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My blogger friend, David Crichton of Fine Dining at Home went all the way to the end of Master Chef UK, 2018! How COOL is THAT? I have to admit, I’m always a little envious of people who actually want to be in front of the camera, I always shy away from it. You may recall Dave and I met in 2016, in London and again in 2017, when he captained a Thomas Cook airplane to Toronto and JT and I were able to reciprocate his hospitality. Dave is so easy to get along with, that we fell right back into conversation as if no time had passed. When we got together, he mentioned that he was thinking of applying for Master Chef UK, Season 14. If anyone can do it, it would be Dave.Fine Dining at Home is a blog about upscale restaurant food you can serve in your own home. Dave makes the recipes easy to follow and uses unusual ingredients. JT and I were in Arizona when his episodes aired and they were addictive! We watched each show intently, fingers crossed that he would make the next round. Judges Gregg Wallace and John Torode never had a bad thing to say about Dave’s food. It was awesome. According to Wikipedia, more than 20,000 people applied to audition for the series in 2010 (45,000 THIS YEAR) and they whittle it down to 56! Can you imagine how stressful that would be? Dave kindly let me ask him a few questions about his experience and I thought you might enjoy it.

What is the process to become a contestant?
Dave: Quite straightforward. Fill in the online form. Then a telephone interview, if you’re successful with that you’re asked to take some food in and
more questions. I guess after this it’s the luck of the gods that get you to the final 56.
Guinea fowl, Masterchef UK

Guinea fowl, French boned leg stuffed with brioche and rosemary and sweetcorn tempura

Were John and Gregg the judges in the interview process?
Dave: Invention tests are exactly that. No preparation, just cook. After this, you are given a little warning of a theme for the next round. This gets especially more difficult as the competition goes on and general life eats up your time. John and Gregg decide everything. They are the only two people you need to impress/influence.
How much time did you have before you had to appear on the show? How did you determine the dishes you would cook for the show? How many times did you practice each one?
Dave: I had about six weeks warning before my first heat. It was quite easy to determine what I’d cook. Just chose my favourite dishes that really say this is me on a plate. It then just became a matter of timings. Each dish would be only be tweaked to fit into the timescale. The hardest dish to practice for was actually my dessert in the final. It was a pistachio/Tonka bean panna cotta with citrus meringue, macerated berries and a basil gel. I had to invent my own way of making the gel. Trying to keep it green is very difficult. This probably took the best part of a day when I only had two to play with for the final three dishes.
Careless Whisper

Careless Wispa. We were given the topic of an idol. This was George Michael. It’s a 70% dark chocolate shell with salted butter caramel, dark chocolate mousse, balsamic vinegar and Greek Yoghurt ice cream

Did MC UK provide all of the ingredients for each dish? And were you able to put in an order for special ingredients? Were you limited by budget?
Dave: MC UK provide all the ingredients, which generally were amazing. There was no budget, but I chose to cook cheap food that everyone has access to and can relate to. I thought the judges can then appreciate the skill of the cook more. I blew the budget in the final though, one truffle for two portions of the starter!

This is the infamous Apple Crumble Mille Feuille that made a John cry!

How much time were you given with each brief before the show taping? Did you get the briefs in advance, all at once? What was the taping schedule, was it all at once or once every couple of days?
Dave: The whole show runs on a rolling schedule. Everything is drip fed to you. Themes for the next rounds etc. It was all generally filmed Monday-Friday.
It’s always a challenge to cook in someone else’s kitchen, did you get a chance to review the layout and equipment before taping the show or was it baptism by fire?
Dave: The first round really is a baptism of fire. You go in there completely blind. No one has any idea where the equipment is or what there is. You all just have to think on your feet. A great leveler.
One thing we kept commenting on was your controlled composure throughout the series, do you feel that your experience in being a commercial pilot helped? What were some of the techniques that you used to help control stress?
Dave: I certainly think my job helped. Panicking doesn’t solve anything. Problems will always occur, the sooner you can think straight to solve them, the better your chances of success. I was nervous, but I thought if I’m nervous how is everyone feeling? I just took it as if I was fighter, show no weakness. One of the best quotes I’ve ever heard was from Conor MacGregor(UFC fighter)
“Winners concentrate on winning, losers concentrate on winners” 
I believed in myself and didn’t worry about what anyone else was doing. Not in a cocky way, but why stress about something you have no control over.
Name two things that you learned from the Michelin Star chefs that you did not know before. Will we see them incorporated in dishes on the blog?
Dave: The Michelin star chefs were the highlight of the show for me. Just watching the way they work, learning their ethos quickly rubs off on you. From Tommy I finally learnt the secret to perfect ice cream and making the rocher shape. It’s all in the texture! From Ashley Palmer-Watts I learnt so many things, but mainly just to take the attitude of every ingredient and “what can I do to make it taste great?”
Do you know what you will do with your celebrity?
Dave: I wouldn’t say I have much celebrity, but I want to do a pop up once/twice a month so everyone can come and eat my food. I’d also like to explore the private dining and corporate dining world. It all fits in better with my flying. I’d also like to write a book based on my website. Just enough to keep me out of trouble.
Thank you so much for this lovely interview. JT and I are so happy for your success. I hope one day to sample your tasty dishes and not just drool over them on the computer! Hope to see you soon.
If you want to watch Dave in action, some kind soul posted the series on YouTube, Dave’s part starts at Episode 13 and goes all the way to Episode 25.
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ChoppedLogoLast summer I received a most welcome email from my dear blogger friend, Lorraine Elliot of the famed Not Quite Nigella blog. She was coming to Canada as a guest of the Canadian Tourism Commission and Tourism Yukon and she wondered would I be available to meet if she could arrange a slight diversion to Toronto! I was absolutely thrilled! Of course, I wrote back, who wouldn’t want to meet with one of their blogger heroes? I kept having to pinch myself! No, really!

I suspect that there were many arrangements to make/and subsequently change with the Canadian Tourism Commission so that Lorraine could be in TO for a couple of days. They booked her solid so it was a bit whirl-wind, but Lorraine made sure we had at least a half a day and it was awesome! (You can read about Lorraine’s Toronto experience here, here, here, here, and here). I had asked Lorraine to email me her Toronto schedule so that I could a) make the most of her time, and b) choose something to do that wasn’t on the Tourism Commission’s itinerary. I wanted to show her something unique.

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I’m not too good at taking selfies.

I am very fortunate to know or be acquainted personally with many culinary giants in Toronto, mostly through my past life as a Client Service Rep for a design firm that specializes in Food Packaging, but some because of my current vocation, so I got out my address book. I called Claudia Bianchi, a very close friend of a friend, and an accomplished chef, food stylist and producer of several Food Network Canada shows. I knew Claudia was in the midst of the taping of Season 3 of Chopped Canada and I wondered if there might be an opportunity for us to visit the set and even stay a bit to check out the taping. Claudia very generously put me in touch with Cary Mignault, the PR guy for Chopped Canada, Season 3. It was such an amazing experience, Cary was open and more than happy to make the set visit happen. And such perfect timing too, because as it turned out, the day we visited the set was the LAST DAY of taping the show! Can you believe our fortuitousness? Had Lorraine made arrangements for the day after, it simply could not have happened and I would have been up the creek without a paddle!

I picked Lorraine up at the hotel at 7:30 am and we drove across town to Leslieville where they were taping Chopped Canada, Season 3. As soon as she stepped into the car, we talked and talked and talked, it was as if we were long lost friends! I can attest that Lorraine is as lovely, kind and sweet in person as she is on Social Media. Cary met us in the parking lot and we entered the building. To say this is a huge production is an understatement, there is even an enormous refrigerator/prep room filled with full-size refrigerators! And the set is outstanding, sparkly and new, filled with the latest gadgets and appliances, it is a cook’s dream!

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The Fridge and Prep room

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The off set Prep area.

Claudia met us on set and took us for a little tour, this little slide show includes some of the photos sent to me by Cary. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to chat with Claudia about the show, so here are some insights:

There are a total of ten judges who participate on the show, but there are only 3 seats actually on the show, the judges alternate depending on availability (read about the judges here). The judges are not just there to assess and evaluate the participants but their interaction also provide mentorship to each culinary participant. I enquired how the secret basket of ingredients are determined and Claudia said that she gets her inspiration from many places…it could be a trip to the market, a weekend at their cottage or perhaps her husband’s restaurant (Actinolite) or even some of the judges! And the ingredients need not be Canadian! I asked what ingredient was sourced from the furthest place, sadly she could not mention it as the show had not aired! As you can see from the slide show below, the on stage pantry is exceptionally stocked (here is a link to some great pantry photos (BTW, my friend the designer Kim Sewell, designed most of the labels because they were not permitted to have branded product on set!)).

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AvocadoHollandaise_First

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Lorraine Elliott of Not Quite Nigella, in Toronto. We’ve been following each other for four years now and when we met in person it was like we’d known one another for ever. I wanted to do something special with her so I contacted an acquaintance who produces several Food Network Canada shows and she made it happen – we spent the morning on the set of Chopped Canada, Season 3. But you’ll just have to wait to hear all about it in the new year (don’t worry, it’ll be here before you know it!).

Eva & Lorraine behind the scenes!

Eva & Lorraine behind the scenes!

Lorraine was in Toronto with the Canadian Tourism Commission and made a special request to come to Toronto to meet me! I was flattered beyond belief. For Lunch, we met up with my dear friend Barb (Profiteroles & Ponytales) and a new friend, Trudy Bloem, a Personal Chef from Ottawa (the DIL of a lovely neighbour) at one of my favourite Italian restaurants, Bar Mercurio. We shared a number of tasty dishes that I’m sure Lorraine will blog about. The CTC sure kept her busy and she saw many of the Food significant parts of TO, but not everything so I’ve invited her back! And one of these days, we’ll travel to Australia to visit her (and Charlie, Maureen & Liz)!

Lorraine wasn’t the first positive experience with an Aussie I’ve ever had, after all there was the “gravy boat incident”.

About 12 or 13 years ago, I was trying to finish off some stray pieces to our wedding China. I checked our local supplier and as I suspected it was unaffordable, so I checked eBay. I’ve purchased many things over the years from eBay and my experiences have always been exceptional. I found the exact gravy boat, you guessed it, in Australia. It was a young couple recently married and for some strange reason were given a gravy boat to a set that they didn’t want, so she was selling it for a very reasonable price on eBay. I contacted her to make sure she would ship it to Canada and she said she would. She was not registered on PayPal so she asked for a money order. No problem, but I needed an address. She gave me an address and off we went to get a money order. We don’t often need money orders so we were inexperienced (this will make sense later in the story). The money order was mailed and we waited. And waited. Weeks went by and the girl didn’t receive it. I called the post office and asked how long a letter from Toronto should take to travel to Australia and they said six to eight weeks. So we waited in the meantime corresponding with said girl almost weekly. At 10 weeks she still hadn’t received the money order but she was tired of the game so she said she would mail the gravy boat to me anyway and hope to receive the money order. I felt bad about it, so we got another money order but when we went to cancel the first one, we discovered that we had included the receipt in the original envelope so we couldn’t cancel it (read inexperienced)! I bit the bullet and got another money order anyway (still marginally cheaper than buying the gravy boat in Toronto). I wanted to make sure I had her correct address so I asked her to confirm. You guessed it, she had given me the wrong address the first time (sweet girl but…) so the new money order was mailed and within a week the gravy boat arrived! Then two days later the girl wrote to say the second money order arrived and that she would destroy the first one if it ever arrived. I’m not kidding you, a day later we received back the first money order (with receipt) marked “unknown address, return to sender”! This drama took over three months! We were able to get a refund with the original money order, I got a deal on the gravy boat and a great story out of it! Do you have any cool stories like this? Share in the comments.

If I were serving this avocado hollandaise at home, I would have definitely used the Australian gravy boat, but I served it at the cottage for a tasty vegetarian breakfast!

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It’s still quite buggy in Canada’s north so we were well prepared with our bug shirts!

Vegan Avocado ‘Hollandaise’ Sauce

Makes about 3/4 cup of ‘hollandaise’ sauce

Ingredients:

  • 2 small very ripe avocados
  • 1/2-3/4 cup water
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp white vinegar
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Purée everything together until very smooth adding water until desired consistency is achieved, season with salt and pepper.
  2. Serve warm or room temperature.

Notes:

  • This is a much ‘lighter’ feeling sauce than the traditional eggyolk-butter-based version.
  • I didn’t want to add more lemon juice as I feared it might make the sauce bitter so instead I added a teaspoon of white vinegar and a tablespoon of Dijon, it was a flavourful sauce.
  • Add only as much water to the sauce to achieve the consistency that you want. I wanted mine pourable and I almost used the entire 3/4 cup, just a hair less.
AvocadoHollanadaise

I served this on Asparagus and Spinach bennies one weekend.

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This is 1/4 of the total yield of sauce

This is traditional Hollandaise Sauce made with 4 eggs and 1/2 cup of unsalted butter. Although the calories are fewer than the avocado version, take a look at the fat and cholesterol!

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Hello lovely readers! I hope you enjoyed last month, I’m finding it a little difficult to believe the month of May sped by so quickly. I don’t even want to think about June yet but here we are. My dear friend Genie, over at Bunny, Eats, Design created a monthly event called Our Growing Edge  to help showcase some out of the box recipes or recipes we’ve always wanted to try but never did. Suffice it to say that participation last month was excellent and we had 19 entries and some people even posted twice! Now that puts me to even more shame because I missed the deadline so this post is strictly a hosting of this event! Congratulations to you for trying something new and different and sharing it with us in Our Growing Edge.

Allow me to introduce our lovely contributors to May’s Growing Edge. (May I remind you to add the Our Growing Edge logo to your post and link back to my blog, your host this month, please  see Rules here).

 

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First off, my name is Eva and I’m a Canadian woman who started blogging shortly after we began a 100 square feet (9.3 metres squared) addition/renovation to our craftsman-style kitchen in Toronto, Ontario because I wanted to document the proceedings. As it turned out, the blog was more of a venting place because, like any major renovation, we had some issues. At the end of the project I enjoyed blogging so much that I continued to blog with the perfect segway into Kitchen Inspirations. That was over seven years ago, 700+ posts in 58 categories and a gazillion photos. These days I’m working in the food industry as a Food Stylist (assistant) and creating social media content for food related clients! It’s all good as they say.

Starting off our May roundup is our Growing Edge’s esteemed creator, Genie who  is “a graphic designer obsessed with food and bunnies”! Bunny, Eats, Design contains some extraordinarily adorable photos of her bunny, Tofu,  some really cool bunny designs and of course, delicious food. For this edition of Our Growing Edge Genie tackles Tzatziki Sauce which made me change my dinner plans and make souvlaki when I saw the post. Thanks Genie.

Next up we have Pang from Circa Happy; Pang grew up in Thailand but is now living in San Francisco with her husband. Pang began blogging because she was fascinated with some lovely blogs and thought it might be a wonderful place to document her experience of learning new things in the kitchen. Pang brings to us a beautifully photographed Raspberry Jam recipe that made me lick my lips when I scrolled through her gorgeous post. Thank you Pang.

Dana at I’ve got Cake brings her blog to us because she “truly believe<s> that like Cake & Ice-cream, good Food & great Style should go hand in hand”, the blog is where we join Dana in her journey to learn as much as she can and enjoy at the same time. Shellfish Ragout on a Bed of Spinach is Dana’s entry to this month’s edition and boy does it look delicious. Thanks Dana for the detailed step by step, it sure makes this recipe very approachable.

Vegan Coconut Ice Cream and Avocado Rice are two of Sudha’s posts for us this month. Sudha is a scientist by day and culinary explorer by night on her delicious blog called Spicy, Quirky and Serendipitous. Sudha’s exploring cooking with “ingredients break barriers and come together in a synchronized serendipitous scrumptious manner” Thanks so much Sudha for your two submissions!

Who doesn’t take notice when you see a heading like Chocolate Dinner Party? Audrey knew what she was doing with that headline that’s for sure — afterall, she is an English teacher by day! Born in Malaysia and now living in New Zealand, Audrey writes about recipes, food ideas and places to eat, all while managing her ‘bubs’ on her lovely blog called Rice and Kai. You can certainly tell this lady likes her chocolate, thank you Audrey.

After all that chocolate, I had to inject a little healthy into it with some Sprouted Buckwheat Muesli from the lovely Ashley (Ash) on Organic Ash. Ash’s blog is her ‘soap box’ on which she shares and hopes to start discussions that are important to her. Thank you for the lovely, health conscious recipe.

Jing, over at Daily EZ Cooking also generously submitted not one, but TWO posts for this edition, thank you Jing. The Pot stewed beef liver is something I’ve always wanted to cook at home, only ever having similar dishes in restaurants. And the Steamed Eggs look like they could well be a staple for a quick yet satisfying meal. Your step by step recipes will certainly make that easy.

Eggs Florentine from My Utensil Crock is a full-time attorney’s blog documenting healthy foods that don’t taste like health food; her blog is a beautiful collection of nicely lit photos that look very delicious. The Eggs Florentine would make a fabulous brunch for the coming weekend, don’t you think? Thank you MUC for your submission.

Nom Nom Panda made Homemade Eggettes which look suspiciously similar to Ebelskivers! Nom Nom takes us through the history and the process while she experiments and kindly shows us what it’s not supposed to look like too. Thanks Nom Nom Panda for the photos of the pans too, it’s very helpful for those who want to find it in their country.

Maddy over at Nourish Full is an inspiring young person on a journey back to health through healthy living and eating. For this month’s installment of Our Growing Edge Maddy made an irresistible Forbidden Rice Butternut Squash Risotto that just looks so good you have to pinch yourself that it’s still so healthy!

Bashful Bao‘s Anna whipped up a luxuriously creamy vanilla bean pudding with her Netherland Dwarf rabbit Isadora (Izzy) (not sure if Izzy was involved but anytime you can insert a bunny into a blog is a good thing!) Though bashful, Anna posts delicious recipes regularly so it’s not surprising this pudding sounds and looks so good!

I knew I would instantly like Chandler at the International Poor Chef School because her blog url is The Chef with Red Shoes! How cute is that? Chandler, you’ll notice that some of my followers are really into shoes (like me) so you’ll feel right at home here. I love her Kitchen Hacks section where she shares her tried and true tips and tricks in the kitchen. Chandler’s submission is a delicious Malfati recipe which she garnishes with a gorgeous (and simple) crimini (or cremini) mushroom sauce, a perfect accompaniment.

Then off we go to Auckland to visit Carine at Sweet as Honey, a French wife and mother of two who recently had to reinvent herself with less sugar! We’ll just say she was already sweet enough! Carine made beautiful Sugar-Free Apricot Pistachio Bars that look so yummy, you’d never guess that there is no sugar in them!

I’m sure you’ll be as surprised as I was when you read Lindsey’s recipe in Sneaks and Sweets, yes indeed, that’s avocado in a mint-chocolate cookie! I’m sure it won’t surprise you to learn that Lindsey will always choose a dessert over a vegetable and apparently is a ‘bottomless pit’ when it comes to her favourite eats! We can all relate to that. Check out Lindsey’s gorgeous and healthy recipe here.

Meet D from D’s Bistro; Di considers herself a traveling food lover, who has no intentions to teach us how to cook, she just wants to share her delicious recipes! Speaking of which, check out this incredible Arugula Salad with Drunken Poached  Pears and Goats Cheese, Arugula, goats cheese and what? Drunken Poached Pears? Wow.

Oven & Apron‘s Amanda dishes up a beautiful Almond Pavlova for this month’s Our Growing Edge. Amanda documents recipes that are both sweet and savoury with a “comfortable home-y feel” but this Pavlova definitely screams celebration! Amanda is embarking on a new beginning so please join me in wishing Amanda all the best in finding her dream job that “embraces her creative side”! Good luck Amanda.

And last but not least please check out Carissa’s Pretty/Hungry Blog where she made a gorgeous and delicious Vegan Alfredo! Carissa makes healthy, delicious and beautiful food on her pretty blog. Her alfredo sauce is silky and creamy and uses almonds which is genius!

Thanks again to you all for these gorgeous and delicious entries to May’s Our Growing Edge. I hope you discover someone or something new and give it a try.

Our host next month is Phuong from My Kitchen of Love please click on over here to post your entry and don’t forget to include the Our Growing Edge logo and a link to the host’s blog. Thanks again.

 

 

 

 

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Happy civic holiday! in ontario, today is a day off!
We just got back from a wonderful road trip to Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois, so I’m still catching up. We visited our lovely friends Paul and T’s wonderful Lake House on Delavan Lake. We drove down this time and decided to break the drive up into two days stopping over in Grand Rapids, Michigan for the afternoon and evening. It worked out very well, having a five hour trip to Grand Rapids and then a four and half hour trip to Wisconsin.

Grand Rapids is a fantasic city with a bustling down town; there are several things to do, but because we were there only the afternoon and evening, we only did The Frederick Meijer Gardens. It is a beautifully manicured sculpture garden and green houses; they even have a couple of Rodin’s and a Henry Moore, plus lots of other great sculptures. It’s a beautiful way to spend the afternoon. The next morning we got up bright and early and hopped into the car for the second leg of the journey, Delavan Wisconsin. In the interest of keeping this post a manageable length, I’ll do some other posts reviewing the various restaurants and touristy things we did.

Our fantastic little holiday culminated in Chicago where we met some more bloggers: Celi from The Kitchens Garden, Kristy and Mike from Eat Play Love, Our Family Food Adventures, and Chgo John From The Bartolini Kitchens. We all met at Rick Bayless’s casual Mexican dining room Fontera Grill. I was particularly excited to meet everyone. John graciously offered to pick up JT and I at 10am and give us the beautiful and now famous Bartolini Food Tour; we stopped at Sur La Table a wonderful kitchen gadget shop (which will be on my GO TO list here on in), his favourite Indian Spice/Grocery shop and his favourite Asian Spice/Grocery shop. I joked with John that I never get a cart or basket in these places because so often I come out empty handed (taking a cart at the very beginning is just bad luck), so I walk around the store, picking up this and that until my hands are totally full and someone brings me a cart. John so very kindly asked several times, but I just didn’t want to jinx it! Oh yes, I went to town! Not that I couldn’t get things in Toronto, we have little India and China Town and some great gadget shops, but it wouldn’t be the same — now when I use the cumin from the Indian Spice shop, I shall fondly think of our time with Chicago John. Thank you John, you are truly a gentleman and a wonderful host. We extend the invitation to you anytime you wish to see Toronto!

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We had a great lunch at Fontera Grill and even better conversation. Thank you Celi, John, Kristy and Mike, it was a blast to meet you all and I hope to do it again soon. Please don’t hesitate to visit us in Toronto.

I took the day off for JT’s birthday back in June and although it wasn’t a super hot day, it was very lovely and sunny so we decided to spend the day at Toronto Islands. You may recall that we did this several years ago and enjoyed it very much, but we were at a fringe season and were not able to check out The Rectory Café so we decided to come back for the experience.

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Funny little sandwich board where we got off the Ferry.

The Toronto Islands are made up of several islands and are accessible by Ferry at a number of points. There are residents of the islands who own their own homes but rent the land from the Government on which they stand (apparently it’s a 35 year waiting list!), a few social Yacht clubs, an amusement park, a petting zoo, several beaches (including a nude beach), a lighthouse, parkland fast food and restaurants. It’s quite a beautiful place to walk or ride your bike. It’s also the place where in 1914 Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run into the waters of Lake Ontario! Go figure!

We made it into a half day trip, walking and spending time outside.

We made it into a half day trip, walking and spending time outside.

We like to arrive at Hanlans Point and walk the 5+km (3+ miles) to Ward’s Island making little detours and stopping for a look along the way. Ward’s Island is where the Rectory Café is and it’s a nice way to finish of a 4+ hour day!

The Rectory Café has a wonderful open air patio, and we decided to sit outside even though it was rather chilly. We started with the Sun Blushed Tomato Hummus ($10) ccompanied by Kalamata olives and toasted flat breads. It’s a very nicely seasoned hummus with some tasty little flat breads. Quite reasonably priced too.

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Hummus with flatbread

I then ordered the Char Grilled Calamari ($7 for one $13 to share) Marinated in a fifteen spice rub and served with a scallion thyme aioli and lemon olive oil, which was delicious and quite generous for the price.

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Grill Calamari

JT ordered a sandwich which was also generous but I didn’t try it so it’s intentionally omitted.
Overall rating of The Rectory Café (in my opinion): Decor 4/5 (how could you go wrong sitting outside?), service 3/5, food 4/5, Value 4.5/5, 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.

The Rectory Café
102 Lakeshore Avenue
Toronto, ON M5J 1X9
(416) 203-2152

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Summer is finally here. There I said it. It’s hot, humid, did I mention humid? But don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to complain because the summer just took too damn long to arrive, so BRING IT. What I will complain about unbashedly is our transit system. I had the misfortune to ride the 504 King the other day in the heat of rush hour and it was B-R-U-T-A-L. Although it is the twenty-first century and we don’t live in a third world country, for some reason our street cars still don’t have A/C. Oh yes, the windows do open, but there is not a lot of air coming in when you are sitting in traffic or moving slower than the pedestrians on the side walks. So I got out and walked to the Metro (Subway) because I had somewhere really important to go, yes I was meeting someone ;-)!

About a month or so ago, I had extended the Blogger Girls Night Out invitation to Norma (From Garden to Wok) a very dear blogger friend, but unfortunately she was unable to make it up from Upstate New York. We were both rather disappointed so when she decided to make the trip to visit her sister in early July, she emailed me to see if we could meet. Of course, I was all over it, but work was busy and I wasn’t able to confirm until a day or two before but she was patient and waited as I finally finished what needed to be done and made the commitment. We had tried to include my old friend Barb (Profiteroles and Ponytails) but sadly she had a commitment and was not able to join us but rest assured, she was missed.

I met Norma a few years ago and to be honest, I can’t recall how I came across her blog or whether she left her lovely words on my blog first, but the point is that we’ve known each other in the blogging circles for a couple of years. Norma writes a beautiful blog documenting her escapades in her garden in which she grows a number of beautiful flowering plants and vegetables for the wild life in her area (well, she doesn’t really grow them specifically for the wild life, they just help themselves). Every Monday Norma posts her harvest from that week and it’s really cool to see the variety of vegetables she is able to grow, but then again she is a Master Gardener! Norma also blogs about recipes she makes with her home grown vegetables, giving us handy tricks and tips along the way. Norma is an accomplished food writer, having published two cookbooks as well as running cooking classes in her home town. I’ve made several (this and this) of Norma’s lovely recipes and would encourage you to visit her blog and write some lovely words for her.

Because we were both at opposite ends of Toronto, we picked a central location right at Bay and Bloor at La Societé a trendy French Bistro in the hoity toity area of Yorkville. We talked and talked and talked, honestly — the waiter was so sweet, he came over a number of times and finally said, very politely that he would stand over there and when we wanted something we should give him a nod. We talked for 3 hours straight — we ate too, but completely forgot to take photos! The conversation was lovely and we truly enjoyed each other’s company, just like old friends. Thank you Norma for a wonderful evening and we will see you again, perhaps even in Upstate New York.

We had a lovely three hour dinner, with lots of conversation!

We had a lovely three hour dinner, with lots of conversation!

Speaking of old friends, on a recent Sunday we had an old collegue friend and his wife over for brunch;  I’ve known Gordon for 27 years. We met standing at a window in one of the sky scrapers downtown where we both worked, watching as the snow fell upwards! How could you not chat about that? Gordon and I became fast friends and had lunches from time to time catching up on life, then a handful of years ago we started seeing each other as couples and it’s been lovely — I knew that his wife Angela and I would become fast friends and that JT would get on with the similarly tempered Gordon and I was right, of course.

When I planned this brunch I had hoped that we would have summer weather, so I made this delightful and surprising Chilled Caramelized Vidalia Onion Soup, but on that Sunday, as the morning progressed with rain and cold winds I decided to serve it hot instead. We did a little taste test and yes, it was just as tasty; so if the weather isn’t cooperating and you need to do a quick change, this soup is perfect.

And then shortly after they arrived, the sun started coming out, the clouds disappeared and we opened up windows! I made a quick decision to chill the bowls while we chatted sipping on orange juice and sparkling water and I changed the soup back to a refreshing cold starter!

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The first time I made this soup, I was able to slowly lower the gruyère crisp so it didn’t drown in the soup looking like a brûlé.

Chilled Caramelized Vidalia Onion Soup with Gruyère Brûlé

Makes about 450 mL  but it depends on how thick you want your soup to be

Ingredients:

  • 600 g Vidalia Onions, finely sliced
  • 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • pinch of fresh thyme
  • Short spray of non-stick coating
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 400-500 mL chicken stock or vegetable stock
  • 4-5 tbsp finely grated Gruyère cheese
  • 1 tbsp chopped chives
  • 1 cup non-fat Greek Yogurt

Directions:

  1. Spray a heavy bottom pan with the non-stick spray and begin cooking the onions with the balsamic and white wine. Cook slowly and steadily until you achieve a lovely golden colour. You may wish to add a bit of water in this process (or you can use EVOO, but I’m trying to keep it lower in fat). Or you can use this technique.
  2. Add the thyme and stir well.
  3. Remove from heat and begin adding the stock a little at a time, whilst blending smoothly with an immersion blender. Keep adding stock until your desired thickness is achieved. Press through a fine sieve and refrigerate.
  4. Preheat the oven’s broiler to high. Place a piece of parchment onto a flat baking sheet and place about 1 tbsp of the Gruyère into rounds being careful to keep them well separated. Watch as they broil because they can burn very easily. The oils from the cheese will render and you will see this beautiful lace pattern appear.
  5. Remove the parchment from the cookie sheet to allow them to cool a bit, then carefully lift each one onto a bit of paper towel to soak up the extra oils. Store flat, uncovered until needed — these may be made in advance!

Plating:

  1. With the immersion blender, give the chilled soup one more blend adding in the Greek Yogurt and blend until very very smooth. Return to the fridge.
  2. Chill the bowls for about one hour. Ladle the chilled soup carefully into each bowl, garnish with the gruyère crisp and some chopped chives.
  3. Serve immediately.
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The second time I made this soup, the first gruyère crisp slipped from my fingers into this exact position, and I really liked it, so they were all plated this way!

Notes:

  • Some bloggers have commented that the amount of vinegar is too acidic for their taste in the onion confit or caramelized onion, so you may cut it down, or alternatively add a tbsp of brown sugar to the caramelization process to balance. We did not find it too acidic.
  • For the gruyère brûlé, you can use a small brûlé torch to brown it up a bit more if it’s not crispy enough coming out of the oven.
  • For my first attempt with the brûlé on top of the soup, in addition to broiling the cheese in the oven, I actually used the torch while it was one the soup, it was an interesting combo of cold and hot.

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Happy Canada Day! Today is Canada’s birthday and she’s a whopping 146 (now my birthday won’t seem half bad!). How are you celebrating this auspicious holiday?

Happy Canada Day!

Happy Canada Day!*

We’re at the cottage, spending a long overdue weekend with good friends. The redecorating has taken a bit of a back seat due to being crazy busy at work and not being able to take a little extra time up north, so it’ll just get done later. Being at the cottage means everything slows down and it forces you to enjoy the quiet. I usually bring a craft to do or read, which I don’t often get to do in the city. It also forces you to reflect and in reflection I remember some really good times; one in particular is this:

A couple of months ago I received an email from my friend Kristy (Eat, Play, Love, Our family food adventures) that she was coming up to Toronto and did I want to meet her? WHAT? Of course I want to meet her, who wouldn’t? Kristy and Mike have an incredible blog where they actively involve their two beautiful children, Mr. N and Miss. A; I particularly love that they do that because it’s how I became interested in cooking.

At first I was going to keep Kristy all to myself and not share the adventure, but then I felt that would be selfish so I emailed Barb (Profiteroles and Ponytails) and that got me thinking…what about Kelly (Inspired Edibles), she’s not far from Toronto and she might also be interested, and that’s where it all started. You already know that I’ve known Barb for many years and we’re very good friends with she and her husband — Barb’s blog is a lovely presentation of easy, family friendly recipes. Kelly is a fellow Ontarian, up in Ottawa (only a four hour drive away) and she runs a fantastic blog focusing on health and nutrition. Kelly and I have emailed once or twice before so I didn’t feel awkward in presenting the invitation. Without hesitation both ladies jumped (and I mean JUMPED) at the offer and boy am I glad because it was an incredible night of camaraderie, friendship, good conversation and few very hearty laughs! Thank you ladies for making the evening.

We started at a the classy Roof Lounge at the top of the Park Hyatt in Yorkville; it was as if we’d known one another a lifetime, the conversation just flowed and it was so easy to talk to everyone. We then made our way to Bar Mercurio our favourite Italian restaurant. JT and I have been dining at Bar Mercurio for quite some time and they know us by name so I knew were would get the royal treatment, and we weren’t disappointed. We had a complimentary dessert platter of biscotti and complimentary Lemoncello. Of course, I forgot to take photos early in the evening when there was still daylight, but fortunately Barb and Kristy both brought their iPhone 5s and the very lovely Omar obliged us with a photo. Thank you ladies again for a wonderful evening, I hope we can do it again soon.

It's a shame you can't see our lovely shoes!

It’s a shame you can’t see our lovely shoes!

Complimentary Biscotti always hits the spot.

Complimentary Biscotti always hits the spot.

Of course, one very popular topic of conversation was food and I happened to mention that we’re doing another progressive dinner on our street and that this time our theme is the BBQ, which means that every part of this meal must be grilled. I volunteered for dessert, because I love the challenge. This Coconut Pound Cake is one component to this very delicious dessert, but I won’t spoil the surprise!
I did alter this recipe to make it slightly healthier, by cutting the butter in half and replacing it with puréed apple (or you can use store bought unsweetened apple sauce). It worked out very well indeed!

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Preparing the cast iron pan for the BBQ

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I photographed the batter so you could see that the apple purée did not affect the texture

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Baking on the BBQ

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Cooling the pound cake. Or do I call it the kilo cake?

Coconut Pound Cake

Serves 10-12

Original recipe from Epicurious, I made some adjustments to make it a bit healthier (original recipe had 1 cup butter in it)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup of apple purée – see note below
  • 1 cup sugar (reduced from 1 1/2 cups)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened flaked coconut (6 oz) (original used sweetened)

Directions:

  1. Preheat the BBQ to 325°F. Turn off 1 burner completely.
  2. Prepare1.4L pâte terrine enamelled cast iron pan with non-stick cooking spray (or you can use a 9″ by 5″ by 3″ loaf pan) and line it with parchment leaving ‘handles’ on the long sides.
  3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl, set aside.
  4. Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes with a stand mixer or 8 to 10 minutes with a handheld. In small increments, add the apple purée and beat an additional minute it two until full incorporated (don’t worry if it looks separated, just beat a little longer on a higher speed and it will smooth out).
  5. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in extracts. Reduce speed to low and mix in flour mixture until just combined. Fold in coconut gently but thoroughly with a rubber spatula.
  6. Spoon batter evenly into the prepared loaf pan, smoothing top. Bake in a BBQ on a warming rack in the back with the burner directly below turned off until golden and a wooden pick or skewer inserted into center comes out clean, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2hours.
  7. Cool cake in pan on a rack 15 minutes. Run a thin knife around edge of cake, then invert onto rack and cool completely.

Notes:

  • In order to reduce the butter, I used baked and puréed apples. Peel and core two apples, cut into small cubes, microwave in a heat proof glass bowl with 2-3 tbsp of water until very soft. Purée with an immersion blender until smooth. Push through a fine sieve. Cool and use as directed in recipe above.
  • Cake may be made in advance and stored in an air tight container in the refrigerator until required.
  • Cut slices may be frozen for future use (this is what I did)

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