Monday, February 28, 2011

My Birthday Dinner: A Gallery

Just a few photos from the delicious dinner I co-created this weekend to celebrate my birthday! Thank you Jamie Oliver and Chuck Hughes...

artichoke, olive and cherry tomato bruschetta, topped with a bit of grated Parm...

Jamie Oliver's bacon-wrapped cod with rosemary

delicious salad with avocado made by Mommy Dearest...

Broiled the herbs a bit too much, otherwise a delicious dish!

Affogato, a traditional Italian dessert. Thank you, Chuck Hughes.

Coffee, French Vanilla ice cream, sugar and lemon zest. Cookies are so easy: sugar, maple syrup, butter, flour. Couldn't quite master the cigar shape, but they still tasted delicious!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Taste of Mexico in Kensington

Chef Francisco Alejandri

Sometimes the best food is found in the most unlikely places. Not that Kensington Market is an unlikely place to find great food, but if I told you that some of the best food I've tasted in a while is being served from a humble table in an unassuming storefront, and that food was cooked using hot plates and a portable fryer, I think you'd agree that's unlikely. The talent behind the table is Chef Francisco Alejandri. Francisco is making everything himself under the business name of Agave y Aguacate, which I believe translates to Agave and Avocado!

After graduating from Stratford Chefs School, Francisco spent time working in some top restaurants for some amazing chefs, but now he's doing things on his own terms and making his own food! Not only is Francisco preparing and cooking the food himself, he also painted the gorgeous backdrop behind his table, and decorated his cashbox to match.

I ordered the tinga tostada made with Luis Suarez's chorizo (the best in the city according to Francisco); and my friend chose the green tostada, which is made with Monforte Dairy's queso fresco. Thank you, Ruth Klahsen. Both were absolutely delicious and bite-sized enough for a mid-afternoon snack, and if we had more time we would have stayed to order another! We washed it all down with Francisco's homemade red hibiscus juice. Refreshing and authentically Mexican.

Tinga Tostada

After we devoured Francisco's scrumptious creations, we couldn't leave this shared space without tasting the decadent churros that everyone within a three block radius seemed to be lining up for -- granted, they are a Spanish dessert and not Mexican, but they topped off our late lunch on a tasty, sweet note. Essentially a long tube of pastry filled with either chocolate or dulce de leche, churros are a sublime, sugary treat.

The churros prior to frying and filling

Inside this shared storefront, there are also 2 more food vendors representing their own countries. I was too focused on the food I was eating to remember the details of the other food vendors, but if you're in the Kensington area you can drop by and discover them for yourself!

There was such a sense of community in that space -- families, tourists and city-dwellers alike all squeezing by each other to line up for churros, buy some take-home food or sample some of Alejandro's culinary treats. There was a real sense of a global village right within the city, and I found myself wondering why I hadn't discovered this during the years I actually lived in Toronto.

If you're in the area, why not stop by Agave y Aguacate -- I don't know what his plans are for the future, but I look forward to the day where I can sit and dine in his restaurant and enjoy more of Chef Alejandri's delicious food! If you're looking for more info, just search Agave y Aguacate on Facebook!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Akamai Backyard Update!

If you ever read any of the (few) posts my sister and I wrote on our blog, Little Foodies, you may remember this post about the amazing, inspiring permaculturists of Akamai Backyard! Well, with the help of some of my friends at SuperForest, they recently filmed an update video, and here it is! (*these videos do not fit inside my Blogger frame, so if you'd like to view them in full, simply click on the video rather than just clicking the play function)

I want a yarden!!! If this doesn't inspire you to grow your own food or love animals, then I don't know what would!?! Our friends at Akamai Backyard are beautiful and inspiring and they make me hopeful for the day where we are all growing food in our own backyards! Just for a fun comparison (and for those of you who never saw this the first time), why not check out their first video and see the progress they've made:

As the song says, "I can change the world, with my own two hands."
P.S. -- Stay tuned for a resurgence of Little Foodies in the future, as my sister recently gave birth to a little foodie of her own!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Roses, Dosas and Friends

Hello Everyone! I hope you are all having a relaxing Family Day, or President's Day, or just a great Monday, depending where you live! An update on the dinner party: it went really well! Much fun was had by all and everyone enjoyed the food. No photos were taken this time, it was fun to be in the moment and save the documenting for another day. I did however, receive these beautiful roses as a hostess gift! So, I guess you could say I haven't really been blogging lately because I've been taking some time to stop and smell the roses...

I did, however, experience being on the receiving end of an at-home dinner party this weekend -- a girls' night complete with cupcakes, conversation and wine. For the main, my friend whipped up some recipes from the ReFresh Cookbook that I've mentioned before on After the Harvest. We dined on Indian Dosas and California Salad. We washed it all down with some Australian Cabernet.

Can you tell we were dreaming of warmer climes?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tips for Planning a Dinner Party

Photo Credit:

Would you believe me if I told you I can count the number of dinner parties I've thrown on one hand? Shocking, I know -- being a "Food Blogger", you'd think I'd be throwing dinner parties left and right, but that's just not the case. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that before I moved to Ottawa, my last apartment was 250 square feet (and I did actually have a dinner party for 3 in that space!) ; or maybe it's because I just haven't had the cash to shower guests in food and drink frequently....I mean, we can't all be the Barefoot Contessa playing around in our Hamptons kitchens all day! I actually love Ina...but that's besides the point...

Back to dinner parties. I'm having one this weekend and while planning it, I thought I might share some of my planning tips! Not to be held back by my novice status as dinner party host, I have thrown many a cocktail party and I've worked in the food biz, so because of that I've amassed some tips on serving groups successfully.

Tip #1: Confirm and Organize
Confirm the number of guests (this means hounding those "Maybe Attending" people a little), and then buy enough food so that you can make enough for 2-4 extra people, depending on your crowd. You never know who'll be super hungry that night or who might show up at the last minute with an unannounced plus-one.

Organize your food and drink budget. I usually figure out my menu first and then just deal with how much it costs, but if you have an idea of how much you'd like to spend, then look at menu options through a more thrifty lens. Think one-pot meals if you're trying to save a buck. Booze-wise, I'd recommend budgeting for 3 glasses of wine per person, depending on your crowd. If you're having cocktails first, perhaps budget for 2 glasses of wine per person, but then again it depends on the crowd. Let's just say I'm budgeting for mucho vino.

Tip #2: Get Inspired and Plan your Menu
I tend to flip through food magazines and cookbooks to get inspired for dishes, but you can also get inspired by what's fresh at the market or the local food shop. Have an idea of any dietary restrictions, allergies, vegetarians or food preferences before you decide. You don't want to serve something that creates an awkward situation for your guests.

Tip #3: Prep and Chill
Buy ice, chill your wine, prep your veggies and other components for your dishes. Make sure you have enough dishware and glassware, and don't forget garnishes like lemons and limes if you're serving cocktails!

Tip #4: Clean and Decorate
If you're like me, you wake up early the day of the dinner party and run around like a madwoman doing a tonne of last minute cleaning! If at all possible, try to clean in bits throughout the week instead of leaving it all until the last minute. Unless you get the "cleaner's high" that I get from doing a cleaning binge, you'll end up frazzled and exhausted by the end of the night.

Decorating your place and your table for a dinner party can be extremely fun and creative! You can choose a theme, a colour scheme or just make due with what you have available and mix and match. My tips here would be to keep it simple, don't crowd the table and make sure everything you'll need is either on the table or within reach so you're not getting up repeatedly throughout the meal.

Have fun decorating your place and editing where necessary! If you're like me and your place is somewhat open concept, you may have to hide the mountain of ironing you've been putting off for weeks or any other personal things that are lying around. Put a few candles here and there, make sure the plants are watered and feeling their best, and do a little dusting!

Alright, so I don't normally channel Martha or Emily Post, but I thought since I'm planning my own dinner party, I'd let you in on things I like to keep in mind. One last tip? When prepping, wash dishes as you go. When cooking and serving, throw it all in the sink for later. Don't waste time cleaning while your guests are there. They want you to have a good time too, and after a few drinks and a chocolatey dessert, they may even feel generous enough to help you wash and dry!

Photo Credit: FotoSource

What are your tips? A novice like me needs all the help she can get...