Curried Chicken & Quinoa Meatloaf & Fluffy Quinoa Salad – Comfort Food from the Heart of Her Royal Highness, Queen Mother Cafe

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*Trumpets and horns tooting in the distance*  “Hear ye, hear ye!  We are gathered here today to mark the celebration of winter comfort food in the wake of the treacherous weather that has descended upon our fair land.  Winter comfort food shall not be taken lightly; it is of utmost importance that we, the masses, surround thyselves with warmth, flavour and heartiness over the coming months in efforts to warm and soothe thy soul and fill thy belly amidst snow, rain and freezing cold.  Thou shall read this post and proceed to drool over the plethora of scrumptious delights Her Royal Highness, Queen Mother Cafe, has to offer: the brightest and heartiest of salads, the most mouthwatering of sandwiches, the savouriest of pasta and noodle dishes, the most scrumptious of burgers, and the most decadent of desserts.  Take note my fellow foodies, for there is only one Royal Highness in the land.”

It’s time to cozy up to some really awesome comfort food in the downtown core on Queen Street West at Queen Mother Cafe!  After passing by this beautiful establishment (serving food in the city since 1978!) more times than I can remember over the years, I fianlly put my foot down and said, “I’m going, no more putting this off!” back at the end of November.  And after that first time, I mentally slotted Queen Mother Cafe into my top 10 favourites, just like that.  It drives me crazy (in a good way!) when I find or visit a place that I end up loving so much I want to go back over and over forever and ever.  It’s one thing to want to come back on your own, it’s a whole ‘nother thing to tell others that they MUST ALSO GO OR ELSE.

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And you all know me well enough to know that it’s rare for me to order the exact same thing from a place because 1) I like variety and 2) I can’t blog about the same dish twice so I purposely choose different things so that I’ll always have new content for Ate by Ate even though there might be one particular dish that I adore to pieces.  Well, I’m confessing that I broke my own rule because I actually went back in December and ordered the same thing because IT WAS THAT AMAZINGLY DELICIOUS.  I didn’t order a salad the first time though and I ordered a different dessert so at least I did that!

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There are so many things to love about Queen Mother Cafe.  For starters, it’s cozy and warm and intimate and homey with Victorian flair.  Second, it’s so close to Osgoode subway station and walkable from Eaton Centre.  Finally, and most importantly, their menu and food leaves me awestruck.  Multi-faceted doesn’t even begin to describe how fantastic it is.  There are meat dishes, vegetarian and vegan dishes, light fare, hearty fare, bar food, comfort food (which, to some, could be one in the same!) and so many different textures and ethnic flavours: Thai, Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern, and French just to name a handful.  There is no shortage of variety on their menu as well, with choices ranging from Thai noodles to grilled sandwiches to grain salads to mouthwatering burgers, providing the perfect landscape for picky eaters and larger parties with different diets and preferences.  In addition to their regular menu, they offer daily specials and a weekend brunch menu on Sundays.

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What we have here is their fluffy quinoa salad and their to-die-for curried chicken and quinoa meatloaf burger (oh we’ll get to dessert in the next post!  And if you’re wondering, no, I did not eat all this by myself!  I shared.)  If you love quinoa, you need to have these dishes in your life because they are game-changers.  Their quinoa salad ($10.95) is a meal-sized salad consisting of quinoa, chickpeas, crumbled goat cheese, sundried tomatoes and red peppers, a little bit of diced red onion, lots of fresh flat-leaf parsley (I love parsley like nobody’s business so I happily inhaled it all) and baby salad greens, all tossed in a light and refreshing vinaigrette of lemon, herbs, garlic and olive oil.

The great thing about this salad is the lightness and all the different textures in it.  The goat cheese is very creamy, you have the crunch from the parsley and chickpeas, a little savoury flavour from the sundried tomatoes and peppers and the greens complement the quinoa giving it even more body and fullness.

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Okay.  The curried chicken and quinoa meatloaf burger ($13.95; all burgers and sandwiches are served with your choice of Yukon gold fries or salad).  I honestly didn’t know what to expect when they brought my plate to me.  I just knew I wanted it because it sounded so delicious from the description: “lean ground chicken and quinoa with onions, celery, bell peppers, lime leaf and curry, oven baked and nestled on a toasted bun with baby arugula and roasted tomatoes”.  Would the meatloaf be like a big meatball on a bun?  Would it be a round grain patty?  Would it more like a sloppy joe type of style?

When my plate was placed down, angels sang and harps started playing.  I could not believe how beautiful it looked.  A perfect 1-inch loaf slice of, hands down, one of the juiciest, most amazing things I have ever tasted in my life!  The curry flavour was bang on, the meatloaf was so moist and the ground chicken and quinoa complemented each other so well because the ground meat gave it depth and body while the quinoa kept it from being too stodgy or heavy.  The roasted tomatoes lent a little bit of juicy acidity to it and the arugula kept it bright and crunchy.  It was one of those dishes that struck the perfect balance.  It was hearty and made you full without making you feel uncomfortable in the end.  On the contrary, this will leave you feeling energized and so good afterward.

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And the bun!  I’ll be the first to admit that I shy away from sandwiches and burgers sometimes because I’m just not a fan of some of the buns people serve.  Sometimes they’re too dry, too hard, too doughy or too bland (or even a combination of all of them).  But on this burger?  Holy mother of pearl.  The toasted bun is so soft and light on the outside and crispy on the inside and more than capable of holding the entire meatloaf burger fillings together.

I can’t praise Queen Mother Cafe enough; it is a gem in this city.  In the next post, we’ll talk dessert!

*****

Queen Mother Cafe is located at 208 Queen Street West in the downtown core just steps away from Osgoode subway station, situated between St. Patrick Street and Duncan Street.  They are opened 7 days a week, serving lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday (11:30 am to 1 am) and weekend brunch and dinner on Sundays (11:30 am to midnight 12 am).  You can visit their official website HERE to view their info and menu.

Nutty For Pesto, Sundried Tomato, & Burger Patties – A Photo Spotlight on Earth & City’s Raw, Vegan Nut Burgers!

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Vegan nut burgers at the ING Direct Cafe...

No matter how healthy many of us eat, everyone has their junk food weakness whether it’s sweet or savoury.  Some feel weak in the knees in the face of pizza, some salivate at the mention of ice cream sundaes, and some will do anything to get their hands on a basket of fries.  I’ll be honest with you guys: I have a weakness for good old fashioned grilled cheeseburgers.  And turkey burgers.  With cheese, relish, pickles, mushrooms, peppers, and garlic mayo.  I don’t eat them often though.  The word “rarely” comes to mind, actually.  Twice a year, tops.  For me, as much as I enjoy it, these type of cravings are just cravings and they come and go. 

Aside from having a sweet tooth, I shy away from junk food as often as I can.  The last time I had a soda was over 10 years ago in high school (and I can’t remember the time before that), I despise fried chicken with a passion, and I try my best not to put myself in a situation where I have to resort to choosing something to eat from a fast food chain.  Like I said, I allow myself to have a cheeseburger type of day maybe twice a year but that’s about it.  I even carefully think about how to schedule my dessert and sweets eating throughout the day and/or week – what you see on the blog isn’t in real time most of the time!  This lack of burger eating on my part clearly explains why my Burger Book catgory has been 1) relatively devoid of burger bliss (if I may quote the latest A&W commercial), and 2) more focused on vegetarian and vegan burgers! 

Sundried tomato goodness at Wychwood Barns

Looking for a delicious raw, vegan lunch?

I am LOVING the versatility and deliciousness of vegetarian and vegan burgers in all its different forms: soy, grain, tofu, potato, you name it.  The veggie burgers I’ve had in the last year have all been delicious and they’ve all been so different.  There’s the juicy, breaded tofu burger from Kale and the potato-like mushroom onion burger from Fresh.  Another veggie burger to add to the mix?  Earth & City’s raw, vegan nut burgers!

I approach Earth & City’s food the same way I approach the menu at Fresh: try everything!  Or at the very least, something from every food category on the menu.  So far I’ve had the pleasure of having Earth & City’s spring roll wraps, vegan pizza, nori rolls, macaroons, tarts, raw and vegan brownies, and even a raw peanut butter date square.  I can now say with absolute conviction that their vegan nut burgers are my favourite of all favourites.  I cannot get over how much I love them!  My favourite foods from Earth & City then are as follows (in no particular order): nut burgers, nori rolls, and brownies. 

Their nut burgers ($6, tax inclusive) are amazing and to me, they’re more delicious than any meat burger could ever be!  The vegan nut burgers are giant round patties made of raw, almonds, sunflower seeds, honey dates, and flax seed that have been pulsed and pulverized, mixed with dried basil and oregano, organic olive oil and lemon juice, white balsamic vinegar and sea salt, and topped with either a sundried tomato or creamy pesto sauce, and sunflower sprouts with slices of local organic tomatoes at times.  The heavenly burgers sit on a giant collard green leaf  “lily pad bun” and are then munched on and inhaled by people like me.

I had one of their pesto nut burgers at a Lunchtime Office Market at the ING Direct Cafe and I could not stop thinking about it for days, even weeks, afterward.  I was most surprised by the texture – it was simaltaneously smooth and slightly crunchy!  The smoothness comes from how well the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated throughout the burger patty and the slight crunch comes from the ground up sunflower seeds and almonds.  It’s not crunchy like a potato chip.  It’s more like if you were to grab a handful of rolled oats and stuffed them in your mouth.  They’re smooth and flat so you’re not actually crunching on them persay, but you can feel that texture as you chew.  THAT’s what eating the nut burgers are like, only with a million times more flavour.  The ground almonds and sunflower seeds in the burger give it body and bite.  The burgers are SO incredibly soft and moist (the moistest burger I’ve ever had!) and the flavour is phenomenal.  It’s savoury without being salty, the pesto is creamy and heavenly, and the sunflower sprouts and collared green give it leafy crunch and a burst of garden freshness.

The vegan nut burger finally in my hands!

I love that my nut burger experience was so fantastic, but I’m in a really bad predicament now because all I want to do is go to every market that Earth & City are at so I can pick up another burger!  Just think, you’re getting a burger that’s rich in protein, calcium, and fibre, AND it’s delicious beyond comprehension.  I guess my obsession with these burgers isn’t the worst thing that could happen.  It leaves me naughty room in my diet and belly to gorge on their raw vegan brownies.

*****

Earth & City is a local raw and vegan food business operating at farmers’ markets across Toronto year-round.  They are currently at 3 markets, with more during the late spring and summer months.  You can find them at the Centre for Social Innovation (Bathurst location at 720 Bathurst Street south of Bloor) on Tuesdays from 11:30am-1:30pm, the ING Direct Cafe (at Yonge & Shuter street just north of Queen Street) on Thursdays from 11:30am-1:30pm, and at The Stop market at Wychwood Barns (76 Wychwood Ave. near St. Clair Ave. West and Christie Street) on Saturdays from 8am-1pm.

Breaking Out of the Veggie Buffet Comfort Zone – Scrumptious Tofu Burgers at Kale Eatery!

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For all the vegetarians, vegans, and veggie food enthusiasts in and around Toronto who have been to Kale, I pose a question to you: when you think of the magical land of Kale Eatery, what comes to mind?  The wonderfully delicious expanse of rice, steamed kale, hummus, curry, beans, tofu, stew, and salad in the self-serve buffet?  Grabbing a plate at the head of the line and heaping spoonfuls of food onto it?  The feeling of happiness and satisfaction you get bringing a mosaic of healthy food to your table?  All of the above?  I know, me too. 

However, amidst all of these heavenly thoughts of food, I have had major food tunnel vision.  Yes, that’s right, food tunnel vision.  And I feel rather awful about it.  I’ve been so fixated on Kale’s vegetarian and vegan buffet, I’ve overlooked their entire regular, made-to-order, magical menu!  The buffet has stolen my heart and my love has blinded me all this time.  Sigh. 

Every single time I make plans to go to Kale, all I can think of is, “I wonder how much food I can fit on my plate without making a mess out of everything?”.  I walk in, quickly claim a table (Kale gets busy!), throw my bag and outerwear (if I’m wearing any) on my chair, and make a beeline for the buffet.  I grab a plate, survey the selection, and start piecing together a nice a little food puzzle for myself.  I don’t know why I do what I do!  It’s not like the buffet is going anywhere or that I’ll die of starvation if I don’t get that portobello mushroom rice on my plate that very second.  The self-serve buffet is one of my favourite things in Toronto though and when you love something, you do nutty things.  There’s a first time for (almost) everything and during my last visit, I knew it was time I ate out of my comfort zone and that meant enjoying something off their menu.

Kale has an amazing menu of food and drinks that cater to both big and small appetites.  Their regular, made to order menu has a large selection of soups, wraps, veggie burgers, smoothies, and fresh squeezed juice along with coffee and tea drinks and some appetizers such as samosas and hummus and pita plates.  Soups include green lentil with spinach, barley mushroom, curry yellow split pea, butternet squash with millet (a type of grain that can resemble fluffy rice and couscous or creamy mashed potatoes and polenta), and mixed vegetables with pinto beans among others.  If you’re in the market for veggie wraps, Kale has a mouthwatering lineup of portobello quinoa, black bean avocado, tempeh, and spicy sundried tomato.  Finally, the all-mighty tofu burger rounds out the veggie menu, with an option to have it on either a bun or on a bed of greens.  Combined with the buffet, the dizzying array of choices becomes a veggie lover’s dream world!

What I really love about the menu at Kale is how well it complements the buffet options.  There are endless possibilities when it comes to mixing and matching to create that perfect vegetarian or vegan meal.  You can have a wrap and have some rice, tofu, stew, potatoes, or other veggies to go along with it.  You can have a soup and have some fresh, crunchy kale on the side.  There are so many ways to go about it and that’s what makes everything so versatile and easy to love. 

In addition, the menu prices are extremely reasonable ($6-$8 for mains and $3.25 and $4.25 for soups) and that is a huge relief for those who want to eat healthy, but hesitate to eat at vegetarian and vegan establishments because the food is often pricier.  This is a whole other important issue entirely though, one that I’ll address at another time.  For now though, just know that the buffet option may not be the best bet if you’re on a budget, but that the soups, wraps, and tofu burgers are right on par with all other non-vegetarian places.

I love tofu (as you all know) and this was my very first time having one so I was incredibly excited!  The burger ($6.95) was served on a soft, yet sturdy bun with sesame seeds with juicy tomatoes, onions, mounds of baby spinach, thick, creamy slices of avocado, and scrumptious hummus all over the tofu burger patty.  The tofu burger blew me away.  I couldn’t believe how delicious it was.  I wasn’t expecting anything awful, but I was truly taken aback by how good it was.  

For those of you who are meat-eaters and who’ve never had a tofu burger in your life but want to know what the taste and texture is like, the tofu patty was like a breaded chicken cutlet only, in my opinion, 100 times more fabulous.  It was juicy and savoury and it had this crisp goldeness to it on the outside that made it so much more burger and diner-like, and combined with the thick, creamy hummus, it was heaven in my mouth.  It was like eating savoury falafel balls dunked in hummus only with a mouthwatering tofu patty.  With the thick avocado and tomato slices and rings of raw onion, the burger was so tall I could barely fit it into my mouth and that’s saying a lot considering I have the ability to shove an entire cupcake with frosting in my mouth (my boyfriend can attest to that).

And the bun!  There was an option to go bunless and to instead have the burger on a bed of greens or spinach and when I realized that, I thought to myself, “oh geez, I should have gone the greens route!” since I’m a bigger fan of leafy greens than I am of most burger buns.  The burger bun showed me up though and I ended up loving it!  It isn’t dry or overly chewy or so crunchy it makes eating the burger uncomfortable.  It was soft on the inside with a wonderful toastiness to it from the sesame seeds on top.  I would probably hold the onion the next time around (I’m a wuss when it comes to the spiciness of raw onions), but otherwise, the tofu burger knocked it out of the park completely and I am that much more excited to have it again and to try other regular menu items! 

*****

Kale Eatery is located at 2366 Yonge St. (near the intersection of Yonge and Eglinton, just north of Eglinton).  Their website is up and running which you can check out here.

M&M Charity BBQ Day – Enjoying a Hot-Off-the-Grill Burger and Their Signature Peach Juice!

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Being the burger fanatic that my brother is, he wouldn’t miss this event for the world!  Today is M&M’s 23rd annual charity BBQ day benefiting the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada.  The outdoor BBQ event takes place every year on the first Saturday of May at all M&M Meat Shop locations across the country, and yesterday they kicked started the beginning of the event at Yonge-Dundas Square in downtown Toronto.  All the money raised at this event goes directly to the foundation to fund research for these diseases.  The outdoor BBQ takes place today at all M&M Meat Shop locations across Canada until 4pm and I was there with my family today to snag a few burgers, a few cups of their awesome peach juice, and of course, a few photos 😉 

I remember coming to my first M&M’s BBQ when I was little with my dad and at the time I had no idea what it was all about and could only focus on how yummy my peach juice was!  For a minimum donation of $2.50, you get a hot-off-the-grill burger or hot dog (ask to make sure they have the veggie option at the particular location you’re at), peach juice, and a little baggy of chips.  It’s beautiful out and so perfect for barbequing.  My brother was certainly a happy camper!  Slathered on some relish and mustard and we were good to go.  M&M charity burger quota filled for the year 😀

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For more information and for other ways to donate, visit their website here.

There’s Always Room for Mushrooms! The Mushroom Onion Burger from Fresh

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You all can tell how much I love Fresh, right? 😉  After that first outing back during the holidays, I’ve fallen head over heels and I look forward to my next meal here after each time.  I love the variety of options, and I love taking photos and creating a scrapbook layout that speaks to the colours, flavours, and atmosphere of each unique foodie experience.  Call me crazy but I already have cardstock colours and scrapbook papers picked out in my head as I’m eating.  It makes me giddy when the decor reminds me of pretty patterned paper!  I seriously look at the menu online several times a week, daydreaming about what I might try the next time or a combination that will most definitely be yummy!  And don’t even get me started on how desperately I want need the cookbook in my personal library.  It’s a wonderful love and I’m completely amoured.

This was my first time eating at the Fresh on Bloor location (at the intersection of Spadina Ave. and Bloor St. W) and the 2nd time eating at Fresh, and because I know what a huge crowd Fresh draws in at any point in the day, I was there with Richard right when they opened at 11:30am.  Tummies, start your engines!  I was ready and raring to go!  I thought it would be fun to work my way around the menu, trying something from each category before rotating back again.  So since I had the black bean burrito the first time (on a bed of greens instead of in the tortilla), I picked out a burger to try the second time around: the mushroom onion burger, yay.  On a bed of greens again, without the bun.  Don’t mind me, it’s just my weird preference!

The same way the black bean burrito made me nom, nom, nom with happiness, the mushroom onion burger was SO DAMN scrumptious and yummy, oh my lordy.  I am HUGE lover of mushrooms, both raw and sautéed, and I love many different kinds: cremini, portobello, king oyster, button, etc. etc.  I eat mushrooms all the time at home and it’s one of those foods that give the most amazing flavour to just about everything.  The mushroom onion burger tastes like a cross between a delicious potato patty with veggies and herbs and a meaty burger.  Fresh’s burgers are made with almond, grain, tofu, and veggies and they’re super thick and so yummy.  It has this fantastic potato-like, crumbly texture with bold meaty, hearty flavour.  

This particular burger dish is served with thick slicies of beefsteak tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms and red onion, lettuce, a nice pile of alfalfa sprouts, and yummy vegan mayo.  The vegan mayo is made from miso, tofu, garlic, sunflower oil, and apple cider vinegar and has a delicious creamy subtle garlic flavour.  I added some aged cheddar cheese to my burger which is rennet-free and oh-so-delicious with the alfalfa sprouts and greens (I almost never pass on cheese, I love it very much) and I had myself a bangin’ awesome meal.  Oh!  And I can’t forget about the juice I ordered too.

 Fresh is also known for their ridiculously large selection of fresh fruit juice, protein shakes, fruit smoothies, wheatgrass shots and shakes, supplements, and a number of other cold drinks and espressos.  You can create your own juice by choosing a fruit juice or two (such as grapefruit, mango, apple, carrot, pomegranate, etc.), or having a fruit juice mixed with other ingredients such agave, coconut milk, celery, raspberry, maple syrup, cocoa and peppermint.  

Fruit juices specifically come in 2 sizes, a 16 oz. glass (like the one I ordered) and a larger 32 oz. one.  Juices start at $3.50 for one fruit juice choice and you add additional charges ($0.50 or $1 depending on what you choose, for extra ingredients).  I chose a combination of mango juice with coconut milk and mmmm, it was like my own version of a juicy, creamy mango lassi!  I was so excited to get some great pictures (getting here when Fresh opens has its perks, I got myself a window seat for that natural light I love so much!), to enjoy a wonderful lunch with my sweetie, and eat another truly delicious and satisfying meal here.

*****

Fresh currently serves 3 locations in downtown Toronto:

  1. 326 Bloor St. West (right off the intersection of Spadina Ave. and Bloor St. West, just east of Spadina)
  2. 894 Queen St. West (at the intersection of Crawford St. and Queen St. West, near Trinity Bellwoods Park)
  3. 147 Spadina Ave. (near the intersection of Spadina Ave. and Queen St. West, a block south of Queen)

Scrapbooking materials used: emerald green cardstock (Recollections); baby blue cardstock (DCWV); blue, green, and white floral and polka dot patterned cardstock (“Green Tea” stack, DCWV); magenta cardstock (Best Occasions); journalling tags (“Darcy” collection, Anna Griffin); brown and white polka dot alphabet stickers (K&Company); blue, white, brown, and pink flower stickers (Sticko); magenta adhesive gems.