Memoir: Picky Eating

I think of myself as a very adventurous eater. I have a strong desire to expand my palate as much as possible. Every time the opportunity arises, I try something new.

If you had met me when I was young, you would never have expected me to one day be an aspiring food journalist.

When I was a kid, we used to go to Florida almost every winter break and visit my grandmother (who to this day spends about half the year there to escape the cold). Each day would be filled with family time, hanging out with my brother and our friends by the condo’s pool area and last but certainly not least, meals.

(Much can be said about what went into planning those meals and how that affected my beginnings as a foodie, but that is a story for another time).

Each night we would go to one of several restaurants in a plaza a short drive from the condo, often accompanied by family friends. From what I recall, restaurants were typically some slight variant of American food; but that didn’t matter, because all I ever remember getting at any restaurant was chicken fingers or pasta. To make matters worse, I would never finish my meal, often resulting in being awarded with a comment about bringing me to dinner being a waste of money (food-wise, it probably was).

I’m well aware this isn’t uncommon for kids at a young age. With limited kids’ menus, young ones are forced into a diet consisting of simple and uninteresting dishes aimed at keeping them satisfied while their parents enjoy more expensive and higher quality food.

Alas, I continued this habit, with limited variance, until I was about 13- or 14-years-old, when I began to be willing to try more dishes, mainly seafood.

This is probably a good time to rewind a bit.

When I said all I ate was pasta and chicken fingers, that was mostly true. In Florida, that’s all I remember eating. But back home in Toronto, and especially on a ski trip to Banff when I was young (alongside other small trips here and there with family), my palate had a weird twist.

From a very early age, I have always loved seafood, especially sushi.

Offer raw fish to your average Canadian kid who is used to eating off a limited kids’ menu and they’ll give you a look of disgust. Hell, offer it to one of many Canadian adults and they’ll give you the same look.

Offer raw fish to kid-me, and I’ll eat everything you put on my plate.

By the time I was 13- or 14-years-old, I was eating oysters, mussels, lobster, sashimi, calamari (including the pieces that aren’t ring-shaped), and of course still my usual chicken fingers and pasta.

No steak, no chicken (unless it was in soup, nugget or finger form), only pasta with tomato sauce (or some basic creamy sauce), only plain cheese or pepperoni pizza and other simplicities were all I ate within the realm of North American cuisine.

Aside from the chicken, I was basically a pescetarian. It didn’t help that my brother believed in two food groups: steak and non-steak. As you might imagine, this made it hell for my mom to figure out what to feed us (that is until she realized she could simply serve my brother the main part of the dish and me all the sides).

When I was 17, I went on a trip with my parents to Paris for a week. Meals we had as a family were typically seafood-filled. However, we also had family friends who happened to be in Paris at the same time.

Until this point I had been completely unwilling to go anywhere near steak (unless it was cooked well done by my late grandfather). When we got to the tiny place our family friends found, I was met with a prix-fix menu consisting of options including who-knows-what and steak frites; steak frites was my only familiar option, so I gave it a try.

It was fantastic.

Several meals later I was opened up to various meats and other dishes I had previously been so unwilling to try. Any personal restrictions to my diet had been completely removed (or would be within a few years).

As a once picky-ish eater, I now find myself making up for lost time by trying everything (that I’m certain won’t kill me). I’ve left my roots far behind and now venture onward to experience and write about the foods of the world.

Cheers,

Ellis Koifman

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6 Reasons to Invest in a Slow Cooker

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Come Home to a Nice Hot Meal

After a long day at work or on campus you likely want to just get into comfy clothes and relax a bit. But then there’s the problem of dinner. Do you cook? Do you order in? Do you scrape together leftovers? It’s always a hassle to decide and put in the effort. With a slow cooker, you can just come home, take out the food and eat it while doing whatever.

Easy and Quick to Prepare

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Chopping up ingredients the night before

Slow cookers don’t just displace the work that goes into meal-prep, they greatly reduce it. If, like me, you aren’t much of a morning person, you can use spare time (10-20 minutes) the night before to get everything ready so the next day all you do is throw in the ingredients and turn it on.

Wide Range of Recipes

Slow cooker cake
Apple spice cake made in a slow cooker

Meals you can make in a slow cooker aren’t limited to just stews, soups and roasts. You’d be surprised at the amount of things you can make! Examples include paella, apple spice cake, shepherd’s pie and beer-braised corned beef. You can find a ton of slow cooker specific cookbooks at the book store. I am currently using Canadian Living’s New Slow Cooker Favourites.

Large Meals

When you make a recipe with your slow cooker you aren’t cooking for just one meal or one day; slow cooker recipes typically make 4 to 10 servings. This leaves you with plenty of leftovers and takes even more time away from cooking during your busy week.

Hands-Free Cooking

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Slow cooker ready to go

With the food being being prepared by the slow cooker, you’re free to do whatever you wish while it’s cooking, without worrying about it burning. Need to go out of the house to run some errands? No problem. Want to study at the library all day? Go ahead. Planning on taking the day to relax? Let the food take care of itself.

They Are Inexpensive

Unlike some helpful kitchen appliances that are super expensive, a slow cooker can be bought for around $30-60 (unless you get a big advanced one for $100+). Walmart is a great place to get one, offering a large variety of slow cookers for cheap; I got the Crock Pot 4Qt Slow Cooker for just under $30.

Buying Guide

Things can quickly get confusing when you go to buy a slow cooker, so here are a few tips to help you decide which one is best for you.

Programming: Best to get one you can set a timer for (either custom, or set) amounts of time and that automatically switches to a warm setting.

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Programming with set amounts of time

Size: 4qt is a good size for one person. Anything bigger is great for entertaining.

Shape: Oval is better for roasts. Round is better for soups and stews.

Insert: Look out for one that’s dishwasher safe, it’ll make your life that much easier.

Handles: Heatproof is best, otherwise make sure you’d be able to hold them with oven mitts on.

Enjoy!

Cheers,

Ellis Koifman

Review: Bar Raval

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Fig & Olive Oil Cake

Bar Raval transports you to a Spanish pinxtos bar, separated from the outside world and offering some of the best food in Toronto.

Before entering this restaurant I had never enjoyed a meal while standing across a barrel in the company of others, nor had I been so confused as to how a seating system works.

The crowded gastro-bar has a bar area with baked goods on display, a table stretching along one side and barrels with flattened tops that act as tables.

If you don’t grab one of the limited number of stools, you’ll be standing for the duration of the meal. But fret not! Most people are standing in this restaurant so you’ll fit right in.

There is also a covered outdoor section that lacks any seating, with more barrels and a window sill to rest your food.

It’s anyone’s guess how the wait staff keep track of whose food goes where but they seem perfectly comfortable, never getting confused or missing an opportunity to ensure you’re having the best possible visit.

The interior is dark and crowded, which makes you feel like you’re part of a small community experiencing the restaurant together.

It comes as no surprise that Chris Nuttall-Smith has placed this in Toronto’s top new restaurants of 2015.

Food & Drink

The Walk Off: Whiskey sour with Absinthe and a strong taste of apricot. Nice to have alongside various tapas to offer a sharp contrast with the oily breads and various rich meats.

Pumpkin & Hazelnut: A small salad with plenty of semi-sweet mashed pumpkin with arugula and pine nuts

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Tomato Bread: Toasted bread with fresh tomato spread. Amazingly simple and delicious. A must try!

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Croquetas: two breadcrumbed fried rolls filled with cheese that simply melts in your mouth. A dish that is far too easy to quickly eat and miss.

Hot Octopus: Small pieces of octopus and potato in a puddle of olive oil. Good portion for splitting between two people.

Mushroom Tower: Two skewers of mushrooms each poked into a piece of bread soaked with good olive oil, topped with a single shrimp. If you like mushrooms, this is the dish for you.

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Fig & Olive Oil Cake: Sweet, somewhat fluffy, large pieces of fig, a hint of olive oil. Served with cream that makes a good dip for each bite of cake.

Rating: 5/5

Cheers,

Ellis Koifman

Review: The Cactus Club

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tuna tataki

The Cactus Club is a massive trendy new restaurant in Toronto offering a spectacular atmosphere, great service and acceptable food.

Three separate levels split up this 500-seat restaurant. Each floor is trendy and unique.

The first floor was a bar with tightly packed tables, the second floor offered booths and larger tables with a more homey atmosphere, and the top floor was a massive bar area with plenty of tables and a fully retractable roof.

We were seated on the second floor in a booth. Light jazz music set the mood and allowed conversation to be had without difficulty.

Service was very friendly and quick- a surprise given the sheer size of the restaurant. Our waitress never missed an opportunity to inquire about a refill or answer one of our questions about the menu.

The Food

The menu included an assortment of interesting appetizers, meats, salads and pastas. There was also a feature menu of the location’s unique signature dishes.

The tuna tataki appetizer ($15.50) was fantastic. Great portion size with 12 pieces to share between the three of us. While certainly odd to eat this Japanese dish without chopsticks, the semi-rich umami flavour and melt-in-your-mouth texture easily made up for that.

The ceviche appetizer ($16), was the first on a long list of disappointments throughout the evening. Portion size was good, but that’s where the enjoyment stopped. The dish lacked flavour apart from its fishy taste.

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ceviche

The kale + grilled chicken salad ($16.50) was extremely tart (sadly not an exaggeration), making it inedible. We ended up sending it back and swapping it for another salad.

The quinoa salad ($14.50) had a splendour of different ingredients. This too came with several thin slices of chicken breast.

The first few bites were fascinating as your mouth explores the different ingredients and flavours offered by the dish.

However, it quickly became apparent that the dish both appeared and tasted as if someone had thrown leftovers from the fridge into a salad with the hope that it would work- it didn’t.

Both salads, while unenjoyable, had very large portions and could easily be split between two people.

The Duck Confit ($25), a signature dish, was more fulfilling. The single duck leg was cooked to perfection, topped with tons of greens. It was placed on a large bed of lentils soaked in an excess of vinegar, which made them far too tart.

I strongly recommend paying the additional $9 for another duck leg, otherwise the dish is insubstantial.

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duck confit

For dessert we had the key lime pie ($8.25). This and the tuna tataki made up the two saving graces of the meal.

It was very creamy and somewhat rich. It came served with a large dallop of cream on top which blended perfectly with each bite of the delicious pie.

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key lime pie

Conclusions

It comes as no surprise that this restaurant is popular among Bay street bankers. The trendy, unique and vibrant space offers a multitude of dining experiences.

However, the average Torontonian looking for a nice quality meal will be disappointed if they expect anything more than trendiness and acceptable food from this multi-level establishment.

Rating: 3/5

http://www.cactusclubcafe.com/
77 Adelaide St. W.

Cheers,

Ellis Koifman

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