Now That's Tasty!

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Winter Hiking Trails in Toronto

Often met with hesitation – at times utter hatred – the outdoors can be unfriendly during Toronto’s winter months. Already met with above average snowfall and a crippling Christmas ice storm, Torontonians are quick to dismiss the outdoor delights that dot our urban landscape. More convenient and mesmerizing than one might think, here are 5 winter hiking spots in Toronto that will keep you active and enchanted with our snowy city…

With guided walks available each week, easy access from a variety of TTC bus routes and over 40-square-kilometers of rich biodiversity in the heart of the GTA, the Rouge River Valley is optimal for all outdoor enthusiasts. A mix of forest and field, the Rouge Park occupies lands in the Rouge River watershed, as well as neighbouring Petticoat Creek and Duffins Creek watersheds. Make sure to check park conditions before planning your visit.

A 12km long tributary of the Don River, Taylor Massey Creek flows through Scarborough and East York. Just a 5-minute walk from Victoria Park subway station, the Taylor Creek Trail makes for a beautifully wooded 3.5km East End escape for hikers and snowshoers alike.

Part of the Oak Ridges Moraine protected area at the north end of the GTA, it may take a little longer to get here, but the 21 public trails of the York Regional Forest make for a perfect afternoon in the outdoors. With ample parking and detailed trailmaps available online, the 2,000 hectares of walkable wonders are suited to all skill levels. Hiking, snowshoe and cross-country ski trails wind through a mix of planted and natural forest – a haven for winter wildlife, like deer, woodpecker, fox, coyote and other forest dwellers.

High Park can get a little crowded at times, however the convenience and scale of Toronto’s largest urban oasis makes it a worthy spot for a winter day sojourn. The TTC can take you from just about anywhere to get here and the diversity of wildlife is without comparison around this branch of the city. The twisted branches of leafless Sakura trees make for a pretty pic when the light catches them just right.

The Old Mill & Old Mill Marshes are a not only a great starting place for a winter hike, it’s also a recognized Ontario Heritage Site. The Humber River watershed is the largest in Toronto and it’s network of trails span 7.3km. Where migratory fish like pike, salmon and trout can be observed from the Old Mill Bridge (built in 1793) during the fall, impressive ice jams collect here during winter months.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Food Trucks In Toronto: Bylaws Under Review

On Tuesday the first of two meetings was held at City Hall, reviewing the street food vending bylaws in Toronto. Stakeholders in the street food vending industry as well as members of the general public were in attendance to weigh in on the proposed bylaw amendments and the state of the growing (yet unsatisfyingly restrictive) street food and food truck business in Hogtown.

“The goal is to create a harmonized, city-wide street food vending bylaw that balances the interests of all stakeholders and encourages a vibrant street food experience for the public,” claimed the City of Toronto website.

Though the proposals discussed at the meeting are not final the pundits and the public had a great deal to comment on. Luke Robertson, Senior Policy and Research Officer of Municipal Licensing and Standards (ML&S) for the City of Toronto moderated the open-forum discussion. Following this week’s session and the one to be held on January 20th, a month and a half long deliberation period will be held before decisions are announced in March.

Among eight key considerations addressed during the meeting the future of food truck regulations was most widely responded to. Proposals that could influence the permitting process, vending locations around the city including private property, the potential for undesignated vending permits and the likely lifting of the moratorium for street vendors in the downtown core.

The proposal to lift the moratorium on street food vending in Wards 20,27 and 28 is perhaps the most exciting prospect for the lustful street-foodies of Toronto. Likely through a phased approach, the downtown core could be seeing 10 new permits per year over the next three years (5 sidewalk, 5 curbside). The number of new permits issued in other wards will be limited to 20.

According to ML&S this gradual approach is designed to, “mitigate the potential impact to current vendors, prospective vendors, brick and mortar restaurants and local communities that may result from sudden influx of new vending.”

The next issue will be who will get these permits – which will be drawn through a lottery system – and what restrictions will new (and existing) vendors be subject to.

Chantal Ryanne of Gourmet Bitches food truck voiced her concern on opening up the lottery solely to newly registered street food vendors and food truck operators – the proposal of the city.

“First priority should be given to current permit holders – those who’ve fought the battles for new entrants into the market,” she said while addressing Mr. Robertson.

Where and how permit holders will be allowed to operate is also up for debate. Creating “Undesignated Vending Area Permits” may be the next, and most impacting step in the growth of the mobile street food industry in Toronto.

“In the undesignated options, vendors would be required to obtain a business license, and would be subject to regulations similar to designated location permits, with the major exception that they would not be required to vend from one place all the time,” The City stated in their printed notes.

Pioneering food truck meccas like Los Angeles and Portland allow their food trucks to freely roam the city, while here at home Vancouver also has similar liberties. With two options for Undesignated Vending on the table and one for Designated Roaming Spots, many current Toronto food truck operators, including Hogtown Smoke’s Scott Fraser, and Fidel Gastro’s Matt Basile took to the mic, voting to roll out with the first of the choices.

Options #1 and #2 (Undesignated Vending Area Permits) only differ in the locations where vending is permitted. Option #1 is a city-wide option favoured by nearly all the vocal street food vendors in attendance. Option #2 only considers vending outside of Wards 20, 27 and 28 (downtown) – meaning street food would still be banished from the city core.

In each scenario vendors would be required to find and pay for two metered parking spaces and follow the rules for on-street metered parking in that space (e.g. 3 hour max).  The number of vendors in any one area would be limited to two per block and required to park 50 meters from another food truck. Undesignated permit holders would also be limited to areas that are at least 50 meters from a licensed eating establishment or designated vending area.

One issue with these options is the proximity rule, with Basile citing his inability to park his own food truck in front of his bricks and mortar restaurant, Lisa Marie on Queen West.

Fraser, whose Hogown Smoke food truck has laid bricks and mortar in the beaches believes that operational hours are more the issue.

“[Hogtown Smoke] in the beach closes at 9:30pm. At 10:00pm park in front and go nuts. Just don’t park there during my 6:30pm dinner rush,” he said.

The final of the three options includes the creation of 25 ML&S designated roaming spots. Each location would be located 50 metes from licensed eating establishments and vending areas and would still carry the same 3-hour maximum.

Whatever the outcome of these final meetings, Toronto is sure to see a change in the landscape of the street food scene for the upcoming summer. Whatever your opinion, perhaps the distance between a food truck and a restaurant (or another food truck) need not be so polarizing. Perhaps where a food truck can park should not be so limiting.

As Basile himself proudly exclaimed, “street food is actually a business that can become part of a community.” I, for one, am waiting anxiously to welcome it into mine.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

RECIPE: Citrus Spiced Salmon and Red Quinoa with Beets and Kale

This recipe for citrus spiced salmon combines a load of healthy, fresh ingredients and makes for a colourful and creative dinner – A perfect power pairing for after a workout or to impress your health-conscious date.


For the Salmon (double recipe for each additional fillet):
-300g Salmon Fillet (skin on)
-Sea Salt
-1/2 Fresh Grapefruit
-1tsp Cajun Spice
-1tbsp Sesame Seeds
-1/2tsp Sesame Oil
-2tbsp Fresh Chopped Italian Parsley
-1tsp Sambal
-White Pepper to taste

Season both skin side and flesh of salmon with sea salt. Squeeze the grapefruit juice and mix together remaining ingredients for marinade. Pour marinade over salmon, making sure it coats both sides of the fish. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before cooking.

Preheat skillet to just above medium high. Add 1-2tbsp of olive oil to skillet. Place salmon fillets skin side down. Cook skin side down for 2-4 minutes or until colour starts to turn slightly up the edges. Flip fillet over and cook for additional 30 seconds to 1 minute depending on thickness of fish and desired doneness.

Red Quinoa with Beets and Kale:
-1 cup Organic Red Quinoa
-2 cups Chicken Stalk
-2tbsp Olive Oil
-1/4 cup Water
-4 cups Kale (rough chopped)
-2 Cloves Garlic (minced)
-2 Shallots (diced)
-4 Red Beets (peel and cube)
-Sea Salt to taste
-Black Pepper to taste
-2tbsp Roasted Pine Nuts

To Cook the Quinoa:
Rinse quinoa thoroughly in a fine mesh strainer. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a saucepan over medium high heat and add quinoa. Stir for a minute until remaining water evaporates. Add chicken stalk and bring to rolling boil. Once boiled turn down heat and cover. Cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes before fluffing.

In a large non-stick skillet add olive oil and heat to medium-high. Add shallots and garlic and cook until translucent, about a minute, stirring often. Add beats and a pinch of sea salt, stir. Add water to cover the beets and let boil to cook for several minutes or until beets are soft to taste.

When beets are ready toss in kale and pine nuts with a bit more sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and coat with the juices in the pan.

Fold in quinoa and season with more sea salt and pepper (if needed). Serve.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Best Ramen in Toronto... Depending on Your Mood

On a frigid and frosty winter afternoon the perfect pick-me-up is a bowl of ramen. Al dente noodles, soothing broth and a comforting accompaniment of savoury toppings, there are an increasing number of locations to find laudable bowls of the stuff.

Tonkotsu Black Ramen from Sansotei Ramen
But as much as the growing crop of ramen shops and their critics are quick to claim that they’re the best ramen in the city, why not take a different approach? There’s a multitude of different preparation across Japan and dozens of different styles being showcased across Toronto – though, there are four primary types of broth that tend to form a base (tonkotsu, shio, shoyu and miso). Here are some of the ramen shops you should check out depending on your particular craving…

Best Tonkotsu Ramen
The prototypic pork bone broth originating from the Hakata region of Japan – almost milky-white in colour, it leaves a satisfying stickiness to ones lips due to the extracted collagen from the simmered bones. Side up under the giant fisherman’s rope at Sansotei Ramen on Dundas Street for the most rich and delicious tonkotsu broth in the city. With simple toppings of bamboo shoots, black fungus (woodear mushrooms) and the ooziest soft boiled egg in the game, it’s too bad there’s always a lineup out the door or I’d just bring a pillow and drift off to blissful slumber after my mow.

Best Shio Ramen
There are many ways to make a shio (salt) ramen, however its salty clear or pale yellowish broth is often created using a combination of chicken, fish, vegetables and seaweed for the broth. That said, my favourite shio broth uses a trifecta of chicken, pork and vegetables to achieve a broth that’s so light and supple that I’ve been raving about it ever since first taste. Ryus Noodle Bar on Baldwin Street is where it can be found, but one may be left wondering what happened to their soup after so quickly slurping it up.

Best Shoyu Ramen
Though I was a big fan of A-OK Foods’ shoyu ramen, and their fantastic housemade noodles until they closed last month, I’m going to have to go with Bladwin Village original, Kinton Ramen on this one. Another three tiered chicken, pork and vegetable broth, one may want to go straight for their “extra pork ramen” where char shu fiends can get just that – an extra hit of the really good stuff atop their steamy bowl. Served with bean sprouts, scallion, nori and a seasoned egg, simply delicious is really just the only way to describe it.

Best Miso Ramen
I’m generally going to go straight back to Sansotei for my bowl of miso ramen, but in the interest of variety I’ll present another ramen shop that does a bang up job. Ramen Raijin doesn’t have quite the same complexity or richness as some other tonkotsu slingers, but the salty umami hit of miso in their soup makes for a welcoming bite. With green onion, bean sprouts, cabbage and corn it’s a hearty soup that will heat you to the core on a chilly winters eve.

Best Spicy Ramen
Sansotei just added a spicytonkotsu to their menu, Raijin’s spicy miso is pretty bomb, and Ryus’ spicy miso ramen with mabo tofu might be one of the most interesting of these edibles in Toronto, but Hokkaido Ramen Santouka does something seriously special for spice lovers. Their volcanic kara miso ramen is topped with green onion, woodear mushrooms, cabbage and tofu and bamboo shoots and can also be ordered with char shu – despite the significant increase in price, however, it’s always worth one extra element. Known around the world (Santouka have over 55 international locations) their toroniku (pork jowl) is one of the best bits of pork you’ll ever indulge in.

Note: I was going to include the best vegetarian ramen in Toronto on this list, however I’ve never eaten one… and don’t honestly intend to.

*Article originally published on View the Vibe 

Celebrity Chef Mark McEwan and Director Joseph Levy Discuss the Toronto Restaurant Industry

We’ve reached a unique period in Toronto’s dining history. No longer are the lavish, large-scale odes to classical French and Italian cuisine dominating the dining landscape. Complex, ingredient-heavy preparations are fading staples of the pass. And the allure of celebrity chefdom has captured the intrigue of both the diner and disciple.

On a snowy December day I sat beside Chef Mark McEwan in the living room of Sol Shalit’s (Shalit Foods) Rosedale condo, while SpinningPlates’ director Joseph Levy joined us over Skype from his Los Angeles home. Our discussion would revolve around the restaurant industry in Toronto – how food television and film have influenced audiences and aspiring cooks, what makes a successful restaurant in Toronto, and what the future holds for our city’s budding culinary landscape.

Chef McEwan and Joseph Levy Hug it Out
Despite occupying two dichotomizing spheres of the industry, both men are on a constant quest for authenticity in their own work as much as the work of others.

“The trend in TV is that they’re creating a heavily manufactured reality,” Levy remarked as the chef nodded along. In Spinning Plates, Joseph managed to capture deep and difficult times in a restaurant’s existence, something that’s often left out of the mainstream television narrative. McEwan will confess that food television can give aspiring chefs a false vision of life on the line.

“There’s an allure to the restaurant industry that’s been brought out with food television – it’s like flies to a light – they’re attracted to it and then they die,” McEwan admits.

Read my FULL ARTICLE at View the Vibe... 

Chef Mark McEwan

Friday, 3 January 2014

Toronto Food Trucks – Roaming Hunger Coming North

Toronto food trucks are major business in the city these days. The food truck business in Toronto has experienced a boom over the past couple years as chits line mobile passes and cash is exchanged for curbside delights across the downtown core. Following the city’s failed A La Cart program in 2010, the street truck movement has been revolutionized as of late. Though the culture and curiosity surrounding these mobile eateries has taken off, street truck operators are still met with a considerable amount of red tape. Yet, while finicky permitting and geographic constraints remain, there will soon be a new way for consumers, operators, and even prospective food truckers to get in on the action.

Roaming Hunger began in 2009 by serial entrepreneur, Ross Resnick. A food fanatic to the core, Resnick became more involved in the “new foodie revolution” while attending USC in Los Angeles. He noticed there was no central location to find out about food trucks, thus inspiring him to found Roaming Hunger...

Read my full story at View the Vibe...