The first two parts of my this “Favourite Food Things” series were dedicated to the dishes eaten over 2011 that were swoon-worthy and created with love by amazing eateries.
But most of the time our favourite dishes and comfort foods aren’t eaten at restaurants. Most of the time, the foods that we crave over and over again are the ones from our childhood or the dishes prepared at home with loved ones.
Sharing food is sharing life, and the thing that connects us to food is the connection it brings to friends and family.
With that thought in mind, this third (and last) post in my 2011 Favourites series is dedicated to all the resources that helped me in creating memorable home meals and treating those whom I care about to some yummy goodness.
In no particular order, here are my FAVOURITE FOOD STAPLES & HELPERS OF 2011…
FAVOURITE GROCERY FOOD THINGS
Moving from Calgary to Edmonton, I was nervous about finding local food vendors with integrity and passion to supply meats, fruits, and vegetables. After 7 months, I can say it was an ill-founded fear. There’s an abundance of local food producers who offer Edmontonians with great quality products from Alberta. Here are a few staple items I couldn’t have done without this year:
- IRVINGS FARMS: Pork Belly, Pork Shoulder, Dry Cured Bacon (Round Hill, Alberta) – I eat a lot of pork.. it’s in my blood being Chinese. None of the pork I had growing up even compares to the flavour of Irvings Farm’s Berkshire pork. The marbling, the juiciness, and the subtle sweetness are all aspects of what make Irvings Farm my favourite pork. About once a month, we’ll brine and slow-roast a pork shoulder or pork belly. Those big roasts never last us as long as I think they should because they are so yummy. Recently I made wontons with Irvings ground Berkshire pork, never have my homemade wontons tasted so good. But be warned – their bacon is a hot commodity at the Strathcona Farmers’ Market, as is most of their Berkshire products.
- SUNWORKS FARM: Chicken & Eggs (Armena, Alberta) – I’ve been getting Sunworks products since 2003 when I moved to Calgary. In relocating to Edmonton, I discovered that Sunworks eggs goes much quicker at the various farmers’ markets, especially during the period each year when Sunworks transitions their hens and egg production is limited. And during that transition period, I will sacrifice my weekend sleep to get to the market early… that’s how much I love those eggs. It’s a good Saturday when I am able to get some eggs from Sunworks Farm at the Strathcona Farmers’ Market… heck, it’s a good week if I can start off my days with those eggs! And that chicken! The Sunworks chicken tastes the way chicken should – juicy and happy.
- SUNHILL GARDENS: Community Supported Agriculture Program (Camrose, Alberta) – CSA is a program where customers purchase a “share” in a producer pre-season, thereby providing farmers with the monetary support to purchase supplies and invest in their farm. In return, customers get a portion of farm fresh products during the growing season. After some research on CSA programs that were available in this city, we decided to purchase a “half-share” with Sunhill Gardens. The half-share was perfect for us as we’re a household of two people. Still, when the growing season got going, we were getting an abundance of produce each week from Sunhill. A typical week’s portion included: carrots, lettuce, beans, peas, beets, potatoes, and onions. At one point, I ended up with 3 lbs beans and 5 lbs potatoes waiting to be eaten. Karen (owner and operator of Sunhill) suggested that we parboil and freeze the unused produce. It was a welcomed suggestion, I’m still pulling baggies of local vegetables out of our freezer for soups and sides. The best part of joining a CSA program, we try out vegetables we normally wouldn’t (ex. kolrabi) and we eat more fresh, local produce. Can’t wait for this coming season.
- GULL VALLEY: Tomatoes (Gull Lake, Alberta) – There’s nothing like fresh, in-season tomatoes, especially when those tomatoes come from Gull Valley Farms. Since my first taste of these sweet tomatoes, I’ve been hooked. In fact, these tomatoes ruined me forever from other tomatoes… they all taste watery compared to the Gull Valley ones. They are the one thing I ALWAYS have on hand in Spring and Summer. I tried growing my own tomatoes this past year and although they were (surprisingly) good, I still found myself supplementing them with Gull Valley tomatoes… I just wish I knew how they pack so much flavour into such a little tomato.
- DAVIDsTEA: Organic Ginger Pu’erh, Pumpkin Chai, Organic Breakfast (Various locations across Canada) – Last year I kicked my long time habit of drinking 2-cups coffee a day. I had habitually drank coffee since my job as a Starbucks barista 13 yrs ago. It was a painful habit to break and made easier by the fact that I had discovered DAVIDsTEA in 2009. I was drawn in to the West Edmonton store because of the simple and clean decor. I kept going back because I loved the variety of teas and the quality of the leaves. The quality and flavour of their teas are also the reasons why I was able to get most of the office hooked on DAVIDsTEA too. By all counts, DAVIDsTEA is a Canadian success story. They opened their first store in 2008 and within 4 years are up to 70 stores across Canada! Although my pantry is packed full of DAVIDsTEA tins, the teas that are my favourite and ones I would drink everyday are: Organic Breakfast, Pumpkin Chai (only available in the Fall), and Organic Ginger Pu’erh. I credit the Ginger Pu’erh with keeping my chronic nausea at bay over the past 2 years.
- PARMIGIANO REGGIANO RIND (from Emilia-Romagna, Italy) – Rind, yes rind. By far my favourite cooking tip from 2011 came from Anthony Sedlak’s Tagliatelle Bolognese recipe, where he talks about adding the rind of Parmigiano Reggiano for extra flavour. The first time I tried this I was blown away by the oomph of umami flavour in the sauce… so I started adding the Parmigiano rind to soups, stews, braised meats, and sauces. Best. Cooking. Tip. Ever.
FAVOURITE KITCHEN THINGS
I am relatively low maintenance in the kitchen. Sure I like to have my kitchen clean before I cook, but in terms of kitchen equipment, I’m not too picky about brands or style. Still here are a couple of items that made my cooking experience much easier, tastier, and more beautiful.
- LEGACY WOOD: Bread Boards made from Cowichan Bay made from Figured Western Broadleaf Maple (Vancouver) – I fell in love with Geoffrey Lilge charcuterie boards after seeing them at a tasting at Corso 32 but I couldn’t fathom spending $150-200 on an item I may use a handful of times each year. So I was super happy when I stumbled across Legacy Wood boards at the Vancouver Trout Lake Farmers’ Market. It was a privilege talking with the man who crafts these boards. I was struck by his desire to salvage pieces of maple from Cowichan that would otherwise be discarded or used as firewood. He told me about his philosophy in shaping the boards, trying to showcase the beauty of the natural edges, something that may be considered a flaw by others. AND I was surprised at how affordable the boards were – the “Medium Sized” boards (ranging from 8″-14″ wide and 14″-26″ long) are priced between $40-100 and the “Large Sized” boards (ranging from 13″-14″ wide and 15″-20″ long) are priced at $60-100. I bought one medium board and one large board and only paid $130, less than what I would have paid for one luxurious Geoffrey Lilge board. These were definitely my favourite purchase of 2011.
- ZOKU: The Quick Pop Maker (Sold at Williams Sonoma and other stores) – My sister bought me a Zoku for Christmas… after seeing me get REALLY excited to see them at Williams Sonoma. What is a Zoku you ask? It is a gadget to make and freeze popsicles quickly (the instructions say “in as little as seven minutes”). Still confused? Check out this video. My favourite popsicle recipe is blending together strawberries, yogurt, honey, and pear juice – super easy and so yummy. I love home-made popsicles because I can control the ingredients but the worst part is waiting for the popsicles to fully freeze so the Zoku is the perfect solution for me.
FAVOURITE FOOD READS
With the increased titles on audiobooks or ebooks, I find I’m reading less and less physical books. However, I’ve kept my foodie reads to paper versions. I like physically having those recipes and articles around to refer back to time and time again… besides without visuals, audiobooks just wouldn’t do justice to the drool-worthy dishes.
- CLEAN EATING – I buy a copy of Clean Eating every month and read it cover to cover! It’s my go-to for recipes that are healthy and yummy but what I love most about reading Clean Eating is that I get great healthy-cooking tips (ex. using an oven to make my own beef jerky). Knowing those tips helps me in developing my own recipes. Some of my favourite recipes from Clean Eating have been: Black Bean Brownies, Almond Butter Chocolate Cookies, Nicoise Quinoa Bowl, and Kimchi Quesadillas.
- LUCKY PEACH – When I heard that David Chang was starting his own magazine, I prayed and hoped that we would have access to the publication from Canada. We have 3 copies of his Momofuku cookbook and My wish came true and I was able to get a subscription to the quarterly. Even though the publishers haven’t been too reliable with the delivery of my magazine (both Issue 1 and 2 came almost a month late), the magazine is refreshingly different from the regular food magazines with the typical pretty food pictures and boring step-by-step recipes. Not surprising considering the masterminds behind the magazine (Chang and Peter Meehan) and the numerous contributors (ex. Bourdain, Wylie Dufresne, etc.). Case in point, the first issue was dedicated to all things Ramen, detailing Chang and Meehan’s trip to Japan on a Ramen tour. My favourite food article of 2011 came from Issue One – Todd Kliman’s “The Problem with Authenticity” where he questions the definition of the word authenticity and what “authentic” food means. Lucky Peach is written in a no BS manner with a strong dedication to real food.
So there you have it, my favourite at-home food resources without which my 2011 would be much less delicious.
Check out the other parts to my 2011 Favourites series: