Swiss Chard Fusilli Pasta

>> Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Lately I’ve noticed a huge surge of gluten-free products and advertisements. They’re all over the supermarket shelves, highlighted in big bold letters. I even started to notice that a lot of the coffee shops are carrying gluten free desserts and treats. This is all great for people who are allergic to gluten of course. I have friends who have celiac disease and are severely affected by anything with gluten in it. They’ve always had to avoid desserts, pastas or anything with wheat, barley and rye. So I’m extremely excited that they have those options now.

Sometimes I forget how lucky I am, to be able to enjoy all different types of foods because I don’t have any food allergies. I’m able to satisfy my cravings and not have to worry about the consequences later (except maybe needing to spend a bit more time at the gym afterwards, I kid). Every so often I get big cravings for pasta and I almost always succumb to it. Knowing that I don’t have to worry about the consequences after, makes me savour every bite that much more.

I wasn’t looking for anything heavy, but more so lighter while yet still providing a bit of a flavour punch. I didn’t have to look further than the swiss chard that was hanging out in my refrigerator.

Nutritional Tidbit: Swiss chard comes in numerous different colors, the most common being red and green. Often you’ll see yellow chard during the peak of its season. Belonging to the same family as the beets and spinach, the chard rates among one of the healthiest vegetables in the world. It is mostly used in the Meditteranean but is starting to gain recognition here in North America. Due to its multicolored stems, the chard is known to provide many different phytonutrients, which are nutrients found only in plants. Phytonutrients have been found to contain disease fighting compounds and boost the immune system. Chard also provides many different types of vitamins and minerals and regulate blood sugar!

This recipe didn’t take long to pull together and I found the roasted red peppers added to the sweetness of the chard. You can always change it up and add different spices to make it your own. Also, I recommend throwing in additional vegetables or protein like chicken. The best part was it allowed me to enjoy the pasta amongst healthy and nutritious ingredients.

1 1/2 fusilli pasta
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 lb swiss chard, cut to 1 inch strips
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 roasted red pepper, cut to 1 inch pieces
2 tbsps balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp rosemary, can be substituted by 1/4 tsp dried
1/4 tsp dried chili flakes
1 tbsp cornstarch
Salt and pepper

In a medium stock pot, boil the pasta with some salt and olive oil until al dente. Roughly 10 mins.

In a sauce pan, heat a tbsp spoon of oil (canola, olive or other) over medium to high heat. Add in onions and garlic and cook for 2 mins.

Add in the swiss chard stems and half of the chicken stock (and dried rosemary if using, wait if using fresh). Stir in the balsamic vinegar.

Add in the remaining leafy portions of the chard and the rest of the chicken stock. Allow it to simmer for another 2-3 mins.

Mix in the pre cut roasted red peppers, fresh rosemary and chili flakes. Salt and pepper to taste.

Once everything is combined, in a small dish, mix the cornstarch with 2 tbsp of water and pour in to the pan.

Allow the cornstarch to thicken up the sauce before removing from the heat. The cornstarch will need to be thoroughly cooked or else it will taste chalky.

Mix pasta in with the sauce and serve. Enjoy!


Restaurant Review: Borgo Trattoria

>> Monday, March 19, 2012

I was reading in the paper the other day about how city planners in Calgary are concerned that 17th Avenue is going to turn in to the next Electric Avenue. This is mainly due to the shift from small unique shops and stores to more restaurants and bars opening along the avenue. I can see why the planners are concerned that we’re losing the appeal of small store owners of wanting to open their eclectic stores along the street, but at the same time being a foodie, I think it’s great that there are more restaurant owners looking at investing in our city. There has been an increase in restaurants in and around the area and Borgo Trattoria is one of them. Opened by the owners of the old Capo, Borgo is supposed to be a more casual version of the old higher end restaurant. Since I can’t change them I might as well join them…so to speak.

Atmosphere: Boisterous and open with a lofty warm comfortable dining area.

Price Range: Mid $10s - $20s

Food and Wine: My dining companions had already ordered the appetizers before I arrived since I was running a bit late. It was another earlier dinner since Borgo, like many other new restaurants opening around town, does not take reservations. I was informed that they’ve ordered the Arancino of Risotto, which is a fried ball of risotto with a cheese fonduta aka sauce served overtop. Since I’m not a big cheese eater (let’s just say, I’ll never reach connoisseur status), the rest of the table thought they were very good and actually not too cheesy at all. In hindsight, maybe I could have had a couple bites…

Instead I was a bit more focused on the Eggplant Fritta. The eggplant fries were nice and thick, coated with crunchy breading and complimented nicely by the side of fennel yogurt. For those that don’t like fennel, beware, because it does come through quite strongly in the yogurt. I personally enjoy the taste of fennel quite a bit and found the yogurt to cut the greasiness of the fried eggplants.

The table was kind enough to wait for me before ordering the entrees. Since it was more family style we decided to order based on the more traditional Italian dining menu of Primo, Secondi and Dolce. Starting with our first courses of the Orecchiette and Gnocchi Pastas. The orecchiette, or tiny ear shaped pastas, were al dente and chewy, covered in a thick and creamy bacon, roasted garlic sauce with bits of broccoletti. The first couple bites were quite tasty, but it did become a bit heavy after a couple scoops. I was glad that we were sharing at that point. The ricotta gnocchi (recommended by the served), which is made in house, came in a cheesy mozzarella basil and tomato sauce. Each tiny gnocchi was fluffy and had a nice texture, but I found the sauce again a bit overwhelming.

Since the aforementioned dishes were a bit on the dense side, it took us a little while to work through and we were all ready for the smaller second course dishes to arrive. The Grilled Lamb Chops came with confit tomatoes and a olive rosemary vinaigrette. I found the lamb to be a bit gamey but the vinaigrette did help cut through that a bit. The chop itself was seared to a nice medium rare. The Braised Pork Shoulder was accompanied by an intriguing sweet & sour agrodolce sauce. Its sweetness went very nicely with soft herb polenta, which I found to be better than the pork itself. The rest of the table agreed that the pork was a bit on the dry side considering it was braised. I definitely recommend sharing some appetizers and pasta dishes before ordering the main entrees because they are a bit smaller.

Choosing our dessert was made easy because Borgo offers the Guantiera, which is a sampler of all the desserts they have on the menu. I can never say no to sampling! The four desserts include:

Cassata style semifreddo (meaning semi frozen) with chocolate amarena cherry and pistachio sponge cake – very refreshing and light,
Raspberry & milk chocolate bavarese with a light chesnut sponge – I could really taste the chestnuts, probably my favorite
Lemon and dark chocolate torte with anise and chocolate ganache – the anise was a nice surprise, not my favourite though when compared amongst the others
Apple vanilla semifreddo, walnut sponge and grappa fig jelly – the cake was fragrant with many different types of spice, it was cooling and light as well.

The Montepulciano wine we ordered was out of stock and the waiter recommended the Batzella “ormai” Bolgheri (cab sauv/syrah/cab franc), which he said was superior. So we decided to go with the flow. I found the wine to be a bit spicy and tart due to the syrah in the blend. It’s a medium bodied wine with a longer earthy finish. I can see it being a good wine for a cheese course or game meat.

My Picks: Orecchiette Pasta

Overall: Borgo’s pasta dishes were definitely filling and flavourful. It’s nice to welcome another Italian addition to the 17th Ave area of town. It’s always nice to have more dining choices. So I don’t necessarily see why it would be an issue with creating a location within the city where people know they can go for great food.

Borgo Trattoria
818 16 Ave SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 245-2202

Borgo Trattoria on Urbanspoon


Restaurant Review: Avenue Deli

>> Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Now that the Big Taste event in Calgary is over, aside from me needing to hit the gym a bit more. I was glad to be able to enjoy myself at the many different establishments that were part of the Calgary dining event. Aside from the higher end restaurants that are often spotlighted during these events, I was really glad to see smaller diners and delis involved this year as well. So naturally I had to make it to at least one of them, which I did and wasn’t disappointed at Avenue Deli.

Atmosphere: Small intimate diner, with a select number of tables to serve the many hungering to get some Montreal smoked meat.

Price Range: Mid $10s

Food: Normally at deli’s I tend to stick to my Bagel and Lox, which is offered at Avenue Deli, but seeing that it was the Big Taste, I really wanted to try something more unique. The menu included a starter of their daily featured soups, a choice of sandwich or hot dog along with a milkshake (eight different flavours available) or an espresso based drink.

It took me a while to decide since there were so many available combinations! But since the line was moving faster than me that afternoon, I made some impromptu decisions, which I don’t regret what so ever!

I started with what they called the White Velvet Soup, which was cream based with bits of bacon and topped with truffle oil. It was earthy and savoury, which is always a great way to start a meal. The other two soups available that day was a Corn Chowder and also a Chili. Needless to say it was hard to choose, but I was happy with my choice.

For the main part of my meal, I opted to go with the Euro Dog. An all beef hot dog served with spinach, tomato, and boccocini cheese infused with balsamic vinegar. Eating this hot dog actually felt somewhat healthy. The hot dog was flavorful and was quite filling.

As for my drink, I had to get an Americano. Although my dining companions all got milkshakes (choice of eight housemade shakes), it was still a bit early for me, plus I wanted to save myself for a refreshing Root Beer! The hubby decided not to go with the dining week menu because he got side tracked by the word “Reuben”, which are his favorite and he orders it every chance he gets. The bread was nice and thick, a bit toasted and crunchy with lots of juicy smoked meat, sauerkraut and grainy mustard, oh and gooey cheese. I enjoyed my bite! The hubby enjoyed it so much he bought a pound of the smoked meat to go!

My Pick: Euro Dog (or any All Beef Hot Dog), Smoked Meat!

Overall: Sad that Calgary’s dining week is over, but excited to have found another great deli in Calgary. Will definitely have to drop by again and maybe this time I just might get that Bagel and Lox!

Avenue Deli3 – 2008, 33 Avenue SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 242-6783

Avenue Deli on Urbanspoon


Restaurant Review: The Libertine Public House

>> Friday, March 9, 2012

Growing up I never fully understood the meaning of Happy Hour. I always figured that they termed it that because people are happy when alcohol is involved (who isn’t really?). But now that I’m a full fledged working adult I’ve realized that it’s not only the alcohol, that really just helps numbs everything. Several reasons why one would be happy:

1) You’re not at work anymore
2) You’re not stuck in rush hour traffic
3) Did I mention you’re not at work anymore? Plus, now you’re nicely inebriated and can’t drive in rush hour traffic?

There really is nothing bad involved in happy hour. So therefore if you can’t beat them…join them.

Atmosphere: Upscale pub feel, with two levels that both face Stephen Ave. A great place to lounge, especially for people watching.

Price Range: Mid $10s - $20s

Food and drinks: After hearing great things about their burger I was looking forward to dropping by and checking out the location myself. I was a bit surprised when I walked in because I was expecting it to look a lot different. Instead, the music wasn’t overly loud and it felt very modish casual as opposed to dark and pub like.

Since it was happy hour when we stopped by, select wines and beers were on special. My friend and I both decided to go with wine, the Malbec for me and the Pinot Grigio for her. Our server mentioned that their flatbread special for the day was a Jerk Chicken, Prosciutto with Pesto, which sounded intriguing and we decided to go with it.

The flatbread didn’t take long to come out and it was the perfect sharing size. It was different in a good way with the mix of Jamaican spices from the jerk chicken and the saltiness of the prosciutto. The pesto pulled it all together by providing a nice herb base. The dough itself is beer infused and I could definitely taste the wheaty hops flavour. It had a nice chew to it, which I personally prefer when it comes to pizza or flatbreads.

At this point we wanted to stick with finger type foods and ordered the Charcuterie Platter and added an order of the Homemade Pretzels. The platter came with different type of cheese (including a Guinness based cheese), house dried beef (jerky like), sausages, pickled vegetables and crusty bread. I really enjoyed the added pretzels because they were chewy and provided an extra texture contrast to the rest of the platter. Both my friend and I enjoyed the house dried beef the most. It reminded me of a very mild jerky without being too dehydrated.

Just perusing through the menu I noticed a running theme of beer based dishes, infusing beer in to different as a primary ingredient (including dessert beer-a-misu!). So I made a note that I would definitely need to come back for a full fledged dinner sometime. Plus, I heard that they do whole roasted pigs on Thursday on the second level!

As for my wine, the Catena Malbec was a nice medium bodied red with sweet black cherry flavours and finishes mildly tannic with a bit of peppery spice. It was great with the jerk chicken flatbread!

My Pick: Flatbreads

Overall: The atmosphere and the fascinating menu (bone marrow appies!) should draw you to Libertine, plus they have some amazing daily specials that are worth a try. All great things that help ease your daily stress. Oh and of course the alcohol doesn’t hurt the happy part of the Happy Hour either!

The Libertine Public House
223 8 Avenue SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 265-3665

The Libertine Public House on Urbanspoon


Sights and Tastes of Los Angeles

>> Tuesday, March 6, 2012

After being stuck in traffic for over an hour, I finally made it in to work today and the first thing I did (after turning on my laptop) was search for flights to snowless destinations. Plus, I get to look forward to the rush hour commute home. All this reminds me of my birthday trip to Los Angeles. A last minute surprise and what a nice surprise it was.

Since my birthday lands in January, I can usually expect it to be snowy, cold and dreary. So it was quite amazing to walk around downtown LA and Santa Barbara in a t-shirt and sandals. Makes me wonder why I don’t go on vacation every year for my birthday or better yet, why I don’t live in a warm sunny climate (hello so-cal!).

It’s been a while since I’ve been to LA, the last time I was still a teenager and let’s just say; LA in your teens is vastly different from LA as an adult. I would almost compare it to being in Las Vegas as a minor…almost, maybe not quite as extreme. This time around, we still did the touristy things: Hollywood Boulevard and walk of fame, Garman’s Theatre, Sunset Strip. But there were aspects of LA that I definitely appreciate more now that I’m older.

One of those is the vineyards of Santa Barbara in the Santa Ynez valley. I never knew there were so many wineries in that region! Due to the climate in that region, majority of the grape varietals grown there are either Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. Neither one are my immediate go to at a restaurant (chiantis or malbecs are my usual preferences). But a good Pinot is always great with lighter fare and even fish like salmon and Chardonnay, well I’ll work on it.

However, the Pinots that I tried at the many different wineries that our tour guide brought us to were very surprising and didn’t drink like a typical Pinot. They had quite the range and some almost tasting like a Cabernet or even a Shiraz since they were so dark and full of oak. Even the Chardonnays were crisp and sweet, not dry like the usual ones I’ve tasted before. I’d highly recommend doing a private tour as well because after 3-4 vineyards, it’s best not to have too many witnesses. Just saying.

LA’s foodie scene has grown quite a bit since the last time I was down there and we just happened upon LA’s Dining Week this year. Admittedly, as a teenager I probably wouldn’t have really paid much attention to it, but now that I’m a foodie. You really can’t travel with me and not be prepared to eat! We managed to try both Craft LA and Katana which offered delightful dining week menus (reviews to come!) and also squeezed in the talked about Osteria Mozza, Mario Batali’s mozzarella tasting bar and restaurant.

One thing that never gets old is the shopping in LA. Whether it be at the Desert Hills premium outlets, Rodeo Drive or Century City, you’re faced with some good finds. Even walking along all the little artist booths down at Venice Beach I was able to pick up a few goodies.

All in all, my trip to LA brought back many memories as it was memorable. It was special to begin with but being in 25ÂșC weather in January wearing shorts and sandals made it even more so. Now where was I? Ah yes, back to my search of sunny weather and warm climates (and looking forward to the commute home, y-a-y).

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