May 19, 2011

Simmered Tofu with Pork

014 (2)

Our eating habits have done another 180 in the past few months. Happily, we're back to eating more local foods.

Early this year I wrote about the challenges of shopping and cooking on a budget. While I learned a lot during that time, and cooked some tasty meals, our financial situation has changed again. J got a full-time, permanent job! And it pays really well, too. So now we can afford to eat out once in a while, pick up a few things at Planet Organic, and shop at the farmers' market.

010 (2)

Happily, this change coincided with the downtown farmers' market opening up in City Hall. It's been glorious to return to the market every week. We usually treat ourselves to a chunk of Smoky Lake goat cheese, some vegetables like peppers and cucumbers from Doef's Greenhouses, fresh eggs if we can find them, and maybe even some meat.

We both craved meat a lot through the fall and winter. We decided not to buy meat that wasn't locally and humanely raised, and we couldn't afford that good stuff. So the first biteful of local ground pork sure tasted amazing.

It was pork from a business called Serben Free Range, newly open at the market. They raise pigs, lambs, cows, turkeys and chickens near Smoky Lake, northeast of Edmonton (they're also at many other area farmers' markets - see their website for details).

J and I had both forgotten how delicious farm-raised pork tastes. It has a deep, rich flavour, nothing like the pale "other white meat" you see in grocery stores.

011 (2)

Here's one of my favourite ways to use pork - either ground or sliced. This recipe is adapted from an amazing cookbook called Seductions of Rice. It's one of several travel-anthropology-food books by cookbook-writing team Naomi Alford and Jeffrey Duguid. This is the only one I own, but they all look fantastic.

This dish convinced me how good it can be. It may look like sludge, but the whole things turns creamy and unctious, melding with the earthy saltiness of the soy sauce, the kick of fresh ginger and garlic, and the flavourful pork. This is a simple meal that's good every time. You can make it as spicy as you like with the chile paste or pepper flakes.

009 (2)

When I made this dish last week I used Irvings’ Farms ground pork – Serben didn’t have any on Saturday. It was just as good. For vegetarians, you can also make it without the pork.

We still treat meat as something special, and we usually only eat it once or twice a week, and often not as the meal’s main ingredient. It still satisfies our craving.

As for the market, I can’t wait to visit this weekend when it’s back outside on 104 street!

Simmered tofu with pork

adapted from Seductions of Rice by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Several green onions, cut into 1-inch lengths
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound ground or thinly sliced pork (either one is great, but I think I prefer ground because then you get some in every bite)
1-inch piece ginger, minced
1 to 2 tablespoons hot chile paste or 1 to 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons soy sauce
About 1 pound fresh (soft) tofu (I usually use firm silken tofu)
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
salt to taste
1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

Heat a wok over the highest heat. Add the oil and swirl it around. When it’s hot, add the green onions and garlic. Stir-fry for 30 seconds, then toss in the pork, ginger, chile paste or flakes, and stir-fry for 30 seconds more, tossing and pressing the mixture against the sides of the wok. Add the soy sauce and continue to cook, scooping and stirring, for another 30 seconds.

Add the tofu and stock and bring to a vigorous boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 4 to 5 minutes.

Add the salt (Taste first - I usually don’t need any because I use Braggs soy sauce and it’s salty enough) and stir well, then taste again and adjust the seasonings if you wish. Stir the cornstarch mixture, then add to the wok, raise the heat, and stir-fry for about 20 seconds more, until the sauce thickens and becomes clear.

You can turn it out into a serving bowl to serve, or just scoop from the wok. Serve over rice.

May 14, 2011

Corso 32–Edmonton


Corso 32 might be the most hyped restaurant in Edmonton right now. And judging from our visit last week, all the hype is true.

After our extraordinary meal, I can't believe it's taken us so long to get there, and I really hope we can go back soon.


We had an early 5:30 reservation and were seated quickly at the back of the restaurant, right in front of the floor-to-ceiling black and white photo of an earthy, Italian farmer (the name of the restaurant is the address of chef Daniel Costa’s family in Italy). At first I thought it would be nice to get some of the beautiful light streaming into the front from Jasper avenue, but the back had a feel all its own: dim and cozy.

It's a small, narrow space and the tables are close together, creating a jovial, happy atmosphere, full of people enjoying themselves.


We decided to go all out and order lots of food and plenty of drinks too. One look at the menu brought us back to our Roman vacation (which I realize I still haven't written about!), with ingredients like prosciutto, crostini and roasted potatoes. It's a mouth-watering menu that changes all the time - and they print a new one every day for last-minute changes.

They don't archive the previous menus on their website, but from what I gather from reading online reviews, it's mainly the produce that changes with the seasons. This menu included some particularly springy ingredients: stinging nettles, fava beans and ramps.

The staff are well-versed in the gluten-free diet. When I told our host I had celiac, she pointed out everything on the menu I could have, and when our server arrived he also seemed well-informed. Unfortunately they don't have gluten-free pasta, but there were lots of options.

We started off with a skin and seed martini for J and a Corso Campari for me. The martini was delicious, though the coffee flavour from the espresso overwhelmed any taste of amaretto or grappa. It tasted like a chilled coffee martini - yum. My campari was a beautiful pink colour from the blood orange, and a refreshing way to start the evening.

For our first course we chose the arancini ($11) and the appetizer special, a pear carpaccio salad ($13): thinly sliced pears, shaved parmesan, arugula, roasted walnuts, with a black truffle vinaigrette. Unfortunately I couldn't eat the arancini - deep-fried, lightly-battered rice balls filled with smoked pork, oyster mushrooms and fontina. J said they were amazing, and they sure looked it.


Meanwhile I was enjoying my fantastic salad. It was served in layers - pear on the bottom, topped by arugula, parmesan, and bits of roasted walnuts. The bold flavours combined perfectly: fresh sweet pear, bitter arugula, salty earthy parmesan, the crunch of walnuts, and that amazing truffle flavour, with plenty of deeply flavoured olive oil and cracked black pepper. I haven't have a salad that good in a long time.

Next we shared the stinging nettle soup with a poached egg, parmesan and roasted pine nuts ($13). The bright green colour against the white bowl certainly looked springy - it's the colour I hope we start seeing on the trees soon! The soup was velvety and rich with a fresh, broccoli-like flavour, and the soft, runny poached egg dissolved perfectly into the puree. Normally it's served with a toasted baguette slice on the side, which would be perfect to mop it all up.


Service throughout the meal was flawless. Our server was knowledgeable with exactly the right manner: friendly but professional. We asked him for drink recommendations a few times and he ably responded. He paired an Italian San Gregorio Falanghina with our soup, which was bright and delicious (I don't know much about wine, and I don't even remember if it was on the dry or sweet side ... but it was good!)

My 48-hour chuck flat steak ($26) was a gleaming fan of red beef slices with a crisp brown exterior. It had a nice marbling of fat throughout, and the meat was soft in my mouth with lots of flavour. It was served with brussel sprouts leaves and thin strips of roasted parnsip for an earthy combination. The vinaigrette is called a "bagna cauda", which is a traditional hot Italian dip for vegetables made with olive oil, anchovy and garlic. I'm not sure I tasted those, though the agressive salt definitely could have been from anchovies. The salty profile of the sauce worked perfectly on the meat, but when eating a few brussels leaves drizzled with it, it was overwhelming. There was also a big mustardy punch, which I loved.


J couldn't help but order the Carbonara ($18), one of our favourite pasta dishes, and one we ate a lot in Italy. It was made with wide tagliatelle noodles, ramps and house-cured pork jowl. J concluded too much salt was its main flaw. He also described the noodles as "gunky" - he couldn't tell if they were overcooked, or just too wide for the light, eggy sauce.


With our mains we ordered two sides of vegetables, which might have been a little excessive (I ended up eating most of them as leftovers for lunch the next day). Having said that, I loved them both: the roasted potatoes with lemon and sage ($7) were tiny, blackened, crispy and perfect. The roasted kale with anchovy and lemon vinaigrette ($8) was chewy and juicy with blackened edges and an amazing fresh lemon flavour. J, however, found the leaves undercooked and far too chewy, and the vinaigrette too lemony, so it depends on your tastes. Greens cooked this way definitely aren't authentic, at least not to Rome. A side of cooked spinach or chicory is available everywhere there, but always boiled until quite tender.

At this point I was starting to get full, but I knew I still had plenty of room for sweets, so I was very happy that the chocolate torta ($9) is gluten-free. J ordered the pistachio and olive oil cake ($8), and we also tried the Testadura goat cheese with buckwheat honey and pepper ($12). I slathered the hard triangles of cheese with the amber honey and sprinkled pepper on top: a gloriously contrasting mouthful.



The meal came to a triumphant conclusion with these desserts. Accompanied by grappa for J (too strong for me) and a potently sweet melon liqueur for me, the cake and the torta were two of the best desserts we've had in this city. I couldn't taste the cake, but the sugar-sprinkled plate looked beautiful, with the creamy whiteness of mascarpone and bright pink of the blood orange. J's favourite part was the drizzling of olive oil and finely chopped pistachios on the plate under the sugar.


My torta was intoxicating. A log-shaped slice of chocolate mousse cut from a loaf pan, it had a texture unlike any mousse I've had. Creamy but not full of air bubbles, dense but not thick. The delicious chocolate was complemented by the crunch of the toasted hazelnuts scattered over top. J declared it the "Ultimate Nutella".


Chef Daniel Costa is a bold seasoner. Besides the few overly salted dishes, overall we really appreciated the aggressive flavours that made our mouths come alive.


It was an extravagant meal - but worth every penny. Corso 32 is a bright light on our city's dining scene, and from the looks of the packed restaurant on our visit, it's thriving. My best wishes to Chef Costa and his team, and thank you for a wonderful evening.

Corso 32
10345 Jasper Ave.

May 8, 2011

Queen of Tarts


I only live a few blocks from 104th street, but I think I was subconsciously avoiding Queen of Tarts for fear of frustration.

This bakery-cafe is full of gluten. Delicious-looking gluten-filled treats: homemade artisan bread, tarts, cupcakes (they call them tulips), cookies, etc.


And yet - and yet! It’s totally worth going there anyway.

I stopped by with my Mom when she was in town a while back for J's recital. It's the kind of place I'm extremely proud to show off to visitors. I've taken my Mom to 104 street before, as one of the best examples of downtown Edmonton living, but new exciting places keep popping up on the street.


Many other Edmonton bloggers have written about Queen of Tarts, and posted photos of the gorgeous space and mouth-watering offerings. But being in the space itself is something else entirely. Despite the fact that it's in the basement, the high ceilings in the old building give it a spacious, bright feeling. It was especially beautiful in the late-afternoon sun.


The first thing that struck me walking down the long staircase is the beautiful wood-cut floor. Then I spotted the racks of homemade bread behind the counter and the long black chalkboard. The details really make it a beautiful room.

The bread looked so good, my Mom considered taking some home to Halifax, but we thought it would probably get stale pretty fast, since I doubt it has any preservatives. We didn't buy any treats to eat right then, but I was happy to see they do have at least one gluten-free dessert: a decadent chocolate cake.


I didn't ask, but I would also guess that their soups are often or always gluten-free, and they look good. They also have a variety of coffee and tea drinks - we had just come from lattes at Credo, or we would have indulged here. I love the cafe area under the windows at the back - it looks private and cozy.


One thing I really appreciate about Queen of Tarts, since I can't eat most of their baked goods, is the  variety of packaged products they sell: The Jam Lady's Jams and Mustards, teas, Mighty Trio Organics oils, and of course their own lime and lemon curd.


When we were there, they only had the lime curd packaged for sale, which was fine by me since it's our favourite.  It's the best curd we’ve ever eaten: rich and buttery with the perfect tang. We ate it on pancakes the next morning, but I'm also happy to scoop it out of the package and devour it by the spoonful.


I have since been back to Queen of Tarts for tea and another of their gluten-free treats: a sweet and crackly almond rocher - like an almond meringue. (Unfortunately my London Fog - called a Foggy Queen - had a strange, syrupy taste.) On that visit they also had gluten-free macaroons on offer, as well as that chocolate cake. The woman at the counter told me she's trying to convince the kitchen to develop a gluten-free bread recipe. I’m hoping she’s successful, but there’s already enough to keep me coming back.