Niagara-on-the-Lake 2016

A few weeks ago we had a belated one-year anniversary brunch with my parents in Niagara. The reason we were about 6 months behind was because in the fall JDL had his knee replaced and then who wants to go to Niagara in the winter?

The day started with a visit to Southbrook Vineyards, Canada’s first bio-dynamic winery. We tasted a flight of four different wines, two whites and two reds, each highlighting the unique growing conditions and techniques at Southbrook. Our server was incredibly knowledgeable, having studied cuisine and wine at Niagara College. He was well spoken on the interplay between wine and food, something I completely lack and admire in other people.

After a few tastes of wine, we headed over to Trius Winery for our celebratory brunch. The brunch at Trius is a three-course tasting menu with the option to pair each course with wine as selected by the restaurant. Mom, being the classy and knowledgeable person she is, made her choices based on the wine; everyone else made their choices based on the food.

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The dining room at Trius has been recently redone, featuring bold furniture in yellows and reds. The main dining room features huge spherical light fixtures that resemble fireworks exploding in a night sky. The dining rooms open out onto a patio which overlooks the vineyards. In early April this is not quiet the focal point that it is in the summer. We were seated in the back of the restaurant, which was a little more private and with a view of the courtyard and vineyards.

After we were seated, we were immediately greeted with glasses of Trius Brut Rosé – all brunches should start with pink bubbly. It should be noted that this is apparently supposed to serve as a palate cleanser between courses and should last the length of your meal, not gulped down shortly after the first course like mine was. Oops. It was just too tasty to not enjoy that quickly.

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Lisa Marie

What is the only way to make my favourite meal better? Add some of my favourite people. A few weeks ago we went for brunch to Lisa Marie with Le Faz and Jamie.

Before we arrived, I was already in love. We had stumbled across another brunch place that takes reservations. Squeezing in two people for brunch is no problem but four can get tricky. When it comes to brunch, I like rules, regulations and order. Abiding by these things ensures that I get tasty food quickly. When we arrived, we learned we didn’t need reservations, the restaurant didn’t fill up until we were leaving. Oh well.

The restaurant is hip and simple. The walls are painted with various Elvis murals and of course, there is an Elvis bust behind the bar. The seating is a combination of bar seating, high tables and regular tables with benches. Overall, the restaurant is sleek and modern with the right hint of hipster pretension.

GC ordered the Bacon Explosion Benedict.

IMG_2562Two smoked and grilled bacon explosion patties topped with 2 poached eggs, jalapeño hollandaise sauce and served on brioche bread with a side of Dijon and duck fat home fries.

Obviously someone at the table had to order something that had two types of bacon weaved together into a thick, heart-stopping patty. GC wolfed this down so I did not get a taste but I will take that as a good indication of it’s deliciousness and quality. The only criticism was that the bun was significantly larger than the pork patties but this is probably a good thing. We don’t want GC dying prematurely before 30.

Le Faz ordered the Double Pancake Pork Burger.

IMG_2564Double stacked 4oz pork burgers with pancake buns, lettuce, American cheese and secret sauce with a side of maple syrup.

Jamie and I ordered the Fried Cornish Hen and Corn Bread Waffles.

IMG_2563 IMG_2565Old school battered and fried hen with corn bread jalapeño waffle. Comes with maple syrup and hot sauce. Top with a side of Dijon and duck fat fries, below with a side of pad Thai fries.

Holy yums. Chicken and waffles has become my new favourite brunch item. When I go for brunch I like to order things I won’t make at home and this dish perfectly fits that description.

I loved that instead of the traditional chicken, it was switched up with Cornish hen. It is the perfect size and lends itself so well to being deep fried because it is so tiny and doesn’t take long to crisp up. It was salty, juicy and tender. With a smaller bird, comes more bones which are a slight irritation that can be overlooked when deep fried and smothered in syrup.

The waffle was appropriately sized and didn’t dwarf the already tiny bird. I was happy with the amount of waffle that was included, anything else would have looked ridiculous on the plate and I wouldn’t have been able to finish. This is the best flavoured waffle I have had. The corn bread made the waffle dense and substantial and paired naturally with the jalapeño. The jalapeño added the right amount of spice and flavour without overpowering the waffle and the hen.

This was a delicious brunch and I want to go back for more! Happy munching!

This End Up

Toronto Life’s Eating and Drinking magazine is my bible. It is leafed through, dog-eared, scribbled in and crinkled as I spend a year constantly referencing it and making choices about food. This year’s cover features “The Better Mac” from This End Up.

Eating & Drinking 2011-2015 Obviously as soon as I saw this, I knew I had to eat it. After a yoga session we ventured to Dundas West to see if this really was a better mac.

The Better Mac features fresh ground chuck patties, special sauce, lettuce, choice of American or cheddar cheese, pickles and sweet onion. There was never a question about the combination of ingredients on a Big Mac and whether or not they work together. They obviously do: secret sauce, cheese, lettuce and the double bun.

Secret Sauce: The best part of a Big Mac is the secret sauce. Anything secret automatically tastes better because there is a forbidden quality to it, a never-again attainable moment when you taste deliciousness that you don’t know if you will ever be able to have again. Then there is that moment where it clicks that Mac sauce is obviously 1000 Island dressing, and yet, that doesn’t make it taste any more simple and basic. Mac sauce makes you realize that burgers do not need to be topped with ketchup and that there is an endless possibility of toppings for your burger. Aiolis, chutneys, and spreads are just the beginning on a whole new burger.

Cheese: Despite loving food and my favourite food being cheese, I still eat Kraft Singles. I can’t help it. They are delicious and nostalgic. When I make my own burgers I usually top them with this terrible product. Because of my love for this fake cheese, this has never been a problem for me while eating fast food. The low quality of cheese has never been my sticking point or issue.

Lettuce: My love for Kraft Singles is similar to my love for iceberg lettuce. Although there is almost no flavour or nutrition from iceberg lettuce, I love it. I like how crunchy it is and how refreshing it is to eat. I love it on burgers, tacos and salad. It is the only lettuce I would eat solo. Iceberg lettuce is the only choice for a burger. Everything else has too much vegetable flavour and takes away from the fatty, greasy deliciousness that is a burger.

Double Bun: The double bun truly is a thing of genius. You are essentially eating two burgers but because there is only 1 ½ buns you don’t feel as guilty or glutinous. It doesn’t overwhelm the burger and its topping but serves as a platform for them. It helps create the balance between burger and topping, giving structure and support to the heaviness.

If the above is my love sonnet for the Big Mac, a burger I have eaten on less than 5 occasions, then obviously the Better Mac was going to be just that, better. The science behind the Big Mac is flawless and when you recreate it using high quality, real ingredients the result will be better. The above statements on the ingredients prove truer for the Better Mac. The sauce is better, a homemade style secret sauce, the cheese doesn’t perfectly crease when folded as it is not mostly plastic, the lettuce is as high quality as you can get with iceberg and the bun is actually a bun, not something that has been smushed into bread-shaped submission. However, while eating this, I slightly missed my Big Mac. When I eat a gourmet burger, I want something different; I don’t want to recreate something I can get in almost every country in the world. This is not a slight to the burger. It was delicious but it wasn’t special. I won’t crave it. I won’t want to eat it again. All there is to it is that it is a better Big Mac.One thing I will give it credit for, unlike a Big Mac, the Better Mac does look like it’s photo:

IMG_2431Please no one try and recreate my beloved Chicken McNuggets. Happy munching!

Happy Birthday GC!!!!

Happy, happy birthday to my best friend in the world, GC! Ok, so his birthday was July 3rd and that is when we did celebrate, I am just slightly delayed on the internet celebrations.

My struggle with birthday dinners as someone who loves food is picking a place out of the ordinary, but still with the food and style that I like and with a price tag that shows whoever I am taking out that I love them. Yes, money buys love especially when it is buying fancy food. This year’s restaurant that satisfied all of these requirements: Farmer’s Daughter.

Farmer’s Daughter is latest addition to the Farmhouse Tavern family. As the name suggests, it is more modern, focusing on seafood and is less Ontario-centric. The menus are still seasonal and fresh, but not geographically limited. I absolutely love Farmhouse Tavern (I credit it to having my favourite brunch in the city) so I was eager to try it and so was GC!

We were first seated on the patio but as this summer has been unseasonably cold we moved inside to stay nice and toasty as we enjoyed our meal. The inside is sleek, modern and very simple. My favourite touches: the neon “Fried Shrimp & Friendship” sign, the various food related books on each table and the white board-style bar menu.

Throughout the course of our meal, we each tried two cocktails. I ordered the Tell Tale Heart and the Bruce Banner. GC ordered the Old Cuban and the Summer Sangria.

CocktailsTop left, clockwise: the Tell Tale Heart, the Old Cuban, the Summer Sangria and the Bruce Banner.

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Father’s Day

This year we celebrated Father’s Day with two barbeques: Saturday was spent with GC’s parents and Ninni in our backyard  and Sunday was spent with my family.

Saturday’s menu featured my classic burgers, potato salad and of course, a strawberry rhubarb pie. My burger recipe is simple but delicious. I use ground beef (lean), breadcrumbs, garlic powder, dried onion, oregano, and parsley. My latest change to my recipe is barbeque sauce. The barbeque sauce keeps the burgers moist without making them puff up like an egg will do but still binds the meat together so that they do not fall apart on the grill.

Prior to Father’s Day weekend, I didn’t have a go to potato salad recipe, but now I do. I tried this Yogurt and Dill Potato Salad from The Yummy Life and it is ah-mazing. The combination of mayo and yogurt is light and sweet, making you feel slightly less terrible for eating potato salad. The combination of dill, parsley (fresh from our back garden!), green onion and celery is fresh, summery and light. Make it the night before a big barbeque and enjoy!

GC’s dad’s favourite pie is rhubarb. I am lucky enough that his birthday falls in May and Father’s Day falls in June, prime rhubarb season. Every year I try a new rhubarb recipe and every year his dad loves it. This year, I tried Martha Stewart’s Rhubarb Crumble Pie. IMG_0706 IMG_0716

My crust turned out wonderfully! It was light, flaky and super buttery. The rhubarb was sweet and tart, tender and oozy. The crumble topping was delicious and could have been eaten on its own. Does it get much better then brown sugar, butter and flour? Obviously not. There was a piece left for my mom the next day and it passed her pie taste test so I think my skills as a pie maker are improving!

Sunday we had my sisters and my parents over for Barbeque Part II in the backyard to celebrate JDL. There was bocce, croquet and of course, food. I made Carolina Pulled Pork sandwiches, Yogurt and Dill Potato Salad, Southwestern Black Bean Salad, Pineapple Pink Lemonade Punch and Chocolate Cream Pie.

The Carolina Pulled Pork is one of the easiest things you will ever make! You quickly sear the pork roast on the stove and then pop it in the slow cooker for hours and then impress everyone with your Southern barbeque abilities. It is topped with a creamy, tart coleslaw that is also easy to make. You could be insane and shred all your cabbage yourself or you could just buy your bag of coleslaw mix. The cabbage is topped with a simple dressing. It is not too drenched in mayo, just the right amount. Theresa liked this sandwich so much that she said this sandwich has ruined restaurant pulled pork for her. Sorry!

The Southwestern Black Bean salad is great! It is easy because it is essentially chopping, can opening and stirring. There are so many great textures, colours and flavours to this salad. The avocado is the best part and because of the citrus dressing it doesn’t turn brown and rotten looking. This bean salad was a hit at my barbeque.

Having a large group of people over is a great opportunity to try out a new cocktail or punch. For Father’s Day I made Pineapple Pink Lemonade Party Punch. Literally pour all the ingredients into the pitcher, stir and serve over ice. Oh, and maybe add some rum. I will be keeping my fridge stocked off all these ingredients all summer long.

For dessert we had my favourite s’mores cookie bars and Martha Stewart’s Chocolate Cream Pie. I wasn’t thrilled with how the pie turned out. I omitted the gelatin because it should have firmed up on its own but it didn’t. The slices didn’t come out of the pie dish nicely and it was very messy. It was delicious because it was chocolate custard topped with whipped cream but the presentation wasn’t the greatest. I would not make this recipe again.

Overall, our Father’s Days were a hit! All the above recipes are perfect for any barbeque so you have all summer to try them out! Happy munching!

 

Parts & Labour

Sunday = Brunchday. On June 8th we ventured all the way to West Queen West to munch at Parts & Labour. We had been to Parts & Labour once before, for the Le Faz‘s birthday and fell in love. We had cocktails with bite and danced the night away in the simple, industrial interior. We knew we had to come back for brunch.

GC ordered the P&L Burger.

IMG_0674 The P&L Burger with 7oz of Canadian brisket, dill mayo, bacon-onion jam, Monterey-jack, iceberg lettuce, on a toasted egg bun and served with fries.

I ordered the P&L Full Monte.

IMG_0675 IMG_0676IMG_0678The P&L Full Monte on an egg bun, with country ham, turkey, onion jam, aged cheddar, and a fried egg, served home fries.

When I ordered this, it didn’t occur to me that this was a breakfast sandwich. I thought it was going to be a big-breakfast style meal with a side bun. In retrospect, that makes no sense. A breakfast sandwich makes more sense and was better.

The bun was soft and sweet, almost donut-like. The meats were fresh, thick and salty. All sandwiches should have at least two types of meat, this gives them substance and richness. The country ham tasted as if it had been roasted over a fire at a local fair. The onion jam added a slight sweetness but wasn’t overly apparent. The egg oozed and poured over the bun and the meats. I love, loved, loved the fresh onion on top of the sandwich. It added to fresh, crispness that tasted like spring. It was delicious.

Parts & Labour, although basically in the middle of nowhere Toronto, is worth the hike. And they take reservations, so you know you won’t be wasting your time. Definitely come here for a munch and a cocktail.

Happy munching!

Toronto Life’s Best Burgers

New challenge: to eat all of the burgers off of Toronto Life’s Best Burgers list. This list was first compiled in May 2012 and can be found here. The list is below and no, although I have dined at many of these restaurants (6 to be exact) I have not yet eaten any of these burgers. Here is a picture of Holy Chuck’s double cheeseburger to get your excited!

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  1. Naturally Raised Beef Burger – The Harbord Room
  2. John’s Burger – Marben
  3. Classic Burger – The Stockyards
  4. Jennifer’s Stilton Brisket Burger – Nota Bene
  5. Cowlorie – Holy Chuck
  6. Double Cheeseburger – The Burger’s Priest
  7. Grass- Fed Burger – Bymark
  8. Simple Hamburger – Allen’s
  9. County Burger – The County General
  10. Homemade All Star – Golden Star
  11. Maple Bacon – E11even
  12. Elk Slider – Union
  13. Origin Burger – Origin
  14. Lamb Burger – Blue Plate
  15. Cheeseburger – Parts and Labour
  16. Sirloin Burger – The Gabardine
  17. MTK Burger – Mildred’s Temple Kitchen
  18. Pljeskavica – Hrvati
  19. Striploin Burger – Crush
  20. Canadian Burger – The Drake
  21. Dry-Aged Burger – Bestellen
  22. Double Burger – Apache Burgers
  23. Hand-Chopped Burger – The Queen and Beaver
  24. Brioche Burger – Drift
  25. Mini Kobe Burgers – Trevor Kitchen and Bar

Happy munching!

Canada – Amsterdam BrewHouse

After indulding in some bacon at Harbourfront Centre’s Baconation we checked out some beers at the new Amsterdam Brewhouse.

Amsterdam BrewhouseWe started with two different Flight Tours – I ordered the King & Portland, GC ordered the Richmond & John. I love how there are so many different beers to try here and so many different ways to try them. The tasting flights features 4 5oz glasses and costs the same as a 20oz pint. The menu serves as coasters for your beers. My only criticism of this – the names of the beers are listed on the round emblems which end up under the glasses. You can’t get fussed about the name of a beer as long as it tastes good!

We shared Amsterdam Pretzel and the Crispy Fish Tacos.

IMG_4032This pretzel is yummmmmmy! Warm, doughy and perfectly salted. There were three flavours of mustard: Natural Blonde red currant mustard,  Big Wheel dijon and wort reduction. The mustards were very hot, a huge kick of horseradish right in the nose. I foresee many nights at the Brewhouse drinking flights of beer and eating these pretzels.

IMG_4033White corn tortillas, apple fennel slaw, cilantro, fresh lime, and house hot sauce. These were okay, not great. That is not surprising as this is a pub, not a Mexican restaurant. Stick with the pretzels, you won’t regret it!

We went back to the Brewhouse for a family dinner last week. I wasn’t thrilled with the service – I had made a reservation but we had to wait 10 minutes to be seated. When we were seated, it was at a table that was clearly meant for 4 people, not 6.Our server, however, was amazing – she knew everything about beers, what they paired well with and had lots of suggestions of what to order based on people’s tastes.

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Common Goods: Muvbox

This summer Harbourfront Centre is introducing to Toronto to Muvbox: steel shipping containers that have been re-purposed into solar powered kitchens. Muvbox is an international project, having locations in New York City, Montreal and Paris. Harbourfront Centre is lucky enough to have three boxes: Sully’s Honest Dogs, Lobster Roll and Blue Goose. Last week I meet my sister Liz after work and we checked out the food crates.

I ordered the lobster roll with a side kettle chips and pomegranate with hibiscus ginger soda from Lobster Roll.

IMG_3995This lobster roll was amazing! One of the best that I have had. There was huge and excessive chunks of lobster in the bun. There was enough meat to make up a whole lobster with 4 claws. There was an appropriate amount of mayo in the lobster; not enough that it becomes water and excessively creamy but enough to hold all the delicate sweet lobster together. The salad was dotted with fresh, crispy chunks of celery which added another level of freshness to the roll. The bun was perfectly toasted and buttery. This is also one of the bigger lobster rolls I have eaten. The price is right too: $10.95

The soda I ordered was the pomegranate with hibiscus from Fresh Ginger. I first tried this about a month ago when we were in Buffalo, and I thought it was one of those delicious things that can only be found in America. But no! You can get it here!!! It is so delicious you should all venture down to Harbourfront for this alone.

Liz ordered the organic beef burger from Blue Goose.

IMG_3996Everything was delicious and there is even more deliciousness to try. Sully’s has hot dogs inspired by the neighbourhoods and flavours of Toronto: “The Danforth” (thick Tzatziki, olive tapenade and feta), “Hot Dogchimi” (sesame glass noodles, kimchi, roasted garlic mayo and wakame seaweed), “Banh Mi Dog” (mango salad, hot mustard, bean sprouts, sweet chili glaze and fresh basil) “Ano Yan” (crushed pineapple salsa, caramelized onions, pork rinds and garlic mayo) and “Little India” (vindaloo Curry, yogurt and mint).

5 different types of hot dogs to try – I am so down to spend my summer trying new hot dogs with unique and Toronto-inspired recipes. The food crates are only open seasonly and will close in October. You have four months to get down to the water and enjoy some food and some sun! Do it!

Happy munching!