yummie nation

Screenshot of the Yummie Nation Home Page

Screenshot of the Yummie Nation Home Page

About a month ago, a curious email landed in my inbox.  While I normally ignore most of these emails (as they’re generally of the bad grammar and obvious super scam variety), this one in particular intrigued me.  The email made a claim that “life is about to get yummier for you.”  Oh, you are sending me a lifetime supply of pork belly?  No?  Ok, so my dreams are a bit lofty.

For some reason, I had been targeted to join a new community of entertaining experts, food writers, competitors, and home cooking pros. I was especially intrigued by this part:

YN Contributors are hand-picked for their distinctive voice and engagement with the home entertainer. There is no cost to serve as a YN Contributor. We simply seek one blog submission per month that will be featured on your YN blog page.

I don’t get hand-picked very often.  In fact, I don’t remember the last time I was hand-picked for anything positive.  I’ve always regarded this blog as just some tiny speck amongst a sea of bigger, better, and bolder food blogs, a place where I come to share things that I ate and made only because it brings me tons of happiness vibes.  I don’t pretend to be something I’m not; I really am a picky eater foodie wannabe, I still suck at photography, I’m a hopelessly awkward introvert who becomes paralyzed at the mere hint of the word “networking”, and I really, truly only do this because it’s an immense pleasure in my life.  The fact that others have noticed this corner of my world really does make me feel wonderful.

So yes, I absolutely signed up to be part of the Yummie Nation family.

What exactly is Yummie Nation?  They say it better than I could articulate:

A dynamic online gathering of the best of the best bloggers in home cooking and entertaining. United they stand. Each with their unique take. Indivisible in their quest for the yummiest inspirations. Regular folks dishing out tips, tricks, pics and videos on how to keep the yum strumming in your life. One nation of original ideas to embolden home entertainers for inspired living.

Pretty awesome, right?  I even have my own page – click here to visit and see my first post.  Yup, I’m doing some shameless promotion, but don’t just check out my page – go check out the other YN Bloggers too!  If you’re also a food blogger, why not think about signing up and joining the YN family?  And no, they didn’t ask or sponsor me to promote YN here, but they’re awesome at promoting my blog through social media so I’m doing my part to get the word out there.

See you all on the Yummie side :)

fresh mint & lime ice cream

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Summer has arrived with a fury.  It’s like it knows that its only allowed to come out and play for three short months, so it’s making the most of that small window of time.  After a particularly long and dreary winter, I can’t complain about the sudden onslaught of gorgeous sunshine and bright blue skies, but damn… my apartment is a sauna.  I promised myself this year that I wouldn’t complain about it because it’s truly a #firstworldproblem and things could be much, much worse.

To encourage those happy feels, I made a batch of Fresh Mint & Lime Ice Cream, inspired by David Lebovitz’s Mint Chip Ice Cream recipe.  I left his recipe largely intact; his ratio of milk to cream to sugar to egg yolks is my favourite combination and one that I use as the basis for all of my ice cream flavours.  I find it has the perfect balance of richness, creaminess, and sweetness for that ideal ice cream texture and mouth feel.

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So why mint and lime?  Why not stick with the classic mint and chocolate?  I wanted to try something a little more refreshing to beat the summer heat.  When I was thinking about mint combinations, lime became a top contender.  Of course they pair well together – just think of Mojitos or Mint Juleps.  The herbaceous, woody quality of mint is balanced by the brightness of the lime.  Ooooh yes, it would work well indeed.

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What would work really lovely in this would be key limes.  I didn’t have any luck finding them at my local grocery store, so I stuck with regular limes.  Either type would work, but it will take more key limes to get the amount of zest and juice noted in the recipe.  I found that the amount of zest and juice I put in was ideal, but it can always be adjusted to personal taste.

The resulting product is certainly unique.  At first, I was taken by the resulting beautiful pale green of the ice cream; no need for any artificial colouring here.  I admit that when I tried my first spoonful, I didn’t know what to make of it.  This is not your typical mint-flavoured ice cream.  This is much more floral, with the fresh mint flavour quite prominent with the first bite that finishes on the bright lime note.  Because I was unsure of it, I kept eating it.  The more I ate, the more I started to like it.  It’s like the flavour builds with each spoonful and gets better and better.  If you’re the adventurous type (or you really love the flavour of fresh, herbaceous mint), I recommend you give this a try.

I can see how this mint base would work really well with some dark or bittersweet chocolate chips, so if you’re into the classic rendition, stick with David’s original Mint Chip Ice Cream recipe.  Either way, you can’t go wrong with this; it’s cool, refreshing, and perfect for summer.

Fresh Mint & Lime Ice Cream

  • Servings: as many as your heart desires
  • Print

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups packed fresh mint leaves
  • Pinch of salt
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 2 tbsp lime zest
  • 6 tbsp fresh lime juice

Heat the milk, sugar, 1 cup of heavy cream, mint, and salt in a medium saucepan until it starts to steam (do not let it boil).  Cover, remove from heat, and let sit for 1 hour at room temperature.

Pour the remaining 1 cup heavy cream into a large bowl or container and place a mesh strainer on top.  Set aside.  Reheat the mint milk mixture until steaming, being careful not to let it boil.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks.  Slowly pour tablespoonfuls of the warmed milk mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly.  Scrape the mixture back into the saucepan.

Place the saucepan over low heat and stir constantly with a rubber spatula, being sure to scrape the bottom of the pan as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of the spatula; it should only take a few minutes.  Make sure not to let the custard boil, otherwise it will curdle.

Pour the custard through the mesh strainer.  Press onto the mint to extract as much flavour as possible.  Discard the mint.  Place the bowl over an ice bath. Stir occasionally, until the mixture is cool. Cover and transfer the custard to the refrigerator until completely chilled, at least 8 hours or overnight.

Right before churning, gently whisk in the lime zest and lime juice.  Mix thoroughly.  Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  Enjoy often and enjoy liberally, because ice cream is awesome.

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cerezo cafe & bar – dinner edition

Our first visit to Cerezo Cafe & Bar certainly wasn’t our last.  We’ve gone back for more lunches and had a lovely Mother’s Day Brunch this year with my parents, and we’ve been spreading the word about this hidden gem to anyone who would listen.  The one meal we hadn’t yet tried was dinner and the experience was even dreamier than that first time we stepped foot into Cerezo back in January that I just had to write about it.

We headed over there for a late dinner one Thursday evening.  Mark’s work day had been particularly uninspiring and we were both tired of eating chicken with brown rice and vegetables (our diet staple for the past couple of months), so I suggested giving Cerezo’s dinner menu a try to lift our spirits.  When we got there, only a handful of tables were occupied and we welcomed the relative quiet of the space.  The interesting thing about Cerezo is that it turns into a full-service restaurant for dinner, while it operates more like a cafe/casual eatery by day.  Their dinner menu is a fascinating fusion of tapas-style items and some larger entrees and in the end we settled on a couple of “shareables” and one of their specials.

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Whenever there’s a pork belly dish on a menu, I can’t help myself but gravitate towards it.  Cerezo’s version is a Thin Sliced Soysauce Braised Pork Belly, served beautifully with a fine dusting of toasted sesame seeds, thinly shaved green onions, and a sauce made with the braising liquid.  This is what I can only describe as true foodgasm.  I have found the ultimate pork belly, the pork belly to end all pork belly dishes.  Each slice was melt-in-the-mouth tender, moist, and perfectly seasoned.  The green onion gave each slice a fresh bite, while the sesame seeds provided a nice contrast in texture.  My god, this is exactly what I imagine pork heaven tastes like.

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Continuing on our meatfest theme, our next share plate was the Yakiniku Short Ribs (grilled beef short rib with original sauce marinade), neatly presented around a stack of lightly dressed cabbage.  The short ribs really reminded me of childhood summer BBQ’s full of Korean-style marinated beef short ribs (“galbi”) and it was a welcome nostalgic moment.  Each rib was grilled to perfection and well-seasoned, but surprisingly the real star of this plate was the cabbage.  I never thought cabbage could taste so good.  Oh, lowly cabbage, how I have wronged you over the years and thought you to be boring and pedestrian.  BUT NO.  Cerezo has worked their magic on the humble cabbage, which was dressed in a light and refreshing soy-based dressing.  CABBAAAAAGE.

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The star attraction was this gorgeous Striploin Tagliata with Japanese style Beef Jus and Peperonata Mashed Potato, one of their specials (can you see the protein-heavy theme we have going here?  We sorely missed pork and beef).  When it was set down at the table, our eyes grew wide because this plate was a thing of beauty.  “Tagliata” is an Italian sliced steak, typically served with Parmigiano Reggiano, arugula, and roasted potatoes.  Cerezo’s interpretation certainly has its signature Japanese flair and originality.  The striploin was cooked to about a medium-well; normally I prefer my steaks medium, but their preparation actually worked really nicely.  Each slice was tender, juicy, and well-seasoned.  The pile of lightly dressed arugula provided a welcome freshness and bitterness that balanced out the richness just perfectly.  As for the pepperonata mashed potato, this was a pleasant surprise.  Smooth, silky, and creamy mashed potato with a beautifully rich roasted pepper flavour, it was a complex balance of sweet and savoury that rounded out the plate.  This was exactly the pick-me-up, manly super protein meal that Mark needed to boost his spirits.

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I’m never one to turn down an opportunity for dessert, so we settled on the Lemon Tart served with House-made Vanilla Ice Cream.  This is not just dessert; it’s a work of art.  Our server apologised that this took so long to get to our table, but good god, I couldn’t complain.  The plate was rimmed with squares of fresh pineapple and dusted finely with icing sugar.  The lemon filling was refreshing with that unmistakeable lemon brightness, encased in a not-too-sweet crust.  Their homemade ice cream had a lovely vanilla flavour and you really can’t go wrong pairing any kind of pie or tart with a scoop of ice cream.  We polished off every single item on that plate, even all the pineapple pieces.  I figure if they go to all that trouble to make it all pretty, the least we can do is eat every edible morsel available.

By the time we were winding down, we were the only table left.  One of the cooks came to chat with us and it was nice to get to know her background and what led her to Cerezo’s kitchen.  Originally a nurse from Japan, she started apprenticing under the Head Chef, who used to work at numerous fine dining establishments before heading the kitchen of Cerezo.  It’s an interesting change of career for her, but she spoke passionately about the food and we could really feel how connected she was to her job.  I mentioned that we’d tried their brunch previously and she asked if I’d tried their hash potato (which I had, super awesome by the way).  She mentioned that it took them NINE MONTHS to perfect the recipe.  Nine months!  It’s basically like their potato baby.  That is true dedication to their craft and the meticulous attention to detail that I so admire about them.

While we were settling the bill, we also chatted with a couple of other staff members.  They seem to be a close-knit team and they told us that they bounce new ideas off each other for future menu items.  Their spirit of camaraderie and genuine friendliness are incredibly refreshing and heartwarming.  Not only does Cerezo have excellent food, they have excellent people.  It’s that whole package deal that really sets them apart from some of the other restaurants in Calgary and we’re excited to continue going back to discover what other amazing goodies they can come up with to delight our taste buds.

CEREZO Cafe & Bar
1002 Edmonton Trail
Calgary, AB T2E 3K2
Phone: (403) 250-8894
Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Cerezo-cafe-bar/120321404785668

CEREZO Cafe & Bar on Urbanspoon

sunday brunch at hotel selkirk

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A couple of weekends ago we headed to Edmonton for a visit with Mark’s parents, who moved back to their old home back in late April.  It got some getting used to not having both sets of parents in the same city, but thankfully Edmonton isn’t too far away and I can still get my visits in with the delightful – yet sadly, aging – Rocky, who I affectionately refer to as the “in-law dog”.

Despite having visited Edmonton countless times throughout my youth, the only place I ever really went to regularly was West Edmonton Mall.  Basically, if anyone ever asked me, “what’s there to do in Edmonton besides go to the mall?” I’d given them a giant shrug and then slink away in shame.  So for this visit, we decided that we had to find something new and possibly exciting to do besides sit around and eat copious amounts of food (because no visit with any parents is ever complete without eating of pants-tightening proportions).  I suppose going for Sunday brunch still fits in to the “sit around and eat copious amounts of food” category, but at least it’s in a place we haven’t been to, right?

Hotel Selkirk, nestled in Fort Edmonton Park, is well-known for their regular Sunday brunches.  I love myself a good old fashioned Sunday brunch.  At $30 for adults, it’s a decent price considering that it includes admission to Fort Edmonton Park, which runs at around $18.  It’s a value pack no frugal Asian can refuse.

While walking to the hotel, we were guided by the enticing aroma of fried bacon.  Mmmmm… bacon.  Just follow the bacon scent – it never steers you wrong.  When we arrived for our 10:30 a.m. seating, the hotel lobby was abuzz with activity.  The brunch stations are actually set-up in the middle of the lobby; you’re immediately greeted by a host or hostess who takes you past all the food into the dining area to your table.  From there, it’s time to attack the brunch stations and check out what they offer.

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The trick to a successful Sunday brunch is to pace one-self by trying a little bit of everything.  I tend to gravitate more towards the sweet carbohydrate offerings, like pastries and french toast, and I can’t resist when there’s stacks of crispy fried bacon just waiting to be devoured.  I ate my fair share of bacon that morning, I’m not gonna lie.

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They have a nice area of cold and savoury offerings such as salads, cold cuts, fruits, and veggies, which is flanked by what I like to call Carbohydrate Mecca, aka the pastry and bread offerings.  From there, the hot food stations are set up with classic breakfast items like french toast, waffles (with fresh blueberry compote, the lightest and tastiest whip cream I think I’ve ever had, and maple syrup), bacon, sausages, and Eggs Benedict.  A little further afield are some more substantial savoury offerings, like fish, roasted Cornish hen with potatoes, and pasta.  They also had a chef-manned station set up where you could get a customised omelet.

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The dessert area is really something special.  They had a ton of options when it came to the sweet ending of the meal.  I mean, where does one even start?  I could have an entire brunch just eating one of each of these desserts.  It’s truly eye candy for the dessert lover.  In the end, I settled on the chocolate mousse and a slice of apple tart (which I think was a cheesecake).  We all remarked that the desserts we tried were just the right amount of sweet, which was perfect for Mark and his mom who aren’t particularly fond of overly sweet desserts.

Hotel Selkirk does an admirable job with their brunch offering.  All of the items tasted fresh, well-seasoned, and were promptly restocked, and there’s enough variety to suit many tastes.  We received excellent and friendly service from all of the staff; our coffees were regularly refreshed and used plates were cleared quickly.

I recommend calling ahead or booking a seating online.  You can choose from various seatings, starting from 10:00 a.m., with the last seating at 12:30 p.m.  They’ll have your name and party size registered at the front and you pay at the end of the meal.  I think walk-ins are also welcome, but it’s probably difficult to secure a table at peak times.  If brunch is not your thing, the dining room, called Johnson’s Cafe, operates like a regular restaurant during the week and they also offer a Wednesday afternoon High Tea.

Collectively as a group, we’ve been to many Sunday brunches and we came to the consensus that Hotel Selkirk’s was one of the best we’ve been to.  They do the simple things well, the price point is great compared to some of the pricier brunches we’ve been to, and it’s all done in a quaint and historical building.

We’ll definitely be going back for Sunday brunch action on subsequent weekend trips to Edmonton.  It’s a great family gathering, because no visit with any parents is ever complete without eating of pants-tightening proportions.  Now at least I can recommend something other than the mall to people who ask about Edmonton, too.

Hotel Selkirk / Johnson’s Cafe
1920 Fort Edmonton Park Rd Northwest
Edmonton, AB
Phone: (780) 496-7227
http://www.fortedmontonpark.ca/hotel-selkirk/johnsons-cafe/

Hotel Selkirk / Johnson's Cafe on Urbanspoon

vero bistro moderne

My dad has the misfortune of having a birthday just a few days earlier than Father’s Day, so often he misses out on having two separate celebrations as it’s easier to combine the two.  I guess it’s similar to those who were born really close to Christmas, except in my dad’s case, at least he still gets Christmas as a standalone so he’s got an advantage there.

This year just happened to be the big 6-0 for my dad, the start of a new decade.  Back in the day, in the Motherland, when the life expectancy was much shorter than modern times, 60 was a big, celebrated milestone, akin to the 80th birthday nowadays.  Once someone reached 60, that was a true accomplishment, as it meant that there were only a few good years of life left after this.  They spared no cost for the party – they gathered up as many people as possible (family, friends, the butcher, the dry cleaner) and put together a spectacular party with the best food and tons of free-flowing alcohol (probably soju).

It was not a big surprise that my dad had a fairly nonchalant attitude about turning 60 and preferred to keep things fairly low key.  I’m thinking he’ll easily blow past this decade and possibly his 70’s, so there’s still plenty of time to have THE party.  On my dad’s actual birthday, Mark was out of town for business, so I took an apple cheesecake over to my parents and we had a quiet, casual dinner.  The more official celebration would happen on Father’s Day at Vero Bistro Moderne, a bistro featuring “modern interpretations of Italian & French cuisine”.

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The interior is definitely bistro-like; modern, minimalist, with bold accents of red to contrast the mostly dark motif.  Since it was a special occasion, my dad started with a fruity cocktail (the name of which I didn’t note, sorry), while Mark got a Kronenbourg.

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One of our starters was the D.O.P Prosciutto & Sweet Melon Salad (baby arugula, lemon vinaigrette, olives, reggiano shavings), beautifully presented and looking mighty inviting.  Splitting this amongst the four of us was a bit of a challenge, but we managed to get portions of each ingredient.  The salty, thinly shaved prosciutto went perfectly with the sweet melon (naturally, as they’re a classic combo), while the lightly dressed, fresh bitter arugula was a welcome component to balance out the prosciutto’s richness.  This was harmony in a bowl; simple, fresh ingredients done right to let them shine.

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Our second starter was the Calamari & Baby Artichoke Frito (kaffir lime & yuzu aioli), which is easily some of the best fried calamari I’ve ever had… and I’ve had a TON of fried calamari (it’s one of my belly’s most favourite things in the world).  How can you go wrong with perfectly seasoned, super crispy pieces of tender calamari, dressed in a light and refreshing aioli?  If there weren’t others at the table, I would’ve easily eaten this whole thing by myself.  Don’t judge; I have enough social skills to know that those kinds of impulses are not always to be acted upon, but I have made a mental note that I must go back and have some more of this calamari.  If you’re a fried calamari fan, GO HAVE THIS BECAUSE YUM.

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For her main, my mom opted for Vero’s Signature Hand Rolled Noodles “Bolognese” (12 hours slow cooked berkshire pork ragu, aged pecorino).  The hand rolled noodles were the true start of this dish.  They were thick, they were springy, and they had a wonderful chewy texture that held up well in the rich, tomato-y pork ragu.

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My dad chose the Venetian Seafood Stew (mussels, clams, prawns, fresh halibut, squid, white wine, saffron broth), as he’s a sucker for anything seafood and soup.  All of the seafood was fresh and substantial; hard to describe, but it’s not like those seafood stews where you get wimpy little clams, a couple of mussels, and one prawn.  Oh no – this was chock full of seafood goodies, bathed in an aromatic and well-seasoned broth.

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Mark decided to get one of the specials of the night, a Pork Chop with Chanterelle Mushrooms.  The pork chop was perfectly cooked, moist, and so incredibly tender; I was so impressed that they cooked a really thick chop to that tenderness.  Mark really loved the sauce with the chanterelle mushrooms.

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I chose the Caramelized Sea Scallops (sweet pea risotto, blood orange reduction, bacon jam), which was almost too pretty to eat.  Four large, perfectly seared scallops rested atop a creamy risotto.  I was pleasantly surprised at how well the blood orange reduction – even with its sweetness – worked in the dish.  I think it was an interesting counterpart to the salty, savoury bacon jam (mmmm… bacon jam… you can never go wrong with bacon jam).  Although it looks little, the portion size of this dish was very generous.

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In the middle of our mains, we received a very pleasant surprise in the form of complementary meatballs from the chef.  Woohoo, meatballs!  I don’t know if these are on the regular menu, but if they’re not, they really should be.  Hands down, best meatballs ever.  Seriously!  I loved how rustic and free-form they were, and oh my… the most tender meatballs.  Literally, they melted in my mouth.  I can never get my meatballs this tender and that’s probably why I’m not a chef.  Besides the ultra-heavenly texture, they were seasoned very well and had a lovely herbaceous aroma.  These were amazeballs.  Literally.  Amazeballs.

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Even though we were all quite stuffed, no special occasion is complete without a couple of desserts.  First up is a passion fruit and hazelnut creme brulee, a flavour combination I would’ve never put together but actually worked surprisingly well.  The creme brulee itself was a tad on the sweet side, but it had a lovely smooth, creamy texture and that satisfyingly glass-shattery burnt sugar top.

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Next we got the Affogato, as my dad has always been a fan of having a scoop of vanilla ice cream in his coffee.  Fresh brewed espresso was poured over a scoop of vanilla gelato at the table while we oohed and aahed.  You really can’t go wrong with this – it’s coffee and ice cream.  It’s a match made in heaven.

I must add that every time a dish came to the table, we were all thoroughly impressed at the impeccable plating and presentation; each dish was met with a chorus of “ooooh!” and “wow!” all around.  Not only was the food great to look at it, it tasted wonderful and each dish was delicious in its own right.  You can tell that the chef takes great pride and puts a ton of love into her food; we certainly saw and felt it throughout the evening.  Our server was truly wonderful as well, giving us impeccable service and taking great care of us all evening.

So it wasn’t the blockbuster, all-out 60th birthday celebration of yesteryear, but I’d say that it was pretty close.  Vero Bistro Moderne has just got itself four new fans and we’ll definitely be going back for more.

Vero Bistro Moderne
209 10 St NW
Calgary, AB T2N1V5
Phone: (403) 283-8988
http://www.verobistro.ca

Vero Bistro Moderne on Urbanspoon