Monday, March 29, 2010

Sweet Swiss Treats in Toronto (say that 5x fast!)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Swiss-Master Chocolatier is the kind of place that feels like home: it's certainly the tiniest chocolate shop I've been in but that's part of its charm - it feels so warm and comfy. Might I add that being surrounded by chocolate on all sides is my idea of heaven!

Swiss-Master's owner, Ingrid Laderach Steven, is a Swiss chocolate expert in every sense of the word - right down to the truffle she makes with the very popular Swiss Florentine (candied fruit - orange rind in most cases - and toasted nuts covered in honey and sugar and baked until the mixture is a nice caramel brown colour). She's from Lucerne, and her family's chocolate-making legacy goes back generations. She said as kids each family member had to learn how to make chocolates!

She personally led a tasting of her top-selling truffles for Mark and I tonight. We tried (top row in picture from left to right):
  • Fruit of the Gods: Delicious dark chocolate* truffle made from the Criollo cocoa bean
  • The Dome: Buttercream ganache with a creme brulee top**
  • Griotte: Whole cherry soaked in cherry liqueur and dipped in dark chocolate
  • Champagne-infused truffle: With a dusting of icing sugar
  • Rigolleta: Creamy milk chocolate truffle with a Florentine top
    *Mark's favourite truffle
    **My favourite truffle

So if the truffles sound amazing, and believe me they were, wait until I tell you about the chocolate-covered strawberries. INCREDIBLE. By far my favourite thing we tried. The first bite I had was all chocolate, it took me two bites to get to the plump juicy strawberry. I loved them so much because I realized at that moment that I've had way too many mediocre chocolate-covered strawberries - you know what I mean, the ones that use a thin chocolate coating dip, and I guess people think they can skimp on the quality of the berries - these were the best of the best in terms of strawberries, and Ingrid used tempered chocolate - and lots of it. First each plump juicy sweet strawberry is covered with tempered white chocolate, and then with dark chocolate. They only have them at certain times of the year so be sure to call ahead.

Ingrid also makes liqueur chocolates. Mark tried a Kirsch one, while I tried a plum liqueur truffle. She wasn't kidding - they are STRONG! But the sweetness of the chocolate went nice with the kick of the liqueur. Incredible. Ingrid told us in Switzerland kids are allowed to have these chocolates, but in Canada they have a strict rule: They are not to be sold to minors!

It's nice to support a local chocolatier, especially one who will be celebrating her 25th year at her shop and who has established an amazing and loyal local following (and a celebrity following - Prince is among her visitors!) And with the amount of attention she pays to her chocolate, I can see why she's so well-loved in the area (come on, LOOK at that picture up there ^^^> Do you SEE the amazing swirl painting she did on it?!)

Ingrid's got an amazing and touching philosophy behind her chocolates - ask her to read you her “Beautiful Chocolates for Beautiful People”
promise, it's really touching - she's so sweet and we really enjoyed our time there - so much so that we came right home and wrote this post. Goodnight all!

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Massimo Bruno's Italian Supperclub

Sunday, March 28, 2010
What is Italian cuisine? There are around 20 regions in Italy, so having a singular notion of Italian food would hardly do justice to this country's amazing culinary heritage. Spaghetti and meatballs are apparently as authentically Italian as fortune cookies are to Chinese food. As we learned, the Italians like their balls served separately. It is more important that the sauce matches the pasta.

The lineage on regional Italian cuisine is an historical and geographical journey full of influences from France and Spain, to Moorish traditions, to the legacy of the Venetians and ancient Rome. It also celebrates its bounty of olives and grapes, as well as the fruits of the sea that would typify mediterranean fare similar to Greece.

(double-click to watch a larger version of this video, available in YouTube HD)

For this gastronomic adventure we focused on Pugliese (no, not Dina) food from Massimo Bruno's home town of Bari in Puglia, located in the heel of southern Italy.

The cooking style in Puglia is often referred to as Cucina Povera, literally cooking poor. It places more emphasis on traditional methods of cooking and living off the land that came about after the first world war. Something-from-nothing is an art of preparing a rich spread of dishes from only a few fresh ingredients.

Here was the menu:


Homemade focaccia barese with olives

Involtini di peperoni
(roasted pepper rolls)

Popette d'uova
(egg balls)

Funghi gratinati
(roasted oyster mushroom)

Frittata di asparagi
(asparagus frittata)

Whole fresh fior di latte mozzarella

Insalata di polpo e gamberi
(octopus salad with shrimps)

Pecorino e Capocollo with celery jam


Cavatelli colle cime di rapa
(handmade pasta with rapini and anchovie oil)

Pappardelle colle fave bianche
(fresh homemade pappardelle with white fava puree)


Braciola alla barese
(veal rolls in tomato sauce and white wine)

Spigola al sale
(baked European seabass under sea salt)

Insalata di rucola
(arugula salad)


Ricotta lemon cake
Roasted figs with almonds and lemon

The egg balls were a crowd favourite. Made primarily with egg and bread crumbs, they make a pretty good meatball replacement for vegetarians. I also really liked the fior de latte mozarella. It was very soft and moist, with a mild silky feel on the tongue, brought to life by the clean and fresh taste of basil oil.

The bitterness of the rapini in one of the pasta dishes was excellently complemented by the salty full flavour of anchovie oil and bits or crunchy browned garlic. We also loved the pappardelle's milky taste and the lovely texture of its fava puree.

Baking the seabass under a bed of salt left it fabulously moist. With no seasoning but a mild vinaigrette, the unadulterated essence of the fish was deliciously preserved.

Dessert was also excellent. Ricotta makes for a milder and fluffier cheesecake, served with a candied fig, what more can I say?

Click here for more photos

Massimo's Blog:

Massimo's Kitchen Studio
507 King St. East
Suite 102
Toronto, ON M3H 6A7

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Olive Oil Tasting at Pimenton

Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Did you know that olive oil can be judged by criteria similar to tasting wine? It never crossed our minds until we came upon an opportunity to sample some remarkably exquisite oils from Spain.

Olive oil expert Dolores Smith walked us through the art of olive oil tasting with a variety of high-end oils from Olivar Corp., with particular attention to the two latest additions to their collection: Full Moon, and Oro San Carlos.

(Double-click to watch this video on YouTube. Available in HD)

These oils have a C.V. like an award winning chef. In fact, Full Moon is used by Michelin 3 Star chefs including Ferran Adria at his Hacienda Benazuza in San Lucar La Mayor, Seville.

Full Moon uses Arbequina olives that are picked during the full moon in September or October. In it's first year of production, this auspicious event occurred at 6:00 a.m. on October 4, 2009. According to its maker, Pago de los Baldios de San Carlos, the idea behind this process is that this is when the olives are sufficiently ripe (yet green enough) to produce an oil of unparalleled aroma and flavour. But here's a secret: the back story is that by harvesting this way, the oil is imparted with aphrodisiacal properties... shhhh.

One of the first steps to tasting olive oil is to warm your cup in the palm on your hand while covering it with the other. This releases some of those lovely compounds from the liquid while trapping them in the cup, ready for you to smell and taste.

You can sense the oil's terroir, or the character imparted upon it by its geographical provenance. The ripeness of the olives at processing, the olives' varietals, and a whole host of variables that come together to make the final product can be appreciated in fine detail. But just as important as the good stuff, we're told that connoisseurs also look for faults like metallic taste from processing, excessive humidity, damaged olives, even insect infestation.

We gleefully sampled and compared various oils and examined the different levels of grassiness, boldness, sweetness, and pepperiness. We were searching for hints of almond, banana, milk, citrus, apple, and even strawberry.

My favourite, Ame, had a buttery, milky, nutty profile, with a taste of melon. Can you believe it? Melon!

Another good one, Rincon, left a lingering heat on your tongue, and had a pleasant aftertaste.

We also learned that depending on the olive varietal or blend of varietals used, a specific flavour profile and smoke point can be achieved. Some olives actually make for higher temperature oils that can be used for deep frying, while other oils are more suitable for use after cooking.

After sampling the oils, we got to try them in action with a great spread of tapas from chef Lola Csullog-Fernandez, owner of Pimenton (and holder of a Masters of Spanish Gastronomy). A crowd favourite was the Salchichon & Chorizo Iberico Fermin, made from the famous black and fatty Iberico pigs a.k.a. olive oil on legs. The tapas went down with a selection of excellent Spanish wines. I particularly liked a bright and fruity red made with a blend of tempranillo, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot.

That was a wonderful learning experience, and definitely broadened our sensory repertoires. I'll never see olive oil the same way again.

Posted by: Mark Rodas


681 Mount Pleasant Road
Toronto, ON
(647) 343- 4870

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Monday, March 22, 2010

This is how we RRROLL - Testing the Rimroller at Tim Hortons

Monday, March 22, 2010
So I wanted to start a post about winning both a coffee and a donut from 2 consecutive cups of large regular coffees I bought at Tim Hortons. Sweet... free breakfast! It got me thinking, "There's an awful lot of RRROLLing up the rim to win going on in the office, up and down the street, everywhere!"

Then I remembered that I saw this invention called the rimroller on an episode of Dragons' Den on CBC. It's essentially a keychain with a couple of blades inside that cuts a section of the coffee cup's rim and rolls it up for you. 'Sure beats doing it with your fingers, or your teeth for that matter.

I thought I'd go to Tim's today to test this gizmo out.

Let me tell you it's pretty cool. It doesn't increase you rrroll-up effieciency tremendously with 1 cup (what's another 10 seconds right?), though if you stood in front of a Tim's before work and did it for a dime per rim, you're sure to make your lunch money and then some.

There's a little problem with how narrow the cut is. As you can see from my test, there was only enough room for the French part. My sister also pointed out that you can't use it while there's still coffee in your cup. Apparently a lot of people are so eager to find out if they've won, that they start rolling the rim even if the cup's still half-full.

The verdict: If you happened to have the rimroller on you, it does make finding out if you've won a lot faster. And it's a really fun toy for you gadget geeks out there.

Posted by: Mark Rodas

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Fine French Fare at Le Select Bistro

Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Le Select Bistro is widely regarded as one of Toronto's best French restaurants. For the quality of the food that you get, you'd expect to pay through the nose, which you surprisingly don't with Le Select. Is this how one of the patrons afforded the Aston Martin parked out front?... Well, maybe not. Le Select provides hearty French bistro fare at a reasonable price. The menu has relatively few items on it though, so we decided to try some dishes we normally wouldn't find at a typical downtown resto.

For les hors d'oeuvres, we had the Oreille de Cochon - crispy sow's ear strips served with lentils Du Puy from France's volcanic soils, and watercress; and the Tarte Nicoise - Provencal puff pastry tart with goat cheese, onion, tomato, olives and anchovies, served with an arugula salad.

Above: Oreille de Cochon - crispy sow's ear strips

The sow's ears were exceptionally good! I've had porcine ears before, but not nearly as good as this. The strips were thin and perfectly crisp, an excellent contrast to the salad greens. The tart had a flaky crust and a subtle but rich goat cheese flavour. The bitterness of the arugula complemented the depth of the tart's taste very well.

For mains we had the Joue De Boeuf Bourguignonne - beef cheek braised in red wine, with pork lardons and button mushrooms; and the Pave De Boeuf au Poivre - 8 oz centre cut filet, green peppercorn sauce with brandy and cream.

The beef cheeks were very soft and mildly gooey. This piece of beef gets tops for texture and richness, but there were flavour notes missing that could be found in typical steak cuts. Luckily we had one on hand, and with some of the best fries we've ever had. The key to the frites appear to be balanced seasoning and peanut oil. Think Miss Vickie's fries!

We finished off with Gateau au Chocolat - chocolate cake with Pure Caribe Cocoa and a passion fruit sorbet; and a Parfait Praline - frozen praline parfait served with a light chocolate sauce and almond brittle. I also had a cappuccino made with Maison Richard coffee from France (even the sugar was from France). The cake had a so-so torte texture, but was very chocolatey. The sorbet was wonderfully tart and refreshing, and went well with the chocolate.

I really like the decor of Le Select. The tin ceiling by the bar, the old light fixtures and the tiled floors downstairs made you feel like you were in a sepia photo in Europe. The warm lighting added to that effect, no doubt. I loved that the signs to the washrooms read "W.C." i.e. water closet. They even got that small detail down.

Click here for more bistro photos

Posted by: Mark Rodas

Le Sélect Bistro

432 Wellington Street West
Toronto, ON M5V 1E3
(416) 596-6405

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Saturday, March 6, 2010


Saturday, March 6, 2010

So we recently did a Couples Cooking Class but last night we went undercover for the Singles version! (Or tried to - our foodie friends Suresh, Joel and David kind of blew our "single" cover - or maybe that was Mark and I who blew it!) Here's our impressions of the Singles Cooking Class that Chef Vanessa Yeung from Aphrodite Cooks held at Nella Cucina:

  • Menu was similar to Couples class (and was delicious as always - last night was the first time I made couscous and I could not believe how easy it was to make!)

  • The featured dessert was different - this time Preena Chauhan was there helping us make a chai pineapple bundt cake spiced with Arvinda's spices. It was moist and tasty, and was served with...

  • Toronto's Frozen Vines KILLER Pina Colada Gelato! Honestly, best part of the night for me. I LOVED it. We got our hands on a list of all the booze-infused treats they make and were also told they experiment all the time and make items NOT on their usual menu - They also have some other wild flavours of gelatos and sorbettos, like Chilli Tequila Gelato, Limeoncello Sour Cream Mint Gelato, and Sangria Sorbetto - their list is really extensive and I highly recommend giving them a try.
  • There were certainly more women than men - guys, this would be a good place to go to meet a lovely girl!

  • If you didn't meet anyone special last night, Jean from No Loves Lost was holding a draw for her professional services.

  • As with all Aphrodite Cooks classes we will be emailed all the recipes - great for singles who may want to impress future dates with their cooking skills!