Just When You Thought You Couldn’t Love Chocolate More – A Recipe for Twin Chocolate Delights Cookies!

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I made the closest men in my life (my boyfriend, my brother, and my dad) very happy this past week.  I didn’t buy them presents.  Or give them money.  No, I baked and gave them cookies.  Double chocolate ones.  6 dozen of them on a total of 5 pans.  And it’s unanimous: out of all the recipes I’ve tried so far, this is their favourite cookie of all-time.  And I have to say, I freakin’ love these cookies myself.  They are heavenly.  But their love of chocolate borders on obsession (or addiction; it’s really almost the same thing in this context) baffles me.  I enjoy chocolate as much as the next person, but their addiction to chocolate is just on a whole other level.  I watch guys eat chocolate and it’s like they’re eating their last meal on earth.  My brother will excitedly chant, “chocolate, chocolate, chocolate!” when I simply mention something about chocolate.  And I once scolded my boyfriend for eating too many chocolate chip pancakes because he wouldn’t stop moaning and groaning about how full he was from his chocolate chip pancake breakfast.  “Well why did you eat so many?!  Why didn’t you just stop at two??”  “They were so good…”  Cue deadpan expression.

Anyway, I made brown sugar shortbread over the holidays and while I will admit that they were just so-so (it needed a little finesse and a part 2 experiment), I ate my share while the boys just sniffed at them.  Sigh.  “Fine,” I said.  “I’ll make you guys double chocolate cookies next time.  Sound good?”  Eager bobblehead nods.

Boys.

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You don’t have to be a crazy chocolate addict to love these cookies though.  These epitomize cookie perfection in so many ways: they’re crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside, the cracking on the outside is beautiful, the recipe doesn’t require a mixer, you can easily substitute the chocolate chips for other mix-ins such as chopped nuts, candies, or dried fruit, the recipe yields a very generous amount making them a perfect option for parties and cookie swaps, they freeze well, and they’re a cinch to make.  And did I mention they’re double chocolate and fudgy as heck?  WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE?!  I thank another one of my beloved Joanne Fluke Hannah Swensen foodie murder mysteries for this amazing cookie recipe, courtesy of Blueberry Muffin Murder, the 3rd book from the series.

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Recipe for Twin Chocolate Delights (yields approx. 6 dozen/72 medium-sized cookies)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter (2 sticks)
  • 2-1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (no need to sift)
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (*Deb’s Note: I didn’t use nuts so I simply substituted with extra chocolate chips)
  • 2 cups chocolate chips

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Directions

  • Line several baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. (The dough needs to chill in the fridge so there’s no preheating of the oven at this point).
  • Melt butter in large microwave-safe bowl.  Add the sugar and mix. (*Deb’s Note: I just used a spatula for this step as well as for the rest of the recipe).
  • Add the cocoa powder, baking soda, salt, and vanilla and stir until smooth.
  • Add the beaten eggs and stir thoroughly.
  • Mix in the flour, nuts (if you’re using them), and chocolate chips (*Deb’s Note: using the spatula, I gently folded the flour in until it was incorporated.  Then I used my hands (freshly washed hands!) to mix in the chocolate chips.)
  • Cover bowl with a piece of plastic wrap; chill cookie dough in refrigerator for about 30 minutes (*Deb’s Note: I added this step because the dough was still a bit too gummy to handle)
  • Place rounded teaspoons of dough on baking sheets, 12 to a standard sheet (*Deb’s Note: I used my hands to grab mounds of dough, gently shaping them into small rounds.  As well, I fit 15 on the first 4 pans and 12 on the last one.)
  • Heat oven to 350°F.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes before removing to wire racks to cool completely (*Deb’s Note: this allows you to use the same pans for multiple rounds of cookies.  Two pans are enough.  I know because that’s what I did – I don’t actually have 5 baking pans at home!  While the first pan is in the oven, you work on shaping the dough balls for the 2nd pan.  When the first pan comes out and the 2nd goes in, there’s enough time between taking the cookies off the pan and re-filling with another batch for the pan to cool down enough to not cause your raw dough to start melting/spreading.)

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*****

Recipe adapted from Joanne Fluke’s Blueberry Muffin Murder.  New York: Kensington Publishing Corporation, 2002.  Photographs taken by me.  The recipe can be found on pages 136-137.

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New Year, More Tea – A Look at Ate by Ate’s Holiday David’s Tea Haul with Eggnog, Apple Custard & More!

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Happy new year, everyone!  It was quite nippy out on Wednesday so for those of you who par-tayed that night, I hope you had fun!  And for those who stayed inside (like me), I hope you kept toasty and also had fun.  I’m not much for new year’s eve celebrations (eating pizza and watching the adorable Anderson Cooper on tv are about the most exciting things I do and that suits me just fine) but I’m not going to lie: I “celebrated” on the inside when I kicked 2014 out the proverbial door and slammed it shut when the clock struck 12 and the big, shiny ball dropped.  Good riddance.  Teeth-grinding frustration, anger, and emotional agony is the only way to accurately describe this past year.  There were definitely some really wonderful, happy moments throughout the year that I clung onto like little life preservers but as a whole, 2014 was terrible.  At this point I don’t know if 2015 will be better, but all I can really do is hope for a brighter year.  It’s Ate by Ate’s first post of 2015 and we’re starting the new year on a yummy, tealicious note: David’s Tea winter and holiday haul post!

At this very moment I am both excited and miffed.  Excited because I just got David’s Tea’s new e-mail about their brand spankin’ new Sunshine collection (nothing like hitting us hard with more “oh-my-god-I-need-these-in-my-life” tea products after the holiday rush, huh?  Seriously, no mercy) and all the new stuff on their website looks so fun and colourful and vibrant (squee!).  However, I am also miffed because the content of this post is now soooo last year.  Like, we’ve totally moved on and little Deb over here is still playing with last year’s toys.  In hindsight, I really should have made this post on Wednesday but in my defence, I had no idea that they were going to steal my thunder.

Hmph.

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No matter.  I am totally enjoying all of my holiday and winter goodies to the fullest and all of it makes me smile, especially my “snowy village” latte mug which is just so darn cute.  I loooove all my new stuff.  I think I did a pretty good job with my haulage this season if I do say so myself.  Granted, half of the things you see in the photos were Christmas gifts, so I wasn’t a total crazy maniac who bought out the whole store.  Just some of the store.

For me, my favourites from the holiday and winter collections are the Eggnog, the Cocomint Cream, and the Apple Custard and as you can tell from the photos, I was totally spoiled in all three flavour categories.  I picked up the ginormous Eggnog collectible tin, the Eggnog Christmas ornament, and the cute little stackable tin.  Not only do I think the tea is delicious but I adore the beautiful bright blue colour the tea products are outfitted in.

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Next, the Cocomint Cream.  The Cocomint Cream tea is included in the “Christmas Morning” trio set AND I was able to take advantage of a very limited edition product that I only found at Yorkdale Mall: tea and cookies!!  I was so shocked when I found the adorable little tea and cookies set at Yorkdale and while I’m still confused as to why the product availability was so limited, I am ecstatic that I was able to get my hands on a set before the holidays were over.  The tea and cookies set comes with a little tin of Cocomint Cream tea as well as half a dozen chocolate chip cookies.  Um, hello, DEB IN A NUTSHELL.  LOVE.

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Finally, the Apple Custard.  Oh how I love this tea to itty bitty pieces.  This is probably my favourite out of all the holiday and winter flavours.  It smells divine and you should taste it cold/chilled/iced too.  It is yummylicious.  Thank goodness it’s part of the winter collection that is still available in stores until the spring collection replaces it come March.  My best friend got me the cute-as-a-button Apple Custard tea house (equipped with a nice big baggy of tea and bottle of vanilla agave) for Christmas and I picked up the little yellow stackable tin from the boxing week sale.

And speaking of which, I couldn’t resist adding one more item to the holiday haul during my last David’s Tea visit on new year’s eve: the Earl Grey trio collection!  It was marked down as a boxing week sale item, both my brother and mum love Earl Grey tea, the box is really pretty, AND – get this – there’s a Star Trek reference on the box.  Now, I’m no Trekkie, but my boyfriend is and I do have some knowledge of the series from my TNG-watching days so I can appreciate the very cheeky Star Trek quote on the packaging: Tea.  Earl Grey.  Hot.  *waves to Patrick Stewart, aka. Captain Picard*

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The holidays are sadly coming to a close, but winter is definitely sticking around so I’ll be happily enjoying these teas for weeks to come.

The Kind of School You Want to Go to – A Holiday Hashbrown Poutine Brunch at School Restaurant!

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I think everyone will agree that one of the best things about the holidays is/was getting a break from school.  These two beautiful, glorious weeks are like pure gold (unless of course you happen to have homework to do in which case the pure gold becomes more like a lump of coal.  Seriously, that’s just mean, but for the sake of keeping this happy, we’ll go for the homework-free holiday).  So what if I told you that there was a type of school that you’d actually want to attend during the holiday break?  One where you could educate yourself about delicious food and be surrounded by stacks of mouthwatering pancakes and French toast dripping in syrup, hot plates of eggs, bacon, and homefries with all the fixins’, and waffles outfitted with sweet and savoury accessories?  I probably wouldn’t need to twist your arm to haul your tooshie out of bed then, would I?  Because the only ‘school’ worth waking up to attend over the holidays just happens to be one of the city’s favourite breakfast/brunch spots, School Restaurant, located in Liberty Village!

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School Restaurant lives up to its name with their fun chalkboard diagrams (I could totally ace a test based on the anatomy of an ice cream sundae), their wall of clocks with all hands pointing to 3:30pm (quittin’ time!), bills slipped into little report card envelopes, and clipboard menus featuring fun menu items such as “teachers pet” basket of baked goodies, “headmaster omelette”, and “apple-a-day waffle”.  So not your average cafeteria garb.  If you love themed stuff, School is right up your alley.  And if you don’t care for it, you’ll love the food anyway, especially if you’re a breakfast and brunch fanatic like me!  I got the chance to eat from their special, limited time, “12 Days of Christmas” menu (which was available from December 13 – 24) last week and while I know you won’t find the same menu or exact items in their restaurant anymore, at least this gives you an idea of what the style is like and the type of food you can expect off of their regular menu.  And lucky for you guys, my item is actually available on the regular one!

What I love most about brunch places is their mix of sweet and savoury dishes.  While I usually err on the side of savoury, the sweet ones make me salivate just as much and I only wish I had found out about the special menu earlier, that way there might have been a chance of me squeezing in an extra trip.  But no matter, I enjoyed my incredibly delicious breakfast choice and I can still look forward to eating off their regular menu which boasts just as many scrumptious options: black ‘n’ blue flapjacks, $15 (pancake stack with black and blueberry sauce with brown sugar butter), krispy krunchy French toast, $15 (crunchy French toast coated in rice cereal with marmalade), roasted apple-a-day waffle ($15), cheddar-chive biscuits with honey butter ($7), and smoked salmon breakfast salad ($15).

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Their “12 Days of Christmas” limited edition menu featured lots of holiday cocktails and drinks such as mulled wine, bourbon eggnog, and winter rum punch as well as festive candy cane pancakes, eggnog waffles, gingerbread krispy krunch French toast, omelettes, buttermilk chicken and waffles, cheesy bacon French toast, and my dish: the joyeux noel hashbrown poutine!

Like I mentioned above, this is one of the dishes that is actually available on the regular weekend brunch menu as well so if you like what you see, you can enjoy this awesome deliciousness on Saturdays and Sundays too!  I LOVE LOVE LOVE the main components that make up this dish: hashbrowns/homefry potatoes, cheese/cheese curds, and a gorgeous sunny-side up egg.  These three things alone make me a happy camper so have them all together in one dish sitting atop a generous ladle of rosemary gravy (have I told you I freakin’ love gravy nobody’s business?!  Well, if I haven’t, now you know), with tons of yummy leeks, and a side of tomato jam makes it ultra fabulous.

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The potatoes were perfectly diced (not mushy or dry or undercooked) which made forking mouthfuls of potatoes, gravy, and gooey cheese super easy, the cheese was perfectly melted and stringy and delightful (I love me my cheese curds but it takes the fun out of eating them if they’re cold lumps, you know?), the egg was beautiful and runny, and – wait for it – the leeks were awesome.  I know.  You wouldn’t think the leeks would play such a starring role but they did.  They were sliced thick enough so that you could taste them and see them in the dish with no trouble but not so thick that they were awkward to eat.  I’ve had dishes in the past where the leeks just weren’t prominent enough and I love that they were prominent here.  In all honesty, it was such a nice surprise that the leeks weren’t treated like an afterthought and I thoroughly enjoyed them.  I could do without the tomato jam (it didn’t taste bad, tomato jam just isn’t my thing) but I understand why it’s there (a little acidity is needed to break up the flavours) and can appreciate its presence even if it’s not my cup of tea.

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This was my first time coming here and I’m really glad I had the chance to enjoy my food during the holidays as it definitely made the experience fun and festive.  Going to “school” is definitely that much more bearable when the assignments are this yummy and when a perfect attendance record is this easy to achieve.

*****

School Restaurant is located at 70 Fraser Ave. in Liberty Village, east of Dufferin St. and just south of King Street West off the King streetcar.  They are open 7 days a week for breakfast/weekend brunch and lunch from 9am-3pm.  You can follow them on Twitter @schoolresto.

Making Christmas Memories at Bobbette & Belle’s Newest Location with Tea, Cookies, Alfajores & Macarons!

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I know Christmas comes and goes every year and I know it might not be the happiest occasion for some folks, but for me, it’s my favourite time of year.  I love Christmas even more than I love summer and that’s saying a lot because my birthday is during the summer and I love me my birthday celebrations.  I love Christmas so much and I look forward to the season and everything it brings each year and I always feel so happy when everything I love is happening within a span of a month (seeing friends, holiday menus, holiday displays, exchanging presents, and taking a ridiculous amount of photos of all of the aforementioned) and when it’s all over I always feel a little nostalgic and sad.  So I try my hardest to soak up every moment and to make as many fun memories as possible.

I made many of these wonderful memories yesterday when I spent one of the best days ever with my best friend for the holidays.  Part of the ultra fabulous day included an afternoon stop at Bobbette & Belle’s 2nd location in uptown Yonge-Lawrence village for hot drinks and sweets!

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Not only am I so in love with Christmas but I am absolutely smitten with Bobbette & Belle’s newest location.  I didn’t even KNOW they opened a 2nd location until late last week when I was just out and about in the area and happened to walk past it.  I was so stunned I nearly shouted, “WHAT!?” right out on the sidewalk.  Sigh.  This is what happens when I stop blogging and, for the most part, being tuned out of all my foodie outlets for nearly half a year.

I have no idea when Bobbette & Belle opened this new location but am I ever sure glad they did!  I love it even more than their original flagship on Queen Street East.  While the Queen East location is big and airy, the Yonge-Lawrence location has such a warm, comforting, communal feel to it.  The decor and aesthetic is very similar: gorgeous cake pedestals displayed on shelves, beautiful china dishes and tea plates hung stylishly on the wall, a chalkboard menu, wood floors, and platters and stands full of pastries and sweets (tarts, cupcakes, macarons, cakes, scones, cookies and so much more!) just waiting to be devoured.  The difference?  The cafe aspect and feel.  The Yonge-Lawrence one screams Parisian cafe to me with its small tables and seating section in the back and the beautiful cushioned booth seating right up in the front by the storefront window (which can seat 4 sets of 2) is prime real estate, baby.  It’s bright, it’s soothing, and with the cushiony seating and knitted pillows, it’s the perfect spot to spend time with someone over a delicious dessert and hot drink.

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I was so excited finding out about their new location that I took advantage of the timing and ordered something holiday-themed: a Christmas tree-shaped shortbread cookie (which is actually what I had the last time I was at Bobbette & Belle during Christmas, go figure!  Check out that blog post here) along with two delightful macarons in cassis and chocolate mint, an alfajores cookie, and a nice big hot steaming mug of Citron Calm tea from their selection of Sloane Fine Teas!  I am over the moon that they serve Sloane teas as their teas are delicious.

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Ugh, this was such a delicious afternoon treat!  I knew I loved their macarons and shortbread cookies and now I love their alfajores cookies.  A lot.  The cookie has such great texture (sturdy yet soft and moist) and the caramel was nice and thick and gooey without being mushy and the coconut it was rolled in gave it the perfect crunch.  LOVE.  And in addition to the Christmas-themed shortbread cookies, they had a chocolate candy cane peppermint cupcake on hand as well as some apple caramel pastries, apple cider, and several other holiday yummies.

Their new location is in an accessible part of town (walking distance from Lawrence subway station) and it’s in an area that I really enjoy being in as I love the Yonge-Lawrence and Yonge-Eglinton neighbourhoods.  I cannot wait to come back for scones and tea, or maybe a tart with a macaron, or a slice of cake, or just more alfajores cookies.  And a hundred plus more cups of tea.

*****

Bobbette & Belle is located at 3347 Yonge Street on the east side of Yonge at the corner of Snowdon Ave. (Fairlawn Ave. being the street on the west side of Yonge) in the Yonge-Lawrence Village neighbourhood.  Their hours are 9am-6:30pm from Monday-Friday and 9am-6pm on Saturdays and Sundays.  Their original flagship location is in Leslieville at 1121 Queen Street East.

Holiday Chocolate Sweetness! Making Memories & Smiles at Hershey’s “Thank You” Pop-Up Store on Queen St. West! #HersheysThankYou

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Plush red carpet.  Sparkles.  Twinkling lights.  The star treatment.  Lights, camera…chocolate?!  OH YES.  Bars and bars of melt-in-your-mouth Hershey’s chocolate just waiting to be devoured.  Hot chocolate with jumbo marshmallows that resemble heavenly pillows of sweetness.  And Facebooking, tweeting, and Instagramming your little social media tooshie off like you’ve never Facebooked, tweeted, and Instagrammed before in your life.  The holidays just became THAT much sweeter my dear Torontoians!  This weekend only, from Saturday, December 20 through Sunday, December 21 from 11am-7pm, Hershey’s Canada is giving everyone a chance to say “thank you” this holiday by inviting everyone to their special Thank You pop-up shop at 473 Queen Street West, just west of Spadina Ave.

Here’s how it works: stop by the store with friends and family (or just your awesome self), ogle the sparkly Hershey’s tree, travel along the red carpet to receive a Hershey’s chocolate bar of your choice (Cookies ‘n’ Creme, Milk Chocolate, or Whole Almonds) from a Hershey’s ambassador to give to a friend, family member, or loved one you want to extend a thank you to this holiday season.  Choose a pretty Hershey’s tag to attach to said chocolate bar, grab a Sharpie marker from one of the cute little Christmas tins, and write a loving message on it.

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With ‘thank you’ chocolate bar in hand, make your way over to ‘center stage’ (it’s not really a stage, but you get what I mean!), get your picture taken by a Hershey’s ambassador in front of the sparkly silver Hershey’s “thank you” wall, and if you like, have it uploaded and posted on Facebook right then and there to share with all your fab friends.  Then, to cap off the memorable experience, grab a cup of Hershey’s hot chocolate with jumbo marshmallow, and a chocolate bar of your choice for yourself to take with you on the road as a thank you from Hershey’s for taking part in this special holiday event.  Leave the Hershey’s pop-up with a smile on your face and the warm and fuzzies in your heart!

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I received a special invitation to preview the pop-up this morning from the wonderful Ms. Hayley Findlay from Ketchum PR Canada so I have her to thank for this very special holiday experience which I shared with my dear friend, Sally.  And really, that’s what this Thank You pop-up is really about: creating a unique holiday memory with friends and family, enjoying a sweet moment, and carving that little bit of time out of the hustle and bustle of the season to experience something fun, memorable, and delicious.  Pete Vanslyke, Director of Marketing for Chocolate at Hershey Canada, gave a speech in the middle of the preview to thank us for coming and to explain the rationale for the pop-up.  Why have a Thank You pop-up?  And why the weekend right before Christmas, one of the busiest of the year?  The answer is simple: to make people happy with a one-of-a-kind holiday experience.  A pay-it-forward, so to speak.  Hershey’s is thanking us for being loyal consumers.  We’re thanking someone special with a bit of sweetness from the heart.

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The pop-up, to me, is really a way of tapping into a desire to capture, document, and share special experiences and moments with the people who matter most to us.  Hershey ambassadors were at the ready to snap a few polaroids to hang on their tree and tablets were capturing photo after photo as we made our way down the red carpet.  Let’s be real: many of us are guilty of snapping selfies and documenting the mundane moments of our lives and sharing them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  And many do so on their phones; forget the humble computer (I do my work on my laptop and still use my desktop to print – you can call me grandma, it’s perfectly fine).  You might even say that a touch of sentimentality has been lost in the process, what with page views, click-throughs, retweets, and likes overshadowing the heart and soul behind a photo that’s posted and shared.  But when it comes right down to it, that urge to document, to share, and to tell stories through images via photography is still very much alive and well.  It has merely evolved.  Hershey’s know this and has come up with this concept space to fuse a little modern technology with the simple act of memory-making.  And of course, chocolate.  LOTS of chocolate.

Happy holidays, everyone, enjoy the pop-up this weekend!  If you want to follow on social media, use the hashtag #HersheysThankYou and check out the Hershey’s Facebook page for photos and updates!

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*****

The Hershey’s Thank You pop-up store is located at 473 Queen Street West in downtown Toronto, just west of Spadina Ave. for this weekend only.

Showing Our Pride – Cookie Style! Flags, Rainbows & Drag Kings & Queens From All the Best Fine Foods

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Happy weekend, everyone!  It’s a crazy one with Pride going on, the first weekend celebrating the end of the school year and the official start to summer vacation, World Cup, and Canada Day weekend!  And if you’re one of the lucky ones who gets or is taking Monday off to make it a long weekend, you must be feeling elated!  Sorry for missing the last few days here though.  I’ve been under the weather and in a lot of pain and discomfort and honestly, I just need some serious TLC for both my mind and body because the stress of everything – finding work, losing sleep over finding work, and then getting sick – took its toll for the greater part of this past week and I’m really looking forward to mindlessly watching tv to calm everything down.  BUT!  I did manage to enjoy a bit of Pride Week/World Pride, foodie-style, before a bout of sickness took over so I’m so excited that I was able to squeeze that in because after getting an e-mail about these babies, I did NOT want to miss out: Pride maple gingerbread cookies from All the Best Fine Foods in the Church-Wellesley village!

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I subscribe to e-mails from All the Best Fine Foods, a gourmet food shop here in the city with two locations (one by Summerhill station and the other by Church & Wellesley; check out my first post on them HERE, featuring their chocolate fudge cupcakes!) and I received one last week with a whole bunch of summer news and goodies, including the news about Pride and the Church & Wellesley location selling special Pride-themed gingerbread cookies.  I saw it and freaked out because the little picture of them looked so darn adorable!  So amidst all the chaos of this week, I managed to make a trip down to grab a bunch of these beautiful cookies to celebrate Pride.  It is SO awesome seeing the community decked out in all its rainbow glory and even just walking through the neighbourhood and buying these cookies for the occasion felt special.  It was like being a tourist in my own city.

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I picked up five cookies ($1 each!) including a set of rainbow maple leafs, a rainbow Pride flag, a rainbow Canadian Pride flag, and a cutie-patootie drag king and queen, ha!  And to round out my purchase, I picked up a few Russian doll Pride keychains because I’m a total sucker for cute accessories and knick-knacks like that.  And you know what?  They taste AMAZING!  The cookies, not the keychains.  Some might dismiss decorated cookies as just that: cookies that are decorated but bland in taste and purely admired for their aesthetic.  Not these.  The maple gingerbread cookies are so soft and delicious and I love them.  The icing wasn’t hard (seriously, there are decorated cookies out there that have the capacity to chip a tooth!), the sweetness was perfect, and they screamed fun and cuteness.  I’ve already eaten four – three maple leaf ones and one of the flags.  My brother and I are totally gorging on the rest of them for the rest of the weekend.

However you’re celebrating this weekend, I hope everyone has a fun one.  Happy Pride and fingers crossed for a rain-free parade tomorrow!

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*****

All the Best Fine Foods is located at 493 on Church Street near Wellesley in the Church-Wellesley Village.  Their 2nd location is south of Summerhill station at 1101 Yonge Street in the Rosedale neighbourhood and area.

Irish Delights for St. Patrick’s Day – Corned Beef & Gravy with Cabbage & Mashed Potatoes at P.J. O’Brien!

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restaurant.front.pjobrienAnyone who knows me well knows I’m a sucker for all holidays and celebratory occasions.  And I mean all.  Not just the “big” ones like Valentine’s, Easter, Christmas, and Thanksgiving but also maple syrup season (which just happens to be going on right now!), cherry blossom season, harvest and apple season and let’s not forget, St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow!  Ever since I started Ate by Ate, I’ve had my heart set on doing themed posts for all of them but given time constraints and bad weather, sometimes it feels almost impossible to do posts for everything.  So I decided to change my approach.  Instead of waiting until the last minute to get photos and stories, I would just do them early, if I could.  Does it mean I might miss out on being right in the thick of the moment?  Sure.  But I would rather have something to show for it than nothing at all.  I’m always so disappointed when I don’t get to celebrate on the blog because I waited until the week or weekend of and things just happen to fall through.

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So this time around, I had my Irish food for St. Patrick’s Day early.  Very early.  In fact, I had my incredibly delicious St. Patrick’s Day meal over a month ago!  And it’s here and hot off the press.  Well, the photos and story anyway, not the food.  True, I wasn’t surrounded by happy partygoers clad in green apparel but the nice thing about this is that going to an Irish pub and restaurant means that we can kind of celebrate life with Irish food whenever we want.  And I just happened to celebrate over a month early at P.J. O’Brien in downtown Toronto.

I remember the day so well.  It was one of the coldest, dreariest, grayest days this winter but for whatever reason, the bite in the air eased up a little bit right around lunch hour when I hurriedly scurried out onto Colborne St. just southwest of King and Church to take photos outside.  The building that P.J. O’Brien resides in would brighten even the darkest, gloomiest of days.  It has to be one of my favourite buildings in the city.  Nestled between the towering structures in the financial district and the historic ones of old town Toronto sits a three-storey building as bright and cheerful and charming as a Lego house.  Equipped with bright blue window shutters and painted sunny golden yellow, P.J. O’Brien is a beacon of culinary happiness.

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Their dining room and bar areas are simultaneously cozy and spacious with plenty of space for large groups and intimate get-togethers.  I love the tables by the front windows.  Perfect for taking in the large dining room and bar around you and for taking photos with natural light!  Open 6 days a week from Monday to Saturday from 11am to the wee hours of the morning (1am from Monday to Friday and 2am on Saturday), P.J. O’Brien delivers a mix of comfort food, pub fare and Irish classics with flair including Kilkenny Ale fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, beef and Guinness stew, sausage and chips, and my pick: corned beef and cabbage!

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I had the hardest time choosing between the beef and Guinness stew, sausage and chips, and the corned beef and cabbage.  All of them sounded delicious, all of them screamed warmth and comfort and Irish goodness but with only one stomach, I could only choose one.  Sigh.  So after much deliberation, I chose the corned beef and cabbage ($15): a wedge of freshly steamed cabbage alongside two giant scoops of creamy mashed potatoes with sprigs of fresh flat leaf parsley and three moist and juicy pieces of corned beef smothered in rich brown gravy sauce, with an extra side of tartar sauce that I specifically ordered to go with my meal because I am a crazy nut for tartar sauce!  This meal is everything comfort food should be and really, the closest I’ve ever been to Ireland’s food in my life.  It was piping hot and SO. INCREDIBLY. DELICIOUS.

I loved it so much not only because it scrumptious but because it’s something I don’t have all the time.  Or ever, really.  I eat mashed potatoes and deli corned beef (or breakfast hash) and the occasional bite of cabbage, but never all together and certainly never in such a yummy capacity.  The mashed potatoes were fluffy and airy (not gluey!), the cabbage was tender yet crisp (and without the strong tang of bitterness that usually makes me shy away from cabbage) and the corned beef was melt-in-your-mouth soft.  It wasn’t difficult to bite into or cut through at all and its savouriness was perfect; not too salty but far from bland.  Even without the sauce I would have loved it and I really appreciated the thickness of it (imagine the thickness of luncheon meat slices.  Or just look at the photos) and having it in three pieces as opposed to one giant overwhelming slab.  It made it easier to eat and made for a lovely presentation.

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And if you can believe it, it gets better.  My meal came with a basket of bread and butter and by golly that bread and butter was some of the best bread and butter I’ve ever had.  I know.  It’s only bread and butter.  But think about it, even something as simple as bread and butter can go horribly awry (or rye…haha).  The bread can be too hard or too dry and the butter can be too difficult to spread.  But theirs was so good I was tempted to eat the entire thing all by myself in one sitting but I had enough sense just to eat a few pieces and save the rest for my doggy bag along with a piece of corned beef and some cabbage.

I’m a hungry girl but I’m not known for being the queen of the doggy bag (or tupperware) for nothing.

I’m so happy I got to enjoy my ‘St. Patrick’s Day’ meal when I did and I hope that if you’re in around the downtown core tomorrow that you’ll stop by P.J. O’Brien for a bite to celebrate the great food and actual festivities.  You’ll be glad you did.

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*****

P.J. O’Brien is an Irish pub and restaurant located in downtown Toronto at 39 Colborne St., just south of King Street East and just west of Church St.  They are open Monday through Saturday from 11am – 1am (2am on Saturday).  Visit their official website at http://pjobrien.com/