Year after year I have heard advertisements for the Food and Wine Expo, yet never attempted buying tickets. My curiosity and eagerness to attend was at its peak this year, so I decided it was time. Jonty and myself ventured down to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre this past weekend to sample some incredible wine, and of course, food.
Since it was Saturday night, the venue was quite packed, as we presumed. However, I think this added to the ambiance of an exciting, fun filled evening. Hundreds of booths filled the room, ranging from wine, vodka, beer, whiskey, and different cuisines.
To start things off, we chose a brisket sandwich from Barque Smokehouse. It was incredibly sweet and smoky. We polished it off rather quickly.
After this, although very similar, we chose the Prime Rib slider from the Windsor Arms Hotel. The sweet BBQ sauce, paired with tender meat, red cabbage and horseradish was a wonderful way to get our taste buds going. To be honest though, Jonty and I both commented on the overload of horseradish which was a little too overpowering.
Next we moved onto Food Dudes, a Toronto based food truck which is all the rage these days. The white wine mac and cheese with lemon zest panko and smoked tomato ketchup immediately caught our eye. It was so creamy and cheesy with the perfect amount of crunch and lemony zing that we went back for seconds later on in the evening.
Maritime Lobster caught our attention next. Simple, yet mouth-watering and extremely fresh, we wolfed down a shrimp skewer, and some lobster pieces smothered in butter.
The trendy Kultura restaurant was serving up some delicious dishes, and we chose the Mushroom Orecchiette with Pinot Noir Pear Chutney and Aged Cheddar. It was soooo tasty that I think I barely left any for Jonty. The sauce was sharp and creamy with a hint of sweetness from the pears which made for a delightful dish. We also made a second stop here a little while later to try some of the other dishes they were offering. The Tuna Cornets seemed light, which is what we needed between all of the food and wine. Tuna sashimi, mayo and avocado mousse all sat in a nori shell, which is another word for seaweed. It tasted exactly like sushi, without being too fishy, which was a nice light bite. The lamb shank also looked too yummy to resist so we got just one to share. I couldn’t get over how tasty it was. Cooked to perfection, with a hint of sweetness, this lamb shank was on the top of my favourites list of the night.
Every time we visit the Mad Italian, it is always for gelato. However we have been itching to try the Zazzu pizza cones. Lucky for us, they were being sold at this event, so we naturally picked one up. We chose the simple Margherita Zazzu with mozzarella and parmesan cheeses, tomatoes, tomato sauce and basil. It was just as tasty as we had imagined.
As for the wine, we sampled a variety, and had an incredible time doing so. Neither Jonty nor I are wine experts, so we just enjoyed wandering freely while tasting a bunch of different wines and having a lovely time together. I also sampled a few different vodkas, while Jonty tried some whiskey. After about five hours, YES FIVE HOURS, we decided to call it a night. It was an enjoyable and out of the ordinary way to spend a Saturday night instead of just going out to a restaurant like usual. I plan on attending the Food and Wine Expo for many years to come!
As promised, I will share with you the recipes that I used for the Chef’s Challenge Cookie Battle that I attended the other night. I made two different cookies, leaving me options as to which cookie to bring with me to the battle. The face-off was between Momofuku Compost Cookies and Nutella Stuffed Chocolate Chip cookies with browned butter, vanilla beans and sea salt. I decided to go with the Momofuku Compost Cookies, as you saw in my previous post.
Momofuku Compost Cookies
1 cup butter (two sticks, unsalted)
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 Tbsp corn syrup (I left this out)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsps baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsps Kosher salt
1 1/2 cups your favorite baking ingredients (I used milk and semi sweet chocolate chips, butterscotch chips)
1 1/2 cups your favorite snack foods (I used potato chips, pretzels)
1. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream butter, sugars and corn syrup on medium high for two to three minutes until fluffy and pale yellow in color. Scrape down the sides with a spatula.
2. On a lower speed, add eggs and vanilla to incorporate.
3. Increase mixing speed to medium-high and start a timer for 10 minutes. During this time the sugar granules will fully dissolve, the mixture will become an almost pale white color and your creamed mixture will double in size.
4. When time is up, on a lower speed, add the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
5. Mix 45 – 60 seconds just until your dough comes together and all remnants of dry ingredients have incorporated. Do not walk away from your mixer during this time or you will risk over mixing the dough. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl with a spatula.
6. On the same low speed, add in the hodgepodge of your favorite baking ingredients and mix for 30 – 45 seconds until they evenly mix into the dough. Add in your favorite snack foods last, paddling again on low speed until they are just incorporated.
7. Using a 6 oz. ice cream scoop, portion cookie dough onto a parchment lined sheetpan.
8. Wrap scooped cookie dough tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of one hour or up to 1 week.
DO NOT BAKE your cookies from room temperature or they will not hold their shape.
9. Heat the oven to 400 F. Take the plastic off your cookies and bake 9 to 11 minutes. While in the oven, the cookies will puff, crackle and spread.
At 9 minutes, the cookies should be browned on the edges and just beginning to brown towards the center. Leave the cookies in the oven for the additional minutes if these colors don’t match up and your cookies still seem pale and doughy on the surface.
10. Cool the cookies completely on the sheet pan before transferring to a plate or an airtight container or tin for storage. At room temp, they’ll keep five days.
Nutella Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies with Browned Butter, Vanilla Beans and Sea Salt
Yields about 2 – 2 1/2 dozen
1 cup salted butter, diced into 1-inch pieces
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups packed light-brown sugar
2 large eggs
seeds of 2 vanilla beans (or increase vanilla to 2 tsp)*
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup milk chocolate chips
about 2/3 cup Nutella, chilled
coarse sea salt
1. Brown butter in a medium saucepan
2. Pour browned butter, using a rubber spatula to scrape out any excess, into the bowl of an electric stand mixer and allow to cool until lukewarm, about 20 – 30 minutes.
3. In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and 1/4 tsp kosher salt, set aside.
4. Add light-brown sugar to cooled butter in stand mixer fit with paddle attachment.
5. With mixer set on medium-low speed, blend mixture together until well combined, about 1 minute.
6. Add in vanilla bean seeds, and vanilla then add in eggs one at a time and mix until well combined after each addition.
7. Set mixer on low speed and slowly add in dry ingredients and mix just until combined.
8. Mix in chocolate chips.
9. Transfer dough to an airtight container (or place plastic wrap over bowl) and chill in refrigerator about 1 1/2 hours.
10. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
11. Remove dough from refrigerator and scoop dough out about 2 1/2 Tbsp at a time and shape into balls, then align them on a large sheet of parchment or wax paper. Evenly flatten dough balls until you have about a 3 1/4-inch circle.
12. Place 1 tsp chilled Nutella in the center on top of each. Carefully fold dough up and around Nutella, covering it entirely
13. Transfer to a cookie sheet and bake for 10 – 12 minutes until golden brown.
14. Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle cookies with coarse sea salt (you can also sprinkle them with sea salt before baking as the salt sticks better that way).
15. Allow to cool several minutes on cookie sheet before transferring to a wire rack to cool. Store in an airtight container.
Last night I attended the Chef’s Challenge Cookie Battle which was a fundraising event for cancer research and education at Mount Sinai Hospital. Each attendee showed off their culinary talents with homemade cookies tested by Food Network chef, Chuck Hughes (who is just as good looking in person as on TV!). Although my cookies were unfortunately not the winners, it still was an incredible night for a great cause. I had the opportunity to mingle with other bakers, “foodies”, and of course Mr. Hughes.
There were a huge variety of scrumptious cookies such as brownie stuffed chocolate chip, pink lemonade, candied bacon, various shortbreads, lemon meringue, among plenty others. The winner’s Chocolate Macchiato Shortbread cookies were beautifully displayed and were clearly a hit. I am not a coffee fan so I didn’t try one, plus they were all eaten pretty quick after Chuck pronounced them his favourite.
And the winning cookies (the ones in the coffee cups)…
I put some thought into which cookies I would bring to this event and decided to make two different recipes to choose from. First I made Momofuku Compost cookies which are one of my favourites. It is a very intricate recipe which can be a hit or miss, so you must pay attention to detail in the baking process. I also stumbled upon a recipe for Nutella Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies with browned butter, vanilla beans and sea salt. They sounded amazing so I gave them a try. The final product was quite delicious, but I felt that they were kind of just ordinary. Therefore I chose to display my compost cookies at the cookie battle.
Pictured below are my two different cookies at home while deciding which to bring to the battle.
Stay tuned for the recipes.
Although I have not been blogging for the past three weeks, I sure have been eating! Sorry for the hiatus, but I was busy hanging out with penguins and lions and rhinos and other cool stuff in South Africa. Still sounds crazy to me that I’ve been to Africa! If someone would have asked me a few years ago if I could ever see myself visiting Africa, I would have probably said “ummm are you crazy?!” Little did I know that a boy would change all of that. That boyfriend Jonty of mine who joins me in a ton of eating was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. That being said, it was time he show me his roots and where he was brought into this world.
Visiting a new place always sparks my taste buds with excitement. I dedicate a large majority of my vacation to finding the best food to enjoy, photograph, and write about. After all, if it hasn’t been photographed then you didn’t really eat it…right?! After spending some time in Johannesburg and Cape Town, I can confidently say that the food is incredibly delicious, fresh and worth talking about.
An authentic South African food is dried meat, also known as biltong. It is quite comparable to beef jerky, yet I find it way more enjoyable. To be honest, before this trip I would never indulge in some biltong whenever Jonty would come across some in Toronto. Three weeks surrounded by this stuff has converted me into a biltong fan.
For years I have been hearing Jonty talk about this Shawarma restaurant in Johannesburg that he went to years ago on his last visit back. I always just thought “ok yeah it’s shawarma, what’s the big deal?”. Well, I now know the big deal. It is super yum! The array of toppings and salads you can stuff inside your sandwich include the staples such as hummus, lettuce, eggplant, veggies, and then some nontraditional ones such as mashed avocado and potato salad!! Also, the beef ribs were literally fall-off-the-bone delicious, yet also quite rich. The juicy, soft meat smothered in a sweet, tangy sauce made for probably the best ribs I have tasted.
A common chain throughout the country is a place called The Spur. Since Jonty and I love to indulge in anything that has hit the deep fryer, we ordered calamari, with fries and onion rings. The one thing I couldn’t comprehend is why they are called rings. They are onion strings to us North Americans! Oh well, I still had no difficulty eating them.
The surrounding oceans in Cape Town allow for seafood to be readily available and extremely fresh throughout the country. Also a chain, which was just mediocre in my opinion was called the Ocean Basket. The food is tasty and the price is reasonable, but it would not be my first choice of restaurants. Anyways, Jonty and I ordered a seafood platter which consisted of prawns, calamari, fries, rice and hake fish, in which we got two fried and two grilled. When it arrived at our table we were overwhelmed with the amount of food, but before we knew it, our plates were empty.
These days you can find frozen yogurt on basically every corner in Toronto, however this trend is quite new to South Africa. There is only one fro yo shop, called Wakaberry, which we of course visited. I do prefer the yogurt here, as I find it to be creamier and tastier. However, for something so new in South Africa, I give it two thumbs up. The toppings were also a little bit different to me, considering there was some candy and treats that I am not familiar with, but I did give many of them a try and was pleasantly surprised. After all, if it’s sweet and sugary, I’ll most likely enjoy it!
We actually only ate Italian food once at a restaurant called Mimmos. Avocado is extremely popular in many dishes because of the freshness and mass quantity of them. The pizza we chose was topped with mushrooms, avocado, and chicken, which are three of my favourite things! We also ordered linguine with chicken and spinach in a garlic cream sauce. My carb craving was thankfully filled with a fresh, satisfying meal.
After all these savory delights I was in desperate need of something sweet. As I entered Milky Lane, I knew I had found the right place. Milkshakes, ice cream, sundaes, donuts, I didn’t know where to begin. I found a section on the menu which was kind of like a Mcflurry or blizzard with different flavours. I chose a Bar One (kind of like Mars bar) and banana creation. As soon as it arrived, I dug in and didn’t look up until I could see the bottom of the bowl. Let’s just say I enjoyed it. As for Jonty, he was feeling nostalgic and ordered something he loved from his childhood, which I find quite revolting, a bubblegum milkshake.
Whenever the topic of food and South Africa come up in conversation, the restaurant Turn n’ Tender is almost always recommended. Since this is the case, I just had to see what it was all about. To start, Jonty and I ordered biltong carpaccio, which was thinly sliced biltong topped with a bed of arugula, Parmesan cheese, and a drizzle of olive oil. This isn’t something I would have ever thought to order before this trip, but I am sooo glad that I did because I couldn’t get enough. As for the main course, Jonty and I each ordered a steak cooked to a medium perfection with a side of fries and onion rings/strings. I now know why this restaurant is talked about over and over again.
Stay tuned for part two and the rest of our photo diary from Cape Town.