Portland a.k.a I went to Oregon to eat a burger

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Warning: This is a photo-heavy post.

So, the story goes that I went all the way to Portland, Oregon for a burger.

Honestly, it’s not all that far from the truth.

And here’s where our story starts . . . .

Once upon a time, I came across a post on one of my favourite websites, A Hamburger Today, that talked about a burger in Portland. The headline was: Gruner makes a burger worthy of obsession. The photo that went with it? Worth at least 1,000 words. In one: mouthwatering. (Go on, check it out. I’ll wait here.)

So, when my friend Suzi and I were talking about taking a trip together, I pitched Portland. I had been interested in the city for a while because other friends had visited and raved on about it, the food trucks, Powell’s Books and the Oregon coastline (which, granted, is about 90 minutes away, but stunning). And Suzi was game. Especially because I sent her a photo of the burger.

Let me get right to it: it was JUST as good as I hoped.

Behold, the beautiful Gruner burger:
The Gruner burger

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Even though I knew exactly what I wanted, I checked out the menu.
Gruner Menu
And they brought us some beet-stained devilled eggs.
Beet-pickled devilled eggs
Although the burger was the main attraction, check out these yummy pickles. (Pickles, it would turn out, would be sort of a theme for the trip.)

The Gruner burger II

But the best part?

When I took that first bite and squished the burger down slightly and it erupted in a volcano of hot, delicious meat juices.

The photo doesn’t really do it justice, so just trust me on this.
The Gruner Burger III

It went very well with my Arsenic and Old Lace drink (Monopolowa gin, Dolin Dry vermouth, Rothman & Winter crème de violette, Kübler absinthe) with a fantastic housemade maraschino cherry.
Arsenic & Old Lace

After that we pretty much had to roll ourselves out of Gruner. Luckily, we were just a couple of blocks away from Powell’s. Semi-conscious in a meat coma, we trawled the shelves and picked up a few books before walking back to the hotel. (The fabulous Jupiter Hotel, which was funky and clean and close to downtown — something that came in quite handy.)

The plan for Day 2 was to pick up our rental car (a Prius, of course!) and head to the coast. The Prius, I have to say, was a bit weird initially. I mean, it’s so damn quiet. But I loved that we drove to the coast and back and tootled around town the next day and still only used a 1/2 tank of gas.

Before we set off, we stopped at Pine State Biscuits.

I swear I was a southern belle in a past life. If only because I am completely obsessed with biscuits and sausage gravy. (On my Delicious right now, I have at least three recipes bookmarked for biscuits and gravy. This winter, it will be made. Stay tuned.) Also, fried chicken. So, the thought of fried chicken AND biscuits AND sausage gravy (not even mentioning cheese and a few slices of bacon) made this a priority stop for me.

We didn’t eat again for seven hours. You can see why:
Pine State Biscuits breakfast

I miss the ocean. A lot. If I don’t get a fix of that briny air and sharp coolness of the Pacific every few months, I start to feel a bit off. I was really looking forward to seeing the waves, smelling the salt air and checking out the rugged coastline I had seen in pictures.

Like the burger, I was not disappointed.
Cannon Beach

Windswept

That night we had dinner at Biwa, a Japanese restaurant known for its ramen. Like beaches and burgers, ramen has a special place in my heart. I ate a lot of it when I lived in Japan. In nice restaurants and little holes-in-the-wall. When I went back a few years after living there, I spent a few days in Kyoto and one fond memory really sticks out. I was eating ramen at a restaurant not much more than two meters wide — just enough space for a long counter, some bar stools and an aisle-wide kitchen. The one server had to scoot around the cook to serve steaming bowls of noodles, slurped up by a handful of men sitting hunched over the counter. While they concentrated on their ramen, I was reading Memoirs of a Geisha and trying hard not to get any of the rich broth on the book’s pages as I was engrossed in the scene when Sayuri meets the chairman in front of the Minamiza kabuki theatre. After I paid my bill, I walked outside to find I was standing across from the theatre itself.

A bowl of ramen was definitely in order, but so was a dish of pickles (adorable) and barbecued garlic (beautiful and the sharp flavour was mellowed by heat) and chicken karaage (essentially, fried chicken — and one of my favourite bar snacks in Japan).

Mini pickled vegetables
Barbecued Garlic
Chicken karaage
Ramen

It was like being back in Japan, but I got to drink bourbon sours the entire time, so that was a bonus.

To follow the theme of the night before, we went to the Portland Japanese Gardens the next day (after a less-than noteworthy breakfast not worth discussing).

The Pavilion

And then it was time for ice cream sandwiches from Ruby Jewel. I must give Suzi full credit for finding this gem. Soft housemade cookies sandwiched around soft and luscious ice cream. In this case, chocolate chip cookies with salted caramel ice cream. You get to pick the cookies and filling.
Ruby Jewel ice cream sandwich

By sheer coincidence, the weekend we were in Portland was just after the James Beard awards had been announced. One of the winners was Andy Ricker of Pok Pok, who claimed the title of Best Chef Northwest for 2011. Pok Pok had popped up a number of times when I was searching for good restaurants in Portland, so it was already on the list. When we caught wind of the award, we knew there was going to be a lot of interest and possibly a long wait. Luckily, Ricker is also behind Whiskey Soda Lounge, a more casual, bar-like drinks-and-snacks establishment just about kitty-corner from Pok Pok. You can put your name on the Pok Pok list, then head over to WSL for snacks and drinks. When your table comes up at Pok Pok, they come and find you, allowing you to settle the tab and wander across the street for round 2.

I started with a Tamarind Whiskey Sour (sours also being sort of a theme for the weekend), followed by another. And possibly another.
Tamarind Whiskey Sour

Then we dove in to some of Chef Chew’s Khai Luuk Khoei: deep-fried eggs with sweet-spicy tamarind sauce and fried shallots. Incredibly tasty, but one of them was so spicy, I drained my drink and ate all the vegetables on the table to try to quench the fire.

Chef Chew's Khai Luuk Khoei

One of the things I really love about Thai food is that the cuisine is all about complex flavours that come together in a fresh and light way. Salty, spicy, sweet, sour. These Miang Kham embodied all of that. Chilies, ginger, peanuts, dried shrimp, lime, shallot and coconut with a ginger sauce, all wrapped up in a betel leaf.

These were amazingly fresh and light, yet had complex flavours. I’m pretty sure if I’d had enough room, I could have downed another round of these. (And, as I write this, my mouth has started watering again.)
Miang Kham

For Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings, the menu simply says, “Yes, these are the wings you have been looking for.” And it is right.

See above re: eating a second plate.
Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings

By the time we had eaten all of that, our server came over to say our table was ready at Pok Pok. We were pretty full, but went over anyway for some pork sate and a green mango salad. After all, it’s not every day you get a chance to eat at a James Beard-award winning restaurant.

Our plan for breakfast on Sunday was to go to one place. In the cab, the driver mentioned the Screen Door and how popular it is. At that point he may have also mentioned chicken and waffles. (You may remember I’m a fan.) We actually had him turn the taxi around. This place had a long line, despite the drizzle. But that first glimpse of their version of chicken and waffles was enough confirmation the decision was the right one.

This was an insane amount of food. Three fried chicken breasts atop a fluffy, tall sweet potato waffle. I barely appeared to make a dent in it. For scale, that is indeed a large steak knife buried to the hilt.

Chicken and sweet potato waffles

So, perhaps it’s surprising I was hungry in time for dinner. Or not.
Just across the street from our hotel was Le Pigeon, a small and much loved restaurant whose chef, Gabriel Rucker, had also just received kudos from the James Beard Foundation; he was named the 2011 Rising Star Chef. Le Pigeon is also known for its burgers. They only make five a night (the other restaurant, Little Bird, does not limit the amount) and Suzi and I nabbed no. 3 and 4. First, though, there was a glass of gorgeous sparkling rose.
Rose at Le Pigeon
And a quick glance at the menu to determine what to start with.
Le Pigeon menu
Eventually I decide on an arugula salad with duck egg and apricot.
Le Pigeon - first course
Before diving into the burger.
Le Pigeon burger

It was very juicy, and very tall with some lovely coleslaw-like topping. The crispy potatoes were also a nice switch from the standard fries.

We had snagged spots at the bar (because we didn’t have reservations, we took what we could get. And we only managed to grab those by waiting by the front door as the restaurant opened for the night at 5 p.m. I mentioned it’s a popular place, didn’t I?) and had the chance to watch the kitchen in action.

Le Pigeon kitchen

And for dessert — vegetarians, avert your eyes and skip ahead — I could not resist the foie gras profiteroles. When I ordered them, I assumed simply they were filled with foie gras mousse. But overhearing a conversation between one of the chefs and another patron, it became clear there was more to it than that. I asked the chef for clarification. It’s actually foie gras three ways: fat from the foie is used to make the choux pastry, foie is used as a mousse-like filling and then more fat is used in the caramel sauce.

Dear god.

Foie gras truffles

And then we were down to our final morning.

Packed suitcases in hand, we went to Blueplate. It’s a little diner-like establishment downtown that features old-school fountain drinks (like egg creams!) and comfort food like grilled cheese sandwiches and, ahem, burgers. (Yes, I have a problem. I know it.) I had heard about Blueplate on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and had mentally added it to my should-try-if-ever-in-Portland list.

I love old-fashioned soda fountain drinks and the egg cream (containing no actual eggs nor cream, but milk, soda water and chocolate syrup) is one of my favourites. It went well with my wee burgers and mashed potatoes.

Egg cream at Blueplate

Blueplate burgers

Stuffed, we carried on to the airport where we went our separate ways.

It’s possible, I’m already planning a return trip.

Vanilla Cupcakes with Bourbon Buttercream

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It was my friend Dan Clapson’s birthday the other day.

As part of what turned out to be a long weekend’s worth of celebrating (for him, not me), on the Monday evening we had Monday Night Supper Club (head here for some play-by-plays of these weekly events) at Stanley Park. Dan laid out some ground rules for the potluck. OK, one rule: everything had to be shaped like a cake.

Since Dan seemed to be a very lucky birthday boy who got everything he hoped for over the weekend, who was I to deny this particular wish? So, leading up to the big day I was pondering ideas. And I was drawing blanks. I really just wanted to make cupcakes. What? I know my strengths.

Vanilla Cupcake with Bourbon Buttercream

And for some reason, I kept thinking about creating with some sort of bourbon-flavoured icing.

I thought it was pretty original, but a quick Google search showed recipes are out there. And that is a good thing because it gave me a great jumping off point.

It’s tasty stuff, I can’t lie. But it’s also incredibly boozy despite the fact there is very little booze in it. Three tablespoons, about 1 1/2 shots. And only half of that made it onto the cupcakes (it’s enough icing for 24 cupcakes, not 12; the remainder is sitting in my fridge and I’m still trying to figure out what to do with it. Make more cupcakes seems the most logical answer.), so, really, it was 3/4 of a shot for the entire batch. You’re certainly not going to get drunk on them, that’s for sure.

People got pretty creative with the picnic potluck, including Chelsea who brought a sushi cake, complete with sweet potato “candles.”

Sushi "Cake"

Adria Britton with the very popular pizza pull-apart bread bundt.

Pull-Apart Pizza Bundt

Jamie Penno brought a savoury bacon-and-cheese cake.
Savoury Bacon and Cheese Cake

And Dan brought a potato salad “cake,” which was an intriguing take if not completely successful. Points for creativity!
Potato Salad "Cake"

I felt a bit non-creative for bringing straight up cupcakes, but I’m pretty sure the bourbon icing made up for that.

Vanilla Cupcakes with Bourbon Buttercream I

Vanilla Cupcakes with Bourbon Buttercream II

Dan and his Birthday Cupcake

And it was a lovely night to be in the park. Perfect way to end a lazy long weekend.

Stanley Park

Vanilla Cupcakes
This is straight from Martha Stewart’s recipe for yellow cupcakes (though I rewrote the instructions a bit). They are yellow, but I prefer to focus on their flavour.

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350F.

Line a muffin tin with liners.

In a bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In measuring cup or bowl, mix milk and vanilla.

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well each time. Turn mixer down to low, then add half of the dry ingredients, followed by the milk and vanilla and then the rest of the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined.

Divide evenly among muffin cups.

Place tin on rimmed cookie sheet and bake until a toothpick comes out clean. (Martha suggests 20 to 25 minutes; mine were done by 18, so don’t be afraid to check early.) Cool cupcakes in the tin for 5 minutes and then remove to a rack and cool completely before frosting.

Top with bourbon buttercream.

Bourbon Buttercream
And I adapted this one from My Recipes.

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 pound icing sugar
  • 3 tablespoons bourbon
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat butter until creamy. Add half of the icing sugar and beat, followed by the milk and bourbon and vanilla. Mix until blended. Add the remaining sugar and beat until thick and smooth.

Chocolate Lime Cheesecake

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The problem with getting behind in blogging is you start to forget why you made something in the first place.

OK, that might not be a problem others have. This may be particular to me.

Chocolate Lime Cheesecake Slice I

I think I came up with the idea of making a Chocolate Lime Cheesecake while flipping through cookbooks one night and remembering this had been on my to-do list for eons. I’m almost sure I had pulled Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Bites from my (overstuffed) shelf looking for one of her salad recipes when I re-stumbled across this one. And it occurred to me, since it was a long weekend and I was going to be working on the stat holiday, that I should bake this up and bring it in to the rest of the Calgary Herald crew working on the holiday Monday just like I used to when I was over in the city section. (Back then, I worked Sundays every week and I often baked and brought in goodies for what became known as Civilized Sundays, which would see us sitting around at 10 a.m. eating cake and listening to the police scanner. And reading our horoscopes.)

Then, and I do remember this correctly, I told the people who I knew would be also working that I was going to bake a cheesecake, which actually made me do it.

And, man, am I glad I did.

Nigella, my friends, she knows her stuff.

You know I love lime. It’s no surprise I also like chocolate. These two together are a very nice, very unexpected treat.

It may seem a bit fussy, but I followed all the instructions, including baking it in a water bath, which is a relatively common suggestion for baking cheesecake (a gentler way that theoretically keeps the top from cracking but always seemed like an unnecessary additional step). And I think it is indeed worth it. And the trick of snapping the aluminum foil into the springform pan (which sounds more confusing than it actually is) really does protect the crust and cake from any water.

Aluminum foil-wrapped pan

However, I must also add that I bought extra-wide aluminum foil thanks to the suggestion of my friend, Colette, who knew such a thing existed. Thanks Col! That way there was no panic about making sure the various pieces were secure enough. I would recommend this as a great way of alleviating any concern over seepage.

Seepage. What an odd thing to be mentioning on a food blog.

And, goodness, this is a very scattered post, isn’t it?

To summarize: this cheesecake is tasty. I enjoyed it. So did my friends. Make it. Don’t wait as long as I did to do so.

End.

Chocolate Lime Cheesecake I

Chocolate Lime Cheesecake II

Chocolate Lime Cheesecake Slice I

Chocolate Lime Cheesecake Slice I

Chocolate Lime Cheesecake

Straight from Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Bites.

  • 7 ounces chocolate wafer cookies
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 pound cream cheese (recommended: Philadelphia)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 whole eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 4 limes, juiced or 3/4 cup

Special equipment: springform pan

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Place a large overlapping piece of aluminum foil over the bottom of the springform pan, and then insert pan ring over it. Fold the foil extra foil up and around the pan and place the whole thing on a second piece of foil, also folding it and pressing it securely around the pan, having a water tight covering.

In a food processor, process cookies until they are crumb-like, add melted butter and continue to process. Pour crumb mixture into springform pan and press with your fingers to line the pan. Place the pan in the refrigerator to set while you prepare the cheesecake.

Place a kettle of water on for water bath. In a food processor beat the cream cheese until smooth, add the sugar, eggs, egg yolks, and lime juice.

Take crumbed pan from the refrigerator and place it in a roasting pan. Pour the cheesecake mixture into the crumb pan, and then carefully pour the hot kettle of water into the roasting pan so the water reaches 1/2 way up the pan so the water does not splash into cheese cake.

Place roasting pan in oven for 1 hour, checking after 50 minutes. It should feel set, but still wobbly in the center. Take the roasting pan out of the oven, carefully remove the springform pan from the roasting pan and place it on a rack. Peel off the outer layer of foil, and tear away the side bits of the first layer of foil and leave the pan to cool. Once the cake comes to room temperature, place it in the refrigerator for 20 minutes before serving. Transfer to the plate you’re going to serve it on, a plate without a lip, or a cake stand. Unclip the springform pan and remove the outer part. Carefully lift the cheesecake removing the metal bottom. The aluminum foil can stay on the cake. Serve chilled.

Quinoa Tabouleh

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Some people impulse buy gum.

I impulse buy five-pound bags of quinoa.

Oh sure, I thought it was a lovely idea in that moment, romanced by all the things I could do with this versatile, healthy, nutritious ingredient chock full of protein and fibre.

Especially after I saw on the back of the hefty bag that I can cook quinoa in my rice cooker. (Cooking rice and rice-related ingredients? Not my forte. I blame it on a year living in Japan where my apartment came equipped with a rice cooker.)

And then I got the family-sized bag home, jammed it into my cupboard and kind of forgot about it as it occupied valuable real estate in my kitchen. I finally unearthed it many weeks later, concocting a biryani-style salad with currants, chickpeas and a curry-lime dressing.

And then I forgot about it again.

Since then, there has been a bit more experimenting with quinoa.

But there is also something to be said about going back to basics — honest-to-goodness classic dishes that remain in the cooking repertoire for a reason.

Things like tabouli.

Or tabbouli. Or even tabouleh.

Or however you want to spell it.

Quinoa Tabouleh III

In theory, this is a salad I should like. Mint and parsley, lemon juice, tomato and cucumber. All those herbs with that zip of acidic lemon, the crunch of cucumber and umami taste of tomato? I like all those things. A lot.

What I don’t like is bulgur, the grain traditionally used in tabbouleh salads.

I made a huge bowl of it once using a recipe that called for bulgur and then had to eat it for two days to get through it, hating it the entire time.

I didn’t like the taste or the chew and forcing myself to finish the thing, which had taken a bit of time and effort to prepare, did not help the situation.

So, as I was sorting through my cupboards the other day and stumbled across the still half-full bag of impulse quinoa, I was struck by a thought: why not make tabbouleh with a grain-like ingredient I actually enjoy?

And I pulled out my rice cooker and did exactly that.

Quinoa Tabouleh II

(As a result of cooking it this way, I can offer you no suggestions or guidelines for cooking quinoa, other than tell you what I was also told: give it a bit of a rinse or a soak – say about 10 minutes or so — before cooking, which should alleviate any of the bitterness you might taste otherwise.)

With the exception of using quinoa and the addition of a red (or orange or yellow) paper for a bit of additional colour and crunch, this recipe holds quite true to traditional tabbouleh.

It’s the abundance of herbs, slight onion bite from the green onions and generous amount of lemon juice that gives it such a refreshing and light taste.

It’s the substitution of quinoa for bulgur that makes it no hardship to finish it off pretty quickly.

And, thankfully, I still have plenty more quinoa to make this again.

A trio of peppers

Mint

A Cup of Tomatoes

Quinoa Tabouleh I

Quinoa Tabbouleh

  • 4 cups (1 L) cooked quinoa
  • 1 red, orange or yellow pepper, diced
  • 1 cup (250 mL) cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • 2 to 4 green onions, sliced thinly
  • 2 mini cucumbers, halved, seeded and sliced
  • ¼ cup (50 mL) mint, chopped
  • ¼ cup (50 mL) parsley, chopped
  • 1/3 cup (75 mL) lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1/3 cup (75 mL) extra virgin olive oil

Cook quinoa according to directions. Let cool and place in large bowl. Add red pepper, tomatoes, green onions, cucumbers, mint and parsley. In separate bowl, mix lemon juice, salt and pepper. Whisk to dissolve salt. While whisking, slowly drizzle in olive oil to emulsify. Pour about ¾ of the dressing over the salad and toss. Add the remaining dressing if the salad seems dry.

Serves 4.

This piece originally ran in the Calgary Herald. For more great recipes and stories, head to the Herald’s food page at CalgaryHerald.com/life.

Peach-blueberry muffins

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Oh hey!

Just popping in with some bran muffins.

Peach-blueberry muffins

I know I’m a bit of a baking freak, but I think I reached new lows (highs?) when I baked these up yesterday in the 30-degree heat. But I had a flat of peaches and they’re all pretty much perfectly ripe at this exact moment and I need to come up with ways to use them before I have to toss them. The original plan was a streusel peach cake, or a rustic tart, but by the time I got back from brunch with a friend and did some other chores, it seemed a bit late to be putting together a cake. And pastry? Well, that’s probably not going to be great when your kitchen is that blazing hot. (Plus, you know, pastry. We’re not the best of friends. One day, I hope. One day.)

Anyway, I’ve been making these peach bran muffins of Julie’s for awhile now. They’re what I think muffins should be. Healthy, full of good-for-you ingredients like bran and not too much sugar. Not those cake-in-disguise muffins, which I know are tasty, but really are just cupcakes with a different name.

I grew up eating Sunny Boy Muffins. Warm from the oven, cracked open with a little pat of butter. I can still taste them. (And this serves as a good reminder that I really need to track down some Sunny Boy; there is nothing like the taste of nostalgia.) So, I like a good, solid muffin. And these deliver.

I’ve made them several ways: with buttermilk, with plain yogurt thinned with some milk, with white sugar, with brown and with a mixture of the two. And here’s what I’ve decided: pretty much any way you go, these are good, hearty muffins. But, since I rarely have buttermilk on hand, I usually go with the yogurt-milk mix and I think I like the dual-sugar combination. Julie’s recipe calls for one peach, but I usually double that (or 1.5 that, if the peaches are really big) because I like the extra fruit. And this time around I added in some blueberries, which I just happened to have around. I’m sure other fruit would also be fantastic.

I like making muffins and cupcakes but an ongoing issue I have is that I appear to have some sort of miniature muffin tin. I mean, it looks all normal sized but whenever a recipe says it will make 12 muffins, I end up with anywhere between 16 and 20. At first, I thought it was just me and I was maybe not filling the tins enough. And then I realized it happens so consistently that I’m now pretty confident that it’s this tin. I can’t quite justify getting a new one, though.

All this to say, the recipe says it makes 12 muffins. I got 18 out of it, after dropping the cooking time almost in half. If your muffin tin runs on the small side and you have leftover batter after all the cups are filled, lower the cooking time to around the 13- or 14-minute mark. You can always bake them longer, but you don’t want to overbake them.

OK, go forth, make muffins. Enjoy.

All-bran cereal

Peach

Blueberries

Muffin batter

Peach-blueberry muffin

Fresh Peach Bran Muffins

from Dinner With Julie.

  • 2 cups All Bran cereal
  • 1 3/4 cups buttermilk or plain yogurt, thinned with milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar (white or brown)
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • pinch salt
  • 1 or 2 peaches, chopped (or additional fruit, as desired)

In a large bowl, stir together the cereal and buttermilk; let stand for 10 minutes, until soft. (Sometimes I drizzle in a bit more milk if this mixture seems really, overly solid. Never had any problems with a little additional liquid.) Preheat the oven to 375F.

Stir the sugar, oil and egg into the bran mixture. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and stir until almost combined; add the peach and stir just until blended.

Divide the batter among 12 muffin cups that have been lined with paper liners or sprayed with nonstick spray. Bake for 25 minutes, until golden and springy to the touch. Makes a dozen muffins.

Asparagus and Pea Salad with Mint

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You ever notice how one recipe can beget another?

Last summer when I was making my shaved asparagus pizza, I found myself snacking on the strands of asparagus that had been tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper. (I’m completely unable to resist “testing” ingredients as I go along.)

It made me wonder why so few recipes I have stumbled across call for raw asparagus, which, when lightly dressed, is lovely.

Now that the stalks are appearing again on grocery shelves, it got me thinking. And then I stumbled across a salad recipe, which combined asparagus shavings with some other great loves of mine: Parmesan, prosciutto, mint and lemon.

Asparagus and Pea Salad with Mint

This salad is kind of like six degrees of separation.

Mint goes well with peas, which are lovely with asparagus, a natural match to prosciutto.

Well, really, what doesn’t prosciutto go well with?

And a lemon-based dressing adds some refreshing tartness, while a little bit of honey brings out the natural sweetness of the peas.

Now, I am the first one to up the amounts of salad goodies — more Parmesan, more prosciutto, please and thank you.

But in this case, I’m going to, unexpectedly, advise restraint. Messing with the fine balance between salt and sweet, meat and cheese, mint and vegetables can upset the equilibrium.

Too much cheese and the salt overpowers the delicate flavours of asparagus and mint.

Too much prosciutto overwhelms the texture of the salad.

When the proportions are right, this salad is perfection.

Right after finishing the photo shoot, I inhaled a bowlful.

I loved the spring green flavour of the thinly shaved asparagus, the sweet peas and bright mint with the slight tang of the mustard and lemon dressing.

The prosciutto didn’t hurt either.

All the greens contrasted with the pink of cured ham and cream of Parmesan is quite pretty and makes this a great dish for entertaining.

Serve it out on the deck with some crusty bread and a nice bottle of wine.

Asparagus and Pea Salad with Mint II

Asparagus and Pea Salad with Mint

This salad is from Epicurious by way of Serious Eats.

If fresh peas are in season, feel free to use them instead of frozen peas. Frozen peas are perfectly tasty, though. Just defrost in a sieve with some hot water. To get nice Parmesan shavings, let the cheese sit out on the counter for 10 or 15 minutes and then use a vegetable peeler.

  • 1½ cups (375 mL) peas
  • 1 lb (500 g) asparagus
  • 6 cups (1.5 L) salad greens
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) chopped mint
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) shaved Parmesan
  • 8 slices prosciutto, cut in strips
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) lemon juice
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) honey
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) olive oil

Whisk together lemon juice, Dijon mustard, honey and salt and pepper.

Drizzle in the oil slowly while still whisking to emulsify the dressing.

Test the dressing and adjust seasonings as necessary.

Place salad greens in a large bowl, add chopped mint and peas.

Using the woody end as a handle, hold the asparagus against a cutting board and use a vegetable peeler to make long strips. (These will vary in thickness, which is fine.)

After shaving, you will be left holding the rough end, which can be discarded.

Repeat with all the asparagus and then add the shavings to the salad.

Add sliced prosciutto. Toss with dressing (start with only a portion of the dressing and add more as necessary; the salad may not need all of it).

Top with shaved Parmesan.

Serves 4.

This first appeared in the Calgary Herald. For more recipes and instructional videos, check out the Herald’s Food page.

Rhubarb Upside-down Cake

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Before I get down to this (and, baby, this is well worth getting down to), a little apology and a tease of what’s going to be coming up on P&P. First, sorry for the delay in updating. Life, it has been hectic of late. That’s not a bad thing, except when it comes to keeping the blog a little more lively. But, my friends, I’ve got posts coming on my trip to Portland (hint: there are burgers. And they are t-a-s-t-y.), a scape pesto and some other goodies.

So, thanks for your patience. And now, let’s look at some cake, shall we?

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake III

It’s rhubarb season again and one of my most favourite times of the year (right up there with that point when cherry blossoms finally burst forth in frothy clouds of pink).

In the last few weeks, people have regaled me with stories of how their rhubarb patches are growing like weeds and they have no idea what to do with all those stalks. (Including one friend who actually didn’t know it was rhubarb in her garden. If I lived anywhere near her, I would have been tempted to drive over and take them all.)

I give them all the same response: I’m more than happy to take it off their hands.

I have no shame when it comes to rhubarb.

Red Rhubarb Stalks

I love it, those rosy-pink or mottled green stalks with their sour punch that mellows with a little sugar and heat.

I like it in crumb cakes and muffins, crisps and cocktails. (And here are a couple more.)

And when I saw this Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake from Martha Stewart, I knew exactly what my next project would be once I got my hands on a pound or two of the fruit.

My only real experience with upside-down cakes is the images from the ’60s and ’70s of the pineapple version with each golden ring dotted by a bright red maraschino cherry.

This version is all rhubarb with the top awash in rosy pink.

The question with upside-down cakes is always, will this upend properly to a gorgeous display of fruit on a golden-crumbed cake? The backup question follows: if it doesn’t, can I at least make it look like it did?

Except for a few errant pieces of rhubarb that slid off the cake’s edges, it came out beautifully. (Perhaps don’t jam them into the edges of the pan quite as enthusiastically as I did, since these were the ones that escaped from the top of the cake.)

I will say that I followed Stewart’s instructions exactly and she suggests removing the cake after only 10 minutes of cooling; otherwise, she says, it will stick.

As I lifted off the cake pan, rosy pink juices glided down the cake edge and settled on the cake stand like a thin moat.

It was definitely juicier than the image of Stewart’s perfect cake, but when it comes to that sweetened rhubarb syrup that forms when the fruit is cooked with a bit of sugar, I’m OK with that. And I’ve never heard anyone complain of an overly moist cake.

This was light and fluffy, slightly perfumed with orange and topped with softened rhubarb, sugar-kissed and slightly tangy.

And the unusual addition of a crumb topping (which then becomes the crumb bottom) added an unexpected, but nice, texture.

I thought it was a weird touch and was tempted to skip it initially, figuring rhubarb and cake alone would be tasty, but it added another dimension to the cake, which I liked.

And, with this, rhubarb season is on for me.

I can only hope other friends feel overwhelmed by an excess of rhubarb and they don’t mind me suggesting they feel free to pass it along.

Rhubarb and Sugar

Rhubarb and Sugar II

Crumb Topping

Cooked Crumb Topping

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake II

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake Slice

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

This comes from Martha Stewart. She suggests when putting the rhubarb in the cake pan to put the pinkest edges facing down so the cake, when upended, will have the best colour.

For the topping:

  • 4 tbsp (60 mL) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) sugar
  • coarse salt

For the cake:

  • 3/4 cup (175 mL) unsalted butter, divided, at room temperature, plus more for buttering pan
  • 1 lb (500 g) rhubarb, trimmed and cut on a very sharp diagonal about ½-inch (1-cm) thick
  • 1¾ cups (425 mL) sugar, divided
  • 1½ cups (375 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 1½ tsp (7 mL) baking powder
  • coarse salt
  • 1/2 tsp (2 mL) finely grated orange zest
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) fresh orange juice
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup (250 mL) sour cream

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).

Make the topping: Stir together butter, flour, sugar and 1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt until moist and crumbly.

Make the cake: Butter a 9-inch (23-cm) round cake pan (2 inches/5 cm deep). Dot with 4 tbsp (60 mL) butter, cut into pieces. Toss rhubarb with 3/4 cup (175 mL) sugar; let stand for 2 minutes. Toss again, and spread in pan.

Whisk together flour, baking powder and 1½ tsp (7 mL) salt. Beat remaining butter and cup of sugar with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in zest and juice. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, until incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl.

Beat in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with sour cream, until smooth. Spread evenly over rhubarb. Crumble topping evenly over batter.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean and top springs back when touched, about 1 hour. Let cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake, and invert onto a wire rack. Let cool completely.

Cook’s Note: Let the cake cool for 10 minutes before removing it from the pan. The rhubarb will be too hot to handle safely right after baking. But if the cake sits much longer, it may stick.

This first appeared in the Calgary Herald. For more recipes and instructional videos, check out the Herald’s Food page.

Momofuku Ginger Scallion Noodles

Last year I was lucky enough to travel to New York for a week.
Central Park

Fire Escapes

Brooklyn Bridge

And my friend, whom I was visiting, was open to all the restaurant suggestions I had. And there were plenty of them. But at the top of the list was Momofuku.

One of the first meals we enjoyed was at Momofuku Noodle Bar. And, towards the end, we had another amazing meal at . . . Momofuku Noodle Bar. Because even though I had wanted to go to the Noodle Bar and Ko during the trip, somewhere along the way things got confused and when I thought we were at Ko, we were at the Noodle Bar. Whoops.

We could have later gone to Ko when we realized the error, but I didn’t feel I could visit Momofuku and not have the ramen, which is one of those dishes that instantly transports me back to Japan (when it’s done right) and yearn for Japan (when it’s not).

That first night at the Noodle Bar we ordered the pork buns (which I still daydream about sometimes; they were just unbelievable) and the Ginger Scallion Noodles. These, these were so good that I was almost tempted to order them the next time we went back. Chewy ramen noodles, doused in a mix of thinly sliced green onions with a pungent hit of ginger, a slight hint of salty soy. I don’t think we left a single slice of scallion in that bowl.

Ginger-Scallion Noodles

We ate a lot of amazing meals that week (and had some incredible experiences too: a Broadway show, an afternoon at the Met) but I found myself coming back to Calgary and thinking about the noodles. When I took the job as the Food Writer for the Calgary Herald, I was quietly ecstatic to discover I would have access to a fairly good library of cookbooks (for research purposes, of course), which included the Momofuku cookbook by David Chang and Peter Meehan. I may have pulled it off the shelf to flip through in my first week on the job (for research purposes, of course). And then I kind of put the idea of making the noodles on the backburner.

Until this week.

When, suddenly, all I wanted to do was make those noodles.

So I did.

The recipe is ridiculously simple and it’s really only mincing the ginger and slicing the onions that takes any amount of effort (and, in the end, not all that much).

But the cookbook also outlines how the restaurant serves up the dish that I had fallen in love with a year ago:

Cook six ounces of ramen noodles, drain and toss with 6 tablespoons of the ginger scallion sauce, then top with bamboo shoots (another recipe from the book), quick-pickled cucumbers (another recipe from the book), pan-roasted cauliflower (pretty much just like it sounds), more sliced scallions and a sheet of toasted nori.

Yup, that sounds delicious. But I just didn’t have the patience to do any of that.

Maybe next time.

(I wrote more about my trip over here, if you want to check out some of what I ate — hint: Crack pie! — and some hot shoes I bought.)

Scallions

Ginger

Ginger and Scallions

Ginger-Scallion Noodles II

Ginger Scallion Sauce

  • 2 1/2 cups thinly sliced scallions (greens and whites, from 1 to 2 large bunches)
  • 1/2 cup finely minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 1/4 cup grapeseed or other neutral oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons usukuchi (light soy sauce)
  • 3/4 teaspoon sherry vinegar
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or more to taste)

Mix together the scallions, ginger, oil, soy , vinegar and salt in a bowl. Taste and check for salt, adding more if needed. Add several spoonfuls to cooked ramen noodles.

(You can find ramen noodles in most grocery stores these days, typically in the produce section by the fresh herbs and wonton wrappers.)

Rocky Road Brownies

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A couple of months ago I went on a ski trip with a number of friends to Golden. OK, for me it was an apres ski trip, where I excelled in drinking margaritas, attempting my first shot ski (I’ll let you google that; no wait, now it sounds dirty: it’s a ski with shot glasses attached so four people are doing shots at once.) (EDIT: I stand mistaken. This is a five-shot shot ski. Thanks Tait!), hot tubbing, cooking (for which I volunteered) and participating in much general merriment.

My friend Dawn and I created a meal plan and bought all the groceries to make things easier for everyone attending (and then we divided the cost amongst all the people on the trip). While we had a solid plan, we did wind around the grocery store aisles trying to figure out if we were missing anything. Somehow along the way we decided it would be awesome to get some marshmallows for hot chocolate. And, for some unknown reason, this culminated in purchasing a 1-kilogram (yeah, that’s 2.2 pounds) bag of baby marshmallows. When, at the end of the weekend, we were dividing up the remaining groceries, I somehow was gifted the marshmallows, which, of course, we never opened.

Initially, my instinct was to make browned-butter Rice Krispie treats. Um, then things got busy and I was eating a lot of last-minute meals and that generally translated into eating the entire box of cereal I had bought to make the marshmallow treats. Fail.

And then I starting thinking about some S’mores brownies my friend Andree made. So I started googling and at some point I stumbled across these Rocky Road Brownies. (Why they are related to TLC, I know not.) What I can tell you? They are AMAZING.

Rocky Road Brownies IV

Deep, dark, fudgy base, topped with melted smears of sweet marshmallow and the salty crunch of pecans.

Just look at that.

Rocky Road Brownies II

Let me put it this way: I usually eat one piece of whatever I’ve baked and then give the rest away. This time? I ate two pieces, gave some away, but held another two back for later. And when those were gone I’m not afraid to say that I was a wee bit sad. Thankfully (or not), I’ve got about 2 pounds of those marshmallows left.

Clearly, I’m making these again.
Melted Chocolate

Deep dark brownie batter

Rocky Road Brownies I

Rocky Road Brownies III

Rocky Road Brownies V

(The original recipe calls for walnuts, but I like pecans, so that’s what I keep around. Also, I didn’t have buttermilk and didn’t want to buy some just for this, so I used 1/4 cup of whole milk with a bit of lemon juice squeezed in.)

Rocky Road Brownies

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup miniature marshmallows
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. Butter an 8-inch square pan. (If you have parchment paper, I like to make a sling by lining the pan with a piece of parchment large enough to create overhang outside of the pan.)

In a pot over low heat, combine butter and cocoa, stirring constantly until smooth. Remove from heat and stir in sugar, flour, buttermilk, egg and vanilla. Mix until smooth. Spread evenly in the pan. Bake 25 minutes or until center feels dry. Do not overbake. Remove from oven, sprinkle with marshmallows, pecans and chocolate chips. Return to oven 3 to 5 minutes or just until topping is slightly melted.

Cool in pan on wire rack. Cut into squares.

Juice of a Few Flowers

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Last year was one of celebrations: plenty of new babies and a wedding or two.

That, inevitably, meant many a shower.

Some involved sipping tea out of dainty china cups, others a glass of wine or two, perhaps a tipple of Champagne.

This year is gearing up to be slightly slower showerwise. No weddings on the calendar and only a few friends expecting to add to their families.

Which is too bad, because I’ve just discovered a lovely multi-purpose cocktail.

Juice of a Few Flowers

It’s a drink with a tart citrus punch and a nice kick of vodka. An ice-cold glass, a sugared rim, a sprig of mint.

It’s downright civilized.

So, it’s no surprise then that Juice of a Few Flowers was apparently created in the 1920s by a couple said to give glamorous parties in the East Hamptons.

The original version used gin, but Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten, in her book Back to Basics (Clarkson Potter, $40), has updated the recipe to use vodka.

She notes, though, Gerald Murphy often mixed up the drink without alcohol, pouring it into martini glasses and serving them to the children.

And that makes it a great mocktail for mothers-to-be.

Shower guests and the guest of honour can all sip (relatively) the same thing.

With puckery grapefruit and tart lemon and lime juices, this drink could head toward sour territory, but it’s mellowed by the addition of sweet orange juice, then tempered further with the sugared rim.

Shaken until ice cold (freeze the martini glasses in advance to keep it even further chilled), the drink is smooth and oh-so sippable.

So much so that I don’t think I’ll be waiting for a shower or other celebration to be pulling out this recipe again.

Citrus

Juice of a Few Flowers II

Juice of a Few Flowers

Ina Garten notes if your juicer doesn’t strain the juice, use a sieve to remove the pulp, otherwise it will clog the holes of the cocktail shaker.

  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) freshly squeezed orange juice (2 oranges)
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) freshly squeezed pink grapefruit juice (1 grapefruit)
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) freshly squeezed lemon juice (1 lemon)
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) freshly squeezed lime juice (2 limes)
  • 1 cup (250 mL) vodka
  • extra lemon juice
  • granulated sugar
  • fresh mint sprigs

Combine the orange juice, grapefruit juice, lemon juice, lime juice and vodka in a pitcher.

Dip the rims of 4 martini glasses first in a dish of lemon juice and then in a dish with sugar. Set aside to dry.

Pour the cocktail mix into the glasses, garnish with mint and serve.

This story first appeared in the Real Life section in the Calgary Herald. For more delicious recipes, visit CalgaryHerald.com/life.