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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Plank Diet

I have a joke that everything tastes better on a plank and that the only diet I believe in is a plank diet.

Last weekend GC and I ventured down to Cheese Boutique. If you have not been to this store, you must go. Now. It has the most magical assortment of cheeses, spreads, meats, crackers, breads, olives and everything that makes a perfect charcuterie board. There is also a cheese vault (which you can look at and tour in a google-map style on their website). Literally a vault that houses and ferments some of the greatest cheese in the world. When you walk in to this walk-in closet sized room you are hit with the most intense, pungent and amazing smell. I could spend hours in this room.

We spent too much money and picked up four types of cheese, three types of crackers, a bruschetta mix and chili okazu (a sesame, miso pasta that omigosh is so delicious on EVERYTHING).

Cheese Boutique provides brief descriptions of each cheese on the packaging. These are the four types of cheese we had:

Cantal: a raw cow’s milk cheese from around the French Alps. AOC controlled and aged in-house 18 months.

Super Manchego: the only sheep’s raw milk producer of Manchego. Aged in mountain caves in La Mancha. Brought in at 18 months and aged another 6 months to produce a drier, more crystalline texture.

Ontario Goat Cheddar: produced in Lindsay, Ontario with 100% local goat’s milk.

Blackout: Made in Holland exclusively for Cheese Boutique and aged 3 years in-house. This cheese has been released from our vault in honour of the blackout in the summer of 2013. Big, nutty flavour.

My favourite was the Blackout. It was deep in flavour, and had a caramelized, nutty flavour to it; it was a richer gouda.

I am making it a personal rule that I am not allowed to return until after my trip to Paris. Because after all, if you are going to the cheese capital of the world, you should maybe just wait.

Happy munching!

Ital Board

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetThe above is a snack I mae for a date-night with GC. It is an antipasto snack platter inspired by the Ital board at 416 Snack Bar: arancini, recipe antipasto skewers, prosciutto, two types of Italian cheese, olives, crostini and Italian greyhounds with rosemary sugar.

The recipe for the Italian greyhound is below the cut. Happy munching!

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Barque

Happy birthday to my favourite person in the entire world, GC!!! Well, technically his birthday was July 3rd and we did celebrate that day, I am just operating on a bit of a delay. On the suggestion of a coworker we decided to check out Barque Smokehouse for the birthday dinner.

We were seated on the patio – a cute little patio, off the side of the restaurant with twinkling lights. It was cozy and felt like someone’s backyard patio. When we were seated at the table we were greated by Barque’s signature popcorn – yums!

We ordered cocktails – GC ordered the Bourbon Smoked Sour (not pictured) and I ordered the Barque Caesar:

IMG_4068The Barque Caesar with vodka, Clamato, seasoned with pepper, Tabasco, horseradish and Worcestershire sauce, garnished with pickled asparagus and a slice of lime, and rimmed with smoked and candied bacon. This may be the best Caesar I have had. It was spicy, and thick, it tasted like a cocktail rather than tomato soup. It was garnished beautifully and it wasn’t ridiculous looking (unlike another Caesar I will be featuring on the blog shortly). The smoked and candied bacon was the perfect hint of savoury, fatty, sweetness to round out the flavour palate of this drink. I highly recommend it if you are a Caesar lover.

We started with an order of Smoked Chipotle Wings.

IMG_4062This wings were delicious. They were slightly small but when thinking about meat this should be viewed as reassuring rather than disappointing. It means that your meat is coming from chickens that are not on steriods and other growth horomones. The meat was juicy, tender and perfectly cooked. The sauce was SPICY. We made the rookie move of assuming that because we love chipotle mayo and the Mexican restuarant “Chipotle” we can therefore handle this heat. We cannot but they were still delicious.

Next we ordered the Barque Sampler for two. Barque Sampler for 2

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The Barque Sampler for Two with Meat: Beef Brisket, 2 Beef Rib, and 2 Competition Chicken Thighs and Sides: Fries, Cuban Corn, and Fennel Slaw.

The meats were better than the sides and I am totally ok with that. The beef brisket was tender, and had a rich, deep smoky flavour. The ribs had this amazing rub on them, that combined a wide range of flavours from coffee to cinnamon. The table beside us also ordered the ribs and asked their server what the blend of spices in the rub was. The server was unable to give away all the spices but brought out a small container of rub for them! The chicken thighs were tender, smoky and had a delicious sweetness from the sauce. There is the disclaimer on the menu that because the meats are smoked they will not come to you piping hot but warm. Eating this meal in the summer is perfect: it is substantial and filling but you won’t get hot and uncomfortable while eating your dinner (or is this just a problem that I have?).

The fries had a spice on them that was similar to the popcorn spice which made the fries sweet rather than salty – neither GC or I appreciated this. Fries are best when they are enjoyed in all their salty glory. The Cuban corn was sweet, had a hint of spice but was too cold to really enjoy. The kernels had done that awful thing where they start to shrivel once cool and all the juiciness from the corn disappears. The fennel slaw was my favourite part – tart and acidic with a fresh and citrus quality from the fruit. This is the prefect salad for summer.

I would have loved to be able to eat dessert but alas, there was no room. We later went home and enjoyed homemade mini twix cheesecakes (previously featured here)!

Barque was my first really introduction to this neighbourhood and I love it. It feels like a less busy and more mature Annex. We will definitely be going back to sample the endless options combined in the sample platters.

Happy munching!

Penne Carbonara

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Sometimes it is hard to maintain a food blog. You feel lazy and uninspired with your cooking so you go out for dinner. But instead of trying new and exciting places you opt for the good ole standbys. For us, this includes wings, sushi and unfortunately, a lot of Wendy’s. This has been my problem for about the past two months. Life has been chaotic lately and the weather has been unbearable with humidity and rain so my interest in food has fallen by the wayside.

BUT good news brought good food. Things at work brightened up so we had a celebratory dinner of pasta carbonara.

1. The recipe I used was from Michael Smith. I had taken a personal day the week before for an appointment and some shopping and while bumming around on the couch I stumbled across this recipe. It looked too good to not make as soon as possible.

2. Do not be scared by seemingly raw eggs! (They aren’t seemingly raw, they technically are).The hot pasta cooks the eggs and melts the cheese and makes for a creamy, delicious, stringy nest of yums.

3. This meal is the perfect hit of salt if you are craving savoury food. The quick fry of the pancetta and prosciutto brings out the fatty, salty goodness which is a natural pairing for the creaminess of the pasta.  The two types of Italian pork make this dish decadent and completely ridiculous.

4. The oregano is the  third component of this meal and it completes the dish. It brings a freshness to the dish that offsets the richness of the cheese, meat and egg. My brief stint in gardening is not resulting as well as I had planned and unfortunately my fresh herbs are shrivelled and pathetic. Instead of a summer with fresh herbs from my garden I have had to settle on fresh herbs from the grocery store. However, regardless of where the oregano is coming from, it makes this dish complete.

5. This might be my new favourite meal to make. It takes about 15 minutes to make and is filling, satisfying and a completely delicious. It is like a piece of Italy in a bowl that you can just hug close and drift away on a cold, rainy, gloomy day or a bright, sunny, happy day. That is the best kind of meal – a meal that brings comfort regardless of the  context you make it in. The only downside of this meal is the cost. Because of the limited number of ingredients: Parmesan, prosciutto and pancetta, they need to be very high quality and therefore expensive. It is probably a blessing in disguise because although it is delicious it is extremely not healthy.

6. GC said this is the best and creamiest carbonara he has ever had = seal of approval from an actual Italian = you should all make this now.

Happy munching!

Crock Pot Carnitas

In the past year I have become a huge fan of Mexican food. It started off with the arrival of Chipotle in Canada and then the Mexican restaurant that opened up on Main Street in Newmarket. Sicne then, I have tacos at least once a week and crave some form of Mexican food at least once week.

Last week I broke out my Crock Pot again and made homemade Mexican pulled pork or Carnitas.

1. Of course, being something that is made in a crock pot, this is extremely easy to make. It is worth getting a crock pot just to make this recipe. Before I went to work in the morning I through all the ingredients in, and set it on low for 8 hours. I called GC around 3:30 to put the crock pot on warming and when I got home it was ready to shred. The meat just fell apart with the touch of a fork.

2. After tearing the pork apart you put it on a baking sheet to get brown and crispy. It takes the pork up a notch. I would suggest spreading the pork in a thin layer to allow it to become incredibly crunchy. You will probably have a ton of leftovers if you aren’t serving about 6-8 people so don’t crisp all the pork. Crisp it when you are ready to serve it next.

3. The pork is moist, sweet, and spicy. This pulled pork is comparable to any that I have had at Mexican restaurants. Next time I would kick up the spice a notch. I didn’t add the beer because I didn’t have any in the house. I used a chunkier salsa to allow larger chunks of tomato to shine through. The citrus flavour was subtle, yet apparent and was highlighted once more lime was squeezed on top of the completed taco.

4. We topped our tacos with avocado, sour cream and cilantro. Simple but delicious.

Recipe below the cut. Happy munching!

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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!

 

Italian Easter Treats

Every Easter we make “calascioni” – they are the Italian equivalent of Polish pierogi or Asian dumplings (I say Asian because several countries in Asia have some form of dumplings, whether they be Chinese, or Japanese, etc). It is a tradition in GC’s family to only make these at Easter (on Good Friday, we made them this year on Easter Sunday) which is probably a good thing because they a little heart attacks wrapped in pasta.

The is the recipe written out by GC’s mom. I won’t post this recipe in such a public place even though old Italian ladies don’t use the Internet .

1. These are slightly expensive to make – all the cheese and meat are from Italy. The cost of everything to make these worked out to be around $50 but since it’s only one a year I think it’s worth it.

2. Cups of flour – GC’s grandmother helped make the dough which is traditional pasta dough with pepper in it. There is no exact measurements for the flour because his grandmother said, “I just know the amount to use.” I think after seeing her make the dough this year I will be able to make my own pasta dough next year.

3. There are two of these in my house. And when I get my Kitchen Aid mixer I will be getting the three-pack pasta maker attachment. I love this machine. GC and I have decided to make more pasta. And by more, I mean make pasta in general because we have never made it before. We had leftover pasta this year and we made fettuccine which GC had the pleasure of eating with some homemade pasta sauce made by his Nonna – I was extremely jealous of that.

4. The filling. I used hippy Omega-3 eggs and they had tiny yolks. This also caused issues with my pasta. Italian recipes need hearty, big eggs as Italians are hearty, big people. This year we accidentally bought the wrong type of cheese – instead of caciotta we bought mozzarella. GC thought caciotta referred to the shape of cheese, a cheese that was formed into a chubby little ball. This is probably also because old Italians will pinch your waist and say you are a chubby, little caciotta. Using the wrong type of cheese actually made the calascioni better. They were less dense and the cheese was creamer and stringy.

5. Bake at 325, for about 20 minutes or until they are bursting at the seams. Next year I think I want to use a round cookie cutter and make them perfectly symmetrical. These are salty, smoky, cheesy goodness.

These are best eaten right from the oven with a glass a wine – red or white, both will work wonderfully. If reheating, DO NOT USE A MICROWAVE!! Use the oven. Further advice, freeze a couple and in about July or August, pull out those four or five you had the foresight to freeze and enjoy them with a glass of wine on a warm summer night.

There are still some calascioni in our fridge and Easter was a week ago. I think that is the longest these have ever lasted but that’s because we didn’t share too many with people… Being selfish does have its rewards. Its tasty, tasty rewards.