Summer Breeze & Deb of the Island – A PEI Cooking Challenge, Evening of Food & Dream Come True, Part I

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pei collage 2“Oh, I do hope it will be fine next Wednesday. I don’t feel that I could endure the disappointment if anything happened to prevent me from getting to the picnic. I suppose I’d live through it, but I’m certain it would be a lifelong sorrow. It wouldn’t matter if I got to a hundred picnics in after years; they wouldn’t make up for missing this one. They’re going to have boats on the Lake of Shining Waters–and ice cream, as I told you. I have never tasted ice cream. Diana tried to explain what it was like, but I guess ice cream is one of those things that are beyond imagination.” – Anne of Green Gables, ch. 13, “The Delights of Anticipation”

My dear beloved Anne of Green Gables took the words right out of my mouth.  Oh, the delights of anticipation.  Three weeks ago (yes, it’s been 3 weeks already!), I was given the opportunity to attend a very special Taste of PEI and PEI Cook-Off Challenge event organized by Tourism PEI and Mosaic Sales Solutions and Marketing that took place at Mildred’s Temple Kitchen in Liberty Village, a beautiful space with massive windows (we food bloggers salivate like hungry bloodhounds over natural light like this!), circular booths and tables conducive to group socializing and mingling and an open kitchen perfect for 4 aspiring chefs to showcase their culinary prowess in front of a loving food crowd.

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pei. collageIt was about bringing together the love of food with a love of PEI and all it has to offer, trying new things, learning new things, breathing in new experiences, meeting new people and shining a spotlight on 4 chefs from 4 different colleges competing against one another in a PEI-themed cook-off challenge Chopped style: 4 chefs, 4 appetizers, 4 secret ingredients in 4 boxes for one grand prize at the end of the night: $500 and of course, bragging rights!

Oh.  And did I mention the event was being hosted by Michael Smith?  MICHAEL SMITH.  MICHAEL SMITH!  And that I got to shake his hand, gush about how much I loved watching Chef at Home on Food Network, eat my very first oyster off the shell in his very presence while he showed me and everyone else how oysters are shucked and have him sign my special Food Network Canada 10th anniversary magazine with him on the cover?  Thinking about it makes me want to cry.

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And just like Anne, come hell or high water I was going to make it to this event.  No disgusting weather or nasty migraine was going to keep me away.  Many events and invitations come in and out of our lives but when the perfect one comes around and you just feel it in your heart that it’s going to be amazing, you don’t let the opportunity slip through your fingers.  I had no idea what to expect before I came though and, looking back, it’s remarkable how much we were able to pack into a 3 hour event!

Amazing food, watching others’ passion and drive come alive through cooking and healthy, friendly competition and being in the presence of PEI goodness, fellow foodies, bloggers and Michael Smith made this the best event I have ever been to.  I’ll get to the nitty gritty details about the cooking challenge and the chefs and their dishes in tomorrow’s Part II post; today’s post is all about the love of PEI, food and dreams coming true.

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The evening started off with plenty of appetizers and nibbles including fresh fruit, veggies, crackers and cheese (I had some of the best asparagus and cheese EVER from the food table!), mingling with fellow bloggers (food and travel folks), scoping out the “secret” ingredients that the 4 chefs would be incorporating in their cook-off challenge straight from PEI and foraged by Michael Smith himself (fiddleheads!  Cat tails!), watching Michael Smith give the cook-off lowdown to the 4 chefs, and taking so many photos we looked like a mob of papparazzi.

We enjoyed the freshest PEI oysters off the shell, watched Michael Smith give us a fun oyster shucking show (and learned the “Oyster Society” oath!), watched others learn how to shuck oysters for fun, listened to Michael Smith talk about the “art” of oyster eating (chew!  Don’t just swallow!  You’re missing out on the yumminess!) and ate mouthwatering, scrumptious PEI hors d’oeuvres including PEI lobster (fresh chunks on soup), PEI beef and potatoes (slices of steak on mashed potatoes), smoked salmon, and more.

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Having oysters was one of the funnest new experiences for me!  Let it be known that I have never had a fresh oyster off the shell.  I’ve had yummy deep-fried ones at all-you-can-eat sushi spots, but slurping those babies fresh out of water?  Not till now.  And my word were they ever delicious!  They were placed on a bed of salt with dollops of Bloody Mary ice made by Michael Smith himself.  I slurped three oysters, savoured the yumminess and asked him if the seaweed hanging off the shell was edible.  His response?  “Edible, yes, but not exactly palatable.  I don’t think you’d like it very much.”  Haha!  Oh, and the Oyster Society Oath:

“Cradles on the waves, I swear to honour on this borrowed day the PEI Oyster Society by the grace of this Salty Kiss”.  And to that we slurped our oysters.

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This event was beyond anything I could have dreamt of even in the happiest corners of my brain.  I really don’t think Emily from Mosaic knew just how much an event like this would mean to me; it was truly a happy, lucky, meant to be coincidence.  Going to Prince Edward Island has been on my bucket list for years.  Vacationing there even for a week would be a vacation of a lifetime for me.  I mean, sure, this heartfelt desire to feel the island breeze through my hair is due in part to Anne of Green Gables being my all-time favourite book and love story (I even scrapbooked a photo of “Anne” and “Gilbert” I found online in my Valentine’s/love themed scrapbook years ago, wishing on a star that I would someday find the same kind of love for myself and lo and behold, I have), but there is so much about PEI I want to taste, learn about and explore.  The food-crazed girl in me even did a Google search on cupcake shops on the island and summer food festivals.  You know, to keep in mind for that dream vacation.

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And being part of an event hosted by Tourism PEI and Michael Smith.  Wow.  I’ve been watching Michael Smith on Food Network for years and he’s been my favourite.  Any spare time I had during university when I wasn’t at school or working or writing papers I was glued to the tv watching Food Network, watching episode after episode of Chef at Home, oohing and ahhing over how cute his son Gabe was, watching him make salad and plating it in a Tonka truck (um, the tomboy in me loves Tonka trucks), learning about those basic cooking aromatics, and drooling that pantry!  I love those memories and never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would someday meet him.  I am so happy I got to take part in such a fun, delicious, memorable and might I say, well-executed, event!   The Part II post will be all about the cook-off challenge, the chefs and their dishes!

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Confessions of a Brunch Obsessed Foodie – From Ossington to Bloor West Village: West End Brunch Picks!

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Introducing west end brunch picks!

Maybe it’s the late night munchie cravings talking, but I could really go for some good old fashioned bacon and eggs.  It’s after 10pm on my side of the pond though so I really don’t think it’d be a good idea to haul out the frying pan to soothe that craving right now, so the next best thing?  Counting down another 5 weekend brunch spots on my brunch club hit list!  Lately, and even throughout the summer, I’ve been focusing more heavily on the east end with posts on Joy Bistro and The Commissary in Leslieville, Simple Bistro on Mount Pleasant, and Hammersmith’s in Riverdale, and I realized that I really owe the west end some more love!  From Ossington Village to The Junction, here are 5 eateries I can’t wait to eventually get to!

The Beet Organic Cafe – located at 2945 Dundas Street West, west of Keele St. and east of Pacific Ave. at the corner of Medland St. in The Junction.  One of these days, I will follow through on my plan to go to The Beet after a farmers’ market trek to the Junction Market on a Saturday morning!  It’s only a matter of time.  My first brush with The Beet was when I made my unforgettable first trip to Bunner’s Bake Shop down the road during last year’s Veggielicious.  It was then that I realized what a goldmine of a foodie district I was in – an organic, raw, vegetarian, and vegan one in particular!  I never did get around to re-writing my Junction Foodie District post that got sucked into the internet black hole, but I’m totally committed to doing more food things in the neighbourhood and one of them is brunch at The Beet!

A foodie fixture in The Junction

With a focus and commitment to using as many local, Canadian, seasonal, and organic ingredients, The Beet’s menu has items for both carnivores and veggies alike.  My picks: the Huevos Rancheros ($12) starring two baked eggs with Quebec cheddar, sweet potato mash, sour cream, pico de gallo, and avocado, all on an Ontario corn tortilla; Farmer’s Harvest Salad ($7 sm., $10 lrg.) featuring green and red leaf lettuce, Chef’s selection of seasonal veggies, pumpkin seeds, and a choice of dressing; and the Buenos Dias Wrap ($13, wheat and gluten-free!) stuffed with avocado, spicy black bean spread, quinoa, pico de gallo, and raw Quebec cheddar.  Oh!  And we can’t forget their truckload of fresh fruit, nut, and milk smoothie  options as well!      

Cuban & Latin American Sunday morning munchies await you!

Delux – located at 92 Ossington Ave., between Queen and Dundas Street West.  Name 3 spots in the ciy, off the top of your headd, where you can get Central, South, and/or Latin American-inspired brunch and lunch.  Having a hard time, right?  We can easily tick off our options for vegetarian, Italian, and traditional greasy spoon, but South, Central, and Latin American morning meal options are a little harder to come by.  Which is why Delux is extra special!  I thought their lunch menu during my first visit back in the spring was amazing, with their thick-as-bricks delicious sandwiches and gobsmackingly good coffee crème brûlée, but when I found out they offered Sunday Cuban brunch, I think I stared at my computer in awe and wonder with my mouth gaping open for a good few minutes. 

Their Sunday brunch menu embodies warmth, heartiness, and comfort food with no shortage of sweet and savoury Cuban and South American flavour!  My picks: the dulce de leche smothered French toast with bananas, chantilly cream and maple syrup ($10), the big Cuban breakfast featuring roast pork, poached eggs, rice and beans, tostones (crispy fried plantains), and salad ($14), and the duck confit picadillo ($12) (Cuban style ground beef and veggies) hash with sunnyside up eggs and tostones!

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The Good Fork Brunch & Bistro – located at 2432 Bloor Street West and Jane St. in Bloor West Village.  Oh gosh, The Good Fork is the quintessential brunch and breakfast diner with an honest-to-goodness menu to die for!  I urge everyone to go.  I know I haven’t been yet and I’m basing this urgency on, well, nothing really, but seriously, I just have the most fantastical feeling about this place and I cannot wait to go!  C’mon, they have red velvet pancakes.  YES, THAT’S RIGHT.  Red velvet paaaaancakes.  I may not be the biggest fan of red velvet (don’t throw things at me now), but heck, even I know that a dish like that will get people to come in droves.  My picks: the Deep Green Benny ($11.25) boasting fried green tomatoes and cilantro; Lemon Cheese Pancakes ($9.75) bursting with lemon ricotta and blueberry compote; Baleek Omelette ($10) made with bacon and leeks; Bruleed Pound Cake French Toast with Orange Butter ($10.75) – total self-explanatory in yum factor.

Mildred’s Temple Kitchen – located at 85 Hanna Ave. off of King Street West, east of Dufferin St. in Liberty Village.  I’ve read about Mildred’s Temple Kitchen.  I’ve heard about it.  I’ve drooled over its famous brunch menu offerings.  Doesn’t it just make sense then to just go and stuff my face?!  I think so.  Famed for her first born restaurant, Mildred Pierce, culinary expertise in both food and cookbook writing, and for her presence in the kitchen, chef Donna Dooher doles out the simple pleasures of brunch and dining in her scrumptious menu: the infamous fluffy blueberry buttermilk pancakes ($13.50); Mildred’s poached eggs on a flakey croissant with either smoked salmon or rosemary bacon smothered in béarnaise sauce with mixed greens; Mildred’s sourdough grilled cheese with pickles and tomato relish ($12); and Green Eggs and Ham!

There are plenty of other brunch spots on my hit list, but these are the ones I wanted to showcase in particular today and if all goes well this weekend with the weather, I just might hit one of them up.