Pumpkin Chili

Last Thursday I used my new crock pot for the first time to make Pumpkin Chili.

1. Does anyone see chili and think, “Yum, that looks appetizing?” Because I know I don’t. Topped with sour cream, cheese and some bacon, sure, that warrants that kind of response but not normally.  I also am not one to love chili but this recipe was so enticing I had to give it a try.

2. I got an ice cream maker last year for my birthday and still have yet to use it. And in August I finally put the bowl in the freezer so I can actually use it. The crock pot however, has already been used. I think this is an improvement and proves that useful is sometime better than fun.

3. When I was a kid, I hated the crock pot. I had a theory that everything that came out of the crock pot was terrible and disgusting. This was obviously not true as my mother is an amazing cook, I was just being a gremlin.

4. I actually didn’t have any of this chili, GC ate all of it (which is perfectly fine and he didn’t eat it all in one sitting so don’t judge him!). GC loved this chili – it was spicy, but not harmfully so. GC is a little bit of a wuss when it comes to spice but he was able to enjoy this, but he was sweating by the end. It had a subtle pumpkin flavour to it; notes of pumpkin rather than a slap to the face with a pie. The beans and ground beef added a heartiness to it, that was warm and comforting. The chili was filling but did not make him feel bloated or uncomfortable. It also kept him full for a long time. A perfect meal to be enjoyed on a cold, rainy day or a hard day at work.

Recipe below the cut and happy munching!

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In case you couldn’t tell, I love my birthday. And I celebrate it a lot, hence the excessive amount of posts related to my birthday and food. My birthday celebrations started on October 11th, with my actual birthday being on October 16th, and the last celebration will be on October 23rd. Ridiculous I know, but it is once a year so why not make a fuss about it!

For dinner on my birthday GC and I went to Fishbar, a seafood tapas restaurant located at Dundas and Ossington. I first came across Fishbar on our first visit to this area for burgers at BQM and have been craving it ever since. My birthday seemed like the perfect opportunity to give it a try.

Fishbar has a fantastic look, starting with its logo: a simple fish skeleton. It is slightly creepy but simple, and with the promise of you getting every drop of sweet, flaky fish.

The restaurant features a long wall of exposed brick, which adds warmth and a touch of rusticness. The flooring is tile that has been weathered and treated to look like it has been there for years and has been tread on by thousands of people. Our favourite feature was a series of mirrors that were actually convex parking garage mirrors that reflected the scene of the restaurant. The back wall featured an extensive wine collection and served as art itself with its simplicity and sparkle. Behind the bar there were framed anatomical photos of seafood which illustrated the science behind the deliciousness you were enjoying. The design of this restaurant was cozy, but sophisticated and upscale. I felt so comfortable and at home, which is a great feeling to have before enjoying an amazing meal.

We started off with drinks. GC ordered a Quebec beer and I ordered what was their take on a classic Caesar.

So I can now officially get behind Caesar’s. This is the third one I have had and I loved #’s 2 and 3. Spicy, thick and a fresh taste like a summer garden, I loved it. The shrimp garnish of this Caesar was a thing of beauty all on its own. It was meaty, thick and fresh and the spiciness of the horseradish contrasted the fruity notes of the shrimp. The horseradish was freshly grated, spicy but tasty. A cocktail is a must at this restaurant.

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Toronto Food Truck Lot – October 16

For lunch on my birthday I went to Toronto’s Food Truck Lot with my sister, Theresa.

The Toronto Food Truck lot is located at Yonge and Goulde, near Ryerson University. This is a convenient walk or subway ride away from my work and therefore could be trouble. The lot has room for 5 or 6 trucks that rotate on a daily basis and when we went on Tuesday the following trucks were there: Pretty Sweet Cupcakes, Food Cabbie, Per Se, Caplansky’s, Buster’s Sea Cove and Hula Girl Espresso.

Theresa and I probably should have been adventurous and tried something new but we couldn’t resist the lobster rolls from Buster’s Sea Cove. They were delicious as always and perfect with every bite. Next time, I promise, I will order the tacos…

I did, however, try Pretty Sweet Cupcakes.

I love the design on this truck. It is whimsical and playful. I love the combination of teal and pink, it is retro without being dated. I ordered the Pumpkin Spice cupcake – I wanted to compare it to my own recipe.

1. In a Toronto Life article I read, they claimed that each cupcake had its icing freshly piped on top of the cake and this did not happen. When I read that I thought it was an incredibly ambitious idea because piping bags can be finicky and if icing get slightly warm it can become unmanageable. I do not fault them for not piping to order. If I had a truck, I wouldn’t do it either.

2. Is it just me or does it look like there was something ripped off the top of my cupcake? Or that it was smushed into something? Either way I’m not happy about it. The icing was far too sweet. You didn’t get that rich cream cheese flavour but rather a faint, chalky taste. It was incredibly disappointing. Part of the reason one eats pumpkin, carrot or red velvet cake is for the cream cheese icing.

3. The cake was incredibly moist but it didn’t have a strong enough pumpkin or spice flavour. Part of the problem with seasonal flavours is that is is hard to perfect a recipe when you only get a few months a year and you might only get to make the recipe once. This was a decent cupcake and I would try other flavours from this truck and I would suggest you do too!

The food truck lot is amazing and I would suggest you visit. There wasn’t a ton of people there and we only had to wait a few minutes for our food. Our only complaint was that there was no seating options but this is a consistent complaint with food events.

Get out while the weather is still nice and support local food trucks! Happy munching!

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

My 24th birthday was on Tuesday and I made myself some pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. No, it’s not sad that I made myself cupcakes for my own birthday because I did have offers from my wonderful friends. I love baking so I wanted to make something for myself!

I was inspired by the pumpkins that I walk by every morning on my way to the subway. No, I do not live next to a magical pumpkin patch, just a grocery store.

Although these gorgeous little pumpkins were my inspiration, I did not buy a pumpkin pie pumpkin to make my cupcakes, i just used canned pumpkin. I find the idea of using a real pumpkin incredibly daunting and a lot of work. But maybe I shouldn’t let my laziness prevent me from using a real pumpkin in my baking and cooking.

My canned pumpkin resulted in these cupcakes:

1. These cupcakes had a well balanced medley of spices (ginger, cinnamon, ground cloves and nutmeg). It wasn’t overpowering but added the right amount of warmth to make you feel like you were cozy in a pair of sweatpants.

2. They were slightly dry which was surprising due to the amount of pumpkin. This was a complaint that no one shared with me though so maybe I would just being nit picky.

3. This cream cheese icing is amazing. It is incredibly smooth and creamy. It is not chalky or overly sugary. This icing would make everything better.

4. I used various Halloween sprinkles (orange and black, and shapes of ghosts, pumpkins and bats) and wrappers even though I don’t like combining my birthday with Halloween. That is one of the problems with an autumn birthday, it just naturally becomes associated with Halloween and the flavours and colours of Halloween.

Recipe (from Martha Stewart) below the cut. Happy munching and happy birthday to me!

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Canadiana and La Carnita

Tonight I found myself in Little Italy. First, I went to a screening of the two new Heritage Minutes at The Royal with my sister Liz. This was a great event – a free Isaac Brock shirt, a free DVD of all the old Heritage Minutes and two new minutes about the War of 1812. I love Canada and I love history.

And I also love food. After the event, Liz and I went to La Carnita and Liz’s friend Laura joined us. We each ordered three tacos:

1. Liz had 2 Crispy Avocado and Frijoles and 1 Special

2. Laura had 1 In Cod We Trust, 1 Crispy Avocado and Frijoles and 1 Special

3. I had 1 In Cod We Trust, 1 Special and 1 Beef Cheek Taco. The beef cheek taco was on special during one of my previous visits and it looks like it has permanently made it way onto the menu.

The Crispy Avocado & Frijoles taco: beans, crispy avocados, chipotle sauce, queso fresco, and cilantro.

The girls liked these tacos: to quote Liz they were “omg yums.” Crispy, spicy and the perfect size to balance and hold all the flavours. This is a taco I have yet to try and I contemplated ordering it tonight but I had to opt for meat. Next time, I promise. There is something about a deep fried avocado that I find incredibly intriguing.

The Special – a blend of mushrooms with cheese and hot sauce in a hard shell taco.

This taco was amazing! I think this might be my favourite taco I have had at La Carnita. Sorry In Cod We Trust, you have some competition. The hard shell was still tender and soft, but firm enough to support all that goodness. The blend of mushrooms were hearty and almost had the texture of meat. They were caramalized and juicy, but retained their earthiness. The cheese was melted to resemble a cream cheese, but still slightly stringy. The hot sauce was hot and zesty, it took the mellowness of the mushroom and cheese up a notch. The greens were a nice touch of freshness. I hope this taco has the same luck as the Beef Cheek and graces the menu permanently.

I didn’t post my pictures of the In Cod We Trust and the Beef Cheek because you have all seen them before. If you want to see them again, I would suggest you visit La Carnita, it’s obviously worth it.

We finished off our meal with churros. It was Laura’s first taste of churros and she loved them. The combination of cinnamon sugar and salted caramel was perfect for her – not too overwhelming or sweet. A delicate balance between sweet and savoury. Yums as always.

Happy munching!

Hangover Brunch – Stockyards

After a night of karaoke on Friday night, a greasy and hearty breakfast was needed the next morning.

I ordered the Stockyard Breakfast Sandwich.

The Stockyard – a deep fried poached egg with Stockyard bacon, country sage sausage and aged cheddar on a buttermilk biscuit.

I had a moment of indecision when asked if I wanted bacon OR sausage on my sandwich so our server allowed me to have both. The poached egg was sweet and creamy. The yolk just oozed out and drowned all the fatty goodness of this sandwich. I would suggest getting the sausage over the bacon. The bacon is too fatty and tough. The biscuit is like a cloud – so billowy and soft and buttery.

You can’t go to Stockyards for brunch without someone ordering fried chicken and waffles so obviously GC did.

Fried chicken over Belgian waffles with chili maple molasses citrus glaze.

Mega yums as always at Stockyards.


Food Trucks for Sinai

Mount Sinai’s latest fundraising campaign is The Chef’s Challenge: The Ultimate Battle for the Cure. Over the next three weeks (the first event was this past Friday – October 12) food trucks will be parked in the Mount Sinai parking lot selling their goodies and giving a portion of their sales to the hospital in search for a cure for cancer. The final event will be a chefs challenge at the Royal York featuring Food Network chefs like Chuck Hughes and David Rocco. An amazing cause with amazing food, how can you not get behind this charity?

Friday at lunch found me at Mount Sinai in the parking lot. The signage for this event could be slightly better – it is in the parking lot on Murray Street but it is around an awkward corner. The best way to track down these trucks is to enter from Orde Street rather than from around Mount Sinai.

There are tents set up selling tickets at the entrance of the event. Each ticket is $10 and each truck has 2 or 3 ticketed items. Using one ticket, you get one menu item as well as making a donation to the hospital. I don’t know the percentage breakdown but I assume it is profitable for both the hospital and the trucks. Each truck also has items that don’t require a ticket and are therefore less expensive.

There were three trucks participating on Friday – Dobro Jesti, Blue Donkey and The Food Dudes. I decided to try Blue Donkey since they have been around forever and somehow I have never tried them. This was poor planning on my part because Blue Donkey will be back at this event again, but The Food Dudes (another truck I have yet to try) will not.

I ordered the Chicago-Style Chicken Gyro from Blue Donkey. Oh, and of course, it’s not a day at a food truck event without a risotto ball from Dobro Jesti.

The Chicago Style Chicken Gyro with tomato, tzatziki, french fries and cheese, served either mild or spicy. I ordered it spicy because A) I was assured it wouldn’t burn my face off and B) I wanted to ensure I got the most flavour I could. And yes, I ate this on the subway on my way back to work.

As blasphemous as it may be, I am not a huge fan of Greek food. If you have a Greek restaurant or recipe that will completely blow and change my mind, please let me know. I love tzatziki, cucumber, olives and tomatoes, so I have the foundation for loving Greek food, I just don’t think I have found my restaurant or recipe yet.

That all being said, I enjoyed this gyro. And here is why:

1. The pita was fluffy and airy, yet substantial and strong enough to be the foundation for this stuffed wrap.

2. The chicken was so perfectly seasoned and spiced. At first, I was thinking to myself this isn’t spicy but by the end of the gyro I was delightfully numb. The spices used on the chicken tasted exactly like a Portuguese chorizo sausage. As soon as a pinpointed the flavour I was ecstatic. The gyro is worth it for this flavour alone.

3. The tzatziki could have had a stronger, cucumber flavour. It was more sour cream then anything else.

4. I can’t get behind the french fries in the gyro. I don’t know what that is about. I think they are going for a balance of textures and trying to accomplish something crispy and crunchy but it did not work for me. I am not a huge french fry fan so maybe that was part of it but I think it was more the fact that it was incredibly random and unnecessary. I applaud them for trying something new and fresh but I would have much preferred that crunch to come from cucumber.

5. I think the gyro could have used more garlic, red onion, cucumber and tomato. Because of the strong (yet amazing!) flavours from the chicken i think the rest of the ingredients found in the gyro was slightly overpowered and washed out.

I know from the above comments it sounds like I didn’t enjoy this gyro but I really did. It was a delightful surprise for a Friday afternoon and it put me in a strong food drunk that sustained me through the rest of the work day. I would try this truck again (maybe the Greek poutine next time!) and I would suggest it to other people.

Next week Mount Sinai will be featuring the gastronomic stylings of  Rome ‘N Chariot and Stuft, two trucks you won’t want to miss. So get out there and support local business and the hospital!

Happy munching!


This week’s date night: Lucien on Wednesday night.

Located on Wellington Street, just east of Yonge Street, Lucien attracts the more sophisticated, financial crowd after work. Of all the restaurants located along Wellington, Lucien was the most empty right at 5 o’clock  on a Wednesday night (which is maybe why they had a Groupon promotion which we participated in) but as we were leaving around 6:30/7 o’clock it started to fill up.

The interior was sleek and modern, with rough, rustic touches like the chandelier. The white subway tile reflected everything in the restaurant. The bar housed an extensive collection of wine and other alcohols. There was one television in the restaurant, located behind the bar, which was tuned into the baseball game. Since it is the World Series, and the Yankees are playing, this is something I can forgive for the moment but it slightly ruined the atmosphere of sophistication and class.

The menu is a classic Italian and French cuisine, updated for a more modern palate. It is slightly pricey but it is not surprising given the location and crowd that would frequent the establishment.

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