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Archive for March, 2016

Last May I decided I wanted to see Kinky Boots for our wedding anniversary, I knew it would be a treat but I honestly was not prepared for the sticker shock! The price equaled a nice weekend away in our own wine country at a four-star hotel (all be it, during off season)! So I passed. Then, last month I received an email from a local radio station that they were offering a discount to see the show (I don’t know why, because they seem to sell out) but I wanted to see it and so I checked out the deal.  We ended up getting two seats in the first level balcony for $90, all in (and by all in, there is 13% tax as well as ‘convenience’ fees, whatever they may be). It was a matinée on a Wednesday afternoon (freelancing allows that freedom) so we decided to check out Chef Rob Feenie’s Cactus Club before the show.

CC_Front

Rob Feenie is a celebrated Vancouver Chef who presides over 18 Cactus Club restaurants in Canada and the Toronto restaurant is the only one east of Calgary! Located in First Canadian Place in the heart of the financial district, the place is poised for high-end business deals over delicious luncheons and the suit crowd for after work drinks.

The Cactus Club Toronto is on three levels, each level boasting a unique style but serving the same menu; I’ve heard that this location is their flagship. We dined on street level which has a casual bar-like décor and ambiance, sadly with a few TVs.

CactusClub

The patio was still decorated with beautifully lit Christmas trees and propane heaters, a little excessive to say the least, but beautiful!

They don’t take reservations, they do have a few tables set aside for reservations, but their preference is for walk-ins, whether it’s for lunch or dinner. The front of the restaurant is set back into the building allowing a large hall to accommodate stanchions with velvet ropes for the large queues that, no doubt form. Most of you who have known me for some time, know that I do not wait in line for a restaurant so, this set-up did not bode well for me. However, it was a Wednesday, noonish and we were shown directly to our table. Whew! But as a side note, we have tried to make reservations for dinner a few times and have been turned down which is too bad because I would have liked to return.

CC_Interiior

Bar Interior from our booth. Too bad about the TVs.

The decor for this part of the restaurant is contemporary but warm. The perimeter is lined with large booths (but mostly sat only two people) around an enormous bar with stools all around. The window side had some little tables as well. What’s really interesting is the original art collection! On the upper levels you can enjoy your dish sitting alongside an original Warhol, Basquiat, or Mr.Brainwash!

Although we dined during the lunch hour, it wasn’t overly busy and they seemed to have a reasonable number of staff to ensure service was good. The kitchen is on the second or third floor which means the bus-boy is running up a flight of stairs with a basket of dirty dishes every 5 minutes or so, it also means that the food must be carted down the stairs alongside patrons walking up to the ladies or men’s rooms, which I found a little strange. Our server was attentive, friendly and considerate (asked if we were on a schedule).

We started with Szechuan Chicken Lettuce Wraps ($16.50) which turned out to be an extremely generous serving, in fact, JT and I said we could have been satisfied with just this course! It’s sweet and spicy Szechuan glazed chicken garnished with peanuts and crispy fried wontons with Korean chili sauce and spicy yogurt on the side. It was DELICIOUS! I would definitely order this dish again.

The serving was extremely generous and very tasty.

The serving was extremely generous and very tasty.

My main course was the Tuna Stack ($16.00) made with raw ocean wise™ albacore tuna and avocado tossed in a citrus tamari vinaigrette (ceviche-style) garnished with crispy tempura, nori, sesame and micro cilantro with a large stack of deep fried wonton chips on the side. This too was a very generous serve and could have easily fed two people for a light lunch.

CC_TunaStack

Again, the Tuna Stack was a very generous serving size.

JT ordered the Short Rib Sandwich ($17.50) with sweet potato fries (which were extra, but I can’t recall how much), this dish was the least impressive by sight, flavour and size of the three we had — it was still delicious but not “WOW!” The sandwich is two halves of toasted sourdough bread with caramelized onions and Emmental cheese on tender short rib meat served with beef jus and a mayo that was a little like tartare sauce! It was fine, but not memorable.

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Although visually the Short rib sandwich was the least exciting, it was very tasty.

CactusSelfie

The Ladies Room had this mirror with the hashtag #cactusselfie which I thought was cute.

We loved the Cactus Club and based on the food, service and ambiance would love to return but the potential queues at 7:30 in the evening for a table does not grab me…frankly there are too many really good restaurants in Toronto to waste time standing in line for another one!

Overall rating of Cactus Club (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 4/5, food 4.5/5, Value 4/5, Noise: 4/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

Disclaimer: We purchased our meals for full price and my opinions just that, my opinions.

Cactus Club

2279 Bloor St W
Toronto, ON
M6S 1P1

Tel: 647-347-6826

Sunday – Wednesday 11am – 1am
Thursday – Saturday 11am – 1:30am

End Note:

In case you are wondering what we thought of Kinky Boots: It was very entertaining and the music was catchy (not much sing-talking either, which I find annoying). The acting was captivating and the story played out very nicely.

The Royal Alexandra Theatre is an early-20th-century, Beaux-Arts-style theatre owned by Mirvish Productions. The theatre is gorgeous on the inside but the seats are incredibly small (the upholstery on the seats doesn’t look that old) so I will warn the ladies to wear slacks and taller patrons should only sit in the aisles seats.

RoyalAlex

That’s JT on the left and me on the right and I’m only 163 cm (5′ 4″) tall! 

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PB ChocolateBark

This is a perfect recipe to show case the gorgeous gold sea salt that Barb (Profiteroles and Ponytales) so generously gave me at Christmas. Admittedly, this recipe is more appropriate for Christmas but what the hay…you get it now. On the plus side, it’ll give you enough time to source gold sea salt! Now this sea salt isn’t just brown made to look like gold, it actually looks like the real McCoy (probably not real gold, though but it’s just as pretty)! I would have liked to pry the top off and get the actual larger chunks but it seems it was glued on so I was out of luck. I can see this gorgeous sea salt on so much more so you’ll likely be reading about it again.

GoldSeaSalt copy

This is the gold sea salt that I sprinkled on the bark

Peanut Butter Chocolate Bark with Gold Sea Salt

A KitchenInspirations Original Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 285 g semisweet chocolate
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup chunky peanut butter (just peanuts, no salt, no sugar)
  • 2 tbsp icing sugar
  • gold sea salt

Directions:

  1. Slowly melt the chocolate in a double boiler or bain marie, stir in the cinnamon and mix well. Meanwhile, mix the chunky peanut butter and icing sugar well.
  2. Spread the melted chocolate onto a silicon lined baking sheet to about 3-5 mm (just less than 1/4″). Dot the peanut butter onto the melted chocolate and swirl with the blade of a very thin knife. Sprinkle with gold sea salt. Refrigerate until hard and then break into bite-sized portions.
PB Bark

Mmmmm PB and chocolate, a match made in heaven!

Notes:

  • Melting chocolate should always be done very slowly and never over boiling water.
  • I used a natural peanut butter because that is what we have, if you use peanut butter with added sugar and salt, you will need to modify the recipe.

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Cod_First
This is a recipe that we’ve been making since 2008 when it appeared in the LCBO’s Food & Drink, Early Summer Magazine. In fact, JT has often made it for my birthday! I’m not sure what initially drew me to this ingredient heavy recipe but I do know that I have absolutely loved it since day one! We often make it without the shrimp dumplings as an everyday dish, but I recently made it for a dinner party with dumplings so I thought I’d finally share it with you. Although it does look daunting, the steps are easy and the dish comes together beautifully with very little effort so you too can enjoy your dinner party. We haven’t made many changes, with the exception of a few minor ingredient modifications and doubling the broth, I just adore the flavour of the broth and always feel like it could have used just a bit more…so our version includes, just a bit more!
BroiledCodShrimpDumplings

Did anyone else notice that the recipe clearly states 3 shrimp dumplings per serving but this one only has two?

Broiled Sake-Marinated Cod with Shrimp Dumplings in Shiso Broth

Serves 4 generously

Original recipe by Lucy Waverman, LCBO Early Summer 2008

Ingredients for Cod and Sake Marinade:

  • 400 g Cod
  • ¼ cup (50 mL) sodium reduced soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp (45 mL) honey
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) mirin
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) sake
  • ¼ tsp (1 mL) grated peeled fresh ginger
  • ¼ tsp (1 mL) grated garlic

Directions for the Cod and Sake Marinade:

  1. Combine all of the ingredients for the marinade and whisk well. Lay cod in a single layer in a shallow, non-reactive pan and pour the marinade over, making sure the cod is covered it it, wrap container in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Allow to sit in the refrigerator for 4 hours or overnight, turning Cod occasionally.

Ingredients for the Shrimp Dumplings: 

  • 175 g shrimp, deveined and cut into pieces
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten
  • ½ tsp (2 mL) grated fresh ginger
  • ½ tsp (2 mL) grated fresh garlic
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) honey
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) mirin
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) toasted sesame oil
  • 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
  • ¼ tsp (1 mL) water
  • 25-32 wonton wrappers or this recipe

Directions for the Shrimp Dumplings:

  1. Combine all of the ingredients but the egg yolk, water and wonton wrappers in the bowl of a small food processor and process until well puréed. Set aside. Lightly whisk the egg yolk and water together.
  2. Place one teaspoon of the shrimp mixture into the centre of a wonton wrapper, rub a bit of the egg yolk-water mixture on the edges and fold up the edges in a decorative pattern, squeezing out any air. Set finished dumplings on a piece of parchment on a cookie sheet and continue until you have used up all of the shrimp mixture (how many dumplings you get will depend on how much shrimp mixture).
  3. Freeze the dumplings until required, it only takes a minute longer to cook them from frozen and they are much easier to handle while frozen.

Ingredients for the Shiso Broth:

  • 4 cups (1 L) chicken stock or water
  • 4 tbsp (50 mL) sodium reduced soy sauce
  • 4 tsp (20 mL) mirin
  • 4 tsp (20 mL) rice vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp (2 mL) grated fresh garlic
  • 1/2 tsp (2 mL) grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp (4 mL) honey
  • 1 tsp (4 mL) toasted sesame oil
  • 1 oz (30 g) shiitake mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed and thinly sliced
  • 20 thin slices peeled carrot
  • ¼ cup (50 mL) julienne leek (white part only)
  • 1 cup (250 mL) baby spinach leaves
  • 1½ tsp (7 mL) white sesame seeds, toasted

Shiso Broth and Serving:

  1. Pre-heat the oven on High broil. Remove the Cod from the marinade and lay onto a parchment lined shallow sided baking tray. Broil for 8-10 minute or until an internal temperature of 168° F is reached.
  2. Meanwhile, bring a small pot of water to a boil and boil 12 shrimp dumplings for about 3 minutes or until they float to the top. Remove dumpling with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  3. Combine all of the Shiso Broth ingredients but the spinach and sesame seeds in a large pot and slowly bring to a boil (adding the marinating liquid as a punch of flavour). Cook until the carrots are soft and then reduce to a simmer, adding the spinach and the shrimp dumplings to wilt and warm through.
  4. Warm 4 shallow, rimmed soup bowls. Add about 1 cup of broth, including mushrooms, spinach and carrots and top with the broiled Cod serving with 3 dumplings per plate. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds.

Notes:

  • I always use sodium reduced Soy sauce.
  • I have replaced sugar with honey.
  • No need to purchase drinking Sake, a good quality cooking Sake will do the trick.
  • The LCBO recipe makes far too many dumplings so just freeze what you don’t use for next time.
  • The LCBO recipe for the dumplings contain scallops but they are ridiculously expensive so I have omitted them, either way is tasty.
  • In a pinch, you can buy ready-made shrimp dumplings although I have not done this.
  • Purchased wonton wrappers tend to be a bit too thick, so I recommend to roll them to a thinner diametre so they don’t taste too heavy.

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CompostBroth_first

Warning, night photos with very bad lighting!

Many years ago, a woman from Florida started commenting regularly on my blog. Of course, I began reciprocating on her blog (which was the point, I guess) and I discovered that the more blogs I commented on, the more comments my blog would garner. That can get old really fast. I nick-named the task ‘comment whoring’. These days, I only comment on a select few blogs, many of them I have actually met the author in person and have a non-blog relationship. It’s not that I don’t like lots of comments (it makes me feel very popular, unlike real life), but I’d rather have a few of real value than a bunch of “yum!”. I’d love to hear what you think. I like to leave value comments too, you may have noticed that they can be a bit wordy! 😉

That woman from Florida was a Military wife and she knew how to make a dollar stretch. One of her posts was about a vegetable stock made entirely from vegetable trimmings. At first, I thought it was strange (OK, and a bit gross) but a really good friend recently mentioned she does the same thing, so I decided to give it a try. I am proud to say that I am now totally a convert. The stocks are always richly flavoured and a beautiful colour due to the onion skins. Onion skin broth is supposed to be a natural blood pressure remedy, although I have no idea how much you need to have for it to work! I keep a ziplock bag in my freezer and not one Veggy trim goes in the bin, it all goes into the freezer bag and once I have filled the bag, I take out my broth pot and fill it with water and simmer with all the trimmings for 3 hours, give or take. At the end, I turn the gas off and allow it to cool off. I strain the liquid 2-3 times, having the final strain through a metal, fine coffee filter (not the paper kind, they bung up too quickly). The straining allows you to capture any bits of dirt and gunge that may have gotten in the stock. The stock is delicious on its own or used in recipes. No two broths are alike. I encourage you to give this a go, there are no rules other than washing your trimmings well or just buy organic (although, I’d still wash well). And as usual, I don’t salt until I use it because everything requires different seasonings.

 

CompostBroth

This pot was comprised of some leftover shoot veggies and lettuces.

 

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