March 31, 2012

Since having my first taste of food truck cuisine recently I have been hooked on following Toronto food trucks and seeing what they are doing. I am now following some on Twitter and reading about them (check out the 10 top food trucks in the GTA) and I have become a little food truck obsessed actually. When I heard about Food Truck Eats event last week at the University of Toronto I knew I had to devote my lunch break to tracking them down.

If you want to know where most Toronto food trucks will be on a daily basis, I recommend checking out the Ontario Food Trucks website. They put together Thursday's event at U of T which saw 10 trucks in total --5 at the downtown location and 5 in Scarborough-- gather on the campus to feed hungry students and those who made the trek out there for lunch like me!

The trucks gathered on the Wilcocks Common downtown were:
El Gastronomo Vagabundo
Gorilla Cheese
Blue Donkey Streatery
Smoke's Poutinerie
The Portobello Burger
Tiny Tom's Donuts
Beavertails Toronto

And some of my favourites (from Queen and Jarvis) were at the U of T Scarborough campus:
Cupcake Diner
Toasted Tangerine
Bonfire Catering

After getting lost a few times trying to navigate the campus, I finally arrived to a mass of people and numerous lines around 12:30 p.m. The campus isn't exactly close to where I work, so my lunch break was a a lot longer than I anticipated after getting there, finding where it was, waiting in line and getting back. If you ever see one of those people holding out their phone with a GPS map trying to find where they are, that is probably me.

My next obstacle was trying to decide which truck to try. Blue Donkey Streatery's menu offered some delicious sounding greek classics, like souvlaki, gyros, a fried calamari pita and greek salad:

Gorilla Cheese offered gourmet grilled cheeses and even some dessert variations with nutella, bananas and peanut butter (yum):

The Portobello Burger offered vegan and vegetarian options like grilled vegetable and tofu sandwiches and even kale salad! I was super impressed at how popular it was even with a poutine truck and beavertails right beside it.

After perusing the menus I decided on Gastronomo Vagabundo. I couldn't really tell what type of cuisine they offered from their menu, but according to their website they are a "new take on international street food."

The "Spanish Inquisition Salad" sounded too good to pass up with Israeli couscous, chorizo, peppers, roasted corn, zucchini, smoked paprika and tzatziki.

I grabbed my food and headed back to the office and was so excited to try Israeli couscous (a first for me). I sat down to eat it and opened the box and realized there was no chorizo. I don't know if I accidentally got a vegetarian salad by mistake or they ran out, but I was a little disappointed.

However, all was forgiven when I started to eat the salad. The creamy tzatziki with spicy paprika and vegetables and tangy dressing were refreshing, but surprisingly hearty with the thick couscous. Some spicy sausage would have really elevated the salad, but I enjoyed it immensely as a vegetarian dish.

I wish I had more time to wait in the other lines and try a few other dishes plus dessert, but I was happy with my pick and look forward to more Toronto food truck events. This one was obviously a success with the amount of people and enthusiasm from the crowd and the trucks.

The Toronto Street Food Project launched recently to advocate for more diverse street food in Toronto, so if you're a food truck fan like me, sign the petition and spread the word.
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March 16, 2012

In the past few months I've explored some neat Toronto food spots, but there are still many on my list to try. I have had a lot of help scoping out the local food scene from some great blogs and websites (such as BlogTo's "Best of" section, Toronto Life Magazine, Where Jess AteFood Junkie Chronicles and the Hip and Urban Girl's Guide among the many, many blogs I read) and of course word-of-mouth and recommendations.

The other day at work someone mentioned there was a cupcake truck parked down the street for the day. In an office of mostly women, I was expecting some mass hysteria at the mention of mobile cupcakes. I obviously bolted out of my seat to check it out. I haven't lived in a city where gourmet food trucks have been a recurring thing (mostly just those generic souvlaki or fry trucks), so I was excited to finally get my first taste of gourmet truck cuisine.

The Cupcake Diner and The Toasted Tangerine parked at Queen and Jarvis for the day, and stop somewhat regularly now to feed the hungry office workers. The Food Cabbie and Thundering Thelma are also parked on a regular basis, so luckily for me the area is a food truck hot spot.

Although I didn't try them, my co-workers had some of The Toasted Tangerine's offerings, including mini bbq chicken sliders, a turkey sandwich with crispy onions and peach mustard and toasted ravioli with a butternut squash dipping sauce. This was not like any truck food I had ever seen. I already packed a lunch, so I opted for some dessert instead.

I decided to try the red velvet --always a classic--and the Skor flavoured cupcakes (not all for myself obviously...)

The red velvet was extremely moist and I actually enjoyed the "cake" part about as much as the icing. Most of the time I devour the icing and don't pay much attention to the cake, but the cake was fluffy and the icing was light and sweet as well. It wasn't crusty or hard like with some cupcakes. The Skor was basically a chocolate cupcake with skor bits on top, so the flavouring wasn't there as much, but I still enjoyed it.

When the truck came back the following week I was determined to only get one cupcake, but I saw they had even more selection with whoopie pies and cookies. I asked how big the whoopies pies were, as the price was $3, and I was amazed to see massive pies the size of my hand.

I got a banana peanut butter cupcake as well, but was completely enamoured with the whoopie pie. I had to cut it into quarters to eat it, but like the cupcakes, the "cake" was incredibly fluffy and went beautifully with the smooth icing. The banana cupcake had a delicious banana bread cake that didn't even taste like a cupcake, but like a fresh piece of banana bread. I have been reminded by a certain someone that next time the truck comes I have to stock up on whoopie pies...

If you're also in the area I highly recommend another foodie hot spot, although not in truck form, Mystic Muffin at Richmond and Jarvis.

When you see this sign, run, don't walk, in for the best lunch ever. The "Better Life Combo" is chalk full of green goodness with a few types of salads, lentils, rice, hummus, falafel, potatoes and pita. If you're a first time customer you will also receive a piece of their legendary apple cake, but you should just get it for dessert anyway.

I couldn't eat this all in one sitting, so I enjoyed it over two separate meals and man, did I enjoy it.

I hope food trucks become as popular here as they are in other places. I love seeing creative food options, especially in mobile form. Apparently the Food Cabbie has run into some legal issues involving parking, so I hope the city steps up and sees the potential of a thriving food truck scene in Toronto.
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March 01, 2012

It's time for another update on my weekly culinary class at George Brown College. I can't believe there are only a few classes left of the course. How is it March already? Time flies when you're having fun cooking (and eating!)

Week 4 was one night I was definitely looking forward to: Lasagna night. One thing I have learned from taking a culinary class is to basically unlearn everything I was doing before. Another thing I have learned is to not eat a large dinner before class. This is why:

We started by making a bolognese sauce for the lasagna. We browned the meat (a few minutes on each side without poking and prodding it), then added onions and green pepper, let it cook for a few minutes and added garlic and mushrooms. We then let that cook for a few minutes and added pureed canned tomatoes, a bit of tomato paste and spices.

You don't even really need a lot of tomato paste, or any, depending on how long you let the sauce thicken. A bolognese sauce can also include veal, pork, wine, beef stock and anything else you want to add. This was actually the best sauce I had ever made and I would have eaten it by itself if we didn't have to smother it with cheese and noodles for our lasagna (life is tough). Chef demoed how to make the lasagna, as well as how to make compound butter (basically butter mixed with herbs that can be sliced or made into garlic bread), garlic bread and a basic vinaigrette.

I am still amazed at the amount of butter we use in the recipes, but most of the time the food tastes so good that I just don't care. Pardon my messy cutting board:

We then cooked the noodles for the lasagna and layered sauce, noodles, a ricotta mixture, more sauce, noodles and cheese until we reached the top. We used full-fat ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan cheese, so this was definitely not a low-fat lasagna. I also learned that you should criss-cross the noodles when layering them for the lasagna (i.e. have the first layer go one way and the second layer another way), so the lasagna stays together better when serving. I was really happy with my lasagna even though I don't actually like mushrooms or peppers. 

Week 5 was not one of my favourite weeks unfortunately. My confidence has been getting a little better each week with getting a feel for the kitchen, preparing my ingredients and finding equipment, but for some reason this week I got a little discouraged. The dish we were making was Poached Trout in a Riesling Wine Sauce with Grapes.  

First of all, I'm not really a fan of heavy cream sauces, so I knew I wouldn't like it from the start. Secondly, it was definitely outside of my comfort zone and normal cooking style, but obviously the point of this course is to learn recipes and techniques I don't know, so I'm glad I made this dish in the end. This was the chef's beautifully presented version along with some piped Marquis Potatoes:

And then there was my version. We learned how to properly clean and prepare the fish for cooking. Descaling, boning and filleting the fish was a lot more difficult than I thought. Then we placed it in a pan with shallots and butter and put a piece of parchment paper on top, then added the liquids (stock and wine) to cover the fish, so it could poach. When I tried to remove my fish from the pan it completely fell apart in my container. We then made the cream sauce with the juices from the pan and when I poured the sauce over the fish it ended up looking like a creamy, fishy mess, which is gross, I know. The other pile of food is leftover potatoes in case you were wondering:

I left that class a little discouraged and for a minute questioned why on earth I was even trying to master more complex culinary techniques like poaching fish and making fancy sauces. But then I realized that the point is after all to "learn." So no, I probably won't make the perfect "Ontario Lake Trout Vin Blanc" on the first try, but I did "try."

Luckily, week 6 was definitely more my style. We learned how to make a beautiful Crabmeat Quiche from scratch. Here is my previously atrocious quiche recipe: throw some stuff, plus eggs, into a frozen pie shell and bake. The chef demoed how to make pie pastry from scratch and although I have made it before, this was the most amazing pastry I have ever made. (I keep saying that about everything I make in this class, but it really does make a difference to actually learn the proper techniques). We blind baked the pastry for about 20 minutes. Then we added butter to a pan and cooked the onions and crabmeat for a few minutes. 

Before, I would just beat the eggs with some milk and pour it straight into the pastry, but the proper technique involves "scalding" the milk with a bit of nutmeg, then slowly pouring it into the egg mixture while stirring continuously. Then you place some cheese on the bottom of the pastry, the "garnish" (onions and crab), the eggs and sprinkle with chopped herbs and bake for approximately 20 minutes. 

I was extremely pleased with how my pastry and quiche turned out and it was delicious. We even learned how to crimp the edges of the pastry for a nice presentation. The chef then demoed how to make french omelettes and hollandaise sauce. I am so glad I saw the proper way to make an omelette, as most of time, my omelettes turn into scrambled eggs. I never thought I liked hollandaise sauce, as I said before, I think creamy sauces ruin things most of the time (like eggs benedict), but this sauce was life-changing. 

He poured the sauce over cooked asparagus and broiled it for a few minutes. This was one of those times I really didn't care how much butter was in the recipe. The sauce was so good, I wanted to bathe in it. Although I don't foresee myself making it at home anytime soon, I am now a hollandaise convert. Next time I go for brunch I may reconsider its glorious partnership with eggs benedict. 

My freezer has been filling up with meals from class and the leftover ingredients. I'm glad I have been trying some new thing even if it is a challenge sometimes. But that's life I suppose; it's all worth it in the end. 
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