banana muffins

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We eat a lot of bananas, but sometimes even the best intentions lead to overripe, mushy bananas that are no longer fit for normal consumption.  My threshold is a lot lower than Mark’s when it comes to the maximum ripeness that can be tolerated, but once they get past the point of no return, they either end up in a smoothie or the trash.  I used to freeze them, thinking that I would use them for some higher purpose, but frozen bananas are the worst to peel and frankly, I’m too lazy to portion them neatly into freezer bags.  The trick is to know thyself and conduct matters accordingly.

Of course, another alternative is to turn them into a baked good of some kind, banana bread being the standard go-to.  I have a long-time love for banana bread that shall last through the ages.  The aroma of fresh banana bread that permeates every nook and cranny while it gets happy in the oven is like a warm, comforting blanket that hugs my nostrils and reassures me that everything is gonna be all right.

Melodramatics aside, I’ve been using the same banana bread recipe since the late 90′s.  This recipe is another one inherited from an Home Economics class and it has never failed me.  I think it’s an ideal base banana bread recipe that can be customized with a few tweaks here and there, or random add-ins (hello, white chocolate chips!).  And as you can see, it’s the perfect recipe for moist, fluffy banana muffins that turn out spectacular every time.

I baked these up when I noticed three sad looking bananas ripening away on the counter top.  One of them begged for an honorable end, and how can one refuse a banana’s dying wish?

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The key to perfect banana muffins is mixing the batter as little as possible.  By now I’m sure you all know that over-working a batter develops too much gluten, resulting in a really tough product.  Gluten is great for traditional breads, but not for cake-like batters.  Only mix until the dry ingredients are moistened by the wet ingredients, and then put down the spatula and step away from the bowl.

Feel free to use liners or not; I prefer liners for two main reasons: 1) easier to pop out the finished muffins, 2) way less clean-up.

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While banana bread is generally quite dense, these muffins turn out quite light and fluffy.  So you get the taste of banana bread, but in a more cakey form.  Mmmmmm.

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The texture and soft crumb is quite lovely.  These are so good just minutes out of the oven.  I love splitting a freshly baked muffin and seeing the steam rise up from the middle.  It’s like a scented steam bath for my nose.

This recipe makes about 18-20 muffins, or you can bake it up as a traditional banana bread loaf.  Either way, I hope you enjoy this timeless classic.

Banana Muffins

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup mashed ripe banana (about 3)
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  •  2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350F and prepare two standard muffin tins.  In a medium bowl, mash the bananas with a fork or potato masher; set aside.  In another bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, beating until smooth.  Blend in mashed bananas and the vanilla extract and mix until incorporated.  In a large bowl, stir flour with baking soda, baking powder, and salt..  Add to banana mixture only to moisten.

Fill each muffin cup about 2/3 of the way.  Bake at 350F for 18-20 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out clean.  Let stand 10 minutes.  Transfer to wire rack to cool.

*If making a banana loaf, prepare a loaf pan by greasing it or lining it with parchment paper.  Transfer the batter into the loaf pan and bake for about 1 hour, or until inserted toothpick comes out clean.

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korean village

Korean Village has been around for a number of years, first occupying a space near the Calgary Tower in a dated strip mall (which has since been replaced with an affordable housing complex), and now operating in Dae Jang Geum’s former location on 10th Avenue SW in a slightly more updated strip mall for the last few years.  We’ve dined at Korean Village numerous times and its convenient location near our apartment makes it a good choice for us when we’re craving certain Korean dishes.

I’m glad that Korean Village took over Dae Jang Geum, although I’m not sure how much of a “takeover” it really was.  Our last visit during the Dae Jang Geum era was horrible; normally I’m pretty easy going and easy to please when it comes to food, but even I thought that it was awful.  I had one of my perennial favourites, Jja Jang Myun (black bean noodles), but it was the worst rendition I’d ever tasted in my life.  It was more like black, chunky garlic sauce served on overcooked noodles that were stuck together in a sad noodle mass.  It was like they had given up on life.  It seemed like the writing was on the wall and it was only a matter of time until the end.

What sets Korean Village apart from the other Korean restaurants in Calgary is that it has a little bit of everything.  It serves the traditional comfort food, Korean-Chinese dishes, and DIY tabletop BBQ.  Their menu is quite extensive and there’s something for everybody, whether you’re in the mood for a stew, a noodle dish, or some grilled meats.  I have certain Korean restaurants I like to go to for specific dishes, like San Dong Banjeom for jja jang myun and tang soo yook (the Korean version of sweet & sour pork), or Sura for their unbeatable sweet chili chicken and soon tofu stew (spicy soft tofu soup with seafood), so Korean Village for me is more like that all-purpose place that does a bit of this and a bit of that.

Our latest Korean Village excursion was on a weeknight with Mark’s parents, our last Cheung family dinner there before their move back to Edmonton.

banchan

We start off with a set of Banchan (side dishes).  Mark’s mom really loves their 깍두기 (kkakdugi), which is essentially kimchi, but made with white radish.  I really like their bean sprout side dish; it’s always perfect seasoned and crunchy.

saewoo

One of our favourite appetizers is their Sae Woo Tang Soo Yook (sweet & sour shrimp).  I normally love the lightly battered, plump, and super crispy shrimp, but this time around there seemed to be something missing.  The shrimp just seemed like regular tempura shrimp (which is not a bad thing in general, but in this dish it doesn’t work as well) instead of the well-executed tang soo yook-style.  Normally, it should be coated in a rice flour batter to give it that light crispness, but it seemed heavier.  The sweet & sour sauce was still delicious, however; a nicely balanced, sticky but not too heavy sauce to complement the crispy shrimp.

tteokgalbi

We also got the Tteok Galbi, a patty made of minced galbi meat and flavoured with traditional galbi marinade, and then grilled and topped with a type of Korean nut (I thought it was a garlic clove at first, but apparently it’s not).  The reason they call it tteok (rice cake) is that it has the texture of tteok, but it doesn’t actually contain any tteok.  I really like this rendition of tteok galbi.  It’s always moist, flavourful, and satisfies the BBQ meat craving.  It also comes with a side salad of crisp romaine lettuce dressed in sesame oil and chili powder.

tteokmandu

For his main, Mark got the Tteok Mandu Geuk (rice cake and dumpling soup).  It’s similar to an egg drop soup in composition, but has thinly sliced rice cakes and Korean dumplings.  I find this soup very comforting and flavourful.  This is one of our favourites at Korean Village if you’re in the mood for a hearty, satisfying, and comforting soup.

yukgaejang

Mark’s mom chose the Yukgaejang (spicy beef stew).  Mark gets this often when we eat here, but says my version is better (only because he is obligated to say that as my husband, hah).  Their version comes with glass noodles.

galbitang

Mark’s dad chose the Galbitang, a soup made with beef short ribs.  I’ve never had the galbitang so I can’t comment on it specifically, but Mark’s dad gets this dish often.

dolsot

I usually stick with the Dolsot Bibimbap.  I like their version a lot.  It comes sizzling in the hot stone bowl and I like to let it sit for a few minutes to develop that beautiful brown crust of rice at the bottom.  It comes with the standard bibimbap components of beef, a variety of vegetables, and a raw egg yolk.  All the components are nicely seasoned and the rice-to-mixins ratio is pretty spot-on, which is an often overlooked aspect when it comes to bibimbap; you don’t want to be left with too much rice at the end.

I’m still traumatised by my earlier jja jang myun experience so I don’t know that I will ever try Korean Village’s version, but for the other dishes that we’ve tried, they’ve all ranged from excellent to decent. The service can be a bit spotty when they’re busy, but the servers in general are very friendly and accommodating.  This place can get packed on weekends and if there are a lot of group bookings, so it’s recommended to call ahead for a table.

Just a quick tip though, which is true of most Korean restaurants that do tabletop grilling – make sure you’re okay with whatever you’re wearing to be infused with BBQ aroma.  Smells great when you’re eating, but not so great when it gets into your clothes and hair.

Korean Village
1324 10 Ave SW
Calgary, AB T3C0J2
Phone: (403) 269-7940

Korean Village on Urbanspoon

avec bistro

front

It was Mark’s birthday last week and as customary, every birthday means an opportunity to celebrate with a nice meal.  Unfortunately for him, he had to attend class on the evening of his actual birthday (that’s what he gets for enrolling in a Master’s program), so the official husband-and-wife birthday dinner was moved to the subsequent evening.

The weather ended up cooperating with Spring finally rearing its shy head – although in Calgary there is no such thing as Spring, as far as I’m concerned – so we walked the few blocks from our apartment to a contemporary French eatery called Avec Bistro.

interior

The evening was still young, so only a couple of tables were occupied in the well-appointed space that feels intimate and casual.  A number of friendly faces greeted us at the entrance and we were seated along the window with the sun streaming in; it was lovely to have so much natural light in the space.  There’s nothing wrong with darker, ambiance lighting, but once in a while it’s nice to step into a restaurant that lets the sun do its thing, especially after enduring a long and dreary winter.  Plus, natural light is perfect for capturing the food in its most beautiful state.

redrage

Mark started off his meal with a can of Tool Shed Red Rage beer, which is locally produced here in Calgary.  Mark loved how it tasted, and I loved its description: This ale is inspired by the undocumented freakish strength possessed by ginger (or at least by Graham). For those who are unaware of this phenomenon, red rage is, unofficially, the ONE thing that Chuck Norris fears! Extreme outbursts of red rage can result in temporary memory loss which we like to refer to as “Ginger induced Comas”.  Classic!

shortrib

We skipped the appetizers and went straight for a couple of mains.  Mark chose the Braised Short Rib with toasted barley, red wine jus, and crispy garlic.  The beef was melt-in-your-mouth tender and seasoned just perfectly; it literally fell apart with only the slightest pressure from the fork.  Accompanied by crispy garlic chips, which are always welcome, the vegetables were still a bit crisp, while the barley and jus brought it all together.  Definitely a winning combination.

gnocchi

I chose the Gnocchi with a tomato sauce, roasted fennel & peppers, and garlic confit, topped with a nice helping of fresh baby arugula.  This was the first gnocchi that I’ve had pan-fried and now I don’t think I can ever eat non-pan-fried gnocchi.  Each nugget was nicely browned on the outside while still maintaining a soft and tender texture.  The roasted fennel and pepper added a nice depth to the dish, while the tomato sauce was bright and tangy.  The bitterness of the arugula cut through the richness nicely, and the garlic confit was a nice surprise – similar to roasted garlic in its sweetness and mellow undertones.  This dish was spectacular.

icecreamsam

One cannot end the meal without dessert.  We went with that night’s special, an upgrade to the classic ice cream sandwich.  This one came with chocolate chip, peanut butter, and rice krispie cookies (rice krispies in a cookie, whaaaaaat?), with our choice of either vanilla bean or salted caramel ice cream, on top of a bed of salted caramel sauce.  I didn’t want it to be salted caramel overload, so opted for the vanilla bean ice cream.  The cookie was so intriguing with its combo of chocolate chip, peanut butter, and the nice chewy texture that came with the addition of rice krispies.  I think I’m gonna try to replicate this somehow.  The vanilla bean ice cream was all sorts of amazing and I could drink that salted caramel sauce for breakfast.

We had excellent service throughout the evening from our knowledgeable and professional server.  The prices skew on the higher end, but I think the quality and execution of the dishes makes it worthwhile.  The portions are decent as well, verging more on the “normal” side (normal to me being it’s not epically super-sized that it can feed a family of 4), so we both felt satisfied and not completely overstuffed.  Overall a wonderful meal and I look forward to going back for more.

Avec Bistro
#105 550 11 Ave SW
Calgary, AB
Phone: (587) 352-0964
http://www.avecbistro.com/

Avec Bistro on Urbanspoon

chewy chocolate chip cookies

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Let’s talk cookies today.

For those of us who grew up in North America, the most common childhood cookie is probably of the chocolate chip variety.  It’s been a classic since it was invented sometime in the 1930′s (although the exact details of how the cookie came to being vary depending on who you ask) and you could probably find thousands of recipes online.  So what makes this chocolate chip cookie recipe different than the rest out there?  I admit, it’s not that special.  Search for “chewy chocolate chip cookie recipe” and you get about 2.2 million hits.  But this one speaks to me because the recipe results in the exact chocolate chip cookie that I call my most favourite.

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Surprisingly, chocolate chip cookies are incredibly versatile.  They can be chewy, cakey, crispy, or a combination of textures.  They can be made with regular semi-sweet chocolate chips, mini chips, milk chocolate chips, dark chocolate chips, or even peanut butter or butterscotch chips.  How about M&M’s or other candy chips?  The possibilities are endless and what distinguishes a recipe from the millions of others found on the web are those finer tweaks.

My personal favourite?  The chewy kind, with a crisp crackled top and mini chocolate chips.  I found my treasured recipe in my mom’s old tattered recipe book, its origin most likely one of Mrs. Jones’ Home Ec classes.  My mom and I have been making these cookies for years and the recipe has always produced delicious chewy cookies.

I haven’t made these cookies in a while, but as soon I rediscovered this recipe, it brought back so many good memories.  They say “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke”, but small enhancements here and there don’t hurt.  The original recipe is still pretty much intact, with a few minor tweaks to update this old classic.

dough

The dough comes together quickly and it doesn’t have to be chilled before baking (I have not experienced any major cookie spreading issues using unchilled dough).  Instead of the usual method of creaming butter and sugar together, this recipe uses melted butter.  This helps to give it that chewy texture.  I also used a combination of brown sugar and granulated sugar; the brown for its deep, rich flavour and its ability to enhance the chewiness, and the granulated sugar to give it some structure.

My preference for mini chocolate chips comes from being able to get more chocolate dispersed into the dough.  I find the smaller chips get incorporated better than the regular chips.

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I tend to prefer my cookies on the smaller side, so my optimum size comes from tablespoon-sized balls of dough.  Instead of rolling them into balls, I pat and squeeze the dough into a ball-shape to prevent air bubbles from sneaking into the middle of the dough.

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They only take 10 minutes, tops, and are best enjoyed warm.

Sometimes there’s nothing better than a freshly baked cookie, straight from the oven.

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from an old recipe, circa the 1990′s)

  • 2/3 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp water
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 1/3 cups + 1/4 cup all purpose unbleached flour
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup mini chocolate chips (or any other chip of your liking)

Preheat the oven to 375F and prepare a few cookie sheets by lining them with parchment paper or a non-stick mat.

Combine the melted butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, water, eggs, and vanilla extract in a bowl.  Mix well and set aside.

In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, cornstarch, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Add in the wet ingredients and mix well, until the dough comes together.  Add in chocolate chips and stir until incorporated.

Form tablespoonfuls of dough into balls and place about 2 inches apart on prepared cookie sheets.  Bake in the centre of the oven for 10 minutes (do not overbake).  Remove from the oven and let cool on the sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.  Store in an airtight container and enjoy liberally.

Makes about 48 cookies.

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briggs kitchen & bar

briggs

You know what I look forward to every week?  THE END OF IT.  Weekends are what I live for these days, as sad as that sounds, but looking forward to another two glorious days where I’m free from the shackles of my work desk helps to keep me going.  It probably doesn’t help that winter has been going strong for 6 months – not even joking here – so I think the entire mood of Calgary is on the “generally grumpy” side.

One of the greatest weekend pleasures is going out to eat.  We try not to do it very often, but when we’re eating really healthy all week and sticking to our exercise regimen, taking a bit of a break from it all is incredibly motivating to keep ourselves pushing through week after week.  After all, what is life without delicious food?  It would lose all meaning for me.  Especially since the main reason I continue to exercise is so I can eat my face off without getting tremendously fat.  Whatever works, right?

Saturdays can be a little tough for me because we complete the hardest workout of the week in the morning.  But what better way to celebrate getting through another punishing round of P90X2 Back & Base than undoing all the calorie burning with a stacked burger and bucket of fries?  Like I said, this is the reason I exercise – breaking even on calorie input and output is the reward.  FOOD4LYFE.

interior

We headed over to a relatively new joint that just opened on 10th Avenue SW, Briggs Kitchen & Bar.   Headed by a trio of experienced chefs/restaurateurs, their concept is all about simplicity and bringing food back down to earth.  In one of those “it’s a small world” twists, I worked with the mother-in-law of one of the owners, Xavier Lacaze (who is recognizable from his stint on season 2 of Top Chef Canada) a few years ago when we were both contractors at a large Oil & Gas company.  She told me the story of when he first moved to Calgary to start his life here, driving him around in the frigid cold winter as he dropped off resumes at numerous restaurants.  It’s nice to see that he’s had great success since those early days.

The interior of Briggs is contemporary, with exposed brick walls, minimal industrial-style décor, and tall windows lining one side of the space.  They also have an open kitchen concept and tons of seating; I was surprised to see that the space is as big as it is.  Despite it being 2pm on a Saturday, the place was lively with patrons laughing and chatting over their plates.  We got a booth seat at the back near the bar.

The menu has a lot of variety, but a number of familiar dishes.  I can’t pinpoint the type of cuisine they do – it’s more a mixed bag approach that you would typically find in casual eateries.  Besides their standard offerings, they have “sharing plates” that are more tapas-style (a lot of which sounds amazing), and a weekend brunch that we’d just missed the window for.  To try not to completely blow our calorie-burning efforts, we skipped the appetizers this time around.

sandwich

Mark got the Smoked Brisket Sandwich and substituted a green salad for the fries.  We have an unspoken deal that when we go out and order sandwiches or burgers, I get the fries and he gets a salad so we can enjoy a bit of both.  The salad was a nice mix of tender greens, cranberries, and nuts.  Mark enjoyed the sandwich, but found that the bread was buttered too aggressively.  The meat was tender and smoky, the coleslaw gave it a nice textural crunch and cut through the richness, but it could’ve used some sauce (maybe some on the sandwich or on the side).  Otherwise, a pretty solid sandwich.

burger

I went with their 100% Chuck Burger based on the reviews I’ve read from others that proclaim it as the best burger in Calgary.  Since I haven’t had all the burgers in Calgary, I can’t comment on whether or not that claim is true, but what I can say is that it’s one delicious burger.  Definitely in my Top 5.  I wish I would’ve taken a better picture to show just how stacked and tall this thing was, but I guess my hunger made my meagre photography skills even worse and this is the best shot I have.  It comes with the usual fixings (I asked for no cheddar though – my thing with cheese and all) and I added on a fried egg, mushrooms, and avocado.  I had a really dumb moment when I read the menu because the way the extras were presented, it looked like they came in a “set” instead of being able to pick and choose.  But my extras ended up working really well on the burger.  Thanks for that interpretation error, brain.

As for how I ate this… I attempted to pick it up and eat it like a man, but it was just impossible given my dainty hands could hardly keep the thing together.  So it ended up being a fork and knife job.  There are only 2 things that I need in a good burger: 1. the vessel in which the burger ingredients are contained, 2. good quality beef patty.  This delivered on both.  The egg bun vessel is the bread of my dreams.  Soft, rich, yet substantial enough to hold up to all of the ingredients.  Was it made with the tears of angels?  Probably.  I could eat a dozen of those egg buns on their own in one sitting.  As for the beef – perfect!  Two thin, beautifully charred patties.  What more could I ask for?  Oh right, the big bucket of fries, which were perfectly seasoned with generous amounts of salt and pepper.

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To round out the meal, I ordered the Lemon Pie…

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…which had a generous helping of lemon ice cream in the middle.  Score!  The meringue, piled high like a cloud of happiness, was just a touch on the sweet side, but the rest was simply divine.  My favourite part of pies are the crust and this one was soft and tender.  The lemon filling and ice cream were pleasantly tart and bright.

Overall, we had a really good first experience at Briggs.  Our server was friendly and efficient (our water glasses never went empty) and the prices are quite reasonable ($12 for the burger without the extras is a pretty good deal in Calgary).  Briggs would be a great place for a group gathering to take advantage of their share plates and casual atmosphere.

As for me, I will go back for their burgers because my life needs more burgers in it.  BURGERS4LYFE.

Briggs Kitchen & Bar
317 10 Ave Southwest
Calgary, AB T2R0A5
Phone: (587) 350-5015
http://www.briggskandb.com/

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