Good Coffee: Good in Every Cup

September 25, 2015

Whether you get your caffeine fix as a black coffee, as a latte, or as a shot of espresso, I think we can all agree that coffee beans play an essential role in the lives of many. You might drink coffee to kickstart your day, or grab a cup as a pick-me-up in the afternoon, but whenever you drink it, it's doing something good for you. What if you could have your coffee and do good for it's producers too?

Meet Good Coffee, a Canadian coffee company based out of Edmonton. This local business was born out of a desire to impact the lives of people, yearning to find a meaningful way to connect people with communities in need around the world, in a way that could lead to hope, transformation, and flourishing relationships. The search for the cause led to Burundi, Africa, which happens to produce some of the best coffee in the world, but is also one of the poorest nations on the planet.

Charles Ndayishimiye, Coffee Farmer in Burundi

Burundi is a small country situated in Central Africa just south of Rwanda. Ranking second poorest in the world, over 90% of the population depends on agriculture to survive, with coffee and tea making up over 90% of the country’s exports. After connecting with Ben Carlson, a coffee hunter, Good Coffee came to the realization that there was potential for Burundi's coffee industry to transform the entire country.

The mission is simple: Good Coffee aims to create the perfect cup of ethically sourced coffee with a strong emphasis on the relationships that coffee creates. The company sources their beans from Burundi through the Long Miles Coffee Project using a direct trade approach. This method allows for farmers to be paid 20-35% more than they would through fair trade, and actually leads to acquiring higher quality coffee beans.

Salvator Ntavyo, Coffee Farmer in Burundi

By purchasing a bag of beans from Good Coffee, consumers actively make an impact with every sip. 25% of all profits are reinvested into the communities from which the beans are sourced. This funding can be used to train farmers, provide tools and resources, construct new washing stations, and empower the communities where the beans are grown to improve the quality of life for the farmers and their families. The farming communities can then in turn invest in infrastructure, wells, schools, hospitals, orphan care, and more. By enjoying a cup of Good Coffee, you're helping to address the complex issue of poverty in this African nation.

Good Coffee offers single bags of coffee for purchase, or there is the option of purchasing a coffee delivery subscription to be delivered straight to your door (purchase here!). The coffee beans are roasted locally at the Transcend Coffee Roastery on a weekly basis, so you receive only the freshest coffee to your doorstep. If you're not yet ready to take the plunge, some local restaurants have jumped on board to serve Good Coffee. The Sugarbowl has started to serve Good Coffee's single-origin espresso in all their espresso-based drinks, and Block 1912 has bags of beans for retail. If you're in the Beaumont area, Crepe & Shake serves up Good Coffee too.

What are you waiting for? Get a bag of beans, brew your daily cup, and feel good knowing that you're giving back and making a difference with every sip of your Good Coffee.

*Images thanks to Good Coffee & Long Miles Coffee Project

*Disclosure: Good Coffee contacted me to discuss their initiatives and try their coffee. An affiliate link is embedded within this post. This post is 100% my opinion, and as always, my priority is to you, the reader, to present an unbiased, thorough review.

Edmonton food

Island Flavours: Sambol Sri Lankan Kitchen

September 18, 2015

The use of freshly roasted and ground spices is one of the best ways to infuse flavour into a dish. That's exactly what the cook at Edmonton's latest Sri Lankan restaurant does to bring dishes to life.

Sambol Sri Lankan Kitchen - 9261 34 Avenue - Edmonton AB

Amongst the mix of East Indian and Korean restaurants and boutiques along 34th Avenue in Edmonton, Sambol is one of few restaurants offering Sri Lankan dishes. While most multicultural restaurants feature decor representative of their culture, Sambol keeps it simple with simple design in a brightly lit space. Some girlfriends and I stopped by for dinner on a Thursday evening and we were greeted warmly by owner Champa Pathirana.

None of us had any previous experience with Sri Lankan cuisine, but luckily Champa was more than willing to share her knowledge and recommendations with us! Through conversation it is obvious that Champa takes great pride in the food that comes out of the kitchen. Chef Priyantha Jayawardena heads the kitchen with his passion and energy for cooking, making sauces and curries from scratch, and roasting and grinding all spices in house. Sambol is also a dairy free restaurant, using coconut milk exclusively in all the curries and desserts.

Our evening started with an order of Fried fish Rolls ($5/3), where a mixture of tuna, potato and spices are deep fried and served with a side of hot sauce. They make look boring, but the thin, crispy exterior breaks into the smooth blend of ingredients, giving contrast in each bite. I probably would have eaten all three if I could!

Next up came our order of Chicken Patties ($5/4), where seasoned chicken is wrapped up in homemade puff pastry and fried. The flaky pastry breaks away and the filling is similar in flavour to the seasoning of the mixture in the fish rolls. The dish is great for sharing, and is delicious thanks to the great spices used in the fish.

Anyone ever heard of Sri Lankan hoppers? Hoppers, a popular dish in Sri Lankan cuisine, are based on a slightly fermented batter made with rice flour and coconut milk. They are similar to that of a crepe, and can be sweet or savoury based on the condiments they are served with. We ordered traditional hoppers ($8/4) and they were served with a side of fragrant seeni sambol (caramelized onions). The paper thin edges had a beautiful crisp, and the centre had a steamed cake-like consistency that was slightly sweet from the coconut milk. Paired with the caramelized onions, the play between sweet and savoury was delicious.

Hoppers can also take on a string form, where the dough is pressed out into thin noodle strings and formed into a little "cake" and steamed. The String Hoppers ($4/5) are served with a side of coconut gravy and topped with pol sambol, a condiment made with fresh grated coconut, chilies, salt and onions. I've always enjoyed the traditional savoury sambal made with chilis, garlic, fish sauce, shrimp paste and other ingredients, so this coconut version was very unique in both flavour and texture. The string hoppers reminded me of vermicelli, and by themselves didn't have any flavour, so the heat from the curry and sweetness from the pol sambol made this dish shine.

For larger fare we opted to try their bowls to share, and started with the Kotthu Bowl with Chicken ($12). Kotthu means 'chopped', so this popular street food dish at Sambol is made with chopped up roti sauteed with vegetables, egg, chicken, and spices. Curry is served on the side to be drizzled on top of this dish, but it is flavourful even on its own. I loved the chewy texture of the roti, and the addition of curry kicked up the heat a notch.

We also ordered the Banana Leaf Bowl, which is Sambol's version of Sri Lankan lamprais. Lamprais is actually a Sri Lankan Dutch Burgher (ethnic group in Sri Lanka) delicacy, where all the traditional ingredients are wrapped up inside a banana leaf and baked. Sambol's banana leaf bowl has seasoned yellow rice served on a banana leaf, topped with eggplant moju (seasoned and fried eggplant), seeni sambol (caramelized onions), a fried cutlet, beef curry, and a deep fried egg. It's all the traditional ingredients served beautifully in a bowl. Mix everything together and you get an explosion of flavours. There's sweetness from the caramelized onions, savoury and spicy from the eggplant, fragrant spices from the curry and the rice, and somehow it all works well together.

There's a handful of interesting desserts on the menu at Sambol, so we picked the one with the most interesting name to try out. Wattalapum is a traditional Sri Lankan custard made with coconut milk, jaggery, cashews, eggs and spices. The deep brown colour comes from the jaggery, which is a concentrated sugar with molasses. This isn't your typical creamy custard though, it's thicker with almost a sponge/cake like consistency to it. The bottom of the custard was a little too sweet for my liking, but I enjoyed the contrasting texture from the cashews and the nutmeg and cloves used in cooking the custard. Champa mentioned that nutmeg and cinnamon are commonly found in heavier desserts like wattalpum as it is believed that these spices aid in digestion of heavier meals. Neat!

Assembling the String Hoppers

While Edmonton is a multicultural city, it has quite a small Sri Lankan population so I'm glad that Sambol has opened up it's doors to share traditional dishes with Edmontonians willing to try something new. The dishes are full of flavour and prices are very affordable, making it an easy choice for lunch or dinner if you're in the area. I'm already itching to go back, and can't wait to eat my way around the menu. Stop by if you have a chance and let me know what you think!

Sambol Sri Lankan Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Edmonton food

Fall at Sorrentino's: 21st Annual Mushroom Harvest

September 10, 2015

When the cool weather comes, its time to harvest the crops that farmers have worked hard to cultivate all spring and summer. Although most conventional farms don't produce mushrooms, September marks the annual Mushroom Harvest at Sorrentino's, with 2015 marking the 21st year.

Sorrentino's Bistro Bar - 4208 Calgary Trail - Edmonton AB

Last week I had the opportunity to preview the Mushroom Harvest menu at Sorrentino's Bistro in south Edmonton. While I've always known about the annual Garlic Festival in April, I feel like the Mushroom Festival doesn't get enough love, as this is the first year I've noticed it! Come on, mushrooms are fun, guys! (the puns will end here.) For the month of September, the Sorrentino's Restaurant Group (South/Downtown/Little Italy/West/St. Albert + Bistecca) will feature the Mushroom Harvest menu in addition to the regular menu at each of their restaurants. The menu will differ from one location to the next, so check them out before you head to your restaurant of choice. Additional events like mushroom cooking classes, exclusive dinners, and foraging opportunities are available too!

To kick off our evening, Martin Osis from the Alberta Mycological Society gave us a bit of history and an introduction to all the mushrooms we would be enjoying that evening. Contrary to their placement in a supermarket, mushrooms are more closely related to meats, given their texture and high protein content. Mushrooms are low in carbohydrates and calories, and their preparation differs widely from one culture to the next. These fungi are very regional and will be cooked in different ways to release their flavours. Where one mushroom is popular in cream sauce, another variety may be more suited to frying or releasing flavour into broth.

Our first plate of the evening showcased four sample sized courses and a variety of mushrooms. The Zuppa was a sherry infused cream of wild mushroom soup with cream drizzle and a parmesan tuile. The sherry cut through the creamy soup very nicely, and I would happily enjoy a big bowl of this comforting soup on a cold evening! Sorrentino's is selling this soup base for $10 all through September so you can make it at home as the cool weather sets in. Our Insalata course was a mushroom salad comprised of butter leaf lettuce and a warm mix of crimini, button, and yellow chanterelle mushrooms, finished with crisp pancetta, goat cheese and a light lemon vinaigrette. The mix of mushrooms allowed for an appreciation of the different textures and flavours of each ingredient.

Third on the plate was a wild mushroom fritelle with porcini aioli. Similar to a donut of sorts, it was nice and crisp but it was difficult to tell there were mushrooms in there. Last of all was a portobello mushroom stuffed with garlic and goat cheese pesto, topped with pine nuts and a honey balsamic vinaigrette. The meaty texture and flavour of the portobello combined well with the garlicky, creamy cheese! Aside from the soup, this was my other favourite on the plate.

Our next plate brought a sampling of larger fare - risotto and ravioli. The risotto featured creamy Carnaroli rice with a lobster mushroom, grilled shrimp, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. I personally haven't had a lobster mushroom before and was surprised to hear that it is actually a fungus that thrives by growing like a parasite on other mushrooms, giving them the characteristic orange hue of a cooked lobster. This mushroom holds it's firm texture and colour throughout the cooking process and is great for frying. This neat little mushroom also possesses a faint seafood-like flavour! It paired great with the shrimp, and if the risotto was cooked to a slightly softer consistency this would be a great dish.

The Portabella & Crimini ravioli was another star of the evening for me. Oven-roasted portabella and crimini mushrooms were enveloped in egg pasta with onions, roasted garlic, mozzarella and Parmigiano. The garlic lemon butter white wine sauce was to die for and brought everything together. If you're checking out the Mushroom Harvest menu, this is a must-try!

Our Secondi course was like a surf and turf of sorts, wish fish and veal in sample sized portions. The Veal and Mushrooms was presented as a medallion of veal on a bed of wild mushrooms, all drizzled in salted caramel. The veal was cooked nicely, and contrary to what you may be thinking, the salted caramel added a unique yet tasty dimension of flavour to the meat and mushrooms. The other side of the plate featured Cobia, the catch of the month. The fillet was poached in San Benedetto mineral water and served with sauteed Chanterelles and a thyme and lemon Chardonnay reduction. Chanterelle mushrooms are not grown in Alberta, but can be found in abundance in our neighboring provinces of British Columbia and Saskatchewan. Chanterelles are light in flavour which makes them a perfect accompaniment for white fish. The fish was cooked well and flaked easily, but the lingering fishy flavour at the end of each bite was a little strong for my liking.

To my surprise the dessert for the evening also included the use of mushrooms! Candy Cap mushrooms have a flavour similar to that of maple syrup, and are typically used as a flavouring agent. The candy caps in our dessert were poached and sat on a plate with a quenelle of Grand Marnier rice pudding and a streak of Amarone jus. The poached mushrooms were sticky and sweet, with a rubbery texture to them. The flavour complemented the caramel flavours in the rice pudding, but the drastically different textures in each component didn't quite work for me. This mushroom based dessert is available only at Bistecca, and is worth a try if you want to try these dessert mushrooms out.

For the remainder of the month you can head out to your nearest Sorrentino's to get a taste of the Mushroom Harvest menu. As a special feature, every Monday is Mushroom Mania Monday at the South, West, and St. Albert locations, you can enjoy a Mushroom Harvest pasta and 3 oz. of the feature wine for $20. It's a great price to be able to eat and participate in the festival! Make sure to also check out the additional events that Sorrentino's is offering this month - perhaps go foraging, or take in a fun cooking class, and gain some extra mushroom knowledge.

Sorrentino's South Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

*Disclosure: Sorrentino's invited me to attend their media tasting. Views expressed in this post are solely mine. I was not expected to feature this restaurant on my blog, nor obligated to do so. This post is 100% my opinion, and as always, my priority is to you, the reader, to present an unbiased, thorough review.

Edmonton food

Patio Fiesta: El Cortez Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Bar

September 02, 2015

The cooler weather these past few days has basically been mother nature's way of saying fall is right around the corner. But before the brisk fall weather is here to stay, I've been spending more time on patios before it's too late!

El Cortez Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Bar - 8230 Gateway Boulevard - Edmonton AB

Ever since Chef Lindsay Porter took over the kitchen at El Cortez a few months ago, I've been meaning to stop by for eats on the patio. With the restaurant's proximity to Whyte Avenue, and the fact that it was a venue for Fringe shows, there was no better time than during the festival to have some pre-show dinner and drinks. Given the amount of shows I was taking in this year I actually made not one, but two stops at El Cortez.

There's always been a lot of buzz about the unique design and decor at El Cortez. Chandeliers, neon signs, and graffiti-inspired murals adorn the walls, and once you're inside you forget that you're in the heart of Old Strathcona. On my first visit, my boyfriend and I arrived at about 4PM to a fairly empty restaurant, but given that the restaurant doubles as a bar I would assume business picks up as the evening goes on.

El Cortez has a fairly extensive menu, but there's a big focus on tacos and street-inspired eats. We happened to be there during happy hour (3-6PM daily) and ordered off the menu which features chips and dips, and a variety of small plates for $7.50 each. We started off with the 2 Feature Tacos ($7.50/2 - flavour changes weekly) off the happy hour menu, the tacos for the week were mahi mahi with a pineapple salsa. The fish was moist, well seasoned, and all the flavours in this taco worked well together. But what I really enjoyed was the house-made tortillas. These tortillas are thicker than most, but they have a nice crisp and slight chew, making them a solid base for all the tacos on the menu.

Next up was the Swordfish Ceviche ($13) with tomatoes, peppers, avocado, chile and pico de gallo served with a side of spiced tortilla chips. The dish was full of fresh ingredients and had the right amount of acidity to bring out all the flavours. The dish could have been a tad more seasoned for my liking but otherwise was quite refreshing, and great for a hot summer day with a cold drink in hand.

On the regular menu the Fried Queso Tacos ($14/3 tacos) caught my eye. Who can resist fried cheese? Not me. The taco was quite substantial in size given the amount of ingredients and the excellent house-made tortilla. Chewy cheese, combined with mushrooms, lettuce, onions, beans and guacamole made for a pretty standout taco that I wouldn't hesitate to order again.

I was pleasantly surprised by this first visit to El Cortez. The food was great, service was attentive, and it was a great environment to be in just to relax and enjoy the summer afternoon. A few days later I stopped by again for some sunshine and eats on the patio.

You would never know by standing outside of El Cortez that there's a great patio in the back of the building. A spray painted mural is accompanied by mosaic tiled tables and coloured accents throughout the space. It's an inviting atmosphere where small bites and cold drinks are perfect under the warm sun.

Again our visit was during happy hour, so we ordered the El Cortez Guacamole ($7.50) off the happy hour menu to start. The kitchen's version of guacamole comes as a substantial portion and is pretty close to perfect for me. It's chock full of tomatoes, has great acidity from fresh lime juice, is well seasoned and has a slight kick of heat. The guacamole is quite addicting and I almost couldn't stop eating it.

Next up we ordered the feature Cajun tacos ($7.50/2 tacos) made with sauteed prawns, chorizo, and a corn basil salsa. The prawns were perfectly cooked and there was a great balance between salty, sweet, and spicy. With a quick squeeze of lime juice these flavour-packed tacos became my favourite of the meal.

I had my eye on the Crispy Pescado Tacos ($16/3 tacos) off the regular menu, so they became our last dish that afternoon. A crispy fried piece of fish was served together with shrimp salad, slaw, sweet chili Valentina glaze, crema, avocado, and cilantro. While the ingredients tasted great together, I felt that the tacos were lacking in substance. There wasn't much in terms of ingredients, and the tortilla looked quite bare with the spare number of toppings. A bit more fish and this one would have been great!

With two visits to El Cortez in a week, this is on my list of my go-to spots for quick bites! It's a great option for Mexican food south of the river, and I would definitely recommend stopping in during happy hour for some very affordable eats. Chef Lindsay Porter has done a great job with the menu overhaul and I'm definitely looking forward to trying other dishes on the menu. Unfortunately for me, I only ever have cravings for Mexican food in warm weather, so I'm going to have to get my fix before fall comes. If you're anything like me, head on down to El Cortez for some tacos and cold drinks before saying goodbye to summer until next year!

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