Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Toronto Bites Goes Camping....

So I am off for a few days to commune with nature and perhaps drink a few beverages beside a late night campfire.  We have been camping  for probably close to 10 years now, at first against my will, but now I actually look forward to sleeping in a tent.

Although the odd evening where my mattress has deflated and I wake up with stiff hips on hard ground has made me reconsider my decision several times!

I find the prospect of cooking on a campsite fun yet challenging in the sense that I have to think through exactly what I want to eat with what and then bring it.  And I NEVER like eating boring food even when camping.  What we do is really car camping and I bow to my friends like Joanne, and Chris and Elsie who whip up bannock in a pan out of nothing and purify their drinking water from puddles.  That kind of camping is just not for me although the boys really want to go extreme camping (as they call it) in Algonquin Park next year and I know I will have lots of fun figuring out how to dehydrate stuff for them to take.

We have a reputation for always eating well when we camp and we do make food a bit more complicated than opening a box of burgers or just BBQing sausages, but all it takes is a little planning and  list making.  For example, a good horseradish cheddar melted on a burger, topped with homemade Red Relish, served with a salad of seasonal vegetables elevates the ordinary into extra-ordinary.

When I decide on salads, I try to make ones that use less than 5 ingredients and ones where ingredients can be repeated in different forms from one dish to another. Fennel Lemon Salad or Caprese Salad are both great examples of dishes with 2 or 3 key components.  Tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce never go wrong and there is nothing wrong with a good bottled dressing in your cooler.

Couscous also works better as a side or as the base for a salad than rice, as it only takes time to boil the water, then sitting for 5 minutes.  Throw in a combo of stock and orange juice instead, add some Asian spices, open a can of mandarin oranges and stir in.  Sprinkle with mint and voilà - creative but easy side dish.

A great tip that our old friend Mark gave us was to cook in the order of whatever is most defrosted.  So if you planned to have steak one night but the chicken is pretty soft, and the beef rock hard still - eat the chicken and wait until the next day for the steak.  Another helpful idea is to take something ready made for first night, especially if you are getting there later in the day.  A stew or chili made ahead and frozen not only acts as an ice block in your cooler, it is a quick heat and serve meal.

We also generally camp with our long-time friends Ann, James and their son Shane (the BFF of our favourite Junior Chef).  We just pool resources for lunch and then take turns making dinner at each other's sites so it reduces the planning in half and the cooking in half.

I also find this is the time where I will use helpers to make dishes come together quickly.  When I say helpers I mean buying products I can turn into something else, or buying good quality prepared products.  So I might pick up 10 chicken kabobs from Bano's at the Market and vac seal them, or buy pre-formed lamb burgers from Whitehouse meats.  If you ask them, they'll even vac seal them for you on sight in whatever quantity you want.

For me, it is the little touches that make camping special, like this year I will bring with me homemade Blueberry Preserves for bagels, and homemade Corn Relish and Red Relish for burgers.

Glen made pulled pork last weekend - his first attempt in his smoker - and we vac sealed and froze it.  We'll make some BBQ sauce - we did an amazing Carolina-style vinegar and mustard one last weekend.

And I am bringing Falafel which I made last week for something different for lunch. We shall see how it turns out but the plan is to just crisp the Falafel balls in a non-stick frying pan.  I also have some pickled turnips I bought from a vendor at a Farmer`s Market and an Eggplant dip from Scheffler`s at the Market that I`ll add some Tahini to make a quick sauce.  Otherwise, it is wraps and sandwhiches.  Those little cans of flavoured tuna are great or the foil packed Thai Tuna would be a good sandwich.

So here`s what we have planned for know I will let you know how it all turns out. And I might even teach you all how to make Spider Weenies!!!

Day 1:   Whitehouse Meats Lamb Burgers with Shropshire Blue Cheese
                Caesar Salad with Crispy Bacon, Sour Dough Croutons and Parmesan

Day 2:   Glen`s Smoked Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Carolina BBQ Sauce
                 and Tangy Coleslaw
Day 3:  Marinated Chicken with Lentil Salad (more details once I have them)
                 Grilled vegetables would go nicely here.... (hint hint Ann)

Day 4:  Chili with Fresh Bread
                Green Salad with Herbs, Tomatoes , Cucumbers and Cheese
                 Jiffy Pop (late night snack 2)

Day 5: and photos to come!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Falafel Balls

Falafel is a golf-ball sized ball patty made from ground chickpeas and spices.  The balls are deep fried or baked and served either alone with a salad or in a pita.  Typical toppings include lettuce, tomato, pickled turnips, hot sauce and a tahini-based sauce called Taratoor.

I read somewhere recently that McDonalds serves a McFalafel as one of their sandwich options in Egypt even!  That just strikes me as plain odd and several kinds of wrong, but McDonalds is as McDonalds does.

This recipe is adapted from one by Mark Bittman of the NY Times. It really does work best with dried chickpeas, so start the night before you plan to serve them and soak them overnight for best results. Other than that, the recipe comes together fairly quickly (especially if you have a deep fryer) and will make you never want to use those boxes of dehydrated falafel again.


1 3/4 cup dried chickpeas
2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
1 small onion, quartered
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
Scant teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
1 cup chopped parsley or cilantro leaves (I did a mix of both)
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Corn or vegetable oil for frying
Additional salt for after frying

Put beans in a large bowl and cover with water by 3 or 4 inches. Soak for 24 hours, adding water if needed to keep beans submerged.  They will triple in volume over night.

Drain beans well (reserve soaking water) and transfer to a food processor. Add remaining ingredients except oil; pulse until minced but not puréed, scraping sides of bowl down; add soaking water if necessary to allow machine to do its work (I probably added 1/4 a cup in total).  Do not add too much liquid or the mixture will not hold together and you will find yourself having to squeeze out any excess to get it to hold together.

Keep pulsing until mixture comes together. Taste, adding salt, pepper, cayenne or lemon juice to taste.

Heat oil in a deep fryer to 350 degrees. If you don't have a deep fryer, a large, deep saucepan will work with about 2-3 inches of oil. Turn heat to medium-high and heat oil to about 350 degrees using a candy thermometer to keep tabs on the heat.  A good test to know that the oil is ready is to drop a pinch of batter dropped into the oil - if it is ready it will sizzle immediately.

Scoop heaping tablespoons of batter and shape into balls or small patties. Fry in batches, without crowding, until nicely browned, turning as necessary; total cooking time will be less than 3 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

I thought these turned out fantastic and I think that I will be adding them to my 2011 Xmas party menu, except slightly smaller.  Yummy.

Makes 24 balls

Quick Taratoor Sauce

This is a quickie version of the tahini sauce that you get in Middle Eastern restaurants.

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/3 cup Tahini paste
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Hot sauce (optional)

Combine all ingredients well.  Refrigerate until needed.  Serve in spoonfuls on your Falafel.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Culinary School Chronicles - Stewing

In today`s class we focused on a few traditional dishes from Eastern Europe and Russia.  It was a pretty quick class with a pretty hearty mid-class snack.  Chef`s demo today consisted of making a truly outstanding Veal Goulash served on a bed of Spätzle.  I have always wanted to try Spätzle but I don`t know anyone who makes it so I was pretty stoked to learn how.

And I just love saying Spätzle... Spätzle, Spätzle, Spätzle, Spätzle, Spätzle!!

Spätzle is somewhere between a boiled dumpling and an egg pasta, and is basically comprised of egg, flour and milk with a grating of nutmeg.  The batter itself is much thicker than pancake batter and I`d say even a bit thick and pliable looking.  The Spätzle is formed either by machine in the commercial application or using a Spätzle cutter creating what is called a Knöpfle Spätzle (homemade or handmade).

Spätzle are formed by placing the batter in the cup of a contraption called a "Spätzlehobel", and then running it back and forth over an extremely coarse grater attachment.  You can also use a coarse grater or potato ricer to make the dumplings.  The Spätzle are then cooked in boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes so they float to the top of the water, then are drained and crisped up in a lot of butter.  Tasty but certainly heavy and fattening.

You can vary your Spätzle by adding cheese or spinach, porcinni mushroom dust, herbs, etc.  Spread out on a cookie sheet to be dried, they can be frozen and cooked a là minute as a sidedish or added to soups or stews.

Then we did our lab today which was a Beef Stroganoff unlike any I`ve ever eat before, mostly because the meat they gave us was tenderloin.  Guess there was an excess somewhere in the College, because I find the cuts of meat we get vary greatly from what we see in our manuals, which is fine with me especially when we get better cuts than the recipe calls for.  It just means adjusting your cooking times really and treating the particular cut with the appropriate manner of love.

Also, today was a small class, so we got an extra half a portion of meat each, which meant my meal for 3 could be stretched to lunch for 6 tomorrow when my parents are here.  Whew!  I hadn`t even started thinking about tomorrow yet.  Whoops.

Beef Stroganoff

1 pound beef tenderloin tips or medallions
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
3/4 cup Beef Demi Glace
1 to 1/2 cups Beef or Veal Stock
1 cup mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
3-4 Gherkin pickles, very thinly sliced

Heat oil and butter in a sauté pan over medium high heat.  Add beef medallions and cook for 2 minutes per side or until browned.  Remove from pan and set aside.

Add onions and sauté until golden brown.  Add mushrooms, gherkins and cook for 2-3 minutes longer.  Add demiglace and stock to sauce.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Right before serving add sour cream and mustard back into the sauce and combine.  Add meat back in to sauce to warm slightly, but do not boil as the sour cream may separate.

Serve on top of a bed of buttered egg noodles, sprinkled with parlsey.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Cheese Tasting #3

For this cheese tasting I decided to pick up cheeses I had never seen or heard of before, well except for the Burrata.  I picked it up because it was on special at Schefflers at the market for $5.99 instead of its usual $11.99.  Quite a deal.  And the day I wrote this, everyone went out and just left me to my own doings so I cut up some nice Calabrese bread, got out some blueberry preserves, greek olive puree and my Rhubarb Chutney to mix and match and pair.  With a lovely glass of wine of course.....not such a bad thing being left alone over lunch apparently.

Bel Gioioso Burrata - Ontario

I have talked about Burrata before as it is definitely one of my favourite kinds of cheese. Burrata is a kind of fresh mozzarella cheese but is different from the kinds you normally buy in that it is silkly and smooth on the oustide and the inside is filled with mozzarella shreds and cream. When you cut into a burrata, the centre oozes out gently as the cream and mozzarella shreds spill from the belly of the cheese ball.

Rating:  For an Ontario product, I am impressed.  Beautiful with just a splash of olive oil, some salt and freshly ground pepper and an outstanding olive pureé we bought from a vendor at the St. Lawrence Market (their product is extremely good whether it is their olive oil, olive puree or the vac-sealed olives themselves - all great).  Buy again if I cannot get Italian!

Fourme d'Ambert - Semi-soft Blue - France

This cheese is an ancient French blue from Auvergne that was being made far before the English started making the Stilton which it resembles (try finding white Stilton one time....soooo good with a glass of Bordeaux).

This is a raw cow milk blue, which has a grey-brown rind that is edible.  It is ivory in colour with a blue-green vein running throughout.  The blue vein is not terribly prominent or as strong as in some cheeses

Rating: Stood up well to a Blueberry compote I was gifted a few weeks ago.  The sweet earthiness of the blueberries nicely accentuated the earthy blue veins and the creaminess of the cheese (it being a semi-soft blue) really became prevalent.  It also worked nicely with the chutney and the olive puree.  I even mixed a bit of the blueberry with the olive and WOW that was a nice combo.  Sweet meets salty and tangy.  Wonderful.  Buy again if I want a gentle blue - maybe if I need two on a tray.

Bonnechere - Raw Ewe Milk - Ontario

This cheese comes from the burgeoning Ontario cheese mecca in Picton, Ontario and is made by Back Forty Artisan Cheese.  The cheese is named after the Ottawa Valley's Bonnechere River.

It is a semi-firm sheep milk cheese but what makes it unique is that the Cheesemaker has toasted the exterior to give the cheese a smokey flavoured rind.  The cheese has a subtle caramel flavour with a bit of wood, but does not taste like a typical smoked cheese - the flavours are subtle.

I like stories like the one for this operation, where the Cheesemakers left their jobs as teachers to pursue their passion in cheesemaking full force.

Rating:  Pairs quite nicely with the Rhubarb Chutney I made a few weeks ago (the chutney is also awesome with plain white chevre).  Worth another purchase.

English Hollow Cheddar - Wisconsin

This cheese is produced by the Maple Leaf Cheese Cooperative in Twin Grove, Wisconsin.  This particular one was aged 1 year and was crowned 2008 World Cheese Champion Winner in the Cheddar category.

This is a beautiful example of a short aged cheddar.  Wisconsin is known for producing cheeses in the Swiss style, so it is quite interesting that this cheese is produced in the style of the English town of Cheddar (you knew there was a place called Cheddar right...) smack dam in the middle of an area run by the Swiss Mafia (or at least is rumored to be).

Rating:  The cheddar is one of the most pleasing and complex ones I have eaten.  It doesn`t have the sharpness that some cheddars aged 5 and 7 years do but it has enough going on all by itself that it doesn`t need that age to be wonderful and distinctive.  And my kids inhaled what I left.  Totally buy again!

Cheese Fresh Bags

I also wanted to tell you all about these incredible bags that I actually got at my dollar store!  They work in a similar way to those green bags for vegetables that you see advertised on TV.  As you know, cheese is a living thing so it needs to breathe or else it will become overly-moist and bad bacteria and mould will develop.    

It says to only put one kind of cheese in each bag, but I cheat and put different kinds together.  These things work wonders and keep your cheese fresh waaaaay longer than if they were kept in a plastic bag alone.  Not that cheese has much time to go bad in my house living with a 15 year old and a 10 year old who eat anything besides blues (they will come back to me on this one one day I know!)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Restaurant Visit - Father's Day Brunch at Luma

Luma is one of the newer restaurants launched by Toronto food scenesters Oliver Bonacini in September 2010. O&B were the first to bring creative high end dining to the business district in Toronto back in the early 1990s first with Jump, then Canoe on the 54th Floor of the TD Centre, and then Biff's Bistro on Front. They've since expaned their empire to more moderate priced offerings such as the O&B Café Grills that are now in Blue Mountain, downtown and in several higher end malls, and they just keep on going.

Luma is located in one of Toronto's newest entertainment destinations - the TIFF Bell Lightbox.  For the un-initiated, TIFF is short for the Toronto International Film Festival by the way - we all just call it TIFF. In addition to being the new home of TIFF, Lightbox also has theatres, exhibition galleries O&B Cantee (kind of a higher end cafeteria space with a patio fronting onto King and John Streets) and a huge roof top rental space called Malaparte (also run by O&B).

Luma follows the current mantra of using as much locally produced artisinal ingredients as possible, creating menu items that showcase Canadian cuisine in an imaginative way. I would have love to have gone to Luma when the Tim Burton exhibit was on and they had a menu built around his films, with dishes such as Big Fish - a great movie.

Today we are there for Father's Day Brunch. The interior is modern and simple with lots of clean lines, sparkling glasses and dark wood.  The patio runs around the outside of the space and corners looking right out into the heart of Toronto's Entertainment District at King and John Streets.

The Brunch menu at Luma is fairly small but offers something for everyone, including me who is not a huge fan of brunchy egg dishes. I ordered the Croque Madame (French-style ham and Gruyère cheese sandwich with Mornay sauce and a fried egg on top) and was pleasantly surprised. While I do like a Croque Monsieur (same sandwich less the fried egg) Mornay sauce can be heavy at times and overbearing.  Luma's was not.  Brenden had their Eggs Benedict, which is served on croissant halves with ham and lemony Hollandaise sauce, Glen the Spinach and Cheese Omlette with a side of house-made Berkshire sausage, and our favourite Junior Chef had the Scrambled Eggs with Smoked Salmon with Sour Cream. All very good dishes - not a miss at the table at all.

Watching what was coming out of the kitchen, the Eggs Benedict is definitely their top seller, and no wonder with it being served on beautiful, pillowy croissants that are made in-house.

Service was pleasant but "leisurely" so it was a good thing we were not in a rush.  One server to the entire balcony area was probably the reason for it, but she was great with the kids.

Luma also offers some incredibly creative cocktails and martinis ($10-$13) including the "Fruit of the Luma" (martini with fruit-infused vodka, Lychee and sour cherry) and the "Beetlejuiced" (gin, cucumber, lime, pink peppercorns and soda). I really enjoy the savoury and herbal elements that are making themselves known on the Toronto cocktail scene.

While not a cheap meal, it was pretty reasonable for four and we have a hard time getting out of Boston Pizza or Moxie's for less than $75.  Four dishes, one cocktail each and Apple Cider and Coffee for the boys, bill was just shy of $100 after tax but before tip.

I have always been a fan of O&B because, simply, they know what Toronto wants to eat and also because they have been long-time supporters of the Ride for Research in support of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, a charity near and dear to my heart since my son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes 5 years ago. Peter Oliver has a daughter who is now well into her 20s who was diagnosed as a child and he brings a passion and commitment (and great food) to his efforts to coordinate the financial services, real estate and restaurant communities together to raise funds to find a cure. Last year we raised over $3 million in Toronto alone.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Culinary School Chronicles - Chicken

Our class today was one of the classes that I thought to myself, if I have to miss a class, this is one of the ones to miss. I bet there is nothing terribly interesting or new to learn about roasting a basic chicken, right?  Well once again I was wrong and I am actually glad I went.

I find that while the content of Culinary I seems limited at times, there is so much that can be learned going back to square one and that I come away every week with new knowledge, better technique or just a better understanding of basic culinary principles.

As usual, Chef was a wealth of information and tips - things learned from years in the food service industry producing massive dinners for 600 diners at a time, so he has lots to share with us. We made a nice simple but perfect roast chicken, Zucchini Provencal and the best damn gravy I have ever turned out. I probably will never go back to my old way of making gravy again, because this was just so delicious, and simple.

Chef also made us a bread dressing to serve with the chicken which I think I will try next time I do a turkey or chicken like this. The new thing for me was that it contained chicken livers. Normally I do not eat anything that contains organs or glands but given where I was, I figured I had to try it. And amazingly, I liked it. I would never have thought that blanched and chopped chicken liver could add such depth to a stuffing, but it did.

Incidentally I learned that the difference between a dressing and a stuffing is just that one goes in a pan and is baked alongside the protein, while the other is, well....stuffed inside the protein. Go figure.

We also learned how to properly truss a chicken and then at the end of class after we were all done, Chef did a demo on how to bone a chicken. That inspired me so much to try myself, that I just got back from Costco with a bag of 3 chickens to experiment on! Once I get good at it, I will maybe even film it for at a minimum.

As usual, my directions are not as written in my class manual but based on my notes as how Chef told us to execute the dishes instead. The two are not the same. I guess it is the difference between cooking and following a recipe. One is step by step and attentive, while the other is fluid and intuitive.

Roast Chicken with Gravy

1 roasting chicken
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, peeled and diced
2 small cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 carrot, washed and diced
1 rib celery, diced
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups rich chicken stock or brown stock
Salt and pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Wash and dry your chicken well.  Sprinkle generously inside and out with salt and pepper.  Truss with a piece of butcher twine.

Add 1 tablespoon of oil to a roasting pan or large oven safe sauté pan, and heat.  Add chicken, breast side down and brown for about 30 seconds to 1 minute.  Turn chicken back over and place in preheated oven and cook for about 20 minutes.

In the meantime, chop your mirepoix (onion, celery and carrot) if you have not done so.  Remove chicken from oven, lift, and layer the mirepoix under the chicken.  Return to cook for about a further 30 minutes or until the temperature reads 175 degrees.  Remove chicken from the pan and cover with a dish cloth or return to the oven in a different pan to keep warm.

Meanwhile place your roasting pan over medium heat.  You will notice that the pan drippings, comprised of chicken fat and juice will appear cloudy.  Cook the mixture of vegetables and pan drippings over medium heat until the oil clears and the juices evaporate, about 5 minutes.  Once this happens, sprinkle flour over the vegetables and combine.  

Add white wine to deglaze the pan, scraping up any nice brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  Slowly add in the stock a bit at at time being sure to incorporate.  The gravy will thicken nicely and should be able to coat the back of a spoon.

Zucchini Provencal

2 large zucchini, cut in large dice
3 plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 onion, peeled and sliced thinly
2 small or 1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Herbs to garnish (parsley, rosemary, thyme and basil)


Cut zucchini in half and then dice.  Heat oil in a sauté pan and add onions.  Sauté about 5 minutes until starting to soften.  Add garlic and cook 5 minutes longer.  Add tomato paste and combine.  Add zucchini and cook for about 3 minutes. Add chopped tomatoes and herbs and cook for about 2-3 more minutes.  Adjust seasonings and serve immediately.

Looking forward to next addition to Beef Stroganaff we will be learning Spätzle!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Restaurant Visit - Obika Toronto

So last night a few friends and I visited the newly opened Obika in BCE Place - ok, it is called Brookfield Place now but after working in downtown Toronto for 20 years it is still just "BCE" to me.  Same as it will always be the Skydome, and not the Rogers Centre!

But I digress....the restaurant is located where Masquerade used to be, across from the newly updated Marché (which incidentally looks exactly the same to me) looking up at the incredible open architecture of the BCE Atrium.  It still is truly stunning after all these years.  And the new sculpture that has been installed in the Atrium outside of Ki (which I LOVE) is an ethereal mix of light and feather like objects floating in a net from the roof.  Quite mesmerizing.

There has been much hype about Obika coming to Toronto, so we really wanted to see what all the fuss was about.  In case you are not familiar, Obika Mozzarella Bar is Toronto's first of its kind. Our server told us that fresh mozz is flown in from Italy twice a week, along with other artisinal products such as Proscuitto, Porchetta and Mortadella.  And everything on the menu centers around the mozzarella. Every menu item showcases one version or another of the hand pulled mozzarella balls.  Obika has locations in New York, LA, London, Japan and of course, Italy.

And it isn't just any mozzarella - certainly not the waxy balls you find in your local Metro or No Frills. This is Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP - meaning it is made from the milk of waterbuffalos - and comes directly from Campania. Clearly top quality and freshness are high on the list of the owners. DOP is kind of like the wine designation VQA or DOCG, meaning that producers in the region have to stick to specific standards and methodologies of production to earn that designation.

In term of look and vibe, the restaurant is more like a sushi bar than it is any Italian inspired restaurant that I have visited. All the cheeses are displayed in a glass case floating in their liquid, along side beautiful side items such as arugula (and you know I LOVE arugula), olives, tomatoes, etc. One of the feature items on the menu - the rotella are losely based on the concept of a maki roll, except the nori is replaced by....mozzarella!

The other thing to know is that as of yesterday, the place JUST got its liquour license, so they have an extremely limited selection of wines and spirits.  In fact, one red, one white and a Prosecco. And the red will run you $65 per bottle.  Their wine list looks nice and probably will be, once they stock it.

Here's the menu.  So what did we eat, you may ask?  Well the four of us shared the Tasting Plate of the 3 Mozzarellas - Classica, Affumicata and Stracciatella di Burrata ($34). The Classica was beautiful and creamy and the Affumicata (Smoked Mozzarella) extremely intriguing. However, I found the method of serving the Burrata rather disappointing and small. It was already cut open and served in a glass bowl rather like a white chunky soup with a spoon. Part of the fun of Burrata is watching it being cut open and seeing the cream and pieces of mozzarella flow out.  In a bowl with a spoon?  Meh.

As suggested by our server, we added on the side platter of Prosciutto Crudo di Parma, Prosciutto Cotto and Mortadella ($12.50) and the Trio di pesti ($4.50).  A bit of a pricey appetizer even between four.

My friend and I then shared the pizza N’Duja e Burrata with spicy salami paté, Stracciatella di Burrata, tomato filets, basil , and a salad - the Songino e Carciofi with artichokes, mache, radicchio, Caciocavallo Cheese, pumpkin seeds and crostini. Yummybut not exceptional. I believe salads were around $10 and quite generous to be honest.

Our other friend had the pizza Verdure Grigliate - pizza with grilled eggplant, zucchini, radicchio and smoked mozzarella .  Both nice pizzas at $16. But better than any place else in the city like Queen Margherita or Pizza Libretto?  Nope.  And the pasta dishes are quite small.  Our friend had the Ravioli Freschi and it was maybe 6-8 pieces.  Nice but not a generous serving by any means.

To be honest, I was a bit underwhelmed by the place.  I think it might be a better lunch spot than a dinner spot, but it is not inexpensive.  For my share of the appetizer plate, half a pizza, half a salad and a few glasses of wine I was $70 with tax and tip.  Will I go back?  Probably.  At least to see how the place evolves and vibe develops over the next 6 months or so.

So that is my first restaurant write up.  Not a review necessarily but just a documentation of my visit.  Stay tuned for more as I do try to experience many of the new restaurants popping up in Toronto, particularly those in my 'hood and around where I work.  We'll see where this goes I most things on my blog.  

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Friends for Dinner - Early Summer

When summertime heat hits nothing is better than turning on the barbeque and walking away from your oven. And this week has been a whopper in terms of heat and humdity in Toronto.  Amazing...hail one week and cool, and humidity and power brown-outs from air conditioner over-use the next.

This is a nice dinner menu that is quick to make, can mostly be made ahead and that will serve 6-8.  The Gazpacho works best if made a day ahead to give time for all the flavours to meld and work together.  Left-overs make for a great lunch too.

The potato salad is best made the day before or in the morning to give it time for the potatoes to absorb the dressing and cool.  The warm asparagus salad can be made while the steaks are grilling.  Just be sure to preheat your oven in advance as it will really only take about 8-10 minutes in a hot oven to cook thin asparagus.

The Clafouti can be baked early in the morning when you haven’t reached peak heat for the day.  It can be covered and served at room temperature, warmed in the oven or chilled and served cold.  I prefer the first in the summer.



Spice Rubbed New York Striploins with Chimichurri Sauce


Strawberry-Rhubarb Clafouti with Crème Fraîche

Chimichurri Sauce

Same as I talked a while back about different cultures having their own version of the trinity in cuisine, so do most have their own version of a green sauce. The French make Sauce Verte, the Germans Grune Sosse, and in Mexico there is the tomatillo-based Salsa Verde. My two favourite variations of the green sauce, however, are the Italian Salsa Verde (parsley, capers, anchovies and garlic base) and Chimichurri which originated in Argentina and Uruguay.

Chimichurri is served primarily as a sauce for steak, but it works equally well with chicken, fish and pork tenderloin. Generally, the sauce is parsley based, but as with most things, is open to interpretation and most savoury herbs work well. I like the addition of cilantro to add brightness and a fresh flavour to the sauce, and sometimes I add mint if I have it on hand. I also prefer the addition of lime juice over lemon juice to compliment the freshness of the cilantro.

Chimichurri sauce:

1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 cup onion, diced
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1 bunch fresh parsley, stems removed
1 bunch fresh cilantro, stems removed
1 bunch fresh mint, stems removed

Combine all ingredients in blender; blend until almost smooth.

Yellow Tomato & Gin Gazpacho

Yellow tomatoes are my favourite. Well, yellow AND orange. They are so sweet that it almost feels like you are eating a fruit instead of a vegetable, and I guess, technically you are since a tomato really is a fruit. 

Yellow and orange tomatoes are also less acidic than their red cousins, so they do generally need a splash of citrus to balance out their flavour and emphasize their delicate nature. Lime or lemon juice does the trick here.

Yellow Tomato & Gin Gazpacho

8 yellow tomatoes, quartered and seeded (about 3 lbs.)
1 medium yellow pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
1 English cucumber, peeled and chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup gin (Tanqueray if you have it)
1/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1/2 red onion, peeled and sliced
1 clove garlic, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup good quality olive oil
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper


Roughly chop the cucumber, bell pepper, tomatoes and red onion into 1-inch cubes. Put each vegetable into a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until it is coarsely chopped. I like my smoothish but you can even keep a bit of each vegetable aside, finely chopped, to add more texture if needed.

After each vegetable is processed, combine them in a large bowl and add the chopped cilantro, gin, garlic, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Stir in the Panko.  Mix well and chill before serving. The longer gazpacho sits, the more the flavors develop.

This is beautiful as is, or you could garnish with some chopped green cherry tomatoes and some Basil Oil.  I have goat cheese in another course, otherwise a little snowy-white chevre might be nice also.  Or a dollop of pesto...

Thanks Glen for the beautiful photos.  You make me look good!

Roasted Asparagus Salad with Chevre and Honey

The farmer's markets are in full spring mode right now here in Toronto and the main seasonal items on offer are asparagus, rhubarb...and this week Ontario's first strawberries of the year.  Of course I bought some of each, as well as a nice assortment of herbs from my usual place in the North Market.

I am finding that I really enjoy going back to the same vendors week after week seeing what they've brought in with them.  The fellow I usually get my potatoes from (purple fingerlings are my current fave) was telling me today that he has been bringing his produce to the St. Lawrence Saturday Farmer's Market for 37 years!

There is another vendor outside the Market on Jarvis that I like to get tomatoes from (esp. the multi-coloured cherry tomatoes) and now I have a few options for strawberries.  I am thinking of picking up a flat next Saturday since we don't have any plans and $30 plus some work will get me a good amount of strawberry jam.

Today I bought for bundles of Ontario asparagus at $1 each.  Quite a bargain for what I'd likely pay $7-$9 for in a grocery store and THAT asparagus still comes from Peru.    Incidentally in case you wondered, asparagus is NOT native to Peru....go figure right?  However, in the early 90's Peru was granted tariff-free access to U.S. markets as part of the U.S. war on drugs. Basically the U.S. encouraged growing asparagus to deter the growth of coca - the basis for cocaine.  Now most of the off-season asparagus you see is from Peru instead of California.  Both have year-round growing conditions but the prices that Peruvian farmers can sell for in the market eclipses U.S. production costs - they just can't compete.

Roasted Asparagus Salad with Chevre and Honey

5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
1/2 small log chevre (goat cheese), crumbled
2 bunches of green asparagus
3 cups arugula
1 tablespoon honey


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

To make the dressing, beat together 4 tablespoons olive oil with the vinegar and mustard. Season to taste with salt & pepper.  Set aside.  Roast the pine nuts in a non-stick frying pan until golden brown.  Crumble goat cheese. Set aside.

Trim the bottoms of the asparagus stalks to remove any woody bits.  You can do this using a knife or just by bending the asparagus spear at the base and it will snap where it is freshest.  Lay asparagus in an oven safe casserole, and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil.  Add a little pinch of salt and pepper.

Roast in the oven for about 8-10 minutes (depending on the thickness of the spears) until spears are cooked but still crispy.

To serve, arrange the arugula on a platter and sprinkle with salad dressing. Now place the asparagus on top and sprinkle with a bit more of the dressing.  Top with crumbled chevre, pine nuts and a drizzle of honey.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Dry Spice Rub

Dry Spice Rub

A great rub for steak, chicken or ribs.

1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon ground ancho or other chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons salt

Combine all ingredients in a spice mill and grind until fine.  Store any left over in an airtight jar until ready to use.

When using the rub be sure to use a clean spoon and sprinkle your rub onto your meat ensuring that the meat or chicken never comes in contact with the spice mix.  That's called cross-contamination and it can make you very, very sick.

Culinary School Chronicles - Beef

Today we learned about dry heat and moist heat cooking methods.  Dry heat cooking refers to your basic broiling, grilling, baking, roasting and sauteéing.  Moist heat refers to boiling, simmering, poaching, steaming, braising and stewing.  

I am not a serious meat eater - I like it sometimes maybe once or twice a month - but I get confused as to what type of meat cut to use for the different types of cooking applications.  Mostly we eat grilled steak.  For years I thought eye of the round was supposed to be a nice oven roast but apparently not.  It is for stewing, which explains why I never got it quite right.  This Meat Chart gives a great explanation of the various cuts and their applications.  

Chefs demo today was a dish called Vegetable Macédoine.  Not really sure why it was called that but it is just a combination of diced turnip, rutabaga and carrot.  Turned out nice the way he did it, blanching the vegetables one after an other, adding 2 heads of roasted garlic and finishing them in a sauté pan with browned butter.  Quite a yummy snack combined with the beef he had come in early to stew for us.

Most of the focus today was on learning about Sauce Espagnole and making Carbonnade a la Flammande.  Chef said that it was a beef stew in the style of Holland but I am pretty sure he meant Flemish, which equals Belgium.  That added to the fact that the tenderizing liquid in the stew was a Leffe Brun (a Belgian dark beer), I am pretty sure this was the case.

This recipe makes the Espagnole Sauce in the stew pot, but if you would like a view at making it by itself for a gravy, check out my little experiment from back in February where I did veal stock from scratch, then turned it into Espagnole Sauce  and then into Demi Glace.

Carbonnade a la Flammande

10 oz top sirloin or flank steak, cut into large pieces
1/2 large onion, peeled and diced
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 litre beef or veal stock
1/2 bottle Belgian beer, such as Leffe Brun
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped for garnish
Flour for dusting meat
Salt and pepper

Season meat with salt and pepper and dust with flour, shaking off excess.  Heat a large sauté pan with about 1/8 inch of oil in it.  When hot, add meat and brown for about 2 minutes per side.

Remove meat from the pan ans set aside.  Remove any excess oil from the pan, leaving about 1 tablespoon.

Add in onions, carrots and garlic and sautée.  After about 2 minutes, stir in tomato paste and continue to cook.

Add in the beef stock and a bouquet garni.  The bouquet garni is made by tying together a few sprigs of thyme, parsley and oregano.

Place in a preheated 375 degree oven and cook for about 1.5 hours until meat is soft and stock is reduced.

Remove any excess fat on the surface and the bouquet garni.  Serve with garlic mashed potatoes and garnish with chopped parsley.

Cook's Note:   One thing I did to this stew was to thicken it at the end by adding a Beurre Manié like I used to thicken the sauce for the poached fish I did a few weeks ago.  I really like the richness that finishing a sauce with a tablespoon of butter brings and the flour thickens the sauce just enough for my tastes.  I like a fairly loose gravy.....just perfect for pouring over potatoes.   Strain and freeze any left over Espagnole Sauce for a roast or other meat application.

Beurre Manié

1 tablespoon butter, softened
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Combine both ingredients using a wooden spoon until the butter absorbs the flour, resulting in a toothpaste like consistency.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Cheese Tasting #2

A few months back - ok I admit it, it was January - I did Cheese Tasting #1 with the intention of doing tastings every month and writing about them for you.  I do love cheese and I particularly love gazing lovingly over the little golden hockey pucks in the cases at the Cheesemonger.  I love eating them more.  But I admit I was distracted by other culinary endeavours and went off track.

The below are notes from what I will now call - for the sake of my, e'hem, dignity as a "food blogger"  - a "Spring" cheese tasting.  There....that's brings us up to date!

3 month old Manchego Cheese  - Spain

Manchego is a sheep's milk cheese from the La Mancha region in Spain, which must be aged for at least 60 days and no more than 2 years, so this is a relatively young cheese by those standards. It is a relatively firm cheese, but still retains a butter texture and nutty flavour and slices easily. It is made using milk from the Manchega sheep. This cheese is a "Curado" meaning it is semi-firm and aged for three to six months with a sweet and nutty flavour. The other major type of Manchego is "Viejo", which must be aged for at least one year. This results in a firmer cheese with a sharper flavour.

Rating:  Since I first went to Spain 15 years ago, Machego has been one of my favourite cheeses. So much so that on my last visit there I brought some back on the 7 hour flight only to be stopped by Customs for "importing" cheese and meat into Canada (I also brought some Serrano Ham).  When the Custom's Officer asked me what I was declaring and how much I was bringing I told him honestly.  I am a Compliance Officer of course, so I don't lie.  Then he just laughed and let me go after I told him it was like 500g of each.  Anyway, I love Manchego and it makes a regular appearance on any cheese platter I do - this one was fantastic.  Buy again!

Cana De Oveja - Spain

This cheese is a soft-ripened sheep milk cheese from the Murcia region in Spain.  It is generally aged as a log for 21 days which results in a white bloom on its rind.  As the cheese comes up to temperature, it softens in the middle revealing  a  creamy and nutty centre, with a slightly more firm and sharp exterior.

Rating:  First time I've tried this but truly excellent and a total keeper.
Buy again!

Echo Mountain Blue from Rouge Creamery - Oregon

I don't tend to buy too many cheeses from the U.S. because the wealth of quality cheese makers we have here in Ontario and Québec is often enough to keep my palette entertained.  However, this Blue caught my eye, and once again in this tasting, I was not disappointed.  Wonderful.

Echo Mountain Blue is an organic cheese made from a blend of raw cow's and goat's milk, and aged for about eight months.  It has all the tang, earth and spice that I like in a Blue, combined with assertive taste of the blue mold.  This is the dryer kind of Blue I like - firm and dense and crumbly.

Rating:  Excellent choice for a Blue on your cheese plate.  Buy again!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Strawberry-Rhubarb Clafouti

Last weeks's visit to the St. Lawrence Market yielded some lovely golden beets, wild arugula and rhubarb.

I've decided to turn the rhubarb into a dessert called a Clafouti to take to my friend Val's today for our brunch.  A Clafouti is a fruit dish covered in a batter. The dish is baked and the batter puffs up during the process. Often it is served warm topped with whipped cream or ice cream, or simply served plain.

Traditionally, Clafoutis are made with cherries only and French peasants used to leave pits in the cherries  for extra flavour.  Not sure I would like to dig into my dessert only to be greeted by cherry pits!

If you apply the Clafouti recipe to any other fruit, technically you are making a Flognarde.  But I am going to call this Strawberr-Rhubarb Clafouti since it sounds much more appetizing than calling it a Flognard!

As you can see from my photo, this is not a particularly elegant dish but as long as it tastes good that is the main thing! I probably could have used about 10 minutes less in the oven, so I have adjusted the recipe to reflect that.

Strawberry Rhubarb Clafouti

Fruit Filing:

3 cups rhubarb, diced  (about 3 stalks)
1 cup strawberries, hulled and diced
1 1/2 tablespoons orange zest
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon  vanilla
pinch of salt
pinch of nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a medium-sized pot or deep pan and cook on low heat until the strawberries and rhubarb are tender and sauce has thickened, about 10 minutes. Set aside.


3 eggs
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon butter

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and ensure your oven rack is in the middle of the oven.

Generously butter the inside of a 10" pie plate - a deep dish plate works best. Gently combine the batter ingredients until smooth. You can do this by hand, using a stand mixer or in your food processor.  The batter will resemble a thin pancake batter.

Pour a thin layer of batter (about 1/4") on the bottom of the pie plate. Set in the oven until the thin layer has cooked about 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and spread the rhubarb mixture over the set layer of batter.

Pour the rest of the batter over top, and place in the oven and bake until browned and crust has risen, about 50 minutes or until a wooden toothpick or skewer inserted into the center  comes out clean.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or, as we are with a dollop of greek yogurt sweetened with honey.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Culinary School Chronicles - Eggs

Today was a jam-packed class, and the main focus was eggs.  We talked about how to tell if eggs were fresh or older, how to make 3 styles of omlettes, how to poach eggs and how to make Hollandaise.  And then we also made Quiche.  Lots going on basically.

One of the things that has puzzled me when I was experimenting with deviled eggs a while back is why sometimes the yolks would be off-centre or why there would be a little depression at one end of the egg.  Well the answer is, they are older eggs.

A hard boiled egg made with fresh eggs will have a yolk that is centred. As the egg ages, the proteins that hold the yolk central begin to degenerate, and the yolks end up dropping when boiled.  That is why also, if you drop a very fresh egg on the ground, it stays intact, while and older one will go "splat" all over the floor.  Interesting, eh?  Also Chef told us that most of the eggs used at George Brown are older eggs because they work better in baking and the baking program uses most of the eggs in the school.

Chef also demo'd three styles of omlettes for us:  Bavarian-style, "Half moon" and Fritta.  Bavarian-style is a runny omlette that is folded into itself twice and then plated and cut open and the filling laid exposed in the opening.  The most common type is the "half moon" which is more firm and only folded once, either plain or on top of filling.  The Fritta type is that basically used in a Toasted Western sandwich, and requires a flip to brown both sides.  I have to work a bit on my flipping technique before I attempt to even explain that one to anyone.

And apparently you never wash your omlette pan.  You wipe it clean but never immerse it in soapy water or else you lose the non-stick quality of the pan.

We also had a demo on Hollandaise, which resulted in us having a nice morning snack of a poached egg on an English muffin with Hollandaise - not quite Eggs Benny but close.  For a refresher on Hollandaise see either my post regarding Julia Child's Julia Child's recipe or the second version I made of Caper Hollandaise.

Today's lab involved Quiche - Quiche with Crab, Asparagus and Swiss Cheese to be exact.  And it turned out to be a yummy lunch.  I think mine could have spent probably 5-10 minutes longer in the oven to set up but it tasted great and was eaten up by all here with lots of positive reviews.

The below recipe is one for the pie crust we used.  I must admit I am terribly rusty with pie crusts (probably been 5 years since I made one) but mine turned out ok - so it is possible!!  I think substituting a store bought crust is fine in this case, although a home made one does yield a nicer end product.  These are not the instructions from my cooking manual, but are based on notes I took as to how the dish was demonstrated.

Pie Crust

10 oz all purpose flour
5 oz. butter or vegetable shortening
5 oz cold water (you will probably only need 4 oz depending on the hummidity)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon brown sugar


In a large mixing bowl, add flour, salt and brown sugar and combine.  Using your fingers, pinch of small pieces of your fat and add to the flour.  Be sure to work quickly so the fat does not get too warm.  Then crumble the pieces of fat between your fingers to crack it into the flour (Chef's word).  You should end up with pea-sized pieces of fat in the flour.

Make a well in the centre of your flour mixture, and then quickly add about 4 ounces of water.  With your hand in a claw shape, run it around the bowl to losely combine.  As the flour absorbs the mixture, the dough will begin to come together.  Keep the dough moving and then bring it together in the center of the bowl, kneading for no longer than 30 seconds.  If you knead much longer you will activate the gluten and end up with a less-tender pie crust. Your dough should hold together and not seem sticky and wet. And it should look "ugly" apparently - if it does not you have worked it too much.

Cook's Note:  One great idea Chef gave us was to freeze your fat - butter, lard, shortening, etc. and then grate it into the bowl while very cold.  I am going to try this next time.

Cover your dough with a paper towel and let rest in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

Preheat your oven top 375 degrees.  Once cold, place dough on a lightly floured surface and roll out to a circle about 2" larger than the pan you are using.  Fold the dough in half and lay over the pie plate.  Lay flat across the pie plate, then gently press the pie dough into the pan to make sure it is flat and touching all surfaces of the plate.  Trim excess pie dough with the dull edge of your knife.  Cut a cartouche to a size just a bit bigger than your pie plate and lay across the dough.  Fill with pie weights or dried beans to keep flat.  Blind-bake in your preheated oven for 10-15 minutes until the dough starts to set.  Remove from oven, remove parchment and pie weights or beans and let cool slightly.

Crab and Asparagus Filling

7 oz crab meat, gently squeezed to remove any excess moisture
3 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup Swiss Emmenthal cheese, grated
1/2 medium onion, peeled and finely diced
3 asparagus spears, ends broken off and diced
4 sprigs fresh dill, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Melt butter in a sauté pan.  When hot, add onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add chopped asparagus and cook until slightly softened, about 5 minutes more.  Remove and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine cheese, salt, pepper, cayenne and nutmeg and toss.  This will ensure that your spices are evenly distributed in the quiche and don't float to the top when you add the eggs and milk.

Sprinkle 1/2 of the dill, crab, cheese and onion-asparagus mixture on the bottom the pie shell, then add a second layer of each.  

Break eggs into a stainless steel mixing bowl and whisk.  Add milk and continue to whisk.  Pour egg-milk mixture evenly over the toppings.

Bake in oven preheated to 375 degrees for about 20-30 minutes or until set.  To check for doneness, give the  quiche pan a little jiggle and if the quiche doesn't jiggle back, it is set.  Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before slicing and serving.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Golden Beet Hummous

This recipe is a total riff on the Roasted Beet Hummous I made for my Xmas party back in December.  The difference here is that instead of using red beets for the red Xmas colour, I used golden beets I got at the Farmer's Market and some wild arugula instead of parsley.  The earthiness of the lentils, horseradish and beets worked incredibly well with the pepper and spice of the arugula.

Arugula is probably my favourite salad green.  I find things like romaine, iceberg and even leaf lettuce kind of boring, and I do tend to favour things like mâche (also called Lamb Lettuce, which I discovered in Paris years ago) and arugula.

I found the wild arugula to be much more intense than the regular cultivated variety.  More pepper, more spice and just an overall explosion of flavour - no wonder the Europeans call it "rocket".  Incidentally, food sociologists believe that the word "arugula" is an Americanization of the term "rucula", which is what the green was called by Italian immigrants who came to the U.S.   And funnily enough the word "arugula" spell checks as "jugular" and "angular". I always find that kind of thing funny.

So for this recipe, I was in a bit of a rush so I did substitute a can of lentils and no one died. Thankfully! With a bit more time, I'd definitely cook the lentils from dried but in a pinch canned ones are ok. I guess.

The arugula worked so well that I think this version is actually even better than the first.

Golden Beet Hummous

1 can green lentils, drained and liquid reserved
3 golden beets, peeled and quartered, then roasted and cooled
1/4 cup tahini
juice of half a lemon
1-2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1/4 cup reserved lentil canning liquid
1/2 cup wild arugula

In a food processor, combine lentils, beets, tahini, lemon juice, and horseradish and puree until smooth. Add in reserved lentil canning liquid to aid in processing until hummous reaches the smoothness and thickness you like. I used the whole 1/4 cup. Scraping down sides of the processor bowl, add in wild arugula and process to combine.  Recipe will keep for about a week at this point, or maybe longer.