Host the Perfect Holiday Dinner Party

‘Tis the season to be jolly – and attend fabulous holiday dinner parties, fa la la! If you’re a student on a budget like me, and are brave enough to take on the touted position of host, then you're probably aware of the unwritten guidelines one must follow in order to host a successful party. If you’re new to the game, then you’ve come to the right place.

Hors d'oeuvres and drinks relax guests and encourage conversation
First things first: you’ve got to set the date.
When picking the date, be mindful of other parties around the same time. You wouldn’t want to double-book and run the risk of missing a friend’s party – or worse, no one showing up to yours! 

What good is a dinner party without any guests? Make a guest list.
Think of how big you want your party to be. Who gets along? More importantly, who doesn’t. Are guests allowed to bring a plus one? These are all things to consider. Send out your invites ASAP so that you’ve nailed down your chosen night and reserved your buddies. Paperless Post is fantastic for e-vite templates.

Paperless Post has great templates for any occasion
Next, you’ve got to tackle the most important part: planning your menu.
If you’re cooking for everyone, it’s important to offer delicious options. Be sure to ask your friends about any allergies they may have, and don’t forget about the vegans and vegetarians. Sometimes it’s easier to do your dinner in a potluck style. This way, there are alternatives and you’re not left with all the hard work. Don’t forget about cocktails – be sure to inform your guests if it’s BYOB.

Who can complain about decorations?
It’s time for you to get creative. You can pick a fun theme, like Ugly Sweater Party or Apres-ski, or just decorate in the spirit of the holidays – Christmas, Hanukkah, or even Chrismukkah! You don’t have to spend a lot of money, as the dollar store has great options, and you might have some useful stuff tucked away in your basement that you’ve forgotten about.

Spice up a table setting with a fun-filled Christmas cracker
Finally, you’ve got to prepare a music playlist.
Lots of hearty holiday food can put anyone to sleep, so a great music playlist helps to keep the party going, and your guests awake! Match the playlist to your theme, stick in some fun songs from your high school days, or flip on satellite radio. Avoid slow songs to keep everyone engaged.

Friends wearing festive paper crowns
What's your secret to being the hostess with the mostess
What tips and tricks can you share for preparing a successful holiday dinner party?  

Eating my way around the globe

Thanks to my adventurous mom, I’ve been fortunate enough to have the privilege to travel to many exotic, brilliant countries in my life. There’s no more exciting feeling than taking off on a flight to a new place, gearing up to experience diverse, vibrant cultures, miraculous world wonders, and a whole new, scrumptious world of food.

The Pelican Club - New Orleans, USA
Those who know me know that I love to take pictures of my food; but my love of food transcends merely taking pretty, appetizing pictures. To me, it's about the experience and the memories associated with the meal: who I was with, where I was, how I ended up at that particular restaurant.. It's all part of the whole adventure. In fact, trying new foods has taken a spotlight in my adventures.

The Roundhouse Restaurant - Cape Town, South Africa
In summer 2011, I went on a trip of a lifetime with my mom to Botswana, Zambia and South Africa. We were lucky to take in some truly remarkable experiences during our three-week safari adventure, like a helicopter ride over Victoria Falls, visiting a penguin colony, and exploring the vast Okavango Delta and Kruger National Park. Having the opportunity to indulge in various kinds of food while we were there, ranging from authentic to the region, to ultra luxurious and gourmet, was a major highlight for me.

Stanley's Camp - Okavango Delta, Botswana
Fine dining in Cape Town, South Africa
La Colombe, Beluga, and The Roundhouse
 In summer 2010, we went on an amazing cruise that embarked from Athens and sailed through the breathtaking Greek Islands, ending in Istanbul, Turkey. In between visiting the Palace of the Grand Master in Rhodes, exploring the Ancient Greek Library of Celsus in Ephesus, and navigating the narrow streets in Mykonos, I tasted some of the most heavenly food ever.
Gyros - Mykonos, Greece and Baklava - Santorini, Greece
Joke Perestroyka - Itanbul, Turkey
Traditional Turkish food - Cappodocia, Turkey
Throughout my travels, I am always reminded that food offers not just nourishment, but friendship, comfort, and enlightenment. When I look back on photos I took of food I ate on all my trips, I think of the extraordinary times I shared with my family and friends, the incredible world landmarks I stood in front of, and how excited I am to continue exploring the world.

What are some memorable trips you've been on? Did you try any new and exciting foods that you wouldn't necessarily eat at home?

A Burger a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

You can find a burger joint in every nook and cranny of Toronto these days. A self-proclaimed mega-foodie, I'm on a never-ending quest to find spots that serve up the best patties in town.

Of course, when setting out with such a hefty task, one must establish certain criteria. For my purposes, I've decided to check out places that are serving up fresh, high quality ingredients (that leaves you out, McDonald's!), using locally-sourced, hormone-free beef.

My Four Faves So Far:

1) Holy Chuck Burgers

The Big Chuck
Holy Chuck Burgers - Toronto
Holy Chuck is grilling up, what I believe to be, the best burgers in Toronto, served with a smile, which are usually hard to come by. The meat is so tender and juicy, and provides the all-important melt-in-your-mouth sensation. My favourite menu item is 'The Big Chuck.' It has two delectable beef patties, lettuce, cheese, and their "special sauce" - aka their answer to the Big Mac, except way better.

2) The Burger's Priest
Bacon Cheeseburger
The Burger's Priest - Toronto
Definitely one of the more widely known and most talked about burger joints in the city, Burger's Priest is flipping some incredibly scrumptious, fresh burgers that keep the customers lining up down the block. The pillowy soft Wonder Bread bun and delightfully simple toppings are a great touch, though I'd pass on their limp, soggy fries next time.

3) The Stockyards Smokehouse & Larder
The Green Chili Pimento Cheese Burger
The Stockyards - Toronto
Just thinking about this burger makes my mouth water. This griddle-smashed burger, topped with smoked jalapeno, cheddar, mayo and butter lettuce, will send your taste buds into ecstasy. It's fiery, cheesy, and leaves you wanting more. The fries are sinfully delicious as well.

4) Burger Shoppe/BQM
Riverside Burger
BQM - Toronto
BQM offers the hungry patron heavenly, huge, beefy burgers, served with any combination of toppings you could imagine. I tried the Riverside, with bacon, lettuce, tomato, mozzarella, garlic aioli, BQM bbq sauce, and to top it all off, an onion ring! This was a seriously amazing burger that tantalized my senses and filled me to the brim. I also ordered their tasty sweet potato fries, which were totally unnecessary, as I almost had to undo a button.... Okay, and my zipper.
Restaurant critic in disguise...
In my search for the perfect burger, I've likely gained a pant size (or seven), but there are so many patties I've yet to try! Any suggestions?

Where do you go for your burger fix in Toronto? Please share!

Food Trucks Are Rolling All Over Toronto!

Have you ever watched Food Network's hunger-inducing show, Eat St.?

Most of the food trucks showcased on that show are all over the States, satisfying lined-up-for-miles, drooling customers who would sell their left leg for a paper plate of slow-roasted chipotle pulled pork on a bed of purple cabbage slaw, wrapped in a made-fresh-to-order corn tortilla, or a basket of freshly made crispy fries covered in fire-roasted poblano chiles, caramelized onions, shawarma-marinated steak and jack cheese! (......*drool*)

People lined up for food truck food at Food Truck Eats in the Distillery District
(Photo Credit)
I've been waiting not so patiently for the food truck craze to hit Toronto, and I am pleased to finally say with certainty that our day has come!

To me, the first Molson Amphitheatre concert of the year always marks the beginning of summer. So as I do every year, I happily made my way down to the Lakeshore on the first weekend of June to ring in the summer, and watch One Direction take the stage (don't judge me).

Thousands of screaming girls at One Direction (05/29/12)
But there was something new this past June!

Toward the back of the amphitheatre, amidst the foot-long hot dog and tall-can beer vendors, were FOOD TRUCKS(!!!!!!), parked, waiting for hungry customers. As I would soon learn this summer, this was only the beginning of my journey trying food trucks across the city.

My Faaave Food Truck:
I had the chance to try Buster's Sea Cove.

Buster's Sea Cove at The Sheepdogs concert (09/15/12)
 I had the Lobster Roll ($13), served with a dill pickle & Ms. Vickie's chips, and my concert-goer-partner-in-crime/reason I go to so many concerts, Chris, ordered the Shrimp Tacos ($9).

I'm still dreaming of this lobster roll! It was huge & lived up to the hype :)
I'm a huge fan of the beef gyros pita from Blue Donkey, which made several appearances at concerts all summer. The Portobello Burger truck came to a few shows as well, offering a vegetarian menu (which is a rarity!).

Blue Donkey Streatery & their friendly staff!
'Tasty Tacos' ($8, I think) from Portobello Burger (gluten-free, vegan-optional)
(black & garbanzo beans, sauteed onions, tomato sauce,
Mexican salsa, old cheddar cheese, on 2 hard corn shell tostados)
at Andrew Bird (07/19/12)

Food trucks have taken over our lucky city, and are (fingers crossed!!) here to stay!

You can read up on their menus, and find out exactly where they'll be parked daily, so you'll never miss another BBQ brisket sandwich or bacon-smothered poutine again.

Have you had the opportunity to try out some of Toronto's trucks? Which one is your favourite?

(For school purposes- word count: 352)

Egg-topped Soba Noodles with Asparagus and Prosciutto

I've been really making a conscious effort to cut back on going out to eat, as well as spending so much money on food. In turn, this has really helped me in my mission to eat healthier.

Last night, I made an absolutely delicious, savory, and easy dinner for two. It took under 30 minutes for sure, including the minimal prep time! I got the recipe here, but tweaked the amount of ingredients.

Egg-Topped Soba Noodles with Asparagus and Prosciutto

-1/2 package soba noodles (Thin, buckwheat noodles - a great alternative to whole-wheat pasta, if you're not a fan.)
-1/2 lb of asparagus, ends trimmed, cut on sharp diagonal into 1/8 inch-thick slices (Adjust this to your preference - we liked it with lots of asparagus! Adds a great crunch to the dish.)
-2 large eggs
-1 package of Prosciutto, chopped (We bought pre-chopped Prosciutto - it came in little chunks & really cut down on prep time.)
-4 garlic cloves, minced
-4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
-1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus additional for serving

1) Heat 2 tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic; stir for 30 seconds. Add prosciutto strips, and cook until slightly crisp. Remove from heat and set aside in a bowl.

2) Cook soba noodles in a pot of salted boiling water for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add sliced asparagus to the pot; cook until noodles are cooked through and asparagus is just tender (still a little crunchy is best!), about 2 to 3 minutes. Drain noodles and asparagus, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid.

3) Add drained noodles and asparagus to prosciutto mixture in the pan. Cook over medium heat until heated through, tossing and adding reserved cooking liquid by 1/4 cupfuls to moisten. Add noodle mixture to a large bowl for serving, and set aside.

4) Heat 1 tsp olive oil in the same pan over medium heat. Crack egg into pan. Cook on one side until egg begins to set, about 1.5 minutes. Repeat for second egg.

5) Remove pan from heat. Add grated Parmesan cheese and 1 tbsp olive oil to noodle mixture, toss to coat. Divide among individual bowls. Top each serving with 1 egg and grated cheese. Serve immediately.

 I couldn't believe how effortless and tasty this recipe was. I hope you find so too. I'd love if you could share some great and healthy dinner recipes with me as well!

Happy cooking!

A Healthy Dinner Made Easy

The other day I went grocery shopping with the intention of buying solely healthy foods, and I did just that. In fact, I even went home and rummaged through every drawer, cupboard and pantry, and threw out all the junk food that populated every nook and cranny of my kitchen.

One of the healthy items that I bought was an organic head of cauliflower - something that I've never bought, let alone cooked before.  I scoured the internet for an easy-to-make, healthy, yet still yummy recipe, and came across this one on Epicurious - my go-to website/app for recipes.

Whole-Wheat Linguine with Cauliflower, Pancetta & Parmesan
(This recipe yields four servings, according to Epicurious, but I'd say there's even more than that in a bowl this big! Especially if you're watching your weight - or trying to, anyway. I also tweaked the recipe to suit my dietary likes/dislikes.)

-1/2 cup bread crumbs
-1/4 cup (+ 1 tbsp) extra virgin olive oil
-1 large head of cauliflower, cut into 1 inch wide florets
-1/4 lb sliced pancetta, chopped
-4 garlic cloves, minced
-1/2 tsp dried hot red pepper flakes (you can adjust this based on how much spice you can handle)
-1 cup (1 can) reduced-sodium chicken broth
-3/4 lb whole-wheat linguine
-1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan, plus additional for serving
-1/3 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1) Stir together bread crumbs and 1 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil in a small bowl until combined well. Transfer to a 12-inch heavy skillet (aka a deep/wide pan) and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until crisp and golden. This should take about 5 minutes. Return to bowl.

2) Heat remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil in the pan over moderately high heat until hot (but not smoking), then sauté cauliflower, stirring occasionally, until browned well, about 8-10 minutes.

3) Add pancetta and sauté, stirring frequently, until it begins to crisp, for about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté, stirring, for about 1 minute. Add broth, then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower is tender and sauce is slightly reduced. (Epicurious indicates to allow the sauce to simmer for about 7 minutes, but I allowed it to simmer until I was finished making my pasta.)

4) While the sauce is simmering, cook the linguine in a pot of boiling salted water, uncovered, until al dente, then drain in a colander.

5) Stir your desired amount of Parmesan cheese into sauce and simmer 1 minute. (I loooove cheese, so I used quite a bit.)

6) Toss pasta with the cauliflower mixture and parsley in a large bowl, then sprinkle with the bread crumbs set aside from earlier. Serve with additional cheese.

Although it tasted pretty phenomenal, I didn't snap a photo of it to share with you, because I found that a photo wouldn't do it justice. It may not be the prettiest dish you could make, but it's easy, healthy, filling, and delicious!

Happy cooking!

Homemade Butter Chicken & Raita

Hey everyone!

It has been quite a while since my last post. That's not to say I haven't been getting up to anything interesting - I've just neglected my blog and left you all hanging.

Last night, I was in a major cooking mood, and wanted to make a big, delicious, savoury, flavourful meal - and that's just what I did. I wanted to take a stab at making butter chicken from scratch, and it actually turned out amazingly, so I thought I'd share the recipe with you all and encourage you all to take a stab at it as well.

First of all, the INGREDIENTS you're going to need are as follows:
1 cup butter
1 onion, chopped
1 tbsp garlic, minced - I used four small cloves (I like a lot of garlic, and this recipe yields a lot of sauce, so it works out!)
1 can (15 oz) tomato sauce
3 cups heavy cream (I used 35% cooking cream)
2 tsp salt
1 tsp cayenne pepper (I used a bit more, & you can too, if you want it to be extra spicy!)
1 tsp garam masala (Easier to find at an ethnic foods store - the Metro by my house didn't have it)
1 1/2 lbs skinless boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size chunks (I used 4 decently sized chicken breasts)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp tandoori masala (Same deal as the garam masala)
1 cup Uncle Ben's 10 minute basmati rice (You can use any kind of basmati rice, I just wanted to cut down on cooking time, & this was a cinch to make!)
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
I added green beans so there would be a bit of of veg in it - I used about 2 cups, chopped into thirds.

1. After all your ingredients are chopped and ready to go, pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees.

2. Melt a few tbsp of butter in a pan over medium heat. Stir in onion and garlic, and cook slowly until the onion caramelizes to a dark brown - about 15 mins.

3. Meanwhile, melt the remaining butter in a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat along with the tomato sauce, heavy cream, salt, cayenne pepper, and garam masala. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then stir in caramelized onions.

4. While the sauce is simmering, toss cubed chicken breast in vegetable oil until coated, then season with tandoori masala and spread out onto a baking sheet/pan.

5. Bake chicken in pre-heated oven until no longer pink in the centre, about 15 mins. Once done, add the chicken and chopped green beans to the sauce and simmer for about 12-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

6. Begin cooking rice 5 minutes after the chicken has been added to the sauce.

7. Garnish with fresh cilantro & serve! 

But wait! That's not all! I made a delicious raita to go alongside the butter chicken. Sometimes we all need to cut the heat with a tasty side to cleanse the palate! It is so easy to make and you can do it before you make your butter chicken, so that it has time to chill & let the flavours set.

1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup seeded English cucumber, chopped
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tsp green onion, chopped
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin

Mix ingredients in a medium bowl. Season to taste with salt. Chill raita (about 1-2 hours is best), covered, until ready to serve. 

I also bought naan at the grocery store and lightly brushed it with olive oil, & put it in the oven at 400 degrees for 4 minutes before everything was ready. It went really well with everything, especially the raita!

For a truly amateur home cook, this meal was totally easy to put together, and will impress anyone you're serving it to!

Happy cooking! :)

American Thanksgiving in NYC!

At the end of November, my mom, Deborah, and I are heading down to NYC for a long weekend of shopping, sight-seeing, and of course, eating!

Naturally, my mom put me in charge of putting together a list of restaurants to eat at while we're there. Thanks to friends on Facebook, Twitter & good old fashioned research, I compiled a pretty tantalizing list. That being said, I am still welcoming suggestions from you guys! Please comment if you think I'm missing any "must-eats."


1) Cafeteria (119 7th Ave, 7th & W 17th)
2) Momofoku (Noodle Bar or Ssam Bar)
3) Babbo (110 Waverly Place, NW corner of Washington Square)
4) Shake Shack (Madison Square Park)
5) The Spotted Pig (314 W 11th St at Greenwich St.)
6) DuMont (432 Union Ave, Brooklyn)
7) Fatty Crab (West Village, 643 Hudson St, between Horatio & Gansevoort)
8) Boqueria (171 Spring St, Soho)
9) Balthazar (80 Spring St, Soho)
10) Pearl Oyster Bar (18 Cornelia St)
11) Prune (54 E 1st St, between 1st & 2nd)
12) Barney Greengrass (541 Amsterdam St at 86th)
13) Katz's Deli (205 East Houston) **Definitely eating here - a scene from my fave movie was filmed here! Hint: "I'll have what she's having!"**
14) Maialino (2 Lexington Ave)
15) Di Fara Pizza (1424 Avenue J, Brooklyn)
16) Buddakan (75 9th Ave, 9th & W 16th)
17) Corner Bistro (331 W 4th St, Jane & W 4th)

Sadly, I had to narrow this list down from a much longer one, and we won't be able to eat at all of these.. But these restaurants look absolutely delish!

Like I said, still open to suggestions! Happy eating! :)

Baked Grown-up Mac and Cheese!

Since I've joined the gym this past week, I've been making (very) minor adjustments to my life to sort of gear toward a healthier, not to mention less expensive, lifestyle. For starters, I've totally cut eating out at restaurants (okay okay, I ate at Poutini's this week... but we were in a pinch for food before the Warren Haynes Band concert!!), so I've been cooking a lot more.

Yesterday, I sat brainstorming for a while ideas of what to make for dinner for me and my boyfriend. I was in the mood for something super flavourful and fairly epic. I perused the internet for ideas for quite a while and decided on baked mac and cheese. I compiled a bunch of different recipes and came up with my own!

Serves 6 

-1 lb Large Shell pasta (or any pasta that you like, really. Most websites recommend elbow mac)
-1/2 cup, or one stick, of butter
-1/2 cup all-purpose flour
-4 1/2 cups milk
-2 cups grated sharp white cheddar (1/2 cup for the top)
-2 cups grated sharp orange cheddar (1/2 cup for the top)
-2 cups grated gruyere (1/2 cup for the top)
-generous amount of salt, black pepper, paprika
-chili flakes (optional, but adds a nice kick)


First, I boiled the large shell pasta in salted water until it was about two minutes outside of being cooked (it would cook in the oven anyway, and nobody likes mushy pasta - especially not me!). Then, I strained it and put it in a large bowl to sit.

Then, I preheated the oven to 350 degrees while I prepared the sauce.

First, I melted the stick of butter in a medium pot over medium heat. Then, I whisked in flour, and slowly added the milk, whisking continuously until it reached a boil. Then I reduced the heat, cooked for about 5 more minutes, whisking constantly. After 5 minutes had passed, I added in the cheese, salt, pepper, and paprika. I kept whisking the sauce until it was completely smooth (no chunks), and removed it from heat. I then added the sauce to the pasta in the large bowl and mixed it well.

I coated a large baking dish in low cal Canola Oil spray (cuz I need to be watching calories at this point, right? Ha!), poured in the pasta and sauce, and topped it off with the remaining grated cheese.

I baked it for 40 minutes, when the cheese was bubbling around the edges and the top was a beautiful golden brown colour.

Holy COW! It was so so sooooo delicious! I had a large helping, as did Chris. It went really great with dollops of Sriracha Chili Paste.

Stay tuned for my next cooking adventure :)

Happy eating!

Homemade Delicious Guacamole!

Chris (@tman41) and I decided to head up to the cottage for a night so that he could take inventory of his camping stuff before heading to Bonnaroo this weekend. We’re always looking for something fun to do together, and we had so much fun cooking together before, so we decided to come up with a superb guacamole recipe and get to work with the ingredients.

We stopped at Zehrs in Keswick and picked out our ingredients:

  • 6 ripe avocados, peeled & pitted
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 small tomato, diced
  • 6 oz. Monterey Jack cheese, grated
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, diced
  • 1 cubanelle pepper, diced
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 tsp salt
      In a large mixing bowl, mash the avocados, leaving some chunks. It’s best to do this by hand, rather than by blender, because you don’t want the avocado to be like a purée. The chunks add a different texture, as well as keeps the delicious flavour of a ripe avocado! We used a potato masher and a spoon.

      Once you’ve mashed your avocados, you’re ready to dice, chop and crush the rest of your ingredients!

       Last but not least, add all of your ingredients into the bowl and mix to blend it all together.

      As you stir it, your taste buds will be tickled by the incredible smell alone. Get out your favourite nacho chip (we used President’s Choice Sea Salt Kettle Style Tortilla Chips, which were really yummy!) and enjoy!

       Because we made our guacamole right before dinner, we decided to incorporate it into our dinner and make homemade burritos.

      Chris marinated the chicken in a smoky chipotle salsa and fried the slices in a pan. He used the leftover cilantro and lime from our guacamole recipe to create a cilantro & lime rice. We grated what was left of our Monterey Jack cheese, and voila! We had delicious burrito ingredients. Add lettuce, sour cream and any other of your favourite toppings, and enjoy!

      But we weren’t done yet!

      Our guacamole was so delicious, and there was so much left, that the next morning, as we were making cheesy chorizo scrambled eggs, we decided to make breakfast burritos!

      Using basically the same ingredients as the burritos from the night before (I added bacon bits and Franks Red Hot Sauce), we made scrumptious, savoury breakfast burritos.

      All in all, the guacamole was a tasty, fun and easy dish to make!

      (Prep time: approx 15-20 mins)