Food Musings

A Winnipeg blog about the joy of preparing food for loved ones and the shared joy that travel & dining brings to life.

Viva

January6

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Many years ago, 21 to be exact, we were told by good friends about a unique ethnic restaurant on Sargent Ave. where they serve a soup with a crispy shrimp pancake floating on top. That was enough incentive for us to make the visit back then and sure enough, the Hu Tieu Nam Vang is still on the menu today. We appreciated the silky broth dotted with fresh cilantro leaves. The shrimp pancake satiated both my love of crunchy food and my passion for potatoes. The pancake was close to a potato pancake or latke. In addition to this treat, there were slices of pork, crab, more shrimp and satisfying rice noodles floating in the broth.

Speaking of noodles-have you ever wondered why Asian cuisine refers to the fine rice noodles by an obviously Italian name? Vermicelli literally means “little worms” but generally refers to the size of the noodle being thinner than spaghetti. Vermicelli in Italy is made from wheat flour whereas in Asia, it is fashioned from rice flour. In Vietnamese cuisine, the noodles are called “bun”.

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Therefore, when we selected a bowl of noodles with pork balls, spring roll pieces, shrimp, crispy pork slices, shredded lettuce, bean sprouts, julienned cucumber and mint, it too was called “bun”-in this case “Bun Thap Cam”or Deluxe Vermicelli. This is my favourite Vietnamese dish which I order whenever I get the opportunity, sometimes as a cool, summer lunch.

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We got somewhat adventurous with our third selection, choosing shrimp (again) sautéed with onions and carrots in coconut juice and fiery spices. The shrimp was perfectly cooked, that is just slightly so that it retained a satisfying crunch when bitten into. The sauce was so divine that had we a basket of bread, we would have torn off pieces to soak it up. Rice also does a great job of absorbing sauces and so we employed the bowl which had been delivered to the table earlier.

We discovered as we settled our bill that the original family whom owned Viva on our first visit in 1993, still owns it today but is has been passed along to the next generation, namely amicable son Phuong Nguyen.

Viva Restaurant Vietnamese & Chinese Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Whilst searching for a “noodles” quotation, I found this one regarding “nincompoops”.  The latter was one of my Dad’s favourite expression when we ( his kids) weren’t behaving….

Kath’s quote: “….it is possible to exaggerate and to be duped by gastronomic nincompoops who write of gourmets with a sense of taste so refined that they can tell whether a fish was caught under or between the bridges, and distinguish by its superior flavor the thigh on which the partridge leans while asleep.”-Angelo Pellegrini

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Live simply, laugh often, love deeply.

The Christmas of Our Dreams

January2

D and I have spent more than 30 Christmases together.  For many reasons this Christmas was the one that we have always dreamed of spending together.  December 25ths were fun when our brood were growing-up but they were hectic with trying to be everywhere that we were expected to be and melt-downs would occur as a result of naps missed and too many sweets consumed. D in particular, has worked very hard to ensure that we have a time just for our immediately family in spite of the fact that we both come from very large extended families.  This year, for the very first time in many decades, we had five glorious hours together on Christmas day.

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In spite of the pile that you see here, we were reminded again this year that it is not all about the gifts. In fact, we try to give our family experiences rather than things, but sometimes “things” provide the way to great experiences. Case in point, we gave the Wee One a mini version of an upholstered easy chair with tiny plaid cushions and a fuzzy throw so that she could enjoy hours of reading her books until she outgrows it.

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J1’s special gift was a pot, not just any old pot but a specially designed one so that he can carefully hone his beer making passion. Well, you get the picture. In truth, the Wee One grew frustrated with the process of opening gifts and reminded us anew that it is hugging a familiar teddy, or reading a well-loved book that brings real joy.

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We have rarely been able to fit around our small dining table and I loved being able to fancy it up with second hand china, D’s Grandma’s napkins, some pops of colour from the dollar store and Christmas crackers, a must-do since Sister #3 introduced them to us, years ago.

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The table was laden with a conglomeration of traditions and favourite foods:

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The Frenchman contacted his mom for her tortiere recipe, a French Canadian tradition that is now a part of our dinner repertoire. I knew that I had to make “Green Bean Casserole” that is an old family favourite but I have invented a modification that no longer calls for a can of cream of mushroom soup.

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Sister #3 who joined us when we called everyone to the dinner table, contributed her Duchess Potatoes-a heavenly concoction of potatoes, egg yolks and nutmeg.

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There were plenty of fresh green veggies and a kale salad because we understand the art of a balanced diet.

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The piece de resistance was D’s roast crown of pork. It is called a crown because it is a rib rack that is bent into a circle and then tied together with kitchen twine. If you tie two racks together there is enough room in the centre of the circle to pack it with your favourite fruit stuffing. Inside this single rack were the meatiest portions of the loin with no room for stuffing. You typically have to special order one from a butcher shop but I was in luck, when just before Christmas, I walked into my neighbourhood Sobey’s and sought out the butcher to place an order. He replied saying that he had one already made up and it was exactly the size that we required for our gang. In the morning, D had made a variety of deep slits into the meat where he inserted plenty of shards of garlic. He then pressed fresh rosemary into the crown and allowed it to be permeated by the flavours while we headed out for Christmas brunch. It slow roasted while we were opening gifts and filled our home with the most amazing and festive aroma.

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He allowed the crown to “rest” while we put the finishing touches on the rest of the dishes and then “frenched” the roast by cutting it into single pork-chop looking slices-exactly what they are!

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I was able to talk a chef into sharing his restaurant’s recipe of real ginger bread with a salted toffee sauce. Made with pureed ginger and lots of cloves, I can’t say more, except that it return on next year’s table.

What made this particular Christmas so special? we are healthy (physically, mentally and spiritually), we are happy and we are prosperous, that is if you consider “prosperity” to mean “flourishing” with time to spend showing each other how much they are loved.

Kath’s quote: “Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!” (from ‘O Holy Night’)

Hearing this each Christmas gives me the shivers (more so if Josh Groban is singing it)-the idea that a moment is so divinely profound that it literally sends us spiralling to the ground! The phrase describes a pulse-racing moment, and creates the same reaction in me.

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Love, came down from heaven.

 

 

Brown’s Social House

December30

Manitoba has long been home to the “social” and so I think that it is befitting that Brown’s Social House has finally arrived. I say “finally” because the venture started in Langley BC (home of my friend and The Keg originator George Tidball) in 2004 and has steadily made its way east. D has visited the concept in Yorkton and Moose Jaw and has had good things to say. A group of my fellow bloggers visited just before Christmas while I was in the middle of a teaching gig, so I had to pass on the invite.  Needless to say, I had been long anticipating my visit and I as not disappointed.

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We hadn’t made note of the exact address before we left home and thought for sure that the Transcona restaurant would be on Nairn or Regent Ave., failing these, we guessed Lagamodiere. So we were surprised to find it tucked away on Plessis Ave. D grew up in Transcona, yet we haven’t made the little trip out there in quite some time, so we were surprised with how much the neighbourhood has changed with new businesses popping up all over the place.

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The location of the restaurant was intentional by Brown’s. They typically gravitate to smaller cities or suburban neighbourhoods rather than “destination” restaurants. They’re strategy is paying off. We did not expect to find the room busy on a frigid evening, the Monday after Christmas with a Jets game being played at the MTS Centre, but the place was almost full when we departed at 6:30. The space is wide open with high ceilings and may have a tendency to get noisy, typically the kind of place that the “grey set” might avoid. Given the showing last evening, this is not the case as there were many couples and groups, sharing pizzas or plates of dry wings and ribs (their early bird special). I predict that the demographics of the crowd grow younger as the evening wears on. This is a brilliant marketing strategy, ensuring that the place is always operating at capacity.

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Many years ago D and I were in Boston and became familiar with the location of the bar that inspired “Cheers”.  If you recall, there was a central bar near the entrance so that bartenders and servers could greet Norm when he walked through the door. This is precisely the atmosphere that Brown’s is going for calling their barkeeps “hostenders”.

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We enjoyed a couple of the bar’s most popular cocktails: a Traditional Mojito and a Bourbon Smash, the latter concocted with Woodford Reserve (which I am told is an exceptional bourbon), raspberry and cranberry juices.

But, onto the exceptional food. Here’s’ a quote from the founder of Brown’s: “We serve fresh, lively, flavourful food in a room that is fun, energetic and designed to be as comfortable as my living room…but without the dog hair”. Fresh, lively, flavourful is spot on. We started by sharing a couple of appetizers:

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1) the Dynamite Roll which we enjoyed but were trying to save our appetites so I took the leftovers to my Mom who loves sushi, but not before I removed the spicy lemongrass dip which would have proved to be a bit much for a 87 year old and

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2) Lime Pepper Grilled Halibut which was really sensational. Many menus shy away from serving halibut now a days because of its dear price.  Browns’ respects the product by surrounding it with a taco that is made with a blend of flour and corn so that it is firm and slightly crunchy but not too gritty. The tomato cumin rice doesn’t typically go with the appetizer portion but was a taste treat in itself. The premise-made salsa, pico de gallo and chunky guacamole placed the dish at a precipice, the liberal use of freshly squeezed lime juice in this (and many other dishes) put it over the top!

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I am glad that we paced ourselves as my favourite dish was yet to come. D and I shared the Hollywood Burger and the Dragon Chicken Bowl. The latter was an intentional contrasts of flavours, colours and textures-the sweetness from teriyaki sauce with the smooth but spicy cayenne yoghurt, the luxurious jasmine coconut rice and crunchy wok vegetables, the gorgeous purple pickled cabbage and the fire-engine red peppers.

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I enjoyed the old-school taste of the burger and was really impressed by the butter glazed brioche that it was served in. The glistening surface of the bun was like biting through satin. Inside was a burger of ground chuck and cheddar cheese placed on top of crunchy iceberg lettuce and tomato, so that it didn’t slide around as you took a bite.

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For me the piece de resistance were the “HCDC” fries-hand cut, double cooked! Made from the very best potato for frying, that is Kennebec potatoes, they are cooked once to bring out the natural sugars and starches and then a second time to ensure that the treat is crispy on the outside but soft and fuzzy on the inside. 529 Wellington also serves this potato variety, so that says something about the quality of Brown’s choice.

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I was perfectly satiated when the Oreo Jar arrived at our table. I don’t typically eat desert but batted D’s spoon away so that I would be sure to get a taste. The cheesecake layer was lighter than most with the introduction of equal parts whipped cream with the cream cheese. The little jarful of yumminess was not too sweet either-my kind of desert.

We felt very well cared for by Chef Michael Joss who came in on his day off to look after us. We found out while chatting with Assistant Manager Meagan that she and General Manager Beau are also chefs. This makes so much sense when a “house” is built around great food, lovingly prepared. We’ll be back, perhaps on another Monday to taste the Charred Pepperoni Pizza on special for $9.

Browns Socialhouse on Urbanspoon

Kath’s quote: “Brown’s is more than a restaurant, it is a place to be welcomed, remembered and indulged, with a standard for service and food that will leave you feeling exceptional and satisfied, every time.” -Scott Morrison, founder

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Live simply, laugh often, love deeply.

 

Christmas- When Cliches are True

December29

I won’t speak for my siblings and extended family but I was a little bit nervous about our Christmas brunch this year.  Last Christmas we gathered together for the final time at the house that had been our family home for decades. Since that time, the house has been sold and our Mom has moved into a personal care home. By good fortune, Sister 3 was able to secure a room big enough for the 40 of us.  The room was equipped with everything we needed-a small kitchen to heat up the breakfast quiche,

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make coffee and keep the treat of chocolate milk chilled. There was a Christmas tree and best of all…space.

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The menu is pretty much pre-set which saves some hassle for Sister 3 who is the organizer and all of us who pitch in with various dishes. I have made sausage rolls for eons but this year instead of bringing barbeque sauce on the side, I smeared it onto the pastry dough with the crumbled sausage meat. They were a hit.

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Sis-in-law 3 baked an old-fashioned ham and served it with her mustard sauce. The sauce is so delectable that our Mom keeps a jar of it in her little room fridge to have with almost every supper.

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We lined up to make our own choices.

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This plate held cranberry spinach salad brought by Sis-in-law 3, yummy potatoes provided by J1 & 2 and banana muffins baked by Sis-in-law 1

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pictured here with our Christmas angels.

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As already mentioned, there was lots of room to mingle, visit and open the gifts that we exchange each year after selecting names at Thanksgiving.

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There was even space for some of the youngest members of our brood to assemble the Lego that they received that morning.

I regret that I did not get a photo of my Mom. One of my beautiful nieces had gone to Mom`s room early to help with her hair and make up and then wheel her down to her awaiting family.

My worry about the morning was totally unfounded as I realized that being together at Christmas, no matter what the physical space we were in, was the most important thing.  Therefore, the cliché is true…..

Kath`s quote:

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Live simply, laugh often, love deeply.

 

The Blue Marble

December24

When you are a sole proprietor with no employees, the Christmas season can be a little bit lonely.  I have two friends who are in the same situation and so the three of us get together for dinner each year and invite our spouses.  We’ve been to some of the city’s best restaurants including Sydney’s, and Deseo Bistro.  This year the Blue Marble was suggested and since sharing little plates is our favourite way to dine, D and I were delighted.  Every morsel that we sampled was “out of the world” so I would suggest that the Blue Marble is appropriately named.

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When we arrived, we caught sight of the beautifully custom-built wine cellar. It features over 150 varieties and we decided that for our next party, we’ll set up a table in there.

We had some taxi issues getting out to the Hotel at the Winnipeg International Airport where the restaurant is located, so that when half of us arrived, the first three were already indulging in some gorgeous martinis.  D followed suit but I perused the wine list for a fine merlot.

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We decided that a couple of Antipasto Platters would get us into the swing of things. We speared the assorted meats, cheese, marinated vegetables and olives and placed them upon lightly grilled baquettes.

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One couple decide that we should indulge in some veggies and ordered the Roasted Beets with shaved fennel, peppery arugula, sparkling orange segments and creamy goat cheese. They also selected the unappetizing sounding Stewed Chicken which was a lovely surprise as the chicken was slow cooked with apricots, prunes, raisins, hazelnuts, pine nuts, walnuts, almonds and cinnamon and then nestled upon a bed of basmati rice.

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The Berkshire pork tenderloin had been marinated in ginger and was served with pancetta creamed corn, braised leeks, edamame beans and chantrelle mushrooms.  I detected a birch smokiness to the delectable pork.

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Seared pork belly was the crown upon the Cavena Risotto where hull-less oats substituted for traditional rice, stirred up with porcini mushrooms and blueberries, then topped with shaved parmesan and pea shoots.

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When I read that black truffle olive oil and bacon dust adorned the Oxtail Ravioli I just had to order it.  The morel mushrooms and shaved parmesan were the icing on the proverbial cake.

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The last time D and I ate beef tartar we were dining at Le Frog in Nice, France.  The Blue Marble’s version was a deserving equal, likely because it was made by mincing Canadian Prime Beef with northern pike caviar, avocado, horseradish puree and smoked black pepper.  With the accompaniment of truffle potato chips, I will never dream of beef tartar on the French Rivera again.

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Absolutely satiated, D and I passed up desert but the Chocolate Crème Brule served with macaroons and berries certainly looked appetizing.

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The delectable menu is designed around sustainable, locally produced items including the fresh herbs growing right in the dining room under the watchful eye of Chef Anthony. The chef’s resume includes experience at the now-defunct Le Beaujolais, Pine Ridge Hollow and the iconic Dubrovnik Restaurant. He also worked at Gluttons Bistro, the St. Charles Country Club and The Manitoba Club.

The next morning I received this email: “So that was a pretty fantastic evening… delightful laughs, near tears, introspective sharing, light gossip, good food, great friends – when can we all get together again? No reason why the ‘six pack’ can’t make it a twice yearly event.”

Kath’s quote: “Truffles are only really good after Christmas…..So let us allow ignorant fops, beardless gourmands, and inexperienced palates the perry triumph of eating the first truffles.”-Grimod de La Reynière

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Live simply, laugh often, love deeply.

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