Friday, August 29, 2014

Guacamole: Aphrodisiac of the Aztecs

Guacamole dates back to the Aztecs, who referred to it as ahuaca-mulli which translates roughly as avocado sauce or avocado mixture. While there are many variations, traditional Mexican guacamole has only a few ingredients: avocado, onion, jalapeño chiles, fresh tomatoes, cilantro and salt, brightened with fresh lime juice and plenty of zest. Of course, the real secret to great guacamole is good avocados, and Haas — the purplish-black variety with a bumpy skin — is considered to be the best variety for making the richest, creamiest full-flavoured "guac". Rich and buttery in flavour with a sensual creamy texture, avocados are also nutrient rich, cholesterol free and although relatively high in fat, it’s the good kind that actually helps lower the risk of heart disease. Interestingly, the Aztecs believed the avocado to be an aphrodisiac, and due to how the fruit grows in pairs, they called the tree ahuacuatl, which translates as 'testical tree'. Fat friendly and pheromone fired, bring on the Guacamole!

Makes about 4 cups

Juice and grated zest of 2 limes - use a microplane to zest the limes
4 ripe Haas avocados

2 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced

1/2 small red onion, minced

1 cup chopped cilantro

1 tsp canned jalapeño peppers, drained and minced

4 very big pinches of salt

A few grinds white or black pepper

Zest and juice the limes into a medium bowl. Slice the avocados in half, skin, pit and then dice the avocados. As you dice each avocado, add it to the bowl and toss to coat with lime juice they don’t brown. Add the tomatoes, onions, cilantro, jalapeño, salt and pepper and stir to combine well. Don’t be tempted to mash the avocados. Leave fairly chunky. Serve with good quality tortilla chips and a cold Margarita!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Aloo Gobi: Indian Cauliflower, Spuds & Peas

A staple in most Indian restaurants, Aloo Gobi is an aromatic combination of spiced potato (aloo) and cauliflower (gobi), made even more popular with Gurinder Chadha's 2002 film Bend It Like Beckham, a wonderful heart-warming comedy about bending the rules to reach your goal. The film follows two 18 year old girls who have their heart set on a future in professional soccer, as opposed to finding a nice Indian boyfriend, settling down and cooking the perfect chapatti. There is a quirky cooking segment at the end of the film where the director of the film, Gurinder Chadha, makes her personal recipe for Aloo Gobi with the help of her outrageously interfering mother and auntie. Ever since I saw that segment, I can never make this dish without smiling. With its rich texture, complex flavours and intoxicating aroma, this recipe for Aloo Gobi tastes as fabulous as it looks. You can even omit the potato for a carb-free vegetarian feast.

Asafoetida, mustard seeds and kari leaves are briefly sautéed in oil until the seeds begin to pop, then the diced potatoes are added 

Cauliflower florets and peas are added to the spiced potato mixture and cooked until tender

Aloo Gobi with Cauliflower, Potatoes & Peas
Serves 4-6 

1/2 cauliflower head 
5 medium Yukon potatoes 
1/3 cup vegetable oil 
1/8 tsp asafoetida 
1 tbsp black mustard seeds 
10 kari leaves 
1 cup frozen peas
1/4 tsp turmeric 
1/4 tsp salt 
1/2 tsp sugar 

Cut the cauliflower into small florets, no larger than 1 1/2-inches. Cut the potatoes in a 1/2-inch dice and soak in water, to stop them discolouring, if not using immediately. Warm the oil in a good size frying pan over medium. When hot, put in the asafoetida, then a second later the mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds begin to pop, put in the kari leaves stirring once or twice. Now put in the potatoes, turmeric, salt and sugar and stir fry until the potatoes are lightly golden and brown but still quite firm, about 10 minutes. Then add the cauliflower and peas, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of water and stir. As soon as the water starts to bubble, cover and turn the heat to medium-low. Cook for another 10-15 minutes, until the potatoes are just done. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Grilled Tandoori Chicken: A Classic Indian Dish

Tandoori Chicken, or Tandoori Murghi, is a classic Indian dish made with a vibrant and spicy marinade of yogurt, lemon juice, ginger, garlic, vegetable oil and a handful of warm fragrant spices including powdered cardamom, chill powder, turmeric, garam masala and my secret ingredient — Tandoori masala — which gives the marinade it's bright orange-red lustre. Combined into a loose paste and liberally coated over pieces of lightly scored bone-in chicken breasts, thighs or legs, the marinade works its magic over a couple of hours or overnight in the refrigerator, allowing the flavours to fully develop. The rich blend of spices gives the Tandoori Chicken its unique flavour, but more importantly, it's the yogurt that helps to penetrate the spices into the meat while tenderizing at the same time. Grilled on an outdoor barbecue over medium-high heat, the thick consistency of the yogurt keeps the seasonings on the meat and seals in the robust flavours, for a tender, moist and succulent dish that's simply hard to beat.

Grilled Tandoori Chicken
Serves 4

4 chicken breasts, bone in, skin on and cut in half
1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
1 tbsp fresh garlic, minced
1/2 tsp cardamom powder
1 tbsp chili powder
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 cups plain Greek yoghurt
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp garam masala
2 tbsp Tandoori masala
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp salt

Pat dry the chicken breasts and score the tops with a 3 or 4 deep cuts. In a large bowl, combine the yoghurt, ginger, garlic, cardamom, chili powder, garam masala, oil, lemon juice, Tandoori masala, salt and mix well to form a loose paste. Add the chicken breasts to the mixture, tossing thoroughly to ensure they're well coated. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours, or even overnight, to allow the chicken to marinate.

To grill, place the chicken breasts on a pre-heated outdoor barbecue and cook 10-15 minutes over medium-high heat. Turn them over and continue cooking for an additional 10-15 minutes until the chicken is evenly cooked and has nice grill marks. Serve with Aloo Gobi and pappadams for a delicious meal.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Cluny Bistro: Modern French Cuisine in The Distillery

One of the latest additions to Toronto's historic Distillery District is Cluny Bistro and Boulangerie, a modern Parisian-style bistro that embraces la cuisine française with updated bistro classics and sharing plates with a decidedly Canadian twist. Converted from a 19th-century tank houses of the now-defunct Gooderham and Worts Distillery, the luminous 11,000-square-foot space with soaring cathedral ceiling is a neo-Parisian stunner. Designed by Toronto firm Munge Leung, the space was inspired by the ornately appointed dining rooms of Paris but with a playful unpretentious approach. Adorned with exposed brick walls, gilt-framed mirrors, marble surfaces, custom cabinets which showcase vintage French servingware and curios to hand-painted glass walls and fabulous French country furnishings, the space is bright, beautiful and dripping with l'esprit français. 

Lunch and dinner can both be ordered at Cluny's cozy and stylish bar area

A vase of fresh flowers sit proudly on a wooden table in the middle of the restaurant

The marble-topped bakery island

Cluny's Raw Bar features a whimsical painted window detail and fresh seafood on ice

The staff all wear St Malo-inspired blue and white striped tops

The modern French bistro-style menu at Cluny

Everything from the menu design, to the monogrammed tableware, uniforms, signage and website, fuses into one stylish and cohesive aesthetic. And chef Paul Benallick's menu which fuses modern French cuisine, fresh international flavours with regional Canadian produce are innovative, interesting and playful, with dishes such as Wellington County Beef Tartare, Quebec Style Potted Pork, Roasted Duck Poutine, Crisp Erie Perch 'Shore Lunch' and Qualicom Bay Scallops. There are also traditional classics which include French Onion Soup with melted gruyère de comté, brie-slathered brioche and Steak-Frites, but also dishes with a modern twist such as his Moroccan Chickpea Potato Stew, Asian-inspired Ahi Seared Drunken Tuna and Ginger-Chili Fried Frog's Legs with Vietnamese dipping sauce. With four successful restaurants in the Distillery District already under their belts — El Catrin, The Boiler House, Pure Spirits and Archeo — owners Mathew Rosenblatt and John Berman, who opened Cluny earlier this summer, have created a warm, cozy and inviting haven for anyone who enjoys a little Parisian panache in Toronto without the jet lag.

The French 75 with Citadelle Gin, Curacao d’Orange, Champagne and a twist of lemon

A selection of louse made breads from Cluny's on site bakery

French Onion Soup with melted Gruyère de Comté and glazed onion in a rich beef broth

'Buffalo Fried' Sweetbreads with smoked blue cheese sauce and heirloom carrot sticks

Steak Frites with 10oz Striploin served with lemon & garlic aioli 

'Drunken Tuna' as Seared ahi tuna with red pepper pesto, pommel purée and rocket salad and
sherry vinaigrette

Pear Tatin with Poire William "foam", Greek yogurt sorbet and Creme Anglaise

A hot foamy Macchiato

Before leaving for a Soulpepper performance across the cobblestone walkway, we couldn't resist picking up two fresh croissant for breakfast the next morning

Apricot and Onion Braised Pork Shoulder
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy Chef Paul Benallick

1 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 small pork, shoulder, cleaned
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 fresh chili, seeded, and, diced, preferably, Anaheim
1 generous pinch saffron
2 tsp honey
1/2 cup olive oil
1 white onion, diced
1 small head fennel, quartered
4 bay leaf
4 plum tomato, seeded, and, crushed
6 dried apricot
4 cup chicken stock
1 stick cinnamon
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Celery Root Purée:
2 large celery root, peeled, and, medium, diced
4 bay leaf
2 cup 35% cream
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a dry frying pan toast the fennel seeds and coriander seeds. Lightly crush seeds with a mortar and pestle. Put the pork shoulder in a large pot or Dutch oven. Rub with in garlic, chile, saffron, honey and olive oil. Marinate for 24 hours in the refrigerator.

Remove the pork shoulder from the marinade. Reserve the marinade. Heat 3 tbsp. of olive oil in the Dutch oven. Season the pork shoulder generously with salt and pepper. Sear the meat until golden brown on all sides and remove. Add diced onions and quartered fennel. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes then add the tomatoes, bay leaves, reserved marinade and the apricots. Cook for 5 minutes scraping the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken stock and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil. Return the pork shoulder to the Dutch oven. Cover and braise in the oven for 1 1/2 hours. Uncover and finish cooking for 1/2 an hour.

Meanwhile, start to prepare the celery root purée by pouring the cream into a heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat, and reduce by half. In another pot, cover the celery root with water, add the bay leaves and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and cook until the celery root is fork tender. Remove the bay leaves, then purée the celery root in a food processor until smooth. Add the cream and season to taste. This will make 1 1/2 cups.

Remove the pork shoulder from the Dutch oven and let rest 5 minutes, then carve into 1/4-inch thick slices. Serve with the celery root purée. Finish the sauce with fresh herbs and ladle over the meat, garnishing each portion with a sprig of fresh parsley.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Red Pepper & Goat Cheese Bruschetta

A delicious and easy appetizer, there's no other recipe that shouts summer than this classic Red Pepper & Goat Cheese Bruschetta. 'Bruschetta' is from the Italian "bruscare," which means "to roast over coals," and refers to the bread rather than the toppings, of which there are many delicious variations. Traditional bruschetta always starts the same way: thick slices of baguette toasted to a golden brown, rubbed with cloves of raw garlic then brushed with good quality olive oil — and you're set. 

Serves 8 as a appetizers

1 Loaf crusty French or Italian baguette

3 cloves garlic
, peeled and cut in half length-wise
1/4 cup good olive oil

Red Pepper & Goat Cheese Topping:
10 oz Woolwich Dairy fine herb goat cheese
1/2 cup marinated red bell peppers, julienned
1 tbsp fresh thyme

Tomato Topping:

3 cups ripe plum tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Maldon salt & fresh ground back pepper

2 tbsp olive oil

1/4 cup fresh, chopped basil
1/2 cup coarsely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Mix together the tomato topping ingredients, cover and and set aside.
 Cut the bread into diagonal slices about 3/8-inch thick, place on a baking sheet and set in the oven at 475°F. Bake until just golden, about 5-8 minutes — watch carefully to make sure they don't get too brown. Remove the bruschetta from the oven, and using the fresh cloves of raw garlic, rub one side of each of the toasts. Next brush a little olive oil on each toast. 

Top half of the toasts with the tomato mixture and garnish generously with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Top the other half of the toasts with a good slather of goat cheese, a small mound of marinated red peppers and garnish with crumbled fresh thyme. Serve together as a delicious savoury appetizer.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Guy's Homemade Barbecue Sauce

This is absolutely the best Barbecue Sauce — we'd tried lots of bottled brands before and always found the flavour lacking. Inspired with the promise of making Barbecued Baby Back Ribs for the Labour Day long weekend, my husband researched a number of recipes for homemade sauce and came up with this heavenly elixir. Sweet and spicy with sensational smokey undertones, this full-flavoured thick and tangy sauce is so easy to make, you'll never buy another bottle of store-bought barbecue sauce ever again. 

The secret is to make this sauce one day ahead, to allow the flavours to blend together and become more complex as the sauce is simmered over low heat for an hour, then cooled and refrigerated overnight. For the best flavour, my husband uses Heinz ketchup, French's classic yellow 'ballpark' mustard and a few teaspoons of liquid smoke for a deep and rich tomato-based sauce with intense layers of sweetness, tartness and heat, with an extra boost of flavour from Worcestershire sauce, garlic, brown sugar and red wine vinegar. Delicious served with baby back ribs, chicken or even pulled pork, my husband's fabulous recipe is the ultimate Barbecue Sauce, guaranteed to tantalize the taste-buds of even the most passionate rib connoisseurs.

Guy's Barbecue Sauce
Makes 5 cups

2 medium onions, finely chopped
8 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup vegetable oil
10 tsp chili powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
4 cups Heinz ketchup
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2/3 cup prepared French's yellow mustard
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
6 tsp liquid smoke

Heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for about 3 minutes. Then add the garlic and sauté for another 2 minutes. Add the chili powder, paprika, cayenne, salt and pepper, and stir for one minute. Then add all the remaining ingredients, and bring to a boil, stirring with a wooden spoon to combine. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally for 1 hour. When done, cool the sauce to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate at least 24 hours before using.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Foil-Wrapped Mixed Mushrooms with Sake & Butter

Wrapped in foil while cooking in butter and their own juices, grilled or oven baked steamed mushrooms have a deep earthy flavour that's hard to resist. Inspired by the Steamed Mixed Mushrooms prepared by chef Peter Chen at Nami, one of my favourite Japanese restaurants in Toronto, Peter casts his savoury spell over Nami's sensational robata grill, creating the most sublime fish, seafood and succulent parcels of steamed mushrooms. Shiitake, shimeji, enoki, maitake, and matsutake mushrooms are all commonly used in Japanese cooking, with each variety of mushroom being quite distinctive. There are many dishes that take advantage of each mushroom’s special qualities, but Peter's medley of enoki, oyster and shiitake mushrooms steamed with a little mirin, Sake and butter is oishii desu — delicious!

Enoki, oyster and shiitake mushrooms are layered on an oil brushed sheet of aluminum foil

Seasoned with mirin, Sake and seasoned with salt and black pepper, the mushrooms are dotted with a tablespoon of butter before being sealed in the foil packet and grill-steamed on the BBQ for 10-15 minutes

Foil-Wrapped Mixed Mushrooms
Serves 4

10 oz enoki mushrooms, trimmed
10 oz oyster mushrooms, trimmed
10 oz shiitake mushrooms, trimmed
1/4 cup Sake rice wine
1 tsp mirin
1 tsp vegetable oil
1tsp pickled ginger juice
1/2 tsp pickled ginger
1 knob butter
salt and black pepper, to taste

Lay a large sheet of foil, about 18-20" long on a flat surface, and crimp up the corners to create a boat-like shape. Pour some oil in the centre and gently brush it over the foil to prevent the mushrooms from sticking. Divide the enoki mushrooms into 2 parcels and place at either end of the 'boat', then scatter the oyster and shiitake mushrooms in the middle. Pour the sake over top with a knob of butter and seal the foil packet, using another sheet of foil for the top if necessary. To steam, place the foil packet on a preheated outdoor grill over medium-high for 10-15 minutes, until the mushrooms are warm and cooked through.