The Cookbook Collection: Brown Sugar Kitchen

Brown Sugar Kitchen Cookbook

There are a few restaurants in my neighborhood that I like to call my local.  Places I rarely go a week without visiting at least one of them.  There is the greasy spoon that serves a cheap, quick and delicious breakfast, the corner diner that makes a mile high club sandwich and the Irish watering hole, an short 5 minutes walk door to door that frequently reinvents their gastro pub style menu and has all my favorites on tap.

I love this idea of a location where regulars are easily spotted and newcomers are clambering at the door to try.  Because inevitably word of mouth brings everyone in.  And this place you call your own stays open, stays popular yet stays exactly the way it is that drew you in in the first place.


Cheese, Bacon and Onion Biscuits

Cheese, Bacon and Onion Biscuits

Brown Sugar Kitchen (Chronicle Books) is a collection of recipes and stories from an establishment such as this.  Located in West Oakland, California Chef Tanya Holland has turned a nondescript brown boxy building nestled in the front of a scrap metal yard into a bustling, soul food producing restaurants that is favored by the locals and draws in the food enthusiasts.  And at the heart of it all is a menu full of down home, fuss free yet full of flavor dishes that can now be recreated in your own home thanks to this beautiful book.  If the rich and satisfying dishes don’t draw you in, the heart warming stories and narratives from the people who help create the character of Brown Sugar Kitchen will make you want to live in the neighborhood.

The very first recipe in the book, Cornmeal Waffles with Apple Cider syrup sets the tone of a collection of soul warming dishes like Fried Chicken, Macaroni and Cheese, Jerk Ribs and Pineapple Upside Down Cake.  Chef Tanya believes in using the freshest ingredients from local growers and recipes like the Spinach Salad with Roasted Apple Dressing, Toasted Pecans and Goat Cheese will inspire you to head to your local farmer’s market to pick up the best products you can find.


Spicy Pulled Pork

Spicy Pulled Pork

As you flip through the pages reading peoples stories about the foods they love from Brown Sugar and their passion for their hometown you get the feeling that you are reading through Chef Tanya own personal scrapbook which she so graciously has allowed you read.

And for a limited time you can have a chance to win your own copy of this amazing book.  Enter below and make sure to leave me a comment about your favorite local.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Contest Rules:

Open to legal Canadian (excluding Quebec) and US residents.
No purchase necessary to enter.
Canadian Winner is required to answer a skill testing question. Winner will be notified by email on January 28, 2014 and will have 48 hours to respond before another winner will be selected.
Contest runs from January 12, 2015 to January 27, 2015.

*I have generously received  Brown Sugar Kitchen free of charge however all opinions are entirely my own.

The Messy Baker Monday: Piglet Muffins

One of my Food Friends has done the most amazing thing! She has published her first cookbook!

Our expansive gaggle of cooks, bloggers, writers and photographers are a tight knit group who love to support each other any way possible.  We are also the first to also keep it real and let each other know when things aren’t working, or don’t taste right, or that the instructions are confusing.  That’s why when you see any one of us promote the other it’s legit! We know you will love them as much as we do.

When the idea came up to share the love for our newly published friend everyone jumped on board.  Not only because we care about them but also because we knew that there would be some kick ass deliciousness happening.

So let me introduce you to Charmian Christie.

Piglet Muffins (3 of 5)

A real world, flour on the floor, sugar in your hair home baker. This book is full of sweet and savory recipes that will satisfy all your favorite flavor combinations and make your mouth water.  Cute and wildly appropriate chapter titles tell you whats in store and gorgeous photographs make you want to dive into the pages.The Messy Baker

It wasn’t hard for me to decide the first recipe I wanted to make after reading it’s ingredient list that included caramelized bacon and smoked cheese. Caramelized freaking bacon!!!

Piglet Muffins (1 of 5)

These muffins barely got made because I couldn’t stop eating the ingredients before they made it into the mix.  And the mix itself was so simple, so quick, such a great treat for a Sunday breakfast.

Piglet Muffins (2 of 5)

From the oohs and ahhs I heard from the rest of the group as they tried some of the recipes I knew this cookbook would be a huge hit.  Which is why everyone needs a copy! It’s not a book with one or two recipes you may sort of like.  There are so many recipes that will blow your mind.  Be prepared to get it covered in butter and flour because you will keep going back to it time and time again.

Check out all the recipes my foodie friends also created from this stellar book.



The Tasty Gardener: A Look Behind, A Look Ahead.


That’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think about this past year on the blog.

Where did it all begin?  A redesign to start it all off definitely helped.  This is what it use to look like.  I think a fresh start is always a feeling of renewal.  I was stagnant on the old site, recycling the same content over and over because I wasn’t happy with it.  Once the new design came together (which I did mostly on my own) I felt like I had a whole new blog.  It had me look into more opportunity to promote my blog.

That’s when I came upon the Food Bloggers of Canada and their first ever national conference.  This is where everything changed.  I met some amazing people, learned some outstanding tools for my blog and before, during and after was given the chance to work with sponsors.  From that conference on things just snowballed.

I went to the Eat, Write, Retreat conference where I competed and won in the Culinary Apps contest. I also met an amazing blogger Gwen from Devour and Conquer who to this day is a great friend of mine and guest blogger on this site.

The summer brought blogger events where I met even more amazing people.  Jenny from The Brunette Baker, Christina from Buffy and George, Meg from Sweet Twist of Blogging, Robyn from Planet Byn, and Rhonda at Olive and Ruby have all become close wonderful foodie friends of mine.  People who understand the joys and frustration of blogging, who support and encourage each other and who are always up for laughs and adventures.

As the year changes I can’t help but have a sense of pride for what I do and the successes I have experienced and am happily imagining how the upcoming year will unfold.

This is the first time I felt the need to reflect and share with you, my wonderful followers, how the past year has gone.  I want everyone who has contributed to my joy to be acknowledged and applauded for their pieces of this pie.  And I want to share with everyone my plans for 2014.  I want to continue this momentum and continue getting better and bigger and I look forward to the journey we continue to take.  I see amazing things happening here.

Top Five Posts 2013

5) Strawberry Rhubarb Cookies

Strawberry Rhubarb Cookies from The Tasty Gardener

4)Peanut Butter Muffins

Peanut Butter and Banana Muffins - The Tasty Gardener

3)Chicken Fried Chicken

Chicken Fried chicken - The Tasty Gardener

2)Lemon Butter Cake

Lemon Cake - The Tasty Gardener

1)Parisienne Potatoes

Parisienne Potatoes (1)

New for 2014

Here is just a taste of some of the things I hope to bring to the blog in 2014

*Cookbook Reviews

*Healthier and fresh recipes

*more guest bloggers

*more garden content

*more restaurant reviews


*blogger events

*monthly theme recipes

I hope when I look back I can say I accomplished all this and more.

Cheers 2014 !!!!


Honey West Restaurant & Bar

Bourbon Pecan Pie

There is a debate is the food writing industry on whether or not you tell the restaurant you are visiting or the server working your table that you are there to write about their dishes. One side of the argument believe that it will influence your service and the food the kitchen puts out. I’m on the other side. I’m not at a restaurant for the service, I’m there for the food and telling them why I’m there won’t suddenly make them an amazing chef in the next 30 minutes. They either were or were not when they got hired. It may give them cause to pay closer attention to the finer details but how the ingredients were used and how the flavors work together was develop long before I showed up. And that’s what I am there to taste.

The service, whether good or bad is entirely dependent on how that staff member came in that day. My DH and I have regular establishments we frequent where we have had both outstanding and atrocious service.  You will learn really quick if a restaurants bad service is a routine occurrence.   I want to enjoy great food and if telling them why I’m there provides me with better service that allow me to completely immerse myself in that food experience I don’t see any problem in full disclosure.  I also want them to understand why I may be asking so many questions about the dishes or if the restaurant allows, taking multiple photos and moving my place settings around without disrupting the people around me.  My intentions is to help bring more exposure, ideally positive, to the restaurant. Not to have them wake up the next day to a scathing review about a waitress who may have spilled my water, only because she couldn’t stop thinking about her sick kid at home.

When I met up with three of my girlfriends to try the Taste of Burlington menu at Honey West Restaurant & Bar I let them know as soon as I sat down that I was a food blogger, I had been at the launch event and if they didn’t mind I would be taking pictures of the food I ordered for a post I would be writing.  The waitress was incredibly accomadating and even even thanked me for giving her the heads up.

Honey West bills themselves as being a stylish yet down to earth and casual restaurant offering dishes such as Parmesan Crusted Wings to Filet Mignon to Butter Chicken. During the Taste of Burlington their prix fixe menu was the only 4 course meal offered out of all the other restaurants.

Lobster Bisque

The first course offered up a delicate lobster bisque or a mini Pho soup.  I had not planned on going with the bisque feeling it would be a little to heavy for a warm summer day but the previous afternoon I had gone out for Pho with some colleagues at a Vietnamese restaurant around the corner from work.  As you can tell by the picture I had already dug in before I even remembered my camera.  Just enough chunks of tender lobster and a light creamy tomato base that had me instantly declaring I needed to make this at home.  While the beef Pho looked fresh and light I am so glad I went with the bisque.

Lobster Bisque

Beef PhoHoney West Salad

Earlier in the week I had been to another Taste of Burlington restaurant and had passed over a salad with crispy prosciutto.  When I saw it offered in this salad with aged cheddar and a Dijon vinaigrette I could not make the same mistake twice.  The prosciutto was indeed crispy, which made it awkward to eat but I’m not too shy to just pick it up and crunch down.  The biggest surprise to this salad was it’s dressing.  Incredibly thick but not heavily applied it had the perfect ratio of tangy mustard and what I’m assuming a slight sweet honey.  I will be ordering this salad again.


The second salad choice was a classic caprese.  Beautifully plated with olive oil, a drizzle of balsamic and an interesting sauce of green apple bright neon color I loved but I couldn’t get my head around its flavor.

Caprese SaladPork Tenderloin

There was a minor glitch when it came time for the entrees that both the kitchen and manager quickly and graciously rectified and while I didn’t quite get to enjoy my dish at the same time as the rest of my guests this was a minor inconvenience.  Maybe it’s the polite Canadian in me but things like this never really bother me.  Things happen, it was fixed, case closed.  When I did get to enjoy was dish I was so pleased with my choice.Roasted mini potatoes and perfectly cooked asparagus cradled tender medallions of pork.  Accompanying the pork was such an amazing orange rum sauce that had I been in the privacy of my own home I would have licked the plate.  And the potatoes had so much flavor, probably the best I’ve tasted in a long time.  I insisted that everyone at my table try a bite. Outstanding dish!

Pork tenderloinOther options that my co diners tried was a goat cheese stuffed chicken breast with garlic mashed potatoes, buttered green beans and  porcini mushroom cream sauce.

Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken

And a huge dish of pineapple butter chicken.

Pineapple Butter Chicken

Bourbon Pecan Pie

At this point in the meal we are all quite stuffed.  I even went so far as to say that I prayed the slice of pie would be a tiny little sliver since it’s one of my favorite and I would have to eat it all.  The slice was not small and I kept my word and ate every last piece.  The crust was a bit too thick for my liking but the filling was perfect! perfect!perfect! not overly sweet and the bourbon pecan topping had just enough bite of booze that you wouldn’t want to share with your kids leaving more pie for yourself.

Bourbon Pecan Pie

Throughout the evening the service was fantastic, the atmosphere relaxing and the meal beautifully orchestrated.  My three guests are all locals to the Burlington area but had never visited Honey West before.  After this wonderful meal that will surely change for us all.This is one restaurant that I will consider again and quite possibly add it to our list of frequent establishments to visit.

Celli’s Osteria

Celli's Osteria

Great food is served best with great company. I had the pleasure of enjoying both during my recent visit to Celli’s Osteria in Burlington.

There is something to be said when you put 6 food bloggers together at a dinner table.Food is talked about, food is eaten, the next time to get together and eat and talk about food is decided and planned.  Oh and food is photographed. Your plate, the plate across the table, the plate beside you. Nothing is left uncaptured.

What brought us all together?  Well a combination of things.  Four of us initially met up at the Taste of Burlington launch, a  event showcasing the restaurants participating in its upcoming culinary season. A discussion about which restaurants we may try followed and from it sprang a potential Food Bloggers of Canada mini reunion.  A restaurant was picked, a date was decided and a call to other Toronto area food bloggers went out.

Celli’s Osteria was my first choice when deciding where we should all gather.  During the launch party I had a great conversation with  their staff  how they felt about food bloggers coming to their restaurant, taking photos, talking to the chef and reviewing their food.  I asked that question to most of the restaurants there that night and much like Celli’s they made it clear that we were entirely welcomed and in fact encouraged us to pay them a visit.  It was heartening to see a group of food industry veterans appreciating and validating what we do as food writers.

Finding a date and time that would work for all four of us was surprisingly simple.  Who knew we were so accomandating and flexible? So on a clear, warm Monday evening we all came together to enjoy some great Italian food and outstanding company.

Celli’s Osteria prides itself on serving rustic Italian food with a modern twist while keeping true to using locally sourced ingredients.  Their main menu offers up classics dishes from calamari and mushroom risotto to more adventurous plates of braised rabbit and roasted sea bass.  But given the context that brought us all out I stuck to the Prix Fixe Taste of Burlington Menu.

Fried Fiore di Latte Cheese

Translated crudely into milk’s flower, this appetizer was a simple breaded cow’s milk cheese, deep fried and served with marinara, basil and giant parmesan shavings.  While the marinara was not as  chunky as advertised it was probably one of my favorite aspects to this dish. I lean towards more cream or rose sauces since tomato based sauces have a very hard time pleasing my taste buds.  The majority I try are usually sweet and overly seasoned while I prefer a more robust and deep flavour.  This sauce was just where my palate wanted it.  Not too powerful, just enough to bring out the basil but sutble enough that the creamy flavour of the cow’s milk is still in evidence.  And may I add that each petal of cheese was perfectly crisp.

Fried Fiore de Latte Cheese from The Tasty Gardener

Other appetizer options included a shaved fennel and citrus salad with sunflower seeds and crispy prosciutto or this classic, incredibly fresh looking red and yellow tomato bruschetta.

Veal Scallopini al limone

On most occasions when I dine out at a new restaurant I like to pick main dishes with ingredients that I don’t eat or cook regularily.  Veal is one thing I rarely consume yet each time I always wonder why I don’t since it’s  so enjoyable.  The veal in this dish was fork tender, melt in your mouth delicious.  The “al limone” had me to believe it would be done in a lemon sauce however all I could taste was the carmalized onion reduction.  It was very delicious and worked well with the veal but a slight disappointment when you are expecting more tartness.  It was served with fingerling potatoes and exquisitely cooked asparagus.  While it seems minor how a chef cooks out of season vegetables really showcases their knowledge of  ingredients.


Since there were six of us that evening and five were ordering from the fixed menu it was almost a sure bet that each entree would be ordered.  The other options included this simple pasta dish tossed with summer vegetables, parmasan, basil, garlic and oil. I love the generous shavings of cheese.

Spaghetti aglio olio

And a roasted rainbow trout with almonds, capers, asparagus and fingerling potatoes.

Roasted Rainbow Trout Flourless Walnut and Chocolate Cake

Served with a tangy whipped ricotta and sweet chunks of walnut praline, this dessert ruled with the majority.  Similar to a moist, light brownie this cake didn’t knock you down on the chocolate factor and was a perfect end to a delish meal.  I almost wanted to order just the walnut praline they were so amazing.


Those who decided to go with the second option were treated to Celli’s signature tiramisu with blueberry compote.

Tiramisu with blueberry compote

Let me also mention that like all good Italian restaurants bread and olive oil for dipping were offered the minute everyone had sat down and was replenished without any hestitation from the staff when asked.  To set themselves apart from other restaurants the olive oil had big chunks of roasted garlic and sprigs of rosemary in the bowl that we were all fighting over to get a taste.

With each course being moderately sized and the time between courses reasonable I finished my meal neither famished or stuffed, just perfectly sated. Being a Monday night the restaurant was fairly empty and we pretty much had the staff  to ourselves (which meant my water glass was always full, a bonus). Though serving 6 slightly critical and incredibly boisterous food bloggers can never be an easy task.   As I said in the beginning the food was as great as the company and since we are all in agreement that we want to spend more evenings dining together like that it’s also fair to say we would all come back to Celli’s Osteria again in the future.