Archive for December, 2011

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Toronto Café Tour: The Big Guy’s Coffee Shop

December 22, 2011

Interested in reading yet another Toronto Café Tour review? Well then I’ve got just the thing for you: my recap of The Big Guy’s Coffee Shop in Parkdale!

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Latte: The Big Guy’s soy latte costs only $3 for a regular, and I really liked this drink, though I can’t quite place why. It’s not a show stopper or anything, but for its price, it’s probably the best $3 latte I’ve tasted in this city.

Wifi: Yes!

Atmosphere: There’s lots of character to this café, which sports a spacious interior and more different seating options than you could hope for: wooden chairs, couches, and armchairs, placed around both small tables and big tables, making it an ideal place for however you want to while away your time.

Clientele: Big Guys is definitely one of those nice neighbourhood establishments: many of the patrons seemed like regulars from the community, and overall there was a very gregarious mood to the whole place. However, there were several quietly working students there, as well, so I did not feel out of place.

Music: A shuffled, Pandora-style mix of hipster indie rock was playing when I first arrived, featuring Timber Timbre, Ohbijou, and the Weakerthans, among others. This was followed up by a classic rock mix for a while, and then Fever Ray started playing I think? Which is to say: the music was all over the map; however, it was a map I liked.

Food: Some, but not much, and nothing particularly eye-catching.

Final Verdict: Big Guy’s is a wonderful little place, with plenty of space to work and good, cheap drinks to boot. If it weren’t so out of the way for me, I could definitely see myself becoming one of their regulars, but even despite the distance, I’m sure I’ll be back before long.

Until we eat again,

Willie

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Toronto Café Tour: The Scoop & Bean

December 21, 2011

Today’s Toronto Café Tour review is coming at you from the cute little Annex shop known as The Scoop & Bean. Despite living nearby in the neighbourhood for over two years, I had never noticed this café before a friend tipped me off to its presence, but once I got wind of it, I was excited to scope it out. Here were my thoughts…

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Latte: The Scoop & Bean soy latte comes in at only $3.10, which is definitely cheap for this city. However, this was a poor drink. It was just so watery, with no creaminess to it at all. I might’ve just come in on a bad day, but regardless, this did not make a good first impression.

Wifi: Yeppers!

Atmosphere: The Scoop & Bean is cozy: there are only a handful of indoor seating options available, all snugly squeezed in next to each other. Nonetheless, the seating they do have is comfortable, their tables are a good size for doing work, and café traffic wasn’t all that high the day I stopped in, so the space all worked out pretty well.

Clientele: The Scoop & Bean crowd was a little older than other cafés it seemed; many more parents coming in with their children and whatnot. Not too many loiterers here, either; most of the customers seemed to be more of the grab-and-go type.

Music: When I first arrived, they were playing through Dylan’s Desire (awesome). This was then followed up by the new Real Estate  album (more awesome). Anyway, I heartily approved.

Food: The Scoop & Bean definitely has a good deal of food on offer, including some ice cream that many patrons seemed to be coming in specifically for. However, their vegan offerings seemed slim, or at the very least unannounced as such.

Final Verdict: My overall impression of The Scoop & Bean was fairly average, with the musical selection being the high point of my visit. However, its location is very convenient for me, and it’s low-key enough that you could comfortably hang out there for several hours it seems, so I very well may be back before too long.

Until we eat again,

Willie

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Yet Another Winner: Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese (from Oh She Glows)

December 18, 2011

Oh, Oh She Glows, you’ve gone and done it again…

And by “it”, I mean ‘provided me with yet another amazingly awesome recipe’. Should I even be surprised at this point? If you’ve been reading this blog for the last six months, you’ll surely recall some of the many OSG dishes I’ve raved about here: Nanaimo Bars, Roasted Tomato Pesto, Roasted Red Pepper Hummus, Roasted Tomato Coconut Soup, Spicy Curry Butternut Squash Hummus, and her Vegan Gluten-Free Cookies that found their way into my Half-Moon Spectaculars. At this point, I am convinced not only that Angela can do no wrong, but also that she can do no just-okay. Everything she makes is fantastic, and hands down some of the best food I’ve ever tasted. So, first off, thank you oh so much, Oh She Glows! And secondly, if you’re reading this blog and not reading hers, we need to have a talk.

But let’s get down to today’s business: yet another Oh She Glows knockout, her Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese. I’ve already made this twice, including at my American Thanksgiving blowout dinner, where it was a big hit, and it will be making another appearance at my family’s Christmas Eve Dinner next week. It’s just that good, and made so primarily by the excellent butternut-squash-based cheese sauce it utilizes:

I’ve tried a lot of vegan macaroni and cheese recipes in the past, but this cheese sauce bests them all. I especially love how it’s vegetable-based (although it still uses some nutritional yeast, for extra cheesiness). Poured over some brown rice macaroni and paired with some roasted squash and broccoli and some lightly cooked greens, this is a damn near perfect plate.

So be sure to consider this recipe in your holiday planning this year! It’s a big crowd pleaser, whether your crowd be veg*n or no, and it’s a great use of what’s in season. And in case you didn’t get the hint, start following Oh She Glows, if you aren’t already. Happy eating!

Until we eat again,

Willie

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Sunchoke (Jerusalem Artichoke) Hummus

December 11, 2011

Hi all!

It’s been busy around here lately at UWEA plaza (that is, my life), but I had to make sure to find some extra time today to quickly share this amazing new hummus recipe I recently came up with: Sunchoke Hummus! (If you don’t already know about the wonders that are sunchokes/Jerusalem artichokes, you’ll probably want to check out my previous post about Sunchoke Soup for a refresher.)

Now I have to admit, I can’t actually take all the credit for this amazing new recipe. In fact, it all started when I (like any obsessive-compulsive blogger) was checking out my blog stats and looking at the search engine terms people had used to reach my blog. One user got here by searching “sunchoke hummus”—but before this post was ever written. (Or was it an internet searcher from… the future?!) I guess Google took him to my Sunchoke Soup page or something, which must’ve disappointed the searcher, but which fortuitously let me in on the searcher’s excellent idea. Sunchokes are so smooth and creamy and have such a wonderful taste, why wouldn’t they work in hummus? So, in a sort of self-fulfilling search engine prophecy sort of way, I decided to come up with my own recipe for Sunchoke Hummus and post it here, both for the searcher and, of course, for you.

But that wasn’t the end of the help I got with this one. After posting my Sunchoke Soup post, I received several comments, including this one, which had the excellent idea of adding a bit of thyme to the soup mix. Thyme struck me as such an excellent complement to the flavour of the sunchokes that I couldn’t resist throwing some in with this hummus as well, and I think it really elevated the dip to new heights!

And thus was Sunchoke Hummus born. Read below for the recipe, and enjoy!

Sunchoke Hummus

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sunchokes, boiled until very soft
  • 2 cups chickpeas
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp tahini
  • 4 tbsp reserved chickpea liquid (or water)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1.5 tsp thyme

Instructions

  1. Put chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice, and tahini in a food processor.
  2. Pulse until mixture becomes smooth. Slowly add reserved chickpea liquid/water a little at  a time, until you get the mixture to your desired consistency.
  3. Season with salt and thyme, adding more to taste.
  4. Empty into a serving bowl and sprinkle with a little extra thyme.

Hope you like this! And, if you’re looking for more excellent hummus recipes, you’d do well to check out Oh She Glows’s recent Spicy Curry Butternut Squash Hummus. It looks sorta like this…

…and it tastes sorta like heaven! Try it out for yourself!

Until we eat again,

Willie

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“Hot Date” Spicy Mexican Chocolate Brownies (Vegan, Gluten-Free, & Nut-Free!)

December 7, 2011

What’s that? Sorry, I can’t talk right now. I have a hot date:

A hot date brownie, that is!

What am I talking about, you ask? Just the latest and greatest sweet treat to come out of my kitchen is all! Seriously, I am super excited to be sharing this recipe with you all today. These brownies are rich, decadent, and irresistible—yet vegan, gluten-free, and nut-free!

The secret? I’m pretty sure it’s the dates. I like using dates in sweet things because they’re a whole food and a superb natural sweetener. They’re extra perfect for brownies, because they naturally have that sticky, gooey texture that brownies need. And this weekend, as I was poking around the internet for gluten-free date-based brownie recipes, I had an excellent idea: why not spice things up a bit while I’m at it?

And so these Spicy Mexican Chocolate—or as I’m calling them, “Hot Date”—Brownies were born. I worked off of this excellent chocolate date brownie recipe from Simply Sugar & Gluten-Free, and then added some hot pepper and chili spices to the batter to make them extra hot. The result was divine—chewy, rich, spicy, and finger-licking good. This is definitely a recipe I will be returning to soon, and one you should get on ASAP! Here’s what to do…

“Hot Date” Mexican Chocolate Brownies
vegan, gluten-free, and nut-free
(makes 16 to 20 small brownies, 9 medium brownies, or 1 really big brownie)
adapted from this Simply Sugar & Gluten-Free recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 cup pitted medjool dates
  • ¾ cup hot water
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons instant coffee granules
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • ½ cup garbanzo-fava flour mix (other GF flours would probably work here too)
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • a handful of chocolate chips (totally optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line an 8×8 baking pan with parchment paper and spray with spray oil.
  2. Place pitted dates, hot water, vanilla, and coffee granules in a bowl and let sit as you prepare the other ingredients.
  3. Mix together all the other ingredients, except for the optional chocolate chips.
  4. Place date mixture into a food processor and process until smooth, scraping down the sides if necessary.
  5. Once date mixture is nice and smooth, add the flour mixture and process some more. You should have enough space to do this even in a very tiny food processor (mine only holds 3 cups). The final mixture will be fairly sticky and viscous.
  6. Pour mixture into the prepared baking pan, and do your best to spread it out. Silicon/rubber spatulas are a boon here, but even they can only do so much with this batter.
  7. If you wish, sprinkle the top with chocolate chips, and press down into batter.
  8. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. The toothpick test won’t work with these brownies, so just use your best judgment as to when they are set.
  9. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack. Once they’ve cooled down, they’re ready to eat!

And that’s all you got to do! Hope you enjoy this one, guys!

Until we eat again,

Willie

 

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Toronto Café Tour: R Squared

December 6, 2011

It’s end of term, so I’ve been spending a lot of time in a lot of cafés lately. Accordingly, here’s yet another TCT review, this time from R Squared on Queen West (yet another Indie Coffee Passport location). Here’s what I thought…

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Latte: This little mug was average in price at $3.49, but very good in taste. I wasn’t blown away or anything, but this was a nice drink, from the first sip to the last drop.

Wifi: Yes!

Atmosphere: R Squared’s decor is slick and chic. The café is more or less a long narrow corridor with lots of wooden tables and white plastic chairs filling the space. There are also some comfy boothes toward the back, which is where I spent my time there.

Clientele: For the most part, R Squared was filled with fellow twentysomethings coming in to read a book or type away on their MacBooks. Also spotted were some of that ubiquitous café species known as ‘young mothers with infants’.

Music: They were playing continuous albums while I was there, something I always appreciate. First was some French art rock band, which I didn’t recognize but enjoyed well enough, and that was followed by something with Ben Gibbard (probably Death Cab), which I did not enjoy so much.

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Food: This, unfortunately, was a complete disaster. After briefly perusing R Squared’s small display case of not-very-vegan-looking baked goods, I whimsically asked if any of their food on sale was vegan, and though nothing on display was, the barista eagerly got another employee to grab some special vegan treats they had hiding away in the kitchen. I was humbled by the kind service, and excited for the granola-bar-brownie they brought out. And then I bit into it. Or rather, I tried to bite into it. However, this brownie was as hard as a brick, and almost inedible. Seriously, I don’t know how anyone could’ve thought this was good enough to serve. This is the perfect example of what vegan food shouldn’t be, and if this is what R Squared is going to serve their vegan customers, I’d say they’d do better not serving them at all.

Final Verdict: Aside from the food, my experience at R Squared was very positive: a good latte, a nice atmosphere, and a nicely workable space. Definitely worth the visit—just whatever you do, don’t order their vegan brownies.

Until we eat again,

Willie

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Toronto Café Tour: Snakes & Lattes

December 5, 2011

Today I’m here to talk about one of my favourite places in all of Toronto, and—I’ll say it right up front—one of the best vegan cafés in the whole city: Snakes & Lattes. As such, I’m including this as part of my (ever-popular and never-ending) Toronto Café Tour series, though I feel a little weird doing so, since Snakes & Lattes is so much more than your average café. You see, it’s a board game café: a café where you go, not to sip espresso or type away on your Macbook, but to play board games all day long with your friends. A flat $5 entry fee gets you in the door for as long as you want to stay, and that gets you access to—literally—over 1,500 board games, of every genre, style, and theme you could ever imagine. Just check out (this one small section of) their gamewall:

So if it’s not already clear, I’m a bit of a board game geek, which is probably why Snakes & Lattes has such a special place in my heart. But what most people don’t know is that Snakes & Lattes is also a vegan’s paradise, and that’s thanks largely to Nicole, the wonderful baker and cook they have working behind the scenes in the kitchen and filling their display case with treats like these:

Though not everything on offer is vegan, I’d say that at any given time over half of their desserts are, and many of those are also gluten-free. More importantly, though, they’re totally delicious. Take this maple pecan doughnut, por ejemplo:

I have to admit, I was at first a little sceptical ordering a gluten-free doughnut—would its dough really live up to the softness and chewiness of its glutenous cousin? Well, as it turns out: yes, yes it did. And the maple and pecan topping was delectable as well.

During my many visits to S&L, I’ve also sampled their nanaimo bars and cupcakes and cookies and plenty else, and nothing’s left me disappointed. (They have savoury items on offer, too, but I’ve never tried any of those.) And it makes such a difference that all their stuff is made in-house. It would’ve been easy for Snakes & Lattes to outsource their sweets from one of the standard local companies like Sweets from the Earth (as so many other cafés do). By serving their own, Snakes & Lattes customers get treated (literally!) to an array of desserts that are only available there, and that is constantly changing (November saw a lot of Movember-themed desserts, for example). Toronto has plenty of stellar vegan and gluten-free bakeries, to be sure, but I think it’s about time Snakes & Lattes got some recognition for what it’s doing.

But what about the café itself? To evaluate this, I’ll follow my standard six-item rubric…

Latte: The S&L soy latte will cost you $3.75, and unfortunately I did not find it to be very good, though I did really appreciate the quirky latte art. Overall, it was just too watery, with none of the proper creaminess and silkiness I expect from even a cheaper latte. At $3.75, this Snakes & Lattes latte feels like a rip-off. But you aren’t supposed to be coming here for the coffee anyway, so it’s not a huge deal, and it’s certainly not going to stop me from coming back.

Update! Latte #2: Not too long after my first latte experience, I returned to S&L and had the pleasure of enjoying another latte, this one made by their barista-in-chief Adam. Unlike my first drink, this one was definitely much better (I mean, just look at it), with more of what I typically look for in an espresso drink. Still, would I say it competes with the other top soy lattes in the city? No; the overall flavour was just felt a little off to me, for whatever reason. But again, is this a huge problem? Not in my opinion. This latte proved to me that Snakes & Lattes can at least make a solid latte, and given all their other wonderfulness, that’s enough for me.

Wifi: No. Again, Snakes & Lattes isn’t like your average café—you’re supposed to be gaming, not working or surfing.

Atmosphere: Snakes & Lattes is almost always crowded. It doesn’t matter what time of day or day of the week it is; whenever I’ve gone there’s been a line going out the door. Fortunately, Snakes & Lattes’s wild success has brought with it a continual series of expansions, so there’s ever more space for more gamers to come and game. The tables and chairs have a nice wood finish which is perfect for gaming, and there are some comfy couches and such in the back for more relaxed games.

Clientele: Snakes & Lattes attracts a very diverse crowd: young and old, male and female, nerds and party people, and I like that.

Music: Typically it’s a mix of popular indie rock (and usually popular indie rock from like five years ago). So: it could be worse.

Food: See above. A+++.

Final Verdict: I love Snakes & Lattes, and nothing’s going to change that. I really wish their latte was better, and I wouldn’t mind some wifi access for my smartphone, but these are minor issues. All in all, Snakes & Lattes is a wonderful, wonderful place that makes me so so happy to live in this city. If you haven’t been already, you must must must check it out. And don’t forget to stuff your face while you’re there!

Until we eat again,

Willie

P.S. The last time I visited Snakes & Lattes was for a special meet-and-greet with vegan superstar and cookbook author Sarah Kramer, who was visiting Toronto from out west! Sarah Kramer and Tanya Bernard’s How It All Vegan! was the first vegan cookbook I ever had, and it was quite the treat to meet one of my early inspirations. Quite odd, too, considering that I’m now running this food blog and sharing my own recipes with people. But anyway, it was super awesome, and I even got made it onto Sarah’s blog! Check it out to read her thoughts on Snakes & Lattes (and see a dashing picture of yours truly).

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