Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Downtown Drift

Spring is here and the sun is out, so bring on the Food Trucks!

I kicked off my May Long weekend by checking out a particular food truck: Drift. A friend from work was raving one day about their Pork Belly sandwiches and when he found out I’d never eaten from a food truck before, he was thrilled that my first experience would be at the Drift Truck.
The line up moved quickly!

Seeing as how I never get to experience my lunch hour downtown, I took advantage of my holiday Friday, called another friend and braved the intense traffic and parking-spot hunt to seek out this new sandwich place.  What I found, in addition to literally a meal on wheels, was a new experience of downtown Edmonton on a weekday, when the streets come alive, bustling with people, music and the colourful and tantalizing food trucks.

Drift’s Friday location was tweeted in the morning as being between Bay Enterprise and Commerce Place. As I was making my way there, I must have passed at least eight other food trucks, most notably the bright pink Perogy Princess and the mobile burger joint Street Eats.  My friend was already there when I got to Drift’s spot and the line moved quickly. Apparently, the Pork Belly sandwich is ‘the usual’ of many others and I was eager to find out why. 

Drift's green truck is a favorite among the food truck scene.
After our sandwiches were ready and they called our names for pick-up, we headed east to Churchill Square to enjoy our food and some overdue catching up. It’s a testament to Drift that the sandwiches stayed warm during our multi-block trek to the table in the Square where took our first few bites.


Juicy, tangy pork belly on a crusty roll, topped with a coleslaw-type mix of pickled carrots and a truly special herb: cilantro. Some people have to work up to enjoying its powerful, punchy flavor but for others, the more cilantro, the better. I am in somewhere in the middle of the two extremes and I thought Drift’s Pork Belly Sandwich was fully enhanced by the cilantro and carroty mix. This is a great sandwich to make your ‘usual’ at Drift. 
Drift's Pork Belly Sandwich. 

Between bites of our sandwiches, my friend and I got caught up on each other’s busy lives and took in the action of Churchill Square: the outdoor salsa lesson in progress, the kids playing at the Ping-Pong tables, the bells of City Hall chiming at 1PM. I had no idea any these things took place there regularly, but now that I do, I’m going to make sure I find my way back. It’s a great space to gather, enjoy the different people and take in those rare moments of blue Edmonton sky and bright spring sunshine.

Blue sky above one of my favorite buildings:
the Edmonton Art Gallery
I sure did and I have the sunburn on my forehead to prove it; rookie mistake to forget the sunscreen but so what? Not not only did I get to try out a delicious, local food truck, I got to spend some special time with a good friend and, ultimately, with my city.

Thank you, Drift and Downtown Edmonton, for a great way to spend a holiday Friday lunch hour. I will be back!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Crunchy Apple Chicken Salad

I admit freely that I am loud apple-eater.

I like to think of it as really showing my appreciation for this beautiful and tasty fruit.  I take big bites and I relish every crunch.  

These Pink Ladies are the perfect blend of sweet and tarty.
What’s not to love about apples? They’re colourful, compact, extremely portable and completely edible, especially for those weird people who actually eat the cores. Plus they even sound delicious; one of the most satisfying sounds is the loud crunch of biting into a cold, crisp, sweet apple.


I snack on an apple almost every day and it’s nice to know I can at least cross off one serving of fruit from the list. I’m a fan of nearly every kind, though I find some kinds like MacIntosh and Spartan taste the best in the fall - much fresher and crunchier.  Lately, I prefer ones with a bit more tart; snacking on one feels more like a treat. Granny Smith apples are often the go-to apple to cut into super thin slices and include in sandwiches for this very reason. Their tartness pairs nicely with sharp cheeses and mellow meats, such as turkey or chicken. I had some leftover chicken breasts and plenty of apples, so I went about making a kind of sandwich I’ve enjoyed but never made myself: chicken salad.

As with any kind of salad-sandwich, there are so many different options! The more I read, the more I felt inspired to pull from whatever I had available for a basic dressing and go from there. This Crunchy Apple Chicken Salad sandwich uses a simple mayo/mustard dressing and my current favorite apple, the Pink Lady, which was more than up to the task of bringing the sweetness and crunch to this sandwich.
Chicken, apples and lettuce ready for tossing.

You will need:

Sandwich bread, like Rye or a coarse Multi-Grain
1-2 Pink Lady Apples, washed, cored and diced
2 cooked chicken breasts, cubed
1-2 handfuls of lettuce (I used a combination of romaine and mixed greens)
1 ½ Tbs mayo
1 ½ grainy Dijon mustard (or more if you want it spicier)
¼ tsp milk
1 handful of grated sharp cheddar
Fresh ground pepper

Toss with the dressing and sprinkle with cheddar.

1-Combine the lettuce, diced apples and chicken together.
2-In a small bowl, mix the mayo and mustard together.
3-Thin the mixture with a drop of milk and mix to taste.
4-Toss the dressing with the salad until coated.
6-Top with fresh ground pepper and grated cheddar and toss again.
5-Carefully spoon out portions of the salad onto the sandwich bread.
6-Slice and serve.

This sandwich is a light change from the delicious richness of last month’s grilled cheeses and one of the quickest sandwiches I’ve made so far - under ten minutes to prep. The Mayo/Dijon dressing adds a pop of spiciness and let's face it, I would use Dijon on almost every sandwich I make, I love it so.  For even more flavor in the future, I suggest marinating the chicken in a mustard sauce before grilling. I also recommend tossing in some dried cranberries or raisins for another sweet flavor that would pair nicely with the apples. Really, think ‘salad additions’ and you’ll be set to toss this chicken salad up just the way YOU like it.

For a simple sandwich that’s crisp and sweet, like a leafy spring day itself, it’s hard to go wrong with a simple dressing, some leafy greens, some chicken chunks and apples.

This sandwich sounds tasty too.
The crunchier, the louder, the better. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Stack of Waffle Grilled Cheese

University: a place of discovery and learning.

It was during my first year that I discovered I hated living in res and I learned how to live away from home.

Other poignant discoveries were that I liked coffee (thank you and miss you, Java Jive!), that the U of A campus in fall is one of the most beautiful places in Edmonton, that the stairwells of the Fine Arts Building are a great place to meet people and rehearse directing projects, and that walking into the Engineering building with your Complete Works of Shakespeare will get you a lot of funny looks.

And I learned to love that campus and my time there like no other time and place.
This sandwich is one of my proudest student achievements.

Being a university student also forced me to learn how to cook for myself. It wasn’t ever fancy or all that pretty but I learned because I had to and because there was only so much Subway or Edo that I could stomach. By the time I earned both my degrees, I had also graduated from Kraft Dinner and had moved on to other meals. But the one student meal I love to bring back from time to time is the Waffle Grilled Cheese

I wish I could say this sandwich was born from a great stroke of culinary inspiration but it was the stack of dirty dishes marinating in the sink that forced me to find another way to make a midnight study snack. It was out of desperation, and I’d like to think a subconscious sense of courtesy towards the upstairs neighbors that I wasn’t about to tackle the dishes at that hour, that I turned to the waffle iron I got for Christmas.

That silent, reliable, quick-heating waffle iron then became one of the best gifts I had ever received. In the student days - and in some of the first-year-teacher days - I used it more for grilled cheese than for waffles. It always saved on dishes and time and it got the job done with only a little mess. Plus, the waffle ridges are perfect for holding lots and lots of ketchup, salsa or hot sauce.

About to become golden and waffle grilled.
Like any good student meal, the required ingredients are minimal (Got bread? Got cheese? Got power? Go!), but for this post-grad version, I added some bonus ingredients to tackle that other great student meal – breakfast for dinner!

You will need:

-A sturdy waffle iron
-Sandwich bread, any kind
-Mozzarella cheese
-Cheddar Cheese
-Eggs, fried sunny-side up with the yokes medium done
-Sausage patties
-Ketchup or your choice or condiment
The sizzling means it's working.

The Process:

1-Plug in the waffle iron and let it heat up.
2-While it’s heating, fry the sausage patties and the eggs.
3-Slice the cheese and arrange on the bread slices.
4-Once the eggs and sausages are cooked, layer them on top of the cheese on one slice of bread.
5-Top of the sandwiches with more cheese and the other bread slices.
6-Carefully place the sandwiches in the waffle iron and close it up as best you can.
7-As the sandwiches grill, press the waffle iron down gently to compress them more compactly.
8-Let grill until the waffle ridges are golden and the insides are melted.
9-Remove from heat, slice and serve with your favorite topping.

Definitely one of the quickest and easiest grilled cheeses I’ve made, but the real fun is in the presentation. Stacked up on each other, they resemble an ordinary pile of glistening waffles, fresh from the grill, just waiting to be drowned in butter and syrup. But these are special waffles stuffed with spicy sausages and smothered in gooey, melted cheese. Try adding your favorite spices to the eggs for a little something extra and swap out the syrup for a hearty drizzling of ketchup. Eat it with a knife and fork or get greasy with your hands, in true grilled cheese style.

I traded-in the student-poverty and exam angst when I finished degree #2 in 2009 and finally moved above ground. To quote the teacher that I've now become, "the learning never ends" and although I’ve moved on in so many ways, that waffle iron has always come with me. Even now when I own a small sandwich grill, it’s still fun to haul it out for some Waffle Grilled Cheese so I can appreciate where I was and how much I still discover and learn each day.