edible adventures from the centre of the universe

24 April 2006

All Tarted Up

I learned this weekend that the road to tasty sweets is paved with puddles, grandmas, and cheap lamps. Waking up hungover this Saturday was made even more difficult when I heard the rain against my window - I was scheduled to get together with some lady friends to go garage sale-ing, and it was pouring outside. After downing some Tylenol and grabbing an umbrella, I shuffled down to the local cafe where we had agreed to meet.

Once the four of us had assembled, we set out into the "rain" (which was more of a mist, rendering our umbrellas essentially useless), in search of some sweet deals. After a bit of a hike in the residential area north of High Park, we happened upon a soggy garage sale sign. We located the address, and found a pile of your typical garage sale "junk" on the front porch with no purveyor in sight. Browsing through some squirrel-themed hooked rugs, we were eventually joined on the porch by the owner, an elderly lady who seemed surprised to see us despite the numerous sale signs posted in the neighborhood. After some disjointed "conversation," she led us back to the garage.

There was not much of interest in the car-hole, with the exception of a punch bowl set with a crazy retro etched design, and a floor-to-ceiling vintage lamp. With the benefit of little-old-lady pricing, the 6 glasses from the punch set and the lamp came to a grand total of six dollars ("Is that too much?" she asked us). Score!

Packing around a nine-foot lamp in the rain, and finding another promising garage sale shut down already, we decided to call it a day. By that point, we had wandered down to Roncesvalles and we were hungry for something warm and comforting. A delicious plate of perogies at Staropolska fit the bill, but left us with a collective sweet tooth. Luckily, Queen of Tarts was just down the block.

As you step into Queen of Tarts, the first thing you notice is the incredible smell of baked goods. Despite being full of potato dumplings, my mouth started to water immediately. A display case greets you at the door, filled with a variety of (surprise!) tarts. The description for the Snickers Tart (
peanuts, caramel, peanut butter mousse, and dark chocolate ganache) sounds amazing, but my attention is quickly drawn to the rows and rows of gingerbread man cookies on the right wall. Each is exquisitely decorated to look like different characters, from Saddam Hussein to Darth Vader to Jesus. While these make fantastic novelty gifts, they do not come cheap ($6 for a cookie!?) - nevertheless, I was suckered in and bought Dave a Bubbles from the Trailer Park Boys (pictured above). I also picked up a bag of chocolate cheesecake cookies to share, and some chocolate-covered homemade rasberry marshmallows. The shop carries a large variety of cookies, marshmallows, cakes, and tarts in addition to some great-looking loaves of bread. All are extremely high quality and, despite the expensive gingerbread, fairly reasonably priced considering.

After making our purchases, we headed back to the dry warmth of my apartment, copies of Hackers and Empire Records in tow (not to mention the lamp). Settling in to watch Angelina Jolie on rollerblades, gushing about her 28.8 kbps modem, we dug in to our Queen of Tarts finds. As we sampled melt-in-your-mouth coconut marshmallows, creamy chocolate cheesecake cookies, and spicy gingerbread bites, it was clear that there is nothing better than warm tea, delicious baked goods, and Jonny Lee Miller after a walk in the cold rain.


20 April 2006

Salad Pizza

A few years ago in Vegas, I came across Salad Pizza for my first time. It was on the menu of some restaurant that I can't recall the name of, and I remember thinking how weird it sounded. Of course I had to order it.

The Salad Pizza was great! It was basically a garden salad with balsamic dressing piled onto a warm pizza crust, with shaved parmesan on top. Simple, light, and very flavourful. Once I got home, I began playing around with the recipe and eventually came up with this version, which is my favorite. It's super easy to make, so have at 'er!

Salad Pizza

1 pre-made pizza crust (I prefer the "cheesy" kind)
4oz. package of plain goat cheese
2 tsp. olive oil (use flavoured oil if you have it!)
1 bag of mixed salad greens
1 tomato, seeded and coarsely chopped
salad dressing, to taste (see recipe below)

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. While the oven preheats, brush the top surface of the pizza crust with olive oil, and crumble the goat cheese on top.
2. Throw the goat cheese-topped pizza crust into the oven, directly on the oven rack. Bake it for about 10 minutes, until the crust begins to brown and the goat cheese gets nice and warm.
3. In the meantime, toss the greens and chopped tomato with the salad dressing, to taste.
4. When the pizza crust comes out of the oven, pile the dressed greens on top. Grind some fresh pepper on top, slice the pizza, and dig in!

Honey Balsamic Dressing

2 tsp. dijon mustard (honey dijon or grainy works well too)
2 tsp. honey
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

1. Whisk together mustard, honey and vinegar in a bowl (or use a jar with a good seal, and shake the mixture up). Slowly stream in olive oil while you continue to whisk, until well combined (if using the jar method, add a little olive oil at a time, shaking thoroughly after each addition).


17 April 2006

Review: Butler's Pantry

On Friday, a bunch of us went out to celebrate the long weekend, and our friend Jeremy's visit from Edmonton. Our original plan was to hit Sushi on Bloor for dinner but, despite making reservations, there seemed to be a long wait. Add to that an amazingly disorganized and unhelpful hostess, and we were out the door.

After some discussion, we settled on the Butler's Pantry on Markham as a back-up plan. The first thing I noticed as we stepped into the restaurant was its super-cosy atmosphere. Although the space is not small, the prevalence of dark wood and local art on the walls gives it a comfortable, warm character. After we were seated, our delightful waitress promptly brought us a round of surprisingly cheap ($4.50) pints.

The menu at Butler's Pantry is quite extensive and varied, offering bulgogi alongside lasagna and moussaka. Everything is very modestly priced. Eventually, I settled on the Zucchini Pancake, while Dave ordered Khowsway, a Burmese chicken and noodle dish. While we waited for our food, we enjoyed the alt-country and indie-pop playing on the stereo system. And the beer.

My zucchini pancake turned out to be something like a large latke, and was served with a caesar salad. It was hugely comforting and filling, without being greasy, and the soy dipping sauce served with it added a nice salty kick. Dave enjoyed his Khowsway, proclaiming it to have a nice flavour that he hadn't tasted before. Those around the table that received a garden salad also mentioned that the house dressing was fantastic.

Following our meal, Dave and I couldn't resist the Easter chocolate cake in the restaurant's display case, and we ordered a piece to share. The cake was nice and moist, with not-too-sweet chocolate icing or ganache between its layers, and was accompanied by a mound of real whipped cream and a white-chocolate hollow "egg." We fought over the last forkful.

Completely sated, we paid the bill and headed next door to the Victory Cafe to continue our evening. The combination of great service and tasty eats at Butler's Pantry made for a satisfying experience. This is comfort food at its best.

7 Clydesdales out of 10


12 April 2006


Before moving to Toronto was even an option, its popular vegetarian restaurant Juice for Life was already on my radar screen. I'm a complete sucker for cookbooks that are put out by restaurants, so when I came across Fresh at Home on Amazon a couple of years ago, I quickly snatched it up. Since then, this has become my go-to cookbook for salads, rice bowls, and noodle dishes - I really can't say enough positive things about it (for a complete review, click here).

I later picked up the original Juice for Life cookbook, which is more focused on juice, but also contains some more yummy rice bowl and noodle recipes. I was hooked - when we decided to move, I was sure that Fresh was going to be my favorite restaurant in our new home.

Sadly, this isn't the case. While the eat-in experience at Fresh is far from bad, the cramped, noisy atmosphere definitely takes away from the great food. Also, it's tough to shell out 17 bucks after tax and tip for a rice bowl, when you have the exact recipe sitting right at home (and fewer elbows to contend with at your own kitchen table). For these reasons, I tend to stick to the cookbooks when I need a Fresh fix.

I made the noodle dish pictured above the other night, slightly adapting a recipe from Juice for Life. It turned out great, with a little heat added using the Ming Room hot sauce I bought a while back. This recipe makes enough for two.

khao san soba

1/2 cup cashew pieces
4 cups cooked soba noodles
1 batch green dressing (see below)
1 head broccoli, chopped
1 cup grated carrots

1. toast the cashews in a 350 degree oven until they begin to brown
2. heat the soba noodles, cashews, and green dressing in a pan over medium heat until heated through (about 5 minutes)
3. steam the broccoli separately in a vegetable steamer or shallow pan of water
4. divide the noodles onto 2 plates or shallow bowls. arrange the broccoli around the perimeters, and pile the grated carrots on top
5. dig in!

green dressing

2 large cloves garlic
2 tsp. peeled and chopped ginger root
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 tsp powdered wasabi
2 tbsp. honey
1 tsp sambal oelek (or Ming Room hot sauce)

1. throw the garlic, ginger, rice vinegar, cilantro, and water into a food processor or blender. process until smooth.
2. add remaining ingredients with the processor still running. remove when completely liquefied.


11 April 2006

The Best Frozen Pizza in the East

Recently, I discovered President's Choice Chicago-Style Deep Dish pizza, which is probably the best frozen pizza I've ever had. It comes in two varieties - Spinach and 3 Cheese (pictured), or Sausage and Pepperoni - and bakes up with a crispy, almost pie-like crust, gooey cheese, and lots of sauce. The best part? It's only 7 bucks at No Frills. I only found this treasure after we moved to Toronto because PC products are much more prevalent here - my old standby in Edmonton, Safeway, was all about the Western Family brand.

So, if you're sick of flavourless frozen pizza but like the convenience of this "food of the future," check out your local Loblaw's or No Frills. In Edmonton, you might be able to find it at Superstore.

No, I don't work for Loblaw Companies Limited. Why do you ask?

09 April 2006

Canned Love

A few weeks ago, I came across this beauty in the Niagara Falls Value Village. At first glance, it seemed much less interesting than the stack of New Kids on the Block videotapes a few shelves over. Then the white gelatin mold in the lower right corner caught my eye - "Are those cucumbers on top?" I thought. "And what the hell is with the shiny meat curls on the side?"

Flipping to the recipe in question, I find that this monstrosity is called "Cottage Cheese-Cucumber Salad" and is composed of lemon-flavoured gelatin, grated onion, cottage cheese, and chopped cucumber. That does it. I have to buy this book.

One dollar and a strange look from the cashier later, I have some new reading material for our trip back to Toronto. It quickly becomes apparent that "fast" was a synonym for "canned" in 1974, as nearly every recipe calls for a can of this or that. Case in point:

"Shrimp-Macaroni Casserole." This "pantry-shelf special" contains Kraft Dinner, 2 cans of shrimp, one can of condensed cream of chicken soup, and a handful of demolished Chex cereal. Delish!

If you have ever wondered what a meatball volcano would look like, your prayers have been answered:

Titled simply "Confetti Meatball Supper," this dish is another canned wonder, containing cans of meatballs, cheddar cheese soup, mixed vegetables, and chopped pimento. The sub-head for this recipe warns "Keep canned meatballs on hand for this dish" - in case of what, exactly? Unexpected guests that you secretly hate?

When I showed the following picture to Dave, he summed it up nicely with "Oh, God."

While the recipe itself is rather innocuous - basic tuna salad with some curry powder, stuffed into tomatoes - the final product bears an uncanny resemblance to the egg pods in Alien. Perhaps H.R Giger was inspired by his After Work Cookbook. After all, these tomato cups' structural perfection is matched only by their hostility.

I love the "Frank-Kraut Dinner"

Who knew hot dogs (er, "franks," as they were called in the '70s) could look so appetizing laying on a delicious bed of saurkraut and condensed cheddar cheese soup (both canned, of course)? There are no less than 8 "time-saving" recipes in this cookbook that have hot dogs as the main ingredient. Oscar Mayer - Helping sisters do it for themselves since 1883.

By far, the most stomach-turning photo in this book is for this "Entertaining Special"

I'm not sure what the photographer was going for with the "futuristic" setting, but the S.S. Discovery vibe does nothing to disguise the vomit-coloured abomination that is the "Sweet-Sour Chicken Mold." Containing powdered sour cream sauce, lemon gelatin, dill, green pepper, cucumber, carrot, and canned chicken, I cannot even begin to imagine what this thing tastes like. The book describes it as having "distinctive flavours," which I'd wager is a polite way of saying that it tastes like ass.

I told Dave that I should exclusively make recipes from the After Work Cookbook next time that we have guests over for dinner. So, who's free next weekend?


06 April 2006

Review: Ming Room

A couple of weekends ago, Dave and I ventured out to Mississauga to meet our suburb-bound friends Cathy and Paul for dinner. This was my first trip out to the 'Saug which, it turns out, is made up entirely of apartment buildings, condos, and houses. This is a city that is extremely functional in its role as a suburb (housing commuters), but does not have a real downtown core - very surprising, for its size. Before meeting Cathy and Paul, we killed some time at "Ontario's Largest Mall," Square One, which was exactly as you would expect (read: soul-sucking).

On to the food. It had been decided previously that we were going to try a new (for us) type of cuisine, Hakka, which is often described as a cross between Chinese and Indian. Most of the Hakka restaurants in Toronto are concentrated in Scarborough or Mississauga, so we opted to try Ming Room (6461 Mississauga Road) based on its proximity to Cathy and Paul's place. On the way to the restaurant, we passed through "Old Mississauga," which is very cute and seems to have a lot more personality than the rest of the city.

Upon arriving at the restaurant, we had to wait a few minutes for a table. There is not a huge amount of atmosphere to this place, with the decor mostly limited to a few Chinese lanterns and a couple of generic pieces of art on the wall. Once seated, I was pleased to find that the placemats were of the Chinese Zodiac variety (kitchy!). There were some corn chips (?) on the table, which we snacked on. Looking back, they were probably for putting on top of our food. There was also a container of Sambal Oelek-looking hot sauce with some garlic included, which smelled great.

Looking at the extensive menu, we could see the fusion of Chinese and Indian elements. The appetizer list contained both pakoras and wontons, and paneer dishes could be found alongside your typical sweet n' sour chicken. After some discussion, we decided on shrimp pakoras to start, followed by prawns in Hakka chili sauce, paneer in Manchurian sauce, hunan chicken, mixed vegetables, and steamed rice.

The pakoras arrived promptly, and came with a sweet dipping sauce. They tasted great, with some spice, and weren't too greasy. We polished them off quickly, and our mains came soon thereafter.

Digging in, we found that the chili prawns and Manchurian paneer really had some kick. A few bites in, all of us were sweating and reaching for the water (which was frequently refilled by our attentive server). While the chili prawns offered little more than heat in terms of flavour, the Manchurian paneer had a nice savoury-sweet element to it. Although it was a little too salty, all of us agreed that the paneer was our favourite dish. The mixed vegetables were tasty, if uninspired, and the poultry-eaters informed me that the chicken was okay, but overpoweringly sweet.

Dinner for four with tax and tip (no alcoholic beverages) came out to about $70. On my way out, I bought a container of the house-made garlicky sambal-like sauce to take home. Overall, we found Ming Room to be a neat experience, but we would not rush back.

6 rodeo clowns out of 10


03 April 2006


Welcome to my new weblog! Moving from Edmonton to Toronto last year has left me with a whole new city's worth of food to explore, and I'm going to use this space to document my adventures. Although much of my focus will be on Toronto and all it has to offer, I will also be including my thoughts on restaurants in other cities, recipes, food photography, cookbooks, travel, and so on - check back regularly for new content.