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!


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!


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


Oven Baked BBQ Ribs and all the Fixin’s

Oven-baked ribs

It’s summertime and being foodies, we absolutely crave anything to do with BBQ!

But what do you do if it’s raining, and you don’t want to fire up the grill, or you don’t have a bbq?  How about oven-baked ribs!  We normally just use our favorite store bought bbq sauce but for an extra kick, I love this simple recipe with additional spices.  The result is the perfect blend of sweet and tangy, with a bit of heat.

Getting to all the fixin’s … our favorites are potato salad, baked beans and cornbread.  I switched it up this time with creamy mac and cheese, slices of baguette with butter and of course, pickles.  We’ve dined at Famous Dave’s a few times, and they serve these awesome pickles with their bbq platters.  Their Signature Spicy Pickle Chips are addictive and available for $3.99.  You can also find them at Costco.  They’re crunchy, sweet, sour and a bit spicy.  I absolutely hated pickles for most of my life, and now I can’t believe how much I like them.

Are you craving BBQ?

Delicious Fall-Off-The-Bone Ribs

Adapted from


  • 4 lbs pork ribs
  • 2-4 tbsp light or dark brown sugar (use less if your favorite bbq sauce is already sweet)
  • 1 tsp hickory smoke salt (or smoked paprika)
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1 cup of your favorite bbq sauce
  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees
  2. Peel off tough membrane that covers the bony side of the ribs
  3. Mix together the sugar and spices to make the rub
  4. Apply rub to ribs on all sides
  5. Lay ribs on two layers of non-stick foil, meaty side up (so they don’t burn)
  6. Lay two layers of foil on top of ribs and roll and crimp edges tightly, edges facing up to seal
  7. Place on baking sheet and bake for 2 – 2 ½ hours or until meat is starting to shrink away from the ends of the bone.
  8. Remove from oven
  9. Heat broiler
  10. Cut ribs into serving sized portions of 2 or 3 ribs
  11. Arrange on broiler pan, meat side up and brush with bbq sauce
  12. Broil for 1 or 2 minutes until sauce is bubbly
  13. Turn ribs over and repeat
  14. You can also finish them off on a grill

Montana’s Cookhouse Review – In Search of the Best Burger

Montana’s Cookhouse

Our quest for a great burger continues … We’re always looking for that perfect burger: juicy and delicious with the ideal ratio of meat – 70% lean to 30% fat, and accompanied by crispy fries or onion rings!

We’ve only dined at Montana’s Cookhouse a few times; for their ribs, so we had to try their burgers. The décor is outdoorsy and casual, service was efficient and the menu had a lot of variety.

Montana's Cookhouse

Montana's Cookhouse

Montana's Cookhouse

Montana's Cookhouse

Montana's Cookhouse

Don’t you love their cute mason jars?  I have these at home, and they’re useful for so many things other than jam.

Montana’s Cookhouse

We ordered the Chipotle Firecracker Burger which is topped off with bacon, crispy deep fried Cajun spiced onions, Monterey Jack cheese, deep fried jalapeno slices, and chipotle honey bbq sauce.  Their hamburger meat is 100% sirloin, brought in every other day, and not frozen.

We were excited when the burgers arrived – talk about huge!  The requisite squish was necessary in order to take a bite.  My taste buds immediately found the bbq sauce too sweet and overpowering, but the crispy onion straws and jalapeno peppers were a hit and added complex flavors and textures.  The burger itself was a bit on the dry side.

Chipotle Firecracker Burger

Chipotle Firecracker Burger

As a side note, in Canada, chain restaurants will cook their burgers “non-pink” or “cooked through,” in order to comply with the Ministry of Health.  It’s actually illegal to serve medium-rare burgers in Canada, but I have seen some other places accommodate this request.

In the U.S., it’s common to see burgers pink or even quite red! Not something we crave, but it’s a personal choice. Here’s an interesting article on why medium-rare burgers are taboo in Canada.  Play it Safe With Hamburgers is another good article to read.

Back to our burgers … they need some tweaking, and I would definitely suggest a less sweet bbq sauce!  The fries were quite good, with a bit of skin left on, and were hot and crispy.


On a previous visit, we tried their Pulled Pork Sandwich.  It was a mess; sorry I don’t mean that in a good way.  The meat seemed pre-made, frozen, and just heated with a lot of apple butter bbq sauce, again, way too sweet.  It deflected from any smoky flavor the pork may have had.  On a positive note, the deep fried onion straws were a nice accompaniment.

Pulled Pork Sandwich

The Beef Brisket Sandwich fared a bit better, but again, was drowning in Texas bold bbq sauce. Personally, we like sliced beef brisket versus chopped or pulled style.

If you order any of their sandwiches or burgers, I would suggest having the bbq sauce on the side.

Beef Brisket Sandwich

Check back soon for another burger review!

Beef and Bean Burritos with Jumbo Pico de Gallo

We love Mexican food, and I was inspired to make these easy burritos from the “Pioneer Woman.” While I personally find most of her recipes to be full of fat-laden ingredients, I liked this one!

Let’s start with the burritos; you can use white or whole-wheat tortillas.  I also swapped black beans for refried beans.  You can switch it up with ground beef, grilled chicken, sautéed beef strips, shrimp or fish.  If you want a vegetable burrito, omit the meat and add Mexican rice, lettuce, tomatoes and avocado.

Pico de Gallo is Spanish for salsa, and it’s a real favorite of ours! The ingredients are so simple: tomatoes, onion, jalapeno pepper and fresh lime juice. It’s normally chopped into smaller pieces, but I find cutting the tomatoes and onions in larger chunks is so much easier.

Beef and Bean Burritos with Jumbo Pico de Gallo

Adapted from

Serves 4


  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 tsp paprika

  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp oregano
  • 2-3 tsp chili powder
  • 1 can (7-10 ounce) Mexican Tomato Sauce or Enchilada Sauce (reserve some for serving)
  • 1 can (28 ounce) Refried Beans (I used black beans)
  • 1 cup grated Cheddar cheese (reserve some to sprinkle on top)
  • 4 large whole wheat flour tortillas
  • Chopped coriander (optional)
  1. In a skillet over medium-high heat, brown ground beef with onions and garlic. Continue to cook until the beef is no longer pink.  Drain as much grease as you can
  2. Season with salt and pepper to taste, add seasonings and sauce, simmer over low heat for a few minutes
  3. Heat refried beans in a separate saucepan (if using). Add cheese and stir until melted. Keep warm
  4. Heat tortillas in microwave for one minute
  5. Spread a small amount of beans (or refried beans/cheese mixture) on each tortilla. Add meat.  Sprinkle with cheese
  6. Fold into a burrito and place on a foil-lined heat proof dish
  7. Drizzle remaining sauce over the top and sprinkle with additional grated cheddar
  8. Bake at 350° until cheese is melted
  9. Garnish as desired
  10. Serve immediately

Kitchen notes:

  • Additional toppings: sour cream, avocado, green chillies …

Jumbo Pico de Gallo

Adapted from

Serves 6-8


  • 5 whole Plum or Roma tomatoes, cut into large chunks
  • 1/2 onion, chopped into fairly large chunks
  • 1 whole Jalapeno pepper, finely minced (remove seeds for a milder salsa)
  • Chopped coriander
  • 1 fresh lime
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl, add first 4 ingredients, sprinkle with juice of 1 fresh lime, mix to combine and season with salt and pepper.

Homemade Tomato Sauce and Meatballs

I admit, I “used” to buy spaghetti sauce in jars or cans.  They’re cheap, super easy and so convenient, but if you want to try a homemade tomato sauce with an authentic Italian taste, look no further!

I looked through at least eight different recipes and tried a few before tweaking it here and there to come up with this one.  My recipe is surprisingly easy; just a few ingredients and you don’t have to use fresh tomatoes.

I was a bit hesitant when making the sauce.  Would it be too bland or watery?  Nope.  I tasted some as it was simmering and it was really delicious!  When we sat down and I took my first bite (with meatballs and linguine), I was amazed!  The sauce was so fresh and completely different than store-bought sauces.  We liked it so much that we make the sauce regularly in large batches and freeze it.

San Marzano tomatoes are the key ingredient.  Please do not use any other brand.

Fresh basil is also a must.  I never cooked much with basil and to be honest, I wasn’t a fan, but now I’m addicted.

Next up, fresh parmesan cheese and I do mean fresh.  Not the kind in a plastic jar which has cellulose (yuck), but fresh wedges.  We buy large blocks of parmesan cheese, cut them into chunks that will fit through our food processor, and then we freeze it for several months.

You must try this recipe!

Homemade Tomato Sauce

Makes approximately 5 – 6 cups


  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 – 28 ounce cans San Marzano tomatoes
  • Kosher salt
  • Black pepper
  • Chili flakes (optional)
  1. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large high sided sauté pan
  2. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes
  3. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, do not let the garlic burn
  4. Add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer, cook for 15 minutes and then gently crush the tomatoes with a potato masher until slightly smooth (be careful the tomatoes don’t squirt you)
  5. Sprinkle with Kosher salt and black pepper, taste for seasoning
  6. Add the chili flakes (optional) and continue cooking on low to medium low heat, until sauce thickens, about 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally

My Favorite Meatball Recipe

Everyone has their own version.  I pretty much throw in what I have on hand (lol).  For moist and flavorful meatballs, do not overmix them.  If you use lean ground beef, make sure you add a small amount of filler (bread crumbs or oatmeal) an egg, and a small amount of milk.  The amounts will also differ according to how much meat you use.

The meatballs freeze quite well.


  • ½ lb each: medium ground beef, lean ground pork and lean ground veal (or your preferred choice of meats)
  • ½ -1 onion, finely minced
  • 1 small carrot, finely minced
  • ½ green, red, orange or yellow pepper, finely minced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • Large flake oats (handful)
  • 1 egg
  • Few tablespoons milk
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper
  • Garlic powder
  • Italian seasoning (go lightly on this herb, it can be very strong and overwhelming), or basil
  • Worcestershire sauce (few dashes)
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F
  2. Combine all ingredients, do not overmix, and shape into the size you like!
  3. Place on lined baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes (longer if you made larger meatballs)
  4. Serve over your choice of pasta with tomato sauce and garnish with fresh basil leaves and Parmesan cheese (we love Parmigiano Reggiano)!


Stir-Fried Beef with Tomatoes

This is one of Ruby’s favorite dishes.  She showed me how to make it last year, and I’m happy to report that she thinks its good enough to post.  It’s a simple dish best served with steamed rice.

You can adjust the amount of sugar and ketchup to your taste.  Any kind of tomatoes will do; we normally buy what happens to be on sale.

For the beef, we like to use tenderloin or rib eye; however, these are pricey cuts.  If you use a less tender cut such as flank, be sure to marinade it well and don’t overcook it.

Stir-Fried Beef with Tomatoes

Serves 4


  • Beef tenderloin, rib eye or your choice of beef, thinly sliced (enough for 4)
  • 1 tbsp Chinese cooking wine
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 2 tsp soya sauce
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • 4 large tomatoes, cut into wedges
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 4-6 tbsp ketchup (adjust to your taste)
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 -2 tsp soya sauce (adjust to your taste and/or if you are watching your sodium)
  • 2 – 3 tsp sugar (adjust to your taste)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch mixed with ¼ cup cold water (in a small bowl, set aside)
  1. In a bowl, mix the beef with the Chinese cooking wine, oil, soya sauce and minced garlic.  Let sit for at least 30 minutes or marinate overnight (be sure to allow the beef to come to room temperature before frying)
  2. In a small bowl, combine ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, soya sauce, sugar, salt and pepper, set aside
  3. Heat the oil in a wok or skillet until hot, you want to get a nice sear on the meat
  4. Fry the beef strips until slightly pink.  Remove and set aside.  Do not overcook
  5. In same wok or skillet, sauté onions for 2-3 minutes.  Add tomatoes and stir for another 2 minutes
  6. Add ketchup sauce and simmer on medium low until tomatoes are softened
  7. Raise heat to medium high/high and slowly add cornstarch mixture, a teaspoon at a time.  You may not need to use all of the slurry mixture
  8. When the sauce starts to thicken, add beef and stir just to coat
  9. Remove from heat and sprinkle with green onions (optional)


Pho – Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup

Have you tried Pho?

H and I love a large steaming bowl of fragrant Pho, especially during the colder months.  It’s hard to believe we have trouble finding our favorite Pho restaurant.  There are literally dozens of them, but we have yet to try one that truly stands out.

Everyone seems to have their own preferences.  What we’re looking for is a flavorful broth that has been simmered for hours, and is not too salty.  For Pho lovers out there, you know what I mean when I say “MSG overload!”  Every time we’ve dined out, we’re guzzling water for hours afterwards.

The beef should be good quality and not too tough or chewy.  Next up, the noodles, either they’re over or under cooked.   And, not all places offer coriander or saw-leaf herb, which are traditional garnishes.

H was so frustrated he decided to surprise me by making Pho.   He didn’t seem to mind that he was in the kitchen for 4 hours!  H has only been cooking for over a year, and I can’t believe how much he’s learned.  He’s always been a fantastic sous chef, but he’s really starting to outdo me, which I don’t mind at all.  I think I’ll have to start calling him “Chef H”

I have to admit, for a first try, Chef H’s Pho was amazing.  I felt like we were in a really good authentic Pho restaurant, yet, here we were in the comfort of our own home.  H didn’t even need my help; he just kept shooing me away and told me to sit while he expertly assembled the bowls.

While it’s a lot of work, nothing beats homemade cooking (or baking).  We are definitely craving a bowl of Pho!


IMG_1696H’s Pho

Adapted from
Serves 4 – 6 (or in H’s case, 2 – 3)


  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 5 whole star anise
  • 1 tablespoon of coriander seeds
  • 2 medium onions (if you have time, char them in a very hot oven)
  • 4″ piece of fresh ginger, halved lengthwise
  • 6-7 quarts of water
  • 2 – 4 lbs of beef bones, preferably leg and knuckle
  • 2-3 tablespoons of sugar
  • ¼ cup fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 2-4 lbs of rice noodles (dried or fresh)
  • ½  lb flank, beef sirloin, eye of round or rib-eye, sliced as thin as possible (easier to slice if placed in freezer for 10-15 minutes)
  • Beef balls (optional) – add during last 20-30 minutes of cooking time

Optional:  Boil beef bones for a few minutes to remove the guck, rinse and set aside

  1. Place cinnamon sticks, cloves, star anise and coriander seeds in a fine mesh bag (specifically for cooking) and tie tightly
  2. Place onion, ginger, water, beef bones, sugar, fish sauce and salt in a large stock pot and bring to a boil
  3. Lower heat to medium/medium low and simmer for 3 hours
  4. Skim any surface fat as needed


  1. Place dried noodles in a large pot
  2. Add boiling water until the noodles are covered
  3. Let sit for 5 – 8 minutes, drain and set aside
  4. If using fresh noodles, omit above steps


  1. Place noodles in individual large bowls
  2. Place thinly sliced raw beef on top
  3. Pour hot beef broth over noodles


  • ½ yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2-3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup chopped coriander/cilantro
  • 1-lb bean sprouts, rinsed thoroughly (optional)
  • Fresh mint leaves
  • Asian basil
  • Saw-leaf herb
  • Thai chilies
  • Lime wedges
  • Hoisin sauce
  • Sriracha sauce

Summertime is Perfect for Cold Sesame Noodles

H loves sesame oil and pasta so he had rave reviews when I made cold sesame noodles for dinner.  He’s also a meat lover so of course he wasn’t happy with the noodles alone.  I on the other hand, like to eat vegetarian dishes every now and then.

For the meat lover in our family, I marinated strips of boneless rib eye steak overnight, and then stir-fried in a small amount of hot oil to get a nice sear.

We both love coriander, but I realized we ran out, which means I’ll have to make this dish again!  H. promptly added coriander to our grocery list this week!

I gasped when I saw how much oil the recipe called for.  I’m always trying to reduce oil and salt when I cook, and sugar when I bake (but NOT butter)!  I tried using only 2 tablespoons of sesame oil, and it was okay, but the noodles did stick together the next day.  I added an extra ½ tbsp, but I personally wouldn’t add anymore than that as I found the noodles tasted a bit greasy. If you’re a sesame oil lover like H, you may want to experiment.

For the beef marinade, we used a bit of oil, cornstarch, Chinese cooking wine, light soya sauce, salt, pepper, grated fresh garlic and ginger.  Drain as much of the liquid as you can before you stir-fry.

Please let me know your thoughts, if you liked this dish with more or less sesame oil, and what type of pasta you used.

Enjoy; I know H did!

Cold Sesame Noodles

Serves 2 – 4
Adapted from


  • 8 – 12 ounces long pasta of your choice (I used ¾ box of Catelli Smart spaghettini)
  • 2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 2 ½ tbsp toasted Asian sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp plus 2 teaspoons light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds (optional)
  • 1 tbsp peeled, grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tbsp minced fresh garlic
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt
  • 2 green onions, finely sliced
  • ¼ – ½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • Fresh coriander, chopped (optional)
  1. Cook the pasta according to package instructions.  Drain and rinse under cold running water. Wait about 5-10 minutes and then transfer the noodles to a large bowl
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil, soy sauce, sesame seeds, ginger, salt, green onions, and, if using, red pepper flakes
  3. Pour mixture over pasta and mix until well coated.  Adjust condiments to your taste
  4. Sprinkle with chopped coriander if using
  5. Serve cold or at room temperature