Archive for the 'eating out' Category

Real Baked Beans + Medicine Hat

Baked beans 1

We’ve become hooked on short-haul trips to small towns we’ve never explored in our own province. W asked if we could go on another adventure as soon as he finished school, and so we obliged by packing up the car and driving to Medicine Hat on Friday afternoon – as good a place to go as any when the forecast tipped beyond 30 degrees. The temperature in southern Alberta this weekend ranged from about 34-38 – no better time to hunker down in a hotel that has air conditioning and a water slide. (Also: no obligation to cook, do dishes or laundry.) We beat the heat with a visit to Tino’s drive-in (hilariously thin burgers, but people apparently go for the chili fries, and the ice cream was cold) and Swirls Ice Cream (my fave).

Tino's
Swirls

Because I’m a full-on coffee snob, Mike walked across the street to Tim Horton’s while I went in search of a proper cappuccino. The Station Coffee Co in downtown Medicine Hat brews Fratello beans, has some sufficiently dense and sticky cinnamon buns and squares, and is right across the street from one of the prettiest garden centres I’ve been to, with one of the many weathered brick walls you’ll see around town acting as a backdrop. Warning: it’s closed on Sundays. I KNOW. I would have bought two on Saturday and drank the other one cold. See? Coffee snob.

the station
MedHat Garden Centre

Hop across the river (I do love a town that has bridges) and you’ll find Zucchini Blossom Café, a cute little coffee shop in an equally adorable old-school block of awesome little spots – it’s a haven of baked goods, soups, salads, sandwiches and pizza – I took a cold slice of veggie pizza with me, and wound up polishing the whole thing off in the car, along with perfectly tart apple-rhubarb crumble.

zucchini blossom

A couple doors down, Skinny’s Smokehouse serves up hickory smoked pulled pork, ribs, chicken and some of the best brisket I’ve had – with cold Cokes in glass bottles and rolls of paper towel (always a good sign) and Mad magazine on the tabletops.

Skinny's 3
Skinny's 2

You can take home meat by the pound, their own barbecue sauces, or try a porkzilla – pulled pork, bacon and sausage on a soft bun. Everything comes with a side, and we tried all of them – dill-heavy potato salad, chili-spiced baked beans and truly great slaw – a rarity, it seems. And I was hooked on the thinly sliced quick pickles – I finished everyone’s off.

Skinny's 1

Apparently, people go for Thai food when in Medicine Hat. I did not know this. Fortunately, I know people who did, and they tipped us off. The Thai Orchid Room, set in the back of a sleepy new strip mall by the highway with not much around it – is not something we could have stumbled upon, but the curry and pad Thai were some of the best I’ve had. And I learned a new cocktail: gin + pomegranate juice + champagne (or prosecco), which I want to name the Alberta Summer, but I think in order to have that name it should be made with rhubarb.

Thai orchid

(These photos do not give this pad Thai and peanut curry justice. Truly.)

On Sunday morning, after discovering that most of wee downtown Medicine Hat is closed on Sundays, we hopped over to the 1912 Medalta Pottery Factory – a national historic site (!!) in the clay district, joking in the 37 degree heat that some kids get to go to Disneyland, others’ parents drag them to small town pottery museums.

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Medalta kiln
medalta 7

It was fascinating, to all of us – in a century-old factory with a row of enormous beehive kilns out front you could actually go into, it was part working ceramic studio with artists in residence, and part original factory, where in the early 1900s workers made ceramic urns, pots, jugs and dishes that were shipped around the world.

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For centuries, the South Saskatchewan River deposited alluvial silt along its banks, creating rich deposits of clay that was found to have great ceramic and brick making potential. That combined with a formation that kept the area in cheap natural gas meant Medicine Hat was a hub of industrial activity at the time.

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Also: they made bean pots. This, as you know, is right up my alley.

soaking beans
medalta bean pot 2

In Canada’s early days, when home cooking was done in a large central fireplace, whomever was charged with feeding everyone would simmer beans in heavy Medalta pots nestled in the coals at the back of the fireplace – behind the breads and pies, where it could stay and simmer for hours. The pots were hardy enough to be passed from generation to generation – and so when we exited the exhibit into the gift shop and they actually had some, I bought one – and it came with their real baked bean recipe tucked inside. I made a pot today, regardless of the fact that it was close to 30 outside. (If you don’t have a bean pot, you could bake these in any heavy baking dish – or do them in the slow cooker on low for 6-8 hours; that way they won’t heat up your house.)

medalta baked beans 1

Real Medalta Baked Beans

2 cups dry navy (little white) beans
1 small onion, finely chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
3/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 Tbsp. grainy mustard
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a bowl or medium pot, cover the beans with enough water to cover by a couple inches and let soak for 6-8 hours; alternatively, bring the two to a boil, cook for a minute, then remove from heat and let stand for 2 hours. Pour off the excess water. Preheat the oven to 325F.

Put the beans into a medium pot (if they aren’t already), add enough water to cover by a couple inches and bring to a simmer; cook for 30-40 minutes, until tender but still firm to the bite. Drain, reserving the cooking water. Transfer the beans to your bean pot (or a heavy baking dish) and add the onion, garlic, ketchup, brown sugar, molasses, mustard, balsamic, Worcestershire, salt and pepper. Add 2 cups of the leftover cooking water (add regular water to top it up if you need to) and stir to combine.

Bake, uncovered (this is the way I did it – the recipe didn’t specify) for 4-5 hours, or until the beans are tender and the sauce is thick and sticky around the edges. If they seem too dry, add more water.

Serves 8 or so.

This post was sponsored by Travel Alberta – a great partnership, since I love showing off this province so much. As always, all thoughts and words are my own.

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June 30 2015 | beans and eating out | 13 Comments »

Road Food: the Cowboy Trail

Chuckwagon burger

When most Calgarians hop in the car for a day trip outta Dodge they tend to head west, toward the mountains, toward Banff and Lake Louise and skiing and snowboarding. And while those are very worthwhile destinations, I’m partial – once spring rolls around – to leaning more southwest, toward the Cowboy Trail, that gorgeous rolling expanse of foothills between the city and the mountains out on highway 22. Technically, the Cowboy Trail (named for all the ranches it winds past) runs 700 km, from highway 3 near Lundbreck to Highway 18 near Mayerthorpe, but the chunk we like to take goes from Bragg Creek through Priddis, past Millarville – and the farmers’ market at the racetrack on summer and fall weekends – to Turner Valley and Black Diamond. It’s a perfect distance – a couple hours in the car, with plenty to stop and eat.

Millarville Market

The Millarville Market should be opening again soon for the season-typically it’s open Saturdays 9-2.

cowboy trail

Keep driving another ten minutes and you’ll find yourself in wee Turner Valley, home of some of the best beef in Alberta. (And close to Diamond Willow Artisan Retreat – a place unlike any other I know, where groups of up to 12 can meet, work, play and eat in a wonderfully serene environment, with a hot tub and wood-fired pizza oven out back. And check out this kitchen! I’ve done a couple cooking events out there – it’s a blast. We should all go sometime for a sleepover, fire up the pizza oven and open some wine. For real.)

diamond willow

Literally around the corner in Turner Valley, the Chuckwagon Cafe isn’t as big a secret as it used to be – it’s the bright red refurbished barn right in the middle of town, where owner Terry Myhre’s own herd of cattle are the focal point of the menu. The burgers – some of the best in Alberta – are made with aged beef that’s hand-ground, seasoned and shaped, served with their own homemade relish and hand-cut fries. They also serve an all-day breakfast, and are equally known for their flat iron steak topped with a poached egg and hollandaise. But seriously – the burger alone is worth the drive.

Chuckwagon Cafe 1

Conveniently, they’ve built the brand-new Eau Claire Distillery and Tasting Room right next door, where they have a farm to glass philosophy. It’s Alberta’s first craft distillery, with a special vodka named after the neighbouring Three Point Creek skirting Turner Valley, Parlour Gin with its intense botanicals – juniper berry induced dryness and hints of rosehip, Saskatoon berry, coriander, lemon, orange, mint and spice. You can sidle up to the tasting room bar beside the distillery to give it a try.

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They chose Turner Valley to be close to the source of their ingredients, sourced and harvested from Alberta farms, and to draw water from the Rockies. It also helps that Turner Valley has a storied history from prohibition times; the new distillery is housed in the old Turner Valley Movie Theatre and Dance Hall circa 1923, that once served as town hall, political rally point, dance hall and community gathering spot.

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Right now they distill gin, vodka and Spring Equinox – a very prairie-inspired spirit made of prickly pear cactus. Up next: rye whisky. Last spring, the owners and a small group of friends camped out by the Bar U Historical Site Ranch and ploughed for 8 to 10 hours a day, equipped with horses and horse drawn farm equipment salvaged from old yards and auctions, and used a 1910 seeder to sow untreated spring rye seed purchased from a farmer in Provost, Alberta.

Eau Claire Distillery 1
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The crop grew and the plan was to harvest it 100 days from the date of planting – September 9. If you live in Calgary, you might remember this past early September – the harvest party was canceled, and they scrambled to gather all the grain before the massive snowfall. Crazy!

Eau claire distillery 3
Eau claire distillery 2

More burgers. One of these days I’m going to stick around and eat one for lunch, then stay for dinner.

If you’re not ready to head home yet, further down the trail you’ll find Black Diamond – and I love the old-school Black Diamond Bakery, owned by George and Patty Nielsen, which I managed to not get any photos of. Suffice to say you’ll find things like Parkerhouse rolls and homemade long Johns, Nanaimo bars and butter tarts.

Azuridge 1

And if you’re looking to make a weekend of it, there’s an equisite boutique hotel in Priddis called Azuridge that’s spectacular – once a private residence, this extraordinary estate was transformed in 2011 and is now one of Canada’s only estate hotels; 27,000 square feet on 13 acres, with indigenous Rundle rock, timber and sweeping glass architecture inspired by the Canadian Pacific Railway’s rocky mountain train stations.

Azuridge 2
Azuridge 2

There are just 13 guest suites, all with floor-to-ceiling windows, staggering views, and the very best, deepest claw foot tubs I’ve ever had the pleasure of soaking in. It’s gorgeous. Guests have access to a private butler, there to do anything from unpack your suitcase to draw a bath with your choice from a literal library of sea salts. The showers look like Charlie’s Great Glass Elevator. If you ever wanted to spend an over-the-top luxurious weekend, this is the place to do it.

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The Chef’s Table is -literally- a slab of cedar that seats 12, with Executive Chef Yoshi at the helm in the kitchen – and the Opal restaurant is open even if you’re not staying there. They do a pretty mean eggs Benny and Caesar – and there’s really nothing better than waking up, putting on a fluffy robe and opening the door to a tray of coffee and pastries basking in the sunshine.

Azuridge breakfast

So there you go – a whole lotta ways to spend an afternoon, or a weekend semi-staycation, by venturing just southwest of the city.

Thanks to Dong Kim for the images from Eau Claire Distillery!

I love showing off my home province – thanks to Travel Alberta for helping me do it!

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March 30 2015 | eating out | 10 Comments »

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