Category Archives: Ethnic foods

Make it a pie, mate!

I like to hang with like-minded individuals. Translation: all my friends live to eat – ravenously!  Including my book club buddy and fellow running mate Glennis, who dropped this bomb last week, “My Kiwi friends just opened a bakery.”

She barely finished her sentence before we hightailed over to Wiseys Pies & Bakehouse (874 Eglinton Ave. E. (416) 423-9473).IMG_8672

Truth be told, my expectations were low. I’ve never been a fan of savoury pies (i.e. chicken pot pie), knew nothing about New Zealand baking and was dubious that anything other than speeding TTC buses and barreling semi-trucks could be found at the corner of Eglinton and Laird.

But one look at their spiffy logo and expansive storefront windows and I knew Wiseys meant business (despite opening just a month ago). Glennis and I walked in to their bustling bakery/cafe and were mesmerized by the bounty of it all.

IMG_8640Unlike many independent coffee shops in Riverdale that stock the same old muffins, croissants and scones, Wiseys bakes everything in house and much of it with true Kiwi flare.

Take the Sally Lunn Bun. It’s a sweet dough bun full of sultanas about the size of a personal pizza that’s covered in white or pink icing then dipped in coconut.

“A bunch of blokes will take that out for a smoker,” explains owner/head baker Gary Wise. In other words, this bun is fit for a crowd and enjoyed during work breaks in New Zealand.

Gary, Glennis and Karen.

Gary, Glennis and Karen.

Then there are the pies. As ubiquitous as fish and chips in New Zealand, Wiseys “hand held” take-away personal pies drew a lineup outside their doors at their June 28 opening. A lineup of ex-pat New Zealanders, that is, prompting Gary to shout out “Let the Canadians try one!”

Wife and co-owner Karen Kriese-Wise likes to pull out Wiseys Pie Chart for the uninitiated. IMG_8662Each pie, whether it’s mince (ground beef), steak and mushroom, butter chicken or potato top (there are currently a dozen different varieties) has a unique slash in the pastry to signify what’s underneath. Hand-held pies cost $5 or $6 and family-size, large pies $17.

I chose Thai Green Curry Chicken IMG_8663and fell in love the first mouthful. Emerging warm from the heated display case, my pie had a crisp, golden crust and its rich coconut chicken curry filling made for a spicy, breakfast pick me up.

Glennis ordered the raspberry cream bun and dug into its pillowy, sweetness laden with freshly whipped cream and jam. IMG_8660

Not a coffee drinker, Glennis was lured by Karen’s offer of another Kiwi-invention, a “flat white” which straddles the line between latte and cappuccino. Wiseys use beans from Pilot Coffee Roasters (Tasting Bar at 50 Wagstaff Drive) not only because they are excellent but surprise, fellow New Zealanders are at the helm there, too.

Glennis is picky about the coffee she doesn’t usually drink and loved her flat white, as did I. It didn’t hurt that a crispy little chocolatey cookie comes on every saucer. There’s an extensive list of coffees on the Wiseys’ blackboard including a Long Black, which is Kiwi for an “Americano” and if you’re bringing children, it’s nice to know you can order a “Fluffy” which is frothy hot milk topped with chocolate or sprinkles.IMG_8666

Translations don’t end there. Try an Afghan Biscuit, which is a brown, crisp, cocoa-rich cookie full of corn flakes, or a Lamington. Baker Gary likes to “dress up” his Lamingtons “the posh way” splitting a round sponge cake into two thin layers, filling it with whipped cream, jam and strawberries then blanketing with chocolate ganache.

Chelsea Bun and Saskatoon Berry and White Chocolate Scone

Chelsea Bun and Saskatoon Berry and White Chocolate Scone

Wise is full of ideas and has plans to introduce more to the bakery. He’s got three new pies in the works: Lamb and kumera (the Maori word for sweet potato), beef and dark ale, plus The Popeye: beef, spinach and potato mash. Also coming are fresh artisan breads, sandwiches and a Pavlova for Christmas. He might even bake up some ANSACs, named for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and developed during World War I.

I’ll leave that one to your imagination, or reconnoiter your way over to Wiseys for a live tour.

Taxi Cuisine

My friend David takes a lot of Toronto taxis.

IMG_7289

In the course of a couple of kilometres, he unearths huge chunks of personal history from the guy-behind-the-wheel, lapping up and identifying their accents, then hitting on pure gold – from a food writer’s perspective. When the average driver thinks “back home” food appears like a sparkling mirage on the horizon.

And I depend on David for a complete recounting.

He retells their food fables to me and I’m transfixed by lush mango groves and tales of chins dripping with sweet juice. I follow their food steps into crowded, open-air markets thick with long-robed shoppers eyeing over endless mounds of pistachios, dates, saffron and coriander seed.

But it’s the detailed recipes David recites the minute he gets out of a cab that absolutely enthrall. Like that Bombay fish recipe calling for two mysterious spices that we could rub into a nameless finned species… that oh, we would learn the name of if we went to a certain fish monger on Parliament Street. There, David would drop his cabbie friend’s name like a password and all the rest of the dish would unfold – like magic.

It all sounded delectable but way too unreachable for my inner impatient cook. So I got in a cab of my own and started asking around for Indian restaurant recommendations.

“My wife,” chuckled the driver, who then proceeded to give me a blow-by-blow description of the Chapli kebab they had plans to make together that evening, right after his shift. While he distinctly called for ground beef and suggested I shape this kebab into a patty, I had (as usual) a different vision.

IMG_7272I raced off to  Mister Greek Meat Market (801 Danforth Ave; 416-469-0733) where freshly ground lamb is usually on hand, or can be made to order.

Sadly, Mister Greek doesn’t stock sumac, which is one part of this recipe I wasn’t going to fudge. President’s Choice has recently introduced Black Label sumac ($4.99 a bottle in the spice section), but I am leery of its tagline “tangy and fruity with a touch of saltiness”. I don’t want salt in my sumac, I just want those ground up little berries prized for their tangy, yet non-acidic lemony flavour. Look for it in Indian and Middle Eastern grocery stores and toss it over grilled meat, poultry and fish, or dips like humus or white bean.

Shaping these kebabs is a little tricky. You can listen to my driver and skip the skewer and opt for a patty, but I like to roll the meat around a skewer for a pogo stick kind-of-look. I love tandoor-style keema kebabs rolled this way and just had to do it for this chapli kebab. Use metal or bamboo skewers, but remember to soak the bamboo ones in water first for 30 minutes if you don’t want them to catch on fire under the hot broiler as mine did.

Kebabs TP

Chapli Kebab

1 lb ground lamb or beef

1 finely diced medium tomato

1 finely diced medium onion

1 egg, beaten

1 tbsp ground coriander

1 tsp salt

1 tsp hot pepper flakes

1 tsp crushed garlic

Butter, melted

½ cucumber, diced

1 tomato, diced

Naan or pita bread

Sumac

In a large bowl, combine ground meat, tomato, onion, egg, coriander, salt, hot pepper flakes and garlic. Marinate for at least 2 hours or overnight. Soak bamboo skewers 30 min., if using.

Shape kebabs on skewers or as patties.

Baste skewered kebabs with melted butter and cook on a hot grill or under broiler for 2-3 minutes on each side or until no longer pink. Alternately, heat butter in a hot frying pan and cook patties 2-3 minutes per side or until fully cooked.

Serve on naan or pita bread with chopped cucumbers and tomatoes and a dollop of yogurt sauce. Garnish with a sprinkle of sumac.

Serves four.

Yogurt Sauce:   Drain one cup of plain yogurt in a cheesecloth-lined sieve over a bowl for one hour. In a medium bowl, combine drained yogurt, one diced jalapeno pepper, two tablespoons each of chopped mint and fresh coriander, a splash of lemon juice and salt to taste.

 

 

La Cubana

LC Entrance

Sometimes we foodies just get lucky. Forget about those resto-reviews written by folks like me. Forget about reservations and research. Simply close your eyes and tap your sparkly red shoes like Dorothy. Okay, one exception: Make sure you are walking the golden culinary pathway (Roncesvalles) and throw a dart at the first appealing doorway on the street’s north end: La Cubana (392 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-538-7500, lacubana.ca) .

That’s what my friend Rocca and I did last month and the place blew our not-very-Spanish socks off.

It didn’t hurt that we got the last table before a weekday lunch line started to pile up at 1pm. LC Seating We stepped lightly as a server guided us towards the last vacant booth, sighing happily to claim a little territory in this highly manicured eatery that is both bright and airy, with wake-me-up colourful tiles covering the floors and a long, soda fountain-type bar separating hungry customers from a busy grill-line-cook outputting seafood and pork delights.LC Signs

At La Cubana back-lit signs yell out red-lettered words from the menu, creating a mystique called hunger (if you are like us) and no entiendo.

Bocaditos, medianoche, frituras, dolce and tostones say the signs and that’s all part of La Cubana’s charm. Enter here a new world of flavours all expertly prepared, at great prices and in beautiful surroundings.

Take the sandwiches and medianoches section of the menu. You think the latter means something different, but it doesn’t. A medianoche is what any serious salsa dancer turns to for a midnight snack.

“Those are sandwiches, too,” explained our friendly server who was moving at Roadrunner speed to keep up with the lunch traffic.

“Duh,” said we in tandem and along came a LC Fish Sandmost sumptuous grilled fish sandwich, its contents spilling out of a soft, sweet-dough egg bun. A big hunk of perfectly grilled pickerel resided within, wedged around avocado, pineapple salsa, red cabbage slaw and mayo making the whole thing a textural, multi-sensory delight.

We were having a girls’ lunch and sharing was part of the package. The mother-and-daughter-team beside us were in the same mode and I couldn’t help but notice they were switching between Spanish and English convo while nibbling away at a feast of small-plated bocaditos such as habanero glazed fried squid ($7), mussels with coconut and lime ($6) and tropical chips and salsa ($6).

Not us. As a Ricky Ricardo voice-alike sounded over the airwaves we happily awaited arrival of our second order: a big bowl stuffed to the brim with avocado, LC Saladhearts of palm, orange segments and Bibb lettuce. This clean, fresh offering with its crunchy white, baby palm stems (memories of white asparagus) would be a winner served at a beachside cafe in Nice or Veradero.

Speaking of all-inclusive vacations to Cuba and the wretched food sagas I’ve suffered through (second-hand) via rants from returning travellers, I assure you there will be no déjà vu at La Cubana. In fact, nothing should stop you from racing across the threshold of this newly opened (November 2013) establishment as soon as possible.

Especially, if you’re a dessert hound and want to join the fresh-out-of-the-fryer donut trend that has swept across North America’s beltline.

Rocca made me do it.

She forced me to share five, TimBit-sized donuts under the dolce portion of the menu, where it says quite plainly “donuts” and doesn’t whisper to you that these

LC donuts

seductive little creatures have been whipped up from a buttermilk Béarnaise batter that balloons into warm, sweet, heavenly dough that’s lovingly tossed and turned in a dry bath of cinnamon sugar so that when it hits your open mouth all that comes to mind is simply x-rated.

Five dollars for five! Priceless.LC Coffee

Especially if you pair it with a bistro glass full of cafe con leche ($4) that rivals any latte I’ve tasted in Riverdale, especially since the last drops in the glass are pure sugar (gracias, sweetened condensed milk).

Adios La Cubana. I hope to see you again, soon.