Mandalay Restaurant: An Intimate Dining Experience

In January, we were graciously invited by our good friend to dine at Mandalay Restaurant, which is located in East Scarborough, Toronto. We actually wanted to visit last year, however, due to school and my trip back home to Vancouver, we were unable to find a suitable time until the new year.

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Mandalay Restaurant is a fine dining establishment serving a fusion of Western and South Asian cuisine, in the Toronto suburbs of East Scarborough. The restaurant is tucked away like a hidden gem in a small shopping strip. I’m not aware of too many fine dining restaurants in the outskirts of Downtown Toronto, so I was pleasantly surprised to learn about this restaurant! Overall, the entree dishes on the menu are something you would expect to see more in downtown.

The intimate setting is probably the greatest appeal to the restaurant and is a very convenient place to eat for suburbians who are seeking that quality dining experience near home. Though it is more suitable for special occasions, I wouldn’t think twice about going for lunch or dinner on non-occasion nights either. The entrees are moderately priced and are more affordable than other fine dining restaurants in the downtown core. The ambiance was very relaxed with a rather romantic feel, (a great place to have a date!).

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The variety of food offered is quite amazing for a smaller, independent restaurant. While perusing the menu, I was very impressed to see that they offer bison and kangaroo on a regular basis. Overall, they have a lot of variation for both those who prefer a lighter meal and those who want to indulge a little bit more!

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I’m not sure whether it was because we kept taking pictures, but the calamari was a bit cold and soggy by the time we ate it. Alternatively, we really enjoyed the Warm Spinach Salad, with honey dijon dressing, mushrooms and bacon bits, one of the more popular appetizers we learned. I love the idea of warm salad, especially on a cold winter day!

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The appetizer-sized naan pizza with sautéed mushrooms, tomato and goat cheese was also another excellent recommendation. I really enjoyed this fusion dish and all the savoury caramelized flavours of the vegetables balanced well with each other. The amount of goat cheese was not overpowering and gave the dish that extra satisfying richness.

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We were spoiled by the assortment of appetizers, so by the time the entrées came, I was nearly full! But you know what they say, when in Rome…

Ricelessasian ordered the Stuffed Chicken, a generous piece of chicken breast filled with an assortment of mushrooms, spinach and goat cheese. The dish was also accompanied with grilled vegetables and pineapple. The chicken was drier than we would have preferred, but the roasted vegetables were cooked perfectly, nicely tender and packed with a pleasant caramelized flavour.

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I had a craving for some steak so I ordered the 10 oz. New York Striploin (AAA quality) with mushroom gravy, roasted potatoes and grilled mixed vegetables. The steak was cooked perfectly medium rare and was juicy and tender. I really enjoyed the mushroom glaze, which I felt complemented the meaty flavour of the striploin very well. The portions were very large in general and we thought it was amazing value for the price.

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Needless to say, by the time dessert came, we were very full. If you know me or Ricelessasian, we have major sweet tooths! We don’t necessarily like very sweet pastries, but we both appreciate a good dessert to end a meal.

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Coincidentally (or not), we both picked the same dessert to order – which was the Raspberry Mousse Cake. I noticed that their desserts are not currently featured on their website menu, possibly because the dessert menu changes from time to time. The mousse cake was very pretty and the slice was a very generous portion compared to other places I have eaten at. I really enjoyed the mousse part – maybe more so than the chocolate cake layer. We also had a sample of the Grand Marnier Cheesecake which had a refreshing orangey flavour to it. The liquer was quite subtle and the graham cracker crust wasn’t too sweet. Overall, we both enjoyed this cheesecake, and we regretted not ordering this initially! Haha.

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The service was very attentive and we didn’t feel rushed throughout our entire meal. The restaurant also has an impressive wine collection, which we hope to try on our next visit.

The food quality and attractive plating speaks for itself and I would highly recommend it to any friends or family who are in the area!

Rating:

Food: 4/5
Service: 4.5/5
Value: 4.5/5
Ambiance: 3.5/5

Mandalay Restaurant
3478 Lawrence Ave E C3
Toronto, ON M1H 3E5
(416) 438-7949

*Disclaimer: Our meal at Mandalay Restaurant was comped. However, all of our opinions regarding the food and dining experience are our own. 

Multicoloured Fortune Cookies

I’ve been told that I make very lame puns…so I decided to make puns and put them inside fortune cookies, haha.

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Fun fact: Fortune cookies did not originate from Asia. I’ve always wondered about this since I grew up in Asia, but never had fortune cookies until I traveled to the US. I was a kid back then, and I remember I almost ate the paper because I didn’t know there was something inside the cookie!

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I got the fortune cookie recipe from Fifteen Spatulas, and made some modifications. Instead of making regular fortune cookies, I decided to give them a little bit of natural colour by adding some cocoa powder, matcha powder, and beetroot powder.

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This was my first take on making homemade fortune cookies, and they turned out pretty good! Well, some of them turned out chewy, while the others turned out crispy. It does take some trial and error before you get the hang of folding the cookies, and it’s very time-consuming. However, I think they’re well worth making for special occasions 😛

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Happy Chinese New Year!

– Ricelessasian

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Multicoloured Fortune Cookies
Adapted from Fifteen Spatulas

Ingredients

1 batch of fortune cookie recipe from Fifteen Spatulas
½ tsp matcha powder
2 tsp cocoa powder
1 tsp beetroot powder* or any red food colouring of your choice
½ vanilla extract
Water (use if batter is too thick)

*I didn’t want to add too much beetroot powder because I didn’t want the cookies to start tasting like beets. I got a slightly pink colour with this amount. If you prefer an intense red colour, use food colouring instead.

Directions

  1. Make one batch of fortune cookie recipe batter, eliminating the vanilla and almond extract. Divide batter into four equal portions in separate bowls.
  2. Mix in the matcha powder, cocoa powder, beetroot powder, and vanilla extract with the separate bowls.
  3. Follow instructions from Fifteen Spatulas for folding the fortune cookies.

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Growing Oyster Mushrooms

The world is your oyster…mushroom.

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A few months ago, I was able to take part in a mushroom growing workshop organized by my school’s homegrown garden. I took home a bag in which oyster mushrooms were supposed to grow from, and for weeks, I observed the mushrooms gradually grow out from it. I was really amused. I love eating mushrooms (shiitake, enoki, portabello, crimini etc…you name it!), but I’ve never really given much thought about mushroom cultivation.

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Recently I was on the search for mushroom growing kits and I managed to find one at Loblaws. The mushroom kit yielded a lot more oyster mushrooms than the one I got from school. It only took me about 4 days before the mushrooms were ready for harvest!

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I thought it’d be interesting to pair the homegrown mushrooms with something homemade, so I did! I made an open-faced sandwich with homemade herbed focaccia bread (I used Chef John’s recipe from Food Wishes) topped with sautéed oyster mushrooms.

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For the oyster mushrooms, I sautéed the mushrooms with garlic, olive oil, and butter. I seasoned them with salt and freshly ground black pepper, added some romano cheese, splashed in some balsamic vinegar, and finished with some chopped fresh parsley. I can’t remember the amounts I used (hence no recipe), but it was pretty good!

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The oyster mushrooms turned out quite flavorful; they really absorb the flavours you cook them with. Although next time I probably wouldn’t make an open-faced sandwich as it was quite messy to eat (despite how neat it looks in the photo) lol.

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Looking forward to make more food “from scratch” 🙂

– Ricelessasian

Our Year in Review (2014)

2014 went by so fast! We can’t believe it has been almost two years since we started UCL. Here’s a review of our eventful year:

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We went to Canoe for Winterlicious.

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We learned about Nigerian cuisine for a school project.

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We went on a Vancouver food trip. This was Ricelessasian’s first time visiting  Vancouver.

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Baked a giant cupcake for a special girl’s birthday party!  

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Ricelessasian made a lot of colourful cupcakes.

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Although Matchachoco stayed in Vancouver, we met again in Los Angeles a few months later. We went on a food trip…again (lol).

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We made our own birthday cakes!

Ricelessasian’s birthday cake:

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Matchachoco’s birthday cake: 

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Virtual Thanksgiving Potluck with EatPrayBake 🙂

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We had a couple of pasta posts throughout the year 😛

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Ricelessasian made an edible Christmas tree.

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Looking forward to more food experiments in 2015! 🙂

Happy New Year!

– Underground Culinary Lab Team

Chocolate Peanut Butter Birthday Cake

Happy New Year everyone! 🙂

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Last week, I decided to spoil myself to an extravagant, over-the-top 3 tiered cake for my birthday this year. I don’t usually make cakes; honestly, I’m more of a fan of French pastries like double-baked almond croissants and macarons. However, I came across fellow Vancouverite Coco Cake Land’s cake and I was immediately hooked! Both her and Katherine Sabbath are bakers that we follow on Instagram who create unique and stylized cakes that are one-of-a-kind. I wanted to feature this cake because it’s a very visual, youthful and eye-popping cake which made me super duper happy to bake and eat!

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Wishing you an amazing year of good vibes, yummy eats, and a healthy journey ahead!

See y’all in 2015,

-matchachoco

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Vanilla Layer Cake (makes three 6-inch x 2-inch round cake layers)
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

2 cups cake flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup of unsalted butter, room temperature
1 3/4 cups of sugar
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups buttermilk (I used 1 ¾ cups of 2% milk with 3 tbsp. of fresh lemon juice)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Butter all sides of three 6-inch round cake pans generously and line only bottoms with parchment paper.
  3. Prepare “buttermilk” by adding fresh lemon juice to the milk. Stir to combine and set aside for 15 minutes.
  4. Sift together both all-purpose and cake flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.
  5. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla.
  6. Add eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition.
  7. At low speed, beat in the milk mixture and add in the flour mixture, alternating with dry and wet mixtures (ending with the dry). Mix until just incorporated.
  8. Pour batter in each pan (half way) and spread evenly with a spatula. Drop pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles.
  9. Bake for approximately 25-30 minutes, until the cakes are golden brown and test doneness with a toothpick . Make sure there are no crumbs on the toothpick (a denser cake is desired for clean cutting).
  10. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of the pans.
  11. Invert onto separate plates to cool and set aside the layers of cakes.

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Peanut Butter Frosting (makes enough for one – 3 layer cake)
Adapted from Coco Cake Land 

Ingredients

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup of smooth peanut butter
2 cups of icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 tbsp. of milk
Pinch of salt

Directions

1. Using a stand or hand-held mixer, beat the butter and peanut butter on high speed for 1 minute.
2. Add the icing sugar, vanilla , salt and milk, beating until light and fluffy, about 3 minute.
3. Remove the first cake layer from the cake pan. Frost generously with peanut butter frosting. (Repeat for 2nd and 3rd layers).
4. Spread the frosting on the outer sides and smooth out the entire cake with an offset spatula.

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Chocolate Glaze
Adapted from Coco Cake Land 

Ingredients

½ cup dark chocolate, broken into pieces (I used Trader Joe’s 70% cacao Dark Chocolate bars)
¼ cup unsalted butter, diced
1/8 tsp of pure vanilla extract
1 tsp of whole milk

Directions

1. Fill a small pot with water and boil. Place the butter, chocolate, and vanilla in a heatproof glass bowl on top of the pot. Stir slowly until melted. Remove from stove and slowly stir in the milk (try to avoid curdling).
2. Set aside to cool for 20 minutes.
3. Pour glaze on top of the peanut butter frosting. With the assistance of an offset spatula, spread glaze to the edges of the cake and slowly let the chocolate drip on only a few sides of the cake.
4. Let cake set for 20 minutes.
5. Decorate the cake with meringue kisses, chocolate bark or sprinkles.
6. Serve immediately or cover and wrap the cake in saran wrap to prevent drying up in the refrigerator.

For the pretty chocolate bark decorations and cute meringue kisses, follow Coco Cake Land’s easy peasy recipes here and here!

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Stacked Matcha Cookies Christmas Tree

Happy Holidays! What treats have you made this Christmas?

Seeing as how my family was lazy to take our Christmas tree out from the storage room, I took matters into my own hands and decided to bake one instead. This one’s on my holiday baking list too!

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They’re layers of matcha sugar cookies cut out into stars of different sizes, and then stacked on top of each other to form a tree. Since I didn’t have star-shaped cookie cutters, I printed a clip art of varying star sizes, cut them out, and traced them on the cookie dough. I wasn’t sure how I was going to decorate the cookies, so I whipped out some matcha buttercream on the side.

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Matchachoco and I love baking with matcha powder. Aside from giving desserts a green tea flavour, you also get a natural green hue, avoiding the need for artificial food colouring. I used Laura Vitale’s sugar cookie recipe and added about a tablespoon of matcha powder to it. The cookies had a subtle matcha flavour which contrasted the sweetness of the cookies. It’s quite similar to the matcha shortbread Matchachoco and I baked together last year, but less buttery and a little bit more on the crisp side. They also hold their shape very well if you bake the cookie dough cold.

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I was a bit worried that it would turn out overly sweet with the addition of the matcha buttercream design, but turns out the cookies weren’t that sweet and the buttercream added some sweetness that the cookies were lacking. These cookies would pair well with some hot tea on the side.

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Hope you’re having a sweet time during the holidays!

– Ricelessasian

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Stacked Matcha Cookies Christmas Tree
These cookies have sort of a bittersweet taste because of the matcha. Of course if matcha isn’t your thing, you can use green food colouring instead 😛

Ingredients

For the cookies
1 recipe of sugar cookies
1 tbsp. matcha powder

For the buttercream
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
2-3 tbsp. milk (used to adjust buttercream consistency)
1/2-1 tbsp. matcha powder (or add according to your taste)

Directions

  1. Prepare sugar cookie recipe with the addition of matcha powder. Roll sugar cookie into a flat dough and refrigerate for about an hour.
  2. After refrigerating, cut out varying sizes of star shapes with cookie cutters or by using a template (I used a template by printing out a clip art of a star in different sizes). Refrigerate again for a couple of minutes if the dough gets too soft after cutting.
  3. Bake cookies at 375 degrees F. Since the cookies are in different shapes, the smaller cookies would bake faster than the bigger ones. While baking, gradually remove the smaller cookies once their sides have browned. Continue to bake until the biggest cookie is done (approximately a total of 10-15 minutes baking time depending on the size and how many cookies you’re baking). Allow the cookies to cool on a baking rack.
  4. To make the buttercream: Beat softened butter while gradually adding powdered sugar with an electric mixer until you get a fluffy consistency. Add a couple tablespoons of milk if the buttercream is too stiff. Add matcha powder according to your preference.
  5. Once the cookies have cooled, stack the cookies on top of each other, from biggest to smallest, using the buttercream as a glue. Decorate the cookies by piping buttercream around the edges with a star tip.

I had some leftover cookie dough, so I made some sparkly Christmas tree cookie cutouts on the side 🙂

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Christmas Kale Minestrone Soup

It’s that time of the year again. I don’t know about you, but one of the best parts of the year is the weeks that lead up to Christmas. There’s a lot of excitement in anticipation for Christmas; the environment is beaming with white snow and Christmas lights. You also have an excuse to throw holiday parties!

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In spirit of the season,  I decided to get these Christmas-themed pasta I’ve been eyeing on for quite a while now. Initially, I was waiting to get it after Christmas when it goes on sale, and use it for next Christmas. But apparently, I don’t really have that much patience…

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Since I’ve recently been into soups because of the cold weather, here’s a minestrone soup post featuring one of my all-time favorite veggies, kale. It’s sweet, tangy, and hearty from the beans and vegetables used.

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Put your hands up like you just don’t kale.

– Ricelessasian

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Christmas Minestrone Kale Soup (makes about 4-6 servings)
Adapted from Laura Vitale

Feel free to adjust the amount of ingredients according to your preference. You can add whatever vegetables you want; I just used what I had at home. Meatballs would also be a great addition to this soup.

Ingredients

2/3  cup diced carrots
2/3 cup chopped celery
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth for a vegetarian version)
1 can (796ml) diced tomatoes
4-5 cups of chopped kale
1 cup black beans, rinsed and drained
~1 cup pasta
1-2 tbsp. Italian seasoning
1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley (plus more for garnish)
Parmesan cheese (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Oil for cooking

Directions

  1. In a cooking pot, cook carrot, celery, and onion with some cooking oil over medium heat for about 3-5 minutes or until the onions have softened and become translucent. Season with salt and pepper. Add garlic and Italian seasoning, and cook vegetables for another 1-2 minutes.
  2. Add the broth and diced tomatoes. Allow the soup to come to a boil. Once it is boiling, add the kale. Let simmer for about 10 minutes until the kale has wilted. Add water if the soup reduces too much.
  3. Add the black beans and the pasta. Continue to heat the soup until the pasta is cooked al dente. Season soup with salt and pepper, and finish with some chopped fresh parsley. Serve with more parsley for garnish and parmesan cheese.

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Nutella Braid Bread

Done with this semester’s exams!

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This is something I’ve been wanting to try out, but I’ve been holding it off until the Christmas break. I have a list of other recipes ideas I’m anticipating to try, and hopefully I get through most of them over this break 🙂

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The bread didn’t turn out as symmetrical as I would’ve liked it to be, but I think it’s not bad for the first try! The shape reminded me of poinsettia and Christmas parols.

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I used the recipe Yoyomax12 used for her Nutella braid bread, but followed the instructions from Steve’s Kitchen. I only did three layers, instead of the four layers in the video, because I didn’t have enough dough. I got to say, I was pleasantly surprised with how the bread turned out! I’ve tried a couple of bread recipes in the past, but this is probably the first time I was impressed flavor-wise. It had a light, fluffy texture with a crisp crust. It tasted like something you’d buy from a fancy bread place, and it’s also such an easy bread recipe (although I can’t say the same about the braiding part lol).

TIP: Heat Nutella in the microwave first, so that you can spread it easily.

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The extra bread dough I sliced off did not go to waste! It was used for a taste test 🙂

Obligatory powdered sugar shot:

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Share the love (and the bread!).

-Ricelessasian

Pomegranate Greek Yogurt Cheesecake

Happy first of December! Where did the year go? It’s been a real whirlwind especially since it’s a busy time for us with school and other extracurricular activities. Ricelessasian and I have been a little bit MIA lately, but we hope to post more during the break.

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I’ve been meaning to make this recipe for a long time now – just waiting for the perfect timing to feature this holiday dessert. Recently, a new Greek yogurt cream cheese product was released in quite a few supermarkets and I was pretty intrigued to try it.

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Pomegranate fruits are lovely to consume this time of year; their peak season is in the Fall and Winter. They’re so beautiful and unique. Yes…the seeds are a pain in the ‘arse’ to remove, but the vibrancy of the red seeds makes them super festive to top on any sweet or savoury dishes! Research compiled by Zarfeshany et al. (2014) suggests that pomegranate consumption is associated with inhibiting cardiovascular diseases and lowering the risk of cancers such as prostate and breast cancer, due to their antioxidant properties.

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This Bon Appetit recipe was overall pretty flexible – you can bake the cheesecake or refrigerate it. It’s really up to your personal preference! Due to time constraints, I decided to bake the crust. I also opted to bake the cheesecake instead, leaving out the gelatin. Instead of making one 9-inch cheesecake, I decided to made two 4.5-inch smaller cheesecakes. The nutritional information is also included which helps you keep track of how much you’re indulging in. Typically when I bake regular cheesecakes, my limit is probably 2 small slices and then I give the rest away to my dear taste testers (aka family & friends) 😉

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I think this is a great and healthier alternative to regular or light cream cheese. However, the flavour was quite distinct. I’m a fan of greek yogurt, so the tanginess didn’t bother me too much.

It’s no secret that we love cheesecake! We featured it previously before and will likely do so again in the future. Matcha cheesecake anyone? 🙂

What do you think about greek yogurt as a substitute for regular cream cheese? Will you give it a try too this holiday season?

– Matchachoco

What’s your Pasta?

Pasta comes in all colours, shapes, and sizes. It’s also one of Matchachoco’s favourite dishes, and I noticed that we’ve featured a couple of pasta dishes here on the blog. We also love trying out all sorts of unique types!

Featured in here are: coloured bowties, orzo, long fusilli, mushroom fettuccine, and gnocchi pasta.

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Some of these pastas have been featured in previous blog posts such as Colourful Heirloom Tomatoes with Basil Pasta Salad and Balsamic Kale and Cranberry Pasta, while I’m still planning on doing future blog posts on the others. Some other unique pasta shapes we’ve tried before that are not in the photos are Biciclette Tricolori Pesto Pasta with Goat Cheese and Tomatoes and Festosi Pasta with Light Lemon Zest Cream sauce.

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I’m still planning on making my own pasta from scratch one day (once I get a pasta maker!). But in the mean time, I’ll just be collecting unique types of pasta for now 😛

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IMG_0638Coloured Bowties
I got these on sale from Winners, otherwise they are quite pricey! They are mostly naturally coloured, made with beets, tumeric, and black squid, except for the blue pasta which is made with blue curacao. These bowties are great for pasta salads or any pasta dish that has a clear sauce.

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Is it rice or pasta? Orzo I thought (I’m sorry I’ve been waiting for so long, to use that pun). Basically, orzo is a pasta shaped like rice.

IMG_0633“Gnocchi” pasta
My mom got these for me from Winners. I recently used this pasta for my kale and balsamic pasta dish. This pasta is great with dishes with meat or vegetable pieces as those pieces stick to the hollow areas of the pasta. This pasta is often confused with gnocchi, the doughy type of dumplings, which is also a popular Italian dish.

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This pasta was bought from Winners (again). There’s actually a lot of unique  pasta finds at Winners, and even better when they go on sale! What I love about this pasta is that it smells like cream of mushroom soup when I cook them in water. The mushroom taste in this pasta is very subtle, though. To get the ultimate mushroom experience, serve this pasta with mixed mushrooms.

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Long Fusilli
I love the whimsical shape of this pasta! I think this pasta is great with oil-based sauces, such as pesto, and it also makes your plate look fuller because of the curls.

So what’s your favourite pasta? 😛

– Ricelessasian