Easter 2016

It is Easter Monday and seemingly everyone else is off from work except me. The subway was empty this morning; I didn’t have to do my typical wait on the train for 10 minutes in the tunnel north of St. Clair West while empty trains are sent through for more important people. The offices at work are empty and it is a slow, rainy day.

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Easter weekend was relaxing, spent outside with beautiful weather and with amazing people. On Friday we made our traditional Italian pasta appetizers, calascioni. This is something that Ninni remembers making as a young girl in Italy, when these types of expensive meats and cheese could only be bought at Easter. This tradition has been passed on to me and Giancarlo and we now share this tradition with his best friend Nick and his wife, Rachel. The day is spent rolling out homemade pasta dough, cutting out perfect circles, filling each ravioli-like pocket with the meat and cheese mixture and baking in the oven until they are golden and oozing cheese. After a few hours of hard work, we enjoyed dinner, wine and Yahtzee.

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A3 Napoli

If you are contemplating getting a new job and you are unsure whether or not you should take the plunge, hospital you only need one reason: food and drink. The number of dinners and drinks people have wanted to share with me since the announcement of my new job is ridiculously amazing. There are drinks to celebrating getting the job, order then drinks to celebrate leaving the job, drinks to celebrate the new job and then drinks to celebrate how the new job is going.

Last night Cynthia and I caught up about my new job over beers and food at A3 Napoli. A3 Napoli is a joint venture between the people behind Pizzeria Libretto and Porchetta & Co., two of my favourite Italian spots in the city. It is a little restaurant located in Little Italy, a neighbourhood I seldom venture to; when you live with an 85-year old Italian woman why would you bother?

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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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Boralia

It only seems fitting that with my 27th birthday occurring next week to write about another birthday dinner I had earlier this year. In June I went for dinner at Boralia to celebrate one of my favourite people in the world’s birthday: Cynthia.

Boralia is a restaurant that is serving historically inspired dishes representing the cuisines of Canada’s aboriginal population and early settlers. You won’t see any stereotypical representations of Canadiana in this restaurant. There are no Hudson’s Bay blankets, or stripes of colouring drawing on this imagery. There is no overuse of antlers and pelts adorning the walls. There is a large mural illustrating a lush green forest, and natural materials are used throughout the restaurant. The simplicity and use of other iconography to conjure images of Canada is welcomed and prepares you for the redefining of Canadian cuisine and culture.

We started with the L’éclade and Red Fife Levain Bread & Cultured Butter.

borealia_ss_8Photo Credit: BoraliaLeclade-credit-Nick-Merzetti-e1419037958616Photo Credit: Eat, Drink, Travel

Mussels smoked in pine needles and pine ash butter  c.1605

The interesting thing about the menu at Boralia is that each item is given a date at the end of the description, informing the diner of the historical period that this dish is from. The L’éclade is a dish that was brought to Canada by Samuel de Champlain and was a favourite among his crew. The history nerd in me loved this attention to detail and historical accuracy.

The presentation of this dish is beautiful. The bowl of mussels is brought to your table covered in a bell jar. The server slowly lifts the cloche to release fragrant smoke that has been infused with pine needles. The smoke slowly dissipates in the air but the smell and flavourings of pine are maintained in the butter. The mussels are tender and salty, infused with smoky and floral tones from the pine. Ordering the side of bread is a must but not for the bread itself; rather to soak up all the delicious butter pooling at the bottom of the bowl.

Next we ordered the Pigeon Pie.

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Pigeon Pie with roast squab breast and asparagus c.1611.

If you have ever walked in Toronto with me, you would know of my hatred of pigeons. They are dirty and messy and I cannot tolerate people who feed them. The fact that I could eat my animal enemy was enticing.

The pie crust was buttery, flaky and crunchy: it melted over your tongue as if it was purely made of butter. It was a perfect pie crust. The filling however, was not worthy of being encased by a crust this good. The filling was not bad but it was nothing impressive. It was a typical meat pie filling: carrots, pies and a thick gravy. The taste and texture of squab was not apparent in this pie.

The squab breast on the side was the representation of the meat that I was looking for. The breast was seared on the outside, creating a crunchy shell around the whole piece that locked in the juiciness of the meat. The meat was tender but a bit gamy; squab tastes and feels like a mixture of duck and chicken. It has the richness and flavour of duck but the softness and almost creaminess of chicken. I would be perfectly happy with an order of the duck breast without the pie.

Next we had the Pan-Roasted Elk.

imagePhoto Credit: The Globe and Mail

Pan-roasted Elk with wild rice-crusted egg, cranberry gastrique, burnt onion, and radish.

I wasn’t blown away by this dish. The cranberry gastrique was my favourite component of the plate. The tartness was a nice accompaniment to the rich, gaminess of the elk. The elk was slightly tough and did not have much flavour beside the gaminess that is typical of elk. The wild rice-crusted egg was good. The rice added nutiness to the dish that gave it a woodsy, more rustic taste. The egg oozed over the elk and help distract from the toughness of the meat.

To finish we ordered the Louisbourg Hot Chocolate Beignets.

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Louisbourg hot chocolate beignets with spiced chocolate ganache, beer batter, and lemon sugar c.1795.

These were delicious. This is one of the simplest but best desserts I have had at a restaurant. The beignets were hot from being recently fried. They were the right balance of fatty, savoury and sweet. The chocolate ganache was warm, rich, silky and viscous: it slowly oozed out of each beignet with every bite. It was the best chocolate I have ever eaten. The lemon sugar added a light, citrus flavour to the decadent beignets and made them not taste quite so heavy.

I would recommend a visit to Boralia. It is a nice, upscale taste of home. We are often criticized for not having a national cuisine but I think Boralia is the start of that movement.

Happy munching!

Mother’s Day 2015

What day is today? Today is Mother’s Day! For Mother’s Day this year I hosted GC’s parents and Ninni for an afternoon tea in the backyard.

IMG_3754 IMG_3758I made five different sandwiches and savoury scones:

1. Cucumber & Chive Butter
2. Goat Cheese, Prosciutto and Basil
3. Tomato Pesto Tea Sandwiches
4. Radish-Chive Tea Sandwiches
5. Nordic Open Faced Smoked Salmon Sandwiches
6. Cream Biscuits with Prosciutto and Parmesan Cheese

Dessert was leftover cake from Amelia’s birthday. To celebrate my amazing sister I had made a Chocolate Raspberry Cake.

IMG_3749Don’t worry – my Mama didn’t get left out. My mom, in all her typical intensity and amazingness, brought over a barbeque feast with all the fixings: steak, pasta salad, potato salad, greek salad and fruit salad. All I had to do in return was provide another cake, a Lemon Blueberry Layer Cake with a light cream cheese frosting.

IMG_3769I got it from my Mama – and by “it” I mean my baking and cooking skills. My mom has cooked and baked for our family for over 30 years and has always done it with grace, elegance and skill. It is never a big deal for my mom to host a family dinner or bring food to a potluck. She created the home that I hope to create for my family: I always want people to come over to our house and know that there will be food and drink, that it is not an imposition and that everything will be cooked with skill and love.

Happy munching!

Afternoon Tea – The Windsor Arms

My mom is one of my favourite people of all time. She is the most inspiring woman I know. She is smart, charming, witty, beautiful and just completely amazing. She is my real life Meryl Streep.

10332_674748901846_121506112_40082178_2410099_nMom & Girls OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANot only do I gush about her, I eat with her. This year to celebrate her birthday and Mother’s Day, we went for afternoon tea at The Windsor Arms. The Windsor Arms is everything you want a hotel to be. It is sleek, polished and has a very posh London hotel atmosphere about it.

This posh atmosphere continues into the tea room. The table settings are white linens and all the china is matching. There is a hat stand with a variety of hats with ridiculous plumage fit for a royal wedding. There was a group of girlfriends in floral dresses and fascinator enjoying afternoon tea. It was all very dainty and proper.

The tea rooms are seated according to your reservation time and seatings are fully booked. I understand  the need to make money and run a successful business but it takes away from the ambiance when you are too closely seated to the next table and the low hum of other patrons turns into a loud drone.

We shared a pot of the Private Windsor Arms blend. This tea was a blend of Ceylon, Nilgiris and Assam teas. It was delicious. Our tower of deliciousness was presented to us and stacked in the traditional manner from the bottom up: scones, sandwiches and desserts.

IMG_0607The Goat cheese and caramelized shallot tart.

I promise you, this tart did not look so sad and lonely in person. The tart was served first as it was warm. It was delicate, soft and sweet. I wish it had been slightly bigger or maybe served as two. On it’s own, it was the perfect warm, little bite of rich, cheesy goodness.

IMG_0608Fresh scones with preserves and Devonshire cream.

The scone serving was very generous. We given two each and they were huge. They were impossible to grab using the tongs and this resulted in me dropping one of my scones. It was my classiest use of the “5 Second Rule” to date. There was two different flavours of scones: raisin and orange currant. These scones were firm on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. They were only made more perfect smothered with Devonshire cream and various jams. I could eat scones all day.

The fresh sandwiches consisted of: 1. Smoked Salmon and Wasabi Sour Cream with Salmon Caviar 2. Cucumber with Sundried Tomato Paste and Dill Cream Cheese and 3. Grilled Chicken, Granny Smith Apples Citrus Mayonnaise, Greek Yogurt and Chives.

The sandwiches were tiny. The bread had been flatten out and rolled into pinwheels rather than being served as quarters or miniature sandwiches. Due to the form the sandwiches take, the sandwiches are not packed with filling. The flavours were not bold and intense. The flavour that stood out the most was the salmon. It was smooth, creamy and salty. The cucumer was delicate and light, tasting faintly of a fresh garden. The chicken sandwich was filled with chicken but the other flavours did not stand out.

And last but not least, the dessert level.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset The Petits Fours: Chocolate Mousse Truffle, a Coconut Marshmallow, a Mango and Passionfruit cake and a Lemon Custard Tart topped with Raspberries.

Please explain to me why for two people we are given four different desserts? And desserts that cannot easily be shared? This was my major complaint with the tea service. The final touch of the tea service is dessert and to be underwhelmed is disappointing.

That being said, we shared our desserts and by the end were full. My favourite was the lemon tart. Lemon and raspberry is my favourite combination of flavours in desserts. The zesty, tartness of the lemon combined with the subtle tart but still sweet flavour of the raspberry is pure perfection. This tart had a crumbly shell filled with velvety smooth lemon filling and topped with three, perfectly formed raspberries. Yums. The low point: the coconut marshmallow. It was underwhelming. Marshmallows should be in hot chocolate, not on a dessert tower at afternoon tea.

Overall the tea experience was lovely but the company was even better. This was the perfect afternoon to celebrate the awesomeness that is my Mom. I love you, Mom!

Happy munching!

Baker and Scone

A few weeks ago, ampoule GC and I headed to Hamilton for a day hiking but first, see we needed sustenance. We headed down to St. Clair to check out a new bakery, stuff Baker and Scone.

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This is an adorable bakery. It is bright, airy and has a very French-vibe to it. The walls are a soft green, with accents of white and marble. The scones are displayed in whimsical containers, constantly being refilled with fresh baked goodness. The bakery is simple, but thought out, allowing you to focus on the pastries.

We ordered six different flavours: 1. Buttermilk Double Vanilla 2. Gruyere, Chive and Dill 3. Lemon Poppy Seed 4. Blueberry Vanilla 5. Lemon Currant and 6. Orange, Cardamon and Date.

The day we went, the scones were cooked a little too crispy. Scones should not have a hard, crusty exterior to them; a little firmness, yes, but not a dark, golden brown colour. This level of crispiness was perfect for the savoury Gruyere, Chive and Dill scone. It was cheesy, with fresh flavours from the herbs. The crunchy exterior gave the satisfying crunch with every bite.

The sweet scones were not helped with this level of crunchiness. However, once you broke through the crispiness, the insides of the scones were soft, delicate and full of fruity flavours. The flavours were intense and bright, using fresh ingredients. All the scones with lemon flavour had intense, natural, lemon zest flavour to them – they were delicious.

A simple and thoughtful touch is that all scones can be accompanied by a small container of real butter and you can purchase a small jar of Greaves jam too. These are the perfect toppings to create a perfect light breakfast or a snack for a road trip. As you can tell, my only complaint with the scones was that they were a little too-well done for my liking. I have talked to a few other people who have been and they said that their scones did not suffer this affliction. This is reassuring because I would love to have a close-to-home-scone option. I will be going back to see if this is the case and will keep you posted.

After we picked up our scones we headed to the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton for a day of lilacs, hiking and chipmunks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHappy munching!

 

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

IMG_5558Pancake Tuesday has come and gone and but we never talked about it. On Pancake Tuesday we did your typical big breakfast: chocolate chip pancakes, scrambled eggs, toast, orange juice and breakfast. As I can’t have proper breakfast most days, I usually have either cereal or oatmeal, this was the perfect way to satisfy all my breakfast cravings. This has sparked our trend of having breakfast for dinner. It is simple, fast and filling.

On the following Sunday we took regular pancakes up a notch and I made lemon ricotta pancakes with blueberry compote. I had high hopes for these pancakes and was unfortunately disappointed. The ricotta is moist and heavy and therefore the pancakes aren’t your typical light and fluffy pancakes. I will admit that I used icing sugar instead of baking soda. Yes, that’s right. I made that kind of mistake. A few weeks ago we had issues with mice and now everything is in unmarked plastic containers. I have since tasted everything and written clear labels to avoid more flat pancakes.

The lemon and ricotta work nicely together and would taste delicious together in something else. And it goes without saying, blueberries and lemon are best friends and should always be together.

Recipe is below the cut – happy munching!

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Christmas Baking

Christmas has come and gone and of course, there was excessive amounts of baking. This year I made 7 different types of cookies.

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1. Peppermint Oreo Truffles
2. Caramel Stuffed Soft Gingerbread Cookies
3. Triple White Chocolate Peppermint Blossoms
4. Eggnog Cookies
5. Chocolate Chunk Peppermint Pudding Cookies
6. Lemon Ricotta Cookies with Lemon Glaze
7. Chocolate and Maraschino Cherry Shortbread Cookies

This were the most successful batch of Christmas cookies I have ever made, every recipe was good! The easiest were the peppermint oreo truffles and my favourite were the lemon ricotta cookies with lemon glaze.

Part of my New Year’s Resolution is to bake cookies more often to try out new recipes and techniques – why save it only for the holidays?

Happy munching!

Creamy Layered Lemon Squares

More baking done over Easter – Creamy Layered Lemon Squares from Kraft’s What’s Cooking.

1. Everyone should have at least one white trash recipe in their arsenal. And by white trash, I mean a dessert that contains Cool Whip.

2. This is the only way I will purchase Cool Whip – if its going to be used in some other way that makes it unrecognizable as Cool Whip.

3. This is basically a cheesecake with a Cool Whip lemon jello layer on top. This is light, and creamy and the perfect dessert for finishing a heavy, holiday dinner.

4. Again, I used steroid-induced gargantuan strawberries and I probably should have quartered them rather than just cutting them in half. This  is more of an aesthetic thing. I was also supposed to top the squares with strawberries but I didn’t want to do it before it set and when I remembered it was in the trunk of my car and we were driving to Brampton.

Happy munching!