Restaurant Review: Muku Japanese Ramen

>> Friday, December 19, 2014


We’ve had a pretty warm and snow free winter so far, but somehow this hasn’t stopped me from craving warm and comforting dishes. I suppose it’s just that time of year where I just want all things soothing, which is why I’ve been finding myself eating more warm soupy meals lately. Ramen is definitely up there on my list when I think of something warm and comforting.

Atmosphere: A tiny cozy noodle house meant for smaller groups of diners. Be sure to arrive early to avoid lineups.

Price Range: Mid $10s

Food: When you first enter Muku you’re reminded that you’re at a restaurant specializing in ramen noodles and ramen alone. They don’t serve sushi here. They do however have some small bites to start off your meal while you’re still waiting for your noodle bowl and we did just that. Starting with some crispy Deep Fried Squid served with mayo for dipping. The squid were crunchy and lightly battered. It went nicely with the mayo which is my dip of choice. However, I did find that they were a bit oily but since it was only a snack sized portion it wasn’t too overwhelming.


I was super excited for my Spicy Tonkotsu Ramen with pork (chashu), fresh green onion, baby corn, Japanese fish cake (Naruto) in a thick savory pork bone and soy based broth topped with a dollop of hot sauce. Before I even dug in I admired the cloudiness and aromas coming off of the broth, both signifying a great tonkotsu bowl. I really enjoyed the broth used, you could really taste the depth of flavour and how they’ve been able to extract the essence of the pork bones. There weren’t too many toppings included but the noodles themselves had a really nice texture. They were chewy, not gummy and held up well against the broth. I liked the added spice to the soup. It wasn’t too hot but just a touch of lingering spice at the end of the bite.

The hubby ordered the Miso Ramen with chashu slices, green onion, corn kernels, boiled bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, carrots and dried seaweed all in a chicken and fish broth with miso paste for flavouring. Again the noodles were perfectly cooked in his bowl of ramen. The broth was still hearty, with lots of nutty sweetness even though it’s made with the use of chicken and fish instead of pork bones. If you like your chashu aka slices of pork then you’ll like this option. The pork at Muku is much leaner than what we’re used to but it’s also perfect for those that aren’t a fan of the fatty pork, but the flavour of the pork itself is still very good. My husband did find the portion sizes a bit smaller than other ramen places we’ve visited, so for those that have a larger appetite make sure to let your servers know so they can suggest either additional noodles or toppings so you don’t leave feeling unsatisfied.


My Pick: Tonkotsu Ramen (regular or spicy)

Overall: Specializing in ramen means they do it well. The noodles are perfectly cooked and the broth is hearty and flavourful. Personally I enjoy more toppings on my ramen, there is an option to add additional items to your bowl so feel free to experiment and I hope you all keep warm during this season especially with some ramen in your stomach!

Muku Japanese Ramen
326 14 Street NW
Calgary, AB

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Spicy Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies

>> Wednesday, December 10, 2014


When cooking, rarely do I ever measure out the exact amounts of each ingredient that I’m using, which can make it difficult to share my recipes. A lot of what I cook is based on estimation depending on how much broth I’m cooking or how big the roast is. Everything is done by feel and taste since I don’t always knows the exact weight of all the drumsticks or the pork chops, although I’m getting a lot better now, especially knowing that I need to capture the quantities I’ve used in order to share it with all my readers.

When it comes to baking you can’t use that same approach. Baking is much more methodic and requires exact measurements to ensure that the results achieved are exactly as intended. So when I find a good recipe I tend to adhere to it pretty closely, changing it only slightly to make it more of my own. Sometimes I might lower the amount of sugar used because I personally find it a bit sweet or change the type of flour or sugar used to accommodate what I have at home. However, the recipe that I used for this year’s Food Blogger Bake sale sounded perfect and therefore I really didn’t change the amount or type of ingredients, but instead I altered the preparation and cooking time for a chewier cookie. You can find the original recipe here. Let me know what you guys think!

Nutritional Tidbit: It seems a bit of a stretch to call a cookie healthy but these do have some nutritional benefits with the use of dark unsweetened chocolate. Dark chocolate has been shown to contain antioxidants which protect our bodies from harmful free radicals. It also has a good amount of minerals required by your body. Although sources say that it may lower LDL and cardiovascular risk, we should still remember that chocolate is a treat and like all other foods, eaten in moderation.



Ingredients:

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup butter
4 oz dark unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsps vanilla extract 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips



Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 325ºF and line two baking trays with parchment paper.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and spices. You can choose to use the ones suggested or add in additional flavours like nutmeg or cardamom. Feel free to experiment.

In a microwave safe bowl heat up the butter and unsweetened dark chocolate for 30 secs at a time until melted, stir the mixture each time until they’re well blended. I know a lot of recipes call for unsalted butter but I prefer to use salted butter and just remove the salt from the recipe, if you’re using unsalted butter just add in 1/2 tsp of salt!

In a medium sized mixing bowl, beat together the brown sugar, granulated sugar, eggs and vanilla. Pour in the chocolate mixture and stir until all the ingredients are well blended together.

Slowly fold in the dry ingredients with a wooden spoon. This may take a bit of elbow grease but I prefer to do it by hand to avoid over mixing.

Add in the chocolate chips and continue to fold the batter until they are evenly distributed throughout.

Roll the dough in to roughly 1 1/2 inch balls, place on the parchment about 1 inch apart. Slightly press down the batter since the dough itself doesn’t spread much while baking.

Put in the oven for roughly 8-10 mins depending on how chewy you like your cookies. I prefer to mine half-baked so I take them out closer to 8 mins.

When you remove the cookies from the oven, remove them from the baking tray and allow to fully cool. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week (if they last that long).

Recipe makes about 2 dozen.

Enjoy!


A group of food bloggers around Calgary also thought it would be a great chance for us to share our holiday baking recipes with the Sweet Holiday Blog Hop. Check out these delicious recipes for your Christmas baking!

Food Mamma - Candy Cane Bark
Bakers Beans - Orange Gingerbread Cookies
Dish N The Kitchen - Salted Pistachio Sablés
Julie Van Rosendaal - Sticky Toffee Pudding
Because I Like Chocolate - Vegan Nanaimo Bars
Heathers Eats - Butter Tarts
Miss Foodie's Gourmet Adventures - Hazelnut Shortbread
Merry About Town - Nutella Pretzel Cranberry No Bake Cookies

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Restaurant Review: Barcelona Tavern

>> Friday, December 5, 2014


A couple of my friends recently returned from Spain and was telling me all about the amazing tapas they had while they were there. It has been a couple years since I visited Barcelona but I can still remember the taste of the amazing food and more so the atmosphere of the crowds all gathering in a little restaurant sampling the tapas specialty of the evening. Recently as I was wandering to the mall, I noticed that there was a new restaurant called Barcelona Tavern where the old Belgo used to be and thought to myself that I’m in luck. It seems Barcelona has come to me!

Atmosphere: Redesigned open dining area with splashes of art featured in sections of the restaurant showcasing local artists and their talent. A second floor is also available for those looking for a bit more privacy.

Price Range: Mid $10s - $20+


Food & Wine: With so many different options on the menu, it was really hard to decide what we wanted to try since everything sounded amazing. Luckily we were craving tapas that night so we kept our focus on the sharing menu (it was tough, our eyes kept wandering!). We ended up going down the list and ordered based on a whim. Starting with one of my favorite appetizer dishes, the Patatas Bravas, you really can’t go wrong with tiny deep fried potatoes right? These ones were served with an artichoke lemon aioli, housemade sriracha and grated duck eggs. A bit spicy and a bit savory they’re a good change from fries. Since you get the whole potato you also get a bit more of the fleshy interior making it a bit more substantial. Although they do offer fries as well if you’ve got a hankering for them.

I’m also a huge fan of Calamari, the ones served at Barcelona Tavern have a thicker batter and served with two sauces, an avocado salsa verde and a romesco - tomato based - sauce. It was nice to have the contrasting sauces especially when sharing to allow for different preferences. The salsa verde was creamier while the romesco had a slight tang, but each went well with the calamari alone or you can even mix them together for a different flavor combination.

 
Their version of a braised pork slider called the Spanish Slammer was topped with an apple slaw, the aforementioned avocado salsa verde, all sandwiched between a sweet brioche bun. The pork was tender and well-seasoned plus all the fixings on top made for a melt in your mouth experience. I would definitely order these again.

Our last tapas plate was the Ahi Tuna Crudo recommended by our server. It was light and refreshing, a nice contrast to the other dishes we’ve had so far. The plate arrives deconstructed and is meant for the diner to put together before consuming. If you only taste one or two components of the dish alone, it will feel a bit off, make sure to get a bit of the aioli, wasabi, the soy all on top before taking a bite. I did find the wonton a bit tough and therefore stuck with the tuna crudo with just the fixings, which some might feel would be lacking the texture component, but I didn’t mind.


To ensure we had a well-rounded meal we had also tried some of the sides. The Roasted Cremini and Portobello Mushrooms were creamy, flavourful and just plain delicious. Some might find it a bit heavy, but since there was a good selection of other dishes it helped to cut through the heaviness. We also ordered the slow roasted Truffled Beets. I never would have thought of putting truffle oil on beets, but it works. Since beets are sweet and hearty, they held well against the strong pungent flavours of the truffle.

For dessert, it was hard not to order the Spanish Coffee Sticky Toffee Sticky Date Pudding. It just sounded so decadent and it was. This is definitely a dessert for those with a sweet tooth. With the salted brandy caramel, creamy kahlua gelato from Fiasco (we also added a scoop of vanilla) and the rum soaked raisins, it culminated in to big sugary bite. I would recommend trying it with a coffee, since the flavours definitely play well together.


One thing that caught my eye was the Gin & Tonic menu. It seems they’re trying to bring back the gin and yes please! I didn’t get a chance to sample their selections that evening, but I definitely made a mental note to come back and try it. With amazing drinks like Kiwi and Cucumber, Strawberry and Basil, I can see it being the start of one of those nights.

My Picks: Spanish Slammer, Roasted Mushrooms, Truffled Beets

Overall: We can always use more Latin and Spanish inspired cuisine in town and I’m really happy to see one open right in downtown. Although the delivery of the food is slightly different from the cramped quarters of the little pubs in Spain, I still love tapas and anything that is meant for sharing family style is a winner in my books.


Barcelona Tavern
501 8 Avenue SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 265-6555
Website: barcelonatavern.com

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Restaurant Review: The Block Kitchen and Lounge

>> Monday, November 24, 2014


Not sure if it’s possible but traffic seems to have gotten worse in Calgary lately. Especially because I’m one that is quick to anger on the road, I’m glad that 1) I live close to downtown and 2) I don’t have to drive too often and leave it to my husband. I still remember a time when I loved cruising in my car, but now I avoid it like the plague, which is why it’s great to have so many delicious food options close to our house. One of them being The Block which recently opened up earlier this year and we decided to stop in one day after work to check it out.

Atmosphere: Large dining area with a simple rustic charm fused with a modern day feel, a nice place to meet friends for a drink in the lounge or grab a bite outside the craziness of downtown.

Price Range: Mid $10s - $20+

 
Food: We were ravenous and couldn’t wait for dinner, so we found ourselves at the restaurant quite early (I guess work tends to drain both our minds and stomachs). To our surprise, there was a happy hour special and we decided to order a couple dishes to sample. We were amazed at how large their portion sizes were when they arrived. Being priced at 5 dollars a plate we figured they would be smaller plates of the original but they were full orders! Definitely a great deal for those that are hungry and happen to be in the area. Not to mention that they were delicious as well.

The Calamari was crunchy and addicting. Served with pickled red onions and a garlicky aioli, it was something you can pick at all night. We also ordered some Parmesan Fries off the same menu. I’ve found there are too camps when it comes to French fries, soft or extra crispy, I’m part of the latter group and if you are too then you’ll enjoy these! They come with a side of ketchup and a side of aioli, to satisfy all parties, plus you can never go wrong with more dips for fries.

 
We were craving appetizers that evening so we also ordered the Spinach Artichoke Dip off their regular menu. Normally I find we always need to ask for additional crostinis for all the dip that is served, but not in this case. The dip was served with more than enough crostinis, each being the perfect bite sized portion. The dip itself was velvety with lots of chunky spinach and topped with a layer of gooey cheese. Again it was a good portion size and perfect for sharing amongst several people.

For the entrée, we had the Pork shoulder with a celery root white bean hash and green beans. I really liked the hash, which enhanced the smokiness of the pork. The meat itself was flavourful and the green beans were cooked perfectly. The dish came together nicely and made for a hearty plate.


Since we were overzealous with all the appetizers we unfortunately didn’t save room for dessert, which means we’ll need to make another trip back to sample some of the delectable sounding desserts they have on their menu.

My Picks: Pork Shoulder

Overall: Not only is closer to our house but couple that with delicious food and generous portion sizes, it’s a great alternative to driving downtown and searching for parking! Looking forward to visiting again to sample different seasonal items and features.

The Block Kitchen and Lounge
2411 4 Street NW
Calgary, AB
(403) 282-1339
Website: eatdrinkblock.com

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Restaurant Review: Workshop Kitchen Culture

>> Thursday, November 13, 2014

 
There’s something to be said about comfort food on a cold day. It not only warms you up from the inside, but it’s also satisfies the soul and those nagging cravings. It was only appropriate that with our cooling weather we decided to drop by Workshop where they elevate homey dishes to the next level.

Atmosphere: Rustic meets edgy in the dining area right outside the Grand Theatre, the contrast resulting in a cozy place to grab a bite before catching a show or to catch up with friends.

 
Price Range: Mid $10s - $30+

Food & Wine: The server immediately told us the format of the menu was family style and meant for sharing, which was perfect. Dinner doesn’t feel the same if I’m not sharing plates and chatting about the nuances of each one. To start we had the Albacore Tuna Tiradito, slices of fresh tuna served with a soy and chili dressing and topped with cilantro and pickled vegetables. The combinations of flavours were amazing! Everything on the plate had a purpose. The salty soy coupled with the tangy crisp vegetables really enhanced the tuna without overpowering it. I really enjoyed the pickled vegetables and probably could have eaten a whole side of them!


Next we shared the Roast Organic Chicken with mushrooms, pancetta and kale, truffle and lemon jus. The chicken itself was moist and tender, both the white and dark meat were well cooked. Mushrooms made the dish homey and addition natural addition of the truffle elevated the flavours. A bit of the kale and pancetta with the chicken and mushroom made for a really lovely bite.

We also decided on some sides, which are not to be missed. The Potato Gnocchi was delectable, each one was a fluffy pillow covered in parsley and parmesan cream. Comfort food at its best and perfect for sharing due to its generous portion size. The Roasted Sweet Potatoes reminded me of a thanksgiving dish with the cumin spice and brown sugar. It’s nice to see sweet potatoes presented in a different way other than fries (which are delicious, but variety is key).
 

It was hard to pass on dessert when we saw the Root Beer Panna Cotta. It came with a white chocolate root cake and pop rock dust. Each element of the dessert was good on its own, but the flavours literally popped when you had them all together. I’m still a kid at heart and anybody that an incorporate pop rocks in to dessert get a big thumbs up from me!

My Picks: Gnocchi, Root Beer Dessert


Overall: Everything was amazing and I’ve already been back to try some of their other dishes since this first visit. Now with winter hitting our city, this is the perfect place to warm up! So grab your friends and family and head over to Workshop and see what they’re cooking up.

Workshop Kitchen Culture
608 1st Street SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 266-7062
Website: www.workshopcalgary.com

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Pumpkin Bread (to use up the leftover halloween pumpkin)

>> Monday, November 3, 2014


Every year around this time I’m madly searching around the internet to find new recipes to use up my pumpkin leftovers from the Halloween pumpkin and one can only eat so many pumpkin pies. Its easy to let your imagination sore when it comes to pumpkin recipes because it’s such a versatile ingredient, you can use it in ravioli, make it in to fruit butters or my favorite, breads and cakes (I know, not overly imaginative but I can't help but crave them).

So even when I’m searching for that special recipe, I usually narrow it down to some sort of pumpkin bread. This year was no different. I did end up finding a delicious yet slightly healthy recipe which uses water to increase the moistness of the loaf. Since pumpkin itself is so sweet, I upped the amount of pumpkin puree and decrease the added sugar for an overall healthier recipe. You can find the original one here, but I hope you enjoy the slight tweaks I’ve made. This will definitely be one of my go tos from now on but I don't think I'll ever be able to stop the search for new and amazing recipes. ;)


Ingredients:
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground mace
4 tbsp butter
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/4 cup packed pumpkin puree
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup water

 
Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350ºF and line a 9 inch loaf pan with parchment paper or you can grease the pan.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, allspice, cloves and mace. Whisk lightly until blended and set aside. Feel free to play with different spices to make the flavour all your own.

Beat the butter, sugar and oil together in a separate mixing bowl until it becomes fluffy. I prefer the use of salted butter which doesn’t require me to use salt, but if you’re using unsalted butter be sure to add in a pinch of salt for added flavour.

Mix in the pumpkin puree. Once fully combined, crack in one egg at a time and beat until it’s just incorporated.

I would suggest completing the next couple steps by hand instead of using the mixer. Slowly sift in the dry mixture while stirring by hand.

Add in the vanilla extract and the water while continuing to slowly stir the batter. Don’t over mix to avoid a the batter getting too tough.

Pour the in to the loaf pan and bake in the oven for 1 hour.

Insert a toothpick in the center to confirm that the loaf is fully cooked. If not return to oven for another 10-15 mins.

Remove from the oven and let it cool before serving.

Enjoy!

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Restaurant Review: LDV Pizza Bar

>> Friday, October 24, 2014

 
My must visit list always seems to be growing, even though I often feel like I eat out more than I should. There are too many great establishments around town, plus with new ones always making its debut, it’s hard not to indulge. LDV has been on my wish list for a while but for some reason that I can’t seem to comprehend, I’ve yet to make it down there. So when YYC Pizza Week rolled around in Sept and I realized that they were partaking, I seized the moment and immediately made a reservation before I became too distracted.

Atmosphere: Attached to La Dolce Vita, this pizzeria has a refined Italian bistro feel. Situated on the second floor, the restaurant overlooks Bridgeland and allows diners to enjoy the views of the busy neighbourhood.

Price Range: Mid $10s


Food & Wine: Although we were there for their pizza week specialty, we definitely wanted to sample some of the featured items on their menu. The Mussels, which was prepared with a white wine tomato sauce and served with pizza bread, was a great start to our meal. The sauce was robust and flavourful, perfect for scooping on top each of the mussels. It was also delicious with the accompanying bread, which is made from their chewy pizza dough. Next we had the Meatballs. Homemade beef and pork meatballs served in a tangy tomato sauce and served with the addicting pizza bread that also came with our mussels. The serving size was very generous and the meatballs themselves were moist and tender. It’s a great sharing dish for those that are looking for a small bite before their mains arrive.

We were pretty excited for the pizza, which was called the Clint Eastwood, sadly only a special for YYC Pizza Week. Made with fiore di latte cheese, tomato sauce, and topped with bresaola, arugula, shaved grana padano and smoked paprika. All the flavours of the toppings were a perfect blend, the saltiness of the bresaola combined with the creamy grana padano and fiore di latte cheeses coupled with peppery arugula and smoky paprika. Add on to that the chewiness of the crust and it made for one of the more memorable pizzas I sampled that week. I really hope they decide to bring it back!


To end our evening we ordered the homemade Chocolate cake for dessert. I really enjoyed the gooey chocolately cake and the side of ice cream was really just a bonus. For those who know me know I love hot and cold desserts. There’s just something special about that combination. We decided on the pistachio gelato and it really elevated the chocolate cake. Plus the chocolate was the perfect pairing for our Terre De Priori Chianti. An inexpensive red, that’s not quite as aromatic as a typical chianti but still provides the cherry notes that pair well with a nice chocolate dessert.

My Picks: Meatballs, Any pizza

Overall: With so many great places it’s often hard to make it out to a restaurant, but after our experience at LDV I’ll definitely be adding it to my rotation. Even though the pizza we tried was a special feature that night, I was truly impressed with their pizza dough and can’t wait to try their other offerings.

 
LDV Pizza Bar
916 1st Ave NE
Calgary, AB
(403) 263-5999
Website: ldvpizzabar.com

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