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“He ordered the souvlaki with hot sauce,”my friend informed me.  “His nose bled all night!”

“All night?”  I was dubious.

“All night!”she insisted.

I suppose it was intended as a cautionary tale but the first thought that entered my mind was: “I’ve got to try that hot sauce.”

I’ve always been a fan of spicy.  One of the first Japanese phrases I learned before going to Tokyo for the first time was “Karai no ryori wa dai suki desu” (“I love spicy food!”) lest they fear offending an overly sensitive gaikokujin palate.  When I go out for pad gra prow, I dismiss foreigner (farang) spicy in favor of Thai (phet mak mak) spicy.  Hell, I’ve even started making my own hot sauces.

But even though I like the heat, I am picky.  I’m not a huge fan of the tamer cayenne-based hot sauces only because I tend to find them too vinegary.  The beyond hot sauces are certainly hot, but their flavor is akin to liquid rubber.  Give me an island hot sauce, something with a habanero or scotch bonnet base. Incorporate onions and garlic for flavor, the sweetness of fruit to compliment the heat, maybe even a touch of mustard to give it an extra little kick.

The other day, Akemi took all of my hot sauces out of the back cupboard and suggested I deal with them – which essentially means toss them or consume them in six weeks I have left in Vancouver.  Well, I’m up to the challenge!  But first, a little sample to find out if they’ve stood the test of time (aka – haven’t gone bad sitting in the pantry since 2010).

I remember the first time I sampled this one – just a touch on the end of a dipped toothpick.  It was pretty intense.  A friend of Akemi tested his luck and started hiccuping instantly.  More of a novelty than a worthy addition to the rotation.

Hmmm.  Just the basics here: cayenne, water, and salt.  The years have not been kind to this hot sauce which went from its original vibrant orange to an ominous dark brown.

This one comes with a (presumably tongue in cheek) warning not to attempt to actually light the fuse.  The wax seal, while amusing, is surprisingly thick and difficult to cut through.  It’s a combination of some 20 peppers and not unbearable in its heat level.

Unlike this one that is aptly termed “Beyond Insanity” because you’d have to be crazy to eat it.  It’s habanero-based sauce but also includes “habanero-infused flavor”, whatever that means.  Another one that has aged terribly, at least in its coloring.

Also habanero-based and while this one seemed to have prevailed over Father Time, the flavor seemed a bit…off.

Vidalia onions and peach!  I am IN!  To be honest, I haven’t had the heart to open this one yet simply because I don’t want to be disappointed if it’s turned and I’m unable to use it.  Jeff, I’m waiting for you to get into town before I try it.

My new favorite hot sauce (now that I can no longer track down my former fave, Chalido Chile Trader’s Besos de Fuegos) is this little gem made right here in B.C. with locally-sourced honey and apples.

I’m love the island sauces.

And, of course, who can resist the sweet and spicy combo of Korean gochujang.  I pick up mine up at my local farmer’s market.

And speaking of local, Oddball Organics makes a terrific line of sauces that combine two of my favorite things: heat and garlic.  From left to right, their progressively hotter offerings go from Nasty Nectar to Nuclear Nectar to Tongue Twister.

Oh, and that nose-bleedingly hot hot sauce?  It wasn’t that hot.  And my nose was just fine.

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Now that I’m back home, it’s time to hit up all of my favorite places and check in on many of my old friends.  Like Marginni at Jack who gave me a new summer do, Hodie at Xoxolat who helped me stock up on Ecuador dark chocolate bars, and Darlene and co. at The Book Warehouse and Jill and Walter (and dog Judd) at White Dwarf Books who recommended some great reads to add to my burgeoning to-read pile.  Toronto has a lot going on for it, but not much in the way of great bookstores.  Oh, don’t get me started.

I now do most of my reading via iBooks, but I will pick up physical copies of titles I’ve enjoyed.  I loved the hell out of Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns, so it and the ensuing two books of the trilogy are destined for my home library.

This morning, we hit one of our favorite places – Bella Gelateria – for pizza and ice cream.  Well, pizza for Akemi and me, and ice cream for everyone, including the dogs thanks to owner James Coleridge’s special sugar free, dairy free, vegan doggy gelato.  Peanut butter flavor!

Ladies, start your ice cream engines!

Lulu is the daintiest of eaters.

Suji’s crazy ice cream face!

Before we left, James gifted me a cache of his homemade birdseye chili seasoning.  Holy!  The burn is enough to give you a light buzz.

Tonight, it was dinner at Sushi Bar Maumi – next to Toronto’s Yasu, my favorite place for sushi outside of Japan.

Full day and full stomach.  And the week aint even over yet!

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When I head back to Vancouver in a couple of weeks, these are the Toronto treats I will miss most…

The sushi omakase at Yasu Sushibar.

The tacos at Campechano.

The corn soup and veggie wrap combo at Ravi Soups.

Scallops conserva in Galician sauce at Bar Raval.

The grilled whole octopus at Bar Isabel.

The 19 ingredient Singapore Slaw at Lee.

The Vietnamese coconut curry crab at The People’s Eatery.

The Sweet Hornet pizza (mozzarella, fior di latte, soppressata, black olive, honey n’ chilli) at Piano Piano.

The pan-fried lamb dumplings at The Dumpling House.

The chazzer (smoked pastrami gravlax, salmon caviar, and horseradish cream cheese) at Schmaltz Appetizing.

The burgers at Burger’s Priest.

The award-winning Magnolia Peach truffle at SOMA Chocolate (peach and magnolia flower infused in an Ecuador chocolate ganache).

The chocolate chip cookies at Portland Variety.

The Basque cake with sherry cream at Bar Isabel.

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It was an even better turnout for Part 2 of our Toronto Dessert Tour that saw thirteen of us hit five different sweet, sweet spots…

STOP #1

MOMOFUKU MILK BAR: cereal ice cream, cookies, crack pie.

190 University Avenue – noodlebar-toronto.momofuku.com

Sampling: cereal soft serve, crack pie soft serve, crack pie, corn cookies, compost cookies, double chocolate cookies, cornflake chocolate chip marshmallow cookies.

Sisters Kerrington (aka Snackington) and Breanne dig in.

The soft serve crack pie with cereal sprinkles was the clear favorite.  We had to have security escort director Ron Murphy from the building to stop him from eating their entire supply.

On the move to our next location.

STOP #2

UNCLE TETSU’S ANGEL CAFE: Japanese cheesecake

191 Dundas Street West – www.angelcafetoronto.com

Settling in for Round #2.

Mean Jean Brophey checks out the maid cafe hall of fame!

Three different types of cheesecake.  Surprisingly, there was a pretty even distribution of favorites.

STOP #3

TSUJIRI: matcha desserts

147 Dundas Street West – tsujiri-global.com

Good and good for you!

Dessert Crew and unwitting participant caught up in the whirlwind of eating – pictured fleeing the scene after Elliot unwittingly ate her adzuki mochi.

Houjicha and matcha soft serves.

Snackington leads the voracious feeding frenzy (photo by Ivon Bartok).  I feel fortunate to have escaped with my fingers.

One big awkward thumbs up for the sushi at Japango from Ron!

STOP #4 (SAVORY INTERLUDE)

JAPANGO – Sushi

1122 Elizabeth Street – Japango

Impatiently awaiting sushi.

Ron lectures everyone on proper sidewalk sushi etiquette.

Alas, the pic doesn’t do the sushi justice.  Delicious.  It receives both Akemi and my seal of approval.

STOP #5

INFUSE CAFE: Organic teas and coffees (also boardgames!).

354 Yonge Street – Infuse Cafe

We actually planned to walk up to Red Bench for ice cream sandwiches, but it had the temerity to permanently cease operations sometime between the last time I visited and today.  So, instead, we ended up going to Infuse Cafe, home of Toronto’s best teas and coffees, served hot OR cold.

You know what goes good with tea?

Homemade snickerdoodles and oatmeal-raisin cookies, of course.

My double order of the Ice Cream Sandwich Coffee, a glorious mix of coffee and, yes, ice cream sandwiches.

An out of control Ron Murphy cancels his tea order in favor of another ice cream sandwich coffee.

Lawren bids us a fond farewell in order to attend a purported business meeting.

Jean and Rowena, hopped up on sugar, offering free hugs to wary passersby.

Thanks to everyone who attended today’s foodie foray.  We’re going to attempt to squeeze in one more tour (Toronto Dessert Tour Part 3!) before everyone scatters to the four winds once production ends.

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Mission Objective: Hit five of Toronto’s best dessert spots over the course of an afternoon.

STOP #1

SUD FORNO: Italian pastries.

Seven stalwart eaters joined me on this dessert op.

Mean Jean Brophey starts things off with a double espresso.  She would need the caffeine boost.

On deck: Mini rhum babas, mini chocolate rhum babas, and canolis.

Elliot, Akemi, Ivon, and Alison start their sampling engines.

Kerrington and Breanna = ferocious eaters.  FEROCIOUS!

The highlight: The mini rhum baba.  A perfect boozy bite.

716 Queen Street West (MAPsudforno.com

STOP #2

NADEGE: Chocolates and pastries.

Petit choux (mini cream puffs) of various flavors.  Akemi is a big fan of the praline while Alison swore by the lemon and ginger.

Bailey’s Irish Cream-flavored marshmallows.

The Individual Donut: caramel chantilly, salted caramel cream, crisp praliné wafer and almond shortbread.

Kerrington considers her next move.

Highlights: That donut!

780 Queen Street West (MAPwww.nadege-patisserie.com

STOP #3

PEACE TREATS: Milkshakes

Three different milkshakes.  From left to right: D.R.E.A.M. (Donuts Rule Everything Around Me) – a vanilla milkshake topped with mini donuts, Amusement Park – cotton candy milkshake stacked with cotton candy, and Go Shanty It’s Your Birthday – vanilla milkshake topped with a slice of birthday cake.

I’m in heaven.

Ivon pacing himself.

Elliot and his mysterious floating cap.

I contemplate life.  And that birthday cake milkshake.

Breanne, aka “The Cleaner”.

Highlight: The cotton candy milkshake!

131 Ossington Ave. (MAPPeace Treats

We WERE planning to go for ice cream next, but our intended target wouldn’t open for another fifteen minutes.  And so, rather than wait, we made efficient use of our time by taking a walk up to College Street and getting in another dessert stop.

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STOP #4

BAKE SHOPPE: Baked goods.

The offerings included, among other things, homemade pop tarts!

Nutella brown butter cookie and red velvet cupcake.

Ruffles marshmallow and passion flakie.

Still focused!

Highlight: The unusual sweet and savory Ruffles marshmallow, the passion flakie, and that nutella brown butter cookie.

859 College Street (MAPwww.bakeshoppeto.com

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STOP #5

BANG BANG ICE CREAM: Ice cream.

The final stop on our marathon tour.  Just pick your ice cream flavor, choose a fresh baked cookie and voila!

I went chocolate cookie and toffee ice cream.

Jean and Akemi sugaring it up.

Sugar high! (photo courtesy of Ivon Bartok).

Hong Kong Waffle high.

Highlight: The peanut butter and jelly ice cream!

93A Ossington Ave. (MAPbangbangicecream.com

We concluded our afternoon in fine style –

STOP #6

Trinity Bellwoods Dog Bowl for the monthly pug meet-up

Thanks to everyone who made this dessert op a success.  Nice work, team!  See you in two weeks for the Toronto Dessert Tour Part 2!

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Today, the whole family headed over to Off Leash Studio where photographer Kevin Sarasom spent the better part of an hour snapping singles and group shots of our muttly crew.  Lulu and Suji were naturals, sitting pretty, preening, and occasionally mugging for the camera while Bubba required a little more work to bring out his natural derpishness.  But we got there.  Eventually.

Kevin was terrific with the the gang, directing them with care, confidence – and treats.  The dogs loved him.  And it seemed the feeling was mutual.  By session’s end, as I was packing up, I glanced over and noticed he’d abandoned his camera to better shower  Lulu with belly rubs.

I’ve been on a reading tear of late, blazing through 28 books to date in 2017.  At this pace, I should easily surpass by annual 100 title goal and maybe even challenge my 2014 reading record of 180+ books.  Or not.  Some of my favorite reads so far this year include Revenger, an epic space adventure from Alastair Reynolds, Tade Thompson’s fiercely original SF thriller Rosewater, Matthew De Abaitua’s AI conspiracy The Destructives, the first book of Brian McClennan’s Powder Mage series Promise of Blood, Emily Fridlund’s mesmerizing coming-of-age novel History of WolvesHomo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, Yuval Noah Harari’s non-fiction treatise on the intersection and potential merging evolutions of humanity and technology, and The Core of the Sun, Finnish author Johanna Sinisalo’s utterly delightful scifi tale of a capsaicin addict’s descent into the dark world of black market hot peppers.

Many of these books were released in 2016 and yet I’ve heard no mention of them as award season approaches which is altogether baffling (or, to be somewhat indelicate, kinda bullshit).

This weekend, I made it a point to try out a new restaurant – and was richly rewarded with Bar Raval serving Spanish Tapas on College Street.  A few of the culinary highlights of our back-to-back visits: The kitchen bread: red peppers and anchovies.

Crispy cheese, serrano ham, and caramelized onion pastry.

The house-canned scallops conserva served in a garlic tomato oil with a side of chips.

Bacon, chorizon, red pepper and quail egg atop grilled bread.

The Basque cheesecake – Akemi’s favorite.

Their version of a chocolate-hazelnut donut.

Hey Jeff and Barb, maybe the next time you’re in town?

Back at it tomorrow!  Main unit Episodes 309 and 310.  Second unit episodes 308, 309, 310, and 313.  Prep meetings for Episode 311.  And possible Pink pages for Episode 311?!

Don’t push it.

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Those I remembered to photograph anyway…

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Banh Mi Boys: Crispy squid taco, fried chicken bao, pork belly bao, and tofu taco.

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Le Gourmand: Chocolate chip cookie.

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Yasu Sushi Bar: Katsuo nigiri

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Yasu Sushi Bar: Tuna trio (otoro, chutoro, akami)

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La Banane: Liver & Onions (chicken liver mousse, cippiloini onions, hen of the woods mushrooms).

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La Banane: European seabass en croute.

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Lamesa Filipino Kitchen: Ube leche flan.

P.S. Loved reading your input into yesterday’s blog question.  Very interesting.  Keep ’em coming!

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