & pepper to taste

Tamari-Glazed Walnuts
1TBSP (15 ml) fennel seeds
1/2 tsp (2 ml) anise seeds
1/4 tsp (1 ml) ground black pepper
1/4 cup (60 ml) tamari (or other really good quality soy sauce)
2 TBSP (25 ml) corn syrup
1 cup (250 ml) walnut halves

1/3 cup (75 ml) extra virgin olive oil
2 TBSP (25 ml) sherry vinegar
1 tsp (2 ml) Worcestershire sauce
3/4 tsp (4 ml) grainy mustard
1/2 tsp (2 ml) honey
1/4 tsp lemon zest (2 ml)
pinch of dried oregano
salt & pepper to taste

Roast veggies -
  1. Preheat oven to 400 Fahrenheit
  2. In a medium bowl toss onions with 1 TBSP of olive oil and season with salt & pepper. Transfer to a baking sheet.Bake in oven for 10 minutes.
  3. In same bowl (why dirty another?) toss tomatoes with 1 TBSP olive oil.
  4. Add tomatoes to onion pan keeping them from touching (you can use 2 pans if you prefer and like doing dishes) and bake for an additional 15 minutes until onions are browning and tomatoes have split open.
  5. Remove from oven and cool.
  6. When cool, cut onions into quarters and set both aside till later
Make nuts -
  1. Turn oven down to 350 Fahrenheit.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Roast the fennel and anise seeds. I find a couple of minutes in a small fry pan over medium high heat works. You'll know as they release their aromas more.
  4. Grind or crush the fennel and anise seeds with the pepper into a powder (I use an old coffee grinder to do this, but don't use it for coffee again if you do. A mortar and pestle would also work.) Set aside.
  5. In a bowl mix the tamari and the corn syrup.
  6. Stir in 1/2 the spice mixture.
  7. Add the walnuts and toss to coat with the glaze.
  8. Spread the coated walnuts on the parchment paper-covered sheet.
  9. Bake on top rack for 35 minutes or until glaze is almost dry, but not burned.
  10. Remove the walnuts and dust with the remaining spice mixture..
  11. Let cool completely and break nuts into pieces.
Make dressing -
  1. In a bowl add the oil, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, honey, lemon zest, oregano, salt and pepper
  2. Whisk together until they emulsify.
  3. Adjust seasoning if needed (add more salt, pepper, oregano, etc)
Make salad -
  1. In large bowl combine the spinach, romaine and basil leaves. (Break/tear the leaves into small, bite-sized pieces if they are large)
  2. Add the tomatoes and onions.
  3. Toss with the dressing.
  4. Add the walnuts and serve.
I suggest serving this with some nice crusty bread and a good white wine (we had a Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc which we love). It may look like a lot of effort for a "mere salad", but trust me, this salad is absolutely worth the effort. Plus, if you know some vegetarians or vegans, this salad even works for them.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Movie Review: The A-Team. Turn off your brain and enjoy

The A-Team. Starring Liam Neeson as Hannibal, Bradley Cooper as Face, Sharlto Copley as Murdock and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson as B.A. Oh yeah, Jessica Biel, Patrick Wilson and others are in it too.

I just got back from The A-Team and I have to say, I really enjoyed myself. Now, don't get me wrong, this is a DUMB movie. This is not an academy award contender. This is not going to be the highlight of these actor's careers (well, maybe Rampage), but this is a whole lot of fun. Non-spoiler summation: If you want an enjoyable "popcorn" movie, go see The A-Team. Now I will go into a little more detail on the film and my thoughts. Again, I will try to avoid any important spoilers, but read the rest at your own risk.

The "plot" of the movie is that 4 Army Rangers band together to right a wrong. There. That's the plot. Sure, there is a little more meat to the movie, but that is what you really need to know about the story. Yes, there are details about how they all meet, who done them wrong, how they right said wrong and so forth, but really they are all rather superfluous to enjoying the film. If, like me, you were alive in the 80's you know what the A-Team was/is, even if you didn't enjoy it back then and it is still pretty much the same this time around. There is an older, white haired leader, a handsome con-artist, a crazy pilot and a huge bruiser with an odd haircut. The actors are different from the 80's, but the characters are basically the same. Everyone in the film does a pretty good job with their roles with 2 stand outs. One is Sharlto Copley. You may (and should) have seen him in District 9 as the nebbish Wikus who gets turned into an alien. He has the funnest of all the characters as the certifiable Murdock. He has the funniest lines and the least "drama" to his character. As this is only his second exposure to North American audiences, I think folks will like him. The other is Quinton Jackson. For those of you who do not know him, he is known as "Rampage" and is a Mixed Martial Arts fighter in the UFC. This is his first acting gig and I think he does a fine job. This role was initially done by Mr. T, who came from a background as a bouncer and fighter to become who he is today. I think Rampage could do the same thing if he chooses to stop pounding on people. The writers even throw him a little existential angst to show he is more than just 2 fists, and he handles it well.

So why is this movie dumb? Well, without spoiling anything and assuming you have seen the trailer or TV commercial, they fly a tank. Yes, fly a tank. And this is not the most unbelievable part of the movie. But you should NOT go into this thinking "Oh that could never happen" or "guns don't work that way" or "they'd never actually survive that" or whatever. That isn't the point. The point of this film is for the actors to have fun with the audience while you sit back in your seat, munch a fistful of popcorn and laugh at the screen and cheer for the good guys. And I think it does a pretty fine job of it. I recommend you see The A_Team, I just recommend you turn off your brain once the theater lights start to dim.

Friday, June 18, 2010

On Beer: #3 Twisted Thistle IPA

While not yet "hot and sunny", the weather has turned warmer and the sun is trying to break through the clouds. Perfect day to, put down Red Dead Redemption, get a little housework done followed by something cool to drink. Can anyone tell my wife helped me with today's plans? Anyways, after vacuuming, tidying and all the good stuff I should have been doing all week (never do today what you can put off till tomorrow I always say), I chose to refresh my self with a new IPA I haven't tried before Twisted Thistle IPA.

For those of you who do not know what an IPA is, it stands for India Pale Ale. The origin of the name, obviously, has to do with India, but I used to think this was because they were made, at least initially, in India. The truth is they gained this name as the beer was brewed in England and fermented (or at least benefited greatly) from the long sea voyage between England and India. Coupled with the fact this is a hoppy, pale colored ale beer, that was where the name came from. Enough of this education, how was the beer?

Overall - Made doing the housework worthwhile.
Look - A slightly cloudy, orange color with a nice clean white head. A bit darker than most IPAs with some floaties, but don't be put off.
Aroma - Plenty of hops and a citrus aroma.
Taste - Some hints of caramel and bread from the malt, but nicely dominated by a strong hoppiness. Finishes well.
Purchase - Sold as single bottles in larger liquor stores. Cost about $4 per bottle. Smaller brewery may make them scarce.

Summation - Very tasty and one of the best IPAs I've had in some time.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Devastation Double Bill - The Road and Book of Eli reviews

I love a good "end of the world" movie. Whether it is a zombie apocalypse, nuclear war, plague, George W Bush Presidency (admit it, we came pretty close), etc I love them all. It doesn't matter to me if they are reasonably sensible like The Day After TV mini-series, inventive like 28 Days Later or flat out hokum such as The Core, I usually watch them with my brain turned off waiting to see how humanity will survive. So when I saw that both The Road and The Book of Eli were available on Blu-Ray, I snatched them up and had a mini-endoftheworldathon. Here is what I thought of each picture. As always, I'll try to avoid spoilers, but reader beware.

The Road.
Starring Viggo Mortensen, Kody Smit-McFee, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce and Robert Duval. Directed by John Hillcoat. I have told friends before that the book The Road, written by Cormac McCarthy, is possibly my favorite book of the past decade. It was a devastatingly bleak novel and, overall, the movie stays pretty faithful to the novel.

This is NOT a happy disaster movie. This is not one where Bruce Willis saves us all by blowing himself and the asteroid up. It is a very bleak look at what life might be like about a dozen years after (what we assume is) a world war. Things are extremely bleak. Food is short, water is poison and needs to be boiled, many people have resorted to cannibalism to survive, etc. Things look hopeless.

Through this world walks "The Man" (played by Viggo) and "The Boy" (Smit-McPhee). The Man is taking his son down the road to reach the ocean in the hopes that things will be better. Along the way they meet the good and the bad, played by folks like Duval, Pearce and more. We also learn why the Man and Boy are alone and what happened to, I guess, The Mom (played by Theron in a role much larger than in the novel). The movie stays otherwise true to the novel with encounters and happenings as written by the author.

This is a good film, despite how drained it leaves you at the end of the film. Mortensen is, as usual, very good as the Man who's entire world is keeping his son alive. Smit-McPhee is innocent and someone you want to take care of yourself. And, as I said, the world is chaos. Fires rage, cannibals hunt, earthquakes knock over dead forests, and through all this, The Man and The Boy travel down The Road. Definitely worth seeing as long as you can stand the path is. If you are looking for something in a slightly lighter vein there is always...

The Book of Eli
Starring Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson and Jennifer Beals. Directed by The Hughes Brothers. Now, I say this is "slightly lighter" than the Road, but don't think that makes this much easier. Whereas The Road is a story of survival, The Book of Eli is the story of a man on a Mission.

Washington plays Eli, a combination preacher and warrior monk who is on a road of his own. Eli has the titular Book in his possession and he has been told by an internal voice (maybe God?) that he has to take it West. As he walks down the road he shows off his lightning fast, brutal survival skills against a biker gang intent on robbing him. This is not some gentle traveller, this is a defender of his task.

Eventually, Eli arrives in a town ran by Carnegie, played by the always impressive Gary Oldman. Carnegie and his right hand man Redridge (Stevenson) have been on the look out for the Book, using roving gangs to rob and murder other travellers seeking it. Also in town is the attractive (and far too naive for the circumstances) water girl played by Kunis and her blind mom played by Beals. As you can expect, Carnegie wants the book, Eli doesn't want to give it up, Kunis is drawn to the mysterious stranger and leaves town with him, gunfights, heads do roll, battle for the book and a rather nifty outcome.

I liked this more than I expected to. Rotten Tomatoes only rated this at 47%, but I would rate it closer to around 75%. The general story was straight forward and sensible. Washington and Oldman are two of the finest actors in the business today and do a good job here. Kunis is, as I mentioned, too naive but is good in her role. There are also a number of cameos from folks like Michael Gambon, Tom Waits and Malcolm McDowell. There are also nice details to post-apocalyptic life and a few shout outs to other "disaster movies" like the poster hanging on the wall of Eli's room for A Boy and His Dog. This is a pretty fun movie that I'd like to say more about, but there are some pretty important spoilers here that you should see for yourself.

Overall, I recommend both movies. As film, I think The Road is a better movie and it is certainly bleaker, but both provide enjoyable viewing and make me happy that the end of the world hasn't happened around here. Yet.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Indulgence: Think of it as a quality 20 course dinner with unlimited wine for 50 dollars

Monday night my wife and I attended Indulgence 2010 at the Delta South Hotel. Indulgence is a dining experience put on by Slow Food Edmonton who partner innovative local chefs with local farms, ranches and producers to create some excellent items. These items are paired with Canadian wineries (and one beer brewery) to create an awesome dining experience.

After you have checked in and been given your guidebook and biodegradable plastic fork (yes, concern for the environment was also considered), and picked up your wine glass (which you reused, but water was provided to clean the glass at each station), you entered a large ballroom with 20 different stations, each with a food item and winery partner. You move from station to station, trying the food and sampling the wine, talking with the chefs, ranchers, wine experts and then move on to the next station. There was also a silent auction and raffle with money raised going to The Junior League of Edmonton which is an organization of women committed to promoting volunteerism and community improvement (although I think it would also make the name for a kick-ass group of superhero midgets, but I digress).

I have broken up the 20 items into 4 tiers with the top tier being best and tier 4 being the least enjoyable (but still pretty darned good). I won't really go into the drink much as I want to concentrate on the food that was offered. And finally, at the bottom, is my choice for what I thought was the best item available. (Please forgive my pictures, I missed a few but did the best a low quality camera used by a man full of wine in a crowded ballroom could do). Keep in mind the ranches, merchants, etc named in the food below are all local merchants and can usually be found at local Farmer's Markets or nearby. Keep an eye out for them.

Tier 1

Bison brisket slow cooked in a balsamic Barbecue sauce served on a biscuit with horseradish-spiced marinated onions. This was from the chefs from Culina. The onions complimented the brisket wonderfully and the biscuit was small and light.

Braised Irving's Farm Fresh Bacon with a confit of Granny Smith apple, peach and sour cherry bacon jam garnished with taro root frittes. Made by the chefs from LUX Steakhouse. I have raved in a previous blog about Irving's Farm bacon. This was thick cut belly bacon, done until fork tender with the fruit jam accenting the delicious bacon-ness.

Cranberry basil Highwood Crossing organic oats oatmeal cookie served with a lime tequila aioli. From the Blue Chair Cafe. Totally unexpected treat. A simple (but tasty) cookie elevated with an amazing aioli. This station was also paired with Edmonton's Alley Cat Brewery and offered 4 different beer selections, making it stand out amongst the wineries.

Green Eggs and Ham duck egg quiche with heritage greens pesto and duck ham. From Moriarty's Bistro. This was a light, airy quiche topped with their farm greens as a pesto and a slice of duck ham (they call dam). Truly greens, eggs and ham.

Greens with blueberries, red onion, pumpkin and hemp seeds tossed in Lola Canola honey poppy seed chili vinaigrette. From Skinny Legs & Cowgirls. A seemingly simple salad that was elevated by fresh blueberries and an amazing dressing lightly used.

Pulled Berkshire pork chili with a blueberry buttermilk cake and a salt-roasted shallot and smoked cheddar cream. From Tzin Wine & Tapas. Pork again provided by those smart people at Irving's Farm Fresh, this time as a delicious chili packed with flavor and mild heat that was deliciously off-set by the cream on top.

Tier 2

Waskwei Creek White Tail Venison smokie with blueberry relish. From 4404 Restaurant (Delta Edmonton South Hotel). A deliciously little "hot dog" smokie with a ton of flavor that went well with the blueberry relish.

Paddle River Elk tenderloin wrapped in boar bacon with chocolate jus, chokecherry glaze, and an Alberta wild rice crisp. From Creations Dining Room in the Sawridge Hotel. The very tender meat served on a crispy rice cake was certainly delicious, but maybe a bit too much going on to let the product stand out.

Mona Foods wild mushroom stuffed aranchini with house made rustic tomato cream sauce and porchini oil. From Lit Italian Wine Bar. The better "mushroom" dish at the event with a lovely earthy aranchini on a robust tomoato sauce. (Sorry, no picture for this one.)

Hickory-smoked Carmen Creek bison strip loin with a canterelle and beefsteak mushroom ragout, watercress and potato creme. From the L2 Grill in the Fantasyland Hotel. A mini "steak and mushrooms" with potato all playfully done. Not too much going on allowing the bison to come through.

Four Whistle Farms lamb meatballs and pulled lamb shank with a white balsamic mint glaze on asparagus and sweet pea couscous. From Madison's Grill in the Union Bank Inn. Lovely lamb flavor in the meatball overshadowed the shank and the mint glaze was lost under the delicious sauce.

Cranberry and honey mustard-rubbed braised Nature's Green Acres nouveau beef brisket topped with Gouda, garnished with sauerkraut and carmalized onions on an organic spelt sourdough slider. From The Manor Casual Bistro. A very tasty little slider/burger with a slightly too large bun. This was almost beyond a single portion and I saw many 1/2 eaten left on plates as it was just too much. Still, the taste was excellent with all the toppings serving to accentuate the beef.

Salad of arugula, roasted beets. shaved Sylvan Star Gouda, candied walnuts with pear vinaigrette and Gouda-walnut biscotti. From Red Ox Inn. The second best salad at the event. The gouda did come through well, but the biscotti seemed tacked on and the candied walnuts overshadowed the salad.

Hog Wild wild boar tourtiere, confit rhubarb salad, asparagus, sauce Soubise and wild boar jus. From the Shaw Conference Center. Very tasty "pork pie" served on onion sauce (soubise) with rhubarb tartness contrast in teh sauce. I didn't see any asparagus though.

Tier 3

Barbecued Spring Creek Ranch brisket on corn bread. From d'lish urban kitchen. The brisket was very tender, but the cornbread was dry and one note. It was also an especially small portion, which seemed odd amongst the other generous portions.

O Sol' Meatos air-dried charcuterie and soft sheep's cheese with house made walnut pecorino crackers served with cherry tomato/shallot confit. From 4th and Vine Wine Bar and Bistro. 3 variations of charcuterie (dried meats) were nice, but greatly overshadowed by the other offerings. I would have loved to try these as my first station, but they ere about 16th and were lost amongst the rest. (Sorry, no picture for this one).

Inspired Market Gardens lavender gelato. From Leva Cappuccino Bar. A simple lavender gelato sprinkled with fresh lavender. Nice, but the fresh blossoms overpowered the subtle lavender flavor of the gelato below. Still, cool and lovely.

Tier 4

Spice-crust roasted Belle Valley Alpaca with Yorkshire pudding souffle and shiraz pan jus. From Cafe de Ville. While the alpaca had lovely flavor, by the time we reached this station, the pudding was cold and solid with the "crisp" on top being anything but. I think they also ran out of the pan jus, which left this quite dry.

Broth of Mo Na mushrooms with duxelles garlic green crostini. From Jack's Grill. Mushrooms, mushrooms, mushrooms. I love mushrooms, but the broth was an earthy one note and the crostini needed mroe than the garlic greens to make it stand out. All too similar with no contrast. (Sorry, no picture for this one).

Sunworks chicken roulade with wild mushrooms, pistachios and apricots on a fresh corn waffle with cranberry and apple relish. From the Nait School of Hospitality and Culinary Arts. Very dry with a none-too-fresh corn waffle. Taste was nice, but not really designed well as should have been made to order which for time reasons didn't work in this venue.

So, what was my favorite dish of the night? Obviously it is going to be one from what I labled as the Tier 1 items. Is it the cookie, the quiche, the brisket on a biscuit, the salad, the bacon or the chili? I know my friends would automatically say "Priestly will choose the bacon" and you are almost correct. It is my #2 most favorite, but the #1 choice is the Green Eggs and Ham Quiche!I was amazed that they could make duck eggs, something I normally think of as quite dense, into something so light and airy. Plus the fact that Green Eggs & Ham supplied not only the duck eggs, but the greens for the pesto and the Dam (duck ham, just remember Dam, that's good) made the whole dish come together.

Overall an awesome night. A few minor quibbles about the lack of space to stand around, put down your plate and maneuver through the crowds , but otherwise an awesome night. This is an annual event with tickets (this year) costing only $50. This is among the most fun dining experiences I have had this year and will definitely be going back next year. Hopefully next time with a big crowd of friends.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

On Beer: #2 VB Victoria Bitter

Victoria Bitter

When we were in Australia in the fall of 2008, we saw this beer EVERYWHERE. Whether you call it "Veeb" or "VeeBee", this is Victoria Bitter and is one of the most popular, prevalent beers in Australia (or at least the parts we visited). We tried a LOT of Aussie Beers while we were down there (Coopers, Boags, Bluetongue, etc), but this was the basic, ever present beer that seemed to keep popping up.

Looking back on this with a non "Wow, we're in Australia!" eye, this is because it is, pretty much, the equivalent of Budweiser or Molson Canadian. It is everywhere because it is mass produced, cheap and, to be honest, not all that good. Still, it didn't prevent me from picking up a 6-pack when I saw it in the import section to see if my happy memories stood up. Sadly, they really don't.

Overall - Sadly, the memories of the beer are far better than the real thing.
Look - Pale golden in color, with a short lived white head.
Aroma - Very little and comes off clean. Slight bitter hint.
Taste - A rather flat, almost metallic taste. Very forge table.
Purchase - Sold in the traditional stubby bottles, they are a pricey import in Canada at around 23 bucks for 6. Not worth it.

Summation - Unless you are in Australia reading this (Hi Sam and others) and can get this super cheap, I don't recommend it. In fact, even if you are in Australia, go get some good Aussie wine instead.