Thursday, July 21, 2011

Life from Scratch

Life from Scratch
Written by Melissa Ford

ISBN-10: 1935661981
ISBN-13: 9781935661986
Publisher: Bell Bridge Books
e-book: 208 pages

This is another title I found from NetGalley (my second e-book!), I requested it because the description piqued my interest. It's about a newly divorced woman, Rachel Goldman, who starts a blog (aptly titled Life from Scratch, tagline: blogging about life one scrambled egg at a time) about teaching herself to cook. Something she never bothered to learn when she was married. Rachel worked at the New York City Library as a graphic designer and has taken the year off to "find herself" if you will. I know, not the most original idea. Her husband, too busying trying to make partner at his law firm was never around and so their relationship lacked everything Rachel wanted.

Here's an excerpt of the first page of the book had me laughing with guilt already, it starts off with this blog post:
June Cleaver beat the crap out of me with her rolling pin.

In my dream, Martha Stewart, June Cleaver, Bree Van De Kamp, and Marion Cunningham (who they were all affectionately calling “Mrs. C”) were baking a pie together in my kitchen and arguing about the best way to pit cherries. They hadn’t really noticed me lounging around by the sink until I pointed out what a waste of time it would be to pit your own cherries when there were perfectly decent ones that you could get in a can when June Cleaver turned with a maniacal gleam in her eye and started beating me on the face and shoulders with her flour-dusted rolling pin.

Just imagine what she would have done to me if I had suggested frozen pie crust....
Yes, we've all had that thought when we pit our own cherries and make our own pie dough. Sometimes working with store-bought things are easier. Plus, I love the group of women that are in her kitchen dreams!

The book doesn't include recipes, but I like it for capturing a blogger's experience. She learns about sitestalker and finds out that she does have a lot of readers. She frets and compares herself to Smitten Kitchen and Pioneer Women Cooks when her blog is nominated for Bloscars. Really, who can compete?

In the end, this book read like a mash-up of Emily Giffin's Baby Proof and Sophie Kinsella's The Undomestic Goddess. It's a light, even a little sexy, and easy-to-read novel that makes it a good beach or summer read. The voice of Rachel is candid and humourous, so while she's still pining over her ex-husband, you can see that her year alone has really helped her grown.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

LPK's Culinary Groove

718 Queen Street East
Toronto, ON M4M 1H2
(416) 461-6440

This shop is only a couple stores down from Beatrice & Desmond, so we decided to pay it a visit too! Lime green and bright, I was a little sad that their display case wasn't working that day. Due to the heat, they had to move all their treats to the fridge in the back.

At least the cupcakes were still visible on their cake stands. I picked the coconut lime cupcake, upon ordering, I was asked if I had any dietary restrictions (they also offer vegan and gluten-free desserts), and then told that that was their bestselling cake combination. =)

Desmond & Beatrice

Bakeshop and Cupcakery
750A Queen Street East
Toronto, ON M4M 1H4
(647) 352-2257

Our friend, Mike, e-mailed us the above photo from his phone to let us know that he spotted a new cupcake shop. Thanks Mike!

Howard and I went to visit before dinner at Table 17. The shop is bright and airy. There's four seats up front near the window (with pillows). To the right is a wall of art - some cute and some clever ones. On the left, two chalkboard menus and the cashier counter with displayed cupcakes. I was hoping for a whoopie pie too, but it looks like they were all out that day.

We had plenty of flavours to choose from that day - coconut, double chocolate, red velvet, vanilla, blackberry lemon, and mint cookies and cream. We packed one blackberry lemon cupcake to go!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Table 17


Table 17
782 Queen Street East
Toronto, ON M4M 1H4
(416) 519-1851

Howard and I stopped by two more dessert places before heading to dinner, but since we didn't eat those until after, we'll post them after this. I made us reservations at Table 17 since it was near the end of our dessert run.

All afternoon Howard had been complaining that he didn't have any meat products. Which was true, we started the day with brunch - homemade chocolate chip pancakes with maple syrup. Then we went to La Bamboche and the Designer Cookie for desserts. So to remedy this, I told him that we'll have meat for dinner. Fair is fair, there has to be balance in our relationship!

We showed up a bit earlier than our reservations, but they seemed okay with it. To my joy, we even got a seat by the window - which I prefer because it allows me to take better photos. =)

It's an interesting restaurant setup, I didn't realize that there were two rooms at first. The one you enter includes the bar, a little look into the kitchen, a staircase (to private dining is my guess), and a couple of tables. The main dining room has the majority of tables and one in the centre that hosts the water pitchers, cutlery, napkins, pepper, bread, and olive oil. It was refreshing to see the staff go there, instead of a nook off to the side - like in most restaurants.

I really wanted to try the hot balls that every table around us was ordering, but since we had a gigantic rice ball the day before, Howard wasn't too keen on another. Next time!

Instead, we tried the fresh oysters from Effingham Bay.

They were so good! I'm not even what you call an oyster fan, but after New Orleans, I've been trying a lot more seafood. While I would have liked to try the hot balls, I am so glad that we did not miss out on the oysters that day. Howard and I even had a "aww shucks, we should have ordered more" moment!

Then it began, our dinner of meat (because we had so much sugar during the day). Our first ever salumi board! A selection of local artisanal cured meats as it is described in the menu. This quickly won Howard over, he's a huge fan of prosciutto. I believe his exact words were "this was fun." I rarely hear him say that about a dining experience, but I've always joked that you can lure him anywhere with good prosciutto and smoked salmon.

So far so good, this was turning out to be a great date night! The best part is that you're encouraged to take photos at Table 17.

Once we were told the specials of the day, Howard knew he would be getting the 14 oz heritage beef rib-eye. One thing we did noticed was that the meat comes pre-cut, but I guess this made is a little easier for us to share.

Howard exchanged two of his pieces for two of my steak. Our only hiccup came when I spotted a tiny speck of metallic in my rib-eye piece. I asked him if he saw it too and if it was foil. Unsure, we asked one of the staff members who immediately agreed that it looked shiny and took it back to the kitchen for the chef's take on it.

You should have seen the look on Howard's face, hehe, he wanted his rib-eye back! It did come back and it was explained to us that since the greens were cut fresh, some of the fertilizer must have fallen and got brushed onto the meat. They offered to re-make it, but Howard didn't really mind and just wanted to eat.

I got the steak frites, oh those fries were so good! It came with a complimentary sauce béarnaise - I don't order sauce as I find the salt and pepper to be good enough. Compared to Howard's rib-eye though, we both agreed that his was more tender and juicier.

By the end, we were too full for dessert (we did just do a dessert day) but we ended on a good note. As always, on a first visit to a restaurant, Howard and I ask ourselves if we would come back, and our answer is yes!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Designer Cookie


The Designer Cookie
292 Eglinton Avenue West
Toronto, ON M4R 1B2
(416) 619-1197

The next place we went to was the Designer Cookie! Despite the name of the shop, they do have cupcakes here. Howard and I weren't sure why the gigantic sign was covering the menu, but at least we were given a rundown of all the cupcake flavours.

They have regular sized cupcakes and mini ones - always, always pick mini if you want to sample more flavours!

Here were all the available flavours that Saturday - from top to bottom, left to right: banana caramel, Oreo, crème brûlée, cinnamon, chocolate, and red velvet.

My favourite one? Probably the crème brûlée! While it was really sweet, I liked the crunch of the toppings.

La Bamboche

1712 Avenue Road
Toronto, ON M5M 3Y6
(416) 224-5595

This turned out to be an excellent weekend. How could it not when it included a mini dessert tour? From all our recent travel posts, I felt like it was time to explore and showcase what our home city has to offer.

I have a google map titled GTA Sweets that has a listing of over 40 places that I want to visit. Most of these places have cupcakes, others have desserts I want to try. Red pins showing that I've been there, and blue pins telling me that I still need to make a stop there someday. I have a map for GTA Restaurants I want to try and one for each city I've visited or will be visiting. No, this isn't crazy, it's just being organized. =P

Howard and I started our Saturday afternoon at La Bamboche, a patisserie known for their macarons and croissants. While we like macarons now and then, I'm a true cake girl at heart. But that doesn't mean we won't be back to try some of their unique macaron flavours: yuzu, green tea and mango, ume and sake, and their mystery macaron (you won't know until you taste it). What a fun idea, I like that there's an unknown one!

Howard and I did have trouble picking one, so we went with two cakes! We actually had a third contender too, the Esprit du Japon (chocolate biscuit, sesame mousse, and matcha mousse), but we changed our minds and went with the Chamboise. A pâte sucrée topped with chocolate mousse, raspberry mousse, and raspberry jam.

The second treat is named Sasha, a Japanese inspired cake with white chocolate and tofu cream, edamame purée, and a green tea cookie. If you're a fan of soy, this cake is probably perfect for you!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Ruelo Patisserie

Ruelo Patisserie
Times Square, Unit C73
550 Highway 7 East
Richmond Hill, ON L4B 1B9
(905) 762-1500

Last night, Howard and Laura (if I were to have a sister, she would be it) went out for desserts before checking out Night It Up! I had read about Ruelo the week before and when I mentioned stopping here, Laura already knew which place I was talking about. See? A sister would know, and she made a good point of stopping here first because they would closed earlier than NIU.

At Ruelo, there's a small bakery case in the back with individual cakes.

The bottom row has cheesecakes.

I opted for the Chocolate Earl Grey Tea - I just love tea flavours! This was composed of a chocolate sponge cake, Jivara milk chocolate mousse, and Earl Grey tea mousse.

We also wanted to get another dessert - sharing just one between three isn't going to cut it with me. Ruelo also has warm desserts on their menu, so we inquired about the vanilla soufflé and molten chocolate cake. We were told that it would take an hour for either one of those desserts. Since we weren't in a rush, we agreed to a vanilla bean soufflé. However, it was disappointing that the wait was so long because on their website, it says a wait of 35 minutes.

Luckily, we did have the Chocolate Earl Grey Tea to eat while we waited. I would probably return to try another cake or the macarons. One macaron flavour that caught my attention was the wasabi grapefruit. I wonder how that works?

Our vanilla soufflé did arrive later, but without the home-made ice cream as indicated on the menu. We were simply told they had ran out for the day. While this shop has been opened for a while, it still appears that they have some things to smooth out. It wasn't nice to be let down twice.

Despite all of this though, the vanilla soufflé was superb. Look at the amazing height it reached! The top crust was our favourite part, but the interior was delicious as well.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Scars of a Chef

I was browsing NetGalley in June to see if there were any newly released or upcoming cookbooks. To my delight, I found Rick Tramonto's Scars of a Chef listed.

Before I tell you about his book, I would recommend that you sign up for NetGalley if you like reviewing books too - especially if you have an e-reader. It's very handy and saves so much shelf space that ARCs or galleys take up. Publishers post certain titles on NetGalley for you to review. They will either invite you or you can request it. If they approve your request (they usually do), you get an e-galley to download and read. PS: this was not a plug for NetGalley, I just wanted to share the program since I've had good experiences with it.

One more thing, this will be forever marked as my first e-book! Sure I've read PDFs of manuscripts and pages at work, but those don't count. I had never read on a mobile device before! I downloaded this on my iPod touch and squinted during my commute to finish this e-book. Aside from having to squint, it was quite an enjoyable experience. At least I wasn't carrying a heavy hardcover on the subway (my arms do get sore)! But, I don't know if I'll move up to an e-reader yet, I miss the feeling of knowing how far along in the book I am. Having the page number there doesn't tell me if I should read faster (I'm no where near the ending) or slower (savour the last couple of chapters because the book will end soon).

Scars of a Chef: The Searing Story of a Top Chef Marked Forever by the Grit and Grace of Life in the Kitchen
Written by Rick Tramonto and
Lisa Jackson


ISBN-10: 1414331622
ISBN-13: 9781414331621
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
e-book: 288 pages

I will admit, I do not know my celebrity chefs as well as I should (being a baking blog and all), so I started reading this without knowing who Rick Tramonto is (please don't give me that look). I honestly did not know which famous restaurants he worked at or any honours he had been awarded. I went in thinking it would be a memoir about a chef rising to the top - which it was, but far more interesting when the restaurant names started to sound familiar.

Tramonto actually begins working at Wendy's (yes, the burger joint) and moves up to Scotch 'N Sirloin and Strathallan. I really liked how the book was divided into parts that reflected an education system that he never graduated from. Instead, he made his own route for Culinary High School, College and Grad School. No matter where he worked, Tramonto went in early, stayed late, and worked hard. His drive to learn how to prep, cook, and run a restaurant is evident:
It took me about two years of working double shifts at the Scotch 'N Sirloin to fully understand all of the different stations, prep recipes, and kitchen procedures. As I listened to my coworkers discuss the merits of acid level and tannins, I realized that I had learned more in that time than I had in ten years of school. This was my culinary high school. My classes included Food 101, Butchering 101, and Wine 101.
It's not really a rags to riches kind of story, nor a religion made me a better person story, but more of a if you have talent, ambition, and work hard, you will succeed. The focus was on Tramonto's dedication to food and learning more about cooking. However, I did find him to be restless for something new or something more. Always on the go. What amazed me most was how easy he made it sound to get a stagiaire or a new job. I don't know whether it was the right timing, pure luck, or his amazing talent, but he was able to find great mentors and was given unheard of opportunities to expand.

I was even more intrigued when I read about his relationship with Gale Gand, pastry chef extraordinaire (yes, I know who she is thank you very much)! They were a great culinary couple that probably most chefs dream of being in. They got to travel, eat, learn, and work towards building their dream restaurant together. When it got tough to separate work and family life, they eventually decided to keep their divorce a secret in order to remain strong for their restaurant. Now that is some serious dedication towards their colleagues.

Reading about their restaurant "dream" and "wish" file is the kind of insight I like to learn about chefs. Tramonto and Gand would record their favourite things into this file in hopes of being able to use it for their own restaurants. It's also an insider's look at what some chefs strive for. They wanted to create a brand by being on television, going to festivals, and publishing cookbooks. Most importantly, earning the stars and rave reviews for their food.

Tramonto's writing style (with the help of Lisa Jackson) is very simple and straightforward, but to the point. Occasionally, you would understand his strong emotions - whether it was anger, sadness, or worry. Each chapter ends with one of Tramonto's recipes, while I would have preferred them to all tie in with the chapter, sometimes there is no recipe suitable for what he is going through. I've read that the hardcover includes an insert of photographs, but I'm afraid that my e-book version did not.

After reading his story, I did end up picking up one of his cookbooks, Amuse-Bouche: Little Bites That Delight Before the Meal Begins, at a book sale after. Would I have if I had not read this back story? Probably not.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Fortune Cookie Bridal Shower Cupcakes

Hello, we hope you're having a lovely summer weekend. This is a short and sweet post. We just wanted to share these cupcakes that we made for a friend's bridal shower today.

This was like a blast from the past for us. Again, we made the fortune cookie toppers out of gum paste.

Since these are party favours, we got Chinese takeout boxes so that guests could take them home. I think they look really cute and snug in the boxes!

Yes, there are notes inside the fortune cookies. =) Congratulations to Phillipa and Adam!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Real Women of Philadelphia

Last month, Howard and I were pleasantly surprised with a special dinner invitation. Michelle from Rethink Canada, who had been our main contact for the Real Women of Philadelphia program, told us that we were invited to the reception and dinner where they would be announcing the winners.

So to recap, women across Canada were invited to submit recipes using Philadelphia cream cheese into four categories. They would be judged and sixteen finalists would then be flown to Toronto for a live cook-off in the Kraft kitchen! The four grand prize winners will be brand ambassadors for Philadelphia Cream Cheese, be contributors to the Real Women of Philadelphia cookbook, and win $20,000 each.

Last night was the big night. Howard and I did our best to dress up and headed straight to the Thompson Hotel after work. The event was held in the ballroom of the hotel, we checked in (phew we were on the guest list) and found out that we were at tables 5 and 10. Seeing our dismay, the lovely lady told us not to worry, gave us each two drink tickets, and told us she'll figure something out.

Thus, we got our photos snapped (no, that's not me in the above photo, it's one of the finalists with Anna Olson), grabbed drinks at the bar, and joined the reception. I have to say that I felt a bit under dressed, but I'm glad that we didn't look too casual! Hors d'œuvre being served, crab cakes, beef skewers, spring rolls wrapped in rice paper, and onion rings with tiny balls of crab. Surprisingly, no cream cheese detected in these. Oh and our table issue? Resolved ever so smoothly, the lady who checked us in, found us, and told us we were both at table 10 now. =)

Around 7:15pm they started ushering people into the dining room. Here's a look at the stage and podium before people were seated.

The lovely table setting. We were seated with a few people who won tickets to the event through the community, a few contestants, and other bloggers like us! It was nice meeting Andrea from Insatiable Food, Brenda from Brenda's Canadian Kitchen, and Cindy from Hun... What's for Dinner?

As it turns out, not only were the four winners being announced, but so were the Philly Spirit Awards. Cindy from our table won the Rising Star Award, congratulations again!

Anna, our hostess for the night, shares her own experiences working with the Real Women of Philadelphia. Yes, a video montage from the submitted videos were included. *tear*

While Anna was talking about the program and announcing the Philly Spirit Awards, we were served a mixed herb salad with tangerine slices and a smoked duck prosciutto.

PS: This was the only dish that wasn't made by a contestant.

First up, the appetizer! Sweet and Savoury Tartlets. These were mini tarts filled with a whipped cream cheese mixture, pears and pancetta layered on top, finished with a sage leaf.

Congratulations to the appetizer winner, Angela Amati! I like that she and other fellow finalists decide to wear blue dresses.

The side dish was Cauliflower Crѐme Brûlée. I don't really like cauliflower, but this was kind of the perfect dish to give your kids (or me) vegetable without us really knowing it. However, it was really sweet, so it could have also been a dessert for me.

The entrée was Creamy Pistachio and Mango Chutney Pork Tenderloin. The pork was pan seared and stuffed with couscous, dried cranberries, pistachio, mango chutney, and cream cheese.

Congratulations to Elise Copps-Smith for her winning side dish!

Congratulations to entrée host Lyndsay Wells!

Finally, we saved room for dessert! A quick and easy Deep Fried Cheesecake. The cheesecake was wrapped in tortilla.

Here's another view (I'm serious about desserts).

Congratulations to Laurie Pearson, dessert winner!

On our way out, we were given cheesecake pops!

And gift bags! In them? Real Women of Philadelphia apron and rubber spatula, vouchers for Philadelphia cream cheese products, a Tilley water bottle, and the latest issue of What's Cooking?

Thank you the amazing team in the Thompson Hotel kitchen for recreating the dishes on such short notice and serving us a memorable meal. It isn't easy cooking for 180 guests with a few days notice of what you'll be cooking!

Thank you to Kraft Canada, Philadelphia Cream Cheese, and Rethink Canada for putting on such a great event and for inviting us along. Angela, Elise, Lyndsay, and Laurie, congratulations again! We're pretty sure that you'll be great ambassadors!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Emeril's New Orleans

800 Tchoupitoulas Street
New Orleans, LA 70130
(504) 528-9393

For our last dinner in New Orleans, we celebrated the end of the week at Emeril's. We walked over after work, being early, we sat down and watched the team get ready for dinner service.

Right on the dot, the hostess showed us to our table. We were in the middle of the dining room, with a view of the bar and the open kitchen. Gosh, how I would love to sit by the kitchen! I kept looking at the lucky few who were there during the dinner. I like how you could sit and chat with a chef there.

The service was incredible as it was a rather large group of staff who stood ready for the guests. Our waiter, ever the gentlemen, even draped our napkins over our lap. Even for Howard! This immediately brought back the restaurant war episode on Top Chef Canada where Darryl Crumb was chaffed at for doing so.

Mmm, while we waited for our food, we were given a trio of baked goods to snack on. The cornbread was especially noteworthy. We also learned to stop eating them, because the staff would immediately refill your plate with more.

This is the Creole marinated calamari: flash fried with olive salad, smoked tomato sauce, and Parmesan.

Howard also decided to get the gumbo of the day, which was seafood! So hearty and satisfying.

Not captured on film, but the gumbo is brought out in a pot and they pour it out into the bowl when they serve you.

My colleague ordered the escargots in a Yukon gold potato fondue with amarelo, chorizo, parsley, and country bread. Luckily, we got to try some too and it was delish! We've had really bad escargots in Toronto (grainy ones - yelch), but these ones were clean and that fondue!! My goodness!

I picked the sweet barbecue glazed salmon with andouille-potato hash, crispy onions, and house-made Worcestershire. I don't know how they did it, but the salmon skin was so nice and crispy - the perfect amount of crunch. And I love potato hash!

Howard went with the sorghum smoked duck breast with "dirty" fregola sarda, red cabbage choucroute, and truffle pate.

If you want to see how fancy "Mac n’ Cheese" looks like, my colleague ordered it! There was sautéed gulf shrimp with trofie pasta, vermouth cream, guanciale, and brioche crumbs.

For dessert, we shared J.K.’s chocolate soufflé. I still had soufflé on the mind!

But really, I had every intentions of ordering Emeril’s famous banana cream pie (graham cracker crust, caramel sauce, and chocolate shavings), so maybe next time!
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