Saturday, January 31, 2015

Winterlicious at Weslodge


Yesterday was the first day of Winterlicious 2015 in Toronto so I gathered my favourite food blogging and Gastroposter girls together to go for lunch at Westlodge Saloon on King Street West.  It's a really beautiful space.

Winterlicious runs from January 30 to February 12th at over 200 restaurants in the city.

Most of the time we see each other at media tastings where we don't get to choose our food and are usually more focused on getting decent photos in a limited amount of time.  This time we just went for our own pleasure and I chose the restaurant.  It was actually my second choice because I wanted to go to America at the Trump Tower but they were booked up.  But I am really glad that I decided to go to Weslodge instead.   My friend Mary (Mary's Happy Belly) Carole (YumYum Factor) and Jenny (icecreamandknishes) met up on a bright sunny but cold friday afternoon.  As you can see from the photos the space was filled with bright sunshine which always makes a space look spectacular.  Because it was the first day and early on a friday in a normally club district busy weekend area but not as busy on weekdays so it wasn't as packed as it would normally be at night.  Good for us.  We didn't have to yell at each other to talk and had the best service because all of the servers were very relaxed.







 
With smart phones and cameras in hand we were ready to order from the Prix Fixe menu.
I ordered the Scotch Eggs to start.  These tiny little things were the best things I have had in a very long time.  A perfectly runny little quail egg surrounded by sausage in and coated in flavourful breadcrumbs and sitting in a pool of tomato jam.  Drool worthy. I wanted more.


Then I got my entree of Smoked Brisket Sandwich (open faced) with cabbage and a side of fries and a chipotle mayo.  I could smell how good it was going to taste before I took a bite.  The smokey brisket and chipotle mayo with the perfectly crispy and not greasy fries were a delicious pairing.


A couple of my friends ordered the Mushroom Tagliatelle which I sampled a bit of.  With freshly made pasta on a rich creamy tomato sauce.  I don't like mushrooms but I really liked this.


For dessert I chose the Chocolate Brownie with Bourbon whisky nuts and cream.  My friends thought it looked sad but it tasted so good I didn't even care.  Brownies aren't the best things to photograph but I love chocolate.


My friends chose this work of art of a dessert dish of Cheesecake with lime curd and crushed pretzels.  They all loved it.  I didn't try it but it was my second choice for dessert and I would have been happy with it if I had chosen it I am sure.


 I would have to say this is one of the best Winterlicious meals I have had in the past few years.  Normally you get 1 or 2 of the choices that you like or you don't like the food at all and have just taken a chance.  This time it was 3 for 3 for all of us and I can honestly say that we are tough critics because we all cook and some of us go to lot's of restaurants and media tastings.  That says a lot.  We all gave it a thumbs up.  We will be back for those Scotch eggs for sure.

follow along on twitter and instagram at #LiciousTO




Friday, January 30, 2015

A Vine Romance's Wine & Chocolate Pairing Event


Do you love wine and chocolate?


I am not an expert when it comes to Wines, so I decided to find someone who is to write a Guest Post for me and they are going to be hosting an upcoming Event just before Valentine's Day.  A perfect night out with a special person in your life or even a bunch of single friends looking to learn a few things.   Introducing my friend Priya and her partner Alex who will be your hosts for this special event.

We’re Alex (Certified Sommelier at Lee Restaurant) and Priya (Actor and Host), from A Vine Romance, and we’ve got the perfect event to get your taste buds bursting with joy!




We’re teaming up with The Chocolateria on Roncesvalles for a
Wine & Chocolate Pairing event on Sunday, Feb 8th from 5-7pm.

People love to pair wine with chocolate so we wanted to give you some ideas on what to look for when you select wines to match with chocolate goodness.

We’ll be sampling the following 5 wines:

The “Commandaria” has been touted as the oldest wine in the world! (For more, read this CNN article http://edition.cnn.com/2013/12/13/business/commandaria-the-oldest-wine-world/). It is originally believed to have been given its name by crusading knights in the 13th century, but to have first been made up to 5,000 years ago. Expect it to be sweet and extra concentrated, due to the fact that the grapes are left to dry (or bake!) in the sun for 10 days after picking.  You could say it would taste like a fruitier, nuttier version of a tawny port!

We’ll open a Samos Greek Muscat because white muscats are great with chocolates, especially the lighter styles—white chocolate, milk chocolate or any chocolate with candied ginger or orange. It’s not as cloyingly sweet as an ice wine, nor is it a wine you see often, which is exactly why we picked it!  

The Brachetto d’Acqui will show you just how nicely some bubbly will go with chocolate. This is a wine EVERYONE should try, especially those who are just starting their wine journey. It’s light, not-too-sweet-but-sweet enough, and it’s such a pretty deep rose colour, we’re thirsty just thinking about it! This will pair nicely with mousse-filled chocolates because the creaminess of the filling will be matched by the fizz of the bubbles.

Amarone makes an appearance at our event as being one of the rare drier styles of wine that pair well with chocolate. This wine is best for those who might not want sweet wine on top of their sweet treat. It has a rich fruit flavor that complements a dessert without overwhelming it.

A good port is a no-brainer to match with chocolate! We recommend this for the richest and darkest cocoa delights.  This is historically the most famous wine & chocolate pairing.  You can be the judge as to how well this old standby fairs against the hipper wines we’ve handpicked.


But hey—let’s not forget the chocolates! BlogTO picked The Chocolateria as one of the best chocolate shops in Toronto and their chocolatier, Sydney, will be on hand to discuss all his heavenly creations…and maybe share a trade secret or two!


You’ll taste a variety of their bonbons and dark chocolate barks and squares along with their famous chocolate-dipped potato chips along with several of their truffles, and you’ll even have the opportunity to dip a few truffles yourself.


There are no door sales! Space is limited to 30 guests so reserve your spot today at: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/wine-chocolate-with-a-vine-romance-tickets-15521576453


For more information about Alex and Priya of A Vine Romance check out their website: 
A Vine Romance and follow them on Facebook here: A Vine Romance

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Winterlicious Preview at the Hyatt on King

Who:       Toronto Food Bloggers                    
What:      Media Preview
Where:    King Street Social at the Hyatt on King
When:     January 28th (Winterlicious Jan 30- Feb 12, 2015)
Why:       A tasting for Winterlicious 2015

In case you have never heard about it Winterlicious and Summerlicious is a program that was created by the City of Toronto to fill restaurants in the slow months of the year and open up spaces that may be too expensive for some people normally.  There are prixe fix lunches and dinners that range from $18-$45 per plate.  The restaurants range from upscale hotel restaurants to smaller casual restaurants.

Mary Tang, Chef Wesley and Nancy
I have had both good an bad experiences at Winterlicious/Summerlicous restaurants.  At one trendy bar/restaurant the food was ok but the service was horrible for our pretty large but well behaved group.  One had to leave before the bill came because it took so long.   But mostly my experiences have been great.  I have both booked in advance and have even just showed up at the last minute and checked to see if they have open spots.  Since I know that people make reservations and don't bother cancelling it's kind of a bit of a rush line if you want to take your chances.  Some places will just say no and some will fill each empty table.  The thing about Winterlicious is that the restaurants create special menus that may or may not reflect most of their regular menus.  The other thing is sometimes they might not be prepared with enough staff if they can filled up with a lot of reservations.  Because there is a 2 hour window because they usually have 2 seatings trying to maximize their tables it may not be the place to go if your friends show up late and like to linger.

Fellow food bloggers and I were invited by my lovely friend Mary Tang (Mary's Happy Belly) to join her in a tasting at the Hyatt on King Street.  We were there for the Summerlicious menu but this menu was totally different and created by the staff choosing their favourite Asian or street food favourites and other favourite dishes.
It runs from classic to global cuisine.

I must say that this was a very pleasant experience because the dozen of us at the table were all food loving and nice people.   Mary hand picked the blogger guests to join the media dinner.  I knew most of the people at the table so it made it fun.  We don't always go to the same events so that was nice.

We were welcomed with the beautiful French Martini's pictured here by the lovely staff at the Hyatt including  Executive Chef Wesley Boodhram, Vivek Satoskar Associate Director of Sales and Nancy MacDonald Director of Sales and Events person were all really amazing and gracious and generous hosts.  They went out of their way to make the evening really great.  It might be the hotel way but they are all really nice people so it makes it a pleasure.

Here's what you will see at a blogger dinner.  Bloggers looking at their phones and taking lot's of photos of everything and telling restaurant stories and gossip about the food industry but mostly just enjoying good food.



So you want to know about the food.  This is what we sampled.


Tofu and Vegetable Steamed Wonton Soup
Served with a lemongrass and tamarind gremolata and tamarind and soy miso


Red Oak and Aged Ontario’s Goat Cheese
With roasted pecans, grape tomatoes, soft herbs, sweet mirin vinaigrette

Grilled Chicken Satay
With a fresh pineapple and apple slaw, and a bambu kacang sauce

                                                            King Street Beef Lo Mein
Yakisoba noodles, local tenderloin beef, snow peas, lotus root, soft herbs, 
fungi, mango and jicama relish



40 Day Aged Rib Eye Steak and Teriyaki Prawns



Homemade Tofu and Black Bean
Stir fried tofu and black bean, with ginger, crisp veg, snow peas, shitake, udon noodles


Passion fruit Creme Brule





Some of the standout dishes were the full of flavour King Street Beef Lo Mein noodles,  The Tofu Udon Noodles which were soft and a bit on the sweet side, the Steak and shrimps had great flavour and they were accompanied by grilled vegetables and a cauliflower mash that was a hit with my fellow bloggers.  I also enjoyed the Passion fruit Creme Brule.  I don't get Creme brule often so I really like it when I do.

The King Street Social at the Hyatt on King is open for both lunch and dinner during Winterlicious which begins on January 30th and continues until February 12, 2015.  The King Street Social lunch is $23 and the dinner is $35 plus gratuity.

For the full menu and to book a reservation you can view the details here:  Winterlicious 2015
Follow Social media posts on Twitter @liciousTO 

It was a great night of food and fun hanging out with all of these great food loving folks.



Disclosure:  The meal was complimentary but the opinions expressed are my own.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

20 Essential Kitchen Tools

20 ESSENTIAL KITCHEN TOOLS

During the holidays you visit a lot of your friends houses and invariably you end up in their kitchens, well I do anyway because my Culinary challenged friends always need a bit of assistance in the kitchen.  While everyone has special skills I have realized that there are a lot of people that are clueless in the kitchen and don't really know what they should have and how to use it.

I know a lot of people grew up having their mothers cook everything for them and they never participated in the cooking process.  That was not my experience.  I was the gatherer, stirrer, measurer for my mom from an early age.

After seeing a lot of my friends kitchens lately I thought it might be helpful to compile a list of the 20 Most Essential Kitchen Tools that will make you look like you know what you are doing in the kitchen.  Even if you don't know what you are doing you will help people that visit that do know what to do with these things.  If you are single and meet the person of your dreams and they like to cook and eat good food then this list is for you.   If you are moving into a new place and don't know what to buy then take this list with you to the store and buy some of these things as much as you can afford.

If you have decided to start a new diet and you have to cook your food instead of microwaving something from a box then this list will get you started in whatever you need to do.

This list goes from the inexpensive basic tools to some high end super tools.   None of these are useless gadgets and they are all plucked right out of my kitchen and they are tools I use all the time.  Ok you are saying I cook a lot,  well I live alone and don't cook everyday but when I do I can count on these tools to help me do the job more efficiently and a whole lot easier.

Here's my 20 Most Essential Kitchen Tools list:

1. 
A wooden cutting board is essential for cutting your food and not ruining your knives.  You can also roll pastry and other things on the board.

2. 
 A Chef's Knife. This one is a Wusthoff knife which is one of the top names in Knives.  Buy the best you can afford and sharpen them often.  If you get some great knives they should last you a very long time and make cutting things a breeze.  Let the tools do the work.  I wish I could afford to buy a couple of really high quality knives.  Stay away from the million tool butcher block unless you know you are going to use everyone of those knives.  Just buy the best of what you will use.

3. 
 A great non-stick frying pan is something you might use everyday.  If you like bacon and eggs for breakfast then this is the best investment for you.  I just bought this amazing T-fal Ingenio frying pan.  It's a great pan and washes up really easily, but the best part is the removable handle so you can store the handle inside the pan if you don't have a lot of cupboard space and it makes it a whole lot easier to clean since you can submerge the pan in a sink of soapy water.

4.  
 Tongs, not thongs, one you use in the kitchen and the other one you put on your booty.  This tool is one of those cheap utensils that come in very handy for turning things over and I use them for pasta because you can grab the pasta easily out of a pot and put it neatly on a plate.  You can find them at a dollar store or get a fancy one from a kitchen supply place.  Some have silicone on them.  This is where you can spend less.  As long as the spring that opens and closes them works.

5.  
 A silicone spatula.  This is one of my favourite tools.  As you can see from this one I use it a lot.  It's great for stirring in a non stick pan and also great for scraping mixing bowls clean.  This is another cheap tool that is really great.

6.  
 A colander.  If you cook pasta or make salads then you need this essential tool.  This one isn't very large but it does the job.  I don't have a salad spinner so I use this to wash vegetables and to drain and strain foods.  This is another inexpensive tool.  You can get them in all kinds of sizes and colors these days.  I like the basic stainless steel one.  It never goes out of style in your kitchen.

7.  
 This little baby has been in my life for probably over 25 years.  It belonged to my mother and is one of the things I took with me when I moved that I am so happy to have.  I can make chicken soup, pasta sauce, stews and slow cook whatever I like in this heavy duty pot.  This one is a Le Creuset and they are pretty expensive but you can find similar things for a bit less.  But it's a great investment.  I don't even know when my mother bought it but all I can tell you is that it's been in my family for many, many years.
8.  
Anyone that is clueless in the kitchen might think this is a shop tool or a spa tool.  Nope it's a great tool called a Microplane or rasp.  You can use it to grate fresh Parmesan Cheese, or chocolate for your coffee or cocoa or you can zest your lemons to add flavour to all kinds of sweet and savoury dishes.

9.  
 This artsy looking thing is called a Speed Peeler.  Not like a stripper but it's a quick vegetable stripper.  Need to peel potatoes or carrots quickly then this is the tool.  But think outside of the vegetable peeling and you can shave chocolate curls for a fancy dessert, or shave parmesan for your caesar salads, or you can use it to cut vegetables into thin strips.  It works great on cucumbers and zucchini's.  Try it.  It's also a tool that doesn't cost a lot but makes your food look really professional.

10.  

This is the mother of all kitchen tools.  The designer and chef favourite KitchenAid Stand Mixer.  If you ever watch cooking shows on the Food Network or design shows that showcase kitchens on HGTV then you will probably see one of these babies on a kitchen counter.  They come in so many amazing colors now but this is the classic silver one that I picked up at my local Canadian Tire.  They start at about $299 but they have different sizes and different motors and also all kinds of attachments that either come with it or that you can purchase separately.  If you can only get one kitchen appliance then get this one.  You can get attachments to make pasta, grind meat, make ice cream and there are a bunch more.

11.  
 Measuring cups are a no brainer.  Need to follow a recipe?  How are you going to measure the ingredients?  While I can wing it in the cooking department it's not as easy in the baking department.  Want to make cookies, a cake or bread?  You need measuring tools or even a scale to get it right.  I have a few sets.  I have these metal ones, these ceramic ones and I have plastic spoons and glass measuring cups.  I use them all because some times you just need them to get all of your stuff prepped before you start cooking.  These are a dollar store or department store purchase.

12.  
A paring knife is a little tool that is essential for peeling things like apples or cutting small things.  You can use them to cut your strawberries or to cut your tomatoes.  Fancy professional chefs can do all kinds of magical things with this little knife.  This one is a Wustoff one again.  Great sturdy handle and solid knife.

13.  
 A good sized casserole dish can be your friend in so many ways.  I just picked up this Denby one at Homesense recently.  It's a great size for a small lasagna and I have used it for Mac and cheese and you can even roast a small chicken in it.  It's great because it's pretty easy to clean and it can go from the oven to the table.  If you go to Potlucks and want to bring a casserole at least you won't be embarrassed by an ugly dish.

14.  
 Good quality spices are one of my favourite things.  What is good quality?  If you can buy them whole and grind them then that's even better because you will always have it ground fresh.  If you have some never used spices that you can't remember when you bought but are just sitting in your pantry taking up space then they are probably not so good anymore.  I was at a friend's house and tried to show her how to kick up the flavour of a roast chicken and potatoes.  She didn't even know what spices she had and never used them.  Use your spices people.  They not only make your food taste better, some of them have health properties.  Cinnamon is great for regulating blood sugar and tumeric is great for inflammation and the brain.  These bottle are organic spices but the most important thing is to try and keep them for less than a year for optimal flavour.

15.  

I have gotten compliments on this fancy little Trivet.  It's made in Portugal and I picked it up at Homesense.  I have a few different Trivet or (pot holders).  I even have a hand painted ceramic tile that I got at a craft fair in Peterborough.  They can be made of silicone, cork, ceramic or metal.  The point is where are you going to put that hot pot when it comes out of the oven?  Want to put it on your dining room table right from the oven, then this is a little thing that will be an important tool.

16.  
 Sometimes you don't even need to spend money to get a kitchen tool.  I got this oven mitt for free at a Food show this summer.  You can get cheap oven gloves at your dollar store or you can get fancy ones that show off your decor or personality.  But get some instead of using kitchen towels.  I bet more people have burned up their kitchen from dropping hot pots or having tea towels catch fire or get stuck on the stove.

17.  

A metal spatula is great for flipping pancakes, omelettes, burgers etc.  This one is a huge metal one.  You can get some nice silicone ones that won't scratch your pots.  Another favourite tool is the angled spatula the is used for fish because it has slits in it to drain off the fat before you remove it from a pan and the angle makes it easy to get under the food to pick it up.

18.  
 Ice Cream scoop.  But you can't eat ice cream anymore... well it's not just for ice cream.  I use mine for cookie dough and for making meatballs and even portioning muffins into a muffin tin.  It makes it a lot easier to get everything the same size and to release it easier.

19.  
 Get yourself a kitchen thermometer if you plan on cooking meat so that your don't kill anyone or break their teeth on the shoe leather meat that you cook on the stove, grill or oven.   Cook your chickens at the perfect 165 Degrees by using this tool.  There are even ones that will send notifications to your Iphone.   This one is under $20.  They come in all kinds of shapes, sizes and prices.

20.  
And how to you get your soup, stew or tomato sauce out of a big pot without this tool?  I don't know either.  I use it to pour pancake batter into a frying pan too.  You can dump your soups and stews from the pot into a bowl or plate but use this tool and you won't be spending hours cleaning up your whole kitchen.

SUMMARY

As you can see I am not recommending standard sets of pots, knives or kitchen gadgets but more of a what you need to do the job right tool list.

I hope this is helpful for some of you.  Let me know if it is.   Probably a lot of you reading this might thing it's a no brainer but after what I have seen in my friends kitchens I realize that some people don't know  these things so this is for them.

All of these tools came out of my kitchen and the opinions of these tools are my own.


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