Frittata Sandwiches, Edamame with Avocado & Arugula Salads – Fresh Flavours & Fall Comfort at Yorkville Espresso Bar

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This fall is shaping up to be an amazing season so far.  I’ve done some baking, I’ve got my blogging back on, and I can’t even begin to describe how freakin’ excited I am for Thanksgiving this year!  The quintessential “day of turkey” is one week away and I’ve spent most of the weekend sticky-noting recipes and planning the menu for my family’s Thanksgiving dinner, not to mention packing as much foodie goodness as I can into the holiday weekend with my boyfriend, family and friends.

While I do have pumpkins and apples (cooked and baked because of my raw fruit allergy!) and squash on the brain, part of me knows it’s still waaaay too early to be in full comfort food mode.  We have plenty of time for that in the dreaded “w” word in the coming months!  Fall food is so inviting because it incorporates both cozy comfort with bright and fresh flavours: fruit and veg soups, bean and vegetable salads with comforting herbs, fruity vinaigrettes and dressings, and tender meats with root vegetables and juicy cooked fruit.  I love how the weather is cool but still pleasantly balmy on days and how I can still enjoy the lighter fare without sweating to death and hiding from the fierce sun like I do during the summer!

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Which brings me to a teeny confession I have to make: this post and these photos were supposed to be on Ate by Ate over a month ago.  Possibly even 2 months ago.  But life happened and this post just never did.  Long story short, Yorkville Espresso Bar owners Rita and Tony invited me to the cafe for return visit to share a meal, to watch chef John Vetere cook and work his magic on the cafe’s many delicious menu items in the kitchen studio, to try some of the cafe’s various gluten-free bakery items from coffee and baking master Drew Randall and to basically talk food, blogging and community.  It was such a fun day and it was such a cool experience seeing the cafe menu items that make us drool come to life right before my eyes.  These photos were taken at Yorkville Espresso Bar during the summer and part of me worried that I wouldn’t be able to make them relevant for fall.  Thankfully for me, their food is just as perfect for fall as it is for summer and I’m just happy I finally get to share with you guys!

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Yorkville Espresso Bar has introduced a number of different breakfast and lunch foods to their ever-expanding menu: frittata sandwiches oozing with eggs, herbs, veggies and cheese (oh and ham!), scrumptious wraps with creamy cheese and fresh vegetables, and a plethora of hearty but bright salads.  Aside from how yummy everything is, what makes the food so enticing to me is the price point.  Being located in Yorkville doesn’t exactly give you the reputation of being inexpensive.  Let’s face it, Yorkville isn’t known as Mink Mile for nothing; its poshness extends to the dining scene too.  But Yorkville Espresso Bar has made their dishes and food so accessible by making it healthy, fresh and affordable.  You have the frittata sandwiches and salads coming in at $4 and $4.50 respectively (under $5!) and their ginourmous wraps and artisan bread sandwiches coming in under $10 at $8.

Their food menu is a reflection of what folks in and around the community have asked for; Rita and Tony and their staff have taken so much of everyone’s feedback to heart and have put an enormous amount of thought and care into their menu, offering healthy food that isn’t run of the mill (nobody needs a limp lettuce and tomato salad that was packaged the day before thank you very much), made the morning of, and perfect for both dine-in and grab-and-go for the work crowd.  Their food menu includes herb roasted chicken wraps with crunchy celery and sunflower seeds, Thai tuna with basmati rice, and shaved carrots dressed in chili sauce, Italian meatball and mozzarella and rapini on toasted artisan bread and even Trinidadian doubles among other savouries alongside the mountain of baked goods and gluten-free items such as biscotti, muffins, pastries, tarts, scones, brownies, loaf cakes, macarons and more.

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What we have here are toasted and grilled English muffin frittata sandwiches stuffed with eggs, mozzarella, provolone and basil along with ham and cheese sandwiches, grilled sun-dried tomato wraps stuffed with creamy goat cheese, roasted red peppers, zucchini, eggplant, greens and mushrooms and two amazing, fantastic salads: white beans infused with fresh sprigs of rosemary with edamame, avocado and red onion vinaigrette and an artichoke salad with grape tomatoes, olives, arugula, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finished with a red wine vinaigrette.  I love English muffin sandwiches like nobody’s business.  At home, I toast English muffins and eat them with cream cheese and nothing else at times.  Yorkville Espresso Bar does a special daily frittata sandwich each morning and on this day my tastebuds were treated to two of my favourite things enveloped in eggs: cheese and basil.  It makes my stomach growl just thinking about it.

Next, we have the sun-dried tomato wrap.  This thing is HUGE.  I was watching chef John make it while I was taking photos in the Kitchen Studio and I was all bug-eyed when I saw the size of tortilla he was using!  For those who loooove grilled wraps and vegetarian sandwiches, you need this in your life.  The goat cheese and eggplant totally do it for me and it’s just gorgeous to look at.  It is a thing of beauty and so soft and flavourful with a hint of smokiness from the grilled vegetables and grilled tortilla wrap.

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Finally, the salads.  The scrumptious, mouthwatering salads.  They are perfect as an accompaniment to the sandwiches but also just as perfect on their own.  They are truly top-notch and for $4.50…you really can’t ask for more.  I watched as Chef John cooked the soaked white beans, infusing them with warm rosemary flavour in a giant pot of boiling water with onions and brightening them at the same time with crunchy edamame and soft, creamy avocado in the finished product.  It’s a beautiful fusion of warmth and comfort with lightness and it’s definitely a winning combination you don’t find at other places.  To finish off: the arugula and artichoke salad.  I love arugula so much and the red wine vinaigrette that the salad was tossed in was delicious.  The tomatoes in the salad balance out the briny flavour of the olives and artichokes and peppery bite of the arugula, and parm just elevates the savouriness to another level.  These are the types of salads I always wish for because their hearty with substance but still light and fresh in flavour.

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The menu and the people here make the espresso bar such an inviting place for coffee, tea and lunch and I feel so lucky to have been able to enjoy the food and learn about it at the same time, watching Chef John make the food from start to finish and getting to know the people and the cafe from the inside out.  Rita and Tony made me feel just like family.  It’s almost the first anniversary of my first visit (October 21!) and I think it’s high time I went back again to try even more of their delicious menu.

*****

Yorkville Espresso Bar is located at 3 Yorkville Ave., just west of Yonge Street and north of Cumberland St.  They are open 7 days a week from 7:30am-7pm Monday to Friday, 8am-6pm Saturday, and 9am-5pm Sunday.

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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.

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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.

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.

Summer Love, Summer Salads

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I look forward to bean and pasta salads SO much when the warmer weather hits.  I enjoy eating them at any point in the year, but it’s so much more satisfying when the sun is out and you can feel the warm breeze waft through the windows.  Not to mention it’s just fun shopping at the fruit and vegetable markets around town.  It’s such an awesome feeling snagging fresh bunches of asparagus, tomatoes on the vine, and giant containers of juicy berries.  Last weekend my mom and I hit some of the fruit and vegetable markets in Korea Town down by Bloor St. W. between Bathurst and Christie St. and we picked up so much great stuff.  Blueberries, blackberries, avocados…we really lamented at not living closer because we would honestly go every day if we could.  A mix of beans, veggies, and pasta = meals I can eat every day for the rest of my life! 

Whenever my family and I want something simple and lighter to eat, these are our go-to meals and they’re so perfect for spring and summer and warmer patio weather.  I’ve always itched to get creative in the kitchen and it drove me crazy growing up when I wasn’t allowed to help and family would shoo me away and tell me to “go play”.  Now that I’m older, it’s been so great getting my hands busy in the kitchen and even though I’m still just a “helper” when it comes to preparing meals, it feels good to see a meal through from start to finish even if it’s something simple.  Healthy, crunchy, and juicy, summer salads are awesome because you can make a big batch and have yummy leftovers for the next day’s lunch.  Not to mention they’re filling and satisfying meals that don’t leave you filling gross and lethargic afterward.   

What I have for you is a smattering of summer salad photos with a bunch of different veggie, fruit, and pasta/noodle combinations.  Up top we have a crunchy salad of tomatoes, yellow and green bell pepper, white beans, chickpeas, and mixed kidney beans, and a fistfuls of chopped green scallions.  In the middle, a mixed bean and avocado salad with a sprinkling of cilantro and red pepper chili flakes atop udon noodles, and last, a pasta salad with Italian ditali pasta, roast chicken, green beans, tomatoes, potatoes, and fresh chunks of mango!  I think by the end of the summer I should have a veeery large collection of photos commemorating my salad love 😀