Potato Leek Soup with Grano Padano Cheese & a Smoked Salmon, Potato Rosti Brunch Dish at Caren’s Wine & Cheese Bar, Part II!

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All you need is cheese.

It’s more than just the name of a magazine to me – they’re words to live by!  I know cheese isn’t the healthiest of foods (yes, yes, sodium and fat content and all that jazz), but as a foodie and lifelong lover of cheese, I can’t imagine life without it.  I sample fresh Ontario cheeses from the farmers’ markets.  A burger just isn’t the same if a melty, gooey slice hasn’t been melted in it.  I’ve been known to eat cream cheese-and-nothing-else sandwiches.  And don’t even get me started on the extra shreds I sprinkle onto my tacos, enchiladas, burritos, omelettes, and pasta.  We don’t have enough space in this post for that novel!  So it makes complete and perfect sense why a wine and cheese bar would be my dining dream come true.  Sure, I may not drink wine but I make up for it in cheese consumption!  How Caren’s Wine & Cheese Bar on Cumberland Street in Yorkville alluded me for so long is beyond me.

Housed in a tall, beautiful Victorian style home bathed in shades of gray and charcoal with stone accents and warm pops of green and orange, Caren’s is quaint and sophisticated and yet completely accessible and I don’t just mean physically accessible by public transit!  I know many of the eateries and establishments in Yorkville (and the neighbourhood itself) may come across as upscale and out-of-reach to us average folk, but I’m telling you, appearances can be deceiving and I’ve certainly allowed my preconceived notions inform my decisions about places before I got the chance to know them in the past.  Behind the chic, polished exterior is warmth, comfort, and homeyness oozing with wonderful food and drink, a peaceful, inviting atmosphere, and one of the nicest places to dine in the city.  It’s romantic, it’s inviting, and it’s SO PERFECT for relaxing weekend brunch meals, intimate dinner evenings, and get-togethers and cocktail parties.

So, how did I find out about Caren’s?  While I would love to say that I “stumbled” on it during a beautiful walk through the neighbourhood, I can’t.  I owe this one to my sweet coworker, Pat.  While she and I were discussing yummies and fun things in Yorkville (I was raving about Mela and she was raving about stationery – great minds think alike!), she mentioned Caren’s and how she was cheese classmates with Tiffany MacIssac, Caren’s master of cheese.  Curious beyond belief, I looked up the Yorkville gem online and immediately fell in love.  Cheese!  Weekend brunch!  Yorkville!  That was certainly all the convincing I needed!  And what impeccable timing.  I wanted to take a stroll through Yorkville anyway so I made it my mission to go to Caren’s for weekend brunch this past weekend and the plan went out without a hitch (fter all my flub-ups, fall-throughs and disappointments as of late it was about time something went my way!).  Weekend brunch, 11:30 am sharp!

Caren’s menus focus on French cuisine with some Italian and European influences in conjunction with local, Canadian fare – after all, it is a wine and cheese bar!  Their extensive brunch menu incorporates a number of brunch classics (French toast, omelettes, pancakes, eggs benny and more) as well as plenty of savoury soups, salads, and sandwiches, and featured items that highlight their wonderful selection and offering of cheeses.  Brunch prices are $10 on the low-end and $20 on the highest end, with most menu items coming in between $12-$16.  Their menu offers 19 dishes with additional sides at extra charge including parsley home fries, apple wood smoked bacon, chorizo sausage, house cured gravlox, and more.

You can enjoy your meal in the comforts of their ground floor dining area and bar, their outdoor front patio, their intimate 2nd floor dining room, OR – wait for this – their ridiculously gorgeous back patio courtyard that might as well be a cabana oasis!  I was shocked out of my leggings when I stepped into their back courtyard to snap a few photos.  It is breathtaking.  Cushions, lanterns, soft glows, palms – THIS is where an amazing cocktail party takes place!  Caren’s will rent out their dining areas for private functions so this is definitely something to keep in mind for everyone!

I had myself my own little food party in the form of weekend brunch yesterday.  I’m not kidding.  I ordered a ridiculous amount of food and by the end, I was truly stuffed!  On Deb’s plate: Caren’s soup of the day ($12), creamy roasted potato and leek with tomatoes and Italian grano padano cheese (like I would have a meal here without any cheese – pish!) and their eggs pacific ($13), a dish of potato rosti, salmon, truffled eggs (insanely fluffy scrambled!), fruit and greens, and creme fraiche.  Their meal-size soup was monstrous!  I should have known better.  I was expecting a side bowl, maybe a medium-sized bowl.  Nope, meal-sized.  But I have no regrets.  Because it was mouthwateringly delicious.

Creamy, smooth, and velvety, I had freshly cracked black pepper sprinkled on, and the olive oil, tomatoes, and cheese made the soup so flavourful and savoury.  The texture was perfect and the tomatoes gave it that hint of freshness and juiciness.  It wasn’t heavy at all and the cheese?  I could eat it by the spoonful.  Similar to Parmigianno Reggiano, it was grated onto the soup and it gave the soup that extra hit of savouriness and meatiness to make it really feel like a meal-size soup.

And my eggs pacific.  OH.MY.GOD.  Smoked salmon lovers, you need this in your life.  I have NEVER had a meal that gave me so much thick, savoury, slices of smoked cured salmon in my life.  Half the time, meals will often fall short of the desirable amount.  But this?  Fit for two meals.  Slice after slice of amazing, scrumptious salmon filled my plate with a fluffy mountain of eggs, potato rosti rounds underneath, and a huuuuge dollop of red onion capered creme fraiche.  I’m telling you, the salmon and creme fraiche MAKES this dish.  If there was anything I’d change, I’d make the potato rosti a little thicker, but that’s about it.  It was truly delicious and the creme fraiche just brings everything together as you can use it for the potato rosti, the smoked salmon, and the eggs.  It breaks up the salty, cured flavour of the salmon and keeps it from becoming too overwhelming.  And the soup, a spontaneous choice in the beginning, proved to be a great complement to the meal!

Even though I never feel like I have enough time to enjoy everything I want to enjoy during my days out, I feel fulfilled that I got to try this wonderful dining spot out and you can bet that I’ll be back for more weekend brunch.

*****

Caren’s Wine & Cheese Bar is located at 158 Cumberland St. in Yorkville, just east of Avenue Rd.  They are open for lunch (11:30am-5pm from Monday to Friday), dinner (5pm-10pm Sunday to Tuesday and 5pm-11pm Wednesday to Saturday), and weekend brunch (11:30am-4pm Saturdays and Sundays).

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“Egg Sheet” Pancakes

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It drives me bananas when everyone in my family can’t agree on what they want to eat; my dad is anti-pasta (that’s just crazy talk to me!), my brother wrinkles his nose at most vegetables (that makes me have a sad face), and if it was up to my mum, she’d eat bread for every meal for the rest of her life.  And me?  I’ll eat anything they eat.  Pushover?  Maybe a little.  But loves food?  Damn straight.  Thankfully, eggs are one of the few things my whole family can agree on liking. 

The same way you would flip pancake batter with a spatula, we flip “egg sheets”! 🙂  There are two ways you can do this.  You can either crack each egg, on its own, into a bowl, whip it up with a fork and add your diced veggies to the mixture as well as any seasoning (we use black pepper), and pour the mixture into your pan to cook.  Once it starts to sizzle and you see the egdes browning, you flip!  Or you can whip up as many eggs as you plan on making in a large bowl with said veggies, and dividing it into separate “sheets” with your spatula in the actual pan. 

Depending on how big your pan is, you can do about 2 or 3 eggs at a time.  You can add a little bit of olive oil to your pan while the stove is heating if you want to prevent any excessive sticking, and just make sure you set your stove to medium-high heat as high/maximum heat will burn the eggs and that is just not sexy.  It differs slightly from an omelette as omelettes are made my folding over the egg mixture as opposed to literally scooping the pancake-like egg and flipping it on its backside. 

We use a bunch of diced vegetables: red, orange, and green bell pepper, shallots or cooking onions, and scallions.  Surprisingly we didn’t add mushrooms this time around; we eat mushrooms with everything, ha!  You can go all nutty and add shredded cheese to it, hot sauce, or kethcup!  Good lordy do I ever have a hoopla of friends who love ketchup with their eggs (and you know who you are!).  It’s one of those nice “breakfast for dinner” kind of foods that’s really simple and very customizable depending on what you have on hand.  I hope everyone is having a good weekend so far and I’ll see you all again tomorrow!

    

Mum’s Home Cooking – The Comfort of Home

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Once upon a time, mum couldn't cook this!

I really wish I had thought of doing this sooner, but later is better than never!  Over the past 2 years or so, I’ve been taking photos of my mom’s home cooking and I only wish I had started this project when I was teenager.  I might be biased but I love my mum’s cooking.  Now that I make it a habit of capturing all her dishes on camera and going click-happy, it makes HER happy.  As a stay-at-home mom, she has slaved away for many years for my brother and me and as much as we butt heads (what mother-daughter duo doesn’t?), I truly appreciate what she does for us in the kitchen, making sure we always have enough to eat coming home from a long day of school or work and always making our favourites when we need it most. 

It’s funny, mum’s been cooking for us for years now and it’s only been in the last several that she has really branched out and been more adventurous with her cooking and it makes me really proud of her to see her enjoy it a bit more.  Let it be known that my mum does NOT enjoy cooking and she’ll be the first to attest to that!  Like she says, she’s come a loooong way; she even didn’t even know how to cook an egg when she married my dad!  No joke! 😀  Growing up with my grandma and my great-grandmother and at one point, BOTH great-grandmothers?  Heck, they about chased her out of the damn kitchen!  Even though my mom does the same to me now (“get out, you’re in my way!  Put that pot down for heaven’s sake!”), my insane love for food and for learning about it has rubbed off on her and now she can’t get enough of The Food Network and gets excited about herbs.  Who woulda thunk it?

Mum loves making eggs (I know, the very thing she didn’t know how to cook when her and my dad became Mr. and Mrs.!) and we loooove scrambled eggs.  What you see her are 2 variations of the same dish.  Scrambled eggs with baby shrimp and in the first photo up top, with Chinese green chives and in this photo here, with green scallions.  Sprinkle in some black pepper and you have yourself a meal. 

Pst!  Here’s a tip we learned from our beloved Ina Garten on “Barefoot Contessa” from The Food Network: adding a splash of light cream to your eggs makes them lighter and fluffier!  For those who prefer a more detailed description, the ratio is as follows: for every 6 eggs (half a dozen), use 3 tablespoons of light cream.  We whip our eggs with a fork (or my mom will use chopsticks), nothing fancy.  And voila!  Fluffy scrambled eggs!

I have a growing anthology of my mum’s cooking and it makes her (and me) quite happy.  As she fondly watches me snap away, yanking kitchen curtains open for better lighting, she asks, “You really like my cooking that much?”  to which I reply, “yes I do, mummy”.