Monday, September 08, 2014

Serendipity in the form of Tapas - Portland Variety Café

Brandade - Portland Vareity Cafe - Toronto
We don't get out to nicer places as we used to.  In Vancouver we were out upto 4x a week. With two kids under 3, it's alot to ask of a grannie nou nou.  In any case, when opportunity comes knocking, we make it happen.  We got Gala tickets to TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) this past weekend so I decided to make us dinner reservations at a Susur Lee restaurant too.  Madness I know.   What restaurant even remotely near TIFF would have tables available on a Saturday night right?  Well, not many.  So I booked at Bent, the sons' restaurant a bit further away.  We love the food there.  That said they had changed the menu and D was disappointed when I told him.  But in the end it didn't matter because our Movie ran longer than we had anticipated with the speeches from TIFF, the director and the primary actors.  We stood out on the busy King Street TIFF zone at a loss of what to do.  We wandered over to Lee, hoping for bar seats.  They were full for another half hour even at the bar so we decided that we'd try the other restaurants on that intersection and if nothing, we'd head home to a west end place.  Valdez was full and Buca had already gone too bar-ey.  We stumbled into Portland Variety because it looked the least busy.  That said they were packed but the least packed.   I was unarmed with reviews or writeups.  In fact, when the hostess sat us at a last minute, early departure, and she asked how we heard of them, I said, honestly, we stumbled out of TIFF without a plan.

Garlic Shrimp in Pil Pil - Portland Variety Cafe - Toronto
We took a peak at the menu before being seated in case it was an all steak or charcuterie place that I would not stay for.  It was tapas.  Now, if you're a regular reader, you'll know a couple of things about me and Tapas.  1. I lived in Spain for over 2 years so I know a thing or two about Tapas. 2. I am annoyed by Western restaurants over charging for small plates under the hospices of Tapas.  The second is particularly irksome because it goes against the very spirit of Tapas.  Yes you can get expensive food in Spain but it is very high end and usual the size of a substantial main and you aren't paying for Pan con Tomate.  But when you charge high end prices for what should be casual fare.. booo and then list yourself as moderately priced because each dish is less than a 'real' main, I'm going to be bothered.  I call it 'Tapa' fatigue.  That said, it wasn't a charcuterie so we stayed because I was starving.  Glad we did.  I stayed when I saw Cassava fries on the menu.

Cassava (Yucca) Fries - Portland Variety Cafe - Toronto
More South Am than spanish, but we honeymooned in Ecuador and Cassava or Yucca was everywhere next to corn so Yummo!  We sped ordered, the guy came over to say hello and I shot four orders at him.  It was so busy that I thought it was the best thing to do.  Yucca came first.  It was piping hot, a tad on the dry side and there was no dipping sauce. Still overall, good but could have done with an Aioli or something.  Next came the grilled Artichokes which I have not seen done properly since Barcelona and still haven't.  They were the size of halve ping pong balls and under seasoned.  Served hot, which I'm always happy about in a place where I'm worried that because of the crowds, things may sit too long at the pass.  They did not.  Still, it was a meagre plate, so I started to worry.  Then came the Garlic Shrimp in Pil Pil sauce.  OUTSTANDING.  I mean OUTSTANDING.  I have not been that please with a dish in a restaurant for years.  The flavours, the spice were great and the Shrimp where cooked perfectly.  We were sopping up the oil with the bread, which we had to go out of our way to ask for.  D had half a Cornish Hen with Piri Piri sauce.  He dipped his fork in the sauce and smiled.  We'd recently had some bad store bought Piri Piri and this was miles above.  We will never touch that jar again.  As his Hen arrived I noted the table nearby received their Marrow.  Now I am not a fan by any stretch of the imagination but D is and he rarely gets to have it.  It was a nice portion cut along the length and I told D he should order it but thankfully, our server did say it would take a while and knowing we had not alot of time, we decided to wait for next time.  Our last dish was the Brandade which we make very well from scratch at home.  We scraped every molecule from the bowl.  It was very good.  It wasn't overly Potatoey, which lots of restaurants do to 'stretch' the saltcod.  It was piping hot.  Our meal was eaten with a decent Garnacha.  They ran out of glasses so we did wait abit.  That said, they had only opened a few months ago so perhaps a bit ill prepared for the TIFF onslaught.  I saw a table outside had ordered the Patatas Bravas and they looked delicious.  I know already, what I'll be ordereding next time.

Cornish Hen with Piri Piri - Portland Variety Cafe - Toronto
Now, I have no idea why this place is called Portland Variety except for the 1890s style aprons and bowties on the servers.  But the food was excellent, service congenial and we'll be back.  I enjoyed the Tapas here more than Patria which we visited a few months ago.

Empty Brandade - Portland Variety Cafe - Toronto
Food: Fantastic
Price: $$$-$$$$ (higher if you order a proper main)
Ambiance: modernised deli upfront and typical King West buzzy in back.
Wine: Decent selection, could use more by glass variety since tapas
Service: kind, helpful, happy to help
Family friendly: maybe during the day, tables far too close together but bathrooms are on ground level!!!

Portland Variety Café
416-368-5151
King West
587 King St W
Toronto, ON M5V1M5






Portland Variety Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Babyfood so good, she may never taste it - Butternut Squash and Corn Puree/Soup

As I mentioned in my previous post about my new, second baby, less intense food introduction, I've been introducing new foods with ones that have already been tested.  Whereas last time, I would give lil T only that new food for a week and that didn't go over too too well with some of the greens.  Well, Red Bell Peppers were introduced this week with Zucchini, Carrots and 1 Apple.  It tasted like an awesome Gazpacho.  Yeah, she didn't love it so much.  It's amazing how pungent something I used to think was so mild to non contributing as a Bell Pepper really asserts itself.  So I've frozen it as smaller ice cubes so I can toss it in with other mixes later. 

Here I was rather unprepared for her next food as I usually time it with a lull in the week.  I had to do it in the evening while the kids ate.  She isn't as captivated watching me cook as lil T was.  He would sit happily for hours in his high chair in the kitchen gnawing on a rice cracker but lil R, not so much.  Anyhoo, the one I made tonight as she screamed at me is so YUMMO that I will seriously make this again for myself and D as a soup.  Of course, I'll add alot of my stuff like aromatics like Garlic and Onions, probably but really this puree soup stood on it's own without Salt, Pepper, Spices nor Aromatics.  Amazing what fresh produce tastes like when you don't over cook it.  I steam until just done before pureeing.

Butternut Squash and Corn Puree/Soup

(all ORGANIC)
1 medium Butternut Squash, cubed 1inch (about the sizes of a nerf ball, renders 5-6 cups of cubes)
1 c Carrots, diced 1cm cubes
1/2 c dried Green Peas
2 small Bartlett Pears, cubed large
1 large ear of fresh local Corn

Chop in this order and wait on the Pears 10 minutes into steaming the first two so you don't get ugly browning.

In a large pot, place 2 c of filtered Water and the rinsed Green Peas. 
Place a stainless steel vegetable steamer on top.  Bring to a medium simmer. 
Place the Squash and the Carrots and cover.
After 10 minutes, with the Corn standing up in a bowl, run a sharp knife down the length to 'de-cob' the Corn kernels from the cob then chop the Pears, with peel, and add to the steamer. 
The total steam time should be 25-30 minutes.  Let stand a few minutes with heat off to avoid volcano in the processor.

Spoon the steamed veg into a large food processor.  Then drain the Peas, keeping the water and add to the processor.  Add 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of the steam water.  Pulse the processor to breakdown the bulk a few times.  Then let it run for 30s to 1 min until no big chunks are floating around. If you don't have a large processor, you can use a processing wand. 

If I were making this as a soup, I would use all the water.  I try not to add to much water because I don't like watery babyfood like the store bought stuff. 

Seriously, this was delicious without any added flavours. 

Enjoy!!




Baby and Me - Organic Babyfood

Here I am again spending all my time making baby food.  I was really struck after having my first by the old adage 'you are what you eat'.  That can't be truer for babies.  So for my kids, I try to make sure everything they eat is organic because the thought that even 1% of their growing bodies is contaminated by pesticides or GMO'd food makes my skin crawl.  I eased off the organic fruit a bit with T when he hit 2.  We still only use Organic meats but that's D's domain and buy a lot of organic stuff when at our local market.  For our new little R, she will only have Organic as well.  Now that there's two of them, I might move T back to Organic too.

One thing I will say is that I'm less intense with R now that I now the 'ropes', so to speak.  When testing for allergies, I would only feed T the 'new' food.  Now in incorporate a 'passed' food with a new one. i.e. She hated carrots, so I mixed them with Sweet Potatoes which she loved and it helped them go down.  We started her earlier too.  Things change so quickly, it's really better to have your own opinion on things because the doctors will only spout the latest publications.  So she was allowed to start at 4 months, the new thing.  Fine.  Since she hates the bottle and hadn't been sleeping as well as T who would have a gigantic bottle before bed, I was hoping a full belly would help.  The other 'new' thing was that you can throw out the 'order' of introduction out the window.  Apparently the latest studies show that there isn't any benefit to delaying high risk items like Egg Whites, Soy or Nuts.  That said, I'm sticking to a general order based on ease of cooking :^D.  I will probably wait on Nuts and Egg Whites to be safe, and because I'm thinking about trying to keep her on a Whole Foods Plant Based diet for now anyhow.  That means no Dairy either.

The other thing I've eased off on is the hermetic, sterilized zone I was so crazy about with T.  I sterilized ANYTHING that went into his mouth, I never re served food and made gigantic batches.  Now, if she doesn't finish something, I cover it up and reserve at the next meal.  I make enough for the test cycle and no more and I wash her spoons and only sterilize if I'm going to wash the pump.

I thought I would share some of the mixtures of purees I'm currently serving that keep food tasty and interesting.  I also tend to serve her food with a grain. Either Oatmeal or Brown Rice.  I grind my own with a spice grinder and cook with extra water like Congee.  Have you ever read the ingredients on Rice Cereal in packages.  Gross!  I'm asian.  A meal doesn't seem hearty enough without rice :P.  I will also hand mash stuff that doesn't need processing like Sweet Potato v Broccoli.  I also prefer not to feed her anything I wouldn't eat and hubbo has been too busy to do the meats so so far she's a vegan! :)

Purees so far


  1. Apple
  2. Pears
  3. Apple and Pears
  4. Brown Rice and Apples
  5. Oatmeal and Pears
  6. Bananas and Oatmeal
  7. Avocado and Pears
  8. Sweet Potatoes
  9. Carrots and Rice
  10. Sweet Potatoes and Carrots! 
  11. Strawberries, Bananas and Brown Rice
  12. Peas, Apples and Brown Rice
  13. Apricots, Apples and Oatmeal
  14. Plums and Rice
  15. Broccoli, Pears and Rice
  16. Zucchini, Carrots, Pears and Rice
  17. Sweet Potatoes, Blueberries (big hit!)
  18. Strawberries, Pears and Edamame (huge hit!)