Tuesday, April 30, 2013

getting fresh at Pho Hoang Minh

I'm sure you know, having already liked the Halifax Food Bloggers facebook page, that we are challenging our local blogging community with monthly themes. This month we kept things simple with FRESH. And the posts couldn't be more varied.

I don't know about you but when I close my eyes and envision what fresh means to me, I'm immediately transported to a hole in the wall Vietnamese restaurant where cilantro, fish sauce and cold vermicelli noodles reign supreme. Aren't the best ethnic restaurants always tucked away in strip malls? Well, they are here.

If you have yet to be acquainted with Vietnamese cuisine, let me introduce you. Five tastes make up the Vietnamese palate: spicy, sour, bitter, salty, sweet with common ingredients including fish sauce, shrimp paste, lemongrass, basil, cilantro, star anise, chilli peppers, Saigon cinnamon, lime, ginger, vegetables, rice, and noodles. Sounds amazing right. Vietnamese cuisine is all about fresh herbs and vegetables plus the use of broth instead of oil, making it one of the healthiest cuisines in the world. No joke.

The first vietnamese dish I fell in love with back in my university days was vermicelli noodles with spring rolls, quite the original title. It starts with cucumber, lettuce, and bean sprouts hidden under a mountain of cold vermicelli noodles then topped with warm sliced spring rolls. The accompanying nuoc cham, a sweetened fish sauce, ties it all together. It was warm and cold and salty and sweet and fresh all at once. I was instantly addicted.

There are several Vietnamese restaurants in town to get your Vietnamese fix including one on our side of the harbour in Dartmouth, Pho Hoang Minh. We've been hitting it up for years and I even hear of folks actually crossing the harbour to eat there. And for you folks not familiar with our twin cities, crossing the bridge to dine in Dartmouth is a big deal. Folks don't just cross the bridge for nothing.

While everything on the menu isn't my favourite of Vietnamese dishes, it's become our go to. So, even though the salad rolls (fresh spring rolls) are unfortunate bundles of mostly noodles, lettuce, shrimp, and a sad shaving of dry pork rather than the fixings of vermicelli, lettuce, cucumber, carrots, cilantro, and mint that I prefer, Pho Hoang Minh still satisfies. At the heart of that satisfaction is the infamous #15. I mean, it's even right there on the wall.

For years, I'd been ordering the same vermicelli with spring rolls until one day good ol' instagram showed me the error of my ways. The #15 has since changed my Vietnamese cravings forever. It's like a noodle bowl on crack. The usual suspects are present but then things get all crazy with crushed peanuts, green onions, pickled carrots and daikon and the most incredible sweet grilled pork shish kabob meat. Fresh, you've met your match. Now, I can't imagine ordering any thing else. In fact, I was even gushing about it to my cooking class today after serving up tofu salad rolls and cilantro infused Jasmine rice. I'm happy to report many of them are now on the fresh train and will no doubt be visiting Pho Hoang Minh soon.

Oh, and then this happened. Let's hope so.

Pho Hoang Minh Vietnamese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 22, 2013

Taking Stock: My Food Bloggers of Canada Conference Experience

food styling 101
Where to begin.

Like many of you are aware, I was recently lucky enough to attend the first Food Bloggers of Canada Conference at the beautiful Hockley Valley Resort in Ontario. Though it's been over a week since I've returned home, I've been wrestling with this post ever since.

Those of you who know me may be a bit surprised. Fast walking, fast talking Kathy has nothing to say? But i's not that I don't have anything to say, rather I have too much to say. My head is swimming with ideas and inspiration. Overwhelmed is an understatement.

You see, despite blogging for a couple of years now and despite being a FBC Regional Administrator, at times I felt like an impostor. Yes, I had read the schedule. Yes, I had helped the FBC team prepare for the event and yes, I appeared by all accounts to be my bubbly self. But when Saturday's sessions began, when I realized the company I was keeping, cook book authors, published writers, food stylists, professional recipe developers not to mention bloggers with hundreds even thousands of readers, I wanted to hide in a corner in fear I'd be found out.

Here I was listening to panel after panel discuss ideas in food blogging that I had never before considered. Hell, I had only recently began taking better photos. So, you can imagine where my head was when the conversation went to sponsorship, publishing, and writing a cookbook.

But then it happened. That moment when you take stock of where you've been and where you're going. Suddenly, I was exactly where I should be. Suddenly, all those people making me so nervous became a community, my community. Exit self doubt. Enter burning passion.

Though I am still processing the information and don't quite know where to start, I am bursting with inspiration. I can't say I know the future of eatHalifax but what I do know is that the journey is about to get a lot more exciting.

Lastly, no recap would be complete without a huge thank you to Melissa, Mardi, and Ethan, the magic behind FBC. How three people pulled off a conference of this magnitude is beyond me. To the rest of the FBC team, I am both honoured and grateful to be included in such an amazing group of people. To the sponsors, speakers, fellow bloggers, and new friends (one being my blogger crush Kelly), thank you for your honesty and inspiration. You will never know just how much your words meant.

Wait a minute. What about the food? Though I could go on and on, poutine as an appetizer, three course dinners paired with four wines, and cookies every 15 minutes is all I need to say.

If, however, you're interested in reading more, take your pick among an array of recaps from our incredible FBC community. Or don't miss out and read them all.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

the buzz: Apr 17

It's been more than three weeks since the last buzz and so much has happened. First, the event listing at Food Bloggers of Canada are live. If you're looking for food and drink related events in your area, look no further. Of particular interest is PEI's Burger Love, a month long burger extravaganza, that I would easily gain 20 lbs for if I lived on the Island. And here we thought we had it made for Burger Week. Take note Halifax. HRM Burger Month 2014. Let's do this.

FBC's Restaurant Roundup of Canada's favourite pizza joints was also released last week and looky looky who's first. Can't help but give mad props to Morris East and their creative pies. Pulled pork and crackling oh my! All the pizza's coast to coast look delicious but check out Ottawa's pizza and gravy. Say what?!

But the huge news is that the first ever Food Bloggers of Canada Conference just wrapped up this past weekend and, let me tell you, it was a game changer. While I will share my experience and inspiration in a later post, know that eatHalifax is about to get a lot more exciting. In the meantime, check out my instagram feed for some sneak peaks.

Where to start on the local news? After establishing a Pinterest board for Halifax food bloggers, Kelly Neil and I thought wouldn't it be great to have all the Halifax food bloggers in one place. And so I present to you the Halifax Food Bloggers facebook page. We're 26 strong and cover everything from baking to cooking to photography to resto reviews. We've got some cool tricks up our sleeves so you're going to want to hit that 'like' button. Plus, it's a great way to get updates on all 26 blogs without getting 26 separate emails. You're welcome. However, it's always best to subscribe to your favs since I'm not promising we'll catch every post.

As I mentioned in the last buzz, Brent and I recently became members of Slow Food NS. I urge you to take a read about what the international movement for good, clean, fair food is all about. I could cite a million examples of how our current food system is failing us but I'll just say it's high time we know where our food is coming from. If you're looking for a way to contribute without signing up, do I have an event for you. Yesterday the tickets to the Slow Food Spring Supper went on sale and are already one third sold. I am confident they will sell out in the next few days so if you're on the fence, let me refresh your memory on last year's supper. It is honestly the best money you will spend on a dinner all year and the prefect opportunity to experience the awesomeness that is our NS bounty. (Can I just say, after reading my old post, I am amazed at how much my life has changed in one year. Here's to an even brighter 2013!) Did I forget to mention every course is paired with a NS wine or beer?

Speaking of wine, this Thursday marks the return of Benjamin Bridge Nova 7. After kicking myself for not buying it by the case last year, you know where I'll be this Thursday. Tasting are happening all over the city so I suggest you get your bubbly on.

Lastly, although taster tickets are sold out, the Dartmouth Cookie Jam still has a few spots open for bakers looking to show off their skills and raise some moula for Grace United. As a judge, I am beyond stoked to stuff my face full of cookies. Expect a post full of buttery, sugary delights.

One last reminder that next Tuesday is Eat Your Heart Out all over our fair city. Participating restaurants will be donating 15% of sales to The Maritime Heart Centre. Funny enough, last year I went to Morris East. "Raise your fork - raise some money!"

I'm sure I'm missing loads of local news but after the conference, my head may just explode.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Meet Your Local Spring Gala & Fundraiser

You've seen the magazines around. You've most likely given it a read. It is, after all, a free local lovin' publication. But did you know Local Connections is organizing a Meet Your Local Spring Gala and Fundraiser of pure awesomeness at the Halifax Club Thursday, May 9? You didn't? Well, here's what Alex Henden, the enthusiast behind Local Connections has to say: "We're bringing together the best that local has to offer, putting them in one place, and letting our imaginations run wild. With over 30 quality local beer, wine, spirits, food, and entertainment partners contributing to seven theme rooms that will celebrate quality and community, we'll transform the Halifax Club into an epic experience. Those who missed it will pretend they were there." You're in the process of securing those tickets right now aren't ya? Well, in case you need a tad more convincing, keep on reading.

The Meet Your Local events began this Winter as a chance to get up close and personal with several of the cities local producers and restaurnants. There was, to name a few, a Ratinaud pairing with Avondale Sky wine, a Nomad Gourmet food truck party with Propeller, and a north end fantasy food tour with Ace Burger Co, DeeDee's and JavaBlend. Amazing right? Oh, it get's better. Being mad busy as of late, I was only able to attend the very last Meet Your Local event, a four course small plates pairing with Ratinaud French Cuisine and Propeller Brewing. Little did I know that since this was the last event, Ratinaud was pulling together the best dishes of all events in one no holds barred epic pairing. And let me tell you, epic barely describes it. I hope you've eaten.

First up, Propellor Pilsner paired with tartiflette, a French dish of potatoes, lardons, reblochon cheese, and onions. Pilsner and creamy, cheesy potatoes? Uh, yes please. But obviously lardons are simply not enough for my pork loving friend so Frederic used both panchetta AND guanciale. We're off to a delicious start indeed.

Next up, Propeller Bitter with some good ol' fish n' chips. Obviously, the haddock was battered using Bitter and fried up with some crispy potato chips. I love me some Bitter and these were the perfect accompaniment.

Now here's where things really got crazy. Frederic brought out these bad boys. And I gotta say, while my heart still belongs to Ace, this was easily The Best Burger to ever grace my lips. No joke. And this was no million topping so-called 'gourmet' burger either. Rather a patty of local beef, shallots, salt and pepper topped simply with blue cheese in a house made brioche bun. A perfect example that sometimes simple is so much better. Paired with my favourite Propeller, the IPA, this course stole my heart. I wanted to devour them all. In fact, I totally went havesies with another guest. How could I not.

Sadly, I was beyond full by the time these succulent ribs came out. Both glazed and paired with Russian Imperial Stout, these were some amazing ribs. But my stomach just wasnt having it. The meat sweats, oh they happened. I may even have had to sit down. Well played Ratinaud and Propeller.

Incredible right? So, if this is what happens when but two of the local partners get together, what do you think will happen when 30 of them pack into the Halifax Club? Perhaps I'll give you a preview. At present three of the seven rooms have been revealed. You best sit down.

Room 1: The Sweet Room
DeeDee's Ice Cream, Java Blend, Scanway, Ironworks Distillery, and pianist Willem Blois

Room 2: The Craft Brewers Party Room
Propeller, Garrison, and Bridge Brewing, Shipbuilder's Cider, Ratinaud, Nomad Gourmet, Halifax Club's Chef Nelson Francis plus 1 more surprise!

Room 3: The Wine Experience Room
Luckett Vineyard, Avondale Sky Winery, Jost Vineyards, Gaspereau Vineyards, Domain de Grand Pre, Saege Bistro, Front & Central, Highland Drive Storehouse, and Quartet La Corde

New rooms and partners are being revealed weekly so stay glued to the Local Connections facebook or Spring Gala event page. Plus, yes there's more, $10 from every ticket purchased and up to $5000 if all tickets are sold is being donated to Shubie Park. So you can eat and drink and be merry AND feel good about it. Damn, it doesn't get any better than that. Early bird tickets have already sold out and, with only a month to go, I doubt it won't be long before the entire event is sold out too. If you don't want to be left pretending you were there, you'll know just what to do.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

winning at lamb

So here's the deal. I am not a fan of lamb. Gasp, a food lover that doesn't like lamb?! Well, that was until yesterday. Sure, I've somewhat enjoyed some lamb here and there. It was mostly spiced so heavily that any hint of lamb was completely lost. It could have been beef for all I know. But leg of lamb? Hells no. I've honestly only ever cooked lamb twice: once planting on my birthday of all days and again recently as Vietnamese lamb sliders. I ate neither. Then these bad boys showed up from Nordic Ware, one of the sponsors of the Food Bloggers of Canada Conference this coming weekend.

How I got this lucky, I'll never know. While I already made some stuffing in the Dutch Oven, the braising pan got me thinking. Could I learn to love lamb if I braised it? I remember having a tasty bite of Brent's braised lamb at Chives and, while I probably wouldn't have eaten the whole dish, the braising toned down the strong lamby taste. Challenge accepted. So, this past Saturday, we decided to head down to the old market and visit the Lamb Man himself, Mr. Bill Wood of Wood N' Hart Farm. Yes, the same lamb guy that supplies Chives and so many other great local lovin' restos. Can I just say how incredible is it that I can go to the market and chat with the farmer himself before buying amazingly fresh local lamb. This is the food system we need to revert back to. Simple, local, delicious. After much discussion about my lamb aversion, we opted for a shoulder roast then headed upstairs to visit Hutton Farm for our weekly produce.

Generally, meats are slow braised with aromatics like carrots, onions, celery, garlic, and herbs and a liquid consisting of stock and usually red wine but that French Bordeaux on the mantle is going in someone's belly another way. After a little internet search including this mouth watering recipe by UK Chef Tom Aikens, I found my inspiration and went for it. Using mostly local veggies, homemade stocks, and an espresso balsamic from the locally owned Liquid Gold Olive Oil Tasting Bar, I took on lamb and won.

Espresso Balsamic Braised Lamb Shoulder

1 1/2 lb lamb shoulder
1 tbsp olive oil
2 celery stalks
2 onions
2 carrots
6 cloves garlic
2-3 stalks fresh rosemary
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup duck stock (this was actually smoked duck stock!)
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 bay leaves
handful fresh thyme
ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 275. Heat the oil in the braising pan over medium high heat. Season the lamb all over with sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. Score the fat on the shoulder. Sear the lamb on all sides til browned. Remove from pan. Add in vegetables and three whole cloves of garlic and saute a few minutes. Meanwhile, smash the rosemary sprigs with the 3 remaining cloves of garlic in a mortar and pestle. Rub into the scored fat, pushing it into the cuts. Return to the pan. Add in the remaining ingredients.

Cover and bake for approximately 2 1/2 -3 hours or until the lamb is tender and falling apart. Feel free to give it a baste here and there although the Nordic Ware with its self basting lid kept all that moisture right where I wanted it. Now you're going to want to save all that amazing sauce so remove the lamb from the pan and drain, reserving the sauce. Return to the pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until thickened and reduced by half.

To serve, pull apart the lamb and mix with the reduction. We served ours over some local potatoes mashed with mascarpone and green onions but it'd be great over pasta or risotto or anything for that matter. I'm pretty sure we're making the leftovers into a pizza tonight with figs, spiced tomato sauce, and pistachios. Checkmate.

And did I mention the braising pan with it's non stick coating was a breeze to clean? Nordic Ware Pro Cast, I love you. And lamb, apparently, I love you too because I couldn't get enough of this. I almost didn't want to share. I'm not saying I'm ready for a roasted leg of lamb but Bill Wood you've got yourself some new loyal customers. Brent couldn't be happier.

Ace Burger Co: the best burger in the city

So, Halifax's first Burger Week has come and gone. Despite my love of burgers, I ate but three, just enough to get entered in the contest for the big green egg, a contest that I sadly did not win. Guess it's the homemade smoker for us. No complaints here. And whats my verdict? No surprise, I remain on the Ace Burger train. It is one delicious ride. Don't get me wrong. There's some great burgers out there. Everything from classic diner to pb topped to triple pork madness. But there's so much more to a burger than a patty on a bun.

What makes the best burger? First, I wholeheartedly believe it needs to be based on fresh, local ingredients. With the recent beef recall plus the horse meat scandal, there is no better reason to start eating local meat. In fact, have a read of what Chris de Waal from Getaway Meat Mongers has to say in the new Rustik Magazine. Another reason Ace ranks so high, the simplicity. I hate line ups, especially unnecessary ones. So if I have to wait to get my burger while folks try to decipher a million toppings, I'm just going to go somewhere else. But I don't mind waiting. I waited 45 minutes at Ace during Burger Week but Bridge beer in hand and a table full of friends, I was a happy camper.

Ace just rocking it
At Ace, you don't need all those wacky toppings because Mark and the team have crafted a simple menu of amazing burgers to suit anyone's taste. Pork, chicken, lamb, veggie, beef, clam, all covered. I've actually tasted all the Ace burgers (but have yet to order the lamb although that's about to change), some more than twice. Insatiable. OK, they may even know me by name. While the deluxe is literally the best damn burger in the city, I quite fancy the classic. I think it says a lot that the burger can stand alone without the addition cheese and bacon. Blasphemy I know. I also love the pork with flavours reminiscent of a banh mi as well as the crunchy smoked tarter topped clam po' boy. But honestly every single Ace burger is perfectly prepared and deliciously satisfying. 

numero uno: the deluxe
But it just gets better because they've recently started running monthly burger features. At present, it's a venison burger cut with duck fat and topped with crispy carrot strings, juniper roasted mushrooms, and garlic mayo. Ever since reading that first tweet, I knew it had to be mine. Three days later and, sure enough, it blew my mind. What a flavour powerhouse. I can't say this enough, GET SOME.

There you have it folks: take an amazing menu of simple yet creative, locally sourced burgers add to that ridiculous features and the nicest, coolest staff out there, and you've got yourself The Best Burger in the City. Lucky, for you today is the last day to have your voice heard in the year's Best of Food survey brought to you by The Coast. If you're still are not convinced, get over to Ace and prove me wrong. I dare ya.

And fyi, yours truly is up for Best Local Food Blog. Wink wink nudge nudge.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Morris East: the best pizza in the city

Yes, I said it. I'm declaring the best pizza in the city. Don't get be wrong, there's a load of pizza options in the HRM and certain occasions call for certain pizza pies. But the one pie that will always satisfy any craving is undoubtedly Morris East's wood fired pizza. Sure there's other delicious wood fired pizza in the city but Morris East's creative use of local ingredients will always put them in my number one spot. Add to that awesome atmosphere, inventive cocktails, and a killer staff and you have one winning combo.

I've already professed my love for Morris East on several occasions. Like here (our first time) and here. And I stand by the statement that if I could eat but one pizza for the remainder of my days, it would be the Pear at Morris East. Red wine poached pears, blue cheese, shallots, prosciutto, and tarragon aioli. Life complete. But on our most recent lunch visit, I knew I needed to branch out. After reading the menu, it was an easy decision. I mean how could I resist a pizza with Oulton's blackened pulled pork AND crackling? Exactly. But it gets better. Local apple chutney, Old Growler gouda and crispy sage take this pizza to a whole new level of deliciousness. Pear I think you've met your match. Brent's Capricciosa pizza was also a flavour explosion of tomato, mozzarella, artichokes, mushrooms, olives, rosemary maple bacon, parmesan and chili caesar aioli.

I bet you're craving some pizza right about now. Good thing for you they're open for lunch and dinner plus I hear they make a mean weekend brunch. Also, in case you haven't heard, they're working on opening a second location on Larry Utek sometime in the summer. Suburbanites, prepare to be wowed.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


UPDATE: Check out this post on the new eathalifax!

I can't say this enough. I just made the Best Dessert Ever. Like ever.

But let's back up a bit first. You may remember a while back Castello (aka Tre Stelle) contacted me about testing some of their new cheese. A delicious endeavour indeed. They liked my post so much they offered to send along more coupons for free cheese. And folks free cheese is two words to which I will always respond with an enthusiac yes! So, although it took months, I'm back with a review of another cheese in the Tre Stelle line. This time I knew just what to get. Creamy, delicious, decadent mascarpone. Not so long ago I whipped up a wild mushroom mascarpone dip for my first Cheesemus but this Easter I had visions of a towering lemon curd and mascarpone vanilla bean pavlova. Oh yes I did.

gorgeous farm fresh eggs
And where else to find inspiration than the baking blogs of all baking blogs, Sweetapolita. Bookmark it. Like now. While she made hers with a chocolate ganache, I already knew I was lemon curd all the way. No better way to usher in Spring than some tart lemony goodness. Plus what else are you going to do with the 12 leftover egg yolks?! And so I am thrilled to present to you, the Best Dessert Ever:

Lemon Curd & Mascarpone Vanilla Bean Pavlova

vanilla bean meringue:
12 egg whites, room temp
2 1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean powder
pinch sea salt

lemon curd:
12 egg yolks
1 1/4 cup sugar
zest of two lemons
3/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp cold butter, cubed

mascarpone cream:
1 1/2 cup heavy cream
3 tbsp sugar
1/3 cup white creme de cacao
630 g marscapone, softened (1 lg container plus 1/3 of another)

First things first, preheat the oven to 250. Get those egg whites in your Big Red (or whatever color of KitchenAid stand mixer you prefer) and whip away. Meanwhile, cover three baking sheets with parchment and trace three 8' circles on each. When the whites are becoming thick with soft peaks, add in the salt and vanilla bean. Gradually add in the sugar about 1/2 cup at a time until the peaks become glossy and stiff. Using a palette knife, spread the meringue onto the parchment, evenly filing in the circles. Bake about 2 1/2 hours until dry, rotating every half hour or so. Turn off the oven and leave in an additional hour or so. I actually turned my oven off at the 2 hour mark then simply left them in overnight. Plan ahead for this cake folks especially if your oven will be occupied by a chicken for most of the day you plan to serve it!

To make the lemon curd, make your self a dandy lil' double boiler with a bowl set atop a pot of simmering water. In the bowl, mix together the yolks, lemon juice, zest, and sugar. Cook, whisking often, until the yolks become thick. Remove from the heat and strain to remove the zest. Whisk in the butter, a few pieces at a time. Cover the surface with plastic wrap to avoid that icky film and refrigerate until use.

Lastly, for the mascarpone layer, whip the cream and sugar in a stand mixer or food pro. I generally use the food pro because you'd be amazed at how incredibly fast it makes whipped cream. Meanwhile, whip the mascarpone and creme de cacao until smooth. Fold in the whipped cream.

To assemble, spread 1/3 the mascarpone cream on one meringue followed by 1/2 the lemon curd. Repeat, ending with the mascarpone cream to top. I garnished mine with some sugared lemon twists but candied lemon slices would be great too or simply some mint or even more lemon curd. Cuz lord knows, we all need more curd.

As you can imagine, this cake blew our minds. So much so that despite being holiday full from an Easter potluck of charcuterie, spicy red pepper soup, Jigg's dinner, herb roasted chicken with haskap, pistachio & sage stuffing, scalloped potatoes, and a banana walnut cake with cream cheese frosting, I still went back for seconds. I swear this cake had magical powers, putting me in a sugar-induced, lemon-fuelled trance like state where being full was completely irrelevant. And it wasn't just me either. Oh, I'm looking at you Kelly, Amber, and Kathy. I won't admit how much of that cake I actually ate Easter Sunday but next time I make it, I best invite more friends.