Thursday, December 31, 2009

Food Facts with Jess: Barley, Bay Leaves, and Thyme

If you're like me, I want to know as much as possible about the history of the foods I eat. So, here are some really interesting tidbits about two spices and one grain that I bought today, courtesy of European Breads Bakery and Dan-D-Pak respectively.

Barley: Barley played an important role in ancient Greek culture as a staple bread-making grain, as well as an important food for athletes who attributed much of their strength to their barley-containing training diets. roman athletes continued this tradition of honoring barley for the strength that it gave them. Gladiators were known as hordearii, which means "eaters of barley".

Bay Leaves: Bay leaves are the aromatic dried leaves of the evergreen tree, Laurus nobilis. Sometimes referred to as laurel, bay leaves have a distinctively strong, spicy flavour and can be used whole or dried and ground. In Ancient Greece and rome, bay leaves and branches were used as wreaths to crown victorious athletes while the English believed bay leaves brought good luck. the term "baccalaureate" refers to the ancient practice of honoring scholars with garlands of laurel or bay leaves. 

Thyme: Thyme comes from the dried leaves of Thymus Vulgaris, a member of the mint family. In ancient Greece, thyme symbolized courage. Ladies in Medieval Europe decorated the scarves of knights with a sprig of thyme as a sign of bravery. 

Figs and Brie

Figs and brie. Dried Greek figs and triple-cream brie, to be more specific. About a week ago, Anthony and I had our Christmas celebration with my dad, full of good food and good cheer and all that. One of the delicious appetizers that my dad provided was dried figs (Mission-style, I think) stuffed with a little bit of prosciutto. They were delicious. I was really hesitant about eating the figs, for reasons indecipherable even to myself. I think I might have-past tense is key here-equated dried figs with dried prunes, which is an erroneous thought in the greatest degree. BUT, what elevated this lovely appetizer to something truly food-gasmic was spreading a good bit of creamy brie on the fig and eating it that way. Really good stuff. Fruit and cheese have such a rich love story, lasting through the ages, in endless forms. So, unable to shake such a great culinary experience, today when I went grocery shopping with limited funds-as always!-I bought some sun-dried greek figs for $2.99 from Santa Barbara Market and some inexpensive triple-cream (yes, triple, I know) brie from La Grotta del Fromaggio. Oh, and some prosciutto-style salami from the latter as well. I was not disappointed. The brie and figs are a perfect match for each other. Just delicious. And figs are very healthy for you too! Two of these dried figs are 15% of your daily recommended fibre intake. Seeing as I had six of them (in case you aren't inclined to be mentally mathematically quick, that is 90% of you DR fibre), that's awesome. I really struggle to get enough varied, healthy, soluble fibre in my diet and enough fruits and vegetables, so these figs might be my gut's saviour-in-waiting. The prosciutto-style salami, while tasty, isn't nearly as good as straight-up prosciutto, but the latter can be expensive, so I just tried the latter.

While the sandwich I ate with the latter wasn't that good-old style dijion
mustard does not apparently go well with brie cheese-European Breads Bakery 100% Barley Bread did not disappoint. Still, I greatly favour their Spelt Bread. I'm thinking I should roast some peppers for a kick-ass vegetarian sandwich with brie cheese sometime this week. And looking ahead to tomorrow, there's some Fabulous Roasted Cauliflower Soup to be made. Yumms.

A Tantalizing New Culinary Discovery

I have discovered something delicious. Something long known to others it would seem. Atop a high "peak" in Vancouver, overlooking the mountains, close to parrots and a jungle, there lies Seasons in the Queen Elizabeth Park. I have heard good things about this place, vaguely and passively receiving such reviews. It is often voted as a very romantic place to dine. And yes it is pricey, brunch for two hangs around near and in the $50 range. But my god, is it delicious and real culinary revelation (my Book of Revelations would be all be food-related, you see). My mother, generous soul that she is, took me there for the beginnings of a wonderful day on the 27th of this month for a special brunch. After getting over the rather stupefying feeling caused by the surprising deliciousness of the items offered on menu, I ended up going with the Corned Beef & Maple Roasted Sweet Potato Hash, upon our server's recommendation and my pre-existing leanings to that menu option (although when I looked at the menu the night before, my eyes glanced right over this dish). Anyways, long story short-let's get rid of the suspense, shall we?-it was the most delicious breakfast/brunch I have ever had...and I have had many. Chunks of delicious sweet potatoes and corned beef, all seasoned to perfection, with loads of perfectly gooey melted swiss cheese, topped with two perfectly poached eggs with rich orange yolks and a bit of hollandaise and you have the stuff of revelation. Dare I say, the Resurrection of Corned Beef Hash from all its former glory? Wait, has it ever had any glory? Well, the resurrection from its former greasy-spoon derelict dwellings in which it has lied for decades, at least. Un-freaking-believable. Just so delicious. And absolutely something you could make it at home. God, if I had some dough, I'd be dining there all the time. ALL the bloody time. The "Green Eggs" & Ham Frittata and the Seasons Brioche French Toast are particularly calling me. And that's just brunch! For now, Seasons in the Park will remain one of many "special occasion" locales for dining. But my oh my, what a special occasion. And, by the way, the reason for my many religiously inspired metaphors lie in the fact that I am reading Javier Sierra's extremely absorbing The Secret Supper. Highly recommended!

P.S: On a side note, it makes me really mad and fucking angry that the City (fuck you Gregor, I used to be a fan you know!) is closing down the neighbouring Blodel Conservatory and no other level of government is putting any funds forth to support it. All it fucking needs is a fixed roof. Which costs far less than the $6 million dollar-plus federal government grant that was just given to the VanDusen Botanical Gardens.

Seasons in the Park on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Pho vs. Ramen: The Battle of the Asian Noodles

Pho. Ramen. The Battle of the Asian Noodles. Who shall win? The people are divided. It is down to one vote. The Fledgling Basement Chef must decide it all. It all rests on her shoulders, the fate of the Asian noodles.
I pick Pho. I had ramen noodles for the first time today at Gyoza King. Vegetables Ramen. To me, the Vietnamese rice pho noodles are much tastier, lighter, and much more absorbent of its flavourful beef stock. But Ramen is still a nice wintry delight and really filling. Naturally, being at Gyoza King where the best (or second best if The Diamond's gyozas truly are as good as everyone says they are) gyozas in town can be found, I also ordered pork and chive gyozas. Perfect. Tasty. Nicely deep-fried. Goes down easy. All of this for $15 including tip! Why is that Asian restaurants throughout the city constantly trump all other restaurants when it comes to price point?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Redux: The Grilled Cheese

Upon further reflection I felt that it was necessary for me to tweak something regarding my Grilled Cheese post. The bread used and the cooking method are in fact very important, especially the former. I did allude to this in my denouncement of all things white bread, but in fact, after looking at the photo I used in my post of a most delectable grilled cheese, I realized that the bread is so key. And the cooking method is important to. I normally use a toaster oven on toast setting, which works excellently and quickly. I used to only use the slow but satisfying method of the frying pan, but that has been mostly abandoned. I seem to have got my grilled cheese fix out of my system; I no longer need to have one every single freaking day. Thank God. I think I got a little backed up, if you know what I mean. But, I'm still thinking about the grilled cheese at Deacon's Corner and Au Petit Chavignol. Like all comfort foods, whatever your preference may be, I will always love a good grilled cheese made all the better when fashioned with love.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Grilled Cheese

The Grilled Cheese. A classic. The classic. Everyone loves a grilled cheese. Maybe there are some GC lovers out there who aren't too picky or discerning about their grilled cheese; what bread, cheese, condiments, sides, and grilling methods are used to produce this very North American of foods might not matter to some. The simple combination of heat, cheese, and bread is enough. But for those like myself-no snob culinaire by any means-the type of bread, the kind and amount of cheese, and any extra ingredients or sides or flair matters. Thick, heavy rye bread? Not so much. The focus should be on the cheese, period. But let's make a point here, I don't want no Wonderbread grilled cheese. White bread is not bread; it's nutrient-less fluff. A good solid multigrain or Squirrelly bread works nicely. But, having a gut that is adverse to wheat and wheat gluten, I make my grilled cheese with European Breads Bakery Spelt Bread. And it works wonderfully. Now, to involuntarily prove the point that I am not a snob culinaire, I prefer my homemade grilled cheese with thin Kraft Singles (Lucerne variety is fine)-three of them to be specific-and maybe some ham or salami as well. Ketchup on the side? Sometimes, depends on my mood. Ewww, gross, you must be thinking. Kraft singles? That isn't even cheese. Yeah, you're right. But I can't help it. It's just like my taste for Coca-Cola. Toxic shit many would say. Yeah, I don't care though. I fucking love that toxic shit.
However, I have an open mind when it comes to most things in life, and that of course includes food. Delicious grilled cheese sandwiches can be had with real live cheese. Andrew Morrison's recent description and rave review of Au Petit Chavignol's Croque-Monsieur is luring me ever more each day to that East Hastings establishment. Also, another foodie article in The Westender on the best winter comfort food in town  has been yapping away in my head at my gut telling me to get my ass down to Deacon's Corner on Main for the one of the best grilled cheeses in town. Other recent honourable mentions in The $20 Gourmet's article just on grilled cheese include: Hub Restaurant & Lounge, and The Templeton. To be honest, neither appeal to me. But Deacon's Corner and Au Petit Chavignol are calling my name. Calling, calling, c-a-l-l-i-n-g, calling, c-a-l-l-i-n-g.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Eggs. I couldn't live without them. I read somewhere recently that you should consume no more than six whole eggs a week due to the high cholesterol content of the yolk. And I've tried to stick to that, sometimes succeeding, sometimes eating eight whole eggs in a week, sometimes...more. This week has been an egg-cellent week (horrible pun totally intended) for eggs and I. I made some great scrambled eggs for Anthony and I with peppers, chives, and the stupidly good Brise du Matin brie. I made a couple successful over-easy eggs; I still haven't really got that skill down yet. And really, if you have ever had Rabbit River Farms eggs, you will know that it is virtually impossible to not eat them every single day and ascend to gustatory heaven. They are the creamiest eggs with the largest, richest orange yolks I have ever had-absolutely bar none!-and they are the only example needed to show that happy, well-loved, well-fed chickens produce delicious, nutritious, hearty eggs, and that eggs of that caliber can only come from chickens living that kind of life, the life they deserve.

I urge you all to eat ethically. Not locally or organically necessarily, but ethically. Really think about the choices you are making when you purchase food, go grocery shopping, eat out at restaurants. What kind of system are you supporting when you eat at KFC? A disgusting vile operation based on torture of animals and lack of standards or morals of any kind. What kind of system are you supporting when you buy free-range, antiobiotic-free, vegetarian diet-fed beef? A kind, ethical, normal, natural, and authentic system based on respect and care for nature and all its creatures and the invaluable gifts of life and nutrition that they give us. Which one will you choose? The latter, I hope.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Junk Food

No matter how hard I try I am always drawn back to two things: Coca-Cola and chips. The cheesy kind of chips. Doritos. Cheetos. Cheezies. If I have the chips, I have to have the coke. If I have pizza, I have to have coke. It would seem wrong to say that I am addicted to Coca-Cola, belittling those of us who actually have real live addictions, but I cannot seem to get it off my mind of late. I seem to have shaken the chocolate obsession. I'm no longer obsessing over chocolate cake. But, Coca-Cola persists. I feel like I did when I smoked regularly for a few months back in 2007/2008. Even though I knew how horribly bad and disgusting smoking cigarettes was for me-I knew it-I continued to smoke. Now, even though I know how bad Coca-Cola is for me-it dissolves rust and is used to clean up blood at crime scenes!-I continue to drink it. Well, I kicked that cigarette habit ages ago and only very rarely do I get a craving for a smoke, and I never give in. Can I kick the Coca-Cola habit? I'd like to say 'yes' with resounding resoluteness, but I'm skeptical. You know, they say your eating habits are 'set' by the age of 12. And it is true that bad eating habits are hard to kick, just like any other ones. Oh well, for the vast majority of the time, I eat exceptionally better than most people out there, even though I am desperate for cash, eating into my savings again, and have increased my credit card limit. I do so because I care about food, I love food, I value taste and quality, I appreciate the art of good cooking.
It feels good to be able to write about food again. I was in a creative rut, lack of confidence and interest in life. Forgetting how things are great and I can never forget that.
What's on the menu for tomorrow: Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers. Yum!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Wendell Berry, You Disappoint Me

I've been reading a book called Bringing It To The Table, a collection of Wendell Berry's essays spanning over thirty decades. Yes, he is an intelligent man, who comes across as caring, respectful of life in all its forms, and very thoughtful and committed to the survival of good farming. But, I was getting the inkling that he was a Christian, one who believes in Creation and Genesis, and I sighed and shook my head. He does believe in evolution it seems, but, I find it impossible to continue to read his work and see it as valuable. People wonder why his work and call for the rescue of agriculture, farming, and food has for so long continued to not have its desired effect. For me, it would be the presence of his belief in such ridiculous ideas as Creation and Genesis. Unfortunately this belief seems to be persistent in much of the agrarian literature coming out of the States. Even in Barbara Kingsolver's work, which is so thoroughly disappointing, as I have been wanting for years to read her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I may never read it know. For me, it just discredits so much of the value of their arguments and ideas. Loony and dated are words that come to mind. I am admittedly the most secular of people: I do not believe in God, I do not believe in the Resurrection of Christ, I do not believe in Satan, I do not believe in Heaven or Hell or Purgatory. But, all the same, I think I am done with American agrarian literature. A sad tale really.

Eat. Brie. Moan

I saw, I ate, I moaned. Yesterday, after a long but wholly awesome market day, I stopped in (for the first time-gasp!) at La Grotta dell Fromaggio on the Drive to see what all the fuss was about. Besides having a perfectly good, very fresh panini (a real one, not the West's terrible bastardization of it), I picked up some brie. Now, as far as I am concerned, Brie is the Queen of all cheese. While I am partial to Smoked Gouda, the elegance and celebration of subtlety and texture that Brie encompasses is unsurpassable. I had been craving some ripe, runny brie for a few days, and had initially set my sights on wrangling a round of it from Little Qualicum at the market. But, I've been feeling lately, after having wonderful and far superior non-LQC cheese of late, that LQC really isn't all that great. True, their Brie is award-winning, but not gold-winning. Plus, in many ways they pander to the masses and that is where their success is found. Qualicum Spice (probably their best-seller next to their Island Brie) is very pedestrian, appealing to any and all, and not that great and not that unique. Plus, I harbour some very negative feelings towards certain people at LQC and always will because of certain unprofessional, bitchy, inexcusably callous, and ugly-ass actions of one certain unprofessional, bitchy, inexcusably callous, and ugly-ass employee. Thus, I was looking through the bries at La Grotta and while waiting for my panini, picked one up that was perfect: 140 grams, double-cream Brise du Matin Brie for only $3.50. Yes, you heard me right, 140 grams of delicious Brie for only $3.50. It was incredible, runny from the get-go, creamy innards, mushroomy memorable rind, put LQC to absolute shame on the three most important criteria: taste, value, and price (in that order).
Needless to say, the cheese is gone. Bought yesterday around 4pm, and gone today around 3pm. My boyfriend loved it as well, and he is indeed a fan of Brie. I will certainly return for some more. Probably this week.
Now, I hope to go out to either Xoxolat or 49th Parallel, for some drinking chocolate. Drink. Chocolate. Moan.