Falling In Love With Coriander “Ping Gai” Chicken (and Lemon Coconut Cake!) at Queen Mother Cafe

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Chocolate is a wonderful thing for more reasons than one.  For starters, it makes a mean mousse.  And for another, it made me blog again (thanks, Hershey’s!).  I know that you all know that I’ve been away for nearly half a year.  6 months.  None of my breaks have ever lasted that long and truth be told, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to blog again until after the new year, if at all.  But here I am and it’s all thanks to chocolate for giving me the kick in the pants I really needed to come back.

I’ll write a little more about my being away closer to the end of the month, but for the time being I just want to enjoy this little window of Christmas magic that I’ve carved out for myself because really, these two weeks (this past week and the coming one) are arguably the best weeks in this entire year for me.  It’s been one of the very few glimpses of light in an otherwise dark and unhappy year, especially the latter half while I was away from here.  So I am soaking everything in even more than usual (I’m not kidding, I’ve been looking at all the photos I’ve taken multiple times a day to relive the happiness) and keeping these sweet memories close to me for as long as I can.

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So, onto some really yummy eats.  You know what I discovered about myself during my time away from blogging?  That I really don’t mind eating the same thing from the same place twice in a row.  Or even three times.  Or four.  Which is probably very surprising to many people because I’m always tooting my horn about how much I love working my way through a menu and trying new things and keeping things new and exciting.  Blah, blah, blah.  I changed my tune just a tiny bit in relation to certain places and foods.  You’ll understand EXACTLY what I mean when I get around to making my ginormous ramen noodle house post in the very near future (really, I think I’m going to shock the pants off some people with what I’ll be revealing) but for now, I thought I’d talk a little bit about one of my favourite restaurants in the city, Queen Mother Cafe on Queen Street West.

To refresh everyone’s memories, I wrote my foodie love letter about them almost a year ago here and have loved them ever since.  (Note: their menu does change every so often, so as a note, their quinoa meatloaf burger is no longer on it, unfortunately!  But their quinoa salad is still there.)  Their food, their cake, everything.  Especially their Ping Gai.  Their fan-freakin’-tastic Ping Gai.

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You need this in your life (so long as you are not vegetarian).  You have not tasted awesome chicken until you have tasted this dish.  It’s a big, beautiful piece of boneless chicken marinated in garlic, coriander, and peppercorns and grilled to absolute crispy perfection served with white rice and dressed mixed salad greens ($13.95).  And the lime and coriander dipping sauce that accompanies this luscious chicken?  Good enough to drink.

This dish is comfort, heartiness, freshness, and savouriness all in one.  It’s so filling but light at the same time in the sense that you don’t feel weighed down afterward.  It fills you from the inside out in that happy, warm and full feeling, and the flavours just have that pop that makes it different from anything else I’ve tried.  The chicken is tender and juicy and the grilled crispy skin with that great garlic spiced crust is just divine.  This dish is so good, so delicious, it makes you not want to eat anything else on the menu (except cake), not because the other menu items aren’t mouthwatering too, but because it’s just than damn good.  It is SO hard to resist.  I look at the menu and I feel like there is this ridiculous magnetic pull towards it, that I need to literally pull myself away from that choice to consciously make another one from the menu.

So in a nutshell, I am guilty of having this more than once.  And I can honestly say that I would die happy having only this from Queen Mother for the rest of my life.

Yup.

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Variety is the spice of life though, so I’ve also included in this post some photos of one of their daily specials (which obviously changes daily), their butternut squash agnolotti pasta, and photos of cake.  Because you can’t eat at Queen Mother without having cake.  It’s a sin if you don’t.  And you want to be good, right?

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Their butternut squash agnolotti pasta was a delicious dish of stuffed pasta (think ravioli but half moons instead of squares) bathed in a creamy tomato sauce with snow peas, arugula, and asparagus with a healthy sprinkling of yummy parmesan cheese on top.  And the cake in question was a heavenly slice of lemon coconut: layers of vanilla and lemon cake with cream cheese frosting and shredded coconut.  Hello, happiness.  I would have this cake again in a heartbeat because the consistency of the cream cheese frosting was perfect and the cake was soft and moist.  And it’s lemon coconut, duh!  Their cake selection changes all the time but rest assured that there is something for everyone: chocolate cake, fruit cake, nut cakes, cheesecakes, mousse cakes, layered cakes, pick a cake.

So, the next time you’re here, I hope you try the Ping Gai dish and enjoy it as much as I do.  With cake.  Because you know it’s a must.

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*****

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.

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Let Us Eat Cake! Desserts and Sweet & Delicious Black and White Cake at Queen Mother Cafe!

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I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m always on the hunt for cafes that have an amazing selection of cake for dessert.  YES, CAKE.  And I don’t mean petit gateaux, I mean a honking delicious slice from a gorgeous giant round cake with layers and layers of moist cake and frosting and all the bells and whistles.  I love a fab dessert menu, but there’s nothing like the feeling of being able to walk into a place for a warm drink and a mouthwatering slice of cake without having that awkward, “um, yes, I’d like to order from the dessert menu…and um, nothing else.  Thank you!” feeling.  Off the top of my head Wanda’s Pie in the Sky (don’t let the name fool you, their cake is amazing!  Check out Ate by Ate’s posts on their famous rainbow cake and carrot cake!) in Kensington Market and Futures Bakery in the Annex are perfect places for an awesome slice of cake, especially Futures Bakery if you’re looking for selection!  Now we can add Queen Mother Cafe to the mix and I am so incredibly happy about this!

Choosing cake and dessert here is like choosing your favourite candy from the candy store: you walk right up to the counter (or in this case, the bar), look through the glass case(s) in delight, and point and say, “that one!”  At any given moment Queen Mother Cafe has about 10 different kinds of cake on hand ($5.99 a slice): cheesecakes, tortes and tarts and mile-high layer cakes are all up for grabs.  The cafe has several popular La Rocca cakes on hand alongside their beautiful and delicious housemade ones that rotate and change on a regular basis.

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During my very first visit back in late November, I ordered a slice of one of the most amazing cakes known to sweet tooth: their signature Lemon Escapade, a mountainous combination of lemon cream and frosting, vanilla cake, almonds, and the crunchiest of meringues.  It was unlike anything I had ever seen or tasted and I promise you guys I will get photos the next time; I didn’t have enough lighting where I was sitting and couldn’t take any!  But if you beat me to Queen Mother Cafe and if you see the Lemon Escapade, YOU MUST HAVE IT, I’M NOT KIDDING!

After that first time, I knew having cake at the cafe was an absolute MUST for each and every single visit thereafter and I was not disappointed the second time around.  I chose their beautiful black and white velvet layer cake, a 4-layer cake with 2 layers of vanilla and 2 layers of chocolate with sweet cream frosting all over and adorable little edible pearls on the backside (my apologies for the lack of photo on that one!  If I get around to having it again I’ll remember to take more!).  The cake was wonderfully moist and it is just the epitome of what vanilla and chocolate should be.  It seems so simplistic but to represent the classic timelessness of vanilla and chocolate in this fashion is no easy feat.  I’ve had chocolate cake that’s been too dry and vanilla cake that’s been too artificial and crumbly.  Queen Mother Cafe’s black and white cake nails it and it is truly cloud nine for your tastebuds.  Their menu delivers in both savoury and sweet departments and I am beyond excited to go back many more times to come.

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*****

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.

The Keys To My Heart: The Green Tea Cheesecake at Sushi Time and The Sushi Bar Dessert Mission!

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Introducing one of my favourite, FAVOURITE desserts in the city: the green tea cheesecake from Sushi Time on Queen St. West!  That’s right, folks.  This cheesecake is not from a bakery, patisserie, or cake boutique.  It’s from a sushi bar.  And it is one of the most delightful things that has ever done the sexy rumba with my tastebuds.  As I am writing this, I feel kind of giddy and silly because I feel like one of the Food Network stars on an episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate, divulging about one of my favourite foods and where everyone can get it! 

If you’re a Food Network lover like I am, you know how fantastical this show is and how it makes you so ridiculously hungry while you’re watching it.  I’ve had to walk out of the room on several occasions because I was watching the show before dinner and it made my stomach rumble and my mouth salivate.  It’s that bad.  I love the show so much because every episode is devoted to a fun theme: best thing I ever ate spicy, crunchy, fruity, sweet, chocolatey, grilled, meaty, and so on and so forth.  I guess if I had to inject this post into a specific themed episode, I’d call the episode, “best thing I ever ate – green tea desserts”!  Or maybe just desserts or food made from tea if green tea desserts is too specific a theme.  But there it is.  My little Food Network daydream.

I’ve mentioned this dessert on the blog before (in this post), but I haven’t done a photo spotlight or posted any photos of it because, well, the first and only photo I had at the time stunk.  I’m serious!  You can actually see a little bit of it in the scrapbook layout I posted in the link up top.  I know my photography over the last two years has improved, but I’m not about to boast about my earlier efforts because in the beginning, I couldn’t take a picture worth a penny.  Not everything I do now is the greatest either, but some of the photos I took when I first started out were just plain awful.  So here are photos of my beloved dessert that are actually worth posting!

At $3.99, this green tea cheesecake is one of the reasons why I will always come back to Sushi Time.  Sushi Time is by no means the least expensive sushi bar in town.  It’s not the most expensive either, but let’s just say there are other places in the city that offer more budget-friendly options.  Despite this, the green tea cheesecake has me coming back time and time again and it delivers its knockout, heavenly, delicious punch each and every time.

As opposed to some cheesecakes that are a little more on the crumbly side, this one is one of the softest, creamiest cheesecakes you’ll ever enjoy.  It has the fabulous graham cracker bottom that everyone loves so much and two different green tea layers that differ slightly in consistency and flavour.  The middle layer is darker green in colour, a little thicker in consistency, and a little more concentrated in green tea flavour.  The top layer is lighter in colour and also lighter in texture.  It’s so fluffy and soft and smooth. 

When you run your fork through the cheesecake, it doesn’t catch.  It glides straight through and it is truly one of the best light-yet-decadent desserts around.  The cheesecake is finished off with a dollop of green tea jelly on top and a dusting of green tea powder.  The great thing about it is that it simaltaneously gives you both the richness of tradtional cheesecake and the herbal, slightly bitter flavour of green tea without being overwhleming on either front.  It isn’t so rich that it gives you that tingle in your throat and it isn’t so herbal that it takes away from the dessert being an actual sweet ending to a meal.

To my knowledge, Sushi Time is the only sushi place that offers this kind of dessert and on top of its uniqueness and deliciousness, it compels you to shell out the extra several bucks for it.  I love mango, red bean, and green tea ice cream as much as the next person, but those are desserts that you can have at a number of places so I always want to find and try the ones that nobody else serves or the ones that are a little more unique.  Off the top of my head, I know Ginza has a variety of new desserts on their new menu that I’m dying to try and the rest I’ll just have to find out about as I go along!  I’m definitely on a mission to find the best desserts at sushi places around the city and I’m so glad I found out and had this cheesecake for the first time three and a half years ago.        

*****

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.

Spotlight on Wanda’s Pie in the Sky – Cream Cheese Frosted Carrot Cake With Pineapple, Walnuts, and Lots of Coconut

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I know it seems kind of silly to post about cakes from a bakery and cafe that clearly specializes in their famous pies, but it makes sense given what a huge fan I am of cake!  There’s no contest for me.  If I had to choose between cake and pie, cake would win, hands down.  I do love lemon meringue and a number of cream pies such as banana cream, coconut cream, and chocolate cream among a few others, but pie doesn’t float my boat the same way cake does.  Lucky for me, Wanda’s Pie in the Sky does cake in a BIG way, rotating between over 20 different kinds!  And I don’t even think that number includes seasonal selections.  Since my first official visit back in the summer (remember the fabulous, jaw-dropping rainbow cake?), I always walk in feeling so excited to see whatever cake they’ve baked for the day ($4-$6 a slice), sitting tall and pretty on their giant cake stand.  

One of my favourite things about Wanda’s is their ever-changing daily menu.  They feature different salads, different cupcakes, and different types of cake every day so every visit is a happy surprise.  This type of arrangement of not knowing what to expect would probably drive some people absolutely nuts, but it’s actually kind of refreshing.  I love looking at menus and circling everything I want to try, regardless of whether or not I would realistically have it ($35 pasta?  Probably not, but in a fantasyland, sure!), but with Wanda’s I look forward to all the delicious food they have on hand that day.  Even though they have a cake menu on their website, I don’t even bother writing out a list of all the cakes I want to try.  My approach to eating at Wanda’s Pie in the Sky is quite simple: walk in, see what’s there, eat it. 

Say hello to the moist and flavourful cream cheese frosted carrot cake!  I’m a big fan of carrot cake.  Carrot muffins not so much, but yes yes yes to carrot cake.  I wasn’t able to get a photo of the entire cake on the stand, but it was so adorable with the little frosted carrots on top and it reminded me of garden fit for a bunny.  It was especially cute watching one of the girls cut my cake slice for me because the cake was so huge!  The carrot cake is a two-layer cake frosted with a thick, creamy layer of cream cheese frosting, covered in shaved coconut on the backside, and adorned with a frosted carrot on top.  The nice thing about the frosting was that it wasn’t cloying sweet and it wasn’t so creamy that it slopped all over the place.  Even though a lot people enjoy carrot cake because of the frosting (and rightfully so, the frosting is delicious!), this frosting was thick, creamy, and sweet enough to be really yummy, but also subtle enough to let the cake shine.    

The inside of the cake was bursting with pineapple, raisins, chunks of walnut, and shredded carrots and coconut.  I absolutely adored the texture of the cake.  It was moist and dense, just the way a carrot cake should be and to me, the shredded coconut, raisins, and pineapple just kicked the whole thing up a notch.  The coconut made the cake sweet and crunchy and flaky, and the pineapple and raisins gave the cake a sweet chewiness that I loved.  I had to split my cake into two because I couldn’t finish all of it in one sitting, but that wasn’t a problem because I had a trusty tupperware container on me.  Cake leftovers are never a bad thing.   

*****

Wanda’s Pie in the Sky is located at 287 Augusta Ave. in Kensington Market.  Wanda’s Pie in the Sky is located in between Nassau and College St.  They are open every day from 8am-9pm.  For more info on placing orders, attending classes, and dessert items they serve, check out their website here

One of the Prettiest Cakes You’ll Ever Lay Eyes On – Food & The Famous Rainbow Cake at Wanda’s Pie in the Sky, Part II

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I am so happy that I went to Wanda’s Pie in the Sky for the first time when I did because I was met with one of the prettiest, happiest things I’ve ever seen in my life!  And a very delicious and flavourful thing at that.  Let me back up and start from the very beginning though before I unleash the prettiness in all its glory.  In all the years I’ve been walking around Kensington Market, I always noticed and admired Wanda’s Pie in the Sky from the outside, but never got around to going inside or eating there. 

Like I mentioned yesterday, I was partly misguided by my assumption that it was mainly a dessert cafe.  I know, I know.  Even with my misguided assumption, I should have just went in, right?  Even if I did think Wanda’s was purely a dessert cafe, that certainly shouldn’t have stopped me from paying them a visit.  Deb loves sweet things the same way Homer loves donuts!  I should have been to Wanda’s a million times by now.  I really don’t have a good reason why I haven’t gone until this summer other than I’m weird!

Thus, when I saw a WagJag deal for Wanda’s several months ago, I pounced on it without so much as a second thought.  With my WagJag voucher in hand, I finally gave myself a swift kick in the bum and went to enjoy some delicious goodies.  And I was in one heck a foodie delight!  Wanda’s Pie in the Sky is so cute.  There are whimsical paintings of cartoon drawn characters on the walls, lanterns hanging from the ceiling, and the whole place is painted head to toe in pastel colours: pale blue, mint green, periwinkle, pale yellow, bubblegum pink, and lavender purple.  And the food!  I was in awe as I walked around scoping out all my options in a happy daze, stupidly thinking to myself, “oh my goodness, I can eat lunch here!”  Yes, Debra, yes you can.  There were huge platters of fresh salads being put out, vegetarian sandwiches, quiche, pizza flatbreads, and enough dessert to create a real-life version of Candy Land.

Wanda’s has a number of combo options on their menu (located up on the wall on a chalkboard behind the glass case of food) for lunch.  You can mix and match things like quiche and salad, salad and sandwich, soup and sandwich, and a number of others.  You can definitely order all for their food separately or on their own, but the combos may it easier to pair up items for a bigger lunch at a less expensive price.  Prices for combos range from $6-$12, and individual servings range from $4-$7.  For example, the sandwich and salad combo I ordered was a $9 one. 

Although I’m saving my sandwich report for The Vegetarian Sandwich series on the blog, I will say that I ordered their avocado sandwich and the seeded sour dough bread it was made with is absolutely delicious.  Sure, the sandwich filling is pretty standard in terms of vegetables, but it’s good and the bread was so good that it compelled me to ask one of the girls behind the counter what bread they used.  Oh!  And although the salad was for my boyfriend, it was a sundried tomato and feta penne pasta salad with LOTS of sundried tomato, large chunks of feta, yellow and red bell peppers, shredded cucumber, green scallions, and very good dressing.

And of course, a meal isn’t complete without dessert, especially in a place like Wanda’s Pie in the Sky!  I saw everything from macarons to vegan cupcakes to pie (of course!) to frosted sugar cookies.  And then I saw IT.  Are you prepared for the awesomeness and gorgeousness that’s about to come?  Yes, no, sort of?  Okay, well, I hope you’re sitting down for this one.  I have been waiting what feels like forever to show you all these pictures!  Behold, the rainbow cake at Wanda’s Pie in the Sky!  This rainbow cake is a sight for sore eyes and is the epitome and embodiment of sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows in the sky!

Even though I know anyone would be skeptical of a cake like this because something that looks beautiful doesn’t necessarily mean it tastes amazing.  I promise you though, this cake isn’t just for looks.  Each layer of the rainbow cake is a diffferent flavour!  Starting from the purple and working our way up, the flavours of the layers are as follows: lavender, mint, green tea, lemon, orange, cherry, and dark cherry.  It is SO DAMN PRETTY and yes, delicious and sweet and creamy and scrumptious.  The cake in its entirety was very yummy, but my favourite layers of the cake had to be the lavender, mint (I know, surprising given how I’m not much of a mint fan), lemon, and orange.  

One of the best things about this cake was that it wasn’t too sweet.  I know cake tastes great when it’s sweet, but I’m talking sickly sweet where the frosting just tastes like gritty sugar.  When a cake is like that, it ends up tasting artifical and becomes very unsavoury to eat.  This cake isn’t like that at all.  The frosting is so soft and creamy and airy whipped in texture with just the right amount of sweetness.  It’s a great complement to the cake because it doesn’t overwhelm or take away the fun flavours but it also lends itself to that perfect cake to cream ratio. 

A slice is $6 and even though it might cost more than a meal you might put together yourself or eat at another place, in my opinion, it is well worth it.  Just think about it.  This is a 7-layer cake where each layer is a different flavour.  Let’s not even talk about the cream frosting.  Imagine trying to make this yourself and spending the money on 7 different flavourings and extracts, baking 7 different layers of cake, frosting each layer, and then neatly putting it altogether to make it as beautiful as this.  I don’t know about you, but the labour that went into making this cake is enough for me.  And by golly is half a slice even filling and satisfying!  This is cake that makes everything more colourful and happy, and having a meal at Wanda’s makes me feel just as lighthearted 😀

*****

Wanda’s Pie in the Sky is located at 287 Augusta Ave. in Kensington Market.  Wanda’s Pie in the Sky is located in between Nassau and College St.  They are open every day from 8am-9pm.  For more info on placing orders, attending classes, and dessert items they serve, check out their website here.

Scrapbook materials used: Pale blue and mint green cardstock (Recollections); dessert themed patterned cardstock (The Sweet Stack by DCWV); dessert stickers (Sticko); glitter alphabet stickers; gold alphabet stickers (Sticko); white felt with silver glitter.

A Birthday Wouldn’t Be the Same Without Cake – White Chocolate, Lots of Frosting Cream, and a Ninja Cookie!

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I received many a birthday message yesterday wishing me a happy day with yummy food and cuppycakes and I am happy to report back and say that I had some fabulous, awesomely delicious cake yesterday!  There has never been a birthday in my life that has come and gone without cake in some shape or form.  Growing up, my mum would order my brother and I birthday cakes from the cute little Chinese bakeries and have an adorable picture chosen to have decorated on the cake for our special day.  I have had SO many cute cakes over the years!  Snoopy playing a piano, Winnie the Pooh, Minnie Mouse, Princess Serena/Sailor Moon, and many more.  Oh!  And my brother’s cakes!  He had Keroppi the frog, Alpha from Power Rangers, Garfield, Pikachu from Pokemon, and a host of others.  Ahh, memories.   

I have so many sweet memories and old photos of birthdays and birthday cake to look back on.  I celebrated my 1st birthday with a giant chocolate cake with pink and yellow frosted roses, we ordered pizza and had myself a party at Chuck E. Cheese for my 8th, the staff at Frankie Tomatto’s sang to me for the my 14th, my friends surprised me with a pink and white cake with the sweetest frosting imaginable for my sweet 16, I received a birthday pickle complete with candle from the Pickle Barrel for my 19th, and I had a hilarious incident two years ago where my pretty circus themed lemon gelato cake melted into an apocalyptic puddle during my birthday party right before my very eyes.  I love cake to pieces (no pun intended, ha) and birthdays have always been just one more reason to indulge and enjoy.  Not that I ever needed a reason to stick my face in anything sweet.

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Here’s the thing though: my family and I suck at eating an entire cake.  Oh sure, we’ll all eat a slice (sometimes I’ll eat two, ha) on the day we get the cake but after that, it takes forever and a half to finish the darn thing.  I love cake, yes, but it’s something that I really don’t eat every day and given how I have the sweetest tooth in the family, sometimes they are just awful at helping me out.  So my mum went with a different approach this year for mine: individual slices!  No fuss, no muss.  Half a dozen slices in 3 different flavours, 2 slices of each flavour.  Everyone gets one, and whoever wants a 2nd can take one from the remaining two.  I had my choice of Black Forest, white chocolate, and coffee mousse and you can probably guess which one I chose.  Oh yes, white chocolate cake, come to momma.

My mum got the cakes from Foody Mart (the Chinese supermarket across the street from Markville at the intersection of Hwy 7 and McCowan Rd.) and ohhhh man was my cake ever freakin’ delicious.  For one thing, these slices were BIG!  And for another, there was lots of frosting cream, fruit jelly between the layers, mounds of white chocolate curls on the frosting, and an adorable cookie biscuit to top it off!  I would eat this cake again in a heartbeat (lucky for me, I think there’s a 2nd slice left in the fridge) because it was so good.  The little chunks of fruit jelly in between the layers looked like peach or mango jelly, but when I ate it, it tasted exactly like lychee!  And the cookie biscuit just killed me.  There was an adorable picture of a NINJA girl on it!  That’s me alright, Super Debra!  Hi-Yah!  Attacking cupcakes and cakes one day at a time 😀

*****

Foody Mart is located at 5221 Highway 7 East off McCowan Rd. in Markham.