Tag Archives: vegetarian

Meals with My Munchkin: More-ning McWraps at McDonald’s

17 Nov

 

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I was excited to learn that McDonald’s Canada came out with the Kale and Feta More-ning McWrap, a  breakfast wrap that sounded like a great option for my vegetarian diet. As I’ve mentioned on my blog before, it’s hard to find good vegetarian options at quick service restaurants, so I couldn’t wait to try it. Yes, even we vegetarians want the experience of hitting the drive thru for breakfast! Right now my go-to breakfast item at McDonald’s is an Egg McMuffin, minus the ham but with tomato added. I love it and it’s one of things I crave but it’s the only thing I get right now. The thought of a new veggie option was exciting.

As a vegetarian married to a meat-eater, I’ve found over the years there are only a few quick service restaurants we can visit that have good options for both of us. Knowing my dietary preferences and my husband’s, McDonald’s challenged us to try the new More-ning McWraps and share our thoughts. Since McDonald’s also came out with a Sausage and Hash Brown More-ning McWrap, it was a good opportunity to grab my husband and my son for a Sunday morning breakfast outing. Our order – the new wraps for my husband and I and a Hotcakes Happy Meal for my toddler.

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We got our order and started to dig in…per the McDonald’s website, the Kale and Feta More-ning McWrap contains scrambled eggs, baby kale, sliced tomato and feta cheese, all wrapped up in a soft tortilla. The wrap has 21 grams of protein, which is terrific as I’m always looking for on-the-go vegetarian options with protein. I took my first bite and I was happy to see that the wrap was generously filled with the ingredients. As I got deeper into the wrap, I was happy with how the ingredients interacted with one another. The scrambled eggs were moist and the addition of feta cheese gave the wrap a bit of a bite against the fresh veggies. I would have liked to have a little bit of spice in it but that’s just who I am, I always want spicy food. Overall, I really enjoyed it and I would get it again.

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While I was chowing down, my husband dug into the Sausage and Hash Brown  More-ning McWrap. This wrap contains scrambled eggs, breakfast sausage, a hash brown and a slice of cheddar cheese, all wrapped up in a soft tortilla. He took a few bites and he immediately said, “this is a whole McDonald’s breakfast in one bite! I like how the flavours are mixing together” – he actually liked it so much that he kept his head down and ate the whole thing without coming up for air. I was barely able to get a photo in. When he was done, he simply said, “Yeah, that was pretty good, I would get it again” – always a good sign : ) What’s great about both of these wraps is that McDonald’s is using ingredients from their other products and meals to create them, which I thought was really smart.

While we munched on our wraps, my son happily sat in his highchair with his cool McDonald’s bib, gobbled up his Hotcakes and ate the yogurt that came with his meal. I appreciate that every McDonald’s location has high chairs and bibs and that there are healthy options on the menu like yogurt and apple slices. Everyone was full and happy, especially my son who also enjoyed checking out the fish tank at our local restaurant : )

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Thank you McDonald’s for creating another veggie option, hopefully there are more items to come! And that’s a “wrap” folks (pun intended).  Have you tried the new More-ning McWraps? If you have, please let me know what you thought of them!

Mini Vacation – Chicago, Illinois

18 Jun

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Disclosure: I received a media rate from the Renaissance Chicago Downtown hotel. 

My maternity leave was about to end and I needed to take a trip before I headed back to work…really badly. We were still too nervous to fly with a very active Baby R (yes, that’s first time parents for you), so a driving trip to the U.S. sounded like it would be the next best thing. The plan…head to Chicago to explore a bit and then visit friends in Indiana.

We were only in Chicago for a day and a half, so we needed to make the most of it with baby in tow. Traveling with baby is certainly different but with the right stroller (yay for our City Mini Baby Jogger) and a bit of advanced planning, it’s definitely doable. Add in a great hotel and you’re all set. Here’s the best of Part 1 of our trip – Chicago, Illinois!

The hotel:

The Renaissance Chicago Downtown was smack dab in the middle of the city and within walking distance of tons of restaurants and shops. We really couldn’t have asked for a better location. Add to that the fact that the hotel just completed $27 million dollar renovation of their lobby and guest rooms and we couldn’t wait to check it out.

I don’t know what the lobby looked like before their renovations but it looked amazing after the renovation. High ceilings, great art and a bar with an open kitchen came together to create a great vibe. The lobby was lively and people seemed to be happy and having a good time, which was nice to see. They have an espresso machine and pastries available for purchase in the lobby, so we grabbed a snack on our way upstairs.

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When we got to our room, we were greeted with a tasty welcome surprise from the hotel (yum!) and we were happy to see that Baby R had his own little bed in the form of a stylish Pack ‘n Play with nice bed sheets in it. For those non-parents who are reading this, it’s a portable crib/containment device, I mean play area, that’s perfect for use when traveling. Baby R didn’t feel like hanging out in his Pack ‘n Play, so he made himself right at home on the king-sized bed while I wandered around the room. The room was a great size for us and even with the Pack ‘n Play in it, we still had quite a bit of space for the three of us and the assortment of luggage and other paraphernalia needed to keep a baby fed and happy.

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The room had been updated in the hotel’s recent renovation project and it looked fresh and modern. My husband and I both thought the decor was cool and contemporary and the artwork had a great city vibe to it. The king-sized bed was very comfortable for the both of us and we had more than enough room for my son to sleep in between us when he got fussy that night (phew!). IMG_6108

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The hotel has a full service spa, fitness center and a pool, which hopefully I’ll have a chance to check out on a future visit. Guests we met in the lobby told us the pool was terrific but sadly we just didn’t have the time to enjoy it. Definitely a great reason for us to come back again!

Overall, we enjoyed our visit and we look forward to staying at the Renaissance hotel again next time. We definitely needed more than one night in this city! Between dealing with traffic, baby’s feeding/sleep times and a general desire to otherwise take it easy, we didn’t make it to too many places on this visit. Note: I am leaving out an unfortunate experience with an Asian restaurant…sadly, not all food is perfect in Chicago! Here are a few of our favourite shops and restaurants from our short visit:

Eataly Chicago

If there’s an Eataly in the city I’m visiting, you’ll bet that I’ll head there. After talking my hubby’s ear off about Eataly New York (which he hasn’t been to yet), I knew I had to take him to the Chicago location. With two floors of food goodness, this store can’t be explained in words or photos, you’ll just have to check it out for yourself. We decided to have a late lunch there and enjoy their fresh pasta. Hubby had a pappardelle in a Bolognese sauce which he was swooning over and I had their spinach and ricotta ravioli in a lemon butter sauce with pistachios. The sauce was so delicious, I wanted to lick the plate. I took a photo of some chocolate chip cookies that looked incredible and I posted it to Facebook while I was in there. Several people then asked if they tasted as good as they looked but I didn’t buy one as I was trying to be “good”…but in the end, I caved in and I was so glad that I did, that cookie was one of the best I had ever had! I wish I had one right now actually…

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Garrett Popcorn

Yes, I know what you might be thinking…popcorn? Why do I need to buy popcorn in Chicago? Garrett Popcorn is a hot spot in Chicago and it’s not just the tourists who are in line to buy from their shop, the locals go there too. The signature item is their Garrett Mix popcorn, a mix of their CaramelCrisp and their Cheesecorn popcorn flavours. It’s an interesting combination that is a bit of an acquired taste but once you try it, you’ll be addicted. My husband’s favourite flavour is the Cashew CaramelCrisp and I love their Almond CaramelCrisp. Both of these are specialty flavours, packed with whole nuts. They are absolutely delicious and we actually prefer them to the bestselling Garrett Mix (yup, we said it!). We were only in Chicago for a little over a day and we went to Garrett Popcorn twice….that’s how much we love it there : )

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Eggy’s Diner

The breakfast places we wanted to go to all had HUGE lineups so I pulled out my trusty phone to see what our fends on Yelp had to say. Eggy’s Diner popped up and it was within walking distance so we decided to check it out. We were so glad we did! The restaurant had a funky, relaxed vibe and bonus points, they had a high chairs for Baby R!

We started off with some pancakes, because I always have to try the pancakes at a breakfast restaurant. The verdict….they were delish, so we knew we were in good hands. Next up, I had the Benedict Florentine, a toasted English muffin topped with sautéed spinach, two poached eggs and hollandaise sauce, complete with a side of breakfast potatoes. I threw some hot sauce on that bad boy and I was in my happy place. Hubby had the Corned Beef Hash and he too was in his happy place. Baby R enjoyed a lovely breakfast of milk and bits of pancakes, so he gives the place a thumbs up too : ) We will definitely have breakfast here again next time we visit! P.S. They have really cute mugs for sale with their logo on it. We bought one and we know you’ll want one too.

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Once again Chicago, we only visited you for a short time! Hoping for a longer visit next time around. Until we meet again…. : )

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Addresses:

Renaissance Chicago Downtown Hotel

1 West Wacker Drive

Chicago, Illinois 60601 USA

http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/chisr-renaissance-chicago-downtown-hotel/

Eataly Chicago

The Shops at North Bridge

43 E Ohio St.

Chicago, Illinois 60611 USA

http://www.eataly.com/eataly-chicago/

Garrett Popcorn Shops

26 W Randolph St.

Chicago, Illinois 60601 USA

http://www.garrettpopcorn.com

Eggy’s Diner

333 E Benton Pl

Unit #103

Chicago, Illinois 60601, USA

http://www.eggysdiner.com

Fattoush Salad

16 Mar

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Disclosure: I received a gift card from Ozery’s Pita Break to purchase the ingredients for this recipe.

I’ve been in a salad rut for some time now and it was time to push myself out of the bad habit of making the same salads over and over again. One of the things I enjoy doing the most is trying to replicate my favourite restaurant dishes at home, especially the ones I spend the most money on : )

One salad I adore is a Middle Eastern one called Fattoush (the spelling varies). I often order it when I’m out and I knew that the ingredients were simple enough for me to make the salad at home. I got the little push that I needed to make it when the folks at Ozery’s Pita Break, an awesome company that started right here in Toronto, asked me if I would like to try and make a recipe with their pita products. Ozery’s produces a number of bread products including flatbreads, buns, pitas and crackers that are free of artificial preservatives, colours, flavours and additives. I live in a Jewish neighbourhood, so another point I wanted to share is that all of Ozery’s products are certified as kosher under the Orthodox KSA (Kashruth Supervision of America) organization. In other words, no dairy or animal products or by-products are used, making them great for vegetarians and vegans. Some of my favourite Ozery’s Pita Break products include:

 

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A search online will show that there are many ways to make a Fattoush Salad but I chose to make it the way I enjoy it the most, with basic ingredients and a lovely spice called sumac.

“Sumac is the berry of a shrub that grows in the Mediterranean and parts of the Middle East. It is little known in Western cuisine, but it is an essential ingredient in Arab and especially Lebanese cooking. It has a tart, fruity flavour, and is used to add acidity to food in the same way that lemon is used in Canada and tamarind is used in Asian countries.” (Source: The Silk Road Spice Merchant – http://www.silkroadspices.ca/products/sumac)

The recipe below is my creation and it’s a mashup of several recipes I reviewed online. You can add additional ingredients such as torn romaine lettuce, chopped green, yellow or red pepper, purslane, arugula, radish or use a creamy dressing….as you can see, there are tons of options. If you make your Fattoush Salad a different way, I would love to try it! Please leave a comment below the post or connect with me on Twitter @savvari. Enjoy!

Fattoush Salad

Creator: Sandy Avvari-Nayani – http://www.milkandeggs.ca

Ingredients:

Toasted Pita

2 tablespoons olive oil

One Ozery’s Pita Break Large Regular Pita, split in half to make two separate layers, then tear each layer into bite-sized pieces or cut the pita into 1-inch square pieces.

Dressing

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 teaspoons sumac (found at most Middle Eastern grocery stores)

Salad Ingredients

3 plum tomatoes, deseeded and chopped

2 Lebanese cucumbers, halved lengthways, chopped (or a medium-sized English cucumber, halved lengthways, chopped)

½ a medium-sized red onion, thinly sliced

1 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup mint leaves, coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon sumac

Kosher salt (for seasoning)

Preparation:

Toast the pita: I used my toaster oven to toast the pita pieces. Line your baking tray with parchment paper. Place the pita pieces in a bowl and toss them with the olive oil. Spread the pita pieces onto the parchment-lined baking tray. Toast in the toaster oven until they are crunchy, likely about 3-4 minutes depending on the settings on your toaster. Watch carefully to make sure they brown but do not burn! Once ready, transfer pieces back to the bowl and set aside.

Make the salad dressing: Combine all dressing ingredients in a screw-top jar or other container with a tight fitting lid. Secure lid. Shake until well combined. Set aside.

Salad: Place tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, parsley and mint leaves in a large serving bowl. Sprinkle with sumac. Drizzle with dressing. Toss gently to combine. Season to taste with kosher salt.

Add toasted pita pieces to the salad. Toss gently and serve. Taste again and add more kosher salt and lemon juice if needed. Serve immediately.

Sandy’s notes: I tried this salad with Ozery’s Organic Whole Wheat Pita as well and it was also delicious. In order to stay “true” to the original recipes for Fattoush Salad however, their plain pita is the best option.

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To learn more about Ozery’s Pita Break, please visit:

Website: www.pitabreak.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/ozerybakery.pitabreak

Twitter: @OzeryBakery or www.twitter.com/ozerybakery

 

CONTEST: Enter to win an Ozery’s Pita Break prize pack!

This prize is valued at over $110 and it includes:

  • A range of Ozery’s Pita Break products
  • Toaster
  • Cutting Board
  • Bowl Dip Set

You can earn entries by doing the following:

  1. Leave a comment below this blog post and tell me what your favourite way to enjoy pita bread is. Do you like to dip it? Stuff it with toppings? Make a pizza? Maybe you’ll teach me something new!
  1. Follow both me Sandy Avvari-Nayani @savvari and Ozery’s Pita Break @OzeryBakery on Twitter. Then, retweet my tweet about this blog post/contest from my Twitter feed at www.twitter.com/savvari

Additional Info:

The contest begins on March 16, 2015 and will end on Tuesday March 31, 2015 at 12 pm EST. The winner will be announced later that day.

You can enter via each method once per day until the end of the contest.

The contest is only open to Canadians with a Canadian shipping address. Ozery’s Pita Break will ship the prize package directly to the winner’s home.

Good luck!

Tasty bites at Dr.Laffa Restaurant

13 Mar

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I recently had the opportunity to visit Dr. Laffa Restaurant in North York, Ontario for a family-style tasting session with a group of fellow food lovers. Like me, you’re probably wondering what this restaurant’s name is all about. Well, Yoram Gabay and his passionate team are serving up some tasty Israeli and Iraqi cuisine for their faithful customers, along with their delicious laffa bread, which is served alongside dishes or as a wrap.

Yoram came out from his busy kitchen to tell us a little bit about Dr.Laffa Restaurant. He wanted to create a restaurant in Toronto that featured the food and flavours he cherished the most back home. He tries to make everything as authentic as possible, going so far as to have spices specially delivered from his homeland every few weeks. He even designed his own laffa oven, so he could recreate his recipe perfectly.

After a warm welcome from the Dr.Laffa team, the share plates of dishes started to come out of the kitchen in a steady stream. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they had quite a few vegetarian dishes on their menu, including a number of salads, dips, mains and sides. I love meals with lots of different things to try, so their cuisine was absolutely perfect for me.

Vegetarian Highlights:

Fresh laffa

This is why I wanted to visit Dr.Laffa Restaurant in the first place. I was dying to try this special bread that I kept reading about. Laffa is fresh chewy flatbread of medium thickness that to me tasted mostly like naan (an East Indian flatbread). Naan is fairly easy to tear and I found that the laffa bread didn’t necessarily tear easily, which is a good thing as it is widely used in sandwiches and wraps.

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Fresh, hot laffa!

Salads, dips and sides

Marinated beets, roasted peppers, tabouli, baba ganouj, falafel, grilled eggplant with tahini….there were so many fresh and tasty choices at Dr.Laffa. If you’re having trouble choosing what to try, don’t worry too much, you can order a platter with a variety of different items on it.

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Clockwise from top left: Hummus with fried eggplant, baba ghanouj, marinated beets, tabbouleh, roasted eggplant with tomato

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Hummus with fried eggplant and tahini

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Grilled eggplant with tahini

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Fresh, piping hot french fries

Sabich

I enjoyed these tasty potato fritters, they reminded me of pakoras, another type of fritter that’s common in East Indian cuisine. They were served with a sour mango sauce that one of the chefs said would take it to “the next level” and he was absolutely right! The sauce enhanced the flavours in the fritters and created a whole set of new flavours when everything was mixed together. They serve these fritters in a sandwich which they also call Sabich, so I found it a bit confusing! The sandwich contains these fritters, eggplant, hard boiled egg and your choice of toppings. Since we were tasting a ton of food as a group, we had the fritters straight up, but I’m looking forward to trying them in a sandwich on my next visit. They can also be purchased in the Sabich Plate, which includes the fritters and several salads.

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Fresh, hot sabich. Have them with sour mango sauce and watch your tastebuds explode : )

Shakshuka

My favourite dish of the night was their Shakshuka, an absolutely delicious piping hot skillet of stewed tomato sauce with poached eggs. I’ve had Shakshuka at a few restaurants in Toronto but this was my favourite version so far. Their tomato stew included small pieces of vegetables and beans along with a delicious mix of spices that I’ve never tasted before. It was so comforting… every bite just warmed up my tummy, the seasoning was perfect and the spices just took everything to another level. I can’t wait to bring my husband and son in sometime soon to share a skillet of Shakshuka with some fresh laffa.

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My favourite dish of the night, Dr.Laffa’s Shakshuka. Hearty, piping hot and packed with flavour!

Many thanks to Yoram Gabay and the hardworking team at Dr. Laffa for introducing me to their food. Thank you Vicky @momwhoruns for the invitation! I’m already looking forward to my next visit, this time with my meat-loving husband, as I know he would enjoy their Shawarma Laffa, Dr. Laffa Hummus (with ground meat and pine nuts) and their Pasties Plate a.k.a Moroccan Cigars (phyllo rolls with a meat filling). All of these dishes were very popular with the others at the table, so I know he’ll love them too.

Restaurant Info:

Important!

This is a Kosher restaurant, so they are NOT open after sundown on Friday’s. They are also closed on Saturdays. Please call the restaurant before heading over there so you won’t be disappointed!

Dr. Laffa Restaurant

3027 Bathurst St

North York, Ontario

M6B 3B5

Tel: 647-352-9000 or 647-352-9001

Website: http://www.drlaffa.com

Twitter: @DrLaffa

Instagram: @Dr.Laffa

Facebook: http://on.fb.me/18iq0yM

Zomato Meetup at The Good Son

22 Feb

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I haven’t had a fabulous vegetarian meal at a Toronto restaurant in long time. Now, I know that Toronto has a number of vegetarian and vegan restaurants but I’m talking about great vegetarian dishes at “regular” restaurants, so I can enjoy a meal with my carnivore of a husband (I say that with love!). Just when I was about to give up hope, along came the amazing team at Zomato with an invitation to join them for a #ZomatoMeetup dinner at The Good Son. I quickly scanned the menu before heading downtown and I saw a few veggie dishes that sounded tasty, so I felt confident that there would be something for me to eat. Who knew that I was about to have a very exciting and memorable meal….

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I arrived to see that the Zomato group had reserved a large table near the Chef’s station…yippee! As soon as I saw that, I knew we were in for a treat. If you’ve never sat near the kitchen or at the “Chef’s Table” in a restaurant, make an effort to do so. You’ll be close to the action, you’ll get to hear all of those glorious kitchen sounds and you’ll often be surprised with off menu dishes and treats. To me, they are the best seats in the house. At the table were Zomato’s Toronto team, including Justin, Jimena and Pam and a group of fellow bloggers from a mix of food and lifestyle sites. Zomato is an online and mobile restaurant discovery platform and social food network, with presence in over 13 countries and 44 cities. They just upped their game and recently purchased Urbanspoon too!

I did some reading about Zomato before coming to the event and I found out that their team physically collects information from every single restaurant/cafe/bar in town (menus, photos, pricing, timings etc.) and they make sure this information is always up to date. Users of Zomato (which is free to join by the way!) have the unique opportunity to rate and review restaurants, follow other foodies and create a trusted network of people whose opinions they value, all based around one common love… food! They also have the opportunity to “wish list” restaurants, upload photos and tag their friends. It’s a really cool platform, so I do hope you’ll check it out. If you do join, please look me up under Sandy Avvari Nayani.

So why am I sharing this information? I wasn’t asked to share it, I want to share it, because the Zomato team is fiercely passionate about food and the work that they do and I don’t see people with that amount of passion very often. I’ve been using Zomato for a few weeks now and I can already see the benefits of it as I’m able to check out which restaurants my foodie friends have checked into and take a look at photos of the dishes they’ve had. It’s been a great resource so far.

So now onto the meal at The Good Son….oh and what a meal it was. There was a set menu for the evening and I was the only vegetarian at the table, so the restaurant made a special effort to provide me with dishes from their regular menu or vegetarian versions of dishes the rest of the group was having.

IMG_4469First course: Shishito peppers wrapped in potato. Crunchy, spicy goodness with a ton of flavour. I’ve never had anything like it. Oh yeah.

IMG_4464Second course: Watercress salad with poached pear, blue cheese and caramelized onion. It was my first watercress salad and it won’t be my last, the flavours were just incredible.

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Third course: Sweet potato soup with coconut milk. It was warm and comforting on a cold day. There was so much flavor in this soup, I could have eaten bowls of it.

IMG_4468Fourth course: Dupuy lentils with kale. It was so delicious I couldn’t even stand it. One of my favourite dishes of the evening. Where has this dish been all my life? Why haven’t I had Dupuy lentils before? So many questions….

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Fifth course: Spicy brussels sprouts. Another favourite of the evening. Sweet, spicy, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside…wow, wow, wow. Why haven’t I had them like this before? Mind blown.

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Sixth course: Rapini and roasted cauliflower with potato purée. A simple and delicious way to start winding down the meal.

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Seventh course: Poached pear with a Riesling sabayon, pear gelée and chocolate crunch. Lots of great textures, with a ton of flavour. A small but mighty dessert!

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Eighth course: We were all stuffed and happy and just when we thought the meal was over, out came this amazing dessert from Pastry Chef Sat Shastri – red velvet cake with chocolate mousse, cherries and meringue. It was huge and we easily could have shared the dessert and we all started to protest, but Chef Shastri insisted that we just dig in. It was not only beautiful to look at but also incredibly delicious to eat : ) Most of us managed to finish more than half of the dessert, myself included!

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While I was swooning over the creativity and care that went into my vegetarian meal, there were yelps and moans of foodie pleasure at the rest of the table, where my fellow food lovers were savoring their meat and seafood dishes. All in all, I felt that The Good Son did an amazing job at catering to everyone at the table, which to me is a huge feat. Huge thanks to Chef Vittorio Colacitti and the team at The Good Son for a fantastic vegetarian meal, the best I’ve had in a long time! Thank you Justin, Jimena and Pam from Zomato for creating an evening of great food and great people, I’m so thankful that I had a chance to enjoy a #ZomatoMeetup. If they are all this amazing, I would be happy to join again : ) See you again very soon Chef Colacitti! XO

Info:

Zomato – https://www.zomato.com

Zomato’s Toronto feed – https://www.zomato.com/toronto

The Good Son

1096 Queen Street West (at Dovercourt)

Toronto, ON M6J 1H9

Tel: 416-551-0589

Website: http://thegoodsontoronto.com

About Chef Vittorio Colacitti (from The Good Son’s website)

Born and raised in Toronto, Chef Colacitti, learned his culinary art from some of the best names in Toronto’s restaurant industry including: Lorenzo Loseto (George), Scot Woods (Lucien), and Didier Leroy who is a master Chef of France.  Chef Colacitti’s craft in the kitchen also draws from several years of international experience, having studied at the Thai & International Food Academy, staging in various regions across Italy and working as a stagiaire at Thomas Keller’s, Bouchon.

 

Mini Vacation – Monroeville and Grove City, Pennsylvania

13 Feb

Disclosure: I received a media rate to stay at the Hampton Inn in Monroeville, Pennsylvania.

Since I had baby Ronin last year, we’ve been on one family vacation and that was a road trip to Montreal. It was our first trip out with the baby and it went quite well, so we decided to be brave and head out to Pennsylvania with our whole family. The key reason was to visit the Sri Venkateswara Temple in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, not only for our annual trip but also to conduct our son’s hair ceremony, an East Indian tradition where the baby’s first haircut takes place at the temple. The other great reason to visit the area….hitting one of our favourite outlet malls, Grove City Premium Outlets!

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I love to shop! Oh yes I do!

Since we were travelling with the whole family (all 11 of us!) we wanted a hotel that was near the temple and Grove City Premium Outlets. Bonus points if the hotel included breakfast and a pool. After some hunting, we chose the Hampton Inn Monroeville as it met all of our needs.

Hampton Inn – Monroeville, Pennsylvania

After a long drive, we arrived at the hotel and were promptly checked in by their friendly staff, who advised that there was complimentary coffee, tea and chocolate available near the front desk. They also had a popcorn machine and a basket of apples to welcome us. We were already off to a great start!

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We headed up to our rooms to settle in. Each room had complimentary bottles of water and packages of Oreo cookies, which I thought was a nice touch. I absolutely love it when hotels make an effort to make their guests feel welcome, it really seems to be a lost art. The beds looked comfy and inviting and my nephews promptly tested them out by jumping on them…we stopped them after a few jumps, don’t worry. Baby Ronin also settled in nicely on the bed, as you can see : )

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We were starving and it was late, so dinner was going to have to be delivery. We ordered pizza from Vocelli’s on a recommendation from the front desk and it was a good choice. We got their Spring Veggie pizza and their Deluxe Pizza and both pizzas were loaded with fresh toppings. The slices were large and the crust was nice and thin. We all enjoyed it and we agreed that we would order it again next time we were visiting.

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I had some time to explore the hotel after dinner so I headed down to the lobby. Along with a computer and printer for guests, next to the front desk was a small shop with a great selection of food, drinks and toiletries for purchase. I was impressed not only with the number of options they had but also that the prices for all items were very fair. Since they don’t have a restaurant in the hotel, it was great to see that they had something for guests who needed a snack or a meal in a pinch.

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We were up at the crack of dawn the next day as we had an early morning time slot at the temple for the hair cutting ceremony. Sadly, we weren’t going to have a chance to try the pool! Oh well, time to hit the breakfast buffet instead : )  I was happy to see that they had a pretty wide range of items, both hot and cold, including eggs, home fries, sausage (my hubby was quite happy about this!), a waffle maker and the usual suspects including a selection of breads, cereals, yogurt etc. There really was something for everyone and we all left with full tummies.

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Sri Venkateswara Temple – Monroeville, Pennsylvania

After breakfast, it was time to head to the Sri Venkateswara Temple, which according to their website is one of the earliest traditional Hindu Temples built in the U.S. My family has been making the trek to Monroeville, Pennsylvania to visit this temple for over 30 years and to this day, it still looks just as it did when I was a kid, all thanks to the staff who do an incredible job at maintaining the temple and the grounds. Everyone is welcome at this temple, so if you’re going to be in the area, please do make it a point to visit.

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Photo credit: Naveen A.

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Photo credit: Naveen A.

After the hair ceremony for my son was over it was time to head downstairs for one of my favourite parts of our annual visit…the food! The Sri Venkateswara Temple serves some of the best South Indian food I’ve ever had and the amazing part is that the flavours have been consistent for over 30 years. The dishes are packed in takeout containers, each costing $2 and they are filled with glorious South Indian delights such as pulihora (tamarind rice), perrugu annam (yogurt rice), sambar rice (a spicy vegetable stew mixed with rice), uppama (a polenta-like dish with vegetables), and pongal (a rice dish made with peppercorns and clarified butter). The temple is a busy place on weekends and the kitchen staff are constantly making new batches of each item, so you’re never waiting too long for the next batch to come out of the kitchen. I’m drooling as I’m writing this!

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We couldn’t leave Pennsylvania without visiting Grove City Premium Outlets. We’ve been shopping at this outlet mall every year since we got married and I’m so glad that I have a husband who takes shopping as seriously as I do! : ) We spent a few hours at the mall and guess what, I don’t have any photos….why you ask? Um, because I was shopping, there’s no time for photos! However, I do have a few tips to improve your shopping experience….

How to Improve Your Shopping Experience at Grove City Premium Outlets (Grove City, Pennsylvania): 

  • Take your passport with you as they have a special coupon booklet for visitors, with coupons for additional percentages off of your purchase etc. The staff at the desk are great and they are happy to let you take a look at the booklet before buying it.
  • A great meeting place is the food court. There’s only one and it’s pretty easy to find people there. While you’re there, be sure to take a break and have a snack and a drink in the middle of your shopping trip. Shopping requires energy!
  • Park at the “back” of the mall, there is more parking and you’ll have just as easy of a time accessing the stores.
  • Grab a copy of the mall map and circle the stores and locations of the stores before you head out to shop. If you’re on a schedule, this is the best thing to do to hit all of the stores you wish to visit. Otherwise, wandering around can take up quite a lot of time!

My “Go To” Stores at Grove City Premium Outlets (in no particular order):

  • Banana Republic
  • GAP
  • Adidas
  • Columbia Sportswear
  • J.Crew
  • Lucky Brand
  • The North Face
  • Nine West Outlet
  • Fossil

With a ton of bags from a successful shopping trip, we stopped in at the food court for a snack before heading out. I’m thankful that Villa Fresh Italian Kitchen continues to prepare tasty pizza slices and strombolis because the spinach and cheese stromboli with extra sauce is my favourite thing to eat whenever I’m there. The trip just wouldn’t be the same without it. See you soon Pennsylvania! Miss you already XO

o

Addresses:

Hampton Inn Pittsburgh/Monroeville

3000 Mosside Blvd., Monroeville, Pennsylvania, 15146

(412) 380-4000

http://www.hamptoninn.com

Vocelli Pizza of Monroeville

2644 Mosside Blvd., Monroeville, PA 15146

(412) 856-5000

http://www.vocellipizza.com/monroeville_pa

Sri Venkateswara Temple

1230 South McCully Drive, Penn Hills, PA 15235

(412) 373-3380

http://www.svtemple.org

Grove City Premium Outlets

1911 Leesburg Grove City Road

Grove City, PA 16127

(724) 748-4770

http://www.premiumoutlets.com/outlets/outlet.asp?id=85

 

Spaghettini with Roasted Beet and Poppy Seed + a CONTEST!

4 Feb

 

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Disclosure: Italpasta provided me with a gift card to purchase the ingredients for this recipe.

I love pasta and I could eat it every day of the week if I had to. I’m serious. There are so many pasta shapes and so many ways to eat it that I’m sure I wouldn’t run out of options.

I was excited when Italpasta asked me to try a vegetarian recipe for pasta lovers, perfect for Valentine’s Day, featuring Italpasta Total Pasta Spaghettini. It’s a white pasta with the goodness of 10 grams of fibre packed into each serving, a great option for hubby and I because as much as we enjoy whole wheat and other “healthy” pastas, sometimes we just want (at least what looks like) the regular stuff!

This recipe features butter, spaghettini, beets and goat cheese and they all combine together to form a simple and tasty dish with a beautiful, vibrant beet red finish, perfect for Valentine’s Day or if you’re having guests over and want to impress them. At first I wasn’t sure about adding poppy seeds to the dish but they ended up adding a nice crunch. The texture of the spaghettini was perfect, I never would have known that I was eating a high fibre pasta. We’re adding this dish to our pasta rotation, that’s how much we both liked it! #win

I’ve added some of my own notes in the recipe below. If you make it and have any tips to share, please leave a comment below this post. Happy cooking!

P.S. Don’t forget to scroll down and enter my delicious Valentine’s Day contest to win an Italpasta “For Pasta Lovers” prize pack.

Italpasta’s Spaghettini with Roasted Beet and Poppy Seed

Link: http://www.italpasta.com/recipes-spaghettini-with-roasted-beet.php

Serves 2

Prep Time: 25 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 50 minutes

Ingredients:

½ pound      Italpasta Total Pasta Spaghettini         225 g

2                     small roasted red beets, peeled and cut into wedges (Sandy’s notes: You can save time by roasting the beets a few days before making this recipe).

2 tbsps          unsalted butter            30mL

1 tbsp             Italpasta Extra Virgin Olive Oil 15mL

1                      small shallot, minced  (Sandy’s notes: I used half of a small onion)

1 tbsp             poppy seeds   15mL

2                      sprigs fresh thyme, leaves finely chopped

salt and pepper

¼ cup              crumbled soft ripened goats cheese, for serving      60mL

(Sandy’s notes: I quickly roasted the beets by peeling them and cutting them into cubes. Then I tossed them in a little olive oil, sea salt and pepper and I spread them out on a baking sheet covered with a sheet of parchment paper. I roasted them at 425 F for 30 minutes. You may need longer depending on the size of the beets. While you have your beets in the oven, consider making some roasted potatoes or another dish to save on energy.)

Cook pasta in boiling salted water until al dente or to your taste. Drain and reserve ½ cup pasta water.

In a non-stick skillet over medium heat, brown the butter. Reduce the heat slightly, add extra-virgin olive oil, and stir to combine. Add minced shallot, and cook for 2 minutes, until softened, stir in poppy seeds. Toast the seeds for 1-2 minutes.

To the shallots and poppy seeds, add the chopped beets and thyme, stir for 1-2 minutes. Add ½ cup of pasta water to the skillet. Simmer the sauce over medium heat for 2 minutes. (Sandy’s notes: At this point, I added a ½ teaspoon of chili flakes to add a little spice to the dish).

(Sandy’s notes: This next step is key…stir quickly and constantly to cover all of your pasta with that beautiful red sauce otherwise it will be unevenly coloured.)

Transfer pasta to the skillet and cook for 1 minute until combined, stirring constantly. Taste and adjust salt and pepper seasoning. Serve in warm pasta bowls and top with crumbled goat’s cheese.

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If you loved the look of this pasta, Italpasta has a second Valentine’s Day inspired pasta recipe – Red Wine Spaghetti: http://www.italpasta.com/recipes-red-wine-spaghetti.php

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If you’re looking for more ways to impress your loved one on Valentine’s Day, visit Italpasta’s special Pinterest board with tips on how to set the perfect table, host Valentine’s Day on a budget and of course, cook up some awesome pasta recipes here: http://www.pinterest.com/forpastalovers/valentine-s-is-for-pasta-lovers/

Get more tips and recipes from Italpasta here:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ForPastaLovers

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ItalpastaLimited

Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/forpastalovers

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/forpastalovers/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/ForPastaLovers

CONTEST – Enter to Win a Valentine’s Day Italpasta “For Pasta Lovers” prize pack!

Enter to win a prize pack valued at over $50. It will include:

  • A supply of Italpasta Tradizionale Pasta
  • Apron
  • Cheese Grater

To enter:

1) Follow me on Twitter @savvari or www.twitter.com/savvari

2) Follow Italpasta on Twitter at @forpastalovers or www.twitter.com/forpastalovers

3) Retweet my contest tweet OR tweet this message:

I want to win a #ValentinesDay prize pack from @savvari and Italpasta @forpastalovers http://bit.ly/1vszYbL #forpastalovers

Get a second chance to win by leaving a comment below this post. Tell me what your favourite pasta shape is and what your favourite way to prepare it is – macaroni with cheese? Linguine with alfredo sauce? If you have a great recipe, let me know! If you don’t use Twitter, this would be your method of entry.

You can enter on both Twitter and on the blog post once per day each until the end of the contest. Contest runs until Sunday February 15 at 5 pm EST, so get your entries in!

Additional info:

  • There is one (1) Italpasta prize pack to be won.
  • The winner will be announced by Monday February 15 at 5 pm EST.
  • The contest is open only to residents of Canada.
  • Prize will be shipped directly to the winner. A Canadian shipping address must be provided.
  • Total value of the prize is $50

 

 

Margherita Penne

27 Nov

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I love the Milk Calendar. I’ve been kind of obsessed with it since I was younger and I would read all of the recipes over and over again and ask my mom which ones we could try. Since we were vegetarian, there were only a few recipes we could try, so it was pretty easy to pick them out!

I was excited to get a copy of the 2015 Milk Calendar this year, even more so because I once again had the opportunity to try one of the recipes, with ingredients generously provided by the Dairy Farmers of Canada. The test recipe this time was Margherita Penne and I knew I would enjoy this dish as soon as I saw the ingredients list. Tomatoes, bocconcini, basil…..yum!

Margherita Penne

Link to the original recipe from the 2015 Milk Calendar recipe site (please note that I have not changed the original recipe, I’ve just included my own notes below) – http://www.dairygoodness.ca/recipes/margherita-penne

Course – Main Dishes

Prep. Time – 10 mins

Cooking Time – 13 mins

Yields – 4 to 6 Servings

This yummy pasta is based on the classic pizza margherita, which is topped with tomato sauce, cheese and fresh basil – sometimes the simplest things taste the best.

Sandy’s notes:

-The recipe calls for 1 1/2 tsp of dried thyme but I’m not a huge fan of thyme in pasta dishes so I only added a 1/2 tsp. It was more than enough to flavor the dish nicely in my opinion. I think 1 tsp of dried oregano would be a great substitute as well.

-If you want to be able to see the bocconcini in the dish then add it in seconds before serving it, otherwise it will melt into the pasta.

-While I enjoyed this pasta hot, I enjoyed it even more after I reheated it the next day. I just needed to add a few tablespoons of water to get the sauce going again.

-See additional tips from the Dairy Farmers of Canada below the recipe.

Ingredients:

12       oz  (375 g) penne pasta

2          tbsp  (30 mL) butter

4          cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2  tsp       (7 mL) dried thyme

1/2     tsp       (2 mL) salt

1/4     tsp       (1 mL) hot pepper flakes

2          tbsp    (30 mL) all-purpose flour

2 1/2  cups    (625 mL) Milk

2          cups    (500 mL) cherry tomatoes, cut in half

1/2     cup      (125 mL) grated Canadian Parmesan

12       1-inch (2.5 cm) mini Canadian Bocconcini

1/2     cup      (125 mL) fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced

Canadian Parmesan, for serving

Preparation:

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta for about 11 min or until al dente, or according to package directions.

Meanwhile, in a large pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add garlic, thyme, salt and hot pepper flakes. Cook 1 min. Sprinkle with flour; cook, whisking for 1 min. Gradually whisk in milk. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Whisk for 3 to 5 min or until smooth and thickened. Stir in tomatoes and Parmesan.

Drain pasta and return to pot. Pour in sauce; toss, stirring 1 to 2 min over medium heat to coat pasta. Stir in Bocconcini, basil and salt to taste, if needed. Serve with grated Parmesan.

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Tips from the Dairy Farmers of Canada:

-Bocconcini come in different sizes, so if you need to cut the balls, the pieces should be about ¾-inch (2 cm) in size.

-Try cubes of Mozzarella instead of Bocconcini.

-Add some of your favourite pizza toppings to the sauce, such as pepperoni, olives or sun-dried tomatoes. Or use your favourite short pasta in place of penne.

To check out the rest of the recipes from the 2015 Milk Calendar, please visit – http://www.dairygoodness.ca/milk/my-milk-calendar/recipes/year/2015

 

Meals With My Munchkin: Il Fornello Richmond Hill

7 Sep

Note: This is not a sponsored post. We chose the restaurant and we paid for our meal.

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My baby son Ronin is now 3 months old and my husband and I have become a bit braver, so we’ve started to take him out to restaurants with us. Heading out with a baby comes with a few special challenges as every trip out requires a few extra steps of planning. Given this, my goal is to find restaurants that will easily welcome my husband, son and I when we want to have a meal out. Welcome to a new series, Meals with My Munchkin, where I’ll review my vegetarian meal at restaurants we’ve been to with our son and share my thoughts on how baby friendly the restaurant was. I’m hoping these posts will help other moms and dads feel brave enough to head out to restaurants with their babies.

We recently went to Montreal for our first road trip with the baby and it was there that he went to his first proper restaurant (blog post to come!). Since our outings there went so well, we decided to check out one of our local restaurants, Il Fornello Richmond Hill, for their weekly pizza special. Since we now dine with a baby, I called ahead to try and book a table for 3 people, so that we would have a decent amount of space for us and Ronin’s car seat. They were happy to take our reservation, which was terrific!

Our meal:

Il Fornello Richmond Hill had their Tuesday pizza special on, with all pizzas priced at $10 each (dine-in only). My husband ordered the Pizza Melanzane with tomato sauce, ricotta di bufala, sautéed spinach, eggplant, oven roasted tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. It was delicious and I loved all of the toppings, especially the oven roasted tomatoes.

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I ordered the Salsicccia Italiana pizza with tomato sauce, mozzarella, caramelized onions and roasted red pepper (there was Italian sausage in the ingredients list but I asked to have it omitted). I enjoyed this pizza too, as the caramelized onions and roasted red peppers almost melted into the cheeses on the pizza, creating a sweet and salty flavour combination which I loved. We both wanted a bit of a kick on our pizzas so we asked for some of their chill oil on the side. It worked well with the pizza and we ended up dipping our slices into it while eating….yum : )
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Their Tuesday menu also has two versions of their gnocchi on special for $12, so we ordered the gnocchi with rosé sauce as well. Best decision of the night! The gnocchi was soft and pillowy and the sauce was nice and creamy, it was a perfect match. The serving size was perfect for sharing as we both found that it would have been too heavy for just one of us to have. Overall, the food was great, so great that we are going back with friends next week!
The checklist: 
Baby friendly? Yes! The staff member who answered the phone didn’t seem to mind at all when I said we would be bringing our baby son.
Car seat friendly? Yes. When I called I booked a table for 2 + a car seat and the staff were kind enough to give us a table for 4 so that we would have enough room for our son.
High chairs? Yes, high chairs are available.
Stroller friendly? Yes. The restaurant advised that strollers are accepted. The restaurant is at ground level and there are accessibility buttons on the doors.
Change table? No. The women’s washroom did not have a change table : ( However, they did have a decent amount of additional counter space, which I was able to use for a diaper change. In my mind that is better than nothing.
Would we come back here with our baby? Yes, definitely! Hopefully they will install a change table, if they did this restaurant would be a perfect option for moms and dads with babies.
Restaurant info: 
Il Fornello Richmond Hill
8851 Yonge Street
Richmond Hill, Ontario
L4C 6Z1
Tel: 905-530-1153
Do you have a restaurant recommendation for the Meals with My Munchkin series? Let me know!
 

Vegetarian Delights at Bosk restaurant, Shangri-La hotel Toronto

10 Apr

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I was recently invited to a special dinner at Bosk restaurant in the Shangri-La hotel, Toronto, for a preview of their Signature & Spring Tasting Menu. I was beyond excited to be invited to this event as I had heard great things about the ambiance, food and service at Bosk. Upon receiving the invitation, I advised the host teams at the Shangri-La hotel and Do The Daniel (organizer of the event) that I follow a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet and they were more than happy to accommodate my requests.

After weeks of anticipation, I arrived at Bosk a few minutes before our tour and dinner was set to begin, as I wanted to get settled and take in the atmosphere of the hotel and restaurant. The lobby was big and airy, with a fireplace and a group playing live music. I was greeted warmly by the staff and was directed to the meeting area for the #iheartbosk event where I was joined by an intimate group of food and lifestyle bloggers from Toronto.

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We started the evening off with a tour of the hotel’s new Garden Suite, a gorgeous space with a canopy bed and a private patio area. We sipped on the Shangri-La hotel’s signature Jasmine Tea while we learned about their afternoon tea service, complete with an in-house tea library containing over 75 teas. The hotel even has their very own Tea Sommelier!

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Shortly after, we headed downstairs to the Lobby Lounge where they had created two special Power Play Cocktails in celebration of the upcoming Stanley Cup Playoffs  – The Zamboni and The Hat-Trick Breakfast Cocktail. As I’m expecting my first baby soon, I had the non-alcoholic versions of both drinks and even without the alcoholic, I absolutely loved them. What’s in them you ask? I could tell you, but I think you should visit the Lobby Bar yourself to try them out : )

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Next, it was time for dinner! We were led to a private seating area with place settings for each of us, our names beautifully written on paper cranes. There were printed menus at each place setting, with a special vegetarian version of the menu for me which I thought was a beautiful touch.

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We were all chatting away about how we had already had a great experience so far but we knew that the best was yet to come…

SNACKS – nettle tree + lemon & pea + soda

The nettle tree came first, with tiny rolled up treats that reminded me of pappadums (an East Indian crispy snack). The lemon and pea came next in the form of a savoury macaron….delish! Lastly, we had a tasty rhubarb soda that was meant to get our palates ready for the start of the meal (sorry, I drank it all before I took a photo!)…

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SWEET PEPPER DONUT – crème fraiche, shallots, chives, parmesan

A bite of pure flavour. I was sad that I only had one!

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COMPRESSED CUCUMBER – radish, kohlrabi, finger lime, citrus snow

I loved this dish as it really woke up my taste buds. The citrus snow danced in my mouth and played well with the cucumber. I could have easily eaten two plates of this dish.

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BLACK TRUFFLE GNOCCHI – forest mushroom, tomato butter

This dish was absolutely delicious…it was so good I can still taste it and I can’t wait to have it again. I had never had anything like it and I thanked the chef for creating such a spectacular vegetarian dish.

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SPRING ASPARAGUS – quinoa, spring garlic, baby corn

The asparagus in this dish was hands down the best asparagus I’ve ever had. It was perfectly cooked and seasoned and went beautifully with the other components in the dish.

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RICOTTA & LEEK AGNOLOTTI – peas, fava bean, morel, artichoke

This pasta dish was outstanding, I really enjoyed the combination of the peas, fava beans, morels and artichokes as I had never had them all on one plate before. It was one of the most interesting vegetarian dishes I had eaten in a long time.

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POACHED RHUBARB – almond, orange blossom, elderflower

A simple and refreshing end to an amazing meal!

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CHERRY BLOSSOM TREE + KISSES

The cherry blossom tree took my breath away, it was so whimsical and beautiful. Pillows of pink and white cotton candy were perched in the tree, ready to be plucked off and enjoyed.

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Everything about the meal was exquisite. That is a word I don’t use very often and in this case it’s the most fitting word for the experience I had. My vegetarian meal was spectacular, top to bottom. Every dish was made with a lot of love, care and precision. The ingredients were top notch and they truly shined in every dish I had. To top it all off, service was professional, attentive and most importantly it was filled with a warmth that I haven’t experienced in a long time.

I’ve had a number of dinners at upscale hotel restaurants and I can honestly say that I’ve never felt as  welcomed and at home as I did at Bosk. Warmth exuded from every Shangri-La hotel team member I came in contact with that evening and I believe that is what has guests coming back over and over again.

My heartfelt thanks to the teams at Bosk, the Lobby Lounge, Shangri-La hotel, Toronto and Do The Daniel for a spectacular evening of incredible food and great conversation.

For more information about the Shangri-La hotel, Toronto, please visit: http://www.shangri-la.com/toronto/

Twitter: @ShangriLaTO or www.twitter.com/ShangriLaTO

For more information about Bosk, the signature restaurant at the Shangri-La hotel, Toronto: http://www.shangri-la.com/toronto/shangrila/dining/restaurants/bosk/

Twitter: @BoskTO or www.twitter.com/BoskTO

 

 

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