Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Meal to Remember

Yesterday, hubby and I played hookie from household chores, and took a trip across the border. The destination was uncertain, although Seattle was a definite possibility. Not for any particular reason other than it was a comfortable distance for a day trip.

We stopped in Lynden for gas and coffee, then checked out a cute little quilt shop before making our way down to Bellingham and a few more quilt shops. I must have the most patient hubby in the world, as he doesn't mind stopping as many times as necessary to feed my quilting addiction! Then we worked our way south, meandering along country roads for a scenic change from the I-5, stopping here and there and eventually reaching Seattle in the late afternoon.

I love Pike Place Market. The bounty of fresh and unusual fruits and veggies, flowers, herbs, seafood, cheeses and breads overwhelms the senses. The bustle and noise of the vendors and buskers. Women in stiletto heels on cobblestone, perfectly groomed men in their cashmere coats. Scruffy homeless folk, hoping for the spoils as the market closes for the day. Panel vans jam the street. For me, this is the heartbeat of the city.

We strolled the length of Post Alley, peering at menus, trying to decide where to eat. French, Italian, Greek, Irish, and more. Tonight would be a splurge for us; on our modest budget it is rare that we will spend two-weeks' grocery money on one meal out. It had literally been years since the last time, so we decided we were due.

We chose an Italian restaurant tucked under the market, called Il Bistro. Welcoming warmth greeted us as we entered the cozy and intimate dining room, with white linen-covered tables, fresh flowers and candlelight, and professional, courteous service.

For starters, hubby chose Bruschetta al Pomodoro -- grilled Tuscan bread with vine-ripened tomatoes, garlic, basil and olive oil.*

I chose to begin with the Carpaccio -- thinly sliced beef tenderloin with red onion, Parmesan, capers, arugula and truffle oil.*

Then we shared the Insalata Spinaci -- organic spinach with orange segments, goat cheese, fennel and a vermouth vinaigrette.

Hubby's entree choice was the evening special -- no menu description to help me I'm afraid, but it was two beautiful jumbo prawns on a bed of penne with vodka cream sauce and fresh Italian olives.

I forgot to copy my entree description as well -- Roast chicken served atop meyer lemon risotto with mascarpone and olives. To die for!

Fortunately we still had room for dessert. Hubby chose the Torta Mascarpone, cheesecake with an almond biscotti crust and lemon curd glaze, raspberry coulis and fresh berries.

I finished my meal with Torta Cioccolato -- a flourless chocolate espresso tort with raspberry coulis and sweetened mascarpone.

A wonderful evening, impeccable service, and excellent food. The servings were just big enough to be fully satisfying, and still leave you with that not-quite-too-full feeling -- important for the long drive home. Indeed, a meal to be remembered.

* These descriptions were taken directly from the restaurant's website:

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mac and Cheese DeLuxe

Late last summer I made the decision to make some dietary changes. I don't have serious food allergies, I'm not celiac or diabetic, but I had discovered through trial and error that some foods had a negative effect on my physical well-being. One of those that seemed to have a major impact was gluten.

Going gluten-free was pretty easy in the late summer and fall. I shopped at the farmers market every week, ate lots of salad and berries and fish and chicken. Without bread or pasta in my life, I started to lose weight without trying -- bonus! But then the cooler weather set in, the time of year when we turn to slow-cooked comfort foods, and it got a bit harder. (I had also chosen to eliminate the nightshade family -- potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers) Thanksgiving dinner without mashed potatoes and gravy, no bread stuffing. Christmas without baking. No more fish and chips, a favourite quick meal out. No pizza.

One dish I've been particularly craving has been mac and cheese. Don't ask me why; I never eat KD, and former pasta dishes usually had meat or veggie sauces. But I wanted rich and gooey mac and cheese.

Time to get creative in the kitchen. Now I'm no moderndaymartha and I seldom use recipes as more than guidelines. This can be a problem; When my experiment is a success, I don't always remember how to repeat it. And even more difficult when I get asked for the recipe. So primarily for my own benefit, here's what I did last night:

Preliminaries: Cooked about 500 g of rice pasta in salted water; grated about 125 g each of asiago and aged cheddar cheeses. (next time, undercook the pasta -- it continues to soften in the sauce.)

1. Chopped up couple slices of prosciutto -- bacon would do -- sauteed in saucepan.
2. Added some olive oil -- let's say 1 tbsp.
3. Sauteed minced clove of garlic and 1/2 c diced onion.
4. Added some rice flour -- wheat flour will do -- let's say 1 tbsp. Stirred all together; cooked a bit.
5. Stirred in about 2 cups of light cream, brought up to boiling temp then down to just below simmer.
6. Stirred in a handful of grated cheese at a time until melted.
7. Stirred in 1/2 pkg of goat cheese with truffle until melted -- would use the whole package next time.
8. Stirred in some other finely grated cheese I found in the fridge -- I think it was Parmesan, maybe 1/2 cup.
9. Found some sour cream in the fridge so threw that in too -- again, maybe 1/2 cup.
10. Seasoned with fresh ground pepper and freshly grated nutmeg.
11. Mixed with the cooked pasta, transferred to a baking dish and popped into a 350 oven for a while -- probably about 1/2 hour. Could have topped with buttered crumbs but didn't.
12. Served hubby once..... twice...... and then he packed up the rest for his lunch today. Huh. I was the one with the craving. Guess it passed the taste test.

Maybe I'll eventually remember to take pictures before we eat it all.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Me-oh-me-oh-my, Wasn't That a Party!

I was one of the many that said she wasn't going anywhere near Vancouver when the Olympics came to town -- traffic snarls, high prices, total chaos -- who needs it? Tickets to an event never got a second thought -- I knew (or assumed) I could never afford them anyway. Then, as the Langleys prepared for the arrival of the torch, as local residents started wearing more and more red, as parties and festivities and celebrations took place, I started to get caught up in the mounting excitement. I watched the Opening Ceremonies on TV, and I was bitten. "Let's take the train into town tomorrow," I said to hubby, "and just wander around and take in some of the atmosphere."

A city transformed.

Our first revelation came after we decided to take a chance on Sunday traffic and drive across the Port Mann. Hubby's sister lives near Metrotown; we could park at her place and take the Skytrain from there. Now normally on a Sunday the traffic is backed up some distance to get across the bridge -- what's this? No traffic! We got across to Metrotown faster than ever. As we joined strangers on the street walking toward the station, all wearing a little (or a lot of) red, a sense of urgency seemed to develop and the pace quickened -- the party had already started and no one wanted miss a thing!

The train filled rapidly as we sped into town -- young families, groups of teenagers, excited tourists, seniors. Red everywhere. People jostling, crowding, squeezing in -- but no complaints, all happy, smiling, on their way to the party. Where to get off? Science World? -- no, let's go farther into town. Stadium? -- okay, let's see what's here. We disembark with no maps, no clue of what is where and what one should see first. We'll just follow the crowds.

Crowds -- and line-ups!

And follow we did. We stood in line-ups that either moved quickly or came to a complete stop as eyes were riveted to big screens, hearts in mouths, watching Canada's finest do their best. We chatted with strangers. We walked down the middle of streets normally filled with angry traffic, now filled with happy people. We watched and waited as street performers worked their way to the big moment, but never really quite delivered. We listened to music from all parts of the country and the globe. We stood, transfixed again by the big screen in Ontario House with hundreds of proud Canadians stomping, jumping, cheering, ringing bells as Alexandre Bilodeau catapulted his way to a Gold medal. The crowd was delirious with Olympic fever as were we, a fever that was to last another two weeks.

Did I mention the crowds?

Individuals within the crowds

Night falls on the Olympic venues

Two more trips into Vancouver followed. We saw the flame, by day and by night. We watched fireworks and laser light shows. We stood in more lineups. We watched more big screens. We walked and we walked and we walked and we walked. And we were proud.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Walk in the Park

It's been a busy and stressful week both at home and at work. Our PC at home crashed, and hubby has spent countless hours (not to mention dollars) rebuilding, reformatting, reinstalling, reloading. It still doesn't work, seems to be an issue with at least one of the new components so it's now in the shop for diagnostics. Then I've been sewing like a demon trying to meet a quilting deadline, and work has been super busy with big deliveries of exciting new products, while the boss is away at a trade show. I'm feeling in serious need of some down time.

One way that I like to stress down is going for long walks. These photos were taken last fall while hiking through Campbell Valley Park, and t
ake me back for just a few moments of calm and serenity. Enjoy.