Williams-Sonoma Marketplace, Tea Zone and Café Koraku, Primm

About a 40 minute drive south on the I-15 from the strip, over on Exit 1, is the Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas. This place is a shopping mecca of discounted clothes, purses and shoes. It’s large, air-conditioned and relatively crowd-free (unlike another good, but very crowded and outdoor Las Vegas outlet mall that I went to).

And bonus, it has a Williams-Sonoma outlet. Just look at this pretty, pretty photo!

Williams-Sonoma Marketplace - Le Creuset sale

Williams-Sonoma Marketplace - Le Creuset sale

Too bad I made a promise not to try to fit one of those in my luggage. They had quite a few deals in there, and in particular I was looking for a set of round cookie cutters with scalloped edges that I had seen in their Calgary store, but unfortunately they were sold out already.

And then I saw this.

Williams-Sonoma Marketplace - vanilla

Williams-Sonoma Marketplace - vanilla

At half price, each box contained 3 different 2 fl oz bottles of vanilla extract, and the following description:

Like fine wine, premium vanilla springs from a combination of soil, climate and expert processing – an art practiced by Nielsen-Massey since 1907. Our special set combines three of the world’s finest single-origin vanillas: intense Madagascar Bourbon vanilla, a favorite for ice cream and chocolate; floral Tahitian vanilla, which brings out the best in fruit-based desserts; and earthy, sensual Mexican vanilla, the original vanilla sent home to Spain by the explorer Cortez and a perfect complement to cinnamon and spicy, savory dishes like chili.

Even better – the bottles were small enough to fall under the liquid amounts that you could carry on the plane, so they travelled in my purse with my lip balm. I have no idea what I’m going to do with them just yet, so please let me know if you have ideas. Continue reading

Culina Highlands, Edmonton

For Mother’s Day, I treated my mom to a brunch at Culina Highlands. I’ve been wanting to try this place for a while now, and unfortunately never did make it there when the location was a previous restaurant named Bacon. Having been to Culina Mill Creek before, however, I knew that I could expect some good quality food.

Like their sister Mill Creek location, Culina Highlands is a small venue. It’s quite warm and comfortable, and with the sun shining through the large windows the place was nicely lit up. Many people ate out back since it was such a nice day.

tea and water

tea and water

For drinks we were served water in a wine bottle, just like they do in Culina Mill Creek. I ordered a pineapple, coconut and rooibos tea from local store Cally’s Teas, and my mom was given a complimentary Prosecco mimosa. The mimosa was very tasty and had a good balance of wine and orange juice. The tea wasn’t bad; you could taste a hint of coconut and fruitiness but otherwise it didn’t stand out to me compared to other teas I’ve had in the past.

Prosecco mimosa

Prosecco mimosa

Mom had a very filling tofu scramble with spicy tomato sauce, mushrooms, quinoa, chickpeas and cashew cheese served with vegan toast. The quinoa gave the scramble a nice texture and the whole mix tasted vaguely of curry. The toast was slightly crisp and was very light.

tofu scramble

tofu scramble

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Moroccan spiced chickpea soup

Everyone I’ve ever told about this recipe have raved about its taste. It’s hearty, it’s healthy, it’s easy to make, only uses one pot and it tastes damn good. I discovered it one day when watching Good Deal with Dave Lieberman on TV.

“Wow, that looks simple and delicious,” I thought. And so I immediately went looking for the recipe on the US Food Network website. I’ve made it enough times now that I’ve adjusted some ingredients to fit my own personal taste.

Moroccan spiced chickpea soup

Moroccan spiced chickpea soup

Moroccan spiced chickpea soup
Adapted from Good Deal with Dave Lieberman
Makes approximately 4-6 large servings.

Ingredients
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
1 large onion, roughly diced
6 to 8 cloves of garlic, pressed
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (original recipe asks for just 1 tsp but I like the additional cinnamon taste)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (add more if you want heat)
1 heaping teaspoon sweet paprika
1 can chopped tomatoes (796 mL/28 oz, original recipe used half of this amount though)
2 cans chickpeas (540 mL/19 oz per can), rinsed and drained
1 carton (900 mL) reduced-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth… or use your own stock of course)
1 teaspoon sugar
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Pre-washed baby spinach

Directions
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic, and sauté until the onions begin to turn translucent (lower the heat if browning starts to occur). Add all your spices spices and sauté for a minute. Add the tomatoes, chickpeas, broth and sugar. Add a pinch of salt and approximately 10 grinds of fresh pepper.

Don’t forget to stir as you add each ingredient. The chickpeas should be just covered with liquid; if you don’t have enough liquid add some water.

Bring the soup to a simmer, then lower heat to low and gently simmer for approximately 45 minutes. Basically, you want the chickpeas to soften enough so that there is no bite.

Remove the soup from the heat and use a potato masher to mash up some of the chickpeas (but not all of them) right there in the pot. Spoon out your soup and add plenty of spinach to each bowl, stirring until the heat just starts to wilt the leaves. If you’re serving the entire pot, go ahead and add your spinach to the pot instead of into individual bowls. Add additional salt and pepper if necessary, and serve the soup lightly drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil, if desired.

Dinner Factory, St. Albert

While on the Easter egg hunt from Kerstin’s Chocolates, I ended up buying a meal from a meal assembly store in St. Albert called Dinner Factory.

I didn’t want to buy a whole bunch of meals without having tried any of their food before, so I was happy when they said it would be no problem if I were to just make one dish. All assembly tools (bowls, measuring cups, food processors, etc.) are laid out next to each station, all the ingredients are pre-chopped and laid out, and assembly instructions are provided. Each station = one recipe. Each entrée generally will make 4-6 servings. Menus change monthly.

All-in-all, it probably took me about 20 minutes for a quick tour of the assembly area, the assembly of my meal, and payment.

And what did I pick for my meal? Well I couldn’t pick just any old thing (although quite a few of the menu items sounded interesting).

Slice of Italian meatloaf with alpaca

Slice of Italian meatloaf with alpaca

Yes, that’s right. I bought alpaca. (Specifically, alpaca from Morinville’s Belle Valley Farms.)

The ground alpaca meat was mixed with panko breadcrumbs, onions and milk, and then rolled around a mix of spinach, mozzarella and sundried tomatoes, making a large Italian-style meatloaf.

Italian meatloaf with alpaca (unsliced)

Italian meatloaf with alpaca (unsliced)

The recipe was very tasty and my kitchen filled with wonderful scents as it cooked in the oven. Served with brown rice that came with the meal and a salad, it made for a lovely dinner.

As for the alpaca itself, I found it to be an interesting new experience. If you find bison to be gamey and are looking for a lower calorie, cholesterol and fat alternative to beef, you should definitely think about using alpaca. The meat tasted very close to ground beef, but with a slightly sweeter tang.

Now I just have to clear some freezer space so that I can go back and make more Dinner Factory meals.

Dinner Factory
#111, 1 Hebert Road (just off of St. Albert Road)
St. Albert, AB
www.dinnerfactory.ca

Try, try again

This is the first night since last Thursday that I have actually been home for dinner, and so I really wanted to make something from scratch.

Silly me, I decided to make a frittata for the very first time. And without looking up any recipes.

The flavour was actually very nice. But I had a few too many vegetables in there, and needed more eggs. The frittata didn’t hold together at all, and was actually a bit watery (probably because I didn’t take the seeds out of the tomatoes). Didn’t bother to take a photo as I was too busy (and tired) to try, but I will definitely make this again with some adjustments. And once I actually do it sucessfully I will definitely be there to take that photo.

What to do with kale, swiss chard, and spinach

During Tuesday’s lunch break I surfed through food blogs and thought I’d point out this post from 101 Cookbooks. Similar to the sautéed spinach recipe I talked about previously, this one gives instructions on also sautéing kale and swiss chard. Tuesday was grocery discount day and I was almost out of vegetables. I’ve never tried swiss chard before, so I was hoping to find some fresh stuff to try. Instead I found some beautiful kale, so this will become my second attempt at cooking kale.

I only have half a bulb of garlic left too, and forgot to buy more. I really must remember to add that to my grocery list next time.

Update: Sautéed the kale tonight and it was very, very good. Similar to the spinach, but a bit crunchier. The kale turned a brilliant green while frying in the pan. Beautiful.

Red Ox Inn, Edmonton

It’s Fork Fest time again, and this time I managed to eke out a little time to take advantage of one of the offers and have a meal at the Red Ox Inn last night. Fork Fest is run by Original Fare, a collective of independent restaurants in Edmonton. For 2 weeks, Monday to Thursday, each restaurant on the list offers a special set meal for either $20 or $35 per person. It’s an excellent way to try a new restaurant without shelling out a tonne of cash.

This was my first time dining at the Red Ox Inn, although I have heard many good things said about the place. The restaurant is very, very small. I took a quick count, and it seemed like there were only 30 seats in the dining room (although you may be able to squeeze a couple more people into one of the booths). I’d say reservations are vital. The place is decorated modernly but is warmed with wood floors and the small size gives the dining room a cozy feeling. It’s a good place to go with friends for a nice dinner.

What struck me most about the food I had at the Red Ox Inn was that for the majority of our meal there was one outstanding element on the plate, but that the remainder of the dish was good and perfectly cooked without being extra special.

For appetizers, there were two choices – a soup (purée of wild mushroom with Madeira and Gruyère-mushroom rye crostini) or a goat cheese salad (medallion of warm chèvre with spinach, almonds, bacon, and cranberry port dressing). We both wanted to try the soup, but opted for the salad instead as we both needed more vegetables in our diet.

The star of the salad was the warmed goat cheese. Coated and lightly fried, texturally the cheese felt like biting into a crispy-on-the-outside crab cake, but with gooey cheese in the middle. The cheese was relatively mild too, which is nice because sometimes I find some goat cheeses are too sharp. The rest of the salad was good but didn’t seem like anything I couldn’t have made at home.

Medallion of warm chevre with spinach, almonds, bacon and cranberry port dressing

Medallion of warm chèvre with spinach, almonds, bacon, and cranberry port dressing

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