Friends With Salad – The Fresh Bocconcini & Tomato Caprese Salad with Pesto & Basil at The Commissary

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Every time I think of salad, I laugh to myself as I think of the episode of the Simpsons when Lisa becomes a vegetarian and the scene with Bart, Homer, and Marge dancing in a little conga line chanting, “you don’t win friends with sa-lad!  You don’t win friends with sa-lad!”  with Lisa scowling on the couch.  Oh, Simpsons, how you fit into every aspect of my life.  We know the truth though: salads kick butt and some are so much more worthy than their appetizer and side status at the meal table.  One of my all-time favourite salads is a tomato salad with fresh bufala mozzarella or bocconcini cheese with basil or a caprese salad.  Slices of tomato and cheese, cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, it doesn’t matter.  All that matters is that there is basil, the tomatoes are juicy and sweet, and the cheese is soft and melt-in-your-mouth delightful.  I love it with a really great olive oil but a sweet and tangy balsamic works just fine too.

Source: the-rivalry.com

I’ll never forget the day I found out about bocconcini cheese.  I was still in university doing my undergrad and I was with a coworker at the flower shop I used to work at and it was dinnertime.  She had brought a whole container of bocconcini to nosh on and I looked over, was curious, and asked her what she was eating.  She told me bocconcini cheese and gushed about how great it was with tomato salad.  And from that day on, I was in love with bocconcini cheese, buying it from the supermarket to have on hand for snacks and salads at home, and looking out for any bocconcini or bufala mozzarella cheese menu items at restaurants.  All that time this wonderful cheese was absent from my life and now I can’t imagine my life without it!  I am such a cheese fanatic and this is definitely one of my favourite varieties.  And here to deliver a fantastic caprese salad bursting with tomatoes and soft fresh cheese is The Commissary!

Their caprese salad is part of all 3 menus (brunch, lunch, and dinner) and comes in both main ($8) and side ($6) portions.  Oh my gosh, trust me when I say that you need to disregard this salad as merely a side and always, ALWAYS order it as a main.  I mean, if you can.  And want to.  You should!  I had mine as a separate side and thought, “holy bejesus I could eat this endlessly!” and vowed that the next time I was there, I would have their caprese salad as a main with a side of The Commissary’s breakfast potatoes to go with it! 

This caprese screams fresh and juicy.  The multicoloured grape tomatoes and bocconcini are covered in delicious pesto, sweet and tangy balsamic, and a fresh as air chiffonade of basil.  What makes this salad is the fresh cheese and, combined with the balsamic and basil, it is over the moon delicious!  I felt like I was having bocconcini for the first time all over again, only 10 times more amazing!  I could not believe how soft and melt-in-your-mouth it was.  I barely even had to chew because it was that soft.  And I loved how they weren’t skimpy on the cheese either!  This is the real deal and while the cheese I’ve had at the supermarket was good, this blows everything out of the water. 

It’s a great variation of the traditional sliced tomatoes and fresh mozzarella salad and if my love for this salad and their baby arugula and mango salad with goat cheese salad is any indication, I’m not just friends with salad, I’m kind of bffs with it.

*****

The Commissary is located at 889 Queen Street East at the southeast corner of Queen and Logan Ave. in Leslieville.  They serve weekend brunch, and lunch and dinner during the week.  Weekend brunch is served from 9am-3pm on Saturdays and Sundays and from Monday to Friday, they are open from 11am-10pm.

Putting Kitchen Tools and Herbs to Good Use – Fresh Basil, and Egg Salad With Dill

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Our kitchen at home has never been the showcase for fancy tools, machines, and gadgets.  Sure, we have a rice cooker and we have a wok hiding somewhere (my mum hasn’t used it in years), but other than that, our kitchen work bench is pretty simple.  No stand-mixer, no immersion blender, no sandwich or panini press, no slow cooker, nothing of the sort.  But our kitchen made friends with the new girl in town and what you see here is our very own, brand spankin’ new mini food processor in action!  I know, I know, how could I not have a food processor after all this time??  Food processors and mixers and the like are queens of the modern kitchen and ours has always felt a little bit empty without one.  My mum and I have asked ourselves that question many times and we finally hunkered down and bought a little one to go food happy with last week!  And did we ever have fun 😀 

We were contemplating what to make first and I figured that something simple to start off would be best, nothing to aggravate the blade on the first go-around.  So we made egg salad with lots of fresh, delicious dill that I bought at the Bloor & Lippincott farmers’ market!  I loooove dill and we always like to dress up our egg salad with something whether it’s with paprika, chili flakes, or celery so dill seemed like the natural choice for this time given how much I bought that day at the market.  Our food processor worked like a dream!  It’s a manual food processor, not an electrical one, so turning the crank was quite fun, ha!  The result was perfectly fluffy, luscious dill-y egg salad.  We mixed in a little mayo and we were good to go. 

Aside from eating my dill and sticking my nose in the baggy to smell it, I have been hugging and squishing my basil plant (no, not literally) because I love it so much.  I lovingly stare at it when I’m at my kitchen sink, I rotate it several times a day so that all the leaves get equal amounts of sunlight, and I handle the fragrant leaves as gingerly as I would priceless china.  It’s my baby.  I’ve never had a basil plant before so this was so super exciting for me!  I live on the edge, don’t I?  With the exception of two days, I’ve been eating basil with everything and I am absolutely LOVING it.  I stick basil leaves in my sandwiches, sprinkle some on my noodles, and I can’t wait to do more with it.  I’m crossing my fingers I don’t do anything to mess up my plant, but I would think that after nearly 3 years of working in a flower shop I wouldn’t hurt my plant that easily and quickly if at all!  I’ve been taking the utmost of care with it and like I said yesterday, it’s the gift that keeps on giving 😀

*****

The Bloor-Borden farmers’ market is located off the intersection of Bloor St. West and Lippincott St., just east of Bathurst St.  The farmers’ market is located in the parking lot south of Bloor St. on Lippincott.  The market is held every Wednesday from 3pm-7pm.  For more info, click here.

A Vegetarian Discovery to Rememeber – Italian Vegetarian Magic in Yorkville at Mela Café

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One of the things I love most about exploring Toronto is being surprised and confused by my sightings and discoveries in neighbourhoods I’ve been to a hundred times over.  I know it sounds strange, but it’s true!  You’re walking around an enclave you’ve been to so many times before and BAM!  you catch sight of an adorable, snazzy little café or store or restaurant and you immediately do a double-take and wonder: how in the world did I miss this??  You can live in an area and still be unaware of the gems just around the corner and it’s actually not as weird as it sounds.  At times we’re either caught up in our own day-to-day hustle and bustle, drowning things out, or strolling along in our own little bubble, alone with our thoughts, completely oblivious to our surroundings.  But trust me, when you find that special something and realize it’s been under your nose the whole time, it’s like stepping into a goldmine.  It’s so rewarding and this is exactly how I felt when I discovered Mela Café, an adorable Italian vegetarian and vegan eatery in Yorkville, just west of Yonge, this past fall.

Yes, you read right.  Italian vegetarian! 😀  A place that serves authentic delicious Italian pastas and sandwiches and soups and desserts, all free of meat and incredibly affordable.  I love this place so much.  Not just because the food is amazing and so fresh and wholesome, but because of where the passion for the food comes from and the feelings of comfort the café evokes.  If I had to choose one word to describe it, it would be “homey”.  The decor is very cute; bright blue, green, and dark orange paint on the walls, huge cans of crushed tomatoes are stacked on the kitchen shelves, and a blackboard menu shows the day’s vegetarian and vegan eats.

As for the passion, chef and owner Roberto Granata was born and raised in Italy*, and transforms simple vegetables and ingredients into authentic Italian fare.  The kitchen is clearly visible from the dining area and Roberto shows off his cooking skills from morning to night, preparing the day’s dishes.  The daily menu changes, but think fresh vegetarian lasagna with lentils, broccoli, and carrots, ricotta stuffed ravioli, breaded eggplant panini, potato and mushroom pie, mashed sweet potatoes mixed with rapini, and tiramisu and freshly baked muffins.  Oh, and lots and lots of fresh tomato sauce.  And this list isn’t even exhaustive!

Just recently I enjoyed the eggplant panini sandwich and oh my goodness is this ever delicious to the max!  Sandwiched between a crusty baguette are lots of crispy, mouthwatering wedges of breaded eggplant and fresh basil leaves, served on a plate with lots of tomato sauce for dipping!  This panini sandwich is all sorts of amazingness.  It packs so much flavour and eating it is seriously like having a flavour boxing match in your mouth.  The large basil leaves give the sandwich a punch of spicy freshness, the breaded eggplant has a delicious crispy saltiness to it, and the soft crusty bread sops up the juiciness from the tomato sauce.  I could eat here every day for a month and not miss meat. 

The prices here are also fantastic.  Every dish is under $10 with most of them hovering around $6-$8.50, and soups and desserts come in at around $4.50.  This place is lovely and so cozy and homey and even though the space is small (definitely keep that in mind during lunch and dinner rush hours!), it’s the perfect place to have enjoy a quiet meal on your own while perusing through Yorkville and to enjoy a lunch date with a friend.  Or in my case, with my boyfriend 🙂  Along with Kale Eatery and King’s Café, this is an absolute vegetarian & vegan goldmine and one of the best foodie discoveries ever.

*****

Mela Café is located at 7 Yorkville Ave., north of Cumberland St. and just west of Yonge St.

* = source from The Toronto Star, April 18, 2010

Scrapbooking materials used: neon green and orange cardstock (Recollections); sky/ocean blue cardstock (DCVW); magenta cardstock (Best Occasions); flower embellishments (K&Company); cardboard frame embellishments (Winners); journalling card (Anna Griffin, Darcy Collection); 5-petal flower paper punch (ek success); circle paper punch (ek success); medium scallop circle paper punch (ek success); corner round paper punch (ek success); aluminum foil.