Monday, August 29, 2011

Toronto Part 4: Aunties and Uncles

Aunties and Uncles- Toronto, Ontario

Welcome College St.  Named for the city's University of Toronto, it's filled with the sort of restaurants that I like to go to the most: small mom and pop shops that are incredibly charming in atmosphere and serve extremely well-made, unpretentious food.

the sunday specials

I think Aunties and Uncles is the poster-restaurant for that category of dining.  Once again I'm going to use a terrible cliche, but when you walk into Aunties and Uncles, you feel like you're at home, no matter where you're from.  You come here for the warm, enveloping atmosphere as much as you come for the food.  You sit at long picnic tables with the locals as your dining companions.  You're served banana pancakes with a cup of coffee vs smoked salmon eggs benedict and a champagne mimosa.

Aunties and Uncles is quite small, (kitchen included).  As a result, our wait time was a little over an hour.  In fact, the entire experience is a test of one's patience, as between the time we took our spot in line to when our food arrived on the table, 2 hours had passed.  It's definitely an atmosphere of leisure and calm- a way to spend a lazy Sunday morning/afternoon, or if you're a hungry tourist a way to waste your precious hours in Canada.  We were absolutely starving by the time our food came.

The breakfast tacos ($8.75) were filled with pinto beans, cheddar, and house-made chorizo, served with a little dish of cilantro sour cream.  The pillowy eggs, mounded high,were voluptuously soft and fluffy and paired well with the salty meat.  For the Top Chef fanatics out there, Gail Simmons would gladly swoon over how well these scrambled eggs were made. (see her Top Chef season 2 freakout on eggs)

one of the breakfast burgers

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Toronto Part 3: Big Smoke Burger

Big Smoke Burger-Toronto, Ontario


As an international traveler in a foreign country, it's usually the norm to gorge oneself on the nation's cuisine, correct?  But, for a country like Canada, what exactly does Canadian encompass?  According to Wikipedia, Canada's national/most popular foods are considered:

-Maple Syrup
-Montreal-style Bagels
-Butter tarts
-Salmon jerky
-Ketchup-flavored potato chips
-Donair (or doner kebab, lamb prepared very much like gyro meat)
-The California Roll

With the a few exceptions, in my very humble (and probably flawed) opinion, the Canadian dining scene is a lot like what we eat in the states- a mix of specific, international restaurants, a sprinkling of  fast food restaurant chains, and establishments that just serve humble, high quality American cuisine.  And so, our idea for indulging in Canadian cuisine meant going to Big Smoke Burger.

Big Smoke Burger itself is pretty puny... there's seating for 20-25 people at the most, but seeing as how nearly every seat was taken when we arrived it seemed like we picked the right spot.

At the bottom of the menu is a disclaimer stating that an order takes 8-10 minutes because each burger is cooked to order... A sign of a good restaurant. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Toronto Part 2: Shopsy's

Shopsy's Deli | Bar | Grill

At the foot of Bay St. and Queens Quay St., one can take a ferry to the Toronto Islands- a cluster of islands filled with lush, verdant parks and quiet beaches.  There's nothing else I can say except that I'm freaking jealous. 


pfff tourists... oh wait

a respite from the city

the island's haunted lighthouse


Shopsy's is I believe the perfect definition of a tourist trap: it has a prime location (right off the island's dock), a "world famous" slogan, jacked up prices, and mediocre food.  For a constantly hungry group of travelers like we were, we easily fell for its allure.

the tourist trap I mean Shopsy's

Despite its scenic panoramic views of the Toronto skyline, there was no getting around the fact that Shopsy's outdoor (and indoor for that matter) dining area was downright filthy.  The dark interior felt dinghy and after we decided to sit outside it took us 4 to 5 tries to find a table that either didn't have cobwebs hanging on the underside or bees flying around spilled drinks.  The tabletops had an unpleasantly greasy feeling whenever you put your arms on them, and the trashcans were way past full, leaving used napkins littering the floor.  The best part was that a couple times I saw the staff just standing there chatting to themselves!  Needless to say it wasn't a very pleasant ambiance to eat in.

heart stoppingly good

Monday, August 22, 2011

Toronto Part 1: Cora's

Cora's Breakfast & Lunch- Entertainment District, Toronto

Oh Canada.  Canada, Canada, Canada.   I think I've fallen in love with you...  And it only took six days.  From the to the most friendliest residents one could ever hope to meet to the vibrant nightlife lit by a sea of twinkling lights, Toronto entranced me with its modern, urban expanse mixed with distinctively charming and older aspects.   Even when the city life becomes too much too handle, the Toronto Islands, with their beaches and expansive greenery are just a short ferry ride away.  And the food... oh yes the food. 

(P.S: On an inappropriately random note, if you're a Facebook or Twitter whore like I am, then go on over and like/follow my page and twats

walking through the distillery district

It's a city that manages to be hectic yet laid-back, both expansive and cozy, and even gaudy but humble.  The atmosphere captivates with a feeling of hospitality that stems from the genuinely welcoming people, who are always more than welcome to help out the misguided tourist.  I could spend a lifetime exploring all of the hidden jewels hiding amongst the city's streets.

casa loma

Walking down the city's streets you'll encounter the well-dressed businessman, striding to work while passing a fashion forward hipster stepping out from a ubiquitous yellow taxi.  It's the diversity of the city that is alluring, and I know that this is such a cliche to use, but it really is a melting pot of nationality that at the same time maintains each culture's unique identity.  In a single stroll you can experience the old town charm of Little Italy but then become caught up in hustle of Chinatown, which is also home to quite a large number of Vietnamese businesses.  Even if those aren't enough to attract you, Koreatown and and Little India are only a few blocks away. 

herbs for sale

Even for an outsider such, there is still a sense of familiarity with Toronto.  While technically considered an international vacation, there isn't a language barrier to overcome, nor a 14 hour plane flight, nor even a need to exchange currency.  Every place we went to warmly accepted the American dollar.

The familiarity even extends to the food- I mean, sure poutines are a lot easier to find in Toronto but the city is essentially a metropolis that culinarily speaking is New York City (except cleaner, friendlier, and safer).  Food trucks are lined up at every street and parkway.  Dimly lit gastropubs and bars light up the night until the early morning.  Mom and pop shops in ethnic neighborhoods open up their lives to customers each day while casual cafes and bistros offer down to earth food.  Every intersection in the downtown area has atleast 3 or 4 people selling hot dogs, contrasted with the high end, exclusive restaurants just a few steps away.  

the cn tower

the toronto skyline

urban scenery

You can view more at the photo blog.

While it was one of the easiest vacations we've ever planned, there was one big flop: After taking a 4 1/2  hour red eye flight (with a constantly crying baby no less), we arrived at our hotel at 7 a.m.  We couldn't check into our room until 3 p.m.  Needless to say we had to find a way to kill 8 hours in the city while dressed in sweat pants and sweaters.  Not the most ideal situation, as we were all both hungry and on the verge of falling asleep on the hotel lobby's couches.

With so much time to kill, the concierge at the hotel recommended a 10 minute walk over to Cora's, a local hotspot.

Various menu items are also painted on the walls of the restaurant.

a local hangout

The restaurant's ambiance overall is extremely homey, with warm yellow walls decorated with country accents. 

cora herself

a cute touch

canadian heinz

It's also interesting to see the discreet discrepancies in the labeling of food products in Canada in comparison to products back in the states.  I would be stupid enough to waste my time pointing this out, but the "aux tomates" part of the ketchup bottle was pretty damn  intriguing.

eggs ben et dictine

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Little R&R

When people talk about that one big summer vacation, locations such as Hawaii, London, France, and the Caribbean are thrown around.  But not usually Canada... 

Which makes me all the more excited to be going there for my "big" vacation this year.  It has all of the allure of experiencing a different country, but without airfare that reaches four digits, flights that last over 10 hours, or a language barrier to circumvent upon arrival.  Heck, most places even take the US dollar!  Easily the most simplest vacation I have ever had to plan.

So, my dear reader(s), if things around this cozy little blog seem a bit vacant (assuming that the hotel Wi-Fi isn't free), do not worry as I will soon be back to retell my various eating and travel misadventures in the land of maple syrup.  Meanwhile, I will probably be gorging myself on a poutine.


the fatty chalupa

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

From Days Gone By, Part 2

The Summer Sandwich


Parte uno aquĆ­

I still remember being little and what the concept of "cooking" meant to my two older siblings.  When they were still in junior high and I was just a little 1st or 2nd grader, cooking meant digging through the freezer for a box of frozen food after watching the requisite Saturday morning cartoons.  It didn't matter to us that the food had probably twice the recommended daily intake of sodium or that most of the time it took on the taste of its cellophane plastic wrapping... It was just food to us.  I remember contently mounding globs of gravy over the black divider into the section of gritty, gray mashed potatoes, and then the trio of us switching our plates to see what each other's meal tasted like.


But in the summer, when the three of us were home every day of the week, it became too annoying to search for a different frozen meal everyday at the supermarket.  On top of that, who on earth would want to subject himself/herself to the torture of eating a piping hot Stouffer's lasagna on a 90 degree day right after climbing out of the pool?  That was when we turned to the only other form of "cooking" we knew, and that was making sandwiches...

this isn't rocket science

And thus, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich with strawberries and bananas was born.

My sister proclaimed it to be her invention, even though I wanted to take all the credit for it.  But truth be told, after a while I didn't care- it was just too darn good and so everyday throughout summer after swimming in the neighborhood pool we would go home and make these sandwiches.  It was during the days when Wonder Bread used to rule the supermarket shelves and was the staple of our household before the multi-grain wheat craze took over.  If there's one single requirement of this "recipe", it's that you MUST use white bread.  When paired with the thick, creaminess of the banana and peanut butter and the sickening sweetness of strawberry jam, the sandwich almost becomes too much to handle... but then take another bite and the ripe strawberries, bursting with juice, refresh your palate with the quintessential taste of summer.

consume immediately

We continued making the sandwich as the years passed by.  I remember making the mistake of packing it for my lunch one day in eighth grade.  As I proudly unwrapped the sandwich 4 hours later my excitement turned into devastation as I discovered that the bananas had turned into brown mush and the juice from the strawberries had made a soppy mess.  I could feel the other kids at my lunch table looking in disgust at the sandwich as I surreptitiously stowed it away... only so I could take it home and eat it the moment I got home from school.

When I first began this post, the recipe title was "Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich with Strawberries and Bananas".  However, as I ate the very sandwich in the photo above, I realized that for me it's way more than just that.  I may have gotten too carried away with this random narration of my life, but this is more than just a sandwich.  It's a reminder of my childhood.  It's the Summer Sandwich.

a taste of summer

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Just Another Sunday Morning- Part 4

Foolproof Belgian Waffles

Part 4 of a Sunday Brunch Extravaganza (see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

As I promised, the result of the photoshoot I described yesterday.  Not to sound like a pompous ass, but it's amazing to see how much the photography on this little blog is improving- I'm actually seeing acceptances from foodgawker/tastespotting everybody! 

And to explain my poorly labeled picture from yesterday:
  1. Because all of the windows in the kitchen have awnings over them, it's not a very good source of light.  Don't be afraid to think outside the box, and for me that meant the floor of the family room next to the sliding glass door.
  2. As you can see, the main source of light is coming from the left side of the food.  This means that the left side of the picture will be well lit while the right side will be darker.  In order to compensate for this, I put used a whiteboard to reflect the incoming light back on the waffles.  
  3. The number 1 reason why I personally believe my photos have improved is because I started using a tripod.  Because of this, I am more free to increase my f-stop and keep my shutter open longer without inducing either blur or underexposed photos.
  4. Sometimes you'll need a diffuser to soften the light.  I've found that I had to only do this sometimes, but when I'm shooting on a white backdrop (such as a tablecloth) it's not too necessary.  I did have to use one today however when shooting a nectarine tart (which will be described in a later post)
 just a normal monday

Personal tips I've learned so far:
  1. Stop using such small f-stops!  When I first got my 1.4mm lens I became so excited that I'd now be able to get pretty bokeh that's all I left the aperture setting at.  As a result all I got were photos that were blurry and never in focus.  Now my aperture hovers around 2.8-3.5, necessitating the need for a tripod
  2. A note on food styling: I'm not the best in the world, but what I've noticed is that you definitely need to group objects a lot more closer than you think they need to be.  Not really a tip, but more an observation
  3. For some odd reason, I feel that an odd number of either objects or groups of objects is easier to style/photograph.  It just makes it easier to style the photo.  The empty nutella jar may seem irrelevant, but imagine if it weren't there- the pictures would have seemed like they had a gaping blank spot!
I know that was a terrible crash course lesson, so if you're either confused or have a question, PLEASE stop by the comments section.  

nutella devastation

Where do I begin with waffles?  Before I discovered the magic of Belgian waffles, the only waffle I knew of were Eggo's convenient little crispy frisbees that didn't really taste like anything unless you drowned it in syrup.  Try this recipe however, and what you get are deceptively light yeast-risen triangles that are delicately crisp on the outside but moist and tender on the inside, with pockets that become perfect containers for macerated strawberries and whipped cream.  

the only time when it's okay to feel gassy

The only tweak I made in this recipe is increasing the amount of butter (don't judge me) from 1 1/2 to 2 sticks of butter.  The difference is quite noticeable though, as the extra fat not only provides more flavor but also churns out a more crisp product.

And one final note... you just spent a day making homemade, crispy, yeasty, airy Belgian Waffles.  Don't you dare desecrate your efforts by slathering them with Aunt Jemima or Mrs. Butterworth!

why yes, I can eat that whole platter

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Just Another Sunday Morning- Part 3

 Oeufs en Cocotte (for a crowd)

Part 3 of a Sunday Brunch Extravaganza.  (See Part 1 & Part 2)

I finally found it.  That sweet spot.  The spot with the perfect lighting where I can crank out semi-decent food photos.  And right now I only have about a month left to use it before I leave for college.  Did I mention that it's the floor of the family room?

Now I just need something else to shoot on other than white tablecloths/Williams & Sonoma towels.  And here is a poorly labeled diagram below:

P.S.- Please come back tomorrow to see a recipe for fool-proof Belgian waffles and the results of the photoshoot above!

I know you heard me profess my love of bagels in my previous post but I have to say if all of a sudden all of the chickens in the world stopped producing eggs it surely would be a sign of the Apocalypse.  If eggs were to disappear from my life I sincerely wouldn't know what to do as an amateur cook- no more hollandaise sauces, creamy emulsions, custards, cakes, or cookies.  This sounds extreme but my existence would be meaningless if eggs weren't there... they're the only thing I can think of that I would happily eat everyday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  If for some horrible reason I was forced to become a vegetarian I would at least take comfort in the fact that I could just gorge myself on eggs everyday until my arteries close for the rest of my life.  I mean, what would you do if we no longer had eggs?

 a cholesterol bomb of epic proportions

Which brings me to this recipe.  You can't have breakfast/brunch without some form of an egg dish, and baked eggs are the perfect way to have glorious, plump, runny eggs for a crowd without having to tend to the stove.  

 the disposables

Obviously this isn't something you should be eating everyday...  You might have guessed by now, either by browsing through the recipe index or just by looking at this blog title that healthful food isn't really my forte.  I mean this dish starts with a layer of bacon (saturated fat/cholesterol), drizzled in cream (saturated fat/cholesterol), topped with an egg (saturated fat/cholesterol), encrusted with gruyere (saturated fat/cholesterol), and dotted in butter (saturated fat/cholesterol), only to be eaten with toast points (carbs).  To break it down to you, this dish is a piece of fat that sits on top of fried fat that has been drizzled in fat with everything being encrusted in fat and then dotted in fat and then eaten with carbs.  No wonder I ran out of these so quickly.
But as soon as you pierce that quivering, sun-hued yolk with a piece of crisp toast to soak up all of that golden, cheesy elixir all of those future hours at the gym will be worth it. 

a heart-stopping breakfast... in more ways than one