Batter Up: Canteen Serves Up Corn-Dog Realness

Listen up Toronto and listen up real good. I have found some legit corn-dogs.

None of this fried and disgusting stuff that makes you feel like you’re going to be sick afterwards. Oh no. This corn-dog was heaven-sent and thy heavens name is Oliver & Bonacini’s Canteen!

To celebrate the beginning of a new Blue Jays season (I wonder if my homeboy Drake has stocks in the Jays too?), the O&B team developed this fab new deal titled, Dugout Dogs. Beginning on April 4th, enjoy a blue cornmeal Dugout Dog, doubled up, for your pleasure for just $12 with a pint of Mill Street Tankhouse to wet the whistle for $5.

The Dugout Dog offers up more than just dogs & beer, which in theory you could get at the Jays game (for way more than $12, might I add). This thick and juicy realness is all beef, gluten-free served up with house-made mustard and ketchup and plated up with dem thick Yukon Gold fries.

This deal happens on every time the Jays play at home from 11AM onwards. If you don’t think you’ll be able to eat dem dogs in-house at Canteen, then don’t feel like you’ll strike out on this deal. Take them to go!

Go march your butt down to Canteen and check em out for yourself. Sports fan or not, Dugout Dogs are where its at.

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Tickets on sale for The Stop’s Night Market this week

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Written by Siobhan Ozege, photos by Yuli Scheidt

The Stop’s annual Night Market is nearly upon us. For those in the know, it’s one of Toronto’s most coveted and cherished food events with tickets selling out within hours every year. This year, you’re lucky to have Fat Girl Food Squad watching out for you and giving you the heads-up: tickets go on sale THIS WEEK. On Thursday May 1st for just $65 you get the double-whammy: support the amazing and important food security work that The Stop does, AND eat some of Toronto’s best foods.

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The event itself takes place over two nights, with different vendors each night. Happening on June 17th & 18th from 7-11pm in the Honest Ed’s alleyway, you can eat and drink to your heart’s content. Your ticket includes all-you-can-eat and drink from such FGFS faves as Fonda LolaDundas ParkSmall Town Food Co., and the Dock Ellis among many, many more. There will be savoury apps, sweet desserts, craft brews, local wines, and even some delicious coffee roasters on site. For a complete list of food vendors, you can visit the Night Market website.

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If you’re still on the fence about buying a ticket, we’d suggest reading a bit on what The Stop does. In their own words, “The Stop works to increase access to healthy food in a manner than maintains dignity, builds health and community, and challenges inequality.” This organization runs a number of food programs across the city, including after school programs, community markets and bake ovens, and a drop-in food bank space that serves Toronto’s West End. They’re a great cause, and we’re proud to support them.

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Mark your calendars, you won’t want to miss out on these amazing eats. This will be our second year attending this event, and our mouths are already watering.

Poppin’ Bottles of Fresita in the Petite and Sweet lab

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Just the other week, I was invited out alongside my Fat Girl Food Squad co-horts to a fun and fabulous evening hosted by Fresita and Petite & Sweet Bakery.

This event was unlike any other event I had ever been to with promises of sweets, treats, some crafting and a lot of Fresita. I had never had the chance to try Fresita before and it was a pink Chilean sparkling wine that was made with hand-picked strawberries. Sound delicious? Well, it was.

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I got to share in the evening with some other radical blogger babes like Lisa Jackson (from Eat Drink Travel), Kaitlin Wright (from She Does the City) and Taylor Stinson & Nathalie Sehgal (from the Girls on Bloor) while we walked through the doors of the Petite & Sweet headquarters (who were featured on Food Network’s own SugarStars) and took in the elegant beauty of the sweets table. It had everything from macaroon chairs to Fresita-flavoured marshmallows. It was heaven.

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Bottles of Fresita were popped and we sipped and nibbled our way through the evening. The lovely ladies at Petite & Sweet gave hands-on instructions on how to frost our own cupcakes. For me, I had never used a piping bag so this was a whole new experience. For my friend Ashley who tagged alongside me, she was an old pro at this and helped me out. The results weren’t too shabby.

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For me, I am not the biggest sweets person in the world so when we were shown to make Chocolate Covered Pretzels with Icing and Toffee Bits – it was game over. It was obviously my favorite snack of the evening and so simple to make. Melt some chocolate in the microwave, double-dip (no one is judging) and then carefully drizzle icing and toffee bits on top. Let sit for 10-15 minutes and you’ve got yourself one delicious snack.

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As the night winded down, we were asked to take part in a little DIY crafting and prepare our own gift boxes. I’m not going to lie: I am not a crafty person what so ever. Thankfully my friend Rachelle who I brought alongside me was because the box she put together was off the chain! I attempted to make something myself but after getting two strands of ribbon and feeling disappointed in myself, I just gave up. Thankfully I had a glass of zee ol’ glass of Fresita to ease the pain.

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This evening was everything a girl would want: sweet and crafty and delicious. Plus: I got to make some amazing new friends in the process. Thanks to Fresita Canada and Petite and Sweets Bakery for having me out.

All photos taken by Kailee Mandel

East Thirty Six breathes new life into St Lawrence Market area

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Originally posted to Ama’s weekly column on Toronto Is Awesome.

A new restaurant has opened up in the St Lawrence Market area taking over the former Lucien spot on Wellington. Opened by restauranteurs Julien and Devon Salomone (the same owners who brought us Boutique Bar) bring us the newly revitalized cocktail and food restaurant, East Thirty Six.

As you walk through the doors of East Thirty Six, you are greeted with opulent wood finishes (retrofitted), beautiful overhead blue-purple art-deco lighting fixture and lovely pops of silver and purple everywhere. The room is cozy but gives off a certain richness and warmth, no matter where you are seated in the room.

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The cocktails here are stellar and not to be missed. Co-owner / mixologist Julien Salomone runs the beverage program and has paid great details to the making of such cocktails as the Rum Row (House-made spiced rum, apricot liquor, lemon juice, ginger syrup, tonic float) or French Connection (Muddled cucumber, gin, chartreuse, lillet blanc, coriander syrup, peychaud bitters, coriander tincture). Each of the cocktails range in price between $12-14 a drink but every sip is totally worth it. At the end of the evening, we were even treated to one of Julien’s barrel aged cocktails (off-menu) and this man knows what he is doing.

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So how the food from East Thirty Six measure up? On the evening in question, we were treated to a lovely selection of their offerings from their new upcoming menu. Some of the standouts from the evening were our Winter Salad (castelfranco, kale, endive, ricotta salata aioli, focaccia) which was full of flavour and rich. So many times you encounter a salad with hard, tough croutons and this was just perfect. Next up, Scallop Crudo (lardo, celery, tequila, lime) was one of the dishes with wow factor. It had a freshness that you look for in a crudo with the lardo adding that extra bit of kick.

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Next up, we were treated to a big trend I have been seeing on menus across Toronto (and something I’m not angry about because I love) cauliflower. This dish was served up with capers, preserved lemon, brown butter, hazelnut, parsley and was stunning. The hazelnuts added the nice crunch to it and the lemon gave good acidity. I could ate a whole other plate of this. Next, probably my favourite dish of the evening: Bone Marrow with Chicken liver mousse and toast. Beautifully prepared and absolutely a pleasure. I did not want to share this and reluctantly had to. The marrow was buttery and delicious. A must have.

 

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Rounding in to some of the final courses, we were treated to a flakey and beautifully plated Halibut (with artichoke, carrot, fennel, white wine and lemon). Each piece I put into my mouth was melt in my mouth goodness and the veg in the broth was just an added bonus to the dish. As our final treat, we were shown a dessert course and brought out a lovely Lemon Custard. As I’m not much of a sweets person, I was unsure how I would feel but this tangy sweetness was just right in my books.

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East Thirty Six is open daily for dinner at 4pm and is perfect for an afterwork cocktail. To learn more about the restaurant, visit their website.

Luma serves up a whole lotta Group Love on Valentine’s Day

So for many single and couples in Toronto, Valentine’s Day comes with a bit of dread.  So much anxiety and pressure built up over a fabricated holiday to share your feelings for another.  My life partner, Simon and I decided to keep it cool this year.  We wanted to do something that we felt was relevant to both of our interests (food), relevant to both of our wallets and relevant to both of our lives (being social).

That’s where the Luma Group Love package comes into play.  Luma (the Oliver and Bonacini restaurant at the TIFF Lightbox) held a pre-fixe menu for solo foodies ($25/per person) or groups of three or more ($50 per person).  For those that were ‘riding solo’, you got to saddle up to the Communal Table and share your evening with a night of fabulous new friends.

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We took our seat at the communal table seated amongst a diverse group of new friends.  The table was set with a beautiful array of Valentine’s Day candy and the wait staff started us off with a lovely drink titled the ‘Icebreaker’ (double black cherry infused bourbon), which did just that.  All of us went round-table and introduced ourselves and what we did.  Finally once we were all done, we cheers to a fabulous Valentine’s Day.

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Now a dinner like this may not be for the brave at heart.  Having to make conversation over a great meal with strangers for at least one hour might get awkward and trust me, at times, it did.   But thankfully we had our wonderful servers who had impeccable timing and always made us feel like we were the stars of the evening.  Well that is, next to the food – of course.

Our Ted Allen looking waiter served up one-half dinner theatre style theatrics and one-half food guide for the evening, as he told us everything would be served: “family style, because group love and sharing is caring”.

First up, platters of Fritto Misto of squid and fanny bay oysters fried up with duck egg and radish crudités were put onto the table for all to enjoy.  Each person had their own oyster and each section of the table had their own Misto platter, so we didn’t have to fight over who took the last piece.   Next up, we were plated what (at first) looked like art.  Beautiful and delicate pieces of smoked trout and celery root in a deep bowl which our server then ladled in a lovely herb creme fraiche base.  Can I just say that I wanted to lick the bottom of the bowl.  I thought it may have been a bit rude of me to do so, but the chowder wasn’t heavy or too creamy.  It was rich and perfect.

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We decided to keep the juices flowing by ordering a carafe of Punch Drunk Love (rose, passion fruit liqeur, juice and lemonade).  It reminded me of Beyonce and for that, I thought it would be a good choice.  Verdict: it made me Drunk in Love. I may or may not have sent Simon a text midway through our meal that read: “I think I’m drunk” because clearly I’m old and a lightweight now.

Our next grand dish was the Lemon & Rosemary Cornish Hen served up with a warm chicory & chicken liver salad and a yukon gold potato & kale dauphinoise.  Simon had never had Cornish Hen before and he was won over immediately.  Where as my favourite thing was the potato, which whilst fumbling around trying to dig into this accidentally sliced through half a lemon.  Yep, I’m a class act.  Note: I did not eat half the lemon, just almost ate half of it.  Also: the chicken livers – so baller.  I am proud to say that our side of the table may have taken the salad home with them because: waste not, want not.

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By this time, we were beginning to feel sluggish with Luma Group Love feels and food.  Not only that, our dinner reservations began at 9PM and it was it was nearing 11.  I felt that we were at an authentic Italian style family feast.  The dishes and courses would not stop coming and while I was feeling quite blessed (and well, Punch Drunk Loved) — I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it through the dessert course without at least unbuttoning my jeans.  However, I took one for the team and dove into (without falling into a food coma) my Warm Chocolate Cake and Salted Caramel Chicharrones.

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This evening was everything I could have asked for food-wise and budget-wise.  I mean, I rolled out of Luma with a 3 course meal including 2 solid desserts for $25!  This deal was better than any other Valentine’s Day evening out.  I mean, let’s be real: even if we had cooked dinner and bought a bottle of vino, it probably would have cost as much as our Luma dinner date (or more)!  But thanks to Luma, they guided our entire evening plus gave us some rad new friends and I didn’t have to do the dishes afterwards.  This was something I am so thankful for.

Best part?  They are offering this amazing special for just ONE MORE DAY!  For those that live in Ontario and celebrate Family Day, you should march your butts over to Luma & partake in the Group Love menu.  You can be like me and stuff yourself silly all in honour of FAMILY!  Then pass out in a wonderful blissful food coma.

Pukka spices up St. Clair West

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Originally posted to Ama’s weekly column on Toronto is Awesome.

For many of us in Toronto, good Indian food is a hard thing to come by. We’re accustomed to buffet style or muddled flavours. Thankfully, Derek Valleau and Harsh Chawla (both formerly of Amaya The Indian Room) have taken on what they believe has not been filled in Toronto yet: a fine-dining Indian food spot that leaves you comforting for more. That spot is Pukka (778 St Clair Avenue West).

The space is fresh and modern with reclaimed wood table and pops of green, purple and orange throughout. You’ll find lots of funky paintings and soft lighting, which gives it a bit of a romantic touch. I had mentioned to Derek & Harsh when I first arrived that when I lived in the St Clair area some year back, restaurants like this were missing. Derek told me candidly that the area and its residents have been quite kind in their support, especially over the winter months. When Yuli and I attended on a Tuesday evening, the restaurant had ever seat full. This was even on one of the coldest winter nights we were having.

Pukka sticks to classical Indian cuisine. The kitchen is equipped with a clay tandoor oven and the menu is chalked full of seasonal, locally sourced ingredients while using rich spices and creams to take on their house-made curries and rubs.

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The menu itself is divided into snacks & eats. The snack portion has you covered with some intoxicating dishes such as: Baby Kale Salad ($8.90), which seems simple enough but with dates, cashew nut dressing and lotus chips – it brings it to a whole other level. The Vegetable String Chaat ($8.40) is serving up ripe mango and granny smith apple with a little bit of pomegranate seed just for flavour. Mix that in with some delicious yogurt and chutney and you’ve got yourself a winning dish. Another killer starter was the Chicken 65 ($9.60) which had all the feels of good fried chicken. But should you be in the South of India. This dish was spiced with curry leaf, red chili, tamarind, cumin, garlic and other spices and was pretty much, this was off the chain. I could really seem them developing this into a main. But that’s just my personal opinion.

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After inhaling all of these delicious snacks, we thought it would be wise to test some drinks off of the cocktail menu. You know to – ahem – cleanse the palette. First up was the Snapdragon ($9.20) which consisted of vodka, pear nectar, ginger beer & lime. It was sweet and fun, not too over-powering and reminded me of summer. Thankfully, it went so well with everything we were eating. Yuli decided to test out the Chai Town ($8.40) which had bourbon, chai tea, pomegranate liquors and bitters. From my sip, it was pretty delicious.

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Our servers (who were incredibly lovely and so helpful) brought out our dazzling course of mains, who informed us that most of the dishes were gluten-free. So fear not gluten-free fans, you are in luck! First up, we were brought out one of my favourite dishes of the night: Mushroom & Spinach Stuffed Paneer ($17.30). This dish was rich and bold and filling. Plus: paneer cheese is heavenly. Next up, the Pan Seared Sea Bass ($22.40) which consisted of coconut milk, curry leaves and roasted spices. The fish was beautifully cooked and the aromas of the curry was hypnotizing. You know you cannot visit an Indian food restaurant without having Butter Chicken ($17.90) and while it was good, it was not Pukka’s best dish of the evening. Oddly enough, I enjoyed everything else so much more than the Butter Chicken. The tomato infused butter sauce was rich and delicious but the chicken was a bit dry. Nothing terrible but again, not my favourite out of everything that came out. Next up, we had the Madras Pepper Steak ($19.70) which was tender, juicy and served up with caramelized onion and coconut. It was beautifully rich and delicious. This was probably my second favourite main of the evening.

Don’t forget, you have your options of sides too. We opted for the Green Beans ($8.70) with caramelized onions, coconut and turmeric and Rice ($4.60) served up in a lovely little jar (resealable) with so many aromatics. These pair deliciously with all the mains.

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If you’ve left room for dessert, there is that. We opted for the Eton Mess ($7.60), which was a mess of all things delicious: rosewater-soaked meringues in pomegranate syrup and sweet lassi cream. Um, so into it.

So if you’re craving authentic Indian and feel like making the trek to St. Clair West, make a date for Pukka. You will not be disappointed. Reservations can be made daily.

Tin Chef Competition at Mildred’s Temple Kitchen

Written by Aviva Cohen

I arrived 15 minutes after doors opened because Liberty Village is a maze.  At one point I crumbled into myself in the snow and cried. I wondered if I would die like Jack Torrance in The Shining sans axe.
Luckily, I found Mildred’s and my Liberty Village journey would be worth it as delicious h’orderves were promised.  Oh, and I guess to see the cooking competition.

While standing with the large crowd, fighting for a good sight line of 5 home chefs chopping, sautéing, mashing, cutting and [insert cooking term you learned while watching The Food Network at 1 a.m. to impress your pals] — I overhead an older man say to his partner, “if you had told me 10 years ago that cooking would be a spectator sport, I would have said you were crazy.”

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The evening was a replica of Iron Chef, including the secret ingredient of duck.  The chefs had an hour to complete 4 dishes for the judges, which included:

Alida Solomon, head chef & proprietor of Tutti Matti Restaurant
Paul Brans, professional big wig chef at Oliver & Bonacini Restaurants
Saverio Marci, master chef of Cibo Wine Bar

The competitors that evening were Meghan Legere, Jill Chen, Gav Martell, Deborah Brewster and Ronn Reaman. Of the chefs taking part, Deborah seemed to have the largest and most enthusiastic cheering section, with friends and family making cut outs of her face and positive signage.  I can only imagine the multitude of ways those face cut outs could be used down the road.  Ronn Reaman was the only competitor who had a professional chef’s jacket on.  I tried to Google him, but came up empty.  It makes me wonder if there is a chef out there in Toronto missing their jacket right now.  Hmm.

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Each chef had their own prep station including a food pantry and cooking station.  While chefs were busy prepping their veg (boring…I chop veggies at home too.. this is nothing new), I concentrated on filling my belly with h’orderves.  I mean, I paid good money to be here!  (Err, or the handy editors of FGFS asked me to spend my precious time covering this event)  The trout that came dressed up on a tiny spoon, shot glasses filled with butternut squash soup, fancy bread, and poached pears.  The h’orderves train (filled with real people with hopes and dream) had come to a full stop just as the competition did.   But then, as if the heavenly gates had opened, the dessert came out. Ginger cookies, chocolate chip cookies, pancake balls (!!!) and other chocolate type confections endlessly flowed from the kitchen.

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While I kept an eye on the competition, Ronn was attempting to bribe the judges with booze (Spoiler Alert, Ronn! It didn’t work. Paul Brans also reminded everyone that chefs don’t like ice in their alcohol.)  It also seemed like everyone had the same idea, using similar ingredients except for Jill.  She was making wraps (from scratch).  I thought she was doing a play on a traditional Peking duck dish but in her finished product, the wraps were gigantic which I knew based on my advanced knowledge of watching cooking competitions on TV, that did not bode well for her chances.

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Things heated up (good pun) when the chefs went to their cooking stations, using the open concept professional kitchen at Mildred’s. Both Deborah and Gav used mashed potatoes while Meghan had the best looking plate, making a pretty salad bowl with cucumbers.  Each judge was given ten minutes to each and judge.  Unfortunately, they deliberated in private and promptly announced the winner, which meant we were not privy to why one dish was better than the other.  They did remind everyone that seasoning is a chef’s best friend.  According to anything I’ve ever read by Anthony Bourdain it’s actually hard drugs.

I however, overheard the judge’s comment on Gav’s dish, which ended up being the winner.  Congrats Gav!  I overheard that his duck had been cooked perfectly but the grapes he used were a little weird.

I guess the secret to winning a cooking competition goes as follows:

•    Are you Morimoto? A1) Are you sure? Did you check the mirror?
•    If you are not Morimoto proceed to steps C through E
•    Cook protein perfectly
•    Season well
•    Add some weird ingredient, which will make you seem like an eccentric so the judges will be scared of you and pronounce you the winner.

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Lookin’ Good Girl: Etsy – more than just handmade goods

Etsy is an retail web-store focused on handmade or vintage items, supplies, as well as unique factory-manufactured items.

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Many of the items found on Etsy website can cover a wide range including art, photography, clothing, jewelry, food, bath and beauty products, quilts, knick-knacks, and toys.

In Canada, Etsy’s team has taken a pro-active approach to showing that beyond the Etsy brand, each store has a great seller story.  With that in mind, Fat Girl Food Squad went out to investigate how two sellers (Gucci’s Goodies and Love Love Me Do both from Toronto, Ontario)  are using Etsy to their advantage and their advice for this upcoming Valentines Day.

(1) Have you always had an online shop and why did you choose Etsy?

Sarah Carter from Love Love Me Do:   Etsy is my first online shop. I started it about 6 months ago. I choose Etsy because it an international marketplace that offers unique goods and highlights the crafts people well. Etsy is well run with a clean looking and intuitive user interface. Furthermore, it is a household name. I like that many people have not only heard of Etsy, but have shopped on it before and were pleased with the results. Etsy is a trusted name.

(2) Etsy seems to have a very strong community surrounding it.  How has that affected your business?

Laura Giovannucci of Gucci Goodies:  It has definitely changed my evenings that’s for sure.  I have lots of local people contacting me for orders for themselves or loved ones. I have a day job so when I get home most weeks I have a baking order to look forward to.  It is so satisfying to have returning customers too.  Some returning customers are form out of the country buying for their loved ones in the G.T.A.

(3)  How easy is it to set up shop on Etsy?

Laura Giovannucci of Gucci Goodies:  It is extremely easy! I find as long as I have my description write up and a great picture I am ready to go. Everything is self-explanatory and very user friendly, email reminders to pay your bill is amazing and the option to using PayPal is the best.

(4) Tell me more about your business and how did you what you do?

Sarah Carter from Love Love Me Do: A close friend of mine asked me to design her wedding invitation. It was such a fun, engaging, creative and rewarding process that I decided to start a stationary company that specializes in custom design for weddings and parties as well as greeting cards. I have always been a fan of unique, creative, quirky and beautiful greeting cards! There is nothing better than finding the perfect card to give someone.

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Laura Giovannucci of Gucci Goodies: Gucci’s Goodies was something brewing inside of me for a long time, I always baked, enjoyed it and the gratification watching everyone else enjoy it too. In 2011 I decided, why not!? I created my own 12 cupcake flavors and mastered the recipes; I wanted to stick to simple home baked goods, nothing fussy. So my menu focuses on cupcakes, cookies, pies and cheesecakes, I am always open to custom work for parties, allergies and holidays.

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(5) How important is the DIY and craft culture in society right now?

Sarah Carter from Love Love Me Do:  I think as technology and mass produced goods continue to dominate the marketplace that unique, hand made or home made items become even more valuable. DIY craft culture is a way for people to hone in on the creative side of their brain – a facet of intelligence that can be often underrated but I think is so important.

Laura Giovannucci of Gucci Goodies:  Extremely, it’s a way to open your mind and creativity and have a finished piece you can be truly proud of.  I find more people want to take the extra step to save money, recycle and upcycle and there have never been more ideas to do so.  Plus when you DIY you get exactly what you want, totally custom.

(6) What do Etsy retailers offer that other retailers cannot?

Sarah Carter from Love Love Me Do:  Many shops on Etsy offer goods that can be personalized or customized and make very special unique, memorable gifts. Furthermore Etsy is a way to interact with creative people from across the world. It really is a unique and special marketplace.

(7)  What would you suggest for someone who was looking to become involved in the Etsy community as a buyer and seller?

Laura Giovannucci of Gucci Goodies:  As a buyer, I would suggest to take your time.  There is so much to see and search for.  If there is something you don’t see; do not be afraid to ask a seller what you are looking for because everyone is so helpful. As a seller: pictures, pictures, pictures!  They are your friend and the window to the buyers window shopping.

(8) With Valentine’s Day coming up, tell me why DIY and Etsy is the way to go?

Laura Giovannucci of Gucci Goodies: If you are looking for something custom for a loved one with a name or sports team on it, Etsy is perfect!  Or with Gucci’s Goodies, we have custom flavors and colours for that special someone that will reflect on a special moment or memory they had.  Etsy and DIY show the receiver that you took time to think of something personal and special and it was made with love and care.

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Sarah Carter from Love Love Me Do: Easy. It is personal! There is no better way to say “I love you” that giving someone a gift that is customized, personal, hand selected, hand made, unique, memorable and thoughtful

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Zengo’s Test Kitchen: A Melody of East & West

Words by Gillian Kreft
Additional words by Lauren Edward

When you start thinking about fusion cuisine a few things cross your mind, but something that most of us wouldn’t think of is mixing Japanese & Mexican food, but the culinary genius that is Richard Sandoval did it, and it is amazing.

My lovely taster for the evening, Lauren.

My lovely taster for the evening, Lauren.

Sandoval’s restaurant Zengo, recently announced its new Test Kitchen Menu combining the forces of Mexican & Japanese food. The menu rotates every few months mixing different Latin & Asian cuisines into one extraordinary melting pot of flavors.

I was invited to test out the TK menu and I jumped at the chance. Since I’m vegan, I brought one of my good girlfriends, Lauren, with me to devour everything that I couldn’t. While Zengo doesn’t advertise as being vegan friendly, they do have a separate vegetarian menu that includes a few dishes that are already vegan or are easily adaptable.

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They started by bringing us out a drink from the TK cocktail menu, the Shiro margarita which included nigori, agave blanco tequila, lime juice, simple syrup, and house-made sour. I’m not usually a tequila drinker but this was amazing, a sugar rimmed glass added just the right amount of sweetness without making it into something that was all about the sugar and not enough about the fusion of sake & tequila.

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Next were the appetizers, a vegetarian sushi roll to share, Terikayi Pork Belly Gorditas “Sliders” for Lauren, and Arepas de Shiitakes for myself.

For me, the corn meal cakes topped with shiitakes, and guacamole  were a bit too spicy but that was easily remedied by taking off some of the jalapeno on top. They were perfectly crunchy while the mushrooms added a nice meaty texture to them.

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LE: “My first plate to try was the TK Terikayi Pork Belly Gordita “Sliders”, a sort of dressed up McMuffin as the manager called them. Hearing this I was initially a little skeptical, but these little suckers knocked my socks off.  Piled atop a crispy masa cake was sliced pork belly, oaxaca cheese, guacamole, carmalized pineapple, and pickled chiles for just the right amount of heat. The meat was tender and tasty and couldn’t have been better complimented by the array of flavorful fixin’s.”

5

As someone who eats a lot of vegetable sushi, I can’t say that this roll stood out. It was delicious but nothing that I haven’t had before. They served the aioli on the side and it was so good Lauren kept it at the table “just in case there’s something else” she could slather it on.

6

The next drink they brought out was described as an “updated Old fashioned.” Its formal title: The Calamansi Old-Fashioned; consisting of Japanese whiskey, fresh calamansi juice, agave, and bitters. It was a little heavy on the whiskey but still delicious. I can’t say it read much different than the old fashion my grandmother makes when I visit her but maybe she’s ahead of the times.

7

When they brought the entrees out I have to say that I wasn’t super excited. I had read the menu prior and noticed the only dish that was vegan was a tofu one. I love tofu, but as a vegan it can get a little lackluster after a few hundred dishes. When the dish was put in front of me, I couldn’t deny that the presentation alone was enough to make me want to lick the plate clean but once I took a bite of perfectly cooked tofu and a chili sauce, there was no stopping me. I finished my plate before Lauren and was begging for one more piece of tofu to soak up what was left of the sauce but alas, I was left with bokchoy & beansprouts which did the job just as well as the tofu.

8

LE: “The TK entree was Kabayaki Glazed Lamb Shank Barbacoa. Now, I will admit I am not the biggest fan of lamb, but this dish prompted a change of heart. You know that melt-off-the-bone meaty goodness that so many of us barbecue lovers can’t get enough of? Well, try this. Aromatic ginger, chiles, and tamarand gave this shank some zing, without overpowering the lamb itself. As for the pairings, this is when things kind of fell apart. The lamb was served over a bed of “arroz verde” and pickled vegetables. I really wasn’t a fan of either of these sides as I felt they offset the composition of the dish and added some strange contrasting flavors. The rice was bitter… pungent almost, and spicy. Not the good flavorful kind, but the burn your taste buds spice. No thanks. As for the veggies, well, okra and carrots, they  were arranged nicely but added very little umphf to the dish. Let’s just say that after finishing the lamb itself, I was ready for dessert.”

9

What is a meal without dessert? (The answer: sad) I was able to try all three of their sorbet flavors that rotate, Strawberry-yuzu, Blueberry-ginger, and Mango. I would venture to say that the strawberry and blueberry are made in house while the mango is store-bought. Either way, they were all delicious; the strawberry and blueberry were amazing and the addition of the yuzu and ginger made them undeniably the best sorbet I’ve ever had.

10

LE: “Dessert, the showstopper of all showstoppers. Folks, on this night the stars aligned and the culinary Gods above sent to earth the perfect post-dinner treat. The TK Avocado Panna Cotta. I don’t think I can effectively do this dessert justice through any description, but if you ask Gillian, there was very little talking and a whole lot of om-nom. Fresh avocado custard, similar to flan, was perfectly sweet with a subtle hint of that avocado flavor. Served alongside this was a mango chutney of sorts with fresh mint, and peanut chocolate cookie crumbs. What kind of mad world do we live in? I never would have expected this to be as good as it was, but it blew my mind and left me wanting seconds. Cheers to good food.”

11

Overall, I was impressed with Zengo. The service was impeccable (thanks Ryan!) and they were more than happy to accommodate two diets into one perfectly presented meal. The tofu alone makes me dream about returning. I look forward to what Sandoval’s next culinary mash-up will be.

Learning to Meal Plan with Mealspirations

By Siobhan Ozege

When Mealspirations approached us to write a review of their product, I jumped on the chance. As part of my New Year’s resolutions, I vowed that I wanted to cook more, but I’ve found that lately it seems like I don’t have the time to actually get groceries and prepare meals to the extent that I’d like to.

Enter Mealspirations, a service that is unique from other grocery-delivery type services in that they deliver the ingredients for a meal, and not just groceries. It’s a pretty easy system: they create the recipe, you order how many meals you’d like and for how many people, they deliver it to your door, and you cook it up to (hopefully) many accolades. Before you get the delivery, they tell you what items you’ll need from your pantry. This includes things like vinegars, salt, pepper and oils, for the most part. If you cook at all, you should have most of these things.

Ingredients

love to cook, but I decided that I would write the review exactly how the recipes are spelled out to give the most accurate depiction, since sometimes being kitchen-savvy means doing your own tricks and modifications. When the box arrived, I was excited about the menu: macaroni and cheese with field greens, rainbow trout with panzanella salad, and steak tortillas with pico de gallo, guacamole and cabbage slaw. Yum.

I decided to make the macaroni and cheese first. The recipe included thyme, onions, garlic and panko – delicious items I wouldn’t have expected. Now, mac n’ cheese is one of my favourite foods, so when I looked at the recipe they provided, there were a few red flags that popped up. The recipe suggested that the onions be cooked in the butter, to be used in the base for the roux. This was concerning because additional moisture in a roux can cause it to prevent your sauce from thickening – in a macaroni and cheese; this isn’t what you’re going for. I also noticed that the cheese wasn’t super flavourful when I tested it, but I thought the other ingredients would help boost the flavour.

Sauce

I made the sauce as instructed, and indeed, the roux did not adequately thicken the sauce. I ended up having to add a lot more flour to give it the proper consistency. What I didn’t realize until after, was that the cooking time for the onions was also not long enough, meaning that my macaroni and cheese was essentially full of raw onions when I went to eat it.

Overall, it was not the best – I definitely think that this recipe could use some tweaks. If you’re someone who’s new to cooking, you may not have known to a) cook the onions longer and separately – caramelized onions could have gone a long way in adding flavour, b) to add more flour to thicken your sauce. I would suggest that using either multiple kinds of cheese, or a different cheese altogether would help – the bland flavour and the raw-ish onions made it unpleasant to eat, though it did look delicious at least:

MacNCheese

The next night, we made the rainbow trout. I was feeling a bit nervous after mac n’ cheese night, but I was very optimistic. The fillets were so beautiful and fresh, and I had never tried a panzanella salad before. Traditionally, panzanella has tomatoes and sweet peppers in it, but Mealspirations accommodated my allergy to these very things by substituting it with an avocado. Yum.

Trout

While my partner prepared the fish, I made the salad – cucumbers, basil, bread pan-fried in olive oil, capers and red onions. Finally, I opened the avocado to find it had gone completely bad on the inside. Yuck! They had sent a second avocado to make guacamole for the next meal, so I decided to use that one since the first was unusable. When I cut it open, it was mostly rotten as well – I used as much as I could, and made a note to buy avocado for dinner tomorrow.

Avocado

The meal itself was delicious and very fresh tasting. I will say, that the recipe called for too much oil for cooking the fish for my liking, making it a bit greasy, but the taste was really great and complimented nicely by the salad. I was very unimpressed by the two rotten avocados.

Panzanella

The final meal was what I was most excited for. I rarely buy steak because I don’t really know how to cook it, so I thought this would be a great way to learn. The meal included a lot of peppers and tomatoes, so it was a bit sparse in terms of ingredients, but it was still delicious. I whipped up some guacamole, and let that sit while I shredded the ingredients for the slaw.

Slaw

Again, there were a bit of strange things about the recipe – calling for lime zest but then not having that anywhere in the recipe, very short cooking time for a giant flank steak, and using radicchio and brussel sprouts in a cabbage slaw. Radicchio is bitter. In fact, it’s overwhelmingly bitter, and the dressing for the slaw didn’t quite cover this up, so I ate it with the guacamole in the tortilla to mask the taste, rather than on the side, and I didn’t keep the leftovers.

I ended up having to throw the steak back into the pan due to how undercooked it was – the recipe had said it would cook to medium-rare, but it was rare. However, even without the pico de gallo, these were still very tasty and probably my favourite meal of the three.

Tortillas

Overall, Mealspirations is providing a good service, and it’s reasonably affordable. I think the recipes could use a little work in terms of cooking times, and quantity of ingredients. I would have also liked to see a nutritional breakdown for the recipes – the website says that each serving is about 500-600 calories, but having done some basic calculations, I believe it’s actually more than that.

I’ve decided that I need to make more time in my own life to cook the food I want to eat, but this experience has taught me the importance of meal planning, and how much stress planning in advance can alleviate in a busy week. If you’re interested in learning how to cook and don’t know where to start, I think Mealspirations could be the right fit for you.