Author Archives: Underground Culinary Lab

About Underground Culinary Lab

Three twenty-something-year-old university friends with a passion for baking and exploring good eats in Toronto, Canada. - matchachoco, ricelessasian and momijisama

Sweet Crepe

Here’s a video remake of an old blog post recipe we made a few years ago.

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Sweetery Toronto Food Festival

While Matchachoco was restaurant hopping in Vancouver, I was out in Toronto on a sweet escape (that was just a euphemism for “I had too much sweets!”).

Last August, I went with a friend to Sweetery, Toronto’s inaugural sweets food festival. It was a two-day event featuring various sweets from local food vendors and George Brown culinary students, as well as several fun activities involving sweet treats. Although Sweetery was a small food festival compared to other food festivals in Toronto, it didn’t stop us from getting our sweet tooth fix.

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Featured here are pastries made by George Brown students enrolled in the Advanced French Patisserie Program:

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I had one of the éclairs made by one of the George Brown students. It was an éclair cassis filled with a lemon mascarpone cream, topped with a black currant glaze and a lemon almond streusel. It had the perfect balance of sweetness, tanginess, and creaminess (though I might be a bit biased because I love lemon and mascarpone cheese!). I also loved finishing glitter touch to it. Having a personal preference for desserts with a bit of sourness, this was one of the sweets I really enjoyed that day.

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My friend and I shared the mille feuille with poached rhubarb, also made by one of the George Brown students. The presentation of this dessert stood out to me because I rarely see a mille feuille presented this way. It was a refreshing twist from the typical mille feuille.

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Going through the food truck selections at Sweetery, we decided to try The Original Chimney’s food
truck. We got the Holy Chimnnoli, which was their own spin of a cannoli. The Holy Chimnolis were filled with the typical ricotta cheese filling you’ll find in a cannoli, but instead of a cannoli shell, the Holy Chimnnolis were made with their signature Chimney cake

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The Chimney cakes were soft and tender on the inside with a very slight crisp on the outside. My friend and I both enjoyed them; however, midway through eating them, the sweetness suddenly caught on to us. We suddenly felt that it was too sweet, especially with the generous sprinkling of powdered sugar on the Chimney cakes.

Another dessert we had that day was the Vietnamese coffee mille crepe from Catering Diva, one of the vendors at Sweetery. It was made with 20 layers of crepe filled with layers of cream in-between. Although it was a bit smaller and limp compared to other mille crepes I’ve had before, this was one of the best desserts we had that day. The mille crepe was creamy and each bite melts in your mouth. It had a strong coffee flavour, but it wasn’t too overpowering, which I really liked. My friend particularly liked this one the most because it wasn’t overly sweet.

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We also had a lychee snow cone from Sweet Snow Shave Ice (I forgot to take a photo unfortunately). I was a bit impressed with their snow cones because they were flavourful, in contrast to the bland snow cones that I’ve been too familiar with. The ice was also light and finely crushed. Flavour-wise, however, I strangely found the lychee flavor almost had a cotton candy taste. I thought it was the right amount of sweetness, but my friend found it too sweet for his liking.

Overall, we had a good run of trying different desserts at Sweetery. I’m hoping next year’s will not only be sweeter, but bigger with more variety.

– Ricelessasian

Torafuku & AnnaLenna

Happy September! During our hiatus, I went back to Vancouver and tried two new hot spots in the city.

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After seeing all the drool-worthy photos on Instagram, my foodie friend and I ventured to the new Asian fusion restaurant, Torafuku (Japanese for “Lucky Tiger”) on Main Street near Vancouver’s Chinatown. It’s been one of the latest hot spots to go to and we had been waiting for weeks to try their food. Their packed establishment, while new, may be attributed to the fandom of Le Tigre, the popular food truck company run by Torafuku’s co-owner.IMG_2685Since they don’t take reservations, which is becoming more common in downtown hotspots, we arrived at the restaurant closer to 6:30 pm and took our chances. Luckily, we were greeted immediately upon entering and escorted to the last table for two in the back corner. Seating is rather limited with larger, sharing-type tables, a few tables for two and four. I would suggest going there even before 6:30 pm to secure a spot for you and your dining guests.

Once you enter the restaurant, you’ll notice the simple, yet tidy decor speaks to the more relaxed dining environment. The open-kitchen attached to the bar made the environment lively, where patrons could easily interact with the chefs busy at work. I also noticed a popular Vancouver food blogger was also seated close by 🙂

The service was very attentive and one of the better ones that I’ve received in Vancouver. Our waitress came to check on us at least three times during our meal. She gave us some good recommendations, even though we sort of had an idea about which dishes we would order already from previous patrons. Most importantly, we didn’t feel rushed at all, despite there being a line-up on our way out.

My favourite dishes among the four that we ordered were the Kickass Rice 2.0 and the Rye So Messy – partly because of their awesome names but they were two solid dishes. The portions of both dishes were adequate as sharing plates for two.IMG_2686My friend and I were very excited to try the popular Kickass Rice 2.0 dish and to say the least, it did not disappoint! Each bite of the pork belly aburi had a burst of spicy, savoury, and sour flavours, but was not too overpowering.

I’m a huge fan of Southern-style Fried Chicken…it really is my ULTIMATE comfort food! Unfortunately the fried chicken skin served here wasn’t crispy enough, which would have made the dish a 9 out of 10. The sesame seeds and ramen crumbs however gave it some crunch and was a nice twist on the classic fried chicken dish.IMG_2690I love the name of this dish too, “This is not Tortellini”, which consists of pork dumplings with shiso, ginger, garlic and scallion. I would have to say this tasted like the typical potsticker, but I really enjoyed the sweetened beet puree and steamed vegetables.IMG_2692The last dish we ordered was the calamari salad. The calamari was deep-fried well – chewy on the inside and a little bit crispy on the outside. Topped with a sweet chilli dressing, the calamari was also balanced well with onions, tomatoes, and fresh arugula. Though I enjoyed the calamari texture, I thought it was underseasoned and the sweetness of the lychee did not match well with the savoury and tangy flavours of the calamari and squid. Perhaps this one was my least favourite dish; I would have liked it more if the lychees were replaced with another fruit that was mildly sweet, such as sliced apples.IMG_2699On average, the prices were roughly $10-12 per dish. For the portion size of these sharing plates, those with bigger appetites may leave craving for more. We actually headed to Rain or Shine Ice Cream afterwards! Though it wasn’t exactly bang for your buck, the friendly service and creatively executed dishes might entice you to come back. I’m excited to see what they will be adding to their menu in the near future!

AnnaLennaIMG_2712My family and I went to the upscale AnnaLenna Restaurant in Kitsilano for a special occasion. We were very excited to try this restaurant since it’s been voted #1 in Vancouver! The decor was a little bit mismatched yet quirky, with pieces of lego and vintage gameboys on the shelf as you enter the doorway. The black booths where we were seated provided a more classic and contemporary feel and were very comfortable. I loved the natural lighting from the open patio and the nice summer breeze.IMG_2708Serving primarily Canadian West Coast cuisine, AnnaLenna offers a very limited selection of 15 dishes on their menu. The waitress explained to us that all of the menu items were intended to be sharing-type dishes, recommending 2 dishes per person; however, we thought 8 dishes in total would be a little much for the four of us.  One of my favourite dishes was the heirloom tomato salad. I’m not a big fan of cheese, however, the soft burrata cheese complemented the texture of the tomato and the crispiness of the house cured bacon. This is the perfect summer dish that I will be definitely ordering again in the future! IMG_2720There were not many vegetable options, so we ordered the kale salad. After discussing with my guests, we felt that the ginger tahini dressing was a bit too creamy and the salad was overseasoned with salt, making it a heartier appetizer. I really enjoyed the fried cauliflower because it provided a sweet caramelized flavour to balance off the saltiness. I appreciated the different elements that were involved in creating this dish, for example, the potato chips topping the salad were a nice surprise providing desirable crunch and texture.IMG_2721Since I’m allergic to a lot of different types of shellfish, fish is one of the staples I can eat safely without getting a bad reaction. One of my favourite types of seafood is salmon, which the wild trout that we ordered tasted very similar to. The crust on the trout was perfectly seared (not one bit burnt) for that extra crunch. We also ordered another seafood dish which was the scallops. The puffed rice cereal was an interesting accompaniment on the dish and provided some nice texture overall. However, the seared scallops, though cooked well, missed its mark with its seasoning and was underwhelming in flavour. While both dishes were beautifully presented, our expectations were not met with the smaller portion sizes and value of the dishes.IMG_2724 IMG_2727Two other honourable mentions belong to the tamari-marinated grilled pork belly and the wagyu beef short ribs – the highlights of the night! Pork belly is usually a fattier and heavier Chinese dish but the pairing of oat porridge and cooked beets made the dish less decadent and rich. The caramelized flavours of the pork belly provided a sweet flavour that matched well with the umami flavours of the meat. Similarly, the wagyu short rib was another stand-out dish which was extremely tender and cooked perfectly medium rare. The peppercorn jus also didn’t overwhelm the natural flavour of the beef and its melt-in-your-mouth texture will leave you wanting more!IMG_2730IMG_2736Unfortunately, we passed on the dessert of either grapefruit semifreddo or chocolate custard because we already bought a cake to eat at home. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this special dining experience at AnnaLenna, especially the choice of dishes offered. Despite having a more limited menu, most of the dishes were high-quality and signature dishes. I really look forward to trying their brunch menu and desserts one day.

-Matchachoco

Canada Day Pasta

Happy Canada Day!

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It’s been a while since we last posted, so here’s a quick post on a Canada Day themed pasta. Savory foods can look pretty too! 😀

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I got that pasta from Winners again. I think it’s the same brand as the previous colored pasta post.

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Ingredients: colored bowtie pasta, pasta sauce, shaved parmesan cheese, and grape tomatoes

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I’m thinking of using these red and white bowties again for Christmas 😉 .

– Ricelessasian

Quick and Easy Banana Pancakes

Here’s a quick and easy pancake recipe we’ve previously featured on the blog. We added chocolate chips to half the batter and fresh blueberries to the other half for variety.

This is probably the most fun we had pouring maple syrup on pancakes and joking about Instragram (so far) :).

– Ricelessasian

Homemade Matcha Ice Cream

We’re on YouTube now!

Here’s a test video of us making homemade matcha ice cream. We added about 2 tbsp. of matcha powder to this basic ice cream recipe base. Since we didn’t have whole milk, we used 2 ½ cups of cream with half a cup of skim milk instead of what the recipe called for (2 cups of cream + 1 cup whole milk). The result is a sweet and milky ice cream with a contrasting matcha green tea flavour. It was a matcha made in heaven.

– Ricelessasian

Winterlicious 2015: Bent I Ever Had

Excuse the Drake puns throughout this post – we are fully aware that we might overdo the use of Drake references here *cue the eye rolls*. We have heard that Drake, one of Canada’s treasures and an undeniably talented rapper, is a regular at this restaurant!

There is no question that Chef Susur Lee is a guggernaut in the elite culinary world. I’ve seen him on TV a number of times (Chopped Canada) and read some reviews on the Internet, so I was mighty curious about his restaurants in Toronto and what all the hype was about.

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Named after his wife’s maiden name, Bent is a Toronto restaurant owned by Susur Lee that specializes in seafood and Asian fusion cuisine. I’ve heard so much about Bent and for the last two years, I’ve wanted to visit, but it was never the right timing. However, I planned ahead this year and noticed that I would be in town for Winterlicious, the two-week prix fixe menu foodie event, and Bent was on the list of participating restaurants (yay!). I didn’t have to do that much convincing for my partner-in-crime Ricelessasian to agree to join me, since she enjoys Asian cuisine as well!

The restaurant itself is quite special and unique. From the bar to the chairs to the floor tiles, there is an eccentric, retro-feel to the whole establishment that brings you a little back in time. I guess that is what’s particularly magical about the restaurant – it provides a ethereal escape from the crowded downtown core.

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While there was only one option for dinner at $35 for 3 courses, the portions were rather generous for the price we paid. Our waiter said that normally the Asian Duck Confit would cost around $30 for just that dish alone.

We decided to get different entrees and appetizers (the dessert was the same on the menu), so that we could taste and sample each other’s dishes. I will be the first person to admit that I need a lot of variety when I go out to eat 🙂

For the first course, we chose the Pan-Roasted Braised Beef in Peking Crepe and the Baked Dim Sum Chicken (Siu Mai).

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The crepe was something both of us didn’t expect! We had the steamed type of crepe in mind that is often served in Chinese restaurants, so we were quite pleasantly surprised by this fusion twist! The half-moon-shaped crepe, almost like a empanada, was deliciously crispy and flaky. The braised beef filling was very satisfying and was extremely tender and moist.

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There were so many different elements and layers to the flavours associated with the Baked Dim Sum Chicken (Siu Mai) than the countless ones I have eaten at regular Dim Sum. The Sui Mai was juicy, plump and we were given very generous portions. It definitely had to be the most “Asian”-inspired dish on the menu; we appreciated the accompaniments like the white and black tree ear mushrooms and lap cheung. For me, it was a bit on the saltier side than I preferred. I often eat Siu Mai, so personally I was not blown away. Nevertheless, the dish photographed beautifully with the colourful plating and outstanding presentation.

For the second course, we ordered the Asian Duck Confit and the Roasted Assam Style Halibut.

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After tasting the Duck Confit, we came to a consensus that it was a tad dry (overcooked), which was quite disappointing because we both enjoy enjoy eating duck. The only thing that saved this dish was the cranberry and ginger relish sauce (we would seriously bottle that up if we could!).

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Oh you fancy huh? 

The plating was divine, with the lobster bisque resembling a pond, in which the fish and and tofu were “floating” in. I have nothing negative to say about the halibut. It was cooked perfectly – the “melt in your mouth” – type I’m talking about. We enjoyed the Indian-inspired flavours of the tamarind and chickpeas, which balanced well with the subtle flavours of the halibut.

Lastly, the dessert trio, made up of Chinese Sesame Tong Yuen with chocolate nougat, Passionfruit jelly, and Feuillatine Carrot Cake, was a great way to end our delicious meal.

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The presentation was lovely with the 3 separate sections to showcase the different desserts. My favourite dessert would definitely have to be the Tong Yuen as there was a nice surprise of texture with the crunchy nougat that is not found in the typical Tong Yuen dish. The raspberry and apricot puree also nicely balanced the richness of the chocolate sauce. Unfortunately, the passionfruit jelly was not spectacular, and neither was the carrot cake. I thought I could have gotten these anywhere in the city.

Overall, the service was very friendly – our waiter was very talkative and even made recommendations for what we could order next time. I thought he was a bit pushy in suggesting us to order an “add-on” dish besides the prix fixe menu, but we politely declined. I was worried a bit after reading a few reviews about the ‘cold’ service, but I don’t think we encountered that during our lovely first visit. I guess you could say the servers weren’t on their worst behaviour.

There were definitely many highs and a few lows to our first dining experience at Bent Restaurant. However, because the Winterlicious and Summerlicious menus are such great values, we would opt to go again during these times and not during their regular service.

Bent was more than just an option during Winterlicious. It refuses to be forgotten.

-Matchachoco

Rating:

Food: 4.5/5
Service: 4/5
Value: 5/5
Ambiance: 4.5/5

Basic Mille Crêpe Attempt

When we said this mille crepe was basic, we didn’t mean drinking Starbucks and listening to Taylor Swift. It’s a classic mille crepe recipe made up of layers of crepes filled with vanilla custard cream in between.

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Mille crepe literally means “a thousand crepes” in French. It’s like a cake, but it’s made with very thin layers of crepes instead. It was something that was on my baking/cooking bucket list for quite a while now, but I didn’t want to attempt making it until I tried a store-bought one. I wanted to make sure I knew what a good mille crepe was supposed to taste like!

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A few weeks ago, I finally got to try the mille crepe from Millie Creperie at Kensington Market. It definitely lived up to the positive reviews I’ve heard about their crepes. Their mille crepe had the right amount of sweetness with a creamy filling. The filling tasted like pastry cream mixed with some whipped cream. Now that school’s over and I’m on the verge of unemployment, I figured it’s about time I try making a mille crepe.

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I used this recipe as a reference for making the cream filling. I highly recommend using vanilla beans or vanilla bean paste for the cream; it makes a huge difference! I also increased the amount of sugar because I felt that the cream wasn’t sweet enough. As for the crepes, I stuck with my go-to crepe recipe. I love the addition of using a citrus zest to the crepe batter as it adds a subtle flavour to the crepe. I tripled the amount of the crepe recipe and added about 3 tablespoons of sugar for a sweet crepe. That yielded me about 16 crepes. I used 15 crepe layers for the mille crepe because I messed up the last crepe. I nibbled on it while dipping the crepe with the remains of the cream filling stuck on the bowl. It was delish.

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I was initially going to leave the crepes plain with a dusting of powdered sugar, but I ended up garnishing the mille crepe with strawberries and cream.

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Verdict: I really enjoyed the cream filling and it tasted similar to the mille crepe I tried at Mille Creperie. However, I felt like there wasn’t enough cream or perhaps the cream dried up after leaving the mille crepe in the fridge overnight. I’ll have to tweak the crepe-to-cream ratio next time I make a mille crepe again.

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Matchachoco recommended I make a matcha mille crepe next time (of course she would), so that’ll be my next mille crepe attempt!

‘Til the next blog post,

– Ricelessasian

Easter Sunday Bunny Rolls

Happy Easter Sunday from the West Coast! I found a super cute recipe online and decided to make these lil bunnies for Easter this year. I’m in a rather great mood because the sun is shining bright today! Also, because I get to bake, bake, bake!

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The ingredients were very simple and I had everything at home already in my pantry and fridge. Note: Not shown in the photo above was the extra egg (for the egg wash) and the black sesame seeds (for the bunnies’ eyes).

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I followed the recipe here. I found it was quite straightforward, except when it came time to shape the bunnies’ faces and ears. I first rolled up the balls of dough (roughly 20) and shaped it into an ‘egg-like’ shape with my hands, trying to smooth the edges out. I then cut the top part of the dough with my scissors and made 2 incisions for the ears. The ears at first looked like sharp horns (more cat-like), so I flattened each ear to make it look rounder. For the eyes, I used a toothpick to make 2 small holes and inserted two black sesame seeds in them. Unfortunately, mine ended up looking like little mice haha… but they’re still pretty kawaii!

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The bunny buns were very soft and tasted similarly to some plain Asian-style buns, with a very nice contrast of salty and sweet. The recipe is completely milk-free (perfect for those who are lactose-intolerant) 🙂 I will definitely make these again one day!

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Have a hoppy Easter!

-Matchachoco

Easter Egg Cake

Spring is here! Here’s a food post I’ve delayed posting for a very long time because I was waiting for Spring.

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This cake was inspired by a photo of an Easter egg I saw online (does anyone know the original source?). I just knew I had to recreate it the moment I saw the photo! You’re probably wondering how I made the chocolate egg shells. And no, I didn’t use a giant Easter egg mold! The truth is, I made some culinary “shortcuts”. The egg shells are actually a giant Kinder Surprise egg that I split into half.

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I stuffed the chocolate egg shells with vanilla and matcha sponge cake, along with some sweetened whipped cream and strawberries. Since the chocolate egg shells were already sweet enough, I thought the lightness of the sponge cake and whipped cream complemented the chocolate well. I got the sponge cake recipe from Woodland Bakery. I added vanilla extract to half of the cake batter, and added matcha powder to the other half. Given the history of our previous posts on matcha, we all know that I just HAD to. But of course, you can stuff whatever type of cake and cream you prefer. The beauty of baking is that you get to be creative with the flavours that you make 🙂

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To get the spongecake fit the chocolate egg shells, I made cutouts with paper towels with the shapes I wanted. I didn’t measure anything. I just estimated and checked if the cutouts fit the chocolate egg shells. Once I got the right shape and size, I used the cutouts as a guideline to cut the cake.

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For the filling, I just used whipped cream that was sweetened with powdered sugar. I folded chunks of strawberry pieces into the cream.

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I’m just glad I finally got to post this after a long wait 😛 What are you baking for Easter?

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Happy Spring!

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– Ricelessasian