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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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H and I absolutely love brunch, and Victoria’s is a huge 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!

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Assorted Fruit Danishes:

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

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Blueberry Scones:

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

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Chilled Scallop and Shrimp Salad:

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

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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.

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Roast Chicken with Fruit Salsa

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White Wine and Herb Steamed PEI Mussels:

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

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Antipasto

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Charcuterie

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Wild Mushrooms

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Quebec Pork Creton

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

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Heirloom Tomatoes with Bocconcini & Basil Vinaigrette

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Three Sisters Prairie Grains with Orange Lemon Dressing

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Buttermilk Pancakes with Quebec Maple Syrup

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

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Breakfast Bangers and Bacon

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Eggs Benedict:

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

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Scrambled Eggs with Snipped Chives

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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.

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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.

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

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Pulled Pork Braised in Ottawa Beau’s Beer

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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.

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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.

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Roasted Vegetables

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What’s on our plates:

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My favorite part of any brunch/buffet!  Desserts!

Beaver Tails

The sous chef suggested a squeeze of fresh lemon juice!

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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.

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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:

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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.

 

Happy 150th Birthday Canada!

Homemade Oreo Blizzards

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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.

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

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

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Top with a whole Oreo cookie and enjoy!!

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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!

 

Coconut Macaroons – Chewy, Not too Sweet, and Quite Addictive!

I almost gave up on making coconut macaroons.  No matter what recipe I tried, they always came out flat, with a bump in the middle.  They never looked like the pictures in food magazines or the Internet.

I came across this recipe a while ago, and was hesitant because I had a ton of flaked coconut in my pantry, but not desiccated coconut.  I had a difficult time finding it at my local grocery store, and had to Google for an alternative right there and then while standing in the baking aisle!  Another name for desiccated coconut is unsweetened coconut.  It comes in fine or medium shreds, and judging from the picture of the finished macaroon, I made a judgement call and bought the medium shreds.

When you are finished making the batter, it will be thick, but you definitely need to use baking cups to hold the macaroon’s shape.

I was so excited to see how nicely rounded they came out!  Of course, I couldn’t wait for the macaroons to cool completely, and neither could H.  I did find it difficult to peel the liner off, but hey, H had no problem whatsoever!  Nevertheless, by the next day when the macaroons had developed their flavor and softened a bit, they were much easier to peel off.

This recipe is definitely a keeper … and they look so cute!

Coconut Macaroons

Adapted from KawalingPinoy.com

Makes 3 ½ -4 dozen minis

Ingredients

  • ⅓ cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • ⅓ – ½ cup granulated sugar (I used ⅓ cup but if you have a real sweet tooth, use ½ cup)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 ounces)
  • ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup unbleached flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 cups unsweetened medium coconut (desiccated coconut)
  1. Using a stand or hand mixer, beat butter and sugar together for a few minutes.  Be sure to scrape down the bowl
  2. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each one
  3. Add condensed milk and pure vanilla extract until well combined, again scraping down the side of the bowl
  4. With a spatula, fold in flour, baking powder, and coconut until well mixed
  5. Scoop into mini cupcake liners using a medium size cookie scoop.  If you don’t have one, the equivalent is 1 tablespoon.
  6. Bake for 12-16 minutes (depending on your oven).  When a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, they’re done. Do not over bake.
  7. Let cool for several minutes and then remove to a cooling rack.

Kitchen notes:

  • This is quite annoying, but some condensed milk are manufactured in 300 ml cans.  Most recipes call for 14 ounces.  I buy a lot of baking products in the U.S. so if you can’t find a 14 ounce can, here are two options: divide this recipe in half, or open up a second can (sorry).  Either way, you can use the extra condensed milk for making iced coffee … delicious!
  • If you wish to divide this recipe in half, I would suggest using approximately 3 tbsp butter and 3 or 4 tbsp sugar.  The rest of the ingredients can easily be halved
  • Macaroons will keep in a tight-fitting container at room temperature for a few days

Enjoy!

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