Thursday, March 31, 2011

Maritime Makeover

meet my delicious friend
Nothing says the Maritimes more than cooking up some fresh live lobster, throwing down some newspaper, and literally digging right in. However, the typical Maritime lobster dinner generally consists of a fresh boiled lobster, garlic drawn butter, potato salad, a fresh roll and, in most cases, strawberry shortcake for dessert.  But wanting a tad more vitamins we decided to gave it a makeover: fresh NS lobster from Eastern Passage (bought direct from the fisherman of course), garlic butter, baked potato with sour cream, roasted garlic, and green onions, and a caprese salad of spinach, Roma tomato, fresh mozzarella and basil dressing.

the romantic setting
Of course, the star, Mr. Lobster, was incredible. So tender, so rich, so mmmmmm! Brent would not even consider eating lobster without the garlic butter so just to prove that you can enjoy lobster without the butter, I muddled together some lemon juice, lemon zest, a clove of garlic, a pinch of salt, some black peppercorns, and a few slices of green onion. I was right! It was fresh and delicious, with the citrus naturally complementing the seafood and the garlic still representing. Sometimes I find the richness of both the lobster and butter rather heavy although that's not to say I didn't have a dip or two of that wonderful garlic butter. The baked potato, replacing the potato salad, offered up more fiber (once you eat the skin) as well as a fraction of the fat. And every time I have roasted garlic I remind myself how amazing it is. On everything. The salad with a fresh dressing of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, fresh cracked black pepper, fresh basil and a hint of maple syrup was equally as delish and added tons of vitamins and minerals to the meal.

All in all, we got our lobster fix, far more nutrients than the typical lobster supper and a heap more flavour. So, get that bib on and enjoy one of the best things NS has to offer! Believe me, the mess-and smell-is ALWAYS worth it!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Now that's a sandwich!

Needing a quick bite after driving home to Halifax from Montreal, we stopped in to Indochine Banh Mi, a small restaurant located in an apartment complex on South Park St., to grab some sandwiches. More the size of a take away joint with one sole table and stools along a window counter, their menu is small and simple, offering a selection of meat and vegetarian Vietnamese sammies (banh mi), pho (noodle soup), bun (rice noodle bowls), and bubble tea.

At first glance, I was a little surprised at the cost of the bubble tea ($4.50) since it is normally made with a fruit powder that is mixed with iced black or green tea and, if you want, milk. But since the smoothies and bubble tea were 50%  off with a sandwich purchase, we went for it. Much to our surprise, the counter attendant pulled out tubs of frozen fruit and real fruit purees. Ah, that explains the price! I ordered a mango bubble tea with tapioca pearls while Brent had a smoothie of kiwi, mango, strawberry and peach. While these smoothies were nothing like the bubble tea I was used to (although I am not quite sure if I was served a mango smoothie by accident or if their bubble tea is blended like a smoothie...oh wait, the website tells me they are bubble tea smoothies! Mystery solved.), they were super delish not to mention extremely healthy. Even at full price, they'd be worth every penny. Makes you wonder about the smoothies at other places who have to make the claim "made with real fruit". Well, what else would a fruit smoothie be made with? Oh, by the way, that 'plastic' cup is 100% compostable!

For our banh mi, I ordered the lemongrass chicken while Brent had the sate pork. Served on fresh French baguette with citrus mayo, all sandwiches had the additional options of pickled carrots and/or daikon, cucumber, fresh cilantro, and chilies. We obviously opted for all of the above and were glad we did. These sandwiches were remarkable. If 'fresh' had a taste, this would be it!  The chicken was cooked perfectly (a little surprising since it was pre-cooked yet not dry in the least) with a subtle hint of lemongrass, allowing it to pair well with the tang of the pickled veg, the heat of the red chilies, and that refreshing cilantro taste. Brent's sate pork may actually have been more delicious as the tender pork had just the right amount of sweet peanuty taste characteristic of sate without overwhelming the other flavours. Plus, everything from the baguette to the cilantro was noticeably fresh. But be warned, these sandwiches are huge, think 8 inches. I wasn't even able to finish mine. As an aside, I recently read a review on The Coast site in which an individual said they wouldn't go to Indochine regularly because, in their opinion, these sammies are $1 to $1.50 more expensive than their European counterparts. To clarify, the banh mi at Indochine range from $5.95 to $6.95. First, this is Canada and not even a big city in Canada where there are endless possibilities for ethnic foods but the small city of Halifax where we are lucky that banh mi is even an option. Second, how much is a similar sized sub at other fast food places? And how fresh exactly does that taste?  I just think it's ridiculous that a loonie would keep someone from visiting a great little restaurant like this where they are focused on offering healthy unprocessed 'fast' food, sourcing local products, and being as environmentally friendly as they can. I'm pretty sure that's worth a loonie alone!

Check out Indochine Banh Mi and decide for yourself. I doubt you'll regret it!

Indochine Banh Mi on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Vegetarian Three Bean Chili

Yesterday, in an attempt to start using all the supplies in the house (once again we are soon headed into the bush and putting everything in storage), I whipped up some vegetarian chili with the required (according to Brent!) side of cornbread. I had leftover black beans, chickpeas and kidney beans in the freezer and chili is just one of those meals that you can throw anything in. So, like always, I have no specific recipe to share but have estimated the amounts I used. One day, I really should just measure as I go. I've also made this via the ol' slow cooker. Simply jam everything in and turn it on. Bam, chili!

1 can crushed tomato
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 jalapeno, diced
1/2 c. green and red pepper, diced
1/2 c. mushrooms, diced
1/2 sweet potato, cubed small
1/2 c. corn (roasted is clearly best but canned is fine)
1/4-1/2 c. each of chickpeas, black beans, and kidney beans
1 t. lime juice
1-2 T. chipotle puree*
1-2 t. paprika
1-2 T. chili powder
2 t. brown sugar
salt, pepper
olive oil
garnish: sour cream, avocado, old cheddar cheese, cilantro
optional sides: cornbread,  brown rice, or tortilla chips

To get started, start sauteing the onions in a bit of olive oil until soft. Add the garlic, jalapeno, and vegetables. Sauté until the sweet potato is party cooked (don't cook it all the way or it will later turn to mush). Add the crushed tomatoes, lime, spices and brown sugar. Simmer covered for about 20 minutes until the vegetables are soft and the flavours have developed, adding in the beans and corn in the last 10 minutes. Now taste and adjust spices accordingly. In fact, I generally add spice gradually when I cook chili until it has just the right amount of flavour and spice. So, while I have included approximate measurements for the spices, feel free to use more or less depending on your tastes. (To help: chipotle adds a smokey heat, chili powder adds that typical chili flavour with some heat, cayenne will just add heat, brown sugar, like always, cuts the acidity of the tomatoes, and both cumin and coriander pair well with chili but I was all out.) Also, we like our chili thick and hearty but fell free to use water or stock to thin yours out. Garnish with grated cheddar cheese (the older, the better I say!), sour cream, slices of avocado, and some fresh cilantro.

*The chipotle puree is a concept I adopted from rebar: Modern Food Cookbook. Based on vegetarian and vegan fare served out of a cafe by the same name in Victoria BC, the recipes are creative, healthful, and incorporate many different ethnic flavours. It was a staple in our kitchen trailer last season and I just had to buy it. The chipotle puree is made from a can of chipotles in adobo sauce that is pureed til smooth. Simple. It keeps quite a while in the fridge and you'll be surprised what chipotle isn't amazing in!!!  The cornbread recipe I used was also from rebar but because it wasn't the best I've made, I haven't included the recipe. It was healthier than the standard cornbread with half whole wheat flour but was not as moist as we would like. Don't let that deter you from buying rebar...we're just picky about our cornbread! From someone who has had tons of cookbooks throughout the years, this one's a keeper.

This recipe will feed about 4 and is even better the day after. In terms of nutrition, this chili is rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber and protein yet low in fat.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Roasted Squash Lasagna

So we finally did it after talking about it for made our roasted squash lasagna from scratch. That's the pasta and all folks! First, a big thank you to my old boss in Australia who first gave me a similar recipe to make for the hoards of backpackers at the Arts Factory Hostel. Lasagna has never been the same since.

Roasted squash mash:
1 small acorn or buttercup squash (those crazy Aussies call it pumpkin!!!)
1 T. butter
1-2 t. brown sugar or maple syrup

Marinara sauce:
1 can of crushed tomatoes or fresh if they're in season
1 onion
2-3 cloves garlic
red and green pepper (So we didn't have a lot of produce in the house when we made the lasagna and, thus, only added peppers. I would normally add whatever veg I had on hand especially mushrooms, broccoli, and zucchini.)
pinch brown sugar
handful fresh basil
salt, fresh ground pepper 
olive oil

2 T. butter
2 T. flour
1 1/2 c. milk or soy/rice/almond milk
nutmeg, to taste
salt, fresh ground pepper

Spinach pasta (courtesy of
1 1/4 c spinach
2 T water
1 egg
1 1/4 c flour
1/2 t salt

as much cheese as you can handle (we used old cheddar and Parmesan but mozzarella would work too)

While this lasagna is our most fav recipe, it clearly has many steps and so requires some time and planning. First, you need to roast the squash. Peeling a squash, especially the hard shelled acorn or buttercup varieties we prefer, can be difficult so roasting is an easier way to get to the goods with less work. Simply, slice the squash into wedges, scooping out the seeds, and roast in a 350 degree oven, turning once, until it is tender enough to easily poke with a fork. Let cool.

While the squash is cooking, you can start your marinara sauce. Get some olive oil in your pan then saute the onions, then garlic, then whatever vegetables you have. A splash of red wine doesn't hurt either! Add the crushed tomatoes and season with a bit of brown sugar, basil, any other spice you like (oregano, rosemary or thyme), and of course some s&p. Now taste. This is the most important part. It should be full of tomato-y goodness without being too acidic or bland. Adjust accordingly. Then, let this simmer until you are ready to assemble.

Now on to the pasta. Luckily, Brent started the pasta while I continued with the bechamel sauce. It certainly helps having a team! For the pasta, we used a recipe that Brent's sis had included with the wonderful gift of the pasta machine.

Simply cook the spinach in the water til tender (keep covered). This should only take a few minutes. Blend the spinach, remaining liquid, egg, and salt in a blender til smooth. Then pour in a bowl and add enough flour to form a stiff dough. Knead on a floured surface a few times, incorporating more flour as needed. Then start pressing the dough through the pasta machine. This may take some time to get right but when you do, you'll feel the difference. (Note: we did not let the dough rest as the recipe states)

So, I know it may seem crazy, but I make my bechamel (and any white sauce for that matter) without a recipe. Essentially, to make a bechamel, melt some butter in a pan. Add flour and cook stirring for about 6 min. until it just starts to brown (this is called a roux).  Add milk, whisking to incorporate the roux. Heat til boiling then reduce heat and simmer til thickened. Add nutmeg and salt a pinch at a time til it tastes right. In case you haven't had the pleasure of being acquainted with bechamel sauce, the one I love should be creamy with a hint of nutmeg and just the perfect touch of salt. Because I don't expect you to wing it, here is a link to a bechamel recipe! (And clearly, I even cheat at making it the 'right' way. Also, half this recipe if you are only using it for the lasagna.)

When the squash is cool enough to handle, scrape out the filling and mash. Add butter and brown sugar or maple syrup. Since squash is inherently a little sweet, you could easily omit both the butter and the sugar but it does make it that much more delicious.

Besides grating some cheese, you are ready to assemble. First, put some marinara sauce in the bottom of a 9"x13" dish, then a layer of pasta. Cover this with more marinara as well as some cheese, then add a second layer of pasta. Spread the squash evenly over the pasta and cover with the bechamel. Add a third layer of pasta, covering it with more marinara and cheese. Repeat the same for a fourth layer if you have enough pasta, sauce and cheese. Make sure your top layer of pasta is smothered in sauce so it doesn't dry out (although those crunchy bits can be delicious!) Cover and bake for about 30 min, uncovering it for the last 10 minutes or so. Remove from the oven and let cool about 5 minutes.

Now, get ready for the best lasagna you have ever tasted! Plus, it's packed full of nutrients: iron, vitamin C, and powerful antioxidants from the spinach, cancer fighting lycopene as well as vitamin C from the tomatoes, a whack of vitamin A from the squash, and calcium and vitamin D from the bechamel and cheese. Enjoy!

Makes 6-8 servings, depending on who you are feeding.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


After getting tired of the same ol' sushi (a highly unlikely thing to say I know but when you used to work at a sushi restaurant, you eat alot of it!), we recently tried out the Sushi Nami Royale Dartmouth Crossing location. Since it was late afternoon, the restaurant (which was quite modern in design and included two adjoining teppanyaki tables) was quiet yet inviting. Perfect for another split shift lunch.

To start, we ordered the honey avocado salad and sushi appetizer to share. The salad, to our surprise, was not a simple bowl of iceberg lettuce but rather a mix of iceberg and romaine lettuce with shredded carrot, red pepper, cucumber, and edame (soy beans). The salad dressing, while a touch too sweet, consisted, it seemed, solely of avocado and honey so that both flavours were fully represented. At only 45 cents more than the house salad at another popular sushi restaurant, this salad was bigger, more nutritious, and a whole world more delicious. The sushi appetizer which included one piece each of salmon, tuna, snapper and shrimp nigiri as well as a three piece California roll was both fresh and delicious.

As a main we ordered three rolls to share: the Vegetable Dragon Roll, the Rock n' Roll, and the Mini Kamikaze. The Vegetable Dragon Roll, pictured on the left, was simply amazing! Essentially it's a sweet potato tempura roll covered in inari (sweet tofu), avocado, and grilled vegetables. What a wonderfully delicious, and beautifully constructed, take on the sweet potato roll. Now this is something vegetarians can get excited about! The Rock n' Roll, pictured on the right and at the very top of the page, was a roll with deep fried rock lobster and cucumber all wrapped in avocado then topped with tobikko (roe) and crispy fried onions, garlic, and ginger. WOW! While the lobster was a little tough in some bites, the flavour and texture of the fried ginger, garlic and onions took this roll to a whole new level! And look at it, it's art!! The last roll, the Mini Kamikaze, was a deep fried roll of snapper, tuna, salmon, avocado, cream cheese, and jalapeno served with spicy sauce. While the roll was warm and tasty, it was hard to distinguish the flavours from one another since the entire roll was deep fried. Also, in addition to the spicy sauce (mayo based I assume) there was another darker sauce served with the roll. Excited that this may be unagi (eel) sauce (ok, that may sound disgusting but it's actually a sweet soy sauce that's perfect with any kind of sushi), I dug right in. To my surprise, the sauce was not in fact eel sauce but rather had a sort of molasses flavour that did not compliment the other flavours in the roll at all. So, while the Mini Kamikaze was yummy, the sauce made it a little strange but not so much so that we weren't able to finish every single piece!

Sushi in Halifax will always seem expensive to me (especially after living in Montreal where there is incredible all-you-can-eat sushi for 20 bucks!) but Sushi Nami Royale was worth every penny. It was fresh, exciting, and delicious. With a huge menu of interesting appetizers and a long list of fusion maki as well as cheaper 'tsu-nami hours' (because my sushi discount is sadly no more), you bet we'll be back soon. Perhaps even 'a guide to sushi' is in order....

Sushi Nami Royale (Dartmouth Crossing) on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lunch "off the beaten path"

While on a split shift the other day, Brent and I dropped into the Brooklyn Warehouse for a late lunch.  We had actually planned to eat at the market but sadly it was barren save for a few stalls. (But I'll take that organic apple cider pressed today thank you!) It's a rare occurrence that we are in Halifax in the afternoon so it was a treat to be able to try out Brooklyn's lunch menu. Everything about Brooklyn Warehouse is wonderful: the atmosphere, the drink selection, the staff, the commitment to local sources, that sexy espresso machine (Brent is widely obsessed with all things coffee right now!), and the food is no different.
Bahn-Mi NYC
I ordered the Banh-Mi NYC pulled pork sandwich with a side of oven roasted potato wedges. Even though I had never had a Vietnamese sandwich, Brent assured me I would love it (although not so far fetched of a choice since I do love the fresh flavours of Vietnamese cuisine). Piled high on a fresh, and perfectly soft, ciabatta bun, the pulled pork was oh so tender and seasoned lightly with just the right kick. Complemented by the tang of the pickled cucumber, carrot and daikon, the creamy cool cucumber mayo as well as the fresh flavour of the cilantro, this sandwich incorporated all the flavours I have come to love in Vietnamese cuisine, with no flavour so pronounced as to overpower the others. To top it all off, the oven roasted potato wedges were cooked perfectly with a crisp golden crust and a soft potato-y (that's a word right?!) centre. And might I just add that I love restaurants offering fare that is not deep fried. (Oh yes, you do see four little glasses of beer in the background, the draught taster including 6 oz samples of Brooklyn Dark, St Ambroise Cream Ale, Propeller Pilsner, and Garrison Hopyard. Yum, yum, yum and, let me see...yum! And it's only 10 bucks!)

Brooklyn Burger
Brent had the Brooklyn Burger and all I gotta say is how is it that another restaurant wins Best Burger in The Coast year after year? Having now tasted both, I simply do not understand. This burger is everything you would want in a burger: a juicy real beef patty, rich Quebec raw cheddar cheese, salty double smoked bacon from a local farm, and the requisite tomato, onion, pickle, and lettuce, or in this case sprouts. Add to that a side of creamy red pepper mayo and the same oven roasted wedges and you've got one hell of a burger. If taste alone isn't deserving of the title, there is always the fact that this is organic NS beef, not a premade patty processed and shipped from lord knows where. At Brooklyn, the burger is fresh, local, and nothing but delicious! So, to anyone that reads this, whether you "follow' or not, get your fingers to to vote for the real Best Burger in Halifax.

check out the full menu or read their inspiring philosophy:

The Brooklyn Warehouse on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 6, 2011

BBQ for breakfast

durty and delicious
Yesterday, during brunch at Coastal Cafe, we (yes, we both ordered it!) finally sank our teeth into the Durty South, BBQ eggs stacked atop pulled pork on sweet potato cornbread, finished with red-eye beans.  Everything about this dish was amazing. The pulled pork was tender and flavourful, the cornbread crumbly yet moist, and the beans smokey and sweet. Who'd have thought BBQ for breakfast would be so damn delicious? Chef and owner Mark Giffin, that's who! This really is breakfast redefined; no plain ol' bacon and eggs here. Now what to try next visit....

Oh, by the way, that is the Elvis, a buttermilk waffle sandwich of pb, banana, and bacon, drizzled with real maple syrup. Yes, you read right: pb, banana and bacon. The perfect marriage of salty and sweet. Nothing but yum here folks!

The Coastal Cafe on Urbanspoon