Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Victoria BC Food Fest

Everyone needs Tea at the Empress, it's the thing to do in Victoria!

The last time we had tea at the Empress was in 1985, on our honeymoon.... so it's been a while.  The Empress is now a Fairmont hotel, so it's a splurge to stay there, however, you can find some great deals in the off season if you look.
However, Tea at the Empress is no bargain, that's for sure, at $50 a person.  We almost talked ourselves out of going, but our sister-in-law, who had never been, said "this time, I AM going".  LOL, okay, we're in too.
So, just in case you've never been, maybe you'd like to see what you get for the money.

The service and atmosphere are beautiful, and the view is fantastic looking out over the inner harbor of Victoria from the Palm Court at the Empress Hotell.   You start by choosing your type of tea from the tea menu.  It arrives in the classic silver pot and poured by your waiter.  A very civilized small table sits by your dining table, so you don't have to impede your access to the goodies when they arrive. Shortly after your tea is served, you get some strawberries and cream to start your tea.  After that, each table gets a three tiered plate stand of goodies.  You start at the bottom and work your way up.
Here's what you get for the price, 5 different kinds of finger sandwiches: ham, curried chicken salad, smoked salmon pinwheel, classic cucumber, and the best egg salad I've ever had (and I'm no fan of egg salad).  Each type of sandwich was perfectly paired with just the right type of bread.  I especially liked the curried chicken salad on some sort of rye bread. The raisin scones, with cream and jam are delicious. Simple, classic and fantastic.

We ate 1 or 2 of the sweets, but had no room to finish them.  The lemon curd tart and the shortbread were my favorites, but we packed away the white chocolate grand marnier cake, the chocolate truffle cake and the chocolate mousse for a pick me up later. We ate them on the Gulf Islands ferry boat on the way home.  
Left, A little bit of the beautiful ceiling detail in the Palm Court tea room.

Below, when it's time to go, you get a little box of their famous Empress blend tea to take home. We were groaning a bit when we left, but a little walk over to the BC Museum for some wandering through the exhibits was just the thing.  It's a great museum, and highly recommended.

A rainy day in Victoria with a couple of old gents strolling through town on their way to the Tartan festival.  It's not every day you get to enjoy a fuzzy sporran swinging down the street in broad daylight.

Irish Times Pub- This place is right downtown on Government Street a couple of blocks from the Harbor.  It's a great old building, maybe a bank in the old days, but not a great pub.  We didn't eat here this time, but did manage to stop in for some beers a couple of times.  

They have the normal beers you'd expect with about 30 on tap; the classic Irish, Guiness, Harp, Kilkenny and a great beer called Innis & Gunn from Scotland.  Its stout beer aged in old whiskey barrells and it made everyone in the group say "wow" after one taste.  So different, and so delicious, I can't wait to find it somewhere else in Seattle. 

Brasserie L'ecole was written up in Sunset magazine last month as one of the top places to go in Victoria.  Looking on "Yelp" it was confirmed as a terrific place to go, OK, so I will go already!  The menu changes every day, and they post a PDF of that day's menu on their website, which is a fun way to get an idea of what's cooking for dinner. Also, they don't take reservations and the place is small, so my advice is get there at 5:30 when they open and get your name in for dinner.  We got there at 5:35 and every table was filled, so we gave our cell phone number and the hostess told us she's call us when the table was ready, probably around 7:30.  We meandered back down to the Irish Times for a beer while we waited, and presto, before we knew it was time.  We saw so many people get turned away that night, mostly because I'm sure it's a challenge to turn their tables more than 3 times.  Our service was amazing, and we never felt rushed.  

Here's the wine we chose, and at $50 a bottle, it was amazing and a bargain compared to most wine lists.

The green salad, with hazelnuts, green apple and lardons.  You know lardons, right?  Big, fat hunks of crisp bacon, on your salad. 
My sister in law was gracious enough to let us all try her lardons.  Really, I'm not sure I could have shared.

I had the smoked raw ahi, with sweet potato fries and some celeriac slaw.  I can't remember what those little orange spots of color were, but they were delicious and I finished them up in no time.
The chicken liver mousse was pretty good, but not as good as my Mom's.  I know... who even says that?  

These days, I make my Mom's recipe for chicken liver pate for my husband who is a big fan.  Maybe I will have to blog this some day, it really is delicious.

This is a terrible picture of the french onion soup, but it was delicious with cheesy goodness, and the classic sweet onion soup.  I need to make some of this again.  
I especially like these classic lion bowls.  I really need some.

Below, I had the beef that is slow roasted like a pot roast, then sliced and pan seared, served with a peppercorn sauce and homemade gnocchi and pureed carrots.  It was topped with frizzled, crispy fried kale, a very nice touch.

My hubby and brother in law both had the steak and frites.  The frites were some of the best I've had... ever... and served with homemade aioli.  Divine.

An old favorite, Pagliacci's.  
This place has been a favortie place in Victoria for over 40 years.
It's another restaurant that doesn't take reservations, so be prepared to wait.  Luckily, these tables turn quickly and we waited only a short while.
The bread alone is worth the trip.  I can't remember when I've eaten more bread at dinner.  Normally, I say NO to bread.  Not at this place.  They will keep bringing it and bringing it.
I keep eating it and eating it.

I wish I might have taken another picture besides the bread and the antipasto platter, but we were having such fun, we just didn't.  Whether you have a pasta, a steak or a salad entree, the place is consistent and well priced.  Worth a trip to check it out.  It's nothing fancy inside, a NY Italian-style one room dining room where people are loud, chatting and having fun.  Just the place for a casual night out in Victoria.

My advice, get outta town, get outta the county and take a little jaunt to Victoria for some fun.


After a dinner like that, you really do need to gt out and stretch your legs.  The inner harbor is all lit up with the lights from the parliament building.  A great weekend getaway in Victoria was had by all.

Where in the world have you been? 
Here's a couple other travel posts I've written over the past couple years.
Elephant Handler for the day in Chaing Mai, Thailand
Thai Cooking School Adventure
Meat Anyone?  A trip to Hamburg
Japan- Best Boxed Lunch EVER
Japan Adventure- Part 1
Japan Adventure- The Food- Part 2
Iceland- The Weekend Adventure
In n' Out Burger "Animal Style"
Singapore Flying Crab 
Singapore Fruit
Turkish Spice Market Delight
Jamaica's Blue Hole and Jerk Lunch

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Cheater Scones- Bisquick Hack

You know what a "hack" is, right?
Urban dictionary says-
"To jury-rig or improvise something inelegant but effective, usually as a temporary solution to a problem".  

I wanted to make something for a meeting at work, but was short on time, and inclination to hit the store. Mainly because that stuff never tastes that good, costs a lot and looks cheesy to bring it in in a plastic box.  Baking scones at home shows you care...

This worked perfectly and only took about 20 minutes.  
I threw the finished scones in a basket, with some jam and I was out the door by 6am.  How happy are your co-workers when you arrive with warm scones??? Oh, pretty happy! 

So, I busted out the bisquick and did some quick thinking, what would improve this stuff?
Actually quite a bit of stuff would make awesome, quick scones.  My idea includes dried cherries and sliced almonds, but use your creativity here.... chocolate, raisins, toffee bits would all be great too.

If you need some more ideas on food hacks, You ought to check some of these out at http://www.viralnova.com/awesome-food-hacks/.
  Makes 16 scones

4 1/2 cups Bisquick Mix
1 cup milk
1/3 cup butter, melted , plus another 1Tbsp for brushing on top
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup dried cherries, or raisins, or currants
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1-2 Tbsp Turbino Sugar, also know as "raw sugar"

Preheat oven to 450 degrees

Mix the bisquick, milk, buter, sugar, cherries and almonds together.  Turn out the mixture on a floured board and knead about 15 times.  Kneading is nothing more than turning and folding the dough over and over, which creating layers in the end product.

Pat into 2 circles, about 8-9 inches in diameter and about 3/4- 1" high.  Brush with some more melted butter, sprinkle with coarse sugar and cut into wedges.  Position on baking sheets and bake 8-10 minutes until the tops are browned and the scones have risen.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Bacon-Wrapped Stuffed Jalapenos

Here's a yummy little number that will make a crowd happy, or maybe just a small group.
I guess it really depends on how many of these things you want to make, eh?
I got this idea from my darling niece, who sometimes brings them to family functions.  They are usually gone in mere seconds, so I had to figure out how to do it myself.

The jalapeno is nice and soft with cheesy and bacon-y goodness.  Serve before a Mexican meal, or when you have people over for a ball game, or any time you like.  

I'd suggest playing around with the filling with some ideas you might have, or just use plain cream cheese, that works too.

Serves about 4-5

9-10 jalapenos
8 oz of cream cheese
1 cup shredded cheese, like Mexican blend, or cheddar
2-3 Tbsp cilantro, minced (optional)
1/2 tsp cumin, ground
Sliced bacon, you need 1/2 slice for each half jalapeno (I used 3/4 of a 1 lb package)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Slice jalapenos in half, as shown below, and using the tip of your paring knife, or a small spoon scrape the seeds and white membrane out.  You might want to wear latex gloves, or wash your hands really good when you are done.

In a small bowl, Mix the cream cheese, grated cheese, cilantro and cumin together.  Fill each jalapeno half with cream cheese mixture.  I used a pastry bag to do it, but you could use a plastic bag with a corner cut off to do it. Put on a baking sheet when filled.  
DO space them out more than I show below.  I spaced them out later on to give them more room to crisp

Cut your bacon slices in half cross ways.  Wrap each filled jalapeno with the bacon, it's easier to do if your bacon is room temperature.  Stretch as needed to go around 2-3 times. 

Bake for 20-30 minutes to desired crispness.  

We did half our jalapenos on our Traeger smoker, and the other half in the regular oven.  We liked the smoked ones best!

A couple of notes...
- You might want to bake these on a rack set inside your sheet pan, so the bacon grease drips away.  Or, let them drain on paper towels before serving.
- Don't over do it with these things... eating too many could give you some tummy troubles.

Here's what;s been happening on my blog on this date over the years...

One year ago:  Brazilian Shrimp Soup
Two years ago:   What the Pho Martini
Three years ago:   Shrimp, Cream & White Beans over Rice- Cajun Comfort Food

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Quinoa Mushroom Pilaf

A great little side dish, or main dish, with protein rich quinoa as the star.
Of course, I had the biggest Costco bag of quinoa lurking about the house, which is quite challenging to go through with two people in the house.
I added lots of mushrooms, onions, celery and red pepper.  The celery and red pepper are totally optional, but I think they added to the flavor and the beauty of the dish.

Speaking of beauty.... really, I do think this is an ugly dish, and you know how much I hate ugly food. Oh well, it was tasty and a great side dish with our dinner, and I think you might like to try it.

One thing... I did try this in the crockpot one Sunday and left it on low for 4 hours.  We came back to a yucky, stodgy mess that tasted quite nice.  However, just make this one on the stock top, it is much better that way.

Try it, and add a little of your own ideas to the mix.

 (disregard the crockpot in the background, that version didn't work out... LOL)
Serves about 6

1 1/2 cup quinoa
3 cups broth, vegetable or chicken
1 Tbsp olive oil
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
1 cup onion, minced
1 cup celery, minced
2 cup red pepper, minced
2 garlic, minced
1/2 tsp thyme, fresh or dried
1/2 tsp salt
Fresh pepper 
1/2 cup almonds, sliced and toasted
1/2 cup green onions, sliced

In a large saute pan (with a lid), heat the oil over medium high heat.  When hot, saute the onions and mushrooms until they start to brown, approx 5-7 minutes.  Don't add salt, as you don't want the mushrooms to release their water, you want them to brown/carmelize. You will add salt at the end.

Add the garlic, celery and red pepper, and saute until they soften, about 2-3 more minutes.  Add the dry quinoa and toast for another 1-2 minutes.  Add the broth, loosening any browned bits with a spatula.  Add salt, pepper and thyme.  Mix and bring to a boil.  Immediately reduce heat to medium low and cover, cooking for 18-20 minutes.   Stir occasionally.

Remove from heat, add almonds and green onions and mix.