Friday, August 17, 2018

Kitchen 76 at Two Sisters Winery in Niagara

Located in the heart of the Niagara Peninsula, Two Sisters Vineyards is one of the newer wineries in Niagara-on-the-Lake having opened in 2014. A labour of love from the Marotta family, whose fortune derives from real estate development, the winery is run by sisters Angela Marotta and Melissa Paolicelli who stylishly front the operations. Inspired by the flavours of the season and the bounty of Niagara produce, the menu of Kitchen76 echoes the owner's Italian heritage and was created to complement the vineyard's wines. In the kitchen is chef Jason Letto, who has created a straightforward collection of simple Italian dishes made with a keen attention to detail including a selection of Italian antipasti from Arancini, Beef Tenderloin Carpaccio and delicious Burrata with marinated cherry tomatoes, fresh basil and grilled bread; housemade pasta such as Tagliatelle with tiger shrimp and blistered tomatoes, and Orecchiette with mild Italian sausage, rapini, garlic, pecorino, fresh chilies and toasted breadcrumbs, as well as delicious gas fired pizzas including Funghi with oyster mushrooms, pancetta, asiago, spinach and mozzarella, to the classic Margherita with fresh mozzarella, tomato, basil and olive oil. The wines, which are also available in the adjacent tasting room, are impressive. We enjoyed the Two Sisters Vineyards Rosé which was nice and chilled for a hot summer afternoon. The service is friendly and professional, the food very good and the views from the outside terrace are beautiful. Rich in history, culture and natural beauty, Niagara-on-the-Lake is a magical destination to enjoy a leisurely summer weekend, take in some theatre at the Shaw Festival and explore the local wineries. 

The lobby of the winery with lunch at dinner menu and bottles of their Cabernet Franc

Kitchen 76 Restaurant at Two Sisters Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake

The Italian-themed menu of Kitchen 76 at Two Sisters Winery in Niagara

Two Sisters Sparkling Rosé

A perfect glass of cold pink bubbley

Funghi Pizza with mushrooms, arugula pesto, mozzarella, goat cheese, 
asiago and imported truffle oil

Burrata with marinated cherry tomatoes, fresh basil and grilled bread

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Angel Food Layer Cake with Cream & Strawberries

Light and fluffy homemade Angel Food Cake with plump red Ontario strawberries is a classic summer dessert, but served as my friend Jane's Double Layer Cake, this sweet lunch or dinnertime indulgence is as spectacular as it is exquisitely delicious and is guaranteed to disappear in the blink of an eye.

Angel Food Layer Cake with Whipped Cream & Strawberries
Serves 10-12

12 egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
1 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp lemon zest, plus extra for garnish
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup cake flour
Fresh mint sprigs, optional
1 pint fresh raspberries

1 pint strawberries
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla

Place a 10-inch nonstick angel food cake pan in the centre of the oven, and preheat to 350°F. In a large mixing bowl, combine the egg whites, salt and cream of tartar. Using an electric hand mixer, beat on medium speed until frothy. Add the vanilla extract, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Beat on high speed until soft peaks form, about 2 to 4 minutes. Gradually add the sugar and beat until the mixture forms stiff peaks, about 2 minutes longer. Sprinkle the flour over the egg white mixture. Using a spatula, carefully fold in the flour until incorporated. 

Spoon the batter into an ungreased 10-inch nonstick angel food cake pan. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until the top is browned and a skewer inserted halfway between the inner and outer wall of the pan comes out clean. Invert the pan on a wire rack to cool completely, about 1 hour. Invert the cake onto serving platter, then carefully, using a sharp serrated knife, cut the cake crosswise in half.

Reserve 7-8 whole strawberries for top of cake. With the rest, trim the tops and slice, then set aside. In a standing blender, cream together the heavy cream, 1/4 cup powdered sugar, and vanilla on high speed until stiff peaks form. Spread the whipped cream on top of both layers of the angel food cake. Top with middle layer with sliced strawberries and use whole strawberries on top of cake. Carefully place the top of the cake on top of the bottom layer and using a palette knife, smooth up any excess cream that has squeezed out from the middle layer. To serve, slice using sharp serrated knife and serve.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Ina Garten's Spare Ribs with Barbecue Sauce

Millions of people love Ina Garten because she writes recipes that make home cooks look great, family and friends shower them with praise and yet the dishes couldn't be simpler to prepare using ingredients found in any grocery store. In Barefoot Contessa Foolproof, Ina takes easy a step further, sharing her secrets for pulling off deeply satisfying meals that have the 'wow' factor we all desire. One of Ina's sensational summer recipes is her Foolproof Ribs with BC Barbecue Sauce. And her secret to perfect grilled ribs — cook them in the oven first! "There are two great benefits of this method: first, instead of fussing with the heat of the coals, all I have to do is put the ribs in the oven, set a timer and forget about them; and second, I can make them ahead! Early in the day, I'll roast the ribs, and just before serving, I'll fire up the grill and barbecue them". She created this recipe after making three types of barbecue sauces: one mustardy, one tomatoey, and one Asian. When she tasted them, like Goldilocks, the first one was too mustardy, the second was too tomatoey, and the third was too Asian! So she decided to try combining the three, and it turned out being the best sauce she'd ever tried. This is the result, and it's her favourite to this day. 

Ina's Foolproof Ribs with Barbecue Sauce
Serves 6-8
Recipe courtesy of Ina Garten

5 lb Baby Back or St. Louis Style Ribs 
2 tsp Kosher salt
1 tsp ground black pepper

Barefoot Contessa Foolproof Barbecue Sauce:
1/2 tbsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups finely chopped yellow onion
1 tbsp minced garlic, about 3 cloves
1 cup tomato paste
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup honey
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 cup Dijon mustard
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 cup hoisin sauce
2 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp ground cumin

For the sauce, heat the oil in a large saucepan over low heat, add the onions and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until the onions are translucent but not browned. Add the garlic and cook for one more minute. Add the tomato paste, vinegar, honey, Worcestershire, mustard, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, chili powder, cumin, and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes. Use the sauce immediately or pour into a container and refrigerate for several weeks.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place the ribs meat side up, then sprinkle them with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon of black pepper. Pour the BBQ sauce generously on each rack and cover the ribs loosely with aluminum foil. Bake for 1 1/2 hours for baby back and 1 3/4 hours for St. Louis Style ribs, until the meat is very tender when tested with a fork. As soon as the ribs are out of the oven, spread them generously with additional BBQ sauce. They can be grilled right away or refrigerated to grill later.

About 40 minutes before you want to serve, heat an outdoor grill to medium-high heat, and brush the cooking grate with vegetable oil to keep the ribs from sticking. Place the ribs on the grill ribs-side down, and grill lid-down for 5 minutes. Turn the ribs meat-side down, put the lid back down, and grill for another 4-5 minutes, until nicely browned. Place on a cutting board, cover tightly with aluminum foil, and allow the ribs to rest for 10 minutes. Cut into ribs into serving portions and serve hot with extra BBQ sauce on the side. Delicious served with my tried-and-true Jalapeño Corn Pudding
 and homemade cole slaw.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Sukhothai: A Taste of Thailand on Wellington

It all started on an elephant, hence the logo. Chef Nuit Regular and her husband Jeff are celebrated for bringing the distinct flavour of Northern Thai cuisine and hospitality to Toronto with their restaurants Sukhothai, Pai Northern Thai Kitchen and most recently Kiin, which celebrates Royal Thai cuisine. The popularity of their restaurants all began with the opening of the humble Curry Shack in the small town of Pai, in Northern Thailand. Having learned to cook in her mother’s kitchen, Chef Nuit left her career as a nurse in Thailand to share her passion and life experiences through family recipes, street market dishes, and creative collaborations. With a focus on classic Northern Thai cooking, Sukhothai's Green Curry with bamboo shoots, kaffir lime leaves, basil leaves, green peppers and coconut milk served with steamed Jasmine sticky rice, is so close to the sensational curries we enjoyed in Bangkok, the flavours take us right back to Thailand. Sukhothai's menu includes sensational spring rolls, creamy coconut soups, rice, curries and noodles dishes, which are served with varying degrees of spiciness: mild, hot, spicy hot and Thai hot — just be sure to order a tall frosty Singha beer which pairs well with the hot curries and keeps you cool, as you experience the most deliciously authentic Thai cuisine in the city.

Sukhothai menu of excellent Thai dishes from Pad Thai to Tom Kha Gai and Mango Sticky Rice

Crispy Shrimp Rolls

Gaeng Garee Yellow Curry with chicken and potatoes

Pad Kee Mao Noodles with red and green peppers, Thai basil, mushrooms, egg and shrimp

Thai Pad Kee Mao Or “Drunken Noodles”
Serves 4-6
Recipe courtesy of chef Nuit Regular

1/3 of a 1-pound package of long rice noodles, such as stick vermicelli
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp soy sauce
1/4 cup oyster sauce
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp finely chopped garlic
1 red bell pepper, seeds removed and thinly sliced
1/2 medium carrot, cut into matchsticks
3 white mushrooms, sliced
8 stalks asparagus, cut in half lengthwise, then into 2″ pieces
1/2 cup Thai basil leaves
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 Thai bird’s-eye chili, finely sliced - optional

Place the rice noodles in large bowl and cover with room temperature water. Soak until soft, at least 1 hour. In separate bowl, stir the sugar with water until dissolved. Mix in the soy sauce and oyster sauce, then set aside. In a large pan over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant but not crispy, about 1 minute. Drain the noodles and add to the pan. Add the sauce, peppers, carrots, mushrooms and asparagus and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes, or until the vegetables are just tender. Add the Thai basil leaves and cook another minute. Turn off the heat. Sprinkle with black pepper, mix well and serve on a decorative platter and garnish with extra basil. For extra spice, top with Thai bird’s-eye chili.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Little Gem Salad with Feta, Olives and Raspberries

Having recently discovered Little Gem lettuce at Estia in Toronto, I have become enamoured with this small lettuce, often described as a combination of Butter lettuce and Romaine. Crisp, like Romaine, and sweet, like Butter Lettuce, the texture and the flavour are all its own. While Romaine has a heavy very crunchy central stalk and thin crisp leaves, classic Little Gem has a thinner stalk and thicker leaves which seem juicier and more substantial than any part of Romaine. At about 3-inches tall, vinaigrettes love getting lost in the Gem's nooks and crannies, and even grill time can't subdue its crispness. Just like chef Ben Heaton's Little Gem Salad at Estia, I love to serve these little darlings with tart Greek feta, rich Cerignola olives and a tangy classic vinaigrette. With the bounty of fresh berries in the markets these days, a few scattered fresh raspberries or blueberries on top of this wonderful salad, adds a healthy dose of powerful antioxidants and spark of lovely rich colour.

Little Gem Salad with Feta, Olives and Raspberries
Serves 2

3 heads of Little Gem lettuce
1/4 cup Greek feta, crumbled
1 tbsp green Cerignola olives, chopped coarsely

8-10 raspberries
Maldon salt and fresh cracked black pepper, to taste

1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2/3 cup olive oil

Mallon salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

In a blender, whisk together the garlic, vinegar, dijon mustard and olive oil until smooth, then season to taste with salt and pepper; set aside. To serve, place the lettuce on a small platter and garnish with crumbled feta, olives and raspberries. Drizzle with the vinaigrette to taste, then season with extra Maldon salt, if desired. Garnish with fresh herbs for decoration.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Whole Grilled Branzino with Ginger and Lemon

Branzino is a Mediterranean sea bass, indigenous to the shores of Greece, and is considered a prized fish throughout Europe. In France, they are called Loup or Bar, the Spanish call them Robalo, and in Italy they are known as Spigola or, more commonly as Bronzino. In Greece, they are also known as Lavraki, and are a near mythical fish. In fact, when Greek journalists stumble upon a great story — snag that rare exclusive scoop — they call it a Lavraki. Stuffed with fresh herbs, lemon and sliced ginger this recipe for Whole Grilled Branzino is easy to prepare and makes a gorgeous main dish, especially on a hot summer evening under the stars.   

Whole Grilled Branzino
Serves 2

2 medium Branzino, cleaned and scaled by your fishmonger
1/8 cup olive oil, for brushing and drizzling
Maldon salt and freshly ground pepper
1 handful fresh lemon thyme
1 tbsp dried Greek oregano
1/2-inch fresh ginger, peeled and finely sliced
2 lemons, one finely sliced and the other cut in half for grilling

Pat the fish dry with paper towels. Set an outdoor grill or barbecue to high heat. Season the inside of the Branzino with salt and a few grindings of black pepper, and rub the outside with the olive oil and season well with kosher salt which will help ensure a wonderful crispy skin, plus a sprinkle of dried oregano for flavour. Stuff with lemon slices, sliced ginger and sprigs of fresh lemon thyme. Place the fish and lemon halves on a foil lined baking sheet for easy transport to the BBQ.

Grill the fish over high heat, turning once, until browned and crisp and just cooked through, about 7 minutes per side, adding the lemon halves cut side down for the last 3-4 minutes. Serve the grilled Bronzino straight away, and garnish with the grilled lemon wedges for squeezing overtop of the fish.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Classic Cauliflower Cheese with Cheddar Béchamel

A classic English comfort food, Cauliflower Cheese is simple as it is delicious. This heartwarming recipe features lightly steamed fresh cauliflower topped with a rich luscious cheesy sauce made using top quality Welsh or English cheddar, light cream and a spoonful of hot English dry mustard. Baked in the oven for at lest half an hour until it's lightly golden and bubbling hot, this sensational Cauliflower Cheese can served as a side dish with a Sunday roast, or as a sinfully decadent treat all on its own with a big spoon to scoop up every last bit of the lovely scrumptious cheesy sauce.

Cauliflower Cheese 
Serves 2

1/2 head cauliflower, broken into large florets
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp plain flour
1 cup whole milk or light cream
1 tsp English mustard
2 cups good quality mature cheddar cheese, grated
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Wash the cauliflower thoroughly and place in a large saucepan of salted water. Bring to the boil and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until the cauliflower is almost tender, but still fairly firm. Tip into a colander and leave to drain. To make the sauce, melt the butter in a medium, heavy-based pan and stir in the flour. Cook over a gentle heat for one minute. Remove the pan from the heat and gradually add the milk, a little at a time, stirring well between each addition. Return the pan to a medium heat and bring the mixture to the boil, stirring constantly. Simmer for two minutes, then remove from the heat. Stir in the mustard and two thirds of the cheese and set aside. Arrange the cauliflower in and ovenproof baking dish. Carefully pour over the sauce, ensuring the cauliflower is completely covered. Scatter over the remaining cheese and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top is golden-brown and bubbling.