Tuesday, December 29, 2009

New Year's Food Resolutions, anyone?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Holy crap - Christmas was very good to our kitchen this year! And with this new gear comes thoughts of what we will do in the new year (New Year's food resolutions, if you will). From the lovely people in our lives who support our addiction for kitchen gadgets, we got:
  • an electric "Lazy Susan" warmer which will be AWESOME for parties with our friends to keep food warm. We throw maybe three or so a year but with this puppy I might just be wanting to throw a couple more!

  • a crock pot (the old one I had smelled like an electrical fire waiting to happen - it was my Grandma's). I cannot wait to make a slowcooker recipe my Mom makes with flank steak. Yum!

  • a blender with a spigot - I am in love with the spigot. 2010 will equal smoothie heaven. I can already tell what my favourite thing to make in it will be - I have matcha (green tea) powder and I'll add vanilla soy milk and vanilla frozen yogurt to emulate the Matcha Monsoons at Booster Juice - yum!

  • a pasta machine that I cannot WAIT to get my hands on.
My personal first resolution of the new year is to make my own homemade ravioli. I'll have to check with Mark on his, but I think he'll enjoy helping me eat that ravioli! ;)

Got any food resolutions for 2010? Anything you've been dying to make at home? A place you've been dying to eat out at? A food festival you have to make sure you won't miss this year? Please share yours by commenting!

Yours in food,

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Part I: Antipasti - "The Edible City" Book Review

Saturday, December 19, 2009

I just finished the antipasti part of "The Edible City: Toronto's Food From Farm to Fork" so I thought I'd share some brief first impressions.


The book starts off with Sarah B. Hood's historical food map of Toronto. Don't worry, those of you who failed History in high school - it's not boring - she paints a vivid picture of what has fed Toronto over the years, from what early hunter-gatherers could find in the area to what urban farmers and manufacturers provide nowadays. There's some interesting initiatives I've come across before that she mentions - like Not Far From The Tree, which harvests Toronto's fruit trees (yes, there are actually quite a few fruit trees here - NFFTT's site says they harvested over 3,000 lbs of food in their first full season in 2008 and this year they are way above that at about 8,135 lbs). I had the pleasure of tasting one of their apples actually. Pretty cool stuff.

Next up was Andrew Braithwaite's story which made me smile endlessly. I honestly die a bit inside when people make fun of Toronto in any way, especially the food scene, because I think it deserves the utmost respect - we have some really talented chefs and the multicultural cuisine cannot be beat in my opinion. So to hear Andrew explain how he moved to France and how he, despite how awesome I'm sure France was, perpetually missed the Toronto food scene made me nearly die of joy - I'd say we have arrived as a world player on the food scene.

Jessica Duffin Wolfe writes about why Toronto lacks a street food scene - the main point that resonated with me is it's cold most of the year so street food (well, we've usually still got our street meat!) is not suitable really. Although Mark's tales of street food in the Philippines put Toronto to shame, I'm kind of okay with that. She's pushing for street food vendors more than I would be. I kind of like the landscape being uncluttered by street food carts, in the summer I'll just, say for example, run into La Bamboche and grab some macaroons and eat them outside - same thing really, but with less cluttered streets, so I've made peace with Toronto's lack of a street food scene, though I am dying to go to the Philippines and other countries with good street food scenes (I know, that sounds a bit hypocritical. I am a woman of contradictions).

Steven Biggs talks about the food processing industry in Toronto, which all started with pork processing (hence the city's nickname Hogtown). I learn something new everyday: I had NO idea we are North America's second largest food processing hub (Chicago is #1).

Bronwyn Underhill talks about her grandmother's amazing peach chutney - food for me is also very attached to memories - and when making her own version she contemplates the pros and cons of three different ways she can get her peaches to make the recipe: she can buy from the grocery store or market (where peaches are usually from California or sometimes Niagara) or she can help pick her own with NFFTT. She peppers her adventures in peach-buying with some interesting facts.

My first bite into the book ended with a story by Darren O'Donnell about his ideal conception of the city (which is based off Sesame Street) and how, to get to that ideal, he evolved the concept of dinner parties to be more inclusive. I have to say the style of writing was more suited to one of my old University textbooks, but I get what he's trying to get at and found his concept interesting.


Click here to read our reviews of the next sections (primo, secondo, contorno, and dolce) of the book!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Curry in your Cookies?

Friday, December 4, 2009
So I've never been involved in a cookie exchange before, but right off the top I must say registering for a baking class would be a pretty cool way to get your cookie exchange baking done should you be involved in one during the holidays.

I signed myself up for the $60 "Merry Masala Christmas" class at Nella Cucina and brought Mark along to sample some food and take photos while I participated in the baking.

I can't say I've ever thought about throwing curry powder in my cookie dough, but the result was pretty pleasant!

We were using the Arvinda's range of spice blends mostly to jazz up traditional cookie recipes - everything from gingerbread to sugar cookies. Arvinda's son and daughter actually helped run the class.

Here's what was on the menu that night for us to bake:
  • Crunchy Pistachio Cranberry Chocolate Chai Biscotti
  • Holiday Chai Spice Ladoos
  • Garam Masala Gingerbread Squares
  • Citrus Chai Spice Sugar Cookies
  • Mango Curry Snow Crescents
We also had the pleasure of A) baking with Suresh and Jenny from Spotlight Toronto and B) trying a hot chocolate with garam masala in it, which was quite tasty. The spice really brought another layer of flavour over top of the traditional hot chocolate, and it wasn't at all "too spicy" or in opposition to the original flavour - it was more of a complement to it.

My favourites cookie was DEFINITELY the mango curry snow crescent, but I also really loved a glaze we made with orange juice, orange zest, icing sugar, and garam masala. It was sweet and the citrus-y taste was especially well-suited to be atop the sugar cookies.

We walked away with a few dozen cookies handily boxed up (which could be frozen if desired, you know, for that cookie exchange I was talking about if yours is still a week or two away), a recipe booklet with recipes for the items above and a tin of Arvinda’s Artisinal Spice Garam Masala. I think I'll probably use mine to make that glaze again for some sugar cookies - yum!

Many thanks to Mary Luz Mejia for giving us the heads-up on the event!

Click here for more photos: Indian spiced baking

Friday, November 27, 2009

Firkin Pubs Raise Money in Support of Ontario's Food Banks

Friday, November 27, 2009
On November 23rd, Molson Coors Canada, the Firkin Group, and the Ontario Association of Food Banks (OAFB) launched the 5th annual Raise a Pint of Glory campaign at the Owl and Firkin Pub to get Ontarians engaged in fighting hunger this holiday season.

“This has been one of the most difficult years on record for Ontario’s food banks... Food and financial donations are down in many communities, while many food banks are reporting that record numbers of Ontarians are turning to them for assistance. We need the support of our neighbours more than ever before, " says Adam Spence, Executive Director of the OAFB.

375,000 people turn to food banks every month in Ontario, and 37 percent of the province's food banks do not have enough food to serve the needs of their community.

Beginning November 25th, you can support the OAFB by visiting your favourite Firkin Pub for a pint of Rickard’s Red. The Firkin will donate 25¢ to the Ontario Association of Food Banks for every pint of Rickard's sold through December 26th, 2009.

For more information, visit:

The Firkin Group of Pubs: http://www.firkinpubs.com/
The Ontario Association of Food Banks: http://www.oafb.ca/

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Coffee for Connoisseurs

Saturday, November 21, 2009
High end coffee has hit Toronto. For coffee connoisseurs who are not only particular with how their coffee is brewed but also with how and where it is sourced, Stumptown coffee is now available exclusively at Lit Espresso Bar, in Roncesvalles. Stumptown Coffee Roasters from Portland, Oregon is the pioneer in direct trade coffee. Stumptown founder Duane Sorenson was in Toronto this past November 10th to showcase his company's premium beans at a cupping event.

Monday, November 16, 2009

"The Edible City" Book Launch

Monday, November 16, 2009

Last night Mark and I attended The Edible City book launch hosted by Coach House Books and This is Not a Reading Series at The Gladstone Hotel. Mark will be posting a review of the book itself soon, so stay tuned! This is my quick rundown, with photos of course, of the evening.

A few of the fabulous contributors to The Edible City made up the panel (they have many other accolades and excellent works too numerous to mention here. They are the cream of the crop when it comes to the Toronto food scene - Google them!): Sarah B. Hood, Joshna Maharaj, Lorraine Johnson, Sasha Chapman and Steven Biggs. The panel was moderated by Dick Snyder, who also happens to publish CityBites magazine.

I found that children and their relationship to (and education about) food was the most common theme throughout the panel discussion and the Q&A session. Sasha noted in her child's JK/SK split class only half the kids could correctly identify an onion, and many thought it had seeds. There's definitely a need to bring food education into schools and other institutions (summer camps, etc.) - I agree totally, but I also think it's a parent's responsibility to have kids help with the little things in the kitchen. Getting hands-on helps give them a real appreciation of their food. The panelists noted kids would even eat stuff that they had picked or harvested themselves even if it was a food they usually turned their noses up at - I think that even kids who are too young to fully understand the concept of pride must still feel that special something, you know, that pride we all feel in picking an apple or digging up a potato ourselves. Garden patches on schoolyards and in public parks was another hot topic, which really ties into making these kinds of experiences and connections to food accessible for everyone.

After the panel discussion and Q&A, a cookie decorating competition started up. The super delicious sugar cookies (baked just perfectly, might I add!) were courtesy of Wanda's Pie in the Sky and I couldn't help but eat an extra one as I decorated mine with the Toronto flag for the competition!

On that note, I'll leave you all with some fun facts (courtesy of Coach House Books' site) about Toronto and the food it produce(s)/(d), along with titles the book itself almost got named:

- In 1934, a community garden on St. Clair Avenue west of Keele provided food for about 5,000 unemployed families.

- David Garcelon, the executive chef at the Fairmont Royal York, has a garden atop the fourteen-floor hotel. But it's not your typical garden: Aside from herbs, fruit and vegetables, he has six hives (that's about 300,000 bees).

- More than 16,000 Mexican and Caribbean agricultural workers come to Ontario each year. Some stay a few weeks, some stay as long as 8 months.

- The Edible City could've been named any of the following (these were all book names tossed around before they settled on The Edible City): Eat TO Live; Chowtown; Food 401 Thought; A Gastronomical Guide to Toronto; CornuTOpia.

Yours in food,

Click here to read our reviews of the book's sections (antipastiprimosecondocontorno, and dolce)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Food Fun on Facebook: FarmVille and Cafe World

Saturday, November 14, 2009
If you're on Facebook and you haven't heard of FarmVille and Cafe World by now, chances are you haven't logged on in a while or are choosing to ignore your requests section. More likely than not, you know someone who plays FarmVille (if you're not already playing it yourself), and they've requested to add you as a neighbour.

FarmVille and Cafe World are definitely foodie games. The former deals with food production, and the latter deals with food preparation in a restaurant setting. From "farm to fork," so to speak.

To the uninitiated: what is FarmVille? It's a farm simulation application on Facebook where you can plant various crops and trees, raise animals, construct farm buildings and decorate. It's the most popular social media game with 62 million members, 22 million of whom log on at least once a day, according to its publisher Zynga.

FarmVille's appeal to me lies in its exploitation of the basic human drive to start something and see it to fruition... in this case literally, as you can plant trees that bear fruit in a few days. I say exploitation because although it's all fun and games, the game can be wildly addictive. FarmVille allows its player to express their creativity on a relatively simple and cute platform with many options that can be purchased for in game "coins." This currency is free in the real world and is earned through proceeds from the sale or harvesting of crops and other items in the game. The devious part is when the game teases you with the possibility of decorating with a prettier or more functional item that you can purchase for "FV" cash. The problem with FV cash is that it is incredibly slow and difficult to earn through game experience, and would require you to actually pay for it with real world money via credit card or PayPal.

Now you can't really blame Zynga for wanting to make money. They do have to pay all their game developers. Just hope that there are enough other players with money and the inclination to jazz up their farm so that Zynga can continue its quality work. It's up to you to resist the temptation to splurge .

These games are addictive to their players, and annoying to non-players. I've even heard a story of someone in-transit who couldn't make it in time to serve his French Onion soup (cooking time: 4 hours), before it spoiled. He desperately tried to get his girlfriend at home to log on to his Facebook account to serve his soup. People sneak in some harvesting time at work, and conversations on the bus include the need to harvest strawberries or plant sugar cane. Who plants sugar cane in Toronto? It must be a Farmville player!

FarmVille uses 3D-like isometric perspective, allowing it a feeling of depth when setting up your farm. If you're really good, this view allows you to have the illusion of elevating portions of your farm depending on how you line things up.
The "market" has a wide variety of crops that can be chosen for time-to-harvest, XP points, cost, or selling price. Trees, animals, buildings, and vehicles like tractors are also available. Items are unlocked as your experience level progresses through the game.

Cafe World is Zynga's restaurant simulation, with game play characteristics similar to FarmVille. You get to customize your chef, decorate your restaurant, and choose food items you want to cook and serve. You can also "hire" Facebook friends as your waitstaff.

Hiring friends, like adding neighbours in FarmVille, adds the social dimension to these Facebook games. They create interaction with people you normally wouldn't be too engaged with. You can exchange game gifts with them and visit their farm to just check it out or fertilize their crops. Alternatively, you could visit their restaurant to see how they've decorated, and try their food and leave them a tip. This characteristic of social media games in a way forces interaction and helps the games go viral.

Cafe world has an extensive menu of dishes you can prepare based on how much time you'd want to wait, cost, number of servings, and selling price.

A variety of options are available for decorating your restaurant from chairs and tables, to walls, floors, windows, and other items.

Zynga has also released a fish tank simulation called FishVille. Although I wouldn't call this a foodie game per se, you do get to feed your fish. It's relaxing and almost therapeutic to watch and feed the fish in your aquarium to the sound of some soothing in-game music.

I'd be amiss not to mention that Zynga isn't the only developer of these kinds of games out there. There are other farm and restaurant simulations, though I don't find them as visually appealing and dynamic. As well, network effects lock you into the Zynga games as chances are you already have a lot of friends playing them.

Like little pets, these games take a lot of time and attention. But arguably, it's time well wasted.

Posted by: Mark Rodas

Friday, November 6, 2009

The 16th Annual Venetian Ball

Friday, November 6, 2009
The 16th Annual Venetian Ball is one of the marquee Toronto society events that draws the city's movers and shakers to a night of fine dining and entertainment, all for a good cause. All funds raised at the event help the Villa Charities to provide culturally sensitive care to improve the quality of life for seniors. This year's ball, held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on October 30, 2009, raised $1,008,000.

We have lists of the high-calibre establishments involved with this alluring event of beautiful masks and ball gowns, as well as a copy of the Venetian inspired menu from the award-winning Trattoria do' Forni in Venice.

Even without the masks, the charity, and the fun, the who's who list of food providers would make any foodie wish they were there.

From left to right: Co-chair James Di Luca, Don Novello (Father Guido Sarducci from SNL) and Co-chair Steven Muzzo

Il mercatto del Venetian Ball

Antipasto stations courtesy of:

Centro Restaurant & Lounge

Culinary Studio 2000

Da Gianni e Maria Trattoria

La Bruschetta Restaurant

Lago Ristorante

L'unità Restaurant

Nota Bene Restaurant

Ristorante Boccaccio

Romagna Mia Italian Restaurant

Sotto Sotto Ristorante

The Menu


Deluxe bread basket


Antipasto del Doge

Mista di mare accompanied by a caprese salad


Filetto ai porcini con polenta bianca al profumo

di tartufo e flan all’italiana

Grilled filet mignon in a Porcini mushroom sauce

Served with white polenta and parmesan with essence of truffle

accompanied by a spinach, cauliflower and carrot flan


Tiramisù Do’ Forni

Traditional tiramisu served in a chocolate cup accompanied by a

tuile cup of seasonal berries


I dolci di mezzanotte

Late night dessert stations courtesy of:

10tation Event Catering

Barcaffe Canada Inc

Caliber Fine Wines & Spirits Inc.

Dufflet Pastries

Flour Fancies Inc.

Madeleines, Cherry Pie and Ice Cream

Petits Sweets Inc.

Prevedello and Mathews with the support of Mazzetti D’altavilla

The Country Kitchen Catering & Quality Cheese

We Bake in Heels Limited

Surprise musical guest, Frankie Valli

Rick Campanelli, Host, ET Canada and Angela Smith, Producer, ET Canada

Photos courtesy of George Pimentel

Posted by: Mark Rodas

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Bake Batter & Roll!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

I can fully appreciate the pop-up bake shops Robin Hood flour is taking across Canada for its 100th anni-versary because I am certainly the baker of the two of us. Let's put it this way: Mark is the head chef, and I consider myself more of the sous-chef and pastry chef. Basically Mark doesn't measure ANYTHING and I measure pretty much everything, so it makes sense that I'm the resident baker here, non?

The place looked great - it honestly looked like a permanent fixture on Eglinton West rather than a pop-up store. I'm told the space they used was a salon that closed down. Mark said the decor reminded him of his childhood and I totally agree - I fell in love with the cupcake chairs provided by custom furniture maker Jellio.

It was a really fun place to be and for anyone with kids between the ages of 4 - 12 I'd highly rec-
ommend visiting
it as it tours across Canada. It's open here in Toronto until Nov. 22 but it appears it's in demand - the site currently says 0 seats are left. But it also appears people can cancel their bookings which would free up seats, so keep an eye out - the site also has listings for where Bake Batter & Roll will be travelling to next.

A couple fun facts courtesy of Robin Hood:

  • Baking has been around since ancient times, but the first modern pastry chef appeared in Roman civilization around 300 B.C.
  • "Cookie" comes from the Dutch word "koekje" which means "little cake."
  • Storing soft cookies in the same jar as crisp ones will help the crisp ones become softer.

Oh and P.S. - that "pizza" below is actually a cookie. I think that'd be really fun to make!

Yours in food,

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

OLA: Of Latin America - celebrates the Day of the Dead

Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Tasting Toronto was invited to a sneak peak of OLA: Of Latin America, featuring 7 of Toronto's top Latin chefs. In celebration of the Day of the Dead, OLA will be a 7 course epicurean adventure as well as a charitable event with all proceeds going to Youth Link, in support of vulnerable youth and their parents or caregivers living in the GTA.

OLA will showcase a cross section of Latin American comfort dishes elevated to haute cuisine from Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela paired with complementary Spanish, Chilean, and Argentinian wines selected by sommelier Drew Innes of George Brown College.

The featured chefs are:

Mario Cassini - owner/chef of Caju
Marina Queirolo - owner of Surkl Empanadas
Luis Valenzuela - chef at Torito Tapas Bar
Carlos Fuenmayor - owner of Sabrosito Catering
Steven Gonzalez - owner of Latino 5 Spice Catering
Jose Hadad - owner/chef of Frida Restaurant & Bar
Elizabeth Rumebe - owner of Alpine Bakery

To start off, we tickled our taste buds with Brazil's national cocktail, the Caipirinha. This blend of organic Porto Morretes White Cachaca, lime, sugar and ice trumps the mojito any day. Cachaca is rum produced directly from cane juice, which differs from most rum that is made from molasses. Oddly enough for a classy tasting drink, caipirinha translates into "hillbilly."

To go with our cocktails we had some Bolinhos de Bacalhau, cod balls. This was the best fishball I've had... ever! It was salty and flavourful. The cod's soft and flaky consistency complemented the crust's delicate crunch.

The next app to be served was Pao de Queijo, cheese puff balls made with cassava flour. Who doesn't like cheese-bread? These were comforting little morsels with a waxy cheese filling.

And then came the elegant looking Moqueca Shrimp Shooter. The shrimp was perfectly cooked and perfectly spiced. This hearty, savory shooter was just what you needed on a dreary fall day.

The mini empanadas were delightful. They had a very thin yet sturdy crust that held their exquisite contents well. My favourite was the one on the far right, which was infused with a concentrated corn flavour via corn husk.

On to tales of the sea for our main course, Octopus salad with artichokes, Ontario fingerling potatoes, and a spicy citrus dressing with baby cilantro. Wow! That was the best octopus. The meat was soft and delicious. Not gummy at all, and yet it still possessed the textural contrast between the inner flesh and the light snap of the tentacle's exterior. The artichokes were soft and packed a tart zing. Citrus and seafood go hand-in-hand. And the presentation... you can hang that portrait up your wall.

La Pausa, to cleanse our palates for the next course, a Granita of Lulo a.k.a. Naranjilla, essentially a citrus snow cone with simple syrup.

The wine pairings were wonderful, from syrahs to strawberry infused bubbly.

It feels like we're starting a whole new meal: Oxtail Sancocho - a Colombian inspired consommé with plantain ravioli, lime and bananito. Squeeze the lime into the warm soup and you get a light yet fulfilling treat. The plantain ravioli's faint sweetness goes well with the consommé's citrus notes.

For another main we had Frida's famous mole. Cornish Hen in Mole Poblano with rice, frijoles refritos and toasted sesame seeds. The mole was great on the cornish hen, giving some low-level, full-bodied heat, with hints of cinnamon and chocolate in a complex flavour medley. The refried beans were a little too salty for me, but this was an outstanding dish overall.

I have never seen cheese this way. For dessert we had what the chef likened to baklava, a Plantain Terrine. It was a beautiful work of art with precisely positioned plantains between sheets of queso fresco, with honey, pistachios, and wild flowers.

For our second dessert a Tres Leches cake, with an intricate icing-made orange marigold. The OLA logo was made of chocolate.

Kudos to the chefs for such an amazing spread!

We leave with bellies full... a chocolate skull for the Day of the Dead...

And a smile on our faces.

OLA will be on the 26th of October at Caju. See http://www.caju.ca/ for more event information.

Posted by: Mark Rodas