Pub Love

I sometimes have such a craving for pub food. I’m not talking about just burgers and fries, though. I mean the kind of menu items you will only find at a place with a lot of beer on tap, wooden tables and sports on TV screens. The thing I love about pub food most is its simplicity. And with that in mind, I decided to try to find some easy-to-mimic recipes for my 5 favourite pub grub meals:

pub love food

1 – Chicken Caesar Salad: The only salad I will ever have at a pub or bar. The creaminess of the dressing, crunch of the croutons and almost necessary bacon bits makes this a fantastic meal or appetizer. This recipe from Smitten Kitchen adds a certain element of cooking sophistication with a chicken brine, promising the juiciest of meat. Also, if you’re like me and can’t stand the fishy style of anchovies in the dressing, you can easily omit it without losing the flavour and creaminess.

2 – Baked Mac n’ Cheese: I’ve already professed my love for mac n’ cheese, and this Martha Stewart recipe is the right crunchy/creamy mixture. Something so great about having a bowl of this with a glass of white wine or a light beer.

3 – Loaded Potato Skins: The most difficult part about this recipe from Chow is the scooping out of the potato. The rest is super simple. I love loaded potato skins – I always ate the skin on baked potatoes (I know, kind of weird), and I love that these can be made bite sized for a party. They’re  perfect hors d’oeuvres to pass around, or snack on while hanging out in your backyard.

4 – Chicken Fingers (and fries): Without fail, what I order 9 times out of 10 when I’m feeling pub-y. The Black Peppercorn adds a really intriguing twist to a classic by dredging the chicken fingers into crushed Doritos…crushed Doritos, you guys! Amazing.

5 – Deep Fried Pickles: This combo should not work, but it does. So well. A Beautiful Mess has a shockingly easy-to-make recipe for this delicious treat, which uses minimal ingredients (one of which is cornmeal, aka that added crunch). They’re awesome dipped in something with dill (like their own dip recipe). These are so good!

Note: all of the above go amazing with a pint of your favourite beer, on a sunny day, hanging out in your backyard, with some good friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ultimate Fighting Champion: Comfort Food Edition

Feeling sick? Have a headache? Bummed out that it’s only Wednesday when you thought it was Thursday? I’ve got a solution for you: grilled cheese!

Even a casual reader of this blog will know that I love comfort food (as evidenced here and here and here). I try to limit how often I need to be comforted, though, because it’s not the healthiest habit. But last night, for a variety of reasons, dinner consisted of one of the best meals – grilled cheese and tomato soup. This is an awesomely simple and delicious dish, that always brings you back to when you were a kid.

grilled cheese and tomato soup

Homemade Tomato Soup (note: I cheated and used store-bought this time…)

Ingredients:

4 cups chopped tomatoes

1 slide onion

4 whole cloves

2 cups chicken or vegetable broth

2 tbsp butter

2 tbsp all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

white sugar (to taste)

1. In a pot, bring to a boil the tomatoes, onion, cloves and broth. Boil for about 20 minutes, then pour out into another pot through a strainer (to capture those whole pieces)

2. In the empty pot, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour until the mixture is medium brown. Gradually whisk in bits of the tomato mixture, stirring to ensure no lumps form. Season to taste with sugar and salt.

Grilled Cheese: there’s no real trick to this – butter both sides of each piece of bread and use your favourite cheese for optimal yumminess. If you need an extra kick of comfort, add some freshly fried bacon to your sandwich.

So, if anything ever ails you, try this cure-all. I promise you won’t be disappointed – grilled cheese + tomato soup takes the cake!

Dangerously Cheesy

Via CBC.ca.

Via CBC.ca.

If there’s any food I love as much as bacon, it’s cheese. I absolutely love and adore it – stinky, soft, aged, fondu-ed – any kind will do. One of my favourite warm-weather Friday nights out is sitting on a patio somewhere (at home or at a restaurant), enjoying a glass of wine (white, pinot grigio ideally) and nibbling on a platter of cheese.

In preparation for spring and nights out on the balcony in our new place, I’ve tried to find a formula for the perfect cheese plate. A good cheese plate has a few key components: cheese variety (different flavours, textures and ripeness), fruits (I like apples, pears, and figs but it is all dependent on your cheeses), jam/marmalade/honey (I like honey with any cheese, and a light fruit jam with softer cheeses), and some kind of cracker/bread (the crispier and thinner, the better).

via blogto.com.

via blogto.com.

Toronto has some amazing cheese shops: Alex on Yonge, Global Cheese in Kensington, and Leslieville Cheese Market are among my personal favourites. When it comes to choosing the right cheeses for a plate, I often tend to select about one or two known favourites (a blue cheese, asiago or a sharp cheddar for example) then get a few more new flavours. I also try to have a nice mixture of hard, semi-hard, soft and blue cheeses as well as cheese from different milks (my personal favourite? goats milk, any time). The fruits and marmalade/honey/jam on the side for pairing, is key. I find these touches often bring out the flavour of cheeses in totally new ways. Finally, I like to cut up (thinly!) and toast some fresh baguette, as well as provide one or two store-bought cheese cracker options.

Cheese – like wine – has its experts, flavour profiles, and unique notes that you can learn about over time. If you’re ever looking to learn more (and make your friends happy with delicious cheese servings on balmy nights), here are a few places to go:

A Beautiful Mess’ simply elegant tips for creating a cheese plate

Real Simple Food has a more in-depth view of creating cheese pairings

Huffington Post’s guide to cheese (with video!)

The Kitchn has a great article on pairing wine with cheese

…or, just pair some cheese, wine and bacon bits and call it a wonderful evening!

A Night Out: Bacon! (and wine)

There’s nothing that makes a girls’ night out better than greasy food and/or beer. So last night, my friends and I decided to blend the two in a new part of town. There’s a lot to be said for the simplicity of restaurants that feature one ingredient and we went to a place that happens to focus on my preferred ingredient: bacon! Rashers in Leslieville is a new spot that takes bacon to a whole other level.

Rashers! Bacon!

Rashers! Bacon!

Their whole premise is centered around bacon sandwiches. They have delicious (and pretty local) bacon products, everything from Canadian back bacon to plain ol’ strip bacon. We tried two grilled ones while we were there: one was a delicious grilled cheese with bacon and a slightly tangy mustard, while the other was a grilled maple-apple-bacon combo that tasted almost like dessert rather than dinner (in that it was sweetly delicious).

Simple grilled cheese? Not these sandwiches!

Simple grilled cheese? Not these sandwiches!

They have a small menu with feature sandwiches, including a signature Hogtown Sandwich with peameal bacon and an optional egg on top, which makes this a great place to go for a quick bite after a night out (i.e. greasy breakfast the morning after).

Since Leslieville is an area we have been looking at, I wanted to see what a night out would look like if we were to ever live here. So, after bacon, we headed to Skin and Bones, a new(ish) wine bar on the Queen East strip.

skin and bones

While this didn’t knock my favourite wine bar in the city off its podium (Caren’s Wine Bar – the back patio alone is worth it, especially in the summer), we had a really fun time. The selection of wine and mixed drinks was good and the cheese plate we shared definitely hit the spot. While the wine and cheese was great, it was really the company that made the night. More specifically, the people watching.

There is certainly a unique vibe to the Leslieville area, something you don’t find anywhere else in the city. I’m looking forward to exploring the east end more as the weather gets better – we passed a ton of great restaurants and bars on the way to our final destinations tonight. In the meantime, though, I will just dream of bacon sandwiches…mmm…

Bellwoods Brewery

photo (40)

 

Last night, my friend and I hit up the Bellwoods Brewery on Ossington for some munchies and home brew. Bellwoods opened up last April in an old auto-repair shop on the Ossington strip. After waiting on a table for a bit (this is one popular spot!), we were seated upstairs with an overhead view of the downstairs bustle. The vibe in this restopub is classic Ossington – candlelight, rustic decor and awesome soundtracks.

The whole draw of Bellwoods is their home brews – while we were there, we sampled 5 between the two of us. There was a light, summer-y Belgian beer (White Picket Fence); the classic IPA (Roman Candle); the chocolatey-tasting, Guinness-like concoction (Bootknife); the Christmas-inspired ale (Blitzen); and the delicious double IPA (Witchshark). In addition to the drink menu, they have a snack menu we just had to sample (beer on an empty stomach is never a good idea) – sharing a delicious Canadian cheese plate (with fresh, warm sourdough bread from Woodlot), then each having a homemade sausage, with beer-braised cabbage+beans+bacon, and topping it all off with a death-by-chocolate style triple chocolate brownie, drizzled with caramel and roasted almond slivers (in a word: wow).

The Ossington strip is full of little bars and restaurants that are full to capacity on any given weekend night (Yours Truly is one of them). It’s not a hidden gem it once used to be, but it’s become better for it in my opinion because of the quality of food and drink you now find. The trek to get there (if you don’t live on the West end) is well worth it, especially when the weather warms up and the patios open. If you’re up for a good beer night, Bellwoods is a great place to go – plus, if you’re ever craving any of their beers in larger quantities, they have a retail store open every day where they sell bottles of their brews. Yup – I will definitely be going back.

Diner Date

Toronto’s Thompson Hotel is quite the venue. Aside from the gorgeous rooms, stunning rooftop patio/pool, and prime location for drinks during the summer, the Thompson has 3 awesome restaurants: Scarpetta (an Italian fine dining restaurant with fabulous and unique dishes), Wabora (in my opinion, one of the best sushi restaurants in Toronto, only bested by the original in Bracebridge, Muskoka), and the Thompson Diner (which is what this post is really about).

"Nighthawks" by Edward Hopper

Recognize this? The All-American diner…”Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper

There’s always been something so fun and vintage about diners. And the Thompson Diner is almost an exact replica of the look and feel of this all-American establishment. I had a great time the last time I was there for a relaxing dinner. The menu items are what you would expect from a diner, but with a twist – mac and cheese made with truffle oil, reuben sandwich, burgers (like the “Deep South” made with pulled pork and onion rings), and buttermilk fried chicken (yum).

My friend and I each had one of their footlong hot dogs – hers with grilled onions, mushrooms, melted swiss cheese and bacon; mine with fresh cole slaw, dijon mustard, onions and relish. Both were incredible and accompanied by onion rings and french fries, respectively.

The best part of the meal? Their specialty milkshakes! They offer spiked shakes that are absolutely delicious – I had a vanilla shake spiked with Niagara Ice Wine, and my friend had an amazing mudslide.

Filling and delicious diner food

Filling and delicious diner food

The Thompson Diner is open 24 hours a day, which makes it perfect for late night eats during nights out and also for brunch (their brunch menu, by the way, looks absolutely scrumptious – bacon and sausage stuffed pancakes? bloody caesars made with bacon-infused vodka? yes please!).

Pancetta vs. Bacon: The age old debate

Given the title of this blog, it’s no surprise that I love bacon. But sometimes I like to cheat on bacon with its classier sibling, pancetta. The cured Italian bacon makes me all sorts of happy when it’s on a menu at a restaurant, or available at the grocery store.

Mmmm pancetta

Mmmm pancetta

The thing I love most about pancetta is how versatile it is. Because the meat is cured, you can eat it raw out of the package (something I have been known to do while shopping – I’m a grocery store snacker). But you can also cook it or fry it to get that salty, crispy goodness that you would with bacon.

One of my favourite ways to cook the thinly sliced, round, delicious meat is to make crisps out of it. You can use these crisps in a whole lot of recipes (or just eat them straight up…that’s not gross…right?)

How to Make Pancetta Crisps:

Preheat oven to 450F. Place pancetta slices on baking sheet (rimmed, if you have one). Put in  the oven for about 10 minutes, turning them over once midway through (until they are crisp).

It’s that easy! Once you do that, there are so many possibilities…

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Goat cheese + Pear with Pancetta Crisps: the goat cheese cuts the saltiness of the pancetta nicely, and the pear adds a sweet hint for an amazing hors d’oeurves.

Pancetta crisps also go nicely as a garnish on a cheese or spinach risotto. I saw this for the first time at one of my favourite restaurants in Toronto, Five Doors North (a larger post coming about this gem at a later date) and absolutely fell in love with the dish.

Finally, I love the idea of pancetta eggs benedict – toasted English muffin + pancetta crisp + poached egg + homemade hollandaise is my idea of a wonderful start to a Sunday morning.

Enjoy the crispy, salty tastiness!

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