Friday, May 22, 2009

Coffee crawl finale: The Noshers have their say

To finish off the National Nosh's month-long investigative journalism series on independently owned coffee shops that are walking distance from my house, I present the following cross-Canada options, as suggested by enthusiastic followers of the Nosh (Noshheads? Noshers?) This is actually a photo of a great cafe in Tel Aviv, which just goes to show that the appeal of an afternoon coffee translates everywhere. 

Victoria: A new addition to the city's serious coffee culture, Street Level Espresso's hot bevies are served with a glass of house-carbonated water to cleanse the palate. Habit Cafe and Culture, next to Mole on Pandora, is exactly what it sounds like.

Vancouver: Even thought Caffe Artigiano has been on a bit of an expansion blitz, quality has not faltered. And the last time I was there my latte foam artist drew a fairly accurate depiction of a monkey in a turban in my milk suds. At Cafe Medina you'd be a fool not to order a wee, sweet Belgian waffle with your cappuccino.  

Toronto: Balzac's boasts industrial chic surrounds and house-roasted beans. Great almond croissants too (they're also in Stratford). The Pantry actually carries Balzac's coffee, and you can also stock up on potted foie and fancy jams, or grab a fresh steak and Gorgonzola sandwich to go. 

Ottawa: Planet Coffee's boho clientele in the Byward Market isn't enough to stop one from enjoying their lemon cake, while Bridgehead is all about organic, shade-grown, fairly traded coffees, teas, healthier snacks and cool surrounds.

Montreal: For many Noshers, Olive et Gourmando is your all-star cafe in Canada. Mine too. 

Halifax: In a city overrun with Timmy's and Second Cups, Steve-O-Reno's is a beacon in the morning mist. But when I lived there my regular stomping ground was the Trident. I still long for their outsize lattes, homemade iced tea and oat cakes. 

If I didn't mention your favourite cafe in your hometown, I'm sorry, but it's because you didn't write in. That's how that works. 

Please note: I will be out of town on assignment for a couple of days, so recipe Monday will most likely be Recipe Tuesday next week. Have a great weekend! 

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

This just in: Drinks Matcher Widget

For all of you wine PR reps and agents out there, I am totally onboard with little surprises, like this trio of Wolf Blass Cabs that I found Fedexed to my door a couple of weeks ago. 

Tooootally on board with this. 

I’ll let you know how the Wolf Blass drinking goes, but for now I’m mulling over the suggested food pairing with the 2006 Grey Label Longhorne Creek Cabernet Sauvignon: “Slow roast roo fillet.” God love the Australians. 

And, should I decide to partake is something other than kangaroo for dinner, I can always consult Natalie MacLean's new Drinks Matcher Widget for my food and wine pairings. And while I may not know exactly what a widget is, I do know that this a portable version of Natalie's site's existing food-and-wine pairing tool.           

Says the press release: During the eight years that Natalie spent testing the combinations for her Drinks Matcher, she found two extremes when it comes to food and wine pairing: "Some people say that it's complete nonsense, while others insist that there's only one perfect match for every wine. Neither approach helps wine lovers."

You can search the matcher for drinks to pair with meat, pasta, seafood, vegetarian dishes, pizza, take-out, sauces, herbs, cheese or dessert; or you can find dishes to go with wine, cocktails, liqueurs, beer, spirits, cider, coffee, tea-and yes, even water. The Drinks Matcher is meant to be a springboard to help you discover the matches you prefer. Be it roo filet or other.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Purple haze

When I arrived home late a few weeks ago, there were a couple of big bags of individually quick frozen Wild Quebec Blueberries waiting for me at my door. Sadly, they had defrosted because I wasn't forewarned that they were coming that day. So I had to think fast: What to do with this bounty of berries?
There's always jam, of course, but I'm not a big jam fan. Could have made sorbet or ice cream, but that would have been a whole production, and to be quite honest, I wasn't up to the task. Blueberry pie? I'm not a big pie person either (except for strawberry rhubarb). And then I thought of the simplest dessert one could make. And while we're at it, healthiest too. That's because wild blueberries contain more beneficial antioxidants than their cultivated kin, and more than most other fruits. It's what they call "an antioxidant superfood" (antioxidants guard against cell damage that is associated with heath risks such as cancer, heart disease and other age-related maladies.) Plus, they taste great. 
This easy dessert takes about 30 minutes to throw together, but then you've got to wait eight hours before eating it.
Nobody ever said life was perfect.
(serves 4)
4-5 slices white bread, crusts removed
4 cups wild blueberries
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
2 tsp lemon zest
yoghurt or sour cream for garnish (optional)
Cook blueberries with sugar and pinch of salt on medium-low heat for about a half hour, then let cool for 15 minutes and stir in lemon zest.
Get out a medium sized mixing bowl (that can hold four cups of liquid) and line it with plastic wrap, letting wrap hang over edges of bowl. Press crustless bread slices into bowl so that there are no holes and all seems airtight. Really press it down. Then, using a slotted spoon, fill plastic wrapped and bread-lined bowl with cooked and cooled wild blueberry mixture, packing it in there tightly. Add some of the juice too, but not so much that it's soupy. You just want to make sure the bread is saturated and everything is gloriously purple.
Wrap the the top with overhanging plastic wrap, press down again, then place a small plate over the bowl that fits within the bowl, and put a can on top if to to weigh down your burgeoning summer pudding. Put in fridge for 8 hours. 
When time's up, unwrap the top, turn the pudding out onto a large plate, and remove all plastic wrap. Slice into wedges and serve with a dollop of yoghurt or sour cream. 

Friday, May 15, 2009

Spargel Saison!

It was about this time last year, that I found myself in Germany, traipsing through the country during spargel saison (AKA asparagus season.) 
Best. Thing. Ever. 
I wrote all about it here
And to brighten your day even further, here's a hilarious recipe to get you started, from Epicurious. (Hint: It's all about the comments.)
Have a great long weekend!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Toronto's best chocolate chip cookie

Heads up: This is the second last entry in our groundbreaking Coffee Crawl series. Next week, you, the readers, speak. Send your picks for favourite coffee shops where you live (and say why you love them) and we'll print them here.

So, I was strolling along a side street, en route to an afternoon latte at Ella's Uncle, a cute little grab 'n go coffee shop on Dundas Street, with sunny windows, a checkerboard floor, and something good always coming out of the oven. On the way there I see this kid walking towards me and think, "What a Michael Cera wannabe." But then, upon closer inspection, he turned out to be the real McCoy. And let me tell you: Cera definitely wears his own clothing in his movie roles. In fact, I think he was wearing one of the exact same outfits he wore in Superbad
Anyhow, I was just out for my latte fix, but as I went to pay the coffee guy I noticed these incredible-looking cookies under the glass cake dome.
"Are those chocolate chip?" I ask.
"They sure are," he smiles. "Just came out of the oven a half hour ago."
Sold! All-butter, with a crisp bottom, burnished edges, a dense centre full of melting chocolate, and all at not too sinful a size -- it made my day.
But I had to make sure it wasn't a fluke. So, fast-forward to later that week, I return to Ella's Uncle for another smooth organic latte and one more round of those killer cookies. I notice some oatmeal raisin, a couple of fruity looking scones, peanut butter cookies, but no chocolate chip. I am crestfallen. Crestfallen! 
"Um, don't you have any chocolate chip cookies today?" I ask, hopefully.
"We sure do," he points to a cookie sheet cooling in the open kitchen behind him. "Fresh from the oven."
Okay, it's declaration time: I hereby crown Ella's Uncle's cookies to be the new chocolate chip cookie kings of Toronto. Le Gourmand, your oversized cookies, riddled as they are with chocolate chunks, an almost raw centre and toasty exterior, have had a good run. But it's time to pass the torch. 
Latte: $2.75, cookie, $1.50
Pro: They have Ovaltine!
Con: There are a handful of stools, an al fresco bench and even free WiFi, but it's not really a space that encourages hang time. 

Monday, May 11, 2009


I know that in the past I've gone on and on and on about what a genius I am for making a fridge full of nothing into a plate full of something, but I truly think I've outdone myself this time, so my culinary prowess bears mention yet again. 
This dish is an antidote to Rachael Ray's one-pot wonders
First off, can we talk eye appeal? And yes, it's quite lucky that the sugarsnaps and green onion happen to perfectly match my glazed ceramic dish, but let me tell you something; those pops of yellow and pink didn't get there on their own. 
Now let's talk nutrition: Well, the vibrant natural colours are a dead giveaway to good health, and there's almost zero fat in the recipe. And soba noodles? They're made from buckwheat flour, and that can't be a bad thing. 
So while I'd normally eat my nutty soba noodles dead plain, chilled, with just a whisper of dipping sauce, sometimes even soba likes to get out and party
(serves 4)
12 oz (usual size of a package) soba noodles
1 cup sugarsnap peas, stemmed of rough tip and string
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
a glug of good honey (about 1/4 cup)
handful of fresh cilantro leaves, stems removed
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/4 cup water
salt and pepper to taste
about 20 medium shrimp, cooked (or substitute with cubed tofu, cooked chicken, sliced peppers, etc.)
2 Tbsp tamari or light soya sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
3 spring onions (AKA scallions), whites separated from greens, greens sliced
1 mango, peeled, pit removed, fruit cubed
Cook soba noodles according to package directions (usually about 7 minutes in boiling water). In the last two minutes of cooking, drop the sugarsnaps into the water, then drain soba and pods and rinse well with cold water.
While the noodles are cooking, to a blender add jalapeno, honey, cilantro, whites of the green onions, lemon juice, water and salt and pepper. Blitz until blended. Pour over cooked shrimp and let sit for five minutes.
In a large bowl, dress soba and sugarsnaps with tamari and sesame oil, then toss in sliced green onion and mango. Add shrimp with the spicy honey sauce, toss everything together, and serve. 

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Good news/Bad news

Here's the good news: Look at my beautiful apple tree in full bloom!
Here's the bad news: This means I'll be picking up rotting, bee swarmed crabapples well into late summer. 
And here's a question for all of you: There must be something I can do with my bounty of crabapples besides letting them fall and rot. Ideas please?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Coffee Crawl: Part 3

In this, the third installment in our groundbreaking five-part series, which involves me visiting independently owned coffee shops that are walking distance from my house -- I stop by a newbie called the White Squirrel Coffee Shop. 
My hopes are high for the place because until recently, co-owner David Ginsberg was one of the guys behind Aunties & Uncles, which still remains one of my all-star brunch spots. 
The White Squirrel's bi-level space is beautifully designed, all sunlight and communal tables with a focal point wall-sized Toronto Archives city map, which will come in handy should you decide to take advantage of a springtime stroll downtown, or some fun in the expansive Trinity Bellwoods Park, right across the street. 
While the White Squirrel has lots of homemade, affordable snacks, including lemony cornmeal muffins, mandelbroit (AKA Jewish biscotti), giant gingersnap cookies, brownies, crusty sandwiches and cupcake-sized crustless stratas (like a wee quiche), "I want to be known as a coffee shop first," says Ginsberg. To that end, lattes are made from fair trade organic beans; a custom blend that Ginsberg devised, consisting of four different beans making for a medium dark roast. It's all smooth and nuanced and tastes like coming home.
Afternoons bring additional baked pick-me-ups; some days it could be empanadas, others, whole wheat pizzas. There are also 10 flavours of Greg's ice cream on tap, and with the coffee shop's location being spitting distance from the park, well, the whole Greg's thing is a bit of genius. After all, explains Ginsberg, "Now that summer's almost here, we have the biggest patio in the city."
Lattes: $3.25, Cornmeal muffin: $1.50
Pro: Tasty snacks and ice cream and you can't beat the location.
Con: The framed photos of the cafe's namesake albino squirrels of the Trinity Bellwoods park, are somewhat disconcerting. 

Monday, May 4, 2009


I finally saw You Don't Mess with the Zohan and thought it was fairly hilarious. It wasn't Sandler's best movie (that would be Punch-Drink Love or Billy Madison), but it wasn't his worst either. 
One of the funniest things to me was the Zohan's love of hummus; from brushing his teeth with it to his father stirring it into his coffee, and the Zohan using it to put out a four-alarm fire. And while it may not be used thusly in Israel, it really is that ubiquitous. And delicious. But tell me something: Was that really Adam Sandler's body in the movie? If so, colour me impressed. 
Still, I was sad to see in the credits that most of the Tel Aviv scenes were actually shot in Mexico, which makes sense money-wise, but the crew probably didn't have a clue what they were missing out on.
I hope they at least ate some hummus in Mexico. And if they didn't, they can now, thanks to this straight-forward recipe. I've made my hummus recipe a million times, and while I know that flavoured hummus (red pepper and the like) has long been available, I think it's a bastardization of a purely perfect nosh. 
Because if you ask me, You Don't Mess with the Hummus. 
(serves 4-6)
1 small clove garlic, peeled and smashed
1/2 tsp salt
1 19oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained (reserve a handful for garnish)
1 Tbsp tahini (an oily sesame butter; stir before using each time)
1/2 cup good olive oil (reserve a drizzle for garnish)
1/4 cup cold water
a few dashes hot sauce (like Tabasco)
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp cumin
Using a food processor or hand blender, blend the garlic with salt, add chickpeas and blend to puree. Add tahini to the mix. Slowly drizzle in olive oil and process until smooth. Add water until hummus reaches a porridge-like consistency. Add hot sauce, lemon juice and cumin. Blitz again, then pour into a bowl, cover and refrigerate for about an hour. Before serving, drop a few chickpeas on top and drizzle with olive oil and a shake of cumin if you like. Serve with warm, soft pita, crunchy pita chips, or fresh veggies for dipping.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Here yea! Here yeah! Heirloom!

I was in Prince Edward County this week as part of a Slow Food day trip, where we stopped off at local producers like the incredible Fifth Town Artisan Cheese and Sandbanks Estate Winery, as we ate and drank our way through the soon-to-be verdant countryside. At Vickie's Veggies, famous 'round these parts for her glorious tomatoes, we toured the greenhouses and fields, and even picked some spears of asparagus that we ate fresh from the soil. 
Besides the coming growing season, they were also ramping up for their Heirloom Tomato Seedling Sale, which starts Victoria day weekend. If you love growing your own tomatoes -- and who doesn't? -- it's worth the drive to Prince Edward County, as Vickie will have over 100 varieties from which to choose, in every colour and shape imaginable. 
Plus, you can stop by for a Buddha Dog on your way out of town.