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Friday, June 24, 2016

The Week in Yum - Rashers on Ossington, Pearl Diver and Taste of Toronto

I am still getting back in the saddle, as far as attending media dinners and events so this is really more of a "a few weeks in yum" than a true week of it. 

As part of my personal code of conduct, I tend to only accept invites to places that I either already know that I like or that I have been dying to try, because I like to keep it real but I also like to keep it positive. Think of my posts about places i have been and stuff I have tried more as enthusiastic recommendations than reviews. As much as I love and appreciate a chance to enjoy some free food, I also visit the restaurants I write about on my own time, spending my own scratch (or, if it's new to me, I will visit in the future) and if I don't like a place or a product, I don't write about it. There have been one or two instances where something was so disappointing that I do share that information but, for the most part, I like to share things with you the way I share things with my friends and family.

Just want to make this clear as mud.

So, here is what I liked recently:


I happily accepted an offer to attend a media dinner at the newest Rashers on Ossington because I am already a big fan of their original, little shop in Leslieville. Their new spot is bigger with more tables and the food is just as delicious so there is nothing bad to report.

You can get smoked strip bacon, peameal bacon, British style bacon or maple glazed smoked strip bacon and they encourage substitutions so the possibilities are kind of endless.

I almost always order the Full Monty, a giant sandwich that celebrates British style bacon (provided by Perth Pork Products of Stratford), fried egg, tomato and mushrooms with lots of homemade brown sauce. At this media dinner I finally got to sample most of the other offerings and now my life has been made more difficult because I can no longer just automatically go for the same sandwich. The Brie and Bacon was an ooey, gooey bun full of porky goodness, the Bacon Caesar was rich and decadent and full of caesar tang while the Apple and Maple Grilled Cheese had that blend of sweet and salt that I live for. The only thing that I wouldn't order, myself, was the bacon burger but I took one to feed to Shack afterwards and even cold, he said it was amazing. I am just not much of a big, thick burger gal but I AM a fan of all forms of bacon and that means I am a fan of both Rashers shops.

The prices range from $8 to $11 and besides curly fries or handcut wedges, it's all about the sandwiches. You can take out or eat in with an ice cold pop - the Stewart's cream soda is my beverage of choice. They are open from 10am until after dinner every day but Monday so don't think a bacon sammy is only for breakfast either - I will take a bacon sandwich for supper any day.

This was a media dinner so all food was provided free of charge but my opinions are absolutely only my own.

182 Ossington
closed Monday
Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 9pm
Sunday 10am to 7pm

Pearl Diver Cooper Dinners 

Chef Michael Blackie with Rudy Guo, delicious treats and a Pearl Diver Shucking God

I LOVE Pearl Diver, so let's get that out of the way. I have written about my first visit for a media dinner where they were promoting their WeChat thing here and I have been back a ton since then. Their nightly specials cannot be beat - Tuesday $30 Seafood Tower and 100 oysters for $100 on Thursdays are my favourites but it's not just about the seafood. The rest of the menu is wonderful, including the desserts. I wish I lived a bit closer because then I would shuffle over in my PJs for their late night special of a dozen oysters for $18 on a bi weekly basis. On second thought, mabye it's good for everyone that I live too far away for that.

Anyway, the owners of Pearl Diver have decided to pay homage to the late Brian Cooper, the former dean of hospitality and tourism at George Brown College. They hosted a dinner to announce the scholarship program started in his honour as well as to officially inaugurate the Cooper Room. Co Owner and George Brown Chef School grad, Rudy Guo credits Brian Cooper (and his wife, Midge) with teaching him the true meaning of hospitality and says that without their direction, he wouldn't be where he is today. Even after Cooper's death, his wife Midge continued to host culinary students in her home and both Rudy and his partner  and chef, Tom Milosz Malycha both lived in the Cooper home while they were at George Brown.

Ottawa's Chef Michael Blackie, on loan from his restaurant NeXt, was the first guest chef to come to the restaurant to prepare a feature menu with 50% of the proceeds of these specials going towards the Spirit of Hospitality scholarship. Going forward, there will now be a regular series of Cooper dinners where they will pair young chefs with an experienced chef like Blackie, with proceeds going towards the scholarship, so keep an eye out for the next one.

For this dinner, Blackie's specials were offered to our group to try as well as a few items off of the regular menu and, for regular customers, it's nice to be able to try a few new things alongside your normal favourites. It's equally nice to know that some of the money spent is also going to a good cause, helping out some lucky culinary students in their efforts to become chefs at a Toronto landmark, George Brown College.

The dinner was on a Wednesday and I returned the next night with Shack and The Kid to destroy 100 oysters for $100. I ate about 12 oysters. There were no oysters left behind. Someone ate about 45 oysters each. Just saying.

Blackie's Pork Belly with Digby Scallops was a personal favourite and by personal fave I mean I threatened people with death by fork if they touched it before I was finished with it. YUM

This was a media dinner so all food was provided free of charge but my opinions are absolutely only my own.

Pearl Diver
100 Adelaide St East
click the above link to check out the hours of operation

I still can't believe how much I love gardening. Full on old lady gardener.

The Belgian Moon Night Market

Big thanks to my pal, Libby Roach, for dragging me along as her +1 to the Belgian Moon Night Market, a free, outdoor gathering curated by Vice in collaboration with the beer company. There was a small but mighty selection of food vendors - no need to bring every man and his dog out when you have Patois, Dailo, Pai, Momofuko, Hopgood Foodliner, Grand Electric and Bar Fancy, right?

We got there an hour before it opened to the public at 7pm and by the time we left and around 8pm, there was a line up that stretched more than a block, waiting to get in for some free beer, tasty food and great music. The next time this one goes down, make sure you are there early and first in line to get in.

Finally, this weekend is Taste of Toronto at Fort York so if you haven't got your tickets yet, click that link and correct that, pronto. Keep an eye on my social media because I will be taking tons of photos and sharing all the best stuff

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Spicy Gazpacho with Jerk Pickled Shrimp Will Become Your Favourite Summer Dish

So, it's the end of June and it's finally getting really hot and that means I don't want to eat hot food anymore. I start craving ceviche, salads and watermelon by the kilo and something I always think I want to make, but never do, is gazpacho. I really like all kinds of gazpacho so look for some other versions throughout the summer.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

This Is The Instant Pot Butter Chicken You Need

Butter chicken is like the moo goo guy pan of Indian food. Unlike other recipes that were first made hundreds of years ago in some small village, passed down through generations from grandmother to granddaughter, this is a relatively new dish. In fact, it only dates back to Delhi in the 1950's, an invention of some chef at the Moti Mahal hotel but the Brits fell in love with this mild, flavourful curry and it is now one the most popular Indian dishes in the world.

I have been trying to perfect butter chicken in the pressure cooker for months now. I started out by trying other, popular butter chicken recipes and some of them were better than others. A couple called for using cornstarch to thicken a too thin sauce, which is just wrong in my book. None that I could find called for marinating the chicken in a masala before making the final dish and without that step, there is a depth of flavour that is missing for me.

 Now, I understand that the whole appeal of the Instant Pot is that things take much less time to cook but skipping step of marinating the chicken in the yogurt masala, which imparts a huge amount of flavour to the finished dish, wasn't a corner I wanted to cut. Most of the recipes were just the sauce part with some chicken thrown in, often without any butter, sometimes no cream or cream substitute and I have even seen it made with *ACK* ketchup! I actually like it with coconut milk in place of cream and I usually use evaportated milk myself,  but no butter??? It's not called canola oil chicken, it's butter chicken, people. No butter, no butter chicken.

How to convert my own recipe for butter chicken to work in the pressure cooker?

One of the challenges when converting recipes for the pressure cooker is the fact that there is NO evaporation but you need at least 1 cup of thin liquid content in order for the machine to come to pressure. This can make cooking with thicker sauces that contain a lot of tomato a challenge. It takes a lot of messing up until you get the perfect balance by using bare minimum amount of liquid to obtain pressure. Once I got this one to a place where it seemed to work for me, I gave the recipe so some friends to make and I am happy to report that this recipe worked perfectly for all of them which means I can finally share it with you.

*I grate the onion, garlic and ginger because I find that onion is really overpowering in the pressure cooker if it's not well cooked and it also takes away the need to puree the sauce to make it nice and smooth, thus eliminating an extra step. I am finally really happy with this one and I hope you will be too. Oh and I add some frozen spinach for the extra water content AND a tiny bit of vegetable - I love spinach in curry so that part is not authentic in any way, but it's tasty and you can feel free to leave it out.

Instant Pot Butter Chicken

serves 6-8

chicken and marinade:
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into chunks
1/4 cup tandoori masala (the powder, if you use the paste, adjust accordingly)
2" piece of ginger grated with a rasp
4 cloves garlic, grated with a rasp
pinch kosher salt
1 cup plain yogurt

3 tbls ghee or butter
1 onion, grated on a box grater
2" piece of ginger, grated with a rasp
4 cloves garlic, grated with a rasp
1 tbls cumin
1 tbls coriander
1 tsp tumeric
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground fenugreek
1 tsp chili flake (or to taste)
1 19oz can tomato puree (if you don't have puree, use an immersion blender or throw them in a blender)
3/4 cup chicken broth
125g of frozen spinach

1 cup evaporated milk if you want to be healthy, cream if you don't care or even coconut milk 
1 tsp garam masala
a big handful of fresh cilantro, chopped (reserve a bit for garnish)

Mix the yogurt with the ginger, garlic, tandoori masala and a pinch of salt and marinate the chicken in this for 1 to 24 hrs in the fridge

When it's time to cook the curry, heat your pressure cooker on sauce until it says it's hot. Add in the ghee and sauté the onion for a minute but don't let them burn, so stir constantly and add a bit of water if they look like they might be getting brown. Add in the garlic, ginger and spices and salute for another minutes, until it's really fragrant, before adding in the tomatoes and the chicken broth. Now, scrape in the chicken and the marinade but don't stir it and place the frozen spinach on the very top.

Put on the lid, make sure the vent is closed and program your pressure cooker for 10 minutes on high pressure and let it NPR for at least 10 minutes.

Open up the lid, add in the evaporated milk, the garam masala and cilantro and stir well. If it isn't as thick as you would like it, hit cancel and then hit sautee again and let it simmer a few minutes, stirring often, until its thickened up a bit.

Serve with basmati rice and more chopped cilantro

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

It's Time for Taste of Toronto 2016

From June 23-26, at Fort York, Taste of Toronto is coming to the city for the third year in a row. Bigger and better than ever this year, there are more chefs, more restaurants represented and that means, more tasty things for you to eat and drink.