It is a fact universally acknowledged that a raincoaster in possession of a dining-out budget must be in need of a burger. I admit it: I’m a sucker for any savory-looking patty with nice buns. I try hard not to be That Guy, that guy who orders the steak at a seafood restaurant, but when there’s a burger on the menu it’s gonna get ordered and that’s a fact. Since I’ve been traveling the back roads and highways of BC lately I will update you on the state of burgerage around the province, starting with the capital, which is not Vancouver which everybody thinks it is, but Victoria, land of the newly wed and nearly dead.
Of Victoria we have spoken before, and shall again, for it is one of my favorite cities. Large enough and wealthy enough (thanks to our taxes!) to have a great arts scene, but small enough to be walkable, at least neighborhood by neighborhood, with a great transit system, a magnificent setting, and a foodie culture that runs far more to the making than the ordering-and-photographing, it’s a charming, pretty city. Heck, I made an offhand reference to it on a hacker forum recently and was blizzarded with posts expressing just how much these hardcore hackers adored twee little Victoria, with its houseboats, its shameless Anglophilia, and its borderline-deranged worship of afternoon tea.
God only knows how many burgers I ate there, but here is one whose photo I happen to have with me at the moment.
The Beacon Drive In just beside Beacon Hill Park boasts that it has been “Serving up smiles since 1958″ and I don’t doubt it, in part because I’m not sure they ever redecorated. I remember coming here in the early 80’s, and it was laughably old-fashioned then. Now, it’s bloody priceless (which reminds me, is Archie from the comic books still driving that ridiculous Model T, because if he is, it must be worth about the cost of a new Lambo, but I digress). It’s also still busy, for good reason.
Not only is the menu a classic Diner With Everything from a Gidget movie, but it has West Coast add-ons like the Oyster Burger and Salmon Burger. Mine hostess and photographer Lori Dunn even got a float, it’s that old-fashioned. You can order a float here without being ironic.
In the 80’s it was famous for its onion rings, and even now they’re terrific; perfectly cooked in a crispy batter that’s not too thick, the onions within just caramelized enough to fall apart when bitten and not before. Could use a bit of seasoning salt, but that’s my only quibble. I ordered the BBQ Swiss Mushroom Burger and it was exactly as a diner burger should be; sloppy with sauce, juicy patty, whopping big pickle on top. There’s nothing exceptional about the sauce or the burger or the bun; it is exactly what it seems, a plain low rent burger that is nonetheless perfectly respectable in its blue-collar way. Note: the “Screaming Deluxe” Cheeseburger has hot sauce. And this is a place where “Deluxe” itself means “comes with lettuce, tomato, and onions.” So don’t be sniffing that you can’t find truffle fries on the menu. If Bruce Springsteen eats truffle fries, I don’t wanna KNOW! You know what I’m saying?
But the soft serve looks truly wonderful, and if it hadn’t been freezing cold and raining I’d have tried some. Striped, swirled ice cream! Truly, we live in an age of wonders.
More burgers to come! And even some non-burger food items!]]>
Full disclosure: Burger 55 in Penticton, BC, is one of the most successful self-employment clients of my old friend Lori Dunn. They applied for a training and support program for small businesses in Penticton and Lori approved them and has been one of their most loyal customers ever since. Since then they’ve won so many Best Burger and Small Business awards they’re about to run out of wall space to display them. Mind you, with about 300 square feet total there never was that much wall to begin with.
Their website has a Cult page. That should give you a hint.
Having gotten their start thanks to a community initiative, they are still community-minded. Peter Navin was the friend who originally found them their unique location; for the past several years, Navin battled brain cancer and ultimately lost the fight. Burger 55 created a commemorative Peter Navin burger for $7, and proceeds are donated to his family.
There are only three stools inside and a handful of picnic tables outside. In the heat of the Sonora Desert summer it’s best to sit on the side towards the creek, where you can get partial shade and a refreshing breeze. In the winter, it’s best to just get take out and eat it in the car facing the lake while having an emotional conversation while playing old rock ballads.
They also deliver, provided you order $15 or so worth of food and bev, which isn’t hard once you get into the premium add-ons and side orders.
Their deal at Burger 55 is custom made burgers: that doesn’t make them unique, but the paperwork does.
Well, it’s a very Canadian burger joint, you know? You walk in, you stop for a second and goggle at it just because it’s so dinky, then you reach to your right and pick up a clipboard and one of those mini-pencils you never find outside of voting booths or esoteric burger garages in Canuckistan, and you go through an extensive, small print checklist of what you want and what you don’t want. Salad style? Tortilla? Gluten free (of COURSE they have gluten free buns)? What kind of cheese, if any? Which sauces? And every section is a densely populated box and a tough decision, especially the free extra toppings which extend to roasted peppers and corn, beet strings, and the like. You want it, you put a checkmark beside it. You want double? Two checkmarks. Simple once you get the hang of it. There are eight cheese options alone.
The meat is all excellent quality, and they can do turkey burgers, beef, salmon, portobello mushroom, or lamb. On a low carb diet? Go for salad style for $3 extra, but it’s not a snotload of extra salad, I warn you. The esoteric selection of premium toppings includes a grilled local peach. The sides are: Fries, Fries with Curry Sauce, Side Salad, Sweet Potato Fries, and Onion Rings. The fries are all good but the onion rings, it must be said, are greasy. Tasty, but greasy. Onion rings, I remain convinced, require a different frying temperature than potatoes, and a darn good draining. Still, they are the superior side order (that is my past as an A&W fetishist catching up to me). Fries are for plebes, and for hangovers. #Truefax
If you can’t decide, the three standards (Hot, Burger 55 Signature, and The Other One I Forget Oh Wait It’s a Cheeseburger) don’t do it for you, and the Special of the Month isn’t your cup of protein (this month it’s Chicken and Waffle), you can ask them to freestyle, and they will make a unique mystery combo for you. I’ve noticed that freestyle burgers lean towards the saltier, so if that’s not something you want, say so for a demi-freestyle.
I had a AAA Beef burger on a cracked wheat bun with shredded beet strings, lettuce, roasted sweetcorn, homemade pickles, pickle relish, aged shredded cheddar (I forgot that aged cheddar doesn’t melt unless you put mushrooms on it while it’s melting), Burger 55 BBQ sauce, and some really good bacon strips. And it was perfect. They use local ingredients as far as possible, and make their own sauces. The sauces, particularly the Buddha Asian BBQ sauce, got so popular that they decided to bottle and sell them: Curry, BBQ, and Buddha sauces, plus their spice mix.
My friend Alex had a beef burger grilled on the flattop right next to my bacon, which flavoured it somewhat, with a cheese skirt, ie hanging over the side; they put a dome over it so the cheese melts all around in approved classic burger style. I haven’t seen that since I was at the old lunch counter at Save On Meats where they cooked a burger that was a full pound of meat, two half-pound patties that were so thick you HAD to put a dome over them or they wouldn’t cook through.
And if my headline left you thinking this would be an article about getting your pipes cleaned, well, if that’s your goal I’d just advise you to stick to salad style. Don’t nobody enjoy that process after a burger the size of your head.
Today is Flashback Thursday: flashing back to July (gawd, has it been that long?) and the special event was the Similkameen BBQ King competition. For non-Canadians, the Similkameen Valley is a gorgeous part of Southern BC. The river is perfect. The mountains are perfect. The grassy plains are perfect. And, as you can see from the above picture, they are all over the Hipster fashion trend.
I was once on a Greyhound going through the valley; also on the bus was a French Canadian fruit picker and his girlfriend. The girlfriend was from BC and had talked him into coming with her to Keremeos, “the” town in the valley, to pick fruit in the summertime. He was deeply skeptical about this decision, but deeply in love, so he had said yes and there he was on the bus, the scent of Montreal still wafting off of him (it smells like cigarettes and beer), trundling through the Similkameen valley as the sun rose. The mountain caught the light, the huge K (the legacy of a landslide) glowed pink, the valley glimmered green and silver with mist, and the bus stopped, let them off, and he fell to his knees and kissed her hand for inviting him to a place as beautiful as that valley.
So that’s the Similkameen.
Forgive my crappy iPhone pictures, but I did what I could without my trusty photographer Cathy Browne.
The setting? The Grist Mill and Gardens in Keremeos, an historic grist mill, ie where the farmers brought their wheat to be ground into flour. It’s in the hands of my old friend Chris Mathieson, the only person I know with both a degree in Philosophy and skills as a blacksmith, so he’s perfect for this gig. That’s him, along with his wife Kyla, in the top picture. His first words when he saw me there, hundreds of miles from my normal dank cavern in Vancouver? “What are YOU doing here?” A warm welcome indeed, if not heated.
The challenge itself was Chopped-style: in other words, the competitors were given a set basket of ingredients from particular suppliers, and told to do what they could with them on the barbeque.
The ingredients were all local; the valley, along with the nearby Okanagan valley, is famous for its produce, and is now beginning to wrap its head around the very un-Canadian action of tooting its own horn. This event was an exercise in horn-tooting, and featured local wines along side the BBQ creations. Full disclosure: I got a media pass for the event, but only after contacting the organizers and asking if I could pay by Paypal, because I would have come up just for the day, all five hours each way on the 80-seat limousine. And lemme tell ya, it would have been worth it.
There were some very professional plates and some outstanding tastes. I’d come primed for ribs (BBQ, right?) but the chicken as a black box ingredient meant that chefs had to think outside that very box, and some of the solutions were very creative indeed. Chicken sliders, sure, but chicken sliders with a skewer of chicken bacon to garnish? That’s a different level, a level not generally found down gravel roads.
I don’t even like risotto, but the risotto was so good I went back for thirds. People were whispering, “Have you had the risotto? Have the risotto! They may run out. Psst, have you had the risotto?…”. And the basil ice cream was velvety, perfectly sweetened, and paired perfectly with the pound cake. Some of the wine pairings were more successful than others, but the main discovery for me was Forbidden Fruit Winery, whose fruit wines are sophisticated, layered, and miles away from Boone’s Farm.
And the winner was Karl Schorb from the Branding Iron. From the remarkable number of “Congratulations, Karl” blog and Facebook posts from his competitors, it’s clear that he’s a key figure in the tight-knit Okanagan and Similkameen gourmet community. Here’s the winning plate:
My notes (after perhaps six tasting-size pours of local wine) “Truly yummy.” Yes, I am a master of subtlety when it comes to reviews. Now take a look at the competition (and forgive my iPhone shots through the window of the shuttle bus from Penticton, because what choice do you have, really?).
Sometimes people ask me how I turned out this way. The Hilarious House of Frightenstein is a large part of the answer. This deranged Goth fantasy was what passed for educational children’s programming in Canada back in the 70’s, and it was unspeakably brilliant. All of my mental warpage I owe to it. You haven’t seen camp until you’ve seen Billy Van dressed as a hag who thinks she’s Goldie Hawn, hosting a cooking show.
You will see that now.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the very definition of CANNOT BE UNSEEN. And is it just me, or do the mannerisms recall an otherworldly Rachael Ray? To say nothing of the recipes.]]>
It’s Canadian Thanksgiving, and you know what that means! Passive-aggressive machinations regarding who gets to carve the turkey and whether Peggy’s gherkins get to sit in Great Gramma’s crystal dish or if it will be That Woman Bob Married with her goddam pickled beets again, and what’s so special about pickled beets anyway? Great Gramma never served pickled beets; it’s just not right.
Where was I? Oh right, Canadian Thanksgiving.
I suppose if I googled long enough I could find some ridiculously convoluted excuse for why our Thanksgiving is in October instead of November, but the simple fact is, we’re a Northern country. If we waited till November the weather would be crap and people would literally die in the car on the way to the big family dinner, frozen in snowdrifts, their misery preserved forever or until the spring thaws at least. Seriously, this was my biggest worry when I was a kid; that we’d die right there on the 401 because of a white-out.
What’s on the menu at a Canadian Thanksgiving? Pretty much anything that would be on the menu at an American one, barring sweet potatoes with marshmallows (what IS that? some kind of practical joke by the South?) and pecan pie. Why don’t we do pecan pie? Because pecans up here cost about as much as truffles do, and you don’t see us making truffle pie now, do you? So we have pumpkin pie and butter tarts.
Butter tarts are perhaps the most Canadian food ever invented (pace Poutine!). There is some controversy about whether or not raisins go in butter tarts, and I’m all Team Raisin, simply because you need some sort of contrast to the delicious, caramely center UH “centre” of the butter tart. Nuts are completely non-canon, although a tasty addition; walnuts are best, because their natural dryness plays against the sweet creaminess of the filling very well. Think of butter tarts as pecan pie without pecans in it, and you can see why we like them so much.
Chatelaine is the definitive Canadian women’s magazine (think typical American women’s magazine, but with fewer boobs, less makeup, and more politics and social justice articles) and so it is to Chatelaine that I turn for a classic butter tart recipe. They’re all more or less the same, actually, but this one has a pedigree.
Preparation time: 10 minutes; Baking Time: 16 minutes; Makes: 12 tarts
12 ( 3-inch, 7.5-cm) homemade or 16 purchased frozen tart shells, each about 3 inches
3/4 cup ( 175 mL) corn syrup
1/4 cup ( 50 mL) liquid honey
1 tsp ( 5 mL) vanilla
1/2 cup ( 125 mL) brown sugar
1 tbsp ( 15 mL) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup ( 50 mL) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup ( up to 1/2 cup, 50 mL to 125 mL) raisins or walnuts
Oh, what a delicious dribble occurs when biting into these buttery tarts made by Tait’s Bakery. These are divinely runny so be prepared for the drips!
Place oven rack at its lowest level. Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Line 12 tart shells with homemade pastry. If using store-bought frozen shells, use 16 and leave in foil cups. Place tart shells on a baking sheet with shallow sides to catch any spills. In a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs with corn syrup, honey and vanilla until well blended. Stir brown sugar with flour. Stir into egg mixture along with butter until evenly mixed.
Dividing equally, scatter raisins or walnuts over bottoms of shells. Pour filling over top. Bake on bottom rack of preheated 375F (190C) oven until filling is bubbly and top is slightly crusty, from 16 to 18 minutes for 12 tarts or about 16 minutes for 16 tarts. Cool on a rack. Tarts will keep well at room temperature for up to 1 day. Or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days or freeze for up to 1 month.
Okay, okay STOP! “Delicious dribble,” people? If it is occurring, you’re using “dribble” as a verb, and verbs are tasteless, as is anyone who writes like that. Now go back to J-school and come back when you can write prose that actually makes sense!
As one does.
The Sourtoe cocktail is a real thing, and has been a real thing in Dawson City since the Seventies, 1973 to be exact, when a severed human toe turned up in a boat. You know, as they do. It’s even inspired a book: The Sourtoe Cocktail Club: The Yukon Odyssey of a Father and Son in Search of a Mummified Human Toe … and Everything Else!
Well, being Northerners, it occurred to the locals that the best thing they could do with their toe booty would be to preserve it in salt, then charge tourists outrageous prices to drink a cocktail with this most Goth of all garnishes in it. In the beginning, the cocktail was a beer mug full of Champagne, but soon enough they realized that using expensive ingredients cut into the margin and besides, they wanted to cater to the Bacardi and Coke crowd too, so they allowed people to order whatever they liked, “Sourtoe style” and charged them premium rates.
The rule was, the toe had to touch the lips, and many a toetippler would pose for commemorative photos brandishing the brown and shriveled appendage like a stubby cigar. Naturally, when tourists are paying $20 a shot for Canadian Club with a toe in it, and $5 a shot for CC without, it behooves one to take care with one’s toes, and to put exorbitant fines on anyone who would masticate or otherwise abscond with or damage said tootsie-section. In the Seventies, $500 was a big fine. Not so much today, as one American tourist reportedly knew. He was the (hero? No. Protagonist? No.) nouveau riche or at least nouveau flush in the first paragraph, who apparently had done his homework (there’s a website whose design apparently dates from the 90’s. The 1890’s) and thought the boasting rights were worth the money.
Hell, any fool can get bottle service, but how many can talk about the time they committed cannibalism legally?]]>
Well, you could say I always have some reservations about what I’m doing at any point in the future, but what YOU might want to be doing next Wednesday, July 10th between 8-9pm Pacific time (eg LA or Seattle), is hanging out on Twitter looking at the #BCWineChat hashtag. Full disclosure: Sandra Oldfield of Tinhorn Creek, who moderates, is a client of mine and I helped her with part of the website. But next Wednesday I’ll be on a bus headed to the glorious Okanagan valley, and so will be unable to be checking Twitter, what with passing through remote Canadian mountains and suchlike.
The topic next week is “Great Patio Wines” and believe me, BC has a lot of them. Well, technically the title is “Patio Pounders. Easy drinking BC Wines” but whatever. Chat participants include winemakers, restaurateurs, bloggers, retailers, wine reps, and even some enthusiastic civilians, and the chat is accessible, easy to understand, open, and often pretty heavy on the double entendres, especially if the incorrigible Black Cloud is on the hashtag.
You can see the archives on the site and get a sense of what the professional wine world is chatting about. And yes, it’s a BC wine chat, but that doesn’t mean that other wines are not discussed. As for patio wines, well, anything from Tinhorn Creek calling itself 2Bench works for me; or the bubblies from Sumac Ridge, for lo, I am very fond of the middle of the day patio bubbly.
At least, as far as I can remember…]]>
I know putting things in mason jars is the very latest in foodie fads (if it’s 2010) but there are practical considerations to deal with. Here is one of them from Victoria-based private chef and recovering economist Janice Mansfield.
I know those little pies and cakes in mason jars are all over Pinterest, and they look as cute as buttons, but PLEASE do NOT bake your desserts in them!
Mason jars are made to be heatproof, but are not made to withstand dry heat (aka baking). Perfectly ok to use as serving dishes for things already cooked or made up. All it takes is one glass splinter to ruin your long-weekend barbeque!
Snack safely!!! and have a good one!
Happy Canada day to my friends in Canuckistan and Happy Independence Day to the Yanks!]]>
Oh. My. Fucking. God.
There really are no non-sweary words to describe the delectability of the salmon recipe from yesterday which I used tonight; nor are there words to describe its ease of preparation, provided you do, as I did not, remember the eggs, the tarragon, the lemon, and the capers. I remembered the salmon and the Champagne, in this case a brut Cava which is also my favorite tipple other than gin, so it was win/win/win/win I forget how many wins it is because I had two glasses of the Cava and I forget how many Daiquiris (not the blender variety, please!).
Still, what can you do when someone shows up early for a dinner party other than send him back out to get the shopping you forgot? So it all worked out well, and the recipe from Sevilla Tapas turned out better than I could have imagined, garnering genuine kudos from seriously accomplished cooks. Why did I, a novice cook, invite seriously accomplished cooks to my dinner party? See the aforementioned note on how much I drink.
But. Honestly. This recipe is dead easy, incredibly tasty, keeps your salmon moist (it was a coho, and you would have sworn it was a more expensive salmon) and makes a stunning presentation besides. I had a tray of sushi from up the street to start, $36 and I’d say a quarter is left over. Thought about doing a bunch of steamed pork buns or something instead, but opted for the fish theme. As a friend of mine from London says, the worst sushi in Vancouver is better than the best sushi in London, and this was quite good, even if it was a little large. I prefer my sushi bite size. Chewing nori is just not attractive.
Still, given I forgot to cook the rice, it’s just as well they were big rolls.
So the main course was the salted salmon and parboiled asparagus. Can’t go wrong with that veg except by overcooking it. And there was enough rice to provide ballast to everyone before the main course. Hmm, this is a useful piece of information.
Everyone brought wine, Shane brought the eggs I forgot for the main course, Ken brought a Mario Cake from DQ for dessert and in fact ain’t nobody don’t like DQ. FACT. It had that Buster Bar chocolate fudge in the cookie layer. *orgasm* And Gena brought an aerator and Bitch wine. No, really, Bitch wine.
All told, a great evening. It was a short cooking time on the fish and asparagus, naturally, and I had to be in the kitchen making the sauce so for once I appreciated an open plan layout. Normally I’m all about closed doors and cubbies, but this did make me think about the fact that I don’t have servants off toiling in the kitchen and also don’t want to serve my guests tepid food, so an open plan works as a compromise.
All in all, a powerhouse dinner party (at least at Level 1).]]>
Well everything in this list is the Avengers, and if you do all of them, nothing will hurt.
Until the next morning.
A little background: I am proud of my country. We have invented many useful household items like the zipper, the electric kettle, and the lightbulb (yes, look it up: Edison bought the patent off two Maritimers). We have also invented some less useful, even possibly noxious things, among them Nickelback and the shooter.
This is a shot glass ostentatiously filled with boozy liquids, sometimes layered, sometimes artistically sculpted, like the Brain Hemorrhage. Always with a catchy name (it’s not the taste that sells these). Think of them as the redneck cousin of the pousse cafe. They are not ordered one at a time, but by the tray, usually by fratboys or those who wish they were fratboys.
Unfortunately, we can’t take credit for the Avengers (Canada trends much more DC than Marvel), that record-obliterating hommage to spandex underwear perverts. So we’ll consider this a hands-across-the-border kind of thing: a roundup of Avengers-themed shooters.
Notice the Black Widow is mysteriously missing. That’s okay, there’s a quite palatable cocktail by that name: just mix one, and pour it into four shotglasses. Instant shooters! Today’s woman doesn’t sit around waiting to be included in a shooter roundup: she just goes out and links herself up a stiff drink.
Now, the roundup, from EXP Bar Online on Tumblr. According to them you must do these in order: Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hawkeye, and Hulk. Have the ingredients well chilled in advance so they layer nicely.
Captain America: Doctor Erskine was going to share blueberry schnapps with him, but he couldn’t have it. Also due to his advanced tissues on his organs can’t get drunk. Hence this shot is the weakest.
Iron man: Tony stark has battled on and off with alcoholism so his tolerance for alcohol is high hence the high proof rum, yet he tries to not drink hence the grenadine to dilute the alcohol.
Thor: He is a god. He drinks after battle and can handle his alcohol, yet human alcohol seems to affect him more hence he is the middle.
Hawkeye: Just a normal human with unbelievable accuracy with all fire arms, bow being his weapon of choice. (p.s. Unlike the trailers we here at EXP bar on line do support Hawkeye and think he is bad ass)
Hulk: He’s the hulk, as he so eloquently has stated in the past. “HULK AM THE STRONGEST THERE IS!!!!!” hence he is last.
So there you have it the avengers shot challenge. enjoy.
And the recipes (for all these drinks, you build it in the glass, pousse-cafe style. Although if you call it that, someone will puke on your shoes.
Captain America: Grenadine, Blue curacao, Blueberry schnapps
Iron Man: Grenadine, Blue curacao, Black heart spiced rum
Thor: Wild turkey American honey, Citrus Vodka
Hawkeye: Grape Pucker, Captain Morgan: Tattoo
Hulk: Grape Pucker, Absinthe (we used NV)