October 19, 2013

Cactus Club Cafe–Jasper Avenue, Edmonton


P1010268

Though I'm still struggling to figure out how this blog will fit into my new life, I thought I'd take the opportunity to pop back in and tell you about a restaurant reception I attended last week.

A new Cactus Club Cafe just opened up right in our neighbourhood, at 11130 Jasper Avenue. I was invited to the soft opening reception and took my good friend Irene (Jacques graciously offered to stay home so we wouldn't have to get a babysitter to give Lucie supper and put her to bed).

It was a lovely evening and made us both feel like celebrities, which isn't a bad thing once in a while. I'm sometimes invited to these types of events, but I rarely attend, mostly due to scheduling or because they're difficult to get to on public transport. But this restaurant is so close by that it was easy. And sometimes it's nice to say yes to an evening of free wine and food.

P1010270

Cactus Club Cafe is a chain that started in Vancouver, and now has over two dozen restaurants across BC and in Edmonton. This is its second Edmonton location, with one at West Edmonton Mall already. The restaurant on Jasper is large, taking up almost the entire front of the building on the corner of Jasper and 111 st. It also boasts a large patio right on the street, complete with small trees and heating lamps (it was closed while we were there, but I noticed now that the restaurant is open for business, the patio is also open). It will be nice to have another big patio in the area come summer. It's also nice to see a new dining option in the Oliver neighbourhood, and so close by to us.

Before the reception, I emailed the media contact to let her know I had celiac disease, and the restaurant was very accommodating. There were several dishes I couldn't eat, but the kitchen also prepared a few small bites just for me, and I was pretty impressed with that. All of the food was delicious, and Irene loved everything she ate too. The wine also flowed freely throughout the evening.

I didn't find the restaurant space particularly exciting, though it was comfortable, with large booths and tables surrounding a bar in the centre of the room. The restaurant is divided into two sections, with the lounge, where we were, on one side and a more formal dining room on the other.

P1010279

P1010277

I wasn't really on my blogging game and missed taking any photos of the food, but the tuna tataki with avocado and citrus was a highlight, as well as the quinoa salad with pecans and feta cheese. Irene especially loved the mini bbq duck club sandwich on raisin bread, with crispy duck bacon, and the pineapple hoisin short rib bites.

There were many people from the Cactus Club staff, including managers and the owner, who were in from Vancouver for the opening, and several of them came over and chatted with us. Probably the best part of the evening was getting to meet Chef Matthew Stowe, Cactus Club's head of product development. Matthew is also the winner of Top Chef Canada Season 3. I must admit I've never watched the show, but Jacques and I love the original American series.

We chatted with Matthew and asked him questions about his career and his experience on the show, which was really interesting. He said the producers will often make contestants out to be something they're not, and edit people's comments so they are played completely out of context. Though I'm not really surprised, it was good to get that confirmation. Stowe seemed like a down-to-earth, humble guy, and I'm curious to search some clips from his season and see what he was like on the show.

P1010282

All in all, it was a treat to be out on the town enjoying good food and wine. I think with this new location being so close, we'll definitely be visiting Cactus Club Cafe in the future.

Cactus Club Cafe
11130 Jasper Ave.
Edmonton, AB
http://www.cactusclubcafe.com

And now for a little perspective, here’s  my usual mealtime view:

P1010266

I couldn’t check in here without adding a photo of la belle Lucie. Hope to be back soon.

June 22, 2013

Gluten-free vanilla birthday cake

DSC05946

Many months have passed since I last visited this space. My baby has grown into a one-year old. I am now back at work full-time. And for the past four weeks Jacques has been away in Newfoundland on an opera training program, and I’ve been parenting on my own.

For two weeks my mother was here, and it was quite wonderful. She helped enormously with household chores, and just playing with Lucie and cleaning her up and changing her diaper when I needed a minute longer to drink my tea or get dressed.

Since Mom left I’ve had lots of help from my many marvellous friends. But it’s been hard at times. Work is very busy, and when I get home there are a million things to do before I can sit for a few minutes and relax before I go to bed and start all over again.

But I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining. Life has been great overall. I’m in a job that I really love, Lucie has taken to daycare like a fish to water, and Jacques is doing incredibly well. All I can say is single parents are to be very admired. Very, very admired.

Well, let’s move onto some food talk, shall we?

A few weeks ago, I made Lucie a birthday cake. I wanted it to be the same as the cakes my Mom always made me when I was a kid. Sometimes she did fancy shapes or new recipes, but the one I remember with the most fondness was called Nanny’s Hot Milk Cake.

DSC05959

It’s basically a plain vanilla cake, but of the best quality. It’s tender and light with a beautiful crumb, sweet but not too sweet, and golden brown on top.  I’m not sure if heating the milk makes a huge difference, but since it’s always delicious, why mess with it? The frosting – a plain, simple buttercream – was customizable, and as a child I remember adoring the peppermint kind.

DSC05933

I set out to recreate this cake, gluten-free, for Lucie’s first birthday. I added some ground almonds to the first one I made, and that turned out to be a mistake. I think they added too much weight and density, because the cake turned out eggy and flat.

The second time, I tweaked the flour mixture, and came away with a winner. I used more starches and fewer whole grains than I usually do, but this is a special occasion cake. It doesn’t taste exactly like the one from my childhood, but pretty darn close. Most importantly, it’s tender, moist and fluffy. And everyone at Lucie’s birthday party enjoyed it.

Lucie was recovering from stomach flu on the day of her party and didn’t even taste the cake. But I don’t think she cared much. I’m sure she’ll grow to love Nanny’s Hot Milk Cake just like I did.

Bonne fete ma belle, belle cocotte!

DSC05957

Gluten-free Vanilla Birthday Cake

Makes two 8 or 9-inch layers. Halve the recipe for one layer. This also makes wonderful cupcakes. One layer equals about 12 cupcakes.

1 cup milk
4 eggs
1. 5 cups white sugar
92 g. sorghum flour
68 g. white rice flour
40 g. sweet rice flour
56 g. potato starch
20 g. tapioca starch
4 tsp. baking powder
56 g. (1/4 cup) butter
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and flour your cake pans. You can use 8-inch or 9-inch round pans, or even 8 x 8-inch square pans if you prefer.

Put milk in a small saucepan over medium heat. Don’t let it boil. Remove from heat when it is scalded – there will be tiny bubbles around the edge and steam rising from it.

Meanwhile, break eggs into a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light yellow and creamy. Keep a close watch on the milk.

Add sugar to eggs and beat until thickened.

Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl and add to sugar and eggs about half at a time, mixing well after each addition.

Add vanilla extract and mix in well.

Add butter to the hot milk and stir a few times until it melts. Pour into the cake mixture and fold gently until it is all mixed in. The batter will be quite liquidy.

Pour batter into pans and bake for 30 to 40 minutes. The original recipe calls for less time, but my cakes took about 40 minutes. When done, they will be golden brown on top and a tester inserted into the centre will come out clean.

Buttercream Frosting

1/2 cup (113 g) softened butter
3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla, almond extract, peppermint extract, etc. *

Cream butter with an electric mixer until smooth and soft.

Add sugar a little bit at a time, until mixture becomes quite stiff  (do not add it all).

Stir in about half the milk and beat well.

Add the rest of the sugar, the milk and the flavouring.

Beat until smooth and light. This takes a lot of beating. The frosting will increase in volume and become fluffy.

Wait until cakes have cooled completely before frosting.

*Variation with Chocolate: Add 2 squares (56 g.) of melted, unsweetened chocolate to the frosting in the last step.

March 31, 2013

Easter brunch and a cocktail for spring

DSC05843

Happy Easter! We don’t really celebrate, but any holiday is a chance to eat some great food. We had friends over for brunch this morning and I must say, the meal came together beautifully.

I made Quiche Lorraine with real cream! Which never happens. It also had bacon and gruyere, so triple goodness. And to really go all out, I also made the richest of rich chocolate cakes, topped with a huge billowing mound of whipped cream. Don’t worry, we had a salad too.

DSC05834

The cake was truly wonderful. Flourless, rich, soft, and fudgy with a crackly, sugary top. Almost a cross between a cake and custard. And that wonderful whipped cream on top, combined with a bit of mascarpone cheese for yes, more richness. But somehow it wasn’t all too much, and I think it’s because the cake is not that sweet. I used a regular supermarket bar of dark chocolate that was probably not more than 60 percent, yet the cake had a beautiful bitterness.  The recipe comes from the March issue of Bon App├ętit. (but you can also find it here.)

DSC05837
DSC05848DSC05836

There were also grapefruit juice-whiskey cocktails that I kind of threw together after looking at a few recipes online. They were deliciously refreshing, a mix of sour and sweet, with a lovely herbal note from the rosemary simple syrup. So good I thought I’d share with you. Even though grapefruits are a winter staple, this drink made me think of spring.

Grapefruit-Whiskey Cocktails for Spring

Makes one not-very-strong drink. Add more whiskey if desired! Feel free to play around with the proportions here as much as you’d like – I was mixing with a pretty free hand.

1 oz. whiskey (I used Jack Daniel’s honey whiskey which is a bit sweet, but I’m sure regular whiskey would work fine)
1 oz. freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
1 oz. rosemary simple syrup (recipe follows – you could also use mint simple syrup)
1/2 oz. (or more) lime juice
1/2 oz (or more) water

Put a couple of ice cubes in a small glass. Pour the whiskey over, followed by the grapefruit juice, syrup, and lime juice. Add the water and taste. Add more lime juice or water if desired.

Rosemary Simple Syrup

Combine 2 cups water, 1 cup sugar, and 2 rosemary sprigs in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then turn heat down and leave at  a simmer for a few minutes, until the sugar dissolves. Take off the heat and let sit for 10 minutes for the rosemary to infuse. Let cool, remove rosemary, and store in a jar in the fridge. This is also delicious stirred into sparkling water.

March 28, 2013

Roasted Cauliflower

DSC05818

This isn’t so much a recipe as an idea. An idea you should definitely try. Every time I make this Jacques says, “Why doesn’t everybody roast their cauliflower?” And maybe you do already. But I only started doing it a few months ago after reading about it somewhere, so in case you haven’t tried it yet, do so.

As is the case with many other vegetables (broccoli, asparagus, sweet potato…) roasting brings out these amazingly sweet flavours in cauliflower. Flavours I didn’t know existed. It comes out burnished and crispy, the perfect side to a piece of meat or fish. I’m sure it would also be wonderful tossed with pasta with some parmesan, maybe fresh tomatoes and capers.

Roasted Cauliflower

Serves 2

One small head cauliflower, about 1.5 lbs.
2 to 3 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt (or to taste)
about 6 grinds black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Remove the outer leaves and stem from the cauliflower. Chop, or break up with your hands, into small to medium-sized florets. Chops the stems into bite-sized pieces. Toss in a large bowl with the oil, salt and pepper. Taste to see if there is enough salt. You could also add herbs and spices if you like.

Spread out in an even layer on a sheet pan. Roast for about 30 minutes, checking half-way through and turning with a spatula. When done, cauliflower should be tender and golden-brown in spots.