Yum Yum: Kitchen Essentials

Do you wish you cooked more, but every time you’re inspired by a recipe, the grocery list seems overwhelming? This is the number one complaint we hear from new-to-cooking friends: that recipes require too much stuff, and they give up. Well, fear not, hopeful chefs! We’re breaking down the essentials for you. Stock up on these items, and you’ll be ready to tackle any recipe challenge that comes your way. 

Extra-virgin olive oil
Olive oil is the most versatile oil in your kitchen arsenal. If you’re only going to have one on hand, make it olive oil. You can use it for cooking, marinading and salad dressings. Basically, everything. Now olive oil isn’t called liquid gold for nothing — the stuff is pricey. If you’re looking for some decent bang for your buck, Primo Extra Virgin Olive Oil is a good choice. 
Maldon sea salt

Okay, so you’re all thinking “Salt, duh. Good one, fourth floor.” But hear us out! Once you get over the sticker shock and start using Maldon sea salt, you’ll never go back. It’s made by a family-owned company in Essex (south-east corner of England) who use the traditional method of extracting salt from seawater with long-handled rakes. Cool, right? It is soft and flaky, and has a stronger flavour, so be mindful that you use less than you would table salt.

Chicken stock

Soups, stews, risotto. You need chicken stock for it all. Now, the best stock is always, always homemade. Here’s a good recipe for making your own. If that intimidates you or you don’t have some spare chicken bones on hand or you’re in a rush, then Swanson Organic Chicken Broth is your jam. 

Maple syrup

Canada’s bounty. 

The recent $30 million maple syrup theft has brought international attention to our nation’s most delicious export, but it’s always had a leading place in our hearts. It’s a great sugar substitute, and has fewer calories per serving than honey or corn syrup. Plus, it is the secret ingredient in our favourite salad dressing and it tastes delicious on pancakes. 

Dried spices

You’ve got the salt covered, but what other spices do you need? While specific spice requirements vary according to the national cuisine (cooking Indian? Pick up some curry powder. Italian? You’ll definitely need oregano), a few stand out as general must-haves: cinnamon, cumin, chilli powder, sweet paprika, nutmeg and, the classic, black pepper.   

Now you’ve got the basics, so time to get cooking! 

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Yum Yum: Playa Cabana

We all love a little Mexican food on the fourth floor. Be it authentic or dirty nachos from Sneaky Dees; the combo of avocado, beans, cheese and corn chips make for innumerable dishes of deliciousness. 
We never tire of a new Mexican restaurant debut in Toronto and when we heard about Playa Cabana (111 Dupont St., east of Davenport) it became our next culinary destination to experience.

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A total of nine showed up ready to be wined and dined. By wined we mean Mojito’ed in pitcher form. A bit of Cuban influence, but why not?

To start, we ordered guacamole and house-made tortilla chips. The guac was heavenly, and the chips were crispy and not too greasy. Sidenote: be careful when passing the chips. One of the people in our party managed to light the wax paper the chips are served in on fire. The funny part was that this happened at another table too. Sometimes candle light is dangerous.

The place was jam packed, so getting our orders in took a bit of time. Same goes for getting the food. We were at the restaurant for a total of two and a half hours. A nice leisurely meal, yes, but by the end, ADD had kicked in and we wanted out. It was Friday night, after all.

Plates included Tacos de Pescado (the fish of the day was halibut), Yellow Fin Ahu Tuna Ceviche, Pollo Milanesa Chipotle Burrito (a.k.a. chicken burrito) and Burrito de Mariscos. 

There is a huge selection of tequilla – over 30 varieties. Would be a fun spot for a birthday with friends. The decor is warm with lots of wood and exposed brick. It’s noisy, but not too loud. It’s small, but cozy. We likey.
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Flavours were great, plates were massive, spices were spot on and prices are reasonable – the average main ranged from $12 to $15.  

Our rating: B+. We’ll be back for margaritas and tacos.

Hours of Operation:
Tuesday & Wednesday 5 p.m. – 12 a.m.
Thursday 12 p.m. – 12 a.m.
Friday & Saturday 12 p.m. – 2 a.m.
Sunday 12 p.m. – 10 p.m.