Liège Waffles

Belgian waffles are universal. You can find them in your local cafe, at the hotel restaurant when travelling, and they are very easy to recreate at home. It’s fair to say that one need not be in Belgium to experience a good Belgian waffle.

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However, if you do happen to make your way to this European destination, this sweet treat is plentiful and come in more variations than you can count on your fingers. Nutella, honey, strawberries, chocolate, bananas, whipped cream…you name it, and it’s on it.

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They are light, crispy, and just melt in your mouth. A small dollop of chantilly cream and some macerated strawberries just take the entire experience to a whole other level. Their simplicity is such that you can easily recreate them at home.

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Chez Vincent

Strolling down the Rue Des Bouchees in Brussels, Belgium for the second time I am certain that I am not going to be tempted by that well-groomed, eloquent, and charming waiter behind me. He will showcase gorgeous seafood displays, and try to lure invite me into his restaurant, but I will hold strong passing by him and the other waiters I encounter on my way to the infamous Chez Vincent.

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Without faltering I make it to the landmark eatery and do a double take, as the entrance leads you through their kitchen first in order to get to the dining room. Although we did not have reservations, the staff were very polite as they quickly found us a table and seated us promptly. I look around the room and observe that many of the diners were older business men who most typically are good eaters and always enjoy a beer or two, a tell tale sign that the restaurant was a great pick.

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Airline Food

Imagine this. You are sitting on a plane. You are 2 hours into a 9 hour flight. Children are screaming, in flight screens are showing the latest movies, and the turbulence has you wondering every couple of seconds whether you’ll get to that favourite restaurant that you had wanted to eat at at your destination city.

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Now picture me. I’m alternating between hiding under the my blanket, and resurfacing occasionally for oxygen. I’m trying to position my body in a way that minimizes the number of body parts that I am hurting at one time, and I’ve also pulled out my snack of Snyder’s Buttermilk Ranch Pretzels for a little taste of home.

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Cue to 20 minutes later. A very distinct smell started to permeate through what I had thought to be a thick blanket. I peeped out from underneath, and before I knew it reflexively pulled out the menu card that was presented to me early in the flight. This smell. What was it? My stomach began to rumble.

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European Grocery Stores

One morning in Brussels I headed down to the hotel lobby to figure out where the closest boulangerie/patisserie was. The dude at the front desk told me to go to the grocery store next door. “For croissants and pastries?” I questioned. I was ever so slightly skeptical.

Literally 3 minutes from our hotel room was this unassuming sliding door that opened to a quaint space. At first glance it seemed ordinary at best. However, a double-take quickly helped cement the fact that this store was housing a lot of great treasures that were bound to wet my appetite.

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Aux Armes de Bruxelles

When travelling I am more excited to visit landmark eateries than tourist landmarks. Sometimes I go online and research the restaurants I should eat at beforehand, so that I have a reference point in the city. This has worked for and against me in the past. When visiting Paris 8 months ago, I ate at the infamous Chartier and was very, very disappointed by the food (Choucroute that I could gag on) and the service (having to share a table with a couple).

Another great indication of whether a restaurant has promise is if you see a line of patrons flooding outside the doors. It’s a great sign that people are willing to wait in order to have a fantastic meal.

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On a recent trip to Belgium, I used one of my most favourite tactics…asking the locals. And when I say locals, I don’t mean the front desk at your hotel who sometimes make a commission if they refer you to a restaurant. In our case, it was during our ride from the airport to our hotel room in Brussels.  The drive was initially silent, but the tension was broken when my dad questioned our driver about the local weather. One thing lead to another, and soon we were on the topic of food.

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In Search Of The Perfect Croissant

There are two types of bread that I adore. One of them is  the croissant, which I was exposed to at a very young age. I share with you an anecdote of how my affinity for this flaky, multi-layered delight began.

Among watching cooking shows when I was a kid, I also liked being on television shows. When I was 7 years old and in grade 2, I called into a local Canadian television studio to be on a show called “Video and Arcade Top 10”. I had no clue how to play videogames, and found myself playing  Kirby  with 3 other (male) competitors. What’s important is not the outcome of the game (I lost), but the events that took place in between episodes and commercial breaks.

In between episodes, all the kids would be escorted to the studio audience where their parents sat. To get the crowd going production assistants would play games with us kids while parents watched on. However, my parents caught me being less interested in the games being played and more interested in the croissant the lady a couple of seats down from me was eating. To make the story short, a couple of minutes later a large bag of croissants was placed in front of me. Although the excitement of being on television was quite thrilling, I believe that it was definitely that bag of croissants that made my day. Heck, I think it made my month!

I have had a lot of bad croissants in my life, and only a handful of good ones. So this fall, when I went to Europe, I realized that my quest for the perfect croissant would be fulfilled. I had, within my itinerary, noted all the boulangeries and patisseries I had wanted to go to during my stay. However, what I quickly came to note was that 90% of the croissants that I ate in Paris were out of this world. They were light, flaky, crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, and had a heart stopping buttery aroma. The buttery strands of perfections not only melted in my mouth, but they melted my heart.

One of the best croissants I had during my time in the city was at the world famous ice cream shop Berthillon. They are known to have some of the finest ice creams and are critically acclaimed for their quality of product. In addition to their delectable ice cream sundaes, they serve the most perfect croissant. When tapped one could hear the crack of the croissant as it unveiled the beautiful layered, buttery shards of bread that lay underneath. It was simply divine.

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Another croissant that I happened to pick up while at the train station one morning was at Paul, a boulangerie with locations all across the world. Here I picked up a croissant, and a gourmandise. The gourmandise was made of the same dough as the croissant but was shaped differently and filled with chocolate chips. It made for the perfect breakfast! If only TTC stations were able to fulfill my hunger pangs the same way.

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One of my last boulangerie visits was to the infamous Poilâne. Poilâne is considered an institution in Paris. It is a critically acclaimed bakery, and many restaurants in the city use and serve their bread. The place is so famous that Giada de Laurentiis visited it in an episode of “Tasty Travels” revealing their awe inspiring bread chandelier that they replace every few weeks. They also have an online business that ships out 40 Euro loaves pretty much anywhere across the world. So this place had a lot to live up to when I got there.

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There were a number of things to note about my visit to Poilâne. Firstly, after I placed my order for tarts, croissants, chocolate croissants, and pain au raisin, they rung up a total that was at least 15 Euro more than the total tab…good thing I noticed. Secondly, the girl that was helping me was quite nice but not knowledgeable when it came to the bread and what they were made of. Moreover the fact that she consistently scratched her head and bit her nails made my stomach turn, as she used those same hands to pack my treats. Lastly, and most importantly, those croissants were not the best, as many have claimed them to be.  The croissants were tiny compared to competitors, and they lacked the necessary buttery punch that usual sends me to cloud 9. There is way too much hype surrounding Poilâne.

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Needless to say, with the exception of my Poilâne experience, I was pretty satisfied with my croissant encounters when I packed up and flew back to Toronto. My only plaguing fear was how I was going to fulfill my desire for proper croissants when I got back.

Fortunately for me, through a lot of research, I found a lovely bakery around the Bayview/Eglinton area that was known to make Parisian inspired delights. When I sunk my teeth into a croissant at Rahier, I immediately knew that this was a product I could thrive off of until my next visit to Paris. At $1.50 each, these croissants are worth every penny. They also prepare excellent baguettes, cakes, and tarts that come close to rivalling their French counterparts.

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The next time you are in the Bayview/Eglinton area check out Rahier. You’ll be in for a “treat”.

Fish (Shrimp) Tacos

Name one place in Toronto that serves fish tacos like they do in California, and you’ve found yourself a new best friend. Don’t bother pointing me to Burrito Boys, because they make fish burritos, not tacos. And come on, no matter what sort of meat you put into one of those burritos, they all turn out tasting the same.

While I wait for that miracle to happen, I thought I’d give a go at making these lovely fold-over parcels myself. The ingredients are simple, and you can find most of the help you need from your pantry. I love meals like this, because they are fast and very fulfilling.

1. Marinate 1/2 lb of peeled and deveined shrimp (or any firm white fish)  in 1/4 cup of milk, 1 tsp cayenne, 1 tbsp hot sauce, 1 tbsp dijon, 1 tsp salt for 1 hour in the fridge

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2. Julienne 2 cups of green cabbage, 1/2 a large red onion, and 1/8 cup of coriander

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3. Combine 1/4 cup mayonnaise, 1 tbsp lemon juice, 1tbsp dijon mustard, 1tbsp sugar (or honey), 1 tbsp hot sauce (add more if you like it spicy) and 1/4 tsp salt to make dressing

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4.  Dress slaw and allow to sit

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5. Combine 1/4 cup white flour, 1/8 cup cornmeal, 1 tsp thyme, 1 tsp oregano, 1 tsp paprika, 1 tsp cayenne, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper in a large dish

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6. Dredge marinated shrimp in coating

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7. Deep fry for 2 minutes at 350 degrees Celsius allowing shrimp to turn golden. Drain on paper towel.

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8. Heat tortillas in a dry pan until warm and toasted on both sides

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9. Fold tortilla in half and fill with sliced shrimp and slaw. Serve with sour cream and a wedge of lime on the side.

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Enjoy!