A day on the Asparabus!

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Every day I am constantly so amazed at the beauty of this wonderful, strange and magnificent world that we live in. I always make it a point to look out from my 19th floor condo balcony, where I can gaze for a long time at the vast sky, with clouds that seem to endlessly stretch across it, and to the buildings and houses below me and beyond. It makes me feel so small… such a tiny part of this massive world! And it also reminds me of how everything – how life – has it’s rhythm: the cycle of seasons, of change, arriving, departing, coming to life and fading away. And still, the world keeps turning.

It’s spring, which means it’s asparagus season – the first crop of the spring harvest! I’ve always loved asparagus, which is slightly bitter, sweet and very earthy compared to broccoli. Such a unique and delicious flavour! I was lucky enough to be invited by The Foodies Group and Asparagus Farmers of Ontario to join a full day tour on the Asparabus, an initiative that aims to help raise awareness on supporting local farmers. I try to buy local as much as possible, and as a home cook, I love how you really can taste the freshness of the product, not to mention feel good about supporting Canada!

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First stop was the Welsh Brothers Farm, where I got to see first-hand how asparagus is harvested on their field, which was around 6 years old. I found out that the spears grew directly up from the ground (they thrive in sandy soil), and they are harvested by hand with a chef’s knife. This labour intensive process is the reason why asparagus is a bit more expensive than other vegetables. I even got to break off a spear and try it right on the field, so delicious and fresh!

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Inside the production facility, each asparagus spear is sorted by the workers, with the help of a camera that determines the color, thickness, and is then divided into different spear sizes. I was told that the thickest size is great for the BBQ, so definitely pick those up instead of the thinner ones (which are better for salads)!

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We visited the Bonnieheath Estate Lavender & Winery next, a beautiful and lush property full of trees and a huge vineyard. This is where we had an outstanding, delicious farm to table lunch featuring local asparagus, prepared by Chef Tracy Winkworth from the Liaison College Southcoast Chef School.

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The feast was all a blur (I was in heaven) – and I was so impressed at how Chef Tracy integrated asparagus into dishes in really unique ways from risotto, to chimichurri, pesto and even guacamole. She also made some BBQ ribs, with strawberry as an ingredient in the BBQ sauce… WOW!

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I am so grateful to have met such passionate farmers – how lucky they must feel to be eating such a fresh vegetable right from the field! I was able to try some asparagus from their farm which I cooked at home, and it was so flavourful, tender and extremely juicy! You should definitely buy local and support Ontario asparagus farmers any chance you can get!

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My new favourite: STK Toronto

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Ahh…! Spring has finally arrived here in Toronto, and we’ve thankfully gotten over the cold, harsh winter. The blinding sun’s out most days, the grass a vibrant green, beautifully dotted with yellow flowers (weeds?), and the sky a light blue, making me feel so alive! It’s in these quiet moments that I always remember to be grateful, to hold on to these moments of happiness, and to make sure that I spread only good, positive vibes to everyone around me.

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It was a beautiful partly cloudy day last Wednesday too, despite getting caught in a torrential downpour of rain in Yorkville. I was very lucky to be invited to dine at STK with my sister, and we both had such a wonderful dinner – one that I kept thinking about a few days later. I loved so many things about my experience, from the trendy and warm ambiance, to the excellent dishes and the amazing service. If you’ve been following my blog, I am first and foremost a steak person, and I was blown away by the 18 oz Dry Aged Striploin (!!), which was the highlight of the meal – but we’ll get to that later.

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Our dinner started off with a few drinks, and I got the Paloma Escobar (sour drinks are my ultimate favourite), which was a lovely, refreshing tart cocktail mix of white tequila, lime and grapefuit that would be a perfect drink to have this summer! We were also served a mini loaf of bread freshly baked in house, delicious pieces of soft, buttery goodness!

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We had a few starters – all of them were tasty, and you could definitely notice that all the ingredients they used were fresh and very high quality. The Tuna Tartare featured hass avocado, soy honey emulsion and topped with taro chips. Loved the presentation! The taro chips had a nice crunch that provided really good texture to the sauce and tuna.

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The Crispy Calamari & Shrimp featured blistered shishito peppers and was served on a chili remoulade sauce. Lightly breaded and fried, this was a nice light dish that didn’t leave me feeling heavy compared to the usual deep fried dishes I’ve had in the past. I liked that the seafood was fresh, and that the sauce was creamy with a slight kick to it.

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I also really enjoyed the Local Heirloom Tomatoes, featuring burrata cheese, Panzanella sauce and tomatoes that were sweet and very juicy. This was a very rich dish because of the creaminess of the burrata and the sauce. Yum!

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And now my favourite, the 18 oz Dry Aged Striploin! At this point I was in heaven – the steak was juicy and a perfectly cooked rare, with the dry aging of it giving it a nice umami flavour (salty, savoury richness). What a beautiful, tender cut of meat, which went perfectly with our sides, Mac & Cheese and Parmesan Truffle Fries. Both sides were very flavorful and delicious, I would definitely order them again.

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Finally, dessert! I wasn’t sure how they were going to top the entire meal, but wow. Dessert was SO amazing. It was hard to choose what I liked the most between the Orange Dream Cheesecake and the Sticky Toffee Pudding, since they were both great, but I liked the Sticky Toffee Pudding more. There’s just something about a nice warm dessert with lots of caramel sauce that makes me feel warm inside. Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of it because it was too dark – you’ll just have to order it!!

STK is definitely now on my top list of must eat places in Toronto, and I 100% recommend it as a perfect spot for a date.

STK Toronto
153 Yorkville Ave,
Toronto, ON M5R 1C4

Insane seafood bridge at Yunshang Rice Noodle

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I always love trying out new cuisines, flavours, and food! I find it so fun and feels like a mini adventure to see how other cultures prepare food (and to taste it of course!). A small part of me always feels like I’m taking a little trip overseas when I try anything new. This is why I was so excited when I got invited to taste a few dishes from Yunshang Rice Noodle, opening tomorrow (March 15) in North York!

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A bit of backstory – they are the largest Chinese rice noodle chain in North America, serving up Yunnan cuisine (which I have never tried before). They do have a few locations in Toronto, but this is their first North York location. When I spoke to the manager, he mentioned that they make it a point to source fresh and natural ingredients. They use a lot of bones as well to make the broth really tasty – like pork, ham, chicken, and beef. And guess what, the bones are boiled for more than twelve hours, and made everyday with no MSG or other artificial flavours! This made me so excited to try the dishes, and they didn’t disappoint!

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Up first was a jaw dropping, Instagram worthy dish – their exclusive “Yunshang Bridge Rice Noodle”, made specifically for this location and only available for two weeks. There is so much served here, from Canadian Atlantic lobster tail, oyster, sea scallop, beef slices, and sooo much more. At first glance you may be overwhelmed with so much food, but it’s really simple! The idea / cooking technique for this and the other rice noodle soups is that boiling soup will be served to you in a super hot stone bowl, and then you would drop these ingredients in, basically cooking them. Here, I tried the tomato sauce, which had more of a sweet and slightly tart taste.

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Here’s some more deets on what this comes with: Canadian Atlantic lobster tail, fresh French Kiss oyster (sourced from Diana’s Seafood), sea scallop, shrimps and crab sticks. It also comes with other ingredients like beef slices, fish cakes, ham, enokitake, Chinese lettuce, and egg tofu.

Hot deal: For their grand opening tomorrow (March 15) to March 16, the first 100 people will get this bridge for free, starting 6pm each day! No purchase required, first come first serve, and the giveaway is only available at the North York location.

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I was also able to try two yummy sides, fried Chicken Wings and Popcorn Chicken (yes I love everything fried) – both so delicious, flavourful and juicy. You really can’t go wrong with these. I loved the spices that were used to flavor both dishes, although if you had to ask me I preferred the Chicken Wings more. It was just so juicy!

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I also got to try their Oriental Rice Noodle with Curry Coconut Sauce. I really enjoyed this broth over the Tomato sauce version. To me, this reminded me more of a Malaysian Laksa and I liked how the meat tasted with this type of flavour profile over the tomato broth. It also came with ten little sides that you would drop into the soup to cook as well.

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Definitely give them a try for a unique and delicious experience.

One last tip: they give free refills for the rice noodles!

Yunshang Rice Noodle
Unit 5 – 5285 Yonge St.
North York
http://www.yunshang.ca

Toronto: New Winter Menu at Azure!

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Winter’s right around the corner! As much as I’m dreading the cold, I’m also looking forward to eating some nice comfort food, from stews, pastas, mashed potato, soup – anything that will keep me warm when it’s chilly outside! Which is why I was so excited to try the new menu at Azure, the restaurant at the InterContinental here in downtown Toronto. Launched October 19, their winter menu features a mix of hearty comfort foods, from short rib pasta, truffle fries, steak as well as healthy options! I knew that I would have trouble figuring out what to order because a lot of dishes looked so good. Thankfully, I was able to try a few of them for dinner and breakfast, all of them outstanding!

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My sister and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, from the warm service, to the delicious food – we truly loved our experience at Azure.

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First up for dinner was a delicious Caesar Salad, a great start to the meal with a light, creamy garlic dressing and fresh romaine lettuce leaves. We then tried the Brisket and Short Rib Mafalda, a lovely pasta with cabernet braised beef ragout, demi-glace cream, pearl onions, sour cream and garlic confit. This was one of my favourites of the evening, with the beef so soft and tender, with the sauce tasting tangy, creamy and well balanced. I could definitely eat more than one order – it was that good!!!

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My sister and I are total steak lovers so of course, we had to try both of the steaks that were on the menu: the Beef Tenderloin from Wellington County, and the Canadian AAA Dry-aged Beef Striploin. Both superb dishes, depending on what type of cut you prefer. I personally loved the tenderloin, which was juicy, well cooked and came with tahini sweet potato puree, vegetables, garlic confit, balsamic & caramelized onion butter and jus.

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The striploin, which was incredibly tasty, came with brussel sprouts, double smoked bacon, spiced fries, and au jus.

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The next day, we sampled a few things from their breakfast menu, like their Banana Bread French Toast, with cinnamon apples, pecan crumble and maple yogurt. What a unique dish, and the first time I’ve come across banana bread being used for French toast! It was incredibly delicious and something I would get again. I highly recommend this if you have a sweet tooth!

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I also tried their Eggs Benedict, with an English muffin, peameal bacon, and breakfast potatoes. A solid take on a well loved classic, I enjoyed the perfectly cooked poached egg and the hollandaise sauce that was a good balance of rich yet slightly lemony flavours.

If you’re in the area or looking for a place to eat before a game at the Rogers Centre, definitely make it a point to stop here!

Azure
225 Front St W
Toronto, ON M5V 2X3

Four decadent desserts from Cheese Garden!

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There’s a Japanese café near me called Cheese Garden that’s known for their super delicious Japanese pastries like cheesecake and tiramisu. I was given a few to sample and WOW!!! I was so blown away by how delicious they were! You can tell the pastries were made from really high quality ingredients, each all so unique. I really don’t know any other place that offers desserts like these, so I highly recommend checking them out.

First up is their Yuzu Pistachio Double Fromage Cheesecake, a new limited time pastry that they created to celebrate their 2nd anniversary. Absolutely LOVED this – when you bite into it, you immediately taste the yuzu citrus and slight pistachio flavour, which go so deliciously with the rich and luxurious cheese notes. There are a ton of layers in this pastry, each complimenting each other very well:

  • The cheesecake base is made of pistachio sponge cake – super soft and delicate
  • On top of that is a rich, smooth, baked pistachio cheesecake, with some sugar roasted diced pistachios added into it
  • Above that is a rich and creamy yuzu mascarpone cheesecake
  • The cake is finished with a layer of pistachio sponge cake crumbs, sprinkled with gold flakes and decorated with a cute yuzu shaped chocolate button

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Make sure you grab this because it will be on sale only from October 13 to November 4, with 50 available per day, limited to one cake per person! If you drop by any of their locations from October 13 to 14, you can get 50% off one pastry item (this promo does not include the Yuzu cheesecake).

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The next pastry I tried is the Baked Cheese Tart. It’s freshly baked, filled with decadent molten cream cheese. I heated it up in the oven for a bit, and really loved the crispy outer shell of the puff pastry. The crust was a nice contrast to the delicious centre: gooey, salty, and sweet.

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I also really liked their Double Fromage Cheesecake, with layers of mascarpone, baked cream cheese, sponge cake, and coated with sponge cake crumbs. The cheese flavour tasted so delicate and delicious. Make sure you take a bite with all the layers – it’s a great combination of creamy vanilla and Japanese cheesecake flavours. Just slightly sweet and perfect. When you get this make sure you eat it at room temperature because it is usually stored in the freezer.

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Finally, one of my favourites from the desserts, their Uji Matcha Tiramisu. I am a huge sucker for anything matcha, and I enjoyed this so much! Soft, creamy, and bursting with matcha! It’s made with premium Uji matcha powder, matcha cream, double layers of fluffy cream cheese and specially made ladyfingers. This is a must buy!!

Make sure you try the Yuzu Pistachio Cheesecake, or any of the desserts really, especially because of the promo that they’ve got going on this weekend!

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Cheese Garden
5291 Yonge St, North York, ON M2N 5R3
www.cheesegarden.ca