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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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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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.

9.Borealia-Nick-Merzetti-featured-image-644x415Photo Credit: Source Unknown

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.

b6Photo Credit:  Dine Magazine

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!

Me & Mine

In the early days of Fall 2014, we visited Me & Mine for brunch. Me & Mine is a cute, small restaurant on College Street West. The interior is very simple and modern, with touches of mid-century modern art. There is plenty of natural light and the light wood of the tables and floors creates a warm and inviting atmosphere. We were seated at a small table at the back of the restaurant near the bar. Coffees and food were served on vintage camping dishes – another rustic, comfortable touch.

I ordered the Brussels Sprouts & Vintage Cheddar Pie.

IMG_1586The Brussels Sprouts & Vintage Cheddar Pie with pickled beet and sage salad.

The pie was fantastic. I love when brunch is actually a combination of breakfast and lunch foods. The crust was flaky, buttery and light. The filling was creamy and cheesy. The Brussels sprouts were roasted nicely – caramelized and slightly crispy on the outside and moist and juicy on the inside. This pie tasted like a Thanksgiving side dish at breakfast time.

As it was brunch it was necessary to order a poached egg on the side. Although the egg was poached nicely it was an awkward side to have ordered – I regretted this decision even though it only cost $2. The whole purpose of eating a poached egg is to have it explode over toast or eggs Benedict and sop up all the delicious lusciousness into your mouth. Not to have your yolk spill into your salad.

I have said it before and I will say it again: salad is not a side for brunch. This time it at least was a logical side, as having home fries accompany a pie would be a ridiculous carb-indulgence.

GC ordered The Breakfast.The Breakfast with house cured pork belly, pork sausage link two poached eggs, toast and compound butter, roasted potatoes and salad.

This is your standard big-breakfast on another level. All bacon should be house cured pork belly and all breakfast sausages should be this thick, meaty and juicy. If you are looking for something a little different in your brunch, but not too different or unconventional, check out Me & Mine.

My only criticism: while we were settling up our bill they asked if we wanted to take dessert to go. Of course we were tempted. The desserts available were peanut butter cookies (obviously not) and butter tarts. I asked if the butter tarts had nuts and I was told no so we ordered 2 to go. We get home and GC goes for the first bite and of course, there was walnuts in my butter tarts. This is incredibly irresponsible. Obviously, if you have a severe allergy, you should never take any chances and probably never even risk eating out but I also operate under the impression that restaurants are responsible and employee somewhat competent employees. WRONG. That’s ok. I’ll stick with the pies and breakfasts, GC said they were better anyway.

Happy munching!

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!

 

Cranberry Cherry Pie

IMG_4844I am addicted to making pies. I don’t bake anything else. And I think I am getting better. It has become a standing thing that whenever we get together with our friends Al and Jamie, I bake a pie. They never ask, and I never actually tell them, I just show up with a new flavour pie in my hands. Please, if you secretly hate it, I will stop.

Last time we got together with them I made a Cranberry Cherry pie (from Better Homes and Gardens). This was a new recipe that I was trying out and it came with its own pitfalls and challenges. I did my first lattice top which I think turned out pretty nicely and it was my first time using frozen fruit for a pie. When using frozen fruits for a pie I would suggest letting the fruit completely thaw and drain, to help limit the amount of liquid in your pie. Besides the excessive amount of liquid in the pie, the flavour of the filling was sweet with a slight tartness from both the cranberries and the cherries. There was a bit of citrus from the orange zest which complimented the zing of the ginger; but since I don’t love ginger, I would not use this next time. If you do want to use ginger, I would suggest not using candied ginger because it doesn’t melt or become part of the flavour. It stays whole and very distinct.

I liked the combination of cranberries and cherries but because the filling was so liquid I don’t know if I would attempt this again or just fault the recipe. Also, there are too many types of pie in the world to make the same recipes twice!

Recipe below the cut and happy munching!

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Apple Cranberry Hand Pies

Fall is the season of pies. There is just something comforting and cozy about smelling butter, discount cinnamon and harvest fruits oozing out of the oven and into the rest of the house.  Although apple and pumpkin are classic fall pies I am trying to experiment with new flavor profiles and combinations this fall. I am looking forward to baking with pears, salve a fruit I don’t give enough credit to for its flavor and versatility and pumpkin, a vegetable that is only used in October and November and therefore does not get enough time to shine.

My first pies of the season were apple cranberry hand pies. Hand pies are a trend I like, but I actually prefer a slice of pie. Hand pies are more convenient to eat but are more time consuming and tedious to make. You also do not get as much filling and cannot easily eat the pie with ice cream.

photoA few weeks ago I picked up this handy hand pie mold from Loblaws for $5.00. I picked it up in the hopes that this mold would ease the process of making hand pies. The one pictured is actually from Williams-Sonoma and therefore probably unnecessarily expensive and not worth it. However, for $5.00 – how can you say no?

I promptly threw out the recipe with the box and had to scour the internet for an alternative recipe, which lead me to Williams-Sonoma’s apple cranberry recipe and photo of the device.

IMG_4578Apple cranberry is a type of pie I had never had before but it is delicious and I recommend everyone try it/make it. The cranberry tartness rounds out the sweetness from the apples and brown sugar. The cranberry works with the spiciness of the cinnamon and nutmeg in a different way than the apple does, bringing together a new type of flavor from the apples and cranberry. It’s a new spin on a classic fall pie.

Recipe below the cut and happy munching!

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We’re Getting Married!!!!!!!!

The past month and a half has been insane! On August 22nd GC and I got engaged. He asked with Scrabble:

IMG_4402And we asked (some) our bridal party with a peach pie:

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We will be getting married on October 11th, prescription 2014. The next year is going to be filled with flowers, troche dresses but most importantly, menus and wedding cakes! Stay tuned for tasty updates!

Happy munching!

 

 

Meals in Minutes – Chicken Pot Pie

Meals in Minutes: Chicken Pot Pie. Photo from cookbook.

1. Chicken pot pie is yums. I don’t think I need to say anything further to convenience to make or eat it.

2. I love the filling of this pot pie. It is buttery, creamy and is spiced perfectly with thyme. The only thing it is missing is peas or some other vegetable. I like pot pie to be filled with veggies like peas, carrots and celery to give it an even heartier weight in my stomach.

3. Pot pie should be topped with actual pie crust, not puff pastry. Puff pastry is used in order to make this a quick, week night meal. The puff pastry does not hold up as well and becomes very gummy rather than staying crispy. I have another recipe for chicken pot pie that does use real pie crust so I will have to give that a try. I want to be one of those people who always has ready made pie crust in their freezer. There is currently a ball of sugar cookie dough in my fridge so I am on my way to becoming one of those people.

Recipe is below the cut and happy munching!

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Meals in Minutes – Spinach & Feta Pie

IMG_3427Meals in Minutes – Spinach and Filo Pie

1. I would consider this more of a breakfast/brunch type pie but hey, breakfast for dinner is also a thing. It is the use of egg that makes this more of a brunch item than a dinner food. Next time I make this dish, I would serve it for brunch.

2. This is rich, dense and has a slight decadence to it, even though it is simple, fresh ingredients of eggs, spinach and cheese. It is the buttery quality of the filo pastry that elevates this from the blandness of an simple quiche to pillowy deliciousness fit for brunch. The use of lemon with the spinach brought back vivid memories of my visit to the southern coast of Italy in March 2006 and even though it was chilly, the scent of fresh lemons still filled the air in Sorrento.

3. I did not enjoy the use of cayenne pepper between the sheets of filo pastry. It add another level that created tastebud chaos rather than cohesion. The use of nutmeg (I used ground nutmeg rather than whole, it works just as well) added the little something extra that made the use of cayenne completely unnecessary and excessive.

4. I didn’t use pine nuts (obviously) and the dish was not remotely lacking! If you have a nut allergy or you just don’t like them, don’t worry! It will still be delicious!

A hint of spice, a hint of freshness, the perfect brunch pie for a March weekend just on the cusp of spring.

Recipe below the cut and happy munching!

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