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It’s no secret that I am Italian and I like to cook.

The question I am most frequently asked is, “Would you share your tomato sauce recipe with me?” My answer is always the same: “Of course, but it might not be what you think!”

When most people think of Italian tomato sauce, they envision a white haired lady stirring a bubbling pot of thick, rich red sauce for hours, then ladling it over homemade pasta. This is the kind of sauce my grandmother makes. Her grandmother made it before her. I can make it too but I almost never do. Instead, my go-to sauce takes about 10 minutes from start to finish and my family loves it so much they request it on a weekly basis.

The key to any good recipe is fresh ingredients. The tastier and more natural the components of your sauce, the better the final sauce will be. Just because you can get it in a can or box doesn’t mean you should.
Here’s my Pasta Pomodoro recipe:

• 1/4 cup olive oil
• 1/2 onion, chopped
• 4 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 cup roma (plum) tomatoes, diced
• 1 cup grape tomatoes halved
• 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
• 1 (10.75 ounce) can low-sodium chicken broth, if you can make your own, do it!
• freshly ground black pepper to taste
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
• 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Lightly sauté the onions and garlic. Add tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and broth. Simmer five minutes to reduce sauce, then mix with your favourite pasta (ours is thick tagliatelle), basil, pepper and cheese. Enjoy!

This is the kind of simple sauce in which you can taste each of the ingredients, the tang of the good quality, thick, aged balsamic, the earthy garlic and the licorice-like basil.

So take my advice, you don’t have to stand over that pot anymore. Spend that meal-prep time securing the best ingredients you can. Then spend the time you save relaxing and enjoying your meal with the loved ones you cooked it for.

Alana Marchetto

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The other day my dad took part in Facebook’s The Food List Challenge. He has eaten 44 out of the 100 foods and drinks listed. He’d eaten biscuits and gravy and barbecued ribs but not truffles or morel mushrooms. My eight-year-old daughter felt that despite being 47 years his junior, it was “inconceivable!” she’s sampled more foods than her grandfather. My tiny foodie has already had the chance to sample foods like paella, octopus and stuffed zucchini flowers.

She was dead set on rectifying matters, starting with a trip to seafood restaurant Big Fish. Just ordering appetizers my dad scored two more check marks. The frogs’ legs (above, second from top) were delicately breaded and fried, still juicy when you bit into the thigh. These are my daughter’s favourite dish, and I loved watching the staff watch in awe as she polished off a plateful. I preferred the fish tacos (above, third from top), which come garnished with an addictive mango salsa.

Dad scored one more point for the crab cake served with his entrée of blackened New York steak and blue crab cake with red pepper jelly. The steak came exactly to his specifications with a wild rice and black bean pilaf on the side. We also ordered the organic butter chicken and lobster (above, bottom) and the feature fish of the day, pan-seared salmon in a brown butter sage sauce with a potato and wild mushroom hash (above top). The salmon was fork tender and in no way overdone. The sauce and mushrooms were a delicate balance of sweet and earthy.

We ended the meal with the restaurant’s ever-changing trio of sorbet (the night’s flavours were mango, lemon-lime and mango mint). I splurged and also had the fallen chocolate soufflé with raspberry compote, vanilla bean cream and caramel drizzle.

On the way out the door my daughter high-fived her grandfather for inching his food list total towards 50 and he promised to return the favour and introduce her to spaetzle and sauerkraut.

Alana Marchetto

Big Fish
1112 Edmonton Trail N.E.
Calgary, Alberta
403-277-3403
Big Fish Dockside on Urbanspoon

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Everyone's got their favourite Vietnamese restaurant in town for one reason or another, but for me, whenever I get a craving for Vietnamese food — and for phở in particular — the 55B (with pork and rice noodles) is all I need to make a beeline to Golden Bell Saigon and spurn the other establishments.

The long-form menu description of this phở variant is “charbroiled pork, beef or chicken in satay rice or egg noodle soup” ($10.25). I favour the pork because it carries the charbroiled flavour within the soup better than the other two protein options. And given that the broth is already steeped with peanutty and spicy tones (not to mention the usual garnishes of lime, Asian basil and bean sprouts), the melding of flavours is nothing short of amazing.

The phở purists can cling to the simplicity of their beef brisket / tripe / tendon in clear beef broth. Me? It's gotta be the rich complexity and brightness of item 55B.

Hector

Golden Bell Saigon
1112 17 Avenue S.W.
Calgary, Alberta
403-452-8803
Golden Bell Saigon Vietnamese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Clouds and swirling snow crawl over sharp Rocky Mountain peaks as we sit window-side at Juniper Bistro in Banff’s Juniper Hotel. The sun cracks through these fast-moving swirls, fanning snow-covered pines with rugged Jesus rays. It’s a divine sign that we order the eggs benedict ($15). She’ll have the Canadian bacon, while I’ll have the smoked salmon.

We admire the construction of a shallow birch-bark canoe ornamenting the divide between the restaurant and its lounge. Speaking of ultra-Canadiana, there’s a very cool Norval Morrisseau painting entitled “Medicine Wheel” in the small hotel’s main hall.

The eggs arrive, two each, smothered in perfect Hollandaise. The yolk runs golden with the first forkful. Crisp wedge fries accompany. The salmon is smooth and almost sweet. The bacon is likewise soft and smooth but with a salt edge. I lean back and enjoy the food-fuelled feeling of leaving work and the worldly concerns of 2011 far behind.

Over this exhilarating breakfast we vow never to take Calgary’s very proximate mountains and foothills for granted. Reinforcing the excellence of our meal, we scored a cheap mid-week rate for our two-nights of accommodation.

Stomachs full, we’re off to Lake Louise to see the sights and enjoy an early evening sleigh ride round the lake.

Ian Doig

The Juniper Hotel and Bistro
Juniper Way and Mount Norquay Road
Banff, Alberta
866-551-2281

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Dear Santa,

I would like the Cuisinart Stand Mixer with the 800W motor and 12 mixing speeds including fold function….

It’s almost Christmas Eve, so it’s time to bake the cookies for the big man in red. At our house, Santa usually gets snickerdoodles (a light cinnamon sugar cookie) but this year we’re branching out.

I belong to a cookie recipe club. The group’s last recipe of the year was chocolate peppermint pinwheels. Sounds tailor-made for St. Nick, so off I go.

The best thing about this recipe is that if you have leftover peppermint candy canes lying around the house (and who doesn’t) you can use them cookie filling. Vent your holiday frustrations as you whack those candy sticks with a rolling pin!

The dough is your typical no-egg, vegetable oil, sugar and flour recipe split into two equal portions. Add cocoa powder to make the chocolate half and peppermint extract to make the peppermint half. After rolling both the dough portions out, sandwich the candy bits between them and roll the whole thing up. Slice into circles of yumminess.

Not only are these pretty to look at next to your tree, they also taste great.

Alana Marchetto

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A freelance writer whose food stories have appeared in Avenue magazine, Calgary food blogger and friend-of-Slop Anh Chu launched I Came for the Food in August 2010. Aside from beefing up her writing portfolio, she wanted to broaden the local food-blog horizon. “There were no food bloggers who specifically covered cheap meals for real people,” says Chu, pictured above, right, taking high tea with comedian Joanne Lau. “All the same restaurants with PR expertise seemed to be getting all the press, which seemed unfair given the hidden gems in Calgary.” Also, she says, “I just love food.” Chu’s buttery prose soon landed her a weeklong gig on A-Channel’s Big Breakfast Best Burger segment. As blogs, go, I Came for the Food was high-profile. However, a short time ago, Chu up and moved to London, England, leaving her blog in apparent limbo. Slop recently contacted Chu in London demanding to know its fate.

Calgary Slop: Now that you've moved to England,
what's the fate of I Came for the Food?


Anh Chu: I have a few ideas for the blog, but they haven't been executed yet. Settling in to a new country, getting sick twice in as many months, not to mention an unfavourable conversion-rate, are but a few factors that have resulted in a lack of posts of late!

I have a backlog of Calgary restaurant reviews I still intend to post, and I also plan on blogging about food in London. When I began the blog, I knew it wouldn't always be Calgary-specific so I named it with that in mind. It will still be I Came For the Food. And truly, I travel a lot of places just for the food.

I may also broaden the scope of my posts, so it's not so review or location-specific, but speaks to the universality of food and how it acts as a bridge to bring people together. The fact that meals are not merely about eating fascinates me. All this said, the blog is constantly a work-in-progress.

Living in London has given me a greater appreciation for Calgary's quality restaurants and burgeoning scene. It makes sense to blog about the food culture, "oddities" and trends here as well. I am also still doing some magazine writing about food trends in Canada.

The culinary world is so exciting. I am constantly hungry, and my mind is on food about 80 per cent of the time. We all gotta eat and consumers are getting more and more sophisticated in all things food-related. I wish my blog could be all the things I envision in my head... it's just tough to find enough hours in the day. It's a labour of love for sure.

Ian Doig

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As if you need another excuse to drink this holiday season, here's a great one from the good folks at the Wild Rose Brewery. They like to celebrate the seasons with limited release beers (they had a spectacular set of four beers for the Spring Solstice), and today - with the Winter Solstice upon us - they've got another for us.


Taking a cue from their just-ended, highly-heralded Cherry Porter seasonal, their NocturnAle is a rich brown ale with chocolate and toasted coconut. And it's delicious, perfectly balanced in flavours and highly drinkable. My only complaint - and all of their darker beers suffer from this - is that it's served too cold. So buy two pints, and let the second one warm as you drink the first.

NocturnAle is available for what I'm told is a very limited time, and only in the Wild Rose Brewery taproom.

Arif.

Wild Rose Brewery
Bldg AF23, #2 - 4580 Quesnay Wood Drive SW