Celebrate Ice Cream day with these Toronto cones

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This Sunday, July 17 is National Ice Cream Day. The day you can legitimately eat as much ice cream as you want.  I think 2016 can best be described as year of the cone, as the lowly ice cream wafer waffle is making way to more substantial dough based cones from Mexico and Europe.  Stuffed with sweet fillings, they’re oversized and over the top.

Pancho’s Bakery in Kensington Market features a churro cone.  This sweet baby is freshly made, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and served slightly warm.

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Sauce is poured into the cone, filled with ice cream and topped with fruity cereal, walnuts or coconut.

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Dulce de Leche, chocolate ice cream and walnuts is a delicious combination.  It’s served in a plastic cup and spoon so that you can scoop up all the deliciousness.

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The next great cone is Eva’s Original Chimney’s which started as a food truck but you can find them at the Union Summer market until September 5. A very popular vendor at the market where you’ll find Bay St. suits lining up at lunch for  one of these.  Try to get there earlier in the week, Monday to Wednesday and later in the afternoon, there will be a much shorter queue and a lot less waiting.

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These crispy and light chimneys are baked and rolled in sugar and cinnamon. Fillings include apple compote, Nutella and strawberry preserves and topped soft-serve ice cream, more chocolate, bits of brownies or fruit.

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So far  I’ve had Eva’s Apple Pie and Berrylicious.  The soft-serve is great tasting and better than what you’ll get anywhere else. There are still a couple on the menu, so I guess I’ll have to go back!

Enjoy National Cone day on Sunday.  Drop me a line and let me know how you indulged.  Bon Appetit, friends!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where to get the best frozen treats on a stick in Toronto

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Frozen treats have been trending over the past two summers. Artisanal and small batch ice cream and frozen pops on a stick stores are popping up with surprising and exciting flavours.

The hot and humid days last week had me working my list of ice cream shops and paleterias that needed to be sampled.

Strawberry, guava and coconut ice pop

My first stop was Kekou Gelato House at 394 Queen St W. It’s late Wednesday afternoon with no lineup, so I take my time, review the menu and scan the display before deciding on the vegan Strawberry, Guava and Coconut pop.

The freshness of the strawberry and guava blend beautifully together.  The coconut top layer brings this tropical treat together with a creamy finish.  Kekou has many choices including traditional dairy gelato but the vegan options are delicious and are made in-house with real fruit.

Next stop, Wrestlers paleteria in Kensington Market.  Opened just this May, this basement store below La Tortilleria is a long, sparsely decorated space with enough seats to stay awhile enjoy your dessert. But as you walk to the back where the cases of paletas are, suddenly the room lights up with happy colours and bright flavours.

Paletas menu

The menu lists twenty different flavour combinations split between dairy and water/ fruit juice based.

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I have the Pina Colada paleta, just plain this time.  You can pimp your paleta by having it dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with a variety of optional topping for a few extra pesos.

Pina Colada Wrestlers

Last but certainly not least on this frozen pop recognizance mission, I hit up Seven Lives Paleteria which also opened last month in Kensington Market.
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A bright and cheery bubblegum pink store with all forms of traditional Mexican soft-serve, non-dairy delights and toppings to make any sugar rush better.  What you will find here is cold, hot, sweet and spicy treats you won’t find anywhere else.

IMG_7476 The daiquiri paleta has an unusual base of Tajin – a seasoning combination which includes chili peppers, sea salt and dehydrated lime.  Traditionally used in Mexico as a seasoning on fresh fruit such as pears, apples, oranges, etc., it boosts the flavours and is mild enough for anyone to enjoy.

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I found the Tajin a bit overwhelming at first, but it reminded me of a poolside drink from a beach holiday. It’s a taste that you have to acquire, and I’d try it again with a different flavour ice pop.

IMG_7479If you’re looking for something more than what Popsicle Pete offers, there are so many new combinations of creamy and fruity, sweet and savoury to amp up and cool your hot summer days.  Toronto is bursting with frozen goodness vendors this year, so go and discover what’s new.  Bon appétit, friends!

My Fish Taco Fixation

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Occasionally I get obsessed with one food. I’ll go for months craving a certain dish, ordering it consistently at restaurants. Some of my  fixations have included, udon soup, zeppole (Italian pastries made for the feast of St. Joseph on March 19) and chicken Shawarma sandwiches.   My latest little craze has been fish tacos, a bit of a miracle since my first experience eating one was terrible. After many years of hearing about their rise in popularity on the west coast where they originated, it was something I had to try. So, on my first trip to California, eating some fish tacos was a priority. Coast of California

I found a Mexican restaurant in Monterrey and straight away ordered the Baja Fish tacos.  They arrived lukewarm, overcooked and had clearly been re-heated from the day before.  I wasn’t as sophisticated in those days and was too timid to complain or sent them back.  Instead, I choked them down and vowed never to eat one again.

That bad experience didn’t deter me and I continued to give them a try in the hopes of getting a good one and understanding what all the fuss was about.   Since then I have discovered many good fish tacos and have become picky about what makes a good one.

El Catrin’s Baja taco is crispy fried cod dressed with a tasty chipotle lime coleslaw. Cod is a great fish for this dish given its mildness and coarse flake.  The tangy chipotle and lime dressing give the taco a zing but doesn’t overwhelm the fish.  They are three for $15.00, a good sharing plate or a filling meal for one.

El Catrin Fish Tacos

Milagro Cantina’s, La Perla is battered red snapper, tropical slaw and chile crema.  The red snapper is a finely texture fish and light tasting as well.  The tropical slaw lacked a little in flavour but the chile crema and a squeeze of lime make them pretty tasty nevertheless.  On the lunch menu you get two for $12.50 .

Milagro fish tacos

La Mexicana on Yonge at Bloor, has served up authentic Mexican food since 1988 in Toronto.  On a rainy night in October,  I made my way in from the cold to the warm and cosy atmosphere of their place at 838 Yonge St.  The menu doesn’t specify what kind of fish is used, I suppose it’s based on availability.

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The fish taco dish is delicious and a great value as a main at $16.00 for dinner.  The tacos are dressed with cabbage and chipotle mayo.  While the cabbage on top doesn’t add much, the mayo was flavorful. The crispy lightness of the battered fish was an sign of the use of fresh oil in their deep-fryer, always a big plus  – because you can taste the difference.

This only the tip of the Toronto fish taco iceberg, with more “authentic” Mexican restaurants opening every month here, my quest for tasting has no limit and I’ll be on the look out for more.  In the meantime, bon appétit my eating friends.

 

 

 

New York City Summer Street Food

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It’s a sunny Sunday morning and there’s a lot of bustle outside the hotel room window, nothing unusual I think, it’s Manhattan and there’s always something going on.  I head out and make way to 46th Street where vendors of all kinds are setting up,  jewelry, scarves, suitcases, T-Shirts, pretty much anything you want is there.  It’s like a big bazaar is coming alive in the street.

As I get closer to Lexington Avenue the smell of grilling food is getting stronger and it is with much excitement that I see the food vendors prepping and setting up for the day. It’s early morning still and it’s all just getting started, but already I’ve gotten a new suitcase from one of the vendors to bring home all the new pairs of shoes I’ve bought on this trip.

There is an endless variety of summer items like sunglasses and towels but there are lots of foodstuffs as well, like teas, herbs and varieties of curries.

The crowds grow as we get closer to 59th Street and 5th Avenue it’s lunch time by now, and on this day there’s nothing I was looking forward to more than eating again – which is pretty much how I spent the first forty-eight hours of this trip.  Of course, that was the original purpose, to do food recognizance for my next articles.

The bottom of 59th street is looking a bit more like a carnival with everything from the usual hot dog and sausage vendors, a lemonade stand and everybody’s favourite, the Wafels & Dinges cart.  I am, however, craving authentic foods, dishes that are full of flavour and spice.  As I get a little deeper into the crowd, I smell something that will satisfy me at the “Authentic Mexican Grill”.  If you read this blog regularly, you know Mexican food is a big favourite of mine.

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We have Mexican food in Toronto, but there’s something about street food like this that somehow makes it more interesting and certainly tastier.

IMG_6691I order the Nacho Platter with chicken, it’s a ton of food for $8.00.  There’s some confusion with the order because they thought I’d ordered beef and not chicken.  Some words are exchanged in Spanish with the man on the grill, then there is some laughter as they apologize to me in Spanish.  They ask if it would be okay to put some chicken on top of the beef.   You can’t beat that, and I couldn’t have been happier.

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It’s a great heaping mess of deliciousness, beef, chicken, salsa verde, sour cream and cheese.  My daughter and I could barely finish it, but we did our best.  Our next stop was something sweet to top the nachos, because we really did need more carbs and desert was not too difficult to find here.

I have a tremendous weakness for all things Italian, men, wine, food and oh yes, sweets.  So when I spotted cannolis that were brought in all the way from Brooklyn at the Fortunato Brothers stand, we immediately bought two.  The cannolis were sweet and creamy inside the fresh crispy shell.  I really could’ve used a latte to finish, but it was very hot and I think I would’ve exploded!

When I am away from home and exploring new foods and places to eat, I always consume way more than I usually do.  The energy that I had used to walk my way all the way through this street fest was now replenished.  It was time to walk back to my hotel for a nap and to plan for the evening’s eating destination.  I always have food on my mind.

So if you’re in New York on a summer weekend, make sure that you find your way to Central Park by 5th Avenue and 59th and eat something for me.  Happy eating my friends!

 

 

 

 

Eating at El Catrin, Mexican Restaurants Part 2

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MuralI’ve been excited for the past two weeks about my reservation at El Catrin.  If you plan to go and do the evening dinner thing and eat after 7:00 p.m. , it will take at least three weeks to get a table, so just be warned.  My two-week wait was hastened by the fact that I took the single remaining reservation for last weekend.

Awarded as one of Canada’s Best New Restaurants 2013 by Sharp Magazine, El Catrin is a cavernous, but spectacularly colourful restaurant in the Distillery District. You walk in to stare up at a grandiose Mexican mural painted by street artist Oscar Flores.  The mural took 100 days to complete and is stunning work of art.

elcatrin wallOn the opposite wall of the restaurant is what can only be described as a temple of Mezcal and Tequila.  The drink menu is two pages of Tequilas and ten types of Mezcal straight up or in a variety of cocktails and bebidas – drinks. My first order was a Paloma Brava – Milagro Reposado, agave, grapefruit, muddled citrus and soda.

However, the Miel Quemada (Burnt Honey) mezcaltles is fresh, smooth and soothing.  Made with Cha Cha Joven mezcal, Cha cha cha ” ( which means “very, very, very ” good in zapoteco )  is the name of a famous Zapoteco poem which tells the history of mezcal from the beginning, to the present day and this is where the name comes from.*

The drink is a mix of Cha Cha Joven, house made honey, fresh lemon and grapefruit bitters.  I had a cold the night I was there and this drink was like a hip, pumped up, alcoholized  version of Neo-Citran and I think much more effective in making you forget that you have a cold.

This is a small plate restaurant, where ordering and sharing three plates per person is the recommended standard. Oliver Le Calvez is the Executive Chef and one of Mexico’s top chefs and his menu is based on the traditional flavours of Mexico.

Of the six or so plates we ordered there were some like the Tostada con higado de pato, a foie-gras tostada.  If you don’t like foie gras or the taste of  “foie”, liver, this is not for you.  It was good, but needed something more to accompany the rich flavour.

There are the usual standards like the fish taco.   The Baja fish taco here was tasty and not greasy.  I’ve had others at the many new Mexican street food places that have popped up over the past year, and this is one of the better ones, it wasn’t bland or greasy.

The Gobernador taco is sautéed shrimp and lobster with chipotle mayonnaise. Refreshing and I probably would’ve just eaten these all evening – it’ll be a great dish to eat out on El Catrin amazing outdoor patio.

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Photo Credit: Gizelle Lau – Globe & Mail

If you’re idea of Mexican food is limited to chimichangas, a red and yellow taco kits and your local burrito shop, this will expand your horizon some. There are some creative dishes, albeit somewhat with the hot peppers toned down, but they’re small plates and will give you a good view of the many flavours of Mexico.   The food is good, it’s fresh, but I long for a place that serves dinners and not just “tasting” items.  But I have to say, it’s the drinks, the bar and the patio that will keep me coming back.

Links:

Cha Cha Joven Mezcal – http://trndmonitor.com/product-spotlight-cha-cha-cha-mezcal/

Mexican Brunch, like you’re on vacation at Milagro Cantina – Mexican Restaurants part 1

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I’ve proclaimed January 2014 my month of latino foods.  It’s been freezing like hell here and like everyone else I’d like to be seaside listening to the surf and indulging in a hedonistic lifestyle. Milagro PosterBut alas, my only option right now is to find some Cumbia Colombiana on YouTube to listen to and venture out into the deep freeze to places where the food is spicy and the decor is bright and takes me away.  This is the first instalment of a series of three or so posts about some of the places that have become new favourites.

My constant look out for all things new and tasty brought me to Milagro Cantina on Mercer St for brunch.  I’ve eaten more than my share of good and bad eggs Benedict across this city and Mexican brunch immediately got my attention.

Brunch on Saturday is never as busy as on Sunday.  We arrive early and there weren’t many people seated, which does kind of make me wonder if this is an sign of the Milagro interior1food or the service.  Nevertheless, after looking around some, there was a big group seated in the private dining area who seemed to be enjoying themselves.  A number of tables had quiet couples, slowly sipping the last of their coffees.

It’s noon and I debate whether it’s too early for a cocktail. Traditional margaritas, mojitos and enough other drinks made with various categories of Tequila – I’m beginning to see this list as a work plan for repeated visits.

My guest has the Tacos Rosarito; sautéed shrimp, refritos (refried beans); crema, avocado and salsa rosarito.  Fresh shrimp sweet and not overcooked and just a small amount of crema to enhance the avocado.

I have the Acapulco Sunrise and the Huevos Mexicana.  The eggs are tasty and I love the richness of the homemade refritos.  The best part of brunch is of course having dessert.  Brunch justifies getting up and late and eating later because you can allow yourself dessert, that’s my story anyways.  So we finish with the Mexican French toast.  French bread soaked in goat’s milk and eggs with warm cajeta (caramel) sauce.

Milagro French toastBy the time we are finishing our meal, about 1:30 p.m.  it’s getting busier.   The decor is soothing and the music smooth. There’s no rush here, it’s really laid back. Service is a little spotty, they come by take your order, and then someone else comes back to take your order again.  The food arrives at a relaxed pace – maybe just taking a little long but nothing is missed.  Yeah, so maybe that wasn’t so great, but heck we weren’t in any rush.  It’s just like being on vacation, just remember what the poster below says, and Happy Eating!!!

Milagro Tequila

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Did  I mention, I love Mexican?

Did I mention, I love Mexican?

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My first experience with Mexican food was in New Orleans in 1981 at a place called Mexicali Rose, where I was exposed to a large buffet of brightly coloured, heavenly smelling foods, appetizers and dips that I had never eaten before. Several years later on a trip to Mexico I discovered mole, ceviche, the bold taste of coriander, aromatic cumin and the cool refreshing crunch of jicama, and who can pass up a great flan or churros filled with dulce de leche for dessert?

I have countless cook books and recipes that I have collected since that time and every now and again I will try a new recipe, but my favourite things to make are enchiladas and empanadas.  Back in the ’80s finding ready made tortillas or frozen empanada dough in any Canadian city was a bit like the quest for the Holy Grail.  Given this challenge, my Mexican cooking was pretty limited to making some amazing chiles and stews, but being the obsessed over-achiever  that I am when it comes to food,  I handmade dozens of tortillas with nothing but a rolling pin and some sweat – no tortilla press for this girl!  These marathon dough rolling sessions often resulted in my forearms and shoulders being sore for several days after the meal, but it was always worth it.

Today, my love for Mexican and Latin food has grown even more since a lot of Latin Americans moved north to Canada.  Toronto has seen  wonderful  growth in it’s Latin American population in the last decade, with that comes more restaurants and more grocery stores filled with authentic foodstuffs from Mexico and Latin America.  So today, I felt like making chicken empanadas.  It was with a lightness in my step that I made my way to Kensington Market to buy ready made tortillas.

Delight is the only word to describe how I felt seeing the variety of sizes, brands and types of tortillas now readily available. There’s your white tortillas and then you have your masa tortillas made from corn and tastes best, in my opinion, with beef dishes.  Yes, I could’ve bought tortillas in the local grocery store – yeah, those things they make wraps with, but when things become popularized and marketers feel the need to add ingredients like pesto and sun-dried tomato, it just sucks the authenticity right out of the item for me.

Recently I’ve been following http://www.hispanickitchen.com, it’s a great site and they have a wonderful page on Facebook which features a very flavourful dish every day from a different Latin American country.  The listing of recipes is extensive and has all the different regional variations of empanadas one could imagine across the Americas.  It’s just all so easy now, the global marketplace enables all of us to try new foods and change-up those foods we’ve eaten for years.  In a large multi-cultural city like Toronto, and a great marketplace like Kensington it’s easy to get all the ingredients you need to make any dish from any where in the world.  Mexican food is wonderfully flavourful and it’s not all chiles and hot spicy, so Google a new recipe and shake up your taste buds.  There’s so much I still need to eat!  I hope you’ll join me.