I have a confession to make. I love summer. I really, really love the sun and the heat and humidity, and I loathe the cold (not unlike a lizard). So when the warm weather arrives, I revel in it. Now, I have never been one to just lay in the sun and bake (generally, too boring), and I have been a religious wearer of sunscreen since my high school years. But from May through September I am going to be OUTSIDE, baby. From dawn to dusk, and beyond, and I am going to love every darn moment of it. Add to that having a toddler (meaning it’s park and playground life every day) and a more flexible schedule than many that allows me to be not bound to a cubicle all day, and you get the picture. Wonderful, right? You bet. However, my skin may tell you something different.Read More
Field Trip 2018 is happening SOON (June 2nd and 3rd), and it’s the ideal festival for music (and food) lovers of all ages.Read More
Pinch me, I'm on my way to a chocolate-tasting dinner with Cacao Barry.
That was my tweet, mid-makeup application, this past Monday night as I was getting ready to head out for what I knew would be a truly memorable dining experience. Can you blame me? I was on my way to Colette Grand Cafe, a venue known for creating luxurious French culinary experiences, to experience one the notorious flavour dinners by conceptualized by legendary French chocolate company Cacao Barry. Now, if I had you at "Cacao Barry", hold on a moment longer while I explain: this is no ordinary chocolate tasting dinner. These #FlavourDinners are a series of dinners where chefs cook primarily for other chefs and create menus inspired by Cacao Barry chocolate. Each menu item incorporates Cacao Barry into it, along with one additional particular ingredient as a through line for the entire menu. This scenario creates a particular challenge, because not only are the host chefs cooking for their peers, but also bound by the intricate dance of two flavours that must be included in each menu item. No easy task for the host team of chefs, sommeliers and mixologists, but a total no-brainer for me when I was asked if I would like to have a seat at the table.
There is a lot of history behind Cacao Barry. With over 170 years of of tradition behind the name, it has become a name that chefs trust to create memorable dishes for their guests. But they are also a brand that continually strives to innovate, by collaborating with chefs to push boundaries when it comes to flavour combinations and to ensure the sustainability of cocoa for future generations. Given that, and the nature of the Flavour Dinner challenge, it is no wonder that Colette's Executive Chef Jennifer Dewasha and Pastry Chef Annegret Henninger were inspired to create a bold menu to showcase not only the versatility of the chocolate, but also of the modern French fare that they do so well.
Dining at Colette always feels like a special experience, but as this was an evening in early December, things felt extra sparkly. (The very tempting display of Cacao Barry Couverture certainly made the atmosphere extra special as well. Chocolate everywhere always helps. Note to self.) It turned out that while the guest list was indeed mostly chefs including Nadege Nourian, Mark Thuet, Louis Lim and Atul Palghadmal. There were also other food writers and personalities in the mix as well such as Bonnie Stern and Amy Rosen. Suffice it to say, I was in very good company.
Obviously we were all wondering what the mystery ingredient that would be pairing with all that delicious chocolate was. Our welcome cocktail held the key: a potent mix featuring Absinthe, chocolate-infused vodka, Luxardo liquer, chocolate shavings and more. In case you missed it....the Absinthe was the tell. Our second feature ingredient (or flavour) for the night's dinner would be liquorice. Or licorice. Potato, potato. (For the sake of continuity, I'll use licorice in this article as that's how it was spelled on the menu). However you spell it, it's a vivid, unapologetic and rather polarizing flavour. I'm a fan, but I know many people find me strange for liking that deep, dark Dutch salted stuff, but I do. (Red "licorice" is just weird, sugary wax in my opinion). It is also a flavour that appears in a number of ingredients: including tarragon, star anise, fennel, licorice root and licorice mint. But is it versatile enough? Any way I looked at it, I knew this meal was going to be an adventure.
Here is a look at the beautiful dishes that Chefs Dewasha and Henninger created for us, and that Sommelier Brian Davies chose the most perfect pairings for.
TARRAGON: Venison Tartare, Cocoa Nibs, Puffed Grains, Pumpernickel, Tanzanie Origin Chocolate, paired with sweet vermouth.
FENNEL: Clay Baked Salmon, Parsnip & Zeyphr White Chocolate Puree, Braised Fennel, Sauce Meurette. (I wish I had written down the name of this wine, because it was incredible.)
STAR ANISE: Wild Hare Civet, Cavatelli, Wild Mushrooms, Extra Brute Cacao Powder
SWEET ROOT: Apples, Licorice Cake Alunga Milk Chocolate, Apple Cremeux
LICORICE MINT: Cassettes, Haiti Origin Chocolate Cream, Cucumber Aloe Vera Jel
Pastry Chef Annegret Henninger offered some great insight about working with Cacao Barry chocolate. Like any true icon, it stays true to itself rather than playing to the crowd.
It was an adventurous meal, full of flavour, beautifully plated, and as I mentioned, perfectly paired by our host sommelier. It was a testament to the skill and imagination of the team at Colette Grand Cafe, and to the range and quality of the chocolate used.
Oh - and should anyone really want to push the limits of their chocolate skills while making me dessert, head on over to the Cacao Barry website and check out this number for Anarchy. I'll be waiting.
All photos by Jeffrey Chan for Cacao Barry.
While I’ve always considered myself to be relatively tech-savvy, I really was a little lazy when it came to learning more about how the Web actually works. Someone else would do that stuff for me, right? Maybe. But eventually I realized that even if that was the case, it’s way more empowering to have that knowledge. Especially when it came to my own website. So, I signed myself up for the SEO Bootcamp at Brainstation Toronto. It was definitely an eye-opener. If you want to learn more, I highly recommend their courses & workshops. I’ve shared my experience on their blog, so head on over and check it out here. Also, side note - SO excited that my home office is finally coming together. Extra love for my Mister for keeping it stocked with fresh flowers. It’s the little things, right?
It's one of the most innate, natural things that we do as human beings. Putting one foot in front of the other. So how can it be hacked? Can running evolve? It has in my life.Read More
My idea of an elevated snacking experience.Read More
Executive Chef Steven Gonzalez has big plans and a great menu that will challenge you to #AwakenYourInnerLatino. In other news, I ate crickets.Read More
Taste of Toronto is back for its third year June 23 – 26 at the Garrison Common in Fort York.
Excite your taste buds with an amazing array of global flavours, and over 70 mouthwatering dishes from Toronto’s best restaurants!
Here's a deal to make the experience even more delicious....Read More
There are a lot of food and drink-related events out there in Toronto. Lucky, lucky us! But let's face it, some of them are more worth attending than others. Some are downright dismal - so let's stick to the positive here and talk about what is worth it. You know of course about my love for Taste of Toronto and Pintxos TO (which I hear is returning again this year!) . I love an event that celebrates the incredible talent we have here in Toronto's culinary scene, showcases the diversity of this city, are well-run and encourage people to check out restaurants that they perhaps haven't experienced before.
From June 6-12, 2016, there is a new festival in town that does all of that, and is a pretty amazing deal as well. Lovers of BBQ and beer alike, take note. This one's for you. The first ever Toronto BBQ Week kicks off tomorrow, presented by Samuel Adams and in partnership with Now Magazine. This one is a winner for sure: fifteen participating venues offering their spin on a BBQ dish paired with a pint of Samuel Adams Boston Lager for just $15! I love the fact that there are so many different takes from around the world on BBQ - from Indian, to down home Southern, to Northern Thai to Chinese-Jamaican. Whether you are looking for ribs and brisket, or something a little lighter like grilled ocean trout, there is a range of delicious options that all pair excellently with a frosty Sam Adams. The balanced flavour profile, upfront malt flavour and hoppy finish matches up well with the punch of BBQ spices and the caramelized flavour of the meat.
Because I know your time is valuable and it's so hard to decide which of these 15 amazing restaurants you are going to visit during Toronto BBQ Week, I have graciously spent an evening with a few friends touring three of the venues on the west side of the city so you can have a little sneak peak. I know, huge sacrifice, right?
Until now, I hadn't had the chance to visit Pukka on St. Clair West. After sampling this one offering for Toronto BBQ Week, I guarantee you that I will be back! Wow! Chef Dinesh Butola's tender North East Indian pork ribs had just the right texture and hint of spice, and the slaw with hits of crispy chaat were the perfect pairing. It was the perfect showcase of the quality and forward-thinking take on Indian food that you can expect at Pukka. I was torn between wolfing them down and savouring the ribs slowly, and will admit that I was lingering a little longer with my pint of Sam Adams because I just didn't want to leave this beautiful restaurant. But, there was more delicious BBQ awaiting us, so off we went.....and it's tough to say no to our next destination, which has become one of Toronto's most well-known place to savour BBQ for a reason.
BARQUE BUTCHER BAR
Toronto couldn't get enough of the decadent smokey offerings at Barque Smokehouse on Roncesvalles, so in May 2015 Barque Butcher Bar opened up just down the street to accommodate lovers of meaty goodness. Co-Owner and Executive Chef David Neinstein is a certified BBQ judge and has competed in some of the toughest grill and smoke-off competitions in the US. For Toronto BBQ week, David and his team have cooked up a delicious pulled pork sammy topped with a refreshing apple slaw and crispy fries. Pretty amazing deal paired with a pint of Samuel Adams for just $15, right?
PARTS & LABOUR
Our last stop of the evening was at Parkdale favourite Parts & Labour. Always a great spot to be at any night of the week for a lively but laid-back vibe and decadent eats and drinks. For Toronto BBQ Week, chef Brent Pierssens has cooked up one of my favourites: Grilled Merguez sausage with confit fingerling potatoes spiked with creme fraiche. I love this spin on BBQ from beyond the borders of North America, and again, paired with that pint it's the perfect thing for sharing or just keeping all to yourself.
Three very different takes on BBQ, three amazing reasons to check out Toronto BBQ Week. You've got until June 12th, 2016. Oh, and did I mention you can also win a trip for two to Boston? Details are at torontobbqweek.com. You're welcome!
I don't mean to alarm you, but you do know that Mother's Day is just around the corner, right? It falls on May 8th this year, which means you have less than a week and a half to figure out a way to show your mama just how special she is. I know, I know.......your schedule is crazy busy! Between work, life, and everything else in between, you have no time, and you might just have run through all of your ideas. Reeeelax, I have done a little research for you! I have found a place that is centrally located, that isn't totally nuts to navigate, and has a ton of great options for treating your mom to the very best: Manulife Centre! I know, right? Perfect!Read More
Every once in a while, it helps to see your city with a fresh pair of eyes. This always happens to me after I return home from a trip abroad. Even better is when you choose to see your city as if you were a traveler from somewhere else. I recently got the chance to do this with a pretty amazing combination of very shiny new and old Toronto landmarks: UP Express and the Fairmont Royal York Hotel. Should you be visiting or even staycationing in Hogtown, my hometown (I say this with much affection), here's why I strongly suggest you give them a try.Read More
Tacos, beer, dessert, and more. All sorts of options are On The Menu (without compromise) at La Carnita with Daura Damm beer.....whether you're living gluten free, or not. That's right, even beer.Read More
Here's a (not really a secret) secret. I like winter or wintery conditions until January 1st. So that means I like the early dark nights, falling snowflakes, twinkly lights and pepperminty things of the holiday season. Then I am done. The problem is there is a whole lotta winter (if you live where I do, about 3 more months) to deal with the cold and damp and windy and generally unfriendly weather that goes with it. How do I deal? ........Read More
In my opinion, there are few better ways to unwind after a long day at work than chatting with friends over great food and drinks. You can keep your couches and TV marathons, I want to talk about the goings-on of the world over a great glass of wine and a few (or more) bites of something delicious. And then talk some more.....admittedly very much about TV marathons (a paradox I'm sure you can appreciate), actual marathons, politics perhaps, and who knows what else.
I was feeling very much in need of such a night lately. Luckily, I was presented with just the right opportunity to do cinq a sept in style: round up some food-loving friends and head to East Thirty-Six on a Wednesday night where talented Executive Chef Brent Maxwell would whip up a multi-course menu for us to enjoy. TWIST MY ARM, right?
Of course, there is a catch.
All of the dishes would include, and be inspired by.......wait for it.....jam.
Stay with me here. Just in case you think this is taking a turn for the unbearably saccharine, we're talking not just any chef, not just any crew, and certainly not just any jam. Brent was charged with the task of compiling a menu based on Bonne Maman preserves and spreads. These are sophisticated, delectable flavours that have been produced and well loved in France for decades. If Chef was up for the challenge, so was I.
My hungry group of bon vivants (some of whom I work out with every week, so I know just how hungry they are) assembled at the fashionable nook that is East Thirty-Six. If you haven't been, this glossy gem on Wellington features carefully crafted cocktails and an indulgent sharing menu. Everything about it looks and feels like the kind of spot I want to be to shake off whatever kind of crazy has been going on in my week. Even if it was only Wednesday.
We were joined by celeb Chef Christine Tizzard, who knows a thing or two about creating delicious food. As we sipped our La Bonne Mere Martinis, I asked her why she loves working with Bonne Maman and how their preserves and spreads can go the distance from sweet to savoury dishes:
Full disclaimer: I had no idea ahead of time what Chef Maxwell had planned for us, other than each item had to contain Bonne Maman flavours. It just happened to turn out that he included some of my absolute favourites foods in the night's menu. Not kidding. Duck confit, burrata, bone marrow, chocolate. To be a little on the macabre side, this is my idea of a "best last meal ever." And I more or less embarrassed myself completely by stating repeatedly how excited I was about that fact. So. EXCITED. Apparently I need to get out more often.
There you have it. From start to finish, my idea of a perfect meal, all built around the type of ingredients you may already have in your cupboard. And if you don't......WHY NOT? Now if you'll excuse me I've got a spoon and a jar of Dulce de Leche that is calling my name.
Of course everything tastes better when you share with friends.
All photos by Jeffrey Chan for Bonne Maman.
.......post-Labour Day days really are a wonderful way to reset, reevaluate, and resume (or replace) routines. Here's a few suggestions for staying end-of-summer glow-y even if your days are no longer filled with #eatsleepbeachrepeat.Read More
TORONTO FOOD & WINE Festival takes over The Brickworks Sept 18 - 20. Want to win a pair of tickets? Read on.....Read More
Pizza.....the ultimate vehicle for cheese.Read More
There's no question that Airbnb offers one of the best ways to travel and experience the world. There's no better way to learn about a destination and to not feel like a tourist than to stay in a neighbourhood and an accommodation where people actually live rather than being in a hotel. If that's what you're looking for, of course. I've had great experiences staying in Airbnb's in Brooklyn, Barcelona and Valencia, and wouldn't have traded them for all the room service in the world.
So, when we were looking to do a little in-town getaway for our anniversary (because the grandparents ever-so-kindly offered to stay chez us and mind our babe. Yay!), we decided to think outside the box a little and go with an Airbnb stay instead of a hotel. We chose the King of Portland Suite on Portland near King St. West (see what they did there?) and it was perfect. Clean, spacious, just as it looked in the pictures, with cable and WiFi all included, and Victoria was an awesome host. It was conveniently close to our spa date, dinner and brunch plans. Plus...and this is very important as new parents...comfy and quiet enough for a blissful nine hours of sleep. It doesn't get much better than that.
Estrella Damm's Tapas Journey runs August 14th - 23. Here's how it works: 20 participating restaurants in Toronto will offer 3 tapas + 1 Estrella Damm for the awesome price of $20.Read More
Those Spotlight City Events guys have done it again. Pinxtos Toronto returns August 23.Read More