News and links

To start, three gluten-free links:

And now, the non-gluten-free links:

Cactus Club Cafe, Edmonton

Some friends and I planned a dinner out on Saturday, April 25th, so I suggested we try out the newly opened (as in opened two days before on the 23rd) Cactus Club Cafe location over at West Edmonton Mall. Edmonton used to have a local location of this Western Canadian chain a long time ago, but it didn’t fare very well and closed relatively quickly.

Despite its brief stint in Edmonton, the Cactus Club Cafe has been around for many years. More recently in the past few years, much like how Earls and Moxie’s is also doing, the Cactus Club Cafe is working to make their menu, decor and atmosphere more sophisticated. When (Canadian celebrity chef and  Iron Chef America winner against Masaharu Morimoto) Chef Rob Feenie’s assocation ended with Vancouver’s Lumiere and Feenie restaurants, he later popped back into the public eye as the new “Food Concept Architect” for the Cactus Club Cafe. They’ve used his name to great advantage; his face is all over the website, he often talks to the media about the food at the Cactus Club Cafe, and all of his specific dishes are marked on the menus with a special RF logo.

As the restaurant had just opened, I half-expected service to be a bit slow but all of the staff were unfailingly attentive and helpful, and the food arrived quickly. (Other blogs and Chowhound discussions say that staff were flown in from Vancouver to ensure smooth service.)

The restaurant is located in a free-standing location in the northwest corner of the mall where a car repair shop used to be (Sears, I think). There is no entrance via the mall at all; an interesting decision that I hope doesn’t hurt them later when the tourists and locals stay inside the mall and don’t want to walk outside in bad weather.

The decor is modern but comfortable, with a mix of different textures and materials. Red leather seats, wood panelled walls and tables, glass, and even a concrete block wall gives the place an interesting look. The lights are dimmed somewhat so the red of the seats are muted. The booths are spacious, and art is featured on many of the walls (including some from Andy Warhol). A large patio was already set with lounge-style outdoor furniture, although at the time it was still too chilly for people to sit outside.

To start, a couple of people ordered bellinis and promptly declared them delicious. (Sorry, no photo. They stirred and slurped the drinks before I could take the camera out.)

We all shared a couple of appetizers. The first dish was an order of calamari, red pepper and jalapeño, dusted with fresh dill and served with chipotle aioli and tzatziki dips. The calamari was tender and the jalapeños gave the dish a lot of heat. (Lots and lots of heat.)

calamari

calamari

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Black bean and corn salad

Black bean and corn salad

Black bean and corn salad

A few years ago I did some research using my friend the Internet, looking for a fresh summer recipe. The one I used that day, and used many times since, surprised me because it was a recipe by Rachael Ray.

Now, I have never particularly liked watching Rachael Ray. Nothing really against her food but I find her way of speaking to be quite irritating. If the use of “evoo” and “yum-o” ever died I would be okay with that.

This dish is really tasty though, so if you don’t like Ray, don’t avoid this recipe just because of where it came from. And if you’re a fan of hers, if you haven’t tried this one yet I highly recommend it. It is a convenient dish that has relatively few ingredients – and even better usually ingredients that I have on hand at all times.

Black bean and corn salad
Adapted from the 30 Minute Meals tv show by Rachael Ray

Ingredients
1 can black beans (540 mL/19 oz), rinsed and drained
2 cups frozen corn kernels
1 small red, yellow or orange bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce (this is pretty mild once mixed but add less if you don’t like it hot or more if you want it hotter)
2 tablespoons of lime juice (approximately juice of one lime)
2 tablespoons of vegetable or olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions
Combine all of the ingredients into a bowl. Let the salad sit while the frozen corn defrosts, then stir again before serving. This is a great recipe to take to a bbq or party as the corn will keep your salad chilled as it defrosts.

Pancakes, Penang style

Creamed corn and peanut pancake

Creamed corn and peanut pancake

One of the reasons why I loved my trip to Malaysia was getting to try so many new dishes.

This hawker stall, in front of a kopitiam (a kind of coffee shop/hawker cafe) on Gurney Drive (a.k.a. Persiaran Gurney) in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia, served pancakes stuffed with various sweet and/or savory fillings. The dough is cooked into a thin, crepe-like skin (but crispy), filled, and folded like a taco. The traditional filling is creamed corn and peanuts, but now you can buy it filled with ham, chocolate, bananas, tuna, etc. It was fascinating to watch the vendor at work, and I took a video of him cooking my corn and peanut order. We didn’t see him at his spot every day; apparently he actually set up shop elsewhere in the morning, and only showed up on Gurney Drive after lunch if he had ingredients left over.

Many areas of Asia tends to treat corn as a dessert (in one shopping mall I saw an ice cream stand that also sold fresh corn on the cob). I’m not usually a fan of this, but I have to say, creamed corn and peanuts are a surprisingly good combination.

An additional photo and a video after the cut.

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Vegetarian chili

I’ve been having cravings for meat. Ground meat. It’s funny, because before this diet I never really cared for ground beef as I generally find it too greasy. But now that I’m supposed to eat less meat and more vegetables or vegetarian alternatives, I’ve suddenly started staring at hamburgers and thinking of meatloaf.

One substitute that has worked well in the past is veggie ground round, a soy-based product that has the look and texture of ground beef. Now, it doesn’t taste like ground beef, so it’s best used in dishes where the meat taste isn’t necessarily the star, such as a baked pasta dish.

Last night I deflowered my virgin Le Creuset and made some tricksy vegetarian chili. This stuff looks, tastes and has the texture of regular chili but lets you avoid the grease and fat of red meat. The recipe is a mishmash of various other chili recipes that I’ve found in books and online.

Vegetarian chili

Vegetarian chili in my new Le Creuset

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My blog avatar

Not sure if you’ve noticed, but at some point last week (or maybe the week before that) I finally uploaded a photo for this blog’s avatar.

Arent I cute?

Aren't I weird, but also cute?

Yes, your eyes are not deceiving you. That is panda corn standing there next to a piece of bamboo (although a friend of mine insists it’s Snoopy).
The photo was taken at Ocean Park in Hong Kong, just outside their panda zoo exhibit. There is this strange obsession with corn in Asia, and it’s usually paired with desserts. In a shopping mall in Malaysia, I actually found a shop that sold ice cream and freshly steamed corn niblets side by side. (Too bad I didn’t think to take a photo of it at the time.)
And then there is this corn panda. There was actually a whole row of them along a wall, and each one had a different pose. It was just too funny and strange that I felt compelled to take numerous photos so that I could inflict them on my family and friends.