Monday, December 26, 2011

The year in review

This year I travelled, I cooked, but mostly I ate. Herewith I present my top 10 memorable food trips of 2011.

1. There are no two ways about it. Copenhagen is awesome.

2. But you know what’s even better? Baiersbronn!

3. And Tofino? Forget about it!

4. Meanwhile, Cleveland was a revelation.

5. I drank so many cocktails and so much tea in Victoria that I almost floated away.

6. I finally made it to Calgary during Stampede, and when I wasn’t eating my weight in funnel cake, I was eating dozens of doughnuts.

7. Freshest seafood ever? Try the east coast.

8. It was my first time in San Antonio, but it won’t be my last.

9. Boston’s food scene is on the upswing. Watch for it.

10. Finally, who says you have to travel far to experience the best? Niagara never fails to impress.

Let us all raise our forks and glasses to a great 2012. Happy New Year everyone!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Donna to the rescue!

Chef Donna Dooher is the owner of the fabulous Mildred's Temple Kitchen, an airy cream and green apple room in Toronto's Liberty Village, where they dish out dependable blueberry buttermilk pancake brunches, chicken avocado club lunches, and gnocchi poutine with oxtail gravy dinners. And now they're getting into the holiday spirit by dishing out advice to those in need. Mainly, skittish home cooks.
Since chef Dooher has planned her fair share of holiday parties over the years, she's decided to lend her expertise to timid hosts, and has opened up her email line for those stumped for ideas or looking for the answer to culinary questions.
Simply email her at with the subject heading "Ask Donna" and she'll get back to you within a day. She launched the "helpline" December 14th and will close it December 21st, so best to start that menu planning now, lest yea be out of luck later.
P.S. This photo is of the butterrific traditional shortbread available at Mary Macleod's. (See? I'm helping too.)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christmas in Cleveland

As we near the end of 2011 and look back on the year that was before I head to Laywines to buy the 2012 insert for my Filofax (some habits die hard), I’m reminded of all the great spots I visited; most of the trips all too brief. But one in particular that stood out as a place that would be perfect to head back to around the holidays, is Cleveland.

Not only was this city a terrific culinary surprise, but they’re also coo-coo for Christmas. Part of it has to do with the fact that the perennial favourite, “A Christmas Story” was filmed there. (I even met someone who was one of the kids in line when Ralphie was pushed down the slide. He recalled getting 10 days off of school and making $60; a fond memory.) The house/museum ode to the movie is also quite popular.

Then there are Snow Days at the Cleveland Indians’ Progressive Field, which includes a regulation sized frozen diamond, a skating rink, snow tubing slides, and all sorts of fun wintry games.

There’s also the annual “How the Kishka Saves Christmas”, which includes wieners, polkas and the traditional stringing of the sauerkraut on the Christmas tree at Happy Dog.

Even so, while I was in Cleveland the Christmas-themed thing I heard about most was the short-lived, beloved seasonal Christmas Ale brewed up at the local Great Lakes Brewing Company. This stuff is made with gallons of honey, spiced with fresh ginger and cinnamon, is 7.5% alcohol, and is known to make people behave very, very badly.

The brewery has several pub rooms, from the Taproom, with its 1890s-era Mahogany bar, to the Beer Cellar, which would be my regular haunt if I lived in Cleveland: It’s a low, intimate turn-of-the-century “rathskeller” with stone walls, brick floors and a wooden bar strung with twinkly lights. (Historically, it was the building’s basement for seed and feed.) The beer is fresh from the tap and the warm, salty pretzels are to die for. Certainly something to give thanks for in Cleveland this Christmas.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Snack of the Day: Homemade microwaved popcorn

I love popcorn. In fact, I didn’t realize how much I loved popcorn until I was searching for a past blog post and found that I’ve talked about popcorn here and here and here and here and probably a bunch of other places too, but I think I’ve made my point.

Yet even though I eat more microwaved popcorn than I care to admit, do you know what I don’t love about it? That greasy, yellow, chemically stuff that lines the bags.

The solution? PaperChef parchment cooking bags. Using these bags makes popcorn as light as air-popped but without the klunky popper.

All you do is pour ½ cup of popcorn kernels into a parchment bag, fold the top over at least three times (you don’t want the steam – or popcorn – to escape), and pop it in the microwave on high for about 2 ½ minutes. Then pour popcorn into a bowl and top with melted butter and salt or whatever else you choose.

This, my friends, is what you call a snacking game-changer.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Enough already

Okay Toronto, I'm officially sick of it. Over it. Perturbed. Perplexed. Vexed.
Why don't we have food trucks? Nobody has ever really explained the reasons to me.
Because the strange thing is, we've actually had food trucks for years, scattered throughout downtown, on the streets outside of Nathan Phillips Square and on Front Street near the ACC/Rogers Centre. On the UofT Campus, too. All of the fries with gravy, ice cream and hot dogs you could ever want. Even Chinese food.
But nothing more, and nothing new. Why?
Could it be that Mayor Rob Ford hasn't tasted the Nirvana that is the freshly prepared multi-ethnic cuisine on wheels featured in just about every major American city I visit (plus Vancouver, to great effect)?
I've had hot, crispy falafel in Manhattan and a bright Banh Mi in Boston.
There are entire shows dedicated to the topic, for goodness sake, as well as cookbooks and apps. (This thing is officially happening, people!)
Food truck food is largely honest affordable food made by passionate people using fresh ingredients and indigenous (or creative takes on trusted) recipes.
In other words, it's exactly what Toronto is all about.
So enough already. Let's cut the red tape and get this truck moving.
If anyone knows how I can help, let me know, and then I'll let everyone else know.
And then soon enough, we'll be eating grilled cheese sandwiches and kimchee tacos, and before too long we'll never know an evening that is not brightened by a Montreal smoked meat sandwich or a warm Belgian waffle by moonlight.
It will be a beautiful thing.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Eat Here: Quartino

I just got back from a whirlwind weekend trip to the Windy City, where I was checked into the Trump Hotel Chicago, to check out the Trump lifestyle ahead of the January 31st opening of the Trump Hotel Toronto. (Hint: Cannot wait.) There was so much going on in Chicago this weekend. It happened to be the 20th annual Magnificent Mile Lights Festival on Saturday night, which starts the holiday season in earnest with a grand parade led by Grand Marshals Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse and thousands of their friends. It's the busiest weekend of the year in the city, and there were over a million people taking in the glittery parade and fireworks, a mass of humanity woven across bridges and through the streets while we took in the view from our plush chairs in the hotel's buzzy Rebar cocktail lounge while slinging back martinis and scarfing sushi. (Irony alert: This year's parade was sponsored by BMO Harris Bank, AKA, the Bank of Montreal.)
More on Trump later. For now, I'd like to talk about a delicious restaurant just a couple of blocks from the hotel, called Quartino. Man, was this place ever good. Though it's big and boisterous, chef John Coletta and crew still make everything in house, from the mozzarella to the sauces and sausages, salumi and pastas and desserts, and as a side note, their incongruous Sangria is killer.
They practically sent out the entire menu for our group to taste, from the amazing steamed clams in a pino grigo and red chili broth to sicilian caponata, roasted beet salad with ricotta salata and walnuts, to eggplant parmigiana, beef short ribs, crispy polenta fries, dates wrapped in pancetta, gnocchi with green beans and arugula pesto, skate wing with Brussels sprouts and pancetta, and a couple of signature pizzas including an impeccable thin-crust margherita.
And there wasn't a wrong answer in the bunch.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Gold Medal Eats

Earlier this week my friend Ivy scored us some media tickets to the annual Gold Medal Plates culinary competition cum Olympic fundraiser in Toronto, and though I had attended once before and totally loved it, this year's soiree was even better. I didn’t try all of the competing plates (most, but not all), still, the dishes I ate were all delicately composed while busting a move with flavour and creativity.

Two things stood out though: There were no female executive chefs competing, and most of the dishes were needlessly heavy. (I can’t help but think some would have been a little lighter had there been a woman or two at the propane stoves, as in years past.) That said, my favourite dish, and the winning dish, happened to be both gorgeous to look at and sprightly on the tongue.

It was the handiwork of Chef Jonathan Gushue of Langdon Hall Country House Hotel & Spa. I’ve had his food before, and the chef is nothing short of a practitioner of white magic in the kitchen with all things local, vegetal, snouty and swimmy. He took home the gold for his dish of creamy salsify topped by Langdon Hall’s own Brussels sprouts leaves, crispy black salsify chips, all tossed around a preserved oyster -- just a hint of vinegar in it -- plus grated duck’s egg and smoked trout caviar for good measure. Somehow, it all formed a perfect bite, especially so with a taster glass of Organized Crime, 2009, Fume Blanc, also the winning wine pairing of the night.

Chef Gushue will compete at the Canadian Culinary Championships, the Gold Medal Plates Finale, held in Kelowna in February, 2012. Buy your tickets now (and visit the incredible Sparkling Hill Resort while you’re there), or just dig deep and donate to a great cause, Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes. They bring us all so much pride. Let’s show them how proud we are of them.

P.S. I took this photo at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, AKA, the Best Olympics Ever!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

It’s getting cold out there

Let’s warm up with some seasonally appropriate, soul-soothing Broccoli Cheddar soup. While it’s not exactly a new taste sensation, this no-fuss winning combo of greens and cheese never goes out of style.

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

(serves 4)


1 tbsp butter

1 cooking onion, chopped

1 large head of broccoli, florets cut into medium pieces, stems peeled and roughly chopped

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

½ tsp salt

½ tsp black pepper

pinch of cayenne

4 cups vegetable or chicken stock

½ cup cream (whatever you’ve got, from 5% to 18%)

2 cups grated sharp cheddar, plus extra for garnish.


1. In a large saucepan heat butter over medium, fry onion for several minutes, then add chopped broccoli, carrots, salt and pepper and cayenne. Cook for 5 minutes more, stirring often.

2. Add stock, bring to a boil, cover and lower heat to medium-low for 30 minutes. Remove from heat; get out the immersion blender and puree.

3. Add cream and cheese, heat on low for several minutes (do not let in boil), taste for seasoning and serve it hot, with an extra bit of cheese and pepper for good measure.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A photo and 1,200 words

I can’t believe it’s already been ten years since my (then) enRoute editor Arjun had a short meeting with me on a sunny Montreal patio with the idea that I should: “Eat across Canada and do my thing.” Seriously, those were his full instructions.

From there, together we did resto research and amassed our first panel of food writers who recommended the best new places I should eat in their hometowns. Then we booked me into Holiday Inns across the country (the one true mistake of that trip), and off I went.

Were we overly ambitious that first year? Seeing as I ate at over 50 restaurants during a month of travelling, some days hitting two cities and eating two three-course meals per day -- I'd say yes. And did I have to buy a new pair of jeans by the time I had rounded the west and was headed back east to Montreal? Indubitably.

But it was good, tasty fun that I wouldn't have changed for the world, then I did it again the following year and then I was full.

I still write regularly for enRoute and in fact have a feature in the splashy new Food Issue, which hits seatbacks November 1st. This is the story that matches this photo (though do try to snag a hard copy of the magazine for all the sumptuous photos, spirited stories and lovely layouts).

I've been wanting to tell people about the great Black Forest region called Baiersbronn, which I visited in March, and now that the November issue is out I can finally yammer on about it.

Know that this is a place you should definitely visit, and an area I plan to return to. Not just because it’s easy to get to and gorgeous and your Michelin-starred dollars go far and the spas are incredible and the hotels and service are peerless. But also because the people are nice and the Black Forest cake is to die for. I travel a lot, maybe too much because it's becoming rarer for a place to surprise and enchant as much as Baiersbronn did.

I'm telling you, it really knocked my lederhosen off.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Snack of the day

Childhood friends can be divided into two factions: Those who grew up eating sweet cereal, and those who snacked at the homes of those whose nice moms bought them sweet cold cereals. For a brief moment I was the former, but became the latter when my mom went back to school to become a Dietitian. Suddenly, out went the Cap'n Crunch and Pop-Tarts, in came the demerara sugar and Tofutti. Trying times, indeed.
Even so, after that, the nutritional lessons somehow stuck and as an adult I never reverted back to sweet cereals. That is, until last week when I bought home a box of something I simply could not resist.
A quick survey of the box showed nutritional promise, with its whole grains, low fat, seven vitamins and free Yoplait coupon.
Upon comparing it to my box of Great Grains cereal (also new to me, and I must admit I'm not enjoying it at all), this new Chocolate Cheerios label's news got even more cheery. Less fat than the "healthy" cereal, less sodium, and less sugar too, (though there is still way too much sugar in it to serve to kids in the morning; consider it a kinder sweet snack.) What's more, the fibre and vitamins post lackluster standings, but that's what fruits and veggies are for.
When I opt for a cold breakfast cereal I'm asking for a great tasting instant meal with my morning tea that'll give me a quick start to the day so that I have enough energy to bike to work before indulging in a secondary breakfast of coffee with cream and sundry pastries. (Oopsies.)
Of course, all of this Chocolate Cheerios news means nothing if the taste isn't there. Well let me tell you, it's there alright, a perfect mix of toasted Os with a deep hit of sweet, cocoa-y childhood nostalgia. This will be my new go-to breakfast cereal, as it also works wonders as a chocolate-satiating snack.
And if I happen to feel like Seinfeld while eating cold cereal in the middle of the day, so much the better.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Eat Here: Bengal Lounge

Admittedly, I was late to the poutine party, but when I finally arrived I put on my dancing shoes and never left. What’s not to love? Fresh cut fries, soulful gravy, squeaky cheese curds and a fork for shoveling -- the only thing that does poutine one better is an icy Coke or a local draft to wash it all down. Oh, and some great surroundings.

Which brings us to Victoria’s Fairmont Empress hotel, and me, tucked into a cozy high-back chair in the famed Bengal Lounge, a tiger hide sprawled over the fireplace, a heaping dish of curry poutine in the middle of our table.

The idea for the Bengal Lounge was inspired by Queen Victoria’s role as the Empress of India, and as such the lounge has been serving curry cuisine (there's a daily buffet) and signature cocktails, such as the Ivory Hunter and Hemingway Special since the mid-50s. (The Bengal Tiger is my personal favourite.)

Now getting back to that curry poutine; while it’s not a classic poutine (more of a generous portion of chicken curry on fries with some cheese), it is delicious. And even if you’re not in the mood for curry poutine I still suggest you pop into the Bengal Lounge for a step back in time in an elegant room with professional waiters in a storied hotel in a lovely, lovely city.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Toronto, the delicious

It’s back to business at The National Nosh, which means me yammering on and on about what I’ve done and eaten lately, and in this post in particular, why I love Toronto so much.

Let’s take yesterday as an example. I had some afternoon errands to run so hopped on my bike with my little list. First stop was Ezra’s Pound for a quick pick-me-up, and sitting on that sunny patio sipping the city’s best coffee put me in the perfect frame of mind.

Then off I went to Lululemon to use up a gift card (scored a gorgeous sweater, complete with holes for my thumbs), some antihistamines from Shopper’s, stopped for a snack of dumplings at the semi-new food stalls at Scadding Court, then headed over to Kensington Market to pick up some spinach and ginger (I’m testing a paneer recipe), and za’atar. I’m heading to Vancouver next week to spend Rosh Hashanah with my best bud Natasha, and I’ll be cooking up two Middle Eastern feasts for somewhere in the range of 20-60 people, and Natasha says you can’t buy za’atar in Vancouver. (Note: Though Tash is an amazing friend, wife, mother, daughter and doctor, she’s also a compulsive liar.)

So let’s tally up my hour spent tooling around downtown: Free-trade coffee, Japanese dumplings, fresh veg and exotic spices, and then a bunch of us went for dinner in Koreatown. In other words, a typical day in Toronto.

What else am I excited about lately? Well, you should know that I’m entering week two of a major home renovation (the dust from which being the primary reason for the aforementioned antihistamines). My kitchen will be growing from about 4x4” to at least quadruple that size, and I simply cannot wait. Designed by my talented colleague at House & Home magazine, Mr. Cameron MacNeil, it’s going to be so gorgeous that I may even start giving cooking lessons, just so that strangers can see it and become enraged with jealously.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The return of the Nosh?

Is the National Nosh back in business, or am I merely dipping my big toe back in to test the waters? I honestly can't decide. On the one hand, I really want to tell you all about the rest of my summer -- August was a doozie. I went bloodworming in Yarmouth, snorkelled with belugas in Churchill, ate smushies in Copenhagen and dined my way through Anchorage as their early autumn set in (pictured here).

Too many incredible experiences to share in one post, but in case you didn't know, the world is full of nice people and great things to eat -- and a surprising number of rainbows. So if you have the chance to travel, take it.

But getting back to my original point, does the Interweb really need another food blog? I'll let you decide.

If I get 10 comments at this site saying yes from 10 different people within the next week, I will continue the National Nosh for the foreseeable future. Otherwise we'll call it a day, and you can always keep up with me in the newspapers and magazines or via "new media".

Either way, it's been a slice.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Summer break

Hello people of the Internet.
Just a quick 'hey' to say I've decided it's too hot and too summery to be cooking or sitting at a computer (when I'm not cooking or sitting at a computer for work.)
Instead, I'm going to go swimming and eat more ice cream, and I'll see you back here around Labour Day, unless something really big happens that I want to tell you about.
So until then, keep up with me at my blog at House & Home magazine, my weekly column at the National Post, etc.
And until then, have a sweet and shvitzy rest of your summer!

Friday, July 15, 2011

The 5lb question

Just curious: Is it possible to gain five pounds in two days? Because I’m not even kidding, I think that just happened to me.

Maybe I should lay off the deep fried Snickers bars and blooming onions? Perhaps I should take a pass next time someone offers me homemade breadsticks, or hand-made doughnuts?

Possibly, I should start drinking less wine and root beer, and more water? Nahh.

I think the better plan, right after I get back from my weekend trip to Yarmouth, where I’ll be judging a chowder contest and then eating my weight in lobster and oysters – yes, right after that, maybe I’ll start working on my cardio.

But until then, I'll continue to eat my face off. After all, I can always lose these extra pounds, but summer comes but once a year.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Stampede, y'all

A short posting today because I've got to catch my fight to Calgary in a few minutes as I'm heading off to see the Greatest Show on Earth. It may be the first time I'll be taking in the Stampede, but it won't be my first time eating some tasty Alberta vittles. I'm going to be checking out the Chuckwagon Races and the Stampede Rodeo, and I'll even have a behind-the-scenes Chute Tour of the bucking chutes, which sounds awesome even though I'm not really sure what it means, (though I figure bucking is involved.)
And you can get bet your bottom dollar that I'll be eating lots. I'll be eating Alberta beef and oysters and especially midway food (check out the National Post next weekend for my photographic deep-fried journey.)
The bottom line is, I'm hitting Calgary for a weekend of rootin' tootin' cowboy fun.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Not your everyday food festival

It’s the name of the event that first grabbed me: Right Some Good. So evocative of Canada’s East Coast. So full of tasty promise.

Tickets are now on sale for 10 days worth of delicious adventures on Cape Breton Island; the new food festival runs from August 25th to September 4th.

The plan is, a number of global Michelin-starred chefs – such as Chef Atul Kochhar of London, the first Indian chef to ever receive a Michelin Star rating, and Chef Javier Vargas Guimaray of Peru, who has won the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest ceviche -- will prepare gourmet feasts using steadfastly sustainable good old Cape Breton ingredients.

Each meal will involve a star chef and skilled team, including an aspiring junior chef selected from applications across the country. Dinner guests will also experience some down home Cape Breton musical talent and hospitality at each unique venue across the island.

While toe-tapping and whiskey sipping, diners will dive into dishes like rhubarb glazed Bras d’Or pork rack, Mira Bay lobster stuffed with shellfish butter, and maple apple dumplings.

All 10 custom menus will focus on ingredients from the sea, forests and fields of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, so you know it’s going to be a good old time -- with some right good food.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Eat here: Drake Summer School

The Drake Hotel is like that slightly smarter, more fashionable best friend: You love hanging with her but sometimes she makes you so jealous you could barf. Full of bright ideas and usually one step ahead of the best trends, the Drake has maintained its vision of being a hotbed for culture, always changing, never resting.
When it first launched (ideally in my neighbourhood), I liked the place but didn't love the food. We'd go for drinks, sometimes drinks would turn into so-so snacks, but in all these years I never once ate in the dining room.
Things took a dramatic turn for the better when Chef Anthony Rose was hired, his love of great ingredients and slightly upscale comfort food translating into a menu of things you want to eat.
Case in point: The brand new Drake Summer School Dining Hall, which launched this week and runs to September 4. Located in the dining room proper, the space has been designed as a cheeky ode to a sort of circa 1940s British boarding school -- think Hogwarts meets Hogtown. Basically, the walls are hung with all sorts of old school photos, trophies, textbooks and other crap, while communal tables look like retrofitted bowling alley lanes slung with comfy chairs and banquettes.
And then there's the food. Cocktails aim high but for me, fell short. Too much kitsch (eg. emptying out juice boxes and refilling them with dribbly sweet vodka-spiked lavender lemonade.) I love a solid theme, but hate sticky fingers. (Go to the bar to get a proper delicious Drake cocktail.)
The menu is a long list of both re-imagined school day favourites and retro classics, including a spectacular creamy tomato alphabet soup, Thousand Islands-kicked Shrimp Louis, buttery mushy peas and a gargantuan two-pound aged Cumbrae's rib steak (suitable for two feasters) that was incredibly cooked and boasted a whiff of smoke (teacher's lounge?)
You'll like Drake Summer School because it's hot, tasty fun, and it's just here during summertime, then it's gone.
Next up for the Drake's Dining Roadshow: Chinatown launches September 8th.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Snack of the Day: Popcorn, Indiana

Though I choose “sweet” over “salty” 85% of the time, there’s something about this Popcorn, Indiana white cheddar popcorn that hits me right in my happy place. Like the bag says, it’s crunchy, crispy, sharp and savoury, all at the same time. It’s the best bagged popcorn I’ve tried, and I cannot. Stop. Eating. It. (Help!)

Friday, June 10, 2011

I left my heart in San Antonio...

The recent launch of the stunning Pearl Brewery complex along San Antonio’s River Walk, anchored by the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) plus the school’s strong focus on the local Latino gastronomic aesthetic have helped give this rich and tasty American food culture the legitimacy it deserves.

Not that it needs a fancy culinary school to lend it legitimacy. But since over 80% of the kitchen workers in the southern states are of Latino descent, this gives them the opportunity to helm kitchens as head chefs with culinary degrees in their back pockets while cooking their own food.

In addition to the Latino-infused CIA, gourmet shops and restaurants like La Gloria (street foods of Mexico), there’s a Saturday Farmers Market in this River Walk extension, which together illustrate how Latin American food has become an important part of the larger American culinary cannon.

When I was speaking at a conference in San Antonio (or as I like to call it, Shvitzy Antonio) earlier this week, I was taken aback by bursts of colour and music everywhere, the kind people and the great food. From our waiter at Luke (star chef John Besh’s first restaurant outside of New Orlean’s), who joked about putting roofies in our French “75” cocktails, to the amazing receptions held at the famed Mi Tierra, and then the closing night event where a smiling group of Brazilian dancers conga lined us from the manicured lawns out onto our waiting river boats, the sweltering heat added even more exotica to this small but proud American city, where the tacos are great, but the margaritas are even better.