A TRIP TO ISTANBUL

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Like many people, I get cravings. So when I needed my middle eastern fix, I did some research and we ended up at a Turkish restaurant called Istanbul. It wasn’t too far from our place, and I’ve probably passed it 100 times without noticing because it’s in a strip mall of all places. Luckily, we didn’t let that scare us off and I’m really glad.

When you walk inside, it’s small and cozy, with a tile floor and some pieces from Turkey (I assume) around the room. Nothing uber-fancy, but the effort was appreciated. We started with two Turkish beers and kadinbudu kofte or Turkish meatballs. Both were tasty, but if I knew what was coming, I probably would have skipped an appie.

We both ordered “From the BBQ.” Hubby got an Adana Chicken Kebob, and I had a Kerkuk Kebob with ground lamb and beef. Both came with warm, fresh pita and hummus, bulgur and salad.

The meal in my opinion, was superb. The meat was tender and seasoned perfectly. It was all nicely balanced by the tasty bulgur and fresh green salad. And of course, we couldn’t get enough of the pita and hummus.

We left the meal feeling stuffed, but not gross, and a little lighter in the wallet (the Turkish beer at nearly 7 bucks a bottle was a bit much… but when in Rome. Er, I mean Turkey) but I honestly felt the meal had what hubby calls a good value for quantity and quality ratio. After all I did end up taking some meat and bulgur home and had it for breakfast the next day.

Oh, and while we didn’t stay for it, they did have belly-dancing that Saturday if you want to work off the kebobs.

Istanbul Restaurant
12829 82 Street
Monday to Saturday 11:00 am to 10:00 pm
Sunday closed

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PASTRY PERFECTION

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I love pastry. It’s just so darn versatile. A good pastry recipe, with a few modifications, can take you from appie, to dinner, to dessert in no time. In a previous life, pastry was always a challenge for me. It ended up soggy, too thin, too dry or too dense.  But since I discovered Laura Calder‘s pastry recipe, I have yet to go wrong.

With this in mind, I set out to make a fresh tomato tart, my style.  Olive oil, sweet small tomatoes, a bit of dried basil (no fresh on hand), salt and pepper. Nothing fancy, just plain goodness.

I started by preparing Calder’s foolproof pastry (my words, not hers), and putting it in the tin.

I brushed a wee bit of egg white on the bottom of the crust.  I had no idea if the tomatoes would soggify the crust the way I had planned to make this tart. I then cut the tomatoes in half, gave them a little squeeze to get some of the juice out and tossed them with olive oil, basil, salt and pepper. I then put them cut side down on the unbaked pastry. In the oven my little pastry experiment went.

A little while later, out came this.

And I can’t begin to tell you how good it tasted. Once again, Calder’s crust proved infallible, as it was flaky and crispy even under all those juicy, sweet roasted tomatoes. Just to be extra decadent, I whipped up my own cream cheese with chives to serve as the “whipped cream” for this tart.

The moral of this story: don’t be a hero when it comes to pastry, but be brave when it comes to what you’re going to put in it!

Plain Pastry
From Laura Calder’s French Food at Home
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
7 tbsp chilled, unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 tbsp or more chilled water

Add salt to the flour in a bowl. Toss in butter and pinch with your fingers to make a fine, crumb-like texture. Make a well in the middle and add the water. Stir with fingers quickly to combine. Add more water if needed. Roll into a ball. It’s ready for rolling, cutting, etc. This makes one 9 inch tart shell. Can be pre-baked (at 375 F for about 20 mins) or not.

COMMUNAL COOKING

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My hubby brought a lot of good things into our relationship. Among them: a calming presence, technical know-how and a raclette. For those not familiar, it’s a table top grill that you can cook meat on, and underneath you have individual pans for morsels of veg and cheese. It requires lots of prep, but the rewards are huge: a great meal, and a great time with friends while you’re cooking. We decided to host our second raclette night for friends after the success of our first one.

We learned some hard lessons from the first: yes we cut up too much meat, yes we had far too many sauces, and no we did not need to grate 10 pounds of cheese for six people. This time we were a bit more practical, but there was still a good spread: steak, chicken, shrimp, mushrooms, peppers, onion, corn and peas. Oh and soft, gooey gouda cheese. You can buy raclette cheese (I’ve seen it at Paddy’s), but gouda is so, well, gooooda 😉

The raclette night was a great success. Again we bought too many sauces, but our friends cooked up a storm on that thing. Everyone had their fill of whatever they wanted and there was lots of good conversation while we waited for everything to cook. And that’s the best part… connecting with your friends over food. The only downside was the heat. It was a warm night, and I’d say our condo heated up pretty fast. Maybe raclette is more of a winter thing.

Sadly, we won’t be hosting another one anytime soon because the raclette grill has had it’s day, but I think maybe Santa will bring hubby a new one for Christmas.

TRYING THE TWISTED FORK

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Restaurant reviews are a tricky thing. No two people have the exact same palate. And it’s just one person’s opinion. In that spirit, I offer my “review” of Twisted Fork, a two-year old resto-pub on Whyte near the University. And pardon the crappy cell-phone photos. Hubby chose it from the Keep Edmonton Original website. We pulled up around 7:30 and it was pretty dead inside. That set off my spidey senses, but since we were given a seat right by the window, I let it slide. The menu is a simplified one-pager, with lots of yummy looking options, including a seared vegetable maple salad. Hubby went for the De-lux burger which included bacon, two types of cheese and a guac topping. I went for the off-menu special of chicken parmesan with polenta and veg, and we started with that maple salad.

I can tell you, neither of us were disappointed with our food. My chicken parm was crisp and juicy, laid under just the right amount of sauce and cheese. The polenta was buttery and the dill was a nice touch. Torsten’s burger was juicy, and the bacon, crispy. Often times I find burger-bacon extra soggy or fatty… but not this time. And the sweet potato fries were also delicious. Not overly spiced or salted. Very au natural…except for the aioli I smothered them in :).

In reading the menu and talking to the owner (who was also our server that night), we learned the Fork uses locally sourced ingredients and local suppliers wherever possible. Chef Mike Delorme shops the farmers’ market, and tries to be as creative with the menu as possible.  The food reflected that – it all tasted very fresh and flavorful, at a very reasonable price. Comparable, even maybe cheaper than your standard Earl’s. So that left me with one nagging question: why wasn’t the place packed?

I guess in that type of location, it must rely on student traffic, and given that school is out, there’s not so much of that. People might also be scared off by the fact that it’s a tough neighbourhood to navigate with a car (this IS Edmonton, after all). And of course, the owner is trying to attract more business, with Eskimo buses, and a rewards program. I hope it works because the Twisted Fork is the kind of restaurant I think this city needs WAY more of. An independent restaurant that serves good, local comfort food, at a reasonable price.

P.S. As a tribute to any staff member that leaves the establishment, they write that person’s name on a fork and stick it in the ceiling. Nice to see a place that values their staff as well. Oh yeah, and our bill with one beer and all that food? Under 50 bucks before tip.

Twisted Fork
11162 82 Avenue
Monday to Wednesday 10:30 am – 11:00pm
Thursday & Friday 10:30am – 1:00am
Saturday 9:00am – 1:00am
Sunday 9:00am – 7:30pm

UPDATE APRIL 2012… the Twisted Fork is now closed.

PIECE OF CAKE

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OK so my blog has been a little un-Edmonton focused lately, but indulge me one more for now.

As I mentioned a few posts back, hubby and I were in Collingwood for a second family-oriented wedding bash thrown by my mom. This was her day, and she got to do all the things I think she would have liked to have us do for our wedding. Part of that included having several traditional Lithuanian cakes. My mom and her family are from Lithuania, you see, and besides being a hotbed of delicious and unusual meat-and-potato-based cuisine, they are a culture that likes their baked goods.

There is one cake in particular that’s at every traditional Lithuanian wedding called a Raguolis (or more commonly, Sakotis). That more or less translates into “horny cake” (or  “tree cake”).  Pick if you’d like the dirty or clean version 😉

Whatever you call it, it’s loaded with eggs, cream, flour and tons of butter with a hint of lemon essence. A wooden post rotates around a spit to give it that drippy, branchy quality. If you’re interested in the process, check it here.

It tastes… well kind of like how you would expect the above to taste… like a dense cookie with an itsy bitsy hint of lemon. Lasts for days though, kind of like another traditional cake that I like to joke is 70% butter: the Napoleon.

It’s said the cake was brought in as Napoleon made his way through Lithuania. But unlike the man, this cake could never be said to have an inferiority complex. It consists of 12 or so super thin pastry layers – each one rolled and baked individually. Then it usually has two types of filling. I’ve heard one version is made with apricot jam, but my mom used make hers with lemon curd alternating with a vanilla custard. No jars here. It also used to take my mom 2 days to make, so it requires commitment.  Many Lithuanian women I know have their own versions and each believes theirs is best. Sadly, my mom can’t roll the dough anymore, but there were still no less than 4 Napoleons at our wedding. It’s probably the most decadent cake around and is still my favourite to this day.

GUILTY PLEASURE

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My husband and I just returned from my hometown of Collingwood, Ontario and another wedding bash put on by my mom, and what a wonderful time it was! More on all that in later posts, but first, I want to talk about something many of us eat, but many more of us will never admit: Chinese fast food. You know what I’m talking about – chicken balls, chow mein, deep fried egg rolls … all finished off with fluorescent red sauce. Not great for you, but sometimes you get a pretty good craving for it. A few trips to Collingwood back we found ourselves in such a position and ended up going to a town institution: Bamboo Terrace. The restaurant has been serving up Chinese fare since 1969, and I honestly don’t think it’s changed much since then … certainly hasn’t since I ate there as a kid. But in this case, that’s not a bad thing. The combo #1, which I’ve ordered since I can remember, has chicken balls, chicken chow mein and fried rice with a side of egg roll. Sounds pretty standard, but the difference is in how Bamboo Terrace makes their food. The chicken balls are full and meaty – not just dough with a trace of chicken.

The chow mein is fresh… not at all greasy, with big, cruchy sprouts – not overcooked or soggy. The rice is superb – with fresh peas… and don’t even get me started on the egg roll. It’s so crunchy and full of veggies, I’d like to believe it IS good for you.

When we went back this time, I deviated a little and ordered the combo #3 (the difference is an added two delectable deep fried shrimp), hubby stuck to #1 and my mom ordered a #2 with sweet and sour spareribs, just like she always has. Bamboo Terrace seriously is the freshest food of its kind I’ve ever had. And while they do have other dishes, and dim sum, I just can’t bring myself to NOT order the chicken balls. After all, I don’t get home all that often.

Bamboo Terrace is one of those hidden gems that tourists to Collingwood might overlook because it’s not “at the mountain” or “near the beach”, but for the price and the taste, it’s a must-do if you’re in that neck of the woods and find yourself with a Chinese food craving.

Bamboo Terrace

61 Hurontario St.,
Collingwood, Ontario,
Open 11 am to 10 pm
Seven days a week

A GERMAN FEAST

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Onto the feast in a moment, but first thanks to Sharon of Only Here For the Food for the shout out on her site! I’m there all the time gathering morsels of food-related info, so I’m totally honoured… and now that people KNOW about this blog, I’d better keep my writing up!!

To that end, this is another post I’ve been meaning to write, and just getting to now!

My husband is German, which has its perks: an excuse to visit Europe (with free lodging), translation services, automatic party conversation starter, and an excuse to indulge in German cuisine. Being from a European background also, over the years, I’ve developed a love for the meat and potato based goodness. So a couple months before we got married we went through a German food phase. Sadly, since The Mill closed, it’s hit and miss. We started with our new go-to, The Bauernschmaus. Although it’s actually Austrian, we haven’t had a bad dinner there yet. We tried Barb and Ernie’s… not quite to our tastes.  Last stop, we went hardcore: The German Canadian Cultural Association.

For those not familiar, they have a building on the south side that includes a restaurant. The resto has buffet menus every Friday and Saturday, and switches them up once a week. They also post them online so you can plan your visit. That night’s menu included rouladen, red cabbage, currywurst, spatzle, potato salads and lots of other German (and Canadian) goodness, all for $18.50. Trust me… it’s a LOT of food.

So we took four friends and an empty stomach and had our fill of almost everything there. Everyone had a different favourite. The rouladen was mine. Bacon, onions, pickles, wrapped in beef… can’t go wrong.

Some liked the roast, others, the spatzle. There was so much food, there was no way you could NOT find something you liked.  And I think they did a pretty good job of the German fare. My only beef is that maybe it’s not enough. If you take a look at the menu, it’s probably about 50% “other” on any given night, and I think I would go back more if they had at least one night that was strictly German.

But everyone left full and content that night. And I believe our friends Stefan and Catherine brought their families there for Easter brunch the next weekend.  Stefan’s family also happens to be German!

Oh, and did I mention, there’s dessert?


German Canadian Cultural Association

Tuesday to Friday open @ 5:00 pm
Saturday open @ 12:00 noon
Sundays & Mondays closed

780.446.4000

WEDDING MEAL

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So this is the first weekend my new hubby and I have spent alone since we got married 2 weeks ago. We haven’t done anything special, but it’s so nice to just not have to entertain. Although it was so much fun having close friends and family here, and I’m so glad they got to eat at our favourite city restaurant, Culina. That’s where our wedding and reception for 40 was held. The food and wine was so divine, we couldn’t have asked for anything more. My good friend Andree, who has the best food blog of all time, wrote about it here. Thanks Andree!