Front Street Food

Last summer Front Street Foods launched outside of Union Station. It was a giant food market with various vendors that served all the tastes of Toronto conveniently in the Financial District. But it was not so convenient for me who spent part of last summer in exile at Eglinton and Mount Pleasant *shudder* and the remainder of the summer at Yonge and Bloor. I was so excited to hear that the market was back this summer but in a new location: a courtyard at Adelaide and York. Last week Giancarlo and I had a lunch date and went over to the market to check it out.

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The market is not in the greatest spot and you won’t randomly stumble across. It is up a flight of stairs and tucked in between two office towers and a hotel. But once you arrive at the market, healing it is like stepping into a city oasis. You are greeted with a large sign encouraging you to eat in large marquee letters. There are dozens of picnic tables, high tables for standing and trees to provide ample shade. We did a quick circle around the market and decided on two options: Hot Bunzz Street Cuisine and Fish’d by Edo.

IMG_6678We ordered the Seoul City Beef Short Rib and the Texas BBQ Pulled Pork bun from Hot Bunzz Street Cuisine.

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Left: The Seoul City Beef Short Rib bun with slow braised beef short rib Kobi style with caramelized onion; topped with kimchi puree, sesame soy sauce and garlic aioli.

Right: The Texas BBQ Pulled Pork bun with pulled slow roasted pork with caramelized onion, herbs and spices; topped with chef’s Pork BBQ sauce and coleslaw aioli.

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Verjus – Paris 2016

When you visit Paris, patient the restaurant choices are overwhelming. There are literally thousands of restaurants and they are all good. Or at least as a traveller to the city you think they are all good. Everyone you know who has visited the city will have a different list of about ten restaurants “you HAVE to try” and of course, they are in neighbourhoods that are not remotely close to you or anything you want to see. Then you foolishly think, “Ok. Let me look up restaurants with Michelin stars.” Don’t do that. It is the most futile Google search you will ever perform and you will depress yourself as you don’t have hundreds of euros to spend on lunch to go to somewhere with 1-Michelin star let alone something with 3-stars which the official definition is “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.” It is overwhelming, daunting and borderline annoying to plan meals in Paris.

However, one meal that was easy to plan was our dinner at Verjus. I learned about Verjus while watching The Getaway, a show by ESPN that features B-list actors and their favourite weekend getaways. Paris is the city of choice for Aisha Tyler. In the episode she eats at a few wine bars (Frenchie which was unfortunately missed on this trip) but Verjus really stood out for me. It is run by an American couple who are part of a change that is happening in Paris about how people view food and restaurants. It began as a wine bar with tasting plates or petits plats (which sounds so much daintier than tapas or sharing plates) and has expanded into a full-on restaurant with a tasting menu and a second restaurant called Ellsworth.

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To get to Verjus we entered through an alleyway called Passage de Beaujolais. We were early for our reservation so we wandered through the short alley and down the stairs that took us street level to a whole other world. From there we could see that Verjus is located in an old, 3-storey, very typically Parisian building that is across the street from the Théâtre du Palais-Royal. We felt like we were transported back in time to the 18th century. We meandered through the archways of the théâtre and discovered the beautiful gardens of the Palais-Royal with its wild rose bushes and fountains. As dusk began to fall we headed back to the restaurant to enjoy our dinner.

The tasting menu was 10 courses for 76€ with wine pairings for an addition 55€. We decided to go for it with the wine pairing because who knows when you will be back in Paris eating a tasting menu at an amazing restaurant because you won a free trip? And yes, for those of you doing the math, this meal was almost $400 Canadian, making it one of the most expensive meals I have ever had.

We were seated at a small table close to the entrance and the stairway leading upstairs. I was more than ok with this because it allowed us to be surrounded by windows offering views of the streets below and an opportunity to take a peek at upcoming courses as they whipped their way upstairs.

We started with a course featuring three different appetizers that were all served with a sparkling white wine, Catherine & Pierre Breton’s Vouvray Pétillant “La Dilettante”

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Violet asparagus, with sorrel mayo and wood sorrel.

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Fava bean fritter with herb tahini.

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Trout roe, with house yogurt, on a flatbread topped with arugula.

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October 11, 2014.

After 7 and a half years of dating, GC and I tied the knot on October 11th, 2014. The weather was gorgeous: it was sunny, clear and crisp. It was the perfect fall day. Our ceremony took place in the gardens at the Columbus Center, an Italian community center close to our house that GC took various lessons and classes at as a child.

audrey&giancarlo0217I walked down the aisle with both of my parents to “We’re Going to Be Friends” by the White Stripes, a song that encapsulates our relationship as more than just boyfriend and girlfriend but as best friends and falling in love as kids in university.

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Mata Petisco Bar

My latest list of brunch suggestions I am working from is BlogTO’s Top 25 New Brunch in Toronto by Neighbourhood. There is some overlap between this list and their Best New Brunch Restaurants in Toronto, 2014 but what I like about this list is by organizing it by neighbourhood, you can plan a whole day in a new neighbourhood and start it with brunch. And as we all know, brunch, not breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

A few weeks ago, we headed to Parkdale to check out Mata Petisco Bar.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetMata is a Brazilian restaurant that serves both brunch and dinner, combining the flavours of Brazil with Spanish and Portuguese food. The atmosphere is South American industrial/cozy: natural materials, industrial siding, custom lighting, antique tiles and beer posters. It has the trappings of a dive bar but in stylistic and hipster way.

We were seated at a table with banquette seating on one side and brightly coloured chairs on the other side. Vintage cartoons were being projected on the wall and paired with coffee, this was the perfect grownup Saturday morning.

At the table is an assortment of pickled peppers and hot sauces. Mata orders different varieties of chili peppers from Brazil and South America and then pickle them in house. From the pickled peppers they make their own hot sauces. The hot sauces and peppers range from a touch of pepper to your face will be on fire. Learning that Mata puts the time and attention to detail into their condiments made me very excited to taste what else they had one offer.

We started with an order of Croquettes.

FullSizeRenderCroquettes served with a cumari pepper aioli.

These are delicious! They taste exactly like the croquettes we had in Portugal. The fish was flaky, light and buttery and the outside is fried to give you the most satisfying crunch with every bite. The cumari pepper aioli is slightly sweet with a slow burn that gradually builds as you munch. If you don’t like heat, you will like this aioli.

GC ordered Chorizo Breakfast Sandwich.IMG_3490The Chorizo Breakfast Sandwich with grilled chorizo, scrambled eggs, malagueta pepper aioli, mozzarella, arugula, and served with salad and cassava frites.

This is a delicious sandwich but it is slightly on the small side. The main component of a dish should not be overwhelmed by the sides.

The chorizo is spicy and juicy. The pepper aioli adds another level of spice that compliments the chorizo and rounds out the flavour across the entire sandwich. The mozzarella adds a creamy, buttery taste to the sandwich. The arugula adds a crisp tartiness and freshness to finish off the sandwich.

I ordered the Smoked Beef Cheek Benedict and obviously I ordered a side of chorizo.IMG_3492The Smoked Beef Cheek Benedict with brioche, poached eggs, hollandaise, and served with salad and cassava frites.

The chorizo is great. It is spicy and peppery and completely juicy. Even though it is sliced throughout to aid in the cooking process, it is not dried out. There is the hint of charring on each incision, giving that taste of summer so easily associated with barbeque. It is easily comparable to the sausages we ate in Spain last fall.

This is one of the best Benedicts I have had. The brioche is airy and buttery, but substantially sliced. The beef cheek is tender, moist and has so much flavour with each bite. It is seasoned, peppery and a little sweet. The eggs ooze all over the beautiful pile of meat and bread they sit on and blend with the lemony hollandaise as they pool together over everything.

Cassava frites are a thing of beauty in their own right. Cassava has a grainy texture, similar to a parsnip, creating an earthy, rustic texture that gives the entire dish a more home-cooked feel. The cassava adds a level of authenticity to the dish.

Mata has classic brunch dishes with a South American flare to them. It goes beyond your regular menu adaptation and brings you something truly, unique, something you won’t find at any other restaurant in the city. I would highly recommend going, ordering some coffee and chorizo, and enjoying the vintage cartoons.

Big Crow

You know those friends you haven’t seen in forever but when you finally meet up you pick up where you left off and it is the most natural thing? I had a dinner like that last week. Last week I met up with my friend Laura and we went from dinner at Big Crow.

Big Crow is by the same guys who do Rose & Sons, and for those of you who don’t remember, I did not enjoy my experience there. Despite this, I was eager to try Big Crow. I was intrigued by what they were doing there: a patio only restaurant, cooking up barbeque at the back of an existing restaurant.

When we arrived, we were quickly seated at a picnic table close to the smoker where we could watch all the action. The result of this was my hair smelling of bonfire by the end of the night which I did not mind. That is one of my favourite smells in the world. We started with a pitcher of Algonquin Iced Tea which is their spin on the classic Long Island Iced Tea. It has vodka, gin, tequila, rum, blackstrap bitters, and ginger beer. It was delicious.

Next, we had the All Beef Verscht.Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset All Beef Verscht with apricot glaze and mustard.

This was basically Montreal smoke meat style barbeque so it was obviously delicious. The meat was smoky, fatty and charred nicely. The apricot glaze was sweet and thick, smothered over the meat and complimenting the richness of the meat. The mustard was spicy and grainy, a nice balance to the sweetness of the glaze.

Then, we ordered the JW Bird.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetThe JW Bird – Cornish hen with sour pickle brine and salsa verde.

DELICIOUS. This hen was so incredibly moist. It was juicy and tender. The skin was crispy and kept all the juicy goodness inside. There was a slight sourness from the brine but it did not overwhelm the bird and make you think of pickles. The salsa verde was fresh and light. It added a different type of crunch to the bird.

We ordered sides of Picnic Potato Salad and Mexican Broccoli Salad.IMG_0919The Picnic Potato Salad with buttermilk ranch dressing, eggs and asparagus.

This potato salad was good. The dressing was light and thin, but it was slathered on a bit too heavily. The potatoes and asparagus were tender and retained a slight bit of crunch. I don’t typically like egg in my potato salad but this egg was in small chunks throughout the salad, giving a bit of smoothness and thickness to the salad. And it would be easy enough to recreate at home! Yums.IMG_0922The Mexican Broccoli salad with pepitas, tomato and avocado.

Broccoli salad is so underrated! Barbeques are fraught with pasta, bean and potato salads but rarely does the broccoli salad make an appearance. This was delightful. It was fresh and with different flavours then what filled the rest of the menu. The pepitas, a Spanish word for pumpkin seeds, were nutty, crunchy and completely tasty. These should be sprinkled on everything. Again, this would be such an easy salad to recreate at home for your own barbeque.

And lastly, we finished off with the S’mores Ice Cream Sandwich.IMG_0923An ice cream sandwich on a brioche bun?! Heck, yes! The brioche was sweet, fluffy and airy. Due to the sheer size of the bun it overwhelmed the contents of the sandwich.The ice cream was slightly too cold to make biting into the sandwich enjoyable or easy. The graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallow were not incorporated enough into the sandwich to make this truly a s’mores ice cream sandwich. The graham crackers should have been mixed in with the ice cream or sprinkled on top. The chocolate should be a piece of chocolate rather than chocolate sauce.

After tasting this, I plan to get a quart of Greg’s Ice Cream’s Roasted Marshmallow  ice cream and make my own version of a s’mores ice cream sandwich. Or maybe that will be my next ice cream venture – s’mores ice cream. Who’s in?

I loved my meal here. It was fresh, juicy and tasted like summer. I am looking forward to more visits to this back patio, especially when the days of summer are long behind us and our only connection to hot summer nights is food that brings back those memories.

Happy munching!

Chili Con Carne with Garlic Cheddar Biscuits

Every great cook has their own chili recipe. Growing up chili was a staple in our house. Everyone loves chili. Except for me. I don’t like kidney beans. I don’t like their fleshy, grainy textures, their hard exterior or their slightly woody flavour. Because of this, I rarely eat chili. But, unfortunately, I live with someone who loves with chili.

In flipping through the pages of my trusty Williams-Sonoma Soup of the Day I discovered a recipe for Chili Con Carne which, to my delight, does not have kidney beans!!! I know this is something I should have probably known as I claim to love food but I didn’t.

photo 2This is the best chili ever! Huge chunks of tender, juicy meat, spicy and sweet peppers and a mix of amazing spices: chili powder, cumin, coriander and cilantro. It has a great Tex-Mex flavour to it. This chili has a rich, deep flavour and gives off an amazing aroma. It had such an intense smell that a vegetarian coworker admitted how good it smelt! I think if a meat-based meal can make a vegetarian admit that it smells and looks good, then you have a classic, make-again recipe.

And of course, what is chili without biscuits?

photo 1(2)photo 5(1)I made these biscuits as a Sunday morning, stay-in brunch, served with my fluffy scrambled eggs and prosciutto. They are best eaten day of, warm and flaky from the oven. The combination of cheddar, butter and green onion cannot be matched. This is another classic, make-again recipe.

I stumbled across two recipes that are easy and work perfectly together. Both are below the cut – happy munching!

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Soup Round Up II

Another cold day, tadalafil another round up of the soups I have made in the past few weeks. 4 recipes are from the Williams-Sonoma Soup of the Day cookbook, pilule the other is from Chef Michael Smith.

Broccoli Cheddar Soup – January 23 – why eat broccoli soup when you can eat soup with cheese in it? Exactly. This soup still had a strong garden flavour from the broccoli but had tons of creaminess from the cheese. This will likely not become a staple in our house but when I am craving broccoli I will turn to this recipe.

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Cauliflower Roasted Garlic Soup – January 3- this soup was delicious but looked like something out of a Charles Dickens novel, which is why I did not bother to take a picture of it. Coworkers thought I was eating oatmeal. It was gray and sludgy but you need to look past this and enjoy! The strong cauliflower flavour is accented by the rich roasted garlic flavour. The garlic is slightly caramelized and sweet. By roasting the garlic for 45 minutes in the oven, all of the deep-rooted flavours ooze out. My kitchen smelt amazing after this  and could ward off vampires for days to come.

Classic Chicken Noodle Soup – January 10 – why ever use canned chicken noodle soup again when this is so easy? I baked the chicken in the oven for about 20 minutes until it was juicy and cooked through. Then slightly brown the vegetables, toss in the chicken, broth and noodles and wait. It is that easy. The noodles will continue to absorb the broth so you will need to add more the longer the soup sits.photo 4(2)

photo 5French Onion Soup – January 2 – I finally used my 25th birthday gift from GC: French onion soup bowls from Crate & Barrel. This recipe also made me realize something I desperately need for my kitchen: a scale. This recipe calls for 2 ½ lbs of onion but I had to guess and use all the remaining onions I had. A scale would also be good for all the cookbooks I have bought over the years that turn out to be British and use weights as opposed to measurements.

photo 3(2)The most time consuming part of this soup is caramelizing the onions but it is worth it. The onions are sweet and tender delicately floating beneath a sturdy bed of crusty bed and mounds of stringy, Swiss cheese. This soup is my idea of comfort food: warm, flavourful and cheese.

Michael Smith’s Old Fashioned Beef Stew – I like this recipe better than any of the beef stews I have made from my trusty Williams-Sonoma cookbook. The stew is thicker and has a huge range of flavours from the combinations of vegetables (parsnips, carrots, celery, potatoes, onions and peas) seasonings (rosemary, and bay leaf) and of course, red wine. This stew is substantial and filling, the perfect lunch on a cold, February day.

Recipes for the first 4 soups are below the cut. Happy munching and slurping!

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Happy New Year!

Food brings people together. It can create an atmosphere of comfort, viagra nostalgia and family. Food is an essential part of any occasion, look celebration or holiday. This year, for the first time in a long time, I celebrated Chinese New Year.

As a kid, Chinese New Year was always spent ordering take-out from my family’s favourite Chinese restaurant in Newmarket, 4 Seasons. It was not traditional Chinese food by any means but it was as authentic and ethnic as Newmarket used to be back then. 4 Seasons is still some of my favourite comfort food. This food, although greasy and absolutely terrible for us, always brought my family together and is still a staple when someone is returning home after a long time away.

Chinese New Year this year was spent with part of my Toronto family – GC and Cynthia. Cynthia suggested we try to ring in the New Year at Mother’s Dumplings. Unsurprisingly, much of the city had the same idea and the restaurant was packed. Although it is disappointing to arrive at a restaurant and be denied because they are full, there is something that makes me smile to think of a room of people all enjoying and sharing in delicious food.

We wandered down Spadina and found our way into Pho Hung. Yes, we do realize that pho is Vietnamese and not Chinese but it is commonly referred to as Asian New Year and one of Cynthia’s requirements for properly celebrating is having noodles. IMG_5364I had never had pho before. I had avoided Vietnamese food due to their need to sprinkle, dip and fry everything in peanuts (in some form or another). If you have the unfortunate luck like me to have a severe peanut allergy, Pho Hung is a place that you can try Vietnamese food. The menu is clear and explicit about what items feature peanuts and in what capacity. The staff speaks very good, clear English and your allergies and limitations can easily be conveyed. Of course, like all restaurants, there is always the possibility of cross-contamination and traces but as a food lover, this is a risk I take. Note: I am fairly diligent and careful about my allergies but I could definitely but better about it. Unfortunately, I can be cavalier and let my love of food cloud my judgment.

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Soup, soup, soup and more soup

We all know that the weather is getting colder, icier and snowier and therefore, you need more soup recipes. Below are four more soup recipes to help you get through winter (of course, all from Williams-Sonoma Soup of the Day).

The Roasted Squash soup is a different way to make your traditional butternut squash soup: instead of browning the vegetables in the pot you roast them first. This brings out a stronger squash flavour and retains the natural fibrous texture of the squash.

The Vegetable Barley soup is a great way to use up vegetables in your fridge and is hearty. I officially love barley and would like to make more soups with barley.

photo 1The Broccoli soup with Parmesan-Lemon Frico. Broccoli and cheese, does it get much better than that? I didn’t make the parmesan-lemon frico (not included in the recipe below) so I can’t speak to that but next time I will and it will add a lemony, cheesy deliciousness to this soup. This soup has texture and thickness from the broccoli and has that grainy, foliage quality that the florets of broccoli have.

The Weeknight Hungarian Beef Stew is a simple, less time consuming goulash and what could be better than that?

Recipes are below the cut – happy munching!

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Goulash

November 19th’s soup: Goulash

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IMG_4861 This is hearty, and warm soup with a hint of spice that warms my Eastern-European soul. The meat is tender and falls apart. The vegetables retain a bit of crunch, but are still delicate enough to be sliced with a spoon. The best part of this soup is how the longer it sits, the more intense and combined the flavours become. The meat becomes more and more infused with flavours and the whole soup becomes so much more cohesive, the flavours becoming more combined but still distinct.

This soup is simple but intense, filling and full of flavour. Recipe is below the cut!

Happy munching!

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