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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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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George St. Diner

THE F WORD

A diner in Toronto that Daniel Radcliffe has been to? Yes, case please! Ok, click I shouldn’t act like I have an undying love for Dan Rad because I don’t, drugs but I do try and consciously follow his career and support his films so he doesn’t tragically become they guy who played Harry Potter and did nothing else. And I didn’t go to the George St. Diner because it is featured in The F Word, but because it serves up great brunch.

My experience at George St. Diner was everything Ok Ok wasn’t. It was why I should go to the East end of Toronto. It is why I should go for brunch. It was why I should order huevos rancheros any time it’s on a menu.

The day we went to the George St. Diner, it wasn’t our first choice. We had tried to go to Le Petit Dejeuner but it had an insane line-up and it was January. I don’t wait in line for brunch ever, let alone when it is cold outside. We wandered over to the George St. Diner and were quickly seated at the bar on stools overlooking the open kitchen. This restaurant had a very similar vibe to Ok Ok but for some reason, it seemed more classic and less dated.

There is no menu, just ordering off the ever changing sandwich board which does feature the diner’s staples and favourites like the Irish soda bread. GC ordered the Breakfast Hash on Irish soda bread.

IMG_2998I ordered the Huevos Rancheros.

IMG_2996 IMG_2997YES. Now this is what I am talking about. The eggs were scrambled fluffy and light. The cheese melted over top of the eggs nicely. The chorizo was a house made sausage and it was easily one of the best sausages I have ever eaten. It was spicy and the meat was well-ground. There were no hard or crunchy pieces of meat or fat that can completely ruin a sausage. The guacamole was smooth and had the right kick of cilantro and was not overpowered with a soapy flavour. The beans added a nutty, smoky flavour to the dish. I loved that everything was spread on the plate making it more so a platter style of huevos rancheros and you could vary each bite with the provided pita.

I loved my breakfast at George St. Diner and would definitely go back if I was in the area but I wouldn’t make the trek just for its huevos.

After our brunch, we headed over to do some axe throwing for my friend Ashley’s birthday. It was a great afternoon of beer, pulled pork and axes, followed by some homemade butter tarts for the birthday girl!

IMG_299410906137_10153093160222074_7211436091395471900_nHappy munching!

Delux

At the start of June, I get the opportunity to celebrate the birthday of one of the greatest people of all time, Cynthia. As you know, Cynthia is great and is one of my favourite people to share food with. To celebrate this year’s birthday we went to Ossington to have dinner at Delux.

It seems unfair for me to taunt you with this deliciousness as Delux recently just closed but it really was delicious and you need to know about it. There are also talks that they are working on something new so you can look forward to that.

We started off with mojitos and decided to order two appetizers and split an entree. Our first starter was the Grilled Tiger Shrimp.

IMG_0650 IMG_0651The grilled tiger shrimp and tostones.

This was delicious. The avocado was smooth, buttery and fresh with hints of lime. The shrimp was slightly charred and smoky. It was tender and sweet. The tostones were the perfect platforms to serve all this deliciousness on. I preferred these tostones to the ones at La Cubana. They were more tender but still crispy with hints of salty, nuttiness.

Next, we had the Duck Confit Empanada.

IMG_0652The crust was flaky, buttery and tender. It carefully enveloped the soft, delicate duck. The duck was perfect – fatty, salty and tender. Raisins were dotted throughout the empanada. They were soaked, juicy and tender. They were little tidbits of sweetness sprinkled throughout the richness of the duck.

Then we had the Grilled Flat-Iron Steak.

IMG_0655 IMG_0656The grilled flat-iron steak with chimichurri and and shallots.

This was not great and the low point of the meal. We asked for the steak to be cooked medium and it came out rare. It was lightly seared on all sides and very pink, almost purple, on the inside. If the steak had been a high-quality cut of meat this wouldn’t have been a problem but it was not a good cut of meat. The meat was tough and chewy, sinews threaded throughout. Ick. The crispy shallots were the high point of the dish but the condiment should never be the high point.

And lastly, but never least, we ordered dessert. We split an order of Buttermilk Donuts.

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These donuts were the perfect cap to a delicious dinner. They were still warm from being fried, thickly dusted in cinnamon sugar. They were dipped in a thick cream topped with caramel.  The presentation was simple but sweet. It brought back memories of summers at The Ex eating fresh Tiny Tom Donuts. These are the best donuts I have ever eaten (sorry Tiny Tom!). I have found something I love more than churros, which I didn’t think was possible. Yummmmmms.

After dinner we headed up the street to Bellwoods Brewery to enjoy some beers and people watching – the perfect night on Ossington Avenue. Happy birthday Cynthia – it’s going to be a great year!

Happy munching!

Bonjour Brioche

Last week two of my favourite people returned from vacation so obviously brunch had to be eaten. Al returned from Mexico and Cynthia returned from Italy so we ventured out to the east end to enjoy a brunch at Bonjour Brioche and catch up on each others adventures.

Bonjour Brioche is sunny and fresh, for sale featuring delicious breads and pastries. The inside of the restaurant feels like a Parisian café, medicine with sunny walls and the smells of baguettes and other breads. We were seated on the patio, which is partially covered by an awning. The only downside of the patio: it is beside a GO train track that runs a frequent train. If you can get over some light transit noise, which you should be able to if you live in the city, the patio is sunny and delightful.

The girls both ordered the Poached Eggs on a croissant.

IMG_0558 IMG_0559Two poached eggs on a croissant with Hollandaise and the choice of peameal, tomato and avocado or smoked salmon. Al chose peameal on one side and tomato and avocado on the other. Cynthia opted for tomato and avocado and smoked salmon.

You were able to customize your order and choose different toppings for each side of your croissant which I think is brillant. There is two sides to every croissant so why not have two different toppings? The croissants were buttery and airy but still hearty enough to hold up to all the delicious toppings towering on top.

I ordered the daily tart special.

IMG_0560The Daily Tart with figs, caramelized onions and blue cheese.

This tart was sweet and tangy. I love the combination of figs and blue cheese. The sweetness of the figs plays with the rich, pungent, salty taste of the blue cheese. The caramelized onions add another level of sweetness that completes the tart. The crust is flaky, buttery and crunchy. Yums. I love that regardless of what is ordered, it is accompanied by slices of baguette and of course, butter. Could breakfast get much better than that?

And of course, all meals should end in dessert, even brunch. We split the Sour Cherry Custard Tart.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetThis tart was simple, fresh, tangy, and sweet. It was delicious. It was my first taste of summer and I look forward to more.

A great brunch with great friends – what more can a girl ask for? Happy munching!

 

 

S’mores Cookie Bars

Happy birthday Le Faz!!! Today is officially her birthday and for her birthday I baked her s’mores cookie bars.

photo 5The only problem with s’mores is that they are impossible to make when you are not near a bonfire which is a constant problem of mine. However, these solve that problem. AND they are much tidier and easier to eat. You will not have to worry about melty marshmallow strings all over your face.

photo 3(1)They are the perfect combination of cookie and square. The graham cracker crust bottom is buttery and crumbly, creating a light, delicate base for the heaviness of the cookie to rest on. The cookie is buttery and rich, dotted with marshmallows and chocolate chips. The top has less melted marshmallows and whole chunks of chocolate bar. The chocolate bar is broken up into chunks and then frozen, ensuring that they don’t completely melt into the square; genius.

I love these and will definitely make them again and again. Recipe is below the cut and happy munching!

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White Chocolate and Nutmeg Bars

Photo credit: Better Homes and Gardens

As the days get shorter, and the weather gets cooler, it’s starting to feel a little more like Christmas. I know, I know: it’s the start of November, there is no snow, and it’s over a month away. BUT as a crafter and a baker, you need to start thinking about Christmas. Christmas is a month long event. Between parties, decorating, baking and shopping you need to start thinking about these things!

I made these white chocolate and nutmeg bars for Thanksgiving but the flavours are perfect for the holiday season too! The bars have a beautiful colour to them – the warmth of the brown, dotted with fresh, plump, red cranberries and drizzled with white chocolate, it looks like a winter landscape.

I love the combination of cranberries and nutmeg. The fruity, tartness from the cranberries, softened by the warmth and spice of the nutmeg make these the perfect treat to enjoy with a warm cup of tea or hot chocolate.

I will definitely be making these again for Christmas and I think you should too! Recipe below the cut and happy munching!

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Happy Birthday to Me!

For my birthday we decided to go hiking in Ball’s Falls. If you get a chance to check out this park,you really should. It’s one of the most beautiful places I have ever been and looks absolutely gorgeous in the fall. IMG_4690 IMG_4700 IMG_4714 IMG_4716IMG_4725After a day of muddy and sweaty hiking, we cleaned up and went for dinner at Union. Union has a great ambiance to it. It is what I imagine cute little restaurants in New York City to be: long and narrow, with exposed brick walls, vintage prints and warmth from the conversations and kitchen. There was music lightly playing in the background, but not too loud as to overpower the conversations. The crowd was a mix of old and young, families and couples and even Patrick J. Adams.

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Canoe

On February 7th we celebrated our five year anniversary. It’s crazy to think that all of this started five years ago and no one would have ever predicted it would become something this amazing. GC is my best friend and I can’t imagine life without him. I love him and I know we have many, many years of love, friendship and adventures ahead of us.

Ok. Enough for the sentimental, on to the food and how we celebrated. Since it was a milestone anniversary, we decided to go big. We stayed downtown at the Royal York hotel, we went for dinner at Canoe and we had cocktails at Library Bar.

Canoe is a fantastic restaurant. We had gone there once before for Summerlicious and it was amazing, but you truly need to visit and taste of the regular menu because it is exponentially better, if that’s even possible. We were seated at a table for four, with both of us sitting together facing out onto the city and harbour on a cold and snowy day. It was the perfect, romantic atmosphere to celebrate an anniversary.

Our server asked us if we were here for a special occassion and we told him it was our anniversary. This prompted him to give us some free samples off the tasting menu! Happy anniversary indeed!

We started off with a cocktail – the Winter Wonderland. Jack Daniels honey liqueur, Benedictine, milk and nutmeg, topped with a Bobbette & Belle marshmallow. This is one of the best cocktails I have ever had. It was served in a tall, slender glass, packed with ice and the cocktail was a lush brown colour. It was a rich chocolate milk spiked with booze and spiced up with nutmeg. The marshmallow on top was a playful touch, that was sweet, whimsical and nostalgic. The straw in the drink was a paper straw that looked like a birch tree. This just added to the illusion that this drink was truly a winter wonderland. Yums.

We started with the night’s amuse bouche that was a cauliflower soup with Earl Grayed sultanas. This soup was thick, creamy and earthy. The sultanas were delicate, sweet, smokey and add a touch of British teatime sophistication to the soup.

Next, we had the Wellington County Beef Tartare.

beef-tartare-2-624x416beef-tartare-624x388Wellington County Beef Tartare with applewood smoked bacon, pretzel toast, and Forbes’ wild flavours.

Beef tartare is one of my favourite dishes. It is raw, fresh, cool and has a clean taste. This tartare was all of those things, seasoned with the right spices and and flavours of pickles. The bacon was crispy, salty and smoky but it took away from the dish rather than adding anything of value to it. It added a crunch that was too conflicting with the tartare rather than complimenting it. The pretzel toast added a sweetness through its dough but also a slight saltiness.The wild flavours were all pickled products: beets, pickles and mushrooms. They complimented the pickles that speckled the tartare but the presentation of this dish was too chaotic. The eye did not know where to focus and in turn, the stomach did not know where to focus or where to begin.

After our appetizer we were given an apple gelee.

mar12CanoeShackUp21How gorgeous is this presentation? I love the simplicity and organic quality it has. The bed of greens, below a perfectly shaped ice disk that cradles the deliciousness you get to eat. The apple gelee was sweet and dense, a thicker apple sauce. The perfect palate cleanser before our main course.

GC ordered the 45 Day Aged Ontario Rib Eye.

canoe145 Day Aged Ontario Rib Eye with roasted carrots, Portobello pickles, smoked mustard aioli and crispy layered potatoes. GC loved this steak. He ordered it to be done medium which is a bit too cooked for my liking but it was still juicy, tender and rich. It was such a hearty and intense meal.

I ordered the Green Alder Rubbed Venison.

8226934271_59ec4a15d8_zGreen Alder Rubbed Venison with steel cut oats, charred leek, mini tourtiere and mountain cranberries. This was an amazing dish. The venison was done medium-rare and it was perfect. Juicy, rich and such an indulgent over-the-top dish. The steel cut oats were an interesting and different choice for a grain but I didn’t love them.  It seemed like an awkward attempt at fusing together breakfast and dinner. The leeks were tender and fresh and the cranberries added a natural tart sweetness to the whole dish. The mini tourtiere was soft and tender but it was unnecessary. There was more than enough food in the dish that it wasn’t needed and it was executed well enough that it  could have stood on its own.

And lastly for dessert, we ordered the Butter Tart Wedge.

IMG_3281The Butter Tart wedge with spiced raisin and bourbon ice cream. This was one of the best desserts I have ever eaten. The crust was flaky and buttery, and the filling was completely divine. It was luscious and completely ridiculous. It was comfort food taken to the gourmet. I would recommend a visit to an O & B restaurant just for this.

We were also served with jellied passion fruit cubes which were perfect little bites of heaven. It reminded me of the fruit jellies you might eat around the holidays but with real fruit juices. Overall this was an amazing meal. The atmosphere, the service and the food  were delicious and memorable. It was such a perfect evening.

After dinner we strolled through the PATH over to the Royal York’s Library Bar where we enjoyed a few cocktails. Library Bar’s menu is interesting as it takes a look a the history and evolution of the cocktail. I ordered the Robert Burns’ Whiskey Cup – combination of Chivas Regal 12 year old Scotch Whisky & Drambuie sweetened
with their own rooftop honey and topped with a luscious lemon foam – and the F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Gin Rickey – Hendricks Gin with pressed lime, cucumber and crystallized rose petals topped with seltzer. I preferred the gin rickey, it was a gin and tonic taken to the next level. Easy to sip, cool and refreshing. The lemon foam on the Whisky Cup was good enough to eat on its own and I wish I could order a bowl full of it and just eat it like pudding. GC ordered the Margaret Atwoods Margarita – Berry Berry Tea infused Sauza Tequila, fresh lime and Cointreau, served on the rocks – and Michael Ondaatje’s Brandy – Remy Martin VSOP Cognac, pineapple and lemon juices, simple syrup and Grand Marnier.

Happy Anniversary baby! I love you and I can’t wait for more years to come!

Photo credits: Toronto Life and Oliver & Bonancini