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We ate lunch at 4 Nudos at the Port in San José, Spain. You may see a trend here of luncheon restaurants in Spain, it is because we eat too early and nothing is ever open at 7:30 (17:30) in the evening for dinner (they open at 9-9:30 which is far too late for us to eat). We have eaten at 4 Nudos many times and it’s always busy because it is a local favourite and it’s a destination restaurant.

4 Nudos is known for its seafood; they don’t serve meat, period. The port side restaurant is tastefully decorated with a seaside theme but the main focus is the view of the port through the open wall, the inside just flows outside seamlessly. We have dined on their delightful Paella (takes about 20 minutes to make) and other seafood delicacies but for our most recent lunch, we ate Tuna Tartare and the Tuna Tataki.

They began our meal with a lovely amuse bouche of phyllo-wrapped torpedo shrimp with a creamy fresh cheese sauce (sorry, forgot to snap a pic) and some wonderful warm bread.

I ordered the Tuna Tartare (~20 €) which was beautifully presented and delicious. It was lightly dressed in a creamy mayo and tossed with avocado, celery and red onions, wrapped in thinly sliced cucumber. This one is a keeper!

A delicious combination of fresh tuna, perfectly ripe avocado, crunchy celery and crisp red onions; thinly sliced white onions cascade from the tower like a waterfall.

JT ordered the Tuna Tataki. To say this was a generous portion would be an understatement. It was at least 250 g or more! There were perfectly roasted vegetables served alongside with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt. The lemon wedge brightened everything up. The tuna had the best sear I have ever seen, still leaving a good part of the insides rare. It was a perfectly executed dish.

The portion size of this dish was huge. I think we may share this next time. The photo is a bit misleading as the lemon wedge is huge too!

We also ordered a little dessert of Almond Flan (~6 €). It was my least favourite of the meal and didn’t have much almond flavour but perhaps it was my misunderstanding, it might have been only almond topped! But the presentation was lovely and I love how the plate reminds me of the Azur colour of the Mediterranean Sea that this lovely restaurant sits near.

I would definitely recommend 4 Nudos in San José, the servers speak just enough English that they understand what we are ordering (although, I do try to pronounce the Spanish menu items). But beware, they have an English menu but it is not up to date and they warn you that things on it may be different or unavailable. It’s best to pull out your phone and Google translate with the picture feature.

Overall rating of 4 Nudos, San José (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 4.5/5, food 4.5/5, 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 opinion is just that, my opinion.

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Our time in Spain seems like a lifetime ago. So much has happened in the short time of our return. In Canada, everything seemed to come to a head the day after we got home!

To put your minds at ease, we were in the province of Almería in my cousin’s little village of San José, some 573 km (356 miles) from Madrid. Our stay took place during low season, many (probably more than half) restaurants and shops were closed for the season and there were very few tourists. My cousin’s flat is in a complex of 14 and the busiest weekend had maybe 5 flats inhabited; during week days there were usually only two inhabited flats and we were one of them! The province of Almería has only 46 confirmed cases to date (March 20 when I wrote this post), we were fortunate. We are into our second week of isolation with no symptoms (I am so relieved). But it’s a moving target and we need to be diligent. Having been away for 40 days we haven’t seen any of our friends so coming home to isolation is emotionally challenging. A big thank you to you, our blogging community, you’re never too far away with a kind word. As we are learning to be virtual with our local friends, it’s comforting to know that our virtual friendships are tried and true.

We had lunch at La Tagliatella in their CC Torrecárdenas, Almería City location just prior to skipping over to Northern Europe. It gets 4.5 stars from Trip Advisor reviewers. The food was excellent and service was good too. Our Spanish is pretty sad so the young woman serving us brought English menus to the rescue, we didn’t even ask.

The restaurant is tastefully decorated in a contemporary Italian style and unless you look out the interior window, you wouldn’t know you are in a mall. There were very few patrons when we dined (at one point it may have been just us!).

We began with a little amuse-bouche that was a cracker topped with fresh cream cheese (sorry, forgot to take a photo).

I had the Carpaccio al Tartufo Bianco (paper-thin slices of veal, with white truffle ice cream and white truffle pearls)(~16 €), it was excellent. It was accompanied by a very large but very thin, grilled bread/cracker with a drizzle of olive oil. It was a little difficult to eat but it was delicious (later during our sojourn in Northern Europe, I discovered that it should have been saturated in olive oil). The carpaccio was doused generously in olive oil and a little too generously peppered; the truffle flavour was mild but enough to enjoy (sometimes it can be too strong). The white truffle ice cream was sweet, which was a bit of a surprise but there was so little of it, it did not impact the enjoyment of the dish.

JT had the Scaloppine (slices of Pork tenderloin in a creamy sauce with mushrooms, fries and vegetables)(~15 €). It didn’t look like much but it was quite delicious. The fries were a nice portion too (quite the opposite of what we became used to in America!).

JT felt like a little sweet after lunch and I felt like an espresso so we ordered the Caffè Gustoso (Coffee with chocolate truffles and a mini tiramisu)(~6 €) which was perfect for sharing (I forgot to take a photo so I took one from their website). The tiramisu was a take on the classic dessert but the pudding itself was quite tasty. The truffles were exceptional.

If you’re looking for a nice Italian meal in Almeria, check out La Tagliatella. They have two locations.

Overall rating of La Tagliatella, Almeria (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 4/5, food 4.5/5, 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 opinion is just that, my opinion.

Miss you Dad. March 23, 1923 – July 16, 1981

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Our little village in Spain has an awesome Indian restaurant at the far end. We ate there once and even though everything was great (food, service), we decided that going forward it’s a better take-out place because it just didn’t have a cool vibe (overly lit); and a bonus is that it’s far better value as take away, if you don’t order way too much rice, like I inadvertently did!

Even though the rice wasn’t expensive, I really hate throwing away good food so I kept it for something in the future. The future arrived in the form of a tapa! I made a spin on the famous Spanish Tortilla de Patatas but used rice, cauliflower purée and cheese instead of potatoes. It made a very tasty tapa which we later used as breakfast.

The measurements are approximate because I used leftovers.

Tortilla de Arroz, Coliflor y Queso

Makes 1 omelette about 20 cm in diameter (serves 4-6 people)

Ingredients:

  • 2 large eggs
  • 250 g cooked rice
  • 125 mL cauliflower purée
  • 125 mL milk
  • 50 g cheese, finely grated
  • 30 mL pesto

Directions:

  1. Combine all of the ingredients and whisk until smooth. Set aside for 20-30 minutes at room temperature.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  3. Heat a small 20 cm frying pan on the stove on medium heat and brush generously with olive oil.
  4. Pour the contents of the omelette into the hot frying pan and press evenly in the pan.
  5. Cook uncovered for 10-15 minutes.
  6. Place pan into the oven and finish cooking until a toothpick tester come out clean.
  7. Serve warm with a roasted garlic aioli.

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Mesón El Pescador, San José

I am uncertain if it’s just us, but travel seems to get easier as we get older. I seem to recall that the transatlantic flights used to bag us completely, but now it hardly bothers us at all. And I used to be able to sleep on the plane, now I just binge-watch a series that I’ve downloaded. We generally land in the UK in the morning and stay one night; JT and I drop our luggage off at a hotel and take the train into town. Last year, we even saw Come from Away in the evening and we were still OK around midnight!

First things first, we ordered our adult beverages.

For our 2020 trip, we flew into Gatwick, spent the night and then the early the following morning we flew into Almeria and picked up our car. We like to feel at home as soon as possible so we unpacked our luggage and drove into town for lunch. February and March are definitely low season in San José and many of the retailers and restaurants are closed. We don’t mind because we don’t like crowds or the heat of the summer when everything is open. Unfortunately, Mesón Il Pescador was one of the few restaurants open when we went hunting for lunch. We just dived in without reading reviews which is totally out of character for me, but it turned out well and I’m glad we went. Sadly, it doesn’t get good reviews but it was relatively busy with the locals when we stumbled in, so we took a chance that it was good and it didn’t disappoint.

We sat outside along the beach and were lucky to get a table. There were mostly locals dining that day; I could tell because they were all sporting winter jackets while the tourists are wearing T-Shirts and Shorts!

Steamed Mussels € 10. ($14.50 Canadian)

JT ordered a ham and cheese sandwich that wasn’t available and then the chicken cutlet of which they also ran out. The steamed mussels (10 €) were his third choice. The dish would have been nice with some crusty bread alongside, we asked but it never showed up. The mussels were relatively large, fresh and tasty. I ordered the grilled octopus (20 €) (incidentally, it was my only choice) which was grilled to perfection, tender and nicely flavoured by the grill. The octopus was drizzled with a good, spicey olive oil which made for a nice sauce to dip the fries into. Although it was delicious, I found the 20 € pricey.

We enjoyed the meal and if I crave grilled octopus again, we will definitely go back. But read the reviews and be your own judge. We may have been lucky that day.

Pulpo a la Plancha 20 € ($29 Canadian)

Overall rating of Mesón Il Pescador (in my opinion): Decor n/a, service 2.5/5, food 4/5, Value 2/5, Noise: n/a (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

Disclaimer: We purchased our meals for full-price and my opinion is just that, my opinion.

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We rented a different house this year in Arizona and the kitchen was much better equipped so I had a lot more fun with it. Needless to say, we entertained a lot; three sets of friends came down from Toronto and of course, our two sets of friends in Encantarra were repeated guests. I’m guessing I was the first one to give the kitchen a good workout, even the BBQ had not been used in the two years the house had been rented!

I made this cake the first week we were in Arizona. I found the recipe in a very outdated Phoenix magazine. The recipe was created by a 14-year-old boy. I loved the use of olive oil in it, plus I just adore orange cake. I modified the recipe a bit so that it better reminded me of a cake my dear Mom used to make.

Orange Olive Oil Cake

This recipe originated in the Phoenix magazine, May 2015 but I couldn’t find it online. I’ve converted it to metric and made some alterations.

Makes one 23 cm cake

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 155 g sugar, divided
  • 80 mL EVOO
  • 5 mL vanilla
  • Zest of 2 oranges
  • Juice of 2 oranges, divided
  • 150 g all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 50 mL Grand Marnier
  • Icing sugar for dusting

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F
  2. Spray a 23 cm pan with non-stick spray
  3. Combine the eggs and 135 g sugar and beat until light, fluffy and smooth.
  4. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil and vanilla.
  5. Add all of the zest and 45 mL of the freshly squeezed orange juice and beat until well combined.
  6. In a separate bowl combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and mix well.
  7. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and beat only until combined.
  8. Pour into the prepared 23 cm pan and bake for 25-30 minutes or until toothpick tests clean. Allow to cool.
  9. Meanwhile, combine the remaining juice and sugar and bring to a boil until the sugar has melted into the juice. Cool and add the Grand Marnier.
  10. Turn out the cooled cake onto a decorative plate and slowly spoon the orange juice mixture onto the cake allowing it to be absorbed.
  11. Decorate with icing sugar.

This is a highly flavoured and scented cake that is kept moist by a delicious orangy syrup.

Would you care for a slice?

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This post was written entirely on my iPhone 8, in the air, flying from Granada to Gatwick in a EasyJet sardine can.

By the time you read this post, we will have returned from a whirl-wind vacation to the UK and Spain to escape the freezing temperatures and snow of Toronto. Let me back up a bit, shortly after we returned from our month-long holiday in Arizona, we had a week or so of nothing but bleak, grey winter days and I hit my limit! My wonderful cousin let us stay in her flat on the Mediterranean coast in a cozy little town, in the province of Almeria, all I had to do was get through January and most of February; no problem because I had this to look forward to:

We flew into Gatwick and stayed the night in London, where we dined and saw the musical “Come from Away” (very good, by the way)! The next morning we boarded a commuter train to a small city near Manchester, where my friend and Master Chef runner-up, Dave Crichton, picked us up. Dave and his lovely wife Zahra gave us the grand tour, but the real highlight was that Dave cooked dinner for us! What an incredible treat to have a fellow blogger AND contestant of Master Chef UK 2018 cook for us! It was a feast to be reckoned with: emulsions, sauces, exotic meat and even a wonderful carrot ketchup! I know you are dying to know if he made us his famous Careless Whisper dessert, indeed he did! We sampled several flavour combinations with tea when we arrived at his home. The experience was exceptional.

For our dinner, Dave made us the most velvety, creamy Truffled Parmesan Mousse with a goats cheese, mushroom duxelles, tarragon, truffle stuffed morel. It was indeed very moreish.

The main course was fennel crusted Iberico Presa, seared and prepared sous vide, served over carrot ketchup, pumpkin seed pesto, Madeira jus garnished with the best tasting parsnip crisps! The flavours and textures were outstanding.

The finale was a delightful Miso and walnut butterscotch tart with black sesame ice cream. Now I don’t usually eat dessert and JT was eyeing my serving but to his dismay, I polished it off and nearly licked the plate clean!

Dave, Zahra, John and I

The following day, Dave and Zahra gave us the grand tour of Manchester and in the evening we were treated to dinner at Hispi Bistro in Didsbury (South Man). The meal was delicious but Dave’s cooking really stood out for me.

I must say that I am intimidated by the thought of cooking for he and Zahra when they visit us in Toronto or Arizona. But there were a few inspirational dishes we had during our stay in Spain. Something from Restaurante Alameda, Granada might just make the cut.

We literally stumbled upon Restaurante Alameda during our first few hours in Granada quite by accident, we were hunting for a lunch place! Sadly, it didn’t open until later so we made reservations for that very evening. It is Michelin rated but doesn’t have a star, yet.

I must tell you that the food impressed us, it was nicely presented but even more importantly, it was delicious. So delicious, in fact, that we made reservations for the next (our last) night in Granada.

The restaurant is contemporary in design with some rustic elements (like the back-lit birch half-logs along the wall) and effective function (such as the sound absorbing ceiling). The lighting is moody but enough to read by but not enough to have to wear sunglasses (as many European restaurants are!). The plates are rustic but tables are mostly covered in linens.

The first night we dined at 7:45, still considered early for Spaniards but more in line with how we like to eat. Service was fine, nothing outstanding, but relatively efficient (even if our waiter seemed a little overwhelmed). We received a little amuse bouche of a deep-fried phyllo wrapped prawn that was delicious (no photo) and then we shared a starter of Burrata (no photo) and locally grown tomatoes. If you’ve ever been to Spain, you will know that the tomatoes are exceptional! The best I’ve ever tasted. There were a variety of tomato species and they were all perfectly ripe and flavourful. The burrata had just the right amount of bite and creaminess! The dish was finished with sweet pepper flakes and dotted with little balsamic pearls.

My second course was an octopus carpaccio, it was deliciously thin and moreish, although, it could have used a touch more acidity than the little lemon pearls that speckled the plate.

JT had a cannelloni with veal ragout, that was more like a lasagna, none-the-less, it was outstanding! It was the reason why we decided to return the next night! Although the second night, we decided on only the burrata and the cannelloni to be shared! The pasta tasted homemade, the ragout was rich and meaty with a creamy béchamel and Ricotta. It was comfort-food at its best!

Sadly, the second night was a bit disappointing. Service seemed an afterthought; we were seated behind a table planning a wedding with what seemed like the catering director or owner, and they were definitely priority. Ambiance faltered as well, as the music kept cutting in and out of the speakers near us.

The burrata was again flawless, but the cannelloni came out barely lukewarm. Now, I don’t know about you, but I hesitate to send a dish back in an unfamiliar place. So we grinned and beared it. Still delicious but… Afterward, I mentioned it to our waiter, in a nice way, of course. I wasn’t sure it was understood but when he brought the bill, he told us that they had removed the cost of the cannelloni entirely! Now I realize that we should have said something at the time and not afterward, live and learn.

Notwithstanding, I am still comfortable in recommending this restaurant, and if I ever go back to Granada, I would consider dining there again.

Overall rating of Restaurante Alameda, Granada (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 3.5/5, food 4.5/5, 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 opinion is just that, my opinion.

Restaurante Alameda, Granada

C/Rector Morata, 3 (Junto a Plaza del Carmen)
18009 Granada – España
Tel: +34 958 221 507
restaurante@alameda.com.es

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Updated March 30, 2019: added Oretta’s Burrata Truffle Egg photo

Over the last few years, I have worked (prepping and cooking) many times with David Rocco, author, chef, and producer. About a year ago, I decided to follow him on Instagram and I have not regretted it. He doesn’t post too often and he posts about his family as well as the standard self-promotion that celebrities post about. I love the posts about his family. He has three kids and an absolutely gorgeous wife. The first time I heard of Oretta, an authentic Italian restaurant in the Entertainment district on King West in Toronto, was on David’s Instagram (apparently, he goes quite often)! The food looked beautiful and delicious so I immediately put it on my restaurant bucket list. If you’re looking for American-Italian-family-style gluttony, this is not your place, but if you’re looking for authentic Italian cooking in a tastefully decorated Italian-style space, this place might be for you! This is the type of restaurant that all the beautiful people frequent, particularly during TIFF.

The first time I stepped into Oretta was last summer, for dinner, it was like stepping into a high-end restaurant in Florence, Italy, it literally took me back to 1989, when we last visited that special place. High, vaulted ceilings, geometric wall art, interesting tiles and spectacular food. We have eaten several times since, and I have wanted to post a review but have always forgotten to take photos (story of my life). The food is authentic Italian and it’s delicious! They even have Neapolitan pizza (in a wood-fired oven, no less).

Everything is wonderful at Oretta, but each and every time we have been there with reservations, we have ALWAYS been seated beside a table of infants. Literally, babies. And each time I have to ask to be moved, which they do quite happily (but why on earth do I need to ask?). I must have a sign on my forehead that says, “seat me beside the noisiest, fussiest table, please!” It won’t stop me from going but I know that I will need to ask to be moved. Every. Single. Time.

Their menu has the usual suspects (arancini, burrata, polipo, polpette, foccacia, pizza, pasta to name a few) but it’s their brunch menu that is truly special. Sadly, it was one of those times that I forgot to photograph it but I can certainly speak to it. I had ordered the Uova Burrata E Tartufo (truffled eggs with burrata). It was to-die-for! The truffle added the perfect earthiness and the burrata, portioned in every bite, gave the dish the richness that made the brunch extra special. It was so good that I actually dream about it, it was the type of dish you wish would not end. My only regret was that I gave JT a bite to taste and he wasn’t thrilled but he doesn’t like truffle so it was wasted on him!!

The last time we were there was at the end of January. I was obsessing about the egg dish and so looking forward to having it again, but sadly Winterlicious had just begun and they didn’t have their brunch menu. No worries, though, all the food is great.

I ordered the Polipo ($20.00), charred octopus, chickpea puree, red pepper jam, olives, pancetta, crostini. The octopus was perfectly cooked and not overly ‘charred’. The creamy chickpea puree and subtly sweet red pepper jam was the perfect canvas to showcase the polipo. The briny umami of the olives balanced everything perfectly.

JT ordered Manzo ($22.00) 6oz seared flat iron, caponata, tomato emulsion which was also quite tasty. Although the steak was perfectly cooked, it was a tiny bit chewy which made me think it might not have been brought up to room temperature before cooking. The dish was meaty and the soft sweet vegetables made for a lovely contrast. Both meals were worth ordering again, so we will definitely be back. But those eggs…

We were recently in Cancun, Mexico for a destination wedding (don’t get me started) for my Goddaughter/niece. They literally picked the most expensive place in Cancun (don’t get me started). We haven’t been to an all-inclusive for 25 years and this 2-day experience reminded me why, it’s just not our thing!  What was most disappointing is that not one room had an ocean view, not one. I cannot imagine why you would go to the Carribean and not want to see the Ocean from your room. Anyway, now I can put my focus on our next trip, Spain.

Here are a few pics. Click on any one for a gallery view.

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During the month we spent in Arizona, we had the pleasure of celebrating American Thanksgiving with our dear friends down there. Our dear friends who live there offered to make the turkey (thank goodness, as I did not have any of my special kitchen tools!) so I offered to make a few different sides. We had dear friends visiting from Toronto and they are vegetarian and I wanted to make something special for them for Thanksgiving, so I made this Mushroom, Chestnut and Bean Wellington. I purchased the puff pastry to make it easier but I made everything else. I was surprised to find roasted Italian chestnuts (in the Kosher section, no less!) but sadly the mushrooms were just plain cremini and white mushrooms, not much variety. It’s always a bit of a challenge to cook in a strange kitchen and shop in a different part of the world, but I think this one turned out wonderful and with a variety of mushrooms, it would be amazing! Please excuse the photos, this is the one and only blog post I managed to eak out during our stay in Arizona, I was THAT busy!

Scroll down to the end of this post to see the house we rented. It took us some time to find one that was decorated in light airy colours, most of the rentals are dark and dowdy, filled with ‘granny’s furniture’ and I just couldn’t bear to live in that for a month! Although I might have chosen a slightly lighter tone for the walls, this house made me happy.

Fresh out of the oven.

Mushroom, Chestnut and Bean Wellington

A KitchenInspirations Original Recipe

Makes 1 Wellington about 30 cm x 15 cm (12 inches x 6 inches)

To print recipe, please click here.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup sweet onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp EVOO
  • 2 cups variety of mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2 cup carrots, finely cubed
  • 1/2 cup celery, finely cubed
  • 1/2 cup zucchini, finely cubed
  • 1/2 cup roasted chestnuts, roughly chopped
  • 1/2-1 tsp fresh rosemary, finely minced
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup navy beans, soaked
  • 4 cups vegetable stock, divided
  • 1/2 cup port
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 puff pastry sheet
  • 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 egg yolk, lightly whisked with a little water.

Directions:

  1. Cook the navy beans in 3 cups veggie stock or water, cool.
  2. In a heavy bottom pan, caramelize the onions in the melted butter and olive oil on medium heat (about 20 minutes). Add mushrooms and cook until the mushroom liquid has evaporated. Turn the heat up and caramelize the mushrooms add the port to deglaze the pan.
  3. Add the garlic, carrots, celery, zucchini and roasted chestnuts and sauté until carrots are slightly softened.
  4. Add the rosemary, panko, cooked navy beans, and veggie stock. Season to taste. Remove from heat and cool completely.
  5. On a cold surface, roll out the puff pastry sheet to about 30 cm x 40 cm (12 inches x 16 inches). Brush the Dijon mustard on the pastry and mound the cooled mushroom filling in the centre of the pastry. Turn up each side until they meet in the middle and pinch closed. Pinch the ends closed and trim off excess pastry.
  6. Turn the log onto a parchment lined baking sheet seamed sized down, and brush with the egg yolk. Decorate with leaves from the leftover end pastry and brush with egg wash. Bake in a hot 400° F oven for 35-40 minutes or until golden.
  7. Serve sliced hot out of the oven, or reheat to serve.

A tasty treat wrapped in delicious buttery pastry.

Click on any photo for the slideshow.

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I will reveal our latest adventure now! Drumroll please: We spent the month of November in Arizona. We have dear friends who live there during the winter and when we were visiting during February, we tossed around the idea to buy a second house there. But before we make the plunge, we wanted to be certain we liked it so we rented an awesome house in the same community that our friends live.

Now who were we kidding? It was -5° C (23° F) (but it felt like -10° C (14° F)) in Toronto while we were enjoying 28° C (82° F) with sunshine. Every. Single. Day. What’s not to like? The community is tagged as resort-style living with a gorgeous golf course and 4 swimming pools, a spa, workout facilities and a couple of restaurants. Yep, I could get used to it!

The community is located in Queen’s Creek. Queen’s Creek is situated in the San Tan Valley, south-east of Phoenix, Arizona. As another friend said, “it’s not quite the end of the world, but you can see the end of the world from there!”

It is also a mere 4.5-hour drive to the Grand Canyon and that is where we did our EPIC hike! We hiked 7.5 hours to Indian Grove and back. Going down was relatively easy, we bought good hiking boots and sticks, but going up was significantly more challenging because of the altitude and lack of oxygen. We stopped and rested a lot. Listening to your body is essential as is allowing your muscles to recover as you’re ascending. It took us 3 hours to hike down and 3.5 hours to hike back up (which isn’t bad for a couple of old folks!), the rest of the time we spent at Indian Grove eating a delicious lunch I packed. The worst part was the day and day two later, my calves ached like a demon. But it was worth it! I’ve put together s little slide show of our hike at the end of this post, if you are interested. And by the way, my stupid FitBit died sometime during our hike so I don’t even know how many steps we did, but if the last time we hiked only 1.5 hours down and back was any indication, we did 22,000 steps! This is my third FitBit Zip and when I called them that it was eating the batteries like crazy (one every 2-3 weeks) they said it was a known issue and they are working on fixing it but would do NOTHING ELSE. So I am done with FitBit, they let me down in one of the most epic hikes of my life and had nothing but “oh, sorry” to say about it. I am going to get a Garmin which I hear are much more reliable.

This cookie has nothing to do with the hike or our trip, it’s a cookie I made for Canadian Thanksgiving at my sweet cousin Lucy’s place. My dear blogging friend Liz (of That Skinny Chick Can Bake, blog) was the inspiration, I saw the recipe on her site a while back. These cookies were all the rave in the 90’s on restaurant menus but I haven’t seen one in ages. Liz’s recipe will change that for sure.

Skillet Chocolate Chunk Cookie

Makes 1 12″ Cookie

Please click here for the original recipe.

Click here to print this recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 195 g butter
  • 100 g granulated sugar
  • 150 g brown sugar
  • 15 mL vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg white
  • 350 g AP Flour
  • 3 g baking powder
  • 5 g salt
  • 100 g chocolate chips (I used Belgian milk and semi-sweet chocolate)

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 375° F (I used the convection setting). Prepare a 30 cm cast iron skillet with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Melt the butter and sugars in a heatproof bowl in the microwave, stir until sugars have melted. Cool slightly and then stir in the vanilla. Combine the egg and whites and whisk. Whisk into the butter-sugar mixture.
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt, add it to the butter-sugar mixture and mix until well combined.
  4. Fold in 3/4 the chocolate, reserving about 1/4 to dot the top of the cookie for garnish.
  5. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
  6. Cool to room temperature. Serve slicing fractions of the circle.

Notes:

  • I like to buy Belgian chocolate disks (not molding chocolate) and melt them, spread them on a cookie sheet and chill until set. Then I break up the sheets by hand, making different sized pieces with a variety of thicknesses.

It’s a cross between cookie and blondie that is quite difficult to resist.

Click on the first photo to see the slideshow.

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In early September, our dear friends came for a visit and JT and I planned a full schedule of fun activities! We went hiking at a conservation area, saw King Lear in High Park (which turned out to be reimagined from a female perspective, Queen Lear), we traveled to Montreal for a few days with a stop in Kingston to visit the newly refurbished Kingston Penitentiary. The time went quickly and a much-needed fix with special friends. Our days were packed, so I made these Banana Bran Muffins for a breakfast on the morning we went hiking, as we were also having lunch at an adorable little cafe near the conservation area. Scroll down to see a few pics of Kingston Pen.

Banana Bran Muffins with Belgian Milk Chocolate Chunks

Original recipe from Company’s Coming, Muffins and More by Jean Paré.

Makes about 10-12 medium-sized muffins

Please click here to print this recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 128 g (1 cup) flour
  • 60 g (1 cup) all bran cereal
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup milk chocolate chips or chunks (I used Belgian milk chocolate chunks)
  • 60 g (1/4 cup) coconut oil
  • 75 g (1/2 cup) coconut sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 65 mL (1/4 cup) sour milk (milk with 1/4 tsp lemon juice)
  • 250 mL (3 medium or 1 cup) bananas, mashed

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 400° F (200° C). Prepare muffin pans by spraying with non-stick spray.
  2. Combine flour, bran, baking powder and soda and salt in a bowl and mix.
  3. Cream coconut oil and sugar with 1 egg until well blended and add the other egg and beat well. Combine the soured milk and mashed bananas and mix well.
  4. Pour into the dry mixture and mix well. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  5. Pour batter into prepared muffin cups to about 3/4 full.
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.
  7. Cool slightly and serve.

These muffins have excellent texture from the moistness of the bananas and the bran cereal.

Notes:

  • These muffins are not nearly as sweet using coconut sugar as using regular white sugar.

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I’ve been a little busy since we’ve returned from Arizona, you may have noticed my absence commenting and that I didn’t post last week. I was going to fret about it and try and throw together something but decided against it. Life happens.

One of our dear friends sold their home in the burbs and moved into their condo just before we left for holidays. JT and I helped them paint before the move, with the move, and a little organization. You see, their home was around 2,500 square feet and they moved into a 600 square foot condo. To say they down-sized is an understatement. I have to admit, I was a little jealous that they were able to rid themselves of excess, but I had to be honest with myself, and I’m not there yet. This past weekend, we went to visit and you know me, I never go empty handed, so I made these cheese crisps.

When I made the gluten free version of cheez-itz, I rolled them a bit thinner than usual and loved how crisp they baked up, so this time, I adjusted the gluten recipe and rolled them out in my KitchenAid pasta maker and the results were exceptional. Thinner crackers baked up so crispy, I was hooked. If you like cheese tuiles, then you will love these cheese-flavoured, light, crisp crackers, but be warned, they are quite addictive.

I added a little album of our trip to Arizona at the end of this post, if you are interested. Basically, it was the coldest and rainiest time in Arizona this year. We experienced -15°C (59° F) and snow in The Grand Canyon and although the sun did make an appearance from time to time, it never really warmed up. I wore layered leggings and tops, a winter coat, gloves and scarf and ear muffs, most of the time while we were in The Grand Canyon and Sedona. It rained so much in Sedona; Sedona gets about 38 cm (15 inches) of rain a year, in two days we had 4 cm (1.5 inches)! Oh well, it’s another reason to go back!

Cheese Crisps

A KitchenInspirations Original Recipe

Makes about 350 g crackers (about 6 cups)

Ingredients:

  • 240 g full-flavoured, hard cheese, grated (see notes)
  • 45 g unsalted butter
  • 15 g vegetable shortening
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika (see notes)
  • 1 cup (125 g) flour, plus more for rolling
  • 2 tbsp ice water

Directions:

  1. Combine everything but the water in the large food processor bowl and pulse until fully combined.
  2. Slowly pour in the ice water and process until the dough comes together. It may not look like it will, but it will.
  3. Sprinkle a generous amount of flour on your surface and roll out small bits of the dough thin enough to get through #1 on the KitchenAid Pasta maker attachment. Run each sheet through three times on #1, two-times on #2 and two-times on #3. Return to your work surface and cut with a variety of cookie cutters. I chose smallish ones because I wanted bite-sized nibbles. They shrink to about 65% of the original size.
  4. Preheat oven to 375° F.
  5. Transfer crackers to a baking sheet (I line mine with parchment).
  6. Bake for 8-10 minutes until golden and crispy! Be careful – there’s a fine line with these between golden brown and overdone – and it only takes seconds to burn!

Notes:

  • Use whatever full-flavoured cheese you have. This batch was made with equal quantities of sharp Cheddar, naturally-smoked Cheddar and Beemster.
  • I prefer to use the pasta maker to roll the dough because it guarantees the dough to be the same thickness throughout the batch. I wouldn’t go thinner than #3 though, really thin crackers will burn very quickly before they crisp up.
  • Change up the flavouring from smoked paprika to granulated garlic, finely ground dehydrated onions, finely ground dehydrated mushrooms, but be careful not to have too large chunks as they will get caught in your pasta maker rollers!

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Last week I shared with you a traditional Sevillian Cookie, the Tejas Dulces and I was so smitten with it that I had to develop a gluten-free version. There are some recipes that are not worth converting to gluten free, they simply would not work, but some, like this particular recipe, shines brighter than its glutenated counterpart! I absolutely love this recipe, to the point that I’ll probably make this one my standard.

The original tuiles we brought back from Sevilla.

The original tuiles we brought back from Sevilla.

Gluten Free Almond Tuiles of Sevilla (Tejas Dulces de Sevilla)

A KitchenInspirations Original Recipe

Makes 25 cm x 30 cm (10″ x 12″) sheet, cut to make cookies or various sizes

Ingredients:

  • 30 g (2 tbsp) unsalted butter
  • 75 g (3/4 cup) almonds, thinly sliced and toasted
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 80 g (~1/3 cup) sugar
  • 1 tsp almond flavour
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla
  • 50 g Gluten Free flour (I used this mix)
  • pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Toast the almonds until golden. Set aside to cool.
  2. Melt the butter and set aside to cool.
  3. Beat the egg with the sugar until it reaches the ribbon stage, about 5 minutes. Beat in the flavourings and cooled butter.
  4. Sift the flour with the salt and fold into the egg mixture, cover and allow to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 265° F (130° C).
  6. Pour the entire batter onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet and spread out until it is quite thin (about 3-4 mm (about 1/8-3/16 inch) works out to about 25 cm x 30 cm (10″ x 12″). Evenly sprinkle the toasted almonds onto the batter and gently push into the batter.
  7. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until evenly golden, turn the pan once about halfway.
  8. While still warm, move parchment onto a cutting board and cut into uneven shapes with a pizza cutter. Transfer parchment to a cooling rack and allow to cool. Cookies will firm up as they cool.
  9. Once cooled, store in an airtight container for about a week, but they won’t last that long!

Notes:

  • I increased the flavourings to one teaspoon each because I am not a fan of the taste of gluten-free flour mix.
  • You may use a commercially prepared gluten free flour but I tested the recipe with my mix.
  • The gluten-free baked up about 10 minutes quicker because the batter spread a little further than the glutenated one!

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tejas-dulces_first

Happy Halloween Everyone! Hope you all have a ghoulish night!!!

While in Europe this past September, we spent four extremely hot days in Sevilla. It’s no wonder they call Spain the “Frying pan of Europe”! It wasn’t as hot as it had been (near 50° C or 122° F) but it was hot enough for us! The sun was relentless and most locals only walk in the shade (you can tell who lives there because they hug the shadows directly beside the old buildings!). The city has covered some of its sunnier streets with canopy sails to shade the citizens and tourists, it’s that bad!

Many of the historic town streets have these sails in both Sevilla and Madrid.

Many of the historic town streets have installed these canopy sails to protect citizens and tourist from the unyielding sun, in both Sevilla and Madrid, though I did not see them in Granada.

During one of our last walks though the beautiful historic part of town, we stumbled into the area where the locals actually live. There were no tourist shops, a few restaurants, just butchers, bakers, children’s clothing stores, kitchen stores (yes, I did buy something), grocery stores and specialty shops. One such shop was a beautifully designed little cookie shop where they sold only one type of cookie in three flavours: La Tejas Dulces de Sevilla, in almond, pistachio and coconut. A young lady was handing out samples in front of the beautiful store and we couldn’t resist. In one taste, we were immediately hooked on the simple almond flavour and lovely crunchy texture and we had to buy some. Upon returning to Toronto, I hid the small package so that I could work on a recipe and perfect it for the blog. I told JT it was for the greater good, he wasn’t impressed.

The cookies are light, airy, crunchy and full of flavour; imagine a genoise batter spread paper-thin, topped with almonds and baked until golden. They are so GOOD! The recipe is relatively simple but follow the instructions to get the signature airy, crunchy texture. I think this could easily convert to a gluten free variety, stay tuned!

I must warn you, though, because these are not like the French Tuiles, these have a bit more body than a traditional French tuiles. They are really more cracker-like than a tuile or a cookie.

Scroll down to the end of this post to see pictures from this part of our trip.

tejas-dulces_2

Delicately sweet, these crispy, flavourful cookies hit the spot for an afternoon craving!


original

These are the originals we brought back from Sevilla, sadly only three left and a mess of crumbs but I’ve finessed the recipe so I can make more!

Almond Tuiles of Sevilla (Tejas Dulces de Sevilla)

A KitchenInspirations Original Recipe

Makes 25 cm x 30 cm (10″ x 12″) sheet, cut to make cookies or various sizes

Ingredients:

  • 30 g (2 tbsp) unsalted butter
  • 75 g (3/4 cup) almonds, thinly sliced and toasted
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 80 g (~1/3 cup) sugar
  • 1/2 tsp almond flavour
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla
  • 50 g cake and pastry flour
  • pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Toast the almonds until golden. Set aside to cool.
  2. Melt* the butter and set aside to cool.
  3. Beat the egg with the sugar until it reaches the ribbon stage, about 5 minutes. Beat in the flavourings and cooled butter.
  4. Sift the flour with the salt and fold into the egg mixture, cover and allow to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 265° F (130° C).
  6. Pour the entire batter onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet and spread out until it is quite thin (about 3-4 mm (about 1/8-3/16 inch) works out to about 30 cm x 30 cm (12″ x 12″). Evenly sprinkle the toasted almonds onto the batter and gently push into the batter**.
  7. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour or until evenly golden, turn the pan once about halfway.
  8. While still warm, move parchment onto a cutting board and cut into uneven shapes with a pizza cutter. Transfer parchment to a cooling rack and allow to cool. Cookies will firm up as they cool.
  9. Once cooled, store in an airtight container for about a week, but they won’t last that long!

Spread batter out thinly (about 30 x 30 cm or 12 x 12 inches)

Spread batter out thinly (about 30 x 30 cm or 12 x 12 inches)


tejas-dulces_3

I made another batch but spread the batter out much thinner. They probably could have baked a little longer to get a little richer colour, but the flavour and texture is spot on.

Notes:

  • *for additional flavour, brown the butter in a frying pan until hazelnut in colour.
    ** to insure that all of the almonds are ‘stuck’ to the batter, I did a little toss of the pan quickly and that way I was able to move ‘unstuck’ almonds to a better place.
  • Add a teaspoon of lemon zest because lemon and almond go so wonderfully together!
  • Drizzle melted chocolate over the cookies once they are cool, refrigerate until set then store in an airtight container for about a week, but be warned, these won’t even last as long as the originals!

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pomegranatesyrup_firstRecently, JT and I spent three wonderful weeks touring through London, Almeria, San José, Granada, Sevilla, Madrid and finally Paris. It was awesome. I will recount some wonderful meals and memories in future posts but I wanted to share a quick and easy recipe to make pomegranate syrup because my dear friend Sissi (With A Glass) recently posted a beautiful salad which included pomegranate seeds and the dressing was created with pomegranate molasses, a slightly sweet and sour syrup.

Sissi’s post went live around the time we had just spent the day in Granada, a large, historical city in the south of Spain. We did a wonderful walking tour of the city with Panchotours with Registered Tour Guide, Veronica and at one point she mentioned that the word Granada in Spanish means pomegranate! What a coincidence! The name is appropriate because the streets are lined with gorgeous pomegranate trees. Yes, you could just reach up and grab a fresh pomegranate, how cool is that? Sadly, they were not quite ripe enough, otherwise, you know I would have!

granada-pomegranate

ourtourguide

Our lovely tour guide, Veronica.

Several weeks prior to our departure, we purchased something and for some unknown reason were given a 473 mL bottle of Pom Pomegranate Cherry Juice for free. We don’t normally drink juice as it is far better to eat your fruit than drink it so it sat in the refrigerator until now! Making the syrup is so easy, I won’t even list it as a recipe. Simply pour the entire content of the bottle into a non-reactive pan and boil it on medium-high for about 30 -40 minutes or until it reduces to about 100 mL. I didn’t want an overly thick syrup (the viscosity is about the same as maple syrup) so you could boil it down even more — but be very careful, after a very short time, it can burn very easily! Allow to cool and pour into a sterilized bottle. Store in a cool, dark location.

pomegranate-syrup

It’s a thick, sweet and slightly sour syrup. that is delicious on chunks of Parmesan.

alhambra

The view of the Alhambra.

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Panoramic View of Granada.

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GarlicCheeseRopeBread_First

I was about 33 when JT and I first vacationed in Florida. JT and I rented a friend’s house in Daytona Beach and used it as a base to travel around, taking a couple of days to visit friends in Sarasota and to explore that side of the state. While travelling, there were several roadside eateries that would come up that were rather new to us Canadians: Cracker Barrel, Denny’s and Waffle House to name a few. As you know by now, I am not so fond of fast food, so we avoided them but one morning we got up early to explore and decided that waffles were in order and we thought, what better place than Waffle House? Boy were we wrong, what a joke (I apologise to those who love the place), the waffles were thin and dry and they didn’t even have real maple syrup or even real butter! Maybe I’m a waffle snob, but real maple syrup and butter are necessities for a good waffle experience. Our waitress was surly and unapproachable, great qualities for a waitress. We begrudgingly ate the sad excuse for waffles and left. In the car, I couldn’t stop thinking about how bad an experience it was and immediately renamed the place Awful House! Needless to say, we did not stop at Awful House ever again!

When you’re looking for a delicious bread recipe, you need not look further than this recipe for Cheddar Garlic Rope Bread, plus there is nothing like it on the menu at Awful House! It’s not that difficult to make and it bakes up beautifully. I made this loaf for my Cousin Lucy’s Easter Dinner.

GarlicCheeseRopeBread

The bread is laced with delicious cheddar and garlic butter. Make sure you serve this warm.

Cheddar Garlic Rope Bread

This recipe makes one 40 cm x 15 cm (15″ x 6″) rope.

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp powdered milk
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  • 1 tbsp yeast
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 3/4 cup warm water (it should feel slightly warm to the touch not hot)
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/4 tsp white vinegar

Ingredients for the cheddar, garlic butter spread:

  • 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped (or to taste)
  • pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Combine the yeast, sugar and warm water, stir gently and allow to proof.
  2. In the bowl of your stand mixer add the flour, salt, powdered milk, eggs and vinegar. Using the KitchenAid® Flex Edge Beater attachment, mix until the eggs have totally become incorporated into the flour. Change to the dough hook.
  3. Add the yeast water mixture and knead the dough for 10 minutes until you get a smooth slightly sticky dough.
  4. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover it and allow it to rise in a warm place till it doubles in size (this only takes about 45 minutes).
  5. Pre-heat your oven to 400°F (I used the fan setting).
  6. In the bowl of a small food processor, combine the cheese, butter, garlic and salt and pulse until completely combined, set aside.
  7. Once the dough has doubled in size, roll out the dough into a 0.5 cm (1/4 inch) thick rectangle (mine worked out to 40 cm x 30 cm (16″ x 12″). Spread all of the cheese butter mixture evenly over the dough, leaving a 1 cm (1/2 inch) border on three sides (spread right to the long side that you will begin to roll). Starting at the long end, roll up the dough tightly to form a roll. Seal all of the edges well by pinching them closed (wet fingers with water if necessary). Slice the roll in half lengthwise, leaving the last 5 cm (2 inches) connected.
  8. Turn each half cut-side up and carefully wrap the halves together like a rope, maintaining the cut-sides up to expose the filling. Carefully place on a baking tray with sides, lined with parchment paper and allow to rest, covered in a warm location for 1 hour. Check out Angie’s blog for detailed photos on how-to roll, cut and form into a rope.
  9. Coat with the vinegar, egg wash.
  10. Bake for 5-7 minutes on the high heat, then reduce to 350°F and bake for another 7-10 minutes or until the bottom is golden and it sounds hollow when tapped.
  11. Serve warm.

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Hello everyone! Hope you are enjoying the definite fall weather of late. I won’t even mention the spring weather our friends from below the equator are experiencing. Yes, that’s the green in me!
I’m just going to hop right back and tell you more about our stop in Grand Rapids while traveling to Wisconsin and Illinois in late July and I wanted to share another really cool thing to do in Grand Rapids: the Frederik Meijer Gardens. The weather wasn’t great, a little unseasonably cold and rainy, but it didn’t stop us from exploring and I’m sure glad we did. I definitely recommend this little outing; the gardens are beautiful to walk through and the sculptures throughout are captivating. There are even a couple of August Rodin and Henry Moore pieces; both artists are dear to me because I have seen quite a few of their pieces (Rodin Museum in Paris and in the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto). And there were several moments that I thought of my dear blogging friends: Norma from Garden to Wok (because of the frogs she collects in her garden), Celi, the Kitchen’s Garden (because of the cows and the pigs she has on her farmie), Genie, Bunny, eats, design, because she has the beautiful and mischievous Tofu the bunny rabbit. So if your ears were burning in late July, you now know that it was because of me!

The Frederik Meijer Gardens are a bit of a drive from down town and admission is a reasonable $12 for adults and $4 for 3-4 years old and $6 for 5-13 — parking is free; it’s a long walk through the gardens, so wear comfy shoes (famous last words, eh ladies?)! The weather was a bit iffy, so we did a brusque walk completing the tour in about two hours, so a gentle stroll will last at least three to four hours. They even have some lovely green houses holding some very exotic plants, in case you need a break from the chill outside. There is also an interactive kids section which we passed on.

I hope you have a chance to watch the slide show below, and to perhaps some day visit the Frederik Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

We were not compensated for this review, it is strictly our opinion.

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
1000 East Beltline NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49525
(616) 957-1580 | Toll-Free: 888-957-1580

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Continuing on our trip to Michigan this past July, we spent one lovely afternoon and evening in Grand Rapids to help break up the driving time to Wisconsin. After a delicious but unfortunately quick dinner at Grove we decided that the night was still too young to be packed in so we checked out Reserve, a lovely wine bar in the heart of down town. We were very pleasantly surprised to end the evening off so well.

I don’t know about you, but JT and I check reviews and sometimes we get lucky and choose a good place on a good night and sometimes it’s an epic fail. This little spot, we got lucky! We sat at the bar and chatted to Cory the Mixologist who turned out to be a fantastic spokes-person and historian for his humble city. When he wasn’t attending to other customers, Cory spoke very highly of Reserve’s dining experience (that we’ll have to return to try!). With just over 100 wines by the glass, there isn’t a shortage of libations to choose from, priced from a sampler size to a full 9oz glass these folks have everything your heart desires. They have a very sophisticated system of storing and serving the wines (the system extracts the oxygen and seals each bottle after use) and they are said to keep for 30 days, although I wouldn’t think they’d need to as the place was hopping! There were a variety of prices and non of them seem exorbitant.

Reserve is located in the down town area of Grand Rapids, by the Grand River. It’s cool, contemporary décor is a perfect stage for the trendy business crowd. It’s not a huge place and where we were sitting the noise level wasn’t too bad. Lighting was a bit harsh particularly beneath the centre area but at the bar it was very flattering. If the quality of service could be gauged by Cory’s level of attention and friendliness, I would say it’s excellent! Definitely deserves a return visit.

Reserve

201 Monroe Ave. NW

Grand Rapids, MI 49503

616-855-9463

Hours

Monday – Thursday 11:30 AM – 11:00 PM

Friday 11:30 AM – 12:00 AM

Saturday 4:00 PM – 12:00 AM

Sunday Closed

 

Overall rating of Reserve, Grand Rapids (in my opinion): Decor 3.5/5, service 4/5, food n/a, Value 3/5, Noise: 3/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

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

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As you may recall, JT and I took a little road trip down to Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois to meet up with old friends and make new friends. To make the drive a bit more manageable we decided a stop in Grand Rapids, Michigan was in order so we booked a night into a nice hotel downtown and did a few touristy things (to come).

We chose Grove for dinner from the reviews on Yelp and Trip Advisor and it was certainly spot on; an unexpected culinary experience in Grand Rapids, who knew? And even more so surprisingly it was not expensive at all!

The restaurant is nicely decorated in a contemporary style but if you ask me, it had a few too many hard surfaces making it rather noisy for a quiet, romantic dinner. I also found the TVs in the bar area distracting because they are visible from the dining area and although I understand why they have them, I personally feel it takes the dining experience down a notch.

Service was prompt and efficient, our server was enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the food, but dinner lasted only an hour and I would have liked it spaced out a bit more.

I ordered the bouillabaisse ($11) and it was OUTSTANDING! My only complaint is that that there was not enough broth! It is a rich saffron, tomato seafood broth generously filled with fresh shrimp, scallops and a variety of fish. It was almost as good as the one I had in Marseille, but then again we were in France eating outside! For the reasonable price of $11, I could have easily had another bowl, it was so tasty!

The bouillabase was full of tender, perfectly cooked seafood.

The bouillabase was full of tender, perfectly cooked seafood.

JT enjoyed the sweet corn soup ($6) but kept dipping his spoon into my bowl of bouillabaise! As you can see from the soup’s colour, it had A LOT of cream which diluted the sweet corn flavour a touch. It was not nearly as lovely as the one at Toca JT recently had.

This corn soup had A LOT of cream.

This corn soup had A LOT of cream.

An interesting take on an old favourite. The hard cooked crumbled eggs were a lovely change.

An interesting take on an old favourite. The hard cooked crumbled eggs were a lovely change.

For my main I had the steak tartare ($12 also a starter) which was very nicely seasoned and had a twist of crumbled hard boiled egg on top and some bread and butter gherkins on the side. It was roughly chopped and I generally prefer a finer chop it was seasoned perfectly to my taste and I enjoyed it very much.

JT had the Chicken Confit ($10) which compared to my bouillabaisse seemed a little lack-lustre although there was nothing technically wrong with it. Sorry, forgot to take a photo :-(.

All in all an excellent experience we’ll tuck away for our next visit to Grand Rapids.

Overall rating of Grove, Grand Rapids (in my opinion): Decor 3/5, service 3.5/5, food 4/5, Value 4/5, 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.

Grove, Grand Rapids, Michigan

919 Cherry Street S.E.
Grand Rapids, MI 49506
P: 616.454.1000

Hours of Operation

Sunday – 5pm-9pm
Tuesday – Thursday 5pm-10pm
Friday – Saturday 5pm-11pm

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I mentioned that when we travel we never pre-determine lunch, but we find free wifi and Yelp a place close by. Sometimes we’re just lucky enough to just come across a little gem serendipitously and that’s exactly what happened with La Tasca. La Tasca is a Spanish tapas establishment directly across from Chinatown in DC. We were hungry, hot and very tired and were cautiously excited about our little find (keeping expectations low means less disappointment!). Plus they had free WIFI which meant I could upload more pics to Facebook for my family and friends back home; JT has his head buried in a map app or a sports app to keep up with the latest scores :)!
La Tasca has a couple of locations in around DC, but It doesn’t scream chain. The service was great, and the food, well…it was dang good, we dug in before I remembered to take a photo, yep, that good. The quality and presentation brought us back immediately to our trip to Barcelona, Spain last fall (only it was way hotter in DC). Talk about a lovely memory!

The décor is kind of kitschy Spainish but we sat at the front looking onto the street so it wasn’t that offensive. I suspect this place would be great for larger groups.
Tapas means small, sharing portions which is perfect for JT and I. For lunch they have three sized specials: 2 for $13, 3 for $19 or unlimited for $24, we chose 2 & 3, and it was perfect.

Our meal:

Tortilla Torera: this is Spain’s traditional potato and onion omelet and here it’s served cold. It was lovely, as good if not better than some we enjoyed in Spain.

Brocheta de Gambas y Vieiras: these were Skewers of shrimp and bacon-wrapped scallops drizzled with a wonderful lemon emulsion, served sizzling hot with just enough garlic to get your mouth watering.

Garbanzos con Espinacas: this was an incredibly delicious Andalusian-style chickpea and spinach stew, i just wish we had bread to sop it up with (yes, I wrote that).

Empanadas de Carne, not the traditional empanada that i’m accustomed to, these were two good-sized stuffed pastry shells filled with ground beef and cheese. I’m not used to cheese in my empanadas but OMG was this good! It was also deep fried which I generally don’t prefer but it was soooo worth it. I almost wish we had ordered two more!

Our last dish was another cold tapas Tabla de Jamón y Queso, this was a very simple plate with Serrano ham and Manchego cheese served on artisanal bread brushed with the traditional Catalana tomato spread. This was the weakest of the dishes, but only because the others were so AMAZING!

The presentation was beautiful on all the dishes and I’m really sorry I didn’t take photos of all the plates. My only complaint was that they brought everything at once and the table wasn’t quite large enough for all the plates.

And that concludes our visit to DC, thanks again to Jed and Liz for their generous hospitality and advise.

Overall rating of La Tasca, DC (in my opinion): Decor 1.5/5, service 3/5, food 4/5, Value 3.5/5, Noise: 4.5/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

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

La Tasca

722 7th Street NW

Washington, DC 20001

202–347-9190

dc@latascausa.com

 

Hours of Operation

Sunday-Thursday 11–10

Friday-Saturday 11–11

Bar Open Late Weekends

 

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When we travel we never like to book lunches because we never really know where we are going to be when hunger strikes; so we leave it to the last minute and find a Starbucks sit with an espresso and peruse Yelp for some recommendations in relation to our location! I love that Starbucks has free WIFI! Yelp is an excellent review site where I find most of the reviewers are more foodie than not and their restaurant reviews are excellent! Sometimes we use open table, but it’s only good for establishments who subscribe so it often doesn’t work out.

We landed on Café du Parc in Washington’s elite Intercontinental Willard Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. The restaurant describes itself as a traditional French bistro where the food ‘fuses witha modern atmosphere to provide a truly authentic bistro experience” (from Café du Parc’s website) — well, I’m not sure about food fusing with atmosphere, but the experience was pleasant enough. Have I ever mentioned this thing that I find SO INCREDIBLY annoying? It’s when the wait-staff remove plates before everyone is finished at the table. JT eats faster than I do and I am often left eating on my own with the table cleared. Not this time but I had to tell them to leave the plates alone until I am done! What school of etiquette did these people go to? They’ll loose points on service for that one.

The décor is blues, creams and yellows and the dining room was light and airy; it made me happy to be there! They also had a very lovely patio but the heat was overwhelming so we chose to eat inside; bad choice since all the windows and doors were wide open and the A/C didn’t seem to be on, but we soon acclimated and all was well.

With the exception of the faux pas of the attempt to remove JTs dishes before I was finished, the service was efficient, friendly and quick — we were in and out in less than an hour, but we had places to go and people to see, so we were fine with that.

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Cafe du Parc’s Salade Niçoise

I ordered the Salad Nisçoise which was rare tuna served on a bed of mesclun salad, with pitted black olives (I prefer the pits in, the pitted always makes me think they are canned), green beans, tomatoes, a hard boiled egg, cucumber speers, julienned celery, delightful pickled white anchovies (a very nice change) with a very light balsamic vinaigrette which was not over dressed. The salad was fresh, flavourful and quite filling, but for the $21 for lunch, I would have expected a bit more tuna on the plate.
JT ordered the Croque Monsieur which was a very generous sandwich of French ham & Gruyère cheese sandwich, served with a mixed green salad and hand cut fries ($18) considering how expensive the ingredients in this dish are, I felt the $18 price tag was a reasonable amount.
And that concludes our visit to DC, thanks again to Jed and Liz for their generous hospitality and advise.
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Croque Monsieur

Overall rating of Café du Parc, DC (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 2.5/5, food 4/5, Value 3/5, 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.

Cafe du Parc

1401 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20004

(202) 942 7000

Monday – Friday

Breakfast : 6:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. (a la carte ends at 9:45; 9:45-10:30 buffet only)

Lunch : 11:30 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.

Cocktails and Light Fare : 2:30pm – 5:00 p.m.

Dinner : 5:30 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.

Saturday – Sunday

Breakfast : 7:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. (a la carte ends at 10:30; 10:30-11:00 buffet only)

Lunch : 12:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.

Cocktails and Light Fare : 3:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

Dinner : 6:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.

Terrace (weather permitting)

Breakfast is served at our courtyard only.

Service starts at 11:30 Mon – Fri and 12:00 noon Sat-Sun until 10:00 p.m.; weather permitting.

 

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Our first dinner in DC was at Proof, one of the recommendations Jed and Liz (of the infamous Sports-glutton blog) made and it truly DID NOT DISAPPOINT! Proof is a moderately price American restaurant with an eclectic menu (their words). It’s contemporary design with rustic elements (brick walls, wooden tables and antique dressers) make for a very warm and inviting eating establishment — the bathrooms are wild! We chose to eat inside because of the high temperatures outside, but their patios looked amazing! I also wanted to mention that the dinner had a lovely pace to it, not too fast and not too slow, all in all it was almost two hours for the three courses which was perfect.

Both our server and somelier were friendly and attentive enough without being over-bearing — we never once had to fill our own wine glass. We decided to share the starters and chose the Bresaola, which was from Uruguay, cured, juniper scented beef tenderloin ($8US), I thought it was quite tasty although the juniper was very subtle and for $8US I felt we got a good serving size for the price. We also shared the Duck Liver Mousse (aka Fois Gras) with Pickled Red Onions & Baby Greens ($11US) and it was over the top, the duck liver mousse was so creamy, yet felt rather light in the mouth. Our server even brought us a nice selection of house made crackers and breads because as you can see, there are only three crostini’s with the dish. We were off to a great start.

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Our starters that we shared.

My main course (appetizer portion) was the Ahi Tuna Tartare with Crispy Nori Tempura with hass avocado, wasabi soy emulsion ($15) and I must tell you it is by far the BEST tuna Tartare I’ve ever had and I’ve had quite a few. The flavours just hit me perfectly with just the right amount of wasabi (no tears). The crispy Nori was a beautiful contrast in texture to the creamy avocado and the soft tuna. If you can believe it, my mouth is watering as I type this. I could have had two portions it was THAT good.

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The BEST tuna tartar I’ve EVER had

JT chose the gnocchi which came in two sizes, a small appetizer portion and a large main portion — this is the smaller size and as you can see, it was plenty (the bowl was about 24cm or 9.4 inches in diametre. The dish was Sautéed Potato Gnocchi with Hen of the Woods Mushrooms spring peas, baby chard in a sweet farm butter with basil and Parmesan sauce ($15/$27). JT was kind enough to allow me to taste this beautiful dish (sorry, it was already dark when I took the photo) and it was fantastic, but don’t let the sauce fool you, even though it’s not a cream-based sauce there is A LOT of butter in this dish! Both of our courses were lip smackingly good and I immediately wished we had this restaurant in Toronto as it became a fast favourite!

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JT chose the gnocchi

Thank you kindly for the reco’s Jed and Liz, you really hit this one bang on. It’ll be on my list whenever we return to DC.

If you find yourself in DC, do yourself a favour and try this place, it won’t disappoint.

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

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

Proof DC

775 G Street, NW Washington, DC 20001

proof@proofdc.com

202.737.7663

 

Lunch

Tuesday – Friday 11:30 – 2:00

 

Dinner

Monday – Thursday 5:30 – 10:00

Friday – Saturday 5:30 – 11:00

Sunday 5:00 – 9:30

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We usually travel to New York City around our anniversary to celebrate (read shop) and to have incredible food, but this year we decided to cross off another bucket list destination and go to Washington DC instead. I’ve always wanted to see the wonderful monuments, the Smithsonian Museums, Capital Hill and The White House and we did all that and more! We were lucky with the weather because it wasn’t raining but it was unbelievably hot and humid — we were told it was more like summer weather. But we donned our sunscreen, hats, comfy shoes (yes, you read that right) and left our hotel at 9am to return hot, tired (and did I say hot?) around 5pm just in time for wine and cheese in the lobby.

We stayed at the Kimpton Madera in Dupont Circle, a very good location which is close to Georgetown and the subway. We’ve stayed in several Kimpton hotels over the years and have always had exceptional experiences and this property was no different. My friend Karen from Back Road Journal made a great suggestion to join the Kimpton’s Loyalty Program and we did, and it has worked out very well for us, thank you Karen. Because we are InTouch members we received a voucher to raid the mini-bar (or one free cocktail in the bar — guess which one we did?), free WIFI in our room and a lovely room upgrade to one of their superior King rooms! Aron at the front desk and Fernando at the front door were incredibly helpful and friendly. Aron found out that we were celebrating our anniversary so he comped us breakfast every day, how nice is that? I consider breakfast an easy meal to really control calories while traveling, so the free continental breakfast with whole grain toast and fruit was perfect for us.

We ate at wonderful restaurants (reviews to come) and had some fantastic times with new friends — JT and I were very fortunate to meet up with fellow blogger Jed Gray and his beautiful wife Liz of the infamous Sports-Glutton blog. I started following Jed a couple of years ago and haven’t looked back. When I emailed Jed that we were thinking of coming down to DC, he and Liz very generously spent an incredible amount of time writing up recommendations for areas to stay in and provided some excellent restaurant recommendations and they were spot on. We met for dinner on our last night and as you can imagine we got on as if we were long-time friends. The lively non-stop conversation was richly dotted with good bouts of laughter. Thank you so much Jed and Liz it was such a pleasure to meet you both and JT and I sincerely hope that we will be able to repay your hospitality in Toronto very soon.

DC, what can I say? Go big or go home would sum it up. The city itself is only about 176 square kilometres or 68 square miles, so it’s not enormous, but because DC has so much to see and do, you really should plan on 4-5 days, sadly we were only there just under three days so it was a bit rushed but that just means we will need to go back sometime soon. We arrived on Thursday around 11:30 and took a stroll through Georgetown which was a 20 minute walk from our hotel. It was very hot and humid. We decided to have lunch at a Peruvian restaurant which worked out very well and then we walked around some more. Our hotel serves up wine and cheese from 5-6pm every day and we like to go because it gives us an opportunity to chat with the other guests. There weren’t other guests having the wine and cheese but we were able to chat with Aron at the front desk and he made some lovely recommendations about DC.

There is a lot to see and do in DC, so it’s best to have a game plan; figure out what is most important to you and then plan your stay according to that. We wanted to see a few of the Smithsonians (which by the way are totally FREE!): The Air and Space Museum, the Smithsonian Castle, the National Gallery. And we wanted to spend some time walking around the monuments near the Tidal Basin. We did the Hop on Hop off bus tour, but we made the mistake of hopping on and off, so we ended up wasting A LOT of time waiting to hop back on. The bus we got on later in the afternoon was so incredibly slow it was painful. We should have cut our losses but we persevered, and therefore missed seeing a few of the things we wanted to see — so there will be a next time. Due to an earthquake in 2011, the Washington Monument was damaged and therefore closed for repairs and will not open until 2015…so that’s a great excuse to return.

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We met Jed and Liz at 5:30 on Saturday night in Georgetown, a short cab ride from our hotel and their apartment. Jed suggested we meet at the Four Seasons bar called Bourbon Steak (well you just know the night is off to a great start!). In true gluttonous form Jed selected this classy establishment because of the variety of unusual cocktails served; we all know JT and I do cocktails, and Jed’s Thirsty Thursdays lead me to believe that they do too! The next course was dinner, we had a short walk (yes, I was wearing inappropriate shoes which made walking on the cobblestone in combination with the extreme heat very difficult!) to a very nice Mexican Restaurant called Bandolero. We started with more drinks and some very tasty treats. I loved this place because it was tapas style so we each got to enjoy every flavour and not have to commit to one dish. Conversation with either Jed or Liz was easy and JT and I flipped back and forth with the two. Our first course was La Muestra, which was guacamole, masa crisps, chicarrones, and three salsas, very flavourful salsas and the guacamole was delicious! Then, each of us selected one item to share; it was very tasty and four items seemed to hit the spot with all of us. In chatting with Liz I wondered if there were any cool jazz bars in DC and she lit up knowing just the one so our next stop was Blues Alley but we were only able to get tickets for the 10pm show, so without hesitation we went to a J-Paul’s saloon for, you guessed it, more drinks and conversation until it was time for the show. We heard the exceptional John Pizzarelli (who concidentally sometimes plays with Diana Krall – a fellow Canadian!)
Sadly we cut the night short as we were flying home the next day — we usually stay up much later, really we do! We really enjoyed our time with Jed and Liz (you guys really made our little DC vacation!)

I encourage you to visit Washington DC, it’s really much more than I expected and I was expecting a lot!

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This is luggage for three days and two nights.
I take my favourite pillow when ever we drive.

Easter weekend JT and I treated ourselves to a little R&R getaway up in cottage country. We received raving reviews for the JW Mariott in Rosseau from my friend/neighbour/boss, my best friend and my SIL so when we decided we wanted to go away, we thought “why not?”! So we booked a Thursday to a Saturday on the Easter weekend. This is the only time I will say this, but if you want a romantic get away, then don’t go on a long weekend, the place is packed with families and lots and lots of kids. Thursday and Friday were more couples but as soon as Saturday hit, mayhem!

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The drive up through the Canadian Shield.

The Rosseau Marriott is an easy 2 hour drive from our home, but we stopped for lunch in Barrie and a little shopping at an outlet mall so it took a bit longer than expected. We decided to take an extra day and go up on Thursday to beat the rush hour traffic. Winter has been dragging its ugly feet in these parts and as we drove north we could still see remnants of snow in places.

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It was about a 2 1/2 hour drive, but we stopped for lunch in Barrie.

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It’s a four star, all season resort.

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Our room had a little kitchenette, which was great for breakfast and cocktails.

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We were told not to bother upgrading the room because the basic room was just as lovely.

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The gas fireplace was a lovely touch, particularly since it was still winter at Easter!

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The bathroom was spacious with a separate shower.

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The bathtub could have been nicer.

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The view from our room. We didn’t pay extra for the lake view, which was still covered in snow.

A real annoying thing is when a hotel (particularly one out in the middle of no where) charges $18 per day for in room WIFI — it drives me crazy. Fortunately, they offered free WIFI in the common areas, so we were able to keep in touch when we were in the gorgeous lobby. But then upon returning to our room we noticed that we hadn’t dropped the free WIFI, so if you don’t want to pay for WIFI in your room, ask for a room directly above the lobby, we were on the third floor and we had full WIFI power, FOR FREE!

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The hotel was tastefully decorated in the “Muskoka” style.

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Evan the chandelier looked like a giant pine cone.

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There were a lot of common areas where you could just chill without having to order anything.

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The hotel offers some winter sports for free, such as snow shoeing.

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I almost regretting bringing my winter jacket, it was so warm in the sun.

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JT enjoying the view.

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Me.

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Even though they had a lot of snow, it was very pretty.

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The sun was so warm as it penetrated the trees.

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Some of the snow melted.

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Directly in front of the main doors, there is a fire pit that has a fire going all the time, all seasons. There is also a wishing pond that they collect the money once a week and donate it to a local childrens charity.

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We kept the fire going for a while.

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Sitting and not moving made it a little chilly, so it was lovely to have a warm fire at our feet.

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A very nice walk after our snow shoeing.

The Mariott has a few restaurants and we ate at two of them; Teca was the high end dining, open for dinner only and Cottages the more casual eatery open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We had a breakfast and a lunch at Cottages and the food was not overly impressive, although we met the loveliest server, Chris. The Mariott has a trading program that the allows employees to migrate to a location of choice for a short time, so Chris traveled from Barbados to Muskoka for the winter months (why, you might ask) and then in the summer he’ll head back to his regular job in Barbados! Chris truly made our experience so lovely.

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For one dinner we shared the small portion charcuterie ($24). It was enough for dinner, breakfast the following day and an hors d’œuvres. Really good value and very tasty.

As for amenities, this Mariott has several pools but only one was open for the winter; they also have a great gym which we made good use of.

Other than a slight hick-up (someone forgot their swimsuit — me) we had an amazing time. I would surely recommend this Mariott no matter what time of year, but particularly in winter for it’s gorgeous scenery and cosy fireplace rooms. I will caution you that the small store has a few swimsuits but they are not great nor are they cheap. We ended up heading into Bracebridge the closest large town and I picked up a bathing suit bottom (for $5) and used my workout top as my swimsuit top. Not perfect, but not bad either. I just didn’t want to spend money on something I already had several off.

Overall rating of The JW Marriott, Lake Rosseau (in my opinion): Decor 4.5/5, service 4/5, food 4/5, Value 3/5, Noise: 2/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet) the noise was rated on Saturday night.

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

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Thank you Barb, your anniversary post inspired JT and I to make our way to Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL) this past Christmas for a quick holiday. We stayed at Harbour House a relatively new boutique hotel just off the beaten path in NOTL.  We stayed at this place shortly after it first opened 8-10 years ago and it was lovely, this time was no different. JT booked us into a gorgeous room with a fireplace and we were upgraded to a suite — now that’s sweet!

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The living room with fireplace

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Very spacious

A festive touch in our room

A festive touch in our room

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The bedroom

A large jacuzzi tub, separate shower, double sink, what more could you want? Heated floors.

A large jacuzzi tub, separate shower, double sink, what more could you want? Heated floors.

We arrived on Boxing day (December 26) with no weather issues at all, which was a little surprising since they had predicted a bad storm to come through and dump 30cm (12 inches) of snow in the area. We waited and waited and eventually it did snow, but not nearly as much as predicted. NOTL is a picturesque village with nice restaurants, quaint shops and lovely homes, some of which have been converted to B&Bs. It is also very close to Ontario’s Wine Country.

We ate lunch at the Oban Inn, which is always a treat with lovely views of their manicured gardens. We shared the Dungeness Crab Cakes with Micro Greens, Horseradish Espresso Remoulade, Grilled Pineapple Salsa ($16). For my main I enjoyed Icewine Salmon Gravlax, Carrot Slaw, Citrus Creme Fraiche ($12) it was delicious. JT had the quiche with field greens. I would recommend this restaurant highly. Service was also excellent.

Dinner our first night was at Zee’s a restaurant in The Shaw Club a sister hotel. We shared the Cheese and Charcuterie platter with 5 items for $25. On it was TIGER BLUE rich, aromatic with an intense blue flavour, in the style of stilton, ROARING 40’S BLUE cow’s milk, full flavoured blue with a honeyed, slightly nutty quality, rindless, smooth and creamy and a cheddar which they had to substitute. The Charuterie portion was made up of HOT SOPRESATTA from the Calabria Region, red wine, chili spices and salt, texture of prosciutto, robust and spicy and CHORIZO blend of pork, pork fat, smoked dried paprika, distinct smoke flavour, cured and smoked and neither of these impressed us either, not spicy or smokey tasting. JT had the Nova Scotia Lobster Poutine which included house cut fries, a generous serving of butter poached lobster, white cheddar cheese curds, red wine veal jus and a home made hollandaise sauce. JT’s meal was excellent, although it would not have been something I would order. I had the Warm Mushroom & Smoked Bacon Salad with Whipped Goat Cheese, Sautéed Mushrooms & Smoked Bacon, Parsnip Chips & Apple Cider Vinaigrette ($10) and sadly it was neither warm nor did it have many mushrooms, so even at the low price of $10 it was disappointing.

Our hotel included a wonderful breakfast both days, made of a hot egg dish, pastries, cheeses, meats, scones, preserves, yogurt and fruit. There was also cereal, but who eats cereal on their vacation? Let’s just say we didn’t leave hungry! Our first full day we decided to brave the weather and head down to Niagara Falls, NY to do a little shopping at Walden Galleria which turned out to be nothing special. Lunch was at Bravo Italian Cucina which I suspect is a chain. We both had the soup and salad combo; I had the Italian Wedding soup but was lacking in flavour and JT had the Lobster Bisque which had good lobster flavour but was too creamy for my taste. Our waiter was very talkative and we enjoyed the interaction. Would I go back? Doubt it, nothing special. We returned to NOTL by way of the Rainbow bridge and although we both now have Nexus, I prefer to go the human route when we buy things outside of the allowances. With both cases you must declare what you bring in, but at least the human factor gives us the possibility of not having to pay the taxes and duty on the items (free trade my foot). And this time the lady clearing us in chastised me for not buying enough! Go figure.

That night we ate at the Cannery another sister hotel/restaurant. This is a slightly larger hotel catering to more family style stays. Most of the restaurants in NOTL are casual, so for the most part people don’t really dress up but JT and I always do! I started with Sea Scallops which were Seared Sea Scallops, Petite Village Salad, Seedlings, Smoked Paprika Oil  ($18) it was delicious (I didn’t take photos because it was too dark), JT had the caesar salad. My main course was an appetizer portion of Spicy Udon Noodles which were Tapioca Noodles, Spicy Yuzu Sesame Sauce, Pork Dumplings, Shiitake Mushrooms Prawns, Matchstick Vegetables ($15) again, delicious and a perfect portion for me! JT had the appetizer portion of the Tagliatelle Pasta which was Semolina Broad Noodles, Pulled Braised Lamb, Wild Mushrooms, Truffle Paste, Asiago Shards ($15); we both enjoyed our meals. Having said that, the overall impression is kind of Cracker Barrel style decor, bright lighting and not much cozy ambiance.

Our final lunch was at an old favourite at On the Twenty in Jordan, Ontario a short drive from NOTL and an exceptional restaurant which is connected to Cave Spring Cellars an award winning winery. We ate a lovely table overlooking their perennial gardens which were romantically blanketed with snow. I started with Heirloom Beet Salad of smoked goat cheese, Dave Irish’s breakfast radish, pickled red onion, pistachio brittle, honey mandarin vinaigrette ($12) and JT had the butternut squash soup ($10) and both were exceptional. I then had the Vintner’s Platter in-house smoked salmon, pâté en croute, house-made mustard, pickles, charcuterie, artisanal cheese ($19) which could have easily been shared and JT had the Grilled Venison Burger with Juniper berry-infused tomato relish, feta cheese aioli, baby arugula, fresh-cut fries, house-made ketchup ($17) which was OUTSTANDING. We each had an espresso for dessert. Service is always exceptional and the ambiance is lovely. If you ever come up to this area, you must dine at On the Twenty.

View from our room.

View from our room.

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It’s these friendly touches that make this hotel

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A delicious cookie for each of us.

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It’s all in the details

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Each evening between 4-5:30 wine and cheese were served in the lobby. We gathered to meet the other lovely guests, most of whom were Americans, as far away as Philly.

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Our first lunch was at Oban Inn, these are most delicious crab cakes.

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This was my second course at the Oban, a wonderful Gravlox Salmon, home cured. Most delicious combination of flavours and textures.

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Our last lunch at Inn on the 20, a beet and goats cheese salad with pistachio brittle. Very tasty.

We made our way back home to find our driveway and walkways had been cleared of the massive dump of snow we got while we were away. We really do have the loveliest neighbours.

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The snow in our backyard

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The front yard, still snowing

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