Eating my way through the Distillery District Christmas Market

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The holidays are just a license to eat and to buy treats for friends that we hope will share them with us.  Sunday’s sunny weather brought many people out to Toronto’s Distillery District to eat and drink to keep warm. There are only about two weeks left for the annual Christmas market.  If you’re going on the weekends, get there before 2:00 p.m. so that you can shop and then settle down in one of the many good restaurants for lunch and cocktails.

2014 Holiday Recipes and Entertaining Tips

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The rush I guess began on December 1 or maybe you’re really organized and started your planning last year for this year’s entertaining.

This year I’ve included tips for getting organized and ready as well as some pairing suggestions for charcuterie. There’s also a great new Blood Orange Martini from the LCBO Holiday issue that I have included as a link. It’s a beverage that I would savour alone once all the cooking is done!  Click on the links below the images for the recipes and tips.

Happy holiday planning and enjoy your entertaining!

6 Tips for Sensational Entertaining

 

 

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Baked-Cowboy-Chili-CasseroleBaked Cowboy Chili
 
 
Roasted-Cauliflower-and-Red-Rice-GratinRoasted Cauliflower and Red Rice Gratin

 

 

 

Blood Orange Martini from LCBO

 

Sexy coffee, Nespresso Toronto Boutique Bar

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signageThe 14,000 square foot Nespresso Toronto Boutique Bar opened in November on Yorkville Avenue, one of only two in Canada.  I ventured in today to take a look inside this great coffee tasting salon and machine showroom.

It’s Monday, December 30 in the middle of the afternoon and lots tables available.

The showroom is busy with after Christmas shoppers, using gift cards, I suspect.

I pick a seat in the centre of the store to get the best view of this massively bright, coffee emporium in Yorkville.

Clad in the usual black attire, the staff is well versed in explaining the concept.  The Nespresso Bar  offers a coffee and light sandwich and sweet menu.  Each light offering intended to be “paired” with, if you will, the various Nespresso coffee blend. The cappuccino and two small pastries is $9.00.  For downtown, and for Yorkville, it’s reasonable.

The cappuccino foam is extreme cream and looks lovely as everyone knows, in a  glass mug. It’s delicious too.  I had requested a bolder blend but it wasn’t as strong as I would’ve liked, but overall pretty good.

Let’s be clear, this boutique isn’t about the food, it’s a showroom for Nespresso capsules and high-end machines.   The museum walls showcase the various levels of machines as well as only the best accessories.

grand crus

Nespresso introduced the Pixie in the summer at less than $200.00.  You get a sampler of 16 of the 19 flavours to try. On another day when I have time, I will go back again and try another.

When it comes to owning one,  I’m not sure whether buying yet another coffee machine, one which requires individual pods is  something I want to commit to.  I will keep my twenty-year old French press and continue enjoying the work of baristas who love crafting a perfect drink.

It’s Food Season, Folks!

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But I suppose you all knew that already.  Where did November go, we’re twelve days from Christmas?  I have about a dozen stories in semi-finished states that I am trying to get done.  As you know food blogging can be daunting, remembering everything you ate, taking notes and pictures, meeting people and then sitting down and writing.

Harvest season, now the holidays have filled up my calendar, leaving little time to write but always room to eat!  Tonight I was looking for some DIY inspiration and found this very pretty and practical do it yourself gift.  Hope your days have already been bright.  Mine have been filled with reservations at a couple of places I want to cross off this year’s restaurant bucket list.

Stay tuned, back with many stories over the holidays. For now, off to search for panettone.

diy xmas gift

My passion for Italian confections, Part 2 – Panettone

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Longo's Exquisite Offering

Longo’s Exquisite Offering

Panettone has a romantic and legendary history that dates back  to 15th century Milan.  Enjoyed at Christmastime, this light rich and buttery bread is one of the foods I look forward to most during the holidays.  If you’ve never had one, there’s still opportunity to find some in Italian grocers and delis. Look for them as well in major grocery stores at reduced prices now that the holidays are over.

So what is a panettone exactly?  It’s a raised dough confection that traditionally has sultana raisins or dried fruit, it’s light but quite rich given the butter and more like bread although some refer to it as a cake.  (which I really don’t agree with but, nevertheless)  You can also find many varieties of vanilla custard and chocolate filled. Panettone are fairly new to the traditional grocery stores, making their appearance in my area about six or seven years ago.

Each year I seek out new and different versions.  Panettone range in price from about seven dollars to fifty dollars for the most beautifully wrapped ones – which make excellent hostess or family gifts.

The most memorable one so far, was a gift from my mom.  As I remember it was chocolate and rum in a canister that looked like a drum. I lived in a long narrow house at the time and the kitchen was at the very back.  Once I cut into this panettone the unmistakable fragrance of rum filled the air all the way to the front entrance.  Every Christmas since, I try to find one that can top that. This Christmas I believe I did.

My quest begins early every season.  More and more stores are beginning to carry these.  Most come in very nice boxes. I am taken by the beauty of the presentation.  This year I found the ultimate panettone at Longo’s.  This panettone comes from Sicily and as you can see from the featured image,  is a white chocolate and pistachio topped panettone and included are pistachio cream and a spreading knife wrapped in a designer box.  It was my gift to my mom, who gets equally excited about these as I do.

After the picture was taken we dove in.  The pistachio cream added smoothness to an already rich bread – such heaven.  There was less than half of the wonderful domed bread left by the time we were done.  Panettone never makes it past three days at our house.

Although panettone should just be eaten by itself, it makes the best french toast  or a very rich bread pudding.  My hint, adding some Grand Marnier and a little orange rind to the custard of either the french toast or bread pudding will make your house smell wonderful.  Local grocery stores will have sales on the less expensive panettone that come packaged only in a plastic bags now.  They have a very long shelf life so don’t be afraid to buy one.

I hope you learn to enjoy these are much as I do,  In the meantime, happy eating!

Photo of gift wrapped panettone boxes by Michelle Little, The Italian Pantry (NDG Montreal)

My passion for Italian confections – part I.

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hDecember 1st is a green light for me to start exploring new things to eat and drink, but also to indulge in many favourite Christmas foods from  childhood.  Interestingly, many of these beloved treats  are Italian. I get really excited when I spot the first displays of panettone, Baci Perugina, and pandoro, traditional Italian confections.  These are the holiday treats that make this Asian girl feel warm, comforted and happy.

Perhaps I should back the story up for a moment.  I grew up in the 60’s in a largely Italian community in Montreal where my mother was an elementary teacher at the Catholic all girls school.  We’d moved to that neighborhood  so that it was close for mom to walk to work.

It was here that my early adventures in food began. Half a block up from our apartment was the main street of the community, Liege St.  Liege is the French word for “cork”.  The street was lined with small business owned by European immigrants who had arrived in the early fifties,  an Austrian butcher, a German hairdressing salon, a Viennese and an Italian bakery, and our favourite grocer, Giovanni & Sons. It was at this grocery store that I was first exposed to and  came to love all things Italian.

The big sign above the store was painted  green, red and white and always parked in front were the two or three black delivery bicycles. It didn’t matter if was sunny or snowy, Giovanni’s sons were a familiar sight speeding along the avenue delivering boxes of groceries quickly, only to ride back up the street to pick up the next orders that were lined up all the way down the first aisle of the store.

delivery bike2

At first I didn’t really like going to the Giovanni’s.  The smell of the deli meats, the barrels of olives, bags of dried beans and the sawdust that covered the floor seemed messy.  The aisles were narrow, there were always lots of men drinking coffee, laughing, speaking Italian at the back while women pushed around miniature carts filling them with jars of tomatoes, peppers and cheese.  It was always crowded on a Saturday, as a five-year old it was a frenzied place, but my parents and our Spanish neighbour always talked about the bread.  The bread? What was the big deal?  Years later,  I understand how good a loaf of Italian bread is.

As a kid Christmas time is always magical.  Christmas inside Giovanni’s was delightfully chaotic. In November, lots of new inventory would start to make the store even smaller. There were  many beautifully decorated and brightly coloured boxes with different kinds of chocolates and cookies that crowded the tiny aisles. Piled up as far as my five-year old eyes could see, were pretty blue boxes with stars from a company called Baci Perugina. The front window of the store was filled with big boxes of what looked to me to be bread with dried fruit.  This was my introduction to Italian Christmas confections.

Baci packagingOn the last day of school before Christmas holidays, my dad would have to pick my mom up by car.  Many of her students parents’ were grocers and there would be a bounty of boxes of Baci Perugina, biscotti, liqueur filled chocolates, imported soaps, perfume and talcum powder imported from Italy that she would receive as gifts.  I can remember my excitement  as I ran from the French school that I attended to my mom’s school down the street to help her carry all these gifts outside to wait for my dad to arrive.

Unpacking what seemed like endless boxes of Baci and other chocolates was one task that I enjoyed very much.  I can distinctly recall once when my mom let my little sister and I open one box to each have a chocolate, that in our avaricious haste,  we had opened a box and  stuffed our faces with a first chocolate only to realize to our horror, that it was filled with liqueur!  From that day forward we made sure to only ever open the pretty blue boxes with the stars because we knew these were Baci.

I don’t think I will ever forget the first one I ever had.  Unwrapping a chocolate that was almost as big as my five or six-year-old hand, to find a little piece of paper with a special message that I couldn’t read, then to bite into it and discover a whole hazelnut and truffle filling was exceptional, especially since it took three bites to finish it.   This wasn’t your average Pot of Gold chocolate, this indeed was something far more special.  My mom soon discovered that she had to find a hiding place for the boxes of Baci as they would’ve all disappeared before Christmas.

You can get Baci all year round now, but I never buy them.  To me, they’re special and represent something more than just a great truffle, it’s the memories that they bring back.  Memories about a special time and special foods and a special place in my childhood.

I was recently introduced to a short film on how Baci is made by my friends at  Zeppoli’s Italian Comfort Food in Niagara Falls.  If you’ve never tried one, go out and buy yourself the biggest box you can find, you will enjoy every last one!  Come back to my blog as Part 2 of my Italian Confection series will be on my passion for panettone, so make sure to read it.  In the meantime, enjoy some holiday indulgences.  Happy eating! Here is the link to the video.