Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday eats

Christmas! I am not much of a religious type, in fact, as I am getting older I find myself more and more a staunch atheist. But that doesn't dampen the spirits, I do have a long tradition of cozy Christmas homes with trees, decorations and all the other good old Pagan traditions. There is also a lot of food involved. I tend to eat myself silly around these times, cold and dark days are ideal for lots of chocolate, treats, warm coffee drinks, good bottles of wine and other delights. I think we had a little bit of a highlight during our yearly pre-Christmas trip to Whistler. Conditions were marginal, snow decidedly lacking but that didn't stop Kai from having a blast. Connie has chronicled this visit very nicely here, I'll just talk about the food and the aforementioned highlight which was dinner at the Bearfoot Bistro. This place is fairly legendary and somehow in all these years I had never been there. Araxi was always the default and is very good but this time we had a different experience. Some restaurants are all about the food, some about the flashy room and fancy people that come there, some are formal and service oriented, some are casual and simple. The Bearfoot Bistro elevates all this to the next level, turning the act of eating out into an almost theatrical experience. After we sat down a server came by wheeling the cocktail and champagne trolley, offering drinks.

the cocktail trolley!
We had a couple of glasses of champagne while Kai received a sort of virgin Mojito made with pineapple juice. The wine list is an epic journey and fascinating view into the depths of wine culture, entire verticals of Pomerol, 80-year old bottles from obscure Chateaus and absurdly expensive vintage champagnes are up for grabs. Or if you so desire, a premium Vodka sampling in their ice room which is kept at a balmy -18C. If you decide to splurge on a bottle of champagne, you can go down to the cellar and sabre it yourself. There is solid pedigree here to back up the excess, Melissa Craig runs the kitchen and she is a bit of a cooking prodigy, winning many awards and running a place as prestigious as Bearfoot Bistro is no small feat. The food was flawlessly executed and presented, unabashed in flavor, texture and composition. She doesn't hold back on her themes, everything was suffused with flavor, down to the desserts that were fascinating and nothing like the standard fare that so many places offer these days.

Beets, carrots, greens, cheese. Classic and delicious

The pricing matches the extravagance, this was easily the most expensive meal I have had in a long time. Given my propensity to enjoy my food, this is saying something. The starting price for a 3-course menu is $98, the wild game sampler I had for my main was a $20 add-on.

Bison shortrib, wild boar wrapped venison
It was delicious, the wild mushroom and bean ragout accompaying the meltingly tender shortrib was beautifully creamy yet full of texture.

Desserts were eclectic, I had the Chocolate and Pear, it sounds deceptively simple but the concoction I was presented with was anything but. Marshmallow foam, a very interestingly spiced chocolate log, ribbons of poached pear, some kind of gingerbread and caramel sauce were all there.

We decided not to go for another one of the Bearfoot Bistro signature experiences, the Nitro icecream. We saw it prepared at the table next to us, creme anglaise is turned into ice cream through the addition of a generous dose of liquid nitrogen. Lots of spectacle here with the white smoke from the nitrogen billowing from the bowl and guests craning their necks to see what is going on.

The whole thing came to a climax when the staff assembled by the grand piano in the middle of the dining room and burst out into a Christmas carol.

a little peach and champagne palate cleanser
Well, it sure was an experience. A good one, but also something we won't repeat too often since the total bill could build several schools, orphanages and hospitals somewhere in Africa. We took it easy as well, just a few drinks and limited add-ons to the menus. I can see how someone with an unlimited budget could easily drop a few thousand on dinner here.
One last observation about this place is the amount of staff. We counted at least 30 different front of the house wait staff, runners, sommeliers and various other managers and people wandering around doing stuff. The kitchen was almost serene with Melissa Craig at the front plating and checking every order and a very disciplined looking line cooking away in the open kitchen.

OK, enough about Bearfoot. If you are comfortable with dropping a couple of car payments on dinner then I definitely recommend it, the experience is worth it and the food is flawless.

We did eat other things while in Whistler, we stayed at the Crystal Lodge, which is very well situated in the village a couple of minutes away from the main gondolas. The main restaurant there is called Rick's Grill which is a steakhouse, it has a more casual bistro like room called The Mix by Ric. The second night we were tired from a day on the mountain and a bit glamoured out so we decided to just eat downstairs. I have to admit I was a bit sceptical about what we were going to get. That's the food snob in me, I can't help it, sorry. I was very pleasantly surprised though, the food was really good.We had some tapas like dishes, one that stands out is a sticky chili chicken consisting of breaded pieces of chicken breast in a sweet chili sauce with crispy bits of corn tortilla. Sounds bizarre but it worked surprisingly well. It also had a pretty decent wine list, I had a French Pinot Noir that was quite good. We liked it so much in fact that we went back the next morning for breakfast before heading up the mountain again.

Moguls Coffee on the Village Square kept me cafeinated and provided a quick lunch before heading back to Vancouver. With the Sea to Sky highway being still all shiny and new from the Olympics, it now takes about 1.5 hours to get back to Vancouver. Too bad it then takes another 45 minutes to get across the Lion's Gate and through the traffic monstrosity that is downtown Vancouver...

I am more or less off work now, doing a bit of work from home still here and there. With Connie still at work and Kai in snowboarding camp this means lots of Skyrim, toodling around town in the TT, running errands and making daily visits to, well Thomas Haas of course! Tomorrow I am planning on having Fried Chicken Friday lunch at Refuel. Oh it is a hard life...

I am so glad I have the metabolism of a hyper-active hamster without the hyper-active bit!

Merry Christmas everyone! Much more cooking, eating and drinking is in my immediate future. More posts to follow.

Friday, December 09, 2011


As someone who works in video games, I haven't said much about them yet on this blog. Well that is about to change. I play quite a lot of video games and am currently deeply into Skyrim. This is a role-playing adventure game that takes place in a massive frozen wilderness and gives the player complete freedom to roam around and explore, finding many interesting things along the way. You can play this game in many different ways, choose to be a pure fighter, a mage, a thief, trader, blacksmith and so on. You can combine these roles to suit your playing style. The character I am playing currently uses light armor, conjures weapons and creatures to help in combat, does a bit of smithing and enchanting and uses restoration spells for healing. This makes for an interesting mix. There is a central story that you can follow, dragons have returned to Skyrim and are terrorizing the locals. You can investigate the return of these creatures, fight them and unravel the mystery behind it all. I haven't paid too much attention to this though, I have simply been traveling around getting into all sorts of trouble.

The game is very well put together, the visuals can be extremely impressive. I had added a few screenshots to give an impression of how well they have managed to convey the sense of being in this frigid northern land. There is no end to the amount of content in this game, I am about 40 hours in and expect at least that much again.

To give you a small example of what happens in Skyrim, here is a memorable bit of adventure I had recently. As usual I was roaming around, looking for trouble. I noticed a lighthouse in the distance perched on a frozen rock overlooking a bay full of ice floes. I went to investigate and found that the door was unlocked so I entered and came across a rather shocking murder scene. There was a dead body on the floor with an axe protruding from it and a large dead insect like creature was in the next room, other than that the place was deserted. I examined the various rooms and found diaries of the occupants. These diaries told a story of a couple who bought this lighthouse and retired there. They mused fondly of sitting by the window looking at the icebergs floating past whereas their children lamented the isolation and boredom. Things got sinister quickly though, there was mention of noises from the cellar and items disappearing. The last entry in the husband's diary was an anguished note about finding his wife dead in their living room and how he was going into the cellar to investigate. I found a key to the cellar in a vase on the mantelpiece and entered. At the back of the cellar was a dark tunnel opening that I ventured into. Almost immediately I was attacked by giant insects and strange pale orc-like creatures called Falmers. I battled my way through tunnels and caves until I found what looked like a breeding room where a queen insect was surrounded by eggs and many of her brood. A pitched battle later I had killed them all and found the husband's remains in the queen. I laid these to rest at the top of the lighthouse, it seemed fitting.

This episode took a couple of hours of playing time and is only a tiny bit of the enormous scope of Skyrim. I could have passed this lighthouse by and never known about the fate of this unfortunate family. There are many other of these kinds of encounters hidden away in Skyrim's many, many nooks and crannies which to me makes this game so fascinating to play. I have saved villages from vampire attacks, cleared out bandit nests, located artifacts in tombs full of undead, bought a house and decorated it (yep!), helped strangers from bear attacks and fought off dragons that were burning down entire villages. So far so good :-)

Skyrim has become a bit of a cultural phenomenon as well. A quick search on Google or YouTube will yield hundreds of results. People are blogging about their adventures, there are many video diaries on YouTube of people chronicling their character's travels (one, called Chinchilla Dave is hilariously funny) and pretty much everyone I know is playing it. It is definitely a testament to the lure of perfectly immersive escapism...

Monday, December 05, 2011

Weekend cooking

I like slow weekends. Some of them are a blur of activity with social visits, Kai's various activities, errand running and shopping. Others can be a lot less hectic, getting most things done on Saturday, leaving a lovely quiet Sunday for some time at home. Yesterday was one of those Sundays, I went to Granville Island first thing in the morning and came back with a small mountain of groceries. I then spent most of the day in the kitchen with occasional breaks to play some Skyrim or help Connie with her house organizing mood she was in.

I started out making a pasta sauce, I like to cook big pots of sauce or soup that we can enjoy during the week, to avoid those hurried weeknight cooking sessions that invariably mean we don't eat until 7:30pm and I am still busy cleaning up the kitchen at 8:30pm. This one is a favorite staple, a very rich meat sauce that has pancetta, ground beef and ground pork in a rich beef broth with oregano, nutmeg and tomatoes. It goes very well with pasta, a generous helping of parmesan cheese and cracked black pepper.

I then moved on to a banana bread cake, our neighbor makes it sometimes and sent us the recipe. I decided to give it a try, prompted by the three overripe bananas sitting on the kitchen counter. I love baking and working with butter, flour, sugar and the KitchenAid mixer.

Next up was dinner, nothing more classic on a Sunday than a whole chicken with roasted vegetables. I buy whole free-range chickens at Granville Island. This recipe is not the usual roasted chicken but an even simpler concept of cooking the chicken in a sealed Dutch oven with some simple aromatics. I season and sear it, then add some carrots, celery, garlic and fresh rosemary to the pot. This then goes in the oven at 250F for about 1.5 hours, resulting in a beautiful moist, tender and juicy chicken. It also yields a good 1/2 cup of delicious gravy so this recipe is a winner.

Simple roasted potatoes and asparagus accompanied the chicken:

As usual, I enjoyed a good treat while cooking and eating:

I love Oregon Pinot Noir!
Such comfort, spending time at home, cooking for the family and enjoying life!