Poutine With Purpose

There are 7 days every year here in Calgary when you can indulge in your poutine passion guilt free! This year from April 21st through April 29th everyone is encouraged to explore their inner poutine lover and with over 60 poutines available from participating restaurants across the city there is sure to be something for everyone.

What you may wonder, makes the poutines eaten over this 7 days guilt free? Well it is officially Poutine Week where every participating poutine sold provides a meal to the amazing charity Mealshare. So its pretty easy, you eat a poutine and provide a meal for a local youth in need. Let the poutine indulging commence!

As an official “Poutine Pusher” this year I committed to sampling the poutines from a minimum of 5 participating restaurants and here are the delicious results!

My first stop was at The Guild right off of Steven Avenue mall downtown. A meat-centric restaurant with 6 poutine offerings I gathered up a small team to take with me so we could try all 6!

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Poutine week menu from The Guild

We started with the Maple Brisket poutine,

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Maple Brisket Poutine

this poutine was loaded with a sweet pull apart brisket, a ton of melty gooey cheese curds and amazing chicken gravy with a nice topping of “crunchy stuff” which is fried shallots & onion that made for the perfect textural addition. The perfect amount of sweet and savoury and loaded with meat I would say this is the perfect man poutine big and hearty!

Next up the Smoked Duck Kimchi poutine,

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Smoked Duck Kimchi

not only was this a beautiful plate to look at but the flavour was amazing. The fries were sauced enough and the cheese curds melted so perfectly that even without the traditional gravy this plate easily passes for a poutine. The maple gochujang sauce added that hit of sweet so that when you got a crunch of the spicy homemade kimchi your mouth danced with joy. This one was one of my favourites as it seemed a bit lighter than the traditional Poutine but packed full of flavour. Even the spice-phobic in our group enjoyed this one!

Onto the next offering of Chili-glazed Pork Belly poutine,

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Chili-glazed Pork Belly poutine

it was such a pleasant surprise to see all of the vegetables on this poutine. Even with all the beautiful arugula, tomatoes and radishes this easily passed for poutine smothered in an amazing chili caramel that made it sweet and savoury right down to the last plate lick. This poutine is a definite recommendation and would please anyone on the group looking for a lighter poutine option.

Going right outside the traditional poutine box, next up was the Onion Bhaji poutine,

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Onion Bhaji poutine

beautiful onion chickpea fritters adorn this flavourful vegetarian option. The coconut curry sauce was luscious and fresh and when melded with the melty cheese curds made the perfect pair. The addition of house pickled red onion made for a fantastic crunchy and flavourful textural element. This is a poutine that hits you with a kick of flavour so good that you will hardly notice that its vegetarian.

Powering through with only 2 more to go we had The Frenchie poutine,

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The Frenchie poutine

getting closer to the traditional poutine this was drenched in amazing chicken gravy and loaded with tender fall apart chicken chunks, cheese curds, house cured bacon and peas. I loved the crunch of fresh cabbage on top and the pop of peas through out provided not only texture but a bit of spring freshness. This one is on the more traditional poutine end of the scale but with a few great additions. An excellent choice if you want to try a poutine that adds a little more than just curds & gravy.

Last up of the six (and very glad of stretchy pants at this point) we had the Le Classic,

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Le Classic Poutine

here we have the poutine purists dream, loaded with melty gooey cheese curds and drenched in flavourful chicken gravy. If you are looking for that textural crunch not to worry  because there is a healthy spattering of “crunchy stuff” adorning this masterful creation!

The final word on the Poutine Week offerings from the Guild is go, gather up all your friends and head down here.  the flavours are amazing, the portions are huge and well worth the $18 price tag. There is a poutine that is sure to please everyone in your group and remember this is all Poutine with Purpose and every one you buy provides a meal for someone in need!

Located in the SE edge of Calgary just off of International Avenue is Jane Bond BBQ. Tucked away in a small strip mall you will find this small but mighty southern style, home smoked BBQ joint. Trading up their well known onion ring poutine they have created a special Poutine Week offering aptly named The Dirty South,

this shareable offering is piled high with pulled pork and includes a generous spattering of dill pickle and beans n corn mix. The big star here however is the amazing smoky pig gravy that has just enough of a smoky punch to remind you where you are. Topped off with a big pile of their house made creamy slaw and a piece of fried alligator this poutine is full of flavour and textural elements that will be well remembered. Well worth the $15 price tag. Bring a friend and head on over to indulge in some Poutine With Purpose!

Modern Steak is a well known and popular steak house in Calgary where the classic steak house meets the trendy curve then excels. All of the beef in their restaurant is sourced from local Alberta farms where it is grass fed and grain finished then both wet and dry aged providing an amazing flavour and texture. This year they have three amazing Poutine Week offerings.

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We started our night with the Dry Aged Short Rib poutine,

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this dish really is the classic steak and frites dinner elevated and made into a poutine. This beautiful looking dish was diabolically delicious as it looked unassuming but really punched us in the taste buds. Instead of a traditional gravy, this dish is finished with a beautiful craft beer based demi then pickled mushrooms which add a fantastic texture and flavour to the overall dish. At $17 I would return again and again for this dish!

Next up was the Lobster Poutine,

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everything about the fries here at Modern Steak is fantastic. They are crisp, perfectly salted and make the perfect carrying vessel for this rich and creamy poutine. The intense lobster bisque used as the “gravy” and generous chunks of lobster made me awfully glad that this is all for charity because that makes it guilt and calorie free right?

And last but in no way the least offering of the night was the “Chili” Cheese Poutine,

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which is in no way shape or form your run of the mill chili-cheese fries. With a large portion of house made Wagyu bolognese and cheese curds smothered in a truffle cheese sauce this plate was everything you could ask for and more in a poutine! An elevated dish with a side of fun that at $17 is a great way to get your fix and provide a meal for someone in need.

Final thought on Modern Steak is that if you are looking for a great place to head and try a couple of fantastic poutine offerings all in one sitting head on down to Kensington and settle into a booth where the music is pumping and the poutines are amazing!

Tucked into a busy section of the popular 4th street restaurant row in a charming little place with gilded ceilings and crystal chandeliers you will find Aida’s Bistro. A long standing family run shop providing Lebanese cuisine to Calgary since 2000. I love the fact that they have stepped in to participate in Poutine Week with a couple of offerings that you won’t find anywhere else!

Offering number one is the Tajen poutine,

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a beautiful vegetarian dish with crispy garlic roasted potatoes and a beautiful onion tahini infused sauce. Topped off with Halloum cheese melted to perfection this dish is a beautiful light Lebanese version of poutine.

Their second offering is a Shawarma poutine,

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covered with an amazingly spiced shawarma tenderloin this dish was the hit to the tastebuds that you would expect from a Lebanese dish. Topped with tomato, onion and Halloum cheese that added the perfect amount of salt, this dish was so easy to eat that I was almost disappointed that I had to share it.

The final thought on Aida’s Bistro, if you are anywhere along the busy 4th street stretch stop in and take a break where you can watch the hectic world go by while you enjoy flavourful home made Lebanese creations. For only $8 each these poutine creations are the perfect size to be an accompanying side dish to many of the other great looking menu items here.

Spot On Kitchen and Bar located in Garrison Green (not too far from Mount Royal University) is the new sister to the popular 4th Spot Kitchen and Bar. This year they jumped into Poutine week with an amazing entry a Chicken and Waffle poutine,

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with a large selection of poutines on the regular menu they pulled out all the stops for this creation. A large portion of crispy fries is drenched in a specially made (not on the regular menu) chicken bacon gravy loaded with cheese curds then topped with tender chicken crisp chunks, fresh waffle bits and maple syrup. I went in not sure how I would feel about this outside the box creation but found myself falling in love with it. The waffle pieces were crisp, tender and full of flavour that when combined with the chicken tenders and maple syrup came up the perfect sweet and savoury bite.

If you aren’t sure that you will like this one I highly suggest that you go and give it a try, not only adult friendly but kid friendly too I think this will please everyone at the table. At $15 this poutine is the perfect meal size for one or shareable appetizer for two and remember, enjoying this perfect creation is guilt free while you support Poutine week!

With all 5 restaurants under my belt and a few extras thrown in for good measure it looks like it is time to go back to some salads and hit the treadmill. Every belt notch loosened and pound gained in the name of charity was worth it and I can’t wait for next year to see all of the amazing creations that Calgary can come up with.

Indulging in the gift of stretchy pants throughout Poutine Week I am Your Everyday Foodie!

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What’s in Your Chocolate?

It’s the season for treats and there’s not anything better than great flavourful and creamy chocolate. There are so many options out there but do you really know what goes into making great quality chocolate? Have you ever wondered is all chocolate made the same? Is coco powder real chocolate? Why does only some chocolate melt in your hand?

We recently had the chance to attend a chocolate making class with one of Calgary’s premier chocolatiers, the one and only Bernard Callebaut. From big business to farmers market booths Bernard has covered them all but the most striking thing about him is his love and passion for what he does.

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Anything you ever wanted to know about chocolate you can learn from this master. He answered all of our questions from the beginning right to the end product.

Did you know that you will not see a forest of coco trees? They are actually most often planted near mature banana trees because they need the shade and not the sun to grow in their early years. The coco bean in its raw state is almost tasteless, and once it is dried, roasted and turned into coco nibs the taste is still almost nothing with a touch of bitterness. Once it’s pressed the nibs become the purest form of chocolate which is still not a flavour that most people would enjoy. This pure form of chocolate is referred to as the chocolate liquor and can be pressed out to separate the coco butter (yep the same thing that is fought over by the beauty companies to put in our creams) and coco powder. The content of coco butter in the finished chocolate is actually what gives it that smooth and melty texture.

Bernard’s enthusiasm is contagious and I could go on and on about everything that we learned but lets get to the tasty stuff. We tasted the chocolate in all of its forms while learning all there is to learn and trying hard not to dip our fingers into the huge vats of melted chocolate nestled on the edges of the surprisingly small but intimate work room.

After our chocolate lesson, it was time to get our hands “dirty”, a delicious creamy chocolaty dirty. Bernard generously filled up large bowls of the melted chocolate of our choice (milk or dark) and took us through the proper process of tempering. Tempering chocolate is not actually the process of melting but the cooling down and aligning of the crystals within the chocolate before you start working with it. This process simply boils  down to patience.

After the long process of tempering it was time to start filling moulds. With the hard work done, this is where the fun really kicked up. We filled moulds for solid chocolate bars then chocolate suckers and shapes from hearts to snowflakes.

Next Bernard demonstrated how to make filled chocolates. With the surprisingly easy three step process we all made amazing trays of Bernard’s famous salted caramel filled chocolates.

At the end of a three and a half hour night we un-moulded all of our chocolate creations and the ever generous and patient Bernard gave us boxes to take home all of our amazing creations. It has been a couple of weeks now and we are still enjoying all of those creations and talking about the amazing experience.

So what makes Bernards chocolates worth the extra cost? He puts love and passion into making and selling his craft chocolates (you will often find him manning the booths at the Calgary Farmers Market or one of the other many craft fairs). Each of his chocolate blends are unique since he blends all of his chocolate by hand using years of family recipes to make each blend special. All of the fillings are made from quality locally sourced ingredients and he uses coco from sustainable fair trade practices. All of that combined with his generosity is enough to make me a customer for life and makes what seems like a little bit more expensive product worth every penny. You can find Bernard’s products at Master Chocolate Bernard and Sons (now five generations) and various farmers and craft markets around Calgary.

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Here are a few tips that we learned if you want to do some chocolate work at home:

  • Start with a high quality chocolate
  • Chop your solid chocolate as small as possible before melting it
  • Melt your chocolate in a double boiler, bring the water to a boil but take it off the heat before you put your chocolate bowl on top to melt
  • Don’t melt all of your solid chocolate, save some for the tempering process
  • Once your chocolate is melted ,check the temperature with a digital thermometer you are aiming to bring it back down to about 32 degrees celsius before you start checking to see if its tempered
  • Keep your melted chocolate over a pot of hot tap water (but not touching the bottom of the bowl) while you are tempering it and add in small amounts of your leftover hard chocolate a little at the time then stir till smooth to help bring the temperature down
  • Keep stirring! Patience and lots of it is the key ingredient now
  • Once you hit the right temperature start checking your chocolate by smearing a little bit on a piece of parchment paper, if it doesn’t harden within a minute or so with a consistent shine its not ready so keep going!
  • A properly tempered chocolate will harden quickly and have a beautiful consistent shine, it will shrink up to 9% when it cools making it easy to get out of the moulds and will have  a crisp snap to it

Happy chocolating!

Highly addicted to the art of chocolate making using high quality local products, I am Your Everyday Foodie!

Japanese Pub Experience

Here in land locked Alberta most everyones idea of Japanese food consists of Sushi or Edo but if you look around a little and are willing to open yourself up to a new experience you can find an amazing little spot located along the very popular 4th street in Calgary that goes by the name of Shokunin.

Shokunin loosely translated to english means craftsman and here in this well put together but small restaurant you will truly find a craftsman in Chef Darren Maclean. He is bringing together a fabulously unique Japanese pub experience with adventurous, delicious sharing dishes and drinks. Everything in this great space has been well thought out from the modern decor with a hit of Japanese art to the dishes that the chef spent days with a local artisan searching out just the right clays and glazes for. At first glance the menu is a little intimidating using many traditions japanese words and descriptors so we thought that our best chance at checking things out would be to try the Omakase, a 5 course chefs menu ($65) that highlights the best of what they do here.

We picked seats at the “chefs bar” with nothing but a clear piece of glass between us and the authentic japanese grill (where they cook most everything over a Japanese White Oak that the chef brings in directly from japan)

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and where we could watch the chef and his team do their magic.

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Our first course was a beautiful Hamachi nigri with fresh wasabi. The hamachi (the fattiest part of the tuna belly) was thinly sliced and then lightly seared with a torch just to bring out the fat and flavour. I loved seeing the fresh wasabi as I have only seen the processed version and this is the only place in Calgary that you will find the fresh real thing. It is similar looking to a ginger root however it is green and much much harder according to the chef who was wonderful enough to listen to our chatter and answer all of our questions. The wasabi was fresh ground on a wooden board and added to the top of our hamachi. This was a delicious one bite starter. The hamachi melted in my mouth and the fresh wasabi was the perfect amount of freshness and spice combined. It even disappeared before I was able to grab a snap shot of it!

Our next course was a Duck Tataki with foie snow. Thinly sliced cured duck with an amazing vinaigrette. The care of spice and “umami” that is added to the dish had us both wanting to lick the plates at the end.

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Our third course was the special of the day, local asparagus tempura with kimzu (a beautiful egg based sauce that is created similarly to a buerre blanc sauce with egg yolks and japanese vinaigrette instead of butter) and sautéed chantrelle mushrooms. The tempura was light and crisp and I really loved the sharpness that the vinaigrette added to the sauce.

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Now it was time to head on to the Yakatori. Yakatori consists of a variety of skewered items cooked on the grill with different seasonings and sauces. Along with the skewers came a side bowl of rice, a selection of house japanese style pickled accompaniments including carrot and egg plant and a soy egg dip (the egg yolk is added whole to the soy and spices and when you are ready, you mix it together to form a delicious creamy dip for your Yakatori).

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We enjoyed the shiitaki mushroom that had a great savoury and smoky flavour from the grill and spices,

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the chicken hearts (which were very flavourful and much like perfectly cooked beef),

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chicken tail (also known as the popes nose or the chicken butt as I like to call it) they were wonderfully crispy and juicy,

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and the chicken thigh with a teriyaki sauce.

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Our dinner ended with a dessert of miso and yuzu creme brûlée. The addition of the miso to the dessert was excellent, it made the dessert less sweet and added a nice savoury quality to it that both of us really enjoyed. The sugar on top was perfectly browned and crisp and was the perfect way to  end this great dinner adventure.

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With so much more on the menu to discover we couldn’t resist trying several of the craft cocktails including one served in a smoked sphere and several of the sakes that are served at the restaurant (many of which are exclusive to Shokunin). You can even add the Sake pairings to your chefs menu dinner for $40.

We also couldn’t resist getting one more of the specialties and ordered the Scallop Isoyaki. A large bay scallop grilled directly in its shell with soy and butter then topped with bonito flakes (dried, cured and paper thin slices of tuna) which is then presented at your table on its own mini grill. This was an amazing treat, sweet and salty with a bit of smoke from the grill. Similar to but so much better than a scallop and bacon dish!

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Overall I would highly recommend that you adventure out of your comfort zone and try everything on the menu here. If you don’t know what the menu means don’t be afraid to ask or be intimidated as Chef Darren has created an environment that is open, inviting and completely unpretentious. Wander in and belly up to the bar  or cozy into a table for an amazing Japanese pub experience!

Enjoying a little corner of Japan in the city, I am Your Everyday Foodie!