Homemade Macaroni & Cheese

A few weeks ago GC had surgery. It was nothing major, just a day surgery that required lots of rest and relaxation afterwards. While taking care of him, my menus shifted from quick and easy to classic comfort foods.

I made my first Shepherd’s Pie, a fairly simple dish that requires lots of time and preparation in order to capture the depth and fullness of flavour associated with this dish. This dish was a success and has made its way into my recipe book of classic comfort foods on a cold winter’s day. I will not be sharing the recipe here yet, but when I make it again, which will hopefully be soon before it warms up too much and suddenly becomes spring, you will see it featured here.

I also made my first Macaroni & Cheese. If you have met me or read my blog once or twice you must know that I love cheese and that macaroni & cheese is my go-to comfort food. What better food to make you feel cozy and rested than a big bowl of mac & cheese? I didn’t use my mother’s recipe but rather the recipe in the Williams-Sonoma Comfort Food Cookbook. The two recipes are very similar and use the secret and key ingredient of mustard.

IMG_3342These recipe is cheesy, creamy, and works great with rotini which is what I used. I actually prefer my mac & cheese with a different pasta that has more crinks and pockets to hold all the cheese goodness. My only change would be to use LESS breadcrumbs. You need just a sprinkling on top to add some crispy, crunchiness.

Recipe below the cut and happy munching!

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Johnny Jackson

On Thursday night, Gastropost hosted a foodie event at Johnny Jackson and GC and I were fortunate enough to go. Free drinks and free food, how could we pass that up? Despite the fact this this was a foodie event, I have no pictures from the evening. The restaurant was too dark to get any good shots. You will just have to enjoy my descriptions and take my word for it,.

Johnny Jackson is a relatively new restaurant located on College Street in Little Italy. It’s draw is that it has cheap late night eats, being open until 4 am on Fridays and Saturdays. Food is sold by the boxful and is just $10/box. The interior is a combination of bar and restaurant, with booth and table seating. The restaurant is dark but with a cozy vibe rather than a sketchy vibe. The music is a mixture of Motown and classic rock. The atmosphere and music immediately drew me in, so it was just a matter of trying the food.

This was a free event so it was just a sampling of the menu but there was more than enough food for everyone to try everything. They were serving samples of their deep fried pickles, poutine, pulled pork sundaes and mac and cheese.

1. Deep fried pickles are one of those things that a good in theory but are not always good in practice. The problem is when you deep fry the pickle, the juiciness becomes flamingly hot and will burn your face off. JJ has found a way around this – instead of serving up whole pickles, the pickles are quartered. The result is juicy, but not hot and steamy. The coating was bread crumbs mixed with seasonings, including dill and the dipping sauce was also dill. The overall taste was extremely dilly in a good way. The serving was 6 quartered spears which was the right amount  for a tasting.

2. We unfortunately did not get to try the poutine which is served with bacon but we were able to satisfy this craving by going to Poutini’s after the event. I do want to go back and try their take on poutine because when anything has bacon on it by default, I’m there.

3. Pulled Pork Sundaes are nothing new but they are something I had not tried until that evening. These were assembled in a sundae glass, layered with pulled pork and mashed potatoes and topped with cheese; this is definitely a dinner type of sundae. The pulled pork was moist, sauced and a little spicy. The mashed potatoes, on the other hand, were not great. They were too pureed and had a more liquidy texture than a mashed texture. If I were to make a pulled pork sundae the mashed potatoes would be creamy but thick, and perfectly scooped using an ice cream scoop. The pulled pork would be  smothered on top, spilling down the sides of the mashed potatoes like chocolate sauce.

4, Mac & Cheese is one of my favourite foods and my go-to comfort food. Lately, whenever I see mac & cheese on a menu I order it in my attempt to find my favourite one in the city. This mac and cheese had serious tang and zing to it. I was trying to determine what spice was used in the sauce but I wasn’t able to = foodie fail. This was creamy and cheesy but I found the seasoning took away from the cheesiness of it. A good mac and cheese but not my favourite.

This was a great event that Gastropost set up for all the writers and I hope there are more in the future! It’s always fun to try a new restaurant with people who love food as much as you. Johnny Jackson is worth checking out, especially since how many restaurants serve food that late at night, especially good food?

Happy munching!

Czehoski

On Thursday night I went to Czehoski on Queen St W with my friend, Al.

I have always been intrigued by this restaurant because of how the paint is chipping off the sign and how it looks reminiscent of Soviet Russia. Obviously, this got my Eastern European senses tingling.

The inside of the restaurant has these great green, leather booths and for some reason, it reminded me of an old school hall. They apparently have a great patio and as our days of summer are numbered, I will need to check that out soon. The washrooms are slightly sketchy: they are in the basement that is partly finished and resembles a Russian prison. The actual washrooms themselves are finished and perfectly pleasant, it is just the staircase leading to them that makes you (or probably more accurately, just me) think you are being lead to a gulag.

The menu is a combination of Eastern European fare, some Italian and American classics like burgers and rotisserie chicken dinners. They have a plate called Babcia’s Pierogies and I am going to have to try these next time as I don’t think I have ever tried my own Babcia’s pierogies.

I ordered the Mac & Cheese.

Czeho Man ‘n Cheese – cheddar stout rarebit sauce, and Ontario curds. You can also get this with crab meat or chorizo in it. Since it was my first time at Czehoski, I opted for tasting this mac ‘n cheese in its purest sense. This was amazing. It was extremely cheesy and creamy with a woody, caramelized taste from the stout. Rarebit sauce does not have rabbit in it, it is simply a traditional Welsh cheese sauce similar to Swiss fondue. This is just a fancy way to dress up a classic comfort food. The Ontario curds were a new way to incorporate more cheese that I have never done/tried before. The result was huge chunks of partly melted, partly solid cheese that squeak against your teeth. Yums. This is a mac ‘n cheese worth having. I’m going to eat it several more times in all its various forms and toppings.

Al ordered the Beet Salad.

The Beet Salad – Grey Owl’s goat cheese, lemon, horseradish and frisee. I feel like they are leaving out descriptors and ingredients to what this salad consists of. Al’s only complaints was that the beets were slightly undercooked and hard.

This restaurant has an extensive menu featuring different cuisines and options. A great drink menu and a comfortable, relaxing atmosphere both inside and out. Another joint worth checking out especially if you are looking for great mac ‘n cheese.

Happy munching!

Fran’s – Mac & Cheese

I normally wouldn’t do a write up on something that I had at Fran’s, but since I am in search for the best Mac & cheese in Toronto, or rather, trying as many as I can, I need to include the Mac & cheese from Fran’s.

On August 17th, I went to Fran’s with my sister Theresa. If you live in Toronto, and you have never been to Fran’s, I don’t even know how this is possible. Fran’s is quintessential diner-style food, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All day breakfast, burgers, milkshakes and other classics are always available to you. If you haven’t been, please, go now.

That night I ordered an overload of dairy – a strawberry milkshake, mozzarella sticks and the Mac & cheese.

Baked macaroni and cheese with five cheeses: Cheddar, Parmesan, Swiss, Jack and Blue.

I didn’t have high expectations for this but I wanted to order it just to see Fran’s take on mac & cheese. The cheese sprinkled ontop does not melt unless you give all the pasta a good stir which fully incorporates all the cheese. You can only taste the cheddar in this mac & cheese which is disappointing because I think the other cheeses would have added a nutty (Parmesan), smokey (Jack and Swiss) and creamy (Blue) taste/texture to the pasta. I think they went a little light on the other cheeses because they are more expensive.  There is no other reason why you should not or would not be able to taste an overbearing cheese like blue. This is your standard, run-of-the-mill mac & cheese but nothing special and not a version to be sought out when deeply craving mac & cheese.

Normally when I got to Fran’s, I order the Monte Cristo. I would highly recommend this sandwich. Next time I go and order it, I will photograph it so you can see the deliciousness that it truly is. A triple-decker ham and Swiss sandwich on Texas toast dipped in French Toast batter and crisped until golden brown and then drowned in maple syrup! Also, dip your french fries in the leftover maple syrup. Trust me, it’s a fun surprise of sweet and savoury.

Happy munching!

Caplansky’s

For dinner on Wednesday night, I introduced Amelia to Caplansky’s.

Amelia lives in London and unfortunately, London is London. This is not to insult London or any of the restaurants, vendors or foodies in that city, but it does not compare to Toronto. I have a long list of restaurants I want to introduce Amelia to and we started with Caplansky’s because it has smoked meat. And who doesn’t love smoked meat?

We started off with an order of their Deep Fried pickles.

Deep fried pickles with cool dill sauce. How can these not be good? They are pickles, that are battered and deep fried and then you dip them in dill sauce to make them even more pickly good. There was 6 or 7 deep fried pickles and they were whole pickles, not just spears. The pickles were acidic, crispy and fresh – clearly pickled, in-house. The only problem with deep fried pickles, and this is a problem with all deep fried pickles, is the batter doesn’t stick to the pickles overly well and the pickles become scaldingly hot. Still eat them but proceed with caution!

Amelia ordered the Famous Fresser Hot Smoked Meat Sandwich. I didn’t photograph it because a) she was hungry and b) GC ordered this sandwich the first time we visited Caplansky’s. She did like it and it was big enough that she got to take half of it home.

I ordered the Mac and Cheese – bowtie noodles, sharp Cheddar, Gruyere and Parmesan with smoked meat. Ok. I keep having this dilemma where every time I eat a mac & cheese I’m convinced I have a new favourite. But legitimately, I think this is my new favourite mac & cheese in Toronto. Despite having three types of cheese and smoked meat it was not remotely salty. It was smoky, creamy and cheesy. This was a bowl of home style comfort. This is my official selection of favourite mac & cheese in Toronto.

Caplansky’s is always a solid choice when on College Street and it’s always worth  the drive/subway/street car ride to get there.

Happy munching!

 

Prohibition Gastrohouse

On Mother’s Day GC and I went for lunch at Prohibition Gastrohouse.

The reason we went out to the Beaches was to go to The Burger’s Priest and of course, it was closed because it was Sunday and there was church (that’s what the sign says but I think it is just being cute/clever rather than religious). I applaud anyone who uses the Queen streetcar to come all this way because it’s terrible. We were pretty disappointed to have come all the way and not be able to try some burgers. We are intending to go back at some point so they better be damn good burgers.

We wandered along Queen for awhile looking for a place to lunch and we came across Prohibition Gastrohouse.

Eat well. Speak easy. Clever and historical – I love it.

This reminded me of a British pub: Dark wooden bar and tables, deep booths in green leather and an impressive selection of whiskeys and scotches. The front of the restaurant had garage style doors which opened up to let in a cool breeze and there looked to be a patio in the back. GC and I sat at the bar because it was a bar that was actually spacious enough to enjoy your meal and not feel crammed and the chairs had reasonably high backs to avoid being hunched over like a gremlin. The whole place was slightly dark and cozy, reminiscent of its speakeasy predecessors of the 1920s but not as sketchy or susceptible to raids.

Everything on the menu looked amazing and despite having Mac & Cheese the day before I ordered it again for lunch… and I ordered the full portion.

Vesuvio pasta, black truffles, Canadian Gruyere, 5 year old Cheddar, Ermite PQ Bleu, Shallots, Parmesan-Truffle oil brioche crust and bacon. This is the most ridiculous Mac & Cheese I will ever eat. It was creamy, earthy and smoky and surprisingly not salty. I think the truffles were a bit much and added more aroma than anything else. This is the best Mac & Cheese I have ever had but if I am craving Mac & Cheese, this wouldn’t be my choice. It is too rich and indulgent to be comfort food and satisfy feelings of homesickness and nostalgia.

To review how much Mac & Cheese I ate in a 4 day period here it is: Saturday dinner, Sunday lunch, Sunday dinner (I got my Mom’s recipe on Mother’s Day – how great is that!?), Monday breakfast, Monday lunch, and Tuesday lunch. In the course of the 8 meals I ate in the 4days, I had Mac & Cheese 6 times. How I did not have a massive heart attack I don’t know…

GC ordered the Pulled Pork Grilled Fromage with Duck Fat fries.

Duck fat confit pork butt, Black River maple Cheddar, 5 year-old Cheddar, on sourdough. Creamy, salty and stringy. I loved the presentation of the sandwich, on the almost palette-esque board. And it came with two sandwiches, how ridiculous is that? Ridiculous being used here to mean something positive. The duck fat fries were of course, amazing.

Althought this wasn’t where we were intending to end up, it was a happy surprise. This is a must check-out location in the Beaches. I only wish it was slightly closer to my house but I think that would be a dangerous thing…

Happy munching!

 

Hey Lucy Cafe

On Saturday night we went for a date night to Hey Lucy Cafe on Bloor St.

Remember when Hey Lucy used to be Mel’s Diner? The first summer GC and I were dating, we had breakfast at Mel’s at least once a week and we loved it.. Unfortunately, in my third year of university Mel’s closed permanently and was replaced by Hey Lucy. I think maybe we avoided Hey Lucy for sentimental reason but also because we were slightly poor as university students. Last Thursday I went for drinks with my friend Caitlin to celebrate her departure to Africa. I enjoyed it so much that I took GC on the weekend.

I was really surprised by the menu at Hey Lucy because it is very Italian which is not what I was expecting. I think I was expecting typical North American food with some Asian-fusion thrown in. What the menu turned out to be was much better. They have a wood burning oven that fills the whole restaurant with the smell of fresh, homemade pizza. The restaurant is very funky and hip, but grown up which is sometimes rare for the Annex as it is constantly infiltrated by university students. The tables are an assortment of high bar tables and stools, long bench seating and club chairs. There is also an amazing patio looking onto Brunswick with ample space and umbrellas.

**All my pictures were poorly lit as we were sitting on the ambianced patio. I really need to get a better camera.

We started off with some cocktails – I had a classic gin martini and GC had a Caramilk martini.

The sign that I am not yet an adult is that I can not handle a classic martini. I think maybe it would be better with vodka… regardless my favourite part was the olives. GC’s cocktail was good, it tasted just like the chocolate bar but the only problem was the amount of ice and chocolate chips in the glass. On Wednesday nights they have cheap cocktail nightand we are planning on spending many a Wednesday night on that patio this summer.

Then we had the Fried Calamari.

Calamari with dried chili, sea salt, lemon and a side of tzatziki. This is the best fried calamari I have ever had. It was perfectly crispy, not chewy and it tasted like an afternoon in Greece/Italy. The tzatziki was smooth and cool with a slight hint of citrus.

I had Lucy’s Mac and Cheese.

Double smoked bacon, cherry tomatoes and a four cheese Alfredo. This is the first Mac & Cheese I have had that reminds me of my mom’s. It was creamy but with a little bite. The tomatoes were soft and well cooked (not that my mom uses tomatoes). There were crunchy bread crumbs on top which is how I like my mom to make Mac & Cheese for me. Although I would have a better Mac & Cheese the next day (you don’t even know how much Mac & Cheese I ate in a four day period), I think if I am craving Mac & Cheese and don’t feel like making it, I will go for this one.

GC had the Seafood Fettuccine.

Tiger shrimp, scallops and calamari tossed in their house tomato sauce. Seafood and pasta, does it get much better than that? The seafood was cooked well but the scallops were a bit on the small side in my opinion. The tomato sauce was thick and fruity, the perfect compliment the the citrus notes in the seafood.

Tasty food, great drinks, funky ambiance and in one of my favourite Toronto neighbourhoods – clearly this means I am going back. Next time I will be trying some wood-oven pizza and hopefully I will be on the patio during the day so I can take some appetizing looking photos.

Happy munching!