31 December 2013

Best meals (out) of 2013

As we head into 2014 with great enthusiasm, let's look back at some of the best meals we had in 2013. It was a year filled with trials and tribulations, no doubt, but also some really great food.

 Locanda Verde, New York City

We went during Legal Tech in February with some work friends. Jennifer came down from T.O. to spend a couple of days.We tried practically everything on the menu.  Meatballs so good you couldn't even believe it. Pasta fantastic. Atmosphere was super hip (a bit overwhelming for me, but I managed). Not very poetic, this is why I'm not a restaurant reviewer.

Topolopambo, Chicago

Rick Bayliss has been the inspiration for my Mexican cooking fetish. From him I have learned so much about flavours and textures as well as styles of cooking. Have wanted to eat at one of his restaurants for years and this year on my birthday, we did it.  The service was absolutely spectacular and as I'd been sick all day, the gentle touch went a long way with me. We had the tasting menu (which changes every few months) but the flavours, combinations, and textures of the beautifully presented food absolutely lived up to expectation. We will be going back (and here's the post about that adventure).

East Indies, Eighth Bastion Hotel, Cochin, India

The food during our trip to India got better every day. Eating in the state of Kerala in the south provided new tastes and adventures. The seafood, especially the giant blue prawns, was prepared simply and deliciously. It proved to me, that yes, I could eat Indian food every day. On our last day in India we went to East Indies in Cochin. The food was Dutch-Indian fusion providing a modern and artistic twist on the local cuisine. Just absolutely fantastic and a great way to end our adventure.

Taqueria El Farolito, San Francisco

I am all about the high-end restaurants but give me a dive with cheap food and off-the-charts delicious food, and nothing makes me happier. I was in San Francisco for a conference and wanted to have a Mission Burrito. There is much debate over the best burrito in SF but I landed on El Farolito. Outstanding. I had a tongue/steak burrito (no beans, sadly) with a horchata. Sat with a really interesting young chef who was off to see a concert with some friends. Enjoyed the whole experience of being human that night.

Now don't think that we didn't also have some great food at home in Toronto. We sure did!

Hopgoods Foodliner 

This was Jennifer's choice for her birthday. A bit of Atlantic Canada in west end Toronto. Go there, it's fun. Try the crab dip with triscuits. Also the Halifax Donairs (with sweet sauce), Digby scallops, and the Cape Breton snow crab (served cold on a tower with ice). All dishes made for sharing, so go with lots of people as you'll want to try many things and having pals with you means you won't leave so full you don't know what to do with yourself!  Again, another place with great service, which made the evening despite the cranky pants fella at the table next to us. 


I have a great fondness for the charcuterie and it's quite the rage all over the place these days. So I have had quite a few, some good some not so great. Union's was probably the best I had this year. All made in-house (including the smoked meats). Definitely enough for a meal - hearty and delicious. Lots of comfort food and great drinks in this very small restaurant.

The Chase

I have a lot of business lunches and the food is often expensive and generally pretty decent. I'm not one to hop on the bus of trendy and "it" places (which this apparently is) but I am going to say that I had one of the best lunches I've ever had here. As a starter I had the avocado stuffed with a shrimp salad - who knew you could slice avocado so beautifully thin?! My main was scallops with quinoa, a pea puree and a soft poached egg. I can't describe the sweet, velvety deliciousness of this emerald green dish. I can taste it now just writing about it. I am actually afraid to go back because I don't believe it'll ever be that good again and who needs the disappointment.

Richmond Station

This downtown spot hidden away beside the ramp to the Bay Adelaide parking garage. Perhaps J's favourite of the year. Top choices: the suprisingly delicious quinoa salad and the best halibut in town. We were repeat offenders here (although not as frequent as our pal Sarah!).  

Of course, lot of great food made at home but that's another story altogether. We didn't actually eat out as much, or at least eat out at "fancy" places, as in past years. But usually we ended up at totally worthwhile places. There are always lots of great places to discover in Toronto, and we will continue our urban adventuring in 2014. Happy New Year.

23 December 2013

The red soup

At one point in time, I used to eat a lot of borsht but it was always the stuff in the bottles and it was farily purple. I loved it. I dreamed up this easy recipe tonight to use up some of the beets in the fridge. Traditionally it's made with cabbage but my body doesn't agree with it very well so I left it out.  It should be served with a dollop of sour cream but I didn't have any. No matter, it was super delicious.

  • 1 large beet, 2 medium, or 4 small - peeled and grated
  • 1 large carrot - peeled and grated
  • 1 medium potato = peeled and grated
  • 1 piece of celery - finely sliced
  • half an onion - finely sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic - crushed
  • 4-6 cups of beef broth
  • juice of about a half of a lemon
  • 1 tablespoon dried dill
  • salt and pepper to taste
Basically you throw everything into a pot of boiling broth and let it cook for half an hour. Serve and eat. Nutritious and delicious. And it's a great colour. The picture does not do it justice.

24 November 2013


Dear blog readers (or Mom and Gail), we have been on holiday in India.  And it was amazing.

The food was amazing. Every meal was amazing. Every morsel was something delicious and different. (And we did not suffer from Delhi Belly, so high fives all around.)

On our last day in India, we went to a restaurant called East Indies at the 8th Bastion Hotel in Kochi. Kochi is in Kerala and is tropical and fantastic. The food was amazing.  See for yourself:

We had to start with a trio of dosa.  So apparently the dosa we know and love from here in Toronto is most often served at breakfast in the great south of India.  But this little starter was fantastic!  There was shrimp, beef (water buffalo), and potato all on top of a dosa round.  

G ordered a mutton something.  Or lamb something.  I really don't remember, but it was really good (and not on it's side).  It was really rich and dark like a mole. It came with puttu, which is a steamed rice patty sort of thing.  It was very dense, and a bit heavy, but it actually held up well to the really rich and delicious sauce.

I ordered this little bit of heaven....

It was stuffed mushrooms and green chile with a saffron sauce, lemon rice and some salad-y thing that I didn't eat because it was too sharp.  I have to confess that the Indians eat a lot of their meat on the bone, which I just can't get behind.  However, I learned that if I was ever going to be vegetarian, I would be so in India. There are just so many wonderful veg dishes you can have, and prompted me to order this deliciousness.

It was really unusual, and I confess that I ate all of the sauce.

The Indians, they know their sauces.  All good all the time.

Anyway, I didn't take tons of food pics, I just was so busy taking pics of the Taj and such (ha ha)... but trust me when I say you can eat your way happily through India without getting sick.

22 October 2013

Albondigas with a twist

For the many Sephardim that read this blog (and there are so many of you I can hardly count you all on my fingers), you'll be familiar with the traditional version of albondigas that we've been eating (and loving!) since we were all tiny. They're red, it's all about the tomato. Well tonight I went off the beaten path, well onto the somewhat beaten path of Mexican flavours that I've embraced and turned the blessed albondiga of my youth on its ear! Tonight's were green, that's verde, yes!

I had some tomatillos sitting in the fridge that I had picked up at a farmers' market a while ago. I needed to use them. I was not willing to let those beauties go to waste but I needed something one step up from salsa verde, because that does not a dinner make. So a little searching and a little cobbling together and here's what I came up with.

Albondigas verde
  • 1-2 pounds of ground beef
  • 10 or so tomatillos
  • 2 poblano peppers or a couple of jalapenos
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 big white onion (1/2 cut into chunks, 1/4 chopped super finely)
  • 1/2 cup of chopped cilantro
  • 2 tbsp of uncooked rice
  • few tablespoons of oil
  • salt 
  • 1 or 2 eggs
Clean and remove the husks from the tomatillos and put them in a pot of water to boil for about 15 min until they turn a little yellowish. If using jalepenos, boil with the tomatillos and remove seeds etc once cooked.. Once ready, drain the water from the pot.

Roast the poblano peppers (either under the broiler or over the flame of a gas stove) until they are fairly charred. Put in a plastic bag and let sweat for about 10 minutes so the skin will be easy to get off. Clean the skin off, remove the seeds and rinse the pepper to get all the black bits and seeds off.  

Chuck the cooked tomatillos, poblano peppers/jalapenos, chunks of onions, cilantro, garlic, and about a cup of water into a blender and blend until it is a very nice green colour.

To make the meatballs, mix the eggs, ground beef, finely chopped onion, rice and a couple of pinches of salt into a bowl and then form into walnut sized balls. Not too tiny but not big either.

In a pot large enough to fit the balls essentially in one layer, add the oil and let it get hot. Pour the tomatillo mixture in (and enjoy the sizzle). Mix and let it come to the boil. You should add a bit of water to thin it out now (I used the blender and got all the rest of the tomatillo mixture out with the water). 

Once the sauce comes back to the boil, add the balls, turn down the heat, and let it simmer partially covered for 30 minutes. Add salt etc as required to taste.

I served this over pink rice and a little Mexican style salad with chopped onion, a few of the last stragglers from my tomato crop, chopped lettuce, and some chunks of avocado dressed simply wiht some lime juice, olive oil and a bit of salt.  They don't look all that fantastic in pictures but we're about flavour here, not looks!

20 October 2013

Oh tomato, how I love you

Pretty much the end of the summer vines. I will miss my daily tomato meal. Nothing is more satisfying and simpler than the thinly sliced tomato layered with salt, pepper, and olive oil on a piece of super crunchy toast.

Goodbye summer ....

29 July 2013

We are smokin'

I have a great desire for a smoker. But the reality is that it involves quite a bit of time and there is limited real estate in the backyard. So at this juncture, no smoker. That doesn't mean that I am not keen to  try smoking at home and we have bought a few things and I have read a lot about smoking in the oven etc. but not yet tried. 

Well in the spring I found these smoking bags at Lowe's. Emeril Lagasse promises from the packaging that I can make fabulous smoked foods with no hassle. As we have barely eaten at home in the last month, there's not been much time for experimentation. This weekend we spent mostly at home and with groceries in the fridge so I figured let's give the smoking bag a go. 

I grabbed a chicken breast from the freezer but sadly there was no dark meat, which I prefer. No worries- there was a cornish hen. Let's just ratchet up this experiment. I cut the little bird in half, seasoned it all with some thyme, oregano, garlic powder, salt and pepper and then just opened the foil envelope, popped the poultry in, and sealed it up. 

Apparently the bag has wood chips and stuff embedded into it. I heated up the bbq and stuck it in there on high for about 15 min and then medium for another 30. As the bag is sealed there's no way to know if there's magic or chaos going on inside. The backyard smelled like a smokehouse so I took that as a good sign. Took the bag off the heat and let it rest for 10 min or so then cut her open. Inside...some pretty freaking perfectly cooked and well smoked bird!!!

J made an awesome potato salad (and kindly used some parsley from the garden) and I made some green beans. All in all an very delicious experiment and a thrill to have a meal at home.

22 July 2013

Rick Bayless and the Chicago Heatwave

After 10+ years together, it can be challenging to come up with good ideas for birthday presents, so this year, I surprised G with a trip to Chicago so that we could eat at Rick Bayless' restaurant Topolobampo.

This past weekend was the date.  After a very early morning flight to Chicago, we hoofed it on the subway to our hotel where we dropped our bags and headed out into the city.

We stopped at Panera Bread for a quick bite (nothing special but fast and close by) and then wandered to see about getting tix for one of the Architecture Cruises.

(In a blaze of America is weird, we also got to have new Twinkies on the street.  They were being given as a promotion along with a button that said "I saved the Twinkie"  -- the guy laughed when I said we were Canadian and had never not had the Twinkie.... but I digress.

Chicago was H-O-T.  And we were out in it, soaking up the sun and dehydrating ourselves into seeming oblivion.  We went to Millenium Park and spent some time marvelling at the amazing public art.  It's really magnificent.

I had such a great time!  Then we went on the boat tour.  The tour was interesting, but really hot and we didn't have the most dynamic guide.  But the sun did G in and she got pretty sick and spent a few hours in our cool dark hotel room trying to rest up for Topolobampo.

And we did make it!

Rick Bayless did not seem to be in the restaurant, but after our leisurely walk, we were ready to sit down and tuck in.

We knew that we would likely order from the Tasting Menu because why not get the maximum amount to try since we don't live in Chicago and may never get there again... and they were willing to do substitutes for me since I did not want the ceviche course.  (Note: The menu we had was the last day this particular tasting menu was offered.  It was amazing.... see below for photographic proof!)

We were given an amuse bouche of some sort of pea soupy thing... Delicious, indeed!

It was really green tasting, and the pea flavour was certainly there.  It had a kick at the end from the chill that made it very tasty indeed!  (I had this with a Limonata type drink that was ridiculously refreshing.  I would say here, too, that the restaurant was beyond nice about the fact that we didn't order alcohol.  No guilt trips, no repeat questions, no attitude.  G explained that she had had a rough day and wasn't feeling her best, and they went out of their way to accommodate us!)

We both chose the Topolo Classics menu.  I did not want the ceviche, which I was able to substitute with the Farmers Market Mole Verde.  Described as a 'Chilled, herby green mole (thickened with hazelnuts, infused with hoja santa), local baby beets, green soy beans, green garlic', I was intrigued.

Bad picture, I know.  It looks like something the baby left behind, but the mole had such a nice fresh flavour to it that went beautifully with the beets.  The soy beans were fine, but the mole was just exceptional and unlike anything I've ever had.  

G had the ceviche or Ipswich Razor Clam and Baja Bay Scallop with an amazing Tamazula hot sauce jelly.  

 She really enjoyed it.  The fish was delicate and the flavour was incredibly bright.  The green sauce was fresh and tasty.  It was a good start!

We moved from this course to the Three Bites of Oaxaca course, mini tacos with aged beef tenderloin tasajo, classic chorizo was quails egg, and red chile pork loin cecina.  Oh my.

My egg had taken a tumble off the taco and looks like a globby bunch of scallop, but when reassembled, this dish was delightful.  The meat on all three of these was just ridiculously tasty and something I may try to recreate at home!

Our next course was Halibut and Lobster with Squash Blossoms.  One of my greatest realizations of the last few years is the love I have developed for halibut.  Never having been a huge fish eater, Jamie Oliver turned me on to the pleasures of Halibut and I have never looked back (nor forgiven him for making me love a fish that is so dang expensive in Canada!).  I was excited to see this on the menu, and I was not disappointed.

The meal came with delightful homemade tortillas, and the squash blossom was like a soup made with pumpkin seeds, poblano chile, white wine, and saffron.  It was delicious.  The halibut had a perfect crust, the lobster was cool, fresh, and bright tasting.  The squash sauce was just an absolute revelation of deliciousness.  Ridiculously good, and probably my favourite course of the night.

The meat course was up next and featured Rick's famous mole sauce.  (I believe this is the sauce that won him the Tp Chef Master's title.)  I have to say straight up, I have never been a fan of mole.  As a supertaster, I just find that many flavours in one place to be too much for me to handle, and it's often incredibly bitter.  But this, gosh, this was a substance I have never tasted anything like.  Smooth, rich, deep, complex, silky, and delicious.  (As an aside, I learned in my Coursera class that supertasters often do not like fatty foods (which I don't) and many green vegetables!  Playing to type again!)

This was wood-grilled 28 day aged prime roc with seared foie gras.  I asked for no foie.  It was served with classic Oaxacan black mole, corn husk steamed chipil tamal, black beans, and green beans.  It was really wonderful.  Served again with housemade tortillas, I ate up as much of the sauce as I could fit.  The steak looks really rare in this photo, but it was G's and much rarer than mine, but wonderfully meaty and delicious.

Feeling full, but never ones to turn down the final dessert course, we happily tucked into Warm chocolate mesquite cakes served with Mexican vanilla bean ice cream and sweet masa pudding.

Yep.  Those turnipy looking things were the masa pudding slivers, which were amazing.  The chocolate cake was deep and rich, hitting a super lovely spicy/sweet/bitter Mexican chocolate undertone.  The ice cream was so vanilla-y that this vanilla ice cream fan was in heaven.

The meal was wonderful.  The restaurant is nice but still casual, and there are literally platoons of servers there to help with every single things you could ever want.  To get to the bathroom, you have to walk through the kitchen, which is awesome because you get a birds eye view of what's going on!

At $105, the tasting menu was worth every single penny we paid.  The food was unique, flavourful, colourful, and highly evocative.  I loved being in Mexico City and tasting the clean lines of the more authentic Mexican food and Rick Bayless has captured that brilliantly.  I can't recommend this restaurant highly enough.  It was definitely worth a 1.5 hour plane ride.

Next up on our Chicago adventure.... Fabio Vivani's resturant Siena Tavern.

17 July 2013

Well that's just crazy.

It's a bit shameful, really, that we've let the blog sit.  Not because our thousands of readers are disappointed, but because it's really fun to do and I miss it!  Further, I have to say that I've stopped reading a lot of the blogs I used to read because they became all about book deals and fancy restaurants, which is great for them (and shows that I had good taste in food blogs).  But I really missed the fun home food mixed with trips to restaurants to try new things.  So I stopped reading and I stopped writing.  But like I said, I missed it.  

So without further ado.... a new post!

I worked from home today, which reminded me of one of the many things I like about myself... I am not afraid to cook just for me!  And in fact, when it's just me, I can make the miss-mash of things I most love. 

As I sat at the table, feeling the first pangs of hunger after a breakfast of leftover cold gluten free pizza (more on that in a minute), I started to have thoughts.  Ideas.  Concoctions.  And before I knew it, I was  whipping up a storm of good food!  And it looked like this...

Sadly for you, my photog skills have not changed in the slightest!  I have realized that I like food served in a bowl that you can eat with a fork.  The above, mac n cheese, spaghetti bolognese, etc.  It's probably my favourite thing.  

But back to that bowl of beauty!  Chorizo Hash with Scrambled Eggs and Sriracha Mayo!  I know!  Brilliantly delicious and super easy. 

I pierced one potato and cooked it in the microwave for a few minutes.  After it was done, I cut it into large-ish chunks and fried it for a bit in a skillet.  I then added some chopped chorizo (PC brand) and fried it up.  Once the potatoes were cooked through, I took the potato and chorizo mix and put it in a bowl.  I then scrambled two eggs and laid on top.  For the piece de resistance, I mixed some low-fat mayo with sriracha and drizzled dolloped it over the top.  It was really amazing.  And by really amazing, I do mean, really super-good-would-pay-to-eat-it-in-a-restaurant good. I started to say that it was meat free, but that's silly. 

I had some leftover sriracha mayo so my mind strayed to things that would be a natural pairing.  The answer was obvious.  HAMBURGERS!  I had one Udi gluten-free hamburger bun left in the freezer, so out it came along with x-lean ground beef.  

Lovely dinner with some bbq'ed corn on the cob.  Super good and well worth the time it took G to cook it on the bbq (hee hee).  

Seriously, there was no way I could stand the thought of turning our oven on during this heat.  The humidex was something like 113 F or something ridiculous.  I am sitting outside now, but there's a lovely breeze and it's not so blazingly awful.  

I like working from home.  We had to have some service repair on our house, so I needed to be here, but it also gave me time to charge my new solar charger and play with my cats.  Not so bad, really!

Oh, and the gluten-free pizza I mentioned above?  Wonderful, let me tell ya!  Udi's gluten-free pizza crust is amazing and I would eat it even if I were eating gluten (which I sometimes do).  For dinner recently, I used the crust, topped with pizza sauce, goat mozzarella (my absolute fave cow dairy sub), some chopped rotisserie chicken, and thinly sliced onion.  Plopped on the pizza stone in the oven and cooked to perfection.  Due to the aforementioned heat, I didn't want to turn on the oven to reheat the pizza (and I hate microwaved pizza), so despite my apprehension about cold gluten-free crust, it was DELICIOUS!

I really loved it and ate every bite.  Highly recommended.  So a pretty good food day.  I can't work from home full-time or I would weigh a thousand pounds.  

Anyway, it's good to be back!  


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