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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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!

 

Spring at La Carnita

We went to La Carnita a few weeks ago for a much needed date night and sampled new menu items.

We tried two new cocktails: I ordered the Jungle Bird (bottom) and GC ordered the Astroturf (top).

IMG_0172The Jungle Bird with Appletons VX, Campari, pineapple juice, lime juice and simple syrup. I need to acknowledge that I don’t love Campari and therefore cocktails with Campari are not my favourite. I liked this, but I didn’t love it. This was sweet, tart and fruity. It screams of the fruity flavours and bite that summer cocktails are known for. It tastes like a summer Negroni.

The Astroturf with Dillon’s gin, Cointreau, lime juice, Bittermen’s celery shrub, agave and soda. This was delicious. GC definitely made the better choice that evening. His drink was light, cool and refreshing. It also highlighted Dillon’s, my new favourite Canadian gin. I love the combination of gin and cucumber. The two ingredients highlight the refreshing qualities both have. Yums.

We ordered our usual selection of tacos and tried to the Tuesday special: The Squid the Kid.

IMG_0176Squid the Kid with crispy calamari, pickled green cabbage, fresh chilies and mango hot sauce.

Obviously this is amazing. The squid wa light, crispy and tender. The cabbage was tangy and crunchy. The chillies and mango hot sauce gave the taco a hot kick that makes this more than your average seafood taco. This taco is a great way to spend a Tuesday evening.

I love La Carnita – you all know that. If you haven’t been, you should go. You have no excuse – they are opening a new location in the Beaches soon! So you should go. And bring me. Happy munching!

La Cubana

On Sunday we found ourselves enjoying a beautiful day in Ronscevalles and a lovely brunch at La Cubana. When you enter the restaurant, they take your name and number and text when your table is ready. You are then able to leave the restaurant and explore the Roncey strip while you wait. This is perfect. It was a beautiful day and it was nice to not have to wait inside and within earshot of the restaurant. Once in the restaurant, it was nice to not have future brunch goers eying us down while they wait hungrily.

This restaurant has a cute, retro, 1950’s vibe to it which I imagine all of Cuba to have. The walls are tiled with a pale green tile, there is a long bar with stools and the floor tiles have a Spanish vibe to them. We were seated at the bar with a great view of the open kitchen.

IMG_0358We started off with some cocktails since we were having a late brunch at 12 o’clock. GC ordered a Cuba libre and I ordered a mojito.

IMG_0360A mojito is the perfect accompaniment to brunch. It is light, fresh with a hint of time.

GC ordered the Breakfast Sandwich.

IMG_0362 IMG_0363The Breakfast Sandwich with tomato, avocado, queso fresco, and a sunny side up egg with sides of rice, beans, tostones, and slaw.

This sandwich was recommended to us by our server. GC was debating between this sandwich and the Cubano and the server said that he had to go with the breakfast sandwich. This sandwich was ah-mazing. The highlight was the the huge, thick, slab-like piece of queso fresco in the middle of this sandwich. It was creamy, soft and milky. The egg was runny and oozed smoothly over the rest of the sandwich with every bite.

I ordered the Pork Belly.

IMG_0364 IMG_0365 IMG_0367Pork belly with pineapple glaze and sunny side up eggs with sides of rice, beans, tostones, and slaw.

This is one of the best breakfasts I have ever had. I would like every breakfast to come with pork belly rather than bacon. The pork belly was fatty, juicy, pull-apart deliciousness. The pineapple glaze had a sweetness to it, with big chunks of pineapple dotting the pork belly.

The eggs were a thing of beauty. I loved how rich in colour the yolks were: they were a marigold, yellow/orange colour and tasted sweet and creamy. They were done over-medium, the right balance of oozy goodness and thicker, creamy cooked yolk. The yolk oozed over the rice and beans.

The rice and beans were tasty. They had a nutty, slightly spicy flavour to them. The slaw was tangy and crunchy. The tostones were the only thing I wasn’t crazy about. The breading was crunchy and not greasy but I am not one for plantains. I topped my entire plate in a healthy amount of house made hot sauce. It was so tasty. Sweet, spicy, with a little bit of tang and bite. They should sell this so I can buy it.

We finished off our brunch with a dessert of two cafe con leches and donuts.

IMG_0368This was a great cup of coffee. It was light, creamy and sweet. The donuts were warm, and covered in a combination of cinnamon and sugar. How can that not be good? It was the perfect way to finish our meal.

This restaurant is everything I love about food in Toronto: different flavours and cuisines that you would never think of trying in neighbourhoods you don’t necessarily visit often but should. I would highly recommend a brunch here and I plan to return with various people and sample more of the menu. And the best part: they have a patio. I will be spending many summer days and nights at this spot.

Happy munching!

Small Town Food Co.

Last week we enjoyed a date night with Al and Jamie at Small Town Food Co., a new snack bar in Parkdale. The restaurant is small and narrow, with a very modern, minimal vibe to it. We were seated at a table near the back close to the bar – a great spot to watch the bartenders create their cocktails.

We each enjoyed a few cocktails. I ordered the Basil Smash and the Vintage ’84. The Basil Smash had Dillon’s Rose Gin, basil, and lemon. This drink was fresh, light and a taste of summer. The basil was pounded to a pulp, releasing all it’s juices and aroma. I am planning on growing basil this summer and will be looking for cocktails featuring it all summer long. It featured Dillon’s gin which is distilled in the Niagara area, a new find which I have tried in two cocktails this spring and can’t wait to try more of. I plan to visit the distillery soon – who’s in?

The Vintage ’84 had Tanqueray gin, cucumber, mint, sugar, and fresh lime. This was very similar to a cocktail I made the other day however, I prefered mine. As the only liquid in the cocktail is the gin, the cocktail was very creamy and thick, instead of fresh and light like I had hoped.

We ordered snacks to share. The server advised that you should order 2-3 plates per person and share, tapas style. The plates are too small to share between a group of four and feel full and satisfied and the bill will quickly add up.

We ordered four items off the meat section of the menu: the Duck Pogo, the Scotch Egg, Tartare of Deer and the Honey BBQ Pork Ribs. The Duck Pogo had minced duck, and honey dijon. The breading was crispy, and light. The duck was nothing special, it didn’t have the distinct, heavy duck taste to it. The honey dijon sauce was delicious but how could it not be – it was sweet, and spicy and the perfect compliment to deep fried duck.

The Scotch Egg with pork rillettes, a soft egg, and hot sauce.

Scotch EggPhoto credit: Toronto Life

If you have never had a Scotch egg I suggest you try one. Traditionally it is a hard boiled egg that is deep fried. The Scotch egg at Small Town Food Co. is a soft boiled egg encrusted with a salty, fatty casing and then dipped in a slightly sweet, but spicy hot sauce. I would like to enjoy one of these each morning with a cup of tea. This was the perfect first introduction to the Scotch egg and I will definitely be enjoying more in the future.

The Tartare of Deer had hand-cut tenderloin, a quail yolk, and was served with crustini. I love tartare and will almost always order it if I am in a legit restaurant, with a talented kitchen where I know I won’t die from poor quality meat. The fact that I have never had deer was an added bonus. This tartare was good but missed the zing from the capers and had none of the gamey-quality associated with deer. It was ok, but not a hit.

The Honey BBQ Pork Ribs came with potato salad, and double smoked bacon. In retrospect, it was foolish to order ribs with the intention of sharing them. It was a half rack of ribs that we attempted to share between 4 people. We were not given a proper knife to cut the ribs but luckily they were fall off the bone. They were sweet with a bit of tang and were juicy. The potato salad was good and the double smoked bacon was a welcomed addition to your traditional mayo-based salad. I would recommend these ribs but not for sharing and definitely not for the price: $21 for a half rack of ribs? No, thank you.

We ordered three items from the seafood section of the menu: the Oysters Rockefeller, the Scallop Ceviche and the Fish and Chips. The Oysters Rockefeller had grano padano, and spinach. If you love seafood but hate how slimey it can be, then oysters Rockefeller should become your new best friend. As an oyster lover myself, I was excited to try these as I’ve only enjoyed oysters raw. These are everything you want your seafood to be. The oysters are fishy but fresh, with a saltiness that reminds you of the ocean. The cheese and spinach work together to create a cheesy, wilted, salty topping that slides down perfectly with the oyster. You are transported back in time when eating these. You feel like you are in the 1960’s, enjoying martinis at lunch with Don Draper. This is a feeling I love and would want to feel again and again.

The Scallop Ceviche had charred lime and crispy shallots. Scallops are easily and with out a doubt my favourite seafood. Ceviche is the seafood form of tartare (loosely obviously) so of course I was down to try something that combined two of my favourite foods. The scallops were thinly sliced but you could still feel that fleshy texture with each bite. The scallops stood in contrast to the scallops, being a crispy and salty texture that was necessary to round out the dish. The lime gave the entire dish the necessary element to make it a ceviche and offered a citrus, refreshing flavour. Yum.

The Fish and Chips was panko crusted rare albacore tuna, edamame pureé, and tartar sauce. Fish and ChipsThis is obviously the most creative and interesting form of fish and chips any of us had ever had. The tuna was crusted and lightly seared, leaving the center fleshy and pink. The edamame pureé and tartar sauce were a combination of sweet and salty and were a great compliment to the tuna.

We finished off the evening with an order of Bread Pudding topped with bananas. This was not the best bread pudding I have ever had. The chunks of bread were a little tough instead of being moist and soft. The bananas however, were amazing. They were caramelized and sweet and should top everything.

We liked this place, but we didn’t love it. It is overpriced and unsubstantial. I understand the entire basis of this restaurant is bringing farm-fresh local ingredients to the city but at what price tag? Nothing we ordered was seasonal or from a specific local farm, a trend that has become a standard in Toronto restaurants. The prospect of an interesting, successful restaurant is there but under the wrong guise. This is more of an overpriced snack bar rather than a tapas-style sharing restaurant. I would suggest going for one drink and one plate. Out of everything we tried I would suggest the fish and chips and the ceviche.

Happy munching!

 

Afternoon Tea – The Royal York

Sometimes you need to be a bit fancier and take your afternoon get-togethers to the next level. For me, order this means grabbing a few girlfriends and having afternoon tea at the Royal York. I went for afternoon tea with two delightful ladies, nurse Stephanie and Claire. These girls are my friends from work that I take morning and afternoon break with every day. We head to the lunch room and have a cup of tea together. It was only a matter of time before we took our tea drinking to the next level and had proper afternoon tea.

The Royal York does not overbook their tea service, allowing you to sit and enjoy, not feeling rushed or overcrowded. As the tea service is not overbooked, the room is not loud or distracting. There is a gentle hum of conversation and the clinking of tea cups. We were seated at a small table by the window with two chairs and a couch.

We each started off with our own pot of tea. This is the only choice you have to make during the tea service. I chose the Kyoto Cherry Rose tea.

IMG_0131My tea came in a beautiful rose covered tea pot. The other girls’ tea came in different tea pots. I don’t know whether or not this is proper tea etiquette but the affect is charming and brings a little whimsy to a fussy and proper event. The tea was a Japanese green tea that was lightly infused with notes of fruits and florals. It started delicate and subtle and as the tea steeped the flavor became fuller and richer. This is the best tea I have ever had and puts all my David’s Tea to shame. It is available at the Fairmont store so I might just have to get some…

We were then presented with four finger sandwiches.

IMG_0123Center bottom, clockwise: Farmer’s Egg Truffle Chive Salad, St Mary’s Smoked Salmon with Fairmont Royal York lemonade aioli and cucumber, St. Lawrence Market Caprese with organic baby arugula, pesto, mayo, vine ripened tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella cheese and Smoked Aurora Turkey Breast with a cranberry emulsion.

I know what you are thinking – how is this enough food for anyone to eat and feel satisfied and not outraged at the price tag associated with it? Trust me it is. Since you are enjoying your food at a leisurely pace, drinking copious amounts of tea, followed by rich pastries you will feel full and satisfied.

The egg salad sandwich had a bit too much egg for the size of baguette it was on. The salad itself was creamy and had a deeper, woodsy taste to it. The eggs used had a rich, buttery flavor to them and were not overwhelmed by the mayonnaise or the truffles.

The St. Mary’s smoked salmon was a pure delight. The salmon was smoky, tender and not overly fishy. There was hints of lemon and the cucumber added a fresh, coolness to the sandwich. This was perfectly offset by the heaviness of the bread, which made the sandwich substantial and filling.

The St. Lawrence Market Caprese sandwich was easily my favourite. It was delicate and light but still rich and creamy from the buffalo mozzarella. The tomatoes were fresh and the pesto conjured memories of an Italian summer garden. I will be making a version of this sandwich all summer long.

I was least impressed with the Smoked Aurora Turkey sandwich. It lacked the depth of flavor that the other sandwiches had. I would have liked more cranberry to the sandwich and a hint of greenery to give it that much needed crunch and contrast.

Our table was then graced with a tower of sweet perfection.

Afternoon Tea IIIAfternoon Tea IVIMG_0127Top Tier: Guava and raspberry mousse
Middle Tier: French Macaron and Paté de Fruit and Chocolate Truffle Flourless Cake
Bottom Tier: Devonshire Cream to be served with Tradition Scones and a selection of Preserves

Photo Credit (desserts): the one and only Steph

This is the most elegant and extravagant presentations of desserts. It is over the top and indulgent and I absolutely love it.

We started with the scones. This was my first taste of what a proper scone is: firm on the outside, but flaky and buttery on the inside. The scone is then made all the better by slathering it in Devonshire cream and jams. My favourite part was the dusting of icing sugar on top of the scone. It is simple but has a very pretty affect and tastes sweet.

The desserts were all wonderful. My favourite was the chocolate cake. It felt heavy and dense but was smooth and creamy and all sorts of wonderful. It was the perfect way to end a delightful afternoon.

Afternoon tea is fancy treat and one I think you should all take part of. Our plan is to check out all the tea services recommended by Toronto Life here. Next one on my list is Windsor Arms!

Happy munching!

Broccoli Leek Soup

Today you get something special: a peek into what Taste Buddies would be like if GC wrote this blog. Last week GC made a delicious broccoli leek soup (Williams-Sonoma – March 5) because I didn’t have time to during the week. As you will see, GC is much more deligent about his cooking and blogging – he photographed every step of the process.

IMG_5601This soup was delicious. The soup retains the texture of the broccoli florets and has subtle undertones of leek. Leeks are a great alternative to onion as they have the same onion flavour, but are sweeter and fresher, a nice mix between green onion and yellow onion.

The garlic croutons add a nice crunch but quickly dissolve into the soup. The sour cream and chives taste fresh and cool, tasting and reminding you of spring. This is the perfect soup to usher in the start of spring and I want to thank GC for doing such an amazing and delicious job!

Recipe and photos are below the cut – happy munching!

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Spring 2014

We are officially into spring and I am embracing it. It has been a long, thumb cold and all over the place winter. My head is about to explode after so many rises and falls in temperature and pressure. Although it looks like we have some more cold days ahead of us here are my inspirations for spring:

Spring InspirationTulips – Photo Credit: Set Fashion – Tulips are the quintessential spring flower. They are one of the first flowers to break through the remaining snow and give proof that spring is around the corner. I plan to fill my kitchen with tulips this spring to make it a more inviting and brighter space, illness to inspire delicious cooking and flavours.

Brunch – Photo Credit: The Huffington Post –  I know that seems very broad and not specific to spring but the center of any brunch plate is an egg and the center to all spring things is eggs. This spring I want to explore and wander through more neighbours and cap off every wandering with a delicious brunch.

Nautical things – Photo Credit: Oh So Lovely Vintage Blog – nautical design is just what you need after a long winter. Simple patterns, bold colours, and iconic imagery reminds one of the warm days ahead. I want to wear striped sweaters, cropped pants and boat shoes. I want to spend more days down by the water. I want to eat more seafood.

Three simple things to kick off the warm weather of 2014. Enjoy and spring forward!

Update: Spring & Summer 2013 To-Do List

Spring is drawing to a close and here is how my to-do list is progressing:

1. Go to a strawberry patch and pick my own berries.
2. Make homemade strawberry jam.
3. Grow an herb garden including cilantro, basil, chives and green onion
4. Tour a brewery
5. Tour a winery
6. Try a new sangria recipe
7. Use the barbecue as a smoker
8. Cook breakfast on the barbecue
9. Finally use my ice cream maker
10. Make ice pops
11. Go on a picnic
12. Make homemade iced tea
13. Eat more salads – beans, green and fruit
14. Eat as much corn on the cob as possible in the month of August
15. Grill asparagus and wrap it in prosciutto
16. Sit on a patio at least once a week
17. Drink beers in the backyard sitting in Muskoka chairs
18. Visit farmer’s markets
19. Try gazpacho
20. Drink a cocktail decorated with an umbrella
21. Pick peaches
22. Decorate cupcakes with edible flowers like pansies
23. Make a vodka watermelon
24. Cook on a bonfire
25. Eat carnival foods: cotton candy, corn dogs and slushies

I really thought I was doing better with this list but the summer is still young! The next items I hope to cross of the list are everything involving strawberries and the ice cream maker.

Spring/Summer 2013

IMG_3526Summer is fast approaching and I want to utilize as much fresh air, fresh produce and sun as I can. My friend Al over at Le Faz created a list of 25 Things to Do This Spring which inspired me to create my own list of food-related activities for spring and summer 2013.

1. Go to a strawberry patch and pick my own berries.
2. Make homemade strawberry jam.
3. Grow an herb garden including cilantro, basil, chives and green onion
4. Tour a brewery
5. Tour a winery
6. Try a new sangria recipe
7. Use the barbecue as a smoker
8. Cook breakfast on the barbecue
9. Finally use my ice cream maker
10. Make ice pops
11. Go on a picnic
12. Make homemade iced tea
13. Eat more salads – beans, green and fruit
14. Eat as much corn on the cob as possible in the month of August
15. Grill asparagus and wrap it in prosciutto
16. Sit on a patio at least once a week
17. Drink beers in the backyard sitting in Muskoka chairs
18. Visit farmer’s markets
19. Try gazpacho
20. Drink a cocktail decorated with an umbrella
21. Pick peaches
22. Decorate cupcakes with edible flowers like pansies
23. Make a vodka watermelon
24. Cook on a bonfire
25. Eat carnival foods: cotton candy, corn dogs and slushies