Toronto with friends & dodging Niagara’s tourist traps

Here is one of 2 food posts dedicated to the food we enjoyed on our New Year’s escapade. This one will cover most of what we ate but the second post will be a restaurant review….and just you wait and see this place ha!

Now if you expected a gourmet blog post on Niagara here, well sorry to say you will be sorely disappointed. As I have mentioned before Niagara Falls has the Falls and then a fake tourist trap town filled with cheesy attractions. Now don’t get me wrong….go with the right attitude and you will have a blast. We played a round of glow in the dark mini golf, did a haunted house, went on a moving theater ride, played amusement park type games to win tickets in exchange for trinkets.

Food was tricky though: either you get fast food or you pay an arm an a leg. The middle ground is almost non existent and forget finding a quaint little family run restaurant, it is mostly chains. But we managed pretty well and ate well enough with a few awesome surprises. From the falling apart decor and rickety tables to the nice sophisticated places with modern dining room furniture here is my photo essay on some of what we ate.

First place I MUST mention is Tim Hortons. It is in fact the quintessential road trip food. In Canada this is where you get your coffee and sugar rush. They also serve the cheapest lunch I can think of if you take the chicken salad sandwich combo with coffee and a doughnut…like $5.02 tax in. BUT they are everywhere. They plague the scenery I could not handle seeing one more Tim Horton sign. OK its a chip on my shoulder lol.

Our first dinner was at Tony Romas. Nice place, super friendly staff, house wine is from the Niagara region. We had the all you can eat Beef short ribs for $15.99, a rather unbeatable price in Niagara for the meal we had. I did find the short ribs dry but they are short ribs so hard to keep moist.

Remember how gaudy I said Niagara Falls can be on my vineyard touring post? We here is quite the ultimate expression of it. Next to Burger King is the Frankenstein Haunted house….and the birth of a perfect marketing ploy. I LOVE it!

At the Fudge Factory you can watch the guy prepare the fudge before it is packed into molds. Yes (sorry for this bad joke a head of time) he is a fudge packer! We tried a piece of the Bailey’s fudge, yumm!

And now for the breakfast of champions! I insisted kindly not to be dragged to a chain place for breakfast. We eventually stopped at the Continental Pancake House. This is an unpretentious family style restaurant where everything is made from scratch. The pancakes are HUGE and fluffy, Stef loved the sausages. We we very pleased and the service was so friendly. Though there is a limited all you can eat breakfast for like 7$ since we ordered à la carte it somehow ended up costing about $40 for breakfast. A bit steep!

Our second night here was our fancy dinner. I was not told where we were going as it was a surprise. Where did we go? Red Lobster. Wait I know what you are thinking, but remember this is a tourist town and this is a middle ground price restaurant. I mean our main plates were still like $25 each. We are traveling on a budget here. Red Lobsters left Quebec a while back so for us this is a treat. We each had a triple seafood combo plate, coconut shrimp appetizer, and a MASSIVE pina colada for 2. The shrimps were all excellent but my lobster tale, meh, OK.

Our last morning in Niagara was a late departure and we decided on coffee and a doughnut and just have lunch later. Today we would drive to Toronto for New Year’s Eve to my friend’s place. Of wineries were part of the expedition. But back to breakfast. So we ended up stopping at a place called Country Fresh Donuts on the outskirts of town. A really odd ball place apparently specialized in donuts and Asian sop bowls…and popular and run by Asians. Apparently this is a real local gem. And the doughnuts…the BEST EVER. This was a cinnamon twist I shot in the car. So light and so good. I wish we had bought like a dozen.

Ah, finally made it to my friend Susan’s place were we would welcome the New Year over a home meal. She and her roomie prepared a great cheese themed dinner with homemade macaroni and cheese, a lovely phyllo cup filled with goat cheese, garlic shrimps and a cheese cake. Let me tell you around 3 or 4 am the macaroni and cheese came were back out for second helpings!

And we had lots to drink! Some bubbly with the meal, some bubbly at midnight, a bit of wine and a few cocktails. The last shot on the right is bubbly with a strawberry and a Lindt Chocolate. Sounds weird but is was good. Want to try a new cocktail? This is my new fave:

RedHeaded Slut (I swear it’s the official name)

Mix in a glass 1 ounce of Peach Schnapps, 1 ounce of Jagermeister and top off with cranberry juice.

On our final night we all went for a last dinner before our return home the next day. Toronto’s Chinatown was our destination. Our host would not stop talking about Kom Jug Yuen on Spadina as the best place for Chinese with incredible BBQ pork. Very low key decor and simple place. You MUST have the BBQ Pork. This was the best Chinese food I have ever eaten and it cost 60$ with the tip and tax for 5 people.

I hope you enjoyed the little tour of some of the food I enjoyed over the holiday trip. I will have one more Toronto food post coming, a restaurant review, that you will not want to miss so come back soon. A hint: this place has been called Toronto’s least healthy restaurant.

Tipping the Digital Scale

Holiday countdown is at 14 days. Got hard to find items on your list? CSN Stores have over 200 online stores where you can find anything, and I mean anything you need. Whether it is a pet bed, air compressors, a corner tv stand or a wicker chair you will find it at CSNstores.com.

I must admit I recently bought myself a little present recently for no particular reason. I had been coveting the idea of a digital scale for some time. My online foodie blogger circle is really global so measurements can vary from one continent to another. A lot more recipes I make have the ingredients listed in grams. My old fashion small needle scale with the basket that kept falling off on top just was not cutting it anymore. Let me mention here I really bought this scale in a store with my own money and I really am extremely satisfied with this purchase.

Also I needed a scale that could measure really minute weights, like 1 gram at a time, for molecular gastronomy. Digital was the only way to go. I shopped around for a while and settled on the yellow Escali Primo Digital Scale. And I just love it. This scale is very compact, on the lower end budget wise than most digital scales, and very easy to use.

But what I like best is that I can put a recipient on the scale, subtract its weight, and then add my ingredient to weight in the recipient. That is very practical if I need 2 grams of salt but I don’t want to put salt on a large flat surface which would be hard to pick up after wards. Also you can switch between metric and imperial (grams and ounces).

Another great use for it is weight packages for the Foodie Exchanges I do. I try to keep my boxes under 500 gr to keep the cost of shipping down. With this scale I get an exact reading of how much my box weights and I avoid nasty surprises at the postal counter.

Features:

  • Digital Scale
  • Escali Primo digital scale is compact, portable, easy to store and easy to transport
  • Capacity is 11 pounds and measures in ounces, pounds plus ounces, or in grams
  • Accurately measures in 0.1 of an ounce or 1 gram increments
  • Rated Best Value by a leading independent consumer magazine
  • 5 Year Warranty
  • Comes is a whole slew of colors
  • Material: ABS Plastic
  • Dimensions: 1.25″ H x 6″ W x 8″ D

On the way to Gambia: Beef in Aubergine Sauce

Remember about 5 months ago when I had major water damage and I was suppose to get a new kitchen out of it. Well I did not. Then early last week I had to endure another moment of water problems. No damage (to my stuff, nor in the kitchen) this times but things shook up big time in the landlord’s office. My apartment is a construction site in the bedroom, hallway and I have no kitchen right now. So not a whole lo of cooking going on. I am documenting the whole kitchen project so expect soon a post on that.

This meant I had to EMPTY the entire kitchen Sunday, Oh what Fun! And I had a dinner guest Sunday night too, nothing fancy or major but still. My guest is a long time friend who in the past was in Africa for about 4 months. And I just happen to buy an African cookbook. So grab your suitcase and hop on board to a delicious yet simple one pot Gambian stew served with fufu.

Gambian Beef in Aubergine Sauce, from The Taste of Africa

1 lb stewing beef, cubed
1 tsp thyme
3 tbsp oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic glove, crushed
1 19 oz stewed tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp all spice
1 chili pepper, seeded and chopped
3 cups beef stock
1 large eggplant
salt and pepper

  1. Season beef with thyme, salt and pepper
  2. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large pot and brown the meat, transfer meat to a bowl
  3. Add remaining oil in the pot and fry the onion and garlic for a few minutes.
  4. Add the tomato can and tomato paste, simmer 5-10 minutes
  5. Add the all spice, chili, beef stock and meat to the pot. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
  6. Cut the aubergine in small cube. Stir into the pot, cover and cook another 30 minutes.
  7. Adjust seasoning if need be. Serves 4 in a soup bowl with some fufu.

I rarely buy cookbooks any more because of the internet and because cookbooks can be so expensive even if stunning at times. But I had been meaning to visit Appetite for Books for quite some time and I finally got around to it. This bookstore in Westmount (Montreal) is entirely dedicated to books about food. It is totally awesome. I spoke for a while to the lady working there, she gave me great advice and suggestions when I asked for help and we of course chatted about food and blogs. And I could not resist leaving the store without at least one purchase so I got The Taste of Africa cookbook and a historical book on Salt. Classes, book launches and cooking demos also take place here in the full kitchen. It is really worth checking out if you come to Montreal.

____________________________________________

Fufu, from The Taste of Africa

The best way I can describe Fufu is like polenta but it is made with ground rice. It has a porridge-like consistency and is used to mop up the liquid from the stew. I had this at a restaurant once and was fascinated so when I saw the recipe in the book I knew it was a must asap.

1 1/4 cup milk
1 1/4 cup water
2 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley (or 1 tsp dried)
1 1/2 cup rice flour

  1. Put milk, water, butter and salt in a pan, bring to a boil.
  2. Lower your heat to low.
  3. Add parsley and then gradually the rice flour while stirring non stop with a wooden spoon to prevent the rice becoming lumpy. It should ball up a stick together.
  4. If it is too wet still let it cook a bit more. Divide in 4 and add to serving bowl with the stew.

High Tea Afternoon + Contest 75$ gift certificate

EXTRA, EXTRA…we have a fabulous give away with CSN Stores: a $75.00 one-time use gift code to any of their sites. You can redecorate your entire house with their 200+ stores, from a dog bed, to a new dish set, an ottoman coffee table, or even a fountain for the garden . See bottom of post for details!

Please cast you vote for me to be the next food blog star! Just click to vote for my 3rd entry here. Thank you! Voting ends October 7th 6pm PST, hurry!

On the last dinner with the CEE dinner group I met a new member and we really hit it off on a possible friendship level. She also seemed to be quite the foodie and said she worked as a concierge in a hotel downtown. As a concierge she often gets free invites to restaurants or other cultural outings so she can then reference hotel guests if she likes the place. So when she sent me an email asking if I would like to accompany her at such an event I jumped at the chance.

We went for a complimentary High Tea service at Le Maitre Chocolatier at 3 o’clock. This place is centrally located on the elegant part of Sherbrooke Street close to the museums and shopping areas.

The small first floor is the shop. Here you can buy fine classic style chocolates and wonderful teas. All the chocolates are made in house by the owner, Nada, a young Moroccan lady. The staff was perfectly polite, perfect attentive service and very friendly without overstepping the personal boundaries. Shaun (I think) was the tea connoisseur and wonderful to chat with.

If you go up the stairs you will find the lovely English style tea room. There will be a new addition very shortly to the menu but there are several available services such as the breakfast tea, a scones and tea service, a full tea service as we had, and soon added a Moroccan version with that country’s specialties. I WILL have to go back for that one. Also there are sometimes small classical music concerts held here.

After being seated the waiter presented us with a box of all the teas being offered. All teas were in round canisters, labeled, that we could open them up to smell the tea. I really loved this concept. We had a good idea of what we wanted but if you are not familiar the staff will assist you in choosing the right teas for you. We chose 3 over the course of our afternoon: Anis Black Tea, Green tea with Orange Blossom and Roobos (a red tea). All were excellent.

Here is a our full service as a cup of tea is being poured for us. Never do we pour our own tea.

We started off with the bottom row of sandwiches. I have a sweet tooth and tea sandwiches are relatively simple so it was my least favorite yet all was excellent. The selection included a salmon rillettes toast, a tomato and pepper sandwich, my favorite one the Asian pear and blue cheese sandwich, and the quintessential cucumber sandwich. The bread used was lovely and dense, not flimsy white bread.

Next level was the scones. There were 4 in total: 2 plain, 1 blueberry and 1 raspberry. These were served with a beautiful selection of jams and a homemade crême fraiche which was divine. The scones were delicious and not too heavy but definitely filling. Thank god I did not have lunch and was starving. My tea companion and I split the fruit ones in two so we got to taste everything. I wish I could take home a bucket of that crême fraiche.

And finally, the pièce de résistence, the sweet top level. We each had 5 different sweets to try. Not sure what one cake was but had apricot in it I think, one was a chocolate marzipan combo, then 2 macarons each and a house chocolate truffle. What a great way to end this experience.

I am not sure how much this service goes for, I believe around 20 or 30$. If you have never had a tea service I highly recommend the experience, it is a great outing with the girls. I know of some expensive hotels that offer such a service but I really liked it here as it was small and quaint. Surprisingly there was a quiet but constant flow of customers. Oh and great for a different kind of date with your beau. Let me know if you go!

Le Maitre Chocolatier

1612, Sherbrooke Ouest
Montréal (Québec) H3H 1C9
(514) 544-9475

___________________________________________

CSN Stores $75.00 gift code Contest, to enter

  1. Leave a comment in this post telling me what is your favorite afternoon snack.
  2. Tweet about the giveaway, copy paste…1 entry per day
    @cheapethniceatz CONTEST Win a $75 Gift certificate http://cultureatz.com/high-tea-afternoon/
  3. Posting on Facebook does NOT count, sorry.
  4. This contest is only open to the US and Canada.

Good luck! Giveaway ends Oct 12th 2010 at midnight EST!


Thursday’s Thingamajig: CONTEST Win a Knife Sharpener

Just last week I was talking with a foodie friend and I was saying that if I had 2000$ lying around I would so love a complete set of top notch knives. That would be such a wonderful dream. But I don’t and I make do with what I have which is the basic kit I bought when I moved out 12 years ago. It has always served me right. Over the years 3 knives have been added: 2 Global knives, a serrated utility and a paring one, and a ceramic knife. My Global knives were and improvement but still they are not top line. My ceramic one is very new.

My knives are in need of some serious sharpening. I have tried the sharpening stones on a cheap pocket knife and destroyed the blade…that is an art form. I have tried an “As Seen on TV” hand held sharpener….plastic broke on first try and it did not do a good job. I don’t have a budget that justifies a professional service. So when Cookware.com approached me about doing a contest/review I decided to treat my knives to a face lift, or blade lift, by trying out the Chef’s Choice Pronto Diamond Hone® Manual Knife Sharpener. I received one to try out AND they offered a second as a prize for one of my readers! Contest time! But first the review:

A good knife sharpener will restores the 20 degree angle of kitchen knives. This model accomplishes that with 100% diamond abrasive wheels that are conically angled. Both sides of the knife are sharpened at the same time with a precise 20 degree angle. No guessing of the angle like with stones. The pronto has a 2 stage sharpening mechanism. The slot 1 creates and hones a sharp edge using fine diamond abrasives. The slot 2 uses micron size diamonds to ultra hone the edge of your knife. It provides the final sharpness.

I used the paper test to check my knife’s sharpness, before and after. A sharp blade should cut right through a piece of paper, where as a dull will tear IF it cuts the paper at all. My knives all failed this test. To sharpen hold down the handle with your left hand. The handle has a soft touch for a better grip and there are 4 rubber disks under the unit so it won’t slip of your table/counter. Always use the sharpener with the numbers 1 and 2 facing you, holding with your left hand. With the right hand you draw the knife in an ‘in and out’ motion according to the manual.

Each type of knife has specific instructions: smooth blade, serrated, or even Santoku knives. Santoku knives have a 15 degree angle so although you can use this sharpener there is one made specifically for them. I completed instructions for slot 1 and then slot 2 and took out the piece of paper again. This time the knife sliced nicely through the paper. I was really impressed at how fast and well it worked.

utility knife left - paring knife right

I now have a drawer full of refreshed knives and I can touch them up at any time. The compact size of the sharpener makes it easy to store as well in a drawer. This is totally worth the investments. A refreshment sharpening only needs to go through slot 2. To keep clean just wipe down the exterior with a damp cloth (no oiling required). Keep in mind this sharpener is not recommended for scissors, ceramic or single sided knives like Kataba knives.

————————————————

WHO WANTS TO WIN A KNIFE SHARPENER ???????????

I will draw a name randomly from the eligible entries and that person will win a Chef’s Choice Pronto Diamond Hone® Manual Knife Sharpener. You have till August 14 2010, 9 PM EST to enter. US and Canadian Residents only. The winner will be announced August 15th on my twitter.

How To enter:

**Leave a comment in this post telling me why you want this knife sharpener.**

Extra ways to enter…
– Tweet about the giveaway, copy paste…1 entry per day
@cheapethniceatz CONTEST Win a Knife Sharpener http://cultureatz.com/thursdays-thingamajig-contest-win-a-knife-sharpener/
– Write the knife sharpener’s SKU # in a the comment, click the knife sharpener’s link above to find it…1 entry

Good luck everyone !

Café Latte Weekends

For years now I have my little weekend tradition: I must have my latte in the morning on Saturday and Sunday. Many moons ago I had bought a cheap expresso machine for my dad when the cheap ones were new to the market. It was not a success. Ever since that try I kept my expresso making to the stove top with one of those traditional Italian expresso makers. Until recently that is.

I was given an opportunity to try out any item of my choice (to a certain extent) at CNS Stores and review it. One of the items I chose was a budget priced expresso machine. Would this one be better then the one I knew from the past?

The answer: YES! I chose the Delonghi Two Cup Espresso/Cappuccino Maker as it had the best reviews for an expresso machine of that price range – which is what most of us can afford. Of course if I had a 1000$ to blow I would get the ultra fancy ones, but I don’t so a budget model it is.

This machine was designed and engineered in Italy. It is made of a plastic shell…hopefully durable in the long run. Its overall dimensions are 11″ H x 11″ W x 8.25″ D. The 8.5 ounce heat-resistant glass carafe is perfect for making 2 or 4 shots of expresso. It even comes with a 2-cup adapter that allows you to make two espressos simultaneously(not in pictures, did not use it). One detail I love is the lid of the carafe. The way it is made forces you to align it with the expresso holder part so there is no way it will drip anywhere else then in the carafe.

The plastic measuring spoon that comes with it measures perfectly the needed coffee grounds that I required. 2 spoons matched the notched edge perfectly. After a few tries I found that it was better to fill the carafe with water up to the third line, not the second, to get the needed pressure for frothing my milk. The swivel jet frother arm is too short in general. It does work well with the shape of my preferred cup but this is my number one and only complaint about the machine.

I had no problem getting froth from my milk which I never accomplished years ago with the other gift machine. And I get better at it each time. I read online to not bob up and down but to just barely immerse the nozzle below the milk level. Works great!

The taste test: I found the quality of the expresso better then the one I always made on my stove top and I love how the milk nicely froths up. I am very happy with my now upgraded weekend lattes.  Look at my beautiful result!

If you are in the market for a budget expresso/cappucino machine do not hesitate to get the Delonghi Two Cup Espresso/Cappuccino Maker. I am sure I will get years of use out of this machine, or unitl I have a spare 1000$ lying around lol.

Ceramic Knives, a Must Have

One of the most essential tools in any cook’s kitchen is a good knife – and I mean a really good knife.  For years I have used 2 Global knives, which I love and were a pretty little investment.  That is the problem with knives, quality rises with price. The newest advances in knives, too, these days are ceramic knives…which also come at a steep price.

Well I was recently given an opportunity to try out any item of my choice (to a certain extent) at CNS Stores and review it.  They had a ceramic knife that fit within that budget. I had to try it!

Meet my new knife: the Wade Ceramics American Masala Utility Knife in Green/White. This model is a utility knife which is made of a white ceramic blade with a green handle. The blade measures 5 inches long. One of the things that hits you right a way when you pick up this knife is its weight. It barely weights anything and is super comfortable grip wise. A ceramic utility knife is ideal for slicing, mincing and cutting through boneless meat, vegetables and fruits.

Ok so I hear you asking me why would one want a ceramic knife versus a metal one. Here are some advantages:

– a ceramic knife is a knife made out of very hard ceramic, often zirconium oxide.  Zirconia is very hard; it ranks 8.5 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, compared to 6 to 6.5 for hardened steel, and 10 for diamond, giving a very hard edge that rarely needs sharpening. Ceramic blades can only be resharpened with a material harder than themselves; industrial grade diamond sharpeners are usually used.

– the blade will never rust; they are often used by scuba divers.

– the blade will not absorb the taste or odor of cut food as the ceramic is not very porous.

– Same reason, they are very easy to clean. A quick rinse in warm water will get your ceramic knife a lot cleaner than a thorough scrubbing on a metal knife. It is recommended to hand wash ceramic knives instead of putting them in the dishwasher.

Still, a few precautions…

Since they are very brittle they cannot be used for chopping, cutting bones or frozen foods or for any application which tends to twist the blade such as prying, which may cause the cutting edge to chip or the blade to break free from the handle. The blade could break if dropped or seriously knocked around.

How does it perform? Like BUTTAH. I am terribly impressed. First thing I cut was a zucchini and papaya. I barely put any pressure on the handle and it slid right through the fleshes. Then I tried a tomato. It makes a really clean cut on the skin and lets you cut thinner whole slices. Through meat it was divine as well. Basically, it just requires a lot less arm power for beautiful cuts. I really love this ceramic knife.