The Fall Harvest Series – Potato & Mushroom Pie with Parsley, Kitchen Fun, & a Return to Mela Vegetarian Cafe

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Welcome to Mela. Welcome home.

Frowning in concentration, I leaned over my steaming hot plate of food, pointed my camera at it, promptly lowered it, turned my plate 45 degrees, pointed my camera at it again, looked at my screen, and smiled.  Ahhh.  That was the shot I wanted.  Click.  Time for a top down shot.  Click.  Gotta get one head on at eye level from the side.  Cli-

“May I ask what your occupation is?”

And just as I was about to click, I abruptly froze, camera in mid-air.  I looked over to my right and was greeted with two very amused facial expressions and two pairs of male eyes staring back at me curiously and expectantly.  I chuckled shyly.  “You must be wondering about the photos and the camera.”  And so began my spiel about how no, this wasn’t my day job exactly, but something I did on the side every day, something that was very much a part of my life in every way that counted, and yes, I write a blog and do a lot of food scrapbooking and photography, and oh, would you like my business card so you guys can check it out?!

Beet risotto with broccoli and Mela’s famous tomato sauce.

With the sounds of sizzling skillets on the stove top, the smell of fresh tomato sauce bubbling away, and two scrumptious and delicious plates of warm, steaming, comforting Italian vegetarian food in front of me, I felt right at home.  It never gets old seeing the curious gazes of nearby patrons watching me snap away, it never gets old pointing my camera at my food, and it never gets old sitting in my foodie home away from home, the Italian vegetarian magic that is Mela Cafe.

A giant wave of joy washed over me as I sat inside my favourite vegetarian spot, Mela, for the first time in 8 months.  8 months!  My last Mela Cafe post was 7 months ago, my last visit 8.  Since that unforgettable first meeting back in October 2010, I’ve never gone that long without a meal from here.  And I was feeling the pangs of withdrawn, especially during this chilly fall weather.  Mela does spring and summer fabulously, but I have to say, nobody kicks it in the pants during fall doing fall comfort food like Mela.  And were Roberto and Rachel ever dishing out and cooking up a comfort food storm!  Eggplant parm, beet risotto with broccoli, fresh ricotta lasagna with tomato and basil, cauliflower and soy pie, a spaghetti frittata with lentils and vegetables, red lentil soup, apple, beet and carrot salad, and of course their famous crispy, savoury breaded eggplant and basil panini sandwiches.

Fresh homemade eggplant parm, ready to get sizzling hot!

Roberto in the kitchen (with Rachel in the background!), whipping up a batch of pizza dough from scratch!

This was such a special visit.  For starters, it felt so wonderful being back after so many months, eating such yummy food.  Second, it was fun talking to fellow foodies about food and blogging.  And third, I was beyond giddy when Roberto waved me over into the kitchen to watch him make pizza dough from scratch.  I got to stand in the kitchen!  Well, colour me absolutely ecstatic!  It’s just one of the many reasons why I continue to love Mela so much.  I don’t feel like I’m a “customer” here.  There’s no wall, no barrier, no pretentiousness.  I feel like I’m part of a family.  We talk about our lives.  I make new friends.  I stay awhile and soak in every experience to its fullest.  I never feel like I’m a nuisance with the photo snapping.  And best of all, I make unforgettable memories each and single time.

This time around, I sunk my hungry teeth into a giant slice of potato and mushroom pie ($8.41) doused in their famous tomato sauce, as well as a dish of beet risotto with broccoli ($8.41).  I was in heaven.  Absolute vegetarian heaven.  I have to apologize for the lack of beet risotto photos though.  The tomato sauce and beet risotto were so close in colour family that I couldn’t get a good enough distinguishing photos.  But take it from me, it’s wonderfully delicious and I took most of it home for my family to try, especially my mum who loves beets.  Their potato mushroom pie was inches tall and piping hot with chunks of potato, sauteed mushrooms, and parsley melting into every forkful and bite.  Comfort food at its best.  The parsley was the perfect touch, giving little bursts of freshness and greenery to the dish.

When I was younger, I never used to like parsley.  I would always pick it out of my Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches.  Now?  I love it and get so excited when I see it garnishing or sprinkled onto my dish.  The parsley played a starring role in this one, cutting through the inherent “meaty” texture of chunky potatoes.  The potatoes were chunky yet soft; meaty enough to hold its own as a hearty meal with that great potato starchiness but soft enough to sink your teeth right through them.  The whole potato and mushroom pie was lovely because it sopped up the tomato sauce so well – I didn’t have a lick of it left by the end of the meal!

And oh gosh, the top of the pie was fantastic!  It was crispy and golden brown and tasted like a cross between a hash brown and rosti.  The dish is a fab variation of the traditional mashed potatoes, potato salad, and plain roasted potatoes and with the generous amount of tomato sauce, all the flavours were lightened up and intensified.  I mmmed my way through the entire meal, loving every minute and bite of it.  I waved goodbye to Rachel and Roberto and as I was opening the door to leave (as much as I didn’t want to!), Roberto smiled and called out, “don’t be a stranger!”

I won’t, ever.  I promise.

*****

Mela Café is located at 7 Yorkville Ave., north of Cumberland St. and just west of Yonge St.  All dishes are either vegetarian or vegan and prices range from $4-$8.50.  They are primarily a lunch cafe during the week, open until around 4:30pm-5pm from Monday to Friday, and with later closing hours on Saturday.  They are closed on Sunday.

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Breaking Out of the Veggie Buffet Comfort Zone – Scrumptious Tofu Burgers at Kale Eatery!

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For all the vegetarians, vegans, and veggie food enthusiasts in and around Toronto who have been to Kale, I pose a question to you: when you think of the magical land of Kale Eatery, what comes to mind?  The wonderfully delicious expanse of rice, steamed kale, hummus, curry, beans, tofu, stew, and salad in the self-serve buffet?  Grabbing a plate at the head of the line and heaping spoonfuls of food onto it?  The feeling of happiness and satisfaction you get bringing a mosaic of healthy food to your table?  All of the above?  I know, me too. 

However, amidst all of these heavenly thoughts of food, I have had major food tunnel vision.  Yes, that’s right, food tunnel vision.  And I feel rather awful about it.  I’ve been so fixated on Kale’s vegetarian and vegan buffet, I’ve overlooked their entire regular, made-to-order, magical menu!  The buffet has stolen my heart and my love has blinded me all this time.  Sigh. 

Every single time I make plans to go to Kale, all I can think of is, “I wonder how much food I can fit on my plate without making a mess out of everything?”.  I walk in, quickly claim a table (Kale gets busy!), throw my bag and outerwear (if I’m wearing any) on my chair, and make a beeline for the buffet.  I grab a plate, survey the selection, and start piecing together a nice a little food puzzle for myself.  I don’t know why I do what I do!  It’s not like the buffet is going anywhere or that I’ll die of starvation if I don’t get that portobello mushroom rice on my plate that very second.  The self-serve buffet is one of my favourite things in Toronto though and when you love something, you do nutty things.  There’s a first time for (almost) everything and during my last visit, I knew it was time I ate out of my comfort zone and that meant enjoying something off their menu.

Kale has an amazing menu of food and drinks that cater to both big and small appetites.  Their regular, made to order menu has a large selection of soups, wraps, veggie burgers, smoothies, and fresh squeezed juice along with coffee and tea drinks and some appetizers such as samosas and hummus and pita plates.  Soups include green lentil with spinach, barley mushroom, curry yellow split pea, butternet squash with millet (a type of grain that can resemble fluffy rice and couscous or creamy mashed potatoes and polenta), and mixed vegetables with pinto beans among others.  If you’re in the market for veggie wraps, Kale has a mouthwatering lineup of portobello quinoa, black bean avocado, tempeh, and spicy sundried tomato.  Finally, the all-mighty tofu burger rounds out the veggie menu, with an option to have it on either a bun or on a bed of greens.  Combined with the buffet, the dizzying array of choices becomes a veggie lover’s dream world!

What I really love about the menu at Kale is how well it complements the buffet options.  There are endless possibilities when it comes to mixing and matching to create that perfect vegetarian or vegan meal.  You can have a wrap and have some rice, tofu, stew, potatoes, or other veggies to go along with it.  You can have a soup and have some fresh, crunchy kale on the side.  There are so many ways to go about it and that’s what makes everything so versatile and easy to love. 

In addition, the menu prices are extremely reasonable ($6-$8 for mains and $3.25 and $4.25 for soups) and that is a huge relief for those who want to eat healthy, but hesitate to eat at vegetarian and vegan establishments because the food is often pricier.  This is a whole other important issue entirely though, one that I’ll address at another time.  For now though, just know that the buffet option may not be the best bet if you’re on a budget, but that the soups, wraps, and tofu burgers are right on par with all other non-vegetarian places.

I love tofu (as you all know) and this was my very first time having one so I was incredibly excited!  The burger ($6.95) was served on a soft, yet sturdy bun with sesame seeds with juicy tomatoes, onions, mounds of baby spinach, thick, creamy slices of avocado, and scrumptious hummus all over the tofu burger patty.  The tofu burger blew me away.  I couldn’t believe how delicious it was.  I wasn’t expecting anything awful, but I was truly taken aback by how good it was.  

For those of you who are meat-eaters and who’ve never had a tofu burger in your life but want to know what the taste and texture is like, the tofu patty was like a breaded chicken cutlet only, in my opinion, 100 times more fabulous.  It was juicy and savoury and it had this crisp goldeness to it on the outside that made it so much more burger and diner-like, and combined with the thick, creamy hummus, it was heaven in my mouth.  It was like eating savoury falafel balls dunked in hummus only with a mouthwatering tofu patty.  With the thick avocado and tomato slices and rings of raw onion, the burger was so tall I could barely fit it into my mouth and that’s saying a lot considering I have the ability to shove an entire cupcake with frosting in my mouth (my boyfriend can attest to that).

And the bun!  There was an option to go bunless and to instead have the burger on a bed of greens or spinach and when I realized that, I thought to myself, “oh geez, I should have gone the greens route!” since I’m a bigger fan of leafy greens than I am of most burger buns.  The burger bun showed me up though and I ended up loving it!  It isn’t dry or overly chewy or so crunchy it makes eating the burger uncomfortable.  It was soft on the inside with a wonderful toastiness to it from the sesame seeds on top.  I would probably hold the onion the next time around (I’m a wuss when it comes to the spiciness of raw onions), but otherwise, the tofu burger knocked it out of the park completely and I am that much more excited to have it again and to try other regular menu items! 

*****

Kale Eatery is located at 2366 Yonge St. (near the intersection of Yonge and Eglinton, just north of Eglinton).  Their website is up and running which you can check out here.

Snowflakes, A Winter House, and Veggie Orange Chicken – Scrapbooking a Winter Menu at King’s Cafe

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It’s been one crazy, topsy-turvy winter this season, but one thing is for certain: we can’t resist that silent, magical feeling we feel when we watch snowflakes gently fall from the sky and the breathtaking, picturesque scenes of pure white snow on pine trees and rooftops.  We may not enjoy shovelling, and we may mumble and grumble about winter under our five layers of clothing, but we all know that feeling of serenity that comes along with the winter season.

This is why I’ve enjoyed scrapbooking winter and holiday layouts so much over the past few months.  I didn’t think I’d love it this much because in reality, I’m not much of a snow bunny, but when I put scissors to paper and stickers to cardstock, winter is one of the most beautiful and versatile themes to scrapbook.  I love using winter themed stickers and embellishments (snowflakes!  mittens!  snowmen!  hot chocolate!) and I love how I can simaltaneously play up the cool, icy colours of winter (whites, grays, and blues) and bright spring ones, such as greens and pinks, all at once.  And scrapbooking winter comfort food is so much fun because you get to focus on all the things that make you feel warm and cozy.  The hot chocolate one I made for The Hot Chocolate Series is one of my favourite layouts to date because I put so much creative energy into piecing together a colour scheme and building a winter story out of it.

You’re probably wondering why some of the photos on the scrapbook layout look so familiar, especially the one of me (hint: the photo is from a page on my main toolbar), and that’s because those photos were featured in December 2010 (yes, 2010!) during my first month of blogging in my first King’s Cafe post.  It’s taken a little over a year for me to get around to, but I finally made a scrapbook layout for it!  Let it be known that there is no rhyme or reason to the order and sequence of scrapbook layouts that I create and post here.  Sometimes I’ll create and post things a little more strategically, but really, it’s about the amount of time I have to devote to a particular layout, idea, or set of photos and this set has been waiting in the wings for months!

This layout was so much fun to make.  The layout was entirely devoted to and inspired by King’s Cafe’s seasonal winter menu.  King’s Cafe has a winter menu that they put out every year for the season and there are special menu items featured in it that are not available during the rest of the year.  For example, to my knowledge, the meal I had (the orange veggie chicken with asparagus, fruit, and green salad) is exclusive to the winter menu, along with the amazing lemongrass fried rice and many other dishes.  Scrapbooking these photos made me realize just how much more I wanted another meal at King’s Cafe – I’ve been craving their delicious food for months!

Look at the adorable winter house!

I wanted to use the bright colours from my meal and the colours I was wearing that day to guide the colour palette, and the adorable winter house pictured in the winter menu as a focal point.  I knew right off the bat that I wanted to use gray as a base and bright colours to complement the melancholy, wintry shade.  The main colour palette was a mix of gray, white, bubble gum pink, and bright sky blue with pops of green.  I used the orange from the food photos and a bit of brown to warm everything up.  I was so excited to make my own little King’s Cafe winter house out of paper and cardstock and I think it turned out pretty darn cute!  The most fun I had was actually making the windows.  The bright blue jumps off the page, I got to use my old-school brown metallic gel-pen, and windows are just fun.  They were always my favourite Lego pieces to play with!

You all know how much I adore seasonal menus (especially fall and winter ones), so we’ll see if I can around to scrapbooking more winter meals (and maybe a Hot Chocolate layout, Part II!) before the weather gets really balmy and spring is here!

*****

Scrapbooking materials used: gray, white, bubble gum pink, emerald green, powder blue, beige, chocolate brown, and cappuccino cardstock (Recollections); bright sky blue construction paper; Green Pinstripe patterned paper (Recollections Basics); holiday patterned paper (Me & My Big Ideas holiday paper mat pad); holiday striped cardstock (DCWV holiday cardstock mat pad); cream and gold foil “circus” alphabet stickers (Recollections); Christmas ornament adhesive embellishments (Recollections); “Winter” adhestive embellishment (K&Company); holographic snowflakes; scalloped edge decorative scissors (Provo Craft); deckle edge decorative scissors; circle paper punch (Marvy Uchida).

It’s Pedestrian Sunday in Kensington Market Tomorrow! Head On Over to Wanda’s Pie the Sky, Part I

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Given how tomorrow marks August’s Pedestrian Sunday in Kensington Market, I thought it would be super appropriate to crank out my posts on Wanda’s Pie in the Sky and a new scrapbook layout to go with it!  I love Pedestrian Sundays and I only wish Sundays were a little more convenient for me transportation-wise because if they were, you can bet I’d make it to the market for this at the end of every month!  In a nutshell, the last Sunday of every month from May to October is Pedestrian Sunday.  The roads are completely blocked off in Kensington to motor traffic so you can skip and twirl in the middle of the streets with your delicious food and cute purchases swinging about to your heart’s content.  There’s often live music out on the streets, vendors and shop owners bring out all their wares, and there’s always some really cute activity happening in the market.  Case in point: giant, larger-than-life Scrabble on the street with square foot tiles!  Anyone who hasn’t been should skip on over, stat!  And while you’re there, check out Wanda’s Pie in the Sky.

Wanda’s Pie in the Sky is one of my favourite spots in Kensington and for the longest time, I always thought it was a dessert place exclusively selling pies, cakes, and the like.  I was so wrong.  And I don’t often say this, but I’m so happy I was wrong.  Wanda’s is, quite possibly, one of the BEST lunch spots in the city for a lunch date and I say this not only because of the sheer volume of food available, but also because Wanda’s is vegetarian and vegan-friendly, which makes it PERFECT for carnies and veggies alike. 

I was gobsmacked when I walked in and discovered just how much delicious food was inside those pastel brick walls.  Pasta salads, vegetarian sandwiches, soups, pizza flatbreads, quiche pies, vegan cupcakes, soft-serve ice cream, cookies, macarons, tarts, cakes, and yes, lots and lots of PIE!  It is incredible and because I like to tease you all, this is a teaser post to tide you over until tomorrow’s big fat Part II, complete with scrapbook layout and the prettiest, coolest, most awesomet cake you’ll ever lay your eyes – and possibly teeth – on.  Hint: look at my header image 😉  Enjoy!

*****

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.

Vegetarian Sandwich Series – Country Kitchen Cooking & A Grilled Eggplant, Sundried Tomato, & Feta Pita at Sage Cafe

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I honestly can’t tell you how I found out about Sage.  For a girl who prides herself on having a good memory, this bothers me.  I don’t remember if I happened to find it through a random Google search for vegetarian sandwiches in the city or if I happened to learn about the downtown cafe through another site.  But I will tell you this: when I found out they served an abundance of vegetarian meals including a whole list of whole wheat pita wraps with vegetarian ingredients, I pumped my fist in the air and went, “YES!  PAY DIRT!” 😀  Especially considering it’s located in an area that’s actually rather central in the downtown core but unknown to many of my friends. 

Sage is located near the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) on McCaul St., just off of Elm St.  For whatever reason, this area seems to be a black hole for many people I know, including myself prior to this year!  The black hole seems to spread between Elm, Baldwin, or McCaul (or any combination of the three), and when I’m in these areas with friends, it’s very amusing to hear my them say, “I have no idea where we are!”  Have no fear, I am your food compass 😀

Much like Futures Bakery in the Annex, Sage’s menu isn’t wholly vegetarian.  They do, however, have MANY vegetarian options though, which makes it a great lunch spot for both vegetarians and carnivores.  The vegetarian sandwiches come in the form of whole wheat pita wraps and they are BIG!  I’m pretty sure you can have the option of having the wrap filling served on other types of grain/bread, just ask.  Vegetarian wraps are priced at $6.50 and they are well worth it not just because of their size, but because of how much food they stuff in them.  Their list of vegetarian tortilla wraps include:

  • grilled eggplant, sundried tomato, and feta cheese
  • dijon egg and avocado
  • grilled vegetables
  • grilled portobello mushrooms and brie
  • avocado, feta cheese, and roast pepper sauce
  • hummus and fresh vegetables
  • falafel with tahini and fresh vegetables
  • spicy tofy and peanut sauce

I had me a grilled eggplant, sundried tomato, and feta pita wrap and added some avocado for an extra charge (I can’t remember how much I added for the avocado, but it definitely wasn’t more than a dollar).  Was I ever excited when I got my pita wrap!  It was mondo big with SO MUCH VEGGIES stuffed inside!  Along with the eggplant, sundried tomato, and feta, my pita wrap was stuffed with romaine, tomato, cucumber, shredded carrots, alfalfa sprouts, and red cabbage. 

The wrap was crunchy, fresh, and savoury from both the sundried tomato and feta cheese, and the eggplant was sliced in large wedges with the blistered skin still on, YUM!  And I know this sounds silly, but this point is worth making: the pita wrap stayed intact!  I know some people shy away from pitas and tortillas and the like because stuff just crumbles and fulls out out of it and it becomes too messy to eat.  The pita was wrapped in such a way that the stuff actually stayed inside for the most part.  I mean, sure, some feta crumbles may have slipped out, but it definitely wasn’t a leaky wrap and it wasn’t messy.

Sage serves a number of other vegetarian dishes including pasta, salads, and a variety of quiches and soups.  Daily specials change on a regular basis, but on any given day you might see things like roasted pepper penne pasta with spinach, mushrooms, and olives; quinoa and vegetable salad; chick pea and red onion salad; lentil salad with bulghar and orange; eggplant parmesan; spicy stuffed plantain with sauteed peppers; pesto linguine with artichokes and sundried tomato; roasted red pepper linguine with black olives; pad thai; and vegetarian lasagna among others.

Even though the cafe is on the smaller side, I really feel it’s a fabulous lunch spot because the prices are reasonable (there are a number of “under $10 meals”, tax included!), portions are big, the food is fresh and healthy, and the cooking is done right before your eyes; owner Wendy Hernick was cooking up salads and pasta in the visible kitchen area while I was enjoying my meal. 

They also serve weekend brunch from 11am-3pm and although the prices for brunch and breakfast are a little on the pricier side, I caught a glimpse of someone else’s eggs benedict brunch dish as it was being brought to them and hot damn was the plate of food ever large.  Portion size isn’t an issue here, so it’s really, it’s up to each individual person on how much they’re willing to spend on weekend brunch.  Some won’t spend more than $10 and others feel fine spending $12 or $13.  Either way, I recommend the cafe for lunch for those looking for healthy, vegetarian options and an all-around great meal.  And hey, you just might make some foodie discoveries of your own around this “unchartered” territory 😉

*****

Sage Cafe and Catering is located at 166 McCaul St., just off Elm St.  It’s south of Baldwin St. and north of Dundas St. West.  It is located just several blocks north of the AGO and is open 7 days a week from 9am-5pm Monday through Friday and for weekend brunch from 11am-3pm.  For more info, click here.  The Vegetarian Sandwich Series is a series on Ate by Ate dedicated to showcasing great vegeterian sandwiches in and around the city of Toronto.