Light A Candle, Blow It Out, and Make a Wish – Today is Ate by Ate’s 1st Birthday!

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Every celebration calls for cupcakes!

Eat some cupcakes, light some candles, blow them out, and make a wish – it’s Ate by Ate’s 1ST BIRTHDAY today!  I’m so happy and excited that I made it this far and that I actually have a “blogiversary” to celebrate.  I spent a relaxing day reading another one of my favourite Joanne Fluke foodie murder mysteries, taking photos of scrapbook layouts, watching The Chew, and watching the first snowfall of the season float through the sky as I reminisced about all the wonderful things the blog has gone through.  One year ago today, I went live and launched this blog after spending weeks and months planning out the perfect entry into the blogging world and here we are now, 343 posts and 63 scrapbook layouts later! 

Even though the aspirations I’ve had for myself have always been different from the ones my parents have had for me, I have my dad to thank for this.  He gave me that nudge when he said to me, “you’re always taking photos of food, you need to share this with the world!”  I hemmed and hawwed for months before taking the plunge and finally, I decided I would start a food and scrapbooking blog.  I started making lists of food categories in my doodle notebook, I put the pedal the metal on the scrapbooking, and I spent hours fiddling with wordpress picking out background colours, header images, and learning the ins and outs of widgets, codes, and tags.

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The Hot Chocolate Series – Peppermint Hot Chocolate and Christmas Magic Unleashed at La Merceria

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There may not be any snow on the ground just yet, but I am in full-out “I’m-so-happy-Christmas-is-coming-so-I’ll-just-pretend-like-it’s-winter-even-though-it’s-not” mode!  Everyone has a favourite holiday or occasion and mine is Christmas.  Some might think it’s crazy to get all up in arms about it so soon, but time goes by so quickly that I really cherish the time I get to enjoy all the Christmas window displays, music, seasonal sweets and treats, and decorations.  I feel like I wouldn’t get enough out of it if things were only around for two weeks or so. 

I look forward to the holidays over a month before actual Christmas day and I use the time to plan out my get-togethers, my gift-shopping trips, my crafting time, and of course, my holiday menu!  And by menu, I mean all the yummy things I want to stuff my face with over the course of the entire month.  There are seasonal yummies you just don’t get to enjoy at any other point in the year and I’ve made it my mission to hunt down some of the best hot chocolates this holiday season and winter.  I’m here now with round two of The Hot Chocolate series!

I was so excited when I found nutella hot chocolate at Le Gourmand and soon after a little birdie told me about a bunch of other special hot chocolates being served around the city, which quickly went on my “must-try lickety goodness” list.  The special peppermint hot chocolate at La Merceria was a total unexpected, delightful surprise though and my own giddiness over it took me by surprise.  I had no idea La Merceria had peppermint hot chocolate (or any hot chocolate for that matter) and my impromptu visit to them was completely random and unplanned.  It was a bit chilly, I had some time in the morning before my day started at Le Dolci, and I wanted to sit back and be alone with my thoughts with a drink and a nibble of some sort. 

My heart sped up as I saw Christmas decorations in their front window display and my Christmas-loving heart did happy cartwheels when I walked inside and saw the cafe decked out to the nines in Christmas accessories!  I quickly snatched one of the comfy, pillowy seats and looked up at the drinks menu.  My last two visits were made warm and cozy with tea, but this time I wanted something different.  My eyes roamed over the list of drinks and that’s when I saw it.  “Pep-per-mint hot chocolate….oh my god, peppermint hot chocolate!”

And after my mental exclaimation of joy, I realized what had just happened.  I had gotten excited over something peppermint.  Well, that was strange indeed.  I have never liked mint or peppermint, ever.  I have gone through life without the enjoyment of mint Aero chocolate bars, mini chocolate chip ice cream, and mint and peppermint everything.  Then somehow, things started changing.

A few Christmases ago, I picked up a box of white and dark chocolate bark with crushed peppermint candy cane on it just because and thoroughly enjoyed the entire box all to myself.  Last Christmas I took a whiff of Bath & Body Works’ mint chocolate scented candle – and loved it.  One of my favourite cupcakes at Short & Sweet has been the Mint Everest mint chocolate Oreo.  And then this past summer I relished in the fresh, citrus creaminess of one of Jen @ Apiecalypse Now‘s orange peppermint patties.  Even though I wasn’t madly in love with mint and peppermint, times definitely were a changin’, which would explain my uncharacteristic jubilance over something peppermint.

I looked at the menu item and knew I absolutely had to have it.  And I did.  And it was absolutely delicious and delightful and a hot chocolate ever person needs to slurp and savour.  The unique thing about the peppermint hot chocolate at La Merceria is that it’s actually made with tea!  Yes, tea!  I guess I wasn’t far from having tea after all!  In hindsight, it didn’t even dawn on me that I was drinking hot chocolate made from peppermint tea until I drank about half the cup and realized their was something bobbing up and down inside.  I poked at it and saw that it was a tea bag and thought it was adorable how they had made it the way they did.  The hot chocolate is made with peppemint tea, dark swiss chocolate, and steamed milk with a bit of foam and powdered chocolate on top. 

The chocolate and peppermint flavours were delicious together.  The dark chocolate flavour was velvety smooth with that hint of subtle naturalness bitterness from the dark chocolate.  I loved that subtly bitter, rich chocolate flavour and both the peppermint and dark chocolate managed to keep their own distinctive flavours separate and distinguishable in the hot chocolate drink while still making it taste sweet and delectable. 

They come in two sizes ($3 for small, $3.50 for large) and the hot chocolate comes with a beautiful and adorable cinnamon stick!  I was over the moon about this.  I dunked and twirled my cinnamon stick in my hot chocolate and was totally amoured.  Unfortunately for me, I forgot my hot chocolate cup with my beloved cinnamon stick in it at the studio after I left for the day and couldn’t save it before it hit the can.  Which means I’ll just have to go back to La Merceria for another one some time.  Aw, shucks.

*****

La Merceria is located at 506 Adelaide Street West by the northwest corner of Adelaide and Portland Street, east of Bathurst.  La Merceria is located beside Sadie’s Diner and Juice Bar.  Visit their website and blog here for updates, info, promos, events, pictures, and contact information and visit their Facebook page here.

Rockin’ Around the Cake Pop Tree, Have a Happy Holiday… – Christmas Cake Pops at Le Dolci, Part II

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Even though making cake pops from scratch from start to finish is a time-consuming, messy, and sometimes frustrating, process, my first afternoon of official cake pop making and decorating was one of the most fun and creative experiences I’ve ever had.  After taking part in yesterday’s Christmas cake pops class at our Le Dolci studio, I was bouncing off the walls with excitement and a newfound creative vigor toward sweets and design and decorating.  I knew it would be fun, but I had no idea I would have THIS much fun.  Those cake pops at the bottom left on the photo right below are mine!  I was completely taken aback in the best way possible and I’m happy that my curiousity and eagerness to learn got the best of me because it gave me a memorable experience to take away.

Although I love cake, I’ll be honest, I’ve been resisting the cake pop movement.  I’m a cupcake and cookies girl through and through and cake pops didn’t whip my cream the way those two did.  I was extremely defensive and resentful over any statement proclaiming that cupcakes were out and cake pops were in (as if!).  I hated any type of discussion that involved the contrived perception of food as trendy and even though I still do, I’ve been able to put aside and ignore those superficial ideas and embrace cake pops for what they really are: baking artistry.  I started flipping through beautiful cake pop books and fall asleeping at night with ideas for cake pop colour schemes and cake flavours dancing in my head.  Nothing could replace or erase the love of cupcakes and cookies, but cake pops were making its entrance into my realm of creativity and I was happy to let it share the same space as my beloved cupcakes and cookies.

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Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Cake Pop! Christmas Cake Pops at Le Dolci, Part I

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December is just a few days away and we’re getting our holiday baking and sweets decorating on here at the studio!  Every week Le Dolci hosts and teaches several classes (in addition to private parties and events), and these classes include themed cupcake decorating, macarons, cake pops, truffles, and more!  November has already been full of Christmas themed cupcake classes so far and December is full to bursting with more.  I jumped at the chance to take part in our Christmas Cake Pops class today and I had SO MUCH FUN it was unbelievable!  I’ve baked cake for cake pops in the studio and I’ve crumbled it and rolled the cake into balls with frosting , but I’ve never actually worked with the melted chocolate candy melts and wafers and I’ve never decorated or dunked the cake balls into the melted melts with the lollipop sticks in them before, so this was such a fantastic learning experience.

Alongside a wonderful group of ladies, I spent the afternoon stirring melted chocolate, scurrying back and forth between the mini broilers and our studio table (also known as the Elves Cake Pop Decorating Station, just for today!), drizzling chocolate and sprinkling crystal sugar and sprinkles over my cake pops, laughing over demented looking cake balls that didn’t turn out quite right, and enjoying a true hands-on experience from start to finish.  It was such a fun way to unleash some creative energy and it was the best type of environment to experiment and learn in because we all helped each other out and took inspiration from one another’s bite-sized masterpieces.  In the end we all got to indulge in our sweet and delicious creations, which tasted absolutely phenomenal!  I took plenty of photos during today’s class and I’ll be sharing them with you all today and tomorrow, so stay tuned for tomorrow’s step-by-step lowdown of Le Dolci’s Christmas Cake Pops!

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The Fall Harvest Series – Stuffed Bell Peppers in Cauliflower Soup and Curry Cauliflower Risotto at Mela Cafe

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The chilly fall season wouldn’t be complete without a warm, comforting, fall harvest meal from my favourite Italian vegetarian place!  I know that even though it’s technically still fall, we’re sort of in a weird place right now where the leaves have fallen, the trees are naked, and we’re donning sunglasses in the mild weather one day and bundling up to our ears in winter clothes the next.  Winter hasn’t taken over just yet though so I think it’s safe to continue doing Fall Harvest posts, especially when they’re as bright, vibrant, and colourful as this!  Roberto’s amazing, delicious vegetarian and vegan food has never failed to brighten up a meal, but this fall comfort lunch was like rainbow artwork on plates. 

I’ve been eating at Mela for over a year now and I’ve loved watching the seasonal fluctuations and changes in ingredients and dishes.  The everyday stand-bys such as the breaded eggplant panini and homemade ravioli with ricotta are present at all times, but menu items such as the vegan coconut lime cream tarts and summer vegetable salads have summer sunshine written all over them, while warm comfort foods such as rice and potatoes with root vegetable like beet and rapini provide that sense of warmth and coziness during the cold winter months.  I got the chance to see and eat some wonderful fall food this time and it was beautiful, artistic, and of course, delicious.

This time around I stuffed my face into a new menu item as well as a consistent classic: curry cauliflower risotto and veggie stuffed bell peppers!  The orange bell peppers were grilled and stuffed with rice, tomatoes, onions, and broccoli and were super soft with that perfect blistered skin.  One thing that really delighted me was the artwork on my plate.  Roberto had created a soup painting beneath the stuffed bell pepper!  Check it out.  I couldn’t believe it.  Forget latte art, bring on the adorable shapes made out of soup!  Roberto had poured the cauliflower soup into the tomato sauce in such a way that the shape of an apple formed right under my lovely bell pepper.  I literally did a double take when I saw it and I almost didn’t want to disrupt the masterpiece by cutting into the pepper.  But alas, nature called and I was hungry so I captured eleventy billion photos of it before it went away.  Food artistry at its finest.

Here’s the thing though: I DON’T EVEN LIKE CAULIFLOWER.  I’ve grown to love many foods I used to wrinkle my nose at when I was younger, but cauliflower has always remained on my “I do not fancy you” list.  Which begs the question, “why did I decide on these dishes if I don’t even care for cauliflower?”  Simply put, I wanted to give broccoli’s much paler cousin a shot.  This fall, my mum started integrating more cauliflower into our vegetable dishes at home and I found myself enjoying it so much more when she made them.  Call it bias toward my mum’s home cooking, call it a foodie epiphany; I didn’t hate it as much as I used to.  However, I only preferred it the way my mum cooked it because to me, and forgive me for saying this, every other cauliflower experience has tasted awful.  I might as well have been eating cardboard.  Which means my choosing a dish with cauliflower in it at Mela was a big deal.  I was putting my faith in Roberto on this one.  The verdict?  You know food is good when you start scarfing down things you’ve disliked for years.

Although I enjoyed the stuffed bell pepper (goodness do I ever love the char and blistered pepper skin done right), it was the curry cauliflower risotto that completely won me over and had me “mmm”ing for a good half hour straight!  It was so incredibly delicious and flavourful and so colourful.  It was a joy to look at and an even bigger joy to eat.  I love risotto to pieces because the creaminess of it just makes me want to go into spoon-to-mouth shovel mode and I get so excited whenever I get the chance to eat it.  It’s like rice stew and the versatility of it means endless ingredient possibilities.

I have never had a curry risotto before.  Mushroom risotto, yes.  One of my friends even made a fabulous, homemade walnut, apple, blue cheese risotto for a dinner party a few years ago.  But curry risotto?  That combination hadn’t even entered my foodie universe.  The curry cauliflower risotto was served as a triangular “pie” slice with rich, creamy curry rice and chunks of cauliflower sitting in a plate of cauliflower soup with olive oil drizzle, topped with Mela’s famous piping hot tomato sauce.  The curry was like a bursting firework of savoury flavour and the risotto was perfectly creamy and smooth without being mushy.  You could taste every rice grain with the tomato sauce and curry intertwining into one mouthful of pure heaven. 

Every time I come to Mela I’m eating something wonderfully delicious and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to choose between items and to pick a favourite!  Hands down, the curry cauliflower risotto is in my top 3 favourite things here at Mela.  The ravioli is in this top 3 too, but that’s about the best I can do because I can’t settle on another item to round the list out.  Winter is quickly approaching and I’m looking forward to another visit and I can’t wait to see (and taste) the scrumptious goodies waiting for me.

*****

Mela Café is located at 7 Yorkville Ave., north of Cumberland St. and just west of Yonge St.  All dishes are either vegetarian or vegan and prices range from $4-$8.50.  They are primarily a lunch cafe during the week, open until around 4:30pm-5pm from Monday to Friday, and with later closing hours on Saturday.  They are closed on Sunday.

Scrapbook materials used: Poppy red, orange, pale yellow, neon green, and cappuccino cardstock; apron and oven mitt adhesive embellishments (In the Kitchen by Karen Foster Design); alphabet stickers (K&Company); floral die-cuts (K&Company); 5-petal paper punch (ek success).

A Delicious Butter Tofu, Red Lentil, and Spinach Rice Indian Lunch – Cooking, History, and Philosophy at Veda, Part II

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Let it be known that I have a mini foodie journal with pages inside to write down favourite meals, restaurants, and gastronomical experiences, as well as little pages that have thought-provoking food-related questions to jog those creative writing juices.  Let it also be known that I haven’t had the heart to write in it yet because the paper looks so crisp and clean and pretty and I’m scared my writing will ruin the aesthetic of it.  Instead, I’ve been jotting down messy, scrawly notes in my blue fashionista Muffymade notebook and at the moment it looks as though it went through the wringer.  Pages are coming out, there are rips and wrinkles; it’s a little beat up. 

Which means I may have to turn to my little foodie journal after all.  And for good reason because I can now easily fill out a spot on the “favourite meals” page, without a doubt.  I had one of the best meals of my life (Indian and otherwise) this past week at Veda in Yorkville and I am so amoured I want to eat here every week for the rest of my life.  It was – and is – that amazing. 

I’ve wanted to eat at Veda for the longest time.  With its bright orange restaurant front and it’s small, but welcoming and cozy-looking  interior, it was a place I knew I had to visit.  My lunch here turned out to be one of the most delicious, nicest learning experiences because as I mentioned yesterday, I got a glimpse of Indian cooking, culture, history, and philosophy at work right before my eyes and I can thank my boyfriend and Veda’s decor for that!  I learned that the Veda refers to the anthology of texts that are devoted to Indian history, philosophy, and knowledge.  Thus, the name Veda is incredibly significant to the way the restaurant integrates important historical moments in India’s food culture into their product and cooking philosophy, and, in their words, “knowledge of healthful living” (emphasis added).

One of the ways in which Veda incorporates authentic Indian food culture into their restaurant is their serving style and meal sets.  As a popular lunch and dinner option, Veda serves a Tiffin Thali meal set complete with a choice of rice, protein, and vegetable.  Now, I know that doesn’t sound out of the ordinary; getting in your healthy food groups is a good thing!  However, what makes this particular meal set significant in terms of Indian history and food culture is the way in which it is served. 

Tiffin Thali literally refers to the type of servingware it is served in and the style of meal placement.  I’ll start with the thali since there’s a story behind the tiffin which I’ll get into shortly.  Those of you who are familiar with Indian food culture will already know this, but a thali generally refers to either a round tray with different compartments that food is served on with a number of different dishes on it, or a specific type of meal set such as a vegetarian thali, a meat thali, and others.

The term “tiffin” didn’t resonate with me until after I came home though.  Then the lightbulb went off.  There was a reason why it sounded so familiar and I realized it was because I had seen it at the Leslieville farmers’ market when I bought my lentil samosas from Tiffinday Inc., the Indian vegan catering company in Toronto!  The tiffin thali meals are served on a roundish, oblong stainless steel tray with adorable little stainless steel bowls to hold the vegetables, and the protein and meat. 

The cute stainless steel bowls are Veda’s nod to India’s historical, cultural past with food because tiffins are “food containers in transit”, so to speak.  Tiffins were used as a mode of delivery, bridging the gap of food accessibility between urban and suburban areas in India.  Tiffins were, and are, containers that are often stainless steel to be clean, convenient, and environmentally-friendly used to deliver take-out in and food in a quick and efficient way.  Hence why Tiffinday, as an Indian catering company, has the appropriate name that it does.

I’ll talk about Veda’s other menu items in greater detail next time, but I really want to focus on my tiffin thali because it was so delicious and memorable.  During my first meal here, I had the tiffin thali meal ($6.86) with spinach basmati rice, red lentils, and – wait for this – BUTTER TOFU!  OH.MY.GOD.  You all know I love butter chicken.  But butter tofu?!  I have NEVER come across butter tofu before and I was in absolute conniptions because I love tofu and I was so happy that there was a vegetarian protein option as delicious as THIS!  I added a giant piece of naan for an extra $0.99 and practically rolled down the street after my meal.  The portions are fantastic and so filling and the prices are incredibly reasonable, especially compared to other Indian places in the city.

The spinach basmati rice was light and fluffy with pieces of cooked, wilted spinach and cumin seed in it, and the red lentils were so delicious because it was a mildly spicy cross between a daal and paste.  The red lentils were so nice and thick and it was the perfect consistency to dip naan in it (and speaking of which, the naan was soft and chewy and scrumptious) and to mix the rice in.  And the butter tofu?  Creamy and soft and savoury and all sorts of amazing.  The tofu, cut into cubed chunks, was perfect because it wasn’t rubbery or mushy, and the butter sauce was rich, smooth, and full of rich tomato flavour.  I could eat a whole plate of this without even batting an eye.  I loved the textures and consistencies of the food, from the airiness of the rice, to the crunch of the cumin seeds, to the thick chili-like red lentils, and silkiness of the butter sauce over the tofu.  The food is mildly spicy so you’ll definitely feel some heat, but not so much you’ll need to chug liquids down or mop your forehead.  It’s the type of spicy that’s yummy and clears up your sinuses at the same time, let’s put it that way. 

Along with the spinach basmati rice, Veda has a vegetable biryani yellow rice, and vegetables include vegetable curry (broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, carrots, etc.), chickpea curry, and spiced lentils.  Butter chicken, chicken curry, and beef madras round out the meat options, and vegetarian proteins include the saag paneer (spinach cheese) and butter tofu.  I love the menu choices at Veda and I’m so looking forward to rotating my way around the different items and trying the different meals!  This was a fabulous meal and one that’s going into the books. 

*****

Veda is located at 874 Yonge St. at Davenport Rd., just north of Yorkville Ave. in the Yorkville neighbourhood.  The restaurant is located on the west side of Yonge St. and is only several blocks north of the Yonge & Bloor intersection and subway.  Their hours from Monday-Friday are 11:30am-9pm, 12pm-9pm on Saturday, and 5pm-9pm on Sundays.  They are both dine-in and take-out.

A Delicious Meal to Remember – Indian Cooking and Philosophy at Veda, Part I

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The best meals create the best stories and blog posts.  I recently had one of the most delicious Indian meals – wait, scratch that, make that one of the most delicious meals ever– at Veda on Yonge Street in Yorkville and I had to share these snippets with you first before I dove into all the amazing details.  I wanted to do a scrapbook layout of this meal so much but alas, I can’t develop photos and scrap at the speed of light, so my scrapbook layout is going to have to wait.  Which may not be a bad thing.  It’ll give me another excuse to come eat here (not that I need one, but justification for stuffing my face is always nice), that way I’ll have even more beautiful, yummy photos to work with!

There’s so much I want to flush out, but I want to gather my thoughts a bit first because this was a meal like no other.  Not only did I have a wonderfully tasty lunch that left me rolling down the street afterward, but the meal was also a learning experience because I was able to catch a small glimpse of the philosophy, history, culture, and vibrancy behind Indian cooking and cuisine.

I’ve been berating myself for not featuring more Indian food on the blog (the only blog post I have is the one for Amaya’s Bread Bar during this past year’s Winterlicious.  Foreshame!) and I finally told myself it was time to give the Indian section of the blog some love.  I’ve been to fantastic places thanks to some friends and my boyfriend, and have eaten many a meal since my days in university, but the perfectionist in me, as always, didn’t like the photos I took of previous meals (let it be known that several years ago I couldn’t take a decent food photo to save my life) and to be perfectly honest, I wanted to learn more before I started blogging more.  

Indian food wasn’t food I grew up eating and I didn’t want to start posting up a storm pretending like I knew everything there was to know when I so obviously didn’t.  My foray into Indian food didn’t even begin until I was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed grad student.  I wanted my journey and growth on this blog to be as authentic and organic as possible and I’m so grateful that I’ve had these opportunities to eat and learn and to learn from others.  I feel like I’ve taken away nuggets of knowledge from friends over the years and I know they’ve taken away some from me as well (why yes, there are over five dialects of Chinese and just as many regional cuisines to go along with them) and even now, I’m still learning about food that I have grown up with.  I’m excited as ever to share this wonderful gem with you all and I guarantee that after I’m done, you are going to trip over yourself to eat here.