Caribbean Bliss brings the heat

On my last day at TD Halifax Jazz Fest, I was treated to a generous feed from Caribbean Bliss. Although the best-selling stewed oxtail was already sold out, they were super excited for me to try a variety of items from the menu they were serving out of their food stall, including: veggie Jamaican patty, chicken curry, jerk chicken, mango punch and coconut cream pie.

The Jamaican veggie patty, which they make from scratch, was filled with peas, corn, curried potato and spinach, all enclosed in a flaky pastry shell. I really enjoyed the chicken curry, mild yet very flavourful with just a touch of background heat after a few bites; the meat just fell from the bone. The sauce was vibrant in colour, with lots of it, and was accompanied by rice and peas.

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It was the jerk chicken that really impressed me; when I opened the container it was covered in a deep brown sauce with a reddish hue. It just looked spicy. When I dug in with my fork there was the most tender chicken underneath, no knife needed. I’m not privy to their recipe, but I can only guess that they use a stewing or braising method for this, it’s that fall-off-the-bone. I started to sweat while I ate it, the satisfying kind of heat, from the jerk spice, that slowly raises your body temperature. All of these dishes were perfectly complemented by the refreshing mango punch. I had to take the coconut cream pie home with me, because of my ambitious attempt at eating everything else I was given, but when I did try it, it tasted every bit as home made as I’d expected.

Everything from Caribbean Bliss was so obviously made with care, from scratch, with distinct, vibrant flavours. I’m definitely going back their location on Novalea Drive to get the oxtail.

Big Brass and Dumplings

My third TD Halifax Jazz Fest “feed,” as I like to call them, was a big ol’ plate of Chinese food from Cheelin’s booth. Cheelin Restaurant is well-known in Halifax for their lunch specials and Friday buffet, which is frequented by many people who work downtown. They’ve been open in the historic brewery building on Lower Water Street for over 20 years, where owner Fanny Chen serves up Szechuan and Beijing style Chinese food. They also have a stall, Cheelin Express, at the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market.

I was served a heaping plate of a few of the offerings: pork dumplings, mixed vegetable stir-fry with beef, vegetable spring roll with crunchy cabbage and glass noodles, and chow mien noodles. I just love handmade Chinese dumplings like these…

SORRY! This is just a teaser. The full post and photos can be found at TD Halifax Jazz Fest Blog!

Pizza, Wine and Jazz

There’s something so nice about strolling into the main stage area at TD Halifax Jazz Festival during the day. Especially when it’s sunny. There’s a mix of locals and tourists, everyone is eating or drinking, enjoying some chill, free jazz music, and it’s all right on the waterfront. There’s lots of places to sit. So yesterday I grabbed a slice of pizza from Bramoso, a glass of wine from the bar and took it all in for a little while.

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If you’re not familiar with Bramoso Pizza, their eat-in restaurant and takeout counter is located on Quinpool Road, in the same strip mall as the NSLC. When you walk in, though, it’s quite charming and there’s a real brick pizza oven, churning out creative pizzas that feature local ingredients

SORRY. This post is just a teaser. For the full post and photos, head on over to the TD Halifax Jazz Fest blog.

Tasty food truck action at Jazz Fest

Today I kicked off my official food blogging gig for the TD Halifax Jazz Festival. Not a bad assignment, given they’ve got food trucks and stalls onsite serving up everything from Caribbean oxtail curry to pizza to made-from-scratch egg rolls. Not to mention a beer tent serving Bulwark Cider (my favourite), wines and Garrison Brewing beer on tap. I’m a food blogger, not a music blogger, but anyone that lives in Halifax knows this festival brings in some major talent and incredible shows on not just the main stage, but venues throughout the city. So yeah, I’m pretty happy with the situation.

Good news for locals and tourists – the food trucks are not just for ticket holders. The festival is open to the public with free admission throughout the daytime hours on the waterfront at the Main Stage (Lower Water and Salter). This means anyone can come in and enjoy food from the vendors.

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Day One  – I met the lovely Chelsea Lund, owner and operator of Roll With It, a shiny black food truck with a charming hand-written chalk menu. Although the name of the truck makes sense, the menu was not what I was expecting. Roll With It does, in fact, make a weekly rotating feature: a from-scratch, original egg roll. Judging from their Instagram account (rollwithitHFX) they’ve done some pretty unique egg rolls. On top of the rolls, they’ve got burgers, panko-crusted fish and chips (or have it as a taco), poutine, and fresh cut fries.

SORRY. This post is just a teaser! For the full post and more photos, you’re going to the TD Halifax Jazz Fest blog.

Check back tomorrow for Day Two!

Devour! Dinner & a Movie… Cinema Paradiso

It sure is tough being a food blogger sometimes. Last night I was treated to a complimentary ticket (thanks Lia!) for Devour! Dinner & A Movie Series, inspired by Cinema Paradiso. Which meant a five-course Sicilian feast, paired with fantastic Italian wines. Yeah, it was a hard night’s work.

Executive director of Devour!, and chef, Michael Howell teamed up with chef Scott Colwell of Certainly Cinnamon to serve up flavourful Sicilian dishes, while screening the Italian film Cinema Paradiso. Lia Rinaldo, managing director of Devour!, explained to us before we sat down to dinner not to feel obliged to quietly watch the film, it’s about having fun and feeling relaxed. I’m not sure anyone at our table even glanced at the film, but it created a fantastic atmosphere to have it playing in the background while we enjoyed great food, wine and company.

The venue!

The venue!

The venue was Certainly Cinnamon’s new catering kitchen on the north side of Barrington Street, what was formerly a car wash. It has high ceilings and real industrial vibe, but felt cozy with the strung lights and added touches by the Devour! team.

While all the courses were delicious (I love Italian food), the boneless lamb osso bucco (pictured at the top) deserves to be singled out. This dish was amazing. Having been slow-braised, the lamb absolutely fell apart and melted in your mouth, the Primitivo-enriched demi brought out deep and complex flavour; the polenta was soft and supple, and the gremolata atop the lamb was just perfect, offering fresh acidity and bright parsley. I ate every bite. Including my helping of the family-style side dishes: perfectly cooked, lemony asparagus and roasted spring vegetables with fresh mint and eggplant caponata. The shrimp alla diavolo seared in saffron brodo, our first course, also stuck out for me; the sauce had a real kick (as it should), and really danced with the fresh parsley.

Sicilian shrimp alla diabolo with lemon couscous

Sicilian shrimp alla diabolo with lemon couscous

The Dinner & A Movie series is a great idea, this was the first one I’d been to. There’s a real social, relaxed vibe, even with the service. It felt like a big dinner party with friends… and once again proved there’s something so comforting and satisfying about eating from-scratch Italian food. I have to give a shout-out to Jenny Gammon with Bishop’s Cellar, who nailed her pairings and did a great job explaining the wines before each course. Salute!

Oyster Shucking & Road Tripping with Ford

On one of the first truly warm, sunny days in May, I was invited to attend another fantastic Ford Canada event. This time, we’d be headed to Oceanstone Seaside Resort near Peggys Cove, to hear author, TV host and travel columnist Robin Esrock speak about his new book The Great Atlantic Canadian Bucket List.

Our ride.

Our ride.

When I arrive at our meeting point, Steele Lincoln Ford, I see my co-writers at Local Connections Halifax Magazine, Lia Rinaldo and Tiffany Thornton. We manage to nab the white Ford Mustang and Lia gladly agrees to get behind the wheel for the 40-minute(ish) road trip to Oceanstone.

Upon arrival we’re immediately swept out to a deck overlooking the ocean, snacking on delicious canapés (smoked salmon crostini and bacon-wrapped scallops) while sipping on Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 sparkling wine.

Nova 7 on the patio.

Nova 7 on the patio.

It’s the kind of day in early spring where you finally feel everything has come back to life. The air smells pleasantly salty, the breeze is warm and the deck offers a quintessential Nova Scotia view: a white lighthouse across the bay and a stunning combination of rocky beach and blue ocean. Operator Lizzie Moore speaks to us briefly about the property and promises to show us around the cottages after lunch.

First course for our lunch is hands-on oyster shucking (and eating) with chef Bryan Corkery. After the demo, a few of us shuck our own, and Bryan makes oyster shooters with clamato juice and vodka. At this point I’m glad Lia has agreed to drive the Mustang. We sit down for lunch (lobster stuffed chicken, potato rosti and seasonal vegetables).

My delicious oyster shooter.

My delicious oyster shooter.

Sometime during dessert Robin takes over for a presentation about his travel experiences and books The Great Canadian Bucket List, and now, the Great Atlantic Canadian Bucket List. The storytelling  and photos are the type that immediately make you want to quit your day job and buy an around-the-world plane ticket. But if you can’t do that, for now, you should at least check out his book on Atlantic Canada and plan some adventures closer to home.

After lunch, as promised, we take a look through some of the seaside cottages (which are unbelievably charming) and soak in the sun, view and ocean air just a little bit longer. I manage to win the prize draw (one night in a Rhubarb suite), which means I’ll be back soon, to eat fresh seafood at the on-site restaurant Rhubarb, and drink Nova 7 by our fire pit on the beach, listening to the waves crash in front of our beautiful cottage. Because there’s no way I’m not upgrading!

Thanks again to Ford Canada for the invite to this event, Oceanstone for the food, drink and views and to Lia for being our road trip DD. Check out the cottages in the gallery below…

NS Chefs Pop-up Series with Ray Bear

The Nova Scotia Chefs Pop-up Series made an impressive start just over two weeks ago, with chef Ray Bear inviting guest chef Dave Smart to help take over the kitchen space at the Scanway Bakery and Café on Grafton Street. About 18 lucky food enthusiasts, including myself, were just able to squeeze into the space and enjoy an exclusive meal from two of the most creative and artful Nova Scotia chefs around. It proved to be an intimate and, understandably, very social pop-up venue. Each chef, demonstrating his distinct style, created one dish per course, transforming your typical three-course meal into a six-course feast.  And yes, that means there were two desserts. Impeccable wine pairings were provided by Jenny at Bishop’s Cellar.

Dave's first course: confit squash, mushrooms, roasted pearl onions, brown butter, toasted hazelnuts, sage croutons, lemon-ginger.

Dave’s first course: confit squash, mushrooms, roasted pearl onions, brown butter, toasted hazelnuts, sage croutons, lemon-ginger.

First course was brought to you by Dave: A salad of confit squash, mushrooms, roasted pearl onions, brown butter dust (which melted in your mouth and became brown butter), toasted hazelnuts, colourful sage croutons, and tangy lemon-ginger gel.  Presented in classic Dave style, a gorgeous asymmetrical plate with styled pops of colour and a plethora of textures. But don’t worry — it wasn’t just pretty; everything about this salad came together in a nicely balanced way, a great first course.

Ray's first course: fresh ramen, vegetable infused pork broth, crispy bits salad, kimchi aioli, herbs

Ray’s first course: fresh ramen, vegetable infused pork broth, crispy bits salad, kimchi aioli, herbs

Second course (second first course, actually) was from Ray; I really enjoy when he uses Asian inspiration. This dish had fresh, house-made ramen noodles in a vegetable-infused pork broth. The broth was infused using a vacuum coffee maker, shortly before the course was served. I thought it was just so flavourful. Also in the broth was crispy bits salad (pork with crispy bits), fresh herbs, enoki mushrooms and, rimming the bowl, a kimchi aioli. Umami deliciousness.

On to Dave’s main course, cured and cold smoked scallop, cauliflower pureé, green apple, pickled raisins, and curried granola. Dave explained that the scallop was seared on one side only, bringing two temperatures to the plate and some colour to the top. The pickled raisins were perfect, a great way to offset the sweet-rich scallop and velvety cauliflower pureé. The crunch of the granola was fantastic, I was a huge fan of this plate.

Ray's second course: NS spring lamb, calamari, olive, fingerlings, almond romesco, saffron-vanilla pudding

Ray’s second course: NS spring lamb, calamari, olive, fingerlings, almond romesco, saffron-vanilla pudding

Ray’s main course had so much fun stuff going on, a Spanish-inspired lamb dish that showed off a lamb sausage stuffed purple shallot, calamari, olives, fingerlings, almond romesco sauce, and saffron-vanilla pudding. Showcasing both the calamari tube and tentacles gave this plate such a great visual aspect, and I loved the two different preparations of the lamb, both delicious. That heavenly well of jus inside the pudding was unbelievable. It was a beautiful main course.

On to dessert, which I typically skip. Dave’s dessert was perfect for me… it was savoury and involved cheese. An Urban Blue cheese cheesecake schmear, black currant, pistachio crumb, and beet sorbet. The earthy flavour of the beet really came through here, and again, all the flavours and textures were superbly balanced, it was, for me, the perfect level of sweetness (not much).

Ray's dessert: Butterflies & Drops of Jupiter

Ray’s dessert: Butterflies & Drops of Jupiter

Ray’s trippy-looking dessert, described on the menu as only “Butterflies & Drops of Jupiter” was a big wow for the crowd. Pete Luckett jokingly referred to it as the dessert Ray must have thought up on LSD.  In reality it was an amazing dessert with many intricately designed and placed elements. The main part (the green thing) was passionfruit around a white chocolate-lime Bavarian. The raspberry ball had rose water, elder flower juice and yuzu. The butterfly looked as though it would just be fondant or something similar but was a delicious paper thin biscuit. The other “drops” of foam on the plate were blueberry and blackberry. It tasted even better than it looked.

Keep an eye out for the next edition of the Nova Scotia Chefs Pop-up Series; I’m sure there are many more impressive meals like this one in the works.

Zuppa Theatre: Pop-up Love Party at Lion & Bright

On opening night for Zuppa Theatre‘s Pop-up Love Party we snuck in just a few minutes before the scheduled start time, grabbing two seats at the bar in a packed Lion & Bright. The vibe was energetic and exciting; luckily we had enough time to order a couple fantastic negronis and settle in before the show began.

Pop-up Love Party is an interactive theatre and food event. Inspired by Plato’s Symposium, the show consists of three actors (Ben Stone, Stewart Legere and and Susan Leblanc) giving monologues about love. A paired seven-course snack menu, designed by executive chef Daniel Burns yet executed by local chef Dennis Johnston, accompanies the production. The menu claims to “heighten moments of the production,” with its flavours and textures. 

E.T. sandwich

E.T. sandwich

We’re not regular theatre folk, so I’m not going to review the performance in that way, but let’s just say we really enjoyed ourselves; there was comedy, music, aerobics… and just lots of fun. The snack menu was thought-provoking, at times delicious, and at time perplexing. I’d like to think I caught on to the performance-paired moments of the menu, for example, while Stone gave a rather heart-wrenching speech about how everyone we love will eventually die, the ginger sorbet with lemon we were served had so much zing… it was just, well, a little hard to swallow.

The wine was flowing and the venue was full of enthralled people, enjoying every moment of the show. In the end, the food left you with a lot to contemplate, just like the performance. Congratulations to Zuppa on the sold out run (they wrapped up on March 29), and thank-you to their marketing gal Jennifer for the complimentary tickets!

Travel Diary: Eating at the Night Market in Thailand

Since life in Halifax is forcing me to visit sunnier, warmer times in my mind, I’m going to write again about my recent experiences in Thailand. It was just in January that we made the trip to Southeast Asia, but man, it seems like a lifetime ago already. Their dry season boasts hot, sunny and humid days with a temperature around 30 degrees. The weather was practically flawless for the two weeks we were there. Take me back!

I found some wine!

I found some wine!

Some of our favourite places to eat were outdoor night markets that offered a mix of souvenirs, clothing, cocktail bars and food stalls, always with live entertainment. Especially during our time on Koh Samui the open-air bars with live music on Chaweng Walking Street would call to us on most evenings. Sitting in cheap white plastic chairs, sipping gin and tonics, listening to a live band cover Western hits, and ordering grilled satay or noodles from nearby food stalls was how we’d pass many relaxing night-time hours. Just thinking about it makes me smile. The host at our favourite bar, Save Water Drink Cocktails, knew our names by the end of the week.

Delicious noodles in Phuket.

Delicious noodles in Phuket.

The deal was you’d walk around to check out what each food stall offered or had fresh that evening. Most offered traditional Thai food, along with some kind of specialty. There was the fresh seafood stall with huge live prawns on ice and charcoal rotisseries for fish, the banana pancake stall, the noodle soup lady, and a few options for barbecue or grilled food. Often you’d see steaming hot, heaping piles of noodles, that would last the night. Our favourite was simply a dish of these noodles, they were sautéed in oil and soy sauce with bright pieces of cabbage, carrots, or peppers.

Ribs, chicken and salad.

Ribs, chicken and salad.

At the barbecue stalls you had the option of choosing pre-grilled satays that the cook would throw back on the grill for a few minutes, or choosing a raw protein and waiting for it to be prepared. For side dishes there was an array of deep-fried favourites, dumplings, noodles, or any kind of Thai dish. The fish ball soup was definitely one of the best we tried, and once I splurged on delicious fresh squid with grilled corn, but most nights, we craved noodles and the barbecued pork ribs or good ol’ chicken satay with sweet chile sauce. Perfect with those gin and tonics, or in Geir’s case, many cold Chang beers. After ordering from a stall, you could make your way to the open-air bar or seating area, and when your food was ready they’d find you in the crowd and drop it off at your table on styrofoam plates. Always with a smile.

We stumbled across street food everywhere in Thailand, of course, from tiny stands lining the most popular beaches to the crunchy bug snacks in Bangkok. Here’s a look…

Travel Diary: Thai Cooking Class

During our first week of the trip, which was spent in Phuket, we attended a cooking class at the next town over, Kata Beach.  I had signed us up nice and early with it being high season, and the class having stellar reviews on Trip Advisor. Much to our surprise, when the driver showed up we were the only two attending class that day. Nice. Our instructor, Mimi, and driver transported us from our resort to The Kitchen, a Thai restaurant and cooking class venue, with one stop at a market along the way.

Many types of prawns.

Many types of prawns.

It was the type of day in Phuket that edged on unbearably hot, for a canuck like me… well over 30 degrees and disgustingly humid (and this was dry season). Mimi took us to a large nearby open-air market (thankfully with shade), to give us an example of how fresh produce and meat are sourced for the plethora of Thai restaurants in that area. We sauntered around while she gave us explanations on mostly vegetables, and meat, and we asked some questions. We could have easily walked around for an hour, just looking, but we were eager to get to the class, where the ingredients had already been purchased and prepped for us. We were treated to as much bottled water as we wanted, and after we arrived, had a few minutes to rest in the wind of a two large fans; I started to cool off.

Mimi.

Mimi.

Our setup was a humble folding table with a plastic tablecloth, single gas burners, plastic cutting boards and the necessary knives, utensils and pots and pans. We were learning four Thai dishes, which we picked in advance on the website: vegetable spring rolls, gang keaw waan tai (green chicken curry), traditional pad thai with prawns and tom yum goong (pictured at the very top). So, very recognizable Thai dishes that we thought would be fun to cook while in Thailand! The methods were a little less complicated than we were hoping for (especially for Geir), as in, we used some short cuts like pre-made green curry paste. But overall it was a great experience and Mimi was super fun and friendly.

Finished pad thai, served with crushed peanuts, chiles and sugar as is customary here.

Finished pad thai, served with crushed peanuts, chiles and sugar as is customary here.

All of the dishes turned out flavourful and tasty, with the curry and the pad thai having a very healthy amount of heat! We found the recipes used a surprising amount of sugar, and that a lot of Thai dishes include either white or brown sugar to balance out the spicy chiles. We got to take a copy of the recipes home. Check out the photo gallery for the market tour and cooking class, and below that — a recipe for green curry chicken!

Below is the green curry chicken recipe we were sent home with, which is very fast and easy to make. The measurements are a bit different, and the yield is not listed, but I’d guess two servings. You can’t get the type of small eggplant that we used here, usually, so substitute for any vegetable you enjoy in your curries. Carrots, green beans and potatoes all work nicely (cook the potatoes a bit in advance).

Our curry, it was quite spicy.

Our curry, it was quite spicy.

Gaang Keaw Waan Gai (Chicken in Green Curry), from The Kitchen, Kata Beach

180 grams Sliced chicken breast

10 grams Crispy eggplant

10 grams Small eggplant

1 tbsp Green curry paste (I like Mae Ploy)

10 grams Thai (sweet) basil leaves (tear them up before throwing in)

2 pieces Sliced red chiles (or to taste)

2 cups Coconut milk

2 pieces Kaffir lime leaves (tear them up before throwing in)

1 tbsp Fish sauce

2 tbsp Palm sugar

1. Add the vegetable oil in the pan then heat to medium heat. Add the green curry paste and heat until it brings out a good aroma.

2. Add the sliced chicken (note: let it get a good sear before moving on), and add the coconut milk a little at a time. Add crispy eggplant and small eggplant.

3. Add the kaffir lime leaves, sweet basil leaves and sliced red chiles at the end. (Note: it’s ready when it’s reduced a bit to a thicker consistency, and smells amazing.)

4. Serve with steamed rice.