Thank you for the amazing 8 years here at A Baked Creation, we can't thank you enough for the memories! But we've decided to move over to a new site - Sincerely, Syl. Please join us there for future posts on all the things you loved here!


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Summerlicious: Canoe

54th Floor, TD Bank Tower
66 Wellington Street West
Toronto, ON M5K 1H6
(416) 364-0054

We finally went to visit Canoe, one of the more sought-after restaurants in the Oliver and Bonacini group. They've participated in Summerlicious and Winterlicious before, but the menu never jumped out at us until now. Reservations were tough to come by, so we felt pretty lucky that we managed to have lunch confirmed on a weekend.

On the day of, we had called ahead to let the restaurant know that we were running late due to traffic (and a triathlon), and were instructed that they would only hold our table for an extra fifteen minutes. Luckily, we made it and actually had to wait at the bar because our table wasn't ready yet.
I had been secretly praying that we wouldn't get a cloudy day. Look at the lovely view over Lake Ontario!
I had read that Canoe was recently renovated, so I'm a bit curious as to how the restaurant looked before. To me, the place still had a retro look and the decor was feeling dated. Service here, while efficient and ran like a well-oiled machine, was not the friendliest. Was it the Summerlicious crowd? Was it because it was the last day of two busy weeks?
Howard picked the Ontario summer greens salad with ricotta, rosemary croûtons, and a maple cranberry vinaigrette.
Our friend tried the chilled cucumber soup with orange scented cucumber, buttermilk, and dill.
I wanted something that I never tried before - whipped sheep’s milk mousse. This was served with potato chips, tender shoots, and a radish vinaigrette. Pretty unique in terms of an appetizer, the mousse tasted like tangy yogurt or a heavier cream cheese.

There was no doubt about it, you were eating this dish with yours eyes thanks to the presentation.
Howard's Wellington County flat iron steak was cooked to medium raw, was juicy and tender as far as beef goes. Underneath, there was gai lan, Sarladaise potatoes, and a smoked mustard aïoli.

One of our friends also ordered this and the only thing we heard was him muttering "aioli sauce" and how delicious it was as he finish every bit of it.
Our other friend tried the chicken campanelle pasta with peas and smoked bacon, served in a citrus chicken broth. I tried a bite of the pasta and was surprised to taste such creamy flavours in the piece.
I had the olive oil poached heritage salmon with zucchini, potatoes, and kabosu mayonnaise. The crust on the salmon was not appealing at all, they looked like tiny little maggots! But looks can often be deceiving as it provided a nice crunch. And the salmon itself, oh my goodness! The salmon was perfectly cooked to the point where it was silky smooth and it just melted in my mouth. Quite possibly the best salmon that I've had!
For dessert, our friend ordered the chocolate hazelnut mousse with coco caramel and devil's food cake.
I saw the torched bread pudding on the Summerlicious menu and that was why I wanted to visit Canoe this year. Served with Niagara plums and an Osprey Farms honey sabayon. Remember how our friend was praising the aioli? That was me with the sabayon, I couldn't get enough of it! If they had a pot full in the kitchen, I would have gladly scooped some more onto my plate. Recipe please!
Howard's frozen yogurt dessert felt a little underwhelming after seeing ours. Luckily, he enjoyed the raspberry broth and milk crumble.

In general the desserts were pretty good, although we were confused by the garnish as it didn't quite help enhance any flavours or pair well with the sweets. Perhaps they just wanted a pop of green.

As for our first visit to Canoe, we rather enjoyed ourselves. We were lucky enough to get a table by the window. Our drinks and dishes arrived in quick and proper succession. The portions of the food were perfect so we left feeling satisfied. We look forward to another visit in the future!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Summerlicious: Bent

777 Dundas Street West
Toronto, ON M6J 1V2
(647) 352-0092

We risked rainstorms warnings and floods to have dinner at Bent. In fact, the moment we stepped out of the car and walked towards Dundas, lightning struck. Right across the street. Boy was it loud. I don't know if you've ever seen and heard lightning that was just a crosswalk in front of you, but it is scary. Your heart flutters and yours ears require adjustment. You might shriek and jump a little. Smile nervously at your friends. Then you're left with the pounding of your heart as you realize that you were darn lucky escaping that.

But we lived to tell you about our Summerlicious experience at Bent!

Our group of six was seated near the front and our server took our drink order. Note to self, ask what the price is for drinks that have none listed! They had a great mojito line up in which most of us took part in, but it was expensive and took us by surprise when the bill arrived. On one hand, I felt it was expected as they needed to make up their costs elsewhere, but for that price, I would have expected a pitcher, or the world's best mojito!

While we kept perusing the menu, we actually took to ordering some appetizers off of the Summerlicious offerings because they sounded so delicious!
Here's one of them, a spicy tuna and watermelon ceviche with shaved red onion, cilantro, crispy shallots, fresh citrus juice, Rocoto chili, and Chinese doughnut fritter. I really liked the addition of the yau ja gwai, this was unique and we've never seen it done before. The tuna and watermelon was a good combination and we liked how juicy and large the chunks were.
The second one we tried were the duck confit spring rolls with braised onion sweet tamarind sauce. Quite filling as the spring roll was stuffed to the brim! Admirably, the duck wasn't dried inside and had a good sauce to it.
This was the popular Summerlicious appetizer choice as we saw servers carry these olive trays out of the kitchen again and again. Shrimp tacos with charred onion tomato salsa, chipotle, and avocado in a taro shell. Mini bites consisting of a great flavour combination.

I had thought the shells were fried wonton wrappers since the taro didn't stand out, but the filling more than made up for it.
Howard's Summerlicious appetizer was a crispy chicken dumpling served with roasted chorizo, a maple syrup and smoked chili lime glaze, and Parmesan emulsion with salad of watercress and frisée. This surprised me the most as it had quite the kick. Not the pick for those who can't handle their hot and fiery, but for those who can, this was delicious!
Time for our mains! I had the crispy Assam-styled salmon with tamarind, ginger flower, four citrus, mustard and fruit. That's right, fruit! Little bits of green grapes and grapefruit, accompanied the perfectly cooked salmon.
Howard had the largest ravioli I've ever seen. Pulled beef ravioli with Malay black pepper emulsion, garlic mushroom, and confit tomato. This dish won raves all around the table, from those who had ordered it and from those of us who were lucky enough to try a bite or two. It was so good that our friends joked about ordering another one.
Finally, they also switched it up by not having you pick one of the three dessert items on the Summerlicious menu. You get all three! From left to right: strawberry, rhubarb, and lemongrass compote with a Grand Marnier crème fraiche and a butterfly pastry; passion fruit and mango panna cotta topped with coconut tapioca, pineapple, and passion fruit granitée; and profiterole with vanilla custard served with hot chocolate sauce and sesame brittle.

The all-round favourites of the trio was the mango panna cotta and the profiterole! Please Sur (see what I did there?), can I have some more?
The next time you're walking down Dundas Street West and you see that arrow? Go in.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Summerlicious: Daishō

190 University Avenue, 3rd Floor
Toronto, ON M5H 0A3

Summerlicious in Toronto is one of those wonderful times of the year where we make an effort to go out and try restaurants with our friends. It's nice for those of us who are wallet conscious because the prix fixe menus are set at affordable lunch and dinner prices.

This year, when the restaurant list and menus were released, I was surprised (might have even gasped) to see Daishō on the list. Still relatively new, the opening of the three floors of momofuku eateries in Toronto had caused quite a buzz. But, it was nice to see that they were participating in this annual event!

We made dinner reservations (they had a 6:30 pm and 8:30 pm seating) for the later one to accommodate everyone's arrival after work. Upon arrival, we informed the host that our party was present, but were told that no tables were available yet. So we went down to nikai to wait the suggested fifteen minutes. We went back up to check (since no one was going to come down and inform us that our table was ready) and waited approximately another five to ten minutes until we were finally seated at the bar. How does one get a regular table at Daishō? This was our second time there and we were seated in the same spot, while it's fun to sit high up, I'd still prefer the chairs where my feet and rest on the floor!
To start, we were given an amuse bouche, a shot of chilled pea soup. It was tasty and woke up our taste buds for sure! I'm not even a fan of peas, but that soup left me wanting more. Going clockwise starting from the top left corner: Two burger buns, hot sauce, falafel bun, and shrimp bun. I had the burger bun, which was reminiscent of a McDonald's hamburger, included onion, cheddar, and special sauce. A bite of Howard's shrimp bun which had good clean flavours, the shrimp was accompanied with spicy mayo, pickled onion, and bibb lettuce. The gigantic one we were all eyeing was the falafel bun with yogurt, chickpea, and cucumber. Our friend gave us the nod and thumbs up as she gobbled it up. The falafel bun was the one that came with the little dish of hot sauce, but that didn't stop us from dipping our respective appetizers into it.
Howard tried the pork chop with corn, chanterelles, and nori. Unlike any pork chop we've had before, it was tender and was almost like a slice of ham cooked very well.
I rather enjoyed the trout with shrimp, pepperoncini, and herbs. There was definitely a good kick to it and the trout and shrimp didn't overpower each other.

We were served a palate cleanser of cucumber granita before dessert was served.
Howard's crack pie dessert with whipped cream and powdered sugar. If you haven't had their famous crack pie before, we would recommend that you share it. It's incredibly sweet and if you have too much, your teeth will start to cringe from all the sugar. But a bite or two? Lovely!
I tried the fried strawberry pie with vanilla, spiced sugar, and cookie crumb. A bit disappointed that the ice cream had melted so much by the time it arrived. And there wasn't anything special about the strawberry pie. As one of our friends put it, it's a strawberry spring roll!
An assortment of cake truffles.

Aside from waiting for a table, service was attentive and friendly. The buns at momofuku are always a standout and the main dishes were well prepared and cooked. Sadly, the portions were a bit on the smaller side for dinner entrées and the desserts weren't that inspiring (as you can purchase them from milk bar). Still hungry, we left and debated eating at noodle bar, but the dinner was already one of the higher prix fixe prices, so we decided against it.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Fresh Off the Boat

Fresh Off the Boat
A Memoir
Written by Eddie Huang

ISBN 13: 9780679644880
ISBN 10: 0679644881
Publisher: Spiegel and Grau
Hardcover: 288 pages

The first chapter begins with the merits of a perfect soup dumpling and then all I could think about was visiting Taiwan for those tasty soup dumplings. Hats off to you Eddie Huang, you know how to hook an audience in. This memoir was not what I expected and I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised. No, he's not a Michelin-starred chef or someone with a large kitchenware line, but Eddie writes about sports, style, the Asian culture, barriers for immigrants, and food - he covers a lot of ground.

While Eddie's personality might take you aback, I was secretly cheering him on as he attempted to break the expectations and stereotypes. I liked that I was able to draw on some similarities with his upbringing. I'm sure Orlando and Fort Lauderdale are quite different cities, but our respective parents chose to move to North America for similar reasons. They were from Taiwan, we were from Hong Kong/Vietnam. His parents opened a seafood restaurant and  my parents - now that I think about it, who had no credentials or experience - opened a Japanese take-out restaurant. (If you're wondering, our restaurant didn't do very well, I don't think sushi was very popular back then. Nor was my father trained about the cusine - now that I've had the chance to eat some pretty good Japanese food. But still, customers would look at our menu and decide to go next door for French fries. That was the kind of crowd we were getting, they wanted something familiar and safe.) I remember going to school in Fort Lauderdale and looking at the student body. There was only one other student of Asian background at my elementary school, she was also in the same grade as me, but was in a different homeroom so we never became friends. I had large, pink plastic glasses and a terrible bowl cut.

We didn't have a microwave in the cafeteria, or if we did, I never knew about it. My mom packed me lunches and had me always asking for Lunchables to fit in with the rest of the kids. Even today, I feel that my colleagues might not like the aromas coming from my cubicle during lunch time. Re-heated fried rice with bak choi and char siu (barbecued pork)? Lo mai gai (sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf)? I still feel hesitant using the microwave at work, sure that the smell would waft out in to the production department and cause colleagues to wrinkle their nose. What do they think of my lunch that's wrapped in a leaf? Everyone else was heating up pasta lunches or making salads and sandwiches.

Eddie obviously took different paths, I didn't get into fights at school, do drugs, get incarcerated, go to law school, become a comedian, compete on Food Network, start up a street-wear business, or write a book. We don't have the same taste in clothes or music. We don't share the same passion for sports. And my father isn't a gangster (although Howard feels otherwise). I would probably never be brave enough to move to New York City and open a restaurant either. In fact, Eddie has likely read more books than I have. But the way he talks about food and race, he hits issues right on the head. People may scoff at Eddie's vernacular and refuse to read what he has to say, but they should. Take this paragraph as an example:
"Are you interested in this food because it's a gimmick you can apply to French or New-American food to separate yourself from others? Or, will you educate your customers on where that flavor came from? Will you give credit where it's due or will you allow the media to prop you up as the next Marco Polo taking spices from the Barbarians Beyond the Wall and 'refining' them? The most infuriating thing is the idea that ethnic food isn't already good enough because it goddamn is. We were fine before you came to visit and we'll be fine after. If you like our food, great, but don't come tell me you're gonna clean it up, refine it, or elevate it because it's not necessary or possible. We don't need fucking food missionaries to cleanse our palates. What we need are opportunities outside kitchens and cubicles."
Howard and I had the chance to visit Eddie's eatery, BaoHaus, last year. The food held such strong memories for Howard. He took a few bites and was instantly transported back to his childhood in Taiwan. He can go on and on about how amazing the food in Taiwan is, how cool the night markets are, but how he would never want to live there because Toronto is home. Still, food can cause a certain yearning in you.

I would urge you to pick up this book and give it a read. There's some comical moments, interesting thoughts, and some new perspectives.

Disclaimer: A copy of Fresh Off the Boat was ordered by me as a employee gift program. There was no agreement or expectations that a review would be written and posted on this site.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Chocolate Workshop with Ginette Ahier

At first, one may think Ginette's modest and clean design is an inadequate translation of the personality that lies within miniature sweet works of art. Uniform and bite-sized, lined up perfunctorily in each case; but the detail in the patterns and each almost poetic description provides a window in her eclectic quirkiness.

Ginette Ahier is the proud owner-operator of Choco Cocagne in Cocagne, New Brunswick. As part of the various food artisans gathered at the ACE Bakery 20th Anniversary celebrations, she offered a chocolate-making workshop where we learned the science to tempering chocolate along with a quick mint-infused ganache for its filling. We also got the insider's scoop on her small artisanal chocolatière. She spoke of the challenges of sourcing, production, and distribution, as well as offering tidbits of advice for the at-home chocolatiers.
Choco Cocagne always has a new take on the classic, with ganache centres ranging from fresh mint grown in her garden to hazelnut with deep-fried crepe bits, but also unusual additions like Pastis, an anise-flavoured French liqueur, and Masala chai, a robust Indian tea of mixed spices and herbs. Ginette has refined her formulation to optimize shelf-life, so that she can take her business further, with deliveries soon to Ontario and Quebec. Neither sweeteners nor preservatives are added to her products, so they're best consumed within a week if kept cold. As a note for any products kept in the fridge, I strongly suggest you take them out an hour before consumption to really taste the depth of flavours. Believe it or not, your taste buds are numbed by the cold, so the subtle flavours may be lost if you consume it straight out of the fridge.
With chocolate as the main component of her products, it would be extremely limiting if she insisted on a 100% locally-sourced ingredient list. Instead, she handpicks her fair-trade cacao suppliers from specific regions that offer a distinct flavour profile, but also supports local businesses by purchasing berries from her home province of New Brunswick. She refused to divulge any more trade secrets but I have no doubt that the vendor is providing safe, wholesome ingredients of consistent quality!
At the workshop, there were quite a few experienced chocolatiers and candy-makers who seemed familiar with tempering chocolate. This is the process of melting chocolate and specifically, the cocoa butter, to ensure that it hardens into a regular crystalline structure, holding the glossiness and hard shell for a longer time. Untempered chocolate may still firm up, but will have a dull, matte appearance due to bloom, the silvery white sheen which is the cocoa butter fat precipitating out. While I understood the science behind it, tempering always seemed to be a mystery to me; after seeing it in action, I have greater appreciation for that firm "snap" and glossy sheen!
Most operators will use a tempering machine working with blocks of untempered chocolate, but the microwave will work for us nifty common folk who simply wish to preserve the temper from the chocolate manufacturer, before crafting our own pieces. Place the chocolate pastilles in a microwave-safe bowl and heat and stir in intervals until you reach 31–32°C (88–90°F) for dark chocolate. Once the chocolate is tempered, you can heat it up a bit more to make it easier to work with, but keep on stirring! The more agitated it is, the more the cocoa butter will be disrupted and will yield better results. For our moulded chocolates (with mint ganache), we used couverture chocolate for its higher cocoa butter content. This property resulted in a shiny and smooth surface, crisp snap when bit, and of course, perfect melting texture!
While Ginette used her heat gun to keep the chocolate at the right temperature, other participants made the ganache filling by heating heavy cream, sprigs of mint, and sugar to a scald before adding more chocolate. For other flavours, I presume liqueur can also be added in substitution for some parts heavy cream.
We spooned the tempered chocolate into the square moulds, then flipped it over, shook it forcefully, scraping off excess until only the walls of the wells were coated. There is a technique to this step - if you get it right, all the chocolate will settle into the mold properly and air bubbles are removed. Once cooled, I got to fill the molds with our ganache using a piping bag, with Ginette finishing the top layer of the tempered chocolate to "close" the bottom. When the chocolate had set, Ginette flipped the molds onto the counter top dramatically to release our chocolates!
Note: This is a guest post by Laura Leung. Laura is a graduate of the University of Toronto's Food and Nutritional Sciences program and works for Canada's largest food retailer. She has a passion for food and likes experimenting in the kitchen, learning about new ingredients, and tasting new products. During her spare time, she can be found biking in the city, reading a biography, visiting local markets, or enjoying some Portuguese pastries.

Disclaimer: Laura was invited on behalf of Kali Hopkins-Allen from Citizen Optimum to attend an ACE Bakery Artisan Workshop. In celebration of its 20th Anniversary, ACE Bakery hosted their first ever Artisan Incubator. Each Artisan hosted two one-hour workshops to showcase their craft.