Category Archives: Foodie

Copious Amounts of Sugar: CupcakeCamp Toronto

Cupcakes: those yummy, tiny little personal-sized cakes that are, without a doubt, the most popular sweet in the world. How do I know this? I know this because there are no fewer than 16 cupcakes shops in downtown Toronto alone (and those are just the ones I know about). I also know this because of an event I attended today; an event that was all about cupcakes, sold all 150 tickets, and had more than 40 volunteer bakers. The event? CupcakeCampToronto!

Born in San Francisco, the second annual CupcakeCamp Toronto was held today at a way cool space called 52 McCaul. The gallery was amazing — open, bright, and full of wicked original street and contemporary art. While the space was fantastic, the word “fantastic” doesn’t even begin to describe the cupcakes. For a mere $10 donation, part of which went to the Daily Bread Food Bank, more than 2,200 cupcakes were brought by bakers from across southern Ontario. The cupcakes were in every imaginable shape and size. There were mini cupcakes, regular-sized cupcakes, cupcakes in chocolate “glasses”, cupcakes in flower pots, and every conceivable flavour: half baked (part cookie dough, part cupcake), blue curacao, strawberry daiquiri, “cheeseburger”, lemon curd, monks tea*, s’mores, blood orange with olive oil, and about 30 other delicious flavours. There were even cupcakes with bacon and Spam** sprinkled on top! Starbucks donated coffee, and bottles of water — an absolute requirement — were only $1 (proceeds which also went to the DBFB).

My personal favourites were the lemon rhubarb red velvet and orange dreamsicle cupcakes. I reeeally wanted to try the s’mores cupcake, but by the time they came around in group nine of eleven (!), I may or may not have hit the proverbial wall and gone into the proverbial sugar coma. Seriously — I never thought I’d see a day where I’d eat too much sugar, but today was that day. I started to feel weird, left early and, by the time I got home, my head was pounding. I was on a serious sugar high! I just wish there had been doggie bags because, even though I practically OD’d on sugar this afternoon, a key lime cupcake sure does sound good right about now!

Check out my Flickr set from CupcakeCamp Toronto here.

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Food. And The End. (Day 30!)

It probably goes without saying what a complete thrill it was to see Thomas Keller speak live and in person tonight at the Toronto Reference Library. If you’re not certain who the heck Thomas Keller is, see if these names ring any bells: The French Laundry, per se, Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery, ad hoc, Michelin Three Stars, and on and on and on. I had the foodgasmic pleasure of dining at ad hoc (whose tag line is “for temporary relief of hunger”. Indeed.) in the Spring of 2008 during my first trip to Napa Valley. My very best friend in the whole wide world for the last 18 years was getting married and we had dinner at ad hoc to celebrate. Ad hoc is all about comfort food and *I* am all about comfort food, which means we were a match made in heaven from the word “go”. I mean, any restaurant that has “Buttermilk fried chicken with brussels sprout hash, autumn squash, cippolini onions, chive biscuits and peppered anson mills grits” is, without a doubt, my kinda place. In fact, prior to eating at ad hoc, I wasn’t a huge duck fan, but being the adventurous eater I like to be, tried it there. Essentially, I could have put my face in the dish from the sheer goodness were I not afraid that my mug would end up splashed across for the world to see1. Let me just say that the smells were so good in that place that I could have possibly married them.

The Cookbook Shop had apparently been “stalking” Chef Keller for ten years. Ten years spent trying to get him to Canada, to no avail. Until tonight. His new cookbook, ad hoc at home, was recently published and he is touring in support of the book on, you guessed it, comfort food. I was ticket #65 and thought it would be a small, intimate group listeners, but there were more than 450 others who had the same idea I did — it was packed! The price of  the ticket included a signed copy of the book and when I walked in, he was surrounded by about ten people, with boxes everywhere, signing the books. I found my spot and he casually walked to the front to begin the chat. He said more than once how nervous he was and that his comfortable place was next to the stove, which I totally get being the expert chef I am2. He spoke at length about how kitchens are all about teamwork, and rituals3, and how he enjoys eating seasonal foods because he hates eating the same thing all year. I tend to agree — it’s no different than loving the changing of the actual seasons — food seasons are just as much fun to anticipate! He told a little anecdote about going into Pusateri’s today and seeing a lady buying peaches. He walked up to her and said “Don’t buy those peaches. They’re all dehydrated and don’t even have a smell”, to which she apparently stared at him and bought it anyway. He said she was also buying cherries. Cherriesand peaches in November? His point was that we should think about the seasons when we eat just like we think of the trees changing or the snow beginning.

Chef Keller was sweetly nervous and was much more reserved than I expected he’d be. There was a Q&A session and, of course, someone asked him what he thought about Canada and the Canadian food scene4, where he answered that he didn’t know much about it, but that he wanted to eat at The Black Hoof — and so do I, because who wouldn’t want to eat a horse tongue sandwich?! I ate beef tongue in Montréal, so why not horse tongue in Toronto? But I digress. The announced that Chef Keller would stay and personalize the books afterwards and so I sprinted to the back, after having sat myself in the front. The line-forming was mayhem and I had flashbacks to the five hours — FIVE — I stood in line to meet David Sedaris. David Sedaris is one thing — I would stand in a -30C blizzard with snow up to my eyeballs for the chance to speak to David Sedaris for even ten seconds (well, I would pretty much do *anything* to see David Sedaris), but, while Chef Keller is widely regarded as the best chef in America, I wasn’t about to spend the next four hours waiting for him to sign my book “To Carmen”. So home I went, happy as a lark, to eat my comfort food of a fried egg sandwich. 🙂

Speaking of food, this week’s New Yorker is their annual “Food Issue”, which means lots of foodie goodness. I was perusing the mag on the way to Chicago and nearly fell off my very comfortable Air Canada flight with economy class in-seat TV when I saw that Calvin Trillin contributed an article on the national food of Québec, poutine!! Firstly, it’s the New Yorker. Enough said. Secondly, Calvin Trillin. Calvin Trillin ranks up there as one of my all-time favourite writers extraordinaire and humourist who wrote one of my all-time favourite books called Travels with Alice. Thirdly, an article on the infamous snack food known as poutine in my beloved adopted country written by Calvin Trillin in the New Yorker. Z.O.M.G. It couldn’t possibly be any better unless David Sedaris was his writing partner, at which point I’d probably roll up into the fetal position on my floor and simply cry out of sheer happiness. For your reading, and listening, pleasure, I’m linking to an exerpt5 of the article in the mag and a clip of the podcast of Mr. Trillin speaking about the article. As good as it gets, fo realz.

And that, my friends, officially brings me to the end of this daily blogging madness for which I signed up called NaBloPoMo. My writing muscles have officially been flexed and it was awesome! Through sleep-deprivation, traveling, and a creative writing class that required me to write entire 1,000 word articles weekly (!) in addition to my daily blog posts, I still managed to accomplish blogging every single day for 30 days (check the badge on the right, yo)!! Let me just say that it takes brass balls to achieve this, and although I know all of you at least one of you6 out there will miss my daily posts,  fret not! I’ll be back soon enough, but this time without the mad dash to the finish line whereby I’m wheezing and puffing like a 97 year-old woman. Because you deserve better. 🙂 

Now that NaBloPoMo is kaput, there are about eleventy-thousand things I’m going to do. I’m going to a) decorate my Christmas tree, b) eat before 10pm, c) sleep, d) reconnect with friends who thought I’d fallen off the face of the planet, e) not lose my job, f) tidy up my house that is in complete disarray, g) take a leisurely bath so as to finally use my favourite Lush bathbombs7 and h) go on the date I’ve been putting off for 30 days, which may or may not include “g”. 😉

To those of you who stuck this out with me, thank you for reading my occasionally narcissistic drivel (but also some good posts, too!). I’ll miss seeing y’all here every day, but the next time I bring this kind of cockamamie idea up, please call the po-po — I will seriously need to be arrested. For now, I need a big blogging break. Don’t wait up!


1 Think headlines such as “maid of honour starves herself for so long just to fit in her bridesmaid dress that she chows down like a pig in a trough”. Or something like that.
2 Not!
3 And of which I am also a HUGE fan — maybe I missed my calling, after all.
4 A question I’m asked *all* the time and one I just don’t get. Why is it so important for Canadians to know what Americans think of Canada? You’re a lovely, beautiful place, so stop looking for constant approval from your next-door neighbour, already!
5 Because I’m not a subscriber (yet…Santa!), I can’t download the article in its entirety. Sorry. 😦 
6 You know who you are.
7 Which, for the record, are the Avobomb and Comforter Bubble Bar combined. H-E-A-V-E-N.

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Shabu Shabu, Swish Swish (Day 9)

I pSwish by Han 016ersonally never heard the sound — the onomatopoeically-named “swish swish” sound that the thinly sliced pieces of fresh, red ribeye steak are supposed to make when they’re stirred in their fragrant broth. The broth I’d just made. At the table. In my brass hot pot on the portable gas-burning stove. Awesome.1

My first time eating Korean food was an event in and of itself. It was a UYE, which, for those of you out there who are not in the know2, UYE is Yelp code for “Unofficial Yelp Event”. What this means is that a bunch of cool Toronto foodie-types (usually the Elites such as yours truly) get together at non-Yelp sanctioned events and basically eat and imbibe until our little hearts (and stomachs) are content. When I saw that the event was Korean, I nearly blew out my keyboard RSVP’ing so furiously.

Swish by Han is a tapas-style Korean fusion restaurant that recently opened in the turning-swanky lower Toronto financial district. JamesJT over at Compendium Daily did a most excellent roundup of the resto. I’m sure you’re thinking “oh, hell naw, she did not just link us through to another site”, but fret not — his photos of Swish by Han are fierce, not to mention he has a scan of le menu which allows you to see Korean fusion in action for yourself. It’ll just happen this once — promise!

The interior of Swish by Han was pleasantly pleasing. Large, rustic wooden tables line one side of the space with tables just opposite;

Swish by Han 006


 contemporary art from friends and family members hanging throughout; an almost out-of-place chandelier at the rear; and my personal favourite, tons3 of candles burning. Most importantly, the washroom was hip, large, and clean, and since y’all know how much I appreciate a good washroom, I’ll add simply that it may not be the cushiest washroom, but it has plenty o’space to do whatever you need to do. 😉

Let’s get to the good stuff — the food. Food I consumed included:

  • Jellyfish — no longer being a jellyfish virgin, I can say that it’s actually quite tasty. It was vinegary and tart, and delicious!
  • Pork dumplings — not overly greasy, but with an excellent flavour
  • Purple yam fries — wrapped in Korean newspaper, presented in a glass vase, and served with a spicy house-made mayo. Killer.
  • Kimchee — I finally had kimchi!! It wasn’t what I expected, but it was good. I expected more of a warm cabbage instead of a cold pickled cabbage in a red sauce. I’ll definitely try it again, though.
  • Shabu Shabu, Swish Swish — the reason to go. We shared three different swishes: beef, seafood, and vegetarian. A brass pot is brought out to you with a portable gas-burning stove. You are then brought a plate of perfectly-sliced beef and another plate of various vegetables. The pot is turned on to boil, you add the herbs and vegetables to flavour the water, and once it’s boiling, you add your beef and “swish” it around for just a few minutes until it’s cooked! It was served with a sweet and sour sauce that was good, although my dinner partners informed me that you are usually given a sesame soy-type sauce with Korean food as well. Of course, what did I know.  Once you are finished with your dish, you are allowed to choose from either rice or noodles; your leftover broth is used to cook either starch and you finish off the Shabu Shabu this way.
  • Soju — a very strong drink made in South Korea. Traditional soju was distilled from fermented grains, a method that was prohibited during the rice Swish by Han 005shortages that began in 1965 and lasting more than three decades. Instead, they began using ethanol (yes, the same ethanol that we use to fuel our cars) to dilute the soju. Although the ban has been lifted, cheap soju is apparently still made this way. Its alcohol content is between 20-45%. Swish by Han’s soju was served in flavours including ginger, which is what we had. It’s traditionally shared by the table and served in shot glasses. I had a very tiny sip and practically grew a patch of hair on my chest. Pretty!

The service was excellent! Granted, we were there early on a Tuesday night, so they weren’t packed, but our server was patient and attentive with our large group.

My first time eating (sort-of) Korean was seriously good. And of course, I’ll become a shabu shabu prophet to all those whom I feel need a little spice in their life. Not to mention, it’s just fun to say to shabu shabu, swish swish. It’s some serious rhymoflavin’, nón?

1 I think I use this word far, far too much. I will try to use it less. Try, being the operative word, naturally.
2 By which I mean totally uncool.
3 Or “tonnes” if you’re Canadian.


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Not Your Momma’s Bagels (Day 6)

Montreal bagelSomehow the apparent phenomena known as the Montréal-style bagel has heretofore completely passed me by. Wikipedia has kindly informed me that a large portion of Montréal’s Jewish community  — from which the bagels originated — gradually left for other North American locations, including one Houston, Texas. I was born and raised in Houston, Texas and I can say with 100% certainty that I’ve never, ever seen a Montréal -style bagel shop in the city. Lucky for me, I moved from Houston, Texas to Toronto, Ontario two years ago, a city which I know with 100% certainty has actual Montréal-style bagel shops, being that we’re approximately 5.2 minutes1 from Québec.

I was in the lunchroom at work making my morning Maple & Brown Sugar oatmeal today when my colleague said “hey Carmen, we brought in Montréal-style bagels”. I smiled and thanked him, but though “ew”, mostly because I’m just not a bagel girl. I never have been. I’m really not a “bread” girl at all, unless it’s mixed with chocolate and sugar and called cake. 😉 However, always one to try new things, I thought “what they hey, I’ll try it”. Upon asking what “Montréal-style bagel” actually meant, I was told that it’s sweeter and more dense than a regular bagel. Hmm, sweet and dense? This might be something I could get used to. I bebopped my way in, picked up my bagel and schmear, and proceeded to drop said bagel and schmear face down on the floor on my way to my desk as I tried to poorly manage two coffee cups, said bowl of oatmeal, and the bagel. In honour of the “five second rule”, though, I snapped it up, stared at the seeds strewn across the floor, dusted it off, and went on my merry little way. For a brief moment, I considered not eating it at all. Then I considered eating just the bottom since it plopped down on its top. I finally concluded that I would likely not die from the pig flu, nor from any other overly-hyped disease, just from it sitting face down for three seconds. In I bit.

Sweet and dense, indeed! The bread had a sweet scent on the nose, and was completely flavourful, while almost donut-like. It was flaky and not nearly as thick as the bagels I’ve had. Montréal-style bagels apparently don’t have egg or salt, unlike regular bready bagels; honey is added to the water prior to the bagels being boiled (or poached, to be more specific); and they are baked in wood-fired ovens, unlike regular bready bagels.

I only managed to eat about half of it, though, because I’d gotten to work slightly later than normal2 and didn’t want to spoil my lunch3. But the bottom line is that I *loved* it and may or may not have found a new favourite food. Had Montréal-style bagels been on Mount Sinai when Moses lost his temper, I have a feeling he could have calmed himself down with a little bagel and schmear, and those cursed broken tablets may just have been spared.

1Well, more like 5.2 hours.
2I’m not a morning person, which may be why I don’t like bagels. I’m never up early enough to finish them. As a matter of fact, my colleagues like to tease me by saying I work the “afternoon shift”. I really loathe getting up early. Really. And lately, the traffic has seriously sucked because apparently, the good citizens of Toronto can’t drive in the dark.
3Lunch that I usually eat around Noon, even though I’ve only been at work for 2.5 hours at that point. Why are you looking at me like that?

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Feast Your Eyes (And Your Stomach)

Risotto 007As some of you^ may know, Fall is upon us. Fall happens to be my favourite season of the year, for several reasons: trees that begin turning hues of bright orange, yellow and red; weather that begins to cool down*; days that begin to shorten**; and, since my birthday is close to Christmas, the beginning of Fall means I’m closer to finally getting some presents! 🙂 Fall also means that I get to break out my stylish winter garb without risking a quick death from heat stroke, as would likely happen if you tried to pair cashmere and Ugg boots in the nearly year-round tropical climate that is Houston. Although some of you may argue ;-), I personally believe I look far better in jeans, cashmere sweaters, and 4″ black leather boots than I do in Daisy Dukes, sleeveless tops and flip flops. A “summer body”, God did not give me.

Fall is the time of year that, most importantly, marks the beginning of the winter food season and all of its deliciousness. Chilis, soups, stews, braised meats, paellas, and my personal favourite, risottos, are the hearty, “stick to your ribs” kinds of foods that make -30C weather bearable. That, and wearing seventy-two layers of Patagonia. Anyway. The overnight lows in Toronto last week hit 4C/37F, so I happily spent two hours making my first risotto of the season! It turned out fabulously, if I do say so myself’ and, as a matter of fact, my description of it on Facebook was apparently so appealing that it garnered scores of requests*** from far and wide to post it.  Since my motto is “ask and you shall receive”, you can now enjoy the recipe**** for Shrimp, Asparagus and Dill Risotto!

Shrimp, Asparagus and Dill Risotto

1 lb. asparagus
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup water
Salt and pepper

1 L chicken stock (I used the low-sodium boxed kind)
3 tbsp butter
1 small onion, minced
1 shallot, minced (optional) 
1 cup risotto
1/2 cup dry white wine
Zest of one lemon
1/3 cup grated Parmesean cheese (I prefer to use real Parmesean cheese rather than Kraft shredded…it makes a big difference, but can be expensive)

1 lb large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tbsp fresh dill, minced

1. Use a sauté pan other than the one you’ll use to cook the risotto. Cut off the asparagus tops and reserve. Snap off the woody ends from asparagus and discard. Cut the remaining stems into 1-inch pieces. Heat the oil and butter in a sauté pan. Add the stem pieces and cook five minutes. Add the garlic and the asparagus tips. Pour the water over the asparagus, season with salt and pepper (I also used Tony Cachere’s), and cook until tender, 5 to 15 minutes, depending on the asparagus. (If you like, you can add a sprig of rosemary to the dish with the garlic and tips, then remove it at the end).

1. Bring the stock to a simmer and set aside. Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in a saucepan and cook the onion and shallot until soft, stirring with a wooden spoon. Add the rice and stir until translucent, about four minutes. Stir in the wine and reduce until almost dry. Add a ladle of stock and cook, stirring, until it disappears. Continue, one ladle at a time, until the rice is tender and creamy, about half an hour.

2. Stir the shrimp and asparagus into risotto, add the remaining tablespoon of butter, lemon zest, and cheese; cover and reduce heat to low; simmer, stirring once, for approximately ten minutes. Stir in dill. 

Spoon into bowls, serve, and enjoy!



^ By which I mean not my Texas readers
* In a normal year; Toronto had a cooler-than-normal summer, so we’ve basically had winter for the last 18 months 😉
** Which I love because I am a complete night owl, so the longer it is darker, the happier I am
*** By which I mean four
**** I actually blended two recipes together to make this dish, because I like to pretend I’m crafty that way

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Pho Real

iPhone 007Pho. That deliciously traditional Vietnamese soup that traces its roots to the French occupation and an appetite to blend the two cultures: the noodle culture of Vietnam and le bouef culture of France.  A healthy dish, as well, and one that, in the hyperborean winters of Canada is the perfect comfort food.  Or so I’d heard.  

Until I moved to Toronto, pho was a completely foreign concoction to me. Here, though, I heard about it non-stop.  I don’t know why it was never part of my dining repertoire in Houston since there’s a rather large Vietnamese population there (second only to the hispanic community, I believe), but it could have something to do with it being approximately 957F degrees in Houston ten months a year, and who the hell wants to eat hot soup?  Anyway. I’m a typically adventurous eater (bison tongue, anyone?), but just never had pho. So it goes. 

In Toronto, I live a short ten minute jaunt from Chinatown although, surprisingly, it’s never been a point of destination por moi.  Only the most seasoned Torontonians ventue into the unknown shops with unreadable menus to eat unknown foods.  And, also surprisingly, I was freakishly intimidated by the whole damn thing!   But for whatever reason, when I got home from work one night this week, I decided that it was going to be the day I would be a pho virgin no longer. So I did what any smart city girl does — I hopped on Yelp, found the best pho place nearest me, and off I went.

I knew what I was going to order — the spring rolls to start and a bowl of pho. Bowls of pho, though, come in sizes — small, medium and large —

Pre-assembled pho

Pre-assembled pho

 and because the bowls were so cheap, at least by Canadian standards, I ordered the large because a) it was my dinner and was just soup and b) I assumed that the bowls were small because of their price. And because sometimes a lady likes to enjoy a big, hot bowl of soup. Or an aperitif.  Ahem. But I was so WRONG! When the server brought me the bowl of pho that she was practically wheeling out on a dolly, my eyes popped out of my head and I actually said out loud “oh my God, that’s the biggest bowl of soup I’ve ever seen!”.  No wonder she, in all her petiteness, gave me such a funny look when I ordered the large bowl of the well-done flank steak and brisket pho. So, let me give you a visual — think apple-bobbing tin. You know, those giant aluminum tins that we used to use to bob for apples when we were six?  Yeah. That’s about the size of my pho bowl.  I’ve actually never been as embarassed as I was eating out of that bowl. I barely made even the slightest of dents in the pho, although it was delicious!  I specifically picked Pho 88 because I knew they served their pho with cilantro, and any time I can experience the “cilantrofication” of my food, I’m there. I dumped the other accoutrements — fresh Thai basil, bamboo shoots, lime and hot sauce — into the pho and experienced a mouth party like I’d not had in some time.

I’ll definitely have pho again, as it was delicious. I think I’ll try the vegeterian pho next time, though, sans tofu. Pho sho.


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