Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hallowe'en Dinner Spook-tacular!

"I charge a lot for anything black. Grapes, olives, blackcurrants. People like to remind themselves of death. Eating black food is like consuming death,like saying, "Death, I'm eating you." Black truffles are the most expensive. And caviar. Death and birth.The end and the beginning. Don't you think it's appropriate that the most expensive items are black? We also charge for vanity. Diet foods have an additional surcharge…."

The Cook at Le Hollandais
The Cook The Thief His Wife & Her Lover (1989)

That is one of my favourite movie quotes and from a film that is kind of about food. What other film can you think of that combines food, sex, colour, torture and cannibalism all in the context of Thatcher`s England!

Le Hollandais is definitely central to the plot of the film and is the scene of the film's penultimate act of love by Georgie for her murdered Lover. When trying to decide what to make for Hallowe'en dinner I decided to take inspiration from the above quote from The Cook and make something black.

I really wanted to make Risotto Nero, but I couldn`t find squid ink, which is essential to the dish`s colour and flavour, so I went for the next best thing which is squid ink pasta - in this case fettucine. I am not really in the mood for tomato sauce (even with its blood-like cololuring) so I am going to make a Salsa Verde and use it like a pesto on the pasta. Also I purchased some mussels (black), baby squids (lots of tentacles for effect) and some purple asparagus. I also tried an interesting idea for presentation which you will see below...Muuuuaaahahahahaha..... I am trying to work on my food styling as I move along with this blog...

This recipe is based on one I have used for years from the River Cafe in London with a few modifications to increase the yield. It is great tossed with pasta or used as a sauce on fish. Extremely versatile and can be made a day ahead.

Salsa Verde

2 cloves garlic, peeled
3 tsp. capers
1 tsp. anchovy paste (yes this is essential)
2 bunch flat-leaf (Italian) parsley (no stems)
1 bunch fresh basil, leaves picked
1 bunch fresh mint, leaves picked
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons good quality olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste (I do not find that much is needed)

Put all ingredients in a food processor and whir until it reaches desired consistency. Yes, it is that simple. And delicious.

Seafood and Pasta

1 pound squid ink fettucine
  • 2 cloves garlic purée 
  • 2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 pound mussels, rinsed and debearded
  • 3/4 pound baby squid, cleaned, bodies cut into 1/4-inch rounds, and tentacles left whole

  • Cook pasta and seafood:

If using asparagus, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Break off the ends of the asparagus and lie in a single layer in an oven safe pan.  Toss with 1 tbsp of olive oil and cook in oven until tender, approximately, 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, cook fettucine in a large pasta pot of boiling salted water (3 tablespoons salt for 6 quarts water) until al dente.

While pasta is cooking, heat a dry 12-inch heavy skillet with a lid (nonstick is fine regardless what others say) over med-high heat until hot, 2 to 3 minutes. Add oil and garlic, then immediately add mussels and sauté, stirring occasionally, until mussels begin to open, 2 to 3 minutes. Add about quarter to half a cup of pasta cooking water to pan and cover to until mussels open wide, about 2 minutes more (discard any unopened mussels).  Set aside and hold until pasta is ready.

Once pasta is cooked, approximately 7-10 minutes, drain pasta for the moment. Add 1 tbsp oil to the hot pot and bring to temperature quickly over med to high heat.  Once heated, add squid to the hot pot, and cook quickly, approximately 2 minutes.  
Once squid is ready add hot pasta back into pot and toss to combine (squid will continue to cook as it is being tossed).   Add salsa verde by the spoonful until you are happy with the amount coating the pasta (I used the entire recipe).  Serve immediately with parmesan cheese, though I am told traditionally in Italy seafood pasta dishes are served sans parmesan.

Wow.....I suddenly just realized that Michael Gambon played the boorish oaf Albert (The Thief) in the film. I still remember him referring to pate as looking like cat food for constipated rabbits! Ha! I had completely forgotten about him being in it. he is Dumbledore! Quite a range he has. And the glorious Helen she was stunning in that film with the Jean Paul Gautier clothes. I think she still is stunning. Now THAT is a real woman in my opinion. I want to age like her. And I think it was probably the second thing I saw Tim Roth in, after Reservoir Dogs of course. He is another of my favourites. Even watched the Incredible Hulk because of him. And Ed Norton of course.

Happy Halloweeeeeeeen everyone!!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Roasted Butternut Squash Crostini

I generally love Hallowe'en but for some reason this year I am just not into it. I usually like to get out my giant styrofoam skull and put it on my lawn along side our grave markers and scattered miscellaneous bones and body parts. Normally my bony skeleton hand candles would be lining my pathway already but for some reason this year I am "meh" about Hallowe'en. Not entirely sure why.

So to shake out the cobwebs (ok....I needed to get a seasonal reference in there) and get myself in the mood for the most wonderful holiday of the year, I have decided that I must cook something orange. I was disappointed that my organics box did not contain any kind of squash, so today I picked up some butternut squash which I intend to turn into a spread for an appetizer. It is sort of kind of orange. Ish.

I have made butternut squash ravioli with sage brown butter in the past with great results, so I think that is the direction I am going to go in. I will just de-construct the recipe to its basic elements, and turn it into a spread instead of a ravioli filing.

1 pound butternut squash, peeled and sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp chicken stock or vegetable stock
1 clove garlic, purred
10 fresh sage leaves, sliced
3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
A small pinch of nutmeg (I actually have a nutmeg grater and prefer to grate it fresh into dishes)
1 french baguette, thinly sliced on an angle.


Preheat oven to 400°F. Arrange squash on a greased baking sheet and bake until tender, approximately 45 minutes. Let cool, then transfer to a food processor and whir until smooth, adding chicken or vegetable stock as needed to facilitate pureeing until all incorporated.

Add in the parmesan cheese, fresh sage and nutmeg, and whir again to combine. Season with salt and pepper. At this stage the recipe will hold for at least a week. You can serve it at room temperature or warm it slightly before serving.

When ready to use, lightly brush bread all over with oil, arrange on a large baking sheet in a single layer and toast in the oven, flipping halfway through, until just golden and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes total. Spread over warm crostini and serve.

Man, this turned out really well. Very, very simple but the flavours meld together so well. The parmesan cheese (sorry James) really adds a buttery undertone to the pureed squash. The sage is subtle - because it is fresh - and adds a wonderful earthiness to the spread. Dried sage can be very strong and pungent, so I recommend fresh for this dish because the herb is used raw. And the hint of nutmeg just pushes the fall flavours of this creation to the top. 

Just looked up sage on and it says that sage has been used as a healing herb since the Dark Ages. Apparently the ancient Greeks and Romans used sage as an antidote to snakebites and brewed into a tea to relieve headaches.

Just a thought but if you are one of those people who likes blue cheese (I am definitely one!) you could crumble a bit of blue cheese on top of the crostini and put under the broiler for a few minutes before serving?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Persimmon Predicament and Vegetarian Kimchi

As I said in my earlier posting, I received two persimmons in my organics delivery box.  Now, I am pretty well versed in terms of international fruits. And not just the typical exotics like mangos and papayas.

I’ve chowed down on Mangosteens, and I have even peeled and eaten a rambutan.

I’ve had Durian from Thailand (it gives you god awful breath (and other odours!) but tastes like custard).

But I have never eaten a persimmon.

Then, yesterday my friend from work Judy borrowed my transit pass, as she was headed to China Town at lunch to buy produce and offered if I needed anything picked up while she was there.  I said no but when I came back from my meeting yesterday there were – yes – 2 persimmons sitting on my keyboard as a “thanks”.  Very sweet of her – she is a darling – but now my persimmon predicament had doubled.

Apparently the type of persimmons I have are Fuyu (no.. I wasn’t swearing at you).  They looking kind of like a light orange, squat tomato.  This variety is supposed to be eaten crisp, like an apple.  The other type of persimmon is the Hachiya (And no, I didn’t sneeze either) which are larger, more acorn shaped and darker orange.  These should be soft to the touch and juicy inside when eaten.

So if you just want to eat a Fuyu, all you do is wash it thoroughly, remove the leaves from the top, cut it open and core (like an apple or pear), slice and serve.  However an under-ripe persimmon of either variety will be bitter to taste and will suck the moisture out of your mouth, leaving you rather looking like a cat’s a**.  Or so I am told.

I have decided to eat the persimmons on my desk like a fruit – once Judy tells me they are ready to eat – and the others I am going to try to turn into a vegetarian kimchi I found this recipe on and it received great reviews, so I will give it a shot.  I don’t seen any changes necessary at this point as I have all ingredients on hand except the Napa but that is easily acquired.  Fingers crossed and review to come on the weekend as it must ferment for 3 days before serving!

Vegetarian Kimchi

1 head Napa cabbage
1/4 cup salt, divided
6 cloves garlic
1 (1 inch) piece fresh ginger root, peeled and chopped
1 small white onion, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons water
3 green onions, minced
cayenne pepper to taste
1 ripe persimmon, chopped
1 small radish, shredded
1 cucumber, diced (optional)


1. Cube the cabbage and rinse well. Put the cabbage in a bowl and sprinkle liberally with salt, tossing to mix. Set aside for 1 hour.

2. Mix more salt into the cabbage and set aside for another hour. Wash and drain the cabbage. Combine the garlic, ginger, and onion in a blender with the water. Blend on high speed until smooth.

3. Stir together the rinsed drained cabbage, garlic-ginger mixture, minced green onions, cayenne pepper, persimmon, radish, and cucumber and mix well. Transfer the mixture into airtight containers, and refrigerate for 3 days before serving.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Is organic always best?

So I am starting to make my way through my box of produce from  Was the value worth the dollars invested?  So far yes....through the remarkable Groupon connection, I am having 2 boxes of organic produce delivered to my door - my first arrived on Thursday, and the second will come in 2 weeks.  I paid $30 for what would normally cost almost $80.  I absolutely spend at least $15 a week on fresh vegetables and fruit, so I thought why not!  And I LOVE the fact a good looking man came to my door and handed me a box of stuff to eat.

What surprised me when I started looking at what I received was that - although it was all organic - that a lot of it came from the United States and beyond!  Now I do love my brothers and sisters to the south, but is it really right that my cauliflower came from California? My apples were even from the U.S. and it is apple season in Ontario right now.  Pears were also U.S. - they were REALLY good by the way.  I live about an hour away from the Niagara region, about 30 minutes south of Holland's Landing (prime vegetable growing territory just north of the city) and certainly within several hours of some of the best farmland in Ontario.

So here is the origin of my produce as best as I can tell:

Cauliflower - California
Broccoli - Lasalette, Ontario
Persimmons - U.S.
Kiwis - Chile
Bananas - Peru
Potatoes - Unknown
Chard - Baden, Ontario
Gala Apples - U.S.
Bosc Pears - U.S.
Carrots - Baden, Ontario
Avocados - Mexico

I don't know if any of you wonderful friends out there have ever read The Hundred Mile Diet:  A year of local eating but it is definitely an interesting concept, especially in these days were everyone is talking about organic this and organic that.

What started as a column for an e-mag turned into the book was written by a Canadian couple from British Columbia who decided to eat only foods grown within 100 miles of where they lived.  The book details their struggles and triumphs with living in a world where much of what we rely on as staples in our diet spends countless hours and miles on the road getting to us.  Just think - coffee, tea, flour, bananas - things that we buy regularly would be outside of what you could eat for a year.  There are stories of them riding their bikes out in rural Vancouver (a beautiful city by the way if you haven't been!) trying to run down locally grown wheat that they can grind to make bread.

So what is better....and I AM asking the question.....eating locally grown food that is not organic, or eating organic food that has potentially traveled thousands of miles to be on our table?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Blue Cheese

I work with the most wonderful women.  They are fun, extremely interesting and intelligent.  Many of them have great shoes.  One in particular has particularly wonderful shoe collection (those teal blue patent pumps rock sista!) and a fantastic shoe calendar on her desk that I enjoy stopping by to view daily so we can dish and crit the shoe or boot de jour.  That's my friend Judith - she fits in all the above categories, AND she is a creative home chef.

The below recipe stems from a discussion we had a while back in the kitchen at work about roasting cauliflower and making it into soup with blue cheese!  It also seems to help me out with the fact that I have 2 heads of cauliflower and a big onion sitting in my fridge and a half wheel of Danish Blue (a staple for me).

Roasted Cauliflower and Blue Cheese Soup

1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium sized head cauliflower, cut into 1-inch florets
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup milk (I used 1%), cream or half and half
1/3 cup crumbled Danish Blue cheese or the blue of your choice
1/4 teaspoon pepper (or to taste)
1/8 teaspoon salt


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Toss cauliflower florets and quartered onion in 1 tsp. olive oil to coat.  Place in oven and roast for approximately 30 minutes, or until florets are starting to soften and have some colour.  Place onion and cauliflower in a slow cooker, and set to low.  If you don't have a slow cooker you can definitely do this on the stove top, b
ut I am going out soon, so I want to let this go while I am out.  Add broth and simmer, covered, until cauliflower is very tender, about 25 minutes.

Purée cauliflower mixture in batches in a blender until very smooth, adding milk a bit at a time until desired thickness is reached.  Please use caution when blending hot liquids.  I suggest removing the stopper on the blender lid and covering it with a tea towel.  Return soup to a clean medium sized sauce pan and warm over low heat.  
 Add blue cheese, pepper and salt and cook over low heat, whisking, until Stilton is melted and soup is smooth, about 1 minute.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Organic Vegetables by Delivery

On the first day of delivery, gave to me.....

10 organic carrots (in a plastic bag)
9 white mushrooms (in a styrofoam container)
8 white potatoes
7 heads of cauliflower (ok only one but I needed the number for the carol)
6 green bananas (which were grown in Hollands Landing...not)
5 organic kiwis
4 bosc pears
3 red delicious apples (ok really 4 but it wouldn't work with the vegetable carol)
2 haas avocados (and 2 persimmons)
and oooonnneee vidalia onion.....and a bunch of green chaaaaarrrdddd, a head of cauliflower....

The wheels are turning.  What to make now that I have 2 heads of cauliflower to deal with.  And no squash!!!  I was hoping for a butternut.  And 2 persimmons....

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Fish Tacos with Cilantro Lime Sour Cream

I love fish tacos.  They are simple and fast to prepare and are perfect for a busy weeknight. time to elaborate tonight...must make fish tacos

1 pound boneless, skinless fish, such as tilapia or mahi mahi, cut into 2 inch pieces
1 tbsp grapeseed oil (or other neutral tasting oil)
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 minced garlic

salt and pepper to taste
1 package coleslaw mix
Toppings of your choice such as avocado, tomato, salsa, hot peppers, etc.
12 tortillas


Combine chii powder, ground cumin, coriander and minced garlic with fish fillets. Add salt and pepper and let marinate for half an hour if you can.

Combine the oil, chili powder, cumin, coriander, garlic, and salt. Coat the fish with the marinade. Grill the fish on the first side over direct heat until firm and well-marked, about 2 minutes. Turn the fish and grill until cooked through, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes more. Alternatively, sautee fish gently in a large skillet for about 5-7 minutes, turning gently so as not to break fish up too much.

Serve with your choice of toppings.

Cilantro Lime Sour Cream

1/2 cups low fat sour cream
1 lime, finely zested and juiced
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
Combine all ingredients together and let sit so flavours combine.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Monday's Enchilada Casserole

Trying to get a bit of a leg up on the week ahead - last week was a whopper - I decided to make the most of the remaining left-over turkey from Thanksgiving by making Enchilada Casserole.  The below recipe is my interpretation of a conglomeration of numerous recipes inside my head, things I've tried and like and what appeals to my kids.This recipe did manage to use up a number of cans from the pantry (refried beans, black beans and enchilada sauce) and the remaining turkey.

If you do not have a large amount of turkey to use up, you can substitute about 1 lb ground beef, chicken or vegetarian ground round (like Yves).  I find the refreid beans on their own are a bit too "cloying" as my mother would say.

1 left-over turkey breast, cubed (about 10-12 oz meat)
18 corn flour tortillas, cut in halves or quarters (makes it easier to fit into the pan)
1 can enchilada sauce (I like La Victoria)
1 can refried beans
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 clove garlic, minced
2 ripe avocados, sliced
2 fresh tomatoes, chopped
2 scallions, chopped
1 cup shredded cheese (Tex Mex style is good)
Cooking spray, such as Pam


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium sized bowl, combine turkey meat, refried beans, black beans, cilantro, scallions, chili powder, cumin, garlic, salt and pepper.

Spray the inside of a 9 by 13-inch pan with cooking spray. Pour 1 cup enchilada sauce into a wide bowl or pie plate. Prepare the tortillas by lightly dipping them in the enchilada sauce, then layer 4-5 tortillas on bottom of the pan. Top the tortillas with about 1/2 of the turkey-bean mixture. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place 4-5 more tortillas on top and sprinkle with half the tomato and half the avocado. Repeat the turkey-bean layer, and another layer of tomato and avocado, ending with a final layer of tortillas. Pour 1 cup enchilada sauce over top of last layer and sprinkle with cheese.  Bake until casserole is heated through and bubbling at edges, about 1 hr. 

Let stand for about 10 minutes before serving.  Cut into slices and serve with salsa verde and a green salad.

God...parent teacher interviews tomorrow.  Ugh. NOT looking forward to that.  And they have them in the school cafeteria? So it seems that we have to line up for our 5 minutes with each teacher.  Not sure how constructive that will be but given that fact that hardly anyone seems to show up at schools these days, we might be done by 6:30.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

My Mom's "Special" Flank Steak

Ever since I was a small child I always loved my Mom's "special steak". We often had it for Sunday dinners in the summer, or on special occasions (hence the name). Years later, I still make Special Steak using my Mom's base marinade recipe, and my kids love it the same way I did when I was their age.

I do improvise a bit on the recipe now and add some "optional" ingredients depending on what other dishes I am serving with it. For an more Thai spin, I might add in a teaspoon or two of fish sauce, some lime juice and cilantro, and serve with rice and sauteed baby bok choy. For a more Italian spin, I'd use olive oil instead of grapeseed, and add some fresh rosemary and oregano served with roasted potatoes and rappini. You get the idea.... : -)

Flank steak is a great budget and meal stretcher. One steak, sliced thinly can generally translate into a great dinner for 4 with leftovers for steak salad or sandwhiches the next day.

My Mom's "Special" Flank Steak

1 flank steak (1.5-2 lbs.)
1/3 c grapeseed oil
1/3 c honey (I used an organic blueberry honey from a maker who sells at the St. Lawrence North Market)
1/4 c soy sauce
1/4 c rice wine vinegar
2 tsp chopped garlic
1 tsp chopped ginger
1 onion, sliced

  1. In a medium bowl, combine the marinade ingredients. 
  2. Prick flank steak all over with a fork. Place meat in a resealable plastic bag, or shallow glass dish (or place the plastic bag in the shallow glass dish ;-)) 
  3. Pour marinade over the steak, turning meat to coat thoroughly. Cover, and refrigerate for at least 6 hours and overnight if possible. Turn meat several times during marinading. 
  4. Preheat grill to medium-high heat. 
  5. Oil the grill grate. Place steak on the grill, and discard the marinade. Grill meat for 5 minutes per side, or to desired doneness. 
  6. Let rest 5 minutes so juices re-absorb.  Slice meat thinly, always against the grain.
Continuing to try to add new vegetables to our dinner plates, I will be testing out a recipe from the latest issue of Martha Stewart's Everyday Food magazine.

Sauteed Radicchio with Honey and Balsamic Vinegar
Rinse 1 head radicchio, cored and torn into bite-sized pieces. Leave some water still clinging to the leaves. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil over medium-high heat. Add radicchio and season with salt and pepper. Cook, tossing until tender, about 4 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar and 1/2 to 1 tablespoon honey and stir to combine. Serves 4.

Restaurant Visit: Wine Bar Local Artisan Kitchen

This is the first time I have been to Wine Bar.  Well,really the first time since my long-time favourite Toronto chef, Jamie Kennedy, sold the establishment to his sous chef when he decided to focus more fully on other culinary endeavours he had become involved in.  Truth is Jamie`s Toronto food empire hit a bit of financial hard times in recent years.  Some say its because he expanded his restaurant ventures downtown too quickly, but I am sure the 2008 financial downturn really was no help to him.  I have had the pleasure of eating at all of his restaurants - some many times - except his current lunch spot at the Gardiner Museum.  Must get there.....

Anyway, Wine Bar remains virtually unchanged from its days as JK Wine Bar, still boasting its wall of homemade preserves and pickled and canned vegetables, all locally sourced and quite likely still preserved at Jamie's farm in Prince Edward County.  One time we were at JKWB and Jamie was behind the stoves at the chef's bar cooking.  I asked him a question regarding the preserves on the wall, and he looked away and then seemed to start to walking off....but what he was actually doing was stopping what he was doing to come around and talk to me for about 15 minutes about his ideas, his farm, his produce and his commitment to putting local food on his menu.  Truly a memorable food moment in time for me.

For those not familiar with the restaurant, the menu is all small plates and dishes are intended for sharing.  They also offer suggested wine pairings for each dish, available generally in 3 oz or 6 oz sizes.  Dessert wines come in 1 oz or 2 oz. 

Below is a synopsis of our wonderful dinner there on Friday night which culminated a huge day of food for me (I had been to La Bettola at lunch with France also that day).  And then to make it even better, we were off to see Priscilla Queen of the Desert at the Princess of Wales Theatre at 8:00!  Great show - go see it!!!!


Me: 3 oz. 2009 Hidden Bench Rosé ($5)
Om:  3 oz. German Reisling, which unfortunately, I failed to note the name or price of.  

Me: 6 oz. 2007 Casa de Mouraz Touriga Nacional from Portugal ($12.50) - ok twice
Om: 6 oz. 2008 Cascina delgi Ulivi, Cortese ($13.50) - twice again


Grilled Flatbread  ($7)
Roasted root vegetable & garlic spread

House Smoked Chicken Poutine  ($9)
2 yr aged cheddar and onion gravy

Spinach & Blue Cheese Salad  ($9)
Baby spinach, toasted pecans & pickled beets

Proscuitto Salad  ($10)
Cherry tomatoes, pickled onions & frisse lettuce

Roasted Muscovy Duck Breast ($15)
Savoy cabbage, roasted carrots & parsnips

Lamb Chops  ($18)
Roast pumpkin & potato salad

As we had to be at the theatre, we passed on dessert but I would always suggest their cheese tray with the recommended pairing.  Friday night it was:

Selection of Artisinal Canadian Cheese  ($16)
2006 Hidden Bench Bordeaux Blend ($15 for 3 oz - $30 for 6 oz)

Other dessert choices (all $7) included Dark Chocolate Mousse, Poached Bartlett Pears, Almond Creme Brulee and Vanilla Pavlova.  Mmmmmmmmm.

Dinner came in around $150 after tax with wine (before tip).  I had purchased a Living Social on-line coupon that entitled me to $100 worth of food at Wine Bar for $50 so that made things less expensive.   I think I am becoming a Groupon and Living Social addict!  Better watch that!

Restaurant website:

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Restaurant Visit: La Bettola di Terroni

When I decided to continue writing this blog after my 30 day challenge was over, I promised myself that I would not try to turn this into any type of restaurant review column or treatise on how to do this or make that, but just to continue writing about my love affair with food.  If that, on occasion, includes describing a memorable meal I shared with my friends and family so be it!  So while I hadn’t planned to write about my lunch our on Friday, I was encouraged to write about it by my companion...and well…ok that glass of wine probably helped, so here it goes…..

Friday I was out for lunch with my gal pal from work, France, at Terroni’s newest restaurant “La Bettola” (meaning a “dive”  haha).  In true Terroni style the interior is quirky, and a blend of urban industrial and rustic Italian design.  I read recently that the design firm responsible for the design of most restaurants in the growing Terroni empire also designed Mark McEwan’s latest venture, Fabricca  (Italian for “factory”) which opened Oct. 1 at The Shops at Don Mills.  But I digress……

Anyway…. the crowd is a fairly typical mix of Bay Street types, artsy downtowners and chic ladies who lunch like us (tee hee).  The restaurant can be quite loud and we were lucky to be seated in one of the few quiet booths for two.  Actually we were seated there because France asked our server to move us from our original table because we could not hear ourselves think over the extremely loud and verbose man seated beside us at our first table.  

Our booth for two was nestled across from the main bar, facing a large wall with geometric signage and seemingly random verbiage in Italian, exposed brick walls and lots of metal piping.  Observing our meal were a trio of kitchy statues of Italian saints popes and monks.  The menu centers primarily on pizza, primi (pasta) and panini, with a good selection of appetizers and salads.  La Bettola also offered several special antipasti of the day (more to come on that later), a primi of the day and several “mains”, including an awesome sounding seared tuna crusted in pistachios that I am still surprised that I didn’t order.

France and I shared the appetizer special of the day, which was Buratta mozzarella with duck prosciutto served on a bed of baby arugula with cherry tomatoes.  Looking it up later, I learned that Burrata is an extremely creamy and delicate fresh mozzarella cheese from Puglia in southern Italy.  While I found the exterior to be typical of most fresh mozzarella, what was different was that each ball of cheese is stuffed with mozzarella curds and cream which oozed out lovingly from the interior when cut.  The cheese looks almost like a mozzarella “sack”, complete with a knot at the top of the ball where the cheese was sealed to contain its creamy centre.  I read that because of the creamy texture and delicate taste, Burrata is best served simply, so the Chef's choice to pair it with the arugula and duck prosciutto was almost perfect.  The combination, though simple, was delicious and the creamy cheese played well with the dry but rich duck, but we both agreed that what would have made it even better would have been a few oil cured black olives.  Also a light sprinkling of salt and/or pepper might have been nice additions.  Maybe even a glug of good olive oil.

True to form, I ordered the Spaghetti alle Vongole for my primi.  (I have a hard time resisting spaghetti and clams on a Italian themed menu).  My lunch was accompanied by a lovely glass of white wine – France could likely tell you what I had – but I have no idea, except it was deep golden in colour and from northern Italy and paired beautifully with my food choices.  Italian wine continues to be a mystery to me because unlike French, Spanish or Portugese, there is less reliance on region to dictate quality and price but more on vineyard. France ordered the primi special, spaghetti with homemade sausage, pecorino romano cheese and shaved truffle and a glass of rich red.  Both dishes were excellent, but I admit being a bit disappointed that the shaved truffle on France's plate didn’t pop more in terms of flavour.

Service was warm, friendly and efficient, something Terroni has not been historically known for.  In fact, when the original Terroni was housed in the space now occupied by their Osteria Ciceri e Tria (which shares a joint entrance with La Bettola) what they were known for was surly waitresses and not allowing substitutions (yes we still went there because the food was great!  My favourite is still their Summertime Ciccio – a folded pizza (served cold) that contains arugula, tomatoes, bocconcini, and sundried tomatoes,).  

I must say everything I saw come out of the kitchen was beautifully but simply presented, with the food taking central stage.  I loved the fact that our bread was served in a rolled down brown paper bag, with good quality olive oil in a small dish on the table.  We also noticed that their frites (yes you read it right, frites) that accompanied panini, were also served in a paper bag.  Amazingly we passed on dessert and coffee but I must say the rosemary panna cotta with red wine–soaked peaches sounded incredibly tempting. We will definitely have to go back and try for dinner.

As for price, our meal was not cheap, but worth it.  Our shared appetizer special was $30 and a generous size for sharing, with their individual antipasti and salads running about $12-$14.  My pasta was $16, and France's special was $25 thanks to the addition of the luxurious shaved truffles.  Wines by the glass ran about $9-$14.  Also, add in a (typically) over priced bottle of sparking water and the bill (after the damn HST) came to $112.  Definitely not what I usually spend for lunch but today was a bit special.

Restaurant website:

Saturday Morning Black Bean Soup in the Slow Cooker.

Pulled out the slow cooker this morning while my enlgish muffin was a-toasing (ahhh....multi-tasking already) and looked in the cupboard and fridge to see what needed to be used up.  I had blackbeans that I cooked WAY too much of earlier in the week, an opened 1.3L jar of really good pico de gallo salsa that we got a few weeks ago at food hoarder mecca (Costco) and a pantry of stuff itching to be used.

Quick Slow (Cooker) Black Bean Soup:

2-3 cups left over black beans (or open a can or two if you must)
500 ml salsa
1 boullion cube  and 2 c water or 2 c chicken stock from a can or carton you must use up
left over chicken or pork (pork in our case from the roast) - optional
1/4 c chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 c chopped fresh parsley
2-3 tsp Herdedz chipotle sauce (or a chipotle or 2 depending on your love for heat)
4 dashes liquid smoke (optional)

Put everything in your slow cooker and stir.   Set to low. Have a shower, get dressed, go out and do stuff.  Let cook for a good 3-4 hrs minimum to let the flavours meld.  Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.  Put some in a blender and puree for a thicker soup or puree it all if you want to minimize the appearance of black beans.  

I have learned that the T-Rex seems to not like black beans?  What is that about?  What did they ever do to him? No clue.  So he might eat this if he can't see black beans....I black bean soup.  He he.

We'll probably top with sour cream, chopped avocado and fresh cilantro to serve.  Yummy!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Cheddar Cheese Soup from a Can?!?!

So I have really no idea how it made its way into my pantry.  I am really not a soup can cuisine kind of girl. Honest.  I swear.  But there it was...a single can of Campbell's Cheddar Cheese soup.  I must have bought it by accident thinking it was mushroom or chicken noodle or something else.  Yeah...that's it....accidentally purchased it.

In the "spirit" of the challenge - which thankfully will be ending soon - the soup must be used!  Sorry kids but it must be done.  The recipe on the back of the can is for some kind of abomination....errrr....delightful combination called "Salsa Mac & Beef".  Too bad we've used up all the cans and jars of salsa we have, so it will have to be added later or omitted all together.

Appetizing, isn't it?  Gotta love a food that tones in with the granite in your counter top, don't you?  And that sheen is just as delightful as Charlie or Martin.

Oh it istemporarily re-named Om's Cheddar Cheesey Mac & Beef.  Yes, you are correct, I have placed the burden...err...honour on Om to make use of this little gem.  I just can't bring myself to do it.


Brown 1 lb. lean ground beef or turkey in a skillet.  Stir in one can beef broth and 1 can water.  Add 2 cups uncooked elbow pasta and cook for 10 minutes or until tender.  Mix in 1 can Campbell's Cheddar Cheese Soup and 1 cup salsa.  Heat thoroughly.  Serves 4.

Tonight is Priscilla Queen of the Desert at the Princess of Wales, preceded by dinner at Wine Bar Local Artisan Kitchen on Church  (used to be JK Wine Bar) thanks to an awesome Groupon deal!

Enjoy kids!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The count down is on!

So I started this blog on Sunday, September 19 with a view to trying to reduce the amount of food in my cupboards and freezers.  I was also hoping to induce a state of greater clarity in myself about both what I bought and what I ate.  Today, I realized for certain that a change has occurred.

The fridge freezer in the garage is virtually empty save for some Naan bread (took that upstairs to make pizza for the kids' lunch tomorrow with it btw) and a couple of small things.  The chest freezer is about half way down and I can actually almost see what is in it.  Sadly the pantry still contains pearled couscous (my nemesis!) but substantially fewer cans of misc. beans, sauces packages of pasta.  My grocery bill has certainly gone down and I am putting far less into the green bin.

While I have never been one for fast food or prepared stuff, and I love to cook for those I care about, I certainly had lost my inspiration and passion for preparing food.  I think shopping in places like Costco and big supermarkets literally bred that out of me to some degree.  And that's not me.  I'd start in the freezer and then go with whatever we had on hand to make up the meal.

Since I've undertaken this challenge, I've definitely adopted a more European attitude towards meal planning.  I have found myself on numerous occasions in the past weeks walking up and down the produce isles buying what is local and seasonal (beets....yum) or whatever looks fresh and inspiring and basing dinners on that.  Maybe it was bok choy one day, rapini another and butter nut squash another day, but I realized that for a change I wasn't buying all at once and throwing out half of what I bought because it went bad.

Today I really felt like pasta for dinner - it was THAT kind of day - so I went to Longo's with a plan to buy plumb tomatoes and make a fresh sauce.  Gasp!  No fresh plumb tomatoes.  I found myself walking to the canned food section - a place I hadn't been in over 2.5 weeks - and staring at jarred sauces.  $4.99 for the brand name.  $7.99 if you were taken in by the fact that Christine Cushing from the Foodnetwork put her name on another.  Or it was $1.49 for the passata di pomodoro.  Guess what I bought?  Of course, the passata.  Took it home, tossed a glug of olive oil in a pot, added a few cloves of crushed garlic, poured in the passata, added a teaspoon each of oregano and basil, and half an hour later I had a beautiful tomato sauce with enough left over to use for the pizza for the kids for lunch tomorrow.

While I don't think I will be cancelling my membership to Costco anytime soon, I certainly will be more mindful about what I buy there.  To be honest, I think we have depleted things in the freezers to an extent that a visit to Costco is actually NEEDED.  YAY!!!!!!!  I really can't wait.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Meatfree Monday - Vegetarian Shepherds Pie

My friend Ann introduced me to the original recipe for Vegetarian Shephers Pie from a month or so ago.  I am finding myself a bit meated out today, so this will do just the trick.  Additionally, it will use up the left over mashed potatoes from yesterdays dinner and some other potatoes I made a few weeks ago and froze.  And it fits the bill of using up stuff in my pantry and freezer.

I did modify the recipe in accordance with my taste preferences and pantry items on-hand.  I have included a link to the original recipe in case you are interested.  I can't imagine walnuts in a Shepherds Pie so I substituted soy ground protein and I added some other ingredients to enhance the flavour to suit our tastes.  If I had them on hand, I probably would have tossed in a chopped tomato also.  Sadly everything is closed today in Toronto, as it is a holiday, so we had to make do with what we had.

Vegetarian Shepherds Pie


3.5 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup dry lentils
1/4 cup pearl barley
1/2 cup TVP or ground soy protein (we buy Sunfield brand soy protein at MEC)
1-2 tsp curry powder (optional)
1 or two sprig fresh thyme (thanks Kerryn for bringing the lemon thyme from your garden yesterday)
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 shallots, finely chopped or half an onion, peeled and chopped or 2 tbsp. onion flakes
1/4 c low fat sour cream
2-3 cups leftover mashed potatoes (or 3 potatoes to chop, cook and mash as you like them)
1 large carrot, diced (I had cooked ones left from Thanksgiving)
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  2. In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, combine broth with TVP or soy ground protein,  lentils and barley. Simmer until tender, for 30-40 minutes.  When ready, remove from heat and stir in sour cream and carrots.  Remove thyme sprig lest anyone eating get a twig in their dinner.  
  3. If making the potatoes from scratch, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil while the filling is cooking,. Add potatoes and cook until tender but still firm, about 15-20 minutes. Drain and mash. 
  4. Pour mixture into a 2 quart casserole dish and then spoon mashed potatoes over lentil mixture.
  5. Bake in preheated oven until lightly browned on top, about 30 minutes.  If you want the topping brown and crispy, melt a little butter and brush over top with a pastry brush.

Thanksgiving Post-Mortem

So was it worth it to brine the turkey with the time and effort involved?  For me, the answer is a resounding "YES".  The turkey that resulted was tender and moist and extremely delicious.  As for the flavourings we added to the brine, did they shine through?  The answer is both "YES" and "NO".  The flavour of the mulling spices was definitely present when the meat was eaten alone, particularly the dark meat.  But I really didn't taste the maple. You could smell the maple when the turkey was being basted - probably in part due to the fact that I mixed about 3 tbsp maple syrup in with a good sized knob of butter and painted it all over the turkey before it went in the oven.

What about the vegetables you ask?  The brussel sprouts were amazing hot out of the oven.  I did make them ahead and then reheated them right before dinner due to oven space issues, resulting in a personal rating of "OK".  One single half of a brussel sprout even managed to make it past T-Rex's lips and he said he liked it but didn't want any more.  Well at least he tried them - that is the rule of the house - try it before you decide you don't like it.

I also made the beets ahead of time and they managed to survive the re-firing right before dinner much better. The only thing I would say is that when cooked in this manner, beets shrink.  So my large 2 bunches seemed rather on the disparate side in the serving bowl.  T-Rex loved them and the Omnivore actually ate them and liked them. Victory is mine!

We also made the mashed potatoes during the day and then reheated them in the pot before dinner and this worked well.  The trick I find is to prepare them fully, as the potatoes best absorb the milk and butter when they are hot, and then just to turn the burner on below them on med-low to reheat, stirring constantly.

Other than that, we went waaaaay overboard in terms of how much carrots and parsnips we made.  Tons left over, the good side of which is that there are lots left over for soup and dinners this week.

There is some of my Mom's awesome sausage meat stuffing left so that will be making its way into sandwiches today (with cranberry sauce of course).   And the carcass is going into a pot shortly to make turkey soup and will be the source of another post.

If anyone has good recipes or ideas for the use of left over turkey, please do share!!!

The Quest for Perfect Gravy

Once again, I was humbled by the gravy making process.  Now I am not a bad gravy maker, and on occasion I can turn out a really flavourable one, but yesterday the results were less than what I hoped for.  Mostly in terms of quantity.  I really didn't look into it before we decided to brine the turkey but I am assuming that since the purpose of brining is to retain moisture in the turkey, that would explain why there was little left in the roasting pan from which to make gravy.

I usually do make a stock from the neck and a purchased turkey drumstick or thigh or both, and I was very glad I did this yesterday, otherwise we may have had a serious gravy drought.  As a back up, I also purchased a container of gravy from Whitehouse Meats, knowing that we'd probably need some Monday or Tuesday for left-overs.  Glad I did!

Now when I say "I" made the gravy yesterday, I am using that term loosely.  T-Rex really did most of the work and is on his way to becoming an accomplished chef at the ripe old age of 9.5 years old.  He made the roux yesterday, and certainly stirred off his pint-sized arm to make round 1 of the gravy from the stock I made on Saturday.  Well done!  I didn't have the heart to tell him that I had to add pre-made gravy to his masterpiece so that we had enough to feed our guests.  He was so proud of himself and asked everyone if they liked HIS gravy and that the special ingredient he put in it was love.  Such a cute kid.  I think I will keep him.

The other thing I have to do before making gravy again is to buy a gravy separator. It is a measuring cup with a spout, except the spout is at the base of the cup, meaning you pour out fat-free stock from the bottom while the fat rises to the top and remains in the cup.

Next time instead of (turkey) "winging" it, I'll be more prepared and follow this recipe from Epicurious that gets a consistent 4 forks.  Their base stock is
very similar to the one I made; my mistake was not making enough.

Rich Turkey Gravy:

Roasting pan with pan juices from a roast turkey (about 14 lb)
Unsalted butter (less than 1 stick), melted, if turkey drippings yield less than 1/2 cup fat
About 9 cups hot brown turkey stock
3/4 cup all-purpose flour


Pour pan juices through a fine-mesh sieve into a 2-quart glass measure (do not clean roasting pan), then skim off fat and reserve. (If using a fat separator, pour pan juices through sieve into separator and let stand until fat rises to top, 1 to 2 minutes. Carefully pour pan juices from separator into a 2-quart measure, and reserve fat left in separator.) If there is less than 1/2 cup reserved fat, add melted butter.

Add enough turkey stock to pan juices to total 8 cups liquid (2 quarts). Straddle roasting pan across 2 burners, then add 1 cup of remaining stock and deglaze pan by boiling over high heat, stirring and scraping up brwn bits, about 1 minute. Pour through fine-mesh sieve into glass measure with stock.

Whisk together reserved fat and flour in a 4-quart heavy saucepan and cook roux over moderately low heat, whisking, 5 minutes. Add hot stock with pan juices in a stream, whisking constantly to prevent lumps, then bring to a boil, whisking. Stir in any turkey juices accumulated on platter and simmer gravy 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper.

Brown Turkey Stock:

6 lb turkey parts such as wings, drumsticks, or thighs
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 medium yellow onions, left unpeeled, then trimmedand halved
3 celery ribs, cut into 2-inch lengths
3 carrots, quartered
6 fresh parsley stems (without leaves)
1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
10 black peppercorns
5 qt cold water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt


If using turkey wings, halve at joints with a cleaver or large knife, then crack wing bones in several places with back of cleaver or knife. (There is no need to crack bones if using drumsticks or thighs.)

Heat 1/4 cup oil in an 8- to 10-quart heavy pot (see cooks' note, below) over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. While oil is heating, pat turkey parts dry. Cook turkey in 4 batches, turning once, until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes per batch, transferring to a large bowl. Add remaining tablespoon oil to pot, then cook onions, cut sides down first, turning once, until golden brown, about 5 minutes total, and transfer to bowl with turkey. Cook celery and carrots, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 3 minutes. Add browned turkey and onions and remaining ingredients to pot and bring to a boil over high heat, skimming froth as necessary. Reduce heat and gently simmer, partially covered, 3 hours.

Remove pot from heat and cool stock to room temperature, uncovered, about 1 hour. Pour stock through a large fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl and discard solids. Measure stock: If there is more than 10 cups, boil in cleaned pot until reduced; if there is less, add water.

If using stock right away, let stand until fat rises to top, 1 to 2 minutes, then skim off and discard fat. If not, cool stock completely, uncovered, then chill, covered, before skimming fat (it will be easier to remove when cool or cold). If you are thickening your gravy with cornstarch, bring 1 cup stock to room temperature to liquefy. Reheat stock before making gravy .