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Old El Paso Let’s Taco ‘Bout It, Chapter Two — Whatchu Know ’bout Taco Tuesday???

Toddlers wouldn’t know good food if it hit them in the face. (And if you’ve ever seen a toddler eat, you’ll know that’s exactly what it usually does.)

Old El Paso Let’s Taco ‘Bout It, Chapter Two — Whatchu Know 'bout Taco Tuesday — Even Toddlers Love Tortilla Bowls
I mean, sometimes it’s a struggle to get this guy to eat, but tortilla bowls proved interesting enough for him to give it a try!

Feeding kids ain’t as simple as it used to be. Back in my day (I cringe that I’m old enough to say that), I remember plenty tuna casseroles, stir-fries and macaroni and cheeses. No one had the time to slave over stoves like Moms did in the ’50s and ’60s, so quick and easy were the name of the game after a hard day’s work. And even though parents have less time than ever in 2016, we’re a lot more discerning in what we eat. We scrutinize nutritional guides. Scour ingredient lists. We do everything in our power to make sure we’re not giving our families food we’ll come to regret later.

So you’ll need meals that’re both quick to produce and good for you—good thing Old El Paso’s dinnertime options provide just that!

Though the little ones are too young to appreciate theme days like Taco Tuesday, Sarah and I appreciate planning our meals well in advance. Nothing’s worse than hearing “What’s for dinner?” before you’ve even had a chance to think about the answer.

Old El Paso Let’s Taco ‘Bout It, Chapter Two — Whatchu Know About Taco Tuesday — Crockpot Chicken Enchilada Soup in an Old El Paso Tortilla Bowl — Three-Quarter ViewAnd so our second Old El Paso dish was Skinnytaste’s Crock Pot Chicken Enchilada Soup in Old El Paso Tortilla Bowls—a meal with minimal cleanup! Being the efficient chefs that we are, we used much of the chicken from our last recipe for the meal! Interested in how we made them? Check out the recipe below:

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The Week That Was… November 15th – 21st, 2015.

Writing these weekly wrap-ups do more than just help me remember the hijinks I get up to each week — they also keep me well aware of the time that’s trickling through my fingers, and how quickly 2015 will be a foggy memory instead of the current reality. 2016 brings new goals, more family, and while I never know what’s around the corner anymore, I’m sure plenty of opportunities I’d never imagined possible.

Which is all the more reason I need to get this 2015 stuff off of my plate so I can tackle 2016 with a clear head!

Rasslin’ Big Smoke Burger’s “Urban Cowboy” for Hellmann’s Burger Route

The Week That Was... November 15th - 21st, 2015 — Big Smoke Burger at CF Toronto Eaton Centre — Urban CowboyI happened over Hellmann’s Burger Route by chance while visiting the Village’s Fresh Burger, surprised that I hadn’t heard of an event spanning more than 30 restaurants across the GTA! This simple discovery changed my November lunch hours, taking me places I usually found too far to visit.

This week saw the first trip (of many) down to the CF Toronto Eaton Centre’s Big Smoke Burger to get my grubby man-sized paws on their Urban Cowboy, which I’m pretty sure is the best fast food burger I’ve ever tasted. No lie — this isn’t even sponsored. I went back another two times to get it, knowing it’d likely be unavailable after November. I waited in line for this burger — Casey Palmer don’t wait in no lines. Too bad it’ll likely be gone by the time you read this ?

Farewell, Urban Cowboy — we knew ye well.

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GIVEAWAY POST: #ButterBallMakesItEasy — Can Butterball Canada Turn Casey From a Kitchen Turkey to a Cooking Whiz?

When Butterball decided they liked my last post enough to order up a second helping (and yes, please expect many turkey and Thanksgiving puns from here on in), I was game for pretty much anything they wanted to try. The last time we’d danced, I wound up hanging with Team Andretti as we watched all manner of vehicle drive ludicrously fast down by Exhibition place. As a parent, husband and homeowner, it can be tough to find the time for hitting events, but when they’re cool enough, you make time.

Which is all a roundabout way of saying a courier caught me by surprise when he showed up at my door with a 6 kilo turkey to hand over!

#ButterBallMakesItEasy — Can Butterball Canada Turn Casey From a Kitchen Turkey to a Cooking Whiz — Butterball Stuffed Turkey in its PackagingSo, context. In the nearly 8 years we’ve been together, Sarah and I have tried to cook a turkey but once, so put off by the disastrous result that we never tried again. An undercooked bird, a handful of tantrums and a hazy period where I went vegetarian for a bit purely out of spite later, it’s a task I put squarely out of mind until one point in the future where either set of parents decided they no longer wanted to host family dinners and tasked the kids to do it*.

But a big part of holidays is about family, and now with one of my own, it’d probably be for the best if I learned a thing or two about putting a holiday spread together — I mean, it’s the least I could do for the people who’ve put up with me this long, right?

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#100HappyDays — Day 26 — Dinner at the In-Laws’

#100HappyDays — Day 26 — Dinner at my In-Laws'
Roast Beef + Cottage Roll + Carrots + Mashed Potatoes + String Beans = #OmNomNom!!!

For #100HappyDays Day 26, the word was “productivity”. After clearing out some outdated tech for electronic disposal, getting my old Fish ‘n’ Chimps comics prepped for their return to the Internets, and whatever household chores were on the list, it was time to hit my in-laws’ to celebrate my Dad’s 64th birthday.

#100HappyDays — Day 26 — Old Tech for Electronic Disposal
Can you imagine that my smartphone’s more powerful than everything in this photo combined? Yeesh.

While far more exhausted than I thought I’d be (I guess an 8-hour night of sleep won’t fix a week of rotten sleep habits…), I always enjoy time with family and my mother-in-law’s home cooking! (I can tell you that cottage roll’s gonna be a regular commodity from home from now on, I kid you not!)

The weekend’s won’t likely be relaxing, but great times are still ahead!

#100HappyDays Day 26/100 — I’m off to bed early, since tonight is the worst night of all for nocturnal types like me, where Daylight Savings Time steals an hour away for whatever ridiculous reason.

“Spring forward, fall back” my butt 🙁

–case p.

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Some Zest from the West — A Taste of Burlington

A frontal view of The Martini House in Burlington
Deep in the quiet town of Burlington…

An hour away from big, bad Toronto is a little place called Burlington. The last time I remember coming out this way was in my early 20s to check the club scene (and girls) outside of Toronto at Big Buck’s Mountain Lodge. But nearly a decade and several nights out later, Christine teamed up with Tourism Burlington to get myself, Justin and Chris back out there for the Taste of Burlington festival!

You Fancy, Huh?

After making surprising time on the QEW/403 (yet again), with 45 minutes to kill, Christine and I figured that coming to The Martini House without trying the martinis was criminal in some social circle, so there we were getting all fancy and stuff.

Let the Games Begin

The boys joined us by our second round at the bar (which is good, because we’d reached the point where Christine was calling her drink fancier than mine and calling the bartendermixologist…), and we cozily made our way into a space by a wonderful couple (who I hope didn’t mind how noisy a night they had ahead of them!)

Lobster Cappuccino

A picture of the lobster cappuccino at The Martini House in Burlington, ON
In-house lobster bisque, old-bay seasoned foam, croissant

Remembering the awesome food I’d had when I’d visited Boston, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have a good lobster bisque. In a mug. With a croissant. (I love croissants!) It was a big serving, delicious, and any soup I can drink with a handle is a drink that’s great in my books!

Fusilli Carbonara

The Fusilli Carbonara at The Martini House in Burlington, ON.
organic Ontario chicken, scallion, double-smoked Ontario bacon, parmesan
Could’ve used some pepper flakes, but still pretty good.

Had I known that I could replace cream corn with mashed potatoes (or “smashed potatoes” as the menu says), I would’ve definitely ordered the Smokey Beef Short Rib, but c’est la vie.

The carbonara was pretty good, but I would’ve liked it with some spice. (What can I say — my parents are Jamaican!) It was a good portion; hard to finish — I think martinis fill you up? Who knew.

Vanilla Creme Brûlée

The Martini House's Vanilla Creme Brulee in Burlington, ON
Yes it was delicious. No I didn’t have any room left for it in my tummy 🙁

Without the capacity for cake, I was in the mood for something light — and the vanilla crème brûlée hit the spot. No complaints on this one!

If you want to check out some of the other options that The Martini House has to offer during the Taste of Burlington festival, check out the Martini House’s Taste of Burlington menu 0r some shots of other food options below!

Three Cheers for the Taste of Burlington!

Left-to-right: Chris Vollick, Christine Pantazis, Justin Baisden and me!
They look so happy! And full.

The Taste of Burlington festival runs from February 27th through March 10th, and features 23 of Burlington’s eateries with $20 lunch and $35 dinner menus. If you’re looking for a little adventure outside of your Torontonian stomping grounds, try Burlington this week! Your taste buds just might be surprised!

The Martini House on Urbanspoon

–case p.

[disclaimer: The Martini House comped us some delicious food and drink on the premise that we were bloggers and would cover the drinks and hijinks of the night — which caught us completely off-guard as we thought we were just getting our dinners covered — but they’re just that amazing!]

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Whodunit?! — Once Upon A Murder, the Mysteriously Yours… Mystery Dinner Theatre VIP Launch

Never before have I gone to a blogger event and come home with extra toilet paper.

Once Upon a Time….

What started as a simple dinner would eventually turn into an event filled with confession, intrigue and a dash of killer instinct.

Nestled south of the Yonge-Eglinton neighbourhood, the Mysteriously Yours… Mystery Dinner Theatre is a little-known Toronto gem that’s been operating for 25 years, where murder’s laced with motives and nothing’s ever quite what it seems.

Once Upon a Murder is a murder mystery based around a fairytale wedding, designed to get the crowd involved so that they can solve the mystery — but what happens if they start to become part of it???

The Plot

Justin has a knack for bringing people together. Knowing that you can only get so much from large events and the chaos that comes with them, he opted to bring a quartet of bloggers/business people together to dine, drink and discuss the night away.

When Val proposed that we all join her for a VIP seasonal launch at the Mysteriously Yours… Mystery Dinner Theatre, I was on board for a night of hijinks while having an event to shake things up.

So Justin, Val, Jamie and I found ourselves at Table 18 catching up… and eventually trying to figure out whodunit.

The Plate

Starting us off with glasses of fraîse champagne and plates of shrimp salad on rice crackers and pulled pork bruschetta, the menu by Rossy Earle, Executive Chef was a tasty one!

Even though murder was in the air, the only thing my knife was stabbing was the delicious boneless beef rib I ordered. Say what you will, Mr. Bussey, but I enjoyed my meal here! While I won’t rave about the cheddar jalapeno soup or the key lime tart (both tasty, but nowhere near as delicious as the main), I think the food was a little better than “okay”.

But we weren’t there for the food — the mean would be nothing compared to the mystery!

You Can’t Take Casey Anywhere

I’m pretty sure that growing up isn’t an option for me. I play like a big kid, crack jokes like it’s my second language and lose my mind if things are too dull, so putting me in arm’s-reach of an interactive fairytale story without expecting me to dive right in is insane :).

As we ate and caught up, the characters would mingle amongst our tables, giving us the lay of the land as they saw it and trying to get the audience as engaged as possible. We had some excellent interactions with Lupo and Little Red Riding Hood — or “Scarlet”, rather — but the one who took the cake for Table 18 was Prince Charmin, who would eventually come to sit with us through the majority of the production! We were getting charmed by Charmin!

Over the course of the mystery, a bromance was formed between myself and Prince Charmin (Ian Ronningen), involving manly hugs, questionable nicknames (such as “Winnie the Poo”, the mascot of his multinational toilet paper corporation) and general back-and-forth ridiculousness. The show was meant to be interactive, but I’m pretty sure that they weren’t ready for me and the brand of madness I bring to the table.

It was fun.

All’s Well That Ends Well… Well, Except for the Queen, Being Dead and All… But You Know….

I won’t spoil the mystery for you, but at least it’s no mystery as to why the night was full of fun! With good food, good company and a healthy heaping of laughs, I’m glad I made it out.

And of course, what would a wedding be without party favours for the guests? Keeping with the theme of a union between Ever After’s royal successor and its largest manufacturer of toilet paper, we went home with a sample of Prince Charmin’s quality product! I just hope we weren’t expected to read the media kit and drink our coffee while sampling it!)

Thanks again to Val for inviting us to such a fun night — even if you’ve been before, it’s a different adventure every time you go; there’s no way they could’ve stayed in business for 25 years so far otherwise! If you’re looking to do something different in Toronto or take a date somewhere a little more memorable, give Mysteriously Yours… Mystery Dinner Theatre a try!

Would it kill you to try something different?

–case p.

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I AM NOT A FOODIE: Cooking With Chef Pino, the Chef on Two Wheels

A shot of the van Chef Pino drives to carry all the goods for his services!
He’s had to upgrade to four wheels since his start all those years ago, but everything else remains much the same!

Today we take a short break from the November to Remember series to talk about an amazing experience I had last night, which involved one of the few things that’ve paralyzed me in my tracks for years —

cooking.

Back when my Dad used to run a restaurant, he would give me my first set of jobs ever. While I was really good at customer service and bookkeeping, there was one thing I really sucked at — and that was anything having to do with the kitchen.

No matter how hard I tried, I could never do prep work fast enough. Or cook anything right. The only thing I was good at in the kitchen was messing up. So after I got through that horrendous experience, I never got anywhere near cooking again!

So imagine my surprise when Buytopia.ca offered me the chance to get a 2-hour cooking class, where Chef Pino Padula would teach me how to make a 5-course meal, presumably without burning down the house!

Who is Chef Pino?

A shot of Chef Pino from his website.
Chef Pino at work. Source: http://thechefon2wheels.com/main/

Born and raised in Bari, Italy, Chef Pino got an early start in the restaurant biz when his father would pay him 10¢ a day to do dishes. Many days (and many more dishes) later, he would save up enough to buy his first bicycle. Continuing to work in restaurants as he went through his teenage years, more responsibility meant more money, the bicycle became a motorcycle and the legend of The Chef on 2 Wheels was born!

Chef Pino is an extremely personable gentleman who strives to get to know his clients and treats everyone with the same amount of respect. You get the same Chef Pino whether you spent your last dime hiring his services or you’re working on making your next million. He’s polite, he’s classy and he’s secure enough in knowing what he’s doing that he has no problem sharing his recipes and methods with you!

And for a couple of hours, he was bringing decades of experience (from such celebrated places as Toulà and catering for celebrities at both Toronto Fashion Week and the Toronto International Film Festival) to my home so he could teach me a thing or two… hundred.

The 5-course menu was lavish and offered tastes of things I normally wouldn’t have without finding a nice Italian restaurant to visit. The menu included:

Meat Menu

Appetizers: Thinly Slices Beef Carpaccio with Lemon Oil Dressing & Parmigiano Shavings

Pasta: Penne Alla Vodka

Intermezzo: Scroppino with Chaffonade Mint & Pink Peppercorn

Main Course: Encrusted Stuffed Pork Tenderloin  with swiss Cheese & Caramelized Onions

Dessert: Classic TAJAN Vanilla Ice cream in Affogato

Source: http://www.buytopia.ca/deal/2230/?skip=true&a_aid=casepam

Here’s a look at some of the prep work and outcomes of the food I got to try — everything was delicious!!!

What I Learned from Chef Pino Padula

You can’t help but learn from Chef Pino. There were little tips and tricks I’d pick up as he worked — like not putting the sauce in the skillet until the onions are translucent, or that hard cheeses go with pork and soft ones with chicken — but here’s 3 key lessons I’ll take with me when I try to make meals of my own!

1. You Can’t Make Good Food from Ingredients Gone Bad!

Chef Pino would emphasize multiple times that the thing giving his food so much flavour was its freshness. He buys everything as close to the prep date as possible, only holding on to ingredients for short periods of time before they’re no longer good — and his attention to detail definitely pays off!

2. You Get What You Pay For

You might think that a sauce is a sauce is a sauce, but Chef Pino would tell you how wrong you are. He showed us that cheaper sauces include seeds and skins, making them bitterer the longer you cook them, while premium sauces had neither, making them sweeter the longer they simmer. And he had tips for every ingredient.

3. Eat the Food the Way You’re Meant To Eat It

When I went to another course without cleansing my palate first, Chef Pino pointed out that I wouldn’t be getting the true flavour of the food. After following his advice and taking a mouthful of sgroppino, I could note flavours that I never would have tasted otherwise! So here it’s important to:

  • use a palate cleanser
  • eat the food fresh off of the stove
  • eat enough to appreciate the food but not so much that you regret it — your state of mind is part of the dining experience

Years later, my Dad would tell me that there was a lesson he wanted to teach me those days I spent in his kitchen staff:

“I want you to learn about the things you hate to do so you’ll go out and do amazingly at the things you love.”

While he may have been right that cooking wouldn’t be my secret to success, I don’t think he intended to turn me off from cooking forever.

Before Chef Pino came along, the kitchen would be the last place you’d ever find me. I’d take any chore over cooking if ever given the choice.

It only took two hours for Chef Pino to give my confidence back, and in the end that’s better value than I would’ve gotten from any cooking show.

Have We Tempted You?

If you want to try this experience  yourself, Buytopia has a deal for Chef Pino’s services! Instead of the $320 you’d normally shell out for the service I just described, you can score it for $99!!! Vouchers are good until December 16, 2013; he also offers fish and vegetarian menus; and can come to any house in the GTA. These make awesome Christmas, anniversary or birthday gifts for the people who already have everything and are impossible to shop for. (To be honest, I got a couple of vouchers, myself!)

You can check the deal out here: http://www.buytopia.ca/deal/2230/?skip=true&a_aid=casepam

And if that’s not enough incentive, I had some good chats with Chef Pino himself, and he’s informed me that this just might be the last round of discounts before it goes back up to full price forever! The deal’s only on until midnight Sunday, December 16, so if you want it, you’d better get it while it’s hot!

Thanks for reading, and if you do get the chance to try what Chef Pino has to offer, let me know how it goes!

–case p.

Next Up: Back to A November to Remember, Caribbean Edition!

[Disclosure: I wrote this post as a member of the Buytopia.ca Inner Circle, where we try goods and services before blogging about them and earn affiliate percentages for successful sales. But I’m honest and will never write a dishonest review for the sake of money — without integrity, we have nothing.]