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Archive for the ‘Things to do in Toronto’ Category

In early August, JT and I had the honour of giving Dave (Fine Dining at Home) a foodie tour of our fair city. You see, Dave is a Captain of a Jet and was flying to the Big Smoke, so obviously, we wanted to take him on a foodie tour. It’s been a tour, a long time in the making, as soon as Dave mentioned that his airline would be flying to Toronto several months ago, I started making a list of things to do…it was long and heavy so the day before Dave’s arrival, JT and I sat down and made a lean list with opportunity to be spontaneous. Dave was a great guest, being very flexible to what we were going to do; it was a super hot and humid day so I also altered the tour to be more air conditioned car oriented than walking, even though we did our share of walking too!

It was a hot, humid day.

We started our day with the St. Lawrence Market, Toronto’s oldest market; it is made up of two stories of food and food related independent stores. While there, we had to have Toronto’s world famous Peameal Bacon on a bun (also known as back bacon or Canadian bacon) at the infamous Carousel Bakery. We loaded up our sandwiches with condiments and sat outside on picnic tables to have our breakfast! It’s a serious sandwich and I could only finish half of it! Then we toured the market, taking in the smells and sounds of Toronto’s culinary marketplace. We ended our tour in Placewares, one of my favourite kitchen stores in the city. From there, we detoured and walked along Front Street to see the new dog fountain (I know it’s not food, but it was along the way). We walked to Brookfield Place where we showed Dave the worlds largest underground pedestrian walking path, called PATH! Path sure comes in handy in the middle of winter when temperatures could be as low as -20° C because of wind chill! It’s basically a system connecting one food court to another under almost every building in downtown Toronto!

The dog fountain, they are all dog statues

Then we headed back to the car and did a little car tour of the city on our way to The Distillery District where we walked around the old distillery grounds and popped into Vom Fas, where I found a rather unique spice called Tasmanian pepper berry, that I had to have! While at The Distillery, we thought we would do a beer tour of Mill Street Brewery but sadly their tours only begin at 4pm and we didn’t want to wait around so I googled another brewery in the city and found that Steamwhistle did tours every 30 minutes. So off we went, unfortunately, the tour was very hot in some places which made it rather uncomfortable and made us sleepy, particularly with the free beer they offered. We decided that we needed lunch and we took Dave to our favourite French bistro, Le Select. By the time we finished lunch, we were all ready for a nap. We dropped Dave off at the hotel and beat the rush hour traffic home.

Dave generously gave me some gifts: Tonka Beans and a delicious bottle of Hungarian Tokay, dessert wine.

What are Tonka Beans? And, why can’t you buy them in the U.S.? They are the black seed of a South American tree that have a similar flavour to vanilla but more complex. Apparently they are poisonous if consumed in large quantities and are illegal in America! In 1995, Health Canada deemed them unacceptable as an additive in food and drugs but they are not illegal here! I guess Canadians are less likely to eat a tree full of them 😉!

A few months back, I had commented on a beautiful Tonka Bean panna cotta dessert that Dave had posted on his blog, hence the thoughtful gift, so I knew I had to make my interpretation. If you follow Dave’s blog, you will know that he makes rather fancy, labour intensive and multi-layered food and this lovely dessert was no exception; I, however, do not have the patience, so I cut it down to something I could do again, without being too labour intensive. Thank you Dave, for your generosity and inspiration. I thought the Tasmanian Pepper Berry that I picked up at Vom Fas would be a lovely accompaniment to the Tonka Bean Panna Cotta. The pepper berries have a distinct peppery flavour with hints of fruit and best of all, it lightly colours what you make a pink colour! I knew the panna cotta would be a winner.

Tonka Beans are mostly aromatic but there is unmistakable vanilla flavour with a subtle flowery, smoky cinnamon. It is rather complex and works well with both sweet and savoury applications. I can certainly see this as a flavouring in butternut squash soup or even a beautiful risotto.

Tonka Bean Panna Cotta on Chocolate Crumble with Almond Tuile

Makes 400 mL of panna cotta (I used 4 x 100 mL forms)

Tonka Bean Panna Cotta Ingredients:

  • 400 mL 1% milk
  • 25 g granulated sugar
  • 1/2 Tonka bean, finely grated
  • 5 Tasmanian pepper berries, chopped roughly
  • 8 g (1 packet) gelatine

Directions:

  1. Reserve about 25 mL milk and add the gelatin powder, stir, set aside.
  2. In a thick-bottom small pan, add the remaining 375 mL milk, sugar, Tonka Bean and Tasmanian pepper berries and heat until lightly boiling, stirring constantly.
  3. Strain through a fine sieve and pour the dairy mix into the gelatin dairy and stir until gelatin has entirely dissolved. Allow to cool to room temperature, then pour into vessels and refrigerate until set (4-6 hours or overnight).

Chocolate Crumble Ingredients:

  • 9 g butter
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 15 g coconut sugar
  • 16 g ground almonds
  • 8 g coconut flour
  • 6 g cocoa powder

Directions:

  1. Melt butter with the salt and pour over the sifted remaining ingredients and mix well. Spread evenly on a Silpat covered baking sheet and bake at 350° F for about 5-8 minutes. Allow to cool, then crumble.

Almond Tuile Ingredients:

  • 50 g sugar
  • 25 g sliced almonds

Directions:

  1. Caramelize the sugar, add the almonds and cook a bit more until the almonds are toasted.
  2. Spread thinly onto a Silpat and cool until hardened.
  3. Break into smaller bits and pulse in a food processor until sugar and almonds have broken down (I left a few in slightly larger chunks).
  4. Spread out onto a Silpat sheet and bake again for about 6 minutes in a 350° F oven, remove and cool slightly, cut or score while warm or break into uneven bits after it has hardened.

Assembly:

  1. Sprinkle a bit of the crumble onto each plate.
  2. Place the panna cotta on top of the crumble. Decorate with the tuile.

Notes:

  • This dessert is a celebration of flavours and textures; the chocolate crumble brings intense chocolate flavour and wonderful texture, juxtaposed to the smooth and creamy, exotically flavoured panna cotta. And then there is the tuile, easier to eat than brittle because it won’t break your teeth. Crumble, creamy, crunch. This is definitely a keeper recipe but I’m going to toss the moulds, they were not impressive!
  • Dave’s version had a fruit jelly cube and a chocolate mousse which I’m sure made it out of this world, but I was too lazy to add the two additional layers, even so, it was restaurant worthy!

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Last month, the Japanese Cherry Blossoms (Sakura trees) blossomed in Toronto. This was a big deal because last year, they failed to bloom as we had a hard frost after several weeks of very warm weather. In fact, the frost was so hard that we lost a few trees. These trees are special because they were a gift from the Japanese ambassador to Canada, Toru-Hagiwara in 1959 as a gift to the citizens of Toronto for their support of Japanese-Canadian refugees after the Second World War. You can read more about the history here. It’s such a popular time in High Park (a park that is only about a 10-minute walk from our house) that the streets become clogged with traffic and it is virtually impossible to drive into the park; well, not quite impossible, but it will take you more than 1 hour! And don’t even think about parking in the park because you won’t be able to find a spot. Last year, a friend parked illegally and had a lovely surprise of a $450 ticket on her car upon return!

If you want to see the blossoms in Toronto, you’ll need to be here in April and you can watch this website, which predicts when they will blossom! JT took these beautiful photos so I wouldn’t miss them when they peaked as I was in Florida with a girlfriend.

Before I left for Florida, we invited friends, who live downtown, to join us for a walk to the park and then dinner in the village, it’s really the only sensible thing to do, if you wish to see the blossoms (and get in my 10,000 steps!) We had some wine and cheese before we left for our walk and I decided to make a french baguette, a recipe I haven’t made in quite a few years. This is the first bread recipe I ever made when I was around 14, it’s really that easy. In those days, I kneaded by hand, but now I get the big guns out and let the stand mixer do the heavy lifting for 8-10 minutes. The recipe produces two or four amazing french baguettes. I baked two and froze the others for another time. The recipe is basically true to the original recipe I made except I updated the method of rolling into the uique baguette form and the baking method.

That’s Bonny & Clyde, the Mum & Dad Capybara’s that escaped last year. They had babies this spring!

Simple French Baguette

Original recipe from Five Roses, A guide to good cooking, 5th edition

This recipe make four 33 cm (13 inch) French sticks

Ingredients:

  • 300 mL (1 1/4 cup) boiling water
  • 30 g (2 tbsp) butter
  • 15 g (1 tbsp) sugar
  • 8 g (1 package, about 1 tbsp) bread machine yeast
  • 50 mL (1/4 cup) lukewarm water
  • pinch of sugar
  • 570 g (4 cups) All Purpose Unbleached Flour
  • 15 g (2 tsp) salt
  • Olive oil
  • 1 egg white, beaten

Directions:

  1. Melt the butter and 15 grams of sugar in the boiling water and cool until lukewarm.
  2. Sprinkle the yeast over 50 mL water with a pinch of sugar and whisk to combine. Set aside to proof for a couple of minutes (I like to do this even with quick rising yeast to make sure it’s not dead).
  3. Combine the buttery water (when it has cooled to lukewarm) with the proofed yeast and stir to mix well.
  4. Combine the flour and salt in the large bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Pour the liquid yeast into the centre and turn the mixer on low speed until it forms a nice dough.
  5. Knead for 8-10 minutes until smooth and elastic (mine took about 8 minutes).
  6. Lightly coat with olive oil and set aside in a warm place, 1 to 2 hours or when double in size. Punch down and divide the dough into two equal portions.
  7. Divide the dough into two or four equal portions. With the base of your palm, press out the dough to a little rectangle, roughly size it 1:3 — it should not be huge at this point. then fold the long side up about 1/3 of the way and press into the dough with your knuckle or fingers to seal. Repeat with the other long side. Flatten the roll and press an indentation into the centre along the long side. Fold down to form a long baguette and seal with your fingers or knuckles. Roll out to elongate and taper the ends. This is the Julia Child method which may be seen here at roughly 6 minute 10 second mark.
  8. Preheat the oven to 450° F (230° C). Place the baguette seam side down on a baguette baking sheet and brush them with the egg white and then dock them using a sharp lame, you can see how this is done at roughly 9 minute 53 second mark of the same video. Place the baguette pan in a larger pan with a few chunks of ice off to the sides, cover tightly with foil paper.
  9. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 425° F (220° C) , remove the foil wrap and brush again with the egg white and then turn the pan 180 degrees and bake for an additional 20-25 minutes or until the baguette is golden brown and the crust has stiffened up and the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.

The steaming process produces the great texture.

Notes:

  • There are as many baguette recipes as there are blogs, if you have one you like to use, I encourage you to try this rolling and baking method, I am sold and will make crusty bread this way from now on.
  • I used 5 normal sized ice cubes.
  • The crust is nice and crunchy and the crumb is chewy and wonderful.
  • If your larger pan doesn’t have tall enough sides, I would spray the foil with non-stick spray so that when the bread rises and touches the foil, it will not stick.
  • This is the baguette pan that I use.

The baguette has a crispy crust with a nice chewy crumb.

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There is a new Japanese restaurant in our hood and it’s called Kenkou Sushi. It literally took over the space of a previous Japanese chain called Sushi 2 Go and sadly, they still haven’t changed the signage (apparently, they are waiting for good weather). Personally, I think this is a mistake as Sushi 2 Go was expensive and inferior quality than the present family owned resto. For some bizarre reason, chain restaurants usually don’t do well in my little hood so this bodes well for Kenkou Sushi. I’ve been 3 times since the beginning of February and it’s been excellent each time. It’s not fancy, but the food is fresh, tasty and nicely presented and best of all, it’s quite reasonable. If you are looking for a good Japanese restaurant in Toronto’s west end, I suggest you pop in, it’s right beside Jolanta Interiors at the corner of Bloor and Willard, you’ll need to look for Sushi 2 Go until the weather gets nicer!

The restaurant is simply decorated, with the sushi kitchen lining the back wall. There are only 7 tables but they do takeout. I like a place a little fancier for dinner, but I’ll certainly do takeout for dinner.

We decided to have a late lunch and make it the main meal of the day, but I still couldn’t finish my entire Bento Box! Both lunches came with Miso Soup, Small Salad, 6 California Rolls, 5 pieces of tempura (including 2 shrimps) and glass noodles.  JT ordered the salmon teriyaki (because he is making more of an effort to eat more fish), sitting on a bed of sautéed veggies.  The salmon looked to be about 110-120 g (good solid 4 oz).

Salmon Teriyaki Bento Box $14.00

I ordered the Sashimi Bento Box that came with 10 pieces of very fresh fish. They are not specific what fish comes out, it depends on what is fresh each day. They were wonderful and flavourful. As I previously mentioned, I was unable to finish it all, so the leftovers (I did eat all of the raw fish) will be lunch tomorrow.

Sashimi Bento Box $16.00

It’s excellent value and I love that the family members work there. So if you’re in the mood for Sushi, give them a go.

Kenkou Sushi

2370 Bloor Street West
Toronto, ON M6S 1P5

Hours:
Everyday: 11:30 AM–10:00 PM

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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.

Lorraine_Eva

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!

FridgeRoom

The Fridge and Prep room

Fridge_PrepRoom

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!)).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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SushiThai_first

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted a restaurant review. It’s not that we haven’t been going out (not the case at all) but I’ve been relatively uninspired, not by the restaurants or meals, just kind of an overall humdrum feeling. Night falls far too early and the days seem to be full of grey, mostly. On the plus side, it hasn’t snowed…yet. Most of the leaves have plummeted to earth and the birds and squirrels are running around frantically looking for food. The bird feeder needs refilling almost every two days; those little sparrows eat quite a bit! Speaking of eating…

Last spring I purchased a couple of Groupons for Sushi Thai on Bloor, a restaurant in our hood so that my Hungarian relatives could experience Thai food. We’ve been to Sushi Thai several times but I wanted to get as many plates for them as possible to vary their experience, hence the Groupon. What I completely forgot was that you can only use ONE Groupon per table and we weren’t going to sit at separate tables, so I had an extra Groupon left over for a lunch JT and I had recently.

I’m always surprised that this little place isn’t busier, the décor is contemporary Asian with some tasteful Thai embellishments; it has flattering lighting and the service is good with authentic Japanese staff with a reasonable command of English. The Sushi is fresh, delicious and often creatively prepared (piped mayo, toasted sesame or rice puffs etc. and decoratively laid out on a white plate). Both Thai and Japanese foods are also very good. Complimentary tea is not offered.

A delicious bowl of soup and salad.

A delicious bowl of soup and salad.

We both ordered the lunch specials ($11 each) that came with a small bowl of miso soup and a typical Japanese-style salad made with iceberg lettuce, a few shavings of carrot and beet, thinly sliced cucumber and radish and a slice of tomato dressed with a thousand island-style vinaigrette (it has been my experience that almost all the Japanese restaurants in Toronto make a salad like this, some better than others). The miso was warm, with lots of dashi and small cubes of soft tofu garnished with green onion. Some misos can be salty but this one was not. We both commented that it could have been warmer, of course, the day was one of the first of the colder days so we were still stinging!

Sushi

Just the perfect amount for lunch.

I ordered the Sushi plate which came with 11 pieces of tasty sushi. There were 3 salmon rolls, 3 tuna rolls, and 5 pieces of Nigiri: Tuna, Hamachi, Salmon, Shrimp and Surimi. I could do without the Surimi but it seems to be prevalent on the more budget conscious restaurants. The fish was fresh with a lovely soft texture and the wasabi was pungent!

A decent lunch portion.

A decent lunch portion.

JT ordered the Chicken Teriyaki which came with a good amount of thigh meat in a light teriyaki sauce and a reasonably large mound of rice and a few broccoli florets, all garnished with some white sesame seeds. The chicken was tender and all of the fat had been properly trimmed off (you’d be surprised at how much fat and grissel JT leaves in some places). All in all we both really enjoyed our choice. We did not have dessert.

Overall rating of Sushi and Thai (in my opinion): Decor 3.5/5, service 3.5/5, food 4/5, Value 4/5, Noise: 5/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

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

Sushi Thai on Bloor

2279 Bloor St W
Toronto, ON
M6S 1P1

Tel: 647-347-6826

Monday to Thursday 11:30 am-10:00 pm

 

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We’ve been to The Good Fork a few times now and I thought it was time to do a Kitchen Inspirations review. The folks at The Good Fork were incredibly generous around the Christmas holidays when Toronto experienced wide-spread blackouts and JT and I were without charging power for our phones for a couple of days — they let us plug in! The Good Fork is located just on the cusp of the Western edge of Bloor West Village and because it’s on the cusp, sadly it’s pretty easy to forget about it; I’m glad that on that cold December day we didn’t!

It’s about 1.6 km from our house which makes a good walk but there is street parking usually close by. I would recommend reservations if you’re going with a group because it does fill up quickly and there isn’t a bar to wait at. If you’re going for brunch, like we did, make sure you arrive before 10am because you’ll have to wait for a table if you arrive later!

The folks are very nice at The Good Fork and we have found the food to be very good quality. I like that their menu is not huge but what they do is very tasty and the prices are not bad. The portions are a good size and if you’re not starving you may even find it enough to share with an extra salad. The Good Fork is fully licensed and serves VQA wines and beers from Canadian micro breweries. The decor is modern and simple and there are many spacious booths. Their second floor can be rented for events. 

JT and I visited The Good Fork for brunch; I ordered the Nova Scotia Benny ($13.00) which came with two poached eggs, a generous serve of smoked salmon, cream cheese, preserved lemon and fresh dill on Gordy’s gorgeous house-made bun (it was so good that even I found it difficult to resist eating the top!). I chose a side salad instead of home fries and although the salad was very tasty, it was over dressed for my taste which is a mistake I find many restaurants make (note to self, ask for dressing on the side next time).

A delicious combination of flavours.

A delicious combination of flavours.

JT ordered a slightly more decadent dish: The Pulled Pork Benny ($13.60) topped with crispy fried shallots and a delicious slaw on the same house-made bun. The pulled pork had fantastic flavour and the crispy fried shallots added the much needed textural contrast to the sweet and tangy pulled pork. JT also ordered the salad as the side and it too was over dressed. Overall, I would say that both dishes were winners and we will order them again (perhaps to share next time).

TGoodFork_2455

Succulent pulled pork and a very tasty house-made bun.

 

Overall rating of The Good Fork: Decor 2.5/5, service 3/5, food 4/5, Value 3/5, Noise: 5/5 (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 Good Fork

2432 Bloor St. West
Toronto, ON M6S 1P9

 

Hours:

Monday and Tuesday 9:00 am-4:00 pm
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 9:00 am-10:00 pm
Saturday 9:00 am-4:00 pm and 5:30 pm-10:00 pm
Sunday 9:00 am-5:00 pm

 

Contact

647.352.5955
ALI@goodfork.ca
TOLGA@goodfork.ca

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My good friend Barb (Profiteroles and Ponytails) and I recently took a Sushi making workshop at Wabora Sushi in the Thompson Hotel on Wellington Street in Toronto, we got the deal on Groupon for $40 ($100 regular price) so I thought I would share my experience with you.

Wabora offers a blend of Japanese and Korean foods with some of the well-known North American Asian dishes (From the About page on their website). The restaurant is dimly lit and decorated in a contemporary Asian style. It’s reasonably comfortable and offers enough soft surfaces which help absorb the lively conversations. Because this was a sushi making workshop we all sat at the back of the restaurant nearest to the sushi kitchen. When the workshop began, the lights at the back of the restaurant were made brighter so we could see what we were doing (a little too bright, perhaps!)

The $40 Canadian did not include $5.20 tax so we had to pay that when we arrived. Beverages need to be purchased and if you are hungry enough you may even wish to purchase additional things off the menu (I had a glass of wine for $15). We were taught to make two decent-sized rolls which worked out to about 8 pieces each. It was reasonably filling which gave me the opportunity to take four of the pieces home with me so JT could try it too.

My first impression was that there were a lot of people, in fact so many people that there were not enough work stations for the entire group to prepare the sushi at once, so we had to do it in two groups, Group A and Group B. The tables were nicely laid out with all of the required materials and food and the surfaces were clean. We were provided with disposable plastic gloves to wear during the preparation which were cumbersome and far too large which made some of the steps a little more difficult than they had to be. There were two sushi chefs who demonstrated at each end of the long tables before groups were called up to execute. The restaurant manager provided commentary for the demonstrations and it was easy to understand. My only complaint for the demonstration component was that there were too many people gathered around and it was difficult to see exactly what the chefs were doing (there were taller people standing in front of me). The commentary was helpful even if it was difficult to see.

The chefs remained available to help where they saw necessary and answer some questions. One thing that surprised me was that the standard size sushi sheets are cut in half so that they are rectangles and not squares. We were instructed to put the rice on the rough side so that it sticks better.

TeriyakiChickenRoll_2177

This is a chicken teriyaki roll with Grilled chicken breast, cucumber, Japanese pickled carrot (gobo), avocado, omelette pieces and seaweed garnished with blonde miso sauce and teriyaki sauce.

The Chicken Teriyaki roll was certainly a new twist on the California Rolls that use surimi (imitation crab). We started with the seaweed, rough side up with the longest side facing us. We added the sushi rice (which was cooked and cooled Japanese rice with the addition of rice vinegar and sugar) and were told to spread it out evenly on the sheet to three sides, leaving one long side without rice for about 1 cm (0.5 inch). Then we added the chicken, avocado, cucumber, pickled carrot and omelette horizontally onto the long end, being careful not to over stuff. The chicken I had was a little dry and if I were to make this at home, I would definitely leave the chicken slightly thicker to avoid drying out. We rolled the seaweed up from the long end and finished it off by shaping it with a plastic covered sushi bamboo mat, tapping the ends in. We then cut the roll into eight even slices and plated them. We drizzled white miso and teriyaki sauces over the plate. The garnish of the white miso and the teriyaki sauces complimented each other well, but I would definitely not call this sushi. Roll #1 was disappointing.

Roll #2 was called a Spicy Salmon roll and it was made ‘inside out’ meaning that the rice was on the outside of the roll. For this roll, we began with the seaweed rough side up with the shortest side facing us. We added the rice and spread it out evenly to every side, then we flipped the sea weed over so that the rice was facing down on the table. We added shredded surimi (imitation crab), avocado and cucumber to the short end and rolled it up tight. Then we covered the roll with a piece of plastic wrap and we shaped the roll using an uncovered bamboo sushi mat, tapping the ends in. Then we removed the plastic wrap and added the mixture of the ‘secret recipe’ of spicy raw salmon to the top. Then another sheet of plastic wrap was draped over the roll and we shaped it again using the bamboo matt. Leaving the plastic on the roll, we cut cut the roll into 8 even slices using a dipped sushi knife. Then we removed the plastic, plated the rolls and drizzled a spicy mayo on the top and then crispy-fried potato strings. The spicy salmon had a wonderful taste and texture but I was disappointed that the recipe for it was secret, I thought it was a workshop on how to make sushi?

SpicySalmonRoll_2179

Spicy Salmon Roll with crispy fried potato strings

SpicySalmonRoll_2180

This one was definitely more flavourful and full of texture.

I had a really good time with Barb and it was lovely to catch up. The sushi making workshop was OK value for $40 and had I paid $100 I would have been enormously disappointed — it’s definitely not worth $100 to make two rolls, particularly since neither used that expensive ingredients. I would definitely like to come back to Wabora and sample more of their dishes in the future and leave the sushi making to the experts.

Overall rating of Sushi Making Workshop in Wabora (in my opinion): Decor 3/5, service 3/5, food 3/5, Value 2/5, Noise: 2.5/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

Disclaimer: We purchased the workshop and wine ourselves and my opinions just that, my opinions.

Wabora Toronto

550 Wellington St. W
Toronto, ON M5V 1H5
(416) 777-9901

Hours

Sunday – Wednesday 11am-11pm
Thursday – Saturday 11am-12pm

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Hello everyone! I am so sorry I was not able to post last week but I was booked the entire week for food styling assisting! I can’t believe it has taken off so well; of course, I take nothing for granted and keep pounding the pavement for my next job. Many of you have been interested in what this new position for me entails, well let me tell you. I met with the food stylist on Monday morning and we went over the recipes and shopping list. Of course, being the type of person I am, I had asked him to send me the list the week before because I wanted to prepare myself and practice if need be. Well, there was a need, BIG TIME! Of all the things to be prepping that week was CANDY! Now I’ve had some experience with candy making, but few and far between. I know some of the basic rules but I haven’t made a lot of candy. But the prepping wasn’t all of it, there was shopping to be done.

I had touched on shopping in a previous post so I’ll keep it brief this time; it’s gruelling. It’s about buying the most beautiful fruit/vegetable when it isn’t even in season! Next time you’re at the market, take a look at off season fruits/vegetables, the pickings are slim and what’s there isn’t even pretty. So it’s dragging your butt all over the city to buy the perfect beet is exhausting. But I do love grocery stores, so it’s not as bad as it sounds.

The shoot last week was on location, which for this particular situation meant it was at a home. Sounds like fun? Think again. The downtown home is chosen for the shot, and nothing else, particularly not the kitchen. Small, unknown (appliances); it’s a challenge. And then there was the parking issue — there was NO parking, hence the $30 ticket kindly left on my windshield by some thoughtful parking police person (thank you by the way)! But it went well and we’ll all see the results next year.

I also wanted to thank you for your kind wishes and your encouragement, it’s not easy starting out something new, but to do it at my age is even scarier; your encouragement and kind words have been paramount in my confidence and I can’t thank you enough. I would also like to thank you for not ostracizing me for failing to comment recently, I’ve been swamped and I’m just trying to get my balance back. I’m reading your blogs, I just haven’t been able to comment on my phone (usually reading in the middle of the night!), so I thank you.

Now back to the usual programming…

We were finally able to get into Gusto, a very popular restaurant on Portland in Toronto, but just. We decided that waiting in line for dinner was not our bag so we thought lunch might be more forgiving. We scored the last table on a recent visit with my niece (a newly graduated lawyer) and her botanist beau! You may recall that I got a bit ahead of myself and made their famous Kale Salad site unseen or palate tested! It turned out that I had it pretty close but their version was a tad sweeter — I have modified my recipe.

The restaurant itself is a very cool, contemporary warehouse design. Lots of super hard surfaces makes it very noisy and I suspect I wouldn’t like it as well at night because it was reasonably noisy at brunch when there isn’t as much boozing. Our server was friendly and attentive without being over bearing and was knowledgeable about the food. The courses were brought out with reasonable timing which made it an event instead of a rushed meal that some places offer. There was absolutely no attempt to rush us from our table and the place was packed.

I was happy to sees that the salad was served in a similar Christmas tree shape that I served our's in as so many of you commented. :-)

I was happy to see that the salad was served in a similar Christmas tree shape that I served our’s in as so many of you commented. 🙂

I thought I had taken photos of the other dishes we all ordered, but sadly they are no where to be found so I shall review only the Kale Salad which we ordered for the table and the Popilo which was my lunch dish.

The Kavolo Nero ($13.95)  was macerated with lemon juice and honey decorated with toasted pine nuts (the short Italian kind), Pecorino cheese and currents. Since I’ve tasted the real thing I have increased the honey a touch in my recipe and have switched up the currents for either dried cranberries or dried sour cherries. Parmesan can also be substituted for the Pecornino.

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Tender Grilled Octapus

The Polipo ($14.50) was a char-grilled octopus with an olive tapinade and a celery root cream with baby zucchini, chorizo all harmonized with a delightful sherry smoked paprika vinaigrette. It was wonderful and my mouth is still watering as I type this review. It was a decent portion as were all the other dishes at our table.

Overall rating of Gusto 101 (in my opinion): Decor 3.5/5, service 4/5, food 4/5, Value 4/5, Noise: 1.75/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

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

Gusto 101

101 Portland Street, Toronto
eat@gusto101.com
General inquiries: 416-504-9669

Mon: 11:30 am – 10:00 pm
Tue: 11:30 am – 11:00 pm
Wed: 11:30 am – 11:00 pm
Thu: 11:30 am – 1:00 am
Fri: 11:30 am – 1:00 am
Sat: 11:00 am – 1:00 am
Sun: 11:00 am – 10:00 pm

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Thank you to everyone who voted, the pumpkin carving contest was a close call, Witchy Pumpkin took the lead by a mere 8 points. YAY! Witchy pumpkin was my creation and JT carved Scary Pumpkin! I ended up carving two more on the day of, these one’s tested my skill in Surface Carving, and my only casualty was jabbing the exacto-knife into my forefinger! I only noticed when I was dotting blood all over my iPhone! Silly me. I really enjoyed carving these pumpkins so next year I’m upping the ante!

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Hooter. The pattern wouldn’t stick to the pumpkin
so I had to eyeball it!

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Mumford

On Friday October 25, JT and I went to the Delicious Food Show at the Better Living Centre at the CNE in Toronto. This show is only two years old but it’s really taken hold of the foodies in the city! Tickets for this show are $20 which would be expensive for a show, but if you take into consideration that there are no additional costs for the presentations, I think it’s a pretty good deal.
We didn’t really plan our visit and were very pleasantly surprised that we arrived in time to see Martha Stewart doing a live demo of her Raspberry Swirl Cheesecake, a recipe from her new cookbook called Cakes! You could purchase the cookbook and have her sign it but frankly there were too many rules to review and I got bored and moved on. While walking away, we practically bumped into Food Network Canada’s hottie, of Chuck’s Day Off, Chuck Hughes! I also found out that my friend Claudia was assisting him all day, sorry I missed you.

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Martha Stewart and her assistant making a raspberry ripple cheese cake from her new Cakes cookbook. It’s her 81st cookbook.

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Although the auditorium wasn’t large, they had two enormous monitors so you could see close up what she was doing.

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Chuck Hughes is a Montréal Chef with two restaurants and a very cool show on Food Network Canada called Chuck’s Day off.

There were many wonderful exhibitors and although you could definitely buy food to eat, there were lots of free samples to be had. There were also cocktails and although in Ontario the LCBO makes it illegal to give away booze for free, Wine Country Ontario was giving free wine samples in the form of a tasting which was very nice.

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A show about deliciousness.

There are far too many exhibitors to talk about in a reasonable length blog post so I’ll highlight a few.

Ice Syrup was one of our first stops. Ice syrup is a delicious syrup made from ice wine grapes. Use it drizzled on sharp cheeses like very old cheddar or blue cheese, last night we drizzled it over a pesto, prosciutto and goats cheese pizza, it was delicious!
Kosliks Canadian Mustard Klosiks makes the most morish mustard you can imagine, it makes you want to eat it by the spoonfuls! They were also showcasing organic chocolate with mustard seeds which were rather interesting.

Stirling Creamery makes the most delicious French style butter. Although there is only 2% difference in the fat to regular butter, it makes the butter very creamy. We bought 225g for the show price of $4, I believe it’s normally $6!

Remember my very first giveaway? Kristy (Eat, Play, Love; our family food adventures) won some Just a Pinch salts. President Mario Di Giovanni was working the show and JT and I had a lovely chat with him. His passion for his product and company really showed through, it was inspiring. His rubs are family recipes that he diligently copied down while watching his mother cook. Just a Pinch and my very first giveaway.

By late afternoon we started feeling a bit peckish and coming across Green and Blacks Organic Chocolate was perfect. Their free samples were generous and very delicious! I was disappointed that they didn’t have bars to sell at the show as they are often $8-9 dollars for a 100g bar. We hung around that booth for a while.

My dear friend Chgo John (From the Bartolini Kitchens) wrote about sustainable fish in his last post so I was very pleased to come across this booth who website clearly defines what fish are properly farmed in a humane and sustainable way.
Ocean Wisei sustainable seafood

Last June I purchased a unique cutting board from a Québec artisan Planet Creations what’s unique about their cutting boards is that the are all end grain, which makes for beautiful designs but practically speaking they do not dull your knives! They are works of art and I was very happy to see them at this classy show.

And last but not least, Sprucewood Brands was the booth that the inspiration for my next post came from. Their savoury shortbread cookies are perfect for the upcoming holiday season.

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Our dear friends Rae and Monica dropped in the day before my birthday party to share a little bubbly with us to celebrate! It was such a lovely gesture since they live about 50 minutes away. They dropped their three girls and some friends off on Bloor Street in our hood because we have such lovely shops to browse through; our local Chapters is a great visit because its a converted theatre with beautiful architectural features not to mention the cool stuff to buy! And then there is Sweet Flour where you can get a custom-baked fresh cookie in about a minute (they have a variety of raw doughs and a whole mess of inclusions, you pick the dough and inclusions and presto, a freshly baked cookie!). Definitely worth visiting. They also shopped the trendy clothing stores while we visited with Rae and Mon and a couple of hours and bottles later their girls dropped in! It was such a lovely visit; we’ve known the girls since they were born, so it was nice to have adult conversations. The girls very kindly and generously bought us a box of red currants! How nice is that? With everything going on, my big bash the next day and leaving in a couple of days for a short vaycay, I knew I had to do something very special with these delicate berries, but what? Then I remembered my dear friend Sissi makes the most incredible hot and sweet jellies so I took a little trip to her beautiful blog With a Glass to see what kinds of jellies she has made and boy, what a selection. Sadly their were no jellies for red currants, so I expanded my search on the web and found this lovely jelly recipe by David Lebovitz’s Red Currant Jam recipe, with some artistic license! Thank you Sissi for the inspiration.

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it’s a perfect accompaniment to cheese

The jelly is slightly sweet with some smokey heat right at the very end, nothing unpleasant, and if I were to make it again, I would likely add a bit more heat to it.

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We had this jelly with left over cheeses and fruits from my birthday bash!

Red Current Jelly

based on David Lebovitz’s Red Current Jam

Ingredients:

  • 1 part currents (150g)
  • 1/2 part sugar
  • 1/2 guajillo pepper
  • 1/4 ancho pepper
  • 1/8 haberno pepper

Directions:

  1. Finely chop the three varieties of peppers, including the seed if you prefer a more robust heat.
  2. Remove the large stems from the currants, rinse. Add the currents and the chopped peppers to a pot large enough to be able to add enough water just so that it covers the currents and the peppers.
  3. Cook the currants and the peppers stirring frequently until they’re soft and wilted (like you would in making cranberry sauce).
  4. Weigh the glass container you will transfer the purée into. Press the purée through a fine sieve to remove the seeds, stems and pepper bits into the weighed glass container. (or if you have a scales which tares, simply put the glass container on top, tare it and press the currant pepper mix into it.
  5. Now weigh the purée in the glass container, subtract the first weight from the second weight and divide it by four (if you have a scale that tares, this is much easier).
  6. For each pound (kilo), add the 1/4 of the amount of sugar to the pot.
  7. Mix the purée and the sugar and cook over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, let it boil for five minutes undisturbed.
  8. After five minutes, turn off the heat and skim off any scum.
  9. Pour into sterilized jars up to the top and screw on the lids firmly. Turn the jars upside down and let cool completely (this is Lebovitz method to can, it worked for me!).

Speaking of the big bash, here is the photo book I created so I can remember the wonderful day everyone made for me (any references to age were intentionally left out, so don’t be rude and ask me how old I am ;-)!):

Click here to view this photo book larger

Shutterfly offers exclusive layouts and designs so you can make your book just the way you want.

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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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We’ve been craving delicious thin crust wood oven pizza since our return from DC. I don’t eat pizza often so when I do, I really want it to be AWESOME! Terroni is a small, family owned Italian Trattoria ‘chain’ with three restaurants in Toronto and one in LA. Their claim to fame is their overbearing motto that allows for no substitutions, so if you want anchovies with that and it’s not on the menu, they’ll refuse to serve it to you. Period. Now you have to admire the guts to do that. Not withstanding, they are enormously successful; one of their places(Queen Street West) in Toronto won’t even take reservations, so if you want to dine there, go stand in line at 5pm and you’ll get a table at 6!

Terroni Grilled Calamari_0211

Perfectly grilled and tastefully seasoned

The location JT and I recently dined at is central, right down town in old Toronto’s Courthouse, a beautifully renovated old brick building. The washrooms are in the basement located in the old holding cells. I would have taken a photo but it was disgustingly filthy (yes, I mentioned it to them, apparently a number of women had just stormed through).

We arrived a few minutes late due to traffic and we had to wait a minute or two for our table; we were seated in an outdoor space converted to an interior covered courtyard. I’m glad we were seated in this smaller room (~50 people) because it was noisy enough, the main areas it would have been brutal. They don’t rush you per-say, but it’s not a lingering meal (just as well, as I found it to noisy to talk).

We decided to share a pizza but have our own appetizers; I had the Grilled Calamari and JT had the Salad Nizzarda. The Calamari alla Griglia ($15.95) was a generous serving of grilled calamari, mixed greens, fresh tomatoes with a very nice balsamic dressing — the tomatoes had a lovely tomato flavour. By contrast, the Nizzarda ($12.50) which is like a salad Niçoisse, was a scant serving of Italian tuna, on a bed of arugula, potatoes, eggs, red onion, tomatoes, olives with pits, green beans and anchovies (JT gave me his anchovies, I hope we weren’t caught!).

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The lighting was very dark by the time we ordered the pizza, so I photographed the leftovers at home the next day. Boy was it tasty!

We shared the Puzza Pizza ($17.95) which was a white pizza with mozzarella, italian mascarpone, gorgonzola, mushrooms, Italian ham, not inexpensive by any stretch of the imagination but it was well worth it. The creamy white base, slightly salty Italian ham with the tangy gorgonzola was a perfect combination. Even the next day it was outstanding. The pizza measured about 11-12″ in diametre.

Overall rating of Terroni, Adelaide (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 2.5/5, food 4/5, Value 3.5/5, Noise: 2/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

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

Terroni Adelaide

57 Adelaide St E

416 203 3093

Mon–Wed 09:00–22:00

Thu–Sat 09:00–23:00

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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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Happy Mother’s Day to all! Hope it was lovely.

JT and I babysat my 13 year old nephew, Jack and my 10 year old niece, Annie on a recent weekend while their parents went to the Caiman Islands for a benchmark birthday party! We had a great action packed weekend filled with a visit to the High Park Zoo, bowling at Lucky Strike, cake decorating and cookie baking. Jack had his head burried in his laptop or smart phone at any given time; surprisingly he was not playing games, but monitoring a help desk he set up.

At the zoo, we were very lucky to see the 1 month old baby Wallaby, hoping along side of Mama (he/she even crept back into Mama’s pouch)! And we reacquainted with the Lama that was born last year. Lots of great things to do at this quaint little zoo — chickens to hold, bunnies to pet and Capybaras to feed, and best of all, it’s FREE! If you’re in Toronto, take the kids to High Park, in addition to the zoo, there is an amazing Jamie Bell Adventure Playground that was recently rebuilt due to vandals burning it to the ground (hundreds of volunteers and a celebrity contractor rebuilt the castle, click here to read the article).

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The baby Wallaby and Mama drinking water. Shortly after this photo, the baby crawled back into Mama’s pouch.

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Annie feeding the baby lama. He had such an adorable face.

He really was having fun, even though he hid it well.

He really was having fun, even though he hid it well.

But even after bowling, the weekend wasn’t complete without some quality kitchen time. We wanted to take a cake over to Grandma and Papa’s as a get well gift for Grandma who recently had an operation, so I baked two vanilla slab cakes (well, that’s not the fun part) and Annie cleverly decorated both, one as a gift and one for dessert over the weekend — which was thoroughly enjoyed!

Getting ready to decorate the cakes.

Getting ready to decorate the cakes.

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With everything going on, I didn’t have time to make the icing, but the cake was home made.

This cake was for Grandma and Papa.

This cake was for Grandma and Papa.

This one was for us!

This one was for us!

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We ate al fresco all weekend, which was a HUGE contrast to this past weekend when it SNOWED! Yes, you read that correctly!

We also baked the easiest Peanut Butter Cookies we’ve ever made and I thought I would share them with you because they are gluten free!

The Easiest Gluten Free Peanut Butter Cookies EVER (recipe from Kraft)

Makes about 24 medium-sized cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup Kraft Smooth Peanut Butter (UPDATE) I made these cookies again using all natural peanut butter and they turned out perfectly. I won’t be buying Kraft again for this easy and tasty cookie. Take into consideration how oily the natural pb is, the last batch I made (2015) was excessively oily so I upped the sugar to 3/4 cup).
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • Optional 24 milk chocolate wafers

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
  2. Mix all of the ingredients together until well blended (no need to drag out the hand mixer, just mix well with a spoon).
  3. Roll into 24 balls and place on parchment paper about 4 inches apart. Flatten with fork (or with a flatten with a milk chocolate wafer pressing it into the cookie).
  4. Bake 20 minutes or until lightly brown. Do not over bake. Cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet and transfer to wire racks. Cool completely if you can resist eating.
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Cookie making is serious business.

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Batch one, traditional peanut butter cookie.

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Annie claimed that we had mice because the cookies kept disappearing.

Cookie batch one.

They were so successful, we made another batch the next day.

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Delicious PB and Chocolate, what’s not to love? I didn’t have quite enough Kraft PB so I used a couple of tablespoons of natural crunchy PB I had on hand. Next time, I’ll try it all with the natural stuff.

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If you’ve been following along, you will know by now that we have very good friends, Paul and T, who live in Illinois with whom we visit, travel, laugh (and laugh and laugh), eat and drink and recently, they kindly paid us a long overdue visit. It’s always a challenge to come up with things to do since we’ve been hanging out with each other for around 20 years — we’ve done most things in the GTA that had to be done. Now, I know it’s not always necessary to plan a weekend with such good friends, but it’s nice to do a little something special, particularly since it’s the only time JT and I get to be tourists in our own city.

We decided to visit Casa Loma, a real castle in the heart of Toronto. Built by Sir Henry Pellatt and Lady Mary Pellatt for $3.5 million dollars around 1911. Now that is a lot of money even now, can you imagine how much that was in 1911? Sadly, the Pellatt’s only lived in the Castle for 10 years, when their financial empire crumbled and they were forced to auction off the castle and belongings. In 1924 they moved to their farm in King township, and shortly after Lady Mary passed away of heart problems (likely caused by anxiety and stress of their financial downfall). The castle was fitted with the most modern conveniences, like indoor toilets, electricity and telephones; when the entire city of Toronto had 3,000 telephones, the Pallett’s castle had 50! Even the servants quarters were grandly equipped (by the standards of the day) with heated rooms, electricity and indoor washrooms (it reminded me of Downton Abbey). It took 300 men three years to build it. Quite the property.

In 1925 they tried to convert it to a luxury hotel, but even that didn’t pan out; the rooms were never completed, only the common areas had been re-purposed where they held many high-end social events and dances. In 1937 the Kiwanis Club of West Toronto took over the building and began the tedious task of renovating and refurnishing the rooms as Sir and Lady Pallett would have had it furnished. Today, only some of the furnishings are from the Pallett’s estate, many of them are just ‘of the time’. You can book your wedding or special event at the castle, but 27 years ago, the waiting list was three years long, so plan ahead!

Casa Loma is situated in Forest Hill, an exclusive neighbourhood in Toronto, even today. The area is also quite lovely to experience and I strongly suggest that you check it out if you are visiting Toronto.

A few practical notes and we’ll get to the good stuff:

  • With the self-guided audio tour, it will take you about 2-3 hours to go through the castle, we had a moderate pace and completed the tour, even the garages, stables and potting shed in a little over 2 hours.
  • There is an elevator but it must be operated by staff, the stairs are so much more practical, and they will allow your tour to flow better (not having to back-track on yourself to get to the lift).
  • It’s not heated well, so you’ll need your jacket in the winter (I wore boots and my toes were chilled). I walked around with my jacket buttoned up (and I usually start sweating as soon as I think about going inside — Eastern European and all!).
  • Little one’s are not discouraged, but there is little for them to be amused with. Unless you are going for a specific kids program, they will be bored.
  • There is a cafeteria on site, but Yorkville is very close by with so many better options.
  • Ladies, take a purse that can be hung on your shoulder, your hands will be occupied with the listening device, the map and perhaps a camera (and for me, a tissue for my sniffling nose, yes, I still have it! Grrr!).
  • Not a cheap experience, adult entry is around $20; check on line, you may be able to find discount coupons. If you plan on doing more than one attraction a Toronto Attractions City Pass may be the way to go.

The Good Stuff (you’ll see that I didn’t take many photos (I kept my gloves on) so you’ll have to visit to see it all):

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The main entrance. As you can see we have another dreary grey day in Toronto

The Great Hall just after the entrance.

The Great Hall just after the entrance. The giant organ is that shadow in the photo.

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The Great Hall another view; you can see the scale of this room by the chairs. The gorgeous window in the previous photo is just on the right of this photo. This room also had an enormous organ (which sat in the large window in the second photo), the enormous pipes are behind me taking the shot.

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Sir Henry’s drawing room

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The Drawing Room; the sofa in the foreground is facing the fireplace from the previous photo.

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Incredible views from one of the towers. This shot reminds me of Paris from the Arc de Triomphe looking toward La Défence

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OK, maybe it’s just La Défence that reminds me of our new condo.

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Great view of our city.

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The towers are accessed only by metal and wood spiral stairs, which can be a bit confining at times. It’s best to do this in low season as there are only one set of stairs so it would get quite congested in high season.

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This is the smoking room, no ladies please

The stables

The stables. What’s cool about the stables, garages and potting shed is that they are accessed by a 500 metre tunnel, 5 metres under ground. Sir Henry fought with the city to have a busy road detoured so that his servants didn’t have to cross to access the outer buildings, and was constantly declined, so he built a tunnel. Obviously a different snack bracket than I.

We had very special deviled eggs for our hor d'œuvres that evening.

We had very special deviled eggs for our hor d’œuvres that evening.

And that concludes our visit to Casa Loma, I hope you have a chance to see it when you come to Toronto.

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This past Wednesday, through JTs work we were generously invited to the European Union Film Festival Gala Opening Cocktail reception at The Revival Bar, 783 College Street in Toronto. We weren’t planning on seeing the films, just hob hobnobbing with the EU Film Festival crowd. There were lovely hors d’œuvres and cocktails to be had, but we had other plans for eating that evening, we made reservations at Frank’s Kitchen about one kilometre from the gala!

We chatted with people from JTs work and a few new faces; it was lovely to reconnect and to make new connections! We chatted at length with Rebecka  Högdahl from the Swedish Trade Council and Dustin Woods from PR firm Marshall Fenn. We enjoyed our conversation at the EU Film Festival Gala so much, we invited them to join us for dinner. Dustin is as big a car dude as JT is, so they had lots to talk about. And girls can always find something to chat about :-).

Before I go on, I must apologize for the photos as it was rather dark in the restaurant so I had to enhance the photos in Photoshop, some worked out better than others.

Rebecka and Dustin were our guests

Frank’s Kitchen is a pleasantly decorated restaurant with flattering lighting. Even though the kitchen is open, they considered the impact of fluorescent bulbs on the tables but it is brightly lit, non-the-less which made our table directly across from the kitchen not as pleasant as some of the other tables out of the bright light range. Owned and operated by Chef Frank Parhizgar and his wife, Shawn Cooper who manages the front of the house. Shawn was very gracious to change our reservation for two to four when we showed up. It was packed on a Wednesday evening at 8pm which is a testament to the quality. The service was excellent, the waiter clearly knew the food and was quick to describe our tantalizing journey of the menu.

We were brought house made breads served with hummus and a little olive oil combo

We started our delicious journey with Chef’s wonderful Porchini Mushroom Velouté served with a spoon with a tiny ball of Goats Cheese Fritter and Cucumber Tomato Salsa. Both were exceptional. I loved the way the truffle oil just elevated the already rich earthy flavour of the velouté. Which reminds me, I should have had JTs as he is not a truffle oil fan!

The earthy flavour of the mushroom velouté was further enhanced by the truffle oil

We ordered a plate of raw oysters and Oysters Rockefeller (highly recommended by James Chatto) and neither disappointed.

Rebecka kindly snapped this photo of JT and I enjoying our appetizers

The lovely texture and not too creamy made this a very tasty experience

We were then surprised by a palatte cleanser of Sangria Sorbet.
I really had to lighten this photo.

At this point I’ve had a few glasses of wine, so I forgot to take photos of the other dishes! Sigh. I had the appetizer portion of Kobe Bone Marrow & Venison Tartare with a Foie Gras Torchon Salad, it was lovely and such a variety on the plate (click here to see a photo). The marrow was rich so I was glad there wasn’t a huge portion of it. JT ordered the Crisp gnocchi in a Gorgonzola Cream with Pancetta and it was delicious (click here for a photo). I do love a crispy fried gnocchi. Both of our guests ordered the Ontario Lamb three ways: Rack, Loin, braised Shoulder and Grilled Merquez Sausage which was a very generous portion (click here for a photo).

I loved this experience, but I must warn you, it is not inexpensive but the service, food and ambiance is well worth it. With a bottle of red and a bottle of white wine we exceeded $300 for the four of us. One small negative was that the bathrooms were not renovated (in fact, the one I went into had to toilets in the same room without a partition…just weird. NOTE: I have slightly modified my text here as Shawn kindly emailed me to bring to my attention that the bathrooms are in the process of being renovated and indeed had a sign on the door apologizing for their appearance and to use as a ‘single’ stall; regretfully I failed to mention said sign and as I was one of two people heading to use the bathroom I chose the unfortunate two toilet stall.

Overall rating of Frank’s Kitchen (in my opinion): Decor 3.5/5, service 4/5, food 4/5, Value 3.5/5, Noise: 3/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet). We paid for our meals in full.

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My best friend Kim who works at Christie Digital (the folks who supply all of the projection equipment for TIFF) invited JT and I to a gala screening of Cloud Atlas on Saturday. To say we were excited would have been an understatement. This movie had the ‘A-list’ of all the huge Hollywood stars and we already knew they would be there! We’d be breathing the same air as Tom Hanks, Hugo Weaving, Halle Berry, Jim Sturgess, Hugh Grant, Susan Saradon, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, Jim Broadbest and James Darcy to name a few — can you see why we were so excited?

What made it even nicer was that we had Dress Circle Seats, second row on the balcony directly in the middle! Perfect movie viewing location and we were directly above the cast! How cool is that? Now we don’t go to many movies because we find them lame and predictable and we lucked out because Cloud Atlas was not like that at all. It was a story spanning many lives (played by few people) over many years and how one’s actions in one life may affect another in a future life. The story was tightly knit and in the end it all made total sense. JT and I loved it. Sadly, my friend Kim and her hubby Mike hated it (actually, that would be an understatement, abhorred it would be more like it!).

We were allowed into the theatre in advance of the regular seats. We watched the stars arrive from the third floor of the theatre, away from the unwashed masses! Unfortunately, I forgot my Canon Rebel, so I had to make do with my iPhone 4Gs and JTs iPhone 4 for the photos. They are much better during daylight than night, but at least it’s a memory.

The streets were lined with hundreds of people hoping to get a glimpse of their favourite star!

Susan Sarandon was the first of the Big Guns to arrive.

Ms Sarandon signing autographs

Mr. Hanks Sr. and Mr. Hanks Jr. toward the middle of the photo facing each other.

Hugh Grant emerging from his car

Mr. Grant waiting to walk into the theatre.

The Princess of Whales is a gorgeous old theatre. This is on the ceiling.

The directors of the film Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer. These folks also directed the Matrix Trilogy.

The lovely Susan Sarandon

The dashing Hugh Grant

The gorgeous Halle Berry

The classy Tom Hanks (far right)

Mr. Hanks monkeying around, getting the audience to clap louder!

There you go. Our brush with fame at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival; TIFF will go on for two weeks and air almost 400 movies, all of which have never been seen before. This event brings in about 24 million dollars into the Toronto economy. There is not a hotel room to be had in the downtown area. We get visitors from all over the world. JT and I are very fortunate to have been invited to see this movie with a lot of favourite actors.

Here’s the so-long for a while bit:

JT and I are gearing up for our European vacation in a few days. I will try to comment on your lovely blogs but I am unsure of how active I will be able to be. I may keep a running diary (like I did in Morocco) if we do anything that’s notable (such as a tour of the Cern Laboratories in Geneva, or perhaps coffee with my friend Sissi, or a cooking class in Lyon or even a bite of lunch with my friend Charles!). I know I will come back rejuvenated and ready to get back into it, and I hope that you will not forget me and forgive me for not being as active.

If anyone has any suggestions on where to eat (your favourite place) or must do in the following cities, please don’t hesitate to put in the comments, I appreciate them all!
Vienna 1 partial day
Budapest, we’re seeing family so we won’t have time for anything else.
Barcelona 2 partial and 2 full days
Lyon 2 partial and 2 full days
Paris 2 partial and 3 full days

So long until October!

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Hungarian Cherry Squares (Cseresznyés pite)

I am rather thrilled and honoured that my good friend Charles of Five Euro Food has kindly asked me to guest post. Charles has been a valued commenter on my blog for over a year now, and as most of you know, he takes his time to formulate interesting and thoughtful remarks; his comments are a joy to read and sometimes even have a bit of a chuckle over. Thank you Charles, your friendship is cherished, I hope to do your guest post right.

In keeping Charles’ tradition of a little peek into living in Paris, I will give you a little peek into living in Toronto and a lovely Hungarian family recipe. I ask that you head on over to Charles’ blog to check out our little adventure, but I will share my recipe here as well. I belabored over which recipe I would share as Charles’ guest post, because he takes so much time to photograph and document his recipes so well; I didn’t want to get ahead of myself and bite off more than I can chew (pardon the pun) so I hope you enjoy it. This recipe is a cherished favourite for my family (my brother always asks for it when I visit and now that my dear Mom is gone, it is up to me to carry on the tradition).

Cherry Squares

By Éva Hársfai-Robinson (1936-2005)

Makes 1 pan 9” x 13” about 20 squares

Cost: ~€0.31 ($0.40) each piece

Preparation time: ~40 minutes

Calories: ~120 calories per piece

Ingredients:

  • 1 jar pitted cherries 500 mL to 700 mL, drained but reserve liquid
  • 3 eggs separated
  • 120 g unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 125 g caster sugar
  • 250 g flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • About ½ cup milk – or use reserved cherry liquid (if you use the reserved liquid your squares will be a bit pink)

Directions:

  1. Grease and flour 9” x 13” x 2” baking pan (22cm x 33cm x 5cm).
  2. Preheat oven to 350° F (175°C)
  3. Drain cherries, liquid reserved (you can use this as your liquid or make a delicious sauce or use it in soda as flavouring!)
  4. Whip egg whites until a stiff but not dry (should be able to stand in a peak) – no need to wash the beater if you do it in this order, if you cream the yolks first, then you must wash the beater and dry thoroughly).
  5. Cream egg yolks with butter and sugar until light and fluffy (should be a lighter shade of yellow).
  6. Sift flour, baking powder and salt – dry ingredients.
  7. Alternating dry ingredients with the milk (or reserved cherry liquid), fold into egg yolk mixture.
  8. Fold beaten egg whites into the mixture.
  9. Pour into greased pan. Note the dough should be quite thick, should have to spread it into the cake pan, it should not pour by it self.
  10. Dot with cherries throughout (you may want to give each cherry a squeeze as you dot so ensure there are no pits!).
  11. Bake in preheated oven for about 20 to 30 minutes (test with toothpick to make sure it’s done).
  12. Cool in pan (don’t cut until it is entirely cool otherwise it will become ‘bacony’ or szalonás, as the Hungarians put it).
  • Creaming the butter, sugar and eggs together takes patience
  • I start out lining up all the cherries, but then I have to fill in the spaces so I can use up the whole jar!
  • The cherries behave as they wish, so there is no point in lining them up anyway

They are moist and not overly sweet.

A short note: This was my very first guest post ever, and I am delighted that it was for Charles’ Blog. I have a new found respect for Charles’ blogging, over and above my original respect, which was plenty! The extra effort Charles puts into this blog is unparalleled, the ingredient shot, the video, the working shots etc., make this blog ever so wonderful to follow but impossible to follow in its footsteps!

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OK, I am the first to admit it, we go out a lot. We try to go out only once per weekend for dinner, but sometimes that doesn’t work out. Too tired to cook, forgot to take something out of the freezer, you name it, I can come up with a reason. Bloor West Village has quite a few restaurants but unfortunately most are not that great. Bloom is a place that has been around for quite some time, but changed chefs last year. The food has a Cuban/Latin/Italian flare. We tried it for lunch a few years ago and enjoyed it so last week we decided to try it again for dinner this time.

We didn’t make reservations and fortunately it wasn’t too packed when we arrived around 7:30 in the evening. It’s about a 15 minute walk from our house and it was a lovely warm night. We were greeted by a very nice gentleman who seemed very proud of the place (I’m guessing it’s a family affair). We were seated at a very nice four person table so JT and I were able to sit side by side (which we love).

We were hesitant to order the bottle of Prosecco but the gentleman quickly offered to bring us a taste to see if we liked it; it was nice and dry so we ordered it. They offer 41 bottles on their wine list, which is rather extensive for such a small place. The restaurant quickly filled up and by 8:30 all the tables were occupied. Fortunately another waiter (perhaps his wife?) came in to help our gentleman who seemed to be the only one serving. Not withstanding, he did a good job and we didn’t feel like we were waiting long for anything.

We weren’t starving so we decided to order only appetizers. I ordered the Ceviche which was listed as Chef’s Selection Seafood (sustainable B.C.Halibut, line caught) Lemon Juice, Habanero Pepper, Cilantro $13. It was served in a small martini glass. The white fish was nicely done but it was a tad citrus-y for my taste, perhaps a little more balance with something sweet like a mango would have been a fix. The martini glass was just tall enough that it made it difficult for a vertically challenged person like me to eat from it (click here for a video of Chef Pedro Quintanilla making the ceviche). JT ordered the Caesar Salad with Spanish Style Smoked Bacon, Home Made Garlic Croutons with sliced chicken breast on top $14. You might ask why one would order a Caesar salad in a Latin restaurant…or you might not. Anyway, it was pretty ordinary.

I’d like to go back and try a few other items on the menu that caught my eye, such as the Avocado and Mango Salad $9, or the Cuban Shrimp Cocktail $15, or the Grilled Calamari $14, and the Arepa which is a Venezuelan corn cake with wild mushroom ragout, Asiago and crème fraiche $10

Overall rating of Bloom (in my opinion): Decor 3.5/5, service 3.5/5, food 3/5, Value 3/5, Noise: 5/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet). We paid for our meal in full.

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Villa is a restaurant in our hood that we visit from time to time. They have a good solid contemporary Italian menu with great thin crust pizzas, some wonderful salads and a decent wine list. We were looking for lunch on a Sunday with a patio that was out of the intense sunlight. The temperatures were still broaching 30°C with a reasonable amount of humidity, but at least outside there was a nice breeze.

This restaurant has an interesting history; for years and years there were two restaurants at this location side by side owned by the same people, one was Zsa Zsa (this is where Villa opened in 2004) and the other was Fiasco Trattoria (this was our Friday night place). Sometime prior to 2004, the owner sold off the two locations and the ZsaZsa side opened Ill Fornelo, an Italian wood oven pizza restaurant chain in Toronto. The restaurant failed rather quickly, apparently we Bloor West people don’t prefer chain restaurants and the manager purchased the restaurant and re opened under his own label called Villa. They serve very similar food to Ill Fornelo, but it is not a chain! Go figure!

They did an overhaul of the restaurant when it turned into Ill Fornello, but didn’t change much when it morphed into Villa. It has a nice clean contemporary design, with the kitchen exposed in the centre with the lovely pizza oven. The photos decorating the walls are of Italy and provide a nice personal touch. The staff is friendly, although could use a bit of training. We were there for a late lunch on a Sunday and it wasn’t busy.

I ordered the Grilled Shrimp and Calamari ($14.95) made with grilled calamari and tiger shrimp, black olives, capers, spinach, tomato salsa. I love this dish. It has just the right amount of the tomato salsa to eat with the succulent grilled shrimp and calamari. They leave the tails on the shrimp and I know for presentation it is preferred, but now I have to dig into my saucey dish and pull the tails off with my hands. The calamari is perfectly grilled, tender and not chewy at all.

3 large calamari tubes and 3 good sized shrimps makes a very filling meal

JT ordered the pulled pork eggs benedict ($14.95), which was a plate of 2 poached eggs, braised pork, barbeque sauce, caramelized onions, toasted English muffin with hollandaise sauce. He said it was good but wasn’t bowled over by it. The pulled pork was tender and tasty and not too sweet with the barbeque sauce. Sorry, no photo.

One of my pet peeves is when one person finishes their meal before the other and the server removes the spent plates. I find this so rude to the diner who is still eating (that would be me); it makes me feel like I should hurry up and finish (and he cleared the table of the bread and bread plates as well). So for this fact, the service is getting a low score this time. We have had better service on occasion but not this time. Our adult libations also took quite some time to arrive, but then again, perhaps they had to send a courier to Italy to get what we ordered!

Overall rating of Villa (in my opinion): Decor 3.5/5, service 2.5/5, food 3.5/5, Value 3.5/5, Noise: 5/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet). We paid for our meal in full.

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The summer has been literally slipping through our fingers, it’s been going so quickly. And we’re busy (I guess that doesn’t help) so it’s difficult to coordinate a Saturday with friends, unless you book months in advance (we already have plans for October 27th, believe it or not!). So when I tried to get a date with our friends David and Mi Mi, we were only able to come up with a Thursday last week or a date in October other than the 27th! And we didn’t want to wait until October to see them, so we nabbed the date and penned it in. David and Mi Mi work downtown and take the Go Train to the city every day, so we wanted to pick a place that wasn’t too far from the train station so we weren’t wasting time travelling to the station and have more quality time at dinner!

We selected Obikà Mozzarella Bar in Brookfield Place (used to be known as BCE Place, why do they keep changing the names of these buildings?). I have seen this place every time we eat at Marché (another great place to visit if you are in Toronto) and I knew I wanted to try it, particularly with my new found love affair with Burrata Cheese. Obikà flies their fresh mozzarella in TWICE a week from Italy. I kid you not. Their fresh Mozzarella balls are priced at $11 for take away, which isn’t bad considering we usually pay $9 for ordinary stuff at the supermarket! You can read about their fresh Mozzarella here, just click “Read more about our Mozzarella here”.

The restaurant is basically in the main floor atrium of an office building. It’s a lovely space with super high ceilings and the majority of the seating is in the atrium; bottom line is that’s it’s a mall and people walk by all the time. It didn’t give me the warm and cozy feeling. But once we got into the wine, and chatting, we soon became unaware that we were basically sitting in the middle of a mall.

We arrived a little late as I had to get ready — you know me, ladies, I can’t go downtown without the usual accoutrements (mini, heals, bling etc). We arrived by Subway at around 6:30 and David and Mi Mi had already ordered a couple of lovely sampler platters: A Tasting Plate of Three Bufala Mozzarella di Campagna ($34.00) Affumicata a smoked Bufala Mozzarella di Campagna, Classica a regular Bufala Mozzarella di Campagna and Stracciatella di Burrata which is the inside of a Burrata (this is the soft creamy part). I really didn’t care for the way they served the Stracciatella di Burrata in a bowl. My favourite, by far was the smoked Mozzarella, it was so tasty (I’m going to make my own smoked version this weekend!). They also ordered a Selezione di Salumi which was a lovely meat platter ($12.00), showcasing a Prosciutto Crudo di Parma DCP, Prosciutto Cotto and Mortadella. Now I know that Mortadella is the pride of Bologna, but honestly, it’s Boloney! OK, I take that back, I don’t want to offend my Italian friends, suffice it to say, I was not impressed. We ordered the Veneto La Serenissima Pinot Grigio ($35) because we all craved a light summery wine (it was incredibly hot and humid out). For our mains, each couple shared a pizza and believe it or not, we let our hubby’s choose. Mine, made a bee-line for the Cheese Pizza called Formaggio Morbidi ($17) (soft cheese pizza), decorated with Mozzarella di Bufala Campagna DCP, Gorgonzola, Staccchino and Ricotta garnished with fresh basil and EVOO. The crust was super thin and beautifully baked, crispy and soft and chewy all at once. We had asked them not to add the Gorgonzola until the very end after it has come out of the oven as our preference is not to have it render. It could have used a few more little bits (we LOVE our Gorgonzola!). David and Mi Mi ordered Prosciutto ($16) which was Prosciutto Crudo di Parma DCP, Mozzarella di Bufala Campagna DCP, Organic Tomato filets and Arugula. I think they enjoyed it. (I apologize for any spelling errors, the menu on line is extremely difficult to read).

Overall rating of Obikà Mozzarella Bar (in my opinion): Decor 2/5 (this failed incredibly because we were sitting in a mall), service 4/5, food 4/5, Value 2.5/5 (it’s not inexpensive, but the quality is very good), Noise: 2/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet). Reservations are definitely recommended.

This blog has a good photo of the first platter: http://cookbookstoreblog.blogspot.ca/2011/08/obika-mozzarella-bar-toronto.html

This search turned up a good photo of the second plate: http://obika.tumblr.com/post/2431126408/selezione-di-salumi-prosciutto-crudo-di-parma

This search has some good pictures of the restaurant: http://www.pic2fly.com/Obika+Restaurant+Toronto.html

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

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On Thursday, July 19th we went to a relatively new restaurant in Roncessvales called Hopgood’s Foodliner. We heard about the place some time back but had reservations about going because they don’t have a menu posted on their blog/website but we did walk by it last weekend and checked out the menu in person.

The restaurant décor is rustic but clean and nicely done (please click here for photos and another review, it was too dark and mine didn’t turn out). They have insets in the walls with interesting ‘sculptures’ made of ordinary pantry items, such as triscuits and Evaporated Milk. They also have my favourite filament lighting hanging evenly from the ceilings (great light to be seen in!).

Cool Décor

We were happily greeted by the hostess and she quickly confirmed our reservations on her iPad. At 7:30 the place was already busy, but there were a few tables still empty. The first table we were shown was at the beginning of the hallway to the back and I feared that we would be constantly disturbed by servers going to the kitchen (in the middle of the restaurant), so she showed us another table in the back room, far corner. I liked the back room as it wasn’t as crowded or noisy as the front (but that would soon change). Unfortunately, our new table was also beside a prep kitchen doorway (see Toronto Life’s 8th picture, with “Watch your Step” on a glass door); it seemed as though there was someone in and out every few minutes, and there was a very chilly draft blowing on me from the A/C above. So we asked to move and they were very cool about it. Our final table had us sitting at the front of the back room at a much warmer space.

Our waiter, Edward seemed quite knowledgeable about the food, and spoke as if he had tried everything. We decided to begin with 6 PEI blueberry point oysters with a delightful ginger Mignonette Sauce and of course, freshly ground horse radish. Both were wonderful with the slightly briny good sized oysters (I like to taste the ocean in my oysters, and I like to chew the oysters!). I had the surf and turf tartare with rave reviews from Edward. It’s a nicely chopped sirloin with scallops (surf and turf). It was traditionally seasoned and then topped with a thin layer of mayo and crispy fried potato pellets (well, that’s the best I could do to described it…kind of looked like mashed potato that has been through a ricer and deep fried). I liked the tartare, but I have to say I did not taste the scallop so it was lost on me. The deep fried potato topping was interesting in terms of texture, but I am neither a potato eater nor a lover of deep fried foods so I wasn’t as hyped about it as Edward, but I did finish it — all of it!

Oops! Almost forgot to take a photo.

JT ordered the Pork cheeks with mini sausages. The mini sausages were delightful and nicely seasoned, I didn’t taste the pork cheeks but they looked very tender. JT wasn’t wowed but he said he liked it. We didn’t have dessert. Our dinner took about ninety minutes and was nicely spaced without being rushed. On a down side, they have a very limited wine and beer selection (and the beers were quite obscure, the most recognizable being Labatt 50 in a can, which was just weird!). Chef Hopgood apparently changes the menu every couple of days, so you’ll never know what will be on, but rest assured it will be creative and tasty. Service was attentive, properly timed, friendly and consistent.

Fortunately, I got a shot before it was inhaled!

Overall rating of Hopgood’s Foodliner (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 4/5, food 4/5, Value 4/5, Noise: 2/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet). Reservations are definitely recommended.

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

On another note, I wanted to share a photo of Chef Rob Rossi and I (runner up Top Chef Canada Season 1) at his place Bestellen when we were there recently. If you recall, I reviewed the restaurant here; we liked it very much, so we went back.

It was a rather dark photo that I had to doctor in Photoshop

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One recent weekend we decided to get a little culture and enjoy the Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris which are on loan for a special exhibition to the AGO. These cultural experiences always seem to surprise me on how expensive they are (we paid $30 each, including the self guided audio tour). I cannot imagine bringing a family of 4 or 5 to see such a thing, it would literally bankrupt most people. It’s actually a quite sad commentary on our society in Canada, where cultural activities are usually only available for the middle and upper classes. Of course, you could visit the AGO on a Wednesday night (general admission is free) for a mere $12.50 each admission to the special exhibitions, but then you are restricted to 6-8:30 pm. JT and I tried this approach several years ago with the ROM, who offer free admission on Friday evenings, but the line up was so long, we speculated we would have a mere 10 minutes to go through the museum once we got in. Sadly, we haven’t tried it since.

Are museums and galleries expensive where you are? And do they offer free time slots?

The Picasso exhibit was very nicely laid out chronologically through his life experiences around women (or so it seems to me that it was). He was a passionate artist and had several girlfriends, wives and lovers who influenced his work. Since he died in 1973, he was able to communicate much of where he was coming from in his art; of course, he left a lot of interpretation to us, just for the fun of it.

I majored in Art History in University, but that was a million, perhaps even a billion years ago, so the AGO was like a second home to me. But in 2008 Frank Gehry (Toronto born) redesigned the building and it’s a far cry from the gallery I recall (sadly, I was unable to find a photo of it). Non-the-less, it is a superbly beautiful building with Gehry’s trademark organic structures that challenge the materials used and is really a joy to walk through; the spaces where the art is showcased will always remain about the art, but the other areas, such as walkways, stairs and common areas are totally about the architecture.

I have to admit that I am not a huge Picasso fan, I find most of his work jarring and disturbing but I can appreciate it for what it is. He was a visionary in two and three dimensional art, looking at his subject as no other. The perspective is quite interesting but for me, finding the beauty of the subject (not necessarily the art) was challenging. By far, my favourite piece had to be Sacre Cœur, one of my favourite views in Paris (and fortunately this fall we will be staying in this lovely neighbourhood!). Because of copyright issues, photography is not permitted in the galleries with installations, but you can google it or click here to see it.. The facets skim the image, giving us just enough information to be able to recognize the building. Perhaps it’s the tones I am drawn to, or that the facets sparkle like the facets of a diamond, I am not sure; I just know it was my favourite of the entire collection.

The exhibit took us about an hour to go through, and we lingered. We could have stayed on to wonder through the permanent collections but we had to do grocery shopping for the week, otherwise we would have no lunches! Perhaps I’ll pop down one Wednesday when it’s free for a few hours and revisit my past. I hope you click on the links to see more of this impressive structure, known as the AGO.

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We interrupt the stream of recipes from our dinner party here to bring you the blog post about my birthday dinner.

All photos were taken with the iPhone 4G.

Sparkling water made directly in the restaurant; no need to pay $8.00 for a bottle of San Pellegrino!

My friend Barb (of Profiteroles and Ponytails) put us onto a restaurant in Toronto called Victor (in the St. Germain Hotel) where Executive Chef David Chrystian offers a prix fix dinner where the guest chose the secret ingredient and the chefs prepare one of each of the five courses using non-other than your secret ingredient. I was intrigued; our very own Iron Chef competition? I just had to try it out, so we decided to make this the celebratory birthday dinner on Saturday (my birthday was on Sunday, but who wants to go out for a fancy dinner on Sunday?). The dinner was a wonderful precursor to the lovely robin’s egg blue box with the traditional white ribbon I was spoiled with on my birthday.

Chef David Chrystian was also one of the first round of participants in Top Chef Canada, season 1, and a very worthy adversary. Unfortunately he was eliminated, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t good; competition is severe and time is short, a bad day can make or break you in this quest. Some go on the show not to win, but to gain publicity in the bigger picture of their career path, not saying this was the case with Chef David. It’s kind of like American Idol, not all the winners are as successful as the one’s who were eliminated. Just saying. Getting on a show like Top Chef is grueling enough (1,000’s apply), making it through several rounds of elimination is success and it’s National TV. We Canadians just gobble that stuff up.

We chose coffee as the secret ingredient. I was intrigued to see how creative the chefs can be and still make it an enjoyable and elegant dinner. We would not be disappointed. Although, I will come right out and say it, the coffee component was weak. Not that the food wasn’t unbelievably delicious, it just didn’t sing coffee. It did not hinder our 2.5 hour dinner, during which we talked about each course and sometimes at length with our server.

A little text about the chef and the secret ingredient

Our places were set with an intro card which talked about the Chef and on the reverse side was the Score Card. Each dish was presented and explained by our server and was scored in four considerations, each one out of five points:

The Score Card. There is a typo on dish 4, taste, they should all be out of 5!

Dish 1: We were presented with Coffee/Carraway Rye with Ctirus Gravlax, Coffee Crème Fraiche. Interesting. We tasted distinct coffee in the crème fraiche and noticed how well it went with the citrus Gravlax, but the Coffee/Carraway Rye was not strong enough to notice. Tasty non-the-less and a very nice portion.

Beautifully presented on a piece of slate

  1. How well was the theme ingredient incorporated into the dish? JT 3/5, Me 3/5
  2. How original was the dish or how authentic? JT 3/5, Me 4/5
  3. Presentation? JT 4/5, Me 4/5
  4. Taste? JT 3/5, Me 3.5/5

Total: 27.5

Dish 2: “Breakfast Soup” we had no idea what to expect. We were presented with a very large bowl of Vichyssoise with a poached egg that was breaded and deep fried, drizzled with a balsamic and coffee glaze. It turned out to be my favourite from a taste perspective. The soup was incredibly silky and the egg was perfectly cooked so that when I cut into it, the yolk oozed all over the soup. Sadly the balsamic overtook the coffee and neither of us could taste it. But it was the best “breakfast soup” I’ve ever had. I could eat only half and forgot to ask to bring it home. Oops, forgot to take a photo!

  1. How well was the theme ingredient incorporated into the dish? JT 2/5, Me 1/5
  2. How original was the dish or how authentic? JT 3/5, Me 4/5
  3. Presentation? JT 3/5, Me 4.5/5
  4. Taste? JT 4/5, Me 4/5

Total: 25.5

Dish 3: Moroccan Coffee Chicken Tagine; when the server mentioned to the chef that we were just in Morocco last November, he said “oh, crap, I’m in trouble”. Although the dish was incredibly tasty, it was neither Moroccan nor did it have a distinct coffee flavour. It was served over basmati rice, but I wondered why it wouldn’t have been couscous? They served it in a little cast iron pot, and neither JT nor I could finish off the portion but we had the good sense to ask to bring it home! It was incredibly tasty.

Now why wouldn’t you serve couscous with a Moroccan dish?

  1. How well was the theme ingredient incorporated into the dish? JT 1/5, Me 1/5
  2. How original was the dish or how authentic? JT 3/5, Me 2/5
  3. Presentation? JT 4/5, Me 4.5/5
  4. Taste? JT 5/5, Me 4.5/5

Total: 25

Mmmmm. This made a very tasty lunch on Monday.

Dish 4: Espresso Glazed Beef Tenderloin with Espresso BBQ Sauce; a beautifully presented course, with about 2 oz of meat, we were getting really full by this time. The BBQ sauce was tasty and although there was a touch of coffee flavour, it wasn’t quite what I had hoped for. On top of it, pairing beef with coffee or espresso is not new and ground breaking creative. Non-the-less it was a very yummy course.

Small pieces of tenderloin served with roasted little baby vegetables

  1. How well was the theme ingredient incorporated into the dish? JT 1/5, Me 1.5/5
  2. How original was the dish or how authentic? JT 3/5, Me 2/5
  3. Presentation? JT 3/5, Me 4.5/5
  4. Taste? JT 4/5, Me 4.5/5

Total:  23.5

Dish 5: Dark Chocolate Espresso Tart with Coffee Anglais; a very small tart (which was just perfect because now we were seriously full) that had great chocolate flavour (too bad our ingredient wasn’t chocolate) but little coffee, even the crème Anglais was sweeter than it was coffee. But a beautifully presented course and just the right amount of dessert. Oops, forgot to take this photo too! Oh well, it would have been quite dark, anyway.

  1. How well was the theme ingredient incorporated into the dish? JT 3/5, Me 2.5/5
  2. How original was the dish or how authentic? JT 4/5, Me 3.5/5
  3. Presentation? JT 3/5, Me 4.5/5
  4. Taste? JT 4/5, Me 4/5

Total:  28.5

We had distinct winner, the pastry chef with the Dark Chocolate Espresso Tart with Coffee Anglais. This surprised me since I am not much of a sweet eater. The server reported back to the chefs!

I do have a few thoughts that could have made it even better. I would have enjoyed each Chef coming out to present each of their course (obviously, this is not easy on a busy night, but come on, there were two other couples in the whole place!). Chef David was not even at the restaurant on Saturday, apparently he was married earlier in the week and was taking a couple of days off. I was disappointed because my friend Claudia (from Food Network, who knows Chef David) emailed him that a friend of her’s was coming in on Saturday! I was hoping for a photo opportunity! Sigh, bad timing on our part. And last but not least, the final score should have been a bigger deal than it was. The server just asked us to tally it up and she reported back to the kitchen and that was that. Not sure what else could have happened, but it seemed anti-climactic.

And to end on a positive note, I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, the food being the forefront even in discussion and I really liked that. The restaurant was not busy at all (summer time is bad for them) so we had great service and it was quiet. Overall a great evening, that’s for sure. And we’ll likely do it again for another special occasion. If you have a chance to come to Toronto, I urge you to sample this unique experience.

The cost was $80 per person, plus libations, not an inexpensive dinner, but certainly worth it.

We paid for our dinner in full, and the opinions above are exactly that, my opinions.

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