Monday, February 25, 2013

Weekly Roundup - Valentines, Birth, & Family Days Galore!

Happy Birthday Mummy! - Happy Birthday to the best mama a girl could ever ask for! Over the past three or so years, it seems to have become a tradition for me to cook my mom a special birthday dinner come February 13th, her birthday. With so many great meals in the past served to her on her special day, it's tricky to think of something that will top all previous years. After my first oyster shucking experience just one week prior to her birthday, my mom expressed that she would enjoy an oyster shucking night to ring in her day of birth. Without Robin, my shucking partner in crime, I wasn't sure how I would fare shucking a dozen oysters all by myself. Armed with a new oyster shucker from Nella Cucina, I successfully shucked all twelve, with only two oysters giving me trouble for a few extra minutes. My mom and I had such a nice time, spending a low-key evening at home slurping back oysters and sipping on champagne, not to mention devouring the delicious ham and cheese crêpes and Nutella, strawberry, and vanilla ice cream crêpes I served up for dessert. Happy birthday mummy! I hope I was able to deliver you a night just as special as you are to me! I love you up to the sky and back!

Love From Mott's Garden Cocktail - There's nothing like a special delivery on Valentine's Day to make a gal feel special. I've never been a fan of Valentines Day, seeing it as a fake holiday created by card companies to reinforce gender stereotypes and boost sales, but I can't help but get all giddy answering the door for a courier and signing off on a Valentines Day surprise gift for myself! This year I was so excited to receive a special delivery from Mott's Garden Cocktail, sending me beautiful, red, long stemmed roses, as well as some samples of their Mott's Garden Cocktail. As I mentioned in my previous recipe post on my Kale & Poached Egg Salad, I am trying to be more aware of how I am nurturing my body, taking care to feed it with nutrient-rich foods, with a focus on alkalizing foods. With vegetables acting as some of the most alkalizing foods, I have recently realized that my veggie intake has declined in the past year, and I've found it more and more difficult to get the required 7-8 servings of vegetables per day. With two servings of vegetables in each individual can of Mott's Garden Cocktail, and its zesty flavour that reminds me of one of my favourite cocktails, the caesar, I have become a new fan of this healthy and satisfying drink! What a delicious and convenient way to help me achieve my new health goals!

Love From Laura Secord - Absolutely spoiled, not long after I signed off on my roses and Mott's Garden Cocktail samples, there was another knock at the door from yet another courier! Another Valentines Day surprise arrived from Laura Secord, sending me a big basket filled with special Laura Secord chocolates to celebrate not only Valentines Day, but their 100th anniversary as well! Thank you to Laura Secord for helping to make my Valentines Day so sweet! 

Happy Shucking Valentines Day - As I have already mentioned, I am not exactly a fan of Valentines Day. I don't make a big deal of it, choosing to bypass packed restaurants and any gift giving for a low-key evening, or just nothing at all (it's not a real holiday after all!). With my newfound love of oyster shucking, my boyfriend Chris suggested we have a quiet and intimate evening at his place, shucking oysters and sipping on champagne. Nothing could have made me happier! Not one to ever skimp, Chris went all out, picking up a whopping 30 oysters from Diana's Seafood and delicious rosé champagne. With five different types of oysters from both Canada (east and west coast) and the US, it was great to have such a wide selection of oysters to taste and compare with one another. Here I was all eager to impress Chris, who had never shucked oysters before, with my own oyster shucking skills, I was shocked to see just how easy it came to him. At first I thought it was because he was equipped with the better oyster shucker that he had picked up from Diana's as well, but no, even after swapping with my mediocre knife, he still blew my oyster shucking skills out of the water. I couldn't have asked for a better Valentines Day, enjoying spending the night with Chris in the kitchen, shucking oysters and preparing all of the sides (including way too much mignonette sauce and fresh-grated horseradish) together. It was an evening I will not soon forget!
Happy Birthday Danielle! - Wanting to spend her birthday surrounded by good company and good food, my friend Danielle organized a special prix-fixe dinner at The Drake Hotel with some of her closest friends last Saturday. The three-course dinner was a great way to bring her friends all together and celebrate her special day without the stress of figuring out separate bills that always comes with dining with a large group. Danielle took care to plan everything out to make sure we all had a delicious and relaxed evening, which made it very disappointing when the service we had expected simply was not delivered. We certainly enjoyed our meal, but were all a little thrown off when the bills arrived. Our server had split all of our drinks into separate bills, but had left all of the food on one bill, not to mention the total seemed to be higher than what was previously discussed with Danielle. Odd. When someone states separate bills, they generally don't mean just the drinks. Not wanting to cause a fuss, we split the food bill up ourselves, first paying individually for our separate drink bills, and then slapping down our cash and cards for our server for the food bill. With every one of us paying the exact same amount for the food bill, we were all thrown when our server told us we were unable to pay on different cards for the one bill. Being a server myself, I know that that is definitely possible to do. He proceeded to cancel all of the payments everyone had put through for their individual drink bills, and print out all new bills for us, which now included our food, and then cash us all out individually once again. This whole process took 50 minutes! 50 minutes to cash out a table of 14. I have done that in five minutes, and those are bills without the luxury of a prix-fixe and with people swapping seats.

I would have more sympathy for our server if he had delivered great service at least throughout the actual dinner, but to blunt, he was simply a terrible server throughout the entire meal. Despite the less-than-stellar dining experience, we did enjoy the food, and getting to ring in Danielle's birthday with her, and see her having such a great time on her special day made it all worth it! Happy birthday Danielle! Wishing you all the very best this year!

Swan Brunch - Family Day, the second worst day of the year to go out for brunch in Toronto, and the second most popular. With so many fantastic places to go out for brunch in Toronto, it's tempting to want to go for the best on family-oriented days like Family Day and Mothers Day (the second most popular day for brunch). Excited to try out somewhere new, my mom had planned on taking my sister, her boyfriend, and I out to Lady Marmalade for brunch. After driving out to the East end to Leslieville to try out the top-rated brunch spot, we quickly had to figure out a plan-B seeing the giant line that trailed outside of the popular restaurant. With few options in the area, we quickly drove west to Swan, another noted brunch spot. With only a few people in front of us in line, we quickly got a table. I was so happy to have gone for plan-B that day, not only for the quick seating, but also for one of the best brunches I have had to date in the city. My eggs benedict was absolutely perfect, with big, layered flavours, with the rest of family going crazy for their meals as well. I will most definitely be going back soon!

Kale & Poached Egg Salad - Check out the recipe for my simple, healthy, and delicious Kale & Poached Egg Salad here. I loved it so much, I made it for dinner one night, and lunch the very next day! 

The Best Pulled Pork Dinner - I have made pulled pork a few times now, each time not really following a recipe, just throwing a bunch of delicious things into my slow cooker and leaving it for hours, but nothing has even come close to comparing to the incredible pulled pork dinner Chris made for my sister Justine, her boyfriend Duncan, and I this past Friday. I knew I was in for a great meal when I heard about the three day process of first rubbing the pork in a medley of herbs and spices, then slow roasting the pork while "mopping" it with homemade barbeque sauce each half hour, then pulling it and serving it with yet another homemade dipping sauce. The meal didn't stop there. First he decided to make a zesty yellow and purple cabbage coleslaw to serve alongside, then added homemade maple bacon baked beans as a side, and then of course, being the fantastic host that he is, made special cocktails for us all. He went over and above everything by buying styrofoam plates and cups to complete the theme of "Backyard BBQ" to serve everything on. To say we were all blown away by the meal is an understatement. It was, without a doubt, the best pulled pork dinner any of us have ever had, and we are all foodies! The flavours and textures of everything were spot on, leaving us absolutely giddy with excitement when Chris handed us all care packages of leftovers to take home. Where the heck did I find a guy like this? I feel like the luckiest girl in the world! 

Honorable Mentions:

Lil' Baci - Not interested in acquiring more "stuff" for her birthday, my mom and I decided to spend the afternoon after her birthday together, enjoying a nice lunch and a movie. We decided to try out Lil' Baci, a nearby Italian restaurant, and share two of their pizzas before heading out to watch Life of Pi. We went with the recommended Funghi pizza, with mixed mushrooms, taleggio, and truffle oil, as well as the Pappa pizza, with prosciutto, tomato, fiore di latte, and basil. My mom and I both really enjoyed both pizzas, with my mom preferring it to my favourite pizza, Pizzeria Libretto. Nothing has yet to top Libretto as my favourite in the city as of yet, as I prefer their flavourful, chewy crust to all others, but it is nice to have a restaurant that can make a pizza even comparable to theirs uptown.

Buca - On the Friday of my moms birth week, my mom, my aunt Darlene, my sister Justine, and I headed out to Buca for a ladies night to celebrate my moms special day. Not exactly the environment for foodie photo-ops, I refrained from taking any photos of the many dishes we got to try that evening. The rustic Italian menu is designed to be shared amongst the table as though you are enjoying a home-cooked family dinner made by your Italian grandmother. While I appreciated the idea of sharing, I found that it is catered more towards sharing between two or three as opposed to four or more. My favourite taste of the evening? The Ravioli Doppi, double-stuffed ravioli with braised duck and foie gras, goat cheese mousse, finished with goose crackle, fresh citrus, and lovage. 

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Listening To:
TV On The Radio - Lover's Day

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