Sylvester’s Cafe

GSULocated on the top of the GSU building in a little alley with the grand name of Bancroft Ave, Sylvester’s Cafe is one of U of T’s best kept secrets. When I first started my PhD, one of the first things I was told is that despite its size and central location, good food is hard to come by on campus. That certainly turned out to be true; most of the cafeterias on campus are served by Sodexo and serves fast food of the worse quality. So I ended up having to walk further away or bring my lunch from home. That was until I discovered Thérèse and her wonderful café. The menu is short, the influence is Mediterranean (Thérèse is Lebanese, raised in Egypt), and everything is made in house, with the freshest ingredients. Prices are unbeatable and portions are normal and not the over-sized amounts one encounters in most restaurants. Usually I feel guilty when I eat out for lunch since I always feel that I could have made something better-tasting and more nutritious at home but Sylvester’s is one of the few places where I can eat guilt-free.

Menu

Sylvester's

Yummy lunch
This is what I had last time I was there. Usually I have either the Mezza plate, Yum Yum 1 or 2. This one is a new dish and it’s Fava beans with lemon garlic tehina & tomato sauce, a very Lebanese dish. It was VERY good and exactly what I needed in a rainy, cold day.

Food pictures

I love food. I wouldn’t pay $200 on a pair of shoes or some fancy perfume but I would happily pay that much for a gourmet meal. As Alan would say, good food is very important to me and because I like eating nice food, prepared with fresh ingredients, I also like to cook.

Tonight was our first real meal in our new place and I wanted to prepare something light but tasty. The two dishes I prepared were firsts for me but I was quite happy with how they turned out. Here’s what we had:

Fennel salad with tomatoes, red peppers & parsley

This one I created myself and it turned out very refreshing. A great summer salad!

Fennel salad

The main course was taken out from the book Eating for Better Health, by Jane Plant & Gill Tidey.

Spaghetti with Rocket* and Cherry Tomatoes

I was afraid the combination of arugula (rocket/rucula) and basil would be too strong but no, it was perfect! Very fragrant and light. A huge success. I think I’ll add some pine nuts next time for variation.

Rocket salad

*Rocket is called arugula in Canada. I used baby arugula leaves.

I’ll post the recipes in the comments, in case anyone is interested.

Since the title of the post is food pictures, I’ll add here a couple shots I took at a recent excursion to a local Tibetan restaurant, where I had Tibetan lamb curry (first picture) and was intrigued by the local steamed bread (picture two).

Curry

bread

Monks, kings, markets & calçots

Yesterday was amazing! We drove through wine country, discovered a gorgeous thirteenth-century monastery, wandered through the market at Valls, and drove through half the region searching for calçots.

I can´t wait to tell you all about it but since I´m at work right now, I´ll direct you to Alan´s blog, where he talks about our day and shares some of the beautiful pictures he took.

Meeting friends from the blogosphere

Bruna is a Brazilian web designer who spent many years in France and now lives here in Barcelona. Cris is a Brazilian chemist, who lives in Paris where she does a master in chemistry and works for L’Oreal. We first met in the blogosphere and today we met in person for the first time.

Girls out for lunch

I discovered Bruna’s blog when I was searching for info on living in Barcelona. Somehow her blog came up and I got hooked right away. She seems to be a very positive and adventuresome person, and we would post the odd comment on each other’s blog. She’s also a great writer. I’ve discovered Cris’s blog through Bruna’s site recently and have enjoyed reading her impressions of Paris, a city I love.

Bruna and I have been trying to get together for a while and with Cris in town for a few days, we decided to grab the opportunity and have lunch together. We went to Wushu (no, it’s not the only restaurant in this city! this time it was Bruna’s fault; she suggested it) for lunch where Cris and I had the special of the day:

Curry Rojo con Ternera

Curry rojo con ternera & boniatos (red curry with beef & sweet potatoes)

While Bruna had this wonderful dish:Curry Verde con Gambas y Vieiras

Curry verde con vierias & gambas (green curry with shrimp & scallops) [must have it next time, it looked very yummy]

For dessert, we all had the dessert that came with the special of the day:

Tatin de Manzana

Tatin de manzana con gelado de coco (Apple pie with coconut ice cream)

We walked out very happy and I wish I could have gone with them to explore the city. Alas, I had to work…

But now that I know where Bruna lives and since she swims very near where I work, maybe we can get together more often ;)

It all started with a BBQ chicken…

Nothing like having fesh, wholesome ingredients to feel inspired to cook! Judging by the number of times I mention restaurants on this blog, you might think I don’t cook very often. But I do. I love to cook. I love coming up with new things in the kitchen. But I have to feel inspired and this week, a BBQ chicken did it!

It all started on wednesday when I picked up a BBQ chicken for lunch. I had onions and garlic at home, so I picked up a few tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, carrots and celery as well since I wanted to make a broth with the carcass afterwards.

I wanted a moist rice to have with the chicken but since I was too hungry to take the time to make risotto, I opted for some basmati rice with some nice tomato sauce instead.

Basmati rice with tomato sauce

  • 1/2 cup basmati rice
  • 2 tomatoes, finelly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 cup water, boiled
  • 1tbsp olive oil
  • salt & pepper to taste (I used herb salt)
  • paprika/red pepper powder to taste

Heat a small sauce pan. Add the olive oil and stir fry the onions for about 5 min. Add the garlic and continue to cook for another 1-2 mins. Mix in the chopped tomatoes and let simmer until you have a nice sauce, about 5-10 mins. Season with salt, pepper, paprika, red pepper powder. Add the basmati rice, mix in thoroughly. Pour the hot water and let the rice cook – it will take about 10 mins.

The result was nice and moist, exactly what I wanted to balance the dryness of the chicken.

After we finished lunch, I cleaned the rest of the BBQ chicken off the carcass and put it the way. Since you can’t let a good chicken carcass go to waste, I decided to make some chicken broth. So I put the chicken bones in a pot, added a couple coarsely chopped carrots, one large onion, 2 celery sticks, 2-3 bay leaves, some dried herbs (I only had parsley), poured about 2-3 litres of water and let it all simmer for about 3 hours.

Now that I had some nice homemade both, I had to use it, so I decided to make a soup. I looked through the cupboard and found some Puy lentils. I also had about a cup of tomato rice from lunch. It wasn’t enough for another meal, so I decided to use it in the soup. Here’s what I came up with:

Lentil & rice soup

  • 1/2 cup Puy lentils
  • 1 cup left-over tomato rice (you could use a little bit barley or 1/4 cup basmati rice)
  • 1 onion, chopped finelly
  • 2 small carrots, chopped in small cubes
  • 1/2 zuchini, shredded
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 1tsp turmeric (curcuma)
  • red pepper powder
  • 1l chicken broth
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • salt & pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a medium soup pot and stir fry the onions and garlic for a couple of minutes. Add the carrots and stir fry for a few more minutes. Combine the dry spices and let it fry for another minute. Blend in the lentils, add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer. When the lentils are almost done (15-20 min), mix in the rice and let it simmer for a few more minutes.

It was delicious and a nice meal in a cold night. It tasted even better the next day.

But I wasn’t done with the chicken broth or the left-over BBQ chicken yet. I wanted a single-plate dinner so I decided to make a paella. In Spain, I have learned that a paella is not really a specific recipe, but rather short grain rice cooked in a paella (pan, in Spanish) like these:

Paella

So here is what I came up with:

Paella de pollo con vegetales

  • 200g short grain rice
  • 1-2 cup leftover BBQ chicken, chopped
  • 3 tomatoes
  • 1 small green pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 cup shredded zucchini
  • 1/2 inch fresh ginger, finely chopped
  • 500 ml chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • paprika
  • red pepper powder
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley

Heat the paella (or a medium casserole, if you don’t have one) over medium heat. Stir fry the onions for a few minutes and then add the garlic and ginger. Cook for another minute or two. Add the tomatoes & green peppers. Season with the dry spices, salt & pepper. Simmer for about 10 mins. If the tomatoes are of the acid kind, add 1/2 tsp of sugar. Stir in the white wine and let it evaporate, another 2-3 mins. Add the BBQ chicken and let it simmer in the sauce for a few minutes. Combine the rice & zucchini, add the parsley and mix thoroughly. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Correct the salt & pepper, cover and let it cook until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid, about 10-15 mins depending on the kind of rice. Once cooked, let it sit for 10 mins and serve. It will look something like this:

Chicken paella

All in all, a fun cooking week with a few ingredients!

Speaking of ingredients, the choice of spices on these dishes weren’t random or dictated solely by taste. I believe in the medicinal properties of food, and often keep that in mind when choosing how to season a dish.

Turmeric, for instance, is a root from the ginger family and is mostly sold as a powder made from the dried root. Also used as a dye for its bright yellow colour, it is one of the main ingredients of yellow curry and very mild in taste. It’s a strong anti-carcinogen (helps prevent the growth of cancer cells) and has a protective effect on the liver. Look here for more information. Because of its attractive colour – I love yellow – and mild taste, it goes well on any dish and I tend to use it often. Turmeric and oregano are probably the spices I use most often (btw, a USDA study found that, gram for gram, oregano has the highest antioxidant activity of 27 fresh culinary herbs.; I didn’t use it in any of the recipes above because unfortunately, I have run out of it).

Paprika/red pepper powder/chili powder – All of these are related and contain capsaicin, whose anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects may lower the risk of cancer.

Garlic – also has anti-carcinogenic effects and improves the immune system, helping fight colds & other sicknesses. I also it for almost everything.

Ginger – It has been used in Asian, Indian and Arabic medicine since Ancient times. It aids digestions, helps ease stomach ailments, bowel problems, eases the symptoms of the common cold or flu, nausea, etc.