A New Foodie Concept – Popups

It’s that time of the year where the buds start blooming and new life begins. I went cherry blossom viewing this past weekend, only to find out they weren’t in full bloom yet. However, what I saw this year was definitely better than my first attempt a few years ago when only I only saw one tree with blossoms! Perhaps next year? They say third time’s a charm!

As beautiful as they were, cherry blossom viewing was just a detour towards my real goal that day, which was to check out the new pop-up concept at Yorkdale Mall. It’s called *ahem* “Concept”, where a handful of vendors showcase their products. The first batch were food-related and included:

  • Uncle Tetsu
  • Eva’s Original Chimney
  • Pie Squared
  • Caplansky’s Deli
  • Nadia’s Chocolates
  • Nugateau

The two big ones were Uncle Tetsu and Eva’s Original Chimney. There were huge lineups for these two vendors, but definitely worth the wait. Eva’s Original Chimney are Hungarian style ice cream cones. I first wrote about them back when I first tried them at the Canadian National Exhibit (CNE) last summer. Seeing as I enjoyed them the first time, you can imagine how excited I was to see them again (normally, it’s only sold in a floating food truck that travels around different parts of Toronto). This time, I got their Matcha Crunch, which contained a graham cracker cone that was filled with vanilla soft serve ice cream laced in a matcha Kit Kat crumble. It was also topped with matcha sauce and they added a Kit Kat bar for good measure.Yum!

Uncle Tetsu is a place well known in Asia for for their decadent Japanese cheesecakes. Although they do have a store in the heart of Toronto, it was great to see them uptown. Like the downtown store, it was no shock that the lineups were around the bend.

If you have never tried a Japanese cheesecake, it’s definitely a must. It’s soft, it’s fluffy and moist. Uncle Tetsu just so happens to be one of the best ones around. Even though we had to wait a bit for this scrumptious cheesecake, I ordered a pie from Pie Squared while waiting.

They had five types: Guinness beef and potato, steak and cheese, chicken pot pie, jerk chicken and a vegetarian pie. They’re cute little square-shaped pockets that are easy, grab n’ go snacks. I tried jerk chicken, but was a little disappointed when I realized there were more green peppers than chicken and the spices didn’t taste like authentic jerk spice. However, the crust was crispy and it was hot!

Then there’s Nugateau, a vendor that sold the fanciest éclairs I’ve ever seen. I didn’t get to sample one, but they were very pretty to look at.

Although I have heard lots of great things about Caplansky’s Deli (also a food truck in Toronto), I tend to avoid sandwiches when I can so needless to say I didn’t get anything from there. As for Nadia’s chocolate, they sold beautiful chocolate sculptures and treats but they were a bit pricey. A $65 chocolate sculpture, though nice, isn’t really my cup of tea.

Every four weeks, there’s a rotation and new vendors come in. This is also what I think makes this an exciting new retail experience for foodie lovers out there. I don’t think it will always be food-related, so enjoy this lineup of vendors until April 30. After that, who knows what surprises will come. Hopefully more foodie options!

Yorkdale – Concept:

3401 Dufferin Street
North York, Ontario
M6A 2T9
Canada

Easter Weekend

The chocolate egg and bunny hunts have begun and I’m sure many families are getting together this weekend to celebrate Easter weekend.

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Happy Easter!

Even though I wasn’t raised as a Christian, I celebrate it as a time to get together with family and friends. Plus, it’s an extra long weekend which I’m surely not going to complain about!

I had my family dinner yesterday. Although many families have succulent roasts or juicy hams, my family decided to have turkey. Why? Probably because it’s more versatile when it comes to leftovers – using the bones for soup, preparing the meat for salads and sandwiches or even stir fry dishes (I’ll post a recipe later on about what we did with some of our leftovers).

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Happy Hunting!

Whether you celebrate Easter or not, I’m wishing you a Happy Easter, an awesome long weekend and/or the best of luck in hunting down that discounted chocolate! Enjoy! 🙂

Sugar Shack – The Maple Syrup Festival

Canadian stereotypes:

  • We live in igloos
  • We live amongst polar bears
  • We love maple syrup

For me, two out of the three are false but the maple syrup one is correct! I say this because every year, multiple locations throughout Canada celebrate the maple syrup festival by going to a Sugar Shack, also known as La Cabane à Sucre in French.

It’s a tree tapping tradition where you can learn about the Canadian customs of maple syrup production and let me tell you, it takes a lot of time and effort to fill those bottles with 100% real syrup! 40 gallons of maple sap only creates 1 litre of syrup, to be exact!

To make this delicious syrup, the first thing they do is tap a bunch of maple trees by creating a small hole and inserting a nozzle. Rest assured, according to our guide, this process doesn’t harm the tree. In fact, it will heal on its own, like a minor boo boo. A bucket is then hung to catch the sap from the maple trees. Sap is created with the magic of photosynthesis – when sunlight creates energy and food for plants.

From here, there are two different ways to produce maple syrup. First, the old school pioneer way! Pioneer children were lucky. Most kids these days get one week for March break, but pioneer children get one month. However, this month is spent making maple syrup because the season is only 6-8 weeks long. If the temperature is too cold, the sap will freeze so the production of syrup each year is pretty time sensitive. Children help out by carrying buckets of sap on that wooden thingamajig attached to two buckets. It is then poured into cauldrons and boiled for hours. There are three different pots because each stage requires a certain type of monitoring. The syrup is created over time through heat and evaporation of the liquid sap to make it more concentrated.

When it’s done, it needs to be filtered. The pioneer way pours the sap into a simple bucket with cloth to get rid of the sediments, which is done several times.

The modern way is with big, fancy machines. It is boiled and stirred periodically before it goes into a big white container to be filtered into that clear, viscous liquid we all love.

The type of sap depends on the tree. It can range from clear to golden-brown, but the most common one we can find in most stores is amber syrup. It’s the good stuff you use to put on your pancakes and waffles! And real maple syrup contains 66% sugar which is measured using a refractometer. It can’t be less because it will go bad quickly (sugar acts as a preservative) and it can’t be more otherwise it will crystallize.

Some stores sell organic maple syrup, but do you know why it’s considered organic? Although everything comes from the maple tree, it’s the way it is processed. Boiling down the maple sap creates a foam which slows down the evaporation process. In non-organic maple syrup, a chemical defoamer is used. This is what renders the difference between organic and non-organic maple syrup.

Although it is interesting to learn about the history and making of maple syrup, it stirs up quite the appetite. The best part about visiting a sugar bush is visiting the sugar shack!

There are various treats that you can get at a sugar bush. Although it differs from place to place, you can get things such as maple cookies, maple chocolates or even maple taffy on a stick. At this particular location, they used ice to freeze the maple syrup. However, other places throw maple syrup on snow and peel it off to eat. Either way is delicious!

However, what I look forward to at a sugar bush is the pancakes with maple syrup! The pancakes are normally huge and pouring some beautiful maple syrup on top is the icing to the cake…pancake in this case. 🙂

Interestingly enough, maple trees aren’t the only trees that make syrup. You can also use birch trees, which require a ration of 80:1, just for drinking purposes. However, apparently it’s not that good. I’ll stick to the maple tree syrup which is apparently the only tree that produces a sweet flavour. And it’s my personal preference on pancakes and waffles. Yum!

 

Popcorn Gifts

This is a very random post, but I’ve noticed that my friends have been bringing me gifts/souvenirs from around the world and there has been a common theme – POPCORN! Not that there is anything wrong with popcorn, I just found the trend interesting. The first being popcorn flavoured candy from Taiwan.

These little square, yellow candies come in these tiny boxes. Oddly enough, it actually tastes like buttery popcorn – only in the form of soft, chewy candy like taffy. I guess you could say the flavour reminded me of those jellybeans that are used in that Beanboozled game or those Bernie Botts beans for those Harry Potter fans out there. It was interesting to eat.

Another friend of mine came back from Disney World, Florida, and she bought me a bag of kettle popcorn that was Sriracha flavor.

While the popcorn itself wasn’t shocking, it was the flavour. I was also happy to learn that it was GMO-free popcorn. While it didn’t exactly have “Sriracha” listed in the ingredients (more like sugar, sunflower oil, organic apple cider vinegar, salt, natural garlic flavor and chili pepper flavor, paprika powder, citric acid and lecithin), it was surprisingly good! It had a contrast of sweet and savory flavors with some spice to it. I might be the only person in the world that doesn’t really care about going to Disney World (more than once, anyway), but the popcorn may be worth a visit.

Although I never expect my awesome friends to buy me anything when they come back from a trip or for a visit, I wonder if I’ll be seeing another popcorn treat in the near future? Have you noticed any popcorn trends or received/given any popcorn related gifts?

Chicken Barley Soup (Recipe)

Last week, we were teased with a glimpse of spring only to be blown away (literally) by the crazy winter cold again. Mother nature plays tricks on us! So, to warm up I made a soup with some barley. Although I naturally tend to lean towards a beef barley soup for some heartiness, I decided to make a chicken barley soup instead. This is an easy peasy one pot cookery recipe and it’s healthy too.

Chicken-Barley-Soup

Chicken Barley Soup

Ingredients:

400g skinless and boneless chicken breasts cut into cubes
2 tablespoons butter
4 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
3 stalks celery, peeled and thinly sliced
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
900 ml of chicken broth
3 cups of water
3/4 cup pot/pearl barley, rinsed and drained
Salt and pepper

In a pot on medium heat, add the butter and let it melt. Add the chicken cubes and cook for about 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally to seal in the juices.

Then, add the remaining ingredients and cook for about 45 minutes or until the barley is tender. From what I can gather, you can use pearl barley and pot barley interchangeably.

The soup tastes very similar to a chicken noodle soup, but the noodles were replaced with barley, making it a healthier alternative. For next time though, I would change the cut of the chicken cubes into smaller slices of chicken strips (like in a stir fry). 🙂

Chicken-Barley-Soup

Chicken Barley Soup

Note: the barley tends to soak up the liquid, so this soup is best eaten on the same day it’s made. Otherwise you’ll end up with a chunky porridge, unless that’s what you want. Enjoy! 🙂

Based off the recipe by Ricardo (Who? An an awesome Canadian chef from Québec)

Izakaya – A Loud but Delicious Experience

I love Japanese food. Although a majority of people may only be familiar with sushi and teppanyaki, there are many other delicious dishes too. Thus comes Izakaya – a type of Japanese bar styled restaurant that typically offers skewers and tapas. It’s a very informal setting where people come in for drinks and food.

I went with a friend and upon entering the restaurant, the staff shouted “irasshaimase!!!” at us, which means “welcome” in Japanese. Other than giving customers a mild heartattack upon entry, it’s normal at an Izakaya as a way to greet customers. When we sat down and looked at the menu, there were so many options to choose from. Instead of going à la carte, we decided to go with an eight course set menu which had many of their most popular dishes.

First up, a blanched spinach dish called gomaae. The rolled up ball of greens were topped with sesame seeds and a black savory sauce filled with the aroma of sesame oil. To my shock, the dish was cold but it was an interesting starter.

Japanese-Food-Spinnach-Gomaae

Gomaae

Then came the deep fried brie cheese balls. It was packed full of gooey cheese, just the way I like it.

Japanese-Food-Cheese-Balls

Cheese balls

The crumb coating was quite chunky, but it came out super crispy. It was accompanied with a fusion of two fruit sauces underneath – the yellow being a mango sauce and the purple one being a berry sauce. It was definitely an interesting mix and tasted so good. Besides, cheese and fruits usually pair well together. 🙂

Japanese-Food-Cheese-Balls

Fruity sauces to go with the delicious cheese balls

We barely touched the second dish, but the plates were flying out of the kitchen so quickly we had to ask the waiters to slow down! Perhaps it’s because time is money and the restaurant was filling up fast. Despite this, the third fish was a typical Japanese style salad with lettuce, radish, noori and tofu cubes. It had a wafu (Japanese style) soy-based dressing. Refreshing!

Japanese-Food-Style-Salad

Japanese style salad

The forth dish was a hot stone pot rice dish. It came out sizzling hot piled up as a pretty display, but the server mixed it up in front of us so quickly I wasn’t able to get a shot of it. The bowl was so hot that the rice was still crackling well after the dish was mixed, but the purpose of the bowl is to make the rice burn a bit to give it a nice and crispy texture (similar to a bibimbap).

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Hot stone pot bowl rice

My friend didn’t enjoy this dish as much as I did. It was a sweeter rice dish filled with rice, mushrooms, cheese and seaweed. Perhaps the cheese threw her off, but I liked it! The following dish was karubi, which is similar to Korean kalbi. These delicious short ribs were flavoured in a soy sauce marinade and came with a side scallion-oil dipping sauce, lemon and lettuce leaves. Very tasty, I must say.

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Karubi

Next, although they called it carpaccio, I’m going to assume it’s because a majority of people wouldn’t know what beef tataki is. Although similar, the former is completely raw whereas the latter is slightly seared. It is also topped with a ponzu sauce, wasabi mayo, daikun, green scallions and garlic crisps. Given that the garlic was dehydrated, it was quite potent but I love garlic so it worked with me!

Japanese-Beef-Tataki

Beef Tataki

The seventh dish was chicken kaarage, a Japanese style fried chicken that is marinated in soy sauce, battered and deep fried to a crispy golden brown. Of course, we had some sake (a Japanese rice wine) to go with this as well. 🙂

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Kaarage chicken

And no meal is complete without dessert, but can you believe I forgot to take a photo before I inhaled it? It was a simple black sesame ice cream. Usually I find restaurants tend to pre-scoop and leave it in the freezer until it is needed, but I found this restaurant had it freshly prepared – meaning no frozen icicle bits on my ice cream! An Izakaya restaurant is quite the experience. It’s a lovely place with plenty of food options, but it may not necessarily be great for those who want a nice and quiet dinner. Just be prepared for an evening with lots of yelling and delicious food 🙂

Kinka Izakaya
398 Church Street,
Toronto, ON, M5B 2A2
Canada
416-977-0999

Le Petit French Bistro

When it comes to French food, I think one of the most classic dishes is escargot (aka snails). I know many people get the heebie jeebies when it comes to things that look squirmy, but escargot is delicious! Often, you will find them in a special dish that is cooked in a simple garlic and butter concoction. However, when I went to a 2017 Winterlicious event, I got a bowl full of them. This particular version was sautéed with portobello mushrooms and cooked in a cognac cream sauce. And to remove the “creepy” factor, I guess it helps when the snails have been deshelled. It also came with some bread to help soak up the delicious sauce.

Escargot

Escargot

Although the classical bowl of “moules et frites” (mussels and fries) was tempting, I ended up having a seafood risotto. It had big and succulent tiger shrimp, bay scallops, mussels, red peppers and spinach and was cooked in a white wine rosé sauce. Although it wasn’t the best risotto I’ve ever had (a fungi risotto is still at the top of my books), the beautiful pieces of seafood made up for it.

Seafood-risotto

Seafood risotto

And of course, save the best for last! Dessert! I had a crème brûlée. It had such a nice and thick burnt sugar top in contrast to the creamy custard underneath. It was a great way to end the meal and you can never go wrong with a crème brûlée!

crème-brûlée

Crème brûlée

Winterlicious is an annual event that occurs in Toronto. It’s fun and it’s a great way to try out new foods and discover new restaurants. Although Winterlicious is over for 2017, there’s another version called Summerlicious. Let’s see where I end up. 🙂

MIDI Bistro Restaurant
168 McCaul St
Toronto, Ontario M5T 1W4
Canada
416-977-2929

 

The Churro Donut

Donuts? Yum! Churros? Also great. Combining the two make a churro donut? Hello?! I haven’t been impressed by any donuts for the past while, so when a fellow foodie highly recommended the churro donut at our local café franchise, Tim Hortons, I jumped to try it. Like the green and white competitor with a medusa mascott, Timmie’s (which is what it’s known as colloquially) is on almost every corner.

This churro donut is essentially an updated version of a honey crueller donut. I’m personally not a huge fan of cruellers, but the remake is worth the hype.

The churro donut is soft, sweet, and covered in a cinnamon sugar. Inside reveals a caramel filling. It’s a bit on the overly sweet side, but it’s still amazing. I think they added this filling because churros are often accompanied with a dip or drizzled in a sauce, but this way makes it much more convenient.

I know a lot of my followers aren’t from Canada, but if you happen to come for a visit, check out Tim Hortons and give this delicious churro donut a try! And no, I am not being paid to say this. It’s just really good! Plus roll up the rim is back!

On a side note: since I made the decision to slow down on blogging to redirect my focus on upcoming projects, I’m going through writer’s withdrawl!!! I do miss doing daily posts, but I plan to post at least once a week. 🙂

Icewine Touring – Part Deux

On a long journey through the beautiful vineyards of Niagara Region, I had the pleasure of participating in the Niagara Icewine Festival. Yesterday’s posting was about the first half of the tour, so here’s the second part of our awesome adventure!

The pretty Konzelmann Estate Winery was the fifth place we went to on our list. They paired their Vidal icewine with a lobster bisque. The soup wasn’t what I expected because it was quite spicy and it wasn’t thick and creamy, which is what you would normally find in a typical lobster bisque. However, it did have the surprise kick factor. Plus, the vineyard was a cute castle-looking estate which was beautiful to look at.

Our next pit stop was at Stoney Ridge Estate Winery. Despite my previous posting with tips on a successful wine tour, I put this one in sixth place because of the way our route worked out. Bacon tends to be one of the big ticket items on wine tours and when it’s mixed in with macaroni and cheese, watch out! So, when we got to the winery it was actually no surprise that there weren’t any left. This was unfortunate because it was supposed to be an applewood smoked cheddar and double smoked bacon mac n’ cheese. Instead, we were served cheddar cheese from PEI and smoked gouda with a breadstick. It was paired with a white wine and although it wasn’t horrible, I can’t say it was one of my favourites (especially in comparison to the other places we tried).

The last place we went to was at Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery. Being the last stop, there was no better way to end the tour than with dessert! Since the previous winery didn’t go as planned, this experience completely made up for it. They served a beautiful crème brûlée that was “burnt” right on the spot as we arrived. It isn’t your typical crème brûlée though because it was made with sweet potato and cardamom. Imagine that! Plus it was created by a restaurant that was featured on the Food Network’s You Gotta Eat Here, so you know credit is deserved for this dish. The staff member mentioned that they had to brûlée the custard lightly, but not too much so it would create a nice, nutty flavour that would pair well with their Vidal ice wine. The ice wine they served was delicious, with fruity hints of lemon, mandarin, mango and peach. I really enjoyed this pairing and it was a great way to finish our tour.

Despite my good intentions to finish the entire eight wineries I had planned, we had an unfortunate event in the morning that caused us to lose 2 1/2 hours for our tour. It was really upsetting, but at least we were able to do 7 of 8 (though I missed out on Kacaba’s Cabernet Franc Icewine and their Cajun lime buttered jumbo prawn with sweet potato wedges and topped with guacamole drizzle…). At the same time, one of the wineries double scanned our tickets without us knowing (I have my suspicions…it was the one that was drinking on the job but shall remain nameless…), so we wouldn’t have been able to go without paying extra (something to watch out for). In the event you would like to follow the route I took, here’s a map:

ice-wine-festival-map-for-blog

The Niagara Icewine Festival is around this weekend and the following one, so if you get a chance to participate in this fun excursion, let me know what you think. 🙂

 

Icewine Touring – Niagara Icewine Festival Pt. 1

If you have never tried icewine, you’re missing out. It’s a sweet dessert wine that’s loved by many, so much that Canada hosts the Niagara Icewine Festival every year. Although I posted a small introduction to icewine previously, I recently learned that icewine is highly regulated. So much that it’s mandatory for an inspector to watch as grapes are harvested and processed at each vineyard. The grapes have to be frozen minimally at -8°C for 3 days and if it isn’t, there are heavy fines for making it illegally. It’s serious business!

I went to the Niagara Icewine Festival this past weekend and we had so much fun indulging in all the sugary goodness. Our tour began with Ravine Vineyard Estates Winery. They served a Cabernet Franc Icewine that was paired with confit duck tartlets filled with bleu Bénédictin cheese from Québec.

If you love blue cheese, you will definitely like this tart. It was filled with the rich and creamy flavours of the potent smelling cheese and some subtle flavours of duck. Although I’m not a huge fan of blue cheese, I enjoyed this tart. The only thing I found was the crispy pastry was a bit heavy and masked some of the delicateness of a tart, but it was not bad at all. Plus the icewine pairing was delicious! A good combination of sweet and savoury.

The next stop was at Château des Charmes and they presented a salmon wellington with a dried apricot and chili preserve. The sweet salmon was wrapped in a soft pastry and had the tiniest kick of spice. The sweet apricot helped liven up the hor d’oeuvre and it was paired with a lovely Vidal Icewine. I really enjoyed this one!

Our third stop was at the famous Inniskillin Wines, which served chicken and waffles. Although I can’t really say I enjoyed the soggy waffle and long line up (though it moved relatively fast and that would explain why it was soggy), the well seasoned chicken was crispy and the icewine inspired hot sauce you can add to the dish enhanced the flavours. The Cabernet Franc Sparking Ice Wine that they served was probably one of the best icewines I have ever had! It had fruity hints of cherry, raspberry, rhubarb and strawberries and was well balanced with the acidity. Unfortunately, it came with a hefty price tag though it was on sale for $80, in comparison to the regular $120. I guess it’s all relative. When in Rome… 🙂

The fourth winery was at Pillitteri Estates Winery. They paired their barrel aged Reserve Vidal Icewine with a grilled cheese finger sandwich with braised duck, Bartlett pear and Cambazola cheese that was topped off with an onion-icewine infused jam. The bread was soft and the mix of ingredients created this tasty combination of saltiness from the cheese with sweetness from the caramelization of the onions and sauce. The cheese wasn’t melted, but it was still good. As for the icewine, I can’t say it was my favourite one on the tour but it wasn’t bad.

So now that I’ve gone through halfway through the tour, it’s time for a break! Up tomorrow, the remaining wineries and pairings and a map for anyone who would like to follow the route we took!