Eco-Friendly and Sustainable Paper Straws

These gorgeous straws are courtesy of greenmunch.ca.  I have never seen such an assortment: stripes, dots, hearts, stars, you name it!  They come in so many different sizes and widths, and are perfect for any occasion!

Want to see how nice their straws look?

There’s also a large selection of craft items, mason jars, glass bottles and dinnerware just to name a few.

The company is located in Alberta, Canada, and their products are environmentally friendly and so cute!

Check them out, they have some really unique items!

Disclosure:
This is not a paid advertisement.

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St. Patrick’s Day Cupcakes

Can I say that I find any opportunity to bake?

St. Patrick’s Day is the perfect time to make a batch of cupcakes!  Chocolate cupcakes are one of H’s favorites.  I felt like I should make Guinness chocolate cake, or at least buttercream flavored with Irish Cream.  Honestly, I had none of those in my pantry, and these had to be kid-friendly, so I went with my standard tried and true chocolate cake recipe.  If you do have Irish Cream on hand, feel free to swap out the milk or whipping cream for it!  I really must add a bottle to my shopping list!

These cupcakes are everything you would expect: intense chocolate flavor, fudgy, moist and perfectly sweet.

While we dislike sugary-sweet frostings, chocolate cupcakes need a regular buttercream.  The intense bittersweet chocolate paired with this type of buttercream is perfect.

I thought about tinting the buttercream green, but I personally didn’t think they would look appetizing.  I try not to use too much food coloring, and I would hate to confuse anyone who might think they were mint flavored.  We are obviously not fans of mint!

The vanilla buttercream is my standard recipe.  It has the perfect ratio of 1:3 (butter:icing sugar).  Duff Goldman also uses the same measurements.

Enjoy; you will not be able to stop at eating just one!

My Favorite Chocolate Cupcakes

Adapted from foodnetwork.com
Makes 28-30 cupcakes

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups unbleached flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cups cocoa powder (not Dutch-processed)
  • 2 ¼ tsp baking soda
  • 1 ¼ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk (see kitchen notes)
  • ½ cup canola or vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs (room temperature)
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee or 1 cup boiling water mixed with 1 tsp espresso powder
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Place cupcake liners in your cupcake/muffin pans.
  3. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined.
  4. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla.
  5. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry.
  6. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
  7. Fill each liner 2/3 full.
  8. Bake 22-25 minutes (depending on your oven).  Insert a toothpick randomly, it should come out clean.

Kitchen notes:

  • I find it helpful to pour the batter (it will be thin) into a large measuring cup.
  • Make sure each cupcake liner has the same amount of batter, otherwise you will end up with some cupcakes that are baked, and some that are not.
  • If you do not have buttermilk on hand (I never do), fill a measuring cup with 1 tbsp vinegar or fresh lemon juice.  Add milk to equal 1 cup, stir and let sit for a few minutes.

Classic Vanilla Buttercream

Adapted from foodnetwork.com

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 3 cups icing sugar, sifted
  • 1-2 tbsp milk or whipping cream (or Irish Cream)
  • ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
  1. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, mix together butter and icing sugar on low speed until well blended.  I tend to rock the switch on my mixer between off and number 1, back and forth to avoid splattering the icing sugar everywhere.
  2. When the icing sugar is incorporated, increase speed to medium and beat for another few minutes.
  3. Add vanilla extract and milk or cream and continue to beat on medium speed for a few more minutes.
  4. Add additional milk or cream if needed (in very small amounts), to your desired spreading consistency.

Note:

  • If your kitchen is warm or the butter is too soft, place it back in the fridge for a bit.  Don’t worry, when you whip the butter, it will come together.

 

WHOOSH! – Product Review

Have you ever wondered how to clean your cell phone, iPad and other devices without the use of harsh chemicals?  Did you know that your phone is 10 times dirtier than a toilet?  Just do a Google search for “tech hygiene + dirty phones.” You will be surprised at the amount of germs that exist on devices!

As a food and product blogger, my hands are constantly touching food and other things.  H and I were at a Japanese buffet recently, and I can’t tell you how many times I had to use fragrance-free wipes.  For every dish, we had to reposition the food, snap dozens of photos, then wipe our hands to eat, and repeat!  While the wipes were okay in a pinch, they don’t work well on grease and fingerprints.

Our other options were a light spray of diluted vinegar/water or eyeglass cleaners. I wasn’t sure if they would fade the design on our cases, or harm our devices.  I searched for a safe and chemical-free product for years, and was quite impressed when a manager at our local Apple store told us about WHOOSH!  Yes, Apple stores use WHOOSH! to clean their devices!

Photo courtesy of Nicholas Calderone at MacSources.

I went home and read about the products on WHOOSH’s website.  Jason Greenspan the CEO, started making non-toxic cleaners for auto-detailing and accidentally spilled some on his iPad, and noticed how clean it was.  Hence the start of WHOOSH!

I read all the reviews available on the Internet, but was still hesitant.  I had many questions, so I contacted Jason.  I found it very refreshing that Jason was so accessible and approachable, appreciated my interest, and took the time to address all my concerns.   He answered all my questions; well all but one – the chemical composition is a trade secret … lol

I tried the screen shine cleaner on my iPhone first.  I have to say, I try to keep all my devices super clean, but I wasn’t prepared for how shiny my phone looked.  It already had a high-end tempered glass screen protector on it, which provided amazing clarity, but now it was even shinier.

The screen on my iPhone looked exactly like I just took it out of the box; sleek, shiny and new.  I even tilted my iPhone at different angles and it was spotless.

I also cleaned and polished the case and cut outs.  I kept looking for some discoloration or damage to our cases, covers and screen protectors, but I found none.  Note:  it’s very important that you use the products correctly.  Do not spray WHOOSH! directly on your devices, but on the microfiber cloth that is included.

WHOOSH! Screen Shine cleaners are safe, non-toxic, ammonia and alcohol free (which is very important to us), and resists fingerprints.

The screen cleaner is available in numerous sized pump spray bottles.  I personally think the 3.4 oz. + 0.3 oz. kit and the Big Deal kit are good choices since they contain various sizes.

All of the items include a bright orange antimicrobial microfiber W! cloth.  I found the cloths to be the perfect size as well.

The 3-pack Awesome Tech Cleaning Cloths are really cute and colorful.  They are indeed super soft and I like that they are treated with antimicrobial agents.  The orange textured side is used to clean your devices, then simply flip over and polish with the designed side.

You can read all about WHOOSH! cleaners and find a retailer close to you on their website.

Disclaimer:
This review is based solely on my usage of the above product/s.  Please read the FAQ’s located under SUPPORT.

Disclosure:
Products are courtesy of WHOOSH!  This is not a paid advertisement.

National Cupcake Day 2018

Every day is cupcake day for me, but a National Cupcake day?  Yes!

This year’s date is February 26, 2018, and it’s not too late!  You can help animals in need by hosting a cupcake party or making a donation.  For more information visit National Cupcake Day!

Disclaimer: 
This is not a paid advertisement.  I am a supporter of Ontario SPCA and hope you will join me.

Cheers!
Ruby

 

 

Big Smoke Burger Review – In Search of the Best Burger

Our quest for a great burger continues …

We’re always looking for that perfect burger – juicy and delicious with the ideal ratio of beef: 70% – 80% lean to 20 – 30% fat, accompanied by crispy fries and onion rings!

While we’ve dined at Big Smoke Burger a few times, we decided to try the North York location this time.  Did I mention that I was looking forward to a mouth-watering burger and fries all week long?

Big Smoke Burger

The restaurant is clean, modern, and very relaxing.  Normally we dine at the Yorkdale Mall location, which is just as good, but we liked eating at a stand alone location where we’re not tempted to shop, and we can take our time.

Big Smoke Burger

Big Smoke Burger

The new test menu featured easy to read menu items with photos of the actual burgers.  “Eating with your eyes” definitely appeals to most people, and the first handcrafted burger that caught my attention was “The Beast.”  I let H enjoy that one while I chose the “Smoky Cheddar Bacon Burger.”

Wasim, the General Manager was kind enough to bring our order over and I had my camera ready!  H thought, “Wow, can I just eat the burger now?”

Let’s talk about the bun first because there is nothing worse than a soggy bun.  I actually noticed right away that Big Smoke Burgers buns are firm and nicely toasted.  They’re not bready (is that a word), and can definitely hold up to their generous toppings.

Speaking of toppings, Big Smoke Burger sautés fresh mushrooms and caramelized onions onsite.  All their sauces are house-made and while I’m typing this, I clearly forgot to try any of them!  Don’t do this; make sure you try at least one of them!

On to the beef!  The burgers are made with fresh triple A Canadian chuck, and never frozen.  They are charbroiled to perfection and not heavily seasoned.  We ordered our burgers “not pink” and they were still juicy.

The “Smoky Cheddar Bacon Burger” had everything I wanted – crispy lettuce, tomatoes, bacon, pickles, white cheddar cheese, onions, ketchup and mayonnaise … need I say more?  As you can see from the picture, the ingredients are fresh!  Look at the crisp lettuce!

Big Smoke Burger

Big Smoke Burger

H clearly appreciated that I ordered “The Beast” for him.  What a perfect burger, with sautéed mushrooms, smoked Cheddar cheese, crispy bacon, an oversized breaded onion ring and house made “Big” sauce.  H said the texture and complex flavors of this burger was easily his favorite.  He offered a bite, but I declined because I could see he was thoroughly enjoying it.

The Beast

The onion ring was just as large as the burger!!

The Beast

The Beast

On to the fries, oh my gosh!  These are fresh, hand-cut daily PEI potatoes with just a bit of skin left on – again, not frozen.  They were crispy and just lightly seasoned with salt.  My only complaint was having to share them!

DSC_0006

One of Wasim’s awesome team members checked on us to see if everything was okay, and I’m embarrassed to say that we only nodded and smiled – that’s what happens when you have two serious foodies enjoying awesome burgers, fries and onion rings.

Simply amazing!

_____________________

Is it too soon for a return visit?  Heck no!  We came back the very next weekend because five pictures of their burgers were not enough to share with you.  Here are some more!

It was nice to see Wasim again, and this time we decided to try totally different burgers even though we really enjoyed the ones we had last week.

I ordered the “Spicy Burger” with caramelized onions, house made chipotle mayonnaise, jalapenos, lettuce and tomato.

H ordered the “Double Smoke Stack” – two patties with smoked Canadian cheddar, lettuce, pickle, onions and “Big” sauce.  What great choices.

My burger had a bit more spice than I was used to so half way through, I switched with H.  Being a spice lover, this burger was a hit for him.  The Double Smoke Stack was now another favorite, and the sauce was nothing like the “Big” secret sauce that we all know about.  It was tangier with more body and really complimented the burger.

We had to have a large order of their fries, and this time we remembered the dipping sauces.  The rosemary garlic was addictive, and I don’t know how I can go back to just regular ketchup!  H really liked the chipotle dipping sauce which had a nice smoky kick.

The burgers were again very juicy and flavorful.  The toppings just as fresh as last week, and the fries were hot and crispy.  It’s great to see such consistency.  We had a really awesome meal and dining experience!

It’s been several weeks now and we are definitely craving Big Smoke Burgers!

Disclaimer:

Food courtesy of Big Smoke Burger, however, the comments and my review are unbiased.  This is not a paid advertisement.

Dark Chocolate Halloween Cupcakes

These may not be the scariest looking cupcakes, but they sure are delicious!

I used my standard chocolate cake recipe from Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa.  The recipe makes approximately 26-30 cupcakes, depending on the size of cupcake liners used.  This is an oil-based recipe, which results in an incredibly moist texture, with a deep, dark chocolate flavor.  The buttercream frosting from Foodnetwork.com is a must!

Have a safe and sweet Halloween!

Kitchen notes:
I doubled the frosting recipe and used a food processor instead of my KitchenAid mixer.  It’s less messy.  I also used more whipping cream, a little at a time, until the texture was fluffier, along with 1/4 tsp espresso powder.

Disclaimer: 
I’m not embarrassed to say I ate two for breakfast!

Victoria’s Restaurant (The Omni King Edward Hotel) – Sunday Brunch Buffet Review

It has been a while since I wrote a restaurant review, so I could not think of a better establishment than Victoria’s Restaurant, located in The Omni King Edward Hotel.

H and I absolutely love brunch, and Victoria’s is a favorite of ours.  We even celebrated our 1st wedding anniversary at the hotel!

Built in 1903, the historic King Edward Hotel was Toronto’s first luxury hotel and in recent years, underwent a $40 million dollar renovation.   The world-renowned hotel was home to numerous celebrities and was also featured in film and movie sets.

The lobby is both grand and elegant.  We still take pictures each time we visit!

Victoria’s Restaurant is located in the Sovereign Ballroom, which is truly exquisite with floor to ceiling windows and large teardrop chandeliers.

As usual, we requested a table for two by the windows and arrived early to take pictures.

There is a lovely harpist playing during Sunday brunch.

I chose to publish this review based on our Canada Day brunch buffet, which also happens to be Canada’s 150th birthday.  Executive Chef Daniel Schick and his team really outdid themselves, and it was obvious that a lot of time and thought went into planning the menu.  We were thrilled to see many diverse dishes inspired by provinces within Canada.

We started with grapefruit and orange juice, which is included in the price of the brunch, as well as coffee and tea.  There was also maple iced tea, which was refreshing and sweetened by Quebec maple syrup.

If you have not guessed by now, I am a huge cake lover, so instead of following H who tends to go straight for the food items, I headed to the dessert table.  I had to look at the ginormous Canada Day cake.  I took note of all the desserts before finding H.

The brunch was cleverly laid out, with beautifully presented platters of tantalizing food.  Every time we are at Victoria’s, H jokes that I tend to gravitate towards the pastries, and true to his comment, that is where I headed next.

Here is just a brief description of what we enjoyed:

Croissants

The croissants were flaky and buttery, perfect with a dollop of high-quality jam.

Assorted Fruit Danishes

The danishes were also fresh and very flaky.  I loved the blueberry one!

Blueberry Scones

The scones were moist and flavorful with a generous amount of wild Canadian blueberries.  I liked how they were not too sweet.

Chilled Scallop and Shrimp Salad

We always enjoy this delicious cold salad.  It is an excellent choice and is well prepared.

Devilled eggs with Newfoundland Caviar

The caviar was a pleasant surprise and provided an upscale dining experience.  We had just watched an episode of “Chuck and Danny’s Road Trip” where Acadian sturgeon was highlighted. We have tried caviar from New Brunswick; however, the Newfoundland caviar was firm with a buttery texture; very decadent and sumptuous.

Poached Salmon

Poached Salmon is another dish that we love seeing at the brunch.  The salmon was perfectly poached, and only required a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. While other establishments feature whole poached salmon, we prefer Victoria’s version of individual fillets.  Not only was it easier to plate, but it provided an elegant presentation.

Roast Chicken with Fruit Salsa

White Wine and Herb Steamed PEI Mussels

We love PEI mussels, either hot or cold, and were happy to see them offered again.

Antipasto

Charcuterie

Wild Mushrooms

Quebec Pork Creton

The forcemeat-style pork spread looked very similar to pate.  The pork cracklings were crunchy and tasty.

Heirloom Tomatoes with Bocconcini & Basil Vinaigrette

Three Sisters Prairie Grains with Orange Lemon Dressing

Watermelon, Mint and Figs and Goat Cheese

Pairing sweet watermelon with salty goat cheese was scrumptious, and the figs added another level of texture.  I had to go back for more!

Fennel Arctic Char with Kozlik’s Maple Mustard

This was a very popular offering and we struck up a conversation with other guests on how much we love fennel.  It was nice to see a higher quality condiment smartly paired with maple syrup.

Potato Salad with Prosciutto

I can never resist potato salad.  I love Victoria’s version with just the right amount of tangy dressing and slivers of salty prosciutto.

Buttermilk Pancakes with Quebec Maple Syrup

The infamous St. Lawrence Market Peameal Bacon with Fried Egg Sandwiches

Breakfast Bangers and Bacon

Eggs Benedict

No brunch is complete without eggs benedict and Victoria’s version does not disappoint.  H had two!

Scrambled Eggs with Snipped Chives

King Edward Beef Wellington

This classic dish is irresistible and the filet mignon was tender and flavorful. It is definitely the highlight of our brunch every time.  H enjoyed it so much that he did not even notice the Three Province Poutine sitting right next to it!  I forgot about it as well … so sad.

Three Province Poutine

Chicken and Waffles

This was by far one of our favorite dishes.  It is so popular nowadays, and we were so happy to see it at the brunch.  The chicken was crunchy and moist with a hint of garlic.  The Belgian waffles were thick and crispy, perfect with just a drizzle of Quebec maple syrup.

KD Mac n Cheese with Ketchup Chip Crust (kid friendly)

Pulled Pork Braised in Ottawa Beau’s Beer

East Coast Corn Fritters on Summer Succotash

I loved the corn fritters and they were flavorful with a slightly crunchy coating.  The fresh succotash was the perfect accompaniment.

BC Smoked Cedar Plank Salmon

We love salmon and it was great to see it offered both cold and hot.  Again, the slightly smoked salmon only required a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

Roasted Vegetables

What’s on our plates

My favorite part of any brunch/buffet!  Desserts!

Beaver Tails

The sous chef suggested a squeeze of fresh lemon juice!

150th Canada Day Cake

This cake was a showstopper.  As a cake lover, I was stunned to see such a beautiful cake.  Embarrassingly enough, I just stood and stared at it, as any cake lover would! The fondant and decoration were well executed.  I truly wish I had room for more than just one slice, and I was thinking of this cake for days afterwards!  The vanilla sponge was mouth-watering moist, and I think I tasted lemon curd and Italian Meringue buttercream.  The cake was sumptuous with the addition of sweet and tart berries.

Summer Fruit Crumble

We loved the crunchy buttery crumble combined with fresh berries.  To gild the lily, we drizzled crème anglaise over top and the simple dessert became sublime.

Gateau Basque

This is one of my favorite cakes and is a regular feature at the brunch.  It has an intense almond flavor and is truly decadent.  I feel transported to France with each bite.

Fresh Fruit Tart

The shortbread crust was buttery and had a nice firm texture.  The pastry cream and whipped cream were luscious and again paired well with the tart berries.

Chocolate Espresso Mousse:

H is a chocolate and coffee lover, so he always enjoys this dessert.  The mousse was smooth and creamy with a dark chocolate flavor enhanced by espresso. The whipped cream and serving size is perfect.

The Great Canadian Butter Tart

Wow, it was nice to see this classic Canadian dessert added to the Canada Day brunch.  What I immediately noticed was how thin the crust was.  Most butter tarts have a very thick crust and less filling.  These tarts were the opposite and had a generous filling.  The crust seemed to melt in my mouth and had a distinct maple flavor.  I am sad to report I only ate one.

Intense Chocolate Truffle Cake

We have eaten this cake many times in the past and we love it.  When I dipped my fork into the cake, I could immediately detect how tender the sponge was!

The chocolate truffle filling really is “intense” and super delicious.  The dark cocoa powder makes for a great finish and cuts down on the sweetness.

Crème Brule

This is another classic dessert that we love seeing at the brunch.  I did not have room to enjoy it this time, but H sure did!

Rhubarb Parfait

When I downloaded all the pictures I had taken, I noticed there were so many dishes we wish we had sampled!

Mini Cheesecakes

Chomeur Maple Pudding

Great Plains Rice Pudding

Mille Feuille

Nanaimo Bars

Fruit Band

Crème Caramel

Vanilla Cream Filled Profiteroles

What’s on our plates

Overall, the food was very well presented and bountiful with appetizing flavors.  The variety of dishes were both classic and innovative.

David Watson, Director of Outlets at The Omni King Edward Hotel checked on us every now and then, and answered any questions we had.  His presence elevated our dining experience, and created fond memories of an amazing brunch experience.

The staff are genuinely warm, welcoming, graciously polite and attentive, yet not intrusive.  The service is what you would expect from The Omni Group.  It was also nice to see Hector again.

We are definitely still thinking of the brunch so a return visit is imminent!

Disclaimer:

Brunch courtesy of The Omni King Edward Hotel.
The comments and my review are unbiased.
This was not a paid advertisement.

 

Homemade Oreo Blizzards

homemade-oreo-blizzard-096-final

Homemade Oreo Blizzards …. mmm!  We have been eating these for years, so I don’t know why I haven’t shared this with you sooner.  “Homemade” blizzards are quick and easy to put together, and they’ll save you $$$!  We can’t stop eating them!

All you need are two ingredients: vanilla ice cream and Oreo cookies.

We use about 10 cookies for two large servings.

The filling can be super sweet so we remove the cream from about half of them.  Reserve two or three cookies and place the rest in a zip lock bag, and crush with a mallet.

Homemade Oreo Blizzard 049

Homemade Oreo Blizzard 050

Place the crushed cookies in a mixing bowl and add several scoops of vanilla ice cream.  Mash quickly so the mixture doesn’t melt.

Homemade Oreo Blizzard 068

Homemade Oreo Blizzard 069

Scoop into mugs or bowls, crush one or two of the cookies (without the cream) in your hand and sprinkle over each serving.

Homemade Oreo Blizzard

Top with a whole Oreo cookie and enjoy!!

homemade-oreo-blizzard-096-final

Notes:

  • It took a couple of times to figure out the ice cream to cookie ratio that we liked, but hey you can’t go wrong, unless you make too little 😦
  • We prefer regular vanilla ice cream vs. French vanilla ice cream, which is too sweet
  • Use a large mug; this treat is cold!  Hold with one hand and dig in with a spoon!
  • Work quickly and the blizzard will remain frozen!
  • I rarely purchase processed food items so I tried to make homemade Oreo cookies. Unfortunately, they were not the same.  They tasted good, but were missing that distinct crispy- crunchy texture.  Stick with store-bought for this decadent treat!