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Recap: Long Table Dinner at the Fairmont Macdonald

On Tuesday, August 20, 2019, The Fairmont Hotel Macdonald hosted their annual long-table dinner. This year, the hotel reduced the price to just $69 for a four-course menu which included a glass of wine from their signature collection (enjoyed on the patio with arguably the best view in Edmonton).

I wasn’t the only one who thought $69 for a multi-course dinner at the Harvest Room at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald was a good deal. In response to the demand, The Mac oversold to accommodate 160 people  who were set up across two long tables in the Empire Ballroom.

A wonderful thing about the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald is their ability to accommodate just about any allergy and food intolerance you throw at them. In addition to my gluten free needs, our friends also required a lactose free dinner – no problem for Chef Mridul and his culinary team, who served up a lovely summer-inspired menu.

FIRST COURSE

Scallop aguachile, cucumber, cilantro, tempura prawns, paprika oil

SECOND COURSE

Meyer lemon ricotta & broccoli gnudi, soya steak, petite vegetables

petite vegetables

MAIN COURSE

Venison, spiced chorizo jam, roasted corn cream, glazed turnips

DESSERT

Peach 
white chocolate & peach mousse encased in cocoa butter, centered with fresh peach and mint marmalade

 

Upcoming dining events in the Harvest Room at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald include chef Mridul’s Classic Series, which takes diners on a culinary journey around the world. I’ve been to three of his previous dinner destinations and I always enjoy his specialty chef menus. Check it out:

Classic Series: Mandarin

Date: Thursday, October 3
Time: 6:00 PM
Price: $75 per person
Location: The Harvest Room

Classic Series: France

Date: Thursday, December 5
Time: 6:00 PM
Price: $75 per person
Location: The Harvest Room

Cooking in Gascony, France

Life moves pretty slow in Gascony, an area of southwest France where I spent six days last summer immersed in a culinary course. Just how slow life moved was reinforced the day I tried to get back to the Gascony Cookery School’s kitchen before our French instructor Bernard delivered our first course of foie gras for lunch.

I had just sat down in the restaurant for lunch with a glass of rosé when I realized I had left a tart in the oven from our morning pastry class. I was hustling back the 150 meters between buildings when our neighbor, who seemed to never be wearing a shirt, but always drinking a bottle of wine, caught sight of me. “Ca va?” he asked, concerned. In my remedial French I responded that yes, I was alright. He brought his arms to his side and swung them back and forth rapidly, laughing as he mocked my urgent speed-walking.

I lacked the language skills to say my tart may already be on fire, so I just smiled and slowed my pace. The tart shell was burnt, but I made it back to the restaurant in time for the foie gras course; c’est la vie.

When I arrived in Gramont, population 160, for my culinary holiday at the Gascony Cookery School, I found myself in a picturesque village perched on a hillside surrounded by fields of bright-yellow sunflowers. The charm of the village’s chateau and a handful of homes was enhanced by a quiet and calm that was disrupted only by the occasional crow of a neighbor’s rooster or the mew of one of the cats lounging in the lane, hoping for a chin scratch as I passed by.

There were many options when I began searching for a European culinary vacation, but I was immediately drawn to the Gascony Cooking School for their English instruction and for the regional gastronomical specialties. Famous for duck, cassoulet and Armagnac – the oldest of the French eau de vies – Gascony is a gastronomical delight that remains largely unspoiled by tourism seen in neighbouring areas like Bordeaux.

After settling in Gramont, British expats chef David and Vicky Chance forged a unique friendship with Bernard Corbière, who has owned and run the village’s Le Petit Feuillant for over twenty-five years. Together they have created the Gascony Cookery School, giving students the opportunity to dive into creating Gascony cuisine classics, while also improving knife skills, presentation of dishes, and the art of pastries.

From my first sip of orange-flavoured Armagnac at the welcome reception, where I met my six classmates from across the world, I was in sensory overload. That first meal, on a terrace with a view of the Pyrenees, featured seared foie gras, duck breast, cheeses, and chocolate mousse; it was just a taste of the decadent menu for the week ahead. By the time we ate cassoulet on our final evening of the course, I was ignoring the fact that it was 35 degrees outside and was digging out a second helping of confit duck leg from the savoury stew. Parisians, and Frenchmen and women across the country, were willing to drive hours to have Bernard’s Gascony cuisine no matter the season; when in Gramont – you eat cassoulet.

As an experienced home cook I had concerns that I may not be challenged in the level one course, but David and Bernard expanded my recipe repertoire to include flambéing Crêpes Suzette, mastering a frangipane tart, and deboning a chicken with the skill to wrap it all back into a sausage-stuffed ballotine.

Between rolling out pastries, curing duck livers, and learning how to properly fillet a flat fish, our itinerary included visits to the neighbouring village of St. Clar to pick up the morning’s baguettes and collecting a grocery list of products and produce at the weekly market in Fleurance.

Our last full day in the course involved an intensive morning focusing on French desserts with Bernard – crème pâtissière, crème brulée, crème caramel – before a lesson in sugar spinning with David. I took video after video as we created sugar-spun nests, transparent shards, and artistic droplets to adorn the pastries and desserts – inspired to wow my family and friends with the same technique upon my return to Alberta.

The afternoon was spent sight-seeing the medieval fortified village of Larressingle, snapping selfies with a statue of the musketeers (D’Artagnan hails from Gascony), and touring the Château de Cassaigne, Condom’s acclaimed Armagnac distillery, for a history lesson and tasting of the prestigious local brandy.

I happily departed with bottles of the sweet aperitif Château’s Floc de Gascogne, made of 1/3 Armagnac and 2/3 fresh grape juice, which is produced in both white and rosé varieties.

As I looked out over the Valley D’Arratz from my sunflower-inspired bedroom on my last morning, I felt a sense of calm; in just one week I had adapted to the tranquility of my surroundings and the decadent dining of the region. Perhaps it was all the foie gras, cheese, and crème pâtissière in my belly, but I felt truly content. As I readied my bag to catch my flight out of Toulouse, with essences of duck confit and Armagnac still on my tongue, David handed me one of my gluten-free lemon tarts from earlier in the week – adding yet another flavour to my culinary memories of Gascony.

Recap: Taste Alberta dinner at The Common

I’ve had the opportunity to organize four Swine and Dine collaboration dinners for Alberta Pork alongside The Common’s Chef Jesse Morrison, so when I pitched him the idea of hosting a Taste Alberta – Prairie on the Plate dinner, I knew he would jump at the opportunity to create a menu featuring ingredients from Taste’s commodity partners:  Alberta ChickenAlberta Pulse Growers CommissionEgg Farmers of AlbertaAlberta CanolaAlberta TurkeyAlberta Milk, and Alberta Pork.

On Tuesday, June 25, 2019, The Common hosted over 70 diners for chef Morrison’s first ever Taste Alberta – Prairie on the Plate dinner. Together with his girlfriend Tressa (also known as my favourite local designer – Sessa Wearables), chef Morrison created a menu inspired by great local products, produce, protein and pulses in season. The result was a multi-course menu that had a fresh spring/summer taste that flowed from one course to the next.

As seen in his previous Swine and Dine dinners, Chef Morrison shared his love of Alberta pork with a perfectly cooked porchetta main course. But, he also took advantage of the opportunity  to showcase a menu that featured more of Taste Alberta’s partners. The menu was packed with high-fibre pulses, including dessert, where chef Morrison plated a play on cheesecake. Instead of using graham cracker crumbs, the culinary team at The Common incorporated whole fried pulses as the crunchy texture instead into the deconstructed dessert. Paired with quark cheese, rhubarb puree and Saskatoon syrup – the dessert was an innovative, light and refreshing way to finish the meal.

The $40 four-course meal, which included an amuse bouche and palate cleansing sorbet course, was a crowd-pleaser. Here is the menu chef Morrison and his culinary team at The Common served up:

AMUSE BOUCHE
Alberta Chicken
Sunworks Farms chicken skin crisp, rhubarb mash and shoots

FIRST COURSE
Alberta Pulses, Alberta Eggs
Sprouted Gold Forest Grains peas with cured egg yolk and creamed mustard dressing, Reclaim Urban Farm microgreens
SECOND COURSE
Alberta Pulses, Alberta Canola
Sunworks Farms Alberta Turkey, Gold Forest Grains Chickpea, cauliflower pizza with turkey ‘bonito’, avocado, pickled red onions and Mighty Trio cold pressed canola oil
ENTREMETS
Alberta Greenhouse, Alberta Honey
Khulmann’s Greenhouse Cucumber, mint and Meadow Sweet Apiaries honey sorbet

 

THIRD COURSE
Alberta Pork, Alberta Milk
Smoked Porchetta, hot coleslaw, with cornmeal gnocchi and thyme brown butter


Dessert
Alberta Milk, Alberta Berries, Alberta Pulses
Quark mousse with Rainbow Acres Saskatoon syrup, Sparrows Nest rhubarb and Gold Forest Grain crunchy chickpeas

Follow @TheCommonYEG to stay up to date on upcoming food events. Chef Morrison is always sharing fun specialty menus at great-value prices. The Hip Hop brunches are not to be missed. A big thanks to Jesse and the entire Common crew for sharing an incredible Taste Alberta menu.

The Common
9910 109 St
Edmonton, AB T5K 1H5
(780) 452-7333

A Weekend in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory

We recently celebrated our fifth anniversary with an extended weekend in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. For $300 return from Edmonton each we booked round trip flights with Air North, Yukon’s Airline, which allows guests to take two suitcases and still gives out snacks, mini-meals, and drinks for free – it could be one of the best travel deals we score all year.

We arrived late on a Thursday night, which gave us three full days to explore before catching a 6 a.m. direct flight back to Edmonton on the following Monday morning. While we easily could have spent more time in the Yukon (allowing us to walk in the footsteps of gold rush hopefuls along the Chillkoot Trail, canoeing up the Yukon River, or living up the Klondike experience in Dawson City), three days in the land of the midnight sun was enough for a taste of the Yukon. Here are some of the activities that kept us busy on our trip:

IN AND AROUND WHITEHORSE

A CULINARY ADVENTURE

Breakfast at Burnt Toast Cafe

We fueled up for a full day of Whitehorse sightseeing with a stop at the interestingly named Burnt Toast Cafe. This was my introduction to gluten-free in the Yukon, and the Croque Madame was so good I came back two days later just to order the same dish.

Woodcutter’s Blanket

Zoe, who I enjoyed a meal with in France six year prior and stayed in touch with courtesy of Facebook, joined us for dinner at the Woodcutter’s Blanket. The small log cabin is home to a hip restaurant and bar that served up fresh local brew and innovative bites. After dinner we walked along the waterfront while she pointed out local artwork including a monument which honours former students of a Yukon residential school.

Sourdough bread pudding with Yukon Jack caramel sauce at Klondike Rib & Salmon

We had several recommendations to visit Klondike Rib & Salmon, which came along with the disclaimer that it was touristy, but really good. Surprisingly, the space is not winterized and restaurant closes up at the end of the peak travel season. The Spanadian spotted the dessert counter the second we walked in, and it may be the first time I’ve ever seen him not finish the dessert – the sourdough bread pudding with Yukon Jack caramel sauce could feed a family.

MACBRIDE MUSEUM

MacBride Museum

The MacBride Museum was a great place to get immersed in the history, geography and culture of the Yukon. We spent hours exploring the exhibits that include history and beautiful artifacts from the Yukon First Nations, artwork (including a Ted Harrison collection), a taxidermy room filled with local mammals (including an albino moose), an extensive look at the challenges and speed of World War II built the Alaska-Canada (ALCAN) Highway, and a gallery filled with fabulous fashion and antiques from the gold rush.

My childhood memories of the Robert Service poem ‘Sam McGee’ and the Harrison’s colourful paintings came flooding back as guests can visit Sam McGee’s real cabin.

S.S. KLONDIKE NATIONAL HISTORICAL SITE

We stepped aboard the S.S. Klondike, dry-docked along the Yukon river, for a taste of what a journey aboard a riverboat would have felt like. A free video near the information centre shows how sternwheelers of the British Yukon Navigation Company Yukon River steamed their way between Whitehorse and Dawson City. The S.S. Klondike, which was the largest in the fleet, has been restored, refurbished, and is stocked with accessories and historical props to represent the glory days of the first half of the 20th century.

SHOPPING (OR AT LEAST SOME GOOD BROWSING)

I’m normally not one for gift shops, but both The Spanadian and I were really impressed by the quality and quantity of goods in the local gift shops and stores. Visitors can choose from beautifully hand-crafted First Nations slippers or moose tufting art, quirky local slogan t-shirts and posters, and a wide assortment of locally crafted jewelry. We also popped into a couple pawn shops which also had a wide assortment of local crafts for sale at reduced prices.

MILES CANYON

Mile Canyon Suspension Bridge

Travelling with a civil engineer means I am always on the lookout for bridges to entertain him with so the pedestrian suspension bridge at Miles Canyon was a must. The hydroelectric dam has tamed the basalt cliff-lined canyon, but narrow path likely created havoc for many boats heading towards the gold rush.

TAKHINI HOT POOLS

We soothed our muscles with a soak at the Takhini Hot Pools, which were a 30 minute drive from Whitehorse. The sun was still high in the sky when one of the staff came into the pool with a large stick to pull out the plug to begin draining the pool (which was very entertaining). Traveling in the winter? Check out their movie nights and frozen hair competition.

HIKING AT FISH LAKE

In Whitehorse, I reconnected with a friend from my days at the University of Victoria I hadn’t seen in 16 years. Amy took us on a hike to Fish Lake where she told us all how much she has loved living in Whitehorse for the previous two years; so glad we got to spend a few hours hiking together in her beautiful new home.

Day Tripping to Alaska

CARCROSS,YUKON TERRITORY

Carcross, Yukon Territory

The Spanadian was hoping to see some Caribou when he learned that Carcross is short for Cariboo Crossing. Sadly, by early June, the herd had likely moved north. Instead we spent a few hours exploring an area that is home to the Carcross/Tagish First Nation. 

After powering up with more gluten-free treats at Caribou Crossing Coffee, we found lots of photo ops among the all the railway sights, as Carcross is home to the White Pass & Yukon Route. While we opted to drive, we heard the train route is stunning and a great day activity.

Carcross Commons is home to Skookum Jim’s home, which is a MacBride museum exhibition about the gold rush. After learning how the Skookum Jim found the gold discovery which led to the Klondike gold rush, I enjoyed perusing the boutiques and even picked up a Shelley MacDonald hand-crafted ring to remember the trip.

While we didn’t have the time to explore on this trip, Carcross is a great place to hike and bike on Montana Mountain for those wanting to work or stretch their legs.

We also stopped in to see the smallest dessert in the world before taking the advice of the lovely ladies in the tourist information office and making a side trip to for dinner, rather than driving straight back to Whitehorse.

The Spanadian enjoyed a hearty batch of halibut fish & chips at the Six Mile Resort. This was the only place during my trip where I struck out on gluten free. Even though I couldn’t eat here, I found loads of amusement from admiring all the antiques, license plates, and antlers throughout the property.

 

SKAGWAY, ALASKA

Skagway, Alaska

Neither The Spanadian nor I had been to Alaska, so we were eager to cross over for an afternoon in Skagway, which is known as the gateway to the Klondike. After being welcomed by a small black on the highway, we arrived to find two cruise ships in port, which we later learned meant it was a quiet day. We arrived at the visitor centre in time to watch the free hourly showing of the 30 minute film Gold Fever: Race to the Klondike (which I highly recommend). We also picked up free tickets to a Ranger led tour of Jeff Smith’s Parlour.

Fighting Moose, Looked Horns and Died by Starvation

We learned that many of the stores are owned by the cruise ships and can be tourists traps, but we enjoyed walking the side streets where we found vintage cars, antique shops, and gold nuggets for sale. I was eager for some seafood but we were told that when people from Whitehorse get a craving for Thai food, they apparently make the drive to Skagway for a bite at Starfire. We took the recommendation we had received by several in Whitehorse, and the the spicy bowl of soup and curry at Starfire did not disappoint.

On our way out of Skagway we took the turnoff to Dyea, which shows no resemblance to the boom town jumping off point for the ChillKoot Trail it was over 100 years prior. The slight side trip provided stunning views, and a welcome relief from the cartoon like feel of Skagway, and we even spotted a bald eagle.

A HAPPY ANNIVERSARY

A weekend in Whitehorse was a great way to celebrate our anniversary. We met so many friendly and kind people who were excited to learn we had traveled from Edmonton for just a mini break. From hiking, biking, canoeing in the summer, to all the winter activities in between, there are so many reasons to come back to the land of the midnight sun. Yukon Territory – I can’t wait to come back.

Winery Spotlight Series at the Edmonton Expo Centre

With his extensive fine-dining culinary experience with Fairmont Hotels & Resorts globally, including Edmonton’s Fairmont Hotel Macdonald, it is no surprise that Chef Jiju Paul launched a Winery Spotlight Dinner series at his new culinary home – the Edmonton Expo Centre.

While the venue may spark images of concession food or banquet-plated dinners from the list of sporting, music, or trade show events that frequent the Edmonton Expo Centre, chef Paul is eager share just how memorable a dining experience at the Edmonton Expo Centre can be.

When chef Paul invited me to his second dinner in the Winery Spotlight Series, I was overjoyed to learn the evening would feature Spanish wines, especially as The Spanadian would be joining me and he would be able to have a taste of home.

Although I know chef Paul is talented, my expectations for the event were not high because I had a preconceived notion about the venue. How good could a wine dinner at the Edmonton Expo Centre really be?

Well, I have no problem admitting I was wrong. From the glass of Segura Viudas Bruta Reserva Cava I sipped as I nibbled on an assortment of Meuwly’s charcuterie at the welcome reception, to Gull Valley Greenhouses tomato tartare plated whimsically on a garden hoe, to the moment I cracked into the lifelike apple dessert shaped from chocolate, I was more than pleasantly surprised.

Our four friends who joined shared similar positive sentiments on the evening, also impressed by the quality of the food, the intimate experience of having each dish presented by Chef Paul, and of course – the wine.

For each course, our pairing included unique stories from winemaker Nathalie Bonhomme, a Canadian expat who has spent the last 28 years helping to share Spanish wines with the world. I found Bonhomme’s smile and charisma infectious, and hearing her personal connection to each wine that evening was a delightful addition to each pairing.

A lamb course followed by a cheese course made for one very happy Spanadian

While chef Paul certainly incorporated elements of Spanish cuisine, the use of so many local ingredients gave the Spanish-inspired menu a bold Canadian flavour. Repeatedly Chef Paul shared his commitment to using and highlighting ingredients like Alberta lamb, and local producers and artisans such as Meuwly’s, Gull Valley Greenhouses, and Irvings Farm Fresh Alberta pork.

Here are some of the highlights of our dinner:

Wine: Segura Viudas Brut Reserva
Reception: Amuse Bouche (including Meuwly’s charcuterie and lobster with caviar)

Wine: Kentia Albarino
Gull Valley Tomato Tartare
parmesan chips, celery leaves, micro radish, evoo, frozen white balsamic

Wine: La Bonhomme Rose
Irvings Farm Pork Belly & Pork Cheek
sunchoke puree, grilled green onion, chili oil, mojo reduction, chicharron

Wine: El Petite Bonhomme Blanco
Octopus Terrine
potato cubes, harissa Spanish olives, bouillabaisse vinaigrette

Palate Cleanser – Cucumber lime Granite

Wine: Juan Gil Silver Label Monastrell
Alberta Rack of Lamb
peas, morels, asparagus, merguez sausage & Manchego croquetas, lamb jus

Wine: Honoro Vera Garnacha
Cheese Platter
Iberico, mahon, cabrales blue, black current jelly, corn bread, pear gel

Dessert
Apple
An apple-shaped white chocolate ganache, apple gel with cinnamon apple, pecan nougatine, white chocolate caramel centre on a cookie, passion fruit gel, raspberry microwave sponge, lemon meringue, almond chocolate streusel.

Chef Paul hasn’t released the date for his next Winery Spotlight Dinner in the fall, but he hinted the series will feature Argentina wines in the fall. For $125, I feel the experience is a good value for the quality and quantify of food and wine.

I spent a six weeks backpacking and eating my way across Argentina so I was excited to learn about the next destination in the series. If chef Paul has lamb on the menu again, I’ll have no problem signing The Spanadian up to attend again.

Recap: Taste Alberta Prairie on the Plate at Cafe Linnea

Earlier this month, Cafe Linnea played host to Taste Alberta‘s most recent Prairie on the Plate dinner. Many are surprised to learn that Cafe Linnea is open for dinners, as the restaurant first became known as a all day breakfast and brunch spot when in opened in 2016.
Well, I am eager to help spread the word that chef Kelsey Johnson and her culinary team are serving up a fantastic dinner menu at Cafe Linnea. In addition to the regular dinner menu available Wednesday to Saturday nights, guests can experience a two or three course chef’s choice menu for $35 and $45 respectively. Including an amuse bouche to start the meal, I think it is one of the best dinner deals going in Edmonton.
Since the restaurant opened, chef Kelsey has used local ingredients in ways inspired by her French and Scandinavian heritage to create a menu that is unique to Cafe Linnea. Her focus on Alberta grown, Alberta raised, and Alberta produced products made Cafe Linnea a perfect fit for a Prairie on the Plate dinner.
While every chef’s menu at Cafe Linnea could be an ode to Taste Alberta’s commodity partners, on March 7, 2019, chef Kelsey shared a Prairie on the Plate menu which made ingredients from Alberta Turkey, Alberta CanolaEgg Farmers of AlbertaAlberta MilkAlberta Pulse Growers Commission, and Alberta Pork shine.
AMUSE BOUCHE:
GREEN PEA PANCAKE WITH A CREME FRAICHE AND HOUSE SMOKED HAM

To start things off, chef Kelsey shared what has become a signature canape for Cafe Linnea. The bright green pea pancake topped with house creme fraiche and house smoked ham was inspired by a challenge from Alberta Pulse Producers during Northern Lands – The Great Canadian Wine and Culinary Adventure. Chef Kelsey won the pulse challenge at that event with this colourful two-bite dish incorporating Alberta grown, split-green peas.

 

FIRST COURSE:
SMOKED TURKEY RILLETTE, LUXARDO CRANBERRIES, BRIOCHE

For our first course of the evening, chef Kelsey showed Alberta Turkey Producers some love outside the traditional turkey-time holiday season. For the event chef Kelsey, who thinks that dark turkey meat is underutalized, cooked turkey legs and drums in sage to inspire the flavour of Christmas, and paired the rillette with bright Luxardo cranberries and brioche.

SECOND COURSE:
CURED PORK CHOP ON WARM LENTIL SALAD WITH CANOLA OIL EMULSION & CARAMELIZED BABY ONIONS

The Serben Farms pork chop topped on warm lentils and served alongside a rich cold-pressed canola oil emulsion and perfectly port caramelized onions that chef Kelsey served is one of the best dishes I have eaten this year.

Our main course emphasized how when comfort food is done well, simple yet high quality ingredients can shine on a plate. Chef Kelsey’s brined pork chop transformed an affordable and classic cut of pork that I grew up into the most succulent of pork dishes. After my adoring words of appreciation for the dish, chef Kelsey shared the full recipe.

DESSERT:
CLASSIC PUDDING CHOMEUR

Chef Kelsey shared what she considers the most comforting desserts she can think of – a classic pudding chomeur. The dish translates as unemployed person’s pudding, is said to have been born in Quebec in 1929  by female factory workers who had access to only basic ingredients in their industrial neighbourhoods: butter, flour, milk, brown sugar.
While the original would have been made without eggs, the depression era dish has evolved to include some present-day accessible ingredients.
The sugar crusted topping was still bubbling when the ramekins arrived at the table for our dessert course. To help cool them down, and add some richness, our server delivered a mini pitcher of fresh cream (thank god for Alberta Milk producers).
As with every chef’s menu dinner I’ve had at Cafe Linnea, I walked away utterly sated and satisfied with my meal. Any night of the week could be considered a Prairie on the Plate meal at Cafe Linnea – as chef Kelsey is committed to showcasing some of the best ingredients available across our province, no matter what time of year. Be sure to check Cafe Linnea out:
Cafe Linnea
10932 119 St NW
Edmonton, AB T5H 3P5

www.cafelinnea.ca/

Recap: Prairie on the Plate at Under the High Wheel

Well, the 2019 Taste Alberta Prairie on the Plate kicked off at Under the High Wheel with a flavour-packed Asian infusion on Thursday night. In advance of Lunar New Year, Chef Doreen Prei shared a four-course Asian-inspired menu featuring feature ingredients from Taste Alberta‘s commodity partners: Alberta Turkey, Alberta Chicken, Alberta Canola, Egg Farmers of Alberta, Alberta Milk, Alberta Pulse Growers Commission, and Alberta Pork.

A new addition to the Under the High Wheel culinary team, chef Prei has been tasked with shaking up the dinner menu. She was eager to create a Prairie on the Plate menu to help spread the word that the brunch/lunch favourite in Old Strathcona is also open for dinner, but also because Under the High Wheel has always been a local-ingredient focused restaurant; hosting a Taste Alberta dinner was a natural fit.

Our evening started with a welcome cocktail – made with ginger and basil syrup, gin, and topped with sparkling wine – followed by a welcome from Chef Prei and an explanation of our first dish of the evening. Debra, Food & Nutrition Coordinator with Alberta Pulse Growers, was on hand to explain a little bit about the organization, which represents over 6000 farmers across the province who grow pulses including chickpeas, beans, dried peas and lentils. We also learned that Canada has become a leading producer and exporter of pulses worldwide.

First course: Chickpea and mung bean cakes, turkey confit, hoisin sauce, cucumber and green onion

Chef Prei explained how she used chickpea flour supplied by the Alberta Pulse Growers to create a chickpea and mung bean cake. During a recent trip to Vietnam, Chef Prei learned how to make mung bean milk, which was blended with the chickpea flour, eggs, and yogurt. Each of the little pancakes were cooked in canola oil and topped with crispy canola fried shallots and confit Four Whistle Farm turkey. Chef Prei braised the hoisin dressed turkey drums and thighs for six hours in duck fat along with lemongrass and star anise until fork tender.

The dish was easily my favourite bite of the night; the appetizer was fresh tasting and full of both flavour and texture. I would certainly return to Under the High Wheel to order a plate full of them (as I am not so secretly hoping they make an appearance on the new menu in the future).

Second course: Bún chả – grilled pork belly, Vietnamese pork broth, perilla leaves and herbaceous salad

Our second course of the evening was Chef Prei’s take on bún chả, a Vietnamese dish of grilled pork, noodles, and a dipping sauce traditionally served with each component separately.

Darcy Fitzgerald, executive director of Alberta Pork who was also on hand for the dinner, shared that there are over 700 pork farmers across the province. Consumers need to pay extra attention when buying pork at the grocery story in order to support local farmers, as over 70 per cent of the hogs raised in Alberta are exported – mainly to Japan where the market pays premier price for Alberta pork.

Chef Prei served a plated version of Bún chả – her favourite dish during her trip to Vietnam. Rice noodles, a slice of pork belly, a pork burger (flavoured with green onions and fish sauce), and dipping sauce made from pork bone broth, lime juice, sugar, fish sauce, garlic and Thai chilies all combined for a sweet and savoury flavour bomb of a second course.

Third course: Smoked chicken stir fry, Korean sweet potato noodles, Thai basil, chilies, eggplant

Conveniently for a few of us Celiacs in attendance, Chef Prei made the entire meal gluten free, which included sweet potato noodles for our main course. Chef Prei was inspired by Korean flavours; she smoked chicken thighs over kaffir lime leaves, wood chips, and shiitake mushroom stems. A sauce made of soya sauce, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, honey, green onions and lime juice was reduced and added to her stir fry of sauteed cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, and lightly pickled roasted eggplants. Chef Prei enhanced the dish with Thai basil, as well as locally grown amaranth leaves.

Dessert: Passion fruit crème brûlée

My favourite dessert is crème brûlée, so I was ecstatic that Chef Prei showcased Alberta Milk farmers and Egg Farmers of Alberta with a passion fruit crème brûlée. For me, the passion fruit and coconut milk flavoured brûlée was the perfect bite to complete Chef Prei’s Asian inspired Prairie on the Plate menu. Each of the ramekins from guests at my table appear to agree with me, as the ramekins sent back to the kitchen looked as though they had been licked clean. 

I couldn’t be happier that my friend Chef Doreen Prei has found a new home in the kitchen at Under the High Wheel where I can pop in for dinner more often. I’d like to thank the culinary and serving team for helping to deliver a memorable Prairie on the Plate dinner. In addition to brunch – you can visit Under the High Wheel for dinner service Wednesday to Saturday until 9 p.m., and follow Doreen on instagram for a look at her new menu and feature dishes.

Under The High Wheel
​​8135 – 102 Street, Edmonton, AB, T6E 4A4
780.439.4442

Hours:
Monday–Tuesday: 8 am to 4 pm
Wednesday–Saturday: 8 am to 9 pm
Sunday: 9 am to 4 pm

 

Chef Corbin Tomaszeski on growing up on a farm, knowing where his food comes from, and inspiring people to cook and eat together

At this year’s Christmas in November at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, celebrity chef Corbin Tomaszeski was all about teaching others to have fun in the kitchen. His culinary sessions included everything from sabering champagne bottles to having his kitchen helpers on stage (like my friend Abe) gobble like a turkey every time he said “turkey” while sharing his recipe for spiced turkey sliders.

Beyond the giggles and entertainment in his Taste Alberta sponsored cooking demos and fireside chats, chef Corbin had a message to share about ingredients, cooking food, and eating a meal. It was a simple concept, and one that Corbin experienced throughout his childhood growing up on a farm in Alberta.

Through his first-ever cookbook – In Good Company: Easy Recipes for Everyday Gatherings – Corbin hopes to inspire others to share homemade food together with friends and family.

I sat down with Corbin during Christmas in November at the Fairmont JPL to learn more about his farming roots and what motivated him to write his first cookbook.

What was your introduction to food growing up on a farm southwest of Edmonton?

While I currently live in Toronto, I am very proud to have grown up on a small mixed beef herd farm in rural Alberta. I learned at a very young age if you didn’t plant it, grow it, harvest it, milk it, or pick the eggs, you didn’t eat.

I knew where my food came from, but I also learned how food brought people together, especially in a farming community. It was indoctrinated into me that when you cook, people show up; cooking brings people together and builds community.

My mom had six kids and two adults to feed and she tells stories now that we used to eat 50 pounds of potatoes a week. It felt like we grew acres of potatoes on the farm; it helped feed us through the winter.

My mother had a beautiful, large garden, and in the fall she always did a lot of canning and preserving. If you could smell the brine when you got off the school bus, you knew she was in stockpile mode.

Living in a city, how do you teach your children about where their food comes from?

Since I am a chef and I grew up on a farm, I want to make sure my children understand where our food comes from. I take them to farms, I introduce them to farmers, and I explain the ingredients in the dishes we eat. I wanted my children to know that ham isn’t just something sliced at the deli in the grocery store – ham comes from a pig.

Why is teaching your children about food so important to you?

For me, food is a reason why we gather. I don’t want the next generation to forget about our farmers, or the art of cooking. And that starts with understanding food, where it comes from, and why we should appreciate it.

I love driving across the prairies and seeing fields of yellow canola. Something that is so iconically Canadian is also a story opener to educate my children. I can explain how they these beautiful fields are harvested for a seed which is used to crush oil, and how that oil was used for the chicken we fried, or as an ingredient in the banana bread we ate last week. It is my job to explain how that bright yellow field becomes a jug of canola oil in the pantry.

What made you finally write your first cookbook?

I felt like it was finally time to share my story.  I also wanted to teach my children; I wanted to share why we need to cook, why we need to gather, and why we should be taking advantage of high-quality, seasonal ingredients from local farmers, producers, and suppliers.

How did you decide which recipes made this book?

I wanted to share where I came from, the people behind where the recipes come from, and give people a book of simple, can-do recipes that creates offerings throughout the year.

This book includes a lot of farmhouse staples featuring a number of ingredients I grew up on like beans, chickpeas, chicken, eggs and milk. Canada, and Alberta especially, has some of the best producers in the world. I don’t want people to lose sight of what is in our own back yard – I wanted to keep the recipes simple with ingredients that are accessible.

Why do you want to inspire people to cook together and eat together?

Growing up on a farm, we had to work hard to make sure we had enough to eat. Today, food has become instant; we can order just about anything to our door. Food is over abundant and we import things that aren’t seasonal. We know there is always more to buy, which has leads to food waste.

I truly believe if we bought less, but but higher quality ingredients and food, we would be happier and healthier. We’ve lost the art of cooking and the value of food. I want to inspire people to understand where their food comes from, to support the incredible farmers and producers across Canada, and reap the benefits of spending time in the kitchen.

Cooking is becoming cool again, and I’m excited to hear that Canadians are reinventing the art of sunday suppers. I want to inspire people of all ages to start cooking together – its a great vehicle to learn about food and where it comes from.

Chef Corbin’s shared a brunch-inspired menu at his Christmas in November culinary sessions, which included this recipe for turkey sliders:

Chef Corbin’s Spiced Turkey Patties with Mango, Cilantro, & Lemon Mayonnaise

When working with ground meat, it’s important to understand that more fat means more flavour. Because turkey is very lean, you need to consider ways of adding fat (like the lemon mayonnaise in this recipe) to brighten up the meal.

Turkey Patties

1 1⁄2 lb raw ground turkey
3 scallions, chopped
3⁄4 cup store bought mango chutney, pureed
3 Tbsp cilantro, chopped
3 Tbsp mint, chopped
1 lemon, zested
2 eggs
1⁄4 cup cornmeal
1⁄2 tsp red pepper flakes
1⁄4 tsp salt, plus extra to taste
1⁄4 tsp pepper, plus extra to taste
1-2 Tbsp canola oil
cilantro to garish

To make the turkey patties, in a medium bowl, combine all ingredients except for the oil and cilantro. Mix well. Evenly divide the mixture into eight. Shape the patties about 3 inches in diameter. Heat a grill pan over medium heat or pre-heat the BBQ to 350F. Lightly oil the grill pan or BBQ grates with oil. Place patties in grill pan or BBQ and cook for 5 minutes. Flip and cook for another 4-5 minutes, until juices run clear and internal temperature reaches 165F. Transfer patties to a serving platter. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside to rest for 4 minutes. Place a small dollop of lemon mayonnaise on each patty. Garnish with a sprig of cilantro and serve.

Lemon Mayonnaise

1 cup mayonnaise
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp chopped chives
1 tsp chopped dill

To make the lemon mayonnaise, in a small bowl, combine all ingredients. Mix well and set aside.

A weekend in Los Angeles – 10 things to do without a car

When Westjet posted a seat sale a few weeks before The Spaniard’s birthday, I took advantage of a deal I saw on the direct flight from Edmonton and booked us a three-night trip to the city of angels.

I knew I wanted to take him to an NBA game, but after that I wasn’t sure what we would get up to. Everyone I spoke with said we would have to rent a car, but we weren’t excited by the prospect of sitting in traffic, trying to find parking, or paying for parking (especially with the Canadian $ making our American trips more expensive).

So – I took a look at where the LA metro and bus system could take us, and we decided to plan our trip around that. From the airport we took the free shuttle to the LAX metro stop  where we were able to take the metro conveniently for around the same time it would have been for an uber or the FlyBus in high traffic times. Google didn’t give us the option of taking the metro the whole way – but we did it – even beating the times Google gave us for bus options.

Here are 10 things to keep you busy during a weekend in LA – and all without the stress of driving/parking a car:

1. Watch the LA Philharmonic at the Walt Disney Concert Hall

Even if you can’t watch a show at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, you can take free self-guided tours of this magnificent building designed by architect Frank Gehry and recognized as one of the most acoustically sophisticated concert halls in the world. We walked up before the evening performance and scored last minute tickets to watch choreographer and L.A. Dance Project Artistic Director Benjamin Millepied join conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Phil  bring Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet to life. The performance was incredible and ended up being one of the best experiences we had all weekend.

2. A historical walking tour with the LA Conservancy

The LA Central Library

A highlight of the trip was a historic walking tour of downtown Los Angeles with the L.A. Conservancy, which was formed in 1978 as part of the effort to prevent demolition of the stunning Los Angeles Central Library. Our 2.5 hour tour included loads of historical information, lobby visits to incredibly preserved buildings (including the Bradbury Building which was a filming location for Blade Runner), and a ride on Angels Flight. Whenever I make it back to LA, I will certainly do one of their other tours.

Angels Flight Railway

The CalEdison building

The Bradbury Building

3. A show at The Comedy Store

Have to thank my friend Marc for the recommendation to catch a show at The Comedy Store (and buying early as shows will sell out). We got tickets to the early show in The Main Room which cost us $20, plus a two-drink minimum. Our show include six comics which included Orny Adams, Kate Quigley, and Bobby Lee – all three had me busting a gut laughing.

4. Watch an NBA game at the Staples Centre

Both the LA Clippers and the LA Lakers were in town for the weekend, so we had our choice of games; however, since it was the Lakers home opener and Lebron’s first regular season game as a Laker, the price for those tickets were crazy. So instead, we watched the Clippers beat the Houston Rockets for a fraction of the price. The Staples Center is an incredible venue – definitely worth checking out a game. (The Staples Center is also home to the LA Kings – who happened to be in town the same weekend as us – but The Spaniard declined my suggestion of a hockey game, and said one event at the Staples Center was enough for one weekend). 

5. Walk, ride, and people watch your way from Santa Monica to Venice Beach

Muscle Beach

The boardwalk from Santa Monica to Venice beach provided hours of entertainment and some serious fun in the sun. We took the metro to Santa Monica, enjoyed brunch, and then wandered the pier, strode past muscle beach, and even jumped in the ocean as we walked past buskers, street performers, roller bladers jamming out to funky tunes at Venice Beach, and kids ripping it up in the skate park. After walking along the Venice Beach canals we grabbed some ice cream and donuts on Abbot Kinney BLVD before heading back to LA.

6. Get cultured at The Broad

After our Saturday walking tour with the LA Conservancy we headed over to The Broad, a contemporary art museum with free admission, where we only had to wait half an hour for admittance. A select number of free tickets can be booked online in advance, but we weren’t that organized, besides,  our short stay in line gave The Spaniard time admiring the $140 million  ‘veil and the vault’ architectural design of the building. The space is stunning and the contents are creative, imaginative and fun.

7. Dine at the Grand Central Market

A downtown landmark since 1917, the Grand Central Market was the perfect place for us to grab a bite of breakfast before our LA Conservancy tour. I opted for gluten-free pupusas and tamales from Sarita’s Pupuseria while The Spaniard declined waiting in line at the uber popular Eggslut, and got french toast and a latte from Valerie Confections Bakery & Cafe. By the time we walked back through the Grand Central Market as part of our LA Conservancy tour the place was packed with people eating, drinking, and living the laid-back LA lifestyle.

Grand Central Market

8. Get your geek on at the Griffith Observatory

Not only can you get views of LA and the Hollywood sign, visitors of the Griffith Observatory can look through telescopes and learn about our solar system for free! During our visit we took in two staff explanations – one of the Tesla coil, and the other on Foucault’s Pendulum. Their website recommended taking public transit (there was a DASH bus stop conveniently located outside the closest metro stop), which made arriving easy, and we walked down through Griffith Park when we were done.

9. Walk the Hollywood Walk of Fame

Once we were done at the Griffith Observatory we walked to the closest metro and jumped on for a few stops, which took us to Hollywood. We checked out the hand prints and autographs located outside the TCL Chinese Theatre, walked the steps of the Kodak Theatre – checking out the Academy Award best movie of the year winners, and weaved through buskers and hawkers on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It was probably our least exciting activity of the weekend (too touristy), but we felt we had to check it out – and the people watching was worth the visit.

10. Ethnic eats in Koreatown

We had decided on an AirBNB in Koreatown because of the proximity to the metro line, and learned after we booked that we were in a culinary hotbed of LA. Prior to our trip we watched Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown episode on Koreatown; while we didn’t manage to make it to the spots he highlighted (mainly because having Celiac disease limited my options), we did enjoy some tasty bites, including Escala – which serves up Colombian Korean Flavors In The Heart Of LA’s Koreatown. While there Korean options appeared abundant, we also saw Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Indian, and even dumpling options throughout Koreatown.

Lunch at Escala in Koreatown

So, all of these things we did during our three-day weekend in LA were accessible by public transit. We decided to stay in the city, but if we had wanted to get to Disneyland – we would have opted for a shuttle rather than renting a car.

The one exception we had to taking public transit was when my friend Orly, and her husband Jeff, drove us to dinner and then home after checking out a show at the Comedy Store. We had planned on taking an uber that night – but they graciously drove us back to Koreatown. I came to visit Orly 20 years before, spending a week with her in LA after meeting her on a Mexican cruise with our families. After the comedy show, Orly and Jeff introduced us to a tasty sushi restaurant in West Hollywood; I hope that they pack up the kids and come visit us in Edmonton, so I don’t have to wait another 20 years for our next meeting to return the favour for their lovely hospitality.

Get Creative at a Cory Christopher Fresh Floral Workshop

For the past few years, Cory Christopher has inspired me into attempting holiday decor designs at home after attending his Do-It-Yourself (DIY) decor sessions at Christmas in November at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. Cory, who is like a Christmas elf with a green thumb, manages to whip through about 15 projects in the 75 minute class using an assortment of fresh florals, second-hand books, and home accessories from everywhere from the storage closet to the dollar store and Canadian tire. It is exhausting and inspiring all at the same time.

 

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If you follow Cory’s Instagram account, it is hard not to be inspired by the beautiful floral bouquets, succulent displays, and wedding theme photos he and his team create around the province of Alberta. Thankfully, Cory offers a chance to recreate his bouquets through his hands-on fresh floral workshops at his studio in Edmonton and at his family farm north of St. Albert.

Cory Christopher at Birchwood Meadows

Cory recently invited me to attend a dahlia workshop at his family homestead at Birchwood Meadows in Sturgeon County. My friend Kelley joined me for the class, which included an intro to dahlias with Cory, followed by the opportunity to hand pick an assortment of flowers, herbs, and foliage for our one-of-a-kind bouquet.

Cory explaining the layout of the garden and which flowers we could collect for our bouquets.

Cory showed those of us who were scared to make the first cut how far down to cut the dahlias on the stem.

We were invited to use the sunflowers in our bouquets, but some were too high to reach.

 

Once we returned from the field, we took a seat at a long table in the garden. With a little guidance from Cory on how to size, layer, and build our bouquets – each of us created a unique dahlia display to take home.

Kelley’s bouquet featured white flowers – classic and beautiful just like her.

Kelley and I were both ecstatic to go home with our beautiful bouquets. Cory had invited me to attend so my class was complimentary, but after experiencing his hands on workshop, and the opportunity to pick our own flowers on the farm, I think his course is great value and I look forward to registering with Kelley for another one soon. 

Upcoming workshops include this weekend’s Thanksgiving Floral Centrepiece at Birchwood Meadows and a Terrarium Design Workshop at Burnwood Distillery in Calgary. Stay tuned for upcoming workshops – grab a friend and get creative with Cory Christopher – your table will never look better!

Learn more at www.corychristopher.ca