Category Archives: Toronto

Perfect Pizza!

I think it is quite obvious that I love food. Maybe a little too much, lately, as I become all-too familiar with skin tight dresses and the swimsuits of summer again.  However, there is one thing that I come back to time and time again – and that’s homemade pizza. I make it at least once a week, and more if I can find any excuse to. It’s delicious, fresh, and not altogether unhealthy since you’re making it from home without the unnecessary oils and questionable meat toppings. But most importantly, it’s probably the most all-encompassing comfort food I have ever known. Let’s talk about  Pizza Margherita.

First of all, it’s a bit of a process. But I don’t care because I love it that much. I don’t care that when I eat it I end up with a blob of fresh mozzarella on my lap, or that I burn my mouth every time, or that sauce gets all over my chin. I promise it’s worth it.

To make great pizza outside of owning a pizza oven, you’re going to need a pizza stone. Now, they aren’t glamorous. You buy them and they look pretty and new, but a well-used pizza stone is pretty ugly as time goes by. Cheese, sauce, olive oil, and dough all get stuck to it, and instantly burn in a 600 degree oven. Then, you scrape it off with a barbeque scraper, and call it a day. However, over time, that build-up of black char marks and character add incredible flavor to your dough, making it taste like a true wood-fired pizza.

A face only a mother can love: (before it was scraped with a bbq scraper)

While you’re doing everything else, you pop this bad boy into the oven at 550 (or higher, if your oven allows for it) and let it get HOT. It usually takes at least 40 minutes to truly heat up to 550, and then I let it hang out in there for another hour after that.

In the meantime, you make the dough. I’ll include a recipe below.

He’s hanging out in his bowl with a good coating of olive oil to keep from sticking. I usually let him rise for an hour or so. Then he looks like this!

As is the case with anything incredibly simple, the ingredients have to be outstanding. The fewer the ingredients, the more each one has to shine. That means that this pizza is a great time to pull out the best mozzarella you can find, the freshest basil available, and a completely delicious (hopefully homemade) pizza sauce.

My favourite mozzarella (so far!)

It’s the perfect combination of slightly sweet, salty, creamy, and still has a firm bite with a soft center. It’s in a bag of water, so you’ll need to drain that, and then pat it dry with paper towels.

When you’re using a pizza stone, you need a pizza peel to slide the dough onto the hot stone. It needs to be well floured to ensure the dough doesn’t stick. Take my word for that, because if it DOES stick, then you may or may not have the entire pizza end up face-down in your scorching hot oven, causing copious amounts of smoke to billow out while the smoke alarm is terrifying condo residents around you, all at 4am because you just can’t just eat pizza at a normal goddamn time, can you?

Not that I’m speaking from experience.

Basil!

When your dough is good to go, you’ll need to poke and prod it a bit into submission. I haven’t quite mastered the whole throw-the-dough-in-the-air-Italian-chef-style thing, so I stretch and mould it a bit to get it into  a relatively acceptable circle shape. The good thing about making pizza homemade is – it’s not supposed to look perfect, so don’t fret. If you have a lot of trouble, use a rolling pin. Generally though I like to just use my fingers, as it naturally forms air bubbles and dips within the dough that make it that much yummier for catching cheese and eating.

There are a few things that aren’t difficult, but necessary, to create a great pizza. You want to go easy on the sauce, because too much sauce can make the dough soggy. You need to ensure that the process of dressing the pizza happens quickly for a few reasons. One – because the longer the toppings sit on the dough, the soggier the dough will get, and two – because the dough will begin to stick to the pizza peel. So have your ingredients ready to go.

Here’s the pizza just prior to popping it in the oven. I give it a liberal sprinkling of sea salt and crack some fresh black pepper over the whole thing. You can add whatever else you like – chili flakes, habanero salt, etc. Just keep the toppings minimal. The more veggies and cheese you add, the more water content there will be, and water = soggy pizza.

Because the oven and stone are so hot at this point, the pizza won’t take long at all to cook. The dough actually instantly cooks when you place it on the stone – you can hear it when you put it down. I like to rotate my pizza after 3-4 minutes to avoid any hot spots in the oven cooking one side faster than the other. Then – voila! 7-8 minutes is all you need:

Simple and perfect. The only thing that made it better was strawberries dipped in creme fraiche and rolled in brown sugar for dessert 🙂

Summer is hereeeeeee!!!

Pizza dough

*note – I have no idea where I originally got the backbone for this dough recipe. I have been making the same one for years, and I keep adding and taking away things as I see fit. If you recognize it from somewhere, let me know and I’ll give credit where it’s due.

  • 2 cups of all purpose flour, or italian tipo 00 flour. More for dusting and adjustments
  • 2 1/4th tsp of yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbls extra virgin olive oil

sometimes I like to add a couple tsps of additional flavouring such as garlic powder, dried basil, dried oregano, etc.

  1. mix together the yeast, sugar, and water in a small bowl or measuring cup and let it sit to proof for 11-13 minutes
  2. mix together the flour, salt, proofed yeast mixture, EVOO, and any extra flavourings in a mixer fitted with a dough hook
  3. let the dough mix at medium-high speed for 10 minutes
  4. remove the dough and coat it with a tsp or so of olive oil to keep it from sticking. Place it in the same mixing bowl, and cover with plastic wrap for an hour or so in a warm place.

Margherita Pizza

  • pizza dough
  • pizza sauce (homemade or otherwise)
  • fresh mozzarella (I use Saputo brand)
  • fresh basil
  • sea salt or kosher salt
  • fresh black pepper
  • flour
  • additional and optional flavour: chili flakes, flavoured salts, drizzle of good olive oil, fresh parmesan
  1. roll out your dough into a respectable circle shape. You will need to keep the surface well-floured to prevent sticking
  2. put the dough on the floured pizza peel, and, working fairly quickly, spread the sauce onto the dough. Add chunks or slices of the fresh mozzarella, and as much fresh basil as you want. Sprinkle sea salt on top, and add your fresh black pepper.
  3. make sure that the dough is sliding well on the pizza peel before trying to put it on the pizza stone. Once it’s sliding with ease, put it in your preheated 550 degree oven, directly on the pizza stone. Close the oven, and wait 3-4 minutes. Using tongs, gently slide the half-cooked pizza dough back onto your peel, and rotate it so that it cooks evenly in the oven. Leave it in for another 3-4 minutes, or until cooked to your liking!
  4. let it cool for several minutes before slicing
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Filed under Just Me, Main Meals, Toronto

Beer Bistro

Beer Bistro is located at the great location of 18 King Street East; basically King and Yonge. The schtick is that they have an extensive beer menu (as the name suggests) and recommend pairings with each menu item. The crowd is largely young business types; it can get very busy on any given day with the after-work crowd.

We started off with a “Christmas beer” for my date, and *ahem*…..wine for me. I’ll admit; I’m not a huge beer drinker. I know I know. At Beer Bistro it seems fairly unacceptable to have wine. What can I say. 

The Christmas beer was no longer on the menu, however our server suggested it when my date said he wished he could have a maple syrup beer. Apparently this beer had notes of anise, cherry, and maple. To me, it only had notes of…bitter. And yeast. But my date loved it.

My wine. It was…mediocre. However I’ll try to reserve my judgement of wine at a beer restaurant. 

To start we decided to go with lamb sticky ribs. Although I was *very* curious about the horse steak tartare. My date…not so much.

It’s indicated on the menu that they are “smoked tender with coffee porter and molasses”

These were fall apart tender. You could really taste the smoke, however (and I’m being a bit picky because they *were* delicious) you couldn’t really taste the coffee or the molasses. Nor were they exactly sticky. Also; (again; picky) I have a problem with completely superfluous additions to the plate that don’t serve a purpose other than garnish. Case in point: this grilled lime. Interesting? Sure. However when you actually add it to a rib it adds nothing but an unpleasant bitter taste.

For our main meals, I chose the Autumn Ricotta Pasta. “Heirloom carrot, celery root and parsnip julienne, broccolini, tomatoes, belgian ale, whole wheat spaghetti and basil pesto – $16.59”

The pasta was perfectly cooked and the whole wheat was a good choice; the nutty flavor held up to the ricotta. Also, the vegetables were crisp tender. However, overall the dish was a little bland; could have used more salt and another interesting depth of flavor. Even something as simple as sauteed pancetta. 

My date chose to have the Gourmet Dog. “Featured homemade frankfurter sausage with accompaniments. Onion and multigrain beer-bun – $12.75”

So on that particular evening the gourmet dog consisted of a take on the chicken club: the sausage was chicken and bacon, and the toppings were tomato, lettuce, pickle, and mayonnaise. On the side is a mayo-based coleslaw. 

So, the actual sausage was pretty good. The bun was a great choice; it stood up really well to all the toppings without being too hard. There was a little too much mayo, and I felt like the whole sandwich could have used some zip. Maybe a garlic/lemon aioli? There was a lack of seasoning overall; note that the tomatoes aren’t seasoned. I’m partial to a vinegar based coleslaw in general, however in this case the mayo-based coleslaw was a poor choice and it was a tad bland. Mayo overload. My date said he would have been happier with just a tangy side salad instead.

Here was my date’s choice for his 2nd beer: I just had round 2 of the same wine. He raved about this one.

Random wall art

For dessert we decided to go with the dessert platter for two. Basically a chef’s selection of whatever is on hand that day. 

Ok so here we have an orange creme brulee. It had that trademark I’m-eating-a-great-creme-brulee crack when you tap it with your spoon. Perfect crust. The texture also had a very creamy, well executed consistency. However the flavor of the orange was completely overpowering and slightly bitter. Shame. 

Next we had a bourbon vanilla icecream. Unfortunately again the bourbon flavor was completely overpowering and actually unpleasant. I couldn’t taste vanilla at all. 

Next was a rocky road ice cream sandwich. The vanilla ice cream in the middle was yummy, however the cookie was almost impossible to break apart with a spoon (or even with a caveman-spearing motion with your fork). It tasted good, but honestly the effort was not worth the reward. I almost wonder if the chef had never actually tried to eat one him/herself. 

Next we have chocolate and raspberry mousse. The raspberry was very light, airy, and refreshing. Delicious! The dark chocolate mousse was just *slightly* too bitter. I’m a huge fan of very dark chocolate and regularly snack on 85%…however this just needed a touch of sugar. 

Finally we had the beer-skor bar icecream. Now *this* was great. You could really taste the beer however it was utterly delicious somehow in ice cream. There wasn’t too much skor or too little. Really they should just stick with making beer ice creams and skip the bourbon/rocky road. 

So, overall the highlight of the meal were the ribs for appetizer. The dessert was the most poorly executed course. The total bill (without tip) came to $101.06. The atmosphere was nice, and the server was very knowledgeable (and extremely tolerant of us taking pictures in a crowded restaurant :P). Is it somewhere I would go back to? Yeah probably, for a late-night meet-up with friends for a drink and an appetizer. It’s open until 2am Thursday-Saturday and is in a prime location of Toronto. Would I recommend it to any foodie friends with discerning palates? Probably not.

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Filed under Main Meals, Reviews, Toronto

Le Select Bistro

Le Select Bistro is an authentically french restaurant located at Wellington and Spadina, Toronto. I’ve been a couple times before and have enjoyed myself, and I thought it was time I went in with a critical eye. It’s also reasonably casual, so after a day of apartment-hunting in jeans and heels downtown I thought it a good choice. 

We started with a bottle of wine (above). It was a half-decent bottle of Sauvignon Blanc which was fairly overpriced. However, to order wine by the glass you need to choose between a 3oz taster, or a 5oz (??) full glass. Who only drinks a 5oz glass of wine?

Our appetizer was a cheese plate, with some very thin cranberry toasts to accompany

My complaint here is the variety. The Bleu on the far right was obviously distinct, however the Riopelle (softer in texture) and Tomme de Grosse Isle (semi-soft, milder) were too similar to be sharing a cheese plate, in my opinion. I would have appreciated something creamy and spreadable in texture (neither of these were) and perhaps something sharper. There were also far too few toasts, and I hate having to ask the server for more crostini while staring longingly at cheese which now has no vehicle into my mouth. Just upsetting.

Our main courses were a drastic improvement. My date chose Risotto a la Courge: with squash, sage, wine, and parmesan

This was excellent. *JUST* salty enough; as in, half a teaspoon more and it would have been inedible. The texture was perfect, and very rich. I asked my date what he thought, and he replied, “You know, I think I like your asiago risotto better.”

Smart man. But he lies 😉

I chose the Cassoulet: braised white beans with pork belly, lamb, duck, and sausage.

It was wonderful. The beans were perfect, and I’m not even a huge bean fan. The lamb was very tender, the pork belly melted in my mouth, and the duck perfectly cooked. My only complaint was the sausage; while it was seasoned well and tasted great, the casing was slightly too tough and I ended up removing it altogether.

We decided after much deliberation that we were far too full for dessert. Sadly. The entire experience was enjoyable, however. The server was fairly knowledgeable and helpful, although a little abrupt. The bill came to $110 or thereabouts, which is very affordable/not unreasonable. I think it’s worth checking out . Also note-worthy; according to their website you can bring your own bottle of wine for an $18 uncorking fee.

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Filed under Main Meals, Reviews, Toronto