Pizzeria Libretto, Toronto

My message is simple: go, eat, enjoy.  This is their house-made sausage pizza.

libretto 29082008115 

Authentic Neapolitan style pizza & delicious to boot.  Compares well to the many many pizzas I had when I visited Naples last year.

A top candidate for the best pizza in Toronto.

Address:  221 Ossington Avenue, Toronto, ON. (at Dundas St)
Phone: 416-532-8000
web: http://www.pizzerialibretto.com/
Hours: 5 PM to Midnight

Then There's a Cucumber

The first decent really big one that the beasts didn't get at; there are several others.


So the war agin the dern squirrels might be not be a lopsided as I thought 'til now.

Tomatoes Are In

The first of the tomato crop is in (the ones the squirrels didn't munch too drastically).

tom crop 27082008111

These are to be eaten, sliced, with a sprinkling celery salt and brown sugar; that's something I learned back in 1973-74 from the Saunders family in Duncan, BC when eating fresh grown tomatoes out of their garden.

These are the "early" tomatoes that aren't early at all because Toronto is having a record setting crumby summer.

"Mesa Grill" Chicken

Not bad looking.

So, you take the Mesa Grill Steak Rub and use it on chicken instead. It's to die for.

Morning Glories & Sunflowers

The Computer is still in the shop (has been for a week - - new motherboard) and I've only been making pizzas for dinner … so no food pics.
Here's one of some pretty flowers from the garden.

Yes, they're out of focus there in front; supposed to be - - it's artsy.


The tomatoes haven't been eaten by the squirrels yet. Some of them are just starting to turn.

They're looking very good - - and the beasts will likely discover them one sunny morning - soon. Meanwhile... I hope to get to some of them, ripe, before those little city street rats.

Good/excellent with brown sugar and celery salt.

Caplansky's, Toronto

There's a place in Toronto called Caplansky's that's making very good smoked meat sandwiches in a very unique location.

It's situated in the Monarch Tavern, on the second floor of their building, a family friendly location, where the kitchen (Caplansky's) is run separately from the tavern portion (The Monarch) but both occupy the same physical space. Very nice arrangement. Symbiotic.

When you hear "smoked meat" think "corned beef" sort of. He makes his own, on site. it's all real, house-made, artisanal and excellent quality. I recommend the "fatty" version (they offer Lean, Medium or Fatty meat). I'd prefer to call it "Full Flavored" rather than fatty though.
The fries are great too.

Assessment: I'll be back regularly.

12 Clinton St, Toronto, Ontario, Canada - cross street Henderson (near College & Clinton), Monarch Tavern (upstairs), in Little Italy. Phone: 416-500-3852

Directions: Go to College and Clinton (west of Bathhurst) [by car you go to Grace St, one block further west because of the one-way street situation]; head south past Gore St (yes, there's a corner of Clinton & Gore) - to Henderson St.

View Larger Map


It's very green.

This is just one of many tomatoes now sprouting in the garden. This sucker's about 10cm [4"] across.

We like to think of them as Unripe Squirrel Fodder; knowing that the furry little beasts are likely to make off with the whole crop once the tomatoes are slightly ripe -- as they've been doing with the cucumbers.

There's a couple of heritage tomato plants in the mix. Hopefully the stink of the plants (and they are smelly things, aren't they) will help keep the varmints at bay.


My regular computer, a Thinkpad (they're very nice when they work) is seriously broken so there's going to be less posting until I get it back. The graphics appears to have failed so they say they're replacing the motherboard. I'm using a loaner.

Meanwhile... a picture of a local bicycle. Unique, for sure.

Because almost all my food pictures are on the broken machine.

Pho Phuong, Toronto

A lovely place, sort of modern decor, and not expensive. Well executed dishes; flavorful and pretty too. At Dundas (west) and Brock streets.

Mango Smoothie

pho phuong mango 11082008052

Maybe it could use a touch more actual mango - we saw it was made with fresh fruit. Nice tableware.

House Special Broken Rice with 5 Things

pho phuong broken rice 11082008055

What the various "things" are is something of a guess on my part because I didn't take notes - but close enough.

A perfectly fried egg (still wiggly), battered tofu, an omelette sort of (tofu?) tart, a pork chop, some noodle item, crushed peanuts and something of a salad idea. Wait, that's more than 5 things.

House Special Vermicelli with 5 Things

pho phuong vermicelli 11082008056

A spring roll, a battered sugarcane, a red pork sausage, some barbequed pork, noodley stuff, crushed peanuts and a bit of a salad; lots of mint. Oh, and the vermicelli is under there somewhere too.

They had Tsingtao beer too (Chinese).

$3 for the mango shake, 8.50 for the main plates, 4.50 for the beer. Not out of line at all.

Conclusion: I'll be going again

Spicy Coconut Tapioca with Mango & Blackberry Salad

Except I used peaches instead of mangos (they're local and they are in season - as are the blackberries)

tapioca 09082008048

At Mesa Grill Bobby Flay uses giant tapioca pearls; hard to come by around here so regular tapioca was used instead (pieces broken and irregular - yuck).

This dessert involves a few different pans going at once and a bowl or two but there's nothing too taxing about it; just read through the recipe first, and completely, before starting to work.

And... it turned out to have way way too much ginger in it for our taste. The following recipe has been tweaked to account to what probably should work better.

What I actually did was:

Spicy Coconut Tapioca with Peaches and Blackberries


Tapioca part
  • ½ cup tapioca
  • 2 C water
Coconut Milk Part
  • 24 oz unsweetened coconut milk (canned, in my case)
  • 2 small cinnamon sticks, from Mexico therefore it was probably Sri Lankan (Ceylon)
  • 1cm piece fresh ginger, whole, peeled [1/2 "] (do not grate, cut or crush)
  • zest of 1 lime
  • 1 Serrano chile (yes!)
  • ½ whole nutmeg, crushed (use the side of an old large chef's knife for example)
  • ¼ cup sugar
Simple Syrup part
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 1/4 C water
  • 1/3 cup simple syrup (approx)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • some Peach and Blackberry Salad (below)


  1. Tapioca & water into a bowl
    • Wait 1 hour
    • Drain just before using
  2. Coconut milk and the rest of that group of ingredients into a saucepan
  3. Cook, simmering, for 20 minutes (let the flavours blend)
  4. In another pot/pan put the water and sugar for the Simple Syrup
    • Simmer for 2 minutes - until the sugar is completely dissolved - remove from heat
  5. Later, you will need a medium bowl in a larger bowl of ice water - get it ready now
  6. Prepare the Peach/Berry "salad"
  7. Strain the coconut milk into a medium pan
  8. Drain the tapioca, add to the coconut milk
  9. Simmer for 2 minutes
  10. Pour into the bowl in the ice bath and stir until cool; I used a spatula
  11. When cool, add the simple syrup and the sour cream
  12. Put into serving dishes - top with pear/berry salad


  1. The tapioca portion should be prepared not more than a few hours before serving (let's say…six) because the tapioca will jellify too thoroughly if prepared a day ahead.
  2. The Simple Syrup and the coconut milk parts can be done days ahead
  3. This originally called or a 1 inch piece of ginger, which I then sliced into discs - - and it had a hot gingery taste in the throat and the serrano pepper flavour seemed to have been lost.

Peach & Blackberry Salad


  • 1 cup fresh blackberries
  • 2 ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and cut to a similar size as the berries (ends up being about a cup and a half)
  • 2 T sugar
  • ½ t vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon very finely grated fresh ginger (microplaned)


  1. Put ingredients in a bowl
  2. Toss lightly
  3. Wait 30 minutes


  1. The grated ginger might have been overdoing it; what with the excess ginger originally called for in the tapioca part of this recipe. I might ease up on this next time.
  2. This keeps for a few hours
  3. I might, next time, put the peaches and ginger together but not toss with the blackberries; keeping the berries whole and pristine for topping the tapioca later.

Snails & Cucumbers

Nature was found in the garden today.

A snail rushing across the side deck.

snail 70 1800x 08082008036

This does not count as a posting about food.

Then there's this picture.

dead cuke 08082008044

The biggest and best of the few remaining cucumbers - gnawed to bits (literally); presumably to prepare it for transport - - by the damn squirrels.  'Cause it sure wasn't the snail that did this!

Mesa Grill Menu - Steak Rub & Sauce

The real, original, Mesa Grill in New York's signature dish (or, one of them) is a New York strip steak with the following spice rub and steak sauce.

steak 02082008022

It goes for USD 32 a crack down there on 5th Avenue (plus tax & tip). Another 7 for the twice baked potatoes, and 7 again for the corn salad. Sum: 46 + 9% = 50 + 20% tip = $60 per person! That, dear readers, was just for the main dinner plate. I guess I'm glad that I don't live in New York anymore! I don't remember it being so very expensive back in 2002.

Mesa Grill Steak Rub

Serves: 8 (8 tablespoons, ½ cup)


  • 2 T dried ancho chile powder
  • 1 T spanish paprika (sweet, not hot paprika) (best is paprika from Vera [the little red tins])
  • 1 T ground coriander
  • 1 T dry mustard
  • 1½ t dried oregano
  • 1½ t ground cumin
  • 1½ t black pepper, freshly ground
  • 1½ t arbol chiles, ground up (you might use a mortar for this) (or use regular dried hot red chiles - from China or somewhere)
  • 1 T kosher salt


  1. Mix together. That's it.


  1. Use 1 T per steak (although they recommend 2 T I find that that much doesn't all stick to the steak anyway)
  2. Rub on only one side
  3. Keeps for 6 months in a zip freezer bag or some such thing so double or quadruple the recipe freely (doesn't have to be in the freezer though, nor refrigerated)

Mesa Grill Steak Sauce

Serves: 2 cups

  • 1 cup ketchup
  • ½ cup prepared, ground, horseradish (the dryish sort; if it's liquidy you must drain it))
  • 3 T honey
  • 2 T Dijon mustard
  • 2 T pure maple syrup
  • 2 t worcestershire sauce
  • 2 T dried ancho chile powder
  • 1½ t kosher salt
  • 1½ t black pepper, freshly ground


  1. Mix together. That's it.


  1. Use the sauce to decorate the plate (do a better job than I did [see picture])
  2. You can do a heaping ½ cup of horseradish without ruining the recipe; if so, add a tablespoon or two of ketchup (to give a runny enough viscosity to the sauce)
  3. More ancho chile powder would be harmless as well; so make it two heaping tablespoons
  4. For 4 steaks you could halve the recipe unless you're very heavy users of steak sauce
  5. Keeps for a long as you'd keep ketchup and horseradish; nothing very perishable in it
  6. Making this with a homemade ketchup would be more elegant

Spice Crusted New York Strip Steak

Get some New York Strip steaks; 12 ounces (350 grams). Well marbled, with spots of fat throughout the meat, not just some stripes of fat within it. It will likely have a strip of fat along one side/edge - that's fine. An inch thick [2,5 cm]. If you're light eaters then one steak for two people. Spend some money to get good meat: it is, after all, the whole point of this dish.


Salt (kosher) & pepper one side of the steak. Put a tablespoon of rub on the other side - rub it in a bit - let the excess drop off (if any).

Put some (olive) oil in a grill pan; high heat 'til about smoking then down to medium high; slap in the steaks with the spice side down. Think of 4 minutes for side 1, 4 minutes for side 2 - that gets you a good medium rare probably.

Mesa Grill Menu Prep - Roasting Things

Corn Salad a picture to entertain us; not especially related to today's blog entry

corn salad

Getting ready for that dinner last Saturday took a few hours of preparation, which I did a couple of days before. The menu had quite a few components, several of which it was essential (or, simply, `best´) to prepare in advance.

The menu and its assorted preparations was (¿were?):

  • Jalapeño Pretzels
    • requiring roasted garlic
    • and roasted poblano chiles
  • Black Bean Soup
    • requiring the beans presoaked
    • and Enriched Chicken Stock
    • roasted jalepeño chiles
    • roasted poblano chiles and with
    • Tomato – Serrano Relish
    • Avocado – Tomatillo Relish
    • Toasted Cumin Crema
  • 18 Hour Bread
  • Frisee Salad
    • with Chorizo
    • and Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette
    • which required roasted garlic
  • Red Chile Pesto Mussels
    • requiring Red Chile Pesto
  • Spice Crusted New York Strip
    • requiring a Spice Rub
    • and Steak Sauce
  • Twice Baked Horseradish Potatoes
  • Corn with Roasted Chiles
    • requiring roasted red peppers
    • roasted poblano chile
    • roasted jalepeño chile
    • roasted serrano chile
  • Vanilla – Lime Crème Brulee

Each line was a distinct item to prepare but it's less daunting than at first glance since a couple of the roasted chiles are repeated in the list. The 15 italicized ones I did, in fact, do in advance. I was planning to do four relishes ahead of time as well but got tired towards the end and decided that they were simple enough to do in the day itself.

The prep of these 15 things only amounted to about 2-3 hours of pretty low key kitchen activity; mostly it was roasting things in the oven and then peeling them. I'll write about the other, none-roasted, preparation items later.

Roast Chiles and Peppers


  1. Oven to 375 F [190 C]
  2. Put all the chiles and peppers on baking sheets with sides (low roasting pans, whatever)
    • do the poblanos, jalepeños, serranos & red peppers
    • Do not roast the garlic yet
  3. Pour over some olive oil, turn to coat roughly and sprinkle with kosher salt
  4. Into the over for 30 minutes
    • on the Convection setting if you have one
    • turn to roast them evenly
  5. Remove once the skin has blackened unevenly
  6. Place into a big bowl and cover with plastic wrap
    • wait 15 minutes (to cool and it loosens the thin outside paper-skin)
  7. Retrieve, remove seeds and the thin skin of the outside
    • Especially the red peppers and the poblanos have that thin external skin

Roast Garlic


  1. Oven at 375 F [190 C] as well
  2. I separated the cloves individually
  3. Spread them on the roasting pan
  4. Oiled them up (zip salt)
  5. Roasted until real soft (tossing a couple of times) - about 15 minutes
  6. I should have covered the cloves with foil paper to prevent the roasting/toasting/bursting cloves from spattering the inside of the oven with garlic bits
    • Live and learn
  7. When they're good and soft - remove the cloves, allow to cool and skin each clove (it's easy enough if you don't mind garlicy fingers)

Fire Parade

The first long weekend in August out on the islands in front of  Toronto, the residential one, Ward's Island, has a Fire Parade; maybe call it a Lantern Parade. 


People make paper lanterns, put candles in them and  parade through the neighborhood (both streets [it's a very small island]). Then it's off to the beach for a bonfire and to feed the mosquitos. 

A good time was had by all.

lanterns  01082008009

A Mesa Grill Menu

As I mentioned the other day, we threw a bit of a dinner for some friends from out of town. Here's a few pictures (not clickable - it's a sneak peak).

Jalepeño Pretzels (straight, not curly)

Black Bean Soup with Tomato/Serrano Relish,  Toasted Cumin Crema and Avocado/Tomatillo Relish (dropping the planned Grllled Red Onion Relish 'cause there was no room in the bowl)
soup 400 02082008018

Frisee Salad with Chorizo and Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette (and some tomatoes)
salad 400 02082008020

Spice Crusted New York Strip, Twice Baked Horseradish Potatoes, Corn with Roasted Chiles, Mesa Grill Steak Sauce

carne 02082008022
The 8-hour bread was a normal looking country loaf, the Red Chile Pesto Mussels looked like mussels and the Vanilla/Lime Crème Brulee looked like custard in a dish so no real impressive pictures of those are included here.

Quite the Dinner

The pretzels:


This is just a quick post to mention how nice the dinner was; as were the guests.

The menu, to remind us, was:


A few deviations from plan were; beer & wine instead of Margaritas; some crackers, liverwurst and BrieOka cheese were added; the 18 hour bread was only an 8 hour version.

It turned out to be way too much to eat; we'll be enjoying leftovers for the next couple of days. I probably should have left out the mussels - that course was overdoing it (although they were very good). All in all a great time ; I love cooking for people and appreciate having new victims - - so, thanks.

Every item on the above menu is a separate recipe or preparation (some are two) so the next few days the blog ought to be full of details galore of the fun of going through all this; with some recipe ideas and some hints and tips - - what went right and what went less well.

Dinner Plans

With all the social websites out there there's more opportunity than ever to reconnect with the past; a good thing I think - it enriches ones' life.

So, what with Facebook linking old high school colleagues together I've got a friend coming over for dinner on Saturday. Someone who I haven't seen since attending her wedding oh these many many years ago (about 30). And she's bring that same guy along that she married back then! That's incredible (well, it's unusual these days - congratulations you two). They've crossed from the other side of the country to go to a wedding out here in our neck of the woods - - here's hoping that maybe their good example will rub off on the wedding couple.

Anyway, it's an opportunity to reminisce; chat about the past, what everyone's experienced in the last nn years. And, it's a chance to throw together a dinner (which I always enjoy having an excuse for). Now that the Cordon Bleu French cuisine cookbook is "done" for the season (at least, the first semester of it [we'll resume after the summer]) we need a new theme - which is to be "southwestern" - as epitomized by the Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill Cookbook: Explosive Flavors from the Southwestern Kitchen cookbook (that's quite a too long name for a book).

So, we've put together some ideas for a little menu for Saturday:

Mesa Grill Margarita
Jalapeño Pretzels

Black Bean Soup
Tomato – Serrano Relish Grilled Red Onion Relish
Avocado – Tomatillo Relish Toasted Cumin Crema
18 Hour Bread

Frisee Salad
with Chorizo and Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette

Red Chile Pesto Mussels

Spice Crusted New York Strip
Twice Baked Horseradish Potatoes
Corn with Roasted Chiles

Vanilla – Lime Crème Brulee

All from the book (except the 18 hour bread). And amazingly simple to prepare once you get some prep-work done.

I love the casualness of this style of food. It maybe looks like a lot; or a lot of work - but it's not. It's closer to being like a barbeque than a dinner party.