Healthy Hearty Chili

>> Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Chili
When the temperature drops to freezing cold temperatures here in Calgary, I go in to automatic hibernation mode. Give me a cup of hot tea, a good stack of DVDs and some comfort dishes and I’m all set for the weekend…and possibly the week! There really is no substitution for those warm-you-from-the-inside-out sorts of dishes to keep you going during those winter months, things like beef stew, chicken pot pie and tuna casserole, but if you ask me, nothing is heartier than a good bowl – make that pot, of homemade chili. Chock full of veggies and beans, a good thick chunky chili is just what the doctor ordered for those chilly winter days. The great thing about chili is it can also be used for so many different preparations, you could enjoy it alone or along side some tortilla chips, add it on top of fries for some chili cheese fries or even in lasagna for that ultimate tummy warming recipe.

Of course most of the time these comfort foods tend not to only warm the stomach but also add to the inch of all our waistlines, what could be better than to make it hearty but heart healthy as well. Loading up the chili with crunchy vegetables increases the amount of vitamins of the recipe and since chili is normally made with lots of beans, you’re getting a good amount of protein not to mention fiber. If you stick with lean or extra lean ground beef this will even lower the amount of saturated and total fats in the chili, this is definitely noticeable when you don’t have to scoop up all that extra fat lying on top of your chili (eww)!

The recipe that I chose to use was adapted from the Food Network show, Eat, Shrink and Be Merry. I followed it pretty closely since they’re already lowered the amount of fat and upped the vegetable content, but I decided to take it one step further and removed the Italian sausage that was originally there and replaced it with mushrooms. I know not quite the same, but this takes the fat content down further and pumps in more vitamins from the mushrooms. In the end, the chili was just as hearty and I didn’t even notice the missing sausage. I’ve made a few more adaptations which you’ll find in my notes along side each of the ingredients. Enjoy!

Chili
Adapted from the Eat, Shrink and Be Merry – Full of Beans Chili Recipe

Ingredients:
1 lb lean ground beef or extra lean ground beef
2 tsp minced garlic
1 cup diced onion
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced green bell peppers
1 1/2 tbsp chili powder
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp cayenne (optional, for those that like their chili a bit spicier)
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 can tomato paste
2 cups vegetable broth (may need a bit more dependent on how thick you like your chili, original recipe calls for beef broth, but I liked the addition of more vitamins from the vegetable broth, feel free to use either)
1 can red kidney beans (or any other type of beans you prefer, you can up this to 2 cans if you really enjoy beans in your recipe, I enjoy my chili with more beef so only stuck to one can of beans)
1 can sliced mushrooms
3 tbsp fresh cilantro (optional)
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
2 tsp liquid honey
Grated light cheese (optional, for garnish only)

Preparation:
In a large pot, cook onions and garlic until the onions are clear, add in beef and keep cooking until the beef is no longer pink.

Mix in the celery and green peppers and let everything simmer until the vegetables begin to soften.

Add in all the spices (chili powder, cumin, oregano, coriander, cayenne and black pepper) and stir until it coats all the ingredients in the pot well.

Add undrained tomatoes, tomato paste and vegetable stock, cover with lid and allow everything to come to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and allow to simmer for roughly 10 minutes or until you’re happy with the consistency of the chili.

In the meantime, drain and rinse the beans and mushrooms, when ready, add them to the chili. Let everything simmer for another 10 minutes or so.

When ready to serve, add in lime juice and honey. Scoop out into bowl and top with cilantro and cheese. Mmmm!

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Je T'aime Paris

>> Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Eiffel Tower
For our final honeymoon destination, we arrived back in France (almost to the day that we were there the year before). As excited as I was about returning to the city of lights, I really didn’t want to face the fact that we only had one week left of our vacation before heading back home. Don’t get me wrong, home is great, but traveling and eating exotic foods is just that much better. So I tried not to let it get me down too much since, after all, I am in France, a culinary mecca, so I really shouldn’t feel too bad just yet.

Le Papillon
Shortly after landing in Paris, we already found ourselves faced with our first baguette sandwich and as I recall, it was delicious (not unlike all the other baguettes consumed while in Paris). Of course this time around I was purely going to eat my way through Paris, so baguettes were definitely not the only things we consumed. Add in the many croissant au beurres, pain au chocolats, macarons from Laudreé and crepés. I couldn’t leave out the savory dishes either, like French onion soup, beef bourguignon and galettes, which are essentially a crepe but made with buckwheat and are usually more of an entrée rather than a dessert.

Steak and Potatoes
It was hard to pick our favourite meal and best restaurant since there we so many, but if I had to, it would be a tie between Le Papillon found on Rue Mouffetard and Le Louchébem near the Forum des Halles underground mall (which we just happened upon while roaming around). Le Papillon were on numerous best of lists when we were googling restaurants to try in Paris, so we figured why not? When we finally found the place, after walking up and down the street a couple of times, we were glad we didn’t give up (it was hidden beside quite a large fromagerie!). This restaurant was the quintessential French dining experience. The menus were updated daily based on market fresh ingredients that are bought at the stores just down the road and written on little chalk boards all around the front of the restaurant. Most of the tables were placed outside since the interior was so small and the all the food, no matter what you ordered was cooked fresh. I could say that it was the best mushroom stew I’ve ever had, the mushrooms were all so juicy and flavourful that I had to slow down and savour every bite even though all my body wanted to do was to eat it as fast as possible!

Mussels
So if Le Papillon was so amazing why was there a tie? Well, simply because the mussels at Le Louchébem was equally so. We only stumbled upon this restaurant after walking for hours and were famished; therefore we really didn’t expect to be so pleasantly surprised. When they brought out our food, each plate just kept outdoing the one before it, with the highlight being the mussels. There were so many of them in this pot and each one were cooked to perfection. Paired with a refreshing white wine garlic sauce, it didn’t overpower the mussels but complimented them. Did I mention how many of them there were and the fact that they were all equally juicy and succulent? Who said the French eats only small portions?

Raspberry Tart
With our tummies nice and full we were able to fit in more sightseeing: starting from La Defense to the Eiffel Tower to the Panthéon, catching a show at the Moulin Rouge, roaming the underground catacombs, dodging people on the Champs-Elysées and a yummy dinner on the River Seine (not all on the same day of course). There are endless amount of sights in Paris and it truly does win a place in my heart (and stomach) but we weren’t done with France just yet. We still had to head up North to a place with quite a bit of historical significance: Normandy!

Laudree

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Restaurant Review: Laurier Lounge

>> Friday, November 19, 2010

Platter

It’s only just November and I’ve already found myself reminiscing about summer. Just the other day I started to look through some of my summer picture folders, clicking through the BBQ parties and house party photos and then landing on some patio photos that I took early in the summer at Laurier Lounge. I guess with all the wedding planning happening this past summer I completely forgot about them, and so to buck the freezing cold weather that we’re experiencing right now in Calgary. Here’s my two cents about the food we enjoyed that one great summer night.

Atmosphere: Definitely elicits feelings of intimacy and comfort in this cozy environment.

Price: Mid $10s+ (Fondue dependent)

Garlic Prawns
Food and Wine Sangrias (sigh): It was early summer, so a group of us all decided it was a great idea to take advantage of the fantastic weather and hit up a patio (looking at the weather outside now, boy am I ever glad that we did). Since there were so many of us, we had a chance to sample pretty much every single item off of Laurier Lounge’s tapas menu and their yummy dessert menu as well.

The tapas were brought out to us in a nice big platter instead of individual serving dishes since we were all going to eat a bit of everything anyhow, which I thought was a nice touch. Some of my favorites’ were the bacon wrapped dates – interesting flavours, Moules – simple but fresh, French garlic prawns – succulent and flavourful. Of course this didn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy the rest of the tapas, but these were the ones that I seem to recall the most (and have inspired me to replicate them at home). The Baked Brie with raspberry and rosemary chutney was delicious as well, so was the Goat Cheese and Hazelnut Crusted Lamb because the cheese doesn't overpower but compliments and of course, one can never go wrong with Classic Bruschetta.

Molten Chocolate Lava Cake
Of course we weren’t finished once all the tapas were inhaled, but moved right along to dessert, ordering one of each, leaving us with five different delights that we all rotated around the table. Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to sample the chocolate fondue for two, since it didn’t seem right to do that between 8 people, which is really too bad because Laurier Lounge is supposedly known for their fondues, but I’m not going to complain about eating 5 different desserts either.

Maple Pudding
My favourite was definitely the Maple Pudding Chomeur, served along side with a scoop of vanilla gelato. The warmth and sweetness of the pudding mixed with the cooling flavours of gelato where magnificent, plus I’m a sucker for any type of pudding. The Molten Chocolate Lava Cake was right up there as well. Others at the table seemed to enjoy the Wild Berry Mille-Feuille, which is a puff pasty with berry and amaretto cream sauce. In the end, they were all consumed none the less.

My Picks: Bacon Wrapped Dates, Maple Pudding Chomeur

Crepes Suzettes
Overall: Nothing kicks starts summer off like a great patio outing, but unfortunately with the next couple months of winter upon us, the patio is nothing more then a memory of a great summer’s past. At least I have the delicious memories of a great meal at Laurier Lounge to help me through till the next time I find myself enjoying a meal again on the patio under the sun.

Laurier Lounge
1111 – 7th Street SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 228-3771
Website: laurierlounge.com

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Marrakech and Moroccan Cuisine

>> Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tagine
When we were deciding on where to go for our honeymoon, the first thing that came to my mind was the location’s food. Since I’m such a foodie it was definitely a key criterion in deciding our destinations of choice. So I really wasn’t surprised when Morocco was made it on the list (plus it was close to Portugal). Just the thoughts of Morocco conjured up images of lamb tagines (Moroccan stew cooked in a special pot aka a tagine) and spiced couscous; I could barely take it anymore. Luckily time seems to fly as you get older and after months of planning we found ourselves landing in Marrakech.

Djemma el Fna market
The first thing on our itinerary (aside from finding our riad) was to head to the famed Djemaa el fna square, the main market square in Marrakech. Since we arrived at night, all the food stalls were already set up just beckoning us to taste their food. All the stall owners and workers were out trying to entice anybody and everybody from the streets to sit at their tables and not the one to the left, the right or across from them (we soon found out it’s because they all served the same types of food). Of course it helped that no matter which food stall you sat down at, you’re always faced with delicious meats and veggies. The only qualm I had was that the portions were so small, luckily it’s very economical to eat at these stalls and you can order plates upon plates of food. If you’re an adventurous one you can even try their local staples – sheep’s head (boy, was it gamey), fatty meat stews (very very fatty) and snails (Morocco was once a French colony after all).

Food stall
If you didn’t enjoy being pestered at the food stalls, there are many different restaurants that also surround the square and offer roof top terraces to allow you to view the craziness of the market without actually having to brave the storm, so to speak. Chez Chegrouni offers and interesting rabbit tagine, which was a reputable size and quite flavourful. Café Argana located just on the other side of the square also provided some delicious desserts and Moroccan nut filled Patisserie des Princes pastries, which can be found also a little further down the road on Rue Bab Agnaou.

Moroccan Pastries
There were also many different restaurants hidden along the crazy maze like medina in Marrakech. These restaurants do require a little perseverance to find, since no map really quite details where exactly they’re located. So not for the faint of heart, but if you keep trying and start to really read every single sign posted along the way, you’ll eventually find them and once you do, you won’t be disappointed. Since these restaurants often cater to the tourists, you’ll notice that the prices here reflect more of Europe rather than Northern Africa and so do the menus. We had a chance to visit the famous Le Foundouk to try their famous meat skewers, but they were also known for their fusion cuisine as well (which is the new thing in Marrakech). The atmosphere and décor itself should entice a visit (don’t forget to look up to see the crazy candle lit chandelier).

Chicken Dish
Villa Flore was a quaint little restaurant serving French cuisine located near our riad. Again it was a little hard for us to find according to the maps, but once we made it there and was escorted in to the courtyard of the restaurant, all the noise of Marrakech seemed to fade away. The duck confit was delicious as was the tagines (try the pastile pie aka squab or pigeon), I would advise against getting the Moroccan wine, but it was an experience none the less, especially while dining literally under the stars.

Pastile Pie
There were a few other highlights of our trip to Morocco, including a lovely hammam experience (a Moroccan spa which features a head to toe scrub down and massages) at Riad Monceau. Our initial choice was Les Bains de Marrakech, which was booked up for 2 weeks! Luckily we came across Riad Monceau which allowed us to book for the following evening. Let’s just say it was a great 2 hour experience of head to toe cleansing and after all that walking around the dusty streets of Marrakech, it was well warranted. Of course once one is that clean, it made it very very hard to go back in to those aforementioned dusty streets, once or twice I found there was some unknown substance that splashed on my feet. It was best to leave it at unknown.

Moroccan Salad
Overall, we found Marrakech to be an experience of its own (carpet sellers anybody?), the food to be different from what we expected (more fragrant, less spicy) and the people were, well, in our faces most of the time (don’t get me started). I don’t know when I’ll be headed back to Morocco, but at least I can now say I’ve tasted true Moroccan food and another item has been checked off my “to eat visit” list!

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Whole Wheat Bagels

>> Friday, November 12, 2010

Whole Wheat Bagels
Ever since returning back from Europe I can't seem to be able to kick the baking habit, maybe because I'm so use to eating pastries every morning and dessert after every meal or simply because I refuse to admit that I'm back in Calgary. Either way it hasn't stopped my oven from working overtime every weekend loading up my countertops and refrigerator with little bites of joy.

Unfortunately all that baking isn't the best for my health (as delicious as they are) and as much as I try to make them healthier, butter is still saturated fats and sugar is still fat in disguise. So it took me a while to figure out what I can bake that can be incorporated in to a healthy meal. Enter in bagels.

Dough
Ever since high school I’ve been hooked on these things and have never been able to kick the habit. I eat them with cream cheese or peanut butter, as a sandwich or just alone and all by themselves. The dense dough of the bagels gives me that satisfying chew and if eaten in moderation, it can most definitely qualify as being a part of a healthy diet.

Here is a yummy bagel recipe I found that I wanted to share with those who love baked goods since to me anything that goes in my oven is considered as such.

Rolled out dough
Ingredients:
1 1/2 cup lukewarm water
3 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp canola oil
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 1/2 cup all purpose flour a bit more for rolling dough
3/4 tbsp salt
Sesame seeds, poppy seeds or any other topping for the bagels

Mixture of bagels
Preparation:
Place the yeast in a bowl with the sugar, oil and lukewarm water. Stir until the yeast dissolves.

Add in the while wheat flour and mix together with the yeast.

Stir in the salt followed by 1 cup if the all purpose flour. Keep adding a bit if flour at a time until you get a soft dough.

Lightly flour your kneading surface and turn dough out.

Slowly add flour and knead the dough until it becomes smooth and firm (not so sticky). Place the dough back in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit for 10 mins.

Divide dough in to 12 portions (or 24 for smaller bagels, which I prefer).

Roll each portion in to a log and fold the ends over to form a loop. Let bagels sit for 20 mins.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 450 and start a pot of water boiling with 1 tsp salt. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment.

Once the bagels are ready, place them in the water for 1 minute and then flip for another minute. Remove from water and place on parchment.

Top bagels with seeds and place in oven for 15 mins. You might have to turn the bagels over and bake for another 5 minutes at 425 dependent on your oven.

Remove and let cool. Bagels best eaten fresh but you can freeze any bagels that you're not going to be eating right away, which will help them keep longer.

Makes 12 big or 24 small bagels.

Alternatively: you can add in herbs, garlic or onions in to the dough before rolling them out to make herbed bagels or garlic bagels.

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Restaurant Review: NOtaBLE

>> Monday, November 8, 2010

Mussels and Frites

Nothing beats hanging out with family sometimes. They always seem to understand the order of things and let’s admit it, its fun to know who’s doing what and where and when (trust me I have a big enough extended family to truly get lost on who’s where and why). Family fills you in on the goods you’ve missed and reminds you of all the great times of the past. Therefore nothing beats getting together and chatting over some great food and what better place then the new restaurant in town NOtaBLE, owned by Chef Michael Noble and blogged about by his daughter, ah family!

Chicken Ravioli
Atmosphere: Sleek and contemporary, but definitely more on the cozy and warm side. Plenty of space for larger groups or just ask for the table in the corner for that romantic dinner.

Price: $10s - $30s

Food and Wine: When you first look through the menu you’ll notice that it’s divided in to many different sections like all other restaurants, but upon closer inspection you’ll notice that the divisions are more so due to the different tasting selections versus appetizer, entrée and dessert (which is on a menu all by itself anyhow). We decided on the tasters menu since there was a couple of us, we figured why not try to power through a couple of different dishes, tapas style.

Flatbread with Tzatziki
Starting with the Wood Fire-Grilled Bread with Garlic Confit and Tzatziki, the bread was nice and garlicky while staying chewy which I really enjoyed but the tzatziki was a little runnier than what I’m use to; since I’m more accustomed to Greek tzatziki made with thick Greek yogurt.
Next we had the Tombo Tuna Tartare served with Ratatouille, which was a great combination. Scooping up a bit of tuna along side the well seasoned ratatouille balanced both of the elements and created a great flavour and texture combination. The Ravioli of Confit Chicken was brought out by the mushrooms. Chicken always seems to go well with mushrooms, especially served with a nice cream based sauce. I did quite enjoy the Mussels and Frites. The mussels were mediocre since the white wine sauce was a little under seasoned but the frites were nice and crispy and I from my posts before, people know that I enjoy my crunchy fries.

It was hard not to be tempted to try one of the mains while I was there we also ordered the Halibut with Panang Curry. It was interesting to eat halibut in a curry sauce, since curries usually conjure up the thoughts of chicken, beef or legumes. The sauce was nicely spicy with a hint of coconut, which didn’t overpower the delicate fish.

Panang Halibut
There were good choices of reds and whites plus some house specialty cocktails from the bar. We decided on the Albert Bichot Pinot Noir, which was a nice pairing to some of our lighter dishes but still rounded out the flavours of the confit and cream dishes. Most of the bottles on the wine list are from California, so if you like that region of wine, this is the place to be.

After taking a quick peek at the dessert menu, which consisted of your usual suspects (crème brulee, cheesecake, chocolate cake), we decided to save it for another time, which I’m sure won’t be too far away.

My Pick: Tombo Tuna Tartare with Ratatouille

Tuna Tartare with Ratatouille
Overall: The location is different and fresh, like the food, all from acclaimed Chef Michael Noble, who is very well known across Canada and it’s nice to see the support of his family by his side through it all.

NOtaBLE
4611 Bowness Road NW
Calgary, AB
(403) 288-4372

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Lagos - Algarve, Portugal

>> Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Algarve Coast
The Algarve region located in Portugal’s southern coast is known as one of the country’s top tourist locales with many beach resort towns located throughout the entire area. With so many great places, it was hard to pick a specific town to stay in when we were there, but luckily the rocky coastlines and its proximity to the most southwestern tip of Europe made it easy to choose Lagos as our destination spot.

Vila Gale Hotel
When we first pulled up to our hotel, Vila Gale, we didn’t know what to expect. I guess we sort of gave each other the questioning look as to whether we arrived at the right place. Why you ask? Well when you step in to Vila Gale it looks like a spa not a hotel. Everything is very contemporary and the design of the whole complex is simply amazing. Not to mention it’s got an amazing pool which is literally a stone’s throw away from the Meia Praia beach. We were already on cloud 9 at this point, but what made this hotel stand out for us was their customer service. When they found out that we were there on our honeymoon, they decided to surprise us with rose petals, candles, robes, slippers, champagne and chocolate dipped pineapples. Yes! Chocolate Dipped Pineapples! What more could you ask for. At this point I could simply turn around leave Lagos and still say I had an amazing time. But of course I couldn’t do that, there’s so much more to explore!

Vegetarian Crostini
Since all the towns within the Algarve region are literally an hours drive from one to the other, if you had time you can literally travel from one end of the Algarve to the other and see many different towns and ruins along the way. Some of the most memorable places for us included: watching the sunset on the top of Montchique or on the most southwestern tip of Europe, Cabo Sao Vincente, surfing along the Costa Vicentina while visiting the little towns on the way, checking out the castle of Silves, eating fresh fish caught daily in Portimao and of course kayaking between the rock formations along the coastline near Lagos while passing by all the secluded beaches and caves throughout.

Seafood Cataplana
If the sites itself isn’t enough to draw one to this region, the food certainly should, especially when you need to fill your stomach after a 3 hour kayaking trip. In the Algarve is where we had our first (of many) cataplanas, which is the Portuguese version of a seafood stew, made with different types of fish, shellfish, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes and herbs, it’s a food lover’s dream. The fish is cooked perfectly in a perfectly seasoned tomato sauce with plenty of potatoes; I couldn’t stop myself from sopping up all the juices with the chewy Portuguese bread. Each restaurant has their own variation of the cataplana, you can even get meat or mixed cataplanas, which has both meat and fish.

Grilled Chicken
With the proximity to the ocean, it wasn’t surprising to find delicious bacalhau in this region, but their meat dishes weren’t too shabby either. One night in Portimao I had the grilled chicken along with their much favored French fries, it made quite the dish. I do have to admit that through our stay in Portugal we ate more than our share of the potatoes, whether they were fried or stewed or boiled, it was served with every dish.

Portuguese pastries
As mentioned before I’m sure, everybody must visit Portugal at least once in their lifetimes and hopefully have a chance to sample the many different dishes and places as we have. Portugal is an amazing country with many beautiful sights. Of course we’re still missing the Northern part of Portugal, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we do find ourselves wondering back sometime in the future.

Sunset at Cabo Sao Vincente

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