2014 Holiday Recipes and Entertaining Tips

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The rush I guess began on December 1 or maybe you’re really organized and started your planning last year for this year’s entertaining.

This year I’ve included tips for getting organized and ready as well as some pairing suggestions for charcuterie. There’s also a great new Blood Orange Martini from the LCBO Holiday issue that I have included as a link. It’s a beverage that I would savour alone once all the cooking is done!  Click on the links below the images for the recipes and tips.

Happy holiday planning and enjoy your entertaining!

6 Tips for Sensational Entertaining

 

 

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Baked-Cowboy-Chili-CasseroleBaked Cowboy Chili
 
 
Roasted-Cauliflower-and-Red-Rice-GratinRoasted Cauliflower and Red Rice Gratin

 

 

 

Blood Orange Martini from LCBO

 

Eating my way through the Distillery District Christmas Market

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The holidays are just a license to eat and to buy treats for friends that we hope will share them with us.  Sunday’s sunny weather brought many people out to Toronto’s Distillery District to eat and drink to keep warm. There are only about two weeks left for the annual Christmas market.  If you’re going on the weekends, get there before 2:00 p.m. so that you can shop and then settle down in one of the many good restaurants for lunch and cocktails.

On the Danforth? Try the Louis Cifer Brew Works

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A few weeks ago, I found myself on The Danforth on the cold Thursday night after the previous day’s impromptu snow storm. Cold and looking for a new restaurant to try, of course, I fumbled on the recently opened Louis Cifer Brew Works. An enormous two level space that was former home to a few restaurants over more than twenty years.

A brew house that has a big list of beverages and gastro-pub fare – a little something for everyone.   Their craft beer includes IPA (Indian Pale Ale), lager, blondes and hoptails.  The bar menu includes Bourbons, whiskies and tequila.

From top floor

Two levels make for lots of space to host events. With Steel Dan and Doobie Brothers playing, it wasn’t overly noisy that night, even though there was a party of about twenty people on the second level.  Enough quiet tables for couples and family friendly.

The jumbo wings from the Shareables menu were crispy but a little dry.  It probably would have been a good ideaa to ask for more blue cheese sauce, which is quite good, but not enough.  The Rosemary Fries are crispy and aromatic with the accompanyin roasted garlic aioli.

I always gravitate towards fish dishes, no matter where I am.  The Pan Seared Atlantic Salmon did not disappoint.  It is served with green beans and roasted potatoes over a sweet corn chowder. The chowder is rich and smooth complementing the fish.  It will be hard for me to visit Louis Cifer again and not order this dish.

Creme Brule, yes, another one of my go to desert on a wintry night! Sweet and creamy, I happily devoured ever spoonful

For a cold night, it was busy – lots of good-looking burgers, sandwiches and fish and chips have flown by me as I enjoyed my salmon.

Warm atmosphere, comforting food and enough craft brews to take you through the winter, are good reasons to go to get yourself to The Danforth.  Happy Eating!

Louis Cifer

 http://www.louisciferbrewworks.com/contact/

 

St. Lawrence Market, Saturday in Pictures

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I spent Saturday afternoon at the market, navigating the shoppers to capture the stores that I like to go to.  These photos are from the walk around.

My Fish Taco Fixation

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Occasionally I get obsessed with one food. I’ll go for months craving a certain dish, ordering it consistently at restaurants. Some of my  fixations have included, udon soup, zeppole (Italian pastries made for the feast of St. Joseph on March 19) and chicken Shawarma sandwiches.   My latest little craze has been fish tacos, a bit of a miracle since my first experience eating one was terrible. After many years of hearing about their rise in popularity on the west coast where they originated, it was something I had to try. So, on my first trip to California, eating some fish tacos was a priority. Coast of California

I found a Mexican restaurant in Monterrey and straight away ordered the Baja Fish tacos.  They arrived lukewarm, overcooked and had clearly been re-heated from the day before.  I wasn’t as sophisticated in those days and was too timid to complain or sent them back.  Instead, I choked them down and vowed never to eat one again.

That bad experience didn’t deter me and I continued to give them a try in the hopes of getting a good one and understanding what all the fuss was about.   Since then I have discovered many good fish tacos and have become picky about what makes a good one.

El Catrin’s Baja taco is crispy fried cod dressed with a tasty chipotle lime coleslaw. Cod is a great fish for this dish given its mildness and coarse flake.  The tangy chipotle and lime dressing give the taco a zing but doesn’t overwhelm the fish.  They are three for $15.00, a good sharing plate or a filling meal for one.

El Catrin Fish Tacos

Milagro Cantina’s, La Perla is battered red snapper, tropical slaw and chile crema.  The red snapper is a finely texture fish and light tasting as well.  The tropical slaw lacked a little in flavour but the chile crema and a squeeze of lime make them pretty tasty nevertheless.  On the lunch menu you get two for $12.50 .

Milagro fish tacos

La Mexicana on Yonge at Bloor, has served up authentic Mexican food since 1988 in Toronto.  On a rainy night in October,  I made my way in from the cold to the warm and cosy atmosphere of their place at 838 Yonge St.  The menu doesn’t specify what kind of fish is used, I suppose it’s based on availability.

Fish tacos2

The fish taco dish is delicious and a great value as a main at $16.00 for dinner.  The tacos are dressed with cabbage and chipotle mayo.  While the cabbage on top doesn’t add much, the mayo was flavorful. The crispy lightness of the battered fish was an sign of the use of fresh oil in their deep-fryer, always a big plus  – because you can taste the difference.

This only the tip of the Toronto fish taco iceberg, with more “authentic” Mexican restaurants opening every month here, my quest for tasting has no limit and I’ll be on the look out for more.  In the meantime, bon appétit my eating friends.

 

 

 

Caffe Artigiano now fuelling Toronto’s Financial District

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paper cupIt was about one month ago when I first spotted it. It was like running into someone you never expected to see in your town.

Walking in, it looked familiar but, I thought I would check. Indeed, as the barista informed me, scores have come in asking the same question, is this the same Caffe Artigiano from Vancouver? And happily for many of us, it is.

I first visited Caffe Artigiano on West Hastings in Vancouver 11 years ago on the recommendation of a fellow coffee connoisseur.  Back then latte art was new and Caffe Artigiano was named of the best in the country.  For many of us, it still is, both for coffee and the mastery of talented barista like Patrick at the new Toronto store.

This is Caffe Artigiano’s first Toronto store and its first location in Canada’s east.  A well established coffee shop on the west cost with eleven stores in Vancouver and four in Calgary, is in Toronto 101 Yonge St. at King.

Opened about two and a half months ago, General Manager, Meaghan Spencer, has planned this location for over a year selecting local vendors for the pastries and baked goods and making sure this store has the same vibe and groove like their west coast stores.

Salads and sandwiches are made fresh in-house and offer some new and different choices. The Fraser Valley Salad with candied pecans, cranberries and goat cheese is now a favourite of mine, it combines a sweet hit with the acid of the honey balsamic dressing for a refreshing boost in the afternoon.

Caffe Artigiano started roasting their coffee beans four years ago and have a coffee director and a coffee roaster. A good choice of blends are available. I am told that these are moving quickly, so if you want to make this great coffee at home, buy early in the week.  Here are some tips from their website on brewing the perfect cup - http://www.caffeartigiano.com

A welcome addition to the burgeoning craft and independent coffee scene, Caffe Artigiano is worth the walk to King St. The baristas are helpful, Meaghan is always smiling and above all the coffee is smooth and flavorful.

 

 

 

IL Gelato di Carlotta – an Italian Ice Cream Destination in Niagara-on-the-Lake

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Halloween has come and gone and there were a few days last week when snow flurries started to make their appearance. It’s been several weeks since my last post and the colder weather and shorter days begin are making me reminisce back to this summer’s last gelato hurrah.

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My last weekend day trip was to Niagara-on-the-Lake. As usual, I was researching where to eat, when I found what I think is one of best gelato stores I have ever been to, Il Gelato di Carlotta.  A very busy and charming store that is authentically Italian.  I read somewhere that much of the equipment in this cute and bustling gelateria was brought in from the mother country, so the look and feel is authentic and smells of coffee and pizzelle.

Gelato Burger making

As I arrive, a tour bus has unloaded a group who wait patiently for samples and place their orders before they go to the theatre. The place is packed but the line-up moves quickly and it is my turn.  I order a gelato burger, which seems to impress the woman who takes my order.  She is further tickled when I ask for the Gelato DiCarlotta as the filling, which is their signature flavour.

Gelato Burger

She fills a bun made of pate-a-chou with Gelato di Carlotta and warms inside an expressly made piece of equipment.   The bun is slightly toasted and the gelato is warmed to the consistency of a thick pastry cream.
half gelato burger

The woman walks to the other side of the counter where she drizzels (heavily) warm, melted Nutella on top.  I see the other customers’ eyes follow my desert as I get my fork and make sure the take plenty of napkins.

I settle quickly on a bench out front in the sunlight, to begin the devouring.  This is the kind of ice-cream sandwich worth travelling two hours in traffic to get (as I did that day).  The Gelato DiCarlotta is smooth and silky and well, you can never go wrong with Nutella on anything. Oh, what a happy ending to a sunny day in Niagara-on-the-Lake.  It’s available year-round, so my suggestion is get there soon.   Bon appetit!

La Societe – more bar than bistro on Bloor St.

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Lasociete patio2It’s been embarrassingly too many weeks to count since my last post.  Who can believe it’s October already, and I’m trying to catch up on all my writing.  My summer was filled a lot of food festivals and events.  However,  I actually make it to La Societe Bistro in Yorkville after walking past the swank and expansive patio bar at the front of The Colonnade on Bloor W. many times.

On this July day, the second level patio with its many tables is full.  Wait staff in traditional bistro uniforms hustle about on this hot day refilling glasses and rushing to bring orders out.  The spacious interior is filling up as business people start to arrive for meetings over lunch.

La Societe is bistro fare at trendy upscale prices.  Remember, we’re in the Colonnade, home to Cartier, Chanel, Escada and Prada boutiques, to name a few.  While the look and the ambiance attempts to be authentic French bistro, the menu doesn’t necessarily reflect that and veers into contemporary American with selections of burgers and pulled pork sandwiches. Missing from the mid-day menu are cheese plates, pates and charcuteries. Prices compared to other bistros serving lunch is about 15% more for something like a Tuna Salad Nicoise.

Our orders of the LS Club sandwich with frites and the Grilled Chicken Cobb salad is good, but nothing special.  La Societe is not really about the food, it’s about the location, the opulent and luxurious patio. It’s about the chance to be spotted lounging on a chaise sipping Cinzano and exchanging business cards with a guy with a platinum corporate Amex card who’ll be picking up the bill.

La Societe is located at 131 Bloor St. W at Avenue Road.  As of today’s writing the upstairs patio is still  open and will probably remain until the weather grows too cold.  Bon Appetit, my friends!

New York City Summer Street Food

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It’s a sunny Sunday morning and there’s a lot of bustle outside the hotel room window, nothing unusual I think, it’s Manhattan and there’s always something going on.  I head out and make way to 46th Street where vendors of all kinds are setting up,  jewelry, scarves, suitcases, T-Shirts, pretty much anything you want is there.  It’s like a big bazaar is coming alive in the street.

As I get closer to Lexington Avenue the smell of grilling food is getting stronger and it is with much excitement that I see the food vendors prepping and setting up for the day. It’s early morning still and it’s all just getting started, but already I’ve gotten a new suitcase from one of the vendors to bring home all the new pairs of shoes I’ve bought on this trip.

There is an endless variety of summer items like sunglasses and towels but there are lots of foodstuffs as well, like teas, herbs and varieties of curries.

The crowds grow as we get closer to 59th Street and 5th Avenue it’s lunch time by now, and on this day there’s nothing I was looking forward to more than eating again – which is pretty much how I spent the first forty-eight hours of this trip.  Of course, that was the original purpose, to do food recognizance for my next articles.

The bottom of 59th street is looking a bit more like a carnival with everything from the usual hot dog and sausage vendors, a lemonade stand and everybody’s favourite, the Wafels & Dinges cart.  I am, however, craving authentic foods, dishes that are full of flavour and spice.  As I get a little deeper into the crowd, I smell something that will satisfy me at the “Authentic Mexican Grill”.  If you read this blog regularly, you know Mexican food is a big favourite of mine.

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We have Mexican food in Toronto, but there’s something about street food like this that somehow makes it more interesting and certainly tastier.

IMG_6691I order the Nacho Platter with chicken, it’s a ton of food for $8.00.  There’s some confusion with the order because they thought I’d ordered beef and not chicken.  Some words are exchanged in Spanish with the man on the grill, then there is some laughter as they apologize to me in Spanish.  They ask if it would be okay to put some chicken on top of the beef.   You can’t beat that, and I couldn’t have been happier.

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It’s a great heaping mess of deliciousness, beef, chicken, salsa verde, sour cream and cheese.  My daughter and I could barely finish it, but we did our best.  Our next stop was something sweet to top the nachos, because we really did need more carbs and desert was not too difficult to find here.

I have a tremendous weakness for all things Italian, men, wine, food and oh yes, sweets.  So when I spotted cannolis that were brought in all the way from Brooklyn at the Fortunato Brothers stand, we immediately bought two.  The cannolis were sweet and creamy inside the fresh crispy shell.  I really could’ve used a latte to finish, but it was very hot and I think I would’ve exploded!

When I am away from home and exploring new foods and places to eat, I always consume way more than I usually do.  The energy that I had used to walk my way all the way through this street fest was now replenished.  It was time to walk back to my hotel for a nap and to plan for the evening’s eating destination.  I always have food on my mind.

So if you’re in New York on a summer weekend, make sure that you find your way to Central Park by 5th Avenue and 59th and eat something for me.  Happy eating my friends!

 

 

 

 

Summerlicious 2014 – Bodega French Restaurant

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Going to Bodega is kind of my own personal signal that summer has officially started.  For the past four years Bodega French Restaurant the first stop on my Summerlicious itinerary.   So why is Bodega my favourite?  Well, there’s a few things.

First, it’s in Baldwin Village on the very quiet and quaint Beverly St.  This wonderful little enclave of restaurants north of Dundas feels like a getaway from the usual downtown core. The interior of Bodega is cosy and is the popular spot for couples, but as I dine alone quite a bit, the patio is a great place for single dining and people watching.

Second, Bodega’s Summerlicious menu is one of the best values on the list of restaurants.  For an extra $3.00 to the Summerlicious $20.00 lunch menu you can get a glass of house wine.  An option I always take. The multigrain bread is homemade and served to you slightly warm, a great start with my glass of white. Rabbit terrine is a regular feature of the Summerlicious menu and a choice I look forward to every year.

The crispy skinned duck leg confit is savoury and tender.  The grilled Stealhead is a rustic dish of trout atop a bed of quinoa topped with mustard sauce. Third, the service is very attentive.  A very hard-working efficient wait staff make sure thatBodega Patio3 water glasses are refilled, orders arrive at the same time and are hot and well-timed.

I whiled away the afternoon with my wine watching the lunch crowd slowly leave.  I am firm believer that there’s always time in your life for traditional French food, don’t you? Enjoy the Summerlicious 2014 opportunity to try the menu because there are only a few days left.

http://www.bodegarestaurant.com/