Scratch Kitchen

The first brunch of 2015! As someone who eats brunch a lot, it was important for me to start my Brunches of 2015 on a high note. I know this is a ridiculous notion as the ending of one year isn’t really any more significant than the ending of a regular day, week, month but convention dictates that we must reflect on the past 365 days and makes goals for the next 365 days. My brunch-related resolutions are:

  1. Complete the BlogTO Top 50 Brunch List. I am so close to this goal with only 5 more to go. In 2015, I want to be done this list once and for all.
  2. Create my own Top 10 brunch list. You have all been waiting with baited breath for this list and in 2015 I want to be able to deliver this to you.
  3. Go out for brunch less. And instead, make brunch at home. And even host more brunches. Between Breakfast Central and our epic espresso machine, I should be able to create a breakfast at home to rival any restaurant in Toronto.

My first brunch of 2015 did not fulfill any of these goals but that’s ok. You can’t always be a stickler for the rules. We decided to check our Scratch Kitchen, a new restaurant just north of Lawrence and Yonge, a location we loosely consider our neighbourhood. Since it is “in our neighbourhood” we wanted to check out if it could become our new, go-to brunch spot.

Although it was technically a weekday morning (a Friday, the day after New Year’s Day) the restaurant was about half full. They obviously did not assume a lot of people would have this day off and would want to go for brunch because there was only one server working. To be fair, he was hustling. He was seating people, taking orders, making coffee and lattes and doing kitchen runs.

We were seated at a table near the back of the restaurant, against the giant blackboard wall. This wall had drawings of pigs with cuts of meat, daily special and drinks. It’s a neat focal point however, sitting next to a giant black board results in excessive amounts of dust on everything.

I wasn’t overly impressed with the menu. It had 4 proper breakfast options, 3 of which were variations of your standard egg breakfasts. It was very sandwich heavy which is fine, but sandwiches do not scream brunch to me. I understand brunch is literally a combination of breakfast and lunch menu items but I don’t want to eat a sandwich at 10 o’clock in the morning. Despite this, I wanted to order the pulled pork sandwich. They had run out. This bothered me because they were closed the day before which meant they hadn’t planned ahead and did not make the pork the night before. Fine. I will order a different sandwich.

I ordered the BLT.

IMG_2885In-House 10 day cured bacon, local Ontario tomatoes and seasonal greens with house made Chardonnay mayonnaise.

B is the first letter in BLT and therefore should be the dominate ingredient and flavour. Then why was there this excessive amount of lettuce on my sandwich? When I could finally get to some bacon it was very good. It was fatty and crispy, with the right amount of saltiness to it. The Chardonnay mayo was nice; it added the right amount of tang and zest to the sandwich. There was a little bit too much of it on the sandwich which made it a bit sloppy and difficult to eat. The home fries were good – cooked thoroughly and not too crispy. This was decent but not great. I would not go back to eat it or recommend it.

GC ordered the Steak and Eggs.

IMG_2884Certified AAA Angus Ontario beef, served with 2 certified organic farm fresh eggs, home fries and choice of in-house baked bread.

Did you cut up my steak for me to disguise the amount you gave me? To be fair, this was the cheapest steak and eggs I’ve ever seen on a menu – it was $12 – so it is completely reasonable that you are not getting a massive portion of it. The server had said that the serving is supposed to be 4 oz. but the portion typically ends up being 6 oz. 4 oz. is not huge; that’s the size of a Quarter-Pounder hamburger at McDonald’s. On top of which, GC was not asked how he wanted his steak cooked. Steak is something that everyone has a preference on how they want it cooked. GC typically like medium-well and this steak was medium-rare. The in-house baked baguette was a nice touch.

We liked our breakfast but we didn’t love it. Overall, the service was slow, the food was okay and we weren’t spectacularly impressed. In a city that has such a prominent brunch scene it is hard to make an impact, and unfortunately for us, Scratch Kitchen did not. Brunches of 2015 did not get off to a great start but there are 356 more days to fix that!

Happy munching!

The First Married Brunch – La Cubana

After 2 beautiful weeks in Spain and Portugal for our honeymoon, eating delicious foods and drinking wine, you would think my appetite would be satiated for a long time. And for certain foods, it still is. I have not craved oysters since the ones I ate at Mercado de San Miguel and I won’t be eating foie gras any time soon. However, one thing was missing from this trip food-wise: brunch.

Europeans do not do brunch or breakfast. The only legitimate breakfast we ate while on our honeymoon was in Lagos, which is a haven for British tourists. There, we were able to enjoy a traditional English breakfast. So of course, when we arrived home, one of the first things we did was go for brunch. We decided for our first brunch as husband and wife we would go to one of our favourites, La Cubana.

IMG_2201Since we hadn’t had brunch in over two weeks (yes, I acknowledge that all my problems are #firstworldproblems) we decided to go big. We started with the corn frituras.

IMG_2198All meals, including brunch, should have appetizers. GC liked these more than me. I’m not super into corn flavours; for example, I don’t like corn bread. But how can you say no to anything deep fried? These were crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. They were a combination of sweet and savoury with hints of fresh herbs dotting the fritura. The dipping sauce was great. It was creamy and the perfect amount of heat.

GC ordered the Steak and Eggs. IMG_2199

The Steak and Eggs with chimichurri steak and sunny side up eggs.

I am not in to chumichurri. This is the second occasion I have had it (the first being at Big Crow) and it does nothing for me. It tastes like slightly-off spinach. I wish it was more spicy, citrusy or fresh.

The steak was also way over done. GC likes his steak medium to medium-well but this was a little charred. You should never have to saw through a steak, especially one that is ordered out at a restaurant. Unless you’re into that.

I ordered the Cuban Breakfast. IMG_2200

The Cuban Breakfast with slow roast pork and poached eggs.

The first time we went, I ordered the pork belly and it was delicious. This is essentially the same dish without pineapple, with poached eggs instead of sunny side up and more expensive. This was tasty, but I would say go with the pork belly. The combination of pork and pineapple bumps this dish up to the next level and has a more dynamic combination of flavours. Although adding poached eggs to anything makes life better.

During our first visit to La Cubana, we made better choices but this visit does not disparage us against this restaurant. Any menu that so heavily features pork is delicious in my books. Happy munching!

Delux

At the start of June, I get the opportunity to celebrate the birthday of one of the greatest people of all time, Cynthia. As you know, Cynthia is great and is one of my favourite people to share food with. To celebrate this year’s birthday we went to Ossington to have dinner at Delux.

It seems unfair for me to taunt you with this deliciousness as Delux recently just closed but it really was delicious and you need to know about it. There are also talks that they are working on something new so you can look forward to that.

We started off with mojitos and decided to order two appetizers and split an entree. Our first starter was the Grilled Tiger Shrimp.

IMG_0650 IMG_0651The grilled tiger shrimp and tostones.

This was delicious. The avocado was smooth, buttery and fresh with hints of lime. The shrimp was slightly charred and smoky. It was tender and sweet. The tostones were the perfect platforms to serve all this deliciousness on. I preferred these tostones to the ones at La Cubana. They were more tender but still crispy with hints of salty, nuttiness.

Next, we had the Duck Confit Empanada.

IMG_0652The crust was flaky, buttery and tender. It carefully enveloped the soft, delicate duck. The duck was perfect – fatty, salty and tender. Raisins were dotted throughout the empanada. They were soaked, juicy and tender. They were little tidbits of sweetness sprinkled throughout the richness of the duck.

Then we had the Grilled Flat-Iron Steak.

IMG_0655 IMG_0656The grilled flat-iron steak with chimichurri and and shallots.

This was not great and the low point of the meal. We asked for the steak to be cooked medium and it came out rare. It was lightly seared on all sides and very pink, almost purple, on the inside. If the steak had been a high-quality cut of meat this wouldn’t have been a problem but it was not a good cut of meat. The meat was tough and chewy, sinews threaded throughout. Ick. The crispy shallots were the high point of the dish but the condiment should never be the high point.

And lastly, but never least, we ordered dessert. We split an order of Buttermilk Donuts.

IMG_0657

These donuts were the perfect cap to a delicious dinner. They were still warm from being fried, thickly dusted in cinnamon sugar. They were dipped in a thick cream topped with caramel.  The presentation was simple but sweet. It brought back memories of summers at The Ex eating fresh Tiny Tom Donuts. These are the best donuts I have ever eaten (sorry Tiny Tom!). I have found something I love more than churros, which I didn’t think was possible. Yummmmmms.

After dinner we headed up the street to Bellwoods Brewery to enjoy some beers and people watching – the perfect night on Ossington Avenue. Happy birthday Cynthia – it’s going to be a great year!

Happy munching!

The Saint

My ideal weekend morning contains two things: brunch and discovering a new neighbourhood. Brunch is relaxing and comforting for me.  The restaurants always seem to have ample sunlight pouring into them regardless of the season; there is a low hum of conversation and amazing smells surrounding you. Brunch brings out the best in your company, whether it is a brunch date with a boyfriend or a friend, a large group of people reconnecting or just a good book or newspaper. Brunch recharges me and gets me ready for the next week ahead.

New neighbourhoods remind me that this city is vast and is constantly changing. My neighbourhood of choice is the Annex. It contains huge sentimental value for me from the house were GC lived when we first started dating to the restaurant where I first ate sushi. Walking through the streets is literally a walk down memory lane for me. New neighbourhoods have new surprises: unseen streets, new tastes and smells and new favourite spots.

This weekend combined both of those: we had a much anticipated brunch at The Saint and wandered through the residential streets of Little Portugal. We had been looking forward to this brunch for two weeks. GC had been working midnights making the ability to go to brunch on weekend near impossible.

Reason #1 to go to The Saint for brunch: THEY TAKE RESERVATIONS. This is almost unheard of in Toronto for brunch. We made a reservation late Saturday night and showed up at 10:30 and were promptly seated. When we arrived at the restaurant there was not a lot of full people in the restaurant but it quickly filled up.

We were seated at a small bistro table. The table was cute and cozy but between our coffee cups, water glasses, cutlery, napkins and plates it was a tight squeeze. Reason #2 to go to The Saint for brunch: they serve amazing coffee. I have recently switched to coffee at brunch rather than orange juice because a) it makes me feel like an actual adult and b) because unlimited refills.If you are an avid coffee drinker and bad coffee ruins your meal when you go out for brunch, look no further.

We started with an ordered of deviled eggs.

IMG_0065Deviled Eggs with bacon, jalapeños and sour cream.

Reason #3 to go to The Saint for brunch: deviled eggs! Deviled eggs are one of those things that everyone agrees are delicious but for some reason, people rarely make them. These eggs were creamy and rich, having a flavour palate of this decade rather than the 1970s. The bacon added saltiness and the jalapeños added a very subtle heat. Yum, yum, yum!

GC ordered the Steak and Eggs.

IMG_0066 IMG_0067Steak and eggs with bone marrow baked beans, fried duck eggs, cheddar biscuits and brown sauce.

I had contemplated ordering this but I am glad I didn’t because it is ridiculously huge! I was allowed, however, to munch from GC’s plate. My favourite part of this dish was the bone marrow baked beans. Now, I typically don’t like baked beans but these beans are on a whole other level. They are sweet, salty, rich and decadent. Bone marrow should be added to anything and everything if the result is this delicious.

The only thing we weren’t crazy about was the brown sauce. Brown sauce is a traditional UK side to breakfast and it is like a sweet barbecue sauce. I don’t think I need this as part of my breakfast. Sorry.

I ordered the Croque Madame.

IMG_0068 IMG_0069The Croque Madame with ham, mornay, gruyere and greens.

Reason #4 to go to The Saint for brunch: they serve Croque monsieurs and madames. This is a menu item that I usually don’t order outside of Quebec and I absolutely love it. This version was just as good as anything I have eaten in Quebec. The bread was toasted and crispy, the cheese and sauce oozed out of the sandwich and were silky, thick and decadent. The egg on top was a duck egg and because of this dish, I have completely fallen in love with duck eggs. I would like to replace all regular eggs with duck eggs. The yolk is thicker, more luscious and has a richness to it. Yummmms.

After brunch we explored the neighbouring streets and checked out some beautiful homes and some neat graffiti. There are tons of hidden alleyways to pop in and out of. This is a neighbourhood we are slowly discovering through various restaurant visits and we will definitely be going back again and again to The Saint. I think you should go too!

Happy munching!

Soup: Round Up III

As we enter April the weather is slowly warming up which means that our soup days are numbered. This summer I vow to try chilled soups but until then, here is a few warm soups I made in March.

IMG_55611. Steak and Potato Soup – January 26 – this soup is a thick, luscious stew. The vegetables are roasted and sweet, coated in caramelization. It takes your typical beef stew to another level with sophsticated and different vegetables: sweet potatoes and parsnips. The steak is moist and falls apart in the stew. This will definitely make a regular appearance in our house next winter.

2. Cream of Asparagus Soup – March 2 – this soup tastes like pure spring. Asparagus is one of my favourite vegetables and I wait all year for it. It is so fresh, tender and moist. The soup is creamy, light and fresh. It needs to be puréed a lot to remove all the natural stringiness that asparagus has. Add a dollop of sour cream and fresh chives to add even more freshness and you are kicking off spring!

3. Moroccan Lamb Meatball and Couscous Soup – March 22 – I was so excited for this soup. The picture in the cookbook was so appealing: spicy meatballs, a red broth, pearls of couscous dotting the soup and pieces of mint floating on the surface. However, mine did not turn out like this. It turned into a congealed blob of couscous with meatballs stuck in it. I used Moroccan couscous because I couldn’t find Israeli and this made a huge difference. Moroccan couscous is smaller and is sucked up so much broth. i couldn’t find ground lamb so I used ground chicken. This recipe was a mismatch of substitution. GC didn’t mind it though and I guess if at least one person enjoyed and ate all the soup then it couldn’t have been that bad.

Recipes are below the cut – happy munching!

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Steak Salad

In our house, we can be accused of not eating enough vegetables. We are carnivores and proud of it. We will never give up red meat, avoid salty, fatty deli meats like prosciutto and I will never substitute tofu/veggie-something where meat is meant to be. All of that being said I am making an honest effort to get us slightly more healthy and fit.

A few weeks ago I started this effort by making Giada De Laurentiis’ Steak Salad.

Food Credit: Food Network

I’m sorry, I had to work meat in there somehow.

In theory this is an easy meal to make. However, because I don’t know how to cook (apparently) I sliced deep into my thumb with a serrated knife while cutting up the lettuce for this salad. Yes, that’s right: I did not injure myself while cutting steak but while cutting lettuce. In retrospect, I should have gotten stitches as one should do with all deep, serrated cuts but now I will proudly sport my first cooking scar.

I absolutely loved this salad. The flavours worked together nicely, from the subtle blend of greens (romaine, endive and arugula) to the kick of blue cheese and the juiciness from the steak. The dressing added a nice tang and citrus taste to the salad. I can’t wait to make this in the summer and enjoy it in the backyard with a nice cold beer.

The perfect salad to make you dream of summer and forget how bloody cold it has been lately! Recipe from the Food Network is below the cut and happy munching!

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Playa Cabana Cantina

Happy birthday to me! This year marked a milestone birthday for me – I turned 25. I am officially in a new age box on surveys: 25-34. My birthday didn’t send me spinning into a quarter life crisis. Instead, viagra I took the week off and celebrated. I kicked off my birthday celebrations with Thanksgiving and then eased into the week with a visits to Playa Cabana Cantina with GC and my sister Amelia.

Playa Cabana Cantina in the Junction has a much more chilled out, site hipster vibe then the original location on Dupont. The décor is a mixture of vintage, fluorescent lights and rustic textures and materials. It feels like a western Tex-Mex saloon circa 1967. I have plans of hitting up their late night taco special (after 10 pm Thursday-Sunday 3 for $12.00 tacos) with a few drinks sometime in the near future.

We started off with an order of chips and guacamole. The guacamole was good – it was a little too creamy for my personal taste but the chips were fried to crispy perfection and salted with just the right amount of salt.

Amelia and GC ordered the same tacos: the Pescado, Ancho-Braised Shortrib, and the Venera Frita .

IMG_4659 IMG_4660 IMG_4662I ordered the following tacos: the Pollo Tinga, the La Truck, and the Ahi-Tuna.

IMG_4661The pollo tinga was completely drenched in a sauce that was spicy but flavourful. The chicken was shredded and fell apart with each bite. The crispy tortilla held up against the weight of all the toppings. The guacamole was smooth and silky, a nice contrast to the texture of the chicken. The onion gave off a different kind of heat than the chicken offered and the cheese added another level of creaminess. This is the perfect chicken taco. It has inspired me to look up my own pulled chicken recipes to use this winter in my slow cooker. If you have any recommendations let me know!

IMG_4663The la truck taco was a steak taco. The steak was diced into perfectly bite-sized pieces. The steak was tender, juicy and had hints of barbecued smokiness to it. The slaw on top offset the richness and heaviness of the taco and had hints of citrus that were further brought out with the squeeze of fresh lime. This may be the best steak taco I have ever had.

IMG_4664The ahi tuna taco was good but not my favourite fish taco; that title still belongs to La Carnita’s  “In Cod We Trust”. I found the taco lacked any sort of further flavor besides the fish taste. The tortilla was too small and overloaded; it literally crumbled under the weight of the deliciousness of the taco. However, as there was a fork and knife at the table I was still able to munch all this goodness.

After our lunch at Playa Cantina, it was decided that we all prefer it to La Carnita – shocking, I know. La Carnita will continue to hold the title for my favourite fish taco and I will continue to visit it but Playa might turn out to be my go-to Mexican restaurant in the city.

Happy munching!

Canoe

On February 7th we celebrated our five year anniversary. It’s crazy to think that all of this started five years ago and no one would have ever predicted it would become something this amazing. GC is my best friend and I can’t imagine life without him. I love him and I know we have many, many years of love, friendship and adventures ahead of us.

Ok. Enough for the sentimental, on to the food and how we celebrated. Since it was a milestone anniversary, we decided to go big. We stayed downtown at the Royal York hotel, we went for dinner at Canoe and we had cocktails at Library Bar.

Canoe is a fantastic restaurant. We had gone there once before for Summerlicious and it was amazing, but you truly need to visit and taste of the regular menu because it is exponentially better, if that’s even possible. We were seated at a table for four, with both of us sitting together facing out onto the city and harbour on a cold and snowy day. It was the perfect, romantic atmosphere to celebrate an anniversary.

Our server asked us if we were here for a special occassion and we told him it was our anniversary. This prompted him to give us some free samples off the tasting menu! Happy anniversary indeed!

We started off with a cocktail – the Winter Wonderland. Jack Daniels honey liqueur, Benedictine, milk and nutmeg, topped with a Bobbette & Belle marshmallow. This is one of the best cocktails I have ever had. It was served in a tall, slender glass, packed with ice and the cocktail was a lush brown colour. It was a rich chocolate milk spiked with booze and spiced up with nutmeg. The marshmallow on top was a playful touch, that was sweet, whimsical and nostalgic. The straw in the drink was a paper straw that looked like a birch tree. This just added to the illusion that this drink was truly a winter wonderland. Yums.

We started with the night’s amuse bouche that was a cauliflower soup with Earl Grayed sultanas. This soup was thick, creamy and earthy. The sultanas were delicate, sweet, smokey and add a touch of British teatime sophistication to the soup.

Next, we had the Wellington County Beef Tartare.

beef-tartare-2-624x416beef-tartare-624x388Wellington County Beef Tartare with applewood smoked bacon, pretzel toast, and Forbes’ wild flavours.

Beef tartare is one of my favourite dishes. It is raw, fresh, cool and has a clean taste. This tartare was all of those things, seasoned with the right spices and and flavours of pickles. The bacon was crispy, salty and smoky but it took away from the dish rather than adding anything of value to it. It added a crunch that was too conflicting with the tartare rather than complimenting it. The pretzel toast added a sweetness through its dough but also a slight saltiness.The wild flavours were all pickled products: beets, pickles and mushrooms. They complimented the pickles that speckled the tartare but the presentation of this dish was too chaotic. The eye did not know where to focus and in turn, the stomach did not know where to focus or where to begin.

After our appetizer we were given an apple gelee.

mar12CanoeShackUp21How gorgeous is this presentation? I love the simplicity and organic quality it has. The bed of greens, below a perfectly shaped ice disk that cradles the deliciousness you get to eat. The apple gelee was sweet and dense, a thicker apple sauce. The perfect palate cleanser before our main course.

GC ordered the 45 Day Aged Ontario Rib Eye.

canoe145 Day Aged Ontario Rib Eye with roasted carrots, Portobello pickles, smoked mustard aioli and crispy layered potatoes. GC loved this steak. He ordered it to be done medium which is a bit too cooked for my liking but it was still juicy, tender and rich. It was such a hearty and intense meal.

I ordered the Green Alder Rubbed Venison.

8226934271_59ec4a15d8_zGreen Alder Rubbed Venison with steel cut oats, charred leek, mini tourtiere and mountain cranberries. This was an amazing dish. The venison was done medium-rare and it was perfect. Juicy, rich and such an indulgent over-the-top dish. The steel cut oats were an interesting and different choice for a grain but I didn’t love them.  It seemed like an awkward attempt at fusing together breakfast and dinner. The leeks were tender and fresh and the cranberries added a natural tart sweetness to the whole dish. The mini tourtiere was soft and tender but it was unnecessary. There was more than enough food in the dish that it wasn’t needed and it was executed well enough that it  could have stood on its own.

And lastly for dessert, we ordered the Butter Tart Wedge.

IMG_3281The Butter Tart wedge with spiced raisin and bourbon ice cream. This was one of the best desserts I have ever eaten. The crust was flaky and buttery, and the filling was completely divine. It was luscious and completely ridiculous. It was comfort food taken to the gourmet. I would recommend a visit to an O & B restaurant just for this.

We were also served with jellied passion fruit cubes which were perfect little bites of heaven. It reminded me of the fruit jellies you might eat around the holidays but with real fruit juices. Overall this was an amazing meal. The atmosphere, the service and the food  were delicious and memorable. It was such a perfect evening.

After dinner we strolled through the PATH over to the Royal York’s Library Bar where we enjoyed a few cocktails. Library Bar’s menu is interesting as it takes a look a the history and evolution of the cocktail. I ordered the Robert Burns’ Whiskey Cup – combination of Chivas Regal 12 year old Scotch Whisky & Drambuie sweetened
with their own rooftop honey and topped with a luscious lemon foam – and the F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Gin Rickey – Hendricks Gin with pressed lime, cucumber and crystallized rose petals topped with seltzer. I preferred the gin rickey, it was a gin and tonic taken to the next level. Easy to sip, cool and refreshing. The lemon foam on the Whisky Cup was good enough to eat on its own and I wish I could order a bowl full of it and just eat it like pudding. GC ordered the Margaret Atwoods Margarita – Berry Berry Tea infused Sauza Tequila, fresh lime and Cointreau, served on the rocks – and Michael Ondaatje’s Brandy – Remy Martin VSOP Cognac, pineapple and lemon juices, simple syrup and Grand Marnier.

Happy Anniversary baby! I love you and I can’t wait for more years to come!

Photo credits: Toronto Life and Oliver & Bonancini

 

Philly Cheesesteaks

I will never claim that the Philly Cheesesteak recipe I have even compares to authentic ones from the streets of Philadelphia but it is definitely tasty and worth checking out.

I made these sandwiches about two weeks using some left over steaks that we had barbecued the day before. It is a great recipe for using leftovers and reappropriating them, help rather than just having steak and eggs, again. Steak and eggs has been our summer breakfast and no offense, it is a little played out.

This recipe comes from the Williams-Sonoma Comfort Food Cookbook. This is a great cookbook and I would highly recommend it. All your favourite childhood memories are found in this book and they are extremely easy to make.

No, my photography and plating skills did not magically improve; this is the photo from the book. Unfortunately, cheesesteaks do not photograph overly well so I thought I would just use the photo from the book and then you could see how great the cookbook is too!

The steak is moist and tender. The onions are slightly caramelized and sweet, which pairs with the sweetness of the peppers. The garlic pairs nicely with the smokiness of the provolone. Make sure to use a soft bun and not to toast it too much because then it makes it slightly difficult to eat.

Recipe is below the cut. Happy munching!

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