Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Apple Cinnamon & Custard Cake with Grand Marnier

When the winds pick up and the leaves start to turn colour, this beautiful Apple Cinnamon Custard Cake is a delicious way to celebrate autumn's bounty. Taking advantage of the prodigious offering of over 100 apples from our two espaliered apple trees growing on our terrace, making lots of our favourite recipes becomes one of the hallmarks of our fall apple season, from making quadruple batches of my Curried Apple Zucchini Soup, Savoury Tomato & Apple Chutney and six of my Mom's famous Apple Crisp. Looking for new inspiration, I found this great recipe for Apple Cinnamon Custard Cake that calls for the apples to be finely sliced then marinated in Grand Marnier before adding them to a sweet eggy batter. Moist, light and bursting with flavour, this heavenly dessert is now on my 'A-list' - also known as my apple list!

The bounty of apples grown on our terrace became the inspiration for this autumn dessert

Apple Cinnamon Custard Cake
Serves 8

2 tsp butter, at room temperature
3 green apples, peeled and cored, cut into 8 wedges, then cut into thin slices
2 tbsp Grand Marnier
1 1/4 cups all-purpose white flour, plus 2 tbsp extra
1 cup white sugar, plus 1 tbsp extra
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon, divided
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
2 tsp orange zest
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large egg yolks
1 tsp icing sugar, sifted

Grand Marnier Whipped Cream:
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 tsp Grand Marnier
1 tbsp icing sugar, sifted

Position a rack in the centre of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Grease a springform pan with the butter. In a medium bowl, toss the apples with Grand Marnier and set aside. In another medium bowl, whisk together 1 1/4 cups of flour, 1 cup of sugar, baking powder, salt and 1/2 teaspoon of the cinnamon. In a large bowl, whisk together oil, milk, whole eggs, orange zest and vanilla to blend. Then whisk the dry ingredients into the wet to form a smooth batter.

Transfer 1 cup of the batter to a small bowl and mix in the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour, and set aside. Whisk the egg yolks into remaining batter in the large bowl just to blend, then stir in the apples. Transfer the apple batter to the prepared pan and spread the batter into an even layer, pressing the apples in to submerge them. Pour the reserved batter evenly over the apple batter. In a small bowl, whisk the remaining caster sugar and cinnamon to blend, and then sprinkle it evenly over the batter.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean and the top is golden brown. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let it sit for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the sides of the cake, release the pan sides then allow the cake to cool for about 30 minutes. Dust with icing sugar and serve warm or at room temperature. To make the whipped cream, whisk the cream, Grand Marnier and icing sugar until thick. To serve, cut the cake into wedges and serve with a generous dollop of whipped cream.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Italian Sausage, Leek, Mushroom & Apple Stuffing

For many, turkey stuffing is one of the best parts of any Thanksgiving dinner. Recipes may vary, but what is certain is that every family has their own special recipes that they make each and every year, for "what good are traditions if they're going to be broken?" This year I was in charge of making the dressing and was intent on creating my own unique recipe, paying homage to my Mom's recipe but adding other new ingredients that seemed seasonally appropriate: dried cranberries, apples from our garden plus fresh sage, thyme and rosemary, sweet Italian sausage, leeks, mushrooms, celery, homemade croutons made from a loaf of fresh Italian bread, and to moisten the mélange, a combination of homemade chicken stock and fragrant marsala wine. The combination of flavours were a triumph, but as with any special occasion, it's not just about the culinary offerings — it's being with family and sharing special moments with those who make a difference in our lives. 

A loaf of Italian bread with crusted removed and cut into 3/4-inch cubes toasted in a 350° oven for 15 minutes until dried through

Two sweet Italian sausages

The sausage meat is removed from the casing and sautéed until cooked though

Sliced leeks, celery and chopped apple to be sautéed in a little butter until soft, about 8 minutes

Thinly sliced cremini mushrooms to be sautéed until soft, about 3 minutes

The sautéed vegetables are combined with the dried bread, together with Marsala wine, chopped fresh rosemary, sage and thyme, dried cranberries, chicken broth and a beaten egg 

Placed in a greased casserole, the stuffing is ready to go into the oven

Italian Sausage, Leek, Mushroom & Apple Stuffing
Serves 8-10

1 loaf French or Italian white bread
1 tbsp olive oil
1 lb sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
5 tbsp butter, divided
2 leeks, trimmed, cleaned and cut as 1/4-inch slices
2/3 cup sliced celery
1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries
10 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced in 1/8-inch pieces
3 tbsp marsala wine
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp chopped fresh sage
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme 
2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 cup chicken broth
1 large egg

Remove the crust from the bread and cut into 1/2 or 3/4-inch cubes to make about 9 cups. Arrange the bread on rimmed baking sheets in a 350°F oven until dried and evenly toasted, about 10 to 15 minutes, then allow to cool before transferring to a large bowl. 

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium and cook the sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon until no longer pink and cooked though, about 5-6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the sausage meat and add to the bread. In the same pan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat and sauté the leeks, celery and apple, stirring frequently until softened, about 8 minutes, then mix in with the bread. Add the remaining butter to the pan and sauté the mushrooms until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the Marsala, salt and pepper and cook until almost no liquid remains, then transfer to the bread bowl, along with the chopped sage, thyme, rosemary and dried cranberries. 

Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed. Once satisfied with the flavour, stir in a beaten egg and mix well to combine. Drizzle the broth over the mixture — it should be moist but not soggy — and stir well to combine all the flavours. Spread the stuffing into a lightly greased baking dish and cover with aluminum foil.

MAKE AHEAD: The stuffing can be covered and chilled overnight at this point, but bring back to room temperature before baking the next day.

Preheat oven to 375°F and bake until heated through, about 30-40 minutes. Remove the foil and continue cooking until the dressing is crisp and golden brown, about another 15-20 minutes. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Thanksgiving: Pumpkin Cheesecake & Praline Sauce

Like many Thanksgiving traditions, it's sometimes fun to "shake things up a bit", like this luscious Pumpkin Cheesecake with buttery graham-cracker crust and decadent Pecan Praline Sauce. A fabulously festive dessert, this sublimely silky cheesecake is a heavenly combination of cream cheese, heavy cream, white and brown sugar, eggs, pumpkin purée and the familiar flavour of fragrant pumpkin pie spices: ground cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and allspice. Once baked, the cheesecake is topped with a glorious gooey and buttery praline sauce. There are three keys to the success of this dessert: first, draining the pumpkin purée on paper towel at the beginning, so it becomes as thick as possible; second, ensuring that the cream cheese, eggs and cream are at room temperature before starting; and finally, beating the cheesecake mixture thoroughly so the filling becomes lighter than air. A luxurious twist to the classic pumpkin pie, this rich and creamy Pumpkin Cheesecake with Praline Sauce is sure to be a sweet sensational this Thanksgiving — it may even outshine the turkey!

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Praline Sauce 
Serves 12

1 15-oz can pumpkin puree, equal to 1 3/4 cups
8 whole graham crackers, broken
1/2 cup pecans
1 tbsp light brown sugar
5 tbsp unsalted butter, melted plus more for greasing the pan
1 14-oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground allspice
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Praline Sauce:
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups pecans 

Set a rack over a baking sheet and line the rack with 2 layers of paper towels. Spread the pumpkin purée over the paper towels and let drain for 2 hours, until the purée is fairly dry.

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Butter the bottom and side of a 9-inch springform pan. In a food processor, pulse the graham crackers until finely ground. Add the pecans and brown sugar and pulse again until finely ground. Add the melted butter and pulse just until incorporated. Press the crumbs onto the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake the crust for about 6 minutes, just until it is fragrant and lightly browned. Let the crust cool completely.

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the cream cheese until it is very smooth. In a small bowl, whisk the sugar with the salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice. With the machine on, add the spiced sugar to the cream cheese and beat until creamy, scraping the bottom and side of the bowl repeatedly. Carefully add the drained pumpkin puree and beat until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl between each addition. Beat in the heavy cream, lemon juice, and vanilla until the cheesecake mixture is smooth.

Pour the cheesecake mixture over the cooled crust and bake for 12 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 225°F and bake the cheesecake for about 3 hours, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 150°F; the center will be very jiggly but not liquidy. Let the cheesecake cool on a rack, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Run a hot knife around the cheesecake and loosen the springform ring. Carefully remove the ring and transfer the cake to a plate, then begin to prepare the praline sauce. Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a large saucepan, combine the butter and brown sugar and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until smooth. Stir in the heavy cream and salt and bring to a boil. Simmer just until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Let the caramel cool, but meanwhile, spread the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet and toast for about 8 minutes, until they're lightly browned and fragrant. Transfer the warm pecans to a work surface and let them cool a few minutes, then coarsely chop and stir into the cooled caramel, and pour most of it over the cheesecake. Using a warm knife, cut the cake into wedges and serve with the extra Praline Sauce.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Rutabaga, Swede & Neeps: A Bounty of Brassicas

One of autumn’s robust brassicas, this cruciferous cabbage is also known as yellow turnip, Swedish turnip, Russian turnip, English swede and in North America, rutabaga. In Scotland, where it's known as neeps, swede is the traditional accompaniment to haggis on Burns night. Technically, a rutabaga is a cross between a cabbage and turnip, and shares turnips' slightly bitter flavour but tastes milder than turnips, almost like a carrot without the sweetness. With a round shape and a purple-green skin with yellowy-orange flesh and a sweet, earthy flavour, it's in cooked dishes where rutabagas truly shine. They can be cut into chunks and boiled for 12-15 minutes, roasted for 40-55 minutes or steamed for 10-15 minutes. Mixed with cream and butter, anything will taste great, but for a low fat and carb-free option, this Mashed Rutabaga recipe makes a lovely addition to Thanksgiving along with the usual suspects: brussels sprouts, roast potatoes and plump turkey roasted to golden perfection.

Mashed Rutabaga
Serves 4

1 rutabaga, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 tbsp butter
Pinch nutmeg
kosher salt and white pepper

Place the rutabaga in a pan of cold salted water, cover and bring to a boil. Simmer until very tender, about 30 to 40 minutes. Drain and mash with a potato masher, and add some butter, salt, white pepper and a generous grating of nutmeg; taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Roast Chicken with Lemon, Garlic, Rosemary & Thyme

One of the ultimate comfort foods, there's probably nothing quite as wonderful as a plump and inviting whole chicken roasting in the oven on a Sunday afternoon. Savoury dark thighs, juicy white breast meat, crispy golden-brown skin, and the promise of homemade chicken stock made with the leftovers the following day. Every culture has an iconic chicken recipe, from Italian Pollo alla Cacciatora, French Coq au Vin, Hungarian Paprikás Csirke, Indian Murgh Makhani, American Southern Fried Chicken to the classic Roast Chicken rubbed with butter or olive oil and stuffed with fresh herbs, lemon and garlic, it seems that the mild flavour of this humble bird is adaptable to a multitude of cuisines and flavourful aromatics. It's also universal that on chilly days, we all reach for our favourite recipes — the culinary equivalent of a crackling fire that provides warmth, comfort and sense of well-being — for me it’s my husband's roasted chicken.

The chicken is wiped with a paper towel to remove any moisture then trussed with string to secure the less and wings; it's then rubbed all over with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper

Roasted in a preheated 450°F oven for 20 minutes then at 350°F for 20 minutes per pound

Guy's Roast Chicken with Lemon, Rosemary, Thyme & Parsley
Serves 4

1 3-4 lb organic chicken
2 tbsp olive oil
1 lemon, cut into eighths
3 sprigs rosemary
3 sprigs parsley
3 sprigs thyme
1 clove of garlic, smashed
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 450°F. Place the chicken in a roasting pan and rub with olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Place half of the lemon inside the chicken’s cavity along with the garlic and fresh herbs. Using kitchen twine, truss the chicken by binding the legs and tucking in the wings. Roast the chicken for 20 minutes, then turn down to 350°F for 20 minutes per pound, basting the bird 2 or 3 times. The chicken is cooked when the thigh juices run clear and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh, away from the bone, registers 160°F- 190°F, depending on preferred doneness. Transfer the chicken to a warmed platter in a warm place and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes, so to allow the juices to relax.

To carve the chicken, remove any string from the chicken and take off the wings. Pull the leg and thigh away from each side of the chicken, and using a sharp knife cut through the connective joint, removing the entire leg and thigh. then cut each leg between the thigh and the drumstick to make four portions of dark meat. Then angle the knife along the breastbone and carve off both breasts, and cut on a diagonal into thick slices. To serve, arrange the pieces of roast chicken on a warm platter and garnish with sliced lemon and fresh herbs.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Spaghettini with Basil & Walnut Pesto

Originating in Genoa, in the Ligurian region of northern Italy, Pesto alla Genovese traditionally consists of crushed garlic, basil, and pine nuts blended with olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Fiore Sardo, an Italian cheese made from sheep's milk. The name comes from the Italian 'pestare', which means to pound, to crush, in reference to the original method of preparing pesto with a marble mortar and wooden pestle. Italians also use walnuts for pesto, as they lend a rich earthiness to the pesto sauce, and are much more affordable than pine nuts. This foolproof recipe from my dogeared copy of The Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins quip that this sauce is "more Mastroianni than DeNiro: suave, mellow, even elegant. Walnuts and heavy cream add sophistication to the basil garlic duo — a pesto that is equally at home on pasta, fluffed into hot rice or stirred into homemade mayonnaise as a sauce for cold poached fish or crudités". It is however right at home with spaghettini, linguine or any other thin pasta.

Basil Pesto Spaghettini 
Serves 4

1 lb spaghettini, linguine or fettucine
1 1/2 tbsp salt
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup homemade pesto
1/2 cup freshly grated imported pecorino or parmigiano 

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the salt and then when the water returns to a boil add the pasta. Use a wooden spoon to stir the pasta until all the stands are under the water. Boil rapidly until done to taste. To test, occasionally lift and bite a strand. Stir in 2 tablespoons of hot pasta water and the heavy cream to the pesto. Drain the pasta in a colander and return to the hot pan. Stir in the pesto and toss well to combine. Serve immediately on warm plates. Garnish with additional pepper and a bowl of grated cheese on the side if desired.

Basil & Walnut Pesto
Makes 2 cups

2 cups fresh basil leaves thoroughly washed and patted dry
4 good-size garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 cup shelled walnuts
1 cup best-quality olive oil
1 cup freshly grated imported Parmigiano 
1/2 cup freshly grated imported Romano
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine the basil, garlic and walnuts in the bowl of food processor and chop. Leave the motor running and add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Shut the motor off, add the cheeses, a big pinch of salt and a liberal grinding of pepper. Process briefly to combine, then scrape out into a bowl and cover with a thin film of olive oil on top, until ready to use; freezes well.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Trattoria Nervosa: Italian Cuisine in Yorkville

In southern Italy, it’s a daily custom to gather around the table and enjoy a wonderful meal with family and friends; to take the time to laugh, love, share in good company and savour deliciously simple recipes made from the very finest of ingredients. Located in the heart of Yorkville, this is what Trattoria Nervosa is all about, serving authentic northern and southern Italian-inspired cuisine in a relaxed and inviting setting, with an inspired menu featuring their famous Insalata di Cavolo Nero, sumptuous pastas such as the Mafalde ai Funghi with portobello, oyster, porcini and crimini mushrooms with parmigiano and truffle paste in a light cream sauce, and selection of blistered wood-fired pizzas. Although the restaurant has had a loyal following from the day it opened over 20 years ago as Café Nervosa — named after the coffee house on Frasier — owner Janet Zuccarini felt it was time for a reinvention of the brand that would put the restaurant on par with some of her favourite casual comfort spots in New York, London and Rome. The new identity, inspired by Zuccarini's old family photos, reflect the welcoming atmosphere of the restaurant. Unlike many of the other restaurants in the neighbourhood, Trattoria Nervosa is a place where you can get a delicious meal at a great price.

Exterior of Trattoria Nervosa in Yorkville

Sandblasted-style logo on front door

A chilly autumn evening on Trattoria Nervosa's outdoor terrace 

Neon sign on the wall of the outside terrace

Nervosa's Negroni-intensive cocktail menu

Aperol Spritz with Prosecco and soda on ice

The Negroni Boulevardier, just one of then negronis on the cocktail menu, with Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Campari and Cocchi Vermouth

Caprese Estiva with buffalo mozzarella, heirloom cherry tomatoes, pink peppercorn cubebe pepper and basil oil garnished with micro greens 

Capellini with tomato sauce, sun-dried tomato, goat cheese and baby basil

Insalata di Cavolo Nero with lacinate kale, zante currants, toasted pine nuts and shaved pecorino parmigiano dressed with lemon vinaigrette served with grilled salmon 

Mafalde ai Funghi with portobello, oyster, porcini and crimini mushrooms with parmigiano 
and truffle paste in a light cream sauce 

Cavalo Nero Salad
Serves 2
Recipe courtesy of Chef Daniel Mezzola, Gusto 101

3 cups lacinato Tuscan kale, tough vein removed
1/8 cup shaved pecorino
2 tbsp toasted pine nuts
4 tsp dried Zante black currants, or to taste 
1/8 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Basil Oil:
1 1/2 cups packed basil leaves
3/4 cups olive oil

Lemon Vinaigrette:
5 tbsp organic olive oil
4 lemons, juiced
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
Dash of fresh cracked black pepper
Basil oil and extra shaved pecorino, for garnish

Blanch the basil in a medium saucepan of boiling water for 10 seconds. Drain and rinse under cold water, then pat dry with paper towels and transfer to a blender. Add the oil and purée until smooth, then transfer to a small bowl and season with salt and pepper. Cover and chill; let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before using. 

Make the vinaigrette by whisking all of the ingredients in a bowl until well combined. Using a very sharp knife, julienne the kale into a very fine chiffonade then place in a bowl with all of the remaining salad ingredients plus the vinaigrette and using your hands, massage the kale salad well to help marinate and soften the leaves. To serve, garnish each plate with a drizzle of basil oil then top with a mound of kale salad and finish with some additional grated pecorino.