I seldom visit the Pickle Barrel restaurant, not because a lack of decent food or a dislike with the atmosphere but simply because it never springs as a go-to option when hunger strikes. I’ve gone a total of 3 or 4 times in the past, mostly to this exact location since it is the closest to my home.

My sister had just gotten another acceptance letter from another university so our family decided to celebrate by going out for the night and getting some food. After much deliberation as to where we could get what my sister was craving, we decided to head  down to Markville Shopping Centre and visit the Pickle Barrel for some dinner.It had been a long time since our last visit but we were excited.

The Pickle Barrel has a wide range of menu items for any meal of the day. Breakfast until late at night, there are many options to choose from. Although we had gone for dinnertime, my sister and I were drawn to their breakfast and brunch items (who could resist pancakes smothered in sweet goodness?) but we went the traditional route and stuck to dinner entrees. Pickle Barrel was also featuring new items on the menu as seen in the above photo. An adaption to the summer season, this menu has lighter, fresher options. I’m sure there’s something on the menu that would entice you. (more…)


Now I know this is not anything gourmet and I’m not about to blog about some unique twist or original take on traditional hamburger helper. I’m here to simply blog about the experience of it. Now I don’t want to assume or generalize too much but based on what I’ve been told by friends, family and society and what I’ve seen via the media, I don’t think it would be too far a stretch to say that food staples such as hamburger helper and mac & cheese are the iconic food of university students and many Americans as they grew up. I never had these things.

In my childhood I had no kraft mac and cheese, no hamburger helper, no chef boyardee or riceroni. I’ve eaten the first one about two times in my life, and I’ve yet to experience the last two. I often talk to people and they describe how there was a time in their life, generally childhood or college years where such things were staples in the household. I was convinced by a friend of mine that I just had to try one of them and I settled on hamburger helper. Growing up I had seen the commercials for it and it always look simple and delicious. Now that I’m more food conscious, I’m highly aware of the ingredients and nutrition of something processed such as this but I did want to give it a chance; and so I did. (more…)

The Rainforest Cafe experience is highly kitschy, unique and appealing to the senses. I remember when the restaurant used to have multiple locations in  Toronto and my family often went when I was younger. I even attended a birthday party there which is an experience I’ll never forget. Unfortunately, the only two places left to experience it in Canada is either in the Niagara Falls area or at Yorkdale mall. On another shopping trip, my family decided to head over to Yorkdale mall which instinctively created a craving for both my sister and I to eat their famous dessert. With most franchised restaurants, the menu doesn’t have highly unusual food but it remains fairly consistent and hits the spot when you’re hungry.

Their menu changes from time to time to keep things new and innovative but one classic remains; the volcano. Their iconic volcano dessert never slips my mind and there are many days where I’m left craving the luscious dessert. I would have gladly just eaten the dessert but the family decided to make a meal out of the entire thing and see what was on the menu. A favourite of my parents had sadly disappeared on the menu so we decided on two other dishes. We shared the food so that we could save  room for the highly filling dessert. (more…)

UPDATED 01/12/09 @ 3:45PM — I forgot a few more dishes so for those who have already read this post, check the end to see even more food from the party

New Year’s is a huge event for my family because it’s a two fold celebration. In addition to the general excitement for the new year, New Year’s day happens to be my father’s birthday. My family throws an annual New Year’s bash, invite all of our family and friends and party from the afternoon until the wee hours of the morning. Because it is such a long event and there are more people than the normal get-together, there’s a pretty big spread on our table.

After a year of numerous parties, my family tends to feel like we’ve gone through the majority of the Filipino dishes out there. Therefore, we like to attempt to ring in a new year with different food that isn’t always typically seen at a Filipino party. When deciding upon the menu, we consulted a variety of sources for inspiration and recipes and came up with a menu that features some of our most favourite dishes, some experimental food and some tried and true Filipino food.

Recipes that I reviewed

Recipes from various sources

Click to see more food from the party!


Risotto is one of my favourite simple meals. I’m no expert at cooking it and although I’ve done so several times, I still have a long way to master the art of risotto. I first made it many years ago. I was rummaging through my family pantry and came across a bag of arborio rice which is not a common thing to find in there. The lovely part about risotto is that it requires very few ingredients. I often just follow the recipe at the back of the box. I always add mushrooms to give the risotto more body and a meatier taste because I often eat it alone.

Ingredients used:

  •  Arborio rice
  • Beef broth
  • Mushrooms
  • Red Onions
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Parsley
  • Black Pepper
  • Olive Oil/Butter

 I don’t want to include a recipe as there are tons out there. It’s best to follow the instructions found on the box. Risotto takes some patience but it is well worth the wait. While cooking this I also cooked A dinner making his standard chicken & pasta which turned out really well.

I added a chicken breast to my meal and this is the final result:


The risotto turned out really well. I ended making a lot (as usual) and ate it for a few more days. It could have been a tad more creamier. Other than that, delicious as usual. I’ve made it a few more times since.

I decided to drink something a little more special. I decided to mix a jones red apple with an arbor mist strawberry white zinfandel just for the sake of mixing it since they were the same colour. It turned out pretty one. You could easily drink either one alone and it would be just as good. I  don’t often drink alcohol and I am able to stomach both the weak and the strong alcohol but I just wanted something sweet to go with this meal. I most often just drink water with everything.


 My last meal as a 19 year old and it was very yummy :) 

A usual standby for A and I is chicken and pasta. It’s easy, simple and we normally have everything in stock at home. It’s also very filling which A loves the most about it.

We simmer the chicken in a mixture of a little bit of oil and water. The water helps to cook the chicken and keeps it very moist and once the water has evaporated, the oil is left to brown the chicken and fry the outside. The chicken was well seasoned with mediterranean spices.

 We boiled some pasta. We’re both not fond of sauces. Butter, shredded cheese, parmesan and spices do us just fine.

A very satisfying dinner :)

Now thanksgiving isn’t the most celebrated in my family. Being asian, my family doesn’t really relate to the “pilgrims coming to the new world, sharing food with the natives” stories and since they prefer a stir-fry over a huge turkey with all the fixings, the cooking for this event has normally fallen upon me. I’ve cooked thanksgiving dinner (or at the very least, helping out) for as long as I can remember and my parents will attest to it. It’s the one holiday where my family willing strays away from asian food and lets me get creative with the menu.

Unfortunately since the start of university I have either not been in the mood or didn’t bother to go home altogether for Thanksgiving weekend. My first year in university, I couldn’t be bothered to cook so my family went out for sushi (sushi for thanksgiving? yup and it was darn tasty) and last year I was too busy with school work to come home. But this year I wanted to bring the tradition back (plus its a way to convince my parents to buy really good ingredients and experiment)

This year the menu consisted of:

  • Phyllo wrapped baked brie with mushrooms
  • Oven baked sweet potato fries
  • Spinach balsamic bow tie pasta with feta cheese
  • Roasted garlic dip
  • Pot Roast with root vegetables
  • Traditional stuffing
  • (semi) homemade apple pie a la mode

The entire menu is a first for me, having never cooked any of it before. First up was the prep for the pot roast since that would take the longest… Recipe can be found here.

garlic and onions for sauteing

garlic and onions for sauteing

seasoning the meat with salt and pepper

seasoning the meat with salt and pepper

Now my family has done the turkey thing in the past but we end up with far too many leftovers than we know what to do with. Besides, we’re not really fans of turkey despite its healthy qualities. This does prose the dilemma of what to eat as a main course for thanksgiving. Some options we’ve explore in the past were Cornish hens, roasted chicken, lamb, oven baked fish such as salmon or tilapia. This year we were in the mood for some sort of stew with meat that was falling apart and would essentially melt in your mouth. It ended in  toss up between pot roast and beef goulash; the pot roast  won due to simplicity and familiarity.


browned and seared

browned and seared

While the beef seared, I made a roasted garlic dip. It’s essentially 1 cup of plain yogurt, 1 cup of mayo ( my family uses 1/2 fat mayo) and 3 Tbsp of roasted garlic mix that I bought in a food shop at Niagara-on-the-Lake during a visit there this summer. Its created by Gourmet du Village and is a tasty robust dip. You leave it to sit for at least an hour to develop its flavours and is good with pretzels, pitas or for this dinner, baked sweet potato fries.

roasted garlic dip ingredients

roasted garlic dip ingredients

Back to the pot roast…

stew ingredients: red wine, tomato paste, mustard, bay leaves.

stew ingredients: red wine, tomato paste, mustard, bay leaves.

beef stewing in stock

beef stewing in stock

 After the stew came to a boil it was time to put it into the oven to slowly cook for 3 hours. In the meantime I prepped some other food. I prepared the cold pasta salad (recipe found here). I opted to use bow tie pasta instead of orzo just for a textural difference. It’s a pretty easy recipe to follow and then you can leave it in the fridge to marinate while you prepare other food.

some of the main ingredients for the pasta salad: bow tie pasta, spinach, red onion.

some of the main ingredients for the pasta salad: bow tie pasta, spinach, red onion.

final pasta salad

spinach bow tie pasta with feta

 I then watched my sister create a semi homemade apple pie. Semi because we used a pre-made mix for the crust because she wasn’t in the mood to make it from scratch. It’s probably a safer bet to stick to the mix anyways since we don’t exactly have a stand up mixer.

box pie crust mix

box pie crust mix

splitting the dough in half

splitting the dough in half

rolling the dough

rolling the dough

peeling, coring, cutting the apples

peeling, coring, cutting the apples

I failed to get photos of the rest of the prep which included the mixing of all the apples and spices and placing it in the pie pan. I was so busy scrambling to food prep for other thing such as the baked brie. I unfortunately didn’t take photos of that either until it was completed. Here’s the recipe.

final product of the baked brie

phyllo wrapped baked brie with mushrooms

While this was in the oven, I added the rest of the ingredients to the pot roast (root vegetables) when it got to its last cooking stage. I also roasted some sweet potato fries lightly brushed with olive oil and thyme and plated it with the roasted garlic dip.

final product sweet potato fries and roasted garlic dip

sweet potato fries and roasted garlic dip

I also made a quick boxed stuffing since stuffing is one of my favourite traditional food of thanksgiving.

stuffing mix

stuffing mix and chicken broth.

final product stuffing - photo credit to my father

stuffing - photo credit to my father

After 3 and half hours in the oven, the long awaited pot roast was ready and it looked good.
pot roast with root vegetables

pot roast with root vegetables

The full feast looked like this…
thanksgiving feast
full plate
While we ate we left the apple pie to bake and it turned out like this…
(semi) homemade apple pie

(semi) homemade apple pie

Meal review:

Overall the meal was incredibly delicious. The stuffing was a little salty as expected from a boxed mix so I’ll definitely be making that from scratch next year. It was a shame since stuffing is really one of my favourite things. The pot roast was incredibly tender and my family couldn’t get enough. Even before finishing her meal, my sister was already thinking about eating the pot roast the next day. The pasta salad was ok. It needed more cheese and more dressing, an easy adjustment considering its a cold pasta that only gets better with time.  The sweet potato fries were a little more soft than one would like but still very very delicious. I just need to turn up the heat of the oven to get crispier fries. The dip is a no fail thing so you can’t mess it up. The baked brie was my favorite thing of the entire night. It was the only thing that I put specifically on the menu for me to eat but it seems like my family enjoyed it more than me and ate the majority of it with a request from my sister to make it again soon. The apple pie turned out really well which I was happy about because I did have some hesitations about the filling and if it would meld together properly. We ate it while still warm with a scoop of vanilla frozen yogurt. The meal was a success and one of my most favorite thanksgiving dinners that I can recall. I already have ideas of what to cook for next year. I can’t wait.