Monday, September 30, 2013

Spicy South Asian Grilled Salmon with Redux Drizzle

Spending a few minutes preparing a handful of simple ingredients for an easy and delicious South Asian-inspired marinade gives this dish an enormous amount of flavour, plus a built-in sauce after the salmon has been grilled. By reducing the volume of the marinade, or any cooking liquid, either rapidly over high heat or more slowly over low heat, you concentrate the flavours and thicken the consistency, making a quick, and wonderfully flavourful sauce. In this recipe, the salmon is marinated with brown sugar, soy sauce, fresh squeezed lime juice, sesame oil and a mixture of Indian spices including Garam Masala, ground cumin, coriander and Chinese 5-spice, for a dark and fragrant marinade. A portion of the marinade is set aside for later use in making the sauce, with the remainder placed in a baking dish with the salmon, which is covered and chilled for a few hours. Later, the salmon is grilled until it's nicely browned and cooked through, about 4 minutes a side. The reserved marinade is then cooked in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until it has reduced to a thick glaze, then is drizzled over the salmon and garnished with a flurry of chopped chives, mint and sesame seeds. Simple, easy and delicious.

Spicy South Asian Grilled Salmon with Redux Drizzle
Serves 2

3 tbsp dark brown sugar
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp fresh lime juice 
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 tsp Asian sesame oil
1/2 tsp Garam Masala 
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp Chinese 5-spice
2 salmon filets, skin on
4 tbsp chives and mint, chopped and whole for garnish
1 tbsp sesame seeds, for garnish

In a medium bowl, mix together all ingredients except for salmon, chives and sesame seeds. Set 1/4 cup of the marinade aside and cover for later use in the sauce, then place the remainder in a baking dish with the salmon and cover with cling film. Be sure salmon is evenly coated, then place the dish in the refrigerator and let marinate for at least an hour or up to a day before.

Preheat grill to high heat. Place the salmon on the grill, cover and cook 3-5 minutes on each side, or until the fish is nicely browned and cooked through. Meanwhile, warm the reserved marinade over medium-high heat until it has reduced to a thick glaze. To serve, place the salmon on a platter and drizzle with the reserved marinade. Garnish with the chopped chives, mint and sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Luscious and wonderfully indulgent, Spaghetti alla Carbonara is an Italian pasta dish based on eggs, pecorino romano, guanciale and black pepper. The key is to toss and thoroughly mix the cooked pasta off the heat with the cheese, eggs, pepper and pasta water, to create a creamy yet not overly thick sauce. A true carbonara has no cream, but although purists may shudder, I do sometimes add a little cream depending how I'm feeling! Like most recipes, the origins of the dish are obscure but there are many legends. As 'carbonara' literally means 'coal miner's wife', some believe that the dish was first made as a hearty meal for Italian coal miners. Romans use guanciale (cured pig's jowl), which is more delicate than pancetta (unsmoked Italian bacon), and also leaner. If you can find it, by all means use guanciale, otherwise pancetta or bacon work just as well. For the sheer wow-factor, I do like to drop an egg yolk into each nest of pasta, which guests stir to form an even creamier sauce. Garnished at the end with a flurry of coarsely grated Parmigiano, "Coal Miner's Spaghetti" must be one of the great pastas dishes of all time.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara
Serves 4

1 lb spaghetti
2 tbsp olive oil
1 lb guanciale or pancetta
4 large eggs, separated
1 1/4 cup fresh coarsely grated Pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp fresh chopped thyme leaves
1/4 cup heavy cream, optional

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta and cut the pancetta into 1/2 x 1/4 inch lardons. Combine the olive oil and pancetta in a large sauté pan set over medium heat, and cook until the pancetta has rendered its fat and is crispy and golden. Remove from the heat and set aside, being careful not to drain the fat.

Cook the spaghetti in the boiling water until just al dente. Scoop out 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water and set aside. Drain the pasta.

Add the reserved pasta water to the pan with the pancetta, then toss in the pasta and heat, shaking the pan, for 1 minute. Remove from the heat, and add 1 cup of the Parmigiano, the egg whites, thyme, pepper to taste, and the cream, if you're using it. Toss until thoroughly mixed.

Divide the pasta among four warmed serving bowls. Make a nest in the centre of each one, and gently drop an egg yolk into each nest. Season the egg yolks with a little more fresh ground pepper and sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of Parmigiano over the top and dive in.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Mario Batali: Grilled Octopus with 'Borlotti Marinati'

With plans to go to New York City next April, I started making a list of the restaurants that I'd love to get to. One of hot spots on my list is Babbo, opened by Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich in 1998. A culinary gem nestled away in an old carriage house on Waverly Place in Greenwich Village, Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca epitomizes the best of the great Italian tradition of hospitality and quality, both at the table and in the glass. Their philosophy is simple and straight forward — use the best local ingredients as simply as possible and serve them with flourish and joy. And the menu is a celebration of great ingredients, incorporating the best and freshest seasonal produce, imported Italian cheeses, meat, game and seafood, accented with fine imported olive oils, traditional aceto balsamico, Parmigiano Reggiano, sea salt and Prosciutto San Daniele — distinct and indispensable components to the lusty creation of any great Italian meal. One of the dishes Babbo is acclaimed for is their Grilled Octopus with 'Borlotti Marinati' & Spicy Limoncello Vinaigrette. Being an ardent fan of octopus, borlotti beans and Batali, this recipe got my attention.

Mario Batali

The octopus is first simmered with olive oil, sliced garlic and hot red pepper flakes for a few minutes, then baked with a cork in a large Dutch oven for up to 2 hours, encouraging the octopus to release all of its liquid. Once cooled, the tentacles are cut into 3-inch pieces and charred on a hot grill until warmed through. The octopus is then added to a tangy Limoncello vinaigrette and served over a bed of seasoned borlotti beans. Garnished with a slice of raw beet and topped with chives and fresh lemon zest, this dish is rich, creamy and exquisitely tender. I can't wait to try Mario's original the next time I'm in NYC.

Grilled Octopus with 'Borlotti Marinati' & Spicy Limoncello Vinaigrette
Serves 4
Recipe & photo courtesy Mario Batali

5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 1/2 tsp hot red pepper flakes, divided
1 2-pound octopus, fresh or frozen
1 wine cork
1 cup lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup limoncello
Kosher salt, to taste
Black pepper, finely ground, to taste
1 cup borlotti or cannellini beans, cooked
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1 bunch of chives, cut into 2-inch batons
1 candy cane beet, shaved for garnish
1 lemon, zest only

Preheat an oven to 300°F. In a large Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over high heat until almost smoking. Add the garlic and 1 teaspoon of the red pepper flakes and cook over high heat for 2 minutes. Add the octopus to the pan and cook on all sides over high heat until it has changed color and has released its liquid. Add the wine cork, cover the pan with aluminum foil, and bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the octopus is soft. Cool to room temperature.

Carefully separate the octopus tentacles from the head. Cut the tentacles into 3-inch pieces; cut the head in half.

To make the vinaigrette, bring the lemon juice and sugar to a boil in a small sauce pan and reduce by half to a syrup. Add the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons of red pepper flakes and let cool. Once cool, whisk in the olive oil and limoncello. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Toss the beans with the red wine vinegar and chopped onion, and allow the mixture to marinate. Using a mandoline, shave the raw beet into thin slices and set aside. To serve, char the octopus over a hot grill until warmed through. Spoon some beans onto a plate, top with the grilled octopus and drizzle with the vinaigrette. Garnish with a slice of shaved beet, the chive batons, a flurry of lemon zest and serve.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Oven Roasted Tomato Soup

There's something enormously comforting about a bowl of hot soup on a cold and rainy afternoon. This easy and delicious Oven Roasted Tomato Soup blends the fabulous flavours of garden fresh basil, garlic, onions and oven roasted tomatoes for a luxuriously smooth soup that's full of rich Italian flavours. Slow roasting caramelizes and intensifies the flavour of the tomatoes, enhances their natural sweetness, and lends extraordinary depth to this hearty and satisfying soup — ideal with a hot grilled cheese sandwich! Once roasted, these rich red tomatoes end up sweet and concentrated, not entirely dissimilar from sun-dried tomatoes but so much better. They can also be used in so many different ways, from adding them to a pasta dish, savoury tart, classic quiche, sumptuous strata, or as part of a simple crostini with brie, pesto, ricotta or tapenade — the possibilities are endless. 

Plum tomatoes are halved and tossed with a mixture of olive oil, salt and pepper 
then placed in one layer on a foil lined baking sheet

Roasted at 400°F for 45 minutes, the tomatoes become soft, lightly caramelized 
with a wonderfully fragrant

Onions, garlic and crushed red pepper flakes are sautéed in olive oil and butter 

Sautéed for 10 minutes over medium heat until the onions just start to brown

Fresh thyme, basil, chicken stock and a large tin of San Marzano tomatoes are added to the pot

Then the oven roasted tomatoes and their liquid are added 
and the mixture is simmered for 45 minutes

After 45 minutes, the soup has become much richer and aromatic

Using a hand immersion blender, the soup is puréed until smooth, 
with a dash of cream at the end for added richness

Roasted Tomato Soup
Serves 6-8

3 lb ripe plum tomatoes, washed, trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chopped yellow onions
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 28-oz can plum tomatoes, with their juice
4 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream, optional

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Toss the tomatoes together in a large bowl with 1/4 cup of olive oil, salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Place the tomatoes, cut side up, in one layer on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes, until the tomatoes are soft and lightly caramelized.

In an large stockpot over medium heat, sauté the onions and garlic with two tablespoons of olive oil, butter and red pepper flakes for 10 minutes, until the onions start to brown. Add the canned tomatoes, basil, thyme and chicken stock. Add the oven-roasted tomatoes, including the liquid on the baking sheet. Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for 40 minutes. Using a hand immersion blender, purée the soup until smooth. Stir in the cream and taste for seasonings. Serve hot or cold.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Brunch at the Ritz-Carlton: Morning Mimosas & More

Sunday Brunch at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota was always a culinary highlight and one of my family's more decadent traditions, whenever we all gather on Longboat Key. That was until they permanently closed the doors on this divine diversion last year. Imagine our delight when we discovered that the Ritz in Toronto had launched their own Sunday Brunch in the hotel's signature restaurant TOCA, when the hotel opened in 2011. From the moment you arrive under the stylish porte-cochère and a liveried doorman opens your door with a "Welcome to the Ritz," you know all will be well.

The Ritz Bar with fabulous light fixture by Vancouver-born 
and Toronto-based glass artist Jeff Goodman

A stylish Art Deco Absinthe fountain accents a side table in the bar

The Ritz Sunday Brunch is held at TOCA, the hotels' signature restaurant 
on the second floor above the lobby

Sunday brunch at The Ritz is indeed one of the priciest in the city, but it's also one of the most extravagant. For about $80 per person, diners can explore a wonderland of lobster tails, chilled poached shrimp, mussels, sushi, a live carving station, omelette station, charcuterie and more, plus access to the all-inclusive mimosa and bellini bar. And if that wasn't enough, a chocolate fountain, crêperie, and French pastries for dessert. Not to be outdone, the Ritz also holds a Veuve Clicquot Sunday Brunch on the last Sunday of every month at $145 per person, which includes all of the Veuve Cliquot you can quaff. 

Never ending glasses of delicious Mimosas, Bellinis or Prosecco 
are complimentary with the Ritz brunch

A lovely chilled glass of Prosecco is a splendid way to start a Sunday

A spicy Caesar with seasoned rim and flash of celery — Cheers!

One part of the buffet was a symphony of cold salads and antipasti

An assortment of small plates like Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese, Croutons and Micro Greens, and in the background, Sundried Tomato Mousse with Grilled Shrimp

The Seafood Bar with lobster tails, cold poached shrimp, mussels and sushi 
including Califormia rolls and nigiri salmon

Buttermilk pancakes served with maple syrup or warm chocolate sauce

Lobster tail, chilled mussel, poached shrimp and smoked salmon with 
sushi garnished with wasabi and pickled ginger

Sundried Tomato Mousse with Grilled Shrimp, and Butternut Squash, 
Triple Crunch Mustard & Smoked Duck Parfait, Zucchini Custard Torta with 
Tomato Coulis and a slice of Prociutto di Parma

Vegetable and Pork Dumplings with Roasted Squash, Asparagus and 
Grilled Salmon topped with matchstick potatoes and flash fried lime

The Dessert Room was filled to bursting with an array of sweet temptations

Beautifully presented and outrageously good

Little Lemon Cream cakes

Chocolate Raspberry Mousse Cake

A sinfully decadent Chocolate Fountain complete with fruit, marshmallows and cake for dipping

A slice of sweet, dense and intensely rich chocolate cake garnished 
with a ring of chocolate topped with a fleck of edible gold

The Ritz S'more with marshmallow and chocolate sandwiched between 
two fresh baked graham cracker biscuits 

A slice of Raspberry and Pistachio Cream Layered Cake

A little Almond and Apricot cake

Silky smooth Crème Brûlée topped with pearls of chocolate covered wafers 
and a perfect blackberry 

A hot steaming cappuccino is the best way to finish a sumptuous brunch at the Ritz

Enjoying an exquisite weekend brunch with a mimosa in hand and all the breakfast stations you can possibly enjoy makes for the perfect weekend morning. When 'extravagant' is on your culinary wish list, the Ritz brunch is hard to beat. Order your Signature Bloody Mary or ask your server to keep the champagne coming, then take your time and explore all the different stops among the culinary offerings. For a morning of pure decadence, you don't need to look any further.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Homemade Sweet & Savoury Tomato Chutney

I don't 'can' or 'pickle' as a rule, however I do make an exception for this delicious Tomato Chutney, that is both sweet, savoury and full of deep rich flavour. Late summer or early autumn is the perfect time to tackle this recipe, when plum tomatoes are plentiful and our apple tree is bursting with fruit. I usually make this chutney a few days after making 'Mamma Styles' Tomato Sauce, when there are always a few leftover tomatoes. It goes beautifully with pork tenderloin, grilled chicken or tourtière and is absolutely delicious on simple cheese sandwiches. Homemade chutney also make fabulous holiday gifts, so I often double or triple the recipe if I plan on putting jars under the Christmas tree for special friends and honoured family members!

Our apple tree is bursting with fruit — perfect timing for making my favourite Tomato Chutney

Chopped apples, tomatoes, onions, sultanas, apple cider vinegar and brown sugar are mixed with allspice, curry powder, chili powder, dry mustard and minced garlic

The mixture is covered and allowed to simmer for at least one hour

The chutney is then ladled into sterilized mason jars and stored for the upcoming year

Homemade Tomato Chutney
Makes 24 250ml jars

40 medium ripe plum tomatoes (4kg), peeled and chopped
8 large red McIntosh apples, peeled and chopped in small dice
8 medium yellow onions, peeled and chopped in small dice
6 cups brown apple cider vinegar
4 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tsp chili powder
2 tsp dry mustard
3 cups sultanas
4 cloves garlic, crushed
8 tsp curry powder
8 tsp ground allspice

24 250ml Bernardin canning jars, screw caps and 'snap lids'
non-metallic funnel & tongs

Combine all of the chutney ingredients in a large pot and stir over medium heat, until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil, then simmer uncovered for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile sterilize the jars according to Bernardin 'step-by-step home canning' instructions — but in short, place the jars in a pot of boiling water, keeping jars hot until ready to use. Set screw tops aside and place 'snap lids' in a small pot of hot, but not boiling water. While the chutney is very hot, remove the jars from the boiling water using the tongs, and tilt out the excess water. Using a non-metallic funnel, ladle the chutney into the sterilized mason jars, quickly top the jar with a hot 'snap lid' and fasten with the screw cap — firm but not tight. Repeat for remaining jars. After a few minutes, the 'snap lids' will in fact make a distinctive snapping noise which lets you know the seal has succeeded! The screw cap can then be tightened, but let the jars cool before storing for future use.

If the 'snap lid' doesn't make a snapping noise, sterilize the jars again and refill with heated chutney. Timing is everything — the first time I made this Tomato Chutney, none of my lids snapped! I had to re-sterilize all the jars, reheat the chutney and try again. It worked the second try and it's worked every year since. Judging by the empty jars I get back each year from family and friends, this recipe is a winner.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Louboutin Grand Soirée + Ki Modern Japanese

The London Design Museum’s acclaimed retrospective dedicated to iconic French shoe designer Christian Louboutin made its North American debut in Toronto at the Design Exchange this past summer, from June 21 to September 15, 2013. The exhibition entitled Christian Louboutin: An Exhibition Celebrating 20 years of Design, Artistry and Magic, celebrated Louboutin’s twenty years of designs and inspiration, revealing the artistry and theatricality of his shoe design from stilettos to lace-up boots, studded sneakers and bejeweled pumps. It was a magical journey of style, glamour, power, femininity and elegance. 

True to the designer’s theatrical spirit, the exhibit featured a fairground-like carousel, a giant spinning top, a topiary garden, a recreation of Louboutin’s Paris atelier and a sexy three-dimensional Dita von Teese hologram formed a stunning centrepiece of show. For total sensory overload, Grand Marnier even sponsored a party one Thursday each month during the exhibition, with free cocktails and complimentary appetizers, courtesy of Parts & Labour, and music spun by DJ Hannah Bronfman — and we were there to take full advantage of the 'Final Grand Soirée'. 

The mixologist is busy concocting the evening's signature cocktails

Upon entering the exhibition, we were handed two drink tickets to indulge in specialty cocktails concocted by Grand Marnier, with one cleverly named The Louboutini, which was served in a glossy Louboutin-red martini glass! The second cocktail served this evening was The Grand Garden Smash, made with Grand Marnier, lemon juice, strawberries, orange blossom water and garnished with a fresh basil leaf. Both cocktails were very tasty, perhaps too much so, and rekindled my admiration for this amber coloured orange-flavored liqueur.  

With stacks of Grand Marnier bottles at hand, the servers were efficiently handing out the evening's delicious signature cocktail, The Louboutini!

A complimentary charcuterie and cheese table was prepared courtesy of Parts + Labour

A bright and playful lighting exhibit marked the entrance to the show

Prestigious, expensive and aggressively high, Christian Louboutin's sexy stillettos are the stuff of legend. Louboutin, who began his career more than 20 years ago, hit the headlines when he called high heels 'pleasure with pain', adding, 'If you can't walk in them, don't wear them.' Visitors at the exhibition get a unique insight into his design process – from initial drawings to factory production – and, for those hardcore lovers of Louboutin, there’s even a Fetish room dedicated to the shoes he designed for the 2007 Paris exhibition of the same name, produced in collaboration with film auteur David Lynch. 

Louboutin fetish shoe — not meant to be worn standing up, 
but rather, reclining seductively in bed!

Louboutin, who guards his red soles jealously — Pantone 18 Chinese red to be exact — is currently embroiled in an ongoing legal battle with YSL over their use of a red sole

Pigalle Ring Strass shoe by Christian Louboutin

Delicate lace and intricately-beaded heels highlight this exquisite shoe

Louboutin, famous for the red soles on his stilettos, has made Von Teese, one of his most fiercely loyal customers, appear in the form of a three-dimensional holographic performance to illustrate Louboutin's earliest design inspiration - the showgirl. The burlesque performer's silhouette morphs from a Louboutin shoe to dance on stage before she transforms back into a stiletto. But despite his fondess for Von Teese, Louboutin, who opened his first boutique in Paris 20 years ago with Princess Caroline of Monaco as his first customer, has always maintained his passion lies not in impressing celebrity, but in creating shoes that are, he says, 'like jewels'.  

The jewel-like Dita Von Teese shoe that she uses in her famed cabaret act

A still from the Dita Von Teese hologram at the show

Louboutin at work in his studio

A Louboutin sketch of one of his creations

The wonderful entrance to Ki from the BCE Place interior courtyard with it's spectacular glass wall sculpture designed by Jeff Burnette, one of Canada's premier glass blowers

The 'Louboutin red' Ki signage in the restaurant's foyer

After enjoying our Grand Marnier cocktails and wandering through the Louboutin exhibit, we sauntered over to Ki for a light dinner in the restaurants elegant and refined sushi bar with it's spectacular 36-foot long black granite counter. Seated in the gracious round high-backed chairs, we were first handed two hot towels and then presented with a cocktail list and dinner menu. At Ki, chefs prepare dishes in both the hot kitchen and at the sushi bar, featuring an array of dishes that are meant to be shared, from soups and salads, kushiyaki skewers, tempura, nigiri + sashimi, classic makimonos, Ki modern makimonos, signature hot and cold plates and daily bento box selections. We ordered two glasses of Pinot Grigio and started with some Edamame tossed with a spicy seven spice mixture, while we perused the menu.

Ki dinner menu

We sat at Ki's beautiful sushi counter

We followed with a Kushiyaki of pancetta-wrapped unagi stuffed with grilled onion and pickled daikon, served with chili ponzu sauce. The two skewers were lightly sweet and salty with a delicate texture and fabulous flavour. We also chose the Ki modern makimono of sweet potato tempura yam, avocado, asparagus and kabayaki sauce, and an ikura salmon roe sushi. Warm with a light tempura batter, the Tempura sweet potato Makimono was outstanding. However, my favourite dish of the evening was the Spicy Maguro and Sake on Crispy Rice Cakes, similar to mini sushi pizza but better. To finish, we selected the Saikyo-marinated black cod with rapini, salmon roe and orange reduction, which was perfectly cooked and fragrant with the aromatic orange reduction. 

 Ki modern makimono: sweet potato tempura yam  avocado, asparagus and 
kabayaki sauce, with ikura salmon roe sushi

Ki tossed edamame with seven spice mixture

Spicy maguro (tuna) and sake (salmon) on crispy rice cakes, similar to mini sushi pizzas

Ki is not cheap, but it's worth every penny. Everything was excellent, from the service, to the décor, to the cuisine. Ki is a serene and sumptuous oasis in the middle of Toronto’s financial core — a culinary journey I hope to repeat with great regularity. Arigatou gozaimasu.

Saikyo-marinated black cod with rapini, salmon roe and orange reduction