Swine and Sow – Big Taste Calgary

Surprise! I actually have one last Big Taste Calgary review under my belt! I had thought I was done after Teatro (and my wallet was probably a little relieved, since even $35/meal adds up when you are a crazy person and do it upwards of five times)… but I had a surprise last minute invite pop up for Saturday night, so how could I say no? Girl’s gotta eat!

menu

My date selected Swine and Sow for our final dinner – in part because of the usual bonus of the Big Taste menu having a few options to select from and in part because we had never been there before and, with its location next to Theatre Junction Grand, we’ve always been curious. It was a good, good choice.

cocktails

We started our night with some delicious craft cocktails – the Basilisk (gin, elderflower liquor, basil and lime) and the Vegas Water (blueberry stoli, grapefruit and 7-up) since we’re always on the search for cocktails we can re-create at home. I’ve been a huge gin fan since I was 19 and mixing it with cream soda like only a dumb new drinker can, so I was obviously partial to the Basilisk. As we sipped our cocktails, we perused the full menu and excitedly made plans to return in the future for charcuterie and bacon tacos – but tonight? We were ordering and sharing literally everything from the Big Taste Menu.

first course

For our first course, we shared a Forest salad and risotto croquettes. The salad was fine (actually, I’m sure it was very good, I love mushrooms and it was probably wise to get some vegetables into our systems) but those croquettes… they knocked the memory of any other foods right out of my mind. They were so so good. They’re also kicking around on the regular menu and you better bet I tucked that information away for the future…

second course

Can we talk about how much food we got for the second course!? That lovely photo right there shows two racks of cherry wood smoked ribs and a phyllo-wrapped steelhead trout. Delicious, sizable and easily shareable. I preferred the trout to the ribs, but I’ve never really been a fan of food that requires lots of work for very little pay-off so I may be a biased party. (You know… Ribs, wings, bone-in meat… so much work for so little protein!)

third course

I was most excited for the dessert – a sticky toffee pudding and a Fiasco Gelato ice cream sandwich… and it was the Mini-egg gelato! March is totally my month! We initially had plans to share both desserts and, yes, we did each take a bite of both, but once that ice cream sandwich hit the table, there was no way I was sharing. Thank goodness my date preferred the sticky toffee pudding!

During our dinner, we noticed that there was a super large party downstairs (it sounded like a birthday party) and the staff was doing such a great job of keeping on top of it. We noted that our order was in just behind theirs but we never felt like we waiting for our next course and watching the Big Taste plates file past us to downstairs just got us more excited for our next course. I have to give the team at Swine and Sow big props for that and we will definitely be back.

ice cream sandwich

I’m in the midst of developing a new series for the blog, now that Big Taste is over, so check back next week for that and in the meantime have an amazing long weekend! I am looking forward to both catching up on sleep and dressing up to go out drinking/dancing with Claire on Saturday… best weekend ever!

Murietta’s – Big Taste Calgary

In my “About” page, I wrote about how this blog wouldn’t at all be aspirational because, let’s face it, I’m no Cup of Jo or Cupcakes and Cashmere. I don’t live in a major city that people dream of moving to and I certainly don’t have a book deal. I don’t even have a DSLR camera! That being said, my blog so far has mostly been fitness classes, wine tastings and nice dinners out, soooo…

Here’s some real life for you.

Today, I went to grab an English muffin from the fridge (because I am super not a morning person so I have to plan one breakfast for the entire week that I can make in approximately 2.65 minutes). The English muffins were moldy! I only bought them on Saturday! Ugh, what do you even do in that situation? Do I return them? (No, I threw them out when I got home from work.)

Anyway, I am not capable of coming up with a new breakfast plan that I can make in 2.65 minutes on the fly, so I grabbed a McDonald’s coupon out of the recycling bin. Classic money-saving! I probably just should have leaned into the fact that I was doing the McDonald’s thing and gotten something greasy-slash-delicious but I have recently designed the flimsiest of plans which involves a health component so I got the kale feta More-ning wrap. It was okay. The kale was a weird component, I think it was only there to sound fancy. Eh. What can you expect from McDonald’s?

I still have three Big Taste restaurants to talk about (I know, I said two, but if you follow me on Instagram you’ll know I had a surprise dinner out on Saturday as well), so let’s dive into it. Last Wednesday, I spent a lovely evening at Murietta’s Bar and Grill with my very oldest friend, Lynn. (We’ve been kicking it together since junior high school – over 17 years ago now. How old does that make me feel!?)

I’ve been to Murietta’s a few times in the past after other events to take in some live music, so I knew they had a great cocktail list, but I’ve never done food there before. I also didn’t realize that they had a spacious dining room off to the side and just set slightly away from the live music so you can easily chat with your dining companions. Since this was my first time seeing Lynn since her honeymoon in Japan-New Zealand-Australia-etc and my recent change in my living situation, we had a lot to chat about and took about an hour per course!

We specifically chose Murietta’s because it offered options on the menu and, of course, we made a real effort to try all the different things.

Salad

Soup

Course One offered a choice between a garden salad with lemon balsamic dressing or a seasonal soup (in this case a perfectly light tomato-based vegetable soup with lentils). Lynn was kind enough to allow me to take a picture of her salad – we were shocked by how big it was! Generally speaking, Big Taste portions are a little smaller than normal due to the great deal you get on the menu but that was definitely not the case at Murietta’s.

short rib

For Course Two, I selected the Braised Short Rib and Pork Cheek Duo. I do love short rib, like any good resident of Alberta, but I don’t often think to order it so this opportunity was perfect. I’ve never had Pork Cheek before – it was a little rich for me – but the short rib was a perfect compliment to it and I just alternated between the two proteins. Also, there were beets. You can never go wrong with beets. (I paired my dinner with a Mirassou Pinot Grigio with the soup and then the Pinot Noir with the entrée. I am excellent at pairing, apparently.)

Dessert
And, finally, we both wrapped with the Chocolate Devil’s Food Cake with bananas flambé. How can you not!? It was rich, moist and, even though it looks small when plated, it was almost too big to finish. (Actually, I think I finally did have to tap out and just eat the bananas off the second half of my dessert leaving the cake behind.) Of course, we were so busy chatting once again that the waitress was worried we didn’t like it… I promise, we did!

I love the ambiance of the bar side of Murietta’s so much that I suspect that’s where I will be returning to in the future… but I certainly wouldn’t mind a classy little dinner in the dining room first!

Nonsense on a March Wednesday

Last night, I went to a wonderful liquor and cupcake pairing event at Willow Park with my wonderful best friend Claire. Here is a picture of Claire and I being incredibly professional while running a clothing swap fundraising event for our theatre company in the now-defunct Auburn bar because why not?

fundraiser and trees 010

I was all set to very professionally review the tasting event, much like I did for the Chocolate, Bacon and Booze event. But when Claire and I are together, we very easy dissolve into insanity, giggling and basically being the same person so my notes very very quickly degraded to only include Michael Biggatini quotes and various hashtags that we thought were hilarious at the time. So instead of doing a proper review, I will direct you to check out my Instagram for cupcake envy and encourage you to buy rumchata. It is a cream liquor and is a million times better than Bailey’s. I suspect I will probably drink an entire bottle in coffee next holiday season. (Claire generally likes to put enough sugar in her coffee to make it taste like aT five cent candy and even she agreed that the rumchata was so good, you wouldn’t need sugar in the coffee.)

In short, Willow Park continues to be amazing and the next time you go to a tasting event, please invite me. I will make it fun and also we will learn so much.

Willow Park Crave

This post is too short so now onto some nonsense… I’m basically killing it so far this March.

Yesterday, I only spent $32 – after the tasting event, Claire and I hit up The Cactus Club on Macleod for drinks and gossip. We had two very classy cocktails each (a French 75 and a Negroni for me… I love gin) and shared some raw tuna appies so, really, that was a very reasonable spend! Also, so much gossip and giggling. KILLING IT.

Today, I arrived at work with 10 minutes spare, just like my being-a-grownup goal required, and I even stopped for gas on the way to work. KILLING IT.

Tonight, after work (which was thrilling and exhausting because it was Match Day – when the third year students find out where they will be going for their residency – and I get super caught up in the students’ emotions), I taught a barre class and then took a barre class. I also resisted the urge to pick up delicious-but-pricey sushi on the way home and instead whipped up a quick egg dish when I got home. DOUBLE KILLING IT.

And now I have committed to a 7:15 barre class tomorrow morning and I’ve already put together my breakfast for tomorrow so I have no excuses.

I am feeling so incredibly positive that March will be even more than a B+ month.

(PS: I’ll be back tomorrow with significantly more fun and significantly less nonsense. Maybe I’ll actually even talk about some fun things I’ve done in Calgary recently that you may want to do as well.)

Everything I Love – Chocolate, Bacon & Booze at Willow Park Wine and Spirits

Willow Park Wine and Spirits is so much more than just a beautiful liquor store with an exceptional selection (though it is certainly that). Willow Park is an institution. They have an incredible team of expert connoisseurs to help you pick out exactly the right liquor, beer or wine for any occasion, they have speciality products that no other store has… they have an onsite kitchen and put on incredible festivals, galas, information sessions and tasting events. I’ve gone to festivals with vendors and wineries from all over where I have learned so much about products (and had more than enough to drank in a safe location close to home) and I’ve discovered pairings that I never would have imagined at tasting events.

So, last Thursday, for the second time that week, I roped Bryan and Darci into coming to a crazy fun and informative event with me. They like it when I force them into things.

Beautiful (and Packed!) Tasting Space At Willow Park
When we arrived for the event at 7pm on the dot, we showed our tickets and were immediately ushered downstairs to the basement to select our seats. (And don’t they do a great job of making the basement look appealing!?) As a note, I recommend arriving 10-15 minutes before the event begins – there is no assigned seating for tasting events and, trust me, you want to be together with your group and near the front to get the full experience.

Kevin's Bacon
As we filed through the door and immediately began scoping for the best seats, we were handed a very special reception cocktail – the Kevin’s Bacon, created by Senior Product Consultant, Michael Bigattini just for us. (PS: If you ever can take an event run by Michael, do it – he is both knowledgeable and hilarious in equal turns.) Featuring Bacon-Infused Jack Daniels, black tea and maple syrup, the Kevin’s Bacon was an ideal drink for summer, light and perfect for all the BBQs I’m planning to throw on my patio… thank goodness Michael gave us the recipe!

Tasting Brochure CoverTasting Brochure Inside
Each seat was set with a tasting guide – ostensibly to make notes in, but it mostly just seemed like a great way to tantalize us with all the pairings we were about to try out!

Place Setting
We also were each supplied with 5 different glasses filled with a range of alcohol options, an “empty space” (temporarily filled with popcorn) for a warm drink that was yet to be brought up and a few of our food pairings that could be served cold. The excitement was mounting and the space was filled with chatter but as soon as Michael began to share his enthusiasm for the pairings he had put together, we were all captivated.

Pairing One
We first sampled Hot Pepper Bacon Popcorn with Chocolate Drizzle paired with the Howe Sound Diamond Head Stout. I had actually just posted on Instagram about how I didn’t care for stout… but this lightly hoppy oatmeal stout really was a perfect pairing with the popcorn. The stout mellowed some of the heat in the popcorn and brought out the notes of the chocolate. Plus… who can complain about popcorn popped in bacon grease!? I kept thinking I would save some for the drive home but that was not to be.

Pairing Two
Pairing Number Two! Chocolate Dipped Bacon Skewer with a created-by-Michael Mexican Hot Chocolate. This was voted the best pairing by a show of hands and though it wasn’t my pick, it was tasty. There was also something just so decadent about using the bacon as a stir stick for the hot chocolate. Darci felt that the cinnamon in the hot chocolate overwhelmed the other flavours (I find that cinnamon is one of those love it or hate it flavours), while I found this pairing just a liiiiittle too rich. Blasphemy, I know!

Pairing Three
Number Three: Salted Maple Bacon Truffle with a Manhattan. Did you know that the Manhattan was created for Winston Churchill’s mother, a society lady who loved her booze just as much as her son did? I sure didn’t! For extra points, here is an absolutely terrible picture of me looking real skeptical with my Manhattan:

Manhattan
And why do I look that way? Because, and I quote: “In this drink, the cherries are the mix – they’re the only non-alcoholic… wait, they’re brandy-soaked”. But it turns out, I do appreciate a quality Manhattan with quality ingredients. Also, I appreciate brandy-soaked cherries.

Pairing Four
This pairing featured the incredible and not at all healthy “Dude’s Magic Bar” (pretzels, chocolate chips, bacon, peanut butter chips, potato chips and dulce de leche)… Bryan’s pick for the best pairing. Bryan loves both peanut butter and being a dude. The Magic Bar was paired with the Granville Island Lion’s Winter Ale, a beer described by Michael as “vanilla-y and special”. (Can I please mention again how much I loved Michael’s enthusiasm for absolutely everything we consumed?) I already like the Lion’s Winter Ale and I loved how the mellow flavours made the Magic Bar seem not quite so terrible for you.

Pairing Five
During this pairing, we received the overview of how to properly taste wine. Unfortunately, by that point, Darci and I had already devoured both our wine and our Bacon Cannoli, so we just kept pretending with empty glasses. We are all class, all the time. The wine, by the way, was the Chateau Trillol from the South of France – a 50% syrah blend with notes of cherry, black currant, raspberry and black & white pepper. Michael described it as a “food-driven” wine with a good acidity to act as a palate cleanser to cleanse away the richness. I bought this wine.

Pairing Six
And finally, the pairing that Darci and I voted as the best pairing – Chocolate Bacon Pull Apart Bread and the Zenato Amarone. I have absolutely no notes about why I loved this pairing so much, but a ton of notes about the wines from the Valpolicella valley of northern Italy. (Only three types of red wine can come from this valley, Amarone is the highest end type.) I think this really exemplifies why I love the Willow Park events – yes, I got to enjoy delicious food and dranks, laugh at some clever humour… but I also gained some very special knowledge about wine that I can maybe use to feel superior in the future.

By the way, red wine should be served at “cellar temperature” (17-18 degrees Celsius) not strict room temperature.

Anyway, the night wrapped with us finishing up any nibbles or dribbles we had left, receiving a coupon for 5% off up in the store and tasting the plum & rootbeer bitters that were used in the Manhattan. (When you taste bitters, you put a drop on the back of your hand. It is still VERY strong. Bryan said we had to taste it for the blog, but I think he just wanted to prove he could do it.)

Close up of Bitters bitters dabbing Bitters Licking

Check out the Willow Park events page for more of their amazing upcoming events – I will be hitting up the Cupcakes Pairing event next… maybe I’ll see you there?!