Art Imitating Food Imitating…More Food! Sweets & The Neapolitan Ice Cream Cone Sugar Cookie at Yummy Stuff

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Ice cream cupcakes, cake and pie cupcake flavours, cupcakes made to look like ice cream cones, candy sushi, and cakes made to look like sandwiches and candy bars (read Food Network magazine, you’ll totally get what I mean with those two last ones!); it’s art imitating food imitating…more food!  It is so darn cute and clever when dessert and food themes criss-cross all over the place to create culinary masterpieces and awe-inspiring works of sweet, edible art.  Now, before I unleash the 2nd installment of the Cupcake Connection featuring a very summer appropriate cupcake from Yummy Stuff among other specials, news, and updates from Toronto’s cupcake scene, let’s talk sugar cookies!  And more specifically, cute as a button decorated sugar cookies that look like food!

Everyone knows I love baking cookies.  However, when it comes to eating them, I am veeeery ambivalent towards certain varieties.  And one of them just happens to be sugar cookies.  I KNOW.  How could I possibly feel that way about one of the world’s most basic, simplest cookies?  They’re blank canvases that beg to be decorated, they don’t complicate things with a whole bunch of wacky, out-of-left-field flavours, and while everyone’s method might be a little different, ingredients are fairly similar across the board.  What’s not to love?  The answer: half the time, they’re just not executed well.

Check out the adorable hamburger!

My beloved Neapolitan ice cream cone cookie!

Pretty ribbon, a takeout box container, and creamy sandwich cookies? I’m sold.

I love the idea of enjoying a sugar cookie but I find sugar cookies to be one of the most difficult things to enjoy because there are so many things that can be wrong with them.  More often that not, they come out chalky, dry, crumbly, tasteless, and uncomfortably hard on your teeth.  And while the aesthetic is often beautiful (the artwork that many cookie decorators do is truly breathtaking), the total sum of the cookie’s yum almost never lives up to its beauty on the surface which is unfortunate because it should taste as good as it looks!

And this is where Yummy Stuff comes in!  I promised you all in my first Yummy Stuff post back in April I would report back on their sugar cookies and I got the chance to go back to their shop on Queen West in Parkdale earlier this month to grab myself one.  They always have an in-store selection ($3 to $4 each), as well as an option of having custom designed ones for special occasions like baby showers, wedding favours, birthdays, and more.  Remember how gaga I was over their cupcake and ice cream shaped and decorated cookies?!

Never a dull cookie or sweet on the Yummy Stuff shelves

This time around, they had some different designs on hand and I was absolutely in conniptions when I saw their new Neapolitan ice cream sugar cookies!  (Hint: this has a little something to do with the upcoming Cupcake Connection!).  They were so, so pretty and really, who can resist anything Neapolitan?  I don’t know about everyone else, but I’ve never separated the flavours or favoured one “section” for another (don’t innocently whistle and pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about; we all know what I mean) and I kind of liken it to spumoni ice cream.  Anyway, I eagerly snatched a Neapolitan decorated sugar cookie ($4) and vowed to save it for a moment when I could truly savour it and enjoy it’s prettiness.  Even though I was still a tiny bit wary of it delivering on yumminess (they certainly had the appearance down pat, so that wasn’t a concern), I felt confident that Yummy Stuff wouldn’t let me down with their sugar cookies.

And they didn’t.  I will never eat another sugar cookie from another place ever again.  Okay, so maybe that’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but OH.MY.GOD.  This sugar cookie was the BEST sugar cookie I have EVER had.  It was everything a sugar cookie should be and the exact opposite of all the negative traits I listed earlier.  Their sugar cookies weren’t difficult to bite into (I actually broke mine into small pieces to eat, but regardless, my teeth and mouth didn’t hurt from trying to eat them), they melted in your mouth, the icing was delicious, and the cookie!  Oh my lordy, the cookie whipped the hair-tie off my ponytail and sent me to cookie heaven.  Pure vanilla excellence.  Keep in mind, unless there’s a note that indicates the icing is of a particular flavour, the cookie is expected to be vanilla.  Their vanilla is top-notch and the flavour made their sugar cookie taste incredible.  I was actually sad when I finished it because it was so good.

Sneak peek at the upcoming Cupcake Connection, Vol. 002!

It’s a shame cookies can’t keep forever because these are lovely little works of art that would look so fab sitting on a display case in all their foodie glory.  Considering how delicious they are though, it’s not too bad of a trade-off at all.

*****

Yummy Stuff is located at 1660 Queen Street West in the west end Parkdale neighbourhood, east of Roncesvalles Ave.  They are open Tuesday-Sunday, from 10am-7pm from Tuesday-Friday, 9am-6pm on Saturdays, and 12pm noon-5pm on Sundays.  They are closed on Mondays.  Visit their official website here.

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Peaceful Green Space, Chutneys, & Seasonal, Fruity Baked Goods – The North York Farmers’ Market, Part II

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Beautiful green space, some of the most amazing perogies in the city, and row upon row of juicy fruits and vegetables in every colour of the rainbow – this is the summer market at Mel Lastman Square!  This market was truly one of my all-time favourites last summer, one that I would have visited every single week if I had the time and opportunity. 

I LOVE how accessible this market is.  Right off the North York Centre subway station on Yonge St., it’s walking distance from both Sheppard and Finch (which works great for me since all I have to do is hop on a Viva bus from my neck of the woods in Markham!), there’s ample space to enjoy the food you end up buying should you choose to stuff your face right then and there, and – this is a shopaholic and foodie in my gushing – there is SO many eats to explore in the area including Korean grocery and dining spots, tea and dessert cafes, noodle houses, and more.  The market is situated in a bustling, busy part of town and yet it affords all market goers with plenty of peace and quiet on park grounds, which I can’t get enough of.

The fabulous potato and cheese perogies that I love so dearly from Taste of Russia were back for another market season, as well as some of the baked goods and hot food vendors.  I was delighted to find out that BreadSong Collective was vendoring (I know this is technically not a word, but it works in this context so humour me!) at North York this summer and did they ever bring their A-game!  Using Monforte Dairy cheese, fiddlehead galette pastries were made along with little cake loaves and large creme fraiche galettes made with Ontario strawberries. 

There were beautiful peppers, zucchinis, strawberries, root vegetables, and these drop dead gorgeous baby eggplants that were a lighter shade of purple streaked with white, like sunbursts and fireworks. Waymac Mushroom Farm (who are also vendors at other local Ontario markets in Peterborough and Port Perry) was on hand with beautiful oyster, shittake, and portobello mushrooms and, one of my new favourites, Joy of Harvest!  Calvin and Sonya run this fab condiment business, specifically selling their products at farmers’ markets.  Products range from chutneys (the mango one is delicious!) to hot sauces, curry sauce, jerk seasoning, and exotic fruit jellies and jams including guava and pineapple ginger!  Let’s just say my pantry yearns for all of these.

I love the variety the North York Centre market affords because it’s one of those markets that you can feasibly do all your grocery shopping at!  There’s bread, meats, fruits, vegetables, cheeses, pantry items, and hot food and regardless of whether or not you would actually go through with buying an entire week’s worth of groceries here, it’s just nice to know you could if you wanted to.  My picks are definitely the black bean and kale empanadas by BreadSong, the perogies by Taste of Russia, a sauce, jelly, or chutney by Joy of Harvest, and any of the baby vegetables like the baby eggplants and baby zucchini.  If you make it out to the market, stay around for the whole morning; it’ll be worth it.    

*****

The North York farmers’ market by the North York Civic Centre at Mel Lastman Square is located at 5100 Yonge St. just across the street from the North York Centre subway station off Hillcrest Ave.  The farmers’ market is located on the west side of Yonge St. and runs every Thursday from 8am-2:30pm from May 31st to October 25th.  

Fiddlehead Galettes, Root Vegetables, & Lush Purple Eggplants – The North York Farmers’ Market, Part I

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Fiddlehead galettes with Monforte cheese by Breadsong Collective!

A bevy of lettuces and colourful root vegetables

The beautiful Mel Lastman Square grounds

Gorgeous cherries! Perfect for juicy baked goods and pastries

Stunning purple and white streaked baby eggplants

Mushrooms and funghi of all kinds! Check out those yellow ones

*****

The North York farmers’ market by the North York Civic Centre at Mel Lastman Square is located at 5100 Yonge St. just across the street from the North York Centre subway station off Hillcrest Ave.  The farmers’ market is located on the west side of Yonge St. and runs every Thursday from 8am-2:30pm from May 31st to October 25th.

Meatballs & Provolone, and Scallops & Farro Vegetable Medley – My Italian ‘Surf and Turf’ at Trattoria Nervosa!

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Let it be known that I have been in love with Yorkville’s “little yellow house” twins (known as Trattoria Nervosa and Sassafraz), for years.  With its bright yellow exteriors, sweet flower planters, black-and-white trim, accents, and awnings, and inviting outdoor patios for those sun-drenched days of summer, both establishments transform this Yorkville spot into those iconic French and Italian cafés many of us can only dream of experiencing in our lifetime.  It’s not Paris and it’s not Sicily, but in Toronto, I’d say these are lovely alternatives for the staycationer like myself!

At the corners of Yorkville Ave. and Cumberland St. on Bellair, they have both been on the Yorkville fine dining circuit for years, wowing its patrons with its Italian and French cuisine and beautiful patio terraces.  After visiting  the beautiful patio at Wish Cafe for Eat In, Eat Out’s Summer Patio Dining feature, I wanted to take the plunge and enjoy one other meal in the neighbourhood al fresco and thought, “Café Nervosa, here I come!”  Even though I was dying to finally wine and dine (or rather, just dine since I don’t drink!) at Sassafraz, I went with Italian at Nervosa and sunk into one of the most gorgous rooftop patios in the city for my own Italian version of “surf and turf” with crusty bread and olive oil, all the cracked black pepper I could ever want, and beautiful sunshine and comfortable breeze.

Trattoria Nervosa (or Café Nervosa) is a gorgeous two-storey Italian eatery with both a ground level and rooftop patio.  Their rooftop patio is like a comfortable, breezy summer cabana, with a cocktail bar, a shaded, cushioned “cabana”, and a sun dappled area right up against the patio railing with a very sweet view of Yorkville down below!  The rooftop patio is dressed in shades of cool cream, warm cappuccino, gray, and black, with mirrors, wall ornaments, and printed cushions dotting the chic space.

Their menu boasts a number of Italian insalate (baby arugula wih Italian tuna, romaine with pancetta, fried capers, and aged parmigino, buffalo mozzarella and pesto); antipasti (seafood and potatoes, beef tenderloin and truffled cannellini beans, funghi bruschetta, cured meats and cheeses); paste (agnolotti, funghi pappardelle, orecchiette, bolognese fettucine); pizze (plenty of fresh mozzarella, brie, parmigiano, grilled and roasted vegetables including peppers, mushrooms, asparagus, and grape tomatoes, sausage, prosciutto, olives, basil, and more); secondi mains (seafood, chicken, and beef, and veal); Italian desserts (tiramisu, tartufo, and semifreddo among others); and one veeery large wine and cocktail list.  Desserts are priced at $7.99, meal prices, in total, will mostly likely fall between $15-$30 if you’re putting together an appetizer and main or just a main (excluding drinks), and daily specials come in at around $17-$26, on average.

I learned a very valuable lesson during my delicious meal at Nervosa: never underestimate the power of appetizer plates to induce a food coma.  I came into my meal determined to have a dessert off their menu at the end of it all, only to realize that I was about to pop after my two appetizer dishes.  I had myself an Italian version of surf and turf with an order of their beef, veal, and pork meatballs (4, $13.99) braised and smothered in tomato sauce, covered in smoked provolone cheese, and their pan seared scallops (2, $14.99) with a panzanella salad of farro, zucchini, butternut squash, and corn.

HOLY MOTHER OF PEARL.  I simply ordered the two because I couldn’t decide between them but never did I think I would be ready to burst at the end of the meal!  The meatballs were incredibly soft, moist, and tender, the smoked provolone was buttery and nutty (and perfectly melted – provolone is not easy to melt!), and there was plenty of thick, savoury tomato sauce to go around.  The meatballs literally melted in my mouth and they were fabulous on their own without any pasta or bread.

The scallops appetizer, though, was even MORE amazing.  The zucchini and butternut squash were both diced, creating a beautiful mosaic with the farro and corn.  The medley, tossed in olive oil, was the perfect bedding for the fresh, plump scallops and the whole dish was just to die for.  The scallops had that lovely thin layer of browned crispness on top from being seared and the insides were beautifully moist and meaty.  Even though the scallops, being the seafood, was the expected star of the dish, the grain and vegetable salad was truly one of the most delicious things I’ve ever had.  The olive oil made it nice and flavourful, the farro gave the dish immense texture and crunch, and the zucchini and butternut squash gave it earthiness.

Given how I waddled out of Nervosa without a dessert (but still immensely satisfied), a follow-up visit is clearly in the cards!  I am so looking forward to going back for dessert, some pizza (rapini pizza on Thursdays!), and some fresh Italian pastas and cheeses.  It’s such a treat since I rarely eat at Italian places, just because they’ve always been a little pricier than other establishments.  I’d love to change that since I love Italian food so much and I’m happy I finally got the chance to make my first visit here.  It was relaxing, beautiful, and delicious – the perfect summertime treat.

*****

Trattoria Nervosa is located at 75 Yorkville Ave., at the corner of Yorkville Ave. and Bellair St.  They are open 7 days a week, from 11:30am-11pm Monday-Wednesday, 11:30am-12am Thursday-Saturday, and 12pm-10pm on Sundays.  In addition to their regular menu, Nervosa offers two daily specials every day of the week.  These specials include a pizza and a main and are not available on any other day other than their designated “daily special” day.  Visit their official HERE to view their full menu and info on special event booking.

Summer Sipping – A Photo Spotlight on Frothy Lattes at Zaza Espresso Bar

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*****

Zaza Espresso Bar is located at 29 Bellair St., just west of Bay St. in the heart of the Yorkville neighbourhood and district.  They are open 7 days a week, from 8am-10pm Monday-Thursday, 8am-11pm Friday-Saturday, and 10am-10pm on Sundays.  In addition to Italian coffee and drinks, Zaza also has a wide assortment of gelato on hand every day and a breezy patio space out front to enjoy those sips and eats!  They serve 3 other locations in Toronto including a brand new location in the west end in Bloor West Village.  Click HERE to view other locations and to find out more about the espresso bar.

The Amazing Feta & Ontario Asparagus Egg Frittata Sandwich, and Upcoming Food Events at The Depanneur!

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In less than a week, we’ll be kicking off the official first day of summer (although if you ask me, summer came knocking on our door two months ago and I’ve been sweating it out and being wimpy about it ever since) and things are certainly heating up at The Depanneur!  With new supper clubs, workshops, and more drop-in dinners than ever before, the dogs days of summer are looking mighty tasty and promising!  Not only has The Depanneur upped the ante on their weekly drop-in dinners from once a week to 3 times a week, but they’ve also opened up a sweet little terrace out front on the side for more good food action.  Kawartha farms and ecological growers have teamed up with The Depanneur to host a market on the terrace every Tuesday from 4pm-7pm.  It’s the perfect combo: a farmers’ market straight from the source AND a drop-in dinner (6pm) to enjoy at the same time!  Here’s what we have to look forward to in the next little while:

  • Paleo Dinner with Summer Innanen of Haute Life – Rusholme Park Supper Club, June 24.  7:30pm-10:30pm.  1033 College Street.  $40 supper club membership for the night.  Sit back and relax with fellow supper club members at this easy, breezy Paleo-inspired meal prepared by holistic nutritionist and owner of Haute Life, Summer Innanen.  The Paleo diet is comprised of meat, fish, eggs, fruits and vegetables, and fats such as coconut and avocado, while at the same time excluding processed and refined sugars, grains, dairy, and legumes.  Summer’s menu will include dishes such as 100% grass-fed braised blade roast with roasted seasonal vegetables and a seasonal berry tart with whipped cream among great food spreads.  It’s a great chance to explore a different diet and that could very well impact your habits and lifestyle, so c0me on out for a fab ‘Summer’ meal!  http://www.facebook.com/events/481088045249968/

  • Make Your Own Condiments with Kate Leinweber – Workshop, July 11.  6pm-9pm.  1033 College Street.  $67 +HST/person.  Let’s face it – some of our favourite store-bought sauces and condiments are, unfortunately, loaded with excess sodium, sugars, and preservatives.  We love them, but wouldn’t it be fabulous to learn and explore the art of making your own spreads and dips?  Join holistic nutritionist and microbiologist, Kate Leinweber, at this do-it-yourself workshop solely devoted to fermenting and whipping up delicious condiments such as mustards, mayos, ketchups, and more.  This workshop is comprised of an educational and learning component and sit-down dinner and social hour where everyone will have the opportunity to try their homemade creations alongside a delicious slow-cooked tagine.  http://www.facebook.com/events/378207642216568/ 

In addition to the drop-in dinners, supper clubs, workshops, and Kawartha partneship,the frittata breakfast sandwiches just keep getting better and better!  I’ve had their breakfast sandwiches 3 times now ($4 for half, $7 for a whole) and the latest was their best EVER: feta and Ontario asparagus egg frittata with greens, smothered in a thyme and paprika flavoured mayo, sandwiched between two slice of grilled sourdough bread.  The bread was so toasty and crunchy and it tasted just like crostini with olive oil, and the egg frittata was AMAZING.  It was so super thick and the asparagus and feta made it crunchy and creamy all at the same time and the mayo, with its slight kick from the paprika, was just foodgasmic.  I would have eaten this sauce by the spoonful, slathered it on everything, and dipped everything in it.  Just thinking about the sandwich now makes me hungry for more.  This was my favourite egg frittata sandwich so far and I’m mighty curious to see if any future sandwiches can top this one!  Hands down, the best $4 I ever spent on breakfast.

Upcoming drop-in dinners for this week, and supper clubs and workshops happening later on in the month and early July will be posted soon!  I’ll be updating this post and The Depanneur’s Food Calendar page as soon as I get the weekly news.  And if you happen to stop by, pick up the latest issue of City Bites magazine while you’re at it too!  I hope everyone’s enjoying their weekend!

*****

The Depannuer is located at 1033 College Street between Dovercourt Rd. and Dufferin Street.  They are open from Tuesday to Sunday (closed on Mondays) with a number of cooking classes, food workshops, drop-in dinners, and supper clubs throughout the month, which you can keep up with on the Food Calendar or on their Twitter @TheDepanneur.  You can view The Depannuer’s Facebook page here.

Salmon Sashimi, Crispy Rice, & Special Mayo Sauces – Let’s Talk Sushi Pizza!

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A photo tribute to one of my all-time favourite sushi dishes, the salmon sushi pizza!  Even though Sushi Time is more expensive than other spots in the city by about 25 to 50 cents ($7.25), it’s always one of my go-to dishes whenever I come.  I’ve had their salmon sushi pizza three times already!  Which is saying a lot considering I hate and try to avoid ordering the same thing over and over again at places I love and go back to.  The blog would be one huge snooze fest if I did that! 

Their sushi pizza gets to me every time though.  With its breaded, crispy rice (the sushi “pizza” is cut into 6 pieces), mayo sauce, and super thick slices of salmon sashimi with sesame seeds and green onions sprinkled on top, it is so, so good and one of the meals that truly inspired me to scrapbook my food photos and photograph food seriously.  It played a big part in my very first sushi experience in the city downtown and I’ll forever remember it as the moment my eyes and tastebuds were opened to so much more.

If you can believe it, the very first time I had sushi pizza was at an all-you-can-eat buffet in Scarborough about 5 years ago!  Up until that point I had no idea such a thing existed and my mum and I were so ecstatic when we found this adorable and delicious sushi concoction!  I’ve tried many different sushi pizzas over the years, both at AYCE spots and regular ones and the one at Sushi Time on Queen West still remains my favourite.        

All sushi pizzas have different toppings and different ways of utilizing and displaying them on the crispy rice pizza base, but they always have tobiko and special mayo sauce of some sort, sprinkled and drizzled on top.  Some places will chop and dice the salmon sashimi and mix it with some spicy sauce to form a salmon salad while others will include diced veggies or use different kinds types of sauces like thousand island style dressing, barbeque, or sweet teriyaki.  They come in a a variety of different kinds with salmon, tuna, BBQ eel, and eggplant being the most common.  I’ve only ever had salmon sushi pizza, so I’m dying to try tuna and eggplant the most. 

If you love sushi pizza as much as I do, feel free to share your favourites around the city!   For those of you looking for a fabulous deal and bang for your buck, you absolutely have to try the salmon and crab sushi pizza from Big Sushi in the Annex!  The next time I go I promise to get more and better photos, but in a nutshell, theirs is truly a meal-size dish ($7.50) and the salmon sashimi, shredded crab meat, and avocado slices are loaded on making it almost more like a pie than a little sushi pizza! 

And if you’re having sushi pizza from Ginza, be sure to order it without the diced red onion.  The diced red and green bell peppers delight me, but the red onion takes away from the pizza and it’s much better off without it.  My dear friend Aamer swears by the sushi pizza at Sushi Sky and I am mega curious about the tuna pizza at Yonge Sushi just south of York Mills on Yonge Street, so we’ll see how those ones measure up!  In the meantime, if you enjoy sushi but have never tried sushi pizza before, you should.  It it one of the funnest, most enjoyable things to eat, ever.

*****

Sushi Time is located at 325 Queen St. West near the corner of John St. and Queen West.  Situated between University and Spadina Ave., Sushi Time is on the south side of Queen and are open for business at 12pm, 7 days a week.  You can view their menu in PDF form at their temporary website HERE.