Foodservice Friday: Fat Pasha

Friday, November 27, 2015
Roast cauliflower with tahina, skhug, pine nuts, pomegranate and halloumi.
Photo courtesy of Fat Pasha
It's almost impossible for a restaurant to achieve perfection. But Toronto's Fat Pasha comes as close as almost anywhere I've been.

We first visited on Mother's Day this year. The timing was deliberate - I wasn't sure if the resident picky eater would like Middle Eastern food, and so I made the reservation for the one day when no one could complain about the restaurant choice. As it turned out, it didn't matter. Everyone, from my mom down to that picky eater, loved it. I've been back three times since, most recently to take Andrew's cousin and his wife visiting from Oxford, England. They loved it too.

What do I like to eat here? I'd never order a meal without the breathtaking roast cauliflower, probably Fat Pasha's iconic dish. The last time we visited, I brought leftovers home, and they made the best lunch I've ever eaten. The hummus isn't far behind, and neither is the falafel, the fattoush or the fried crushed potatoes. Once we ordered the daily special of buttermilk chicken, and I'm still dreaming about it. The sufganiyot (deconstructed jelly doughnuts) and nutella bread pudding (self-explanatory) are both divine. I'm pretty sure you can't go wrong with anything on the menu.

Fat Pasha was named the best new restaurant in Toronto in 2014. It's casual, affordable, and full of enchanting flavours. 

Photo courtesy of Fat Pasha
I reached out to owner Anthony Rose with a few questions, and his answers were as brilliant and charming as the food he serves:

Of Muses and Meringues: What was your inspiration behind opening Fat Pasha?
Anthony Rose: Originally it was Ottolenghi. Then it morphed into a combo of Israeli with stuff my bubbie cooked. Lots of Ashkenazi stuff. Then it all made sense. Kinda.

OF&M: Who have been your biggest culinary influences?
AR: Jeremiah Tower. Jonathan Waxman. Julia Child. 2 Fat Ladies. My mom.

OF&M: What was your most memorable cooking moment?
AR: Cooking for Julia Child and Jacques Pepin in San Francisco. Making Kraft Dinner* with my son. Extra cheese. Lotsa Tabasco.

*For my international readers, Kraft Dinner is the Canadian equivalent of Kraft Mac and Cheese.

Mother's Day dinner
I wrote earlier that it's almost impossible to achieve perfection, but it's surprisingly close for Fat Pasha. The first time we visited, we ordered the milk and honey pudding. The best phrase to describe this dessert is "manna from heaven." Being an avid home baker, I have high standards for restaurant desserts, and I was blown away by this one. You can imagine my disappointment to see it's been taken off the menu.

Anthony Rose, if you're reading this post, let me tell you three things:

1. Your restaurant is my favourite new restaurant of 2015.
2. I would happily eat your roast cauliflower every day of my life.
3. If you ever bring back your milk and honey pudding, you will have achieved perfection.

Fat Pasha
414 Dupont St
Toronto, ON

(All opinions are my own, and I received no compensation for this post.)

How to Make Gingerbread

Sunday, November 22, 2015
"Gingerbread made from scratch takes very little time and gives back tenfold what you put into it. Baking gingerbread perfumes a house as nothing else. It is good eaten warm or cool, iced or plain. It improves with age, should you be lucky or restrained enough to keep any around."

- Laurie Colwin, Home Cooking

Many years ago, I chose Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking for our book club. (Thanks to our book club archivists Martha and Sara, I know it was fourteen years ago, in March 2001.) If you love reading about food and haven't read Home Cooking, I urge you to pick up a copy. In every chapter, the author writes about food she loves, and in nearly every chapter she includes a recipe. The entire book is great, and you'll find a dozen recipes you want to try immediately. But the chapter in which I found my kindred spirit is the one called "How to Make Gingerbread."

As Colwin writes, gingerbread is the kind of old-fashioned, unglamorous dessert nobody really makes any more. And that's to our detriment. It may not have the dazzle of a three-tier iced cake, but I can't imagine a better way to celebrate my birthday than with a cake whose subtle aromas make the house smell like Christmas, and whose flavour is something The Nutcracker's Sugar Plum Fairy would have adored.

Colwin suggests icing the cake with cocoa icing, or using lemon icing. She also suggests serving it with creme fraiche and a poached pear, or simply shaking powdered sugar on top. I'm sure all those variations are wonderful. But the first time I made it, I served it with raspberry jam and whipped cream, and I will never, ever make it any other way. It is exquisite.

How good is this cake? When I served it, Andrew told me it's his favourite of all my recipes. Given the huge number of recipes I make, both on the blog and not, I have to think that's pretty high praise. I think I'll make it for his birthday, too.

"This ... little cake will feed six delicate, well-mannered people with small appetites who are on diets and have just had a large meal, or four fairly well-mannered people who are not terribly hungry. Two absolute pigs can devour it in one sitting - half for you and half for me - with a glass of milk and a cup of coffee and leave not a crumb for anyone else."

- Laurie Colwin, Home Cooking

I'm pleased to say the four of us (apparently delicate, well-mannered people) enjoyed our cake, with leftovers put away in the fridge. But the leftovers were gone by noon the next day.

(from Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking)

Note: Be sure to test the doneness of the cake. It can be a little finicky; sometimes the centre is still uncooked by the end of 30 minutes.


1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1/2 cup dark or light brown sugar
1/2 cup light molasses
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 Tbsp ground ginger, or to taste
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground allspice
2 tsp vanilla extract or lemon brandy (do not use lemon extract)
1/2 cup buttermilk

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9" cake pan with parchment paper, or butter the sides and bottom.

Cream 1/2 cup butter with the brown sugar. Beat until fluffy, then add molasses and beat some more. Beat in the eggs.

Add flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and allspice. Stir until combined.

Add vanilla extract and buttermilk, and stir until combined. Turn batter into pan.

Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, checking after 20 minutes. Cool on a rack.

Serve warm or cool, with raspberry jam and whipped cream.

Foodservice Friday: LaVinia restaurant

Friday, November 20, 2015
I'm fortunate to be part of a group of friends that celebrates our birthdays together. And when my turn came around earlier this month, they showed how well they knew me by choosing the ideal place to celebrate. Not only do I love trying new restaurants, tapas-style eating is one of my favourites, with share plates where we all try a little of everything.

"Tapas-style" is a phrase that gets used a lot, but in the case of LaVinia restaurant, it couldn't have been more authentic. The restaurant's spiritual inspiration is Madrid, the true home of tapas. And LaVinia was the real deal - from the crab croquettes to the Paella Valenciana to the mango cheesecake, every dish we ordered was full of flavour, and beautifully presented.

Photo courtesy of LaVinia
When I contacted chef Fernando, he said the inspiration behind LaVinia was to provide an authentic experience of Spain, and specifically of Madrid - not just with the food, but through every ingredient, the wine, and the service. He's been with many Michelin star restaurants, and has cooked beside Juan Marie Arzak, Adolfo (of Toledo, Spain), and Ferran Adria. Yes, that would be the great Ferran Adria of elBulli, often called the best restaurant in the world. So now I'm one degree of separation from Ferran Adria. The mind reels.

I think the measure of a great cook is his or her ability to prepare a really simple dish, and that was the case here. My favourite part of the meal was the plate of mushrooms sautéed in garlic and olive oil - simple, elegant, and exquisite. Don't just take my word for it, try it - and anything else on the menu!
Photo courtesy of LaVinia

2350 Lakeshore Blvd. West
(647) 748-2350

(All opinions are my own, and I received no compensation for this post.)

In memory of the victims of the Paris attacks

Saturday, November 14, 2015

"In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;"

"In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise."

"What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day."

All quotes from "In Memory of W. B. Yeats" by W. H. Auden.
All photos taken in Paris, France: the Eiffel Tower, Père Lachaise cemetery, city scene from the Eiffel Tower.

Exotic ingredients

Sunday, November 1, 2015

It happens all the time. You find a great recipe that uses cheese you can't find locally. Or a fruit or vegetable that you've never seen for sale. Or a seasoning that's common in another country, but that none of your favourite stores carry.

Do you give up and make something else? Or do you go to the ends of the earth to make the longed-for recipe happen?

This is a tale of the latter.

When Andrew and I were in Chicago in July, we visited Mindy Segal's restaurant, Mindy's Hot Chocolate, as part of a food tour. We loved the chocolate drink we were served, and I promised myself I'd try her new cookbook as soon as I got home.

When I got back, I flipped through the pages of this gorgeous cookbook. Everything looked delicious, but the recipe that really called out to me was Barter Brownies. Apparently, the first time Mindy tried them, she loved them so much she bartered one of her own recipes in exchange for this one. High praise indeed from a James Beard-winning cook.

And I was all ready to make them, when I was stumped by the exotic ingredient in question - Cocoa Rice Krispies.

Apparently those of you who live in the US  can buy Cocoa Rice Krispies any time you like, but that's a pleasure denied to us Canadians. To the best of my knowledge and research abilities, Cocoa Rice Krispies are not sold here.

Fortunately, my aunt was visiting  from California in a few weeks, and I put in a special request. And she delivered, bringing the cereal in her suitcase. I didn't waste any time making these wonderful brownies, and my family didn't waste any time polishing them off with smiles on their faces.

And the best part is this - the recipe only calls for 1 1/2 cups of Cocoa Rice Krispies, which means I can make a few more batches before I have to put in another call for a special delivery.

Barter Brownies
(from Cookie Love by Mindy Segal and Kate Leavy)

For the brownies:

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken into pieces
3/4 cup (12 Tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

For the brittle:

8 ounces dark milk chocolate (Note: I couldn’t find dark milk chocolate anywhere, so I used 4 ounces dark chocolate and 4 ounces milk chocolate. It worked perfectly.)
1 1/2 cups chocolate puffed rice (e.g. Cocoa Rice Krispies)

To make the brownies:

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat a 9 x 13” pan or glass baking dish with parchment paper, leaving 1 inch of overhang on the long sides.

In a heatproof bowl set over (but not touching) barely simmering water in a pot, melt the chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally with a rubber spatula. Keep warm.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the sugars on low speed to combine. Add the warm chocolate mixture and stir to combine. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula to bring the batter together.

Crack the eggs into a cup or bowl and add the vanilla.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, and baking powder. Whisk in the salt.

On medium speed, add the eggs and vanilla, one egg at a time, mixing briefly to incorporate before adding the next, approximately 5 seconds for each egg. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula to bring the batter together. Mix on medium speed for 20 to 30 seconds to make nearly homogeneous.

Add the dry ingredients all at once and stir until the dough comes together but still looks shaggy. Do not overmix. Scrape the sides and the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula to bring the batter together.

Pour into the prepared pan. Bake, rotating the pan halfway through the baking process, until a thin crust appears on the top and a toothpick inserted into the centre of the pan draws out wet crumbs, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool completely in the pan.

To make the brittle:

Once the brownies are cool, in a heatproof bowl set over (but not touching) barely simmering water in a pot, melt the dark milk chocolate (or combination of dark and milk chocolate), stirring occasionally with a rubber spatula. Stir in the puffed rice. Using a large offset spatula, spread the brittle over the brownies in an even layer. Refrigerate until chilled.

Lift the brownies out of the pan using the parchment handles and transfer to a cutting board. Trim the edges. Cut the brownies and serve at room temperature.

The brownies can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days.