Category Archives: Cooking and Food

Rest in Peace Chef: Anthony Bourdain dead at 61.

As I write this I’m watching people share stories and thoughts on what is looking like an apparent suicide by Anthony Bourdain.

The one time chef and author/globetrotter was found dead by his friend Éric Ripert in France this morning apparently by his own hand.

Anyone who has even casually looked at this blog will know that I have been a constant fan of the man and his work. A previous girlfriend of mine used to call him my man crush and I suppose that assessment was true.

In fact this blog page is a direct result of my early ‘obsession with Bourdain’. When my girlfriend and I won a trip to New York one of the first things we did was go to eat at his old restaurant Les Halles where he had been head chef.

I can’t even begin to imagine what his ex wife and daughter are going through this morning and in all sincerity my heart goes out to them though all of this.

Bourdain has the distinction of being one of the original bad boy celebrity chefs along with Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay.

He used food as a bridge to explore different cultures. Sharing a meal and finding out what really makes the world tick. From high end dining with 3 star chefs to squatting in the sand with tribesmen in Namibia eating the less appealing parts of warthog.

He opened my mind to the world of exotic food. To the point where I will often try a new cuisine and just have the server bring me what they would want to eat.

Depression and suicide are very serious medical issues. One can never really know what demons a person is struggling with. What pain, guilt or shame they carry in their hearts. Real or imagined to the outside world those feelings are all too real to the person suffering.

Mental illness can be as debilitating as a broken bone or heart condition. But because that pain is invisible to everyone else it is misunderstood and marginalized by the outside world. I know this because I deal with depression and severe anxiety on a daily basis.

To all of Anthony’s family and friends I offer my sincere condolences. You do not grieve alone.

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Mid-Winter Mardi-Gras: Let the Good Times Roll!

Well, here we are again Winnipeg, mid-January with the cold and snow firmly entrenched and no end in sight. For those of you, like myself, unable to travel somewhere tropical, there is a reprieve in sight. The good folks in The Vatican came up with the idea of Lent a couple of centuries ago and wouldn’t you know it the industrious citizens of New Orléans know an opportunity to eat and carry on when they see it. Fat Tuesday, or Mardi-Gras to our Creole and Cajun friends to the South is just the excuse to let loose, eat and drink till you can’t do that no more.

Tom McGouran lampshade at the ready with Alix Michaels rocking out with an Aligator at Mardi Gras Media Night

Tom McGouran lampshade at the ready with Alix Michaels rocking out with an Aligator at Mardi Gras Media Night

Held at The RBC Convention Centre February 13th and 14th this Mardi Gras celebration marks the tenth anniversary of the event in Winnipeg. Fabulous food, entertainment and two themed nights are planned to please and surprise those who have a shine on their shoes and spring in their step.

Announcing the festivities for Mardi Gras at media night.

Announcing the festivities for Mardi Gras at media night.

Friday, February 13th is Zombie Night. The living dead will be roaming the room at the RBC Convention Centre. Come dressed as one of the living impaired and join the Undead Newlyweds as they seek fun, dancing and brains!! Those who dress to impress the undead get free admission to the Friday the 13th event.

Tom McGouran and the Zombie Bride 2

Tom McGouran better eat quick he’s being sized up for lunch by the Zombie Bride!

Don’t have a date or a mate to bring to Mardi Gras on Valentine’s Day Saturday, February the 14th? Don’t worry, you can wear your heart on your sleeve and maybe meet that special someone who will sweep you off your feet and rock the night away. Cut out hearts will be available at the door to pin to your outfit and mark yourself Looking for Love! I can personally attest to hearing some very heartfelt testimonials from people who were looking only to dance the night away and found that special someone to make the night magical.

Tom and Alix

Tom McGouran and Alix Michaels

Speaking of magic, back by popular demand, all the way from New Orléans, Louisiana is Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellrasisers. The perennial party band is a sweet treat for your ears and your feet. You’ll be jumping and shaking with music so good you’ll want to slap yo mama!

Even Country Girls like Mardi Gras. Leanne The Boss Lady Cater in full plumage at Mardi Gras Media Night

Even Country Girls like Mardi Gras. Leanne “The Boss Lady” Cater in full plumage at Mardi Gras Media Night

If that’s not enough for y’all, don’t forget The Lindsays will be performing throughout the night.  Featuring Sword Swallowing, Juggling and feats that will  amaze and surprise young and old alike!  Showgirls and yes ladies Showboys will be on display for your roving eye.  Of course we can’t forget Beads! Thank goodness it’s an adult party with no children to protect from the giving of Beads! Wink Wink Y’all!

Fresh shucked oysters

Fresh shucked oysters

Now all that moving and shaking is going to be putting a fierce hunger in that belly. Why not try some of the flavours of Louisiana. The menu this year includes fan favourites such as Deep Fried Pickles and Sweet Potato Fries, screamingly fresh P.E.I Oysters, shucked just for you and of course Peel and Eat Shrimp. New to Winnipeg Mardi Gras, sample Authentic Alligator Fritters, be careful though these may bite back!

Freshly flambéed Shrimp with Pasta

Freshly flambéed Shrimp with Pasta

Looking for something a little more hearty? Try the Louisiana Style Shrimp with Pasta, French Quarter Gumbo or Bourbon Street Creole Style Jambalaya! I’ve personally tried all the above and they are spectacular.

Jambalaya

Jambalaya! Need I say More?

Gentlemen, why not treat your own zombie bride to be or Valentine date to a sweet treat. This year’s desert special is Basin Street Pudding with Bourbon Laced Caramel Sauce.

Bread Pudding with Bourbon Caramel Sauce

Bread Pudding with Bourbon Caramel Sauce

With all of this activity y’all are going to have a mighty powerful thirst going on. Don’t worry, they have you covered. Major drink sponsors include Fireball Canadian Whiskey, Wine O’ Clock, Diabolica, Molson/Coors and Heineken. Naturally, you can’t have a party Louisiana style without Jack Daniel’s or Southern Comfort so they’ll be there as well!

Come visit Kristjana the Fireball Girl at Mardi Gras

Come visit Kristjana the Fireball Girl at Mardi Gras February 13th at the RBC Convention Centre.

I know that personally I can’t wait for the chance to shake off these winter blues and dance till my feet can’t dance no more. Come join us, it’s going to be one hell-raiser of a good time.

Media Celeberties laugh it up at Mardi Gras Media Night

Media Celeberties laugh it up at Mardi Gras Media Night

Authors Note: I do have a few free passes to give away for both Friday and Saturday nights. So to win, leave a comment detailing what night you’d like and what you’ll do to get them. For example, if you want Zombie Night, tell me what your costume plans are. If Valentine’s Day is more your style tell me why you absolutely need to meet that special someone this year. Winnipeg and area only please, I will be in contact with the winners to arrange pick up of the tickets.

2014 Mardi Gras is shaping up to be Mardi Great!

Being a blogger to my mind is its own reward. When I write I normally have something to say or to bring to the attention of the masses, however now and then there are a few side perks that pop up.  Last night Dar and I were the guests of RAS Creative who are doing the promotions for the upcoming Winnipeg Mardi Gras celebration.  It was a media and blogger night to get a taste of the event, the colours, the atmosphere and of course the food!

Mask with feathers From jugglers and drag queens, zydeco dancing, fancy southern cocktails and of course heaping helpings of Cajun and Creole food favorites straight from New Orléans.

Masks on Table

Two Beauties

Our evening started out simply shaking hands and getting to know the assembled crowd.  It turns out that one of Darlene’s co-workers is also a Winnipeg blogger and writes the webpage PegCityLovely.  From there our grumbling stomachs lead us on to the amazing food. I decided just to work my way around the room and try a little bit of everything.  My partner in crime Darlene humbly accepted the challenge of being the night’s beverage taster since I had to drive us home.

DSC00238

PegCityLovely

The first selection of the evening is a New Orléans classic sandwich, the fried oyster po’ boy along with a side of deep fried pickles the combo knocked it out of the park.  Crunchy and rich in flavour paired with the acidity of the deep fried pickle matched incredibly well together.

Oyster Po' Boy Sign

Deep Fried Pickles

Next up was a stop to my most frequented stand of the evening.  Raw shucked Glacier Bay oysters, peel and eat shrimp and the most decadent rich and velvety smooth gumbo this wordsmith has ever eaten.  I love a good briny oyster, nothing fancy just meaty slippery goodness.  Even more than the taste is watching people’s reactions as you wolf down a dozen or so of these beauties.  Revulsion and abject horror often flash through their eyes.  Yummy!

Oyster Bar

Rounding the corner another set of tables loomed ahead, spaced perfectly with food, beverages, and food.  Needing some serious sustenance now a pasta dish looked to be the way to go and we were not disappointed.  The rosé farfalle pasta was amazing.  Complex flavours in a creamy sauce covering pillows of perfectly cooked pasta. The dish also included a oven dried tomato and a cheese crisp (chip) that added just the right zip to the velvety pasta and sauce.

Pasta Dish

Pasta PlateFireball 1

Dar seemed to be up for a challenge as we worked our way around the room and was game for a shot of Fireball whiskey.  The lovely bartender encouraged her saying that the shot tasted just like a cinnamon heart candy.  Dar did the shot like a trooper and even got a souvenir flashing shot-glass to mark the occasion.

Fireball Girl

Seafood is definitely a way of life down in New Orléans so a dish like bourbon flamed garlic pepper shrimp on a bed of rice pilaf is a natural. Like everything else we had tried up to this point the rice and shrimp were simply mind blowing. The aromas coming from this table were incredible, frying garlic and briny shrimps being flamed in top shelf bourbon I’ll let your imagination do the rest.

Garlic Pepper Shrimp

One last turn and we were into Dar’s favorite stand of the night the mixed cocktails.  liking a sweeter beverage Darlene tried two of the house favorites.   The Agent Orange and the Southern Hurricane.  Darlene preferred the Agent Orange due to it’s fruity flavour and deceptive power.  “You can’t even taste the booze in this, it’s dangerous” she exclaimed!

Southern Comfort Menu

But don’t think that’s where Mardi Gras stops as I said the party planners are bringing in top notch entertainment in the form of Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers.  Playing the best in washboard music and swamp pop that your ears have ever heard. I guarantee!

Two masks

Social Media Page

Come for the food, come for the fun and flamboyance. Come for the Ambiance and the Zydeco, how’s that for an A to Z fun time.  Come on down I guarantee you’ll have a great time.  It’s taking place at the Winnipeg Convention Center February 14 and 15th

If you live in Winnipeg and are a fan of Exploring Winnipeg and Beyond, I have some free passes to give away. But there is a catch.  Comment on this post and tell me how I got my start blogging.  It’s easy just go into the archives and look it up.  I’m looking for where I went (City) and the reason (event) I went there.
Comment on this blog posting an I’ll hook you up with some passes for Mardi Gras at the convention center.

Now do yourself a favor and check out the musical madness of Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers!

Broadway Bound: The food truck wave finally hits Winnipeg in a big way.

The food truck/cart industry has always been a staple on the Winnipeg summer landscape. From the chip stands of the early 1930’s right up to modern smokie hotdog carts that dot the Winnipeg summer landscape like dandelions on a prairie field. So why all of the interest in what could be called nouveau gourmand food movement of bringing typically high end restaurant fare and serving it curbside out of a mobile trailer?

Hot Dog Cart

Hot Dog carts dot the Winnipeg Landscape

Personally I think it’s about the whole democratization of food, the idea proposed by so many of the crop of new talented cooks and chefs in typically high-end, high pressure jobs. Patrons are starting to suffer from white table-cloth fatigue, the idea of getting dressed up and paying high-end prices for everything but the food is wearing thin. Just think about it, if you go to say 529 Wellington and order a meal you’re not only paying for the food you’re paying for the cost of maintaining the building, the staff, the food supply chain and on and on. Winnipeggers are a fiercely cheap and efficient lot, we brag about how little we paid for something rather than how expensive something is. It only seems to reason that eventually it would filter down to our food choices.

Now I am not saying that Winnipeg invented the high-end food truck, that phenomenon has gone on for years in other enlightened cities having only recently caught on in a big way here due to City Hall’s reluctance to let the inevitable happen.

On any given weekday lunchtime during Winnipeg’s all too brief spring and summer one can wander downtown to Broadway Avenue, the heart of Winnipeg’s open air food scene.  As the office towers break for lunch thousands of hungry men and women emerge ready to see the delights awaiting them where grilled smokies and hamburgers once dominated the dining scene.

One sunny spring day I took an hour out of my day and investigated the food truck landscape of East Broadway; here is what I found.

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Modern Taco Company: A Truly Mexican Taco finally hits Winnipeg.

Ever since I was a child growing up on the shores of Rainy Lake in Ontario I have been obsessed with food.  Actually that is not precisely correct, it is more to the point to say that I’ve been obsessed with the idea of food.  That is to say how it should taste, what it should look like, the textures and aromas have always captivated me.

As my mother can attest, when ever her back was turned for a few seconds in the kitchen I would be in there grabbing seasonings to add freshness or heat to her spaghetti sauce.  Chopping onions for her stew, a handful of herbs here or a pinch of salt and pepper there.  It drove her batty.

Growing up in small town Northern Ontario in the 1970’s I was never exposed to grand ideas in food. Meat and potatoes, fresh walleye pike straight from the lake, freshly shot deer and moose hanging to age in the cold fall air from the rafters in the garage were the beginnings of my food existence.  Yet somehow I knew that good authentic food didn’t come from a can or a box.  Good food should be fresh, alive, vibrant.

Modern Taco Company

Modern Taco Company

Looking for adventure on a cold rainy spring weekend in Winnipeg can often be a chore.  More than likely my mind will turn to food for escape and what better way to escape the damp chilly streets than taking a trip for a few hours to the streets of Mexico.  The Modern Taco Company at the southern end of the St. James bridge, 612 B Academy Road to be precise offers a surprising choice of authentic Mexican inspired taco truck offerings at a very reasonable price.

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The Peasant Cookery: More than a step above the ordinary.

A few months ago I was doing some volunteer work with a group for men wanting to change their lives.  The work itself was incredibly rewarding but little did I know that I had gastronomic reward also waiting for me.  At the end of the course our group facilitator Mel handed me a thank you card for all of my efforts.  Inside was a gift certificate for any number of city restaurants in the WOW! chain of establishments.  But this certificate came with certain restrictions.

In her patented stern yet amazingly gentle way Mel informed me that I could use the certificate at any one of the WOW! restaurants as long as I chose The Peasant Cookery.  During the course Mel and I had often talked about our passions for finding great meals separate from the throng of mundane chain establishments that seemed to be sucking the life out of the Winnipeg dining scene.

In any case when I arrived home from work yesterday I could tell that Darlene was itching to go out on the town for dinner.  She suggested Hermanos, an all time favorite steakhouse of ours, until I remembered that gift certificate I had tucked away in my wallet a few months ago.  I suggested the Peasant Cookery and within minutes we were out the door and headed down to the exchange district in search of a great meal.

The Peasant Cookery in the 105 year old Traveller’s Block.

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It’s a kind of Magic: Hermanos Argentinian Restaurant

The other night Dar decided that we needed a nice meal out.  To my complete surprise she mentioned a place called Hermanos in the exchange district. “Hermanos?” I mumbled “never heard of it, is it Greek?”  She replied Argentinian.  Instantly the wheels in my creaky mind began to whir and spin to life, Argentinean I bet they do a good steak there I thought.

Reservations were booked on line at Open Table and we were set.  Having never dined at a South American restaurant both of us were intrigued and excited with the menu options that lay ahead. From watching such programs as Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations I knew that the Argentinean diet was one rich in flavour and tradition.  Beefsteak is highly rated, as are many of the seaside dishes native to a coastal South American country.

Arriving at our destination a little early to hunt for parking on the street turned out to be the right call.  The Winnipeg Fringe Festival was in full swing again and street parking was at a premium.  Luckily thanks to Dar’s eagle eyes she spotted a van leaving a parking stall and I was on it in a heartbeat.

I love exploring the century old rabbit warren that is Winnipeg’s Exchange District.  Not only is it home to many of the summertime festivals that come alive in the warm few months we have, but it is also home to many eclectic and excellent restaurants.  Seemingly they sprout up like mushrooms, popping up in a previously vacant building or renovated warehouse. Sadly though most hardly make it a season before they paper up the windows and another moves in to take its place.

Thus it is understandable how I could miss Hermanos.  Apparently open since 2009 and thriving with top rated food literally only a few kilometres from my front door. Upon entering the front door at 179 Bannatyne Ave a sense of familiarity washed over me, the strong century old stonework braced with thick wooden beams mixed well with the leather chairs and low tables in the lounge area of the restaurant.  The bar stood front and centre acting as a divider between the lounge and the dining area.  Reserve bottles of high end liquor were gracing the shelves behind the barmen.

The menu spoke of simplicity and rustic goodness.  As I expected, beef and seafood featured prominently, the chef taking a light approach with naming of some of the dishes.  Peru meets Lake Winnipeg for example features a classic South American staple, ceviche prepared with Lake Manitoba walleye pike. Of course we had to try it.

Civiche and hot fresh potato chips.

Our starters of ceviche and fresh fried potato chips were quick to arrive.  The chips were hot, light and crispy.  Splashed with a sprinkling of sea salt and served with a delicious aioli dip.  The ceviche came marinated in a refreshing traditional citrus mixture and served upon a bed of sweet red onions and corn.

The fish was so light and flaky that one had to keep reminding themselves they were actually eating local walleye.  Freshness is obviously key to this kitchen staff.

Our server Vanessa returned to take our selections for the main course, we both selected beef rib eye steaks each done slightly differently to accommodate sharing.  I selected the Baby Cabrera, dusted with a house rub and served with a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar and port wine reduced bacon and mushrooms.

Darlene chose a simple rib eye treated with coarse sea salt and Brazilian vinaigrette. Our sever was quite knowledgeable in both the menu and wine list and helped us to select an exclusive Uruguayan red wine to pair with our beef.

Dear readers as many of you know I am a huge fan of grilling and of the rib eye steak in particular.  I take great pride in serving my guests a top notch seasoned well-marbled and tender cut of beef.  The steak that I was about to bite into was simply the finest, most tender, and hands down the most delicious single piece of meat I have ever put into my body PERIOD.

When the meal came, the presentation looked simple but effective, steak alongside broccoli and pepper served with a little pot of garlic mashed potato.  The aromas were quite appealing and my steak appeared to be cooked correctly rare.  Earlier Vanessa quite properly inquired if I did indeed want a proper rare steak, as the grill man was very accurate and rare to him is a cool centre with blood visible.  I replied, that I liked my steak just the other side of mooing, and she trotted off visibly assured.

Baby Cabrera with sides

Cutting into my choice cut of rib steak, I could not help but notice the ease in which my knife sliced into the charred flesh.  The inside cross section proved my suspicion, the inside remained dark red with tan and brown radiating towards the surface.  I have never indulged in hard drugs; to me a fine meal easily beats out that particular vice.  With my first bite it was like someone had shoved a spike full of some wonderful endorphin into my veins and pushed the plunger down hard.  My eyes instantly closed as my primal senses took over, the blood and grilled textures mingling over my taste-buds blocking out all other stimuli.  The supreme tenderness of the beef defying the need to chew as the small piece seemingly melted away in my mouth.

Slowly the room started to permeate my peripheral senses again, my eyes fluttered open to see Darlene staring, grinning and almost laughing at my reaction. “That good eh?” she laughed, the words coming in waves to my still blissed out brain stem as I managed a nod.

The funny thing with most pleasure seeking behaviour is that the second hit is never ever as good as the first; you always end up chasing that virginal high.  This particular steak though broke that rule into a thousand flavour filled shards. The rush just kept coming and coming, every bite seemingly better than the last. Like someone had dusted my steak with powerful Argentinean opiates instead of seasoning.  Fat, lean it didn’t matter I moved around the cut trying to find a bad piece, something to snap me out of my meat filled delirium. Impossible!

Normally I am all about the total flavour profile on the plate, how do the vegetables work with the protein, how does the wine pair?  That night though I charged headlong down the rabbit hole and fell under the powerful dark magic that is an exquisitely cooked rib steak.

Overall I would have to rate Hermanos Argentinian Restaurant to be one of those fabulous five star gems that I wish I had found earlier, but one that I will definitely be returning to in the near future.

Authors Note: I am not the only one who has gone crazy over Hermanos. Winnipeg Free Press , Where Winnipeg and Winnipeg Sun have all given stellar reviews to this hidden jem in Winnipeg’s Exchange District.

Hermanos on Urbanspoon