Thursday, August 26, 2010

GCC and the TRUTH about dining out

Okay I promise I'm not trying to turn this into a food blog... but food is one of my favourite things.  Not just to eat, but especially to learn about and create myself.  So it's inevitable that a lot of posts on here are going to revolve around food.  As will today's, but it will also revolve around my AMAZING DRAWING SKILLS as well, so if you like food and love my drawings, this should make your day.

Last night Brahm and I went to GCC at the Delta Bessborough in Saskatoon.  We were at the hotel for a wedding a few months ago and the reception room was adjacent to the restaurant, so it caught my eye on our way out.  The amazing menu was posted near the entrance and I made a mental note to go there ASAP.

I really regret not taking pictures of our meals - the presentation was always beautiful and I would love to be able to relive the memory of that meal through photos.  However I did not, and it sort of sucks to just have to describe a meal without any pictures, so for your viewing pleasure I have recreated the dishes we were served in MS Paint.  You're welcome, you're welcome.

GCC has a couple of awesome meal options - build a 3 course meal for $39 or a 4 course meal (soup + appetizer + entree + dessert) for $46.  We both opted for the 3 course meal since the whole deal also included a lot of bread, a palate cleanser, and an amuse bouche.

That's right, an amuse bouche.  Basically an amuse bouche is a pre-appetizer appetizer.  And it is a French word, which means it is SUPER CLASSY.  Guys, I know you are always wondering how classy I am, and your answer is:  I sometimes go to restaurants where they serve you amuse bouches and palate cleansers.

This amuse bouche was pretty amazing - a thin slice of beef tenderloin wrapped around brie cheese and onion, with a demi-glace (basically, gravy).  My bouche was def amused.

Next (or maybe before?  I can't remember it was so much food) we got a couple of artisan breads - a crusty white bread and a super delicious olive bread with regular, paprika, and basil butters:

So basically by now I'd eaten a large snack, and this was just the free stuff!  Good thing it was going to be about a half hour walk home.

The appetizers arrived soon after.  I ordered the goat cheese souffle (more classy French) with grape jelly and Brahm ordered the stuffed tomato - tomatoes with feta, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and I'm pretty sure there was a sour cherry compote on that plate too.  The souffle also came with a couple of wedges of toasted olive bread (olive bread is freaking amazing BTW).

Next came another classy thing - the palate cleanser!  It was basically shaved frozen juice - sort of like a sorbet.  Blackberry and passionfruit, with a blackberry topper.
Now that our palates were thoroughly cleansed and we were starting to get full, the main course arrived.  The item on the menu that initially caught my eye and actually made me want to come to GCC in the first place was the wild boar tenderloin - I absolutely love pork tenderloin so I was very curious to try it in its game form.  It was served with a butternut squash puree, sour cherry compote (which went with it perfectly), and some seasonal vegetables (zucchini, carrots, and those little yellow squash things that look like halfs of lemons but taste like zucchini only better).
This picture is sort of sad.  It definitely doesn't do any sort of justice whatsoever to the amazingness of that meal.  What does wild boar taste like?  To me it was sort of like a mix between pork and beef... I can't describe it.  It was DELICIOUS is all I can really say.  Insanely lean, flavourful, and tender.  It might be my new favourite meat.

Brahm ordered a beef tenderloin which came with Yukon Gold potatoes and the same roster of vegetables.  It was also super delicious but here is the best way I can describe the wild boar - I was eating my meal and then he offered me a bite of his steak.  Compared to the boar, the beef seemed bland and tough - which it WASN'T, by any means.  Oh wild boar, I already miss you so much.
At this point, we were both ridiculously full, so we ordered some tea and sat for about 20 minutes before the dessert course.  Which once again was incredible.
Brahm ordered a Grand Marnier creme brulee (French again we are the classiest) and I ordered the blueberry cheesecake (both came with whipped cream and those orange berries with dry leaves - I always call them gooseberries but I think they aren't actually).  I didn't try the creme brulee because I was so full I could only focus on my own dessert, but I heard it was awesome.  And my cheesecake was the best kind of cheesecake - made so light and fluffy that even if you're full, it's too good to not eat and doesn't seem so heavy that you can't keep shoveling it in.  Proper cheesecake, if you will.  Cheesecake you don't experience every day.

The weird thing about this supper was that during the course of the two hours we were there, between 6 and 8 pm, there were only 5 people dining there, including us.  This is something I don't really understand, although it's definitely not an advertised place to my knowledge.  Maybe it's usually full of hotel guests but Wednesday nights are slow?  What I can tell you is that the service was excellent (the chef even came out to ask us how the food was at the end of the evening) and you already know how I feel about the food.

If you're thinking, well maybe it is just too pricey of a place for the average joe to eat, I am here to change that perception.  Here is the view that Brahm and I have adopted regarding dining out, and if you follow it as well I guarantee you'll become a much happier restaurant-goer.

Fact:  in Saskatoon anyway, the "pricier" places really aren't any more expensive than the places that are perceived to be less pricey.  We realized this one evening when we decided to go out for supper at Bliss on Broadway, looked at the menu, saw (on average) $25 entrees, drove to Chili's instead, and still ended up dropping $60 on two incredibly salty entrees and one beer (including tip).  Then a few weeks later we went to Bliss, had AMAZING food, and vowed never to go to another chain again.

Chain restaurants like Moxie's, Chili's, Montana's, Boston Pizza, etc. are places that are somehow perceived to be relatively wallet-friendly, and they can be if you opt to just get a burger or a pasta dish.  (In my opinion though, if you want burgers, you can't beat Fuddruckers.  If you want pasta, go to Chianti's and get pasta and sauce made from scratch rather than out of a plastic bag.  Both of those places will be tastier and easier on the wallet than any of the chains listed above.)  Chances are, once you get to one of those places you'll end up deciding to order a steak, ribs, or fish/chicken breasts (to be healthy haha), and those entrees, even at chains, are going to run you between $22-$30.  Appetizers are going to be at least $8-$12, and dessert is going to be $6-$10.  Add a couple of drinks for $6-$10 each, and supper for two gets really close to $100 really fast.

The truth?  Those are the EXACT same price ranges you'll find at places like GCC and Bliss, but the food won't be as good because it's most likely going to consist of pre-packaged sauces and seasonings, thawed meats, and a deep fried side.  Why would you want to pay that much for something that so little care has gone into creating, when there is a high chance you can pay even LESS for food that has been prepared from scratch, supports local producers, and has less preservatives?  Or even if the local places charge a little more... wouldn't you rather pay an extra 5-10 bucks a person for food you're actually going to savour, enjoy, and tell all your friends about?  The only thing I told people about that $60 meal from Chili's was that it was "okay but really salty and not worth $60."  But here I am writing a lengthy blog post about last night's supper at GCC, which, I might add, came to a grand total of $114.10 including tip for two glasses of wine, two cups of tea, bread, amuse bouches, palate cleansers, AND two 3-course meals of beef tenderloin and wild boar.

Will I be doing this every week?  Of course not.  We probably don't eat out more than once a month, so actually we've spent LESS money on dining out together since adopting this philosophy.  Before, we'd go to chain places 3-4 times a month, now, we cook at our houses and "save up" for special meals out.  My eyes have been opened to so many new things since changing my view of dining out to "experiencing" rather than just "eating."  Try this.  I guarantee you'll have no regrets and you'll never want to go to Chili's again.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Homemade Pop!

Yesterday I mentioned The Kitchn and how it was a great website except for the fact that it was promoting putting corn in desserts (baaaarfffff).  Today though I'd like to talk about one of the awesome things The Kitchn inspired me to do, and you should definitely try it as well!  You really have no excuse not to, it's so easy.

The thing I want to talk about is making homemade soft drinks, without the use of any type of fancy CO2 injector.  !!!!!  Who knew you could do this?  I normally dislike pop a lot because it is just so disgustingly sweet.  I'd already figured out how to make potato chips at home, was it really possible to make a whole pop-and-chips combo for less than 25 cents without leaving my kitchen?

It all started with this article - a recipe for "easy homemade ginger ale."  I was intrigued!  Basically if you don't want to click that link, all you need is some tap water, a pinch of yeast (I used instant yeast and it worked just fine), sugar, ginger, and lemon juice.  Mix it all up, seal it for a day or two, chill, and serve!  The science behind it:  the yeast interacts with the sugar and ferments, creating the carbonation.  Since you only use a bit of yeast, the resulting alcohol content is much too low to actually have any sort of effect on the taste, and if you use the correct amount of yeast you shouldn't be able to taste it either.

I researched a bit more on the internet just to make sure The Kitchn wasn't pulling my leg.  Sure enough, may websites had similar recipes and also suggested it as a way for making cream soda (replace the ginger and lemon juice with vanilla) and root beer (use root beer extract for the flavouring agent).  Neat!  Having all of the ingredients for ginger ale and cream soda, I decided to give it a try.

When I cook and bake I am definitely not an "ingredient measurer," which didn't entirely work to my advantage for my first couple tries at the ginger ale - I used a little too much yeast which caused the mixture to ferment too fast and the liquid to be slightly flat with a pretty distinctive yeasty flavour and aftertaste.  Still, it mostly tasted like ginger ale and now that I know the correct proportions (the cream soda worked perfectly), I'll definitely make this again.

My successful batch of cream soda happened like this:

In a 500 mL plastic bottle, shake together:

3 tbsp sugar (or more if you like it super sweet)
Approximately 2 small finger pinches of yeast (about 1/16 tsp)
1 tsp vanilla (or more if you want a really distinct flavour - I find subtle flavour and sweetness more refreshing)
Fill with cool tap water (not totally full - I left at least an inch of room from the water line to the neck of the bottle)
Seal the bottle

Leave at room temperature for a couple of days - until the bottom of the bottle starts to poke out and you can't squeeze the bottle anymore (the cream soda took about 3 days).  Then put in the fridge for another day to stop the fermentation process.  Don't use glass bottles or jars - they could explode if too much gas builds up inside.

Unless you have a really fine strainer (I don't), when you pour the liquid out of the bottle you'll probably have to dump an inch or two of liquid at the end (it will have mixed with the yeast that has settled at the bottom of the bottle and be murky and gross). 

Photographic evidence!

Cream soda in a glass (you can see what I mean by having to discard the murky last bit in the bottle behind it).  The bottle is slightly tipped because the bottom has "popped out" from the gas buildup inside.

Closeup of the carbonation!  It worked!  My next experiment might be to use even less yeast to see if it builds up more fizz.  This attempt was good but it could use a bit more.  Also I think this experiment yielded enough success to warrant buying some root beer extract.

Hooray!  Pop that is basically healthy ;)  More importantly, pop that I can control the sugar content and might actually enjoy drinking!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Corn Ice Cream

I'm not really that into corn as an ingredient.  I love corn on the cob and popcorn and sweet niblets (what a stupid name though) - I'm saying that I like corn on its own as a side dish, but not IN the side dish.  I don't really like corn in soup (although if the soup is good, I can tolerate it) or tacos or on salads or just mixed in with other things in general (KFC Chicken Bowls - baaarf), and the thought of creamed corn is almost too disgusting to think about.

I think it's the texture - corn kernels often have a pretty tough "skin" on them unless they are straight off of a young cob.  When corn is mixed in with other things, for example in soup or a salad or something, it's quite possibly going to be the last thing left in your mouth when you've already chewed up all of the other ingredients.  I guess what I mean is that it just doesn't seem to mix well and that sort of grosses me out.  It's got nothing to do with the taste.

So anyway a few weeks ago I started subscribing to a great food and cooking blog called The Kitchn.  I learned lots of great things from it already and tried a few recipes to great success... but today, The Kitchn royally grossed me out with this article.

"Trend Watch:  Corn in Desserts"

And then there is this SICK DISGUSTING picture of a cup of ice cream with CORN sprinkled on top!  Ughhh gross AND THEN EWWW there was a RECIPE for corn ice cream and it's a trend????  Hey trend, please don't come to Canada.

Yummmm hey guys do you know what would make this creamy ice cream even better?  If it had bits of FROZEN CORN KERNELS in it.  I better stop writing so I don't vomit all over my keyboard.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Tim Horton's Iced Coffee

Okay so yesterday I commented that Tim Horton's Iced Coffee was the winner in the least amount of sugar competition for sweetened coffee drinks.

Today I sort of wanted a lot of iced coffee, and I have previously ordered the Tim Horton's variety and enjoyed it.  Today I ordered a large and YUCK, I seriously had to dump half of it out because I just couldn't drink it.  According to the nutritional calculator there is 20 g of sugar in the large iced coffee, but it definitely tasted like a lot more.  I honestly couldn't even taste the coffee.  SICK.

I'm not entirely sure if the iced coffees are being made differently since I've had them last, or if the increased amount of sugar in the large iced coffee (I usually just get a small or medium) is actually that much more noticeable.  But seriously, this experience has definitely turned me off of ordering iced coffees from there in the future, unless they just give me a cup of brewed coffee on ice and let me add my own amount of sugar.  BARF it was so gross.  I literally couldn't taste the coffee.  I want my $2 back.

EDIT:  I just remembered that McDonald's has dece iced coffee.  Or it did like 2 years ago anyway.  Note to self: go there next time I want iced coffee and can't make it at home.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

More on sugar content

Instead of editing my last post, I wanted to go a little bit further in comparing cotton candy to other things.  I really only mentioned a couple of types of candy, and some people don't eat candy.  I also mentioned juice, and some people don't drink juice OR might argue that the sugar in juice is more naturally occurring and can't really be compared to the straight-up sugar of cotton candy.

I can guarantee though that everyone reading this drinks beverages from Starbucks or Tim Horton's, at least on some level.  Maybe regularly, maybe only as much as one might partake in cotton candy.  But to further my defense of cotton candy as an okay indulgence, I present some nutritional info straight off the Starbucks and Tim's websites.

I'm just going to go into sugar content for the sake of defending cotton candy, but it's obvious that adding cream (and whipped cream) to any of these beverages raises the saturated fat content pretty quickly too.


  • Tall Caramel Macciato - 23 g sugars (keep in mind this is the tall size - does anyone actually only drink the tall beverages except me?)
  • Tall White Chocolate Mocha with NO whipped cream - 44 g sugars (go Venti and you're looking at 73 g)
  • Grande Caffe Vanilla Frappuccino (Blended) - 37 g sugars
  • Tall Hot Chocolate - 32 g sugars (and if you check a few beverages, removing the whipped cream only gets rid of 1 g of sugar)
  • Tall Caramel Apple Spice - 53 g sugars!!!!!  IN A TALL holy crap.  Although really what do you expect from apple juice with extra sweeteners added
  • Tall Tazo Shaken Iced Green Tea Lemonade - 25 g sugars
Tim Hortons

(I have to say, I really like the way this nutrition calculator works - you can easily see everything you want at once to compare and contrast!)

  • Small Iced Cap - 32 g sugars
  • Small Iced Coffee - 8 g sugars (the winner!)
  • Medium French Vanilla - 31 g sugars
  • Medium Hot Smoothee - 28 g sugars
  • Medium Hot Chocolate - 38 g sugars
  • Medium Cafe Mocha - 24 g sugars
And again, who but me will ever order a medium or small beverage from Tim Horton's?

This time, I do rest my case.  Cotton candy will give you less of a sugar high than a small Iced Cap and almost any of Starbucks' sweet beverages, and it's something you're more likely to share or eat over a longer period of time rather than finish in about 15 minutes.

Cotton Candy:  you're alright.

Cotton Candy: Basically Health Food

My parents brought me a bag of cotton candy from the Saskatoon Exhibition the other day.  I don't eat cotton candy that much, maybe because I've always assumed it is absolutely terrible for you and once I start eating it, I can't stop.

I stretched this bag out over about 3 days and yesterday actually had a look at the label on the bag.  28 g, ingredients:  sugar, artificial flavour, food colouring.

28 g of sugar.  That's real sugar, not glucose-fructose or high fructose corn syrup or any other artificial sweetener.  Compared to 30 g in a Snickers bar, 32 g in a pack of Skittles, or just slightly more sugar than in a glass of fruit juice, 28 g isn't really that bad, is it?  And food colouring, not Red Dye #7 or anything like that.

As for artificial flavour, check out this interesting article from Scientific American - while artificial flavours are indeed created with synthetic compounds, they are essentially a mix of the same compounds nature creates to make the flavour, but omitting the compounds that don't contribute to flavouring or aren't healthy to ingest.  Artificial flavours are often safer than natural flavours AND better for the environment!

So a bag of cotton candy has about as much sugar as a glass of juice, no fat, and no creepy ingredients.  My guess?  Cotton candy is one of the most harmless carnival foods out there.  Woooo!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Mac's Frozen Dinner, Wildlife, and the Fort St. John McDonalds

I remember a few months ago when the convenience store Mac's (or Winks as it is known in some areas) started advertising its own line of frozen dinners.  I distinctly remember driving past the Mac's in Saskatoon right before you go onto the University Bridge with Brahm many times and making fun of this fact.  Do people actually buy enough frozen dinners from convenience stores that they could actually justify starting their own line?  We laughed and laughed.  Learn to cook, people.  Make Kraft Dinner or something.

The other night I found myself in an odd predicament.  I was in a very small town in northern Alberta with the closest major centre 40 km away.  All of the grocery stores were closed and the only restaurants were fast food and Subway, which I was starting to get sick of.  Did I dare go to Winks to try and find supper?

I did, fair readers.  I bought an exclusive to Mac's/Winks frozen shepherd's pie for $2.99.  I had sort of been craving shepherd's pie for about a week since not buying it in a cafe earlier and it was the frozen dinner with the lowest amount of sodium in the store (only 38% DV!!!  Haha oh man).

It looked prettier before I mixed the potatoes in with the meat and veggies but here was my hotel room microwave supper that night:

The surprising part is that it was actually pretty good!  It tasted like shepherd's pie.  Obviously a bit salty but still, it tasted like food and not freezerburn or rubber.  As well the ingredient list was pretty natural.  Who knew?

Mac's frozen dinners:  hopefully will never have to buy again but if I'm ever in the same predicament it would be my frozen dinner of choice.

PS - the next morning I ate lukewarm instant oatmeal out of a styrofoam cup with a plastic fork and got sick of the fork and ended up drinking it.  Then we moved into a kitchen suite and my life improved tenfold.


In other news, I saw this awesome goat on the weekend.  He posed for a picture.


And finally, a great quote from some of the kids I've been delivering camps to in the past couple weeks:

Instructors:  Hey kids, which city do you like better?  Fort St. John or Prince George?
Kids:  FORT ST. JOHN!!!!!
Instructors:  How come?
Kids:  (unison)  BETTER MCDONALDS!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Kind (or lazy?) strangers

So I am staying at this hotel in northern BC right now.  On Monday after I checked in, I did a load of laundry at the guest laundromat but after collecting all of it I discovered that I was missing a sock.  It was a cheap sock and I was sort of too tired to go look for it, and just assumed it had been eaten by the dryer or something.

But TODAY I went down to do another load of laundry and GUESS what was sitting on the table in the laundromat????  My missing sock!  I am sort of amazed.  Someone actually discovered the sock somewhere in the room and left it on the table for me to find and no one decided to throw it out for 5 days?

I'm not sure if this is kindness or laziness.  Probably laziness, but I'll pretend it's kindness.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Macro Grasshopper



Monday, August 2, 2010

Northern BC Signs and a PUPPYYYYYYYYYYY

I have seen some interesting signs during my time so far in northern BC...

I know it means free breakfast and free movies, but the potential misinterpretation is too awesome.

People don't seem to understand when to use quotation marks.  My last hotel was also "Now Offering" a continental breakfast.

You know you're in a small town when you have a laundromat, coverall store, showers, a buffalo meat market, and a naughty boutique all in the same location (and no, it's not an office complex, it's one wide open room).

This is the door sign at my current hotel.  I realize they're just trying to be cutesy and retro but is anyone else mildly offended???  And why is the maid wearing roller skates?