A Sneak Peek at Fresh Wednesdays at Nathan Phillips Square!

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I’m so excited because tomorrow is the kick off of Nathan Phillips Square’s Fresh Wednesdays outdoor farmers’ market on Queen St. West!  I hope you all liked the photos I posted from Trinity Bellwoods last week of my first farmers’ market trip of the summer.  I’m going to make it my goal to attend at least one farmers’ market each week (at least for the summer anyway) and to show you all the goods!  I went to Nathan Phillips Square’s Fresh Wednesdays last summer and had such a great time looking at all the fresh fruit and vegetables, taking photos, soaking in the hustle and bustle, and trying out some new eats like gooseberries! 😀  They have everything from fresh produce to bread and baked goods to food vendors firing up corn on the cob, potato pancakes, and pulled pork sandwiches! 

Nathan Phillips Square and its surrounding area, located at the intersection of Bay St. and Queen St. W., holds a very special place in my heart.  I know this blog showcases all of my foodie adventures around the city and my exploration walks and everything, but my life hasn’t always revolved around these activities.  Having moved to Markham from Scarborough at 13, I never used to spend time in the city until my very late teens and early twenties, not because I didn’t have an interest, but mainly because I had overprotective parents and also because university undergrad just didn’t allow me that kind of time to devote to exploration at that capacity. 

When I did begin spending more time downtown, I would always stick myself around the Eaton Centre area.  It just made sense at the time given how I would take the GO to and from Union Station.  It was my “home base” so to speak, an area in which I felt comfortable and an area in which I could always get my bearings.  From there, I would push myself to get out of this comfort zone, to get to know different neighbourhoods, and to extend further into more unfamiliar areas.  Thus, in the beginning, Bay St. and Nathan Phillips Square was my downtown “home” and till this day, it still feels like a home.  I have great memories of branching out and it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy knowing I’ve grown and learned so much from these experiences.  I hope you all enjoy these photos from last summer’s Fresh Wednesdays and I’ll have a fresh batch for you tomorrow!  It’s going to be a gorgeous day out, so go out and enjoy it if you can because I sure am 😀

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Nathan Phillips Square is located at 100 Queen St. West at the intersection of Queen and Bay St.  Fresh Wednesdays is an outdoor farmers’ market that runs on the grounds every Wednesday from 10am-2pm from June 1st to October 19th, excluding September 28th.

Zesty, Fruity, Creamy,Chocolatey – The Orange Chocolate Chip Cupcake and Its Friends From Short & Sweet, Part II

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For all you chocolate orange fans, this is for you!  And of course, us cupcake lovers 😀  I love the way places keep things new and exciting by changing things up and introducing new products into their menus.  That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy everyday staples, but it’s really nice knowing that businesses make an effort to keep their clientele and patrons engaged and coming back for more.  Whether it’s through seasonal promotions or cooking up new flavours, it keeps the creative juices flowing. 

In addition to maintaining the permanent rotating menu at Short & Sweet Cupcakes, the cupcakery kicks off each month with a brand spankin’ new cupcake flavour known as their “Flavour of the Month”.  This new flavour is available every day for the duration of the entire month and then taken off the cupcake stands temporarily where a new flavour takes its place.  Now, I know what you’re thinking.  ‘But, but…if I love the flavour so much, I’m going to be heartbroken when they take it away!’  I thought the same thing too.  And I’m feeling the pressure.  I feel terrible for not being able to get my photos developed and scrapbooked in time to keep their “Flavour of the Month” timely, but alas, I am a one-woman show and all I can really do is pass along the “Flavour of the Month” through my blog and twitter.  Not to fret though.  They do custom orders and they bring back old favourites and best sellers every so often.  Case in point: their salted caramel was brought back because of popular demand.  So if you LOVE a particular “Flavour of the Month”, let them know!

There are flavour combinations that everyone is familiar with like the back of their hand.  Combinations like raspberry chocolate, chocolate mint, peanut butter and jelly, the list goes on.  I know for a fact that are MANY who are gaga over chocolate orange.  You know who you are.  You’ve been on the Terry’s chocolate orange bandwagon since the beginning of time (or maybe just since it became popular worldwide) and you pound those balls of chocolate like you’re unleashing a fit of hysterical fiery.  I’ve been there.  The kitchen countertops didn’t work for me so I attempted to crack my Terry’s chocolate orange on my kitchen tiles.  My parents were scared shitless that I would crack the ceramic with my animalistic attacking.  So for those of you who fit that description, you will looooove the “Flavour of the Month” Short & Sweet released in April: orange chocolate chip!

Let me tell you, Short & Sweet continuously and consistently delivers with quality.  You are not biting into some artificial pool of flavour when you eat their cupcakes.  Their orange chocolate chip is so full of body and substance.  The cake base is studded with large chocolate chips with the body and volume resembling a chocolate chip muffin, only less crumbly and, well, better.  Their cakes are fantastic because of the way they are able to sustain their own weight.  I’ve had other cupcakes that have tasted fantastic, but teetered on the brink of cupcake suicide as soon as I took the wrapper off!  Taste is exceptionally important in a cupcake (of course it is – who wants to eat a cupcake that’s dry or stale?), but the form of the cake is just as important.  You want to enjoy the cupcake as whole, not in crumbly bits before you’ve even had a chance to take two bites out of it.  And the frosting.  Oh man, the frosting.  You can literally SEE and TASTE the fruity orange zest in the sweet creamy vanilla orange frosting and the whole shebang is topped off with dark chocolate curls.

It lives up to its name and it caters to so many sweet tooths out there.  It caters to those who adore chocolate chip muffins, it caters to the orange chocolate obsessed, and anyone who enjoys a mix of zesty, fruit, creamy, and chocolatey.  Oh, and for those of you who have taken a particular interest in the photos and who might be wondering how I took these considering the fact that the shop doesn’t have seating…well, I’ve learned to be very resourceful as a food photographer.  When in doubt, improvise.  And walk around your surroundings.  My little cupcake photo shoot was actually taken at the nearby Starbucks 😉

*****

Short & Sweet Cupcakes is located at 399 Old Orchard Grove, right off of Avenue Rd. south of Wilson Ave. and north of Lawrence Ave. West.  It’s actually a little closer to Wilson than it is to Lawrence, and if you’re taking public transit (like me) the easiest way to get here is to get off at Wilson subway station and take the 96 bus to Avenue Rd. and walk south.  Old Orchard Grove is on the east side of Avenue Rd.  You can also get here by getting off at York Mills subway station and walking west to Avenue Rd. from Yonge.

Scrapbooking materials: olive green and buttercup yellow cardstock (Recollections); patterned paper (The Green Tea stack by DCWV); cooking and baking stickers (Studio18 and Recollections); cupcake embellishments (Jolee’s Boutique); orange slice sticker (Sticko); “Lollipop” alphabet stickers (Autumn Leaves at Creativity Inc.); black and white polka dot alphabet stickers (atd by Momenta).

Zesty, Fruity, Creamy, Chocolatey – The Orange Chocolate Chip Cupcake and Its Friends From Short & Sweet, Part I

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This may sound silly and child-like, but loving cupcakes and cupcakeries makes you realize how astronomically big this world really is.  I have many goals in life and visiting as many cupcakeries as humanly possible is one of them.  I want to visit oodles of cupcake shops, take pretty pictures, eat yummy and different flavours of cakes and frostings, and live to tell about all my grand cupcake adventures without succumbing to a sugar coma and staying relatively healthy and trim.  I can’t even imagine eating all the flavours at Short & Sweet Cupcakes in a lifetime.  It takes time, you know.  So my “cupcake shops for life” aspiration is a tall order to fill, but it’s a happy dream that I’ll continue to fulfill for as long as I’m living.  Knowing how much you all enjoy the cupcake posts, there’s nothing better than sharing the cupcake love then.  I have lots of photos to share, so this is a teaser post of what’s to come in the next post! 

Flavours shown in the half dozen box, top row from left to right, and then bottom row from left to right: my boyfriend’s favourite, Diamonds & Pearls (vanilla cupcake with white chocolate chunks and frosting), So Fresh (chocolate cupcake with mint frosting and white dot sprinkles), Black & White Affair (marble cupcake with chocolate frosting and a little flower frosting candy), May’s Flavour of the Month (vanilla cupcake with fresh juicy blueberries and a vanilla blueberry frosting), April’s Flavour of the Month (orange chocolate chip, with chocolate chip cake and vanilla and orange zest frosting and dark chocolate curls), and the BBM (banana butterscotch cupcake with maple frosting).  Enjoy the photos and keep an eye out for the Part II with a new scrapbook layout and photos of the amazing orange chocolate chip cupcake 😀

P.S.  Good lord, I do not eat the half dozen boxes of cupcakes myself!  I share the wealth ^_^

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Short & Sweet Cupcakes is located at 399 Old Orchard Grove, right off of Avenue Rd. south of Wilson Ave. and north of Lawrence Ave. West.  It’s actually a little closer to Wilson than it is to Lawrence, and if you’re taking public transit (like me) the easiest way to get here is to get off at Wilson subway station and take the 96 bus to Avenue Rd. and walk south.  Old Orchard Grove is on the east side of Avenue Rd.  You can also get here by getting off at York Mills subway station and walking west to Avenue Rd. from Yonge.

Summer Love, Summer Salads

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I look forward to bean and pasta salads SO much when the warmer weather hits.  I enjoy eating them at any point in the year, but it’s so much more satisfying when the sun is out and you can feel the warm breeze waft through the windows.  Not to mention it’s just fun shopping at the fruit and vegetable markets around town.  It’s such an awesome feeling snagging fresh bunches of asparagus, tomatoes on the vine, and giant containers of juicy berries.  Last weekend my mom and I hit some of the fruit and vegetable markets in Korea Town down by Bloor St. W. between Bathurst and Christie St. and we picked up so much great stuff.  Blueberries, blackberries, avocados…we really lamented at not living closer because we would honestly go every day if we could.  A mix of beans, veggies, and pasta = meals I can eat every day for the rest of my life! 

Whenever my family and I want something simple and lighter to eat, these are our go-to meals and they’re so perfect for spring and summer and warmer patio weather.  I’ve always itched to get creative in the kitchen and it drove me crazy growing up when I wasn’t allowed to help and family would shoo me away and tell me to “go play”.  Now that I’m older, it’s been so great getting my hands busy in the kitchen and even though I’m still just a “helper” when it comes to preparing meals, it feels good to see a meal through from start to finish even if it’s something simple.  Healthy, crunchy, and juicy, summer salads are awesome because you can make a big batch and have yummy leftovers for the next day’s lunch.  Not to mention they’re filling and satisfying meals that don’t leave you filling gross and lethargic afterward.   

What I have for you is a smattering of summer salad photos with a bunch of different veggie, fruit, and pasta/noodle combinations.  Up top we have a crunchy salad of tomatoes, yellow and green bell pepper, white beans, chickpeas, and mixed kidney beans, and a fistfuls of chopped green scallions.  In the middle, a mixed bean and avocado salad with a sprinkling of cilantro and red pepper chili flakes atop udon noodles, and last, a pasta salad with Italian ditali pasta, roast chicken, green beans, tomatoes, potatoes, and fresh chunks of mango!  I think by the end of the summer I should have a veeery large collection of photos commemorating my salad love 😀

Opa! Layers of Grilled Eggplant, Zucchini, & Toasted Savoury Béchamel – Greek Moussaka at Loui’s Kouzina

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I’m so excited to finally write and post about Greek food on the blog!  I love Greek food and it’s a shame that these are the only photos I have to share with you all right now as I’ve been eating delicious Greek meals for years.  Greek food and I go waaaay back.  It holds a very special place in my heart, as well as my mom’s.  After immigrating to Canada, my mom grew up in Toronto’s east end and went to school right near the Danforth.  You all know what that means: Greek town!  Many of my mom’s best and closest friends were Greek and her friends’ parents would invite my mom over to their houses for dinner all the time.  This love was passed along to me when I was born – in the east end – and I’m reminded of all those times growing up where Greek food was one of the only things my whole family could agree on eating when we wanted to have a nice meal out. 

Having recently eaten this delicious meal at Loui’s Kouzina in Markham, I was overcome with a wave of nostalgia and it brought back a flood of memories.  It wasn’t until this meal that I realized just how much I missed having it in my life and having it so thoroughly integrated in my zone of comfort.  I may love sushi like nobody’s business.  I may love trying new things and making foodie discoveries.  But sometimes there’s nothing that can compare to the feeling of comfort you get from the food that has created roots in your memory and in your heart.

I have my best friend to thank for this meal 😀  After raving about Loui’s Kouzina on a number of occasions, I knew I had to go when my family asked me where we should go for dinner.  It’s nice when people designate you as meal outing and food decider, isn’t it?  Anyway, my best friend told me how much she loved the food here and given how my tummy was missing Greek food, it was the perfect idea.  

I’m so glad we went.  My brother and I tried out a dish we had never had before in our life and we LOVED it!  We both ordered the Greek moussaka and we scarfed it down because it was so delicious.  Total win!  Like I was gushing about yesterday about my stuffed peppers at The Grad Lounge, I love seeing menu items that are different from the norm.  Everyone knows you can get great Greek souvlaki, but moussaka?  Hello, never had it before.  Which just makes me want it more.  A dinner that was delicious and savoury, and a new dish to add to my growing vocabulary of food.  It doesn’t get much better than that.   

Moussaka is both a  Middle Eastern and Eastern European dish common in the Balkan and Mediterranean regions of Europe including Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, and Turkey among others.  Although different regions make moussaka dishes in a number of different ways, Greek moussaka is characterized by layers of grilled vegetables, potatoes, minced meat, and a top layer of savoury baked béchamel sauce or egg custard.  The moussaka at Loui’s Kouzina was a soft, melt-in-your-mouth layered masterpiece with ground beef and grilled eggplant and zucchini sandwiched between a base of roast potatoes and a silky savoury toasted béchamel topping.  This was AMAZING.  It was like eating a heavy-duty layered lasagna only without the cheese and with potatoes, eggplant, and zucchini and a very pillowy soft dome on top.

This was such a savoury dish and the custard/pudding-like top was something that I had never encountered before in my life.  It had the texture of very soft silken tofu and it was very easy to cut through.  The dome of béchamel was wonderfully toasted and it was exactly like eating a Chinese egg tart only savoury as opposed to sweet.  And the flavours worked together.  Given how the dish was a layered one, it could have easily missed its mark with the ingredients just kind of laying there with no cohesiveness to it.  But everything worked amazingly.  The grilled vegetables weren’t mushy, the ground beef wasn’t over seasoned, and everything melded together.  It’s definitely a dish I can envision myself coming back for again and again.  YUM! 

Oh!  And the Greek salad.  Thumbs up.  I mean, sure, it was nothing that I hadn’t seen before.  Greek salad is very standard: iceberg lettuce, sliced tomatoes, sliced red onion, olives, feta cheese, and a bit of dressing.  The salad was great though.  The lettuce was so crunchy and fresh and it wasn’t overladen with dressing or soggy from the juice of the tomatoes.

Loui’s Kouzina is a wonderful, casual Greek restaurant that serves up a number of gyros, pork, and chicken souvlaki dishes, appetizers, savory phyllo pastries, salads, pastas, pita sandwiches, and Greek spanakopita pies among other things.  I saw (and tasted!) what my best friend saw and the quality of food is just fabulous.  Prices for dinner mains sit around the $10-$15 range and for those who may not want a full dinner or who want something a little less expensive, there are a number of menu items closer to the front of the menu that you can put together and mix and match for a less expensive meal.  For example, you can order individual souvlaki skewers along with other sides for a few dollars apiece.  Loui’s Kouzina is a great Greek eatery that I would recommend to anyone and truly a gem in Markham.  I thank my best friend for the rec, and my tummy and heart thank me for the love and comfort.  And the memories.

*****

Loui’s Kouzina is located in Markham at 9255 Woodine Ave. at the intersection of Woodbine and 16th Ave.  The restaurant is situated within the strip mall complex closer to the west side of the complex and parking lot (if I remember correctly, it’s right beside the Pizza Pizza).           

Weekly Feature: The Grad Lounge – Stuffed Red Bell Peppers With Rice and Melted Cheddar Cheese

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Hurray for new menu items at The Grad Lounge!  Paul and Mike are churning out some new dishes over the course of the summer and I have to say, I’m happy to be their unofficial taste-tester!  I can’t even begin to describe the feeling I get when I go in and see something on their specials menu board that I’ve never seen before.  New food to try!  My eyes light up, my heart flutters, and I think, “YES!  A new item to add to The Grad Lounge archive!”  Don’t even get me started when I see more than ONE new item on the menu though.  I’m initially overcome with excitement but then I’m quickly wracked by indecision because choosing between food things frustrates me to no end and it’s happened before and I’m left pacing staring at the board not knowing which one to choose.  I’m know, I’m crazy.  I take my food very seriously.

Their stuffed peppers were introduced on their daily specials rotating menu just recently and they took them out for a test drive.  Lucky for me, I was on campus that day and went there to eat.  I love these meant to be moments 😀  I adore stuffed peppers not just because it’s a healthy meal that incorporates both vegteables and grains, but also because the stuffings and fillings are so versatile.  You can use rice, quinoa, couscous, roasted bread crumbs, and the fun part is topping it off with cheese!  My favourite things about these stuffed peppers were the grill marks (everything tastes awesome off the grill!), the extra softness of the rice from the tomato and pepper salsa sauce, and the ooey gooey melted cheddar cheese in the rice stuffing.    The incorporation of the cheese IN the rice stuffing totally made this dish.  With a generous sprinkling of black pepper, I was good to go.

What I also really loved about this dish was how it demonstrated the resourcefulness of The Grad Lounge and their rotation of ingredients and dishes.  They created a stuffed peppers dish out of many things they normally serve on a daily basis.  They almost always have rice in some way, shape, or form for chicken dishes, for example, and the tomato and pepper salsa has used be on a number of occasions on noodles, for tofu dishes, and other vegetarian mains.  It just shows that you don’t need to be fancy and outlandish to made great food.  Using a particular number of ingredients in different ways challenges you to think outside the box and that’s exactly what The Grad Lounge did with this new stuffed pepper dish.  It gets a big thumbs up from me.

*****

The Grad Lounge is located at 166 South Ross at the York University Keele campus.  The Grad Lounge’s summer operating hours are from 11:30pm-6:30pm, Monday to Friday.

  

European Doughnuts and Pastry Pretzels at Raymerville’s Bakery – Bomboloni and Bavarian Schwabisch Pretzels!

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Even though living in the suburbs means longer commutes into the city and less frequent bus service than I’d like, I feel really lucky to have such an amazing bakery that I can go to for fresh bread, deli meats, and pastries.  Visiting fantastic bakeries around the city has made me so grateful for everything they have to offer and has made me feel so appreciative of the hard work that goes into running a bakery like clockwork.  So many of these businesses are family owned and run and after visiting these bakeries once, all you want to do is visit them every day so you can see what new things they have and to strike up some good ol’ fashioned conversation.  It’s rewarding getting to know the people who work behind the counter and you build such great relationships because of it.

What I love the most about Raymerville Deli & Bakery is how they keep things new and exciting.  I’ve been going to this bakery for YEARS (just think, since I was in high school!) and there have been things I’ve discovered over the past several months that I didn’t even know existed!  Not only do they have delightfully ginourous chocolate chip cookies and sweet fruity apple and cherry turnovers, but they stay true to their Italian and European heritage by having sweet European pastries!  Now, I had to do some research to figure out exactly we these yummy treats were, and I’m so glad I did!  It’s fascinating learning about the breadth of food culture and I tucked away some delicious info on Italian doughnuts and German pretzels! 

Raymerville’s bakery has these awesome cream and custard filled doughnuts sprinkled with powdered sugar called bomboloni (because they look like little “bombs”, hee) and they have two varieties: vanilla custard, which I love, and chocolate cream which my brother is very fond of 😀  And as for the pretzels?  Bavarian schwabisch pretzels!  Pastry pretzels that are crispy and “crackly” on the outside, and soft and chewy on the inside.  The ones at Raymerville are cherry ones with dusted powdered sugar and sliced almonds. 

I wasn’t sure if I’d like the pretzels since I’m actually not a pretzel fan (gasp, I know!  Bread-like pretzels taste too…bread-like and starchy?  And hard pretzels are too salty for my liking!).  But these ones were good!  They had such good texture and they had both nutty and fruity sweetness to it.  The pretzels I’ve seen on a number of occasions, but the Italian dougnuts completely blew me away!  They’re so cute and of course, sweet and delicious.  I’m a sucker for custard and cream-filled doughnuts so really, the discovery was meant to be.

*****

Raymerville Deli & Bakery is located within the strip plaza right at the intersection of McCowan Rd. and Ramerville Drive south, on the east side of McCowan (Carlton Rd. is on the west side of McCowan).  It’s about a 10 minute walk (or a 2 or 3 minute drive) from Markville Mall.  They are closed on Mondays but are open from Tuesday-Sunday at 8:30am.