HI and HI Again

SeaBKsteakAnother long overdue post! So overdue in fact, that we have visited twice now, and I will in fact be heavily referencing the original visit, since I wasn’t able to get to all of the things that I wanted to revisit on round 2. And where is this place that I speak of? Aruba of course, and the Holiday Inn Resort more specifically.

Originally, we did some recon last March/April to check out the “updated” Holiday Inn, and to give an all inclusive a try, with the hopes of maybe bringing all the kiddos with us in the fall. It went so well, that we booked a trip for the seven of us for the fall, right from the hotel room via Skype.

Since this is a food blog, I’ll leave the long hotel description to our TripAdvisor post, and focus on the food/beverage situation.

Where to start! Well, drinks were plentiful, as creative as could be if requested, and more than strong enough.  Banana daquiris and sangria were always great treats, and they always had plenty of Pino Grigio on hand for me, vodka and sodas for L. I was particularly fond of their sangria recipe, as it had lots of bits of fruit, a nice taste of cinnamon, and not too sweet.

The food was more than satisfactory, delicious on the whole in fact, but lets be honest, not gourmet, nor did we need or expect it to be.

Here’s the 411:

Corals Buffet Breakfast: Plentiful, lots of variety, with the highlight being little arepas, as well as shredded beef, which made appearances at most of our AM adventures.

Corals Buffet Dinner: Standard fare, good for families and kids, and they had Bitterballen! Dutch treat of scalding lava meat/gravy balls. *for goodness sakes wait till the damn things cool down before biting!*

Oceanside Bar: Spent quite a few afternoons there, delicious Greek salad with sooooft pita and tasty dressing (this was not on the menu on our fall trip), overly heavy, greasy fish and chips, wings, which I liked, but L wasn’t as keen on, they remind me of the Fried Chicken TV Dinner! Giant chocolate chip cookies, that were okay, but not quite worth the calories/sugar coma, hot dogs and quesadillas also very delicious. Gyro which we tried in the fall: Superb!

Seabreeze Restaurant: Great for lunch or dinner, wonderful open wall restaurant, fantastic service, enjoyed the salmon, steaks, fried chicken, the Aruban Cuban sandwich and many other dishes, all presented beautifully and no real gongs on anything… oops except the tuna tartare, which just had a little too much sesame oil on it. And the desserts! Wow, we don’t usually indulge, but… coconut creme brulee, cheesecake, pineapple carpaccio with ice cream, and who could forget the key lime pie.  Just amazing, and don’t forget to add a delicious espresso to round out the flavours. Special mention to Eddy, he goes above and beyond and we were grateful for his extra assistance when we needed it.

And now the unexpected best for last: Pizza Now! A service at the Seabreeze and Oceanside Bar where you can get a million pizzas (okay, not that many, but L did try to hit that number) brought to you whenever you wanted! Oh the joy of the thin, crispy, hot crust, topped with either a standard assembly from the menu, or design your own. I cannot do the taste of these things justice here. The brilliant bonus for us was the fact that they have big bowls of chili flakes on request, and the spicy deliciousness of this was almost too much to bear. They haunted us from spring until our recent revisit weeks ago, where L recreated the million pizza munch.

So, although the food scene outside the resorts in Aruba is delicious and exciting as we have detailed in a previous post, the Holiday Inn with the all inclusive option proved to be quite rewarding too, and doesn’t stop you from venturing out to your favourite offsite treats for a couple of nights.

Those pizzas aren’t going to eat themselves (though they would if they could!), get to the HI Aruba as soon as you can!

K&L 😀

It’s allll Greek to us

Chef Tommy'sHad to go with the tried and true phrase to name this post.  This outing was a combination of birthday celebration of one kiddo, and also somewhere interesting and new to celebrate hitting 15000 clicks for this very blog.  We were marking every thousand clicks, but as interest ramps up, we have now settled on every 5000 for now.  So here we are, trying a local Greek restaurant that has been open some time now, but we hadn’t made it to quite yet. It comes with the unlikely name of “Chef Tommy’s“, and resides in a defunct Taco Bell believe it or not.

Atmosphere/decor was in the spirit of what I would expect in a Greek restaurant. Staff very welcoming, helpful with the menu, even with a bit of a language barrier, but no real issue communicating ultimately. This ain’t no cookie cutter chain establishment.

We had to have Saganaki (flame included at this place, which was cool!) and one of my faves, Dolmades, both delicious as they should be. Then we all ordered from the Specialties menu, 2 Shrimp Saganakis, a Papoutsaki and I rounded out the choices with a Lamb Kleftiko.  We were mostly full from the appetizers, which included endless and tasty servings of pita triangles, and salads, etc. and everyone made a solid effort on the entrees, which looked and tasted fantastic, but I have to say, my Lamb Kleftiko, with its gorgeous, rich flavour, and thin, crunchy envelope of filo was the highlight of all of the dishes, and I would highly recommend you try it.

Dessert was still attempted, despite my previous paragraph outlining our already straining appetites and waistbands. Have to always try the baklava, which was okay, but again, not my favourite as far as my tastes in baklava go, a little too gooey, fruit cakey, but others did enjoy it. We also asked about their Greek coffee. Is it the cup of dark, richness with the puddle of mud at the bottom? Yes! So of course we had one, it really has a different flavour than any other coffee I’ve had. Our waiter said that people read the mud (grounds) when the drink is finished, so he came by and flipped the cup upside down and then returned a short while later.  You know, I don’t remember what the reading was, but if it involved money or fame or great, spontaneous muscle growth with no effort at all, welllllll, none of those things happened, but it was a fun end to the dinner none the less.

So there it is, another food fest for hitting another click milestone, and of course the birthday thing in there too 🙂 Ahhh now I remember what the reading was… it predicted that we will visit Chef Tommy’s again!

K&L 😀

Chef Tommy's Greek Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Two years already??? Absolut(ely)!

2nd AnniversaryHard to believe that it’s been 2 years since superfoodies said: “Let’s Eat!” I mean: “I do”… but there it is… I started plotting our celebration awhile back, and when L mentioned a vague question about what were we going to do, I said I was already on the case! (And that he could have next year exclusively). A good plan, we decided, so that our general nature to surprise each other didn’t result in a clash of events.

Last year was a super fun time at Pravda in Toronto, and I thought it would be easy, fun, to keep up the theme. My plan was to stay home this year, and have a vodka tasting party. And then the choices began… there are so very many vodkas and it was hard to narrow it down to 4, but I managed to choose brands that I thought we would appreciate most, and hadn’t tried before.

Right in the middle of my purchases (which happened over several weeks), L developed a taste for gin… right about the same time that the liquor stores started highlighting the stuff, with big displays!… and interesting, new varieties! Maybe next year… we were committed to our vodka past at this point.

After much research and shopping, I settled on: Pravda (no mistake, a nostalgic nod to year one fun), Chopin, Absolut Elyx, and Russian Standard Platinum. The next step was to make up score cards, since you can’t do a legit tasting without some scoring! After picking up and numbering 4 small carafes and 8 small glasses, my next dilemma was how to get the vodkas into the carafes without me knowing what they were. Kid L to the rescue. She came over and poured, and then wrote up the “vodka key” and stuck it on the basement fridge for us to open when we were finished.

In the meantime, I had shopped for, and then arranged, an awesome charcuterie plate! Meats, cheeses, pickled onions, rye bread, crackers, spicy pickled green beans, olives, asian pear… all of our favourites… which were eagerly consumed during the tasting. I made sure not to look at L’s scorecard and he did the same, so we could have a fair assessment. So how did they all stack up??

1st Place: Pravda, 2nd: Russian Standard Platinum, 3rd: Absolut Elyx and 4th: Chopin. Pravda really was the stand out for sure.

What to do next?? Well, the night was young, many drinks were already consumed, and L was now on clean up crew for all the carafes of poured vodka. Sensing this might be the logical flow after the tasting, I planned for us to make perogies from scratch! A needed and forced break in the imbibing, if you will…

Again I researched, and actually found a vareniki recipe (click here) that sounded very delicious and interesting (note: I did change the filling to potato/cheddar). I sprung the plan on L, and I’m sure that he did NOT see THAT as the next activity, but he sure was happy about it. (we have always said we’d make perogies from scratch) As I started the set up, L continued to scarf the entire rest of the charcuterie platter… and vodka… then he was up, stuffing the dough as I cooked. L is a champion vareniki stuffer, gets waaaay more in than I do! We boiled them and then fried in a whack of butter and onions… yes we did.

They turned out fantastic! Puffier than regular perogies, and as tasty as any I’ve had in a long time. We ate as many as we could, which was considerably less than our usual intake of course, after the giant meat/cheese fest.

It was nice to be home this year, and be able to waddle over to the couch after the remaining vareniki were safely tucked in the refrigerator. What on earth will next year hold??? L… anniversary #3 is in your court 😀

K&L 😀

 

Get us to the Greek!

Zante BowmanvilleThe Christmas season has officially ended….. now! My sister and I get together for a Christmas dinner every year, and we used to get it accomplished before the actual day.  As time has gone on, and our “spousal intricacies” have grown, and life remains busy etc. we have started deferring until a bit into January, when things have calmed down and we can enjoy a quiet, non-crammed in, meet up.  We still call it “Christmas get together”, but it may be a bit of a misnomer at this juncture.

The suggestion of Zante in Bowmanville was put forward. L and I had never been, but checked it online and it looked quite delicious. L asked when was the last time we had Greek? And then we chuckled… “never!” So Zante it was.

We met up on a snowy night, end of January… which characterizes almost any night of the 13/14 winter season.  The place is not fancy, but nicely lit (not too bright!) and cozy, no door flapping in the cold air every time it was opened. We were quickly seated and a wine ordered for me. Appeared to have a decent selection.  Sister and J arrived and we set about to ordering.  They choose a wine recommended by the owner, whom my sister calls “Mr. Zante”. I continued with my white, but did sample theirs, and it was a good choice (picture below). Dolmades for us, Saganaki for them, to start. Funny, they flame the cheese in the kitchen, as their ceilings are too low to do it safely at tableside! Both decent portions and great tasting. So far so good!

Onto the mains.  Sister and J ordered the Zante Platter, consisting of Roast Lamb, Mousaka, Pork and Chicken Souvlaki, Dolmades and Tzatziki, along with Greek salad, potatoes, vegetables and rice.  We were keen to observe as a possible choice for us next time. L had Pork Souvlaki and I had Beef Shishkabob, which also came with salads, rice, vegetables and potatoes. Sounds like an overwhelming amount of sides, but they do keep it reasonable, along with the prices.

Food arrived in a timely manner, all was tasty.  No “showstopping, crazy, gotta come back tomorrow” vows were made, but it was certainly more than good enough to make a trip back soon.

Onto dessert, which we normally don’t indulge in often, but hey, it’s “Christmas” 😉 L and I shared a Baklava, and sister and J had a sundae/parfait type dish that I can’t recall the name of, and desserts aren’t listed on the website for me to reference! Oh well, I’m sure if you want to try it and describe it, they’d be more than happy to point you in the sweet direction. Baklava was okay, but a bit over congealed and the nuts may have turned a bit… we still finished it of course.  Sister and J seemed to hit the jackpot with theirs.  L and J had Greek coffees, espresso like, and while the taste was different and good, there was 1/2 inch of sludge on the bottoms of the small cups. Maybe we needed instructions? Or maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be.

All in all a very enjoyable evening of taste and company (who were a bit camera shy, but willing to hand model!), that I would happily do again with the same people… but better weather!!!

K&L 😀
Zante Restaurant on Urbanspoon

superfoodies Shanksgiving!

Lamb ShanksShanksgiving (or it’s more well known name in the superfoodies’ household: “lamb shank night”) is one of our most important celebrations. It is the first dinner I cooked for L not long after we had met.  It also included beer cheddar soup to start, but the yearly tradition does not include that part as a standard. I also roasted garlic and made some spectacular mashed potatoes with it, but nope, also not mandatory, but you can see why he stuck around 😀 .

This year, we missed the date, then bought some shanks quite awhile later… and STILL didn’t get around to the concocting… so they chilled in our freezer… waiting for the call.  Finally, we realized we just needed to get them out and get on it, or we’d be eating them on the proper date a year later (well, we would have purchased some fresh ones if we did wait that long… months of living in the Kenmore side-by-side would not make for an optimal taste experience)

Foraged around the still fairly new, and therefore rearranged (read: I still can’t find a damn thing), kitchen for the good old hard copy of the Rosemary Braised Lamb Shanks recipe, and went to work.

I mostly follow the recipe quite accurately, and it turns out as we like it, but of course adjust it where you need to, or like.  I used powdered thyme (feeling cheap about throwing out a mostly full package of fresh, since it won’t get used), but used fresh rosemary, even though I WILL throw most of that out, because dammit, it’s in the name of the recipe! I do however use less than is called for, as it can be a bit overpowering for us. Noticing the sauce was just a little thinner than we wanted this time, I did throw in a good teaspoon of potato starch to tighten it up and that did the trick.

The presentation was to be over a bed of boiled, mashed yuca/cassava, but as L started peeling, he realized it had gone bad, so we quickly cooked a packaged quinoa blend to substitute. Polenta would have been nice, but would have taken a bit too much thought for me to pull off.

All was rich, and flavourful, though the shanks were not quite as soft as I prefer them, but that is my only real criticism. Of course we paired dinner with a delicious bottle of red: one of our favourites: Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel.  L loved everything!

A few things learned from this episode of lamb shank night: it is a bit of a production, so pick up some really nice shanks from the butcher, no more vacuum sealed freezer packs, verify before you start to cook that your side dish has not decided to go south, and for goodness sakes, don’t wait 8 months past the anniversary date to celebrate!

Hope this inspires you to have your very own Shanksgiving!

K&L 😀