Dexter and Argentina

>> Sunday, September 29, 2013

I just finished watching the final episode of Dexter. Part of me feels lost that the series is over, but the other is a bit upset at the ending itself. I won't ruin it for some who still have it waiting for them on their PVR. Those that have seen it, message me and we can chat!

Personally, all the talk of traveling to Argentina on the show has got me reminiscing about our travels down south last year during this exact time and I can see why they picked Buenos Aires as a final destination. The city and its architecture is stunning, reminding me of Europe, specifically Paris. Some memorable sites include the Teatro Colon, similar to the famous Paris opera  house, both in construction and grandeur. Another would be the City Hall, not only magnificent itself but also surrounded by historical buildings making for a picturesque view. If you continue walking down to the other end of the street you'll see Casa Rosada, the famous location of where Evita and Juan Peron lived and where they addressed the masses.

Also remember to check out the different areas in Buenos Aires like Recoleta, location of the famous cemetery (Cemetario de la Recoleta) housing the graves of many great South Americans including Evita. Nearby are also many amazing restaurants serving Parrilla (argentinian bbq) where you can dine alfresco (outdoors) enjoying the view. Argentinians are meat lovers and you must dine at a Parrilla when you're there! You can get anything from beef, lamb, pork to offal meat for those that are more adventurous, I recommend trying sweetbreads. 

All the tourist books point you to the La Boca neighborhood, but remember to be careful here because it is located in an area that isn't the safest. Stick to the touristy blocks and avoid going alone. When in the area, try to catch a football game of the famous La Boca football team. If they're alway, you can always tour the stadium, which is quite a sight.

Everywhere you go there will also be people doing the tango. If you have time, try to catch an evening tango show at El Viejo Almacen. They offer a dinner and show combo which is perfect for those looking to get a feel of this amazing dance as well as some delicious Argentinian cuisine.

Some must eats aside from the Parrillas, specifically at La Tranquera (featured on around the world in 80 plates). The portion sizes are nothing to joke about. I guarantee that you will not be leaving there hungry! Everywhere you turn you'll also see Havana stores that sell their famous spread dulce de leche. In Argentina this spread is the equivalent of peanut butter here in North America or Nutella in Europe. I highly recommend crepe filled dulce de leche or their dulce de leche cakes!

Another famous treat is the Alfajors, which are little chocolate covered lemon cakes filled with dulce de leche. They're a bit sweet, but perfect with a cafe. If you're looking for something a little less sugary, the Medialuna's are to die for. They're essentially mini croissants! Next to France these were some of the best croissants I've ever had, a bit sweeter and chewier, just as buttery with an amazing crust. They're perfect for the afternoon 'once' or afternoon tea around 5pm. I even tried to smuggle some back!

Since Argentinians eat rather late like many Europeans, due to the huge influence from the Spaniards. They usually enjoy a sweet snack at roughly 5-6pm daily with a cup of coffee or tea. It's a time to chat and take a break from work or other daily duties. Most people then reconvene for dinner around 8-9pm. Definitely take advantage of this 'once' (pronounced ON-ceh) time to enjoy foods that you were unable to fit in during breakfast or lunch.

Don't forget to grab a couple Empanadas on to go.  Made with all types of fillings like lamb to beef, vegetarian to seafood, there is a combination out there for everyone. The easiest place to find them would be at food stalls around town or little shops along the side of the street. Restaurants often  serve them as appetizers too, so don't be afraid to ask for them.

When dining out, remember to have a glass of their famous Malbec wine. It's a medium to full body wine with smooth tannins and a long finish. I really enjoyed the San Felipe Malbec. It was very reasonably priced and went perfectly with all the different types of grilled foods we had through the trip. The bottle is extremely unique as well, so it'll be easy to locate.

All in all, looking back I can see why Dexter would want to move to Argentina. The amazing food, architecture and wine makes it an alluring destination. If the shows creators didn't get the last season right at least they got Hannah's dream correct.


Restaurant Review: Famoso Country Hills

>> Friday, September 20, 2013

Calgarians have really embraced the new pizza and wine movement. All around the city there have been restaurants the offer pizza with wine, something the Italians known was a success many eons ago. Although we might be a bit late to the game but at least we’re here and I’m really happy to see all the new places that have been popping up around town. Restaurants are not only opening up in the core, but they’re also making it easier for those that live in the suburbs to access great pizza and great wine. Like Famoso, first opening their sister location in Mackenzie Towne and now the newest addition in Country Hills.
Atmosphere: A casual and relaxed dining room perfect for group gatherings or family dinners.
Price Range: Mid $10s
Food & Wine: After looking at their menu I was extremely excited to see the new fall / winter features, but it was hard to stray from other items that sounded amazing, so decided on trying a bit of both. To start we had the Prosciutto Wrapped Mozzarella Balls made with fresh fior-di-latte cheese and wrapped in prosciutto as advertised. The mozzarella balls are baked in tomato sauce and then served with fresh basil, pecorino romano cheese and flatbread. I really enjoyed the different flavour and texture combinations of this dish, the salty prosciutto combined with the lightness of the mozzarella and the sweetness of the tomatoes were a win.
Next up, we had the Tapenade Trio. I’m always a sucker for dips and spreads and this platter is a great option for those that are looking to sample a bit of everything. It comes with 3 different tapenades: Kalamata Olives, Roasted Artichoke, Bruschetta and a side of warm flatbread. The table favorite was the roasted artichoke. There was a pleasant blend of garlic and lemon flavours highlighting the artichoke itself. I enjoyed it both on the flatbread and even by itself.  I was also intrigued by the Mediterranean Flatbread, garlic and herb flatbread served with tzatiki and hummus! I’ll need to make a note to try that next time.
Our third appetizer we had were the Meatballs. You can order either 3 or 6 meatballs and when they arrive, they’re herb spiced meatballs served in their famous tomato sauce and topped with a creamy aioli with shaved pecorino romano cheese. The meatballs themselves were moist and juicy with a nice blend of herbs and spices.
I couldn’t wait to try the Cavoletti after reading the ingredients.  Oven-roasted Brussels sprouts, prosciutto crisps, gorgonzola cheese, dates, walnuts and topped off with a drizzle of honey. Quite the blend of salty and sweet, it hit all the different taste buds. Plus the crunch of the prosciutto and walnuts made for a perfect texture contrast against the chewiness of the famoso dough. For those that see brussels sprouts and seem a bit thrown off, it’s not the full brussel sprout itself, but just leafs of it which crisps up very nicely in their fire oven. In the end it’s really no different than having arugula on your pizza, but a very ingenious way to sneak more veggies on the pie and give it that added flavour profile. It was one of my favorite pizzas to date!
On the opposite spectrum was the Spicy Thai. Featuring Asian flavours and ingredients such as peanut sauce, bean sprouts, cilantro, crushed peanuts alongside chicken, fior-di-latte and smoked mozzarella and carrots. It was tangy with a slightly spicy kick. I enjoyed the how inventive this pizza was and the flavours worked well together, it reminded me of eating a pad thai but with Italian undertones.
The fall / winter special white pizza was the Funghi Tartufo – with mushrooms, roasted garlic, caramelized onions and topped with truffle oil. My husband really enjoys truffle oil so it was no surprise that we had to order this pizza. I did find that the cheese was a bit overwhelming on this pizza and I couldn’t really taste the mushrooms too much compared to other mushroom pizzas I’ve had in the past. I didn’t mind it overall, but there was something to it that I just wasn’t that fond of, it was no Cavoletti in my opinion.

At this point we were all beyond full, but it was so hard not to order dessert when I saw what was on the menu. The Dolce & Banana has always been a Famoso favorite of mine. Who can refuse oen-roasted bananas coated in caramelized brown sugar and then topped with crushed pecans, caramel sauce, and a nice big scoop of vanilla bean gelato? If you can, please tell me your ways. The contrast between hot and cold, soft and crunchy is beyond amazing.

We also had the Authentic Tiramisu. I didn’t realize that it was imported from Milan, Italy. So when I first tried to scoop a spoonful, the tiramisu didn’t quite give way to my spoon. However, that didn’t deter me for long.  It was more mascarpone ice cream cake with lady fingers and espresso flavours then a true tiramisu, but the flavours were there. It probably just needed a bit more time to defrost, but still a good alternative if you’re craving the need for a tiramisu.

We got to sample various drinks that evening starting with the Red Sangria. Fruity and refreshing, it’s the perfect summer time drink made with wine spiked with blackcurrant liqueur and orange Italian soda. The Italian Spritz is perfect for those that are looking for something a bit less sweet. Made with mainly Prosecco, Aperol, and a splash of soda water, it’s got a pleasant bitter orange taste from the aperol. Our wine that evening was the Ricasoli Barone Chianti. You can never go wrong with Chianti’s. A perfect medium bodied wine with fruity aromas and light tannins. It’s both good as a sipping wine or with pizza.
My Picks: Mozzarella Balls, Cavoletti Pizza, Dolce & Banana
Overall: I consider myself extremely lucky that I’m not only close to the 4st street location, but now also the NW location. It’s always nice to have options, especially with their seasonal menu specials; going back every time is a treat. However, I’m glad to see that they’ve kept on some great signature dishes and hope that they remain on the menu for a long time to come, dolce & banana anyone?
Famoso Neapolitan Pizza
5149 Country Hills Blvd NW
Calgary, AB
(403) 452-5000

Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria on Urbanspoon


Restaurant Review: Bistro Rouge

>> Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A new trend seems to have taken off in Calgary this year. Amazing restaurants are starting to open sister branches in areas that are unconventional for people who would rather avoid the chaos of the core. Of course this also opens up additional dining options to those that are willing to drive a little bit to fulfill their cravings. I’ve never been one to let a bit of distance get in the way of me reaching my hunger goals and I’ve wanted to check out Bistro Rouge for a while. Lucky for me, my friends are just the same and off we went.
Atmosphere: Brightly lit dining room with a great view overlooking the SW part of the city highlighted by splashes of funky farm styled décor. The restaurant features niches perfect for hosting larger parties.
Price Range: Mid $10s - $20s
Food and Wine: Shortly after placing our order, the waiter brought out some amazing bread for the table. He mentioned that they were very addictive and I concur, it was truly magnificent. He wasn’t kidding when he said we wouldn’t be able to stop after just one basket.  Lucky for me we also decided to order the Trio of Spreads, which included a Basil Aioli, Olive Tapenade and a White Garlic Bean Dip that evening. If bread and butter weren’t already trouble enough for me. My favourite of the three was the garlic bean dip, it had the consistency of hummus and the garlic gave it a nice kick.  I also enjoy the basil aioli. I enjoy mayonnaise, I enjoy basil, simple yet flavourful so it worked for me. The olive tapenade was a nice balance between salty and sour, I’m not usually a huge fan of olives due to that very fact and so it was nice that the flavours were very light.

When I was finally able to pull myself away from the bread and refocus, I dug in to the Fresh Wild Mushrooms with Truffled Brioche appetizer. The dish was plated differently than what I had imagined it would look like, thinking the mushrooms would be placed on top of cut pieces of brioche toast. Instead, the brioche was sitting atop a creamy mushroom sauce. Change is good. I really liked the various wild mushrooms used to create the dish, each one providing a different aroma and taste to the dish. It’s always nice trying different varieties of fungi since there are so many! The sauce was amazing and truffle oil never hurts, especially when it comes to mushrooms.

When our Pork Loin entrée arrived, I thought we had ordered a salad, but after a little digging we found the grilled pork amongst the candied apples, brie cheese, pecans and endive, all of it topped off with roasted garlic puree. Apples with pork is an undisputed winning combo, the sweetness enhances every aspect of the delicate flavours of the pork. The loin was extremely tender even though it was cooked through. It was a nice to have all the fresh greens served with the dish, a nice change to roasted vegetables.

We also couldn’t leave without ordering the much recommended Half Roasted Chicken. Served with fries, gravy and vegetables, it’s another classic dinner combination. The herb de Provence rub added a pleasant aroma to the chicken, which was moist and juicy. I couldn’t stop picking at the thin cut fries, dipping them in to the gravy and ketchup. The dish also went nicely with a glass of crisp sparkling Brut wine.

For dessert, I couldn’t help but order the Sticky Bread Pudding. When it arrived the bread pudding was swimming in a buttery caramel sauce topped with crunchy caramel chunks and whipped cream. I did secretly wish for ice cream, however since the sauce wasn’t overly sweet, we were satisfied without. The bread pudding had a nice chewiness that eventually just melted away. The caramel chunks provided a nice texture contrast and reminded me of little crunchie bits (used to love crunchie chocolate bars). It wasn’t overly heavy and was a great way to end the evening.
My Picks: Fresh Wild Mushroom with Truffled Brioche, Half Roasted Chicken
Overall: Being the little sister of Rouge in Inglewood. The menu offered items that aligned with a slightly more casual dining experience perfect for the area in which it resides. The menu is focused and offers items that are currently fresh and in season, so for those looking for lots of variety, take it as not having to flip through a novel before choosing your meal. The plates are great for sharing, so sample a bit of everything because when you’re back next it might be different, which just keeps things interesting and maybe everyone will be a bit more inclined to make that trek.
Bistro Rouge
308 1919 Sirocco Dr SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 514-0561

Bistro Rouge on Urbanspoon


Gochujang Chicken Drummies

>> Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Ever since I could remember I have loved eating chicken. To the point where my parents didn't even know how to prepare the chicken anymore.  Yes, I never got sick of eating the same types of chicken over and over again but they sure did. I guess even though there are various ways to prep chicken in Chinese food, the base of the ingredient remain is the same. What can I say, it's still chicken. Remind me to thank my parents for putting up with my chicken obsession as a child. 

Things clearly haven't changed much because I still enjoy my chicken now as much as I did when I was a kid, but I'd like to think that my larger palate now has allowed me to use new ingredients to add an oomph to my chicken dishes. I've sampled recipes from Cajun to Jamaican, French to Moroccan and with each additional chicken dish I try I find that the possibilities are seemingly endless. It's the perfect meat to take on any flavor with which you impart to it.

I've always enjoyed gochujang on beef and as a dipping sauce. It’s so flavourful, so why not try it with chicken drumsticks (or thighs or breast meat). Luckily it turned out great and my husband loved it, which I'm really glad because as much as I'd have to apologize to my parents for forcing them to eat chicken all the time when I was younger. I'd have to give my husband the same apology. To be honest I probably eat it more now a day since I'm now the master of my (kitchen) domain. So hopefully you guys enjoy this recipe as much as we did and agree that chicken is a great flavor vessel!
Nutritional Tidbit: Dark meat chicken has always gotten a bad rap because it supposedly has a higher fat content.  Truth is, if you remove the skin, the actual dark meat itself is only slightly higher and you get a pretty comparable amount of protein per serving. While white meat does provide more protein overall, you miss out on a lot of the other nutrients such as vitamin B, iron, selenium, zince and more. People are often worried about the saturated fat content, but like anything else moderation is key.

1 tsp salt
8 medium chicken drumsticks
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 tbsp soy sauce
3 1/2 tbsp gochujang paste (can be found at a oriental food store like T&T)
1 1/2 tbsp honey
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp sesame seeds

Cut a slit in to eat chicken drumstick along the length of the bone. This will allow the marinade to really penetrate in to the chicken and also allow for a quicker cooking time.

Place the chicken drumsticks in a large mixing bowl, sprinkle the salt over the drumsticks and set aside while you combine the marinade.

In a small bowl, combine the onion, garlic, soy sauce, gochujang, honey, sesame oil and sesame seeds. Stir until all the ingredients are well mixed.

Pour the marinade over the chicken and make sure the each drumstick is well covered.

Cover and set the chicken aside for at least 30 mins.

Meanwhile, heat up the grill or preheat oven to 425c.

If grilling, cook the chicken for approx. 15-20 mins.
If using the oven, bake for 25-30 mins.

Makes 4 servings

PS- Grilling the drumsticks provided that extra caramelization which really brought out the sweetness of the marinade but I believe baking it is a great alternative as well, especially when it's chilly outside.

Also, If you're planning to prepare the chicken the night before, skip the step where you need to salt the chicken before adding the marinade. That step is to account for the lack of marinating time.

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