Restaurants

LUMA lounge

This restaurant and lounge is on the second floor of the TIFF lightbox, and one of the recent additions to the Oliver and Bonacini restaurant group.

We were here on a warm Friday night for after work drinks. The window bar was the perfect perch for people watching – a calm and air conditioned oasis overlooking the well trodden entertainment strip on King West.

The lounge is modern and sleek, and open to the main TIFF building on one side, and connected to the main restaurant on the other. The little bound hardback menu did not fail to impart a feeling of relaxed luxury, even if just slightly overpriced. That said, cocktails were exquisitely mixed with premium liquors, balancing delicate flavours and bearing whimsical film themed names. And wine was served at the perfect temperature in the most appropriate stem wear.

Appetizers were delicious – the warmed olives burst with flavour, and the lamb meatballs were delightfully curried morsels. Like the drinks, everything was served with attention to detail.

A great place for a drink. Definitely a treat, but not for the every day.

250 King West

http://www.oliverbonacini.com/Luma.aspx

Restaurants

Barque Smokehouse

Meat lovers, rejoice! After nearly a decade’s barrage of vegan and vegetarian joints in the city, we are seeing a carnivore revolution!

My mouth started watering the instant my nose caught a whiff of the smokehouse. At the door, the hostess took my name and number, and after some back and forth and mix-ups, which made me seriously consider finding dinner elsewhere on the Roncy strip, we were seated at the kitchen bar 40 minutes later.

The ambiance was comfortable country chic, like a glammed up version of a ranch grill for us city folk. The food followed suit: good, but with more focus on presentation and frills than necessary. It felt like we were paying more for the décor and the novelty, rather than good, down-to-earth barbeque.

We were served with complementary Q water, sparkling of course (since we had the choice), and a bucket of popcorn. Tantalizing glimpses of the grill made it difficult to focus on the menu. After much deliberation, we ordered the sampler, which gave us the opportunity to try a bit of everything.

The brisket was amazingly melt-in-your-mouth, moist and succulent. The ribs were richly layered with sauce and fell off the bone. And the chicken… meh. Stick with the big meats. The sides were a good complement to the barbeque, but nothing special. We had the caesar salad and corn cobs. The food was served up neatly on a platter with mini tongs, along with three different sauces and a brush for DIY basting.

A decadent meal calls for dessert, and the pecan pie didn’t fail to deliver. I rolled out of the restaurant with mixed reviews tumbling in my head. The verdict: even with the rude hostess and overpriced menu, I’d go back just for another taste of that brisket! And the Q sparkling wasn’t bad either.

299 Roncesvalles Ave

Healthy cooking Restaurants Vegan/Vegetarian

Hibiscus Cafe – salads, soups, crepes, and more!

One of our long standing Kensington Market staples, this little café offers an eclectic mix of vegan soups, salads, and crepes, gluten free baked goods, and dairy free ice cream and smoothies. Far from a wacky alternative health food store, it’s actually a cozy eatery churning out delicious light meals that just happen to be healthful. We’ve watched this place get more and more popular over the years, and although we’ve long lost our claim to the coveted window table, we keep going back just for the food .

My favourite is the mixed salad, which comes in a large bowl with generous scoops of their popular quinoa, lentil, green bean, tofu, carrot, sweet potato (and many other) salads – everything but lettuce! The large salads are also topped with a crispy sweet raw cracker (I wish they sold these in boxes!).

Savory buckwheat crepes come with a variety of fillings. The spinach, mushroom, and mozzarella crepe has a tangy pesto that gives an extra zing.

Soups are thick and heavily herbed – perfect to round out a meal, but not enough to stand out on its own.

The sweets are outstanding, and demonstrate creative experimentation and well thought out flavour combinations (a shout-out to our friend Grace!). The cookies made of rice flour are light and crispy – more wafer than doughy (try the green tea cookie). The non-dairy cream is creamy, and packed with flavour (recommend the black sesame or ginger). And the soy smoothies are lightly sweet and frothy (try strawberry).

Word on the street is that Hibiscus also makes their own soy milk and tofu.

One warning – this place is tiny. If you don’t want to wait for a table while literally hovering over other diners, get there earlier than 1pm. Patience is also required, as service is friendly but can be slow. And the ambiance encourages lingering over a cup of fair trade soy latte.

$15-30 for a meal for two.
238 Augusta Ave.

Recipes Soups and Stews

Lobster bisque

Last night, at a local oyster joint, we were tantalized by the lobster platters arriving at out neighbouring tables. So, we ordered one too! At the end of the meal, having teared into the succulent tail and juicy claws, I asked for the remainder to be packed to-go. Today, that left over lobster was turned into a creamy bisque. It was a bit of an experienment, but I was surprised how easy it was. The lobster broth was surprisingly flavourful, salty and sweetly fishy (in a good way:)

1 left over lobster (head, legs, and whatever shells you have)
1/4 cup celery, diced
1/4 cup carrots, diced
1/4 cup onions, diced
1 tomato, diced
3-4 cup boiling water
splash of sherry or white wine
1 cup fish stock (I used 1/2 tsp of powdered dashi mixed in water)
pinch of thyme
1/4 cup heavy cream
cornstarch
chives, chopped for garnish
salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot, cover left over lobster with hot water, and simmer for 2 hours. (If there is any meat left in the lobster, remove and reserve before boiling). Remove the lobster shells from the broth. Strain the broth if necessary to remove all the bits.

In a fresh pot, sautee celery, carrots, and onion until tender. Toss in thyme and sherry or wine. Then immediately add lobster broth and fish stock, and simmer for 30 mins. Blend well with a handblender and mix in reserved lobster meat, cream, salt and pepper. Thicken with cornstarch if necessary.

Serve with a swirl of cream and garnish with chopped chives. Makes about 6 servings.

Meat Recipes

Turkey cranberry meatloaf

Turkey meatloaf with a carrot heart center
Turkey meatloaf with a carrot heart center and vegetables and mashed potatoes

Here is an alternative for a turkey dinner that is easy and works well for large and small groups. It is perfect for holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving. It uses the same flavors as a turkey dinner, and tastes great with the traditional mashed potatoes, gravy and stuffing.

Ingredients:

500 g minced turkey or chicken
1 egg
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 apple, grated
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2-3 tablespoons dried sage leaves
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
Dried cranberries or cranberry sauce

– mix onion, apple, garlic, sage, parsley and breadcrumbs.
– add the minced meat, and mix by hand.
– add egg and mix until the meat is well mixed.
– place meat evenly in the pan.

*optional: place a carrot cut into a heart shape in the middle of the loaf so that, when sliced, a heart can be seen in the middle. Consider precooking the carrot, either by boiling or steaming, to ensure that it is fully cooked. As a bonus, less baking time is required. This is especially good for those who often worry whether the middle of the loaf is cooked. And it is cute!*

– press the dried cranberries onto the top of the loaf. Alternatively, coat with a layer of cranberry sauce.
– cover with foil and bake for about 1-1.5 hours at 180 degrees Celsius.

– remove from the oven and allow to sit for 15-30 minutes.

Turkey meatloaf topped with cranberries
Turkey meatloaf topped with cranberries

– slice and serve hot.

A slice of turkey meatloaf
A slice of turkey meatloaf
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Recipes

Christmas Beef Wellington

One of my favorite traditions (adopted from my in-laws) is preparing a Beef Wellington for Christmas dinner. What is more indulgent than tender beef tenderloin, smothered in pate, mushrooms and onions, and wrapped in flaky puff pastry, then served with all the roast dinner trimmings?

This dish is notoriously finicky to make, and the goal is a beef wellington where all the components are perfectly cooked (meat medium-rare, pate heated through but not soggy, and pastry perfectly browned). Luckily, even not-too-perfect beef wellington tastes great – which is awesome for someone practicing for repeated consistency in beef wellington roasting

This year, I opted to try making individual beef wellington servings. This method makes it easier to suit everyone’s taste for beef roast, from very well-done to very rare. It also makes serving and plating much easier. And who would ever complain about the additional pastry to filling ratio?

Ingredients:

– 1 lb of beef tenderloin, cut into 4 medallions about 1 inch thick (AKA 4 slices of filet mignon)

– chunky pork pate

– 4-5 white mushrooms, sliced

– 1/4 onion, diced

– 1 clove garlic, minced

– 1/2 tbsp butter

– thyme, salt, and pepper

– 1 egg (to make an egg wash)

– cooking oil.

– puff pastry (store- bought or home made. I like to use a rough puff pastry recipe, which can be found online)

Season the beef on all sides with salt and pepper. Then sear on all sides in a pan on high heat (only sear about 1/3 way to desired done-ness. For medium-rare, no more than 30 seconds per side. For well-done, about 1 minute per side). Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, saute mushrooms, onions, butter, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper, until everything is cooked through. I like to cook this slowly until the onions caramelize. Set aside to cool.

Lay out sheets of puff pastry, and cut to size (approximately 4 inches x 6 inches). For each beef wellington, place the beef in the center of the pastry, top with a slice of pate, and then a spoonful of the mushroom mixture. Carefully wrap the pastry around the filling, pinching to seal all sides (I usually do a seam a long the top, and then on both sides). Poke 2-3 holes at the top using a toothpick or fork. Then brush eggwash on top.

Bake at 425 F for 20-25 mins (or until the pastry is golden brown on top).

Pictures above and below: individual beef wellingtons served with roasted root vegetables, brussel sprouts, and a red wine gravy.

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Fusion Japanese food Recipes

SPAM onigiri (rice ball)

SPAM onigiri (rice ball)
SPAM onigiri (rice ball)

You read it right. This post is for spam rice balls. Spam, as in the processed meat, which is popular in the heavily american-influenced southern Japanese island of Okinawa. Incorporating the American canned meat into their Japanese food, spam onigiri is an interesting fusion food that is simple to make, and is handy for bentos.

Ingredients:
Spam
Cooked rice
Nori
Salted water
Cheese (optional)
Ketchup (optional)
BBQ sauce (optional)
Teriyaki sauce (optional)
Omelet (optional)

-cook white rice as usual
– slice spam horizontally into ~3/4cm thick slices

– fry spam on both sides in a pan

– lay out the spam and place optional ingredients onto the middle of the spam slice

– prepare rice by using hands wetted in salt water to form rice balls about the same shape as the spam slices.
– place rice on top of the spam

– lightly press the meat and the rice together
– wrap a strip of nori around the rice ball

Eat hot or cold. These are great for bentos, or simply wrapped in plastic wrap, they are easily portable.

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Breakfast Recipes

Quiche with ham, vegetables, basil and cheese

Ingredients:
1 cup diced cheese
1 cup diced ham
1 tbsp dried basil leaves
1 tbsp dried parsley leaves
1 diced tomato
1 diced onion
3 Eggs
2 tbsp cream
salt and pepper to taste
1 uncooked 9″ pie crust (pate brisee crust recipe can be found here)

– lightly fry onion and ham
– add in tomato
– allow to cool
– combine milk and eggs
– mix in basil, parsley, ham and onion mix
– sprinkle cheese onto the bottom on the pie crust
– pour the egg mixture into the pie, leaving about 1 cm from the top of the pie
– bake at 350F for about 40-50 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and the filling has set and browned
– serve hot or cold

Healthy cooking Middle Eastern Recipes Vegan/Vegetarian

Za’atar

manakish with za’atar spice mix
Manakish with za’atar spice mix

Za’atar is a middle eastern mixture of spices including thyme, oregano, majoram, savory, sesame seeds, and salt. It can be used in a variety of middle eastern dishes, including manakish bread, and za’atar chicken.

Here is a simple recipe for the za’atar spice mix.

2/3 cup oregano
1/3 cup marjoram
1 cup thyme
1/3 cup savory
1/2 cup sumac
2 cups sesame seeds
About 4-8 teaspoon salt

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Japanese food Recipes

Teriyaki buri

Buri, or Japanese amberjack/yellowtail is a fish that is known for its high fat content, and is widely used in foods like sushi (hamachi), and in hot pots. This recipe describes a recipe for teriyaki buri.

Teriyaki is a sweet sauce basically made of sugar, soy sauce, and mirin.

Ingredients:

Buri fillets
Salt (a little)
Sake (a little)
Vegetable oil
1 tbs sugar
2 tbs soy sauce
2 tbs mirin

Marinate fillets in sake with a little salt for about 5-10 minutes.

Heat oil in a frying pan.

Fry fish until sides are lightly browned.

Frying buri
Frying buri

Remove oil from pan.

Mix mirin, sugar and soy sauce, add to the fish in the pan and allow to simmer at low heat for about 10 minutes to allow sauce to thicken.

Remove fish from pan, and spoon a few tablespoons of the teriyaki sauce over the fish before serving.