Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Best of 2008

A quick list of some of my favourites from 2008:
  1. Sushi chez Mom and Dad: Toro, maguro, shrimp, scallops, cucumber.

  2. Omakase at Hiro Sushi

  3. Pastrami sandwich at Katz's Deli, NYC

  4. Guacamole at Rosa Mexicano, NYC

  5. Chocolate iced cupcake at Magnolia Bakery, NYC

  6. Veda's Choice at Mildred's Temple Kitchen

  7. Dim sum at New Treasure Restaurant

  8. Venison pate sandwich and arugula pesto pasta from All the Best Fine Foods

  9. Vegetarian squid at Simon's Wok

  10. Bozena Shero at Lalibela

  11. Roast Pork at Bassell's, Niagara Falls

  12. Udon chez Mom and Dad

  13. Scallop pasta chez Mom and Dad

  14. Pumpkin pie and blueberry grunt at Darcy's folks

  15. Ham and cheese sandwiches chez Mom and Dad

  16. Lobster salad sandwich chez Mom and Dad

  17. Pork tenderloin, baked potato with sour cream and bacon, and mushroom risotto made by Darcy

  18. My own grilled ham and cheese sandwiches on sourdough with an egg over easy

  19. Grilled lobster sandwiches at Eat to the Beat

  20. Pulled pork from Carolina Rib King at Burlington Ribfest

  21. Momos from Kathmandu Restaurant at Tasty Thursdays

  22. Chorizo Hash at The Kitchen

  23. Garden Maki at The Kitchen

  24. Banana and Jack at The Kitchen

  25. Chocolate mousse at Lil Baci

  26. Crab at the Smiths' on Fogo Island

  27. Dessert dim sum at Susur

  28. Crispy fishies at Meze

  29. Fish and chips at Kingsway Fish and Chips

  30. Pork thingie at excellent restaurant in Markham that Ming took us to

  31. Mildred Pierce potluck at Diane's

  32. Fries at Phil's BBQ

  33. Blueberry pancake, turkey bacon, and hash browns by Darcy

  34. Ragu at Mangia e Bevi

  35. Tiramisu and bacetti at Mangia e Bevi

  36. Taro puffs at Restaurant Lotte, Montreal

  37. Mixed plate at Mazurka, Montreal

  38. Homemade ham, cheese, basil panini, tomato salad, and buttercup squash soup at Koto's, Montreal

  39. Toaste and poutine from Frites Dorees, Montreal

  40. Tamago sushi at Ematei

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Second Harvest Turkey Drive: Goal Reached

A big thank you to everyone who donated to the Second Harvest Turkey Drive. Donations made between Sunday and today made up for the missing 290 turkeys, so all of Second Harvest's agencies can enjoy a turkey dinner this holiday season. Y'all are the best!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Second Harvest Turkey Drive Extended

Even in these harsh economic times, Loblaws shoppers were very generous and bought 4,710 turkeys during the 2008 Second Harvest Turkey Drive, which is tantalizingly close to the goal of 5,000. Second Harvest have extended the drive by accepting donations on their web site that will go toward buying the remaining 290 turkeys. If you would like to donate, please visit:

Friday, December 12, 2008

Thank you, Second Harvest

I'd like to say a big thank you to the great people at Second Harvest for being so generous with their time while I was researching my piece on the Second Harvest Turkey Drive. I learned so much about the organization that didn't make it into the article, but I plan on doling out that information here in future installments.

I'd also like to send my best wishes to Zoe Cormack Jones who will be leaving Second Harvest this month after 12 amazing years as Executive Director. Zoe is an inspiration to anyone who meets her and I am in awe of her kindness, generosity, and desire to take care of people and help them grow. We're lucky to have her in our city.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Ketel One at Kultura

So, an interesting thing happened to me last week. I know this probably happens to famous writers and bloggers all the time, but little ol' me was contacted through this blog to attend a Ketel One vodka tasting at Kultura by Matchstick, a 'word-of-mouth' marketing company. We were told that we'd have a formal tasting of luxury vodkas followed by cocktails and gifts. I brought Marcelo, who knows way more about vodka than me.

Everyone there was a blogger of some sort from Toronto, so there were people who write about food, drink, fashion, music, pop culture, and many other things. That itself was pretty cool. I met Carlos Weisz, a music blogger for BlogTO. Carlos is from Mexico City and has been in Canada for 10 years. I'm not sure what the actual name of his day job is, but he's like a DJ but with video. So one of the things he does is splice video live for parties and events. Cool day job. I, of course, asked him if he liked any Mexican restaurants in Toronto and he said Milagro for Filete a la Tampiquena (grilled beef dish) and Taquitos Rosaritos (shrimp tacos), and Tacos el Asador, which is El Salvadorean.

I also met Jesse Ship who writes for Format Magazine, an urban arts and fashion blog. Jesse had crazy, Sideshow Bob hair and was definitely the most sociable blogger there. He has a brand new blog about art and music called fubitch.

As soon as we got there, a very hip and friendly photographer hired for Ketel One got us to pose in front of a Ketel One logo. It was the closest I've ever come to doing a photo shoot. He directed us on how to pose and what to do, "Hold up your scarf...make a gesture..." So funny. My friend Ayngelina who writes about food for BlogTO very aptly said that that we should have done the photos at the end after the tasting and free drinks.

While we were waiting for everyone to arrive, waiters circulated with hors d'oeuvres and they were all amazing! We had Crispy Tofu with Garlic Chips and Miso Consomme (best ever - soft tofu with crisp exterior), Mediterranean Chicken Samosas, Caprese Salad Canapes, Miso Carpacci on Prosciutto Crisps, and Tandoori Beef with Tamarind Sauce and Coconut. If you want to throw a great party and have buckets of money, Kultura is a beautiful, large venue with fantastic food. The room we were in was small and intimate and seated 20 people comfortably, but there are larger rooms as well.

After the hors d'oeuvres and a Ketel One martini, we all sat down for the tasting. Nadia, Ketel One's "Ambassador", told us about the history of Ketel One and their distillation process. My notes from the night are pretty messy due to having the equivalent of 5 drinks, so the details are a little fuzzy. But I do remember that it's called Ketel One because they still use the original copper still from 1691. The company has been in the same family for the 10 generations and someone from the family must taste a sample from every 300-gallon batch before it is bottled for sale.

For the tasting, we had room temperature samples of Ketel One, Grey Goose, and Absolut. Nadia had us smell and taste the Ketel One first and said that it doesn't have a strong smell or overly boozy taste. Then we did the same with the Grey Goose and Absolut. They definitely were very different from each other and the Ketel One was the easiest to drink straight and warm. My husband tried the bottle I brought home that night and he was surprised by how unaromatic it was. Nadia said that this was because it is distilled and filtered longer and more times than other vodkas. I am by no means an expert on vodka or booze of any kind, but I did like it the best. And it's cheaper than Grey Goose, so it really is a good choice for a premium vodka. If you're mixing your vodka with Crystal Light though, you can probably go with the Absolut. :)

We closed the evening with one more Ketel one cocktail, a Cosmo for me, and they gave us all taxi chits to get home safely. On our way out we saw a huge sausage party on the first floor and realized that mayor David Miller was in the middle of the sea of grey.

Ayngelina, Marcelo, and I topped off the evening with an East Coast-style donair from College Falafel. It really is the closest thing to the real deal that I've had outside of Nova Scotia. And pairs well with Ketel One. :)

All photos courtesy of Ayngelina Brogan.

Monday, December 1, 2008

I Heart New York Food: Final Day

After the marathon day before, Diane and I slept in by mistake and got a bit of a late start. Darryl had already been out and had a bagel, but we didn't eat until after 10 so we were raring to go to Barney Greengrass on the Upper West Side.

Brunch: Barney Greengrass

I saw this place on a Tony Bourdain show. They must have cleared out the restaurant when they shot the show because it was crazy crowded. We got lucky and were seated almost immediately because the people in line ahead of us didn't have their entire parties there. We were squished into a small table for two, but it was totally worth it.

Barney Greengrass specializes in smoked fish like sturgeon, whitefish, sable, and salmon. The menu was enormous, so I just asked to waiter for whatever was the best. He said the lox scrambled with eggs and onions, so that's what I had. With it, you could have a bagel or a bialy. I'd never heard of bialies before. It's like a bagel, but smaller and with English muffin qualities. I loved it. The eggs were hearty and delicious. The lox was in chunks instead of sliced and the onions were so caramelized and sweet. Yum.

A different waiter brought a plate of potato pancakes out of the kitchen and was going around the room showing them to everyone saying they weren't on the menu and there were only a few left. It true; they're not on the menu, so we had to have them. You can't really have too many potato pancakes in one weekend. They came with generous bowls of sour cream and applesauce. I love potato pancakes.

The service at busy restaurants and cafes in NYC is incredible. The waiters move fast and plates are whisked away as soon as they're empty. They never leave you waiting for the cheque and at Barney Greengrass they call you "doll". I thought that was cute.

They have a large, mouthwatering takeout counter with huge slabs of smoked fish, salads, chopped liver, and other goodies. If only I could get it across the border.

Zabars: Food Heaven

So, embarassingly, most of what I know about Manhattan comes from Sex and the City. Carrie mentioned Zabar's in the episode when she was dating the short story writer whose mother was Valerie Harper. Since we were in the neighbourhood, we snuck in for a peek.

Oh. My. Lord. It was incredible. I have never seen that much gourmet food in one place in my entire life. The cheese alone was enough to make you pass out. The cheese section looked to me like the size of my apartment. They have the same size bread section, gorgeous prepared food, a whole counter dedicated to smoked fish, they roast their own coffee, plus all of the non-perishables. I'd never seen anything like it and I was amazed. If you like food at all, GO!

Darryl overheard a cheeky conversation between the man behind the counter and a lady ordering lots of food. He said that she must be having a party and she said she was. Then he said, "You know, when I have a party I cook."

Outside there were a few tour buses parked and when they opened their hatches, we saw that every single person on the bus had a huge cooler down there. People were coming out of Zabar's with bags of stuff and loading up these coolers. I'm not sure where they were from, but I think it's a kind of long distance Zabar's shuttle bus. I'd do it to if I lived within driving distance.

Snack: Last cupcake at Magnolia Bakery

Another day, another cupcake. This time I got the Hummingbird cupcake, which is banana and pineapple with cream cheese icing and pecans. I guess it is based on a classic southern cake. It was delicious. And the young server was so sweet. He said it was a really good flavour and that he hoped I enjoyed it.

Dinner: Last supper in Little Italy

We ended up in Little Italy later in the afternoon, but we didn't already have a restaurant picked out. The main street in Little Italy, Mulberry Street, is almost entirely made up of Italian restaurants, each with someone outside trying to lure people in. It reminds me of Old Montreal in that way and I think they're both tourist traps. We went to Buona Notte because there wasn't anyone standing outside and there were a lot of people inside. But, I think the person standing outside was just on break because he was there later on.

The food was decent, but not outstanding. I had a spicy, seafood pasta dish that was good and the portion was a nice medium size. Service was excellent.

Miscellaneous Food Sights

Early in the evening and we walked past a different restaurant on Mulberry Street where the waiters, cooks, and busboys were having their staff dinner. It looked so cool with them all dressed in their uniforms and chef's coats digging into food together. And they were eating with such voracity. It was quite a site to see.

Also in Little Italy, we walked past Di Palo's Fine Foods that had a magnificent display of cheese in the window. Upon Googling on my return I see that it's a very popular place. Again, too bad I couldn't get any of it across the border.

One of the last things I saw was a cluster of little Japanese girls buying hotdogs from a cart and giggling. It was cute.

Thank you, New York. We love you!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

I Heart New York Food: Day Two

Saturday was our biggest day of the trip with approximately 16 hours of activity, the majority of it outside and in the freezing cold! We had lots of hearty food to keep us going though.

Breakfast: Sarabeth's

Sarabeth's is Darryl's favourite breakfast place in the city. There are several locations, but we went to the one on Central Park South. It is expensive and you will pay dinner-like prices for breakfast. They also add an automatic 18% gratuity even for a party of 3 with an line for "extra tip". But, the food is of excellent quality. I had the Pumpkin Waffle that came with raisins, pumpkins seeds, berries, and honey. It was good, but I think the best sweet breakfast is the Lemon Ricotta Pancakes. They're feather light with just a touch of lemon. I also had a side of the best roast potatoes and Darryl shared his order of chicken apple sausage, also amazing.

Gyro Cart outside Grand Central Station

We didn't have a gyro or kebab while in NYC, but I was impressed by how fresh the ingredients looked and how great it smelled.

Union Square Farmers Market

This market was super crowded, but full of incredible produce, meats, and preserves. They had tonnes of vegetables that I'd never even heard of before. So many kinds of potatoes. There was a cute stand that sold lamb meat and lamb wool.

I took a paparazzi-type photo of a very cool-looking woman shopping at the market in an immaculate white coat with a white clutch purse, black heels, and sunglasses. She seemed very New York.

Lunch: Katz's Delicatessen

Lunch at Katz's in the Lower East Side was probably the most stressful yet delicious meal of my life. I'd read about it online and it's been around since the late 1800s, so I was dying to try it. Here is the thing. No matter when you go it will be very crowded. When you come in, a security guard will hand you a small ticket. It works like Marche so you need to get your food at various counters where the staff will write down the price of what you received on the ticket. When you leave, you give the ticket to the cashier and pay.

Table service is available only at the tables touching the walls. Everywhere else, you have to get your food yourself. There aren't any signs saying what is available from which guy. Sandwiches are from one guy, platters from another, fries, coleslaw, and drinks from another, potato pancakes from another. Water is at a self-serve stand at the back. Cutlery is next to the fries/coleslaw guy. It's pandemonium. Everyone moves fast and you'll always feel like you're in the way.

Diane and I both had pastrami sandwiches. The sandwich guy can cut a side of pastrami by hand in less than 5 seconds while serving you, the takeout orders coming from the right, and the waiters' orders from the left. He gives you a slice to try before he makes your sandwich. I'm not even really devoted to smoked meat-type sandwiches and I LOVED this one. It came on really fresh, soft rye bread and there is a slightly hot mustard at the table. I'm sorry to say this, but it kicks the ass of anything in Montreal. It really does.

With your sandwich, they give you a handful of Half Sour pickles. They're very lightly pickled pickles and retain a lot of their original cucumbery qualities. I'd never had these before and I loved them.

I went to the wrong counter three times, but I perservered and got potato pancakes. The guy told me "5 minutes" when I asked for them. I didn't know what that meant, so I sat down and started eating. In 5 minutes he yelled "POTATO PANCAKE" so loud that I knew it was mine. They came with applesauce and sour cream. Amazing.

Snack: Mini Chocolate Pudding Pie at Magnolia Bakery

We went to the original Magnolia Bakery on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village and there was a line-up out the door. The one close to Rockefeller Center seems to be much easier to get in. But, the wait wasn't too bad. One of the bakers acted as bouncer at the door, letting in a few people at a time. So you know, the cupcakes at this location are self-serve. You get your own cupcake and if you want something in the display case, you have to ask for it. By the time you get to the cashier, you must have everything you need. The cashier cannot get anything for you. He was annoyed with me because I asked him for my pudding pie.

I brought the pudding pie back to the room and it travelled very well. The picture makes it look huge, but it's actually very small. And delicious.

Dinner: Tapas at Meson Sevilla

We were so full from lunch that we waited until after seeing Avenue Q to have dinner. Fortunately, 10:30PM is a very reasonable hour to be having dinner in Manhattan. Meson Sevilla tapas restaurant was almost full.

We ordered ham and potato croquettes, chorizo in red wine sauce, artichokes in vinaigrette, white anchovies in vinaigrette, red peppers stuffed with crab, and a potato omelette. I think the best thing was the chorizo. I've had chorizo many times before and this is the first time I've been really impressed. They were small links of sausage with onions in dark red wine sauce. So good. The croquettes were excellent and the vinaigrette dishes were very sour, complimenting the fried items nicely.

We were asleep as soon as our heads hit our pillows. Full of food and fun.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

I Heart New York Food: Day One

Last weekend I went on a whirlwind trip to Manhattan and was overhwhelmed by the variety and quality of food there. I'd hadn't been since I was a teenager so I don't remember what I ate before. I only have vague memories of ridiculously huge portions at a deli and a salty pretzel. We were lucky because Darryl has been to NYC many, many times and he is unfailingly reliable when it comes to food. I'd advise anyone going to plan ahead and try to find out where the locals like because when you only have a few days, a disappointing meal can be a real letdown. New York is such an amazing place to eat.

Porter Airlines

We took Porter Airlines from the island airport and it was the best. A free Porter shuttle picks you up at the Royal York Hotel and takes you to the ferry terminal where you can check in if you don't have any bags and want to get it over with before getting on the ferry. There are automatic kiosks for domestic flights and a real live agent for New York flights. The ferry takes you to the terminal where there is an enormous lounge with lots of comfortable seating, individual desks for laptop users, and a kitchenette with free tea, coffee, pop, juice, and water. It's self serve and you can take as much as you like. I had two bottles of water and a Diet Coke.

On the plane itself, they give you a snack box with half a good quality sandwich, a Babybel, Melba toast, and a cookie. Beer, wine, and softs drinks are complimentary.

Snack: Pretzel in Central Park

We arrived in the city in the afternoon, too early for dinner, so we stopped at a snack cart at the entrance to Central Park. I had a pretzel with mustard. It was kind of stale, but the mustard application was impressive. Darryl had a tiny steamed hotdog.

Another Snack: Chesnuts

Before we went in the MOMA, we stopped at a cart so that Diane could get some roasted chestnuts. Almost all the carts in Manhattan looked exactly the same and sold the same things: chestnuts, pretzels, hotdogs, knishes.

Food Displays at MOMA

There were a lot of pieces by a Swedish artist named Claes Oldenburg who specializes in modelling everyday objects, including food such as burgers, ice cream, and cakes. He's my guy!

There was also this fun still life by Tom Wesselmann that was sort of a kitchen collage.

And of course, Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans. This girl got scolded for leaning on the pieces.

Dinner: Rosa Mexicano

We got to Rosa Mexicano at about 7:15PM and we were told there was quite a wait unless we could have a quick dinner. One table was available, but had to be vacated by 8. We are fast eaters all, so we went for it. We consumed pomegranate margaritas, handmade tableside guacamole, and our entrees in 40 minutes.

Everyone in the restaurant was having the guacamole - it was so good. The waiter mushes up avocados in a big stone bowl and adds jalapenos, tomatoes, and other things that went in too quickly for me to see. You must have it. It comes with small, warm tortillas and chips. The salsa were amazing too. One was super smoky and I don't remember how the green one tasted, but I know I loved it.

Dessert: Cupcakes at Magnolia Bakery

I finally had my first cupcake from Magnolia Bakery and it lived up to the hype. Nice and small with delicious icing that wasn't too sweet. I had a plain cupcake with chocolate icing. Yum.

Most Beautiful Bergdorf's Windows

I loved these windows. Not only were they beautiful, but the window dressers were dressed so stylishly while they worked. They were even more interesting than the windows.