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> Home > Toronto Star | July 30, 2005 | pg. M.01

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Toronto Star     July 30, 2005 | pg. M.01

Get out of the kitchen

Can't take the heat? Then just drop in to one of T.O.'s many food shops for some pre-made fare Select all the goodies you like and then take them straight home to eat, writes Cynthia David

When it's too hot to cook, let someone else do the work.

Across the city, an army of cooks is slaving away in kitchens large and small to ensure that we, the cottage-deprived, eat splendidly while keeping cool.

From family-style meals at Longo's or A&P/Dominion to a luxurious, wallet-shrinking splurge at Pusateri's, the variety and quality of fresh prepared foods ready to eat or heat are growing by leaps and bounds.

At Max's Market in Bloor West Village, executive chef Fabricio Vicuna dreams up more than 100 salads alone for the refrigerated cabinet running the length of this bustling upscale grocery store, bakery and deli.

Though he hails from Ecuador, Vicuna's Indian-inspired butter chicken and Bombay eggplant sell out no matter how brutal the heat, he says. Complete your passage to India with a tub of freshly prepared basmati rice and paratha flatbreads. Meat or vegetable Indian curries cost from $7.99 to $9.99 a tub. That amount serves two.

Tender crepes are another specialty at Max's, filled with grilled chicken, gorgonzola and sun-dried tomatoes for a main course and a most luscious chocolate mousse for dessert. Prices range from $3.29 to $3.99 each.

"Stop at the wine shop down the street and you'll have a gourmet dinner for half the price of a restaurant meal," says Vicuna, who sells homemade potato chips to scoop up his searing guacamole and salsa. Salsa costs $3.50 for a small tub; chips are $2.29 a bag.

To beat the heat on the Danforth, Dash Kitchen ladles out refreshing cold soups. Recent winners include vibrant green cucumber mango and beet-watermelon gazpacho, served by the cup or by the take- out tub. A 500 mL tub serves two for $6.99.

"We're trying to provide healthy food that's not pretentious or overly expensive," says Dan Thompson, one of three owners who left the corporate world to open the tasteful shop a year ago. Along with favourites such as ginger peanut chicken and meatloaf, Dash offers a wall of prepared marinades, tapenades and spreads.

Ask Christine Van Humbeck what's hot among the array of salads in the gorgeous, halogen-lit cases at Whole Foods Market and she doesn't miss a beat. "Apricot chicken and curried chicken salad!" says the tall, capable chef. She and her team have managed to make tofu appetizing, and you won't miss the dairy in the vegan dishes.

Chicken rules the roost all over the city. I ate almost an entire tub of scrumptious pesto chicken fusilli while carrying it home from Daniel et Daniel, ashop that fronts a beloved Cabbagetown catering company.

Dinah Koo, another veteran caterer, has teamed up with dessert maven Wanda Beaver to open a retail shop on Mt. Pleasant Rd. north of Eglinton Ave. E. Look for the red and white striped awning. "Some customers pick up side dishes when they're planning a barbecue," says Koo, "and others want a whole meal."

When company's coming, Koo's butterflied, pre-grilled Cumbrae Farms chicken stuffed with preserved lemon and rosemary under the skin is just the ticket ($20 for a whole chicken). It shares space in the glass counter with Asian pot stickers (six for $8), spring rolls, sushi pilaf ($9 for four servings), miso-topped black cod ($30 for four portions) and much more.

If you crave a French fix but don't have enough points to fly to Paris, look for the French flag flying outside Ma Maison in Etobicoke. Men whose wives are keeping cool at the cottage line up on their way home for Patrick Alleguede's authentic French specialties.

The traiteur offers solo dinners cooked and sealed "sous vide," a process pioneered by a French chef and a food scientist in the early 1970s. Drop the bag in boiling water for five minutes or microwave for two minutes, then dine like royalty on healthy delights such as poached salmon with shanghai bok choy and julienne carrots or roasted onion and tomato soup. Each serving costs from $7.99 to $8.50.

"There's been a revival of interest in duck confit," notes Alleguede, referring to the famous crisp-skinned duck leg poached in duck fat. "You can eat it cold with a green salad or warm it up and serve it with vegetables." The chef also prepares a foie gras terrine to slather over slices of his fabulous baguette.

Yet another Ma Maison summer favourite is a light Provencal quiche topped with sliced tomatoes, goat cheese and black olives ($40). "Buy a large one for friends or a wedge for yourself," says the tres French chef.

Sounds like a plan, whether it's hot out or not!

Cynthia David. Toronto Star. Toronto, Ont.: Jul 30, 2005. pg. M.01
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