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Archive for May, 2010

I’ve been putting this off for a couple of weeks because I wasn’t sure I was going to even write this. That and a trip to Vancouver which I’ll be writing about soon. The reason I’ve been reluctant? It will be my first bad review. (well I hope the -review- isn’t bad).

Kim and I stopped by The Dish Bistro on 124st and Stony Plain road on a Wednesday a couple of weeks ago on the way to our Wednesday night thing. I’d seen online that they have a gluten free menu and cater to allergies so that’s always large determining factor as to where we are going to eat. We arrived at 5:30 and on entering we were seated immediately, there being only one other table occupied at the time. The place has an OK ambiance but on close inspection, it’s looking a bit tired. Our server was prompt and brought us the GF menu right away. We ordered a 1/2 litre of the Torconal CabMerlot which is an alright wine selection for a house wine. Nothing special but when you don’t want a whole bottle, it is just fine.

Before you read further, here’s two things to keep in mind. I’m not a huge fan of vinegar and this experience could be a result of ordering off the gluten free menu. We were a bit rushed for time as is often the case on Wednesdays and were looking for a lighter meal in any case so we decided to have an appetizer to share and a couple of salads. We agreed that the Risotto Cakes sounded tasty. According to the menu, these are

Asiago and spinach risotto cakes stuffed with goat cheese and served on a fresh tomato salad

The cakes are served on a bed of lettuce with a thick slice of tomato chopped into pieces with some large slices of purple onion.  I guess this qualifies as a fresh tomato salad but I thought it would be more tomato-ey. The tomato itself was rather tasteless, looking like a food service, it’ll ripen eventually tomato. The cakes themselves were alright. They were creamy and rich. It had mostly goat cheese notes, but I would have liked to have had a more prominent asiago flavour. And to be honest, I didn’t even notice there was spinach in the cake. However, what I liked about these cakes was completely drowned in balsamic vinegar. You can see from the picture that the straight balsamic was just poured over the cakes, soaking in and completely overpowering the flavour of the risotto. We ate around the vinegar. The greens also had quite a bit of balsamic. I am -not- a fan of straight balsamic poured on salads. Perhaps this is a personal quirk of mine but I believe a vinaigrette needs to be something more than just vinegar. I was also a bit surprised as the menu didn’t even mention a vinaigrette. I suppose they felt it needed something. It may have but I don’t believe it was 1/4 cup of vinegar.

For our mains Kim ordered the Dijon Chicken on Greens

Dijon marinated breast of chicken on mixed greens with tomatoes, carrots, Spanish onions, artichoke hearts and a roasted red pepper dressing

Kim’s salad arrived looking reasonably tasty.  The chicken is served cold which was a bit of a disappointment. I’d expect cold, premade chicken in a salad from a chain restaurant (on the lower end of things). I can handle cold chicken, but cold, dry and tasteless is another thing. If there was a trace of dijon flavour we certainly couldn’t find it. The chicken itself had an almost pasty coating on it which gave it an unpleasant mouth-feel. Fortunately, the red pepper sauce was pretty good [EDIT: Apparently a couple of weeks has clouded my memory. Kim just informed me she thought the red pepper sauce was/tasted like thousand island dressing) and dipping helped mask the problems with the chicken.  However, there wasn’t near enough sauce for the chicken. The artichoke hearts appeared to be pickled artichoke hearts from a bottle.

I ordered the Spicy Beef on Greens

Chili and garlic marinated beef flank steak on mixed greens with tomatoes, carrots, Spanish onions, artichoke hearts and a fresh herb citrus vinaigrette.

Flank steak can be a difficult thing to prepare due to its toughness. Marinating and/or braising is usually used to help break down the muscle fibres and produce a more tender end result. In the case of my dish, neither seemed to have worked. The steak was tough. Really tough. Almost beef jerky tough. The flavour? Spicy? Chili? Garlic? I could not detect any hint of heat, garlic or chili in any piece I tried. Now there may be a reason for this. The entire dish was absolutely soaked in balsamic vinegar. Fresh herb citrus? No idea. All I could taste was balsamic.  Not vinaigrette. Balsamic. Vinegar. The greens were even worse than the beef. Drowning in the stuff. Completely inedible. I ended up eating the rest of Kim’s chicken, which by this time was not as bad as I originally thought. At least it didn’t make my mouth burn. And burn. Two hours later my mouth was still feeling the effects of my vinegar soaked meal.

Now with this bad of an experience, you may be wondering why we didn’t send the food back. Firstly, we had to be somewhere and didn’t really have time to wait. But mostly, I’m not sure what difference it would have made. It’s not as if we were served an under or over done piece of meat. This is apparently how these dishes are served. And to be honest, I’m someone who almost never sends anything back. I’m working on it. I’d be interested in hearing from others to find out if this was a bad gluten free dining experience or simply a bad dining experience.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I really debated whether I should even write this. But I decided that if I’m going to write reviews, I’ve got to write about bad experiences as well as good. So here it is.

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On Saturday Kim picked up some nice organic strawberries and she suggested we make some labneh to go with them for Mothers Day dessert. For those of you who don’t know what labneh is (like either of us did until I looked it up yesterday), it’s simply strained yogurt. It’s also known as Greek yogurt and is the base for tatziki. (tatziki too runny? Use labneh!) We were first introduced to it  when we saw a recipe for labneh, maple syrup & roasted pecans on a Food Network program months ago, tried it and liked it quite a bit.

Labneh has a really nice, firm texture like cream cheese so our first thought was to make a strawberry cheesecake. This is something we still want to do as I think it will be really tasty and since full fat yogurt is only 3.5% fat, it’s a much healthier option the regular cheesecake made with cream cheese.

But we didn’t make the cheesecake. Yesterday, I was poking around in the fridge and saw we had some fresh basil left over from margherita pizzas last week. I had one of those “aha” moments and knew dessert was going to go in a different direction. The recipe appeared to me as if I was channeling Iron Chef. Labneh with fresh basil, strawberries and…black pepper. You may not know it but basil is a member of the mint family and goes quite well with fruit and sweet ingredients. I’ve always wanted to use black pepper in a recipe with fruit, especially strawberries so this seemed like the perfect combination of flavours.

Preparing the Labneh

You do need to be a bit organized to make labneh as it takes several hours to prepare. Actually it takes about 5 minutes to prepare but several hours to drain. We used two large containers (4 cups) of 3.5% fat yogurt. Traditionally you would use plain yogurt but because we were making a dessert we used French Vanilla flavoured. You can use any flavoured yogurt. To prepare, line the bottom of a colander or strainer with a large basket coffee filter (or several overlapped smaller ones), cheesecloth or even a paper towel. Place colander in a large bowl or pot so that has an inch or so of space for liquid to collect, cover and place in the fridge for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.

This is the amount of liquid that drained from about 750ml of yogurt. This liquid is whey and I’m sure I could make something with it, but don’t know what just yet. Our cat & dog seemed to enjoy it.

Strawberry Basil Pepper Sauce

This sauce is very simple and can (and probably should) be prepared immediately before serving. Since this is the first recipe I’m posting here, I do have to add this disclaimer. I never measure when I cook and I don’t record what I am using  so everything you see here that has an amount noted will be accurate to plus or minus 50% 19 times out of 20.

5 tblsp butter (no you can’t use margarine – ever)

3 tblsp sugar

8-10 large ripe strawberries diced

6-8 good twists of the black pepper grinder

pinch of salt

4-5 large fresh basil leaves chopped

1/2 c dark rum

Melt butter and sugar over medium high heat until sugar begins to caramelize (just begins to brown)

Add strawberries, pepper, basil & rum. You could flambe at this point if you were really adventurous and have fire insurance.

Stir over heat for 3-4 minutes until strawberries are reduced and sauce has thickened.

Remove from heat.

Spoon sauce into small serving dish (I used a sushi plate). Add a spoonful of  the labneh and top with a drizzle of the sauce. Serve with strawberries and a fresh basil leaf as garnish.

Everyone really enjoyed this.  It is has many layers of flavour and is certainly not your average dessert. As one guest put it,  “I’ve never tasted anything like this before but I really like it”

Try it and I think you will too.

Labneh (greek yogurt cheese)

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