Courage Rides Here-Parapan American Games 2015

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While out for a morning walk last Saturday, I only made it a block when I realized that the Road Cycling track for the Parapan American Games was running around and through High Park.

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Luckily; I had brought my camera along. I was planning to walk along the lake and hoped to catch a few shots of sail boats. Instead, I spent the next few hours walking the route of this amazing event and cheering on the cyclists.

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On the days when I am trying to hold my life together, I tap into my courage and determination to get through whatever is troubling me. Watching these athletes made me realize that I have no idea what it means to be courageous. I am merely getting things done. These inspiring people are showing the world what they can do.

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The amount determination and tenacity that it takes to become a world-class athlete is huge; now add the fact that you have a physical disability or you are suffering from a debilitating disease. These athletes are truly amazing!

Not only were they cycling on a grueling road track, they has to contend with the rain that came down in small bursts all morning long.

I watch this cyclist take a steep hill with one leg that many of us cannot traverse with both. His determination and strength were inspiring.

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Watching the races became a neighbourhood event. People were out on their lawns, with coffees in hand, cheering the racers as they passed. Hosting the Panam and Parapan American Games has brought excitement to our city and has made us proud to welcome the athletes to Toronto.

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The Parapan American Games include athletes who are visually impaired , persons with physical disabilities, amputee athletes, people with cerebral palsy, people with spinal cord injuries and other athletes with a physical disability that are not included in the categories mentioned above.

The games are running from August 7-15. As of this morning, Canada had won 2 Gold, 3 Silver and 6 Bronze medals on the cycling road races.

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For the Love of Tea

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What is your relationship with tea?

Most of us have learned to appreciate tea as part of our family traditions and ceremonies. The British are famous for afternoon tea, the Chinese for the tea ceremony as part of the wedding celebration, the Japanese and Koreans for their own formal ceremonies.

In my Scottish family we drank tea every day. Even now my mother offers a cup of tea and some cookies whenever someone visits. I remember when I was a child my grandmother would make me children’s tea made with a few drops of tea in a cup of milk with a little sugar. It was such a treat that I would look forward to having it every time I visited. Mostly, we brewed Orange Pekoe tea steeped in pots of boiled water.

Sometimes I like to go out Afternoon Tea in one of our upscale hotels. There is something so elegant and celebratory about trays of little sandwiches and cakes served with clotted cream and jams. Teas are gently poured into china cups through delicate silver strainers. Even thinking about it makes me smile.

Recently, I have been discovering some wonderful loose leaf teas. In an effort to learn more about the endless varieties of tea and their origins we went to the Toronto Tea Festival. The festival, held at the local reference library, offered a variety of tea tastings by a several tea companies, some local baked goods to share with your tea, teapots, tea sets and books about tea.

We enjoyed a demonstration of the Korean tea ceremony performed by specially trained women and a young girl who is trained in presenting the children’s tea ceremony. The formal ceremony is steeped with tradition and special meaning. It was very interesting to watch.

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I was very excited to find a book titled Tea (History, Terroirs, Varieties) published by the owners of the Camellia Sinesis Tea House in Montreal. The book is an excellent reference on the teas of the world. I understand that it has been published in multiple languages and is used as a textbook in the Tea Sommellier program taught in Toronto’s George Brown College and in Korea.

I am really looking forward to reading about the various types of tea, how to brew each, and how best to enjoy them.

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If exotic teas are not your thing, you may enjoy a hot cup of tea with traditional sweets or cakes. Whether a formal afternoon tea or a traditional ceremonial tea is what you enjoy, you will remember what tea brings to your life with each cup.

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A culinary adventure in the neighbourhood

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A few weeks ago my daughters and I decided to try something different. We went on a guided culinary tour of the Riverside and Leslieville neighbourhoods of Toronto.

Let me start by explaining that Toronto is made up of dozens of unique and interesting neighbourhoods. Many of these are distinguished by the ethnic population that inhabited them like Little Italy and Greek Town, while others are described as the up and coming places to eat out, shop and live.

The Riverside and Leslieville neighbourhoods sit side by side along Queens St. East between the Don Valley Bridge and Leslie Street. Until recently, these were areas that we passed through on our way to the Beach without giving them a second thought.

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In the past 5 to 10 years the area has undergone a wonderful transformation. What was once a row of second-hand shops, seedy bars and corner stores, has become a trendy enclave of antiques shops, gourmet food markets, interesting bistros and fine dining locations.

Young professional couples are snatching up the older homes and renovating them into their dream cottages, while celebrity chefs are opening unique restaurants and markets. Local foodies flock to Queen St. East to pick up wonderful treats for their dinner.
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The Culinary Adventure Company runs this tour on Saturdays led by Chef Scott Savoie. The participants are taken to a variety of food establishments and are treated to tastings by shop owners, bakers and restaurateurs. The tour was a food lover’s delight, filled with sweet and savoury treasures. There was a wine tasting and a lesson in olive oil tasting. We visited a bakery that feeds the homeless from its profits. We tasted the best butter tarts in the city, fine cheeses and spicy olives, fresh oysters and relaxed over a lunch of Panini washed down with champagne cocktails. To top it all off the tour ended with a gelato from Toronto’s best Ice cream maker.

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Although the food was amazing, the best part of the day, was listening to Chef Scott recant historical events and describe the local folklore. He knew all of the stories of local businessmen and how they got started. We learned of the historical importance of Toronto’s culinary creations. He told us about how Dangerous Dan got his nickname and showed us the Toronto Veterinary Hospital, the city’s first large animal hospital, famous for treating horses earlier in the century.

If you are looking for a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon, I suggest trying one of these Culinary Adventures and hearing the stories first hand. If you are visiting Toronto, it would be a fun way to explore our diverse food culture.

The Culinary Adventure Company runs tours of several different Toronto neighborhoods as well as wine tours of Prince Edward County. I think I will try a few more, for the fun of it.

http://www.culinaryadventureco.com/

Saying so long to Seattle

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Well here I am, back in my daily routine and only a few days since the IFBC 2013 conference in Seattle has ended. Many of my friends have asked what the conference was like so I will give you soem highlights. First of all, I really enjoyed meeting such a diverse group of bloggers, speakers and corporate sponsors.

Some highlights of the trip for me were:

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Going to Chateau Ste. Michelle for a wine tour and tasting:

A group of us signed up for this pre-conference tour. We were taking by bus to Woodinville, WA to see the Chateau Ste. Michelle wine operation. Although the Chateau was not in the same location as the vineyards, we were able get an appreciation of the size and scope of the wine making process. After touring the bottling plant we were provided with a tasting of 5 Chateau St. Michele wines accompanied by some light appetizers for pairing. Culinary Director, John Sarich walked us through each of the vintages and which dish would pair well with each. I had no idea that Chateau Ste. Michelle is the largest producer of Reisling wine in the world. It was a great way to spend the afternoon and a good way to meet people.

Touring around Seattle:

I love to travel and see new places.  I decided to take an unconventional route so I took the Victoria Clipper ferry from Victoria, B.C. to Seattle. The ferry travelled down through Puget Sound and docked close to the downtown core.  It took 2 ½ hours to make the crossing but it was a very relaxing trip and the views were amazing.

When I was not in the conference, I spent most of my free time exploring the city. As I mentioned earlier I loved Pike’s Place market. I also explored the downtown area. Seattle is a small city compared to Toronto with a population of approximately 650,000 in its downtown core. The people were friendly and getting around was easy.

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One morning I got up very early to visit the Space Needle and Seattle Center. The Warwick Hotel, where I stayed was central to all of the sights so I was able to walk around quite easily. I did; however; take the Monorail from Seattle Center to the Westlake Center in the downtown core just to have the experience. It only took less than 5 minutes for the trip on this very cool train.

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The Seattle Central Library was also a great place to visit if you love great architecture. The library is decieving from the outside. I climbed up to the 10th floor via escalators before taking the elevator back down to level 1.

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Dinner at Purple on our last night in Seattle:

Urbanspoon hosted dinner parties at 25 different restaurants across Seattle. We were each given a card indicating the neighbourhood that we would be going to but no other information until the Staturday evening when it was time to go. Then we were given directions to our surprise destinations.

My group had the good fortune to be hosted by Purple on 4th Avenue. The restaurant had prepared a wonderful 7 course tasting menu complete with wine parings from their massive wine cellar. The food was spectacular and the pairings were delicious.

Our hosts were very gracious. It was an evening that I will not soon forget.

Food Photography sessions with Andrew Scrivani:

As you can imagine, I was really excited about meeting the renowned NY Times food photographer, Andrew Scrivani. I did not expect that he would be such a personable guy. In spite of his great success as a food photographer, he did not present as someone with a huge ego. He presented twice at the conference. First was a session of food preparation and food photography with Chef John Mitzewich of Food Wishes. The chef and his assistants prepared a few plates of sushi and Andrew explained the process of photographing them. I enjoyed Andrew’s discussion of his work and how he sees the photos.

The second session was about his workflow and the business of food photography. Needless to say I took many pages of notes from this session and came home with a huge to do list.

Meeting Dorie Greenspan:

As I mentioned in my previous post, Dorie is my favourite cookbook author so meeting and chatting with her was an enormous thrill! She is so very charming and quite modest.

All in all; I think this conference was well worth the trip to Seattle. It was informative, fun and I met some great people from all over the U.S. and Canada.

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Checking out Seattle at Pike’s Place Market

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I am so excited! I arrived in Seattle on Wednesday for the International Food Bloggers Conference IFBC2013. My plan was to get here a couple of days early so I would have time to explore Seattle.

Yesterday I got up extra early so I could have breakfast at the famous Pike’s Place Market. It was definitely worth getting up early for. I arrived at the market by 8 AM, bought a croissant and latte and watched the place come to life.

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One of the things that you must see at the market is the floor show put on by the fish mongers at Pike’s Place Fish Company. They call out to each other every time someone buys a fish and throw the fish to the cashier for packing. I have never seen such a variety of fresh fish or in such large sizes. I don’t think there is a fish lover in the world who would not love to check this part of the market out.

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The market also offers a great variety of produce from local growers and beautiful flowers from the region. There are also craft vendors and spice shops and across from the market is a row of cafes and specialty shops and bakeries.

It was a great way to spend a morning while passing time in Seattle.

Today the conference starts. I am up and ready to go. I am really looking forward to spending time with other food bloggers from all over the world.

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Fresh from the Market Strawberry Cheesecake

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I went on an adventure this week.

There was a special fair held at Toronto’s Queen’s Park to build awareness of Ontario growers and producers. They had set up tents on the lawn of the Ontario Legislature to showcase the local foods and to offer free samples.

The local producers included a local dairy that was handing out free ice cream cones and an apple orchard that provided free apple bumbles. There were also mushroom, strawberry and asparagus growers as well as representatives from Ontario Pork and the Ontario Beekeepers Associations. There was even a flower farmer who handed out free blooms to the guests.

We spend too much time in the winter months running from store to store to find the freshest produce. In the summer we are so lucky to have local markets popping up all over the city allowing us to taste the food fresh from the farms. Many of those markets offer organically grown produce.

I enjoyed seeing the fair and chatting with some of the participants. I learned a few things about Ontario farming and discovered a few gems. Did you know that there is a beekeeping operation on the roof of Toronto’s historic Royal York hotel that makes award-winning honey? I didn’t.

No matter where you live it is important to buy local and support your local farmers and food producers. I made this luscious Strawberry Cheesecake recipe to celebrate the local farmers and taste of the season.

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Strawberry Cheesecake

Ingredients:

For the crust:

1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 tbsp. sugar
Pinch of salt
1/2 stick (4 tbsp.) unsalted butter, melted

For the cheesecake:

2 pounds (four 8 oz. boxes) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sour cream or heavy cream, or a combination of the two

For the topping:

4 cups fresh strawberries, sliced to 1/8 inch\

Directions

To make the crust:

Butter a 9-inch springform pan—choose one that has sides that are 2 3/4 inches high (if the sides are lower, you will have cheesecake batter leftover)—and wrap the bottom of the pan in a double layer of aluminum foil; put the pan on a baking sheet.

Stir the crumbs, sugar and salt together in a medium bowl. Pour over the melted butter and stir until all of the dry ingredients are uniformly moist. (I do this with my fingers.) Turn the ingredients into the buttered springform pan and use your fingers to pat an even layer of crumbs along the bottom of the pan and about halfway up the sides. Don’t worry if the sides are not perfectly even or if the crumbs reach above or below the midway mark on the sides—this doesn’t have to be a precision job. Put the pan in the freezer while you preheat the oven.

Center a rack in the oven, preheat the oven to 350°F and place the springform on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Set the crust aside to cool on a rack while you make the cheesecake.

Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.

To make the cheesecake:

Put a kettle of water on to boil.

Working in a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese at medium speed until it is soft and lives up to the creamy part of its name, about 4 minutes. With the mixer running, add the sugar and salt and continue to beat another 4 minutes or so, until the cream cheese is light. Beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs one by one, beating for a full minute after each addition—you want a well-aerated batter. Reduce the mixer speed to low and stir in the sour cream and/or heavy cream.

Put the foil-wrapped springform pan in the roasting pan.

Give the batter a few stirs with a rubber spatula, just to make sure that nothing has been left unmixed at the bottom of the bowl, and scrape the batter into the springform pan. The batter will reach the brim of the pan. (If you have a pan with lower sides and have leftover batter, you can bake the batter in a buttered ramekin or small soufflé mold.) Put the roasting pan in the oven and pour enough boiling water into the roaster to come halfway up the sides of the spring form pan.

Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and 30 minutes, at which point the top will be browned (and perhaps cracked) and may have risen just a little above the rim of the pan. Turn off the oven’s heat and prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon. Allow the cheesecake to luxuriate in its water bath for another hour.

After 1 hour, carefully pull the setup out of the oven, lift the springform pan out of the roaster—be careful, there may be some hot water in the aluminum foil—remove the foil. Let the cheesecake come to room temperature on a cooling rack.

When the cake is cool, top with strawberries and chill the cake for at least 4 hours.

Recipe from Baking by Dorie Greenspan

Berry, Cucumber and Quinoa Salad with White Balsamic Vinegar for a Gluten-free Life

Do you know anyone in your life that has a gluten allergy or has been diagnosed as a celiac?

I have more than a few relatives and friends who have had to change their diets due to one of these conditions. At first the idea of changing their eating habits was daunting but with a little research and the help of a few specialty stores they were able to get started. What I have noticed is the growing variety of Gluten-free and even Vegan Gluten-free products that have been showing up, even in the mainstream grocery stores.

A few weeks ago we went to a pop up market called Gluten-free Garage that was held at the Artscape Wychwood Barns in Toronto. Dozens of food suppliers, bakeries and caterers were on hand allowing visitors to taste their products and ask about ingredients. We had attended the event in the hopes of finding a bakery that could offer gluten-free, dairy free and egg free cupcakes for my granddaughter’s first birthday party. Surprisingly, there were a few excellent choices that offered tasty solutions.

http://glutenfreegarage.ca/

While wandering the fair I spent some time chatting up a few of the vendors to get a sense of what each vendor had to offer this niche market. I came across two vendors who were offering classes in gluten-free cooking. Since I am so interested in new styles of cooking I immediately gravitated to their booths for tastings.

Arvinda’s offered us a lentil curry dish that was truly remarkable. They are suppliers of Indian spices through retail and online sales. Chefs Arvinda Chauhan and her daughter Preena teach classes in home-style, healthy and traditional Indian cooking at Nella Cucina in Toronto. I see an Indian cooking class in my future.

http://www.arvindas.com

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Pimenton offers cooking classes and catering for gluten-free events. Chef Jose Arato was serving up some Paella Vegetariana for those who like a little Spanish in their lives. Chef Jose was telling me that it was his birthday and he was having a great time meeting people at the market.

http://www.pimenton.ca/

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Other vendors who we spoke to were suppliers of ready-made gluten-free dinners for those who were looking for quick meal options. We particularly enjoyed the gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free Gnocchi from Antipastos Kitchens.

http://www.antipastoskitchen.com/

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I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the event even though I am not on a gluten-free diet. I found out more about these diet restrictions and what is available to accommodate those whose health is affected by them.

I have learned over the past few years to make a few gluten-free dinners that are not only tasty, but healthy options for everyone. This Berry, Cucumber and Quinoa Salad with White Balsamic Vinegar is one of my favourites from Quinoa Revolution. Like many of you, I have added Quinoa to my diet for its health benefits but also because I like how it tastes in salads and baking. This recipe has a great blend of fruit and cucumbers with the Quinoa that tastes fresh and light.

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Berry Cucumber Salad with White Balsamic Vinegar

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients:

2 cups (500 ml) water

1 cup (250 ml) quinoa

¼ cup (60 ml) white balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp. (15 ml) pure maple syrup

1 tbsp. (15 ml) extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup (250 ml) fresh blueberries

1 cup (250 ml) fresh strawberries, quartered

1 cup (250 ml) diced English cucumber

½ cup (60 ml) thinly sliced red onion

¼ cup (60 ml) sliced blanched almonds

Directions:

Combine the water and the quinoa in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil;. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Transfer to a salad bowl and cool completely.

Whisk together the vinegar, maple syrup and olive oil; stir into the quinoa. Gently toss in the blueberries, strawberries, cucumber and red onion. Sprinkle with almonds just before serving.

Recipe from Quinoa Revolution by Patricia Green and Carolyn Hemming

 

Soup Bowls for the Arts-Roasted Parsnip and Apple Soup

Every November we attend a wonderful luncheon at the Burlington Arts Centre in Burlington, Ontario. It is their annual Soup Bowl event.

Dozens of potters work countless hours throughout the year to produce beautiful hand-made bowls. For one weekend in November 1,000 of those bowls are sold off to raise money for the arts centre. Each person buys a ticket and is allowed to choose one bowl as they enter the dining hall.

Once you have chosen your bowl you take it to one of the restaurant stations where they fill it with delicious soup and provide you with a side salad to go with it. After you finish your lunch volunteers take away your bowl, wash it and bring it back to you all wrapped and ready to take home.

There were four local restaurants who donated soup and salads for the patrons. This year the generous donors were Socrates, Pepperwood Bistro, Canyon Creek and Emma’s Backporch. I chose the Lemon, Chicken and Rice soup that Socrates had provided. It was light and lemony and delectable.

I was invited to this event by my sister who is one of the potters at the centre. She made 50 bowls for the event on her own. It is a great way to start off the holiday season and to support the arts. It is also a great place to find local works of art for holiday gift giving. She has invited me a few times over the past few years and now we consider the day a tradition. It is a great way to get together with family and friends over a sumptuous lunch.

As a tribute to this event I am featuring a wonderful fall soup that I found in my new cookbook Small Plates and Sweet Treats by Aran Goyoaga. This beautiful cookbook is a work of art on its own. I hope you enjoy this soup as much as I did.

Roasted Parsnip and Apple Soup with Mustard Croutons

Makes: 6 to 8 Servings

Ingredients:

1 lb. parsnips, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 c. plus 2 tbsp. olive oil, plus more for garnish
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 celery stalk, diced 2 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and diced
5 c. chicken stock
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
3 slices sourdough bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Grated Gruyère cheese, for garnish

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Toss the diced parsnips, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of the black pepper on a baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, turning the parsnips halfway through the cooking process.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and celery. Cook the vegetables for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until tender but not browned.

Add the roasted parsnips, apples, potatoes, chicken stock, coriander, remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pot, and simmer for 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

Meanwhile, reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). In a small bowl, whisk together the Dijon mustard, remaining olive oil, and thyme leaves. Add the diced bread cubes and toss them in the dressing. Lay the croutons on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, until golden and crispy.

Puree the soup in a blender in batches or with a hand blender in the pot.

Top each serving with the croutons, and Gruyère cheese.

The soup will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or it can be frozen for up to 1 month.

Recipe from Small Plates and Sweet Treats by Aran Goyoaga

Toronto’s Danforth community supports the Thrill of the Grill

On Saturday July 21 Toronto’s Danforth community held a rib competition to raise money for Cancer research at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. Six of the local restaurants set up grills and set out to grill “The Best Rack on the Danforth”. The restaurants competing for this coveted honour included Globe Bistro, The Combine Eatery, Allen’s, Factory Girl, 7 numbers and Silk Road.

Over 1,000 people purchased tickets to the afternoon event and dutifully lined up at each station to try one rib and some coleslaw from each. After tasting the six different rib combos they voted for their favourites. In addition there was a panel of celebrity judges lead by Chef Lynn Crawford including Josh Rubin, writer for the Toronto Star, Kris Reyes & Dave Gerry, The Morning Show at Global Toronto (a division of Shaw Media), Graham Duncan of NOW Magazine, and Dr. Georg Bjarnason of the Odette Cancer Centre at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

We set out early to try the offerings and were not disappointed. Each chef created a rib recipe that reflected the style of cooking at their restaurant so the flavours were as diverse as the neighbourhood.

7 numbers prepared their ribs in a traditional style. They were boiled and then grilled to add flavour resulting in a tender meat that fell off of the bone. Silk Road added an Asian flair to their ribs and a hint of sesame oil to the coleslaw. Factory Girl created a combo that held a deep tomato sauce to its grilled ribs for a pub style combo. Globe Bistro added a rich deep flavour by rubbing the ribs with a smoky, spiced rub before grilling. Allen’s cooked their ribs with a Bar BQ sauce that most of us would have made at home. The Combine Eatery created a slightly spicy sauce that was not only dynamic but also rich and flavourful. We voted these the best of the bunch.

The crowd voted for the tried and true Bar BQ ribs from Allen’s but the judges voted for Factory Girl’s pub style ribs.

In addition to the rib tasting there was free water, Steam Whistle Beer and Gnarly Head wines from California for tasting.

We had our fill of great food and wine tasting and headed home. We decided that it was a delicious and entertaining way to spend a Saturday afternoon and look forward to the next charity cook off.