A Taste of Scandinavia at Karelia Kitchen in Toronto

finlandsweden_flagcanadaWe are starting the year with a tip about what may be the best brunch place in Toronto. Karelia Kitchen (1194 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M6H 1N2, Canada) is dedicated to all things Scandinavian for brunch, snacktime and dinner. Karelia’s brunch is a mix of continental, Canadian and Scandinavian flavors with dishes like Pitti Y Panna ($14) Swedish-style potato hash with dill, bacon and eggs; Herring Two Ways ($14); and a grilled cheese made with Canadian Oka cheese ($12). For something more savory, there is also a huge variety of smorrebrod – open faced sandwiches in varieties like salmon, shrimp and beet ($10-12). In true Scandinavian fashion, coffee is a major feature of the cafe, and there is also a wide assortment Scandinavian pastries for a true Swedish-style fika coffee break. It can get pretty crowded for brunch, so reservations are recommended. But even if you don’t have a reservation, you can order at the counter to go.kareliaEven with all of this selection, our favorite thing about Karelia Kitchen is that they have Pulla Bread! Pulla bread is a traditional Finnish cardamom bread, which is particularly hard to find pretty much anywhere in North America, and this quest is what initially led us to Karelia. Pulla is a relative of the Swedish cardamom bun, kardemummabullar, and may be found in braided loaves like brioche, or in smaller rolls (as seen below). Served with clotted cream and lingonberry jam, a pulla roll is a prefect not-too-sweet accompaniment for fika or breakfast (or a snack). If you have the chance head over to Karelia to sample the excellent pulla bread and more!


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Happy New Year 2017


We love this Japanese candy advertisement wishing us a happy new year (in 1956) – we hope you have a Happy New Year, too!

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Pastry Post-Doc: Greek Vasilopita for the New Year

GreeceOne of our friends’ mothers recently gifted us a large Vasilopita cake in the shape of a fish (which seems to be one-of-a-kind)! Fish or not, there is a long tradition of having Vasilopita – an orange-flavored cake topped with nuts – on New Year’s Day for good luck. Much like a king cake, there is a hidden trinket or coin in the cake that is said to bring luck to the person that finds it. Vasilopita is popular in Greece and the Balkans, and I have seen several permutations of the cake: some including multiple tiers, or a vanilla glaze. Here is a two-tiered Greek version from Epicurious, a glazed version from My Greek Dish, and a Vasilopita with a more bread-like consistency from Bowl of Delicious. Happy new year! Ευτυχισμένος ο καινούριος χρόνος!


Vasilopita by Resturante Kaialde


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A Trip to Macau at The Bakery at Fat Rice

MacauWe visited Fat Rice a while ago, and since then they have opened up The Bakery at Fat Rice (2951 W. Diversey Ave.) serving unusual Macanese-inspired treats. The Bakery at Fat Rice has a cute retro pink logo and an inviting handpainted wooden “Pastelaria” sign featuring an egg tart in a starburst (swwn below). The inside is brightly colored, with big windows, and brightly-colored floral oilcloth seats. What could be more inviting?


The main draw is the pastry selection – and there is a large pastry case filled with goodies taking up one wall. They also have tasty coffee, juice and tea drinks, plus the hard-to-find chocolate Milo drink that is ubiquitous in Asia. On our first visit, we wanted to try some of the sweet and savory dishes. We ordered a Pork Floss Pig bun ($6) – an interesting combination of savory and sweet topped with shredded dried pork. Plus, it is shaped like a pig, who could resist? We also sampled a coconut-topped sweet roll filled with bright purple ube yam paste ($5). Both were delicious. However, this is only scratching the surface – if you really want to go savory you can get a corned beef or hot dog roll. Other sweet options include a guava bun and a bolo menino: a pine nut, almond and coconut cake.


Finally, we get to the main event – the egg custard tarts. Known as pasteis de nata in Portugal, these came to Macau through Portuguese explorers, where they then found their way into China to become the ubiquitous egg tart. At each stage of travel, these tarts are somewhat different. The Portuguese egg tart is more custard-y while the Chinese variety is less sweet and heavier on the egg. The Macanese variety tends to fall between the two. Though tasty, the Fat Rice Bakery version ($3) reminded us more of a Chinese egg tart. We prefer the Portuguese sweetness, but truth be told, we have had many better, cheaper egg tarts.


Everything we tried was very good, but the $4-6 per-pastry prices struck us as a little steep.  However, the originality of these pastries in the Chicago bakery scene is really what makes them stand out. We will keep The Bakery at Fat Rice in mind for special occasions!

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The hidden tradition of cheese for Hanukkah

There is a major tradition around eating fried food for Hanukkah, since oil is such an essential part to the Hanukkah story – a miracle that allowed one day’s worth of oil to light a menorah for eight days. Though we love the traditional fried donuts sfenj and sufganiyot –  there is also another Hanukkah tradition we have just learned about – eating cheese! The origins of eating cheese on Hanukkah begins with the story of Judith, who is said to have given an enemy general salty cheese to make him thirsty, becase of this he became drunk, allowing her to later kill him. So that may be a little morbid… but the importance of cheese to the story has led to delicious cultural traditions of enjoying cheese at Hanukkah time! Though the tradition is not as big in the US – it has a stronger foothold in Europe. Popular ways to enjoy cheese on Hanukkah are tasty Italian ricotta latkes, cream cheese rugelach and cheese blintzes.


Cheese Blintzes by Eliza Adam

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Merry Christmas from Australia!

AustraliaTomorrow is Christmas – and here it is blustery and cold – but imagine if you could go to beach! In this vintage Australia Christmas video, you can!

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December 24, 2016 · 10:14 AM

Pastry Post-Doc: Lithuanian Christmas tree cake (Šakotis)

lithuaniaWe first saw these show-stopping Lithuanian Christmas tree cakes – Šakotis –  for sale by the Lithuanian Club of Cleveland at a cultural fair. Though you may see Sakotis for other special celebrations in Lithuania, they are associated with Christmas – especially since they look like Christmas trees! The cake is made by pouring batter over a rotating, horizontal spit over a heat source. The batter is simple – just sugar, eggs, flour and sour cream – and as the batter is poured over the spit, tree-like layers begin to form.


Other cakes made on a spit are found throughout Central and Eastern Europe with different names: like the German Baumkuchen, Polish sękacz, Czech Trdelník and Hungarian Kürtőskalács. Unless you have all this special equipment, you probably won’t be able to make Sakotis at home – but you can buy them straight from the Lithuanian Club of Cleveland online.

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What to drink for a Chilean Christmas: Cola de Mono

chileLooking for a beverage to serve at your holiday feast, and wanting something a little different than Eggnog? Try some Chilean Cola de Mono – literally “Monkey Tail.” Cola de Mono is similar to a White Russian and contains milk, coffee, aguardiente, spices and and sugar – served chilled. No one is quite sure where the name “Monkey Tail” comes from, but theories abound: it will have you swinging around like a monkey, it was originally bottled in discards from the Spanish Anisette brand Anís del Mono, or another apocryphal story that it is a morphing of the name of former president Pedro Montt (who had the nickname “Monkey”). Here are simple recipes from Eat Wine Blog and All Recipes. Salud!


Cola de Mono from Restaurant Kaialde


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Pastry Post-Doc: Pio Quinto Christmas Cake from Nicaragua

Nicaragua_flagIt is Christmas season again, and we have cake on the brain! In Nicaragua, Christmas means Pio Quinto cake (which may or may not be named after Pope Pius the 5th). It is similar to tres leches cake, but instead of being soaked in milk, it is soaked in rum! Pio Quinto is topped with a vanilla and cinnamon custard – called atolillo (which can also be served alone) and sprinkled with raisins and other dried fruits. You can find recipes for Pio Quinto from Serious Eats (seen below) and Leaders from the Kitchen.


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Swedish Candy Canes – Polkagris – for the holidays

sweden_flagToday is St. Lucia Day, one of the most important holidays in Scandinavia, and Christmas is right around the corner! We have covered some Swedish holiday cakes and cookies here on the blog previously, but did you know that candy canes may in fact have their roots in Sweden? In Sweden these striped candies are called Polkagris. Polkagris was invented by a female entrepreneur, Amalia Eriksson, in 1859 in the town of Gränna, Sweden. At a time when few women were allowed to be entrepreneurs, the widowed Amalia created the candy as a way to support her family (and the recipe was kept as a secret until her death). The traditional polkagris color is red and white with peppermint flavor, much like the candy canes we know in the US. However, there are a few differences – Polkagris is made with vinegar, which makes it softer and chewier – and creates a shorter shelf life.




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A Taste of Sierra Leone at Sumah’s in Washington DC

sierra_leoneWe recently dove into Liberian food in Philly, and we were excited to find Sumah’s Sierra Leonean restaurant on our visit to a major hub of international cuisine – Washington DC. Sumah’s (1727 7th St NW, Washington 20001) is located just south of Howard University in DC, and is a simple mom and pop place with a bustling take-out counter, bright green walls and only a few tables. Sumah’s menu is fairly simple: you can either order a medium ($14) or large size of any dish with beef or chicken ($16)- you just choose the sauce. It also appeared that you could potentially choose the starch for your dishes: including jollof rice, fermented cassava fufu and gari – cassava mush – but there was only jollof rice on the day we were there. You can also get a small cup of sauce as a side order ($8) if you really can’t decide, and you can choose multiple sauces for medium or large platters for a surcharge.

When we entered Sumah’s we were given a complimentary tasting plate of all of the sauces by the affable owner- some of which we had before and some that were totally new to us. It was a good thing he introduced us to all of the sauces or we would have never known what to pick from the simple descriptions alone. Here are the sauce selections:

  • Peanut butter sauce – similar to other west African peanut sauces with tomatoes and palm oil
  • Spinach – The greens dishes all seemed pretty similar, though the spinach was the lightest and least oily of the three, and was seasoned with garlic and fish.
  • Cassava leaves
  • Potato Leaves
  • Okra – Great non-slimy okra preparation, which is a rarity
  • Krain Krain – krain krain leaves with palm oil and fish
  • Tola – a seed unique to the region, with palm oil
  • Egusi – a colorful stew with squash (egusi) seedsspinach

We ordered a side of the spinach sauce, and a medium platter with a mix of tola and egusi sauce and chicken. The medium alone was more than enough for 2 people (or more), as you can see from the filled container on top. The stews were delicious and hearty, and definitely good for those of us who like palm oil. We also received a free order of fried plantains for dessert, which we gobbled up of course. We also recommend the super strong and delicious house-made ginger drink. We definitely recommend Sumah’s for a taste of the hard-to-find cuisine of Sierra Leone. The dishes at Sumah’s reminded us of Liberian food, but other than the jollof rice, it seemed pretty distinct from other West African countries like Ghana or Senegal. We’d definitely go back!

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Pastry Post-Doc: Caribbean Black Christmas Cake

Jamaican_FlagtrinidadIf you live in the freezing Midwest like us, the winter holiday season may not immediately get you thinking of tropical recipes, but the Caribbean has huge tradition of delicious Christmas foods worth sampling. One emblematic Caribbean food that is a holiday staple is the simply named Black Cake (it gets its name from its rich molasses color). The cake itself is filled with figs and dried fruit soaked in wine, rum and is flavored with cloves, nutmeg and allspice. Caribbean Black Cake is a descendant of British plum pudding, and has an special stronghold in Caribbean countries that were former British colonies such as Trinidad and Jamaica. However, you will find it throughout the Caribbean and in most Caribbean-American communities around holiday time with assorted named like Christmas Cake, Black Christmas Cake, West Indian Fruit Cake, Caribbean Christmas Cake, etc. A unique ingredient that is essential to the rich taste of the cake is burnt sugar syrup, or “browning,” that is available in Caribbean markets (or you can make your own). Here is a recipe for Jamaican Black Cake from the Cooking Channel (below),  Trinidadian Black Cake from Cooking with Ria and Caribbean Black Fruitcake from Chowhound.


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Indian Cooking with Manjula!

India FlagWe love Indian food, though to be honest we do not make it as often as some other cuisines. However, that is something we are looking to change! We recently came across a recommendation to check out Manjula’s Kitchen for demystified Indian recipes. Manjula makes awesome, easy-to-follow recipe videos, using appliances and ingredients typical to an American kitchen (though of course you will need some special ingredients). Did you know that you could make a naan on a pizza stone if you do not have a tandoor oven? Now we do. Check out Manjula’s super simple recipe for naan below. We can’t decide what to try next – her YouTube channel is a treasure trove of recipes.


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Bulgarian Ribnik for St. Nicholas Day

Bulgarianflag.jpgWhen I think winter holiday foods, my mind turns immediately to the sweets – I can’t help it – who wouldn’t love spice cookies or a bûche de noël? However, I know that everyone doesn’t have a sweet tooth, and that savory dishes are just as important on the holiday table. For St. Nicholas Day we encountered mainly sweet treats – but Bulgaria, where the holiday is called Nikulden, has their own savory spin on the day. In Bulgaria, St. Nicholas is associated with fishing and fishermen, so it makes sense that his signature dish, Ribnik, is carp stuffed with walnuts, and wrapped in a pastry dough. This striking dish is then the centerpiece for St. Nicholas Day feasts. Here are recipes for two versions of Ribnik from the St. Nicholas Center, and another from Eclectic Cuisine (seen below).


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Pastry Post-Doc: Dutch Taai-taai cookies for St. Nicholas Day

Netherlands flagOne of the most recognizable Dutch cookies is speculaas – and we are definitely fans of these cinnamon and nutmeg spiced cookies. Speculaas are particularly popular in the Netherlands around St. Nicholas’ Day/Sinterklaas, which falls on December 6th, but so is another lesser known cookie to Americans – the Taai Taai. Taai Taai are Dutch anise-spiced cookies, similar in flavor to speculaas, but with more of a cake-like texture. The name “Taai” comes from the Dutch word for “tough,” and was given due to the chewy texture of the cookie. Taai taai are popularly made in molds in the shape of people, especially in the shape of St. Nicholas himself. Even if you don’t have the molds, Taai Taai cookies are easy to make, and for a shortcut, you can buy pre-mixed spice. Here are a few Taai-Taai recipes from Dutchie Baking, Honest Cooking and the Dutch Table.


Taai Taai Cookies by Turku Gingerbread


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Any recommendations for Washington DC?

Hey friends – we are going to Washington DC this weekend for a conference (and food). We really enjoyed sampling Eritrean food the last time we were there, and of course visiting Nando’s and Shake Shack (both of which have since expanded to Chicago). Do you have any foodie recommendations for DC – especially cheap eats?

Keren Restaurant

Sampler plate at Keren in Washington DC

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New twists on Italian classics at Monteverde in Chicago

ItalyChef Sarah Grueneberg’s new pasta restaurant in Chicago, Monteverde (1020 W. Madison, Chicago, IL), has earned so many accolades in the past year that it is hard to keep up (check out some awards from Eater, Food and Wine and GQ for starters). That means it is also pretty hard to get a reservation now (and probably even harder with each passing day), so plan to book far in advance and aim for early tables if you have to (we booked 4:30-5 PM each time). We visited Monteverde once over the summer and once over Thanksgiving weekend – and both times we were completely blown away by our meals. The vibe inside the restaurant is friendly and casual, with a comfortable, rustic-chic interior. We were able to site outside in the summer but the inside seating is nice and cozy in winter, too.
monteverde The focus of the menu is the handmade pasta, which is divided into two categories – Pasta tipica (classics) and pasta atipica (less traditional riffs on classic dishes). Intriguing “atypical” selections included a duck egg ravioli with pork and a wok-fried arrabiata with gulf shrimp. More traditional pasta dishes included pumpkin-filled tortelloni. Appetizers, called “snacks,” included raw hamachi and octopus spiedini. Small plates included country ham with buffalo mozzarella and mushroom and polenta stuffed cabbage. Monteverde also has a good wine menu and some distinctive non-alcoholic drinks including Sicilian lemonade in the summer and spiced soda in the fall.


On each table there are homemade crunchy breadsticks/ grissini to much on, though at times we wished we had more substantial bread so that we could sop up all of the sauces. Everything comes out as it is prepared, so it is best to order and plan to share – we ordered one large plate, 2 small plates and an appetizer. From the pasta atipica side we chose the Cacio whey pepe – a new take on cacio e pepe with Mancini rigatoni, pecorino romano, ricotta whey and a four peppercorn blend ($14- above); as an appetizer – Proscuitto butter toast – topped with  with radishes, dill, and lemon ($6); and as a small plate – Burrata on thick slices of ciabatta, winter squash, balsamic, brown butter, roasted endive and pinenuts ($17). At the table, each one of us had a different favorite from the selections: the prosciutto butter toast was silky with a crunch; the cacio e pepe was toothsome and a little spicy; and the creamy burrata was perfectly complemented by the fresh bread and the roasted squash.  On our visit over the summer we also tried a few different small plates: the ‘Njuda arancini -rice fritters, tomato, olive oil poached tuna ($8 – below); and the Little Gem salad with avocado and crunchy vegetables ($13). The slightly-spicy ‘njuda filling was a great riff on the classic Sicilian snack, and while the salad was good, it was as original as other offerings.


At each visit we ordered the piece de resistance, a higher priced and larger dish –  the Ragu alla Napoletana ($41 – below) – with fusilli rustico pasta, cacciatore sausage, soppressata meatballs, tomato braised pork shank and wild oregano. This a dish you definitely HAVE to share, since it is probably enough to serve 2-3 as main course, or 4-5 in addition to other plates. If you are ordering the Pasta alla Napoletana, we would recommend 1 extra pasta small plate and 2 other apps for 4 people (which will likely still give you leftovers). Though the description may make it sound like glorified pasta with red sauce and meatballs, it was way more complex than that. This amazing dish was our favorite of the night. The tender on-the-bone veal shank was our favorite meat preparation, and for once we actually enjoyed the “red sauce” at a restaurant! Completely delicious, hearty and homey, this dish was at once simple and sophisticated – a must-order!


Each time, we managed to barely save room for desserts. We sampled the homemade Cannoli in the summer, which was delicious. In the fall we got to try the seasonally-appropriate apple crostata with cinnamon ice cream and caramel sauce. The crostata was particularly tasty and we appreciate that they make the desserts seasonally-appropriate. Beyond the mouth-watering food, the ambiance and service at Monteverde are also great. Everything was scrumptious, and provided a fresh little twist on an Italian classic. It is rare that we like everything we ordered equally, but Monteverde may be the exception to that rule – we can’t wait to go back and try more!


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Thai Thai Bangkok Street Food in Lakewood

thailandThe Cleveland area actually has a huge supply of Thai good restaurants, and though we have a few favorites, we are still looking for our go-to spot. In Thai Thai Bangkok Street Food (13735 Madison Ave, Lakewood, OH 44107) we have a worthy contender. We first came across Thai Thai at the Asiatown Night Market over the summer, where they were selling bubble tea, chicken skewers and fried noodles. We were excited to learn that they also had a bricks-and-mortar spot in Lakewood, so we decided to pop into Thai Thai for a pre-concert meal.


The menu at Thai Thai is limited – which in this case is a good thing – the focus is on Bangkok-specific street foods instead of a more typical wide menu. The owners are from Bangkok and have taken care to bring over some of the more unique street foods  from the city. There are favorites on the menu like pad thai and pad see eiw, but also more unique dishes like Yen Ta Foe (which M actually tried as a street food in Bangkok) – a pink soup made with fermented soybean paste and roasted duck noodles with bean sprouts.


On a Saturday night, Thai Thai was quite crowded, but the owner Kiwi was efficiently making the rounds at the table and was quite friendly with recommendations. To start, we tried the North East Sausage, ($5.50) which is homemade pork sausage made with rice and spices, as well as Tom Yum soup ($3.50), which is a sweet and sour soup with lemongrass and mushrooms. The soup was particularly delicious, and was more complex than the other Tom Yums we have tried in the past. For mains we ordered Kra Praow (bottom dish below – $9.95), spicy chicken, rice and basil; and Larb (top dish below – $9.95), a spicy chicken salad with lemongrass, red onion and cilantro.


The mains were both delicious, with moderate spiciness, but nothing too overpowering. All of the ingredients were super-fresh, clean and simple. Thai Thai’s dishes really did remind us of the food we had in Thailand. For dessert they also had kabocha squash custard and mango sticky rice ($5 each). However, we opted for one of the many flavors of bubble tea – taro. We enjoyed the more unique dishes available at Thai Thai, and this factor helps bring a new element to the Thai food scene in the Cleveland area. We will definitely be back to Thai Thai soon!


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Pastry Post Doc: German Schnecken, “Snail” Cinnamon Rolls

germanyM has a particular affinity for snails, so we were pretty excited that there exists a German cinnamon roll that is named after the swirl on a snail’s shell – Schnecken (German for snail). Schnecken date from the late 19th / early 20th century and are now found in German Jewish expat communities in the US and even as far away as Brazil. Schnecken are similar to the better known rugelach (recipes for both inside), but are instead cut crosswise to reveal the signature snail spiral. These cinnamon rolls are likely predecessors to the popular American cinnamon buns today, and feature a syrup topping with nuts. Here is another recipe for schnecken on Cooks.com (seen below), and a few variations on One Perfect Bite.



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Pink Salt from the Maras Salt Pools / Salineras de Maras


peruThe first stop on everyone’s Peru itinerary is Machu Picchu, and probably rightfully so, but Peru is full of so many other beautiful natural sites. One of the most impressive places we went in Peru was the Maras Salt Pools / Salineras de Maras, nestled into the Andes mountains. The view of 500+ multicolored salt terraces blanketing the mountains over the Urubamba valley is really a site to see. These salt pools date back to even before the Incan Empire, potentially thousands of years. Today, the flats are still in production during the dry season, May to October, and the process hasn’t changed much in the last 500 years. So how is the salt produced? The shallow man-made pools are fed naturally by a mineral and salt-rich stream, and water is cut off from each pool when it is full. When the water evaporates, the salt is harvested, scraped into baskets, and further dried. Each salt pool has a unique color and mineral content, but overall the salt is fine and pink. Maras pink salt is a great complement to Peruvian ceviche (our favorite), but it is extremely versatile. You can buy Maras salt in specialty stores and online, but it is extremely cheap in Peru. Even if you can’t visit Maras, be sure to pick up some pink salt on your trip!

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