Tag Archives: Tapas

Secret Pickle Supper Club – A Delicious Surprise

Secret Pickle Supper Club

“Make sure you’re free on the 31st” D said to me several weeks ago. So, I promptly went in my calendar and blocked off the 31st.

Why? “It’s a surprise” he said. Hmm. A surprise. I thought about what it could be but then decided not to try and figure it out. I wanted it to really be a surprise. And in a million years, I would have never guessed. We arrived at the St. Lawrence Market at 7:30 PM sharp (did you know that the St. Lawrence market was recently elected by National Geographic to be the best market in the world!).

We were given waiver forms to fill out – apparently there would be cameras and if we didn’t want to be filmed, we had to be seated in certain areas. Now I really had no idea what we were there for. We get upstairs into the Market Kitchen –  a huge, open area with beautiful views of the Front Street Iron Building and the CN Tower. There is an open cooking area, and three large tables set with utensils and wine glasses. “Maybe we are here to watch a cooking show” I wondered. It certainly looked like a studio kitchen. We are greeted by a cheery lovely lady telling us to make sure we get a cocktail.

Secret Pickle Supper Club

Cocktail? Gin-Tonic Con Los Jarabes de Inspiración. The flavours? Paprika, Pink Peppercorn, Lavender Orange and Cardamom Orange. D was adventurous with Paprika (it made for a more interesting photo – above :))

Secret Pickle Supper Club

I went with Lavender Orange because I have been craving lavender lately – above.  One of these days I have to make some lavender sugar.

Secret Pickle Supper Club

At this point, I’m still wondering what is this event that we came to. I look at the tasting menu/information brochure – Secret Pickle Supper Club. Tonight’s theme: Tasting Tour of Spain.

Secret Pickle was founded by Alexa Clark when she held a tasting dinner for her birthday. From there, it evolved over time to what it is now – a tasting dinner party for up to 50 people, each with its own theme. The Secret Pickle usually happens in the city of Toronto at various locations and the tickets for the event sell out quickly. In honour of their 2 year anniversary, there was also a documentary being filmed, to be released later this year.

Secret Pickle Supper Club

The Chef, Matt Kantor prepared the delicious menu we were about to have and it was inspired by the Spanish meals him and Alexa had in Spain while at an olive oil conference.

First up – Croquetas de Bacalao Con Salsa Verde: Cod croquettes with banana pepper mayo and parsley puree. The Croquetas were browned until crispy on the outside. The parsley puree broke up the creaminess of the cod and it gave the plate a beautiful colour.

Secret Pickle Supper Club
The croquetas were brought around by the lovely servers and this was the only part of the meal that was served while the crowd was still mingling. The rest was a sit down dinner type meal, complete with an endless supply of Spanish wine.

The white wine: Leira Albarino from the Pazo Pondal Winery in Rias Baixas region of Spain (2008) was light, citrusy and with a hint of pear – perfect for the spring, with seafood or tapas.

The red: Pena Roble Crianza, from the Bodegas Resalte De Penafiel winery (100% Tempranillo grapes, 2004), from the Ribera Del Duero region. The red was my preferred choice for the evening, it was complex, well balanced with hints of fruits and chocolate. For Spain, 1994, 1995, 2001 and 2004 are the best vintages in history as they produced the very best Spain has to offer. Wines from those vintages can last for 20+ years when stored correctly.  We were supper lucky to have a 2004 served to us this evening!

Secret Pickle Supper Club

Next up, it was Lomo “Iberico” con Ajo y Perilla, which is a dish typical in the Andalusia region of Spain. Cutlet of pork, thinly sliced and pan fried with garlic and herbs. It was very simple, yet it was its simplicity that made it stand out.

Secret Pickle Supper Club

During the tasting we were also lucky to try two different olive oils. The first one was from Girona, from producers Bodegas Roda. Dauro was first launched in 1999 and it was the first Spanish olive oil produced as a ‘single estate oil’. It’s a blend of 3 varietals: Arbequina, Hojiblanca and Koroneiki. It’s considered delicate compared to other premium oils in Spain. According to my tasting notes, Dauro was minty, grassy and spicy. It smelled of avocado, nuts and tomato. The taste was quite delicate, smooth and well balanced. It lingered on the tongue long after swallowed. The oil was served in wine glasses and we were encouraged to taste the oil by itself first, then with bread, and then to save some to drizzle on our next course.

Secret Pickle Supper Club

The next course was Pulpo Loco from the Galicia region of Spain. “Crazy” octopus and fried potatoes. I’m usually not a big fan of octopus because it’s quite chewy and tasteless. However, the chef did a really good job grilling the octopus so it was a perfect consistency.

And….it was quickly gone!

Secret Pickle Supper Club

Next up we had Huevos con Patate, Maitake y Ramp – Sous Vide eggs with mashed potatoes with maitake mushrooms and ramps. Have you ever had sous vide eggs? If you’re like me, maybe you had sous vide meat, but never eggs. In fact, I didn’t even know that eggs could be ‘sous vide-ed’. According to the chef, the way to do it is to cook the eggs at exactly 63 degrees. The shells are then cracked on one end to let the egg fall out.

Secret Pickle Supper Club

This was something completely new for me, and even for someone that doesn’t like runny eggs, this was quite delicious. The mashed potatoes were creamy and the maitake mushrooms gave them a slight change in texture.

Secret Pickle Supper Club

The second choice for the olive oil was much richer. Tuccioliva Gran Selection from the San Amador Cooperative is made from Picual olives picked and pressed in October 2011. Tuccioliva was greener in colour (which apparently isn’t a characteristic on which olive oil should be judged), it was more bitter, longer aftertaste with hints of ripe fruit, banana and fennel.

Secret Pickle Supper Club

After this, we were served my favourite dish of the evening. Arroz Blanco y Negro Con Calamares, a dish most often found in Valencia.

Secret Pickle Supper Club

The calamari were first marinated in beet juice which gave them an incredible pink colour. The contrast of the pink against the black and white rice was incredible, as you can see from the pictures.

Secret Pickle Supper Club

A little sprinkle of Tuccioliva on top gave the rice a smooth finish. The calamari were perfectly cooked and my favourite were the little bubbles of moisture that formed on top 🙂

Secret Pickle Supper Club

Secret Pickle Supper Club

Before each meal, Alexa would give us a little background on her and Matt’s trip through Spain and how each meal was thought up and where the inspiration came from.

Secret Pickle Supper Club

At some point, she came around with a big plate of chorizo, and passed it around. Pure deliciousness. It reminded me of my own trip to Spain and how I much I miss chorizo and manchega cheese! 🙂

Secret Pickle Supper Club

Our last savoury dish of the evening was Cordero Con Mermelada de Pimientos del Piquillo – Slow roasted baby lamb with roasted red peppers. This dish was quite delicate, very clean and simple and a nice way to finish the savoury part of the meal.

Now you’re wondering what was for dessert, right? Our hosts chose Natilla, a typical custard-like Spanish dessert with cinnamon. The natilla was more liquidy than a typical custard, velvety smooth with a perfect cinnamon finish.

The evening ended with Alexa thanking us for coming and inviting us to the next events. I can’t wait for the documentary to come out (I hope they got my good angles :)).

Secret Pickle Supper Club

By far this was the best surprise I’ve ever gotten! What better way to get to a girl’s heart than with Spanish tapas? D even encouraged me to bring my camera, which is how all you fine people get to share in our experience 🙂 So, you have him to thank for that. And the best part? Time spent together. Until next time, happy eating!


UPDATE:  The Secret Pickle Supper Club Documentary is up and ready!  Check out yours truly in a few shots!  This is way too exciting! 🙂


Tapas Weekend, with Farmer’s Market Salad and Hazelnut Shortbread with Chocolate

Tapas. My new favourite style of dinner. Simple to prepare, lots of variety, and a great way to try a little bit of everything 🙂
A preferred way to have meals in Spain, as well as some parts of the US and the UK, tapas (from Spanish word tapar meaning ‘to cover’) are meant to encourage socializing and conversation, with no pressure to finish a big meal.

It all started on Friday when our little group got together for dinner and somewhere along the way it was decided that it would be tapas style: different cheeses, spreads, fresh bread, olives, and best of all, Stan’s famous mussles in cream sauce, Christina’s garlic shrimp, DVG’s crostini with goat cheese, prosciutto and cranberry sauce and my crostini with cheddar, pear and walnuts.

I would say one of the most important parts of having good tapas is fresh bread. For Friday, we visited the new German Bakery in Uptown – German Baked Specialities, and got some fresh baguette for the crostinis and rye with corn flour crust for dipping.  Another important ingredient for tapas is good olive oil. Sometimes, all one needs is good quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping with fresh bread!

There is something magical about old friends coming together after not seeing each other for a while, and picking up right where they left off. Conversation is flowing, the food is dissapearing and the wine bottles are getting empty.  Before you know it, you have been chatting and eating for hours! Is there anything better in the world than great friends, great food and great wine?

Aged and young gouda, double creme brie, aged cheddar, chevre, olives, pears, sausages, smoked trout…

Inspired by the success of Friday night tapa’s dinner, DVG and I decided to have a repeat of it on Sunday evening. Again, we went all out, put the whole spread on my new serving board from Argentina (horse shoes for handles?! So cool!), made different versions of crostinis and at 22h, dinner began!

We discovered we had some aged white cheddar in the fridge, and had initially intended to melt it with pear, but after tasting it, we realized it was too delicate and delicious to melt, so instead we cut up the remaining pear and had it fresh with the aged cheddar.  Such a great combination!

All that cheese and bread, we had to had some greens to balance out the ‘food equation’ 🙂  I found that the quickest way to make a delicious dressing is to mix olive oil, balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard and salt and pepper in a mason jar and cover some baby spinach or arugula with it.  The roasted red peppers add a splash of colour and a different texture to the salad.

DVG proved to be a great model for my photo whims, even having enough patience for my meticulous framing, and that’s saying a lot especially because we were both famished and tired from climbing!

The rest of Sunday afternoon was spent preparing a salad and cookies for a dinner party hosted by my mom.  My mom is an excellent cook – she whips up meals in what seems like seconds, and they are always delicious.  I consider her culinary skills far superior to my own.  And yet, sometimes when she is hosting dinner parties she asks me to prepare something ‘delicious’ and ‘decorative’, to impress her guests.  Even though, whatever she prepares is sure to be yummier :).  But, I take this as a compliment, and oblige whenever she makes such requests.

A few weeks ago, while searching for a different recipe, I came upon this one for Farmer’s Market Salad, and judging by the ingredients, it seemed like a very interesting combination of flavours.  There is roasted squash, walnuts and arugula, the most interesting was pomogranate seeds, and pomogranate molasses.  Tanginess of the pomogranate seeds was a great compliment to the caramelized squash, crunchiness of walnuts and lightness of the arugula.

Even though recipe didn’t call for this, I broiled the squash a bit after roasting it to get the charred tops, and also added fresh rosemary to the squash before roasting for extra flavour. 

The dressing for this salad is super simple – orange juice, lemon juice and walnut oil (or any other type of nut oil), seasoned with salt and pepper.  I liked the acidity of the juices combined with the smooth taste of the oil, it gave the salad a fresh and light taste.  The recipe also calls for the salad to be topped off by pomogranate molasses.  Apparently, this can be found in some supermarkets, but I failed to find it, so instead I improvised.  Half the pomogranate was seeded for the salad and half was seeded to make a sauce (a makeshift molasses if you will).  I really didn’t quite know what I was doing here, but I tried to reduce the juice from the seeds to a sauce and added some regular molases and butter.  The sauce turned out ok, but I don’t know how it compares to the real thing.

For dessert, I decided to make these simple hazelnut shorbreads that are especially decorative because they’re half dipped in chocolate.  I find them to be super easy to make, and always a hit.  They are soft and crumbly and the creamy chocolate taste is a nice contrast to the dryness of shortbread.

I would recommend shaping these on the smaller side before you bake them (about the size of half of your finger), because they grow, and they are much more decorative if they are smaller.

Another tip, which may seem obvious, but it wasn’t to me when I first made these, is to transfer the melted chocolate into a deep container with a bigger opening ( a mug would work) as this makes it easier to dip the shortbread at the right angle.


Click on each photo to view the high resolution images.




Farmer’s Market Salad

  • 4 1/2 to 5 cups 1/2-inch cubes peeled seeded butternut squash (from about one 2-pound squash)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of dried crushed red pepper
  • Coarse kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons walnut oil or other nut oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 4 ounces arugula (about 8 cups lightly packed)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts,toasted, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses*
Preheat oven to 450°F. Toss squash, olive oil, and crushed red pepper on large rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Roast 15 minutes. Using spatula, turn squash over. Roast until edges are browned and squash is tender, about 15 minutes longer. Sprinkle with coarse salt. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.
Whisk orange juice, walnut oil, and lemon juice in large shallow bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add arugula, walnuts, and pomegranate seeds; toss to coat. Season to taste with coarse salt and pepper. Spoon warm or roomtemperature squash over salad. Drizzle with pomegranate molasses and serve.
* A thick pomegranate syrup; available at some supermarkets and at Middle Eastern markets

Chocolate Dipped Hazelnut Shortbread

  • 1 cup husked hazelnuts
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 ounces good-quality semisweet chocolate
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Place hazelnuts on baking sheet. Bake until they’re a shade darker and fragrant, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
Lower oven to 325 degrees F.
Place hazelnuts in blender or food processor and pulse to coarse bits; set aside. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt to blend; set aside.
Beat butter and sugar together with a wooden spoon until smooth. Beat in egg. Gradually beat the flour mixture into the butter mixture. Add the chopped hazelnuts and mix until distributed evenly throughout.
 Form into finger sized logs, about 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons dough each, and place on greased cookie sheets. Bake until firm, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on racks.
In a saucepan over lowest heat or in a double broiler, melt chocolate. Dip 1 end of cooled cookies into melted chocolate. Place back on cookie sheet to harden.