Friday, August 31, 2012

Quick Healthy Wholewheat Baby Pizza aka Pizza for Baby

Organic Wholewheat Baby Marguerita Pizza - slightly over browned :)
I said I would never do it.  I swore up and down.  It was one of the handful of rules that my old room mate told me to install as a parent.  Don't have a lot of rules but have a few that you stick to. Rule #1 for her is you eat at the table and you eat what is being served.  Well, lil T was having some teething pains Friday and Saturday so he's been jettisoning anything that is hard on his gums.  He wouldn't even eat the things he normally loves like Pasta.  Of course, oddly enough, he would eat Oaty-O's and they're darn crunchy.  Suffice it to say, his whole Sunday was messed up.  He work up early and ate a very small breakfast but then seemed okay and played up a storm but then fell asleep later than usual but stirred at lunch.  We sat him in front of his meal and but he was obviously not done napping.  So during what would turn out to be a 3 hour nap through lunch, I caved in and made him a pizza.

Pizza, yes.  I'm not a mom you'll see feeding my baby junky pizza from the foodcourt with all the grease, sugars and who knows what.  We take T out and we are really good about finding the healthiest option. No mystery minced Chicken Nuggets for us.  When I say, I stopped what I was doing in the middle of a lovely Sunday to make T a Pizza so he would eat SOMETHING, I mean I made it all, Crust and Sauce.  And I did it from start to finish within an hour. 

Quick Yeastless Pizza Dough
 Yields 4 10inch thin crust pizzas

1-1 1/4 c Organic Wholewheat flour
1/2 t salt
1/2 t baking powder
1 t dried Basil or Oregano
1/2 c Water
1 T olive oil

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.  Start with 1 c of Flour.

Add the Water and Oil and mix with the fork.  Mix vigorously.  You actually want to build gluten so you can't over mix.   The dough will be soft like bread dough but not sticky.  Depending on your humidity level you may need to add a bit more flour.  When it gets too stiff for your fork, you can use a big spoon or your hands.

We are renting a place right now with a kitchen has no counter space.  D makes it work for rolling but I don't like Flour everywhere.  So you can knead this dough right in the bowl.  Use your fingers and knuckles and give it a proper kicking.  It shouldn't stick to your bowl too much or at all.

Let it rest until you're ready..... meanwhile over by the stove.....
Organic Baby Mother Red Sauce

1 tin Organic Tomatoes, crushed or whole
1 T Organic Tomato Paste
4-5 Organic Baby Carrots, minced
(so I don't have to repeat myself, let's assume if it's for lil T, it's Organic.  I point it out not as a pretension because we certainly don't eat all Organic but T does whenever possible, he's only little after all and he's growing and I don't want his cells reproducing with Monsatano-chemical-crap)
Handful Fresh Basil from backyard, chiffonade (ribbons)
Handful of Oregano, we have so much it's ridiculous, pull from stock and roughly chop
Sprig of Rosemary, it's growing into a bush!, pull from stem and mince
Garlic, local
1/2 Onion, chopped
1T olive oil

Why Carrots? Well remember why I'm making this Pizza?  T has not been eating well because of whatever fussy reason.  So I want to make sure he gets his veggies and vitamins.  Plus when you're using whole tinned Tomatoes, the acidity level can be a bit high for the palate of a little one or even some adults.  Without the roundness added by ground beef fat, this takes the edge off.  Some people at a pinch of sugar.

In a medium saucepan, heat 1-2 T of Olive Oil on medium high heat.  Add the Onion and Carrot. Stir until soft.  3-5 minutes. Add the Herbs and the Garlic.  Yes I added the Basil now.  I'm on a time limit here.  T could wake up from his nap at any moment.

Cook the Garlic for only a minute.  You do not want it to brown.  You want to make sure it all gets kissed by the oil and the heat.  Normally I am not uber careful about not browning the Garlic partially because I'm multitasking and I like the taste of toasted Garlic but it can be bitter and I'm not giving the baby any reason for spitting this out.

Add the Tomatoes.  What I do is take one Tomato at a time and smush it in my clean hands and add it to the pot.  You can add the liquid from the tin some or all.  I added it all.  I should have held back a bit because I didn't have enough simmer time so that's why I added the Tomato paste.  Let it simmer for as long as you can.  Since I was worried T would wake up, after about 15 minutes, I pulled out my hand blender and quickly pulsed through the sauce to break down the bigger pieces of Tomato. 

Baby Marguerita Pizza

Preheat your Toaster oven to 400F

Take the dough made above and cut into four pieces.  You can refrigerate or freeze the other pieces.

Now remember, I do not want roll out in my tiny rental kitchen or make a floury mess when the baby is about to wake up.  Take a baking sheet and spread a teaspoon of Olive Oil.  Start stretching the Pizza Dough in your hands first.  Try to spread it out as much as you can.  Then place it down on your baking sheet and spread out with the heel of your hand and finger tips.  I made the crust quite thin, 1/4inch and 10" in diameter.

Spread 2-3 T of  Red Sauce out on the Dough.
Top with 1/4-1/2 cut grated Mozzarella.

Bake for 10-12 minutes.  I let the oven go a bit long because I was distracted and am not super familiar with how hot the Toaster Oven is.  So it needn't go this brown.

Top with a few fresh Basil Leaves.

Serve cooled down.

I gave T half at lunch and half at dinner.  He loved it.  mmmmm  I ate the crunchier crust bits.


Monday, August 27, 2012

Healthy Fluffy Wholewheat Pancakes for Baby - Quick Make Ahead

Healthy Fluffy Wholewheat Pancakes for Baby - Make Ahead
You can mix these up just before heading to bed...OR during commercial breaks after the baby has gone to sleep.

Lil T loves his fruit.  He wakes up asking for a Banana.  He used to love Wholewheat Bread but he's been off it for a month or so.  Randomly one day, he asked for it and didn't eat it.  After than he stopped asking for it.  So what can I do to make sure he gets some fibre and grain in the morning?  Well, obviously, as most parents do, he gets a handful of Oaty O's (the organic less sugary version of Cheerios. they're also a bit crunchier so I'm hoping it will help him cut his teeth).  But really that doesn't seem like a tasty meal to me even though he loves them.

He likes Pancakes but we have thus far reserved them for weekends.  Even then it's been a bit of a hassel for D who wakes up on weekends with him.  Getting the flour out and cooking them and cooling them off.  Yeah, T doesn't have that kind of patience but he likes watching D cook so it stretches him out a bit as he eats some Blueberries.  So I thought if I could at least cut out the trouble mixing then, it would be a tad easier.  I'm not sure about Pancakes mixed ahead because I worry that the Baking Powder will have fizzled out while sitting and they'll be tough and chewy.  Luckily most Baking Powders are double acting nowadays, one hit for Salt Water and another with Heat.  I made a few adjustments on my favourity Fluffiest Wholewheat Pancakes to make sure that the overnight sit in the refridgerator in batter form would still yield tender and fluffy Pancakes.

Heat them up for 10 s in the microwave the next day or in the toaster oven.  They freeze well.

Healthy Fluffy Wholewheat Pancakes - Make Ahead

3/4 c Wholewheat Flour (organic if you have it)
1/4 c Cake Flour (less gluten)
3/4 t Salt
3/4 t  Baking Powder + pinch (aka 1/8 t)
1/4 t Baking Soda + pinch
1/4 t Cinnamon (optional)

1 c Milk
1 large Egg
1 T Canola/Vegetable Oil
1 T Water

Butter or Canola Oil
1 c Fruit of choice

(The instructions are in order but in tasks as I did them during commercial breaks of evening TV.)

Take out all the ingredients except the Milk and put them on the counter.

In a large bowl or Tupperware bowl with lid, mix the DRY together with a fork.  Get the lumps of the Cake Flour out.  You could sift if you want but remember this is for busy TIRED parents just before bedtime. Put all your DRY stuff away.

In a large measuring cup (2 cupper) mix the WET.  With the same fork or small whisk.  (note, I added the Salt to the DRY instead of the WET, this time.  I am trying to delay BP activation) Beat throughly so Egg is broken down.

Pour the WET into the DRY.  Temper your enthusiasm here.  Barely mix the batter.  It will sit over night so they lumps will get absorbed then and during cooking.  I've helped out by using Cake flour but with all the soaking, you do not want to over work the Flour.  If it helps. Stir it 10-13 times MAX.   What that means is scooping from the middle down to the side and swooping, 10-13 times.  GENTLY.  THEN put the fork down! It should just be mixed so there are not large mountaint of flour.  Cover and refridgerate.

The next morning heat a non stick pan on Medium heat.  Melt some butter or a touch of Canola oil.  Scoop 1/4 c - 1/4 c of Batter into the pan.  Sprinkle some Blueberries in or sliced Banana. We made them the size of teacup saucers for T.  When the top looks 'matte' and not glossy wet and is covered in bubbles, flip.  It'll be a few minutes per side.

Yielded 10 small pancakes.  T ate two with more fruit!


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Roti Mission Stop One - Mother India - Piping Hot East Indian Style

Eggplant Roti - Mother India - Parkdale
I needed Roti.  There's nothing more to say than that.  They're not very easy to come by in Vancouver but in Toronto, there is a ridiculous supply.  I went down to Queen West to see one that I had seen on Restaurant Makeover.  It had received really good reviews but was reputed to be quite a bit more expensive than the average in town, ~$15.  Well, they were closed for vacation.  I didn't need to worry because on that block in south Parkdale, there were at least three more.  D wanted to try Ali's because there's a place he goes to regularly in Port of Spain with the same name, where he's working right now and he thought it was funny.  I chose Mother of India because I'd read of them as well.  After sitting and ordering, D mentioned he was surprised that I wanted East Indian style rather than West Indian because that was what I was craving.  D'oh.  I wasn't thinking that far ahead nor was I truly aware how different they'd be.

The West Indian style is different both inside and out.  Inside, the filling tends to be alot more stodgy, (dry and thick), the base is often Chick Peas and Potatoes.  The wrapper is also quite different.  The West Indian yummoriffic style is huge.  When they've wrapped it all up, you see quite a few layers of wrapper around the filling.  The wrapper is quite a bit more pliable and tender.  It is lined with cornmeal which it's cooked and stretched on.  The East Indian wrapper is more like a bready crepe.  It's a bit drier and crisp.  It tends to only be large enough to encase the filling.  They're both amazing styles and you can be in mood for either or but they're quite different experiences.  I was really craving the West Indian but here we were in Mother India.  Thankfully, since it was East Indian based, there were alot more variety of filling.  You could basically get any curry in a Roti.  I chose the Eggplant which was like a spicy Baigan Bartha.  mmmmmm D chose the Chicken Tikka Masala.  I also ordered a Mango Lassi to wash it back.

Roti and Mango Lassi - Mother India
The decor is not worth mentioning.  It was almost dismal enough that I was going to suggest takeaway but we were there and T didn't want back in the car just yet.  It felt like a church basement both in lack of light, dropped ceiling and metal framed chairs with rickety tables.  I don't think I would eat in again.  That said, I would eat there again.  The Roti were piping hot.  Even though the server admonished me against spicy since it was 'indian' spicy, I wish I had ordered spicy.  The medium was just okay in heat but I am not complaining.  The Eggplant filling was plentiful very fresh, piping hot, not at all greasy and well seasoned.  The Roti it self was quite large.  D's Tikka was very good as well, there was a sauce which you don't always see if you order the dish but in a Roti I guess they do it differently.  The sauce was bright, fresh and hot.  We thoroughly enjoyed the food and the price.  Bacchus at 15$ is like 40-50% more expensive.

While we sat, there was a regular takeway flow.  Even though the dark dining room sat empty except us and a creepy father and small girl who sat holding hands across a table.  That's creepy right?  Their conversation was oddly adult too, about plans for the coming long weekend and she couldn't have been more than 9.  Anyhoo.  I'll be back to that block to have more Roti or Dosa...mmm they had Dosa on the menu at Mother India.  A paper thin crispy lentil crepe around a curry filling, southern. 

Cost: $-$$
Food: Hot, fresh, tasty and well seasoned
Ambiance: I would suggest takeaway. Church Basement. Clean but not cozy.
Family Friendly: well, yes, the staff were cool, there was a dingy high chair, I guess.
Staff: Friendly and quick.

Mother India
 (416) 588-4634
1456 Queen St.
Toronto, ON M6K

 Mother India on Urbanspoon


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tasty Local Sushi - ASA Sushi - Bloor West

Asa Sushi - Tempura Appetizer is Vented Takeaway Box
I am bit cautious about suburban sushi in Toronto.  I find that since the quality in Toronto for Sushi in general is quite poor, primarily because of quality and price of fresh seafood, I have to be picky.  So I have decided to take precautions to avoid mushy, flavourless sushi by trying to only eat more expensive Sushi unless I'm having a craving at lunch.  Thus, when it comes to affordable suburban Sushi, yeah, I have pretty high doubts.

My neighbour recommended ASA.  He touted that it is because of him that the pieces of fish are larger than average.  He had said he had gone right at the opening and complimented the owner on the size of the seafood in their rolls and how that differentiated them from the other places in Bloor West.  They have kept that up, I'll agree.  Plus, they have a lunchtime Sushi box!  Woohoo.  So working from home and having a sushi craving, I hauled myself down to Bloor and Jane.

I called ahead and ordered the Sushi Lunchbox and an appetiser portion of Tempura.  They told me 15 - 20 so I timed my departure.  It was hot and ready for me upon my arrival.  It's located in the business mall on the corner with the movie theatre.  It's a typical japanese storefront restaurant decor.  Clean and cozy.  It was nearly half full at lunch which is great sign.  The staff were friendly and fast and the price was reasonable.

Asa Sushi - Sushi Lunch Special with a LARGE Miso
The Lunchbox comes with a California Roll and a Salmon Roll with a Miso Soup.  Bear in mind the container you see is the size of a hamburger box and not a full meal box.  The Tempura is a 5 piece serving with 1 large Prawn.  The rolls were very fresh with, as I said, a decent sized amount of seafood.  The Rice could have had a bit more seasoning but it wasn't bland and was cooked to a nice texture.  The Tempura was great.  I love the box it came in.  Yes, I'm sorry to say, it was a styrofoam container but it is of recyclable grade.  The cool factor was that it was vented.  I was concerned when I ordered the Tempura for Take Away it would be wilted by the time I arrived home.  Now it wasn't as crispy as it would have been if I had eaten on site but it was crispier due to the vented box.  The batter was light not as light as at Ematei but it was good and not too oily.  The Miso was hot but there wasn't any Tofu or Seaweed which is always a nice add.  It was a large bowl though.  The one thing I will miss about my favourite lunch Sushi place in Vancouver, Bay Sushi, is the fact that they include a small dipping pot for the Soy Sauce.  They gave me a small container of Tempura dipping sauce so I reused it for the Soy, which they provided.  It's odd that they wouldn't include one for the Soy Sauce if they're going to provide it.  No where in Toronto do they provide it.  How wonderful would it be not to have to dribble on Soy from foil packets at lunch.  Longos has them to hand for sampling if you ask for one.  

They have their own website which is updated regularly.  They let us know they were on vacation last week which is always nice.  Who likes to show up without knowing right?

I will be going back for Lunch here regularly when I work from home!

Cost: $$-$$$
Ambiance: typical japanese diner
Staff: friendly
Kid friendly: room for stollers but there are stairs to the front door.

Asa Sushi
(416) 604-3001
Bloor West Village
18 Jane St
Toronto, ON M6S
 Asa Sushi on Urbanspoon

for Lunch Sushi

(my cost ratings are relative to type of restaurant and quality of food, i.e. is it good value.  that said if you see $$$$ you're looking at 30 for a main dish and even if it's a 'tapas' place, the cost rating will be what an individual would order as a main and not each dish which is a rating scam in my books.)


Friday, August 17, 2012

Red Quinoa and two Bean Salad

Red Quinoa and  two Bean Salad
It started off as a plan to use up some Baby Arugula and White Kidney Beans I had in the fridge.  I do so hate to waste food.  It eats at me to know something in the fridge may go off.  It's a simple dish so to entertain meself, I shall write this post in the voice of one of my favourite old cooking show from the UK called the Two Fat Ladies.  That is not at all a euphamism.  It was hosted by two quite posh, older English ladies who were inarguably obese.   One was from quite an affluent background, Clarissa, a former barister come etiquette expert and TV chef.  She foresook of the drink on the show whist her mate on the show, Jennifer, who also spake with a poshness, rode a motorbike and drank on the show's wind-down showing off her garrishly manicured fingernails.  Simply delightful.  They cooked some of the most ghastly English fare like a Pork Pie topped with a Pork aspic, Rabbit Tureen, Tomato and Bread Pudding, Whole Flank Steak stuffed into a hollowed Loaf, Chicken Livers wrapped in Bacon.... Lard, Bacon, Offal and Cream to make the French seem as if they are fasting.  I loved it, mostly to watch them.  Splendid good fun.  No fuss about chopping or quantities.

This is a frightfully simple dish to have on a warm day.  When one can't bear the idea sitting before a large hot dish, salads essential.  Admittedly, darlings, you do need to light the stove to cook the Quinoa but thankfully you needn't stand guarding the pot.  You place it on the heat and leave it be for 20 minute or until you need it, with the heat off.  I used Red Quinoa because I had it to hand it is ravishing in the bowl against the brilliant colours of the other Veg but you could easily substitute regular.  I would normally have used some Garbanzo Beans but I had these dear little White Kidney beans left over so I used them.  You can really use whatever favourite Legume you prefer.  They add a devine meatiness and creaminess to any salad.

Cook the Quinoa as you would.  I cook it with double the quantity of Water to Quinoa on High Heat for 15-20 minutes with a pinch of Salt.  Set it aside with a cover until cool.  Wonderful.  When the pot is empty fill and boil with Salted Water.  Boil gorgeous French Green Beans aka Haricots Verts  Yes, they are different.  They're far more slender than the 'regular' as you'd expect.  Boil for 2 -3 minutes and drain and rinse with Cold Water and Ice Cubes.  Drain thoroughly.   You want them cooked but not a murky and mushy Green.  You still want a bit of snap. Frightfully summery.  Chop.

In a large bowl, place the Quinoa.  Mix in half a finely chopped Red Onion, Jalapeno Pepper, zest and juice of a Lime.  Add a quantity of Fresh Herbs.  I harvested some Basil, Chives, Tarragon, Oregano, Mint and Thyme.  You can use whichever herbs you have but do use fresh dear.  Add a teaspoon of Ground Cumin and Ground Coriander and a measure of Black Pepper.  Toss with 2-3 T of Olive Oil and if you have it, add a small measure of White Balsamic.  Add the Beans and Haricots and toss gently.  You wouldnt want to smash the beans, would you?  I decided to add a nice plump Roma Tomato for a bit of natural acidity and balance.  I could eat a surfeit of Quinoa.  It feels splendidly healthly.  Frightlfully so.  It's a curious thing to think of a Grain that is considered a Protein.  A wonderous thing.    Let it stand at room temperature covered for at least half an hour for all the luciousness to meld together.

I ate it atop a mound of Arugula and Cooked Shrimp I had in the refridgerator.  Toss before eating because I find Arugula a tad too bitter unless dressed.  You could equally eat just as it is. 

Enjoy and tata!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Baby's Banana Bread - No Eggs No Oil No Sugar

Baby Banana Bread - No Egg, No Oil, No Sugar - All Moistness and Flavour!
I've wanted to make lil T his own baked goods where I didn't have to worry about the ingredients.  He's had baked goods outside the house.  His daycare offers him homemade baked goods and in a pinch, outside he may get a slice of Banana Bread or Croissant.  If I had it my way, he would only eat baked goods I could be sure what went into it.  I can't obviously but I can try to insure that the bulk of what he eats meets that aspiration.

I do not have an issue with Eggs but I forgot to buy them when I went shopping so I thought I'd give it a go.  It was a tad dense but with the Bananas, it was still very moist and lil T loved it.  He ate his slice for breakfast and went after D's and when I woke up an hour later (weekends, I sleep in) he grabbed a chunk of mine.  It was very tastey even for grown ups.

Baby's Banana Bread

3 very very ripe Bananas, approximately 2 c mashed
1 T Unsweetened Coconut flakes
1 t Salt
1 1/4 c Organic Whole Wheat Flour
1/2 c Organic Instant Oatmeal (I may up the Oatmeal next time)
1 T Honey (optional)
1 t Cinnamon
1/2 t fresh Nutmeg
1/2 t Baking Powder
1 t Baking Soda
1/4-1/2 c Water

Preheat the Oven to 325

Lightly Oil a regular loaf pan but if you're confident on your non-stick, you may not need it at all.  We have quite nice Cafalon and they still stick.

In a large bowl, mash the Bananas.  Add the Salt, Coconut, Cinnamon, Nutmeg and Honey.  Mix thoroughly.  In a small bowl, mix the Flour, Baking Powder and Oatmeal with a fork.  In a small prep bowl, add 1/4 c Water and the Baking Soda, stir. 

Add the Dry to the Wets and mix with a large wooden spoon or rubber spatula a handful of turns.   This will be a very stiff batter, softer than Bread dough but stiffer than Muffin batter.  If it is too dry add a couple of T of Water.  Do not over mix though because you don't want a  tough bread and since there are no Eggs or Oil, you risk that.

Place the dough into the pan and press out to the corners.  Bake for 40-45 minutes in the middle of the oven.

Baby Carrot Cake and Zucchini Bread is next.


Monday, August 13, 2012

Regular Toronto Thai Noodle Craving - Salad King - Downtown Toronto

Very Oily Spring Rolls - Salad King - Toronto
When I am living outside Toronto and come back to visit the folks, there is slate of cravings I need to sate while I'm home apart from mom's awesome Korean food.  Whilst living in Vancouver, the foremost is good Thai food.  Vancouver is not very good for Thai food.  Sushi yes.  Quite a few years ago, I went to the Salad King with a friend who chose it, confused by why she would drag me to a Salad Bar for lunch.  That was at the previous address down the street from Ryerson before the dodgy fire allegedly set by the landlord.  As I read the menu salivating, I saw a lovely coconutty noodle dish heaped with Tofu and Vegetables.  I asked the diners what that was.  They told me it was the Islamic Noodle.  I scoured the menu for it because I still like to read the description even if I've seen the dish.  They stopped me and told me it was not on the menu.  How odd.  I simply ordered it without a secret password or hand signal.

Disappointing Cold Islamic Noodle - Salad King - Toronto
It was wonderful.  Luscious, piping hot and a wonderful portion with lots of Veg and Tofu.  It's not the fanciest of Thai restaurants in Toronto but it's a, dare I say, trendy place that sort of reminds me of Wagamama in London.  I make a point of going there at least once a year when I'm back, if not every other year.  I've managed to do that for almost ten years now except the year of the fire whilst I was preggers and dying for an Islamic noodle, waah.  Over all those years, I get the same dish and in all those years, they have not put it on the menu.  Funny.

Bangkok Stir Fry - Salad King Toronto
I went recently with my cousin and our friend A after work at the new location right on Yonge.  I ordered the usual without hesitation and added a Spring Roll.  If I had written a review on any other occaison, it would have been a glowing one.  Always prompt service though not the friendliest and the food has always been hot and generous but not stupid.  This time, the food was lack lustre.  Everything came in odd succession.  The Spring Rolls were very very oily.   My beloved Islamic Noodle was room temperature and not at all luscious and coconutty.  I was rather disappointed and for the first time in nearly a decade, I left quite a bit on the plate. My cousin had the Bangkok Stir Fry with Bean Thread Noodle.  She rarely complains but I'll note for you she left at least half her plate.  I tried it and it was okay but again, rather cold.  I'm actually hesitating going back if the change in location has also changed their cost structure and staff enough to result in what I had that night.

Ambiance: chaotic buzzy, modern, loud
Service: usually prompt but indifferent, tonight, slow, inattentive and indifferent
Cost: $$-$$$
Family friendly: There were kids, high chairs available but place is loud for dinner and lunch.

Salad King
(416) 593-0333
Downtown/University of Toronto
340 Yonge St
Toronto, ON M5G1H1
Salad King on Urbanspoon
Room Temperature entree

#Toronto, #Thai

Friday, August 10, 2012

Worth the Wait - Tojo's - Vancouver

Tojo's - Celebration 2010 Roll

I don't know exactly why it took us so long to eat here.  It took us up until we were moving away to go.  We tried to hit as many of those as we could.  I mean really, it is around the corner from our house, well a few blocks.  Perhaps because there is so much sushi about we put it off.  But really, there is no equivalent.  Tojo's is in a class by himself in Vancouver.  The original Sushi man in town, his committment to quality, authenticity and flavour is unmatched in a town peppered to all corners with Japanese cuisine.

Tojo's - Nigiri - Unagi, Uni, Akami, Sake left to right
We booked early so that bringing lil T would not be an issue.  Really, I truly do not believe that it would have mattered.  The staff, dressed in traditional Japanese clothing, were extremely gracious.  They did not have high chairs but they did have booster chairs.  Since we were given a quiet booth toward the back, it was okay for lil T to use the booster even though it were a tad wobbly.  If we had been seated at a table, it would have been dodgy.  Even in the middle of the week at opening, there were a number of diners already there.

Tojo's - Goma-ae
Knowing it would be a while or unlikely we would be back, altogether anyway since we both travel for work, we went all out and ordered quite alot of Sushi Rolls and Nigiri, D's preference.  We started with the Goma-ae.  It was different and fabulous. My friend S makes it himself and his and this are the best I've had.  The thing about Tojo's is that they use fresh Spinach and was very delicately dressed. MMMMMMM

Tojo's - Great Canadian Roll
The Sushi was simply amazing.  The Rice was well flavoured and had great texture.  The fish was perfectly fresh.  It was very clear that Tojo's gets the pick of the catch each day.  You will not go astray ordering any of the rolls. We had the Celebration 2010 Roll: an inside-out roll with crab, pineapple and asparagus with tuna, wild Pacific salmon, red snapper, spinach and egg. The unique Spider Roll because like Tira Misu, if it's on the menu I order it: Deep friend Soft Shelled crab deep friend wrapped in a Cucumber Crepe. The Great Canadian Roll: Atlantic Lobster with Pacific Smoked Salmon, East to West Canadian. D ordered a large selection of Nigiri and just when we thought we might bust, I ordered an Unagi (BBQ Eel) for good measure.

Tojo's - Spider Roll in Cucumber Crepe
On the way out, we saw Tojo speaking to a waiter.  We stalked him and asked him for a photo with LilT to which he very quickly obliged. What a treat the whole evening was.

Tojo's - Unagi, Hamachi x2, Uni, Toro, Tuna, Tai

Ambiance: elegant yet not austere
Staff: gracious and knowledgable
Kid friendly: it is because the staff are so nice though if you have a raucous child, you will feel out of place though they will not make you feel out of place.
Cost: $$$$

(604) 872-8050
1133 W Broadway
Vancouver, BC
Tojo's on Urbanspoon

Tojo himself!
#Tojos, #Vancouver, #Sushi


Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Identity Crisis in the Danforth - the Factory Girl

Lack Lustre - Jerry's Famous Tira Misu - the Factory Girl
My good friend K was in town and since she is the queen of keeping tight with her friends, she has to organise group nights when she visits.  After much consultation, it was democratically decided that we would eat in the Danforth since more than half of us were in the east end.  Someone recommended Factory Girl based on the reputation of the dude on the Grill, Jerry, for whom the Tira Misu is named.

I checked out the menu in advance as I do when I'm not familiar with a place that I know I cannot leave because we're a group.  I pick something on the menu before going just in case.  I'm glad I did.  Factory Girl is one of those restaurants that is trying to please too many people.  That generally means to me, that you're not super at any one thing.  A Pizza place that has great BBQ? or a Sushi place that's great at Burgers? No right?  Well, Factory Girl suffers from such an identity crisis.  I mean, it has the menu of a TGIFridays or Jack Astor's.  Why would a place that has fresh Pasta and housemade sauces need to have Batterfried Calamari, Poutine, Nachos and Thai Shrimp on the Menu?  I honestly couldn't tell you what kind of  restaurant it is.

Rib Special - the Factory Girl
It definitely had a pubby feel with a prominent bar in the middle of the dining area and large arm chairs strewn about.   Thankfully for K, that meant they had a very good draft beer selection including an Organic Ottawan beer.  The wine selection was not so great and oddly enough the by the glass selection was broader than the by the bottle.  When I see Kenwood listed for ~10/glass, I know I should be looking at the cocktail menu. We weren't there for the food per se.  I was very happy to see K so I don't want K to feel bad about the selection.  I mean it was a nice place to linger and the server was very patient without being absent.  She was always around when we needed a top up but didn't hover despite taking ages for us to order.

After a few questions about the menu, for which she had to go check with the kitchen, I settled on the Agnolotti.  I was suprised how unfamiliar she seemed with the menu.   Not a good sign because then you cannot ask for opinions with any certainty.  The folks on my end of the table ordered the Rigatoni Al Vodka and  Rigatoni Napa.  K ordered the Rib Special.  I asked about the pizza because I'm always looking for GOOD pizza.  The website said their pizza was Italian Thin Crust style but when I asked what kind of oven, she said it was a regular oven, I knew it would never be as crispy as it should.  One person at our table did order it and the crust looked a tad tough and she only ate half.  I did come away with some great recommendations from the folks at the table for some #Toronto pizza places with woodfired ovens to visit though, yay!

Spinach and Ricotta Angolotti - the Factory Girl
None of us ordered starters because we'd all had a few drinks already and the appetisers were priced rather high versus the mains and so we decided to go straight for the mains instead.  I think they would really benefit if they dropped their apps a buck or two.  Higher end places can afford to have apps and salads at 12$ but not a pubby joint.

Rigatoni a la Vodka - the Factory Girl
All said, the Pasta was very good.  The Sauce was well seasoned and balanced, not to heavy for a cream sauce.  It's so lovely to get fresh Pasta in a restaurant.  I will never understand places who's focus is Pasta and you get boxed stuff (i.e. Trattoria, Vancouver, you can recognise it a mile off.  Boxed Linguine is not pliable and always wants to straighten out.)  I though K's BBQ was too sauced and did not look like authentic BBQ.  She said the sauce was interesting and tastey but the dish was cool on arrival so not the best for ribs... and it came first. 

Phyllo wrapped Cheesecake - the Factory Girl
I ordered the Tiramisu for dessert because that's what I do when it's on the menu.  J across from me, said she's had so many bad ones.  Me too but that's the risk I take.  I just can't help it.  So she and I both ordered the Jerry's Famous Tiramisu.  hmmm We both agreed, Jerry should stick to the BBQ.  It was very lack luster.  It was not at all moist, very little coffee flavour.  It did not 'pick me up'.  It was very very very messily plated.  I mean there was cocoa powder everywhere.  S ordered the Banana Cheesecake in Phyllo.  It was not easy to eat and was not  very Cheesecake-y if you know what I mean.  It looked very much like carnival food.  You really should have been given a knife to eat it as well or be told to pick it up.

In all, if I'm in the area and fancy Fresh Pasta or a chilled drink with friends, I will go back.  I would not go for the grill or the 'za.

Ambiance: pubby
Service: Excellent, friendly, patient yet present. Could have been more informed about menu.
Cost: $$-$$$

Factory Girl
Greektown/The Danforth
193 Danforth Ave 
Toronto, ON
(647) 352-2799

Factory Girl on Urbanspoon


Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Stinky T&T Toronto Waterfront Nightmarket - Stinky Tofu and Heatwaves DO NOT MIX

Sloppy Takoyaki with Dodgy Mayo - TnT Waterfront Nightmarket
I was psyched when I found out that Toronto may have something similar to the Richmond Nightmarket in the Vancouver area.  It is awesomeness.  Squeezed into an industrial area roughly the size of a football field, it is a wall to wall Asian Street Food and trinket bonanza.  It's about half half on the Food to 'flea-market' and a small area for a stage which we normally bypassed since it was usually some amateur singing event.  We zipped in and out armed with pockets full of loonies and twoonies, filled up on about half a dozen of our faves, bought some random smartphone accessory, cartoon socks and stocking stuffers for Christmas and zipped out before it became unbearably crowded.  It is very popular so if you're not a crowd person, you should try to go to the Richmond Nightmarket before 10pm.  The Toronto T&T Nightmarket? Well that one, you can give a miss entirely.

BBQ Scallops - TnT Waterfront Nightmarket
What a disappointment.  Who would have thought that a city nearly 10 times the population would have such a pitiful Asian nightmarket.  It's located out by the Docks just east of Downtown.  The location isn't bad if you want a large space but unfortunately, instead of using the very large parking across the road from the T&T, the squeezed it into the T&T small parking lot and charged for parking across the way.  The entire market could have fit into the endzone of a football field.  The situation was seriously exacerbated by the 35degC weather and the half a dozen Stinky Tofu kiosks.  Oh yes, Stinky Tofu is what it is called.  I was not using a euphamism.   It is a Fermented Tofu that is cooked and served hot.  Are you gagging?  Well, imagine it wafting into your nostrils aggressively no matter which way you turn.  Is it that bad you ask?  I am not exaggerating when I say, the best way to imagine the smell would be to take the strongest Blue Cheese you've ever come across, place it into your kitchen composter on pick up day then take the bin and drop it into an outhouse and then heat the whole thing up in your tumble dryer.  It was simply revolting.

Dodgy Mayo Takoyaki kiosk - TnT Waterfront Nightmarket
We tried to steer around them and buy some food.  I hunted for some Takoyaki which I always love in Asian streetfood markets.  There were only a few choices and I sadly chose the first one in an attempt to avoid the Stinky Tofu.  They were terribly small, dressed really sloppily and their Mayo was left sitting out on the counter in the blistering sun.  D tried some Vietnamese Shrimp kebobs on Sugarcane.  They were deep fried which was a bit disappointing for D.  They were okay but quite small and very expensive and oily.  H, my cousin, bought some BBQ'd fresh Scallops.  Simple BBQ seafood turned out okay.  After walking around like a game of Pacman trying to avoid the Ghosts that were Smelly Tofu, we decided to call it quits and go inside to eat in the T&T food area instead.  I bought some bad Sushi and H bought some cold Dim Sum.

BBQ Kebobs - TnT Waterfront Nightmarket
We went back out to look at the trinkets.  There was only really two-three stalls.  One dude selling toys and one selling some of the stuff I like.  I bought an iPod tether and surrendered.  We left soon after.  I would NOT recommend this to anyone or take any visitors.  We really should have hit the Spicy Food fest at the Harbour Front instead and if we didn't have lil T with us, we probably would have gone after.

Ambiance: stripmall weekend carnival, the sad kind
Cost: $$$ for streetfood

TnT Nightmarket
222 Cherry Street

ZERO / 7.  I don't even have a graphic for ZERO / 7.

#Toronto, #T&TWaterfrontnightmarket

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ematei Japanese Cuisine - extended lunch in the Entertainment District

Lunch Special Bento Box - Ematei
I've eaten Ematei's food twice but only eaten in once.  My lovely cousin H brought over Sushi all the way to the westend so she could keep me company with lil T one night.  The other time, I popped over during a slow day for some lunch.  It's a bit of a hike from the office for lunch but I'm always willing to try to find some good sushi.  It was my goal anyhoo today, but in the end, I had Udon.

H is always up for lunch so it's nice if I have a bit of extra time around noon to give her a call to meet up.  She's eaten at Emi Tei a few times and recommended it because they have a lunch special.  I'm always griping about the price of sushi in Toronto which is exacerbated by the dearth of Lunch combo specials.  Who wants to pay 30 bucks on a few rolls at lunch?

Emi Tei is tucked away just north of Queen Street on St. Patrick.  I got lost coming over so after much pain in heels I found it.  I rushed to sit down to a waiting cousin in the back so I missed the Lunch display at the front.  That is critical, apparently.  The menu is very cryptic and terse.  The Japanese side seemed to have more words but for us, we had to ask the waitress what was in the Specials.  Note on authenticity, most of the staff here are exchange students so their English is poor to not so poor.  Trying to have our server try to describe what an Oshinki Roll is was a bit... awkward.  Thing is I know what an Oshinki Roll is but she was so soft spoken, I couldn't catch it.  All of this could have been avoided if I hadn't gotten lost and gotten blisters on my feet and had to rush to sit down, and had taken the time to look a the sample plates of the Specials of the day at the front door.  :^D.

Tempura Udon - Ematei
They actually didn't have too many Sushi Specials per se.  They had some combos that were on the pricey side for Lunch.  Not that I can't afford it, so I'm clear.  But on principle, try not to spend more than pre tax of 15 bucks on the main dish for lunch.  You're looking at a final bill after tip of nearly 30 bucks if you do;  15 bucks for 10-12 pieces of sushi is too much for lunch.  The few combos they did have that were in the 12-15 range all had what I call, filler rolls: Kappa (Cucumber), Oshinki (Pickle) or small Tekka (Tuna).  That said, I'll give them some kudo on authenticity.  They did not have alot of the trendier or themed rolls.  They could and I like some and some not, but they chose to keep it 'simple'.  The Sushi that H brought over a few weeks ago, mainly Nigiri and a couple of Maki, were yummo.  Nice sized pieces and the rice had decent flavour.  Mmmm Unagi (eel), I love Unagi.  Theirs was not drowned in terrible congealed sauce like I've seen in others.

They had a Bento Box that was well priced but the protein was a Chicken Katsu and they wouldn't sub the Ebi which was the same price.  Oh well.  H got the Bento special.  It came with a small Salad, nice sized Tempura plate, Miso, Steamed Rice and a small Oshinki Roll. Great deal.  They even gave her the sauce on the side.  The amount of Tempura for the box was surprising too.

In the end I ordered the Udon because their Tempura looked so good and their Sushi was not Lunch friendly prices.  This is the first time I've had this.  I've always been curious about putting wonderful crispy Tempura in a Soup.  I mean, do you eat the Tempura really fast?  There's nothing in the soup other than the broth and the noodles.  I decided to eat as I went.  Some Tempura was still crispy and some got soggy but in a comforting way like dumplings.  The thing that was a stand out for me was the Tempura Shitaki Mushroom.  This was the first time EVER that I've had a cooked Shitake Mushroom that wasn't rubbery.  I gingerly bit into it worried that I'd have to pull away carefully so as not to splatter myself with broth.  I needn't have worried.  It was very tender.  The broth was okay.  It had good flavour but I thought it tasted like one component was instant.  It had a slight after taste I can't pinpoint.  But, in general, it was a nice lunch.

Service: mostly ESL exchange students.  Be patient and check out the display
Ambiance: cozy Japanese bistro
Cost: $$$

Ematei Japanese Restaurant
Entertainment District
30 St Patrick St
Toronto, ON
(416) 340-0472

 Ematei Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Coffee Tree Roastery - Inconsistent and Pricey

D needs his coffee.  It's not a morning shot for him, it's a ritual.  We have a coffee machine that occupies a good portion of our kitchen counter.  It took me weeks to figure it out.  He's moved it all over the world with him.  So when we moved in to our new place and we were stocking up on our pantry items, and I suggested grocery store beans, he looked at me like I had suggested he go Vegetarian.

Good coffee beans needn't be expensive.  Don't assume that the high price tag is any indication.  On average, some of the best coffee beans we've bought cost around 14-15$/lb.  So it was a bit surprising that this little place on Bloor West would average 18-20 / lb for their standards and more for their specialty beans!  We've tried two types so far, their Espresso Beans and a Costa Rican drip Bean.  The Espresso Beans were VERY bitter and a tad burnt.  The Costa Rican has been pretty good for drip but at 20$/lb, too expensive for my goto drip.

A customer side note, for a place where the beans are so chaching, it was very annoying to have creditcards requiring a minimum 20$ purchase and a debit minimum  of 5$.  Come one.  I'd sooner go to Starbucks, yeah I said it.  D on a mission to get me off the supermarket stuff when he's out of town went in and bought it on his debit since I walked out on principle :D cost of doing business as far as I'm concerned!

Service: aloof and annoying to be told I could go down the block to an ATM if I didn't want to use my debit.
Ambiance: cozy coffee shop
Cost: $$$$

Coffee Tree Roastery 
Bloor West Village
2412 Bloor St W
Toronto, ON
(416) 767-1077
Coffee Tree Roastery on Urbanspoon


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Ninki - Disappointing Overpriced Lunch Sushi - Toronto Financial District

Leather Chewy Cold Handroll Combo -  Ninki Sushi
When my cousin asked me if I were up for Sushi for lunch, my answer was swift, concise and completely true: "Always".  You can always ask me if you need someone to eat Sushi with and I am there.  I may have just eaten Sushi and you could ask me and I will say 'I am there'.

I had a busy day at work and it was OPPRESSIVELY hot out so I asked H to pick a place on the 'Path'.  The underground network connecting most of Toronto's downtown core.  She picked Ninki but then retracted after reading some of the bad reviews.  She sent a couple more suggestions over but they were either too far for this busy day and or 'off the Path'.  We caved in under the circumstances and my stubbornness about not wanting to sweat in my work clothes and chose Ninki.

Unfortunately, H mapped the destination whilst walking down instead of reading our email thread and went to the other Ninki kiddie corner from the one on King Street.  Since I get lost in the Path very easily, H came down to me.  Too bad.  I really should have gone to her.  She had already had time to sit and read the menu and we discovered that even though they are the SAME chain, SAME menu, ACROSS the street from one another, the one I was waiting at had prices 20-30% higher.  H had already picked the Hand Roll Combo and was shocked to see the price differential.  If we hadn't already ordered our drinks, we would have walked out.  Grrrrrrr.

Bland Pinenut Roll - Ninki Japanese Cuisine
This is the shopping level of the Scotia Plaza so it is incredibly loud. Not only is the concourse noisy but since the restaurant doesn't have proper walls and is crowded for lunch, it is extra loud.  That is exacerbated by the tight seating.  I'm fine with having to share tables if that's the concept but what is the point of having separate TEENY TINY bistro tables that you practically have to balance your Tea on your lap to have one plate, if you're going to be 1 inch away from your neighbour?  Seriously.  We were in each others laps and conversations.

Salmon Sushi Pizza on a old cold Rice patty - Ninki Japanese Cuisine
After grumbling about the sky high prices for lunch Sushi, we ordered.  H had her Hand Roll Combo and I had the Pine Nut Roll and Salmon Sushi Pizza.  You would think that since they are so busy, that it would be good for the customer.  That the high turnover that the food would be fresh and made to order.  Nope.  They went the other way with it.  They over prepare ahead.  Booo.  The Handrolls were wrapped in soggy, leather chewy Nori, which happens when the Nori sits next to moist Rice too long and the Rice was dried out. The Pine Nut roll sounded like a good idea but the Nori was equally chewy, the Rice was bland and the sauce was unnecessary.  The Salmon Sushi Pizza was the biggest disappointment.  It seemed like a great idea at first.  Vancouver's idea of a Sushi Pizza is basically a deconstructed or 'unravelled' Maki Roll, laid flat.  Ninki uses a crispy Rice puck as the crust.  Sounds yummo right?  Well not when it's STONE COLD and old.  It had clearly been made early in the morning or even the night before.  The tempura coating was not crispy at all and the rice was 'hard'.

I may always be up for Sushi but I will never be up for Ninki again.

Service:  indifferent and slow
Price: $$$-$$$$
Ambiance: as loud as a train station
Kid friendly: NO WAY, barely enough room for my purse which sat in my lap.

Ninki Japanese Cuisine
40 King Street West
Scotia Plaza Concourse Level
Toronto, ON M5H3Y2
(416) 368-7333
Ninki Japanese Cuisine on Urbanspoon