Monday, 9 December 2013

Restaurant Pick #2: XOLA -222A Queen St E. / McComb Mexican Salad Bowls

Oh had me at 'ola'!!!

This sweet 17-seat authentic Mexican restaurant has been open in the Beach since the summer and I for one couldn't be happier. The place is really small (getting a table can be challenging during the dinner hour) but vibrant, cozy and colourful.

I absolutely love the ambience of the space. Whenever I am there I feel like I am a guest of the chef and I am waiting in her apartment while she cooks me something yummy and authentic. The wall does say 110% Mexican!!!.The owners and chefs are passionate about what they do...and to their credit, they do it SO well.

What I also really like is that they buy their meat from Royal Beef up on the Danforth.  Royal Beef is one of my ' go-tos' ...artisanal butchers, who have been serving Toronto for 25 years selling naturally-raised meats sourced from local traditional farms.


  Check out the amazing graffiti art wall - love it!

Ok, now for the food! It is so great!!! The chef/owner, Mali Fernandez (formerly of Embrujo Flamenco), originally hails from the Xalapa region of Veracruz on the gulf coast. She opened this restaurant to showcase the flavours of the 'Mexican motherland'.

Taquitos estilo Baja - Fish Tacos are a personal favourite!!! Three tacos are served with lightly battered pieces of  fried fish. They're topped with a crunchy coleslaw, avocado, jalapeño salsa and a lovely habanero mayo is drizzled over for an amazing taste sensation.

Chorizo and Scrambled Eggs served with a side of black beans and queso fresco (a light Mexican cheese similar to feta). Lightly scrambled eggs over a spiced diced chorizo.....delish.

The Xola Beef Burrito is a very popular item (at least one person per table had ordered it on the day I was there for lunch!), it is served with guacamole and is one of the best burritos in town. It is authentic through and through and tastes so delicious. Make sure you are hungry when you order's huge!
In honour of my new favourite Mexican restaurant, I made my own McComb Mexican Salad Bowls for the family. 
McComb Mexican Salad Bowls (serves 6)
This is a delicious full meal deal in a bowl. It has lettuce, spiced grilled chicken, black bean paste, salsa (home-made or bottled), diced avocado, diced tomatoes, grated cheese and a dollop of sour cream. Super yummy!
For the Chicken:
6 Boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 tbl cumin
1tbl chilli powder
cilantro chopped
2 garlic cloves chopped
lime juice and zest
1 tbl of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (check out the Mexican section of your grocery'll find it!)
salt and pepper
Marinate the chicken in the ingredients listed above, overnight or for a few hours in the fridge. On a grill or in a grill pan, sauté the chicken until cooked through. Set aside to rest for 10 minutes, then slice into strips.
Black Bean Paste
1 can of  drained black beans
 3 green onions diced
2 garlic cloves chopped
1 small onion diced
1 tomato diced
1 tsp cumin
s and p
dash of hot sauce
 (Saute onions, garlic and tomatoes until onions are soft, add in the can of drained black beans, cumin, green onion, s and p and a splash of hot sauce....simmer for 15mins and use a potato masher to turn it into a lovely paste. )
Remaining ingredients:
2 small heads of lettuce
2-3 tomatoes diced
2 avocadoes diced
chopped cilantro
2 limes
grated cheddar cheese
sour cream
salsa - your favourite bottled brand
a splash of balsamic vinegar
Fill 6 larger sized bowls with fresh green boston or romaine lettuce. Top with the sliced chicken. Add a spoonful of black bean paste, a large spoonful of salsa, and sprinkle diced tomatoes and avocadoes over the top. Finally add a dollop of sour cream, grate some cheddar cheese over the salad and top with some chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice...I also like mine with a little balsamic vinegar.
Super healthy and super good. Try it!






Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins

My mom is a great mom for many reasons. She has many talents, but one thing my kids love is that she`s fabulous at baking desserts and has always been the Queen when it comes to her homemade Banana Bread. I never thought that I`d stray from her tried and true recipe, but I believe that I have found a recipe that could definitely be considered stiff competition for my mom`s fabulous loaves and muffins.
These muffins have a lovely consistency...not too dry, and not overly moist. The extra 1/2 cup of chocolate chips helps  to make them absolutely decadent and the only other thing you will be in need of, is an ice cold glass of milk or a steaming hot cup of coffee ( with cream and a tiny bit of honey....just the way I like it!).
2 cups cake and pastry flour (salt and baking powder pre-mixed)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 and 1/2 cups chocolate chips
2 large very ripe bananas , mashed
1/2 cup melted butter, cooled
1/4 cup milk
2 eggs 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, whisk flour, baking soda and chocolate chips.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the bananas, butter, milk and eggs until well blended and no big banana chunks remain (I used my new, vintage egg beater to make the wet batter nice and creamy - worked like a dream - Thanks D and T!!)
Pour the wet batter into the dry batter and mix until just blended. Do not over mix your dough. Grease muffin tins or 9x5 inch loaf pan.
Bake in the center of the oven for approx. 25 mins for the muffins and approx. 55 mins for the loaf. Loaves and muffins should be a nice golden brown in colour when ready.
Let muffins cool for 15 mins. and then remove from the tins.
Home-made Goodness! 
 Have one, and then go to YOGA! Namaste!

Friday, 29 November 2013

A Night @ PC Cooking School / Chipotle Chicken & Pecan Squares

This past Tuesday evening, I had the pleasure of attending a cooking class with a few friends at the @Loblaws PC Cooking School. The class, led by Executive chef Jeffrey Marshall was very entertaining and informative. It was a Southern Spices themed class, and during the 2 hour class, we watched him make 6 courses!!! The lovely thing is, you get to eat everything he makes...the food was so good, we were absolutely stuffed by the time we hit the pecan squares with vanilla ice cream!!!

PC Cooking Class MENU
Chili Garlic Peanuts
Shrimp Jambalaya Soup
Tomato and Black Bean Salad
Chipotle Chicken
Pecan Squares


Last night I made a Mexican themed dinner for my family using a few of Chef Jeffrey's recipes and a few of my own!
Chipotle Chicken ( serves 8 )

3 tbl of olive oil

6 cloves garlic, chopped

2 med onions, peeled and sliced

1 can of diced tomatoes (28oz)

1/4 cup ketchup

2 tbl of Dijon

3 tbl of brown sugar

2 tbl of chipotles in adobo

3 tbl of cider vinegar

3/4 tsp of cinnamon

s and p

16 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1 tbl of honey

squeeze of lime juice

chopped fresh cilantro


 Use a small can of chipotles in adobo sauce, reserve 2 tbl and freeze the remaining for another use. In a large dutch oven, heat the oil and sauté the garlic and onions for 3-4 mins. Add in tomatoes, ketchup, Dijon, sugar, chipotles, vinegar, cinnamon and s & p. Bring to a boil. Brown the chicken thighs in another pan and then add to the sauce. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 30 mins. Squeeze in the honey, lime juice and sprinkle with freshly chopped cilantro.
Served this over brown rice with Smashed Black Beans and Guacamole. 
Made the Pecan Squares too...
350 degree oven temp.
2/3 cup icing sugar
2 cups flour
1 cup butter unsalted
2/3 cup melted butter unsalted
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup cream
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 cups chopped pecans

Line a 9x13 inch cake pan with parchment. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the icing sugar, flour and 1 cup of butter and pulse until crumbly. Press gently into the prepared baking dish and bake in the oven for 20-25 mins. While the crust is baking: In a large bowl, mix the melted butter, honey, cream, vanilla and brown sugar. Stir in the pecans. Spread this mixture over the baked crust, then return to the oven for 20-25 more mins. Cool completely and cut into squares.
SO SO GOOD!!!!!! (Especially with a cup of tea....or vanilla ice cream.....or both!!)

Happy Friday!


Monday, 25 November 2013

'Sunday Grey Cup' Fried Chicken / Apple Raspberry Cake

Snowy and cold late November day.
Grey Cup weekend here in Canada (exciting?.....not really, but everyone loves Sunday Football Food from time to time).
Decided to make some FRIED CHICKEN.....
My kids have been requesting it for quite awhile.
Making Fried Chicken is really not hard.. it just takes a bit of extra effort and so worth it if you are ready to go the extra mile!

I put a log on the fire and turned the oven on to start my Sunday by making a cake for dessert.....Apple Cranberry Cake.
Super Easy.
Recipe adapted from Ina Gartner's Barefoot Contessa how easy is that?
Could not find fresh cranberries so I improvised with raspberries....
12 ounces of raspberries, 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and diced, 1/2 cup of brown sugar, grated orange zest from 2 oranges, 1/4 cup of freshly squeezed orange juice.
Combine the above ingredients in a bowl - set aside.
In a stand mixer w/ paddle attachment beat 2 eggs for 2 mins. Add 1 cup of granulated sugar, 1/2 cup of unsalted butter (melted and cooled), 1 tsp of vanilla, and 1/4 cup of  greek yogurt. Then on low speed, add 1 cup of all-purpose flour and 1/4 tsp of salt.
Pour the fruit mixture into a 10" fluted tart pan, or use a glass pie dish> pour the batter over the fruit and bake in a 325 degree oven for 55-60 mins.
OK, next, the Fried Chicken...
The recipe for this chicken results in a super crunchy and delicious coating . I used lovely boneless, skinless breasts, and sliced them into thick strips, then  seasoned with some salt and pepper.
 The strips are then dipped in both a dry and a wet batter.
The batter is made up of the following: 2 cups of all-purpose flour, 1 cup of panko bread crumbs, and then the seasonings can be completely up to you....If you are feeling Cajun, use some Cajun spices, or perhaps Italian with Italian seasonings such as garlic powder, oregano, basil etc. For mine, I used some garlic powder, paprika, roasted red pepper seasoning, and salt and pepper . OLD BAY seasoning salt would be great to use as well.
Toss the chicken in the dry batter.
The wet batter is exactly the same as the dry, but you just need to add water (or milk, or flat beer - I used buttermilk because I had some to use up in the fridge). The consistency will look like a thick oatmeal.
Coat the chicken pieces well, and gently place them into the hot oil.
Be very careful with the oil. I used a large stock pot and filled it so that when the chicken was placed in, it was almost completely immersed. Peanut oil is one of the best frying oils, but I used Vegetable oil and it turned out great!.
Flip the chicken after 2 minutes and continue to cook until it is crispy and golden brown (about 5-6 min. in total, depending on the thickness of your chicken). After cooking your first batch, check to make sure chicken is cooked through and no longer pink inside, then you'll know for sure how long to cook the remaining strips.
Keep the strips warm in a 200 degree oven while you finish frying.
Hurry up....set the table!!!!! :)
To serve with the chicken I whipped up a BUTTERMILK RANCH DRESSING. Again, super easy...
In a blender (or with your trusty hand blender), blend 1 cup of buttermilk and 1/2 cup of mayonnaise, with the following... 1 tsp of lemon juice, and 1/4 tsp of paprika, mustard powder, salt, pepper, and some dill. Also threw in some roughly chopped green onions. Give it a whiz and serve with the strips. So GOOD!!!!!!!
This is a great recipe! Major success with the family....Give it a go!!!!
And now for dessert....
Have a great week!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Grocery Store Love-In #1 MASELLIS Supermarket- 906 Danforth Ave. Toronto / Home-Made Pizzas

When you have a bunch of kids, it is absolutely necessary for you to be a regular visitor to big-box grocery stores like Loblaws, Fresh-Co, Metro or Sobeys. I go reluctantly to these places, because it is always a huge heavy grocery shop and carrying out and putting groceries away ranks super low on the  'things I like to do ' list..

What I do love, is going to smaller family owned specialty grocery stores. I love perusing the aisles for things that you often don't see in the big box stores. One of my favourites at the moment, especially when I am 'feeling Italian' is Masellis Supermarket.

Fresh breads, fantastic fresh meat and deli and cheese counter, many imported goods from Italy and friendly customer service. Family owned since 1959.

3 of my Favourite items in the store....Home-made-in-Store, Italian Sausage and Prosciutto AND Sicilian Ice Cream in yummy Italian flavours like Pistachio Nut, Hazelnut Coffee, and Torrone Nougat.

 I was in the mood for PIZZA.....
I never used to make my own pizza dough...would always buy those bags of dough from the deli and then top them with my own toppings. But that was then....making your own dough is SO EASY and tastes INFINITELY better than store-bought!!! I'll show you how....

Number one thing you need when making amazing pizza dough is a lovely soft flour. All-purpose bread flour works...BUT, if you use this....Farina Tipo 00
Your pizza crust will be OUTTA-THIS-WORLD and your family will adore you for-eva!!! You can find this at specialty shops (like Masellis) and sometimes at big box grocers.
PIZZA DOUGH RECIPE: In your stand mixer (or bowl) Add 1 and a half cups of warm water, 2 tbl  of olive oil, 1 tsp of salt and 1 tbl. of honey. Add 1 and a half packets of instant yeast. Let sit for a few minutes till the action starts happening (ie: the yeast begins to bloom)`.
After a few minutes add approx. 4 and a half cups of flour to the yeast mixture, and with the hook attachment (or big wooden spoon) mix until just combined.

 If the dough is too sticky, add more flour, if it is too dry, add more water.
 Knead the dough for about 30 seconds (don't be afraid of it...again, if it's sticky, add more flour, if it's dry and crumbly add a little water!) and form it into a round ball. Then take a large bowl and grease the inside with olive oil. Place the dough ball in the bowl, cover with a damp towel and keep it in a warm place for an hour so that the dough can rise. 
After it has risen, cut off small pieces which will become the individual pizzas and flatten with your hands or a rolling pin...thinness depends on preference. 



Now, the fun part...the toppings!!!! Our selection included:  Italian sausage, prosciutto, caramalized onions (sauted onions in a bit of olive oil, a pinch of salt and a tsp of brown sugar), spinach, goat cheese, hot pepper flakes, mushrooms, zucchini, baby grape tomatoes and mozzarella,


Bake in a super hot oven -450 degrees for about 10 mins!!!

 You will LOVE LOVE LOVE this!!
Try It!!!



Sunday, 17 November 2013

A Sunday Family Birthday Celebration / The Very Very Best Chocolate Cake Ever!

My 44th birthday was 2 days ago. Celebrated with some buddies on Friday night and now on this rainy Santa Clause Parade Sunday, my parents are coming over later for a family dinner celebration.

I decided that for a change, I was not going to cook up a storm for Sunday dinner. I decided to make it EASY and  order in one of my favourite foods from one of my favourite places....Roti from the Danforth Roti Shop.
Roti is an Indo-Caribbean dish, wonderfully spiced chicken curry (or beef, lamb etc) lovingly enveloped in a soft tortilla-like wrap. It is so delicious and will be the topic of a future blog post!!!

I still wanted to make something, so I decided to make a  Chocolate Cake for dessert. I have an incredible recipe and I have made this cake a few times for friend's birthdays... it always gets rave reviews!! This cake really is The Very Very Best Chocolate Cake and here is the recipe:

 2 cups of self rising flour, 2cups of sugar, 1 cup cocoa, 1 and 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp of instant coffee powder, 1 cup of milk, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 2tsp of vanilla, 1 cup of boiling water.

This is so easy! Add your flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, salt and coffee to your stand mixer or into a big bowl. Blend well with a whisk.
Add the milk, vegetable oil, vanilla and blend until fully incorporated. See?? So Simple!!
|Then, carefully pour in 1 cup of boiling water and mix on high for 1 minute to add air bubbles to the batter.
Pour batter into 2 greased and floured 9" round cake pans and bake in the oven for 30-35 mins. @ 350 degrees.
Allow to cool and remove from pans.
When the cakes are completely cooled, frost them.
The frosting: 1 cup of  softened butter, 4 cups of icing sugar, 1/3 cup of milk, 1 tsp of vanilla, and 1/2 tsp of instant coffee. Blend well by hand or with a stand mixer.
Moist, Rich and So So Good! 

 Happy Sunday.